"WARNING INTRUDER ALERT." the Sarcophagus's systems drone over the PA speakers, "INCLINATOR A5 COMPROMISED."
I keep my eyes shut and probe outwards with my awareness using matter sense. A rush of ORPO mecha are flooding through the Inclinator shaft. Fate must have succeeded in breaching the blast door. I mentally brace myself while steadying my composure behind the defensive wall built by The Voice. All around me is the whirring noise of the miniguns as they begin spooling up their barrels in preparation to fire. Ready or not, the fight is about to start.
"Incoming wave of ORPO mecha." The Voice informs, "Get ready."
"Not a problem." I mutter back, both hands tightening their grip on the pommel of my sword.
There's a clattering sound as the ORPO mecha drop a volley of grenades down the shaft, followed by an earsplitting explosion. Too bad the atrium is too wide an area for that tactic to be effective. The defensive wall is far too recessed to be covered by the blast radius of the grenades. The only inconvenience I suffer is a spot of ringing ears which clear up quickly enough thanks to the artificial core.
The ORPO mechas land hard with a crash and tossing all caution overboard, bound out of the shaft brandishing their axes. A quick charge into the defenders still reeling from the grenades, standard breach and clear tactics. Normally this would be enough to put the defenders to flight, but as anyone with a brain could figure out by now, this situation is nowhere near the definition of normal.
The miniguns open fire simultaneously, and the ORPO mechas unprepared for the freshly installed defenses, run into a solid wall of lead. The guns easily tear through the mechas' armor, scything through the line with no resistance. The ORPO pilots begin tripping over their fallen colleagues, breaking the momentum of their charge and giving the guns even easier targets to cut down. Panic quickly sets into the unit and they begin a desperate retreat back into the shaft, the guns firing at them all the while. There's a roar of jets as the remaining mechas blast off back up the Inclinator shaft to safety, leaving behind mounds of wrecked machines lying about the atrium in their wake.
"That was a surprisingly easy first wave." I comment, somewhat relieved, "Looks like you invested in overkill for the battle."
"Stay on guard." The Voice rasps tensely, "Fate is still hanging about in the Inclinator shaft, no doubt plotting something. Be prepared."
I nod and draw a deep breath to calm my nerves. Then I feel a sudden sense of vertigo as an overwhelming surge of power cascades down the shaft towards the atrium. A loud, voiceless scream echoes in the depth of my soul, the pressure forcing me down to my knees. I open my good eye and my vision swims sickeningly, mirroring the churning of my stomach. But just as my sight begins to clear, I see a gigantic thrashing mass of red thread swarm out of the shaft, lunging hungrily towards the defensive wall.
"Fate's coming!" I shout, sweat from my brow soaking the black hood through.
"I sense it." The Voice growls, "The real battle is about to start."
The pressure around me increases by several magnitudes and an invisible force rushes outwards from the wall to meet the incoming red thread. As the force washes over the red thread, the thread begins to fray and break, disintegrating like so much ash. Nevertheless the wave of crimson rallies, swiftly regenerating from its losses and lashing outwards once again with increased strength. This time the thread dashes aside the invisible force, and attempts to inundate the defenses completely. But the moment the thread reaches the wall, the invisible force flares again, annihilating the encroaching cancer by shredding it apart. And so it goes, the two dueling powers see sawing back and forth, evenly matched.
"Hmph. Trying to blind me in my own stronghold." The Voice snorts dismissively, "I have woven the compound that counters Fate's influence into the wall itself. Fate should really be more original."
"Drawing from the same well one too many times huh?" I quip, giving a thumbs up.
"Just so." The Voice replies, "Now brace yourself, the cameras show Fate leading the next wave of attackers."
As The Voice said, the woman in red lands gently on her feet at the base of the shaft, flapping her snow white wings with authority. Behind her are another pack of ORPO mecha straining at the leash. Fate looks up and even though she is wearing a veil, I somehow know that she is looking directly at me. Fate's wings are unfurled to their full length and fill the entire atrium with majestic radiance. The mechas behind her drop on to one knee in reverence at the sight of arguable divinity manifesting itself.
As the light from Fate's wings shines upon me, a booming noise resounds within the depths of my mind. An unquestionable but incomprehensible order, a directive for me to do something or other. Smirking, I roll my eye and flip Fate the bird in response.
"And there's the psychic attack." I laugh, "As ineffective as ever."
A guttural scream comes from the earpiece as all the sentry guns swivel in Fate's direction and open fire as one, drowning out Fate's halo with tracers. The goddess is drowned under the hail of lead but with the guns no longer pinning them down, ORPO charges into the fray, eager to avenge themselves upon me.
Only to run into the proximity charges laid by The Voice.
Explosions rock the atrium, ripping the ORPO mechas into bloody shreds. The pilots once again attempt to retreat, but the metaphysical crimson thread cracks at them like a whip, driving the mechas forward once more. The beleaguered mechas stumble around in confusion, some of them falling victim to the remaining proximity charges. The survivors however manage to rally and instead of blindly rushing at the wall, the mechas fire up their jets and take a soaring leap through the air.
"Time for me to shine." I remark, raising the sword and taking aim at the lead mecha.
Just as the lead mecha crests the wall, the tip of my sword flicks out, piercing what I assume to be the machine's cockpit. My guess must have been close enough, as the mecha goes dead immediately, impaled on the sword like a dead weight. A quick pull frees the sword and a broad swing slices apart the next few mecha that are unlucky enough to get within my range. But by now the explosions from the proximity charges have stopped, meaning that the bombs have been completely expended. With the atrium clear of traps, the mechas begin another all out assault against the wall.
"Releasing attack drones." The Voice rasps as the doors to the hub burst open to reveal a charging horde of scissor wolves. The drones clash with the ORPO mecha in the middle section of the atrium, with both sides attempting to push forwards. Above the racket of flailing weapons and abused servos, the drones gradually start forcing the mechas back. The rear ranks of the mechas in return begin jetting over the carnage in another attempt to jump over the wall. I pump my legs frantically, rushing back and forth, cutting down the invaders the moment they land. Its all so overwhelming though, almost the entire length of the wall is under attack. ORPO's numbers are really no joke.
"Keep this up, my attack drones are beginning to pen Fate in." The Voice says tersely, "Deploying the spider drones to support you."
The atrium's vents located over my side of the wall burst open and disgorge the spider drones in miniature waterfalls. The robotic spiders begin crawling all over the mechas, attacking the mechas' sensors and blinding them. As the mechas swat impotently at the spider drones, I bring the sword down on each of the interlopers in turn, ending the nuisance they represent.
"Hoo yeah!" I cheer as the last of the ORPO mechas fall, "We are totally wrecking shit right now."
"No we are not." The Voice snarls, "Attack drone strength is currently at sixty percent and falling."
I peer over the wall and see that the scissor wolves have cleared out the remaining ORPO mechs and are congregated in a tight cluster, most likely surrounding Fate. The sentry guns eliminate the remaining stragglers from the ORPO force as they vainly try to continue this lost battle.
"I don't know." I shoot back, "Things seem to be going well from where I am standing."
"Attack drone strength down to thirty percent." The Voice snaps, "Transmigrator, I need you to lend your assistance."
As The Voice speaks, the cluster of scissor wolves begin to get thinned out at a frighteningly rapid pace. As the horde becomes increasingly scanty, I am greeted to the sight of Fate clumsily wielding an ax probably taken from a fallen ORPO mecha. Fate makes poorly aimed swings with hardly any force to them, but every blow that strikes home manages to take out a scissor wolf. It does not matter how glancing or superficial the damage is. A single blow is all it takes.
The scissor wolves slash at Fate relentlessly with their weapons, but no matter where they strike, all their attacks miss without fail. And Fate does not even seem to be bothering to dodge or otherwise defend herself. Its as if her every movement equates to a guaranteed evade.
"Something's wrong." I tell The Voice.
"I can see that." The Voice rasps impatiently, "Useful information please."
"Fate's thread has retracted and formed a sphere around her." I report, "No idea what the thread is doing, but I am willing to bet that its somehow connected to what's going on right now."
The Voice makes an annoyed sound as the scissor wolves fall back. With the lines of sight clear, the sentry guns begin open fire on Fate once more. Hundreds, no thousands of rounds are sent Fate's way.
"Impossible! Impossible!" The Voice roars in frustration, "Fire control is telling me that I should be hitting Fate. Why are all my attacks missing?"
I swallow hard as Fate begins to walk calmly towards the wall against the hail of gunfire. The Voice is right, it is a statistical impossibility to miss a target with so many shots been thrown about. An insidious thought takes root in my mind. What if Fate had always intended to throw down directly against The Voice but was prevented from doing so thanks to Naiberg's sabotage? What if this fight is not some desperate gambit, but something Fate had prepared for a long time ago?
"Stop firing." I say, "Let me handle this."
The Voice complies and the guns immediately fall silent. I vault over the wall and rush towards Fate with the sword raised high. I dart towards my target like a speeding comet and easily duck under an amateurish swing of Fate's ax. Both my hands grasp the sword and with a single mighty stroke -
- I miss.
I miss at point blank range. Against a target that did not even dodge.
Impossible. The Voice is right, this is completely impossible.
As my mind boggles at the sheer unexpectedness unfolding before me, Fate's ax makes another wild swing at me and I raise my left arm to block, flaring the artificial core. A biting pain and then blood. Blood everywhere.
Blood all over Gallant's severed arm that splats on to the floor.