When Colonel Xelven warned him of the possibility of foul play, Ves put up his guard since then.
Even so, he didn ’t believe that anyone would be able to pull off an attack with all of the security measures in place.

Surely the Honored Ones had everything in hand, right? Hundreds of exoskeleton soldiers patrolled the streets and facilities of Kester Hills.

Further out of sight, several mech companies from the Mech Corps, Mech Legion and the Honored Ones jointly patrolled the entire region and made sure no one would be able to sneak up to the retreat.

However, all of those precautions seemed moot as every single device shut down at once! More egregious than that, every single person in sight collapsed at the same time by some poison that all of the detectors failed to pick up in the air or in their water and food.

This was preposterously difficult to achieve! Ves knew that everyone had put their utmost effort into making this a secure venue, and for all of their precautions to fail so catastrophically indicated that the plot ran deep!

While Venerable Foster attempted to maintain consciousness, Ves walked over to the collapsed bodies of the attendants.
The Reinaldan servants still breathed, but no matter how much Ves patted them, they didn ’t regain consciousness.

”They ’re not dead.
Just out cold. ”

”Lethal poisons are much harder to slip by the detectors.
They also draw too much attention. ” Foster uttered as she shakily climbed up to her feet.
”I think..
my gene optimization treatments are helping me resist the effect.
I ’m surprised you are better off than me.
Come here so I can lean on you.
I can ’t move by myself at the moment. ”

As Ves approached the expert pilot, he was wary about coming too close.
”Are you really convinced I am not involved? ”

”I think if you are the actual culprit, you would have done something to me by now. ”

”Killing an expert pilot is no joke.
You know the MTA will get involved if something untoward happens to you.
I think that ’s one of the main reasons why the culprits merely tried to put us to sleep. ”

”I wouldn ’t put too much stock in their restraint.
This action violates many agreements.
Whoever is responsible is likely hiding their true identities. ”

Right now, they didn ’t know why everyone collapsed and why their electronics stopped working.
Without functional comms, neither Ves or Venerable Foster would be able to call upon for help!

Ves and Foster recognized that this criss threatened both the Tovar Peace Delegation and the Colchester Peace Delegation.
Right now, they finally managed to put their differences aside.
It was more important to work together than to hold on to old hatreds.

When Ves supported Venerable Foster ’s body as she leaned on him, he tried not to become affected by her close proximity.
The expert pilot in turn took notice of his ease of movement despite the additional burden.
His muscles pressed against her body, allowing her to feel his underlying strength and body heat.

”For a mech designer, you are remarkably fit. ” She remarked.

”It ’s a souvenir from a previous adventure in the frontier. ”

”What a waste. ”

”I don ’t think so.
It has helped me become immune to many poisons and diseases. ”

Whatever substance affected everyone must be very potent, because it even managed to affect Foster ’s physique despite going through several rounds of CFA gene optimization treatments.

As they stepped out of the courtyard and into the main streets of Kester Hills, they encountered an unnaturally silent village.
The Honored Ones who ordinarily patrolled from place to place in their fully-enclosed exoskeleton armor all stood rigid in the open.

Ves and Foster approached a patrol of four frozen exoskeleton soldiers.

Ves knocked at the chest plate of one of them and furrowed his brows.
”Their armor has been shut down.
I bet the soldiers inside the shells are unconscious as well. ”

This was very serious.
If even guards had been neutralized, who protected them all from attack?

”It figures. ” Venerable Foster sneered even as she continued to lean against Ves.
”The Honored Ones are lazy and incompetent.
We shouldn ’t have trusted them so much to provide security. ”

Ves did not entirely agree with her assessment.
”Not all Reinaldans are the same.
The Honored Ones assigned to guard us consists of their elites.
They ’re a lot more diligent than you give them credit for.
Our opponents are just a bit more sophisticated in comparison. ”

The eerie silence and the frozen suits got to him in a way.
He nervously flexed his free hand, contemplating whether he should materialize the Amastendira.
His other hand kept supporting Foster ’s body.
Her body was hard, lean and muscular.
Her proximity continued to distract him from his surroundings.

”Keep your head in focus! ” Foster barked, having worked away some of the substances in her body.
”This isn ’t the time for you to be absent-minded! ”

”Where do you suggest we go? I think we should check up on Senator Tovar and Prince Colchester ’s temporary estates.
We have a duty to see to the safety of our respective patrons. ”

”I think..
They ’ll be fine.
Their individual security is very robust. ” Venerable Foster shook her head.
She obviously hadn ’t heard about the near-disastrous pirate raid against the Tovar Peace Delegation.
”We need to go to the center of this village and find some way of taking charge of the defenses.
We ’re useless without weapons, armor and mechs. ”

Ves looked around the village and strained his ears for any sounds of fighting.
He saw and heard nothing.

”Nothing seems to be happening. ”

”That doesn ’t mean anything.
Perhaps the culprits are kidnapping some of our delegates.
We need to arm ourselves before we can contemplate anything else.
Checking up on our fellow delegates can wait. ”

He tentatively agreed with her course of action.
Right now, it would take too long to check up on Senator Tovar and Prince Colchester, especially considering they occupied estates on the opposite ends of Kester Hills.

The conference chamber where the negotiations took place behind closed doors was situated very closely to the security center where the Honored Ones coordinated all of their patrols.
It would be easy for Ves to check up on Colonel Xelven and all of the other main negotiators once he was finished with the security center.

As they walked the short distance to the center of the village, they encountered more and more frozen exoskeleton armors.
Brighter and Vesian delegates also popped up from time to time.
They all fell unconscious without exception.

When Ves studied their bodies, he noted that some of them were hybrids just like him.
Underneath their human appearances, these members of high society hid scales, unusual coloration and other alien organs beneath their prim and proper clothes.

Even so, their added alien enhancements failed to protect them from the substance that put them all out cold!

As Venerable Foster leaned right next to Ves, she saw exactly what he looked out for.
Frankly, she looked rather shocked at the frequency of alien traits.

”How come there are so many people who chose to go hybrid? ”

Was she for real? Ves gazed at her face in close proximity and could see genuine puzzlement in her eyes.
He lowered his irritation.

”I always suspected that a lot of powerful people are hybrids. ” He admitted.
”It ’s kind of an open secret in high society.
The advantages afforded by certain alien traits can give them an advantage over baseline humans. ”

”Yet at least half of them are hybrids! That is way more than I thought! ”

Even Ves was momentarily surprised by the frequency of alien hybridization.
The folly and pitfalls of reckless genetic modification were very well known.
Even so, it appeared that many humans simply couldn ’t resist the temptation of blending their human genes with alien genes, thereby gaining a powerful boost in their Attributes as well as gain some unique alien traits.

Those with enough money could draw upon much higher quality gene mod templates which focused on enhancing their lifespan or increasing their mental attributes.
Those were also the most delicate and prone to side effects, but those side effects could be mitigated to an extent as long as enough money was involved.

Ves shouldn ’t complain.
He had inadvertently joined the club of hybrids and benefited from it, so he could not fault other humans from pursuing something similar.

It took some time for them to reach the center of the village.
As they shuffled over to the entrance of the security center, they found the front gates to be locked.
They tried to go around but found no other way to enter the facility.

Strangely enough, throughout their wandering so far, they encountered no hostiles at all.
The eerie silence and lack of activity began to weigh heavier and heavier on their minds.
What was going on?

”We won ’t be able to get into the security center unless we break in. ” Venerable Foster concluded.
”Even if we manage to break in, all the gear and equipment are likely sabotaged as well.
There ’s no point trying to get inside. ”

Should we check up on the conference chamber? ”

”We might as well.
Aside from Senator Tovar and Prince Colchester, the lead negotiators are all important people.
They are also at risk. ”

Ves continued to support Venerable Foster ’s weak body as they crossed over the street and entered the reception hall of the conference chamber.
The gates that led into the main chamber was sealed shut.
It would take considerable force to open them up manually.

Foster studied the obstacle preventing them from checking if anything happened inside.
”These gates are too heavy for us to force open by our own strength.
We need to force it open somehow. ”

Ves was pretty sure he could burn a hole through the solid gates with the Amastendira, but the last thing he wanted to do was brandish this weapon in front of a Vesian like Venerable Foster!

He looked around for another solution.
He eventually settled upon the frozen ranks of exoskeleton soldiers.
Their shuts had been shut down and the weapons in their grasp were inactive as well.

Yet that did not mean they turned into useless ornaments.

”These gates look formidable, but they ’re mainly big slabs of alloy.
I think I can force an opening if I rig up an explosive device from the energy cells and batteries of those exoskeleton soldiers.
Whatever sabotage deactivated their gear may have turned them inactive, but I doubt it touched their energy reserves. ”

”Do it.
We need to get inside. ”

Ves put Venerable Foster ’s body down on the floor and approached one of the frozen armors.
He had seen many models of exoskeleton armor, and understood their general layout and principles.

It wasn ’t easy to open up the section of their armor that granted access to the small energy cells that powered everything.
However, by borrowing some nearby objects, he pressed and shimmied his way into opening the respective compartment after a few minutes of fiddling around.

He retrieved four energy cells designed specifically to power exoskeleton armor and put them aside.

”Is that enough? ” Foster asked.

”If I can induce these energy cells to discharge their energy at once, the damage will be severe.
I don ’t think it ’s enough to burn through those thick gates.
I need at least a dozen energy cells. ”

Once he fidgeted with the other exoskeleton armors and retrieved the necessary amount, he began to link them up with metal wires he ripped off some kind of strange artwork in the hall.

When he placed his jury rigged explosive against the gates and activated the individual cells, he quickly ran away as they grew hot!

Ves picked up Venerable Foster in an unceremonious grasp and quickly ran outside! ”Hang on, the explosion is going to be violent! ”


A hot and fiery explosion scorched from behind, flashing Ves and Venerable Foster with a wave of heat!

As the dust of the explosion settled, the lingering heat still made it uncomfortable for Ves and Foster to get close.
They waited for a couple of minutes for the immediate surroundings to cool off.

Venerable Foster looked impressed at the damage.
”At least it worked. ”

” ”Sh. ” Ves said.
”Do you hear that? Something is active inside. ”

Ves heard some murky sounds through the other side of the hole.
It seemed that even as the rest of Kester Hills went silent, something was definitely going on inside the conference chamber!

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