He stumbled as far as he could around the four dunces. Scoured that small area as carefully as he could, leaving no pebble unturned. While he didn’t have an eternity to reclaim each and every broken piece, he had more than enough.
While he couldn’t use all those pieces now, he could at least rebuild the gauntlet’s firing platform.
The only remnant of the liquid spear he had left behind, in the end, had been the broken piece of arrow, which he pushed a few meters away from him with a materialized exhaust pipe and left lying on the floor, forever forgotten by the far roadside. He wasn’t sure whether touching that thing directly would be enough to get himself liquidated or not, but he wasn’t going to test his chances now that he’d gotten so far.
Still, he had no reason to complain with the lucky goldmine he’d just fallen on.
It seemed that as long as an item was a natural occurrence in the world, his crafting ability would automatically detect it and make things easier for him, even if he didn’t know the item all that well, which turned out to be quite nice. All he needed were the right parts, for the right component.
“Request granted. Replacement components detected.”
In a blink of an eye, the liquid spear had promptly popped up in his inventory. The preview image showed it just as he’d expected to see it again.
Most of the gauntlet’s hand was still gone. However, basic support for firing the arrow would be in place atop the back of his hand.
“Components successfully fixed. Resuming operations.”
He equipped the liquid spear himself, and just as promised the fabled weapon took its shape over his right hand, incomplete but still solid-looking. Most of his palm and fingers had wound up unprotected, as well as a wide portion of his wrist, as it turned out, but the dark upper area of the gauntlet, cut in half by the faint light of the remaining half-arrow, properly covering his blazer’s sleeve, gave him the assurance he needed to point his weapon straight ahead as his ability ceased to operate once again.
The two hostiles at the back jolted in place, turning their weapons towards his new position, while their boss, now completely disoriented, simply stumbled back, his arms trembling far too much for him to even properly keep aim of his gun.
Why, as he’d rambled about with the crafting ability to aid he’s new discovery, he’d ended up about 4 or 5 meters to the right of his former position, making it seem as though he’d suddenly vanished and then reappeared elsewhere.
“Game’s over.” he spat. “Drop your weapons and grovel now. Unless you want some arrows in your throats.”
At first, they looked indignant, seemingly readying themselves for another shootout. But it took the three thugs only a moment to get a good look at the boy’s arm, outstretched towards them, and sporting the special piece of armament that was all too familiar to them. This time all by themselves, the gangsters froze in terror.
Suzuka glanced over to him, puzzled once again.
“You’ve done that again…”
“What’s the weird look for?” he shrugged. “You can light your hands on fire.”
“Impossible…!” stammered the shotgun guy. “How did he…!? What did…?”
“Calm down.” demanded the gauntlet’s former owner, who had suddenly eased up. “He’s trying to trick us.”
The boy felt a shiver run down his spine as the man glared straight into his eyes. Listening carefully to their boss’s words, the other two had also started to wise up, soon getting over their initial panic.
It was true, in part. While he was at least certain the spear had regained at least some degree of functionality, from the barely understandable jargon and stats the crafting menu had spewed at him, it was only absolutely confirmed that he could fire the piece of arrow he currently had ready in the chamber. Of course, the thugs didn’t really think him capable of even that…
“You can’t use it, can you? It’s broken. Even from here, I can see it’s still full of holes!” he mocked.
However, while he was sure he could perfectly fire that one arrow at them at any moment, he had no guarantee that the gauntlet’s auto-reload capability still worked in the condition he currently had it in. For all he knew, this one shot was all he had, and he couldn’t take on all of them.
“You can bluff all you want, kid. But we know what you’re holding there is a useless toy!” the shotgun guy went along with a few cackles. “Now that the rest of the boys have woken up, too, they’ll be here in no time, and you two will be trapped. And even if Hellfire doesn’t leave you behind for good this time, you can’t take on us all! Whatever will you do!?”
Still, he had to risk it. Things would get bad if the rest of those clowns got him and Suzuka surrounded.
“Fine.” grimaced Haruto, with a deep breath. “Open wide!!”
The broken piece of golden arrow sprung noisily from his wrist, aiming right for the man’s neck. Though it failed, and stabbed him at the center of the chest instead. But little did it matter. He hadn’t even seen it coming. None of them had.
The shotgun guy looked down, unable to process the situation he’d wound up in. Such a small, insignificant piece of gold. On its own, it meant nothing. If you just found it lying on the floor, you could perfectly have tripped over it, neverminded the incident without even looking down, and just went about your day like nothing had happened.
Unfortunately, it had not fallen through the floor. It had hit the man. In fact, it had pierced right through a lung. That meant something had to happen. Inevitably.
He tried to scream, but he couldn’t. His eyes were filled with desperation, as though ready to beg for mercy. But his pride, it seemed, did not allow it. The spiral came for him, and he, resigned, went out silent, leaving not a speck of hair behind.
His two accomplices, on the other hand, were not nearly as composed.
They did not say a single word more. They simply stumbled over themselves, rushing their hands through their pockets and the insides of their coats as though looking for more weapons to use.
“Matchsticks?” he glanced at Suzuka by his side.
With a sick grin one could only have expected out of pure hellspawn, she opened fire on the two remaining thugs, quite literally. The storm of fireballs that followed was bright, frantic, all encompassing. The girl’s arms moved disturbingly fast, so fast, in fact, it had almost reminded the boy of that last ‘helicopter’ punishment he’d given her shortly after enslaving her, prompting him to look away so as to avoid getting dizzy and possibly throwing up.
In an instant, about half of the leader’s body was gone, as he feebly crawled back around the former driver, behind whom he took shelter.
Haruto shook his arm around despondently. The barrel was still empty, despite it having been almost a minute. It seemed the small fix he’d done truly hadn’t been enough to get the auto-loading back. Seemed he’d overestimated his own skills once again. Well, in any case, they couldn’t erase him or Suzuka out of existence anymore. As they were now, she could take care of it for him.
The driver’s shield was starting to crack, and soon enough the two thugs would be toast. However, before they could be forced out of commission a third time, Haruto spotted them both take out small lilac stones out of their pockets, which for a single moment shone brighter than even Suzuka’s flames.
“Wait, what is that!?”
However, before the girl could take note of the new items and do anything about them, the stones’ light became too strong for any of the teens too bear, making Suzuka lose control of the flames. It completely enveloped the two men and shattered the shield itself, and in the blink of an eye, the two thugs were gone, along with the light.
They hadn’t been liquidated. They simply disappeared.
“Where did they go?” the boy stammered in bewilderment.
All that had been left for him and Suzuka to gawk at was the flat, empty dirt, heavily scorched by her flames and cut off in the middle by the static-like checkerboard sky.
“... I guess they must’ve pivoted back to their node.” she muttered, seemingly disappointed.
“Umm… Layman’s terms, thank you?”
“The mafia’s got several smaller bases spread around the eastern region, and even some hidden spots throughout the rest of the Cyberway. Those are what they call their ‘nodes’, and they’re all linked to his central fortress in the capital. When they link nega-cores (those rocks) to the bases’ internal systems they can use them to teleport back.”
“Oh, no… What now…?”
“The rest of the groups are probably following after them as we speak and holing up to regroup. We’re safe. For now.”
“... Can’t they just come back to kill us again…?”
“It’s a one-way ride, so they can’t just teleport to wherever they want. We’re on our own, for now.”
“Ah… That’s good. Yeah… That’s really good…”
Puffing and heaving, Haruto stumbled forward, taking another look around to make sure she wasn’t just just singing victory too soon.
True to Suzuka’s word, they were on their own. There was no one left but him, Suzuka, the motorcycle and the scorched tank a kilometer or so ahead.
“Now, as… as for what we’ll do nex…”
He heaved another sigh of relief, and now, having simmered down, was finally able to collapse to his knees.
“Master!? You’re not okay…”
“Oh. You could tell that much…?”
He felt lightheaded. Battered. Full of holes. He hadn’t even noticed the extent of the damage he’d suffered until now. Having been dead for so long must’ve started to numb his senses. His eyes were clouded. His arms did not have the strength to hold him up. Before he knew it, he had fallen face-first onto the dirt.