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A sound of impact rang out as the projectile hit the cheap tile floor at his feet and cracked it. He rocked back a bit but was otherwise fine. His gauntlet having effectively spread the force through him. He shook that hand and noticed that it was quiet now, the voices that had been shouting a second ago were stunned into silence. He felt laughter rise but managed to keep it down. He couldn't keep grin from flashing across his face though, not that anyone could see it under his breather mask.

New Titles Unlocked: Resilient, Force Adept

Basic Manna Proficiency Gained

“Excellent,” commented Derrick. New titles were always welcome. “Come over here Anita, you block the fireballs and I'll block the bullets.”

For some strange reason she didn't immediately join him out in the open. Instead she was just looking at him. Hmmm. She must be doubting him. Which was fair, just because he stopped one bullet didn't mean he could stop the next.

On cue, he felt something click and another projectile came at him. This one would have hit him just under his left eye and probably messed up his neck, even if his mask could stop it. Instead, the tips of his left hand's curled fingers sent it of course, right into the wall behind him.

Almost missed that one too, he mused to himself. There was a flaw in his technique he noticed. He could only detect where the enemy was aiming, not where the bullet would actually end up. Ironically, he was depending on the enemy being a good shot. It was working though and still no one said anything or moved to him like he'd asked. Derrick took off his mask and gave a gentle smile.

“I'll block the shots,” Derrick said. “You concentrate on the incoming artillery.”

From the strange look on her face, Anita seemed less than sure this was a good idea.

“Don't worry.” He said encouragingly. “I've got this.”

Just for good measure, he gave a thumbs up. Still nothing? Wink? Did she realize somehow that he was lying, that he could only detect shots aimed at him? He was just about to launch into some more encouragement when she spoke.

“I...” A pale Anita started before taking a deep breathe and continuing. “Fuck. OK.” She strode forward to stand both behind and beside him. There was a bit of an awkward wait as it took a minute for the next fireball to be launched. As soon as that ball of fire lit up the night sky, bullets began to come their way.

“Cover fire please,” Derrick asked of the third user in the top of the building. That User guiltily tore his gaze away from Derrick and began to shoot at the attacking army. The dark offered no protection to the Agents as almost every User had night-vision built into their masks. They had all been part of at least one desperate firefight in lightless and ruined sections of the city, it was not the kind of thing a sane person did twice if they could help it.

“Nicely done,” he said as Anita successfully blocked the fireball, actually managing to set an Agent filled building on fire. That was probably a happy accident. A little more well-placed flame and they might blunt the attack for awhile. Even Grey Agents wouldn't push through walls of fire to attack.

Derrick stood there for awhile, managing to keep Anita alive and actually block a bullet. This one hit his wrist and bounced right back out the window.

Only one shot came because the Users had begun firing back in higher numbers and not just with bullets. Derrick saw several explosions and heard more. The Agent's cover was being demolished and they were being pushed back. One such grenadier, a TeslaForce man armed with a custom grenade launcher and a whole pack of grenades, joined Derrick in the top story of the shop. Another factor was that the Agents had begun to spread out to the west.

They were winning but Derrick had to wonder how long they could keep it up. The System Hub below might be able to produce a steady stream of ammo, but they had limited funds to buy it.

He caught something from the corner of his eye. A low to the ground blur of movement coming from the west, not the north. Agent's and Vanguard of the dog variety were headed right up the middle of the street. In less than a minute, they would be at the barricades and he doubted those would slow them down much.

He weighed the advantages of being a bullet sponge against dealing with this new dog related crisis.

“Got to go,” Derrick said and strode to the west face of the building, were he stepped out of the window before anyone could respond. “Be back soon.”

A tiny flare of raw manna to his gauntlets slowed him down enough that he barely noticed when his feet hit the concrete below. The axe wielding User immediately let out a pulse of auril, catching the closest of the dogs just as it launched itself at the spot where barricade met building. It had avoided the shots from a pair of pistol wielding Users on the barricade. It used the rough stone exterior of the building to gain height and then scrambled over the barrier. The barbed wire causing a few scratches but nothing more. That was a disappointing showing for such hard work but at least he couldn't see a human Agent pulling that off.

Derrick saw a panicked User on the makeshift wall fire wildly without effect. No big deal though. Derrick was calmly waiting for it. Stepping onto the hood of a car, he moved to where it would land and cut it out of the air. Armor and bones shattered under his axe as he drove it back into the wall it had just bounced off.

His next pulse revealed that another dog attempting the same jump had been taken out by a hail of bullets already. It had taken every bullet to put it down. These Agent dogs were almost halfway to being a Vanguard it seemed, though they lacked auril. Half of their bodies were covered in a patchwork of grey ceramic looking plates, especially their heads. The biggest difference between them and Vanguards was that they still had eyes.

One of them tried to jump the other corner of the wall, away from Derrick. Just as it paws touched the ground, a muscle and manna propelled axe sped out and took it in the ribs. It slammed into the wall and began twitching.

Keeping low, Derrick casually moved over to it, only to be greeted by an eyeless face with a full mouth of unnaturally large teeth that had followed the last attacker over the wall, scrambling through the barbed wire instead of trying to bounce over it.

Instinct kicked in and he punched it in the nose, sending it rocking back but its entanglement in the barbed wire stopped it from falling off the wall. A little space was all he needed though, a second later a knife scrapped against the plates that protected its throat until it found a gap and sunk into flesh. It continued to snap at him for a few more seconds before falling still. Derrick made sure to stab it in a couple more delicate places before moving on, leaving the corpse hanging off the wall.

Behind him, he heard the shouts of the other Users fighting as well. A quick look revealed that one of them had been savaged pretty bad but his buddy had put his attacker down.

That just left the agent that had been hit by his thrown axe. Luckily, it was still down. Moving to it, he put his foot on its head and pulled his axe out of its ribcage. Just for good measure, he slit its throat too. You could never be too careful.

A look over the wall revealed the last few dogs had retreated, leaving three bullet ridden corpses at the base of the wall. Before he could celebrate victory, an auril pulse hit him from outside their little base, piercing his subtle defences. Shit. He'd spent enough time studying Grey legion auril pulses to recognize that it hadn't come from any Vanguard. That meant...

“Incoming!” Derrick the Red yelled and broke into a sprint, using Breathless to its fullest as he ran back into the building he'd just jumped down from. Just as he got inside, something roared above his head and fire rained down from the sky. Scynil’s work, judging by how it was scattered but not actually blocked. She was cutting it a little close. Maybe she was running out of juice?

Ya, he should have brought Anita with him. Also, he hoped someone was smart enough to start putting out all these fires. He'd seen how tenacious this flame was when he'd been hunting Vanguard, it could burn on concrete and dirt for hours.

Now inside, he climbed back up the shops stairs and found Anita still up there and taking pot shots out a window with other allies. Derrick saw all of them startle at the sound of someone coming up the stairs. He found two of their guns pointed at him before they recognized him and relaxed. Mostly relaxed anyway, they had a funny look on their faces.

“You're on fire,” Anita said incredulously.

“Thanks,” Derrick replied. “You're both doing pretty good yourselves. I think we might be winning.”

He just hoped the other two barriers were holding, he couldn't see them from this building. He should probably go look. The fire from the first hit should stop attacks from the west for now.

“No, literally on fire,” Anita said slowly, as if she was talking to an idiot. “Your back is literally on fire.”

Ah. Quickly, he stripped off his jacket and frantically began stamping on it. Whatever weird chemicals the Grey Legion used stubbornly refused to stop smouldering though, so he ended up soaking it in a nearby sink for a minute. That saved his armor but not his dignity, he thought as he came out of the washroom wearing a soaked jacket with black burns across the back. He couldn't go without it or wait for it to dry.

Another enemy pulse washed over, this one failed to find him though.

“You've been scanned,” he informed the pair and moved to the window. “Get ready for incoming fire.”

He felt a few gazes fall on him as he stood in the open. Weak sensations coming from below. Anita moved to his side, but no fireball was incoming. No one even shot at him, it was kind of a let down.

He watched from dark city from his spot by the window. The fireballs were coming from a new, closer, location now and were being safely blocked by someone else. That was good. What was less great was that the sound of gunshots from everywhere informed him that the Grey Legion had spread around their base. Penning them in. A quick check of the feed from of their remaining sensors, told him that his hearing was correct.

Derrick idly wondered how they were doing under that much fire and the System provided a new window for him. No doubt another perk of leadership. Maybe he should ask about those. Scynil should know about that.

Subordinate User Status

Disabled: 6

Fatalities: 2

Uninjured: 15

Minor Injuries: 7

Missing: 1

Total: 31


So, they were doing not great. It had been only about half an hour and already nine User's were out of the fight. It was to be expected he acknowledged and grimaced. They had countered the Combat Support Drone's artillery but were still getting ground down too fast. He needed to know what they were up against here. Could they counter attack or would that play into the enemy's hands?

He caught movement from below and drew his axe. A grey blur crawled over the top of one of the other buildings. It was visible just for a second, before it ducked down and out of sight. Shit, human shaped Vanguard. It had been awhile since he'd seen on of those, but the grey plates and long claws were unmistakable.

He was just about to sprint to deal with it, when it reappeared a second later, flying out of a second story window with drops of grey blood in the air around it.

He wondered who was responsible for that?

Despite several bleeding wounds, the armored mutant hit the ground on all fours and dashed away from the base. No doubt to heal and try again soon.

Checking the Subordinate Status window revealed it was the same, except for a few more minor injuries. Someone knew what they were doing. His money was on Kate and Blake.

“Anita, you hold down the fort,” he said. “I'll try to send a couple more Users up here.”

“We need bullets more than bodies” one of the other nearby Users said from another window.

“I'll see what I can do,” he answered. He didn't have a budget left, having spent the last points on real grenades for the Users that had unlocked them.

He made his way into the street and took in the scene. There were no assaults on any of the barricades going on. As far as he could see and hear the Grey Legion had decided to just wear them down with bullets and fire for now.

As he moved, he spotted wounded Users being dragged into basements and one younger User who was sprinting away from the Station with a backpack full of ammo. He yelled that the northwest needed ammo and looked for his target.

He spotted Scynil beside the Station, just standing there with her eyes roaming the sky above and a Grey Legion Vanguard of the dog variety literally crushed beneath her heel. There was not so much as a drop of blood on her that was higher than her shin. Below that, a thick coating of grey fluid covered her bare feet.

Seeing him arrive she brought a foot up behind herself and plucking a small reddish stone from between her toes, threw it at him. It was an auril heart. Apparently, she'd dug it out of the creature's tough flesh with her toes.

He was just about to thank her when her voice called out at him.

“It is curious,” she said. “These beasts do not seem that dangerous to a civilization as advanced as your own appears to be, yet they must be, for the Scourge throws a great number at you.”

What? Derrick stopped mid-stride and tried to understand what she was talking about. Oh, she thought dogs were wild animals that hunted people and that's why there were so many around. Weird. How to explain the human/dog relationship to an alien?

“They weren't our enemies,” Derrick replied with a touch of sadness in his chest. Now that he stopped to think about it, the fate of these dogs was rather depressing. How many had failed to protect their owners or even been turned against them? Well, there was nothing he could do about that. “They were domesticated. Trusted companions. An ancient relationship from prehistory that was successful enough we honour it to this day, even though it is no longer as practical as it used to be.”

Scynil's head cocked to the side, giving Derrick the impression that she didn't really understand what he was talking about. Apparently, domestication of dangerous animals wasn't all that common in the universe.

“Interesting.” she replied after a moment. “I am unsure as to how the intertwined nature of your species affects your blasphemy.”

His what now?

“This is from where you've stolen your Exaltation,” she continued loud and cold, a clawed finger pointed to the aurilin she'd thrown to him. “Taken from a Scourge. An emulation of their monstrosity. Do you think it is wise to forge your flesh in the prayers of twisted fiends?”

Said like that, it did sound like a bad idea. He took a second to feel the familiar sensation in the red stone she'd given him before deliberately pocketing it.

“Yes,” he replied, matching her certainty. “I've already explained why.”

“Explain further.”

Derrick was very aware that the Crusader in front of him could probably kill him in under two seconds. It would be a good idea to answer her questions.

 

“No,” he said instead. “I have already answered a question and now is not the time for me to answer more. I'm going to ask one instead. Are you up for a raid? How stealthy are you?”

She did that head cocking thing again, so he just kept talking.

“The Grey Legion is grinding us down. They can heal most of their casualties almost instantly, so as long as this stays an exchange of bullets they will outlast us. We need to hit back and do some permanent damage. They use auril pulses, can you avoid their detection?”

“Yes, of course,” she replied with a complete lack of humility. “I am no Shrouded, but that is a skill all Crusaders of Humble Flourishing learn.”

“Good... good,” he mumbled as he considered a plan of attack. Best to keep it simple really. The enemy had spread out to surround them and wear them down. That gave him a chance to sneak out a backdoor and try to take out as many Grey Legion Agents as quickly and permanently as possible in the general direction of the Combat Drone that was launching fireballs at them. If they could take that out it would be a real game changer. If they could take it out. He wasn't going to push too hard. Instead, he would just retreat at the first sign of organized opposition and try again a few minutes later in another direction. Force the Legion to change plans.

He explained this to Scynil. The Crusader listened attentively and as soon as he was finished speaking, she nodded and strode away in what seemed like a random direction to him. Derrick just shrugged and followed her, any direction was good to him. Soon, a fireball shot out from the exact direction they were headed, arching overhead until it exploded against a User made shield just outside the base.

So, they were headed the right way. This didn't seem like a coincidence. The weird thing was that he felt only a weak auril pulse coming from his guide. It barely hit him, nevermind something a few blocks away.

“How did you find the Drone?” he whispered, intrigued. He was being cautious now that they were on the very edge of the Users' base, inside one of the corner buildings first floors. Only two Users were on the floor, taking turns peering out a tiny slit that had been left in one of the barrier covered windows. They gave the two of them a strange look but kept to himself.

“Below the ground our feet step on, are thousands of the Tyrant Spore tendrils. The Supporter's attack on this place has isolated these from the Node that grew them. I am simply using them to move auril as the Spore Tyrants do,” the hybrid stated. “It is a lesser secret of the Wardens and Shrouded. If the Node was still active then I could use a similar technique to blind it.”

Impressive... he had no idea how he would even try to accomplish that. Just pushing auril into the ground would just let him scan the ground. He wanted to ask but instead moved to unlock the steel door that sat at the back of the building, hurrying to open it before the stern Crusader kicked it down.

“Try to avoid throwing grenades this way for a bit,” he told the two Users, who nodded. “Tell the people upstairs too.”

The two users down here were from the young group, armed with pistols and knives, basically just door guards. He could hear a rifle cracking from above, those would be the people who might hit him by mistake.

The metal door opened with an annoying squeak, not having seen much maintenance recently. Scynil pushed past him and immediately broke into a run that took her into the alley, then a dozen feet towards the street, right up the side of the building across the alley and through a shattered second story window. All this in seconds and while managing to move near silently despite dancing across the shards of glass and rubble that littered the alley.

A few seconds later, a grey skinned corpse fell into the alley.

Derrick glanced into the dark window above his head that Scynil had disappeared into. Was he even needed here?


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Threw the profile in at the bottom there. I'll update it more as I fact check it. New titles left out on purpose.


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Mirrored

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