It had been mere seconds since Metalman engaged the overpowered navi known as Vengeance in battle, but time seemed to stretch out to an eternity as his every ounce of concentration was directed to dealing with the seemingly endless supply of attacks coming at breakneck speed. He had counted more than five battlechips in the last six seconds alone. This was an opponent that knew how to break the rules. Though Metal could guard himself, his defenses were being steadily chipped away. What he could avoid continued past him to damage more data along the system walls. Meanwhile, below the flying combatants the other Officials could be seen losing the battle. Somehow, Vengeance had to fall or there would be no hope of success regardless of how long the steel guardian could hold out.
To make matters worse, Metal was struggling to make sense of this navi's behavior between attacks. Having been a spy in his previous form, Metalman was used to observing suspects before fighting them, and this situation he couldn't help putting those observational skills to use during the fight. But Vengeance didn't move like any other navi he had seen. It was unpredictable and illogical. He seemed to adjust his feet to regain his balance every now and then, even though he was flying. He cracked his knuckles and rolled his shoulders and performed other pointless actions whenever he wasn't actively striking. When Metal successfully landed an attack of his own, Vengeance had no visible reaction, like he wasn't even really there. His sensors indicated his opponent took damage and his power levels were decreasing, but Metal's eyes had him second-guessing his progress.
Then there was the attitude. "You're just wasting your time, has-been! I utterly outclass you!" Vengeance jeered and caught Metalman's sizable fist with a freshly summoned GoldFist of his own, then launched it and several more through the GoldFist's secret rocket punch ability. The barrage of heavy missiles sent Metalman hurling back, losing control of his flight powers.
Metalman began to crack under the pressure. "We have to use it now!" He called to his operator.
"It's too risky. You know that."
"I can handle it! Besides, it will be better to use it now when we have a chance to end things quickly than later when I'm too beaten to come back from anything. Just look at this guy! Our regular tactics aren't going to be enough!" Metal already felt more desparate than he was used to. Maybe he just wasn't used to his new form, or maybe it was part of his other half creeping into his mind. Either way, this was not the time or place to struggle with it.
"...You'd better be right about this. Just stay in control...Dark Chip Metal Barrage: Slot in!"
All at once, Metalman's power multiplied. His armor shook as new weapon ports opened on every spare section of plating, bursting forth with missiles and gunfire that spread outwards, seeking targets beyond the control of the arsenal's master. The experience was more painful for the heavily-armed navi than any of the damage he had taken from his opponent so far. Nonetheless, the dangerous act had its intended effect. Vengeance was taken off-guard by the sudden onslaught and was driven back. Metal Blades launched by Dark Chip's effect flew with a mind of their own and continued to chase the white navi even after the vulcans had depleted their ammo and the missiles had all detonated; some sending the other Children of Vengeance on the defensive as well.
Once the barrage had passed, Metal could feel the Darkloid aspect of his soul fighting with renewed vigor to regain dominance. His body began to fall as his consciousness lost the concentration necessary to control his powers. The navi once known as Spider knew this was coming ever since he accepted that the only way to defeat Dark Metalman was to merge with him. It was a trial by fire, and he refused to lose. He summoned his strength, remembered his training, and beat the lumbering ogre in his mind back into its hole. With his mind clear, he reactivated his jets and returned to fighting form, though his armor now had a slightly darker shade to it.
Before Metal could reassess his targets, he was met in mid-air by another flying navi. Drillman transformed and hovered nearby, eyeing Metalman curiously. "Uh, Metalman...right? Any chance you remember me?"
Metal returned a grave look and answered as plainly as he could. "I don't have access to the memories of the Metalman of the Net Guardians. I'm a different navi that took over this body upon defeating it as a Darkloid. I'm familiar with your situation though and I'm on your side."
"Oh, good. Glad we could clear that up quickly." Drill nodded. After his recent encounters with Darklady and dealing with Flamechick, he was as prepared as he could be for an explanation like that. "Thanks for leveling the playing field a bit. I'm going to cut in on the dance with Vengeance, if you don't mind. Looks like you could use a break to go deal with the more manageable supernavis down there anyway."
"'Vengeance'?" Metalman looked quizzically at Drill. This was the first time he had heard the white navi referred to by name. "What do you know about this attack?"
"Still piecing things together myself actually. We'll beat up these guys first, talk later!" Drill abruptly ended the conversation by shifting back into his jet-like shape and streaking off towards Vengeance, who by now had shaken off the blades as well as the damage from the rest of the Metal Barrage attack.
Metalman wasn't sure he could count on Drill to hold his own against Vengeance, but in his current state he knew he couldn't quite count on himself either. He decided to heed the Official agent's advice and return his focus to the other invaders for the moment. He turned on his jets and shot downwards, aiming for the nearest enemy to crush under his fist like a meteor.
Unfortunately, the target he chose turned out to be the most aware. Despite the obvious blindfold, Archer saw the strike from above coming a mile away and rolled away from it at the last millisecond. Metal came crashing knuckles-first into the spot Archer had been standing, creating a massive crater and breaking off another section of the walkway, kicking dust and tile shards up into the air. Archer quickly loosed two arrows at the larger navi before he could even pull himself out of the hole and the dust cloud covering him.
"In case you haven't figured it out yet, my senses are a bit more reliable than plain-old sight." Archer mocked Metalman before turning around to fire another arrow at the approaching Flamechick. She cancelled it with a HeatAura.
"Just because you can sense an attack, doesn't mean you can always do something about it." Flamechick warned the cloaked sniper before launching a FlameTower that he easily sidestepped.
"Well I'm not too worried about that, thanks." Archer smirked as he continued to calmly pelt her with arrows. He positioned himself so the curving path of the FlameTower was between him and Metalman, giving him an extra layer of cover while he focused on her. Although it quickly turned out that Metal wasn't about to let a wall of fire slow him down and lunged right through it to throw another crushing punch. Archer was still quick enough to leap away, but a Changkey had appeared nearby at one angle as Flamechick took advantage of Metalman's attack to approach from another. Despite his big talk, the little navi soon found himself cornered by two strong enemies in close quarters. Without missing a beat, he pulled a special arrow from his quiver that trailed a tether tied to his back. He shot this one straight upwards, latching onto an overhanging platform. The line quickly retracted, pulling Archer up over the heads of his opponents. He could have made a nice getaway if Metalman's reach didn't beat his timing. After all that, Archer ended up clenched in the vice-like grip of Metal's fist.
"You should have worried." Flamechick said coldly while pointing a blazing palm at the helpless bowman's face.
Though clearly pained, Archer did his best to maintain his composure. "Nice job, it only took two of you ganging up on me to do it. Might want to look around you before you cele-" his jeering was cut off by a concentrated burst of fire incinerating his head, deleting him.
"He had a point. This job is far from over." Metalman stated grimly while wiping the ashes from his hand. "Thanks for the help though. Darkloid bodies or not, we still make a decent team."
Flamechick was confused by his comment. "What? Do you know me? Who are you?"
"Sorry. There'll be time for that later." Metalman then fired his jets and took off without another word.
Flamechick acknowledged the urgency and began running back towards Executioner, whom she had left in flames a few minutes ago, but she could see now he was already back to his rampage as if he had suffered no damage at all. On her way, she couldn't help but pursue her nagging curiosity. "Hoshiko, should I have recognized that navi?"
Her operator shrugged on the other side of the comm line. "Not that I know of? Moe says his name is Metalman and he defeated and merged with the Darkloid that attacked y-...that attacked Ice Chan that time I was cut off from her. We don't know who it really is though..."
"...Okay." Flamechick said, dissatisfied. She drew a pair of FireBlades as she closed in on the larger and slower warrior, then leapt to his surprise to fiercely slash at his face and chest. If 'later' offered a chance for answers, she would get there as quickly as possible.
Overdrive had been dealing with Executioner as well, but when he became smothered in flames, she decided it was best to take her sword to a new target. As she sped down the walkway, the only other ground-based enemy she could see nearby was Magister, who was busy facing off against Darklady. It was a welcome outlet for her frustration. Like streaking shadow, she StepCrossed Magister just as the wicked witch conjured a windy vortex from her staff. Darklady had been preparing to dodge, but now just hovered in place while the spell flew far off-course. She was actually slightly irked by the assistance. "Hey, get your own fight. I was having fun here."
Overdrive was now busy parrying the furious swings Magister's whirling staff. She wasn't in the mood for sass, no matter who it was. "Well, g--the flyers. I could slice up this two-faced psychopath a lotfasteranyway!"
Abruptly switching from rage to zen-like calmness, Magister stepped back to avoid Overdrive's sword, countered with a quick jab of her staff accompanied with a pulse of repelling force to add some distance, drew a glowing circle on the ground, and within two seconds her face was contorted with even more anger than before. "Y'know? Just...CURSE YOU BOTH!!" Slamming the end of her staff down in the middle of the circle. Magister disappeared in an explosion of magenta smoke and light. The cloud washed over Overdrive and Darklady before they could even move.
Overdrive rushed into the center of the smoke where Magister had been, blindly swinging her sword, finding nothing. Darklady opened a small Dark Hole in the ground to suck up the obfuscating cloud, revealing no sign of the one they were both so eager to take down. Overdrive cursed. "Damn it! Thisis going nowhere!"
"Well, you're the one who scared her off." Darklady sighed disapprovingly.
"What's your grudge with her?" the exasperated Official asked, turning her attention to her mysterious ally.
Darklady laughed and shrugged. "Oh, nothing really. I actually wasn't supposed to do anything but keep an eye on you, but I'm technically working with you now and it seemed to me like any reason to stay hidden went out the window when all of this went down. Good thing too, because I was SO bored."
"You're work--what?! On whose--Tricia! Would you call Darklight? This stinks of him for some reason."
Before she could get a response from her operator, something large shot down from above with blinding speed, bowling over Darklady and slamming into Overdrive's chest, knocking her onto her back before it arced back upwards as quickly as it came. It stopped in mid-air by spreading its two pairs of saurian wings and turned around to face the two victims of its ambush. Dragoon smirked in anticipation. "Aw yeah. My favorite kind of fight. And two for the price of one." He then noticed Darklady and gave her a little salute. "Hey baby, sorry about that. You seem to have a problem wandering into dangerous places. I guess you can't help it, being drawn to me and all."
Overdrive coughed as she picked herself off the ground. "Oh hell, what's your deal with this one?" She asked the simultaneously recovering Darklady.
Dark recognized Dragoon and grit her teeth with disgust. "It's a creep, that's about it. And it figures he'd be one of these guys. You're free to deal him." She then turned to fly away.
"Hey, what's your hurry? I've got plenty to go around for both of you!" With a flip of his wings, Dragoon kicked up a small whirlwind that caught both women, hurling them both in a spiral through the air, drawing inwards until the crashed into each other and fell to the ground in a heap. The reptilian predator hovered over them and descended closer. "That's it. Get comfortable ladies. Get to know each other. Let's be friends here..."
Darklady pushed Overdrive aside as she righted herself. "Nevermind, I get to kill him."
"Not if I do it first." Overdrive rejoined. Both girls then leapt at Dragoon with their blades, aiming to chop off his wings and rob him of his one obvious advantage in combat. The lecherous lizard not only easily evaded their two-pronged attack, but turned around and grabbed the weapons from their hands in his talons before kicking them back down to the ground, grinning cockily the entire time.
"Now now, no need to fight over me. There's plenty Dragoon to go around." he laughed, admiring his new axe and sword.
"Tch. I forgot he was so fast." Darklady rasped, scrambling to her feet again.
Overdrive was distinctly more upset over being outmaneuvered. "He shouldn't be faster than me! Something is wrong here."
"There is!" The panicky voice of Tricia, Overdrive's operator confirmed. "I wasn't sure it was anything at first, but ever since Magister poofed away, more and more bugs have been popping up in your status window! Your speed is down, strength is halved, energy is draining, download capacity is fluctuating..."
"Oh great." A defeated Darklady facepalmed, noticing similar symptoms in herself. "She literally cursed us."
Overdrive couldn't stand to see her trusty blade being toyed with by the obnoxious creep, but she was finding it hard enough just to stand now, much less take it back. "Can't you fix it? Or can you tell if it's going to wear off?" She implored her operator.
Tricia's assessment wasn't encouraging. "It doesn't look like it's getting any better on its own, and the only way I can think to possibly fix it is to have you jack out so I can recompile you. It may be our only choice, but you'd be out of commission for a while."
"Hell no! I just finished going through all that! I don't care if I have to limp over to pluck that turkey's wings, I'm seeing this through to the end this time!" Overdrive declared adamantly.
"Yeah! Don't worry, there's no need to run away." Dragoon proclaimed while landing gently between the two weakened girls and draping an arm over each of their shoulders, pulling them in close to himself. "You may be weak and helpless, but I'm here to protect you."
The effects of Magister's curse had sapped so much of their strength that Overdrive and Darklady couldn't even escape Dragoon's unwelcome casual embrace. They struggled as much as they could though, not wanting to see where his brazen attitude would go next. Since he still held their weapons in his hands right in front of them, they feebly reached for the handles while he hugged them closer. The attempt didn't go unnoticed though, and Dragoon simply rolled his eyes before tossing the sword and axe over his shoulders. "Won't be needing those, will we?" Overdrive seethed, but Dark smiled. That didn't go unnoticed either. "Yeahh, I knew you'd be into i-gcck!" One thing that did go unnoticed was the axe he just threw away returning like a boomerang into the back of his head.
The girls were dropped to the ground again as Dragoon was forced to react to the blade flying around and chopping at him with a mind of its own. Darklady laughed sadistically from below. Overdrive raised her eyebrow. "Were you able to control the axe remotely this whole time?"
"I was waiting for him to let it go so I could catch him off-guard." Dark explained smugly.
"Well now what? I feel about as mobile as a StoneCube, and I don't think your axe alone is going to beat this asshole."
Darklady turned her attention inward. "The curse is just bugs, right? I...should be able to handle that, I think."
From a distant home office in the real world, Darklady's operator Alia watched the spectacle with disdain. She hadn't ordered Darklady to reveal herself and she was partially hoping for a disaster as a way to teach her navi a lesson about impulsiveness. On the other hand, her new partner Sam Darklight who was also monitoring the situation agreed that helping the Officials was the best option at this point, and she was hard pressed to disagree. She still didn't like the idea of letting the Officials have her number, so to speak. Her research demanded the freedom and lack of scrutiny that only the lawless shadows of society offered. Whatever she did, it would have to be quick and quiet. She wanted Darklady out of there as soon as possible.
As the Official she could hear through her PET had already surmised, there was no way to debug the 'curse' while the afflicted navis were still jacked in. There were other potential options though. She had the battlechips, she merely had to send them. It would mean risking giving the Officials a connection to trace to her, but Darklady didn't stand a chance without it. She could tell Dark was hinting that she wanted the assistance. At least the navi wasn't mentioning the operator's name. In the end, Alia gave her enough points for that discretion. She prepared to slot in.
"About time." Darklady said with relief as she received the chip. Dragoon had succeeded in dissipating the shadow-form axe with his dagger-like claws, and had turned back towards Dark with a much less affectionate look in his eye. Before he could get any closer though, she rolled onto her back and pointed her palms at the winged menace. A wide barrel materialized over her arms and instantly began blaring with deafening crackling noise while rending the air around Dragoon in a chaotic maelstrom. The formerly cocky predator screamed in agony as the bug-fueled Noise Storm whipped him around like rag doll in a washing machine, but the sound of his terror was lost in the staticky cacophony. Overdrive could barely stand the noisy onslaught herself, and she was fortunate enough not to be in the cyclone's path. When the overloaded evil chip was finally spent, Dragoon was nowhere to be seen. His body had been flung completely out of sight before the tornado disappeared. Darklady let her arms flop back to the ground as she let out a deep breath. It was a satisfying resolution.
Overdrive blinked. "Well, I probably shouldn't be saying this about the use of non-regulation battlechips...but thanks. Nice work."
Darklady turned her head to look at the similarly disabled Official, laying in the panel next to her. She smiled nervously. "Um...better not thank me yet. Now that I've used the bugs as a weapon, I still have to get rid of them, and none of the navis that deserve this are close enough, so...sorry." She reached her hand over, pointing her palm at Overdrive's shocked face. Several sparks flared in the space between the two navis as Darklady activated the second chip Alia had sent her, BugChain. Within seconds, Magister's curse migrated from Dark's body into Overdrive's. Her status restored, Dark regained the strength to move and fly. She rose into the air with a stretch as if waking from a long nap.
"What the-?" Overdrive exclaimed, still trapped on the ground, immobile. "I sure as hell didn't need that! What, are you just going to leave me here now?"
"To be fair, I doubt adding my bugs to yours made your condition any worse. We'd pretty much bottomed out already." Darklady shrugged. "Now I'm just gonna get back into the big fight and...well I can't fix you, but here. No hard feelings." As she was flying away, she picked up Overdrive's discarded sword and tossed it back to her.
"Urgh...I can't even hold it like this!" the sprawled fighter yelled back. It was pretty clear Darklady didn't actually care though, as she was heading in the opposite direction looking for another opponent.
She didn't have to look far, however, before the last opponent found her. As Darklady suddenly found herself slashed in rapid succession from multiple angles by an assailant flying so fast she could barely see him coming, she flashbacked to the time Dragoon 'introduced' himself to her. Only now he was looking much less friendly, much more ragged, and was clearly no longer in any mood for twisted flirting. He was out for payback. "You didn't think I was going down in one hit, did you?! Do I have to remind you who's the best? You should have gone with me when you had the chance, bitch!" The vengeful beast raved madly as he repeatedly clawed Darklady, whose attempts to counter the strikes were constantly a half-second too slow. Within moments she was almost as damaged and desparate as she had been under the curse.
Then Dragoon abruptly stopped, paralyzed and twitching in mid-air with a horrified expression. Darklady immediately backed off to catch her bearings and get a decent weapon ready, but when she noticed what was happening to her attacker, she decided to wait and observe. The heavily damaged winged navi was already in a lot of pain from Darklady's Static barrage, but he still couldn't miss the new sting of two fresh puncture wounds in the side of his chest. When he wrenched his head to look down, he couldn't see what hit him, but he could barely make out what appeared to be small drops of viscous fluid flying into one of the spots he felt the hit, and similar droplets flying out of the other spot. The twin streams of sparkling droplets flew in an intertwined path down to the platfrom, and met at Overdrive's sword, which was now in Overdrive's hand. That blade remained pointed at Dragoon and Overdrive slowly lifted herself onto her knee, then to her feet. Her lips curled to a wicked grin as she raised her head to lock eyes on the bewildered Dragoon.
Overdrive drew the sword to her side and began running towards the other two navis. As soon as the blade was no longer pointed at him, Dragoon could feel the pain in his side disappear and whatever it had been doin to him stopped. His head once again clear, he decided finishing off Dark could wait. Now it was time to teach the other one her lesson. With a mighty flap of his wings, he prepared to maneuver around Overdrive and rake the back of her head with his talons, but that didn't happen. Instead, she leapt much faster, slashing off one of his wings as she passed, then severing another on a return leap, and again with a trio of quick slices to his torso for good measure. All before Dragoon could so much as blink. Down to one wing, he plummeted and slammed face-first into the ground. He tried to right himself, but quickly found he couldn't even move his limbs. His strength had drained, his speed was lost, and he felt like his body weighed a ton. He was right where the girls had been a couple mintues earlier.
Overdrive stood triumphantly, her foot on the back of the crumpled Dragoon and her blade dangling over his neck. She stopped only for courtesy as she turned to Darklady with a smile. "Hey, shall I do the honors, or do you want the last word?"
Dark came down and landed next to the helpless Dragoon, thought for a moment, kicked him in the stomach with her spike-toed boot and eliciting a wheezing moan, then shrugged. "What's left to be said? Send this douchebag back where he came from already."
With one motion of her sword, Overdrive beheaded and deleted the Dragoon. "If you insist. It's your comeback as much as mine. What did you do to this thing anyway?" She mused as she wiped the blade clean.
"Wha? I didn't do anything." Dark responded, unsure what she was getting at. "That sword? I just threw it to you."
Now Overdrive was confused. "So how did I do the thing where I ditched my curse onto him?"
"I dunno. I just assumed you used a BugChain chip like I did on you." Darklady blinked in realization and shrank into her shoulders, slightly sheepish. "Uh, thanks for not holding a grudge by the way."
"I don't have that chip though." The perplexed Overdrive continued, no longer remembering or caring about any sleight on the part of her flaky ally. "The sword did it somehow, but it could never do it before...and someone definitely changed the design here..." Overdrive carefully inspected the hilt of her sword. It was fairly unremakable before -- a green grip and a thick armor-plated guard/generator from which the beam blade extended. That much was still recognizable, though a little more compact. The obvious change was the addition of ornamentation in the shape of a pair of coiled tubes winding tightly up the handle and flaring out slightly at the base of the blade.
"So...I threw you the wrong sword, I guess?" Darklady chuckled. "Lucky mistake then!"
"No, it's...whatever." Overdrive shook her head and sheathed the sword. She knew it was hers, but there was no point in figuring out how it transformed. There was enough craziness going on to worry about already. "You had the right idea before. Let's get back in the fight!"