Salvation - Chapter 181 - The_Lone_Lobster (2024)

Chapter Text

Early Morning

Doomguy was getting ready to head out. He planned to go to the facility, check in with those working on the Wraiths' souls, and then move to the training grounds. Like so many nights before, the space marine slept in Rosie's guest bedroom. Honestly, at this point, she might say it was his.

On the subject of the Overlord, she was still sleeping soundly in her bed. The duo had spent nearly all night talking about the special dance and how Doomguy was going to sort it out. Nothing had been decided yet, but any progress was good. They'd continue discussing this along with their usual lessons every night, which the space marine had no intention of stopping.

The truth is, just like with Angel Dust and Katie Killjoy, the man loved spending time with the toothy Sinner. She always had this liveliness to her that was hard to find. By simply existing within a space, Rosie made the atmosphere feel warm and pleasant. She was, as she'd likely say herself, one in a million.

So, if all that flattery is true, then why was Doomguy sneaking out? The man was currently in the kitchen writing a note for the Overlord to find when she awoke. Well, it's because he didn't want to make her go through the trouble of either cooking for him or conducting one of those proposed culinary lessons she promised. Plus, more personally, he REALLY wanted to do the rounds mentioned earlier. Ah, those old militaristic habits and compulsions never truly leave you, do they?

Thus, with a nice, short message left on the kitchen table, the space marine opened a portal and departed. You know, you'd think after seeing what Rosie's teeth can do that no one would want them biting their ass. Then again, Doomguy's body WAS more durable than most...

Elsewhere, At The Training Grounds...

Flynn was on his way to the Carmines' quarters. He considered the possibility that Carmilla might be too tired for the workout since she helped the girls last night. However, if the Overlord WAS raring to go like usual and he didn't meet up with her, then that was a guaranteed way to receive the coldest of shoulders.

"I wonder if the other group members would like to join us?"Flynn pondered, nearing his destination."...Hmm...something tells me I should run the idea by Carmilla first...I don't know how, but that feels like it could blow up in my face if I didn't..."He continued.

At last, the man's instincts updated themselves to account for more factors. Do we know if Khan is involved? That seems like a miracle. Although, to the soldier's credit, the fear of receiving another roundhouse kick that could split a mountain was a good enough reason to be cautious. Sure, the Overlord promised she wouldn't do that again, but it never hurt to be sensible.

Anyway, Flynn arrived at the Carmines' quarters. With a light knock, he waited to see if there'd be a response.

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...

...

Another knock was delivered to the door. By now, the soldier was on good enough terms with the Carmines to let himself in without any issues. Yet, out of respect for the women's boundaries, the man remained outside. He'd try one more time, and if he got no reaction, then he'd call it quits.

...

...

...

The third and final knock. No stirring was heard from inside. No shuffling of any sort could be detected. The Carmines might have never left the facility.

Thankfully, in a true stroke of genius, Flynn produced his PDA from his pocket. Then, he wrote the following message:

"Hey, Carmilla. I'm getting started on the morning routine. If you're sleeping in your room, I tried knocking on the door, but no one heard me. I didn't want to be rude, so I didn't persist. However, if you're at the facility, don't worry. Spend the early hours this morning relaxing with Odette and Clara. You three are probably exhausted anyway, and you shouldn't show up for training tired. We can sit together for breakfast if you'd like, or you can have it at the facility. Regardless, hope you're doing well and aren't pushing yourself too much. See you later."

Out of nervousness for somehow f*cking things up, the soldier spent several minutes scrutinizing the message. To the best of the man's ability, there seemed to be no ill-worded statements, unfortunate implications, or accidental suggestions. Everything written on the digital page was as he desired. So, with a sigh of relief, the message was sent.

"PLEASE, I am REALLY trying here..." Flynn whispered to nobody before heading toward the gym. "No f*ck ups. No f*ck ups. No f*ck ups." He repeated as he walked.

Closeby, In A Newly Inhabited Room...

Without the Wretch, Verosika was left alone with the little girl. Amazingly, she wasn't bothered by that. Having Fizzarolli around the previous day to help with the child also allowed the Succubus to acclimate herself to her. By the time they got to the complex and went to bed, she was...comfortable.

That's the best way to describe Verosika's current emotional state regarding the little girl. She wasn't off-put or even afraid of the kid in any way. The idea of being alone with this tyke was...okay. The Succubus was confident that she could spend an hour, maybe two, with her when they were awake before needing someone else's help.

Of course, sleeping together was a much different experience. Verosika didn't need to fret over what to say or do around the little girl. Even better, by the time the duo hit the mattress, the child was already sleeping in the Succubus's arms. She couldn't deny that carrying such a peacefully slumbering entity did something to her heart. In any other context, she'd assume it was palpitations or indigestion.

Similar to yesterday, when the dawn came, Verosika was brought out of her rest. Additionally, the little girl's position and demeanor were the same, too. She buried her face into the section of skin between the chest and the neck. It was such a strange sight for the Succubus to see someone find such comfort in her presence. Fittingly, it was as if she got to know what it was like being in the former Demon's shoes.

Speaking of the Wretch, it'd be thirty minutes after Verosika awakened that he'd arrive. She heard his approach via the sound of the bedroom door's handle being moved. When their eyes met, he quietly came closer to the bed so they could have a conversation through whispers.

"I'm sorry I didn't get here last night. The others kept me busy." Wretch apologized, feeling as though he needed to.

"Don't worry. I knew they weren't going let you go until they were satisfied." Verosika assured him before smirking. "However, you ARE going to need to make it up to me." She said.

"Of course. Whatever you wish." Wretch agreed, having no objections to the idea.

"When you get done with training today, you're going to handle revealing the kid to everyone." Verosika told him.

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...

...

"And?" Wretch inquired.

"That's it." Verosika replied, surprising him.

"What? Really?" Wretch questioned, baffled by that.

"Do you want me to be cruel?" Verosika challenged with a raised brow.

"No, but I assumed you'd have me do more than what I was already planning. For example, me spending the remainder of the evening and night with the girl as you return to the hotel for some alone time." Wretch explained.

Upon hearing that, the Succubus turned her attention toward the little girl. To the former Demon's amazement, she tightened her embrace, almost as if she didn't want to let go.

"...I...need to expose myself to her more...it's necessary..." Verosika reasoned. Unintentionally, she smiled. "You know...since she'll want us both around..." She said.

"Understood. That makes sense." Wretch responded, not commenting on the expression since he didn't think she was aware of it herself. "Would you like me to take the child now? I can make breakfast for us here without needing to go to the mess hall. That'll allow you a handful of minutes of privacy." He offered.

"No," Verosika said. The immediateness of the reaction caught him off guard. "It'd be cruel to wake her up when she's enjoying her sleep so much." She told him.

"Weren't you the one who suggested being cruel?" Wretch asked to tease her.

"Yes, to you. And that's precisely what I'll be if you wake her up." Verosika answered. She looked at him when she did, and she had a playful smirk on her face, ensuring that there was no misunderstanding.

"Then I better make myself scarce. Perish the thought of incurring your fury." Wretch replied with a similarly playful tone before heading to the kitchen.

Nearby, At The Facility...

"What are your thoughts?" Samuel inquired, speaking to Doomguy. "To us, this new approach seems flawless. But you are one of the foremost experts regarding Doom, its trickery, and what it is fully capable of." He added.

The space marine had been given all the details from the researcher trio. Understandably, the one area that hadn't made much progress was deciphering the Wraiths' message. Even for someone like Khan, with the aid of Samuel and Vega, understanding an unknown language by putting together a means of translation through other languages by the smallest of similarities was an insane task. It'd likely take months, possibly a full year, before the first line of text became readable.

The major development Samuel had mentioned seemed just as he described it. Try as he might, the armored man couldn't find any weaknesses or downsides that needed to be discussed. However, that isn't to say he didn't have commentary.

"During my fights against the Demons, I came across many teleportation devices that were entirely theirs. To specify, they weren't stolen technology or something of the like. That could explain why their invasions are so efficient since if Doom can get a firm hook into a location, it can then establish a link and begin flooding it with Demons. Of course, it's a two-way connection, so I could effortlessly use them to traverse Doom and the few structures it has. I've never had the opportunity to use that same method when only I had access to it, so if we can do this right, it'd be a MASSIVE advantage over our enemies." Doomguy typed.

"Hmm..." Olivia hummed, reading the text. "Question. If Doom has the means of teleportation, why hasn't it been sending Demons anywhere it wants to within Hell? I understand that Betruger and the Mother are overseeing the operations and that the Divine barriers likely play some role, but it still seems as though that should've been a problem for us." She asked.

"I'll answer." Khan volunteered, slightly raising her hand. "The barriers block Doom's vision. As we've previously discussed, such methods can't work without having a set destination. Now, that does raise the question of why Betruger and the Mother haven't made themselves anchor points since they still maintain a connection with Doom even though they're trapped on our side of the barrier. Yet, as has also been established, at any point, should they attempt a sudden invasion, I could effortlessly intervene and shut it down. Doing so would also force Betruger and the Mother to set themselves in a defined location, which would create an opportunity for us to capture them. No matter how you approach the idea, it's immensely risky and not worth whatever benefits could be gained." She answered.

"Additionally, I suspect Doom's teleportation methods are vastly different from ours. We're using machines and science to accomplish the result. However, since the Demons are mere extensions and manifestations of Doom itself, the process, while simpler, still requires Doom to have a tangible connection to its target, which William mentioned." Samuel chimed in.

"Correct. The teleporters I used required two for one trip. An entrance and an exit, if you will. But what you three are proposing is an instantaneous delivery and extraction. The main reason it can't work the same way with Doom is that it needs a conduit. A way of pushing itself and its powers into the target." Doomguy typed.

"Is that why Doom went to the effort of making a Gore Nest for the invasion even though it was fake?" Olivia questioned.

"Yes. Exactly. Real or not, the only way Doom, and by extension Betruger and the Mother, could bring Demons into another reality for any purpose is if they have some hold on it." Doomguy typed. "Also, before we go further, I'd like to ask something. I'm not knowledgeable enough about the subject on a scientific level to preemptively know the particulars, so I'd appreciate it if you could elaborate. Will our means of sending people into Doom and pulling them from it have a build-up? To be clear, what I want to know is if the method will have a charging phase, which could potentially allow Betruger, through some unknown method, to lock on to it." He typed afterward.

"A reasonable concern, but no. The Ivory Tower will allow for an immediate activation. However, we do plan to create reserve charges for any potential unforeseen upsets. As always, you can never be too careful with Doom." Samuel informed him.

"Alright, cool. Is there anything else that you want to tell me?" Doomguy typed.

"No, but I would like to ask you something," Khan began. "Do you have any pressing matters that you must attend to this evening? Ones that demand a hasty departure." She inquired.

"I plan to check on Katie and message Octavia regarding some lingering details about the gala, but otherwise, I'm free. If you need me for something important, I can handle both from my PDA." Doomguy typed.

"Oh no, that won't be necessary. Wretch simply has something he's going to share later today with all of us after training is done. Once he does, you can do as you please." Khan revealed.

Hearing that surprised the others. Their formerly Demonic associate had something to share? When? What could've happened without their notice that demanded such attention apart from his new body?

"Don't think to interrogate me," Khan said, stopping that idea before it could be realized. "All of you will need to be patient. I'd also appreciate it if you didn't say a word to the rest. It's better if they're as unaware as possible." She asserted.

Okay, this was weird. The tone of the Creator's voice wasn't dire. Whatever the Wretch had to tell everyone couldn't be concerning or anything similar. But if it wasn't, then...what was it?

Unfortunately, the longer the trio looked at Khan, the more they could tell she wouldn't say another word to avoid the risk of spoiling it. So, Doomguy started his trek back to the training grounds while the researchers returned to their work.

Morning

Flynn had just finished his run around the complex. When he had left the gym and was heading outside to do so, he encountered Doomguy, who was going to the mess hall. The men exchanged some words but nothing notable. However, the space marine did mention how the Wretch had a big surprise for everyone after training was done.

Yet, the soldier didn't spend too much time dwelling on that. Instead, the man was constantly thinking about and checking his PDA. Carmilla hadn't gotten back to him at all, which he couldn't help but worry about. His message was reviewed countless times, but for the life of him, he couldn't see what MIGHT be problematic.

For the sake of transparency, was there something somehow wrong with Flynn's message to the Overlord? Not at all. The man was simply riddled with self-doubts about his communication skills that wouldn't go away for a VERY long time. For him, Doom-related PTSD was but a droplet compared to the ocean of his social issues and struggles to exist within a normal environment.

Luckily, as the soldier headed further into the training grounds, several noises reached his ears. Upon looking at the central combat space, he saw a very busy sight. There was a small army of drones, all moving massive hauls of equipment into the area. In the middle of the robotic swarm, there was a familiar trio working alongside it.

"Hey!" Flynn called out before approaching, getting the women's attention. Thankfully, due to his enhanced body, there was no unpleasant sweatiness or odor that would make getting closer an unsavory experience for the others.

"Oh! Morning, Flynn!" Clara was the first to reply to the greeting. She smiled brightly while also waving her hand at the man.

"Did you finish your morning routine?" Odette asked, assuming that's where he's been.

"Yeah. I was just heading to the mess hall, actually." Flynn answered. The women were huddled together, so speaking to all of them wasn't an issue once he came to a stop.

"If you don't mind waiting, we'll go with you in a few minutes. We're just finishing the preparations for today's training." Carmilla suggested.

"Sure. No problem." Flynn responded, now observing the drones. "I'm guessing these are all the weapons and gadgets you've cooked up." He figured.

"Correct." Odette confirmed.

"Will it all be staying here? Permanantly, I mean." Flynn inquired.

"Yup! It only makes sense to keep all the lockers and containers on the grounds rather than have Vega lug them back and forth every day. Just because he's immune to physical exhaustion doesn't mean we want to take advantage of him." Clara said.

"I've told you repeatedly, I do not mind any labor." Vega commented via a drone that flew overhead.

"That doesn't mean you should be a pack mule!" Clara argued, saying that to the same machine as it went through the nearby portal. Naturally, the AI wasn't carrying all of this equipment from the facility at its full distance. That'd be absurd.

"Okay. Well, I guess I'll just stand off to the side and wait for you ladies to finish up." Flynn proposed, gesturing to a location behind him with his thumb.

"Don't be silly. You can stay right here with us. It's not as though you'll somehow get in our way." Carmilla told him.

"If you say so." Flynn accepted.

The minutes passed in silence. The Carmines continued coordinating with Vega while the soldier observed them. However, each of the women noticed an odd behavior in the man. His eyes kept nervously darting to Carmilla every so often, and he was weirdly attentive to his PDA.

"Is everything okay?" Clara asked, being the one to break the ice.

"Hm?" Flynn reacted, not expecting any of them to say something.

"You keep glancing at our Mother, but in a very peculiar way. If I had to describe it, I'd say it's almost fearful." Odette explained.

"...Oh..." Flynn quietly muttered. Whelp, if he f*cked up, now was the time to face it. "I...uh...sent a message to your Mom earlier...I've just been worried about it, is all." He answered.

After hearing that, all eyes went to the Overlord. Amazingly, she appeared shocked. Furthermore, there was a light red hue on her cheeks.

"...I...forgot to take my PDA with me last night..." Carmilla shared.

"Oh." Flynn reacted again, far more relaxed this time. "Nevermind, then. It's nothing important." He said.

"Hold on." Clara interjected. "What was in the message?" She inquired.

"Nothing. Really." Flynn insisted. "All I typed was that I stopped by the room, knocked on the door, and when no one answered I proceeded with my workout. I assumed that your Mom might still be at the facility with you girls, but if she wasn't and I went ahead with my routine without her, she might get the wrong idea." He told them.

"That's very considerate of you, Flynn." Odette praised him.

"Nah. It's the least I could do after all the crazy sh*t I've caused in the past." Flynn reckoned.

"Was there anything else?" Carmilla pressed, recovered from her slight embarrassment.

"Just that if you three wanted, you could have breakfast without me." Flynn replied.

"What? We would never!" Clara exclaimed, surprised by the idea.

"Agreed. We enjoy sharing meals with you, Flynn. We wouldn't exclude you if it can be helped." Odette promised.

"Really? You like me that much?" Flynn questioned.

In reaction, the Carmines all folded their arms and gave an expression that read: "Are you f*cking serious?"

"...Let me try again," Flynn requested. "I just meant to say that we're still navigating our relationships, you know? I get that you care about me as I do you; those certainties haven't somehow slipped my mind. But wanting to share every meal is...I dunno...pretty big. That's a weird way to describe it, but it fits. It's very...close." He explained.

"From the way you say it, it sounds as though the concept is alien to you. If that's the case, it makes sense." Carmilla commented.

"Honestly, yeah. You hit it right on the head." Flynn confirmed. "This aspect of my life is WAY harder for me to get used to than fighting snarling monsters who want to chew me like jerky. I know that's not new information, but still, I'm sorry you three and everyone else has to bear with me." He said, followed by an apology.

"Aw, don't worry; we understand," Clara assured him, placing one hand on his shoulder.

"Besides, it is rather amusing to see how hopeless you are when it comes to such normal things." Odette jested at his expense.

"Gee, thanks, Odette. That's very sweet of you." Flynn remarked, causing the Carmines to laugh.

From there, the group of four finished getting everything ready before heading to the mess hall. Most of their larger group was already gathered, finding seats and talking as they ate their meals. The most notable absence was the Wretch, who no one questioned since they knew that he'd be with Verosika. However, none of them were aware that she was also now staying in the complex.

Closeby, In The Wretch's Quarters...

Delightful. That's how the Wretch and Verosika would describe this morning. The former Demon was halfway through making breakfast when the Succubus and the little girl emerged from the bedroom. The child ran excitedly over to her Papa and hugged his legs. Impressively, she'd stay like that as both adults finished getting the food ready.

Afterward, the trio sat down and had as pleasant of a meal as one could hope for. The Wretch spoke with the little girl as they ate, learning everything that had happened yesterday. She spoke with such unbridled glee that she stumbled over her words a few times. He couldn't help but chortle at her overflowing enthusiasm, occasionally telling her to slow down to try and help with the vocal fumbling.

During the duo's discussion, Verosika watched on in silence. She didn't participate because she experienced the events the child described to the former Demon. Much like him, the Succubus was entertained by the little girl's abundance of emotion. She talked about such simple activities as though they were the most incredible things ever.

Although, in fairness, everything was new to the child. Despite not being a literal baby, her knowledge of ANYTHING was at that level. She could speak and do many things children her age couldn't, but beyond that, she was completely clueless. Admittedly, that was something else Verosika had come to love about the little girl. She and Fizzarolli had an endless selection of options to explore with her, which was fun for all three of them.

Regarding the Impish jester, he'd continue spending the days with the Succubus while the others attended to their training. Additionally, the duo were also trying to figure out how they'd interact with Blitzo. It was inevitable that they'd have an encounter at some point, and it was better to prepare for such an interaction rather than be at a loss later.

But Verosika wasn't dedicating too much thought to that subject right now. She knew that whenever the confrontation occurred, she'd have the Wretch at her side to support her. Oh, and now that they were settling into the complex, they could begin her lessons! The evenings and nights were going to be used not only for the little girl but also to ensure the Succubus could contribute against Doom. Her determination to be useful to the former Demon hadn't died down in the slightest!

Anyway, focusing back on the present, the Wretch was clearing the table and tending to the dishes. Wanting to spend as much time with her Papa before he left, the child assisted him. Adorably, she had to stand in a chair to do so. As the duo cleaned the plates and silverware with plenty of water and soapy bubble fun, Verosika was busily looking through some notes that the former Demon had taken on his PDA.

"Wow. They sure gave you a LOT of names," Verosika commented.

"Indeed. It's quite overwhelming." Wretch replied.

"Names?" The little girl questioned, wanting to be included in the conversation.

"Yes, for you. It'd be horrible of us to prevent you from having a name for longer. The people you met last night provided a VERY long list of options. While I'm busy working today, you can see all of them with Verosika and Fizzarolli and find one that you want." Wretch informed her.

"..." The little girl adorned a serious expression as she started thinking. The Wretch and Verosika remained silent while watching her.

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...

"I want you to name me!" The little girl exclaimed, focusing back on her Papa.

"Are you sure? I can't guarantee that my suggestions will be good." Wretch warned.

"Mhm!" The little girl responded with a nod.

"Hmm..." Wretch hummed, putting a hand to his chin. His mind ran through the list of names from the PDA as well as going through some that were his own.

"...Could...I join in?..." Verosika requested. She didn't know why, but she was a little upset at the idea of being excluded.

"Yeah!" The little girl happily permitted, making her smile.

Together, the former Demon and the Succubus spent the next several moments contemplating. The child fidgeted in her chair with anticipation.

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...

"Sonia." Wretch and Verosika decided, surprising each other with their synchronization.

The duo first considered Fizzarolli and Asmodeus's offerings when they first met the child. Honestly, the King of Lust's selection was very appealing. Each name was good, but as shown, one clearly stuck with the former Demon and the Succubus more than the rest.

"..." The little girl closed her eyes and folded her arms. Again, the seriousness she displayed was unbelievably cute. "...Sonia..." She whispered to herself, seeing how it sounded. "...Sonia...Sonia...Sonia..." She repeated, each one louder than the last.

"You don't have to rush. As I said earlier, you can spend all day thinking about-"

"I love it!" The little girl exclaimed, interrupting her Papa. "Sonia! Sonia! I want it!" She carried on.

"Are you certain? This is a big deal, so it should be-"

"Uh-huh!" The little girl replied, interrupting him again. "I want to be Sonia!" She asserted.

"Well, then that's that." Verosika chimed in with a smile. "Henceforth, you are dubbed Sonia. No longer shall you be a nameless runt." She told her, playing it up for fun.

"Yay!" Sonia cheered while throwing her arms into the air. "I can't wait to tell Uncle Fizzy!" She exclaimed.

Slowly, the former Demon turned to look at the Succubus.

"It was Fizz's idea," Verosika said. "It wasn't up to me whether or not it was okay. That's between the kid and him, and both of them loved it." She explained.

"I have a feeling that it will become a phenomenon before long..." Wretch muttered, considering everyone who'd want a special name.

"Yeah, probably." Verosika agreed, suspecting that as well. "On that note, you should get going. You've got a VERY busy day today." She reminded him.

"What's going on?" Sonia asked, unsure of what she was referring to.

"After your Papa finishes working with everyone today, he'll introduce you to them in the evening," Verosika said.

Upon hearing that, the little girl turned toward her Papa with the biggest open-mouth grin she could make. There would've been ecstatic shouting and squealing, but her body was too overcome by the sudden surge of emotions to produce sounds.

"Easy, now." Wretch advised with a chuckle as he patted her head. "Don't tire yourself out with eagerness. You don't want to be too exhausted for later, do you?" He instructed, ending with a question.

In response, Sonia shook her head as much as she could. The former Demon and the Succubus couldn't help but laugh as they watched her head temporarily become a blur. Afterward, the dishes and the silverware were stored in their proper places. When that was done, the Wretch gave both of them a goodbye hug before departing. Fizzarolli would arrive via a portal (to avoid Blitzo) a few minutes later.

A Short While Later, In The Combat Area...

The time spent in the mess hall provided nothing noteworthy. Everyone sat at tables with their friends, family, or the members of their respective groups. The air was filled with lively chatter, and the atmosphere was pleasant. When all the food was eaten and the dining ware returned to Vega, the masses headed out to begin their training.

There were still plenty of remaining hours in the morning before noon arrived. Unlike yesterday, there wasn't a startling reveal like the Wretch's new body that commanded this span. So, the groups could easily get their daily assessment out of the way before moving on to actual lessons. Pray tell, would everyone be subjected to another full course of ass-kicking?

Nope. Doomguy, Flynn, and the Wretch didn't plan on having any tests similar to those conducted on the first day for a while. Those needed to happen so the mentors could get a good measurement of where their students were at by default and how they could improve. However, before getting REALLY specific with these start-of-the-day assessments, there was one more simple activity to undergo.

Interestingly, Odette and Clara accompanied the men to the equipment that had been delivered. The Sisters were going to be the ones to kick things off, which they greatly appreciated. Doomguy, Flynn, and the Wretch wanted them to be recognized for their hard work by having them be the center of attention during this segment.

"Good morning, everyone!" Clara greeted the crowd. She and her sibling had microphones attached to their collars so their voices could be carried through Vega's drones. "Starting today, as you can see for yourselves, the combat area is going to have equipment that is free for EVERYONE to use! Also, for the items that are consumables, such as grenades, do NOT worry about using all of them. In addition to the MANY reserves we've already produced back at the facility, we can make more of anything you'll see in no time at all thanks to the wonders of Maykr technology!" She told them.

"Furthermore, we're using your interactions with the gear to collect data. Even if you use it recklessly, that is still valuable to us. Of course, we don't expect any of you to be wasteful, but we still didn't want you to worry and thus be overly cautious. Also, whenever any of you would like, my Sister and I are open to suggestions and requests for additional equipment, which includes custom orders. So please, don't feel nervous about approaching us." Odette said.

"With all that out of the way, let's get on with the showcase!" Clara decided, accompanied by a nod from her Sister.

In the middle of the area were three massive containers that had no verticality, meaning everyone could see them just fine. Doomguy, Flynn, and the Wretch were standing off to the side by a small distance so they wouldn't unintentionally block someone's view. The Sisters approached the leftmost container first. After interacting with it for a few seconds, the mechanical crate opened itself.

"Our first selection is the Cacodemon line!" Clara began, picking up one of the Cacodemon replica grenades. "If you've been doing your homework, you know these guys are all about two things: big teeth and corrosion. The weapons we have in this catalog prioritize melting your enemies and their defenses or slicing and stabbing them to ribbons. As for armor, you'll find no better protection against the worst Doom has to offer! The bones also provide fantastic physical shielding and deflection. However, even with the tools at our disposal, any piece of this armor set is hefty. We'd strongly advise that only those who plan to act as tanks or frontline bruisers consider using these. As for the weapons, that comes down to personal preference, so have fun!" She told the crowd.

Following that, Odette moved to the middle container and opened it.

"Thanks to Samuel, we have access to nearly all of the Demons' materials due to the efforts of his organization before the Mars invasion. As Clara mentioned, the Maykrs' technology allows us to reproduce these things so we can build an endless amount." Odette started as she gestured to the objects on display. When the containers opened, the shelves and compartments within automatically rose for better visibility. "This is the brawler line of equipment. Imps, Hell Knights, and Barons are all aggressive melee-focused creatures. As such, it only made sense to take the best attributes from each species and combine them to make these. There isn't anything as flashy or unique as the corrosion theme of the Cacodemon line. However, this selection has no weaknesses. You'll find resistances to all forms of damage. For offense, these items will enhance your physical capabilities far beyond what you could otherwise output. Currently, the maximum multiplication of your physicality is roughly ten. We hope to increase that number with further development." She stated.

Once again, as a duo, the Sisters approached the third and final container. Upon its opening, the contents were revealed to have an obvious Arcane fixation.

"Imps, Barons, Summoners, Pain Elementals, and Archviles. These wicked beasts all have some connection to mystical powers and energies that they use offensively, defensively, and tactically. Unlike the previous two assortments, none of the items you see here are weapons or traditional armor. That's because very few of you who excel in the arts of sorcery or otherwise will find yourselves dealing with the bulk of the action. Even people like like Lilith or Azrael will likely be positioned far away so they can be given the time that is required for them to support their allies. As such, these items are enhancers and quick casters." Clara said.

"To provide a better understanding, I will proceed with a short demonstration," Odette revealed as she picked up one of the objects. It was a beautifully sculpted metal band that had multiple carvings across its body. The accessory was meant to be worn on the wrist but could be adorned anywhere that was most comfortable for the wearer. "I am in no way an Arcanist. Yes, like any Sinner, I do possess some power. However, as you can tell from the Carmine family business, we specialize in weaponry and other such things to help us deal with our enemies. Yet, when wearing something like this, even I am capable of using powerful ethereal attacks." She informed the crowd.

Afterward, Odette raised her hand with her fingers outstretched. Then, in the open palm, an impressively sized fireball formed. Comparatively, it was about the same as a bowling ball. However, that wouldn't be the limit.

The more keenly-eyed spectators noticed the markings on the metal band begin to glow. Simultaneously, the fireball got bigger. After a few seconds, the sphere of flames was three times larger.

"Sadly, this is the extent of my Arcane capability," Odette admitted, dispelling the fireball. "However, if someone such as myself can create that with this band, then imagine how those of you who excel in these fields will be empowered. Your abilities are already suitable for the conflict ahead. However, when we eventually confront the entirety of Doom's legions, we'll need that much of an increase to keep them at bay. I'm sure the experts would say that there is no such thing as excessive force in that context." She concluded.

"Yup. That's spot on." Flynn confirmed alongside nods from Doomguy and the Wretch. "Will and I are literally carrying the equivalent of nuke launchers on our person at ALL times. Even when we find ourselves going through all of that ammo in particular, the Demons' numbers remain plentiful." He said before realizing something. "Oh, um, sorry. If you didn't want me to speak, then I apologize for assuming." He told the girls.

"Nah, you're good. Don't worry." Clara assured him with a smile. "Anyway, as all of you can tell from the multiple lockers and containers that are closer to you, the equipment we've showcased here isn't the total number. Additionally, we have much more traditional weapons, armor, and tools for those who prefer to keep things simple. We encourage you to experiment and figure out what suits you best. As we mentioned earlier, don't worry about wasting resources for the sake of determining your choices. And, as a final note, just like with custom orders, we'd be more than happy to adjust any pre-existing gear that does suit you but needs to be tweaked in some way or another. All feedback is wanted, so don't spare those details!" She exclaimed.

"With that, our portion of the morning assembly is finished. Before the assessment, all of you will have ten minutes to peruse our offerings. The drones hovering above every locker and container will display a holographic projection of some sort, such as a name or easily understood image. That will help you know what is where and not waste time running around looking for what you want. Thank you for your time." Odette told them. Afterward, she and her Sister returned to the sidelines.

As the siblings departed, the groups flooded the combat area. Everyone went to whatever caught their attention the most on an individual level. When the ten minutes were over, the masses were back in their original places with their newly acquired equipment. During that span, a few drones moved the three containers that the Sisters used for their showcase so they wouldn't cause problems.

"Now, it is time for the first examination." Vega announced. When he did, Flynn and the Wretch departed from the combat area. "Angel Dust, Cherri Bomb, Nifty, Loona, and Vortex." He called.

As those people approached their mentor, Husk and Striker exchanged a glance. Why were they the only ones who weren't being summoned?

"Before we proceed, are there any questions you'd like to voice?" Vega inquired.

"Yeah! Right here!" Angel Dust responded while holding up his hand. "Are we going to be fighting the big guy again? If so, I might have an issue with that." He asked before brandishing his pink pistols. "I know it may sound stupid, but I don't like the idea of shooting the guy who gave me these beauties with them. It feels wrong." He said.

"I'm in the same boat." Cherri chimed in, lightly tossing her weapon up and down in her left hand. The object was a chrome sphere that was the size of a shotput. "I know Will would be fine, but it doesn't sit right with me to try and hit'em with a gift that came from him." She confessed.

"Do not worry. The test Doomguy has prepared for you will not involve him as an opponent." Vega answered, allowing them both to breathe sighs of relief.

"If we're not fighting Will, then what are we doing?" Loona questioned.

In reply, the drone that Vega positioned above the center of the combat area produced a holographic projection. The simplest way to describe it was like a scoreboard. Each of the people who'd been called had a profile image, and next to that picture were two zeroes and-

...

...

...

"...Hey..." Vortex spoke, slowly pointing at the board. "...Are...those...health bars?..." He inquired.

"Yes. However, they are not a representation of your actual vitality. These bars are a visual tracker of how much damage you would receive in a real fight. What determines the severity of the harm is the attack itself and the location of the body it strikes." Vega explained.

"...NO f*ckING WAY!" Cherri exclaimed after a moment of thinking about it. Her face was GLOWING with excitement! "ARE WE FIGHTING DEMONS TODAY?!" She guessed.

"Correct. You will be facing holographic projections that have been programmed with fully accurate behavioral patterns. For now, none of the attacks you will face will be tangible. Contrastly, the enemies will be. Your test will only end when every member of those on the field has lost all of their health. When someone's hit points reach zero, the test will pause so that they can safely exit." Vega informed them.

"Speaking of zeroes, what are two next to our names meant to represent?" Loona asked.

"The first will track your independent kills. The second will track any deaths caused by cooperation. In the event of a Demon dying to someone else unintentionally, the point will go to who dealt it the most damage. Regarding the cooperative kills, those will only be acknowledged through intentional teamwork. For example, if one of you is struggling against an opponent, and one of your allies comes to your rescue, that will be given to their score. Only proper coordination will be recognized." Vega answered, ensuring he was very clear with his wording. "Anything else?" He inquired.

"Ooh! Me! Down here!" Nifty called, waving her arm. "Why are Husk and Striker not joining us?" She questioned.

"This type of test is both a measurement of your skill level and an opportunity to raise it. All of you standing here have been given a combat rating by your mentor. That also applies to those who are waiting for their turn." Vega explained.

Husk and Striker felt a chill run through them. Not to sound like bragging, but both men knew they were viewed as the "star" students right now in Doomguy's group. So, if they hadn't been called yet, what was in store for them?

"One more thing," Angel Dust requested, holding up a hand. "Is it possible for us to be demoted? Like if we manage to get ourselves higher in the ratings, could we decline due to bad performance or if we're showing signs of not learning?" He asked.

"Yes. It wouldn't be appropriate to not penalize you for poor conduct and a potential lack of attentiveness to your training. That sentiment comes from your mentor." Vega answered. He mentioned that last part so there wouldn't be a misunderstanding that it was his stance on the subject. "Is that everything? Are we ready to proceed?" He inquired.

A moment of silence occurred. The group carefully considered if there was anything left to say.

"...Oh!" Cherri exclaimed as something struck her. "Why are all of us, not just those standing here, allowed to use anything we want?" She asked.

"Could you clarify?" Vega requested.

"Yesterday, none of us could use everything we had to offer. But now, on top of that, Odette and Clara have given us some damn fine goodies." Cherri said.

Before the AI could answer, their mentor raised his arm to indicate that he would handle the question.

"Powerful weapons, sturdy armor, and useful tools mean nothing. You can be as well-equipped as myself, and you'll still die. I, Flynn, and Wretch needed to see how all of you perform when you're stripped down to just yourselves. We don't intend for you to EVER be in such a dire situation, but there are no guarantees. Your safety is the most important thing to us, and we're going to be sure you're as good as we are when it comes to fighting these monsters. Even if you're without your equipment, if you can still hold your own, then we'll have peace of mind." Doomguy typed.

For the sake of the crowd, Vega created a separate projection with another drone to display the space marine's message.

"Right. Sorry. Stupid question." Cherri sighed, yet she did so with a smile. Like always, she and the others were grateful their mentors were so concerned for them.

"Not at all. It would be REALLY damn hard for any of you to ask a stupid question. Please be as thorough in your pursuit of knowledge and understanding as you will be with your combat improvements." Doomguy typed.

"Will do." Cherri promised before adorning an excited expression. "Now then, let's get this show on the road!" She ordered.

The others showed their agreement with the idea by nodding. Each member readied their weapons for the fight to come. For convenience, the individuals and their armaments will be listed, which will be done for the other groups as well when it is appropriate:

Angel Dust:Twin pistols with plasma functionality custom-made by Doomguy. Thompson submachine guns that he can summon at will. It is unknown if they can run out of ammunition or not, but it doesn't seem likely.

Cherri Bomb:Infinite explosions with an equally endless variety. She is capable of making custom bombs, but she must understand how they function in order to summon them. Additionally, she possesses a unique weapon made by Doomguy that has only been used once at the Goetias' estate. Cherri Bomb intends to talk with her mentor later to see if it can be improved or altered to fit her desired specifications.

Nifty:Twin Cacodemon fang daggers. A bundle of corrosive grenades for added crowd control that is strapped to her hip.Side note:Nifty is curious to see if she can contribute Arcane support for her allies with Clara and Odette's items. However, she'll seek guidance from the Wretch at a later time on that topic.

Loona: A kusarigama with a spiked weight on the end of its chain. Twin pistols with twenty-round magazines that were holstered on her hips. The guns weren't special, but the ammunition was. These firearms were loaded with the same type of rounds that Flynn used in his handgun, meaning they were effective at any range and against most targets without special aiming required.

Vortex:Two crimson-colored gauntlets designed to resemble a Baron's hands aesthetically and functionally. These weapons could conjure fireballs of Hellfire (different from Doom's), but that function would be saved for later practice. Two full-leg guards. These offered the wearer the combined strength of a Hell Knight and a Baron. The running, jumping, and stomping power of the wearer was improved, but he didn't plan to go too crazy with them for his first use. No body armor was worn, as that was something that needed to be determined more carefully at a later time.

With the combatants prepared, Doomguy moved further up the field. Then, several drones flew into the combat area and stopped roughly twenty feet from the participants. In each of the robots' possession, there was a hologram emitter.

"One final message before we begin," Vega announced. "Every test will start with one type of enemy. More will be added after one minute has passed or you successfully kill all of the adversaries currently in play. Furthermore, the number of enemies will increase as time goes on. For instance, should you face ten Hell Knights and kill them all, then you will have to deal with twenty alongside the new addition. That number will then increase to thirty, and so on. Should you manage to kill every enemy before a minute passes, there will be a brief resting period as the projections are reset for the next wave. Otherwise, the combat will continue to flow unimpeded. Is everything understood?" He explained, ending with a question.

Again, the group nodded. Everyone was ready. Let's do this.

"Three...two...one..." Vega counted down.

BOOP

The first wave of enemies manifested. Admittedly, the group was briefly surprised. Some of the members were a bit hurt. The enemies were Possessed soldiers, meaning they were essentially zombies with guns.

The more Prideful of the lot, such as Angel Dust, knew that they could handle more than this. However, everyone was quick to remember that these tests also served as a means to showcase what you're capable of. If anyone wanted Doomguy to bump up his opinion about their skill level, then it only made sense to give him a reason.

Loona, Vortex, and Nifty didn't act this round. Angel Dust and Cherri were more than capable of dealing with these undead assailants in no time at all. The Spider Demon didn't even bother using his beautiful pistols on such fodder. A spray of bullets from two Thompsons and a couple of simple explosives from Cherri Bomb were all that was needed to wrap things up.

Wave 1 Results:No damage, all enemies killed.

Score Update:Angel Dust 4. Cherri Bomb 6.

Thankfully, Vega's drones moved like lightning. The ten enemies were returned to their starting positions, ten more were added, and ten new ones were brought in.

"Three...two...one..." Vega counted down.

BOOP

Twenty soldiers with pistols. Ten soldiers with shotguns. Shotguns were most effective at shorter ranges, but buckshot meant that every combatant needed to move. Even the smallest contact would be registered and taken from the health bars.

Yet, same as before, Loona, Vortex, and Nifty didn't do anything. The trio used this time to familiarize themselves with these enemies' behaviors so they'd know how best to react for future fights. Loona could've taken some shots, but Angel Dust's wide coverage with his Thompsons made it feel pointless. As for the score, the trio intended to catch up when the battle favored them better.

Wave 2 Results:No damage, all enemies killed.

Score Update:Angel Dust 16. Cherri Bomb 24.

Ten more pistol-wielders and shotgunners were added. The next batch of new arrivals were Imps. Finally, things were getting spicy. The total number of enemies on the field had reached sixty.

"Three...two...one..." Vega counted down.

BOOP

FWOOSH

Nifty felt like being the star of this round. She attacked the Imps first by slashing at their tendons, which forced them to the ground. However, the mono-eyed redhead left them alive. Why? Well, remember that bundle of grenades she possessed?

This creative little woman wielded that bundle of explosives like it was a bola. She activated all of the grenades simultaneously, and they were wildly chomping. Then, with one swing of a knife, the enemy-seeking bombs flew away in different directions. When each one found a target, the battlefield was painted in bile.

SPLASH

Nifty had let loose her acidic death dealers at the center of the enemy legion. Her speed allowed her to attack the Imps, get in position, unleash the weapons, and resume dodging in the same span as blinking one's eye. Even as the corrosive liquid washed over the enemies, they continued to take aim and fire. Fortunately, as she had hoped, they were prioritizing her over the others, allowing her to show off her evasion skills.

Regarding the group, they didn't do anything. Much like the spectators, they were impressed by Nifty's willingness to go so deep, as well as the crowd control she demonstrated. Like Clara had promised, the holograms literally melted before dissipating. For the few that survived, Nifty used the same approach as before. First went the tendons, and then the necks were slit deep enough to ensure death. Thus, singlehandedly, the round went to her.

Wave 3 Results:No damage, all enemies killed. Additional Note: Nifty was the only participant who acted.

Score Update:Nifty 60.

CLAP

That sound prevented Vega from continuing with the usual routine. When all eyes fell on Doomguy, he typed another message for the AI to display via his drone.

"Nifty, join Husk and Striker. You'll resume your test with them."

The pint-sized woman squealed with delight as she read those words. In a flash, Nifty stood before Husk and Striker with her back turned to them. She'd be sure to restock her grenades before the next test. However, there was one more thing the space marine wanted to say.

"Vega, increase the skill level. Remove the pistol-wielders and the shotgunners. Bump the Imps up to thirty. Replace the removed types with ten chain gunners and ten Revenants."

Vega fulfilled the order without hesitation. The group and the spectators were astonished by the difference between the prior level and this one. Separately, Husk, Striker, and Nifty were now dreading their test even more.

After thirty seconds, the next round was ready to start. The thirty Imps were all in the front. The ten Revenants were directly behind them, and the chain gunners were the furthest back. It would seem that Doomguy saw the others' lack of action during the previous wave as a sign that they needed to be made to move.

"Three...two...one..." Vega counted down.

BOOP

Immediately, the horde of Imps rushed toward their prey while their hands began glowing with conjured fire. The Revenants took to the skies as their jetpacks lifted them from the ground. The chain gunners planted their feet, grabbed their belts of ammunition, and started spinning their multi-barreled slug spitters. You wanted to fight Demons? Here you go.

Being the obvious brute of the group, Vortex elected himself to take the bulk of the Imps. Loona would assist by managing the sides with her Kusarigama's reach. If needed, she'd also use her pistols, but she figured Angel Dust and Cherri Bomb would handle the long-distance element themselves.

Without a doubt, the Sinner duo knew they HAD to kill the chain gunners. Those assholes would be the figurative death of the group if they were allowed to start spraying. There was a good chance that they wouldn't hesitate to mow through the Imps to harm their enemies. That could be used as a method to incite infighting, but now was not the time to experiment with such a dangerous idea.

Cherri handled the chain gunners by herself. Her bombs made dealing with ten of them a breeze. Angel Dust looked upward to start shooting at the Revenants. Those skeletal sh*theads could be an issue if they were allowed to fire too many missiles. Even now, he refrained from using his pistols as he wanted to save them for something REALLY bad.

Impressively, the group managed to deal with the horde before the next wave could be summoned. However, it was by the tips of their hair. The timer was stopped at fifty-five seconds. Had a few Imps decided to scurry about rather than try and dogpile Vortex, then the group wouldn't have been given their usual brief respite.

Wave 4 Results:All combatants have received damage. The changes to the health values are as follows: Angel Dust 100-90, caused by Revenant missiles. Cherri Bomb 100-87, caused by chain gun bullets. Loona 100-82, caused by fireballs. Vortex 100-73, caused by Imps & fireballs. All enemies were killed.

Score Update:Angel Dust 26. Cherri Bomb 34. Loona 10. Vortex 20.

"Woo! That's my boo!" Beelzebub cheered from the sidelines, wanting to support her man.

Flattered and slightly embarrassed, the Hellhound averted his gaze and smiled. Come on, Bee, not in front of everyone.

CLAP

Oh god, another mix-up. The group's bodies tensed as they worried about what was coming next. Same as before, Doomguy's message was displayed for all to see.

"Remove the chain gunners. Keep the Imp count the same. Revenants go up by ten. Add twenty Pinkies."

The group's eyes widened. The space marine wanted to see how Angel Dust and Cherri Bomb would handle themselves against opponents that would force them to move. Vega, per usual, fulfilled the order without delay. When all of the enemies were placed, the formation had changed.

Twenty Pinkies made the frontline. Ten Imps stood on the left, ten Imps stood on the right, and ten Imps were in the far back. The twenty Revenants separated the frontline of Pinkies and the backline of Imps.

Vortex and Loona shared concerned expressions as they looked at each other. Vortex was willing to get up close and personal, but he knew that the Pinky Demon was a LITERAL living bulldozer! Even with these Baron gauntlets and Cacodemon swords, there's no way he could break through their armor while avoiding the stampede.

As for Loona, she hadn't brought any corrosive grenades or otherwise with her. The hard-hitting damage was coming from Cherri, but she wouldn't be able to safely use her bombs since the Pinkies would be on top of her allies! Plus, as their mentor intended, the armored beasts would make it to her and the Spider Demon in little time. What was the game plan?!

"Three...two...one..." Vega counted down, leaving no room for strategizing.

BOOP

A collective bellow left the Pinkies' mouths. It was truly horrifying to see such bulky monsters with nearly indestructible armor move THAT f*cking fast! Additionally, the groups of Imps on both sides of the field were going for a pincer maneuver. The ones further up the field would only scurry around in the space they inhabited to avoid incoming attacks while lobbing fireballs. As for the Revenants, half would remain stationary in the air, while the other half would follow behind their advancing allies.

There were only five seconds before the battlefield became a sh*tshow. The group needed to determine how to react to the tidal wave of terrors that was about to crash into them. Fortunately, Cherri Bomb remembered the one weapon she carried that wasn't a summon.

All eyes watched the metallic orb fly through the air. The sunlight struck the object at just the right angle to make it shine. The shotput-like item landed in the middle of the trampling Pinkies. At first, it seemed as though nothing would happen.

Instantly, the orb opened. The top and bottom half split apart, revealing an energy source of some kind. Due to the blue glow, it was likely plasma. There was a bit of sparking, and then...

ZAP

The world's deadliest bug zapper. A MASSIVE dome of plasma energy was sent outward from the orb. Apart from the obvious intense heat and plasma burns, the dome carried enough force to knock any who were struck by it off their feet. For larger targets, such as Hell Knights or Barons, they'd only stumble rather than be knocked on their asses.

Of the twenty Pinkies, five were dealt enough damage to be killed. Five more were badly burned, and the rest were lightly singed. The plasma didn't hit the Imps on the sides of the field, but the concussive wave struck them. The only ones unaffected by the weapon's attack were the Revenants and the backline of Imps.

That action didn't win the battle. Heck, it barely made a dent. But what it did do was create a moment that allowed the group to breathe, control their nerves, and then spring into motion.

Loona and Vortex hurried to different sides of the field. Each Hellhound would take care of ten Imps and prevent the group from being surrounded. As the Pinkies got back on their feet, Cherri started tossing flashbangs and concussive explosives. The reason she wasn't trying to kill them was to prevent accidental friendly fire on Loona and Vortex, which they appreciated.

All twenty Revenants readied their launchers and began the bombardment. Cherri Bomb and Angel Dust had to move or face immediate defeat. These Sinners were quick, but they still caught holographic shrapnel and the outskirts of the detonations. As for the Imps in the back, who were providing fiery artillery, they needed to wait until the cyborg skeletons were dead.

When Loona and Vortex finished killing the Imps, they turned their attention toward the Pinkies. Cherri Bomb stopped lobbing her disorientation grenades when she saw the Hellhounds change targets. With the Spider Demon handling the Revenants by himself, she shifted her focus to the backline. The mono-eyed Sinner summoned her usual colorful bombs in each hand, and then she-

...

...

...

Pinkies. Thirty Pinkies. They spawned behind the Imps and charged forward. Then, once the horde was moving, a new Demon type was added. Ten Hell Knights. The minute had passed. The group wasn't quick enough this time.

Loona and Vortex were almost through with the Pinkies already present when they heard the stampede. Both Hellhounds snapped their necks toward the gnashing maws and howling throats. Their eyes were so fixated on the pink-colored swarm that they didn't notice the other arrivals. That lack of attention extended to when those Demons lept into the air.

BOOM

Ten Hell Knights simultaneously landed nearby. The combined force from the impact was enough to knock the Hellhounds off their feet. There wouldn't be enough time to stand before the Pinkies reached them. Maybe Vortex should throw caution to the wind and try to conjure Hellfire from his gauntlets.

brzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzt

An electrical sound caused the Hellhounds' ears to twitch. The noise was coming from behind. But before the duo could turn their heads to see what it was, this happened:

BOOM BOOM

Highly charged projectiles struck the Pinkies. The combination of plasma and gunpowder was enough to kill a few in the frontline. Sadly, these were Demons of Doom. The rest of the Pinkies ran over their allies' bodies to continue the advance toward Loona and Vortex. Each Hellhound got to see what the inside of a Pinky's mouth looked like.

BOOP

The holograms stopped. Even though Loona and Vortex knew they wouldn't be harmed, they winced in reaction. Slowly opening their eyes, they saw the frozen legion of monsters before them. Then, there was an announcement.

"Loona and Vortex have been put into a situation where death is unavoidable. As such, they are no longer permitted to continue the test." Vega declared.

The Hellhounds sighed. They weren't angry or disappointed, just sad that THIS is how they lost. Yet, as Loona and Vortex stood, a surprising development unfolded.

"Excuse me!" Cherri called out, waving her arm. "Before you start this sh*t up again, could I be allowed to test something real quick?" She requested.

Being the group's mentor, Doomguy nodded to give his approval. After the Hellhounds were out of the way, Cherri Bomb summoned a single grenade with a burning fuse and then tossed it at the Pinkies. Specifically, she aimed it at their front halves, which allowed the space marine to deduce what she was doing.

BOOM

"Vega! Could you tell me how badly that hurt these f*ckers?" Cherri asked.

"Minimally. If I were to put it into a percentage, I'd say three." Vega answered.

"Oof. sh*t..." Cherri cursed with a click of her tongue. Afterward, she looked at her partner. "You thinking what I'm thinking?" She inquired.

"Yup," Angel Dust sighed with a sad but knowing smile. "My pistols only managed to kill a handful of them from the front, and that was at max juice. These rabid assholes are already about to be on top of us, meaning you can't easily throw your bombs." He commented.

"Mhm. Plus, I'm willing to wager that those faceless dickhe*ds that got Loona and Vortex on the ground will leap at us, too. Could you shoot'em out of the sky?" Cherri said, followed by another question.

"Pfft, f*ck no. I could KILL two of them while they're flying, no problem. But if we're talking about dropping all of them, I could only pull that sh*t off if I landed a headshot on each one, which not even the big guy could do." Angel Dust replied before looking at his mentor. "Right?" He called out.

"You're correct. Even someone like me has limits. I could not, under ANY circ*mstances, simultaneously kill ten Hell Knights leaping through the air without using the BFG, which I wouldn't do since it'd be a waste." Doomguy typed, still displayed for all to see.

"Whelp. We're boned." Angel Dust decided. That was all he needed to know to confirm just how screwed they were.

"Could we call it quits here?" Cherri suggested. "Or do you want to see your students get their asses beaten?" She added with a playful smirk, making him chuckle.

"No, that's fine. I'm proud of you two for admitting defeat." Doomguy typed.

With that, this test was over. All of the holograms were deactivated and collected. As the Spider Demon and his bestie left the field, the final results were shown.

Final Score:Angel Dust 50. Cherri Bomb 39. Loona 17. Vortex 28. Nifty 60.

MVP:Nifty.

"Hey!" Angel Dust exclaimed, noticing that last bit. "Is the MVP part REALLY necessary?" He questioned.

"It encourages competition. Plus, Nifty earned it." Doomguy typed.

After reading that message, the mono-eyed redhead adorned a smug-ass smile.

"Careful, Nifty. You better remember that your ass isn't done training yet." Cherri Bomb told her with a smirk.

Oh, right. When the field was ready, the space marine ushered the waiting trio to come forward with his arm. Swiftly, Nifty obtained another bundle of grenades before taking her place with Striker and Husk.

Husk: Conjuration of bladed playing cards and dice. Both items could be infused with whatever power Husk was able to command. Interestingly, no additional equipment had been taken. It was very possible that, like so many others, the Hellcat wanted to speak to Clara and Odette about a custom order.

Striker:The gunslinger stuck to what he knew and fancied. Divine armaments of Maykr quality had been delivered courtesy of the Creator herself. However, always one to try out new toys and tactics to see if something stuck, he also picked up a corrosive grenade, one Cacodemon fang dagger, and some light body armor based on an Imp (Doom) that fit comfortably beneath his shirt.

The trio waited for Vega's drones to do what they had done with the last group, but Doomguy revealed he had something else in mind.

"Your first wave will be unique. After that, we'll resume the already established standard." Doomguy typed.

A few whispers and murmurs could barely be heard from the spectators. A special round of combat to kick things off? Why? What was the reasoning?

Five drones entered the combat space. Five. That...was such a...specific number...

"Striker?" Nifty said, looking at the Imp. When she spoke, Husk also looked at him.

Striker's eyes widened. Five. That number was burned into his mind just as the memory was. Five drones. Five hologram emitters. Five Demons.

When everything was ready, the holograms appeared. Two Hell Knights in the front. A Baron of Hell stood behind them. A Pain Elemental floated in the back on the right side. Standing the farthest away, almost hidden by the other four Demons, was an Archvile.

"...The farmhouse..." Striker whispered, staring at the enemies. "These...These are...the bastards that got me..." He shared.

Nifty and Husk's eyes widened. The duo turned their attention toward the stationary monsters. This specific assortment had to be intentional, but why was their mentor doing this?

Before the cycloptic Sinner or the feathered feline could say something, their Imp companion slowly walked forward. The man didn't go very far, just enough to where he could be seen by himself. Once in position, his eyes locked onto the visor of his instructor.

"Please, just nod or shake your head. I don't need anything else." Striker requested, slightly squinting his eyes. "Is this to help me? Do you want me to deal with this as some form of therapy? A way for me to get revenge for what happened?" He asked.

Doomguy nodded. Speaking from personal experience, he'd always wanted closure for what the Demons did to him. Sadly, there wasn't a specific creature or species that was responsible for the man's ordeal and the death of his best friend. The only way he could find peace was when Doom itself stared into his eyes and watched its life end in the reflection.

But for the Imp, he'd get plenty of chances in the future to kill Hell Knights, Barons, Pain Elementals, and even Archviles. Still, having this specific arrangement would likely do a lot for him. At least, that's what the space marine hoped for.

"..." Striker tilted his hat down and turned around. "...I...owe you one..." He told his mentor before returning to his partners' sides.

Doomguy wouldn't try and argue against the gunslinger feeling indebted to him. He could tell that the man was as Prideful as he was Wrathful. Nifty and Husk felt like they should say something to the Imp as he retook his place next to them. However, with his eyes still hidden by his headgear, the duo decided to let the scene end there.

"Due to the unique nature of this round, the rules are also different," Vega announced, getting things back on track. "All of the enemies or all three participants must be defeated before we continue. Is that understood?" He said, ending with a question.

The mono-eyed redhead and the Hellcat nodded. Striker remained motionless, choosing to focus on what was to come.

"Three...two...one..." Vega counted down.

BOOP

BANG

Quickdraw. The Imp unholstered his left revolver, took aim, and fired it at the Archvile. The fear that had infected his soul during the original encounter didn't do so a second time. Was the absence of anxiety enough to help the gunslinger's speedy hand beat the Archvile's magic?

Yes. Time slowed for everyone. Striker threaded the needle. The Baron of Hell that stood behind the Hell Knights prevented a clean headshot. Yet, the space between its hooved legs allowed him to see the lower half of the Archvile. The bullet he fired shattered its shin bone perfectly.

The Arcanist Demon howled as it fell toward the ground. The shin that had been shattered belonged to the left leg. After a few seconds, the upper half of the creature's head could BARELY be seen past the Baron's left side. Fortunately, the Imp had two guns.

BANG

With the same masterful skill as before, the gunslinger drew his second firearm and sent forth a shot. The Archvile's skull exploded into juicy chunks of gore as the projectile met its mark. A moment later, the hologram dissipated.

The other Demons briefly looked behind themselves to see their ally disappear. Once that was witnessed, they turned back around to-

THUNK

The Baron roared in agony. In that microscopic window, Striker holstered one of his pistols, unsheathed his Divine knife, and then threw it into the Demon's face. The behemoth stumbled backward and worked to remove the weapon that was now lodged in its skull.

In reaction, the Hell Knights and the Pain Elemental focused back on their target. But before the brutes could take a step and the cycloptic meatball could begin conjuring Lost Souls, the Imp made his next move. With one gun still holstered, he removed the corrosive grenade from his belt. He recalled that these little buggers could find your foes by themselves, having seen as much during Nifty's earlier display.

The miniature chomping Cacodemon flew through the air and found its way to the Pain Elemental. It clamped down on the monster's single eye and exploded. The entire front half of the floating sphere was covered in acid. In less than ten seconds, the hologram suffered too much damage and disappeared.

Now, it was just the Hell Knights. These mountains of muscles were going to-

BANG BANG

Double whammy. The Hell Knights fell backward as their heads were obliterated. Before the beasts could reach the ground, the holograms faded. Now, there was only the Baron of Hell.

The crimson-colored giant finally removed the Divine knife from its face. As it tossed the weapon away, it turned its head to look at-

THUNK

If Demons could curse, this Baron would be swearing up a storm. Striker did the same thing as before, only this time he threw the Cacodemon fang dagger he equipped. Again, the monster stumbled backward and tried to remove the blade.

BANG BANG BANG BANG

Four shots, two for each leg. The weight of the torso literally crushed the Baron's lower half due to its bones being shattered by bullets. The Demon hit the dirt with a mightyTHUD.All the creature could do now was roar with a knife stuck in its face.

Everyone watched as the gunslinger slowly approached the fallen behemoth. The spectators, his partners, and his mentor expected him to shoot it. However, the Imp didn't want to be so merciful, even to a fake enemy. There was one tool at his disposal he hadn't used.

Striker positioned himself on top of the Baron's back. Then, he uncurled his lasso. Slowly, the rope was put around the Demon's neck. From here, you can guess what transpired.

The Imp strangled his victim with all the strength he had. The Divine rope did its job and burned the beast's neck. Unlike on the farm, due to the Demon being on the ground like this, it couldn't reach back and burn its killer.

Progressively, the lasso went deeper into the Baron's neck. The green fire in its eyes started dying. Striker didn't need to grip the rope as tightly as he was, but he did. It was starting to dig into his palms, breaking the skin.

Eventually, the Demon was dead. When it disappeared, the Imp landed on his rear end with a softthump.As the seconds passed, he remained seated on the ground while staring at the emitter. Was he okay? Was his mind still here?

...

...

...

A hand touched a shoulder. Striker looked behind himself and saw Doomguy standing there.

"Sorry for the theatrics." Striker apologized, getting to his feet. "I know we're meant to be taking this seriously. It wasn't my intention to turn it into a rodeo." He said.

The space marine shook his head. Then, the PDA was summoned. This message would be seen only by the Imp.

"No. You did great. I didn't think you'd kill them all by yourself, so you managed to surprise me." Doomguy typed.

"Heh...to be honest...I let my body take the wheel..." Striker confessed, looking at himself. "...Still...my head feels...fuzzy...I don't mean to sound like a quitter, but could I-"

The space marine interrupted the Imp. The same hand was placed on the same shoulder. No words were needed.

In reply, the gunslinger politely tipped his hat. Then, in silence, he made his way off the field. Everyone watched as Striker walked through the crowd and went elsewhere in the complex. Just like with Doomguy, no explanation was necessary.

"...Can we also be let off easy?" Husk inquired once the Imp was gone.

"Husk! You're the only one who hasn't done anything! Don't be lazy!" Nifty scolded him, disappointed in the attempt.

Shockingly, Doomguy folded his arms. Was...he considering it?

...

...

...

"Yeah, sure. Husk, you don't have to fight today." Doomguy typed. His messages were being displayed to the crowd again.

While the Hellcat breathed a sigh of relief, everyone else began chattering as they tried to figure out what was going on. Why was the space marine permitting this?

"Hey!" Loona exclaimed, having the courage to address the man directly. "How is it fair for all of us to do something, but he gets a pass?!" She questioned.

"Who said anything about a pass?" Doomguy typed.

...

...

...

"I take it back." Husk said, eyes widening. "I'm sorry. I f*cked up. Bring on the Demons." He told him.

"No, it's okay. I have no issues with letting any of you skip your tests. After all, it's not like that's the only thing that happens during training." Doomguy typed.

The Hellcat seriously considered flying over to the space marine so he could then beg. Sadly, he and the others knew how that man's mind worked by now. If the feathered feline wanted to skip out on his test, he was more than welcome to. It's not as if anything was set in stone, which included whatever was to come later in the day.

Fully understanding the severity of his slip-up, Husk left the combat area with his head hung low. Nifty followed behind him at a leisurely pace with a pleased smile, which was a sentiment shared by the crowd. None of them suspected that he'd suddenly get special treatment, but it was still nice to know he had it coming for trying to avoid his dues. When the pair of Sinners were off the field, the instructors were switched.

Flynn Taggart's group remained among the spectators. They didn't want to assume that their test would be the same. Although, even if it was, they didn't want to take the field under the assumption that all of them would be at the same skill level.

"Attention!" Flynn sounded off with an authoritative tone. He intended to fulfill his duties as a drill master perfectly. "I want every person fighting under me to line up in a row! Stand shoulder-to-shoulder and ensure that the line is as straight as a blade!" He ordered.

Following his command, the soldier's group fell into formation. The order in which everyone stood was mostly the same as the turns they took yesterday. The only difference was that Adam was standing between Lute and Vagatha, which was something the women requested. Thankfully, that wasn't an issue to their mentor since he didn't care how the others lined up.

Still, the spread worked out quite well. Carmilla was on the far right from Flynn's perspective, followed by the Angels, then Glitz and Glam, and then it ended with the trio of Imps. As for their arsenals, they are as follows:

Carmilla:Divine leg armor that doubled as a weapon, which is synonymous with her. Two fully loaded magnums with corrosive rounds courtesy of her Daughters. A full belt of daggers that were half Divine and half Cacodemon fangs. In summary, this Overlord's combat preference was to hit them hard, quickly, and precisely.

Vagatha:A Divine spear that could be summoned and manipulated by its wielder. Truthfully, she was out of practice moving the spear around by itself or using any Divine powers. So, she'd likely stick to keeping things simple for this test. Apart from the spear, there was a plasma rifle strapped to Vagatha's backside. She was interested in such weaponry, so she wanted to give it a try. Lastly, there were two standard frag grenades on each hip. No body armor was worn because, much like Vortex, she wanted to spend dedicated time to finding the right fit.

Lute & Adam:These two Angels were basically the same regarding their equipment. Their usual attire was already impervious to a LOT and offered a multitude of enhancements, protections, and benefits. Each individual's weapon was more or less the same. Plus, since they could use their powers, unlike yesterday, they were confident that their bases were sufficiently covered. The only things the duo planned to experiment with later were Clara and Odette's power enhancers to see if they'd want to use them.

Glitz & Glam:The Sisters took a sensible approach to their weaponry. Glitz wore some body armor from the brawler catalog, wielded a shotgun, and had a bandolier of grenades strapped around her torso. Glam carried the same model of assault rifle as Doomguy with the tactical scope equipped, two submachine guns on her thighs, and a Divine spear on her back. Similar to Millie and Moxxie, for this test at least, the twins were going for a long and close-range balance that left them with very few weaknesses.

Millie & Moxxie:Millie was going ALL in with the brawler catalog. Naturally, Clara and Odette ensured they designed gear for all body types and proportions. The black-haired Imp was sporting a pair of Baron gauntlets, Hell Knight leg guards, and Imp (Doom) body armor. She traded her usual obsidian ax for one made from Divine materials. On her backside was a single-chambered grenade launcher, which the Sisters promised was compatible with any grenade type. Alongside a satchel that carried the grenades, two Cacodemon fang daggers were sheathed on the woman's thighs. Moxxie was essentially the same as his Wife, only for ranged combat. The white-haired Imp sported a Divine rifle with a satchel of bullets hanging from his shoulder. On his thighs, there were two pistols that each had a different type of ammunition loaded into the clip. He intended for both guns to serve distinct purposes based on the bullets he gave them.

Blitzo:Let it never be said that this man let limitations stop him. Blitzo chose a fairly simple selection for this test: his flintlock pistol, which he planned to have Clara and Odette improve later, a double-barreled shotgun similar to Doomguy's, and a satchel of grenades that were the same as Flynn's, meaning they had a wide-range of detonation options. But then, there was the most eye-catching weapon. This lanky son of a bitch was carrying a rocket launcher on his back. No, it wasn't a rocket launcher that the Sisters had SPECIFICALLY designed for those of a smaller stature. This bold bastard was willing to carry the same type of rocket launcher that Flynn used. He didn't go with Doomguy's model since he didn't want to worry about the modifications.

"So, we have a peculiar problem with this outfit." Flynn began, coming closer to his students. "All of you standing before me are some of the best killers we have in this complex. If you were to find yourselves surrounded by Demons, I say with total sincerity that you'd do just fine. Some need work, such as Millie, Moxxie, and Blitzo, but you three just need to expand your skill sets or learn to adapt by using what you know to prevent tragedy." He stated.

Hearing such a nice compliment, even if it was already known, did make the group smile. Anyone would be flattered to receive acknowledgment of their talents and abilities, especially in this context.

"HOWEVER!" Flynn suddenly shouted, causing them all to jump a little. "Since you are so capable, that makes figuring out a test for you a tad difficult. Truly, the only thing I could think of for a good while was just swarming you with Doom's meanest sons of bitches. A legion of Barons backed by Archviles and Summoners while Mancubi provided artillery from afar. That seemed reasonable, but then I had to consider individuals like Lute or Adam, who can conjure Divine power like it's nothing. No matter how you look at it, this squad, from the get-go, is a Demon-killing powerhouse. Separate, you're formidable. Together, you may be damn near unstoppable. Especially if you're using any of the equipment provided by Clara and Odette." He told them. He wanted to give a shoutout to the girls, which they noticed and appreciated.

Before the soldier could continue, someone raised their hand.

"Yes, Glitz?" Flynn called.

"Are you hyping all of us just so you can solo us like it's nothing?" Glitz asked.

"No. It is not my goal to humiliate any of you." Flynn answered.

"Could've fooled me..." Blitzo grumbled.

"What was that?" Flynn challenged, slowly turning to look at the only person who tried to cheat yesterday.

In reaction, the lanky Imp started whistling. Uh-huh, that's what I thought.

"Anyway." Flynn started anew, resuming from where he left off. "Trying to orchestrate an enemy formation that all of you would struggle with is damn near impossible. Separating you into teams, while easier, is still incredibly difficult. So, I approached the problem from a new angle." He revealed before looking upward at the drone in the sky. "Vega! Lay it out for them." He ordered.

The drone's optic projected a holographic scoreboard. It was nearly identical to the one used for Doomguy's group. However, everyone immediately spotted the changes. The health bars were there, but there weren't any score trackers.

Then, it happened. A second drone flew into the combat area and positioned itself next to the first one. Afterward, another holographic projection appeared. It was a much smaller square, but almost every inch of the space was taken by a single massive health bar.

Unlike with the participants, no profile image had been provided. That would make sense once the health bar's owner was introduced. A third drone entered the combat area, carrying a hologram emitter. The machine moved to the opposite end of the field, the furthest distance it could go, and then it released the device.

The emitter didn't hit the ground. It fell a few feet but then floated in the air. After a few seconds, the Argent mist within was released. Every eye around widened in shock when the hologram finished forming.

Standing on four massive mechanical legs, a Spider Mastermind stared directly at Flynn's group. This was the first time anyone other than the mentors had seen this monstrosity. The size of the abomination was intimidating, and the technology fused to its pink flesh was equally impressive and terrifying. By all accounts, you'd refer to a creature like this as a boss.

"Your mission for the morning: Kill the Mastermind," Flynn said to his students. "There will be no other Demons. There will be no time limits. Either it dies, or you do. That's the only way you're getting off this field." He continued, departing from the combat area. "Oh, and while the weapons and attacks won't be fully realistic, they WILL still pack a punch. The worst any of you should get is bruising, soreness, burns, and maybe broken or fractured bones if you're not careful. As I already mentioned, you lot are capable enough from the start to where I don't need to use the kiddie gloves. Depending on how well you do here, your next test might have you facing real dangers, but that's better discussed later." He concluded, now standing on the sidelines. "Do your best not to get cooked!" He added as a supportive exclamation.

"Three...two...one..." Vega counted down. Jesus f*cking Christ! Could they be allowed a moment to process-

BOOP

BRZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT

The Spider Mastermind's plasma weaponry was unprecedentedly quick. The gun fired its burning spheres of blue energy with blinding speed. Every member of the group had to let their instincts take control for a second. If any of them didn't do that, then they might've been dead within the first ten seconds!

TICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICKTICK

If you thought seeing Pinkies move as fast as they did was scary, try imagining a colossal cyborg brain arachnid being even worse! Those mechanical legs scurried toward the group as the plasma gun continued firing. Some of the participants hoped that this would be a primarily ranged battle, but it wasn't! This sci-fi horror had no reservations when it came to melee confrontation!

KLANG

With its front right leg, the Demon tried to hit as many people as possible with a wide swing. Whether by instinct or choice, Adam protected the others. He hoped his battleaxe would damage the robotic limb in SOME way when the two clashed. Sadly, all the Exorcist could do was prevent the appendage from traveling further.

The only reason Adam wasn't sent flying from the overwhelming power of the strike was thanks to his wings. He counteracted the force with a backward thrust of his feathered extensions. However, as the man stood there, his feet were being forced into the ground as the Spider Mastermind pushed against him. A few more seconds, and he could still-

BOOM

A rocket struck the Demon from elsewhere in the combat area. Since the target wasn't moving, Blitzo was confident he could fire a shot, which proved to be true. Unfortunately, the explosive did little damage. The health bar barely moved!

Yet, the lanky Imp successfully earned the monster's attention. A lump formed in his throat as the plasma weapon snapped in his direction. Would Blitzo be able to evade the-

BANG

Moxxie took a shot. Adam and Blitzo's efforts gave him enough time to aim carefully. The projectile was aimed at the Spider Mastermind's left eye. Surely, even for something like this beast, an injury like that would be notable, right?

Nope. With a socket now gushing blood, the cyborg arachnid made Moxxie its primary target. It pulled away from Adam and lept toward the white-haired Imp. The sheer weight of this fiend might be enough to take him out of the battle.

SPLASH

Blitzo wasn't the only one with a launcher. Millie fired hers after loading it with a corrosive grenade. The goal of this test was to kill the bastard, so they needed to be applying damage as much as possible. A Cacodemon's acidic bile was a perfect tool for the job.

Finally, the Spider Mastermind sustained some damage. The grenade's contents burned both the pink flesh and the white metal. As for its trajectory, the grenade launcher propelled its projectile with JUST enough force to affect it.. The creature landed with a thunderous THUDa few feet from Moxxie.

As the monster worked to get upright again, the combatants regrouped on the opposite side of the field. They knew they didn't have time to work out a proper plan, but simply getting their bearings and falling into a formation was greatly beneficial. Millie, Glitz, and Adam would act as the main frontline. Carmilla, Lute, and Vagatha would prioritize dealing in damage when the focus wasn't on them. Blitzo, Moxxie, and Glam would offer ranged support and try to coordinate with whatever their allies were doing.

Suddenly, right when the Spider Mastermind was about to start attacking again, everyone heard a melodic ballad being played with a guitar. Remember: Adam was a battle BARD. As he jammed out on his instrument, a golden glow enveloped every member of the group.

"I don't know if it's as good as Haste, but you'll still move faster!" Adam exclaimed as he stopped playing. "I'll try to keep us all buffed when I can!" He added.

The others nodded in reply. Having someone with such a skillset was an AMAZING advantage. Later, when there wasn't a giant brain trying to kill them, the group should spend some time talking to Adam about everything he could provide so they'd know for the future.

BRZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZT

Another electrical sound, only that wasn't the plasma weapon. The Spider Mastermind's organic parts began glowing with blue light. Strands of energy sparked and danced across the folds of its brain. Then, the battlefield changed.

Every bit of the combat area was covered in surging electricity. For a few seconds, all of the combatants had to grit their teeth and endure the pain. Luckily, the bard had them covered.

FWOOSH

Adam flew into the air and resumed playing his guitar. It would seem that, for this battle at least, it might be better if he stuck to a supporting role, which he didn't mind. His fingers hastily danced across the strings to get out a protection spell. When the cast was complete, the golden aura surrounding everyone brightened. It wasn't as good as Invincibility, but it could easily shield against lightning.

"Everything has a duration, and I can only refresh it if I keep playing that specific song!" Adam informed those below. "If you don't want me to repeat the same tunes, then get that asshole to stop frying the field!" He instructed.

Like before, everyone nodded in response. Afterward, Millie and Glitz led the charge, which earned their opponent's focus. The Demon aimed its plasma weapon at the duo and let loose a volley. During this sequence, Carmilla ran up the left side of the field, Vagatha ran up the right, and Lute used her wings to follow Millie and Glitz.

The trio that moved up the middle weaved around the incoming plasma spheres. However, the monster wasn't ignorant of the adversaries approaching from the sides. Multiple strands of electricity on its brain came together to form large balls of energy. The intent was to throw these at those-

BANG

A projectile struck one of the orbs, causing it to explode. Naturally, Moxxie would provide coverfire.

DUT DUT DUT DUT DUT DUT DUT DUT DUT DUT DUT

A controlled assault of high-caliber rounds peppered the beast and the remaining orbs. A series of blue explosions surrounded the creature, effectively hindering its ability to see. Glam exchanged a glance with the white-haired Imp. The two obtained a newfound respect for one another.

SHICK

A Divine spear embedded itself into the right side of the Spider Mastermind's brain. When the Demon turned to look in that direction to see who was responsible, it received a face full of plasma from Vagatha's rifle.

BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG BANG

Carmilla was firing off rounds in a controlled pattern. Each bullet flew into the left half of the monster's brain. The acidic compound stored within them would slowly melt it from the inside out. Even though each bullet's quantity was small, the unrivaled potency of the substance still made it extremely lethal. Plus, there would be MULTIPLE projectiles inflicting corrosion simultaneously.

Those who ran up the middle had reached their destination. Millie swung her battleaxe overhead, putting it directly into the middle of the Spider Mastermind's face. Glitz shoved her shotgun INTO its mouth and pulled the trigger. Lute, from above, plunged her holy blade into the center of what would be the forehead and started pushing forward with the intent of splitting the brain in two. Surely, this HAD to be enough!

CLICK

That was not one sound. It was multiple noises that were alike, all happening in unison. Across the Demon's body, an unknowable amount of small ports opened. The group was about to receive a very important lesson.

The combat area became a light show, with a vast array of bright red lasers shooting out in every direction. It is very important to remember that while the Demons of Doom could feel pain and be hindered by certain injuries, such as Striker throwing knives into the Baron's face from before, they would NOT stop moving or fighting until they were dead. Was the monster's fleshy section considerably wounded? Yes, and that was an achievement, but the mechanical body was barely damaged.

Each of the four legs began turning and spinning the creature around. Regardless of orientation, it could act without any hinderances. The lasers moved throughout the field with deadly speed. Simply put, it was a blender of heated death that would have killed each person here, were this a real fight.

The five people closest to the creature were struck by multiple lasers immediately. Their bodies were burned and scarred in random patterns dictated by the lasers' movements. In just under ten seconds, Millie, Glitz, Lute, Vagatha, and Carmilla lost all of their health. However, as Flynn stated, the test wouldn't end until everyone was dropped.

Could the combatants ignore the rules and continue to attack their shared opponent? Yes. But none of them were so ignorant or disrespectful to their instructor that they'd deliberately go against the conduct of the test. So, the five women remained on the ground and took it easy as they endured the pain of their wounds.

Adam, who was still flying and playing his guitar, did his best to evade the beams. The same applies to Glam and Moxxie, the latter of whom showed decent acrobatic abilities even when carrying a sizable rifle. Tragically, the trio could only evade for so long. The lasers were plentiful, and they left little room for ANY maneuvering.

In under thirty seconds, most of the participants in this battle were eliminated. Each of them had lines of still-hot skin caused by the Spider Demon's barrage. Their attires were also torn and scorched all over. Yet, there was one silver lining.

When the five women attacked the monster, it stopped covering the field with electricity. So, as each member of the group lay on the ground, there weren't any sparking strands of blue energy to harm them. That was an important detail since Adam, who'd been struck out of the sky, was no longer playing his guitar. Thus, the protective barrier he bestowed on his allies was gone.

...

...

...

Hold on. Something is amiss. Shouldn't the test be over? Why hadn't Vega issued the usual sound?

If you don't already know, let's return to the description of the scene. Most of the participants in this battle were eliminated. Millie, Glitz, Lute, Vagatha, Carmilla, Moxxie, Glam, and Adam. Each of those people sustained too much damage and lost all of their health as a result. That makes sense since there wasn't a way to avoid getting hit by so many lasers.

Yet, the test continued. The hologram of the Spider Mastermind started patrolling the field. Even though these fake Demons were programmed with authentic behavioral patterns, Vega still had primary control. Right now, the simulated creature was walking over to each of its defeated enemies so that it could examine them.

None of the people who have been mentioned felt nervous or frightened. It was obvious that the monster wouldn't continue attacking them. Likely, if this test was meant to be a VERY real depiction of a fight, Flynn might've allowed it to get more grim. But for this experience, the Demon was only allowed to reduce their health to zero and nothing else.

Everyone watched as the Spider Mastermind conducted its inspections. Eventually, it arrived at Blitzo's motionless form. The lanky Imp was lying face-down on the ground. Come to think of it, when did he fall?

The spectators and the other members of the group had been focused on the lasers, which was understandable. However, Doomguy, Flynn, and the Wretch noticed what Blitzo did when the beams were fired and started spinning. The Imp threw himself to the ground and flattened his body as much as he could.

A couple of lasers still managed to strike Blitzo. That was determined by the damage to his clothes and the loss of health from his bar. But unlike the rest of the group, the lanky Imp's health wasn't gone.

SHUCK

Suddenly, Blitzo turned around. He shoved his entire right arm into the Spider Mastermind's maw. In his hand, there was a grenade. Now, all he had to do was-

BOOM

...

...

...

That wasn't supposed to happen. The grenade was neabt to be on a timer. Unfortunately, the lanky Imp had made one VERY big mistake. He accidentally put the grenade's detonation setting on proximity.

Once inside the monster's mouth, the explosive went off. On the one hand, it demolished most of the front half, effectively killing it. On the other hand, well, there wasn't one. It had been blown to smithereens.

The force of the blast sent Blitzo flying several feet away. When he hit the ground, he was shellshocked. Everything was blurry, and his ears were ringing. He tried to touch the side of his head with his right hand, but...it...

"...f*ck..." Blitzo whispered, staring at a jagged piece of bone. Everything past the elbow was gone. "f*ck. f*ck! f*ck!" He repeated rapidly before screaming.

BOOP

There was the sound. Immediately, the hologram of the Spider Mastermind disappeared, and multiple drones hurried into the combat area. They surrounded the injured Imp before then carrying him away to the medical area. Meanwhile, everyone was processing what they had just seen.

...

...

...

CLAP

That was Flynn. He earned the attention of all with a clap of his hands as he walked out onto the field.

"...So...that happened..." Flynn said, now putting his hands on his hips. "The idea was sound, but the execution...well...it needs work..." He commented, trying to make the atmosphere positive.

Don't be too hard on the guy. What was ANYONE supposed to do after seeing that? Sure, Blitzo did it to himself, but it was unintentional. That entire sequence left the air feeling awkward.

"...Um..." Wretch spoke, walking out to stand next to his friend. "The test I have planned isn't meant for the combat area. So, perhaps we should take a break? My group will move to the study area while the Slayer and Flynn gather their people and discuss their lesson plans for the remainder of the day." He suggested.

The agreement was unanimous and instantaneous. Everyone wanted DESPERATELY to move past this incident. So, following the former Demon's instruction, the groups converged and went to their designated locations. Doomguy still had the combat area while Flynn took his students outside the complex.

Noon

You know, the Wretch's group understood that their education about Doom would be different from Doomguy and Flynn's approach. However, when Beelzebub suggested the night prior that they'd be subjected to lectures, she didn't realize how spot-on that had been until now. Even more, the group's dedicated area among the complex's archives was basically a classroom.

Two people sat next to each other at long wooden tables. Due to the number of students, someone had to sit by themselves. Fortunately, Alastor had no issues being the lone sitter. As for the Wretch, he stood at the head of the tables next to a device that could project a holographic board. Naturally, Vega would be his teaching assistant.

After arriving in the study area and getting settled, the group was given its test. It was a literal multi-paged exam designed to properly measure the students' knowledge about the Arcane, powers in general, and Doom-related topics. Regarding that last bit, the former Demon didn't expect his pupils to know all too much about Doom just yet. He mainly included that part to see how each individual would handle the situations and problems that were described.

By the time the morning was over and noon was just beginning, everyone had finished the test and waited patiently as the Wretch examined each one. He wasn't some strict dictator, so the group could freely talk among themselves if they so desired. Yet, for most of the grading, they were silent. Alas, after a while, someone couldn't keep their lips locked any longer.

"Wretch," Lucifer spoke, earning his instructor's attention. "I'm sorry if this comes across as rude or childish of me, but shouldn't we be experiencing a more practical test like the other groups?" He asked.

"Lucifer, we wanted Wretch's expertise, remember?" Lilith reminded her Husband, perplexed by his question. Unsurprisingly, she was the one who sat at the same table as him.

"I haven't forgotten, dear. But I assumed that Wretch would have us fight those fake Demons and offer guidance on how best to wield our abilities. He'd provide insight into how we could cleverly use our powers against an enemy that is in itself a primordial force. I'm not saying I'm disappointed by this approach, only that, like William and Flynn, I thought you'd want us to know what it is like to confront mindless savages that could easily overwhelm us if we're not careful." Lucifer explained.

"You're right, Lucifer. I do want you to grasp what fighting against Doom will be like." Wretch acknowledged. "However, the majority of you seated before me are godly entities. The sole exception is Alastor, but he's remarkably powerful for a mortal AND is extremely well-versed in the subjects we're prioritizing. The only challenge I could provide you without involving myself would be to overwhelm you with a recreation of an army. I'd have you face ten thousand Imps, five thousand Hell Knights, a thousand Barons, five hundred Summoners, and a hundred Archviles. But then, there are the adversaries who claim the skies. Ten thousand Lost Souls, five thousand Cacodemons, a thousand Revenants, and five hundred Pain Elementals. I've left some species out, such as the Pinkies and the Mancubi, but that's because what I've described would be the bare minimum of what I must throw at you to create a tangible threat." He answered.

"You...see such promise in us?..."Azrael questioned, expressing the surprise and flattery of the group.

"I'd be a fool not to." Wretch replied, now focusing on Lilith. "Please, be honest with me. If you were to unleash all of your power, how devastating would it be?" He inquired.

"Oh. Um..." Lilith needed a moment to think. Had she ever gone all-out? There didn't seem to be any memories like that. "...Well...I...hmm...I...I think...I could...set an entire city ablaze in one go, maybe more." She described. "However! I'd need SOME time to prepare a spell to create such destruction." She added.

"Lucifer, your turn." Wretch moved on, now looking at the Devil.

"..." Lucifer was in the same boat as his Wife. Even in his reckless days, the man had never let EVERYTHING out or tried to, in a sense, go nuclear. "I'm not as exceptional as Lilith with sorcery, but I could level a mountain range if I let it all loose. I might need a moment or two to breathe after that, but it's doable." He responded.

"Charlie." Wretch called upon, now looking at the Princess.

"..." Charlie stared at her lap. She was slightly embarrassed. "...I've...rarely used my powers...basic stuff, sure...but...I've never gone crazy..." She quietly informed him.

"Fair enough." Wretch said, now looking at the Angel of Death.

"If I were to unleash all that I can, I feel confident that I would drop an entire army of creatures. The Gaze of Death that everyone witnessed yesterday could be considered a small-scale version of what I'm describing. Similar to Lucifer, I'd need time to recover from such a feat." Azrael told him.

"See? Azrael alone is a force of nature. If she were the only person on our side with such power, then I might follow the Slayer and Flynn's examples." Wretch stated, now looking at the whole group. "Luckily, the Angel of Death isn't our only ace. The Royal Family of Hell is a trio of powerhouses. Then, you have Beelzebub and Asmodeus. I don't know if they're on par with the others, but they're by no means weaklings." He went on.

"Eh, I'd say we're CLOSE to Lucifer. We're not related to any Maykrs, but we are essentially God-adjacent beings." Asmodeus commented.

"Yeah, what he said," Beelzebub agreed while pointing to her fellow Sin with her thumb.

"Ahem," Alastor cleared his throat. "I don't mean to sound hurt, but what about me?" He asked, feeling a tad ignored.

"Pardon me, Alastor, but your abilities are more of a mystery. Yes, I do not know the particulars of those I've mentioned. Yet, due to the nature of their existence, I can easily determine where they would land if measured." Wretch answered.

"Hmm..." Alastor hummed before shrugging. "Alright, that's fair. It is far easier to know a relative of Khan is supremely powerful than it is with a formerly mortal soul such as mine." He admitted. "Out of curiosity, is that partly what the tests you had us take are meant to help with?" He guessed.

"Partially, yes. Primarily, I just wanted to assess your knowledge of the topics in the exam and your mentalities regarding the scenarios I provided." Wretch replied, holding up the papers. "Overall, I must confess that I'm surprised. I didn't think you would be so diligent in learning about Doom's specifics." He said.

"Does that mean we can skip the ABCs of Demonology?" Beelzebub inquired. She wasn't looking to be lazy or anything, she was just curious as to what that meant.

"The absolute basics, yes. Additionally, I don't believe it is necessary to go through the behaviors of the species and how they work together in combat. Your pre-existing knowledge and what you'll witness from the simulations will handle that just fine. Instead, the best starting point for our group will be you. As your mentor, I must witness all that you can do and help you master what you haven't already. Once we're all sharpened to our greatest potential, then we shall proceed with experimentation and synergies between ourselves." Wretch informed them.

"Wretch," Lilith called, raising her hand. "Could we still prioritize learning about the powers and energies that come from Doom? Things like Berserk, as an example. We believe that if we can learn what their components are, then we can conjure them ourselves without any of the unsavory side effects." She requested.

"Oh! Another thing!" Charlie exclaimed, raising her hand. "Now that everyone knows about Eve, we'd like to talk about the Helix Stones." She said.

"Of course, to both of you," Wretch responded, making them smile. "How does this sound? For the first half of every noon, we focus on my planned lessons. For the latter half leading toward the evening, we'll turn our attention to whatever any of you feel is important." He proposed.

A decision was reached without discussion. Every member of the group liked that arrangement, so a unanimous nod was given. Thus, with that all said and done, education could begin!

Elsewhere, In The Combat Area...

Striker returned to his group just before the break was over. He needed to clear his head, which didn't imply skipping out on the rest of the day's lessons. The Imp was filled in on what transpired during his absence. Truthfully, a part of him was sad he missed out on seeing the Spider Mastermind in action.

When the gunslinger was back, every member of the group was lined up. Doomguy was standing before them. However, someone was missing. But before anyone could comment on that, their mentor typed into his PDA.

"Sparring sessions. I'm going to pair you up so that each person is helping their partner. To clarify, the first duo will be Angel Dust and Vortex since each one needs improvement in the areas the other exceeds in." Doomguy typed.

"Oh, I get it!" Cherri exclaimed while hitting the palm of her hand. "So, by that logic, am I getting paired with Loona?" She assumed.

"No. Loona does just fine with ranged combat. You'll be partnered with Nifty since she can avoid your bombs and help you deal with an enemy who will invade your space." Doomguy typed.

"I promise I won't hurt you too badly!" Nifty vowed. Coming from anyone else, that'd be a taunt. But in the case of the redhead, she was being sincere.

"Nah, it's cool. Don't be afraid to give me some bruises and cuts. I'm a big girl; I can take it." Cherri argued, not wanting her partner to restrain herself.

"The next pair is Loona and Striker. Both of them are adept at every combat skill set, but each of them needs to refine those skills, so they're not masters of none." Doomguy typed.

"Just saying, I think the guy who managed to kill an Archvile in two seconds is a bit higher on the tier list than me." Loona said, making her partner chuckle.

"Don't praise me too much. If I were green like you, I wouldn't have prioritized the bastard, nor would I have been as efficient. That fight from earlier was a rematch I got gifted. Had it been a first-time fight, it could've gotten ugly REAL quick." Striker replied, wanting to be humble.

"Still, your marksmanship's INSANE. You shattered the Archvile's shin by shooting between the legs of a Baron. Maybe, and I mean MAYBE, your melee skills could use some work. I don't know, I haven't seen them yet. But you DEFINITELY proved you can handle a gun better than anyone standing here." Loona told him.

Just to mess with the Hellhound, the space marine started tapping his foot.

"Hey, Demigods don't get counted." Loona remarked with a smirk, making him chuckle.

"Fair enough." Doomguy typed.

"Excuse me," Angel Dust called, waving his hand. "Out of curiosity, are you going somewhere else to spar with Husk? Is that why he's not here?" He asked.

Yup. The Hellcat was the missing member. Upon thinking about it, no one knew where he'd gotten off to. Was the feathered feline actually trying to play hooky?

"Since Husk wanted to skip out on his test, I thought it'd be appropriate if he spent the day with the Exorcists. While our groups are training, those women are using the gym and the study area to improve themselves. Regarding the latter, it's big enough that none of them will interfere with Wretch and his students, not that they'd want to, of course." Doomguy typed.

...Oh...dear...Khan. Husk was alone with the Exorcists. No matter the thought or image that appeared in the others' minds, it was all harrowing.

"...He's...not going to die, right?" Cherri inquired. That was a VERY reasonable concern to have.

"The Exorcists gave me their word that Husk would only WANT to die. Those ladies are experts. There is no chance of an accidental or deliberate death." Doomguy typed.

You know, somehow, that made the ideas worse. Rework those words, and what the space marine essentially told his students was that the Angels knew how far they could push the Hellcat without breaking him completely.

"Any more questions?" Doomguy typed, fully aware of the shocked gazes he was getting from his group.

Immediately, everyone shook their heads with unrestrained vigor. It was now an additional primary objective for all of them to NEVER try to pull a fast one on their mentor. The group would rather fight the holographic Demons when they were fully realistic than be left at the mercy of the Exorcists. Those bitches were bad enough when they wanted to kill you, which would always be quick! Only the deepest depths of despair could paint the picture of what they were like when allowed to take their time!

Elsewhere, In The Wastes Of Pride...

The gentle breeze of the wasteland was soothing. The temperature was warm but not hot. Even for someone like Adam, who was dressed in a full-body gown, he felt comfortable. Today was a good day for exhaustive exercises that would leave you sweating.

Yet Flynn's group wasn't doing anything. Each member stood shoulder-to-shoulder, silently observing their mentor. The soldier remained motionless, arms folded, staring at the ground. Behind the man were several drones carrying cases of hologram emitters.

"Sir?" Lute spoke, being the first to do so. "Are you okay?" She asked.

"..." Flynn remained quiet.

"Is this about Blitzo?" Millie guessed.

"...Yeah..." Flynn sighed, holding up his hand afterward. "Before ANY of you says something, let me explain. I know all of you are willing to get injured during training. You don't want me, Will, or Wretch to hold back in preparing you for Doom. It's not what Blitzo did that bothers me since he chose to do it. Sure, he obviously didn't want the grenade to be on THAT setting when he shoved it into the Spider Mastermind's mouth, but still, it was HIS plan. I'm just wondering if I could have prevented it." He told them.

"Is that why we're standing here? Are you trying to figure out a way to keep us from getting hurt?" Vagatha questioned.

"...Kind of..." Flynn began, sighing again. "No matter what, you guys are getting injured. That's unavoidable. But I don't want to create scenarios where you lose a limb, accidental or not." He said.

"If I may," Vega interjected, speaking from one of the drones. "I was controlling the Spider Mastermind during that test. I had it inspect the others since it makes sense for the Demon, given its intellect, to ensure its prey is dead. Despite its appearance, that creature isn't mindless like its brethren. It wouldn't choose to shoot its gun at something it presumes is dead. The Spider Mastermind would rather save the energy and crush any survivors with one of its legs." He stated.

"Plus, it really is Blitzo's fault for choosing something so reckless," Moxxie argued, closing his eyes out of frustration. "One time, he thought it'd be a GREAT idea if we went to Earth without disguises. It was a WHOLE ordeal. We nearly got nabbed by some human organization, but thankfully, Loona was quick with the Grimoire we used for our business to get us out of there." He shared.

"What?!" Glitz and Glam reacted simultaneously. "You went to Earth WITHOUT disguises?!" They inquired.

"Mhm. Blitzo didn't think it was a big deal. He said that we'd be seen as possums. Then, before you know it, we're running through an alleyway, avoiding gunfire. Typical." Moxxie sighed.

There was a brief pause. Possums? Really?

"...Are...there bright red possums on Earth?..." Flynn asked, having never heard of such a thing in his reality.

"No. There absolutely are not." Carmilla confirmed. "They also don't have horns, wear clothes, or walk on two legs. Oh, and they also look like mammals rather than bipedal reptilians." She added, just to emphasize how stupid that was.

"Believe me, we TRIED to tell him that." Moxxie continued, now folding his arms as well. "Heck, even Hell possums don't look like us! I haven't the FAINTEST clue why Blitzo thought that would work." He said.

"..." Hearing that caused a question to form in Flynn's mind. "...Do...you have a Hell version of every normal animal?" He inquired, unable to resist his curiosity.

"Mhm! Bombproof's a perfect example!" Millie exclaimed, surprisingly giddy about the topic. "Wrath's FULL of critters! The same goes for every Ring, but the amount varies depending on which one." She revealed.

"Huh, good to know," Flynn responded, genuinely appreciative of the information. "Anyway, let's put a pin in the animal talk for now. We're meant to be training." He said.

"Hey, we're not the ones standing around holding things up, my guy." Adam reminded him.

"Thank you, Adam. Your powers of observation and honesty are working perfectly." Flynn retorted.

"He does have a point, though." Vagatha chimed in. "Look, Flynn, we get that you want to try and prevent injuries, which is good. But we all signed up for the real deal, which we know includes pain, blood, and broken bones. Additionally, as we just went over, Blitzo was the one who decided to do something as iffy as that when he didn't need to. If that were a real battle, then it wouldn't have been a choice. But he knew we were in a controlled environment and still opted to be ballsy. So, don't try to alter whatever it is you had planned for us. Just do what you feel is needed." She told him.

The soldier took a second to see how the others felt. Everyone gave nods of approval and agreement to the Moth Demon's words.

"...Okay..." Flynn sighed for the third time. "But if sh*t somehow goes sideways, then we, as a collective, need to figure out a different approach." He added before turning toward the drones. "Vega, let'em loose." He ordered.

The drones opened the containers they were carrying. Every emitter that was inside fell out and hit the ground. A moment later, a horde of at least fifty Summoners manifested.

"Here's today's activity." Flynn started as he gestured to the Demons. "These Summoners will not be attacking you or conjuring extra Demons via the emitters' reserves of Argent. Alongside summoning, these creatures are frustratingly elusive. Your goal is to kill each Summoner and collect its emitter. Much like the Spider Mastermind battle, this is meant to be a cooperative effort. You have until the evening to dispatch the Demons. They can only travel fifty feet from the complex, but they are allowed to freely move around it without going inside. Be mindful that these creatures travel by becoming pure energy. Since the behavior Vega's using is focused solely on evasion, you won't get opportunities where they try to attack, which would normally keep them in place. The point of this exercise is to prepare you for fights where Arcanists like this will do everything in their ability to win through a war of attrition by eluding you. Should you fail, we will repeat this until you succeed." He stated. "Any questions?" He inquired.

...

...

...

With nothing left to be addressed, the soldier gave the go-ahead to Vega. Instantly, the Summoners turned into vibrant strands of red light before zipping away. The hunt was on, and the group was quick to give chase!

Salvation - Chapter 181 - The_Lone_Lobster (2024)
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