In the global network society where netcrime runs rampant, there is no greater authority than the Official Net-Battlers Association, the government-sponsored peacekeeping force dedicated to maintaining order in the cyberworld. Most hackers know to avoid the Officials at all costs, to hide in the lawless expanse of the Undernet or spend as little time online as possible to escape their far-reaching gaze. Few operators have the confidence to engage the fathomless resources of the Officials directly, even fewer would dare to attack the Officials in their own territory, much less their own base of operations.
The elusive netcriminal known as Blackbelt was one of such mad ambition that late one Sunday night he sent his small team of custom navis known as the Children of Vengeance to break into the Officials' own data archives at their Ameropean headquarters in Rom. With the massive armored Executioner taking on waves of security forces arriving to meet the threat, the winged reptilian Dragoon and hammer-swinging Jester causing as much damage as they could to the stores of evidence and case files lining the walls, and the small blindfolded Archer sniping the few defenders that slipped past the line, Blackbelt's gambit made a strong start. It was when his own server-powered supernavi Vengeance joined the fray that it seemed his incorrigible confidence would even pay off. Yet all of the bluster and chaos would appear to be the cover for the precision strike of Mistman and Flashman, who targeted a specific collection of data pertaining to the investigation of disappearing navis over the course of the week.
Flashman was the only member of this raiding party that did not actually answer to Blackbelt, but rather the equally shady L Smith, a corrupt Official that offered his support to Blackbelt's mysterious goals. A major component of that support was using Smith's credentials to get Flash and Mist through the front door in the first place, allowing Blackbelt to accelerate his plans significantly. Smith was hardly lacking in audacity himself, counting on the confusion caused by the outward attack to obscure his involvement. To the other Officials, his own login would appear to be business as usual, disrupted by the invasion like that of everyone else.
The Officials' current best hope at overcoming these attackers was Metalman.exe. Until three days ago, this steel-skinned, hammer-fisted navi was a monstrous distortion of himself as one of the Darkloids terrorizing the Undernet. Then the plasma-web-slinging warrior known as Spider fought him to a standstill and in trying to consume his opponent, became purged of Darkness and captured by Spider's operator instead. Now the revived Metalman appeared to defend the ONBA base, pitting his considerable strength against Vengeance himself. The other Officials did not seem to know why he was there, but as long as he was on their side, they didn't care.
It would take more than the overtaxed Metalman to defend against the Children of Vengeance however, and fortunately help was on the way. A hole in space burst open above a clear section of the main walkway and the tunneling Official navi known as Drillman shot out of it. He was quickly followed by his teammates, the exotic masked Flamechick and the sword-wielding speedster, Overdrive. Their operators had been working from the building housing the server, so they were relatively quick to arrive on the scene. They had no idea what to expect though, and took in the chaos surrounding them with uncomprehending awe.
"I count...five hostiles!" Overdrive exclaimed. "Howyou wanna split-..."
Drillman was troubled. "Hold on. Flame, I want to know why you attacked Magister back there. I need to know we can trust you."
"You should be wondering if you could trust Magister." Flamechick answered with no hint of remorse for the seemingly brutal treatment of a civilian navi they had been escorting.
"What does that mean?" Drillman pressed.
Drillman's operator Moe interupted. "Drill, drop it for now! We need to deal with those invaders."
Tricia, Overdrive's op concurred. "Head for the big guy at the entrance. Don't split up yet. It looks like each of those five are capable of dishing out an army's worth of fight on their own."
Drillman begrudgingly dropped the subject and flew towards Executioner with the other two running along the heavily damaged bridge. As the PET's inner camera drew closer to the target, Hoshiko had a moment of recollection. "I know that navi! He was there when we fought Dark Flameman!"
"He was there? In what capacity?" Asked Tricia.
"Uh...I'm not sure. At first it seemed like he was on the Darkloid's side, but then Flameman deleted him. He's scary strong either way..."
As Executioner slowly turned to face his newest victims, Flamechick pointed up at the towering enemy's chestplate. "There. See that symbol he's wearing?"
"His navimark, you mean?" Drillman asked, not sure where she was going with it.
"No, the other one. The one that looks like as crown. That was the navimark of the chess master that captured Kingman."
"...It is? I...didn't notice that detail..." Drill admitted.
Somewhere beneath her mask, Flame had a sentiment of disappointment that she as yet did not know how to express, so her response was unnaturally diplomatic. "Then did you notice Magister wore the same symbol on her dress?"
"She...what!? Are you sure?" Drill sputtered as he tried to process the implication.
Executioner chuckled as he realized who the three navis were. "Hah. Fools! You see your puppet strings far too late." A wide sweep of his blade caught the distracted Drillman off-guard, but Flame and Overdrive managed to leap aside and counterattack.
"What'sthis all about?" Overdrive posed a question to the oversized oaf while running around him and slashing him from every angle with her sword faster than he could react to any of it. "If it's too late then you should have no problem spelling it out--"
"We shall destroy you all!" Executioner bellowed, heedless of the smaller fighter's attack. "That is all that matters!"
Drillman forced himself to his feet. That scythe hurt more than he expected, and a deep horizontal gash remained in his chest armor. As he looked up he could see Flame and Overdrive peppering the heavy aggressor with all manner of attacks only to have him shrug it off and keep swinging his deadly weapon. Even though the girls managed to dodge direct hits, they appeared to be thrown back by an unseen wave of force that accompanied every swipe.
Putting aside his questions to focus on the challenge at hand, Drillman leapt into the air and transformed into flight mode, aiming himself for Executioner's midsection. That armor was clearly strong, but Drill Driver could punch through just about anything that made itself that big a target, and he was already eager for payback. Executioner didn't even have time to notice as Drillman shot in like a missile...
...Then through a wormhole that opened right in front of his target and then exited on the other side. A baffled Drillman banked hard, trying to adjust his flight path, but lost control and careened into the floor. Executioner had noticed by now and kicked the hapless navi off the edge of the bridge before he could even catch his bearings. Overdrive swooped through the air with a DashAttack chip, catching her disoriented partner and depositing him on the outer walkway.
"What exactly was your plan there, hot shot?" The svelte speedster ribbed Drillman while helping him to his feet.
Drill shook his head, trying to regain his composure while figuring out what happened. "There was no way I could have missed him..."
"'xactly! Why'dyou wormhole right past him!?" Overdrive asked as they hurried back to assist Flamechick.
"Wormhole? I didn't open any...That wasn't me!"
Ignoring his excuses, Overdrive leapt over the gap in the bridge and lined herself up to hit Executioner with a StepCross, but ended up running face first into an invisible wall instead. At about the same time, Flamechick noticed all her flame attacks were being intercepted by a mysterious wind that either blew them off course before they could harm Executioner, or extinguished them entirely.
"You clumsy dorks should watch what you're doing, this is getting embarrassing!" A familiar feminine voice mocked the Officials, the location of its source unclear. "I mean, it reflects on me since I'm the one that had to work with your stupid team." Drill, Flame, and Overdrive regrouped, keeping their distance until they could figure out what was tripping them up. The two that could express emotion were clearly as irritated as intended.
Executioner readied his polearm while slowly and menacingly advancing on the group. The air above him could be seen to shimmer and sparkle, capturing the attention of the Officials though the menace took no heed. Within moments, the blue-robed mystic woman known as Magister had materialized, perched casually on Executioner's shoulder and raising her glowing staff with a smug grin. "Well? Giving up already?" She taunted, ready to cast another annoying trap as soon as they made a move.
"Magister...why are you doing this? Who are you people, really?" Drillman's voice sank in disappointment. He was just starting to warm up to their tagalong, but there was no question now that it had all been a lie. He only wanted to understand the purpose of that deception.
"We are the Children of Vengeance." Magister gladly introduced her group. "Our mission is the destruction of this archive and the failure of your little missing navis case."
"Then why were you even helping us with that case!?" Overdrive shot back angrily.
The magical girl laughed. "Because you're dumb enough to think that was 'helping', maybe? All I did was lead you in the exact wrong direction to keep you distracted. 'Ashe', I just made up." She explained, recalling the name of the friend she supposedly lost to the same phenomenon they had been investigating.
"So you're in league with the Darkloids?" Flamechick reasoned.
Drillman shook his head, still confused. "They hate non-Darkloids. Why would they work with these guys?"
"You'll just have to wait and find out, if you live that long!" Magister cackled and summoned a storm cloud above the bridge, calling down bolts of lightning that sent the Official navis scrambling as she and Executioner continued to drive them off the bridge.
Drillman rolled away from a bolt, transformed into his tank mode, and dug a hole through the ground to escape. He emerged a second later from a hole in the air behind Magister, striking out with his DrillArm. An invisible barrier blocked it, but he could feel his drill quickly chipping though her defense. She merely looked over her shoulder with an irritated glare and pointed her staff at his head. "Fine, you got us. Congratulations." Drill growled. "Enjoy it while it lasts, because we're still going to stop you!"
Magister only giggled in response, and rather than cast a spell she jabbed the staff into his face to throw him off. Executioner followed up by grabbing the smaller navi and flinging him far away. This time Drillman was able to recover more quickly by shifting to flight mode. The element of surprise gone and the Official navis were again fighting in top form, but the confidence of the two CoV invaders remained high. As far as they were concerned, the battle was already theirs.
Just as Magister prepared to turn the storm clouds into rain to douse Flamechick, she noticed her barrier was already taking a beating again. A swarm of bats seemed to appear from nowhere to flutter around her and Executioner's head, distracting them from their slaughter. Magister vanished in another cloud of sparkles, leaving her partner to stagger about and swat at the bats clouding his vision. Magister reappeared on the other side of the gap in the bridge, looking for the source of the new attack, but Drill, Flame, and Overdrive were easily accounted for and were just as surprised about the bats as she was. She gathered more power in her staff to direct against them anyway.
Then she felt something heavy crash through her weakened barrier and cut into her back, sending her sprawling forward and cancelling her spell. Drillman, who had been flying towards her in attempt to counter her, now stopped and landed a few panels away, watching as the other hidden combatant decloaked from behind Magister. It was Darklady, axe in hand, glancing up at Drillman with a somewhat sheepish smirk.
"What are you doing here?" Drillman exclaimed. This was the last place he expected to find her after she went AWOL earlier that week.
"That's a good question." The recovering Magister rasped, her mood now securely set to 'enraged'.
"Well I heard you were looking for me." The purple demoness stated. "Seriously though, I was getting tired of watching this trainwreck. Why don't you let me deal with this one?" She nodded towards Drillman and in less than a second her dark powers were countering the aggressive spells of the infuriated Magister.
Drillman said no more and took flight, leaving the violet-hued firebrands to their clash. It had only been a few minutes since he arrived in this battleground, and already his mind was reeling with more questions than he could keep track. He briefly wondered if the enemy's goal was to destroy him and his team, or just confuse them. Either way, the conclusion he came back to was that saving the archives was the more pressing concern of the problems overwhelming him. Answers would have to wait.
* * *