Chapter 94: The Eastern Alliance Super Soldier

    Chapter 94: The Eastern Alliance Super Soldier

    Finally she understood. She knew why the name had sounded so familiar to her. Finally she understood why she'd been so curious about the man in black.

    On the back of the five-pointed metal star was a column of words. It was carved, and painted with a special coating that made it glow with a metallic light.

    "Lan Qing, Commander-in-Chief, An Lun Planetary Military Command.." It was a simple string of words, but it nonetheless took An Liu by surprise.

    She knew about An Lun. With the name of the place and this man together, she knew precisely who the gentleman before her was.

    An Lun was a planet located on the border regions of the East's celestial territories. It was the closest planet to the Northern Alliance, and one practically bursting with all many of power gems. It was a place of strategic importance for resources, and a military staging area. It was an endless expanse of mining and military personnel.

    It was the land of legends - legends largely involving Lan Qing.

    His background was a mystery. He first appeared on record as a simple infantry man, stepping foot on An Lun as a common mecha pilot.

    One of the greatest legends was about that simple soldier, who carved a name for himself with nothing but the standard issue mecha the army had supplied him with.

    Under the pretext of cleaning out pirate infestations, the Northern Alliance had sent a crack team of mecha pilots to An Lun. The clandestine operation was tasked with sabotage of the mining and military operations. It was Lan Qing's third day in the armed forces.

    The primary objective of the infiltrators was a simple one; destroy the largest power gem mine on the planet.

    The Northern Alliance engaged with pirates in An Lun planetary air space, attacking unprovoked to provide cover for their mecha unit. The conflict drew the brunt of An Lun's defenses to orbit for support.

    Five hundred expert mecha pilots, sporting the latest in stealth technology. This was the squad that invaded while their support drew attention away to the skies above. It took them no time at all to reach their target. The mine, meanwhile, only had a hundred average infantry garrisoned in defense. Lan Qing was one of those.

    In the opening wave of attacks the Eastern defenders had lost more than half of their number to the invaders. It was a crushing defeat that routed the garrison. It looked like the mine was lost.

    Despite their victory, the Northerners discovered several of their number inexplicably missing. The Eastern soldiers, scrambling to retreat, discovered one of their number standing firm.

    What Lan Qing then said to his comrades has been forever etched on the cultural memory of the East: "Make for safety. I'll cover your retreat." These simple seven words are what catapulted the simple soldier to heroism.

    Against five hundred of the best the North had to offer. It was a suicide mission. More than that, their objective was sabotage. This was no deciding battle.

    Indeed everyone suspected Lan Qing was sacrificing himself so his squad-mates could escape. What they didn't expect was that Lan Qing would perform a miracle.

    First, his masterful control of his mecha allowed him to set the surprise attack in disarray. He then utilized the native defensive systems of the mining facility to keep them at bay.

    Losses continued to increase for the invaders. Eventually they broke through the defensive line of the mine's systems, but their number had been reduced to three hundred. More than a hundred of those lost were at Lan Qing's hand.

    The Northerners were indignant and enraged, but still were on the cusp of completing their mission. However, Lan Qing's audacity had not been spent. He still had a plan.

    The mine they had chosen to attack was currently being used for storage. The gems housed therein were integral components for mechas of the time. They gave them their motive capabilities.

    As his enemies gathered for their third assault, Lan Qing arranged a number of the gems together. He waited patiently for the company to swarm in to the mines. Then he detonated the stones.

    The resulting explosion was enough to obliterate half the mine, and a hundred mechas.

    At this point the Northerners had suffered grievous losses. However, with the mine in shambles they considered their objective complete. What they couldn't have known was that Lan Qing had detonated the front part of the mine - an area that had long since been mined dry. The richest veins still lied within, safe from the blast radius.

    The infiltrators prepared to depart, but Lan Qing still wasn't satisfied. As they made their retreat, Lan Qing was like a specter at their heels. Like the angel of death he picked them off one by one as they fled, with nothing but his standard-issue mecha.

    He came and went with no more substance than a shadow. He struck with the force of a hurricane. Even to this day no one understood how he could know the terrain so well after only three days. But it was simple - he used every tool at his disposal, every ounce of knowledge and skill.

    As the enemy's numbers dropped to near fifty, their morale collapsed. They couldn't stand in the face of this unbelievable assault. All they wanted was to escape. All their energy went to running.

    Lan Qing was too exhausted to proceed. He'd single-handedly turned the tide of what should have been a massacre. There, battered and tired, he received a communication: the remaining enemy forces had been wiped out. The reserves at the mine had regrouped, returning to fight by their comrade's side. Even two Master-Ranked pilots who'd come as reinforcements met their end.

    Lan Qing had made a name for himself. In these short moments he'd become a hero of the East. His legend only increased when he refused his medals, choosing to have them honor his squadron mates instead.

    Even those self-same squad mates thought he was nuts. The kind of psychopath willing to face five hundred enemy soldiers. Still, a triumphant psychopath. A hero.

    As the conflict between the North and East continued, Lan Qing repeatedly proved his military talent. It didn't take long for the East's officer to realize he wasn't just a genius on the battlefield, but also far surpassed any of his peers in areas of strategy and leadership. They were skills that led him to victory in every skirmish he participated in.

    He was eighteen years old at the time.

    In the ten years following he remained on An Lun, at the forefront of the East's conflicts. His intelligence and strength resulted in victory, for all two hundred plus battles he fought. Never once was he or his company defeated. His medals, accolades and commendations lead him to become the youngest Rear Admiral in the history of the Eastern Alliance. He was also given command of the entire military force of An Lun, and in that time the North hadn't managed a single foothold or earned any beneficial victory. It was a post usually reserved for only the highest ranking military personnel.

    He had yet to achieve the top posts of the military, but there wasn't a soul alive in the East that wasn't willing to bow to him as the Supersoldier of An Lun. The Northerners knew him as the Specter of Death. It was widely accepted that the East was the weakest of the Three Alliances, however Lan Qing insured they were able to maintain control of this most coveted territory.

    Of course fame brought it's challenges. In the criminal underworld he remained on the list of top ten targets for assassination, a list that changed extensively but for his name. That's how important he was to the East.

    This was the person who stood before An Liu. A hero, supersoldier, and commander of the Eastern Alliance's most battle-hardened company.

    Skyfire Avenue was detached from politics and the outside world, but that didn't stop An Liu's normally frigid exterior to melt before this storied Guardian of the East.

    She took a deep breath and calmed her nerves. "I have to verify your identity," An Liu stated, choosing intentionally not to use any honorific.

    "Very well." Lan Qing's responses had become familiarly concise.

    An Liu's mind was a chaotic mess. Was this legend really the Jewelry Master's brother? And here to find him. She decided his presence had to be kept a secret - others couldn't know he was here on the Avenue.

    "Wait here for a moment," she ordered. "I'll be back shortly." After speaking she disappeared down the street.

    Lan Qing walked slowly towards Zeu's Jewelry Shop once again. He rested a hand upon the raised lightning bolt emblazoned on the door. He stood like that for the space of a few moments, then let his hand drop.

    An Liu's return was as quick as promised. This time, she'd brought someone with her.

    "You shouldn't be here," the imperious tone of the man began.

    Lan Qing stiffened at the voice, and turned to meet it.

    The Wine Master stood at An Liu's side, a hard light of disapproval in his eyes.

    "You are...?" Lan Qing inquired.

    "I am the Vice-Chairman on the Skyfire Avenue Leadership Council. You may call me the Wine Master."

    "Then salutations, Wine Master. I'm here to speak with Lan Jue."

    "You claim he is your younger brother?" The Wine Master's tone was suspicious, but inquisitive.

    "Mm," Lan Qing verified with a nod.

    The Wine Master's eyes narrowed. "Come with me," he said, immediately making his way to the nearby elevator.

    The procession moved to extricate themselves from the underground; the Wine Master in front, Lan Qing behind, and An Liu bringing up the rear.

    An Liu watched the back of Lan Qing as they moved. She wasn't sure whether it was panic or confusion that set her heart to fluttering, but whatever it was it was something she hadn't felt in years. But there it was, as sudden and unsettling as a bolt of lightning.

    The military commander was tall, straight, almost regal in posture as he moved. Nothing in his movements seemed forced or false. It was a posture that said he could face anything. She was convinced this man was indeed the Lan Qing she'd heard of.

    A memory tickled at the back of her mind, the fact that his military achievements were paired with an accomplished Talent. In the world of Adepts he'd been named Prometheus. The God of Wisdom. One of four others titled after gods of Greek mythos, who together were named the Divine Monarchs. Adepts who were pushing the boundaries of becoming Paragons.

    As they exited the elevator, it was as though the Wine Master and An Liu had forgotten - or simply disregarded - their rules. Lan Qing walked the Avenue above unmolested as they trekked to the Gothic Winery.

    "Sit." The Wine Master unceremoniously indicated a chair situated on one side of a simplistic table.

    "A Francisco. Black Dragon, unless I'm mistaken." Lan Qing glanced over the chairs and table.

    The Wine Master smirked. "I'm pleased to discover you know more than how to fight, Prometheus."
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