After the rest of the party had returned from scouting out other opportunities, a heated discussion ensued. In the end, everyone agreed that stealing the quantite was the only choice. They'd decided to initiate the raid at 0300 when all twelve of the moons would finally disappear below the horizon.
Now at 0300, they stood at the back of the warehouse in front of the single door that opened into the alleyway.
"Greg, your fireteam's got the back," Betsy said and left Greg and the two Tanuki warriors, Jeremy and Pete, the cook. Qian's team automatically took point, as Betsy directed the rest of them around the block of buildings to the huge double doors on the other side of the warehouse. Betsy pointed at the fist-sized padlock on the metal doors. "Gideon."
After five minutes, Gideon said, "Didn't work. I could try again?"
"Time's a wasting. Hopefully, this won't wake the neighbors," Betsy said and turned to Rox. "Your turn."
"Cover your eyes, everyone." Rox touched the tip of her short staff to the padlock shackle and chanted, "Execute lightning."
A small but blinding flash. Bang!
The padlock shackle sizzled and glowed a bright orange. A stream of smoke spiraled up from the padlock and then it dropped to the ground.
"Qian," Betsy said, "we don't have the tactical team chat nor the bindi. So you're on your own recognizance. Report back in forty-five minutes."
"Understood, Sarge," Qian said and then turned to Gideon, the short kitsune shinobi. "Do it."
"Yes, Ma'am," Gideon said, snuck up to the warehouse doors, and tossed in two black marbles. Without a sound, they rolled into the darkness. After half a minute, Gideon pulled down his common magical night vision goggles and sprinted in.
"All clear," Gideon yelled back.
Qian motioned for her team to follow her. Prasuna queued up behind Qian, and then Stef brought up the rear. All clad in black bodysuits, they disappeared into the maw of the warehouse.
Betsy led Ken, Rox and Marge, the other mage, into the warehouse and closed the door behind them. They waited in silence. Even though Marge was normally part of Greg's team, she'd decided to keep her back since Marge also doubled as the associate medic. Not that she was expecting any casualties on a stealth mission. Plus, their level two offensive magic was laughable. Lots of flash and boom but actual damage would be negligible against well-armored opponents. And with a dispersed team and no communication, she wanted to maintain a larger reserve. She'd learned that the hard way on their encounter with the Berserker King irregulars on the road out of Ishigumi. To get hit with a major encounter when everyone had been knocked down to level zero had been the worst timing ever. But with sheer luck, there had only been minor injuries and everyone had leveled up to two. But an effective commander never relied on luck.
❄ ❄ ❄
Prasuna covered the corridor from the left approach and Stef the right. She perked up her ears. A loud neighing, then screeching and banging echoed from deep within the warehouse. Prasuna opened the door a crack. "Qian, did you hear the horses?"
Qian stood with her shoulder against the wall and scribbled in the black notebook in her other hand. "Yeah, so what," she said without looking up.
Gideon squatted in the corner in front of a safe.
"They sound scared," Prasuna said.
"It'll have to wait," Qian said and stuffed her notebook and pencil into an inner pocket of her bodysuit and zipped it up.
"It'll take only a few minutes," Prasuna said. "Besides, Gideon isn't done yet." She gave Qian her saddest puppy dog eyes. "Please..."
"They sound like rat squeals to me," Gideon said.
"Shut up," Prasuna said. "I know how rats sound. I have two of them at home, they're names are Charley and Vikram."
Stef guffawed from down the hall. "Figures."
"And they can pick a lock faster than you," Prasuna said.
"Ouch," Gideon said. "Now I know how they feel, all caged up."
"I—I take good care of them." Prasuna pouted.
Qian glared at Gideon's back. She gave him the finger and then whipped around and strode to the door "Let's go, but we gotta make it quick."
Prasuna led the way. As Qian ran after Prasuna, Qian yelled to Stef, "Get in there and watch Gideon's back. If we're not back in thirty, let Sarge know."
❄ ❄ ❄
While Stef watched the door, Gideon ran his hands all around the safe. It was a smooth block of metal without any seams. Its only adornment was a wooden clock face. He'd seen the type before in the Three Kingdoms. A magical lock. This was his specialty, code work, not the stupid keyed locks like the padlock. He had to make up for the embarrassment. After moving the hour hand to twelve and the minute hand to one, a row of twelve blank rectangles with a phosphorescent green background appeared in place of the clock face. Idiots, they didn't even reset the default access code. He brought up his Decipher skill.
Standard skill: Decipher
IQ = 75 * 0.01 = +0.75%
Chi = 70 * 0.05 +3.5%
Success probability = 4.25%
He was really disappointed in The White Imperium gaming system. Even though chi contributed five times as much as the other attributes, the actual percentages were minuscule for level two. What kind of lame gaming system is this? If it weren't for the immersive environment and the websuit, he'd have quit the alpha. Kind of late to be thinking that, isn't it, dufus?
Man, at face value, that's some shitty success probability, even if I use up my chi. But in a real-world sense, with twelve integers and a trillion permutations, it's pretty darn good. Should I wing it and rely on my own intuition? Let's see how dumb they made these NPCs. The name of the company was Beryl Mining and Moving. The owner's name was Sledwin Beryl. Couldn't be, could it? 'S' is 19, but I'll truncate it to 1 digit. Each time he tapped one of the rectangles, a number incremented. He typed: 1, 1, 5, 4, 2, 9, 1, 2, 5, 1, 2, 1. The seam at the top of the safe popped open. Bingo!
Standard skill test: Awesome! That's using the old noggin. For that feat, I'm going to make this a major skill test. By the way, that bumps you up to level 3.
Result = Success
XP = +200
Skills = +2 +2 (level 3)
Chi = +20
Attributes = +20 (level 3)
"Dude, you rock!" Stef said and punched Gideon in the shoulder. "That was like hella fast."
Gideon peeped inside the safe. A lone glowing pouch sat in the corner. He grabbed it and untied the opening. Threads of light flickered around palm-sized rocks. He dumped three of them into his hand. Some sides were smooth, others pumice-rough with whorls like the hair of the statue of Buddha he'd seen when his parents and brother had gone sightseeing at the Todai-ji temple. He brought his hand up to his nose and sniffed. A faint metallic odor. He gripped a rock with his thumb and forefinger and they sunk into it. Spongy. The threads of light danced on his fingertips.
"That's it, right?" Stef said, his nose almost touching Gideon's fingers. "That's what the help said unrefined quantite rocks were like."
Gideon smiled. After stuffing them back into the pouch, Gideon tossed it up and down in his hand and it almost floated away before he grabbed it again and stuffed it into his fanny bag belted around his waist.
Stef looped his arm over Gideon's shoulder. Drunk on their success, they staggered towards the door.
Gideon's knee banged into the metal desk and he cursed. "Hey, we gotta wait for Qian and Prasuna."
Stef sat down in one of the chairs next to the desk and crimped a glow stick.
"We're supposed to be in stealth," Gideon said.
"C'mon, man, these are cheap-ass models. They pinch my ears." Stef threw his goggles onto the table and fluffed up his triangular ears.
"Sheesh," Gideon said. "I didn't hear you make any suggestions. Qian's the one who ran around and bought the right ones."
Stef harrumphed and unsnapped a shuriken from his belt. "Besides, it's been like twenty minutes since we got here and no night watchman has even walked by. No traps, either. It's like one of those noob quests."
Gideon pressed his ear against the door. "I don't know, remember—"
"Yeah, I remember when you got spooked by some stupid bats and almost fell backwards into a pit of bamboo spears."
Gideon laughed. "You almost got pulled in too when you grabbed my collar."
"We were such stupid noobs." Stef said.
"That was before Qian found us lollygagging around in the black forest around Lui Bei's castle," Gideon said.
"What do you mean 'found us'? She was spying on us." Stef stabbed one of the shuriken points into the table top, denting it.
"Minor technicalities," Gideon said and plopped down in the other chair. "With her we leveled up like Fourth of July fireworks."
"Shit man, she's always riding me," Stef etched his name into the table top and then said in a high-pitched voice, "'Stef, you idiot, hit the legs, not the trunk. Go for the critical hit. La la lala la. My grandmother's ghost could swing harder than you.'"
Gideon burst out in laughter and banged the table with his fist. "But she always gives all of us more loot and the best items, except for healing potions and stuff."
"I know"—Stef scratched 'was' into the table top—"I guess I'm kind of glad we got stuck in here with her."
"What?" Gideon said. "Did Stefanos the Stupendous grudgingly admit his admiration for the Qian the Taskmaster?"
"Don't fucking tell her," Stef said as he wrote 'here' on the table. "She might start digging her spurs into me like I was her personal horse or something."
"Ha, you might love it too," Gideon said.
Stef blew the metal filings off the table and ran his forefinger along the ridges of the letters.
"Ho, ho, ho, you gonna carve a heart next, huh, Mr. Sensitive?" Gideon said.
"Shut up, man," Stef said in a whisper, staring down at the tattooed table top.
Gideon laid his hand on Stef's forearm. What an idiot I am. And here I thought he was over it, flirting with any sweet little thing that happened by when we were in Honolulu last month, which was... oh shoot, the same month a year ago when Sybil left him. "Hey"—Gideon zipped his lips with a hand—"your secret's got a passcode even I couldn't break."
Stef gave Gideon a silly grin and slugged him in the shoulder. "Hey, man," he said, "I got a really important question for you." Stef snapped the shuriken back onto his belt. "Have you gone to the head?"
Gideon blinked. "Uh, not since this morning."
"I think it's been longer than that. Think about it. I can't remember taking a piss after Sarge figured out we couldn't log out."
Gideon's hand flew down to his crotch and he felt around. Two balls. A dick. "Phew."
"Oh shit." Stef jumped out of his chair. "It's been thirty minutes."
Gideon grabbed the glow stick. Qian was a hard-ass about nearly everything, but if there was one thing she'd kick you off the fireteam for, it was being late. And she walked the talk. She was never ever late.
They ran to the door and Gideon yanked it open.
Blocking the doorway, shadowed figures towered over Gideon. The dim light of Gideon's glow stick reflected off of their matte black helmets with matching armored half-faceplates and black trench coats emblazoned with red-orange tails shaped into flames.
- San Francisco Bay Area
- Quantum Katana
Tech writer by day / Dungeon master by night
Be immersed in my TechnoPhantasia stories and strike down charging oni with your blood-splattered digital katana.
Discord: quantum katana#8807 (hanging out on the LitRPG Forum and GameLit Forum servers)