Derrick reacted to the rising yellow mist and the loss of sight it brought predictably, with the obvious counter, an auril pulse. The result was very disappointing.
Whatever this stinging yellow haze was, it had the same effect on auril as it did on vision. The auril pulse travelled half the distance it should and returned blurry. It was actually freaking him out a little, having his senses smothered like this. Between his mask's enhanced vision and his auril, he was used to having enhanced situational awareness. Having his senses reduced so much left him feeling vulnerable and a little paranoid. The curling mist and blurry auril outlines made him flinch at every threatening shadow.
What about his mask's new upgrade? The Predator's focus. That was supposed to enhance external auril techniques. He gathered auril into a pulse and sent it through the mask. The pulse this created travelled a good five feet further than the others but came back twice as distorted, making it just as useless. The distortion was so bad that his aim could be off by four of five feet if he tried to aim using it, not to mention he would have a lot of trouble picking out a Sporeling from the living walls and floor. It was like staring through an interpretive art filter.
The red wearing User grunted and forced himself to be calm. Warily, he eyed the exit and wondered if he would be allowed to make a tactical withdraw. Maybe, but he doubted the elevator would work for him until he completed the mission. Besides, he didn't want to leave Scynil down here alone. Either she'd complete the mission without him and he'd look like a useless coward or she'd fail and they would both die.
Derrick carefully moved two dozen feet towards where he'd last seen Scynil, keeping himself moving to avoid detection and hoping to see a footprint or some other sign of where she'd gone.
As he was walking, something wriggly and about knee high scrambled through the mist at the edge of his vision, hurtling through where he had just been. It was quickly followed by a half dozen more near identical creatures. Sporelings. He hadn't seen more than a general outline but their erratic movement was unmistakable. What other tiny creatures swaggered around on tentacles?
He froze and they went past without slowing down. He listened for a moment past their disappearance, his hearing was the only sense he had that extended past his reduced sight. It didn't seem like they knew where he was. Could the mist be blocking the node as well?
No that shouldn't be the case. He knew that both the node and Scynil could send auril though the node's own tendrils. Those were in the ground and should remain unaffected by the mist. The Node was either ignoring him in favour of attacking Scynil, or it wasn't using auril to track him in order to stay hidden from him.
For a single second, he considered trying to learn that method. It was a stupid idea though, it wouldn't be as simple as shoving auril into the tendrils. As talented as he was with auril, that technique was a constant tug of war with a Spore Tyrant Node, a creature that was born to use auril using those tendrils.
This was the wrong time and place for that, the only thing he would accomplish would be to give away his position.
Looking into the curling yellow mist and alien pillars, he considered that maybe he'd erred in asking his new patron to delay Scynil's mission. He'd thought, going into this, that the Spore Tyrant would be the lesser threat they would have to face. That Scynil would KO it in one hit. So, here he was, separated from her and trapped in a maze full of acidic fog and murderous fungus monsters.
Maybe he should retreat and let Scynil take care of this. If she was in danger he would have heard something right? It wasn't as if the Crusader could be taken out quietly and quickly... again. He didn't want to run away but what good was he doing here.
Perimeter Alarm 01 triggered. One human(92% Crty). Eta at current speed: 00:06:04(+-10 Sec).
A sensor he'd left behind sent a notification his way, the information sent directly to his implant. Specifically, it was the sensor he had left on the far side of one of the pillars back at the lobby.
Ah. He had not been wrong after all. They had an unwanted guest, a saboteur. Now was not a great time to be proven right though.
The newly minted Hunter had bought these sensors from Gregory for two hundred points, thinking that the human designed sensors might be more secure while being less easy to find by someone who could bend System rules. They provided very limited information but where actually smaller and stealthier than the System's version, at least when it came to human senses. There was half a dozen of them along the path to the node, making sure no one could catch him unaware.
Well, this could get ugly. As if he needed more danger at the moment. At least this made the decision of what to do easier, retreating would be no safer than attacking.
Sighing, Derrick continued on, hoping to find some sign of Scynil. A discarded piece of clothing, some breadcrumbs or hell, he'd take a blood trial at this point. He saw nothing helpful, the hybrid had disappeared into thin air. Or murky stinging air anyway. Some Hunter he was turning out to be, on his first mission for that Role, he was wandering around lost and confused.
Ah, but he was a Hunter, not Skulker. He might be going about this the wrong way. He'd let his dulled senses get to him. Rather than hiding, he should be hunting. What was he afraid of; Sporelings and Stalks? Hardly.
He began letting out auril pulses again. Even if all they did was attract attention, that might at least help Scynil and get things moving. It didn't take long at all for him to get a reaction, in the form of a dozen knee high lifeforms scurrying in from all directions at once.
His weakened pulses did let him know which was coming in first, he turned just in time to see the tip of a fat tentacle reach out of the mist. The sporeling tipped to the side and almost seem to fall, at the last second though, one of its limbs catapulted itself right at Derrick's groin.
The whirling ball of tentacles got split right in half by an axe for its enthusiasm. So did the next one, which was launched out of the mist and through the air fast enough it had to have had help. Soon the Hunter was dancing through the mist, trying to keep himself from being surrounded while swatting at his hard to predict foes.
They were soft but tenacious. The barely alive masses of tentacle would cling with crushing strength unless cut into multiple pieces and even sometimes then. Luckily, they were weak to a stunning blast of auril.
It took real effort to stop the dozens of Sporelings that had squirmed out of the mist at him from overwhelming him. Quantum awareness was next to useless, the fungal murder puppets barely had any senses to begin with, certainly no eyes or ears. As far as he could tell, they just went where they were told and tried to strangle anything they encountered. Luckily, he could still use weak pulses to watch his back and react to enemies as they came.
He was holding his own pretty easily when something fell from above, another sporeling. This one, he noted, was a little bigger and greener than most. In what felt like slow motion, Derrick launched into a desperate leap. As he flew, the Hunter watched its body swell grotesquely.
Ya, it was going to explode.
Brain still in crisis mode, Derrick twisted his whole body to line up a kick. His foot, with a little stunning auril in it, lashed out and caught another attacking sporeling, sending it flying right into its greener brother.
The green Sporeling detonated just as they collided. The resulting wave of snot yellow goo seemed to have been focused in Derrick's direction but was redirected upwards by his intervention.
Derrick landed messily on the ground, off balance from his desperate kick. Before he could get back on his feet, a few drops of goo rained down on him.
One hit his mask, another his boot and the final one landed on his bicep, eating into his skin and causing him to flinch in pain. It was just a drop though and left nothing worse than a second degree burn on his skin.
The Hunter rose to his feet to find the few remaining enemies had pulled back. That exploding Sporeling had been the point of that attack it seemed, and they had pulled back to conserve resources now that it had failed. Tactics, that would mean that the Node was puppeting them.
Out of immediate danger, Derrick looked around, seeing only yellow mist and odd pillars in every direction. He was good and lost now. That running skirmish had robbed him of any sense of direction. No point in just standing around, he thought. The Hunter chose a random direction to explore.
A few minutes of walking revealed only more pillars, a few stalks he easily disabled and the sounds of unseen things scurrying about. It also let him know that while the mist did little enough to him normally, it was a dozen times worse if it got into a wound. Not to mention it prevented the wound from healing, leaving him with a painfully festering wound on is bicep.
It wasn't a complete waste of time as his auril pulses seemed to be correcting just a bit for the mist now, but frankly, he was beginning to get annoyed at this whole situation. Just walking around or picking fights with exploding enemies was obviously not a good plan. So, he needed a third option, he needed to be able to bloody see. Right now, he was lucky when the haze dispersed a little and he could make out vague shapes just over a dozen feet away.
His pulses had adapted minutely and purely unconsciously, making things just a little less blurry. Maybe he could consciously speed up that process. He concentrated on the most complex part of his auril, the dense layer in his skin that made Quantum Awareness possible and helped him decipher auril pulses.
Right away he found a problem, the irritating mist seemed to be disrupting his Quantum Awareness directly as it burned his flesh. Messing with the outer layer of auril as it attacked his skin. The mutant trait seemed to be delicate, no doubt due to how incredibly sensitive it had to be. As long as he was being burned by this mist Quantum Awareness wouldn't work.
Coincidence? He doubted it. He was getting very tired of the ancient horrors adapting to his humble tricks. Those tricks were all he had! At this rate, he would lose the advantages that were keeping him alive.
After a quick check of his surroundings, the auril prodigy decided to take a risk. Time for a little experimentation. First, he gathered up auril and used it to start a round of regeneration, fixing his skin problems for a few seconds. Wait no, not entirely.
There was also something else going on, besides the gas. He felt weird currents of auril under his skin. He'd spent a lot of time staring at Quantum Awareness, the fascinating auril enigma under his skin and knew these subtle changes were new. How odd. It didn't seem harmful so he left that alone for now.
What he needed to do was make his Quantum Awareness just a little harder to disrupt. That would hopefully catch the Spore Tyrant off guard and lead him to it. Then, he could kill... no wait... disable it for Scynil?
His go to for toughening up auril patterns was the boiling knots of Strike techniques, which he'd already successfully applied to internal auril. How risky could using it on Quantum Awareness be?
How to go about it though? He had basically no control over the mutant trait. It was an automatic process. He would have to throw stabilizing auril at it and see what stuck. Risky, but he should be able to overwhelm any mistakes with a pulse of Sapping Strike aruil if his skin tried to spontaneously combust or something.
So, as when fooling around with locking up his manna core, he reduced sapping strike to its bare essentials and tried to weave those into his skin. Nothing happened, either good or bad. After a dozen failed attempts a knot or striking auril blended into his Quantum Awareness and began to spread and replicate across his skin.
Derrick froze and watched with bated breath, prepared to pull the trigger on a waver of cleansing auril.
He didn't feel different but the auril seemed to be doing things. Actually, it seemed to be doing a lot. The entire surface of his body was like a sea in storm to his auril sense. Threads of auril so tiny, even he could barely perceive them were coming undone and weaving themselves into new patterns around his additions.
It was eerie how so much could be happening and apparently doing so little. He almost wished for a wave of pain to let him know he was on the wrong track.
Auril mutation detected, the System informed him clinically and getting his full attention.
Auril Channels Trait initialization disrupted... Trait corrupted... Failure
That was not what he'd meant to do. Shit, had he just cost himself a trait? Honestly he had forgotten all about that trait, its construction must have been the auril changes he saw.
Analyzing... Parallel trait detected. Subsuming trait remnants.
He was not quite sure what was going. This was good? Or at least not as bad as a second ago. Maybe...
As he was gazing at his palm, his skin tore itself open. Wide eyed, Derick watched a jagged two inch long gash just appear from nowhere and begin to drip blood. Derrick stopped his introspection and let out a scream, as much from the surprise as the pain. Then it happened a few more time, random wounds opening across his body. At least a dozen wounds formed, causing Derrick to do a little dance of flinches.
The ones exposed to the noxious air were by far the worst. Shit, they hurt. The yellow mist was worse than salt in wounds. Instinctively the auril prodigy sent regenerative auril to fix the damage and chase away the pain. That third wave of organized auril rushed to mend his broken flesh and disappeared into the growing mess of auril that was tearing at his skin.
In a heartbeat, he felt the pain diminish and the blood stop flowing. Yet he noticed the effects were too little, even considering the toxic air. Grimacing, Derrick wiped the blood off one wound. The good news was that the damage was superficial and seemed to have stopped. They were essentially deep paper cuts, they had just caught him off guard.
The bad news...
Further mutation detected... Threat to User detected, stabilizing auril.
Further Trait corruption detected... Adapting.
Ah... oops. Maybe hitting unstable auril with more random auril had been ill-advised. He braced himself for more pain but that didn't happen. The regenerative auril had solved his ripping flesh problem anyway. He did not like the look of what was going on though.
The patterns of auril that made up Quantum Awareness were unstable and unrecognizable. The mix of auril had begun sending tendrils of power deeper into his flesh. At this rate, his Quantum Awareness might implode. Which would be bad as he didn't think it would come back.
“Shit,” the Hunter swore and immediately got to work trying to stabilize the trait, stopping more changes from happening through blunt will. While he worked, he got the distinct impression that something was helping him along, it could only be his Implant, subtly stabilizing. Thanks to that and his own skill with auril, he succeeded in stopping the damage from becoming worse. He was still left with a non-functioning trait though, so he had more work to do.
With the situation improved, he took stock of his surroundings. The node hadn't taken advantage of his latest round of self mutilation. He was still being ignored. That was fine with him. He needed to undo the damage he'd done. Which would be... difficult. It was one thing to stabilize auril, another to repair it.
Shrugging, the Hunter began to tinker. The best way to affect unstable auril seemed to be by using small knots of reduced Strike auril that were carefully combined with familiar parts Quantum Awareness. This let him replicate those pieces, undoing at least some of the damage. It gave him no direct or precise control, but he couldn't control auril that finely anyway. It worked but he quickly hit the limit of what he could do with crude copying and pasting.
What next... Well one of the problems was the now pointless aurilin under his skin, the remains of the corrupted Aurilin Channels trait. As he considered that garbage, an idea formed. Kate had taught him a trick that would be useful here. How to overwrite aurilin. She'd just used the technique to create copies of techniques in aurilin for him to learn from. What if he wrote his quantum awareness into these aurilin channels? That should allow the trait the resilience he was after and might help fix some other problems besides.
Reluctantly optimistic, Derrick got to work. Barely a minute went by before a new notification popped up.
Auril stabilized. Trait merger complete.
Devil's Skin (F) has been upgraded to Devil's Brand (D)
Nice, if somewhat unfortunately named. So, he’d managed to combine two traits into one higher ranked trait? As long as it fixed the problem it seemed like a success to him.
Universal Support System Implant
Devil's Brand (D)(Defence)(Auril)
A dermal mesh of carbon fibres and aurilin alloy tattooed under the User's skin that increases skin toughness while capable of quickly transforming to insulate the body from various energies.
The aurilin channels have been adapted to mimic and fortify the Quantum Awareness trait.
When activated, the trait protects against exterior heat and auril sources. This not only provides protection from attacks but reduces chance of detection when active.
Due to the instability and complexity of this trait, it slows healing in affected areas considerably. Requires enhanced healing (D+).
+ 2 auril capacity
Some Devils make their own luck
It seemed perfect except for the downside. He quickly checked Quantum Awareness and found it both functional and no longer bothered by the mist. That made it worth it.
The Hunter grinned into the smog and let out as powerful a pulse as he could, using his mask's new upgrade to boost it. He found nothing but the blurry shape of tendrils below the ground and Sporelings scurrying in the distance.
But he didn't need to, because that pulse was like lighting a bonfire at his location. It was a scream into the jungle, a challenge. The node felt it through its tendrils, it became aware of him and Quantum Awareness roared back to life under the weight of that alien awareness, tracking it back to the source.
He even felt a second mind's eye on him, a fleeting sensation that he would bet was his ally, Scynil.
The node immediately realized its mistake and the sensation faded but the damage was done. Derrick the Red knew where the enemy was now and grinning, he launched himself forwards. It was time to get this over with.
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)
Devil's Brand (D) (Defensive)(Auril)
Breathless (E) (Survival)
Heartless (E) (Survival)
Auril Capacity: 17.2/28
Auril Style: Red Law (D)
Auril Skills: Regeneration
Core Capacity: 12.9 / 17
Manna (Raw): 12.2
Manna (Canvas) 4.0
Manna Skills: Sheathing
Successful USS missions: 6
USS Points: 1029