The robotic humanoid soldiers slowly encroached deeper into the Kuzusuhara ruin. They were the main actors in the expedition into the ruin. They had a powerful large black gun accompanied by a missile pod of a similar size. It was assorted with high-caliber portable cannon complete with forcefield armour shields.
The new weapon was dispatched as a part of the defensive squad during the expedition, it worked as an advertisement for the new powered suits. Inabe spared no effort to advertise the powered suit and the weapons to all companies that he knew. He ended up filling the expedition with an abnormal number of powered suits and weapons.
With that many powered suits roaming the area. Of course, they would clash with the monsters. All swarms of monsters went to impede their advancement, this included weapon dogs. But the squad was able to plough through them with ease, filling the area with carcasses.
“HQ, this is C501 from C5 squad. We have encountered a swarm of large monsters and defeated them.”
“How is the damage”
“The squad is fine, we still have enough medicine and ammo to continue the operation.”
“Roger that, continue with the plan.”
“…I just have a small worry though. We are encountering monsters more often than we first predicted. I know that the unexplored deeper part of the ruin is filled with powerful monsters, but they are even stronger than we expected.”
“The unexplored areas stay unexplored because most of the Hunters who went there did not come back alive, that is exactly why we lack information regarding those areas. It cant be helped if there are powerful monsters there. Maintain the supply route and expand out carefully… Ah, and also, theres a directive from the upper echelon to keep the damage to a minimum since it wont act as a good advertisement otherwise. So make sure to withdraw when it gets too dangerous.”
The powered suit operator laughed in reaction to that small joke from HQ.
“Well well well, Im glad that we got ourselves some kind commanders this time. C501. Roger that!”
The call was closed as he then scanned the surrounding area. The ground riddled with carcasses as far as the eyes could see was the testament of the power of the squad.
“Well, were winning anyway, so I guess theres nothing to worry about.”
The powered suit squad continued their objective of expanding the secured area. Although they encountered numerous monsters, to the point they questioned where those came from, their powerful equipment made quick work of them. Since that was the case, they thought that there was no problem at all.
Not too long after the squad continued, they arrived at a certain place where numerous tall buildings stuck to each other, forming a formidable wall. In front of that wall, a monster was standing as if guarding the wall.
The outer appearance of that monster was similar to a tank with multiple cannons. It was so huge that even the powered suit squad had to look up to see the entirety of the monster. The monster looked like a mobile fort. While the lower part of the monster was equipped with metallic reptilian legs, it looked like a biological monster carrying a fort on its back.
As that monster spotted the advancing squad, its guns quickly turned and aimed at them before it started shooting vigorously as if it was also trying to destroy the buildings around it.
The black powered suits quickly engaged the monster. They immediately put up their shields to take cover from the incoming barrage. They hid behind the rubble or jumped away from the enveloped direction as they quickly surrounded their target. They communicated closely with each other to ensure maximum teamwork as they quickly dispatched the monster.
Both the monster and the squad were using high caliber weapons, obviously not to be used for fighting against mere humans and were also not designed to be used by humans either as they released countless warheads at each other, enveloping the area with barrages that flattened the already ruined buildings in the area.
The blasts were so powerful that the forcefield shield could not completely block them. The powered suits that were using their shields as covers had their whole arms blown away. Those who were hiding behind the rubble and tall buildings were almost buried alive. While those who jumped up were blown away, crashing down one by one into the ground.
But the monster itself was not able to get away unscathed. Many of its cannons were sacked, huge holes were left in its armour plates, while the fleshy parts of its legs were shredded to pieces.
Rubble and wreckage rained down from the sky mixed with live warheads. The warheads bounced around and fell down in a completely different place. The warheads that landed on the rubble exploded and threw more rubble into the mix. This also helped shave the forcefield armour of the powered suits. Of course, the monster was not unharmed as well. It basically inflicted equal damage to both sides.
That was when more reinforcement arrived. The squad that was already in battle worked closely with them to adjust their aim as they performed a long-range bombardment. The already powerful warheads landed accurately in a concentrated spot, blowing the humongous monster away.
As the leader of the vanguard squad looked at the monster that was already turned into a pile of meat and scarp, he finally let out a sigh of relief.
“This is C501. Thanks for the reinforcement.”
“C801 here. Im glad we made it on time. So then, why didnt you wait for us”
“It was already too late when we noticed the enemy. It might have been using some kind of camouflage. Although it might sound like a lame excuse, we did not expect an attack at all, all the monsters that we encountered up till now had no camouflage on. If we dial up the sensitivity of our information-gathering devices to detect monsters with camouflage, there is a good chance that they would be able to track our position as well. Thats why we thought that it was an unnecessary risk.”
“I see. Do you think there is a chance that those monsters that you encountered first were just decoys for this monster”
“…No, I dont think thats the case, but again, I cant really say for sure.”
The squad leader then proceeded to check the damage from the exchange and frowned. Three powered suits were down and many of them were damaged although still fit for battle. Considering that it was a squad filled with new equipment, it was costly.
“To everyone in the squad, we will take this point as the frontline, take up defensive formation and tune up your information-gathering devices to scan for hidden monsters as well. We will prioritize securing the area. For those with forcefield armour below 70%, withdraw together with the severely damaged units. We will then join up with the C8 squad and-”
While the squad leader was still giving out commands, his information-gathering device suddenly showed a signal coming from the monster that the squad just defeated. As they focused their attention in that direction, one of the buildings that was a part of the tall wall which was already on the brink of falling from the previous exchange, started to crumble. Once it was completely flat on the ground, the squad leader was able to see past the wall as he contacted the HQ in panic.
“H-HQ. This is C5 squad, we just encountered what might be an immensely powerful monster. Fortunately, we were able to defeat it with the help of the C8 squad. We will send the damaged units to the back.”
“Roger that… Is there something wrong over there”
“We spotted something that seemed to be a completely undamaged city behind the wall that got destroyed from the previous battle. Ill send you an image, you can go ahead and check it yourself. We ask for further orders after you finish checking the image.”
The abnormality in that call expressed what kind of amazing thing that they had just found. The squad leader waited nervously for the next order when his information-gathering device suddenly picked up another signal. As he flusteredly shifted the camera on his powered suit to the source of that signal, he saw through the gap of the fallen building, the figure of a beautiful girl.
That girl somehow seemed unhappy as she gazed coldly. And when the squad leader met her eyes through the camera, the girl seemed to be muttering something before his connection to the HQ suddenly was cut off.
Tsubaki was standing on top of the rubble on the border of the area under her jurisdiction. Normally, she would not be able to get out of her area due to her restriction. This time, she came in an old-world automaton that was already turned into a terminal. So she did not travel there as a virtual object.
Tsubaki gazed at the squad of the black powered suits and mumbled.
“…They are here. Looking at them, its no surprise it did not even stand for 50 years this time. Well, it doesnt really matter. It doesnt change that it satisfies the requirement. I hope we can negotiate peacefully again this time.”
Tsubaki walked and left the area. Multiple transparent robots followed next to her as she stepped outside the area.
The squad leader was at a loss that his call with the HQ was suddenly cut. But their information-gathering devices that were already tuned up to detect hidden monsters, now showed multiple signals. It gave them a shock as invisible objects appeared one after another from a small opening in that crumbled wall.
All the experiences that he accumulated caused his alarm to ring danger as he barked out commands. The rest of the team did not lose a beat as they started shooting as well. Right at the same time, the monster under Tsubakis command also replied accordingly.
Flashes from muzzles and forcefield armours appeared out of nowhere, distorting the optical camouflage of the mechanical monsters and shedding to their true form in front of the squad. Countless tanks with multiple legs. Some of them had their legs completely folded up as they were floating without touching the ground. The walls, the grounds, even the sky were immediately encroached by monsters as they did not stop shooting at the citys squad. The black powered suit quickly reformed their formation and released more or less the same absurd amount of warheads in the enemys direction.
And so, the wasteland was once again engulfed in flames.
Inabe looked delighted as he was on standby in the front bases command center. The picture sent by the forward squad showed an area under Tsubakis control, which indicated that this large-scale expedition was a success.
The area would be put under his jurisdiction and he would be promised a good position if he could bring in profits from that area for the sake of the citys development. The fact that he had won this large bet of his, had sent him over the moon.
That was when something really bad happened. The picture displayed on the large monitor suddenly went blank.
“What just happened Get it back online!!”
The other people present there scrambled in panic from Inabes order. But unfortunately, the connection did not return back no matter what they did.
“Its not working. We cant establish contact, or more like, this is…”
The staff looked grim when they noticed what was going on.
“We lost all contact with all the Hunters there!!”
Inabe could not hide his surprise. His voice echoed through the command center and dissipated into the air. But even so, it did not help with the situation that they were facing at all.
Right about the same time, Akira was hunting for relics in one of the old dilapidated buildings. The building itself was located inside the area secured by the powered suit squad. Most likely, no one had ever searched that building. It was simply because it was guarded by too many monsters, then there was a good chance he could still find a number of relics inside the building. But Akiras expression said it all.
“Theres really nothing here, huh Though Im pretty sure were already deep here and it wont be strange to find a lot of relics in this area.”
Not only was it filled with powerful monsters, but there were also no relics to be found. It was the worst possible location for Hunters. Tsubaki had used her restricted authority as much as possible to remove relics around her own area, that was why Akira found nothing here.
Alpha already knew about that fact, but she avoided saying anything to him.
“Its exactly because Hunters normally cannot even come close to these buildings that they organized such a large-scale expedition. They are hoping to find an area rich with relics.”
“That does make sense, but again I dont want to get anywhere close to those powered suits. Although Im sure I can find better relics if I do that.”
Unexplored areas have a better chance of housing valuable relics. That was why although they knew that it was dangerous to stay close to the powered suits, there were Hunters who chose to do so in order to get first dibs on the unexplored buildings.
As for Akira, he chose to stay away from the front line, thus only exploring the buildings relatively later. It was the result of him prioritizing his safety. In the first place, he only accepted that request, thinking of joining up with Elena and Sara in case they also participated in the operation. Although it was not like he was taking it easy, he believed that there was no need to unnecessarily expose himself to danger.
“But, I guess it would be bad if I dont show any result, right”
“I think theres no need to worry about that. The contract states that you are free to do what you want. The inner part of the ruin is still pretty dangerous although the powered suit squads already combed this area beforehand. So lets proceed with safety in mind.”
“Youre right, I guess Ill do that, huh… Alpha”
Akira glanced at Alpha when he said so, but Alpha who was beside him just a moment ago suddenly vanished. He raised his eyebrows and looked around, thinking that she just suddenly changed position, but he could not find her anywhere.
Right at the next moment, he felt a slight dizziness as his vision blurred for a second, but it quickly returned back to normal. He felt weird as if his vision was momentarily cut off before restarting.
“Alpha! Stop with the joke! At least tell me beforehand if youre going to do something like that!”
But there was no reply. Even if he sent a strong voice through telepathy, it only dissipated without getting any response. Akira felt a different sensation compared to when Alpha left him back in the Seranthal building. Back then, it was more like there was someone there that was ignoring his call, but this time, it felt like he was completely alone, enveloped in complete silence.
This time, Akira had completely lost all of his connection to Alpha.
Akira started to feel scared, but it was immediately replaced with an intense nervousness.
[Calm down, dont panic. Alpha did tell me that there would be occasions where I would lose my connections with her inside the inner part of a ruin. Im not in the middle of a fight right now and its not like I have no route to withdraw like back in the Seranthal building. And above all, Im not inside a monster this time. I just need to proceed carefully until I can get back my connection with Alpha, there is no problem.]
Akira took a deep breath, reorganized his thoughts, and decided to stop the relic hunt. He turned around to go back to where he came from. Since it was not a good idea to continue the hunt in this situation, he had decided to go back home.
He could just say that his equipment was not working well as an excuse. He then used the terminal that was lent to him to contact the HQ. But again, there was no reply at all. He frowned when he checked the display as it said that it was out of range. So he shifted his attention to his information terminal hoping that he could find a signal through that route. He had since decided to use a better service provider after what had happened back in Mihazono ruin. Unfortunately, it also said that it was out of range.
Akira knitted his eyebrows, this reminded him of what happened back in the Seranthal building.
[Is this the same situation as back then in the Seranthal building! No, judging that I cant connect with Alpha at all, it means that this is worse than that! I need to get out of here!]
As Akira started running down the hallway, he spotted another Hunter.
“I cant call the HQ from here, can you get any connection”
The guy moved to the side as if to make way for Akira and checked his own information terminal just to shake his head at Akira.
This confirmed that Akira was not the only one having trouble, so he placed getting out of that building as his primary priority. Judging that he might get his connection with Alpha back once he got out from this place, he thought that everything would be alright as long as he got out of here. Thus, he increased the power output of his augmented suit and defensive coat. Since he had enough spare energy packs back in his vehicle, he did not try to conserve them at all even if it was a complete waste of his remaining energy packs.
As Akira passed that Hunter, he ran down the hallway and jumped down the stairs. Right at the next moment, all of Akiras senses were tuned to their highest sensitivity. He was extremely nervous after picking up a danger signal transmitted from his information terminal. He followed his instinct to take a defensive stance right before the bomb that was planted on the ground near him exploded.
The bomb was set there more to close off an escape route instead of killing someone. Moreover, since Akira raised the output power of his defensive coat to the maximum right before that happened, he was only blown back to the floor where he came from without sustaining any other damage. But of course, that shaved a lot of his energy.
Akira was utterly surprised as his body was smacked back onto the ground. Thanks to all the training that he had gone through, he was able to maintain his balance. While his mind was still trying to wrap his head around what just happened, his danger alarm flared once more. Akira followed his pure instinct as he grabbed his SSB rifle and started shooting behind him without even looking back while he jumped aside into a nearby room.
In such a short timespan, the hallway was immediately filled with flying bullets. Countless bullets scorched and drilled through the walls, floors and ceilings of the area. Enveloping the whole place with holes.
Although both of them received some shots, none was even close to fatal. The other guy that shot back at Akira was the guy that he just passed by a moment ago.
“Knew that it wouldnt kill you!! Well, if this was enough to kill you, you would have died back then after all, huh!!”
Akira tried to digest what just happened as he hid inside a room and used some medicines. Judging from what the other guy just said, he understood that he must have fought against this guy sometime in the past, but it did not ring any bells at all. He thought that it might be someone from that battle in the Ezont familys base, but thinking about it again, it was too much work to join the expedition just to seek revenge. After all, it would be easier to attack him when he was not fully armed.
“Arent you mistaking me for someone”
“Not at all! You are Akira, right I did all my homework and investigated everything about you after all!! Well, although, me trying to kill you here is actually just a coincidence, its true that I have my own personal reason to want you dead. But compared to the greater good that it might bring, it doesnt change the fact that its better if youre dead!”
Akira did not understand what exactly that guy was talking about. But he immediately pushed that unimportant question to the back of his mind since that guy who was still alive after that exchange would definitely come after him soon. He had to fight that guy without Alphas support, that one fact alone caused Akira to focus even more than before.
[Goddammit! This guy could have not taken any worse timing to ambush me!]
Akira spat out curses in his mind as he gripped his SSB rifle hard. He then took a deep breath, compressed his time perception and jumped out of the room.
The powered-up augmented suit propelled his body outward, it took a blink of an eye for him to land on the hallway. He used one leg to kick the wall in order to kill his momentum as he quickly raised both of his SSB rifles and released an indiscriminate barrage in the general direction of the enemy. The extended magazine compensated for the lack of aiming as the other party received multiple shots to his body.
But even so, none of the bullets left any wounds. The other guy put his hand forward and extended a forcefield armour to block the incoming bullets. Once the flashes from the converted momentum dimmed, it exposed his mocking smile.
Akira could not hide his surprise, seeing which, the other guy just shook his head and said.
“Thats just too bad. Ive only used a weak body back then to suit the setting, working with the thugs of slum city. But this time, I came to this expedition with a much better body.”
That finally rang a bell for Akira, but his common sense was telling him that it was not possible.
“No way… You… It cant be…”
“Now that I think about it, I didnt introduce myself back then, my name is Zalmo. I wont lose this time!!”
Zalmo retracted his forcefield armour and started shooting at Akira, who kicked the wall again and plunged back to the previous room.
Zalmo stopped shooting, changed his guns form and started shooting again. This time, he had enough firepower to pierce the wall to hunt for Akira.
Now that the walls served as only obstacles for him, Akira immediately ran toward the door on the opposite side of the room. Although he was faster than the flying rubble, he was still slowed down by them. He ducked and evaded the trajectory lines of the incoming bullets in a desperate attempt to escape the room.
Although the bullets were powerful enough to pierce the walls, they also lost most of their momentum due to it. Thanks to that, they were not able to break through the forcefield armour of Akrias coat. They were only able to give off a dim burst of light when it hit his back.
[Hes the guy who attacked Sheryls relic shop back then, huh!! How the hell is he still alive! I basically destroyed his head, you know! Dont tell me that his brain is actually stored in his body and that he was just pretending to be dead! No, as I thought, thats not right…]
Akira desperately ran through the hallway while thinking so, but he was immediately interrupted by more bullets. So he quickly made a U-turn, changed the setting of his SSB rifles, and emptied the remaining bullets in the magazines using the maximum rate of fire in exchange for energy consumption to release a storm of bullets into the hallway.
Zalmo thought that it would be bad to take that head-on even for him, so he jumped to a nearby room and took cover. But he still had a confident smile on his face.
“It seems that you had gotten yourself better equipment too compared to back then! But I can tell! Youre not as sharp as before! You have no support system in your augmented suit this time! Lets see just how long you can stay alive on your own!! Good luck with that, brat!!”
Akira was caught off guard by that statement and shouted back by pure reflex.
“Is this your doing too! What the heck did you just do this time!”
“Theres no need for you to know!! This is where you pay for getting ahead of yourself when youre nothing without your support! Go to hell!!”
Zalmo tried to force his way to close the distance. The slight hesitation in Akiras movement made a small opening that he used to carefully step in for a finishing blow.
Akira did try to shoot Zalmo down before he could reach him. But with his state of intense panic, his focus was thrown off. The resulting hesitation caused an opening that allowed his opponent to gain the upper hand. He might be able to do something to flip the table there, but that would warrant him to do something reckless. So he decided to limit the opponents movement using bullets while increasing his defenses by increasing the output power of his defensive coat. He was somehow able to stay alive by doing so but the consumption rate of his remaining energy was worrying him.
As Akira was trying to run away from there, he spotted a staircase to another floor. He thought that his connection with Alpha might return once he got out from that building, and was about to jump down the stairs. But he suddenly stopped midway when he remembered what had happened not too long ago.
He had no time to check for the bomb with his information terminal. In the worst-case scenario, the explosion might get him trapped in between the bomb and Zalmo, thus completely cutting off his remaining escape routes. He also had the option of turning up the forcefield armour output of his coat and trying to force his way through the bomb. But the current him lacked Alphas support and was not as reckless as his usual self, so he was not able to select that choice.
The short time in which he was comparing his options there caused him to lose his precious time. All the distance that he had opened from running away was all in vain, now that Zalmo had closed that distance. In order to get away from the bullets coming from just the previous turn, Akira had no other choice but to jump in a different direction, throwing away the chance of going down the stairs.
Akira continued running. His expression was already filled with fear, the intense nervousness caused his body to slightly tremble. That was when he spotted a crack on the wall of the building.
That was enough to get him to make up his mind. He stopped, pulled out the blade on his back and turned it on. The blade glowed and he swung it at the wall. The powerful blade answered his wish and fluidly cut through the strong old-world wall.
Akira swung a few times and lastly delivered a kick to open a hole in the wall. That was when Zalmo finally caught up to him, so Akira made his resolve and jumped out of the building.
Since he jumped out from a high floor, he still had some time before reaching the ground although it was no more than a few seconds. Akira extended that time using his compressed time perception as he called for Alpha through telepathy.
Again, no answer at all. If it was just like back then in the Seranthal building, he would have been able to regain his connection with Alpha if he was able to get out of the building. But this time, his first bet ended up with his loss.
Right then Akiras second bet also ended up with his loss. He thought that Zalmo would not follow him, but on the contrary, Zalmo did not hesitate as he also jumped out from that hole.
He had lost all of his bets up until now. At this rate, he would only land on the ground and die, of course, that was assuming that Zalmo did not get him first. While on the other hand, Alphas support also was also not coming back at all. In that slow-moving world, reasons for his impending death kept piling up. Akira mocked all the decisions, reasons and luck that led him to this state.
“Alright alright, I just need to do this on my own, right! I get it, okay! I just have to do it, right!”
Akiras spirit rebounded and boosted his focus. The speed of the time flow around him decreased significantly. In this state, his voice that he forced out from his throat while laughing made a strange unrecognizable sound. Akira had made his decision, renewed his resolve.
If he did not fight back, only death awaited him. Then there was only one choice, to fight back and to kill. No matter who his opponent was, even if it was a human, or a monster, or his own past, or even his bad luck, it did not change what he had to do. Zalmo had to die; anyone, anything, that wanted to kill him must die. Akira finally made his resolve as he completely dropped the choice of running away, until his connection with Alpha returned.
He jammed the blade on his right hand straight into the buildings wall as he continued to slide down. He used his grip to twist the blade in order to change his direction, sliding down the wall to avoid Zalmos bullets. At the same time, he used the SSB rifle on his left hand to suppress Zalmo while making use of the strong recoil to dig himself into the wall, till both of his legs were inside it.
The blade continued to slide down the wall while the forcefield armour of his augmented suit protected his heel while gouging out a line on the wall. When he had slowed down considerably, he suddenly started running toward Zalmo.
Right at the same time Akira made his resolve, his vision began changing. The more he concentrated, the clearer his vision of Zalmo was, while the rest of the world started to blur. It was the proof that he was able to bend reality to his will. The strong will in him caused the reality to change closer into the world that he wished for.
With the help of Alphas support, he was able to see this world in great detail. But this was impossible to do when he was by himself, even trying to do that might cause his brain to overload with information which might end up in his death. Akiras solution to this problem was to limit the detail that his brain would process.
With consciously filtering the information coming to his brain, he was able to increase the accuracy of his perception. With less information to process, his brain was able to produce the image of the perceived world in a shorter time. Thus the resulting perception was closer to the real world and eventually, increasing his reaction time.
While at the same time, he cut off any resource that he used to process pain and any other unimportant sensation as much as possible. He had consciously turned off his sensation for pain, which also acted as a danger warning when he was in front of deaths door. Nonetheless, he fully accepted it.
Because of that, Akiras fighting prowess received a huge boost. He himself did not know how long he could maintain his current state, but one thing he knew for sure was he could not maintain it for long.
More than that, this was actually the first time Akira was able to successfully execute it. He already tried doing it during training a few times, all of which ended in failure. The reasons for those failures were mainly two things. Firstly, Alpha placed a restriction to make sure that Akira would not burn out his brain. Secondly, Akira unconsciously thought that Alpha would save him in times of emergency.
Now that Akira was freed from those chains, he once again stood face to face against a certain death all by himself for the first time after so long. And just like back then when he had to do it in the slum city as he was fighting for his survival all by himself, he faced the impending doom with a smile.
Zalmo, who was free-falling while aiming at Akira, was surprised when Akira suddenly went straight at him. But he was still calm enough to aim at Akira and release a few shots. Akira swiftly moved in a zig-zag, evading those bullets and once again kicked the wall to take a huge leap toward Zalmo. Both of them battled with each other on the side of the wall, as if the gravity was not affecting them at all.
Zalmo was struck with amazement.
[His movements suddenly changed!! Moreover, what is with his reaction speed! Accelerator drug, huh! Was he only running back then just to wait until his accelerator drug takes effect! I jumped to chase him, but dont tell me that he was actually inviting me to jump too!! But he hasnt fully regained his sharpness! Ill have to kill him before he regains his full system support!]
But Akira was also surprised there.
[This is only enough to take this fight into a stalemate! But theres no guarantee that I can return back to this mode later on! This is my only chance to kill him! Just drop dead already!!]
The moment Zalmo was within the reach of his blade, Akira quickly heaved his blade down. The slash of the blade created a dim glow. Created using forcefield technology, this dim glow was more than enough to showcase its enhanced sharpness. Zalmo noticed this, so he raised his forcefield armour to its limit.
The moment the blade touched his forcefield armour, a blinding flash of light emitted due to the energy conversion. Zalmos confident smile and Akiras mocking smile were swallowed by the light. Although the light was bright enough to drop visibility to zero. Both of them immediately aimed their rifles to where their respective opponents might be and simultaneously released a barrage. The shock wave and the kickback of the barrage blew each of them back as if they were colliding with each other within that blinding light.-