Over a month of rigorous training had continued for Joy. Continuing her improvised endurance workouts and ending the evenings with more intensive combat training with Simon. Learning how to properly use cover, using the environment and her strength to her advantage, and how to outplay an armed opponent, even with her semi-invulnerability, Simon rushed her through this using himself as the opponent, but no matter how crafty Joy got, he always came out on top. Every morning her body still screamed in pain from the previous day’s workout, but she still willed herself to continue, her mind screaming even louder that she wouldn’t let Simon beat her. She hadn’t had time to meet and chat with the others much, with Simon being more demanding and for her to get up earlier and earlier. At the end of the month, however, Simon finally gave her permission to take the day off.
The following morning, she was grateful not to be screamed at to wake up, and made her way to the cafeteria. For her outfit, she still got a few eyes from the other soldiers, but not as many as she initially got. She glanced around, catching sight of Maria and Annie. She quickly scooped a tray full of food and hurried over to the two.
Annie waved to her. “Hey Joy, good to see that Simon has been working you hard.”
Joy sat down. “You could tell? Gods, he probably would have thrown me into a pot of oil and that wouldn’t have burned as badly as my body feels.” She glanced around. “Where are the other two? I’ve been waiting forever to give Rex a piece of my mind.”
The other two giggled. Joy stared at them for a few moments. “He didn’t tell you anything did he?”
Maria burst out laughing. “As if he could say anything! No, he recorded every hour of his sparring session with you.”
Joy’s face scrunched up with anger. “What the hell?”
“Don’t worry, he only showed us the best parts.”
She banged the table, putting a dent in it. “That piece of shit! Remind me to bring a camera when I get to beat the snot out of him.”
Annie leaned back, stretching. “You might wanna be careful, else your next exercise might be scrubbing the entire cafeteria.”
Joy rolled her eyes. “Yeah yeah, enough with the jokes. Was your training really as intense as the bullshit I had to go through, by the way?”
“I can’t say. Usually are training is specialized to what we’re best at. Mine was a good few months of bonding training.”
Joy raised an eyebrow.
“Oh right… Let me show you my partner in crime.” From her jacket she pulled a large holed container. She popped it open and held it up to Joy’s eyes, revealing a coiled up cobra.
“Really? That’s it?”
Annie closed the container and put it away. “Ever hear of the Clergy of Companionship?”
“That animal bonding god?”
She nodded. “When fighting a bunch of beasts that are completely powered on human blood, I thought having a companion who could turn their blood solid would be pretty handy.”
“So much for your lifespan. Isn’t your life bound to that cobras?”
Marie held up a hand. “Annie thought far ahead of that. She graduated in bioengineering, and I’m sure even someone like you can assume the rest.”
Joy raised an eyebrow. “So you have an immortal super cobra you can command?”
Annie laughed. “Not immortal, but certainly long living enough, and definitely super. Companion training was a month long camping trip from hell. They dropped me off in one of the forests outside the Flesh Abyss with an old tent and barely enough rations, and told me to survive.”
Joy stared bewildered for a few moments before shaking the expression off. “That sounds pretty tough. It’s probably better than being Simon’s pin-cushion.”
Annie laughed. “No really, what was your training?”
“Simon’s been giving me a crash course on combat training.” She stood up, pointing to numerous burns and scratches on her abdomen. “He’s also a big fan of using live ammunition as well.”
Marie gaped at the sight. “You’re bulletproof?”
She sat back down. “Hell yeah! Only downside is that it still stings like hell.”
Annie huffed. “Still, being trained by Simon himself… I’m telling you Joy, you’re extremely lucky.”
“You can say that again!” She stuck a fork into her plate and shoved food into her mouth.
She had finished her meal quickly and returned to her dorm. She hadn’t pondered what specifically she wanted to do for the day, but considering how the entire month went, only one thing was on her mind: More sleep. She crashed into her bed. It bent somewhat from the impact, and she soon drifted off to sleep. Unfortunately for her, it only lasted for what felt like minutes. The slamming of a door forced her awake from her slumber. She rubbed her eyes, turning to the source of the sound.
“People are trying to sleep here!” She paused as she realized Simon was standing in her door frame.
“I’m pleasantly surprised that was all it took to wake you up Joy.”
She slowly got up. “What’s that supposed to mean…”
“You’ll understand if you get sent out on any long-term mission. Speaking of which, today I have a perfect opportunity for your training, but it all depends on whether you want to take it or-”
“Hey, today’s my day off! Just let me rest for like, I dunno, a few more hours or something.”
“Perhaps you should wait to let me finish, because I know you’ll be interested. The most I can tell you is we’ve discovered a small warehouse run by the Demonic Cartel. Normally we’d have a regular squad clear it out, but it should be a good way for you to demonstrate the results of your training.”
She looked at him with a small twinkle of excitement in her eye. “So you’re just going to drop me in and let me crack some skulls?”
“Yes. I’ll be watching and providing support as well.”
She leapt out of bed. “You should have mentioned this sooner!”
Simon turned, beckoning her with his hand. “We’re heading there by aircraft. Grab whatever you need. Briefing will be done mid-flight.”
The VTOL aircraft was soaring through the sky as the sun still shined high up. It was somewhat different from the one Joy had initially arrived in, this one looking much more sleek, along with the cabin containing numerous computers and support crew. Joy, who had simply brought along a boot knife and earpiece along with her uniform, was strapped into a chair near the back. Simon sat across from her.
“Listen closely.” Simon crackled through her earpiece. “We still have a good while before arrival, so you’re going to get a crash course in special operations.”
She nodded, focusing on his mask.
“Normally the bulk of the Crusaders focus on fighting demons and distributors of demonic goods. Special operators are in charge of destroying the producers of these goods and demonic beings.”
“You’re going to say inefficient, but this country would be in a hell of a lot more trouble if we just sent any random Crusader to destroy these facilities. The producers know how to perform sacrifices to demonic lords. The spread of information is restricted to word of mouth already, and we don’t want to risk more susceptible ears to demonic temptations.”
“Shouldn’t it be common sense to you know, not sacrifice people to demons?”
“The desperate and maniacal don’t exactly follow common sense. If you want a good example, that warehouse you’re about to storm? We have good evidence that shows they’re producing a simple yet potent demon narcotic called Bliss. All it does is purge all negative thoughts and emotions and makes you feel happy. There’s no physical downsides to it either.”
“That doesn’t sound too bad?”
“There’s no such thing as ‘not too bad’ when dealing with something that requires human lives to produce Joy. That’s not even mentioning how mentally addictive the stuff even is. I could probably get hooked on the feeling it’s so potent.”
She grimaced. “So, just smash the place into an unrecognizable wreckage then?”
“One of three objectives. Kill every cartel member in there, destroy the facility completely, and rescue any potential captives. They can’t conjure live sacrifices out of nowhere.”
A grin spread across her face. “I have no objections to that at all!”
Several moments later, she felt the jet slow down, Simon standing up in response. Joy followed as a hatch in the back of the plane opened up. He walked right up to the hatch, slinging his strange rifle over he shoulder.
“We’re still a good mile from the warehouse, only thing you have to do is not alert anyone.”
She nodded enthusiastically. “Don’t want to spoil their surprise now!”
He pulled a lever, a small mechanism deploying a few cables down the hatch. “Let’s get going then, I’ll lead the way.” He clicked a small zipline onto the rope and leapt down the hatch. Joy followed, glancing down below. They were hovering over a collection of small offices and factories, stretching out as far as she could see. Noticing the ropes dropped into an alleyway, she opted to slide down the cable with her bare hands. She slid faster than anticipated, crashing onto the ground with a heavy thud. Simon came down behind her only a few seconds later.
“Don’t take your abilities for granted, you should know this by now.”
She turned to him, smiling. “Why did you think jumped down like this?”
“You better not be bullshitting me. Once more, stick behind me, and don’t make yourself apparent.”
The two spent several minutes navigating through the industrial sector. Plumes of smoke covered the sky, and the sound of heavy machinery resounded throughout the area. Each block was lined with dozens of factories and workshops, several forklifts and trucks moving between them in the streets. With everyone so busy with their work, they barely had time to notice the armored man and burly woman moving between buildings. The further they moved into the sector, the less activity they saw. By the time Simon halted, there were no trucks on the street, barely any voices to be heard. He crept forward through another alleyway, pointing at a warehouse across the street.
“Most of the warehouses around here have yet to be used, and that one right there was purchased months ago by a front company. With a bit of digging, we found out the front only existed in name. A few trucks leave here once every day, and we were able to confirm the production of Bliss right under our noses.”
Joy crossed her arms. “Well, what are you waiting for then? Let’s get to ripping this place apart!”
“Hold on. Before I unleash you, mind that you’ll be mostly on your own. I’ll provide informational support, but that’s it. For you, kill every last person in there, destroy all signs of cartel activity, and don’t cause any collateral damage to surrounding buildings. Understood?”
“I won’t make any promises on that last one, but for the rest, you can count me in!”
Simon took a grappling hook from his coat, quickly roping and climbing the building next to him. She waited with a giddy look on her face as he set himself up atop the roof, pointing his rifle at the warehouse. Staring through his scope, he flicked a switch on the side of his rifle, suddenly lighting up several human figures through the walls.
“I’m staring at what looks to be around twenty grunts, three people in the back caught up in a Bliss production ritual. No signs of civilian prisoners, they could be in the basement or out of my sight, so take care. Information seemed to be on our side, most of the guards here are armed with nothing greater than sub-machine guns, at least as far as I can tell. Looks like from the shape of it, maybe a few grunts with shotguns, so take care.”
She nodded to herself. “Nothing too worrisome, sounds like a piece of cake.”
“And don’t you even think about trying the front door. Bulletproof or not, last thing I want is to save your incapacitated ass from being captured.”
“Please, have a bit more faith! I got a good idea.”
She sprinted across the road, quickly nearing one of the warehouse walls.
“Can you see any objects through that fancy scope of yours?”
“Only the heat from humans. If you want to start with the least resistance, that wall you’re at is close to two grunts, the rest a good distance away.”
She smiled deviously. “Then time to put my plan into action.”
She grabbed her boot knife and jabbed it into the wall, pulling down and created a small cut in the wall. The guards behind flinched, turning to the noise. Through the cut, she stuck her fingers in, slowly expanding the hole. She tore out the sheet of metal wall, continuously pushing and ripping it out until she had made a hole in the wall she could easily walk through. She entered a small break room as the two grunts stared as the woman marched through her new doorway. She held up the chunk of metal she had torn from the wall.
“So, I hope you two are aware of the severity of your crimes. I’m going to give you an option: Turn ourselves into the Crusaders, or…”
Without breaking a sweat, she took the chunk of metal and crumpled it into a ball.
“I’ll do this to your skulls. You got five seconds.”
“Joy, what the fuck are you doing?”
The men stared at her feat only for a second before drawing their sub-machine guns and firing. She winced, flinching as the bullets peppered her body. They realized they had done nothing, and she smiled at them menacingly.
“Looks like you’re going for option number two!” She chucked the ball of metal at the first guard, crashing into his head and killing him instantly. Before the second man could fire, she quickly jumped towards him, roundhouse kicking him in the head, sending him flying across the room, smashing into a wall.”
“Good job, you’ve likely just made the rest of them aware of your presence.”
“Hey, I still had this possibility planned out. Ending up in this room just makes it a bit easier.”
“Well think fast four grunts are checking out that noise.”
She stared around the break room. There was only a stove, refrigerator, and various other culinary appliances, alongside a table and chairs. Hearing footsteps rushing outside, she quickly grabbed the fridge, gripping into it like a giant battering ram.
“Just let me know when they’re outside Simon, I got a surprise for them.”
She stood in front of the door with the fridge in hands, waiting.
“There’s one in front, two to the sides, and one waiting in the distance to the far right.”
She threw the fridge forward, smashing through the door and crushing the poor grunt behind it. She dashed to the dorway for only a second before yanking the two grunts in by the necks, easily snapping both of them. Peeking outside of the doorway, she noticed that it lead directly into the main warehouse, where large semi-trucks were parked. The fridge she had thrown had embedded itself into the side of one of them, with the poor grunt sandwiched between. She noticed the grunt to the right, hiding behind the front of the semi, and she ducked back into her room. This time, yanking the counter from out of the wall, she forced it through the doorway. She pushed it to approach the distant grunt, hiding below it. The grunt fired out of panic at the approaching counter to no effect. Before he even realized the counter had stopped moving, she leaped over the counter, dealing a lethal kick to his chest. She quickly hid behind the front of the truck, peeking around both corners.
“No need to worry just yet, there’s no more around your area. The rest seem to be keeping their guns all pointed towards the front.”
She looked to the back of the warehouse, noticing a large wall separating it with only a small double doorway leading through it.
“Guess I gotta make a new door. Fourteen all back there watching the doors?”
She hurried back out the doorway she made and pulled her knife out once more. She leapt high up, jabbing it into the wall. Using the small grip she made, she launched herself up, landing on the roof of the warehouse. When staring down, she had another idea.
“I think I got another good idea to hit two birds with one stone. Think you can fire a shot for me soon?”
“Not with that language.”
She sighed. “Permission to request a small amount of fire support?”
“Those trucks are bound to have some fuel barrels around. I have a good hunch that those Bliss rituals are behind there, so if we flame the place out, we can burn the grunts to a crisp and burn those rituals down.”
“Not bad Joy. It’s a good think you remember basic chemical reactions.”
She grunted, but smiled. Leaping off of the roof, she hurried back into the front of the warehouse. With minimal searching, she found a few barrels of fuel. She went back and forth from them, each time holding a barrel in one arm so she could still scale up to the roof. With a small stack of barrels now nearby, Simon guided her to right over where he located the ritual. She plunged her knife into the roof, and began tearing a hole into the roof. Though for a moment, she froze. Time seemed to slow down, all the grunts screaming at the new hole in the roof, as she noticed what the ritual was. In the center of a demonic sigil was a stake with a human body tied down to it. They looked completely sucked dry of blood and life, yet they still struggled and groaned against the ritual. Several tubes were connected to various arteries, all bleeding a gold-like substance into IV-bags.
“Joy! Respond, Joy!”
She flinched, retreating back. “Those rituals… There’s still live people in there! That’s where this Bliss comes from?”
“I told you, anything demonic comes off of the blood of other humans.”
“We can’t just kill them, can we?”
“Every ounce of their blood is already bliss. We remove them from the sigil, they die. You’ll be doing them a favor by putting them out of their misery.”
She froze for a few moments, staring blankly at the barrels of fuel.
“All right. Let’s burn everyone down there into a crisp, and I’ll personally deal with the rest.”
“Just make sure to drop one at a time on my mark.”
She carried the first barrel, dropping when Simon yelled “Mark.” As it dropped, she heard screaming for people to “hold their fire” below. Seconds before the barrel hit the ground, a crack resounded through the air, the barrel exploding into flames milliseconds later. Joy fell back, the fireball nearly bursting through her hole. She scrambled back to her feet, grabbing the next barrel and repeating the process. Three bursts of fire later, she stared down, seeing nothing left of the ritual site but a pile of ash. Rage burning in her eyes, she jumped through the hole, her landing kicking up clouds of ash. She felt gunfire hit her back. She turned around, seeing a badly burned man shooting her with a pistol. She walked over, ignoring his shots, kicking the gun from his hand and grabbing him by the throat.
“You’ve got a lot of nerve being involved with this shit.”
She gripped tighter, snapping his neck, and tossing him aside.
“Simon, how many left?”
“I can’t tell, all the fire has left my heat sight worthless. You’re on your own.”
She scanned the area, noticing several horribly burned and groaning grunts, several dead, many still on the verge of life. She walked over to another one until she heard a metal hatch clang open. She turned, noticing a large demonic beast walk from a hatch in the ground. It’s stature looked like a bouncer on every steroid known to man, its muscles almost looking like armor. It was followed by a final man, but instead of a grunt, it was a man whose left left arm was replaced by a terrifying, pulsing, demonic claw.
“Simon, there’s only two left. One Warden demon, another guy with some kind of biomorph instead of an arm.”
“You still know your mission. Put them both down.”
She charged immediately for the man, but the Warden demon quickly intercepted her, slamming its fist into her side and sending her flying into the wall. She grunted as she impacted it as the man shook his head. She leapt back to her feet, eyes locked on the man’s taunting expression. He gestured to one of he still struggling grunts, lying on the ground, and the warder walked over to it. Spikes protruded from its hand as it stabbed it into the man. He grew more and more shriveled as the muscles of the demon slowly darkened into a deep crimson. It turned to Joy, its bizarre human-like face locking eyes with her. Enraged, Joy lurched forward at the beast, throwing several hard punches to the beast’s abdomen. Every blow she threw felt like she was punching the thickest marble, but it’s skin reacted likewise, cracking which each blow. She sneered as the Warden swung down at her, her easily slipping around its blow and delivering a strong kick to its stomach, sending it sliding back. The biomorphed man watched, his smug expression slowly dying away as he saw the woman was slowly overcoming his warden. He held up his demonic arm, slowly forming it into something new as a red crystal surfaced at the palm of it. As the warden blocked the oncoming blows from Joy, it glanced back to its master for a few moments, before tackling Joy and pinning her to a wall. Her arms pinned to her side, she struggled for a few moments before breaking her arm free, and she wailed mercilessly at its head with her free arm. With a powerful blow, she knocked the demon’s head right off, sending it flying away, but the beast still held strong onto her. She glanced up, noticing the biomorphed man was holding his arm at her, it now glowing a bright red. She panicked, struggling and kicking as hard as she could at the stomach of the beast, until another crack rang throughout the air. The man staggered and fell, a bright red beam exploding from his arm and cutting effortlessly through the wall and beyond right next to Joy. Her earpiece crackled.
“Don’t be stunned or give me any thank you’s just yet, finish your mission first.”
A few more kicks and she felt her crack the stomach of the beast. Her final kick felt much softer as the thing lost its grip on her and fell back. She rushed forward, grabbing her knife and stabbing into the stomach. It flinched only for a few moments before it dissolved into dust. Hearing groaning still, she turned to the biomorph man, struggling on the ground with a shoulder. She put her boot on his chest, pinning him down.
“With a fancy biomorph like that, you’re probably the one in charge here?”
Panic took over as his face turned pale. He nodded furiously.
“In that case, I’m going to give you some good news: You’re not going to die today.”
He sighed. “Gods bless you miss, I swear I didn’t even want to be roped in this deep! I’ll serve all the jailtime you want me to, just don’t kill me!”
She stomped the shoulder of his biomorph arm, causing him to scream wildly. She took her knife out, and slowly cut it off.
“I didn’t say you’d get out of today unwounded. But I have a special request for you. Unless you want your head to go next.”
Amidst the screaming in pain, he spoke “Anything! Just anything!”
“Go to your each and every one of your superiors, bosses, I don’t care. Let them know that I am going to personally tear each and every one of them apart limb by limb.”
He nodded wide-eyed and furiously.
“Do yourself a favor also.” She tore off his shirt, tossing it back at him. “Use this to at least slow down the bleeding. I need you alive to deliver my message.”
Flames still burned as Joy dusted off the ash from her hands. The man had scurried away out of sight long ago, and she had just killed off the last of the grunts still crawling around. In the small hatch, she had discovered several civilians trapped in cells. To theirs and her enjoyment, she merely ripped off the doors to each cell, setting each one free.
“All right Simon, no survivors left, and civilians saved.”
“You sure? How about that man with the biomorph?”
“He managed to get away unfortunately. I was too busy trying to break free from that Warden.”
She heard a sigh over the radio. Hearing doors being kicked open, she whirled around to notice Simon walking in.
“That man you let run free? He was a local director. Arm torn off or not, he still remains a serious threat in the rituals he knows.”
“How did you-”
“And outright disobeying orders and lying to me Joy. Unacceptable!”
“Well, this is my own way of handling things, you know?”
Simon crossed his arms, looking down at her. “By letting the enemy with dangerous information escape?”
“How could you see all this shit they do to people on a daily basis, and NOT send a more direct message to them?”
“You think killing every last cartel member isn’t potent enough?”
“No. Those are just fodder, you aren’t scaring the higher ups enough to stop! And that’s what I did.”
She smiled smugly. “He’s delivering a threat to his other superiors that I very well intend on following up on. When I begin to follow up, you can bet every single person who bothered to join these cartels will be shitting their pants and leaving.”
“Perhaps you don’t understand what ‘covert’ means Joy, but in my life, I’m willing to give you this one chance. Informing everyone about who you are isn’t going to work in your advantage you know. With the right mind and equipment, you’re going to be awfully easy to kill.”
“Then I have to work harder with you to outplay them. Ain’t anyone on the world like me.” She flexed her arm, showing off to him.
“There are a lot more people like you than you think Joy. But remember: You’re reaping what you’ve sown.”
Deep into the industrial housing of Romitum, the ex-biomorphed man scurried through the streets, still bleeding badly. Several eyes turned to him as he rushed with the last remnants of adrenaline pumping through his system. Finding a small corner to hide himself in, he dug his finger into his shoulder wound, groaning as he soaked his thumb with blood. Drawing a new sigil on the ground out of it, it slowly dissolved, and a voice spoke directly into his mind.
“What is it?”
“This is Gaston, I was in charge of Bliss production in the new warehouse at Romitum’s industrial district.”
“What is the issue?”
“How-… Nevermind. The entire warehouse is gone, destroyed. Though, I was spared.”
“Spared? Go on…”
“Most of the attack was carried out by a single woman. She was ridiculously strong, fistfought an armored Warden and won. She told me that she was going to find all of us, and tear us all piece from piece.”
“This woman… Her abilities sound familiar. Gaston, for this information, I can forgive you for the loss of the warehouse. Return to our headquarters immediately. We’re going to see if this woman is the person I’ve been looking for.”