The two sides faced each other in a stalemate. Although the three mecha still had their lightspeed guns trained on Ling Lan's group of three, because Ling Lan had Ling Hua at her mercy, they didn't dare to really pull their triggers, afraid that Ling Lan would kill Ling Hua in response.
On the other hand, although Ling Qin and Ling Yu really wanted to get closer to help Ling Lan control Ling Hua, the three mecha clearly knew that letting them gather together would be a bad idea, and had shot a few warning shots at their feet when they tried to move. This was a warning to not move recklessly, otherwise they would willingly choose to let everyone die altogether.
Both sides had their own concerns, so both sides dared not to make the first move ...
"Why?" This stalemate gave Ling Hua the time to voice the questions he held within his heart.
"There is only one possibility why Ling family loyalists would be late to the rescue, and that is fighting to the death after being caught in an ambush — I'm sure you understand." Ever since Ling Lan had been officially taught how to read, she had blatantly started to go through all the old books and historical records preserved by the Ling family. Therefore, she was well aware of all the information pertaining to the training of the Ling family loyalists — a truly loyal Ling family loyalist would never choose to leave his master's side on his own.
In a situation like what Ling Hua described, Ling family loyalists would only choose to fight the enemy till the death, and not run away. They would definitely never allow their master to leave their sight unless they all ended up dead.
Hearing this, Ling Hua smiled coldly. "Don't you know that the Ling family has another family rule? If a new master would like the loyalists to defend him with their lives, he will have to first gain the acknowledgement of the loyalists. You think you've done this, Young Master Lan?" His lips curled into a mocking smile. Ling Lan's baseless accusations and suspicious nature were very likely to alienate others, leading to the eventual downfall of the Ling family. This proved that he hadn't made the wrong choice — it was just a pity he had failed.
Ling Hua sighed, "Young Master Lan, this time, you were just lucky to stumble onto the truth." The goddess of luck had stood on Ling Lan's side today, while he was just unlucky. Still, he wasn't going to make things easy for Ling Lan. He continued to say, "However, you should really do something about your suspicious and distrustful nature — which family loyalist would be willing to lay down their life for you with that personality? Perhaps he might be the very next person you suspect."
Ling Hua's words caused both Ling Qin and Ling Yu's face to drain of colour. Ling Qin knew that Ling Hua was saying this just to sow the seeds of distrust within the Ling family loyalists, to prevent them from ever fully trusting in Ling Lan, making it so that Ling Lan would never be able to gain the acknowledgement of the Ling family loyalists ... while Ling Yu was worried about whether he was under Ling Lan's suspicion himself.
Ling Lan had seen the change in both Ling Qin and Ling Yu's expressions — Little Four's full-scope coverage was very efficient. Nothing that happened on the scene would escape his detection, even small actions such as Ling Hua's surreptitious palming of a dagger from within his sleeve.
Ling Lan silently put up her guard, even as her lips curled up in a cool smirk, "Lucky? If your mecha had had any signs of battle on it, perhaps I might have doubted my suspicions ... Unfortunately, you forgot to account for the small details. You should have compared it with Ling Yu's mecha, and added on several scrapes caused by beam shots. Perhaps then your words would have been more believable ... Ah, I'm really such an overly suspicious person."
Slowly but surely, Ling Lan pointed out the mistakes Ling Hua had made in his setup. As Ling Qin heard her speak, his face became more and more wrought with emotion — so his Young Master Lan had already become so capable without his noticing ... Master Ling Xiao truly had a successor now. A frisson of regret ran through Ling Qin's heart — oh, if only Young Master Lan was really a young master!
Ling Yu finally realised that what he had assumed to be the childish whims of Young Master Lan, were actually full of hidden meaning. He looked at the small body clinging to Ling Hua's back, holding Ling Hua hostage, and his eyes glittered with a strange light.
Young Master Lan was so level-headed and intelligent — as befitting her status as master. At only six years old, she was already so amazing, and it was likely that she would only grow up to be even more impressive. Awe and respect surged within Ling Yu — at this very moment, he truly recognised Ling Lan as the master he intended to serve, someone he would be willing to sacrifice his life for.
"So, you were feeling up our mecha to check for the signs of battle." Ling Hua finally understood where he had gone wrong and was filled with regret.
He couldn't believe that he had really been tricked by Ling Lan. He had thought that she was just a child, that no matter how smart she was, she wouldn't be able to see through his plot. Unexpectedly, Ling Lan was so freakishly talented that she had suspected everything from the start. Not only did he not manage to fool the other, but unknowingly, he had been drawn into the other's carefully laid plot.
Frankly, Ling Lan hadn't been sure at first who was the traitor, which was why she had plotted to take away both Ling Hua and Ling Yu's particle-beam handguns so that she could guarantee Ling Qin's and her own safety. And then, she had faked an obsession for mecha so that she could get close enough to inspect the mecha. As she touched the outer shell of the mecha, she took the opportunity to check on the condition of the mecha, which helped her to determine the true culprit.
Ling Hua chuckled bitterly. If only he had taken Ling Lan seriously from the start and treated her as an equal, he would never have let Ling Lan get close to his mecha. Then, she wouldn't have been able to discover his lie, and he wouldn't have ended up losing so terribly.
"Didn't you consider that I could just be that much stronger? The captain must be better than the regular team members after all," asked Ling Hua stubbornly.
Ling Lan was silent for a moment as she considered his point, but then replied regretfully, "Honestly, I would like to think that way as well. I really did not want to see the day the Ling family loyalists would betray the Ling family — betray me ... But, you forgot the most important thing, one of our Ling family's most important house rule."
Ling Lan's voice was soft, but her words crashed into Ling Hua's ears like thunder, "While we still have strength, we are not to abandon our family. Ling Hua, it's true that the Ling family loyalists do not have to put their lives on the line before they have acknowledged the current family head. This is why I do not doubt Ling Yu's loyalty. There are clear signs of beam damage on his mecha, some close to piercing through his cockpit. This meant that he had almost died in his fight, that he had done all that he could ... " Hearing this, Ling Yu's heart warmed, and his eyes became damp instantly.
"But you are different. Your mecha has no signs of damage at all, which meant that the situation was still well within your control. Although I have not gained your acknowledgement, I'm still a member of the Ling family, still a member of your family ... but in that situation, you chose to abandon me. This behaviour ... what does it mean?"
Ling Hua was rendered speechless. So, he had carelessly exposed his true thoughts so easily — he had taken the six year old Ling Lan much too lightly. Deep in his heart, regret swirled. If he had known that Ling Lan was this bright, he would have just carried on honestly with his duty to protect Ling Lan. If he had not fallen for that temptation, and chosen to take this risk, perhaps his children would still be able to receive the best upbringing from the Ling family in remembrance of his hard work ...
"Young Master Lan, I'm sorry. If I had only known you were such a bright child, I would not have accepted another's offer to betray you. Sadly, it's too late. I will not ask for your forgiveness, but only hope that you won't take out your anger on my family and my children — everything is my own fault." Ling Hua exhaled a quiet breath, the regret in his eyes unconcealed as he spoke with an earnest expression.
Emotionlessly, Ling Lan replied, "I never take out my anger on other people."
"Thank you, Young Master Lan!" As Ling Hua's voice rang out, the stalemate broke in a blur of violence. Ling Hua grabbed Ling Lan's hand on his throat with his own left hand, even as he flicked his right hand upwards in a vicious thrust. The dagger in his hand was aiming for Ling Lan right wrist, which was holding the particle-beam handgun to his head. That was the greatest threat to him right now, and he needed to get rid of it while Ling Lan was still unprepared.
But then, he felt a flash of heat course through his head, and all was empty ... he could no longer feel his right hand — had he missed? Why wasn't his left hand holding on to that little hand at his throat?
And then he saw the scenery in his vision change, from the sight of three mecha to a sheet of endless blue ... and that was his final thought.
"Captain!" A terrible wail rose up from among the three mecha.
And then the three mecha pressed down on their triggers resolutely ...
Ling Qin and Ling Yu made a frenzied jump towards Ling Lan, hoping desperately that they would be able to block Ling Lan from the beam attacks.
Only Ling Lan was unmoved, staring steadily at the three mecha without even flinching.
Ling Qin and Ling Yu shoved Ling Lan roughly onto the ground, and then laid their own bodies over hers to cover her from sight completely, almost suffocating Ling Lan in the process.
Impassively, Ling Lan said, "Grandpa Ling Qin, and you too Ling Yu ... you're flattening me, can you both get off me now?"
Ling Qin barked, "Just stay still and hide yourself! Even if we die, you cannot die. You're our Ling family's only hope."
Ling Yu nodded vigorously in agreement. "I'm Young Master's loyalist. To die for you is my duty and honour." That said, he pressed down on Ling Lan's head once more, as if afraid that Ling Lan would be struck by some stray attack beam. Ling Yu was rather surprised that he could survive for so long under the collective attack of three beam guns, so long that he even had time to respond to Young Master Lan.
Finally, Ling Lan could take it no longer. With a dramatic roll of her eyes, she said, "Don't you two notice that you aren't in any pain whatsoever?"
Taken aback, Ling Qin abruptly realised that it was true — why wasn't there any pain? Could it be that his entire body had been blown to smithereens until his nerves were no longer there to feel pain? Of course, he knew this was impossible, so the only possible explanation was that the opponent had not attacked ...
Ling Yu had also figured it out by this time. They turned back to look and saw the three mecha just standing there, still in their attack stances, unmoving as if they had been frozen in place.
But when they looked at the middle sections of the mecha, they immediately understood — somehow, sometime, the cockpits of the three mecha had disappeared, only leaving behind three large holes.
Not too far away from the mecha, the three cockpits could be seen slowly drifting downwards on parachutes, flashing distress signals all the way. The three cockpits had obviously been set to space rescue mode — as long as no one opened the cockpits up to provide rescue from the outside, the people inside would not be able to open it.
From the looks of it, the three cockpits had been automatically set to rescue mode by the mecha and summarily ejected, causing the pilots to become trapped like fish in a bowl.
Seeing this, Ling Qin and Ling Yu were ecstatic. They quickly clambered off the ground, pulling Ling Lan up with them, and then Ling Yu ran over to check on the three cockpits to make sure the opponents were really trapped within. After all, the pilots still had weapons on them — this was not the time to take any chances.
Meanwhile, Ling Qin had walked over to stand by Ling Hua's body, sadness written all over his face. Ling Hua was the successor he had raised singlehandedly, outstanding in all respects. Whether in terms of ability or personal charisma, he was heads above all the others. All these years, as Ling Qin gradually released the reins, Ling Hua had taken on a larger role and had gradually gained the trust of the other Ling family loyalists. Slowly but surely, he was being accepted as the next leader of the Ling family loyalists.
In Ling Qin's original plans, once Ling Hua had acknowledged Ling Lan, he would relinquish his role as the leader of the loyalists and pass it on officially to Ling Hua. He had believed that, as long as Ling Hua took good care of Ling Lan, the glory days of the Ling family would continue. So, even when he died, he would be able to face the previous two family heads proudly in the afterlife.
He would never have guessed in a million years that the successor he had chosen and raised so carefully would betray them, breaking his heart and chilling it in equal measure.
Ling Hua, what in the world could have persuaded you to betray Ling Lan — to betray the Ling family? Could there possibly be someone else like you in the Ling family?