Chapter 282: Shrewd and Ruthless Starlord

    Chapter 282: Shrewd and Ruthless Starlord

    Starlord was the first to reach Chang'E's statue. Under the dim moonlight, Deimos' mecha became an indistinct shape in the shadows, until it eventually vanished altogether.

    Not a moment later, Prometheus found his way to the map's center as well. The area was blanketed in an ominous silence as the two competitors shut off their main engines to maintain stealth.

    Neither Deimos nor Prometheus had seen each other since the fight's beginning. The audience, however, had a bird's eye view of everything. They could see every movement from the two team captains.

    Each had taken position in a corner and, with their engines dark, looked very much like statues themselves. There they sat in silence, waiting... waiting for the others to come searching.

    Hades and Thunderclap were still duking it out, with Cerberus' pilot facing an uphill battle. Aside from Starlord, Thunderclap was the strongest pilot in the Star Alliance. Some would say stronger even than his rival, Zeus.

    But Hades was stronger than Thunderclap predicted. By the time Thunderclap claimed victory, half of its frame was destroyed beyond recognition. Cerberus' Hellfire Cannon had grazed him, and the result was a left leg and arm that were now puddles of molten metal. Thunderclap, while still motive, was essentially castrated after their clash.

    More surprising was Thor and Windbreaker's fight, which had just concluded. Everyone's attention was on Coeus and Starlord, and so did not see the thrilling conclusion.

    After finishing off Bahamut, Zeus turned the momentum toward Windbreaker, who had since recovered from his earlier hopelessness. The mecha's shell of compressed air surrounded a sizeable swath around it, and waves of it battered Thor from all directions. His head was clear, and his tactics simple.

    Windbreaker knew that Thor came out the other end of his conflict with Bahamut unscathed, however he must have expended a fair amount of energy by this point. And this was so. Sustaining against such powerful strikes couldn't be done indefinitely, and so Windbreaker was determined to keep up the pressure. He would rely on these strikes to keep up the pressure on Thor, eventually exhausting it.

    The area within three hundred meters of Windbreaker warped nauseatingly, like the air was boiling. Zeus could feel the increased atmospheric pressure crushing Thor from all directions.

    Zeus was restraining his suit's speed. He was finding it difficult to see Windbreaker through the undulating air. This was one of Windbreaker's specialties - Atmospheric Refraction! Not only did the compressed air apply pressure to the enemy, it also hid him as the thickening atmosphere refracted light. It was almost as effective as cloaking.

    This ability meant Windbreaker had no need to rush for the statue. It could hide itself wherever it chose to.

    Thor came to a halt in the air, the errant bolts of electricity that always surrounded him quieting down. Both hands clutched the shaft of its spear, as Zeus quietly searched for any indication of his enemy. Lan Jue empowered his shields, in anticipation of an attack as well as to help ward off the buffeted blasts of compressed air.

    Windbreaker appeared suddenly at Thor's back, silent as the grave. He did not rush forward, but instead coaxed his mecha to approach from low altitude. Then, the mecha's thick mechanical arms reached out to grab Thor's legs.

    It was a well-planned angle of attack. Hidden approach, hard to anticipate, and difficult to break out of.

    Windbreaker was executing his plan. Honor would be recovered by succeeding in where he'd failed before. The moment he managed to grapple Thor, the rest of his plan went in to motion; increase the atmospheric pressure until one or both of them were crushed. Even if he fell in the process, removing Thor from the equation was well worth it.

    Thor didn't move. It looked as though Windbreaker caught him totally by surprise.

    Windbreaker's silver hands grabbed Thor's ankles in a vice-like grip, then pulled violently. He didn't yet employ any real power, instead seeking to position his enemy. Thor came tumbling down.

    As the sapphire mecha began to fall, Windbreaker went with him. They twisted around one another as they did so.

    Something was wrong, and the moment Windbreaker sensed it he reacted. He immediately released the store of energy he'd been keeping, to release an Airburst that would end their trade. Once again, a powerful aura of white light sprang up around Windbreaker. The difference was, this time he was right in the center of the blast radius.

    Thor's lightning spear crackled as it tore through the air. It swiped viciously at the space below as they fell. But then something surprising happened, that even the god-ranked pilots who wrote battle analyses would find impressive.

    In this critical moment, at the crux of victory or defeat, Thor's spear strike was directed at his enemy. He swung his spear at himself.

    The shielding for Thor's legs disappeared and then, with a flash of the crackling spear head, they were gone. In an all-out slash of its spear, Thor cut its own feet off at the ankles. The force of the strike knocked it up and away from Windbreaker.

    Thor's enemy continued to fall, gripping impotently at the mangled feet. It was too late. The air around it erupted as Windbreaker's Airburst was released.

    Thor's speed and maneuverability were hampered by the loss of its feet and the thrusters beneath them, but it was still enough for it to avoid Windbreaker's last gasp.

    A violent, staggering explosion of violet energy burst in to bloom directly on top of the Star Alliance powerhouse. Thor's Hammer!

    Boooom! The impact force stunned Windbreaker, making him unable to control his mecha. The audience gasped as they saw streamers of golden light spurt out from Thor's back. Its weapon glowed with a similarly potent aura, and fired it out at its foe.

    In less than a second, Thor executed seven simultaneous thrusts. Each one found its target.

    With a loud explosion, windbreaker was reduced to debris. Pieces of the defeated suit fell to earth in a fiery display. It was no longer a threat to the God of Lightning.

    In the sim pod, Lan Jue's face bore an ice-cold and obstinate expression. He wasted no time, directing his mangled suit toward the moonlit statue at the map's center. Sparks flew incessantly from the mangled remains of its legs.

    In a straight, one-on-one fight, there was a distinct disparity between Windbreaker and Thor. Trying to finish off Zeus in a short time was exceedingly difficult. Sometimes you have to lose some to win it all, and Zeus knew this. He might have lost his mecha's feet, but after his flagrant display he remained alive and ready to support his team.

    His enemy could always have defended against his attacks, but Thor's feet couldn't. Who could have suspected that such a high-ranking mecha pilot would actually choose self-mutilation? The feet were an integral part of any mecha construction, after all.

    Without the stability and thrusters, Thor's combat power dropped to perhaps sixty percent. It was simply the price he had to pay to keep going. But when it came to Chang'E's Domain, no one had more success. The proof was right in front of everyone's eyes. Two on one, and in the end Thor emerged victorious!

    He also proved to the audience that the Four Divine Monarch's strength wasn't just in cooperation. They were nearly as strong apart as they were together.

    The last three years had been rough on Lan Jue, but not crippling. After the events of Tai Hua, he returned changed - stronger, calmer, and more detached. He had matured as a combatant.

    Meanwhile, Thunderclap had managed to finally make it to Chang'E with some effort. Judging by the damage, however, it didn't look as though he would be a threat.

    Two against two. The audience held their breath as they waited to see who would win this nail-biting exchange.

    The tension was palpable. Zeus and Prometheus separately were demons on the field. Together, their fans were sure they could overcome anything. But that's what was said in the last fight, when Starlord turned the tables and took the win right out from under them. Could it happen again?

    No one knew. But they were all anxious to see how this decisive battle would end.

    Thor arrived sooner than Thunderclap, having sustained less damage. When the statue came in to Zeus' view, his communicator crackled to life. Lan Qing's calm voice outlined the next part of their strategy.

    Just then, something caught Zeus' attention. There wa something glinting on top of Chang'E's statue. He noticed that the light released by the statue was stronger. Originally it's stealth field covered five hundred meters in any direction. Now it felt much farther.

    This was...

    No, it's not moonlight! He came to the realization just as an intense beam of energy came hurtling toward him. Thor flew headlong in to it.

    Nearby, a figure went up in a blaze of light. Lan Qing's voice went silent on the other end of the communicator. Lan Jue watched as his screen went dark.

    "Winner: Star Alliance!"

    It was over? Skyfire Avenue's Jewelry Master sat in stunned silence. What had happened? How could he have been so handily defeated?

    How could they have lost, a second time?

    Even if they hadn't have had the upper hand, they should have at least had a chance at victory!

    Lan Jue's self-pitying reverie was cut short when his brother's voice came through the pod's communicator. "The fault wasn't with you. It was me. Starlord self-destructed, blowing all of the power gems in his suit. I underestimated the time it would take for him to initiate the meltdown. He didn't hesitate. What's more, it seems like his suit's energy matched perfectly with the moonlight from the statue. The primeval energy it was releasing covered the power from the statue, and we couldn't tell the difference."

    Indeed, from what the audience could puzzle out, Starlord, Prometheus and Zeus were all destroyed simultaneously. In the end, only the half-destroyed Thunderclap remained alive.

    That put the Star Alliance up two victories. One more, and the Divine Monarchs would lose their crown.
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