“Well, if it ain’t the crusty old bastard again.”
“Hah! You talk big, but talk ain’t nothin’. You know what I’m here for. Talkin’ll just getcha killed!”
“Tch,” Davídrius snorted, glaring at the opposite side of the conversation in the distance. “Go home, Strén!” he growled into his handheld communicator, “you know what I’ve done to the rest of the Bleeder gang leaders in the area. I’ll do exactly the same to you!”
“Puahahahaha!” The Velocitechnic reflexively drew away from the communicator as its speakers exploded with laughter. “Looks like li’l Mister Protector’s ego has grown too big for his compound! Well it ain’t too late, if you apologize now an’ hand over the supplies, we’ll leave you and your purty little village intact.”
Davídrius looked up and then glanced over at a cannon mounted on the wall. He jerked his head forward before turning back to face the intruders — just in time for the cannon to spark and then fire a high-speed projectile. It zoomed toward the large man standing closest to the compound, but it was instantly obliterated as a large boulder popped out of the ground directly in its way.
“Hah! Cute,” Strén responded, “but, boy, you sure don’t know what you just got yourself into. Come sunrise tomorrow an’ I’ll be standin’ over your dead carcass!”
“Damn right you’ll be standing over my ‘dead carcass.’” Davídrius sneered. “You’ll have to kill me twice ‘fore you lay a hand on these walls!”
The gang leader didn’t respond. Instead, Davídrius could barely make out some hand motions before a high-speed projectile suddenly screamed straight toward his position — and was stopped by an invisible force parallel to the tall wall. Davídrius smirked as he watched the air shimmer slightly and then glanced around as a constant hail of projectiles began impacting the energy shield protecting the compound. He quickly switched the channel of his communicator and held it back up to his mouth. “Don’t bother firin’ back ‘til the shields have dropped to forty percent. Let’s see how much ammo we can get the bastards to waste.” He then stuffed the communicator into his jacket pocket before back-flipping off of the wall and to the ground below, where the three members of Hero Machina were standing.
“You have a shield generator too?” Kevérin exclaimed.
“You’d be surprised how much shit your little nation dumps on our coasts.”
“Listen, Captain Pyro, I don’t care for your excuses. I’ve seen with my own damn eyes that Tekdecénian ships dump shit on the coast. Bugger if I know if it’s your government or some stupid corporation, but it’s Tekdecénian, and that’s all I care.”
“Sooo…” Siyuakén spoke up, cutting short the brewing argument, “what’s the plan?”
“Huh?” Davídrius glanced back at her, his expression blank.
“…The plan?” she responded in exasperation, “you didn’t just provoke the leader of a gang to lay siege to your compound without a plan, did you?”
“Oh. Yeah, of course. The plan’s to attack after dusk.”
“…Really? That’s it?”
“Yes, that’s it.” The Velocitechnic accompanied his response with a patronizing nod. “That’s all it takes against these stupid bastards. Provoke ‘em into wastin’ all their artillery on the shields and then when they ain’t got any real back-up, rush in and kill ‘em all.”
“Kill?…” Kaoné frowned.
“Yeah, kill,” Davídrius repeated as though it were only natural to say. “Tch. Don’t tell me y’all are still rookies.”
“We’re not rookies,” Kevérin retorted, “I’m a Transfer Captain—”
“Rank don’t mean shit if you don’t got any experience,” Davídrius cut in. “…Oi, oi, what do the world’s militaries do if their Chaotics just sit and twiddle their thumbs all day?”
“I take it you’re not in the military,” Siyuakén deadpanned.
“Hell no. There ain’t even a proper military for me to join.” He snorted in derision. “This place can’t afford for me to leave, anyway. Not now. ‘Til the three of you pranced up, Strén and I were the only Chaotics in the whole damn region. I’ve been knockin’ out as many of their camps as I can, but they keep poppin’ back up in different places. And I can’t beat Strén in a straight-up fight, he’s one of those lucky double Chaotics. Rocks and super strength. But now that the three of you are here…”
Kevérin crossed his arms, irritated. “You want to use us as your own brute squad?”
“Oi, I ain’t a fuckin’ Bleeder,” Davídrius growled. “You ain’t seen the shit they’ve pulled. The stuff they stole. They people they killed. The people they stole. You can’t tell me whether it’s right or wrong to fight fire with fire if you’ve never even sat in front of a smolderin’ wood chip!”
The other three Chaotics responded with uneasy silence.
“…This is my only demand for joinin’ your li’l troupe,” he continued, his voice lowered, “I dunno how bad you want me. I’ll admit I wouldn’t be surprised at all if you decided to waltz right on out after this siege lets up. But if you decide whether or not to help take down the Bleeders without actually thinkin’ about it, without talkin’ to anyone who lives in this compound…” He gestured at the small walled-in town behind him. “If you make this decision based on your sheltered little upbringin’s alone, then I’ll gut you where you stand, ‘cause I’ve got no time for ignorant foreigners to be tellin’ me what I should do.” He then exhaled deeply and turned around so that his back was to the other three. “…I’ve got some stuff to check on before sunset. If you wanna talk to me ‘fore then, well, try to find me. Otherwise, I’ll meet you back here at twilight to hear your answers.” He then sped off, disappearing just faster than the other Chaotics could process the last of his words.
“Wow,” Kevérin muttered, “…I knew a Tresédian would be no good.”
“He’s so violent…” Kaoné whimpered.
“But he’s not entirely wrong…” Siyuakén commented quietly.
The Pyro and Materiatechnic snapped their heads toward her. “What?”
“Treséd really is the worst continent on Nimalia,” she responded, “you two probably don’t see it as much, since Tekdecé and Nimaliaka are both always so busy with the space fleets or the Interstellar Gate. But, being from Relédiaka — well, we get more refugees from Treséd than any other nation. It’s hard to ignore what it’s like here. Yet, somehow, people still do…”
“That doesn’t give him an excuse to just kill everyone!” Kaoné exclaimed.
“Maybe, but is this really worse than if we were sent off to the Drakkar or Riaxen space fronts?” Siyuakén questioned, “at least he’s actually defending his home. We’d just be stuck in the fallout of political bullshit.”
Kaoné opened her mouth as if to speak, but closed it again before turning away. Kevérin simply scowled irately.
“We should probably take his advice, and talk to at least a couple of the people here,” the Electrotechnic suggested.
“…Yeah,” Kevérin eventually admitted. “…Talk to people. Tch. As if that’s ever changed anyone’s mind…”
4 Hours Later
Kaoné wearily sat down on a nearby bench and leaned against the wall behind her. She sighed and closed her eyes, tired and exhausted — both physically and mentally. Siyuakén was right about the Tresédian climate being more comfortable around the equinoxes, but that didn’t mean the weather was actually pleasant. The air felt remarkably warm, especially in Kaoné’s thick Nimaliakian uniform. Sand was no issue — she could easily keep herself clean of the small grains — but she had little ability to control climate as a Materiatechnic. And these physical elements of exhaustion weren’t even taking into account all of the things she had heard over the past four hours, all of the people she had talked to, all of the stories she had heard — stories ranging from petty acts of theft and vandalism, to simple wanton death and destruction, to the heartless kidnappings under the dark of night — and the needlessly cruel open enslavement of individuals of all ages right in front of their families. And that wasn’t even the worst she had heard…
She glanced to her left to see Siyuakén approaching. She waved; the Electrotechnic waved back before taking a seat on the bench as well.
“Davídrius… wasn’t wrong.”
“Yeah…” Siyuakén sighed wearily. “That, or he got everyone here to lie to us. I doubt he’s charismatic enough to pull that off, though.”
“The Bleeders…” Kaoné muttered, “…I’ve barely ever heard of them before. But they’ve been here for decades, doing all these… awful things. I think every single person here has lost a relative to the Bleeders somehow, either through murder or kidnapping, or…” She shuddered. “This is just… how doesn’t this make the news?!”
“It’s just like Davídrius said — hardly anyone outside of Treséd cares about what goes on here. And the Bleeders keep to Treséd, so… yeah. But still… that hardly excuses anyone from ignoring what’s going on here.”
“…I guess this means we should help Davídrius, then…”
Siyuakén looked over at the Materiatechnic. “You don’t want to?”
“Well… I want to do something,” she replied, “I know the Bleeders need to be stopped, but— …there has to be a better way than just killing them. …Right?”
“Maybe. But Davídrius probably won’t be willing to do anything else. And… I’m not sure I would be, either.”
Kaoné snapped her attention to Siyuakén and stared at her in surprise. “Wha-what? Why?!”
“…It’s a long story, and not one that I’m entirely willing to tell right now,” the Electrotechnic responded uneasily. “But while we’re on this topic — I’ll be honest, Kaoné. Given what I’ve seen so far, I don’t think killing alone is where you draw the line.”
“What do you mean?”
“You’re the most pacifistic person I’ve met to date,” Siyuakén stated bluntly. “Yet, you’re a Materiatechnic. With that kind of ability, why are you so averse to fighting?”
Kaoné frowned. “I don’t have to have a reason to not like fighting… and it worries me that you think I have to…”
“It would be one thing if you were a civilian. But you’re not. You’re in the military — and you’re a Lieutenant at that, so you’ve obviously put some effort into it.”
“…Nimaliakian Chaotics are conscripted as Lieutenants.” Kaoné looked down, averting her gaze from Siyuakén. “…I didn’t have a choice.”
Siyuakén glanced over at the Materiatechnic before standing up slowly. She looked down at her hand, watching it spark momentarily before clenching her fist. “Well, I’m not going to just let the Bleeders get away with what they’ve done. In this kind of situation, against these kinds of people — doing nothing is almost the same as killing.”
“But killing itself isn’t necessary!” Kaoné refuted adamantly.
“Maybe not. We’ll cross that bridge when we get there. Though I have a feeling Davídrius will end up forcing our hand…” Siyuakén sighed. “We’ll help him tonight. After that… I don’t know. We’ll have to see.”
Kaoné responded with silence as the Electrotechnic walked away. She then closed her eyes and leaned back against the wall, hoping to rest until twilight.
“Gah—! Tch— augh!”
Davídrius quickly withdrew from the machinery in front of him, waving his hand frantically in pain. “Ow!” he exclaimed through gritted teeth, “…damn Chaos Engine, ‘course it’d have to break right when I need it.”
“That’s not a Chaos Engine.”
Davídrius whipped around and then narrowed his eyes when he spotted Kevérin standing in the entrance to the machine shop. “How’d you find me?”
“Your Sword Boxes were outside,” Kevérin stated flatly.
“Wow, you can recognize Sword Boxes,” Davídrius deadpanned, “you’re smarter than I thought.”
“If you don’t want any help—”
“Oi, oi, lighten up. I don’t actually have anythin’ against you, I’m just a little irritated with your country. …And I guess you by extension, ‘cause you’re in their military.”
“…What’s this about not being a Chaos Engine?”
“It’s impossible for Chaos Engines to be this small,” Kevérin explained, “they’re only used in spacecraft. Whatever’s powering your mech has to be something else.”
“How’d you know this was from the mech?”
“It’s right there.”
Davídrius glanced to where Kevérin was pointing: a humanoid mech, about 16 meters tall, standing in a hangar-like space to the left of the machine shop. The machine was old and worn, its sun-bleached armor faded with age and scarred from use. There was an opening slightly larger than the engine in the mech’s lower chest, as well as a forklift-like vehicle parked to the left of the engine.
“…That doesn’t mean anything,” the Velocitechnic replied defensively.
“I’m sure it doesn’t,” Kevérin deadpanned. “…Do you want help with that?”
Davídrius eyed the Pyrotechnic suspiciously. “What d’ya know about fixin’ machines?”
“I learned my fair share when training back in Tekdecé.”
“Oh, so that’s what you were doin’ instead of learnin’ how to fight.”
Kevérin turned around and began walking toward the exit.
“Hey hey hey, alright, I’ll— I’ll shut up,” Davídrius quickly back-pedaled, “if you can fix this real quick, man, that’d be great.”
“No guarantees, but I’ll see what I can do.”
Davídrius stepped aside as Kevérin approached the engine and then crouched down, looking it over. The Velocitechnic looked on curiously, though tried his best to appear disinterested whenever the Pyrotechnic glanced backward.
“I’m not a rookie, you know. None of us are.”
“Huh?” Davídrius cocked his head in mild confusion. “…Oh. …Look, I’m sure y’all are great Chaotics. There’s gotta be a reason you’ve been chosen for this, er, Hipster business.”
“It’s officially Hero Machina.”
“Wow, that’s kinda cool. You don’t like it?”
Kevérin stared at Davídrius, unamused, before returning his attention to the engine.
“Oi, oi, you’re a lot stiffer than Siyuakén made you out to be.”
“You talked to Siyuakén?”
“A li’l, yeah, before I shooed her off so I could work on the Chaos Engine. Well, this engine.”
“What’d she say?”
“About you?” Davídrius smirked. “Well, that you’re the least serious of the lot of you, mostly.”
“Tch, of course she’d say that,” Kevérin muttered. “I’m technically her CO now, too. Where’s my respect…”
“Respect’s somethin’ you gotta earn,” Davídrius declared, “can’t have it by default. Part of why I don’t understand you military types. I’m not gonna respect some schmuck just ‘cause he has a bunch of stars on his jacket and a fancy title.”
Kevérin glanced over at the Velocitechnic. “…How was it, growing up here?”
“Not worth talkin’ about,” Davídrius answered irately. “My childhood can be summed up by sayin’ that Treséd is a shithole. ‘Cause it is. Sooner I’m out of here, the better.”
“Then why are you forcing us to help you take out the Bleeders?”
“I’m not forcin’ you to do anythin’.” He smirked when Kevérin snorted. “Though I understand what you’re askin’. See, much as I’d like to leave, I’m pretty much the sole active protector of this entire region. If I leave, the Bleeders’d have their way with everythin’ and, well, I’ll be damned if I let that happen.”
“So you just want to kill them all?”
“You got a better idea?”
“I’d almost be satisfied if the rest of Nimalia had a sudden ‘bout of caring, swooped in, arrested the entire gang and locked ‘em up for forever an’ a half. But I’ve seen too much shit to settle for that. I’ll take ‘em all out myself if I have to. Even if it’s just Strén, at least the compound’ll have a chance against the rest.” Davídrius sighed. “Look, I don’t expect y’all to understand my grudge. But you’re soldiers. If you don’t get used to killin’ now, well, I’d hate to think what’d happen to you when whatever the next war is crops up on Nimalian territory.”
“Heh, it almost sounds like you care about us.”
“Tch.” Davídrius scowled. “…You know what’s up with the engine yet?”
“I fixed it a bit ago.” Kevérin stood up and wiped his hands against each other.
“…You…” Davídrius smirked in spite of himself. “…You used the damn engine as an excuse to keep me talkin’. Looks like I’m not givin’ you enough credit.”
“Heh.” Kevérin half-smiled back. “You’d better not underestimate us.”
“We’ll see just how much I’m underestimatin’ y’all tonight.”
“Yeah, sure thing.” The Pyrotechnic turned toward the exit. “See you in a couple hours.”
“Aye.” The Velocitechnic nodded as he watched Kevérin leave. He then glanced back at the engine before frowning and rushing after the Transfer Captain. “Hey, wait, you never actually said what was wrong with the engine!”
2 Hours Later
“I see y’all made it back.”
“Yeah…” Kaoné replied quietly, her focus turned upward at the rapidly dimming sky.
“The artillery barrage has stopped,” Siyuakén observed.
Davídrius nodded. “Aye. I had our guns fire back for a couple hours. Probably discouraged Strén a bit. Even if they haven’t run themselves outta ammo like I’d hoped, artillery won’t do much good against a Chaotic raid… which brings us to why we’re here.” The Velocitechnic looked each of the other three Chaotics in the eye. “You don’t hafta say yes, if you don’t wanna go I’ll stick to my word and leave you alone. I’d really appreciate the help though.”
“I’ll help,” Siyuakén responded.
“I will, too,” Kevérin declared. “…I’ll at least tag along and make sure you don’t get caught in deep shit.”
“Nice to have ya lookin’ after me,” Davídrius replied with a snort, and then glanced down at Kaoné.
“…I don’t want to kill anyone,” she stated.
The Velocitechnic frowned, and then shrugged. “You’re a Materiatechnic. I guess you won’t have as much trouble stunnin’ instead of killin’… but don’t expect me to hold back. In the very least, Strén’s gotta be good and dead ‘fore I leave this continent. I ain’t askin’ you to kill for me, I’m just askin’ you to watch my back.”
“But isn’t it the same—?”
“I’m not here to talk about what counts as killin’ or not. Are you in or out?”
Kaoné glanced over at Kevérin and Siyuakén, who looked back expectantly. She then turned her attention to the ground before replying quietly, “I’ll at least go with you…”
“…Alright.” Davídrius nodded in acknowledgment, and glanced up at the darkened sky. He then spun around and approached a touch pad in the wall. After quickly typing in a code, a lever appeared; he pulled the lever, and a small door, just large enough for a single person, opened in the wall. The Velocitechnic gestured for the other three Chaotics to follow him as he passed through the wall and emerged outside the compound, where he stopped to stare across the sandy plains at the Bleeder encampment a few hundred meters away.
“They’re pretty far…” Kevérin muttered.
“Yeah, but not too far.” Davídrius reached down to the handles of his sword boxes and drew two sabers, brandishing them in anticipation. “I’m sure y’all can at least protect yourselves from incomin’ fire. …Well, you shouldn’t have to. I’ll draw their attention first. Try to get close enough to do damage ‘fore you draw any attention to yourself. Got it?” When the other three Chaotics nodded, he crouched into a running stance. “Alright!” He smirked and then dashed forward. “Time to kick some Bleeder ass!!”