Just over a dozen Users stood in the lobby, geared up and ready for the final push. Men and women, young and old, all tense but committed. Wearing the small black gas masks, wielding a mix of guns and Ethisium weapons and clothed in everything from jeans and t-shirts to military fatigues.
At this point everyone here were all veterans at fighting the Legion or dead. Fighting the Grey Legion across a dozen floors and shutting down their escape attempts had killed half of those sent here by the System. He knew this because someone had carved over a dozen names into the marble of the lobby wall, each one representing a fallen User. It made him wonder how long even that small monument would last. Things weren't looking too good for the city, despite their moderate sucess here.
Explosions, alien spores and zombie armies. How much punishment could West Hills take?
Sending his gaze across the gathered Users, Derrick didn't see anyone that was happy to be here, well except Kate, but he didn't think any of them would flinch either. It had been a weird journey from yesterday to today, it seemed the people had changed as quickly as the world. In ways he wouldn't have thought possible. Was it natural or did the System influence them somehow?
There was no way to tell. So, he quashed that thought and paid attention to what the others were saying. It seemed like they had finally decided which of the three groups would go first.
That honour went to a group of five led by a stocky black woman with a shaved head and a modern shotgun he would guess was a human made weapon, not something that was Pandora Machine made. Her weapon, general attitude and mild but clear contempt for the rest of the Users made Derrick think she was military. Even Jenny submitted to her authority wordlessly.
He'd seen her outside, the rest of her group didn't seem military like her but all had knives and rifles so they had been guarding the perimeter. No doubt one of her group had shot the escaping Drone.
Probably the man Kate was making uncomfortable by staring at. He had a strange rifle on his back.
A railgun rifle designed by the System for use by humans with built in security functions. An improved version of their most common weapon type, it could last for hundreds of years without the need for repairs.
Accurate at extreme ranges due to advanced aiming functions and capable of short bursts. Requires specialized ammo from Universal Support Stations.
Designed to allow weak projectile enhancement using Manna or Auril.
Hmm not bad, but still disappointingly mundane. It was no plasma cannon or BFG. What was Manna and Auril though? Those sounded like they might have some sci-fi potential.
His thoughts were interrupted when the stocky woman shot him and Kate a disapproving glance. He'd been staring at the weapon, just like Kate, and so drawn her attention.
“I'm Beth,” the woman said simply. “And I'm in charge. Any problems with that?”
The woman gathered up her group and led them up the stairs. Blake's group of four would follow second, followed by the last group who was mostly made of melee weapon wielding amateurs like Derrick himself. Part of him wanted to think of them as fodder, which was sad because of how similar they were to himself.
He noticed that their group seemed a little dour, so he shot them a grin and thumbs up. This failed to cheer them up though. Instead they just focused their glowers at him. The largest of their group looked like he wanted to rip his head off. He should really stop trying to encourage people, it never worked out for him.
He followed Blake into the stairwell, keeping Jenny and Kate between him and the following group.
They swept through floors thirteen to seventeen without incident. Seeing neither civilians or Grey Legion of any kind. Not so much as a suspiciously uncolorful cat. Floors eighteen to twenty had a surprise for them though.
They were locked. Well, fused shut anyway. If they were just locked, they could have been cut through with Esthisium weapons. A grey material that looked like bone had flowed through the gaps in the doors and hardened. Even Esthisium weapons only chipped it a little, making it certain to take hours to force their way through that way. Luckily they didn't need to. After they had given the lowest blocked door a few blows, the first group rejoined them from above with a solution.
“Everyone to the edges of the stairwell,” their stocky leader ordered. The second that everyone had complied, a wall or hot air pushed his back into the wall and a boom filled his ears.
“Breaching Charge,” she said a second later and looked to Blake. “We will go in first, cover the entrance and stairwell.”
It was nice that someone was prepared.
Blake nodded, and they followed behind her group and saw their new door. It was a round hole in the steel wall about four feet wide. Behind the steel wall about two inches of the grey material had been somehow attached to it.
Wisps of steam billowed out of the hole, not from the explosion but because the entire floor was filled with it. A thin veil of it hung in the air, coming out of the empty door frames of every apartment. Beads of condensation ran down the walls.
Derrick scratched at the grey stuff as he bent through the hole. It was hard, sooth and warm. Like a ceramic and plastic mix? Something the Grey Legion had made themselves then.
The doors themselves had been used to build barricades across the hallway. Sealed together and reinforced with the same grey material as the stairwell entrance. They seemed like formidable cover. Which made the emptiness of the corridor all the more puzzling. Even though the Grey Legion had seemingly used all their agents in that last rush, this still felt like a trap.
The first group had moved quickly into the steamy corridor and was advancing doorway by doorway. They worked their way to the bend in the corridor and called Blake's group over.
“We'll hold here. Third group hold the entrance with two people, the rest search on the right with Dave here.” Their glorious leader said and one of her group stepped to join group three. "Second group carefully search the rooms on the left.”
If they hadn't been the group first through the breach, he'd have balked at the command, but they'd already proven themselves competent and brave. Jenny moved to his side and nodded towards the first apartment by the corridor entrance. He tried to lead the way but Jenny shook her head and stepping ahead, calmly checked each corner in a professional way.
The apartment had been ransacked and the kitchen was hardest hit. It seemed like it had been emptied of most food, beyond that, no pattern jumped out at him as to what they had been targeting. The bathroom contained the most mysteries, the shower was fused open, making it impossible to stop the flow of hot water. The Legion seemed to like it hot and wet. Or at least steamy.
They also had questionable interior decoration ideas. A hole just big enough for someone to drop through had been… melted through the thick concrete of the bathroom ceiling.
It would be impossible for him to climb up there but anything could jump down. Which made clearing or securing this floor impossible as they could just jump down at any time.
Derrick and Jenny backed away from the hole and into the corridor to rejoin the others.
He reported their findings to Beth, who just grimaced and nodded before shooing them back into another apartment. Each one was the same, missing food, stuck showers and holes in the bathroom and corridor ceilings. In one apartment he noticed strange marks on the ceiling near the hole, like scratches...
Scouting Proficiency Gained (Basic)
Derick grinned. Scouting eh? Too bad he couldn't check what that unlocked right now. He was glad to have a second proficiency anyway.
“This is a trap,” Beth said when all the rooms had been searched. She didn't sound surprised.
“Then why haven't they set it off?” Blake asked warily as he eyed the dark corridor and empty doorways.
“They've effectively turned three floors into one giant one. They can move between them unseen without passing the bottleneck of the stairwell or exposing themselves on the outside of the building.” She replied. “It makes it impossible for one or even two groups to effectively hunt down our targets. We'd need to split up and that's when they will hit us.”
“If were playing Hide and Seek with the Grey Legion, they will be cheating,” Kate added as calmly as if she was talking about the weather. “We can't think of them as being as limited as humans. Their senses and coordination will be better than ours.”
Beth gave Kate a cold stare before sighing.
“I'd retreat before splitting up like that,” she admitted. “We'll clear the building as a group before we do either option however.”
“We have enough breachers for that?” someone else asked.
“Yes,” the rifleman from Beth's group replied.
Opposite of the order they entered, they made in back to the stairwell without incident and when the next breacher went off and opened the way into floor nineteen, they found it like floor eighteen but darker. Where on the floor below, light had flowed into each apartment through the windows and empty door frames, on this floor, a thin layer of smooth grey material blocked most of the light that tried to enter the floor.
When Derrick stepped through the small hole they had blown in the door, he knew this was a trap.
No, the floor below had felt like a trap, this was pure horror movie killzone and everyone of them felt it. He could see everyone tense up, grip their weapons tighter, flashlight beams darting at every curling tendril of mist that might be a attacking enemy.
“We should leave,” said Blake. “If the System wants this place cleared so bad, let it bring the whole building down. Nothing human is alive in here anyway.”
Derrick was just about to give his support for that tactic when a familiar blue box appeared. He read it as quick as possible so that it didn't block his vision anymore.
Universal Support System
(1) Clear apartment building of Grey Legion
(2) Rescue civilians and escort them from the building. (Complete)
(3) Prevent Legion drones (1/2) from escaping
Obedience Protocols Activated! Please obey instructions for your own safety. We regret the loss of control.
He grimaced when he finsished reading. Of fucking course.
Without any real choice, they split up and explored again. Jenny and himself cautiously explored two rooms, the tension and paranoia building until he was almost glad when he heard the shouting and the two of them fled back to the corridor. The noise was coming from the apartment across the hall from where they were.
One of the grunts from group three had fallen through a concealed hole in the floor of one of the apartments and was shouting for help from his partner, who Derrick didn't see anywhere. Jenny's gun light illuminated the bottom of the hole and he grimaced. Someone had placed a throw rug over the hole to conceal it. It would be comical if it wasn't absolutely terrifying. A stupidly effective trap he could have easily walked into as well. He especially didn't like the missing ally. This reeked of the old wounded ally lure.
He scanned every shadow while Jenny tried to clam the victim down.
When she shuffled closer to the edge, he grabbed her shoulder and held her back.
“Stay away from the edge,” he hissed. “This is bait. Wait for others and we will throw something down.”
Jenny froze for a second but then nodded and moved to a closet. She took some sheets and began tying them together.
Beth and the Rifleman entered the room.
“Something is here, and it already got one of us,” he told them. “It's using traps to delay and separate us.”
Beth took in the scene.
“You throw him the rope, we'll cover you.” She said.
He nodded and Jenny pass him it before pointing her pistol down into the circle of light below. Beth and the rifleman covered the hole in the ceiling and the door.
Their teriffied ally stood at the bottom of the hole, one hand raised to catch the rope, the other hand clenching the hilt of a knife. Derrick threw the makeshift rope down to him but he never caught it. At the last second a grey blur hit him and with a short scream he was dragged into the dark of the floor below them.
Paling, Derrick let go of the rope and backed away from the hole. He had to fight the suicidal instinct to run back in the corridor. That grey blur had been fast. Faster even than the dogs, but human shaped and judging by the solid grey of its skin, tougher than even the brute they had fought earlier. It could have hit them at any time, but it was as clever and cautious as it was fast.
Fuck, Derrick swore as quiet as a whisper. Fuck the System, this was super unbalanced. Their enemies were growing stronger much faster than he was! He needed to find a way to get stronger fast or he was toast.
“Back to the corridor,” Beth said darkly. Derrick and Jenny needed no encouragement. If anything Jenny looked like she was more shocked than he was.
“No sign of any drone or anything like that on this floor,” Blake said as they joined him and the others in the corridor. “We lost two more people though, the guy from your group who joined group three and his partner are just gone.”
“On to the next floor,” said Beth. “ Be very fucking careful, this place is trapped. Low tech so far, but we don't know what they are capable of. ”
Whatever was picking them off, left them alone as they broke into the last floor of the apartment building.
Besides the mist being a little heavier, it was exactly the same as the floor below at first glance. As soon as the first of Beth's group had stepped through the entry hole though, they came under fire.
A quick burst of a dozen muzzle flashes revealed three grey agents, two with a pistol and one with a rifle. The Legion shooters caught a human User with at least one bullet and her allies pulled her back into the stairwell. It didn't escape his notice that they didn't fire on her as he was pulled to safety. The Grey Legion wanted them alive.
Derrick wondered if he should kill himself if things got bad enough. he doubted he could and didn't want to anyway. Hey, maybe the Grey Legion's smiles were sincere and they were actually having fun?
Their gunmen immediately returned fire, scoring hits that would bring a normal person down, but it took multiple shots on each for them to fall, and before that happened, their rifleman screamed and dropped his rifle. Luckily Kate managed to bring the last enemy shooter down with a headshot.
This was only temporary though. The Grey Agents would be back on their feet soon, the fuckers. Which meant they needed to follow up this shootout with a charge. He hesitated, thinking of that grey blur...
“Go, go, go!” yelled Beth, who grabbed him by the shoulder and basically threw him inside. He had two options, tuck into a roll that took him through the hole or stop himself with his face. He chose the later. Blake and two others quickly sprinted up beside him.
Derrick moved with the momentum of the shove, he couldn't stop now so he might as well pretend he had been going anyway.
The Grey Agents had been behind a barricade about one hundred meters down the corridor. Right before they could leap above it, two more agents rose from below the barricade and blocked them. One of their allies was caught of guard and took a baseball bat to the ribs. He dropped like a rag doll at the feet of the smiling grey skinned woman who had ambushed him. Derrick was the closest to her, so he tried to take her down quickly but failed.
She was weirldy skilled with the bat. Not as tough as the brute or inhumanly fast but she was the first grey agent he'd fought that was actually good at fighting. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Blake take down the other Agent while their last standing ally attacked the fallen shooters. Worryingly, he heard shouts and gunshots from behind them, where their own gunmen were supposed to be supporting them. He had no time to deal with that though. Just keeping his bones unbroken was taking all his concentration. The good news was that time was on his side, only his opponent’s skill had kept her weapon from being cleaved by his axe so far but all it would take was one good hit on her or her weapon to end the fight.
There was a limited number of variations she could use with such a simple weapon while not letting him break it. Her weakness was defence. He pushed her back and tried to overwhelm her with a flurry of blows to her body. It worked, he finally caught the bat with his blade and broke it.
Sadly, his small victory blinded him to the larger battle, she caught the blade with her shoulder, shredding it but not stopping her. She punched him in the face with her good side and sent him sprawling back. Again with the face, Derrick swore silently.
“I see you,” it said, and smiling with empty eyes, pressed its advantage. The enemy grabbed an arm he'd thrown out to balance himself. She was inside his guard now, where his axes couldn't hit. Luckily, he still had a knife Kate had given him. He pulled it out of it's sheath and struck out with his his free hand at her bad side. Jamming the balde deep into the grey flesh of her neck and dropping her almost immediately.
A second later, he was already dropping his axe down into the rising form of a shooter Agent and panting as he took in the battlefield aound him. All the Agents in the corridor were out of commission, but of his allies only Blake was still standing and he was limping away from him towards the entry point where Jenny stood. Derrick quickly cast a glance around and sprinted after him, deadly tired but not wanting to be left on this floor alone.
Melee Proficiency Upgraded (Advanced)
Instead of them leaving though, Kate, carrying the rail gun, leaped through the hole and into a roll. She was followed by Beth who rolled into a crouch with her shotgun pointed at the hole.
There was a scream from the other side and once again he saw a blur of grey. Nothing came out though, and the five of them stood with weapons drawn, listening but hearing nothing but whimpers and the soft sound of showers running.
“This is fucking ridiculous. Why did you gun wielding badasses run?” Blake hissed. “Did you at least wound it? Because I'm pretty sure its not threatened by my knives or Derrick's axes”
“It dropped down the stairwell right on top of us as soon as the fight started.” said Kate. “Fucking thing is fast and armoured. Like full medieval knight armoured but with finger knives.”
“No vital points either, except maybe the joints,” Beth added stonily. “No eyes or nose holes, just thin featureless grey armour.”
“Legionnaire?” asked Derrick with morbid curiosity.
“No, just a Legion Vanguard,” Kate said and smiled at him.
“Whatever its called,” Beth said through clenched teeth. “We can't let it pick us off anymore. We need to draw it out.”
“Then we should go for the Drone then,” said Derrick. “It won’t let us destroy it, it will be forced to defend it.”
Beth and Blake shot a gloomy look around the dark and misty floor. No doubt considering the likelihood of surviving a retreat.
“Do we have any chance of beating it?” asked the last conscious and mobile member of Beth's group. He was carrying a knife and a pistol.
“We might have something that can stop it.” Blake said while patting his waist where the Tangler grenade hung. Derrick had honestly forgotten about those.
“I can even point us in the right direction,” said Derrick and pointed to the only closed off apartment. Grey material bulged out of the seams of the sturdy wooden door. “Anyone bring a breacher?”