Chapter 269: Hand Cramps

    Chapter 269: Hand Cramps

    It is said there are many levels of hell, and to these students the sim pods were certainly one of them.

    After the first day, their eyes were bloodshot. After hours of careful piloting their breathing was ragged and their hands shaky.

    The computer program which ran the sim was designed to base it's pacing on the pilot's physical condition. The speed rose and fell, adjusting to be only slightly less than their highest capability. The better a pilot was, the faster the program delivered commands. Naturally it also meant they could finish their task sooner.

    Moving mecha suits wasn't just shoving a joystick. It took more than a single button-press to perform an action. All of the commands had to be performed smoothly, harmoniously - because even the slightest error could mean your enemy's victory.

    Four hundred thousand movements, and this was just the first go 'round!

    The first lunch, many ate quite a lot of food, of course due to the amount of exercise they'd endured. Those unfortunate souls vomited it out by the end of the day. Working for so long in the sim pod was torturous, with the spins dizzying and the shocks nauseating. It was quite a physical trial.

    What the students didn't know, was that these pods were designed for adepts for seventh ranked or higher. Several of them would likely be unable to finish the program.

    The deadline was twenty days. The Poseidon group designed it that way, with a final evaluation when the program was complete. Anyone who was capable of finishing could certainly be considered an ace pilot. Sovereign-rank was their destiny.

    If Lan Jue had wanted to perform this test at the beginning of the training, he suspected less than one fifth would be able to pass. Now, however...

    Tang Xiao finally awoke from his meditations the day the sim pod training began. He opened his eyes, revealing pupil-less orbs of white. His eyes rolled back to normal, but then his whole body began to react.

    His large form grew thinner, almost like a new person. By the time the shift was finished, he looked like a far more toned - and, strangely, handsome - version of himself. He looked more like his sister as well.

    Looking down at himself, Tang Xiao's face showed satisfaction. He found it difficult to contain his excitement, and is flashed in his eyes.

    "You're ok?" a moving voice intruded, from not far away.

    He turned his head, and his eyes met a silver-masked woman who waited nearby. He knew it was - hers was a voice he knew well. His face twitched instinctively. "Hey Mika," he said through a nervous laugh.

    Mika nodded her head in satisfaction. "The boss was right. Under all this pressure, your Discipline has had a second awakening. It looks like you've broken through to eighth rank. With your genetic talent, you've probably already surpassed Wang Hongyuan. What he needs is to accumulate more energy, then he'll break through as well."

    Tang Xiao smiled. "What's the next exercise?"

    "The complete the routine in the sim pods." Under Mika's instruction, Tang Xiao quickly gathered himself and entered the program.

    The first to finish the initial leg was Tan Lingyun. She completed the simulation in one day and four hours. Four thousand high-speed commands - she felt like she needed to puke.

    Then the second leg started.

    "Complete in sequence: eight-directional movement commands. If you fail, the exercise starts over."

    The four commands from earlier became eight. There were no specifications on how many times this would be needed, only that missing one would start the whole thing over.

    Of course, when the arrows appeared they did so significantly faster.

    The program AI was constructed to modulate speed, determined by how well they did in the first section. Tan Lingyun, therefore, had to perform at her peek capabilities from the very beginning.

    In total, the sim lessons numbered eight, and all of them were concerned with fundamentals. That did not mean, though, that they would be easy.

    Hua LI had only given Lan Jue and Chu Cheng a basic overview of the training method. Even with just the cursory information, they were excited. With every success, they were met with an even meaner procedure to overcome.

    Once their bodies were beaten down, it was time to torture the mind.

    Some of the students tried to ease off during training, and sneak in a rest. However, if they failed to react within three seconds, ear-piercing sirens would sound and their laziness would be broadcast to every pod. "Lightning to keep you awake! You want to be lazy? Hah!"


    A week passed. The students were revealed for lunch every day, and every day they looked paler. They could barely keep their eyes open. However as much as they burned for rest, Zeus' Amazons wouldn't allow it. Under the beautiful women's supervision, as soon as their meals were done the students were right back in the pods. Hua Li and Lan Jue, meanwhile, where nowhere to be seen.

    Other than his responsibilities in etiquette class, and his weekly visits to Grace hospital, Lan Jue spent the majority of his time in DreamNet training with Hua Li.

    The results were clear and pronounced. He felt as though he was returned to his peek, three years ago. He was pushing himself hard, and there were no small numbers of reminders as to why. The last few days, advertisements for the Dreamburg god battle where being blasted to every corner of the Three Alliances. It was shaping up to be a widely-viewed event, to say the least.

    DreamNet was preparing for the intense load, and had a lot to do in preparation. Advertisements where everywhere, for anyone who logged in. Highlights from the previous god-battles were on a constant loop. Their opponents were left a mystery, revealed only as 'Unknown' to the curious.

    Four versus five, so far that was the only news they had on the fight. The Four Divine Monarchs, against five enigmatic challengers. Who would emerge victorious? There was no shortage of opinion on the matter, and a vote was arranged.

    The Monarchs held an overwhelming majority. Eighty percent.

    Over the last several years, no one had really heard anything from the Divine Monarchs. However, their names still remained top of the lists in Sanctuary. Any and all news about them was still immediately disseminated - they were superstars.

    Lan Jue sat cross-legged within his Avenue warehouse, meditating peacefully. Likewise lost in introspection was Hua Li, sat beside him in a black flight suit.

    In his tight-fitting clothes, with his handsome face and pretty hair, it was a blessing no fans were nearby. Surely they wouldn't be able to contain themselves if they saw their idol in such daring garb. Poseidon truly was something.

    "It's time," Hua Li said, opening his eyes and looking toward Lan Jue.

    Lan Jue nodded. Indeed he was right, it was time. The god-battle was here.

    The two young men rose as one, and walked across the warehouse in silence. Wordlessly, they entered their sim pods, and booted in to DreamNet. There was a flash of light, and their monitors revealed Dreamburg. They were already in Sanctuary.

    Almost immediately they felt the weight of a million viewers on them. It hung thick in the air like a mist. In Sanctuary alone, there were over a hundred mecha pilots of all styles, watching with bated breath.

    Lan Jue and his companion shared a glance. This was quite the scene to be greeted with.

    Everyone one of the spectators in Dreamburg were god-class pilots! In all the Alliances added together, there were perhaps three hundred god-ranked pilots on record. About half were here now.

    The Divine Monarchs would have been familiar with several of them, having been former competitors. Others were unknown. More than a few glared with open hostility.

    "Zeus. Poseidon. You finally decide to join us. This is quite the spectacle we have today! They say the victor gets an s-ranked power gem. Are you thinking of selling it?" The offer came from a man with a strange, jocular voice.

    Lan Jue spied the voice's origin, coming from a small and frail individual. The man stood before them, with abnormally long arms folded across his chest. His face was hidden behind a clown mask. The fingers resting on his biceps twitched and jerked restlessly.

    "Knave. It's been a long time." Lan Jue called back amicably.

    "Indeed it has," the tiny man responded. "What has kept you so busy these last few years? Why haven't we seen you? You know I've been waiting for a rematch since forever. We really should, losing is not something I'm comfortable with."

    Lan Jue chuckled. "When we get a chance maybe. Unless you're one of our opponents today."

    "Take a guess," the clown chortled mirthfully.

    "I think not," Lan Jue said. "Truth be told I hope you aren't!"

    The Knave shrugged. "Unfortunately, your wish is not granted. I won't go easy on you, later."

    "You're really participating?" Both Lan Jue and Hua Li asked simultaneously. Both of their faces adopted a distinct shade of displeasure at the revelation. Thankfully, their masks hid it.

    He was a strange looking man, and yet not. He even had a name, simple and yet not. In reality he was one of Dreamburg's strongest denizens.

    And, the fasted hand-speed on record. The Knave liked to boast that no one knew how fast his hands actually were.

    Lan Jue, meanwhile, was fourth on the leader boards with eighty-seven commands per second. And the clown? One hundred and three. There really was nothing - man or otherwise - with faster hands than he.

    He and the Knave had indeed fought once, here in DreamNet. It had been one of his most trying ordeals. He could still remember struggling to keep up, but more important the Knave was the only person he'd ever seen who could properly employ three dopplegangers.

    There were disadvantages to having too fast a speed, though. He sometimes had difficulty controlling his hands as they worked at higher speeds. Lan Jue had won their exchange by analyzing the Knave's habitual movements. He'd gambled on it, and the gamble had paid off.

    In the end, the Knave occupied number ten on the lists of Sanctuary's strongest pilots.

    At this point, Lan Jue's hand speed had increased substantially, but no matter the change it was still a far cry from what this clown was capable of.

    Although single battles were different from team fights, having the Knave on your enemy's team was a nightmare the Divine Monarchs would have to face.
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