Things escalated quickly.
Neither of them cared at all about the danger they could be in. At the end of the day, neither of them were monks or even soldiers. The thrill of winning his fight, the pleasure of working with someone competent like Kate in a world that was doing its best to kill him and the simple fact that she was dangerously sexy all added up to a irresistible compulsion to just fuck.
Honestly, there might even have been a little influence from using his auril in there. His auril style was all about instinct and passion, not temperance or restraint. Even if that was true though, Derrick was beyond caring about the details.
With her already secure in his arms, Derrick easily lifted Kate off the ground and felt her thin but strong legs wrap around his waist and her hands invade his shirt. His tired muscles easily found the energy to carry the still somewhat skinny blonde to the nearest car and they toppled onto its hood with just a slightly heavier impact then he'd intended. Kate didn't seem to mind. Her teeth just bit his lip a little harder and her fingernails dug deeper into his back.
A week of terror and horror faded in importance compared to Kate's lips and other subtle curves. Their armor proved to be no real obstacle. Despite the protection it offered, it came off easily enough. Her vest and coat were flung overhead, hitting the concrete wall and disappearing behind the car they were leaning on. Coming up for air, Derrick caught a glimpse of her small pale breasts and wiry frame before his head was dragged back down to meet hers.
He silently thanked the System for the Breathless trait. Kate lips smashed into his so energetically he was pretty sure his lips were bleeding. That was easy enough to fix though. The sensation of auril running through him only made things more intense.
In retaliation, Derrick grabbed a wrist and stretched it above her onto the windshield of the car, while his other hand groped her now defenceless chest. She writhed beneath him, her hungry lips and playful struggles driving him insane. Even her teeth nipping at his lips was an invitation to ecstasy.
He loved how beautiful Kate was. He loved how strong Kate was. Even her playful resistance was probably more strength than any human had just a week ago. He loved her pale skin, her strong features and the surprising amount of power in her light frame. He loved the heat-like sensation of the auril coiling beneath her skin and he loved the flashes of wicked delight he caught in her brown eyes in those few moments when their lips weren't pressed together.
Derrick moved his free hand to her other defenceless breast and rejoiced in the shudder of pleasure that he felt run through her. Defenceless because her other hand was buried deep in his pants. Together, the two of them managed to discard the offending piece of clothing. It took a bit of work because Kate seemed unwilling to release her leg's grip on his waist completely. Derrick shivered as the front of his bare legs pressed into cold steel. Just for a second though, the warmth coming from Kate more than made up for it.
Now it was Kate's turn. Meeting her eyes, he eagerly sent a hand to equal the playing field. He paused when he felt her tense beneath him, the corded muscles of her thighs squeezing him almost painfully. Derrick looked into her eyes and saw hesitation there. A wariness. He paused, worried he'd done something wrong.
Kate was looking up at him, apparently deep in thought.
“What?” he asked. She'd better not be having second thoughts now. That would be just... No, he was relieved when she ran her hand across his face in a surprisingly chaste but definitely intimate gesture.
“Maybe put your mask on?” she asked with a toothy grin.
Ouch. It was clearly a deflection, but still, ouch.
“My scars are sexy,” he replied with exaggerated pride. “They're badges of honour from protecting my precious comrades.”
“With your face?” Kate asked playfully. “I think you're just a masochist. It would explain a lot.”
Like their relationship, the brave hero very carefully didn't say.
Derrick instantly denied it but even as he did so, he considered the comment seriously. He had been rather causal about pain since the Scourges arrived on Earth. No, that wasn't quite right. It was since he'd created his Style; The Red Law. Which made sense, the System had straight up told him that auril would effect his mind as well. Well, as long as he didn't go from dismissing pain to actually enjoying it, he should be fine.
“You might regret this,” Kate said, changing the subject suddenly.
Derrick took a second to think about the naked woman laying in front of him. About everything he'd learned about himself and the universe in the last few days. It was a lot to think about. Including some thoughts he'd been careful to avoid.
Kate represented a lot of things to him. One of them was the future.
“I won't,” he promised. Which was apparently the right thing to say because she grinned at him with laughing eyes. Derrick felt a shiver go down his spine at the sight.
“Fuck it all then,” she said seriously and then released her legs' grip on his hips, drawing them up to her chest and pressing her bare feet into his chest. “Fuck me.”
“Gladly,” replied Derrick and gleefully stripped the underwear from her squirming hips.
“Should we talk about our relationship?” Derrick said cautiously, once he was wearing clothes.
“Relationship?” Kate asked, her head cocked to the side and a blank look on her face.
“Ha ha,” Derrick remarked dryly. “For example. Should I tell Blake? No 'Landscapers' are going to try to 'whack' me over this are they? I've already dealt with enough Demnol drama lately.”
“Tell whoever you want,” she replied easily. “No one will believe you anyway. Me and you? Pfft. This was just a fluke. Stress relief.”
“Would I have a shot if I was the last man on Earth?” he asked and with superhuman speed, spun an axe in the air before catching it by the handle. “I think I could swing that.”
He was pretty sure all he'd have to do was nothing and Westhills at least, would fall to the Scourges almost instantly. Felt that way to him anyway.
“No,” she said thoughtfully. “There's got to be some hot alien guys out there somewhere. I have an open mind. I've seen Star Trek.”
Derrick couldn't help but think of Third Striker, who looked like a teenage boy with weird eyes. A couple years away from being 'sexy' but his existence did prove... He froze in place.
Oh, he thought. How had he missed this? It had never occurred to him what the alien crusader's presence on Earth and hybrid body truly implied. He blamed the multiple head wounds. Shit it was so obvious in hind sight.
Were there sexy alien babes on Earth? Warrior women from another planet that might appreciate his local celebrity from the Trials. Could he get Third Striker to put a good word in for him with some of his fellow Crusaders? Even third Striker had said that having a human body came with a unusually powerful sex drive.
Lost in his imagination he didn't notice Kate had moved until something pricked his bare arm. It was of course Kate, poking him with a Venom Dirk. It barely drew blood but he had to fight off a tiny wave of numbness with his auril.
“Really?” Kate said as she frowned at him. It was obvious that his thoughts, as he zoomed out, had been written on his face.
“You brought it up,” he defended weakly.
Universal Support System
(1) Capture Slave Broadcast Nodes (Complete)
(2) Move to and defend beacon location
(3) Report to Secure Facility Westhills WK2
While he'd been... distracted, things had been happening it seemed. The System now wanted them to defend the location it had bombarded. Why defend what he assumed was a crater?
Well, they'd been about to head out anyway. First though, he was going to grab a bite to eat and had some loot to gather. From a pocket, he pulled out a ration bar and began to chew.
“You know how you owe me a favor?” Derrick asked once he'd swallowed down some of the chewy substance. He offered her a bite but she declined.
“Fine,” The blonde User replied and sighed with exaggerated weariness. “I'll agree to a threesome with an alien chick if she's hot enough.”
Derrick spit out a mouthful of what was probably the most expensive food on the planet.
“What? No.. good... not what... Deal.” He said, then paused and considered it. No that had clearly been just a joke right? Possibly even some kind of trap. Better to ignore it and grab the interesting trinket. “I want the head.”
Kate gave him an odd look. He hurried to clarify.
“The Grey Agent head with the manna gate in it.” he clarified. “I want to see if the System or a friend of mine can learn anything useful from it. Like how to beat its stealth. I've decided to think more about the long term.”
That's what women wanted to hear right? Damn, he wished everyone he could talk to about women wasn't dead. His options were Blake or Bruce...
Kate just shrugged as she pulled her rifle strap over her shoulder. Apparently less interested in manna than auril. Good to know, as he was the opposite.
“You're going to cut its head off and bring it with you?” she asked with obvious amusement. “You sure you weren't a 'landscaper?'”
“Yes. It's for Science,” he answered as he examined the body. “Knowledge is power. Power is survival. I just need a way to stop it from bleeding all over m...”
He stopped talking because Kate was holding out a roll of saran wrap with a cheeky smile on her face.
“Problem?” she asked innocently.
“Yes, you're too perfect.” he said with a sigh and taking the roll from her hands, got to work. Quickly, severing the head and wrapping it for transport before shoving it in his bag.
“Could you detect it at all using auril?” he asked when he'd finished. Kate was a better auril user than him in many ways. Able to get more information from the energy pulses than him and she knew a few... odd techniques. Well, his techniques weren't any more odd.
“Nothing,” she replied. “The Grey Legion is quickly becoming my least favourite Scourge. It's just too unpredictable.”
Interesting. Kate should have detected it if he could. What made him special? He'd bet all his points it was a side effect Quantum Awareness. The strange mutant layer of auril that danced across his skin must be amping up his sensitivity. It reaffirmed his idea that it was a rare ability.
After a cautious search of the surroundings, the two of them finally exited the parking garage and headed off to the beacon. On their journey through the abandoned section of city, they heard the occasional gunshot from blocks away but nothing to be alarmed about.
They passed a few hidden Tyrant Spore tentacles but easily just avoided them. Not even bothering to use Kate's trick to put them to sleep. The only thing that slowed them down was the terrible conditions of the roads. Large cracks and broken glass covered the streets and some brick and concrete walls had collapsed onto the streets below.
Still, they arrived where the System wanted them to be in around fifteen minutes and without incident.
The beacon itself was placed in the middle of an intersection with the ruins of two-story shops and apartments on all sides. The beacon was obviously placed right on top of one of the places where the bombardment had hit the earth. The intersection was a smoking crater with a gaping pit in the middle of it.
All four streetlights had been knocked over and every window they could see from here was empty of glass. The System hadn't been playing around when it hit this spot.
Cautiously, they crept closer and to Derricks surprise, nothing horrible crawled out of it. Peering down revealed only steam and smoke billowing up from the lightless depths. Oh, and the faint smell of sewage.
“This doesn't look promising” Derrick said unhappily. Already imaging the System ordering them to climb down there.
Kate answered with a low hiss, apparently very unhappy with their situation. Maybe she had a problem with enclosed spaces? Or darkness maybe, that would fit better with her near-death experience from drowning.
Universal Support System
(1) Capture Slave Broadcast Nodes (Complete)
(2) Move to and defend beacon location (9:34)
(3) Report to Secure Facility Westhills WK2
Ah, a timer. Excellent. Instead of crawling deep underground through sewage, all they needed to do was defend this spot.
Unless a Feral Artisan or army of Grey Legion showed up, this shouldn't be too hard.
Done with staring into the pit, he turned his attention to the scenery. It wasn't a horrible place to defend. The shells of the nearby building would be a good place to hold up. He could set up some sensors by all the obvious entrances too. He didn't have enough for multiple blocks though.
“Do you have any sensors?” he asked Kate, causing her to snap back to reality. She had zoned out while looking at the pit.
“Ye,s but give me yours, I'll set them up.” she said. “I'll get them to communicate with your implant. I don't really want to stand around here anyway.”
Derrick hesitated. A number of concerns going through his head. He banished them all. Her volunteering to do the work was fine with him and he said so. He guessed he was going to stay here and defend the pit then. Until the System gave them some clue as to how they were going to kill the Slaver Node that still lurked below the city.
Picking a building that looked mostly intact, he went inside and sat down by a window that overlooked the intersection. If he had time to kill, he was going to spend it preparing. His greatest concern was simply not having the tools needed to survive whatever happened next. So, he began to work on his manna use.
When fighting the second Bloody Tooth Behemoth, he had managed to flood his gauntlets with manna and use them to block a blow that should have broken his arms at the very least. A poor imitation of the forcefield creating abilities he'd seen so far, but still better than nothing. At the very least he should work on being able to activate that on command.
The first step to using manna was touching the Fold, the layers of reality that lay just of normal reach. He closed his eyes and tried to feel for the speck of 'light' that was his manna core. Once he'd found that, it was easy to dismiss common reality and embrace the Fold. Falling into it, he felt raw power all around him and with an act of will drew an insignificant amount of that endless sea into reality. He tried to pull at more but failed horribly, the power slipping through his mental fingers.
He gave up on brute force and pulled on the trickle that felt natural to him. Quick as thought, he felt power leap from his manna core and into his gauntlets. He could taste ozone as his hands began to shimmer. Was that a real effect or just in his head?
Ambitiously, he tried to send the manna into the air but it just fizzled out. Dammit, he really had no talent for this. Anita had been halfway to a usable shield after their short lesson from Aarav, whereas he'd just fallen asleep mid lesson.
Sensor Hub access granted
Derrick went back to basics and attempted to use his gauntlets to transfer force from an attack to his entire body. Creating a connection and anchoring his gauntlets to himself. This turned out to be almost too easy. It had a serious downside though. Once he reinforced the gauntlets, he couldn't move them. Any attempt to do so just resulted in him fighting his own reinforcement, slightly weakening the effect. It was quick and easy to activate and dismiss, so it shouldn't be too much of a problem. The part that annoyed him though, was that it didn't make any sense. His and therefore his arm's position was always moving because the planet he was standing on was both travelling through space and spinning. If the ability could deal with that, why couldn't it allow him to move his arms?
The best theory he could come up with was that the System was somehow compensating for the Earth's movement but for whatever reason couldn't or wouldn't do any more. Honestly even that was a guess, he wasn't really qualified for the research of the physics of manna.
Well, at least that meant it was technically possible to fix. In fact, this gave him an idea. If he could use manna to drain or move kinetic energy from his gauntlets, why couldn't he do the opposite?
Use manna to add kinetic energy to a strike. Essentially making his attack faster. He remembered that there was even an item for weapons that did that; The Pseudo Momentum Upgrade. He'd never seen it in action though. For some strange reason most Users seemed to like using guns, not melee weapons.
Musing about the unfairness of life, he siphoned a bit of power from the Fold and tried to use it to punch harder. It didn't take him long to achieve a result not far from what he wanted and he was really glad no one could see him accomplish it.
New Manna Skill Learned: Acceleration
That was an interesting name. Not accelerated strike or heavy blow, simply acceleration. His enthusiasm had hidden the fact he was getting another headache. Not just a headache, it felt harder to extract manna from the fold. A quick glance at his profile showed that his manna capacity had actually decreased a few points.
He took a minute to work on auril instead. That soothed the pain. An experimental pulse told him the he was no longer the only human around. None of them had spotted him though. Either Kate had told them not to bother him or they were just terrible at scouting.
After sending out a few pulses and relaxing, he got back to working with manna. His capacity had jumped back to seven point seven. How interesting. It seemed like drawing out manna caused some kind of backlash that temporarily hurt him and his connection to the Fold. So, a manna Core didn't offer a constant supply of full capacity power. The more power you drew, the lower your capacity would fall.
It turned out that manipulating kinetic energy with your mind was hard. Well, aiming a kinetically enhanced punch was hard. It was like... strapping a rocket to your arm, practically guaranteed to make you overextend and fall down on your ass. Even a simple punch was a precise manipulation of muscles and bodyweight. Being a second too slow in stopping the manna ability would drag him forward to face-plant on the floor, one time he even managed to drag him himself by his own hand across the floor on his face. Even more fun, applying the power to the wrong movement would spin you around like a top. Basically, if anyone had been watching, he would have looked like he was being tormented by an invisible enemy.
He made a mental note that anyone using a technique like this was committing to the strike. Dodging the blow and hitting the off-balance idiot would be the best plan. It was a simple and useful enough ability that he was sure many Scourges and Users would use it.
Eventually, he managed a jab, straight, hook and uppercut combination using a quarter of his manna capacity without embarrassing himself. If he had to put a number to it, he would say he was punching with just under twice his normal power. And that was only using half his current manna capacity.
He imagined a high-level User like Third Striker could hit like a truck. Straight up superhero levels of physics defying beatdown. Assuming he didn't train with much better weapons, like shooting lightening from his hands. There seemed to be very few limits to what manna could do. Honestly, it seemed more powerful and versatile than auril.
Self healing and subtle scouting powers were nice but didn't compare to being able to stop speeding cars with your hands or punch through concrete walls. Not to mention, it seemed to be connected to FTL. Which made sense to him. Manna seemed to about the manipulation of pure energy, even across different realities. Whereas auril was... a biological catalyst. It was simply a force that enhanced or disrupted normal biological processes. It was able to supercharge things like healing, disease resistance, stamina recovery and growth but not actually able to make you punch harder. Plus, it only interacted with biological objects, which meant it was almost impossible to detect with machines and therefore a near undetectable active sensor.
He did a couple more fighting routines as he thought and felt pretty proud. Until he realized hitting things was a really stupid way to fight. Ughhh. He'd been trying to be less of a melee fighter, not more. Soon enough, there would be enough guns around that no amount of luck or auril would keep him alive.
He was not going to be picking any fistfights with alien invaders, especially not a Spore Tyrant. Splintering Strike was probably the better ability anyway. He couldn't use manna and auril on the same body part at the same time, the two energies refused to exist in the same area as far as he knew. He could feel the manna push his auril out of the way as it coursed from his brain to his hands. It always flowed along a specific route, making him think that the System had installed some kind of manna network inside him along with the core.
Thankfully, the time spent training was not a total waste, roundhouse punches translated easily to swinging an axe. If he fancied himself a 'swordmaster' like Blake he might have had some trouble. Axes though, axes were brutally simple in execution. It was especially useful for axe throwing he discovered as he managed to put one so deep into concrete it actually got stuck for a bit. He was really worried until it popped out easily a minute later, coming loose for no obvious reason. His trusty Esthisium axes could be imbued with raw manna easily, as long as they made contact with his gauntlet. This unguessed of side effect was actually the greatest takeaway from his experimentation.
He needed to do some experimentation with reinforcement and shields. Find a way to make his axes useful at range against the tougher enemies. He was pretty sure his axes would just bounce off something like a manna enhanced Grey Legion Vanguard unless he enhanced them as well.
It had been about an hour and he was happy with his gains. Looking out the window revealed that a few things had changed.