Derrick was feeling pretty damn good about himself after his speech. While he hadn't gotten a standing ovation from anyone but Tom, he could feel pride and relief coming off the crowd.
Not literally. Not from auril or anything like that. It was just normal human empathy at work as far as he could tell. With his enhanced senses, he also noticed a sense of camaraderie that hadn't been there before, people quite literally coming together. Standing taller and shuffling closer as his speech went on.
After the speech, he'd jumped down to shake some hands and learn a lot of names that he was honestly going to remember for maybe an hour. The most interesting new face was a User that Teslaforce had left behind as support and as a way to get in contact with Gregory. During their brief chat, Derrick made an offer and a purchase, to be delivered later. Once that was done with, the axe wielding User hung around just long enough to chat, trying to encourage high spirits before grabbing Blake and slipping away to a building outside of their base. The clock was ticking.
Once out of sight, the glorious leader let out a deep breath and relaxed. Being social and pleasant was tiring, always had been for him. He wasn't used to being the centre of attention either, it was unnerving. Especially when you could feel people looking at you. Still, he was in a good enough mood that he'd managed to fake being outgoing and maybe even a little charismatic.
If he ever did learn auril mind control, that would be the greatest temptation, easy charisma.
Blake could obviously tell how smug he was feeling and had decided to beat it out of him. It was a good thing that he'd borrowed a sword from another User. His reinforced weapon didn't have a training mode and the blond obviously enjoyed proving he was the better technical fighter. Derrick had already taken a half dozen hits to the unprotected flesh of his neck and arm and many more to places covered by armor.
Derrick had felt the need to work on his actual close combat skills and Blake was as good a teacher as any at the base, maybe even in the entire city. In that vein, he was fighting the sword wielder without auril or manna. At the same time, pumping regenerative auril into every cell of his body.
Blake was still, by far, both the more experienced and talented fighter. Derrick couldn't help but be impressed with how stupidly fast the other man's sword could be, even without manna. It just appeared where he wanted it and could deflect even Derrick's strongest blows. Even considering his reflex boosting trait, the other User impressed.
Not to mention the strike range of his sword was greater than Derrick's own with his axes. Fighting a faster opponent with greater range than you was no fun at all. Getting constant advice from the guy beating you up was just infuriating. Although not as bad as Derrick had thought it would be, the sword using blond was surprisingly serious when it came to teaching. It was the most professional he'd seen Blake act. He seemed to take Scourge attacks less seriously than training.
“Watch your bloody elbow,” Blake criticized. “This isn't boxing, keep it out and mobile. No! Without jiggling. Keep the cuts straight!”
Blake easily deflected Derick's own attack, sidestepped his off-hand weapon and delivered another blow to Derrick's gut. It didn't hurt, as he was wearing armor, but he had to fight to stop his embarrassment from becoming anger. He was too busy to waste time on anger.
Breathless (E) Trait active
Oh, already? One dow.. He stumbled as something slammed into his knee. Dammit, that distraction cost him yet more embarrassment as a sword point found his knee unguarded, before burying itself in his undefended gut a second later. Blake didn't press his advantage, an annoyed look on his face, he just stepped back.
“I know you can do better than this. You'd be dead if you couldn't. Are you even trying?” Blake asked. “Take a break, focus and we will try again in a minute.”
The bruised User considered hitting the blond asshole with a Stupor Pulse, the weaker and indirect version of Sapping Strike, then finishing him off with one good hit. That's all he would need... one good hit. Sigh, he wasn't going to do that, it would defy the point. Even if it would feel sooo good.
Derrick controlled himself. In the grand scheme of things, his beat down mattered much less than him gaining the skills he needed to survive and meet his ambitions.
One of those skills was applying Quantum Awareness to close range defence. If he could use it to predict bullets, he should be able to use it to predict Blake's attacks.
Concentrating on the other Users gaze, Blake raised his weapon, calling for another round. It went as well as the last few at first, but quickly Derrick got the hang of Blake's speed. His auril quirk letting him sense Blake's focus and predict his blows.
He improved. He'd stopped making the same old mistakes and was now making entirely new ones.
“Keep the offhand axe up and ready.” Blake said. “You're blocking with the main weapon too much; you need to keep that option open to threaten attacks. And why are you even using axes if you’re not going to try and hook my weapon?”
Hooking, Derrick noted, was a lot harder than just blocking. Quantum awareness was good at letting him know where enemies were aiming, not the path their weapons were taking. It was a skill worth mastering though.
They were fighting with equal amounts of skill now, which was artificial but ideal for training. Derrick kept the no manna spar going until the other User got too tired to continue and they both took a break. Derrick was mostly fine, he had both a small boost to endurance from just having auril and the Breathless trait. He used the time to test out his ability to use manna, that would be the next level of training.
There was a surprisingly large change to how manna worked for him now. He toyed with during the break.
“I know I agreed to do this, but why are we doing this anyway,” Blake inquired, asking a question Derrick really didn't want to answer. “If I was you, I'd be taking a break. We're war heroes, lets have some fun.”
“Wars not over,” Derrick said drily.
“The wars never going to be over,” Blake responded with confidence. “That's why you enjoy yourself while you can. Is this about the Crusader thing?”
His voice was not quite casual enough to sell his indifference, Derrick noted. Blake really did want to know. Which meant, unless he wanted to lose his sparing partner, he needed a decent answer. The problem was, he wasn't sure how much he could trust his ally. Or trust anyone for that matter.
“Yes, its about the dungeon,” was his answer. Derrick sighed, might as well reveal ninety percent of the truth rather than obviously hiding anything. “You remember, I'm sure, the missing auril Users and what just happened with Scynil and Emily? It's obvious that there's some real threats to auril using Users. Threats that don't play by the System's rules”
“Yes?” Blake answered. “So, you don't trust Scynil? You think the dungeon is a trap?”
“Actually, her I do trust. I think she takes her job too seriously to sabotage herself.” Derrick said.“I also think anyone who is moving against auril Users is going to have problems with Scynil creating an auril mine directly below the Enclave.”
Blake grimaced and ran a hand through his hair.
“And our shadowy auril hating enemy has already proven they can break, or at least bend, the rules,” he thought aloud. “You predict sabotage or assassination.”
“Oh, I'm pretty sure it's more than one person... or thing.” Derrick replied. “Could be multiple plots afoot.”
Derrick eyed their surroundings and let out a pulse of auril, checking on their privacy before turning his gaze to the other User.
“When I go down with Scynil,” Derrick started, causing Blake to grin. “... It would be great if you could grab Anita and Tom's group to keep an eye on everything up above. Stop anything that looks even a little funny.”
“Easy enough,” Blake said with a shrug. “You sure you don't want someone to go with you?”
“If I and Scynil can't handle it, more bodies won’t make much of a difference. I'd rather not let on that I'm suspicious.” Derrick replied. “Now, lets try fighting with a little manna this time.”
He was pretty sure he could manage using manna in a fight still. The axe wielder had noticed that since the upgrade to his Style, using manna was... different. The auril lock in his head was under his control, so he could open it, at least temporarily. The lock itself didn't disappear, it just... flexed to allow manna through it.
Sending a two second burst of manna through him and to where he commanded it. If he wanted a longer burst though, he would need to destroy the lock entirely. Something that would take a lot of work now that it was a part of his Style. Two seconds was enough for an attack, but blocking would be trickier. If he got the timing wrong or an attacker realized the limitation....
Right now, rhythm was his secret weakness.
There was an upside, his auril let manna flow through him easier now. The same flexing that took place around his core was working to a much lesser degree throughout his entire body. He would guess that it was still less beneficial than just not having auril would be, but it was better than yesterday. It was a fascinating process and examining it had already gotten him hit a dozen times.
Just as distracting, was the other downside to the recent changes to his auril and manna. The fact that it was very hard to stop canvas manna from mixing with the raw manna he was using.
Eventually, he managed to purify his manna by about ninety some percent through flooding raw manna through his core.
Luckily, the Canvas manna didn't come with any obvious downsides and did come with one upside. His hits packed one hell of a punch. The increase in power from mixing the two mannas was no joke. He was still clumsy, but when he did hit something? Derrick was sure he hadn't fought anything yet that wouldn't feel it. In fact, it felt like every blow was stronger than the last one.
More than once Blake found his own manna overwhelmed by the hits, his sword swatted aside with enough force that Derrick was impressed he'd held onto it. In one beautiful moment of pure bliss, a fluke of Quantum Awareness let him catch the blonde's blade with his axe's hook and using manna he pulled it so hard that Blake was slammed into the street, barely managing to roll and avoid a face plant.
Of course, after that happened, he simply dusted off and adapted, going back to kicking Derrick's ass with pure speed and reflex.
A few hours went by, Blake surprising Derrick with his dedication to the other User's training. It was not wasted time, Derrick improved by leaps and bounds.
Devil's Skin (F) Trait active
Advanced Combat Drug Package (D) Trait active
A few more hours of beating him and Blake was too tired to keep going. He was spent enough that even breaks couldn't keep him on his feet.
Derrick let him go and sat down to resume his meditation, concentrating on regeneration as the day turned to late afternoon. Soon enough, his work paid off and a wave of satisfaction filled him as the System sent one more notification his way.
You have reached level 2.0!
You may now select a new Role!
Available Roles (2.0)
A Role for those who best serve on the front lines of battle, holding the line and punishing the enemy at knife range. As the User levels, they will change to fit their Role with bones and muscles toughening beyond average, as well as an increase in size. Earns levels by completing combat missions.
+7 Aurilin Maximum +7 Siviril Maximum
Unlocks the Interior Mesh (E) trait.
Auril Heart and Manna Core/Hub
A Rank D+ survival or defensive trait.
Advanced Melee Weapon Proficiency
Multi-Killer and Resilient or Force Adept titles
A Role for those concerned with survival and the gathering of resources. Allows access to production oriented System devices, allowing the User to produce their own tools and weapons. Exempt from conscription. Levels will increase muscle and bone toughness, as well as a small boost to normal senses. Earns levels by gathering rare resources and on scouting missions.
+5 Aurilin Maximum +9 Siviril Maximum
Unlocks the Forge Organ (E) Trait.
Two Survival Traits, one Rank D+
Advanced Scouting Proficiency
A Role for those who have proven their worth to a Crusader. Exempt from conscription. Levels will increase muscle and bone toughness, as well as a small boost to normal senses and reflexes. Earns levels by learning from their master and helping them with their missions. This Role leads into a Crusader Role.
+6 Aurilin Maximum +10 Siviril Maximum
Unlocks the Squire's Manna Core (D) Trait
A Role for those rare Users that have a talent for the more delicate uses of auril. This role is as influential off the battlefield as on it and helps the challenged worlds discover the secrets of aurilin. Exempt from conscription. Levels will increase muscle and bone toughness. Earns levels by exploring auril, scouting missions and support missions.
+10 Aurilin Maximum +5 Siviril Maximum
Unlocks the Auril Undermind (D) Trait
Two Auril traits
Advanced Auril Proficiency
Auril Cultivator Title
A Role for Users that have displayed a wide array of talents and a ruthless drive to fight organic Scourges, either alone and in small groups. Levels will increase muscle and bone toughness, as well as a small boost to normal senses and reflexes. Earns Levels through combat, assassination and scouting missions.
+10 Aurilin Maximum +7 Siviril Maximum
Unlocks Heartless (E) Trait
Auril Heart and Manna Core
One Survival, Offensive and Defensive Trait, one Rank D+
Advanced Auril, Scouting and Melee Weapon Proficiency
Three titles earned through killing. (Scrappy, Multi-killer, Counter-agent)
ITRS had informed him that these, barring a miracle, were the best options he was going to get for a second Role. He was apparently overqualified for his level, especially in the areas of titles and his Style. His sponsor had also been pretty damn sure he should choose Hunter.
Derrick had to agree, the most important thing to him right now was boosting his chances of survival for his journey below the city with Scynil. Whatever he picked would only have a negligible effect on that at the first level, but Hunter would be the best. Well, except for Brute and there was no way that was going to happen.
Besides, Derrick thought as he made his choice, there was something fitting about the Role. He was laying a trap after all.
Your Role now is now Hunter!
Heartless (E) Trait Unlocked.
Prepare yourself for combat, scouting and assassination missions!
Basic Leadership Proficiency detected.
You may be asked to command small groups on missions.
Trailblazer Title detected.
As one of the most successful Users on your planet, you will be responsible for both protecting and guiding your species! You will be sent to deal with serious threats.
Check out a System Station for new purchase options!
Serious threats huh? He really hoped that wasn't relative to what he'd faced so far.
No, couldn't be. He refused to believe for even a second that his experience was anything like average. If every User went through half of what he had, the Scourges would have won by the second day.
There was no point in delay, so he made his way to the bases Station. First thing he did was upgrade his pools again, now that his capacity was upgraded. This was the main reason he'd decided to postpone the binding of the Spore Tyrant. It was the biggest difference upgrading to a second Role gave, the boost to manna and auril.
Too bad aurilin and siviril were still hard to get a hold of. He was already sitting at more than twice what the average User in Westhills had. He had to hold himself back from using his fame and authority to extort manna and auril from other Users. The damage that would do to his reputation wouldn't be worth whatever meagre gains he got.
Still, he managed to boost them a fair bit past his old caps by selling everything he had but a single Vanguard Auril heart. That auril heart had an interesting pattern to it. A pure shard of grey legion Growth. He wanted to keep that for research. It was too bad the drone’s resources had been sold and split between users while he was sleeping. He would have at least liked to take a look at it.
Show Title: Auril Pioneer II
Titles: Scrappy III, Emergency Activation II, Auril Pioneer II, Multi Killer II, Resilient II, Fold Survivor, Trailblazer, Auril Cultivator, Counteragent, Ambitious, Blooded Ally of the Orders, C/C 1A/1B
Traits: Curative Blood © (Defensive)
Standard Auril Heart (D) (Auril)
Basic Manna Core (D) (Manna)
Quantum Awareness (D) (Survival)
Advanced Combat Drug Package (D) (Offensive)
Breathless (E) (Survival)
Devil Skin (F) (Defensive)
Auril Capacity: 17.2/26
Auril Style: Red Law (D)
Active Auril Skills: Regeneration
Core Capacity: 12.9 / 17
Manna (Raw): 12.2
Manna (Canvas) 3.9
Manna Skills: Sheathing
Successful USS missions: 6
USS Points: 1029
Looking good. His maximum potential for auril was twenty-eight with both new traits. He brought the trait option into sight. A new manna trait was revealed but it didn't seem helpful, so he dismissed it right away.
USS Points: 1029
Auril Blast Batteries (E) (Auril) (Offensive) 393
A pair of auril batteries fused to the bones of the User's hands. These devices can store a small amount of auril and use it to augment auril techniques.
+1 auril capacity
Requires level 2.0
Sub-dermal Auril Channels (E) (Auril) (Defensive) 479
A weave of aurilin alloy tattooed under the User's skin that enhances the flow of auril and provides mild protection from physical and energy attacks. Enhances protection against
foreign auril techniques, both subtle and brutal.
+ 1 auril capacity
Requires level 2.0
Heartless (E) (Survival) 364
This Trait supports a human User's cardiovascular system with a series of organic micro pumps. Reduces strain on the heart and blood loss from wounds while, enhancing blood flow.
Huh, perhaps predictably, Heartless was a lot like Breathless. Both of them were weird health support traits. Would Heartless be as helpful and Breathless? It did seem like it had a lot of synergy with his other traits, as both Breathless and Curative Blood were tied to the human cardiovascular system.
Was that a coincidence or was the System offering Users traits that worked well with their first one?
That made his choice hard, as he could only afford two traits and they were the best deal. Oh, there were all kinds of new item options in the Station store now that he was level two. Manna focuses and weapon upgrades obviously designed to help against specific enemies. Only the shield breaking ones were tempting, but not more so that the traits. He'd already taken steps for that sort of thing anyway.
After much deliberation, he decided on Heartless and the Auril Defence traits. The blast batteries were nice, but they didn't synergize with existing traits like the other two did. The channels and Devil Skin might add up to a decent defence. Another factor was that Blast batteries seemed like they would take the longest to kick in, as they should be a pretty hefty modification.
Derrick imagined he was already hitting the limit to how long he could put off his dungeon adventure. He sighed and was just about to leave the alley when everything went black.
No, it wasn't due to an Authority or Scourge. Somehow, a pair of human hands had appeared over his eyes, blocking his vision. At the same time, a pair of small but strong legs wrapped around his hips. The breasts pressing into his back revealed that his attacker was definitely female. Thin, but definitely female.
“Guess who?” came a satisfied purr from right next to his ear.
Derrick frowned, he instantly knew it was Kate, which was confirmed by an auril pulse. How had she snuck up on him? She must have scouted out his pulses, resisting them at extreme range and timed a dash at his back. Sneaky.
Derrick made a mental note to throw more erratically timed pulses out in the future. If Kate could do it, so could real attackers.
“You're early,” commented Derrick. “We were supposed to meet up in ten minutes, Anita. What if Kate...”
“Haha, how droll.” Kate said and took her hands off his eyes, she dropped her arms to his shoulders, one arm threatening his throat for a second. “You still smell terrible by the way.”
He saw that she wasn't wearing a mask, unlike him. She also hadn't managed to clean up either. He was more than close enough to see that her sharp featured face had a layer of ash and grime on it. There was even more mixed into her short blonde hair.
He could also feel that her auril had grown stronger. He was not the only one who had been working on self-improvement it seemed. He hoped he had at least managed to pull ahead.
“I'm surprised,” Derrick said. “I thought you'd be into the smell of smoke, blood and sweat. It's a manly odor. Dangerous and strong. Grr”
“Everything around here smells like blood and smoke,” Kate replied emphatically. “It gets old.”
“There's supposed to be a shower around here somewhere,” Derrick offered. “We could save time and use it together.”
“The one in the base? I'd need to kill like three people to get at the only working shower here.” Kate replied and bit her lip. “And that's just to scare off the other people in line. We'd need to murder at least one more for enough time to enjoy it. That or share it with at least on more person.”
“Tempting,” the tired User admitted. “But an unacceptably high casualty rate. We will just have to find some other solution.”
“Truly a leader among men,” replied Kate. “Your nobility knows no limits. I'm not a cheap date though, It's a real a shower or nothing.”
Derick gave an affirmative grunt. He'd expected nothing less.
“Its a good thing I abuse... leveraged my leadership privileges to secretly repair a private shower when you first asked,” Derrick mused aloud. “I'd guess it would be done by now.”
The legs wrapped around him gave a playful squeeze before letting go of him. There was a soft sound as the blonde woman landed behind him.
Derrick spun in place and wrapped his arms around her, lifted her back of the ground and lightly slammed her into the alley wall. Her legs wrapped around him again, but they were nothing compared to the force of her lips meeting his.
Hungrily he pressed forward, only to be pushed back after a few sweet seconds.
“We still smell,” she said with a laugh and dropped to the ground. “Lead the way, hero.”