The first round between the Felixia Catstrikers and Zeigra ended abruptly after the latter's departure.
Some of the Catstrikers privately felt relieved as the worst case scenario hadn't occurred.
When the humanoid mechs of the Catstrikers managed to surround the Crown Cat, they inflicted a considerable amount of damage, weakening the structural integrity of Zeigra's resilient fur by an uncertain degree.
This probably led the huge cat to conclude that it was in his best interest to depart.
As a precaution, most of the mechs still remained on guard in case Zeigra wanted to start with the second round right away, but for all intents and purposes the battle was over.
The legged transports moved into the clearing and poured out a host of mech technicians and equipment in order to perform emergency repairs on the mechs that suffered serious damage.
Lady Miralix opted to remain inside her Kinslayer in order to guard the legged transports. That did not prevent her from projecting her body onto the battle site to observe and help supervise the aftermath.
A lot of questions welled in her mind. The first round may not have led to the total disaster that everyone feared, but the damage the cat dished out seriously impacted their battle effectiveness.
Perhaps the most tragic casualty of the first round was the rifleman mech that got caught out by Zeigra! Not only did the brutal cat tore out practically its entire internal guts, but the cat also chomped significant chunks of alloy from the mech!
As Ves depressingly studied the wreck of the downed rifleman mech, Lady Miralix's projection floated up to his side.
\"I don't need a mech designer to know that there's no way that this mech will get up again.\" She began. \"What happened?\"
\"Do you mean the incidents where two of the mechs had tripped?\"
\"Yes. What happened?\"
\"Have you heard of the rumors surrounding Zeigra?\"
\"Do you mean to say the claims that Zeigra possesses the ability to corrode the parts of a mech is true?\"
\"With the evidence I've gathered, there's no more room for doubt.\" Ves declared. \"Zeigra truly does possess the ability to induce targeted corrosion and weakening of specific parts.\"
He began to summon up a projection from his comm and pointed at specific log data points which indicated that moments before the spearman mech and rifleman mech tripped, small but critical subcomponents had already started to send out small alerts!
With the help of his explanation, Lady Miralix managed to understand what had happened. Her eyes widened in alarm!
\"If this is true, then it only took seconds for a number of critical components in their legs to fail! That's too fast!\"
\"According to the rumors of the previous hunters who attempted to hunt down Zeigra, it took several minutes of contact before incidents like this occurred. Either they underestimated this possible effect, or Zeigra has become far more adept at wielding this special ability!\"
The implications weighed heavily on their shoulders. Hunting down a ferocious Crown Cat became a lot harder if Zeigra continually sabotaged the functioning of the mechs of the Catstrikers!
\"How does it work? Can we block Zeigra from utilizing this corrosion ability?\"
Ves helplessly shrugged. \"Beats me. I'm a mech designer, not an exobiologist. You'll have to ask the developers of Zeigra's species if you want to know more.\"
\"I doubt they know anything.\" The lady sighed. \"Half the products they cook up in their labs perform vastly out of their expectation. Every Crown Cat is pretty much a product of accident, coincidence and chance. Biosciences are always subject to the chaotic whims of nature. Besides, I'm not allowed to gather inside information and any contact to the outside universe is blocked in the hunting zone. We can only rely on ourselves for answers.\"
The Catstrikers did employ some unaffiliated biotech specialists, but none of them had any idea how Zeigra could possibly corrode the parts of a mech at a distance.
As soon as Ves disseminated his explanation, the suspicious glances directed at him lessened. The evidence he provided made it abundantly clear that the mech technicians and him hadn't been negligent in maintaining the mechs.
Still, the worried mech pilots still remained upset as Ves hadn't been able to come up with any solution to block this insidious attack! The mechs would continue to be vulnerable to Zeigra's hidden machinations! They would have to continue battling the Crown Cat all the while aware that their mechs might falter at critical moments!
Everyone's morale inevitably took a serious hit. This single extra complication had already led to the premature destruction of a rifleman mech. Another axeman mech would have to make do without a vital arm, while the spearman mech that tripped required an extensive amount of tedious light repairs as its entire frame got rattled by its fall!
\"What an awful mess!\"
The Catstrikers knew the first round would be the toughest, but after facing Zeigra's surprising strength and abilities, it became clear they still underestimated the challenge of confronting it in battle.
A lot of analysis and speculation went on in various meetings. Ves only attended a number of them as he became more preoccupied with directing the emergency field repairs on the mechs affected by the battle.
Because pressing Zeigra quickly was crucial to tiring out the beast, the repairs only lasted for around six hours. The mech pilots maintained a rotation of patrols in order to grant everyone crucial time to sleep and rest.
By the time Lady Miralix commanded her hunting team to follow Zeigra's tracks, the Catstrikers continued forth with one less mech.
There was no way for Ves to restore the badly-mangled rifleman mech! Since the wreck wasn't going to be moving and fighting on its own strength anymore, he instead recommended the mech technicians to salvage some intact parts that might prove useful in fixing up the other rifleman mechs in later battles.
\"Zeigra may have fled, but he shouldn't have run too far! March carefully and stay in formation!\"
As the mechs and the legged transports cautiously entered the tropical forest and followed Zeigra's tracks, Ves returned to the observation room and began to study the logs of the battle once again.
Previously, Ves only managed to witness Zeigra in battle through publically-available archival footage. The fidelity of the recordings had been deliberately lowered in order to avoid giving too much away about the hunting mechs. The footage had also been cut and edited to remove parts the hunters didn't want to reveal to its rivals and competitors.
Now, his inside access to the database of the Felixia Catstrikers meant he could call up all the data he wanted.
Ostensibly, he claimed that he was studying the footage in order to determine whether he could implement any adjustments to the mechs to make them less prone to corrosion attacks.
In truth, Ves wanted to determine whether Zeigra truly sabotaged the mechs with a spiritual ability.
With all the strange things that exobeasts could do, he couldn't quite rule out whether Zeigra possessed a significant degree of spirituality or not. Ves found it very difficult to determine the answer to this question through watching the footage.
\"The distance hasn't helped at all.\"
In the name of safety, the legged transports had been placed well out of the way from the battle site with the Kinslayer standing guard.
While Ves agreed with the precaution, the sheer distance also hampered his ability to extend his spiritual senses in the surroundings and put Zeigra under direct observation.
Still, Ves tentatively guessed that even if Zeigra developed a measure of spirituality, it probably wasn't too strong. The huge cat was still young and lacked the experience and accumulation of the higher-ranking Crown Cats.
Instead of anticipating a resemblance to Qilanxo, Ves revised his expectations downwards. He began to lean towards the assumption that Zeigra's spirituality probably wasn't much stronger than the spirituality of the Dragon Cat.
\"The fact that one is alive and the other had been dead for days before I got to her matters a lot, though.\"
Ves still hadn't given up on his ambition to harvest as much spirituality from Zeigra as possible, but he still had to be patient at the moment. At this time, he absolutely couldn't afford straying close to the site of the battle.
The Crown Cat's strength and abilities exceeded everyone's imagination! It was easy to imagine that the king of the forest would eventually rise to the top of the rankings with a few more years of maturing!
\"Zeigra deserves to carry his crown!\"
As Ves continued to pour over the logs, he failed to detect anything pertinent. The parts that abruptly weakened in a matter of seconds just lost their integrity out of the blue. Even when the mechs were on the move, the parts still deteriorated as if Zeigra possessed an uncanny view.
He reported his meager findings to Lady Miralix during a short break.
\"Zeigra has the ability to target specific components and subcomponents of a mech.\" Ves began to explain to her projection. \"His corrosion ability, for lack of a better description, is capable of targeting precise internal components without requiring direct vision. No matter how much armor plating or other parts are in the way, he is always able to affect parts that are ordinarily shielded and protected deep within the mech.\"
Lady Miralix's projection looked grave. \"Can Zeigra.. do more than sabotage the legs of our mechs?\"
\"I think.. his control is not as outrageous as you think it is.\" Ves cautiously replied. \"First, Zeigra may be clever, but he's far from matching the knowledge of a mech designer. I don't believe he is very clear about what all of the parts inside a mech actually does. My guess is that he's probably targeting the mobility of our mechs because that is what his instincts as a predator tells him how to best hinder his prey.\"
\"What if he targets something else besides the legs and engines of our mechs?\"
\"Then we better hope he doesn't mess with the power reactor or a couple of other critical components, my lady. If Zeigra knows as much about mechs as a typical mech technician, then he could employ his abilities to much greater effect!\"
Facing the Mech Cruncher was a nightmare to every mech!
Each one that entered battle against this formidable cat constantly had to be ready for sudden and drastic failures. The stress this put onto the mech pilots grew unimaginably burdensome.
Nonetheless, under Lady Miralix's leadership, none of the mech pilots lost their nerves. They still became determined to resume the hunt and take revenge against the cat. Their pride as hunters wouldn't let them give up so early during the hunt!
\"Let's move! We're getting closer to Zeigra! Stay on your toes and be prepared for battle at any moment!\"
A few days passed by as a game of cat and mouse ensued. The Felixia Catstrikers unerringly tracked Zeigra in an attempt to prevent the cat from resting and recuperating.
The Crown Cat wasn't the only entity to be deprived of sufficient sleep. All of the mech pilots constantly stayed awake and alert throughout the hunt. Stimulants and other measures ensured they retained most of their alertness, though their battle effectiveness still eroded over time.
During the chase, the Catstrikers confronted Zeigra two more times. Each time, the Catstrikers suffered greater damage than the Crown Cat.
Zeigra's resilience and endurance turned him into a very difficult opponent to tire, and his corrosion ability continually tripped and sabotaged the mechs in his vicinity at the worst possible moments!
By the time Zeigra beat a rapid retreat at the end of the third round, the Catstrikers were only left with six functioning mechs!
The hunting team lost half of the mechs they brought into the hunting zone! Serious questions and doubts started to arise among the hunters and the support personnel as they began to lose faith in the hunt.
Unlike the hunting team which visibly lost half of its strength, Zeigra still fought as vigorously and energetic as ever! Despite his accumulating wounds and deteriorating hide, the Crown Cat still retained most of his battle effectiveness!