Hatbot clenched his fists in frustration as he turned towards Grape. Each eye was struggling to focus correctly on his head.
Hatbot began to shudder erratically. It was difficult to tell if there was anger building up or if he was actually struggling to process the question. Thorn cautiously stepped forward.
A black hand swiftly struck Thorn across the face, sending him flying along the temple floor and slamming into the adjacent wall. Thorn's entire body flashed red as he made impact with the virtual surfaces. His hat floated gently down to the ground as he slouched over in pain. Pain? Why was he in pain, he thought to himself. It continued to tingle throughout his entire body as he laid there trying to comprehend that wholly new sensation.
Hatbot reached with one outstretched hand towards the blue light. A small metal apparatus floated out of the beam and attached itself directly to his face. With a small adjustment, two arcs of energy sparked between the prongs on either side of where a jaw might exist. The synthetic voice it emitted was clear yet corrosive as Hatbot finally spoke coherently. His eyes were still and intently staring.
Hatbot let out a deafening discordant screech. The walls of the entire temple rippled as the floor itself began to flicker. In one instant, the entire temple was displaced a few centimeters up from its original position. Everything was moved except Grape and Thorn, who were now clipped into the floor and unable to even budge.
A head poked out from behind a column. Rook shuffled over to the group as he maintained eye contact with the three yellow circles following his steps.
Hatbot charged Rook immediately, nearly knocking him off his feet. The energy from the blue light funneled across the room and into Hatbot's device, and exploded as a bright nova burst right in front of Rook. A quick sidestep and he was able to dodge the full blast, but his clothes were singed in the process. Hatbot slowly backed up towards the light to siphon another surge of energy.
Rook placed a hand on the floor. Slowly they both began to phase up and out of the surface itself to unclip themselves. Grape quickly grabbed Thorn and pulled him away from Hatbot who was nearing a full charge.
All three dove over a pew and took cover as another blast rocked the I/O Temple. The heat of the arcing energies struck Rook in the leg mid air. The frozen Maxwellists caught in the explosion were flung in all directions. However, Bishop still quietly kneeled at the front of the altar undisturbed and thankfully away from the fight.
Grape grabbed Rook by the collar and dragged him out into the open. He struggled to get out of his grip but there was nowhere to hide now. Grape looked up at the ceiling to see 8-Ball clung to the rafters above. He was tired. He was done. They were both out of their league. Way out. Grape dropped Rook and took a step back.
Hatbot clenched his fists and faced the dark haired interloper. Then with all the energies he could muster from the I/O Temple, he obliterated Rook into a puddle of pixels. His remains scattered across the glass smooth floor and quickly evaporated into nothingness.
8-ball descended from the ceiling and converged onto the group, studying Thorn's hat which lay on the ground next to them. Thorn shoved Grape in objection. His remaining eye primed for tears as he grunted in futility. There was an emotion he was trying to reconcile; something between grief, disgust, and disappointment. Grape held his ground and let Thorn have his little venting. He knew this was the right way to go.
Hatbot shuffled over towards 8-ball and looked down at the hat adjacent to both of them on the ground.
Hatbot shrugged his pointed shoulders. 8-Ball floated out of his way and back towards Grape and Thorn. As Hatbot surveyed the trio standing away from him, he bent down and picked up Thorn's hat.
Grape and 8-ball already ran the diagnostics and prediction models. They were on his turf in his house. Fighting would mean to die with almost 99.89% accuracy. Both conceded that this was the only sensible option.
Hatbot nodded, then gently placed Thorn's hat on top of his head.
Hatbot started to walk back towards the altar. Grape turned and headed for the exit. Thorn was unconvinced. He caught up with Hatbot one last time.
Hatbot raised a hand into the air ready to end Thorn. Before his hand came down, he was struck with a heavy blow to the side of the head. His apparatus crunched under the force and fell off of his face in broken pieces.
Hatbot staggered back from both shock and surprise. He took a knee to gain focus on who hit him.
Hatbot reached out for the beam to siphon more destructive energy, but nothing happened. He tried again. Still nothing. His eyes twitched uncontrollably. Bishop walked in between Hatbot and Thorn.
Hatbot didn't hesitate. He immediately attempted to take off the hat, but it was already firmly clipped around his rendered head. The hat's algorithims disrupting his operations was just the right distraction. Bishop charged Hatbot and knocked him over. There was a fair amount struggling as Bishop tried to subdue him. Hatbot flailed trying to break free. Thorn approached but was confused about what to even do.
With a swift kick, Hatbot dislodged Bishop and threw her to the ground. Thorn came in for a punch, but was blocked. Hatbot grabbed Thorn's forearm and lifted him off his feet slowly. Grape came up from behind and then struck him in the back.
Hatbot swung Thorn's body into Grape and watched them tumble down like bowling pins. Bishop scrambled to her feet as she watched Hatbot make a run for the blue light.
8-Ball dashed towards the base of the altar, stopping Hatbot's advance. The cubic body that made up 8-Ball was still and quiet. Slowly, 8-Ball closed the distance on Hatbot.
The I/O Temple was silent. Bishop walked over to Grape and placed a hand on his shoulder. Thorn shuffled over to the frozen mass of cubes, pixels, and empty space that once was occupied by two bodies. It pulsed slowly, but was otherwise still.
A small .txt file was tossed to Thorn. Dutifully, he placed it into his pocket without so much as glancing it.
They then shook hands at the base of the altar. There was not much to say amidst the worry, shock, confusion, and relief. A small winged figure of plasma and light fluttered out of Bishop's avatar, allowing the rendered body to fall at Thorn's feet. It then flew into the blue light, soaring up through the ceiling and into the dark void at light speed. Grape watched it disappear from sight, then gently nudged the glitched mass into the light as well, rocketing them both out of the temple.
Thorn crouched down to look at Bishop one last time. She seemed to be coming around slowly as if her connection was lagging. He looked up and noticed the others in the temple began moving as well. Thorn opened his mouth to say something, but shook his head and ran into the light before the others noticed. MTF-Kappa-10 exited the Maxwellist network a mess and apparently godless. Bishop blinked hard and lifted herself to her arms to look around at the trashed scene.
There was a long meeting about what happened. Things were discovered and things were intentionally left out. All in all it was considered a success. With Hatbot now detained and processed, a randomly generated identifier populated the long list of other oddities, secrets, and— just things that need to generally be forgotten. SCP-2522 fit snugly along with the other numbers as the attendees logged off at the close of the meeting.
Later, Alex sat in her isolated workspace with the .txt file Thorn slipped into her hand at that debriefing. Alone with her thoughts and away from the prying eyes of her researchers, she palmed the file in her hand quizzically. She scanned it one more time just to make sure, and again it came up clean. Letting out a sigh she opened it up. At a glance, she was relieved that it was in fact an actual note with text. She then began to read: