“So you’ve been around since the time of the Aldredas?”
“THAT IS CORRECT.”
“That’s… amazing!” Kievkenalis exclaimed, “but doesn’t that mean you’ve been around for thousands of years?”
“THE ALDREDAS DID FAIL AS A CIVILIZATION OVER A HUNDRED THOUSAND YEARS AGO, YES.”
“How did that happen?” Kevérin questioned, “how does an entire galaxy-spanning civilization just fail? Were they really as advanced as we think they were?”
“THEY WERE INDEED ADVANCED; AS YOU SEEM TO ALREADY KNOW, THEY WERE AT WAR WITH THE DRAKKARS FOR THE MAJORITY OF THEIR EXISTENCE. THEIR TECHNOLOGY WAS ON PAR WITH THE DRAKKARS — IN FACT, THEY WERE LOCKED IN STALEMATE FOR THOUSANDS OF YEARS, AS NEITHER RACE WAS ABLE TO OVERCOME THE OTHER.”
“War for thousands of years?…” Kaoné echoed wearily. “That sounds worse than the Taizen Millennia War. How… how could they even fight for so long?”
“The galaxy is a big place,” Kevérin mused, “even if you have FTL tech like the Drakkars that allows you to cross the entire galaxy in a matter of weeks, without Transpaces… there’s still tons of planets and solar systems out there. And you have to find a base or outpost among all of those systems before you can launch an attack on it.”
“THE TRANSFER CAPTAIN IS CORRECT. DEALING WITH THE VASTNESS OF SPACE HAS THE TENDENCY TO MASSIVELY SLOW DOWN WAR EFFORTS. THERE WERE ALSO PERIODS OF TIME DURING WHICH THE FIGHTING WOULD CALM AND THE DRAKKARS AND ALDREDAS WOULD ENTER AN UNOFFICIAL TRUCE OF SORTS, BUT FOR THE MOST PART, THEY REMAINED IN WAR.”
“Why?” Kaoné questioned.
“THE REASON HAS BEEN LOST TO THE AGES. IT IS EASY TO PRESUME THAT THE DRAKKARS INSTIGATED THE WAR, BUT THE ALDREDAS WERE A PROUD PEOPLE — ONCE ENGAGED, THEY WOULD NOT BACK DOWN EASILY.”
“Is that why they failed, then?” Kievkenalis suggested, “did the Drakkars beat them?”
“That can’t be it,” Kevérin refuted, “if the Drakkars beat the Aldredas, then they’d control the entire galaxy, wouldn’t they?”
“AGAIN, YOU ARE CORRECT. THE ALDREDAS FAILED BECAUSE OF EXTERNAL INFLUENCE — A DUAL APPEARANCE OF THE MORIKAI AND THE MENACE.”
“I think Arcán mentioned a ‘menace’ before, but… I don’t think I’ve ever heard of the Morikai.”
“Some of the newer — and I mean relatively newer — Aldredas records briefly mention the Morikai,” Kaoné commented, “…but they’re only ever mentioned by name. It’s like none of the Aldredas had the time to describe them… or maybe we just haven’t discovered those records yet.”
“IT IS LIKELY THE FORMER REASON. THE MORIKAI APPEARED, ATTACKED THE ENTIRE GALAXY, AND REDUCED BOTH THE DRAKKAR AND ALDREDAS EMPIRES TO RUBBLE WITHIN DECADES. THEY THEN DISAPPEARED, EVEN FASTER THAN THE ALDREDAS. I HAVE… WOEFULLY FEW RECORDS ON THE MORIKAI. ALL I CAN RELIABLY TELL YOU IS THAT THEY WERE POWERFUL AND ADVANCED ENOUGH SO AS TO CRUSH THE ALDREDAS AND DRAKKARS SIMULTANEOUSLY. THE FALL OF THE ALDREDAS IS A DIRECT RESULT OF MORIKAI ATTACK; SIMILARLY, WHILE THE DRAKKARS DID NOT FAIL COMPLETELY, THEY WERE SUFFICIENTLY DEFEATED SUCH THAT THEY WERE UNABLE TO RECOVER BEFORE YOUR AGE OF CIVILIZATION BEGAN EXPLORING THE GALAXY. THAT IS WHY THE DRAKKARS DO NOT CURRENTLY DOMINATE EVERYTHING.”
“Shit. That’s… that’s really powerful.” Kevérin whistled in horrified amazement. “But — what about this ‘Menace?’”
“DIRECTLY RELATED TO THE MORIKAI. …UNCLEAR IF IT IS RELATED AT ALL TO THE CURRENT AGE. PRIORS ARCÁN OR SYN WOULD BE ABLE TO TELL YOU MORE.”
“Arcán can’t tell us anything, his core is damaged. Who’s Syn?”
“Syn is the name of the Master Ayas,” Kievkenalis pointed out.
“SYN IS THE MOST KNOWLEDGEABLE OF THE PRIORS. BUT HE IS ALSO THE MOST… SECRETIVE, AND IS USUALLY ONLY WILLING TO SHOW HIMSELF TO OR OTHERWISE INTERACT WITH THE KEYS.”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve heard that term,” Kevérin replied flatly. “The hell are the ‘Keys?’”
Silence. Then, “I HAVE SAID ENOUGH FOR NOW. THIS INFORMATION IS IRRELEVANT.”
“Like hell it is,” Kevérin grumbled, but before he could address the Prior again, Davídrius and Christeané suddenly burst from the cave on the left.
“We have the Ayas!” Christeané exclaimed.
“An’ we might have trouble here, too,” Davídrius added apprehensively, his attention directed back toward the cave. “When we picked it up, we heard a roar… nothin’ came after us, but I’d still be wary.”
“…Kaoné, seal the left cave,” Kevérin ordered. As she did so, he turned back to the two Introtechnics. “Siyuakén and Rebehka haven’t returned yet, so we’ll wait for them… but, everyone, keep an eye out. We don’t want yet another Sunova incident…”
“Nothing chased us, so we still have time,” Christeané replied. He then glanced over at the large column in the center of the room. “…Learn anything from the AI?”
“I HAVE SAID BEFORE, WE PREFER ‘PRIOR’—”
“Just some stuff about the Aldredas and how they died off,” Kevérin responded nonchalantly.
“History lessons?” Davídrius snorted. “Bah. Glad I left, then.”
“Which Ayas did you find?” Kievkenalis approached Christeané, and then glanced at the Ayas as the Forcetechnic held it out. “Oh, it’s Matlés. One of the Light Ayas.”
“Figured it was,” Christeané remarked, “and its weapons are perfect for me, too! Check it out!” He held his arms out, and a moment later armored gauntlets, wreathed with red, silver, and golden decor, appeared on both arms over his Chaos Armor. The gauntlets included armor plates over his hands and fingers, and the right gauntlet even extended up Christeané’s arm and ended in a red and gold pauldron on his shoulder. “Ayas Weapons are indestructible, right? This means I can smash shit up without ever having to worry about my armor degrading!”
“You’re wearing Chaos Armor, and you’re complaining about armor degradation?” Kevérin deadpanned.
“I’d be more worried about its influence,” Kaoné stated.
“It’s a Light Ayas. He should be fine, right?” Davídrius questioned, “it’s not like it’ll have a bad influence… right? It’s no Hastryth.”
“DO NOT MAKE THE MISTAKE OF ASSUMING THAT THE AYAS HAVE ‘GOOD’ OR ‘EVIL’ ALIGNMENTS, ALDREDANOIDS. ALL LIGHT AND DARK AYAS INFLUENCE THEIR POSSESSORS — IT WOULD SEEM THAT YOU HAVE ALREADY ENCOUNTERED THE ‘CORRUPTING’ INFLUENCE OF THE DARK AYAS. HASTRYTH IS PARTICULARLY EXTREME WHEN IT COMES TO THIS… BUT IT IS INCORRECT TO ASSUME THAT THE LIGHT AYAS WOULD HAVE THE ‘OPPOSITE’ EFFECT. OR RATHER, THEY DO, BUT IT DOES NOT PRESCRIBE TO YOUR OWN NOTIONS OF GOOD AND EVIL. INSTEAD, IMAGINE THE SCALE AS ONE OF ENLIGHTENMENT VERSUS PRIMITIVE INSTINCT. THE DARK AYAS DRAG THEIR POSSESSORS TOWARD INSTINCT, AND THE LIGHT AYAS GRADUALLY MOVE THEIR POSSESSORS TOWARD ENLIGHTENMENT.”
“Uh,” Christeané responded uneasily, “…isn’t that still a good thing?”
“THOSE WHO HAVE WIELDED THE LIGHT AYAS FOR EXTENDED PERIODS OF TIME IN THE PAST HAVE DEVELOPED THEIR OWN VIEW OF THE UNIVERSE. IT COULD INDEED BE ARGUED THAT THEY BECAME ‘ENLIGHTENED,’ BUT AT THE COST OF BECOMING DISCONNECTED FROM THOSE AROUND THEM. THEIR VIEWS BECAME MISALIGNED AND EVEN DANGEROUS TO THOSE THEY USED TO AGREE WITH. GRANTED, THIS WAS OVER THE COURSE OF YEARS… BUT ITS EFFECT IS NOT TO BE TAKEN LIGHTLY.”
“Is there anythin’ we can do with the Ayas that won’t result in them fuckin’ with our heads?” Davídrius questioned in exasperation as Christeané wordlessly passed the Ayas to Kievkenalis, who accepted it cluelessly.
“WELL… THERE IS THE CHAOS STATE. SURELY YOU HAVE HEARD OF THAT?”
“The Chaos State is a real thing?” Kievkenalis replied incredulously.
Davídrius snorted. “If he didn’t even know it was real, there’s no way any of us did.”
“No, I’ve heard the legends, too,” Kaoné commented, “but that’s all they are, really. I’ve never heard of anyone actually using the Chaos State…”
“Sure seems like a real thing, seein’ how your voices are doin’ that weird echo-y thing when you say the words ‘Chaos State,’” Davídrius remarked. “How does no one know about it? Seems like an easy thing to figure out if you got an Ayas on you.”
“The Ayas are of more use in technology than with an individual, so people probably just didn’t bother with it,” Kevérin replied. “Well… if you have any tech that’s compatible with the Ayas, at least.”
“Which is something we don’t have, currently,” Christeané pointed out before turning back to the metal pillar. “What’s the Chaos State?”
“By Riveranian and Nimaliakian legend, the Chaos State is similar to the Overdrive State. It grants the user an increase in power… but it doesn’t have any of the drawbacks of the Overdrive State, at the price of temporarily consuming the Ayas to activate,” Kievkenalis explained. “…Is that right?”
“MOSTLY. THE INCREASE IN POWER IS EXPONENTIALLY PROPORTIONAL TO THE NUMBER OF AYAS ABSORBED. THERE IS ALSO NO HARD TIME LIMIT ON THE CHAOS STATE AS THERE IS WITH THE OVERDRIVE STATE, BUT WITH MORE TIME SPENT IN THE CHAOS STATE, MORE SPONTANEOUS PHYSICAL STRESS IS PLACED ON THE USER WHEN THEY DISENGAGE THE STATE. FOR INSTANCE, THE FINAL TIER CHAOS STATE WILL INSTANTLY KILL THE USER UPON DISENGAGING IT IF THEY OCCUPY THE STATE FOR LONGER THAN HALF A DAY, ON AVERAGE.”
“So it doesn’t have the potential to send you berserk — instead it’ll just straight-up kill you if you use it too much,” Davídrius deadpanned. “Man, that sure sounds like an improvement.”
“THAT IS ONLY THE FINAL TIER. THE FIRST OR SECOND TIER WILL NOT PRODUCE THOSE EFFECTS UNLESS YOU OCCUPY THE STATE FOR MONTHS OR YEARS AT A TIME. THE LOWER TIERS ARE ACCORDINGLY LESS POWERFUL, OF COURSE, THOUGH ANOTHER BENEFIT IS THAT THEY DO NOT EJECT THE AYAS AS FAR.”
“UPON DISENGAGING THE CHAOS STATE, THE AYAS WILL BE EJECTED SOME DISTANCE IN A RANDOM DIRECTION. THE FIRST TIER WILL SIMPLY REPLACE THE AYAS IN THE USER’S HANDS, BUT THE FINAL TIER WILL RANDOMLY SCATTER THE AYAS ACROSS THE ENTIRE GALAXY.”
“That barely sounds worth it,” Christeané remarked. “That Final Tier has to be incredibly powerful for it to be worth it… and even then, I have no idea what you’d use that power for.”
“THE ALDREDAS, FOR EXAMPLE, USED IT TO DESTROY THOUSANDS-STRONG ENEMY FLEETS WITH THE WAVE OF A HAND. OCCASIONALLY EVEN PLANETS OR, IN THE HANDS OF A PARTICULARLY POWERFUL OR ADEPT CHAOTIC, SOLAR SYSTEMS. AND THAT WASN’T EVEN THE FINAL TIER.”
“Even more reason for us to find all of the Ayas,” Kevérin declared. “With that kind of power — we can’t allow the metallic infection to get it.” He then glanced at Davídrius. “It already has one Ayas, that we know of.”
“Seal the cave!!”
“Huh—?” The Transfer Captain turned toward the right cave just as Rebehka and Siyuakén dashed into the room.
“Seal the cave!” Siyuakén repeated; Kaoné promptly raised a thick steel wall to do as such.
“What— what happened?!” Kevérin exclaimed, glancing between the two women warily.
“We were just exploring the cave, you know, looking for the Ayas…” Rebehka explained as she caught her breath. She then glanced toward Kievkenalis and spotted the Ayas in his hands. “Oh, good, I guess it was down the other cave then? …Anyways, there was a roar, and a three-legged infected animal charged at us, and then suddenly disintegrated.”
“Infected?!” Kevérin scowled. “Shit… again—?”
“IMPOSSIBLE. A CORRUPTED CREATURE? ON THIS PLANET? IMPOSSIBLE. THE CORRUPTION DISAPPEARED DURING THE CHAOS ENERGY QUAKE.”
All seven members of Hero Machina fell silent for several moments as they slowly turned their attention toward the metal pillar in the middle of the room.
“Corruption?” Siyuakén questioned, “…you mean the infection was here… and then disappeared?”
“Is that what caused the Quake?” the Electrotechnic pressed, “the appearance of the metallic infection?”
“Well?” Kevérin urged impatiently.
“…I WILL ADMIT THAT THE CHAOS ENERGY QUAKE AND THE CORRUPTION MAY BE CONNECTED, YES.”
“How incredibly helpful,” Christeané deadpanned.
“Why can’t you give us a straight answer?” Rebehka asked.
“THE CORRUPTION AND THE MORIKAI BOTH ARE SIGNIFICANT THREATS. I CANNOT GIVE OUT INFORMATION LIBERALLY, LEST EITHER ARE ABLE TO OBTAIN IT.”
“What do the Morikai have to do with this?” Kevérin questioned.
“…THERE IS NO CORRUPTION ON THIS PLANET, I ASSURE YOU. THERE IS NOTHING TO WORRY ABOUT.”
“That just makes me worry more,” Kaoné responded uneasily.
“How much do you know about the corruption?” Siyuakén asked, “can you tell us how to stop it?”
“UNFORTUNATELY, AT THIS POINT IN TIME IT IS IMPOSSIBLE TO STOP.”
“What about— what about individual cases? Can you stop the infection in one animal, or reverse it altogether?”
“YOU WORRY ME WITH YOUR QUESTIONS, ALDREDANOID.”
“What?!” Davídrius exclaimed incredulously, “you’re vague as shit, and then when we ask questions to try an’ learn more, you tell us that it worries you?!”
“INFORMATION IS DANGEROUS, MORE SO THAN YOU CAN POSSIBLY FATHOM. WHAT IF I EXPLAIN TO YOU HOW TO STOP THE CORRUPTION, AND THEN YOU BECOME CORRUPTED? IT THEN HAS ACCESS TO ALL OF THAT INFORMATION, AND WITH IT, THE POSSIBILITY TO ADAPT SUCH THAT IT CAN NO LONGER BE STOPPED!”
“So there is a way!” Siyuakén replied.
“Wait wait wait, hold on…” Rebehka frowned in confusion. “…Are we talking about the same thing? We’re talking about the metallic infection. Metallic rashes, creatures losing control and going feral, metal bugs?”
“THE TRANSFER CAPTAIN HAS DESCRIBED IT TO ME. I REFER TO THE SAME PLAGUE WHEN I SAY ‘CORRUPTION.’”
“Then… you’re acting like it’s a lot smarter than just, well, a plague.”
“What aren’t you telling us?”
“…BRING ARCÁN TO ME. IF YOU DO THAT, ALONG WITH THREE AYAS — ONE OF THEM THE AYAS SYN — THEN I MAY BE ABLE TO RESTORE HIS CORE. THEN, IF HE ALLOWS IT, YOU WILL LEARN THE INFORMATION THAT YOU DESIRE.”
“What if we took you to him?” Christeané questioned.
“NO. IF I AM TO RESTORE HIS CORE, THEN I MUST REMAIN HERE. FURTHERMORE, I SIMPLY WILL NOT ALLOW YOU TO REMOVE MY CORE. ATTEMPT TO DO SO, AND I WILL LOCK DOWN. THE INFORMATION YOU DESIRE WILL BE LOST TO YOU.”
“You got bitchy faster than I do,” Davídrius remarked.
“ENOUGH. I HAVE BESTOWED UPON YOU MORE THAN ENOUGH INFORMATION FOR NOW. I WILL NOT SPEAK FURTHER.”
“…Well.” Davídrius crossed his arms impatiently as he turned to the rest of the group. “She sure clammed up fast. What now?”
“We have the Ayas.” Kievkenalis shrugged. “It is what we came here for. I suppose we should head back to the Frigates?”
“…Oh, we definitely should,” Kevérin responded after reading a new piece of information on his AR Glasses display. “Captain Krost just sent out an alert. Apparently the Black Suns’ sensors are better than we thought… they found the Frigates.”
30 Minutes Later
“The hell are you people doing here?!”
“Investigating Rossindon, sir, as permitted by Master General Greant,” Commander Krydonin replied.
“Hah!” Lieutenant General Bitincher snorted as he glanced around irately. The two Black Suns leaders were standing opposite each other in a small clearing, both in front of their own squads, with Krydonin standing a few meters from the cave entrance. To the east, the Frigate Frasis sat parked on the ground, as three more Frigates — one of them the Phendris — hovered menacingly a few hundred meters in the air, seemingly ready to blow each other apart at a moment’s notice.
The General turned back to the Commander. “This planet belongs to Sector 2. I don’t care what that disabled idiot in charge of Sector 1 says, you have no right to be here!”
“Respectfully, sir, I disagree. Master General Greant has authority over you.”
“And the statute he used to override Regek’s visitation block doesn’t afford you access to the whole planet, Commander,” Bitincher spat. “I know the outpost warned you. You weren’t allowed within a hundred kilometers of the base!”
“Then why have you not fired on us?” Krydonin challenged, “if you’re so sure that you’re right, surely you would have no qualms with simply opening fire?”
“What’s going on here?”
Bitincher and Krydonin both glanced back toward the caves, where Hero Machina — led by Kevérin — were exiting.
“Oh, great.” Bitincher scowled. “It’s you lot again.”
“…Hi?…” Kaoné replied meekly.
“Didn’t I warn you to never show your faces in my presence again?”
“Sorry, but we aren’t too keen on takin’ orders from assholes,” Davídrius snarled.
“Davídrius,” Kevérin snapped.
“I see you haven’t changed at all.” The General’s scowl deepened with irritation. “What the hell are you doing here, anyways? This have anything to do with your stint on Teghica?”
“We were just… looking around,” Kevérin replied as Kievkenalis subtly hid the Ayas in his armor’s cloth belt.
“In short, our investigation is none of your business,” Krydonin cut in, “you are infringing on Greant’s authority by questioning our presence and our investigation. I could bring this up with the Master General and have you punished.”
“Brennon doesn’t scare me,” Bitincher scoffed. “You can tell him whatever you want during the next week.”
“I’m instituting Protection Order 6. Starting now, Rossindon is barred from all access, except for Sector 2, for a full week, as defined as ten standardized galactic days. Let’s see Greant try to override that.”
“…What does that mean?” Kaoné questioned.
“It means we have to leave…” Krydonin answered slowly.
“What?!” Kievkenalis exclaimed, “but, what about Mystry—!”
“We can continue our investigation once the week is up.” The Commander turned to eye the Chaostechnic warily. “But until then…”
“Until then you have to get the fuck off my planet.” Bitincher smirked. “Now get going. It’ll be interesting to see what it is you were looking for.”
“…Let’s go.” Krydonin reluctantly turned toward the Frasis, signaling for Hero Machina and the squad of Black Suns soldiers behind her to follow. The Nimalian Chaotics followed begrudgingly.
“…You just had to mention the damn Prior, didn’t you,” Davídrius growled, once they had left earshot of the Sector 2 General.
“But… we’re just leaving it behind,” Kievkenalis complained.
“And now Bitincher knows it’s there, because you couldn’t keep your mouth shut,” Krydonin retorted.
“Chances are they’d find Mystryth’s core and extract it before the week is up, even if Kevken hadn’t slipped up,” Kevérin commented, “and I don’t think they’ll care as much about her locking down as we do.”
“…At least we got the Ayas?” Kaoné smiled uneasily.
Siyuakén sighed irately. “If only we didn’t have to leave.”
“No… we were about to have to leave anyways.” Krydonin glanced back at Hero Machina. “The Frasis just received an emergency order from Nimalia. Seems like they want you on a new mission.”
“Emergency?” Kevérin questioned, “new mission? To where?”
“Tyrnaus,” the Commander replied, “as of three days ago… all contact with the Tyrnaus system has been lost.”