Translator: EndlessFantasy Translation Editor: EndlessFantasy Translation
As the torrential rains calmed and the dark clouds dispersed, a rare breath of fresh air cascaded amidst the world after the rain swept away all dust. It was now dusk—the vague sunlight of nightfall was visible at the edge of the horizon alongside the stars appearing in the deep blue sky.
It had been a long time since the Simboans came across such clean air.
On the muddy ground, Joshua held on to the delimbed Core Puppet but relaxed his grip a little, so that the precious object would not be crushed.
It was a self-conscious Soul Puppet, and in other words it was considered an ‘Intelligent Being’. Joshua had thought about the possibility before since Soul Core’s were made of the souls of normal people, which in turn prepared the depth as an intelligent being for Soul Puppets from the start. The warrior, however, never thought that there would incidentally be one amongst the Hunter Legion. He inferred that it would be a superior amongst the ranks of Soul Puppets, responsible for issuing orders and assessing situations—so why would it be in the battlefield?
Still, such things did not matter to Joshua—he did not care about the workings of Soul Puppet society, he just needs their information. From that aspect alone, having a soul was not bad. Indeed, it was great that he did not have to spare the effort of deciphering.
Silver light flashed in his hand again as Joshua used Steel Strength and forced a link into the Core Puppet’s soul, building a bridge of information framework before searching for intelligence deep inside its spirit.
At the moment, the warrior had a deeper understanding of the power he held. Through the ability of ‘information link’, he was gaining proficiency in reading memories. Moreover, with his gradual understanding of the relationship between Steel Particles and Ultra-power, Joshua largely understood how ordinary people utilized ‘Authority’.
If one were to say that the origins of Steel Particles were as Joshua imagined—fragments of Steel Pythons after world shattered, then those world shards would undoubtedly be attracted by other worlds. Particles and Mana Tide would hence sweep across countless worlds, obstructed and absorbed by the souls of living creatures within, allowing mortals to be superhumans.
But what if the world in question was one with lower mana concentration, or if the population did not have a soul? That was no critical problem, however, since the soul is merely the best interceptor but not the one. Apart from the soul, the physique of intelligent beings was life spawned from Steel Strength, and could hence naturally absorb Steel Particles as well albeit at a lower rate.
Nonetheless, the outcome of using the physical body to absorb Steel Particles was like how it had unfolded in Simboa: the particles would be hosted in a certain physical organ, and the individual’s Ultra-power would vanish if that organ is removed. Still, thanks to the presence of Steel Particles, the Ultrahumans that were originally without soul would rapidly form one to control that power, just as the Particles would gradually move to the soul and finally fuse into a single body.
Once a soul was developed, everything would hence enter a benign cycle, and as souls lived and died, the world’s energy concentration would abruptly rise as well. In turn, the ascended energy levels would also accelerate the rate where souls were born. Therefore, more souls would intercept even more Particles, and the entire world would swiftly absorb Authority of destroyed worlds, strengthening and enlarging.
It was a perfect and benign cycle. Ordinary individuals would attain supernatural power and the entire race would become born with souls in the end—Authorities in the world would also become numerous, while the energy concentration elevates. Even if all of that was built upon the destruction of other worlds, but such was reality, and Joshua even thought that it was part of the origins for worlds with Extraordinary powers.
The essence of Authority was hence certain supernatural ability given form. Without mana and aura, mortals could only use their own lifeforce and stamina to animate it, but they could use spiritual strength after gaining a soul. As for those with Extraordinary powers in the first place, when they had attained supernatural powers, they just have to employ mana and aura: those two forces were essentially the combination of many Authorities, with the former being primitive while the latter was an Order system that could be honed and developed without end.
Joshua’s Steel Strength had precisely been developed through lifeforce and aura. His energy alone was the greatest superpower, a compound of the greatest number of Authorities. If the range of mortals who attained Ultra-powers were E to S, he was at least SSS, or even an outlier.
Then, having finished establishing the ‘Information Link Bridge’, Joshua forcefully shattered the Core Puppet’s spiritual barrier, ignoring its efforts to struggle away from his grip and dived deep into its soul.
Soon, he finished browsing the life of the Core Puppet.
“…Made not too long ago?”
The huge puppet droned as Joshua scanned through the puppet’s brief thirty-one days’ worth of memories, coming to a realization at once. “No wonder there’s not much difference from normal Soul Puppets. There’s not enough time to develop ‘personality’ and ‘self’.
The Core Puppet was manufactured in a vast industrial zone at the center of the world at the same time as other Hunter Legion units. It was assigned the task to command the entire legion, while its specially made Soul Core had dozens time the capacity of other Soul Puppets, which was why it could take charge of instructing the entire Legion. Apart from that, its spiritual prowess was approximately a hundred times that of ordinary puppets, allowing it to dominate against dozens of Ultrahumans through sheer spiritual offensives.
And until now, the puppet was still resisting Joshua’s invasion… but would spiritual prowess that was merely a hundred times stronger than normal humans be able to affect the warrior? Its struggling was powerless as insects, and Joshua just had to patiently quieten it before he continued studying its soul.
He was searching for the root of the puppet’s self-consciousness, spiritually scanning every little section of its information vault.
Thus, Joshua could soon hear a mechanized voice.
“Installing ‘commander’ clearance. Installing ‘follower’ data pack.”
Amidst the industrial noise of clanging metals that appear to come from a heavy industry zone, the calm and flat voice of a Soul Puppet ranged. “Congratulations, Serial Alpha-7739. You have become the Core of the Second Hunter Legion, obtaining elementary management clearance.”
“Praise the Maker, Praise the Time Turner, Praise our Ruler.”
As for the owner of the memory—serial number Alpha-7739 that had just been built a moment ago, repeated the devoted prayer with the same calm and flat voice.
“Praise the Maker, Praise the Time Turner, Praise our Ruler.”
And that was the source of its self-consciousness.
Joshua paused his spiritual link with the Core Puppet. The puppet’s large head had no change in expression, but the black-haired boy who walked out of the pilot seat behind the puppet had a puzzled expression. The warrior, controlling both bodies at the same time, looked toward the broken and no longer resisting body of the Core Puppet, their eyes filled with questions.
“Soul Puppets actually have a religion?”
Thanks to the unexpected information, Joshua did not hesitate to drive himself deeper into his link with the puppet’s soul—he wanted to see what place and what being the Core Puppet was linked directly to!
In the faraway center of Simboa, the Information Processing Hub Label 0-0003.
There was not even a single Soul Puppet walking in the colossal stair-shaped building, since the fifty-five-meter-tall colossus was the behemothic combined puppet will composed of seven thousand Soul Cores.
The 0-0003 Information Processing Hub was responsible for puppet dispatching, mobilization, unit coordination and task assignment across all Garden Zones in the southwestern reaches of the world. They answer directly to the highest hub and ranked third in the overall hierarchy of soul puppets, while also holding the authority to directly command fifteen large scale industrial zone, along with over fifty agricultural zones and mining facilities without having to make reports. More than three hundred insectoid nanomachines would maintain and clean it daily.
Information hubs were virtually indestructible. As long as it has energy and its sturdy basic constructs, the 0-0003 Information Processing Hub could keep running for more than seven hundred without maintenance, until critical parts damaged with age. But now, a dull rumble was echoing in the core of the Hub, just as a faint tremor that eventually became violent began to shake the entire integrity.
Click, crack, pang!
Inside the hub, some of the more delicate instruments were damaged from the tremors, with parts breaking out. The nanomachines on maintenance duty inside also stopped working, green-blue electric light flickering over their bodies as if the energy system inside had completely lost control.
Outside the information hub, countless busy Soul Puppets paused as the ripples that were issuing instructions suddenly vanished… But after a second, a while alarm echoed in their receivers!
“Hazardous information infection! Hazardous information infection! A foreign soul is invading the Information Hub! Infection rate is rising rapidly, firewall expected to be bypassed soon. Suggested action: Information Processing Hub, serial number 0-0003 to self-destruct—countdown timer: 5, 4, 3, 2, 1—”
The observation plugin of every surrounding Soul Puppet suddenly darkened in the instant the urgent alarm sounded, before reactivating under a certain power… But even after they energized once more, they could only see darkness and nothing around them.
And in that dark screen, a pair of pupils glinting in silver radiance slowly appeared out of nothing, as if to replace the eyes of those puppets.
But just when the silver eyes were about to completely form, the 0-0003 Information Hub also completed its self-destruction sequence. With a deep rumble, the reactor core directly below the hub overloaded, and a wave of blinding sparks slashed past the entire building inside out, incinerating everything along its way. Meanwhile, at the core of the Information Hub, bolts of energy flashed everywhere, twisting erratically in the air, volleying in the core processor. Seven thousand Soul Cores all thus self-destructed in the surging energy turbulence, while the temperature inside the building instantly darted above three hundred degrees, turning into a furnace core.
Every storage facility and server were physically destroyed, while the delicate instruments were instantly written off after being overloaded by electric bolts and incineration at three-hundred degrees, leaving no chance for it to be reused. At the same time, every other Information Hub entered lockdown after receiving the news, declining all signals coming in from the outside and augmenting their firewalls.
And on the other side of the world, Joshua, who lost all contact with the other side after getting a little clue scowled unhappily.
“What kind of spiritual barrier and firewall could be so formidable?” There was incomprehension in his voice. “Could it be that Soul Puppet technology has really arrived at a threshold that I can’t defeat?”
“Every connection is dark screens… looks like Soul Puppet technology is more powerful than I thought.”
At present, Tank and the others had slowly crossed the swamp area that was still filled with electric charges and arrived behind Joshua. They appeared tentative and were approaching him slowly, but when the trio was ready to leave the complex topography of the swamp zone, both puppet and black-haired youth turned together and spoke with a voice that seemed to have an electrical echo.
“Tank. Does the Resistance have any information about the puppets”religion’?”
“What is… religion?”
Staring as Tank and the other two appear at a loss, Joshua knew that he would probably get nothing from asking them, nor is there any use in continuing his dive into the soul of the Core Puppet. The distant connection had severed its link with that unit, and Joshua could not trace that information trail for information, nor is there any advantage in maintain that link: the firewall was too strong, he would not be able to enter at once.
“Follower data pack, and that prayer…”
Paying no attention to Tank as he panicked behind him, Joshua mused softly to himself. “If I’m not wrong, natural Soul Core builds that are natural could be produced into a Soul Puppet with self-consciousness with a little addition of Authority. With a soul, a ‘Follower’ data pack would be installed into the puppet to nurture the faith of a certain being.”
“Maker, Time Turner, Sovereign. Could those titles be…”
The warrior groaned for a few seconds, groaning and muttering. “There is a god that created and controlled these ‘puppets’?”
But why? Even Joshua who was not interested in becoming a god was aware that to provide faith for a god so that it could resist divinity and be aided spiritually, the followers must have firm will and complete soul. The stronger their will and religion, the purer their aid would be, and the soul becomes more complete, powerful and substantial.
The faith of the Soul Puppets was a data pack planted directly into their programming, which unquestionably was superior to most people. However, if Joshua was being honest, he believed that the puppet’s souls were simply incomplete and barely passable. No matter how many the number of followers of such kind, they would not be of much help.
What was more, why not design some ‘Faith Garden’ if religion is needed? Like how Plantation, Industrial Zone, and Mining Zone were designed to procure food, manufactured products and raw materials, ‘Faith Garden’ could be used exclusively to brainwash Simboans and Ultra-humans, nurturing those muddleheaded devotees as batteries for substantial faith. No matter how one thought about it, such a design was much better than using dozens of souls to produce a puppet with flawed self-consciousness for their faith.
“No. Perhaps a Garden Zone such as that exists, it’s just that I haven’t seen it.”
Temporarily holding the illogical thought, Joshua found no meaning in pondering on that path. At the moment, the circumstances of Simboa was becoming more interesting and just as complex. The warrior could not help but grunt, perhaps entertained or simply unhappy.
Simboans and Soul Puppets.
Ultrahuman and Resistance.
Destruction of the civilization in the previous era, the ignition and conclusion of war, puppets with religions and self-consciousness, the spiral tower at the heart of the world and the god hidden behind the scenes that may or may not exist…
And most importantly, the Steel Python repelled away from its own world.
There are more and more secrets hidden in Simboa, the world inside a Void vortex. Joshua could not suppress a feeling that everything was linked, that the Simboa the Steel Python was not removed from its own world by existence, but something someone planned.
And any being that could achieve such a feat was very likely the one who caused the current stand of events in Simboa.
‘Really interesting. Everything from human and puppet, individuals to civilization or the world itself escaped my imagination on every turn.’
Behind Joshua, Tank and the other two were carefully observing the entire battlefield.
Being spectators to the battle, they were not attacked apart from panic. The earthquake, swamps, downpour or lightning never once reached their position, even if there was no telling that Joshua deliberately made it so.
Right now, as Tank looked up front, he could not help exhaling.
Everywhere he looked were remains of puppets.
There were crushed puppets buried beneath the earth, incinerated puppets scorched by lightning sprawled in water, immobile puppets that fell into the swamp and which Soul Cores were extinguished, or puppets with nothing other than dust remaining after being punched by massive Steel Fists… Over thousands of meters, the earth was in disarray and trampled all over, with turbid lubricants flowing around mud water and mud, while the stink of iron was in the air.
In ten minutes, an entire Hunter Legion that had ten thousand units were destroyed, with that single puppet in Joshua’s puppet left which was probably broken as well, given that there was just half of it remaining… And Tank was aware that it was not his limit: as the downpour cascaded and lightning crackled, he saw that there was a tempest in the air: there were outlines of a dozen hurricanes, but somehow Joshua did not form it, instead using the next ability.
And Tank could not help looking up at the whirling Steel Halo behind the warrior at the mention of ability, where six gems glinted lively radiances. Silver, green, white, gold, crimson, and black circled rhythmically as powerful energies unfurled in the air, creating energy particles of various colors that wafted through the air.
If a single gem meant one superpower of that magnitude before, those six gems were priceless treasures that could utterly destroy both Hunter Legion and the Resistance—the boy and huge puppet before his eyes was a dangerous character who could single-handedly wipe out the entire Resistance!
And he still appeared unhappy with their killing of the Labor Puppets. But what else could he do… the old man who was advanced in years, and basically experienced the entire rise and decline of the Resistance could not help sighed inwardly. Unlike those normal, ignorant and young Ultrahumans, Tank was naturally aware that the Labor Puppets working at the Nurseries were their own parents!
It was clear when the first child amongst the Resistance was born. When everyone saw that the woman whose stomach has bloated and was suspect of a malignant disease gave birth to the infant under anguish, the smarter ones amongst the Resistance almost understood how life came to be in the world… And when they discovered that the Labor Puppets in the Plantation could give birth as well, the middling and high-level officers amongst the Resistance understood their origins.
At first, the Resistance even wanted to rescue some of the Labor Puppets, but those mortals were brainwashed to the point of becoming puppets with human bodies with neither intelligence nor self-consciousness. Saving them would not only kill them but also creates pressure on the stores of resources the Ultrahumans had. Realizing that they were powerless, and to prevent other Ultrahumans to overestimate themselves and rescue the Labor Puppets after learning about the truth which would in turn cause internal strife amongst the Resistance, their Leader deliberately carved a divide between Ultrahumans and morals, limiting rescues to children with Ultra-power.
Therefore, the massacres that came later were simply means to an end. After so many years, most Ultrahumans no longer saw the normal Simboans as fellow humans, becoming really convinced that they were not of the same species, which gives them a clear conscience even when they killed—and then there were those that realized such killing relieved stress, and began to like it.
It was… sad.
“What is it, Tank? You don’t look too good.”
The old man jumped when he abruptly heard the unfamiliar but youthful voice. Still, being a member of the Resistance who had gone through a hundred battles, he calmly turned and spoke with a voice of slight reverence, “Puppeteer… I’m a little unwell.”
At some point in time, Joshua’s human-form puppet had arrived beside the trio. Only Tank had the mental composure to converse with the youth who single-handedly destroyed the Hunter Legion—Burst was so nervous he could not even speak, while Formless seemed to be paying attention only to the sights of everywhere else.
“When Unchainer repeated my question a while ago, I realized that you were the only one who did not have a disapproving expression.”
The warrior spoke calmly, seemingly not minding the old man’s slightly changing expression and continued instead. “You answered my questions with composure, and it’s considered unthinkable for you to live in such a post-apocalyptic world… You should be an elder amongst the resistance, which is why I want to ask…”
“What do you think about this world?”
There was earnest and curiosity in Joshua’s voice.
“What do I think?”
Tank was surprised by that question at first, and initially wanted to simply answer—and it was then that his throat suddenly roared and did not make a sound: even after taking a deep breath, Tank still could barely suppress the intense emotions stirring in his heart.
Sadness, torment, despair, exhaustion. Tank wanted to bellow, to wail and to sob at the very thought of the life he led in the past few decades.
But in the end, nothing happened.
The staunch old man gritted his teeth, force his emotions to calm and answered Joshua with a serene, unemotional voice.
“Not that good.”
—But of course.
—How could it be good?
—Is there anything good about leading a dog’s life?!
—Is there a thing I could get used to about this damned world?!
Tank would never voice such venting words. His tone was calm even as his heart rippled in tides that reached into the skies above, showing not a hint of exaggerated emotion. “It’s too hard.
—Not only hard. It is pretty much hell, traveling back and forth in this burning world and bringing along a bunch of new guys who know nothing, fighting dangerous enemies, stealing food and ambushing Gardens, killing my own kind, watching as I aged while the enemy becomes more powerful… Really, I could just die and save myself the trouble.
Even so, the old man believed that it was enough for him alone to embody such negative emotions. He did not have to vent and infect others, tainting a shade into the hearts of the younger ones… It was fine if they knew nothing. There was bliss in ignorance, and that is enough.
It’s just killing. There’s nothing to it.
Tank closed his eyes, inhaling deeply once again.
And we must never stop. We can’t stop plundering and rescuing, and there must be no conflict amongst the Resistance: even if it meant killing our own kind and our own parents, even if we give up on many things, the Resistance must keep going forward…
Because if the world was hopeless now, pausing right where we are would mean hopelessness—forever.
We must never stop. We must keep resisting, destroying Garden Zones of the Soul Puppets, strengthening themselves… When we are powerful enough again, we shall assault the center of the world. We must keep carrying on, because hope lies only in front. Hesitation is fall, into the abyss of ten thousand fathoms.
Such was the sadness and resolve of the weak.
Tank opened his eyes but said nothing. He exhaled, his expression becoming firm once more.
He had thought the conversation to be over, but when he looked up, he found a pair of eyes that appear able to peer into the hearts of men.
“Is that so? Well, you do know…”
Joshua stared at the determined old man whose heart was akin to being forged from true steel. The warrior neither sigh nor praise, instead speaking just as flat. “This really isn’t much of a world.”
With the clanging sound of something falling off and Tank’s astonished stare, the gems of six different colors behind the huge puppet dropped off from the whirling steel halo with the simple point of a finger from the black-haired youth. The six fist-sized gems slowly shrunk in the air, finally turning into six thumb-sized crystalline bodies.
At the center of the six crystals, six fluctuating Steel radiance flickered.
Subconsciously accepting the six crystals, Tank felt infinite complex information appearing in his mind once he touched them. The information was gradually simplifying by layers as well, finally transforming into images and explanation that the could clearly understand… He could not study them in detail at once, only knowing that it was probably a way of training spirit and his own Ultra-power. When he realized that, the old man looked up in shock, but could not find the black-haired youth.
Tank hurriedly turned towards the huge puppet, finding the fifteen-meter tall steel creation slowly rising into the air as its steel saucer whirled, and then entering the horizon.
Joshua had already left.
He did not say a thing, and did not have too.
If the Simboan Resistance know what they did and what they chose, and had the resolve to give up and advance, then all they desired was a hope.
Then he shall pass the seeds of future and hope to them.
Those were Ultra-power Units assembled from the blood and flesh of their own kind, while he was simply returning them to its owner while adding ways to cultivate that Ultra-power. It was nothing too important since it was something done in passing.
And that was enough.
Enough to change this world that was not much.