A brightly shining ball of energy shot down from above like a shooting star, crashing through several bridges before finally embedding in the outer walkway several levels down from the others. The figure of Vengeance emerged from the crater, towering over an injured Drillman, whom he had driven into the ground as the dramatic culmination of their brief air battle. Drill was still functional, but hanging on by a thread. His attempt to get some answers fell flat immediately. Vengeance was every bit as overpowered as his old NetGuardian allies described.
For his part, Vengeance seemed to enjoy delivering the beating, and opted to gloat a bit as he brought a ZeusHammer to bear. "Before I delete you, I might as well thank you. You and Moe made this all possible."
"B-Blackbelt..." Drillman choked out. "What did...he do?...Why?"
"Heh, don't you remember? I had a bit of time to tamper with your PET last time I saw you two. You didn't do a good job checking it afterwards. You really would have been better off getting a brand new one, but if there's one thing I can count on Moe for, it's to be cheap. Thanks to that I've been able to get some great Official intel by tapping your phone. Nice going."
Drill couldn't mistake the implications of what Vengeance was saying, but he couldn't make sense of it either. "Is...is that you? Blackbelt? How are you...? You didn't...Did you use Pulse Trans...? Or..."
Vengeance chuckled as he effortlessly raised his giant hammer. "A little simpler than that. That's the other thing I have to thank you for. Remember the PET-Suit? You still had the data on that fascinating device when I scraped your memory. I've been working on my own for months. It works pretty well. It compensates for Vengeance's lack of personality and lets me deliver a nice personal touch to these proceedings. My army will similarly benefit from this tech in the future. I have no idea why ONBA abandoned the experiment." He grinned mockingly at the helpless navi below him. "I guess they just didn't have the right people to test it."
Drill struggled to lift himself up, but even with all the talking, he wasn't going to get away fast enough. "That...useless n' impractical thing? That...'sall you were doing since then? I can't believe..."
"You'll find out what else I've been working on shortly, assuming Moe can restore you in time. You'll have fun with it. Until then...good seeing you." Blackbelt finally let the hammer fall, shattering the entire stretch of road around them with the sound of crashing thunder. Vengeance hovered over the nothingness that had been Drillman a second ago and cocked his head to the left. There he locked eyes with Overdrive, feet planted on the edge of the newly-created fissure, and a still severely weakened Drillman propped on her shoulder. "Did it really take you that long to rescue him, or were you just waiting for the most dramatic moment?"
Overdrive shrugged as she made sure Drill regained his footing. "I think he appreciated that I gave you enough time to blab all you were going to." She glanced to Drillman, who nodded in the affirmative.
Blackbelt laughed through his cyberspace avatar. "I wouldn't have it any other way! We can drag this out all night!" As he reveled in the farce, he was blindsided by the rocket-propelled steel punch of Metalman, refreshed and back for a second round with the ivory supernavi.
Overdrive was ready to back him up, but she had to tend to her partner first. "Any healing chips handy?" she asked.
"I kinda used them all up..." Drill admitted with some embarrassment.
In the blink of an eye, he was carried to a platform engulfed in flames where Executioner was slashing madly through the blaze looking for his opponent. Overdrive was already gone, helping Metal in his clash with the big guns. Her implied advice to Drill was either to find Flamechick for some healing, or that he was just safer in an inferno at the moment.
Thankfully, he didn't need to find Flamechick, as she found him first, and wasted no time transferring the effect of her healing Candle to her crippled ally. "My weapons seem to be ineffective against that one." she casually explained while Drill's health slowly returned. "I've only managed to keep him distracted. I think breaking attacks are needed to take him out."
Drillman stood up as he felt his injuries fade away in the flickering heat. "Well...I tried that already and Magister's tricks stopped me."
"Then keep trying it. I'll steal Magister's attention if she shows up again. We need to coordinate better if we're going to make a difference here."
She was right. Drillman had to admit that taking on Vengeance right away instead of helping reduce the overall enemy ranks was the wrong decision. The confusion and chaos of the battle was getting to him. Though the stakes weren't as high, he felt as if it were the Gamma incident all over again. He wondered if Blackbelt had engineered the overwhelming destruction and panic specifically after that nightmare.
Following his surprisingly more cool-headed colleague's advice, he took off as soon as he was able and drove the massive drill on his head into Executioner's chest. The thick plating was bent and shredded, but the giant inside showed no more concern than he did for the flames and pried the piercing navi away with one hand. "It's about time one of you cowards faced me directly! Meet your end!" The single-minded warrior bellowed.
Flamechick was close to follow up with a Volcano Cannon aimed straight into the hole in his chest, finally staggering the beast enough to release Drillman and ensuring he wouldn't need another round of repairs right away. He began firing Drill Missiles from his arms at a distance. With Flamechick's fire as cover, the two smaller navis finally had the armored juggernaut on the ropes.
So that was about the right time for a Windbox to appear beside Executioner, blowing the Officials back and extinguishing the flames. Drillman switched to tank mode to dig his treads into the ground and continued firing missiles, but they mysteriously exploded before reaching their target. Magister materialized in the air above Executioner and Jester popped up from behind the Windbox, hopping on top of it to sit in a relaxed pose. Drillman remembered the plan and remained focused on Executioner, burrowing into a wormhole to try to take out the big guy while counting on Flamechick to keep the other two busy. Flame was having a hard time fulfilling her promise though. She dug her arms into the ground to fight the wind and direct a Flame Tower at Magister, who was once again using her magic to make sure Drill wouldn't emerge where he intended, but Jester tossed a Voodoo Doll into the path of the Tower, keeping Magister undistracted and redirecting all the damage back at Flamechick. Drillman was still unable to get close enough to Executioner to finish him off, and with the other Children of Vengeance working together to annoy his attackers, he was able to resume his destructive march.
The Official operators were struggling to keep up as well. Tricia, Moe, and Hoshiko were not alone in the server room they had moved to when the alarm sounded. Other Officials and techs were running around frantically trying to secure backups and find out where the security system failed. Most of the other operators were just trying to get their navis fixed up to the point they could get back into the archive since they had been deleted as soon as they entered. The custom ops were feeling the pressure as they proved to be the only ones capable of holding their own against the invaders, and even they were starting to fail. "Could someone get some more Recov chips over here?" Moe shouted to anyone who would listen. "It's only been a few minutes but it feels like this battle has been dragging for hours."
"I'm still not sure we shouldn't just gang up on Vengeance." Tricia reasoned. "The others might retreat if we can take out their leader."
Moe shook his head. "That knight doesn't seem to feel threatened by anything. We should get him out of the way first."
"That's what they want you to do! It's clearly not working!" The slightly more experienced agent admonished her rookie partner.
"Well while we ignore him for his backup, he's stomping around deleting everything!" Moe tensed. "All we need is one good hit to turn the tide..."
Hoshiko remained silent. After all her preparation, she was worried she still wasn't making any difference. The solution was being dangled in front of her. For several minutes now the PET screen had been defaulting to one chip in particular, and she passed on it for weaker chips on every transmission. Those chips were running out though, and only that one could make the last few count. She took a few steps back from the others, vainly hoping Moe and Tricia wouldn't notice her while they were arguing.
Darklight. He said it would be alright, didn't he? It wouldn't be the end of the world, as long as she didn't overuse it. It only had to be this one time. Hoshiko trembled and pressed the buttons on her PET to send the next packet of chip data. She made her decision.
Flamechick erupted without warning. The aura of blue fire that now surrounded her caught everyone's attention. She she made no sound, but she spasmed as if in pain for a moment before catching her breath and serenely looking down at her darkly burning hands. With calm understanding she didn't waste another moment to throw a pair of fireballs at Jester and Magister. The two enemies dodged easily, but Jester's Windbox was a casualty, and a new curtain of flames held them back. Flamechick then shot a HeatSpread directly into the chest of the unflinching Executioner. The lumbering tank of a navi at first continued to advance on her, but the flames from that one attack continued to eat away at his armor, much to his surprise. He could feel himself melting, something he had not felt since the mission to protect the Darkloid Flameman ended with him reduced to slag by the very navi he was there to help. More smaller Heatshots began to pelt his shoulders and legs, leaving similar undyng flames to speed up the process. Executioner stopped and began to back up. He tried to tear off the affected plated of his armor but it was already too late. The Hellfire dark chip had reawakened Flamechick's forbidden power.
The effect only lasted a few seconds, but it was enough. Flamechick slumped back as her aura reverted from blue to red. Executioner was done for. Magister and Jester fell back, not looking too happy. Drillman was surprised, but satisfied. Moe turned to Hoshiko. "Maybe a little warning next time?"
"I'm sorry, I didn't want to use it, but..." Hoshiko started nervously.
"Don't worry about it. We can deal with the consequences later. You tipped the odds in our favor. That's what counts." He glanced at Tricia, who nodded in agreement while otherwise remaining focused on her side of the battle.
Hoshiko felt relieved. She had made her impact. Flamechick was less encouraged. Whether or not the dark chip was the right move, it was her body and soul at stake, why didnt her operator consult her beforehand? Nobody else seemed to notice, or maybe they didn't care. Flame remained silent. Partly she got the impression her concern wasn't worth it, partly she didn't want to let on how good it actually felt to unleash that Hellfire.
Drillman noticed Magister vanished again. Jester was still running around, but it was hard to gauge if he was causing a lot of damage or just being a nuisance. It seemed all that was left was to join up with Metal and Overdrive against Vengeance. However, as he and Flame began to make their way upwards again, he was met in mid-air by their most unlikely ally of the day. Darklady flew up beside him and gestured quizzically to one of the lower levels. "Hey. Not sure if you're ignoring that intentionally or what? Are you just supposed to fight the destructive guys, or...?"
Drillman was confused. At first glance, she was gesturing down at nothing but smoke and fire, the kind that now covered nearly every corner of the system. His suspicious eyes turned back to the stranger wearing his old teammate's skin. "What are you talking about? Are you helping us or not?"
Now she was a little offended. "Well, I'm trying to. That's why I'm pointing out the other suspicious-looking guys everyone has been ignoring so far that I found while flying around looking for someone else to fight! Are they enemies or not?"
"What? There's nobody..." Drillman looked back. This time he noticed the anomaly. The smoke that covered that section of the outer walkway was somehow different than the smoke everywhere else. It was hard to see looking straight on, but as his eyes moved back and forth he noticed the different coloration. It was slightly...purple. As he hovered closer, the thought suddenly jumped into his head, and he hated himself for not thinking of it sooner -- the seemingly random and senseless destruction in the ONBA data archives would make a good distraction for someone to steal data from those very archives. "Crap!"
Drill swooped down into the mysterious cloud, followed by a slightly smug Darklady. He didn't get very far in before being punched out of the air by Mistman. Drill transformed to his humanoid form to roll as he hit the ground and was back on his feet instantly, firing Drill Missiles in retaliation to predictably no effect against the insubstantial opponent. He put aside his shock at seeing Mistman again after so long to recall the key to defeating him was to find the lamp. The purple mist did a good job of hiding it though. Darklady only got more smug as she ducked the GustPunch aimed at her and countered with a blast from the Darknado chip. The wicked whirlwind wiped away the fog and revealed not only Mistman's frantically hopping lamp, but the unexpected addition of Flashman, hunched over a stack of data cards and looking sheepishly over his shoulder as if caught looking at porn -- which was actually a possibility considering the nature of some of the evidence data ONBA stored.
"Flash AND Mist?" Drillman exclaimed. "Tell me this isn't an Acid Hacker thing." He started firing drills at both targets before more poison mist could fill the air. He noted that Flash made sure to grab the data cards and roll out of the way instead of just teleporting. Apparently whatever they were looking up was important to them.
"Man, I wish it was." Flashman admitted bitterly, countering with a burst of Neon Light. "Our current allegiance isn't by choice, but thanks to some nasty programming we'll still fight you as hard as if we were."
"So what else is new?" Drillman muttered. He was never friendly with these ne'er-do-wells, even though he was forced to work with them at one point. He found it easy not to feel sorry for them. He used a wormhole to avoid the Neon Lights and re-emerged to hit Flash at close range with a DrillArm. Flash parried with an ElecBlade but was forced to drop the data. Darklady was keeping Mistman on the ropes with her shadow axe, allowing Drill the chance to figure out what all the fighting was about. "So what's in those cards that's so important to Blackbelt?"
Flashman forced his opponent to back off with his Spark Arm. "You should know..."
"And why is that?" Drill glanced over to the wall Flashman had been hacking. "Wait...Moe, does the reference number X3-501-001 sound familiar?" He asked, reading the label on the repository.
"That's...yeah, that's our case file." Drill's operator answered back. He tried to get Tricia's and Hoshiko's attention as well.
"This whole thing has been to get the data on the Darkloid case?" Drill shook his head incredulously. "Why? Blackbelt already admitted he'd been tapping my PET. Doesn't he already know everything?"
Tricia overheard and cut in. "Our folder in the archive includes all the research Darklight submitted as well as the info Hoshiko's side of the investigation gathered before we merged up! That's a lot of Darkloid data that we may not have any other backups for at the moment!"
Darklady was able to hear enough of that coming through Drill's PET feed, and in Alia in turn. That Darkloid data was the entire reason they were helping the Officials to begin with. Alia wasn't going to let that info go up in smoke and Dark knew it. What started for her as a chance to let off some steam was suddenly the most important battle of her brief existence. She stopped fighting and just kicked Mistman's lamp into a hole to the next lower level, then made a beeline for Flashman and the data cards he was trying to keep out of everyone else's reach. He managed to stun Drillman with a Thunderball as he was distracted by Tricia, and parried Darklady's incoming axe with an ElecSword.
"I thought you weren't even supposed to be here." Flash commented half-heartedly. "I guess there's no avoiding the old light vs. dark cliché even these days."
"Sorry." Dark responded sarcastically. "It's all new to me. All I really care about right now is keeping that data out of your hands." She got ready to block a SparkArm with her CurseShield.
"Well you'll need to do a better job then." Flash reacted quickly enough to avoid hitting the shield and instead warped a few steps back and launched a BeeArrow at an angle that curved around and hit her from behind. "Besides, my new op may be an asshole, but I gotta admit I kinda like his and Blackbelt's ideas for this data. It's going to better use than it would rotting away in here at least."
Both Drill and Dark recovered in time to launch a combined attack of Snakes and DarkLance. The powerful wood-elemental assault aimed to finish Flash off as fast as possible, but he was ready for that with an Invis chip. The pincer attack hit empty air as Flashman vanished from sight. Darklady turned to Drill. "You keep an eye out for when he reappears, I'll make sure the data is safe!" But as she turned to the spot on the ground where she last saw Flash drop the cards, they were already gone. "No! Who?"
"There!" Drillman pointed his drill upwards, where the floating form of Mistman had gathered up all the data cards and was making his way to the exit. He leered down at Drill and Dark, wordlessly mocking the pitiful attempt to get rid of him by throwing his lamp down a hole. The lamp would remain stuck on a lower level, but all it took was one Mistman body to make the getaway with the data.
Drillman started firing drill missiles, but Dark pushed him to throw off his aim. "Careful!" She shouted, aghast. "You don't want to delete the data, do you? I'll fly after him to get it!"
"Those cards would just be a copy! We still have our own, so just take him down by any means - urk!" Drillman's counterpoint was cut off as a BubbleStar wound its way through both him and Darklady before she could get far enough away. Both were now trapped in a bubble as Flashman's invisibility wore off.
"Normally I'd follow up with something painful..." Flash calmly returned to the file holder he had been working on when they caught him. "...but you two just interrupted me before I could wrap up the part where I delete your own copy of that data, and that's really all I have to do while you're floating there." He stuck his hands into the empty hole in the air where the cards had been stored, sparks of electricity emanated from his fingers, closing the hole permanently.
"Nope!" Drillman rammed his pointy head into the bubble casing and managed to pop it. Darklady followed suit using the horn on her headgear. She took off as quickly as she could towards Mistman while Drill rocketed into Flashman. Flash saw it coming, but did nothing to avoid the blow, instead focusing all his energy into deleting as much of the original data as possible. So he stood perfectly still as Drillman drove right through his chest, deleting him. His scream of pain as he exploded somehow sounded triumphant.
Drillman wasted no time before accessing what was left of his team's case file folder. "Moe, I'm uploading everything to the PET. Maybe we can recover most of it..." He worked frantically, but his concentration wasn't helped by the noise coming from above. The explosions had suddenly become much louder, and he could feel the entire platform shaking as if the system were coming apart at the seams.
Overdrive, battered and panicked, ran up to Drill and tugged on his arm. "What are you doing? We gotta get out of here!"
"Just a few more seconds..." Drillman protested, trying to focus. "Weren't you dealing with Vengeance?"
"There sure as hell isn't any dealing with that guy now!" She finally succeeded in making Drillman look up to the spot high up in the center of the archives, where Vengeance shone like a miniature sun, with countless rays and missiles firing out from him in all directions, utterly destroying the system around them. There was no sign of Flamechick or Metalman, or any other navis for that matter. "He just went supernova! Flame and Metal were deleted in the blink of an eye. Luckily, I'm faster than that. I think he was holding back the entire time!"
"Oh." Drill said quietly awestruck. "And with Flashman gone there's no more reason to..."
"And if I'm deleted now, we might lose this salvage, but there's still a little more..." Drill nervously looked back and forth between the folder and Vengeance, noting the destructive bolts falling around them on all sides like rain drops with the force of dynamite. Then he saw one white shot blazing directly at him, getting larger and larger as he waited until the last possible moment to... "JACK OUT!"
Within seconds, the only presence remaining in the collapsing system was Vengeance, laughing victoriously until all the lights went out. Blackbelt had won the first battle of his newly declared war.
* * *