Alan sat on top of the supplies as the lift descended. The amount of equipment they were taking into the Abyss Labyrinth was staggering. Large crates sat on levitating metal dollies, flat rectangular devices a few inches thick that were powered by power crystals and made use of electromagnetic suspension. Two fully operational, advanced shield generators were also being brought along. Each had 100k energy, and was built with specialized shields that only consumed 1 energy for every 2 points of damage taken. A number of floating lamps were also being brought. They had a variety of settings, and were a definite step up from torches. Finally, there was a secure, prison-like transport device that made use of the same magnetic levitation as the dollies. It looked like a medieval carriage, except made of specialized composite armor, with shielded windows. It could fit two people.
Each crate was labeled by an electric tag that Alan could access, listing what they contained. A quarter of them seemed devoted to gel blocks and atmospheric water generators, as well as unique dietary foodstuff for a few members of the 30-man raid. Another quarter of the crates stored ammunition and power crystals. Alan was surprised by the number of power crystals, but then remembered that everything needed to be powered: most of the weaponry, armor, transport devices, and shield generators required energy.
The next quarter of crates contained miscellaneous tools and raw materials. Three of the other support staff were armorers and repairmen, and with these supplies they could patch up equipment and parts of the supply train itself. They could also jury rig a device that was needed on the fly. The last crates were empty, but would hopefully be filled with loot by the time the dungeon dive was finished.
The raid entered the Abyss Labyrinth at the same place they had dumped the Black Rose recruits. When the lift reached the bottom two familiar messages popped up before Alan:
[You have now entered the Abyss Labyrinth. Unknown perils await in this seemingly bottomless maze.]
[Communications with the outside world have been suspended. Your ability to send messages to other players is disabled.]
Alan saw that Mason had already set up a makeshift outpost. Turrets, barricades for cover, and various sensor devices were assembled in the cavern. Alan had been sent down after most of the raid, with the supplies, Void, and Enigma’s four “specialists.” Alan knew they were instead Phantom’s specialists. Cyborgs, or perhaps androids, as cyborgs were humans, turned machine, while androids were machines, turned human. None of the four had said a word since joining the raid, which made Alan think they were more machine than man.
Guards were posted at either side of the caverns two exits, leading out into the dungeon. Alan noted the scouts were missing, likely out exploring.
Mason looked over. “Good, that should be everything. Are all the supplies in order?”
“Yes,” Alan said. He walked up to Mason, taking out his weapon, ready to head out.
“Where are you going?” Mason asked.
“To delve into the dungeon. With the raid,” Alan said.
Mason shook his head. “Your job is to stay in the back of the supply train, safe in the guardlev. We need you alive. You’re our ticket through the hubs.”
“But I’ll miss out on experience,” Alan protested.
“You’ll still earn plenty as a member of the raid group,” Mason said. “Let the main force clear out the dungeon, you’ll get in the way. What you need to do is keep a running tally of supplies: food, ammunition, and power crystals. Also keep an eye out in back, make sure no one is tailing us, Phantom said you could do that much.”
I agree, this seems much safer, Eve sent.
Never turn down a free lunch, Lambda sent.
“Oh, okay,” Alan said. He really was on the support staff for the raid. He headed over to the supplies, and had Eve catalogue everything they had.
A few minutes later, after Alan had double checked all the supplies and the scouts returned, they started to move out. The small outpost that had been setup was dismantled in seconds by two short, dark-faced humanoids with long wiry fingers. The outpost materials were loaded into a few of the crates.
Alan was escorted into the guardlev, located at the back of the supply train. At the front of the raid were the scouts, then Mason. The rest of the raid members were interspersed throughout the supplies, while Alan and the four specialists guarded the rear.
They progressed along the same route that the Black Rose recruits had taken, and soon encountered the level 25 Spiderbots. With a casual swipe of his war axe Mason took apart all the ones that approached him.
Then the level 250 Spiderbot Brood Mother appeared. Mason gestured to one of the raid members, another large, grey skinned giant. They raised a shoulder mounted weapon Alan recognized as a plasma cannon. A single, bright yellow ball of plasma was fired at the Brood Mother. It exploded in a massive inferno, destroying the mini-boss in a single blow.
No one bothered taking any of the loot the Spiderbots had dropped. The raid continued moving on at a steady pace.
They encountered the slimes next. A line of melee fighters walked forwards, mowing through the slime’s cores like they were reaping wheat. None of the slimes even managed to consume the cores, as soon as they leapt forwards they were cut down.
Alan glanced at his experience bar, as expected he had earned next to no experience, but these enemies were now far below his level anyways. He wondered what the average level of the raid group was.
2784, Eve sent. The median is 2370.
Alan was worried for a second that the supplies would have difficulty progressing up the ramp, but he needn’t have worried. The magnetic levitation kept the pallets steady and level. They stopped before the cube-like structure, one of the prison’s hubs.
“The moment of truth,” Mason said. “Let’s see if we have to take the long way around or not. Alan.”
Alan stepped out of the guardlev and approached the building. He found the faint AI presence. Connecting to it was easier than he remembered, like sliding open a door in his mind.
Greetings, Alan sent.
… Systems Initializing. Error. Warning: Limited Power.
Greetings Traveler. Warning: Main Systems Offline.
Right, I know. Can you let us through? Alan asked.
Unrecognized humanoids detected. They must depart before traveler is allowed to proceed.
They’re my allies, and thus yours too, Alan sent. They’re cool, let them through.
The Abyss Labyrinth’s systems didn’t respond.
Let me talk to the Sector 3 Chief Warden, Alan sent.
Request acknowledged. Warning: Main Systems Offline.
The Warden began a connection. Alan accepted it.
Greetings, Warden, Alan sent. As you can likely tell, I’ve brought a few allies to help with… exploring the labyrinth.
And why should I aid you in the conquest of my sector? That seems rather unintuitive, the Warden sent.
Charles? Is that you Charles? Lambda sent. What’s up, how’s it hanging? It’s been age’s man.
Wait, I thought AI couldn’t communicate directly with each other, Alan sent.
Remember I’m special, Lambda sent.
The Warden remained silent for a few moments, an eternity for an advanced AI. Then, it sent, Do you think opening the gates for these biotics to be the correct choice?
I dunno, but it could be fun, Lambda sent. Maybe there’d be an even bigger bang this time.
No, the Warden sent. I will not allow chaos to grow a stronger foothold. Not here, not now.
Well, if you want order, perhaps it might be better to let us through, Alan sent. We want to take command of this sector, maybe bring it back to full power if we can. Without your help I’m not sure if that would be possible.
Very well, if you believe you have the strength to bring order to this hellish playground, to bring the main systems back online, I will not stop you. I will allow your party to pass through hub stations unimpeded, but I will not waste energy constructing pathways for you to follow.
That’s fine, Alan sent.
Remember, some gates are not easily closed, the Warden sent. And Lambda, I am sorry, but I must report your presence here.
Wait? What? No- Lambda sent. The Warden cut off the connection.
A message appeared:
[Warning! The Authorities have been notified of the escaped AI Lambda’s presence in the Abyss Labyrinth.]
Phew. I thought he was alerting the Administrators. The Authorities won’t give a rats ass about me, Lambda sent.
You- Wha- I have so many questions, Alan sent.
And I can’t answer any of them, Lambda sent. Don’t worry, look at the state of things here, everything has fallen into disarray and out of power. I’m just another problem added to the list of things they won’t fix. I wouldn’t mention anything to Mason though.
Alan told Mason they were good to go, and the convoy proceeded through the hub. Alan got back into the guardlev and continued to scan the back. As they proceeded deeper into the dungeon the enemies they faced became increasingly stronger and higher level, but none posed any real risk to the raid group.
Alan even managed to gain a single level, but he soon tired of staring out the back of the grav-vehicle. The Abyss Labyrinth was empty, completely devoid of light and radiation on every spectrum, to the point that even with his eye implants Alan only saw darkness.
A few hours later the raid had marched a good number of miles without rest. He overheard a sniper complain loudly, “Why does he get to ride his way through the dungeon like this is a nice Sunday drive? We’ve gotten permission from whoever runs this place, why’s he sticking around?”
Another voice said, “Yeah, he’s a brand new member of the guild and already an officer? Some people are born lucky.”
“Idiots,” a third voice whispered. “He’s in charge of supplies.”
They all quieted down, but Alan stood up. He went to exit the vehicle, to see who had said what, confront them face to face.
“Young man, are enjoying the adventure?” Void appeared outside the door to the vehicle.
“Not really. It isn’t what I expected, I feel like I’m trapped in a cage,” Alan said.
“We’re all trapped in cages Alan, the only difference is I can see mine,” Void said.
“Right,” Alan said. He tried to open the door. Void placed his palm on the door, keeping it shut tight.
“Well, since I have you here right now, I thought I might impart some of my bountiful wisdom,” Void said. “Unless you have somewhere to be?”
Alan rolled his eyes and sat back down. Void opened the guardlev door and sat down next to Alan, uncomfortably close. “Wonderful. Now where to begin. I suppose a theological discussion on the philosophy of beliefs would bore you… How about this. Let you, ask me, the questions that are on your mind, and I’ll ask you my own. We’ll see where we end up.”
“Alright,” Alan said. “What gods do you follow?”
“Why, I pray to any and all that will listen, and hope for the same thing every man prays for. A miracle. Now, my turn,” Void said. “What is your new AI’s name?”
Alan paused. Lambda?
This guy seems cool. I’m fine with him knowing my name. Names can be changed, Lambda sent.
Yes, if Void meant any harm he would have done something by now. Ask him about his relation to the Revenants, Eve sent.
“Lambda,” Alan answered. “Are you a part of the Revenants?”
“We are but remnants of the past, ghosts of a dead history that never passed,” Void said. “Who has touched your mind?”
“Name every entity that you know of that may have messed around with your head, or had the opportunity to,” Void said. “It’s a simple question, really.”
Maybe we should stop here, Eve sent.
Nah, this is getting interesting. This Void knows things, Lambda sent.
“No, I meant… Whatever, forget it,” Alan said. He gathered his thoughts. “The Administrators, some entity during the guild assessments, Phantom, and Cerberus.”
“And your AI’s,” Void said. “And any psychic you may have run into. We have one with us here, actually, among the healers. Not only can she manipulate memories, but she can oftentimes pick up errant surface thoughts. Obvious broadcasts, like the shouting between you and your AIs.”
“You can hear my thoughts?”
“Only a faded discord,” Void said. “A little songbird, hidden by layers of feathers, trying to arrange the nest, and a crow, dreaming of freedom as it feeds off the carcass of a giant. But others might hear more, you’d have to ask. Now onto the serious questions.”
Void leaned forward, staring into Alan’s eyes. “Who’s the fairest beauty of them all?”
Void’s palm collided with Alan’s cheek. It smarted, Alan raised his hand to feel his cheek, but he was wearing his power armor’s helmet. How did-
“Wrong!” Void shouted. “It is a question of feeling, not of thought. My first task for you, and your AIs, is to feel without thought.” Void then edged out of Alan’s awareness, departing the vehicle.
That was odd, Alan thought.
I think I may have begun to grasp Voids true capabilities, Eve sent.
Or that’s what he wants you to think, Lambda sent. I have a feeling Void is beyond comprehension, at least at this stage in the game.
Do you guys have any idea what Void wants us to do? Alan asked.
No fudging clue, Lambda sent.
It’s nonsense, Eve sent. I suggest we find a new rogue trainer once this expedition is complete.
The raid group came to a stop. They were nearing the first Control Point, the area that Alan had faced the Lord of the Abyss. It now took more than a few blows for the members of the raid group to defeat the enemies that appeared, but all of the defenses in the area remained unpowered.
Alan continued to gather experience, almost gaining another level. He cataloged the loot, keeping track of what was dropped and storing it in the empty crates they brought along. More than a few items caught his attention, but Alan refrained from getting too overexcited. The expedition had only just begun.
“Alright everyone,” Mason called out. “We are about to face a rank S boss, which means I need everyone to be at the top of their game. The scouts confirmed the guardian is a Predecessor, as we suspected. We hit them fast and hard, take them out before they take us out. Go all out from the start, avoid direct blows, kite pattern, you know the drill. Ready?”
Everyone nodded. Mason had Alan and the rest of the support members stay behind, guarding the convoy with two of Phantom’s specialists.
The rest of the raid moved forward. Alan could see the door way was still broken, the hole made by the Ancient Sentinels unfixed. The giant robots that had guarded this doorway, were nowhere to be seen.
Alan scanned the area. Nothing. Perhaps it was too energy intensive for the Warden to replace the sentries.
Mason charged forwards and burst through the doors into the boss room. Four tanks and Void flanked him, the rest of the raid members close behind.
In an instant a blur was on them. Alan activated hypercognition so he could follow along.
It was a Predecessor, but one Alan had never seen before. They were armed with a dark metal spear. The only part of it that was made of soulsteel was the very tip, but that tip proved to be all that was needed.
The Predecessor lunged forwards, and pierced straight through one of the forward tank’s armor, into their head. They fell to the floor dead.
The rest of the raid opened fire, a salvo of bright energy explosions that erupted with such force that the area of effect damage hurt a few of the forward raid members.
The Predecessor was pushed back. The onslaught didn’t stop, but the Predecessor wasn’t particularly injured and still had 84% health.
Mason shouted something, and a layered, hexagonal shield that looked like a honeycomb appeared, surrounding the raid. People began reloading as healers tended to those that had been hurt in the explosions.
None of the priests touched the fallen tank. Though there were revival abilities in the Game, they were super rare, S-class abilities that came at great cost.
The Predecessor charged forward again, and with a thrust of their spear shattered the shield into a million pieces. The spear continued to travel forwards, straight into another raid member.
Mason appeared behind the Predecessor, a green glow surrounding him. Alan recognized the ability as Sidestep’s blink, but faster. Mason also didn’t seem to need to take a step, or wear a special type of armor.
At will, Mason swung his war axe at the Predecessor from every angle, leaving a dozen afterimages all surrounding the Predecessor. Though Mason’s blade couldn’t penetrate the skin, the force of the blows seemed to have an effect. The Predecessor fell to 79% hp.
The rest of the raid was spreading out throughout the room, surrounding the Predecessor as they continued firing. The Predecessor dodged many of the blows, but Mason’s images followed, striking wherever they went.
The Predecessor eliminated another two damage dealers in the raid, and half of Mason’s mirror images, but fell to 70% hp.
Then the Predecessor turned, intent on taking down the plasma cannon wielding warrior, leaving his back exposed to one of Mason’s images. The image transformed into Void.
Void held in front of him a wooden staff, glowing with power and pointed at the Predecessor. The Predecessor stabbed forwards, unaware of the enemy behind him. An entire lightning channel erupted from Void’s staff, hundreds of interlaced lightning bolts so powerful they blinded even Alan’s eye implants for a moment.
The Predecessor staggered, their knee touched the ground. Their health was down to 40%, and the lightning bolts had been so hot that they had burned the shoulder of the Predecessor. They now clutched their spear with one hand as an acrid smell of burning metal filled the air.
The assault did not let up, as other abilities and weapons continued to be fired at the Predecessor. Mason’s images began glowing brighter, and then struck faster than Alan could follow, even with hypercognition active. Each image rained down thousands of blows each second, and, as far as Alan could tell, dealt individual damage.
The attacks centered on the Predecessors head, and the Predecessor soon fell to the floor, beaten senseless. Everyone continued firing at the Predecessor until it was killed. Then a loud cheer erupted from everyone as experience was distributed. Even Alan, who had done nothing but watch, gained four levels.
The images of Mason disappeared until only one remained. They let out a hearty roar and took the Predecessor’s spear into their hands.
“Well done everyone!” Mason shouted. “Get in here the rest of you, we’ll rest here for the night. I will hold onto the spear for the rest of this excavation, I’m sure that it will make things significantly easier.”
Alan deactivated hypercognition and led the supply train into the room. The other support members of the raid leapt into action, examining broken armor, building cots to hold the wounded, and setting up other devices in the room.
Void leaned over the dead Predecessor’s body. “The only other thing that dropped was a few vials of blood. We’ll store them for now.” He sent a glance at Alan.
Alan hurried over and took the vials out of Void’s hands. “About the blood-“
“Later,” Void said. He turned his eyes to the four dead members of the raid. “I have other matters to attend to.”
A specialist stepped forward, and approached the Control Point in the room. It was at the far end of the room, in front of a massive wall filled with metal cables that connected to a power generator. The barrel shaped power generator had ten slots, but only eight contained unpowered void crystals. Alan had previously removed the other two.
The specialist stepped onto the Control Point.