Chapter 270: Prelude
So it was, upon learning of the Knave’s presence on the opposing teams, both Lan Jue and Hua Li’s expressions darkened.
The Divine Horsemen numbered four, remember. But they wouldn’t be facing an even competitor – the challenging team had five. If the Knave was any indication, the others on his team were likely to be just as frightening.
“Other than you, who else can we expect?” Lan Jue inquired.
“It’s a secret.” The Knave cackled at them. “I can’t tell you! But don’t worry, you’ll find out soon. Anyway, they’re all old friends. You have nothing to worry about. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I think I’ll go warm up my fingers.”
Old friends? It was the last thing Lan Jue and Hua Li wanted to hear. At the very least, ‘old friends’ meant they were just as strong – if not stronger – than that smug clown. The battle was looking to be more difficult than they anticipated.
“A-Jue… it looks like maybe that DreamNet Guardian is determined to have us lose.” Hua Li muttered quietly.
Lan Jue had already recovered from the unpleasant shock of the Knave’s revelation. He addressed his friend calmly. “Don’t think too much. We have to face the situation objectively, and tactfully. The Knave’s appearance was a game. They’re trying to get in our heads, so no matter what we encounter we must keep our composure. Come on, with the big guy on our side, what do we have to be anxious about?”
“Ngh.” Hua Li nodded once, and said nothing more.
There was a flash of red, then, and a silhouette appeared directly before them. It was Chu Cheng, garbed in the regalia of his avatar – Hades.
“Here.” Hua Li instructed.
Chu Cheng turned to pinpoint his friend’s voice, then approached. “What’s up?” he asked. “Are you guys all set? I’m here to whoop some ass. So you guys back me up, right. I’m looking for a pentakill. Solid?”
Hua Li gave him a flat look. “The Knave is one of the challengers. How’s that pentakill looking now?”
Chu Cheng stared at Hua Li for a moment, stunned. “The Knave? I thought he was gone from Dreamburg ages ago. He was always on about ‘Oh my name will be legendary – that’s enough for me!’”
Lan Jue reiterated his assurances. “It doesn’t matter who we’re facing. Our power as a group is oppressive. The stronger our enemies, the harder we’re going to fight.”
Chu Cheng chortled with sinister mirth. “No doubt. If the sky were falling, the big guy would be there to hold it up, amiright? Speaking of, where is the guy? You think he forgot?”
“You’re confusing me with yourself.” The deep, somewhat terrifying voice came from behind Chu Cheng.
Hades’ face froze. He slowly, slowly turned around. Clad in a jasper flight suit, hidden behind a cyan mask, was Prometheus.
He approached the other Divine Monarchs. Hades, Zeus, Poseidon and Prometheus stood in a circle, facing one another. Prometheus waved his right hand, and they were cut off from the outside world by an orb of cyan light.
“It’s time to discuss tactics.” There was no greeting, no small talk. Strategy was first and foremost – such was the Military temperament.
Lan Jue and the others were accustomed to it. In fact, they’d be worried if he’d said hello.
The number of spectators in Dreamburg’s Sanctuary was growing by the second. By now there must have been close to two hundred.
It was true that the fight was due to be broadcast to every household in the Three Alliances, but what could be better than watching this ‘in person’? However, only god-level pilots with exceptionally deep pockets were going to have the option.
These were some of the most illustrious mecha pilots in all the known universe competing in DreamNet. This moment was the culmination of a month’s excitement, and the realization of many mecha combat fans’ dreams.
The pre-show was already underway. A series of one-on-one battles were conducted to rev the crowd up for the main event. They, too, were god-ranked pilots. DreamNet had spared no effort or expense on making this a visual spectacle.
The majority of those present, however, deigned not to observe the pre-show. They were only here for one thing.
NEU, West Hill.
The training proceeded, like an unstoppable raging inferno. The students had long forgotten how long they’d been locked in these damn pods. They’d forgotten how much they wanted to join this training… before they knew what it would entail.
Zeus’ Four Amazons were also in the simulation, though they were there to witness the games. They had recording equipment ready, and planned to share it with the students when all was said and done. They had to focus on finishing their tasks, first.
The pre-show was something to behold. There were two mecha pilots currently battling, both god-ranked, and masterful in their control of their suits. Each expertly-executed maneuver set the crowd to cheering. They were really showing off what it meant to be a god-ranked pilot.
However, from what the Amazons could tell they didn’t really have their hearts in it. They waited in silence for their boss to reveal himself.
In regards to the Amazons’ relative power levels, Mika was the strongest. Next was Lin Guoguo, and the two of them were both ninth level. Ke’er and Xiuxiu were more or less even, though the blue-haired Northern beauty was perhaps slightly further along. After all she, like Lan Jue, was a dual-Disciplined Adept. Xiuxiu’s strongest manifestation was as the Ashura godblade, Zeus’ weapon. Once she changed, she had no control over how her power was employed.
So essentially, this meant Xiuxiu was the weakest of the four.
But that was with regards to Talent. Mecha piloting was another matter. The order was turned on its head when the suits were involved. Having grown up in the Dark Citadel, forced to train for ascension to take over as Satan, Mika started late. She was a Sovereign-class pilot at present.
Lin Guoguo and Ke’er were similarly situated here. Since their Disciplines were unique, they were also late to the piloting game. They were also Sovereign pilots. There was only one god-ranked pilot in Lan Jue’s coterie, and that was Xiuxiu.
Xiuxiu and her mecha Ashura were like a natural fit, a force to reckoned with. Though it was not as fine as Thor, it was like its appendage. Anyone who knew him understood one important fact; with the Ashura Blade-Maiden at his side, Zeus was a terrifying opponent.
Xiuxiu had spent her life with Lan Jue, growing alongside him, training as he did. In fact, for mecha combat she actually trained with him together. She eventually slowed in comparison, largely because she was genetically inferior. Her status as a god-ranked pilot, though, was well deserved.
At present, all four of Zeus’ special ladies watched nervously in the darkness of their sim pods.
Over the last month, there had been no way to escape the prominent advertisements for the god battle. Though it never seemed to trouble Lan Jue, the same couldn’t be said for his Amazons.
At least half of the two-hundred billion residents of the Three Alliances had their eyes glued to their screens. This wasn’t going to be easily-won glory. For the Divine Monarchs, the significance of this event was enormous. How could these four girls, so invested in their employer, not be nervous?
Who on earth would be Zeus’ opponents? They had been spending a great deal of time ruminating on the question.
“Why aren’t they starting yet? There have been three pre-show fights already, so I guess it should be soon.” Ke’er whined through the closed-circuit connection the four women shared.
Lin Guoguo’s voice crackled through her speakers. “Soon. Have you seen the viewer numbers? Over one hundred billion people are logged in to DreamNet’s feed. It’s crazy! One billion have paid the fee for a VIP connection. This has got to be a record, right?”
The VIP feed was available to anyone with the money to pay. It allowed them multi-angle viewing of the action as it happened, including focus on the competitor of their choice. For fans of the Divine Monarchs, this was a dream come true. DreamNet knew this, and the cost for such a privilege was nothing sort of astronomical.
Mika snorted. “Don’t be in such a rush. Should be any minute. When they organized it, DreamNet’s people said it was to encourage interest in mecha piloting. It’s no surprise they’ll hype it up even further by dragging it out. According to the paperwork, this fight should be the best of five. It’s sure to satiate the viewers. I really hope the boss and them go three and out – really rub it in their faces!”
Xiuxiu’s voice was anxious. “It’ll be hard. When you got to their level of proficiency, even in five-on-five fights victory can be decided by the slightest mistake. The most important information right now is who is fighting who, and in that their enemies have an advantage. They know the Divine Monarchs very well, but boss and the others have no idea. They’re also DreamNet guardians, so they know every detail about the Monarchs and their tactics. Their strategies will absolutely take that in to account, and will be tailored specifically to tear them down. This isn’t even considering their numbers advantage. This will probably be very difficult. Without a chance at victory, the DreamNet guardians would never have set this whole thing up.”
“Xiuxiu’s right,” Mika replied. “But we should have faith in the boss. If there’s one thing he excels at, its pulling off the impossible. He’s like a geyser: the more pressure he’s under, the greater he’ll burst out in the end.”
Mika’s words were followed immediately by Ke’ers excited yelp. “They’re starting!”
Sure enough, the third and final pre-fight was finished. A purple mecha had completely routed its enemy for the victory. The entire arena was suddenly bathed in a soothing, golden light.
“Ladies and gentlemen. Hello, and welcome… to DreamNet.” The alluring female voice arose from all directions. Everyone stopped what they were doing to listen.
The voice was clear as a bell, and had a very noble quality. It was a voice that was hard to forget. Even if you listened carefully, it was impossible to find a flaw. It was the voice of every young man’s dreams.
Just then, a column of light descended from the skies. A figure slowly descended from within.
She was a woman, pale and stunningly beautiful. A flowing, aqua blue dress covered her alluring figure. Her long dark hair flowed freely.
Her face bore no expression, even though the attention of billions of people were directed her way. Her hands her held lightly, crossed before her waist in genteel fashion. Every portion, every movement was the very definition of refinement.
“I, am Mo Xiao. It has been a long time.” She offered a dainty curtsey, and her face adopted the faintest ghost of a smile. The sheer aesthetic beauty of it was reflected in the doe-eyes of every young man in attendance.
“It’s her!” Xiuxiu exclaimed.