Christeané and Wilkas jumped for the AI core as an invisible force smashed the beast against the wall. They had barely righted the device and picked it up before the infected creature recovered and whipped around to face them — just as Rebehka froze it in place with ice.
“It won’t last long! Get going!” She hurriedly waved the two Forcetechnics forward. They quickly moved past her and into the hallway, followed closely by Kaoné, Kevérin, and Vélunis. Kievkenalis backed up as well, but paused when he noticed Davídrius, Rebehka, and Siyuakén standing their ground.
“Someone’s gotta hold it back!” Davídrius exclaimed, brandishing his single blade as he glanced over at the women. “And I figure it might as well be me. Make up for bein’ such an asshole lately. But the two of you should get back as well!”
Rebehka moved to object, but the beast broke free of its ice prison before she could. It spun around and lunged toward the room’s exit, but Davídrius intercepted it midair, knocking it to the side with a powerful kick. The moment he landed, he spun on his heel and launched himself at the creature, blade forward — only for the beast to snap its tail through the air and smack Davídrius on his hand, knocking his sword away and throwing him completely off balance. It then jumped forwards itself, its maw wide open — only to be blown back by a block of ice. The moment it recoiled, Siyuakén issued it an incredible electric shock and Rebehka immediately followed by freezing it again.
“I told y’all to stay back!” Davídrius snapped.
“As if you could take on that thing by yourself,” Siyuakén retorted, “just stop complaining and help us hold it off until the elevator comes back!”
“I don’t think the elevator is all that safe—!” Kievkenalis exclaimed, but was interrupted as the infected creature broke out of its frozen state and spun around toward Davídrius — and then dashed over to his sword, grabbing it with its mouth and swallowing it whole.
“What the—!?” The Velocitechnic scowled but was forced to immediately dive out of the way as two blades suddenly grew out of the beast’s shoulders and launched themselves his way. He quickly spun around and grabbed the weapons out of the air, continuing through his spin before jumping toward the beast and shoving the blades through its neck just as Kievkenalis hit it with Chaos Impact, forcing the blades all the way through. But the injury was non-fatal — the creature responded by whipping its tail around to whack Davídrius away, and was stopped only by the sudden appearance of several sheets of ice. Rebehka attempted to encase the beast in ice again but it leaped away too quickly; the moment it landed again, it lunged toward the Cryotechnic, but was forced aside as Siyuakén caught its shoulder with one of her grappling hooks and yanked hard. The creature remained fazed only momentarily — then, faster than Siyuakén could respond, it spun around, snapping the grappling line taught and yanking the Electrotechnic through the air. Davídrius quickly jumped forwards and ripped the grappling hook out of the beast’s shoulder before slamming his foot down on its head, allowing Siyuakén to sail over the two and into Rebehka unharmed.
“Chaos Armor! Chaos Impact!” Kievkenalis jumped forwards, blowing the beast away before it could attempt to decapitate Davídrius. The Velocitechnic back-flipped away just in time to evade several more blade projectiles, but he landed unevenly and collapsed to the floor. The infected creature immediately pounced on his location, but he quickly rolled out of the way and leaped back to his feet as Siyuakén blasted it with electricity, stunning it momentarily. It then snapped its tail across the room, swiping Davídrius, Kievkenalis, and Siyuakén off of their feet before spinning around itself and slamming its front paws into the ground, creating a shockwave that further stunned the three Chaotics. Rebehka quickly formed two ice lances and dove toward the creature, freezing its paws to the ground right as she drove her lances into its face — only to be thrown to the side as the beast began writhing in pain. It let off a tremendous roar before leaping at the Cryotechnic — and then getting crushed as the ceiling collapsed, followed by tons of dirt and metal debris.
“What the—?” Davídrius muttered as he and the other Chaotics backed away from the debris cloud uneasily. He snapped his attention to the ceiling as the entire room began to rumble and the ceiling began to give way further. “What—?!”
“Ha! I’m here!” Christeané exclaimed as he leaped out of the wreckage, his armor’s shields flickering from absorbing heavy damage.
“What? Did you just smash your way down from the top?!” Rebehka exclaimed, looking up at the ceiling.
“But… we’re on the eighth sub-basement!”
“How are we supposed to get back up?” Siyuakén questioned, but was interrupted as the infected beast began to move again.
“Still not done?” Christeané turned back toward the wreckage and cracked his knuckles. “Ha, well let’s fix that!”
“What’re you doing, we need to—!” Davídrius stopped abruptly when he noticed a broken satchel fixed haphazardly to Christeané’s armor. “Wait, you’re using the Ayas?!”
The Forcetechnic ignored him and instead dove forward, slamming his fist into the beast’s maw just as it turned toward him. He followed with an uppercut before summoning a glaive out of thin air and thrusting it forward, piercing the creature through its chest. He then dismissed the weapon and summoned it again, stabbing the creature once more before dismissing the weapon and summoning it again. He repeated this several times before finally slamming his fist down over the creature’s head.
“There. See?” Christeané turned back to everyone else, the creature’s mangled corpse lying motionless behind him. “Not that hard.”
“Except that you probably just sped up the release of the bugs!” Siyuakén scolded him, “do you even know what you’re doing?!”
“Uh. Stopping the… infected monster thing?”
“Is everyone alright?!”
Everyone turned to face Kaoné as she landed on the ground after jumping down the hole Christeané had created. She didn’t even wait for a response before rapidly lifting the ground beneath her and the other Chaotics to ground level and then completely sealing the hole with steel.
“Give me that,” Davídrius demanded, flash-stepping over to Christeané and snatching away the satchel before he could react. The Velocitechnic then tossed the satchel to Kievkenalis.
“Oh… whoa…” Christeané held a weary hand to his forehead. “…Guess I got a little carried away.”
“A ‘little?’” Siyuakén snorted.
“I told you guys.” Kievkenalis crossed his arms as he passed the other Chaotics irritated glances. “The Dark Ayas are called as much for a reason.”
“And now we need to get out of here,” Siyuakén insisted as she began jogging down the trashed hallway. “It’s only a matter of time before we have to deal with the swarm.”
“What about the AI core?” Rebehka glanced toward Christeané and Kaoné. “Did you take care of it?”
“That Wilkas guy is carrying it to a waiting shuttle,” Christeané replied, “the core’s got a bit of damage, but it should be fine. Most of the RPF have pulled out; I think it’s just us here, now.”
“They sure are fast about it,” Siyuakén remarked as the group moved through the hallways toward the nearest exit. “It looks like they’ve even rounded up all of the SFC resistance.”
“The RPF has had plenty of experience doing this kind of thing,” Kievkenalis replied, “that is, being in and out before you even know they’re coming.”
Christeané elbowed Davídrius cheekily. “You ever have that problem?”
The Tresédian stared at him blankly. “What problem?”
“No problem.” Rebehka rolled her eyes. “It’s just Christeané being Christeané.”
“Huh?” Davídrius frowned. “Wait, what? …Was that a joke—?”
“Eh?” The Velocitechnic glared at Siyuakén. “What’re you—?”
“No, seriously, shut up,” she repeated, her attention directed behind the Chaotics. They all quieted and glanced between each other uneasily, unsure of what the Electrotechnic was trying to do.
“…Do you guys feel that?” she asked quietly after a few seconds of silence.
“Feel what…?” Kaoné replied warily.
Siyuakén didn’t respond. She remained silent for several more moments before whipping around and jogging down the hallway. “We need to get out of here. Now.”
“Excuse me, then.” Kaoné parted the ceiling and all the floors above until sunlight leaked in. She then rapidly raised the ground below the Chaotics until they were level with the compound roof, high enough to spot an open shuttle circling the compound.
“Looks like that’s our ride,” Christeané commented as he began twirling his hammer, prepared to launch himself into the vehicle.
“Huh?” The Forcetechnic glanced over at Siyuakén inquisitively just as the rooftop several meters away exploded upwards, a four-winged creature appearing — the same infected beast that had attacked down in the AI chamber.
“Of course it’d come back.” Davídrius scowled. “Of course it would.”
“It’s got two tails and wings now, so watch out,” Kievkenalis warned. “Chaos Assist. Wait— that second tail…”
He paused and jumped out of the way as the infected creature swooped down at the Chaotics and launched several metallic blades created from its very skin. Davídrius attempted to grab two of them, but his armor’s shielding flared, indicating that the blades were somehow corrosive. He discarded the blades and turned back to the creature just in time for its two tails to whip by.
“That’s the Ayas!” he exclaimed, “that’s—! That’s Hastryth! It’s attached to its tail?!”
“It has the Ayas…” Kievkenalis watched the beast fly off with apprehension. “We can’t leave without it!”
“Oh, but I think we can…” Christeané replied warningly, his attention directed elsewhere. The rest of Hero Machina turned to look where he was pointing and were surprised to find four torn bodies climbing haphazardly up onto the roof.
“Wait, they’re… RPF soldiers,” Kievkenalis muttered, “what’re they—?”
He was interrupted as one of them lunged for Kaoné, who reflexively stumbled backwards — and into the waiting maw of the winged infected creature. Davídrius immediately dashed forward and dealt a fierce kick to the beast’s neck, knocking it away before it could chomp down on the Materiatechnic.
“Watch it!” he shouted just as he ducked to evade a tail swipe from the creature. He then turned to the RPF soldiers just in time to knock back two of them as they charged forwards, each wielding dangerous metal scrap. “What’s up with them?!”
“They look infected—?” Rebehka started, but was interrupted as Siyuakén stepped forward… and then issued forth a massive electric shock, frying all four of the bodies and sending them flying off the rooftop.
The Electrotechnic scowled. “They were infected. Irreversibly… for a person to become infected so quickly…!” She paused apprehensively and glanced over at the infected creature. “…We need to get out of here! Now!”
“But—!” Kievkenalis exclaimed, pausing to shout “Chaos Deflection” to knock away a bunch of bladed projectiles directed at Hero Machina. Christeané jumped forward and smacked the beast with his hammer as it dove by again, sending it flying away and allowing the Chaostechnic to finish his thought. “We can’t leave that Ayas here!”
“It’s only a matter of time before we’re attacked by swarms of bugs!” Siyuakén shot back, “we need! To! Leave!”
“I’m with her on this one,” Davídrius commented wearily, “got a bad feelin’ about this. And there ain’t no fancy schmancy mystery Battlecruiser to beam us all up on the verge of death, like there was on Sunova! We leave now, or we don’t leave at all!”
“Then let’s go!” Christeané exclaimed as he began twirling his hammer, glancing over as Rebehka erected an ice shield to deflect the next few attacks from the infected creature. Without waiting for a response from Kievkenalis, the Forcetechnic launched himself toward the circling shuttle, followed by Davídrius leaping after him.
“Sorry, Kevken, but this is it,” Kaoné commented as she lifted the ground underneath her and the Chaostechnic. Rebehka and Siyuakén jumped onto the platform as Kaoné whisked them all over to the shuttle — just as a massive swarm of metallic bugs engulfed the rooftop.
“You were right… again.” Rebehka glanced at her friend curiously. “This isn’t the first time today that you’ve predicted a move from the infected creatures.”
“I got lucky,” Siyuakén replied flatly as the platform arrived next to the open shuttle. The four Chaotics jumped inside as it changed its trajectory to escape the atmosphere. Kevérin — who had been aboard the shuttle the whole time — and Kievkenalis offered a few more pot shots at the infected beast before the shuttle’s hatches closed, at which point the Chaotics finally took seats and fastened themselves to the safety harnesses.
Davídrius scowled. “Tch. Another ‘successful’ mission from the members of Hero Machina.”
“Shut it. Your little stunts at the beginning of the raid didn’t help at all,” Kevérin snapped. “So what happened? Do you guys have the Ayas?”
“I have the black one…” Kaoné held out the dark gemstone for all to see. “But the dark blue one…”
“…So we really did lose an Ayas?” Kevérin sighed irately, and then turned to Davídrius. “Do you have any idea—?!”
“Yes, I do,” the Velocitechnic responded bitingly, “I know I screwed up. I know that. But I’m not arguin’ about it here.”
“Did we at least get the AI core?” Rebehka questioned.
“We did,” Kevérin replied, “it’s damaged… but we have it. Hopefully…” He glared at Davídrius. “…It’ll make up for losing an Ayas.”
“We did get another one to replace it,” Kaoné pointed out.
“Yeah… but it’s still not good enough.” The Transfer Captain frowned. “We’ve lost an Ayas, and an entire outpost… I can’t be the only one to see the trend in our mission reports.”
“…Are you implying something?” Christeané crossed his arms.
“I won’t imply it, I’ll state it outright.” Kevérin sighed with apprehension. “If we don’t get better soon… Hero Machina is as good as disbanded.”