The measures taken by Lady Miralix suppressed the internal turmoil in her hunting team. That did not mean that she solved the underlying issues entirely.
It was all well and good for Ves to berate the mech pilots for lacking the courage to challenge their limits when Zeigra was still far away.
Now that the Felixia Catstrikers followed the Mech Cruncher's tracks to his latest hideouts, everyone's nerves began to simmer again.
Both the mech pilots and the support staff started to have second thoughts about this confrontation. With the possibility of dying by getting chomped by an immense genetically-modified cat getting closer and closer, morale throughout the entire group started to waver.
As for Miralix herself, her urgency and eagerness in slaying Zeigra drove her to exhort her team to push forward.
She wasn't going to let anyone wallow in their doubts for long! Delaying the battle would only provide more opportunities for incidents to throw another wrench in her plans!
\"Zeigra is close.\" She spoke from her mech. She transmitted her voice to all of her remaining mechs as well as the legged transports parked in the distance. \"He's just up ahead, licking his wounds. Though he's still able to exert a formidable amount of strength, all of our analysts and experts agree that he is wounded and exhausted.\"
Ves had declined to sit in the command center this time. Because of the importance of the battle, he decided to see if he could lend a hand this time.
For this reason, he took Lucky and moved to the empty observation chamber placed at the top of the legged transport. Though the vehicle wasn't close enough to observe the Crown Cat in person, he already summoned a raft of projections that displayed multiple feeds as well as telemetry from every mech about to go into battle.
In truth, Ves paid no attention to the figures and graphs depicting the state of the mechs. He merely summoned them as a smokescreen to hide his real intentions.
Considering the uncertain odds of the final round, he decided to contribute to the battle more directly this time.
By seeing if he could leverage his Spirituality to hinder Zeigra!
After extensively observing Zeigra in battle, Ves tentatively concluded that the Crown Cat ought to be a spiritually strong entity. While Ves hadn't been able to confirm this conclusion directly because he hadn't been able to get close to the cat, there were too many indirect signs that this was the case.
His intuition leaned in favor of this conclusion as well, so Ves decided to go through with his radical and potentially dangerous plan!
\"If this little move of mine succeeds, then maybe I'll no longer be relegated to cheer from the sides!\"
It only dawned upon him recently that his spiritual toolbox had become filled with many tools, of which some could be turned into weapons if the situation had grown desperate!
Ves felt as if he was about to join a fight between armored knights. Against a confrontation between armored warriors, there was little he could do if he came armed with a pitchfork while wearing peasant garments!
Yet even a pitchfork could be deadly in the right circumstances!
\"Well, it's not like I'll have to face Zeigra all on my own. I'm merely lending a hand, that's all.\"
The Kinslayer and the five surviving humanoid mechs would be playing the leading role in defeating Zeigra. Ves only intended to tilt the odds in their favor so that their chances of victory increased.
For the upcoming battle plan, the Kinslayer played the leading role. The tiger mech that had recently been enhanced by instilling Vescas as its design spirit remained in tip-top shape by refraining from participating in the previous three rounds.
That wasn't possible anymore. Lady Miralix needed to enter the fray in person, but under circumstances that Ves thought was less than ideal.
The biggest variable that could ruin their chances of winning was Zeigra's metal corrosion power. The Crown Cat's ability to drastically weaken specific subcomponents deep within a mech had been the main reason why the Catstrikers lost so many mechs in the previous rounds.
If Zeigra was smart enough to employ his ability on the Kinslayer right at the start, then the entire outcome of the battle may have been decided right then and there!
In order to lessen the chances of this happening, Lady Miralix planned to throw her subordinates straight at Zeigra, keeping him occupied for several minutes.
Meanwhile, she planned to maneuver her Kinslayer to Zeigra's rear and planned to remain out of sight of the Crown Cat as much as possible!
Ves had a lot of doubts about this tactic.
First, Zeigra did not require line of sight to affect a subcomponent with his corrosive ability. There was a chance that the huge cat might still be able to employ his ability to a mech attacking from behind!
Second, Lady Miralix's subordinates would face the brunt of Zeigra's ire! With the resolve of the mech pilots already starting to waver, ordering them to stand their ground in front of one of the deadliest huge cats on Felixia was asking a lot!
Third, Zeigra may still be strong enough to fend them all off even if he didn't employ his corrosion ability! Though all of the biotech researchers stated that the previous rounds of battle successfully injured and tired the huge cat, Ves believed the creature would only fight harder when pushed into a corner!
\"We can't underestimate any Crown Cat!\"
Lucky swished his tail in vigilance. Even he knew that this moment would be pivotal to all of them. If the hunting team failed to defeat Zeigra in this final round, then everyone left behind on the legged transports would instantly turn into sitting ducks against the Crown Cat's ire!
\"If worse comes to worst, we'll have to sneak our way back on foot.\" He whispered.
\"Yeah, with huge cats and other predators infesting this forest, it'll be a very difficult journey back to Kemila.\"
The most important point was that no one could call for rescue in the hunting zone. House Laterna deliberately turned much of the Asco Continent into a communications void. Multiple measures ensured that not even Lucky's sophisticated communication methods could transmit a help signal to Kemila or any vessels in orbit!
The sanctity of the hunt had to be preserved!
In this way, Felixia's Asco Continent retained its solid reputation as a challenging hunting continent!
\"There's no exception. Not even a scion of House Laterna can cheat the hunting process!\"
With their backs to the walls, Ves saw no choice but to initiate another experiment.
\"Let's see if it works!\"
Time passed as the mechs of the Catstrikers slowly trudged to a hilly and mountainous part of the forest. Cliffs, rocks and other complex terrain features forced the mechs to watch their steps carefully.
Ostensibly, the terrain heavily favored Zeigra, whose agility and quadruped form allowed the Crown Cat to move over terrain that would give many humanoid mechs headaches!
However, the Kinslayer agilely climbed and hopped over jagged rocks and cliffs without too much effort!
The six mechs slowly advanced to a small cave that barely fit Zeigra's prodigious body. As soon as the mechs came within sight of the cave, Zeigra's alert eyes already glared at the machines as if the cat had awaited their arrival for a while.
\"Drive him out of his hole! Open fire!\"
The battle commenced when their only remaining rifleman mech started to unload onto the cat! A steady salvo of shells blanketed the cave and the cat with loud impacts and explosions!
Zeigra angrily bellowed at the hunters who doggedly pursued him over several days. The Crown Cat lifted his mighty bulk and quickly started to accelerate towards the mechs!
The battle had begun!
Though the approaching Crown Cat caused all of the mech pilots to quiver, they had already been psychologically prepared to face such a situation.
As the rifleman mech continued to pelt at Zeigra, the Kinslayer quietly circled to the side. In the meantime, the remaining four melee mechs adopted a spread formation.
The only knight mech the Catstrikers still possessed stood bravely in the front with his battered and claw-scarred shield held out in front.
\"He's veering to the side!\"
Zeigra knew better than to waste his time with the knight mech, whose sword and shield hardly posed a threat to his resilient hide and flesh.
However, whenever Zeigra tried to maneuver around the melee mechs to attack the lone rifleman mech, the Catstrikers shifted their orientation so that the knight mech would always be in the way!
The constant maneuvering wore at the nerves of the mech pilots and frustrated the Crown Cat.
Having evidently lost his patience, Zeigra roared yet again before dashing forward.
If the knight mech was determined to stand in his way, then he would just have to take it down first!
The mech pilot of the knight mech endured an enormous amount of pressure as the violent cat closed the distance. Nonetheless, the mech continued to stand in place, only moving to position and angle its shield to properly redirect the impact as much as possible!
The knight mech audibly groaned as it endured an immense amount of force! Despite the mech pilot's attempt to mitigate the damage as much as possible, several alerts sounded out as its internal integrity took a substantial beating!
However, the knight mech's heroic attempt to withstand Zeigra's charge succeeded in blunting his charge and slowing him down!
As the Crown Cat tried to recover from his charge, the other three melee mechs immediately went on the attack!
The two spearman mechs kept their distance and thrust their spears at Zeigra from opposite directions. The axeman mech which had lost its arm in the first round held back, but would make sure to block the cat from going after the rifleman mech that continued to steadily wear down the integrity of his resilient but cracking hide!
\"Damnit! We can't hold him for long!\"
\"We don't have enough mechs!\"
\"Hold your ground! I'm coming!\"
As Zeigra was about to swat aside the annoying spears that tried to bar his way forward, the cat abruptly roared in pain and irritation as the Kinslayer finally made its move!
Lady Miralix had held her mech back until she was certain that Zeigra hadn't been watching for attacks from the rear. As soon as she saw her window of opportunity, she urged her Kinslayer forward and pounced straight at Zeigra's hindquarters!
The collision drove the Kinslayer's claws deep into Zeigra's flesh! Not even his resilient hide proved sufficient enough to withstand the tiger mech's claws!
The angry cat immediately ignored the surrounding humanoid mechs and quickly whirled around in order to swat at the offending mech that dared to make him bleed!
However, Lady Miralix cleverly retreated and tried to circle around Zeigra to remain out of sight. At no point during the battle could the Kinslayer afford to be subjected to the Crown Cat's strange ability!
The knight mech and spearman mechs all stepped forward and intensified their attacks, doing their best to attract Zeigra's attention away from the Kinslayer!
As the tiger mech and the humanoid mechs prodded the frustrated huge cat from multiple directions, Ves made his move!
\"The time is now!\"
While his eyes kept staring at the various displays, he no longer paid any attention to the information projected in front of him. Instead, he concentrated his mind and leveraged his Spirituality into another excursion to the imaginary realm.
At this crucial moment, Ves no longer decided to remain on the sidelines. As soon as his spiritual projection entered the imaginary realm, he swept his senses throughout the surrounding void.
Though the corrosive spiritual winds did their best to obscure his senses, he still managed to detect a strong and active presence in the vicinity.
Proximity in the imaginary realm often correlated to proximity in the imaginary realm. Just as Ves suspected, Zeigra's spirituality had broken through the extraordinary threshold, which made his presence very easy to find!