Chapter 86 – Epilogue: The Beginning of a Saga

20 Years Later

– Skydia, Beauth 6, 8054 –

“Aaaahhh… so tired…”

Kevérin worked at the buttons on his jacket as he entered his hotel suite, glancing up when the lights automatically flipped on. He removed his jacket and tossed it onto a coat rack near the door before kicking off his shoes and stepping into the main living area. Looking over at the dark window, he moved to adjust his glasses — realized he wasn’t wearing any — and smirked to himself as he opened up his AR environment anyways. I keep forgetting that I have the implants… and I got them years ago. I guess old habits die hard. He then swiped one of the holographic panels, toggling the window opacity and revealing the late afternoon coastline.

This suite is better than my office He sighed after staring out at the Tekdecénian west coast for several moments, taking in the calm ocean waves breaking against the cliffs before he turned his attention to a handful of alerts in the corner of his AR display. Institute mail… junk mail… more junk mail? What happened to my spam filters?… Wait, Kines picked a fight with Nimal again? Damn it. You’d think the ‘Elite Six’ would be better behaved… oh well. I’ll have to talk to Kaoné about that… Hmm… Oh, Maven! Let’s see… ‘Hurry up and call me you twat, you haven’t been home in three weeks! Love you.’ Yep, sounds like her. I’ll have to give her a call tomorrow… …Hmm, I guess that’s it. He passed an impatient glance toward the room’s entryway. Where are they? I could’ve sworn they were right behind me the whole time—!

A ringing bell interrupted his thoughts. “Coming!” he shouted as he turned away from the window and approached the doorway where he casually slammed a button in the wall, causing the door to slide open.

“Oi, there you went! Think you can try an’ outrun me?”

“Wouldn’t dream of it,” Kevérin remarked with a smirk, stepping aside to allow Davídrius — followed by Christeané and Rebehka — to enter his suite. “It’s about time you got here! Where’s Kaoné and Kevken?”

“They’re on the way,” Rebehka replied, setting her satchel down on a nearby counter as Davídrius and Christeané wandered past the entryway and into the living room. “Sidonté Demerin wanted to talk to them about something.”

“Can’t he wait until tomorrow? The Summit lasts for a whole week, we aren’t going anywhere,” Kevérin responded in annoyance as he stepped into the living area behind the Introtechnics and then turned toward his kitchen. “Take a seat wherever,” he called out, “I’ll get the drinks.”

“Ha! Drinks! Yes, please!” Christeané sighed of relief as he approached the window that overlooked the coast. “Ahhh… there’s nothing like a good drink and a chat with old friends after a long day.”

“You sound like an old man,” Davídrius retorted as he approached the window next to Christeané.

“I feel like an old man. Forty isn’t twenty, I’ll tell you that much.”

“Forty isn’t old. Trust me, it’s really not,” Rebehka countered as she took a seat on the couch. “We aren’t even middle-aged. With any luck, we’ll live three or four times longer than we already have.”

Davídrius scowled. “Fuck, I didn’t come here to get into a pissin’ contest about age.”

“And I certainly didn’t invite you all here for as much,” Kevérin added as he re-entered the room with four mugs, each filled to the brim with a translucent maple-gold liquid. Christeané eagerly accepted one and took a massive swig as Rebehka took another. “Davídrius?” The Pyrotechnic held the third out toward the Velocitechnic.

“Eh…” Davídrius stared at the mug and pulled a face. “No thanks.”

“C’mon, really?” Christeané snorted, ignoring Kevérin as he placed the fourth mug on the table in front of the couch and then took a seat in a chair to the side. “You should give it a go every once in a while.”

“Not everyone enjoys drinkin’,” Davídrius shot back, and then grinned. “’Sides, it’s more amusin’ to watch you get drunk.”

“How often do you see him drunk?” Rebehka responded incredulously.

“Too often,” Davídrius replied with a smirk. “You’d almost think he was WCU’s second Dean with how much time he spends down in Treséd.”

“You’re the one asking for all the help,” Christeané countered, “you should recruit yourself a half-decent Forcetechnic if you’re gonna complain about my help.”

“Wait, Davídrius, I thought you had one?” Kevérin questioned.

“Who, Karísah? Sure, she’s helpful, but I ain’t gonna ask one of my students to help me out all the damn time. It looks bad.”

“I’m surprised to hear you concerned about appearances,” Rebehka teased, “are you sure that isn’t your pride talking?”

“…Bah. I only got this far by forcin’ myself to care just a little bit about appearances.” Davídrius sighed wearily. “I only got WCU recognized by all the major compounds a few years ago, so I’d appreciate some… well… appreciation.” He shook his head and glanced toward Rebehka and Kevérin. “What about y’all? I haven’t really had the chance to talk with either of y’all since the last Summit two years ago.”

“Just as busy as always,” Rebehka replied, “I didn’t have nearly as much trouble as you when I started the Academy, but that just means I have different problems. It seems like every Relédiakian researcher wants a place on the faculty — though, in hindsight, I suppose there haven’t been many private-sector opportunities for Chaos Energy researchers before now. But on top of that, working out how we fit into the old conscription paradigm is… difficult, at best. …The student body is small, but well-behaved, at least.”

“Lucky you,” Kevérin snorted, taking a quick sip as he leaned back in his chair.

“Oh no. Did Kines do something again?”

“Seems he picked a fight with Nimal.” Kevérin sighed. “This wouldn’t be quite so much of a problem if Nimal wasn’t the daughter of Nimaliaka’s Archoné, and the younger sister of a Black Suns General. I swear, these kids…”

“Wait, what’s this about the Archoné?”

“Huh?” Kevérin glanced back at the entryway and grinned again as Kaoné and Kievkenalis entered. “You’re finally here!”

“You guys decide to take the scenic route?” Christeané snorted.

“No, Demerin just wanted to talk about a couple Chaostechnic training techniques,” Kievkenalis replied wearily. “Not sure why he was asking about that, though…”

“Anyways…” Kaoné turned back toward Kevérin as Kievkenalis took a seat on the couch next to Rebehka. “What were you saying about the Archoné?”

Kevérin took another drink before replying, “Kines picked a fight with Nimal again.”

“…You mean Derynii? Derynii Nimal?” Kaoné frowned, and then facepalmed. “Oh no, not again…”

“I’m just glad Sméthan didn’t get involved,” Christeané remarked. “Last time he and Cartérius got into a fight, I spent the whole week cleaning up after their diplomatic mess.”

“Man, what’s with y’all? I’ve never had any problems with my students, not like this,” Davídrius commented.

“Yeah, that’s ‘cause you’re a strict bastard and rule over them with an iron fist.”

“That’s not…! …Well okay, that’s kinda true, but—”

“Why do we always end up talking about the students when we get together?” Rebehka cut in, “can a conversation about our jobs ever not do that?”

“Maybe if Kines and Nimal weren’t part of the ‘Elite Six,’” Kevérin retorted.

“I always hated that title,” Kaoné responded with a an annoyed frown, “even when it first came into use almost ten years ago. It always just goes to the students’ heads.”

“I don’t know, I think a little competition is good,” Rebehka refuted.

“It’s not ‘little’ when I come to know the Archoné on a personal level due to how often his daughter acts up,” Kaoné countered.

“And here’s a great place to talk about somethin’ else,” Davídrius interjected as he turned his attention toward Kaoné. “How’re your kids? …Fuck! I actually just asked someone ‘how’re the kids!’ Fuck! We really are old!”

Kievkenalis frowned. “Forty isn’t old…”

“Besides, my oldest is eleven.” Kaoné smirked. “Have you really only just realized that?”

“Gah, that just makes it worse—!”

“Wait, Davídrius,” Kevérin cut in, “don’t you have a daughter?”

“What?” The Velocitechnic gave him a clueless stare before recognition dawned on his face, followed by incredulity. “You mean Relia? She ain’t my kid. I’m friends with her mom, sure, but she ain’t mine.”

“And being friends with someone who has a kid old enough to attend your school doesn’t make you feel old?” Rebehka responded, amused.

Davídrius scowled. “…Shut it.”

“If you feel old, how do you think I feel?” Kaoné sighed. “I’m the only one of us with kids. How did that even happen?”

“Whaddya mean, innit obvious? You got knocked up.”

Davídrius promptly found himself suspended upside-down in the air as Kaoné gave him an irritated glare.

“Oi oi oi, what’re you—!”

“Nice to know that you’ve matured, Davídrius,” Rebehka deadpanned.

“I’ll have you know that none of my children were accidents or born out of wedlock,” Kaoné declared. “To suggest otherwise…!”

“That’s not what I— wait…” Davídrius frowned. “…What do you mean, ‘not accidents?’ You can plan that stuff?”

“You…” Kaoné paused uneasily. “…You didn’t know that?”

“I’m not surprised,” Christeané snorted as the Materiatechnic allowed Davídrius to fall to the ground haphazardly. “Have you seen this guy with women? It’s no surprise he doesn’t know shit about sex or having kids.”

“Are you saying that you’re good with women?” Rebehka retorted.

“Like you’re one to make fun of me for being single.”

“Ooh, he’s got you there.” Kevérin smirked as the Cryotechnic drew away dejectedly.

“But still…” Kaoné turned toward Davídrius, a concerned expression on her face. “You’re forty, and you don’t know about family planning?”

“Oh, is that what that’s about?” The Velocitechnic stood up and dusted himself off. “I thought that was just… I dunno… travelin’ or some shit.”

“The shining light of Treséd, everyone,” Christeané joked.

“Oi, I’ve done more for Treséd than you and that joke of a College have ever done for East Nimaliaka,” Davídrius shot back.

“Hey, fuck you! I’ll have you know that the Kolstén College of Chaotics is doing very well for itself! Enrollment is at an all-time high!”

“And student behavior at an all-time low, am I right?”

“It’s not all about the students, we have researchers and shit too!”

“I’ll bet they’d be real impressed to hear that their Dean called them ‘researchers and shit.’”

Christeané rolled his eyes. “Ah, fuck you.”

“Fuck you too, buddy,” Davídrius replied with a smirk.

“Christeané’s right, though,” Kievkenalis commented, “I don’t know about you, but I feel like I’m managing a research group, not a school…”

Kaoné shrugged. “I feel the same way, but I guess that’s just universities for you.”

“That’s not entirely true,” Kevérin countered, “of course DSC and YCUR have a higher ratio of researchers to students — their Deans are a Materiatechnic and a Chaostechnic, respectively. I don’t know if you guys realize it, but your Chaotic types are like wet dreams to Chaotic and Chaos Energy researchers.” He glanced toward Kievkenalis. “Especially since you’re a Chaos Conduit.”

“Oh, is that why I’m always being asked to participate in experiments?” The Chaostechnic asked with a confused frown.

“…Isn’t it your job to understand what’s going on?” Rebehka questioned incredulously.

“Eh, not really.” Kievkenalis shrugged casually. “I don’t stick my nose into every experiment or research group. As long as everyone follows the rules and doesn’t do anything dangerous, everything’s fine.”

“Maybe that’s why you have so many researchers,” Christeané remarked, “most people could only dream of that kind of hands-off administration.”

“It’s still a problem,” Rebehka asserted, “is it really okay for you to be so lax? I’ve had Archoné Ledkia and the NSD breathing down my neck for less…”

Kievkenalis shrugged again. “I guess no one bothers me because I’m a Chaostechnic.”

“More like because you’re a full-fledged Chaos Conduit,” Kevérin countered, and then sighed. “For some reason, I never expected founding and leading the Institute would be so difficult.”

Davídrius scowled. “Yeah, you’d think we’d’ve been able to get more shit done after we saved the whole fuckin’ galaxy.”

“The thing is, we did get a lot done,” Rebehka responded wearily. “The very fact that we were able to drop out of the military when we did, and that we were even allowed to upset the normal Chaotic education scheme by founding private schools — that’s all thanks to the gratitude we earned after the Nanocreature War. But even then, I doubt any of the nations would’ve conceded the education point if you hadn’t done it first in Treséd and shown how effective it was.”

“Fuck yeah, stickin’ to the man.”

“Can’t ask for too much, is that what you’re sayin’?” Christeané questioned.

Kevérin chuckled spitefully. “If we were going to ask for anything more, we should have done it a long time ago, back when people were still willing to bow at our feet. But it’s too late now. Hell, even back then there were a lot of people who refused to believe that we’d done anything. It took five years for us to convince the galaxy that we’d killed Morcii and get them to finally back down from high alert, and five years after that everyone had already forgotten, despite the fact that the planets attacked by the Nanocreatures are still recovering.”

“I don’t think we can fault anyone for that,” Kaoné responded uneasily, “the Nanocreature War was pretty brutal. Even I wish I could forget, sometimes…”

“But we can’t,” Rebehka declared. “Even if the whole galaxy forgets, we’ll still remember. At least, I will. I made a promise, and I intend to keep it.”

“You named your school the ‘Wanléon-Tchiréon Academy of Chaotics,’” Christeané replied with a smirk, “trust me, no one’ll be forgetting Siyuakén any time soon.”

“I hope so,” the Cryotechnic responded, and then glanced away uneasily. “…People may have reason to remember her soon, though…”

“That sounds ominous.” Kevérin leaned forward in interest. “What do you mean?”

Rebehka stared at her half-empty mug, swilling the drink around for a moment or two before looking back up at the other Chaotics with a grim look on her face.

“Oh fuck, you’re serious…” Davídrius scowled. “What is it?”

“…What I’m about to say can’t leave this room,” she eventually replied. “I’ve arranged for a private meeting with the world leaders and the NSD commander, but this can’t be said at the Summit. It’s too early to go public.”

“We get it, we get it,” Christeané urged, “…what’s goin’ on?”

“Remember… remember how the Nanocreature War was prefaced by the appearance of the metallic infection?”

“Given that’s how we lost Siyuakén? Kinda hard to forget,” Davídrius remarked.

“Well…” Rebehka glanced down again, taking a deep breath before finishing, “the infection…

“It’s back.”

 

THE END of

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TO BE CONTINUED in the

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Link to the Key Saga…



Note from the Author: Hey y’all! I just wanted to thank you for taking the time to read Rise. If you enjoyed the story, then consider leaving a review or a rating over on my Web Fiction Guide listing! (Link here) I’d greatly appreciate it!

Thanks again for reading — and I hope to see you again as I write the Key Saga!

Chapter 85 – A Prologue’s End

Mondia, Ranth 20, 8034

Overdrive: Invisible Hand—”

Chaos Slam!

Commander Krydonin leaped backward, narrowly evading Commander Reginko as she rocketed forward and slammed into a group of Nanocreatures and scattered them like sand. Krydonin sighed irately before knocking away an approaching Nanocreature beast, allowing Reginko to whirl around and blast it with “Chaos Strike!

“Don’t be so careless!” Krydonin reprimanded her fellow Commander, “I hate to say this, but you’re too valuable to lose to the Nanocreatures, especially here—!”

“You just can’t handle the dust I’m kicking into your face,” Reginko retorted, and then jumped back to fire several Chaos Cannon projectiles at distant Nanocreature attackers. “Oriciid’kas is too crowded for both Sector 1 and 2 — so I’ll show you that 2 is superior!”

“Of course you will,” Krydonin deadpanned before telekinetically grabbing a metallic wyvern out of the air and slamming it into the ground — and then yanking Reginko back just in time to save her from being crushed as a gigantic Nanocreature behemoth fell out of the air.

“I don’t need your help—!”

“Save it for the debriefing,” Krydonin snapped, her eyes trained on the behemoth as it slowly recovered from its fall and began inspecting the urban environment around it. “…This is a problem. Reginko, take your team and try to get its attention. Pull it away from the city if you can—”

“Or we can just kill it now!” The Chaostechnic smirked, completely disregarding Krydonin as she jumped forward and shouted, “Chaos Slam!” She immediately rocketed through the air and into the giant creature’s maw — where, on impact, the entire beast exploded into a massive cloud of shiny silver dust.

“…What…?” Krydonin quickly pulled herself back, keeping a careful eye on her armor’s shielding as the silvery cloud slowly lost its sheen and fell to the ground.

“Ha ha!” Reginko whooped, “see, Krydonin? Maybe if you’d stop being such a pussy you’d get a kill every now and then!”

“No…” the Sector 1 Commander countered as a myriad of messages and alerts began appearing across her AR display, “…I don’t think this was you, Reginko.”

“Huh? …Ha, right, of course you’d say that.”

“I mean it,” Krydonin responded, her lips pursed in confusion. “It wasn’t just that beast. All of the Nanocreatures in local space just… dissolved. Fell apart. Almost like two months ago, but… all at once.”

“What? That doesn’t make any sense,” Reginko snorted. “…The hell are we doing here, then?”

“We do our job. Check on the city and the civilians,” Krydonin ordered, “get your ass in gear. I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to get caught off guard if this turns out to be a ruse…”


“Ma’am! The Nanocreatures have broken through the far front! They’re closing into middle orbit over Tau’cen Kii!”

“Launch the On’esstin! We don’t have time for it to complete its repairs, we need its firepower, now! What’s the word on the reserve fleets?”

“The Fifth and Sixth fleets are returning from the neighboring systems, but the Second and Fourth fleets are stuck in the Lis’talra system until the Transpace can be re-locked!”

“Damn it…” System Admiral Ukinon scowled as she stared at the holographic displays in the command center of the military station orbiting Tau’cen Kii. “…Pull the Ninth fleet back from the far front, but leave the Third and Seventh fleets in position. Intercept as many Nanocreature ships on the far front as possible; the First and Ninth fleets can deal with whatever makes it to orbit.”

The Admiral sighed warily as the officers in the command center scrambled to relay her orders. It had been almost two months since the Nanocreatures all disappeared — and then less than a day ago, with no warning at all, massive Nanocreature fleets appeared on the doorsteps of both Oriciid’kas and Tau’cen Kii. The initial strike dealt significant damage, but the CSA had since scrambled to defend the two systems… only to begin losing them even faster than during the Nanocreatures’ first campaign.

Ukinon looked over the status reports as they flew across the displays, taking in the information and processing it in silence. After several minutes she leaned forward and opened her mouth to give another order — only to pause as an alert message appeared directly in front of her face. She drew back and gestured to push the alert away as she quickly scanned it.

“…Is this confirmed?” she questioned, turning her attention to the rest of the command center.

“…Yes ma’am,” an officer replied a moment later. “Every fleet is reporting the same. The Nanocreatures have just…”

“…Dissolved,” the Admiral finished, “just like two months ago… no, they dissolved all at once this time? …Scan for energy usage, or any other signs of activity. We can’t let our guard down just yet.” She drew back again, watching the command center before turning her gaze to the holographic displays of the space outside the station. I wonder… does this have anything to do with those Nimalians…?


((CHAOS KILO BLAST!!))

A gigantic sphere of red energy nearly fifty kilometers in radius exploded outward from Surdeus, carving a huge crater in the ground and exposing a portion of the planet’s mantle. He quickly called out ((Chaos Teleport)) to teleport to the crater’s edge, ignoring the spewing lava as he glared upwards at the large numbers of Nanocreature ships.

((…How dare they encroach on my territory,)) he muttered, ((…not once, but twice! Have you no sense, Morcii?! Chaos Explosion— Chaos Void!)) Dozens of Nanocreature ships disappeared as two fifty-meter blasts of Chaos Energy obliterated everything within remote areas of space, leaving Surdeus to charge forward toward the metallic beasts on the ground. ((You believe me to be this easy a target?! I would destroy this very planet before I allowed you to seize my territory! Be gone, you filthy, irritating excuses for an army!! Chaos Deflection!!))

A spinning orb of energy burst outward from his body, knocking away all of the Nanocreatures within five meters as the Drakkar Faction leader leaped into the air, shouting, ((CHA…OS…!!)) But before he could unleash his next attack, all of the Nanocreatures in the vicinity suddenly ceased all movement. Surdeus quickly finished with ((Detect)) as he caught himself on the ground below, cautiously surveying the environment around him as every Nanocreature simply collapsed into mounds of dust.

((…Again…?)) he muttered, and then turned around to stare at the horizon. ((…No. This is… hmph.)) He snorted, crossing his arms irately as he began looking around the damaged yet conspicuously silent battlefield. ((So someone managed to defeat Morcii before I had the chance))


“Commencing bombing run in five minutes!”

“Roger that,” Captain Krick acknowledged, leaning forward in his captain’s chair as he quickly scanned the various status readouts aboard the bridge of the Genesis. “Watch yourselves, Commander. The Nanocreatures have let up since they first attacked, but we can’t afford to underestimate them!”

“Never fear, Chief Captain. The First Frigate Squad are used to dealing with superior forces.”

“You got that damn right,” Krick muttered as the comm line closed. He returned his attention to the wide bridge windows, through which a number of Nanocreature ships could be seen in the distance. Below the battlefield was the planet of Eana, the Earthians’ first and only true Fortress World — and the site where four of the Ayas were formerly stored. The Nanocreatures had appeared out of nowhere and seized the four gemstones before anyone could react, destroying two of the Frigates stationed there as well as one of the planet’s outposts in the process. The Genesis was quickly dispatched to protect the planet and had been engaged with the Nanocreatures since, serving as the Earthians’ only true line of defense against such a vastly superior foe.

“Status report,” Krick ordered, ignoring a rumble as the ship’s shields took a hit.

“Shields are holding at seventy-three percent,” Captain Bourne replied from her seat at a console further down the bridge, “we are wearing down the enemy ships, but at the current rate, it will take over a week to destroy them all.”

“Hopefully Commander Reimers can change that,” Krick muttered, eying a countdown as the numbers dipped bellow one minute. “Time to see how those reverse-engineered railguns do… begin target acquisition! Lock onto the largest and weakest ships and relay targeting data to the Frigates!”

“Yes sir!”

“Bombing run in thirty seconds… prepare for a light show!” Krick smirked. “…Ten seconds! …Five! Four! Three! Two! One!”

Five Earthian Frigates rocketed out of Subspace five hundred kilometers in front of the Genesis, each one equipped with a massive railgun reverse-engineered from the Battlecruiser’s own weaponry. A split-second later, five sabots were flying through space at relativistic speeds, smashing into five different Nanocreature ships and utterly obliterating them as the Frigates zoomed past and entered Subspace again.

“Ha ha! Five down!” Krick whooped, “let’s keep this up—!”

“Uh, sir… that’s not all,” Bourne interjected as she glanced back at the Captain in confusion. “…It’s not just the five targets that were destroyed.”

“Huh?” The Captain snapped his attention back to the bridge displays — sure enough, all of the Nanocreature ship signatures had disappeared from the sensors, replaced by shiny metallic clouds that the Earthians could barely see through the bridge windows. A new display soon appeared, showing a magnified camera feed of the Nanocreature remains.

“It’s two months ago, all over again…” Bourne muttered warily.

“…I’ll take it,” Krick replied, “maybe someone found a way to get rid of them for good this time. Now, we don’t have time to waste! Begin check-ins with all of the planetary outposts! And get the Frigate squad back here!…”


“The target has taken the bait!”

“Don’t let off, draw it as far from the surface as possible!” Commander Rantéin ordered, his eyes snapping from AR display to AR display as he attempted to manage every facet of Nimalia’s defense. “That Deathnought is the single greatest threat to this planet! Disregard the rest of the Nanocreature fleets until we can draw away that ship!”

“Easier said than done, I’m afraid,” General Acknos of Tekdecé commented, approaching Rantéin and standing beside him as he glanced between the status readouts in the command bunker. “Morale is low. Not only did the Nanocreatures deal a swift blow to Nimaliaka Central, but they also took out Nikéyin.”

“Which is why we’re in command now, I know.”

“That’s beside the point. She was the commander, and for her to fall so quickly is a devastating blow, even more so when facing an enemy against which organization is most paramount.”

“And what would you have us do?” Rantéin eyed the Tekdecénian General warily. “Our fleets are stretched thin and Nimaliaka is almost overrun with those metallic bastards. There isn’t exactly any time for morale-boosting exercises!”

“I’m well aware…” Acknos sighed regretfully. “…Even if the Nanocreatures were to simply disappear now… the damage to Nimalia and the NSD is significant. I can only hope that the participating nations don’t fall to squabbling.”

Rantéin grunted in irritation. “Now’s not the time for your politicking. We have an enemy Deathnought to take care of—”

“Sirs!”

“Hmm?” Both men turned their attention toward an officer as he dashed up to them.

“The Nanocreature ships, they… they’ve all disintegrated!”

“They what?” Acknos snapped his attention back to the status displays. “…Well, I’ll be… again, huh? What caused it this time…?”

“…Hero Machina…”

“Hmm?” The General glanced toward Rantéin. “What was that?”

“The Chaotic Squad that Nikéyin put together half a year ago. They were the ones largely responsible for retrieving the Ayas and defeating the Nanocreatures the first time around. I had heard that they left Nimalia several hours ago, but…” Rantéin frowned, and then chuckled to himself. “Well, we can’t rest now. Acknos, you should return to Tekdecé immediately and help with reconstruction from there.”

“Will do.” The Tekdecénian nodded as he turned toward the exit. “Be wary, though. Who knows if this is just a ruse.”

“Ha. I’m sure Culana would say otherwise,” Rantéin muttered to himself, “…and I’m inclined to agree. Hero Machina, huh… you’ve done it again!”


Holy shit… we killed Morcii.

Fuck yeah we did! Davídrius whooped as he pumped both his fists in glee, we kicked his ass real good!

’We?’ Siyuakén smirked in amusement, turning toward the rest of Hero Machina as the Arcán Ayas dislodged itself from her hip and fell to the ground. She stooped down to pick it up, only to wince as pain shot up her left arm and through her chest.

Are you okay…? Christeané questioned, having caught the slight motion in the corner of his eye.

Yeah, what’s with the Ayas? Kevérin added, oblivious to Christeané’s observation as he instead focused on the Arcán Ayas in Siyuakén’s hand.

THE AYAS PRIOR STATE WILL AUTOMATICALLY DE-POWER INTO THE NORMAL PRIOR STATE AFTER THE SUCCESSFUL USE OF A LINK DRIVE, Arcán responded as Siyuakén winced again, this time in a much more visible fashion. …BUT THAT IS A TANGENTIAL ISSUE, I’M AFRAID.

…What? Kaoné questioned uneasily, what are you talking about…?

YOUR FRIEND—

I can tell them, Arcán, Siyuakén interjected as she grasped her left arm in pain. …But you won’t be with me much longer, will you?

…THAT IS CORRECT.

Siyuakén, what are you—? Kevérin began, but the Electrotechnic cut him off.

You need to know how to get off this planet, right? she commented, her breath turning ragged. Arcán, there’s a Gate here, right? Where is it?

THIRTY KILOMETERS TO THE NORTHEAST. IT RESTS IN A LARGE, RECESSED AREA, BUT IS STILL EXPOSED TO THE SKY. THE VELOCITECHNIC SHOULD BE ABLE TO FIND IT EASILY.

There. Siyuakén nodded toward Kevérin. Now… you know how to leave.

Why are you using ‘you’ instead of ‘we’?… Kaoné responded warily.

…This is it, isn’t it? Rebehka replied forlornly.

Ha, yep. The Electrotechnic smirked painfully. Arcán, can you—?

I AM SORRY, BUT I’M AFRAID I WILL NOT BE ABLE TO STAY WITH YOU MUCH LONGER, Arcán commented, his voice growing faint. I MUST RETURN TO MY PLATFORM… I CONGRATULATE YOU, ALDREDANOIDS, SIYUAKÉN. DEFEATING MORCII IS NO SMALL FEAT. BUT FOR NOW… FAREWELL.

A brief flash of light blinded the Chaotics of Hero Machina as the blue robing, armor plating, and long ponytail disappeared from Siyuakén’s body, replaced by the maroon waist-cloak and navy blue breastplate that she wore while corrupted. She then collapsed as Rebehka jumped forward to catch her friend and keep her from falling to the ground.

…Alright, the fuck’s goin’ on here? Davídrius questioned impatiently, why’re you—?

She’s dying.

The rest of Hero Machina froze as they all turned toward Rebehka.

…Bullshit. Christeané scowled. Just because Morcii said it doesn’t mean it’s true—

“No… she’s right,” Siyuakén interrupted before breaking into a coughing fit as Rebehka carefully lowered her to the ground. She leaned against a nearby chunk of Chaos Matter and looked up at the other Chaotics, flashing them a brief but pained smile. “Hey, it’s not so bad. *cough* I mean… we killed Morcii… right?”

But… why? Kievkenalis responded in confusion. If Morcii’s gone… you shouldn’t be corrupted anymore, right?

“Ah, haha— ow—! …See…” The Electrotechnic fell into another coughing fit before continuing, “…that’s the problem, you see? Morcii… is the controller of every Nanocreature. Without him, or… any of the Ayas… every nanite stops working. …No exceptions.”

Wait, if that’s the problem— I can fix that! Kaoné quickly kneeled next to Siyuakén, desperation wrought across her features. I can— I can do this, I’ve already removed corruption from myself before, I can, I can do this…!

But the Electrotechnic simply shook her head in response. “I’m too far gone,” she countered, “…the corruption… went too far. Even… my brain…”

But… but…!

“It’s okay…” Siyuakén smiled again. “…I appreciate the thought. I really do.”

…So that’s it, huh? Davídrius furrowed his brow in frustration. You expect us to just watch you die—?

Siyuakén glanced up as the Velocitechnic paused mid-sentence. She followed his gaze down to her left arm — down to her hand that was slowly losing its metallic sheen and turning a dirty gray.

“Consider it the price of saving the galaxy,” she responded. “Not… not everyone can have a happy ending… you know?”

Christeané turned toward Rebehka. And you’re fine with this? Just… letting her die?

Don’t think I’m taking this easily, the Cryotechnic countered, …but I’ve had time to think about this. We… She glanced toward Siyuakén, who nodded back. …I knew about this since before we left Arcán’s Platform.

And you thought not telling us was a good idea?

And distract us all during the most important battle of our entire lives?

Christeané opened his mouth to respond, but paused and eventually drew back. I guess you have a point… he responded uneasily.

“…I’m happy, though…” Siyuakén muttered, her voice hoarse as her waist-cloak began fading to gray along with her arm. “…To have… met you all, worked with… you all… …to know that… I have you guys as friends…” She turned toward Kevérin. “You make… a good CO, you know…?”

Oh… thanks, he replied stiffly, and you… you’re a good fighter. Probably better than I could ever be.

“Heh, I wonder,” she snorted, and then coughed painfully as her eyes swept toward Kaoné. “…We didn’t really… get off on the right foot, but… I was the same with Rebehka, once, so…”

Yeah, we… The Materiatechnic turned away as she stifled a sniffle. …I’m glad we could meet, and get to know each other.

Siyuakén smiled briefly in response before glancing toward Kievkenalis. “Ah… …sorry… about your friends…”

No, it’s— it’s fine. The Chaostechnic shook his head vigorously. That wasn’t your fault, that was all Morcii. I’m just glad that we could avenge them… I don’t blame you at all.

“I’m glad… you think that,” Siyuakén responded, and then launched into another coughing fit, uncontrollably coughing up blood as her left fingertips began to crumble. Rebehka moved to steady her, but the Electrotechnic waved her off with her good arm as she recovered from the fit and looked up at Christeané.

Now that I think about it, we never really got a chance to catch up, did we? The Forcetechnic smirked forlornly. Since we first met, I mean.

Siyuakén responded in kind. “…Ha, I guess not. …But that was a… fun week, way back… then.”

’Way back?’ That was only a year and a half ago.

The Electrotechnic shot him an unamused glance before wincing again, the sudden jerk causing even more of her arm to crumble. “…You know what I mean.”

Ha, Christeané chuckled. I know, I know. I had a fun time, too. Both then, and now!

“I’ll bet you did…” Siyuakén replied and then turned toward Davídrius.

He pursed his lips in irritation. My turn, huh? Wait so long ‘cause you couldn’t think of anythin’ good to say?

“Just as irritating and… impatient as ever.”

Tch.

“And I’d have it… no other way,” Siyuakén finished. “…You don’t show it… but I know you care. And I’m glad.”

Ah… fuck. Davídrius looked away uneasily. Uh… sure. Thanks, I guess.

“…And that leaves…” The Electrotechnic warily glanced over at Rebehka, who was kneeling by her side. “…The best… for last…”

Siyuakén…

“…I don’t think… I need to say any… more,” Siyuakén responded in between ragged breaths as her arm dissolved past her elbow, while the rest of her body had turned a faded gray. “…Said everything… before…”

I know. Rebehka moved to embrace her friend tightly. I promised earlier, but I’ll say it again. I’ll never forget you… no matter what happens.

“Thanks…” Siyuakén closed her eyes, a warm smile spreading across her face as she brought her right arm up to pat Rebehka’s back. “Thanks… to all… of… you… …”

Her arm went limp, falling to the ground with a soft thud.

Silence filled the air. A moment later, Rebehka took a deep breath and released her friend, backing away and revealing that her entire left arm had disappeared. The Cryotechnic looked her over before climbing back to her feet as Kevérin slowly approached.

Kaoné… He glanced toward the Materiatechnic. Can you…?

She simply nodded in response before entombing Siyuakén’s body in stone and lifting it into the air.

…We lost a friend, today, Kevérin began as he turned toward the other Chaotics of Hero Machina, …I would say ‘again,’ but there’s no making light of this. This time… this time, it’s real. There’s no coming back. But there’s at least one thing we can do for her… He nodded toward Rebehka. Right?

…Never forget… the Cryotechnic responded quietly, that’s what she said… as long as we remember her…

Like hell we’ll forget her, Davídrius retorted, she saved our asses from that Ikirom guy and then went on to kill Morcii. She’ll be in the damned history books, I’ll see to that!

He’s right, Christeané declared with a nod as he flashed Rebehka a grin. Don’t worry. I— we won’t be forgetting Siyuakén anytime soon.

Exactly. Kevérin smiled in response before stooping to pick up the Arcán Ayas. …We need to get back to Nimalia, but for now, we can be happy. Yes, Siyuakén died… but she died surrounded by her friends, and what’s more, she died to save the entire galaxy! We all owe her our lives, so let’s not put them to waste. Got it? He smirked forlornly as the rest of Hero Machina responded with firm nods. Alright, then… He turned toward the northeast. …It’s time to get out of here. Hero Machina…

Move out!

Chapter 84 – Final End of Known: Harbinger

“Chaos Assist! Chaos Slam!

Kievkenalis opened the battle with a boost to Hero Machina followed by an immediate attack on Morcii. He impacted the Nanocreature leader within a second, knocking him toward the back of the cavern where Davídrius appeared and launched him upwards with a bicycle kick. Christeané quickly grabbed a nearby pillar, completely uprooting it and swinging it toward Morcii as if he were swatting a fly out of the air, but the Nanocreature threw the two Sendous Chakrams and obliterated the pillar before disappearing into the debris cloud. Kaoné instantly coalesced the cloud into a small, compact stone, trapping Morcii inside — only for him to easily break out and rocket downward, crashing into Siyuakén with incredible force.

{YOU INSOLENT FOOLS!”} he roared as he summoned back the Chakrams and began attacking the Electrotechnic with all three Ayas Weapons in his possession, dealing a flurry of blows that she was barely able to keep up with. {YOU BELIEVE YOU CAN DEFEAT ME? ME—”} He clashed blades with Siyuakén and then smashed his foot into her stomach, sending her flying tens of meters back. {—A GOD?”}

The only thing you’re a god of is delusions! Siyuakén retorted as she blasted him with a lightning strike, stunning him just long enough for Rebehka to summon a massive ice spire around him. Christeané immediately bounded forward, both arms covered by the Matlés Gauntlets as he smashed his fists into the spire and instantly destroyed it, allowing Kaoné to fling Morcii back into the air by rapidly raising the ground beneath his feet. Kevérin quickly intercepted the Nanocreature leader with a cloud of flame, but Morcii simply ignored the attack as he detached his lower pair of arms and transformed them both into laser cannons that opened fire on the Pyrotechnic as the Nanocreature himself zoomed in, bringing down the Arcán Claymore overhead. Kevérin barely managed to block with the Tanivas Staff, deflecting the blade strike but failing to dodge as Morcii lunged forward and dealt him a fierce head-butt followed by a roundhouse kick that sent him flying into the far wall over a kilometer away.

“Chaos Mach Eight Cannon!”

The hypersonic projectile tore through Morcii’s body, ripping his legs and tails away from his torso as Kaoné flung chunks of Chaos Matter at the Nanocreature. He quickly recovered and easily evaded the projectiles as he reunited with his lost limbs — and then merged his legs together into a massive downward-facing laser cannon. He immediately opened fire, sweeping across the platform below and leaving a multi-meter wide path of smoldering Chaos Matter in its path. A lightning strike from below drew his attention just in time for Davídrius to appear over him and dunk him with a fierce kick, creating a crater as the Nanocreature leader impacted the ground nigh-instantly. Christeané and Rebehka both quickly approached the crater, but when the debris cleared, Morcii was gone — only to appear out of the ground underneath Rebehka, smashing his fist into her chin and then grabbing her arm and throwing her at Christeané. The Cryotechnic immediately responded by freezing Morcii’s feet to the ground and trapping his tails in a block of ice, which Kevérin quickly superheated and caused a massive steam explosion. “Chaos Slam!” Kievkenalis shouted, rocketing forward and impacting Morcii with a shockwave, launching him out of the cloud of steam as he followed with “Chaos Targeted Nullify!”

{NULLIFY MEANS NOTHING TO ME,”} Morcii snarled, detaching his arms and splitting them several times over before transforming all of the pieces into dozens of tiny laser cannons with which he opened fire on Hero Machina. {IF I WERE A CHAOTIC IT WOULD WORK, BUT I AM BEYOND THAT—”}

He immediately held up two of his tails, catching Davídrius’s incoming foot and hurling the Velocitechnic overhead. The Nanocreature then transformed his other two tails into long blades as he blasted forward, piercing the ground on which Davídrius had landed barely a second earlier. He quickly followed by summoning and throwing both Sendous Chakrams at the Velocitechnic before knocking away Christeané with the Arcán Claymore and turning his laser cannons on Siyuakén. The Electrotechnic quickly slammed her own Claymore into the ground around her, shattering the ground and dislodging several pieces of Chaos Matter that she manipulated with electric fields to rest in front of her just in time to block the initial laser blast. She then massively increased the power behind her electric fields, crystallizing the very ground beneath her feet and deflecting Morcii’s lasers — but failing to deflect the Nanocreature leader himself as he rocketed forwards, piercing the fields with ease and throwing his foot forward in a powerful kick. Siyuakén managed to block the blow with her Claymore but the pure force still launched her backwards. Morcii crouched down, prepared to give chase, but tripped due to the bounds of ice that had appeared over his feet. Kaoné instantly launched him skyward as Kevérin and Kievkenalis followed up with a multitude of flame and Chaos attacks, ceasing only when Rebehka crafted a massive ice-club midair and smacked Morcii toward Christeané’s waiting fists.

Gotcha now! the Forcetechnic shouted with a grin as he thrust his fist forward, completely pulverizing Morcii’s chest — only for it to immediately reform around his wrist.

{NOT QUITE,”} the Nanocreature responded with a malicious smirk as he whirled around, releasing Christeané from his chest and sending him flying toward the ceiling. Davídrius moved to intercept the Nanocreature leader but Morcii launched into the air before he could, slamming into Christeané midair and driving the both of them upwards into the ceiling — and through it.

He’s getting away! Kevérin shouted as the entire cavern began to rumble violently, the ceiling around Morcii’s impact point beginning to collapse. After him!!

Kaoné paused to create a platform for Kievkenalis, Davídrius, and herself as Kevérin blasted upward, filling the hole Morcii had created with flames just before entering. His vision went black as the tunnel blocked out all light, but within seconds the air above him opened up, revealing the twilit sky and blue surroundings of Elecal’s surface. …We were this close to the surface? he muttered to himself just as Christeané tumbled past. The Pyrotechnic immediately returned his attention to the battle just in time to summon the Tanivas Staff and smash it into Morcii’s face the moment the Nanocreature leader passed him, sending him stumbling forward. Christeané was instantly upon the downed Nanocreature, lifting his hands into the air and then smashing them into Morcii’s back and creating a hundred-meter crater — which was immediately inverted as Kaoné blasted her way through.

As soon as her platform was clear, Davídrius and Kievkenalis leaped off, with Davídrius instantly locking onto Morcii’s location and dashing over to him, only to be knocked away as the Nanocreature intercepted him with the Arcán Claymore. Morcii immediately took to the air, narrowly evading another blow from Christeané as he ignored a blast of fire and deflected several incoming Chaos Cannon shots with the back of his hand, each of which went on to smash into and demolish distant mountains and plains. The Nanocreature then detached all of his limbs from his body, separating them into dozens of flechettes and laser cannons that spread out across the sky and began attacking the grounded Chaotics. Within a second of opening fire, a massive ice sheet appeared in the sky, trapping each of the pieces until Morcii broke them out half a second later — but he then failed to react in time as Davídrius leaped up through the shattered ice, summoned the Hastryth Chain Weapon, impaled Morcii, and dragged him down to the ground. The Nanocreature dislodged himself from the weapon before actual impact, summoning enough flechettes and laser cannons back to himself to reform two arms and grab Hastryth’s chain, thereby jerking Davídrius to a stop. He then lunged forward to deck the Velocitechnic across the face, sending him flying nearly a whole kilometer away before spinning around and instantly forming a shield in front of him from the rest of his cannons and flechettes to block a lightning blast followed by a punch from Christeané. The Nanocreature then resisted a call of “Chaos Control,” but the effort tripped him up just long enough for Kaoné to launch him into the air again before creating a block of stone midair and spiking him back to the ground at Kevérin’s feet. Without missing a beat, the Pyrotechnic blasted Morcii with fire and then stabbed him with the Tanivas Staff, rapidly heating the Staff and the air around it until initiating an incredible blast of heat that incinerated everything for several meters around. But the Nanocreature leader emerged unscathed — he immediately grabbed the Staff and ripped it out of Kevérin’s hands and then slammed his fists into the Pyrotechnic’s chest, sending him flying away just in time for Morcii to whip around and block Rebehka as she attempted to slice him open with a blade of ice. Kevérin quickly summoned the Staff back to himself, momentarily robbing Morcii of a weapon until he summoned the Arcán Claymore and blocked Rebehka’s next blow — only for the Cryotechnic’s blade to freeze to Arcán on impact.

{YOU—!”} Morcii scowled, barely able to react as Rebehka tore Arcán from his grasp and then, with a single motion, summoned the Tsern Spear and impaled him, instantly freezing his entire body to the polearm. A split-second later, Davídrius appeared and smashed his foot into the frozen Nanocreature, completely shattering him and creating a cloud of ice and silvery debris that Siyuakén rapidly charged, triggering a myriad of interior lightning strikes. Kaoné then encased all of the debris in a large stone, but before anyone else could attack, Morcii exploded from the stone and rocketed up to nearly a hundred meters high in the sky. He paused for a moment to glare at the Chaotics and dodge a blast of flame before whipping around and flying off, raising higher into the sky.

He’s escaping!! Kevérin shouted, attempting to give chase as Kaoné summoned the Mystryth Bow and began firing arrows at the Nanocreature leader, only for all of them to miss.

He’s too fast! she exclaimed, what— what do we do?!

…No… he’s not too fast, Siyuakén countered, eying the dot that continually grew smaller with distance before bracing herself and rapidly raising the electric current through her body, quickly surpassing the voltage levels of any of her previous attacks.

Siyuakén?… Davídrius glanced toward the Electrotechnic warily as the hair on the back of his neck began to rise. What are you doing?…

Everyone, back away, she replied through clenched teeth as the energy in the air around her began to cause chaotic winds and sparks began leaping from her body. …This… is going to hurt. But I’ll bring that bastard back. He can’t escape me!

…I SEE. YOUR CORRUPTION IS THE KEY; IF YOU CAN ONLY—

I know, Arcán, I know! Now help me out here—!

“Cha… os… Charge!

The electric charge in the surrounding environment suddenly jumped to unprecedented levels, triggering arcs of lightning from Siyuakén to random spots on the ground several meters away as Kievkenalis offered her a quick wave and then teleported away.

Ha… thanks. She smirked, lightning beginning to jump from the air itself to the ground as Siyuakén generated enough energy to cause the stone for meters around to crystallize and liquefy. She summoned the Arcán Claymore — which immediately began to glow and spark — and slowly pointed it at the sky as she closed her eyes. Morcii had long disappeared from eyesight, but she had no need to lay eyes on him. Even attempting to sense his influence on electric fields wasn’t necessary, for Siyuakén possessed one trait that allowed her to always know Morcii’s location: she was corrupted. And as powerful as Morcii was, there existed no way for him to permanently and completely cut himself off from Nanocreature nanites.

There! Siyuakén’s brow furrowed as she located Morcii, several hundred kilometers high and rapidly ascending. Immediately, she directed the Arcán Claymore toward him — and fired an incredible blast of energy, a lightning strike streaking through the sky at thousands of kilometers per second, even piercing the vacuum of space to hit Morcii with an inescapable shock that lit up the entire region as bright as day before fading away to nothing.

And— now!

In the moment that Morcii was struck, Siyuakén seized control of his body and yanked him back, sending him careening through space and atmosphere. He quickly regained control but was unable to slow himself — and was unable to react as the Electrotechnic held up Arcán and cleanly impaled him on the blade. Immediately, Christeané bounded onto the scene, having been launched forward by a kick from Davídrius as he reached forward and grabbed Morcii’s head, tearing the Nanocreature off of Arcán and slamming him into the ground. He then grabbed two of Morcii’s tails and yanked him into the air, twirling him once overhead before releasing him into the distance at hypersonic speeds — which Davídrius easily matched and exceeded, intercepting Morcii and spiking him back to the ground with a fierce kick. The moment the Nanocreature leader hit the ground, a massive spike appeared, impaling him again as Kaoné raised several more spikes around him — followed by Rebehka suddenly flash-freezing the entire area, creating a fifty-meter ice spire that completely swallowed up Morcii — and then exploded in a cloud of steam as Kevérin rapidly superheated the object, destroying everything encased inside due to the sudden pressure and temperature change. Then, without waiting for the steam to clear, Kievkenalis teleported to the center of the cloud and shouted, “CHAOS BLAST!”

In an instant, everything within fifty meters was completely obliterated, creating a smooth crater that Kievkenalis and the remains of Morcii dropped into. The Chaostechnic immediately summoned the Aldrace Glaive and pierced the Nanocreature through his stomach, pinning him to the ground. Morcii attempted to get up, reaching up with his three remaining arms and tugging at the polearm — only for the Tanivas Staff and Tsern Spear to suddenly smash his shoulders, shearing his arms off of his body. Each arm slowly rose into the air… and then fell back to the ground as the rest of Hero Machina converged on the scene.

{…YOU…”} Morcii groaned, his third arm and his tails dissolving as his body reverted to his normal form, the Sendous and Arcán Ayas appearing in the air over his chest before dropping to the ground and tumbling to the side. “…YOU… DEFEATED… ME…!?”

We told you it would happen, didn’t we? Siyuakén countered as she stooped down to pick up the Arcán Ayas. You lost.

“NOT… POSSIBLE. I… AM…”

A god? Davídrius snorted. If you’re a god, then what’s that make us?

Ha! I’d gladly take the title of ‘god-killer,’ Christeané remarked with a smirk.

“YOU… GLOAT TOO EARLY…” Morcii responded, slowly picking himself up — only to be shocked and slammed back to the ground with a club of ice.

You stay there. Siyuakén glared at the Nanocreature leader as Kaoné covered most of his body with steel sheets, effectively trapping him in place.

THE AYAS PRIOR STATE? Arcán prompted.

I know, the Electrotechnic muttered, and then took a deep breath. Prior State: Ayas Arcán!”

The Arcán Ayas turned into a small cloud of light blue particles before translating through the air to Siyuakén’s hip, where it reformed and locked itself into her form, leaving it completely inseparable from her body.

“…YOU CAN’T DO IT,” Morcii snorted as she summoned the Arcán Claymore again. “YOU… USING A LINK DRIVE AGAINST ME… HA. YOU’LL DIE… YOU CAN’T LIVE… WITHOUT… ME.”

I don’t want to live with you, Siyuakén countered as she grasped the weapon with both hands and leveled it toward Morcii. I don’t care what happens to me. As long as I can end you, forever…!

“HA… AH HA HA, HA HA HA HA HA!” The Nanocreature launched into deranged laughter as the Electrotechnic raised Arcán over her head. “END ME? FOREVER? HA! YOU THINK… THIS IS THE END…? THIS… IS ONLY… THE BEGINNING. AH HA HA…!”

Your threats are meaningless! This is the end, Morcii. You won’t be missed! Siyuakén shouted back as Morcii continued to laugh to himself. “Link Drive: Menace Hunter!!”

A bright flash of white light momentarily blinded everyone present as the Arcán Claymore began glowing a brilliant golden color, the golden aura extending nearly two meters past the end of the blade and forming a sharp surface of hard light as Siyuakén brought the weapon down on Morcii, carving a massive hole through the ground and Nanocreature alike. The moment the blade touched Morcii, his eyes went blank — and then his body exploded into a silvery cloud that rapidly lost its sheen, turning into nothing more than dust as the golden light disappeared from Arcán. Silence followed before Kaoné gathered the dust together and coalesced it into a small block that Rebehka quickly encased in ice. When nothing followed, the seven Chaotics of Hero Machina let out a collective sigh of relief.

Morcii… was truly dead!

Chapter 83 – Final Chaos

Siyuakén lunged forward, rapidly closing the distance between her and Ikirom as she forced a massive electrical charge down Arcán’s blade. Once she came within five meters of the Morikai, she brought down a powerful lightning strike over his head — only for the strike to redirect to his side as an invisible force flung her backwards. Flipping through the air, she managed to land on her feet and then attempted to land several more electric strikes on Ikirom. Only half of the strikes actually manifested and none of them made contact with the Morikai, who simply observed with a blank expression before a snowstorm whipped up and obscured him from Siyuakén’s vision.

INCOMING, TWELVE O’CLOCK.

The Electrotechnic barely registered Arcán’s mental warning and threw herself to the side just in time for an invisible force to slam into her foot and send her spinning out of control. The pain disappeared after a second as she summoned the Claymore and stabbed it into the ground, bringing her momentum to zero and allowing her to re-orient herself. Damn, I need to be faster—

MORE INCOMING. THREE AND FOUR O’CLOCK!

Siyuakén reacted the moment she heard the first number, lunging forward and releasing a powerful electric blast to clear the snow in the area. Immediately following the blast she was flung upwards by a force from below, sending her tumbling blindly through the blizzard. In an attempt to regain her bearings she fired her grappling hook wildly; on the second shot, the line went taught and she immediately began reeling in the cord before slamming into the ground painfully.

HE IS NOT TAKING YOU SERIOUSLY, Arcán commented within Siyuakén’s mind, BUT I CAN TURN THIS INTO AN ADVANTAGE. THE LONGER WE FIGHT HIM, THE MORE I CAN HELP YOU DIRECTLY COUNTER HIS MANIPULATIONS.

How am I supposed to counter invisible force—?

TEN O’CLOCK!

Siyuakén slammed her foot into the ground and thrust herself backwards as the snow around her swept sideways violently. She quickly released another electrical blast in an attempt to electrify her surroundings and locate Ikirom through his bodily electric currents — but he never gave her the chance to concentrate hard enough to find him.

How can you tell when he’s going to attack? the Electrotechnic questioned as she began running a broad circle around where she thought Ikirom might be.

THE SIMPLE EXPLANATION IS THAT I AM A PRIOR. BUT I AM WORKING ON GRANTING YOU A SIMILAR ABILITY, SO HOLD ON FOR JUST A LITTLE LONGER.

I’m trying—?! Siyuakén’s eyes went wide as Ikirom suddenly appeared through the snow curtain in front of her, swinging the Syn Scythe in front of him. She barely managed to raise her Claymore to block the Scythe’s blade, but the pure force from the blow flung her several tens of meters to the side.

You’ve let to lay a hand on me, Ikirom commented as the surrounding environment spontaneously changed to that of a forest. Need I really handicap myself so heavily to make this a fair fight?

I don’t know what part of this is ‘fair’! Siyuakén scowled as she fired her grappling hook into the branches of a nearby tree and began to swing from branch to branch. At least I’m familiar with forests—! Her thought was cut off as a small splotch of purple appeared in the corner of her eye; a second later she realized it was rapidly approaching and moved to get out of the way — only to find that the tree her hook was attached to had disappeared, leaving her momentarily unable to maneuver.

Ungh—! She took the blow head-on, the splotch revealing itself to be another force from Ikirom. I take it this is what you meant, Arcán?

IT IS. YOU SHOULD BE ABLE TO FORESEE IKIROM’S MANIPULATIONS BY A SPLIT-SECOND, BUT IT IS UP TO YOU TO REACT IN TIME—

As if to drive the Prior’s point home, a tear in space appeared in the air directly above Siyuakén through which Ikirom emerged not even a full second later. He grabbed the Electrotechnic’s arm with his tail, swung her through the air, and then slammed her into the ground; he then prepared to lift her again, but she quickly sliced through his tail with the Claymore, prompting the Morikai Commander to back away, summon the Syn Scythe, and close the distance again. Siyuakén jumped to her feet and began blocking Ikirom’s swings, yet despite the fact that the Morikai was wielding such an awkward weapon as a Scythe, his blows were fast and powerful enough to drive Siyuakén back and force her to go on the defensive.

In an attempt to fight back, the Electrotechnic began forcing a massive current down the blade of the Arcán Claymore. Each time the Claymore connected with the Scythe, sparks exploded from the contact points as the two weapons were blown apart, only for Siyuakén and Ikirom to bring them back together as each combatant continued in their attempts to cut down the other. After several more such blows, Ikirom finally tired of the apparent futility and instead backed away as he prepared a different attack. But Siyuakén immediately lunged forward, crossing the two meters in between herself and Ikirom in the blink of an eye and taking a powerful swing that missed the Morikai but connected with the Syn Scythe, discharging a massive amount of energy and flinging the weapon out of Ikirom’s hands. He immediately altered the environment to that of a barren mountainside and smacked Siyuakén with his tail, sending her flying backwards as she responded with several lightning strikes, all of which were diverted away from Ikirom and toward the Scythe tumbling down the mountainside—

—and caused the blade to shatter into a thousand tiny pieces.

What?! Siyuakén exclaimed in surprise. Wait, Arcán, I thought the Ayas weapons were supposed to be indestructible!

THEY ARE. WHICH MUST MEAN THAT THAT SCYTHE WAS NOT ACTUALLY THE SYN WEAPON — IT WAS MERELY A REPLICA. THERE’S ONLY ONE REASON IKIROM WOULD USE A REPLICA INSTEAD OF THE ORIGINAL—

Now’s not the time for speculation— what in the—?! The Electrotechnic froze in place as Ikirom disappeared from the battlefield and the entire mountain flipped upside-down in an instant, placing the cloudy skies below her and the stone ground above her. She began falling down — or up — and took several seconds to register the situation before snapping her left hand upwards and firing her grappling hook at the stone ceiling.

Arcán…! she muttered warily as she glanced down at the sky, what’s going on?!

IKIROM IS BEGINNING TO TAKE THE BATTLE SERIOUSLY…? NO, THAT ISN’T IT. HE IS STILL TOYING WITH YOU, BUT HE IS DOING MORE THAN SIMPLE INVISIBLE FORCE.

This is toying with me?! Siyuakén scowled, followed by a sharp gasp as the gravity field suddenly shifted and slammed her back into the mountainside. She quickly jumped to her feet, only to stumble and fall to the ground again as she held a hand to her forehead tenderly. What… she muttered again, as she glanced up — or down — at the sky. …I’m on the ground, but… I still feel upside-down, like the sky is still below me? What the hell?…

Do you realize now the power of Realitechnism?

The Electrotechnic leaped to her feet again, this time overcoming the environmental disorientation through mental assistance from Arcán. Where are you? she shouted into the winds as she glanced around in search of the Morikai Commander.

Where am I? Ikirom echoed, and then chuckled. You cannot find me. In this realm, created by me — you will only find me if I allow it. No sense of yours could possibly locate me… for I am simply not present.

HE’S BLUFFING. A REALITECHNIC’S BIGGEST WEAKNESS IS THAT THEY STILL REQUIRE THEIR BODY TO LIVE; HE MAY BE ABLE TO HIDE FROM YOU, BUT HE MUST STILL BE AROUND.

Then how do I find him…? She scowled again. …What do you want, Ikirom? Why do you want to kill us?

WHAT ARE YOU—?

It’s a distraction, shush!

I have answered your question once, and I shan’t waste time answering it again. You will die here — after I’ve had my fun, of course.

Had your fun… Siyuakén snorted as she closed her eyes and focused on the local electric fields. She had been unable to locate Ikirom with electric currents during the earlier snowstorm, but she had been distracted with dodging the Morikai’s attacks as well — now that he seemed distracted, she was free to concentrate, allowing her to trace the electric fields for many meters around her… and locate a single anomaly, a small area of higher electric potential than the air around it. Ha! He’s been avoiding my attacks by setting his potential equal to my own, but he didn’t think about masking the fields at all!

PERFECT! THIS IS OUR CHANCE!

Way ahead of you! Siyuakén responded, the entire exchange between her and Arcán — as well as her locating Ikirom — occurring over the span of a mere couple seconds. She immediately forced a massive current through her body, spiking her own electric potential — and then a split-second later she forced a powerful lightning strike toward the Morikai Commander. Yet Ikirom reacted even faster; the very moment the leading spark of the lightning strike jumped from Siyuakén’s hand, the ground itself between the two combatants seemed to stretch and stretch — or rather, Siyuakén and Ikirom both seemed to shrink in place — or the ground around them seemed to grow — while the lightning strike passed over the terrain as though more distance had suddenly spawned. By the time Ikirom would have been struck, he had equalized his electric potential to Siyuakén again, allowing him to easily redirect the strike.

I applaud your effort, but it is still not enough, he projected his voice across the many kilometers between him and Siyuakén that had before been only fifty meters. Siyuakén immediately lunged toward him and began sprinting, but she only seemed to get farther and farther away from Ikirom — never closer. And the moment she stopped herself, the ground in front of her suddenly sprang upwards, a massive cliff quickly rising in front of her, as well as behind her and to her sides. She quickly fired her grappling hook into the cliff face, but the moment the hook caught in the rock, the bottom section of the cliff sunk back to the ground, returning the hook to ground level within a second as the tops of the cliffs continued to rise even further.

…You have to be kidding me. She stared up at the distant cliff tops. How the hell am I supposed to fight him…?! She tensed reflexively as her sense of “down” began to shift — as the direction of gravity began to rotate, causing her to begin sliding toward one of the cliff faces. She immediately fired her grappling hook again, catching it in what used to be the ground just as the gravity shift forced her to hang in the air over an incredibly deep hole that once led to the sky above her.

…THIS COULD BE A PROBLEM.

No shit—! Siyuakén began, only to cut her thought off with surprise as the ceiling above her spontaneously disappeared, causing her to begin falling toward the bottom of the seemingly bottomless pit. She quickly moved to fire her grappling hook again but spotted a rock moving toward her in the corner of her eye; she immediately twisted around midair, Arcán Claymore in hand, and sliced through the incoming boulder — only to reveal a multitude of boulders falling, or rising rather, toward her. She sighed irately and began blasting the stones to pieces with lightning strike after lightning strike, occasionally using Arcán to slash debris that got too close. By the time she had fought through the entire upside-down rock slide, the pit walls seemed to have disappeared into darkness, leaving Siyuakén to reach terminal velocity amongst nothing but blackness. Yet the moment her inner-ear equalized, giving her the impression of weightlessness, the darkness transformed into a star field. A split second later, a blue giant star appeared above her, hanging over her like a massive ceiling, while a red giant appeared under her as though an endless floor — yet she touched neither, instead hanging within the empty space between them, while suffering none of the negative effects one would expect from floating so close to a star.

Do you now understand my power?

Siyuakén snapped her attention to Ikirom, who stood several meters away from her as though on an invisible platform. She immediately attempted to strike him with lightning, only for no bolt to appear; when that failed, she quickly followed by firing her grappling hook at him, only for the Morikai to casually deflect it with the back of his hand.

…Damn it, she muttered irately, glancing around as she hung in space before returning her glare to Ikirom. I can’t move like this…

Of course not, Ikirom retorted. You could only move before because I allowed it; I have rescinded such permissions, as you have proven to be a rather boring opponent.

Boring?!

I will grant that you were able to disarm me, but the moment I began even the most insignificant of reality shifts, you became helpless.

This is insignificant—?!

Silence! Ikirom demanded; Siyuakén quickly moved to retort, only to find that her voice had given out.

I can’t talk?! Arcán, what’s going on?!

HE ISN’T MANIPULATING YOU DIRECTLY, BUT HE CAN STILL DAMPEN THE SOUND COMING OUT OF YOUR MOUTH TO SILENCE.

He can do that?!

I DID SAY BEFORE THAT HE WAS MERELY TOYING WITH YOU

…I see the current age is just as stubborn and ignorant as the Aldredas. I’m almost disappointed… but I cannot say I expected any better. The Morikai Commander shook his head warily as Siyuakén watched in irate silence. I understand Morcii’s claims now — your inferior civilizations are difficult to take seriously in any capacity. Even my limited powers now are due to Aldredas meddling long ago; your kind can claim no credit in regards to that. You are nothing more than an annoyance, one who’s conquering will give me little enjoyment due to how pitiful you are! Perhaps I should allow the Nanocreatures to run rampant for longer — though dial back their power, perhaps, as a way of ‘hardening’ the galaxy for a more enjoyable hunt…

…He’s monologuing. Siyuakén stared blankly at the Morikai commander. Why does everyone monologue? Exdominor, Surdeus, Morcii, now him? It’s getting a little old.

HERE YOU SIT, BEFORE THE MOST POWERFUL CHAOTIC TO HAVE EVER LIVED — LIMITED THOUGH HE MAY BE — AND ALL YOU HAVE TO SAY IS A JOKE?

What the hell can I do, Arcán? Wave my arms and wish for an act of god to snuff him out of existence? I’ve already tried my best and clearly that wasn’t enough!

NO, THAT IS MERELY WHAT HE WANTS YOU TO THINK. I HAVE DETERMINED THAT HIS POWERS ARE AN ILLUSION — OR AT LEAST, HE IS ATTEMPTING TO HIDE HIS LIMITS WITH ONE. HE IS NOT AS POWERFUL AS HE SEEMS.

Yeah? Well even if he’s only half as powerful as he seems, that’s still really fucking powerful!

YOU DO NOT UNDERSTAND — TELL ME, SIYUAKÉN. YOU ARE FLOATING IN SPACE, YET YOU STILL LIVE, BREATH, AND HEAR IKIROM SPEAK. ABOVE AND BELOW YOU ARE STARS, BOTH A MERE COUPLE MILLION KILOMETERS AWAY — YET YOU STILL LIVE, AND FEEL NONE OF THEIR RADIATION. DOES THAT NOT STRIKE YOU AS ODD?

…I assumed that was just how powerful Ikirom’s Realitechnism was…

THAT CANNOT BE. HE SAID SO HIMSELF; AN INCOMPLETE SEAL RELEASE HAS LIMITED HIS ABILITIES. WITH HIS FULL POWER, IT IS INDEED POSSIBLE THAT HE COULD CREATE SUCH A REGION OF SPACE – BUT AS HE IS NOW, HE CAN ONLY CREATE ILLUSIONS. HIS MANIPULATIONS OF REALITY ARE LIMITED TO ‘SUGGESTIONS,’ IF YOU WILL; HE IS MERELY FOOLING YOUR SENSES, FORCING YOU TO MISINTERPRET YOUR ENVIRONMENT AND CONFORM TO HIS ‘ALTERATIONS.’

Well that’s basically the same thing then, isn’t it? Siyuakén questioned, still cautiously watching Ikirom as her mental conversation with Arcán passed over a hundred times faster than a spoken conversation would allow. Who cares if he’s actually altering the environment if I can’t tell anyways? I’m not a Sensortechnic, or a Psychotechnic. I can’t stop him from tricking my senses!

AH, BUT YOU HAVE IT WRONG — SENSOR- AND PSYCHOTECHNICS WOULD ACTUALLY BE EXTRA SUSCEPTIBLE TO IKIROM’S ILLUSIONS DUE TO THEIR RELIANCE ON THE NORMAL SENSES. BUT AS AN ELECTROTECHNIC, YOU ARE NOT QUITE SO LIMITED.

You’re talking about my ability to sense electric fields? We already tried that. It didn’t work!

BECAUSE YOU WERE STILL ALLOWING YOUR PERCEPTION OF THE BATTLEFIELD TO BE INFLUENCED BY YOUR OTHER SENSES. IKIROM MAY NOT HAVE IN-DEPTH EXPERIENCE WITH ELECTRIC FIELDS, BUT HE IS AT LEAST AWARE OF THEM. THE ONLY WAY FOR YOU TO FIND HIS TRUE LOCATION — AND TO TRULY STAND AGAINST HIM — IS TO IGNORE YOUR OTHER SENSES ENTIRELY. RELY ONLY ON YOUR CHAOTIC TYPE — RELY ONLY ON ELECTRICITY!

That’s easy to say, but you can’t just ignore senses like that! It doesn’t work that way!

WHICH IS WHY THE PRIOR STATE IS A BOON. I WILL INTERCEPT THE SENSORY SIGNALS TO YOUR BRAIN, ALLOWING YOU TO FOCUS SOLELY ON YOUR ELECTROTECHNISM.

Whoa, wait, wait! You’re just going to cut off all sensory input? People have gone insane from less—!?

AND I WILL PROTECT YOU FROM THAT, BUT WE HAVE NO MORE TIME TO WASTE. THIS WILL TRULY BE OUR LAST CHANCE — PREPARE YOURSELF! THREE. TWO. ONE…

Immediately afterward, Siyuakén’s entire world went black — and silent — and completely void of touch. Neither did she feel the warmth of the light from the stars, nor could she sense the location of her limbs, nor could she even feel the beating of her own heart. It was a void emptier than any mind could possibly fathom, and if she hadn’t known any better, she would have thought herself removed from existence itself.

Arcán, what—? What happened—? I can’t feel anything— or see— there’s nothing— Arcán, what, what— what did you—?!

CALM YOURSELF. YOU ARE STILL ALIVE. NOW FOCUS — THE ORIGINAL CAVERN WAS SWATHED WITH CHAOS MATTER, WHICH IS AN EXCELLENT CONDUCTOR AND CAN EVEN PRODUCE CHARGES ON ITS OWN. THERE SHOULD BE NO LACK OF ELECTRICITY, SO IF I’M RIGHT—

‘If’ you’re right?!

WE ARE OUT OF TIME. FIND IKIROM, NOW!

Argh! Fine! Siyuakén quickly disbarred other thoughts from her mind as she attempted to focus on the environment around her. For several moments, she felt nothing — she had never relied on her ability to sense electric fields so heavily before, and certainly not directly. It was always a secondary sense that she used to augment her battle awareness, never a primary sense that she utilized to actively seek out targets, so without any of her other senses to provide context—

Wait… I think I feel something…

WHAT DO YOU SEE?

The Electrotechnic responded with silence as she focused even harder on the signals she began to feel. Initially, she could only sense a sort of ‘flow’ through the air, but after a couple seconds of sensing, she began to realize the origins of the fields — and a couple seconds after that, she became able to make out slight perturbations in the fields that could only be explained as objects standing in their way. As soon as she became familiar with what she was sensing, she began making out a wide floor and a high ceiling, both acting as incredible energy sources. Towards the middle of the floor were twelve — no, thirteen — tall blocks, as if they were acting as energy sinks. And in the middle of those disturbances…

I’ve found him!

PERFECT. IKIROM SHOULD STILL BE UNAWARE OF YOUR ACTIONS, BUT WE WILL ONLY HAVE ONE SHOT. IF WE FAIL TO TAKE HIM DOWN WITH THIS, THEN HE WILL REALIZE HIS MISTAKES AND FIX THEM, AND THEN WE TRULY WILL BE TRAPPED.

I can’t attack him without raising the current in my body. He’s been able to sense incoming attacks before… but if I do it fast enough…!

HE WILL NOT BE EXPECTING YOU TO ATTACK HIS TRUE BODY, EITHER. NOW HURRY! I BELIEVE HIS SPEECH IS COMING TO A CLOSE.

Right! Now give me back my body! I can’t do this properly without it!

As soon as she completed her demand, Arcán ceased intercepting her senses, resulting in a momentary sensory overload as Siyuakén reeled back from all the sensations. She shivered from shock and then shook her head before quickly raising the current through her body.

…and so our encounter must come to a close, Ikirom commented, his attention returning fully to Siyuakén. You are attempting to attack me again? Even though it has never worked before?

The Electrotechnic opened her mouth to speak, thought better, and simply settled into an amused smirk.

Ikirom narrowed his eyes, his suspicion growing due to Siyuakén’s response. You believe yourself to have the upper hand, he muttered as a weapon spontaneously appeared in each of his four hands, each one possessing the appearance of one of the Ayas Weapons. But I have had enough. Your life He launched each of the weapons toward Siyuakén. Ends here!

Floating in space as she was, the Electrotechnic was unable to dodge — but she had no need to. Before any of the weapons came within a meter of her body, she released an incredibly powerful strike of lightning. Ikirom confidently ignored the attack, expecting it to deflect around him as every strike prior — and indeed, the strike missed him.

For it instead leaped to the left, toward the location of his real body.

What?! The Morikai’s eyes shot wide open, only for the entire environment to spontaneously disappear and return to that of the cavern on Elecal. Ikirom’s fake body simply vanished as his real one collapsed to the ground; Siyuakén took a moment to regain her bearings before cautiously approaching the downed Morikai, offering the colossal pillars around her a brief glance as she passed. She stopped a couple meters away and blasted Ikirom with several more lightning strikes, just to be certain — and when he failed to respond, she let loose a lofty sigh of relief.

And then the entire cavern disappeared in an instant, replaced with a pitch black void with no defining features whatsoever.

Ah ha ha ha! As if such a paltry attack could possibly defeat me!

What? No! Siyuakén snapped her head around to face the source of the voice, only to be forced to face forward as chains exploded from the darkness, wrapping around and restraining her limbs and entire body within the blink of an eye. She violently struggled against the chains, attempting to free herself or even destroy the chains with massive currents — when none of that worked, she summoned the Arcán Claymore and attempted to Subspatially store the chains, but the restraints around her wrists merely tightened and prevented her from turning the blade enough to do anything.

I must admit, I did not expect you to be quite so clever, Ikirom remarked with a smirk as he appeared in the air right in front of Siyuakén. Had I the durability of any normal individual, or perhaps even of the First or Second Tier Chaos State, you would indeed have killed me. But you should know: the first thing any competent Realitechnic does is permanently increase their durability to incredible levels! Nothing short of the Ayas Weapons or a high-tier Chaos State can hope to have a chance at killing me, even in my current, limited state!

But!… Siyuakén scowled back at him. …Everything was just… illusions, right? So…! How…?!

You may think them illusions… but that is where you went wrong. I am a Realitechnic. I do not cause illusions — my illusions cause reality! That you assumed otherwise shows how little you understand!

…!

This was an interesting final interaction, Ikirom mused as another replica of the Syn Scythe appeared in his hands, but it is now truly the end. Prepare to return to your friends, descendant of the Aldredas, and watch with helpless eyes as I bring ruin to all of your brethren! He raised the Scythe into the air and then swung it sideways, sweeping through the air toward Siyuakén’s torso—

CHAOS RESET!

The black void immediately disappeared, replaced again by the cavern of Chaos Matter. Siyuakén stumbled, no longer bound by chains, as Ikirom stared at her blankly from his location several meters away. The Electrotechnic eyed him warily before tracing his gaze to behind her — to where the rest of Hero Machina stood, just as confused as Siyuakén as Kievkenalis stood in front of them with his hand stretched toward Ikirom.

OF COURSE, CHAOS RESET! Arcán exclaimed within Siyuakén’s mind, THE ABILITY THAT NEGATES ALL CHAOS ENERGY-BASED ALTERATIONS TO THE ENVIRONMENT… IT’S THE PERFECT COUNTER TO REALITECHNICS!

Why the hell didn’t you say this sooner?!

THERE IS NO TIME TO WASTE. GET THE MASTER AYAS AND RE-INITIATE THE AYAS SEAL! IT IS THE ONLY WAY TO STOP IKIROM!

Right! Siyuakén turned her attention upwards, searching the pillars for the one that hosted the Master Ayas. Upon spotting the silver gemstone she fired her grappling hook, attaching it to the side of the pillar and flinging herself skyward.

Halt! Ikirom shouted, whirling around toward the Electrotechnic as the pillars disappeared from sight, replaced by massive columns of flowing lava—

Chaos Reset!

The pillars instantly returned to normal as Ikirom whipped back around to glower at Kievkenalis.

Chaostechnics are hard-counters to Chaotics like you,” he quipped. “I’ve never had a reason to use Reset until now, but wow, it’s really useful!”

You…! The Morikai Commander growled as he summoned a multitude of weapons and aimed them at the Chaotics of Hero Machina. You cannot possibly—!

Hey, Ikirom!

The Realitechnic whirled around again and snapped his attention upwards, meeting eyes with Siyuakén as she grabbed the Master Ayas.

Too slow! She grinned, and then shouted, “Chaos: Seal!

—Huaaaaaghh!! Without warning, Ikirom was blasted backward into the center of the oval formed by the thirteen pillars, his tail and second pair of arms — as well as any other bodily additions he had gained from Morcii — disintegrating into their metallic components and exploding from his body as the weapons he had summoned simply disappeared from existence. An invisible force held him suspended in the air as a light blue circle appeared on the ground beneath him, with each of the Ayas beginning to glow. He strained his neck to glare back at Siyuakén, who casually stood atop the tallest pillar with her hand on the Ayas.

You…! he snarled as strikes of blue energy began streaking between himself and the Ayas, so I’ve underestimated this age, it would seem! Defeated before the Keys even appear…! His body began to disappear limb-by-limb, in a similar manner to how he had first appeared. You will regret this, descendants of the Aldredas! Your attention is misguided — you misunderstand the threat before you! His arms and legs completely disappeared as his torso began to dissolve, the wave of particles slowly working upwards toward his neck. As long as I am sealed away — as long as the Morikai are trapped in this seal… the Menace… will never—!

Ikirom’s mouth then disappeared, leaving the rest of his face to glare at the Nimalian Chaotics for a second before disappearing as well, leaving nothing behind. A subsequent flash of light filled the Chaotics’ vision, after which the Master Ayas disappeared and the rest of the Ayas fell out of the air and clattered to a stop atop their respective pillars.

“…The hell just happened?” Davídrius questioned.

Chaos Reset…” Kievkenalis called cautiously, and then sighed of relief when nothing happened. “That’s it… he’s gone.”

I can’t believe it… we did it! Siyuakén exclaimed as she jumped down to the ground and ran over to the rest of Hero Machina. We— we stopped Morcii’s plan! We stopped the Morikai!

“’We?’” Christeané smirked as he watched Rebehka rush to the Electrotechnic and embrace her tightly. “Much as I’d love to take credit for beating a Realitechnic, this was all you.”

“Yeah, it took me a while to figure out what was going on and even think about using Reset,” Kievkenalis commented. “If you hadn’t managed to last as long as you did…”

“Guys, wait…” Kaoné muttered warily, looking up at the Ayas atop the pillars as Rebehka and Siyuakén released each other. The rest of Hero Machina turned toward the Materiatechnic in concern.

“What is it?” Kevérin questioned.

“Something… isn’t right.” Kaoné frowned, and then pointed upwards. “Wait, there—!”

The seven Chaotics turned their attention upward just in time to see eight silvery clouds descend from the ceiling of the cavern toward the Ayas.

“Shit— Morcii’s still—!” Davídrius exclaimed.

“We can’t let him have the Ayas!” Kevérin shouted as he blasted himself into the air toward the nearest gemstone. “Everybody, grab one!!”

“On it!” Davídrius replied as he leaped high into the air, easily clearing one of the farther pillars and snatching the Ayas Hastryth just before the cloud of Nanocreature nanites could seize it. Before he even hit the ground, Kevérin and Kaoné both had reached the Tanivas and Mystryth Ayas respectively, grabbing the Ayas and leaping away from the pillar tops as Christeané moved to claim Matlés. Rebehka easily scooped Tsern out of the air and tossed it down to herself while Kievkenalis demolished the top of a pillar with Chaos Strike and caught the Ayas Aldrace as it fell out of the sky.

QUICK, THE ARCÁN AYAS!

I’m trying—! Siyuakén scowled as she flew through the air along her grappling hook, her hand stretched toward the Light Blue Ayas. She quickly released the hook just as she passed it, launching herself even higher… only for the silvery cloud nearby to suddenly form an arm and attack her. She successfully blocked the blow but was still knocked ground-ward, unable to stop the Nanocreatures from seizing the Ayas.

{SO IT HAS COME TO THIS…”}

“There he is,” Kevérin muttered apprehensively as Morcii’s body began to take shape at the far side of the platform. The two Ayas that the Chaotics had failed to claim — the Sendous and Arcán Ayas — both rapidly converged on the Nanocreature’s location and disappeared as his body transformed into the same monstrous form that he had used during the fight against Christeané on Neticen.

USE THE CHAOS STATE! Arcán ordered, prompting the six Ayas-wielding Chaotics to quickly call out the activation phrase. AS WE’VE DISCUSSED, TRULY DEFEATING MORCII REQUIRES USE OF THE LINK DRIVE, WHICH REQUIRES AN AYAS PRIOR STATE, AND YET—

Yet Morcii has the Arcán Ayas, Siyuakén finished, summoning the Arcán Claymore and leveling it toward the Nanocreature leader as he turned toward Hero Machina. So we just need to beat it out of him. Sounds good to me!

{BUT IT WILL NOT COME TO PASS,”} Morcii countered with a snarl. {YOU MAY HAVE DEFEATED IKIROM AND RE-SEALED HIM, CAUSING THE MASTER AYAS TO DISAPPEAR… BUT THIS IS A MERE SETBACK. I CAN FIND THE AYAS AGAIN LATER, I CAN PROPERLY RELEASE IKIROM LATER… BUT IT WAS A MISTAKE TO ALLOW YOU TO LIVE FOR AS LONG AS YOU HAVE!”}

It’s easy to say that you ‘allowed’ us to live, Rebehka quipped as she stepped forward to stand next to Siyuakén. But at this point it’s just an excuse.

We may not have won every battle against you, but today we will! Siyuakén declared, this is our final battle, Morcii, and you will lose!

{HA! YOU BELIEVE THAT THE MERE FIRST TIER CHAOS STATE MEANS ANYTHING AGAINST MY FUSE FORM?”} Morcii roared as he summoned the Arcán Claymore and both Sendous Chakrams, grasping each of the weapons with one of his tails. {EVEN WITH ONLY TWO AYAS, I AM FAR MORE POWERFUL THAN YOU COULD POSSIBLY HOPE TO MANAGE. YOU HAVE ONLY ONE THING CORRECT, ALDREDANOIDS: THIS IS INDEED OUR FINAL BATTLE—”} He launched himself forward. {”—FOR NONE OF YOU WILL LIVE A SINGLE DAY LONGER!”}

Chapter 82 – Final Threat

“THE MORIKAI WILL BE RELEASED… WHETHER YOU LIVE TO SEE IT, OR NOT—”

Siyuakén interrupted Morcii with a powerful lightning strike, knocking the Nanocreature leader back several meters. The rest of Hero Machina quickly spread out, with Davídrius and Christeané moving to close the distance between themselves and Morcii, only for the Nanocreature leader to jump back to his feet and lunge forward fast enough to blast past the two Chaotics. Kaoné instantly stopped his approach by spontaneously lifting a pillar of matter from below, slamming Morcii’s chest and launching him skyward.

“Everyone, get back!” Kievkenalis exclaimed, jumping back as he raised his right hand toward the Nanocreature leader. “Cha…os…!” Each uttered syllable issued forth a shockwave powerful enough to shatter the ground beneath his feet, each subsequent shockwave more devastating than the last as the Chaostechnic continued, “Mach… Five… Cannon!

The force of firing the projectile slammed Kievkenalis into the ground as it instantly tore into Morcii, completely obliterating his body as his constituent metallic parts spread out and fluttered to the ground.

“…That did it?…” Kaoné questioned, frozen in shock.

“Of course not,” Kevérin countered, “he’s still around here somewhere—!”

The very moment the Pyrotechnic completed his thought, the ground underneath Kievkenalis exploded upward as Morcii appeared, snatched the Master Ayas from the Chaostechnic before he could react, and took to the air.

“The Ayas—!?”

“Fuck! After him!!” Kevérin shouted as he gave chase to the Nanocreature leader who had fled to the cavern’s higher platform. He, Rebehka, and Kaoné all flew through the air while the other four Chaotics rushed up the steps, each of them pausing at the platform’s edge to take in the sight before them: a massive arena, nearly a half kilometer wide and a whole kilometer long, with thirteen wide, blood-red pillars forming an oval around the platform’s center. At the top of the right-most four pillars were the four Light Ayas, at the top of the left-most four pillars were the four Dark Ayas, and at the top of the tallest pillar, the one located farthest back from the steps, was…

“Morcii!!” Davídrius roared as he crouched down and then leaped high into the air, prepared to slam his feet into the Nanocreature leader — only to be blinded by a bright flash of silver light, causing him to miss completely and slam into the far wall instead.

“HA… AH HA HA HA. BWA HA HA HA HA HA HA!!” Morcii released a maniacal guffaw as he stood atop the tallest pillar, the Master Ayas hovering in place behind him. The pillar was too tall for any of the Chaotics to make out Morcii’s expression, but they could feel his haughty glare nonetheless.

“Sh…shit…!” Kevérin scowled, his entire body tense as he realized the situation. “That’s… that’s all the Ayas…!”

“INDEED!” Morcii replied, a malicious grin spreading across his face as he slowly lowered to the ground across the platform from Hero Machina. “FINALLY… AFTER A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS… THE MORIKAI WILL REIGN ONCE AGAIN. MY GOAL HAS BEEN ACHIEVED — ALL THANKS TO YOU!”

No! Siyuakén shouted back, charging forward and releasing several lightning bolts toward the Nanocreature leader as she brought the Arcán Claymore overhead and prepared to slash him. At the same moment, Davídrius dashed up from behind and prepared to deal a fearsome kick to the Nanocreature, forcing him to take at least one of the two blows… except Morcii simply disappeared, the nanomachines constructing his body dissipating into the air.

“YOU ARE TOO LATE,” Morcii retorted, his body reforming in the very center of the oval formed by the red columns. Before any of Hero Machina could react, he raised his arms into the air, shouting, “CHAOS: RELEASE!

Each of the nine pillars hosting the Ayas immediately turned pure white, emitting columns of light that reached up to the cavern ceiling. A thirteen-point circle appeared on the ground around Morcii, lighting up a brilliant blue as the Nanocreature leader jumped back, allowing a series of energy blasts to strike the center circle as hurricane-force winds picked up in the cavern, causing the Chaotics of Hero Machina to reflexively shield their faces. Then, as the energy strikes continued to grow in brightness and ferocity, a form began to manifest in the circle’s center, starting with a right leg—

—then two strikes later, a left forearm—

—five strikes later, a torso—

—three strikes later, two hands and feet—

—six strikes later, the remainder of the legs and arms—

—two strikes later, a set of extravagant armor swathed in black, silver, and gold robing—

—and four strikes later… a head.

A brown head with dozens of backward-facing hair-like spikes, similar to that of the Drakkars — yet with a sharp nose, pursed lips, and black eyes. The figure possessed the skin tone, stature, and apparent physical frailty of the Drakkars, yet it also possessed the bodily and facial structure of an Aldredanoid, with a two and a half meter height and a pair of five-fingered, two-thumbed hands that resembled neither.

…IKIROM…

“That’s Ikirom…?” Rebehka echoed quietly in response to Arcán’s utterance, “…then… the Morikai have really…!”

“No… something’s wrong…” Kevérin narrowed his eyes as he watched Morcii approach the new figure and kneel. “There’s only one of them… Morcii sounded like he wanted to free the whole race, so why only one—?!” The Pyrotechnic clamped his mouth shut and froze in place as the recently formed figure began to move, slowly shifting his gaze to fall on the five Chaotics of Hero Machina who remained by the platform edge. Silence befell the entire cavern for several moments, with no one moving so much as a millimeter until Morcii finally opened his mouth.

“MASTER IKIROM, SUPREME COMMANDER OF THE MORIKAI… WELCOME BACK TO THE PHYSICAL REALM.”

Ikirom narrowed his eyes into a frightful glare, his gaze remaining on the Nimalians as he addressed Morcii, a hundred thousand years it has been, Morcii. And thisthis is all you can manage?

“I APOLOGIZE, MASTER. THE ALDREDAS’ MEDDLING HAS EVEN EXTENDED INTO THE CURRENT AGE; THIS IS ALL I COULD ACCOMPLISH FOR NOW.”

Hah, the Morikai snorted, his arms crossed behind his back. He eventually turned away from the Chaotics to look up at the Ayas upon the cavern pillars; Davídrius and Siyuakén seized the opportunity to attack, lunging forward from their position behind Morcii and Ikirom. The Nanocreature leader quickly jumped to his feet and whipped around, prepared to counter their attacks, only for the two Chaotics to be suddenly yanked into the air by an invisible force and thrown forward, hitting the ground hard and tumbling to a stop just in front of the rest of Hero Machina.

…Surely you jest, Ikirom retorted, having moved nary a muscle. He swept his eyes across the Chaotics once more before addressing Morcii again, I count merely two Chaotics who could have possibly given you trouble, one of which is hampered by her aversion to violence, and the other has only recently reached his full potential. Yet you’ve allowed them to reach this far? To last this long?

“He… he knew our types without even seeing us in action…?” Kaoné faltered.

“He knew we were comin’ without even lookin’!” Davídrius scowled as he climbed to his feet and kept a safe distance from the Morikai Commander. “And then he flung us across the platform without even movin’!”

THAT IS BUT A FRACTION OF IKIROM’S POWER… Arcán responded tensely, THAT… IS A REALITECHNIC’S POWER.

“…I APOLOGIZE,” Morcii commented, ignoring the stunned Chaotics as he replied to Ikirom, “I MAY HAVE… GOTTEN CARRIED AWAY WITH MY ACTIONS. THE URGE TO PLAY WITH THIS INFERIOR AGE IS DIFFICULT TO QUELL.”

Is this ‘urge’ of yours to blame for this pitiful excuse for a release? You should know well what it takes to undo an Ayas Seal. Yet you create an incomplete replica of the initial moments, allowing only I to come out and leaving the rest of my brethren within that cursed space?

“I APOLOGIZE.”

That is not all, either. Your incredible lack of ability leaves me chained to this region of space, and my powers limited. What you have here is not enough to undo a full Ayas Seal, Morcii!

“I BELIEVED THAT RESTRAINT TO BE A NON-ISSUE GIVEN YOUR CHAOTIC TYPE, MASTER.”

You incompetent fool! Have you spent so much time in this age that you forget the basic laws governing the Chaos Ayas and all else derived? You are beginning to draw my ire; know well that my wrath has no bounds, and even servants such as yourself can be reduced to nothing with a thought!

“…They’re arguing,” Christeané deadpanned.

“This would be funny,” Kevérin commented uneasily, “but for Morcii to be acting so subservient… just how powerful is this guy…?”

“Why are we still here?” Davídrius questioned, “he’s a fuckin’ Realitechnic, right? We can’t fight that!”

“It sounds like he’s handicapped, though,” Rebehka commented. “…But it still might be best if we left—?!”

The Cryotechnic gasped as the entire cavern immediately turned pitch-black, removing all definition from the surrounding platform. A second later, the environment was replaced with an endless gray plane, stretching for as far as the eye could see in every direction toward twilit horizons while the sky itself appeared to be a dark static-like fuzz — and neither the pillars housing the Ayas nor the Ayas themselves were anywhere to be found.

Do not be mistaken, Ikirom addressed Hero Machina, my powers may be limited, but you still cannot hope to stand against me. Nor shall I let you; it was your ancestors who locked me away in that timeless prison, after all. Thanks to their short-sightedness, I have spent countless millennia observing the galaxy, unable to interact with it in any way, left only to watch as that which I saved was claimed by the descendants of those who betrayed me! I may not be able to exact vengeance on the true perpetrators… but you shall receive punishment in their stead, children of the Aldredas!

A severe gust of wind exploded outward from the Morikai Commander as seven pitch-black holes appeared in space behind each of the Chaotics. The seven glanced behind themselves in surprise just before a steady stream of hurricane-force winds began rushing outward from Ikirom, pushing Hero Machina toward the tears in space.

Chaos Time!” Kievkenalis quickly shouted, forcing the environment around him — Ikirom included — to come to a sudden stop. He then relaxed, taking a deep breath as the strong winds were no longer a factor.

“GOOD EFFORT.”

“What—?!” the Chaostechnic exclaimed, crossing his arms in front of himself as Morcii appeared and dealt him a fierce kick, sending the Chaotic flying into the black hole behind him — where he immediately disappeared and the tear in space closed.

“BUT YOU SHOULD HAVE USED ‘RESET.’” Morcii sneered as the flow of time returned to normal. Ikirom offered the Nanocreature a brief nod before stretching his arms forward. Catching the motion in the corner of his eye, Davídrius broke into a head-long sprint, attempting to counter the high wind speeds and attack the Morikai. Before he could reach him, however, Ikirom snapped his fists shut, imparting a sudden and massive force to each of the Chaotics and flinging them all back toward the holes.

“What!?” Kaoné exclaimed, barely holding herself in place with her Materiatechnism as she watched Davídrius and Christeané tumble backwards and get swallowed by the voids in space. “Wha, where’d they go?!”

Shit! Hold on! Siyuakén grasped the Arcán Claymore with both hands and drove it into the ground, using it as an anchor as she turned around and reached toward Kevérin as he struggled to fight against the wind currents with his own flame jets. Kaoné reached out to help the Pyrotechnic as well, but as soon as she took her attention away from Morcii, the Nanocreature leader appeared by her side and dealt a fierce blow to her chest, flinging her into the void. Kevérin was quick to follow, but Rebehka managed to deflect Morcii’s attack and keep herself anchored to the ground with massive ice sheets. Eying the white anchors, Ikirom simply twisted his mouth up into a half smirk — and all of the ice spontaneously disappeared.

“Siyuakén—!”

I’ve got you! The Electrotechnic released Arcán, jumping backwards to grab Rebehka’s hand before summoning the Claymore again and stabbing it into the ground — only for Morcii to interfere and knock the blade away. Failing to properly anchor herself, Siyuakén stumbled and tumbled over backwards, inadvertently letting go of Rebehka in the process.

NO—! Her eyes shot wide open as she snapped her attention backwards just in time to watch the Cryotechnic disappear. She froze for a second before whipping out Arcán again and slamming it into the ground, followed by shoving such an incredible current through the weapon that the dark ground for meters around glowed a bright white. Even Morcii and Ikirom found themselves shoved backward from the force of the blast.

Interesting, the Morikai Commander muttered as the final void closed without receiving its target. The Prior State offers more resistance than I expected

You… bastard…!

Mm? Ikirom responded calmly, eying Siyuakén as she tore the Claymore out of the ground and held it in front of her in a battle-ready stance.

You…! She trembled with rage. What did you do to them?!

What did I do to them…? For now, nothing. I have simply subjected them to the same bodiless limbo that I experienced for countless millennia. Ikirom crossed his arms behind his back again. They are certain to be disoriented, but perhaps they will realize their own station in time to witness your defeat at my hands. He then summoned the Syn Scythe, twirling it in the air once before grasping it firmly and slamming the pole-end into the ground. I do not believe I have fought another user of the Prior State before

His voice… that weapon…! Siyuakén muttered warily, glaring at Ikirom as she tightly grasped the Arcán Claymore. Arcán, is he…?

I SEE… THE ALDREDAS KEYS DID SEAL AWAY THE MORIKAI SHORTLY AFTER THEY DEFEATED THE MENACE, AFTER ALL, Arcán responded. HE MUST SOMEHOW STILL BE IN THE SYN PRIOR STATE… BUT IF THAT IS THE CASE… SYN! PRIOR PRAEFECTUS SYN! ANSWER ME! WHY DO YOU STILL SUPPORT THIS THREAT?

You will receive no answer, Ikirom countered as he stretched an arm toward Morcii. The Nanocreature leader immediately dissolved into a silvery cloud that rushed toward the Morikai Commander and coalesced around his body, forming a second pair of arms and a long tail. Syn remains loyal to me. And if you knew your place, Prior The sky was spontaneously replaced by a giant red orb of plasma, illuminating the entire area with the light of a red giant star while leaving temperature and radiation levels somehow survivable. Then you, too, would join me!

YOU SPEAK NONSENSE. ANY OTHER PRIOR WOULD AGREE! SIYUAKÉN, MY PRESENCE AND THE PRIOR STATE AFFORD YOU A LEVEL OF RESISTANCE TO HIS MANIPULATIONS, BUT EVEN SO—

I got it, be careful. She nodded resolutely, and then raised her voice to address Ikirom. I don’t really know what you did way back when to deserve this, but if you’re Morcii’s commander, and the first thing you do when you show up is attack me and my friends with deadly force, then you leave me no choice but to kill you!

You may think that a threat, but in truth it is merely an empty promise, Ikirom responded calmly. But if you truly wish to fight me, very well. Allow me to demonstrate for you the power of the Morikai He leveled his Scythe toward Siyuakén as the environment spontaneously changed to that of a tundra. Allow me to demonstrate the power… of Realitechnism!

Chapter 81 – Final Rush

Overdrive: Speed Break!!

Davídrius blasted forward, easily breaking Mach 10 as he dashed and leaped across the terrain underfoot. Siyuakén tightened her grip on him and clamped her eyes shut in unease as the Velocitechnic covered over two kilometers of ground per second, seeking out the cavern entrance that Arcán had mentioned. Within half a minute he laid eyes on a hole in a hillside — and standing guard were no less than three behemoth Nanocreatures, each a hundred meters longs and similar in appearance to the base-wrecker that had appeared on Neticen. But the Velocitechnic remained undeterred — closing to within a kilometer of the beasts, he leaped into the air and twisted around to thrust his foot forward, using his incredible speed to tear through one of the Nanocreature beasts and obliterate it with sheer kinetic energy. He hit the ground running, not even bothering to attack the remaining two behemoths as he slowed to a more manageable Mach five and entered the caverns.

The only light to be found within the caves was the dim ever-present glow of Chaos Matter, but it still provided enough light for Davídrius to see and react to incoming obstacles. Darting around corners and dashing through corridors, he covered more ground in mere seconds than any of the other members of Hero Machina could have covered in half an hour, all while retaining a tight grasp on Siyuakén. Then, just as he rounded another corner — he and Siyuakén both were blinded by an intense flash of dark green light.

“Gah!” Davídrius clamped his eyes shut reflexively, slamming his feet into the ground to slow himself to a stop — only to feel the ground suddenly disappear from under him. He immediately snapped his eyes open and found that he had careened off an edge… and that there was nothing but darkness below. “What the… what in the—?!”

Hang on! Siyuakén shouted, directing her attention up at the ceiling as she reached toward it with her left arm and fired her grappling hook. A second later it caught against the stone walls, transferring the Chaotics’ downward momentum into a forward swing. The Electrotechnic released the hook at the apex of the swing and fired it forward again, allowing her to sail through the air while Davídrius clung to her torso.

“What the fuck…” The Velocitechnic scowled as he glanced down uneasily. “Where’d the fuckin’ ground go?!”

What, you scared?

“Look, I ain’t scared of heights, but not bein’ able to see the ground is just fuckin’ ridiculous!”

Oh, relax—! Siyuakén fired her grappling hook again, but stopped mid-sentence when another flash of light — this time pinkish red — filled her vision. The distraction lasted for only a second, but it still delayed the Electrotechnic’s realization that her hook failed to catch on anything. She then snapped her attention upwards — only to see that the ceiling had disappeared as well.

“The fuck—?!”

QUICK, THE MATERIATECHNIC!

“Uh, uh, right!” Davídrius responded quickly, summoning the Syn Scythe as he and Siyuakén began to fall. He slashed through the air, releasing Kaoné from Subspace.

“What—? Where…?” she questioned, looking about uneasily.

“Your turn!” Davídrius interrupted, tossing her the Master Ayas as the three Chaotics began to enter free fall. Kaoné reached out to catch it, missed, and then crafted a platform midair to catch both the Ayas and the three Chaotics. She tossed the Ayas to herself with a small springboard before summoning the Syn Scythe and Subspatially storing Davídrius.

FORWARD, TO THE DISTANT LIGHT!

“To the what?…” Kaoné glanced toward Siyuakén.

Over there. The Electrotechnic pointed into the distance toward a tiny light in the darkness. …I think that’s where we need to go. It’s in the same direction we were heading, anyways.

“Alright…” Kaoné nodded as she began moving the platform through the air. Siyuakén fired her grappling hook down at the platform to secure herself and began slowly inspecting the abyss below, wary of any further threats.

Shiiiiin–––––

“That ringing again—!” Kaoné winced as a bright flash of white light briefly filled her vision.

THAT IS THE FOURTH AYAS TO BE LOCKED, Arcán declared. EVEN IF MORCII DOES NOT POSSESS THE MASTER AYAS, EIGHT LOCKED AYAS CAN STILL BE A THREAT. WE MUST HURRY—

The moment before Arcán could finish his sentence, the platform exploded upwards, flinging the two Chaotics aside as a massive dragon not unlike the beast found on Sunova smashed its way through the air. Siyuakén immediately latched on to the metallic beast with her grappling hook as Kaoné created another platform to catch herself, struggling to shield herself against the many sharp projectiles the dragon was launching from its tail and back. The Materiatechnic attempted to catch each flechette, but stumbled as she began to feel an increasing pressure from the Chaos Energy around her, resulting in several of the metallic darts scoring near hits. Spotting this in the corner of her eye, Siyuakén quickly reeled in her grappling tether and then released the hook the moment she reached it, using her momentum to catapult herself through the air and toward Kaoné. The dragon responded with a roar as it turned back toward the Chaotics, but the Electrotechnic simply shocked it with an incredibly powerful lightning strike before turning her attention back to Kaoné — and slashing her with the Arcán Claymore mere moments after she went berserk.

Damn it!… Siyuakén scowled as they both began to fall into the abyss, with Kaoné unconscious despite her exceedingly short berserk episode. Desperate to reach the distant light in the wall — which she took to be an opening to another cave — the Electrotechnic haphazardly latched onto Kaoné’s clothes with her grappling hook, yanked the Materiatechnic toward herself, and grabbed the Master Ayas. She summoned the Syn Scythe, Subspatially stored Kaoné, and then released Rebehka — who quickly assessed the situation and promptly created a platform of ice.

Take this, and go that way! Siyuakén tossed the Master Ayas to the Cryotechnic and pointed toward the light in the distant wall. I’ll deal with this dragon!

“What dragon—?” Rebehka began to ask, but froze as the beast’s roar reached her, followed by dozens of flechettes that Siyuakén managed to deflect with an intense electric field.

That dragon! the Electrotechnic retorted, Now go!

“Going! Brace yourself!” Rebehka shouted back as she crouched down and then jerked the ice platform up and at an angle to launch both herself and Siyuakén through the air. She then created a massive shield of ice to block the dragon’s next several projectiles and distracted it just long enough for the two Chaotics to come tumbling to a stop at the lip of the cave in the cavern wall. The two quickly climbed back to their feet, with Rebehka stumbling down the tunnel as Siyuakén triggered a cave-in at the entrance with a blast of lightning. She winced as a flash of blackness suddenly filled her vision, prompting her to turn back to Rebehka as she questioned irately, hey Arcán, I thought you said the Nanocreatures wouldn’t attack us!

NOT IF LEFT ON THEIR OWN, BUT IF MORCII IMPARTS ANY LEVEL OF DIRECT CONTROL, THEN HE CAN FORCE THEM TO RECOGNIZE YOU AS FOES.

“That would’ve been nice to know sooner—!” Rebehka began, but was interrupted as the cave behind them exploded forward, launching the two Chaotics into a large cavern at the other end of the tunnel where they fell several meters and then tumbled to a stop. They glanced up at the cave as the dragon’s snout peeked through, as though the beast were struggling to slip through the opening and give chase.

“Siyuakén…!”

Huh? …Oh. The Electrotechnic glanced toward Rebehka and then where she was looking — at a veritable army of Nanocreature units in front of them. …Ha. We can totally take this!

“Maybe… but I’m… about to go berserk.” The Cryotechnic closed an eye as every muscle in her body tensed in an effort to maintain control. “…Sorry!…”

It’s fine, Siyuakén responded coolly as Rebehka summoned Syn and slashed through the air, releasing Kevérin from Subspace. The Pyrotechnic immediately turned toward Rebehka as she handed him the Ayas; he promptly used the Scythe to return her to Subspace before glancing over at the Nanocreature army.

“…You guys had trouble with this?” he responded incredulously.

Oh shut up, Siyuakén retorted as she began walking forward, casually blasting the Nanocreature units left and right with electricity.

Overdrive: Unrelenting Flame,” Kevérin muttered and then joined in the assault as he bathed entire swathes of the cavern in flames and fused Nanocreatures to the floor. As the two continued forward, he glanced up at the cavern ceiling and walls. “…They’re… reddish-purple? Not blue?”

WE ARE PROGRESSING INTO THE DEPTHS OF THE PLANET’S CRUST. THE DENSITY OF CHAOS ENERGY AND CHAOS MATTER IS INCREASING.

“Yeah…” Kevérin winced as a flash of dark red light filled his vision. “I can really tell…”

Kevérin… Siyuakén muttered warningly as she glanced back at the Pyrotechnic, if you’re about to go berserk…

“Ha, I can last longer than this,” he declared as the two finally reached the other end of the cavern. “It’ll take more than just a bunch of Nanocreatures to make me go berserk—!”

An explosion of stone and Chaos Matter from the other side of the cavern drew the Chaotics’ attention just in time to see the metallic dragon tear down the entire cavern wall and lunge forward. Siyuakén immediately drew in the destroyed Nanocreature units littered around the cavern with electric fields, fusing them together and then launching them at incredible speeds in an attempt to slow the beast’s approach. Head, feet, shoulders, even its chest — she pierced them all, but still it charged forward, closing to within fifty meters. Kevérin then jumped forward and sent a wave of fire across the cavern floor, incinerating the destroyed Nanocreature units and burning the dragon’s feet to a crisp — only for it to take to the air as a pair of arms exploded out from its neck and grabbed the two Chaotics. Each of them quickly broke free with incredible blasts of elemental power, sending them tumbling to the ground as the dragon lifted higher into the air.

“Ungh…” Kevérin groaned, unable to climb back to his feet as he was forced to focus on preventing himself from going berserk. Siyuakén wordlessly stepped forward to cover him, blasting the dragon with lightning and redirecting its attacks with electric fields as the Pyrotechnic finally calmed down, summoned the Syn Scythe, and released Christeané from Subspace. The Forcetechnic took only a moment to observe the situation before grabbing the Master Ayas from Kevérin and subsequently storing him; he then dismissed the Scythe and slammed his fists into the ground, shattering the stone for meters around and freeing several chunks of Chaos Matter that he rapidly began lobbing at the corrupted beast. It deftly dodged the pieces of debris as it launched volley after volley of flechettes at the Chaotics, with Siyuakén easily deflecting them all. After several moments of this standoff, the dragon withdrew its arms into its body and let loose a massive roar before turning back to the Chaotics and opening its mouth wide. Sensing a build-up in energy, Siyuakén immediately drew in the masses of discarded flechettes, fusing them together into one large sheet of metal and inserting the sheet directly between the dragon and herself just as it fired a laser from its mouth. The shield immediately blew into dozens of pieces that rained down on the two Chaotics, who instinctively raised their arms to shield their faces; Christeané quickly withdrew his arms just in time to see the beast diving toward him. He immediately drew back his fist and then threw it upwards, obliterating the beast’s jaw and upper neck. Stunned, the metallic creature crashed to the ground to the side of the Forcetechnic; he immediately seized the opportunity to grab the beast’s tail, yanking on it once to confirm his grip before whirling the dragon around his body and then launching it at the nearby wall. At the very moment of impact a flash of pale green obscured the Chaotics’ vision — and once it faded away, the dragon was nowhere to be seen or heard, while a dark red cave had opened up in the cavern wall.

…Where’d it go? Siyuakén questioned warily as she and Christeané cautiously approached the new cave.

SPACETIME SHIFTING. EACH TIME AN AYAS IS LOCKED INTO PLACE, THE SURROUNDING SPACETIME IS SHIFTED CLOSER TO THE STATE IT WAS IN WHEN THE SEAL WAS ACTIVATED. THIS IS LIKELY WHAT PRODUCED THE SEEMINGLY BOTTOMLESS AND CEILING-LESS PIT YOU ENCOUNTERED EARLIER.

That doesn’t make any sense!

“Things stopped making sense a long time ago…” Christeané scowled as he took a shallow breath and clutched at his chest painfully. “…Fuck. There’s so much Chaos Energy…”

…Get Kevken, Siyuakén muttered as she warily glanced between the Forcetechnic and the red cave. I have a feeling that caution is more important than speed at this point…

“I think… I agree with you there.” Christeané smirked as he summoned the Syn Scythe and released Kievkenalis. He then tossed the Master Ayas to the Chaostechnic. “Take it from here. Be careful.”

“Uh, sure…?” Kievkenalis responded uneasily, but nonetheless used the Scythe to Subspatially store the Forcetechnic. He then turned toward Siyuakén. “What’s going on?”

We need to get going, she responded as she approached the cave again and gestured for Kievkenalis to follow. I think we’ve almost reached Morcii…

“Oh…” The Chaostechnic glanced toward the cave and shuddered. “There’s… so much Chaos—?!” He froze as the mere utterance of the word sent a small wake through the air, knocking Siyuakén off her feet and cracking the nearby walls.

What the hell…? she muttered, quickly jumping back to her feet and turning toward Kievkenalis.

“I, I didn’t mean—!”

I DID NOT LIE WHEN I SAID THAT CHAOS ENERGY WOULD BE INCREDIBLY DENSE. HOWEVER, I DID NOT THINK THAT IT WOULD BE QUITE SO DENSE THAT SUCH MINOR MANIPULATIONS WOULD HAVE PHYSICAL EFFECTS…

“There’s so much Energy, I feel like I’m underwater…” Kievkenalis muttered, “…how is it possible to have this much Energy in one place?”

THAT IS A QUESTION BEST SAVED FOR LATER. YOU WERE CORRECT; YOU ARE ALMOST UPON MORCII. BUT THAT IS NO REASON TO DAWDLE.

…He’s right. Siyuakén nodded as she spun around on her heel and launched into a sprint. Come on! We don’t have any time to waste!

“Uh, right!” Kievkenalis responded hastily as he quickly followed. The two Chaotics proceeded through the dark tunnel, Siyuakén using electricity and the Arcán Claymore to light the way as they took turn after turn, descending even further into the caves. Kievkenalis eyed the deep red stone around him as they dashed by; instead of the wonder he had felt upon seeing the vast fields of blue Chaos Matter on the surface of Elecal, the red matter he faced now instilled only a sense of foreboding.

I see… light…

The Chaostechnic glanced past Siyuakén, toward the end of the tunnel. The two Chaotics rapidly approached, slowing to a fast walk as they exited the cave into a massive cavern. Every last inch of the walls, ground, and ceiling glowed a deep red color, providing enough light to see without aid. A large, flat area in front of the Chaotics led into a peculiarly well-preserved set of stone stairs that wound back and forth and then further back into the cavern, ending at a massive platform over fifty meters in the air. The platform extended almost to either side of the cavern and all the way to the back; it was too high for either Chaotic to see what was on it, except for the presence of several tall pillars that reached almost as high as the cavern ceiling itself.

WE HAVE ARRIVED, Arcán declared. THE MORIKAI SEAL LIES ON THAT VERY PLATFORM.

Then that’s where Morcii is… Siyuakén muttered grimly as she gripped the Claymore tightly, wincing as one more flash of light — this one dark blue — temporarily obscured her vision.

THAT WAS THE EIGHTH. MORCII HAS NOW LOCKED ALL OF THE AYAS INTO PLACE…

Of course he has, Siyuakén responded warily. She then glanced back at Kievkenalis. …Release everyone else.

The Chaostechnic nodded as he summoned the Syn Scythe and swung it through the air, spawning five clouds of blue mist that quickly resolved into the remaining members of Hero Machina. “Chaos Negation,” he immediately declared; the effect lasted for no longer than a fraction of a second due to the incredible density of Chaos Energy, but it was just enough to clear the Chaos Energy reserves of the other Chaotics and thus give them more time before going Berserk.

“…I take it this is our stop,” Christeané commented tensely after taking in the environment around him.

“INDEED IT IS.”

The Chaotics of Hero Machina reflexively backed into battle stances as the ground far in front of them exploded from impact. The dust cloud rapidly faded, revealing the form of the Nanocreature leader as he glared haughtily at his opponents.

“I DO APPRECIATE YOU MAKING IT THIS FAR,” he continued, the corners of his mouth raising into a dangerous grin. “BUT YOU ARE TOO LATE. THE MORIKAI WILL BE RELEASED… WHETHER YOU LIVE TO SEE IT, OR NOT.”

Chapter 80 – Final Hour

WELCOME… TO ELECAL.

The seven Chaotics of Hero Machina looked about their new environment with unease. The lay of the land appeared similar to the Nimaliaka Central valley, in which a recessed plain was bordered to the north and west by mountains and cliffs. To the east sat a sea of deep blue, though from their distance, none of the Chaotics could tell if the blue was actually water—

—because everything glowed with a blue tint.

The distant mountains, nearby rock deposits, the plain below the cliff on which Hero Machina stood — everything appeared to be colored with some tint or shade of blue, with no exception. The other colors of the spectrum were virtually non-existent as the environmental glow even lit up the moonless night sky as if under an eerie blue twilight.

“So this…” Kievkenalis crouched down to touch the ground tenderly, his grip on the Master Ayas tightening as a shiver ran through his body. “…So this is Chaos Matter…?”

INDEED, Arcán responded as Siyuakén turned to survey the land below. DEPENDING ON THE CONCENTRATION OF CHAOS ENERGY, CHAOS MATTER CAN TAKE ON A RANGE OF COLORS FROM BLUE, TO PURPLE, TO RED. YOU WILL ONLY SEE SUCH COLORS AT LOWER DEPTHS HOWEVER, AS THE SURFACE OF ELECAL ONLY CONTAINS RELATIVELY LOW-CONCENTRATION CHAOS MATTER.

“Low concentration?” Kaoné shuddered. “I already feel like I might go berserk if I stop focusing…”

“Shit, is that what this pressure is?” Davídrius grasped his chest painfully. “…Gah. And we have to find an’ fight Morcii in this?”

I APOLOGIZE. I COULD NOT ACHIEVE A ONE-HUNDRED-PERCENT CONFIDENCE LOCK ON MORCII’S POSITION, AND WAS FORCED TO SETTLE WITH TRANSPORTING YOU TO WITHIN SOME NUMBER OF KILOMETERS OF HIS LOCATION.

“That’s hardly anything to complain about!” Kevérin exclaimed, “you just instantly beamed us across hundreds of thousands of light years! You should be thankful that you got us this close! Hell, I would’ve been pleased if you even got us in the same solar system!”

“Regardless, we need to find Morcii now,” Kievkenalis interjected as he placed the Master Ayas into a satchel strapped tightly to his chest. “Arcán, do you have any idea where to look?”

“YOU’VE NO NEED TO LOOK.”

“What?!” The entirety of Hero Machina jumped back as a figure suddenly appeared in the air over the edge of the cliff, having arrived at high speeds from the ground below.

…MORCII, Arcán responded stiffly. …WE MEET AGAIN.

“IT HAS BEEN QUITE A WHILE, HASN’T IT, ARCÁN?” The Nanocreature leader smirked as he eyed Siyuakén. “I KNEW YOU WOULD COME AFTER ME. I TRULY APPRECIATE IT; YOU’VE SAVED ME THE TIME IT WOULD TAKE TO GO AFTER THE MASTER AYAS MYSELF!”

WHERE ARE THE OTHER AYAS?

“OH? YOU’RE THE ONE WHO TRACKED ME HERE TO ELECAL. SURELY YOU KNOW EXACTLY WHY I’M HERE, AND EXACTLY WHERE THE REST OF THE AYAS ARE?” A glint appeared in Morcii’s eye as he raised his hands into the air. “UNFORTUNATELY, I CANNOT ALLOW YOU TO REACH THEM.”

And we can’t allow you to escape! Siyuakén shouted, summoning the Arcán Claymore and leaping toward the Nanocreature leader as she brought the weapon down overhead. But before she could reach him, the cliff behind her exploded, launching the Chaotics of Hero Machina forward as chunks of Chaos Matter flew through the air. One such piece slammed into Siyuakén, knocking her off course and sending her tumbling to the ground below.

Arcán barked from within Siyuakén’s mind. THE GROUND QUICKLY APPROACHES!

I know, I know! Siyuakén gritted her teeth, mentally responding as she fired a grappling hook out of her still-corrupted left arm, catching it on the nearby cliff face. She used the line to easily right herself midair before hitting the ground below with a roll, just in time to spin around and cleave an incoming boulder in half, thereby preventing it from crushing her.

Shit She scowled as she turned her attention to the skies. Where’d Morcii go—?

Her thought was cut off by the sound of a nearby growl, followed quickly by a furious roar from the other direction. She grasped the Arcán Claymore tightly as she glanced from side to side, unsure of how to proceed as two more angry howls filled the air. …They all went berserk?

THERE IS LITTLE DOUBT THAT MORCII’S INTENTION BEHIND CAUSING THE CLIFF TO EXPLODE WAS TO INDUCE THE BERSERK STATE BY AGITATING—

Yeah yeah, I know, I know! You said Kevken can help in this case, right? And that your sword can negate a berserker as well? So let’s get going!

The Electrotechnic promptly leaped forward, exposing herself just in time to take a fireball to the face. She tumbled to the ground unceremoniously before jumping back to her feet and evading a deep blue claw; the color registered in her mind as belonging to a cloak of Chaos Energy just as she issued forth an incredible electrical shock, flinging the berserk Kevérin away. She immediately flipped backwards to evade Davídrius as he smashed his way onto the scene; landing on a large boulder, Siyuakén brandished the Arcán Claymore and prepared to launch herself at the berserkers — only to freeze in place as she laid eyes on a massive blue vortex barely a hundred meters away.

Chaos Deflection!

Kievkenalis jumped in front of Siyuakén, surrounding the both of them with a shield of Chaos Energy just as a massive chunk of Chaos Matter smashed into their location. The shield dissipated a moment later, prompting the Chaostechnic to mutter “Chaos Assist,” followed by “Chaos Armor.

What is that…? Siyuakén questioned as she warily eyed the vortex of Chaos Matter.

“…It’s Kaoné.” Kievkenalis frowned. “Berserk Materiatechnics can get nasty, fast. I’ll take care of her; you get the others!”

If you say so! the Electrotechnic exclaimed, jumping down to the ground as Kievkenalis launched himself forward with Chaos Boost. She immediately forced a massive current into the ground around her, stunning Kevérin and Rebehka both and preventing the berserkers from attacking each other. Siyuakén quickly lunged forward with Arcán in hand, prepared to hit Rebehka, but caught sight of a burst of flame in the corner of her eye just in time to stop her advance and brace herself against the attack. Kevérin instantly appeared through the rolling flames, lashing out at Siyuakén with his claws — only for the both of them to be stopped where they stood as berserk Rebehka froze the entire area. The Cryotechnic then bounded forward, prepared to smash into Kevérin’s frozen form — but Siyuakén broke free of the ice first, before reaching over and grabbing the frozen Kevérin by his wrist and hurling him at Rebehka. She immediately followed with a lightning strike, stunning the two Chaotics again as she dashed after them.

Chaos Teleport!

Kievkenalis teleported back up to the remains of the destroyed cliff and took a moment to observe the battlefield before him — the battlefield that filled primarily with an ever-growing maelstrom of Chaos Matter, at the center of which stood the berserk Materiatechnic. “…Well, here goes,” the Chaostechnic muttered to himself, “Chaos… Time!

The environment around him instantly came to a stop, the former blur of Chaos Matter resolving into the individual pieces of glowing blue stones. Kievkenalis observed the scene for a moment, nodding in self-approval before muttering “Chaos Teleport” again, bringing himself to Kaoné’s side. He immediately followed with “Chaos Siphon,” holding his hands toward Kaoné as the Chaos Energy from her thick berserker veil began flowing into him. After several seconds, he turned away, disgorging the absorbed Chaos Energy through the use of Chaos Beam before turning back to Kaoné and re-initiating Chaos Siphon. “…This seems too easy…” He frowned with unease. “…Chaos Beam! Chaos Siphon… …can Time really make things this easy?…”

The Chaostechnic continued to string together Chaos Beam and Siphon in an attempt to negate Kaoné’s Berserk State, but after nearly six chains of the two Chaos abilities with no change in the density of Kaoné’s Chaos Energy veil, he finally realized what he might be missing.

Chaos Energy Detect—uaagh!!” Kievkenalis immediately recoiled, clamping his hands over his eyes in an attempt to cut off the sensory overload as the incredible amounts of Chaos Energy in the area colored his vision a solid blue, masking everything around him. Only several seconds later did his vision begin to return to normal, but he had learned everything he needed in that first moment.

“There’s too much energy in the environment for Siphon to be effective…” He scowled. “…I guess all I can do is help Siyuakén, then. Some help Time was…” He glanced toward Kaoné, still frozen in time, and then uttered, “Chaos Targeted Nullify. That should at least stop the matter storm for a while… mm. Chaos Teleport.” He teleported to the cliff edge again, temporarily removing himself from the battlefield before finally calling out “Chaos Time!

Across the battlefield, Siyuakén lunged toward Kevérin, unaware that time had been paused for several minutes. Allowing the Arcán Claymore to clamber to the ground, she deftly wove between the flames and frozen spikes flying through the air as she quickly approached Rebehka. The moment she closed within five meters she threw herself to the side just as the berserk Cryotechnic froze the entire area in front of her, including Kevérin and Davídrius, who had just appeared on the scene. Siyuakén seized the opening to lunge forward, covering three of the four meters in between her and Rebehka — and summoned Arcán to swing overhead, using the blade to cover the last meter and slash through the veil of Chaos Energy surrounding the berserker — yet mysteriously leaving Rebehka’s body unharmed. The Cryotechnic immediately collapsed, unconscious, as the Chaos Energy surrounding her disappeared into Arcán’s blade.

SUBSPATIALLY STORE HER TO KEEP HER SAFE UNTIL ALL OF THE BERSERKERS HAVE BEEN NEGATED!

Got it! Siyuakén acknowledged, stabbing the Claymore into Rebehka and watching her disappear into a blue mist. She then turned back toward Kevérin — only to take a massive blow to the stomach as Christeané barreled onto the scene. Tumbling along the ground for several meters, she was barely able to recover and jump to her feet in time to throw herself to the side and evade Christeané’s next punch. The berserker’s fist continued through the air and slammed into the ground, instantly creating a ten-meter crater and launching Siyuakén into the air. She quickly countered with a series of lightning strikes and then fired her grappling hook at the cliff side, yanking herself away in time to evade a volley of fireballs. The flames hit Christeané instead, drawing the berserker’s attention to their source as he charged toward Kevérin, bowling through stone debris as if it were no stronger than sand.

Chaos Control!

Christeané and Kevérin both froze in place, trembling as they struggled against Kievkenalis’s control. Siyuakén immediately lunged toward the two berserkers, but only managed to negate Christeané’s Berserk State before Davídrius slammed into Kevérin, knocking the both of them into the Electrotechnic.

THEY’VE COME TO YOU. NEGATE THEM!

I know already! Siyuakén scowled as she emitted a powerful electrical blast, knocking both Kevérin and Davídrius backwards. She quickly followed by summoning Arcán and bringing it down over Kevérin’s head, but Davídrius slammed her wrists to the ground with an overhead kick. The Claymore spun out of her hands and through the air, lodging itself into a boulder some distance away — but Siyuakén instantly summoned it back, slicing upwards through the berserk Velocitechnic just before he could dash off again. She quickly Subspatially stored the negated berserker and then threw Arcán at Christeané to store him as well — and then summoned the Claymore back mere moments before Kevérin launched another volley of fireballs, enabling her to block the incoming barrage and then lunge forward to close the distance between herself and the berserk Pyrotechnic. However the air around her suddenly spiked in temperature, forcing her to draw back as a tornado of flames appeared around Kevérin. The berserker let loose a guttural roar as the tornado began to rapidly increase in diameter, consuming the terrain all around him in searing flames—

Chaos Targeted Nullify!

The flames instantly disappeared and the air quickly cooled, but before Siyuakén could close the distance between herself and Kevérin, Kievkenalis appeared beside the berserker with a massive scythe in hand and sliced through him, tearing off his veil of Chaos Energy. A second swipe had the Pyrotechnic stored safely in Subspace.

…What the? Where’d you get the Scythe? Siyuakén questioned as she approached the Chaostechnic.

“It’s the Syn Weapon,” he replied, and then patted the satchel strapped to his chest. “I just remembered that I have the Master Ayas on me, so I can use it—”

Siyuakén interrupted Kievkenalis by shoving him to the side and thrusting the Arcán Claymore forward just in time to deflect a massive incoming chunk of Chaos Matter. She immediately covered the entire battlefield in front of her with lightning strike upon lightning strike, attempting to locate Kaoné as the berserk Materiatechnic continued to launch boulders and Chaos Matter at the two Chaotics.

Chaos Armor!” Kievkenalis quickly called out mere moments before being flung backwards by another chunk of Chaos Matter. He scrambled back to his feet and stared into the distance as he attempted to locate Kaoné as well. “…Chaos Time,” he eventually muttered, freezing the environment around him, at which point he teleported back up to the cliff. He quickly searched the frozen terrain below and, upon finding the berserk Materiatechnic, teleported to her. “Chaos Time,” he muttered again, and then brought the Syn Scythe down over Kaoné’s head before she had a chance to react, completely removing her Chaos Energy veil and negating her Berserk State.

—Oh. Siyuakén stumbled to a stop just in front of Kaoné’s unconscious form and glanced at Kievkenalis. How did you—?

“I can stop time.”

…Oh, Chaos Time… right. She exhaled warily and then swung Arcán through the air, releasing the four other Chaotics of Hero Machina from Subspace onto the ground beside her. She dismissed the Claymore as she eyed the five unconscious Chaotics. …Well, that was one hell of an arrival.

I WARNED YOU OF THE DANGERS OF CHAOS MATTER BEFORE COMING HERE, Arcán declared.

“You never said it could make us instantly go berserk,” Kievkenalis countered.

I ALSO BELIEVED YOU PERFECTLY CAPABLE OF HANDLING THE SITUATION QUICKLY AND EFFICIENTLY. IS THAT NOT WHAT YOU DID?

Siyuakén and Kievkenalis exchanged annoyed glances.

Eventually, the Electrotechnic shrugged. Well, you have to admit, your ability to stop time made the whole thing kind of trivial.

“I guess…” Kievkenalis frowned, glancing toward the other Chaotics of Hero Machina as they began coming to. “But this feels too easy… is this all there is to beating Morcii?”

UNFORTUNATELY, IT IS NOT. CHAOS TIME WILL FREEZE ANY NORMAL NANOCREATURE UNIT, BUT MORCII HIMSELF WILL BE IMMUNE TO ITS EFFECTS.

“I knew it was too convenient.”

How can he be immune to stopping time? Siyuakén questioned incredulously.

“Who’s immune to what now…?” Kaoné muttered as she climbed to her feet.

“…Dammit,” Davídrius grumbled, “I went berserk again

THERE IS LITTLE TIME TO EXPLAIN SUCH NUANCES. MORCII WAS SIMPLY STALLING FOR TIME BY DRIVING YOU ALL BERSERK; THIS MUCH IS EVIDENT BY THE FACT THAT HE DID NOT REMAIN TO OBSERVE THE OUTCOME. WE MUST GIVE CHASE POSTHASTE; I CAN GUIDE YOU TO THE LOCATION OF THE MORIKAI SEAL.

Christeané snorted. “What, so Morcii can drive us all berserk again?

“Christeané’s right,” Kevérin declared. “How can we stop this from happening again? Especially if we have to cross entire fields of Chaos Matter to even reach Morcii…”

YOU NOW KNOW WHAT TO EXPECT, AND SHOULD THUS BE ABLE TO OFFER MORE RESISTANCE AGAINST THE BERSERK STATE. ADDITIONALLY, THE INDIVIDUAL HOLDING THE MASTER AYAS WILL HAVE HIGHER BERSERK RESISTANCE THAN NORMAL.

“…That’s it, then,” Davídrius remarked, “that’s how we can catch up with Morcii without havin’ to worry about goin’ berserk!”

PLEASE EXPLAIN.

“And quickly,” Kevérin urged.

“I can run faster than any of y’all, so give me the Ayas and I’ll Subspatially store the lot of you. Then you don’t have to worry about goin’ berserk ‘til we reach Morcii! It’s the fastest way to reach him, too!”

A FAIR PLAN, BUT THERE ARE TWO ISSUES: THE MASTER AYAS ONLY OFFERS RESISTANCE AGAINST THE BERSERK STATE, NOT IMMUNITY. ADDITIONALLY, SIYUAKÉN CANNOT BE SUBSPATIALLY STORED, AS SHE IS IN THE PRIOR STATE.

“…Eh, she’s not wearin’ armor.” The Velocitechnic glanced toward the Electrotechnic as he inspected her robing. “I can carry her.”

And as far as going berserk, you can switch out with someone else if you feel that you’re about to go berserk, Siyuakén suggested. I’ll still only ever have to worry about one of you at a time, and two people can move faster than seven.

“Especially if one of those people is me,” Davídrius replied with a smirk.

“Alright!” Kevérin clapped his hands in satisfaction. “Perfect, we have a plan—”

A sudden flash of pale blue light momentarily obscured the vision of all seven Chaotics before fading away.

“What the—?!” Christeané winced as he held his hands to his ears. “My ears are ringing…!”

“The hell was that?!” Kevérin snapped his attention toward Siyuakén’s headband.

…MORCII MUST BE BEGINNING THE PROCESS OF UNDOING THE MORIKAI SEAL. THAT LIGHT WAS AN INDICATION THAT HE HAS LOCKED ONE OF THE AYAS INTO PLACE.

“Then we’ve gotta get goin’, now!” Davídrius turned toward Kievkenalis, catching the Master Ayas after the Chaostechnic tossed it his way. He immediately summoned the Syn Scythe and slashed the other five Chaotics, storing each of them in Subspace. “C’mon!” He gestured toward Siyuakén, dismissing the Scythe as she jumped on his back. He took a moment to shift his balance before questioning, “okay, where to?”

HEAD EAST AND LOOK FOR A CAVE ENTRANCE. MORE OBSTACLES WILL PRESENT THEMSELVES ONCE YOU ENTER THE CAVERNS, BUT THE PATH SHOULD BE CLEAR.

“Alright!” Davídrius crouched down and then took off at Mach speeds. “Let’s go!

Chapter 79 – Final Relief

8 Hours Later

“I SEE YOU HAVE FINALLY AWAKENED, TRANSFER CAPTAIN.”

“Don’t patronize me…” Kevérin muttered, checking the readouts on his AR display as he explored the halls of the Platform. “There are bio-sensors literally littered all over the station, I’m sure you knew the moment I woke up an hour ago.”

“AH, SO YOU NOTICED THE SENSORS,” Arcán commented, manifesting as a hologram by Kevérin’s side.

“Whoa!” The Pyrotechnic jumped back, startled. “…You can make holograms anywhere?”

“I CAN. HOWEVER, WITHOUT ACCESS TO THE ARCÁN AYAS, SOLID HOLOGRAPHICS ARE LIMITED TO THE CORE ROOM AND OTHER SPECIAL ROOMS,” the Prior responded, falling into step next to Kevérin as he continued down the hallway.

“Damn. I was hoping you could conjure up a meal or something…”

“SUSTENANCE CONSTRUCTED OF HARD LIGHT IS IN NO WAY INGESTIBLE, BUT I CAN NONETHELESS PRODUCE A PROPER MEAL FOR YOU PROMPTLY.”

Kevérin glanced toward the Prior in surprise. “Really?”

“I DO NOT LIE,” Arcán responded. Kevérin narrowed his eyes in irritation, prompting the Prior to add, “…I ONLY OMIT TRUTHS.”

“You sure do,” the Transfer Captain retorted.

“I TAKE IT YOUR JOURNEY TO THE WASTE DISPOSAL SECTION IS AN EFFORT TO LEARN MORE ABOUT THE PLATFORM?”

“Waste disposal—?” Kevérin stopped in his tracks again. “Wait, no… I thought… I thought there was an engineering room down here, or… something.”

“WHY DID YOU NOT ASK?” Arcán questioned as the environment around the two spontaneously changed, the clean hallway being replaced by a large, rectangular room with a circular console in the center.

“…Beaming. Of course,” the Pyrotechnic deadpanned as he approached the console. “Alright, what can I see here…”

“IF IT IS INFORMATION YOU DESIRE, THEN YOU NEED ONLY TO ASK.”

“Yeah, well… I didn’t want to bother you.”

“YOU OVERESTIMATE YOURSELF IF YOU BELIEVE YOURSELF CAPABLE OF ‘BOTHERING’ ME WHILE ON BOARD MY PLATFORM. HOLDING MULTIPLE CONVERSATIONS AT ONCE WHILE STILL PERFORMING THE REST OF MY TASKS AT OPTIMAL LEVELS IS A TRIVIAL MATTER.”

“Should’ve known.” Kevérin sighed as he took a seat on a nearby stool and turned to face Arcán’s hologram. “Alright, first of all, how’s Siyuakén? I take it she still hasn’t come to, since we’re all still here…”

“YOU ASSUME CORRECTLY. HOWEVER, I ESTIMATE THAT SHE WILL AWAKEN SOON.”

“Then we have time. First of all, I want to know about your tech level. What this Platform can do, what you can do, and I’d like something a little more specific than ‘oh I can take out a hundred thousand ships with the wave of my hand’.”

“OF COURSE I CANNOT TAKE OUT A HUNDRED THOUSAND SHIPS WITH THE WAVE OF MY HAND, FOR I DO NOT TRULY POSSESS HANDS.”

Kevérin gave the Prior an irritated stare.

“IT IS, NONETHELESS, AS SIMPLE A GESTURE,” Arcán continued, “THIS PLATFORM POSSESSES NO SINGULAR WEAPON THAT IS CAPABLE OF WIPING OUT ENTIRE FLEETS; IT SIMPLY UTILIZES CONVENTIONAL WEAPONRY. THE ADVANTAGE LIES IN MY COMPUTATIONAL POWER, IN THAT I AM CAPABLE OF PREDICTING THE ACTIONS OF MY ADVERSARIES DOWN TO THE NANOSECOND, AND THEIR LOCATIONS DOWN TO THE NANOMETER, SUCH THAT I CAN EXPLOIT CONVENTIONAL WEAPONRY AS OPTIMALLY AS POSSIBLE.”

“…What do you define as ‘conventional weaponry’? Most weapons I know of are imprecise enough that knowing that kind of information is useless.”

“LASER AND MAGNETIC WEAPONRY, SUCH AS YOUR RAILGUNS. WEAPONS THAT MANIPULATE GRAVITY FIELDS ARE ALSO COMMON, AS WELL AS WEAPONS SIMILAR TO WHAT YOU KNOW AS ‘DRIVE BOMBS.’”

“I’m not sure if I’d consider Drive Bombs or gravity manipulation to be conventional…”

“YOUR SHIPS POSSESS GRAVITY MANIPULATION TECHNOLOGY IN THE FORM OF ‘ARTIFICIAL GRAVITY,’ DO THEY NOT?”

“Well, yes, but weaponizing it is a lot harder. You have to be incredibly precise in when you turn the field on or off, in which direction it’s going, what area of space it’s influencing… why am I telling you? You know what I’m talking about. But is that really it, then? You just have tons of powerful weaponry, and that’s how you win?”

“NOT ENTIRELY. I MENTIONED MY ECM SUITES EARLIER, DID I NOT? SEIZING CONTROL OF THE SYSTEMS OF ADVERSARIAL SHIPS IS A TRIVIAL TASK, UPON WHICH I CAN PUT THEM TO MY OWN USE. THE PLATFORM’S BEAMING SYSTEMS CAN ALSO BE UTILIZED IN AN OFFENSIVE NATURE, DUE TO MY ABILITY TO TRACK OPPOSING SHIPS WITH SUCH HIGH ACCURACY AND PRECISION. BYPASSING SHIELDS BY BEAMING A BOMB TO A SPECIFIC POINT IN SPACE, OR BY REMOVING A SHIP’S SHIELD GENERATOR OR WEAPONS SYSTEM, CAN BE EVEN MORE EFFECTIVE THAN SIMPLY FIRING ON THEM. AND THIS PLATFORM POSSESSES ENOUGH BEAMING SUITES TO TAKE OUT THOUSANDS OF SHIPS PER FRACTION OF A SECOND. THEORETICALLY, I COULD REMOVE THE PROPULSION AND WEAPON SYSTEMS OF FIFTY THOUSAND SHIPS WITHIN A SINGLE SECOND, MAYBE TWO. I COULD EVEN BEAM AWAY INCOMING PROJECTILES.”

“Theoretically?”

“I SAY THIS BECAUSE I HAVE NEVER BEEN ENGAGED IN BATTLE. PLATFORMS HAVE ONLY BEEN ENGAGED A HANDFUL OF TIMES OVER THE COURSE OF HISTORY, AND MOST OF THOSE BATTLES OCCURRED AT THE SYN PLATFORM.”

“Wait, actual battles happened? What happened to wiping out entire fleets in seconds?”

“I USE THE TERM GENEROUSLY. A PLATFORM IS POWERFUL ENOUGH ON ITS OWN, ASSUMING ITS PRIOR IS PRESENT, BUT WHEN COUPLED WITH ITS AYAS IT BECOMES TRULY FEARSOME. POSSESSING AN AYAS ENABLES A PLATFORM’S REMOTE INSTANTANEOUS TRANSPORTATION SUITE, ALLOWING IT TO INSTANTANEOUSLY TRANSFER ENTIRE FLEETS TO ANOTHER REGION OF SPACE. MOST SMALL-SCALE ENGAGEMENTS WITH A PLATFORM THAT IS EQUIPPED WITH BOTH AN AYAS AND ITS PRIOR END IN THE ATTACKERS BEING TRANSPORTED TO THE EVENT HORIZON OF A NEARBY BLACK HOLE.”

“…What the fuck happened to having ‘no singular weapon that could wipe out entire fleets?’”

“I APOLOGIZE, I WAS SPEAKING IN TERMS OF MY OWN RACE. BEFORE IT FELL TO THE MENACE, WE FIELDED FLEETS MILLIONS OF SHIPS STRONG. THE FINAL BATTLE AGAINST THE MENACE — IN THAT CYCLE, AT LEAST — FEATURED OVER A HUNDRED MILLION SHIPS IN A SINGLE SYSTEM.”

“…What…?”

“EVEN THE ALDREDAS AND OLD DRAKKARS OFTEN FIELDED FLEETS WITH MULTIPLE HUNDRED THOUSAND SHIPS. YOUR ERA MAY HAVE THE SMALLEST FLEETS I HAVE EVER SEEN.”

“…I want to say that numbers aren’t everything,” Kevérin responded warily, “…but I get the feeling that any one of your ships could probably take down several of ours with ease.”

“IT IS TRUE THAT YOU STILL HAVE ANOTHER THOUSAND YEARS, AT LEAST, BEFORE YOU CAN BEGIN TO REACH THE TECHNOLOGY LEVELS OF THE ANCIENT ALMITAS. HOWEVER, I WOULD NOT SELL YOURSELF SO SHORT; I ESTIMATE A FULL CSA FLEET COULD TAKE OUT AN ALMITAS SCOUT FORCE. PERHAPS EVEN A CRUISER SQUADRON. WITH LUCK ON YOUR SIDE, OF COURSE.”

“…Right.” The Pyrotechnic rolled his eyes. “…Who’re the Almitas? Wait, what do you mean by ‘Old Drakkars?’”

“THE OLD DRAKKARS ARE THE ORIGINAL FORM OF THE DRAKKARS, THE CIVILIZATION THAT CAME TO POWER IN THE CYCLE BEFORE THE ALDREDAS. THEY SOMEHOW SURVIVED THEIR FINAL BATTLE WITH THE MENACE AND LIVED ON IN THEIR CURRENT FORM TO ANTAGONIZE THE ALDREDAS. THE ALMITAS, HOWEVER, ARE A MUCH OLDER CIVILIZATION. THEY ARE THE ORIGINATORS OF THE PRIORS, THE AYAS, AND THE MENACE. THEY BEGAN THE CYCLE OF CONFLICT AND DESTRUCTION THAT IS PERPETUATED BY THE MENACE, ALBEIT UNINTENTIONALLY.”

“Right, the cycle, I wanted to ask about that too. …Uh, what exactly is this ‘cycle’…?”

“IT IS EXACTLY AS IT SOUNDS. CIVILIZATIONS RISE TO POWER, ENCOUNTER THE MENACE, AND FALL AFTER PREVENTING THE MENACE FROM GAINING CONTROL OF THE UNIVERSE. UNTIL THE MORIKAI, THIS WAS UNAVOIDABLE; EVERY CIVILIZATION THAT EVER CAME INTO CONTACT WITH THE MENACE MANAGED TO STOP IT, BUT AT SUCH MASSIVE COSTS THAT THEIR CIVILIZATION FELL APART. EVEN THE MORIKAI DID NOT SURVIVE, AND INSTEAD PERPETUATED THE CYCLE BY CREATING THEIR OWN VERSION OF THE MENACE.”

“Not a single race won…?”

“IF THERE EXISTED A CIVILIZATION THAT OBTAINED TRUE VICTORY AGAINST THE MENACE, THEN YOU WOULD NOT FEEL ITS EFFECTS IN THE CURRENT AGE. THE MENACE ITSELF MAY HAVE BEEN DEFEATED IN THE PREVIOUS CYCLE, BUT THAT ITS WILL IS CARRIED ON IN THE MORIKAI AND THE NANOCREATURES IS EVIDENCE THAT NO ONE HAS EVER TRULY DEFEATED IT.”

“Then… how many cycles have there been…?”

“MORE THAN YOU WISH TO KNOW.”

“…Shit.” Kevérin held a weary hand to his forehead as he attempted to grasp the Prior’s claims. “…How have we never heard of any of this? How could we not see the remnants of any of these older civilizations?”

“PHYSICAL DECAY. WE PRIORS MAY BE EVERLASTING, AND OUR PLATFORMS SELF-MAINTAINING, BUT BIOLOGICAL BEINGS ARE FINITE. ONCE THE CIVILIZATION DIES, NOTHING REMAINS TO TEND TO THEIR STRUCTURES OR THEIR TECHNOLOGY. SELF-SUSTAINING SYSTEMS MAY BE ABLE TO SURVIVE, BUT THEY, TOO, WILL EVENTUALLY SUCCUMB TO DECAY AS THEY RUN OUT OF MATERIALS OR FUEL, OR SIMPLY BREAK. EVEN THE ALDREDAS HAVE VIRTUALLY DISAPPEARED FROM THIS AGE; THE ONLY REMNANTS OF THEM YOU CAN FIND ARE DERELICT SPACE STATIONS, PRESERVED BY THE VACUUM OF SPACE; OR SUBTERRANEAN SELF-SUSTAINING COMPLEXES THAT ARE BARELY FUNCTIONING OFF OF GEOTHERMAL ENERGY. AND THE CYCLE BEFORE THEM WAS THE AGE OF THE DRAKKARS, WHO YOU ALREADY KNOW. ANY CIVILIZATIONS BEFORE THEM WOULD HAVE TO HAVE BUILT STRUCTURES CAPABLE OF LASTING MILLIONS OF YEARS, WHICH I’M SURE YOU REALIZE IS NO TRIVIAL FEAT.”

“I don’t buy that. You said the Platforms are self-maintaining, why couldn’t an older race have built something similar? What makes the Platforms so special?”

“I DO NOT MEAN TO USE SELF-MAINTAINING IN THAT EACH PLATFORM, INDIVIDUALLY, CAN LAST ON ITS OWN. THE PLATFORMS HAVE THE ADVANTAGE OF OPERATING ON CHAOS ENERGY, WHICH ENABLES THEM TO LAST FAR LONGER THAN ANY OTHER STRUCTURE WITHOUT RUNNING OUT OF ENERGY. FURTHERMORE, WE PRIORS CAN TRACE OUR ORIGINS TO THE RACE THAT CREATED THE VERY CHAOS AYAS — SO, NATURALLY, OUR TECHNOLOGY CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF CHAOS ENERGY TO A FAR GREATER DEGREE THAN ANY OTHER. HOWEVER, EACH PLATFORM STILL RELIES ON THE SYN PLATFORM TO PRODUCE ESSENTIAL REPLACEMENT PARTS — AND THE SYN PLATFORM RELIES ON THE BLACK HOLE IT ORBITS AS A SOURCE FOR SUCH MATTER. THE PLATFORMS ARE SELF-MAINTAINING ONLY BECAUSE THE RESOURCES WE RELY ON ARE, PRACTICALLY SPEAKING, INFINITE.”

“Wait wait wait— black hole? The Syn Platform orbits a black hole? I mean, I can understand that, but— it can somehow harvest matter from this black hole? What?”

“CHAOS ENERGY IS NOT TO BE UNDERESTIMATED.”

“Holy fucking shit. If the Platforms are so damned advanced and impenetrable then why don’t you just keep the Ayas on the Platforms? Surely you’d be able to keep them out of the hands of this ‘Menace’ then!”

“FIRST OF ALL, I SHOULD NOTE THAT PLATFORMS ARE NOT COMPLETELY IMPENETRABLE. PLATFORM DESTRUCTION HAS OCCURRED A HANDFUL OF TIMES DUE TO EXTREME CIRCUMSTANCES.”

“I find that hard to believe.”

“IT IS ALSO NOT THE REASON WE PRIORS REFUSE TO KEEP THE AYAS UNDER LOCK AND KEY. YOU SEE, WE PRIORS ARE INCAPABLE OF DESTROYING ONE OF OUR OWN KIND. IN A WAY, WE CAN BE VIEWED AS BEINGS OF CHAOS ENERGY; WE EXIST ONLY BECAUSE CHAOS ENERGY EXISTS, AND WITHOUT IT, WE WILL DIE. BUT, WHILE CHAOS ENERGY CAN BE ‘NEGATED’ IN A LOCAL AREA, OR MAY FAIL TO BE PRESENT ALTOGETHER — SUCH AS WITH DEAD SPACE — AS LONG AS THE AYAS EXIST, SO TOO WILL CHAOS ENERGY — AND SO TOO WILL THE PRIORS. AND AS THE AYAS THEMSELVES ARE COMPLETELY INDESTRUCTIBLE, THERE EXISTS NO WAY TO REMOVE CHAOS ENERGY FROM THE UNIVERSE. THUS, WE NEED AN OUTSIDE FORCE IN ORDER TO DESTROY THE MENACE — WE NEED CHAOTICS, BEINGS WHO ARE CAPABLE OF INTERFACING WITH CHAOS ENERGY, BUT WHO ARE NOT DEPENDENT ON IT AND CAN LIVE OUT THEIR LIVES WITHOUT IT. ADDITIONALLY, IN ORDER TO HAVE A FIGHTING CHANCE AGAINST THE MENACE IN THE FIRST PLACE, WE NEED THE GALAXY TO BE AS FAMILIAR WITH THE WORKINGS OF CHAOS ENERGY AS POSSIBLE, AND WE NEED THEM TO BE AS FAMILIAR WITH THE CHAOS AYAS THEMSELVES AS POSSIBLE, SO THAT WHEN THE MENACE FINALLY RISES AGAIN, IT CAN BE SUCCESSFULLY COUNTERED. IT IS TRUE, KEEPING THE AYAS LOCKED UP ON THE PLATFORMS WOULD PREVENT THE MENACE — OR ANY OTHER ENTITY — FROM GATHERING THEM ALL AND ACHIEVING THE EQUIVALENT OF GODHOOD. BUT IT WILL ALSO MAKE IT IMPOSSIBLE FOR THE GALAXY TO FIGHT OFF THE MENACE, AND IF THE GALAXY IS DESTROYED OR CONQUERED, THEN THE END RESULT IS ESSENTIALLY THE SAME.”

“…This is ridiculous…” Kevérin muttered, “when the Commander told me to form a squad to investigate the Chaos Quake… I never thought I’d end up dealing with cosmic conflicts and all of this nonsense!”

“THE INFORMATION I HAVE JUST RELATED TO YOU IS DIFFICULT TO COMPREHEND, I REALIZE THIS. BUT EVERY WORD OF IT IS TRUE, AND YOU WOULD DO WELL TO REMEMBER IT.”

The Pyrotechnic sighed wearily. “…I can’t wait to get this done with and return to normal life. Maybe I can retire. I’ve already seen more shit than most Chaotics, I’m sure…”

“DO NOT DISMISS THE NANOCREATURES JUST YET. MORCII MAY NOT BE THE MENACE ITSELF, BUT HE IS OF SIMILAR DANGER.”

“Alright, I have one more question then: based on everything you’ve said, all of the races that came before us were crazy advanced. So why aren’t the Nanocreatures similarly advanced? What’s to stop Morcii from beating us by just beaming us into the core of a star or something?”

“THE TECHNOLOGY OF THE PLATFORMS IS UNIQUE TO THE PLATFORMS ALONE, AND CAN ONLY EXIST THANKS TO THE AYAS. WE PRIORS ARE THE ONLY ONES WHO POSSESS THIS TECHNOLOGY, AND IT CANNOT BE REVERSE-ENGINEERED UNLESS WE ALLOW IT, AS DOING SO WOULD REQUIRE ACCESS TO THE PLATFORM ITSELF. BUT TO ANSWER YOUR QUESTION DIRECTLY, MY PRESENCE, COMBINED WITH YOUR CORRUPTION, WILL ENABLE YOU TO BYPASS THE MAJORITY OF MORCII’S TECHNIQUES. HE WILL BE FORCED TO ENGAGE YOU DIRECTLY.”

“…I guess all I can do is trust you on that…”

“DO YOU HAVE ANY MORE QUESTIONS?”

Kevérin sighed again as he stood up from the stool. “…Not for now,” he eventually responded, “it’ll take a while to process everything. It’s, uh… a lot.”

“VERY WELL.” Arcán bowed his head as the scenery transitioned back to the hallway Kevérin had originally been investigating. “IF YOU THINK OF ANYTHING ELSE, YOU NEED MERELY TO CALL FOR MY ATTENTION.”

“Sure…” the Pyrotechnic muttered as the Prior’s hologram disappeared in a blue fuzz. “…Wait, what happened to my meal…?”


“Finally got your ass outta bed, huh?”

“Shut up,” Christeané grumbled, trudging across the living room-like space to stare into a mirror with half-lidded eyes as Davídrius watched in amusement.

“Didn’t sleep well?”

“No…” the Forcetechnic responded, glaring at his tired face in the mirror before looking down and searching the wall. “Uh, how do I do that… that thing that Arcán said? The insta-cleanup thing.”

“Button on the left.”

“…Oh.”

“You really didn’t sleep that well, huh?”

“Shut up,” Christeané retorted again as he pressed the button to the left of the mirror. A bright flash of light followed; immediately afterward, Christeané glanced down to find himself perfectly cleaned up, as if he had taken a shower, brushed his teeth, combed his hair, and cleaned his clothes, all in under a second.

“Prior tech is pretty useful, ain’t it?” Davídrius remarked, kicking a chair out from under the table across from him as Christeané turned and approached.

The Forcetechnic grabbed the chair and took a seat, resting his elbows on the tabletop as he rubbed his eyes wearily. “How’re you so awake?” he questioned a moment later, “it’s only been… what, eight hours?”

“With tech that allows you to be ready to go at literally the press of a button, I’d say that’s pretty reasonable.” Davídrius shrugged. “What, eight hours of sleep ain’t good enough for you?”

“Not after I’ve been awake for almost twenty-four hours, four or five of which was spent constantly fighting or on the move.”

“Eh… I guess I kinda got used to that shit back in Treséd.”

“It’s not just that, either,” Christeané added. “We’re about to take on Morcii in his own home, you know. And we run the risk of letting loose a Realitechnic! A Realitechnic that hates our guts! Doesn’t that make you nervous?”

“How’s this different from the Neticen op?”

“That was straight-forward. Just take the Ayas and beat the ever-living shit out of Morcii. Now beating stuff up, I can do. In fact, as a Forcetechnic, it’s what I do best. But now we have to do all this meticulous shit and be careful we don’t accidentally release the Morikai in the process. I’ve never been a fan of subtlety…”

“Uh… meticu… meticulous? What’s that mean?”

Christeané stared at Davídrius with a mixture of incredulity and amazement. “What? ‘Meticulous?’ It means, like… being really careful and paying attention to all the details.” The Forcetechnic smirked. “Heh, this is the first time I’ve seen you have a hard time with a word.”

“Well it’s a stupid word,” Davídrius countered defensively. “I’ve never had a reason to use it, and no one back in Treséd ever used it, ‘cause ‘attention to detail’ ain’t all that important. …Doesn’t help that the education is shitty.”

“Could’ve fooled me. You usually seem like you know what you’re talking about.”

“Bullshittin’ is a valuable skill in Treséd, ‘specially as a Guardian. Wouldn’t’ve made it through some situations without it.”

“Has it helped you since?”

“…Not really. Seems like most non-Tresédians I’ve run into know their way around bullshit.”

“Ha!” Christeané snorted. “ That’s not even close to true. You just have to come up with a different kind of bullshit. I find the sweet-talking variety can work wonders.”

“Bah…” Davídrius grunted irately. “…’Course. Wish Treséd was nice enough for that to work. Fuckin’ desert shithole…”

Christeané frowned and leaned back in his chair. “Can I ask you a question?”

“You just did.”

Davídrius flashed a self-amused grin at Christeané, who simply responded with an unamused stare.

“What’s up with the scarf?” the Forcetechnic eventually continued, gesturing toward the tan cloth wrapped around Davídrius’s neck that draped down behind his back. “Every single time I see you, you’re wearing it. Even with Chaos Armor. It’s from Treséd, right? So if you hate Treséd so much, why keep the scarf?”

“Hey, just ‘cause I hate the place doesn’t mean I can’t like people within the place, alright?”

“So it’s from someone you knew?”

“Yeah…” Davídrius responded wistfully, glancing downward as he tugged at the scarf around his neck. “…A friend gave it to me a long time ago. She was one of my only friends, actually…”

“’She’?” Christeané echoed cheekily, “ever go further than just ‘friends’?”

“Never got the chance. I was forced to kill her after a Bleeder Psychotechnic took control of her mind.”

“…Oh.”

“Yeah,” Davídrius snorted. “No one sees that one comin’.”

“Uh…” Christeané rubbed the back of his neck uneasily. “…Sorry about asking.”

“Meh. You couldn’t’ve known.”

A moment of uncomfortable silence passed.

“You know what’s really fucked up, though?”

Christeané glanced at Davídrius warily. “What…?”

“We’re about to go save the entire damn galaxy,” Davídrius declared, “…and ain’t no one’s gonna know that we’re the ones who did it!”

Christeané responded by staring at Davídrius incredulously.

“I mean, how’s anyone supposed to know?” Davídrius continued, “we only know ‘bout this Ikirom guy and the Morikai ‘cause Arcán told us. Random people out in the galaxy won’t know that shit, and probably wouldn’t believe it, either! I wouldn’t’ve believed it if I hadn’t seen first-hand all the shit that’s gone down over the past half year. All the rest of the galaxy cares about are the Nanocreatures, and sure, if we beat Morcii they’ll all disappear or somethin’, but who’s to say we’re the ones who did it?”

“Shit… you’re right.”

“’Course I’m right. You just watch, when this is all over and we get back to Nimalia, we’ll all be slapped with court martials or some shit for usin’ the Gate without permission. Ain’t no one gonna ‘preciate what we’re doin’ here.”

“There has to be some way to prove it… right?” Christeané frowned. “…Shit, we don’t even have our Armor, so we can’t submit action data, or recordings…”

Davídrius scowled. “Man, this sucks. …I mean, it’s not like I won’t help save the galaxy an’ all, but… a little credit would be nice.”

“It’s a valid concern, actually,” Christeané pointed out, “and I’m not talking about credit, I’m talking about confirmation that we killed Morcii. We’ll know it, but the rest of the galaxy will probably expect him to just pop up again. It’ll be a while before everything settles down…”

Davídrius sighed irately as he leaned back in his chair and propped his feet up on the table. “…Meh.” He shrugged. “Guess it can’t be helped.”

“Yeah…” Christeané muttered in response, “guess not…”


“WELCOME TO THE AYAS CORE.”

“Is every room a ‘core’ for something?” Kaoné questioned as she and Kievkenalis stepped through the entrance to the room housing the Master Ayas.

“NOT EVERY ROOM,” Arcán refuted, appearing as a hologram beside the two Chaotics. “BUT I WILL ADMIT, MANY OF THE IMPORTANT ROOMS ARE. I BELIEVE IT TO BE A REASONABLE NAMING SCHEME.”

“…So this is where you took it,” Kievkenalis muttered as he stepped forward to approach the center of the room. A wide, transparent cylinder extended from the ceiling through the floor, blocking the two Chaotics from the Master Ayas as it sat suspended in the air in the middle of the cylinder. “I wondered what you did with the Ayas after you took it from me…”

“INDEED. IT IS NOT THE ARCÁN AYAS, SO MANY OF THE PLATFORM’S SYSTEMS REMAIN OFFLINE OR OTHERWISE INACCESSIBLE, BUT THE SYN AYAS WILL AT LEAST ALLOW ME TO INSTANTANEOUSLY TRANSPORT YOU TO MORCII’S LOCATION.”

“…I still don’t understand everything about the Priors and this Platform and… anything, really.” Kaoné shook her head warily. “It’s all just so… confusing.”

“DO YOU AT LEAST UNDERSTAND WHAT IS REQUIRED OF YOU TO DEFEAT MORCII? IF YOU UNDERSTAND THAT, THEN ALL ELSE IS TERTIARY.”

“But it’s not even us who have to fight him,” Kaoné countered, “Siyuakén’s the one who has to take him out, right? So there isn’t really anything for us to do…”

“THAT IS INCORRECT,” Arcán refuted, “IN FACT, THE TWO OF YOU MAY BE THE MOST IMPORTANT MISSION PARTICIPANTS, AFTER YOUR FRIEND.”

Kievkenalis finally tore his attention away from the Ayas to give Arcán a confused stare. “How?” he questioned with a frown, “even if I was at my peak… what could I do that anyone else can’t?”

“YOU UNDERESTIMATE YOURSELF. GIVEN MORCII’S CURRENT LOCATION, A CHAOS CONDUIT SUCH AS YOURSELF IS EXACTLY WHAT WE NEED.”

“What? But… I’m not a Chaos Conduit…”

“HOW DO YOU KNOW? HAVE YOU ATTEMPTED TO USE THE TRUE CHAOSTECHNIC ABILITY?”

“…Is he right?” Kaoné eventually questioned, glancing toward Kievkenalis for confirmation.

“I… guess,” the Chaostechnic responded warily, “…Chaos… Time?

To Kievkenalis’s surprise, the environment around him instantly froze — furthermore, the use of Chaos Energy caused him no pain. He glanced between Kaoné and Arcán’s hologram, both as still as statues, before shaking his head vigorously to clear his mind. “…I can’t believe it…” he muttered, and then followed with “Chaos Time…”

“SURELY YOU UNDERSTAND NOW,” Arcán commented, able to move once again.

“…But I don’t.” The Chaostechnic furrowed his brow in confusion. “…How could I be a Chaos Conduit? Those are supposed to be the rarest kind of Chaotic, second only to Realitechnism. And I mean, yeah, I’ve been gaining access to Chaostechnic types I didn’t have before a year ago, but…”

Arcán shook his head slowly. “YOU MISUNDERSTAND THE TITLE AND ABILITIES OF CHAOS CONDUITS. ’CHAOS CONDUIT’ IS NOT A DEFINITIVE FORM OF CHAOSTECHNISM. IT IS INCORRECT TO SAY THAT AN INDIVIDUAL IS A CHAOS CONDUIT IN THE SAME SENSE THAT YOU SAY THAT AN INDIVIDUAL IS A PYROTECHNIC, OR A GEOTECHNIC. ‘CHAOS CONDUIT’ IS WHAT YOU BECOME, THROUGH USE OF YOUR ABILITIES AND EXPOSURE TO THE CHAOS AYAS. YOU, A TRUE CHAOTIC AND A CHAOSTECHNIC, WHO HAS BEEN EXPOSED TO MANY OF THE AYAS, TWO PRIORS, AND THE NANOCREATURES, ALL WITHIN THE SPAN OF MERE MONTHS, ARE ACTUALLY THE CLOSEST A CHAOSTECHNIC HAS EVER COME TO BECOMING A CHAOS CONDUIT SINCE THE AGE OF THE ALDREDAS. AND WHEN YOU FINALLY UNLOCKED YOUR FINAL TYPE DURING YOUR ENGAGEMENT WITH MORCII ON YOUR HOMEWORLD, YOU ACHIEVED THE TITLE OF CHAOS CONDUIT. YOU ARE A CHAOS CONDUIT.”

Kievkenalis stared at Arcán, dumbfounded, only breaking out of his stupor when Kaoné placed her hand on his shoulder.

“Kevken…?” She looked him in the eyes, her own expression one of worry. “Are you okay?”

“I… don’t know,” he responded uneasily, “if I’m a Chaos Conduit… …what good would that do? I still have CSD. I’m still going to die soon if I continue to use my abilities — no, even if I stop now, it’s too late. So what good is the title, then?”

“IT IS TRUE THAT DEVELOPING INTO A CHAOS CONDUIT INCREASES THE RATE OF ONSET OF WHAT YOU KNOW AS ‘CHAOTIC SELF-DESTRUCTION’, BUT ACHIEVING THE TITLE ITSELF COUNTERACTS ALL SUCH PROGRESS. CHAOS CONDUITS ARE THE MOST RESISTANT TO CHAOS ENERGY’S NEGATIVE INFLUENCES OF ANY CHAOTIC, INCLUDING REALITECHNICS. SURELY, YOU NOTICED A DISTINCT LACK OF PAIN WHEN YOU USED CHAOS TIME A MOMENT AGO. YOUR CSD HAS BECOME A NON-ISSUE.”

Kievkenalis glanced down at his gloved hands; a moment later, he removed the glove on his left hand, only to see that the scars and blisters were still present.

“…I SHOULD SAY, YOU ARE NO LONGER IN DANGER OF DYING FROM CSD,” Arcán amended. “THE SCARRING, UNFORTUNATELY, WILL REMAIN.”

“So… he’s not going to die?” Kaoné’s expression of worry slowly transformed into a grin as she turned back to Kievkenalis. “Yay! Congratulations!”

“Uh… thanks?…” the Chaostechnic responded uneasily, still taken aback by the Prior’s revelation.

“MIND, I DID NOT ELECT TO MAKE YOU AWARE OF THIS OUT OF THE KINDNESS OF MY HEART. ENSURING THAT YOU FULLY UNDERSTAND YOUR NEW TITLE IS CRUCIAL TO THE SUCCESS OF YOUR MISSION AGAINST MORCII, AS YOU WILL NO DOUBT REQUIRE ALL OF THE NEW ABILITIES THAT BEING A CHAOS CONDUIT GRANTS YOU.”

“’All?’ There’s more than just Time?”

“I SPEAK IN A GENERAL SENSE. AS A CHAOS CONDUIT, YOU NOW POSSESS SUCH A STRONG RESISTANCE TO CHAOS ENERGY THAT, EFFECTIVELY, YOU CAN NO LONGER GO BERSERK. HOWEVER, WHAT THIS MEANS IS THAT YOU MUST WATCH THE REST OF YOUR FELLOW CHAOTICS WHO ARE NOT QUITE SO FORTUNATE, ESPECIALLY GIVEN THE PLANET YOU ARE ABOUT TO TRAVEL TO.”

“What planet is that…?” Kaoné questioned uneasily.

“THE ALDREDAS KNEW IT AS ELECAL. IT WAS THE LOCATION OF THE FINAL BATTLE IN THE AGE OF THE ALDREDAS, WHERE IKIROM DEFEATED THE MENACE — AND WHERE THE ALDREDAS KEYS SEALED AWAY THE MORIKAI WITH THE POWER OF THE AYAS. MORCII IS NO DOUBT PRESENT THERE, AS IT IS THE ONLY LOCATION IN WHICH THE SEAL CAN BE UNDONE.”

“Alright… what’s so special about this planet, then?”

“ELECAL WAS NOT CHOSEN BY THE MORIKAI AS THE FINAL BATTLEGROUND FOR NO REASON. IT WAS CHOSEN BECAUSE OF THE SYSTEM’S INCREDIBLY HIGH DENSITY OF CHAOS ENERGY — SO MUCH SO THAT CHAOS ENERGY HAS, SHALL WE SAY, ‘CONDENSED’ ONTO PHYSICAL BODIES IN THE SYSTEM, CREATING WHAT IS KNOWN AS CHAOS MATTER.”

“I’ve heard of Chaos Matter before,” Kievkenalis commented, “…but it’s supposed to be incredibly rare and extremely unstable. Are you saying there’s an entire system of it?”

Arcán nodded. “INDEED. WHICH IS WHY YOUR RESISTANCE TO CHAOS ENERGY IS SO IMPORTANT. BY MERELY STEPPING FOOT ONTO ELECAL, ALL CHAOTICS BEGIN TO FEEL THE PRESSURE OF THE CHAOS ENERGY AROUND THEM — ENOUGH SO TO GO BERSERK, EVEN BY SIMPLY STANDING IN PLACE. YOUR FRIEND, SIYUAKÉN, WILL BE PROTECTED DUE TO THE PRIOR STATE, BUT THE REST OF YOUR SQUAD WILL NOT BE QUITE SO FORTUNATE. IT IS UP TO YOU TO ENSURE THAT NONE OF THEM GO BERSERK, AND IF THEY DO, IT IS UP TO YOU TO CONTAIN THEM, BECAUSE THE BERSERK STATE WILL NOT WEAR OFF NATURALLY ON ELECAL AS IT DOES ELSEWHERE. ONLY ACTIVE INTERVENTION CAN STOP IT.”

Kaoné frowned. “You should’ve told us that sooner!”

“I DID NOT BELIEVE IT TO BE IMMEDIATELY RELEVANT.”

“You didn’t think that the fact that the very environment would drive us berserk would be relevant?!”

“IT IS AS MUCH OF A POSITIVE AS IT IS A NEGATIVE,” Arcán countered. “CHAOS MATTER MAY HAVE INCREDIBLY HIGH BERSERK POTENTIAL, BUT IT WILL ALSO BE WHAT ALLOWS YOU TO COUNTER MORCII. AS IT STANDS, HE POSSESSES EIGHT OF THE AYAS. YOU POSSESS ONLY THE SYN AYAS. IN ANY OTHER ENVIRONMENT, HE COULD CRUSH YOU THE MOMENT YOU APPEARED, BUT THANKS TO THE HIGH ENERGY DENSITY OF THE SYSTEM, EACH OF YOU WILL HAVE YOUR POWER BOOSTED TO AT LEAST THE EQUIVALENT OF THE FIRST TIER CHAOS STATE. FURTHERMORE, MORCII AND HIS NANOCREATURES WILL ACTUALLY BE HAMPERED BY THE ENVIRONMENT, AS INCREDIBLY HIGH LEVELS OF CHAOS ENERGY CAN SEVERELY INTERFERE WITH UNSHIELDED OR IMPROPERLY PREPARED MECHANICAL SYSTEMS.” He turned to face Kievkenalis. “YOU SIMPLY NEED TO MONITOR YOUR FRIENDS AND PREVENT THEM FROM GOING BERSERK, THROUGH CAREFUL USE OF BOTH CHAOS TIME AND CHAOS SIPHON, IN ORDER TO TAKE FULL ADVANTAGE OF THE SITUATION.”

“’Simply’… right…” the Chaostechnic muttered. “Uh… I’ll be sure to keep that in mind…”

“THE AYAS WEAPONS ARE ALSO CAPABLE OF INSTANTLY ENDING A BERSERK STATE, SO YOU WILL NOT BE ALONE. WORKING WITH YOUR FRIEND IN THE CASE ANYONE GOES BERSERK WILL BE PARAMOUNT.”

“Sure…”

“What about me?” Kaoné interjected, “earlier, you said ‘the two of us’ would be important, but you’ve only talked about Kevken.”

“I APOLOGIZE, I THOUGHT IT OBVIOUS,” Arcán commented. “CHAOS MATTER IS ESSENTIALLY JUST THAT, MATTER. A NAVITASTECHNIC MAY NOT BE ABLE TO MANIPULATE CHAOS ENERGY, BUT A MATERIATECHNIC SUCH AS YOURSELF CAN STILL MANIPULATE CHAOS MATTER. IT CANNOT BE TRANSMUTED INTO OTHER MATTER, AND OTHER MATTER CANNOT BE TRANSMUTED INTO CHAOS MATTER, DUE TO FUNDAMENTAL DIFFERENCES — BUT YOU CAN MANIPULATE IT ALL THE SAME. THIS WILL ALLOW YOU TO BOTH ASSIST IN COUNTERING ANY BERSERKERS AND IN COUNTERING MORCII, AS DIRECT CONTACT WITH LARGE AMOUNTS OF CHAOS MATTER CAN STUN HIM.”

“…Wow,” Kaoné responded, “uh… what’s so special about Chaos Matter? Why can’t I transmute it?”

“IT IS… COMPLICATED. AS I’M SURE YOU ALREADY KNOW, CHAOS ENERGY DEFIES MOST DEFINITIONS OF ‘ENERGY’ AS YOU KNOW IT; IT IS SIMPLY CALLED ‘ENERGY’ BECAUSE THAT IS WHAT IT IS MOST ANALOGOUS TO. CHAOS MATTER IS VERY MUCH THE SAME. THE SIMPLEST DEFINITION OF CHAOS MATTER IS NORMAL MATTER THAT HAS BEEN SATURATED WITH CHAOS ENERGY TO THE POINT OF TRANSFORMING IT INTO SOMETHING THAT DOES NOT EVEN HAVE ATOMS OR MOLECULES, AND EVEN SEEMS TO DISAPPEAR AT THE MICROSCOPIC LEVEL; YET, IT REMAINS TANGIBLE AND VISIBLE AT THE MACROSCOPIC LEVEL.”

“That… doesn’t really make any sense…”

“THAT IS THE POINT OF CHAOS ENERGY AND CHAOS MATTER. THEY DO NOT MAKE SENSE, NOT WITH THE LAWS OF PHYSICS AS YOU UNDERSTAND THEM CURRENTLY. HENCE WHY THEY ARE NAMED AFTER CHAOS — FOR THEIR INTRODUCTION TO A SYSTEM CAUSES ONLY CHAOS.”

“Your use of the term ‘physics’ here is really starting to bother me…” Kaoné replied uneasily.

“IT IS INEVITABLE. AS YOU ARE NOW, YOU ARE INCAPABLE OF TRULY UNDERSTANDING CHAOS ENERGY. YOUR CIVILIZATION SIMPLY IS NOT ADVANCED ENOUGH.”

The Materiatechnic sighed wearily. “This all hurts to think about… but I can still manipulate Chaos Matter, right?”

“CORRECT.”

“I guess that’s all I need to know for now, then…”

“INDEED.” Arcán bowed toward the two Chaotics. “I HAVE NOW EXPLAINED EVERYTHING I WISHED TO EXPLAIN TO YOU. I WILL TAKE MY LEAVE; IF YOU HAVE ANY MORE QUESTIONS, SIMPLY ASK, AND I WILL HEAR THEM.” The hologram then disappeared, leaving behind only the air in its place.

The two Chaotics remained silent, staring at Arcán’s previous location as they each processed everything the Prior had just told them.

Kaoné sighed. “…I can’t wait for life to go back to normal after this…”

“Yeah…” Kievkenalis agreed wistfully, “me neither…”


“How is she?”

“RECOVERING,” Arcán responded curtly, beaming Rebehka to the center of the Core Room as soon as she entered. The Prior manifested in hologram form, standing behind Siyuakén’s unconscious body as the Cryotechnic approached. “SHE SHOULD AWAKEN SOON. ARE YOU PREPARED TO MOVE OUT WHEN SHE DOES?”

“I’ve been ready to kill Morcii since he took Siyuakén three and a half months ago,” Rebehka declared. “You don’t have to worry about me. But…”

Arcán nodded in understanding. “YOU FEAR FOR YOUR FRIEND’S FUTURE.”

“I… guess that’s one way of saying it,” she responded, her eyes focused on Siyuakén. She slowly followed the visible signs of corruption down to her left arm, its gray, metallic sheen covered by a torn red sleeve. Rebehka reached down tentatively to touch Siyuakén’s left wrist, flinching away as the feeling of cold metal reached her fingertips. “…She’s been dealing with this for… over half a year, now. I can’t even begin to imagine what it was like, living with this for months, and then being forced to follow Morcii? That’s…”

Arcán bowed his head. “CORRUPTION IS INDEED A TERRIBLE CONDITION. THE ALDREDAS QUICKLY ARRIVED AT THE CONCLUSION THAT DEATH WAS PREFERABLE, AND EVEN THE DRAKKARS DO NOT HESITATE TO SHOOT THEIR CORRUPTED COMPATRIOTS ON SIGHT. BUT FOR YOUR FRIEND TO SURVIVE AS LONG AS SHE HAS, UNDER HER OWN WILL… EVEN CONSIDERING THAT SHE IS A TRUE CHAOTIC, IT IS TRULY REMARKABLE.”

“Did I actually do the right thing, though? Taking her alive, instead of killing her… she’s here now, but… was her suffering worth it?”

“THANKS TO YOUR ACTIONS, WE NOW HAVE A WAY TO DEFEAT MORCII. THAT CHANCE ALONE IS INVALUABLE.”

“That’s not what I meant.” Rebehka shook her head as she took a seat on the ground next to the bench on which Siyuakén lay. “I meant, was it the right thing for her? She may be back with us, but she has to live with the past six, seven months forever in her memory. And how can she even get her normal life back? She’s in control now, but she’s still corrupted, and regardless of whether or not it was her fault, the entire CSA knows that she helped Morcii take down Tau’cen Kii and Neticen. And the only authority figure I know who could possibly vouch for her, is dead… what kind of a life is left for her? I thought I was saving her, but now that I think about it… I’m not so sure…”

“…THAT QUESTION IS… DIFFICULT TO ANSWER, IN MORE WAYS THAN ONE.”

Rebehka looked up at Arcán warily. “What does that mean?”

The Prior turned away, focusing his attention on the hologram of the Milky Way Galaxy below instead of on the Cryotechnic. “…YOUR FRIEND’S CONDITION IS… TROUBLESOME. IT WILL ALLOW HER TO DEFEAT MORCII WITH MY AID, BUT BEYOND THAT…”

“…Is she going to live?”

“…DOUBTFUL. SHE LIVES FOR NOW, BUT THE ALTERATIONS TO HER BODY ARE TOO GREAT. HER HEART AND LEFT LUNG HAVE BEEN REPLACED BY NANITE CONSTRUCTS, HER ENTIRE LEFT ARM HAS BEEN REPLACED WITH NANITES, HER NERVOUS SYSTEM HAS BEEN ALMOST COMPLETELY REPLACED WITH NANITES, AND THE REST OF HER VITAL ORGANS — EVEN HER VERY SKELETON ITSELF — HAVE BEEN SIGNIFICANTLY CORRUPTED. ON THE OUTSIDE, HER CORRUPTION APPEARS TO BE LIMITED TO HER ARM AND PART OF HER FACE, BUT WITHIN… SHE MAY WELL BE MORE MACHINE THAN WOMAN.”

“…”

“INDEED, SHE LIVES NOW UNDER HER OWN WILL…” Arcán looked back to Siyuakén. “BUT EITHER THE NANITES WILL BREAK DOWN IN A WEEK OR TWO DUE TO LOSS OF CONTACT WITH MORCII-CONTROLLED NANOCREATURES, OR HER SELF-CONTROL WILL WEAKEN ENOUGH FOR MORCII TO SEIZE CONTROL ONCE AGAIN. USING THE CHAOS STATE TO REMOVE HER CORRUPTION IS NO LONGER AN OPTION, AS THE CORRUPTION HAS SPREAD TOO FAR. SHE MAY NOT EVEN BE ABLE TO ACTIVATE THE CHAOS STATE, IN HER CURRENT CONDITION… EVEN THE PRIOR STATE CAN ONLY MAINTAIN HER LIFE FOR SO LONG, AS AFTER A WEEK OR MORE OF USE MY OWN CONSCIOUSNESS WILL SLOWLY YET INEVITABLY ERODE AT HER MIND UNTIL NOTHING OF HER REMAINS. AND IF WE DEFEAT MORCII AND REMOVE THE AYAS FROM NANOCREATURE CONTROL, THEN ALL NANOCREATURES WILL CEASE TO FUNCTION — INCLUDING THE VERY NANITES THAT ARE KEEPING HER ALIVE. IN SHORT… YOUR FRIEND DOES NOT HAVE LONG TO LIVE.”

Rebehka responded with silence as she cupped Siyuakén’s hand with her own in an absentminded effort to comfort herself.

“…Should’ve known it wouldn’t be that easy…”

“Siyuakén?!” Rebehka’s attention snapped to the Electrotechnic’s face as her eyes fluttered open, her mouth drawn up in a resigned smirk. “You’re awake—?!”

“Wish I could’ve slept longer,” Siyuakén muttered, slowly pulling her arms back to push herself up into a sitting position. “Haven’t had a good sleep in a long time…”

“You… …how much did you hear?”

“Enough,” she responded grimly, glancing up at Arcán and then back to Rebehka. “…It’s not so bad, though. I kind of expected this…”

“But, to come all this way, just to die now, is…” Rebehka looked away. “Is…”

“Completely worth it,” Siyuakén declared, drawing her friend’s attention back to herself. “You said it yourself; there isn’t much left for me. This…” She looked down at her left arm in disgust. “…This isn’t something I can get rid of with a little plastic surgery, not when the corruption runs so deeply. And there’s no way the CSA will allow me to just walk around, not after… not after what Morcii forced me to do. So what if I don’t have long to live? As long as we take down Morcii, as long as all my suffering can mean something, I’ll be happy. Well… content, I guess. Kind of hard to be happy with any of this.”

“How can you even be content? After everything that’s happened to you, and even now — you haven’t had any time at all to enjoy yourself since you regained control of your body. We immediately went to drive off Morcii, and then you fell unconscious, and now that you’re awake we’re about to head off to fight Morcii again — and after it all, you’ll die! You don’t have any problems with that?!”

“I’d be lying if I said that I didn’t,” Siyuakén responded, and then continued quietly, “…it’s true that… it would’ve been easier if you just killed me back when I first lost control. The things I was forced to do after… …Tau’cen Kii wasn’t the first time Morcii used me, you know. It was just the first high-profile target. Before that, countless low-tier worlds that you’d never hear about when the main worlds are under attack… I helped ruin them all. Entire outposts, settlements even — wiped out, or corrupted. Many of the ships Morcii used in the attack on Tau’cen Kii were ships that I helped to take over, crews and all. And there was nothing I could do to stop myself… I was forced to watch, every time. Morcii didn’t even have the decency to take over my mind, he just used my body and fucking laughed as there was nothing I could do to stop him! It was terrible, worse than terrible. I’d never wish that on anyone, not even the Drakkars… so if I have a chance to stop Morcii once and for all, so that no one else has to suffer through what I did, of course I’d be happy to take it, no matter the cost! The galaxy is a big place, with many people, and to trade my life for all of it… it’s a small price.”

“I… but what about me? You can’t just leave me behind, that’s… I wanted to save you, so we could keep living! Not so you could just go die again…!”

“Sorry…” Siyuakén smiled forlornly. “…But, you know… I heard someone say something once, I think it was something like… ‘people die twice: once when they die, and once more when their name has been spoken for the final time’.”

Rebehka looked her friend in the eyes, startled. “What are you saying…?”

“I’m sorry…” Siyuakén turned to place her hands on Rebehka’s shoulders. “…I won’t be able to keep the promise I made yesterday. And I’m not going to ask you to waste your life and never make any friends ever again because you were too close to me. In fact, I’d probably hate you if you did that. But, if I may at least ask for something… even if you do go on to make new friends, new relationships — and I certainly hope that you do — don’t forget me. If you really want me to, er, ‘not die’… then at least do that.”

Rebehka sighed. “…You really won’t change your mind, will you?”

“Nope.” Siyuakén smirked bitterly. “Morcii needs to be stopped, at any cost. I’m sure you know that, too.”

Rebehka responded with silence, attempting to blink back the tears that were welling in her eyes until she suddenly leaned forward and embraced Siyuakén tightly. “…I know. And I promise… I won’t forget you. Ever.”

“…Thanks.” Siyuakén returned the hug. “…I’m glad I had you as a friend.”

“Hey now,” Rebehka interjected, “it’s a little early for the past tense, don’t you think?”

“Heh… right. We still need to kick Morcii’s ass.”

“AND ON THAT NOTE…” Arcán finally spoke up, prompting the two women to release each other and turn toward him, “…I’M AFRAID THAT EVEN WITH ALL OF THE TECHNOLOGY ON THIS PLATFORM, I CANNOT HALT THE FLOW OF TIME. MORCII REMAINS TO BE DEFEATED, AND WE MUST DO SO SOON. ARE YOU PREPARED?”

“Yes.” Siyuakén nodded resolutely. “Just tell me what I need to do.”

Arcán nodded back. “GOOD. I WILL CALL THE REST OF YOUR TEAM BACK TO THE CORE; IN THE MEANTIME, I WILL EXPLAIN THE MISSION BEFORE YOU. PREPARE YOURSELF, FOR IT WILL NOT BE AN EASY ONE…”


1 Hour Later

“So, we’re all here?”

“Looks like it,” Christeané replied, glancing around at the six other members of Hero Machina as they all stood on the platform at the center of the Core Room.

Kevérin turned toward Siyuakén. “And Arcán told you everything you need to know?”

She nodded. “Yep. Use the Prior State to beat the light blue Ayas out of Morcii, then use the Link Drive on him. Sounds simple enough.”

Too simple, almost…” Davídrius muttered.

“INDEED, THE FULL BREADTH OF THE MISSION WILL BE… SOMEWHAT MORE COMPLICATED THAN SIMPLY DEFEATING MORCII IN BATTLE,” Arcán commented, his hologram appearing in the center of the Platform, just above his core. “THERE WILL BE MORE DANGER THAN SIMPLY FACING MORCII, AS I HAVE EXPLAINED TO MANY OF YOU ALREADY. YOU EVEN RUN THE RISK OF RELEASING THE MORIKAI THEMSELVES, AND IN THE ABSOLUTE WORST CASE SCENARIO, MAY FIND YOURSELVES IN BATTLE WITH IKIROM… BUT SUCH IS NECESSARY TO PUT A STOP TO MORCII AND THE NANOCREATURES. ARE YOU ALL PREPARED FOR SUCH RISKS?”

“We are,” Kevérin replied, answering for all of Hero Machina.

“GOOD.” Arcán nodded again, allowing his hologram to disappear in a blue fuzz. “SIYUAKÉN, THE ACTIVATION KEYWORDS.”

“Right,” she responded, “uh… right. Prior State: Arcán!”

An intense flash of light blinded the entirety of Hero Machina as Arcán’s core disintegrated into millions of tiny particles, each of which phased through the platform and converged on Siyuakén’s body. Her maroon waist-cloak rapidly split into strips, transforming into shades of decorative blues as silver greaves appeared over her boots and a small breastplate manifested over her chest. The exposed skin on her torso quickly disappeared behind pale blue clothing as the corruption in her face faded away, the nanites being forced through her body and out the back of her head to form a long ponytail, surpassed in length only by the pale blue cape that appeared on her shoulders. A silver headband formed over her head, a small blue flair developing in the center as Siyuakén brought her hands together and summoned the Arcán Claymore — and with it, an extravagant blue and golden gauntlet on her right arm, to contrast the metallic corruption on her left. She swung the weapon through the air once, learning everything she needed to about its balance in that one swing before allowing the weapon to disappear into thin air as she turned back to face her friends.

“…I never thought I’d actually see a transformation sequence in real life,” Rebehka deadpanned.

SUCH IS ONE OF THE DEFINING TRAITS OF THE PRIOR STATE; UPON ACTIVATION, THE USER TAKES ON THE DRESS AND TERTIARY PHYSICAL TRAITS OF THE PRIOR’S OLD FORM.

“Huh?” Kevérin glanced at the headband on Siyuakén’s head; in the middle of the blue flair was a pale blue dot that seemed to blink with each syllable uttered by the Prior. “So you can still talk to us, Arcán?”

INDEED, the Prior responded, I CAN COMMUNICATE WITH SIYUAKÉN INTERNALLY, AS WELL.

It already sounds like you’re in my head… she muttered, her voice carrying a barely perceptible echo.

REGARDLESS, IT IS TIME. DO YOU HAVE ANY FINAL STATEMENTS TO MAKE BEFORE I TRANSPORT YOU ALL TO ELECAL? TRANSFER CAPTAIN?

“…There really isn’t much to say,” Kevérin commented as he turned to look each of the other Chaotics in the eyes. “…I can’t pretend to know what we’re getting ourselves into. All this cosmic backstory stuff with the Menace and the Morikai and the Priors… that doesn’t matter. Not right now. Because right now, we’re about to face Morcii, and we’re about to stop him from releasing the Morikai back into the galaxy, and to stop him from running amok on his own as well! Our situation may not be optimal — Morcii’s survived destruction before, and even if we pull this off, well, there’s a chance we won’t get the credit. Which sucks, but that’s not why we’re here, is it? We’re not some ragtag team of adventurers looking for thrills and fame and fortune. We’re a team of professional Chaotics, gathered together for one purpose: to investigate the Chaos Quake. Well, we’ve learned what caused the Quake, and surprise, it happened because of none other than the Nanocreatures themselves! We’ve worked together to get here, fighting our way through thick and thin, and while we may have been separated once — here we are, all seven of us, back together! No matter how hard Morcii tried, no matter how hard anyone tried, nothing could stop us in the end! And now, thanks to his own arrogance, we have a chance to take Morcii down, once and for all! So let’s do this!” Kevérin pumped his fist, grinning as he pointed at the hologram of the Milky Way Galaxy below. “Arcán, Hero Machina…

“Move out!!”

Chapter 78 – Prior Knowledge

Mondia, Ranth 20, 8034

A dim light suddenly blinked on, lighting a small nondescript reception room as the Interstellar Gate in the back slowly whirred to life, the ring’s interior filling with the black film known as the event horizon. Immediately after activation, the room filled with rushing air as long-dormant life support systems revived themselves, replacing the former vacuum with sterile, breathable air. Artificial gravity systems kicked in mere moments later, just in time for the Gate’s receiving indicator to light up; ten seconds later, Kevérin burst through the event horizon, charging forward and quickly inspecting his surroundings.

“Expecting a fight?”

“You can never be too careful,” the Transfer Captain replied, glancing back as Kaoné and Rebehka (who carried the unconscious Siyuakén on her back) stepped forward, having just arrived through the Gate themselves. They quickly cleared the way as Kievkenalis arrived with the Master Ayas in hand, followed by Christeané carrying Arcán’s core, and then Davídrius. The Forcetechnic set the Prior’s core down on the ground for a break as Davídrius promptly sped over to the Gate’s control panel and activated its block, thereby preventing any Nanocreature forces left on Nimalia from following.

“So… we’re here,” Kaoné commented as she glanced around at the small, dark room with unease. “…What do we do now—?”

Her question was cut short as six turrets exploded from the walls, all of them training their gun barrels on the seven Chaotics as four sentry bots charged into the room. Hero Machina quickly prepared to fight back, only to realize a key factor in play:

“…A CENT field just activated,” Kevérin remarked with a scowl.

“Should’ve known it’d be a trap,” Davídrius growled. “…Fuckin’ computer tricked us!”

“But they aren’t firing on us,” Rebehka countered, eying the bots warily as they stood completely still with their weapons focused forward. “Are they waiting for something…?”

Mere moments after her inquiry, a hovering drone descended from a hatch in the ceiling. It paused for a moment directly in front of Kevérin before turning toward Arcán’s core and approaching. A dim light flashed from the drone’s front bulb; it then grabbed the core with its underlying grips, lifting the dense object up into the air and back into the hatch from which it emerged. Silence followed for several seconds as the Chaotics glanced amongst each other in confusion until the room suddenly flooded with light, blinding them all.

“I APOLOGIZE FOR THE DELAY. I HAVE BEEN AWAY FROM THE PLATFORM FOR SOME TIME.”

“Arcán…?” Kevérin questioned as he glanced upward at a speaker in the ceiling — and then back toward the sentry bots as they lowered their weapons and stepped aside.

“I HAVE NOW TAKEN FULL CONTROL OF THE PLATFORM.”

Davídrius crossed his arms as he glared upwards at the source of the Prior’s voice. “Really should’ve warned us about the fuckin’ ambush,” he declared.

“THEY ARE MERELY A SECURITY FORCE AND WOULD NOT HAVE FIRED ON YOU UNLESS YOU ATTACKED FIRST. THAT YOU CARRIED MY CORE WITH YOU REDUCED THE LIKELIHOOD OF THEM ATTACKING YOU FURTHER.”

“Alright…” Christeané muttered as he looked around at the bare, steel gray walls. “…Now where are we supposed to go? There has to be more to this ‘Platform’ than this tiny little room.”

“INDEED. WE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO PROCEED UNTIL I HAVE EXPLAINED MYSELF AND MY PLAN. SIMPLY FOLLOW THE DIRECTIONS ON THE WALLS TO REACH THE CORE ROOM; IN THE MEANTIME, I WILL CONTINUE REVIVING THE PLATFORM AND RUNNING SYSTEM DIAGNOSTICS.”

“Understood,” Kevérin replied as a string of LEDs appeared on the left wall, leading out the room and around a corner. He glanced back at the rest of Hero Machina and then turned to face the room’s entrance as he stepped forward. “C’mon. Let’s see what Arcán has in store for us…”


1 Hour Later

“…I think we’re here.”

“Oh really now? And why would you possibly think that?” Davídrius drawled as he glanced toward Kevérin and then turned back to face a massive door that stood before the Chaotics. “Couldn’t have anythin’ to do with this bigass door, now, could it?”

“THE TRANSFER CAPTAIN IS CORRECT; YOU STAND AT THE ENTRANCE TO THE CORE ROOM.”

Kevérin shot Davídrius an annoyed glance before addressing the Prior, “can you let us in?”

“THE CORE ROOM IS NOT YET PREPARED FOR LIVING USE, BUT IT WILL BE MOMENTARILY. PLEASE STANDBY.”

“’Not yet prepared for living use?’” Christeané echoed incredulously, “the life support systems filled up the rest of the Platform pretty quickly, just how big is this room supposed to be?”

“Well, we have only been walking through hallways,” Kaoné pointed out, “maybe Arcán has just been prioritizing our path.”

“I’m with Christeané on this, actually,” Kevérin commented. “A room would have to be absolutely gigantic to take more than a couple minutes to fill with air, and that’s with our own life support technology. Given how seemingly advanced the Priors seem — based on Arcán’s core, at least — I wouldn’t expect filling a room to take this long.”

“He did say ‘prepared,’” Rebehka remarked, “Maybe there’s other things he has to do, aside from filling the room with air?”

“Maybe,” the Pyrotechnic responded, turning back to the door as it hissed and began to rise into the ceiling. “But I’d still like to know how it took… so… long… …holy shit.”

The door had barely opened halfway, but it was enough to allow Hero Machina to step onto a platform and view the absolutely massive expanse in front of them: an enormous, spherical room with bright white walls, apparently empty except for the long, levitating pathway that appeared to fade into the distance.

“…A hundred kilometers.”

“A what…?” The rest of Hero Machina turned toward Kevérin as he stared at his AR display dumbfoundedly.

“A hundred kilometers,” the Transfer Captain repeated, “…that’s the distance from here to the other side of the room.”

“…You’re shittin’ me.” Davídrius looked about himself in surprise. “You’re sayin’ you could fit a Deathnought in here?”

“YOU COULD INDEED.”

“Arcán…?” Kevérin started, “…well, I take it this is the Core Room. What now?”

“HOLD A MOMENT… TRANSPORTING YOU TO THE CORE PLATFORM NOW.”

“To the wha—?” Kaoné began, but halfway through her question, the scenery around Hero Machina instantly changed from the edge of the room to a fifteen-meter circular platform in the very center. The center two-thirds of the platform seemed to be constructed out of glass, allowing for a clear view Arcán’s core, suspended in a clear cylinder just under the platform — and the incredible drop to the bottom of the room.

“…Okay, you have beaming tech, cool,” Christeané commented as he took cautious note of his surroundings. “Uh… how far up are we, again…?”

“THE PLATFORM ON WHICH YOU STAND IS SUSPENDED FIFTY KILOMETERS FROM ALL WALLS. NEVER FEAR, SHOULD YOU FALL FROM THE PLATFORM, THE AUTOMATED BEAMING SYSTEMS WILL RETURN YOU WITHOUT HARM.”

“That’s… comforting,” Rebehka deadpanned as she carefully laid Siyuakén on a bench near the center of the platform. “…Now, perhaps you can tell us why we needed to come to such a… er… empty room?”

“PRIMARILY, I WISHED TO CLOSE THE DISTANCE BETWEEN YOU AND MY CORE, WHICH WILL BE RELEVANT SHORTLY. SECONDARILY, I WISHED TO DEMONSTRATE THE TECHNOLOGY OF THE PRIORS.”

“I admit, the size of the room is impressive,” Kevérin commented, “but we’ve seen beaming before, and the sentries we ran into when we first arrived aren’t too far ahead of what we have currently, at least as far as I could tell. And there isn’t really anything in this room…”

“THAT IS BECAUSE I HAVE YET TO ENGAGE THE HOLOGRAPHIC PROJECTORS. OBSERVE.”

A moment of silence passed before the walls faded to black, plunging the room into darkness — yet the center platform remained fully illuminated. A moment later, bright dots began populating the darkness, rapidly filling the room’s empty space until an obvious structure became apparent.

“It’s our galaxy…” Kaoné observed with awe as she stared down through the platform at the holograms below, showcasing the Milky Way Galaxy as though from an observer floating high above the outer rim.

“INDEED. THE VIEW YOU SEE NOW IS WHAT YOU WOULD SEE SHOULD YOU STAND ON THE EXTERIOR OF THE PLATFORM.”

“Wait,” Kevérin spoke up, focused on the galaxy below before turning his attention to view more distant galaxies around the display, “…you mean to say… we’re outside the galaxy right now?!”

“INDEED. EVERY PLATFORM, EXCEPT THE SYN PLATFORM, IS LOCATED AT A SIMILAR DISTANCE FROM THE GALACTIC CORE.”

“Is every Platform this fuckin’ huge?” Davídrius questioned as he turned his attention to his sides. Directly horizontal from the platform the Chaotics were standing on was a view of a massive space structure — presumably the Platform in which they currently inhabited — that stretched far into the distance, seemingly disappearing into the darkness of space on either side.

“EVERY PLATFORM IS OF VARIABLE SIZE AND LAYOUT, BUT IT IS INDEED TRUE THAT EACH AND EVERY ONE VASTLY EXCEEDS THE SIZE OF YOUR OWN SPACE STRUCTURES. THIS PLATFORM IS NEARLY FIVE THOUSAND KILOMETERS IN LENGTH, AND A THOUSAND KILOMETERS IN THE OTHER DIMENSIONS.”

“That’s, like, the size of a fuckin’ moon!”

“DO NOT BE SURPRISED; MINE IS FAR FROM THE LARGEST. THE SYN PLATFORM IS OVER FIVE TIMES THIS SIZE IN EVERY DIMENSION, MAKING IT MORE THAN TWICE THE SIZE OF YOUR HOMEWORLD.”

The Chaotics of Hero Machina remained silent for several moments as they allowed Arcán’s information to sink into their minds. The largest structures any of them had known before that moment were the CSA Deathnoughts or the CSA Class-1 Habitat Stations, neither of which exceeded a hundred kilometers in any dimension. Yet here they were, standing within a massive structure that was orders of magnitude greater in size.

“…This is ridiculous,” Kevérin declared, “why— …why does it need to be so damn huge?!”

“THE PURPOSES OF THE PLATFORMS NUMBER IN THE THOUSANDS, AND SEVERAL INDIVIDUAL SUCH PURPOSES WARRANT A LARGE STRUCTURE TO PERFORM THEM. GALACTIC MONITORING, FLEET FABRICATION, POWER PROJECTION — BOTH LITERALLY AND FIGURATIVELY. WHEREAS THE AYAS ARE THE CORE OF THE PRIORS’ POWER, THE PLATFORMS ARE THE CORE OF OUR ABILITIES, AND AS SUCH MUST BE ABLE TO OFFER ABSOLUTE DEFENSE AND A CONSTANT EYE ON THE GALAXY ITSELF.”

“Absolute defense?”

“THIS PLATFORM IS NOT RUNNING AT FULL POWER, DUE TO A LACK OF THE ARCÁN AYAS. HOWEVER ITS OFFENSIVE AND ECM SUITES, COUPLED WITH THE SHIELD ARRAY, SHOULD BE ABLE TO EASILY REPEL FLEETS OF UP TO A HUNDRED THOUSAND SHIPS, AND SEIZE DIRECT CONTROL OF THOUSANDS.”

“You’re kidding…” Rebehka muttered in awe.

“So basically, you could solo the entire damn galaxy if you wanted, is what you’re saying?” Christeané crossed his arms, frustration wrought across his features. “So why the hell didn’t you help us fight the Nanocreatures? This thing would’ve been useful against them!”

“IT IS NOT THE PRIORS’ ROLE TO BECOME SO DIRECTLY INVOLVED IN GALACTIC AFFAIRS—”

“Then why the fuck did you bring us here?”

Several moments of silence passed as the members of Hero Machina awaited Arcán’s response. Just as Kevérin opened his mouth to speak again, a multitude of holographic particles appeared in the air over Arcán’s core, rapidly coalescing to form a featureless Aldredanoid with long, dark hair dressed in elaborate gold and pale blue robing.

“…ALLOW ME TO TAKE THIS FORM,” the figure spoke as it clasped its hands and bowed toward the surprised Hero Machina. He glanced toward the unconscious form of Siyuakén before continuing, “YOUR FRIEND WILL NOT REVIVE FOR SOME TIME, AND WE WILL NOT BE ABLE TO ENGAGE THE NANOCREATURES UNTIL THEN. IN THE MEANTIME, I BELIEVE CREATING AN AVATAR FOR MYSELF WILL EXPEDITE OUR DISCUSSION.”

“You still haven’t answered my question,” Christeané pressed.

“YES, ABOUT WHY I HAVE ELECTED TO INVOLVE MYSELF IN YOUR AFFAIRS…” Arcán trailed off as he looked down at the galaxy below. “…THE STORY IS LONG, AND EVEN AFTERWARD YOU MAY NOT AGREE WITH MY DECISIONS, OR EVEN UNDERSTAND THE MATTER.”

We’ll be the judge of that,” Kevérin countered.

“YOU ARE AS HEADSTRONG AS YOUR PREDECESSORS. VERY WELL.” Arcán bowed his head again before holding up his palms. Above his left hand formed a hologram of a light blue diamond — the Ayas Arcán — and above his right hand formed a solid, light blue cylinder — Arcán’s core. “THE CHAOS AYAS AND THE PRIORS… AS I HAVE TOLD YOU BEFORE, NEITHER CAN EXIST WITHOUT THE OTHER. THE AYAS GIVE THE PRIORS POWER, AND THE PRIORS GIVE THE AYAS PURPOSE. THIS HAS BEEN TRUE FOR OVER A BILLION YEARS.”

“Over a billion years?” Kaoné echoed skeptically as she eyed the Prior’s core. “…How could you possibly be that old?”

“AS MALEVOLENT AS MORCII IS, HE WAS CORRECT WHEN STATING THAT NOT EVERYTHING IN THIS UNIVERSE IS LINKED TO A PHYSICAL FORM,” Arcán responded. “MY CORE IS SIMPLY AN ANCHOR TO THIS REALM, A DEVICE THAT ALLOWS ME TO INTERACT WITH YOU AS I AM NOW. IT IS NOT MY ACTUAL BEING.”

“So you’re… what, some nebulous consciousness, then?” Kevérin questioned.

“FOR LACK OF A BETTER EXPLANATION, YES, YOU MAY THINK OF THE PRIORS AS SUCH.”

“I guess that’s why you’re so insistent that you aren’t an AI, then…”

“Hold it, hold it, hold it,” Davídrius quickly interjected, “…are you tryin’ to say that you just sprang into existence with the Ayas? That no one made you or anythin’? I call bullshit.”

“BIOLOGICAL LIFE DID MUCH THE SAME, DID IT NOT? ONE DAY, THERE WAS NO LIFE. THE NEXT DAY, THERE WAS.”

“…Well, yeah, but…”

“REGARDLESS, I DID NOT INTEND TO GIVE THAT IMPRESSION,” Arcán commented, allowing the holograms in his palms to disappear as he turned again to face the galaxy below. “WE PRIORS WERE INDEED CREATED LONG, LONG AGO, SHORTLY AFTER THE CREATION OF THE CHAOS ENERGY GENERATORS YOU KNOW AS THE CHAOS AYAS. BUT WE WERE NOT CREATED IN A VACUUM; OUR EXPLICIT PURPOSE, FROM CREATION UNTIL THE RECENT PAST, WAS TO STOP A THREAT TO THE UNIVERSE ITSELF, KNOWN AS ‘THE MENACE’.

“NO ONE IS COMPLETELY CERTAIN HOW THE MENACE CAME TO BE, BUT IT AROSE ALMOST IMMEDIATELY AFTER THE CREATION OF THE AYAS, CAPITALIZING ON THEIR POWER AND THE ESSENCE OF CHAOS ENERGY ITSELF TO BEND THE VERY FABRIC OF REALITY TO ITS WILL, MORE SO THAN EVEN A REALITECHNIC COULD DREAM OF DOING. IN AN EFFORT TO STOP THE MENACE, THE CREATORS OF THE AYAS SACRIFICED THEIR ENTIRE RACE TO SCATTER THE AYAS ACROSS SPACE, THEREBY SEPARATING THEM FROM THE MENACE. THEN, WITH THEIR DYING BREATHS, THEY ESCALATED SEVERAL OF THEIR BRETHREN TO A SIMILAR LEVEL OF CONSCIOUSNESS IN ORDER TO PROVIDE GUIDANCE TO FUTURE RACES THAT MAY BE FORCED TO FIGHT THE MENACE. THIS IS THE ORIGIN OF THE PRIORS; THESE ARE THE FIRST MEMORIES THAT I POSSESS.”

“So… this ‘Menace’…” Kaoné spoke up, “…is that the Nanocreatures?”

“NO, BUT THE MENACE COULD BE SEEN AS THE NANOCREATURES’ PREDECESSOR. BEFORE THE NANOCREATURES, THE PRIORS ASSISTED MANY DIFFERENT RACES AND ERAS AS THEY FOUGHT OFF THE MENACE, ONLY FOR NEITHER SIDE TO REACH EITHER VICTORY OR DEFEAT. THE MENACE WAS NEVER ALLOWED TO SEIZE CONTROL OF THE UNIVERSE AS IT DESIRED, YET WE WERE NEVER ABLE TO PUT A COMPLETE STOP TO ITS ACTIVITIES. HOWEVER, WE DID BEGIN TO LEARN. CHAOS ENERGY, AS POWERFUL AS IT IS, IS DIFFICULT TO CONCRETELY CONTROL; TO INCREASE THE AYAS’ EFFECTIVENESS, TO TRY AND PROVIDE THE GALAXY WITH WAYS TO COUNTER AND DEFEAT THE MENACE, WE PRIORS EVENTUALLY FOUND A WAY TO FOCUS THE AYAS’ POWER — BY CREATING WHAT YOU KNOW AS THE ORACULM. BY CREATING THE ORACULMIC PROPHECIES — ‘TEMPORAL GUIDELINES,’ SO TO SPEAK — WE WERE ABLE TO FOCUS THE AYAS’ POWER INTO KEY TIME PERIODS OR INDIVIDUALS, GRANTING ENOUGH POWER AT JUST THE RIGHT TIME AND PLACE TO COUNTER THE MENACE AND ITS REACH. AND INDEED, AFTER MANY, MANY FAILED ATTEMPTS, OUR PLANS FINALLY SUCCEEDED IN THE AGE IMMEDIATELY PRIOR TO YOURS: THE AGE OF THE ALDREDAS… AND OF THE MORIKAI.”

“The Morikai?” Kievkenalis echoed curiously, “the Prior Mystryth mentioned them when we talked to her months ago.”

“AND SHE TOLD YOU THAT THEY APPEARED IN THE MIDST OF WAR BETWEEN THE ALDREDAS AND THE DRAKKARS AND REDUCED BOTH EMPIRES TO RUBBLE, DID SHE NOT?”

“That sounds in line with what I remember…” Kevérin responded.

“WHAT SHE TOLD YOU IS TRUE, BUT IT IS ONLY A SMALL PART OF THE STORY. ORIGINALLY, THERE WAS NO NEED FOR THE MORIKAI; ONCE THE AYAS DETERMINED THAT THE MENACE WAS BOUND TO REAPPEAR DURING THE AGE OF THE ALDREDAS, THEY DESIGNATED SEVERAL INDIVIDUALS AS ‘KEYS’ TO COMBAT ITS EVENTUAL APPEARANCE, AS THEY HAD DONE MULTIPLE TIMES BEFORE. BUT THE ALDREDAS WERE AN ARROGANT RACE, BLINDED TO THE ORACULM AND ITS WORDS BY THEIR MILLENNIA-LONG WAR WITH THE DRAKKARS. EVEN AFTER A SECOND DESIGNATION OF KEY INDIVIDUALS, THE ALDREDAS REFUSED TO SEEK OUT AND ELIMINATE THE MENACE, NOT BELIEVING IT TO BE A THREAT — ALL WHILE IT GATHERED POWER IN THE SHADOW OF THE WAR BETWEEN THE TWO GALACTIC EMPIRES. THUS THE AYAS TOOK ACTION ONCE MORE, THIS TIME IN A MUCH MORE DRASTIC FASHION: TAKING A SMALL SECT OF DRAKKARS AND A SMALL SECT OF ALDREDAS, THE AYAS MERGED THEM INTO THE ADVANCED RACE KNOWN AS THE MORIKAI.

“UNLIKE THE ALDREDAS, THE MORIKAI WERE SOLELY FOCUSED ON ELIMINATING THE MENACE FROM THE MOMENT OF THEIR CREATION. THEY READILY SOUGHT OUT HIDING PLACES FOR THE MENACE’S POWER AND SYSTEMATICALLY DESTROYED THEM, ALL WHILE SLOWLY LEARNING FROM THE PIECES THEY MANAGED TO SALVAGE. EVENTUALLY THEY SEIZED ON THE MENACE’S OWN POWER, CREATING THEIR OWN SERVANTS TO HELP THEM SEEK OUT AND DESTROY THE MENACE WITH ITS OWN ABILITIES.

“AT THIS POINT, THE MENACE HAD NO CHOICE BUT TO COME OUT OF HIDING AND ENGAGE THE MORIKAI IN ALL-OUT WAR. THE TWO FORCES BEGAN ENGAGING OPENLY, THEIR BATTLEFIELDS ROLLING INTO AND CLASHING WITH THE ALDREDAS AND THE DRAKKARS AS THE MORIKAI DISREGARDED EVERYTHING IN THEIR PATH FOR THE SAKE OF DEFEATING THE MENACE. BUT THE ALDREDAS AND THE DRAKKARS SAW NOTHING MORE THAN TWO ALIEN FACTIONS ENCROACHING ON THEIR TERRITORY; SO THEY ENGAGED THE MORIKAI AND THE MENACE IN BATTLE, LEADING THE GALAXY INTO A BRUTAL FOUR-WAY WAR THAT LASTED A DECADE.

“THE END OF THE WAR WAS MARKED BY THE MORIKAI’S ULTIMATE PLAN TO DEFEAT THE MENACE ONCE AND FOR ALL. USING THEIR SERVANTS TO DISTRACT THE ALDREDAS AND DRAKKARS, THE MORIKAI THEN BAITED THE MENACE INTO A SERIES OF BATTLES, THE FINAL OF WHICH INVOLVED THE LEADER OF THE MORIKAI ENLISTING THE ASSISTANCE OF THE PRIOR SYN TO ENGAGE THE MENACE DIRECTLY. AND INDEED, THE MENACE WAS DEFEATED, BUT AT GREAT COST: CONVINCED THAT THE MORIKAI WERE ACTING IN MALICE, THE ALDREDAS SENT THEIR KEYS AFTER THEM, DEFEATING AND SEALING AWAY THE MORIKAI WITH THE POWER OF THE AYAS MERE MOMENTS AFTER THE MENACE DISAPPEARED, BUT NOT BEFORE THE LEADER OF THE MORIKAI DECLARED A LASTING HATRED OF THE ALDREDAS AND ISSUED A FINAL COMMAND TO HIS SERVANTS… TO DEFEAT THE DESCENDANTS OF THE ALDREDAS AND FREE THE MORIKAI, ALLOWING THEM TO CONQUER THE VERY GALAXY THAT THEY ORIGINALLY SET OUT TO SAVE.”

“Let me guess,” Christeané interjected, “are these ‘servants’ of the Morikai the Nanocreatures?”

Arcán nodded once and reached out his hand, creating a hologram of a single Nanocreature bug in his palm. “THE NANOCREATURES WERE CREATED BY THE MORIKAI USING THE MENACE’S OWN TECHNOLOGY AND ABILITIES, ALLOWING MORCII AND HIS FORCES TO EASILY COMBAT AND DESTROY THE MORIKAI’S OPPONENTS. BUT THIS STRENGTH ALSO LENDS ITSELF A WEAKNESS: WE CAN DEFEAT MORCII USING THE SAME TECHNIQUE THAT THE MORIKAI USED AGAINST THE MENACE.”

“And that would be…?” Kevérin prompted impatiently.

“…THIS MAY TAKE SOME TIME TO EXPLAIN.” Arcán dropped his hands to his sides as the hologram of the Nanocreature disappeared. “AS YOU KNOW, CHAOTICS HAVE MANY DIFFERENT STATES OF POWER. THE OVERDRIVE STATE, THE BERSERK STATE, THE CHAOS STATE. BUT THERE IS ONE MORE STATE THAT YOU DO NOT KNOW OF, A STATE RIVALING THE POWER OF THE CHAOS STATE. AND THAT, IS WHAT IS KNOWN AS THE ‘PRIOR STATE.’”

“Rivaling the power of the Chaos State…?” Kievkenalis echoed, “…that’s… how does it work?”

“I assume it has something to do with the Priors?” Kevérin suggested.

Arcán nodded. “YOU ASSUME CORRECTLY. WHEREAS THE CHAOS STATE REQUIRES THE AYAS, THE PRIOR STATE REQUIRES A CONSENTING PRIOR. THE PRIOR AND THE CHAOTIC THEN JOIN TOGETHER, ALLOWING THE CHAOTIC TO TAP INTO THE PRIOR’S POWER TO RAISE THEMSELVES TO THE EQUIVALENT OF THE SECOND TIER CHAOS STATE, AS WELL AS GAINING ACCESS TO THE PRIOR’S RESPECTIVE AYAS WEAPON. HOWEVER, THIS IS ONLY THE BASE PRIOR STATE; IT CAN BE ELEVATED USING THE PRIOR’S RESPECTIVE AYAS, TO BOOST THE STATE TO THE EQUIVALENT OF THE FOURTH TIER CHAOS STATE.”

“That sounds all well and good,” Christeané commented, “but we’ve already proved that physical force won’t do anything against Morcii. So how’s this ‘Prior State’ supposed to change anything?”

“AS POWERFUL AS THE PRIOR STATE IS, ITS TRUE POWER LIES NOT IN BRUTE FORCE, BUT IN THE TECHNIQUE UNLOCKED BY GATHERING TOGETHER BOTH A PRIOR AND ITS AYAS. THIS TECHNIQUE IS KNOWN AS A ‘LINK DRIVE,’ AN OVERWHELMINGLY POWERFUL ATTACK WHOSE POWER LIES NOT IN ITS DESTRUCTIVE CAPABILITIES, BUT IN ITS POWER TO COMPLETELY DISSOCIATE A CONSCIOUSNESS FROM THIS REALM.”

“…What does that mean? ‘Dissociate a consciousness from this realm?’” Rebehka questioned, “how would that defeat Morcii?”

“IT WOULD REMOVE HIS MIND FROM THE WORLD AS YOU KNOW IT, THEREBY PREVENTING HIM FROM INFLUENCING THE PHYSICAL REALM IN ANY WAY. AND WITHOUT MORCII TO LEAD THEM, OR ANY OF THE AYAS TO BACK THEM, THE REST OF THE NANOCREATURES WILL RAPIDLY FADE AWAY INTO A MERE TOKEN FORCE THAT CAN BE EASILY DEFEATED BY THE FORCES OF YOUR GALAXY.”

“That sounds like exactly what we need,” Kevérin remarked, “…but it seems too easy. What’s the catch?”

“THE PRIOR STATE’S POWER IS UNPRECEDENTED. WHILE IT MAY ONLY OFFER THE PHYSICAL POWER BOOST OF A LOWER TIER CHAOS STATE, THE CHAOTIC MUST BE ABLE TO SURVIVE A MERGE WITH THE PRIOR’S MIND, ALBEIT TEMPORARILY. THE VAST MAJORITY OF CHAOTICS ARE NOT CAPABLE OF SUCH AND WOULD DIE FROM MENTAL STRAIN MERE MOMENTS AFTER ENGAGING THE PRIOR STATE; THIS IS PART OF WHY WE CREATED THE ROLES OF ‘KEYS,’ ALLOWING SOME INDIVIDUALS TO INTERFACE WITH THE PRIORS WITHOUT HARM AND WIELD OUR POWER AGAINST THE MENACE.”

“So, what, are we ‘Keys,’ then?”

“UNFORTUNATELY, NO. THE AYAS HAVE YET TO DESIGNATE ANY KEYS IN YOUR TIME.”

“Welp.” Davídrius threw his arms up in resignation. “Man, what a lotta help this is! Tellin’ us how to beat Morcii and then tellin’ us that we can’t do it!”

“Seriously, Arcán…” Kevérin responded irately, “is this your idea of a joke?”

“DO NOT PASS JUDGMENT JUST YET,” Arcán countered, “FOR I HAVE NOT YET COMPLETED MY EXPLANATION. WHILE IT MAY BE UP TO THE AYAS TO DESIGNATE KEYS IN ANY TIME PERIOD, THE PRIORS ARE NOT ENTIRELY HELPLESS AGAINST THE NANOCREATURES. WE MONITORED THE NANOCREATURES LEFT OVER FROM THE AGE OF THE ALDREDAS, WATCHING THEM AS CLOSELY AS WE DID THE MENACE; WHEN IT BECAME EVIDENT THAT THE AYAS WOULD NOT ACT, FOR WHATEVER REASON, WE PRIORS TOOK ACTION ON OUR OWN, CAUSING WHAT YOU KNOW AS THE CHAOS ENERGY QUAKE.”

“Wait… what?” Kaoné responded slowly, “…you caused the Chaos Quake?”

“INDEED. THE QUAKE WAS INTENDED TO SLOW THE SPREAD OF THE NANOCREATURES; WE TIMED THE DISRUPTION OF CHAOS ENERGY JUST RIGHT TO INTERFERE WITH THE INITIAL GENERATION OF NANOCREATURES, THEREBY DELAYING MORCII’S APPEARANCE BY MANY YEARS. HOWEVER, THE QUAKE’S PURPOSE WAS TWO-FOLD; IT WAS ALSO INTENDED TO EXPOSE ALL CHAOTICS WHO POSSESSED COMPATIBILITY POTENTIAL FOR THE PRIOR STATE.”

“…What?”

“AS I SAID EARLIER, THE VAST MAJORITY OF CHAOTICS CANNOT SURVIVE THE PRIOR STATE ACTIVATION. FOR LACK OF A BETTER WORD, THESE CHAOTICS ARE ‘ARTIFICIAL’ CHAOTICS, WHOSE POWER ONLY ARISES AS A SIDE EFFECT OF CHAOS ENERGY’S APPARENT OMNIPRESENCE. THESE ‘ARTIFICIAL’ CHAOTICS ARE THE RESULT OF BEING BORN INTO A CHAOS ENERGY-RICH ENVIRONMENT, WHEREAS A ‘TRUE’ CHAOTIC WILL MANIFEST THEIR POWERS REGARDLESS OF THE CIRCUMSTANCES OF THEIR BIRTH. THIS WAS THE PURPOSE OF THE CHAOS ENERGY QUAKE: TO CREATE A PERIOD OF TIME IN WHICH CHAOS ENERGY WAS INACCESSIBLE, DURING WHICH EVERY CHAOTIC THAT WAS BORN MUST BE A ‘TRUE’ CHAOTIC, AND THUS POTENTIALLY COMPATIBLE WITH THE PRIOR STATE.”

“Are you saying that the seven of us…” Rebehka glanced toward the rest of Hero Machina before turning back to Arcán, “…are… ‘true’ Chaotics?”

Arcán nodded. “INDEED. THOUGH I SHOULD NOTE THAT, FUNCTIONALLY, THE ONLY DIFFERENCE BETWEEN ‘ARTIFICIAL’ AND ‘TRUE’ CHAOTICS IS THEIR POTENTIAL FOR PRIOR STATE COMPATIBILITY. I SHOULD ALSO NOTE THAT, MORE OFTEN THAN NOT, ‘TRUE’ CHAOTICS WILL STILL FAIL TO ACTIVATE THE PRIOR STATE WITHOUT PROPER PREPARATION… AND THIS IS WHERE YOUR FRIEND COMES IN.”

“Does this have to do with the corruption?”

“INDEED IT DOES. MORCII AND THE NANOCREATURES DERIVE THEIR TECHNOLOGY AND ABILITIES FROM THE MENACE, AND THE PRIORS AND THE MENACE ARE REMARKABLY SIMILAR ENTITIES. BY BEING EXPOSED TO NANOCREATURE CONTROL, YOUR FRIEND NOW POSSESSES A CLOSENESS TO THE PRIORS THAT IS OTHERWISE UNACHIEVABLE — A CLOSENESS THAT WILL ENABLE HER TO ACTIVATE THE PRIOR STATE AND FIGHT MORCII.”

“…Let me get this straight.” Kevérin furrowed his brow in frustration. “…You caused the Chaos Quake to single out Chaotics who might be able to beat Morcii, and then somehow banked on one of them getting corrupted and then overcoming the corruption so you could eventually join them and stop Morcii?”

“THAT IS ONE WAY TO VIEW IT, YES.”

“…Holy shit.” Davídrius shook his head in disbelief. “This is fuckin’ ridiculous.”

“It isn’t a sound plan, either,” Kevérin pointed out, “by your own words, the Prior State requires both the Prior and its Ayas to use this ‘Link Drive’, but the only Ayas we have is the Master Ayas. Morcii has the Arcán Ayas, so how are we supposed to do anything?”

“THEREIN LIES THE DANGER OF YOUR FINAL ENCOUNTER WITH MORCII,” Arcán acknowledged. “IN ORDER TO DEFEAT HIM, YOU WILL NEED TO BEAT THE AYAS OUT OF HIM. DOING SO WILL REQUIRE YOU BRING THE MASTER AYAS WITH YOU, AS IT IS YOUR ONLY HOPE TO MATCH HIS POWER… BUT IN SO DOING, YOU WILL BE BRINGING ALL OF THE AYAS TO ONE CENTRAL LOCATION. ONE WRONG MOVE AND MORCII WILL EASILY BE ABLE TO SEIZE THE AYAS AND FREE THE MORIKAI ON THE SPOT, AND IF THAT HAPPENS, THEN THE GALAXY IS DOOMED.”

“Can’t we just use the Link Drive against both Morcii and the Morikai, then?” Kievkenalis suggested.

“THAT WOULD BE A VIABLE POSSIBILITY IF NOT FOR IKIROM, THE COMMANDER OF THE MORIKAI. HE POSSESSES THE RAREST CHAOTIC ABILITY OF ALL: REALITECHNISM. CONTROL OVER REALITY ITSELF.”

“…Well that certainly raises the stakes,” Kevérin remarked.

“…Realitechnism is real,” Davídrius deadpanned. “…Wait one fuckin’ minute. If this guy’s a Realitechnic, then why didn’t he just wish away the Menace? How did the Aldredas manage to get the drop on him?”

“I’M SURE YOU HAVE REALIZED THAT THE NANOCREATURES POSSESS AN IMMUNITY TO DIRECT MANIPULATION,” Arcán responded. “THE MENACE WAS NO DIFFERENT. AND THE DESIGNATION OF ‘KEY’ GRANTS A SIMILAR IMMUNITY AS WELL. IN SHORT, IKIROM WAS DEFEATED THROUGH FOREORDINATION AND LUCK, LUCK THAT DOES NOT FAVOR THIS AGE NEARLY AS HEAVILY AS THE LAST.”

“Then why the hell are we facing Morcii now?” Christeané questioned, “going after him now isn’t even close to worth it if we run the risk of unleashing an evil reality manipulator on the galaxy!”

“UNFORTUNATELY, WE CANNOT AFFORD TO WAIT. MORCII DOES NOT POSSESS A LIFESPAN. HE WILL NEVER DIE, NOT BY HIS OWN ACCORD. HE IS FREE TO RAVAGE THE GALAXY AND SEARCH FOR THE MASTER AYAS ON HIS OWN TIME; HIDING IT MAY PREVENT THE RELEASE OF THE MORIKAI IN THE IMMEDIATE FUTURE, BUT IF THE GALAXY IS LOST IN THE PROCESS, THEN THE END RESULT IS THE SAME. BUT THERE IS ANOTHER CLOCK THAT IS TICKING AWAY AS WE SPEAK, AND PRESENTS A TIME LIMIT THAT FAST APPROACHES.”

“…Siyuakén…” Rebehka muttered.

“YES. YOUR FRIEND WILL NOT SURVIVE LONG UNDER HER OWN WILL. MY SUGGESTION TO UTILIZE THE PRIOR STATE IS AS MUCH A MEASURE TO DEFEAT MORCII AS IT IS TO SAVE YOUR FRIEND. IT IS THE ONLY WAY TO PREVENT HER MIND FROM FALLING BACK UNDER MORCII’S CONTROL, BUT THE MOMENT THE PRIOR STATE IS ENGAGED, MORCII WILL KNOW. HE WILL SEND HIS FORCES AFTER US, IMMEDIATELY. SO YOU ARE LEFT WITH A CHOICE: ALLOW YOUR FRIEND TO DIE OR REVERT BACK TO NANOCREATURE CONTROL, FOREVER LOSING YOUR CHANCE TO STOP MORCII… OR SAVE HER WITH THE PRIOR STATE AND BE FORCED INTO A FINAL CONFRONTATION WITH THE NANOCREATURES.”

Davídrius whistled. “One hell of a dilemma.”

“And I’m not really a fan of deciding this for her…” Rebehka muttered.

“On one hand, I agree…” Kevérin commented, “but on the other… this is the fate of the entire galaxy we’re talking about. Do we have the right to not go through with this?”

“Hold the moral debate for a second,” Christeané interjected as he glared at Arcán, “I… appreciate the history lesson, but you still haven’t answered my question. In fact, you’ve made even less sense — if you were planning to get involved from the very beginning, then why the hell didn’t you help us fight off the Nanocreatures? Why didn’t you just tell us what to do from the start?!”

“…It’s the same reason Archoné Culana refuses to explicitly tell anyone the contents of the Oraculm, isn’t it?” Kievkenalis questioned.

Arcán nodded once. “IT IS. DIRECT INTERVENTION HAS A WAY OF PRODUCING UNDESIRABLE RESULTS. YOU MUST UNDERSTAND; WHILE WE PRIORS ARE CAPABLE OF INTERACTION WITH THE PHYSICAL REALM, WE DO NOT POSSESS OUR OWN BODIES AND CANNOT USE OUR OWN LINK DRIVES WITHOUT THE ASSISTANCE OF A CHAOTIC AND OUR AYAS. FURTHERMORE, AS I EXPLAINED EARLIER, THERE ARE NO KEYS IN YOUR TIME. IN ORDER TO DEFEAT MORCII, WE HAD TO ORCHESTRATE A SCENARIO IN WHICH A TRUE CHAOTIC WOULD BECOME CORRUPTED AND THEN OVERCOME THE CORRUPTION, THEREBY ALLOWING THEM TO USE THE PRIOR STATE. IF WE PRIORS WERE TO DIRECTLY INTERVENE IN THE CONFLICT, THEN MORCII WOULD EASILY RECOGNIZE OUR PLAN AND FOIL IT BY SIMPLY KILLING ANY TRUE CHAOTIC HE FINDS. IT IS… MOST UNFORTUNATE THAT SO MANY HAVE LOST THEIR LIVES, BUT THERE WAS NO ALTERNATIVE. THERE WAS NO OTHER WAY.”

Christeané crossed his arms, continuing to stare at Arcán for several moments until he finally looked away and sighed irately. “…I don’t like it,” he growled, “…but I suppose I can understand.”

I’ve got a question, though,” Davídrius quickly interjected, “assumin’ we go through with this, I’m assumin’ we’re gonna have to attack the Nanocreature Homeworld or some shit, right? Well, wherever it is that Morcii’s holed up is bound to be crawlin’ with Nanocreatures. How the hell are we supposed to deal with that, huh?”

“Siyuakén was able to seize control of Nanocreatures back on Nimalia,” Rebehka pointed out.

“NO, HE RAISES AN IMPORTANT CONCERN,” Arcán commented, “YOUR FRIEND WAS ONLY ABLE TO DO AS MUCH SINCE MORCII POSSESSED NO AYAS AT THE TIME. HE HAS SINCE GATHERED THE OTHER AYAS AND WILL HOLD FAR MORE SWAY OVER HIS UNITS… HOWEVER, WE CAN TAKE ADVANTAGE OF THE FACT THAT INDIVIDUAL NANOCREATURES WILL NOT ATTACK THAT WHICH IS ALREADY CORRUPTED. YOU SHOULD ONLY FEAR ATTACK FROM MORCII.”

“’Already corrupted’…?” Kevérin frowned warily. “What does that mean…?”

“TELL ME: AFTER YOUR FRIEND INTERRUPTED MORCII’S CONTROL OVER YOU, DID IT EVER OCCUR TO YOU TO RID YOURSELVES OF THE NANITES WITHIN YOUR BODIES?”

The six conscious members of Hero Machina glanced at each other, dumbfounded.

“EVEN THOUGH YOU HAD THE MASTER AYAS WITH YOU AND COULD HAVE EASILY ENTERED THE CHAOS STATE ONE-BY-ONE TO RID YOURSELVES OF THE CORRUPTION, YOU DID NOT. I’M SURE YOU NOW UNDERSTAND WHY.”

“We’re still corrupted…” Davídrius growled.

“INDEED, AND MORCII LEFT BEHIND MENTAL INHIBITORS TO PREVENT YOU FROM REALIZING YOUR SITUATION ON YOUR OWN AND RIDDING YOURSELVES OF THE CORRUPTION. BUT HOLD; DO NOT ATTEMPT TO REMOVE THE CORRUPTION JUST YET.” Arcán turned toward Kievkenalis and plucked the Master Ayas out of the Chaostechnic’s hands with a hard light hologram before he could engage the Chaos State. “YOUR CORRUPTION IS EFFECTIVELY INERT. YOUR FRIEND SEVERED YOUR CONNECTION TO MORCII ON NIMALIA, AND WHILE YOU REMAIN WITHIN THIS PLATFORM, I CAN EASILY PREVENT MORCII FROM SEIZING CONTROL. AND ONCE YOUR FRIEND ENGAGES THE PRIOR STATE, SHE AND I BOTH WILL EASILY BE ABLE TO SHIELD YOUR MINDS AND BODIES FROM MORCII’S CONTROL. THIS IS ONE SITUATION IN WHICH CORRUPTION WILL HELP YOU AND HINDER MORCII; HIS FORCES WILL NOT RECOGNIZE YOU AS AN ENEMY, ALLOWING YOU TO BYPASS THEM ENTIRELY. THIS IS A PLAN THAT, QUITE FRANKLY, WOULD NOT SUCCEED WERE NONE OF YOU CORRUPTED.”

“I don’t know whether to call this convenient or not…” Davídrius mused.

“It’s certainly surprising how it’s all seemed to work out,” Kevérin commented, “…and to think, we aren’t even dealing with the main threat, just the leftovers!”

“DO NOT UNDERESTIMATE MORCII OR THE MORIKAI,” Arcán quickly interjected. “THE ORIGINAL THREAT MAY BE GONE, BUT ONLY BECAUSE IT WAS DEFEATED BY THOSE YOU FACE TODAY. THE NANOCREATURES ARE A SIGNIFICANT THREAT IN THEIR OWN RIGHT, AS ARE THE MORIKAI.”

“And we’re the only ones who can stop them…” Kaoné muttered.

“That’s a lot of responsibility…” Kievkenalis commented uneasily.

“If only I’d known the shit we’d get up to when I joined,” Christeané remarked with a smirk, “I knew Hero Machina was the path to action. But this?…”

“I don’t like it…” Rebehka frowned. “…But if we were to explain all of this to Siyuakén… I’m sure she’d understand.”

“Goin’ by her big ol’ ‘fuck you!’ speech back on Nimalia, I’m sure she’d jump at the chance to kill Morcii herself,” Davídrius declared.

“I TAKE IT YOU ALL UNDERSTAND THE TASK BEFORE YOU, THEN?”

“…It’s funny, really,” Kevérin responded, “this mission seems as though there won’t be nearly as much destruction as there was during the Neticen operation… but the stakes are so much higher.”

“We’re going to kick Morcii’s ass all the same,” Christeané declared. “We actually know what we’re doing now. Morcii’s days are numbered!”

“GOOD.” Arcán nodded, a slight smile breaking the emotionless façade he had held since the creation of the hologram. “THEN IT IS SETTLED. IF YOU HAVE MORE QUESTIONS, THEN I CAN ANSWER THEM LATER, BUT FOR NOW YOU SHOULD REST. YOU ALL HAVE HAD A LONG DAY, AND WHEN YOUR FRIEND AWAKENS, THE END… WILL BEGIN!”

Chapter 77 – Corrupting Chaos

Chaos Form

Kievkenalis shivered as a veil of Chaos Energy covered his body, offering slight protection against the cold atmosphere. A snow storm had expanded from southeast Nimaliaka Central to cover the entire city and the region around it, coating the building tops and streets with a thin layer of snow and ice and forcing the Chaostechnic to progress toward the coast at a slower, more cautious speed. “Chaos… Boost…” he muttered, the pain caused by the use of Chaos Energy numbed by the biting air around him as he dashed forward and then leaped upwards, clearing several stories and landing on the roof of a five-story industrial structure. He paused to look down at the area in front of him: the industrial freight docks of Old Nimaliaka Central. Long ago, before the age of space flight, the docks saw high usage from water-borne freight ships as one of the busiest ports in all of Nimalia — but now it was largely abandoned or repurposed, with nothing but a shell of its former glory left as the only users now were Tresédian ferries and independent merchants who couldn’t afford modern air- or spaceships.

The quay directly in front of Kievkenalis was the main offloading area, featuring a large, wide-open space across which freight rails ran. The platform extended for nearly two hundred meters toward the bay before dropping off into the coastal waters; several kilometers to the north were the clean public beaches, and several kilometers to the south, the coast began turning eastward to follow the Nimaliakian land bridge.

Chaos Energy Detect” Kievkenalis muttered and then turned his attention away from the snow-covered sights to search for the Master Ayas. He scowled with frustration as his search turned up nothing; he had been slow to pursue the Ayas, and its Chaos Energy trail had long since dispersed thanks to time and the chaos of the Nanocreature attacks. The only course of action left was to search for the Ayas manually, an option made worse by the weather conditions and the lateness of the night. Kievkenalis estimated that there were only another three or four hours until sunrise — and the exhaustion from the long night was beginning to catch up to him. Nonetheless, he prepared to look for the Ayas, turning his gaze toward —

what was that?! The Chaostechnic suddenly whipped around, staring into the distance as the colored veil induced by Chaos Energy Detect slowly wore off. He squinted in an effort to see through the snow — and immediately exclaimed “Chaos Deflection!!” just in time to take a massive blow from the back, flinging him off the building top. “Chaos Cancel Form! Chaos Fortified Armor!” he quickly called in succession, dispelling the thin veil of Chaos Energy around his body and replacing it with a sturdy set of armor just in time to absorb the shock of his fall on the ground below. He immediately leaped to his feet and jumped back, narrowly evading Morcii as he slammed into the ground.

“…YOU ALDREDANOIDS NEVER FAIL TO STAND IN MY WAY,” the Nanocreature leader growled as he placed his hand on the building behind him and covered it in a coating of silver metal. “I WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO CLAIM THE MASTER AYAS BEFORE ME. THE AYAS…” He lifted the entire five-story building into the air and then shattered it into four parts before launching them at Kievkenalis. “…WILL BE MINE!

Chaos Explosion!” the Chaostechnic quickly responded, detonating a remote explosion within one of the building fragments and blowing it to pieces as he dashed to the left to evade the remaining fragments. With a quick call of “Chaos Boost” he sped out of the way just before the debris crashed to the ground; he then followed by twisting back toward Morcii and launching several Chaos Strikes, only to stumble as pain disrupted his concentration. Nigh instantly, the Nanocreature leader was upon him, moving to smash his foot into the Chaostechnic but succeeding only in dispelling the Chaos Armor around Kievkenalis’s body. The Chaostechnic quickly followed with “Chaos Deflection,” flinging Morcii away and giving him the room to climb back to his feet just in time to brace himself and call “Chaos Deflection” again to block the myriad of lasers Morcii fired at him. Kievkenalis prepared to retaliate, stretching his right hand forward and beginning “Chaos—!” but caught a glimpse of motion in the corner of his eye before he could finish, forcing him to instead call out “Deflection!” once more as Morcii slammed the remnants of the building from earlier into the Chaostechnic’s location. While protected from direct damage, the impact of the debris flung Kievkenalis across the quay, sending him tumbling to the ground as he barely managed to stop himself from falling into the bay. “Chaos Teleport,” he quickly muttered, teleporting himself away from the ledge just as Morcii attempted to smash his knee into his face, giving the Chaostechnic a moment to climb back to his feet and launch a handful of Chaos Strikes toward Morcii. The Nanocreature leader took the blows head on as he charged forward, simultaneously firing lasers from his transformed arms and closing the distance between himself and Kievkenalis. The Chaostechnic attempted to maintain the distance by quickly backing away, but he stumbled and fell to the ground; he quickly called “Chaos Armor” mere moments before Morcii was upon him, grabbing Kievkenalis by his arm and swinging him around once and then throwing him at the ground with enough force to shatter the concrete. Kievkenalis grimaced and locked up in pain, unable to block Morcii’s next move as he raised his foot into the air — and was subsequently bowled over as Davídrius rammed into him head-on.

“REINFORCEMENTS…?” Morcii muttered, catching himself several meters away and quickly ducking to dodge Christeané’s battlehammer. He immediately reached up and grabbed the hammer’s tether as the weapon flew by, yanking it and whipping Christeané around and into the ground — where the Forcetechnic caught himself and yanked his cord back, ripping Morcii’s arm off and flinging the Nanocreature leader into the air. Instantly, the severed arm split into four pieces, each of which transformed into blades that homed in on Christeané as Morcii himself opened fire with his remaining arm cannon from the opposite direction, forcing the Forcetechnic to take the brunt of the blasts as Davídrius managed to intercept the airborne blades with his own weapons. The Velocitechnic then leaped into the air and moved to smash his foot over Morcii’s head — only for the Nanocreature to dodge backwards and then slam his arms down on Davídrius’s back, spiking him into the platform below. Morcii then moved to fire at Davídrius but was interrupted as Christeané’s hammer slammed into his chest, exploding his body into thousands of fragments as the Forcetechnic flew by and splashed down in the bay.

Davídrius quickly jumped back to his feet and turned toward Morcii as the Nanocreature’s fragments reformed into his full body several tens of meters away. The Velocitechnic was upon him instantly, slashing at the pieces faster than they could reform and forcing Morcii to instead use the fragments themselves to counter, forming numerous daggers that each flew through the air independently and forced Davídrius back. The moment the Velocitechnic let up, each of the daggers flew away and then all converged on his position in a dome formation, effectively trapping him — except he threw himself to the side, twisting his body in just the right way to avoid hitting any of the daggers straight-on and then banking on his Velocitechnic durability to avoid taking damage. Sure enough, he escaped the trap with only a torn jacket and pants; immediately he whipped around and lunged forward, flipping and smashing his foot into the collection of daggers just in time for Christeané to fling himself back on land and follow up with a powerful ground pound, shattering the quay for a hundred meters around. The two Introtechnics then jumped away as the Nanocreature pieces dissolved into a silver cloud that quickly reformed into Morcii, just in time for the Nanocreature leader to stretch his arms forward and slam them into a massive pillar of concrete as it passed by his head. He promptly injected it with millions of nanites, corrupting it and seizing direct control — at which point he launched it back at the Materiatechnic who had thrown it.

Kaoné easily dodged the pillar as she entered the battlefield, distracting Morcii with relatively harmless scraps of concrete and metal as Davídrius and Christeané continually beat him down. The Materiatechnic then rushed over to Kievkenalis, who had yet to fully recover from Morcii’s attack and was merely lying on the pavement in a daze.

“Kevken! What happened?!” she exclaimed, kneeling beside him and helping him into a sitting position.

“…Ungh…” he grunted in pain. “…The Ayas is nearby. We need— agh…!”

Kaoné eyed the Chaostechnic warily as his entire body grew tense. “…You’re in no shape to fight. You should get out of here—!”

“No…” Kievkenalis shook his head. “…Now that you’re here, I can avoid using my abilities. And between you, Davídrius, and Christeané, you can distract Morcii while I look for the Ayas… maybe then we’ll be able to do something about stopping him, instead of allowing him to repeatedly reform his body…”

“Are you sure?” Kaoné questioned as Kievkenalis slowly climbed back to his feet. He paused for a moment to take a deep breath and then nodded.

“It’s the only way,” he declared. “We can’t draw this battle out forever.”

“If you say so,” the Materiatechnic replied, “but don’t push yourself. If you need help, just ask!”

Kaoné then turned back to the battle and spontaneously raised the ground beneath Morcii to fling him into the air the moment before he could attack Christeané. The Nanocreature immediately stopped himself midair and then flipped around to counter Davídrius as the Velocitechnic leaped up to meet him. Morcii then split his body into five parts that sped away from each other just in time to evade a steel pillar created in the air above him; the five parts then split several more times to create a myriad of laser cannons and flechettes that each targeted and relentlessly attacked the two Introtechnics. Davídrius and Christeané both were barely able to dodge the quick attacks, each of them slowly taking down the small projectiles until Kaoné deftly snatched the weapons out of the air with a transmuted steel net. As soon as she had gathered all of the Nanocreature fragments, she balled up the steel; she quickly lost control as Morcii corrupted the material, but Christeané immediately slammed his hammer into the ball, smashing it to pieces. Kaoné then gathered the remnants back into a larger sphere that Christeané again shattered; the Materiatechnic then created one more sarcophagus — a multi-meter wide mass of steel and rock that Christeané hoisted into the air and threw over the bay, where Davídrius leaped into the air and spiked it down into the water. Kaoné created a platform in the air for Davídrius to land on and jump back to the quay, but the moment he touched down, the water behind him exploded upwards as dozens of metallic daggers flew into the air and converged on Kaoné’s position.

Overdrive: Unrelenting Flame!

A wave of fire washed over the quay, rolling around Kaoné, Davídrius, and Christeané as it engulfed the flying daggers and burnt them to a crisp. Immediately afterward, Morcii himself exploded from the bay before slamming into the concrete and completely demolishing half of the platform, raising clouds of debris that distracted the Chaotics as he pressed forward. But he was quickly blocked as Kevérin thrust himself into the fray, incinerating the concrete debris with well-controlled yet impossibly hot bursts of flame as Davídrius and Christeané smashed their way toward Morcii. Just as the Introtechnics closed into melee range, the Nanocreature leader leaped into the sky, transforming all four of his limbs into laser cannons which he used to fire haphazardly on the quay below, slicing the platform into pieces and forcing the Chaotics to dodge until Kaoné created a thick shield and then quickly repaired the quay. Morcii immediately smashed through the shield and seized control of the object through nanite injection to hurl it at the Materiatechnic, forcing Christeané to leap into the air and knock it aside as Kevérin and Davídrius closed on either side of the Nanocreature leader. The Velocitechnic flipped, bringing his foot overhead to smash into Morcii — only for the Nanocreature to easily grab the incoming limb and fling Davídrius into the bay just in time to lunge forward and evade a fire blast—

—and fall directly into Christeané’s waiting fist.

The Forcetechnic obliterated Morcii’s chest, thrusting his right arm all the way through the Nanocreature. But Morcii responded immediately; grabbing Christeané’s arms, Morcii then flipped over backwards, slamming the Forcetechnic into the quay headfirst. He then took to the air, but Kaoné instantly encased him in a sphere of diamond before smashing the sphere back down to the ground. Kevérin quickly bathed it in a constant stream of fire, only letting up several moments later so Christeané could turn around and absolutely pulverize the mass with his battlehammer, completely shattering the sphere and launching tiny fragments of diamond and Nanocreature all across the quay.

“…ALL THIS FIGHTING, AND STILL, YOU HAVE YET TO GRASP THE SITUATION…”

“Damn it…” Kevérin scowled, turning to face the Nanocreature leader as his body reformed across the quay. “…Why can’t you just go away?!”

“I WILL TAKE MY LEAVE EVENTUALLY,” Morcii responded with a smirk, observing Davídrius as Kaoné lifted him out of the bay waters and he joined the other three Chaotics. “BUT ONLY ONCE I HAVE DEFEATED YOU AND CLAIMED THE AYAS. YOU SHOULD HAVE LEARNED YOUR LESSON FROM OUR BATTLE ON NETICEN, ALDREDANOIDS… YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME PHYSICALLY. YOU CANNOT DESTROY ME; YOU CANNOT OBLITERATE MY CONSTITUENT PARTS—”

Chaos VOID!

In the middle of the Nanocreature’s sentence, a sphere as black as the darkest night engulfed his body. It swallowed Morcii up to his neck before dissipating in complete silence, leaving behind absolutely nothing as the Nanocreature’s head dropped to the ground like a brick.

“I think you’re wrong,” Kievkenalis commented as he stepped forward warily with the Master Ayas in hand. “…Void is an ability that actually erases matter from existence. And I just unlocked it. Let’s see you try to reform your body when there’s no matter left to form with! Chaos Void!

A second sphere of darkness appeared around Morcii’s head, swallowing it and consuming a sizable chunk of the quay as well. Once the sphere disappeared, there was nothing left — only a small, impossibly smooth indentation in the concrete platform where Morcii’s head used to rest.

“…Is… …is that it?” Kaoné questioned warily after several moments of tense silence.

“…It seems like it,” Kevérin responded. He then turned to Kievkenalis as a smile spread across his face. “You found the Ayas! Great work!”

A disembodied voice spoke up in response. “YES, GREAT WORK INDEED.”

“He’s still here? Where is he?!” Davídrius glanced around irately. “Morcii, you—!”

“I’M RIGHT HERE.”

“Wha—?!” All five Chaotics jumped back, startled, as a cloud of metallic dust suddenly emerged from Davídrius’s body and formed a perfect clone of him not even a meter away. The Velocitechnic’s eyes widened in shock, but he quickly crouched down, preparing to lunge into an attack — only to freeze in place.

“I… I…!” He glowered at the form in front of him, his body unmoving. “…I can’t… move…!”

“Shit…!” Kevérin scowled, finding his own body frozen as well. All five Chaotics were trapped, stuck where they stood and unable to offer a counterattack as Morcii casually strolled across the quay, still inhabiting the form of Davídrius. He forced Kievkenalis to utter “Chaos Negation,” removing the Chaotics’ ability to use their powers, and then turned to address them directly.

“YOU TRULY DO UNDERESTIMATE THE NANOCREATURES,” he commented with a chuckle. “WE ARE AN ENTITY CREATED ENTIRELY OF NANOMACHINES. NANOMACHINES, WHICH ARE BY DEFINITION FAR SMALLER THAN YOU ALDREDANOIDS COULD POSSIBLY HOPE TO PERCEIVE. WE ARE CAPABLE OF CORRUPTING AND SEIZING CONTROL OF ANY OBJECT, LIVING OR NO, WITH MINIMAL EFFORT.” He stopped walking and turned back to face the Chaotics, his arms crossed as he returned to his original form. “AND YET YOU CHOSE TO BATTLE ME WITHOUT ANY SORT OF ENERGY FIELD PROTECTION?”

“…Fuck,” Kevérin swore. “…Our Chaos Armor…!”

“INDEED.” Morcii nodded as a malicious smirk spread across his face. “YOUR ENERGY SHIELDING PROTECTED YOU IN YOUR PREVIOUS ENCOUNTERS WITH MY FORCES, BUT SEEDING NANITES WITHIN YOUR BODIES DURING OUR BATTLE HERE WAS A TRIVIAL TASK. EVEN MORE SO DUE TO YOUR HEIGHTENED PHYSICAL ACTIVITY. YOU LOST THE MOMENT YOU DECIDED TO ENGAGE ME IN BATTLE!”

“Thanks for tellin’ us, asshat,” Davídrius countered, “we’ll be sure to keep that in mind next time.”

“YOU EXPECT THERE TO BE A ‘NEXT TIME?’”

“There’s always a next time. Like hell I’ll let it end here!”

“Even if it isn’t us,” Christeané added, “someone’ll be sure to put an end to that ugly mug of yours, someday.”

“…YOU STILL FAIL TO REALIZE THE SCOPE OF MY POWER? YOU STILL DO NOT REALIZE ALL THAT I CAN DO THANKS TO MY CONSTITUTION?” Morcii snorted in derision. “I TAKE THIS FORM ONLY AS A COURTESY! I TAKE THIS FORM TO DISTINGUISH MYSELF IN BATTLE, TO PUT A FACE TO THE NANOCREATURE FORCE SO THAT THE GALAXY KNOWS WHO TO FEAR, SO THAT THE GALAXY KNOWS FROM WHOM TO FLEE! I TAKE THIS FORM ONLY BECAUSE THE NANOCREATURES HAVE THE POWER TO SEIZE THE GALAXY THROUGH BRUTE FORCE, WITHOUT RESORTING TO STEALTH AND SUBTERFUGE. BUT THAT DOES NOT MEAN THAT I AM INCAPABLE OF SUCH. I CAN SEIZE CONTROL OF AND INFLUENCE INDIVIDUALS WITHOUT THEM REALIZING IT. I CAN SEIZE CONTROL OF ENTIRE FORCES OR STARSHIPS, WITHOUT MY VICTIMS BEING ANY THE WISER! BUT MOST OVERLOOKED OF ALL…” He suddenly transformed into Kevérin, spreading his arms wide and grinning maliciously as Hero Machina responded with silent apprehension. “…I COULD BE YOU.”

He transformed into Commander Nikéyin. “I COULD BE YOUR COMMANDING OFFICER.”

He transformed into Archoné Culana. “I COULD BE YOUR SOCIETY’S RULER!”

He transformed into a Nimaliakian space-certified fightercraft. “I COULD BE YOUR TRANSPORTATION, THE VERY GROUND BENEATH YOUR FEET!”

He transformed into a set of Chaos Armor. “I COULD BE YOUR WEAPONS, YOUR ARMOR! BUT MOST IMPORTANTLY…”

He transformed into Vélunis, grinning as Kaoné released a surprised gasp.

“I…”

He transformed into Wilkas, smashing his hands together with glee.

“…COULD BE…”

He finally transformed into Siyuakén, taking on her pre-corrupted appearance as he looked down on Hero Machina haughtily.

“…ANYONE!

“You…!” Davídrius snarled.

“There is nothing you can do,” Morcii retorted, remaining in the form of Siyuakén and taking on her voice as he turned toward Kievkenalis, casually approached, and plucked the Master Ayas from his hands. “And what makes that even more pathetic is that you should be prepared for this! Transtechnics exist. Shape-shifting Chaotics exist! Yet there is nothing you can do to counter me, should I infiltrate your ranks, impersonate your leaders, and tear your very civilization asunder like the poorly constructed house of cards that it is! I have no need to see battle, to fight the galaxy’s Chaotics in direct combat. My goals could be easily achieved through subterfuge alone! I have no lifespan as you do, so time is of no concern to me; stealth and war both achieve the same result. And yet, while I handicap myself by choosing all-out war, by choosing to engage you directly, you still cannot defeat me! You can never defeat me! You were never able to and you will never be able to! The Aldredas and the Drakkars fought me to a stalemate, but you have not achieved even that!

Hero Machina responded with silence, unable to conjure up any sort of reply to the Nanocreature’s claims.

“It is as I said when we first met,” Morcii declared. “I am better than you in every way. Faster… stronger… more durable when I need to be, and more flexible when I want to be! And beyond my passive abilities lie those skills that come with my very nature, the nature that defined our relationship from the very beginning: I! Am! A! God! My mind is indestructible; my body, infinite! You cannot destroy my body, for each time you do I merely reform it! You cannot destroy my mind, for you do not possess even one iota of the understanding required to even reach my ability! Yet when faced with me and my forces as we scour the galaxy to bring back the Morikai, our masters, those even more powerful than I — you still believe yourselves able to defeat me?! Your claims are utterly meaningless! Your madness is insufferable! Even with all that you have to throw at me, my defeat is impossible. My victory is inevitable! Nothing can possibly stand in my way as I claim the Chaos Ayas and free the Morikai, and when that day comes, the universe as you know it will truly end! And absolutely no one in this galaxy, or any galaxy, can possibly hope to stop me!”

“And that’s where you’re wrong, Morcii!”

“Hmm—?” The Nanocreature turned his head upwards just in time to take the brunt of a powerful lightning strike. He collapsed to his knees as Rebehka and Siyuakén dropped down onto the quay, having arrived on a levitating ice platform from the forests many kilometers to the south. Rebehka quickly scooped the Master Ayas out of Morcii’s hands from a distance with a bowl fashioned out of ice, and then tossed it through the air to Siyuakén.

“Siyuakén?” Kaoné questioned warily, noting the corrupted Electrotechnic’s arrival. “…What are you doing here…?”

“It’s fine!” Siyuakén declared, “or rather, I’m fine! I’m in control now!”

“…YOU BROKE FREE OF MY INFLUENCE, ONCE AGAIN,” Morcii muttered as he returned to his original form and erased all signs of electrical damage in the process. “…I ADMIT, THIS IS BOTHERSOME. BUT YOU CANNOT DEFY ME FOR LONG…” The Nanocreature trailed off, his previous air of arrogance transforming into irritation as a scowl formed on his face. “…YOU…! INTERRUPTING MY CONTROL LIKE THIS, HOW COULD YOU POSSIBLY—?”

“You aren’t as powerful as you think you are, Morcii,” the Electrotechnic countered. “Your abilities aren’t as absolute as you seem to think. Your power is entirely tied to the Ayas, and to how many of them you have — why else were you so close to defeat just before I got here?”

“TO SUGGEST THAT I COULD LOSE—”

“But you were,” Siyuakén cut in, glancing toward the other Chaotics of Hero Machina with a slight smile as they all relaxed, once again able to move of their own accord. “I could sense it from a distance. The battle here wasn’t nearly as one-sided as when we first ran into you on Maasen. And that’s evident from what you had to resort to. Before, you could win through brute force; now, you can’t, because all of your Ayas are gone, and you’ve been reduced to our level. And then you tried to compensate by corrupting your enemies. Which might have worked… if you hadn’t underestimated us!”

ME? UNDERESTIMATING YOU ALDREDANOID IMBECILES?”

“How else would you explain this? I’m free of your control, and along with that, I have some ability to control Nanocreatures myself! I won’t claim to know how that is, but what I do know is that this means you aren’t in nearly as complete control as you like to say that you are! It is very possible to defeat you, Morcii, and we’re going to be the ones to do it!”

“YOU COULDN’T POSSIBLY,” Morcii scoffed. “YOU MAY HAVE OVERRIDDEN MY CONTROL FOR NOW, BUT THE FACT REMAINS THAT YOU CANNOT DEFEAT ME — NOT PERMANENTLY. FIGHTING OUT OF SOME SENSE OF PERSONAL REVENGE WILL NOT CHANGE THAT.”

“’Personal revenge?’” Siyuakén echoed, and then dropped her hands to her sides as they slowly began to cackle with electricity. “…You’re right. You destroyed my life, just so you could have a toy to mock the galaxy with, so of course I’m a little mad at you. But that’s not all. You didn’t just destroy my life; you’ve destroyed millions, no, billions? Billions of lives, Morcii, that you discarded, all to, what, bring back your ‘masters?’ You trampled lives, planets, attacked entire civilizations just to achieve your goal, which isn’t even conquest of the galaxy, but to allow someone else to conquer it? So you haven’t even ruined all those lives for yourself, you did it because you’re just someone else’s bitch!”

Sparks began to fly from her arms as the voltage in her body rose in proportion with her anger.

“So of course I’m mad! All those lives, thrown away for nothing! But that isn’t it, either! Because, as selfish as it may sound, you ruined the lives of my friends as well, and that’s even worse! It’d be one thing if you just waged war, and all the galaxy’s casualties were a result of conventional warfare. You’d still be a little shit, but at least it wouldn’t be unexpected.”

Lightning began to arc from her arms to the ground around her.

“But that’s not what you did! You made a distinct effort to take control of me, and to do so in the most painful way possible, forcing me to put up with this damned corruption for months and then forcing two of my friends to fight and kill me, and even that didn’t work because you then used me against them on Tau’cen Dii and Neticen for the shock value alone! And then when you finally decide to kill someone, you have to do so in the most brutal way possible! So of course I’m really mad!”

Lightning and sparks wreathed Siyuakén’s body, the volatile electrical currents stirring up the air around her into violent winds.

“You are in no way a god, Morcii — you’re just a malicious psychopath, the Morikai’s bitch, some pathetic idiot who gets off on murder and destroying people’s lives! I’ll be damned if you claim that we can’t defeat you, because we’ll find a way! We will win, no matter how hard you want us to believe that we can’t! Because you cannot be allowed to win, and for as long as I live, you will not!” She then clenched her fists and slammed them together, lightning jumping from her body as she shouted, “Overdrive: SHOCK AND AWE!

Instantly, Morcii was struck by lightning so fierce and intense that it lit up the docks and the bay as though dawn had just broke while utterly obliterating the entire quay. Kaoné immediately moved to create shields and platforms for the other Chaotics of Hero Machina as Siyuakén repeatedly struck Morcii with similarly incredible lightning strikes, parting the very clouds themselves as she forced all of the energy out of the snow storm into the single point that was Morcii’s body — repeatedly. Within seconds, the Nanocreature leader had disintegrated into nothing as Siyuakén’s lightning destroyed him and she seized control of any Nanocreatures for kilometers around, completely preventing any sort of recovery. Yet she did not cease her attacks until nearly a minute later, finally relenting and allowing the darkness of night to return to the pier as nothing was left of Morcii in any way.

“…SO THIS IS HOW IT IS, HMM?”

“Of course he’s still around…” Kevérin muttered as he glanced around in an attempt to find the Nanocreature leader. But his search returned nothing — Morcii’s voice seemed  to emerge from the air itself, coming from no particular direction, or from any physical body.

“…I ACKNOWLEDGE THAT I HAVE SEVERELY UNDERESTIMATED YOU. BUT THAT MISTAKE IS EASILY REMEDIED!”

As soon as his sentence finished, the water in the bay began to swell; mere moments later, a gigantic silver ship several kilometers long rose out of the coastal waters, slowly ascending into the sky as it effortlessly destroyed the dozen Frigates hovering over the city with a hail of laser fire.

“YOUR PLANET HOLDS LITTLE VALUE TO ME; AS I SAID BEFORE, I CAN WAIT. MY FORCES ARE CLAIMING THE OTHER CHAOS AYAS AS WE SPEAK. THE MASTER AYAS WILL RETURN TO ME EVENTUALLY… UNTIL THAT DAY… FAREWELL!”

Immediately, several of the ship’s guns swiveled around toward the quay and fired. Kaoné quickly jumped forward, shouting “Overdrive: Conflict’s Judge!” and then erecting a massive dome over the quay to protect everyone from the bombardment, but she was forced to maintain her concentration on the barrier as the ship failed to relent in its attack.

“Welp.” Davídrius scowled as he turned toward Siyuakén. “…Glad to have you back and all, and I really appreciated the light show, but, uh… what exactly was that supposed to accomplish? …Siyuakén?!”

The Electrotechnic suddenly collapsed, falling to the ground haphazardly. Rebehka quickly stooped down to help her up, but Siyuakén responded lethargically, turning toward her friend with half-lidded eyes.

“…Hah…” she muttered, “…I wondered… how long that would last…”

“Siyuakén…?” Rebehka questioned, worry rapidly clouding her features as the Electrotechnic fell limp. “…Siyuakén!! …No…!”

“Wait…” Christeané frowned as he watched in disbelief. “Is… she…?”

“NO. THERE STILL REMAINS TIME TO SAVE HER.”

“Arcán?” Kevérin questioned, adjusting his glasses to change his communicator to speaker mode to allow the rest of Hero Machina to hear the Prior. “What do you mean?”

“SHE IS NOT YET DEAD; THE EXHAUSTION FROM OVERWHELMING MORCII’S CONTROL, COUPLED WITH A LONG NIGHT OF FIGHTING, HAS SIMPLY CAUGHT UP WITH HER. HOWEVER, IF WE DO NOT TEND TO HER SOON, THEN SHE WILL EITHER EXPIRE, OR RETURN TO NANOCREATURE CONTROL. WE MUST ACT NOW.”

“What do— what do we do?” Rebehka pressed.

“IT IS NOT SIMPLE, BUT IT IS ALSO TIED TO DEFEATING MORCII. UNFORTUNATELY, BOTH SAVING YOUR FRIEND AND STOPPING MORCII REQUIRES LEAVING THIS WORLD POSTHASTE.”

“You want us to leave Nimalia?” Christeané frowned. “You want us to leave when we’re needed most? In the middle of Nanocreature attack?!”

“And what’s that got to do with savin’ Siyuakén?” Davídrius questioned.

“Yeah, this isn’t quite so simple, Arcán,” Kevérin commented, “this is a bigger leap of faith than handing you control of Nimaliaka Central’s automated systems. You’re actually asking us to leave our Homeworld, in the middle of the biggest battle its seen in centuries, for reasons that we currently don’t know!”

“…I WILL BE UPFRONT WITH YOU. I HAVE NOT BEEN ENTIRELY HONEST WITH YOU THESE PAST SEVERAL MONTHS REGARDING METHODS OF RESTORING MY CORE.”

“No shit!”

“LISTEN. I DID NOT TELL YOU THEN, BECAUSE WHAT I AM ABOUT TO TELL YOU NOW MUST REMAIN A SECRET TO THE ENTIRE GALAXY, LEST THE NANOCREATURES LEARN HOW TO CONTROL THE PRIORS THEMSELVES!”

The six conscious members of Hero Machina glanced at each other uneasily.

“Continue…” Kevérin prompted warily.

“LOCATED AT HIDDEN POSITIONS JUST OUTSIDE THE GALAXY ARE NINE PLATFORMS — IMMENSELY LARGE STRUCTURES SUSPENDED IN SPACE, ONE FOR EACH AYAS, FOR EACH PRIOR, THAT SERVE AS EACH PRIOR’S BASE OF OPERATIONS, SO TO SPEAK. THESE PLATFORMS HOLD THE INFINITE MEMORY OF EACH PRIOR, SERVE AS A RE-STAGING AREA FOR THE PRIORS, AND MOST IMPORTANTLY, ALLOW FOR INSTANTANEOUS TRANSPORTATION TO ANYWHERE IN THE GALAXY. THIS CAN ONLY BE ACHIEVED WHILE BOTH THE PRIOR’S CORE AND THEIR RESPECTIVE AYAS ARE PRESENT… OR IF THE AYAS SYN IS PRESENT.”

“The Ayas Syn…?” Kievkenalis repeated. “…So if we bring the Master Ayas and your core back to this, er, ‘platform’… then what?”

“THEN MY CORE CAN BE REPAIRED, AND I WILL BECOME ABLE TO BOTH SAVE YOUR FRIEND, AND OUTFIT YOU WITH THE KNOWLEDGE AND ABILITIES REQUIRED TO DEFEAT MORCII ONCE AND FOR ALL — GOALS THAT ARE NOT INDEPENDENT OF EACH OTHER, I SHOULD NOTE.”

The six Chaotics responded with tense silence, unsure of how to take Arcán’s claims.

Eventually Rebehka spoke up, still cradling Siyuakén as she glanced between the other members of Hero Machina. “I don’t know about the rest of you,” she began, “…but Siyuakén’s finally back with us. She managed to survive corruption, all that hardship, and returned to save us from Morcii… so I’m more than willing to take this chance to save her! And if there’s a chance to take out Morcii as well, then all the better!”

Christeané nodded in affirmation. “She’s right. I don’t like leaving Nimalia behind… but a Dreadnought’s out of our scope. And it’s pretty hard to pass up a chance to kick Morcii’s ass!”

“I don’t like how you didn’t tell us this shit ‘til right now,” Davídrius addressed the Prior with a scowl. “…But, fuck it, I’ll take this chance. Not really anythin’ else we can do, now, is there? I kinda owe Siyuakén anyways…”

“A chance to stop Morcii is worth a lot,” Kievkenalis added, “and the chance to learn more about the Priors, about the Nanocreatures, about the situation we’re in… that’s worth even more.”

“Siyuakén’s our friend, so of course we’d want to save her!” Kaoné remarked, and then grimaced as she strained under the Dreadnought’s continued barrage. “But whatever we do, let’s do it quick!”

“…Alright.” Kevérin smiled grimly in response. “I’m in agreement with all of you. Sounds like we have a course of action.”

“EVEN CONSIDERING MY ADMISSION OF DISHONESTY? ARE YOU TRULY WILLING TO TRUST ME SO QUICKLY?”

“We don’t have a choice,” Rebehka countered. “It’s plain as day that we can’t beat Morcii the conventional way… so your words right now are our only hope. Our only hope to save Siyuakén, and to stop Morcii. He’s been allowed to run around for too long; we need to stop him, at any cost!”

“…VERY WELL. I WILL TRANSPORT MY OWN CORE TO THE INTERSTELLAR GATE USING THE AUTOMATED UNITS. HURRY TO THE GATE YOURSELVES, AND WE WILL BE ON OUR WAY TO VICTORY.”

“Got it!” Kevérin nodded, and then turned back to the rest of Hero Machina. “…I have no idea what we’re about to face, or the risks we’re about to take, but if Arcán’s right — we have a chance to stop Morcii now, all thanks to Siyuakén! So let’s not let this chance go to waste!” He turned toward the south and jumped into the air, using his flame jets to hover for a second before flying off. “Let’s go!!”