V4: Chapter 10 – Once Above, Now Below | Part 2.1 – Help Me!
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New Volume 4 Chapter(s) Weekly. Volumes 1-3 now complete!

The Fiends were taking the march down the steps slowly, much slower than Jaid would have liked. But they were in enemy territory. Caution was a necessity, especially since they were going in blind. Unfortunately, Drim hadn’t been able to provide them with any intel on the bunker itself.

However, Tusmon had done some digging on fallout bunkers developed during that time period, and believed he’d found a set of blueprints similar to what they were dealing with. One look inside this bunker, though, and it didn’t even come close into matching the size and lavishment. At least they had a better idea of what the general layout might be, but it was still virtually uncharted.

“Huh, does anyone else hear a strange beeping?” Dura had been uncharacteristically quiet during their descent, and now it made sense as to why. Jaid tried to listen as well, but couldn’t make it out. The monk had always had insanely good hearing, probably due to living most of his life in silence, so she had no reason to doubt his assessment.

She began glancing around and finally found the source along with a small blinking light. “Zjik! Explosives! Hurry!” She wanted nothing more than to dash down the stairs as quickly as possible, but that would leave her companions behind. The woman took a quick stock of the situation, of who she could save.

The girl could only take one of them with her, and both Dura and Chiulu had solid protection, so that made Laquet the obvious choice to bring down with her. She reached her hand out towards the ex-sheriff, but before she could grab his shirt, Chiulu suddenly slipped. It had probably been a mistake to leave her at the back of the group since she was sent tumbling down into all three of them.

The Fiends became a big ball of intertwined mass as they careened down the stairs. Not a moment too soon, it seemed, as the steps they’d been standing on suddenly exploded. Step by step, they just barely missed the next explosion in the chain until they came to an ungracious halt at the bottom and went flying all over the foyer. Undoubtedly, Chiulu’s Curse had saved them. The walls around the stairs had collapsed and would have buried them alive. However, there was one complication.

“Gah, my leg!” Laquet howled out in pain. Just by a glance, it was obvious that it was broken. “One of my arms is dislocated too.” Jaid rushed over and quickly popped the shoulder back into its socket which led to another howl. “Won’t be any good in a fight, so just leave me for now. My leg will heal up eventually, so I’ll work on digging us outta here.” He raised his gun and pointed it at the collapsed stairwell. “Now go on and get those bastards!”

The remaining three did just that after they all did a quick check to make sure they were uninjured. Coincidentally, there were three different paths they could take, so they split up. Jaid rushed down her hall and into the kitchen. She glanced around, not expecting the door to suddenly slam shut behind her.

Her first instinct was to duck when she caught Lieu in her peripheral vision and that very well may have saved her life. His shotgun blasted the air where her head had just been. The Paladin’s next instinct was to spawn a clone to grab her sword and swing back at him, but then her brain caught up and decided against it. Instead, she took that clone's place and dashed away back from the man to create some distance.

Lieu didn’t let up of course, firing shots at her the whole while, not giving her a moment’s reprieve from having to block them. But then he suddenly stopped entirely when he had to reload. “I see you’re not attacking me, Luciri,” he grunted in disappointment. “Then you must have a good idea of how my Curse works.”

“If you attack me and don’t kill me, I’ll just keep healing, and become insanely more dangerous to you. That or you think I’ll try and escape if you activate my Curse. But you don’t have to worry there. Could have had one of my friends activate it as soon as we knew you were here, but we didn’t. Do you know why?!”

She didn’t respond, so the man just kept on ranting. “Because we have our pride! Did the Fiends For Hire tuck tail and run when you came knocking at their door? Hell no! And we won’t either, because we refuse to be beneath them. So we’ll only abandon our home if it's our only option, if we’re confident that it’s the only way to save our lives. And we love this damn place. It may be a zjikhole in the middle of mawhging nowhere, but it’s all we have!”

“And you want to take it away from us. So I start to wonder, do you even remember what it’s like to really belong somewhere?! Yeah I looked into you, and I respect your upbringing: a soldier from birth. About the same for me, but you ran the moment zjik hit the fan. I went through hell too, but I never abandoned my mission, my resolve.”

“Then you were with the For Hires—a spy, I know, but they treated you right. They were your friends. They trusted you, and you sold them down the river for some mawhgasses you’d barely known at that point. Now I’d personally want to get the hell out of that compound as soon as possible, but damn if that wasn’t cold. And I’m left wondering if you wouldn’t do the same to the CP under the right situation.”

“So what are you convictions, Luciri? Does our happy little group bother you so much that you have to tear it apart? Do you hate Fiends so much that you’d destroy the lives of any that your master deems an inconvenience? Go on then, show me your resolve!”

Lieu then holstered his gun and spread out his arms. “One attack, and you better give it everything you’ve got! Prove to me that you’re worthy to take down Above! That your will to ruin is greater than mine to survive! Because one chance is all you’ll get!”

This was bait. It was all him baiting her, goading her into attacking him. She wasn’t going to fall for it, at least not in the way he wanted her to. Undoubtedly, he planned to activate his Curse and retaliate as soon as she got too close. If she did anything but cut off his head, it could mean her own death.

But she also couldn’t waste the opportunity. A free shot was still free as long as she could avoid paying the price afterwards. Jaid would just have to get a bit more creative.

Lieu watched with intrigue and amusement as the knight transformed her sword into a railgun. She then took aim at his body, and he braced for inevitable shock to his system. But it wasn’t the bolt of lightning that he was expecting. Instead, Jaid sprayed sparks in a wide range in front of her.

The electricity sprinkled around the room like a shower of zaps. Cutlery and appliances lit up and arced from one to the other. It was nothing that would do major damage to a Fiend, but damage wasn’t what she was going for.

“Ahaha, this is the best you can do?!” Lieu was baffled by her shoddy attack. “I give you the chance to take my head and the best you can do is a tickle, a little singed hair?!” He laughed at how pathetic it was, disappointed that the fight was off to a pitiful start. But then he realized what she’d done. “Tch, I can’t move! But you think that will save you?! Fog of—”

The man didn’t get a chance to finish his declaration. While the main Jaid continued her spray of sparks, several clones sprung forward into the electric shroud. While the electricity would barely harm a Fiend, it still surged through their nerves, making it exceedingly difficult to control their body.

This was something Jaid didn’t really have to worry about due to her insulated armor. There was still a bit of tightness in her chest, her clones finding it hard to breathe, but she’d push through. If the knight was out to kill the man, this was where she’d swing for his neck. But capture was still the main objective.

Once she’d closed the distance, ten clones erupted around The Guerilla, some down low, several in the air. From all different angles, they stabbed their swords forward, impaling into Lieu’s body until each tip pushed out the other side. For any other person, any other Fiend, that would have been their death.

Even if The Guerilla healed, which he’d certainly have to if he wanted to stay alive, the swords would keep him locked in place and perpetually having to regenerate. Jaid would essentially have to stay tethered to him along with her ten clones, but it was a burden she could bear, and a loss of power that their team could justify. Without Lieu, their main means of escape vanished entirely, and it’d just be a matter of time until the rest were caught.

But no such luck. The fog didn’t even get a second to trickle out of the veteran’s eyes before he dissolved into a cloud. All of Jaid’s clones slumped towards each other since their swords were no longer embedded in his flesh. She recalled them all and gave chase to the haze that was fleeing the room—down the hall, back past the entrance, and into their bedrooms where she found Dura writhing on the ground.

Seeing him was just enough of a distraction for the knight to lose sight of her foggy target, so she rushed over to check on her companion. “Agagahhhh, so itchy!” the monk clawed at his head, scratching his scalp with relentless vigor. “She did something to me that makes my hair cause me so much irritation. I hate her! She is the worst!”

“But… But I grabbed her bag of tricks.” For a brief moment, he paused his frantacism to point to his scroll bundled up into a knot on the floor, Alk’s pouch assumedly trapped inside. “She should be weak like a kitten now without her claws, but still be careful! Go ahead without me until I can get rid of this wretched itchiness!”

With his permission, Jaid left him behind and resumed her hunt. Though as she left, the cries still lingered behind her. “Hair is the worst! I miss being bald!”

The knight felt guilty about leaving him in such a wretched state, but she had her mission. It didn’t take her long to find Chiulu poking around in Above’s living room. Except her poking was more like a gutpunch, smashing into all the furniture and making the room unlivable. “They escaped through here somewhere,” the Bumbling Bureaucrat explained once she regained stable enough footing.

“The Athlete was attacking me in one of their offices, but when he realized that none of it could penetrate my suit, he ran. I chased him here, and there’s only one entrance, so there has to be another exit somewhere.” Just as she finished explaining her deduction, Chiulu tripped backwards, smashing through their tv and entertainment center.

“A tunnel, good work, Chiulu!” Jaid praised her secret-finding skills.

“Ah, I’ll never be able to fit in there,” the woman’s tone sounded disappointed yet a little relieved at the same time. Her assessment was accurate, though, since the tunnel only went up to about their knees. There was no way her puffy existence could cram through. “Go ahead without me. I’ll keep looking around and see if I can find any other secrets.”

The Paladin crouched down, entering the tunnel, wherever it may lead.

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