Lily awoke, refreshed. Her eyes had crusted over, making them difficult to open. How long had she been asleep? She didn’t know, and she had no way to find out. As she slept, as she dreamed of happier, simpler times, she had constantly been aware of the information provided her by <<Probe>>, processing the information in the back of her mind; though it did not interfere with her dream. She was not quite sure how it worked, nor how to describe it, but it was enough for her to conclude that <<Modification Web>> was effective.
Stretching out her arms with a yawn, she jumped to her feet, experimentally bouncing several times. Her legs felt the same; they were still functional, and her control over them no less complete than before she slept.
Opening her Supply Kit, she opened a tube of the hydrating fluid and downed it, feeling her parched throat moisten up. Rubbing at her eyes, she opened her maximum-range Probe and again ascertained the direction of the insistent humming. With a sigh, she picked up the box, Extended to it, then began to walk again.
After two more bouts of sleep and four packets of hydration fluid, with the humming gradually getting louder and louder, until she could vaguely hear it even without the aid of Probe, she finally saw a break in the landscape.
In the direction of the humming, far in the distance, silhouetted against the horizon, was a humanoid figure. It stood amidst the scrap, unmoving, unchanging. It glinted slightly in the illumination that filled the wasteland. It was a bright glint, one that signified the presence of metal: not rusted, dull metal like what littered the ground, but pristine, unblemished metal.
Lily immediately raised her level of alertness. She knew not whether this new person – if it was a person at all – would be hostile. That said, she knew nothing from her current distance. If she was to gain any information, she would have to get closer, close enough to see the figure in detail. She broke into a run, heading in the direction of the figure.
She ran for a while, but though the figure in the distance got gradually larger, it was clear that she would tire long before it came into sight. Already she could feel herself breathing heavily from the run.
Her legs were metal. They had no muscles to consume energy. Any energy being consumed would be Mana, which she still possessed in abundant supply. The pseudo-muscular system was formed by Mana. Therefore, why was she breathing heavily? There was no need for her to supply a higher amount of air than usual to her body, when the oxygen in the air was being consumed at an ordinary rate.
Hence, the cause must be subconscious, or psychological, in nature. If the problem was due to her mind, that issue could be solved. She ground to a halt, closing her eyes.
Faster this time, she saw the intricate web spread out before her. With speed and precision, she quickly singled out the thread that carried the habit of increasing oxygen intake when running, and deleted it. For good measure, she took all threads related to fatigue and exhaustion and ripped them from the thread which governed motor functions of her legs. Then she withdrew from the space.
She resumed running. On and on she ran, and her breath stayed steady. On and on she ran, and she never grew physically fatigued. She kept running, and the figure in the distance got closer. As she approached, the figure also grew bigger.
It quickly became apparent that the figure was no human. From her distance, she judged it was roughly three to five times larger than herself. It was fully metallic, and had a lot of edges in its construction. If it was armor, it was unlike any she had ever seen. She was still unable to clearly see the details on the figure due to her distance, but the silhouette alone told her that it was vaguely humanoid, with many sharp corners along its shoulders and head. Her curiosity piqued, she increased her speed, itching to find out more about this strange entity.
As she moved, as the figure got ever larger, she stopped and shuddered. Her passive Probing had picked up a change in her environment: The number of skeletons in the area directly ahead of her was much higher than that of the areas she had been trekking through. Something had happened here; something that killed a large number of people.
She tentatively took a step forward, when words appeared in the air in front of her. Startled, she jumped backwards, landing in a low, crouched position, staring at the space in front of her with narrow eyes.
In the middle of the air, simply floating there, was some kind of rectangular panel. It glowed a light green, and had words scribbled across it in an excessively regular, consistent handwriting. It was handwriting similar to that which appeared on the surface of any ore with transcription properties. Each of the same glyph was written in exactly the same way. The spacing between each word was consistent. Wary, Lily reached out her hand and tried to touch the rectangle. Her hand passed right through it. She looked at her hand, trying to see if anything untowad had happened to it, but it seemed perfectly normal. She sighed, resigning herself to the fact that this was caused by some magic or technology beyond her understanding. First the boxes, then this. Twice already had she encountered technology beyond her understanding. She had a vague idea of the reason, but… there was no way to verify it.
For now, she decided to read what was written on the rectangular panel.
“Caution, prisoner. You are about to enter the attack range of the Warden. Do not go forward unless you are absolutely certain you can defeat it. If it activates, it will chase you. It will not stop until you are dead. If you can defeat it, your escape – and parole – lie therein. Be warned, however, that the machine is not an easy foe. I shall not waste your time. The machine’s external carapace is made of anti-MANA alloy. Any attempts to employ MANA weaponry against it will be futile. MANA energy cannot permeate its armor. This information, we give freely. The machine’s armor will likely be the least of your concerns.”
Lily relaxed her posture and gazed at the panel quizically. There were a lot of words she didn’t quite understand, but she did pick up the words “attack range”, “dead”, “escape” and “anti-MANA”. If her deductions were correct, if she took one more step, she would be in killing range for the strange towering figure. Furthermore, if she could somehow defeat that figure, she would be able to escape from this wasteland.
It seemed to be a machine, and hence it could be presumed a non-living being. Therefore, it fulfilled the criterion to be made an Extension. If she could assimilate the machine, it would be her win. However, the thing’s armor was Anti-MANA. She didn’t know what the uppercase signified, but Mana was the name for magical energy, including the form of magical energy that allowed for her <<Extension>>. If the machine’s armor could neutralise mana, it would stop her Extension in its tracks. That said, the panel had rather explicitly stated “external” carapace. Therefore, it was likely that if she could somehow destroy a part of the armor and touch the exposed portion, it would be her win.
…Not that it would be an easy task to do so. She had no combat experience, and no idea what the opponent was capable of. She had never been in a battle. She had no training. All she had was a plan, an objective, her magic, and an unusually sturdy pair of metal legs. She would need to put all these together to have even the slightest glimmer of hope of emerging victorious.
It was time to start training.