Derrick and Blake raced back up top, Derrick pulling ahead due to his traits and higher level. He zoomed through the concrete tunnel, up the stairs and out the metal door that led to the food court. From there, he shot out the front and saw that the area was devoid of Users or attacking Grey Legion. A pulse revealed they had moved to the back of the property, opposite the road.
Immediately, he heard gunshots and shouts from around the corner of the building he'd just exited. Peeking around that corner, he saw his employees and allies sitting in cover. None of them bothering to fire back at the source of the incoming fire.
Derrick immediately felt himself relax, the lack of return fire and artillery strikes were telling. Not to mention, the incoming gunfire was just that. Fire from human designed guns. Only the most isolated pockets of Grey legion Agent's still used those and they were standing right beside a supply depot.
Derrick darted to cover behind a bus, joining Mathew and another User.
“What brought this on?” he asked. It was times like this he actually missed the Obedience protocols.
“Stacy wandered off,” Mathew answered with a shrug. “A few minutes later, we started taking fire. No one is hurt, though one guy would be bleeding out if he was a deer.”
That confirmed it then. Of the Three 'Hunters' that worked with Red Works, Mathew was the only one that had ever done any actual hunting. He recognized the weapons firing at them as human. Hell, he could probably tell the calibre by ear.
The older man pointed his fingers to a small tree covered hill. Their fellow humans must be firing on them from that hill. It was a couple hundred feet away, meaning the attackers were decent shots at least.
Better get this over with, before someone actually got hurt. Derrick once more put his super human sprinting power to good use. He launched himself forward with a combination of subtle raw manna use and pure User given strength. He has halfway to the treeline before Quantum Awareness warned him he was being targeted. A simple dodge was enough to throw off the shooter's aim and then Derrick was among the trees.
He raced through the trees and let out a pulse of auril. The information he got back was harder to parse in a forest, as it returned a literal forest of shapes. He could tell that only one person was in range though and that person must be Stacy due to the auril he sensed. He continued without slowing and zoomed past Stacy, who was falling back.
She seemed fine, if somewhat unhappy to see him. No doubt, she'd wanted to solve this herself once she realized it wasn't a Scourge attack.
Derrick's boots pounded soft forest earth and he lept over fallen trees and half buried rocks. His next pulse pinpointed exactly where the shooters were and he corrected his run to take him right at them.
“Please, put the guns down,” Derrick said as he caught sight of the Users. “We're all human here.”
As soon as he spoke, at least three guns pointed his way, but no one fired on him. Good, it had been a little bit of a risk to not start this conversation with a Tangler. Not much of one, but still a risk. He was armored well enough to be impervious to something as mundane as hunting bullets and could heal inhumanly fast besides. When it came to dealing with Users from outside West Hills, he tried to start things off as friendly as possible.
Huffing a bit and trying to hide it, Stacy appeared at his side, her mask off to reveal her humanity. He reached up to his face and took his off as well. He kept a hand near his face though, just in case he needed to block a bullet.
“Weapons down!” one of them yelled, confusing Derrick for a second as neither he nor Stacy were holding weapons. A second later, the strange Users all dropped their weapons.
Navy blue and simple, they were obviously locals. A plain faced man seemed to be in charge of four others. Only one of them even had a System built gun, the rest still had old school human weapons. What were they doing so close to a Grey Legion base though?
Oh, of course.
“You are in charge?” a skeptical voice questioned..
“Yes, I dress funny but I get things done.” Derrick replied with practised ease. This was hardly the first time someone had questioned his or his ally’s dress code.
“Ah, no.” the other man stumbled. “I'm just surprised it's actually you, Derrick the Red. I saw you on the Trial program. You were from around here?”
Derrick worked to keep his irritation off his face. That stupid Trial set up by his Patron still bothered him. He was very much a private person and didn't enjoy being tricked into celebrity. Even if the publicity from it was useful, it made him uncomfortable to be scrutinized by strangers. For awhile, the highlights of his and other high level Users had been literally the only thing on television. All you needed was a phone and you could watch it thanks to the Universal Support System replacing human infrastructure.
He imagined these Users must have been surviving by huddling around a lonely Universal Support Station, buying what they needed to survive and occasionally watching his unwilling exploits on their phones.
“Ya, I don't blame you for not recognizing West Hills from the video,” Derrick answered. “It looks very different now that the Scourges have had their way with it. We are bouncing back though. Now was there any particular reason you fired on us?”
“Ah, that was our fault.” The man said with an apologetic frown, seemingly mortified.
“I just walked into the bush when one of them fired on me from a couple hundred feet away.” Stacy informed him, obviously slightly defensive. “They're lucky we quickly realized Grey Agents wouldn't be as badly armed as them.”
She was clearly annoyed at having been ambushed. Their poor quality equipment probably didn't help.
Derrick moved right in front of the group's leader.
“Glad to see another survivor,” he said and offered his hand. “I'm Derrick, as you know.”
“Right,” the man said. “Names Pat. I, umm. The lady... You're all from West Hills? It's safe there? No wait.”
The man stopped suddenly, a flash of pain showing on his dirty face.
“We came here to look for some people who went missing,” Pat finished. “Two women and...”
Yes, this was what he'd thought was happening here. What else could drive a few Users to attack ten times their number in Grey Legion soldiers? The Grey Legion had nabbed their friends, like the Grey Legion did. He detected no aurilin in any of them. They wouldn't have lasted ten minutes attempting a rescue, the dog alone would have taken half of them out.
“Sherry Woods and five others?” Derrick interrupted. “We found them. They are unconscious but seem like they will be fine otherwise. They should be being carried out of there as we speak. You're welcome to come down and wait for them. Please stay out of the buildings though. We are still clearing the place out.”
The looks of relief on their faces were so obvious it was painful to look at. Derrick could only imagine how close the small group of survivors were. Survivalists? Or maybe just people the System was using to put out small fires in the area. They'd run into both types and they were always glad to work with Derrick's group. Yes, even if hadn't caught the Legion with their pants down, he was putting this down as a win.
Another message popped up in his view and he couldn't keep a look of disgust from taking over his face. Derrick's hand fell to his side where it gripped his axe.
“Are we actually under attack?” Stacy asked.
“No, worse.” Came his reply. “Politics”
The enclave of West Hills has called an official council meeting. As a Trusted Citizen, you may attend and vote.
There was also a timestamp attached to the short message. The meeting was taking place in fifty minutes. He was at least forty five minute away from West Hills.
He let out a long sigh and sent a message to Blake, requesting his presence.
“Stacy, you like telling p... helping people. Give these guys the speech, get their info and finish up here.” He would get Stacy to earn her keep while actually trusted allies took care of the goodies in the lab.
They had developed a standard protocol when they encountered isolated pockets of Users. Swapping info and and offering to take them to one of their outposts closer to West Hills. They didn't actually have permission from the Council to move Users into the city, where resources were soon to be strained. Only civilians got free shelter in the Enclave.
He would be deeply offended by this bigotry, but honestly it suited him just fine. It was one of the very few ideas the council had come up with that he supported. Hence, one of the few ideas that was more than an idea.
Another sprint through the woods let him work through his annoyance and brought him back to Mathew.
“Bag everything and don't let anyone who doesn't work for Red Works touch it. I'm stealing a Tempest to head back to West Hills,” he told Mathew, who was an employee and reliable. He was the weakest of the Hunters when it came to a straight up fight but he was refreshingly competent and easy to get along with.
Lastly, he turned to Blake.
“You come with me,” he ordered tiredly and then let shaped his lips into a nasty smile. “I'm sure Greta would love to see you. Bringing you is the least I could do to... for her.”
“Anything for you, Supreme Commander,” Blake responded with a crisp salute and a mocking smile.
The second his hand met his forehead, where Derrick had naively thought Users were installing sensor towers on the rooftop, a massive banner unfurled. It brazenly displayed a silver shield bearing a red cross which was set on a white background. It was his namesake color mixed with the System's own. Around the edges of the flag, elaborate silver scroll-work added a touch of class.
Apparently the short cross was not only a human symbol for medicine and aid but one of the System wide Symbols for aurilin and auril abilities. The silver shield represented the System itself. It had seemed like a good fit for his Company's logo, he honestly hadn't put that much thought into it but the result was both evocative and fitting.
Small versions of it were on all of the items Red Work's made. He did not remember having any giant flags made though.
Sigh. Blake was getting worse every day. The blond User was going full knight wannabe. That had been obvious since he first bought that sword, but now he had a following among some of the Red Works Users. Derrick fought a short and doomed battle against a facial twitch. This made him seem like some chunni warlord and no doubt every User on the planet would know about this. He would be lucky if there wasn't a TV special about this.
Why was it so hard to find good help? At least it was just a joke. Right?
Without a second to spare, Derrick jumped in the back of the truck. He had to hold on to stop from hitting the back of the vehicle because he was sitting in the cargo bin. This Tempest had no grenade launchers but it was still full of bins and bags, most of them empty at this point.
Once the vehicle was out of sight of the conquered outpost, Derrick pushed his fingers into his eyes. Running an operation to clear the area around West Hills of the Scourges was tiring. Not just on a physical level but a mental one too. Dealing with people had never been Derrick's strong point, he'd gotten decent at it because he'd needed to. Still, it took a toll on him.
And it was going to get worse. As much as he hated the work involved, he was going to do whatever it took to save West Hills and every desperate human struggling in the Scourge ruled wilderness around it that he feasibly could. To make the Enclave a fucking beacon of strength in a world that needed every iota of the stuff that they could scrape up.
Explore. Expand. Exterminate, was his unofficial creed and he was gathering under his banner every like minded survivor that he could, injecting ambition directly into their veins and pointing them at the Scourges.
He would fight to save every human life he could, right up to the point dealing with people like the citizens of West Hills drove him into an insane murder rampage instead.
Derrick took a deep breath. If he was going to be on his game for the meeting, he needed to unwind. Touching another universe with your mind was surprisingly relaxing. Or maybe that wasn't surprising, it was kind of Zen really.
Reaching into the Fold, he used raw manna to anchor himself to the vehicle he was riding in, matching his body's momentum to the Tempest's own. It was one of many exercises he had practised lately, due to how much travelling he had been doing. When he had first met Third Striker, the Crusader had been trying to do the same thing as an exercise to acclimatize to his new body.
Derrick hadn't switched bodies recently, but he was trying to learn how to circumvent the limitations of manna while using his auril style. Namely, his inability to use anything but quick bursts of manna. It was only possible when using a trickle of manna, but he did manage it.
It was instructive, and kind of funny. Using a physics defying power from beyond reality to make his ride smoother. He could stand up at this point without fear of falling, unless the vehicle braked hard. Instead, he brought up his profile, splitting his focus.
Name: Derrick, Red
Show Title: Trailblazer
Social Rank: Trusted Landowner
Military Titles: Scrappy III, Emergency Activation II, Auril Pioneer II, Multi Killer II, Resilient II, Veteran, Force Adept, Fold Survivor, Trailblazer, Auril Cultivator, Counteragent, Ambitious
Social Titles: Enclave Founder, Trusted Landowner, Blooded Ally of the Orders, Scholar of Exaltation, 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: 24.7/26
Auril Style: Red Law (D)
Auril Skills: Regeneration
Core Capacity: 12.9 / 17
Manna (Raw): 12.2
Manna (Canvas) 4.4
Manna Skills: Sheathing
Claws of Canvas
Successful USS missions: 11
USS Points: 895
Nothing had changed since the last time he'd looked at it. His growth had slowed to a crawl. It took much more time to level than when he'd been a Fighter. That Role, like Third Striker had said, was more of an introduction than a real Role.
He was also slowed by the fact that clearing out the countryside was more travel than actual combat. Even the skirmishes he had been in were nothing compared to the frantic days defending West Hills. It was just lesser Spore Tyrant nodes and pockets of Grey Legion Agents. Not the sort of fights that earned titles.
Despite his earnings from Red Works, his manna core capacity had not grown a single point since his battle versus the Slaver Node. Third Striker had informed him that he was more likely to survive his experiments with Canvas manna if he had less of it. Other than that, he hadn't been much help with Canvas manna. He had taught Derrick more about the more common uses of manna though.
His aurilin was also capped by the will of a Crusader. When he'd informed his other teacher that his aurilin Capacity could go past twenty five, she'd been shocked and had immediately forbidden it. He still didn't really understand why though. She'd given him a speech about exaltation, thresholds and inner chaos that had been impossible to follow. He's listened though, because he knew how dangerous auril was and also he doubted the single point would make much of a difference.
All his System currency had gone towards equipping and upgrading the Users that now worked for him instead. It honestly, annoyed him that he was losing his head start over other Users, but really the only option to try and keep it was to leave West Hills entirely and throw himself into every fight he found.
That wasn't going to happen.
He let go of the purely raw manna and opened his palms. Next he let manna from the canvas flood out of his core while mixing it with raw manna. He took that manna and forced it through his auril, along the channels the System had installed in him.
Sparks of silver light blossomed on his fingertips as they formed claws. Derrick found that shape more natural when using Canvas manna. Under the weight of his focus, the silver points of light began to burn paths through the air towards each other.
It took a second, but silvery pentagrams inside pentagons formed above each palm.
Why pentagrams? He had no idea. His only association with the shapes was the grey pentagons on his armor and the fact his mask looked devilish. Canvas manna had a life of its own and one day when he had been trying to get the silver light to do anything, it had taken that shape. One second it had been a formless mass and the next, five points of light had joined together into the complex five sided shape.
He concentrated on the one dimensional shape and pushed it out from his hands. Two small pentagons expanded as they moved further away. They grew from the size of his hands until they were twice that size and... they popped like balloons, sending out tiny silver sparks like his hands were holding cheap fireworks. It was almost impossible to work with Canvas manna while his auril Style protected him from the influence of it.
He didn't let the failure bother him and started again. And again. And again. Since he had first learned of manna, the ability he wanted most was a shield. This looked like it could lead to just that.
Besides, the only other manna ability he could practise was substrate manipulation, and that would be difficult in a moving vehicle.
Time flew by as he practised. Before he knew it, the vehicle had come to a stop. Derrick looked up to see an imposing four-story building made of panels of white and silver. They had arrived at the heart of West Hills, the System built City Centre.
Excellent. He was on time and despite his meddling with terrible forces beyond the ken of mankind, his perceptions were barely altered at all. This was going to be one of the better meetings, he thought sarcastically, he could feel it.