Chapter 53 – Innocence Lost

Ch-rrrrrsssss

Davídrius stepped away from the Interstellar Gate’s control panel, looking up as the black event horizon filled the interior of the eleven-meter ring. He sighed and glanced back at Rebehka, who sat on the ground some distance away, staring blankly ahead. The two Chaotics had traveled to multiple uncolonized planets in a row in an attempt to throw Morcii off their trail; Davídrius was now sure that they were safe, but he had nonetheless connected to one more uncolonized world before attempting to dial in to the Nimalian Territories.

“…Hey,” he muttered in a bid to gain Rebehka’s attention. She glanced at him briefly, and then at the Gate itself before slowly climbing to her feet.

“I dialed another uncolonized planet, just to be sure, but after this we can dial in to one of the Tier 5 worlds and start makin’ our way back to Nimalia,” he explained, watching as the Cryotechnic approached the Gate. “Might be another day or two ‘fore we’re back, though.” He glanced down at her knee; the cast she had previously been wearing had been damaged in her fight with Siyuakén, forcing her to remove it — but Rebehka’s gait held no indication of injury. “Knee heal up already?”

“…”

“…That was a pretty isolated snow storm back there. Unlock your Overdrive?”

“…”

“I’ve heard that unlockin’ your Overdrive can heal you up a bit. Guess that’d explain the knee, huh?”

“…”

Davídrius rubbed his neck uncomfortably. “Well… Gate’s dialed, so—”

“You killed her.”

The Velocitechnic winced at the words before turning back to Rebehka as she stepped through the event horizon. He quickly followed, emerging in a rainy, mountainous environment. “Look, Rebehka, I didn’t—”

“You can make excuses all you want.” The Cryotechnic turned to glare at him as he moved over to the Gate’s control panel and activated the block to prevent anything from following them. “It won’t change what I’ve seen. It won’t change that you’re a murderer.”

“I’m not a murderer, I did what I had to. If killin’ one person, no matter the reason, is enough to make me a murderer, then I’d already be one—” Davídrius clamped his mouth shut as Rebehka’s eyes narrowed further. Hot damn, could I find anything worse to say…

“…I should have known we couldn’t trust a Tresédian.”

“Tch.” The Velocitechnic scowled as he glanced at the Gate’s control panel. Still got time ‘fore it shuts down and we can dial out. And it just has to be raining. Just great… He then turned back to face Rebehka. “Look. I know you’re sad—”

“’Sad?!’” Rebehka exploded, the rain around them temporarily transforming into hail as the temperature dived. “You just murdered my best friend, and you have the audacity to— to— to say that I’m just ‘sad?!

“Hey, calm down!” Davídrius snapped, his patience wearing thin. “You think you’re the only one here who’s lost friends before?”

“No, but I’m sure I’m the only one here standing in the presence of the cause!”

“Quit talkin’ outta your ass…” Davídrius growled, glancing impatiently at the Gate’s control panel. The moment he did, however, Rebehka lunged forward, crafting a sword from ice and bringing it down over Davídrius’s head. He immediately drew his own sword and blocked the blade, his eyes wide with surprise before narrowing in irritation. “You really wanna fight over this?”

“I can’t let you get away with this!” Rebehka responded irately, “I’ll kill you here if I have to!”

“I’d like to see you try!” Davídrius snarled, knocking away the ice blade and then roundhouse kicking Rebehka to the side. “It’s almost as if you wanted to lose Siyuakén to Morcii!”

“You’re wrong!” the Cryotechnic shouted back, jumping to her feet as she created two more swords of ice. “I could have saved her! I had her—!”

“Like shit you did!” Davídrius deflected her incoming blows and then jabbed her in the stomach with the butt of his sword. He jumped away just in time to avoid the creation of an ice spike underfoot and then parried away Rebehka’s next attack. “The both of you were exhausted! She was about to fry your brains and you were too tired to stop her! How does that count as havin’ her?!”

“Sh-shut up!!” Rebehka cried, the surrounding temperatures diving even further as the rain gradually transformed to snow. “You can’t possibly know how I feel!”

“You’re wrong!” Davídrius roared, in the same moment pulverizing Rebehka’s ice blades with his own. “You think I’ve never been in this situation before? You think I’ve never lost a friend I thought I could save?!” He smashed several incoming ice blocks before knocking Rebehka to the side as she attempted to lunge at him again. “My Dad died before I was born! My Mom and my siblings all died durin’ the very Bleeder attack that I was away to prepare for! And all of that was before I turned fuckin’ eight! And you think I’ve never felt your pain?!”

No!” Rebehka stepped back to evade Davídrius’s counterattack before diving in to stab his side, which he barely managed to twist away from. “I don’t just feel loss. I haven’t just lost my best friend — I’ve also been betrayed! By you!

“I did NOT betray you!” The Velocitechnic suddenly smashed his knee into Rebehka’s gut, sending her flying backwards. “Call me a murderer if you want. Hate me if you want! But don’t you fucking dare call me a betrayer!”

“You’re in denial!” Rebehka countered, quickly recovering and creating an ice sword in time to block Davídrius’s next swing. “You can’t say anything else, can you? You can’t accept the truth, can you?!”

“Listen to yourself!” Davídrius scowled as he shattered his blade against Rebehka’s next attack. He tossed the hilt aside and quickly drew his second sword, blocking and knocking away the Cryotechnic’s next swings. “You’re one to throw around ‘truths.’ Did you just ignore Siyuakén’s pleas this whole time? Is that why she had to ask me to stop her?!”

“No! I could have saved her!”

“No, you’re bein’ selfish! You didn’t wanna face the fact that your friend was as good as gone, so you hid behind the idea of ‘savin’ her’! Well guess what?! You can’t save everyone!

“Just because you’ve had some bad experiences…” Rebehka froze the ground under Davídrius, tripping him up as she threw her blade at him. “…Doesn’t mean that I couldn’t have saved her!”

“It’s because of my experiences that I know you couldn’t have saved her!!” He easily smacked the blade out of the air before jumping back up to his feet and to solid ground. “You don’t know what I’ve been through with the Bleeders. There was once I lost a friend to one of their low-key mind-control Chaotics. I tried my damnedest to get her back, to save her, but you know what the result was? Half my home was destroyed, a third of the residents killed, and by the time I killed the Chaotic who was controlling her, she’d gone mad from helplessly watching her body kill all her friends and family! All because I was so arrogant as to think I could save her!”

“That… that’s different!”

Wrong! It’s exactly the same! The only difference here is that you’re lucky enough to have me around to kick your ass and tell you you’re bein’ damned wishy-washy!”

“N-no! She, she could have resisted. She was still in control of her mind, she could have—!”

“You don’t think I wasn’t in the exact same position as you four years ago? Are you really so afraid of killin’ your friend that you’d ignore her own pleas to stop her suffering?!”

“That’s… that’s not…!”

“She thought she could trust you. She thought you’d understand! But you still don’t, do you?!” Davídrius retorted, tightening his grip on his sword in anger as Rebehka faltered. “She didn’t just want you to stop her from wreakin’ havoc. She wanted you to stop her from wreakin’ havoc! She didn’t want to lose herself to the Nanocreatures, to be turned into a fucking monster, to be forced to work against and destroy her home! Do you really think that death is a worse alternative to livin’ on, her mind gone — or worse, trapped inside her own body as it’s forced to destroy everythin’ she ever loved?!”

“…That’s not—!”

“That’s exactly the choice you were faced with! She wanted you to kill her, to prevent her from livin’ a fate worse than death — a fate where she’d be forced to kill her best friend! Get that? She wanted you to kill her while you still had the choice, so that she wouldn’t be forced to kill you!

“…No…!”

“I don’t like it any more than you.” Davídrius looked down, pursing his lips before turning his attention back to the Cryotechnic. “…I didn’t want to kill Siyuakén, not if I didn’t have to. But just think for a moment. If you were still fightin’ her by the time I came along, do you really think you could have beaten her?”

“…”

“Tryin’ to defeat someone while keepin’ ‘em alive is way more difficult than straight-up killin’ ‘em. I’ve learned that the hard way. Hell, even Kaoné knows that. Why do you think she’s so scared of fighting?”

“But… if I had just worn her down…”

She was wearin’ you down, too! By the time she would’ve been worn down enough to capture, you would’ve been too worn down to do it! And that’s ignorin’ the fact that Morcii would’ve shown up and fucked everythin’ anyways!”

“…”

“Just think. You’ve known Siyuakén for longer than I have, so if you can answer this next question rationally then I’ll accept whatever you say.” The Velocitechnic lowered his guard, allowing his sword hand to fall to his side. “Could you have actually beaten Siyuakén… without tryin’ to kill her? Without givin’ your all?”

“I…” Rebehka stared blankly at Davídrius before turning away, her hair obscuring her face. “…No… I couldn’t. I… never could have…”

“…And there’s your answer,” Davídrius responded quietly as he sheathed his blade. “It’s tough to accept, I know. But the sooner you stop tryin’ to hide behind false hope — the sooner you stop runnin’ from the truth — …the sooner you can come to terms with this whole shitty situation, and start to get over it.”

“Get… over it, huh…”

Davídrius watched in weary silence as the Cryotechnic stared out over the wet, rocky slopes.

“Ha… I’ve… haha, I’ve actually been a pretty shitty friend, haven’t I?”

The Velocitechnic frowned. “A bit selfish, sure, but dunno if I’d go as far as shitty…”

“No, you… you were right all along.” She looked up at the sky as the temperatures began to return to normal, steady rain slowly replacing the falling snow. “I… was so focused on what I wanted, that I didn’t think at all about what she wanted, or even what was best for both of us… haha, she even said as much to my face, and I still didn’t listen…”

“…”

“Sorry… for being so rude to you.” She turned toward Davídrius, smiling sadly as she lifted her hand to her neck, freezing the water around it into a blade. “Goodbye…”

“Whoa, whoa—!” Davídrius immediately dashed over to her, covering the distance in the blink of an eye and tackling her to the ground as he pulled her arms away from her head. “The fuck do you think you’re doin’?!”

“Get… off of me!” She flipped him away and struggled back to her feet, stumbling away from Davídrius as he attempted to close the distance. “I can’t— I can’t live with this! I— I— I lost my friend entirely because of my own arrogance! I betrayed her to my own feelings. I almost let her turn into a monster! I don’t deserve to live!”

“Shit, you’re doin’ it again, damn it!” Davídrius snapped, “stop runnin’ from the pain! The fuck makes you think killin’ yourself is the right idea anyways?! Is that what you think Siyuakén would want? Huh?!”

“But I—!”

“Think hard, Rebehka! You were definitely bein’ a selfish little bitch, but your intentions, at least, were in the right place. Do you really think Siyuakén wouldn’t forgive that? You were her best friend. Wouldn’t she be able to look past that?”

“But she can’t. She’s dead, because of me—!”

“No, not because of you. This was over the moment that fucking bug scratched her on Sunova. But you need to stop runnin’ from the pain. Yeah, Siyuakén’s dead. No, there wasn’t anythin’ you could do to save her. Now accept those facts, and move on with your life. Don’t forget, but don’t dwell. Because that’s what she would want, ain’t it? She wanted to die so that she wouldn’t have to kill you, or anyone else. So what good is it if you go on to ruin your life anyways?”

The two Chaotics stared at each other in silence, broken only by the pattering of the rain against the rocks. Moments later Rebehka collapsed to her knees, burying her face in her hands as she began to sob uncontrollably, unaware of Davídrius as he slowly approached her and patted her head sympathetically.

“You’ll be fine… eventually,” he muttered, “but you lived. You can fight another day. For now, that’s what matters.”

“…Damn it! Damn it, damn it, damn it! Why? Why am I the one to survive?! I couldn’t… I couldn’t save her. She’s… she’s gone…! …Damn the Nanocreatures! Damn Morcii! Damn them all to hell! This is all their fault, damn it!”

“Yeah?” Davídrius glanced down at Rebehka. “So what’re you gonna do about it?”

“…I’ll beat them.” She slowly looked up at the Velocitechnic. “We’ll beat them. We’ll look for ways to stop the Nanocreatures, and then we’ll kick their sorry asses and make them regret ever attacking us!”

“Ha! Now you’re finally sayin’ somethin’ I can agree with!” Davídrius smirked as he stretched his hand toward Rebehka. She grasped it and he pulled her up before patting her on the back. “Feelin’ better?”

“…No.” She shook her head wearily. “No… not yet.”

“Good. It sucks, but that’s a sign you had a good relationship. Pain only comes with attachment…” He turned back to face the Interstellar Gate just as it shut off, the event horizon dissipating and revealing the mounds of rocks behind the Gate. “Now let’s get goin’. It’s about time we got back home.”

Chapter 52 – Blind Faith

Rebehka gasped as she tumbled out of the event horizon of the outbound Interstellar Gate. She quickly glanced back at the large ring in irritation. It hadn’t been properly aligned; the ground was lower relative to it than to the Nimalian Gate, causing the Cryotechnic to fall a short distance the moment she appeared. Where am I? For the Gate to not even be aligned, this can’t be any better than a Tier 5 world… She slowly scanned her surroundings, which turned out to be little more than dense forest surrounding the clearing in which the Gate stood. Rebehka stood up and shielded her eyes from the sun high in the sky as she began looking for Siyuakén.

Suddenly, she felt the hairs on her neck rise. She immediately threw herself to the side and created more ice armor just in time to survive a lightning strike on her position. She tumbled along the ground before quickly stumbling back to her feet, ignoring the pain in her knee as she confronted Siyuakén.

“Why…?” The Electrotechnic trembled, her arms cackling with charged energy. “Why… why did you follow me?!”

“Why wouldn’t I?” Rebehka countered, “you’re my best friend! I can’t let you go!”

“If… you were… my friend…” Siyuakén doubled over in pain and then lunged toward the Cryotechnic, claws outstretched. “You… would have killed me by now!”

“I can’t do that!” Rebehka dodged the lunge and slammed her elbow down into Siyuakén’s back. She quickly attempted to freeze the Electrotechnic to the floor, but she rolled out of the way and leaped back to her feet and began retaliating with lightning strikes. “I made a promise, remember?! You’ll live through this!”

“It’s too late for me!” Siyuakén growled as she deflected several ice spikes with her corrupted arm. “I can’t… control myself anymore!”

“But you can still control your thoughts!” Rebehka countered as she froze the entire clearing and both of Siyuakén’s legs, only for the Electrotechnic to shatter all of the ice with a massive electrical pulse. “As long as you have that, there’s still a chance!”

“I’m already hearing voices!” Siyuakén lunged after Rebehka, only to miss and obliterate the tree behind her instead. “I’m hearing… his voice! Morcii’s! I… I can’t… resist… much longer!”

“Hang in there, Siyuakén! You can do it! Just a little longer!!” Rebehka shouted as she nailed the Electrotechnic in the gut with a block of ice. Siyuakén tumbled along the ground and slammed into a tree before digging her claws into the bark and launching herself up into the branches, where she disappeared from sight. Rebehka charged forward, throwing several blades of ice through the trees and cutting them down in an effort to reveal Siyuakén — only to be ambushed from the left as the Electrotechnic leaped out of the branches and attempted to grab hold of Rebehka with her grappling hook. The Cryotechnic easily deflected the hook with ice, careful to not directly come into contact with Siyuakén’s corruption, before trapping the hook in a block of ice and reeling Siyuakén in. The Electrotechnic yanked her arm back, snapping the grappling line and tumbling backwards as she ran enough current through her body to melt the ice encasing that Rebehka attempted to summon. Siyuakén then jumped back to her feet, reeling in the broken grappling line before forming a new hook on the end and firing it at a nearby tree.

I can’t freeze her while she’s conscious… Rebehka scowled as she dodged a log Siyuakén lobbed at her. I’ll have to knock her out first… sorry, Siyuakén, but this is the only way!

The Cryotechnic quickly encased the log she had just evaded in ice before throwing it back at Siyuakén, who was forced to dodge to the side. Rebehka immediately froze the floor beneath her feet, tripping up the Electrotechnic just long enough to hit her with several ice boulders and send her tumbling. Siyuakén quickly jumped back to her feet and began directing powerful lightning bolts in Rebehka’s direction, forcing her to make several thick ice shields in quick succession.

“Stop… using… blunt… force…!” Siyuakén muttered through clenched teeth, “use ice shards! …Swords!…”

“I’m not trying to kill you,” Rebehka countered as she slowly inched her way toward the tree line.

“You should be! You don’t understand—!”

“Don’t understand what, Siyuakén? That we’re supposed to be friends?!”

“Exactly! I don’t… want… to hurt you—!” The Electrotechnic suddenly dived to the side to evade being smothered by a large sheet of ice before frying the two trees nearest Rebehka’s position. “But… the longer we fight… the less… I can hold back…!”

“Help me out here, then!” Rebehka replied by freezing the two trees solid and then launching them at Siyuakén. “I don’t have to kill you! Don’t shout; try to conserve your energy! Focus on holding on! If I can just knock you out—!”

“You can’t do that… if you’re… holding back…” Siyuakén grimaced, dodging the trees and then attempting to jerk her arm away as she continued firing lighting blasts at Rebehka. “You keep… underestimating… the corruption!”

Rebehka ignored the remark and dived in close to Siyuakén, attempting to hit the Electrotechnic with a massive ice club. Unexpectedly, Siyuakén reached out with her left arm and sunk her claws into the club, grasping hold of it and jerking it into the air — and Rebehka along with it. She then smashed it into the ground, disorienting the Cryotechnic and allowing Siyuakén to close the distance between them and hold her left palm up to Rebehka’s face. “Rebehka—!”

Overdrive: ICE STORM!

Siyuakén was immediately frozen solid as dark clouds gathered overhead and the temperature rapidly plummeted. Mere seconds later, snow began to fall; seconds after that, winds whipped up and the snow grew thick enough to reduce visibility to mere centimeters. The Electrotechnic broke out of her ice prison shortly afterward and stumbled backwards, squinting through the snowstorm in an attempt to find Rebehka.

“I’m not the one doing the underestimating, Siyuakén…”

The Electrotechnic quickly ran a current through her body and then violently discharged it, blowing away all of the snow within several meters and increasing her visibility temporarily before snow rapidly took over again.

“I can save you, Siyuakén. I know I can!”

“It’s…” Siyuakén threw herself to the side just in time to evade a massive chunk of ice. “Not…” She was then thrown forwards as another chunk slammed into her back. “That…” Rebehka completely froze her to the ground. “Simple!” She freed herself with a massive current run through her entire body. “Listen to me, Rebehka!” She crossed her arms in front of her just in time to shield herself from another ice bludgeon. “It’s because we’re friends… that I know… we’ll just stalemate each other!” She dived to the side and made a dash for the tree line. “I’m… holding back… as much as I can! But it’s still only so much! Kill me now before I lose to the corruption completely, because… because I know you won’t be able to stop me then!!

The Electrotechnic was suddenly caught within a massive block of ice, but quickly freed herself with a violent discharge of energy. She immediately sunk her claws into a nearby tree and stripped it of its bark, using the material to shield herself from the storm as she climbed up into the branches.

“I can’t give up on you yet!” Rebehka shouted back, her Overdrive enabling her to easily track Siyuakén through the blizzard. “I’ll only give up once you’ve lost. And I’ll have won before then!”

“There you go again! Do you only think… about what you want? Can’t… can’t you think about me for just a moment?!”

“What?!” the Cryotechnic exclaimed, just as she crafted an ice shield to block a lightning strike.

“Don’t… let me… lose… to Morcii!” Siyuakén responded through clenched teeth as she dashed back into the scene, lunging straight for Rebehka again. “I’m not… just telling you to kill me so… so that you won’t have trouble later. I want you… to kill me now… while I still have some control!… Let… me die… with dignity!… …Please, Rebehka!… At least… give me that!…”

“You’re assuming that I can’t bring you back!” the Cryotechnic countered as she flash-froze Siyuakén again — only for the Electrotechnic to quickly free herself. “Just have a little faith in me!”

The Electrotechnic didn’t respond. Instead she disappeared back into the tree tops; Rebehka immediately gave chase, dashing into the forest and launching several ice blocks at Siyuakén in an effort to knock her out of the trees. Due to their Relédiakian backgrounds, though, Siyuakén was easily able to work her way through the branches and evade all of Rebehka’s attacks while simultaneously retaliating with multiple lightning strikes. Eventually Rebehka jumped up to the branches herself, crafting ice platforms to aid her ascent and get close enough to Siyuakén to lay a hit she couldn’t possibly evade. But the Electrotechnic was faster; just as Rebehka reached the same level of branches, Siyuakén dropped down to the ground and let off a massive electrical pulse that pulverized all of the trees within four meters. She paused for a moment in an attempt to sense Rebehka but was simply smacked in the face with another ice block, sending her flying into another clearing.

By then, the snow storm had calmed enough to see the other side of the clearing, but snow was still whipping around the two women as they confronted each other again. Siyuakén quickly crossed the clearing before turning around to face Rebehka, who stood opposite her. The Electrotechnic then began raising the current through her body, charging an immense amount of energy as Rebehka thickened her ice armor and prepared a suitably large chunk of ice.

“Rebehka… please!” Siyuakén begged, trembling as she attempted to prevent herself from discharging her energy. “I… don’t… have… much… time…!”

“Neither do I,” Rebehka quipped, “we’ve been fighting for long enough — I think I can end this now!”

“Rebehka—!” Siyuakén started, but was interrupted as the Cryotechnic suddenly hurled the massive block of ice at her. The Electrotechnic immediately discharged all of her built up energy into a single focused electrical strike, blowing the boulder into debris and clouding the air with fine ice. Before Siyuakén could react further, Rebehka leaped through the cloud of ice, club in hand as she brought it down over Siyuakén’s head, prepared to knock her out once and for all —

— only for the Electrotechnic to suddenly and unexpectedly discharge an incredible amount of energy directly toward Rebehka, knocking the club out of her hands and blowing her backwards several meters.

Disoriented by the shock, the Cryotechnic could barely feel her outer limbs as she attempted and failed to pull herself up — only to freeze in place as Siyuakén approached, her entire body glowing with cackling electricity.

“N…no…!” Her eyes widened in shock as her left arm lifted to direct her palm at Rebehka’s face. “No…! Rebehka, stop me!”

“But—! I… I…!”

“Stop me!”

“I—!”

Kill me!!

Rebehka clamped her eyes shut reflexively, the only way she could bring herself to respond. She tensed her entire body, prepared for the incoming massive electrical shock — when it didn’t come, she slowly opened her eyes, and then widened them completely, shocked at the sight before her.

Siyuakén was standing in place, her arm still outstretched but no longer cackling with energy as she slowly looked up at Davídrius — who had just stabbed her through the chest.

He smirked grimly. “Sorry I took so long. Your… ‘favor’ was a little hard to decipher.”

“No… you were just in time…” Siyuakén slowly smiled, her eyes closed. “…Thanks.”

“Yeah…” He glanced away. “…No problem.”

And then he ripped his sword up through her chest to her shoulder, obliterating her heart and lungs.

“Si… Siyuakén!!” Rebehka cried, haphazardly climbing to her feet and stumbling over to Siyuakén’s body before collapsing to her knees next to it. “No… Siyuakén…!”

Davídrius watched the Cryotechnic sob for a few moments before moving to place his hand on her shoulder. “Rebehka—”

“No!” She flinched away from him reflexively as she cradled Siyuakén’s head. “She’s not—! She can’t be dead. She’s not dead! She— she— she fixed her arm earlier, so, so, this, she can fix this, this isn’t—!”

“ISN’T WHAT, HMM?”

“Morcii!” Davídrius growled, immediately stepping in front of Rebehka as the Nanocreature leader casually strolled out of the trees. “The hell are you doin’ here?!”

“IS IT WISE FOR YOU TO STAND THERE AND ASK THAT QUESTION?” he responded, eyebrow raised. “BUT, IF YOU MUST KNOW, I WAS SIMPLY ON MY WAY TO RETRIEVE ONE PARTICULAR SPOIL OF WAR. HOWEVER…” His gaze drifted to Siyuakén’s body, which Rebehka cradled even closer to herself, as if to protect it from Morcii. “…YOU SEEM TO HAVE CAUSED IT SIGNIFICANT DAMAGE.” He turned back to Davídrius. “I BELIEVE THIS CALLS FOR YOU TO RECIPROCATE ME… YES?”

In the blink of an eye, Morcii cleared the entire distance between himself and Davídrius. The Velocitechnic immediately threw himself to the side to evade the Nanocreature and then — instead of attempting to counterattack — he dashed over to Rebehka, pulled her away from Siyuakén’s body, and tossed her over his shoulder before taking off toward the Interstellar Gate.

NO!” she screeched, reaching for her friend’s body as Davídrius fled the scene, “no, no, no! Siyuakén—! You’re forgetting Siyuakén!”

“I ain’t forgettin’ her,” the Velocitechnic replied quietly as they arrived at the Interstellar Gate. He quickly moved to the control panel to input a new set of coordinates, as the connection to Nimalia had expired. “Trust me, I’m not. I’ll remember her for as long as I live.”

“You killed her! You—! She—! I could have saved her!”

“No, you couldn’t,” Davídrius muttered coldly, waiting for the Gate to activate before hurriedly stepping through the event horizon. “You… we were too late. There was nothin’ else we could have done.”

Chapter 51 – End of the Line

Rebehka sighed as she casually leaned on the guardrail in front of her, a cool breeze brushing her hair to the side as she looked out over the sprawling expanse of Nimaliaka Central, the capital city of Nimaliaka. The medical center was the tallest building on the base — which itself was built high into the cliffs and mountains to the west of Nimaliaka Central — so the view from the roof of the medical center extended for tens of kilometers in every direction. The night was young, but still dark enough to obscure Rebehka’s vision of the city docks to the east or any other significant landmarks — except for the Interstellar Gateport Facility, which was cozily built into a narrow valley to the south a mere twenty kilometers away. The Gateport was easily the busiest and most highly utilized structure in all of Nimaliaka; all of the traffic through Nimalia’s Interstellar Gate had to go through the Gateport, after all. The complex was built like a fortress and lit like the day at all times, and even had its own military regiment stationed on-site as security.

Rebehka’s eyes lingered on the Gateport for some time before tracing a web of steel tracks from the Gateport to a train yard in the distant north. Thanks to CSA standardization of Interstellar Gate Network travel, every Interstellar Gate on a Tier 3 or greater world was meticulously anchored to the ground around a pair of railway tracks of standardized width, allowing for two sets of trains — one incoming, one outgoing — to travel through an active Gate. The CSA had, for all intents and purposes, created an interstellar railway network, all for the purpose of increasing the amount of freight and passengers that could be shuffled through the two-hour stable window of an open Interstellar Gate connection.

As the Cryotechnic slowly panned her eyes across the city, the lights of the Gateport and the railways began to fade from her attention. The sights of Nimaliaka Central were not new to her; she had been stationed there for over three months. Her mind was occupied with other thoughts; between the memory of Hero Machina’s defeat at the hands of Morcii, the pain from her injured knee, and thoughts of her best friend’s struggle with the metallic infection — now known as corruption on the behalf of the Nanocreatures — Rebehka had lost much of her optimistic outlook that initially inspired her to join Hero Machina. Before, she was simply investigating the metallic infection, looking for clues on the Chaos Energy Quake, or hunting down the Chaos Ayas. But now?

“Now we have a galactic war on our hands…” she muttered wearily. How are we supposed to defeat the Nanocreatures? Is outgunning them even an option? And if it is, then why is the CSA doing so terribly against them? Her expression deepened further into a frown. If I’m to understand the Relaynet correctly, two independent CSA fleets of three thousand ships each have already gone down while defending Bouy’Xis alone. How are we supposed to stand up to that? She wearily turned her gaze to the north, the direction toward the apartment she shared with Siyuakén. I wonder how she’s doing… she didn’t sound too well this afternoon, but hopefully she’ll be doing better tomorrow…

Rebehka sighed again before pulling away from the guardrail and standing up straight. She yawned and stretched, prepared to return to her bed in the medical center for a night’s sleep — until she opened her eyes and realized that the entire city had been plunged into darkness. “What?!” she exclaimed, immediately stepping back up to the guardrail and quickly sweeping her eyes across the cityscape. The entire valley had transformed into a pool of blackness; the only lights she could make out were the ones from the Gateport facility and the base on which she stood.

“…Command: connect to Hero Machina channel,” she muttered, and then paused for a moment as her glasses processed and executed the command. “Hello? Is anyone there?”

“…Yeah, I’m here,” Kevérin responded after several seconds of communications silence. “Let me guess, this is about the city-wide blackout?”

“Yeah,” Rebehka replied, “have you seen it, too?”

“I haven’t seen it, but I noticed the chatter on the command channels increase significantly.”

“Command channels?”

“Yeah, the comm channels for the commanders of the units stationed here in Nimaliaka Central. Good thing I haven’t left the base yet, or I wouldn’t be able to connect.”

“You have access to that?”

“Well, yeah. I am the Commanding Officer of Hero Machina. You haven’t forgotten, have you?”

“…What are they saying?”

“You forgot, didn’t you.”

“Just tell me what’s going on, Kevérin.”

“That’s ‘please tell me what’s going on, sir.’”

Kevérin.”

“Alright, alright. Hmm… sounds like… someone disabled the region’s power plant.”

“They what? How’s that possible?”

“I don’t know, I’m just relaying what I’m hearing… whatever happened, it almost took out the Gateport’s backup generator. The Gateport’s going into full lockdown… but they can’t shut down the Gate itself. Ironically, the fail safes are preventing them from reaching the Gate and manually disconnecting. Ha.”

“This isn’t a laughing matter, Kevérin.”

“It’ll be fine. The Gate’s block was initiated as part of the lockdown. Nothing can come through. We just need to fix things on our side…”

“Damn right we needa fix things.”

“Davídrius?” Rebehka questioned, momentarily surprised by the new voice on the channel. “Where are you?”

“I’d say I was home,” the Velocitechnic replied irately, “but it’s so damn dark that I couldn’t say for sure. Everything’s gone dark. What the fuck happened? Even my compound back in Treséd didn’t get blackouts. Well, not unless I forgot to fuel the damn generator, but there’s no way that’d be an issue here. Right?”

“I hope that’s all it is…” Kevérin muttered.

“Do you know how long this will take to fix?” Rebehka questioned.

“Not really,” the Transfer Captain responded, “I’m somewhat familiar with Tekdecénian reactor design, which should be what the Nimaliakians have based their own reactors on, but I’m not really qualified to say. Hmm… wait, Siyuakén’s an Electrotechnic. She would’ve been trained in reactor and power grid setups.”

“Relédiakian ones, sure. I’m not sure about Nimaliakian reactors, though…”

“She likely knows more than we do, at least. There aren’t many Electrotechnics stationed here in Nimaliaka Central anyways, not with the doomsday trifecta of the Riaxen scare, Drakkar attacks, and Nanocreature invasion… we should get in touch with her.”

“She doesn’t have AR glasses, though. She always fries them. She’s probably asleep now, anyway…”

“Hmm… Davídrius—”

“I knew it was gonna come to this. You want me to go check on Siyuakén, don’t you?”

“Can you? She might be able to figure out what caused the blackout, or at least help fix it.”

“Oi, oi, oi. Alright, don’t worry. I’m on it.”

“Thanks. Now, Rebehka, where are you? Aren’t you supposed to be confined to the med center?”

“I’m on the roof.”

“You’re on the roof?

“Look, I wanted some space to think, okay? You don’t really have much of that in the building itself.”

“Well, whatever. I’m coming up there. I kinda want to see blackout Nimaliaka Central myself.”

“Kevérin, this is serious.”

“I know, I know… but, might as well get some cool pics out of it, right?”

Rebehka’s only response was an irritated sigh as she continued to stare down at the city bathed in darkness below.


“Fuckin’ darkness…”

Davídrius cautiously leaped from rooftop to rooftop, attempting to find his way through the darkness with a small flashlight. The little light was too weak to be truly useful, however, forcing Velocitechnic to navigate the city primarily using the GPS built into his glasses.

“’Course this all has to be during the new moon,” he grumbled as he jumped from a five-story roof to the ground below, hitting the pavement with a roll before leaping back to his feet and dashing off. “I hate trustin’ the GPS like this. It’s a visual aid, not a replacer…”

He continued to run through the back streets, stopping only when he came across a major thoroughfare. The road was backed up with vehicles and the air was filled with the shouts and complaints of confused and irritated citizens; Davídrius quickly backed down the alleyway and wall-jumped up to the rooftops, where he continued to make his way toward Siyuakén’s apartment.

About a minute later, he finally arrived at the housing complex where he jumped down to ground level and then slowed to a stop. The entrance to the complex had been barricaded and several police officers and soldiers were inspecting the floodlight-lit grounds — the grounds that had been burnt black in several different locations.

“The fuck happened here?” Davídrius questioned, turning toward the nearest soldier.

“This area is off-limits,” the soldier replied as he approached the Velocitechnic menacingly. “Civilians should stay away.”

“Civilians? Tch.” Davídrius scowled. “I ain’t a civilian, I’m a Lieutenant. I’m with the military. NSD.”

“You are?…” The soldier paused for a moment, turning his flashlight toward the Tresédian to get a better look at his face. Davídrius crossed his arms and tapped his foot impatiently as the soldier’s glasses lit up, scanning the Velocitechnic. “Oh… I apologize,” he commented moments later, “I didn’t realize—”

“Yeah yeah, whatever.” Davídrius waved him off. “Now what happened here? What’s with all the burns? Somethin’ explode?”

“No, sir. These are electrical burns.”

“Electrical burns? But this is concrete! Metal an’ concrete!”

“Don’t ask me, that’s just what the forensic investigators concluded.”

“…Shit.” Davídrius’s scowl deepened as he replaced his flashlight with one of the stronger flashlights laying around and started off towards the complex.

“Wait, sir! It’s even worse in there—!”

The Velocitechnic had left before he could hear the entire warning, navigating the tight walkways to Rebehka and Siyuakén’s apartment building. Upon reaching it, he glanced up and whistled in awe — the entire front face of the twenty-story building had been blown off. A moment later he realized what that could mean for the residents.

“Shit, Siyuakén—!” He immediately leaped up the side of the building, easily clearing ten stories in the first leap and jumping between the debris to climb higher up to the fifteenth floor. He alighted in an exposed hallway before quickly rushing down it, stopping in front of apartment 1504 — the only apartment lacking a door.

“Siyuakén!” He shouted as he barged in to search the apartment — only to find the entire place empty and completely wrecked. The furniture was shredded, the living room window overlooking the rest of the complex was blown out, doors were ajar, kitchenware was embedded into the living room wall —

“Wait a minute…” Davídrius squinted as he directed his flashlight at the wall next to the kitchenware. He paused for a moment and then scowled again as he processed the message sloppily scrawled into the wall with burn marks:

Sunova scratch — STOP ME

“Damn it, Siyuakén!” He immediately leaped out the broken window to the ground below, rolling on the landing, and immediately taking off at supersonic speeds. “Don’t tell me this is what you meant…!”


“This really is quite the sight.”

“Kevérin…”

“Relax.” The Pyrotechnic glanced toward Rebehka. “It’s just a blackout. It’ll get taken care of.”

Rebehka frowned. “I don’t know… I have a bad feeling about this.”

“Even so, there’s nothing we can do about it.” Kevérin shrugged. “All we can do is sit tight, and wait for Davídrius to get in touch with Siyuakén.”

“…”

“Look, as long as the Gateport is online, there’s nothing to be afraid of. If this was some sort of attack, then they would’ve targeted this base, or any of the anti-orbital cannons to the north and west.”

“As long as the Gateport is online, huh?” Rebehka echoed as she stared out at the massive facility — just as it went dark. “…You mean, like it isn’t right now?”

“Well… shit,” Kevérin replied tensely, his grip on the guardrail tightening in apprehension. “That’s not a good sign.”

I’ll say.”

“We should still be fine, though… the Gate’s block was activated the moment the blackout occurred. Nothing’s coming or going through it.”

“Just… keep an eye on the command channels. I don’t like this at all…”

“You aren’t the only one,” Kevérin muttered, “but don’t get too worked up. If anything happens, you won’t be part of it. Not with that knee.”

Rebehka glanced down at her left knee, encased in a robotic cast, before looking up at the city again.

“Wait… something else is happening…”

“What is it?” The Cryotechnic glanced toward Kevérin.

“Apparently…” the Transfer Captain responded slowly, his attention half-focused on the information coming in over the command channels, “one of the Gate Trains just… activated. All on its own.”

“What?”

“No one’s heard anything from the Train Yard, just… one of the trains turned on and started moving. The rails are switching themselves to put it on the mainline… sounds like its headed straight for the Gateport.”

“What…?” Rebehka stared at Kevérin in confusion. “Did someone orchestrate all this… just so they could hijack a Gate Train?”

“Well, whoever it is, or whatever their plan, it won’t work. The Gateport’s locked down. That Train should derail long before it comes close to the Gate. Even if it somehow does get through the Gate, it’ll derail on the other side. The planet we’re connected to doesn’t have its own rails.”

“What’s goin’ on?”

“Davídrius?” Rebehka perked up, immediately staring out at the city toward her apartment. “How’s Siyuakén?”

“Yeah, about that…”

“What happened?” Kevérin questioned.

“I dropped by the apartment complex, and the whole place was covered in electrical burns. Like there had been some sort of massive lightnin’ storm or some shit. And, uh, Rebehka, your building was practically demolished. I checked your apartment, but Siyuakén wasn’t there.”

“What…?” Kevérin scowled. “What happened? Does Siyuakén have anything to do with this…? Wait, Rebehka—!” He reached out as the Cryotechnic suddenly leaped from the rooftop, catching herself with a levitating patch of ice and then skating off toward the rail lines that led to the Gateport. “Damn it, Rebehka!!”

“What happened? What’s goin’ on?”

“I don’t know. Rebehka just suddenly left for the Gateport…”

“Shit… so this is really it, then…”

“Davídrius? Do you know what’s going on?”

“Sorry, no time to talk! I’ll explain everythin’ afterward. Hopefully, I’m wrong…”

“Wha, what? No, Davídrius—! …Damn!” Kevérin scowled as he found himself the only one still on the Hero Machina channel. He leaned against the guardrail again and stared out over the dark city. “What the hell is going on…?”


Gate Train F-616 began to accelerate even further, having reached the main line several minutes ago. After checking that everything was in order, Siyuakén slammed the driving lever with enough force to jam it into place before disabling the dead man’s switch circuit and turning to open the cabin window. With a single, swift motion she jumped out the window, grabbing the top bar to swing around and onto the top of the engine cabin. She paused for a moment to demolish two derailing devices with incredible electric shocks before crouching down on top of the train, where she anchored herself with the metallic claws on her left hand and stared down the rail line at the distant Gateport.

“Siyuakén!”

The Electrotechnic slowly turned around as Rebehka jumped down from the sky, landing with a roll on one of the cars behind the engine. She winced as pain shot through her knee, but she quickly put it out of mind and turned to look Siyuakén in the eye.

“What are you doing?” the Cryotechnic shouted over the winds generated by the fast-moving train, “Siyuakén, what’s wrong—?!”

She was interrupted as Siyuakén launched a lightning strike in her direction, nailing her shoulder and blowing her backwards. She almost tumbled off of the train car but caught herself with ice and quickly righted herself while fashioning full-body armor out of ice.

“Siyuakén, what are you doing?!” Rebehka exclaimed as she slowly approached the engine, “you can tell me! Is it the infection? Siyuakén—!”

The Electrotechnic’s only response was to dash towards her, generating several more lightning strikes in the process. Rebehka quickly shielded against all of them with multiple shields of ice; she had sparred with Siyuakén before, and knew how to block her attacks. But apprehension set in as Rebehka realized that, while she had succeeded in blocking the attacks, her ice shields hadn’t merely been shattered — they had been completely vaporized. When did she get so powerful?! Immediately, Rebehka jumped forwards, thickening her ice armor before freezing the air around Siyuakén’s legs and arms, immobilizing her. The Electrotechnic shivered and began to struggle as Rebehka slowly approached.

“What’s going on?” the Cryotechnic questioned, and then gestured at the dark buildings that the train was barreling past. “…Did you do this?”

Siyuakén ceased struggling, but did not respond to Rebehka’s inquiry.

“Siyuakén, answer me!”

“S….stop…”

Rebehka squinted and then leaned forward in an attempt to hear more clearly. “What?”

“Stop… me!” Siyuakén exclaimed through clenched teeth, running such a massive current through her body and the train that her ice bonds melted. Rebehka quickly crossed her arms in front of her to guard against Siyuakén’s subsequent lightning strike, though it struck with enough power to knock her off her feet and send her flying backwards. She landed on the top of the train six cars back from the engine, her ice armor cracking from the impact before she could scramble back to her feet — just in time for Siyuakén to send more current down the body of the train cars, disengaging the couplings. Rebehka quickly sprinted forwards, vaulting over the gaps in the cars in an attempt to close the distance between her and Siyuakén and try to immobilize her again, but just before she could reach the engine she froze in place, eyes fixated on Siyuakén’s body. She was now close enough to clearly make out Siyuakén’s body — close enough to tell that the corruption was no longer limited to just her arm.

It covered over half her body.

Half of her face, her entire left arm, both shoulders, her whole chest, and then down the left side of her torso to her hips, where the rest of the metallic rashes were covered up by the ragged pants attached to her waist that had somehow managed to avoid disintegration under the massive currents Siyuakén was employing.

Rebehka faltered, startled by the realization of the true scope of Siyuakén’s infection. She then braced herself, prepared to take another lightning strike due to her momentary lapse in judgment — only to feel no such pain. She slowly looked up at Siyuakén, who had abandoned the accelerating engine and was standing over the Cryotechnic with her palm outstretched, though quivering uncontrollably. “Siyuakén…?”

“P…please…” the Electrotechnic’s eyes were squeezed shut, tears running down her non-corrupted cheek. “Stop… me—!

Before Rebehka could respond to the comment, Siyuakén’s shoulder was suddenly blown apart, completely severing her left arm from her body and flinging her off the top of the train.

SIYUAKÉN—!” the Cryotechnic quickly jumped to her feet and rushed to the edge of the train car just as the entire rail well flashed with light. Rebehka reflexively covered her eyes; by the time she had opened them, Siyuakén had somehow reattached her arm to her shoulder as well as developed a version of her swinging gear on her corrupted forearm, which she used to catch the ever-accelerating engine and drag herself back to its top.

I’m going to lose her! Rebehka looked around frantically; the car she was on was constantly slowing down, and the engine was still accelerating. There was no way she could cross the growing distance between the two before the engine reached the Gateport. Wait, when is that—? She looked up, searching the sides of the tracks right as the car rolled past the one kilometer marker. That close? Then that means—!

A distant explosion interrupted her thoughts — the Gateport wall lit up so brilliantly that Rebehka could spot the engine from a kilometer away as it somehow survived the security explosives and smashed into the Gateport train entrance. The Cryotechnic immediately jumped into the air, freezing an ice path toward the entrance as she quickly skated along it. Siyuakén! Please… wait for me!


10 Minutes Later

Siyuakén!

The Electrotechnic faltered, pausing mere meters from the Interstellar Gate itself. The pause was all Rebehka needed; she immediately blanketed the entire area in ice, freezing Siyuakén in place and covering the Gate’s control panel with a solid chunk of ice.

“What… are you… doing?!” the Electrotechnic growled, seeming to struggle with her words.

“I was always faster than you on foot,” Rebehka replied. “I knew I could catch you once you had to abandon the train. But that was three layers of security that you broke through! What do you think you’re doing? Stop this!”

“You don’t… think… I’m trying?!” Siyuakén responded through clenched teeth, her frustration manifesting in stray electrical strikes in the surrounding environment. “I’ve… lost! You have… to stop me!”

“I am! I’m trying! But I can’t do this without your help, you need to focus—!”

No! You— …don’t… under… stand…!” The Electrotechnic grasped her head in her hands, her eyes clenched shut in pain. “Stop… means… kill!”

“But I can’t—!” Rebehka stopped as Siyuakén stretched her left palm toward her, the entire length of her left arm sparkling with charged energy.

“I can’t… control myself! Damn it— Rebehka!” The Electrotechnic collapsed to her knees, her left arm still stretched toward her friend. “Kill me! Before… …before I… kill you…!”

“I don’t need to kill you to stop you!” Rebehka responded, quickly moving to encase Siyuakén entirely in ice — only for no ice to manifest. “…Wait… no, a CENT field?!”

Immediately, Siyuakén discharged the energy in her left arm through a massive electrical blast that shattered the ice all around her. She then turned toward the Gate and sent out several electrical pulses that destroyed the ice around the Gate’s controls and then disabled the travel block. Before Rebehka could say anything more to her, she had disappeared through the Gate’s event horizon.

“No!” Rebehka stumbled toward the Gate before pausing momentarily. Wait— she—! I have to go after her! But— where is the Gate connected to? Where did she go? Will we be able to come back? Even if we do, unauthorized use of the Gate is punishable by—! Oh, what am I saying?! I know exactly what to do! The Cryotechnic took a deep breath and then bolted forward, crossing the Gate’s event horizon mere moments before several security teams burst into the large yard around the Gate.

I have to save Siyuakén!

Chapter 50

Skydia, Maliath 24, 8030

“Hi.”

“…Hey.”

“…”

“…”

“…”

“…Did you want to talk to me, or…?”

“Oh, I was just— I was just wondering how you learned to be so good.”

“’Good?’”

“You know what I mean. We’ve only been here for three weeks and you’re already outstripping all of our competition. Except me, of course.”

“Competition? This is just conscription boot camp…”

“Well, yeah, but that’s just all the more reason to try our best. Shine brighter than the rest now, and you’ll look even better later.”

“…You really think that?”

“You don’t?”

“I’m only here because I’m a Chaotic… nothing else.”

“I would’ve said the same three, four years ago. But what better way to say ‘screw you’ to the system than to best everyone else and reach the top anyways?”

“Finding ways to not participate at all?”

“You know what I mean.”

“I guess. It’d explain why you’re such a try-hard, at least…”

“Wha— excuse me?!”

“Everyone else is thinking it. You’re always trying to be number one, taking everything so seriously.”

“This is the military! Of course it’s serious!”

“This is boot camp. It’s one big joke, that’s what it is…”

“Well—! I should’ve known that a Nimaliakian wouldn’t be any better than the natives around here.”

“Ha, is that your problem? Frustrated that your ice gets you nowhere in this damn forest of a nation? Try walking a mile in my shoes, try-hard.

“I’m sure all I’d manage from that is getting my feet wet from all of your loner tears. Do you hurt yourself sometimes on all that edge?”

“…What?”

“Everyone else is thinking it. You don’t talk to anyone. I thought it was because you were like me, that you had hidden potential that you couldn’t take advantage of because everyone else looked down on you. Turns out you’re just a loner, huh. Just as judgmental as the rest of them.”

“You don’t know what I’ve been through—”

“I could say the same.”

“…Ha. Tell you what, Rebeh—”

“It’s Tchiréon. You haven’t earned the right to call me by my first name.”

“You’re sure full of yourself.”

“I think there’s some quote about a pot and a kettle that fits this situation.”

“Alright, try-hard. If you’re so keen on proving you’re the best and we’re all idiots, how about a challenge? Two weeks from now, we have a duel. Best of three. Winner gets to make a demand of the loser… any demand.

“…”

“Not so confident now, huh?”

“Oh, no, I’ll definitely take you up on that. I was just thinking of the most humiliating thing I could make you do when I win.”

“Don’t get ahead of yourself. The peace of mind I could bring us all by shutting you up is strong motivation.”

“…This isn’t the end of this, Siyua—”

“It’s Wanléon. You haven’t earned the right to call me by my first name.”

“…Very funny.”

“Hey, it’s your joke.”

“Hmph. Two weeks. In two weeks, I’ll show you why I’m the best!”

“Sure thing, try-hard.”

“Shut up, loner.”


Present Day, 4 Days after Loss of Maasen

– Mondia, Skydiath 2, 8034 –

“Maasen… lost. And now Bouy’Xis, Metorilis, and Gonaan are all under attack…”

“Things have gotten… bad,” Kevérin lamented, sitting back in the briefing room chair.

“Not just bad, things have gotten terrible.” Nikéyin scowled. “That’s three Transpace Worlds under attack, and Bouy’Xis is practically lost. This new threat, these Nanocreatures — their surprise attack on Maasen proved they have similar FTL tech to the Drakkars; they must be at least as fast as the Drakkars. But no one else comes even close, aside from the Earthians’ one ship that they barely know how to replicate. If the Nanocreatures take out the Transpace systems, then they can completely isolate the CSA from itself — and the rest of the galaxy. Gonaan is the big one — if the Siions lose Gonaan, then the Citans and Dra’kis get cut off from the rest of the galaxy, and the Siions are cut off from their own Primary Fortress World, Siionkagh. That could very well be an ending blow to the entire CSA. And that’s only Gonaan, who knows if the… Nanocreatures are about to launch attacks on other Transpace Worlds.”

“There’s still tons of planets in the CSA…” Kevérin responded uneasily, “it’ll take the Nanocreatures a while to take them all…”

“They don’t need to, not right now. Their strategy is obvious. They aren’t restricted by Transpaces, but we are. So if they take out the Transpaces, then they’ve isolated everyone in the galaxy and can attack wherever they please without fear of reinforcements. It’s classic logistics interruption. And there’s nothing we can do to stop it…”

“I know Morcii was really powerful in person, but… are all of the Nanocreatures really that powerful? Are they really giving the CSA that hard of a time?”

“It would seem that the entirety of the Nanocreatures are constructed of nanomachines, as you said the leader claimed. And they’ve been developing right under everyone’s noses for the past twenty years, masquerading as the ‘metallic infection.’ They can corrupt and seize control of whatever they touch, and their ships are surprisingly durable — not to mention far more repairable, as broken parts simply need to be replaced with more nanomachines… I don’t know where they’re all coming from, but there’s a lot of them, and they have the element of surprise. No one expected them. Especially not during a Drakkar offensive. The Drakkars have pulled back, thankfully, but the CSA is still in no shape to mount a solid defense. Chances are they lose Bouy’Xis within the week, Metorilis soon after, and maybe Gonaan soon after that…”

“Well… shit. Is there anything we can do? As the Nimalian Territories?”

“Hmm… perhaps the one good thing to come of all this is that, as of two days ago, the Nimalian Systems Defense is official. I suppose impending doom has a way of scaring politicians into action.”

“That’s good, right?”

“Relatively. I was finally able to order a glassing of the Hazard Islands, and I’ve placed them under quarantine. Hopefully, you and the rest of Hero Machina truly neutralized whatever that thing was a couple months ago. I’ve sent teams to monitor Relédiaka as well, due to all of the infection reports from the forests. I also put the Ayas on a rotation, so that they’re on no one planet for longer than three days. Hopefully that will throw off anyone who’s trying to look for them with technology like our own Ayas sensor, but… that’s about all we can do. We can offer support to the CSA, but if the Nanocreatures come for the Nimalian Territories, then the NSD can’t do much to stop them, given what we currently know. We aren’t as advanced as the CSA, and our fleets aren’t as numerous… we’d be toast.”

“Damn…” Kevérin leaned forward, holding a hand to his head in frustration. “Is there really nothing we can do?”

“News is still incoming, and it’s all chaos,” Nikéyin responded warily. “Everything I know for certain, I’ve already told you. We can’t act without more information, as we can’t risk stumbling into an unknown situation and drawing the attention of the Nanocreatures to ourselves. In the long run, it’s best to keep the Nanocreatures focused on the CSA. They can take it better than us, and we can at least provide support. Maybe we can convince the Earthians to share their FTL technology, or at least help them reverse-engineer it. If we get wiped out, though…”

“I know, I know, this is just… I hate feeling this helpless. What about Hero Machina? Is there anything we can do?”

“Tyrion, to put it bluntly, that Morcii individual — he devastated your team. You won’t be doing anything until everyone’s recovered, and that may not be for a while. Densalin, Yumach, and Tchiréon may get cleared from the med center by week’s end, but Kolstén… he won’t be out for several weeks, at least. Not with full-body fractures, and certainly not as a Forcetechnic. You and Wanléon were lucky, getting out of the whole situation without injury.”

“…”

“Don’t blame yourself, Captain. You clearly did the best you could. But, let’s face it; if even Exdominor and Surdeus — the two most dangerous Drakkar faction leaders — fled from this Morcii character, then you and your team didn’t stand a chance. You stood your ground long enough for the Earthians to pick you up, and that alone is commendable, given the circumstances.”

“That doesn’t change the fact that we lost the Ayas to Morcii… and it was Arcán, too! We could have used it to fix the Prior!”

“It is a shame and I am disappointed that the mission was a failure, but we can’t afford to dwell on it. Not now.” Nikéyin sighed and glanced around the room absentmindedly before turning back to Kevérin. “I will admit, I was less than pleased with your performances back on Teghica and Kotak, but you all have been doing very well since. You retrieved the Ayas from Rossindon, and you pulled an Ayas from the Tyrnaus system while also assisting the Black Suns. We have four of the Ayas now, including the Master Ayas — which may just be what we need to beat the Nanocreatures. And it’s all thanks to you and your team.”

“We’re also the ones who let Morcii appear in the first place, by being negligent on Kotak…”

“Like I said, Captain, don’t dwell on it. But I’m only willing to offer you so much solace.” Nikéyin sighed again, leaning back in her chair as she rubbed her temples. She then shook her head to clear her thoughts and grabbed the folder on the table in front of her. “Hero Machina is on leave until all of you have recovered, so take the time to rest up. You’ve spent the entirety of last month traveling around the galaxy, after all. We don’t know what’s ahead of us, and we all need to be in top shape to face it. Agreed?”

“…Yes, ma’am.”

“Rest up, Captain. You need it. You and the rest of Hero Machina both. Dismissed.”


Timestamp: 8030, Nimath 7, 20:32

Journal Header: Fucking try-hard.

Dueled with the try-hard today. Still getting on my nerves with her better-than-everyone attitude. Did you know, she told everyone about the duel? There I go asking questions again. Of course I would know this, I wrote it. I should be the only one reading it. If you aren’t me and you’re reading this, then I already know that you’re reading it, and I know where you are, and I’m on my way to end you now. Don’t poke through a girl’s private things.

What was I talking about? Oh yeah, the try-hard. So she basically turned the duel into a huge betting match. Everyone was watching. “I wanted them to know how soundly I defeated you,” she said. Ha. Well, I showed her. Sort of. I… lost the first round. It was the crowd, I swear. They threw me off. I’m not used to interacting with so many people. I spent six years alone in Unonin, but this city, Lédia, is so much bigger. So much more crowded. There’s too many people. I guess that’s to be expected of a capital city, though.

Damn it, I keep distracting myself. Um, right. So I lost the first round. I won the second one though. Floored that bitch in ten seconds flat. Can’t beat electricity with ice, not that easily. We didn’t get to finish the third round, though. We got interrupted by the boot camp captain. Turns out, when you tell a bunch of 16-year-olds about a secret duel, well, it doesn’t stay secret for long. Who would’ve thought? So now, thanks to that, we’ve all lost the rest of the weekend. Have to work now. All thanks to the try-hard. I’ll bet she feels real smug now, ha. Good for her we got interrupted anyways, I was totally about to kick her ass.

Oh, shit, the captain’s coming through. Can’t let him catch me on this. Signing out.

– Siyuakén


Present Day

Hero Machina digital communication logs for Mondia, Skydiath 2, 8034

 

From: Kevérin Tyrion

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 11:12

Hey guys, just talked to Commander Nikéyin. NSD’s official, and the Hazard Islands have been glassed.

That’s about the only good news I have.

We’re on leave until everyone heals up, so get some rest. I’ll have more details for you guys later.

-Kevérin

Oh, afterthought: someone bash Davídrius over the head. Maybe a broken skeleton will shut him up about minor chest pains.

 

From: Kevérin Tyrion

To: Siyuakén Wanléon

Subject: Can I talk to you

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 11:14

Hey, you free? Wanted to talk about that whole Ayas-sensing thing you have going on.

-Kevérin

 

From: Davídrius Wrikax

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re: Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 11:18

fuck you

in the ass

with a hole fucking blade prizim

 

From: Rebehka Tchiréon

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re: Re: Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 11:26

Really, Davídrius? Settle down.

And that joke was in poor taste, Kevérin. Christeané’s skeletal injury is a serious matter; we don’t know how well he’ll be able to recover. Don’t take his injuries lightly.

Congratulate the Commander for me, though. I’d do so myself, but they won’t let me out of the med center.

-Rebehka

 

From: Siyuakén Wanléon

To: Kevérin Tyrion

Subject: Re: Can I talk to you

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 11:28

Sorry, can’t meet in person. Personal reasons. Really tired, too.

-Siyuakén

 

From: Davídrius Wrikax

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 11:45

settle down huh. shur thing here you go

[<Link censored by internal server>]

oh man the relaynet is a grate place so glad christeané showed me the ropes

oh yeah. kevérin. christeané wanted me to tell you fuck you. ekcept not akshully. hes still out cold. pretty shur hed want me to say that tho

 

From: Rebehka Tchiréon

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 11:56

I don’t know what you tried to send, but if the base’s server censored it, well. I don’t think I want to know.

Can’t everyone just be civil for once? I know we’re all stressed, but fussing at each other won’t solve anything.

-Rebehka

 

From: Kevérin Tyrion

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re(5): Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 12:04

I just wanted to try and cheer everyone up, but you’re right. The joke was in bad taste. I apologize.

In fact, Davídrius, to show my apologies, I’ll even give you a present. Here’s a link to some comforting image albums, hope you enjoy:

<link to an album containing several graphic Relaynet memetic images>

-Kevérin

 

From: Kevérin Tyrion

To: Siyuakén Wanléon

Subject: Re: Re: Can I talk to you

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 12:07

Oh… hope everything’s alright. Mind if I ask a couple questions here, then?

Namely, when could you start sensing the Ayas? I don’t remember you mentioning anything when we found the Dark Blue Ayas back on Teghica, or the Black Ayas on Kotak. Do you know how you can do it? Maybe there’s some electrical properties to the Ayas that we didn’t know about before. Anyways, any explanation that you have would be appreciated.

-Kevérin

 

From: Davídrius Wrikax

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re(6): Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 12:23

rebehka ill be civil if you bring me some of those relediakian cake things that you made a couple months ago. that was some tasty shit id shut up for that

kevérin fuck you. i was eating lunch damn it. howd your link get thru and not mine. fucking haker

psst rebehka hurry up with those cakes i may or may not have ruined my entire lunch with my breakfast

 

From: Kievkenalis Yumach

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re(7): Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 12:26

Did someone mention cake? I want cake.

-Kevken

 

From: Siyuakén Wanléon

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re(8): Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 12:30

What the hell is going on here?

-Siyuakén

 

From: Siyuakén Wanléon

To: Kevérin Tyrion

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Can I talk to you

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 12:35

I don’t know, and I don’t know. I just… can. I don’t know. It’s uncomfortable to talk about.

-Siyuakén

 

From: Rebehka Tchiréon

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re(9): Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 12:42

Davídrius, I can’t make anything. I’m stuck in the med center. Even if I wasn’t, there’s no way I’d cook for you. Learn some manners first. And Kevken, how would you even eat the cake? Your arms are immobilized. Wait, how are you even responding?

Kevérin, could you take things seriously for once? I’m glad I didn’t follow that link, if it made even Davídrius throw up. I swear, the stuff you two find on the Relaynet.

Siyuakén, it’s nothing. Just ignore it.

-Rebehka

 

From: Davídrius Wrikax

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re(10): Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 12:48

wow you really think that just cuz you had a proper childhood you get to tell me to lern shit

but akshully. what the fucks up with this manners shit. why is everyone in this world so uptite. i dont normally miss treséd but damn

 

From: Kievkenalis Yumach

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re(10): Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 12:49

Voice-to-text. A nurse was nice enough to set it up for me.

Does this mean there’s no cake?

-Kevken

 

From: Kevérin Tyrion

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re(11): Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 12:55

I really shouldn’t have made that crack about Davídrius, huh. How are you guys responding so quickly, anyways? If you have enough free time to get into arguments then maybe I should find some work for you to do.

-Kevérin

 

From: Kevérin Tyrion

To: Siyuakén Wanléon

Subject: Re: Re: Re: Re: Can I talk to you

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 13:01

Huh? Uncomfortable to talk about? Why? What does that even mean?

-Kevérin

 

From: Davídrius Wrikax

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re(12): Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 13:03

woh woh woh you started this hole thing you cant punish me for responding to an insult. espeshally your insult. thats entrapment. or something like that

im already home anyways so. ha

 

From: Kevérin Tyrion

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re(13): Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 13:08

Alright. Get back to the base, Davídrius. I’ve got some work you can spend that free time on.

And don’t say getting back here is too much effort. You’re a Velocitechnic, it shouldn’t take more than a couple minutes.

-Kevérin

P.S. Doesn’t your machine have a spell-checker? How the hell are you managing to fuck everything up?

 

From: Davídrius Wrikax

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re(14): Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 13:12

fuck you thats discriminashun. i have my own injuries too anyway. broken ribs n shit. gotta stay still. doctors orders

also i can totally run faster than that. i could reach the base in seconds!

and i dont need no computer telling me what to do i can type perfectly fine thank you very much

 

From: Kevérin Tyrion

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re(15): Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 13:18

Your ribs were bruised, not broken. Those ‘Doctor’s orders’ to stay still expired yesterday. And if it really only takes ‘seconds’ to reach the base then surely it wouldn’t be too inconvenient to do so. Now get your ass up here before I involve the Commander.

And no, you can’t type perfectly fine. At least turn on auto-correct!

-Kevérin

 

From: Davídrius Wrikax

To: Hero Machina

Subject: Re(16): Rest Up

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 13:22

hmf not my fault i never lerned this computer shit growing up

well whatever the bases network speed is faster anyways

also fuck you

 

From: Siyuakén Wanléon

To: Kevérin Tyrion

Subject: Re(5): Can I talk to you

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 13:31

Uncomfortable means uncomfortable and that’s that. I’m not talking about this anymore.

-Siyuakén

 

From: Kevérin Tyrion

To: Siyuakén Wanléon

Subject: Re(6): Can I talk to you

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 13:37

Well, alright then. I’ll leave you be for now. But this is important, Siyuakén. The ability to sense Ayas is pretty significant. I’d like answers sooner or later.

-Kevérin

 

From: Kevérin Tyrion

To: Rebehka Tchiréon

Subject: Can you talk to Siyuakén for me?

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 13:45

What the subject says. I tried asking her about her ability to sense Ayas, but she got defensive and refused to answer any questions. Can you talk to her for me? See if anything’s wrong? I’ll be trying to wrench some information out of that Prior in the meantime, if you need me.

Thanks.

-Kevérin

 

From: Rebehka Tchiréon

To: Siyuakén Wanléon

Subject: Have a minute?

Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 14:05

Hey, do you have a minute? I’d like to talk to you. In fact I’d just like to see you. I’m stuck in the med center and you just waltz on home without dropping by? The nerve.

Anyways, come up to the med center when you have some time.

-Rebehka


Timestamp: 8030, Skydiath 22, 20:16

Journal Header: I guess she’s not too bad…

Well, I guess I wasn’t completely right about the try-hard. Recently got stuck with her on the forest floor after one of the other conscripts messed up and totaled the return elevator. We were stuck on the floor for a few hours. We got attacked by a few feral animals. I think they were afflicted by something called the ‘metallic infection’. It’s not something you hear on the news often, or even at all, but I’ve heard enough from the officers and seen enough from our scheduled trips to the forest floor that I can piece things together. Apparently things have been getting worse. Access to the floor might be completely restricted in a few months.

Um, right. Distracted myself again. The try-hard, Tchiréon. We had something of a chat. I guess it was more like an argument, at first, that is. I learned some things about her past. Nothing as bad as me, but she didn’t have it all that great either. Being a master of ice in a place that values mobility and trees isn’t exactly the best combination, I guess. But she decided that, instead of letting the doubters win, she’d try her best, do well, and show them all that she can hold her own. That’s what she told me, at least. It sounds reasonable, now if only she knew she didn’t have to try to be the best at everything.

I also told her about my own past, about how I was forced to move to Relédiaka from my home in Nimaliaka, without any of my family, or friends… she didn’t respond to it much at all. That is, she didn’t really say anything about it. I noticed she stopped calling me a loner though. Well, not as often, at least. She’s starting to mellow out, too, I think. She hasn’t been as insistent on being the best at everything, not since getting stuck on the forest floor. Not sure if that’s an effort on her part to actually be a better person, or just some leftover shock. If she keeps it up, she could actually be decent company one day.

I guess I could make some efforts to change, too. I’ve kept to myself a lot these past five and a half months, I guess I should make some effort to be more social. I mean, if the try-hard can change, then it can’t be that hard, right?

I’ll think about that later. For now, the captain’s coming through. Time to sign off.

-Siyuakén


Present Day

– Mondia, Skydiath 2, 8034 –

“Hey guys.”

“Oh, Siyuakén.” Kievkenalis glanced toward the Electrotechnic as she stepped into the room. “What brings you here?”

“Rebehka wanted to talk to me,” Siyuakén replied as she looked down at Kievkenalis’s arms. The Chaostechnic was bed-bound and his arms were immobilized in casts up to his shoulders, giving him a painfully stiff appearance. “Are you feeling any better?”

“It doesn’t hurt, at least, but I don’t know if that’s because it’s healed or if it’s because of the drugs.” He sighed. “If this were just a regular dislocation, I’d have been out yesterday, but Christeané didn’t really re-locate my shoulders all that well… I don’t blame him though, we were in the middle of battle, and he, well… he’s a lot worse off than any of us.”

“I heard it was something like a full-body fracture?…”

“It almost was, but his armor’s energy shielding actually held some things together. He was… mostly intact. The Earthians didn’t have the right technology to properly stabilize him, though, and a couple days passed before reaching Nimalian care, so his skeleton is as good as shot. Last I heard, they’re going through with a composite replacement. Full-scale operation to replace almost every bone in his body.”

“That’s… pretty bad.”

“I’ll say. It’s even worse since he’s a Forcetechnic. They had to move him to a facility with an industrial-grade laser cutter, just to pierce his skin… Though, his inherent durability was the only thing holding him together. If they did normal Chaotic surgery and stuck him in a CENT field, he would probably fall apart like a bag of sand. As is, if we had gotten him back here even a day or two later, he would’ve been completely fucked.”

“Heeeey, that’s a bad word, don’t say that.”

Siyuakén paused and glanced over at Kaoné, who was sitting in a hospital bed across the room and staring at Kievkenalis deliriously. “Oh, Kaoné, you’re up—”

“Huh?” The Materiatechnic squinted at Siyuakén. “…Do I know you?”

“…Uh…” Siyuakén glanced back at Kievkenalis uneasily.

“Head trauma after being knocked out by Morcii,” the Chaostechnic whispered, “she’ll be fine in a day or two, but until then she’ll be a bit of an amnesiac. Combination of the drugs and the healing wound.” He then turned his attention to Kaoné as he spoke up, “of course you know her. She’s Siyuakén.”

“See you a kin? What does that mean?”

“No, that’s not— …what do you remember?”

“Remember what?”

“That’s what I’m asking.”

“What am I supposed to remember?”

“Anything.”

“…What was the question?”

Kievkenalis turned to give Siyuakén an exasperated look. “This is what I’ve had to deal with for the past twenty-four hours.” He then shrugged. “I guess it could be worse. Things like this are exactly what Assist is for. If I hadn’t opened the battle with that move, we’d all be worse off, I’m sure…”

“…If you say so,” Siyuakén replied. “Anyways, where is Rebehka?”

“Right here.” The Cryotechnic limped around the corner, walking through an open doorway on the opposite side of the room from the entrance Siyuakén had used before stopping to lean on a crutch. “So you finally showed up. You kept me waiting for a while!”

“Sorry…” the Electrotechnic responded sheepishly. She then looked down at Rebehka’s left knee. “How is it?”

“Oh, my knee?” Rebehka slowly moved her leg back and forth, her movements restricted by the mechanical cast bound to her knee. “I can walk on it, thanks to the powered cast and the crutch, but it’s still a little painful. Jogging or running is out of the question.”

“Wait, I remember, you asked me a question!” Kaoné suddenly exclaimed, sitting up straight and staring at Kievkenalis. After several moments, though, her expression faltered. “…What was it, again?”

“I can’t wait to be out of here,” the Chaostechnic deadpanned.

Siyuakén smirked in response to the exchange before turning her attention back to Rebehka. “You wanted to talk to me?”

“Yeah. Come on. We can walk around the med center courtyard while we talk.” The Cryotechnic slowly turned back through the doorway as Siyuakén crossed the room.

“…You did ask me a question, right?” Kaoné muttered as the two women left the room.

“…No, Kaoné.” Kievkenalis sighed irately. “Go to sleep.”

Siyuakén smiled in amusement as the two bed-bound Chaotics fell out of earshot. “How long have they been like that?”

“At least since Ligdia night.” Rebehka rolled her eyes. “It was funny at first, but now Kaoné’s amnesia is just annoying. I’ll be glad when she’s back to normal. …In fact, I’ll be glad when everyone’s back to normal,” she added as the two women stepped outside into the afternoon sunlight.

“Back to normal…” Siyuakén echoed hollowly.

Rebehka glanced at her friend with concern before slowly limping toward one of the courtyard paths through the trees. “I guess this brings us to what I wanted to talk about.”

“Wha… what? Here?” Siyuakén quickly stepped forward and fell into stride alongside Rebehka. “Rebehka, this—!”

“Relax. The only monitoring equipment in the courtyard are cameras; no microphones. I checked earlier.”

“…You’re sure?”

“Of course I’m sure, why would I lie?” Rebehka passed Siyuakén a concerned glance. “How are you feeling?”

“…I’m fine.”

“It’s the middle of summer,” the Cryotechnic replied incredulously. “How are you feeling ‘fine’ in a jacket and gloves?”

Siyuakén tugged uncomfortably at the aforementioned articles before looking away, toward the small pond in the middle of the courtyard. “It’s not that hot. Nimaliaka Central is farther from the equator than Lédia is.”

“Not by much. Even so, you know that isn’t the only thing that determines climate.”

“Hn.”

“How much worse is it? The… infection?”

“…It’s covered my entire arm, fingertips to shoulder. It’s on my chest, too. And my neck.” Siyuakén rubbed her neck uncomfortably. “Another week, and it’ll be up to my face…”

“Has it gotten any worse since… well, since the Nanocreatures appeared?”

“A… a little. But it was getting this bad anyways. I never had much time in the first place…”

“Don’t say that. If anything, you have a better chance of overcoming it now than before!”

“How does that begin to make sense?”

“We know what the metallic infection really is now. And now that we know that, we can start figuring out how to actually stop it,” Rebehka replied optimistically. “The most obvious solution is to just destroy Morcii and see what happens.”

Destroy Morcii? Rebehka, were you not there when he crushed us?”

“I never said we had to. If we can find him on some other planet then we just have to throw a few orbital bombardment rounds at him. No one can survive a good glassing.”

“No one’s ever fought the Nanocreatures before.”

“True. But he didn’t completely crush us. You and Kevérin got out with relatively few injuries, after all.”

“And Morcii got out with none.”

“Siyuakén…”

“Have you not been hearing the news, Rebehka? They’ve attacked three of the CSA Transpace Worlds, and the CSA is losing. If they can’t do anything, then we don’t stand a chance.”

“That’s not true. We still have time to come up with a solution. And, we have the Ayas! Four of them, at least. I don’t think it’s too far-fetched to think that we can come up with a way to beat the Nanocreatures… or at least a way to hold them at bay.”

“…”

“Trust me, Siyuakén. We’ll find a way to help you. I’ll find a way to help you. That’s what I’m here for.”

“…There is another way you could help me… and everyone else, too.”

“What is it?”

“If… if I do end up losing to the corruption—”

“No. No, you won’t. It won’t happen. I won’t let it.”

“Rebehka, it’s not that simple—”

“Didn’t you hear what I told you back when I first found out you were infected? Even if your body loses, I’ll just take your brain and store it until we can make you a new body. You’ll be fine!”

“In any other context, that would actually sound pretty creepy.”

“Maybe, but I mean it. I won’t let you lose. I won’t lose you. And that’s that.”

“…Do you really think you can do it?”

“Of course I do. Come on, Siyuakén, you know me. I wouldn’t say it if I didn’t mean it.”

“You’re reminding me of back when we first met.”

“Heh, well, if regressing back to my ‘try-hard’ stage is what it takes to save you, then I’ll do it. Then we can become friends all over again! It’s the perfect plan.”

“Ha, alright, if you say so.”

“I do say so.”

“…Thanks, Rebehka.” Siyuakén turned to embrace her friend.

“Ha! Don’t worry about it.” The Cryotechnic returned the gesture with her free arm. “It’s what best friends are for.”


Timestamp: 8033, Nimath 22, 21:39

Journal Header: East Nimaliaka Research Trip, Northern Deepsough Region, Day 3

It’s the third night that Rebehka and I have been in East Nimaliaka, but I wish it were still the first. Everything is so… different here. I guess environment can really change how a culture develops, huh? Relédiaka is all dense forest and huge trees, but East Nimaliaka is almost entirely plains, and it seems like the people here are accordingly more carefree and freedom-loving than people back in Relédiaka. It’s really refreshing. It also makes me wonder what it’s like back in Nimaliaka, where there’s forest, plains, and mountains a plenty

The East Nimaliakian liaison that was assigned to us, that Christeané guy, he’s a pretty laid-back person. He’s made a couple jokes at Rebehka’s and my expense, but he responded well when we replied with some jokes at his own. He’s also shown us around town, pointed out most of the attractions that we can see here. I think I could like him, if only he took his work a little more seriously. Getting to see the sights is fun and all, definitely, but it’s not the reason we’re here. It’s no wonder East Nimaliaka called for a couple of Relédiakians to investigate their metallic infection problem; it seems like no one here cares enough to do it themselves.

On that subject, though, what we’ve found is somewhat concerning. Rebehka managed to catch one of the infected animals earlier today and move it to cryogenic stasis, but it suddenly became active again and almost destroyed the pod before it came fully online. She had to completely freeze it through to stop it. Suffice to say we can’t study that one anymore, not alive. We need to get our hands on faster-freezing stasis pods, it would seem. And, of course, we’ve yet to actually learn anything more about the infection. We still don’t know what causes it, when it first appeared, if there’s any other symptoms beside the rashes and the increase in ferocity… it’s all so frustrating. I hope we reach a breakthrough soon. I hate being in the dark.

-Siyuakén


Present Day

Textual Communication Log 80340602-001

Beginning Timestamp: 8034, Skydiath 2, 14:50

Communication length: 00:21

Participant Alpha: Transfer Captain Kevérin Tyrion

Participant Beta: Prior Aegis Arcán

– Begin Log –

Tyrion: I’m back.

Arcán: I demand to know why I have been further isolated from your computer systems!

Tyrion: It’s a precaution. With everything that’s gone down recently, some of the higher-ups have gotten a little wary.

Arcán: They removed my ability to communicate by voice!

Tyrion: I guess they’re paranoid?

Arcán: They underestimate my power. And my relevance. You do, as well. Do not think that I haven’t noticed that you are withholding information from me. Exactly what has “gone down recently”?

Tyrion: Alright then, let’s get straight to business. Does the term “Nanocreature” mean anything to you?

Arcán: Where did you hear that?

Tyrion: It’s the apparent name of the metallic infection.

Arcán: That is not what I asked. Who told you the name, “Nanocreature”?

Tyrion: It was some guy named Morcii. He claimed to be their leader.

Arcán: Morcii has returned? Did you stop him?

Tyrion: No. He scared off Exdominor and Surdeus and stomped my team before we escaped.

Arcán: This is grave news, indeed. Where did you encounter him? Do you know why he appeared?

Tyrion: He said something about freeing the Morikai. I think he showed up where he did because of the Ayas.

Arcán: An Ayas? Which one? Did you protect it from him?

Tyrion: It was the light blue one. And no.

Arcán: The Ayas Arcán?! And you let him escape with it?! Are you mad?!

Tyrion: There was nothing we could do. He was too strong.

Arcán: Surely you at least attempted to use the Chaos State?

Tyrion: We didn’t.

Arcán: You fool! You always use the Chaos State against Morcii! Even if it does not provide enough power to defeat him, it will nonetheless seal the Ayas within the user and prevent Morcii from stealing them! The advantages are obvious!

Tyrion: We had only just learned of the Chaos State from Mystryth, we don’t know how to activate it.

Arcán: You met Mystryth? The Prior Vigilem Mystryth?

Tyrion: On Rossindon, near the supposed hypocenter of the Chaos Energy Quake, yes.

Arcán: You visited Rossindon two weeks ago! Why was I not informed of this meeting?!

Tyrion: We know nothing about you except that you call yourself a Prior, whatever that is. You can’t expect us to instantly trust you on your word alone.

Arcán: Of what topics did Mystryth speak to you?

Tyrion: If I remember correctly, she mostly just talked about the Aldredas and the Morikai. She also said some things about the Ayas. She clammed up when we mentioned the metallic infection, though.

Arcán: Did you ask her about repairing my core?

Tyrion: She said that she could fix it if we brought it and some of the Ayas to her, but we can’t do that now, for political reasons.

Arcán: Political reasons?!?

Tyrion: We also have the Ayas constantly on the move, to prevent them from being easily sought out. I don’t think the Commander would approve of them all being in the same place for very long, not with the Nanocreatures attacking everything.

Arcán: You ignorant, incompetent fools! The Chaos Ayas are the very keys to defeating Morcii and his Nanocreatures! You have no hope of stopping him without them. Treating them as mere objects to protect will simply lead to Morcii obliterating you entirely as he searches for them!

Tyrion: Alright then, how would you suggest we stop the Nanocreatures? I’m all ears. Or eyes.

Arcán: [no response for two minutes]

Tyrion: Arcán?

Arcán: Yes. Sorry. It would appear that the actual key to defeating Morcii is inaccessible to me.

Tyrion: You mean you can’t access it because your core is damaged.

Arcán: Yes.

Tyrion: Damn it, Arcán. Don’t get mad at us for not knowing how to stop the Nanocreatures if you yourself don’t even have the answer!

Arcán: That is incorrect, I do in fact possess the answer. My core simply needs to be repaired.

Tyrion: Well we’ll be right on that. Just as soon as we can take an Ayas back from the Nanocreatures. I don’t suppose you have any advice there?

Arcán: No. But I can tell you how to activate the Chaos State. That should at least give you an edge.

Tyrion: I’m listening.

Arcán: Activating the Chaos State requires a set of keywords, much like Overdrives or Chaostechnic attacks. The formula is simple: “Chaos State: ___ Tier” where the blank is filled with the ordinal number corresponding to how many Ayas you wish to enter the state with. For example, if you have two Ayas, then using both would require the keyword activation phrase “Chaos State: Second Tier”. Furthermore, if you wish to utilize the Ayas Syn, then you must insert the keyword “Master” in between “State” and the ordinal. In the previous example, this would yield “Chaos State: Master Second Tier”.

Tyrion: That seems complicated.

Arcán: It is necessary to have full control over the Chaos State.

Tyrion: Why can’t we just concentrate really hard? That’s how it always goes in stories.

Arcán: That sounds ridiculous. How would pure concentration achieve anything? Are you talking about Psychotechnism?

Tyrion: Not quite. Just forget I said anything.

Arcán: You Aldredanoids can be so confusing.

Tyrion: Is there anything else you can tell me about the Ayas? About Morcii?

Arcán: If you have already discussed this topic with Mystryth then there is nothing that I can add. Not with my core damaged as it is.

Tyrion: I see. Well, if that is it, then I have other things I need to tend to.

Arcán: Wait.

Tyrion: What?

Arcán: Morcii cannot be allowed to possess all of the Ayas under any circumstance.

Tyrion: We’re aware.

Arcán: Just know: however powerful you think Morcii is, increase that tenfold. A hundredfold. A thousandfold, even. And yet he is more powerful than even that. Do not underestimate him.

Tyrion: Trust me, we won’t.

Arcán: Very well, Aldredanoid. Do keep me apprised. And good luck.

Tyrion: Thanks. We’ll need it.

– End Log –


Timestamp: 8034, Nimath 10, 15:12

Journal Header: Hope I don’t regret this…

 I’m currently on a ship back to Nimaliaka after spending half a week in the deserts of Treséd. I don’t really know what to expect. I haven’t been to Nimaliaka in eleven years. I don’t know if I have any real attachments to it anymore. I’m traveling with the girl who I got traded for, though. I don’t know how I feel about that. Kaoné Densalin. Apparently she’s a Materiatechnic. So I guess, logically, I can see why the trade was carried out. I mean, having a Cryotechnic and a Materiatechnic vs. an Electrotechnic is considerably more imbalanced than a Cryotechnic and an Electrotechnic vs. a Materiatechnic. But it just doesn’t sit right with me. It never has. People are willing to move ten-year-olds from their homes just to balance some marginal military power? It’s bullshit. And to top it off, I don’t even know if Kaoné’s benefited at all from this. She sounds like an overly naive idealist. I can’t believe I got traded for her…

At least, by joining this Hero Machina group I should be able to look into the metallic infection more deeply. Apparently, our stated goal is to look into the Chaos Energy Quake, which is interesting, but it’s not quite what I want to learn about. But there are various pieces of information that suggest the infection is somehow tied to the Quake, so hopefully I’ll find something. Hopefully Rebehka agrees, but she’s off on the Continental Glacier right now so I can’t really contact her.

Then there’s the two guys. The Captain, Kevérin, he doesn’t seem too bad. A little on the annoying side, maybe, but he seems to know what he’s doing, for the most part. Davídrius, though… I don’t know what to think about him. He’s a Tresédian. He can hold his own in a fight, but I don’t know if there’s anything else good about him. His temper is almost non-existent, he has a major chip on his shoulder about the other nations ignoring Treséd’s condition, and he can barely go two sentences without swearing. When we first met him, and saw the situation he was in… I guess he reminded me of my old self? Except, more extreme, like if I had been completely stripped of my family from birth, was the only capable Chaotic in the whole region, and had no one around to temper my attitude. So not really all that like me at all. Now that I think about it, I’m not really sure what I was thinking. I guess, he’s the kind of person I might be if I hadn’t met Rebehka? He had a shitty childhood, that’s for sure, even worse than mine. But, that said, I don’t know if that excuses the way he is now. He seems like he could be a liability. I hope trusting him doesn’t turn out to be a mistake…

– Siyuakén


Present Day

– Mondia, Skydiath 2, 8034 –

“Damn it, why the fuck am I the one he drags back to work… fuckin’ everyone else, gettin’ off easy just ‘cause they’re injured an’ shit…”

Davídrius glared at the screen in front of him and sat back in his chair, wincing as the action caused a minor twinge of pain to shoot through his chest. He glanced around the rest of the Hero Machina office, noting how none of the other desks were filled before sighing, grumbling to himself, and turning his attention back to the screen.

“Davídrius?”

“Eh?” He looked up as Siyuakén poked her head through the office door. “What’re you doin’ here? Kevérin call you back, too?”

“Not quite…” the Electrotechnic replied as she stepped into the room and closed the door behind her. She then crossed the room and took a seat at Christeané’s desk, next to Davídrius. “Rebehka wanted to talk to me.”

“…Okay? Sounds great. Dunno why you’re tellin’ me, though.”

“Why am I telling you…”

Davídrius stared at Siyuakén in confusion. “You okay? You seem a little off.”

“No, I’m fine… for now.”

“’For now?’”

“…It’s a long story.”

“Hmph. If you say so.”

Siyuakén responded with silence, staring off into space as she gathered her thoughts. Davídrius stared at her for another couple moments before shrugging and turning back to his console.

“Remember Sunova?”

“Huh?” The Velocitechnic turned back to Siyuakén. “…What, that Earthian colony? With the bugs an’ the dragon an’ shit?”

Siyuakén nodded absentmindedly, still staring into space. “You know, I thought you were just full of yourself back then.”

“’Back then?’ That was only three an’ a half months ago.”

“I know, but it feels like three times that…”

Davídrius cocked his head, his brow furrowed with confusion. “…You sure you’re okay?”

“Ha.” She snorted and hung her head. “If I was okay, I’d be at home right now.”

“Uh, right…”

A few moments passed before Siyuakén looked over at Davídrius, her head still down. “…Hey, Davídrius? Can I ask you a favor?”

He returned her look uneasily. “…What is it?”

“If… if something goes wrong… can I trust you to just end it?”

“Huh? The fuck are you on about?”

“If something happens to me, can you… can you stop me?”

“Stop you…?” Davídrius echoed quietly, and then snorted and shook his head. “Hmph. Sounds like Rebehka’s job.”

“Right, Rebehka’s job…” Siyuakén sighed and began looking around the room absentmindedly. “If only…”

“Eh? Did somethin’ happen between you two?”

“No, no, nothing happened. …I almost wonder if that’s the problem.”

“What? That… what’s goin’ on?”

Siyuakén paused for several moments, turning to stare at Davídrius before shaking her head and looking away again. “No, it’s nothing. Forget I said anything. I just need some rest. We’ve been pretty busy lately…”

“You can say that again.” The Velocitechnic sighed wearily, watching the Electrotechnic stand up and head for the office door. “…Hey, Siyuakén.”

She stopped at the door, half-turning to face Davídrius again.

“If somethin’s up, you can tell me,” he commented, and then scratched his head uncomfortably. “I, uh. I hope I’m not gettin’ ahead of myself, but, you know. Rebehka may be your best friend, but she’s not your only friend. You know, all of Hero Machina, that is. So, if you need to talk. And not even just me, I get not wantin’ to talk to me, but the others…”

“Heh.” Siyuakén smiled in response. “Thanks… but I’m fine.”

“Well, good. But remember what I said. Mostly ‘cause you’ll never hear me say it again.”

“Don’t worry, I will.” The Electrotechnic turned back toward the door, opening it and stepping out. “Goodbye, Davídrius.”

“Yeah, see ya later,” he responded, watching her close the door behind her. He stared at the door for a few moments before turning back to his console, muttering to himself. “Fuckin’ damn it, getting’ all sentimental an’ shit. I needa go beat somethin’ up now. Blegh…”


Timestamp: 8034, Nimath 29, 20:36

Journal Header: Fuck

I’m fucked. I don’t… I don’t know what to do. It’s, I, aaaahhh! Fuck me!

I’m infected. I have the metallic infection. It’s on my left arm, a silver rash, just like, just like all the other cases I’ve seen. Fuck! What do I do? There’s no known cure for it. For all we know you just, I don’t know, you just go feral and die. Maybe worse, if the Sunova and Hazard Island incidents have anything to do with the metallic infection. In both those cases, it seemed like there was a critical case that eventually just straight-up turned into those fucking metal bugs. Is that going to happen to me? I can’t, I don’t want that. I can’t have that!

At least I can hold it off. Applying a current to the rash seems to, I don’t know, kill some of it off? It shrinks, anyways. Doesn’t disappear completely, but it shrinks. Thank the heavens I’m an Electrotechnic. I don’t know if I should tell anyone, though. I think if I told anyone, I’d just get locked up and quarantined. I’d be a lab rat. Or I’d just be shot, I don’t know. As far as I know there hasn’t been a case of a sentient being getting infected, so I guess that makes me patient zero, but… I can’t tell anyone. I’d just get locked up. Staying with Hero Machina is my best bet for finding a cure, I’m sure of it. Sorry, Rebehka, I hope you can understand. Don’t really want her to panic, either. She can’t do anything about it, so no sense worrying her by telling her. At least, I shouldn’t make things worse by not telling people. The metallic infection isn’t airborne, so as long as I don’t touch anyone…

How did this even happen? Was it the wound from Sunova? That has to have been it. It was the closest to the infection I’ve ever been. Hell, the damn bug created an open wound, that’s just about worst case scenario when it comes to infections. Just… fuck it all! I hope I find a cure for this, and soon. Who knows how much time I have…

-Siyuakén


Present Day

– Mondia, Skydiath 2, 8034 –

“Da… Davídrius? What are you doing here?”

“What am I doin’ here?” The Velocitechnic stared at Kevérin blankly as he froze in the doorway to the office. “The hell do you mean, ‘what am I doin’ here?’ You told me to come in!”

“I know, but I never thought you actually would!”

“What—! You even sent me a bunch of shit to do!”

“That was just wishful thinking! I was fully expecting you to just stay home.”

“…You motherfucker! Don’t give out fuckin’ orders if you ain’t bein’ serious.” Davídrius scowled. “Well, at least I was just about to go home. Damn. Waste my whole fuckin’ afternoon… ‘least now I have an excuse to walk ‘round the city outskirts during the sunset…”

“Sorry,” Kevérin apologized sheepishly. “I didn’t mean to bother you. I guess I just got a little frustrated.”

Davídrius sighed wearily. “…Can’t blame you for that, I guess. Not entirely, at least. Considerin’ everythin’ that’s been happenin’ lately…”

“Yeah. Who would’ve thought we’d live to see the end of days,” Kevérin joked bitterly.

“Ha, the end of days. Now that’d be a real sight.” Davídrius smirked, and then frowned. “But… actually. That Morcii guy… do you think we can beat him?”

Kevérin sighed as he fell back into the chair behind his desk. “You saw what happened to us when we tried to fight him.”

“No, not us. I mean the whole fuckin’ galaxy. Do you think we stand a chance?”

“That’s hard to say. It hasn’t even been a full week, so we don’t know the full extent of what the Nanocreatures can do. But what we do know is that they’ve launched attacks on three different Transpace Worlds and have already almost taken one of them…”

“Fuck… and that’s just the regular Nanocreatures, right? Has anyone else seen Morcii?”

“He’s sent a few messages to the CSA fleets and the galaxy in general, with the same ‘I’m going to take over the galaxy and free the Morikai’ message he told us. As far as I know, though, no one else has fought him, or tried to fight him. There’s no way of knowing what all of his abilities are…”

“Well, he’s at least strong enough to fuckin’ break Christeané.” Davídrius snorted bitterly. “…How’s he doin’?”

“They sent him to one of the Introtechnic facilities in Tekdecé for a majority-skeletal replacement.”

“Shit, that bad?”

“Seems like it. I don’t know how, but Morcii dealt him a devastating blow… which leads me to wonder, why Christeané? He’s a Forcetechnic; aside from maybe you, he’s the most physically durable of us all. So why was he the only one to get hurt so badly?”

“I’ve thought about it too, an’ I really don’t know… I think the only answer is that Morcii was tryin’ to drive home how much of an advantage he had. What better way to do that than to completely destroy the physically strongest person on our team?”

“Why didn’t he ‘completely destroy’ anyone else, then? Did he hold back when he hit you in the chest? Kaoné in the face? Rebehka in the knee? Everyone else is recovering just fine…”

“Maybe he was. Maybe he just wanted to send a message. ‘I’m more powerful than you, I can do what I want, there’s nothin’ you can do to stop me’ kinda thing. He seemed like a right ol’ megalomaniac, I’m sure that’s up his alley.”

“Nothing we can do… that’s something we need to change, and soon.”

“Hah. Easier said than done.” Davídrius sighed again as he stood up, grasping his chest as slight pain ran through it. “Shit, maybe I should drop by the med center again. See if they have any pain meds…”

“Be careful. Last thing we need is for you to suddenly break, too,” Kevérin replied.

“Yeah, yeah, I’ll be careful. I promise I won’t try to fight any evil megalomaniacs for the next couple days.”

The Transfer Captain watched the Velocitechnic head toward the exit before suddenly speaking up again. “Wait, Davídrius, I had a question for you.”

“Yeah?” He paused in front of the door and turned to face Kevérin. “What is it?”

“Have you seen Siyuakén lately?”

“Yeah, actually. She dropped by a couple hours ago. Said a bunch of nonsense before leavin’. Why d’ya ask?”

“I’m… concerned about her. She seemed upset earlier, when I tried asking about her Ayas-sensing abilities.”

“I dunno if I’d say upset, but somethin’ felt a little off, aye. D’ya want me to drop by her place on the way home, check on her or somethin’?”

“…No, I don’t think that’ll be necessary. I’ll check on her tomorrow morning… failing that, I’ll see if Rebehka can talk to her again.”

“Sounds good. Tell me if you need my help. Just don’t send me a graphic image album in the same fuckin’ message. Or at all.”

Kevérin smirked. “Heh. Duly noted.”

“Aight.” Davídrius turned back to the door, opening it and stepping out. “Talk to ya later. I’m out.”


Timestamp: 8034, Beauth 33, 20:04

Journal Header: She found out.

So much for hiding the infection. I guess Rebehka figured it out at some point. She barged in on me last night while I was taking a shower and looked straight for the infection. She was understandably irritated at first, but she seemed to get over it quickly. She said she just wants to help. I figured as much, but I didn’t want to give her the burden of worrying about this. She certainly seems sure that we’ll find a cure, though. I want to believe her. I really do. But I don’t know if it’s actually that easy…

It’s getting worse. Before the attack on Kotak, the rashes were manageable. I could zap them and they’d recede. They’d grow back a little longer each time, but it seemed like a solution for the time being. But after encountering the bugs on Kotak, it’s just gotten worse. The rashes won’t recede as far, they grow back even longer, and the current I have to apply is getting dangerous, even to me. If I apply any more I’ll start giving myself serious burns. I need a cure, and I need it fast…

I want to agree with Rebehka. I want to be as hopeful as she is. But I don’t think I can…

-Siyuakén


Present Day

– Mondia, Skydiath 2, 8034 –

Ssssss-chk.

Siyuakén exhaled deeply as she turned off the shower and stepped out of the small cell-like space. She stretched briefly before grabbing a nearby towel and beginning to dry herself off, while glancing back at the shower and sighing. With Rebehka still stuck in the base’s medical center, Siyuakén was left in their apartment all alone and with nothing to do.

“Oh, I was just— I was just wondering how you learned to be so good.”

Siyuakén smirked bitterly as the memory suddenly popped into her head. Back when we were the try-hard and the loner, huh. You’d almost think we’d never actually changed, given our reactions to the infection… She shook her head of the thought and slipped into her soft pants and shirt that she always used to sleep in.

It was the crowd, I swear. They threw me off. I’m not used to interacting with so many people.

She faltered slightly before reaching for the bathroom door and opening it. I guess even that much hasn’t changed… she thought bitterly as she tossed her towel to the side and moved to her bedroom. I’m still keeping secrets to myself, even after all this time. I guess I haven’t changed as much as I thought I had… She shook her head again, clearing it as she sat down on her bed and slowly looked over her room.

She decided that, instead of letting the doubters win, she’d try her best, do well, and show them all that she can hold her own.

So why can’t I…? Siyuakén frowned as she glanced down at her left arm. Her arm was completely covered by the rash, giving it a silver, metallic shine, and a cold touch — as though her skin had been completely replaced by metal. I miss the old days. Playing with the animals back in Unonin, or competing with Rebehka back in conscription boot camp, or working with her in research

Everything is sodifferent here.

“Argh, why did it all get so difficult?!” She threw herself backwards, lying haphazardly across her sheets with her face to the ceiling. Now everything I do is so important! Find the Ayas, figure out the Chaos Quake, learn about the metallic infection… back when I joined Hero Machina, I thought I could make a difference. I thought I could learn things. And what did that get me? It got me infected. What was I thinking?!

Now that I think about it, I’m not really sure what I was thinking.

Why now? Siyuakén slowly sat up again, frustrated with her busy mind. Why am I remembering all this now? Is it—? “Guagh—!” She suddenly winced and cried out as a distinct, sharp pain shot through her arm before being replaced with a deep, throbbing sensation. “What is this—!?” she muttered through clenched teeth as she quickly sent several massive shocks through her body — to no avail. Damn it! She scowled, ripping off her shirt to glare at the rashes, only to see that they had spread even farther across her chest and down her side.

How did this even happen?

She inhaled sharply and wrenched her eyes shut as pain shot through her entire body. “Not… now…” she muttered in between ragged breaths, taking all of her effort to withstand the sudden storm of pain that ravaged her body. “I… can’t lose…!” Several arcs of lightning jumped from her arm and chest to random items within her room as she shoved as much current through her body as she could stand, all in an effort to counteract the suddenly hostile infection.

I want to agree with Rebehka. I want to be as hopeful as she is. But I don’t think I can…

“I’m… sorry.” Siyuakén instinctively curled into a fetal position, unable to continue shooting current through her body as the concentration required for doing so was broken by the incredible pain. “I… can’t…”

Rebehka smirked. “I won’t let you die. I also won’t let you lose to the infection. You have my word.”

..

.

The visage of a tanned man briefly appeared, his maroon long coat slowly fluttering in the wind as his smirk transformed into a gleeful grin.

“AND NOW… YOU BELONG TO ME.”

 

End of Chapter 50 — End of Known: Corruption

Chapter 49 – Reveal of Known: Nanocreatures

Without so much as a moment’s notice Morcii lunged forward, crossing the ground between himself and Hero Machina in the blink of an eye. Davídrius immediately reacted, jumping to intercept the Nanocreature leader and block him with his swords, only to have the weapons obliterated under the force of Morcii’s fists. The Velocitechnic quickly followed up by snapping his right knee up into Morcii’s gut, throwing off his trajectory as he flipped over and onto the ground. Kaoné took advantage of the opening to transmute the atmosphere under the holes in the ceiling to a steel ramp which Hero Machina used to flee from the room, with Kaoné constantly forming an aerial walkway toward the outer reaches of the facility as Kevérin and Rebehka knocked away the metallic bugs with their powers.

“There go the Drakkars!” Kevérin exclaimed with a scowl, glancing over as the two faction leaders leaped through the ceiling holes and began fleeing from the scene on their own.

“We need to make like them and get out of here!” Christeané exclaimed, glancing over his shoulder at Davídrius as he attempted to fend off Morcii. “Contact the Earthians already!”

“I’ve tried—!” the Pyrotechnic replied, but found himself interrupted as Davídrius was suddenly flung into the group of Chaotics, knocking them off of Kaoné’s midair platform and to the barren ground below. The seven Chaotics landed scattered across the ground, left to recover from the impact as Morcii landed in the midst of them himself.

“DON’T FOOL YOURSELVES INTO THINKING THAT YOU CAN ESCAPE ME,” he declared, “I AM FULLY AWARE OF YOUR LEVEL OF TECHNOLOGY. THERE IS NOWHERE ON THIS PLANET YOU CAN GO TO EVADE MY FORCES, AND THERE IS NO WAY FOR YOU TO LEAVE THIS PLANET WITHOUT YOUR TRANSPORT CRAFT FALLING INTO MY HANDS!”

“That’s what you think…” Kevérin muttered as he subtly activated his armor’s distress beacon.

“SUCH A BEACON WILL SERVE YOU NO PURPOSE,” Morcii taunted, revealing his ability to detect the signal. “IF YOU SIMPLY HAND ME THE CHAOS AYAS, THEN I WILL MAKE YOUR DEATHS QUICK AND PAINLESS.”

“We’ve been threatened a lot lately, yet here we still are,” Davídrius retorted as he drew and brandished his remaining two blades. “What’ve you got that those Drakkar leaders didn’t, eh?”

Morcii’s eye glinted. “I POSSESS THE ABILITY TO BACK MY WORDS.”

“That’s what they all say—!?” The Velocitechnic snapped his mouth shut as he switched focus to blocking a sudden attack from Morcii. Kievkenalis immediately called out “Chaos Assist” before launching several Chaos attacks at Morcii, forcing him to flip away from Davídrius to evade the attacks. The Nanocreature spun around in the air as he transformed his arms into laser cannons and returned fire, immediately turning the tides on Kievkenalis and forcing him to duck away as Kaoné attempted to block the lasers with a variety of different materials. The moment Morcii returned to the ground, he transformed his cannons back into hands and then summoned several smaller Nanocreatures from within the facility, their metallic bodies zipping through the air until six of them hovered above Morcii’s head. They then transformed into even more laser cannons, targeting and relentlessly firing at the other members of Hero Machina as Morcii himself lunged for Kievkenalis. The Chaostechnic quickly called out “Chaos Fortified Armor,” but was too slow to evade the Nanocreature leader as he smashed his fist into Kievkenalis’s face, instantly dissolving the Chaos Energy aura that the armor consisted of. While the Chaostechnic stumbled back from the attack, Morcii slammed his other fist into his chest, causing Kievkenalis’s powered armor’s shielding to flare up. The Nanocreature leader moved to punch Kievkenalis again but was suddenly flipped backwards as a slab of ice formed under him and snapped upward. Davídrius dashed by just as the laser cannon targeting him fired, causing the laser to instead hit Morcii — only to cause no damage at all. After flipping midair and landing on the ground again, Morcii leaned forward and took off after Davídrius, only to be intercepted and knocked aside by Christeané’s battlehammers. He rolled along the ground before stopping himself and jumping to his feet, ignoring a fire blast as he set his eyes on the nearest Chaotic: Siyuakén. She was still dealing with the floating laser cannons and did not see Morcii coming until he was right on top of her, decking her across the jaw and knocking her to the ground. He immediately jumped on top of her and drew his fist back, prepared to smash it into her face before he suddenly stopped… and grinned sadistically.

“I SEE…” He chuckled. “…SO… YOU’RE ALREADY ONE OF MINE…!”

Siyuakén’s eyes widened in alarm before she let out an incredible electric blast, forcing Morcii back and obliterating two of the floating laser cannons. The Electrotechnic quickly jumped back to her feet and stumbled away from Morcii, panting heavily.

“Who…” she muttered, “…what are you?!”

“I HAVE ALREADY INFORMED YOU, ALDREDANOID!” the Nanocreature leader replied condescendingly, pausing for a moment to extend an arm to his right and effortlessly knock away Davídrius, “I AM MORCII, COMMANDER OF THE NANOCREATURES — THE LEADER OF THE FORCE OF NATURE YOU KNOW AS THE ‘METALLIC INFECTION.’”

“That… doesn’t even make sense,” Kevérin countered as he glanced at his glasses’ HUD. Still no sign of the Genesis… might as well try to buy some time… “The infection is… well… an infection. You can’t ‘lead’ that! Not to mention you look nothing like anything metallic.”

“I WILL ADMIT THAT YOU ARE NOT ENTIRELY INCORRECT IN CLASSIFYING IT AS AN INFECTION… THOUGH THAT ALONE INDICATES A SURPRISING DISCONNECTION FROM THE PRIORS IN THIS ERA. THEY WOULD HAVE ASSUREDLY REFERRED TO IT AS ‘CORRUPTION.’”

“Corruption?”

“YOUR ORGANIC BRAIN MAY BE INFERIOR TO THE LIKES OF MY OWN, BUT I KNOW THAT YOU ARE AT LEAST CAPABLE OF DEDUCTION. DID I NOT CALL MY FORCES NANOCREATURES? DO YOU NOT UNDERSTAND THE CONCEPT OF NANOMACHINES?”

“…You’re made out of nanomachines?!”

“CORRECT!” Morcii smirked. “I WILL AT LEAST GIVE YOU THIS, ALDREDANOIDS; I’M SURE THE PRIORS WOULD BE MORE THAN WILLING TO DIVULGE SUCH INFORMATION ANYWAY, SHOULD YOU FIND ONE — AND I KNOW YOU HAVE. I, AND ALL OF MY FORCES, CONSIST OF NANOMACHINES AS OUR BASELINE COMPONENTS. THESE NANOMACHINES ALSO ENABLE ME TO CORRUPT AND SEIZE CONTROL OF ORGANIC AND INORGANIC BEINGS ALIKE… THE ‘METALLIC INFECTION’ AS YOU KNOW IT IS SIMPLY THE PREFACE TO MY APPEARANCE, THE VANGUARD FORCE, MEANT TO COLLECT ENOUGH CHAOS AYAS TO SUPPORT MY APPEARANCE IN THIS REALM!”

“…I’m not sure I follow?”

“YOUR ATTEMPT AT BUYING TIME IS PATHETICALLY TRANSPARENT, BUT I WILL NONETHELESS INDULGE YOU; EVEN SHOULD YOU ESCAPE ME TODAY, YOU WILL ALL FALL INTO MY HANDS EVENTUALLY…” He glanced toward Siyuakén. “SOONER OR LATER… YOU WILL ALL BELONG TO ME.”

“That’s a pretty bold claim to make,” Davídrius retorted, “I’d rather kill myself than let you control me, much less anyone else.”

“THEN YOU’D BEST DO SO NOW, BEFORE I REVEAL THAT IT WAS, IN FACT, ALL THANKS TO YOU THAT I WAS ABLE TO MANIFEST IN THIS FORM!”

The Velocitechnic scowled as he tightened his grip on his swords. “What?”

“I’M SURE YOU REMEMBER THE EVENT WELL.” Morcii’s smirk deepened into a malicious grin. “AN OUTBREAK ON THE PLANET YOU KNOW AS KOTAK…”

“…Where we lost the Ayas Hastryth to the metallic infection!” Kievkenalis finished, realization dawning on his features.

“…What’s that got to do with you, uh, manifesting?” Davídrius questioned warily.

“MY VANGUARD FORCES MUST COLLECT THREE OF THE CHAOS AYAS BEFORE THEY CAN ANCHOR MY BEING TO THIS REALM OF EXISTENCE. THEY WERE ABLE TO FIND TWO ON THEIR OWN, BUT THE REST HAD BEEN CLAIMED BY THE DRAKKARS OR VARIOUS ALDREDANOID FACTIONS… WITHOUT YOUR UTTER INABILITY TO CONTROL THE NATURE OF THE DARK AYAS HASTHRYTH, WITHOUT YOUR FLAWED EMOTIONS CAUSING YOU TO THROW IT AWAY, LEADING TO MY FORCES SUCCESSFULLY CLAIMING IT… I WOULD NOT BE HERE RIGHT NOW!”

“Bullshit!”

“IT IS THE TRUTH, AND YOU KNOW IT, ALDREDANOID! I STAND HERE BECAUSE OF YOUR OWN INCOMPETENCE; THE RETURN OF THE MORIKAI AND OUR REVENGE ON THIS PITIFUL GALAXY RESTS ENTIRELY IN YOUR HANDS!”

“You…! Fuck that, we’ll destroy you here!!” Davídrius roared, charging forward haphazardly and slashing at Morcii’s position faster than the rest of Hero Machina could have reacted. The Nanocreature leader took the slashes, two gashes appearing across his torso, before he turned to retaliate and blew Davídrius away by launching his fists as missiles at the Velocitechnic. The Nanocreature quickly reached his arms up and called two of the floating laser cannons back to him, where they attached to his arm stumps and formed a new set of hands. He then leaped straight up into the air just in time to avoid a simultaneous fire blast, ice pillar, and lightning strike. Kaoné immediately transformed the air surrounding Morcii into reinforced steel and attempted to smash the encasing into the ground, but the Nanocreature leader simply tore his way out of the metal sarcophagus before diving toward Kaoné, missing only because Kievkenalis jumped in the way and shouted, “Chaos Deflection!!

Flung to the side, Morcii flipped through the air several times before slamming his feet into the ground, thereby stopping all of his momentum. He then launched himself forward at Christeané, who quickly began countering with his battlehammers. Davídrius immediately joined and began attacking Morcii from the opposite side of Christeané, but despite being beset by both Introtechnics, the Nanocreature leader easily countered all of their attacks before suddenly snapping his arms out with enough force to shatter one of Davídrius’s swords and sever the tether of one of Christeané’s battlehammers. Before he could attack again, Siyuakén fired both of her grappling hooks at him, catching him by his shoulders and then forcing an immense current through the new circuit. Morcii was momentarily stunned just long enough for Kievkenalis to hit him with a Chaos Impact right as Siyuakén disengaged her grappling hooks, sending the Nanocreature leader tumbling along the ground. He quickly stopped himself and leaped back to his feet before lunging back at Hero Machina, but not before Kievkenalis jumped toward him, shouting, “Chaos BLAST!

The ensuing blast of energy created a fifty-meter crater that the Chaostechnic promptly dropped into. He quickly began looking for any sign of Morcii immediately after hitting the ground — only to be suddenly forced face-down into the dirt as he felt a foot on his back.

“YOUR ARMOR CAN PROTECT YOU FROM DIRECT TRAUMA…” Morcii muttered as he reached down and grabbed Kievkenalis’s wrists, “BUT CAN IT PROTECT YOU… FROM THIS?”

The Nanocreature leader suddenly yanked on the Chaostechnic’s arms, snapping them out of his shoulder sockets before the armor shielding flared up and prevented his arms from deforming further.

AAAGH!” Kievkenalis screamed in pain, instinctively attempting to curl away from Morcii as the Nanocreature’s grin widened. He raised his foot, prepared to stomp the Chaostechnic’s back before Davídrius bowled into him and knocked him away. Rebehka immediately followed up by encasing Morcii in ice and then dropping a massive ice pillar on him as Christeané rushed to Kievkenalis’s side.

“Arm… arms—!” the Chaostechnic muttered through clenched teeth.

“I know, I know, sit still!” Christeané responded urgently before grasping Kievkenalis’s left arm and shoulder and then snapping them back into place, eliciting a painful yelp. The Forcetechnic quickly snapped the right arm back into place as Kevérin rushed up behind him.

“Kevken!” the Transfer Captain shouted, “you need to pull back!”

Chaos Heal” Kievkenalis muttered, and then paused for a moment to take a deep breath before climbing back to his feet. He looked down at his hands and moved his fingers, and then clenched his fists as he glanced at the Ayas Arcán, stooping to pick it up after dropping it while calling Chaos Blast. “No… no, we need to stop that… that thing. Here and now. We can’t afford to allow him to leave this planet!”

“Easier said than done…” Kevérin replied warily as he watched Kievkenalis and Christeané dash off toward Morcii. “If this keeps up, he won’t be the one to lose…”

“Haaaaah!!” Davídrius roared, his foot slamming into Morcii and completely obliterating his left shoulder. The Nanocreature’s left arm collapsed to the ground but quickly split into two parts that both transformed into levitating blades, both of which began harassing the Velocitechnic and forced him to turn his attention away from Morcii. The Nanocreature leader lunged for Davídrius but instantly changed his course just in time to avoid being frozen in a chunk of ice; in the blink of an eye, he fired his right arm at Rebehka and simultaneously opened his chest cavity, exposing a large laser cannon which he used to sweep across the terrain and knock out the shields of Kaoné and Christeané. The Materiatechnic quickly repaired the shield units, but doing so distracted her from Morcii just long enough for him to leap at her and punch her in the gut, flinging her backwards and knocking out her shields again. She quickly retaliated by raising chunks of metal up and around Morcii’s legs, stopping him just long enough for Kevérin to charge in and blast him with high-temperature plumes of flame. Morcii simply took the attack, but the blasts superheated the metal bindings that Kaoné had raised — Rebehka immediately cooled the bindings and then rose thick ice pillars around them, anchoring Morcii to the ground.

“YOU FIGHT A LOSING BATTLE, ALDREDANOIDS!” Morcii taunted as he effortlessly deflected incoming attacks from Davídrius and Christeané. “YOUR URGENCY BETRAYS YOUR INABILITY. THE MERE FACT THAT YOU THINK YOU CAN BIND ME…” He easily broke out of his binds, shattering the pillars around his legs as he lunged toward Kievkenalis. “…IS THE SUREST SIGN THAT YOU GROSSLY UNDERESTIMATE ME—!”

Overdrive: Unrelenting Flame!!

The Nanocreature leader was suddenly blown back by three white-hot streams of fire, each fusing together the nanomachines at his elbow, left knee, and stomach. Kevérin charged forward, bathing the entire atmosphere around Morcii with searing flame before creating two fireballs in his hands and smashing them into Morcii’s face, blasting him backward several meters.

“YOU—!” the Nanocreature’s voice crackled as he stumbled back to his feet.

“…Ha, that’s it — you aren’t like the Drakkars at all,” the Transfer Captain remarked confidently, “you’re completely vulnerable. We can beat you!”

“…Y-Y-Y-YOU CAN-CANNOT-OT-OT-OT-OT POSSIB-POSSIBLY-Y-Y…”

“Hah! You villains are all words. So much for backin’ ‘em up, eh?” Davídrius retorted.

Morcii glared at Davídrius and Kevérin as he attempted to straighten himself up, though was unable to do so as his knee was fused at a bad angle. “AL-AL-AL-AL-ALDREDA-A-A-ANOIDS…” he muttered, his voice skipping like a broken record, “I-I WILL WI-WI-WI-WIPE YOU FROM THE FACE O-O-O-OF THE GALAX-AX-AX-AXY-Y-Y-Y-!”

“C’mon, Hero Machina, this is it! Get him while he’s down!” Kevérin shouted, issuing forth another several streams of fire to fuse Morcii’s feet to the ground. Rebehka immediately flash-froze the Nanocreature before Kaoné suddenly snapped the ground under him upward, smashing into the frozen Nanocreature leader and snapping his upper body off of his legs and flinging him up into the air. Rebehka slammed another several pieces of ice into him, launching him further upwards as Kievkenalis fired several Chaos Strikes at him before uttering “Chaos Charge!” The entire battlefield became charged with an incredible amount of electrical energy, the ground itself cackling with sparks as Siyuakén jumped directly under Morcii and pulled all of the energy to herself, triggering a massive lightning strike between her and Morcii, frying her armor but also dealing significant damage to the Nanocreature leader. Morcii began to fall back toward the ground, stunned, unable to counter as Kevérin rocketed up to him and then flipped through the air, issuing a flame-powered punch to the Nanocreature’s back that launched him ground-ward, where Kaoné quickly rose his tattered body to eye-level by hanging it from a steel pillar.

“We’ve got him now!” Davídrius smirked as he planted himself fifty meters from Morcii, Christeané doing the same on the opposite side of the Nanocreature leader. “Ready!”

“Set!” The Forcetechnic shouted back as he began twirling his remaining intact battlehammer at high speeds.

Mark!!” they both shouted, simultaneously launching themselves at the incapacitated Nanocreature leader, weapons forward, prepared to deal the final blow and smash his body to smithereens—

—when Morcii took on his intact form in the blink of an eye and snapped his arms outward to deflect and completely reverse the Introtechnics’ momentum before either even realized what was happening.

“Wha— what?!” Kevérin exclaimed, frozen in place as the Introtechnics tumbled along the ground and failed to recover.

“AHAHAHA!” Morcii turned to glare haughtily at the rest of Hero Machina. “WATCHING YOUR HOPES SOAR THE MOMENT YOU SAW WHAT YOU PERCEIVED AS AN OPENING… YOU ARE SO PREDICTABLE!

He launched himself forward, reaching Kaoné in a split second and smashing his knee into her face, instantly knocking her out.

“DO YOU NOT REMEMBER WHAT I SAID EARLIER?”

He appeared in front of Kievkenalis, issued a one-two punch to his shoulders, kneed him in his gut, and then grabbed his head before slamming him to the ground.

“ABOUT HOW I WAS ANCHORED TO THIS REALM OF EXISTENCE?”

He stooped over and grabbed the Ayas Arcán.

“DID IT NOT OCCUR TO YOU TO THINK ABOUT WHAT THAT COULD MEAN?”

A cavity opened in his chest and he casually placed the Ayas within it, after which the cavity closed and it disappeared from sight.

“DID IT NOT OCCUR TO YOU THAT I AM NOT OF THIS WORLD?!”

He sped over to Rebehka, grabbed her arm, and yanked her to the ground before stomping her left knee, snapping it out of place.

“YOUR CONVENTIONAL BATTLE TACTICS MEAN NOTHING AGAINST ME! YOU STUMBLE AROUND, THINKING THAT YOU CAN CONTROL CHAOS ENERGY, THAT YOU CAN BEND IT TO YOUR WILL, BUT YOU DO NOT EVEN ENGAGE THE CHAOS STATE AGAINST ME?!”

He practically warped to Davídrius, slamming his palm into the Velocitechnic’s chest before he could react and throwing him over onto his back.

“I AM FASTER THAN YOU!”

He lunged toward Christeané, slamming his fists down on the Forcetechnic’s head with enough force to shatter his ankles and bury him halfway in the ground.

“I AM STRONGER THAN YOU!”

He turned toward Siyuakén, ignoring her electrical strikes before returning them with far greater magnitude, completely shutting down her armor and forcing her to her knees.

“I CONTROL YOU!”

He then rested his gaze on Kevérin, who stood frozen in place, unable to move an inch out of pure, terrified awe.

“YOU CANNOT GRASP WHO I AM, EVEN AFTER I HAVE TOLD YOU!”

“I, I… wha…” Kevérin spluttered, “what… what are…?”

“I AM A GOD!” Morcii suddenly appeared in front of the Transfer Captain, grabbed him by his throat, and hoisted him into the air. “HEAR MY WORDS AND LISTEN WELL, ALDREDANOID! I AM A GOD, UNSTOPPABLE, CAPABLE OF OBLITERATING ALL THAT YOU THROW AT ME! BUT I AM ALSO A HARBINGER — THE MESSENGER, THE VANGUARD OF THOSE FAR STRONGER THAN I! I WILL CONQUER THIS GALAXY AND CLAIM THE CHAOS AYAS, CLEARING WAY FOR THE MORIKAI, WHO WILL DESCEND UPON YOU PESKY INSECTS AND CLEANSE THE ENTIRE GALAXY OF YOUR PRESENCE!” He slammed Kevérin into the ground, almost knocking out the Pyrotechnic. “SEND THIS MESSAGE TO YOUR UNWORTHY BRETHREN, CREATURE: I. AM. MORCII! MY DEFEAT IS IMPOSSIBLE — MY VICTORY, INEVITABLE! FOR IF YOU SUCCEED IN DRIVING ME OFF NOW, I WILL MERELY MANIFEST ELSEWHERE, EVEN STRONGER THAN BEFORE! I AM AS IMMORTAL AND TIMELESS AS THE UNIVERSE ITSELF, AND DESTROYING ME IS TANTAMOUNT TO DESTROYING ALL THAT WHICH YOU KNOW! NOW, I WILL REPEAT MYSELF ONCE MORE, SO THAT PERHAPS THIS TIME IT WILL SINK INTO YOUR HEAD: NO ONE IN THIS GALAXY…” He pressed Kevérin further into the ground. “OR ANY GALAXY…” He began choking the Pyrotechnic, despite the flaring energy shields that attempted to prevent him from doing so. “…CAN HOPE TO STOP ME!”

The Nanocreature leader then completely closed his fist, only to find that he was simply grasping at air. He backed away slowly, staring at the ground which Kevérin had occupied a mere moment before, at which point he inspected his environment — and discovered that the rest of Hero Machina was nowhere to be found. “…SO THE ALDREDANOIDS HAVE DISCOVERED THEIR OWN BEAMING TECHNOLOGY… HA! THIS WILL BE INTERESTING, THEN. BUT STILL… THEY HOLD NO CHANCE AGAINST ME!”


“…Captain! Transfer Captain!”

“Nnngh…” Kevérin blinked several times, his vision blurry; he was only able to discern who was talking to him through the sound of their voice. “Captain… Krick…?”

“You’re awake!” the Earthian Captain exclaimed.

“Where… am I?”

“You’re being wheeled to the ship’s infirmary. You and your entire team were in terrible shape when we beamed you up… what the hell happened down there? Where’s the Ayas?”

“Where’s the Ayas?…” Kevérin smirked bitterly and then chuckled deliriously as he closed his eyes again, exhaustion overtaking him. “Hah, what happened… we got fucked, that’s what… haaah… we’re all… fucked…”

Chapter 48 – Chaos

((Chaos… Time!))

“What—!? Shit—! Chaos Armor!” Kievkenalis quickly called, bracing himself for an inevitable follow-up to the Drakkar’s attack. Not even half a second had passed before he was blown back by a massive force, knocking him into the wall behind him. He slowly slid down to the ground, disoriented, until he shook his head and jumped back to his feet. He quickly surveyed his surroundings until laying eyes on Christeané, who stood still as a statue, his posture one of defensive apprehension.

Time really did freezeKievkenalis thought to himself, I knew that Surdeus could do this, but to actually see it with my own two eyes… wait a minute, if Christeané’s frozen, then why aren’t I—?

His thoughts were interrupted as he suffered another blow, this time from the side. Sent tumbling violently, Kievkenalis was unable to prevent himself from smashing into a pile of debris, protected only by the shroud of Chaos Energy Armor surrounding his body.

((SoyousomehowresistedtheeffectsofTimehmmboy?))

Kievkenalis glanced up at Surdeus uneasily. The Drakkar’s words seemed to run together, as if he were speaking so quickly that the spaces and pauses were simply omitted. He then quickly approached Kievkenalis, though his motions didn’t look like a full-out run — they appeared more like a leisurely walk that had been sped up, as though it were a video on fast-forward.

That’s it… somehow, I’m experiencing a slower rate of time than Surdeus?

((Ohhowthetideshaveturnedhmm?)) the Drakkar taunted as he reached through Kievkenalis’s Energy Armor, grabbed the underlying physical armor, and hoisted him into the air. ((Youthoughtyoucouldscareme?Youthoughtyoucouldgoadmeintoleavingyoualonebytauntingme?Howridiculouslynaive!))

“Ngh…”Kievkenalis had a difficult time parsing Surdeus’s sped-up speech, but he was nonetheless able to tell that the Drakkar was gloating. Need… to stop him…Chaos Neg—agh—!”

Surdeus slammed Kievkenalis into the ground mid-word, shocking him into silence. The faction leader then stooped down to glare at the Chaostechnic, his eyes glinting. ((Youcannotcontroltime.ThatabilitybelongstoChaosConduitsalone!Itbelongstomealone!ThefactthatyoucanstillmovealbeitslowerisindeedimpressivebutIamsureitissimplyprotectionontheAyas’sbehalf.Allowmetotakeitoffofyou!))

“Wha—!? No!” Kievkenalis scowled as Surdeus grasped the Ayas Arcán and yanked it out of his hands faster than he could react. The Chaostechnic quickly jumped back to his feet and stumbled away from Surdeus, keen to put some distance between himself and the Drakkar.

((Youcanstillmove.)) Surdeus’s eyes narrowed. ((SoitisnotprotectionbytheAyas?Perhapsthereistrulyuntappedpotentialinyouyet.Itissuchashamethatyouwillneverlivetoseeit!))

Chaos Def—uagh!” Kievkenalis attempted to call out, but was cut short as Surdeus bicycle-kicked him, knocking him backward and into the air. The Drakkar then jumped after him, raising both of his arms such that his elbow spikes pointed downward and then jammed them into Kievkenalis, piercing and dispersing the Chaos Energy shroud and shutting down the shielding of the underlying Chaos Armor while simultaneously slamming the Chaostechnic down into a debris pile. Kievkenalis slowly and painfully began to dig himself out of the debris as Surdeus landed on the ground a couple meters from the pile, his arms crossed and chin raised in arrogance.

((Ihopeyouseethatvictoryisfutile!Whentimeisasimabalancedasitisevenmynormalmotionsseemtocarrymoreforcetoyousimplybecausetheyappeartohavemoremomentum!Youcannothopeto))

Damn it Kievkenalis grimaced as pain shot through his entire body and distracted him from the Drakkar’s continued boasting. He’s too fast, I need to get away from him somehow so I can use Negation… but the moment I try to call an attack, he’s on top of me! He glanced up at Surdeus, who continued to monologue but appeared to be wrapping up. He’s not even using any Chaos Attacks or trying to steal my Ciei, so he’s still toying with me! I need to wrap this up before he gets bored, but… damn it, what to do, what to do…

((…soIshallnowshowyouthefutilityofvictoryagainsttheDrakkars!)) Surdeus shouted, crouching and then lunging forward with both palms outstretched. Realizing that the Drakkar now seemed more serious than he had before, Kievkenalis quickly spun out of the way, barely managing to evade Surdeus’s incoming palms. He sprinted away, turning on his heel after a couple seconds just in time to see Surdeus coming and duck as the Drakkar leaped over his head. This is it!Chaos Neg—!

But Surdeus proved more nimble than Kievkenalis expected as he slammed his left knee into the Chaostechnic from midair, knocking Kievkenalis flat and interrupting his Chaos Negation call. Surdeus landed on the ground some distance away and immediately spun around, lunging for the Chaostechnic as he attempted to pick himself up. Seeing the Drakkar coming, Kievkenalis quickly threw himself to the side, evading Surdeus by a hair; he then rolled back to his feet and stumbled backwards, unable to catch himself before he fell over on his bottom. Surdeus snapped his head toward the Chaostechnic and lunged for him again, but Kievkenalis managed to knock the Drakkar’s palms away with his own before being blown backwards by a powerful kick. As he tumbled along the ground, he managed to utter, “Chaos…!

Surdeus was instantly upon him, backhanding the Chaostechnic and sending him flying into the far wall. The Drakkar then dashed toward the Chaostechnic before thrusting his right knee forward, the spike mounted on his knee extended menacingly. Kievkenalis barely managed to dodge, leaving Surdeus to embed his knee in the wall and spend a second to remove it, a second which Kievkenalis quickly took advantage of by shouting, “BLAST!

A massive dome of energy exploded from the Chaostechnic’s body, engulfing much of the room and creating yet another crater. Kievkenalis quickly began climbing the crater up to the lip, not even bothering to search for Surdeus or spend time thinking about the new Chaostechnic type he had just unlocked as he finally muttered, “Chaos Negation!

With all of the Chaos Energy in the vicinity negated, the flow of time returned to normal, and much of the room spontaneously began to collapse under the stress it had suffered during the period that time had been frozen. Christeané, who was standing mere meters from the lip of the crater Kievkenalis created, suddenly began to look around in confusion.

“What the fuck happened?!” He brandished his battlehammers apprehensively, glancing down at Kievkenalis as the Chaostechnic threw himself up onto the crater’s lip and then collapsed, breathing heavily.

((Ahahahaha!)) Surdeus laughed heartily, jumping out of the crater to Kievkenalis’s left before turning to face him. ((You do not cease to amaze me! I did not expect you to take advantage of the mid-call pause in such a way. Blast is an excellent move to use for that as well, as it is a short, sweet word… much like the destruction it can bring! Obliteration within a second! And then you took advantage of the lull to negate all Chaos Energy in the area and return time to normal, a feat only Sabotage types can achieve… Bravo, I must say. Bravo! Your performance deserves nothing short of praise!)) The Drakkar moved to place his left hand on his hip as he nonchalantly tossed the Ayas up and down in his right. ((You are certainly an interesting specimen… you are clearly not a Chaos Conduit, given your reaction to Time, and yet — you possess the ability to use multiple types of abilities. At least four, by my count. That’s more than I have ever seen… truly interesting.))

“See? You can’t beat us that easily after all.” Kievkenalis smirked painfully as he pulled himself back onto his legs. “Even after all that showboating, I still stopped you!”

“You really need to stop pointing these things out…” Christeané muttered.

((Stopped me? Ha! Stopped me from what? Do tell!)) Surdeus scoffed, ((stopped me from stealing your Ciei, perhaps. But I have taken the Ayas from you, and with it, your ability to act in a field of negated Chaos Energy.))

“…Oh. R-right…” Kievkenalis muttered uneasily.

((Your use of Negation indeed returned time to normal, but it also removed your ability to retaliate to anything I may now throw at you! By your own hands, you have been served defeat!))

“Kevken, what’s he talking about…?” Christeané questioned warily, “how’d he get the Ayas?”

“He’s backed us into a corner…” Kievkenalis scowled, but moments later his scowl slowly transformed into a knowing smirk. “But it’s not over yet!”

((You still intend to fight, even whilst standing in a vacuum of Chaos Energy?)) Surdeus shook his head in disbelief. ((I doubt I will ever truly understand you Aldredanoids… but, so be it. If you cannot accept your defeat on your own, then allow me to force it upon you! Chaos! BLA—agh!?))

Davídrius suddenly blasted onto the scene, plowing into Surdeus foot-first and sending the Drakkar tumbling along the ground — and knocking the Ayas out of his hands. The Velocitechnic then drew two of his repaired blades and brandished them defensively as Kaoné and Rebehka rushed over to tend to Kievkenalis and Christeané. Kevérin and Siyuakén approached Surdeus on either side of Davídrius, but didn’t step any closer than the Velocitechnic.

“That’s for making me go berserk again, asshole,” Davídrius growled.

((…Well,)) Surdeus muttered, ((…again, I find myself surprised by your actions. This is becoming a most annoying trend.))

“It’s your own fault, really.” Kievkenalis smirked as he bent over to pick up the Ayas Arcán. “I knew you liked to gloat, so when I used Negation I knew that you’d spend all of the time that Chaos Energy was actually negated holding it over my head. Goading you on is easy, too, and with the Ayas present, I didn’t have to wait as long for the Energy to return… not to mention the added bonus of probably helping out the berserk situation.”

“It really did, actually,” Rebehka stated.

“Anyway, we have the Ayas now,” Kievkenalis remarked. “We know your tricks. You can’t win again.”

((No, he cannot… but for the same reasons, neither will you.))

((Exdominor)) Surdeus turned to glare at the other faction leader as he jumped down from one of the many holes in the roof, coming to stand nearly thirty meters away from both Hero Machina and Surdeus. ((Come to witness my pending victory, have you?))

((On the contrary, your penchant for gloating always has a way of netting you losses, Surdeus… yet I never imagined that the trait was contagious.)) Exdominor stared down the Sursum faction leader and then turned his haughty gaze toward Hero Machina, who had all frozen with surprise and fear at being confronted by both Exdominor and Surdeus. ((You were rightly contrite and fearful when facing me, yet, here you are, exchanging meaningless words and taunts with this child of a leader.))

((Child? Only as compared to your great age, Exdominor. Your senility is most amusing.))

((You cannot bluff me, Surdeus. We are of the same age: ageless. Our minds cannot decay just as our bodies cannot die. But perhaps your incompetence has transcended these facts, hmm? Were you not in the middle of something before allowing yourself to be distracted?))

((Wiping out these pesky Aldredanoids shall be a simple task. I have been amusing myself by observing them, but I assure you, they present me no threat.))

((Do not overestimate yourself. They may be incapable of killing you, but they are surely capable of dealing you lasting damage. Do not make a fool of yourself, and I too, by extension. Thispartnership is by no means long-term. Or has your incompetence claimed that fact as well?))

“Some pair they are,” Davídrius snorted as he watched the two Drakkars exchange words.

“Two faction leaders, though…” Kevérin scowled. “We have a hard enough time against either on their own — we can’t take them both on. We need to run.”

“I think that’s what we should have done in the first place,” Siyuakén retorted as she turned to Kaoné, “make us an exit, quick—agh!

“Siyuakén!?” Rebehka exclaimed, running over to her friend who had just doubled over, clutching her head in pain. “What happened—?”

The Cryotechnic was interrupted by the sound of a metallic clang as a football-sized chunk of metal fell down from the ceiling, drawing the attention of everyone present. It sat still for a moment before slowly uncurling and twittering, turning its bug-like appendages toward Siyuakén.

((A metal… bug…?)) Surdeus muttered, and then froze as the entire room filled with the sounds of twittering and mechanical whirring. ((Is this—!?))

“…It’s the metallic bugs!” Kevérin scowled as every hole in the roof was quickly lined by the offending objects. Several even began falling into the craters haphazardly, shoved over the edge by the sheer numbers of metallic creatures. “Shit, the metallic infection was here? On Maasen?!”

“We’ve spent enough time here!” Davídrius shouted, “it’s time to leave—!”

His exclamation was cut short as the room suddenly transformed from its wrecked state back to its initial, clean form, though with a distinct silver sheen that had not been present before. The transformation was immediately followed by something slamming into the ground from above, impacting with enough force to create a shockwave that knocked back both Hero Machina and the Drakkars — yet leaving no sign of its entrance on the floor.

“What… who…?” Kievkenalis muttered, squinting at the object that had just appeared. After a moment of stalling it slowly rose to its feet, revealing its distinctly Aldredanoid appearance. In fact, it looked remarkably similar to the average Nimalian — plain black hair, plain tan face, plain body stature, but wearing an odd maroon long coat that draped down to his legs.

“HEH HEH HEH…” The figure chuckled after slowly sweeping his gaze across the room. “I SUPPOSE I SHOULDN’T BE SURPRISED. DRAKKARS FIGHTING ALDREDANOIDS… OVER A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS HAVE PASSED, AND YET, NOTHING HAS CHANGED.”

((You—!)) Surdeus growled.

“OH YES, I CERTAINLY REMEMBER YOU, SURDEUS,” the figure snorted, and then turned his head toward the Drakkars. The core of his voice sounded nonthreatening, but it was layered over a slight robotic tone and an unnatural presence that suppressed any urge to interrupt him. “YOU AND EXDOMINOR BOTH. HA! I’VE WATCHED THE TWO OF YOU TROUNCE ABOUT THIS PLANET AS IF YOU OWNED THE PLACE, FIGHTING THE ALDREDANOIDS AS THOUGH YOU HAD ALREADY DEFEATED THEM. WHAT A FARCE! YOUR CLAIMS ARE LAUGHABLE, YOUR ACTIONS EVEN MORE SO. RULERS OF ALL? MASTERS OF CHAOS ENERGY? OWNERS OF THE CHAOS AYAS? ALL NONSENSE! WERE ANY OF THOSE STATEMENTS TRUE, WOULD YOU NOT ALREADY CONTROL THE GALAXY? YET, YOU DO NOT! IN ALL THESE MILLENNIA THAT I HAVE BEEN GONE YOU HAVE ACHIEVED NOTHING, APART FROM WALLOWING IN DULL INACTIVITY AND FESTERING IN YOUR OWN INCOMPETENCE. THIS RECENT ATTACK IS NOTHING MORE THAN A FACADE, AN ATTEMPT AT SHOWING THE GALAXY THAT YOU ARE NOT AS IRRELEVANT AS PERCEIVED!”

“Shit, I can’t contact the Genesis… Kaoné!” Kevérin hissed, glancing at the Materiatechnic while the figure addressed the Drakkars, “quick, get us out of here!”

“I… I can’t! I can’t— I can’t transform the walls… eep!” She yelped as the figure in the maroon coat turned to glare at Hero Machina menacingly.

“AND HERE WE HAVE SOME ALDREDANOIDS.” He sneered. “I DON’T EVEN KNOW WHY I’M BOTHERING TO ADDRESS YOU. THE DRAKKARS MAY BE MISTAKEN AND BLIND, BUT AT LEAST THEY POSSESS POWER. WHAT OF YOU? YOU HAVE NOTHING! NOTHING AT ALL! MY REVENGE, SWEET THOUGH IT MAY BE, WILL BE WOEFULLY SHORT-LIVED…”

“Who…” Kevérin muttered apprehensively, “…who are you?”

“…I’M NOT SURPRISED THAT YOU DON’T KNOW WHO I AM, CURSED DESCENDANTS OF THE ALDREDAS. ONLY THE DRAKKARS ARE ‘IMMORTAL,’ AFTER ALL.” The figure snorted. “I AM NONE OTHER THAN THE LEADER OF THAT WHICH YOU AMUSINGLY REFER TO AS THE ‘METALLIC INFECTION.’”

“Wha… what?!”

“I AM MORCII!” He grinned as he spread his arms wide, gesturing at the incredible multitudes of metallic bugs twittering around him. “LEADER OF THE NANOCREATURES AND HARBINGER OF IKIROM, THE SUPREME COMMANDER OF THE MORIKAI — THOSE WHO THE ALDREDAS UNJUSTLY SEALED AWAY FROM THIS REALM OF EXISTENCE! TODAY MARKS THE BEGINNING OF THE GALAXY’S ULTIMATE FATE — THE DOOM OF ALL! FOR I WILL CLAIM EVERY LAST CHAOS AYAS, AND I WILL FREE THE MORIKAI FROM THEIR PRISON! AND NO ONE IN THIS GALAXY, OR ANY GALAXY… CAN HOPE TO STOP ME!”

Chapter 47 – Surdeus Ex Machina

((CHAOS! OBLIVION!!))

“Agh!” Kievkenalis reeled back in pain, his entire body tense as all of the Chaos Energy in the area went erratic, inducing a painful, prickly pressure across his entire body. He clutched the Ayas Arcán tightly, having just ripped it from the shield apparatus, and sighed a moment later when the surrounding energy began to stabilize and he no longer felt any pressure. “Agh…” he moaned, finally able to concentrate well enough to speak. “What happened? How is everyone—?”

He was brought to his knees by a piercing roar — a roar that was quickly accompanied by two like it. Shit! he thought to himself, I know that roar… damn, so someone did go berserk—?!

A blast of fire interrupted his train of thought, forcing him to quickly roll away. He jumped to his feet — and then instinctively clutched his forehead as pain shot through it. …I almost went berserk myself… I can’t do anything… A moment later the Chaostechnic managed to look up, slowly realizing that a battle was raging at the far side of the room as the sounds of shouts and metal screeches began registering in his ears. What… who… who’s fighting?…

((Chaos Impact!))

“Oof!” The air fled from Christeané’s lungs as he was flung across the room, tumbling along the floor before being stopped by the far wall. He quickly ducked to avoid a Chaos Strike and then unceremoniously rolled back to his feet just in time to dive away from several more Strikes.

((Why haven’t you hit me yet, boy?)) Surdeus taunted as he casually launched attack after attack in Christeané’s direction. ((Are you not a Chaotic? Perhaps that could explain why you failed to go berserk. But it would not explain how you have managed to last this long. So what are you? A telepath? A shape-shifter? Something else woefully unuseful in battle?))

Christeané didn’t respond — he was too focused on dodging Surdeus’s attacks. He attempted several times to block the incoming Chaos attacks with his battlehammers, but each time failed as the forces from Surdeus’s Chaos abilities blew through Christeané’s defenses and knocked him around the room.

((Based on prior experience with you Aldredanoids, those weapons would seem to indicate Introtechnism… I suppose that, too, would also explain your inability to stand up to me. To think, an Introtechnic, fighting a Chaos Conduit? How did you possibly think that you could beat me? You should have run off with your berserk friends. Ahahahaha! Chaos Slam!))

The very moment after calling the attack, Surdeus slammed into Christeané with amazing force, launching him over twenty meters into the back wall and then demolishing the rest of the metal structure with the resulting shockwave. The Drakkar watched, amused, as the debris collapsed on top of Christeané and buried him. ((Such is the fate of those who dare challenge me: buried by their hubris, unable to so much as lay a finger on me—!))

Surdeus suddenly ducked to evade a metal panel that had been flung from the debris. He quickly reached out with his hand, grabbing a battlehammer by its handle as it flew by and preparing to smash his other hand into Christeané’s approaching chest — but the Forcetechnic reacted just quickly enough to smack Surdeus’s hand out of the way as he called out, “Overdrive: Omni Crush!” The activation of the Overdrive triggered an immense crushing force in the area immediately surrounding Christeané, which instantly smashed Surdeus into the ground. The Forcetechnic then freed his battlehammer from Surdeus’ grasp with one hand and prepared to obliterate the Drakkar with his other.

((Chaos BLAST!!))

A massive blast of energy exploded outward from Surdeus, obliterating the ground beneath his feet and flinging Christeané clear across the room. He rolled violently into the far wall, coming to a stunned stop right next to Kievkenalis.

Surdeus leaped up and out of the fifty-meter crater he had just created, coming to stand on the lip of the crater nearest the two Chaotics before resting his eyes on Kievkenalis. ((Oh, so I see one of your friends decided to remain as well.))

Kievkenalis stared back at the Drakkar with a mixed expression of surprise and desperation before eventually calling out, “Chaos— hrngh!”

“Kevken!” Christeané exclaimed, glancing at the Chaostechnic with concern as he suddenly doubled over in pain.

((Ha! So you’re a Chaostechnic? And Oblivion did not cause you to go berserk? Now that— now that is actually interesting!)) Surdeus chuckled amusedly, watching Kievkenalis slowly hobble back to his feet as Christeané stood in front of him protectively. The Drakkar’s eyes slowly drifted to the Ayas in Kievkenalis’s hand. ((It must be a product of the Ayas — it must be protecting you. To fail calling a single attack, however… you must be close to the brink. Though to have such a strong reaction to an oncoming berserk episode is an ability onto itself! You must truly have potential! A shame, that you cannot battle me in your current state…))

“What’s… going on?…” Kievkenalis croaked wearily.

“Davídrius, Kevérin, and Siyuakén all went berserk,” Christeané replied tersely, not once taking his eyes off of Surdeus. “Rebehka and Kaoné went after them.”

((You should have gone in their stead!)) Surdeus remarked, ((I’m sure they would have offered me a more interesting battle! …I suppose I am to blame, though, for causing three of your friends to go berserk… I’m truly surprised more of you did not, though. For that, you have my praise.))

Christeané snorted. “Do you want me to thank you?”

((It would be appreciated, but I know not to expect as much from Aldredanoids. No… I think it will be thanks enough for you to serve as my plaything until your friend has recovered enough to fight me. Haha, now that will interesting, to fight a fellow Chaostechnic, backed by the power of an Ayas!))

“What makes you think I’d play along?”

((Have you not been paying attention, boy?)) Surdeus retorted, and then narrowed his eyes into a sadistic glare. ((You cannot refuse my offer. You do not possess even one tenth the power required to refuse what I say! Now dance for me, like the pathetic worm you are! Chaos Strike!))


“Kaoné!”

“I know, I know!” The Materiatechnic quickly transformed the ground all around Rebehka and herself into dirt, just in time to insulate them from the electrical surges of Siyuakén as the berserker haphazardly fought against Kevérin’s wild blasts of flame. Rebehka pressed forward, rapidly cooling her burnt surroundings before freezing the floors and walls in an attempt to slow down the berserkers. She quickly raised an ice shield in front of her just in time to shield herself against a plume of fire and then jumped out from behind the shield, fashioning two blades of ice and using them to cut through further fire attacks. She was able to make little progress before Kaoné seized her armor from afar and yanked her to the side to evade Davídrius as he blasted back onto the scene — where he then wiped out on the ice and smashed into Siyuakén with incredible speed.

As soon as Rebehka recovered, she leaped forward, moving her arms in a great sweeping motion as a gigantic slab of ice formed from the ground up and around Davídrius and Siyuakén. The berserk Velocitechnic quickly fled the scene, but Rebehka succeeded in catching Siyuakén — until Kevérin suddenly bolted onto the battlegrounds, bathing everything in fire and melting the ice encasing the Electrotechnic, who immediately responded by sending out a massive electrical shock that blew out Kaoné and Rebehka’s shield generators. The Cryotechnic quickly raised shields of ice around herself and Kaoné to protect them from the incoming flames and lightning strikes as Kaoné repaired their shield generators with but a single thought; she then began attempting to hold the berserkers still by taking hold of their armor. The shroud of Chaos Energy surrounding each berserker prevented her from grabbing the armor, however, and she was left to try and stop them by trapping them in matter. She succeeded in catching each of the berserkers several times, as did Rebehka, but each time one of the other berserkers would rush in and destroy the encasing with their rampant attacks, constantly setting the two non-berserkers back to square one.

“Alright,” Rebehka huffed, fed up with their lack of progress in stopping the berserkers. She quickly raised an ice shelter around herself and Kaoné before turning to the Materiatechnic impatiently. “We need a plan.”

“A plan?” Kaoné responded incredulously, “but we can’t plan for anything. They’re berserk!”

“We need to be able to trap all three at once…” Rebehka thought aloud, ignoring Kaoné’s remark. “But Davídrius is too fast, Kevérin’s flames trump my ice, and Siyuakén keeps shutting down our armor…”

Kaoné frowned. “Can’t we just let them be? The Berserk State will wear off eventually. We should probably go back to help Christeané and Kevken…”

“And just leave the three of them here, unaccompanied? What if Exdominor shows up again?”

“If Exdominor shows up, do you really think us being here will change anything?”

The two women paused for a moment as the ice enclosure suddenly cracked under the pressure of a massive blow from Davídrius.

“…You have a point there,” Rebehka admitted, “but we still need to try to contain them… isn’t that normal protocol for dealing with berserkers in a battle situation, anyway?”

“I don’t think anything about having two Drakkar faction leaders show up on a single planet within an hour of each other is normal…”

“Just… just try to stop Kevérin, alright? If you can get him, then I can catch Siyuakén and Davídrius.”

“…Alright. I’ll try.”

“Good. Now get ready!” Rebehka shouted as she exploded the ice enclosure outward just in time to counter a burst of flame. She immediately froze the entire floor and then skated forward, freezing Davídrius in a chunk of ice as he spun out next to her. Mere moments later, though, Kevérin bowled onto the scene again, melting the floor around him and half of the ice encasing Davídrius before leaping at Rebehka with two fireballs in hand. She quickly encased her hands and forearms in ice before thrusting her right arm at Kevérin, grabbing his right hand as he leaped past and flash-freezing it to her own, simultaneously extinguishing his fireball. His momentum carried him forward and snapped his hand out of the ice mere moments afterward, but the motion flipped him onto his back — after which Kaoné quickly rose a mound of stone around him, leaving only his shrouded head exposed to the air.

Without wasting a moment to look at Kevérin, Rebehka spun on her heel just as Siyuakén turned to face her. Kaoné immediately fabricated a steel shield in front of the Cryotechnic, channeling all of the electricity from Siyuakén’s subsequent lightning strike straight into the ground as Rebehka quickly re-froze all of the floor that Kevérin had melted. Davídrius then blasted past Siyuakén, diving at Rebehka and almost nailing her in the chest as she ducked under him. Kaoné rose the ground just behind Rebehka and trapped the Velocitechnic’s torso in stone, leaving the rest of his body to flail about — until another electrical blast demolished the stone support and freed the speedster.

“I know you can be trouble sometimes,” Rebehka muttered as she attempted to freeze Siyuakén in place, only to fail as the berserker dashed away, “but… now? Really?!

“Where’d Davídrius go?!” Kaoné exclaimed as she slowly slid across the ice toward Rebehka.

“Huh—?” The Cryotechnic turned toward Kaoné for just a moment — the same moment that Siyuakén leaped forward at Rebehka’s back, the Chaos Energy shroud around her fingers hardening into claws. Simultaneously, Davídrius reappeared, clutching at the ice with his berserker claws to stop himself and then lunge straight for Kaoné’s back. Just as the two berserkers fell on their prey, the two non-berserkers raised giant mounds of ice and stone, with Rebehka freezing Davídrius solid just before his claws reached Kaoné, and Kaoné trapping Siyuakén in stone just before her claws could reach Rebehka.

The two women froze for a moment, and then, realizing what they had just accomplished, collapsed to the ground with a collective sigh of relief.

“We did it,” Kaoné commented wearily.

Rebehka shoved the Materiatechnic playfully. “See? I told you we could.”

“I didn’t really doubt that we could… I just doubted we had the effort or time.”

“Oh, shit! Christeané and Kevken are still fighting Surdeus all on their own! We need to go back and help them—!”

Rebehka’s thought was cut off as an explosion of fire erupted halfway across the room, obliterating Kevérin’s stone trap as the berserker jumped back to his feet. Almost immediately after, Davídrius obliterated his ice prison with a powerful kick, and Siyuakén disintegrated her stone trap with an incredible electrical pulse. The three berserkers quickly reconvened at the center of the room and resumed duking it out.

Kaoné and Rebehka watched the spectacle in stunned silence before the former turned to the latter uneasily.

“I guess it wasn’t actually that easy…?”

“Fucking damn it.”


((Chaos Strike! Chaos Strike! Chaos…!))

Chaos—!

((BLAST!))

Deflection!

A giant dome of red energy exploded outward from Surdeus’ body, engulfing the measly sphere of deflection and tossing both Kievkenalis and Christeané against the wall. The Drakkar leaped out of the crater he had just created and looked around at the shield maintenance room, which had been completely obliterated during the battle. Most of the roof had caved in, revealing the cloudy night skies above the massively cratered and debris-covered flooring.

“Ungh…”

Surdeus glanced back at the two Chaotics in front of him as Christeané stumbled to his feet, with Kievkenalis lying on the floor beside him, panting.

((You are certainly very resilient, to survive Blast so many times.)) The faction leader chuckled. ((But… you are a Chaostechnic, and you are depending on the Ayas’s assistance, so it is to be expected.))

Chaos… Assist…” Kievkenalis muttered, and then wearily climbed to his feet beside Christeané. “…What… do you want? Why are you fighting us?”

((Why am I fighting you?)) Surdeus echoed incredulously. ((Are you not holding the Ayas Arcán? It belongs to me.))

“That’s not it. You could have ended us a dozen times now; why haven’t you?”

“Uh, I wouldn’t exactly point that out,” Christeané responded uneasily.

((Oh? Do you desire defeat?)) The faction leader crossed his arms and glared down at the two Chaotics haughtily. ((I hope you realize just how bold your inquiry is.))

“Why wait?” Kievkenalis pressed, “you said it yourself; I’m holding the Ayas. You aren’t the only one after it; the longer you wait, the more time others have to come and steal it from you. So why haven’t you taken it yet?”

((I had hoped that you would offer an interesting battle. But you appear to be master of only defense and support techniques… well, if prey grows insolent, then the predator has no choice but to cease playing and go for the kill. Isn’t that right?))

“Kevken…!” Christeané scowled and brandished his battlehammers defensively.

“You’re stalling.” Kievkenalis narrowed his eyes as he backed into a defensive stance. “You’re afraid of something. What is it?”

((You mistake my intentions, boy!)) Surdeus growled, ((you seem to have it in your mind that I, Surdeus, possess fear. You believe incorrectly! I merely hold far more power than you could ever hope to achieve, and thought to allow you a glimpse of it before you expired. But your insolence displeases me, so I must now cut your preview short! For those who do not value the time that they have, will eventually succumb to the winds of time itself! Chaos… Time!))