Aurora sat in a pool of blood and stared at the screen, checking over the calculations and making sure that everything was correct. The Helios’s main weapon was a massive laser cannon, and the ship would soon be in range to fire a single full-power beam. Aurora hoped they would fire as soon as possible. She needed them to.
Aurora had ordered the first few floors of the base evacuated, but not for many of the reasons everyone else thought. There were details that no one else could be privy to. The next few moments would make or break everything. The Black Rose guild was Aurora’s family, her life, and she would do everything possible to make sure it came out of this ordeal intact.
The base had been storing energy for years, gathered in the four towers that stood at the corners of the central keep. Each year her mother would use a fraction of that power to cow new recruits into submission, and that was all that it had been used for recently. The casual use disguised the original intentions. It was a major wellspring of power, hundreds of thousands of points of energy. Power that could not be used lightly.
Every night the psionic corps would store a fraction of their power in the towers, while Elissandra, and lately Aurora, would store their blood here, in this room. Her mother liked to call it the ritual room.
According to all official schematics, there was nothing here. But it was here that Elissandra, and now Aurora, could gather the most power. The first two floors underground had been evacuated so that all of the walls, the energy, the solid matter, could surround this space to protect and hide Aurora. Hide what she had to do.
She didn’t expect there to be any threats from within the guild, but it was always hard to tell with family. Love always came with hidden costs.
The bodies were there, in the corner of Aurora’s eye. She couldn’t bring herself to look at them. They had been willing sacrifices, trained by Elissandra for this very role, to serve as fuel. This was only a game, and the power gained would make it all worthwhile. But they were still dead, and might never wake again.
Aurora would need to harness all of the energy, gather and focus it into one point, one construct. It would be a feat even her mother, the mighty Elissandra, would balk at. She needed to focus.
This was what Aurora had been raised for, the reason she focused on the element of ice. Years spent in frigid tundra and ice planet simulations would be made worthwhile. The shields covering the Black Rose guild base wouldn’t hold back the laser blast, but they would hide what was happening underneath.
Aurora took a deep breath, and then began.
Gas sprayed out from the four towers, covering the base with a fog designed for this moment. Aurora ignored the reddish tinge and froze the fog, creating a massive, smooth layer of ice above the keep, as cold and as thick as possible. Each layer of ice was created to exacting standards, angled perfectly based upon calculations that Helios would take the first available shot. The slab of ice was kept upright by four pillars that Aurora connected to the towers of the keep.
Energy tore through Aurora with abandon, too much for her to handle. But if she failed, the sacrifice would have been for nothing. She could not fail. Would not. Aurora stopped trying to draw energy from the blood essence that surrounded her and instead used it to direct the psionic energy in the four towers. Aurora blocked out everything else and focused on one thing: make it colder.
The air began to freeze, Aurora slipping in and out of consciousness as the temperature surrounding the base dropped, energy wasted as the environment tried to balance itself.
Then the Helios was in range, and it fired. A ray of light tore through the Black Rose shields and slammed into the ice. Three things happened.
First, the ice was vaporized. Part of the energy was absorbed, and it melted the ice. There was a limit to the amount of energy that could be stored, both in the keep and in the construct, before it began to decay at a faster rate than was input. Aurora’s own ability was also insufficient. Her mother would have done a better job.
Second, energy transmitted through the ice, turning the surface level of the base and surrounding islands into molten slag. The coliseum, the keep, the hangar, the power generators, all were destroyed in an instant, wiped off the map. Water evaporated, the once plummeting temperature suddenly skyrocketing in the other direction. The air itself in the wake of the laser seemed to be set ablaze. A portion of the laser’s power penetrated further into the base, but what it hit Aurora didn’t know.
Last, and most importantly of all, a large portion of the energy was reflected. The ice mirror had worked.
The Helios was caught unprepared. A massive, flaming hole was made in the ship, almost cutting it in two. Not only was the Helios’s shielding lowered so it could fire off the laser, but its heat sinks were already near capacity from firing the shot. The capital ship wasn’t quite cut in two, but it was finished, dead in the water and set on fire.
Aurora gained 400 levels for this singular act, and then collapsed.
Alan noticed a sudden shift in temperature, followed by a loud rumble as something happened above. He was kept safe, underground inside the middle of the base within power armor; surrounded by traps and a thousand guild members. There seemed to be little chance at seeing action in the next few hours.
A few notifications popped up about the surface level sensors, defenses, power generators, and communication towers being unavailable. They were now limited to planetside messaging. The Black Rose guild couldn’t contact Thrag even if they wanted to, and with their sensors down they had no idea what was happening in the space above.
Sidestep stood up. “I need to go. Aurora is in danger.”
“How do you know, what happened?” Alan asked.
“Class ability, don’t follow, you’ll be too slow,” Sidestep said, teleporting over to the door.
Alan opened a voice channel with Sidestep. “What is your class? The guild database has you down as some sort of bodyguard, but you told me that the last thing Aurora needs is a bodyguard.”
“Well, you see Alan, I’m sort of a bodyguard,” Sidestep replied. “And that’s what worries me. I’ll let you know what I find when I reach the surface.”
I checked the extinction event leader boards; Aurora is now in the top 1,000 universal players. To reach this threshold she’ll have needed to take out the capital ship, Lambda sent.
Well, it’s still early in the event, I can catch up. And if she did somehow destroy the Helios we might have an actual chance at defending this base, Alan sent.
Aurora didn’t respond to any of Alan’s communication attempts. A few squad commanders messaged Alan, asking about the chain of command and what was happening. Alan put them off temporarily.
“I’ve reached the surface and it’s fucking hot up here, my armor is barely holding up,” Sidestep said a few seconds later. “No sign of Aurora, though I can detect she’s still alive. Damn it. Looks like something wiped out the Helios, but the other ships made it and waves of dropships are on their way. It’s hard to tell, but it looks like two of the larger ships are ferrying survivors off of the capital-ship. We’ll have a bunch more company after the first wave.”
Sidestep connected to the general communications channel that reached all Black Rose guild members. “Ready up, we’ve got incoming! Defend this base and do your job. The Helios has been destroyed by Aurora, who has put me and Alan in charge. Direct any immediate concerns to Alan for now.”
Sidestep switched back to the direct channel with Alan. “Now, don’t fuck this up. I’ve never been much of a tactician, so you had better come through for me on this one. I’ll try to find and recover Aurora, wherever she is. Don’t lose the base in the meantime.”
“I’ll do my best,” Alan said as a wave of messages appeared before him:
[You have been granted partial control of the Black Rose guild base. You are now able to configure the base and view a more detailed layout, as well as control base defenses to a greater degree.]
[You have been granted the position of raid sub-leader, Knight-Commander (temporary). Your group currently possesses 1 General, 2 Knight-Commanders, 20 Knights, 245 Lieutenants, and 739 General Staff. 1007 total members in the raid group.]
[The majority of Black Rose guild rooms, equipment, and items have been unlocked for your use. Access codes uploaded.]
[Black Rose guild reputation increased to Trusted.]
Alan checked in with all the Knights in the base, and then had them check in with their subordinates. The Knights had an average level of around 2250, the Lieutenants 1750, and the General Staff 1400. However, only 30% of the raid had actual combat classes, the rest being staff that usually filled other roles. The guild members, for the most part, had a combat ranking of B or C, while Alan had one of A. Lambda listed Sidestep as a B+ combat ranking and Aurora as a question mark. They were the other Knight-Commander and General in the group.
The psionic corps was missing. They had last been seen reporting to Aurora. Everyone else seemed to be fine, if a little rattled. Alan had them hold position for now; the Knights were spread out four to a floor on the upper floors, with a single knight on the bottom four floors. The rest of the raid was similarly distributed.
First thing we need is information, Lambda sent. We need sensors repaired or new ones set up, maybe even scouts on the surface. Turtling up will only get us so far. We need to hit fast and hard when optimal. Remember my lessons, whoever gets the first shot lined up will win most confrontations.
Alan agreed with Lambda, so he sent out a wave of 25 scouts and began restructuring the base’s defense such that it was more heavily concentrated on what had once been the third floor, but was now effectively the top floor of the base.
There didn’t seem to be a reason for Alan to stay in this empty chamber underground; he could maintain a solid connection to the guild’s Cyberspace and base defenses with his Machine Lord implant from anywhere within the base, even the surface. His bionic eye implants would also help him serve as a scout. Plus, no one could stop him from grinding out a few levels.
A message stopped Alan as he was about to leave the room.
“A Predecessor has been spotted in the Abyss Labyrinth,” a Lieutenant said.
An image was forwarded to Alan, sent from a camera that had been set up. This was where it was suspected the upper echelon of the Black Rose would emerge from. Instead, Alan saw a picture of a familiar face. Seeker. What were they doing here?
Seeker was stopped by a handful of recruits that had been positioned as a token force. The underground tunnels of the Abyss Labyrinth led up into the Black Rose guild base, after all, but it was miles underground.
Alan listened in to their conversation through a communications channel.
“Halt, what is it that you want?” the recruit asked.
“I want answers and the truth. Today I seek vengeance on behalf of another, and a missing AI,” Seeker said. “I look for the player known as Alan, and when I have what I need, I will be paid twofold for his head.”
Well, this complicates matters, Lambda sent.