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Chapter 542: Tang Xiao and Jin Tao, All Grown Up

    Chapter 542: Tang Xiao and Jin Tao, All Grown Up

    The plump orb was perfectly round, without blemish. It wasn't long before the whole of Squad 11 was snugly fit inside.

    Then, the orb changed again. This time a drill head slowly appeared at its base. The entire orb began to spin, and the drill tore open a hole. Tang Xiao and the mechs within him drilled through the ground. A pair of mechanical hands at the top busily covered up the hole above it by disrupting soil. Tang Xiao and his team disappeared.

    Before long the aliens arrived at the mountain top. The first one to scale it was a two-headed creature, long and sleek like some sort of mutated wolf. It leapt upon the patch is disturbed earth and started to dig. However, in that moment a gear hidden within the soil shot up and buried itself in the creature's belly.

    The inertia from the leap and the gear's force split the monster cleanly in two. Two mangled halves collapsed to the floor.

    Next, another silver light flashed where Tang Xiao had been. The ground was disturbed as the light shot out, revealing itself as a long silver spear. It soared over two hundred meters in the air, ultimately burying itself in the throat of an incoming flying creature. It ripped itself out and returned underground even before the alien was dead.

    For a moment it was still on the mountain top. After the spear's return the ground was visibly churned. However, those odd little hands squirmed out again and smoothed out the ground to hide their location.

    Only Tang Xiao would fight so dirty.

    He had hand-picked every soldier on his squad. Half of them were specialized in energy enhancement or conduction. The remainder, including Tang Mi, had Disciplines relating to metal. Practically everyone from the A.R.C. class with these abilities were part of his team.

    The result was a unit with a special fighting-style Tang Xiao called the Transformer approach. Tang Xiao manipulating himself and his mecha to serve as a protective shield for his unit. They launched attacks and kept energy levels high, while he managed the unit in general. His ability to transform assured that they were suited to any battlefield environment while giving them the element of surprise. With everyone together it was a strategy that bolstered defense and allowed them to play off one another's strengths.

    It was the first time the tactic was used in a real fight. During the extermination of the Poison Wasps Tang Xiao had been disappointed. He didn't even have time to prepare the transformation before the fight was over. Now that he could see the payoff, he was pleased with their new style.

    He was an eighth level Adept now. Benefiting from his fellows and the fine mecha provided by Skyfire Avenue, his tactics were solid. If one could overlook the less than honorable fighting style, they could recognize that no other squad worked better together.

    While these monsters weren't among the stronger breed, that didn't mean they were stupid. After two of their number were killed, another seven or eight flooded the area and discovered their wily tactic.

    The first of this second wave was a giant, grotesque bear. It towered thirty meters tall with arms thicker than a mecha suit. Its violet claws began to dig furiously where it had seen the spear vanish.

    The sun caught something metallic that flashed in the light. A blade was revealed slicing toward the beast. However, the monsters were now prepared. The alien bear roared and reared, swiping its great claws at the threat.

    The attack impaled one of the monster's enormous hands and stopped. Just then a second creature much like the first joined it on the mountain top. Its first reaction was to open its maw and vomit sickening violet light that incinerated the ground.

    A shield plopped up from below the dirt, deflecting the burning power. Then great spikes of steel suddenly shot up from below the aliens' feet like a forest of metal. They caught the monsters in their soft underbellies, killing them mid-charge.

    The alien's defense was strong, but these spiked were infused with Tang Xiao's Discipline, as well as the aggregate power of the support Adepts and the mecha's power gems. They all served to increase his damage potential. The mountain became a bristling alien graveyard.

    Fat-God exploded out from underground. Different from when it vanished, now the orb was dotted with razor-sharp blades that stuck out in all directions like a porcupine. Whatever alien creature managed to evade the spikes was quickly mowed down by Tang Xiao the human meat-grinder. The mountain was cleared in under half a minute.

    But the respite was brief. Before long another wave of alien creatures were rushing for the mountain top. The orb changed back to the familiar pudgy war machine before Tang Xiao led them forth to rejoin their enemy.

    Tang Xiao did not underestimate these creatures. They were weaker than he, but yet he plotted his tricks. Strong or weak, pirate tactics were about survival at all costs - Su Xiaosu had taught them that. The most important thing was getting back alive. It was a practice Tang Xiao could get behind. He would often seek out Xiaosu for instruction if there was nothing else to do. He might have had some ulterior motive, but if he did he was keeping it close to the vest.

    Because Tang Xiao was Lan Jue's student, Su Xiaosu held nothing back in her instruction. Tang Xiao learned quickly.

    Of course, not everyone subscribed to Tang Xiao's doctrine. There were others that preferred a more direct approach...

    Jin Tao's former nickname had always had an effect on him. Dumb-mutt was a moniker he both loathed and loved. For this reason, Jin Tao chose a rarely-used animal shaped mecha. His looked like a huge Tibetan mastiff.

    The mastiff was a mysterious animal from former-era China, the most powerful of its species. Fully grown alphas were said to be able to take on lions. 1 They were almost entirely extinct now, but Jin Tao had been fascinated with them since he was a child. When the chance came to choose his mecha, he knew exactly what he wanted.

    It was fifteen meters long and half as tall, and stocky. Its head was covered in plate armor that could be used for both attack and defense. The alloy claws bristling from its four paws were the mechas strongest weapons. While piloting he also employed his own Discipline to transform. In this way he could more completely meld with the suit.

    There were specific differences between piloting a beast mecha and a humanoid one. Humanoid mechas required input, whereas beast mechas were controlled by the movement of the pilot's body. It was more direct, but the requirements demanded of a pilot's body were much higher. It was perfect for Jin Tao.

    He was also squad leader, though circumstances were different. He wasn't as strong as the others, but his ferocity on the field was unparalleled. In a mecha he was better than most, and was particularly adept at head-on fights. So, even though he and his team were low on First Brigades' totem pole, Jin Tao was a solid leader.

    Unlike Tang Xiao, his team wasn't only made of A.R.C. students. All of them were like him, with Disciplines mimicking beasts of prey. Each of them also piloted beast-shaped mechas, just like their squad leader, which made them a unique part of the division.

    When they spotted the aliens coming, Second Division reacted with a flurry of ranged attacks. Jin Tao and his Squad 31 were the first ones to charge the line. Long range attackers needed melee support to keep them protected. Even though Jin Tao and his crew piloted animal mechs, every suit provided to the Star Division had the power of flight. He named his own suit Black Gold, after the two-tone color scheme it sported. The mechanical mastiff sprouted a pair of small wings which lifted it into the air and toward their foes.

    The first volley trickled and stopped. In its aftermath were scores of dead alien beasts. Their enemies weren't given a chance to catch their breath before Jin Tao and his squad were on them.

    A monster that looked like a massive bird swooped down to meet them. It's razor sharp beak whistled through the air, right for Black Gold's head.

    Transformed, even the aura pouring from Jin Tao was different. A wild, feral sense followed in his wake as he shot up to meet the creatures with a swiping right claw.

    "Bang!" The claw knocked the beak away, leaving enough space for the flying dog-machine to swing around and grab ahold of the giant bird's back. The beast had the advantage in size and strength, but Black Gold was too fast and Jin Tao's resolve was too strong. Black Gold's great claws shimmered a dark gold and with a mighty swipe, separated the bird's head from its body.

    Errant spurts of dark violet fluid spewed all through the air. Jin Tao carefully evaded, and leapt from the beast's back into the air. He immediately started toward his next target. The mangled corpse of his first victim tumbled to earth and made contact with a sickening splat.

    But below, a different monster had chosen Jin Tao as its next meal. It leapt into the air, groping for him with its hulking arms. Black Gold spun in midair to avoid the rush while simultaneously swiping at the arm with its back legs. The force kicked the arm away and Jin Tao shot for the hideous baboon it belonged to.

    1. They're also vicious, territorial, and largely illegal in the cities.
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