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The Romitum slums were not a pretty site compared to the rest of the city. It was constantly covered by the shadows of skyscrapers, with dozens of run-down apartments and shady corner stores crammed any inch of space. It’s isolated area from the rest of the city made it bizarre for anyone to travel using a shortcut, and the only reason anyone would enter would be for any shady deeds. Yet a lone woman still traveled through. Wearing nothing but gym wear, proudly showing off her hard-worked physique that rivaled even men, she confidently strutted down the dirty streets, stopping in front of a building that made the mistreated plaster and wood apartments look well-kept. A stone temple was shoved between the two buildings, the cracks in the stone and overrun plant life showing how time was not kind to it, nor it’s followers. As was to be expected for the home of the God of Righteous Fury. A thin-looking shirtless man left the temple with glum on his face, bearing the strange insignia of the god on his stomach.
Another unchosen patron to him now? The woman thought. A waste of time. Just from looking at him I can tell he ain’t pure of heart.
She remembered back to when she first heard about this god years ago. Gods fascinated her, the fact that pledging to them and following their doctrine would grant their patrons with wondrous powers. The god of Righteous Fury, however, was an outlier. He promises turning one’s will into raw strength, strength beyond that any other god offered, but only to those of “pure of heart”. The catch? One needed to pledge to him before he’d let you know if you were pure. So, you’d be forever pledged to a god who would never assist you, nor could you ever pledge to a new one.
I know above all else, I’m more than worthy enough for him.
She marched on into the temple.
The place was very poorly lit, the little light that reached the slums still creeping in through stone windows. Several rows of pews were overrun with plant life or were smashed, and a few others occupied by people of lesser fortune. The biggest sight-taker, however, was the God’s archstone at the end of the building. Archstones are the Gods’ only method of communication with humans, and they grow depending on their power, to be shattered and spread further. But this one completely dominated the end of the temple, growing into the roof with several veins of magical stone slowly spreading across the walls. The size far dominated even the archstones of the greatest churches around she knew of. She grinned at the sight, and kept walking forward. Observing the stone up close, she noticed several handprints of varying shapes and sizes inscribed into it. Sh. She felt a sensation overtake her as aged voice spoke in her head:
“Ah, another for today? Well then. I am-”
“Yeah yeah, I know who you are, I know the qualifications.” Her voice resounded throughout the temple. “I wish to pledge to you, God of Righteous Fury!”
“My, eager aren’t you? You do know-”
“I said I already know everything I need to! Get on with it, judge my heart!”
“Not yet. Give me your name”
“Joy Vera, you will be judged!”
Keeping her hand firmly planted on it, she suddenly felt a pain on her abdomen. Staring down at her well-defined abs, she noticed the insignia of the god slowly burning it’s way over them. She winced a bit at the pain, until she felt the archstone pull her in. She looked up, noticing her hand had sunk into it. She instinctively yanked it back, before the voice spoke in her head once more.
“I have seen into your heart and mind, Joy, and they are pure, unfettered, and clear. You will share in my fury! Wear my insignia with pride, and go forth and spread righteousness”
She stepped back as a wry smile grew across her face. Her confidence was at an all-time high, and she felt stronger, almost as she could take on the world herself. She worked her way over to one of the sturdier looking parts of the wall and threw a punch at it. Her hand easily knocked a hole twice the size of her fist straight through it, the crash suddenly rousing a few men lying on the pews. They watched with wonder as Joy let loose a kick on the wall, causing the rest of it to crash down. She spun around, checking the rest of the temple, locking onto the stump of a destroyed stone pillar. She jogged over, squatting down and literally digging her fingers into the base of it. Without even straining, she easily hefted it over her head. She stared up, taking in the feat she just pulled off, face wild with amusement. She re-fixed her grip and prepared to see how far she could throw it until a voice resounded through the temple, interrupting her fun;
“Joy! Cease this, and take your fury somewhere else!”
She snapped out of her joyous trance. Carefully placing the ruined pillar back on the ground. Her mind clicked back on track, and she remembered one of the reasons why she came out here in the first place. She turned towards the door and broke into a sprint, kicking up a large cloud of dust and dirt. As fast as she began her sprint, she quite literally dug her heels into the ground, skidding to a stop. Her nose inches away from nearly crashing straight through one of the buildings, she let out a quick sigh of relief, before breaking into a rather fast “jog”, Winding her way quickly through the slums and being forced to slow down by the rather dense crowds of Romitum’s administrative district.
The ever-present skyscrapers still dominated the area, along with a mix of several other administrative buildings, be them for governmental purposes, banks, and various other headquarters for corporations. Shoving her way through the crowds, past several blocks of traffic and buildings, she soon stood in front of a building bearing the icon of a well-decorated sword. The operating headquarters of the Crusaders. Established by followers of the aptly named God of Crusades, it quickly established itself as one of the most prominent PMCs, specializing in hunting demons, domestically and in unprotected lands. Most of the success of it was thanks to the boon the God of Crusades granted. Those who pledged had higher reaction times, dexterity, enhanced senses and strength, practically creating in instantly well-trained soldier. The only downside is once you pledge, you’d have to work with the Crusaders for life, else forfeit your boon. One could register with them as they would any military organization, but Joy had other plans.
She marched on towards the building, pompously throwing the doors open. The reception area was lined with a few rows of chairs, a few casually dressed people filling out forms seated on them. At the front of the room sat a long counter, sitting four receptionists idly typing away on their computers. With a smile on her face, she continued marching forward to one of the receptionists.
“Hey, I wanna join the Crusaders Special Operations Unit!”
The receptionist looked up from his screen at the woman.
“Please ma’am, if you wish to do anything involving registration, you need to fill out a form first.” He handed her a form and pen, returning his focus to the computer.
“Ugh… Fine then. You better help me when I’m done!”
She marched off and sat herself down, slowly filling out the form. Name, Age, location of residence, church pledged to, she begrudgingly filled out every last bit before tossing the form right back in front of the receptionist, the clipboard clacking as it struck the desk.
“All right, I filled out the stuff. Now can you put me in the Special Operations Unit?”
The man took the form and purused through it.
“Sorry uh… Miss Joy, you can’t just sign up and get tested just like that. We have a special procedure for picking those enlisted who are qualified. If you really think you’re qualified, you’ll have to work a few years as a simple soldier or something, I dunno.”
“Excuse me?” She gripped tightly onto the counter, slowly digging her fingers in.
“In the meantime, we’re gonna process your form, and in around twenty-four to seventy-two hours, you’ll receive a letter telling where you’ll be stationed at and what job you’ll be working.”
“I’m sorry, I ain’t gonna let your system decide what I’m gonna do!” She pounded on the counter, leaving a slight imprint in the wood.
The man reached under the desk, pressing a silent alarm for security. “That’s just how this work- Excuse me? You pledged to the God of Righteous Fury?”
Her face lightened up somewhat. “Yeah, glad you finally noticed!”
“I’m sorry Ma’am, but pledging to a God like that well… You’re not going to be able to pledge to the God of Crusades, you realize that, right?”
“So it means your odds of even being enlisted as a recruit are close to none. Was it really worth the risk, throwing away a pledge like that? Although we could use a sanitation work-”
She suddenly leaned over the desk, hoisting the poor receptionist up by the collar with one arm, bringing him up close to her face.
“Look here, I didn’t come sign up here just to be put on toilet duty or wait a few years to get accepted. I’m too good for that crap, and if you didn’t realize it before, realize it now! You can do me a favor and try to put me in that unit where I belong!”
She noticed the receptionist reaching for something in his desk, and he barely managed to draw a pistol. She suspected that her righteous fury would protect her from small arms, but she wasn’t going to test that claim just yet. Using her free arm, she easily yanked the gun from his grasp, and gripped down onto it tightly. Slowly she gripped tighter and tighter until she felt the metal give way to her strength. The gun now a mangled mess of metal, she grinned at her handiwork, before changing her focus back to the now horribly terrified receptionist.
“Joy, please cease harassing the man.”
She whipped her head to the source of the voice.
“Who are you to-”
Standing at the other end of the counter was a figure standing a head and a half over her, armored totally from head to toe, wearing a camouflage coat over it. She looked up to it, staring face to face with a terrifying red-visored helmet, with an air-hose attached to a few visible oxygen tanks strapped over his back. She gulped before releasing the receptionist.
“Thank you Joy.” His voice came through a staticy and rather low-quality speaker from his helmet. “Now, I’d like-”
“How’d you know my name? And who are you to order me around?”
The man tapped his helmet. “All of the security feed runs through my visor. For your second question, will ‘Head of the Special Operations Unit’ command any respect from you?”
Her jaw dropped for a few moments before she regained herself, slowly walking towards him.
“Oh really? That’s great, I was hoping for you! My name is Joy Vera, and I was looking to see how I could join-”
She realized he wasn’t even looking at her, and was instead telling the receptionist how he could go home for the day for the trouble Joy caused. He slowly returned his focus to her.
“As for you, you’re lucky I have somewhat of an interest in you. Had you been anyone else I’d just have security throw you in prison for a few months or so and a nice hefty fine.”
She scoffed. “Not like they could hold me…”
“Now then, come with me. I still have a bit of business with you.”
He began to walk past the desk and down a hallway as Joy kept up gleefully. She kept looking around happily, noticing some recruits relaxing, other rooms where several worked away diligently on computers, passing by training gyms and locker rooms. She couldn’t help but smirk at the sight of several recruits training for whatever missions awaited them. Suddenly the man spoke once more.
“I think I should introduce myself a bit more formally. I’m Commander Simon Elpis, and I’m in charge of leading the Special Operations Unit, finding recruits, testing them, and so forth. You’re not exactly one who I expected to be deemed ‘pure of heart’ but you’ll have to do.”
“Hey, what does that mean exactly?”
“You’re not exactly the first I’ve met who was judged worthy of righteous fury. I’ve met two or three in my time. I never got to know them too well, nor truly see their fullest potential.” The duo passed through a doorway and began to climb some stairs. “But that’s what I plan on doing with you if you’re worthy.”
She smirked once more. “Please, whatever you have planned, I’m sure it’ll be of no issue!”
“Make no mistake Joy, your physical prowess is something for anyone to be impressed by, but that alone isn’t going to keep you in the unit, not alive for long at least.” They climbed to the uppermost floor and passed through into a hallway filled with several sealed steel doors, each with a small panel to its side. “I have a feeling how this is going to go, so here’s my test to you.”
He walked to one of the doors, drawing a key card from his pocket and swiping it. They quickly opened up and he stepped inside the room, motioning with his hand for Joy to wait. The door suddenly slammed, and through the panel he spoke.
“If you can get into my office, I’ll personally accept you as my partner. If not, you’re going to have to train with the recruits for a few years before you can try to join again. Good enough?”
She smiled and cracked her knuckles. “That’s the best offer I’ve heard in years!”
She reared back her fist and threw it at full force at the door, sending a resounding CRASH through the hall. Unfortunately for her, she didn’t feel the door budge a bit, and left a nice fist-shaped indent in the door. Her smile evaporated as she retracted her hand, shaking away the pain.
“All right, so this is how it’s gonna go, huh?”
She took a step back and delivered a strong kick at it, letting out the same crash, but only barely managing to shake the door. The intercom crackled to life.
“Think you’re the first who tried to brute-force down the door? I’ve seen them all: Bionically enhanced-folks or those who even made pacts with demons for far-above average strength. Unfortunately for them, you’d need the strength of a truck ramming full force into this thing if you wanna knock it down like that.”
She grunted, and decided for her plan B. She used her fingers to very slowly distort some of the metal at the center until she could finally get a grip between the two doors. She tried at first to wedge them apart, but found them barely moving.
“Come on… Move dammit!”
She strained every muscle in her arms and back to try and shove them apart, finally gaining some headway. As the slit between the door widened, she shoved her hands entirely in, pushing with every ounce of strength she could will. The doors creaked as she gripped tighter and pushed harder, the metal slowly bending to the two counteracting forces. Moments passed, she strained harder and harder, until finally with a guttural yell and a powerful shove, she forced the door open, gasping for breath and covered in sweat. Simon, who was typing away at his computer, turned to the sight.
“Well, I’ll be damned…”
She regained her breath. “Is that strong enough for you?”
He slowly clapped his hands together. “VERY impressive Joy. Maybe your brute force is enough… But not without discipline of course. I’ll keep my deal, but there’s more to it.”
Her eye twitched. “What now?”
He stood up and walked past her. “This is a standard security door you’ll find anywhere in Congeria. Granted, mine is somewhat high-end, but any facility that wants to protect something will be caught dead without one. Using an electromagnetic seal, it’ll exert somewhere around five tons of force.”
He closed the door in front of her. A few moments later, he easily shoved open the door, resulting in a double-take from Joy.
“I’m impressed that you were able to overcome the seal, but that electromagnetic force is something relatively easy to overcome if you know how the thing works. Using that strength of yours, you could have easily torn off the control panel and with some insulated gloves and a bit of technical know-how, easily yanked out the door’s power cables. Then you’d only have to deal with the hydraulics. I was able to disable both with a little bit of handiwork.”
Her shock turned to anger. “Yeah, so what? I got some common door open, does it matter?”
“Quite a bit actually. With the ops we’re going to be doing, it’s advantageous to get it open quickly and silently.”
She grumbled to herself as he continued. “But, a deal is a deal. I just hope my miscalculation wasn’t too big of a mistake. If you follow my orders, it shouldn’t.” He walked over to his desk and grabbed a packet of paper, handing it to Joy. “There’s just a bit more paperwork you need to finish up. Get it to me first thing in the morning and I’ll process it all myself. Then we’ll be able to do some work ASAP.”
She quickly snatched the packet out of his hand, her mood lightening a bit. “Well, if you say so… I’ll see you tomorrow then I guess?”
“I’ll see you then, assuredly.”
She turned and began jogging out of the office. Simon sighed and turned to his computer once more, typing up a small report to a repairman.
It wasn’t long before Joy finally sprinted all the way back to her apartment, bounding her way home with glee. Unlocking her door and throwing it open, she entered her apartment. Passing by her well-kept living living room, she paused as she eyed her home gym, made up of a small assortment of machines and weights. She chuckled to herself, walking over to. “Well old friend, looks like I’m way out of your league now.” She picked up one of the larger weighted plates with one arm, and gently tossed it up and down, smiling. Taking the weight in both hands, she began to attempt to bend the mass of metal, it slowly giving way to her strength until it was bent messily in half.
“I wonder if there’s any equipment that I can keep up with now… Maybe the Crusaders can provide.”
Passing by her kitchen, which was loaded with every appliance and more a woman of her stature needed, she entered her bedroom, which was neatly organized with a nice quality bed, a fully stocked dresser, and a small desk area dedicated to work. She pulled out the desk chair and quickly unraveled the packet Simon had given her. She found a rather hefty assortment of papers. First she pulled out more registration papers which she neatly placed to the side. Next, a field guide for the Crusaders. She scoffed at the sight and tossed it into the wastebin. Lastly, were several bills: One for charges of assault, and a few others for property damage. She slammed the papers on her desk.
On the other side of the city, Simon, still fully clad in armor and helmet, returned to his abode. Pushing open the door, he entered a realm that was a mess of scrap, wires, and other various electrical parts. His living room couldn’t even be called that. It was more of a miniature workshop. His kitchen almost looked like that too, filled with several pieces of blending equipment, and a large cabinet of alcohol that he wished he could drink someday. He made his way towards the kitchen, kicking away pieces of scrap until he approached the fridge. Swinging it open, it was filled to the brim with several vial-like tubes filled with what could only be described as sludge. Taking out one of the vials, he hooked it up to the front of his helmet, slowly draining it. Finishing his meal, he audibly gagged and coughed, before placing the vial on the counter. He worked his way to his bedroom which could also be described as a library. Hundreds upon hundreds of books, photo albums, textbooks, and so forth all shoved in shelves and stacked up high lay at the opposite end of the room. Many of them lie wide open, still waiting to be finished. He sat himself on his bed, slowly laying down.
“Gods, I hope this deal isn’t going to be the one that kills me.”
You can read Part 2 Here