Skyfire Avenue Chapter 221-230

Chapter 221: The Great Adept Tournament

“I’m not sure,” Mika said in response to her boss’ query. “It seems to be the same for everyone lately. By a third, and it’s the evening rush hour as we speak. It’s like the place is deserted. So the short answer is no, I don’t know.”

“It’s actually clear as day. The North and the West’s Pontiff’s Castle are holding a big Adept competition. The prizes are amazing, and the alliances are making a pretty big deal out of it with all sorts of resources and manpower being thrown around. Their intentions for that is clear. They  are  saying  there  are three s-ranked power gems as rewards to the winners. Aside from the champion’s prize, the North has also sworn to build a mecha to their specifications, using only the latest and greatest technology. It’s the same for all levels of prizes, probably to attract the universes better Talents to  come  and  participate. That being the case, you can imagine why we’re seeing the result here.” Lin Guoguo had appeared from the back, a tray in hand. Several power gems were arrayed atop it.

Lan Jue’s brows furrowed at the news. “This is the first I’m hearing about it. The Keeper didn’t mention anything.”

Mika’s chuckle bore a chilly undertone. “Of course we

wouldn’t be able to participate. The North and West arranged this whole thing as posturing against us. The Avenue’s prestige has only grown over the last few years. Then you have the Keeper’s visit to the Pontiff’s Castle, which was revealed recently, where he threatened to use his abilities to tear the hole castle down. After coercing the Pontiff’s submission, suddenly the Castle and the Dark Tower delay their visit for a whole month. Probably to prepare for this tournament.”

Lan Jue looked thoughtful. “Do you know when exactly this is supposed to take place?”

“In about three months,” Mika answered. It’s being held on Planet Luo.”

A twinkle flashed in Lan Jue’s eye. “Got it. I’ll ask Chu Cheng about it later – he should know more.”

“Think we should participate?” Mika asked.

Lan Jue pondered the question. “Even if we do, you and Ke’er couldn’t come. With so many adepts around, I wouldn’t able to properly protect you.”

And that was the truth. If the North and West both decided to focus their efforts on capturing Mika while on Luo, there wouldn’t be anything he could do.

Mika, though, huffed dismissively. “Still so antsy about them.
At worst we have a mighty struggle.”

Lan Jue helplessly shook his head. “Alright, well you just keep working on your cultivation. How are you feeling lately? Anything requiring my attention?”

“I’ve been training just as you instructed,” Mika replied, “slowly motivating the power in my blood to manifest and strengthen. Even though I’m only at the beginning of fusing my powers, there haven’t been any problems yet. Your determination was the right one; bottling it up is much worse than letting it flow. Simply keeping it locked away would allow my devil’s blood to grow in power, and eventually explode forth. At that point it’d be too late. So I’ve been working on controlling it, fusing it into myself, so diffuse some of that terrible power and prevent it from negatively influencing me. Once that happens, my progress should speed up considerably.”

Lan Jue smiled at her, and nodded his head. “Excellent. Very good. Well keep after the store, at least for a little while. If it

remains this slow then lock up shop, take the time to rest up. I’m off to find A-Cheng and A-Li.”

With that, Lan Jue made from the warehouse set in the back of the jewelry shop. When he got there, he didn’t find the two training as he’d expected. Instead, they were seated on the floor with plates of snacks between them, talking as they munched away.

“Aren’t you guys afraid of getting fat, eating all this junk?” Lan Jue teased the pair as he sauntered towards them.

Chu Cheng snickered at him. “If there’s any danger of us getting fat, then the whole world should fear for their waist lines. You’re back then – you know, you make a terrifically bad landowner. And a worse friend. We’ve been locked in here and you haven’t taken us out to relax this whole time. Vanished, poof, like a magician.”

Lan Jue adopted an imperatorial air. “I’m a hardworking gentleman, unlike you two loafing about. Why aren’t you two training today?”

It was Hua Li’s turn to speak up. “We wanted to use the sim

pods to train, but it’s too difficult. Unfortunately, the sim is the only place to properly train our coordination. However, without the ability to use our disciplines we’re stuck. We heard you might be training with us soon, anyway.”

“I’m back aren’t I?” Lan Jue answered. “You know there’s a new sim pod being developed as we speak. If everything works out, the problem of discipline and mecha unification in DreamNet will be solved. We wouldn’t have any further problems pushing ourselves to our limits in that situation.”

Chu Cheng was visibly surprised, and Hua Li looked at his friend incredulously. “Bullshit. Where’d you hear that? If that were true how have I never heard of it?”

Gobi Entertainment was among the largest cooperatives in all the Three Alliances, and an integral sponsor of DreamNet. Hua Li prided himself on the belief he would be the first to learn about these sorts of things.

“That’s probably because it hasn’t been finished,” Lan Jue explained. “It’s still in its development phases. We should have some very good news in the near future, I promise you. Oh, and by the way, I just heard from Mika and Guoguo about this tournament on Lir. Have you heard about this?”

Hua Li shrugged. “Of course. They reached out to me to do the opening ceremony. Why, are you thinking of going as well? I heard there weren’t any invitations sent to the East, though. This is something cooked up by just the West and North.”

“A provocation from you all?” Lan Jue pondered quietly.

“What’s this ‘you all,’ I have nothing to do with it,” Hua Li countered. “Politics disgusts me. I’m surprised you haven’t gotten that yet.”

Chu Cheng, meanwhile, shrugged his shoulders. “I may go and participate. After all, I’m always getting nonsense from pops about ‘wasting the family fortune. Hmph. Maybe coming back with some winnings will shut him up for a little while. Hell, I guess I have to go! You think this is that sensitive a matter, A-Jue?”

The Jewelry Master nodded. “Very sensitive, I’m afraid. We have two of the three alliances gathering together all the adepts they can, specifically barring the East from getting involved at all. Isn’t their intention clear?”

“This I actually do understand. The East may be less powerful

than the West and North when you consider aggregate power, but when it comes to Adepts you occupy the top spot.” Hua Li picks at the food as he explained. “Look at the Avenue alone, where its three Paragons outmatch anything the other two Alliances have. Two paragons each. Moreover, the biggest of the baddest of those powerhouses is in your camp. That alone is a massive deterring force. I heard the North is actually researching ways to manufacture a paragon. Fusing the greatest adepts they have with precision equipment and power gems to catapult them to their highest levels. I don’t know if they’ve succeeded or not.”

Lan Jue frowned. “The North hasn’t been sitting around. Ever dreaming up ways to take control of the other two Alliances. Your Western Alliance teaming up with them is a doomed marriage from the start, I’m telling you.”

Hua Li shrugged. “Who can say definitively? You want my people to try and put a stop to this?”

“What your mouth, A-Li!” Cu Cheng’s face had grown critical. He spoke low to his comrades. “This tournament has been arranged by the most powerful Alliance in the universe, and the two biggest organizations of the West. The Pontiff’s Castle is even putting aside it’s feud with the Dark Tower to get it going. Gobi may be powerful, but not powerful enough to stare down

all the adepts from two Alliances. You’re a Westerner yourself.”

Hua Li grunted dismissively. “What’s that got to do with anything? I’m the black sheep of the family. Compared to you what’s it matter if I lose the whole company. I’m sick of this family inheritance anyway. And when it comes to my brothers, I don’t give a damn who they are or where they’re from.”

He said the words with sincerity, without any hint of bluster. However, as ever, he paired it with his trademark charming smile.

Chu Cheng slapped his forehead comically, muttering to himself. “Thank whatever powers are up there you aren’t a woman, otherwise I’d be your biggest threat.”

Hua Li stuck a leg out to kick at his companion. “Go die in a hole. Pervert. I am a woman, but A-Jue’s the love of my life. Whaddya ya say, A-Jue, let’s elope.” That unsettlingly gentle, feminine quality invaded his voice as he spoke. He whined at his friend prettily.

Lan Jue’s whole body shook, and he quickly shook his hands as he suppressed the urge to vomit. “That’s enough, alright.

We’ll revisit that thought in your next life, when you’re an actual woman, how about that? Let’s get in DreamNet and back to training.”

Chu Cheng lazily unfurled and got to his feet. “Let’s do it. Still two on one? Your amazons aren’t around, but I still think you could handle it!”

“I’ve told you a dozen times to go kill yourself. What are you still doing here,” Lan Jue spat. “Have some pride.”

Hua Li cracked his knuckles. “I think it should be the two of us against him, A-Jue.”

Lan Jue slowly nodded his head.

The three broke up their little pow-wow, and made for their respective sim pods. A few moments late three avatars met in DreamNet.

ζ

Dreamburg, DreamNet.

Three figures stood amid the deserted streets.

“So where to? The Arena?” Chu Cheng, appearing now as Hades, asked.

“Onward,” Lan Jue said in response. “By the way, has someone gotten in touch with big brother? Does he have any time to meet up with us?”

A distinct tinge of fear appeared in the depths of Chu Cheng’s eyes. “You couldn’t pay me to talk to him about this. It’s asking for a beating.”

“Yeeeaaahh, I think A-Jue’s best suited for that job,” Hua Li said. “That guy’s temper… and who’s to say he isn’t in some super important meeting or something.”

Lan Jue could only helplessly shake his head. “Is he really that scary?”

Chu Cheng and Hua Li both vehemently nodded their heads.

“Guess I’ll give it a shot,” Lan Jue sighed.

He tapped a number in to the communicator. Three rings later, someone picked up.

“A-Jue?” Surprise was clear in Lan Qing’s voice as he answered the call. Beneath that, though, was the tough and commanding tone of an officer.

Chapter 222: Triple Threat

“Yeah, it’s me. Are you busy?” Lan Jue couldn’t hear the chill that had crept in to his voice.

“No, what is it,” Lan Qing responded.

“I’m with A-Cheng and A-Li,” Lan Jue explained. “We’re in Dreamburg, and where wondering if you’d like to join us in training for a little while. There’s only half a month left before this god-team battle we’ve committed to.”

Lan Qing was silent for a moment. Eventually his quiet, constrained voice replied. “Alright. Wait for me at the entrance to the arena.”

“Got it.”

As he hung up, Lan Jue lifted his eyes to see both Hades and Poseidon looking at him in horror.

“What…” DreamNet’s version of Zeus looked at the two of them in confusion.

Chu Cheng heaved a long sigh. “We really do live in an unfair universe,” he lamented. “Why the hell is the big guy always so nice and gentle to you. To me he’s cold as death!”

Lan Jue chuckled. “That’s enough. You have no idea what kind of temper my brother has. He’s just this sort of person, he demands precision. Oh, and you do know that they record everything here, right? Bro is a rather vindictive guy…”

Chu Cheng, gritting his teeth, glared daggers at his young companion. “You’re just desperate for an ass-whoopin’ aren’t ya.”

“You betcha.”

The three of them squabbled good-naturedly as they made their way to the arena. As they walked, they encountered several other god-ranked pilots making their way to various places. They all made way for the three storied Monarchs. Even in DreamNet they were respected and honored.

Who wouldn’t recognize Zeus, Hades and Poseidon, in their masks and robes? Even though the god-team battles were not far away, the Divine Monarchs were still top of the lists for now.

They arrived at the arena before long. The three of them silently awaited the final member of their team.

Before long, they spied a figure approaching.

He was clad in black robes, and a black mask. Over it all hung a dark set of armor. It seemed like his very presence turned the beautiful and vibrant colors of Dreamburg in to pale shadows of themselves.

“You’re all here.” The black-clad man approached the three monarchs, and stopped.

Chu Cheng chortled. “It’s been a while, boss. How’ve you been?”

Lan Qing, appearing as the others in his godly form Prometheus, nodded in response. His masked face turned to Lan Jue. “I’d like to speak with you about Tai Hua, later.”

“Alright,” his younger brother said with a nod.

Prometheus looked at the time scrawled across the face of his communicator. “I’ve got a meeting in an hour. Let’s get this started.” He didn’t wait for a response, making for the entrance without hesitation.

The three others followed close behind, and the group vanished in to the arena. Several groups of pilots watched from a distance, murmuring quietly to one another.

“That’s Prometheus! You never see him around!”

“Yeah, that’s got to be him. Who else would be leading three of the Divine Monarchs around? What are they doing here?”

“The god-team battle they’ve been advertising is soon. They must be here to train.”

“Probably. Shame they don’t make their training public. It wouldn’t matter the asking price, there’d be scores of people coming to see them fight for themselves.”

“Well you probably won’t have to go without your wish for long. Once their exhibition fight comes, you’ll be able to see

them with your own eyes.”

ζ

With Prometheus in the lead, the Four Divine Monarchs entered the arena together, for the first time in ages. In the blink of an eye an arena was chosen, and they appeared within it. Such was Lan Qing’s way; quick, efficient, direct.

They appeared in disparate flashes of light, but not as themselves. Instead they arrived prepared, in four giant and magnificent mecha suits.

The Four Divine Monarchs, four horsemen of the apocalypse, astride their mighty ‘steeds.’ Prometheus within Coeus, Hades in his machine Cerberus, Zeus athwart Thor, and Poseidon commanding Triton.

Cerberus was a dark, blood red. Thor, a shimmering cobalt blue. Triton was a fresh sky blue. Coeus was a deep, penetrating black.

Seeing the four legendary mechas side by side, there was very

little visually to tell them apart, aside from the color. Of course, in reality they each had their different styles and load-outs. Powerful swells of energy radiated from each of them.

“So how do we go about this,” Lan Jue asked.

Chu Cheng rushed to answer. “I’ll be on the boss’ team, you can be with A-Li. Two on two, perfectly fair!”

Hua Li didn’t say anything. Lan Jue, however, gave an irritated response. “Really, fair. We’re brothers, we should be on one team and you and Hua Li should be on the other.”

“Alright,” Lan Qing’s voice quietly interjected. “We’re wasting time. The three of you against me.”

Cerberus turned its metal head to look towards Coeus. “You sure, boss?”

Coeus didn’t answer. It’s two ‘eyes’ began to glow with a sinister power as it returned Cerberus’ stare.

Hades coaxed his mecha back a few steps, until he stood beside Triton. This left Thor alone between them and the leader of the Divine Monarchs. “It’s all you A-Jue! You start her off, me and A-Li’ll back you up.”

Zeus’ eyes narrowed in the great mecha’s cockpit. He could almost feel his blood boiling.

“You certainly don’t have a very high opinion of us. Boss.” Lan Jue fixed his brother with a glare.

“If you hadn’t wasted the last three years, maybe you’d have the right to complain,” Lan Qing replied in his infuriatingly calm voice.

Chu Cheng sucked in a breath. “Damn guy, absolutely no respect! A-Jue, you know I’m not one to hold a grudge, but I simply can’t suffer this insult. I’m glad I’m on your side! Beating the crap out of the big guy is one of my major goals in life. Imagine how awesome it’d feel beating him in to submission!”

Lan Jue took a deep breath. Outside, Thor crouched, preparing to spring in to action.

“Let’s go, then.”

Coeus looked up, just as a stabbing green light shot from its eyes. Without any further wasted time, the great leader of the Monarchs was on the move.

There was a flash of green light, then suddenly an indistinct figure was assailing Thor.

The deep blue mecha was also in motion. Instantly coiling arcs of electricity began to race along its surface. This was no Discipline – DreamNet couldn’t handle that yet, but instead the result of equipment installed in the simulated mecha itself. Zeus made no effort to dodge, welcoming his opponent’s approach.

Lan Jue had complete confidence in his fighting ability within Thor! Both Thor and Cerberus were prepped for fighting on the front lines. Triton was a master of battlefield control, whereas Coeus was set to be effective in all areas. However, the drawback was as the old saying went; jack of all trades, and a master of none. Prometheus was wise enough to start with where he bore the greatest advantage – frontal assault.

Both were too fast. Be it Coeus or Thor, their approach and

subsequent clash was too fast for either to employ weaponry.

Keen eyes could see that as they collided, the electrical light around Thor flared to life. The blue mecha’s towering figure blurred, like it was a dream or illusion. Just before impact, Thor had become a chaotic orb of electrical fire! Afterwards, Thor appeared five meters beside his target.

This was a special battlefield advantage for ghosting; concealing your attack.

Upon seeing their team captain rush to the fore, Cerberus and Triton were in the fight. They spread out to either side as Thor raced ahead, seeking to flank Coeus.

Despite Chu Cheng’s earlier claims of fear, his charge was instant and merciless. Dark red light enveloped him, sizzling with heat as he brandished an enormous alloy sword. Both weapon and suit acted as one, sweeping around to catch Coeus in the side.

Triton was coming around from the opposite direction, its body a shimmering bloom of gentle blue light. As it approached a crystalline blue orb of power shot forth and enveloped Coeus.

It had been a very long time since the three had fought together. However, it was carried in their muscle memory – they fought in almost perfect harmony, playing off each others’ strengths.

It looked like they had Lan Qing locked down. But just then, Coeus’ metal figured flashed.

Waves of cyan light pulsed outward, and when it receded there were three shadowy figures where a moment before there’d been but one. Each picked a target – Thor, Cerberus and Triton – and went in for the strike.

“Three doppelgangers?”

All three of Lan Qing’s challengers looked on, stunned as though struck by lightning. They spoke the words in unison, wide-eyed and shivering in their respective cockpits.

In the eyes of the common pilot, ghosting was a magnificent display of ability. For god-pilots, three doppelgangers was legendary.

It was the peak of mastery for that ability, and it was one very rarely seen in the whole history of mecha piloting. It was practically impossible to describe its combat value.

The very basic requirements necessary to achieve such an astounding feat was a hand speed surpassing one-hundred CPS. One-hundred maneuvers, every single second! Of course the mecha suit needed to be able to handle such inhuman speed. It required an s-ranked speed amplifying power gem to make it happen.

Lan Jue, Chu Cheng and Hua Li were themselves God-ranked pilots. They were each well aware of how difficult something like this was to do. They knew that even hovering around a hundred CPS wasn’t enough to use three doppelgangers effectively in a fight. To use it as perfectly as their leader was, needed at least a hundred and twenty. There was no one in all the Three Alliances who could match this kind of speed.

It was no surprise, then, that Lan Qing’s three challengers were stunned at the revelation.

How could this be?

A pilot’s emotional state certainly had an effect on the suit they commanded. Zeus stood still as he processed the information, but his attack had landed on the center image.

To Thor’s astonishment, the cyan-hued figure dissolved in to a halo of light and vanished. That one wasn’t his brother.

No, Lan Jue thought as understanding washed over him. Not truly three of them!

If his brother’s three doppelgangers were truly the result of Ghost mastery, they’d each possess damaging capabilities. That is the most terrifying aspect of it. One god-ranked pilot suddenly becomes three to contend with.

But what Lan Jue faced wasn’t that. It was an illusion. It was not, as they feared, true cloning.

The strange bubble Triton cast forth naturally enveloped nothing but air. He had retreated and conjured a reflective shield to protect himself from the cyan shadow’s onslaught.

Once the figure collided with Triton’s shield it, too, vanished.

Fake? That only left one!

Chapter 223: The Power Of Coeus

The moment Lan Jue realized the image in front of him was fake, his eyes immediately shot to Hua Li. Zeus looked just in time to see that, like his own, the image Hua Li had targeted was simply an illusion.

Both he and Poseidon had forgotten the same fact; Lan Qing’s specialty was not hand speed! Though a renowned Monarch, his hand speed wasn’t anything so completely outside the norm for God-ranked pilots. It was silly for them to have believed he improved so much in a few short years, to the point where he was able to simultaneously create three doppelgangers.

However, this realization came too late.

The third and final figure racing towards Cerberus looked identical to the three that came before it. It rushed its target like a cyan specter. However, unlike the other two, when Hades brought his weapon up to strike, the shadow evaded.

The attacker flashed and shuddered through reality like a force of evil. Where there had been one, there were now nine separate images racing towards the dark red mecha.

They burst outward like an explosion, with the first three dissolving as they met Cerberus, but strangely did not do any collision damage. However, the whole of the frightening mecha reacted by releasing a powerful aura of dark red light.

The remainder of the illusions flashed all around him. They raced in circles until Hades was lost in an orb of cyan light. What followed was a series of vicious strikes from every which direction, scarring the iron-clad sides of the red suit.

Lan Jue reacted first, immediately moving towards his beleaguered friend the moment he saw him in trouble.

But before he could approach to save his friend, one of the figures extricated itself from the group. It raced his way, faster than a shooting star.

The first thing he noticed was how perfect it’s trajectory and advance really was. He didn’t even have time to prepare for evasion before the figure approached. He’d only just turned completely to face the pinned Hades and, instead of racing towards his friend to offer support, he had to focus all of his efforts on defense.

Bang! Thor lashed out with its spear of lightning, catching the oncoming form dead center. But instead of being blasted back, as one might expect, the frighteningly fast silhouette dodged to the side and dashed off in another direction. Directly towards Poseidon. Had the sky-blue mecha not stopped its forward advanced the moment it saw the figure coming, they’d have run directly in to one another.

There was a palpable fear of Coeus, living in the heart of each of them. Poseidon, the current target, knew he couldn’t sustain a direct attack from their leader. So he turned sideways to make himself a smaller target, and stretched his trident outward.

The cyan light surrounding Cerberus had become a raging tempest of violent power. The red light captured within it was becoming dimmer by the second, while shards of shrapnel launched out in all directions.

Thor and Triton made no move to save their companion. They understood very well the capabilities of Coeus. Going after Cerberus would accomplish nothing, and in fact may lead to them becoming ensnared themselves.

The two blue mecha stood back to back, and allowed their powers to amalgamate.

“Those aren’t doppelgangers. The big guy’s illusions, most likely.” Hua Li’s voice called to Lan Jue through the mecha’s communication system.

Lan Jue responded with a deep, pensive voice. “Yeah, but we found that out too late. From the outset we’ve been dancing to his rhythm. I hadn’t expected him to immediate employ the phantoms. And this power isn’t assisted by any discipline. He painstakingly employed the maneuver to make us think they were doppelgangers, and in the confusion went in for the strike. Chu Cheng got caught in the trap.”

The swirling tornado of cyan light lifted away and landed a distance from the others. It looked like a half moon, perhaps five meters long in total. It was a blade of light, curved and frightening to behold, with a handle set in the middle. One of Coeus’ moonblades.

Boom—! A blast tore through the arena, interrupting Hua Li and Lan Jue’s discussion. There was an enormous red erruption, followed by the expulsion of a single beam of cyan light. The weapon that had been cast so far away had inexplicably vanished.

Triton hefted its massive trident, and a shimmering blue aura

burst in to bloom, rapdly expanding in to the distance. This was one of the suit’s special characteristics to assist in battlefield control; a probe. It was a blast of energy not unlike an ocean ripple. It passed harmlessly through the phantoms, in search of their true enemy.

Thor raised its spear. It stood still and attentive, careful not to react without thought, though the blue light pulsing from it was growing stronger.

“You disappoint me,” Lan Qing’s harsh and critical voice called out.

The strange cyan light coalesced to form Coeus, standing a short distance before them.

Lan Qing’s mecha had sustained severe burns on its left shouldered, blackening the alloy. However, it was clear the damage wasn’t having much of an effect. It was the last-ditch strike of their defeated comrade that had scarred him.

Lan Jue and Hua Li were silent. In terms of pure speed, Coeus had both of their suits soundly beat.

Were Thor capable of sustaining Lan Jue’s Discipline here, the jewelry master would be able to catch up to his brother with the addition of his lightning. But he didn’t have the dexterity.

The intimidating mecha shimmered, and split in two. Both mirror images raced towards Lan Jue and Hua Li respectively.

There it was! Triton’s probe confirmed it; these weren’t illusions, they were true doppelgangers.

Triton rapidly moved behind Thor, who slowly separated in to two doppelgangers of its own.

Lan Qing was somewhat lacking in hand speed, when compared to his brother. The doppelganger maneuver required a punishing level of dexterity, but this was something Lan Jue didn’t shy from.

The mirror images racing their way bore crescent-shaped moonblades in each hand. Where he standing still, one might notice that the two weapons could join to create a single loop.

Thor lashed out with his spear like a snake, it’s sizzling tip

roaring through the air towards Coeus’ cockpit.

One of the moonblades rose in an attempt to deflect Thor’s deadly spear. However, just as the blades were about to touch the spear burst in to a countless number of smaller piercing lightning bolts that shot off in all directions.

The two doppelgangers reacted by bringing their moonblades together, and as they did there appeared a curtain of protective light around the offending mecha. It was sufficient to deflect every one of the lightning strikes.

“Eh?” Lan Qing’s surprised voice crackled through Lan Jue’s cockpit. Clearly Thor’s lightning attack had caught him off guard.

Triton had not been cowering during the exchange. By then its trident was gone, and it was standing with its arms outstretched as though it was holding something in its embrace. Waves of intense energy were caught between his arms, growing more and more powerful as the waves washed over one another. A small opening had appeared from the mecha’s chest plate, and it was from there that the energy was being released. The orb of light was growing more powerful by the moment, as energy was being fed in to it.

Parting of the Waters! One of the most devastating of Triton’s abilities. So great was its destructive capabilities that even the best outfitted mecha suit couldn’t stand a direct blast. The drawback was that it required time to build up, giving the enemy time to avoid it.

Thor had corrected this by masterfully holding off Coeus, and blocking Triton from view as it prepared. It was enough time for Hua Li to get ready in stotal secrecy. Now all that was needed, was for Thor to coax Coeus in to the kill zone.

Lan Jue had pulled all the stops. He was surprised at his hand speed, faster than he’d ever been. It had allowed his spear’s lightning attack to explode with power similar to his forest of lightning. It was a torrential attack, that succeeded in forcing Coeus to retreat.

Lan Qing’s mecha couldn’t overcome Thor in pure explosive power. Still he felt somewhat helpless because, though his hand speed was clearly superior, his enemy’s massive weapons would always be able to easily deflect his blows.

Where this fight one on one, it would be Lan Jue who would be fighting uphill. Luckily, though, he wasn’t alone.

“We’ve got it, A-Jue!” Hua Li called out.

In an instant, Thor was on the move. The massive suit dissolved in to a blinding blue light that shot headlong towards Coeus. The furious charge left Lan Qing no option but to withdraw further. He knew Thor’s destructive capabilities would materialize faster than his own could.

He was flustered, reacting instead of controlling the battle’s flow. Caught off guard, all Coeus could do was spin its mighty blades haphazardly in attempts to keep Thor at bay.

But Thor was simply too fast, too furious. Thor focused all of its energy, and as he raced forward seven interlaced beams of light tore through the skies. Each one viciously slimmed in to the Hero of the East, one after the other. It was all he could do to protect himself, like a tree trying to stave off destruction in the midst of a hurricane. Each beam of light took with it shards of twisted metal.

At last the tempest passed. Coeus hovered in the air, clearly destabilized.

It was Hua Li’s chance, and he didn’t miss the opportunity.

His Parting the Waters strike was released, creating a tremendously massive column of blue light that exploded outward just as Thor landed its final strike. It was that last little push that shoved Coeus directly in to the oncoming coup de grâce, and spun him around away from Hua Li.. After such a blitzkrieg, his defeat seemed certain.

Lan Jue’s hand speed had reached its limit. He shot a glance at the control terminal which recorded the maneuvers, and saw that his last strike had reached a maximum of ninety-two CPS. It was the his own personal best. Unfortunately, his hand speed was too much for the suit’s power gems to sustain. Were that not the case, he could have employed the Seven Stars. That, he was confident, would have ended the fight there and then.

The thought tumbled through his head as he watched the final moments of their exchange unfold. He looked on confident in the knowledge that nothing his brother could do would save him in the face of his rapidly approaching demise. There was no dodging, no deflect his friend’s terribly blast of power. He couldn’t even see it coming.

Boooooomm—! The two mecha collided with one another. Prometheus coaxed his suit to race forward and crash in to brother’s sapphire mecha.

But just as its fate seemed sealed, Coeus tipped his hand.

Chapter 224: Total Victory

Coeus unexpectedly cast aside it’s two moonblades. It’s whole metallic figure shuddered as they fell to earth. The suit swept its left arm around Thor’s electric spear, pinning the weapon against it. With a mighty pull Coeus forced Thor to lurch in to a shoulder smash.

The juke and pull completely neutralized Thor’s thrust. It was masterfully executed, effortless, and seemed as natural to Prometheus as breathing.

Looking from a distance, one could see Coeus and Thor, devoured by the terrifying light of Triton’s Parting of the Waters!

Thor’s defensive capabilities were second only to Tritons in their little band of pilots. However, the sapphire mecha had just expended all of its energy in the previous strike, leaving nothing left to protect itself. How could it be expected to sustain such a horrible attack?

Zeus’ enormous mecha went soaring, cast away by the Parting of the Waters. A series of shuddering explosions followed. Although the blasts didn’t seem as apocalyptic as those Cerberus

had suffered, it was clearly the end of the fight for Thor.

Coeus’ slowly turned in midair. Scrapes and dents had appeared all across it’s formerly polished surface. Hovering overhead, it’s dark cyan figure smoldering, the mecha looked like a demon come to earth.

Under the circumstances, Prometheus had taken on three challengers and came out with significantly less damage than one would expect. Meanwhile, both Cerberus and Thor were defeated. Only one remained to face him.

The expanse of arena was looking desolate and inhospitable to Triton, as it hovered in the air a distance from the terrifying Lan Qing. Although he knew Coeus had sustained severe damage in its fight against his two friends, Hua Li was also keenly aware that their leader had yet to use his strongest attacks. He calculated about sixty percent energy reserves remaining for his opponent.

One-on-one. Hua Li was beginning to feel hopeless.

“Boss, there doesn’t appear to be any need to continue…”

Triton lifted its metallic arms in surrender.

Lan Qing huffed. There was a flash, and he was gone.

Lan Jue and Chu Cheng were waiting outside by the door to the Arena. Both of their faces were similarly steeped in anger and depression. They were each very aware they couldn’t take Lan Qing on individually, but they hadn’t thought they’d be so handily beat on pure mecha combat alone. From the very beginning they couldn’t find their rhythm. This was certainly one reason for their dour expressions, but more than that was the painfully large gap between the three of them, and their leader.

Lan Jue had felt he’d improved lately, both physically and in his Discipline. He should be equal to his brother! This fight served to clearly and incontrovertibly underline the difference that remained between them.

The two young men said nothing, and waited until Poseidon and Prometheus appeared from within the ring.

They didn’t even need to ask – their fate had been sealed from the onset. The three of them sighed in unison.

Prometheus displayed no pride in his victory. He swept his eyes over the other three. “Are you aware of why you lost so quickly?” his quiet voice expressed.

Chu Cheng spoke first, his tone full of bitterness. “Even from the start, we knew in our hearts we weren’t a match for you. We didn’t give it our all, and we ignored our advantage.”

“You have a wealth of combat experience over us,” Lan Jue interjected. “You knew to take every advantage posed to you.”

Hua Li thought for a moment before speaking. “We were at a disadvantage the moment it became three on one. We had no momentum. I believe that, if we’d come one after the other instead of together, each of us would have pushed to our highest point in the battle. You wouldn’t have come out of it the winner in that circumstance.”

Lan Qing nodded with each determination. “You’re all correct. However, even knowing this, even training until your hands bleed and you collapse from exhaustion, you still would never catch up to me.”

Lan Jue felt his anger flair. “Why?” he shot back.

Lan Qing, unperturbed the tone, went on. “None of you have experienced true suffering. You haven’t been tempered in the fire. Were you the leaders of men, your companies would be defeated in short order. Routed. If you had to fight off assassins an average of three times a week… if you had the level of crisis awareness and experience that I did, then you could be my equal. If you truly seek power, you need to step out of your comfortable existence. None of you have any less talent than I. The difference is your desire to improve. If that continues, you’ll never even get close to me. A-Li is incorrect – even if you came at me one at a time, in the end the only result is your inevitable defeat. You simply can’t make me suffer enough.”

Were it anyone else, the three Monarchs would balk at their arrogance. But this was Prometheus. He was a different case altogether.

Chu Cheng’s laugh was hard and full of hurt. “So what, you want us all to be soldiers? We’re all from different Alliances, if we did there’s no telling if one day we’d face each other in battle.”

Prometheus’ eyes softened appreciably. “Unlikely. At least for the next little while, we won’t need to worry about civil human strife.”

Zeus’ masked face hid his surprise, but his voice didn’t. “You know something?”

Prometheus nodded. “News from the proverbial horse’s mouth. The Northern Alliance has lost contact with an armada of navy ships it’d dispatched.”

Zeus’ surprise intensified. “This quickly?” As far as he knew, the North had only just recently sent the ships out to look for the monster planets! Could it really be possible for a fleet of ships to disappear so quickly? Unbelievable!

These sorts of missions were always lead by a Capital Warship, an exceptionally powerful weapon of war. It was two classes above a common battleship, and with something so powerful at its head the combat group was capable  of obliterating entire planets.

Lan Qing went on. “It looks like our earlier conjecture has been proven correct. We have a violent and previously unknown alien species heading for galaxies under the protection of the Three Alliances. Our analysis indicates the attack of Taihua is connected. Under these circumstances, do you think the alliances will waste time and resources on fighting each other?”

Lan Jue, Chu Cheng and Hua Li stood silent, their faces dark and brooding.

The universe was ever a mystery, bringing both wonders and terrors. Humans were powerful, yes, but who knew how many unknown species were out there? Like these aliens, were they hostile? Could humans protect themselves if they should meet?

In such an infinitely vast universe, who could say humans were the height of power? With an infinite space to explore, the chances of discovering something that could force humans in to extinction was not negligible. Even if they hadn’t had faced these monsters already, their rapid and clandestine approach towards human lands could not be well-meaning. Over the last one hundred years of space exploration, one thing has been proven true; all creatures, human included, liked their personal space.

The small group stood in silence for a moment, a cloud of depression hanging heavy over them.

After a time, Lan Jue looked up towards his brother. “Do you want me to join the army?”

Lan Qing responded by shaking his head. “No, that’s not what I want for you. You have your own road to walk. If you came with me you’d unconsciously come to rely on me. This would be bad for your Talent. Your destiny lies further down the road. The decision is yours, and I can’t interfere in it.”

Lan Jue silently nodded his head. His thoughts turned to Wu Junyi, and the pressure of the request he’d laid upon him. Now more than ever, he knew it wasn’t something he could refuse. Soon it would be time for humanity as a whole to fight for their right to survive.

“I’d like you to explain your experience on Taihua, in detail.” Lan Qing asked.

“Alright.” Lan Jue nodded, then went on to explain everything that had occurred during his time on Taihua. No detail was left out.

When his younger brother got to the part about the Fantascia Genetica, Lan Qing’s eyes grey hard and harsh. However, he said nothing, and just listened carefully to the rest of the tale.

“You did well. Of course, you are my brother, after all. You

can bank on the reality that I will make the Pontiff’s Castle pay for hurting you. This, though, is strange. Skyfire Avenue is the strongest of the Adept organizations, but it is also the loosest. I don’t believe that doctor who claimed to heal you actually possessed the capabilities to do so. What do you think?”

“I had the same thought,” Lan Jue agreed. “The phylactery only served to drain the tempest of energy that was within me. Perhaps he would be able to heal my injured meridians, but the side-effects of taking the genetica would be to extensive for him. And now, not only aren’t there any residual issues, but instead both my Talent and physical health have improved. Total contrary to reason. It may be possible if there was a paragon around specializing in healing, but in all the ten known paragons there is no such person.”

Lan Qing turned his attention to Chu Cheng and Hua Li. “When you two got there, did you discover anything out of the ordinary?”

Hua Li pondered the question. “When we saw him, he was in some sort of grey stone. It was oval shaped… really sort of like an eggshell.”

I can’t recall whether or not I mentioned this before, but this

is an allusion to a popular Chinese trope, wherein a powerful being is born or escapes from a strange cocoon. For the monkey King, he was born from a rock, was buried under a mountain, and then later escaped. He was powerful enough to challenge the whole of heaven. There was also a more contemporary example in Hulu Wa, or the Calabash Brothers. First a farmer drills open a hole in a mountain and evil demons escape, then grows seven calabashes from which seven powerful babies emerged.

“Yeah, I thought the same thing, “Chu Cheng added. “He was laying in it. When we got there, it looked like everything had just finished. The Cosmagus was there, so we didn’t ask too many questions. At the time we were just concerned for A-Jue’s health.”

Lan Qing looked them over. “So the Cosmagus would know the answers we seek. A-Jue, you’ll need to find a way to get it out of him. If the Avenue has someone capable of healing such dire illness, this could prove invaluable in any number of ways. They shouldn’t keep that hidden.”

Lan Jue nodded in acceptance. “It won’t be easy. If they do really have someone with this ability, it’s unlikely the Avenue will want to share that information. After all, that would be a very rare find. At any rate, I owe the Avenue my life. I’ll need a

way to pay them back.”

Chapter 225: The Bamboozled Teaching Assistant

Lan Qing’s quiet voice wafted towards the other three. “I have to get back. I’ll be on time for the god battle. You all need to push yourself. Think on what I’ve said.”

Chu Cheng and Hua Li nodded their heads. Lan Jue did as well, though there was a moment’s hesitation.

With a flash, the black-clad Prometheus was gone.

Hades and Poseidon gave audible sighs of relief. Hades, now safe, couldn’t help himself from complaining. “What kind of ‘brother’ is he, anyway? He gets worse every time I see him. Why did he choose to go after me first? You tell me, it’s because he knows I’m stronger than A-Li, right?”

Poseidon glared at his mouthy companion. “Oh yeah? And how exactly are you better than me? Especially when it comes to defense, you got nothing on me.”

Zeus interjected, his voice gentle. “I actually do know why he chose to attack you first.”

“Why, then?” Hades inquired with genuine curiosity.

“Because you talk too damn much.”

“…”

ζ

Dusk was quick approaching as Lan Jue bounced towards the NEU gate cockhorse on his bicycle. He’d already set a time to meet Zhou Qianlin via the Soulcaller gem.

Once she showed up, he wordlessly made for Grace Hospital. It was dark by the time he took her home. They only exchanged a few words during the entire evening, but the more time they spent together, the more there grew a wordless sort of mutual understanding between them. As they sped along home, Qianlin would often wrap her arm around Lan Jue’s waist for support. He didn’t stop her.

After he dropped her off, Lan Jue returned home. He ate a simple dinner, then spent some time at his writing desk composing something. When he finally did go to sleep, it was

late.

Jin Tao was still in deep sleep, hidden within the nutrition chamber they’d left him in after the fantascia ginetica infusion. By now there were subtle differences in his physique becoming apparent. His bones were sturdier, his muscles stronger. Slender golden hairs covered his entire body… almost like he was reverting to his ancestral roots.

Tang Xiao had made his way to the Avenue after school, a religious habit he maintained after the competition. He appeared with a zeal that showed he’d forgotten – or was heroically ignoring – the pain his visits invariably ended with. Of course his zeal was in part due to the fact that Mika was his instructor, and the more vicious she was the more Tang Xiao pushed.

ζ

Morning. NEU Electives Office.

Lan Jue’s communicator beeped as he hung up. He rose to his feet, and walked to the nearby office window. As the warm sun blanketed him in a comfortable tungsten glow, he slowly

stretched his lithe figure. From the outside, he looked like an angel.

NEU Teaching Affairs Office.

Wu Junyi closed the connection on his communicator, a knowing smile spreading across his face.

ζ

“Hm, Professor Lan’s gotten here so early, today. A, that’s right, he has class. And what high-brow content are we expounding today?” Wang Hongyuan spied Lan Jue as he stepped in to the electives office. He smiled pleasantly as he called out the greeting.

Lan Jue chuckled good-naturedly. “Early! Hongyuan, I am a professional and diligent professor. Can I infer from your tone you don’t agree with me?”

Wang Hongyuan’s lips curled in an accusing grin. “Sure you are. Diligent? Have you ever worked a full day here? Hell I’m lucky if I see you at all on any given day. Not sure that qualifies

as diligent. All we have to do is look at your class schedule – you can’t even guarantee two classes a week.”

Lan Jue meandered over to Wang Hongyuan’s desk. “How about you and me have a little chat outside.”

Hongyuan’s eyes followed Lan Jue as he approached, curiosity in their depths. “What do you want to chat about?”

“Nothing bad,” Lan Jue assured, resting a hand on the man’s shoulder. “Let’s go.” Despite his words though, there was a no- nonsense tone to his voice.

Wang Hongyuan had seen what Lan Jue was capable of. He knew he was no match for the man. Helplessly he rose to his feet, and followed the etiquette professor from the office.

Once they entered the hallway, Wang Hongyuan interrupted their trek with a few quiet words. “This is a school, professor. Don’t act recklessly.”

Lan Jue blinked innocently at his contemporary. “What are you talking about? If I were to do something like that, it

wouldn’t be against you. You aren’t the Savage Goddess.”

Wang Hongyuan shot Lan Jue a nasty sneer. “I’m pretty sure not even god knows what you’ll do. If you got something to say fire away. I have classes to prepare.”

Lan Jue grinned. “It’s like this then. Yesterday Director Wu came to the electives office looking for me. With nothing but conjecture and hearsay, he puzzled out my abilities.”

Wang Hongyuan was understandably surprised by the news. “He found out you’re…”

Lan Jue nodded.

“What are you going to do?” Hongyuan asked, his brows furrowed. “Leave?”

Lan Jue shook his head, and grinning, went on. “Why should I leave? I’m a catch, aren’t I?”

Wang Hongyuan snorted. “I know Director Wu. Clever as a

demon. I’m sure once he found out you’re a God-ranked pilot, he was pulling out all the stops to get you under his thumb.”

Lan Jue sagely nodded his head. “Indeed, the old fox is a tough one to deal with. I didn’t have any choice but to acquiesce to his demands. Starting today I’ll be assuming another identity and teach mecha combat as a ‘visiting professor.’”

Wang Hongyuan’s lit up at the news. “Mecha combat eh?”

This elicited a nod from the intrepid instructor. “Didn’t you find anything odd about what happened on Tai Hua? It was downright inexplicable. How is it that these powerful beasts just happened to appear? There’s a high chance we’ll eventually encounter even more intelligent life somewhere out there in the universe. If that’s the case, anything we can do to strengthen humanity as a whole is exceptionally important. With that in mind, I accepted Director Wu’s terms. Of course I’ll be wearing a mask during classes to protect my identity. I’ll also be continuing with the etiquette classes. I told our esteemed Director that, should anything happen and my identity become known, this great find of his will vanish as quickly as he came.”

Wang Hongyuan nodded in understanding. “That’ll work. With your instruction, it’s safe to assume we’ll see a number of

excellent pilots graduating from our program.”

“Naturally,” Lan Jue replied. “I have my worries, though. After all, our school is not a traditional mecha combat university. Our students aren’t the greatest picks from the gene pool, Talent-wise. That’ll be their biggest hurdle in improving as pilots. I hope I’ll be able to find a few with higher natural ability, so we can train them as instructors and at least create a solid foundation for future improvement. That would net the most benefit. When all is said and done, it’s better to train a single Sovereign to Godhood, then a bunch of newbies to half- way decent status.”

The dance instructor just looked at him. “What’s all this nonsense, speak straight.”

Lan Jue answered by fixing the man with his stare. “Would you like to learn a few things from me?”

“Me?” Wang Hongyuan jabbed a finger towards his own nose, looking at Lan Jue in obvious surprise.

The god-ranked pilot only nodded.

“But I’m older than you are!” he exclaimed.

Lan Jue shrugged indifferently. “Knowledge is independent of age or length of study. If a teacher knows and can impart, then they are a teacher. You should know this.”

Wang Hongyuan looked unsure. His words only confirmed it. “Too sudden, I’ll need to think about it.”

Lan Jue patted his friend’s shoulder.  “Sometimes opportunities are only available for the moment. You got till the end of the day – if you aren’t interested, I’ll find someone else.”

Wang Hongyuan visibly shook. He glowered in irritation. “Is there anyone as obnoxious and pushy as you?”

Lan Jue only shrugged his shoulders. “Then you go ahead and find another God-ranked pilot to come and teach you.”

Wang Hongyuan had no answer for that. “What rank are you anyway. Really.”

“There are no ranks for God pilots,” Lan Jue explained. “Though right now there are those trying to find a way to do so. But if you mean Discipline, then seventh-degree.”

“Seventh!” Wang Hongyuan whistled appreciatively. His normally sour expression gave way, and he couldn’t help but yelp. “Alright, I’m in!”

Wang Hongyuan was a seventh-ranked adept. It was enough that he knew what it meant to be faced with a ninth-ranked, seventh-degree Talent. The veritable top of the Adept pyramid – very nearly the peak of human cultivation. And so young, to boot. It was inevitable that he would break in to the highest levels of power.

Lan Jue gave him a small grin. “Call me teacher, lemme hear how it sounds.”

Wang Hongyuan gaped at him. “Me. Call you teacher. Hell no! Maybe when we’re actually learning something. Speaking of, how are we going to learn? Most of the students know who I am.”

Lan Jue’s face grew solemn. “You want to learn, but you

refuse to call me teacher?”

Wang Hongyuan’s face grew red, then white, then red. His hands wrung together, almost unconsciously. Of course he was very interested in learning with Lan Jue; not just for piloting, but in Discipline as well. It’d been a very long time since he’d seen any improvement in either area.

But this Professor Lan was younger than he. And he was an instructor himself. For Lan Jue to force obeisance in this was more than he could stand!

He considered the trade-off for a moment. He gritted his teeth, struggling with the words. Seeing this, Lan Jue cut in. “Never mind, there’s another way. You don’t want to be my student I can’t force you. We’ll do this then; you can also assume a disguise, and be my teaching assistant. This way when
I’m instructing the students you can listen in. You won’t be getting the benefit of being a student directly, but you can study on your own. How’s that?”

To explain this a little better, we require some further insight in to Chinese culture. Mianzi, or face, is a massive underlying aspect of life in the far east. It’s a major underpinning factor in everything from family gatherings to highest-level government.

What Lan Jue is asking in forcing his elder in both teaching experience and age to address him with that level of respect, if effectively emasculating him – making him lose face. You might think, then, that Lan Jue’s a bit of a dick forcing Wang Hongyuan to address him that way – but not really. Teachers demand a great deal of respect in China, and in fact it’s an absolute necessity in classrooms that the teacher command absolute respect. While that’s slowly hanging nowadays, the old Confucian ideal of respect thy teacher is still given a tremendous amount of lip service. It’s not only not unreasonable, but expected that a teacher’s students not only address them as such, but also bow and scrape and do whatever their teacher requires.

The relief in Wang Hongyuan after hearing the words was almost palpable. “Excellent. In truth, bud, I’ve got no problem calling you teacher. It’s just, I need to maintain a presence and reputation here you understand. So don’t take it  personally! How about I call you teacher in private, whadda ya think?”

Lan Jue chuckled and patted his forehead. “Fine, don’t worry about it. We’re still and always will be contemporaries. After all we faced the fire together, stuck through it in a life and death situation. How can I really force you to do something like that. So it’s settled, then. I’ll let Director Wu know you’ll be acting as my assistant teacher. I have to head out and prepare for the afternoon class. Five o’clock, that the first class for these

‘visiting professors.’ I’ll get a mask for you, too. Find something you don’t usually wear, something people wouldn’t recognize. Hairstyle, too.”

He called the instructions over his shoulder as he swaggered down the hall.

Wang Hongyuan followed him with his eyes, until the young braggart vanished around a corner. He remained in place, dumbfounded, though there was gratitude in his heart. He was nothing special, and yet he acted inappropriately when a ninth- rank seventh-degree Disciple offered to train him.

What he didn’t see was the self-satisfied, guileful grin plastered on Lan Jue’s face as he left.

Chapter 226: Culinary Edification

So it was that Lan Jue had his assistant teacher squared away. It was a good deal, for teaching mecha combat wasn’t an easy task. He’d thought over the situation last night, and came to the determination that it would be quite troublesome to teach the class entirely by himself. It was true that the mecha combat department had other teachers, but their knowledge base was woefully insufficient for what he needed. Wang Hongyuan was best suited for the position.

It wasn’t a farce, telling Wang Hongyuan that he would be learning as well. However, speaking was an art form – had he approached Hongyuan directly about being his teaching assistant, the chances of him refusing the offer was high. He’d fear for his own secrets, which he’d fought hard to keep concealed.

His method had solved the problem before it’d even become one. In fact, Wang Hongyuan was thankful for the opportunity. As for Lan Jue, he felt much more positive about the whole ordeal. If he was going down, he was taking someone with him – it made it a less bitter pill to swallow.

ζ

2:00 p.m.

It was time again for another etiquette class. This time, however, there were clearly much fewer students than the last time. Around half of last class’ students were present.

It was a shameful display! Certainly the students felt similarly.

This Professor Lan was too irresponsible, they lamented. It had been ages since anyone had even seen him. There was certainly an attraction to the class, but likewise his extended absence made attendance difficult to maintain. Of course, there was also another reason why there were so few students today.

The NEU allowed all of their students to enroll in mecha combat as an elective. However, those who chose to do so were required to pay an extra fee. After all, resources were needed to teach the class. Suits, mechas, weaponry and more needed to be made available to the students.

The NEU’s bizarre and brazen defeat of their rivals, Lir University, had made mecha combat the flavor of the day. Suddenly, everyone wanted to become a god-ranked pilot. It

was almost impossible to get in to the Savage Goddess’ class anymore. It was no surprise, then, that there were so few still willing to pay out for an etiquette class.

Zhou Qianlin was among them, and she’d arrived early to participate. Tang Mi was at her side, as usual. She’s accidentally told her long-legged companion that Professor Lan was holding another class. Once Tang Mi knew that, their afternoon was booked without question.

Originally, Zhou Qianlin had no intention of attending. She had quite a lot of class work to finish. But, she recalled Lan Jue’s conspiratorial tone this morning, when he claimed there would be fine foods on offer today. Eat a light lunch, he’d urged.

Zhou Qianlin knew that, when Lan Jue said there would be good food, he wasn’t lying. She knew his taste. And what girl didn’t like a fine meal? She decided to see what he was talking about.

Even though the numbers were still woefully small by comparison, Qianlin and Tang Mi’s presence brought a fair few more than there would have been otherwise.

The seat beside Tang Mi was occupied by her brother. Tang Xiao was still enjoying his status as the hero of the NEU. Suddenly his weight didn’t matter, as was evident by the more than one hundred love letters he’d already received. The veritable cloud of smugness that followed him made it clear how he felt about the matter. It fueled his evening masochistic beatings.

Suffering now leads to success in the future! Tang Xiao repeated the words to himself every day, a mantra to keep him on track.

The moment Lan Jue walked in to the room, everyone’s attention instantly focused on him. The reason was his unconventional dress.

Today, it was a snow-white chef’s uniform; the white double- breasted jacket, the white pants, the apron, and the toque to top it all off.

“What’s all this about?” Tang Xiao followed his instructor with his eyes, confused at what he was seeing. It was like a cartoon…

Once their make-shift chef arrived at the podium, he turned and waved his hand toward the door. From outside, a group of people shuffled in to the classroom. They set up a large, circular table at the front of the class.

Lan Jue spoke. “Alright everyone, gather round. Give space. Make room in the middle. I hope you all didn’t get too full at lunch, otherwise I’m afraid you might regret it.”

Tang Mi poked Zhou Qianlin, seated quietly at her side. “What’s going on?”

“How am I supposed to know,” Zhou Qianlin muttered.

It ended up being a blessing to have so few students today. Twenty-something, and that was all. It was a small enough class that they could all comfortably gather near the front.

At Lan Jue’s instruction, the students pulled their chairs close and found a place around the expansive table.

“So you treating us to a meal, Professor?” Tang Mi couldn’t help but ask.

Lan Jue smiled at her. “I suppose, something like that. An understanding of fine cuisine is an integral part of etiquette. Today, I’m going to teach you about Ma La Tang…”

Zhou Qianlin began to pay more attention after his introduction. Lan Jue had taken her suggestions, and instead of sticking to subjects beyond the ken of these middle-class students, he’d chosen something more accessible. This way a far more practical subject to learn about.

One’s sense of taste was certainly the strongest! It was as good a place as any to start. It was a dish he’d requested from the Gourmet, since he couldn’t create such a masterpiece himself.

ζ

Zhou Qianlin couldn’t remember a time she’d been this full. She felt absolutely inundated with the fresh, spicy flavor of the meal. She could still feel it on her tongue. Her face was red from the heal of it, and she took sips of cold water between panting breaths. She noted, with some amusement, that her lips were numb.

Despite her discomfort, though, she was better off than the

others.

Tang Mi was leaning against the back of her chair, groaning intermittently. She thought she had a formidable appetite, but it had only been two hours since her big lunch, and this was twice as much. It was too delicious for her to pass up. Too delicious for her to stop eating!

But Tang Xiao was the most entertaining to watch. The unfortunate chair beneath his groaned and creaked with effort. And then broke to pieces, to the delight and surprise of a laughing classroom.

“Alright. Now, I hope you all have a good idea of what real Ma La Tang tastes like. That’s all for today’s class, next time we’ll have something new to discuss.” Lan Jue could see the satisfaction on his students’ faces. Today’s class was a successful one.

Once class was finished, he stepped out. Jin Yan was waiting for him.

“Ah, Professor Lan. I’m late! Class is over, isn’t it. I was covering a class this afternoon. What did you talk about today?

What’s that wonderful smell?” Her nose scrunched adorably as she sniffed the air, filling her nostrils with the heady scent.

Lan Jue thrust his thumb over his shoulder towards the class. “There should still be some left. You should go in and try some, Professor Jin. Tang Mi, tell Professor Jin about Ma La Tang.” With Jin Yan passed off, Lan Jue turned and left. He’d hired the workers to clean up once everyone was finished, so he didn’t have to.

Ten minutes later, there was one more poor soul groaning from their poor self-control.

Lan Jue was still clad in the aromatic chef’s uniform when he returned to the electives office. He found a spot to change his clothes.

“Professor Lan. Five o-clock this afternoon you’re teaching, right? What’s the subject matter?” Wang Hongyuan was suddenly at his side, quietly pushing him for answers.

Chapter 227: A Wild Guest Instructor Appears!

“Ah, that reminds me…” Lan Jue replied. “I’ve already let Director Wu know you’re going to be acting as my assistant. I’ll give you a mask, change your clothes and then we’re ready to go. The Director has hand-picked fifty students to populate our inaugural class. They should be top of their group. Today we’ll be going straight to simulations, and start there. Once you’re changed, head over and start setting up the pods. Get us a spot to train. I’ll be there a little while later.”

Wang Hongyuan’s attitude toward the young etiquette teacher was a sight different than normal. He nodded his head without hesitation or complaint. “Alright, right away. Let me get the mask.”

With his back to the other teachers, blocking their view, Lan Jue opened his inter-dimensional storing space and pulled free a silver mask. Wang Hongyuan took it, shot Lan Jue a thumbs-up, then left to get ready.

The etiquette teacher watched him leave, a smile on his face.
This is the worth of a teaching assistant.

The Soulcaller gem warmed.

Zhou Qianlin: Soooo full! But it was delicious, thank you.

Lan Jue: Happy to. By the way, I’ll probably be leaving the school late this evening. Do you want to wait or find another way home?

What’s keeping you on campus so long? What are you up to?

Director Wu saw through our charade. Once he found out I’ve been behind the last few big news items, he forced me to agree to teach a mecha combat class. I had no choice but to accept, under the condition that he keeps my identity a secret. I’ll be a special ‘guest instructor’. Ugh…

Well can I join?

You…

Me what? Is there a problem? You said yourself I’m an adept now.

Director Wu said he’d chosen the students for this class himself. Do you think you can find a way in?

He’s already approached me. He said they were opening a special mecha combat class, calling class one of Advanced Robotic Combat conditioning. He wanted to know if I’d be interested in joining. He said practical experience in mecha combat would improve my research. I said I’d think about it.

The surprises never cease.

He wants me to join the student government, commissary in charge of studies he called it. What do you think?

Why not.

ζ

“Agh, Qianlin, I’m so full I could die. But so, so good. I can feel myself falling more in love with Professor Lan every time I show up to one of his classes. He’s not strong, but in peacetime he’s nothing short of a dream guy. He’s already conquered my stomach, and well on his way to my heart.” Tang Mi feigned a

doe-eyed, smitten expression to Zhou Qianlin who was seated at her side.

Qianlin smiled at her. “I decided to join you in that mecha combat class, Little Mi.”

Tang Mi sat up straighter in her chair. “Weren’t you just on about not wanting to hurt anybody? Why the sudden change of heart?”

Qianlin’s smirk was as mysterious as it was teasing. “Why dwell on the past.”

ζ

“The sim pods are ready, teacher. You can come on over whenever you’re ready.” Wang Hongyuan’s voice carried through Lan Jue’s communicator.

“Alright, I’ll be there shortly,” he replied.

Mecha Combat Department, Simulator Warehouse.

Wu Junyi looked severe with his serious countenance and black suit. His cold demeanor instantly set the gathered students on edge. They could feel the stifling pressure, simply by his presence.

The students were dutifully arrayed in five rows, and stood as they waited for class to begin. Every one of them was clad in a black pilot jumpsuit.

Wang Hongyuan stood beside Wu Junyi, his identity protected by the silver mask. He looked over the excited youths in their crisp uniforms and, without understanding why, he felt his own blood boiling with anticipation.

They didn’t have to wait long. After a short while, the rhythmic of footsteps could be heard from outside. The door opened, and a figure stepped in.

He was instantly the center of attention.

A golden mask hid his features from view. A blue flight suit hugged his lithe, athletic figure. As he entered, a powerful aura followed.

Curiosity blazed in the eyes of all onlookers. Who was this masked man? When Director Wu had introduced the class, he’d told them only that they would be bringing in a guest instructor, and nothing more.

The masked man immediately made his way to Wu Junyi with large strides. He stopped once beside the man, gave him a nod, then looked over the gathered pupils.

Wu Junyi returned the greeting in kind, then faced the students. With a smile on his face, he addressed them in his characteristic imperial tone. “Alright students, allow me to introduce you. This is your new guest instructor and his assistant. You may address them as Drillmaster.” His opening words were simply and brief. He indicated the masked men as he spoke.

“Today, those of you standing here will participate in our first special Advanced Robotics Combat – or ARC – class. You were chosen based on your inherent genetic Talent, and academic excellence. I can assure you right now that, if you take this course seriously, under the drillmaster’s instruction you will undoubtedly grow to be respected mecha pilots. You’ll be contributing members of the Alliance. However, I must impress upon you the fact that your presence here is a privilege. Simply being chosen does not mean your attendance is assured. If any

of you are incapable of keeping up, or are not improving as expected, you will have your spot taken away. I’m sure that anyone unfortunate enough to have this happen to them will regret it tremendously. As such, we expect two hundred percent effort here, ladies and gentlemen. If you do, not only will you progress further than you ever imagined possible, you’ll be doing your Alliance a service, becoming a skilled and sought- after mecha pilot. With that said, I yield the floor to your drillmasters.”

Wu Junyi relinquished his spot before the students, stepping to the side so the masked man could take his place.

The golden-masked stranger took up position as naturally as though he lived in the center of attention. They could only see his eyes, which twinkled with a mysterious power as he looked over the gathered pupils.

“Salutations. There is no need for me to deliver some long self-introduction – in fact I’m sure several of you are already thinking up nicknames for me. But let me stop you there, because I know exactly what you’ll be calling me in just a little while: The Demon. I suggest you get used to it now, because you’ll be cursing it before we’re done today. If you can’t handle it, you can leave – but understand that once you quit, your opportunity to learn with us is forfeit. For those that remain, I

can’t tell you how far you’ll go. What I can tell you is that if you graduate from this program, you’ll be welcome anywhere in the East. There’s nothing else to say. Pilots, pick a pod.”

Lan Jue and Wang Hongyuan watched the students filed in to the many sim pods scattered around the warehouse. Within the group, the golden-masked Lan Jue spied several familiar faces; his overweight disciple, his sister and – in the very back, her enticing figure outlined in a form-hugging flight suit – was Zhou Qianlin.

Chapter 228: Prince Of Devils?

“Getting in to the special ARC curriculum was one of the luckiest breaks I ever had in my life – and at the same time, one of the unluckiest. That short period will forever be etched on my soul. It was then I learned the true meaning of hardship. There were so many times when I just wanted to quit, to walk away. But, every time those thoughts entered my mind I looked to the people standing beside me. If they could sustain in the face of these difficulties, why couldn’t I? Of course I could! I would think about my future, about what would happen if I became a legendary pilot. I promised myself that the first thing I’d do was defeat the demon drillmaster! Not just a demon… he was the Prince of Devils, and I promised myself I’d show him the torture he put us though.”

ζ

These crack students were very familiar with the sim pods that dotted the warehouse. One after the other, they entered them as naturally as climbing in to bed.

Director Wu patted Lan Jue’s shoulder, then turned and left. He did not remain to supervise for, after all, it was he who sent for Lan Jue to teach the class. He trusted the young man’s capabilities explicitly, not to mention it was a plan concocted in

tandem with Dean Xu. It was beyond lucky to have found this God-ranked pilot hidden among their staff, and a great boon to have him teaching for them. If in the end their gamble paid off, it would be the dawn of a new age for their university.

Lan Jue nodded towards Wang Hongyuan, and the two entered their own sim pods to get the class under way.

As they did, a figure ran in from outside.

The Savage Goddess looked heroic, almost valiant in her tight- fitting flight suit. However, her face was dark with rage. She arrived just as Director Wu was making his exit.

“What’s the meaning of this, Director.” She veritably growled at her superior as they met in the hall.

The teaching affairs director reacted to her attack with a nonchalant air. “What’s the matter, Professor Tan? Is there something I can assist you with?”

The Savage Goddess spoke with a clear undertone of rage. “You’re asking me what the problem is? What’s the meaning of

calling away all of my best students, including Zhou Qianlin. And now I’m just hearing now about this Advanced Robotics Combat class you’ve started. Why wasn’t I told about any of this? What’s this class all about?”

Tan Lingyun had had her own mecha combat class in the afternoon. She’d first noticed something wrong when, during roll call, she discovered all of her best students were absent. Not a one was present. She only earned about the ARC curriculum after asking about them. She was out the door practically before her students finished telling her about it.

Director Wu looked awkwardly at the famed instructor. “Lingyun. Calm yourself. Everything happened rather quickly, so we didn’t have the opportunity to bring all of our instructors up to speed. The fault lies with me, but understand that this is very fortuitous for our school. An advantage for our students that couldn’t be disregarded. This is a chance that comes only once in a lifetime. So I must ask that you forgive me the circumstances, and trust that all will be explained moving forward.”

Doubt and displeasure were written clear on the Savage Goddess’ face. She walked with the Director as they left the building.

“What on earth is going on, Director? Is this ARC class really that important?”

Wu Junyi conversed with her in somewhat hushed tones. “We’d originally hoped to keep this a strict secret. However, your contributions to this school, and your professional ethics are without question – so I’ll tell you. You must promise not to share this information with anyone. If you do, it could cause immeasurable damage to our university. Do you understand?”

Tan Lingyun’s face gradually shed its angry expression as Director Wu went on. When she spoke, her voice was  also hardly a whisper. “So what’s going on?”

“We’ve invited a God-ranked pilot in to our school,” Wu Junyi began. “A guest professor. However, as you know these pilots are rare and powerful individuals. This man’s particular demands were that his identity remains a secret. Not a soul is to know who he truly is. He’s promised to carve out some time every week from his schedule, to train our students in his craft. Because his tenure here is temporary, we concocted this class as the best opportunity to utilize his abilities while he’s here. It was for these reasons we didn’t discuss this with you – or anyone else, for that matter.”

“A god-ranked pilot?” The single phrase came as an utter shock to Tan Lingyun. Her pretty eyes were large, and her face was incredulous. A mysterious figure swam though her mind as the information was revealed.

Wu Junyi only nodded in confirmation.

Tan Lingyun felt off-kilter. The revelation threw her heart in to chaos. Her red lips slowly curled in to a smirk.

“What’s his name?”

Wu Junyi shook his head at her. “I can’t tell you. I’ve promised to keep this a secret. If I break this promise he’ll leave, and we’ll have thrown away a chance at having a God-ranked teacher instructing our students. You tell me, how would that affect our school?”

The passionate woman immediately nodded, indicating she understood. But she drew to a stop, and her eyes stared off in to the distance as she pondered.

Wu Junyi stop as well, and turned to face her. “I hope you

understand the circumstances Professor Tan, and the gravity of it all. From the school’s perspective, this was unquestionably the right move. If it has caused you any trouble, allow me to apologize on behalf of the administration.”

She was shaken from her silent musing, immediately shaking her head at Director Wu. “I’m anxious that so many of our best students are being called away. Even considering  this instructor’s status as a God-ranked pilot, I’m still worried. I have a request.”

Director Wu regarded her calmly. “And what’s that?”

“I would also like to participate in the ARC classes,” Tan Lingyun announced. “If this instructor you’ve brought really is a God-ranked pilot, then he must be quite powerful. In that case, I could stand to learn a few things as well. It would benefit everyone.”

Surprise lit up the director’s face, but after a moment he nodded. “Certainly, I encourage you to participate. They should already be in the sim warehouse with class under way. I’ll go with you, explain things to the instructor.”

The two of them turned around, and entered the room Wu Junyi had just vacated. They found a couple empty pods, and turned them on.

ζ

DreamNet, National Eastern University Special Area

By now all of the students had arrived, together again in their various mecha suits. Each were as unique as the students who piloted them. Naturally, one’s financial resources played a part in the mecha they possessed in DreamNet. Like anything, the more money you had at your disposal, the better your equipment would be.

It meant there were a wide variety of students under his direction – both in terms of skill and equipment.

What was surprising to them, though, were the two very low key – and yet very familiar – mecha suits standing before them.

Sabermechs! The most basic model available without just being a metal frame. Each had a name hanging over their head;

Little Flea, and Nooblet.

What kind of special instructors are these, they thought? Did they think this was a joke? One by one, hidden in their dark sim pods, the students’ faces adopted various shades of contempt.

Of course, not everyone shared the same idea.

Neither Tang Xiao nor Tang Mi cracked a smile. Upon seeing ‘Nooblet’ flash before her, Tang Mi’s teeth immediately began to grind in rage. However, she bit back on the old young to her pride. She knew without a doubt that this Nooblet was as good as they say.

As for Tang Xiao, who else was more aware of the truth around Nooblet than he? This special instructor, their drillmaster, the Prince of Devils, was his master!

He’d had suspicions the moment he’d heard Lan Jue give his speech. Calling himself a devil was an even more obvious hint. However, his Master was employing some sort of voice modulation, so the voice wasn’t what he was expecting, and it threw him off.

He couldn’t believe the school had somehow convinced Professor Lan to teach mecha combat. It was that fact that caused him to be surprised.

For the last few days, Tang Xiao had dutifully been showing up to suffer the torturous blows of Mika. However, despite the discomfort he could clearly see improvement in his practice bouts with the Stygian Succubus. In the half a month since they began, he felt his previously stagnant Discipline improving by leaps and bounds. And there was something else, something more. It felt like a wall… a membrane or something that was preventing him from moving faster. But he could feel it tearing.

It was an intense source of excitement for Tang Xiao. And after that day, when he routed the Lirian challengers, his respect for his Master only grew. With a woman like Mika under his command, how powerful was he?

His only regret up to this point was that the Master hadn’t trained mecha combat with him personally. That changed today, much to his surprise.

“You all think your mechas are pretty nice, right? Your pride and joy.” Any icy, accusing voice hung in the cockpits of each student.

Silence prevailed. Fifty students, the tops of their classes, each suffered a collective shudder as fear passed through them. Of course they were arrogant, regarded as treasures of the university. And yet they knew, instinctively, that their masked teachers were something more than normal men.

Lan Jue’s cutting voice rattled in their ears. “Today’s class is simply, children. You have one task only; defeat Nooblet, and Little Flea. Once that happens, we call it a day. You’ve got the next five minutes to discuss tactics, then we see how much work we’ve got ahead of us. While you chat, my associate and I will turn off comms.”

Two flashes punctuated the drillmaster’s instructions. A peridot and onyx mecha appeared once the glare receded.

Nooblet stomped over.

It was Wu Junyi’s voice he heard first. “I apologize for the sudden interruption, Professor. This is one of our faculty, Tan Lingyun. She herself is a sovereign-ranked pilot, and would like to participate in your class. She’s very excited to study under you. Will this be alright?”

Tan. Ling. Yun. The green mecha, those three syllables, set the students in to a tizzy.

Tan Lingyun was here. The Savage Goddess! In the eyes of her students, she was God-ranked, and no one could tell them different.

But that’s right! With Professor Tan among them, why would they bring these strange outsiders to teach? Could this mean that this man could be even more powerful than their dear Savage Goddess? Were that so, it would mean this man was God-ranked himself! Was it possible?

Chapter 229: Blitzkrieg

Tan Lingyun, in her brilliant peridot mecha, immediately recognized the sorry state of the instructor’s suits. The corner of her lips curled in a frown. Could this mean that this mysterious teacher was not the one she sought? She felt her hope slipping.

“Join your unit, then. If you’re to join, you’ll follow instructons just like the others. You’ll participate in the test like them. They’ll fill you in on the details.” With that said, Nooblet and Little Flea lumbered away to give them space.

Wu Junyi’s black mecha vanished. Tan Lingyun coaxed her suit to join the gathered students.

They expressed the situation to her, and she was surprised to discover that this drillmaster and his assistant were expecting to take all on of these advanced students on their own, with subpar mechas. These kids may not have been the best in the East, or even to the level of Tan Lingyun, but compared to a couple base- model sabermechs they were practically juggernauts.

Even if they truly were a God-ranked pilot, the likelihood of them being able to take on every one of them was slim to none.

Tan Lingyun couldn’t help but ponder on the possibility that one of these was Lei Feng. If that were the case, the two already had a massive advantage.

“Well, since they’ve told us to put together a battle plan, I suppose I’ll do it. Tang Xiao!”

“Present.”

“Here’s what I need from you…”

The Savage Goddess quickly ran through their plan for the coming struggle. Nooblet and Little Flea remained separate in a distant corner of the simulated campus arena.

“Are you sure about this, Professor Lan? Two against fifty- one, you think there’s a chance?” Wang Hongyuan’s tone was skeptical.

Lan Jue’s response was indifferent. “What’s wrong? No self- confidence?”

“Comparatively I am much weaker,” he answered. “How can I not be a little concerned?”

Lan Jue’s voice crackled through his communicator. “If I didn’t have an answer for this, how could I ask you to call me Teacher. If we win, hopefully that will convince you that I really have something to impart.”

“Alright!” Wang Hongyuan spoke without hesitation.

Lan Jue went on to explain his plan. The dance instructor nodded repeatedly as he listened, and with each word he felt his blood grow hotter. By the time they were ready, his pulse was pounding, ready for battle.

In order to teach someone with significant talent, it was important to first prove you had something to offer. Once your domination was confirmed, then you needed their respect. Only then would they listen to instruction, and execute them fervently.

And so, today’s class had one purpose, as far as Lan Jue was concerned; flexing his muscles.

Relying upon her familiarity with the students, Tan Lingyun quickly allocated jobs to each of them. Every one of the fifty students had their specific purpose. She was in her natural habitat, commanding others. With fifty-one against only two, she was confident victory would be theirs. According to her own experience, a top-level mecha pilot needed a complimenting suit to truly employ their strength – not a couple rickety training mechs.

They may be God-ranked pilots, she thought, but their mechas weren’t. Even with sovereign mechas they may stand a chance, but these? The limitations of their mechas meant there were many skills and tactics they’d be unable to perform. Sustain, strength, speed… they were deficient in every category.

They would know savagery! So what if they were God-ranked, she thought. Arrogance often leads to defeat! This was something she would teach them. She would not allow them to look down on the capabilities of her students!

A hard, stubborn light shone in Tan Lingyun’s eyes. For days she had been furiously searching for that man, all to no avail. Further, as the center of everyone’s attention her mood swings had become more severe. News of a mysterious woman god- ranked pilot had already begun to circulate through the internet.

She knew she wasn’t. She was disgusted with the reports, ashamed. And yet she was unable to refute them, or explain the situation. It brought honor to the university, and she couldn’t in good conscious take that away.

This was a fine opportunity, she thought. Someone blindly stumbled in to her sights, and now it was time to let off some steam.

Booooom!

An explosion sent a shudder through her, and she saw the fires on the periphery of her vision.

Fifty faces turned towards the source of the blast.

What they saw was a mecha reduced to slag, glowing red-hot as fires twisted the metal. The frightening screams of a student rang in their cockpits.

They came one after the other; boom, boom, boom! Three tearing blasts like frightening peels of thunder. Three more suits were reduced to scrap.

“What’s the meaning of this?! We were never told to begin!” Tan Lingyun roared over the communicator.

The drillmaster’s dismissive hiss crackled through every communicator. “You expect your enemies to alert you when they choose to strike in a real fight? I told you five minutes, and five minutes has passed. Each passing second is a grain on the hourglass of your life, Professor. Your ancestors have paid in blood to teach you that.”

Her eyes shot to the time on her control console – five minutes had indeed passed.

Five minutes wasn’t an adequate amount of time to plan, and what’s more Tan Lingyun had arrived late. In fact, it had already passed the five-minute mark by the time she’d arrived. Lan Jue had been carefully watching the clock.

Nooblet and Little Flea had used the time and their students’ distraction to circle around and flank them. Once it was time, they struck.

Caught off guard, the students’ team paid with the ‘lives’ of four of their own. When it came to mecha combat, Wang

Hongyuan couldn’t hold a candle to Lan Jue. However, that didn’t mean he was a weakling – he was a Sovereign-ranked pilot, after all. The students were about as distant to him as he was to the etiquette teacher.

Tan Lingyun was livid, wrath filling her heart, and yet could find no means to contradict the drillmaster. She expressed her frustration with an indignant snort through gritted teeth. “Everyone, spread out!” Even before her instructions were complete, she was on the move. Her green mecha was a beam of shimmering light as it raced towards Nooblet and Little Flea.

Her strategy was simple; keep the battle to one front, with remote attacks keeping their enemies pinned to one location. They would take full advantage of their superior numbers, thus increasing their over-all destructive capability. With the distant long-range mechs carpet-bombing her foes, she doubted their simple sabermechs could withstand it.

It was a fine plan, and in fact the right determination, but for the fact she’d forgotten to keep track of the time. The lapse had thrown their strategy in to disarray.

A flash of color filled her screen, and suddenly there was something tearing through the sky toward her.

It was an act so perfectly timed it instantly filled her with unease.

The figure cut her off at the highest point of her trajectory, just before she’d planned to plummet towards her two foes. She’d already input the commands, leaving herself open to the strike.

She did the only think she could, and twisted so that the spikes dotting her mecha were positioned to intercept the rush.

Tan Lingyun watched it coming, and saw that it was the alloy blade of a sabermech.

Ting! Blocked!

The spines and blade collided. What followed was bizarre and infuriating for, as she watched, the blade seemed to vibrate and deflect off the spikes to deal a blow against her mecha’s frame.

Immediately Tan Lingyun called up her photomask shields. She’d broken in to a cold sweat, after just barely avoiding destruction.

She had no choice but to pause in midair and react.

Below them, Nooblet was on the move. After throwing his weapon, he had not stopped to watch the result. His deft movements danced between incoming missile salvos. His movements brought him dangerously close to a group of students.

Closest suit was a close-combat mecha, bearing a long spear. It faced the incoming assailant without hesitation or retreat – a fine display of talent and experience. With a flick of its metallic wrist the pikeman’s weapon split in to three opaque silhouettes, aimed at Nooblet’s head and shoulders.

Nooblet’s forward rush would not be dissuaded. The simple mecha twisted mid-charge and the spear strikes bounced harmlessly off the metal armor. Nooblet grabbed the weapon mid-strike, while in the same motion lifting a knee.

Bang! The muffled crunch of metal-on-metal prefaced the student flailing in to the distance. The spear now rested in Nooblet’s hands.

Without even pausing to look, Nooblet swung its new weapon

in an arc to deflect the three strikes coming his way from the students’ allies.

By all accounts this basic model suit should be far less of a threat than these high-classed mechas, and yet each their strikes met one of his they were inexplicably deflected without much effort. Nooblet extricated himself from their attempts to pin him down.

The students had begun to recover, filing in to their tactical formations. The long-distance fights spread out around the arena’s edges, while the close-combat fighters repositioned for the rush.

BOOM! One of the long-ranged fighters became a cloud of smoke and debris. It’s laser rifle glinted in the hands of another sabermech. The simple mecha’s alloy sword was softly glowing in the raging fires of the defeated enemy, protruding from the enemy’s energy reserve apparatus. It was the sudden release of so much energy that had caused the terrifying explosion.

Little Flea’s figure appeared between the dancing fires. The gun in its hands shook as ten beams of condensed destruction fired outward.

Laser rifles, obviously, required sustained energy infusion to work properly. Riflemen mechas were designed to continuously pump energy in to the gun. This is what allowed them to fire off so many rounds at once. As a result, Little Flea would be able to fire off a few rounds, but it was not sustainable.

It was all he needed. The ten blasts raced off towards ten mechas. The students only saw a flash of light before everything went dark.

Self-preservation was a natural response when under assault. Though intending to focus on the distant Nooblet, the students providing cover fire stopped to pull up their close-range shields.

The pause in their attacks was enough time for Nooblet. Little Flea was also on the move, sword once more in hand. His next target was the nearest close-ranged mecha.

Chapter 230: Nooblet’s Back

Fifty-one against two. The two drillmaster had chosen to separate the work, with Lan Jue responsible for close-combat fighters, and Wang Hongyuan dealing with ranged attackers in order to give Lan Jue some breathing room.

Tan Lingyun, by this point, had recovered from having her charge cut short. She was still confused, however, for the discrepancies between her Sovereign-class mecha and their base models should have meant its projectile wouldn’t phase her. And yet it had, giving them the opportunity for  a  counter- attack.

She had had a fine view from her height, to witness Nooblet handily defeating her students as well, despite their equipment advantage. It was then understanding dawned upon her, and she felt shock freeze her fingers.

Oscillation! That was how he’d done it. The thrown sword, its defensive capabilities… whatever weapon the sabermech held became a terrifying tool when oscillating. The skill disseminated an attacker’s power, and fractured their defense. Hence it’s storied reputation.

Tan Lingyun thought upon her own abilities, and while she could indeed employ some level of oscillation, she was nowhere near as practiced as Nooblet.

She watched as a beam of silver light raced towards Nooblet from behind. It was positioned so that the drillmaster couldn’t see its approach while, in the same moment, another student charged at him from the front to occupy his attention.

Nooblet stopped, deflecting the attacks from the students surrounding him as though he could see in all directions. Upon freeing up some room, Tan Lingyun watched from the skies as her opponent’s spear dimmed, almost like an illusion. It seemed to drew in to the mecha, only to be spat out a moment later in all directions much like her own spikes. The five closest mechas to the Prince of Devils shook visibly. They stumbled around like shell-shocked until, as one, they all erupted in to balls of fire and light.

Looking down upon the scene, Tan Lingyun thought it looked like half a dozen firey blossoms.

Tan Lingyun raced towards Lan Jue in defense of her students. As she did, though, her thoughts turned over what she just witnessed.

Mirror blade!

Although he’d been using his spear, the maneuver was definitely mirror blade. There was no doubt in her mind: this was Lei Feng.

Tan Lingyun raced on, though she was still some distance away. The other students looked on in fear and alarm as their companions were cruelly bested. All but for the furtive silver mecha that was still unharmed. A photomask shield crackled around it, and it was by virtue of this student’s speed that the shield had deflected the terrifying attack. Seeing their opportunity, the silver mecha rushed forward at top speed, purple light erupting from behind it towards Lan Jue who stood in the glaring light of the five fire balls. However, strangely this student held no weapon. Instead they spread their arms wide during the advance, as though to wrap the drillmaster in a hug.

The cunning pilot was none other than Tang Xiao. Ever since realizing this was in fact his master, he’d been flush with excitement. But he was also a pilot, and so he’d carefully watched the battlefield situation as it unfolded. He saw his master’s skill, saw his classmate’s mistakes, as well as Professor Tan’s advance.

His teacher was using a sabermech, and that meant that with the right opportunity, they still had a chance. As such he chose what he felt to be the best option: under cover of his classmate’s fiery ‘death’, rush in.

Of course Tang Xiao was no fool. He knew his own close- combat fighter wouldn’t be able to pin Lan Jue for long. However, that wasn’t important. Tang Xiao only had to constrain his master long enough for Professor Tan to finish the job.

A single, concentrated strike from a Sovereign, focused right on that sabermech, would spell the end of this game.

Heh, Master, I should apologize!

A dark and sinister smirk spread across the kid’s pudgy face.

However, as he burst through the flames relying on his shield to protect him from the scalding heat, Tang Xiao saw Nooblet slowly turn to face him.

No! Tang Xiao saw his window closing, but it was too late! The

power gems his teacher had gifted him made him frighteningly fast – the drawback, though, was that there was no time to stop.

Tan Lingyun’s mecha converged upon them as well. Spikes protruding from her palms glinted dangerously, aimed for Nooblet’s cockpit.

Lan Jue reacted. He swept backwards to avoid Tang Xiao’s bear hug, just enough so that when they collided the majority of the silver mecha’s power was rendered moot. Tang Xiao felt the impact, ineffectual though it was, bounce his master harmlessly away.

In the moment their suits collided, Nooblet had grabbed the silver mech’s arm. Lan Jue swung his suit around, using Tang Xiao’s own forward momentum against him. They spun in a circle and, with just the slightest tug, Nooblet sent the silver mecha flying through the air. Directly in to the oncoming Tan Lingyun.

Booooooom!

Perhaps Nooblet couldn’t destroy the silver mecha by himself. After all, Lan Jue had given Tang Xiao quite a lot of exceptional

power gems. But a direct strike from the Savage Goddess meant the only thing Tang Xiao could do is bemoan his fate.

It had been wrong of Tang Xiao to assume his master had overlooked him. Lan Jue was very well aware of his student’s cunning and had watched him carefully from the onset.

The reason he hadn’t gone for Tang Xiao first was for just those reasons. Those gems, and his sneaky nature were a dangerous pairing, especially when he piloted such a basic suit. Even a surprise strike may not have been enough to end him. He had to wait for just the right opportunity.

It was something he’d learned from Lan Qing, and creatively applied as needed. Although the principle behind using this skill was different now than when Lan Qing had used it on him, but the end result was the same. Tang Xiao had perished at the hand of Tan Lingyun, and the impact had cast the Savage Goddess away.

If the onlookers had been required to describe that exchange, there was only one thing they could say: Perfection.

Rising on to the tips of its mechanical toes, Nooblet stretched

an arm out. The spear it had used to clear the path returned to its hand. It was off again, penetrating in to the heart of the nearest group of students.

He swept his eyes across the battlefield for a quick headcount. He spied twenty-one long-distance mechas remaining. Adding the close-combat suits brought the number to twenty-nine. Thirty, including their leading Professor, the Savage Goddess.

In the brief time that had passed since the fight begun, more than ten close-combat fighters had been disposed of. Wang Hongyuan, for his part, had felled three riflemen before being forced to adopt a more defensive posture.

Tan Lingyun had watched impotently as her strike obliterated Tang Xiao. However, the intense rage that fueled her ensured that the surprise didn’t lock her up for long. A moment later she poured everything she could in to another headlong rush towards Nooblet.

Lan Jue was already pushing speeds the sabermech could only barely sustain. The students around him pushed in to high gear, and began firing wildly all around him. It looked as though there were no means of escape for Nooblet.

However, in this critical moment Lan Jue was in rare form. He juked East, dodged West, taking advantage of every small gap and split second until a route presented itself. He burst through to freedom, his spear lashing out like a precision claw. With hardly any thought, his weapon found the critical weak points in suit after suit as he raced by.

Two more of her students were defeated in the space it took for Tang Lingyun to close the gap, ended by that unpredictable spear.

“Everyone pour full power in to your shields!” Tan Lingyun roared in to her comms. Her mecha charged forward even faster, hoping to rely on her speed to overwhelm his ability. The spikes in her palms swelled and changed in to beams of blinding light, that burst outward to envelop Nooblet. In the same instant a row of sharp spines broke out along the peridot mecha’s spine. The tip of each twinkled with a caustic green light.

Specializing in close-combat didn’t mean that a suit wasn’t devoid of long-range options. Top of the line mechas certainly took both methods in to account during construction. It really came down to a pilot’s tendency towards one or the other.

However, a basic sabermech didn’t have that option.

Tan Lingyun’s combat experience was extensive. She’d recognized the problems and limitations with her opponent already. The greatest disadvantage was this Nooblet’s limited attack power. Even with oscillation, trying to one-hit-kill her students through fully-charged shields was a herculean task.

Of course there were disadvantages to pouring all your energy in to shields. The energy needs meant that other systems – especially speed- would suffer, and their overall sustain in combat was diminished. Under the circumstances, though, it was the best decision.

The remaining combatants executed Tan Lingyun’s order immediately. The results were as expected; though oscillating and perfectly executed, Nooblet’s spear could break the energy barrier but not the alloy hull of the suits.

By now, Tan Lingyun had gotten within striking distance.

Would this spell the end of Nooblet?

While Nooblet’s strikes weren’t enough to defeat the student before him, the impact force did lock him in place. Nooblet made no effort to turn, or in fact any measure to block the strike coming from behind. Instead he toppled forward with the spear strike, leaving the student in place.

Tan Lingyun’s deadly spikes found nothing but air, but the beams of intense light that she’d fired did find a target in her unfortunate student. The Sovereign-class mecha claimed its second victim, though once more it was someone from her own side.

All eyes turned to the explosion. Lan Jue, no longer the center of attention, expertly transitioned from the floor to another student’s side with no wasted movements. The spear in his hand lashed out like a terrible viper three times, each one landing with pinpoint accuracy.

Boom! Another one gone.

Two more students appeared on either side of the drillmaster then, one gold and the other green. Lan Jue’s cockpit filled with an urgent beep as both opponents got a lock on his position. With masterful cooperation they advanced, once bearing a spear and the other a two-handed buster sword.

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