Hank looked up at the school in front of him. It was silent, as it was only a scant few minutes past dawn. But it bore the signs of recent use; this school would be in session in a few hours. And yet his feet insisted this was where he needed to be.
It was in a rich suburb in the South of East Providence. Hank turned to his two companions. Thaddeus’ expression was serious. Ezekiel looked like he had just seen a ghost.
“This is it,” Hank grunted. “Say your prayers and check yur ammo. We are going in-”
“No…. no, not here,” Ezekiel said, shaking his head. “Please… this place…”
“Both of you, quiet,” Thaddeus interrupted, squinting at the school. “Something’s coming.”
And as if on cue, hatches on the ground flipped up. Out of the ground crawled monsters. They appeared humanoid, but they were covered in hulking black armor. As they stood, swaying in the sun, light glittered off of runes etches into the heavy black metal.
Thaddeus swore, and activated his exosuit. Instantly, the metal snapped out to encase his arms and legs. He pulled his plasma rifle out of his wristlet and trained it on the lead monster. There was only a dozen, but they gave off a heavy feeling. Hank’s instincts were screaming that these were dangerous. Dangerous on the level of Paolo, or Kayle.
Then, one by one, they light on fire. A dangerous, green, spectral fire. As the fire came alight, the runes slowly began to shine. These strange exosuits were powering on before their very eyes.
“Fuckin’ cheaters,” Hank muttered, drawing both the repeater and the revolver. He only had 36 revolver bullets at the moment. Why hadn’t he made more? While he was in Donnyton, it had just seemed like a waste of time to work on his bullets, but-
But he had gained a lot of Levels and PP and stats from his time there. With that edge, his bullets now would be quite a bit more powerful. Well, he would have to make do. But the problem was that they would each need to fight against 4 of them-
“Acid Arrow,” Ezekiel called, and Hank’s instincts screamed. If it had been him a month ago, the arrow would have taken him in the back of the head. Instead, he barely dodged rolled to the side. As he came up, he brought his pistol to bear on Ezekiel, but the exosuit monsters were rushing forward at such a speed that Hank couldn’t ignore them.
They were a bigger threat than Ezekiel.
It seemed that Thaddeus got the memo about Ezekiel’s change of heart because he leaped to the side, using his leg thrusters to get out of harm’s way. Bolts of hyperdense plasma smashed towards the monsters, but they moved with surprising grace for their size.
Grimacing, Hank raised his revolver and fired towards the leader’s leg. He used Trick Shot, speeding the bullet up past the point that it could feasibly be dodged. It smashed into its knee joint and sent it sprawling.
But it then straightened, standing on one leg. Seeming to glare at Hank, it raised its hand and shot a ball of green fire at him that he barely jerked out of the way of. This… would be tough.
Hank looked across the battlefield at Thaddeus. Their eyes met. When dodging, they had been forced away from each other. It normally wouldn’t matter, both faired well in a melee. But these opponents…
They loped towards them like wolves.
“It can’t be here…” Ezekiel whispered. “I need this… I-”
“You are stronger than this,” Hank said aloud. He felt his Soul Skill singing as he spoke. This was where he needed to be. “You have a son, think about him. You can find another way. This whole month, you’ve resisted. You’ve only hunted-”
Hank paused. Ezekiel smiled helplessly. The monsters in their flaming exosuits rushed forward in a tight formation, separating the two combatants.
“The runes you developed have been invaluable in my own research, by the way.” Father Foster commented as she strapped Randidly into the operating table. “The general utility… almost any form of energy can be used with them. And recently, I’ve discovered some very… interesting forms of power.”
Randidly didn’t bother to respond. Most of Father Foster’s responses were either to praise or insult Randidly’s intelligence. It was honestly rather tedious. Besides, Randidly was rather distracted with his own pursuits. But he couldn’t help but admit that he was rather impressed with the quality of craftsmanship of this room. It was clearly designed to contain powerful individuals.
The alloy that held Randidly was actually quite strong. So strong that it would be extremely difficult to rip his way out in a short amount of time under normal circumstances. His mind split into three pieces: one to solve the problem at hand, one to discuss with Father Foster, and a third to try and figure out how this metal was forged.
The final manacle snapped into place. “Ah well, this is it. Anything you would like to say before I put you under? I’ll just use 10 times the previous dosage. Even you should be knocked out. I hope your heart can handle the strain…”
Then Father Foster began muttering to herself. Randidly watched with amusement as she tried and failed to pierce his skin with a needle. Although he had been hit with the dart previously, he had allowed that to happen. Now, he activated Yyrwood Body of Yggdrasil, and very little that a scientist had could hurt him.
“I have only one question,” Randidly said slowly. He was so close, but he needed Father Foster to talk for a bit longer. He didn’t doubt that the woman had the ability to cut through his skin if given time to consider the issue. “Well, two questions, but I suspect the answer is the same.
“First… why did you come so near me? Even if you did transform yourself into a Raid Boss, if the core dies, the rest will suffer.”
Father Foster seemed to shiver at that, at being named what she was. Her mouth twitched into a smile, likely subconsciously. But Randidly continued to speak.
“And the other question...is why you are treating these younger spawn like fodder… why aren’t you developing that as intellectuals? For all that I think you are a monster… you were a genius. Somehow, you foiled the Creature and turned her into a power plant. All this research… if you stopped exploiting the people of your church, you could-”
“Pah, I do not run the church,” Father Foster said dismissively, waving a hand. “There is another iteration of myself focusing on political issues. My time is spent much more fruitfully.”
“...because your time is not spent spawning more monsters,” Randidly said, his eyes blazing. He had finished. It was time to end this joke. “Because you are not the Raid Boss. You are just a mutated lieutenant of a man who sold his soul to become a monster.”
“Ahaha! Fool, the selling of the soul was me.” Father Foster said, strangely intent once more. She leaned forward and pressed her nose against his. “In those days, that fool was happy to work under the Creature’s yoke. And he was plagued by failure. Of all the spawn from his body, I was the only one that developed a personality. I was the only true human incarnation. The only female. I saw the problem and approached the Creature. He needed to lose his hesitation for the process to be a success. I learned from her how to use the bond of the Raid Boss against him. To warp even the System. me. While I distracted him with a plot to capture the Creature like a toy, I eliminated them both. I perfected his body, I experimented until I created suits to bind the spawn to their roles as loyal pawns, to ME. This was all ME.
“I am the one who orchestrated all of this! Do not speak as if you know what it cost me. I have indeed sold my soul, and for that I named myself. I am the first and greatest, I am Faust. And the devil herself was devoured by me. I am-”
“Afraid,” Randidly said quietly, looking up at this not-quite-a-person. She had human eyes and her chest rose and fell from hyperventilation. Randidly didn’t know anything about the processes of a Raid Boss, but the Creature would. And that was exactly the sort of thing it would fuck with, given the chance. A chance due to inspiration from Ezekiel. Randidly closed his eyes. “Afraid of not mattering, of not existing, of your family not accepting you, of people hating you if you don’t control them. It’s just so-”
“Don’t speak like you understand me. We are finished talking.” Father Foster announced, turning away from Randidly.
Randidly nodded as well. “Yes, we are.”
He strained against the restraints. They bent, but only slightly. “Stalemate Breaker.” His Stamina disappeared in a flash, but the metal was ripped to shreds.
Father Foster froze, then spun around with wide eyes. “You…! If you do anything, I’ll kill-”
“It’s too late,” Randidly said simply and meant it. He had neutralized all of the monsters in and near the base. They lay bloody and torn throughout this strange sanctuary.
Father Foster’s face twisted into a sneer. “Really? Then-”
She smashed her fist into the wall and blew it open due to the surprising amount of force contained in her blow. Then she overbalanced and fell out of the hole in the side of the base when the rush of water she had been expecting didn’t occur. With a cry, she smashed into the ground about 20 meters below. Randidly hopped down to join her.
“It’s over. After I kill you, I’ll find the Raid Boss, and-” Randidly paused, and looked up. Above them, a wall almost 50 meters tall rose, purely made of interwoven plants. Water leaked slowly through, but he had started small and expanded outward rapidly, knocking away the water of the lake. The hardest part was weaving the plants tight enough in such a large piece, but his Skill had helped a lot with that.
But at the moment, someone had ripped a hole in one of his walls. Two someones. Well, three someones. It was a man covered in obsidian armor, a girl with black hair to her shoulders and two hammers, and a… bear, animated with unearthly green fire. Randidly’s eyes went back to the girl.
“Thea,” he breathed.