Chapter 18 – The Chaos of Infection

“The wreck’s down there?”

“Yeah…” Kaoné squinted down at the ice in an attempt to see through it. However, the depth combined with the cloudy evening light made it difficult to see far. “It’s really far down, it seems like.”

“Must be,” Davídrius commented, “’cause all I see is a pit of absolute darkness.”

“The fact that we can even see more than a few meters is pretty impressive,” Christeané pointed out. “This ice is really clear. Rebehka must be better than I thought.”

“Which won’t help us at all if she’s trapped with the wreck,” Siyuakén responded apprehensively before turning to Kaoné. “Is she down there? Can you tell?”

“…Not really,” the Materiatechnic replied, “my matter-sensing abilities aren’t all that great. I guess I should say that there’s a wreck at the bottom of this crevice, since I can’t tell what kind of vehicle it used to be…”

“Wait, so this might not even be the wreck we’re lookin’ for?” Davídrius scowled.

“Even if it isn’t, Rebehka had to have come through here recently,” Kevérin declared. “This ice is too clear and too far south to have formed on its own; a Cryotechnic had to have made it. And the surface of the ice is still relatively clean and clear, so the ice was either made recently, or swept recently.”

“Alright, Mr. Detective, maybe you can tell us what direction she went, too?”

“Now’s not the time for sarcasm,” Siyuakén snapped.

“Then what is the time, eh?” The Velocitechnic snorted impatiently. “So we’ve found a place that we think Rebehka passed by. What now? I don’t suppose any of y’all have trackin’ skills?”

The second after he spoke, the entire area lit up with a bright flash of lightning. Shortly afterward, a loud crack of thunder rumbled through the forest as the clouds opened up, prompting Kaoné to hastily fabricate a shelter for the group of Chaotics.

“…And now, trackin’ skills wouldn’t even matter!” Davídrius threw his arms up in resignation as he glared at the heavy rain. “We ain’t findin’ shit in this weather, at this time of day.”

Siyuakén sighed in resignation. “I hate to admit it, but you’re right. What do we do now?”

“Ah, excuse me?”

“What?!” Kevérin jumped and whipped around to face a new speaker, as did the rest of Hero Machina. The newcomer stood just outside of the makeshift shelter and meekly waved at the group, allowing the pouring rain to utterly soak through his green military jacket, white shirt, green waist cloak, and black pants. His short black hair lay flat across his pale forehead, the rain beating it down to almost cover his brown eyes. He had a slightly angular face, a lithe build, and stood just as tall as Christeané, but was beginning to sink slightly as the unrelenting downpour turned the dirt under his boots into mud.

“Can I come in?”

“Uh… sure,” the Transfer Captain responded confusedly. He stared at the mysterious newcomer as he stepped out of the rain; he didn’t look much older than any of the other members of Hero Machina, with a skinny stature, light skin, and short black hair. Kevérin’s attention then shifted to the man’s clothing. “That uniform… are you from the Riveranian Protection Force?”

“I am.” The newcomer nodded, and then held up a finger. “Um, hold on one second. Chaos Form…” Soon after he muttered the two words, his entire body became enveloped in a thin layer of purple energy. The sudden appearance of the energy startled the members of Hero Machina, but only partially.

“You’re a Chaostechnic?” Kaoné questioned.

Chaos Cancel Form,” the newcomer muttered, and then turned to Kaoné as the layer of energy disappeared, along with all of the dampness in his clothes. “Yeah, I am,” he replied, “uh, sorry to just intrude like this. I’m Captain Kievkenalis Yumach, from the RPF. You are—?”

“Kievkenalis?!” Kevérin exclaimed, “perfect timing! We were looking for you! Well, not right now, but before we came here—”

“You should really tell him who we are before you tell him that we were looking for him,” Christeané cut in.

“Oh, right,” the Transfer Captain responded sheepishly, and then turned back to Kievkenalis. “I’m Transfer Captain Kevérin Tyrion, and this is Ha—”

Don’t,” Siyuakén hissed.

“…Hero Machina,” Kevérin finished with a huff.

“Oh… right, you guys.” Kievkenalis nodded in acknowledgment. “I was about to go to Nimaliaka to join you myself, actually, but then I was sent to investigate some weird activity here on the Hazard Islands…”

“This is that ‘secret mission’ the RPF General was referring to, isn’t it?” Siyuakén asked.

“I guess so?” The Chaostechnic shrugged. “I don’t know why it’d be secret. You guys have probably figured out what’s so weird about the islands already, anyways.”

“You mean the lack of animals that want to kill us on first sight?” Davídrius snorted.

Kievkenalis nodded again. “Exactly. I was sent to figure out where they went, or what happened to them. I only found this ice crevice earlier today, though… do you know what happened here?”

“A Relédiakian research team was returning from the Continental Glacier and then crash-landed,” Siyuakén answered. “…We’re not completely certain that the wreck in the crevice is the one we’re looking for, but we think that one of the Chaotics on board at least passed through here…”

“Wait, you’re a Support-type Chaostechnic, right?” Kevérin cut in, “can you tell us if there’s anyone down in the ice?”

“I already checked when I first found the crevice. No one’s down there,” Kievkenalis responded. “Or at least… no one alive is down there.”

“She’s not dead,” Siyuakén insisted, “if you can’t detect her in the ice, then she must be somewhere else. There’s no way she’d die within an ice prison.”

“Maybe Rebehka wouldn’t,” Christeané pointed out, “but what about the rest of the research team?”

The only response to Christeané’s question was the rumble of distant thunder and the heavy pattering of rain against the shelter.

“…What if the research team escaped before the wreck was frozen?” Kaoné asked hopefully.

“The Hazard Islands are hazardous to Chaotics, let alone normal people,” the East Nimaliakian countered. “I hate to say it, but I don’t think we should expect to see the rest of the team alive, not if we can’t even find for sure where they crashed.”

“You’re certain there’s no one trapped in the ice?…” Kevérin glanced at Kievkenalis again.

“…I can double check,” the Chaostechnic responded slowly. “Chaos Detect. …Wait, there’s something—!”

CRACK!

The surface of the ice mass instantly shattered as the sound of cracking echoed through the forest and crevice area. The mass then rumbled slightly before it cracked again, splitting straight down the center as the far half spontaneously shifted upwards by several meters. The translation of the ice mass was followed shortly by earthquake-like rumblings as the ice began to slowly settle back down.

“The hell was that?!” Davídrius exclaimed.

“There was something huge beneath the ice!” Kievkenalis responded quickly, “it— I swear it wasn’t there before! I didn’t detect it this morning!”

“Did it cause the ice to shatter?” Kevérin questioned.

“I think so,” the Chaostechnic replied, “just before Detect wore off, I could sense it tunneling into the rock face beside the ice.”

“Can you tell what it was?”

“It was—”

Another loud crack interrupted Kievkenalis as the raised ice suddenly shifted down by a full meter, coming to rest about three meters above the surrounding ground. Almost immediately afterward, the ground opposite the crevice from Hero Machina exploded as a gigantic metallic monolith extended from the rocky dirt, whirling around its top half to face its pincer-ridden insect-like face toward the group of Chaotics.

“—that,” Kievkenalis finished meekly, “…it was that thing.”

The worm-like creature stared at the group for another several seconds before withdrawing into the ground and tunneling away, the reverberations of the ground easily giving away its location.

“It was metallic…” Siyuakén scowled. “Another case of metallic infection? Here?

“I think it’s worse than that,” Davídrius commented, “with the color and sheen of its skin and stuff, that thing reminded me of that dragon we fought on the Earthian colony far more than I’d like…”

“Don’t tell me you think this is going to go down like Sunova did,” Kevérin questioned warily.

“I have no idea…” The Velocitechnic drew his sabers and gripped them tightly. “But if we just let that thing go, then things’ll get a lot worse for sure!”

“Time to get wet,” Christeané quipped as he smashed down the walls of the makeshift shelter. “It’s going northeast, right? Kaoné, can you track it?”

“Sort of, but—”

“Watch it—!” Davídrius exclaimed as he dashed over and whacked a creature out of the air just before it could attack Kaoné. He stabbed it with his saber before glaring at it. “…It’s got that metallic rash—!”

As soon as the words left his mouth, several more infected animals swooped down from the trees. Siyuakén quickly shocked them all, taking advantage of the wet weather to augment her electrical abilities as Kievkenalis called out “Chaos Detect!” once more.

“There’s a lot of them!” he shouted, “birds and beasts of all kinds! How did they get this close without anyone noticing?!”

“No time to panic now!” Christeané replied as he slammed his battlehammer into the ground, cratering it and flinging all of the nearby infected animals into the air, at which point Davídrius easily sliced them all up. The Forcetechnic began whirling his hammer around before turning toward the shifted ice mass and releasing his weapon toward it, smashing a hole through to the other side. “Let’s get going!!”

Kaoné immediately crafted a tall dirt barrier behind the group before turning around and dashing off after the rest of Hero Machina as they rushed across the crevice and into the forest on the other side.

“Damn forest’s too thick!” Davídrius scowled as he twisted around just in time to evade a Deathtail attack and then behead it with his saber. “Kaoné, clear us a path!”

“But…” she whimpered, “the animals—!”

“—are all bat-shit insane!” Christeané interjected as he twirled his battlehammer around horizontally, smashing down all of the trees within two meters. “We’re on the damned Hazard Islands, and all the animals have been infected anyways! Show no mercy!”

Chaos Assist,” Kievkenalis muttered, infusing himself and the rest of Hero Machina with a boost of Chaos Energy. “I don’t know what’s going on with you guys, but we really need to hurry up!” He ducked before spreading his arms out horizontally, shouting, “Chaos Arrows!” Two arrows of Chaos Energy shot out from his hands, homing in on and piercing two of the attacking creatures through their chests, killing them instantly.

“…Agh, no one cares about the Hazard Islands,” Kevérin muttered with a scowl. He then shouted, “everyone, stand back!”

Davídrius knocked an infected creature out of the air just before it could attack the Pyrotechnic. He then flipped backwards and corralled the rest of the group away from Kevérin just as he raised a massive wall of fire and incinerated a long column of trees in front of him, with the rest of the surrounding trees burning strongly enough to withstand the torrential downpour.

Siyuakén gasped, astonished at the level of environmental destruction. “Kevérin! You—!”

“He’s right, no one gives a shit about the Hazard Islands,” Davídrius cut in, “what matters is that we catch that metal worm and stop the metallic infection from getting this serious off of the islands! Now let’s! Get! Moving!!

With that, the Velocitechnic charged down the burned column, followed closely by Christeané and then Kevérin. Kaoné and Siyuakén stared on in dismay before Kievkenalis shook them out of their stupor, shouting, “they’re coming!!”

The Materia- and Electrotechnic both whipped around just in time for the Chaostechnic to call “Chaos Armor” and take a heavy blow from a charging boar. Siyuakén immediately electrocuted the offending creature before rushing over to help Kievkenalis, just to see him jump back to his feet.

“C’mon!” He gestured forward as he sprinted after the other three men. Kaoné paused wearily, but quickly followed when Siyuakén began running as well.

“Kaoné, you watch the right! I’ll take the left!” Siyuakén shouted as she jumped through the burning tree line and engaged her swinging gear, carefully but deftly swinging through the dense forest. Without even waiting to lay eyes on any rogue creatures, she periodically ran shocks down her swinging lines and through the trees, hoping to electrocute any aggressors hidden in the underbrush. Just as she had almost caught up with Kevérin, however, one of her grappling hooks failed to catch on the wet and slippery bark, sending her tumbling to the ground. She quickly jumped back to her feet and whirled around just in time to see and evade a charging ape-like creature who had just jumped down from the tree her hook had failed to snag. Scowling, she promptly fired both of her grappling hooks at it and sent a massive charge down both lines, shocking the offending creature. She quickly reeled the hooks back before raising her arm just in time to use her swinging gear to block a stinger flung from some creature hidden in the underbrush. Running enough charge through her body to create a large enough magnetic field to deflect more of the metallic stingers, she cautiously — yet quickly — approached the bush before releasing her charge into the ground, frying all of the nearby plants and the infected creature that had attacked her. She then quickly took back to swinging through the wet forest just as another infected ape attempted to body slam her unsuccessfully.

Chaos Impact!

Two of the creatures approaching Kievkenalis were blown backwards as the Chaostechnic continued running down the column of incinerated trees that Kevérin was leaving behind. To his right ran Kaoné, who continually raised solid stone walls behind and to the sides of the two Chaotics in an effort to simply block the approach of the infected animals. Suddenly and unexpectedly, three large ape-like creatures leaped over the makeshift walls, forcing Kaoné and Kievkenalis to dive to the side as they crashed into the ground. The Chaostechnic whipped around and quickly called out “Chaos Claws,” inserting himself between Kaoné and the infected apes as he blocked the first several of their attacks with the long claws of Chaos Energy now protruding from both of his fists. He then lunged forward as he muttered “Chaos Armor,” ducking around the apes’ attacks to get in close and stab them before dismissing his Chaos Claws and jumping backwards, allowing Kaoné to raise the ground and flip the carcasses over her makeshift walls.

“You don’t have to kill them!” the Materiatechnic shouted over the rain as she and Kievkenalis took off after the rest of Hero Machina again.

“Better than having them all ambush us at once when we stop to fight that big worm thing,” he responded, “we’re in the back, so it’s our job to look out for the group’s rear. Ah—! Chaos Strike!

At the front of the incinerated column was Kevérin, who progressed forward at a jog’s pace as he continually burned a path through the forest. Christeané and Davídrius actively watched the Pyrotechnics’s back, quickly and deftly knocking away or smashing any infected creatures who attempted to get close. Davídrius gripped his sabers tightly as he flipped through the air, smashing his right heel into the skull of an approaching creature and then using it as a springboard into the treetops where he sliced two waiting Deathtails in half. Just as he began to fall to the ground he noticed a huge bear-like creature simply waiting for him to fall into its giant, open maw — until Christeané’s battlehammer slammed into it, knocking it aside and smashing it into a tree. The Forcetechnic jumped over and grabbed the creature by its arm before whirling it through the air and flinging it into the distance just as Davídrius somersaulted around him and leaped up in time to stab a Deathtail, preventing it from jumping down and attacking Christeané. The two Introtechnics smirked at each other briefly before rushing back into the open where they each blocked two Deathtails that had flung themselves at Kevérin. The two monkey-like creatures landed on the ground, snapping their tails downward to create small craters as they turned toward Christeané — only to be beheaded by Davídrius’s sabers. Kevérin turned to thank them, but stopped as he accidentally collided with something. He quickly backed away and shook his head before looking up in awe at a gigantic infected boar-like creature that almost seemed oblivious to the forest situation — until Kevérin had stumbled into it.

Kevérin meekly gestured toward the creature. “Uh… guys…?”

The boar let out a roar as it turned toward him and attempted to smash him with its head. The Pyrotechnic dived out of the way just as Christeané jumped forward, battlehammer in hand, and smashed it upward into the boar’s chin. Stunned, the wild animal keeled over as the Forcetechnic began twirling his hammer around and then released it straight at the boar’s underside, where it impacted one of its metal plates. The boar collapsed backward as Christeané’s hammer spun around in midair for a second before smashing into the ground, where it toppled a couple trees — one of which had been a target for Siyuakén’s swinging gear. With nothing to latch on to, the grappling hook withdrew back into her arm gear as she sailed through the air, glaring at Christeané before catching herself with a roll.

“Watch where you’re swinging that!” she shouted back at the Forcetechnic as she took off into the trees again — and spontaneously seized up as a spasm of sharp pain shot up her left arm. She instinctively clutched her arm and subsequently forgot to catch herself — only to end up tumbling down a steep slope, obscured by the rain and dense forest. Halfway down the slope, she was able to stabilize herself, but she still rolled to an unceremonious stop at the bottom. She groaned painfully and began to pick herself up as Davídrius suddenly appeared next to her.

“Oi, oi, watch where… you’re…” The Velocitechnic trailed off as he turned toward the shaded but open area in front of Siyuakén. “…What the hell is that?!”

The Electrotechnic glanced up, only to spot a massive tree well over a hundred meters tall. The gigantic plant stood in the middle of a closed off valley, and was covered with metallic rashes and fungus-like offshoots, all of which pulsed subtly and irregularly. Up in the highest branches, over a hundred meters high, were several hive-like structures, as well as a large array of metal rods in a web formation, hidden in the forest ceiling.

“This…” Siyuakén muttered, “…is very… very bad.”

The ground began to shake tremendously, as it had near the ice crevice. Davídrius stiffened and brandished his sabers as Siyuakén quickly wobbled back to a standing position, just in time for the ground in front of the huge infected tree to explode upward and reveal the metallic worm. Davídrius immediately took off, moving to attack the creature — only to get flung back as the worm suddenly propelled itself into the air, removing itself from the ground entirely and whipping itself around in midair to connect its end to the tree. It quickly and seamlessly fused with the tree, growing two long and spindly arms as it did so. Many of the tree’s roots then ripped themselves out of the ground and began wriggling aggressively just as the rest of Hero Machina arrived at the bottom of the slope.

“The hell?!” Christeané exclaimed out of shock. “…Is that…?”

“This is the metallic infection, allowed to go too far,” Siyuakén replied. “We need to stop it!”

“What? Us? Here? Now?” Kevérin spluttered, “but—! That—! It—!”

“If it splits into a billion bugs when it dies like the Earthian Dragon did, at least there’s the Kardé Ocean to stop ‘em!” Davídrius exclaimed, “at that point we can just get Tekdecé to glass the island. But somethin’ this big? I wouldn’t be surprised if it could somehow survive bombardment. We need to cut it down to size!”

“But… it’s so… big…” Kaoné muttered uneasily.

“Hence cutting it down to size.” Christeané smirked as he began twirling his hammer in anticipation of battle. “I gotta say, I didn’t expect to get into fights like this when I joined you guys. I’m glad I was wrong!”

Kevérin scowled. “Tch… Okay, fine. We’ll take it on here! Hero Machina… engage!!”

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