The Users Derrick had gathered around himself didn't look like they needed a pep talk. They gripped their weapons with a grim casualness that spoke volumes about what they'd been up to the last week. They were not the most dangerous of Users at the base, they were lacking auril completely and only two had manna. Yet, when Derrick and Blake had called them over, they had come without complaint or hesitation. Men and women who had been stay at home moms or shopkeepers just days ago, held their frankly inadequate weapons in their hands and stood by his side, knowing how much he was asking of them and not flinching. It was... humbling and inspiring.
The axe wielding User felt a speech coming on.
“I'm not going to lie,” he began.
“You should lie,” whispered Blake. Derrick ignored him.
“This is going to be brutal and desperate. But this shouldn't surprise any of you. Its been that sort of week,” Derrick informed his allies. “I can promise little, but I do swear that I won't let any of you be taken and that this needs done. That completing this mission gives not just this city but the Earth a better chance of survival. Remember, let me and Blake take the first few and work together to keep them from surrounding us or taking anyone. Keep an ear out for the command to fall back.”
He watched about half of them nod but it was hard to judge how inspired anyone one was behind their masks. He was sure he saw a few spines stiffen though.
“Keep an eye on their fallen,” Blake added and twirled the sword he loved so much. “They don't always stay down. Obvious, I know but it bears repeating.”
The two of them, plus the seven other 'physical combat specialists' assigned this mission stood and watched as dozens of colorless hands tore down the barbed wire they had set up. It was a scene that screamed 'zombie movie', the reality was much worse than that cliché though. Zombies were dumb, weak, and less well armed than the Grey Legion Scourge.
An odd quiet had fallen now that they had abandoned that barrier. The constant gunshots having stopped as neither the Users nor the Legion had a clear line of sight on the other.
The only enemy they could see clearly was the massive drone; it had easily set two legs on the barrier and half climbed onto it. It had perched itself there once it had patched together as many Agents as it could, standing perfectly still as its dull grey armor reflected light from a dozen small fires. It just watched them evacuate wounded Users from the basements of the two buildings at its sides, protecting its minions that were tearing apart the barrier below it with superhuman strength and no regard for pain.
Despite being the highest ranked User around and therefore in charge, Derrick's role in the plan was both the simplest and the most dangerous; hold the line. While others got the more complicated parts of the plan completed, he would be fighting back the horde with minimal help from the gunners. Already Gregory had set up a few surprises and had moved on to getting his cannon back in the fight.
The barbed wire was gone now, and the grasping hands began to turn into heads and bodies as the Agents pulled themselves over the second layer of the barrier. They rolled over it and landed heavily but not haphazardly on the concrete street below. One tall Agent with a growth of bonelike plate covering one eye looked right at them as it waited for its fellows to join it, just seventy feet from the line of Users.
“We se...” it began before a nameless User next to Derrick pulled out a Scavengers Pistol and put two bullets in its uncovered eye socket. It staggered back and fell to the ground, its death ignored by the Users and Grey Legion both. Served it right for trying to one up his speech.
“Nice shot,” Derrick said. Scavenger ammo was of course in plentiful supply. Those guns could make bullets out of rocks.
“Thank you,” The User replied from behind their mask.
While impressive. It did little to stem the flow of Agents, a dozen of them had soon climbed over the defences under the still form of the Combat Support Drone.
A couple more shots rang out, fired by other Users at grey forms skulking in dark windows. The gunmen had orders to stay back and prioritize gun wielding Agents and Vanguard, not the chafe. While Derrick and Blake's group was dealing with the obvious frontal assault, Kate was tasked with dealing with the enemies attempts at cleverness and stealth.
He was sure she could handle it. Just like she seemed confident that he could handle the fodder.
Derrick threw a Tangler at the massing enemies, using a flare of manna to give it a speed boost. It flew out like something a professional pitcher could be proud of but just bounced off a shimmering shield that had suddenly appeared midair. The Tangler then fell to the ground, un-activated. Embarrassing.
At the same time though, two real grenades flew out and hit the enemy. One was blocked by the shield and the other hit the ground, bouncing and rolling to land at the Agent's feet. A second later it exploded, tearing two Agents to pieces and knocking over a half dozen more.
Note to self, investigate the possibilities of bouncy grenades. Possibly grenades that bounce unpredictably or invisible or both. What could go wrong?
He noticed that this Drone's shield was slightly bigger than the last ones but discarded the thought as the Grey Legion began their charge. Most of their fallen had calmly rose to their feet and joined the attack, smiles on their bleeding faces.
Derrick the Red began to juggle, sending his two axes spinning in front of him and back and forth between his hands. It was something he'd been working on in his free time. It was nothing fancy, just something to keep his hands busy.
Gripping Venom dirks and covered in patches of bone armor, the mutated humans dashed forward with inhuman speed, even as more of them kept climbing over the barrier and falling to the street below with every passing moment.
Fifty feet. Forty. Twenty. A half dozen shots were fired from pistols from close enough that they couldn't miss. Only a few Agents actually fell, a tiny fraction of the attackers. Ten feet, just out of reach now. Seconds away from violence.
Lash. Still juggling, Derrick flooded himself with the powerful drug, he probably wasn't the only one. All Fighters had access to the life saving drug and this was as good a time to use it as any.
No point in holding back, Derrick thought as the world slowed down. He spotted the toughest-looking Agent, a large one that's body was almost a third covered in armor and had already absorbed at least one pistol shot without slowing. Derrick smoothly transitioned from juggling to throwing, the axe in his left hand burying itself deep in the thigh of his chosen target. The thrown weapon hit hard enough to hide half its blade in flesh and bone, knocking the colorless killer's feet right out from under it. Derick lost track of what happened to it next. Two Agents smoothly moved to attack him and blocked his line of sight.
He stepped forward to meet a descending Venom Dirk, a knife already replacing the thrown axe in his off hand. He didn't dare to use manna powered strikes in the chaos of the melee, so his first axe blow was easily blocked. That was fine, one of the fun things about using an axe was that the lower part was basically a hook. Derrick the Red caught and pulled on the defender’s weapon just as it stepped forward, causing it to stumble further forward, right into a knife at eye level.
It always surprised him, the different levels of skill between Agents. They only had the skills they had when they were turned. Some were more than a match for him but most... most were just a distraction.
One down. His enhanced reactions let him dodge to the side, avoiding strikes from two more aggressive Agents. The leader of the defending Users blocked their next round of strikes and managed to draw blood with a quick counterattack. The shallow arm wound closed before his eyes though. Fighting two at once was hard
The enemy began to push the defensive line back, the weight of more and more Agents attacking together overpowering the Users. A quick glance revealed the blood splattered Users were struggling now that the enemy had pushed into knife fight range.
Fine then, he would get serious. He blocked an Agent's dirk strike before grabbing it by the shoulder and brought their foreheads crashing together. There was a sickening crunch as bone shattered like glass beneath his powerful headbutt, the Agent's skeleton weakened by the auril he injected into it.
He moved to shield himself behind his victim but that somewhat clumsy attack caused him to get nicked by a Venom Dirk, forcing him to spend more auril to fight off the resulting weakness. The fight had been going on for just a few minutes and Derrick had lost count of how many Agents he'd fought since it started. Already, he was down to two knives. One of which had sentimental value.
Tired and low on auril, he stepped back and was given a short rest by a manna propelled sword blade severing his latest attacker's arm. A second later it appeared in the same Agent's throat before being ripped to the side in a shower of colorless gore.
Blake was doing much better than Derrick when it came to pure kills. If only because Derrick was holding the line and giving him the distance he needed to pick his targets. The other User's sword was filling the gaps Derrick created with murderous efficiency, severing limbs and digits with deliberate brutality.
The blond User had obviously been practising using manna to propel his attacks, achieving a grace with the weapon that Derrick couldn't begin to match. In fact, the difference was so large it must be at least part raw talent.
He guessed that he would need to practice more. When another weapon came at him, Derrick batted it aside and landed a manna fuelled punch to a grinning face. It collapsed backwards, but its spot was immediately taken by two more enemies.
Derrick killed these as well, he didn't really remember how though. It all kind of blurred together. His limbs were becoming heavy and his breath ragged, despite his enhanced endurance. He had to be careful not to trip over the corpses that lay on the street. And yet, the number of enemies hadn't seemed to decrease at all. His vision was blocked by new attackers every time one went down.
At some point he'd seen one of his allies about to be dragged away and so had thrown his axe, leaving himself unarmed. Moments later, he was pummelling an agent to death with his armored fists. The next, he was stomping on a crawling Agent that had stabbed him in the foot, auril boiling out of his descending limb to turn his victim's bones to porcelain.
New Title Earned: Multi Killer II
He moved with grim determination. At this point he was bleeding a lot and was armed with only a Venom Dirk. Where’d he gotten it from, he had no idea. He looked for a target to use it on and came up blank. Agent's were around, especially underfoot, but the upright and active ones seemed to be avoiding him. He took a few deep breaths, noticing that his ribs really hurt as he did so. It didn't remember getting hit there, had he been shot?
Oh right, the plan. There was definitely enough Agents in the base now.
“Fall back!” he shouted, or rather he tried to. He began to choke instead, his throat rebelling. A second later, Blake repeated his command and the Users all disengaged and fled back a good twenty feet.
This was the signal for Gregory. The barrier should explode any...
With a deafening boom, a dozen cars burst into flame, catching the Drone that was sitting on them by surprise. It reeled back and out of sight, fleeing the roaring flames.
Ha, a taste of its own medicine.
Derrick's allies exploited that moment, pistols and grenades cutting through the ranks of enemies in front of them. They got at least half of the remaining enemies in just seconds.
Derrick stepped forward to finish the job, keeping an eye out for the Drone. It all depended on what it did next. Would it retreat, abandoning its allies or would it stride through the flames and attack?
The Users then charged back in behind him, putting down wounded and entangled Agents.
At his feet, a half dozen corpses lay still, the remnants of his auril attacks still eating them from the inside.
Huh, that was kinda weird, he realized as he stood panting, his Shattering Strikes should have faded by now. The only reason they wouldn't have was that the bodies contained auril for them to feed on. But the corpses had no cores and therefore no aurilin.
He frowned. Someone is breaking the rules, he thought. From the corner of his eye he spotted something that belonged to him, one of his axes, embedded in grey flesh with the handle pointed up in the air. He pulled it free and gave it a couple swings, sending droplets of grey liquid through the smoky night air. He also grabbed two more Venom Dirks from the blood-spattered ground. He had just finished pocketing them when the Combat Support Drone burst through the fire, its thin limbs carrying it above the worst of the flames.
It immediately expelled a blast of its own flame, aiming at one of the buildings behind Derrick, where the rest of the Users were exchanging fire with the Legion's remaining skirmishers. It was blocked well before it hit, accomplishing nothing but setting two Grey Legion casualties aflame.
It looked like the plan was still on then.
“Retreat!” he yelled, this time without any problems. The tired and bloody Users immediately began to run and hobble back to the remaining User held buildings. Most of them were still on their feet but Derrick saw three Users being carried to safety by their allies.
He heard impacts and screams as bullets were sent to slow them down. Two Users, one who had been carrying the other, dropped. They were immediately hauled away by their allies, falling back to pick them up.
The towering Drone charged forward, its six legs were blurs as it skittered around fire and rubble. It reached the battlefield and stopped above the dozens of grey bodies and reached down to grab one.
Which was when the explosives carefully planted among the fallen enemies exploded. As a resounding boom filled the air, bodies disintegrated under the force of the Teslaforce produced bombs hidden beneath them. No alien technology required for these, just a remotely detonated explosive like all militaries used before the Scourges showed up.
In one explosion of gore, the Drone lost its front limbs and ability to heal. Not to mention two of its larger legs. It seemed stunned and Derrick considered doing an about face and attacking it. He quickly decided against that plan. It could still shoot fire and he would just get in the way.
The Buckler Cannon began pummelling the wounded Drone, the force of its projectiles cracking armor and causing the Drone to shudder. A shield sprang into existence but was soon hammered back into non-existence. A dozen hits pierced it before it fell but it did fall, collapsing in the middle of the intersection.
Derrick was inside now and running up a flight of stairs. He got to the top where both the Buckler Cannon and Kate were. Both were still firing, now at buildings outside the base where Grey Legion had been firing on them, they were retreating now though.
“Any sign of the Vanguard? He asked. That and the Sentry was the last of the Grey Legion's trump cards.
“It's been seen and hit,” Kate replied grimly. “Haven't been able to pin it down.”
Grim? Why was she... Derrick cast a look around at the faces of the Users around him. None were celebrating. None were even relieved, which he found odd. They'd basically won at this point. Sure, it had been a hard fight and they'd lost people, but they'd still won and the Users should be used to losses at this point.
Morale was still shit though.
“What's going on?” he asked Kate, causing her to frown at him.
“What do you mean?” she asked him right back.
“You seem worried,” he answered. “Am I missing something or is this fight not mostly over?”
Kate's frown grew deeper, at the same time a hint of surprise showed in her eyes.
“I don't know,” she said. “Something just feels off.”
Something did feel off. The unease was palpable in the air. He could feel it, quickening his heartbeat and taste it in the air despite the mask he was wearing. Something bitter that overpowered even the smoke and stench of blood that must be filling the air for miles around.
It was pure instinct, he realized, some strange part of his brain was screaming at him. There's something here it was telling him, something hungry is watching you. It felt familiar, why?
Shit. Derrick turned in place and sprinted down to the intersection. He leaped over corpses and craters until he was in front of the Drone. He stared at the car sized monstrosity and took off his glove, placing his unarmored palm on the surface of the Drone.
Shit. Shit. Shit. It was dead but still had auril in it. The fucking thing was healing, if that was the right word. It might be hours till it could even move but it shouldn't be doing anything, it was a corpse. He looked down at his feet, at the dozens of turned humans and the color drained from his face. They were all corpses, but they were all healing.
Which was bad enough by itself, but his gut was telling him they weren't doing this to themselves. Something was somehow shoving auril into the corpses, something that set the teeth of every User here on edge just by being nearby.
Derrick looked around at the burning buildings and dark streets that surrounded their trashed base. Where the fuck was Scynil?
It seemed to bother the others less then him for some reason too. While they seemed affected, he couldn't shake the sensation of fingers running down his spine. Was it his Quantum Awareness? No, didn't feel like it. In fact, it seemed to be bypassing that thin layer of sensitive auril. That's what made it so hard to detect. A faint but steady flow of auril was flowing into him, subtly joining his own auril flows. His auril Style, the Red Law. A style based on parts stolen from Grey Legion Vanguard.
All of a sudden Derrick realized he was standing out in the open by himself. Swearing, he sprinted back to the others, past resting Users who gave him concerned looks. He got upstairs and shushed Kate, who tried to question him.
She frowned at him, but tough; this was important.
Once he was positioned safely, he began to pulse auril. He strained to send it as far as possible and get as much detail from it as he could. He found nothing though. He kept at it. Minutes flew by with him standing perfectly still, ignoring everyone around him.
It was almost impossible to sense Sentries at any range and whatever he was hunting seemed to have the same cloaking ability. In fact, the reason they never found that last Sentry Scynil had felt was because there wasn't one. It had been whatever this thing was. He tried to track the hidden enemy by the auril it was accidentally gifting him.
Nothing. Nothing. Noth... the slightest of distortions. Nothing you'd notice unless you were hunting for it.
His eyes flew open and striding to a window, he locked his gaze on one of the buildings they'd abandoned just minutes ago, one next to the barrier they'd set on fire.
So close. How confident this thing was in its ability to hide from them.
He turned to the auril using woman who was wielding the Buckler Cannon.
“Nuke that building,” he ordered everyone within earshot with deadly seriousness. “It needs to be levelled ten minutes ago. Every grenade we have all at once. Then shoot the rubble. Leave not one stone standing upon another.”
Gregory trained his people well. Or perhaps it was the sense of unease that filled the air. Either way, no one questioned him, they just jumped to it. Soon, every grenade launcher they had was gathered up.
The woman aimed her gun at the building at the same time that three grenade launchers fired into three different windows. They didn't stop at one round of fire, repeating the process until the top of the already damaged and aflame building collapsed and buried half the first floor as well.
Everyone was watching the building now and for a few seconds, nothing happened. Derrick's enhanced vision let him see a weak silver light flicker into life inside the ruined building. Then something moved inside, a shadow that seemed to carry the light source with it. A big shadow, bigger than any Agent he'd seen so far.
A sound exploded out from the blasted shell of a building, halfway between a cough and a scream. It sounded, Derrick the Red thought, more amused than in pain.
Long clawed fingers reached out of the building and sunk into the brick bordering the window. One, two, three hands grabbed the window edge and pulled a thin body into sight. It stood a good seven feet tall and had four arms in total, the fourth was holding a motionless purple and green form over its thin shoulder. Despite its thin frame, the creature carried the larger Scynil without seeming burdened.
An eyeless head looked right at Derrick and smiled inhumanly wide with a protruding mouth that belonged more on a snake than a person. Tall and inhumanly thin, it was clearly Grey Legion, every inch of flesh covered in interlocking plates of grey armor. From its head and shoulders grew short spiralling horns that pointed mostly upwards. The ones on its head grew from the space usually occupied by human eyes, forming an almost crown-like ring of growth on its brow.
Above that, floating in midair was a ring of silver light, three feet across and constantly in motion, like static on an old TV set. The light from this halo was weak but seemed to drain the color from the night around it, despite the still burning flames in the surroundings. These features and the creatures casual grace and strength lent it an almost regal bearing.
It fearlessly glided forward and dropped Scynil in the middle of the intersection, letting her fall at its clawed feet. It then stepped away from her. She looked perfectly healthy to Derrick, which actually worried him more than obvious wounds would.
Warning: Unknown entity discovered. Mission threat re-evaluation. Evacuation suggested.
“Fear not. We come to deliver praise. You are seen and will not be forsaken,” it choked out. Its fang filled mouth seemingly having trouble saying the words.
No one said anything.
“Shun the Secret-Eater, turn from its fearful followers. Become shadowless and saved,” it hissed and took another step towards the Users. It had no eyes and yet seemed to be staring right at Derrick.
It raised one of it hands to the sky without taking its gaze off the Users, as if it was reaching for something invisible and familiar. Then, it closed its hand in a sudden movement.
Warning: Manna network compromised. Implant isolated from Network. Mission threat re-evaluation. Evacuation suggested.
“Shoot it,” Derrick ordered.