Chapter 57 – Affect

“You were right… I really don’t like this,  Ares.”

“Would you rather go to where the rats want us to go?”

“N-no… I guess not…”

“Then stop making so much noise… We’re almost there…”

Inching over the ground, Ares took careful note of the points on his proximity map. There were just three of them this time around. Perfect…

It was the smallest number of enemies he had seen, meaning it was the best point of attack for Ares.

“What if it goes wrong?” Rex asked from behind, his nervousness strangely comforting to Ares. He had thought all constructs would be like himself, disconnected from their erstwhile emotions. Although Ares had made strides in the right direction — and had at least one emotion he was fairly familiar with on this side — he still felt none of the emergency that Rex projected.

“Do you need my help, Ares?” Izzy asked, who was currently fastened onto Rex’ back using Ares’ simple tunic, making her look like an over-sized baby.

“It’s not going to go wrong, or — if it is — I’ll be the one to take the brunt of the damage,” Ares said, immediately shifting to Elvish and saying, “No, stay put.”

He could feel himself getting better at the language with every sentence he uttered. Being Seila’s servant had not afforded him a lot of opportunities to converse, but Izzy was a chatterbox of another dimension, reminding him of the assistant he had not yet heard from.

Both of his companions nodded their heads. One with reluctance; one with excitement. Ares was pretty sure nothing could make Izzy’s mood go sour.

“Are you ready?” He said, looking over his shoulder and receiving another two nods for his efforts. Counting down from three with his fingers, Ares rushed forward at the final count, launching himself into the midst of three enemies.

Rex followed closely behind, arms free to intercept any attack, but with orders to keep going no matter what happened.

The rats descended upon him with loud hisses, red eyes gleaming in the dark. This close to them, he could now feel the infection in their cores, his own infection resonating in tune with theirs at a primal and disturbing level.

With blades and whip, he fended off the first series of attacks, slicing up their strong legs and forcing them to crash into one another. He jumped over a tail-swipe, slashing out at the attacker in a counter and cutting half-way through the soft tail.

The enemy hissed and squeaked, retreating to allow the others to assist. Ares kept moving forward, forcing the opponents to the side and creating an opening for Rex to run through. Though the kertal was reluctant, he was still a construct. Moving at an impressive speed, Rex could evade the simplest of attacks and still make it forward.

He was inexperienced, though, and it shone through. Ares did his best to force the opponents to focus on himself, but a few attacks slipped through the cracks. At one point, a tail took away Rex’ legs, sending him sprawling to the ground.

Ares was at his side in an instant, doling out blades and strikes with his whip, burning away at his energy. His battle prowess had been growing steadily over the last week, along with experiences in the dungeon. Now he unleashed it all, holding off the three enemies as Rex got back on his feet and stumbled forward.

“Keep going,” Ares shouted over his shoulder, as he cut open the long face of one rat, “Don’t stop!”

Rex did as he was told, running without turning back. Ares kicked away one rat, throwing it onto its back, while he met the tail-swipe of another, throwing him backward. He hit the wall with his back first, growling at the pain shooting through his system.

“You little insects dare…?” he said, the surging anger within calling in tune with the resonance from the rats. In the back of his mind, he thought he heard a slight whisper calling to him.

>>…<<

Ignoring it, he overcame the urge to trample these creatures down into their proper place. He had already accomplished his goal. All three rats were in front of him, and his back was to Rex’s fleeing figure. Hissing, the rats seemed to have also figured out that they had been played.

With one last wave of his hand, Ares turned on the heels and sprinted after Rex, leaving the rats behind. They, of course, did not intend to let them go so easily. With loud screeches, they called out to anyone nearby.

They’re communicating the breach, Ares thought, allowing himself a look over his shoulder, We’ll have to hurry before they can box us in again.

Running for all he was worth, pushing his system to the limit, Ares followed after Rex. They soon arrived at a fork, and Ares called out which path to take: the one leading away from wherever the rats wanted them to go.

They made it down three forks before Ares detected an ambush out front. “We go back. Quickly!” He commanded, and Rex turned on a dime, retreating to where they came. They made it down the next-best passage for another two forks before an ambush was back in front.

Shit… They’re too fast. It was frustrating, seeing their efforts go to waste. They would have to break through another point. Giving the command, Rex steeled himself, as Ares led them into the fray. This time there were four enemies, and one of them managed to bite a chunk out of Ares’ side.

Growling in pain, he kicked the offending rat back, then turned and ran as fast as he could, following Rex who had already passed through. They could hear the sound of rats screeching in the background as they escaped.

They got another four forks down before an ambush had overtaken them once again. When Ares gave the command to stop, Rex turned on him and shook his head, “This isn’t working, Ares. They’re too many, and we’re not fast enough.”

Ares took another look at the map, gritting his teeth with the growing anger. Calm… calm… don’t let the anger get to you… no now, he thought, reigning himself in. It was no use being angry at this moment, it would not aid him.

“You’re right,” Ares agreed, studying the map closely. They had not gotten too away from the position where they had made their first breach, but it was still off the designated course. “We need to either be faster, or know exactly where the enemy is, and which passages they can block.”

Rex looked down at the map as well, his purple eyes flickering. “How’s your energy, Rex?” Ares asked, a little worried. If Rex could not continue, he would either have to leave him behind, or stay and defend their position against encroaching rats. Neither option was much to Ares’ liking.

“My energy? Oh! Oh… Erhm… I don’t suppose 10% is very good, is it?”

“No, it is not,” Ares agreed, checking his own. He had about 25% left, which would get him through about two more fights. With their current rate of progress, two fights would not be enough to get them out of the encirclement.

>>…<<

Ares twitched, his entire face screwing together in a sudden, involuntary reaction. “Did you say something?” He asked, but Rex just shook his head, looking at Ares with a worried expression.

“You know…” Izzy said, leaning over the side to look over Rex’ shoulder, “I’ve been meaning to ask you, Ares… What’s with your face?”

Blinking, Ares was confused for a bit, then raised his hand to his face and felt it.

“I mean, I don’t dislike it, but normally you’re as expressionless as a wooden board. I’m not sure I like that kind of face, though…”

His cheeks were stretched out taught. His eyes narrowed and gleeful. His smile was a bestial grin showing all of his teeth. Ares could not see it, but the red light from his markings gave the illusory impression that his white teeth were stained with fresh blood.

Rate of energy consumption has increased infection rate

  • Unit infection at 20%

New infection bonuses are available

  • Infection has increased basic module stats
    • Physical module
      • Strength +6
      • Agility +3
      • Speed +2
    • Processing module
      • Computation + 3
      • Response +2
      • Emulation +6

No, no, no, not yet… I won’t fall yet, Ares thought, desperate for anything to stave off the infection. Even with these bonuses, he knew it was a trap. A well-thought-out trap, perhaps, but a trap nonetheless.

He was stronger now, though. Maybe he could deal with the rats like this? He could eat them, regain his energy, and if he ate their cores as well, he could get more bonuses. He could get stronger… much, much stronger.

>>…ur…<<

Shaking his head, Ares dismissed the notion. No, he could not allow himself to go down that route. The descent would be far too rapid. He needed to get away from the current trap, away from the rats, and deal with the most important issue.

“Ares, are you alright?” Izzy asked, true worry on her face.

“Fine,” he said, dismissing the concern. Even if he was going to avoid the worst-case scenario, he would have to compromise if he wanted to get out of this situation. Finally resigning himself to walking the thin and narrow path, which seemed the only option at this point. Ares pointed towards the direction of the ambush.

“Once more time,” he said, “We try one more time. If it doesn’t work this time, I’ll fight them off as you run, until you’re either out or we’re all dead. Understood?”

Rex was wide-eyed, but he nodded. Giving Izzy the same instructions was a little more difficult, but he managed a reasonable description.

“Are you sure, Ares?” She asked, her voice quivering a little. Ares had thought she seemed incredibly unconcerned and collected during these events, but now he realized that all might have been a brave front from the small gnome.

“I’m sure,” he replied, knowing his twisted face did not suit the calming words. She nodded, and they prepared themselves for one more charge. With a sinking, artificial heart, Ares made his final adjustments. He was not entirely sure if this was a good idea, but he had to try.

They set off the moment he was ready, Rex following behind. Ares threw himself into the ambush, feeling a rush of excitement course through his electric veins with every swipe of his blade. He kicked one rat to the side, then launched his entire body into the next, forming a blade at the top of his head. Like a spear, he pierced through the rat’s chest, and it reeled backward with a scream.

Rex ran like the wind, and was soon the target of the next rat. Ares used his whip to the best of his ability, but he had been forced to remove [Whip Mastery] as his second skill. Without the skill aiding him, his aim was slightly off, but Ares brute-forced the issue, throwing himself into the fight with relish.

They punched through the ambush, Ares delivering one last blow to the closest rat before he turned and ran, following Rex. Sniffing, he immediately noted the position of the rats all around him. There so many, more than he could count.

At the next fork, rather than choosing the one leading the furthest away, Ares pointed to the one leading back in the direction the rats had wanted them to go.

“Are you sure?” Rex said, his breathing unlabored, although Ares could see the signs of exhaustion creeping into the kertal’s expression.

“Just do as you’re told,” Ares snapped, the anger encroaching upon his mind, playing tricks with his temperament.

>>…urn…<<

Rex made no further objection, but obeyed Ares’ command, throwing himself down the pathway only a few steps in front. Ares sniffed again, finding the enemy scrambling to account for their unexpected turn. The anger burned hotter. This was good.

They came to the next fork, and Ares once again led them down the pathway in the direction the rats had wanted. Sniffing, he found the enemy’s entire formation in tatters. The rats were smart, but they were trying to be too smart. Ares was going to teach them a lesson this time around.

At the second fork, he chose to go in the next-best direction, not exactly away from the rat’s target, but not entirely away from it either. They pushed through without opposition, and Ares kept sniffing the air, his wicked smile growing wider with every step.

One more move, one final nail in the coffin.

At the next fork, he turned back towards the worst direction, before he finally began moving away from the dreaded destination at the next two turns. A few more forks ahead, Ares was satisfied, and finally halted their advance.

“That was incredible!” Rex exclaimed, and Izzy concurred in Elvish. Ares was too busy to care about their excitement. He had taken a risk, but he just hoped it was not a risk that would doom him.

Skill name: [Stereo Olfactory]

  • Category: Infected, passive
    • Warning: using infected skills will increase the rate of infection

Integrating this skill into the unit structure, will allow the unit to smell in stereo, making it possible to define the positions of surrounding subjects from their smell alone

As quick as he could, Ares switched out the infected skill, mentally sighing with relief as he saw the infection rate stopping its rapid incline. Using this skill for the short time it had required to get away from the rats had cost him dear time.

“Hey look,” said Izzy, pointing further down the path ahead, “There’s something there! Light, I think.”

She was right. Down the path, the darkness retreated the slightest bit, allowing for a graying light to guide them forward.

“It might be another trap,” Rex said, concerned.

“We have no choice,” Ares said, moving forward with stiff movements. The anger within wanted to lash out at everyone and everything around him. It took all he had to resist it now. With gritted teeth he proceeded, Rex and Izzy, following behind.

The light grew stronger with every step, and soon the narrow passage was completely lit up by white light, allowing them to inspect their surroundings in detail. The source of the light revealed itself a few steps further in, when a white-tiled, circular space stood out from the surrounding rock like a sore thumb.

It looked exactly like the resting point they had briefly stopped by, in the dungeon’s topside; the resting point that had malfunctioned. Both Rex and Izzy made their relief known, however, Ares felt a very distinct sense of urgency.

There was something different about this resting point. Like the one top-side, a pedestal was mounted at the center of the tiled circle; unlike the one top-side, Ares felt an immense humming within this pedestal.

Maybe it was because he was infected this time around. Maybe it was already too late.

Infection rate has reached 30%

>>…BURN!..<<