A rotating sphere of Chaos Energy exploded outward from Kievkenalis, flinging away Davídrius just before his claws could reach the Chaostechnic. The berserker tumbled across the ground before smashing into the ice wall surrounding the clearing, where he quickly recovered and dived out of the way just as Christeané slammed into the wall with both of his hammers. The Forcetechnic immediately yanked one of the hammers back into his hand, spun around on his heel, and launched it at the berserker — who simply punched it away. He then crouched down and attempted to leap at Christeané but slipped on the ice, instead sending himself into an uncontrolled slide.
Rebehka quickly took advantage of the slower action to actually get in a blow, and within the next few moments the berserk Velocitechnic was flipping through the air, flung upward by a sudden pillar of ice. Christeané immediately began twirling one of his hammers and then launched himself into the air toward the falling berserker, his second hammer in hand and prepared to come crashing down on the Velocitechnic. Just as the hammer made contact with Davídrius’s backside, though, the berserker whipped around midair and slammed his leg into Christeané’s stomach, sending both Introtechnics flying downward and away from each other. They both slammed into the ground and then went tumbling until crashing into ice walls at opposite sides of the clearing.
“That would’ve killed anyone else…” Christeané grumbled as he jumped back to his feet, just as the Davídrius did the same. The Forcetechnic began twirling both of his hammers just as the berserker let out another shockwave, thrashing half of the ice floor before he dashed forward — at the same moment Christeané released his hammers. The two Introtechnics flew toward each other, Christeané’s hammers on track to slam into Davídrius’s shoulders — until the berserker suddenly threw himself to the side just as the hammers shot past. Christeané was barely able to register the motion before the berserker had jumped back in line and smashed both of his clawed fists into the Forcetechnic’s chin. His Chaos Armor prevented any bodily injury, but the force from the blow still stopped Christeané in his tracks and knocked him out cold, flipping him onto his back. The berserk Velocitechnic paused for a moment and then turned toward Kievkenalis and Rebehka — just in time for Christeané’s hammers to come flying back and nail the berserker in the head before finally reeling into the hammer slots on Christeané’s armor. The berserker crumpled under the blow, collapsing to the ground just beside Christeané.
Rebehka immediately took advantage of the opening to ensnare Davídrius in a massive mound of ice, allowing only his head to be exposed to the air.
“They finally knocked each other out,” she observed with a slight smirk.
“Good thing they’re both Introtechnics, or they’d both be dead…” Kievkenalis sighed as he began approaching Davídrius. “At least now I can do this properly. Chaos Siphon!”
Rebehka glanced between Davídrius, who was still cloaked in Chaos Energy, and Kievkenalis, who had his hand outstretched toward the berserker. “Nothing’s happening?…”
“I’m siphoning away the extra energy. You can’t see it,” the Chaostechnic explained. “…Though I need to be careful, or I’ll end up going berserk…” He paused for a moment, withdrawing his hand and turning to the side before thrusting both hands upward, palms out. “Chaos Beam!”
Rebehka drew back in shock as a pillar of energy exploded from Kievkenalis’s hands, extending far into the sky before slowly dissipating a couple seconds later. The Chaostechnic turned his attention back to Davídrius and stretched his hand out again, muttering, “Chaos Siphon.” He then glanced over at the Cryotechnic, noticing her stunned expression. “What?”
“What was— what was that about?!”
“Well, I have to discharge the siphoned energy somehow. Beam is the most efficient way to do it.”
“…If you say so,” Rebehka responded wearily, just as Kievkenalis turned away to fire another Chaos Beam. She watched him turn back to Davídrius and re-initiate Chaos Siphon before crossing her arms impatiently. “…Just how much excess Chaos Energy is there?”
“Far more than usual… I should be almost done after the second Siphon.” Kievkenalis frowned, narrowing his eyes at the thick aura still surrounding the unconscious Velocitechnic. “It must’ve been the Ayas. I’ve never seen an Ayas-fueled berserk state before; I’m glad it wasn’t someone with broader powers…”
“You’ve seen someone go berserk before?”
“A few times, yeah. Uh, one sec — Chaos Beam! …Right. Uh, it comes with being a Chaostechnic in the RPF. It’s usually not too bad; just find a way to trap the berserker and throw them in a Chaos Energy negation field. If you’re lucky, you’ll have a Sabotage-type Chaostechic around who can use Siphon. Oh, speaking of which — Chaos Siphon.”
“Speaking of that.” Rebehka glanced over at Kievkenalis. “Since when could you use Sabotage abilities? I thought you could only use Directed, Defense, or Support-type abilities.”
“You’re right. Today’s the first time I successfully used a Sabotage-type ability, they always failed for me before.” The Chaostechnic frowned with unease. “This is really weird. Uh, Chaos Beam! Chaos Siphon. Anyways, right, there’s no precedent for a Chaostechnic suddenly gaining access to another type. Especially if they already have three! I don’t even think quad-type Chaostechnics exist… I sure haven’t heard of any, at least…”
“Well, this is a good thing, right?”
“I hope so…” Kievkenalis muttered before turning his attention back to Davídrius as the Chaos Energy cloak finally began to thin. “Oh, here we go!”
A moment later, all of the Chaos Energy had disappeared. Rebehka removed the ice mound as Kievkenalis turned away again to release all of the Chaos Energy he had absorbed. By the time he turned back to the Velocitechnic, Davídrius was coming to.
“Ooooh… fuck…” he groaned, slowly pulling himself up to a sitting position. “…What happened…?”
“You went berserk,” Rebehka stated candidly.
“What? Damn— wait—!” He perked up and rapidly scanned the area, his gaze quickly coming to rest on Hastryth, still frozen in a small pillar of ice.
“Wait, Davídrius—!” Kievkenalis exclaimed, but the Velocitechnic had already leaped to his feet and dashed off. He arrived at the pillar in a split second and, without slowing down, smashed his foot into the pillar, shattering it and breaking Hastryth out. Davídrius grabbed the Ayas for a moment before tossing it into the air, letting it fall a short distance… and then punting it so hard that it smashed through the ice wall around the clearing and instantly disappeared from sight. The Velocitechnic then collapsed again, his breathing strained and hard.
“D-Davídrius…?” Rebehka and Kievkenalis quickly ran over to his side. “What are—?”
“Fuck! Fucking… fuck!” Davídrius suddenly slammed his fist into the ice. “I did it— I did it again! Fuck! I don’t— fuck!”
Kievkenalis and Rebehka exchanged uneasy glances. “Uh…” Rebehka spoke up timidly, “um, why did you just—?”
“It ain’t worth it!” Davídrius exclaimed angrily, “that, that damned Ayas, it— shit, I can’t, I didn’t, I didn’t mean to… fuck, I didn’t mean to do all that shit I did, I just— fuckin’ hell, I lost control, damn it!”
“It was just the Dark Ayas, Davídrius,” Kievkenalis commented lightly, “the situation’s fine now. You’ll be fine.”
“Like hell I’ll be fine…” The Velocitechnic scowled. “This— this is— argh, damn it! Damn it all!”
“What the—? What happened here?”
Kievkenalis and Rebehka turned around to find Kevérin and Siyuakén approaching; Kaoné was kneeling some distance behind them, apparently attempting to wake up Christeané.
“We negated Davídrius,” Kievkenalis answered simply.
“No, actually.” The Transfer Captain gestured around at the massive ice walls, the several cracks and indentations in said ice walls, the shattered flooring, and Christeané’s unconscious body. “What the hell happened?”
Rebehka shrugged. “Apparently, this is what happens when you have an Ayas-fueled berserk episode.”
“Sorry…” Davídrius muttered.
“But enough about this, did you guys find the Ayas?” Kievkenalis questioned.
Kevérin gestured behind himself. “Kaoné has it. It’s the black one.”
“Oh, the Dark Ayas Aldrace…” Kievkenalis muttered
“W-what? Another Dark Ayas?!” Davídrius impulsively drew back.
“Yes, another Dark Ayas.” Kevérin eyed the Velocitechnic with irritation. “You won’t be the only one around here with an Ayas anymore. …Wait a minute.” The Transfer Captain’s eyes snapped to Davídrius’s waist. “Where’s your satchel? Where’s the Ayas?”
“O-oh, well, uh, funny story.” Davídrius smiled uneasily. “So, right after I came to after the whole berserk thing, I saw the Ayas sittin’ in an ice pillar, and I, um, I kinda punted it. Really hard. …It went really far.”
“Uh… it’s-probably-lost-and-would-take-even-me-awhile-to-find far?”
“Damn it, Davídrius, that was a Chaos Ayas!” Kevérin exploded, “do you know how valuable these things are?!”
“No! Yes! No, they’re shitty!” Davídrius shot back, “the Dark Ayas ain’t worth it! I ain’t touchin’ it! None of ‘em!”
“…That’s… very different from what you were saying half an hour ago,” Kevérin responded, confused.
“Why don’t you traipse around with the damn stone and we’ll see how you feel after it fucks with your head!”
“Guys, we don’t have time for this!” Siyuakén stepped in between them. “We’re about to have a repeat of Sunova! We need to get out of here!”
“A repeat?…” Rebehka questioned.
“There’s a monster down in the caves with all of the same signs of critical metallic infection that the Sunova and Hazard Island creatures had,” the Electrotechnic replied, “Kaoné sealed the caves, but it won’t stop the eventual swarm of bugs, and who knows how long it’ll be before they show up!”
“…What?” Kievkenalis scratched his head in confusion.
“No, she’s right,” Kevérin responded, “we need to get back to the compound and warn the RPF commander — it’s not safe here anymore. Now let’s get going!”
“A repeat of Sunova?”
“You know what happened, right?” Kevérin questioned.
“General Rantéin had all of the senior officers read that mission report, so yes, I do,” the RPF Colonel responded. “I’m also familiar with the metallic infection, though I can’t say I’ve ever dealt with infection situations directly.”
“Then you know what happened on Sunova, and how fast it happened,” the Transfer Captain pressed. “We have the Ayas. …Well…” He glanced over at Davídrius irately. “Due to… strenuous circumstances, we may have lost the Ayas we came here with… but we can reclaim that as we’re leaving.”
“OVERWHELMED BY THE DARK AYAS? I AM NOT SURPRISED. HASTRYTH WAS NEVER PATIENT, AND HIS TRAITS UNFORTUNATELY HOLD ALSO FOR HIS AYAS…”
“The AI again?” Kaoné questioned.
“It was actually very helpful during the raid,” the Colonel replied, “I’m still suspicious of a full AI, but thanks to it, we’ve put down all SFC resistance with minimal casualties. We hold the compound.”
“THE RIVERANIAN PROTECTION FORCE IS FAR MORE REASONABLE, HELPFUL, AND FORMIDABLE THAN THE STEALTH AND FORCE CORP. I BELIEVE I HAVE MADE THE CORRECT CHOICE.”
“And it’s a shame that we’ll never get to investigate this thing further.” The Colonel sighed as he turned back to face Kevérin. “I agree with you — better safe than sorry. There doesn’t seem to be anything of interest here anyways, aside from the computer.”
“WAIT, YOU MEAN TO LEAVE ME BEHIND?”
“We’re not equipped to deal with an AI,” the Colonel responded, “in any other situation, I’d order a dedicated tech team, but if we’re dealing with a critical infection then we don’t have the time.”
“TAKING ME WITH YOU WILL BE OF NO GREAT DIFFICULTY. YOU NEED ONLY DISENGAGE MY CORE FROM THE COMPOUND NETWORK AND THEN TAKE IT WITH YOU.”
“And how long will that take?”
“NOT LONG AT ALL. I SHALL INSTRUCT THE QUAKEBORN APPROPRIATELY.”
Kevérin sighed. “This again?”
“It seems to be attached to you.” The Colonel glanced back at Hero Machina. “You’re the only ones it’s referred to specifically.”
“AND NOT WITHOUT REASON. FURTHERMORE, LEAVING ME HERE WILL BE DETRIMENTAL TO THE GALACTIC CONDITION. YOU MUST BRING ME WITH YOU.”
“It would figure that the first AI I meet would be a self-entitled brat,” Kevérin muttered.
“It can’t hurt to at least investigate its core,” the Colonel mused, “given normal extraction times… I suppose we can afford this.”
“So we’re going to go get its core?” Kievkenalis questioned.
“Yes, and I’ll send two of our techs with you,” the Colonel responded.
Kevérin bristled. “You think we aren’t smart enough to handle an AI?”
“Yes, I do,” the Colonel declared as he glanced over at the Transfer Captain, “as much as I’d trust Captain Yumach and a Tekdecénian with technology, none of us know what we’re dealing with here. More hands are always welcome. In the meantime, I’ll start the evacuation and send a team to the east to look for that Ayas you lost. Don’t spend any longer than half an hour investigating the core.”
“You’re being very understandable about all this…” Kaoné replied uneasily.
“It’s always best to keep a calm head in these kinds of situations. But don’t get me wrong — once we’re clear of Kotak, I severely hope, for your own sakes, that there’s a damn good reason you left behind a Chaos Ayas.”
“Y-yeah…” Davídrius muttered.
“Mm hmm.” The Colonel raised an eyebrow, and then turned toward a group of RPF officers working at the far side of the room. “Húnon! Icard! Get over here!”
Two of the male officers — one of them blond-haired and stocky, the other thin with shoulder-length black hair — turned around and casually approached.
“Oh, Wilkas! Vélunis!” Kievkenalis perked up. “Long time no see!”
“So you know each other, then?” The Colonel glanced between the Chaostechnic and the two officers.
“Wooow, this is where you went?” The blond-haired officer crossed his arms as he addressed Kievkenalis. “You think you can just ditch us and then be all friendly like that?”
Kievkenalis grinned sheepishly. “Ha, sorry, you know how it is.”
“Man, Wilkas, you’re makin’ us both look bad.” The second officer — Vélunis — sighed and rolled his eyes. He then turned his attention to the Colonel. “What’re we doing?”
“The AI here wants us to take its core with us. You two are going to accompany Hero Machina and see if we can actually do that.”
“Sounds reasonable,” Vélunis replied.
“Good, because you’d still be doing it if you thought otherwise.” The Colonel smirked. “Now get going. We don’t have time for dawdling!”
“Wait, this is your core?”
“IT IS NOT WHAT YOU EXPECTED?”
“It— …well, actually, I don’t even know what I expected…” Kevérin frowned as he looked up at a steel blue cylindrical metal device fastened to the topside of a large mechanical console in the middle of a large, re-purposed reactor room. The device was a meter tall and just as wide, and was otherwise sleek and featureless.
“Doesn’t look too bad,” Vélunis mused, “should be able to carry it out. Doesn’t look too heavy.”
“MY CORE’S MASS IS APPROXIMATELY ONE THOUSAND KILOGRAMS.”
“…Well never mind.”
“We first have to disconnect it from the compound’s systems…” Kevérin approached an interface console on the nearest side of the device. “We can worry about carrying it then.”
“I’m gonna have to do all the heavy lifting by myself, aren’t I,” Christeané deadpanned.
“You are the resident Forcetechnic,” Rebehka replied.
“So am I,” Wilkas volunteered. “Between the two of us, it should be a piece of cake.”
“I MUST CAUTION YOU, DROPPING OR OTHERWISE DAMAGING MY CORE COULD HAVE DISASTROUS SIDE EFFECTS.”
“We won’t drop it, you’ll be fine,” Wilkas replied nonchalantly.
“Shouldn’t you two be, I don’t know, helping me?” Kevérin glanced irately at the two RPF technicians.
“Nah, I’m sure you’ve got it,” Vélunis responded airily, “it’s just SFC tech, I’m sure you can crack it.”
“Some great friends you have here, Kevken,” Kaoné muttered.
Wilkas smirked. “I know, we’re the best friends he has.”
“C’mon, guys,” Kievkenalis urged, “the Colonel did send you to help.”
“You aren’t helping, either.”
“I guess it doesn’t matter anyways, since they’re right,” Kevérin grumbled. “I just cracked the system. Disengaging the core… now.”
The entire construct hissed loudly as the cylinder lifted up slightly, a piston under the device raising it just high enough for hands to fit under its lower edges.
“Alright.” The Transfer Captain turned back to the rest of the Chaotics. “Christeané, uh…”
“Right, Wilkas. C’mon, let’s get this thing upstairs and outside.”
“I really hope that freight elevator is up to snuff,” Christeané grumbled as he approached the device, standing opposite it from Wilkas. The two Forcetechnics proceeded to work out the best way to grip the device and then hoisted it into the air.
“Can’t even carry a thousand kilograms by yourself, huh?” Rebehka taunted.
“Can it,” Christeané retorted as he and Wilkas began moving the large cylinder. “I can totally carry a thousand kilos all on my own, it’s the size and shape of this thing that’s an issue.”
“Wait a second…” Siyuakén frowned as she began glancing around the room uneasily. “Something doesn’t feel right…”
“Siyuakén?…” Rebehka questioned, but the Electrotechnic didn’t seem to hear her. She instead stepped forward and paused for a moment… and then dashed toward Christeané.
“Get back!!” she shouted as she tackled him to the side, causing Wilkas to drop the device and stumble backwards, the device beginning to roll away itself—
—just as a large, clawed paw exploded from the ground below, launching pieces of debris across the room and sending the core on a crash course for Siyuakén. Christeané quickly jumped back to his feet and stopped the device before it could crush either of them, but then he froze as a large, four-legged beast pulled itself out of the ground.
“It’s… the monster from the caves,” Siyuakén muttered, spotting the silver rashes all over the animal’s body.
“This is—! …Fuck!” Kevérin scowled. “So much for time! Christeané, Wilkas, grab the core! Everyone — run!”