The second duel commenced. Cadet Lovejoy became accustomed to the anomalous sensations and brushed them off as inconsequential ghosts. Instead, he focused his attention on the state of his mech.
His mouth curled out. "I like my designer more and more. My armor is back to its shiny state."
His Sword Dancer gripped its sword in anticipation of the next fight. Lovejoy hoped his opposition had more bite this time. The last duel was too disgraceful for him to feel any pride.
The darkness receded, revealing a normal suburban environment. Small houses and municipal parks dotted the arena. The obstacles were tall enough to hinder a mech but short enough to avoid blocking their view. It was a tricky environment that favored ranged weapons.
"Over there!" He said as he zeroed in on his opposition. It turned out to be a light harasser, a mech that specialized in running rings around melee mechs like his Sword Dancer. "Damn, this one's a challenge."
The only thing hopeful about his second duel was that the light mech sustained a lot of damage. Even after receiving some repairs, it still suffered moderate damage to its torso where an artillery shell must have exploded.
"I can use that to my advantage."
Lovejoy moved the sword back to its place and retrieved the flimsy little laser pistol again. He felt a little depressed that he couldn't showcase his swordsmanship and instead had to rely on his pitiful backup weapon. Still, against a mech that moved faster than him, he'd be a fool to chase the enemy.
The light harasser responded first by firing its light laser rifle at him. The firing rate of the weapon was high, but the power behind each laser beam was lackluster. Even if the Sword Dancer received hits, it did not affect its integrity at all due to the strength of its compressed armor.
Ignoring the intermittent damage for now, the Sword Dancer closed the distance. While the light harasser tried to maintain the distance, the complex environment did not always make that possible.
While any mech possessed sufficient force to crash through any residential home, such an act slowed it down while also incur some minor damage. For a fragile mech that prized its mobility, that was unacceptable.
"Get back here you chicken!" Lovejoy yelled over the comm as he started firing his pistol.
While its power paled in comparison to the rifle in the harasser's hands, the light mech's armor could not withstand too many hits. Lovejoy carefully paced his shots in order to avoid overheating the pistol. He aimed specifically at the light mech's damaged torso in order to exacerbate its internal damage.
Thus, the two mechs engaged in a lengthy shootout. The rate of fire slowed down for both mechs once their weapons overheated. The laser rifle held an advantage in that aspect as the larger weapon dispersed its heat much better. The Sword Dancer started to accumulate a lot more damage than its opponent.
"Man, this is why I hate light mechs." Lovejoy complained and let loose a few more curses when a lucky laser beam shot a portion of his mech's damaged leg.
The light mech noticed that the Sword Dancer's legs were slimmer than normal and therefore focused much of his firepower there. The devastating hit damaged some internals which abruptly reduced the speed of Lovejoy's mech.
"C'mon! How is that discount laser rifle able to get past my armor!"
The tables turned a minute later. Though the Sword Dancer's legs started to get chewed up, the pistol finally achieved a promising result. The latest low-powered beam that escaped the pistol managed to penetrate the scorched section of the light mech's torso. All of the successive hits to that area paid off.
The light mech toppled over as its power reactor initiated an emergency shutdown. The enemy pilot quickly signalled his surrender before Lovejoy could unleash a few more shots.
In truth, if both mechs were in their peak condition, the Sword Dancer would have lost. The slower medium mech had no way of catching up to a light mech piloted by someone competent. While its laser rifle might be a light variant, it still functioned as a primary weapon. The backup laser pistol wielded by the Sword Dancer could not compare.
"Truly fate smiles on me again." Lovejoy smirked as he realized this disparity. He won a match that he should have lost. "Bad luck for you. Try to keep your mech in better shape next time!"
Still, with the Sword Dancer's half-mangled leg, he risked suffering the same situation in his next duel. He hoped his designer could fix up the leg with the remaining time available. His shootout against the light mech expended a lot of time.
In fact, Ves already started to feel depressed. While lasers might not be the most optimal weapon to chew through armor, once it got past the layer of protection, they were capable of dealing immense damage.
The abrupt transfer of energy wrecked or melted a lot of vulnerable little components near the area struck by the beam. Some cables and tiny components vaporized entirely, while more distant parts only suffered from the symptoms of extreme overheating. In a practical perspective, these half-molten parts might as well not be functional anymore.
For a proper repair job, Ves needed to clean up all of the damage no matter how lightly they got off.
"I only have one-and-a-half hour left. That's not enough to repair the entire leg."
Technicians hated these kinds of repair jobs. While Ves was lucky that the internal frame didn't sustain any substantial damage, sorting out all of the tiny components and replacing them took a lot of tedium. He also had to set aside the other damage the mech sustained.
"I bet this QuickForge bucket can automate the repairs." Ves boldly guessed. The amount of automation packed in the machine could fill an entire library of books. He refused to believe the machine had to be operated manually to this degree. "They likely turned off the easy mode so mech designers like me have to work for our results."
With no other alternative, Ves helplessly started to repair the leg. He tried to save as much time as possible by ripping out entire chunks of machinery. He cared little whether the things he removed were functional or not. As far as he was concerned, the proximity to excessive heat had compromised them all. Testing out each component's integrity took too much time.
"Now I have to fabricate and put back the replacements."
Most of the internal portions consisted of simple parts like cables, bolts and other miscellaneous things. They were simple parts that required very little thought in their production. The real challenge started when he had to put the parts back into the hollowed-out leg.
Ves had the mistaken impression that he was playing a puzzle in the highest difficulty. Sometimes he had to stuff the parts through an obstacle in order to put it in its rightful place. He prioritized speed over caution, which did not help much with the repairs as other parts sometimes got bent out of shape.
As the clock started to expire, Ves rushed his repairs and even started to slip up here and there. The damage he inadvertently caused affected the leg only marginally, but at least he was able to put replacement armor back into place.
"Alright! Let the third duels commence!"
Cadet Lovejoy had not fully recovered from his last match when he was thrown back into the Sword Dancer. The extended duel frustrated him. When his consciousness fully grasped his mech, he quickly inspected the damage.
He clicked his teeth. "The leg looks better, but not at its best. My armor coverage is still the same."
The spread-out laser shots also scorched the Sword Dancer's other sections aside from the legs. Though they did not penetrate the compressed armor, they still weakened it substantially.
The third duel started when the frozen lake environment got revealed. The thick layers of ice ensured that most mechs could maintain their footing, but any major impacts to the surface might lead to drastic consequences. No spots of lands could be found anywhere.
The frozen environment heavily favored mechs that generated a high amount of heat. For example, lasers could fire more often and with higher power without worrying about overheating.
On the other hand, not everything worked optimally in a heavily frozen environment. Many mechs were designed to work optimally at average Terran temperature ranges. The further the environment deviated from the standard, the more some parts started to deteriorate.
"My mech should be fine." Lovejoy judged, though he admitted he was no expert. "A swordsman mech is not a mechanically complex machine. It shouldn't have too many vulnerable stuff inside."
The Sword Dancer swiftly trudged through the howling snow. He had to find his opponent and finish him off as fast as possible in order to buy his mech designer more time. His sensors beeped a minute later as it found a heat source.
The silhouette turned out to be a medium knight. The mech looked brand new. Aside from some minor scratches on its armor, the entire mech appeared as if it had never entered a duel. That held worrying implications for Lovejoy.
"Either the pilot or the mech designer is a prodigy."
He refused to consider the case where both of them turned out to be geniuses. The only thing in his favor was that swordsman mechs usually beat knights in a one-on-one. The knight mech spotted the Sword Dancer and readied its pristine kite shield.
"You better entertain me properly this time." Lovejoy taunted the enemy knight. "I just came off a couple of duels where my sword wasn't even needed. Hopefully you'll last long enough to satisfy my lust for battle."
While the environment could be better, Lovejoy rejoiced he could finally have an old-fashioned melee duel. He increased the speed of his mech and noted that the fixed up leg held out for now. Reassured, he heartedly threw himself into the fight by attempting an empowered horizontal slash.
The knight was no dummy and positioned its shield in place to deflect the obvious attack. However, the incredible force behind the blow hammered the knight a few steps backward. The first blow was not intended as a killing strike, but as a setup move that broke the enemy's guard.
Cadet Lovejoy's eyes gleamed as his mech danced around the shield. His Sword Dancer abruptly reserved its rotation, and its sword swung back from the other direction.
The knight sluggishly tried to regain its footing while simultaneously bringing his shield back up. Somehow, the pilot managed to skillfully do both in an instant. The slash resulted in nothing but another dent in the shield.
Despite the disappointing result, Lovejoy kept up his aggression. He slashed and stabbed while circling around the knight.
Meanwhile, the pilot of the knight maintained composure and blocked each strike without fail. Sometimes he even retaliated by stabbing with the sword in turn, which pushed the Sword Dancer back. The knight mech turned into an impregnable turtle.
After a few minutes of useless exchanges, the knight suddenly diverted from its routine. After fending off another sword strike, it slammed the tip of its kite shield onto the ice beneath their feet.
The constant maneuvers had weakened the ice layers to the point of forming cracks. The downward shield strike completely cracked open the damaged ice, causing both mechs to lose their stability.
The knight deftly escaped the unstable area due to initiating the move.
The Sword Dancer was caught off-guard, and almost responded too late. Only its excellent agility and reaction speed allowed Lovejoy to catch up and jump to a safer spot.
A hole the size of ten mechs appeared between the two mechs. Lovejoy smacked himself in the face for almost getting done in by this move. If his mech fell into the ice, he'd not only lose, he might as well totalled the entire mech. Not all mechs fared well in water unless they were specifically designed for that purpose.
Lovejoy took his opponent more seriously. Though he did not recognize his opponent, he acknowledged his skill. "This fellow is top 30 material. We're almost evenly matched."
The frozen lake environment annoyed him. He did not relish sinking down in the icy abyss. After circling around the newly formed hole, he resumed his assault against the knight, though this time he upped his guard against any further surprises.
After the next few exchanges, the enemy pilot proved its mettle. Having adjusted to Lovejoy's tempo, the knight started to handle the incoming attacks better while delivering more poisonous retaliations.
The knight suddenly sidestepped instead of blocking the the latest attack. The Sword Dancer had overextended, leaving it open to the follow-up shield bash. The solid chunk of metal thunked against the Sword Dancer's head. It instantly crushed half its face, most notably destroying its optics.
Just as Lovejoy frantically switched his view to the backup optics, the knight slashed its sword. As the Sword Dancer had reflexively jumped back, the sword failed to strike the torso. Instead, it managed to cut off an arm.
Lovejoy screamed in frustration. He had not expected this sitting duck of a knight to be a porcupine. At least his mech hadn't lost its sword arm.
"I can't keep this up. I have to change the game."
The enemy pilot's skill restrained his sword play. It was as if he specialized in crushing the dreams of other swordsmen. After a few seconds of thought, he grinned.
"Since you like to play with ice, let me give you a nice surprise."
The Sword Dancer retreated a bit in order to open up some space. The knight stood in place, shield ready to receive the next attack. Lovejoy let out a warcry as his mech thundered forward.
Just as his mech reached the knight, Lovejoy dragged his mech to the side and made a couple of complex maneuvers. His mech half-slid over the ice while directed his sword against the ice. The sword hammered the ice several times, creating cracks near the knight.
The Sword Dancer took advantage of its superior mobility to circle around the knight while repeatedly impacting the ice underneath. While a sword was not the best tool to damage the ice, the Sword Dancer's arms was capable of transferring a lot of force which aided the mech in its task.
After completing a couple of rotations, the ice started to deteriorate on its own. The pilot of the knight panicked and quickly stomped out of the danger zone.
"Not today!" Lovejoy yelled as his mech circled around again and confronted the knight head-on with a shoulder bash. While the impact failed to damage the enemy mech, it succeeded in interrupting its escape. The transfer of force also sped along the collapse.
A second later, the knight disappeared. It fell down into the lake and sank down in the depths.
"I hate ice." Lovejoy said as he looked on from a few steps ahead. His mech escaped the waters at the last second by bouncing back from the enemy mech's shield. It was a close call and a risky one, but he succeeded in winning without dragging out the fight.
"Three down, one to go."