“Hero Machina… engage!!”
Davídrius wasted no time as he blasted forward, whipping the sabers out of his sword boxes and slashing through all of the roots in his way. He quickly reached the base of the tree and began to run up the trunk when part of the bark spontaneously lashed out and grabbed him by his ankle, ripping him off of the tree and launching him across the forest floor. He tumbled to a stop just behind Kevérin, who raised his arms forward. “Watch out!” he shouted, just before covering the entire area with intense flames. He stood back for a moment to admire his handiwork — only for a hole to split open in the side of the giant infected tree and begin flooding the small valley with water, rapidly extinguishing the fires.
“Well, that worked,” Christeané deadpanned as Kaoné quickly rose the dirt beneath their feet to remain above the water level.
“Where the hell did all that water come from?” Kevérin scowled. “Kaoné, can you do something about it?”
The Materiatechnic turned toward the water for a few seconds before quickly whipping around and knocking back several infected animals with a dirt wall. “I can’t manipulate it. Just like all of the infected animals…”
“So anything so much as touched by the infection can’t be directly affected, is that it?” Davídrius snorted. “Guess this means we should avoid the water at all costs, then?”
“Chaos Assist!” Kievkenalis called, imbuing all of Hero Machina with a boost of Chaos Energy before spinning around and directing his hands at several approaching creatures. “Chaos Strike! Chaos Strike!” he called repeatedly, and then glanced toward Kevérin. “Kaoné and I will keep the creatures in the forest off your back. Focus on… whatever it is you plan to do!”
Siyuakén watched the Chaos- and Materiatechnic spread out and push back the forest creatures before she turned back to the rest of Hero Machina. “What is the plan—?”
She was interrupted as the metallic worm atop the tree let out a deafening, steely screech. It promptly split in half, with its front half falling into the water below… and then emerging as a large, winged, lizard-like creature with silvery metallic skin — almost identical in appearance to the dragon that appeared on the Earthian colony of Sunova.
“Well that’s one hell of a coincidence…” Davídrius brandished his blades and leaped straight up, whirling around in the air and almost tearing into the dragon as it flew past. It slammed its tail into the Velocitechnic, knocking him straight down toward the water — only for him to be knocked out of the way again by a certain hammer. He caught himself on the tree by stabbing one of his sabers into the bark, at which point he turned irately toward Christeané, who had blown a hole into the tree with his hammer.
“That hurt like fuck!” the Tresédian exclaimed.
“Better than falling into that water!” Christeané replied as he slammed his hammer into the tree again, punching a large hole through to the other side. The bark let out a loud crack, prompting the two Introtechnics to rapidly vacate the tree — just as the hole filled with a viscous silver material that quickly solidified.
Siyuakén immediately fired off two lightning shocks at the new filling and directed a large current into the water, frying the base of the tree. The dragon roared and immediately dived toward the Electrotechnic, forcing her and Kevérin to jump back. The Pyrotechnic quickly retaliated by blasting the creature in its mouth, sending it recoiling. It then jumped back up into the air, where it turned toward the group and began launching fireballs, fireballs that Kevérin barely managed to deflect. Siyuakén followed up by triggering a massive lightning-strike from the rainclouds above — only for the strike to be intercepted by the canopy-high metallic web, the electricity dispersing through the beams as though the system were one giant lightning rod.
In response, Christeané began whirling his hammer around and released it directly upwards in an attempt to reach — and then smash — the canopy web. The half of the metallic creature still connected to the tree quickly picked up on his trajectory, however, and began launching metal projectiles at him, forcing him to yank his hammer down and use it to deflect all of the projectiles. The change in momentum prevented him from reaching the treetops — but Davídrius quickly leaped up and used him as a springboard to clear the final distance. Christeané glared after him as he landed on the high branches and then took off toward part of the metal webbing, sabers out and ready to slice, until two of the branches came to life and grabbed Davídrius by his ankles, dangling him upside down. A third branch moved up and prepared to impale him, but he quickly slashed his restraints and began falling to the water below — only to grab Siyuakén’s ankle as she swung around the infected tree.
“That’s the second time!” she shouted down at him, “the second time someone had to save you!”
“Tch — shush,” Davídrius retorted as the Electrotechnic released her grappling hook. Davídrius took the opportunity to catapult himself into the surrounding forest as Siyuakén changed her direction with another grappling hook, swinging through the air and offering shocks alternatively to the dragon and the tree as she maintained a current down the grappling line. The dragon quickly redirected its attention to her, allowing the wind generated by its powerful wings to blow away the streams of fire Kevérin launched at it. Annoyed at being ignored, the Pyrotechnic launched himself into the air with a blast of flame and then rocketed himself toward the dragon, nailing it with a flame-powered punch just as Siyuakén shocked its giant maw. It recoiled from the attacks, seemingly stunned — and was then blown to smithereens as Christeané’s hammer smashed into and obliterated it. The three Chaotics continued on their trajectories around the tree as the dragon’s pieces fell into the water below, splashing the platform Kaoné had created with water.
“That could be a problem…” Christeané frowned as he looked down at the platform from a newly-created hole in the tree trunk. He then smashed his hammer into the trunk again before launching himself at the canopy above just in time to avoid being trapped by the silver filling. Kevérin and Siyuakén continued up and around the tree until they were on level with the half of the metallic worm that had remained attached to the tree. The Pyrotechnic immediately began blasting it with fire, distracting it as Siyuakén flung herself up into the canopy. She grabbed a branch and quickly climbed through the final branch layers until she reached the metal web, upon which she blasted it with a massive shock. The moment she did, the entire tree rumbled as the worm let out a resounding screech — and then a branch knocked her sideways. She fell out of the tree and quickly caught herself on a lower branch just as she spotted Christeané standing in the canopy just above the metal worm. He launched himself straight up, demolishing part of the metal web on the way before throwing himself down at the worm, hammer-first—
—only to be suddenly knocked aside by the dragon’s tail as it launched itself from the pool below.
“What?!” the Forcetechnic exclaimed just as Davídrius launched himself from the edge of the water and caught Christeané mid-fall before catching himself on the tree, stabbing his saber into the bark and hanging from it.
“I thought I destroyed that thing!?” the Master Lieutenant questioned with a scowl.
“Of course this wouldn’t be easy…” Davídrius sighed irately. “The hell are we even supposed to do?”
“Well, first we ought to destroy that Faraday cage up in the canopy, so Siyuakén can just shock everything,” Christeané suggested. “…Hang on.”
“Wait, what are you doing?!” Davídrius questioned apprehensively as the Forcetechnic let himself drop and then grabbed Davídrius by the leg, where he began swinging himself back and forth. Then, at the apex of one of the swings, he launched his hammer upwards, dragging both himself and Davídrius through the air.
Spotting the two Introtechnics, Kevérin quickly diverted the dragon’s attention with another blast of fire before creating two blades of flame on his wrists and throwing himself at the creature. He stabbed into the dragon’s chest and then flared the blades, cleanly incinerating the dragon’s guts before falling away and blasting back toward the tree, where he kept a cautious eye on the creature as it fell again into the water below.
Above him, Siyuakén swung around the tree — and then suddenly changed her direction with a quick grapple firing, successfully evading several metallic missiles and launching herself at the tree worm. She immediately diverted to the side by firing her other grappling hook, barely scraping by the metallic creature as she zapped it, thereby blowing off one of its arms. She danced nimbly around its base as it attempted to grab her with its remaining arm, offering multiple shocks all the way — until the bark below her feet lurched, tripping her up and allowing the worm’s arm to wrap around, grab her by her wrists, and hang her directly in front of the creature. A hole slowly cracked open in its chest as it brought her closer, as if to eat her.
But it had no chance — Kevérin rocketed himself upwards and blasted the final arm off of the creature, freeing Siyuakén to shove a lightning strike down the worm’s maw as she flipped through the air and prepared to swing off again. Just as she fired her grappling hook, however, the dragon burst from the water below, flying straight up and snatching the Pyro- and Electrotechnic out of the air with its claws. It slammed them both into the tree and then backed off, with the two dazed Chaotics unable to take advantage of the lull. But before the dragon could do anything else, Davídrius leaped down from above, shoving both of his rapiers into the creature’s neck before whipping out his sabers to cleanly slice off the dragon’s arms and then its head. He quickly sheathed his sabers, grabbed his rapiers, and leaped back up to the canopy as Kevérin and Siyuakén freed themselves and followed him upward, allowing the dragon to once again fall into the water below.
“It keeps regenerating…” Kevérin muttered once the three Chaotics were gathered on one of the lower branches.
“It must be that water,” Siyuakén suggested. “There must be something in the water that can heal it…”
“Well, you’re the Electrotechnic here,” Davídrius pointed out, “can’t you just shock the whole thing and be over with it?”
“Maybe,” she responded, “but we shouldn’t let ourselves get distracted by the dragon. We still need to take down the tree…”
She trailed off as another segment of the metal canopy-webbing collapsed into the water below, followed shortly by Christeané, who smashed his hammer down on the front of the metal worm, obliterating its entire front. He caught himself at the base of the worm and smashed his hammer into it again, ripping it from its foundations and sending it toppling to the water below.
“…Or we could do that.” Davídrius smirked before launching himself down toward Christeané. Kevérin quickly followed, and then Siyuakén. After swinging once, she released her grappling hook as she swung toward the tree — and was snatched out of the air as the dragon blasted out of the water at before-unseen speeds and intercepted the grappling hook with its jaw. It then dove straight down, dragging the Electrotechnic with it as it disappeared into the water below. Due to the shock of the sudden direction change, Siyuakén was barely able to register that she was midair before she came within meters of the water’s surface — and suddenly began slamming through dozens of thin ice shields, her grappling line severed. Her descent speed rapidly slowed until she landed on a final, floating ice platform, merely bruised all over as opposed to utterly crushed against the surface of the water, or whatever demise might have befallen her below it.
“Rebehka?!” the Electrotechnic exclaimed, quickly stumbling to her feet as a light skinned woman with long black hair jumped down from the top of the tree valley, freezing the water just before she landed on it. She immediately ran over to her friend, freezing the water the whole way before leaping at Siyuakén in a giant bear hug.
Christeané, Davídrius, and Kevérin all stared down from above. “That uniform…” Davídrius muttered, eying the newcomer’s short white sleeves, forest green shirt and pants, and brown shoes. “It’s the same as Siyuakén’s. So… “ He turned toward Christeané. “That’s Rebehka?”
Christeané smirked. “Yep. That’s Rebehka.”
“Mm…” Kevérin frowned. “Well it’s nice that they’re friends and all, but we are still in the middle of a fight here—!?”
A deafening, metallic screech interrupted him, the sheer volume prompting the three men to reflexively clasp their ears in pain. Davídrius recovered the fastest and immediately began searching for the source of the sound — just as all of the metal hive structures, which had previously been hanging dormant from the lowest canopy levels, dropped into the water below. Shortly after, the entire tree began to rumble, prompting the three men to throw themselves from the branches as Rebehka caught them all with ice platforms.
“Hi, I’m Transfer Captain Kevérin Tyrion, CO of Hero Machina, nice to meet you,” Kevérin rapidly greeted Rebehka, “now freeze the water!!”
“Ah, right!” she responded, immediately freezing the entire surface of the large water pool — and then freezing the deeper contents. And then, for good measure, she froze the large tree as well, encasing it in several centimeters of ice.
“…How the…?” Kevérin blinked, astounded.
“What? You told me to freeze the water,” Rebehka replied.
“Well, yeah, but… wow.” The Pyrotechnic whistled in awe. “…I didn’t expect you to be quite so… thorough.”
“Oh. Well, thank you!” The Cryotechnic grinned.
“That can’t be it, though,” Davídrius cut in, “as impressive as that was, the worm thing already broke out of ice once, and who knows what was about to happen after all that rumbling…” He trailed off as the ice surrounding the tree shattered. Kevérin and Rebehka both immediately blasted the trunk with their respective elements, generating a steam explosion that obliterated the tree and rained pieces of wood and metallic debris all across the battlefield. With the massive canopy destroyed, the small valley was now exposed to the fierce rainstorm. The torrential downpour quickly beat down the steam, revealing that there was no tree left behind…
…and in its place was a giant five-tailed, spike-backed wolf-like metallic creature!
“The hell?!” Christeané scowled. “They just keep gettin’ weirder!”
“This must mean we’re close!” Kevérin exclaimed, “if we broke the tree… it must be almost dead!”
“Or that tree was a cocoon and we just released the monster inside,” Davídrius countered.
“Quite the optimist, aren’t we,” Rebehka quipped.
“We can’t all be happy little damsels in distress, now can we?”
“’Damsel in distress?’ Excuse me, but I’m hardly—!”
“Hey, stop arguing — here it comes!” Kevérin exclaimed as he began lobbing fireballs. The huge creature charged them head on as it opened its mouth, revealing building flames inside — until an unexpected blast of energy knocked it to the side. Another lightning-like strike of purple energy hit the creature as several snapping noises were heard from above — and then an incredible number of broken branches and wet leaves rained down on top of the beast.
“The canopy’s broken and the forest is clear! For now…” Kievkenalis exclaimed as he jumped down next to the rest of Hero Machina, branches and leaves falling to the ground all around him. “Everything just sorta… collapsed, two minutes ago.”
“What is that?!” Kaoné questioned as she slid over to the group shortly after the Chaostechnic.
“I… may be able to answer that…” Rebehka answered uneasily, “…but after we’re done here.”
“Good.” Davídrius nodded in acknowledgment. “Now let’s take care of that thing!” He immediately dashed off toward the metallic creature — or attempted to, at least. Instead of actually taking off, he slipped on the wet ice and crashed face-first into the ground. Kevérin and Kievkenalis quickly jumped forward to block the fallen Velocitechnic from the charging creature, drawing its attention with a combination of flame and chaos attacks. Meanwhile, the Tresédian stumbled back to a standing position and turned to glare at Rebehka.
“…It’s not my fault that ice is low friction,” she responded defensively.
“The two of us can handle that thing anyways, I’m sure,” Siyuakén added before firing a grappling hook at the foliage sitting up at the edge of the valley and using it to swing off, with Rebehka quickly skating after her across the ice.
Davídrius glared after them. “And I thought just Siyuakén was annoying…”
“Relax, they aren’t actually that bad,” Christeané replied as he slapped the Tresédian on the shoulder, inadvertently sending them both sliding away from each other.
“The fuck, man?!”
“Tch. I’m outta here.” Davídrius drew one of his rapiers and stabbed it into the ice, using it as a springboard to launch himself up to the edge of the valley.
“Hey, wait a minute!” Christeané called after him, “are you just going to leave me here?!”
“Doesn’t sound like a bad idea…”
“What?! No, that’s a terrible idea! I’m just as useless on ice as you are!”
“Useless? Hey, I could save myself. Do the same.”
“This is a horrible way to start a friendship…”
The two Chaotics were startled out of their bickering by the sound of an explosion across the ice arena. Out of the smoke tumbled Kevérin, who hit the ice hard before jumping back to his feet just in time to evade being smashed by one of the creature’s tails. He then jumped back into the air, hovering a safe distance from the rapidly-dissipating smoke as Siyuakén dived past him, her palms sparking with electricity. Rebehka quickly raised an ice shield to block one of the creature’s attacks, allowing Siyuakén to slide under the creature’s belly and unleash all of her charged-up electricity, scarring and stunning the beast. As soon as she emerged from the other side, Kievkenalis dived under the creature in the other direction, directing his hands toward the beast’s belly and shouting, “Chaos Cannon!”
A sphere of Chaos Energy ripped clear through the monster’s stomach and disappeared into the dark rainy sky, but the damage didn’t slow the beast down. It stabbed its tails into the ice to anchor itself and then launched itself forward, nearly bowling over Kaoné and Siyuakén in the process. Rebehka quickly raised the ice in front of the two Chaotics like a ramp, sending the monster flying through the air uncontrollably. Kevérin took advantage of the opportunity to continually blast it with fire until it crashed into the ground and then slid into the wall of the small valley. It immediately jumped to its feet and returned fire with several fireballs, which Kievkenalis easily deflected with Chaos Deflect. The Chaostechnic followed up with several Chaos Strikes, each briefly stunning the creature, but it still managed to evade a lightning blast from Siyuakén. A pillar of ice suddenly rose beneath the creature, flinging it into the air — where it withdrew its tails into its body and sprouted two pairs of wings instead.
“Oh, come on!” Kevérin exclaimed incredulously, “really?!”
“Chaos Cannon! Chaos Cannon!” Kievkenalis shouted, directing the resulting energy projectiles at the creature as it began rising into the air. “It’s getting away!”
“This is ridiculous,” the Pyrotechnic growled and then launched himself into the air to engage the large monster. He fired several fireballs at it before flying close himself, his fists enveloped in flame. With a roar, the creature suddenly spun around and whacked Kevérin with its wings, but the Pyrotechnic managed to whip himself around and create two flame swords extending from his hands just in time to stab and shred two of its wings. He followed with several blasts of fire to redirect himself up through the air, evading the creature’s own attacks the whole way. After simply flying around for a couple seconds, Kevérin finally responded with a blast wave, sending the creature recoiling. He then moved a little to the side and caused a burst of light, drawing the monster’s attention back to him. Just as it moved to attack again, however, Davídrius slammed into its jaw rapier-first, using the weapon to pin the creature’s maw shut. He then leaped to the creature’s back, stabbing one of his sabers in to stabilize himself before slicing off all of the wings and stabbing his other saber into the back of the creature’s head. Yet the monster still did not yield — it thrashed violently, attempting to throw the Velocitechnic off of its back as it ripped its mouth open and began again to attack Kevérin. The Pyrotechnic was about to respond with his own flames when Davídrius leaped off of the creature’s back — just as Christeané rocketed by. The Forcetechnic yanked his battlehammer down out of the air, grabbed it, and whirled around midair to slam it down on the creature’s back, launching it straight down into the ice. It impacted with great force, crumbling most of its body — and still, it attempted to stand. With a quick prompt from Kievkenalis, Rebehka launched the Chaostechnic into the air over the creature; just as he passed over it, he shouted, “Chaos… Impact!!”
An invisible force crashed into the monster from above, smashing it even further into the ice. Before it could attempt to move again, Rebehka super-cooled the creature’s metallic segments, at which point Siyuakén stepped forward and triggered a massive lightning strike from the rainclouds above — turning the creature into a charged superconductor and wreaking havoc on its body. Shortly thereafter, Rebehka froze it through and then encased it in ice, rendering it incapable of even repairing itself.
“…Well,” Kevérin commented, impressed, as he landed on the ice next to the frozen creature. He glanced over at Kaoné as she hastily crafted a rain shelter before turning his attention back to the Cryotechnic. “…Did that do it?”
“…I think so,” Rebehka responded after several moments of silence. “It isn’t trying to move.”
“Chaos Detect,” Kievkenalis muttered, and then nodded. “It isn’t completely dead, but I think it’s close. …It looks like there’s a bunch of smaller things inside, though?”
“Are they about to burst out?” Siyuakén questioned, suddenly on guard.
“No… they’re too small for that. They’re just as close to death as the big thing, anyways,” the Chaostechnic reported. “Do you know what they are?”
“…Maybe,” Siyuakén replied uneasily. “Let’s just say we were probably lucky things turned out like this.”
“Is this about whatever it was that happened on that Earthian colony?” Christeané asked as he and Davídrius slowly slid over to the group.
“Yeah, but let’s not talk about it here,” the Electrotechnic stated. “We should get out of here.”
“I second that,” Rebehka quickly declared, “I’ve been here… for far too long.”
“What about the rest of the research team?” Kaoné asked. “Did they survive…?”
“…No…” the Cryotechnic responded quietly, “…most of them died before we even crashed. …But now isn’t the time for stories; I can explain more about what happened once we get out of here. I think I may be able to fill in several blanks, as far as the metallic infection, and what we just fought…”
“Then let’s get out of here already.” Davídrius scowled as he glared at the pouring rain from inside Kaoné’s shelter and wrung the water out of his scarf. “My clothes are fuckin’ soaked! How the hell do y’all deal with this ‘rain’ shit?!”
Rebehka stared at Davídrius for a couple moments before turning to Siyuakén. “Is he always like this?”
“Hey, I can hear you, ya know.”
“Anyways,” Kevérin interrupted the impending argument and then gestured westward. “Hero Machina… move out—!”
“But it’s past sunset already, and raining buckets,” Christeané pointed out, “shouldn’t we just take shelter somewhere, and wait to ‘move out’ until morning? And when it’s stopped raining?”
“…Fine,” the Pyrotechnic replied dejectedly, “let’s get back to the valley edge, and then Kaoné can build us a house or something. That better?”
“Yeah, that makes more sense. I like it.”
“C’mon, already!” Davídrius cut in, “Let’s get goin’—!” he was interrupted as he tripped up and fell on the ice again.
Rebehka and Siyuakén glanced at each other, both grinning. Siyuakén quickly grabbed her friend’s hand as the Cryotechnic sped them both across the ice, shouting back, “race you to the edge of the valley!”
“What?!” The Velocitechnic snapped his attention to the two women and growled. “Why, they— tch!” He stabbed one of his sabers into the ice and used it to launch himself forward, leaving the rest of the group behind — but not for long, as Kaoné quickly sped forward herself, using her control over matter to manipulate the ice underfoot. Kievkenalis quickly sped off too, using a quick call of “Chaos Cannon” to launch himself forward.
“…Uh, help?” Christeané grinned meekly at Kevérin.
The Pyrotechnic sighed as he gave the Forcetechnic a shove forwards. He shook his head warily before flying forward himself, muttering, “Hero Machina, move out…”