Chapter 1 – An Oracle’s Word
— Monday, October 17, 2129 AD —
“It may be twenty years later than hoped, but at long last, the Keys to our future have finally appeared. The galaxy entrusts you with its survival!”
“The galaxy, huh…” a young man muttered to himself as he walked down a lengthy metal hallway. He sighed and brushed his fingers through his black, unkempt hair in an attempt to distract himself, even if only for a moment… but as he glanced to the side at his reflection in the hallway’s side window and beheld the military uniform that adorned his lanky, six-foot tall body, he couldn’t help but think back to the news he had just been delivered.
“So I’m a ‘Key’, then, huh…” he muttered again, staring at his own light-skinned visage in the window’s reflection. “What does that even mean? Hmm…” His eyes dropped down to his right hand, which he slowly outstretched — and then, with a brief flash of white light, a claymore materialized into his hand. The silver blade practically shone under the hallway’s light, its 1-meter length terminating in a double crossguard that bore the colors of blue and gold. In the center of the crossguard, just above his hand, was a faintly glowing pale blue orb — an obvious sign as to the weapon’s special nature.
The man turned the blade over and inspected it thoroughly, holding it up to the light for a moment to watch how it reflected off of the perfectly clean blade. So this… claymore… is called ‘Arcán’, huh…? the man thought to himself, and then sighed as he allowed the weapon to disappear with another flash of light. Damn it, Austin, just what have you gotten yourself into…
He turned his attention downwards again to peer through the hallway’s window, and at the blue and green sphere swathed in wispy white below. Earth appeared every bit as beautiful as he expected from orbit, and yet, looking upon the planet that he called home merely reminded him that ‘home’ was a place he could no longer return to. Neither him, nor any of his friends, nor the four other young adults he had met earlier that day aboard EA’s cruiser. All of the others had proven capable of summoning some kind of special weapon, not unlike Austin’s claymore: Spike could summon a pair of red and golden gauntlets, Twy possessed a gray and silver bow, Sky found herself with a green bo staff, Phoenix produced a pair of crimson and silver chakrams, Conrad beheld a black and silver glaive, and Kestrel wielded a long, dark green and silver spear. Furthermore, each of their weapons sported a softly glowing orb matching the weapon’s primary color, identical to Austin’s claymore or Pierce’s blade whip. If the gray-haired Nimalian leader known as Pallan was to be believed, their ability to summon these weapons meant that all eight of them were ‘Keys’: individuals who were somehow important in saving the entire galaxy from a vast threat.
“Which means we’re all ‘chosen ones’, I guess,” Austin muttered to himself as he turned away from the sights of Earth and continued down the space station hallway. “I would think that was cool… if only it didn’t give SERRCom even more of an excuse to conscript us. Damn it.” He sighed with irritation and thought back to barely an hour ago, when General of the Space Forces Matthew Lead — the commander over the entirety of Space Exploration, Reconnaissance, and Response Command (better known as SERRCom) — declared that SERRCom’s conscription orders had been officially endorsed by not only the United States of America, but also by the United Nations. With that, Austin’s last hope of returning to his normal life had been dashed, and he still hadn’t the slightest idea how SERRCom had convinced the world to go along with its whims.
I wonder how the others feel about this… he thought to himself as he rounded a hallway corner and approached one of the doors. Haven’t had a chance to talk with them since the meeting. Hopefully I’m not the only one who thinks that—
“It’s complete and utter bullshit!”
Austin jumped in surprise as the door in front of him slid open, just in time to hear an angry exclamation. He turned his head to the side, toward the source of the shout: a short, light-skinned girl with wavy, shoulder-length black hair. She wore the same kind of military uniform as Austin, and also matched his youthful appearance — though her expression was currently sporting a scowl as she stomped the ground, ignoring Austin’s arrival as she continued ranting.
“You all agree with me, right? Right?!” She glanced around fervently with her brow furrowed. “Not just the US, but the UN, too?! This is nonsense! How the hell did SERRCom convince them that conscripting a bunch of innocent people was cool?!”
“Oi, oi, settle down, Sky.” A huge, incredibly fit man with a dark complexion sighed and scratched the short black hair that adorned his head. “Shoutin’ won’t help at all…”
“What?!” The wavy-haired girl, Sky, turned toward the large man with her fists planted impudently on her hips. “C’mon, Spike! Don’t tell me you’re going to just take this lying down?!”
“Ngh…” Spike groaned and leaned back against his chair. “If only it were that simple…”
“Of course it’s that simple,” replied a tall young man from across the room. He wore a runner’s outfit — stained with sweat from a day’s worth of activities — on his slim, light-skinned athletic frame, though the medium-length, side-swept dirty blond hair on his head and the trimmed beard on his chin seemed comparatively well-kept. “With an organization like SERRCom,” he continued as he casually leaned against the wall with his hands in his pockets, “force is the only thing they recognize.”
“Force? C’mon, man.” Another young man, this one skinny and tan-skinned, yawned broadly as he slouched back against one of the room’s lone couches. Long brown hair, tied back into a low ponytail, draped over the gray t-shirt he was wearing. After finishing his yawn, he sighed and glanced over at the man with the runner’s outfit. “I know you have ‘experience’ with your powers, Pierce, but don’t tell me you’re gonna try and fight an interstellar military.”
“No… I hate to say it, Conrad, but Pierce is right,” interjected a short young woman with an ebony complexion and athletic frame. Her black hair was tied back into a high splayed-out ponytail, coupled with a long, thin beaded braid that draped down just in front of her right ear. Combined with a purple crop top, knee-high boots, and a set of slim-fit jeans that nicely accentuated her figure, she seemed to ooze style, despite the handful of tears and fraying that appeared across her clothing and ponytail. She took a deep breath and passed Pierce an annoyed glance before saying, “though, you know, if you had just listened to me back when we first got back to Earth, maybe we wouldn’t even be here!”
Pierce made a face at the ebony-skinned woman. “Damn it, Phoenix, you’ve been on my ass about this the whole day. Lighten up already.”
“Lighten up?!” Phoenix echoed incredulously, fury briefly flashing across her face, “you, of all people, barely have the right to—!”
Phoenix cut herself off as another woman, with pale skin, an enormous height, and long, white hair tied back into a braid stepped up, standing in between her and Pierce. With a solemn expression, the pale-skinned woman held her hands out toward Phoenix and Pierce, passing each of them a blank glance.
“…Hmph.” Pierce simply snorted in response and turned away.
Phoenix pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed warily before backing away herself. “Sorry about that…”
Heh… Austin smirked to himself as he watched them try to ignore each other, and the pale-skinned woman return to sitting on the couch next to Conrad. What a dynamic they have…
“It’s kind of amusing how easily Kestrel can shut them up, huh?”
“Huh?!” Austin whipped around to his side, where he found another young woman, with the same height, complexion, and overall body figure as Sky — only with a long ponytail instead of Sky’s wavy, shoulder-length hairdo. “Oh… Twy.” Austin sighed of relief. “Don’t sneak up on me like that.”
“I wasn’t even trying,” Twy retorted. “Just how jumpy are you?”
“You’ll have to excuse me if this whole situation has put me a bit on edge,” Austin countered.
“…I guess I can’t argue with you there,” Twy slowly replied as she glanced to the side, where Sky had once again launched into ranting. “This whole situation is just… ugh.”
He looked up to find Sky staring at him, her brow still furrowed in anger. “What is it…?” Austin replied warily.
“You agree with me, right?!” She pointed at him, and then gestured back at Spike, who was still sitting in his chair. “Spike doesn’t even want to try fighting this shit! Help me beat some sense into him, will ya?”
“I dunno… I mean, I agree that this whole conscription thing is bullshit, but…” Austin looked over Twy, then at Spike, and then at the other four in the room. “…We’re talkin’ about SERRCom, here. What the hell can we even do against them? I mean c’mon, Mote alone could probably wipe the floor with all eight of us, simultaneously! And you wanna fight him?!”
“Heh.” Pierce chuckled and shook his head before pushing off of the wall and turning toward Austin. “I think you’ve forgotten something,” he remarked, as he held his hands out; a brief flash of light later, a silver, curved blade with a handle appeared in his left hand, and a larger, rapier-like dark blue handle appeared in his right, with both connected by a long, glowing blue tether. “We’re chosen ones, dude. With these weapons, we can do what we want!”
“Tough words, for someone who already lost to Mote,” Phoenix countered.
“Yeah, but that was before I knew I could do this.” With a smirk, Pierce whipped around and sliced into the metal wall with his blade, producing a visible gash.
“What are you doing?!” Twy exclaimed, quickly pulling together a bubble of water and using it to cover the gash that Pierce’s blade had left in the metal. “We’re on a space station right now! Are you trying to kill us?!”
“Relax. We’re in an interior segment, there’s no risk of decompression.” With another flash of light, the weapon in Pierce’s hands disappeared as he turned back toward the damaged wall. “But the fact that you’re so concerned proves my point. Just think about it: there’s no way in hell that a regular blade should be able to cut metal like this. But our weapons can.”
“You have superspeed, of course the extra speed is gonna give your attack extra force,” Austin countered.
Pierce sighed and rolled his eyes. “Just try it yourself if you don’t believe me. These weapons of ours are hella sharp, way sharper than anything we’d need to take on… well, anything!”
“Maybe,” Spike replied as two magnificent, crimson gauntlets — wreathed in gold and silver trimming, with softly glowing pale red orbs inset just above the wrists — appeared on his arms and hands with a flash of light. He held out his arms to look the gauntlets over, pausing for a moment to stare at the small silver spikes that extended out of his knuckles. “The thing is…” he continued, turning his attention back to Pierce, “the only thing such sharp weapons are good for is killin’. Are you sayin’ you’re willin’ to take someone’s life to get outta this?”
“W-well…” Pierce stared at Spike, dumbfounded, before snorting and turning away. “It’s possible to not kill someone with a weapon…”
“Still probably shouldn’t try declaring war on a fucking interstellar military,” Conrad replied. “But there’s probably another angle to this, right? Why don’t we just figure out if SERRCom has dirt on the UN, or something? If we could expose that, then we’d get people back on our side.”
“Mm…” Kestrel shook her head. “Not that easy…”
“Yeah, Kestrel’s right,” Twy said. “I think the answer is too simple for us to take advantage of. Like, it isn’t that SERRCom has dirt on the UN, so much as just a lot of soft power, you know? They’re funding and leading a bunch of different public works projects all around the globe, projects that the host nations would have a lot of trouble funding themselves. Including America.”
Conrad glanced between Kestrel and Twy in confusion. “So…?”
“She’s saying that the governments on Earth are kowtowing to SERRCom because SERRCom has a lot of money and resources,” Phoenix stated, and then sighed. “I didn’t quite think of it that way before, but she’s right. Damn it. We can’t beat money…”
“Well we can’t just give up!” Sky exclaimed, flames briefly wreathing her arms as she glanced around the room at everyone present. “There has to be something we can do. Right?!”
“Hmm…” Austin looked down at his hand as he summoned the blue and golden claymore once again. “Maybe… we shouldn’t.”
When his words were met with silence, Austin looked up from his blade, only to find everyone in the room staring at him incredulously. “W-what…?” he questioned uneasily.
“Don’t tell me you’re buying into that ‘chosen one’ bullshit,” Phoenix retorted.
“No, no, this is one thing I agree with him on,” Pierce interjected. “If someone tells me that I’m going to save the galaxy one day and be a motherfucking hero, then I’m not going to tell them ‘no’.”
“Figures that you could get infatuated with this idea…”
“But it’s at least a silver lining, right?” Austin insisted, “if we really are chosen ones, or this ‘Key’ thing or whatever, then that probably means special treatment!”
Sky snorted in derision. “Yeah, like being conscripted, right?”
“Doesn’t this whole ‘Key’ thing originate from a… a ‘prophecy’?” Twy questioned incredulously. “Does that not set off red flags for anyone else? SERRCom can’t be acting on a so-called prophecy, can they?”
“Ah, but they should. And not only that, they are.”
“Huh…?” Everyone in the room turned toward the entrance, where there now stood an older man with a thin frame, light complexion, and sharp cheekbones. Medium-length, graying hair covered his head, and on his face was a goatee of similar coloring that tapered down into a point just above his collar bones. When coupled with the faint, yet still evident age lines on his face, he appeared to be around fifty or sixty years old. What’s more, the words he spoke weren’t actually in English — Austin, and everyone else present, were only able to understand him due to wearing special headsets capable of translating foreign speech in real-time.
“…Pallan?” Sky muttered, watching the man step into the room. “…What do you want?”
“That’s Archoné Culana to you,” replied a tall man who entered the room just after Pallan. His dark hair was long in front but short in back, partially obscuring his olive-skinned face; the rest of his thin, yet still clearly toned body was covered by a thick green military uniform with black trim. He wore on his face the sort of frown a parent would wear when reprimanding their child, but the distinct lack of blemishes on his otherwise generic face made it clear that he was no older than his early twenties. A large patch sewn onto a flap attached to a strap on his shoulder named him as 1st Lieutenant Mote Emerson, the leader of the Eximius Vir — Earth’s first four Chaotics, and by far the most powerful.
The moment Mote entered the room, the atmosphere chilled, with both Austin and Twy taking a couple steps away from the door.
“Oh, it’s you,” Pierce remarked with a scowl as he glared at Mote. “Back to waste our time with pointless lectures some more?”
“Only to rectify your lack of respect—!” Mote began, taking a step forward — only to stop when Pallan stretched his arm out, gesturing for Mote to stay back.
“Relax, young Earthian,” Pallan commented, “I hold no disgust for interacting on a given-name basis. In fact, I find being overly formal to be quite suffocating.”
“I appreciate that attitude, Archoné,” replied a middle-aged man with light skin and short black hair as he stepped into the room on the other side of Pallan from Mote. He wore black military fatigues, on which there was a sewn patch that named him as Colonel Kaji Saito, the leader of the team in charge of supporting and directing SERRCom’s Chaotics both in and out of the field: Chaotic Support Fireteam 1, better known as CSF-1. “But, respectfully, you are the head of a nation. I hardly think it’s a bad idea to make sure people remember that.” Saito glanced toward the eight young adults in the room and offered them a small smile. “Right?”
“Let’s just cut to the chase,” Phoenix interjected, her arms crossed as she stared at the three new arrivals. “What is it that you want with us?”
“The answer to that question is simple,” Pallan replied. “The eight of you are Keys, designated and bestowed Chaotic abilities by the Ayas to fulfill the Ayas and Universe Key prophecies. To this end, you will, of course, require further training. That is why I am here.”
Pierce snorted incredulously. “An old man’s going to teach us how to use our powers?”
Pallan shook his head. “I will not be doing the teaching. I am merely the facilitator of the Oraculm.”
“And why should we believe you about these stupid prophecies?” Sky shot back, “what proof do you have?”
“The words written in the Oraculm are proof enough for me.”
“What?! Don’t tell me you go around, robbing people of their freedom just because some book told you to do so?!”
Pallan’s expression hardened. “If it were up to me? Absolutely. The fate of the entire galaxy is not a subject to be taken lightly, and I will do whatever it takes to see it safe.”
“Now, that said,” Saito quickly interjected, “the eight of you certainly do have some unique abilities that lend… well, some credence to the Archoné’s claims. Namely, those weapons you can summon.”
“Indeed.” Pallan nodded. “Under normal circumstances, a Chaotic would only be able to summon an Ayas Weapon if they had access to an Ayas themselves. And yet, the eight of you can summon these weapons without any Ayas. This is what truly convinced me that you are the Keys.”
“You could’ve just said that at the start…” Conrad muttered.
“That still doesn’t justify everything that’s going on right now,” Sky insisted. “Why don’t we get a say in the matter?”
“Their reluctance to accept the Keys and their role in the prophecies led to the downfall of the Aldredas,” Pallan replied. “I refuse to see our era meet the same end.”
“…Is SERRCom really going along with this?” Twy questioned, her attention directed toward Saito.
The Colonel sighed wearily and stepped forward to stand alongside Pallan. “…I’m not sure I buy into this prophecy business myself,” he admitted, “but the Archoné’s plan to train the eight of you aligns with SERRCom’s interests. So, in that regard, yes. We’re going along with it.”
“What about our interests?!” Sky repeated, “I’ve yet to hear a satisfying answer to that!”
“Chaotics the galaxy over are conscripted at younger ages than you,” Pallan replied. “To expect different treatment is foolish.”
“Moreover, you clearly do not understand the threat that lays before us, so allow me to elucidate. You all are aware of the Nanocreature War that occurred 20 years ago, yes?” Pallan swept his eyes over everyone in the room as he continued, “dozens of CSA worlds were ravaged by the Nanocreature menace. Millions upon millions of souls lost their lives during that conflict, and millions more were forced to destroy their own friends, family, and countrymen who fell to the Nanocreature corruption. Had the war gone on for another month, or even another couple weeks, then Nimalian and Earthian worlds would befallen the same fate, as well.”
“Yeah, but we beat them, didn’t we?” Austin countered. “Or rather, you Nimalians did. Hero Machina fought the commander of the Nanocreatures and killed him, which made all of the rest dissolve.”
“You are mostly correct. Hero Machina did indeed fight Morcii, but they did not kill him. They merely defeated him. The Nanocreatures are not gone for good; in fact, as we speak, ‘metallic infection’ incidents across the galaxy are once again on the rise. As it stands, only Keys are capable of permanently destroying Morcii… only the eight of you can put him down for good.”
“Well, that’s… a tall order,” Conrad replied uneasily.
“Indeed. Which is why it is imperative that you—”
“Uh, excuse me, Archoné,” Saito cut in, and then turned back to address the rest of the room. “I understand if all this talk about the Nanocreatures and ‘saving the galaxy’ is a bit much, because it… uh…” He glanced over at Pallan. “…Well, it is.”
“It is typical for those inexperienced with the Oraculm to write off its words,” Pallan declared. “One day, you will see that I’m right. I only hope that day does not come too late.”
“Yes…” Saito adopted a pained smile. “…Still, the Archoné here is willing to give the eight of you a fantastic chance to learn more about how to handle your powers. And since it’s in everyone’s best interests for the eight of you to become proficient with your abilities as quickly, effectively, and efficiently as possible, the General decided to go along with the Archoné’s plan.”
“Which is…?” Twy prompted.
“A week from today,” Saito answered, “the eight of you will be sent to Nimalia, the Homeworld of the Nimalian Union. There, you’ll study at one of the Nimalian Schools of Chaos… under one of the former members of Hero Machina themselves.”