“Glad you could make it,” responded Derrick. “Please stop shaking me.”
For some reason, the bald bodybuilder was rocking him back and forth in time to the fast pace of the music. He seemed oblivious to the Users that seconds ago had been attacking Derrick. Instead he was nodding his own head to the music and taking in the whole scene.
The Users had definitely noticed him though. The three remaining Users had backed away and seemed hesitant to continue the fight. He didn't blame them, Bruce was almost seven feet tall and his ripped sleeveless shirt showed off his equally ripped upper body.
Ah, he'd already taken out their boss. No wonder they hesitated now that things had changed for the worse.
There was chime and the woman of the group looked to her phone. Derrick frowned as whatever was written there caused her spine to stiffen. She made a little gesture with her hand and the other two Users stepped forward. That could only be Greta interfering again, he was starting to get annoyed at her. She must really hate the Demnols if she was going this far. He glanced around but didn't see her anywhere. No obvious flunkies either. Where were they being watched from?
His annoyance rose as a familiar skinny man re-entered the bar with a tall and stocky woman beside him. His squinty eyes left no doubt that he was here to fight. The large woman beside him calmly took Bruce and Derrick in, a vicious little smile on her face as she looked over Bruce.
Derrick frowned. How the unholy fuck did Greta have so many people willing to fight for her? It's not like she could be paying them and he doubted it was innate charm. He got the feeling that things were escalating out of control. Fuck it, he wasn't going to back down now.
Bruce let go of his shoulder.
“I think that woman is checking me out,” he whispered loudly in Derrick's ear as he winked at her.
He did know this was a fight, right? Derrick turned to look at the larger man but only saw his signature grin, which revealed little. There was something in his eyes though, that made Derrick sure he knew exactly what was going on.
“She seems like a hard woman to impress,” Derrick said honestly. “Bring your A-game. We're fighting our way through them. I got a friend that needs saving.”
“No problems,” said Bruce as he settled into a pose that highlighted his muscles and winked towards their opponents. “I'm always ready for some action.”
That was more than a little creepy. As a demoralizing tactic it seemed to work though, as Bruce moved forward, their opponents moved back. No doubt unwilling to be the first one to test his skills.
Just when he thought there was a chance that they'd get through without a fight, One of the women dashed at them and the rest followed. To Derrick's annoyance, the majority of them seemed to attack him. Well, whatever. It wasn't like he wasn't used to fighting multiple opponents at he same time at this point. At least they didn't have a creepy catchphrases and matching smiles.
The first attacker threw a few jabs and then tried to straight right him so obviously that he didn't need Lash to land a perfect counter. He grabbed the stunned man's arm and collar, then spun him into the next attacker to arrive. The second that bought was all he needed to confront the third man, who was trying to position himself at his back. He threw the man a quick smile, pushed through his jabs and landed a hard blow to his chin.
He took a moment to collect himself. He looked over the scene and grinned. Someone had tried to arm bar Bruce and lacking the strength to pull it off, had ended up as a human weapon as Bruce bashed his way through the opposition. If Bruce had been merely big, that might have worked, the bodybuilder was also a User though and probably just as enhanced as Derrick was.
Derrick grinned. They were winning and it felt glorious. His heart beat like a jackhammer and a feral grin split his face. These realizations caught him off guard. Since when did he enjoy anything this much, never mind fighting. His whole fighting experience was some family karate and a few months of kickboxing. The later taken just to get him out of his apartment and meet people. If he'd enjoyed either half as much as he did this fight, he'd never have stopped.
Was this Auril Energy messing with his head? Did it matter? Chair? He tried to dodge but was too slow. A thrown chair interrupted his mid fight introspection, landing a glancing blow on the back of his head.
While still hazy, he saw the stocky woman use an expert kick to send him flying through the air.
Ow. The world spun madly, slowly settling back into a form he could understand.
“Thanks a bunch,” he said uncertainly as he rolled onto his feet from the table he'd landed on with surprising softness. Apparently when he'd been sent flying by a superhuman kick, just before he'd crashed into the hard surface of the table he'd been caught by... grizzled bikers?
He smelled blood, sweat, beer and leather.
Just his luck, he had missed the all female university student table by only a few feet. Still better than the floor though. “I owe you all a beer.”
“We'll hold you to that little brother,” said a surprisingly attractive older woman with her raven hair tucked behind a bandana. “Truth be told, your fight has been the highlight of the night. Was beginning to think this wasn't our kind of party.”
A collection of grinning faces hidden behind massive beards and sunglasses nodded at that. The older woman grinned at him, showing oddly pointed teeth between her full lips.
“Do you mind if a couple lads join in,” she asked. “A few of the boys get antsy if they go too long without hitting something.”
Derrick pondered this.
“No,” he replied. “Go to town.”
The woman made a shooing gesture and just like that, their team grew by two Users. What had started as an isolated brawl had grown into something much messier. A biker tapped one of Bruce's opponents on the shoulder, only to haymaker him when he turned. The other biker sauntered into a fistfight with the stocky woman, only to be knocked back on his ass after a short exchange of blows. Derrick filled the gap, cautiously jabbing and looking for weakness.
It was not an exchange he was winning, if repetitive blows to the head were any indication. It turned out that beginner karate could only get him so far. He was just lucky the last two days had gotten him used to head blows. In fact, the more he was hit, the more eager to fight he grew.
All the pain and emotion of the brawl was fuel for a spark that was burning inside him. It filled him with fighting spirit as fast as the woman could beat it out of him. It was like he was losing himself in something greater.
He could feel that even though he was losing the fight, he was winning the war. Without looking, he knew that without the stocky woman to slow him, Bruce was rampaging and every time a biker was knocked out of the fight, another was sent forward with a smile by their raven haired leader.
“Just stay down,” his opponent said, clearly annoyed at Derrick. He knew that she knew that if nothing changed, she was going to lose.
Derrick wiped a line of blood from under his nose and eyed her. Her annoyance at him annoyed him. She was the one who was standing in his way. She should just get out of his way. He felt a tingle run up his spine and his hand twitched.
That wasn't a good sign. Adrenaline told him to ignore it, so he did.
“No,” he replied and stepped forward again. This time he managed to block a kick and land a body blow before he was sent reeling back. When he caught himself once again, her face darkened.
“You're just asking for it,” she said.
“No,” he replied and stepped forward again. “I'm demanding it.”
Backtalking may have been a mistake. This round lasted longer, but only it turned out, so the woman could grab him and land multiple blows, stopping him from falling or retreating as she pummelled him.
As her fists made contact, he felt himself slipping away. Moment by moment, things grew darker. But he could still feel that energy, that pulse that had driven him to fight so hard. So, he stepped away from the darkness, from defeat and submersed himself in that instead.
From a tiny speck, that feeling grew until it filled him. Derrick knew it was powerful, that he would win this fight because he was part of something greater...
Universal Support System Implant
Auril mutation detected. Adapting... Authority Intervention (GazGr)
Cleansing... Failure. Probability of host damage too high.
Cleansing... Authority exceeded (GazGr). Penalizing.
Auril mutation detected. Adapting.
His soul on fire, the notification meant nothing to Derrick. Trapped in a burning darkness, he screamed until blessed nothingness claimed him. The last sensation he knew was the cold weight of countless alien eyes.
The entity known as Gazer's Grin retreated in pain from its short lived connection with User KL7I 843OY6.
The System had made its displeasure clear with Gazer's attempt to clean up this mess. The soulless machine had no understanding of the consequences this event could inspire.
Instead, it had responded to his panic by searing him with digital fire and breaking his connection to the User, throwing him away so hard he'd been momentarily stunned, adrift in the immensity of local System resources. How had things spiralled out of control so quickly?
Originally he'd come to know this native User simply by chance. The unremarkable User had been exposed to Grey Legion Auril energy and had been temporarily contaminated by it.
Nothing particularly remarkable about that. Processes he'd written when he first arrived at this world had activated and let him know of it, allowing him use the User's implant to amplify and sample the energies and their effects on the User.
It was nothing he hadn't done a thousand times before, that hadn't been done countless times by other Authorities over millennia and across a hundreds of world. Such samples revealed little individually but they added up over the eons, building a better image of the nature of the sampled Scourge that could be used to resist and understand it.
All he'd wanted was to better understand why the Grey Legion was performing above expectations on this world. Well, at least that mystery was solved. Humanity was astoundingly susceptible to Legion corruption, both of the physical and Auril types. Perhaps due to some similarity between it and whatever species had originally spawned this young Scourge?
Without his interference, the Auril Echo would have quickly faded to nothing, causing nothing but brief alien sensations or odd dreams. A fire that would quickly burn itself out in the inhospitable environment that was the primitive physiology of Earthlings.
Blight Sight! If only the individual hadn't been an Auril sensitive! Gazer's Grin shuddered. His interference, plus the nature of the corruption and the natives own talents had combined, moving the System to intervene and grant what the stupid thing no doubt considered a boon. That unlikely chain of coincidences had made this more than a local Scourge issue. Transforming it into something far more dangerous to him.
His mastery of the System was great enough that among his peers, only ITRS could possibly connect him to this event. Who knew what that ancient thing was capable of? He doubted it would be a problem, in fact, he leaned towards consulting it for help. Humanity's potential for Auril sensitivity could have dire repercussions for their effort to preserve the species. He and his entire race considered the hostility towards Auril sensitivity that the Galactic community felt to be little more than superstition and ignorance. A unfortunate repercussion of the fact that the System raised so many species from base savagery and treated them as equals to more advanced races.
Even at their worst, the sensitive were only dangerous to their own kind. The System itself was completely indifferent to the quirk, barely acknowledging it. There was no doubt though, that it would make enemies that the fledgling species could not afford. His calculations for their continued survival plummeted drastically if certain System allied civilizations withdrew their support. Never mind if some of the more fanatical races decided to take direct action to assure their destruction. That was made unlikely though, by the isolated nature of any freshly discovered world.
It would have been better for everyone if the he'd been able to force a cleansing or death of User KL7I 843OY6.
Auril sensitivity wasn't even useful! The common brute force Auril techniques were more effective agianst the Scourges. Yet, this probably useless gift might be the death of this Users species and a black mark on Gazer's own perfect record of species survival.
No, Auril sensitive or not. This species would not die while he watched. He would not allow primitive prejudices to undo his work. His record and the very purpose of the System demanded it.
Universal Support System Implant
Auril Mutation contained and adapted to User.
Uploading ability pattern to User Implant.
You have earned Auril Proficiency: Basic
You have gained the Auril ability: Crude Quantum Awareness
Crude Quantum Awareness (F) (Survival)
A weave of Auril energy that responds to others awareness of your self and position. Allowing you to know when other sentients are directly aware of your position within a certain range. Can be trained to provide additional information.
Derrick snapped back to reality after what felt like hours stuck in a nightmare about thousands of eyes staring down at him. He was very shocked to discover that he was still on his feet, he was even more shocked when a second later, his fist flew out and hit someone in the face. He didn't even remember throwing it, or that someone was even there to punch. Good punch though, solid with a nice follow through.
As surprised as he was, he was not as surprised as his attacker, who fell backwards on her ass. Derrick was too confused to take advantage. What had just happened. It had started because of Auril? What was an Auril Mutation?
A rare phenomenon where Auril contamination from an outside source reacts with internal Auril Energy, permanently altering it. Usually fatal without intervention, User Implants can guide this mutation away from damaging effects to grant Users new understanding of Auril Energy.
So. This was the second time he'd gotten a notification about this GazGr thing. First it had used him to sample that Vanguards Auril energy and then tried to kill him when it caused a mutation? Why?
The notifications he remembered held no clues. Neither did Crude Quantum Awareness. It seemed interesting from a scientific perspective? Not really useful though, especially in a barfight. He already knew people were watching him.
Oh, right. He was in a barfight.
The female User he'd just knocked down didn't seem like she'd be getting back up soon, so he scooted around her and quickly made for the exit. Two Users were guarding it, but when Bruce backhanded a guy out of his way to join Derrick, they backed off.
The two of them left the bikers to deal with the few remaining opponents.
“Where to now,” Bruce asked as they entered a long corridor with dozens of solid wood doors along it.
It was a good question. He had no idea. Derrick stared blankly at them until he remembered something. He'd bought that Auril pulse device. Before it hadn't worked because he didn't have any Auril Energy. Now he did though.
“Auril Pulse,” he said and held out his wrist.
He felt a pull from his wrist as the device took something from him. A moment his implant shoved new information into his mind.
He became aware of dozens of people shaped blobs superimposed over people's locations all around him. Like what he imagined a pulse of echolocation would be like if it only worked on living things. He frowned, he'd been hoping something to identify Blake by, with just a vague shape it would almost be impossible to find him. All this let him know was what rooms were empty.
Well, two rooms stood out anyway. One where someone was unmoving in a sitting position and the other where someone was spread eagle on what he assumed was a bed. The sitting person was closer and less likely to be awkward.
He looked at Bruce to find the larger man posing beside him, flexing his muscles.
“...Why are you posing?” he asked incredulously.
“Why are you posing?” returned Bruce.
What, he wasn't... Oh right, he was still holding his arm out... For some reason he'd felt the need to do that when he'd activated his device.
“Break that door.” he said as he pointed, eagerly changing the subject.
Bruce slowly moved from his pose to an elaborate fighters stance. With a short shout he slammed into the door, his weight easily taking both the hinges and the lock right off the door. Solid wood didn't even manage to slow him down as he sent the whole door falling into the room.
There was a moment of silence after the door hit the ground. Derrick peered inside. There was no Blake.
Instead, a older and scholarly looking Indian man was holding a book while seated in a old fashioned wooden chair. He was giving the both of them a very surprised look. A second later he began clapping.