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 Derrick heard a heavy sigh.

“We're pretty fucking dead,” the redhead asked. “Aren't we? There's like nine downed agents between it and us and the second we become a real threat, it will just fry us at extreme range. Only reason we're alive is so it can capture us.”

Again, she didn't sound surprised. They were all taking the whole thing pretty well, even chubs, who was pale but held his rifle steady. They must have been in a lot of shitty circumstances the last few days. He could relate.

“More like a dozen and change,” Derrick absentmindedly corrected. He'd left a few more bodies hidden among the cars she didn't know about.

He was calmly taking in the scene and starting to formulate a plan. For some reason, whenever he considered retreating he found his mind twist right back to attacking.

No retreat. A single step back could cost them the city. None of the Users he'd seen would be able to stop this thing. Unless the System stepped in somehow, the situation would snowball into a real disaster.

They had a chance. If only because it was underestimating them.

Did it matter though? He should be running already, not thinking of ways to fight. Yet he didn't want to run. Was it because of an attack of conscience? Attachment to these Users and their wounded comrades? No it didn't feel like that.

No, this was very different from that. The problem he had with running came in two parts.

First, there was only so far to run, so many people he could abandon. The world was much smaller than a few days ago. He was essentially trapped in this city and he knew that too much retreating would quickly leave him and the people of the Enclave cowering in the rubble as Scourges fought over the ruins.

Second, he sensed weakness. As insanely dangerous as this would be, he didn't think it would be impossible and the rewards he could get from it were huge.

“We need to attack it,” he said with stone cold calm. “Right now, before the numbers get even worse for us. If you guys can distract it and take out the Agents, I'll try to get a jump on it. It doesn't know I'm here yet. ”

“I thought you said it scanned us.” Gerald replied with a frown.

“I said it scanned you guys,” Derrick clarified. “I'm... resistant to being scanned with auril.”

“Useful,” commented the redhead and casting a look her way, he thought he saw a glimmer of hope pass over her face as she sighted the enemy through her rifle scope.

"I'm solo scouting for a reason," he replied.

“But can you actually hurt that thing?” asked Gerald. “I mean, those are nice looking axes but you'll probably want something with a little more oomph. Maybe you distract it and I hit it with another grenade? I have a few left.”

“I have a breacher,” informed chubs sullenly and immediately threw it to Derrick, who caught it and attached it to his coat. “I'm not going to try and use it.”

“So the plan is you jump out from behind a car and attach a breacher to it,” the redhead asked and seemed to struggle to find words. “That is... a bad plan.”

“The plan, is for you guys to hit it with everything you've got. Including a grenade. The second it activates its shield, I'll run in from another angle and we'll try to overwhelm it.” Derrick clarified. “And yes, I know it's still a bad plan but it's this or you deal with it yourselves.”

“Oh, i'm not going to ty nd stop you. Good Luck,” said Gerald and patted him on the back. “And thanks.”

“Err, you too.” Derrick replied awkwardly and set out. He wasn't used to people being this friendly and reasonable.

The axe wielding User skulked out to the side of the lot as the others went straight down the middle. By the time they made their way into position, the Drone was busy working on resurrecting the first of the second group of Agents Derrick had taken down and was paying no attention to them at all.

It was being guarded by two, soon to be three Agents. Their eyes scanned the lot for threats constantly. Derrick had to peek from under cars and through the corner of windows to remain unseen. Over the last couple skirmishes with them, he'd noticed the Grey Legion didn't seem to have the best eyesight. The were far from blind but neither were they particularly observant. A User sentry would have spotted him for sure, the Scourge seemed to rely more on other senses, like auril and smell. 

He got into position about a hundred feet from the Drone and began to wait.

Almost immediately, Gerald fired off a grenade and from a hundred feet to either side of him, Chubs and the redheaded opened fire on the agents.

There was limited success. The Drone managed to angle its shield so that it protected two of the agents and stopped the grenade. One of the agents did go down in a hail of bullets and Derrick sprinted in from behind, unnoticed for now.

Once again, he felt a strange joy as he slammed his feet into the ground and propelled himself forward with superhuman speed. Despite the terrifying situation, it just felt amazing.

One of the Agents, with grey carapace over its throat, turned towards him and raised its gun, only to be brought down by an axe to the unarmored side of its neck. Derrick bodychecked it aside, now only a dozen feet from the Drone. Which skittered away from him while turning to face him, only to stop as another grenade impacted a shield midair.

The last active Agent, which had been firing into the cars that provided cover for Gerald and his group, crumpled the second the new shield appeared.

Those Users were good at this. They hadn't stopped moving and firing the entire fight. Angling their fire to reduce the effectiveness of the Drone's shield. They were a real threat.

The Drone agreed with Derrick.

He felt another wave of auril spread through the air and fast as thought, it fired off two of what looked like green fireballs in arcs towards where Derrick assumed the others were hiding. At the same time, the thin and sharp looking point of one of the creatures legs speared towards Derricks body.

With hands on the head and shaft of his axe, he lashed and pushed the limb aside, while charging by the limb and towards the creature's body. The skinny limb contained a lot of power, even angling it aside jarred Derrick. He ignore the pain and sent a pulse of auril through his axe. He felt resistance as he tried to push his auril inside it but that gave way and he felt the limb shiver for a single second. Derrick smiled grimly as the spider thing twitched. That probably wouldn't have worked if the creature hadn't just used its auril in a scouting pulse. His auril strike was a very crude and weak attack.

In the seconds before he was in range to strike the body, he threw out a Tangler at the other limbs.

The Drone tried to dance aside but was too close to dodge. Two legs were bound together by coiling white ribbons and rolling underneath the grey construct, Derrick slapped the breacher to the bottom of it and rolled clear.

A second later, from behind him he heard an explosion but didn't celebrate. Now was not the time for hesitation.

He spun around and struck out at a leg that was spearing towards him, he managed to sever it and a thin trail of grey fluid splashed across the lot.

The Drone had been hurt, Derrick saw, but not critically.

He would change that soon. Derrick used all his new strength to launch himself at the construct, intending to finish the fight before it could recover.

Midair, he bounced off a translucent sheet of force that appeared in front of him. It was like hitting a slightly sticky steel wall. He slid off of it and fell stunned to the ground.

He shook it off almost instantly and rose to his feet.

The Drone had retreated, even wounded, it was still as fast as Derrick. Still lashed, Derrick could only watch in slow motion as the construct's fireball launcher swivelled to point right at him.

Could he hide behind its own shield? No, doubtful. Instead, he threw himself to the side and felt a wave of scorching heat and pain as he caught the edges of the attack.

Well, he'd survived a few more seconds but now his fucking arm was on fire and he was a sitting duck.

This had been a bad plan.

A grenade impacted on the Drone's side and the entire creature twitched violently for a few seconds. He felt his spirits lift, Gerald was still alive. It had been awhile since he'd heard any bullets though. Were the other two dead or did they just not see a point in shooting it?

He brushed those thoughts aside and stood up. Ignoring the little fact that he was on fire, the red masked User took this opportunity to strike off another segment of his enemy's limb, tipping the creature towards him and putting the body in range of his next strike.

Making sure it didn't roll onto him, he circled it while axing it to death. Its armor was thick but cracked from both the breacher and the grenade. The almost magically sharp edge of his axe managed to pierce it if he swung with all his weight and hit a weakened spot.

Although his sleeve protected him from most of the heat, it was quickly burning up. Derrick took his knife and was about to cut it off, when to his surprise, it detached easily and fell to the ground. Wow, that was a great feature. This coat was growing on him. In fact, he wouldn't be surprised if the fact it was partialy made of Grey Legion materials lent in some resistance to the Drone's fire weapon.

Seeing no real damage to his arm beyond a few painful burns, he turned back to the limbless Drone. Where as before it had towered over him, it now looked a lot smaller. Just an oval about the size of a large fat person.

He activated regeneration and got back to work.

Grey fluid splattered everywhere as he struck, widening the wounds with every strike and digging his way deeper.

 

Universal Support System

Trial Update: Target Defeated!

Congratulations on defeating a difficult opponent. 245 points earned.

Title Earned: Scrappy III

Target contains both a manna core and auril heart.

You have reached the Level Cap. Level locked for 6.3 hours to prevent damage from excessive modification.

Scrappy III: Destroy three types of advanced enemy before level 1.9 with only basic melee weapons + 3 Auril Capability

 

Scrappy was a nice boost to auril. Or at least it would be when he visited a Station next. He was a little disappointing the reward wasn't greater than the previous level. Both Scrappy two and three had just given three auril capacity.

Derrick used an auril pulse, both to find the heart and to confirm the Drone really was dead. The System had implied it but he was in no mood for uncertainty.

Yup, it was dead, completely devoid of auril other than a tiny bit in the auril heart. He also learned some surprising and much less happy information.

He turned around and saw a sooty and grim faced chubs emerging from a sea of battered vehicles, gripping Gerald's rifle in his burned hands. His and one motionless female form were the only living things he'd detected in the nearby area. Chubs wounded allies were still out of his range, but Gerald and the redhead should both have been detected.

Derrick cast a glance further into the lot and winced when he saw green flames eating away at the steel bodies of cars. That was... not a good way to go.

Derrick felt a wave of sadness hit him as the adrenaline faded. He'd liked Gerald, the man been both kind and competent. A rare combination made rarer still.

The two Users considered each other for a few seconds, neither speaking.

“Thanks,” Derrick eventually said through heavy breaths. “You saved my life.”

“Maybe but you did a lot more than that.” Chubs replied. Honestly, Derrick felt bad thinking of the other User like that now but didn't know his name. “They... I thought I was strong. I knew I wasn't as strong as Gerald but I thought that I could make a difference.”

“Ahh, none of that shit, please.” Derrick interrupted. He'd gotten enough of that from Jenny earlier. “You reached into a fire to pull out a grenade launcher and used it on an alien monstrosity just in time to save my life. Don't ruin that with self pity.”

The other, younger User bristled.

“Gerald was a real hero. If they can kill him, what chance do I have? He...”

“Didn't seem like the kind of guy who'd want people crying over him when they could be helping save more people,” Derrick interrupted. “Gerald is dead and were poorer for it. Not weaker though. You didn't break and you didn't die. What doesn't' kill us... Well I'm sure you know.”

That had the desired effect. The other User shut up and adopted a determined look with a nod.

“Have we met before?” Derrick asked. Ya, this was really bugging him. The young man looked familiar but Derrick couldn't place him. It was a silly thing to focus on but maybe that's why he was doing it.

“We lived in the same apartment,” the younger man replied, taken aback. “You tried to kill me during the training fight with one of those axes when this all started. You don't remember that? I sure do.”

“Oh, right. That. Sorry about that.” replied Derrick and watched the other User just shrug. That had been a long time ago. Well, three days but it felt like a lifetime and a different world. The other User was still a little chubby but had lost weight and changed his bearing enough over the last three days that he seemed like a different person.

Derrick idly wondered how he had changed. Did he seem more confident, leaner? Had he put on some muscle? He definitely had some new scars.

“What was your name?” Derrick asked. The still somewhat chubby User had definitely earned the right to a name by saving his life so dramatically.

“Tom,” the younger user answered and held out his hand earnestly. Derrick spoke his own name and the two of them shook hands.

“Do you need help with the wounded?” Derrick asked. It seemed like the right thing to say. The focus they should have. He'd felt the redhead's auril earlier, so he knew she was alive. He was kind of worried she was on fire or something though.

“No, they're stable for now and the System is sending people over. You could hitch a ride back with us if you want.”

Ah, good. It was reassuring that the System still seemed committed to rescuing its Users. Once the fighting was over at least. It seemed oddly shy about lending any direct help. He doubted it was as hands off as it appeared.

“I've got a mission to complete still. Gonna push on,” Derrick replied carefully. His wounds were superficial. The burns and bruises were painful but regeneration and curative blood would only need a few hours to deal with most of it. Or at least bring down the pain to bearable levels.

“Stronger, through adversity,” Tom replied with an odd look on his face. As if he'd solved some great mystery. Derrick felt himself draw back instinctively.

“We become greater with every blow against us. It is not who we are, it what we become.” Tom said intensely and saluted before turning around and making his way to the wounded he'd been fighting to protect. “Thanks for the lessons.

Derrick watched the other User leave. It was possible he'd fucked up that motivational speech. Aggravated some kind of mental condition.

No, this wasn't his fault, there was something wrong with that guy. Thinking back, Tom had been odd since the fight in the apartment.

Derrick reached into a pocket and began chewing on a ration bar. He didn't take his eyes off the other User until he moved out of sight. What a weirdo, he thought as he activated regeneration again.

After a few minutes of rest, he used his axes to dig out the auril heart and manna core.

 

Universal Support System Database

Grey Legion Combat Support Drone Auril Heart

A weak Auril organ grown for Grey Legion Combat Support Drones

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

Contains traces of Aurilin.

Legion Manna Gate

A device that uses a small amount of Siviril to connect to a nearby Manna Core. Funnelling Manna through the Fold to the wielder.

Siviril

A rare resource that is the foundation of System military technology. It is used in Manna devices, such as Cores, Gates and Crystals.

Warning: Some Scourges are attracted to the signature created by large amounts of Manna being pulled from the Fold.

 

Derrick didn't study either of them just then, just pocketed the both and moved on, preferring to exit the car lot before the place was flooded with support Users. He didn't bother trying to claim the grey armor plating either, it would be the work of a day to get any of the tough stuff off the corpse. It wasn't worth going back too the city without accomplishing his mission. He doubted a single kill would earn him much from the trial either.

Besides, he really didn't feel like dealing with other people or seeing new faces right now. He needed some alone time.

He made his way back to the intersection he had deployed the sensors at, the ones that had warned him of the Drone's approach. He figured it was a safe spot to take a break at.

After sending out some auril pulses, he entered a small empty workshop of some kind and sat down in the middle of the office floor, amongst knocked over chairs, scattered paperwork and broken glass.

He took out the Drone's auril heart and examined it. Like the others, it was just a red stone of irregular shape to his eyes. A funny looking pebble. To Derrick's new senses though, it pulsed as if was alive. A knot of tightly wound energy weaving and flowing in a complicated pattern.

It was beautiful. It was powerful.

He sent his senses deeper into the stone. Shedding his worldly concerns as he concentrated on the alien enigma in his hand. He had no real goal, he was just curious and let his mind casually explore it.

It was fascinating. So very different from the pattern in the stone he'd taken from the Vanguard. That pattern was a wild and erratic beat. This one was far more steady. Maybe because of its host's more artificial origin?

It was a strange process, trying to decipher the meaning and purpose in an auril heart. Much of it was beyond him of course. He did get a general sense of what the contained Style was about though.

The Vanguard pattern was about marching forward. An aggressive growth. He'd made that part of the Red Law, along with his own defiance.

That had been a one time thing, not something he could repeat. Learning from auril hearts would be a slow process from this point on.

This Style was different, precise, almost clinical.

Examination and Correction.

Correction was... dizzyingly alien to him. He had no basis to understand what that was about. Even his regeneration seemed like it was a completely different process. All he got from trying to understand it was a headache.

It seemed like there would be no resurrection powers for him. Too bad, not that he'd really expected something that amazing to be so easily learned.

Parts of examination though, he understood. It was much simpler, just a method to gather and release auril pulses. Incorporating parts of that into his own method let him over double the range of his own pulses for almost no increased auril cost. Which was still a measly fifty five feet, a fraction of his System device's three hundred and some feet.

Eyes closed, Derrick smiled. That was just the lowest of hanging fruit, a tiny fraction of what this one Style offered. More study and auril power would increase his range.

He was improving. In fact, just a few minutes later, fixing a small inefficiency gained him another ten feet of range. That hadn't even been from the Style, just a benefit of his increasing understand of basic auril patterns.

He was willing to bet that, with some minor adaptions, the same processes could be used to add some oomph to auril strike as well. They were both simple techniques about the internal gathering and release of...

Auril Proficiency Upgraded (Advanced)

Huh. It was nice that the System recognized his accomplishments.

He stood and stretched. Feeling stiff and sore, he activated regeneration and felt it work its magic.

You are now level 1.8!

Wait. What?

 

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Mirrored

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