Aisha opens her eyes and raises her hand to knock on the glass. Thuck. Suxen slowly turns to the Shade with a thin smile on her face, she makes a small gesture towards Seven and Three who release Aisha but keep following her as she walks back into the room.
“We will proceed with one last scan.” Suxen speaks up.
“I saw that you extracted the data.” Aisha replies calmly.
“It is necessary to proceed with one last scan.” Suxen repeats, unfazed.
“Is it?” The Shade asks, squinting her eyes.
“If you want reliable data, it is.” The Director nods. From what she’s said before, I’m relatively certain that Suxen’s lying.
“You should stay and observe, once we have all we need from the specimen, we’ll repeat the process with one of the Coldblood and the Princess.” Turpin says.
“Finish this now.” Aisha orders Suxen, ignoring Turpin.
“Protocol two only.” The Director orders her assistants.
The Shade moves and settles with her back against the wall while they activate the helix-shaped construct. I inspect my timers while the construct starts spinning. Krbroom.
A conflagration suddenly shakes the building, soon followed by the sound of water pouring out and splashing down. The two assistants grow panicky and shut the construct down, flipping around to press their hands on the metal veins coursing through the wall. Meanwhile, the Director simply frowns as she turns to the Shade.
“What did you do?” Suxen asks.
“What happened?” Aisha counters.
“I assume that our primary reservoir just got hit.” Suxen replies shortly.
“It was obliterated, the runic circuit from that entire area is just… gone!” Francis shouts, looking scared.
“I obviously didn’t have anything to do with that but it’s under control, I have people who will respond to any attack from the exterior.” Aisha lies. I think. “Continue on with the data extraction.”
“Are you insane?” Turpin exclaims, throwing a worried look over his shoulder. “We need to redirect the energy we have here to our internal and external defenses!” I giggle at how quickly he changed opinion about the building’s impregnability.
“You will do no such thing.” Suxen intervenes. “An attack will shut down our exterior defenses at the most but I find it peculiar that it occurred with this timing.” She notes, turning to the Shade. “Do you know who is responsible?” She asks.
“I do not.” Aisha answers without hesitation, shaking her head.
So she didn’t pick now to betray me but she does think that the data hasn’t been obtained so it likely has more to do with that. I assemble six lightning constructs with two portions each, enough flow to take three Numbers down for sure.
“You have obviously failed in your duties as a Shade.” The Director declares politely. “I will be taking custody of the specimen, for safekeeping.”
“You have no authority to make that decision, Director.” Aisha argues.
“Actually, I do.” Suxen affirms with a small smile. “Or, to be precise, as long as I secure the data and hand it over, then you’re the one who has no standing to take the specimen back as your writ of authority only gives you the latitude to act towards that objective.”
“You can’t be serious, Suxen. She is my asset!” Aisha exclaims, alarmed.
“Elizabeth Vil is a fugitive and a traitor.” Suxen explains. “You haven’t obtained a pardon which means Caeviel has every right to take the specimen in.” Aisha falls silent, biting her lower lip. She is apparently unable to find a way to argue her case. Suxen turns to her assistants. “Resume analysis.” She orders.
“But, Director!” Turpin protests.
“Now!” She snaps. “The defenses will hold until reinforcements arrive but, without the flow, we won’t be able to reset the array or recreate my construct. This is the last analysis we’ll be able to perform for days and I need to know whether what I’ve detected is noise or something much, much more.”
Francis and Turpin turn back to the center of the room, raising their hands to control the construct. Suxen activates it without delay. A wave of relief passes through Aisha’s traits, likely because from her point of view, they’re about to secure the data.
My lightning construct activates just then. Craaaack. The thunderclap is almost deafening even though we are deep inside the institute’s stone walls. The sound keeps echoing inside the corridors as my construct continuously discharges. Francis and Turpin startle at the sound and the construct shuts down again.
“Continue!” Suxen orders.
“But!” Turpin protests.
“If you do not get that data, Turpin, I will personally destroy your Father’s career in Grim-hold!” Aisha threatens.
“We have the data!” He blurts out in response.
“What?” The Shade blinks. She soon flips around to Suxen with a smoldering glare.
I focus on my four blood-blades and activate them, cutting my wrists and ankles. I then reshape them to redirect the bleeding towards the bracers, preparing to open the locks. As I am proceeding so hurriedly, I slip up a little and break the blood connection to one of my constructs, yet I don’t lose control of it.
I only now notice that there is no disruption construct to these bracers, which makes sense because it would prevent them from scanning me so they’re likely relying on the room’s security measures to keep me under control. Luckily, none of them are watching me right now.
“You lied, hand over the data now, we’re leaving.” Aisha declares.
“Seven, Three, control the Shade!” Suxen exclaims. “Francis, Turpin, activate the construct.” The assistants hesitate but do get back in their positions. The Director turns to face the Shade who is now held in-between the two Numbers. “I did not lie, this scan is necessary to ensure that we’ll be able to actually use the raw data we extracted.” She insists.
“How long?” Aisha asks tensely. She’s aware that my plan has already begun and likely worried that I’ll act before Suxen finishes.
The Director doesn’t reply, already focusing on the helix-like construct. Aisha says something else but the voice that reaches me is too distorted for me to understand what she said.
I decide to delay four minutes at the most before I open the bracers as that’s when my scimitar should be propelled inside the institute. Waiting benefits me as they are burning through flow while I do and I need there to be as little left in this room as possible.
Not to mention that Aisha might act against me if I move now and I will not be risking my plan to test her loyalty. My predictions were off, my attack triggered as planned but the flow that remains at their disposal is still too much for me to safely deal with.
But my predictions were also off in a way that works in my favor considering that I thought they would realize that a lightning construct struck the institute which would force me to act since they would instantly suspect me. Luckily, Suxen didn’t let them link to the institute’s veins to check what happened.
It would have been better for me if they decided to use this energy to shore up their external defenses even if that ended up blocking the air-blade carrying my scimitar but Suxen’s desire for knowledge and the pressure applied by the Shade’s presence seems to be making her take risks.
I decide to add a half-hour to my suicidal construct’s timers since I would be liable to forget about them during battle. Three minutes pass, very, very slowly. Time’s up. I activate my blood-blades and unlock my shackles despite the fact that the scan isn’t over.
I first set one of the Numbers, the one in front of me, as a target of one of my lightning constructs because I aim to steal his two-handed longsword but a sharp spike splits my brain as soon as I do, which forces me to block and seize the flow entering my body before the pain becomes too intense to concentrate.
“No!” Suxen shouts with anger. “Restrain the specimen!”
The helix-like construct starts shattering, starting from the core. A mere glance at the equations composing it gives me another headache. I shake my head and hurriedly target the three Numbers facing me, who are already charging, with my lightning constructs.
Crack. Six bolts flash out one after the other, striking at three targets. The Numbers entirely block the first one with their flow but the second ones strike true and bring them down to their knees.
I use lion strikes to hit the stretcher with my elbows and shoulders, propelling myself up to my feet to then leap toward the middle one. I wished they’d be taken completely out by these but this works too. In mid-air, I coil my symbiont back and release a lion strike punch to the man’s head.
His brain bursts out in an explosion of gray matter, bloody bones, and golden defensive construct fragments. I notice that Suxen isn’t moving to stop me but actually inspecting a series of symbols from a construct, ignoring her helix-shaped construct as it falls apart.
“That’s… no, it’s enough.” I hear her mutter.
Aisha’s fingers are moving but she isn’t and neither are Seven and Three. The rest of the Numbers are rushing towards me but they can’t get to me yet with the stretcher and the two downed Numbers blocking the way.
I seize the two-handed sword out of the dead muscular man’s hands and rush to my right, aiming to slash Six’s throat before she can recover. My blade bounces off a golden construct which gives her enough time to raise her shield.
“I can’t access the array!” Francis screams. “We need to reset, Director, the failure must have damaged it somehow!”
“Nonsense, the construct unraveling couldn’t have damaged the array but you can purge it since it could be interfering.” Suxen replies, still sifting through the data. “You’ve quite clearly lost control of your asset Shade, I am lawfully taking possession of the specimen.” She adds with a triumphant smile.
Aisha likely did that. She has reason to turn on me considering she doesn’t have the data but she’s helping for now. Numbers are closing in on me so I gather eight portions to shape a lightning-armor-piercing construct, leaving me with only ten in reserve.
I coil my symbiont back to prepare to strike as soon as they enter my range, releasing the two-handed longsword with my right hand to increase my reach. Six and Four are back on their feet, shields up and moving to box me in.
I use a lion’s step to put some distance between me and them while centering myself at an equivalent distance from the nine Numbers. An idea suddenly crosses my mind. I take the time to think back to the path we took to get here while they approach.
One of the Numbers shoves the stretcher away and they close in on me, the women one step ahead of the men, using their shields to cover them since they have a longer reach. That’s slightly inconvenient but I can deal.
I use an entire portion of flow to make a lion strike and unleash my symbiont while activating all the constructs. The limb uncoils and the two-handed longsword flashes out in a horizontal slash. The blade tip cuts through the first three shields and forearms like they aren’t even there while leaving a slight odor of ozone behind.
I take a step forward and I rotate my upper body, applying more strength to the latter half of the blow to compensate for the energy that was consumed by the first half of my attack.
The middle of the blade catches Six’s shield next and cuts through it, the point of the blade slices through her jaw, cutting it in half. As my weapon is about to hit the next Number, the black-golden glow covering it vanishes.
As a consequence, the sword bashes into number Four’s shield but doesn’t pierce. It still destabilizes her so I don’t panic and lion’s step straight into her, smacking my mask into her face.
Her defensive construct protects her nose but she still falls down to her back. I bring my right heel up and bring it down on her torso. I feel ribs snapping under my foot. The dead-eyed woman tries to stab me despite the injury so I jump to the side, assemble a lion’s step and jump again, repositioning myself.
“Good, if a bit late, call with the disruption construct Turpin! Now, disable it!” Suxen shouts before turning to her Numbers. “Control and contain! Buy me time to shape a construct!”
“I, I can’t!” Turpin screams.
“What do you mean you can’t?!” Suxen exclaims.
“I’m locked out!” He whines.
The Numbers, following Suxen’s order, regroup instead of charging me. I let them, as time plays in my favor right now. Five of the women at the forefront are in a pitiful state.
Only one of them even has a left forearm but that isn’t going to do much for her considering that my sword sliced through it from her ring finger to the tip of her elbow. They’re all bleeding profusely from their stumps but they are focused, unafraid.
Number Six is still on her feet, her left arm was cut at the biceps and her jaw is just gone, what remains is a gory mess of tongue, teeth, and muscles. Blood is pouring down all over her torso.
She’ll die soon, and so will Four which I can hear breathing, wheezing, suffocating. I glance over their shoulders with a bloodthirsty smirk on my lips, both because of what I did and what I’m about to make happen by taking a single sideways step to my left, facing Francis.
“Abomination.” He spits out.
“Prey.” I reply.
Thuck. My scimitar appears in the ground, in-between Francis and me, buried half-way up its blade into the stone floor. A split second later, I hear stones breaking and falling in the distance. Francis blinks and looks down to his stomach, finding that there is a messy hole in his midsection. He drops to his knees a second later, dead.
A movement behind my back distracts me, Suxen who has remained curiously silent since Turpin told her he was locked out, now has a construct in-between her hands. As far as I can tell, she gathered all the free-floating energy.
Shit. I rush between Six and Four, ready to tank a blow from one or both of them as I rush to my long scimitar. Six’s attack is sloppy and she stumbles, missing me by a wide margin. Four, on the other hand, still has her shield and is using it to block my path.
A lion strike applied to my left limb allows me to slam my longsword into it with a flick of my wrist, clearing my path. But that action leaves me defenseless against her sword so I focus on my sense to prepare to dodge it.
Yet, for no apparent reason, her slash misses me and she drops dead soon after. I don’t waste my time on that, letting go of my weapon to seize my scimitar. I inject more energy into my strengthening construct and pull it out of the ground.
“Turpin, status!” Suxen demands. He is a dozen meters to my left, touching the veins on the walls.
“We’re… we’re breached, Director.” He stutters. “The entire northern facade is breached!” He repeats urgently.
“How much energy do we have left?” She presses.
“Not enough!” He shouts.
“Order the termination of all secondary projects.” Suxen utters coldly.
“Ackn, acknowledged.” Turpin says. “It might be too late.”
I seize the twenty portions of flow I anchored into the handle and shape a defensive construct around the weapon with the energy. The Numbers close in around me once again, showing no initiative as they continue following Suxen’s orders despite her distraction and a fast-changing situation.
I immediately rush to my left, reversing my grip to deliver an upwards slash at one of the shield-less Numbers. She lowers her sword and parries but fails to arrest the momentum behind my blow.
She stumbles back as my weapon continues its arc. Just before it reaches the end, I let go of it. The scimitar remains floating in the air for a split second, just long enough for me to assemble a lion strike, activate it, and catch the handle with both hands. I immediately bring it down on the Number, splitting the woman in twain from her right shoulder to her left thigh.
“You thought you could hold me?” I utter with a mad laugh as the Number’s torso impacts the ground. “I am Elizabeth Vil, you are but prey to me.”
The Numbers don’t waver in the slightest but the brutal execution following Francis’ sudden death along with my provocative and confident words are too much for Turpin whose knees give out from under him. He is shaking and a stain is spreading along his left thigh.
Good, he won’t be giving out any orders like that. I inspect the room with my sense as the Numbers are still keeping their distances. Vikiana’s tactic is beyond effective, Suxen isn’t even thinking of telling them to charge me at once because of what I did to them when they first tried.
Aisha is missing, the two who were assigned to her have already joined the perimeter around me. Still, the observation room’s door is open and I can’t detect most of it because the stone is too thick so she might be there but staying away from the glass window.
“Specimen.” Suxen utters flatly. “This is a foolishness, the Shade has already abandoned you and ran with the data.”
“Ha, yeah. She’s tricky like that.” I laugh at having missed that entire development. “So what?”
“You cannot escape, you are being used as mere bait. Drop that weapon and become all that you can be!” She orders.
I see no point in responding so I don’t. Instead, I charge the Numbers, aiming to turn this into a melee. Suxen pinches her lips and extends her hand out towards me, activating her construct. A tongue of flames bursts out, rushing at my head.
I stop in my tracks without even thinking about it and desperately raise my scimitar to block. Before the fire even reaches me, a burst of fear overwhelms me and I let go of the weapon with my right hand to protect it from the blaze. It takes an effort to control myself and activate the defensive construct.
“Priority is to secure the specimen, I forbid attacks to the parasite!” Suxen commands. “Assess the necessary level of injury to disable subject and act on it!”
The Numbers move at once, their formation splits apart and they create three groups, one of them composed of the injured women. They plan to pincer me while those I injured act as sacrificial pawns. I need to render Suxen’s construct harmless before they reach me to seize the initiative back.
I alter my defensive construct to specifically counter flames, counting on the runes in my weapon to defend me from armor-piercing constructs. Yet, the rate at which my energy is draining doesn’t lower, it’s actually going faster. My symbiont’s sense is entirely blind on that side and I can feel the heat on my face, even through my mask.
A quick glance at Suxen tells me that she’s directly controlling her construct, probably countering me on the fly. Shit, I’m going to run out of energy way too soon if I keep feeding a defensive construct while I fight. I have no doubt that’s what she’s going for or she’s be going for something more aggressive.