"What do we have here~?" Jack walked forward excitedly as he got down from the vehicle.
"This one should be my point right?" He continued, seemingly talking to no one.
In the center of the open area was Jeanne, standing with a battle ready posture. Although she didn't look scared, she was admittedly quite nervous evident by the cold sweat on her face.
"Damn..." She cursed in a low voice.
The pathway directly to the front had been buried by the drilling vehicle and the farther adjacent tunnel was the one that Jack came out of.
Seeing as Jack was walking leisurely towards her position, she didn't hesitate to point her assault rifle at him and open fire, however.
Just before she pulled the trigger, she felt a heavy object pushing the muzzle away to the side in a heavy swing that caused the subsequent bullets fired to miss by a wide margin.
That interference was also why she let go of the trigger early after it had fired just a few rounds.
"Aggressive! My turn~" Jack smiled and pulled out 2 submachine guns from his sides ready to return fire.
Realizing that the enemy in front most likely had backups, Jeanne wasted no time in running away and taking cover behind a row of stalagmites opposite of the direction where the interference had been coming from.
It was the same rock formations where Alter had been hiding since the start.
By the time Jack had started his barrage of bullets, Jeanne had safely hidden herself behind the rock formation.
After making sure she was safely covered, she took out one of the grenades on her strap and pulled the safety pin out before throwing it blindly over the stalagmites that was still under the barrage of fires.
The grenades, just like the bullets used in this exam, was covered with a heat resistant rubbers that dampened the explosives significantly. The only damage it could cause was from the rubber shrapnels that spread all around with high enough velocity to trigger the sensory suit.
The limit for hand grenades per participants should be 2. The current number of grenades she carried right now should be the results of scavenging other eliminated participants.
Jack, seeing the object thrown over the rocks, reacted quickly and jumped behind the drilling vehicle for cover.
Even though the rubber shrapnels could cause some dents to the outer shell of the vehicle, it wasn't strong enough to penetrate it.
"That damned..." He cursed subconsciously.
Everything that had happened occurred in the span of a couple seconds, and now, they finally reached a stalemate.
Meanwhile, Alter who was hidden behind the boulders and stalagmites from the start couldn't help but admire the quick responses of both parties considering their age and experience.
'This won't last long. The siblings would most likely win if this drags out.'
Alter was quite familiar with the combat styles of The Twin Death, therefore he knew that they still had many maneuvers to end the deadlock if they wanted. For one thing, Jeanne probably hadn't even located the sister's position accurately.
'They were playing.' He concluded.
This fight also made him realize that Jack's maniacal tendencies were something that he was born with, seeing that even his younger self was already showing this sort of sadistic behavior.
'That means the sister's 'particular' character was probably also something she has since young.' Alter thought.
The Twin Death were probably the people with occupations closest to him within the whole Shining Generation circle, excluding Anastasia of course. Back in the first timeline, they were already the commander-in-chiefs of the Calistran's Secret Intelligence Corps dubbed 'The King's Cloak'.
They pretty much do every unpublicized deeds of the kingdom from assassinations and tortures, to altering public perceptions of certain events.
Due to their work nature, they had had several joint operations with The Archive as a client. Of course, the levels of information they possessed couldn't compare to The Archive that stood independently from any nations.
'I think they used to be The Hive's first choice of students to scout when they first graduated from the Institute, but apparently they both lack the qualities indispensable to Bookmen. Looking back at it now I can sort of understand The Head's rejection.'
Nevertheless, all this didn't really matter to Alter as currently he got some decisions to make.
He was following Anastasia and Arthur with the intention of keeping the appropriate gap between their scores. But, any of the Shining Generation would do for that purpose.
So currently, he could either plan his escape and try finding Anastasia or other members through other pathways since the direct route had been buried by Jack. Or, he could just stick with the siblings after they were finished here and moved on.
He did feel bad for Jeanne, but Alter's, and even her own future would be more certain if she failed this year.
The problem with the second choice was that he had yet to find out about the sibling's current scores. He couldn't just walk up to them and ask if they would tell him their points.
"I'll just leave... On the off chance that I got found out while following them, they'd be a real headache to deal with."
Different from Anastasia or Arthur, they're not really the type of people you could reason with. At least not without incapacitating them.
Furthermore, there was always a limit to stealth, it was highly dependant on terrains and surroundings. In proper environment with enough hiding places, Alter was confident that he wouldn't get noticed by anyone in the exam, but who's to say that'd always be the case.
For instance, right now.
He had already located the sister's location shortly after Jack's entrance. She was currently hiding behind the rock formation on the other side, closer to the tunnel that Alter and Jeanne came out of.
Jack's very loud and eyecatching entrance served as a diversion for the sister to take proper position and hide.
With their position as it was, Alter wouldn't be able slip out of either exits without getting noticed by one of them.
'In this sort of situations, patience is key.' He calmed himself.
When Jeanne stuck out her head to see the effect of her grenade she knew that she had failed to eliminate Jack.
With the situation being what they were, she couldn't really hope to win with 2 against 1, but.
"WAIT!" She shouted, still behind the rock formations cover.
""?"" All parties within the open area reacted to her shout.
"Just in case you haven't noticed. I currently still have 4 more hand grenades on me!"
"...As we both know, you can probably eliminate me one way or another with 2 of you, but! Can you really do it without revealing yourselves and risk getting into my grenades radius?" She asked loudly while maintaining her calmness.
"..." Jack was silent.
"Thought so." Jeanne smirked.
"If I were to 'die' anyway, I'll at least take one of you with me, wouldn't you say?"
"...Interesting, so what do you propose?" Jack finished his thought and asked with a smile.
However, after he spoke out his sentence, he started moving out of his cover and walked forward almost soundlessly.
He had put down most of his equipment as to avoid any moving noises, right now he only carried his submachineguns as he walked forward. Even his clothings at the moment only consisted of the full-body sensory suit and the army's long pants.
This action showed the difference in skills between Shining Generation and normal skilled examinees.
Soundless steps was one of the essential skills for soldiers and it was to be taught in the second semester of the Institute's first year.
While Jeanne breathed a sigh of relief and about to ask her two opponents to come out in the open. Jack was moving ever closer to her cover position with a rather fast pace. And though Alter couldn't see clearly due to the obstacles, he could confirm that the sister too was subtly adjusting her position.
"We'll go our seperate ways! On my cue, we both slowly walk out to the center at the same time. And from there we will slowly walk back towards where we came out from without any problem." Jeanne started to speak her solution.
"Do remember that I'll be carrying my grenades on both hands. If any of you open fire, you'll also be eliminated." She warned.
No immediate response.
At this point, she finally turned and stretched her head slightly to observe, but unfortunately what she saw was out of her expectations.
Jack was already 2 meters away from her on the other side of her cover. When Jack noticed that she was about to turn her head, he dropped his guns and broke into a charge.
He gave up his stealth in favor of speed and jumped over the slightly shorter rock formation to reach Jeanne's side.
After landing, he rolled towards Jeanne's direction and grabbed both her arms first and foremost.
He grabbed her left arm with his left hand and right arm with his right, crossing his own arms in the process.
Jeanne, who was still flustered at the development reacted too slowly and missed her chance to retaliate.
Jack smoothly twisted both arm forcefully towards her back, turning her body in the process.
"Urgh!" Jeanne tried struggling to break free but to no avail.
"Don't force yourself. I must admit you're quite skillful, more so than those trashes we've done in along the way." He complimented her.
"Your thought process was right, even I wouldn't be able to escape scot-free from those grenades without the cover... Well, too bad you met me!" He grinned.
Jack truly recognized her skills since she could respond quickly to his sister's interruption and even counter-attacked in the process.
That's also why he wouldn't risk releasing her for even a second to grab the guns that he'd thrown away when he was discovered.
"Guess this point will go to big sis again." He muttered as he pushed her away from the cover and into the open.
He turned towards the obstacles on the other side to signal his partner in crimes to come out and claim the point.
A silhouette suddenly appeared in front.
She had a long and curly hair with the same black colour as her brother. Even their lanky figures were similar.
She was carrying a sniper rifle pointed at Jeanne and her brother's direction as he walked slowly forward.
Unlike her brother who was very chatty, Renee didn't talk much. The gloomy expression she wore further enhanced her seemingly anti-social aura.
She walked a couple paces forward while cautiously watching Jeanne's every move so that she wouldn't get caught by surprise.
Just as Jack was about to meet her halfway and took a step forward, something fell from above his vision and gently landed on his neck.
Jack was alerted while Jeanne was surprised and confused.
A calm voice was heard. But following the calm voice was a heavy killing intent the likes of which Jack had never experienced before.
In his mind, an alarm was blaring announcing the danger he's currently facing. But when he saw his sister's expression from across, he could only see a surprised expression and not the sense of danger that he's feeling.
'Is this killing intent... Only directed at me? How...?'
Of course he knew a thing or two about killing intent and exerting pressure to intimidate an opponent. Because of his past and background, he and his sister could even release their own killing intent towards their surroundings if they concentrated enough.
But directing it such that even the girl he was holding and his sister didn't feel it, and with this amount no less. It was no joking matter.
When Renee and Jeanne heard the voice, their first reaction was surprise. Where and when did this individual appear here?
Even more surprising for Renee was the fact that she needed 2 more seconds to properly locate the figure from when the voice resounded.
The figure, Alter, was standing behind Jack with crossed arms gripping a garrote wire that gently looped around Jack's neck.
Renee's face had turned serious when she saw her brother looking paralyzed with fear.
"Don't talk. Don't move." Alter coldly announced once again, but now he turned his head slightly and directed his killing intent towards Renee.
"!!" When she felt the pressure, her legs almost gave out reflexively.
Luckily she managed to pull herself together in time and maintain her posture, albeit with slight tremble.
"..." Seeing the changes in the atmosphere, Jeanne stayed silent to assess the situation.
"If either... No, if any of you show any sudden movements or sounds, I will kill the two people closest to me. Nod if you understand?"
Jeanne was the first to nod, followed by Jack and Renee.
"Good." Alter smiled.
"First a question. What's your current scores in this exam?" He asked and slightly tightened the rope in his hand, "You."
Jack was still scared, this feeling was something he never experienced before. He knew that the wire around his neck was part of the exam's equipment that would break after a certain amount of force needed to trigger the sensory suit was applied, and yet he still couldn't shake off the feeling that he'd truly be killed if he disobeyed the man behind him.
"Ni... Nine points!" He answered obediently.
Alter then turned towards Renee once again prompting her to continue.
"I... I'm also at 9." A meek reply soon followed.
Seeing that the two had answered, Jeanne also told him her score, "...I'm at 4 points."
She was quite dejected when she heard the score of the two people being way higher than her.
'Hooh, that's higher than I expected.' Alter's thoughts were quite contrary to her mood.
"Excellent." He complimented.
"You guys are truly fortunate. I myself didn't require any more points at the moment, so here's what's gonna happen."
"The two ladies will go slowly towards the pathway adjacent to the vehicle without looking in this direction. Once that's done, I will release this man back to you. After which he will need to count to 10 before all of you could go back to doing what you're doing."
All of them were dumbfounded after hearing this.
'What? Is he not confident enough to confront the rest of us if he eliminated Jack? Otherwise why wouldn't he take the points directly?' Renee was deep in thought for a while, but whatever it was, she couldn't let her brother get eliminated if she could help it.
"S... Sir, if it's all the same to you, you can eliminate that man right here right now." Jeanne took the chance to speak her mind.
She was not a partner to either of them, the man holding Jack hostage didn't really have any leverage against her aside from the fact that Jack was still firmly twisting her hands behind her back.
She didn't know what kind of weapons this man had for him to be confident enough to threaten her, but she was quite sure that if she were free, she could've at least taken him down together with herself using the grenades.
"You!" Renee got angry, she couldn't allow Jeanne to jeopardize her brother's safety.
"Hoo, you would like that wouldn't you. It's true, I don't really have any direct leverage on you, but it seems you haven't really thought this through." Alter calmly stated.
"Change of plans. The lady over there, take this one off your partner's hand and restrain her movement before walking towards the other pathway."
"!" By now, Jeanne had realized her mistake.
Had she not mention any of this, she could've tried to retaliate when both she and Renee had gained some distance from him. If she's lucky, she could've taken both the man and Jack out using one grenade. Leaving her in a 1-on-1 standoff with Renee.
"...Yes!" Renee who was already dissatisfied with Jeanne followed Alter's order and took her from Jack before walking slowly towards the exit where she and Jack first came from.
She made sure to keep a tight hold on Jeanne so that she wouldn't do anything reckless and caused her brother to be eliminated.
As they walked towards the exit, Alter too slowly walked backwards towards the other pathway, the one he and Jeanne came out from.
On the way, he tried making small talk with his hostage Jack.
"Hey, don't need to sulk like that." He comforted the silent Jack.
"I must admit that you're quite skillful, it's really just too bad that you met me." Alter whispered his next sentence in a very low voice that only Jack could hear.
"!" It was the same words he had said to Jeanne moments before. Just as he was about to grit his teeth in order to disperse his anger, another burst of killing intent flew unto him causing him to rein in his fury in shame.
Only after both parties reached their respective positions, that Alter finally opened his mouth again.
"This is good enough. Start counting." Again, he slightly tightened the wire around Jack's neck.
Jack who had been silent ever since he announced his score finally thought he had a chance for revenge!
'He'll be busy trying to escape!' He thought.
8..." He started counting obediently.
As he's doing so, one of his hands subtly reached towards the belt buckle where he had kept his hidden knife.
6..." He kept counting.
"5..." When he reached this point, he suddenly stabbed behind with the hand carrying the knife without looking or turning back.
However, even though his arm kept stretching as further back as he could, all he was able to feel was the wind being cut by his knife.
He didn't feel any reaction or friction coming from his knife. When he looked back, he realized that there was no one behind him.
'How!' Jack was confused, he could clearly feel the tightening around his neck. If he had let go of the wire, normally it should've loosened.
Only after his hand touched the back of his neck that he noticed that the wire was tied together in a bow allowing it to retain its tightness. Alter had done that while they were walking backwards without him noticing.
"This..." Jack was trembling.
"Gaaaaahhhh!!" When he came back to his senses, all that's left was wrath and frustration. He was being made a fool of from start to finish.
When Jack had stopped counting, Renee had guessed that something must've happened and gathered her courage to turn around.
But what she saw was the same as Jack, nothing.
There wasn't a trace of presence aside from them as if the whole thing never happened.
"Who is he...?" She muttered under her breath.