Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
A deafening rumble reverberated over the atmosphere, as if two colossal metal pieces collided rapidly, sounding a tremendous crash that instilled instinctive fear.
The girl called ‘Iron Wall’ stood behind ‘Tank’, silently watching the old white-haired man who was unbelievably well-built punched every Soul Puppet around them into spare parts scattered around the ground.
In the garden, not all Soul Puppets had headed to the frontline to stop these invaders. There were other puppets in charge of security keeping to their stations in critical facilities, just as they did now in Warehouse.
After a long stroll, the Simboans left the vast Nurseries and entered the Garden. It was a smooth process since they had done the same thing many times before, but they would still be occasionally ambushed by some combat Soul Puppets, just as they did all they could to kill every Labor Puppet in sight.
Labor Puppets were what the Resistance called those ordinary, soulless, powerless and unintelligent Simboans. Though they were incapable of combat, they were numerous and in charge of providing the puppets material support. Usually, when the Resistance had taken a Soul Puppet Garden Zone, they would kill every Labor Puppet to prevent other Soul Puppets from rebuilding the zone after they left. Furthermore, even if they did not conquer it, the Resistance would try their best to kill most of the Labor Puppets so that the Plantation’s production capacity would be reduced.
But things were a little different this time. As ‘Magic Arrow’ began to gather beams in her hand, the party leader, ‘Tank’ stopped her from unleashing it. As she also remembered the figure of the youth who sat upon the large Ultra-powered Puppet, Magic Arrow could only docilely stop her usual culling, and the entire party ignored the numbly working labor and went directly inside Garden.
There was nothing of note as to what happened next. The Simboan resistance quickly discovered the paralyzed Ultra-power children in the heart of the Garden, and after leaving ‘Unchainer’, ‘Flying Horse’ and ‘Formless’ with them, the other four patrolled every other building in Garden and began to destroy every Security Puppet still stationed within.
“Captain, there are still some here!”
Magic Arrow called out from nearby, followed by the dull hum of beams firing, before she spoke again apologetically. “Ah, got them. Captain, you don’t have to come here.”
“Magic Arrow’s ability is getting stronger.”
Tank, who wanted to help her after destroying the puppets he himself found paused and nodded in awe. “She has the greatest depth amongst us; she’d surpass me after some time.”
“She might even break through that wall one day, and become a powerful Ultrahuman like the Leader.”
Then, he noticed Iron Wall who was standing behind him and prepared to raise a barrier. “Good child,” he smiled, stroking her head. “Your defensive ability is the most precious. In value alone, only Unchainer is comparable to you.”
The girl replied softly, and turned toward the boxes placed around Warehouse. “Do we have to tell ‘Leader’ and the others to take those weapons and equipment?”
The doors to the Warehouse located behind Healthcare had been shattered by brute force. The broken frames of many Soul Puppets lay strewn over the ground, with lubricants splattered around them.
And inside Warehouse itself was many rectangular boxes placed tidily on shelves, labeled with the distinct icons of weapons. There were swords, spears, knives, axes, hammers, flails and shields, just as there were melting, freezing or disintegrative ray dischargers… Many weapons used by Soul Puppets were stored here.
“No need. The army still has enough stock of weapons, and might not move easily if they had too many. We just have to destroy them.”
Tank shook his head in return, and led the young girl deeper inside Warehouse while explaining things for her. “Of course, if there are any valuable weapons such as the ‘Ultra-power Armament’ the Leader found back when we took the ‘Seventh Mineral Garden’, it would be worth retrieving it… That’s actually a feat.”
The pair arrived at a small room that appeared to be an office in the center of Warehouse. After destroying two more Security Puppets on guard duty, Tank searched the tightly guarded room thoroughly but came up with nothing. The small Plantation clearly did not have any stock of Ultra-power weapons, something which the old man was already prepared for. He hence simply shrugged, before taking down a hexagonal prism from a cylindrical electronic platform and pocketed it.
“Leader told us to retrieve the ‘Storage Unit’ every time. But what use is that thing?” The old man grumbled to himself, although he was already used to it.
After that, having determined that he did not leave out anything, Tank led Iron Wall to join Magic Arrow and Blast, preparing to destroy Warehouse in its entirety.
Meanwhile, Unchainer whose hair had whited by wiped off the dripping sweat from her forehead in Garden. Through her soul’s power, she had soothed every Garden child in spirit, getting their broken self to close their eyes for a soundless sleep. Beside her, the two other Ultrahuman with invisibility and flight ability stood on guard, ready to trigger their powers and whisk her to safety if anything untoward happened.
But it was in that moment that every Ultrahuman Simboan in the party sensed a chilling danger.
Powerful soul signal had emanated from the distance, engulfing a zone over hundreds of squared meters around them. Sensing it, Unchainer stood up in panic, mustering her words between shivers. “Hunter Legion… They’re here!”
“How’s that possible?!” Both Flying Horse and Formless cried out in bewilderment. “Weren’t they baited to the north?! The last communications even said that there would be three months of safety…”
“When did they return?”
Meanwhile, heavy footsteps rang from behind the trio as Tank brought Iron Wall and the others to gather with them. Nobody said much, not only from tacit understanding but because the present situation was so worrying that they could not speak.
“Go take a look.”
Tank spoke first, gesturing for Flying Horse to use his ability as leader. The scrawny Ultrahuman did not have any intention to save his strength either, and as a faint green light surrounded everyone, the party flew swiftly toward the edge of Plantation.
Soon, they arrived at five times their speed before to the gap on the city wall they blasted upon. As they almost arrived, they could almost see the rising clouds of dust at the distant horizon, and the cold metallic luster glinting beneath it.
It was a curtain of smoke that blanketed the skies and the sun, a legion of puppets that were rushing forward in the barren lands, kicking up dust and dirt. They trampled over stone and earth, crushing everything along their way and heading straight toward their destination—some of the puppets were even splitting out from the main group, darting rapidly in the direction of the Plantation.
At the very sight, everyone who was floating in the air became silent, bewilderment and panic were welling in their eyes. It felt like half a day when Magic Arrow exclaimed bitterly. “Heavens… Such numbers…”
“There aren’t that many even when we add up every single one that we’ve encountered over the last few years.”
“And their direction.” The old man in the lead seethed. He had gone through a hundred battles and decades of running away, but his voice was now quivering regardless. “They are heading for the hills…. That’s where headquarters camped!”
The others said nothing.
The Soul Hunters Legion were the army the Soul Puppets sent to wipe them out. After being dealt heavy losses during their last assault on the Spiral Tower in the center of the world while losing countless ranks of Ultrahuman, they could barely stand against the attacking Hunters. Presently, the Resistance mostly relied on tricking them so that the Hunters went in the other direction, just as they seized the chance to recuperate.
That bait was clearly ineffective now. They had even lost contact with the people misleading the Hunter Legion… What was more, by the scale of their mobilization and precision of their target homing, they had found the headquarters of the Resistance!
“No. We have to return to base!”
Tank promptly turned to the scrawny youth who was so scared he might bite his own lips off. “Flying Horse, take Magic Arrow, Unchainer and Iron Wall with you,” he said with a low voice. You must hurry back and notify Leader even if you overexert yourself!”
“Blast, Formless, we’re staying. We can’t burden Flying Horse anymore!”
The answers came tidily at once. The Resistance were a military organization after all, and though Tank was not imposing, no one would retort when he gave a solemn order, and would accept it simply.
Even if it meant death for Blast and Formless, who were essentially being told to die.
Seeing through his own decision with resolve, Tank watched as Flying Horse lifted the most talented and valuable trio into the skies and streaked toward the hills, and sighed in relief.
The Hunter Legion would never spare a single Ultrahuman escapee. A group of them had split away from the main force, to come and hunt their party… This was their only option.
In the very least, an old codger such as himself should not affect the survival rate of the worthy… For Formless and Blast, they would just have to rely on their luck, but they should escape the Hunters’ pursuit with invisibility on their side.
Tank could not help looking up at the skies above at the thought. The sun remained dim, but that did not reduce the heat in the air… Soon, however, the aged man blanked out as he saw a familiar figure.
As a colossal metallic halo whirled behind them, the black-haired youth remained seated on the shoulders of the huge puppet. The Ultrahuman child who had probably awakened by himself stared coldly at the faraway Hunter Legion, showing no inclination of fleeing.
The old man hurriedly shouted at the skies as he landed on the ground after Flying Horse’s departure. “Get away from here! That’s the Hunger Legion, they specialized in tracking and killing Ultrahuman like us!”
“Don’t stay since you can fly! Leave! The further you can run, the better!”
However, neither youth nor puppet appeared intent on minding him. They merely floated high above, waited silently as if pondering and reminiscing.
Joshua was looking from the skies toward the distance over turbid and hot air, watching the charging legion of puppets. The observation lens on his puppet body was focusing visibly, just as the youth’s gaze became distant and unfathomable.
Familiar air and environment. It was as if time reversed just as he remembered the bygone time when he was still on Earth, and the days of the Third World War.
‘How many years ago had that been?’ Joshua asked himself. Full-dive gaming and reality did not share the same timing, and with the fused memories after he transcended, he himself could not ascertain how much time had passed. Be that as it may, he would never forget everything he saw and experienced.
Clips of memories that appeared beneath wind and sand surface as Joshua silently remembered.
It was the darkest period of modern humankind. Callous war engulfed the globe with no nation spared, as humans rampantly flung their weapons at the homes of others, destroying cities, villages and leveling farmsteads. Whistling missiles and even atomic bombs darted past, most of them blocked by defense systems while some reached their destination. Therefore, dust and mushroom clouds rose just as millions of people died.
Searing gales rampaged all over as polluted dust wafted with the clouds. Gloom shrouded the earth, and the planet’s weather alternated between hostile chill or broiling heat. The armies that were thrown into disarray clashed against the enemy on the battlefield amidst such chaos—the havoc of extreme electromagnetism caused by the abuse of superweapons left command ineffective, just as the chaotic skirmishes caused by excessive logistics left everything in a jumbled mess. In Asia, one might engage three enemy nations in battle within the course of a day, just as one would easily come across groups of refugees from five different nations in a single day.
The air then was the same as it was here, in Simboa. Turbid, hot, filthy and dusty.
A boy had grown into a man under such environments, following his soldier parents and the army as they moved from various places, but that he saw then was beautiful: even in the post-apocalyptic world, refugees aided each other with altruism, building self-sufficient settlements deep within the mountains. Patriotic civilians provided resources on their own initiative to aid the army, just as there were admirable presences amongst the enemy who maintained order and called for an armistice 1 , to get their mad superiors to cease the meaningless slaughter.
Nevertheless, he had also seen the ugly side: Friends of many years turned hostile against each other for the sake of resources. Violent gangsters would suppress a bunch of civilians, unleashing their greed upon them, whimsically raping, beating, slaughtering and even cannibalism… In an era of war without order after the apocalypse, kindness became extremely precious just as evil was magnified a thousand-fold. When it came especially on the territory of others, once they release their ugly side in the enemy’s homeland, there was no coming back from it.
And that was precisely the case with massacring civilians.
Where the enemy’s armies passed, there would be no one surviving in every town and every village along the way. In the silence where the army withheld their outrage, the boy who followed them saw corpses strewn everywhere as blood splattered on almost every corner. He saw soil blackened by blood, broken limbs and flesh hanging atop the rubble of houses. He saw the cadavers of men and women riddled with bloody holes, bizarrely colored organs dropping out of cavities and that nauseating odor.
Scavenging dogs and birds would gnaw at the dead bodies, while worms wiggled in the stinking, turbid water with the absence of survivors and the living. Pus multiplied beneath compose of rot, while the stomach of pre-natal women was gashed, infants that already had formed dropping out and trampled nonchalantly.
He never once opened his eyes to such a world—which was a great fortune.
As memories dispersed as smoke, Joshua’s eyes regained focus.
He heard the voice of the Simboan Resistance party behind him and was aware of their movements, but did not care about them. He gazed upon the world of Simboa before him, at the legion of puppets rushing toward him, unflinching and merely sighing softly.
He never liked killing civilians, and would never agree or accept it for it was a disgust carved into his soul. He did not like bullying the weak, enforcing violence against peasants who could not resist. If he could, he would never allow that to happen either.
Joshua hated it all, and would never change that.
It was his personal view and standpoint that would never be compromised under any circumstance. Even knowing that the Simboan Resistance were facing difficultly, he would never adjust his perspective over it and aid them—when he was enraged then, Joshua even intended to enforce his values upon the Resistance with his power, to achieve his goal with brute power and propagate his opinion.
But he would never do so—or more precisely, he would never do it violently. Having calmed, Joshua came up with a series of stratagems… He would teach the Resistance how to correctly hone their abilities, help them raise their ability and develop a path ahead. Joshua would empower them so that everyone would become champions ‘unconditionally’, so that they would not kill puppets, instead strengthening themselves by awakening them.
It is only when the masses are fed, clothed and sheltered that they would become aware of morals. Solely through sufficient rations could humans discuss the basis of values, that they would know the advantage of ethics when they could survive. The Resistance was desperate because they were lacking in power, unable to resist the puppet legions and establish a stable base of operations, and could only wander everywhere instead plundering resources of Garden Zones.
Such conditions would never see the development of ‘civilization’. Fugitives would always be fugitives, they had no chance of moving forward.
But Joshua could grant them that chance.
On the ground, both Formless and Blast who had been commanded by Tank to hide paused where they were. They saw the old man bounding toward the flying Puppeteer and tried to warn him off, and hence followed the old man helplessly.
Every member of the Simboan Ultrahuman party were all rescued from each Plantation by Tank himself, and grew under his care. For them, Tank was kin and father—they would leave anyone but not him, which was why they hurried after the old man while calling out for the Puppeteer to escape as well.
But halfway through, the pair stopped and stared dazedly at the sky.
And it was not merely Blast and Formless. Up front, even Tank who was warning everyone loudly now stared blankly at the sky above.
In the distance, even Magic Arrow who was buffed by Flying Horse’s ability to swiftly retreat gasped in surprised. She turned toward the Plantation that was becoming smaller and smaller, an irrepressible shock showing in her worried visage.
They could see those dazzling colors.
Ding-ring-ring… As metals collided and emitted crisp bell rings, huge sheets of myriad-colored particles flowed out from every part of the large puppets’ bodies. Red, blue, yellow and green, even black and white or silver and gold—endlessly complex but dazzling particles flowed in an orderly trail, wafting around the puppet.
The warrior exclaimed in surprise after a brief pause, knowing that it was the Ultra-powered Unit the puppet used—the resistance, unable to destroy, use or even touch, those objects of unknown materials could only ignore them. After all, production of Ultra-powered Puppets was not sizeable, and they could only install one Unit each time, which was why they were not too concerned.
And now, they could see thousands of Ultra-powered United wafting beside that gigantic Puppet. They swirled in an orbit with great rhythm and natural aesthetic beauty, just like a dazzling star.
They saw that huge puppet move, steeping over thin air and slowly heading forward. Countless Ultra-power Units—or Steel Particles—began to collide and fuse, finally forming six octahedron gems flickering in unusual colors. Their surfaces flowed with magnificent radiance, and started to dart toward the steel halo behind the warrior, one after another.
“I’ve always can’t help doing such things… could never stand idly by.”
As Tank and the others looked on in wonder, Joshua strolled toward Hunter’s army. He closed his eye before opening them again, the constructs on his puppet body transforming through Steel Strength, becoming even more streamlined and fearsome.
While gazing upon the world, dust, atmosphere, hot air and army before him, he could smell the vaporized scent of human blood, as well as the pungent odor of steel emanating from metals.
If his thought had been, prideful…
“Then I am proud. I’ll admit it.”
Six octahedron gems assembled with Steel Strength gently inserted themselves into the whirling saucer. Formidable Authority was hence united under superior power, and as Steel Strength was injected, the whirling steel wheel unleashed frightening energy ripples. Air shuddered beneath it, parting dust across thousands of meters completely and forming a vast dustless space.
“Installation of Ultra-power Unit successful!” A faint electromagnetic signal wafted through the air. None could hear it apart from the warrior.
‘Come on, then.’