Chapter 189: Wisdom and Cunning
By this point, Tang Xiao’s mecha had risen to its feet. The giant sword it bore swung in a dangerous arc, glimmering with a strange pure white light.
Xiao Han was still stuck in place, but his torso and arms were still functional. He twisted and brought his weapon up to stave off Tang Xiao’s blow.
The two blades met with an ear-splitting clash and a shower of sparks. As they did, Tang Xiao’s glimmering sword seemed to almost grow longer. Then it buckled at the point of impact, twisting around like it had a mind of its own to swipe at Xiao Han’s back.
The Lir challenger was perplexed by Tang Xiao’s mecha, which had at this point was humming with power and emitted a pulsing white light. Much to his surprise, all the damage the suit had sustained prior to this point was gone. Like it was a whole new foe he faced.
Tang Xiao swept around his immobilized target. His sword flowed, and danced through the air leaving streaks of blinding light in its wake.
Still Xiao Han was unable to free himself from the strangely animate metal flooring, but despite that he was managing to keep himself safe from Tang Xiao’s vicious strikes. With a great surge of his power, Xiao Han wrenched his mecha free of the constraints.
“Pitiful! Make a crater and hide in it. Guess that’s the Lir way. See ya!” Tang Xiao’s cruel and taunting voice crackled through Xiao Han’s cockpit speakers.
His suit filled with the sound of steel grating on steel.
He looked down, surprised to find that the floor that had held him fast was the same pure white color of Tang Xiao’s restored mecha. It stretched for twenty meters in each direction, with him in the very center. A giant target.
The floor was alive, roiling like stormy sea waves. It washed over the feet of his suit, grinding maddeningly as it did. He had the Discipline necessary to melt away the grasping metal, he knew. But he was also keenly aware of the fact that his suit likely wouldn’t be able to handle it.
He watched in impotent horror as a single writhing tendril of white metal wormed its way in to his central command system.
“Bastaaaard!” Xiao Han screamed until his lungs burned. Blood flung from his lips, mingling with spittle. His body, locked within the confines of the suit, burst in to a frightening display of golden-red fire.
Then, he exploded out from within the mecha, launching himself at Tang Xiao in a raging tempest of fire.
“You think I’m scared? Shit!” The giant silver mecha’s mechanical fist whistled as it tore through the air.
The entire arena shook from the force of the impact. The air sizzled and turned red as the explosion lit the skies. Tang Xiao’s mecha reeled back a step, it’s arm now a melted ruin.
Xiao Han floated in midair, surrounded by the heinous flames. No small amount of blood dripped from his mouth, making him look like a madman. And perhaps he was, for his greatest strength over Tang Xiao was in his piloting expertise. In terms of Discipline, he and the fat guy weren’t much different. What’s more, Tang Xiao actually had the upper hand considering the metal construction of the arena they fought in. And he was smart enough to stay in his mecha!
Tang Xiao’s thrusters burst to life, sending the mecha tearing forward at full speed. He lifted his sword high and-
“HOLD!” Two commanding voices cried out in unison. Immediately, Tang Xiao brought his mecha to a halt. The match was done.
He lifted his one remaining arm high, fist clenched. Victorious!
The audience erupted in to chaos. Great cheers of joy shook the arena and echoed off the surrounding hills.
Disappointment flashed across Su He’s eyes. He quietly shook his head. By the end he’d clearly seen his student’s shortcomings – that in fact, Xiao Han had lost this fight way back during the simulated battles.
He hadn’t lost from a lack of power or ability. He’d defeated himself.
In the end it had been made clear; these NEU students were tactically superior to the pilots of Lir. Be it smarts or spunk, they came out on top.
Xiao Han’s humiliating defeat in the simulated battles had forced him to reveal his Discipline. Tang Xiao had played the weakling, goaded his enemy in to an ignominious position. Xiao Han had lost control. As Tang Xiao mentioned, he’d dug himself in to a hole. The fatty used that instant to employ his own Discipline, and secured the victory.
Undoubtedly this young man would grow to be successful. Any who underestimated him, deceived by his appearance, were sure to suffer terribly.
Su He looked at the celebrating Tang Xiao with a blank expression, but he was quite impressed with the kid. Though he was wicked, that word didn’t do him justice. No, this one was a special mix of wisdom and cunning.
“Ah, just the slightest miscalculation lost him the match. It was well fought, Director Han.” Xu Renjian’s words may have been apologetic, but the smile on his face was anything but.
Han Ruchao said nothing. He only sat, his hands clenched in to fists, trembling in his lap.
He’d lost. In a situation he absolutely should have won, he’d actually lost.
Gradually, his hands relaxed and loosened. When he spoke, his face was calm and his voice even. “Your school’s make some incredible strides in the last year, Renjian. I hadn’t expected such a sound victory. You must certainly have a rare talent on staff, to teach your students so well. I look forward to seeing… whoever it is, competing in the instructor competitions.”
Xu Renjian twitched, apprehensive and yet at the same time excited. Yes! Tang Xiao’s performance today well outstripped his normal capabilities. He knew Tan Lingyun’s style and abilities, and this way not it. What Tang Xiao achieved today, was by no means a product of Tang Lingyun’s instruction. This wasn’t even considering the Soulcrusher he’d somehow obtained in DreamNet. Certainly not Professor Tan’s. No, the only explanation was there was a master in the mecha combat department, one that was keeping his cards close to his chest.
Xiao Han was on the ground, propped up by one knee, the very picture of defeat. He supported himself with his arms, panting heavily. His qi and blood were in chaos, his Discipline fluctuating wildly from the strain and damage he’d caused himself. His eyes were not just bloodshot, but a deep crimson as the power raced through him. He growled through gritted teeth.
“I’ll kill you…. I’ll kill you!”
The one-armed mecha’s chest plate cracked open with a hiss of escaping air. Tang Xiao’s stout constitution as revealed as he jumped out. His two pudgy arms were held high in the air, triumphantly pumping his fists to the chorus of cheers from his fellow students. He was their hero. No, in this moment, he was their patron saint.
Xiao Han shot to his feet, lurching forward to rush at Tang Xiao.
A slender hand then lay on his shoulder, it’s owner completely disregarding the roiling flames surrounding the student. His forward charge abruptly stopped, and he remained where he was.
The young man was furious, on the verge of exploding in to a rage. An icy voice played contrast. “Why did you lose?”
Upon hearing the calm but accusing voice, Xiao Han shivered. “Professor Su.”
“Answer me. Why did you lose?” Su He stared at his student dispassionately. His eyes were like a pair of scalpels, cutting passed to see directly in to him.
A cold shudder went through Xiao Han’s spine, but he did manage to calm his anger.
“I… got careless. I let my emotions get the better of me.” He hung his head in shame.
Su He’s quiet voice replied. “Remember this well. What he gave you today wasn’t humiliation. It was a gift. Let me worry about the glory of our university now. Go back to the lockers.”
“Yes, Professor.” Xiao Han’s respect for his teacher was obvious, and intense. His tone was low and subservient as he answered. The flames around him died, and he left the arena with his head hung low.
Su He did not follow. Instead, he made his way to the center of the arena.
Tang Xiao was there, celebrating, but he was also carefully watching the competition as always. He took pride in his ability to infuriate Xiao Han, leading him to his defeat. But he was surprised that this Professor, who looked so young, could calm him down and reign him in with just a few words. Now he was coming his way.
Tang Xiao wasn’t frightened, though he pretending not to notice the man’s approach. He continued to thrust his fists in the air towards the cheering crowds.
Su He slowly made his way towards the overweight student, stopping not far away. He looked towards the audience for a moment before speaking. “Next are the instructor battles. Our side will have only one competitor. Please tell the NEU to select three teachers, and I’ll meet them in DreamNet. If any of them can beat me, it’ll count as a total loss. Select three for the real fight as well. They may all engage me together, if they prefer.”
His voice was calm, almost quiet. It was strange, for even despite the boisterous cries of the crowd, and without any microphone, his voice was quite clear. In fact, the whole audience could hear him as though he was standing right beside them.
“Eh?” Tang Xiao’s arms dropped as he stared at Su He.
Xu Renjian and the other NEU administrators sat in stoic silence, their brows furrowed and eyes narrowed.
Arrogance. Exceptional, humiliating arrogance. He was boasting that he could single-handedly defeat the best the school had to offer.
The joy in the NEU students’ victory, and the pride in their school, had yet to be spent. It swelled as their indignation flared.
“Let’s kick these Lir punks all the way back to where they came from!”
“This one’s got some sort of mental problem.”
“Yo! You need some anti-psychotics! Someone bring him to the nurse!”
Su He was beset on all sides from the angry calls.
In only a few words, the young teacher had managed to anger the whole of the NEU.
Xu Renjian shot a cold glance towards Han Ruchao. “What’s the meaning of this, Dean Han? We’ve gathered here for a friendly educational exchange, not to provoke the ire of our students. If this is what our exchange has come to, I see no further benefit in proceeding.”
Han Ruchao smirked at his colleague’s distress. “Now now, Dean Xu. You’re making mountains out of mole hills. There’s been no provocation here. Just a part of the game, that’s all. You have to understand that studies have been stringent lately, and this is doubly so for our illustrious instructors. Ultimately, we could only convince Su He to participate. It’s fine, Dean – as Su He said, if he loses then you have bested our school in this area as well.”
Xu Renjian took a deep breath. After a moment, he put back on his business persona, and set aside the indignation his companion was clearly trying to instigate. It wasn’t just them here in the VIP area, but luminaries from Skyfire as well. Were things to turn violent, or out of control, surely they would lose face as the hosts. In a way, that would be as much of a loss in and of itself.
Su He allowed his eyes to sweep over the crowd, staring them down for a moment. Afterwards, ignoring the jeers and hard stares, he sauntered back towards the lockers as though nothing had happened. He was as emotionless as the mechas that surrounded them.
Le Ziqian scowled openly from the audience, following the teacher as he left the arena grounds. “Him?”
Beside him, Zhou Qianlin turned to look inquisitively up at her teacher. She was competing tomorrow in the research portion, so she and the other two competitors were at Le Ziqian’s side to prepare.
“What’s the matter, Professor Le? You know that man?”
With a cold, dignified expression, Le Ziqian nodded. When he spoke, he ever took his eyes from the Su He. His deep voice was only just audible. “This is trouble. I have no idea what he’s doing at Lir University, but it doesn’t bode well. He’s arrogant, and aggressive – for good reason. With him here, our chances at winning the instructor portion are dire.”