Chapter 26 – Mechanical Chaos

“C’mon, Fakie, Speed Demon! Let’s see what you’re made of!!”

The moment after EA issued his challenge, the War Wasp fired its gun, launching a supersonic projectile through the air toward Austin and Pierce. They both dived out of the way, managing to evade the bullet just before it hit their former positions; Pierce then spun on his heel toward the giant mech and launched himself toward it through the air, only for the War Wasp’s tail to whip around and spike him down to the ground. As soon as he hit the floor in a painful heap, the mech fired on him again, slamming him with another supersonic projectile that flung him across the room and against the wall in the back.

“Agh…!” He grunted as he dropped to his knees. A soft beeping noise drew his attention to the small shield generator that he had clipped to his shirt, which now sported a small flashing red LED. What the hell? Did those two blows already almost overload the shields? What a piece of shit—!

“Sky! Fog cloud!!”

“Got it!”

Pierce looked up just in time to see a massive water bubble form in the middle of the room, followed by it exploding into a cloud of steam that blanketed nearly an entire third of the room — and successfully masking everyone, except for Pierce, from view. The cloud also blocked Pierce from seeing the War Wasp on the other side of the arena, but the three flying robots hovered in plain view as they turned their weapons on him. This fucking shit again He scowled as he dashed forward, effortlessly evading their weapons fire before leaping straight at one of the Eagles. His foot slammed into its chest a split second later, causing its shields to flare up as the force from the impact knocked the robot upward and toward the back wall; he then used the rebound from the kick to launch himself toward the other Eagle, where he grabbed its arm and clung to it as he began jackhammer kicking its side.

A flash of purple light momentarily distracted Pierce, turning his attention toward Beta as it was struck by two streaks of purple lightning, followed nigh-instantly by a supersonic energy projectile. The large robot simply shrugged off the blows, however, allowing its energy shielding to soak up the damage as it turned its weapon on Pierce and blasted him in the face. The force from the blast knocked him clear of the robot he was clinging too, sending him tumbling to the ground where he rolled uncontrollably for a second before jumping back to his feet.

“Pierce!”

“Huh?” He glanced to his right, where he spotted Phoenix and Kestrel running out of the steam cloud toward him. Immediately after, Beta dove at him, forcing him to jump backwards to evade its incoming fist. He then launched himself toward it, his foot impacting its lower leg in an instant and knocking it off-balance. It turned its weapon on him and opened fire, but before the projectile left the barrel, Pierce felt fierce winds surround him and drag him toward the center of the room — thereby preventing the bullet from hitting him. After the winds disappeared, he jumped back to his feet, just in time for Phoenix and Kestrel to arrive at his side.

Chaos Cannon! Chaos Strike!” Phoenix fired off two more attacks before turning toward Pierce as Kestrel took over defense with her powerful winds. “Twy and her group will distract EA for now,” Phoenix quickly reported, “we’ll take care of these robots, alright? Once they’re down, we can join the others in fighting EA.”

“What?!” Pierce exclaimed indignantly, “why do those losers get the satisfaction of beating EA?”

“I knew you’d complain,” Phoenix responded impatiently, “but trying to fight a battle like this without some kind of plan is suicide!”

“I do have a plan. My plan is to let us fight EA, and let them deal with these two-bit robots—!”

Pierce was cut off as Kestrel jumped between him and Phoenix and swept the three aside with a fierce gust of wind, just in time to evade the two Eagles as they both simultaneously dove toward the Chaotics. One of them managed to grab Pierce by his arm and lift him into the air; he responded by whipping his legs around through the air and into the robot’s side, causing its energy shields to flare up as they absorbed the force of the blow. The Eagle then brought its gun to bare, pointing it directly at Pierce — but before he could react, Phoenix suddenly appeared beside him, having been launched into the air by Kestrel. “Chaos Deflection!!” she exclaimed, creating a spinning spherical shield of Chaos Energy around her just as she impacted the robot’s chest. The spinning shield jerked the Eagle’s arm back and threw Pierce to the ground, where he caught himself and immediately leaped back up at the robot with a kick aimed directly at its optical sensor. A bright flash of light filled part of his vision as his kick connected, followed by visual static fuzz sweeping across the surface of the robot.

Before Pierce could celebrate overloading its shields, however, Beta rocketed onto the scene and grabbed the overloaded Eagle by its legs. It then swung the smaller robot through the air like a club, slamming it into Pierce and launching him clear across the room — and into the waiting pincers of the War Wasp.

“Welcome back!” EA taunted over the mech’s loudspeakers as the mech grabbed Pierce with its hand and chucked him toward the ground, where he collided with Spike in an unceremonious heap.

“What the? Where’d you come from?!” Sky exclaimed as she stared at Pierce in surprise. But Pierce wasn’t offered the time to respond as the War Wasp launched a volley of rockets at him and Spike; Pierce immediately dove out of the way, but Spike remained in place, instead materializing a massive tower shield that he used to block the flying explosives.

Looks like they can take care of themselves, Pierce mused as he eyed Spike block the attack. He then turned his attention back to the War Wasp, watching it dive out of the way of a couple of water tendrils and fire more rockets from a hand-held rocket launcher. …Wait. A rocket launcher? I thought it had a cannon or something! Where’d it get that—?

“Look out!!”

“What—?” He spun around in response to Phoenix’s cry, just in time for her to slam into him and send them both tumbling along the ground. Both of them were covered in sheets of golden light as their energy shields absorbed the force of the blow, but the light around Pierce was soon replaced by a visual static fuzz. In frustration, Pierce jumped to his feet and ripped the now-overloaded shield unit off of his shirt before chucking it through the air at the large flying robot that was in pursuit of Phoenix. The dead shield unit bounced harmlessly off of Beta’s shields as it smashed onto the scene and grabbed both Phoenix and Spike off of the ground.

Chaos Deflection!” Phoenix immediately called out, the spinning shield of Chaos Energy forcing open the robot’s hand and allowing her to drop to the ground while Spike simply pried open the fingers that were holding him with his superior strength.

“So much for splitting up…” Phoenix muttered in irritation as she glanced between the flying robots and the War Wasp, which all now hovered in the air mere meters from each other. She then turned toward the one remaining Eagle and shouted “Chaos Cannon” just as Twy fired a high-pressure jet of water at it, successfully overloading its shields in the process. Spike immediately fabricated a disc shield out of thin air and made to hurl it at the exposed robot, but just as he did, both the War Wasp and Beta opened fire on him — the War Wasp with rockets, and Beta with a railcannon. At the same moment that Spike’s shield obliterated the last Eagle, the blows from the War Wasp and Beta flung him across the room, slamming him into the far wall where he slumped to his knees in a mild daze.

Beta immediately blasted off through the air toward Spike, but Pierce dashed after it. He easily caught up to and leaped at it from the ground, using his sheer speed to knock the robot off-course. Pierce rebounded toward the ground, alighting a split-second later — just in time for the War Wasp to dive into him, grab him off of the ground, and then chuck him across the room away from Spike. A cushion of air caught him halfway across the room, allowing him to drop to the ground and resume attacking as Sky and Phoenix both unleashed attack after attack into the War Wasp’s shields. It simply ignored them and fired another salvo of rockets at Spike’s position; a jet of water swept through the air, slicing up several of the rockets, while a whirlwind managed to divert the rest, all while Austin rushed to his friend’s side and helped him up — only to be forced to dive out of the way as Beta turned its cannon toward him and fired. EA seized the opening to dive toward Spike with the War Wasp again, only for Spike — who had now managed to recover — to uppercut the incoming mech and send it reeling.

“Everyone, protect Spike!” Twy shouted as she dashed toward his position, launching jets of water at the War Wasp and Beta as she did so. “EA’s trying to destroy the jammer on his back! If he does that, we won’t be able to stop him from using his beaming systems. We’ll lose!”

“Thanks for the concern, but I can handle—!” Spike grunted with exertion as he hurled a new shield at Beta, knocking it backward through the air. “—Myself!”

“I’m sure you can, but one mistake on your part is all it takes for us all to lose, and I can’t allow that!” Phoenix retorted as she jumped into position beside Twy. In that moment, the War Wasp fired another salvo of rockets toward the three Chaotics, but Phoenix managed to call out “Chaos Deflection” just before they hit, forming another temporary spinning shield of Chaos Energy that deflected the rockets in every direction. In response, the War Wasp fired one more salvo of rockets — but this time, just as the rockets began to emerge from the rocket launcher, Sky swept across them with a torrent of flame. Two of the rockets were caught in the flames as they were halfway out of the launcher, causing them to detonate in the War Wasp’s mechanical face and destroy the launcher in its hands. Now stuck with a defunct weapon, the War Wasp chose to discard it by chucking it through the air at Spike’s position — only for Pierce to intercept the chunk of ruined metal by leaping at it from the ground, successfully knocking it off to the side.

“Hmph. That may be one down, but I still have more where that came from!” EA retorted over the War Wasp’s loudspeakers as the mech zipped through the air toward the ceiling of the room, where it disappeared through a hatch in the ceiling.

Is that where he swaps out his weapons? Pierce mused, ha! Well then, time to destroy the armory! He crouched down and then leaped into the air toward the hatch, impacting it within a split-second — but when he did, a glimmering sheet of golden light momentarily appeared and blocked his attack. What? A shield?! He glared at the hatch as he began to fall toward the ground. Then how did EA go through it—?!

His thoughts were cut short as Beta snatched him out of the air and flew across the room. Annoyed at the robot’s persistence, Pierce began to jackhammer its side, at which point it chucked him at the ground — where he hit so hard that the metal dented. “Ow…” he muttered, his teeth clenched as he jumped back to his feet and glared up at the robot. Damn! Just what’ll it take to defeat this thing? If only there was a way to bypass its shields— wait! He glanced back at the hatch that the War Wasp had disappeared into. …I got it! The hatch shield must go down temporarily to let the mech through, and then it turns back on. If I remember right from Brikén’s teaching, then anything in the way of an energy shield when it activates is destroyed. So if I can get this damn robot in the way of the shield, right as the mech goes through the hatch… yeah, alright! Let’s do this!

No longer than a second had passed while Pierce processed those thoughts, allowing him to dash across the room in an effort to get an angle on Beta so as to knock it into the hatch, all while it zipped around to evade attacks from the others and exchange fire. That big mech won’t be hidden for long. Gotta act now! C’mon Pierce, let’s go!

An instant later, he found an angle — and the moment he did, he took his chance. He crouched down and launched himself into the air toward Beta as hard as he could, kicking it mid-air and sending it flying up toward the hatch. Pierce used the force of the kick to rebound back to the ground faster than falling would get him there, allowing him to launch another jump-kick — but this time, the robot dodged, sending Pierce sailing through the air just as the War Wasp dived through the hatch back into the room, now with what appeared to be a giant cannon in its hands.

Shit! It dodged! Pierce scowled in annoyance. It’s been doing that a lot. I need to be able to hit it without it seeing me — of course! Conrad! Where the hell did he even go? Probably hiding in one of the corners. Well, Conrad, time for you to actually help out!

As he sped off in search of his invisible friend, the War Wasp opened fire with its new cannon, blasting Twy and Phoenix across the room with a well-aimed laser blast. The shields of both women overloaded from the attack, stunning them momentarily and allowing the War Wasp to turn its fire on Spike. He quickly fabricated a new tower shield to block the inevitable laser blast, only to be overpowered and blown backwards from the sheer energy — and then snatched out of the air by Beta, which then proceeded to slam him into the ground, repeatedly. He managed to twist around so as to prevent the device on his back from being damaged, but the robot gave him little chance to react any further; it took a plume of fire from Sky, followed by Austin manipulating loose debris through the air to chuck it at the robot, to distract it long enough for Spike to pry himself out of its grip — and then get flung across the room again as EA fired the War Wasp’s laser cannon directly at him. EA began to pursue, but Kestrel managed to slow the War Wasp’s aerial speed with incredible gusts of wind, prompting him to begin firing on her and forcing her to evade.

“Damn it…!” Phoenix scowled as she watched the fight unfold. “We’re getting no where!”

“We need some kind of plan,” Twy commented, “but what? EA’s shields and weapons are too powerful…”

“And that’s where you’re wrong!”

“What? Pierce?” Phoenix glanced to her side, and then all around her when she couldn’t pinpoint his location. “…Where are you?”

“I’m invisible!” Pierce declared, “I’ve got Conrad with me!”

“I hate everything about this,” came Conrad’s deadpan response.

“What?” Twy’s eyes flitted about in an attempt to figure out where Pierce was standing. “…Oh, I see! Now EA and his robots won’t be able to dodge your attacks!”

“Exactly! But there’s more to my plan than that. Look, I need you guys to destroy the mech’s weapon again, and get it to fly up through the hatch. And I also need you to make sure that the robot is on the same side of the room as the hatch when that happens. If you can do that, then I’ll take care of the rest!”

“This plan sucks,” Conrad interjected.

“What the hell are you planning?” Phoenix demanded.

“Just trust me!” Pierce replied, “follow my directions and we’ll take out the robot!”

“What?! You—! Argh!” Phoenix growled in annoyance as Beta turned toward her and Twy, forcing her attention back to the battle. “Chaos Cannon! Chaos Strike!

“We should split up!” Twy exclaimed as she jumped to the side, just in time to evade a cannon shot from the robot. “You take care of the robot’s position, I’ll get the mech’s weapon!”

“Got it!” Phoenix nodded back, and then turned her focus back to Beta just as it dove toward her. “Chaos Deflection!” she called out, generating another shield of spinning energy that knocked the incoming robot off to the side, at which point she began peppering it with Chaos Cannon and Strike attacks while staying constantly on the move in an effort to evade anything that came her way. The robot’s shields absorbed and deflected all of the attacks, however, allowing it to begin firing back with little issue — until an unseen force slammed into it from the side, knocking it over. Kestrel then appeared on the scene, effectively riding the wind to dash faster than normal and then create fierce gusts of wind to further destabilize Beta’s flying.

“Ah! Kestrel!” Phoenix exclaimed, “focus on getting the robot near the hatch in the ceiling! Pierce says he has a plan to take care of it!”

Kestrel glanced her way and offered a brief nod and grunt of acknowledgment before whipping up a whirlwind around Beta. However it broke out of the gusts of wind and dove toward her, forcing her to dive out of the way — at which point Phoenix shouted out, “Chaos Impact!” As soon as the words left her mouth, the robot was knocked across the ground in the opposite direction from her as though by an invisible force; while it attempted to recover, Kestrel began slamming it with bursts of wind, slowly but surely forcing it across the ground toward the side of the room where the ceiling hatch was.

Under the hatch, the War Wasp swept its tail along the ground, knocking Austin and Twy’s feet out from under them. Spike lunged forward, grabbed the tail, and began tugging in an attempt to swing the giant flying mech around — however it simply lifted its tail into the air, easily overcoming Spike’s weight before flicking him against the wall off to the side. It brought its cannon around to aim at Spike, but just before it fired, a torrent of flames slammed into it, disrupting its aim just enough to miss. Sky then rocketed herself through the air around the War Wasp, shooting out fire all across its shields as it began swinging its tail around in an effort to intercept her, all while it continued aiming its laser cannon at Spike and repeatedly firing. Spike managed to dodge out of the way of the first two shots by watching the cannon and where it was pointing, but the third shot hit him squarely in the chest and flung him backwards again — just as the mech’s tail finally smacked Sky out of the air. The War Wasp then dove after Spike, but just before it could reach him, a giant bubble of water formed all around it, slowing its pace. The mech’s entire surface then began glowing brilliantly as Twy attempted to crush it with the water surrounding it.

“Now this is just annoying…” came EA’s voice over the mech’s loudspeakers, though somewhat muffled by the water bubble that surrounded it. “I didn’t wanna take you out first, but you’ve forced my hand!”

“What?!” Twy’s eyes grew wide as the War Wasp slowly turned toward her and brought its laser cannon to bare. With most of her attention focused on trying to crush the mech, she found herself unable to react to this new threat — but just as the cannon fired, a massive shield zoomed through the air and intercepted the blast. Austin then jumped onto the scene, using his Imperator powers to manipulate one of Spike’s shields through the air and block another laser cannon blast.

“Damn it…!” Twy’s brow furrowed in frustration as she continued focusing on the water bubble, attempting — to no avail — to stop the War Wasp’s movements. “…Sky! A hand…!”

“Say no more, sis! I got this!” Sky jumped to her feet, having just recovered from being smacked out of the sky, and thrust her hands toward the War Wasp. For a brief moment, the water around it seemed to bubble — and then it exploded outwards in a heat-driven steam explosion.

“Tch… how many times do y’all have to try this stupid trick before you realize it doesn’t work against a fuckin’ shielded mech, huh—?” EA began, but just as the War Wasp turned toward Sky’s position, a massive shield — masked from sight by the steam — slammed into the mech’s laser cannon from below. A second shield blow less than a second later loosened the mech’s grip on the weapon, causing it to no longer be protected by the mech’s energy shield — at which point Austin zipped through the air, using his Imperator powers on himself to fly. As he passed the now-exposed cannon, he slapped it with his hand and then manipulated it through the air to throw it at the ground, where Twy quickly obliterated it with multiple jets of high-pressure water.

“What was that about our ‘trick’ not working, again?” Sky taunted.

“You…! Argh!” EA’s frustration was evident over the loudspeakers. The War Wasp then lowered itself to the ground, where it stabbed its tail spike into the metal flooring; Spike lunged for it, his fist out, but before his attack could connect, the spike released an incredible pulse of energy that blasted Spike, Twy, Austin, and Sky all away from each other. Sky managed to stop herself midair with flame jets before she slammed into a wall, and Austin just barely stopped himself and Twy from hitting a wall with his Imperator powers — but Spike had nothing to stop himself with as he was flung across the room and into the flying robot that Phoenix and Kestrel were fighting.

“I’ll have to give you credit for that,” EA growled, “but my patience is wearing thin!”

“What? Shit!” Phoenix eyed the War Wasp with frustration. Its weapon had been destroyed, but Beta was still no where near the ceiling hatch. She and Kestrel had been able to slowly force it back with their powers, but it wasn’t enough to make up the difference. As the War Wasp ripped its tail out of the metal flooring and began to ascend, however, she had an idea. “Spike!” She dashed around him to put him between herself and Beta, which itself was hovering in the air nearly a dozen meters away. “I need you to knock that robot toward the hatch! Okay? Just trust me!”

“What?” He stared at her incredulously. “It’s flying! How am I—?”

Chaos Impact!

“Agh—!” Spike grunted in both surprise and pain as Phoenix launched him into the air toward Beta. But he didn’t need any hints to figure out what to do at that point; as he flew through the air, he wound his right fist back, prepared to slam it into Beta. It began to dive out of the way, but Kestrel managed to slow it with her winds just long enough for Spike to reach it and deliver a full-force superstrength punch. Beta’s shields protected it from direct damage, but the force still flung it through the air up and back toward the ceiling hatch. It stopped itself just short as the War Wasp zoomed past it, but then — right as the War Wasp entered the hatch — Pierce appeared on the ground below and launched himself straight upward, at Beta’s underside. He impacted the flying machine at a solid supersonic speed, imparting enough impact force to knock it upwards toward the hatch…

…and then right in it, just as the War Wasp fully disappeared through it.

What followed was a brilliant flash of light as the hatch shield and the robot’s shield intersected, and immediately after that was the sound of wrenching metal as the hatch shield sliced clean through Beta’s arms and torso. Furthermore, in the instant after the robot was bisected, its shield and the hatch shield interacted to produce a violent burst of energy that obliterated the physical hatch behind the shield, exposing the War Wasp and the small room it was now hiding in. Sky quickly flushed the room with flames, revealing that the energy shield covering the hatch had been completely overloaded as she incinerated everything around the War Wasp with plumes of searing fire. The mech itself remained protected by its own energy shielding, but everything around it was reduced to molten slag that began dropping down into the arena below.

“Ha HA! Alright!!” Pierce whooped as he watched the remnants of Beta and the War Wasp’s armory fall to the ground. “That’s what you fucking get, you bastard!”

“Not over…” Kestrel muttered, alighting on the ground next to Pierce as she kept her eye on the open hatch.

“She’s right,” Phoenix affirmed, running up beside Pierce as well. “We still have to destroy the mech itself!”

“Should be a walk in the park, now!” Spike exclaimed, slamming his fists together eagerly. “No more distractions, and no more weapons! This’ll be easy!”

“I dunno, guys…” Austin responded warily, “don’t get carried away just yet…”

“Fakie, you don’t know just how right you are!”

“…Of course he doesn’t give up yet,” Twy lamented, watching as the tip of the War Wasp’s tail extended down out of the hatch.

“I would say that he’s more stubborn than Austin,” Sky remarked, “but I guess Austin can be a pretty sore loser sometimes, too, huh?”

“Calling me the loser when the battle ain’t even over yet is peak arrogance, and you will pay for that!” EA retorted. “I’ve held back so far, to try and make sure that no one dies. But clearly, that hasn’t been working!”

“I really don’t like the sound of that,” Conrad commented as the exposed tail of EA’s mech turned toward one of the corners of the room and fired its tail spike like a projectile. As the tail spike slammed into the corner and sunk into the floor, another spike appeared on the tip of the mech’s tail and fired at another corner, followed by two more tail spikes fired at the two remaining corners. The tail then withdrew into the exposed hatch.

“Keep your distance,” Phoenix warned, “I don’t know what those are… but I have a bad feeling about this.”

Kestrel shook her head. “Not primary danger.”

“…Well, yeah, the mech is, obviously,” Sky retorted as she passed Kestrel a glance. “It’s still worth staying away from whatever those spikes are.”

“Mm…” Kestrel returned Sky’s glance before looking straight up. She then lifted into the air slightly, using her control over air to levitate as she declared, “above. Spread out.”

“Above?” Pierce echoed incredulously. Had anyone else made the claim, he would’ve retorted that they already knew that the mech was above them — the exposed armory was in the ceiling, after all. But the fact that Kestrel had bothered to say it gave him pause…

…just enough pause for the War Wasp to smash through the ceiling directly above the group, diving toward the ground faster than anyone could react and slamming straight through at the same instant that the four spikes in the corners of the room detonated. Echoes of thundering explosions and wrenching metal rocked the room as Pierce felt the ground beneath his feet give way, the metal bending downwards and exposing what laid beneath the arena:

Open water.

Wait a minute. Open water?! Pierce beheld the sights around him with confusion. Sparkling blue stretched to the horizon in every direction he looked, while above him, he could begin to make out the silhouette of a giant ship. As he fell further toward the waters below, he was able to determine that this was in fact the same ship that he had seen over New York. …Damn! I mean, Austin said we were actually on a ship, but— I didn’t expect this! How are we supposed to fight in an ocean?!

Flashes of light in the air above him drew his attention toward Sky, who had begun flying through the air with jets of flame as she chased the War Wasp in an effort to bring it down. At the same time, Pierce could see Twy and Kestrel attempting to slow everyone’s free fall with their water and air, but the War Wasp constantly fired tail spikes at them, forcing them to focus primarily on evading — and therefore leaving everyone else to plummet down to the waters below. Immediately, Pierce’s attention snapped to Phoenix, who was falling through the air above him. Shit! I can survive impact with the water just fine, I’m sure, and Spike seems durable enough. Twy, Sky, and Austin all seem to be able to fly, and so can Kestrel, but Phoenix and Conrad are screwed! If they hit the water from this height, then…! Damn it! I can’t even SEE Conrad…!

The sounds of ocean waves began to reach Pierce’s ears, drawing his attention downwards once more — when an idea popped into his head. “Conrad! Go visible! Get next to Phoenix if you can!” he shouted skyward, and then focused on the rapidly approaching waters. Swimming wasn’t his strong suit, and while he was certain that his superspeed would help him stay afloat perfectly fine, he wasn’t certain that he would be able to launch himself out of the water the same way he could leap off of solid ground. However, there was still one brief window for leaping into the air to catch Phoenix and Conrad, all thanks to one important attribute of water: surface tension. They say that falling into water from a high enough altitude is like slamming into concrete. So if I can time a kick just right, then I can launch myself back into the air like I was jumping off of solid ground, and grab Phoenix and Conrad! But I only have the one chance…!

He glanced upward once more to locate Phoenix, noting that Conrad had appeared in the air next to her as well — all while the War Wasp continued harassing Twy and Kestrel in the skies above. Damn it. I’ll have to focus on that later. For now… I’m close…! Quickly, he maneuvered his body around in the air and bent his knees in preparation to launch a kick as the ocean below rapidly approached. Splashing noises filled the air around him as metal debris dropped into the ocean, accompanied by loud hissing sounds as the molten slag from the War Wasp armory hit the water and began producing clouds of steam — but Pierce remained focused on the waters just below him, carefully watching the waves and mentally timing his approach. Ready

A large piece of debris fell into the water just a few meters away, generating a massive splash and a resounding echo that drowned out the sounds of battle above.

Ready…!

Natural winds blew past Pierce’s face, carrying with them steam produced by some of the molten slag — and temporarily obscuring his view of the waters.

Oh, shit! Fuck! How high am I?!

The next moment passed as an eternity, with Pierce struggling to determine where he was in relation to his surrounding environment. But between the splashing noises of the large debris and the steam that obscured his vision, it was impossible for him to tell how high he was as he continued to fall. And then, a split second later, he fell out of the steam cloud — now finding himself a mere meter above the water’s surface.

Eyes wide with alarm, Pierce instantly shot his legs out, slamming them into the surface of the ocean below. The pure speed of his kick generated such force that he was able to launch himself off the water’s surface before he broke the surface tension, sending him flying through the air toward Phoenix and Conrad. In a fraction of a second, he reached his arms out and grabbed them both by their hands, carefully ensuring that he had made skin-on-skin contact so as to temporarily give them his own acceleration resistance as they sailed through the air at supersonic speeds.

“Ha!” He grinned and glanced down at Phoenix and Conrad, who both stared back at him with a mixture of relief and panic. “Alright, now let’s—!”

A sudden blow from above sent Pierce reeling, his entire world spinning out of control before he slammed back into the water barely a second later. He flailed around in a panic, utterly unprepared for such a turn, only to break the surface of the water a moment later and then be lifted into the air by a bubble of water around his legs and waist. What the—? Oh, this must be Twy’s doing. Phew. Alright, now it’s time to—! Wait! Where’d Phoenix and Conrad go?!

“Stop fighting, now! Or I kill these two!”

Pierce turned his attention upward, spotting Kestrel, Austin, Twy, and Sky all using their abilities to hover in the air near the War Wasp — which itself was firmly grasping Phoenix and Conrad in its hands, with its tail curled upward to hold its spike menacingly to Conrad’s head.

“You…!” Pierce’s face contorted with fury. “You bastard! If you hurt them, I’ll fucking murder your ass!”

“Y-yeah. You— you wouldn’t kill them, anyways!” Austin accused, momentarily glancing to his side as Twy lifted both Pierce and Spike up to the rest of the group with levitating bubbles of water.

“…Hmph.” EA snorted in derision as he glared through the War Wasp’s canopy at the six Chaotics hovering in the air in front of him. He then looked down at the mech’s hands, which held Phoenix and Conrad by their torsos — and had also blocked Phoenix’s mouth with its giant index finger. “…I’d prefer not to,” EA eventually continued, “but y’all have proven yourselves to be way more of a pain in the ass than I expected, so if I have to, then I will!”

“Figures you’d have to stoop to taking hostages to beat us,” Pierce retorted. “What a fucking coward move!”

“And yet cowards are the ones who live,” EA countered. “Dying achieves nothin’, as does losin’. If this is what it takes to achieve my goals, then…!”

“What the hell are your goals?!” Austin questioned incredulously, “I can’t imagine what kind of fucked up situation I’d have to be in where I thought threatenin’ the life of someone else was a good idea!”

“That’s only because you’ve yet to experience, or even grasp the kinds of dangers that exist in this universe,” EA responded. “None of y’all have. Even SERRCom hasn’t. But I have! I know what’s at stake here, and I know that drastic measures are the only thing that will save Earth, and the entire galaxy!”

Pierce scowled in response to EA’s claim. What a fucking megalomaniac. But there has to be some way to get Conrad and Phoenix out of his hands. Damn it! If only we weren’t all in the air, if there was just some ground to jump off of…!

“Now, I’ll make my demand just one more time,” EA continued, his voice low. “Stop fightin’, and turn off the beam jammer. Otherwise, your two friends here are—!”

Before he could finish his demand, an incredible blast of lightning jumped from the waters below to the War Wasp, generating such a brilliant burst of light and deafening thunderclap that pain shot through Pierce’s eyes and ears. Agh! What the fuck?! Lightning?! Wait, I’ve seen this before…!

As the ringing in his ears and the blinding white over his vision began to subside, Pierce quickly turned his attention toward the War Wasp — just as a large man, with short black hair, olive skin, and a green uniform practically flew through the air with a massive halberd in hand, which he used to cleave clean through the War Wasp’s arms. Pierce simply stared after the man in disbelief as Kestrel quickly caught the newly freed Phoenix and Conrad with carefully controlled winds. Holy shit! Pierce thought in amazement, his attention snapping between the man with the halberd and the mechanical arms that were falling to the ocean below. Did that single lightning blast take out the mech’s shields?! Hot damn!

A second later, another hovering craft appeared in the air under EA’s Cruiser, having just arrived from the skies above. «Surrender, now!» A man’s voice emanated from a loudspeaker aboard the small craft; Pierce didn’t recognize its silhouette or its crimson, gold, and black regal designs, but the voice shouting over the loudspeaker did sound distinctly familiar.

“Mote?!” Austin exclaimed, confirming Pierce’s suspicions. “What the… I thought they were off-world!”

«Surrender!» Mote repeated over the Corvette’s loudspeakers, «or I will be forced to annihilate you!»

“Tch…!” EA glared at the Corvette through the War Wasp’s canopy. The mech appeared to be battered and warped all over after Mote’s lightning strike and Mark subsequently chopping its arms off, yet it still seemed to be capable of flight. However, EA offered no response. Instead, the mech turned to the side, as if looking at all of the Chaotics hovering in the air beside it… and then a burst of light emanated from the cockpit unit as EA ejected backwards. Now without a pilot, the War Wasp began to fall toward the ocean below, with its pilot flying through the air away from the Chaotics — and then, a moment later, he disappeared in a brief flash of light. As soon as he did, the massive Cruiser above everyone began moving, generating a thundering electrical hum as it did so; a second later, a hole in space appeared in front of the Cruiser, which the ship promptly disappeared into, followed by the hole closing and leaving behind nothing but empty skies.

“Damn it!” Sky exclaimed irately, “he got away! Again!”

“The bastard does seem to be good at that…” Spike muttered.

“Still, though…” Twy passed Austin an uneasy glance. “Do you think he really would have killed Phoenix or Conrad…?”

“Why the hell are you questioning? He threatened it, and that’s enough!” Pierce interjected. “Don’t tell me you’re trying to give this asshole the benefit of the doubt!”

Twy and Austin both stared at him in surprise, though Conrad spoke up first.

“Hey man, at least we’re okay now,” he said. “Though it was hella close…”

“Who the hell made that lightning bolt?!” Phoenix questioned, “if we’re talking about ‘close’, then that takes the cake! That could’ve fried us!”

Pierce snorted. “Hmph. I think that’s just Mote’s style.”

“Mote?” Phoenix stared at Pierce incredulously before snapping her attention toward the mystery Corvette, which was now slowly approaching the group. “Wait, as in—?”

“Mote Emerson, the leader of the Eximius Vir,” Twy stated.

“The Eximius Vir! But that means… we were saved by SERRCom?!”

Kestrel nodded once. “Mmhmm.”

“Pretty good save, I’d say,” Conrad remarked.

“No, that’s not my point!” Phoenix responded impatiently. “If SERRCom is right here, then there’s no way we’re getting out of this!”

“…Ah… right, ah ha ha…” Austin laughed nervously. “Uh… welcome to SERRCom?”

“Hmph…” Pierce snorted in derision. He wanted to argue, but as he watched the Corvette approach and a loading bay door on its underside open up, he felt a sinking feeling in his gut. They may have managed to break free of EA’s grasp and chase him off, but now they were merely falling into SERRCom’s hands. As wrong as EA’s plans and intentions might have been, he certainly seemed to be right about one thing: Pierce and his friends’ days of being beholden to only themselves were as good as over.