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Sunlight trickled through the blinds of Joy’s apartment, lighting up a mess of papers scattered atop her desk and Joy’s short yet bulky frame snoozing away silently on her chair. A pamphlet labeled “Field Guide for Crusaders” hanging off the edge of the desk, a few other information pamphlets, multiple documents filled endlessly with personal information, and most begrudgingly to her, the assault fine with a rather pricey check paper-clipped onto it. The sun slowly glazed over her eyes, slowly rousing her from slumber to the mess of documents she left the night before. She sighed before stretching out, gathering together the papers together. Shoving the collection of documents back into the packet, she tossed it on the her bed and threw open her closet. Simply changing out of her old gym wear into a similar outfit, revealing both her physique and the insignia of Righteous Fury. Tying her hair into a ponytail, she swiped up the package, and walked into the kitchen. After a small breakfast, she bolted out the door.
A short jog was all it took until she arrived to the now-familiar reception office. As she pushed the doors open, the same receptionist from the day before noticed, and slowly retreated below his desk. Unfortunately, Joy caught sight of him before he could escape sight and she bounded over.
“Hey, think you can call up Simon? I got my work done for him!”
He gulped, sitting back up straight in his chair. He pressed a few buttons on his phone. Moments later, Simon came marching from around the corner, sight locked on Joy. She bounded over to him, presenting the packet with a smile. He took it from her hands, and pulled out a few of the sheets himself.
“Now then… Hm… I hope you realize fighting for sport doesn’t count as ‘combat experience’.” He continued glancing on through before staring back at her. “Being well-trained in fist-fighting isn’t exactly the experience we’re looking for here…”
She frowned. “Need I remind you what I did to that door of yours? I’m fairly certain I can crack the skulls of whatever you throw at me!”
“And you’ll meet plenty in the time who could easily do the same to you.”
He perused through the rest of her documents. Finishing up, he tucked them back into the packet and handed it to one of the receptionists.
“Process this for me ASAP. Send the information to Heaven’s Bastion and have them prep an ID for her when we arrive.”
Joy leaned over in front of him. “Uh, where’s that? I thought we were going to do training here?”
“Why the hell would we train at a recruitment center? Even if we did have the proper setup, elites get a unique regime.”
“Just take me where the demons are, come on!”
He began marching past the desk and through the halls, heading towards the rear of the building as Joy happily kept up next to him. He turned off his suit’s microphone, muttering “She isn’t going to last a day, is she…”
“Hey, I just remembered something.” She quickly stepped in front of him. “Why exactly was that receptionist so trigger-happy? Seriously, and I had to pay a fine when he would have been happy to shoot my brains out… If he could, that is.” She smirked. He pushed by her and kept on walking down the hall. “You think you’re the first lunatic who threatened our staff? We get demonically augmented loons who come in and threaten to kill, though rarely.”
She continued to walk right behind him.
“Demonically augmented? Wait a second, who are you calling a lunatic?”
“I see your point, I should be calling myself one as well. But, a deal is indeed a deal.”
She frowned as he continued marching onwards, his focus on the hall almost like an android. Moments later, the two entered a rather small hangar where a group of engineers were preparing a small VTOL plane. Joy smiled at the sight as Simon nodded to one of the engineers. He waved to the others, and they cleared out of the room. The door to the plane opened up and the two climbed on board.
A few hours passed as Joy sat tapping her foot endlessly staring out the aircraft window. Simon sat across from her, still covered in his armor yet seemingly motionless. Having passed over nothing but developed cityscapes and suburbs, and stretches of city wreckage, Joy found it a refreshing and new sight to finally pass over grasslands and scattered forests. As the jet began to slow down, she caught sight of a massive fortress, but more importantly, a massive flesh-colored ravine cut into the earth beyond it. The citadel with its massive steel walls, hangars and barracks fully loaded with machines of war, and imposing turrets would be scary to any human army, but it was a single spec minutes away from the terror embedded in the land. She tore her eyes from the window.
“What the hell is that?”
“The Flesh Abyss? Didn’t you read your field guide?”
From behind his helmet, she felt like Simon was judging her.
“I was too busy filling out all that paperwork you gave me!”
He sighed. “This isn’t some kind of job you can just half-ass your way through, unique powers or not. Training is going to break you.”
She scoffed, slinking back into her seat. “Maybe I have to break something of yours first…”
The aircraft came to a stop, beginning its descent onto one of the numerous airfields inside the citadel’s walls. As the craft’s door came open, her ears were assaulted with the noise of aircraft engines and helicopter rotors. Walking outside, she noticed in another airfield, a squadron of jets loaded with missiles and bombs was preparing to take off. She turned, noticing the same type of jet lacking any armaments moving back to one of the hangars. Explosions echoed in the far distance as a few large transport helicopters flew overhead. Feelings something tap her back, she whirled around to the sight of Simon.
“Since you’re too dense to understand, but you’re standing in the most well-fortified military bases in history. May not be public knowledge, but it’s thanks to the brave men and women working here that stops another crisis akin to the Harvest War, you know?”
She stared at him. “What the hell is that? And don’t call me dense, it’s not my fault school couldn’t make me give a damn about history!”
“It’s important to know, but it isn’t necessary. You can look it up once you’ve finished reading through your field guide. Now stay by me and with what little time you have, read. We’re going to get you registered and immediately begin basic training.”
She chuckled. “Not even gonna give me a second to stretch out now?”
“The operations you’ve signed yourself up for are barely going to give you enough leeway to breathe.”
Several hours passed by of walking from facility to facility as Simon chatted with a plethora of clerks and receptionists. Joy always stood near, constantly tapping her foot with her arms crossed. Every time they did pass by other soldiers around the base, she couldn’t help but smirk at them, at how lucky she was to have the position she achieved. After finishing waiting, Simon handed her an ID card.
“With this, you’ll have full access to almost anywhere in this base, and some sense of authority with others despite… how you look. Speaking of which, there’s one last thing we need to attend to.”
He walked through numerous more halls with her, entering a large room with a diverse amount of firearms hanging on the walls. Scattered around the room were several labeled crates and containers, and a long table where a few soldiers sat, maintaining weapons and armor. Joy walked and stared up at the wall.
“As nice as this offer is, I think I’m far more effective without any guns when I got these.” She smiled and flexed her arm.
Simon sighed. “I had a hunch, but I’m more referring to any form of armor. As long as it isn’t too unrealistic, I’m sure we can accomodate. Scratch that, knowing your strength, we can probably get something unrealistic on you and make you tank proof.” He chuckled. She turned towards him, staring at the ground for a few moments.
“A few things: One, what’s the strongest fabric-like material you have here? And make sure it’s flexible. Second, I need a knife.”
“As for your first question, we can get a good carbon-fiber mesh, maybe some kevlar if you’re looking for a light yet sturdy body suit.” He pulled a knife from a sheath on his leg and handed it to her. She took it and plunged it into her abdomen. Simon’s hand jolted forward, but then halted. She held the weapon up with a grin on her face as the thing had completely bent inwards.
“This was mostly based on a hunch, but I was feeling a bit more sturdy ever since I pledged. Now as for that carbon fiber stuff, I don’t need a full outfit. Just make some shorts and a proper top out of it. Color it too, and make sure to keep my insignia exposed. I at least wanna have some clothing that’ll last through combat. Oh, and some good sturdy boots and gloves as well.”
Simon continued to stare. “You may be durable, but it’s no excuse to skip out on an extra layer of armor. Plasma, chemical weapons, demonic weapons, AP rounds, explosives could-”
“Hey, isn’t the point of this special division or whatever for oddjobs and whatnot? We’re armed with whatever suits us best? This outfit will suit me best, trust me.”
He simply nodded and pressed a switch on the side of his helmet, going silent. Seconds later, he pressed it again.
“Your order has been placed, just give it ten minutes. In the meantime, we can find some boots that’ll fit you. But don’t come crying if you can’t tank every blow.”
As Simon said, only ten minutes later was Joy geared up. Fingerless gloves and tall sturdy combat boots, the shorts she requested, a white piece of upper-body armor with a purple stripe down the center: An outfit just as revealing as her sportswear, but durable enough to survive whatever battles may come. She smiled at a mirror as Simon tapped her on the shoulders.
“Now that you’re all ready, we can begin training. This is all you’re going to get for the duration of it, so be cautious.”
She enthusiastically nodded. “So what am I gonna expect?”
“Simply follow me.”
The duo left the armory, now entering a small room overlooking a large steel arena. He motioned to a small one-man elevator shaft for her to enter, and she excitedly bounded in. Heavy steel panels slid in front of her as she felt the mechanism descend lower, lower, and lower still until with a clunk, the doors slid open once more. The arena was massive, somewhat smaller than a city block. The room was completely layered by several plates of steel with only several powerful lights overhead illuminating the room. On the opposite side sat three massive intimidating sliding doors. Speakers by the observation room crackled as Simon began to speak through them.
“All right Joy, normally this is where we train squads of recruits to deal with demons. We capture them from the Flesh Abyss, and release them here. Unfortunately for you, you’ll be alone with zero support.”
The speakers fizzled out as the sound of heavy machinery came from the other side. It clanked and cracked until a dull thud resounded through the room. A hiss came from the other side of the room as one of the doors slowly rolled open, revealing a massive demon. It stood three times as tall as Joy was, with powerful legs and spiked feet. Massive arms with long-clawed hands connected to a hairy body, and a horned head that resembled that of a dinosaur’s sat atop it. It walked out into the arena, shrieking as it slammed its fists on the walls. Joy sneered, bolting into a sprint. She leapt straight at the thing, rearing back her fist. The beast noticed, and quickly spun around, smacking her out of the way as if she were a fly. She crashed onto the ground rolling for a few moments before she regained her footing. Watching from the observation chamber, Simon sighed, shaking his head.
“You may have the strength of a god on your side, but you’re still the size and weight of a human. Think before you act!”
“So you’re not as dumb as I thought, eh?” Joy muttered. She sprinted towards the thing again, skidding to a halt right behind it as it continued to bash the wall. It turned around once more, rearing back one of its fists. She leapt to the side as it swung it down onto the ground. Tensing her legs, she bounded up on top of its shoulders, quickly wrapping her legs around the thing’s neck. It tried in vain to let out another cry as air could barely escape whatever organs were inside of it. It grabbed onto her ponytail and attempted to yank her off. She winced, but in her mind thanked that her hair was reinforced by the blessing as well.
“You wanna play dirty by grabbing my hair, huh?” She wrapped her arms around one of its horns, squeezing as tightly as possible until it snapped off, resulting in another attempted screech from the beast. Finally, between her legs she felt something crack as the beast began to tumble. She leapt off, landing safely as the beast smashed into the ground face-first. She sprinted over to the thing, digging her hands beneath its skull and pulled with all her might. With a loud ripping noise echoing through the arena and the demon’s juices spraying everywhere, she yanked the head brutally off. Still smiling, she turned to the observation room.
“That good enough for you Simon?”
The speakers crackled to life. “Not at all.”
Suddenly the demon’s head began to move back to the body. Joy heard the sloshing of flesh mending, and leapt back as she saw the sight of the demon re-attaching its head and regenerating its mortal wounds. It let out another frightening roar, wiping the smirk off of Joy’s face as a more frustrated expression took its place. “Nobody told me these things could just come back to life like that!”
The speakers powered up once more. “It was in your field guide Joy!”
The demon swiped at her as she leapt over it’s attack. It used it’s free arm to launch a punch at her, but she dodged and countered with a leaping blow to it’s chest. She could feel and hear several bones shatter with the blow as the thing stumbled backwards. The moment she landed on the ground, she immediately sprung back towards the creature, landing another blow right where she struck. The beast fell onto its back, and Joy hurried over to its head. In another violent scene, she stomped on its head repeatedly until its head was nothing more than a pulp of flesh and bone.
“Regenerate from that you piece of shit!”
She bent over a little, covered in bits of flesh, beginning to pant. Simon watched inquisitively.
“This isn’t going to go well for her if it keeps up…”
Joy’s break was cut short as she heard the ball of flesh behind her shuffling and re-forming.
“Are you shitting me?”
She turned around as the beast stood back up once more, the head still reforming. It swung at her again, this time barely grazing her skin with its nails as she dodged. She let out a primal yell as she roundhouse kicked the demon’s leg, shattering straight through the bone. It stumbled a bit at the wound as she smashed its knee with another kick. The demon fell over as she used every bit of her rage to barbarically smash every bone and possible organ the thing had, smashing its arms, chest, head once more, and stomach, causing a symphony of periodic cracks to echo throughout the arena. Covered in sweat, blood, bits of flesh, and along with being royally pissed, she stomped the demon’s head one last time to be sure. The beast and the bits of flesh that stuck to her dissolved away into nothing more than a dark red dust. At the sight, she slowly sat on the ground, watching the observation room elevator. Moments later, it opened up, revealing Simon carrying a strange looking rifle, looking more like some kind of bizarre tool than a weapon. The demon elevator closed, and began whirring and clanking. Joy wiped some of the blood off of her.
“So, did I pass?”
He loaded a large bullet into the rifle. “We aren’t looking for brutality here. You need to be much more efficient, especially for something as simple as a berserker.”
“Simple? What do you-” She was cut off by the demons’ elevator clanging, opening to reveal another one of the large demons. As it wandered out, Simon fired his rifle. The round crashed right into its stomach and exploded upon impact, leaving a messy hole. He loaded another round and fired again, decimating its head. The demon slowly collapse as its body dissolved.
“Berserkers are the cheapest yet most imposing demons available, simple enough for anyone with some rope, a knife, and the will to kidnap to summon. They focus mostly on causing property damage rather than killing humans unless threatened, so it’s important that they can be killed as soon as possible.” He stood up, slinging his rifle over his back. “You’d know all of this and how to quickly deal with one if you actually read your damn field guide, so I’m putting your training on hold until you finish reading. Understood?”
Her face was red with rage, eyes looking like they’d catch fire and a grimace that would terrify anyone who knew she was capable of. “Understood” she muttered.
Back at the Armory, Joy had been guided to a rather small room with nothing more than an uncomfortable cot and a desk barely wide enough to hold the guides she had to read through. One of the walls bore several fist-shaped indents, not too far from where Joy sat. She pounded down another cup of coffee as she flipped through the guide, thinking about how numerous demons actually were. She thought about what she read on the Flesh Abyss: a landmark left behind by demonic forces when they invaded Congeria long ago. A place festering with several different types of demons, and the only place where they can be birthed naturally. It’s far too dangerous for any crusaders to properly explore, not even for the elites.
“Hmph, that seems like a perfect place for me to make a difference…”
She continued reading through, learning about the history of Heaven’s Bastion, its post-war history, the numerous types of demons she would have the pleasure of killing, and most shockingly to her, reports and information on demonic cartels. She read even more closely, learning how below the surface of several gangs or loan sharks lied an even more dangerous threat: a group of men or women willing to sacrifice other people to demon lords, and re-sell what they gain. What could be a few petty criminals in a gang could secretly be kidnapping others for use in sacrifice. She wasn’t too unfamiliar to reading the news ever so often, but she had never once heard about any organization this horrifying in it. She thought to herself about literally kicking down the door to one of their facilities and cracking the skulls of men preparing a sacrifice. She smiled.
“Hopefully I can get this training done soon.”
By the time the sun had set on the base and the aircraft had finally been grounded for the night, Joy slammed the guide shut. She shot up from her chair and threw open her door, stomping down the compact hallways of the barracks. Eyeing every door, she finally found Simon’s and opened it.
“Hey Simon, I’m ready-”
Simon was still suited up in his armor, looking uncomfortable as he lied down in his cot. He slowly raised his head.
“Ugh… Do you care to knock at all?” He groggily shifted to his feet, standing up. She still stared.
“Do you… Ever take that thing off? Isn’t that uncomfortable as hell?”
“Only when I need to, and it’s a feeling I got used to long ago. Now what is it?”
She stared for a few more moments.
“Oh yeah, I’m all done with the guide! I’m ready to fight a few more of those berserkers again!”
“You do realize what time it is, right?”
“Nope, but I still feel energetic enough to give it another shot! Trust me, I still need to burn off a few more coffees anyways.”
“Well, if you insist. Just follow me.”
Joy, standing smack in the center of the arena, adjusted her gloves and outfit, staring anxiously at the observation room. The speakers powered on.
“One important note I wanna tell you personally Joy: You may be stronger than any person I know, but the power granted by gods isn’t enough to carry you through a fight alone. You need to rely on those human parts of yours as well, understand?”
“Yeah yeah” she said while tapping her foot. “Can we get a move on already?”
He sighed. He flipped a few switches and pulled a lever, causing the demon elevator to groan to life. Moments later another berserker had been released into the arena.
“All right, round two you ugly piece of work!” She charged forward at the demon. “Go for the stomach, then go for the kill!”
The demon tried to swipe at her, attacks which she easily evaded and leapt up, throwing a hefty punch at the beast’s stomach. The thing stumbled back and crashed into the wall, but still stepped forward letting out a beastly roar. She noticed that she didn’t even break the skin of the beast, and moved forward once more. It swung downwards at her with both hands, she dodged and weathered the shockwave sent through the ground as its fists crashed to it. She leapt up and this time kicked it right in the stomach, but it once more stumbled back bearing no real serious damage. She thought to herself realizing if she couldn’t break the skin, she couldn’t kill it. She glanced around the arena until she noticed the beast’s head. She broke into a full sprint and slid beneath the berserker’s leg as it tried to reach down to grab her. She kicked off the ground and climbed up to the head of it and cracked off one of its horns. As the beast screamed in pain, she dropped down and thrust it straight into the demon’s stomach, violently jostling it around inside of it. The beast continued to scream and reached to yank her off of its stomach, but she quickly kicked off of it with the horn in tow, and threw the horn straight at its head, cleanly spearing its skull. The beast fell backwards, dissolving into dust. The speakers came to life.
“There we go Joy, resourcefulness!”
She smiled, giving a thumbs up back to the observation room. The next elevator began to groan as it climbed up with more demonic cargo. She quickly leapt back to the center of the room.
The doors opened up, this time instead revealing three demons slightly taller than her: Each one had skin colored similar to the steel surrounding them, bearing skeletal bodies, razor-sharp looking claws, and bare, skull-looking faces. She took a deep breath.
“Shredders, close-range anti-personnel demons, claws that can pierce any armor, camo skin, no regenerative abilities… Three should still be manageable for me.”
She cracked her knuckles and waited for the beasts to approach her. Suddenly one stops while the other two fork off from the group. Surrounding her, they continued to encircle her at a fast enough speed to not give her any opening. She breathed a bit faster, whipping her head around hoping for some mistake. They approached closer and closer, still encircling her, until she realized they may be close enough to try to attempt to attack. She dashed forward and clotheslined one of them, quickly stamping the thing’s neck, but as it dissolve to dust the other two pounced her from behind, slicing right through her armor and into her back. She grunted and whipped around trying to punch the few behind her but they quickly moved back, resuming their encircling position. She continued to glance around her, trying to ignore the searing pain from the gash.
How am I going to get out of here? There’s two of them now, but even if I try to escape they might catch up and get me again… Maybe I should be faster when attacking one of them? Maybe-
Before she could finish her thought, the demons both lurched at her simultaneously. She managed to punch one of them clean in the head, shattering its skull and sending it flying away while dissolving, but the other managed to slash her on the side of her stomach. She yelped, instinctively putting a hand on the wound, and grabbed the demon by its arm before it could scurry off. She effortlessly flung it over her head, sending it crashing into the wall, where it began to dissolve. Confirming her kill, she immediately began to check her wounds: Thankfully, they weren’t too deep, but still hurt like hell. Her head suddenly jolted up as she heard another elevator make its ascent. She turned to the observation room.
“Are you trying to kill me or something? I need bandages, right now!”
The doors groaned open, unleashing around ten blood-red doglike creatures, each one with a massive mouth in place of where their heads would be.
“Blood beasts? I don’t think they’re as smart as those shredders…”
She charged at the pack, yelling as a few of them bit onto her legs. Even if it failed to break her skin, she could still feel the pain as she grabbed two of the beasts heading for her face by the necks and violently tossing them at the wall. She engaged in a brutal brawl with the remaining eight dogs, most of them leaving several marks and scratches on her as she stomped, punched, or in a few cases tore in two to every remaining beast. Enraged and covered in dust, blood, and numerous scratches, she heard another demon elevator climb its way into the arena. She clenched her fists.
“I swear to the gods, I’m going to kill him when I finish this…”
The doors revealed three human-sized flower-looking demons which to the untrained eye would look like normal plant-life. Before she could recall what she was facing, the three shot spiny harpoons at her from their center, all striking on her abdominals and chest. Unfortunately, they barely broke her skin as they harmlessly bounced off her. Now even more pissed, she grabbed the harpoons with her hands, yanking all of them to her and tearing each one in half, before letting out a primal scream. Simon’s voice rang through the arena.
“That’s enough Joy, you’ve passed introductory training, and I’ve gathered enough information on you.”
She clenched her fists and turned to the room with bloodlust in her eyes. “INFORMATION?”
The elevator from the observation room descended to the floor, opening up to reveal him as he walked closer. She marched over to him.
“You were just using me as a LAB RAT? Just trying to see the extent of my blessing now, were you? What the hell is wrong with you, I could have been killed!”
He crossed his arms looking down at her.
“And as a soldier of the crusaders, you should expect that, ESPECIALLY as an elite-in-training. When I said this training was going to break you, I said that with one-hundred percent seriousness. Every elite goes through it. Some even died going through it as well, and it’s the risk they willingly take when they agree to join this program.”
She still stared straight into his visor with burning fury.
“The point of introductory training is to find out where you’re weakest at, so in the next month we can work on strengthening them.”
“Go ahead, I’d LOVE to hear that information you gathered on me!” She spoke with a sarcastic tone.
He cleared his throat before tapping a button on the side of his helmet.
“You lack proper endurance, too slow to think, your unwillingness to use any ranged weapons puts you at a huge disadvantage to demons as fast and deadly as shredders, you try to brute-force your way out of situations, you’re too easily enraged when the going gets tough, and last, this is mostly theoretical, but you’re probably not going to be one to follow orders. With your time here, I’m going to iron out every last flaw out of you and make you one hell of a force to be reckoned with.”
Joy slowly calmed down, taking a few deep breaths. “I don’t think half of those are REALLY that bad… Are you going to do this by keep throwing more demons at me or something?”
He shook his head. “Trying to kill you was mostly to find out where you were weakest at. Endurance, we can get some custom magnetic equipment for you to train with your enhanced strength to train endurance, you’ll need to study more to improve thinking and reaction times. As for the rest, I’ll personally see to it to make sure you go through those changes.”
She sighed. “That’s at least somewhat of a relief. I will miss fighting stuff like those berserkers or even those blood beasts.. That was one hell of a rush, I’ll tell ya!”
“In due time Joy. In due time.