Chapter 309: Black and White
The battlefield was locked in stalemate. In the center of it all, Lan Qing and Lan Jue’s duel continued.
Flashes of lightning painted An Lun’s wasted surface an electric blue. The powerful strikes were area of effect, and where by design. Lan Jue wanted to keep Lan Qing engaged as long as possible.
The master strategist, meanwhile, was little taken aback by what he was witnessing. Dodging was pointless for area attacks, but their power was weak. It was a waste of energy.
Already Lan Jue had used his forest of lightning over half a dozen times. Thunder orbs, he’d used four times. Still, the young jewelry master continued his assault like his energy stores were boundless. Lan Qing figured his brother only had about one strong attack left in him, before he’d have to retreat.
He’s buying time. Does he think his students actually have a chance?
Lan Qing was keeping his eye on the battle as it unfolded around them. As he fought over supremacy with his brother, he kept track of the tactical situations developing through the fight.
The NEU students were much stronger than he’d originally planned for, if he was telling the truth. Mika and Xiuxiu were battlefield terrors he knew well. His soldiers would suffer dearly at their hands. But, these losses would be acceptable if he could defeat Lan Jue in time. Once he did, there would be no way his enemies could mount a defense, much less steal victory. After all – he was among them!
But there were other hot-spots he was paying close attention to. Tang Xiao, in particular, kept his eye. In tactics, timing and power he was a talented youth. More and more of his soldiers were being lost to the cunning pilot with each passing moment.
Doubt began to creep in to Lan Qing’s iron-clad discipline. How on earth was his brother able to locate his forces, and execute such a sneak attack? It had ruined his serpent formation.
Without tactical superiority, even individual power couldn’t assure victory. Right now, his little brother beating him in both strategy and troop command. It was something Lan Qing was stunned to face.
The fight continued. An Lun soldiers dropped like flies from the onslaught of student Adepts. When it came to close-combat, the young pilots were terrors. Once they got the rhythm of the battle, even first-ranked pilots could display impressive power. The addition of Disciplines made it that much harder for his men.
Lan Qing’s forehead wrinkled, and a pale cyan light sprang up around him. He himself was surrounded by a dim golden light, which radiated out from within. This was a manifestation of his Hannya style.
He couldn’t go out like this. His side was already losing ground. Mika and Xiuxiu were too strong to contend with. With the two working together, his soldiers were lost. At present they were moving in to assist Tang Mi. If they were allowed to continue, he’d lose that front as well. It wouldn’t be long before his entire force was routed.
The first priority was quickly putting Lan Jue to rest, then closing ranks. That would turn the tide.
Lan Qing began flooding his suit with his Discipline and martial power. His defenses thickened, and the pale gold light that hung over him deflected his brother’s lightning bolts. The An Lun super soldier shot forward in a column of blue-gold light, bearing down on Lan Jue with the force of a hurricane.
But just as he was gaining speed a light shot down from the heavens. It was strange, composed of black and white intertwined. They did not intermingle, and yet maintained a balance of hue.
Lan Qing’s eyes flashed. The winds racing passed him spun in to a cyclone and spun off toward the light. It grew in size and intensity as it tore across the ruined surface of the planet. Flashes of golden energy flashed chaotically within.
The flashes of blue that filled the sky dimmed in comparison to the apocalyptic cyclone. But as it came upon the strange beam of light, they passed through one another as though neither existed. The odd light swept right passed and full upon Lan Qing.
The vice admiral looked on in surprise and alarm as the maneuver functions of his suit cut out. He was barreling forward at breakneck speed, completely out of control.
Was this… data? Lan Qing was at a loss. For all his wisdom, he didn’t know what to do.
His brother’s force came through his comm systems. “Heh. Hey bro. I forgot to tell you, we’re not actually fifty-one people. I’ve got fifty-seven.”
Lan Qing’s mecha began to belch thick, black smoke as the blasts of lightning subsided. Lan Jue pulled up beside his brother.
In the distance, another foot furtively made its presence known. Even the machine’s approach was uncouth, almost wretched. It could only be one person.
The surprise in Lan Qing’s eyes subsided, replaced with contemplation. He went over the last few moments in his mind.
“So your timing was based on calculations. You must have someone who specializes in it.” It took him very little time to uncover the truth.
“That’s right,” Lan Jue said. There wasn’t any reason not to be candid by this point. “Let me introduce you. This is the Accountant, hailing from Skyfire Avenue.” He didn’t mention the Accountant’s relationship to the Keeper out of respect for the young man. No one liked to live in another man’s shadow.
“Hey there, Supersoldier. Heh, you’re probably feeling pretty crappy right? You want revenge on the Jewelry Master? It’s him who made me do it.” The Accountant chortled.
From the start, Lan Jue never expected his students to defeat a force lead personally by his brother. Both because the soldiers were exceptional, and the overwhelming strength of Lan Qing. No one knew Lan Qing better than his younger brother, and the stories of Prometheus’ abilities were vastly understated.
There was just the tiniest flaw in his otherwise invulnerable exterior. He was using a training mecha.
True combat was conducted in suits the pilot was familiar with, who probably designed them themselves. If Prometheus was piloting Coeus, this would have been an embarrassing brief war game. Thankfully, training mechas were a different story. It was the mechanical composition and A.I. that determined how much martial power and Discipline a suit could take.
Then there was the Accountant, who had improved as well through the training. Not that he’d participated as the students had; his improvement was from assimilation. The young man had endured cruel treatment at the hands of the Bookworm while they were on Lir, but he had also been force-fed a tremendous amount of knowledge.
The Bookworm had already expressed his thoughts to the Keeper, that the Accountant was the best candidate to be their successor. The relative weakness of his Discipline wasn’t an issue – after all, even those two old Paragons had to start somewhere, right? They didn’t get to Paragon status by being born with the ability. They got it through hard work and study. They reached supremacy by understanding the world around them like no one else. Their cultivation methodology was a unique one, that couldn’t be faked or simulated.
But the Accountant also had a strong enough Talent to sustain the constant inhumane treatment the two hateful old men subjected him to. Ever since he was young he’d had to study under the Keeper’s tutelage, and his talents in several areas of study were made apparent. While he was exceedingly indolent by comparison, he was standing on the shoulders of giants. He was like a pig, but with two Paragons as his teachers, at least he was a pig who could count.
He hadn’t been interested in participating in any of the training. Ever since arriving on An Lun he’d spent his time lazing about the place. But when he was bored and there was nothing to occupy his mind, his thoughts invariable turned to his two teachers and everything they’d been trying to teach him over the last few months. As he absorbed everything he was taught, as well as the medicine the Bookkeeper had volunteered him for, he got stronger. To the point where he had a breakthrough of his own. He was now an eighth-ranked Talent.
Lan Qing’s determinations were correct. Indeed, that strange column of black and white light had been a physical expression of the data stream. Although these suits were not bad for what they were, between the Accountant’s manipulations and Lan Qing’s own overwhelming power the suits were insufficient.
With Coeus it would have ended differently. Never mind the fact that it’s A.I. was top of the line, it was also protected from interference by no less than a dozen layers of defensive subroutines. The Accountant would never have broken through his security so quickly.
Had Lan Qing been at all clued in to the Accountant’s presence, it would have been very difficult for this data stream to find its mark. However, as it was, Lan Qing was busy dealing with his brother. Lan Jue had gotten stronger, strong enough in fact to be a danger to him. He’d gotten careless, and that’s when Lan Jue took his opportunity. In truth it was masterfully done, for Lan Jue had the Accountant use his powers just as Lan Qing was pouring everything he had in to his strike. It left him vulnerable, just what the Accountant needed. Lan Qing had been ready to charge in with everything he had, but it had made him confident. That was what the Accountant capitalized on.
In his brash certainty Lan Qing had chosen not to dodge, but to deflect. Of course it could not be said that his defenses were weak, but the academic powers of the Accountant weren’t physical. You couldn’t knock it away, and that is what caused Lan Qing to lose control. The black smoke that poured from his suit now, meant he’d lost today’s exercise.
Lan Qing was not upset, nor was he too hard on himself for the oversight. It was the first time he’d encountered a situation like this. To him, that had been an invaluable experience. At least he’d be ready for it, the next time.