Wrapped in the safety that cloak mode gave it, the Black Mobi trundled lazily across the salt flats, under the direction of the Humans and the control of the Black Diad. It rolled towards the mountains that lay at the back of Vert's garage, where the giant lift that Sage used to move her Mobius Command Center in and out of the Hub had its entrance. It would now be used for Vivi to bring her Mistress' vehicle below ground, into a space Sage had hollowed out for it.
Agura had managed to establish radio contact with the Blue Sentient herself as the doors opened, who sounded immensely relived to hear their voices again. "Are Metaturra and Choza with you?" she asked.
"Negative," Vivi growled as she pulled the Black Mobi into a 180 degree turn and began backing into the lift. "This is Black Beta Diad Vivi speaking, Sage. My scanners indicate that my Mistress and Alpha Prime Choza are inside the Crystal Zone. I could patch us into the frequency of that Cradle, but the entire area is in code yellow lockdown."
"Which means?" Stanford asked.
"The governing AI has detected a self-aware hostile entity inside the Battlezone, and has locked everyone that does not carry a Master Key out and in. For it to be lifted, the entity would need to pacified, either by Choza terminating it personally, Metaturra modifying the Zone to attack it, or for the AI's programming to not destroy such threats automatically to be overridden. Most likely Krytus slipstreamed behind his Zurk before the area lockdown was complete."
The lift doors closed in front of giant convoy vehicle; had any bystanders been outside, they would've seen the face of the mountain slide back to hide a sterile-looking space. "Is there anything that we can do?" Sage asked over the com, inwardly knowing the answer.
"No. All that can be done is to watch, wait … and hope."
The slice came at blazing speed, but Choza had anticipated that maneuver. Her own blade shot up to counter it, body twisting position to make up for the fact she lacked his advantages of height and strength. They remained locked for some uncounted amount of time, but then she dived away, letting Krytus' sword slam into the crystal ground as she slid to a halt beside one of the pillars.
"Slippery as usual," noted the Red Sentient in his curiously soft voice, which never seemed to rise above its current octave even when angry. Pulling his arm free from the ground, he advanced again.
Back on her feet, Choza gave a proud, swagger-filled laugh, hard anger forming its undertone. "I'm not as weak as Whyer was when you found him. Surely you remember that, old friend – or has your head filled up with hot air during your imprisonment?"
Incensed, Krytus lunged for her, but the Black Diad – still laughing – flipped a few feet away. "Am I to fear you?" she taunted, knowing that it would be harder for him to focus his prowess if enraged. "You don't scare me. In this Battlezone, you are insignificant; it won't be long before Metaturra crushes you. Crawl back to your home and try to defeat us in other ways, because you can't here."
Snarling, the ex-Keymaster apprentice pressed his advantages of reach, size, and power, but the Alpha Prime countered with her agility and black blade. Each block, flip, and thrust was accompanied by a taunt or a quip, which angered him even more.
High above their heads, the Cradle of Life flashed like lightning in a storm, several bolts of energy blazing down to strike three of the crystal pillars that surrounded the duelists. The obelisks they struck shattered, revealing emaciated, skeletal figures that were as tall as Agis Guardians and carried long, wicked spears. With bodies made of crystal and eyes formed from the granite deep below the surface, they strode forward with their blank gaze fixed on the Red Sentient.
Choza looked around her and grinned, flipping aside as Krytus turned his attention on the creatures Metaturra had created. Krytus knew that the creatures, no matter their size, were made of a crystal weaker than the stuff his shell was made of. All the same, knowing Metaturra, she might reanimate her warriors after he destroyed them.
"By the way," Choza asked casually from the sidelines as she climbed up a bordering cliff, "how is dear Kyburi? Lethal as usual? Or is cryostasis making her soft?"
A shriek of rage was her answer, followed by a blast as the Red Sentient unleashed a shockwave from within himself, shattering the crystal warriors. The Black Diad ducked inside a crack formed in the face to avoid the shards, no longer confident. While she had known this comment, going straight for the former Keymaster's soul, would push a major button, she had not estimated just how angry Krytus would get in response. If he had enough fury and hate to create this shockwave …
She dared to look out. All three crystal warriors had been obliterated, with a large scorch mark in the crystal marking the blast zone. Lifting her black crystal blade, Choza leapt back down to the plateau, aiming to slam her blade right on Krytus' head and cut his shell wide open, but the Red Sentient managed to roll to the side and block.
More energy bolts rained down from above, springing out more crystal warriors from the pillars and sending them out to fight. Metaturra was trying to buy time for her to override the Cradle's function and end the battle, but Choza knew better than to rely on that. In the years after the other Keymasters and their Diads had perished, the Black Sentient had begun losing control over many Battlezones, simply because she would be spread too thin if she tried to control all of them. It had been so long that she had used the Cradles that she could no longer pluck their metaphorical strings and watch them dance. The best way to end this confrontation would for the Alpha Prime to deal the blow.
In a brief pause in their lethal dance, the female Diad noticed that shards from some of the warriors Krytus had destroyed were beginning to slide across the ground, like they were being magnetically drawn to a central point. She saw what her Mistress was up to instantly: rather than drawing attention to the warriors she created by sending energy waves, she was subtly reconstructing another by using parts from the others. Of course, Choza would have to keep Krytus' attention on her and not on the surroundings for it to work, but …
Fight, fight, fight!
The Diad shoved the contemplation aside and jumped back into the duel, but Krytus was getting his focus back – each blow came closer to breaking her guard. Each time her optics were drawn to the tip of his blade, and her instincts whispered to not let it breach her shell, for even a pinprick would spell disaster.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, the crystal warrior was reformed, and Choza watched it rise back to its feet, spear in hand. But the distraction and wash of hope cost her dearly: Krytus seized the opportunity to slam his other hand into her belly.
The impact both winded her and sent the Alpha Prime flying, slamming her hard into a pillar. Through unfocused optics she saw her blade was still in her grip, Krytus lunging for her with sword outstretched, the warrior throwing its weapon directly at the Red Sentient, and she tried to regain her footing – too late.
A nanosecond before the creature's speartip stabbed into Krytus' back, the Red's sword dug deep into Choza's navel, even as she attempted to stand.
Pain hit instantly, coming from the glass-like material of the blade as it pierced her shell – then it was followed with more pain, as Krytus' Antimatter was injected into her own systems. An unconscious shriek escaped her lips as her anti-virus programs kicked in, but they were meant to keep the Matter and Antimatter that was present in her body naturally from overpowering each other. They didn't have the strength to destroy Antimatter introduced by a Red Sentient.
Then the crystal spear broke a hole clean through Krytus' shell, the edges of the breach and the needle burning with an intense orange glow. As the crumpled Diad watched, her sword vanishing from her nerveless fingers and the stab burning scarlet, the former Keymaster's body exploded, detonating from the inside to reveal his life essence: a ball of Antimatter, like living fire. Through fevered eyes Choza waited for the life force of her enemy to dissipate.
But it didn't. The globe remained cohesive as it flew away. For a moment it looked like it would ram against the net that sealed off the Battlezone, but a hole appeared in the weave, and let it pass through unscathed.
Metaturra. Only she could do that. Even after all of this time, she could still show mercy to her former student.
Fire burned in Choza's body, Krytus' Antimatter surging in her systems. Lines of code flashed before her vision, and were the last things she saw before her vision went dark.
[[Excess Antimatter detected; beginning decontamination process]]
[[Imbalance at 55%]]
[[Imbalance at 65%; systems at code yellow]]
[[Imbalance at 75%; systems critical; beginning emergency shutdown]]
[[Emergency shutdown complete; imbalance at 80%]]
A/N: Terribly sorry that I haven't been able to update sooner; this chapter was pain to get right. Only 2-3 chapters plus the epilogue remain of Keymasters, but that won't be the ending. From what I've planned out, this story will only be Act 1 of a four-part series. =D
Thanks for reading!