Horror spread out in front of my eyes in the corridor. Most cell doors are wide open, out of them came naked human prisoners. Many have broken thumbs or wrists, one tore his own foot out to escape his shackles and is now walking on his ankle.
But that’s not the worst of it, these men and women bear the obvious signs of wanton experimentation on their bodies. Missing eyes, cauterized noses, shaved heads with flat expanses of scared skin instead of a slight dome which makes it obvious that parts of their craniums were removed.
There were twenty of them but only four are still standing, the rest were slaughtered by the ten guards. One of the men was impaled by three swords, shoulder, stomach, and left thigh, but he’s still fighting. He actually pulls the sword in his stomach out to fight back.
The guards are deathly silent as they bring their swords down, apart from one who is wheezing on the ground with a broken neck. I drop Turpin to rush at them, scimitar at the ready. I know it is too late, that I won’t make it because the prisoners are surrounded.
As I approach, I detect even more horrifying details. Some of these poor people had their genitals mutilated, others show signs that they were abused. I pass by a dead woman whose chest was torn open by a sword blow, noticing that she’s missing a few organs.
“Rhaaaa!” I growl at the guards.
They don’t respond, too busy slaughtering, but two turn to me and try to block my way. I bring my scimitar back and deliver a horizontal two-handed lion strike with all the physical strength I can muster.
The first, a man, raises his sword to block. The second, a woman, counter-attacks, counting on the other one to protect her. A mistake as my weapon breaks his in half and slices through his torso, barely slowing down as it continues its arc.
I angle to the side to avoid the other guard’s slash while my scimitar continues on and buries itself into her shoulder. She opens her mouth to scream but the sounds leaving her mouth are gargled. She’s had her tongue cut off as well, what would make them agree to this?
I care not and smash my mask into her face to daze her while I raise my weapon to use the spike to impale her. Crunch. Her knees give out but the dead woman doesn’t drop, her shattered skull’s fragments caught my scimitar.
Meanwhile, another three guards have finished off another prisoner and are now charging at me, occupying the corridor’s entire width. The one in the middle trips which hinders the other two, my sense catches a trace of flow in front of his eyes.
I shake my scimitar and the spike slides out of the dead guard’s head with a disgusting sound of suction. Shlurp. There are only two prisoners left alive so I need to get in the middle of these guards and kill them all before it’s too late.
I entirely give up on my eyesight to focus on my sense even though what it’s communicating to me is quite blurry at the moment, it remains a better tool for extremely close quarters than my eyes.
The three guards resume their charge, I run at them head-on. I lean in to slide under the middle guard’s slash, pivot to dodge the right one’s stab, and block the left one’s overhead blow with my scimitar.
With so many complex movements, I end up with a terrible footing so, instead of trying to recover, I let myself crash into the one in the middle and bring my scimitar down on the left guard who falls backward.
As I haven’t used a lion strike, his leather armor slows my weapon down significantly and the blade ends up lodged in his rib cage. The guard who was on my right is now behind me, preparing to cut me in the back.
I don’t try to free my weapon, I simply grab it further along the handle and pull the spike under my right shoulder, stabbing the one attacking me before he can deliver his blow. With these two impaled on both ends of my weapon, I propel the skewer at the third.
He receives the handle in his stomach while trying to stand up and drops back down. I step over the mess of bodies and bring my heel down on his skull, crushing it with an explosion of bloody bits.
Yet, I still wasn’t quick enough to save the last of the prisoners, the fifteen other guards have won the fight and finished them all off. I lose my eyes and violently tear my weapon out of the dead bodies.
“Elizabeth…” Aisha starts.
“Silence, Shade.” I utter coldly, feeling dead inside.
The misery these people must have endured before they died… I don’t allow myself more than a few seconds to breathe as I swallow my grief, preparing a few lightning constructs as a safety net. They organize themselves in five ranks of three to block my way, a fourth of them wield axes instead of swords.
I bring my scimitar over my right shoulder and charge them. When the front-line is within reach, I stomp down and redirect my momentum to deliver a powerful diagonal lion strike from up right to down left.
They try to parry or block with lion strikes of their own but their weapons directly snap or are torn out of their hands, my blade slices through flesh and armor like butter even without an armor-piercing construct.
With these three fallen, I take a single step forward as I flip my long scimitar around in my hands, changing to a reverse grip to deliver the same slash but in the opposite direction.
Without my previous momentum, this one doesn’t fare as well and only two of the guards die. The third retaliates immediately but I easily dodge it by angling back and bring my weapon around to finish him off by cutting his throat with a flicker of my left arm.
The rest of them buckle, those at the back-line actually break ranks and try to escape. I activate two lightning constructs, the two bolts flash out parallel to the corridor’s left and right wall. They home in on the two on the flanks, bringing them down before linking in the middle and electrocuting the third.
“Your actions brought E.Vil upon you. There is no escape, you will pay your dues.” I seethe.
“Mph.” One of them sobs.
I return to a normal grip and plow into the next rank without using flow as I am running very low, merely seven portions left which is a lot but also very little. I can achieve much with this as long as I don’t use constructs like the armor-piercing or air-blade, even the lightning construct is a bit too energy intensive at this point.
One of them dodges my high-slash from right to left, having seen it coming at the very last moment. My blade merely cuts his upper ear and a chunk of flesh with hair off instead of removing his entire head.
The other two aren’t so fortunate, the first is unable to bring his weapon up to block the attack because the one who just barely survived is blocking him, he ends up with the top of his skull sliced off.
The second one manages to stop my blade with his body, losing his right arm just beneath the shoulder in the process. I raise my knee up and kick the one who dodged me in the nuts. He drops down with a muffled cry of agony.
The line behind them moves in, stepping over their bodies to attack me before I can finish them off, I retreat as they’re out of the fight anyway. These new opponents coordinate together, delivering a three-pronged lion strike attack, two high slashes and a low stab.
I crouch down to avoid an axe and a sword before angling my scimitar to parry the stab which was aimed at my stomach but is now headed straight for my throat. Clink. The blade’s tip bites into my left shoulder but the injury is light.
I entirely let go of my scimitar and grab the wrist of the woman who just stabbed me. I squeeze as hard as I can. Pop. Crunch. Her articulation pops just before her forearm’s bones give out under the pressure.
“Aaaaaaiiiiih!” She yells.
I flip her arm around, making her slash at the one on her right. The movement is so forceful and abrupt that it dislocates her shoulder. The man raises his axe and blocks the sword.
I frown and shove the woman at him, the axe’s blade cuts into her leather armor but doesn’t do much damage. They both fall down. I notice the third one’s overhead swing at the last second, barely managing to bring my right hand up and land a palm strike on his elbow.
With his arm stopped dead in its arm, he fails to maintain his grip on his sword which flies off over my shoulder and hits the wall. I use my left hand to punch his throat, crushing it.
The other two are struggling to get back up as they fell on top of those they walked over to attack me. I use a lion’s step and strike to give me the burst of speed necessary to kick my scimitar up to my hands and bring the weapon’s spike down to impale them together along with the one whose arm I cut off.
A pang of pain shakes my symbiont, its sense flickers as well. I open my eyes to look down at it, a reflex out of concern. My left arm is covered in blood but it remains obvious that the rubbery brown flesh was badly burnt from its dehydrated flesh forming rough unhealthy looking ridges.
It’s absorbing the blood, which is apparently painful in some areas that were the most severely affected by the fire. I pull my scimitar out and kneel down, shoving my left arm into the dead woman’s gaping wound.
The rest of the guards choose this moment to break off and run away. I assemble a single lightning construct with three portions, just enough to knock them out. I charge the air to spread the lightning throughout the corridor and bathe them in a lightning storm, knocking them all out despite a few of the dozen bolts striking out at the metal veined walls.
Scrrrrr. The odd sound attracts my attention, my scimitar is moved a few centimeters across the stone floor along the corridor, in the same direction as my lightning. I throw a look over my shoulder, finding Aisha approaching with her dagger at the ready.
I tense and assemble a lightning construct to defend myself, thinking that she’s attacking but she simply walks by and stabs the last remaining guard in the throat before moving on to kill those who are unconscious.
What moved my scimitar? I frown, confused but dismantle my lightning construct as the Shade isn’t apparently responsible. The stone floor is soon covered in blood from the throats Aisha is cutting with a stone-cold look on her face.
Despite my wrath towards the institute’s people, I am relieved that she’s taking over the gruesome task but the fact that she can do it in cold blood shows how wrong I am about this woman’s character. Ironic considering that I’m literally eating someone right now. My symbiont is. There isn’t much of a difference between us right now, I remain a monster.
“You okay?” Aisha asks.
“Did you know about…” I swallow, avoiding to glance at the dead prisoners. “This.”
“Not the specifics.” She replies sadly.
“But you knew.” I say, feeling bile at the back of my throat.
“We were evaluating ways to intervene, years back, and the topic was brought up as recently as last year but…” She trails off. “We’ve never had any proof to bring the Emperor.”
“The Law doesn’t mean anything if it can be run afoul in secrecy by the powerful.” I counter spitefully. “Do you think Cecil would stand for this?” I ask.
Aisha remains silent but I can tell that my words hurt. She shakes her head and wipes her dagger on a guard’s leather armor. My symbiont communicates a satisfied feeling. I conclude that it’s had its fill and pull it out of the body as I get back up on my feet. Shlurk. I shiver at the sound.
“How much flow do you have left?” Aisha questions.
“About four.” I answer honestly.
“You’re not going to make it with so little.” She sighs.
“We’ll see.” I reply firmly.
“Go through that door, if there’s anything left of their primary reservoir it’ll be down there. That’s your only chance.” Aisha tells me, pointing at a door which looks slightly more reinforced than the others but not truly distinct.
I try to use my sense but the door is too thick so I don’t get anything apart from a vague feeling there isn’t anyone right behind it. It could much too easily be a trap.
“Lead the way.” I tell Aisha.
“I can’t stick around to guard your back any longer, Elizabeth.” Aisha replies sadly. “I’ve already delayed more than I should have.”
“You have two options, you open that door and walk in or I pick you up, open the door, and throw you in.” I flatly tell her.
“You really are a charmer.” She grins and walks up to the door, opening it without hesitating.
I follow her in, finding a small vestibule with a few desks and shelves filled with a few dozen water vials, some of which fell and broke. Sadly, none of them contain flow. There is another door, reinforced as well.
“Go through that one too.” I order.
The Shade does so, revealing a flight of stairs leading down into the ground. I pick up the first door and take it off its hinges, throwing it aside and do the same for the other one. I then pick up Turpin and settle him back on my shoulder.
“You can go.” I tell her. It would be beyond difficult, and likely dangerous, to keep her here against her will. “If I run into you again…” I train off, unsure of what I’d do. I’ve lost almost all respect for her with what I’ve seen here but she remains nominally on my side.
“Stay safe.” Aisha replies.
She pauses as she walks by me and tries to give me a quick kiss on the cheek. I raise my left hand to block her. She gives me a sad smile and rushes off. I rush downstairs without waiting, descending two by two.
After a few meters, I find a pile of rubble blocking my way. I panic a little, thinking that she sent me into a dead-end while preparing an ambush on the other side. I control myself, knowing that it doesn’t really make sense.
I use my symbiont to scan the rubble, and cover my back in case I’m not just being paranoid. There’s a flooded room on the other side and many dead bodies. I inspect the rubble a little closer, finding that there are many metal veins embedded into the pieces of stone.
I approach the pile of rubble to have a clearer sense of the water, finding that it contains a moderate amount flow, I can’t really estimate how much. I try to link to some of it but find that it’s already held by someone. I move on but very little of it is free.
Reluctantly, I decide to do what I did on the ship, to brute force my way and seize the flow within my reach. It takes me a few minutes to bring my reserves to a dozen portions.
I only get this much because the energy that was out of my reach filled in for what I took but it grows so diffuse at the end that it stops being worth the effort. Most of the flow likely sank into the ground as the stone floor on the other side of the rubble is damaged.
I make my way back upstairs, thinking back to the two fights. The mute guards were about as difficult to handle as the Numbers if I only consider skill and not flow since the latter had quite a bit more available to them.
The Numbers are scary because they don’t balk even when death stares them in the eye but their efficiency in small group combat is about the same as normal people since their lack of fear seems to be making their tactics rigid, which is definitely a flaw. An army of Numbers however… that would be terrifying.
I start opening every door in the corridor, finding more hallways and a single flight of stairs. I decide to head down as I hear the crackling of flames and battle in the distance. I can no longer waste the time it would take to explore every option.
I descend a dozen meters, emerging into a long tunnel that extends to my left and right and makes a sharp right-angled turn after about twenty meters. with only a few doors, all of them open. I glance inside the first. It contains a dead insectoid creature which was executed even though it is still firmly chained to the wall.
It’s green, with blood of the same color, is the size of a cat, and has odd asymmetrical growths on its flanks. Its scythe-like arms bear a vague resemblance to a harvester’s. I realize, embarrassingly late, that it’s a deformed praying mantis, a gigantic one.
I move on to the next cell, finding a human in terrible shape, his skin is pale and there are dark protruding veins crisscrossing his entire body. His throat was recently cut, the blood trickling out is brown-red.
The piercing scream startles me and is soon followed by sounds of blades striking something hard but very few screams. My symbiont, which has been somewhat resting, bristles and claws its fingers, ready to fight.
“Attack its flank!” Suxen snaps the order.
I rush through the tunnel, following the voices, ecstatic at having found her, in a difficult situation no less. I’ll kill her and then force her to lead me to Cetyz. I decide to go straight in without stopping at the corner since my sense can warn me if there’s…
The corner explodes in a rain of stone. A larger block hits my chest and I crash into the wall on the other side. It was struck by a scaled tail with a large round bone at its tip.
I most definitely didn’t detect it coming. I can now, with difficulty as my sense is still blurry. The tail likely escaped my notice because it moved too quickly and this creature’s blood is so cold that it barely registers even now that I’m no longer specifically searching for humans temperatures.
This thing itself is shivering from its low internal temperature, very close to the ambient air. It has four short clawed legs and a big body with a three-horned head that is currently buried in-between its shoulders to protect its neck from four of Suxen’s Numbers.
The creature is so large that it almost fills the entire hallway, making it two meters large and a half-dozen meters long. I get back up on my feet and pick Turpin off the ground. He’s bleeding from a gash in his forehead. No matter, shields don’t need to be alive.
I turn around and start running the other way as I suspect the tunnels are linked together and form a square around the cells which are all in the central block. A glance at the veined walls tells me that I’m likely correct as there is a slight golden glow to them.