My power didn’t work—?!
The dragonbird screeched again, shaking Kaoné from her thoughts. The beast lowered its head and charged at the Materiatechnic, who jumped out of the way just in time to avoid being trampled. When the bird slammed into a tree while trying to brake, Kaoné quickly ripped some dirt from the ground and flung it at the creature, transforming the dirt into solid rock around the dragonbird’s neck and ankles and binding it against the tree. She then stared at the now bound and struggling bird for a couple moments before realizing that she was panting heavily. …At least… I can still control other matter—
She glanced upward to see Siyuakén swing down from the upper branches. The Electrotechnic then withdrew her grappling hooks, allowing the cords to reel in rapidly. As soon as they snapped back into place, she fired off one of the hooks again, snagging it in a low branch. She swung around the respective tree before reeling in the hook and hitting the ground with a roll. Leaping out of the roll as smoothly as she entered it, she jogged over to Kaoné and then glanced up at the bound dragonbird.
“…Impressive,” she commented, “but you should get it away from the tree, quickly.”
“Why?” Kaoné questioned, nonetheless obliging. She disconnected the rock bounds from the tree and then added more rock to the bounds so that they completely surrounded the dragonbird’s neck and ankles. After doing so she carefully levitated the animal through the air before depositing it on the ground away from the tree, creating a section of metal flooring to which she attached the rock bounds.
Siyuakén nodded approvingly before explaining, “we still don’t know what causes the infection, or how it spreads. We don’t know if it can affect plants, but I don’t want to risk having the forest itself get infected. Who knows what would happen if…”
Kaoné glanced over at the Electrotechnic as she trailed off. “What is…? Oh.” She then turned around fully to face in the same direction of Siyuakén. “Uh oh…”
Moving through the forest toward the two Chaotics was not one, not two, but at least a dozen horribly deformed creatures. Some of them seemed to amble aimlessly through the forest, while others had their eyes dead set on the two women as they marched steadily through the underbrush, ignoring any and all plants that happened to be in their way.
“Oh no…” Siyuakén gasped. “This— what is this? How did it get so bad so quickly?!”
“Can… can you take them?” Kaoné questioned uneasily.
“Probably…” The Electrotechnic adopted a battle-ready stance. “But if you aren’t going to help, then stand back. I don’t want to accidentally hurt you.”
“Ye…yeah,” Kaoné muttered, stepping back—
“Wha—!?” The Materiatechnic stumbled, surprised by the dragonbird’s sudden cry. Siyuakén turned to see what was wrong, but the moment she did, several of the approaching animals began to charge.
“Damn it, we don’t have time for this!” Siyuakén scowled as she dashed back toward Kaoné and grabbed her around the waist with one arm. She then aimed her other arm at a branch and was about to fire one of her grappling hooks when a sudden blast of fire filled the small clearing on the forest floor. Startled, Kaoné and Siyuakén watched in stunned silence as Kevérin jumped down, using periodic fire blasts to slow his descent while also shooting fireballs at the animals below. The moment he landed on the ground he jumped forward and created a massive firewall before blasting it outward, burning all of the closest animals and scaring off the rest. He then quickly extinguished the flames that had ignited on the nearby trees as Kaoné took the opportunity to raise a solid rock wall all around the clearing, preventing any of the infected creatures from entering.
Kevérin casually blew on both his hands before rubbing them together and turning around with a triumphant grin on his face. “And that is the power of Hell’s Math!!”
A moment of silence passed. Then Siyuakén held a hand to her mouth and turned away as Kaoné gave Kevérin the best glare a short pacifist could muster.
“…What?” the Pyrotechnic asked cluelessly as he looked over at Siyuakén. “Is she okay?”
“She’s laughing,” Kaoné responded, deadpan.
“…Well at least I’m trying!” Kevérin scowled. “I don’t see you trying to come up with a better team name.”
“We don’t need a better team name.”
“That’s what you think.” Kevérin glanced toward Siyuakén again. “How long is she gonna be like this?”
“I’m— ha… I think, heh, I think I’m fine now,” she replied, shaking herself off and turning back to face Kaoné and Kevérin. When she made eye contact with Kevérin she snickered again, but quickly stopped herself. She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, and then donned a more serious expression. “This is a bad situation.”
“I’ll say. I’m trying to take initiative here, but the two of you—”
“No, seriously,” Siyuakén interrupted, “I’m talking about the animals.”
“…Oh.” Kevérin glanced between Kaoné and Siyuakén uneasily. “Well… we’re safe now, right? Shouldn’t we just go back up to the city?”
“No, we need to deal with this now,” the Electrotechnic refuted. “I’ve never seen so many infected animals in one place before. And it’s even reached the higher elevations, somehow…” She sighed. “If only Rebehka were here. This would be so much easier…”
“Where is she?” Kaoné questioned.
“With a research team up north, on the Continental Glacier,” Siyuakén replied. “It’s cold enough up there that she doesn’t have to put in much effort to keep the animals in cryogenic stasis.”
“There exist cryogenic stasis machines,” Kevérin pointed out.
“They’re not as reliable as a skilled Cryotechnic. They have a higher failure rate,” Siyuakén immediately countered. “But that isn’t the point. If she were here, she could easily clear the way with her ice and have the situation under control.”
“I can do the same with fire.”
“And risk burning down the whole forest?”
“I can put fires out too! Didn’t you see me do that earlier? I put out the fires that were on the trees!”
“What if you miss one? I’ll admit your pyrotechnics can be useful, but we can’t afford to have you blasting fire around like a madman! There’s a reason most Relédiakian-born Pyrotechnics are sent to East Nimaliaka or Tekdecé.”
Kevérin scowled, but didn’t argue the point further.
“So how do we deal with this?” Kaoné asked.
“…I wish I knew.” Siyuakén frowned as she held a hand up to her chin in thought. “I hate to say it, but step one would be euthanizing all of the infected animals and disposing of the bodies…”
“There’s gotta be a source, right?” Kevérin suggested, “something like this ‘metal infection’ can’t be natural. If we can find the source, then we can find a way to stop the infection!”
“What do you think we’ve been trying to do for the past five years?!” Siyuakén exclaimed, “we haven’t just been sitting on our asses all day. I know what I’m doing.”
“Ah… no, I’m sorry.” The Electrotechnic sighed wearily. “…I hate to ask you this, but we can’t afford to dawdle. Can the two of you handle the infected animals? I’ll rush back to headquarters and get a full recon team down here to make sure there are no more signs of the infection within a few kilometers. That shouldn’t take longer than half an hour.”
“You don’t have to kill them, if you can secure them like you did with the dragonbird.” Siyuakén passed Kaoné a wary glance. “…Though it might be better if you did. We can’t take in all of these animals, and as much as it may hurt you to kill them, I’m sure the infection is hurting them much more.” She turned to look up at some of the denser branch areas. “Will you help?”
“Yeah.” Kevérin nodded. “We’ll do what we can.”
“Thanks,” Siyuakén replied. “…After this, I’ll have a few things to take care of, but then we can go track down whoever it is you want to recruit next.”
“You mean, you’ll join us?” Kevérin asked gleefully, but didn’t get an answer. Siyuakén had already taken off, grappling up into the higher branches.
The Pyrotechnic sighed and turned to Kaoné. “Well, you heard her. Let’s get started. You’ll have to lower the rock wall first, though.”
“…Yeah,” the Materiatechnic replied slowly before moving forward to lower the rock wall. “Let’s get this over with…”
The Next Morning
“Gah, what’re you making us wake up so early for…”
“You aren’t the only one who wanted to sleep in, but one of us has to be professional.”
Kevérin scowled; Siyuakén smirked in response. She then stepped up to her office door and opened it, allowing Kaoné and Kevérin to enter before she closed the door and moved to sit behind her desk.
“First of all,” she started, “thanks for helping yesterday.”
“The recon team didn’t seem to think so,” Kevérin huffed, “as soon as they arrived, they basically told us to shove it and run back to town.”
“This is a serious matter,” Siyuakén stated. “They may have seemed rude, but they were really just looking out for your own well-being. Historically, groups smaller than three or four don’t last long on the forest floor… especially not when that group includes foreigners.”
“We were doing just fine,” Kevérin protested.
“That’s what you think,” Siyuakén countered, “the recon team found at least thirty other infected animals within a kilometer of Lédia, and twenty more within five. I doubt you could have handled yourselves against that many.”
“They’re just animals,” Kevérin retorted.
Siyuakén glanced over at Kaoné, who had been silent ever since entering the room. “What do you think?”
“…I think it’s probably best that we stayed out of their way,” the Materiatechnic replied slowly.
“What… what did they do with the animals that I trapped?”
Siyuakén sighed. “I actually don’t know. They haven’t informed me. I suspect it may have something to do with me bringing you down to the forest floor without explicit permission…”
“Uh… sorry?” Kevérin apologized confusedly.
“No, it’s not your fault. This leads to what I actually wanted to speak with the two of you about, though. This, uh… Hell’s Math group of yours…”
“The actual name is Hero Machina,” Kaoné corrected before giving Kevérin an annoyed glance. He pretended not to notice.
Siyuakén smirked. “Right. Well, if I understand you correctly, you’re the first Chaotic squad in the soon-to-be-formed ‘Nimalian Systems Defense,’ which will take over Nimalia’s space fleets and Interstellar Gate network from Tekdecé, Nimaliaka, and the RPF?”
“And for now, you’ll be investigating the Chaos Energy Quake.”
“That’s the idea.”
“Alright… Count me in.”
“Yes!” Kevérin exclaimed, and then paused. “Wait, just like that?”
“I wouldn’t say this is ‘just like that,’” Siyuakén refuted, “I mean, as coincidental as it was, it’s thanks to the two of you that we discovered how alarmingly wide-spread the infection has become — and with that in mind, I think it’s even better that I join you and try to figure out if the infection really is related to the Quake, and if so, how. Besides… I get the feeling I was about to get sent off to the Drakkar front. Best to jump ship while I still can…”
“I thought you said you were part of a research group or something?” Kaoné asked.
“Yeah, but we’re still a part of the Relédiakian military,” Siyuakén corrected with a hint of irritation. “I know I said earlier that both Rebehka and I can easily subdue the infected animals, but really, Rebehka’s the only one who can reliably capture them. It’s a lot easier to just freeze something through than it is to differentiate between stunning and killing voltages, which aren’t the same for every animal.”
“I’ll take your word for it,” Kevérin replied. “Do you know when Rebehka will be back?”
“I think within the next week or two. We never know for sure with those expeditions, and there’s no easy way to contact her.”
“Speaking of contact — why couldn’t we contact you from Nimaliaka? The roster even shows your contact info!” Kevérin exclaimed, “why didn’t you answer?”
“When did you call?”
“Two days ago.”
“And when did you come straight here to talk to me?”
“So you didn’t really wait for me to respond, now did you?”
“Well… no,” Kevérin admitted, “…but Christeané responded immediately!”
“Christeané? Christeané Kolstén, from East Nimaliaka?” Siyuakén snorted. “Of course he responded immediately. He always responds immediately. That way he can tell people to go away as soon as possible.”
“But he said he’d join us in Nimaliaka…” Kevérin frowned.
“And he probably will, but did he say when?”
“When he finished with ‘urgent business’…”
“Which is just one of his excuses.” Siyuakén leaned back in her chair, a mixture of annoyance and amusement showing in her expression. “I’ve worked with him before, and this sounds exactly like him. I wouldn’t expect to see him for a while yet.”
“It would figure.” Kevérin scowled. “How about we pay him a visit next, then?”
“I don’t know,” Kaoné spoke up, “we can at least contact him, so we don’t have to visit him just yet. We should look into visiting someone who we can’t contact.”
“Who would that be?”
“Um… Davídrius Wrikax, from Treséd, and… Kievkenalis Yumach, from Riverana.”
“Wow, a Tresédian made the list?” Siyuakén replied, surprised.
Kevérin snorted. “That’s what I said.”
“He must be pretty good, if he’s on the international radar,” Siyuakén mused. “…Let’s just hope he’s not one of the thugs the continent is known for.”
“Apparently he’s a Velocitechnic,” Kaoné commented.
“…Oh. A speedster. I was expecting him to be a Chaostechnic or something…”
“Kievkenalis is, though,” Kevérin pointed out.
“That’s what the roster says,” Kaoné affirmed.
“So we should definitely go get him first, right?” Kevérin questioned.
“Maybe, but then again, maybe not,” Siyuakén countered. “Riverana has nice weather year round, but Treséd is harsh almost all the time. It’s usually most comfortable around the equinoxes — which is about now.”
“…So you’re saying we should go get Davídrius first?” Kevérin frowned.
“Unless you want to suffer through the worst of Treséd’s climate, yes, we should.”
Kaoné and Kevérin glanced at each other. Eventually Kevérin looked away with a sigh. “Alright. Treséd’s next, then.”
“Cool,” Siyuakén replied, “if you give me a day or two to wrap up a couple things here, then I can go with you. In the meantime you can take a look around Lédia, since it seems like neither of you have ever been here before.”
“Alright, sounds like a plan!” Kevérin stood up and turned toward the door. “We’ll meet you in a couple days. C’mon, Kaoné! It’s time to introduce Relédiaka to the Hazard Makers!”
Kaoné watched in wordless silence as Kevérin barged out of the office and down the hall. She then turned back to Siyuakén in exasperation. “Can I—?”
“Heh, of course you can help.” The Electrotechnic smirked, and then gestured for Kaoné to come around the desk. “Let’s see, what should we start with…”