Skyfire Avenue Chapter 271-280

Chapter 271: Host Mo Xiao

Xiuxiu spent more time with Lan Jue than all the other Amazons combined, so certainly she knew who Mo Xiao was. President of the Gobi Entertainment Group, and Poseidon’s agent.

Upon seeing her here, she was also reminded of the fact that Mo Xiao was the most famous host personality in the West, renowned throughout all the Alliances.

In fact, choosing to manage Poseidon was effectively retirement. She bowed out at the height of her career to preside of someone else’s.

At the age of fifteen she was lauded as the best Holographic Presenter in the Western Alliance. Relying on her stunning appearance, moving voice and aloof persona, in a year she was a household name. She was often the host of DreamNet competitions since then, especially considering she was a god- ranked pilot herself. Her poignant commentary during the fights was enough to convince all skeptics. All of this culminated to make her the pre-eminent emcee to approach for this job.

In all of humanity, there was no shortage of beautiful women. But finding one who was strong, capable, intelligent and wife? That was as rare a find as an s-ranked gem stone.

Mo Xiao’s reputation never waned, even after leaving the world of television personalities. On the contrary, it only increased. When the news of her taking over the Gobi Group hit the media, it spread like wildfire. Beforehand the decision had been kept very secret, which was surprising considering Gobi Group – or, as it was sometimes called, the Poseidon Group – was the largest and most successful media group in history. When the announcement was released that she would be taking over Gobi, it also revealed that she would be acting as Poseidon’s manager, much to the crazed cheers of her fans.

Soon after, the news generated quite a lot of controversy. All of her male fans couldn’t accept the revelation, but there was nothing they could do. After all, no matter who they were or how they looked, there was no way they could match up to Poseidon. Poseidon’s female fans were likewise distressed, for after torturous self-examination none could claim to be a match for Mo Xiao.

They were helpless witnesses to the natural pairing of the universes two most beautiful people, before their very eyes. With the two of them as a team, it was inevitable that they

should take the entertainment world by storm.

Hua Li’s earlier assurance were true; he was the biggest star humanity possessed. However, it was only after Mo Xiao’s involvement that his reputation began to truly skyrocket, much higher than he’d ever have been able to achieve on his own. Mo Xiao’s change from the front of the stage to behind, hiding herself from public view, actually earned her a great deal of support and adulation as well. Even Poseidon’s female fans had to admire this competitor for the singer’s heart.

Mo Xiao’s appearance in this moment was an uproarious surprise, sending nearly all visitors to Dreamburg in to a tizzy. Viewer ratings nearly doubled, instantaneously.

Fortunately, DreamNet organizers anticipated this so their upgraded servers were able to handle the load. Mo Xiao, meanwhile, stood silent and regal within the column of light. With a small smile, she continued her introduction.

“It has been quite some time since I’ve stood on a stage, and this doubly true for DreamNet. Frankly speaking, I feel like a fish out of water. I promised myself when I acquired Gobi, that it would be my focus. This life was done.”

“The Gobi Group has been my life now for years. But today, I break that oath. Today, because of you, I’ve returned home.”

Cheers erupted in the area. Digital flowers rained upon Mo Xiao; gifts from loyal fans. It meant more knowing these transient gifts were more costly than anyone would care to admit.

Smiling, Mo Xiao continued. “When the DreamNet organizers approached me, they told me about this event. I knew that if I let this opportunity pass, I would regret it for the rest of my life.”

“It is well known, that the DreamNet god battles are among the most splendid spectacles in all the Alliances. These battles see only the greatest pilots competing for glory, and prestige. Since the inception of Dreamburg, none of these magnificent clashes have been broadcast to the general public. In the world of mecha combat knowledge is key, therefore it was a legitimate concern to these pilots that showing off their abilities would ultimately bring them misfortune. With their tactics, strategies and habits laid bare, they ran the risk of inviting stiffer competition – maybe even the threat of harm. So it was that these battles were conducted in secret. Moreover, they have grown rarer. After all, rounding up ten god-ranked pilots for a friendly spar isn’t an easy task.”

At this point in her introduction, the faintest whisper of bitterness invaded her placid features. “To speak candidly, in my heart I did not wish for this competition to proceed. As you well know, Poseidon is among the competitors tonight. To me, he is the greatest pilot to have ever lived, and I do not wish anything to threaten that.”

Her apprehension resonated with Poseidon’s many fans. Beyond a doubt, the performer’s popularity outshone everyone else’s.

Mo Xiao paused, as though in thought. After a moment she went on. “But despite my concerns, Poseidon agreed. His brothers in arms, agreed. He even fled from me, his manager, so he could participate. In fact, I haven’t seen him since the recent Sounds of Nature concert. I guess I’m here mostly to make sure he doesn’t run off again.”

The faintest hint of underlying fury showed she wasn’t saying this in jest.

When Mo Xiao arrived, the massive screens arrayed around Dreamburg flashed to life. Her image was displayed in every corner. Hua Li, too, was surprised to see her appear. He had no idea she would be in attendance.

With her final assurances that there would be no escape, Hua Li’s face dropped in helplessness. It would likely be a while before he was able to leave her side.

“Poseidon, I know you can hear me. You better not try to run when this is finished. We still have a tour to perform. If you don’t, I’m pretty sure your fans will come after Gobi.”

It was a naked threat! Hua Li unconsciously tightened his hands in to fists.

Chu Cheng snickered at his friend’s side. “She gets crueler every time I see her. Bold, threatening you in front of hundreds of millions of people – and yet, awesome publicity. She really is something else! Why don’t I have such a talented secretary, huh? I tell you what A-Li, I think you should run. Go, be free. I’ll, uh… I’ll handle Mo Xiao.”

Hua Li shot the lascivious young man a glare. “How about you not give my dad a heart-attack. Try to be decent. Just, give it a try. Might feel good.”

Meanwhile, Mo Xiao continued. “I’m sure by now everyone is very curious who the Four Divine Monarchs will be facing in the

arena today. I’m happy to share them with you. I could have secretly told Poseidon to help prepare him – but I did not. But alas, when he fled, Poseidon blocked my communicator number. I’ve been monitoring DreamNet since I received the news. So I ask you, ladies and gentlemen: do you want to know who has been chosen, and given a chance to route the mighty Divine Monarchs?”

“I’m sure you do, but before I introduce our challengers, allow me to share some background. Then perhaps you can guess their identities.”

“First, it must be mentioned that this magnificent display is hosted by DreamNet. They have spared no expense in making this the greatest celebration of mecha piloting in its history. With such high monetary stakes on the line, it must follow that the challengers have sufficient ability to challenge our heavily favored Monarchs. Where this not the case, what fun would it be to watch?”

“You know, the very first time I got my hands on the challenger list, my first instinct was to let out a slew of expletives. Fortunately, I was able to control myself. Such awful things aren’t in my vocabulary, and even if they were I wouldn’t dare use them today. Though I did not accept any payment to host this event, business ethics come first and foremost.”

Here, Mo Xiao heaved a sigh. “I’m certain that by this point there has been no small amount of gambling surrounding today’s fight. Allow me to share my thoughts with you, before the bookies close up shop. If afterwards you want to change your bet, you should still have the opportunity.”

“Speaking emotionally, of course it is my hope that the Divine Monarchs prove victorious. Our beloved Poseidon is among them, so how could I not? How could they possibly lose? But upon seeing their competitors, I am not so sure. According to my own estimations, the Divine Monarchs have no more than a thirty-percent chance at victory. That’s a… hopeful estimate.”

All three Alliances exploded in a storm of shocked commotion.

The Four Divine Monarchs had dominated the DreamNet ranking for many years, and yet Mo Xiao appeared before them to give a generous estimate of thirty-percent! It was practically unthinkable. If she didn’t explain herself, even her reputation wouldn’t be enough to save her from being drowned in the spit of their angry fans.

Mo Xiao’s face bore a small grin. “Alright, let’s dispense with the suspenseful talk, shall we? You’ve heard my determination, so now you understand why I reacted the way I did. Now let’s

meet today’s challengers!”

“The team our Divine Monarchs will be facing today, have given their team the name Star Alliance. They are composed of five members. Let’s welcome the first!”

At this time, a beam of shimmering light appeared at her back. It was a dazzling golden color that pierced the eyes of the viewers, and within it hung an indistinct silhouette.

“This challenger is ranked first in Dreamburg in the area of hand speed, with a staggering recorded speed of one hundred and three CPS! Single-handedly responsible for more hand cramps than anyone, it’s our own Phantom Knave of the Stars!”

The audience erupted. By now more than eleven billion people were tuned in, more than any other time in the history of DreamNet.

The Knave! This simple and humorous name rang like a thunderclap.

Chapter 272: Oppressive Opponents

Mo Xiao took a deep breath, her expression solemn and serious. When she spoke again, her voice was grave. “Any true fan of mecha combat will know the Knave, at the very least by name. Often imitated, but never surpassed, his reputation is hard to beat. But lest we forget, he isn’t just the owner of the universes’ fastest hands. He is also tenth in total power level out of all Dreamburg’s illustrious god-ranked pilots, and the only known pilot to successfully use THREE dopplegangers in combat simultaneously. One hundred and three commands per second, ladies and gentlemen! If it were me, my hands would break before I could ever get close. This is not something the Knave need fear.”

“I can still recall when I first heard about him. He was so fast, he damaged DreamNet’s hardware – something that cost them dearly, I can assure you. It’s that much more surprising, then, that he came forward to represent DreamNet in this battle. Perhaps he paid them back. Now here he is, the fastest known pilot in the universe, a man whose reputation was built on skill.”

Little by little, the figure bathed in golden light became clearer. The same man who’d approached Lan Jue and Hua Li earlier reappeared.

Mo Xiao slowly turned, and made her way to the Knave’s side. “Greetings, Knave. Unless I’m mistaken, you once said your greatest wish is to become a legend. Is that why you decided to participate in today’s event?”

The Knave answered with a chuckle. “I had no choice! I have a family to support! But truly, I have returned because I am unwilling to admit defeat.”

Mo Xiao’s expression changed to one of surprise. “You’re saying there’s someone out there you feel is better than you? Someone with a better speed of hand?”

He shrugged. “Of course not, isn’t that just what you were saying? There were many who attempted, but none have come close. My legend is solidified. But the reason I’ve been absent from Sanctuary wasn’t due to any of that. No, it was because I lost a competition. None of the audience would have seen it, but a glance at the rankings would probably help you guess who bested me.”

“But to spare you the suspense, Zeus was my better. That loss dropped me to tenth on the list of most powerful pilots. He rose to ninth. His hand speed was no threat, and his victory was only won by inches. I’m still not pleased with the result, and I don’t

believe it was a true indication of my power. For these last few years, I’ve trained hard. There’s been progress. Now I have this opportunity to meet our King of Gods on the field of battle. I hope we get a chance to face each other directly out there.”

“It sounds like you’re holding on to a lot of resentment.”

The Knave grinned back at Mo Xiao. “I’m far from resentful. I just want to recapture my old position, so that people know my real strength. Even you vastly underestimate what we’re capable of. I’m going to give my own guess, that the Four Divine Monarchs have less than a ten percent chance to walk out of here the victors.”

Mo Xiao’s voice raised in wonder. “Isn’t this a little over- confident?”

“Arrogance comes from power,” the Knave haughtily replied.

Mo Xiao regarded him with helpless expression. “I’ll have to admit you have a point. After seeing the line-up power is definitely something the Star Alliance has. Next, we have our second competitor, the Knave’s compatriot.”

Another column of light burst to life, illuminating the space beside the clown pilot.

“Among the god-ranked pilots,” Mo Xiao quietly began, “there is a story. There are tales of one called the Paragon of the Sky, Singer of the Song of Ice and Fire, the Tyrant Shifter… you tell me, dear viewers, who is he?”

The communication platform, wherein the words and thoughts of distant viewers were streamed, was instantly flooded with a single name.

“That’s right, you speak true: the Demon Dragon of Ice and Flame. Fourteenth on the list of aggregate combat prowess. The Beastly UAV, Hong Hu. Interestingly, that’s his real name, Yu Honghu. Honghu is a man of high aspirations – to dominate the heavens. So obsessed that it’s become his catchphrase, Yu Honghu may not be in the top ten of powerful pilots but is unbeatable in competition of piloting ability. If there were a list of anthropomorphic pilots, he would dominate the listings. With his critical thinking and battlefield domination, he is any challenger’s nightmare.”

“I may also be able to reveal a small secret to my beloved audience. I once asked Poseidon; you four Monarchs are down a

man, which means you’re immediately the underdogs! If you had to pick a fifth member for your crew… a fifth Divine Monarch, who would you choose? He answered without hesitation – the Demon Dragon of Ice and Fire.”

“I asked him why Yu Honghu? If you adhered to the rankings of the Sanctuary Lists, isn’t he a less optimum  choice  than other, more powerful god-ranked pilots?”

“’Hunghu is like a chain of souls’ Poseidon said. He explained that he linked everyone together, making them all stronger as a result like an architect. Unfortunately for Poseidon, his pick faces him now in combat.”

Yu Honghu was an incredibly popular name among DreamNet fans. Mo Xiao’s introduction was short, but highlighted just why that was.

Flight-heavy pilots were exceptionally commanding when it came to adaptability and air support. He was also a master tactician, and knew how to control the battlefield to his advantage.

Like the Knave before him, Yu Hongyuan slowly revealed

himself to be a man of average build when the light receded. The most striking aspect of this man was his hair. Half was red, and half was blue. The rest of his ensemble – the mask and flight suit – were similarly colored to fit the scheme. He was hard to forget.

“How are we doing today, Honghu?” Mo Xiao smiled ever so slightly as she turned to the Demon Dragon.

Yu Honghu snorted derisively. “I was fine, but after your introduction that’s no longer the case. You should have told me earlier the Monarchs were interested. I’m a fan of Poseidon’s!”

Mo Xiao’s eyes lit up like dual crystal gemstones. “So you should show mercy in the coming competition!”

Yu Honghu crossed is arms. “The greatest respect I could show Poseidon, is to beat him on the field.”

Mo Xiao pouted prettily at him. “What kind of fan is this! You better watch yourself when you get out there!”

The Knave couldn’t restrain himself, and burst in to raucous

laughter.

Mo Xiao turned back to the cameras, and gave her own dismissive sniff. “I believe it’s clear from the first two members of the Star Alliance, that the team was composed with a single purpose in mind. With Yu Honghu’s strategy and the Knave’s speed, they are a terrifying team! But we’re not finished. Let’s introduce our third opponent, and tell me if you don’t see the careful thought the organizers put in to their decisions.”

“Among the Divine Monarchs there is one; their leader, their strongest. Prometheus, the Wise. Wind is his specialty, and our third competitor is similarly equipped. They call him the Master of Air, and his specialty in mecha piloting is aerodynamics. He turns his suit in to a mobile weapon, combining his knowledge with his control over the elemental force of air. I think it’s clear, this man was chosen specifically to counter Prometheus. I’m sure you know who I’m speaking of; the Master of Air, twelfth on the list of most powerful pilots, riding Skyshade, please welcome the Windbreaker! Monarchs, you best be careful!”

Note that they make the distinction here between wind (风) and air (气). I’m sure this will be more clearly revealed in the future.

The third column of light burst to life. The figure within wore a long, black robe and a mask of pearl white. He was a lithe and tall man, who had a calm poise that permeated the stage. A glance was enough to determine that he was an even-keeled gentleman.

“Salutations, Windbreaker. Or would you prefer I call you the Master of Air, or perhaps Sky Demon?” Mo Xiao engaged him with a small smile.

“Whatever you like,” the man answered placidly.

Mo Xiao went on. “So am I right in assuming that your presence in this team was specifically designed to counteract Prometheus?”

“You are,” he returned.

Mo Xiao chuckled prettily. “A man of few words, aren’t you? Are you confident of your success? After all, Prometheus is ranked number one on the aggregate power list.”

The Windbreaker shook his head. “There are no guarantees.”

“Um, alright.” Mo Xiao helplessly responded. “Very well, no more questions. You’re like a tube of toothpaste; squeeze and squeeze until you get a little something. Let’s move on to our fourth competitor, shall we? Like the Windbreaker, he was chosen as a block for another one of our intrepid heroes. Among the Divine Monarchs there is one whose explosive power is storied. His balanced abilities have catapulted him to the top ten of every one of Sanctuary’s lists. I speak of course, of Zeus and his mighty mecha Thor. I am sure there is no one watching who isn’t familiar with the sapphire nightmare and its pilot. A legend in the mercenary world, his counter will have to be someone special. And they are, for similar to his enemy our fourth competitor’s Discipline, is Thunderbolt! The perfect joining of lightning and thunder.”

“Frankly speaking, I’m not sure of the difference between his Discipline and Zeus’, but I am certain his presence means trouble for our God of Lightning. It is without question that he will fight to contain Zeus, perhaps even suppress him entirely. Number seven on the power lists, the one known as the Voltaic Wraith, Thunderclap! He pilots his mecha of the same name. As I’m sure many of you know, Zeus is actually ninth on the total power list. He and Thunderclap are the only two lightning Adepts to rise so high.”

The fourth column, and the fourth figure come in to view. Thunderclap wasn’t as tall as Windbreaker, who stood next to

him, but he was exceedingly burly. His face was hidden behind a blue mask, which glittered with flecks of gold. Of all those revealed for Star Alliance thus far, he was highest on the power list.

“Hello, Thunderclap. A moment ago the Knave expressed his desire to face Zeus on the field, one on one. What about you? With Disciplines so similar, are you going to seek him out for a test of strength and superiority?” Mo Xiao asked.

“There’s no comparison,” Thunderclap growled. “Our Disciplines are not the same. I’ll prove this to you all during the fight. Zeus and I have any interacted, but I’ve seen him fight. In the real world I’d likely be little competition for him. But in the virtual world he’s going to have a hell of a time against me.”

“Why is that?” Mo Xiao asked in curiosity.

Chapter 273: Starlord

Thunderclap’s explanation was delivered with cool indifference. “His Discipline is too balanced, too calm. Mine, though, has been specialized.”

Mo Xiao looked interested. “I see. You’re called the Voltaic Wraith because of your unpredictability. You sure seem to have faith in your abilities!”

The one called Thunderclap didn’t answer.

Mo Xiao turned away from him, and walked the short distance to the front of the stage. “Are we feeling anxious for the Four Divine Monarchs yet? With these four challengers, how could we not? Already their total power isn’t far below our defending champions. Not to mention, they’ve been specifically chosen as counters. Even then, though, I feel it would be very difficult for the Star Alliance to achieve victory. At least, that would be the case if there were only four of them. After all, the Divine Monarchs have been friends and brothers-in-arms for years. They know each others’ tactics, and have become a finely tuned combat machine. Group battles are very different from solo challenges you know – cooperation is everything. Here the Star Alliance is at a disadvantage, since they don’t have the same symbiotic relationship.”

“But lest we forget, the Star Alliance is not a four-man team. Five members will enter the arena to face off against the Monarchs. We have one still to introduce, and it just so happens to be their leader. When I tell you who it is, you’ll understand why I have such dismal hopes for Poseidon and his friends!”

A final, enormous column of dazzling golden light shot down from overhead. It was easily twice the diameter of the other spotlights. The other pilots, despite their fame and arrogant personal, retreated from the column and allowed it to take center position upon the stage.

The shadow of a tall man appeared within, partially hidden. Then something strange occurred, for as they watched  the golden light was infiltrated by twinkling dots of starlight. On the outset the twinkling spots were golden, like the light they inhabited. However gradually they became an alluring silver. They grew in number and luminescence until it seemed the whole world, much less the stage, was a sea of starlight.

Mo Xiao’s form disappeared in the blaze of silver, but her gentle voice still cooed in the ears of the billions of audience members.

“In the world of mecha pilots there is a special group of men,

who they call Gods. They are living legends, who have abilities that transcend mere mortality, who ride in on machines that are like gods themselves. They stand at the peak of humanity, visions of perfection who command terrible power. Among these elite few, there is one; a legend among legends.”

“There is one who has never been defeated in combat. Whenever he appears, a madness consumes DreamNet. Once, in full view of the public, he defeated five terrifying challengers all alone. Before the rise of the Monarchs, he dominated the listings. Even with the arrogance to face a team on his own, he has never lost a fight.”

“That is until ten years ago, when he mysteriously disappeared without a trace. According to the rules of Sanctuary, a pilot who is absent for more than five years has his rankings removed. Any information we have is ancient history. As the Monarchs rose to prominence, they took over as the top God Team… because the top spot was suddenly left open. But there was one list no one dare tamper with. In fact, the keepers of DreamNet came together to decree, that his name will forever live at the top of this one, special list. It’s a list he still dominates to this day, a list that all of DreamNet, Dreamburg, Sanctuary, even real-world pilots agree is the only list that really matters. Total Combat Prowess.”

Already there were many in the crowd who had begun cheering raucously. In their hearts, and especially in the hearts of the older generation of pilots, one name was written.

Lan Jue, Hua Li and Chu Cheng spoke, all in unison.

“It can’t be…”

Even Lan Qing, a man who routinely stared down armies with the calm of a Buddha, clenched his fists.

Mo Xiao’s voice rose in a crescendo of emotion. “Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the powerhouse of the Star Alliance. The invincible warrior of DreamNet. First under Heaven, the Starlord Deimos!”

Naming note: The name TJSS has given him is 月空, literally translated as ‘Moon Void’. Interesting as that is, it doesn’t fit the epicness of this guy. Unable to find a closer equivalent, I decided to name him after one of the many moons that dot our solar system. I settled on Deimos, which is the name of both the Greek God of Terror (due to his terrifying prestige on the battlefield, and keeping with the Greek naming theme) and a moon for Mars.

The Starlord! A simple name that raced through the crowd like a nuclear weapon. The audience erupted in to insanity.

The name had already surpassed legendary status. In the world of mecha piloting the Starlord was practically inhuman, no less storied and respected than the greatest Paragons. Perhaps even more so.

Since the creation of the first mecha suit to now, no one has ever come close to his level of power and mastery.

Deimos. The name was an intrinsic part of the cultural zeitgeist. No one knew who he actually was, which only lent an element of mystery to his domineering story. There had never been any sightings in the real world, either. His mecha, also called Starlord, was as famous as he was.

There were countless pilots who complained that he was a glitch in the system, when he first appeared. Recordings of his fights were worth more than one’s own life. For most in the world of mecha piloting, this was their idol.

Never once since he achieved it had Starlord’s position as most powerful pilot ever been usurped. It has been twenty

years, but the name remains.

This was the leader of the Star alliance, and their opponent: The Invincible Starlord.

His figure slowly came in to view. He wore a white robe which reflected the light from a host of multi-colored stars that followed him. His face was concealed by an unadorned mask, white as driven snow.

With his appearance, the DreamNet server array was immediately in danger of overheating from the strain. Their backups kicked in to mitigate some of the insane response DreamNet users were throwing their way.

Could they be blamed? Who could have imagined the Four Divine Monarchs would be facing the uncontested master of mecha pilots, a man who had vanished for a decade?

Now their true enemy was revealed. Starlord, God among gods.

Now the truth was revealed, with the Monarchs facing five

exceptional God-ranked pilots, led by a living legend. Mo Xiao’s determination made far more sense now. Even a thirty percent chance of victory seemed generous.

Not even thirty percent! The Knave’s pompous threats were disregarded by many in the audience, but their hearts sank with the appearance of Deimos. Few doubted the clown now. Now, ten percent seemed like a fair estimate.

Still others had suspected this fight would be dull. While the Star Alliance was good, the Monarchs were an unstoppable force to be reckoned with. The challengers weren’t strong enough to compete. But with their leader revealed, no one could underestimate the Star Alliance. They were terrifying.

Anyone who was capable of landing their name on Sanctuary’s combat prowess top ten lists was a hero for mecha pilots. Reality was a different matter, considering the addition of Disciplines, but here they stood on the shoulders of humanity, elevated as celebrities.

Those who achieved such high status were rarely encountered in DreamNet. Any news of one of them appearing was a source of great excitement and gossip among fans. This was taken to insane degrees with Deimos, who no one had heard hide nor tail

of for ten years.

The Star Alliance had chosen their name well. Indeed, this was a team of superstars, where only the greatest were summoned. All five of them boasted a top twenty ranking on the charts.

Of the Monarchs, Prometheus was third. Zeus was ninth, Hades seventeenth, and Poseidon nineteenth. However, as a team their totals were far less impressive, not to mention they were short a man.

Until this moment, no one has been able to upset Deimos’s one on five record. As the Knave might say, legends are legends. For those in the audience, the Starlord’s appearance was already worth the price of admission.

Once again the number of subscribed users surged. The number jumped to five hundred million in no time at all.

Potentially confusing. Chinese numbers are weird in and of themselves – to the point where my assistant teachers and I would have to argue and write out any numbers we were trying to teach kids. The reason for this is because they don’t go in to

the ‘ten-‘ whatevers, like ten thousand. Instead they call that 一万, or ‘one ten thousands’. So one hundred thousand would be ‘ten ten thousands’. One billion, you can imagine, gets tougher. To compound the issue there are VIP fees you can pay to get a special video feed, which he’ll occasionally delineate separate from total viewership. So for clarities’ sake, there are one hundred billion people from all the alliances watching the show. Five hundred million of them are payed in to the VIP stream. I think. It did say more than that before, so who knows really. A lot, is what we’re trying to get at.

Lan Jue turned his head to face Hua Li and Chu Cheng. The look in their eyes said more than words could ever express. Never in a million years had they anticipated facing Deimos.

“Mr. Deimos, thank you very much for agreeing to participate.” Mo Xiao stood at the man’s side. Her voice was full of respectful deference. Even though she herself was a god- ranked pilot, this man was the best of his generation, possibly the best to ever have lived. The Starlord was an idol to innumerable pilots, and deserved the respect that entailed.

Deimos responded with a laugh. His warm, magnetic voice flowed from the mask. “And a very hearty thank you to our beautiful hostess.”

As Mo Xiao spoke, her hand pressed against the swell of her chest. “You know, my heart is racing. When I was little you were my hero. If you would have asked me then, I would never have believed one day I’d be sharing the stage with you in DreamNet.”

This earned another chuckle from the man. “Indeed! I’m quite old now, and this will probably be my last appearance in DreamNet as a combatant. After today, I will be announcing my retirement. The future of Sanctuary will be absent the Starlord. I will be submitting my demands that my name be stricken from the records so that the younger generation can have their shot.”

“You’re retiring?” she asked in surprise. “Why did you choose to return for this fight, and as their leader? Unless I’m mistaken, this should be your first time in this position.”

Deimos huffed. “No one is strong forever. Just as life wanes as we near the winter of our days, the same is said of mecha pilots.”

Mo Xiao nodded. “I really must know, why did you choose this fight to come back after such a long hiatus, especially as team leader? Unless I’m mistaken, this is your first time taking on the role.”

“When I chose to fade out ten years ago, it was because I felt that DreamNet had no further need for me.” Deimos began. “I was also too old to represent it like I had. As everyone knows, controlling a mecha sets quite a strain on the body. This is just as true for the simulations as it is for the real thing. As I am now, I’m perhaps only a third or fourth of where I was during my peak. Already I find it difficult to remain in DreamNet for very long. As for why I’m here, there are two reasons. The first is to bid farewell to my fans and friends. The second, is so that I can see what constitutes excellence in today’s world. I’m here to see just how powerful the new generation is.”

Chapter 274: Wheel Of Fortune

Mo Xiao let out a sigh. “Only a fourth! I must admit, this eases my mind greatly. I’m sorry, Starlord – I must watch what I say, but you must understand that this involves our beloved Poseidon.”

Though you could not see his face, Deimos’ voice sounded as though it were coming from around a smile. “I wouldn’t expect anything less. But you know, I was quite handsome myself, in my younger years.”

Mo Xiao tittered flirtatiously. “If we were born in the same generation I’d be very interested! But despite your humble assurances you’re not at your peek, I do believe any team with you in it is unlikely to fail. Even though I want to stand by Poseidon, I can’t see how he and his team have any chance at victory.”

Deimos shook his head. “Not so, of course they have a chance. Combat isn’t as simple as a contest of pure might. How your power is used, what tactics you employ, those are more important. Prometheus is a young pilot I respect greatly, and I hope he surprises me today. I greatly look forward to losing to his team.”

It was a strange sentiment, and one that would likely be considered arrogant if it had come from anyone elses mouth. Coming from Deimos, however, it was simply fact.

Mo Xiao responded by offering Deimos a low, respectful bow.
She then returned to the front of the stage.

“Very well. Now, all of today’s challengers have been revealed. But where there are challengers, there are protagonists! And our heroes for today have dominated the Sanctuary top lists for years. I’m sure we’re all very familiar with who they are, so I’ll waste no further time with introductions. Please welcome your Divine Monarchs!”

“The God of Wisdom, Prometheus and his mecha, Coeus! He is our Monarchs’ commander and strategist.”

“The Lord of Hell, Hades, riding his mecha Cerberus. His explosive power is as frightening as his Discipline!”

“Lord of Lightning, Zeus, the legendary King of Mercenaries. Mecha: Thor. The perfect combination of speed and power, with a head as cool as a veteran commander. He is the only Monarch who is in the top ten of three lists; combat prowess,

god-team battles, and hand speed.”

“Saving the best for last, our final hero is a man I love as much as I hate. Poseidon, if you don’t come home after this competition, I will announce to the world precisely where you’re hiding. You will drown in a flood of frenzied fans!” Mo Xiao’s pretty voice had adopted a decided vicious undertone.

“Poseidon. Mecha: Triton. His specialty is control and defense. Ghost of the battlefield, and your God of the Seas!”

Four identical columns of golden light descended from the heavens. Four figures appeared as dark silhouettes in the blazing light, eventually revealed to the masses. Prometheus, with his black and green mask; Hades, in red; Zeus in gold; and Poseidon, in a mask of sea blue.

The four men were all of approximate stature, tall and imposing. Though they were hidden behind masks, their appearance nonetheless set the crowd to roaring.

Mo Xiao’s voice rose to overcome the din. “Ladies and gentlemen, this much-anticipated fight is about to begin. Pilots will be given ten minutes to warm up and prepare. Then, let us

witness what promises to be one incredible fight – what DreamNet has dubbed the Miracle Battle! The Star alliance – lead by their terrifying and powerful commander – facing off against the legendary Divine Monarchs. This is the wonderful spectacle we have in store! Beyond any doubt, this battle will forever be burned in your memories. It will go down in history as the greatest DreamNet battle ever recorded.”

Suddenly the world around them shimmered, and everything became illusory, like a dream. A few moments later, and the simulated world was clear once again.

Dark green, crimson, violet and sky-blue, the Monarchs dashed across the screens in their mechas. The various sim enemies around them violently exploded under their assault. Their earthshaking power was magnificent to watch.

Such was the performance whenever the Divine Monarchs competed. They were once the perfect team, a powerful force of destruction. Despite the fact that they were always a man down, they dominated every obstacle in their path. Their fighting style was elusive and confounding, with tactics as dissimilar as their Disciplines.

Swift as the wind, static as a forest. Simple, but masterful.

God-ranked battles like this were never broadcast, available only to those who could enter Sanctuary and afford to pay the fees. It was only due to the organizers’ special approval that this holographic video was made available. The battle hadn’t even begun, but already the emotions of the crowd were high. Countless figures in countless sim pods waited with baited breath. The whole of DreamNet seemed to buzz with excitement.

Practice only lasted ten minutes, but every second was a wonder. As the Monarchs dispatched of their final opponent, the screens blazed with light and then went dark.

“With the warm-ups concluded, the Miracle Battle will begin shortly. This historic battle of the titans will be the best of five. The first team to reach three victories is catapulted to the top of the charts. To maintain the integrity of the games and their reputation, DreamNet has ensured that none of the contestants are aware of the arena map beforehand. However, they are certainly all familiar with each of the potential maps. All of them are classic maps employed daily in the simulation, with their own special characteristics in play. Combatants will need to adjust if they wish to most effectively employ their abilities. Five maps have been arranged, carefully selected for advantage and disadvantage.”

Without further adieu, the first Miracle Battle combat map with be… “ Mo Xiao let the suspense hang for a moment as she looked over the crowd.

“The Wheel of Fortune!”

The world of gloomy darkness flashed, and filled with light. The terrain that was revealed expanded farther than the eye could see in all directions.

Group battles were different from one-on-one fights. Pure combat arenas weren’t suitable. After all, with the combatants being god-ranked pilots an empty arena couldn’t play to their respective strengths. It’d be over in a matter of seconds, and what enjoyment would be found in that?

For this reason, all god-battles were performed in a variety of complicated environments. Every pilot would, therefore, have to adapt to ensure maximum cooperation and capability.

The Wheel of Fortune was one of DreamNet’s oldest and most widely used arenas.

The maps’ topography consisted largely of rocky terrain. Looking at it from above, the world looked like a hilly landscape with strange discrepancies.

There were eight spawn points here. What that meant was, for two teams of five there would be a pair that spawned together. Whether you spawned with a friend or an enemy was luck of the draw. Everything was determined randomly by the program.

Further, defeating your enemies wasn’t the only point of this map. The real prerequisite for victory was maintaining control of the area in the map’s center: The Wheel of Fortune.

The Wheel was a concrete, gear-shaped structure – the only such building in the simulation. In the center of the wheel was a depression, wherein pilots could inject energy from their mechas.

Whichever side saw themselves in control of the wheel had their entire team’s capabilities increased by thirty percent. Of course, the pilot who was responsible for controlling the wheel couldn’t participate in the fighting.

The team that holds the wheel for a total of five minutes, wins the match. Contending for control of the Wheel was, therefore, paramount to success, and the focus of most of the fights.

The map was circular, like a massive verdant wheel. The spawn points were evenly distributed along its edges.

“Preparations for the battle are complete, and we’re nearly under way! We wish luck to both sides – because as we know, luck plays a big part in the Wheel of Fortune!”

“All combatants are present, and have entered the map. Ladies and gentlemen, let the first round of our Miracle Battle commence!”

“Five. Four. Three. Two. One!” The computerized voice counted down, and punctuated by the cries of a billion spectators, the fight began.

The Wheel of Fortune appeared on the screens. The spawn points were displayed in a separate area. Those same spawn points were suddenly illuminated, revealing the competitors from both teams.

“The fight has begun. Let’s see how they decide to approach.” Mo Xiao’s voice was faster, higher, more excited than before. Her voice, however, was still as clear as a bell.

“Well, how interesting! Both teams are scattered. The only exception is Skyshade and Thunderclap, who luckily spawned together. Their specialties are air control and speed, respectively. They aren’t moving for the wheel, though – they’re headed for the map border.”

“Remember, viewers, there are no specific starting points. They’re generated randomly so, no one knows where they are. They also have no idea where their enemies are. Their tactics are very smart: with the two of them, their prepared for whatever they encounter. If it’s an enemy, they have the numbers to succeed. If they find a friendly, there are then three on the hunt. Let’s see how they run in to!”

“Ah! It’s Hades, one of the Four Divine Monarchs! But what is he doing? He hasn’t moved from the spawn point.”

It was indeed as Mo Xiao noted. Hades’ Cerberus hadn’t moved an inch from where he spawned in to find friend or foe. On the contrary, he looked to be hiding behind a nearby rock. All of Cerberus’ systems appeared to be shut down.

It wasn’t just him. The golden dots on the overhead map indicating the Divine Monarchs all showed the same. None of them had moved, or even turned on their mechas.

Chapter 275: Ingenious Tactics

Thunderclap and Windbreaker were very familiar with this particular map. As a result, they knew the best way to approach the wheel. I no enemies were encountered, the next stop were spawn points.

Hades, meanwhile, was expertly hidden from view. In god- battles such as these, timing was everything. Thunderclap and Skyshade swept by with their scanners and, finding nothing, left just as quickly. They were heading for the Wheel of Fortune.

The other members of Star Alliance had gone for the wheel directly, without stopping to search other spawn points. Their primary objective was to hold the structure.

Mo Xiao narrated the scene. “From what we’re seeing now, Star Alliance’s tactics are simple. Because they had five people, their chances of two spawning together were higher. With their numbers advantage, they sought to take out an enemy quickly. The job done, or failing to find any enemies, it looks like they were instructed to join their companions at the Wheel. It’s a simple strategy, but effective, especially when it’s five on four.”

“What’s strange is the Divine Monarchs’ decision. It’s the first

time I’ve ever seen them hide like this. Let’s see how their tactics develop as the fight continues.”

Roughly ten seconds later, the first Monarch to move was Prometheus. The dark green Coeus sprang to life, quickly launching clockwise o the next pawn point. It didn’t take him long to connect with Poseidon. As they joined up, they quickly continued along the map’s border to the next spot. When their circle was complete, all four Monarchs were together.

Four imposing mechas turned in mid-air. Their next target was clearly the Wheel of Fate.

“Well, what an interesting gambit! They hid themselves in the beginning so they could join us when the coast was clear. The trade-off is they give up early control of the wheel for more power as a unit. They have a great deal of faith in their capabilities as a team… Ah! I understand. They’re taking advantage of the time delay. As I’m sure our viewers know, you must inject energy in to the Wheel for two minutes before you gain control. From what we’re seeing, it’ll take the Divine Monarchs around forty seconds to reach the Star Alliance’s location. Three of the Star Alliance’s members have already arrived at the map’s center, with two still missing. They’ve already started injecting energy.”

“This is a very common situation we experience with the Wheel of Fortune. Since they aren’t aware of their enemy’s location, the Star Alliance chose to wait and watch. If the Monarchs were to execute a sneak attack while they were taking the Wheel, the loses would certainly outweigh the gains. The Monarchs, meanwhile, anticipated this and are positioning to turn it to their advantage. By the time they arrive, they’ll have more than a minute to wrest control, likely facing off four-on- four. Consider who their fighting, it’s an ingenious tactic. It must have been Prometheus’ call, a man worthy of being called the master tactician!”

Mo Xiao’s explanations were thankfully received by many viewers. Prometheus’ plans were subtle, and her ability to figure it out so quickly was no easy task.

During their ten-minute warm-up, both teams were told the maps they would be using. Those ten minutes were integral to allow them time to hammer out a plan of attack for each confrontation. What they did not know, though, was the order in which these maps would be employed.

So it was that the moment the simulation changed to the Wheel of Fortune, Prometheus was calling out orders. Hide! Advance clockwise, and regroup.

So far it’s worked well in their favor.

After the Four Divine Monarchs had joined up, they raced ahead with Thor at the forefront. Coeus, Hades and Poseidon followed. The Wheel of Fate came in to view.

Four members of the Star Alliance had taken up positions on the edges of the hovering cog. They peered in to the distance, vigilant for their opponents.

The wheel was itself one hundred and fifty  meters  in diameter. A single high-speed dash was enough to reach the center.

Zeus and his allies could see the defenders from a distance. Starlord, Thunderclap, Phantom and Skyshade stood watch whilst Yu Honghu’s Bahamut took control of the Wheel.

Opportunity and risk often manifests side by side. Prometheus’ plans were successful, getting them the upper hand by diminishing their opponent’s numbers. But the risks were high: if the Star Alliance should succeed in gaining control of the Wheel, their thirty percent power increase would mean a Monarch victory was highly unlikely.

Mo Xiao continued to analyze the fight while switching between camera feeds of the two teams. Before long the Monarchs were nearly at the Wheel. Any closer and their figures would be visible to the enemy. The Wheel of Fate hung suspended in the air, hovering over the ground below. It’s position in the high-ground made a concealed approach impossible.

Coeus, Triton and Cerberus broke off, launching out in different directions while Thor pressed onward. They hid themselves behind rocks and other terrain.

Zeus’ sapphire mecha never slowed, instead gaining speed as he dashed forward. He was completely exposed.

The Wheel of Fortune was in constant motion, spinning on its central axis like a clock. The four members of the Star Alliance, perched on the edges of the structure, spun with it. The first one to spot Thor’s approach was the man who shared his Talent
– Thunderclap.

“Thor. We’ve got Zeus’ Thor on the horizon!” Thunderclap cried over the coms to his compatriots.

“Hold your ground. Don’t initiate combat.” Deimos’ charismatic voice replied.

They did as commanded, not simply because he was their team leader, but because it was as Mo Xiao had said: Any pilot from this generation venerated Deimos like an idol. Regardless of the fight’s outcome, they get to fight alongside this respected veteran of their trade. That was enough.

Beyond that, none of these pilots were new to the game. They had an intimate understanding of the map, and knew the appropriate strategies to use.

It had only been a scant few minutes since the match had begun. Why was it Thor was by himself, they wondered? It stank like a trap.

But Thunderclap was itchy. After all, he was here specifically to deal with Zeus. One was seventh on the aggregate power boards, the other ninth. Both their Disciplines dealt with the lightning element. He sat within his sim pod, eyes flashing with the excitement of battle. He was looking forward to this battle, a fight he’d been anticipating for a long time. Their clash would determine who would become DreamNet’s master of lightning.

Thor’s advance wasn’t exceedingly fast. By Thunderclap’s estimate, he was still about five hundred meters out.

Thunderclap stood in a cloud of bluish-black light, a strange corona of energy that matched the mecha’s painted surface. Clearly, the power that crackled around him was like Thor’s own, but there were differences.

As Thunderclap watched, fighting his desire to engage, Thor burst in to motion. In the space of an instant the dazzling blue mecha was racing forward at break-neck speeds, while simultaneously emitting blinding rays of powerful light. The purplish blast sprang out, and hung over Thunderclap like a net.

By the time the light dimmed enough for Thor to be visible he was practically on top of them, shimmering spear in hand.

Five hundred meters was crossed in the blink of an eye. Staggering waves of power barraged Zeus’ competitor. Thunderclap wasn’t taken aback by the blitzkrieg – on the contrary, he was disappointed. Such a brazen assault wasn’t a demonstration of the powerful opponent he was anticipating!

The blue-black mecha stood steadfast. Its mechanical arms rose, and as its metal hands met, a gun barrel appeared from the machine’s chest plate. Without ceremony it belched a shimmering bolt of electric blue light directly toward Thor. As it reached its target, and with a roar of thunder, the beam erupted in to a ball of explosive energy that stretched ten meters in diameter. A cry of surprise and alarm went through the crowd.

The eminence of violet light disappeared. The waves of energy dispersed. Only the blue-black orb surrounding Thunderclap remained.

And yet Thunderclap’s eyes were sharp, and worried. For he knew that his strike didn’t land.

There was a flash, and almost before he could react the blazing golden tip of Thor’s electric spear was lunging for his chest.

Both of the pilots were masters of the lightning Discipline, with an emphasis on speed. Thunderclap’s weapon – a sizzling electric halberd – helped facilitate his defense. He unconsciously coaxed his mecha in to action, and the halberd shot up to deflect the spear’s attack. Then, with a flick of his wrist, Thunderclap

caught Thor’s spear in the opening between the blade and the haft.

In truth Thunderclap was surprised his block and grapple had been so successful. But he capitalized on the situation without hesitation. With Thor’s spear caught against it, Thunderclap pulled his halberd close while simultaneously rushing forward to collide with Zeus’ suit. As they met, a bloom of staggering electric energy exploded around them with Thunderclap at its heart.

The difference between Thor and Thunderclap was simple. Thunderclap’s specialties lay in thunder and lightning. As in the real world, lightning preceded the sound. All of his weaponry centered around this.

Thor, meanwhile, was a more balanced machine. Although it was named after the god of thunder, it’s use of electricity or thunder was limited. This was DreamNet, after all – Zeus couldn’t empower those strikes with his Discipline. A well- rounded approach was his preference.

Because of this, Thunderclap was sure his own mecha superior to Thor.

Chapter 276: Cloaks And Daggers

Thunderclap was ever in the pursuit of perfection in his field: speed and power. As a result, his explosive capacity was dominating. In the process, however, he had to give up defense and energy conservation. Landing an attack or gaining the upper-hand was followed by the rage of a thunderstorm.

Thor, his weapon locked and his movement constrained, was certainly caught in a disadvantageous position. With years of combat experience at play, Thunderclap was certain Thor had no recourse, no means of escape.

But just as Thor’s defeat seemed inevitable, a gentle blue light appeared between them to ward off the blow. The shield of blue energy undulated as Thunderclap’s strike crashed against it like a tidal wave. The electric power was harmlessly diffused in to the atmosphere around them, and brought the blue-black mecha to a shuddering halt.

Not good! That was the first thought to race through Thunderclap’s mind. But even though he didn’t have the time to determine what happened, his experience kicked in. Almost unconsciously he responded the best way he knew how.

A thruster flared to life, and once again a dazzling electric blue light blinded the eye. Instead of an explosive attack, however, Thunderclap launched himself backward in retreat.

But it was too late.

The previously brash and ineffectual Thor charged at its opponent, surrounded by erratic flashes of electric light. The mecha’s advance was not a straight line, but instead descended in an elegant arc with Thunderclap as its target.

Even among god-ranked pilots, Thunderclap was exceedingly fast. But his retreat was not controlled. His thrusters sent him careening backward, unable to control speed or direction.

Thor had no such problem and as he raced forward, a beam of red light birthed stark shadows across the whole of the Wheel. Where it landed, an intense and terrifying explosion erupted, directly in Thunderclap’s path. He disappeared in the mushroom cloud.

Blinding blue and intense red mingled in the aftermath. Other members of the Star Alliance turned as the explosion drew their attention. By then, though, it was too late for them.

No opportunity for respite was granted, for as all eyes turned to the blast a ray of cyan light appeared. In the same instant, a darker blue beam intersected it in the air, forming an enormous X.

Thunderclap was caught between both. He perished amidst the sounds of his machine being blown apart. No more than fifteen seconds had passed since their collision, and just like that the Star Alliance was down a man.

ζ

Fifteen seconds earlier.

“Amazing. His plan was nothing short of brilliance.” Mo Xiao quickly cried out in appreciation. “Look closely – Thor races forward, but he’s wearing a cloaking gem. Unless I’m mistaken, even c-ranked gems are very expensive, and are able to create a stealth field ten meters in all directions. Wow, I wonder how wide his field is? Prometheus, Hades and Poseidon have them as well. They’ve turned off their main engines, so even the best radar can’t pin them down. It’s kept them hidden during their approach.”

“Look there, just as Thor went in for his first attack, the cloak activates. Here’s what happened. Thor’s first advanced used a flashy but ultimately pointless strike, designed to get his opponent’s attention. Thunderclap was fooled, and used his strongest attack. It was in that moment, following Thor’s rush, that the other three Monarchs engaged in a surprise attack.”

“Thunderclap never saw it coming. How could he not have anticipated this? He clearly underestimated Zeus. Ah, perhaps it’s this… For Thunderclap, Zeus is his primary target, and the most important enemy. From two years ago the word was out that he wanted to challenge him. Now fortune set the two against each other here. He was overcome by excitement, and impulse. He saw his long-desired victory at hand. Poor Thunderclap had no thought for the other Monarchs.”

“That’s it, they’re in close. Prometheus, Hades and Poseidon have reengaged their engines. Thunderclap is gone. He used the power of his name-sake, but he never even suspected Poseidon’s marvelous intervention!”

“Thunderclap has been slain.”

Mo Xiao’s rapid-fire analysis and narration washed over the stunned spectators. Excitement buzzed in her voice.

It was a sudden and emotional change for those who suspected a quick Monarch loss. In the space of an instant, the seventh strongest mecha pilot in DreamNet was no more. They even still had time to beat the Star Alliance back for control of the Wheel.

What sort of unspoken, secret understanding did the Monarchs have with one another to allow them to fight so well? Under the concentrated force of all four of them, Thunderclap never stood a ghost of a chance.

None from the Star Alliance came to their  companion’s rescue. The mini-map displayed Starlord,  Phantom  and Bahamut converging on the cog’s central location.

Thunderclap had managed to warn his friends after Poseidon blocked his charge. Almost immediately, Starlord was able to determine that Thunderclap was out of the fight. He commanded the remaining forces to vehemently defend the Wheel. Sending anyone to defend their fallen brethren would simply have been playing in to the Monarch’s hands.

As for the Monarchs, they wasted no time rushing the center after dealing with their first foe. They’d leapt from an inferior position to one of dominance. With Bahamut focused on activating the base, the battlefield was now four on three giving

the Monarchs a numbers advantage. Less than one minute remained until the wheel bestowed its power unto the Star Alliance.

The entire exchange had lasted only a few moments, but the audience was electrified by it. They felt like they’d  been dropped in the middle of a war-zone. They stared wide-eyed and with baited breath, afraid to miss a single moment.

The Four Divine Monarchs advanced, Zeus once more in the vanguard position. In contrast to before, though, Hades was right by his side. Prometheus and Poseidon took up the rear.

Both sides arrived at the Wheel’s center almost on top of each other. Deimos’ silver mecha was easy to spot, as its mirrored surface twinkled incessantly with starlight. It’s dominating presence was compounded by the nasty looking sword it had in its hand. This weapon was his namesake. Deimos, Lord of the Starblade.

Phantom stood to his left, a purple shadow slender as a whip. Half-swords were clutched in each mechanical hand. The suit shuddered with a perpetual tremor, and never seemed to be still.

Anyone familiar with the Knave knew this was a sign, a subtle indication that his impossibly fast fingers were endlessly tapping at the suit’s controls. He was like a coiled spring, ready to explode in deadly force at the drop of a hat.

Bahamut was white, and exuded a quiet calm despite the hectic backdrop. It bore no weapon, but both of its arms were unnaturally thick. This was especially true of its hands.

By this point Thor had retrieved its lightning spear. By the time both sides met, there was no hesitation – Zeus launched himself headlong towards the Knave’s Phantom.

Hades broke off and tore vertically. His suit shimmered with a red-hot light, while his arm fractured in to a mess of golden slag. The disparate pieces of mecha reforged themselves instantly in to a mid-sized, maroon-hued cannon.

Spots of angry red light began to gather in the maw of Cerberus’ heavy artillery.

Meanwhile Poseidon, positioned behind his fiery comrade focused his attentions on Skyshade. Coeus, dual moonblades in hand, was left to face the most powerful mecha pilot who ever

lived – Starlord.

“Amazing! We have a duel between Prometheus and Deimos. I can barely breathe. The other pairings are just as dramatic; we have the fastest hands in DreamNet against the man who took his place on the power lists, fourth in speed and ninth in power, while on the other side we see the incomparable Poseidon versus Skyshade. Cerberus has already engaged his most powerful distance weapon, the Hellfire Cannon, and is charging a volley. While the Wheel is indestructible, Bahamut is stuck in the middle and will have to eat an attack. How will Deimos choose to deal with this situation? They’re down a man with the second focused on the Wheel. Can they find a way to ward off the Monarch’s advance?”

The first pair to clash were Phantom and Thor.

Phantom shimmered as they raced headlong toward one another, and there appeared a second purple mecha at its side. They broke apart, coming at Zeus from both flanks.

Doppleganger! You could count on one hand the number of people able to employ dopplegangers effectively in combat, and the Knave was among their finest.

Thor didn’t hesitate to respond, birthing a second sapphire image a few meters away. Two Thors and two Phantoms were poised for engagement.

Neither side were as of yet employing their most powerful energy attacks, relying instead on mecha maneuvers for the upper hand.

Thor’s spear shimmered like some ethereal thing, casting out a blanket of spectral copies toward the Phantom. It reacted with a cross-ward slice of its dual swords which sent shock waves of power spiraling outward. Spectral spears and shock waves collided in mid-air, and the resulting corona of energy was temporarily blotted out their encounter.

“Look at this amazing display of hand speed! It’s simply terrifying to behold. Zeus’ hand speed seemed remarkably improved over what we have recorded in Sanctuary. My guess is he’s broken ninety CPS. We all know what the Phantom is capable of, and his hand-speed of one hundred and three is in full display right now. Neither of them are going all out, but already my eyes are having a hard time following. Let’s see what’s happening with the others!”

Triton gripped its famed trident tightly as it raced toward

Skyshade. An orb of blue light surrounded the mecha, the gentle eminence creating a shield of protection. The lord of the seas swept its trident through the air, and a blade of sea-blue energy lashed out at his opponent.

Chapter 277: Strongest Under Heaven

Skyshade’s thick, mechanical arms rose in to the air. A dazzling white light came to life between them, which caused the air between him and Poseidon to shimmer ominously. A deep, threatening roar of power filled their ears just as a blade made of blue light slashed outward.

Among his fans, Windbreaker was known to suppress powers of vacuity. He was a master of air, a quality his mecha shared. In reality, Windbreaker was stronger than both Thunderclap and the Knave. This was, of course, due to the addition of his own Discipline in conjunction with a mecha suit.

Poseidon wasn’t aiming to face Skyshade directly, though. Triton’s trident fired several bolts of blue energy that crashed down on to the enemy mecha from all directions. The strikes were designed to contain Skyshade, and limit his combat capabilities.

Poseidon saw the white light, and watched as the world warped. The beams of light that crashed around Skyshade deviated from their paths. Then the strange power extended further, threatening Triton’s position.

The orb of gentle light around Triton rippled, as a vibrant but soft light exuded from its chest plate. Waves of energy undulated outward like crashing waves and eventually collided with Skyshade’s warped air. The meeting of the two emulsions resulted in a staggering release of energy, that fired off every which way.

The world shook as battle raged on either edge of the Wheel. The most important fight, thought, was occurring in the center.

The God of Wisdom was facing off against the Starlord. The thirst and first most powerful pilots faced each other in full view of the Alliances and their people.

One was the undefeated, irreplaceable idol of DreamNet. The other, an indomidable rising star. As Prometheus and Deimos met on the field, it was as Mo Xiao said – everyone collectively held their breath.

Although the two other encounters nearby where wonderful spectacles to behold, this meeting of two living legends was far more important. It was a battle of the old guard versus the new generation, and spectators were anxious to see who would come out on top.

For some, there was little anxiety over who would emerge victorious. The Starlord’s reputation was itself a force of nature, but by Deimos’ own admission he was less than half the pilot he used to be. A strong case could be made for Prometheus’ eventual success. He was, after all, the master of control, Supersoldier of An Lun, and hero of the Eastern Alliance. For many of the younger pilots, he was the supreme mecha pilot, and no crotchety old man was going to say otherwise.

Still others felt differently. They would wait, and believe what they saw more than what one’s reputation would have them believe. This was a fight for the ages, and no one really knew what the outcome would be.

Prometheus’ dark green mecha shone with a cyan light, that surrounded it like a shell. It’s moonblades glinted in each metal hand. Coeus did not advance, but instead remained at a distance and stared – waiting for Starlord to make his move.

Starlord, too, was in no rush to engage. He stood steadfast, with Starblade’s point pressed against the Wheel beneath its feet. He was a mountain, a statue – some insurmountable obstacle blocking Prometheus’ path.

Both tacticians silently weighed the situation. Mechas weren’t

Adepts, so they could not sense the abilities of their opponent’s suit. Still as they were, no indication of their abilities was made evident.

“Come on then, let’s see what you really got.” Deimos’ voice echoed from Starlord, calm and without animosity. But while his address was tepid, everyone could hear the self-confidence thick in Deimos’ tone.

Prometheus was on the move, as though accepting the old hero’s invitation. Before Deimos even finished, Prometheus was closing the gap.

Within a few moments, only a few meters separated them. Without warning, Coeus’ figure shimmered and vanished. Before anyone could blink, it appeared once more, directly in front of Starlord. However, where before there was only one Coeus, now there were three. They lashed out from different directions.

“Three ghost images? My my, since when did Prometheus get so fast! These are new heights for our Supersoldier!”

Mo Xiao’s reaction wasn’t unlike Lan Jue, Hua Li and Chu

Cheng’s after discovering ‘big boss’’ improvement. Likely many in the audience felt the same.

Starlord was rooted in place; it didn’t run, it didn’t dodge. There was a flash, and then the Starblade was in motion. Twinkling pinpoints of light danced along the weapon’s length, as though it were itself composed of a million condensed stars. Where it went, a silvery afterglow remained.

Starlord exploded forward with a well-executed lunge and sweep that had its peculiar blade approach obliquely.

Lan Qing glowered at the screen, filled with an intense irritation. This weapon, while not exceedingly dangerous, was like a fish bone in one’s throat – it had to be dealt with, or it would be a nuisance.

The three figures were again reduced to one. Coeus hung in the air, slightly off balance. He seemed in a trajectory to fall directly on to Starlord’s blade.

Both of Coeus moonblades were drawn inward, whistling dangerously as they knocked Starlord’s attack away. With a twist, the Starblade was caught between the cutting edge of

Coeus’ weapon and the hilt, locking it in place.

The cyan light surrounding Prometheus’ mecha expanded outward with sudden vigor, and thickened considerably. The suit’s movements grew erratic, elusive.

Starlord’s response was to finally move from its vigil. Deimos juked forward and to the left, twisting his suit. With an ear- piercing ring, the Starblade slipped free of the weapon bind. As the two jostled for superiority, flashes of energy raged around them.

Coeus shook and shimmered, then in a spectacular display erupted in a score of mirror images. They all rushed at Starlord in unison. Now that he’d gotten around Deimos’ defense, there was no further need for caution. Starlord’s form darkened as the shadows of its multiple enemies fell over it.

The twinkling starlight dotting Starlord’s body burned ferociously, then without warning released countless beams of light in all directions like a hedgehog. The beams were thick and powerful, creating lines of condensed energy pulses.

Luminescence! The lost knowledge of Deimos, the thing that

made him famous. It was also Starlord’s most powerful focused attack.

Generally speaking, those attacks which were more focused, were also more devastating. Sharing energy among attacks over a larger scale obviously made each weaker. However, this was not true for the Starlord. This particular suit was designed with a powerful soul gem as its energy source, crushed up and distributed all throughout the frame. All of Starlord was a weapon, allowing it to strike out in all directions with the power of a focused strike.

When Lan Qing was just getting his start, Deimos was already effectively retired. He’d never had the opportunity to face this man, and so it was his first time experiencing Luminescence. One by one, faster than you could see, Coeus copies were obliterated. However, the pale blue-green light did not falter, instead growing more prosperous. It was as though it rose to challenge the blinding starlight, refusing to capitulate. Blades of energy lashed out from the undulating orb surrounding the god of wisdom, one after the other. Flashes of radiant light fluttered and flashed as they danced through the air.

Their encounter wasn’t as fast-paced as the ones occurring on either side of them, but their unbridled release of power caused the others on both sides to flee the area as quickly as they could

for fear they’d be swept up in it.

“Blocked? The God of Wisdom lives up to his name, folks! He’s never seen Luminescence, but he’s managed to effectively ward it off!” It was Mo Xiao’s first commentary on the team leader’s encounter.

He did indeed block the terrible attack, however not without having to endure some of it himself.

In that instant a beam of light appeared, shimmering with stars like a vision of the Milky Way. It sliced through the heavens, parting the skies.

Hade’s Hellfire cannon was charged to the fullest now, and as the weapon’s depths came to life with red light an ominous sense crackled in the air. It erupted, releasing a condensed beam of energy sizzling with fatal promise. It tore through the air, heading straight for the Wheel of fortune’s center.

Meanwhile the  Starblade’s  power  was  sweeping  skyward.
Starlord saw the opportunity, and took it.

Charging and firing his laser required Cerberus to remain totally still. Where he to do so, not only would the strike be misaligned, Hades’ mecha was likely to suffer some residual blow-back from the power output.

What was he to do? Chu Cheng was faced with a grim choice: either he could continue his attack, which would almost certainly destroy Bahamut but would leave himself open for destruction, or move and miss his opportunity – possible damaging his own mecha in the process.

Face the danger, or interrupt charging the Wheel?

Shit!

He made his decision. If both he and Bahamut were destroyed, it would bring the playing field back to three on three. It would, however, give his team more breathing room to take control of the Wheel. With Starlord’s focus on him, it may open the field for the big guy. And all Lan Qing needed was one real chance, then the Star Alliance was doomed.

Cerberus did not move. It poured every ounce of energy it possessed in to the Hellfire cannon. Chu Cheng’s face was dark

as he watched Starlord’s attack approach. Then his screen went dark.

Boooooommm – Boooom!

The two violent explosions occurred almost on top of one another. The center of the Wheel was a hellscape of acrid smoke and fire, while simultaneously Cerberus was reduced to a molten ball of slag. Starlord’s blade, which struck with the power of ten thousand suns, hit its mark perfectly. With such a strike, and no shields, Chu Cheng was right in his determination. He never stood a chance of getting out alive.

The Star Alliance was no longer pouring energy in to the Wheel. But be it Lan Qing, Lan Jue or Hua Li, the Monarchs’ hearts where dark with anxiety.

Each of them were god-ranked pilots, the best of the best. Their battlefield awareness was meticulous. This high-stakes fight was no exception. True the Wheel’s capture was interrupted, but they were almost certain the charging had stopped early.

It meant…

The unease they felt heightened as a two-toned figure appeared in the haze. Fires glinted off the red and blue metal as a suit rose from beneath the Wheel, and headed their way.

Bahamut!

Impossible! Chu Cheng, alone in his dark sim pod, stared incredulously at the screen. He couldn’t believe what he was seeing. Somehow, the dragon of ice and fire had not been destroyed by the full force of Chu Cheng’s power.

Chapter 278: Prometheus Erupts

The Wheel’s central area was small and narrow opening, which one had to occupy if they wished to inject it with energy. It was a dangerous gambit since flooding the Wheel left you exposed, and unable to employ any defensive counter-measures.

When Hades fired the Hellfire Cannon, Bahamut had still been in the center. At that point, it was too late to retreat and escape unscathed – Yu Honghu had taken too long.

So how did he survive?

Chu Cheng was now simply a spectator. He adjusted the cameras for full view, and focused it on the Wheel. The center could be entered from the bottom, so he panned his camera there. He was surprised to discover a blue and red figure dangling there.

Chu Cheng finally came to his senses. So crafty! he thought.

Bahamut was using a remote device to inject energy in to the Wheel.

The mecha itself never entered the small area, hiding instead on the outside. When Cerberus’ attack was incoming, Bahamut quickly cut connection with the Wheel, took its device and hid behind the indestructible walls of the structure.

The whole thing had been a trap. The Star Alliance never expected to fully control the Wheel in the beginning. Now, they once again held the advantage.

However, Prometheus wasn’t going to let that stand.

Coeus changed from a dark green to a resplendent jade before their eyes. It pulsed with vibrant energies that energized its surroundings. Once the release of energy seemed to reach a critical mass, Coeus shot forward and collided with Starlord.

The moment Prometheus saw Starlord shift focus to Chu Cheng, he puzzled out the Star Alliance’s plan. Late, but as he well knew even the best laid plans often went awry. This was no exception, and they still had a chance. The crux lay with Starlord himself. His attack on Hades, protecting Bahamut, reduced his energy reserves to perhaps half. If they could defeat him before Bahamut finished with the Wheel, victory was still within reach.

Coeus dashed forward like an emerald green beam of radiation, invisible to the naked eye but for the vibrant color. Like a terrible, living blade of wind, Coeus went for Starlord’s throat.

Everything had happened so quickly: Starlord repelled Coeus, brought down Hades, then faced the opposing team leader once again. It all passed in the space of a thunder bolt. This time, though, Starlord was without his weapon. It was still returning from its attack on Hades.

It could be argued that there had been no obvious mistakes from either side as of yet. Hades had made a quick and decisive determination based on the information he had. Prometheus was just as quick to take advantage of the opening he saw. Hesitation meant death in fights such as these. Even after seeing the trap they’d lain for him, Chu Cheng had no regrets. At least he’d given Lan Qing a chance. He couldn’t help but yelp excitedly when he saw Lan Qing finally go in for the kill.

“Get him!”

Win or lose, they fought with everything they had! If they really ended up losing to this powerful foe, at least they went down swinging.

Starlord was still unarmed. Though powerful and deadly, Starlord’s drawback was his attacks needed time to refresh.

Deimos watched with narrowed eyes as Coeus pressed forward on the warpath. The twinkling starlight that emanated from his mecha flared brightly in response. Starlord’s metallic figure dimmed considerably, like it was not real.

Slow-motion cameras were able to catch the scene. The reason his suit seemed so strange to look upon was because it was actually in a state of extremely fast motion. It would move back about a meter, and then leap forward the same, all in a fraction of a second. The elbow of its sword arm was extended like a battering ram.

Booooooom!

The two mecha collided with a frightening explosion. It’s force and ferocity brought everything to a screeching halt. Time seemed to stop. Zeus, Poseidon, the Knave and Windbreaker – all of them turned their attention to the ballooning mushroom cloud.

Without question, Prometheus and Deimos had connected.

The victor, however, was unclear. The other combatants watched with baited breath. Whoever stepped from the smoke would likely determine the end of this fight.

A white figure went soaring from the debris like a cannon ball. It tumbled through the air, but as it did the glittering swipes of the Starblade could be seen behind it, warding off Coeus’ pursuit.

Repelled! Prometheus’ strike hadn’t finished the Starlord, but put the old master on the defensive.

Mo Xiao’s voice rang clear in the ears of all onlookers. “That, ladies and gentlemen, is why Deimos is the best of the best. If he were at his peak, I guarantee that strike would have been easily avoided. Now you can see that he spoke true, he’s a little slower with his response times and control. Even still his wisdom and combat understanding are unparalleled. It’s obvious why he’s touted as the best pilot alive.”

Starlord’s chest plate was badly damaged, and its left arm was missing after the collision. It was really in remarkable shape after facing down one of Coeus’ most powerful strikes.

While Starlord was careening off in to the distance, Coeus was relatively still. It remained in the blast radius of their meeting, spinning rapidly. Between the smoke and speed at which it spun, no one was able to clearly see the damage Coeus had sustained.

Bahamut had managed to arrive at this point, and blocked Coeus’ advance in order to give Starlord time to recover.

Bahamut was a fitting name for the mythical-looking mecha. It had two thick, powerful wings and dragon heads – one blue, and one red. At present, both had their mouths open in nightmarish roars, belching dragonfire at Coeus.

In the same instant, two beams of green energy lanced outward from Coeus’ location. They were faster than the eye could follow. Before anyone had time to react, the strikes had found their target.

The beams arced away from Starlord. They weren’t even intended for Bahamut. Instead, the strikes parted and made for the enemies on either side: Skyshade, and Phantom.

The whole of the Wheel of Fortune turned a metallic, dazzling

blue.

Everything looked like it was being seen through a film of electric energy. It was coming from Thor, whose body was releasing scores of serpentine lightning bolts. The erratic strikes fell around Phantom, pinning it in place.

Triton, meanwhile, thrust forward with its trident as soon as Coeus was visible. An impossible large reflection of the trident appeared, tearing through the air to obliterate Skyshade’s defenses and run it through.

All three actions happened almost simultaneously, perfectly executed in tandem. Thor and Triton let their enemies have it, giving everything they got a half second after Lan Qing’s intervention. Their foes had no choice but to face the full brunt of their power. Coeus’ beams of light arrived.

Boom! BOOM!

The two explosions happened one after the other. The pincer attack was set up without telegraph, to the point where the Knave and Windbreaker only discovered their doom after it was too late.

If one blocks the front, they can’t block the back. Prometheus’ power and planning ended two of their opponents in one fell swoop.

The Knave had sought to employ his exceptional hand speed for defense, and split in to three mirror images. However, Thor never gave him a chance. Without concern for energy conservation, the arcing bolts of electricity were easily able to suppress all three dopplegangers. The Knave had nowhere to go, and no way to dodge.

All he could do before exploding in to a million warped bits of metal, was jam his mecha’s two short swords in to Thor’s shoulders.

A similar scene played out on the other side of the Wheel, where Triton and Skyshade were battling it out. Poseidon’s machine may not have had the sheer power of Thor, but what it lacked in damage potential it more than made up for in battlefield control.

Skyshade protected himself with a shield of compressed air, called to reality when Triton summoned the massive trident. But as the two strikes found their mark, Yu Honghu was surprised and upset to discover that Poseidon’s blow had been

gentle, like a lapping wave.

Before he could response, Yu Honghu felt a shockwave shudder through his defenses. Skyshade was temporarily locked solid and unable to move. Coeus moonblade had no trouble slicing clean through the Winbreaker’s  shield,  and  burying itself deep inside Skyshade.

Only seconds had passed. From Cerberus destruction, to Starlord’s retreat, to the death of two more Star Alliance members, the situation on the ground had changed radically.

Now, Bahamut’s breath attack reached Coeus.

Prometheus was left open. His strike against Starlord, and the subsequent coup de grace on the other two, had drained all of his suit’s energy reserves. None remained for defensive maneuvers.

Bahamut let everything he had go in the breath attack. His team was down three men, but removing the strongest Monarch from the occasion would be a game changer. Starlord was still in play, with Starblade ready to go. This wasn’t over.

Booooomm! As Bahamut planned, Coeus went up in flames. Without anything to mitigate it, Bahamut’s  attacks  were difficult to ward off.

However, as the two-headed dragon opened its maws, a strange cyan gear quietly appeared and affixed itself between the dragon heads. Coeus’ destruction was followed by a blinding release of light, and a blast of energy that blanketing the entire Wheel. Bahamut was so focused on the inevitable kill it didn’t notice the gear. It didn’t notice the dim blue light that suddenly shone out from it. Yu Honghu did notice when his screen went black.

Boom!

From the beginning of the fight to now, with six mechas destroyed, only about a minute had passed. The action was so fast-paced, so unrelenting that the audience scant had time to breathe.

And at the heart of it all was Prometheus, a man quiet of demeanor but frighteningly strong.

It was he who fought back Starlord and opened up avenues for

victory. It was he who facilitated the destruction of Phantom and Skyshade with the help of his two companions. And it was he, under the cover of his own destruction, who took out the demon dragon with him. They managed to take out the great tactician, but the price they paid was three of their own. Now it was two on one. The stage was set for a Monarch victory.

Chapter 279: Thor’s Hammer

Finally, there was a lull in the action.

The Star Alliance had but one member remaining, the strongest under heaven – Deimos. The Monarchs still had the masters of water and Lightning, Poseidon and Zeus.

All three remained silent, and watched as the remnants of the previous collisions subsided. It was quite an awesome display. Even alien species would have been stunned by the incredible result. And all of it passed in less time than it took to gasp.

One of DreamNet’s functions was called the Competition Analysis Tool, or CAT. For a fee, viewers could download a high-definition recording of the event, calibrated for close scrutiny. It allowed you to speed up and slow down the action, and view it from many different angles.

The set price tag for this session’s video was ten times what spectators paid to be present in DreamNet. The reasoning, according to DreamNet’s advertisers, was that they had to pay out a lot to entice God-ranked pilots to participate. This was a way to recoup losses.

It was due to the steep asking price that, when the battle started, only about a million digital copies of the five fights were pre-sold. If only three fights occurred and a winner chosen, some of the funds would be returned.

By now, however, those numbers had changed. One million had since swelled to over seven million. Further, about a hundred million people had purchased the video for this one fight. The sheer profit for DreamNet was a number too high to fathom.

The one-armed Starlord stood in silence, watching Poseidon and Zeus. Everything was quiet, and yet an all-consuming sense of anticipation filled the audience. It was like a powder keg, the blood in their veins turned to gasoline – they could erupt at any second.

Then, Thor was in motion!

Lan Jue was calm as the surface of a lake, but if anyone were able to peer in to the sim pod, they would see the bolts of electricity snaking across his eyes. An oppressive aura of power surrounded him.

What had started as four on five had changed dramatically with Prometheus’ sacrifice. Now the monarchs had a real chance at victory. The remaining fighters were overflowing with battle fervor.

Thor rushed forward, in what to the untrained eye appeared to be a straight shot. However, closer inspection would reveal that the mecha swayed ever so slightly as it barreled through the air. But as Thor charged, the audience was surprised to discover that its electric spear was nowhere to be seen. Unarmed, when would Thor’s powerful weapon reappear, they wondered?

As Thor moved, so too did Triton. The sea-blue mecha fell in behind his electric counterpart like a shadow. Where Thor went, Triton followed precisely. It was like they were the same person, the same mecha.

One, Poseidon and Zeus were touted as Dreamburg’s greatest duo. There were two-person team battles, but they were rarely done once a pilot reached god-ranked. Still, despite their lack of presence in the arena lately, no one could deny their near- perfect cooperation.

Those who knew the Monarchs realized that it was no

coincidence the two of them remained. This whole thing was by design! Prometheus’ best laid plans coming to fruition.

Starlord did not stand idly by, and was moving as well. The Starblade lashed out to the side of him without warning, while the mecha itself once more adopted an illusory quality. The audience looked on as deafening blast of rolling thunder filled the arena.

The skies overhead suddenly burst in to bloom as an orb of writhing lightning came to be. The electric light was contained in a strange, warped corona of energy. Starlord’s sudden movement had been to avoid this while the Starblade – blazing with dozens of twinkling stars – swiped it away.

“This is… Thor’s Hammer!” Mo Xiao’s voice cried in astonishment. “Thor has made his move. Wow! This is the fabled Thor’s Hammer!?”

Each high-level god mecha had its own special moves. Some were more passive, and it defined their explosive capabilities, energy reserves and more. Others were more dominant on the battlefield. Hades, for example, revealed his with the Hellfire Cannon.

Thor was no exception. Aside from his combat abilities from pilot maneuvers, Zeus still had powerful strikes up his sleeves. One such terrifying attack was Thor’s Hammer.

Anyone who looked in to Thor on any level will have heard of Thor’s Hammer. However, the number of people who’ve actually seen it and lived to relate the fact was very close to zero. After all, most of the opportunities where Thor would use it have been hidden behind the blanket spectator ban in Dreamburg. But even now that they see it, the move was hard to describe. All they knew was that after the explosions, the screens went dark.

Outside of specialized mecha analysts and engineers, Thor’s Hammer was likely only used in DreamNet. Science hadn’t caught up enough for a mecha suit to be manufactured in such a way as to make the attack possible. Not only was Thor’s Hammer capable of devastating power, but it also served as an electro-magnetic pulse. The EMP fried any electrical systems it came in contact with, not the least of which being suit controls. No defensive or repair procedures could drain away the current in less than three seconds. It wasn’t long, but in battles like this three seconds was enough to determine victory or defeat.

So it was that Thor finally used his hammer, before the eyes of billions of viewers. It had been intangible, indescribable, and

more than any of them expected despite its prestige. But how in the world was Starlord able to foresee it?

Nearly the moment that Starlord cast out his blade again, Thor’s body had begun to glow with a violet aura of energy. In a blink the God of Lightning was before Starlord, punctuating his arrival with an intensive release of explosive power. Three piercing rays of electric blue light fired out like a pitchfork. They were pointed to the precise spot Starlord needed to go in order to avoid Thor’s Hammer.

What Starlord didn’t see was that it hadn’t only been Thor who came in for the kill. Triton was right behind him.

Triton had stuck to Thor’s back, attached like some Voltron- esque monstrosity. The metal construction of the two suits somehow fused during their rush, and now where Thor moved, Triton followed.

Starlord’s reaction to the pining tactic was fast. The mecha’s upper body swept around as it reeled, but Starblade’s positioning was perfect. The three bolts of energy were knocked harmlessly aside.

But suddenly, it slowed. After deflecting the strike it was as though Starlord was suddenly stuck in a bog, making it sluggish.

Deimos was unperturbed. The mechanical wrist of its mecha trembled, and suddenly the Starblade erupted in to countless thousands of shards. They burst out in all directions, with enough force to rival Thor’s Hammer.

But then something strange happened. The three beams of energy deflected by Deimos’ Starblade congealed mid-flight, reducing from three beams to two. One was a peaceful blue, while the other was a deep purple with a coiling bolts of electricity surrounding it.

The blue beam expanded and stretched like a bubble, and rose with the impressive explosion of the Starblade. As the two waves of power met, Deimos’ starburst attack was deflected to the side. The purple beam raced forward like a lance. It struck the hilt of the Starblade, and then proceeded directly in to the mecha that bore it.

Crack! Crash! The staggering sound of thunder and lightning deafened the onlookers. Starlord was instantly covered in snaking bolts of purple electricity. The suit went rigid.

In the same instant, dual threads of golden light exited from beneath Thor’s armpits. They expanded until they were like two golden vipers, and lashed out at Starlord’s chest plate. But Thor wasn’t finished.

The sapphire mecha raised its arms high, and there appeared in its hands a massive deep-blue war hammer. Resplendent contrails of light followed as Thor brought the weapon crashing down on Starlord’s head.

The others who had been defeated – the Knave, Thunderclap, Yu Honghu and Windbreaker – couldn’t help but be struck dumb by what they were witnessing.

At this level of competition, the first thought in a pilot’s mind when encountering a strike like this was whether or not they could survive it. None of them could honestly say that they would.

Was this the power of Zeus and Poseidon?

Of course the frightening series of attacks drew exceedingly high energy costs. Of course, the odds of a god-ranked mecha suit being equipped with s-ranked energy power gems were

high. Where that the case, they had nothing to worry about.

Starlord’s chest plate began to glow, with a six-pointed star pattern etching itself therein. A misty golden aura sprang up around the assailed mecha.

Thor’s descending blow was cast aside by the golden aura, and in the same instant the star pattern on its chest fractured and exploded outward. The golden aura ejected further outward, and filled the area with twinkling starlight. The glimmering dots of energy draw together until they were light a chain. It gripped fast to Thor’s weapon and refused to let it move.

Booooooomm!

The entire arena was cast in to a gloomy darkness, but for the center where gold and purple joined in a spectacular display of chaotic energy. All three remaining mecha disappeared within it.

Mo Xiao, responsible for narrating the scene, gasped audibly. “Starlord really is far below where he was. If our living legend had been at his peak, he’d never have been caught in this reactionary situation. His reaction times, control and battlefield

awareness all are not what they once were. He’s still got his knowledge, but is that enough…?”

Before she could finish her thought, a digitized voice called over the simulation.

“Star Alliance: Victory.”

Little by little, the roiling, angry ball of energy that filled the arena slowly faded. When it did, Thor and Triton were still visible.

Starlord was still caught in a prison of snaking electric tendrils, so damaged that its mechanical innards were visible. It’s all-important Starblade was absent.

As the combat came to an end, the statistics were revealed on another screen. This included mecha damage. Deimos suit sat at eighty-seven percent damage, but was still standing after everything it had endured.

The local chat exploded in to vociferous cheers and vitriolic complaints. All the while, CAT sales soared.

Chapter 280: Chang’E’s Domain

How could anyone understand what just happened in this battle without a recorded analysis? How could Deimos win after being in such a disadvantageous position?

Lan Jue sat within the dark sim pod, shock evident in his eyes. In that moment, he himself thought they’d won. In the end, though…

Everything that lead up to the explosion flashed through his mind.

In truth once Thor and Triton joined, the attacks hadn’t just been Thor’s hammer or spear. In the moment when Thor’s Hammer burst against Starlord’s protective shields, Triton’s trident was also stretching out in preparation for Hua Li’s strongest attack. He was just waiting for the right opportunity.

But Lan Jue knew he messed up the moment both sides collided.

Thor’s Hammer was definitely strong enough to break through a mecha’s shields. However, it needed time and

positioning. Truth be told it was a short time needed, but enough for someone as talented as Deimos.

Thor and Triton’s attacks were already alleviating by the time Starlord pushed its shields out further. That was when Lan Jue saw the real Starblade.

As they watched the sword transformed, seeming to reflect the vast expanse of the Milky Way galaxy in its depths. It exploded, sending out resplendent beams of energy in all directions. Distracted and blinded by the blast, Hua Li and Lan Jue didn’t know it had impaled them until everything was already finished.

They lost!

Star Alliance had taken the first victory in their contest for the best of five. Consequently, the Four Divine Monarchs – the best God-ranked team according to polls – were the losers.

But what the audience did not know, was that this loss filled the Monarchs with confidence. Starlord’s stunning upset had not been a result of exceptional piloting, but of his mecha suit’s installed components. Shields and swords are what won him

that victory.

They were frighteningly effective, but in the end they were things that required triggers. If they could anticipate these things and plan for them, the next time it happens in a fight they’ll be ready for it.

On the other side the Knave, Thunderclap, Windbreaker and Yu Honghu were anxious despite their victory.

The Four Divine Monarchs were much stronger than they’d imagined. It wasn’t just their cooperation, but even their individual strength that the Star Alliance had failed to properly determine. And when it came to battlefield control, Prometheus was far and away superior to Starlord! Where they not already down a man, the Monarchs likely would have come out of that last fight victorious.

Yes indeed the Star Alliance ended up dominating, but their confidence at a route was shaken.

In the final moments Lan Jue shared his final analysis with Lan Qing.

“Very good. Let’s keep it up.” Those six words were all Lan Qing had to say.

With the completion of the first fight, a resting counter had begun to tick down. A complete 360 analysis of the fight wasn’t yet available, but simple recorded playback was enough for them to recap what had happened.

Many of the audience were doing just that, with their eyes glued to a slow-motion playback of the action.

Mo Xiao had to take a moment to regain her composure before continuing her duties as host. “What you just witnessed you will likely only see once in your entire lifetime. I feel honored to have been able to watch, and will forever be remembered fondly as a cherished memory. Really something splendid!”

“If I hadn’t seen it all with my own eyes, I’d never believe it. This fight wasn’t just about power and mecha piloting – wisdom won the day. What a treasure that I got to be a small part of it.”

No advertisements plagued the audience as the intermission stretched on. However, the large screens did have a highlights reel of the last fight on constant repeat. Ad revenue wasn’t

likely to be tremendous, but the number of people queueing up to buy CAT copies already had spent enough to feed a mid-sized planet.

The audience knew that it was an historic fight for DreamNet, but since they hadn’t been able to see the conclusion clearly they were yet to feel the excitement. As before they were allured by the charm of the team members, so what was a few dollars to have a permanent record of your hero battling it out? This was especially true for mecha pilots, for having the opportunity to analyze such a high level fight would undoubtedly serve their skills well in the future.

“Our next map for the second fight: Chang’E’s Domain!” Mo Xiao’s silken, alluring voice called out the information.

The Domain had once been DreamNet’s go-to arena, a classic choice. It was suitable for all manner of combat and competitors. It was a simple square map, with highlands in the four corners that doubled as spawn points. The sole decoration was an exquisite statue in the center, of a beautiful woman – Chang’E.

Chang’E is a mythical Chinese woman who was sent to the moon with her Jade rabbit. She’s roughly equivalent to the man

on the moon in the West, though her story Is much more dramatic. Take a look. They say now that Mid-Autumn festival is the only time Chang’E and her husband can be together, crossing over a river of stars.

Moonlight hung over the statue and its surroundings like a blanket. Any mecha that the light should touch would be granted invisibility. That is to say, the first mecha to reach the center would have a significant advantage.

There have been any number of tactics and strategies developed for this map. The most popular was called the Moonlight Blitz. The idea was to have a team’s most agile suit race for the center and wait in ambush, causing as much damage as possible on the unsuspecting enemy.

When the revelation of the next map was made, any pilot who’d been around for the last five years was filled with a pleasant nostalgia. In such a simple and straightforward map, what would the Monarchs and the Star Alliance show them next?

Four spawn points, nine pilots, and an objective just like the last time. To make matters even more exciting, one of those spawn points was going to be home to three pilots. This was a

welcome leg-up for the numerically superior Star Alliance.

“Three. Two. One. Begin!”

The chat boxes became quiet as the match begun. All eyes were diligently locked to the screens. There was a flash, and then all four spawn points were occupied.

The recording cut to the bottom left corner. That was where the three intrepid mechas appeared.

Luck played a large role in this map, especially for god-ranked pilots. The identity of these three pilots usually determined the result of this fight before it even begun.

The three silhouettes, situated at the corners of the spawn point, became more defined. As they appeared they, like the audience, were desperate to quickly discover who shared the space.

They were Windbreaker, Yu Honghu’s Bahamut, and…

Thor!

In accordance with the rules for Chang’E’s Domain, any time the teams numbered greater than eight this sort of occurrence was likely to appear. So, with this corner revealed, it meant the other three were seeing one-on-one fights.

The Knave’s Skyshade was facing off against Prometheus and Coeus.

Thunderclap appeared with Cerberus.

And Starlord appeared opposite Triton.

Zeus flicked his eyes from one to the other. He would be responsible for at least fending off two of Star Alliance’s powerhouses. Although both challengers were lower than he on the aggregate power lists, that didn’t mean the differences were that spread.

Sitting calmly in the sim pod, Lan Jue was like a statue. However his stoic exterior flashed incessantly with electric power, which congealed behind eyes fervent with bloodlust.

His opponent’s strength was the catalyst for his combat desire, creating a stirring need in him to give his all. He had little regard for the conclusion, victory or defeat ultimately didn’t matter. His interest lay in the process. It was a rare chance to face off against so many high-level pilots.

Boom–!

The first to launch an attack was Bahamut. The hydra-like suit launched itself in to the air, then belched its breath weapons towards Thor. Red and blue intertwined, bathing Thor in ominous light.

Windbreaker wasted no time, and the sounds of compression surrounded it. There was a sudden burst, and the force launched Windbreaker right at the beleaguered Thor. Compared to Bahamut, Windbreaker was much better suited for close-quarters combat. Though they didn’t have a great deal of experience working together, at this level of piloting tacit cooperation was practically scarred on your soul. It took them no time at all to correctly determine the best attacks to use in conjunction.

This time it would be close combat suppression with long- distance assist.

Two on one, with a simple objective: Destroy Thor, then regroup with the others. More so than the last map, a numbers advantage would mean a lot here.

As for the Monarchs, they weren’t pleased with the results, but it certainly wasn’t a death knell. Had Thor been forced to meet Starlord first thing, then things would have been much different.

Thor reacted to the environment, but not by attempting to flee or dodge. Instead, it rose and charged straight in to Bahamut’s elemental breath.

After the first fight concluded, each of their mechas had been returned to their default, one hundred percent condition. Although Lan Jue was just using a simulator, he felt as though he were one with Thor.

Bahamut’s blast of ice and fire had a diameter of about a meter. The elemental attack was different, and not simply composed of the hot and cold. It was the essence of it that the dragon released; rage, and permeation. The moment the strike hits, it first injects itself in to the enemy and spreads all throughout it. Then it unceremoniously detonates them. For Bahamut it was a normal attack, but widely considered among

all pilots as one of the strongest non-specialized attacks there were.

The audience watched as Thor plowed headlong in to the stream of energy. Just in time for Windbreaker to catch up.

Just then, Thor’s sapphire figure became somewhat cloudy, as though viewed through dirty water. It’s large mechanical arms lashed outward, and became a massive hand  crashing  down from the skies. He released no electric energy, only that massive illusory palm bearing down on Bahamut and its breath weapon.

Much to Yu Honghu’s surprise, Zeus’ palm strike felt almost… gentle. Thor, famous for its terrifying explosive power, was suddenly soft as water. Breath and calm collided, but did not explode as one might expect. Instead it blocked it, deflecting the flow of energy away. In the same instant Thor split in to two, and the mirror images raced forward on either side of Bahamut’s breath attack. What’s more, now the ice and fire breath were being deflected backward towards its source.

Windbreaker had gotten within striking distance. Conventional thinking held that he already had his strike waiting and, the moment he collided with Thor and Bahamut’s breath attack, his own strike will seal the deal. With the power

of two god-ranked pilots crashing down on it like a wave, Thor would be obliterated.

Post a Comment

© Zona Novel Online. All rights reserved. Developed by Jago Desain