"Yes, he's missing." Master Chief continued. "I looked through his notes, and he already had another mission worked out for you. He needs you to go to the Breaken City slums. There is some kind of place there with one of those Gem things." He handed a data file to Ray. "That's the coordinates or some shit like that. That's all I know. We will search for Jasra, you just do your jobs. Now go away."
Everyone walked out of the psychiatric room with a holo card. Ashe turned to Glenn.
"Sorry, Glenn. I didn't mean to tackle you. I'd gotten upset over nothing."
"It was my fault. I'm the one that spoke rudely. You didn't deserve that."
Jace gave Glenn a pat on the back. "I don't think it's really either of you. According to your card, you came out with a decent amount of mithril sickness."
Ray looked at his own card with frustration. Ashe bumped his shoulder with hers.
"What's the matter, Ray? Was it bad? What was your toxicity level?"
Ray heaved a sigh. "...0.00 percent..."
Glenn looked puzzled. "Just from leaning on a wall and touching a small piece, I'd picked up 37.94 percent. And after all of the mithril you've been handling, not even anything? Those suits must have been miracle workers back in the day..."
Jace began to count on his fingers. "Well. He survived a Railgun shot without even a scratch, his armor went from a cruddy old mining suit to a destructive laser generator, he can fire sword beams from a cutter, shoot poison and ground flames...anything else I missed?"
Ashe folded her arms. "Maybe he just doesn't have a brain to corrupt. Anyway, I'm going to go work out for a bit. I need to release some stress..."
Before she walked away, Ray whispered something into her ear. She giggled at first, and then turned into full laughter as she walked off. Glenn gave Ray a "WTF?" look. Ray flicked his hands as if he was flipping up a shirt collar and winked.
"Still got it."
Glenn buried his face into the palm of his hand. "Gonna be honest, Ray. I didn't think that was possible for even you."
He shrugged. "I wasn't flirting, just lifting her spirits."
"Sure it was."
Ray smiled and shook his head. "So how'd you come out, Jace?"
"But I don't remember you ever coming in contact with mithril."
"Mithril's effects are mainly generated through initial contact, but prolonged exposure to its radiation is supposed to cause a bit of sickness. But from what I've gathered, it takes a LONG time for it to get to a madness level just from its exposure. And on top of that, I've heard it can affect people differently. Supposedly people with a lot of mental discipline and willpower can have high toxicity levels, and still behave almost perfectly normal. Humans’ reactions to mithril is actually different from that of aliens, where they actually get enhanced physically when exposed. Supposedly their brains don’t turn to mush like ours, they logically are addicted to the power growth."
"Well those blasted speedlings probably spike a mithril fever when they're born."
Glenn frowned. "Well, like Canis said. We'd better be more careful. I'd hate to be at each others' throats. Let's get some rest at taps, we'll need it for tomorrow."
Ray stared at the ceiling with his hands behind his head. He'd tried to sleep, but he couldn't fall out immediately. His expression was tense. Mithril. The most powerful, yet corruptive substance on UBW-594244. He thought to himself. It's the most dangerous energy resource to exist, known to cause entire cities to rebel against themselves. My friends even tried to fight each other. But why? Why do I remain unaffected? He rolled over trying to clear his mind, and fell asleep.
The following morning immediately after chow, the unit loaded the Mach Dragonfly with supplies, and took to the air. Ashe indicated the trip would take quite a while. She left it in auto-pilot and leaned back in her seat. She also went ahead and took the time to explain their destination.
"We're headed for Breaken City. It's a borderline slum-town full of bounty hunters, mercenaries, runaway criminals, and low-lifes. I don't think everybody there is an absolutely terrible person, but either way they supposedly don't take too kindly to military personnel. This is why I had us dress in civilian attire, but the armor programs are on your wrist watches in case of emergency. And because we may get separated I've also given you headsets, so we can stay in touch. Those will be hidden, but functional at all times. Otherwise it'll be important to stay together. But I digress. The city used to be a hub for many kinds of people many years ago. After the tragic events that occurred about two-hundred years ago, the city was still standing, but was left in rough shape. Common roads leading into it were destroyed or abandoned. The city eventually became a ghost town, but over time repopulated by the type of inhabitants that reside there now. Looking at the data file Master Chief had given us, one of the Gems lie underneath some kind of old sports arena. From what I've researched, this arena is known as 'Stadium Arcadium', and is said that many types of death games and events are held there. It's nicknamed 'the city's key'. An event every year is held, that involves something like an Aparus gladiator match. Every citizen that declares residence in Breaken City must survive so many alien waves they somehow capture to remain a resident. If you refuse or give up the match, you'll be ejected from the city. Otherwise, it's win or die. Other games are held for entertainment often, like death races, manned mech battles, REAL gladiator matches with not only Aparus, but other people, and other absurd games that involve slaughter. But in order to get this Gem, we've got to get in Stadium Arcadium. It's supposedly well-guarded, so we will need to sneak in. It may be easier during a sports event, when we can walk in without having to face guards. The hard part may be staying in. If we have to end up sneaking our way in, we will have to work together. Until then, just enjoy the ride."
Once they flew into the city, Ashe's description was clearly no exaggeration. There were rundown buildings, several with boarded windows. Unfortunately there was a docking fee. The first thing they noticed upon walking into the city was the amount of monitors that floated about. People were crowded around them, fist pumping and shouting. Some sort of sports event was on display. It was probably one that Ashe had described. Directional signs also floated around, giving vague names like "Hotel", "Bar", "Post Office", "Shuttle", or "Dock" that pointed in directions where a "Hotel" or "Bar" was. There was no sign for Stadium Arcadium, but there was no need for one. The stadium stood out, as it was huge.
Glenn looked around. "First we need a game plan. Let's find a bar."
The bar they found appeared to be an old western-style saloon, other than the floating monitors, holographic waitresses (and holographic pole dancers, which frustrated Ashe), and flashy drink advertisements. Instead of talking strategy, the unit took the time to gather information from some of the locals. Jace sat at the bar next to a woman. She was rather tall, and wore old western cowhand-style clothing, and had two laser pistols holstered on her hips. She spoke with a Texan accent. Glenn attempted to question a couple mercenaries in a corner table, but judging by their slurred speech, and the bad card hands, they were clearly too drunk to properly communicate. Ashe sat beside Ray. He took a swig of his drink while Ashe sipped on her water.
"You know, it won't hurt you to unwind a bit. Have a drink and relax for a while."
Ashe gave a half-smile and raised an eyebrow. "First off, judging by the fact you can't quite hit your mouth," she pointed out the small drip stains on his shirt, "and that if liquor tastes as bad as it smells, I'll pass."
Ray returned her half-smile. "It's not that bad."
"Well on top of all else Ray, you know I can't drink."
"I didn't figure a place like this really had age restrictions. Is it really going to matter?"
Ashe took another sip of her water. "In a place like this, it's probably not a smart decision for a woman to drink."
Ray raised his glass. "Good call."
Glenn and Jace joined them at their table. Ray sat back in his chair. "So what did you manage to find?"
Glenn set his glass down. "That a two, six, Queen, ten, and an ace apparently trumps a Full House. And you should fold if you have a Flush." He shook his head and took a drink.
Jace held his own glass inches from his mouth. "Fold with a Flush? What the hell?"
Glenn swallowed. "As stupid as it sounds, don't ask."
Jace took a deep breath. "Anyway, I talked to a Bounty Hunter named Juno. She told me quite a lot. First off, getting into Stadium Arcadium is going to be harder than simply sneaking past some guards."
Everyone leaned foward.
"Just from looking at her, I can tell she knows what she’s talking about. She said all gates have card key security locks, kind of like the key pad we'd seen on Valkyrie. So if we are even considering getting in we need to get one of those keys somehow, or scale the damn thing, which I doubt will be possible without getting caught. She mentioned the backside was the least guarded, as there is only one gate on that side. So that's our best option if we attempt to break in."
Ray traced his finger around the rim of his glass. "Well I hope Juno isn't setting us up for some kind of trouble."
"I hope not either. But she seemed rather nice. Best thing we can do now is scout the area."
Despite how easy the Stadium was to see, paths twisted and turned to multiple dead ends. Ashe approached a local and asked for directions.
"Well, it's rather confusing, but..." The man explained. Ashe was recording him so she wouldn't lose track.
"No problem little miss."
The man had provided the right directions. Once they found the backside, Jace's source was obviously proven reliable. Only two guards manned the gate. They held FR43C assault rifles. Ray and the others hid in an alleyway close enough to see, but far enough to stay hidden. The guards smiled and waved at a woman that walked by them, shouting cheesy pick-up lines.
Glenn's eyebrows knit together. "We need to somehow get one to those cards on their belts, and get them away from the gate. But how?"
"Perverts." Ashe said. "It would make it easy if they'd just followed that woman they're so interested in."
Ray, Glenn, and Jace exchanged glances, and looked back at Ashe. She frowned and looked at them.
"This is so stupid!"
Glenn sighed. "Come on, Ashe. It's just temporary, all you have to do is lure them here."
"There has to be another way! And where did you all even get this?”
“Jace and I weren’t going to put you in ‘’that’’, but Ray had another idea and insisted. He paid for it so I didn’t object.”
“THAT SON OF A BITCH!”
Jace tapped his foot. "Don't worry, it's not like you're...well, you know what I mean."
"Oh, alright. But you guys owe me BIG TIME. Especially you, Ray!"
Ashe stepped from behind a door in the alleyway. A plushy white robe was draped over her shoulders. Ray blinked.
"You look cute in that swimsuit and heels."
Ashe grabbed both sides of her robe and covered herself.
"Shut up!" She blushed.
Ray chuckled. "I'm just messing with you. Go get 'em, gorgeous."
"Ray, stop it! I will hit you!"
“It’ll totally be worth it.” He chuckled.
Ashe grunted and gave him a light slap instead. She closed her eyes and took a deep breath. She let go of her to robe and let it flow freely behind her.
"Are you sure this will work?" Jace said as she was walking out.
Ray answered him. "Of course it will. Every guy is a sucker for a two-piece swimsuit."
Jace sighed. “I still think this is a bit overkill, but I can’t disagree.”
One of the guards nudged the other and motioned toward Ashe with his rifle as she approached them. When she stopped, it looked as if she was asking them a question. She turned around and walked back toward the alley. The guards immediately tailed her.
Glenn nodded. "Alright, here she comes. Take cover!"
As soon as she passed by them, Ray, Glenn, and Jace managed to jump the guards. Before they knew what was going on, there were out cold, and tied up. Ray leaned over and grabbed one of the card keys. Ashe leaned over his shoulder.
"Did you find it?"
Ray's cheeks began to get rosy. He spoke without look back at her. "Um...Ashe? You can...go get dressed again if you want."
Ashe blushed again. "Oh! Umm...right."
Jace dragged the guards into another abandoned room in the alley while Ashe dressed herself in her own room. When she exited, he threw their rifles inside behind her.
Ashe straightened her jacket. "Ok, let's go."
The key opened the gates, and they shut them before any bystander would notice. They ran through a few hallways, and peered out onto a large area, about the size of a football field. They noticed a few panels. They were password protected, but were meant to change the layout of the field, from just flat dirt to a *Chaser Bike motocross track. The field currently had what appeared to be fallen debris that resembled broken buildings. The panel indicated "Match Setting: Alien Wave Survivor Event. Arena Setting: City War Zone."
Ray rubbed his chin. "How are we supposed to locate a pedestal with a big chunk of mithril on it in this place?"
Glenn shrugged. "It’s supposed to be underground, or hidden somewhere. Let's fan out."
The team jumped the ledge. As soon as their feet hit the dirt, a siren went off, followed by an announcement.
"LIVE EVENT MATCH START-UP! CAMERA SYSTEM ACTIVE ERROR! PUBLIC TELEVISED MONITOR TURN-ON ERROR! 404 CAMERA FUNCTION NOT FOUND! LIVE EVENT MATCH FAILURE! ALIEN WAVE SURVIVOR EVENT MATCH BEGIN!"
The announcer began to count down.
Glenn growled. "So much for looking for the Gem. At least the cameras aren't rolling, so we still have cover. Let's suit up!"
They all stood back to back.
Everyone grabbed their wrists. Ray shouted. "It's morphing time!"
Glenn, Jace, and Ashe stared at him. "I don't know." Ray said. "It sounded cool."
Their armor immediately materialized around them. Glenn fixed his belt to where his blades, Jericho and Ai, rested at his hips.
At this time, they were ready, with weapons prepared and held in firing position.
Speedlings, Scorpions, Panthers, and everything else entered the field. A Bull even made its way into the arena from an overhead.
Jace held out his M-27B1. "There is too many at once! I can't focus on them and that Bull!"
Glenn put his own weapon up. "Throw me your machinegun! Leave the Bull to me!" Glenn grabbed the M-27B1 from Jace and condensed it into his bag. Running toward the Bull, he held Jericho out. Once he had its attention, he lit up with his yellow Thunder aura. He swung his blade, even though he was way out of melee range. But mid-swing, he quickly swapped to Jace's M-27B1. The golden Gatling revved and began to spit out a chain of bullets, completely ignoring it's charge-up. The quick swapping allowed the flywheel to rotate quicker, allowing an almost immediate charge-up. The Bull's hide was no match for Glenn's combined fire power and Thunder enhancement. Glenn ran back to Jace and returned his weapon, then armed himself with both blades in hand. Ashe used her F.L.O.A.T. to get a vantage point on some of the debris, allowing her to lock onto multiple targets at once with her White Drill. She was also safe from Speedlings, Acid Bombers, *Armored Pillbugs, and was even high enough out of Scorpions' tails' range. Energy Flies that buzzed around her were proving to be an annoyance, but she held her ground and shot them out of the air. Ray and the others took about any Plasma Slugs that attempted to attack her. Likewise, Ashe held the Energy Flies' attention, and allowed her friends to worry less about them and more about the jaws of Speedlings and Panthers. Her movement was however limited, and she was forced to return to the ground when the Flies became too numerous. The aliens had them squeezed back to back as they had started.
Jace began to pant. "There's just no end to these things! How in the hell can one person even survive this onslaught?!"
Ashe's knees began to buckle. The constant use of her armor's Force Field began to tire her. "I can't...go any further..."
Glenn's breathing was broken and airy. "I can't take any more of this shit! This might just be it for us, guys!"
Ashe fell forward. Her left arm wobbled as she tried to support herself with her elbow, still firing weapon energy from her right.
Jace nodded. "It's been a good run. At least we came this far!"
Ray swore. "No. Not today!" I can’t let them get hurt. Where are you?! He thought. I need you now!
Ray felt a tightening sensation in his gut. With a war cry, he swept Collision in a horizontal motion. His cutter lit up with a green light, and two plate-like disks flew from his blade. They circled around him and his friends, and slowly fanned outward, slicing through anything that surrounded them. Running on pure adrenaline, he swapped to his LIT07 and fired upon anything that managed to escape the wrath of his new power. He fired at one Energy Fly that hovered between four others. A bright yellow blob of energy exited his barrel. Upon contact, the blob splattered, and affected the other nearby Flies. The poison incinerated them on contact. He pelted the remainder with normal lasers. There was nothing left moving on the field. Ray collapsed, and sat up. Glenn and Jace also sat down. They supported each other with their backs. They began to slow their breathing and relax. Ray spoke between his breaths.
"I can't...do this...again..."
Suddenly, the sound of single, slow clapping echoed from somewhere in the stands. They angled their heads to see what it was. Glenn managed to shout between breaths.
"Hey! Were you just...standing there the whole...time?"
Jace also yelled out. "Some help...would have...been nice!"
Ray spoke next. "We could have...been killed!"
Canis jumped down from the stands. "I was prepared to step in, but after Ray's little battle shout, I decided to watch."
Ray coughed. "You asshole!"
Canis walked over and helped Ashe up. "Here. Take this."
He helped her remove her helmet and held something to her mouth. She weakly bit into it. It looked something resembling a golden brownie. She ate the rest and began to support herself.
"What was that?" She asked him, as Canis handed more to Ray, Glenn, and Jace.
"It's ambrosia. That amount should help you make a full recovery within a few minutes. It's a powerful natural remedy for just about anything. It's not easy to make exactly. I learned from Apollo many years ago. It’ll probably be several more before I’ll have more of it ready."
Ashe held her helmet under her arm as the others began to stand. "Thank you. It tastes like honey."
Canis gave a small chuckle, breaking his usual emotionless demeanor. "I'm sorry I didn't help in a way you'd expected. But I assure you, I wasn't about to just let you die."
Ray drummed his fingers across his own helmet. "Well. Thanks for that at least..."
Jace stretched. "I feel like I had a good night's sleep in a couple seconds."
Canis nodded. "It's saved my own tail countless times. But a small amount goes a long way. Too much could kill you."
Another announcement called over the arena.
"STAGE COMPLETED! BEGINNING SHIFT TO BASIC MODE!"
The stadium began to rearrange itself. Everything cleared out, and there was nothing but a large dirt field.
Glenn looked around. "I don't see anything. Where is the-"
The ground began to rumble. The earth in the middle of where they stood began to crack.
Canis drew his sword. "Move! Quickly!"
Everyone scattered. A large, serpentine beast flew out from the cracks and hit the ground with a body-slam. The monster roared and whacked its club-like tail on the ground.
Ray hesitated and pulled out his LIT07. "Looks like we aren't out of this yet!"
"So we are nearly there?"
"Yes. The Blade aside, there is one final piece left."
"And what of the military director, my lord?"
"He has been dealt with. The military base's director will no longer be available to them." The hooded man laughed. "Now that he is ‘gone’, the military will be focused on finding him. With them distracted, we will take the opportunity to attack, and the Gems will be ours. As for the Gem Tail, I will not wait. I want you to stay here and await further instructions. I am going to Breaken City personally to meet our brave operatives...face to face..."
- Chaser Bike - the equivalent of a futuristic motorcycle. The body is much wider, and instead of tires, it hovers about a foot above the ground. It's capable of reaching speeds of up to nearly 300 mph (482.8 km/h)
- Armored Pillbug - that thing ain't an armadillo.