A brawler let out a death rattle gasp as it spotted the main vanguard. The massive Rumbler leg answered by flattening it. The roar of the solar cannon eye defeaned all other sounds as it cleared the hallway, reducing the horde to burnt molecules and blackened brass. Blue beams danced with red and orange as Gideon and an army marched forward. Gideon was surrounded by a retinue of Excertius, a dog, an angel, and a Faithful One, all playing support to the main Rumbler bulwark.
So far, they had swept aside all opposition.
Score: Steak - 10,301 Prosine - 5,202 Deborah - 5,190 Monday - 2,301 Baxter - 942 Patricia - 561 Gideon - 35 Deceased - 12 Deceased - 8 ….
And Steak is still keeping score…
The thunderous roar of Steak’s solar cannon shook the halls, causing Gideon to brace himself. His helm defeaned and blinded him from the sensory overload. He glanced past the Rumbler, seeing the hallway cleared again, the hall dripping with melting brass. It took time to move as they wait for it all to cool.
They marched along, the thunderous legs of the Rumbler a cadence to their onslaught. He was impressed by the modular size of it, and how it fit the hall enough as a massive moving wall. The CK DINEs dedicated themselves to sweeping off the crawlers, fully aware of their now stale ambushes. The only major threats were pale jammers hiding in enclosed spaces to break communication.
Monday cut open a hallway door and stored it in QSD, letting Gideon march in. A pale jammer stood, rushing to get a taste of the last remaining average human in existence.
Gideon’s weapon glowed with a slight golden aura thanks to Deborah.
He cut loose, testing out the blast mode on the tempest cannon. All seven barrels fired at once, slamming into the mid-torso as a shotgun blast, bisecting the demon at the middle. He let loose with a thump of his shoulder cannon, bathing the demon and immediate area with white phosphorous. The blinding white light burned with white smoke, torching the demon as it writhed, shrieking and bellowing as it burnt to ruins. White smoke billowed from the room signalling that there would be no entry for some time.
Kill - Pale Jammer + 1
He felt burning anger at the demons. He would make sure that none left alive.
“Gideon, are you well?” Deborah asked, placing a hand on his shoulder.
“No. This is all my fault. If I-”
“Stayed with us and let Baxter get lost?”
“Not meeting Void when you had no choice?”
“Underestimating what we’re dealing with,” Gideon replied calmly.
“Even I did not expect the fight we experienced. There were too many demons to sense the horde that stalked us.”
“And even then, the fault is mine,” Deborah began.
A thunderous roar drowned them out as another rushing horde of imps was reduce to floating ash.
“I have only ever fought one demon in my entire existence. Even then, Prosine assisted to a standstill. I underestimated,” Deborah finished, looking down.
“I do admit, our desire to hide much from Monday may have constrained us…” Patricia started.
Gideon nodded at that. Perhaps it would have been different if they had used everything.
“No! It is my fault… I was a bad doggy and ran away…” Baxter began, dropping his ears.
“Baxter, you were trying to protect us; I should have paid closer attention.”
“I will do all of the work; please continue chatting.” Steak grumbled.
Hundreds of tiny eyes glowed from Steak’s hull. They all burst outward, firing hundreds of tiny solar cannon beams, reducing another wave to ash.
“Dearies, the fault is mine for not relaying everything the demons were capable of. Nor did I expect a change in tactics with the brawler bait and switch. Their usual fare was to rush. I was not trusting of you all from the start, and paid for it with the lives of my fellow merchants,” Monday explained, sadness tinged her voice.
“This is good. Now we know where we erred. That mistake will not be made again,” Patricia finished.
“We need to hurry, who knows if that Compiler has an escape vector-”
Another roaring blast of the Rumbler’s solar cannon deafened Gideon’s reply.
“Especially going off of Void’s info, that if her bestie arrives…”
“I will bark and bite it!” Baxter chuffed, wiggling his rump.
It’s good he may have forgotten the demihumans…
He had never seen Baxter react like that.
“Exactly. This isn’t like last time. We can’t afford to take prisoners. Or get any more pets.”
Baxter let out a soft whine but nodded at that.
“Deborah, I thought you told me demons cannot manipulate human technology; hence why Saddiffer was trying to possess me.”
Deborah nodded with a sigh.
“I am unsure of what this Compiler is…”
“A Compiler, that wretched thing, was created with that in mind. It is capable of manipulating technology in the most unusual ways. The wicked creator was a genius,” Monday explained.
Gideon was silent at that. They trudged forward, the sound of combat rang out as they ponderously marched along.
“We’re almost mid-ship, dearies!” Monday announced.
The waves of brawlers, crawlers, and jammers never ended. Whoever was summoning them was relentless. Gideon had a sneaking suspicion whoever was controlling them had little information, as the tactics didn’t change from what they experienced. It was possible whatever the Compiler was doing, it was possibly affecting those in control.
Hopefully, it hurt them worse than it did us. Gideon thought bitterly.
Guilt, regret, and anger flooded him over the loss of Shindow.
There was that spark of hope she could be rescued, going off of Monday’s information. But they needed to hurry; she could be lost for good.
Another deafening roar of Steak’s cannon stunned Gideon.
“Good Gideon, The main hallways is clear,” Steak declared with rumbling bass.
“One of the main gates is closed… That is quite the oddity.” Monday began.
The large brass sliding gate stood, imposing and impassible.
“Why?” Deborah asked.
“They were opened before as we attempted to funnel them. Lost many of my compatriots attempting to close it.”
“Meaning somebody closed it,” Gideon determined.
“The Compiler?” Patricia asked.
“Or the tactics just changed.” Steak suggested.
“Can you open it remotely?” Gideon asked, turning to Monday.
“Of course!” We should all step back no, you hear?” Monday declared.
Steak backed up, as well as the CK-DINES. There was little point in rushing in with range weaponry.
Gideon nodded, as he hefted the tempest cannon, readying the white phosphorous det charges.
A Gnat appeared, a floating upside down diamond sporting happy eyes.
“Get the door, would you kindly, hon?”
“Aye!” The Gnat cried as it rushed to the door controls.
Gideon saw the slight glow as it interfaced with the controls.
“You need to do it manually?”
Monday shrugged humorously at Gideon.
“Quality of life additions. Not on the mandatory list of things to do.”
“Jubs dun!” The Gnat cried as it vanished in vermilion pixelated light.
The gate doors slid apart, the grinding of ancient gears trembled the vessel. Gideon’s heart raced in the anticipation.
All Gideon saw was a wall of black.
“What the hell…”
Then it hit him what he was staring at.
The black wall began to flow and rush towards the group.
“Shit! It’s the Compiler!” Gideon roared.
Steak acted, the massive solar cannon fired, roaring to life as it bored a hole in the wall of flowing ebon slime, carving a huge swathed of disintegrated black oil. The deafening shriek alerted them that the attack worked. A single shot did little to hold back the flood. The CK-DINES opened fire, burning the mass as it rushed and flowed towards them.
Deborah flew above the Rumbler, opening a portal in front of the slime. The portal instantly collapsed, as did Deborah. She fell to the brass floor, writhing in pain.
Gideon thumped two rounds of white phosphorous in its path, bathing it in white fire. The Compiler shrieked again, redirecting the rest of the flow around the fire, slowing it down.
Gideon rushed to Deborah, helping her sit.
“Deborah! Are you-”
“I am fine… Thank you. It is immune to dimensional magic such as mine,” Deborah explained, gritting her teeth.
Gideon helped her rise as she went airborne again, creating dozens of duplicates and firing into the oncoming wave.
Monday fired a massive cone of laser fire, disintegrating a portion of the wave to ash.
It still wasn’t enough.
Steak trundled forward, becoming the wall to the wave. The Rumbler began to glow red on the front side, then with a deafening shriek burst a massive wall of solar cannon energy stopping ebon slime as it vaporized on contact. The shrill shriek of the ebon slime added to the roaring solar cannon.
The CK-DINES pulled back, with many keeping in between Gideon and the rest as mobile cover.
The black oil slime bubbled and hissed as its mass was cooked.
Then Steak’s attack ceased as it needed to cool.
The slime continued, forming spikes along the wave as it began to crash into the Rumbler, and then shrieked as it tried to penetrated the heated hull. The metal of the Rumbler’s hull formed and flowed, becoming dozens of stabbing spears that shot out, red hot from the heat. The branding irons stuck in the ebon slime forcing it back. The slime responded, firing a volley of black needles, penetrating the armor plating of the Rumbler. The slime rounds lasted only seconds as they fizzled to nothing. The slime grew a head, revealing a glowing red tri-star eye.
The ebon slime had filled the entire hallway, stopping short of the Rumbler.
Gideon thumped more white phosphorous, zoning it away from the Rumbler.
Baxter was simply barking all the way as he was unable to do much.
Patricia clicked her nanite cane, a cloud of blue glowing nanites rushed to Steak’s Rumbler, repairing the damage on top of its already sophisticated metal regeneration.
“It appears we’re slightly ahead!” Patricia observed. Steak trundled forward, with the ebon slime shrieking at the burning attacks against it. It flowed against the Rumbler, attempting to overwhelm. Steak fired another massive Solar cannon cone, reducing the mass to hissing steam.
It pulled back, its eye changing to a twenty pointed star as it observed the battlefield. Then as quickly as it attacked, it retreated.
“It’s falling back?” Monday began.
“Come on! We need to keep the pressure high!” Gideon exhorted.
The slime flowed, faster than thought back into the room. Steak advanced, with the CK-DINES harrying and scanning for loose ambushes left behind. The ebon slime retreated, flowing out of the hall and back into the room. And then it flowed away, leaving the room they had just opened into.
Gideon’s ears rang at the sound. Someone had just spoken to him. He turned to Baxter who also looked disturbed as he shook his head.
“Did you all…”
“Yes, I heard it,” Deborah stated grimly.
“That was scary… But we win!” Baxter replied with a chuffing bark.
“I do not think so.” Steak countered.
A massive black sphere hung along the ceiling, held aloft by ebon slime. Steak didn’t bother to watch as he fired a massive Solar cannon volley, crisping the slime to steaming ash. A body dropped limply to the floor, steam rising from it.
“Gideon… Something is off. I can feel a massive demonic signal from that being,” Deborah began, returning to a single copy.
Gideon zoomed in his vision, seeing a massive purple sphere with a glowing outlined circle filled with runes. The sphere glowed filling the room with violet light. Then hundreds of crawler and brawlers appeared dotted with several pale jammers. They began to rush to them as massive horde.
“I think we found our artifact,” Gideon stated blankly, understanding filling him on how so many could appear at once.
“That’s not it!” Monday retorted, her hand lasers charging.
“It didn’t look like that. Whatever this is… “
“Good Monday, could it be a symptom of that artifact?”
“I don’t know…” Monday trailed off, eying the rushing mob. Steak fired into the group, decimating the middle and aiming for the violet gem. The black silhouette of the being that had fallen from the ceiling rose, ignoring the superheated attack. The black spherical gem cracked and then shattered to pieces.
“Oh boy, that is bad!” Baxter began with a bark.
As the roaring cannon ended, Gideon got a look at what it was.
It stood at ten feet tall, shrouded in a black ghostly cloak. The narrow hooded head stared impassively. It sported four arms and a disquieting presence to stare upon.
Gideon snapped his head, hearing a voice beside him.
Baxter’s ears were twitching as he spun in circles, looking for the voice.
The voice called from afar. Everyone looked back to the tall specter figure as it collected the shatter pieces of the spherical demon gem. The demon began to cradle the pieces as it descended through the floor. Steak fired another burst, flash melting the brass floor to a bubbling pond.
“Gideon! Be on your guard; this is grave !” Deborah stated, pulling out her pistols. Dozens of Deborahs stepped out of the original keeping an eye in all directions.
“Gideon, why are you such a disappointment?”
Gideon snapped to the voice, seeing the hooded specter staring at him. He swung his fist, trying to get space.
A copy of Deborah was knocked back on her heels.
“Gideon! What are you doing?” Deborah shouted at him.
“It’s right there!? Don’t you see it?” Gideon screamed.
Panic was starting to rise in him.
“Why indeed. You fear being the pale shadow of your ancestors.”
Gideon turned, seeing Patricia. A violet greatsword sprouted from the ground, spearing her through the chest. She let out a shrieking bark at the sudden attack as she dropped.
“Gideon…” Patricia began.
A CK-DINE dropped from the ceiling, crashing to the floor.
“You are insecure. A weakling. Spineless. Letting others lead. A captain of nothing.”
The hallway appeared to be much smaller, cramped. He was surrounded.
The specter was all around him, reaching for him.
He fired a burst into one, sending it to the floor.
“Gideon stop; what are you doing?! Hold him down!”
“Strip his gear! Snap out of it!”
“You are bad I will bite you!”
Gideon felt crushing weight upon himself.
The specter pinned him to the floor, staring into his soul. All was black surrounding him.
“A very strange action for such a foolish God; choosing you.”
The voice was deafening.
Gideon tried to fight but the four arms kept him pinned easily.
“Out of all of the crew, you are the most pointless.”
“Your absence would make the crew stronger.”
The breath was cold as deep space, he felt the frost forming on his skin as the creature breathed on him.
“They’ve always had to save you; you’ve never come through on anything.”
“You were pitied by your family, kept around as a sad figure; an ego boost to those around you.”
“Because when they compared themselves to you, they all felt better about themselves.”
“No! I am a good boy!” He heard Baxter whining and shrieking.
“Please Adonai… Forgive me…” Deborah begged.
“I couldn’t save them… I couldn’t…” Monday wept.
“G-G-Gideon… Please get up!” Patricia implored.
He heard the roaring echo of Steak’s solar cannon.
“Why are you focusing on them?”
Shindow was in front of him, accusing.
“You could have been stronger. You should have known!”
“You killed me!”
“IT’S NOT ABOUT YOU!” His father was suddenly in front of him, furious.
“You let these thoughts fester as cancer… I knew I shouldn’t have trusted such a simple task with you.”
The words burned as branding irons against his skin, flaying against his mind.
“Wanderer. Traveler. Redeemer.”
He heard the words, barely a whisper.
“Fool. Weakling. Coward.”
The image of the specter returned. Gideon could only feel the icy needles of his limbs. He felt the heat of his right hand, the Seal glowing.
“You know who you are Gideon. My son. My delight. Speak the words.
Who are you?”
Gideon could hear it. Just slightly.
The demon rasped and breathed, attempting to freeze him over.
He felt the heat of the Seal warming him up.
“No one loves you. Your family never missed you.”
“I missed you every hour since the journey,” The voice added.
“I prepared for your arrival, made sure you were given everything you need.”
“You are a burden. Unworthy-”
“My grace is sufficient for you.”
“Say the words.”
“Who is Gideon?”
“You are worthless!”
Gideon flexed his hand, feeling the Seal flaring white hot.
“I am a wanderer. Traveler! Redeemer!”
“None of your lies will ever be true.”
The power built up as he gripped the demon his hand, feeling the ice burning away.
“You. Are. Nothing!” Gideon roared in defiance.
The demon caught fire, starting along its arms. It backed away, a long unending bellow rang from its hood as the fire burned it.
The black darkness that surrounded Gideon lifted, revealing he was standing in the brass hall. The floor was littered with damaged CK-DINES. Steak had massive battle wounds, which were slowly reknitting due to the limpid steel. Baxter was sitting nearby, alert and watching; ears drooped. Monday had propped up Patricia and was looking her over. Deborah was sitting off by herself, arms curled around her legs, her wings covering as a sanctuary. The advance had stopped completely.
Gideon looked down, seeing he was wearing just his green square stitched jumpsuit.
“Is everyone alright?” Gideon began.
“Good Gideon, I believe you were all under the influence of a powerful demon,” Prosine began.
“Reinforcements are enroute,”
“And not just any demon. That wretch was a Breatherman,” Monday began as she turned to Gideon, her mask was gone, revealing her pristine face and glowing eyes.
“It strikes at you mentally, bringing out your weaknesses or failures. Shame and guilt. All used to bludgeon you to dest-ruction. Not to mention everything else.”
“How did you beat it, Monday?” Gideon asked.
She held out two fingers. A small strand of electricity danced between them.
“What about you, Baxter?”
“He was scary. I didn’t like him at all. I made a lot of noise and then Saddiffer yelled at him to be quiet,” Baxter began.
He looked left to right before whispering with a chuff.
“He was sleeping!”
“Good boy!” Gideon encouraged with a chuckle.
It had felt all too real. All too traumatic. And then his Seal came to life and with it the words he needed. Now he struggled to remember what happened. He remembered Adonai speaking to him. He remembered the pain of the demon’s words.
He walked to Deborah, sitting close to her.
“Are you alright? What happened?”
“I just need to ponder. I never faced such a demon and it caught me off-guard,” He could hear Deborah’s muffled voice from her wing sanctuary.
Everyone appeared to be in a state of shock. The entire push was halted.
“I-” Deborah started.
She glanced at the floor, seeing the massive grandsword. It was the same material the demon sphere was made of. Gideon scanned the hall, seeing no sign of the demon.
Deborah made her way to the massive purple grandsword, far too big for a normal man to wield. The hilt alone was large enough for the demon’s four hands. Deborah gingerly touched it, and then grasped the hilt. She hefted to her shoulder, nodding with approval.
“Are you sure that’s safe?” Gideon asked.
“It will bend to me,” Deborah replied with a contented smile.
She walked past Gideon, stopping by his ear.
“We’ll speak of that later.”
Gideon nodded. He suspected everyone would need therapy after that.
“A Breatherman is immune to any physical attack; I suspect the angel’s aura was below the threshold,” Monday began, sitting down.
“A pene-trat-ive ability would also work. Those demons are most terrible to deal with…” Monday said, shaking her head.
“Good Gideon. I am ashamed that I could do little more than store your gear and watch. Nothing I did could harm the demon, even with Deborah’s aura,” Steak lamented.
Blue pixelated light danced across the floor, materializing his platinum QSD. He clicked to his back, feeling the connection start again. He didn’t want to know why they stored his gear.
Connecting... Connected! Calibrating... Calibration complete! Connection Rendered Instance 2059682 created OS: Corbenic v.50.00 Name: Gideon McDonough (CEO; Super Administrator; Creator) Status: Emotionally Distressed, Confusion Quantum Charge: 210,201/260,000 QC Galactic Nebula: ERROR NO SIGNAL Location: Skylon
Figures. Gideon muttered over the new status.
“Steak, how long…?”
“It has been well over thirty minutes,” he replied with a grumble.
Gideon felt unsteady on his feet, disconnected from what he experienced. The loss of Shindow plus the demonic attack had drained him. His heart hurt enough for physical pain to manifest.
The Compiler dropped exactly what we didn’t need.
He surveyed the wreckage of CK-DINES.
If we failed to break off of it, it might have slowly tore the party to pieces, starting with anforms. It couldn’t affect them; so bump them off first. Then devour us at will.
Didn’t expect a Seal holder and a possessed demon.
Good riddance, asshole.
“We need to move,” Gideon ordered. He became surrounded by pixelated light, retrieving his previous setup. He hefted the tempest cannon, swiveling the det launcher shoulder cannons to test them.
“Patricia, are you well enough to continue?”
“Of course, A simple wound such as that will not stop me. Thank you Monday, we need to trade blueprints!” Patricia replied happily.
“Anytime, deary! Can’t be a bad host now can we?”
Please Adonai, let Shindow be alive.
Gideon prayed for the first time in ages.
Steak began to trundle along, signaling it was time to go.
He looked at the crew, seeing the slight slouch of their shoulders. The psychological impact was palpable, even for Deborah.
If the Compiler was simply stalling for time, it did a hell of a job. It was definitely bigger, possibly feeding on the tit of those demon summoning spheres. It might be stalling for time to collect mass, then just flood us. It’ll be cautious against the solar, laser, and fire weapons. Or it may attempt to manipulate the ship.
Nothing made much sense. He felt the demons and Compiler were both stalling for time.
Stalling for what?
CK-DINES were storing their fallen brethren in a daisy chain back to the Decima. The hall dazzled with blue pixelated light.
This was their first major fight. And there was more to go.