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 Move, his instincts screamed at him. If only it was that easy.

He was in unexplored highs of the pain scale. He opened his eyes and mostly saw only his own bloody arm pressed into his face. He vaguely recalled shielding his head and wondered if it had made any difference, he did have a mask now.

The first problem he faced was that his seat belt was pinning him against the depressed side of the car. A few seconds of blind flailing failed to unbuckle him. Thankfully, he did find the knife Kate had given him and manged to cut himself free. The cool handle of the gift, and the easy snap of the seat belt really helped quell his panic.

The second problem was that no one else was doing better than him. Which was bullshit, he should be the worst off by far.

The strange itchy sensation returned, noticeable even through the pain. Wincing, he turned to see a grey hand reaching towards him through the broken window. No, not towards him. The car door was ripped off and a grinning grey face peered inside the car. It got a knife in its neck for its trouble. Then, Derrick swivelled in his seat and brought his knees to his chest, before sending his feet into the Grey Agent's chest.

With a mouth tasting of blood, Derrick grinned as the Agent flew. Super strength was exactly as fun as it seemed in movies. Sadly, that wasn't the only Agent. Two others had helped it rip the door off. They grinned back at him, undeterred by their ally flying past them and leaving a trail of grey blood through the from his neck as it flew.

He couldn't hide a wince. That had hurt, his hip and ribs were not OK. He could ignore it though, at least for awhile.

Dodging grasping hands, Derrick rolled out of the car, gripping his axes in one hand. He usually wore them on his back, but that wasn't comfortable when sitting.

His roll took him right past his enemies, so he rose to his feet and quickly turned to face them. One of them lunged at him with a knife in hand but immediately lost that hand to an axe swipe. It just gave him an annoyed look before trying to tackle him, while its ally stepped back and raised a pistol.

Derrick simultaneously let an axe and foot fly. The axe flew from his hand and took the shooter in the collarbone, while the foot smashed at the charger's knee.

The shooter went down but his friend shuffled and took his weight off of the knee Derrick had targeted at the last second, preventing the Agent from taking any real damage from Derrick's kick.

A knife snaked out at Derrick's forearm but he pulled back out of the way. This one was good, he noted silently, as good as him anyway. His weapon was shit however. Derrick knew he'd win this fight. A mundane knife was no match for a Esthisium axe and if he needed to, he could lash.

He stepped in and swung again, his strikes unblockable. Inhumanly fast, a knife came at his body but he batted it aside with his hand, ignoring the shallow cut and driving the blade of his axe between ribs. He kicked the agent down,freeing his axe and brought it down on the fallen agent. He winced as the axe dug deep into flesh with a squelching sound. He was still not totally used to brutality of this level.

He smiled. Then frowned. That had been fun. Even afterwords, with a messed up hip and bleeding cuts, he felt only enjoyment and a deep sense of satisfaction. Nothing moved as he limped to retrieved his thrown axe. Good, he wasn't sure how much fight was left in him, weird punch drunkenness aside.

Enemies dead, he looked over the scene and swore loudly to the deserted streets. Fuck the Grey Legion. Their plan was as simple as it was effective. Using their inhuman toughness to weaponize car crashes. It had almost worked on him and he was higher level User with healing traits.

He looked over the wreckage where his allies were still, he felt a wave of panic overtake him. It was as unexpected as it was overpowering. A deep despair that emptied his lungs and filled his mouth with acid.

All gone, as if struck down by the hand of some wrathful god. Everything shook as he fought to even stay standing.

“Still alive,” Derrick hissed and drove a heel into the ground to prevent himself from falling over.

It took several brutal seconds before he regained normality. A black grin grew on his face. A twitching mockery of a smile. He almost had to laugh at himself, apparently he was bipolar now.

That had hit him right in the trauma. Some Auril bullshit had clearly made things worse too, it had been years since he'd had an attack like that.

He stepped towards the smashed police cruiser. It had seemed like a powerful impact at the time but the side of the car was only a little dented. Likely the Greys were holding back. They didn't want people dead after all. Car crashes were chaotic things but he guessed his allies would walk it off. That attack had caught them by surprise but Users were tough. He was just lucky there had been only three...

Once again, he felt that strange sensation. Like something was pulling at him but without clear direction?

Fast as thought, he unleashed a pulse of Auril energy. Instantly, he felt the shape of something living right behind him. Something that felt brighter than anything he'd felt before and it was moving through the air at right him.

He dropped down and swung upwards in a move that looked like break dancing. He caught a grey blur as it soared through the space he'd occupied half a second ago. He noticed with dismay that the axe bounced off it without leaving more than a kinda deep scratch. The blur landed a half dozen feet away, turned and snarled at him, revealing a complete lack of eyes and a mouth full of daggers. The shape was different but he recognized the grey armor and lack of eyes. It was a Legion Vanguard, one made from a dog instead of a person.

He slipped a glance at where his friends were still in the vehicle. He heard movement but no one was ready to jump to his defence. Joy.

Last time, it had taken three heavily armed Users to take one of these down. Now he was wounded, probably alone and had less tools at his disposal. He hadn't even bothered to bring a Tangler, he'd stupidly thought they wouldn't be useful against the Tyrant Spores. On the bright side, now he was two levels higher and had a new trait. Guess he was going to see what that was worth.

He eyed the creature and began to circle it. If he was going to hurt it, he either needed to hit it really really hard or just really hard on the joints of its armor. It was no doubt much more agile than him though, so the best bet was a strong defence with a strong counterattack when it committed to an attack.

It would probably try to dodge and absorb a weak hit so it could get through his defences and take him apart. Literally. The two of them circled each other, neither seemed to be in a hurry. Derrick just hoped it was actually wary of him and not waiting for reinforcements or something.

With no warning, the Vanguard charged him and Derrick lashed. The boost gave him a shot at hitting hard enough to end the fight. Anything less than a killing blow and things would go downhill fast and he had no faith in a direct contest of speed.

Luckily, he had a plan. The barfight yesterday had taught him a few things about fighting, like how much stronger he was now. He grabbed the door the Grey Agents had taken off his ride earlier and swung it at the Legion Vanguard.

The dog had speed but he had weight. The User hit the creature solidly with the door and the Vanguard scrambled against it for a second before being sent flying backwards. Derrick let go of the door and followed it, hoping to exploit a moment of weakness.

No such luck. The armoured canine recovered midair and touched the ground only for a second before coming back at him just as fast as the first time. As the eyeless creature propelled itself at his lower body, Derrick feinted with his left axe, hoping to distract it. Still no luck. It ignored the strike, knowing that it was too weak to pierce its defences. His second strike at the leaping creature was better, but still a failure. It pierced its armour without doing any real damage. Luckily, he could use the momentum of the strike to deflect the dog to the side.

With only fractions of a second before its teeth tore into him, he enacted his backup plan. He didn't have a Tangler handy but thankfully his laziness had assured that he had brought something else.

He dropped his axes and spun out of the way, his now empty hand grabbed something from his waist and slapped it onto the Vanguard's back before they spun apart.

Razor sharp claws carved into his thigh before travelling upwards and failed to penetrate his armored undershirt. He successfully managed to dodge the teeth though, that was the important part. His next part would go badly for everyone if the dog was latched onto him.

Luckily, his move seemed to confuse the dog, allowing him to increase the distance between them. He was now even more injured and weaponless but he smiled at the Vanguard.

“I bet you wish you had opposable thumbs.” Derrick said as lash faded. Too bad that, he'd of liked to see this in slow motion.

A small circular object was stuck to the mutant dog, not even close to the reach of its paws. The dog considered the device for a second before the shaped explosive cut it in half.

Ahh fuck, he'd been standing way too close to that explosion. So loud...

He'd have been really embarrassed if that hadn't worked. He just hopped he didn't' run into any fortified doors now that he was out of breaching charges.

The axe wielding User heard a noise from behind him. He tried to Auril Pulse but felt it fail. He was still low on Auril power.

He spun and saw another Vanguard dog sitting on top of an abandoned car. It made no move towards him. Even though it had no eyes, Derrick could tell it was watching him intently.

How smart was it anyway? Could it tell how he'd killed the last one or that he was out of breachers?

Once again, Derrick heard noise. This time it was welcome however, it was swearing and it came from the cruiser. Multiple voices too.

Derrick wasn't stupid enough to look, but his allies, it seemed, would soon join the fight. The dog's ears perked up and it lunged towards... its allies corpse? Derrick wasn't sure what was going on there, but he wasn't going to have any of that. It was his kill. He was proud of it dammit.

“Bad dog,” he said with stern disapproval. It ignored him and stalked closer.

A loud crack rang out and the canine mutant flinched.

“This is bullshit,” Kate said angrily after seeing her shot just bounce of the creature. Seeing as how it was useless, she dropped the rifle and moved behind Derrick, a Esthisium knife in each hand.

“Plan?” asked Derrick hopefully as he puffed up his chest and twirled his axes, trying to look threatening and hiding how much pain he was in. Sadly, that was his entire plan.

“Charge it,” Kate suggested a she moved beside him. “While it's mauling you, try to hold it still so I can stab it.”

Derrick really wished he could think of a better plan than that.

“Oh, and try to avoid taking damage above the neck and below the belt,” she added with a flutter of her eyelashes. “For my sake.”

“Don't worry gentle lady, I'll protect you.” Derick boasted caustically. “And also the doctors from another visit by you. I'm sure they need time to design special restraints for you.”

“Truly, you are everybody's hero.” deadpanned Kate,. They were talking to each other but her eyes, like his, were focused on the their canine enemy.

That alien killing machine watched them banter silently before confidently padding towards them. It instantly moved from confident swagger to full charge, becoming a grey flash.

Derrick moved to intercept, swinging an axe with all his strength. Anything less wouldn't even cause it to flinch. He, of course, missed. The Vanguard was much faster than him. He prepared for pain but just when it was about to rip into his calf, it instead pivoted and threw itself to the side.

From the corner of his eye, he saw the edge of knife change direction and disappear. It seemed Kate had his back. The threat of her strike had forced the Vanguard back. The enemy's movement was just slow enough that Derrick could swing his other axe at it, forcing it to dodge even further away. Momentum was his friend. Instead of retreating, he stepped forward and reversing his first strike, struck again. A hit, if barely. The armored canine spun with the blow, taking no real damage beyond a scratch. He swore that if he survived this, he'd carve these tough bastards up and make armored pants out of them.

Kate stepped out from behind him and struck again. Too slow. In slow motion, he saw the dog position itself to counter the knife. It opened it's mouth and with inhuman speed, twisted to bite at Kate's offending wrist. That would take her right out of the fight. Not to mention the resulting struggle would probably kill them both. He had no confidence in forcing the monster off of her once it had latched on. Precision wasn't really his thing.

So, he kicked it in the head just before it could bite her. That seemed to catch it by surprise, his heel impacted the side of its eyeless head and for a second it seemed stunned. Then, like quicksilver, it dodged a knife strike and retreated, taking with it, a small chunk of his calf.

“Mrghhhh,” he exclaimed loudly, in too much pain for real words.

“That was stupid,” Kate commented dryly.

He shot her a look of pure venom. He'd only done it to prevent worse from happening to her. She ignored him and moved to the front.

“Stay behind me,” Derrick said, angry and in pain.

Kate gave him an unimpressed look.

“No,” she said before turning towards their enemy and grinning. “You struck too soon, wasted the opportunity .”

Wait. Had she purposely tried to sacrifice her own wrist? To give him the chance to land a heavy blow? Only he was allowed to do something that stupid!

“You could have died,” he hissed in disapproval. A bite to the wrist? Nothing he'd learned about Users suggested they couldn't bleed to death.

“I'm not afraid of dying,” she commented to Derrick almost casually. “I'm afraid of not living, of not being worth remembering. So, ya. Stay behind me.”

Derrick felt a wave of anger flow into him, at Kate, the Vanguard and himself. How dare the Vanguard hurt him and threaten the people he cared about. How dare Kate acknowledge that hurt. How dare he allow himself to be hurt. The worst part was that he couldn't argue with her. He should have never shared things about himself with her. There was no time to argue now anyway.

He moved up beside her and settled into a balanced stance. Without her eyes leaving their target, Kate half stepped back to his side. From his position beside Kate, he saw a flash of pearly white teeth from her.

The dog seemed like it would try them again, at least until a quieter gunshot rang out and the canine Vanguard spasmed as a bullet slammed into its armored throat. The bullet didn't penetrate but this time it did leave a spiderweb of cracks on the grey plate it had hit.

Derrick watched it turn and growl at the bullets source. A somewhat battered and bloody Jenny stood beside the cruiser in a classic shooters stance.

The legion dog considered her for a second, turned to look at the melee duo and then broke into a sprint towards Jenny.

Derrick swore and chased after, knowing right away that he wouldn't make it. The dog was easily twice as fast as any human had ever been.

The ex cop User didn't flinch though. She just steadied her aim and quickly emptied her clip into the charging animal. When it was just a few metres away, Jenny let off one last round and the dog collapsed bonelessly at her feet. Only then did she take a deep breathe and Derrick saw the color drain from her face, fear catching up with her.

She seemed like she might be hyperventilating a little. His first instinct was to check up on her but he'd been snuck up on too many times today. Instead he slowly examined his surroundings for more surprises.

Nothing. Good.

“Fuck this shit,” yelled Blake and angrily cut a corner off of the pickup that had hit them. The blond user had just made it out of the vehicle and seemed angry he'd missed the fight.

Jenny had regained her calm. She was in a shooter's stance and eyeing the surroundings warily.

“We clear?” she asked and relaxed a little when Derrick nodded. Unless a Grey agent was hiding in the trunk of an abandoned vehicle, they were alone now.

Fight over, the System threw some notifications at him.

Scouting Proficiency Upgraded (Advanced)

Melee Proficiency Upgraded (Expert)

Titles Earned

Multi Killer I

Kill three Scourge enemies in under twelve seconds without using disposable tools. + 50 USS points.


Nice. Apparently the Systemwas impressed by that last fight. From the corner of his eye, he saw Jenny was also reading something no one else could see. That fight had been short but rewarding, the entire thing had only lasted like a minute but had felt much longer. Auril pulse seemed like a cheat ability for scouting proficiency. It was like scouting at the press of a button. Good thing his instincts had been so...

Oh, right. That wasn't instinct, it must have been that weird trait. Quantum something was it? It had certainly came in handy but that was almost luck. Looking back, he probably only noticed the ambushes because his allies hadn't been looking at him. It was a weak sensation. It seemed like a trait for loners and that was just suicide. Maybe he could upgrade it later.

The fifty points gave him four hundred and twenty four points now. Well, every little bit helped.

Harvest and Return Vanguard Auril Heart to Support Station for rewards.

Derrick eyed the armored corpses. Well, he definitely wanted “rewards.” Needed them to stay alive in the ever evolving hellscape that was his reality now, was more accurate actually. Harvesting an Auril Heart seemed like a lot of work though, messy too.

Auril was his thing though, and even a small chance he could learn more about it outweighed the grossness.

So, what was he even supposed to be looking for? Where did he start?

An Auril Pulse, luckily, showed a single spot in the dead creature's body where the Auril energy encountered resistance. He was no super scientist but that seemed as likely a spot to look as any.

Five minutes of messy work tearing through grey flesh with his Esthisium knife and he'd extracted a hard red object the size of a ping pong ball from the right side of the dead Vanguard's chest, opposite from where the heart would be. Getting it out had proved tough, he'd had to stop several times to prevent himself from throwing up and the things flesh was tough. He'd needed to cut all around the heart to get it out, even a single hairlike thread attaching it to the creature was too strong for him to pull apart.

He held it in his hand and felt the strangest sense of welcoming familiarity. Like an old friend patting him on the back. A steady rhythm that seemed to pulse with his own heart. His fingers twitched involuntarily. With a shudder, he shoved the bloody stone in his pocket and sighed with relief when the feeling quickly faded. That had been super fucking creepy. He shuddered again, so creepy. He was going to have to be careful with those.

Universal Support System

Grey Legion Vanguard Auril Heart

A weak Auril organ grown for Grey Legion Vanguards.

Danger: may contain a incomplete version of the Grey Mandate (Vanguard) style. Limit exposure for your own safety.

Contains traces of the valuable resource Aurilin.

Aurilin

A rare and limited resource that greatly enhances the amount of Auril energy in living things. A necessary component of Auril Hearts. One of the few resources valuable enough to worth sending by Injection.

Grey Mandate, eh? He'd guess that 'style' was what he'd felt when he touched the Auril heart. No wonder it'd felt familiar. His implant had been used to sample that same Auril Style earlier. It had been way too familair for the just something he'd just 'sampled' though. The sensation had been almost intimate. 

The System called it dangerous but clearly even Users were supposed to have a style. All his Auril really gave him so far was the ability to use his lesser Auril Pulser. What better way to learn more about styles and Auril than studying one? It's not like the System was giving him a better option.

Or he could sell it. How many points would he get for it? Wait... did this mean that his Auril heart was worth points? If he died, would the System send other Users to rip open his chest and recycle it? Also, he'd been robbed of the Auril Heart from the last Vanguard his group had killed. He wondered who had walked away with that little treasure.

“Eating what you kill?” asked Blake as he walked up to Derrick and the canine corpses he'd taken apart.

“Ha ha,” replied Derrick. “The System says parts of this thing are valuable. So, while I like dogs, I like points and staying alive more.”

Jenny had joined them and he saw her frown with disapproval as she took in the sight of him covered in grey fluids.

“You want a heart for yourself?” he asked, the second one was her kill. He'd be happy to get it for her.

“No, it's fine.” she said weakly and looked away quickly. Then hesitated for a second before continuing. “I wouldn't mind my bullets back. A couple were Esthisium.”

Derrick absently nodded and got back to work. Weird, you'd think a cop would have a stronger stomach. She did seem like a dog person, maybe that was the problem.

When he began cutting open the second dog, he noticed that there were only three bullet holes in the creature. Either Jenny had missed a few shots or she's managed to shoot the same spots several times. Remembering the look of cool concentration on her face as she aimed, he would bet it was the second one. Getting her to join the team had been a good call. Maybe he should get her a and Kate a gift?

Retrieving the Auril Heart went a lot faster the second time, he finished in under two minutes. The bullets just took another minute after that.

There was a loud screech from nearby, causing him to jump up to his feet and ready himself for another attack. After a second of panic, he relaxed. It was just Kate, carving her way into a locked minivan. Her knife cut through glass like butter and in a second she had the minivan unlocked.

The minivan was the most undamaged vehicle on the road around them. The rest looked like they'd crashed, whereas the minivan sat undamaged at the side of the road.

After a few seconds, she had pulled a swollen corpse out of the drivers seat and onto the road. It had clearly died of Spores and was eaten enough that Derrick couldn't make out the sex. Mask on, Kate leaned into the vehicle and the engine started for a second before she turned it off again.

“It has gas,” she said. Apparently, the driver had the good sense to pull over when the alien fungus began eating him from the inside out. “We can sterilize it with a grenade.”

“We could look for something else,” suggested Blake, clearly not impressed by the blue vehicle.

“It's at least, a good hours walk to the Node,” Jenny added acidly. Derrick would guess she wasn't happy about the fate of her cruiser. Or his desecration of the Vanguard dog. “And that's just where we think it might be. Getting out of the infected zone on foot takes three hours on top of whatever we spend looking. We can't afford to assume we'll stumble on something cooler to drive.”

Kate didn't wait for them to come to an agreement, she just tossed the grenade into the vehicle.

Blake sighed but didn't argue any further. Once the last of the smoke had faded from the vehicle, Jenny took the wheel and the group continued on their way to the Spore Tyrant Node. It turned out to be a bit of a disappointment.

Oh it was there, hidden under the bridge just like Blake suggested. The defences though were almost too easy to defeat though. Auril pulse showed exactly where the Tyrant stalks were and Blake's blade cut through any attackers before they could make it out of the ground. His new sword swept through asphalt to destroy the stalks below without even slowing.

Using Auril, Derrick could tell a huge mass of life was hanging from the underside of the bridge. So, not trusting the bridge not to be one giant trap and careful to avoid the buried stalks and patches of orange slime, they left the road just enough to get a view of the node.

It was a huge bulbous orange mass the size of a school bus with hundreds of thin tendrils hanging down into the water.

This time Derrick and Kate took care of it, they just threw some sterilizers and watched the Node slowly die. There wasn't even any Sporelings to force them to retreat this time. It was almost too easy really.

You are now level 1.5!

 

Universal Support System Database

Spore Tyrant Node (D)

A nerve centre created by Tyrant Spore infections to manage resources and fight resistance to their infection. Sub sentient, they are the most basic of minds.

Their destruction prevents local infections from creating more sophisticated defences and is a vital part of defendng challenged worlds.

 

Universal Support System

Mission Update

Destroy three Spore Tyrant Nodes (2/3)

Bonus Mission: Investigate Unknown Injection

Bonus Mission: Scavenge Nonfunctional Support Station

 

Bonus Mission Details

Investigate Unknown Injection

The Universal Support System has detected an unauthorized Injection into the nearby area at 11:32:29. Its source appears to originate from System controlled space. All unauthorized Injections pose a risk to native life and should be investigated.

Requirements: Lv 1.5

Advanced Scouting Proficiency

Scavenge Nonfunctional Support Station

A Nearby Support Station has been overwhelmed by Spore Tyrant Infection. Stations contain resources that should be salvaged if possible.

Requirements: Lv 1.5

Reinforced Esthisium weapons

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Mirrored

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