Chapter 276: Cloaks and Daggers

    Chapter 276: Cloaks and Daggers

    Thunderclap was ever in the pursuit of perfection in his field: speed and power. As a result, his explosive capacity was dominating. In the process, however, he had to give up defense and energy conservation. Landing an attack or gaining the upper-hand was followed by the rage of a thunderstorm.

    Thor, his weapon locked and his movement constrained, was certainly caught in a disadvantageous position. With years of combat experience at play, Thunderclap was certain Thor had no recourse, no means of escape.

    But just as Thor's defeat seemed inevitable, a gentle blue light appeared between them to ward off the blow. The shield of blue energy undulated as Thunderclap's strike crashed against it like a tidal wave. The electric power was harmlessly diffused in to the atmosphere around them, and brought the blue-black mecha to a shuddering halt.

    Not good! That was the first thought to race through Thunderclap's mind. But even though he didn't have the time to determine what happened, his experience kicked in. Almost unconsciously he responded the best way he knew how.

    A thruster flared to life, and once again a dazzling electric blue light blinded the eye. Instead of an explosive attack, however, Thunderclap launched himself backward in retreat.

    But it was too late.

    The previously brash and ineffectual Thor charged at its opponent, surrounded by erratic flashes of electric light. The mecha's advance was not a straight line, but instead descended in an elegant arc with Thunderclap as its target.

    Even among god-ranked pilots, Thunderclap was exceedingly fast. But his retreat was not controlled. His thrusters sent him careening backward, unable to control speed or direction.

    Thor had no such problem and as he raced forward, a beam of red light birthed stark shadows across the whole of the Wheel. Where it landed, an intense and terrifying explosion erupted, directly in Thunderclap's path. He disappeared in the mushroom cloud.

    Blinding blue and intense red mingled in the aftermath. Other members of the Star Alliance turned as the explosion drew their attention. By then, though, it was too late for them.

    No opportunity for respite was granted, for as all eyes turned to the blast a ray of cyan light appeared. In the same instant, a darker blue beam intersected it in the air, forming an enormous X.

    Thunderclap was caught between both. He perished amidst the sounds of his machine being blown apart. No more than fifteen seconds had passed since their collision, and just like that the Star Alliance was down a man.


    Fifteen seconds earlier.

    "Amazing. His plan was nothing short of brilliance." Mo Xiao quickly cried out in appreciation. "Look closely - Thor races forward, but he's wearing a cloaking gem. Unless I'm mistaken, even c-ranked gems are very expensive, and are able to create a stealth field ten meters in all directions. Wow, I wonder how wide his field is? Prometheus, Hades and Poseidon have them as well. They've turned off their main engines, so even the best radar can't pin them down. It's kept them hidden during their approach."

    "Look there, just as Thor went in for his first attack, the cloak activates. Here's what happened. Thor's first advanced used a flashy but ultimately pointless strike, designed to get his opponent's attention. Thunderclap was fooled, and used his strongest attack. It was in that moment, following Thor's rush, that the other three Monarchs engaged in a surprise attack."

    "Thunderclap never saw it coming. How could he not have anticipated this? He clearly underestimated Zeus. Ah, perhaps it's this... For Thunderclap, Zeus is his primary target, and the most important enemy. From two years ago the word was out that he wanted to challenge him. Now fortune set the two against each other here. He was overcome by excitement, and impulse. He saw his long-desired victory at hand. Poor Thunderclap had no thought for the other Monarchs."

    "That's it, they're in close. Prometheus, Hades and Poseidon have reengaged their engines. Thunderclap is gone. He used the power of his name-sake, but he never even suspected Poseidon's marvelous intervention!"

    "Thunderclap has been slain."

    Mo Xiao's rapid-fire analysis and narration washed over the stunned spectators. Excitement buzzed in her voice.

    It was a sudden and emotional change for those who suspected a quick Monarch loss. In the space of an instant, the seventh strongest mecha pilot in DreamNet was no more. They even still had time to beat the Star Alliance back for control of the Wheel.

    What sort of unspoken, secret understanding did the Monarchs have with one another to allow them to fight so well? Under the concentrated force of all four of them, Thunderclap never stood a ghost of a chance.

    None from the Star Alliance came to their companion's rescue. The mini-map displayed Starlord, Phantom and Bahamut converging on the cog's central location.

    Thunderclap had managed to warn his friends after Poseidon blocked his charge. Almost immediately, Starlord was able to determine that Thunderclap was out of the fight. He commanded the remaining forces to vehemently defend the Wheel. Sending anyone to defend their fallen brethren would simply have been playing in to the Monarch's hands.

    As for the Monarchs, they wasted no time rushing the center after dealing with their first foe. They'd leapt from an inferior position to one of dominance. With Bahamut focused on activating the base, the battlefield was now four on three giving the Monarchs a numbers advantage. Less than one minute remained until the wheel bestowed its power unto the Star Alliance.

    The entire exchange had lasted only a few moments, but the audience was electrified by it. They felt like they'd been dropped in the middle of a war-zone. They stared wide-eyed and with baited breath, afraid to miss a single moment.

    The Four Divine Monarchs advanced, Zeus once more in the vanguard position. In contrast to before, though, Hades was right by his side. Prometheus and Poseidon took up the rear.

    Both sides arrived at the Wheel's center almost on top of each other. Deimos' silver mecha was easy to spot, as its mirrored surface twinkled incessantly with starlight. It's dominating presence was compounded by the nasty looking sword it had in its hand. This weapon was his namesake. Deimos, Lord of the Starblade.

    Phantom stood to his left, a purple shadow slender as a whip. Half-swords were clutched in each mechanical hand. The suit shuddered with a perpetual tremor, and never seemed to be still.

    Anyone familiar with the Knave knew this was a sign, a subtle indication that his impossibly fast fingers were endlessly tapping at the suit's controls. He was like a coiled spring, ready to explode in deadly force at the drop of a hat.

    Bahamut was white, and exuded a quiet calm despite the hectic backdrop. It bore no weapon, but both of its arms were unnaturally thick. This was especially true of its hands.

    By this point Thor had retrieved its lightning spear. By the time both sides met, there was no hesitation - Zeus launched himself headlong towards the Knave's Phantom.

    Hades broke off and tore vertically. His suit shimmered with a red-hot light, while his arm fractured in to a mess of golden slag. The disparate pieces of mecha reforged themselves instantly in to a mid-sized, maroon-hued cannon.

    Spots of angry red light began to gather in the maw of Cerberus' heavy artillery.

    Meanwhile Poseidon, positioned behind his fiery comrade focused his attentions on Skyshade. Coeus, dual moonblades in hand, was left to face the most powerful mecha pilot who ever lived - Starlord.

    "Amazing! We have a duel between Prometheus and Deimos. I can barely breathe. The other pairings are just as dramatic; we have the fastest hands in DreamNet against the man who took his place on the power lists, fourth in speed and ninth in power, while on the other side we see the incomparable Poseidon versus Skyshade. Cerberus has already engaged his most powerful distance weapon, the Hellfire Cannon, and is charging a volley. While the Wheel is indestructible, Bahamut is stuck in the middle and will have to eat an attack. How will Deimos choose to deal with this situation? They're down a man with the second focused on the Wheel. Can they find a way to ward off the Monarch's advance?"

    The first pair to clash were Phantom and Thor.

    Phantom shimmered as they raced headlong toward one another, and there appeared a second purple mecha at its side. They broke apart, coming at Zeus from both flanks.

    Doppleganger! You could count on one hand the number of people able to employ dopplegangers effectively in combat, and the Knave was among their finest.

    Thor didn't hesitate to respond, birthing a second sapphire image a few meters away. Two Thors and two Phantoms were poised for engagement.

    Neither side were as of yet employing their most powerful energy attacks, relying instead on mecha maneuvers for the upper hand.

    Thor's spear shimmered like some ethereal thing, casting out a blanket of spectral copies toward the Phantom. It reacted with a cross-ward slice of its dual swords which sent shock waves of power spiraling outward. Spectral spears and shock waves collided in mid-air, and the resulting corona of energy was temporarily blotted out their encounter.

    "Look at this amazing display of hand speed! It's simply terrifying to behold. Zeus' hand speed seemed remarkably improved over what we have recorded in Sanctuary. My guess is he's broken ninety CPS. We all know what the Phantom is capable of, and his hand-speed of one hundred and three is in full display right now. Neither of them are going all out, but already my eyes are having a hard time following. Let's see what's happening with the others!"

    Triton gripped its famed trident tightly as it raced toward Skyshade. An orb of blue light surrounded the mecha, the gentle eminence creating a shield of protection. The lord of the seas swept its trident through the air, and a blade of sea-blue energy lashed out at his opponent.
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