LOG: Kill Squad - Chapter 34 - Sylvetia (2024)

Chapter Text

Day 42

I’m going to have everyone collect some energy before engaging Gebura, enough to pay some Rabbits to injure her a bit.”

That was the message X sent to Mason before ordering him to work with Judgement Bird in lower Central Command. Compared to WhiteNight, the PALE damage it inflicted from judging Mason was paltry.

“Why do you hate me so much, anyway?” Mason asked as he finished sweeping its feathers into a pile. Judgement Bird craned its neck in his direction. The gilded balance swaying on its neck threatened to tip in its favor. “Alright, alright, I’ll shut up. If only donning your E.G.O. did me any good with you.”

Afterward, he made it up to the second floor before a facility-wide Qliphoth Meltdown alarm rang out. Due to his proximity with the unit, he was assigned Instinct work with Big Bird.

“Okay, big boy.” He carried a bucket full of meat into the unit. Big Bird sat up when he set the bucket down, crowing happily.

His gloved hands picked up a slab of raw meat. He tossed it into Big Bird’s gaping maw, which snapped shut over the food. A few seconds of chewing later, and it opened its beak for more. They cleared out the bucket in less than a minute. He scratched Big Bird to sleep before leaving the unit to wash his hands.

He returned to Control. While waiting to be called for Gebura’s suppression, Mason slid his coat off and sat at his desk. He held the coat in his right hand while the fingers on his left pinched and prodded the fabric beneath the collar of feathers. To an outsider, it appeared as though he was cleaning dirt or plucking hair out.

However, Mason was searching for something else. And after five straight loops of searching, he finally found what he was looking for. He dug his nail into the right side of the collar until it came out, and he held up his treasure to the light. Pinched between his fingers was a tiny microchip barely visible to the naked eye. He knew in his gut that he had found it: this was the employee disposal protocol implanted into every E.G.O. suit. The protocol was also in his ID card, but finding the chip in his E.G.O. at least gave him some peace of mind.

Mason flicked the chip into the trash bin.

“All Agents equipped with ALEPH gear, report to the eastern corridor in upper Central Command.”

In a few minutes, everyone assembled outside of Gebura’s room. Since Adam was wearing Paradise Lost, Gold Rush had been reassigned to Daniel. His eyes glimmered at the gauntlet over his fist, utterly transfixed by its luster. “It’s so shiny!”

Mason snapped his fingers in front of the surgeon. “Pay attention, you’re about to fight.”

“It’ll be okay, just let him get used to it first.” He felt a hand land on his shoulder, and his first instinct was to squirm away. Behind him, he found Adam retracting his arm, flinching in surprise.

“Don’t touch people without permission,” Mason hissed.

Adam pursed his lips. Mason could’ve swore he saw the snake on his weapon flick its tongue. “Gold Rush is a particularly strong E.G.O., I would know.”

“Gentlemen, it’s alright!” Daniel interrupted, physically cutting in between them. “I am not offended. Both of you, thank you for your concern!”

Leesihan, who was leaning against the wall, scoffed. “Like hell Mason’s concerned for anyone."

“Well, he’s always been particular about making sure people are ready for suppression,” Adam said. “Right, Mason?”

But Louis, Adam’s trusted captain, came beside him, shaking her head. “I’m afraid I must disagree. The Control Team Captain’s concern for employees only stems from a utilitarian standpoint. It would be far less efficient for the corporation to let people die than it is to save employees that could become seasoned Agents.”

“Since when did I say that?” Mason snapped.

“You haven’t, but you know it’s true.”

Odelie interjected. “So what if that’s the reason why? That’s still saving lives! And Mason’s not as heartless as you’re making him out to be. Did you know that he saved me once? An Agent possessed by Red Shoes tried to kill me, but he fended her off. He taught Christopher and me the ropes to make sure something like that never happened again!”

“Then why was it only the two of you who received such treatment?” Louis countered. “Roberta is his subordinate, yet she has only experienced his scoldings. She tells me that she fears her captain. Care to explain, Mason?”

Their pockets buzzed, the signal to engage Gebura.

Mason knew the answer. He only helped Odelie out of begrudging respect for being the Agent he knew the longest. He ignored Louis’s provocation and started toward Disciplinary. “We’re going in.”

“Hey, since when were you the leader of this squad?” Leesihan complained. Taengtaeng nodded beside her, hoisting her sniper rifle off her back.

Griffin added his own two cents. “Personally, as long as his orders get the job done, I can’t really complain.” He slid a cold glare over to Mason. “But only if.”

Mason brushed off his threat. “Guess that means you agree that I am the leader of this squad, then.”

“Hmph, touche.”

After revealing her ALEPH weapons, Gebura eviscerated enough Clerks that both Army in Black and the Mountain breached. The manager sent Adam to take care of the Mountain, while the rest of them went after the scattered Army instances. Currently, Big Bird was breaching, but X deemed the WAW a low priority threat, meaning they were ignoring it for now.

Speaking of Adam, Paradise Lost was powerful. Ridiculously powerful.

With both hands gripping the staff, Adam slammed it to the ground. On the other side of Training’s Main Room, scarlet lances erupted from the floor, piercing Gebura’s body from all different angles. She was already riddled with holes and gashes from previous attacks. With her limbs immobilized, Mimicry and Da Capo had been rendered useless.

Gebura grunted. Before she ripped her arms free, the Agents assailed her with a combination of Sounds, a sniper round, acid, two swords, a hammer, a scythe, and a fist.

The spears sank into the floor. Gebura dropped to one knee, exhausted.

“We’re heading downstairs!” Mason barked. Odelie, Adam, Griffin, Genie, and Daniel had enough sense to follow him, but Leesihan, Taengtaeng, and Louis refused to leave.

“Captain, why aren’t you leaving?” Adam asked Louis, but it was Leesihan who responded first.

“Why the hell should we? She’s almost down, kill her before she recovers!” She swung her arm out, lobbing her three Sounds at Gebura’s head.

“Just ignore them,” Mason told Adam. The six of them went into the staircase beside the elevator and began heading down. Odelie was the farthest down the stairs, but before she made it to the bottom floor, they heard Louis let out a piercing scream, followed by rushing wind.

“Figures,” Mason muttered. “Everyone, back to Training!”

“What is going on?” Griffin asked while hiking it back up the stairs. “You tell us to flee, and now we’re going back in?”

Mason could explain that it was because Gebura threw Da Capo from here to Safety, dealing enough WHITE damage to drive Louis insane, but then Griffin would ask why he knew this. Mason ignored him, and the man let out an exasperated sigh.

“Warning: Abnormality O-02-56 has breached—warning: WAW-class Judgement Bird has breached containment. Immediate suppression is advised.” The two breaches happened so quickly that they cut off the automated voice in its own sentence.

For all of Mason’s experience, he was terrible at identifying classification codes. Which Abnormality was breaching? And on that note, why was Judgement Bird breaching, too?

“Wait,” the manager said, “you six outside of Training. Stay there.”

Although they remained outside in the Information corridor, they took a peek inside of Training. Mason delighted in watching Leesihan dance through both Gebura’s attacks and Louis lobbing acid at her. The latter was proclaiming that this murder would be her final act of clemency before putting an end to herself. Meanwhile, Leesihan was yelling at Taengtaeng to, “f*cking shoot her already!” When enough Sound blasts and sniper rounds finally cured Louis of her panic, the manager hastily ordered them out of the room. The three skirted into the hall, Smile’s vomit acid on their heels.

Immediately, orange light swept across the door. It projected the image of a rabbit’s face wearing a gas mask.

Griffin rested Smile’s head against the floor, gesturing his hand to the projection. “Okay, what’s going on now?”

Odelie gasped. “That’s the Rabbit Team! They’re mercenaries from R Corp. I overheard Geb complaining about them one time. Something about their unit’s leader, Myo, being a pain in the butt? I don’t know, I didn’t get to eavesdrop for very long before I got found out. That symbol means they’ve put a sealed barrier around Training so that nothing can get out. But Geb has portals, so.” She shrugged.

Mason chimed in. “L Corp is contracted with R Corp. We send R Corp a fresh supply of energy, and in return, branches are allowed to use their Rabbits. Only large facilities are contracted to use their services, however, and the cost scales with size. I think at this point, it costs roughly three hundred and fifty PE boxes to call them here, and even then, the manager can only do so once a day.”

“Three hundred and fifty PE boxes?!” Odelie cried. “That’s, like, a quarter of our daily quota!”

The cost was expensive, but not without reason. During one of the few loops where the manager gained permission to call the Rabbit Team, Mason watched the Rabbits eliminate Nothing There through the CCTV. They made short work of the ALEPH that had given him so much grief in past loops. He had absolute faith in their ability to take Gebura down a notch or two before she used Gold Rush to escape.

The door to the staircase was left ajar. Above the bombastic gunfire coming from inside Training, Mason heard soft flapping coming from the stairs. Was something there? Before he could investigate, Punishing Bird zipped through the doorway. It flew over the suppression team and fluttered down the purple corridor.

Punishing Bird was not in this facility yesterday.

“Isn’t that one of the breaching Abnos?” Odelie asked, drawing Mimicry. “Where’s it going?”

“That Abno just came into Extraction this morning,” Griffin said. “It’s not dangerous. Don’t waste your time on it.”

It was at that moment when a loud thump rattled the department. The lights flickered, then went out. In the darkness, some of their E.G.O. gave off a subtle glow. There were blue hearts floating from Leesihan’s chest and orbs, a golden shimmer from Daniel’s gauntlet, and warm pink from Louis’s slime. The last of the three sloshed the contents of her jug warily.

“Big Bird is here,” Louis said. “Why is it so fast?” Big Bird’s apparent jog was jostling the corridor like an earthquake.

At the end of the hall, the door opened for Punishing Bird. They didn’t find the typical purple and blue glows from Information’s Main Room, but rather, reds and yellows. They colors of foreboding. Of danger. Colors of—

“The portal,” Mason whispered, eyes widening, heart hammering in his chest. The Three Birds were breaching, converging on the entrance to their home, the Black Forest. He knew the portal was inside, it had to be. The entrance was the biggest hint as to how he gained awareness of the resets. After 86 loops, more than 10 years of endless repetition, he could finally learn why he was being made to suffer! Without warning, he raced past the team.

“Wait, Mason!” Odelie cried. Footsteps padded after him. He ignored them and continued dashing down the hall. The fastest Agent in the entire facility, he reached the Main Room before the others were even halfway across.

There it was. A far cry from the futuristic tech that surrounded it, the portal towered over everything in the room. Two burnt trees the color of charcoal joined their branches together. A vibrant yellow glow hummed along the edges of those slender branches, their claw-shaped tips dipped in sanguine. Above the entrance, a painting depicted a bandaged eye with two wings carrying a balance. Below that, the portal to a different realm took the appearance of a black shadow darker than any nightmare.

Punishing Bird fluttered through the darkness of the portal and disappeared. Mason tried to follow after it, but when his hand touched the portal, it was as if the shadows solidified into a physical wall, repelling him. He slammed his fists against the wall, but to no avail. “Let me in, dammit! Why won’t you let me in?”

Amidst the unyielding darkness, a ring of incandescent yellow blazed to life, blinding Mason. He stumbled backwards, but someone caught him.

“Mason, we have to get out of here!” Odelie yelled into his ear. “Everyone’s going to the Control Department. Manager’s orders!” She tried to lead him by the arm, but he wrenched it away from her.

“f*ck’s sake, don’t touch me! What’s everyone going to Control for? We need to eliminate these birds and their cursed portal!” He drew Justitia and lunged at one of the trees. His heavy swing bounced off. Baffled, he tried again. Each blow failed to muster even a single blue spark.

The earth shuddered beneath his feet as heavy thuds encroached upon him. Light fixtures rattled. The door leading to Safety opened, and Big Bird squeezed its massive body through the entrance.

“Ugh, I’m getting out of here!” Odelie fled the room, leaving him to deal with Big Bird alone. No matter, suppressing Big Bird was something he had done hundreds of times. All he needed to do was cut the beast down as it slowly walked.

However, he forgot that it wasn’t walking. As if enthralled by the portal’s existence, Big Bird had forgone its leisurely gait and powered forward like a bull, mouth opening to rows upon rows of deadly teeth. Mason strafed to the side, but Big Bird twisted its head, snapping its beak over his flank. He collapsed with a shout, tears welling up from the pain of having his flesh stabbed and ripped out.

Big Bird came to a halt, digging its talons into the floor, before pivoting to the portal. The moment it entered, a flash of light swallowed the room. There was now a giant red ring flickering inside of the yellow.

Mason pushed himself onto two feet, hugging his right side. Blood seeped between his fingers. If this was a repeat of the event Hokma had told him about all those loops ago, then Judgement Bird was coming. He wouldn’t be able to suppress it in his current state. He resigned himself to assessing the situation with the CCTV.

He hobbled into Control. Everyone was already there, staring at the wall of monitors streaming the Training Department. “Status report.”

“Gebura is still fighting the Rabbits,” Odelie said. “What happened to Big Bird?”

“It went through the portal, along with that small bird.”

Taengtaeng was fiddling with the controls to the feeds. “If I just crank that knob, and flick this lever—I got it!”

Before Mason could take over, she successfully switched the streams to Information’s Main Room. A small part of him marveled at how quickly she mastered the controls, something that took him days, and envied her genius.

Like Big Bird, Judgement Bird was racing through the corridors at a breakneck pace. It was a miracle the balance on its neck hadn’t fallen off. Its stilt-like legs breezed through the doorway into Information and ran into the portal.

The lights went out. The portal’s, the Control Department’s, all of them. The entire facility was plunged into complete darkness.

As Mason’s eyes adjusted to the light, he watched through the night vision cameras as the portal transformed. The trees and painting melted together into one giant, amorphous blob like liquid shadow. Two wings burst from the blob, followed by a pair of angular limbs, the ends of which unfurled into massive talons. They struck the floor with a harsh noise.

A single eye opened on one wing, a citrine jewel carved into the shape of an oval. Another eye opened. Then another eye, and another, until a hundred dazzling jewels stared back at the Agents. Suddenly, Mason had the feeling that it wasn’t them who were monitoring the thing, but that the thing was monitoring them.

A storm of scarlet and amber light blazed around the shadow, engulfing the screen. When the light faded, the thing was gone.

Where did it go? Whatever it was, that was no mere creature. It was a monster made up of three other monsters. An Abnormality made of Abnormalities.

Mason shoved his way to the front of the group, pushed Taengtaeng away from the control panel, and surfed through the cameras until he found what he was looking for. The other Agents were too shocked by what they witnessed to protest his actions.

In the Training Department, beneath flickering lights, the Rabbits donning their umber armor and rabbit-eared masks were battling Gebura when the storm that enveloped Information appeared. She took advantage of the distraction to slam Smile over a Rabbit’s head, crushing them to the ground, before turning to see what the fuss was.

She found a behemoth dominating the space. It opened its mouth, thick flaps of flesh expanding outward from an endless tunnel of teeth. The beast roared. Within the darkness of the Control Department, the sound vibrated through Mason’s bones. It shook him to his very core, and he felt weak in the knees. He felt scared.

Arms wrapped in soiled bandages, the beast lifted its talons toward the ceiling. Gebura was already in the process of evading. The Rabbits were slower to react, but to give them credit, everyone moved sluggishly in comparison to the Red Mist. In an instant, the talons slammed the ground, sending tremors that shook the facility from Control all the way to Atziluth. Any Rabbit that failed to dodge was reduced to red paste.

Gebura wielded Smile and Justitia at the beast. “An Abnormality? You will die like the rest of them.”

She darted forward, striking her hammer and sword against the Abnormality’s talons with the same strength she used to obliterate that rabbit. The Abnormality did not so much as budge. It lifted its talons with ease, preparing the same simple attack of crushing anything underfoot. A tremor, and another handful of Rabbits turned into scarlet paint dripping from its claws.

The beast tucked its arms and its wings in, summoning the light storm for cover, and it was gone.

Gebura rearmed herself with Gold Rush. “Where did you go? I’ll crush you!” Rabbits dived out of her path as she sped through a portal. Her usual rampage through the facility had transformed into a frantic search for the beast.

Mason, too, was searching for the Abnormality when he spotted something strange. In one of Welfare’s rooms, there was a black egg covered in sparkling eyes. When he switched the feed to Extraction, he found another egg, this one covered in clean bandages. Two blood-tipped feathers like the ones found on Judgement Bird’s head stuck out on either side like ears.

The beast roared again, though this time, the sound was farther away. Mason located the Abnormality in Records.

Taking the time to recollect himself, he focused his senses back to the present. His heart was thundering in his rib cage, intensifying the pain in his side, and his hands were shaking over the controls. He was inhaling a deep breath when he heard a squelching noise.

He turned around. The rest of the Agents did the same. In the center of the room, a white egg with baby blue spots rattled from side to side. Fleshy tendrils waved about from the gaping orifice in the middle.

Mason went up to the egg. He placed his palm against it. Life pulsated beneath its shell.

In one smooth motion, he took out Justitia and sliced it. A few small cracks formed.

The tremors stopped. The facility went quiet.

A storm of light lit up the room.

The beast’s head was a patchwork of red skin sewn together. It craned its spindly neck toward the ceiling, glowering at the intruders with a single amber eye that burned with unbridled wrath. The last thing he heard before its mouth swallowed them was a voice made of three harmonies.


Day 42 – Attempt 2 (Morning)

“We’re not fighting that thing,” Mason argued. “We don’t even need to! We have Paradise Lost already!”

In the manager’s sleek, bare bones office, X procured a Codex entry for an Abnormality they had never worked with before. Apparently, Hokma sent it to X after he inquired the Sephirah about it.

The Abnormality was called Apocalypse Bird, a fusion of Punishing Bird, Big Bird, and Judgement Bird. If only two of the three birds breached, the third would automatically breach as well, and a portal would spawn anywhere in the facility, also known as the Entrance to the Black Forest. Once the three passed through the Entrance, Apocalypse Bird would take their place. Not only did the Abnormality harbor all of their abilities, but it gained a powerful body that was invulnerable to any source of damage.

There was a glint in the manager’s eyes. “Remember that egg you attacked? It was really protective of it. I think breaking those eggs is the key to killing it.”

This manager’s avarice knew no bounds. Mason’s cheeks burned. Indescribable rage bubbled up inside his chest. “The egg that I attacked, that got me and everyone in the same room as me killed? Yes, of course I remember that egg, how could I not if it’s the reason why I got crushed by a thousand teeth?”

Finally, it seemed that X had reached his limit with him. “You can tone down the sass, Agent.”

“Then give me a reason to! We don’t need whatever super weapon Apocalypse Bird might shed, assuming it even has an E.G.O. Seriously, you can’t just assume these things even if you have the TT2 Protocol! Your priority is to germinate the Seed of Light by completing the Core Suppressions, and you’re more than halfway done with that. You could end the cycle in this loop if you just focused on that!”

“Yes, but,” X said, and Mason felt his blood boil, “I’ll get to her Core Suppression eventually. I haven’t forgotten my priorities, and we have all the time in the world. You know what’s a better way to guarantee victory than to have one super weapon? Two of them. Even if Apocalypse Bird doesn’t have an E.G.O., it’s not like we’re on a deadline. Technically speaking, we have everything to gain, and nothing to lose.”

Nothing to lose? What about my patience? That reminds me, who killed WhiteNight? Who acted as your tactician through Malkuth’s, Yesod’s, Hod’s, Netzach’s, and Tiphereth’s Core Suppressions? Who personally instructed you through every f*cking Abnormality this facility had to offer? Your head is so far up your greedy, insufferable asshole that you would’ve gotten nowhere if I wasn’t here to guide you through the challenges that your predecessor set up.

He held many more thoughts than that, all of which he’d like to say out loud, but for the sake of not receiving an execution bullet as soon as the day started, he swallowed them. “Alright, fine. Let’s suppress Apocalypse Bird because the almighty manager wants us to do it. What’s your idea, crack all the eggs open and make scrambled eggs with them?”

“Yes, pretty much. Apocalypse Bird has no reason to be protective of them unless they mattered. I doubt the actual suppression will be that simple, however.” X sighed, loosening his shoulders. “I know that you’re upset, especially after I gave Paradise Lost to Adam, which, yes, you technically deserved. I’ll make it up to you— whatever E.G.O. Apocalypse Bird has, you’ll get it. Does that sound fair?”

He still would rather they focused on the Core Suppressions instead, but at this point, he gave up on trying to change X’s mind. At least the manager cared enough to try to appease him. “Fine, but why did you give Paradise Lost to Adam and not me?”

“Why would I give WhiteNight’s E.G.O. to the Heretic? Isn’t that counterproductive? You’d be having disagreements with your E.G.O. every minute. The First Apostle sounds like a much better choice, if you ask me.”

“Fair enough.” If Mason had to deal with WhiteNight’s voice whispering to him for an entire day straight, he might go into murder panic again. But even without Paradise Lost, the manager was pushing him to his breaking point.

X watched Mason leave his office. He slumped into his backrest, head bent over his shoulder. Angela remained in the corner, having not said a word since the Agent walked in. He swiveled around on his chair. Facing his monitor, his eyes slid to the bottom right corner of the screen, where he counted the minutes on his digital clock until work started.

Mason couldn’t know that he was stalling. Guilt from witnessing the memories of Gebura’s past dug into the wounds left behind by other Sephirah Meltdowns. He didn’t know if he could muster the courage to face that pain another three times with Chesed, Binah, and Hokma. He would rather come up with every excuse to abuse the Memory Repository before facing that guilt again. Maybe that was why the original Ayin devised the time loop as a means of penitence. He knew himself too well.

X couldn’t keep up this charade forever. At one point, Mason looked close to hurling every insult in the dictionary at him. X deserved to hear it for putting a fellow human through such torment, and for reducing the lives of his employees to mere tools. Even so, he was still going to make them fight the Apocalypse Bird. He would rather have the satisfaction of slaying monsters he could see, as opposed to the ones that lived inside him.

Day 42 – Attempt 11

What did Mason expect, that they were going to finish this suppression in a couple of tries?

They repeated a simple ritual for summoning Apocalypse Bird. Mason would agitate Judgement Bird by repeating Repression work until it breached. By the time it did, Punishing Bird, which was prone to breaching on its own, would already be roaming the facility. The presence of the two birds would trigger Big Bird to burst out of containment. The Entrance would appear in a random department, and all Agents were ordered to stand by as the three birds combined into one. The moment X told everyone where each egg awaited, it was showtime.

Judgement Bird’s egg was dubbed Long Arms, Big Bird’s egg was Big Eyes, and Punishing Bird’s egg was Small Beak. According to X, Long Arms was so powerful that it meddled with his ability to manage the facility. It was also capable of healing any damage to its shell by absorbing PALE damage.

While the rest of the facility was wailing away at Long Arms in Information, Mason was on his lonesome in lower Disciplinary to put a dent in Big Eyes. Adam was stationed in Records to watch over the Mountain’s unit, as X deemed that a larger priority than having him begin to chip away at Small Beak in Extraction.

Mason wondered how the main group was faring.

“Keep hitting it!” Leesihan bellowed. “Crack that son of a bitch until we’re slipping on yolk!”

The stubborn egg refused to yield. Despite the number of projectiles, blades, and blunt force they were raining on Long Arms, its bandages were hardly torn. The entire facility, sans two Agents, wailing on this egg! Why wasn’t it dying?

Taengtaeng was openly sniping the egg on a desk beside Leesihan. For some reason, she lifted her head from the scope, scanning the room in confusion.

“Taengtaeng, what’s up?” Leesihan asked. She flicked her wrist, hurling her Sounds at the stupid egg once more.

“Odelie, Evangeline, and Rogun are missing.”

She clicked her tongue. “I swear I saw Rogun smacking that thing with his rifle a minute ago. Where are they now?”

Taengtaeng turned left to the computer on her desk. It displayed a two-dimensional map of the facility that tracked everyone’s locations. “They seem to be hypnotized. Heading to Apocalypse Bird in lower Disciplinary.” Where Big Eyes and Mason were. As much as she hated the guy, it would be a major setback if he died now.

Before Leesihan could comment, the intercom announced that Army in Black had breached. She was aware of the Qliphoth Meltdowns happening around the facility as a result of the mighty Apocalypse Bird destabilizing the Qliphoth Deterrence. Handing out orders to take care of Meltdowns was the manager’s job, which meant he was failing at it!

“Where are the instances?” she demanded.

Taengtaeng rattled off their locations. “One in lower Training, one in upper C.C., one in upper Control, and one in lower Info.”

She waited for the orders to suppress Army, but they never came. The next time her Sounds returned to her, she slammed them against the floor. They let off a loud ping that pulled the room’s attention to her. “Everyone, listen up! Captains will lead squads of three against each instance of Army. Louis, Yoon-hoo, and Genie, go to Control. Corbinian, Finn, and Amaea to Training. Loki, Pansy, and Daniel, Central Command. Taengtaeng, Christopher, downstairs with me. Griffin, watch over the rest. If anyone has any concerns, state them now!”

Nobody raised their voice.

“Then go!”

As heels pounded for the exits, the room lit up in a whirlwind of yellow and red. Everyone froze, wide-eyed and pale at the ginormous beast taking up half the room. It lowered its head over its precious egg. Splayed wings pressed against the ceiling, a night sky filled with hypnotic stars. Apocalypse Bird raised its bloody talons, and a tiny, gilded balance materialized in the air.

“Everyone, get out!” she ordered. “Move—hurk!”

A gentle sound like a small bell rang out and hammered her with PALE damage She nearly tripped on her feet. Agents doubled over or collapsed on to their knees, choking and gasping. However, no sooner did the attack happen than the stampede resumed, with captains crying orders to book it out of the room. The last to leave, Leesihan turned around behind the doorway to make sure no one was left inside.

There was one person. Christopher stood paralyzed with his back facing her, eyes glued to the ceiling. She flung a Sound past him. As Apocalypse Bird’s claws began to descend, the orb made a U-turn into Christopher’s stomach, rocketing him through the doorway. He flew past her, screaming, and the corridor trembled from the beast’s stomp.

He tumbled across the floor as her Sound flew back to her. Agents lining the corridor watched her storm up to Christopher and thrust her hand down, only to help him off the floor. “Are you okay? What were you doing?”

He coughed in pain. “Sorry, I-I stared at an eye for too long!”

“Sure you did. Next time you’re afraid, don’t just stand there. It’s a miracle you’re still captain if you’re so scared of everything.” She curled her lip. “Now, come, we still have an Army to suppress.”

They heard a whooshing noise, and Apocalypse Bird was gone. The Agents in the hallway filed back into the room while Leesihan, Taengtaeng and Christopher forged onward.

They had taken so long that their instance of Army in Black was phasing through the elevator doors to their level. The little soldier inside of his floating, ashen heart stood to attention. With hollow eyes, he saluted the three, causing a tidal wave of black hearts to rise from the floor.

Leesihan hissed. Pain like burning acid set her legs alight. Her knees buckled, but she was used to worse. She swung her Sounds at the soldier and watched them bounce off his translucent heart.

“Taengtaeng, shoot it.”


Taengtaeng fired a round at his chest, piercing the heart-shaped shield. Black smoke escaped the bullet hole and billowed into the corridor, obscuring the soldier.

“Christopher, think you can navigate that?”

“I can!”

Christopher stoked the flame in his Lamp. He ventured into the smoke. Several loud, metallic impacts rattled her skull. The smoke vanished, and a soldier wrapped in the skin of a deflated heart laid dead on the floor.

“Good job. Let’s head back.”

They were the first trio to return. Among the Agents that had stayed behind to assault Long Arms, Rogun and Evangeline had rejoined them.

“Where’s Odelie?” Leesihan asked. The two had no idea.

Taengtaeng checked her computer. “Odelie is in upper Disciplinary. She had a Repression work order with Melting Love on her way back. The Qliphoth Counter will drop from two to one after this.”

“Oh, for f*ck’s sake, that thing better not Meltdown a third time.” Leesihan fixed her gaze back on the egg. “Let’s break that bitch open before it does.”

“Warning: ALEPH-class Mountain of Smiling Bodies has breached containment. Immediate suppression is advised.”

And immediate suppression would occur because nothing got past Adam, not while he was wearing Paradise Lost. The outcome had already been decided.

“Attention: the Mountain of Smiling Bodies has been returned to containment—”

Mason couldn’t hear the rest of the announcement over him thwacking Big Eyes.

He was mildly surprised when the manager proclaimed that Long Arms had been suppressed and Agents should check their devices for which egg to attack next. This was only the second attempt where they succeeded in breaking Long Arms. The last time that happened, the manager screwed up by missing a Meltdown on Blue Star’s unit, starting a chain reaction that wiped out three-quarters of the facility.

Before long, an army of Agents wielding RED damage E.G.O. weapons entered the room. They joined him in pummeling Big Eyes. Odelie took the position to Mason’s left and walloped the egg with Mimicry.

“WHITE team’s gone down to Extraction,” she told him. “The manager said you did so much damage to Big Eyes that he thought they should get a head start on Small Beak.”

Mason grunted in response. He was about to swing his sword down when the floor screeched, and a dozen spears erupted through the egg. The pointed tip of one such spear stopped an inch from Mason’s chin.

Enraged, he whirled around to find Adam, hand over his mouth, looking mortified. “Sorry!” The spears retracted. Despite the numerous holes they made in Big Eyes, the damage was minimal.

Adam walked up next to Mason. He slid the palm of his hand up his staff’s apple. The thorny halo glowed, and a crimson blade grew from its center, held aloft by faux divine power. He copied Mason’s technique, raising the blade over his head before chopping downward. The resulting crack was louder than anything Mason had produced.

“I don’t agree with what my captain said about you,” Adam said as he lifted his staff again. Mason could barely hear him over the weapons and projectiles hitting Big Eyes. “I think you do care about us, in your own weird way. You’re just bad at showing it.”

Mason paused. What was Adam talking about? Louis hadn’t said anything to him this attempt. “Did your captain say something about me this morning?”

“Oh, I don’t mean anything that happened today today, I meant the today of ten days ago. Remember when she said you only care about saving people because it’s more cost-efficient?”

His heart thumped. Mason’s eyes widened. Was he hearing this right? “Since when did you know about the—?”

“Circles? His power granted me the ability to experience time the way you do, and it's explained a lot about the way you act. You’re determined to get out of here, but I’m content with simply letting the Lord guide my way.”

Mason shouldn’t have been surprised Paradise Lost granted Adam the ability to remember the resets, what with WhiteNight’s memories of previous loops. What Mason didn’t know was whether this was an effect of Paradise Lost as an E.G.O., or if Adam synchronized with WhiteNight’s power so well that he gained awareness.

“How did you even figure me out?” Mason asked. “I never told you anything.”

“It’s pretty obvious. You’re the only person that doesn’t act consistently after every new try. Having repeated a few days myself, I have a lot more sympathy for you now.”

Mason snorted. He struck his sword against the shell. “You don’t even know the half of it. Besides, why do you trust me just because you know the truth now? Hasn’t your E.G.O. warned you about me?”

Adam smiled. “Oh He has, but you shan’t worry. I will only wield His almighty power to smite you, the Heretic, should you do any wrong, and I know you are wise enough to not try anything.” He held up Paradise Lost. “I mean, look at His weapon! Doesn’t it leave you awestruck?”

Mason gripped the hilt of his sword tighter. “Are you underestimating me?”

He shook his head. “No, not at all! I am well aware of how capable you are. It simply doesn’t measure to His power. That’s why I’m not worried about your status as the Heretic, and you shouldn’t either, because begging for the Lord’s forgiveness is always an option. The Absolute Light is a merciful god. If you repent now, He will absolve you of all your sin!”

He used to dream of the moment when a fellow employee would come to him after discovering the loops. This was nothing like what he imagined; after ten attempts, Adam remained chipper as ever, having placed his faith in WhiteNight that everything will turn out alright. Plus, even if this wasn’t the final loop, Adam was going to lose his awareness and forget about everything the moment WhiteNight’s E.G.O. was erased. There was no bonding over trauma here.

“Warning: ALEPH-class Nothing There has breached containment. Immediate suppression is advised.”

The manager’s voice came next through the intercom. “Adam, do you hear me? Go to Welfare and take care of it.”

“Will do.” Adam’s blade retracted into the apple. “We can pick up this conversation another time.” He leisurely spun on his heel, humming a merry tune as he headed toward Central Command.

This facility, which had never known a Nothing There breach, didn’t stop for a second when they heard that announcement. What was there to worry about? With Adam on their side, he could deal with any threat. Adam with his unstoppable power could end the Red Mist. Adam with his invincible E.G.O. could plow through anything in his path, without struggle or learning or repetition.

In a fit of envy, Mason struck Big Eyes with such force that the egg rattled. Even he believed in Adam’s ability to suppress Nothing There by himself. If this was the final loop, everyone was going to credit Adam for being the one to save them. Mason might receive a few begrudging words of thanks, but his wisdom was overshadowed by his relentless criticism toward his colleagues. Although he’d still be grateful to leave the facility, he wouldn’t receive an ounce of gratitude for the decade of work he put in.

He let out a miserable laugh. The Agents surrounding the egg stared at him weirdly. “What a joke,” he murmured.

Mason was wondering where Apocalypse Bird had gone. One moment, it was dark, save for flickering lights reminding them that a threat was still out there. The next, a whirlwind of red and yellow flashes swept through the room, blinding him and everyone around him. The whirlwind gave way to a hundred lights beaming from Apocalypse Bird’s wings. It heaved those massive appendages upward, and those lights became physical—amber comets homed in on Agents like heat-seeking missiles.

Everyone scattered. Mason kicked off the floor and ran, heart jumping at every thunderous impact that missed him. Screams rang through the air, some cut off by devastating explosions. He swerved right, left, and forward, leaving the shock waves of evaded projectiles in his dust. He was the first to reach an exit without getting hit by a single one.

Others flooded the hall after him. Some carried wounded co-workers over their shoulders. The smell of charred meat quickly filled the hall. When the last person left the room, he closed the door.

He waited for the tremors to stop before taking a peak inside. Apocalypse Bird was gone. Invigorated by fear, the Agents rushed back inside to assail Big Eyes. Someone took Mason’s spot, but since his arms were getting tired, he let them have it.

While massaging his left shoulder, he heard the door behind him slide open. Griffin trudged into the room. His head lolled from shoulder to shoulder. Nobody but Mason noticed him—everyone was too engrossed by taking out Big Eyes.

Mason went up to him and inspected his face. A shade of amber glazed over his eyes. Mason snapped his fingers at Griffin’s face, and when that didn’t work, he butted the pommel of Justitia against his head.

Griffin jolted awake. “Guh! Wh—what am I doing up here?”

“Apocalypse Bird was firing lights just now. The hypnosis affects the entire facility.”

“Yeah, I know. Didn’t think I’d get caught in that.” He took out his phone, and his eyes widened at what he saw. “sh*t. The manager was pinging me to do Attachment on Melting Love.”

“Qliphoth Meltdown,” Mason muttered. This was bad. “What’s her Qliphoth Counter at?”

In front of Big Eyes, Odelie looked over her shoulder. “For Melting Love? She’s at one.”

“sh*t!” Mason darted past Griffin. Melting Love was an ALEPH. They couldn’t afford to have such a powerful Abnormality disrupt the suppression now.

Leaving the Main Room, he sprinted down the hallway, into the elevator, and mashed the button to ascend. He squeezed through the doors as they were opening and ran until he reached Melting Love’s unit.

But the light above her door was red. Somebody was already inside. He couldn’t tell who because of the thick layer of slime covering the window. Melting Love needed a Good result. If it was Normal or Bad, it would breach. He anxiously waited across the hall.

He heard a click. The door unlocked. The work was done. He checked the ID scanner to see the result.

It was Normal.

The door burst open in a ball of flame, flinging Christopher past Mason. The Safety Captain was covered in viscous slime. It splashed Mason as he landed on the ground.

“Chris? What are you doing here?”

He scrambled onto his knees. “The—the Qliphoth Meltdown! I’m sorry, I let it breach!”

Mason tried to help him off the floor, but Christopher shuffled backward. He got up on his own, keeping his distance. “No, Mason, don’t touch me! I’m infected!”

“What?” Mason scoffed. “You can’t be! I don’t see a floating heart anywhere.”

“No, I assure you, you can’t get close to me. I’ll hold back Melting Love. You go back to Big Eyes. Defeat Apocalypse Bird and come back here!”

Mason grabbed Christopher’s slime-coated sleeve. “I’m not leaving you here. You get healed while I take care of it!”

A loud sloshing sound caught their attention. Mason and Christopher moved toward the elevator as Melting Love entered the hall. Its gelatinous body rose to the ceiling, held upright by a thick stream of its mucus secretions, the same pink secretions that adhered to their clothing. Its head was hunched over, surrounded by a mop of dripping hair. Behind her bangs, a single white eye was radiating malice. An acrid stench pricked Mason’s nose.

In this dire moment, Christopher was texting someone. “What are you doing?” Mason hissed. “Run!”

“You should be the one running!” Christopher put his phone away. He wielded Lamp with both hands. “I have the better E.G.O. gear, BLACK damage and BLACK resistant. It’s a miracle I’m even alive right now—I should’ve died the moment I got that Normal result. You need to get out of here before I infect you.”

“You’re not infected, don’t fool me!” Mason drew Justitia and stood beside him. “If you’re not going to leave, then I’ll fight alongside you!”

“Mason, no!”

A wet gurgle. Melting Love threw its head back before lobbing a ball of slime at the two. Mason and Christopher dodged in opposite directions. The projectile landed on the floor some ways behind them. It sizzled, plumes of steam rising into the air.

Christopher white-knuckled his weapon’s handle. “The last time Melting Love breached, it turned anyone it killed into its minions. So many Agents almost turned into slime monsters.” He turned to Mason. “But my fire can burn the slime away. Apocalypse Bird is the bigger threat right now. I’ll keep Melting Love from disrupting the suppression.”

Mason stomped toward him. “Weren’t you the one who said nobody deserves to die? You said you weren’t going to throw your life away! You promised me!”

A chime sounded off behind them. The elevator opened, and standing in the doorway was Odelie. Why was she here? RED damage healed Melting Love. Mimicry was more than useless in this scenario, a hindrance.

The wick inside Lamp’s cage ignited, flames licking through the bars of its cage. Christopher offered Mason an apologetic smile. “I’m sorry.”

He swung Lamp. The flame-propelled hammer jettisoned into Mason’s stomach, sending him flying down the hall. He crashed into Odelie’s arms, which held him tight as they hit the wall of the elevator. Justitia fell out of his grip.

The doors began to close. “Chris!” he croaked. The pain crippling his chest stifled his voice. He tried reaching for the button panel, but Odelie yanked him back. Her bear hug pinned his arms against him.

“Let go of me!” He kicked his heel into her shin. Mimicry absorbed the blow. He threw his head back, smashing the back of his skull into her forehead, and he heard a groan. Her arms squeezed tighter.

Then, he’d have to ignore her. He struggled to the front of the elevator. Odelie dug her heels in, throwing her entire weight back. The gap between the doors was narrowing.

He screamed until his voice cracked. “Chris, get back here! Come back!”

It must’ve been his desperation that forced Christopher to look over his shoulder. The incandescent blaze of his Lamp illuminated the encroaching monster, revealing the skeletal remains suspended in its mucus. Still, Christopher smiled. Mason caught one last glimmer of his golden eyes before the doors closed shut.

Odelie let go of him and slapped her palm over a floor button. Mason lunged for the button panel. Odelie twisted and rammed her elbow into his sternum, knocking the wind out of him. She grabbed his arms, shoved him into the wall, and held him in place.

“Mason, listen to me! Chris was infected!”

“Like hell he was, I didn’t see a heart!"

“He sent me a message. He knew you wouldn’t leave, so he told me to come get you!”

“And you went along with him?” He kicked her right knee in, locking her leg in place, and pushed his entire body against her. Odelie stumbled backward, tripping on Justitia. She lost her balance and landed with a yelp. Mason darted to the button panel. “I’m going back up, and you can’t stop me!”

His phone vibrated. He contemplated ignoring it, but he knew he was on thin ice from his previous interaction with the manager. He took it out and found two messages. One was an older notification informing him of Louis’s death. The second was a direct order from X.

Continue breaking Big Eyes. Do not engage Melting Love unless I give explicit permission to do so. Failure to comply will result in an execution bullet.”

Mason reread the message in awe. After finding the disposal protocol in his E.G.O., he didn’t bother removing it again, thinking it futile as long as he needed his ID card. He tried to think of every method he could to circumvent an execution bullet, but as long as the protocol was still in Justitia, he couldn’t return to Christopher with both his armor and his life.

As the elevator opened, his legs gave out. His phone slipped out of his hand. Mason stared ahead of him in dead silence.

Splash! Fwoom!

After destroying its fist, Melting Love swung its second corrosive arm at Christopher. He deflected with the base of Lamp, and the ensuing explosion scattered slime everywhere. Some of it landed on his shoes, seeping through the clothing and burning his feet. He winced. The slime dripping on his head wasn’t helping—the first thing Melting Love did after Mason left was coat the floor and ceiling in a layer of slime.

When Christopher first began Attachment work with Melting Love, it really did give him a heart of slime. As the work progressed, he suspected that the Abnormality wasn’t satisfied with him, and his intuition proved correct when at the end of the work session, the heart expanded in an effort to envelop him. He swung Lamp up in the nick of time, burning the slime away and blasting him out of the unit.

Indeed, Christopher had told a complete lie to Mason about how he was infected. He shouldn’t have been surprised when Mason denied it the moment those words left his mouth. Even if Christopher was telling the truth, Mason cared enough about him that he would’ve refused to leave anyway. That was why he told Odelie the same lie, since she was the second closest person to Mason, trusting that she would be able to talk some sense into him. Seeing as Mason hadn’t returned, she must’ve succeeded.

He had resolved to lay his life on the line when he told Mason to leave. Now that he was alone, however, the primal fear of death had him in a vice grip. He didn’t want to die. This wasn’t supposed to be a suicide mission, but anyone with a brain could’ve told him that, equipped with WAW E.G.O., he was not winning against an ALEPH on his own. He didn’t have Odelie’s strength, Leesihan’s confidence, Adam’s E.G.O. equipment, or Mason’s wisdom and speed. He was Christopher, someone who couldn’t have survived this facility without a senior to walk him through it. Who lost everything to an unfortunate accident completely outside of his control. Who couldn’t prevent Melting Love from breaching even though his life and the lives of others depended on it.

He was Captain of the Safety Team, and yet, he was failing at doing good on his job. While breaking Small Beak, he watched Louis succumb to the Apocalypse Bird after catching her in its maw. He reached his arms to pull her out, but her hands slipped from his grasp. Leesihan was right. Why was he still Safety Captain if he was this much of a coward? That was why he needed to clean up the mess he made without involving anyone else, no matter how much he wished for assistance. This was his responsibility and his alone.

Melting Love reeled its head back, swung its arms forward, and spat another three bullets at him. He was slow to react—one bullet splashed his chest, and the other his right leg. The slime seeped through his clothes, eating through skin and corroding flesh. He cried out in anguish, tears pricking his eyes.

Yet, he planted his feet firmly. Steadied his grip around Lamp.

The next time Melting Love whipped its arm at him, he ran forward. The flame in Lamp swelled, propelling his weapon into the appendage. It exploded into a shower of slime. He sprinted through the acidic rain, ignoring the stinging sensations on his face, and swung Lamp laterally into the pillar of slime keeping the Abnormality upright. Fiery light blazed through the hall as Melting Love recoiled off the wall. Two eyes glared at Christopher with white-hot, malevolent fury.

Melting Love flung sank its arms into the floor. The puddles of slime on the floor aggregated. Pink spikes shot up from them and stabbed Christopher. Pain flared all across his body as if his skin was being flayed. The smell of burnt flesh wafted up his nose.

Even more disturbing were the parts of his body that were going numb. He glimpsed his slimy hands. They were disturbingly pink, almost translucent. He squeezed his eyes shut.

I don’t want to die.

He wanted to run away before his legs turned to slime. But in this battle against Apocalypse Bird, every second counted. If the team assaulting Small Beak joined him now, that meant more time for the beast to roam free, more opportunities to crush another soul like Louis.

No, he couldn’t let that happen! He couldn’t let anyone die because of his failure. He couldn’t let anyone die, period! Some people worked their entire lives to get into this Wing. For others, this was their big break, an opportunity to elevate themselves from the dregs of the City. Their stories couldn’t end here, not when this job was offering so many people their first real chance at living a fulfilling life, if only they could leave this place first. He was going to be the one who made sure that happened.

He knew happiness once. True happiness, when he was employed at his dream job with the support of a loving family and girlfriend. How he wished he could go back to those times, but they had long since passed. If he could give someone else the opportunity to experience what he did at the cost of his own life, then so be it.

Tears rolled down his face, wetness that the flames of his Lamp could not dry. It wasn’t the agony he was in, but the fear of death that made him cry.

Haha, and I managed to look so cool in front of Mason, too. At least he won’t find out how I really feel. I hope he’ll be able to move on from me.

At once, every inch of slime along the corridor retreated into Melting Love. It swelled in size, burgeoning with so much viscous fluid. As it swung back its body, he wound Lamp behind him. He let it burn with the passion of a dying star. Burn with the hope of a final wish. Burn, burn, burn.

Melting Love threw itself at him. The full weight of its slime descended over Christopher, who swung Lamp and met it head on. The resulting explosion bathed the corridor in golden flames.

With one final shout, Mason brought his sword down. It cleaved through Big Eyes, cracking the shell in two. Blood spilled around his shoes.

The lights came back on. At the same time, Apocalypse Bird teleported into the room. The mouth on its stomach opened, and it roared, seething at the pests wreaking havoc through its territory. Its home.

But this wasn’t the Black Forest. This was their facility, and the beast was on their turf.

The Agents scattered as Apocalypse Bird lifted its talons. However, its arm stopped midway to the ceiling. It jerked its head in Mason’s direction, splayed its wings outward, and released a shrill cry. Then, everything collapsed. Talons, wings, head, they landed with a thud that rattled the earth. Everyone stopped. All was silent.

Except for the sound of Mason’s footsteps. He didn’t stop for a second to admire the beast’s corpse, or to watch an E.G.O. set slip out of its mouth in a river of blood. He sped down the corridor, even as pain exploded from his back, and a blackened wing dotted in amber eyes trailed behind him.

The elevator finished ascending. It opened to a hallway covered in pink. Slime oozed down the walls and dripped from the ceiling. Melting Love’s egg rested a few feet from its containment unit, blending with its surroundings. He hardly paid it any attention compared to the thing sliding toward him.

Squelch. A pink blob about as tall as his waist threw its stubby arms forward. It pulled itself across the floor. A human skull and some bones floated inside.

Mason raised his sword above him. When the blob came within striking distance, he beat it over the head. Teal sparks and corrosive liquid flew into the air. A tear slid down his face. He cracked his blade down again, the same motion he had done to break Big Eyes in half. His stomach churned—he wanted to throw up. He struck again, the move practiced to perfection against so many Abnormalities and Ordeals. He cried from heartache.

He delivered the final blow in a fit of sobs. The blob melted, revealing the fresh bones of its victim. He dropped his sword. A teardrop followed.

Up ahead, there was a singed hat with yellow stripes and bee wings sewn to the side. It floated on a puddle of slime.

He knelt in front of it. Ignoring the burning sensation in his legs, he swept the hat into his arms and hugged it against his chest. Shuddering, he let out a mournful wail.

If X was going to reset, he would’ve done so by now.

LOG: Kill Squad - Chapter 34 - Sylvetia (2024)


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