Chapter 197: Biting The Hand That Feeds
With a fight like this, who won and who lost was practically an after-thought.
The entire VIP box stood; the two deans, the school administrators, even the Skyfire luminaries who attended. As one, they bowed respectfully toward the distance saber mecha.
“How… how did you do that? Just now I couldn’t make anything out. You operate too quickly for me to follow. So what did you do?” Tan Lingyun was as frustrated as she was curious.
“I’d have been faster if you weren’t holding my arm in a death grip.” Lei Feng’s response was audibly irritated.
Tan Lingyun looked down, surprised to see her hands tightly squeezing Lei Feng’s forearms. She didn’t remember doing this, but it must have been to stabilize her at some point during the match. Almost like she wanted him to wrap his arms around her.
The vacuum force that kept her in place relaxed. Finally, she felt some relief, though she couldn’t help but notice the cold she felt without that wide chest behind her. Her own back was slick with sweat.
“I used the sword to deflect his laser shots.”
“The sword?” She said it almost as an afterthought. She wriggled on his lap, trying to find a more comfortable position.
But as she did, Lei Feng’s voice from just before the match rang through her head with that cautionary command. She sputtered apologetically. “I’m sorry! Something was poking me.” 1
Lei Feng’s body went stiff at her words. “It’s fine, the competition’s over.”
“You still haven’t told me how you used your sword to deflect the attack.” She still wasn’t satisfied, and so fired the question without second thought.
“You’ve heard of the diffusion blade maneuver? A swordsman technique. This is a simple suit, as you know, and can’t sustain strenuous movements. But if it’s just the arms, it can manage. It’ll still certainly need some maintenance when you put it back.” Lei Feng elucidated her in calm tones.
“Diffusion blade?” Tan Lingyun swallowed hard. Of course she’d heard of the move. It had its own reputation.
It was developed about thirty years ago, by a pilot who spent his life seeking out and challenging the best there were. He only ever fought with a sword, and trained until he had reached the very peak of mastery with it. During his time, he created several specialized techniques to use with a sword before finishing.
But according to Tan Lingyun’s own knowledge, most God-ranked pilots couldn’t use the technique properly, much less an average one. Manipulating a sword so that it creates an after image wasn’t hard, but being so fast that your phantom strikes actual had substance, could damage or guard… that was exceedingly difficult to pull off, for anyone.
The suits had been removed from the arena. Tan Lingyun’s suit slowly lumbered towards it’s starting position in the mecha hangar.
“When you leave, you mustn’t tell anyone I was here. I don’t want anyone to know. You are the one who won the match, understand?” Lei Feng’s voice was deep and commanding.
“Mhm.” Tan Lingyun nodded. “Can you tell me your real name?”
Tan Lingyun thought for a moment before speaking again. “Well… will I be able to contact you somehow?”
“We’ll meet again if fate determines it should be so.”
“Why did you come to help me?”
“At the request of someone else.”
“For me? Have we met?”
‘Lei Feng’ had begun to grow impatient. “You certainly have a lot of questions. We’re here, time to get out. Remember what I told you, otherwise I can guarantee you’ll never see me again.”
The suit’s chest plate loosened with a hiss, and spread wide to reveal the cockpit. A deafening cheer arose once the audience saw.
“Can I study mecha piloting with you? My com number is…” She quickly relayed the information to her benefactor, then scrambled clear of the suit.
Lei Feng was finally able to move, and squirmed uncomfortably in the pilot seat.
Tan Lingyun quickly shut the cockpit door behind her, and locked the outside panel. She then slowly, soundlessly descended the ladder.
Geng Yang, Tang Xiao and Tang Mi were waiting for her at the bottom. The other competing students and teachers surrounded her the moment her feet touched the ground. Cheers resounded through the entire arena.
“Long live Professor Tan!”
“Long live our Goddess!”
The cries came again and again, shouted from the lips of the entire gathered NEU body.
On the VIP platform.
“I’ve lost. No ifs ands or buts about it. Tomorrow, once the academic portion of the competition is completed, I’ll have someone deliver your power gems. You’re quite impressive, Dean Xu, even just in being able to cozy up to a God-ranked pilot. How about we go down and congratulate our latest champion?”
Xu Renjian chuckled good-naturedly 2. “Dean Han, I’m afraid now might not be the most opportune time. As I’m sure you know, the comfort and condition of a schools God-ranked pilot is their first priority. We don’t have a chance to speak with her just now. Also, if I may speak frankly, a pilot who reaches the God ranks traditionally bears their own… peculiarities. I wouldn’t want to upset her, wouldn’t you agree?”
Han Ruchaos’ face grew hard, but just for the space of an instant. In no time, he was smiling again. “Indeed, indeed! That’s fine. I suppose that concludes the day for us, then. We should head back and relax, ourselves. We’ll see you tomorrow for the academic competitions.”
“Take it easy, Ruchao.”
“Yup, no need to send me off.” 3
The two gentlemen shook hands, and locked eyes. Each bore smiles, but their eyes told a different story. Deep in their hearts, they spat the same curse at the other.
This old fox! 4
The atmosphere all around the NEU was jubilant. Today, they had been lucky enough to bear witness to two heroes. The display had inflamed their enthusiasm and school patriotism.
Tang Lingyun wasn’t quite so bad as her peers. After all, the Savage Goddess had a reputation to maintain. And now, that reputation included the ‘fact’ that she was a God-ranked pilot. She was surrounded already by adoring fans.
Tang Xiao was the first to rush over, warding his instructor from the rush of students and teachers. In this moment, she was thankful for his wide girth. He was the only thing keeping her from being washed away in a sea of excited students.
The Spirit Caller gem warmed.
Zhou Qianlin: That was you, wasn’t it.
Lan Jue: What do you think?
Thank you. You are our school’s hero.
I can live with being a Nameless Hero. And it wasn’t just because of your request that I helped. Tan Lingyun has a famously bad temper, but she deserves respect. Moreover, I’m as much a part of this school as you and she. Only, there’s a problem…
It looks like the Savage Goddess here has decided to bite the hand that fed her. She locked me in the suit.
What should we do?
It’s fine. I have my ways. I’ll see you by the university gates in a little while. I’ll send you home.
Oh, no good! Tomorrow we’re competing in the mecha science and technology meet. I’ll probably have to be here until very late.
Alright, then I’ll head back first. For goodness sake don’t tell anyone what went on today, I don’t want anyone to know.
Neither do I.
Seated in the dark and silent cockpit, ‘Lei Feng’s’ hands shimmered with electric blue light. Gently, he placed them upon the metal of the cockpit’s frame. Little by little, his body dissolves in to electricity until he vanished from sight.
Su He was pulled free of the destroyed mecha by Shi Jiujiu. He got to his feet, but it was clear by his expression he was still dumbstruck.
The two fights he’d participated in today had left him with a very deep impression. Winning and losing had never been terribly important to him, but what had crushed him was the huge discrepancy in power he was forced to face.
God-ranked. He knew he was on the cusp, slowly advancing to God-ranked himself. But he’d never have expected there was still so far to go, and so huge a difference.
It was true that he hadn’t used the suit he was most comfortable with, but what about the other? Surely it was the same for her? If his opponent had been able to use a suit they were adept with, he feared the fight would have been over much faster.
Lir University dean Han Ruchao stood within the arena, waiting for Su He to regain his bearings. The older gentleman motioned him close, then patted him with grandfatherly affection on the shoulder. “You fought admirably, Professor Su. There was no fault in your performance. Your opponent was simply too strong.”
Su He slowly shook his head. “Such a huge disparity. There is no doubt that I was the inferior pilot. I never had a chance.”
“It’s alright,” Han Ruchao interjected. “We have the next round tomorrow. We’re still depending on you, Professor Su. If we win those, then we can walk out of here with our heads held high, as equals.”
Su He managed a smile with some effort. “You all head back first, Dean. I’d like to be alone for a little while.”
“Very well.” He patted the man on his shoulder once again. Lir’s Dean shot Shi Jiujiu a meaningful glance before turning, and walking from the arena.
A little while later, Su He was walking by himself along the pathway. The road connecting the arena to the main campus was a lengthy one. He didn’t mind.
Everything he’d seen and felt during the two fights swam through his muddled brain. The memories were as distinct and visceral as when he’d first experienced them.
His trek continued in this fashion until someone called out from a few yards ahead. “Mentor!”
A simple greeting, but the words had a strange sort of power. Su He put away his thoughts and looked towards the voice.
He spied a young man, with his back against the trunk of a nearby tree. His face was lit up with a beaming smile.
“You talking to me?” Su He lifted a brow.
“Yup!” The young man responded.
Su He quietly regarded him for a moment. “Have we met?”
His accoster chortled. “A long time ago, yes. I’m not surprised you don’t remember. Lan Qing is my older brother.”
Su He’s whole body shook and stiffened at the Supersoldier’s name. He looked incredulously at the younger Lan.
“Your older brother is Lan Qing. That means… Lan Jue?” Su He sounded more surprised than anything.
Lan Jue nodded, that smile still on his handsome face. He walked closer, until they were face to face.
“What’s up? I imagine you’re feeling a little down after that loss.” Lan Jue said.
Su He was an exceptionally intelligent man. Suspicion welled up within him as he asked, “Do the fights today have something to do with you?”
Lan Jue’s response was calm, calculated. “I was your opponent, mentor. Do you think there’s anyone in this university who’d be able to handle you so easily?”
“You?” Su He pinned Lan Jue with his bright eyes. When he spoke again his voice was hard. “You.”
- I swear, that’s what he wrote. ↩
- Sure, cuz he won. ↩
- This is the penultimate Chinese departure. A small exchange, everyone stands, and attempts to send the guest off as far as they’ll let them before they refuse to move an inch until their hosts go back to their house. Of course the more you like someone, or the more respect you have for them, the further you send them off, and the more effort you put in to ignoring their pleas for you not to. ↩
- A fox is considered a trickster or troublemaker in China. They are simultaneously respected for their wily nature, and despised because it always comes at the expense of another. Calling someone a ‘xiao hu li’, or little fox, can be pretty insulting if you don’t know the person well. ↩