He'd been meditating for over five hours?
Concerned, Derrick checked his phone and found that it was still the early afternoon. It had only been around two hours since he started experimenting with auril. Longer than he'd guess but not the six hours that it was supposed to take for his level to change.
Why would the System lie? How could it be wrong about something it controlled? The ration bars? No, their effect was supposed to be minor. Doubling the rate he could level was not minor.
He considered what he knew about levelling. A second later, he slapped his forehead.
From behind his red mask, Derrick grinned. Levelling was a physical process that increased muscle and bone density for Fighters. No doubt, a bunch of subtle things like resistance to disease and poisons as well. Even with the System's advanced technology, it stressed out the body to upgrade it like that. The level cap existed because you could only change a living thing so fast, especially one that needed to be able to defend itself. He'd thought regeneration was weak because it was unfocused, wasting energy by dispersing throughout his entire body. But it had good reason to target his whole body; Regeneration was healing the damage done by levelling.
It no doubt helped that he was feeding himself what he needed for the process with the ration bars. He doubted that was a coincidence.
So, Regeneration let him level faster. Assuming he earned those levels by putting himself in constant danger anyway. Derrick's mind blazed with possibilities. Was there a title for levelling quickly? He hadn't run into it yet but perhaps a milestone level like 1.9 or 2.0 had one for the first few Users to reach them.
He was confident he could reach those levels much faster than average. He'd basically won the levelling speed lottery with Regeneration. Could he reach level one point nine today? Hmm, probably not. He felt like trying though.
He exited the workshop and continued on his way towards the beacon for the Injection site scouting mission. He left his scouting hub behind again, so he had a safe space to retreat to, if it came to that. Despite purposefully moving through rougher terrain to avoid detection. It took only thirty minutes for him to get halfway there. He was near the outer edge of the city now, he could see fields in the distance.
Fields that were bright green. Specifically, the bright green of the flame the Combat Support Drone's fireball gun spewed. The only reason he hadn't smelled the smoke was that thanks to the Combat Drone he'd just fought, he still smelled of the same green fire. Before that Drone had attacked him at the car lot, it must have been here, setting fire to the countryside.
The fires were still going too, even though the crops and buildings seemed to have long ago turned to ash. Something like napalm? Nasty stuff anyway.
The fires did seem to be shrinking, they only took up a fraction of the burned ground. He'd guess they wouldn't last much longer. He considered them. It was impossible to say for sure, as the green fire left only ash and dirt where it burned, but he'd guess this had been a scuffle with the Tyrant Spores. They were the only thing he could think of that needed to destroyed so thoroughly.
Hopefully, the Drone had done some real damage to the other Scourge before beign destroyed him him.
Let them fight.
He would turn back if he found an area as infested with Tyrant Spores as where that Siren abomination had been. One of those Bleeding Tooth Behemoths could probably beat him in a fight. He lacked Blake's.... grace.
Keeping out of sight as much as possible, he worked his way through a decent sized office building. He reached the front entrance without incident. To keep going, he needed to cross the street, so he let out an auril pulse to check the nearby buildings.
To his suprise, the pulse revealed a pair of canine Vanguard in the building across the street. Probably, left behind as scouts, to watch for Tyrant Spore regrowth using their superior doggie senses.
It was a good thing they'd hadn't joined the Combat Drone in its attack. Not only would that have saved the Drone, but he doubted he could have escaped them easily even if he'd left the others behind.
A flare from Quantum Awareness revealed that they'd felt his auril pulse and knew where he was.
Shit, he thought, as he backpedalled in panic. The pulse the System given device sent out was a crude thing, both easily detected and traced back to its source.
This was why he'd been working on creating pulses without the device, well that and the device's high auril cost. The device really had no advantage other than range.
He felt a foreign pulse of auril wash over him. However, he could tell it failed to pin down his location. Hopefully that would confuse them.
What to do now? They knew he was here but not exactly where. So, the advantage was still his and killing Vanguard was why he was here.
They should go down easier than the drone he'd just fought. After that walking tank, the Vanguard seemed a lot less intimidating.
Hmm, he couldn't really ambush them. His educated guess was that his auril stealth was easily overpowered at even medium range and the canine Vanguard would probably be cautious anyway. In fact, the longer it took for them to find him, the better the chances of reinforcements showing up. The best case scenario was they attacked right away. Worse case, they hounded him until gun wielding Agents showed up.
Hyper alert, he scanned the entrances and listened for any suspicious sounds. He saw and heard nothing. A low powered auril pulse revealed nothing out of place within sixty feet either. Slowly, he walked towards the exit. As long as a pulse didn't catch him, he should be able to avoid detection. That turned out to be wrong. A light scuffing noise caused him to look over his shoulder.
Brazenly, a Vanguard padded through a doorway behind him and sat down in the middle of it, watching him without eyes.
It had circled around him with distressing speed. The axe wielding User noticed this canine Vanguard looked a little buffer than the others he'd seen. Hard to tell if its armor was thicker or if it had been a more muscular breed. Derrick adjusted the grip on his axes, making ready to defend himself. He didn't attack though; one enemy was still unaccounted for. He sent out another weak pulse, lacking the auril for more. He found nothing and Quantum Awareness was only being set off by the one mutant dog.
Well, this was about as good a chance as he was going to get. He strode forward, right towards the watching canine.
Seeing him come, it just cocked its head to the side before grinning at him with a mouth full of teeth straight from a horror movie. The grey canine dodged a descending axe with a backwards lurch and displaying impressive agility, surprised Derrick by biting at his axe. Catching the weapon by the haft and holding on to it.
Luckily, Derrick had two axes. He swung the second but achieved only a glancing blow as the Vanguard pulled him forwards at the worst possible second. He shaved off some armor but failed to draw blood. The horrible angle plus the mutated dog's own agility made hitting it difficult. Yet, despite the opportunity, the dog didn't let go of his weapon to attack when he was off balance. There could only one reason for that.
Just as he raised his axe once more, Quantum Awareness informed him of a second presence. He'd been expecting this.
He let go of the axe the first attacker was biting and spun to put them both in his line of sight. The first enemy dropped his axe and snapped at his boot, just as Derrick caught a glimpse of the second attacking dog. It was moving so fast it was just a grey blur.
Derrick Lashed and assessed the situation as everything slowed down.
One Vanguard snapping at his feet and another coming at him full speed from the side. Child's play. Bending slightly at the knees, he performed a classic palm strike right above the closest Vanguard's snout.
The blow itself, despite Derrick's new superhuman strength, was way too weak to even faze the mutated creature. The pulse of auril it sent directly into the creatures forehead though, that had an effect.
His now slightly stronger auril pulse caused the creature to flinch. Thanks to Esthisum weaponry's ability to stick to clothing pretty much anywhere, he attached his axe to his side and with the same smooth motion and Lash driven speed, he drew and stuck a knife into a small gap at the stunned creature's throat.
He was rewarded with first blood. Ha, even though his auril attack was nothing special, his auril capacity was much higher than the canine Vanguard’s. They were more scouts than fighters really. Besides, from what he could tell, their auril was to help them become Vanguard fatser and enhance their senses, not for defense against other auril users.
At the same time as he was driving a knife between armored plates, the fingers of his other hand - the one that had just finished a palm strike - wrapped around the mutant dog’s fang filled snout. Then, using those two points of contact, he lifted the Vanguard off the ground and bashed it into its incoming ally with all his enhanced body’s newfound strength.
Fast and strong but light, both Vanguard were sent sprawling.
Derrick rearmed himself and strode towards them. The Vanguard he'd knifed, recovered too slow to stop him from burying an axe in the back of its neck, almost decapitating it. It shuddered, leaking grey fluid onto the tiled ground of the deserted building that was their battleground. Then, stillness.
The other though, managed to scramble to its feet and move clear of Derrick's attack range. It seemed to consider him for a second, before sprinting out the front door.
Running, huh. That wasn't allowed. Derrick palmed a Tangler and with a flick of his wrist, sent it after the retreating canine. The Vanguard almost made it. Only a few of the white tendrils that exploded out of the grenade managed to grab it. Wrapping around just one of its back legs but also grabbing onto the steel frame of a nearby door.
It turned to bite at the restricting tendrils, but Derrick was right behind his grenade. He arrived in seconds and made short, messy work of the mutant canine.
Once it was dead, he threw his bloody axe on his shoulder and considered the fight he'd just won. He kind of wished he had a recording of it. For studying, of course. To let other Users know how you got shit done. Ha, It had gone surprisingly well. He was pretty sure this was the first real fight that he'd been in where he took no real wounds.
He hadn't been bitten, stabbed, shot, clawed, burned with acid, pierced by alien tendrils, had his mind invaded or been set on fire.
He must be getting better at this.
Universal Support System
Trial Update: Targets Defeated!
Congratulations on defeating your opponents. 120 points earned.
Targets contain an auril heart.
Total Points Earned: 365
Three hundred and sixty five points eh? That was probably above average at least.
The creator of the Red Law stood in blood spattered ruins and smiled. He was just getting started too. There had to be more Vanguard around, he'd find them and destroy them and everyone who thought they could compete ag...
Derrick frowned. His heart was beating like a hammer and his muscles were tense.
Wow, he was adrenaline rushing hard. Get it together man. Well that settled that, he was going to finish this little scouting mission. See what was up at the beacon and make his way back to the nearest System Station to upgrade and rest.
Maybe using so much auril was affecting his mind again? The last thing he wanted was to die during some kind of space testosterone fuelled rampage.
Derrick took a series of slow breathes. Time to do some harvesting and move on. He quickly used a weak auril pulse to locate the hearts and removed them. He was tempeted to examine them, but decided against it. Any small gains he'd get from it weren't worth his head getting messed with. It would be something to look forward to, he thought, as he pocketed the small stones.
He was just a few kilometres away from where the mission beacon told him he had to go.
Thankfully, it was not in the direction that was currently smoldering. Instead, the beacon was in the direction of an urban expansion that grew around a highway exit. It was an unremarkable part of town he’d never been to before. Just suburbs surrounding commercial plazas.
He picked up the pace, speed walking towards the beacon and what he hoped wasn't Grey Legion turf. As fun as that fight had been, he really doubted that they'd throw more canine Vanguard at him. Despite some recent mistakes, the Grey Legion was more than bright enough to just execute him at range.
Still, he was feeling confident. Nothing he'd seen so far could catch him unaware. His auril powers were - at least in the short term - better at scouting and evasion than even the Scourges. Matched only by the Spore Tyrants and they were too stationary to be much of a threat to him.
He speed walked to his destination, keeping out of the most visible spots, like the middle of the street. Soon, he came upon the back of huge big box store. Basically, a warehouse for food and luxuries of every kind. It of course occurred to him that this kind of place would make a decent cradle for a Spore Tyrant Node.
Easily cutting his way through the fence and back door, he entered the store and found it both ruined and empty.
Not a single Grey Agent or Spore Tyrant tendril. It was easy to tell because the building was missing a corner and light flooded into the derelict building.
Quantum Awareness didn't so much as tingle as he walked between the shelves. Auril pulses detected nothing living around him. Literally nothing.
Everything was sterile and mundane. He saw nothing more dangerous than a set of kitchen knives; lowest price guaranteed.
And yet, something was wrong. He slowed his pace as his heart sped up. Something was amiss.He crept forwards, toward the hole in the wall.
He frowned as he got closer and got a better look at it. It didn't seem to be caused by an explosion. It looked more like the building had melted. What the hell could cause that?
He paused. Maybe the System would tell him? It had to know what this was.
...No? Fine then, he'd just go and scout it out. That was what he was here for.
Unnerved, the User crept up to the hole and looked out to see the most disturbing thing he'd ever witnessed. It filled him with an eerie dread to look at. To think about it hurt, a stabbing pain between the eyes. It was impossible. And yet, the last few days had taught him how little his ideas of what were possible were worth.
In the parking lot of a big box store, a thirty-foot-deep and two hundred feet across sloped pit had been formed and was still growing. So slowly it barely seemed to be happening at all, the concrete was... draining, carrying cars and shopping carts in a circular route to the centre of the pit, where they disappeared below the surface without so mush as a ripple or whisper.
A few feet above the deepest part of the pit, turning in time with the ground itself, was a wheel.
That was the only way that Derrick could describe it anyway.
A wheel made of hands, the size of a child's wading pool.
Not living flesh, but carved in perfect likeness from some unknown material. Hundreds of unique and human hands gripping each other by their unseen wrists, clawing at each other, false fingers digging into fake flesh with tendons tight. All perfectly still but for the turning of the wheel they formed, yet so perfectly detailed they seemed like they might stir to frenzied life at any second.
Centered a foot above that, Derrick managed to make out a perfect silver orb the size of a basketball, it was emitting ripples in the air and sparks of blue light that hurt to look at.
Universal Support System
+ 180 points for successfully Investigating Unknown Injection Site
+ 15 points for identifying Injection as an illegal System Affiliate probe
Return to a Support Station to spend points for vital rewards!
Derrick blinked at the notification and realized just how much his eyes hurt. He'd been staring, oblivious to the pain it was causing him. He gave it a quick read.
Return to a Support station? Gladly. He was getting away from whatever that was. Nothing could get him to go anywhere near that frankly, unholy thing.
Universal Support System
Imminent threat to Enclave detected. Obedience Protocols Activated.
We apologize for the loss of control.
Feral Artisan (Journeyman) identified
Illegal System probe identified
Prevent Feral Artisan from consuming Siviril Source (Illegal Probe).