I let my scimitar slide off my shoulder. When it’s down to the level of my waist, I arrest the fall and bring my right arm back, twisting my waist. My forearm starts shaking from the weight of the scimitar so I launch my lion strike at the thick metal double door.
Clang. The weapon bounces off. The energy covering the door doesn’t seem to waver. I frown. I’ll try hitting it a few more times when my limb is healed. I let the tip of my scimitar hit the ground and start using it as a crutch as I make my way back through the tunnel.
The two Shades and Suxen are obviously gone but I find Turpin on the ground, unconscious. I head into the central tunnel and limp towards the Director’s office, a room filled with bookshelves. On the Director’s desk are small wooden blocks of various shapes with small holes to fit them together with sticks, likely construct models.
I look for clues to Cetyz’ cell but give up rather quickly considering that Aisha left the office in a mess. I’ll go back to looking for a solution if I can’t brute force it. I walk back to the crossing, grab Turpin’s collar with my scimitar’s spikes, and start dragging him to the runic gate.
What did the rest of the goons do? Will find out if they get in my way. I keep limping along. Once at the runic gate, I throw Turpin against the gate. A portion of the runes flare on impact but have no visible effect and return to a dormant state once he slides off. He seems unaffected.
Is it based on pain? I think he twitched when he hit. I use my scimitar to press him against the double metal door. The same section of the runic construct activates fully, Turpin starts frothing at the mouth. I maintain him there but, after a minute, the runes go dark.
He isn’t moving anymore. Ah, he stopped breathing. No matter, he’s here for sustenance, not wind piping. I pull him away with my scimitar and check his pulse, feeling no heartbeat. Okay, that’s dangerous.
My symbiont reaches up to my cheek on its own, pushing my mask away, and presses the two sides of the wound Ka’tchuk inflicted together. I flinch from the biting pain.
My left hand’s rubbery brown skin formed long round ridges where it was shredded. It doesn’t seem like that’ll withstand much but it did stop the bleeding.
I communicate to it a feeling of urgency, that our goal lies beyond the door, it shivers but lets go of my cheek to seize the scimitar and release control to me. I shred Turpin’s pair of pants into thin strips of cloth. I wrap them tightly around my left hand’s articulations and wrist.
I then assemble a low-powered lightning-armor-piercing construct and bring my weapon back. I take a few steps back and throw the scimitar at the door. The blade impacts it. A different section of the runic construct activates.
Clink. The weapon bounces off. It didn’t work but the defenses used more flow to repel the attack than I used. Still, there’s a lot left, more than I can drain with the half-dozen portions I have left.
The energy redistributes itself to resupply the section that was just activated. I swear. This thing isn’t going to break until it entirely runs out or if I break through that section of the runic defense and destroy the gate in one go before the energy can redistribute itself.
I sit down and cross my legs, thinking. It didn’t take all that much for my scimitar to be torn out of my hands when my lightning coursed through the veins, it wasn’t propelled away in a single direction like it happened the first time because both sides of the tunnel attracted it.
I can use this instead of an air-blade. Considering that it was pulled from my hands, I estimate that it’ll take a lot less power to shoot the scimitar at similar speeds. If it works. Far as I can tell, it’s either this or manually brute forcing it. I’ll have to use all my flow whatever I try to do.
I worry, what if I fail this close to my goal? I got this far through preparation. Each hour that passes brings me an entire portion so, if this doesn’t work, would I be able to wait an entire day? Beyond unlikely since reinforcements are likely already in place, and there’s the fire…
I pause. Wait, the fire? I haven’t heard a thing since that ‘crack‘ earlier, when I was… when I was speaking to Aisha. Fuck! There’s no way I wouldn’t have felt the tunnel shake if something broke. I would maybe have heard something along with a tremble, not the other way around.
Fucking Aisha tricked me, she used a sound construct to convince me that I’m out of time so she could run with Suxen. She’s impressed on me that the institute is on fire, but did I see any sign of it? I did feel stuff crash so she probably wasn’t entirely lying.
No time to waste on the Shade, it’s done, I need to get to Cetyz. I assemble a lightning-armor-piercing construct but pause again and dismantle it. The batteries. I perk up and jump to my feet to start running back to the crossing, and then back upstairs, limping the entire way. I ignore the pain in my left knee from the damaged articulation.
I start opening random doors, I find a corridor engulfed in light-orange flames, stone cracked where the metal veins melted. The heat is intense so I slam the door close. What the fuck? The flames shouldn’t be this hot, or this color.
It has to be fueled by flow but there’s no way my construct lasted this long, is there? I swear but move on to the next doors, until I find a flight of stairs. I rush down but find my way blocked by a pile of rubble.
The voice is weak but it’s definitely someone calling for help. I assemble an air-blade with all my flow. I use my sense to find an empty space in the middle of the stone blocking me and shape my construct into a small sphere that I wiggle in there.
I then meticulously expand the construct, pushing the stone up and aside to free the way, basically setting it back into the spaces it fell from. Once there is a small passage, just enough for me to pass, I hollow the spherical air-shield to be able to pass while it holds the rubble in place.
I rush through as quickly as I can, thinking that, with my luck, the entire corridor will crumble on me. Surprisingly, that doesn’t happen so I anchor my construct in place. It won’t last very long, but hopefully enough for me to explore and come back.
I hear the voice again so I move on through the hallway until I emerge into a large empty storage room with shelves and a single large table in the middle. On it, I find the vial with the tendril inside, a few instruments that I’ve seen Suxen make use of, like scalpels and flat-headed scissors.
My eyes home in on a staff with blades facing in a different direction on either end. The metal of looks like black steel but it has silver patterns that resemble flowing water which means it’s something slightly different. I grab the weapon and start exploring the room.
“Help!” A woman calls out.
“Stop yelling, there’s no one and you might provoke them to attack.” A tired man says, annoyed.
“They haven’t so far, these things are tools.” She replies.
“They aren’t batteries and they’re almost off their drugs, just shut up.” He angrily spouts out. I head towards the voices.
“Silence, both of you, I hear something.” Another man says.
I find a door hidden behind a shelf. My sense detects a dozen drooling people in dirty clothes on the other side, they’re all bleeding and several have broken limbs. They are facing the back of the room, which is out of my range.
They have chains around their wrists and a more thorough scan finds another dozen people buried under rubble. They were likely all chained to that wall. I slowly open the door, finding that there’s another on the other side.
The dribbling people don’t react to my presence, even as I walk through them. Their eyes are closed but there’s a slight golden glow escaping through their closed eyelids. Their expressions are slack, their mouths half-open.
I carefully touch one of them, an old man with a broken arm. He collapses. Flow starts pouring out of his eyes and mouth. I panic and kneel down, taking him in my arms. I detect two thick scars under his hairs and that a chunk of his skull is missing.
“I, t‘s okay, I’m, a friend.” I stutter.
It doesn’t help, it actually makes it worse as he starts silently crying. I hear the woman call out for help again, but she is shushed by the others. I ignore them as I try to comfort the old man, barely stopping myself from growling.
His gaze is lost in the distance, I hear him garble sounds but none of it makes sense, he soon loses consciousness. His flow is sinking into the ground, I notice only now that he isn’t linked to it, that it’s free.
“I’m, sorry.” I push the words through the lump in my throat and take the almost full portion of energy.
In tears, I move on from one battery to the next. They all crumble as soon as I touch them, their concentration broken. All I can think of is that it takes all they have to hold onto their flow.
I know what needs to be done here, yet I keep delaying as I take their energy. A few remain conscious after crumbling. The last one looks beyond exhausted, he has thick dark circles around his eyes. He drops unconscious before I can even touch him, I smell excrement on him.
I seize the energy and rush to the other door. My sense tells me that there are a half-dozen of Suxen’s goons on the other side, huddled up together in a tiny room with barrels of grain and a small stove. There are two others, they’re armed with swords and facing the door with an absent expression.
“Is, is there someone? Is the way out open?” The woman shouts, I recognize the voice as the one of those who worked on the first array I went through to get inside.
“Shut up! If it was one of ours, they would have replied to you by now!” A man snaps. “It has to be one of the batteries. We must have messed up the last one and she’s leading them, no way they went insane just like that!” He mutters something else that I barely catch. “…ve carved more out.”
I kick the door open and throw the double-bladed staff at the Number on the left. It pierces through her throat even though she should have had time to raise her shield. The other one charges me without deigning to raise his two-handed longsword.
I bring my scimitar around but, before I can strike, the man throws himself on the blade, impaling himself. He groans but there is a smile on his lips as he exhales for the last time. I freeze. Wh, what?
“E, Elizabeth Vil!” The woman shouts, retreating behind the others.
While I stupidly stand there, the rest of the white bloused goons raise their hands and start shaping constructs. I shake my weapon to get rid of the body, utterly baffled and feeling as confused as the batteries but more determined than ever to see this through.
“That’s our chance!” The man exclaims.
I lion’s step in the middle of their group and slash out, melding into my sad anger. Arms fly out, legs are cut at the thigh but I kill none. They cry out in despair, demanding mercy, begging for their lives. I keep swinging, using my sense to its fullest to sever hands, ears, and fingers.
“P, please!” The woman begs, her left stump extended out to stop me.
I grab her collar and throw her into the other room. I seize the next one by his hairs and do the same. One by one, I drag or propel them into the room with the poor people they’ve used as batteries. The angry man is bleeding out from his thigh, which now looks like a bright red chunk of meat. I walk up to him first.
“Give me your flow.” I order.
“B, but…” He stutters, trying to keep an eye on me and the batteries while pressing down on his wound. “They’ve been using unstru…”
I slap him, breaking his jaw. His eyes glaze over, almost falling unconscious. I restrain myself and move on to the woman. She pulls her flow out and hands it over before I even take the second step.
I seize it and do the same for all of them, breaking bones and noses as needed. I don’t feel a shred of pity for these people, they’re not even fit to be prey. Once I’ve secured every bit of energy, I assess my reserve, finding that I’ve gathered almost fourteen portions.
“You’ll let us go with this, right?” The woman asks fearfully.
“Yes.” I reply.
I raise my sword and slash her stomach open with a single slash. Her eyes open wide and she shrieks. She panically tries to prevent her guts from falling out of her belly but, with a single hand, finds the task impossible. A fitting putrid smell engulfs the room.
The goons try to escape however they can, most of them crawl away but one tries to grovel at my feet. I take hold of his neck and throw him on his back, splitting his belly open like I did to the woman.
“Once more.” I utter coldly, doing the same to a third.
One of them is almost at the double-bladed staff so I walk up to him and stab him in the back, once in each kidney. I walk over him and grab the weapon. I then move on to the next one, and the next, and the next, muttering my mantra as I do.
Most die of blood-loss or shock before I reach the last but the terror in their eyes, on their faces, in their voices, satisfies me. I watch the last of them die, standing there in a large pool of blood and guts, feeling sick to my stomach about what they did to these poor people.
I notice that some of the conscious batteries are watching as well, witnessing the end of their tormentors with almost imperceptible smiles. I kneel down next to the old man. I place one hand on the back of his head and another on his chin. I grit my teeth, smother myself by summoning a dark shroud from my broken heart and break his neck.
I fall into a daze as I move on to the next one and do the same. I finish these poor people, who’ve been cruelly used as batteries, one by one. I do so gently, if that’s even possible in these circumstances. Uncharacteristically, I don’t feel bloodlust from my symbiont, it would help as I deal with this.
In response to the thought, it communicates a sorrowful emotion to me, akin to grief from waste, but also some urgency and offense. You’re getting awfully good at understanding me. I swallow my saliva and finish my morbid task.
With the last of them dead, I pick up my two weapons and leave, following my symbiont’s advice. I make it through the arch made by my air construct and dismantle it behind me, recovering only two portions from it. I limp back to Cetyz’ cell, comforting myself with the fact that their victims got their revenge in full and seemed at peace when they died.
When I killed them. I might be growing less and less sensitive to murder but this wasn’t murder, it was an act of mercy. I couldn’t get them out and also save Cetyz, besides they were too far gone to recover their lives.
They turned on their oppressors, they won by trapping those who did this to them. These monster suffered a fitting end for what they did. Snap. I hear an echo, recognizing the sound that the old man’s neck made when I broke it. I fall to my knees and puke bile.
I start shaking and crying but stand back up. I keep making my way, frail and nauseous, fearing the state in which I’ll find Cetyz. My symbiont pulses and sends a burst of its cool substance. I feel grateful for the help.
Once I’m back in front of Cetyz’ cell, I focus on the work to be done, burying my dark emotions deep down, with the rest. I assemble a lightning construct which I anchor to the metal veins running through the tunnel. I tweak it so that it’ll discharge from me and strike the section of the array that blocked the armor-piercing construct.
Should I really try this? If it fails, I’m fucked, but I don’t really have any other options. I grab the double-bladed staff and advance on the door, resolving to test whether or not it’s possible to brute force my way through.
My symbiont seems to read my apprehension as I prepare myself to feel pain and injects more of the cool substance. I slowly extend the weapon out into the golden glow. The construct doesn’t react even as the tip goes further.
I take a deep breath and tap the door with the tip of the blade. A brusque flash of pain goes through my arm which seizes, making it go limp. The weapon drops and breaks contact, putting an end to the effect.
Fuck, that’s out. My nerves are pulsing in white-hot pangs, almost like a cramp but much worse. No construct entered my body, it just seemed to happen through contact.
I put that weapon down and take hold of my scimitar and assemble a lightning-armor-piercing construct for it. I make use of all the energy I have except one portion, putting their gift to good use.
I step in the middle of the tunnel and extend the scimitar out in front of me towards the door, trying to center it inside the tunnel. I actually end up having to raise it above my head since the tunnel seems to be made for giants.
I loosen my grip and activate my constructs. Lightning bolts crack out along the veins in the walls, flashing out towards the double-door. Cryyk. The sound of metal being torn and twisted fills my eardrums as I stumble forward, feeling a burn on my palms.
I didn’t even notice my scimitar leaving my hands. Crack. I hear a stone drop. I look up, finding a large vertical breach in the door which damaged even the stone arch above. I notice a lattice of golden filaments on the other side. I grab the double-bladed staff and rush up to the opening to start making my way through it, finding fragments of my scimitar as I go. It was worth losing my weapon.
I use the last of my flow to seize the scattered flakes of energy from the broken runic construct, replenishing my reserve up to a half-dozen portions which is less than a tenth of what was infused in it.
It takes me a minute to get through the fifty-centimeter thick metal door without injuring myself on the sharp edges. On the other side, I find a large spherical cocoon made of thin golden flow strands floating in the middle of a cubical room.
The sphere is attached to runic symbols on all six of the walls by slightly thicker energy strings. My sense tells me that there is a thin Princess inside, wrapped around in its own tendrils and tail.
Her legs and toes are extended out towards the ground but apparently unable to break containment. She seems to have attempted to break free at some point but is now completely immobile.