No longer able to hide, the Spore Tyrant immediately threw a tide of its diminutive minions at Derrick. A swarm of Sporelings launched themselves at him, emerging from nooks and crannies in every surface. Popping out of walls, the ceiling and the floor like... well, mushrooms.
Still more minions were thrown at him by sources unseen, spinning out of the mist with tentacles squirming. Despite there being over a dozen of them in total, Derrick fought them off easily enough. He was veteran enough at fighting that he knew the secret was to dodge and attack in such a way that he wasn't overwhelmed. Striking fast to reduce enemy numbers while picking targets that kept him from being surrounded. He also kept a careful eye out for any more acid filled ones.
The only really dangerous moment was when a pair of stalks exploded out of the ground during the melee. He'd thought them disabled by his pulse, but it seemed like the node could protect them from that ability as long as it wasn't hiding. Once again, he'd underestimated the Spore Tyrant's abilities, he really needed to stop doing that.
The Scourge had been using auril literally forever; Derrick the Red was just a talented amateur.
While scolding himself, the Hunter twisted in place with superhuman speed, dodging one stalk and driving a manna accelerated fist right into the other. The stalk had exploded from the ground with enough force that his gauntlet was stopped but the manna absorbed almost all of the blow. He felt the impact, first with his entire body and then just his fist. A risky move, but it left him and his equipment unharmed.
Derrick shook his fist, to dispel a slight tingling sensation and continued forward. He was just a hundred feet from where he'd sensed the node now and he could feel his eagerness growing. Finally, he was going to put the Slaver Node behind him.
Nothing was going to stop him, he swore to himself and then came to a full stop a second later when an almost naked purple and green woman flew over his head, close enough that he felt the wind of her sudden passing. Judging from the sound, she then crashed into the pillar behind him.
Almost reluctantly, Derrick turned to peek behind himself.
Yup, that was definitely a topless Scynil he saw picking herself up of the ground, seemingly undamaged from her crash. Just to be sure though, he’d better keep looking. It was the responsible thing to do. She did seem uninjured beyond a few blemishes but her colourful skin made it hard to tell.
He couldn't help but notice that she was, by all appearances, classically female. Very much so. Her armor must have been pretty tight around the chest. He'd actually slightly underestimated the size of her assets. Did she have some kind of gravity defying manna ability or was her flesh just that strong, Derrick wondered as she approached him.
“Good, you have arrived. I am having a little difficulty with the binding,” The alien hybrid said as she moved beside him, coming close enough that Derrick was forced to stop staring and turn his gaze to the patch of mist the node was hiding behind. “There should have been little danger, but the Primal Scourge had used the delay well. My satisfaction is inevitable however, all the more with your aid.”
Derrick was pretty sure his one eyebrow was twitching madly from the sheer force of will it took to act professional. He struggled to think up an appropriate response. Focus Derrick, he commanded himself, this is a super serious situation. The fate of the world might hang in the balance.
“It would be my pleasure to help in any way I can,” he replied, carefully deadpan. “What are we dealing with exactly. Oh, and what happened to your armor?”
Scynil nodded as if he'd raised an excellent point. She was completely indifferent to her own nudity, Derrick noted. Which made sense as it wasn't even her original body, or even the same species as her original body. Probably wasn't even her fourth new body, judging by her level of three point nine.
The healthy human male considered the old cliche of aliens not understanding human taboos and culture. Should he should bother trying to explain things? Offer her his jacket bashfully? No, fuck it. After all the horrible shit he'd been through, he figured he was due a treat. If she didn't care, he didn't. Let the next person explain nudity taboos to her. Honestly, his instinct was she'd just tell him to shut up, keep his human nonsense to himself and concentrate on the fight if he raised the issue.
He just hoped this distraction wouldn't be the thing that got him killed.
“Ware neophyte, the node can release a volley of acid filled darts. While they lack enough penetrative power to pierce manna reinforced System armor fully, they are capable of eating their way through it to the flesh beneath in seconds after impact,” she informed him. “I would endeavor to avoid getting hit, you lack the quality of armor and skill to repel such an attack. Be watchful, it should be a few minutes before it can release another such volley but nothing is certain.”
Joy. Well, that killed the mood. To think this mission had been offered by Scynil as a reward. Apparently dodging acidic spikes was a rewarding experience.
The conversation was interrupted as the mist was pushed aside by a monstrosity of bright yellow tentacles and bone white armor. On the top or back of the creature was a pulsing red mass of frilly flesh. This was definitely the node.
Huh, he'd thought it would be bigger. At six feet tall, it was a fraction of the size as any of the other nodes he'd seen. Except for the ones that had been inside people, he wasn't sure those counted though. They had been more like routers than real nodes. It was the size of the largest Spore Tyrant minion he'd seen so far, the Bleeding Tooth Behemoth. It had even heavier white armor and instead of spitting acid this one seemed to have darts.
All that added together made it the deadliest Spore Tyrant he'd fought so far. It darted forward and stopped just two dozen feet away, still half obscured by the yellow mist. It didn't attack, no doubt content to waste time and build up strength.
Ah, perhaps it was being literally held back, it was hidden from his eyes but he could sense three cords of auril filled flesh dangling down from the ceiling and into the armored red bulb on the monstrosity's back. The node might be larger than it looked, it might even be this entire 'room'. The spider looking thing in front of him was just the most important parts. The bulb of spongy red flesh that sat on top of the creature reminded him of the Siren Node, though protected by a cage of hard mesh. That mesh was thick enough that he would have trouble seeing the bulb beneath it if the that feature hadn't been glowing very slightly.
Like all their kind, it was asymmetrical, with nine limbs growing out it. These were more like spider legs than tentacles though. Dirty white carapace made them seem to have joints, though each 'leg' had a different number of segments and was a slightly different length. These limbs were tipped with dull looking spikes that dug into the floor when it moved. No doubt they could just as easily be driven through armor and flesh just as easily, especially with what must be three hundred pounds of weight behind them.
Set around the bulb, were three more limbs, growing up into spine covered pads, not unlike a squid's. One of these seemed to have been ripped in half by Scynil already. No doubt these were the source of the toxic darts. He would have to keep an eye on them.
He didn't see anything else to watch, the creature lacked anything like a head or the things that feature would normally contain; like a mouth or ears.
“How can I help with the binding? What do you need done?” Derrick asked, as he eyed his enemy. It looked scary but something told him it was not quite as dangerous as the Lurker. A squad of average Users could probably take it down easily enough on the surface.
“I simply need to make contact with the node while its exaltation is spent,” Scynil replied and gave him a thoughtful look. “I believe you can aid me in this. Simply force it to spend auril by striking at it with your own. ”
So punch it. He could do that.
“I will attack first and draw its ire,” Scynil said. “You take that opportunity to strike at it safely. Be warned, binding is a delicate art, the node cannot be too damaged or it will die rather than be bound.”
Hmm, so avoid Splintering Strike then. Just slow it down with Sapping Strike. The Hunter nodded to convey his understanding.
Without a second of wasted time, Scynil launched herself forward, her taloned feet ripping up the soft floor beneath her. Immediately, the node reacted. It retreated back into the mist at an angle and fired a spray of darts at the charging Crusader.
Before Derrick could even move to follow her, she was already spinning to avoid the projectiles. Sensing weakness, the node reversed direction and raised two of its limbs to chest height, driving them towards Scynil like pile drivers.
Now all of halfway to the fight, Derrick saw Scynil calmly step to the side, dodging one limb and digging the claws of her one hand into her enemy's other attacking leg. The node did not like that at all, it went berserk, leaping up at her like a spider, a dozen limbs desperately clawing at the air between them.
At the same time, Derrick saw something propelled out of the mist and at Scynil. A hint of green as the object came into sight was all he needed to know. The Hunter reflexively threw an axe, and continued on to do his job. An explosion of acid from the corner of his eye let him know he'd hit his target and a second later his other axe hit a flailing leg, unleashing a burst of sapping auril into the shallow wound.
He felt his strength draining technique sink its teeth into the enemy's own auril and then felt those teeth shatter as the node's auril resisted him easily.
“Shit,” he swore as he backpedalled, dodging a swipe at his face by a limb that stretched out a foot longer than it had been a second ago. A second barely dodged swipe brushed his shoulder with bony spines. As he retreated, he saw Scynil send the node spinning through the air with a brutal kick to one leg joint.
The kick had been powerful but it looked like their fungal foe had moved with it, using the force of the blow to leap backwards and out of reach.
Seeing the node flying back and unable to dodge, the Hunter let a Tangler grenade fly. His throw was spot on, but his target just glided out of the projectile's way. The Tangler went off, but the node just curled up into a tight ball, ignoring the few tendrils that reached it before unfurling and tearing apart the few strands that had caught on its spikes.
What? Dammit, he'd forgotten about those cords attaching it to the ceiling. Apparently, it could guide itself using those. Should he try to cut them, he wondered. Probably not, that seemed like major damage to the node. He was just going to have to keep at it.
Despite the interruption, the Spore Tyrant Slaver Node unfolded and landed with cat-like grace, making Derrick think the cords above it had also helped guide its landing. Whatever the cause, it was ready for Scynil's second charge and retreated in a flurry of squirming limbs, racing back into the mist without bothering to orient itself.
“Do not let it recover,” Scynil ordered as she moved in pursuit. “Your attack was successful in expending its exaltation. Be courageous and relentless.”
Derrick hesitated for a second over his missing axe, but not wanting to get left behind or fail at his role, he gave chase. Damn, the node was fast. Scynil and the node easily pulled ahead of him, a mere human, even though the node's odd number of limbs made it zigzag as it moved.
The same patch of fog that swallowed the node, vomited a swarm of Sporelings when Derrick ran after it. By the time he'd put them down, the Hunter found himself alone again. He could hear noises of combat nearby but couldn't tell exactly where they were coming from, they seemed to echo through the yellow air.
So, he let out a massive pulse of auril, the strange energy pooling in his mask before expanding outwards a good seventy feet in every direction. It failed to discover the node but he clearly felt Scynil, which was just as good. He changed direction accordingly and sprinted at full speed, his enhanced muscles and lungs launching him forward faster than any Olympic athlete.
In just seconds, the node came into view again and at the same time, Derick felt a pang of danger centred on his stomach. He threw himself to the side and covered the tingling area with a manna filled gauntlet. Just in time too, sparks flew as a volley of darts met his gauntlet and refusing to be stopped. Once more his manna was insufficient to stop the attack, more than one projectile was deflected from the hard surface of the gauntlet and into his left hip.
Derrick let out a pained yelp and fell to the ground, his hands grasping his wounded side. The Hunter knew from experience leaving anything that came from Spore Tyrants near skin was a horrible idea. Panicked, he tore one dart out of his side, the dart came out bloodlessly. After a few more seconds he found and yanked another dart out of his armor and flesh. This time, he felt it take chunks of meat with it as it came out. No doubt it had been growing every moment it was inside him. At least only one had penetrated actual flesh and his auril senses told him it didn't seem to have pumped any acid or infection into him, though the hole it left was pretty bad by itself.
The wound burned, not unlike acid, a sensation that he felt all the way to his spine. He didn't let it stop him, he pushed himself to his feet and after a few hobbling steps was back to chasing down Scynil and the node.
They hadn't gone far but the realities of the situation forced him to keep his distance. Even if his gauntlet and the armor behind it had limited the damage, he didn't have enough auril for a complete regeneration, never mind another Sapping Strike. He focused on keeping the fight in sight.
Auril was a funny thing. While you could only use a fraction of your auril at once, the more your techniques the more you could use. If he remembered it right, it was about a quarter of his total when he'd first started. He'd expanded that total with more advanced techniques, learning to shape the patterns of auril so that it flowed to where he wanted it easier. It was hard to hold back, he tended to use as much auril as possible when given the chance.
So, charging up, he spent a few minutes just watching the battle between Crusader Warden and Spore Tyrant Node. It didn't quite go as he expected. As he watched and healed, he expected Scynil to use some trick or technique to defeat the node. That didn't happen.
Instead he witnessed what was basically a straight up brawl. An incredibly high speed and superhumanly powerful brawl. No wonder the Wardens were borderline cultists. Even if Auril Dungeons were the most valuable things in the universe, you would have to be insane to dedicate your life to what he was watching.
Scynil used her inhuman reflexes and muscles to keep herself at arms reach, moving gracefully to strike at her enemy while stopping it from either retreating or overwhelming her. Fearlessly, she danced with an alien monstrosity that ate worlds as her unwilling partner. From the few tastes of auril he felt, she seemed entirely focused on using her power for defence and rare counters to sap the enemy’s strength. She was born and built for this fight, Derrick realized, as the Crusader danced around reaching tentacles and rains of toxic darts. Trained for the purpose of hunting and subduing monsters like this one without fatality on either side.
All of a sudden, Derrick felt really out of place. A whisper of anxiety telling him he was too small to be here among saints and demons. Too weak, stupid, unfocused and unimpo....
Derrick crushed that feeling. Used the fist of his willpower to grind it to nothing. It was surprisingly easy. Even if he cared to indulge in such pointlessness, this wasn't about him or something as vague and frankly unimportant as worthiness. He'd known since he was a child what worthiness was good for, a fancier tombstone when life crushed you.
This was, Derrick realized, about the Slaver Node. The node that had turned men, women and children into living routers, hollowing them out to better attack the city above.
Huh, it said a lot about his recent life that he'd almost forgotten about that. He had definitely not forgiven it though. Derrick remembered what he'd promised himself and the System when the node infected girl had stabbed him and he'd realized how little humanity was left in her. That he would even the scales, taking something from the thing that, soulless of not, had robbed children of their free will and used them as resources.
The Hunter smiled. Human lives and minds could be... just reduced to nothing, swatted out of existence by a creature that couldn't be bothered to think of them as anything but nutrients. But this dungeon situation was proof that went two ways. Both poetic and practical. He focused on that, using that anger to kick his auril heart into a higher gear. It was the slightest of boosts but it wasn't nothing. Besides, it felt good to smooth out the wrinkles in his auril, guiding it through his body to the theme song of brutally poetic justice.
It took less than a minute for his auril to be replenished. While his side still hurt like a bitch, it wouldn't slow him down much. It was just a flesh wound. Time to get back into it.
Carefully but eagerly, he moved to add his own weight to the fight. The node barely paid him any attention, it was too busy dealing with the Crusader. Circling that fight at a distance, Derrick waited for an opportunity. In less than a minute Scynil gave him one, grabbing two different attacking limbs and swinging her attacker towards him. While it was off balance Derrick easily landed an axe blow before retreating.
Like before, his auril bit into the enemy for a single moment before fading. His blow had done very little damage to either auril or flesh. Even with the enhanced edge of his weapon, it was like attacking an armored tire, all hard plates with rubbery flesh beneath.
Time was on the Users' side though. Derrick continued circling and waited for chances to strike. Hit and retreat, each blow's auril charge lasting a hair longer, sinking a hair deeper.
Hit and retreat, each time working a little bit better with Scynil and each time the node was a little slower to respond.
Another chance. This time, Derrick got more ambitious, pruning away one of the nimbler limbs that shot spikes. He was rewarded with a shudder ripping through the node's frame.
Sensing its defeat, the node tried to retreat up a pillar. Scynil easily stopped this by grabbing a squirming limb, her claws causing red and yellow fluid to flow as they sunk into yellow flesh and cracked the monster’s armor.
Or at least it looked like it was stopped, the node adjusted itself and slapped a massive tentacle at Scynil's head. She raised her hand to block it, but the blow still sent her off balance. The alien creature began to pull itself up the pillar like a giant spider once more.
Derrick's remaining axe sunk into one of its climbing limbs, having been thrown by him when he saw the enemy escaping. Mostly by luck, he hit an unarmored joint and the blade sunk deep enough to partially disable the limb. He saw it spasm as it failed under the weight of the creature.
Derrick sprinted forward and helped stop the enemy's retreat. Sinking a knife into one of the monster's lower limbs, injecting Sapping auril and pulling the node back down with all his strength. For the first time he felt his auril break through the enemy's auril defences, sinking into whatever it had that passed for muscles and robbing them of the strength it needed to get away.
Scynil shot him a grateful look, a rare moment of strong human emotion on her face. Then, moving so fast she was just a blur, the Crusader climbed onto the creature's back. The Crusader tore off its last upper limb and pressed both her palms into the white and red growth that dominated the top of their enemy.
Holding on desperately, Derrick felt his feet rise off the ground a few times as the Slaver Node shuddered uncontrollably. It twitched and squirmed, almost throwing him off several times. Neither he nor Scynil gave an inch though and after a minute it fell still, collapsing like a puppet with its strings cut.
“You may step back,” Scynil said calmly, still perched on the node's back. “Success or defeat now depends on the teaching of the Order of Flourishing Humility. Your assistance has tipped the scales towards success, no more aid can be offered.”
“I'm not needed here then?” Derrick inquired, he would have asked more questions but at that moment the floor began to move under his feet. He jumped back, prepared to defend himself but quickly relaxed. Tendrils had shot out of the ground around the node but they were silver and a clean white that contrasted heavily with the yellow stained white of the node's.
It seemed like now that all the dangerous work was done, the System had come to lend a hand. The silver tendrils wrapped around the node while somehow avoiding Scynil. After a few seconds, the alien creature was difficult to even see, having sunk halfway into the base of the pillar before coming to a stop.
Derrick eyed the tendrils wrapped around the node and threaded through the walls. It was apparent that if the System had really wanted to, it could have been a lot more helpful. Well, beggars couldn't be choosers, he supposed.
Ha! That could be humanity's official motto now.
Derrick couldn't keep a chuckle from bubbling up at that thought. The amused outburst echoed across the silent hall.
Derrick moved to a nearby pillar and slouched into a seated position. Unsurprisingly he was bone tired. The fight had lasted a good twenty minutes, which was an eternity in combat time. He closed his eyes and breathed deep, seeking a moment of peace.
The System didn't grant it.
Universal Support System
New Titles Unlocked: Apostle of Exaltation, Trusted Citizen
System contract (Slaver Node) fulfilled... Exchanging deed
Ownership of facilities adjacent to Dungeon Earth01 granted.
31% of Auril Produced by Dungeon Earth01 granted
Leadership proficiency (Basic) recognized...
Civic Awards: Blooded Ally of the Orders, Apostle of Exaltation recognized...
Security Clearance Updated: C/C 1A/56D
Exceptional Merit Recognized. Generating reward.
Protest lodged... Counter protest lodged... Original protest denied. Second protest lodged... Denied.
Trusted Citizen Upgraded to Trusted Landowner
+340 points for successfully binding node
+65 points for Apostle of Exaltation title
+30 points for Trusted Landowner title
Apostle of Exaltation: A title granted to Users that have significantly contributed to their species' use and understanding of auril.
-Every tragedy carves away another lie and reveals another strength
Trusted Landowner: A title given to provenly loyal Users who own productive System territory and have displayed social merit. These Users are granted additional rights and responsibilities, such as increased Attention, limited immunity to social compliance protocols and additional leeway to complete mission objectives. Warning: Due to unstable civic situation, rights and responsibilities granted by title are in flux.
-Buy when there's blood in the streets, even if the blood is your own
Spore Tyrant Slaver Node
A rare form of Spore Tyrant Node that uses mastery of biology and auril to infect and control other lifeforms with a much higher level of skill than most other nodes. It uses these router nodes to spread chaos and supplement its normal minions. It is considered one of the more dangerous nodes due to this higher intelligence, which allow it limited strategy and planning.
This node type can be bound by a Warden to create a Dungeon.
Huh. The points for these titles were a little disappointing and the titles themselves didn't do much. He supposed that was because they were social titles. The System's version of Samaritan points. Basically, they were just for the bragging rights and might let him attend all the fancy parties that the 'elite' threw for themselves. Not that there would be many of those parties in the immediate future. At least he hoped not.
Derrick felt his eyes narrowing. Trusted Citizen was a social reward, so it was probably politicians and supporters earning trusted status. Which was fine, but something, probably an Authority, had tried to deny his own. He did not like the smell of that, it smelled like a conspiracy to keep the wrong kind of people from whatever benefits trusted status granted.
Even considering his low expectations for the title, that was not something he was going to take sitting down. If he survived the next couple hours he would have to make some inquiries into what kind of people were 'trustworthy' in the Westhills Enclave. He had the sneaking suspicion that he wouldn't like the answer.
Derrick cleared his head and focused on more immediate problems. He went to retrieve his missing axe, hopefully it had survived impact with the acid filled minion he had thrown it at. While he walked, he examined his profile.
Name: Derrick, Red
Show Title: Auril Pioneer II
Social Rank: Trusted Landowner
Military Titles: Scrappy III, Emergency Activation II, Auril Pioneer II, Multi Killer II, Resilient II, Fold Survivor, Trailblazer, Auril Cultivator, Counteragent, Ambitious
Social Titles: Trusted Landowner, Blooded Ally of the Orders, Apostle of Exaltation, C/C 1A/56D
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: 17.2/26
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: 7
USS Points: 1559
“I've just become a trusted citizen,” Derrick said, incredibly casually as he used half a sporeling to wipe still steaming acid off his weapon. The damage seemed pretty minor, hopefully the limited repair feature would take care of it.
“Congratulations,” Scynil stated, her attention still fixed on the node her claws were penetrating. The world's newest trusted citizen couldn't help but notice that she did not seem particularly impressed. So much for prestige. On world's ruled by the System, were there trusted citizens on every street corner?
“This is why you invited me down here, isn't it?” he asked. It was easier to talk to the Crusader now that she was facing away from him. Not that her back wasn't also distractingly sexy. It really was.
“I thought it would be a step towards it, but I cannot say that I am surprised you have already earned enough honor. I hope that I have now been forgiven for my earlier presumptions,” she replied, matter of fact. “Please, no more questions. This is delicate work and neither of us wishes to fail at this point. It is only my many experiences with the binding of Tyrants that allow me to even speak.”
Derrick considered the situation.
“More than forgiven. One more question though, how long are you going to be binding?”
“My battle of auril with the Tyrant will take longer than our physical battle. A single mistake and the node will resist, forcing us to kill it.”
“Ah,” Derrick stated. “That's not ideal.”
“You may leave at any time,” Scynil stated with just a hint of annoyance leaking through her detachment.
“That's the problem,” Derrick replied, as something tripped the last of his sensors in the hallway that led to the cavern they were in. “I don't think I can. Someone is here to kill us.”