"…Well that mission was easy enough, eh Befehl?" Raven scoffed, leaning back in her AC's cockpit. Her bright blue eyes closed as her smile reached her cheeks.
"Heh, yeah. That was a piece of cake. Those junkyard ACs can't match up to us. Though I can't help but think our ACs could use some tuning." Befehl responded, checking the readings on his HUD. "Looks like most of our energy efficiency is poor at best."
Shiloh could be heard grumbling over the intercom. "If you'd have listened to me earlier about upgradin' our garage, we'd actually have a repaired monitor. Ours're crappy. It can't even read the second-generation boosters at all." He brushed his curly blonde hair out of his eyes as he rested against the side of his cockpit, gritting his teeth with distaste.
"Hey, how about we leave the bickering for our paychecks, alright? That's what decides how much we have to spend. Luckily the Corporation is paying quite generously for what we did. We should be able to buy a new garage monitor and scanner." Befehl calmly retorted, closing the system windows on his HUD.
For a few minutes, everything was silent except for the sound of the propellers outside of their mechs from the carrier helicopters holding them far above the ground.
Raven tapped on the side of her cockpit idly, starting to feel fatigue wash over her from the long mission. "Hey… Sankari's been really quiet." She commented softly. "Rookie? Are you there? You haven't said word one since we went into battle."
"Raven, he's prob'ly sleeping. He's still young." Shiloh assured her, leaning back in his cockpit. "And we're pretty old, so we need rest too." He chuckled, grinning wide.
"Speak for yourself, I'm 27." Raven snarled, narrowing her eyes.
"Damn, and I thought with that cranky attitude you'd be at least 40." Shiloh began cracking up wildly, holding his sides tightly.
Raven pouted in her seat and crossed her arms. "I'm beating you senseless when we land, Shiloh."
The helicopters slowly descended onto the large runway as stretched armored transport cars rolled up to them. When the Armored Cores touched the ground, the helicopters disengaged their latches and took off to their landing pads.
Nightmare's core opened first, quickly followed by Sky-Talon's. Raven leapt out as soon as she saw Shiloh touch down, scowling at him. Her hair fell down passed her shoulders as she landed on the runway and stormed over to Shiloh. Befehl was fearful she'd actually beat Shiloh senseless like she'd said, but instead she playfully whacked his head, trying to hide her smile under a weak scowl.
"Don't you dare call me old, grandpa." She scoffed, crossing her arms. She received a pat on her head from the much taller man, making her puff out her cheeks and put on a flustered look. Her eyes narrowed more, trying to hide her slowly growing blush.
"You're just as innocent as y'look." Shiloh chuckled, ruffling her hair before walking over to Befehl. When he had turned his back, Raven whipped around and silently mouthed curses at him, motioning to flip him off, but still stifling a smile.
"Well, we should head back." Befehl spoke softly just before yawning. "I'm done for the day… And can someone wake up Sankari? He hasn't left his cockpit yet."
Raven nodded, trotting over to the Retribution. She heaved herself up enough to reach the cockpit's manual eject latches. After flipping the switches, she lowered herself enough to not get hit by the moving cockpit hood. After the parts had settled, she lifted herself up once again, and was perplexed by what she saw.
Sankari was sitting straight up in his cockpit, still gripping the ACs handles. The HUD was off, but he was staring straight forward as if he was looking at something. Raven's brow furrowed in confusion as she went to pull his hand off of the handle. It wouldn't budge. He was gripping the handle as tight as he could, and he was shaking.
Feeling troubled by this, Raven put her hand gently on his shoulder.
"Sankari… what's wrong? You look like you've seen a ghost…" Her voice sounded softer than it had been before, and she felt him loosen up a bit, enough to let him turn his head and look at her. Tears had begun to well up in his eyes, and it looked like he had been crying before, but he said nothing. He slowly let go of the handles and nearly melted into his seat.
"…I saw him…" Sankari spoke almost inaudibly. "When I… I hit the AC… The blade was in the cockpit. He… Oh god…" The young man covered his face with his hands, groaning and shaking his head. "…I knew I had to activate the blade, or he'd…" He was cut short as Raven embraced him tight.
"It's fine, Sankari." She cooed, breathing slowly.
"No, it's not!" He yelled, pushing her away. "I've become that… monster! The same one who—" This time he stopped himself, the flash of fury and fear on his face melting away. Raven let out a heavy breath, trying to plan out her next words.
"Sankari, I want you go and sleep. You don't have to talk about it now, okay? I'll be in later." She smiled warmly, and thought she saw a flicker of a smile on Sankari's face before he stood up and slowly eased himself out of the cockpit. When they both touched the ground, Befehl and Shiloh remained completely silent as Sankari headed towards the base. Once he was inside, the two men face Raven with curious looks.
"What happened? He seemed fine before we headed out." Befehl asked, rubbing his chin in wonder.
"I don't know, but apparently the pilot he killed before he met up with us didn't die quickly, and he saw it happen. He had a choice of killing him quickly, or letting him suffer." Raven explained. "That's the only explanation I can come up with."
"But who or what is 'that monster'?" Shiloh gazed over to Befehl, hoping for him to shed some light on the situation.
"I don't know, but he's in no shape to fight right now. I hate to sound like an ass, but he needs to be fixed so we don't fall behind." Befehl was quickly met with a hard slap that echoed throughout the runway.
"He's a human, Befehl. Not a machine. You can't just 'fix' humans like an Armored Core." Raven snapped at him, trying her best to seem intimidating, although Befehl stood a few inches taller than him. Her shift in tone was enough to shut both men up. Raven glared into Befehl's green eyes unwaveringly before storming off to the base.
Shiloh watched her walk off, his eyebrow perked high. He shuffled slowly to Befehl and leaned close. "And I thought I'd be the one slapped today…" He whispered before heading back to the base.
Sirens blared through the humid air as explosions lit up the darkening sky. Frantic boots stomped on the concrete as dozens of workers rushed inside the armored facilities. Panels opened up on the higher buildings, lifting vertical missile and heavy ballistic sentries high.
"Defenses are in place!" A woman called out over the intercom as she frantically switched camera views on the perimeter of the facility. "AC is not within visual range, sir."
In facility's operating room, the workers' fingers flew to check the status of the facility as their eyes bounced from monitor to monitor. A tall man stood in the center of room, his arms crossed. He wore a black suit, his collar lined with white. His dark brown eyes stared at the largest monitor, which showed the main entrance of the facility's security surveillance.
"Are you sure this wasn't a false alarm?" He grumbled, dropping his arms. Not a second after, the entire room shook violently, knocking the man to the ground. After shaking off the disorientation, his eyes shot to the main monitor. The thick gate had been kicked in, ragged and bent in the center. "Where is it?" He snarled, rushing up to the defense grid's monitor.
"AC detected in the oil field, sir." A worker replied without hesitation.
"Fire the heavy ballistics. Hit the oil if you have to. Burn him alive! He's not getting this facility from us!" He quickly turned on his heel and strode hastily to the door.
"Where are you going, sir?" Another worker quickly asked, worried that their guidance wouldn't be able to assist.
"I'm taking the fight to him. Keep him busy, and weaken his armor a bit." He commanded before slamming the door behind him.
"In coming AC! Fire vertical missiles!" A female's voice called out over the loud speaker, echoing through the facility as the sentries faced towards the main entrance. The missiles ignited upward, then activated their secondary boosters to chase after the approaching Armored Core, only to be shot down quickly by a shotgun blast.
The white Armored Core drifted around the corner to face the vertical missile sentries. Its compact head had a small antenna sticking out the back panel, and a single yellow-tinted eye gleamed from under a panel in the middle of the head. Its core was sleek, but was raised at 45-degree angles as a ridge followed along either side, then dropped off when it reached the back. Its right arm had a hollow shoulder compartment, filled by a reserve magazine. The left arm had a panel extending from its shoulder down to its elbow. A pair of strong, yet mid-weight legs, the left one of which bore a thick rectangular shield on its knee, held up the core. Its right arm held a long battle rifle and its left held a long-barreled shotgun. Yet the most prominent feature on the Armored Core was the extremely long weapon hooked to its back, almost double as long as the Armored Core was tall. Hollow cones lined the end section, which had thick protruding spikes on the three edges.
The missile sentries were still setting up their next round of missiles as the AC pelted it was a point-blank shotgun blast and continuing along its way, kicking off from the raised platform, then the adjacent platform to leap across the waterway below.
As the Armored Core grinded along the ground upon landing, the ballistic cannons opened fire. The heavy shots charged towards the Armored Core, but hit nothing as the agile machine Hi-boosted sideways and kicked off the bridge, charging straight for the cannons. Missiles launched towards the AC as it started to gain altitude, now level with the ballistic cannons. The AC quickly boosted forward and towards the cannons, making the missiles follow behind it. With one swift maneuver, the AC grabbed the barrel of the cannon, ripped it clean off, and threw it at adjacent cannon. It then leapt upward, boosting behind the cannon, causing the missiles to blow a hole in the front of the now unarmed cannon.
When the AC landed, it quickly engaged its Glide boost, soaring back to the tall tower in the center of the facility, weapons at the ready.
The white AC was met with a direct hit from a heavy rail cannon shot, blasting apart a chunk of its core and knocking it back. Its yellow eye rose, looking for its attacker.
"I don't know who you think you are, Migrant, but I know what you're here for. That data is property of the Corporation!" The man who had been barking orders in the operating room now stood in a mid-heavyweight Armored Core just atop the rows of buildings. His AC held a heavy rain cannon in its left arm and a Gatling gun in the other. Its core plate was wide and thick, but the rest of its body was sleek and slightly lighter plated.
A scoff sounded over the intercom as the hostile AC lurched forward, Glide boost activated. "And you think you'd be able to stop me?" His deep, yet bone-chilling, voice rung out as his AC fired a volley of battle rifle bullets at the other Armored Core.
The Corporation pilot retaliated by leaping upward and releasing a string of powerful Gatling rounds, then launching his VTF missiles from both shoulders.
The Gatling rounds bounced off the rapidly approaching AC, but the missiles impacted heavily, leaving behind a large explosion as the corner of a row of buildings was consumed in the blast.
At this point, the Corporation AC had landed, now at the front of the bridge, waiting for his enemy with his rail cannon unfolded and propped up. The pilot squinted his eyes as he tried to see through the smoke. The collapsing building was causing more and more smoke to cloud the view and plenty of deafening noise. A sinking feeling quickly overcame the pilot as he heard what sounded like the enemy switching its weapons, but multiple times. The sound of metal on concrete screeched behind him as he quickly folded up his rail cannon, whirling around to face his foe. His face turned white at what he saw.
The white AC had fully unfolded the Mass Blade, and fire had already begun to charge at the base of the thrusters as it drifted around the corner. The AC Hi-boosted, nearly closing the gap between the two Armored Cores. The enemy Armored Core hadn't looked so frightening until now with fire and electricity whirling around it like an aura as it rapidly drew near.
"Shit! No!" The Corporation pilot cursed as his hands rapidly leapt for the Glide boost ignition. The AC didn't get far, as the enemy had predicted his next move properly.
The Mass Blade's thrusters ignited, propelling the already speedy AC at its prey at an ungodly speed. The Mass Blade's spikes tore into the ground like a knife through butter as its user swung it upward.
The Corporation Armored Core's core completely bashed in with the initial impact. When both ACs stopped moving, its predator continued its swing, completely ripping apart the machine. It was as if the AC had been put through a trash compactor and thrown into a furnace when the white Armored Core folded the Mass Blade back onto its back.
Slowly, the victorious predator trudged up to the wreckage, looking down at what barely looked like the remains of an Armored Core. After a few moments of silence, the pilot slowly began to laugh. Soon, the intercom was filled with maniacal laughter, the AC leaning back as the pilot did in his bloodlust-filled excitement.
When the pilot had stopped, he smirked, his thin lips spreading wide. His golden eyes gazed down, the smirk growing.
"The strong grow stronger by dominating the weak. You are weak. Well, you were. Now you're just ash." He then stomped through the wreckage, heading towards the runway.