Chapter 3 – Effects of Chaos

That Evening

“To a successful mentorship!”

“To a successful mentorship!” Pierce, Phoenix, and Trenon heartily echoed as they clinked mugs with Brikén and each other. The four then took deep drinks from their mugs, though Phoenix was quick to set hers down before the rest.

“What’s the matter, Phoenix?” Brikén questioned, a taunting smirk playing across her face. “Nimalian beer too much for you?”

“I’d say any beer is too much for me,” Phoenix replied as she readily grabbed a piece of fried fish from the center of the table. “I prefer lighter stuff.”

“Like fish?” Trenon observed as she practically wolfed the item down.

“Nah, just coffee,” Pierce remarked. “Super sweetened crap coffee, at least.”

“Hey now,” Phoenix cut in just after swallowing another chunk of fish. “I am a girl, and everyone knows we’re made of ‘sugar and spice, and everything nice’. I’m just doing my part.”

“Oh, so that’s why you drink so much latte and mocha, huh? To make up for all of the ‘nice’ you’re missing?”

Phoenix momentarily stopped chewing to shoot Pierce an unamused glance, to which he responded with a smirk and a chuckle.

Pierce then took the opportunity to grab a chunk of fried fish for himself. As he happily chewed on the surprisingly well-prepared bar food, he took a quick look at his surroundings: the group of four currently sat at a table in the corner of a small bar, located within the city of Alus on the surface of Ainminthalus. Several hours had passed since his exam in space; shortly after Brikén gave him a passing score, she had turned to check Phoenix’s work. As part of that, she ended up jumping her small spacecraft all around the solar system with the ship’s FTL Drive — though Pierce suspected that she had just been using Phoenix’s exam as an excuse to check out the various planets. He wasn’t one to complain about an impromptu space tour, though, particularly after taking a look at the massive blue rings of Ainminthalus IV, the swirling green gases on the surface of Ainminthalus V, and the sprawling mining facilities built across the barren surface of Ainminthalus II. They then returned to Ainminthalus Prime, where Brikén officially passed Phoenix and then landed her spacecraft at Alus’s spaceport. That was when Trenon suggested visiting a local bar to celebrate, and Brikén had been quick to agree — so it wasn’t long before they had found a free table and Brikén ordered everyone a round.

“Sugar and spice, huh?” Trenon spoke up, drawing Pierce’s attention back to the present. “Is that an Earthian saying?”

“It’s hella old,” Pierce commented. “And super obsolete. And kinda sexist.”

“You sound real mad about it,” Phoenix replied cheekily.

“Ha!” Brikén grinned as she took another swig from her mug and slammed it down on the table. “Guess you Earthians really aren’t so different from us Nimalians, huh? We have all kinds of stupid sayings like that.”

“Even back home in Treséd, we have stuff like that,” Trenon remarked. “We tend to be a bit harsher than other people, though… like saying men are sand, and women are mirages, or something like that.”

“Alright, now that sounds actually hella sexist,” Phoenix countered.

“Wow, way to judge a whole damn culture on one paraphrased quote,” Pierce snarked.

“No, it’s pretty spot-on, unfortunately.” Trenon smiled sadly. “I’m proud to be from Treséd, but the culture back home is all kinds of messed up. Lots of rough edges and fighting.”

“Well that’s a first.” Brikén leaned back in her chair and slung her left arm over the chair’s back. “Someone actually proud to be from Treséd. I think you’re one of a kind, Trenon.”

“Ah, it’s not that bad. I mean… well, it kind of is that bad… but it’s, you know, it’s getting better.”

“Shit, dude, it sounds like you come from a shithole,” Pierce said.

“Pierce! Really?” Phoenix reprimanded.

“C’mon, he said it himself, you know? ‘Sides…” Pierce elbowed Trenon cheekily. “If it was really that bad, he wouldn’t talk about it so much.”

Trenon frowned. “I don’t talk about home that much…”

“Trenon, I feel like I know your sister better than the back of my own damn hand,” Brikén countered. “And I’ve never even met the girl!”

“What? I haven’t said that much.”

“Her name’s Liask, she’s 20 years old and currently attends Wrikax Chaos University in Treséd, just like you did,” Phoenix rattled out. “She’s a Forcetechnic, who you had to protect from gang attacks for years until she suddenly got her powers and saved you by carrying you on her back for… three days, was it?”

“Nah, it was four,” Pierce replied. “Also she wet the bed until she was 11 and apparently has a favorite stuffed animal that she named after you.”

“Yeah, telling us that stuff was a bit much…” Phoenix said.

“A-alright, alright, I get it,” Trenon laughed uneasily. “It’s just, for a long time, she was the only person I had in my life, and I was the only one she had. So we’re real close, because of that.”

“Trenon, we aren’t on your case because of how close you are with your sister,” Brikén responded incredulously, “we’re on your case because of how well we know that you’re close with your sister!”

“But the closeness part is also pretty weird,” Pierce added. “I have a younger sister, too, and we’ve never gotten along as well as you and your sister. Fuck, I wouldn’t even want to be that close to the little bitch.”

“I get that a lot, actually…” Trenon sighed. “But… like I said, Treséd is kind of a bad place. If you don’t grow up there, it’s hard to understand what that really means. I’m sure if you lost both your parents to a gang attack when you were 12, leaving you to take care of your 3-year-old sister all by yourself in the middle of a wasteland — I’m sure you’d get close to your sister, too.”

“…I was not prepared for you to get all real on me all of a sudden.”

“Sounds like the two of you are doing fine now, though,” Phoenix commented.

“Yeah? I think so, too,” Trenon replied, a faint smile on his face as he stared down into his half-empty mug. “We both made it into adulthood okay, and I even managed to join the NSD. It’s looking like Liask is going to get that same chance, too. All thanks to Dean Wrikax and his school.”

“Oh boy, now it’s the other person you like to talk so much about,” Brikén responded as she leaned back and rubbed her temples. “Trenon, if I didn’t know any better I’d’ve said that this Wrikax guy was your dad.”

“Oh, not even close! He doesn’t get very close to any of his students, really. But he’s done so much for Treséd and its people, and he’s done a lot to bring Nimalian attention to how bad it can be. He’s the reason I can say I’m proud to be from Treséd, because as bad as the place is, he’s shown that we can still make the most of it and turn what we have into something good. I’m not even joking when I say that his work is probably what saved the lives of me and my sister.”

“Dude, you might not be joking, but I’m pretty sure Brikén was,” Pierce deadpanned.

“Damn, Trenon, you really are solemn all the damn time. Drink up, man!” Brikén leaned toward Trenon and threw her arm around his shoulders while shoving her mug in his face. “It’ll lighten you up! ‘Sides, this was supposed to be a celebration for Pierce and Phoenix, here!”

“Ah… heh, yeah, sorry guys.” Trenon bowed his head sheepishly. “Didn’t mean to bring the atmosphere down.”

“It’s fine,” Phoenix replied airily. “I’m not about to judge you for having a tough life. But it sounds like you’re in a good place now!”

“Yeah…” He then extricated himself from Brikén’s grasp, at which point she shrugged and took another swig from her mug. As she gestured toward the bartender for a refill, Trenon glanced between Pierce and Phoenix. “You guys are in school too, aren’t you? How’s that going for you?”

“Ah, it’s going.” Pierce shrugged. “School’s school, whatcha gonna do.”

“It was your schools that got you involved in this outreach program, wasn’t it? They must have a lot of pull back on Earth to make that happen.”

“You’re really overplaying how important they are,” Phoenix countered. “They’re good, but not really the best. We’re here out of luck, more than anything.”

“Maybe it was luck for you,” Pierce replied haughtily, “but for me, it was sheer effort and skill. You know how much work I put into getting the recs for this?”

“‘Work’ my ass. Caltech literally has a summer program set up for exactly this kind of thing.”

“Doesn’t mean it was just handed to me, you know. I still had to go through the whole damn application process. It was a real pain in the ass!”

“I know that, I went through the same process. That’s how I know it was luck that got us here!”

“And was that ‘pain in the ass’ worth it?” Brikén questioned, interrupting the brewing argument between the two Earthians. “I hope your three months here with me weren’t quite as much of a pain.”

Pierce smirked. “Well, the exam was a real piece of work—”

“What Pierce means to say,” Phoenix cut in, drawing an annoyed glare from Pierce, “is that yes, our time with you has been worth it. We’ve learned a lot from having hands-on access to a working spacecraft. It sucks that the only way for us to directly use that knowledge is to get involved with SERRCom, but a lot of the second-hand knowledge I’ve gained should be hella useful for my classes.”

Pierce snorted. “Spoken like a fucking nerd.”

“As if you aren’t one yourself, you fucking Mech E.”

“Of course I’m not a nerd. I’m an actual athlete, you know?” He briefly made running motions with his arms before snapping his fingers into finger guns. “Even in college, I’m still the track star!”

“Yeah, because your school for nerds fucking sucks at athletics.”

“Please, like MIT is any better.”

“We aren’t, but at least my school is a household name.”

“Ah ha ha ha!” Brikén let out a hearty guffaw, startling both Pierce and Phoenix. “Getting along as well as ever!”

The two glanced at each other before turning away.

“Sorry about that,” Phoenix muttered.

“And what about us Nimalians?” Trenon questioned, momentarily ducking to the side to let a waiter drop some more fried seafood onto the large plate in the middle of the table — food that Phoenix eagerly dug into. “I know SERRCom and the Union are on good terms, but I’m curious to hear what Earthian civilians think of us.”

“Shit, dude, you might as well just be more Earthians for all I know,” Pierce remarked. “You all look the same as us, and you don’t really act much different, either. You’ve just got a lot of fancy tech and more planets than us.”

“I don’t know about the Union as a whole,” Phoenix commented. “Ainminthalus is the only Nimalian planet we’ve spent longer than a day on, after all. But I’m impressed by what I have seen — it’s so beautiful here! You have skyscrapers, and a heavily-built-up city, but there’s just so much green space in and around everything that I constantly feel like I’m in a quiet suburb. Not to mention those rings! I swear, the sky here is straight out of a fantasy novel! I wanted to bring back some souvenirs, but nothing I’ve found could compare to just taking a few pictures.”

Brikén stared at Phoenix in surprise. “Wow. Wasn’t expecting such a ringing endorsement.”

“I’m glad to hear that you like it, though!” Trenon smiled broadly. “Most Nimalian worlds have the same design philosophy as Ainminthalus. We Nimalians value nature, and we try our best to collaborate with it when building our cities.”

“Now that’s just a little too poetic,” Brikén countered. “Sure, we make our cities look pretty, but otherwise we stamp all over nature just as much as everyone else. We just hide it better.”

“That’s a cynical take,” Pierce remarked.

“Running a courier business will show you every side a nation has to offer,” Brikén declared. “I’ve seen a lot of good, and a lot of bad. It averages out.”

“What is it like, running a courier business?” Phoenix asked. “You’ve spent the past three months here, mentoring us, so you had to have put your business on hold, right? Will that hurt you in the long run?”

“Eh, I didn’t put it completely on hold,” Brikén responded. She grabbed a chunk of fish and took a large bite, chewing and swallowing quickly before continuing, “I found the time to run a few smaller jobs in-system. Running a one-woman courier business like this means keeping some tight margins, and shit can get tough at times. I’m getting paid for this mentorship thing, at least, so that lessens the impact of not running jobs. But, honestly, the only reason I signed up for this was to get a chance at owning a Subspace Drive.”

“Wait, what?” Pierce, Phoenix, and Trenon all turned to stare at Brikén incredulously.

“A Subspace Drive?” Trenon echoed.

“For a civilian?!” Pierce exclaimed.

“Aren’t we talking about the type of FTL tech that can, and has, been turned into a weapon of mass destruction?!” Phoenix questioned.

Brikén rolled her eyes. “Yes, I’m aware of the danger of Subspace Drives. Chaos Drives are definitely safer… but they’re so damn restrictive! If I had a Subspace Drive, I could run laps around my competition!”

“And then blow up a planet when the Drive malfunctions,” Phoenix retorted.

“There’s never been a recorded incident of a Subspace Drive malfunctioning. Not in that way, at least. Trust me, I checked.”

“I’d still be surprised if the NSD allowed a civilian to have one,” Trenon commented. “They keep a tighter leash on those things than even SERRCom. And for good reason, given their destructive power. Who told you it was a possibility that you’d get one?”

“Some NSD officer affiliated with the Earthian outreach program.” Brikén shrugged. “It’s not the end of the world if I don’t get a Drive, but the chance to have one seemed credible enough.”

Pierce snorted. “Sounds to me like you’ve been fucking had.”

Brikén cast him an annoyed glance. “Don’t take me for a fool. You don’t get as far as I have without knowing how to accurately judge risk and reward.”

“Well there’s a lot of risk in handing out Subspace Drives to civilians, I can at least say that for sure,” Trenon said. “I’m just not seeing what the NSD would get out of it.”

“Alright, alright, I get your point already. Lighten up.”

“You can dish it out, but you can’t take it, huh?” Pierce smirked. “Sounds like you should be doing the lightening up for once.”

Brikén simply rolled her eyes and took another swig from her mug.

A brief moment of silence followed as the four continued eating, drinking, and taking in the relatively calm bar revelry around them. Two of the bar’s walls consisted of massive windows for the sake of natural lighting, but day had long since given way to the dark of night, leaving the bar itself rather dim.

“I suppose it’s getting late, huh,” Trenon eventually commented. He glanced between Pierce and Phoenix. “Will the two of you be fine?”

“It’s not that late,” Phoenix remarked incredulously.

“Yeah, we aren’t kids, you know,” Pierce added.

Trenon put his hands up, as though surrendering the subject. “Just checking. I know you’re supposed to leave for Earth soon, and Gate Network travel can be stressful for civilians. Wasn’t sure if the two of you wanted a full night of sleep beforehand.”

“Relax. We don’t even leave until the day after tomorrow, so we can stay up as late as we like tonight,” Phoenix declared.

“Says the night owl,” Pierce countered. “I like to rise with the sun. No better time for a run, you know.”

“Wow, actually being ‘responsible’ for once, huh?”

“Either way— agh!” Trenon started, but stopped and clutched at his chest.

“Trenon?” Brikén set her mug down as she glanced at the officer in concern. “What’s wrong?”

“Ah… I don’t know…” He exhaled deeply and shook his head, as if trying to clear it. “That was, just… I suddenly felt this kind of… sickening feeling.”

“Is the food bad?” Phoenix frowned as she began inspecting the chunk of fish in her hand.

“No, not like that.” Trenon began scanning the interior of the bar, his posture stiff, and body tense. “I’ve felt like that a couple times before… but only when I was about to go berserk.”

“What…?”

“It’s a Chaotic thing. If we use our powers too much, or get too stressed, then we can end up going berserk,” Trenon explained. “There are other causes, too, though they’re rare… but that has to be it, since I don’t feel stressed, and I haven’t been running around much…”

“Are you saying we’re under attack?” Brikén questioned.

“I don’t—” Trenon started, but again stopped himself. He glanced off to the side, as though distracted by something; he then stood up and promptly disappeared, leaving behind only a small breeze that sent a few napkins fluttering.

Surprised, Pierce quickly began searching for Trenon. Just as he located the officer across the room, staring out one of the massive wall windows, a soft rumbling washed through the building.

Phoenix looked around in mild alarm. “Earthquake?”

“No… something weird’s going on,” Trenon countered, reappearing next to the table in an instant. He leaned down and lowered his voice, so that only Brikén, Pierce, and Phoenix could hear him. “There’s reports of Chaotics going berserk all over the city, unprovoked.”

Brikén scowled. “Shit.”

“Yeah, it’s bad. I’m being summoned to help get control of the situation.” He paused and glanced back at the window as a flash of light momentarily illuminated the building, raising surprised gasps and yelps from the patrons in the bar. “…Whatever you do,” he said as he turned back to the three, “lay low, and stay out of the way. Don’t go outside until you hear back from—”

A loud CRASH interrupted Trenon’s speech as a piece of metal debris smashed through one of the bar windows. Immediately, he rushed over to the flying piece of debris and managed to kick it back outside before it could harm any of the bar patrons, but he was then forced to duck backwards as another three stray pieces of metal zipped through the air.

“Holy shit!” Pierce exclaimed in disbelief, and then found himself being shoved under the table. “Hey, what the fuck—?”

“Be quiet and stay low,” Brikén hissed, holding her arms around Pierce and Phoenix’s shoulders as she ducked under the table herself. “I’ve seen this once before… if I’m right, shit is about to get bad, and fast.”

“What do you mean?” Phoenix questioned warily.

“Just keep quiet! Don’t draw the attention of a berserk Chaotic!”

Pierce eyed Brikén uneasily before turning his attention back to Trenon’s location. From his position in the back of the bar and under a table, Pierce couldn’t see exactly what was going on, but the chaos and cacophony of battle filled the air just outside of the building. Chunks of metal whipped into and out of view, masked by the darkness of night as they ripped into the buildings beside the bar and across the street. Blaring fire alarms, panicked screams, shouts to take cover, shattering glass and collapsing concrete — never before had Pierce been witness to the level of chaos he now heard, and he hadn’t the slightest clue how to react or otherwise process it.

Another flash of light and the hissing of steam drew Pierce’s attention back to the bar’s exterior — just in time for the table above him to suddenly zip up into the air, tear itself to shreds, and then launch itself toward the bar’s exterior.

“The hell—? Ow!!” Phoenix winced and held her hands up to her ears. “…My earrings?!”

“A Metallitechnic? Of all the damn things…” Brikén muttered as she hastily undid her coat’s buckle and removed the clothing article. “Get rid of all your loose metal, now—!”

Just as the words left Brikén’s mouth, Pierce felt a fierce tug on his waist, yanking him forward. He reflexively clutched at the floor in an attempt to hold himself in place, but the force still dragged him a couple meters before his belt practically disintegrated and the metal buckle instantly disappeared into the air. Pain shot through his lower back, as he had just effectively been dragged around by his belt, but the pain quickly fell into the back of his mind as the lack of a table over his head allowed him to fully grasp the scene in front of him:

Illuminated by floodlights shone from on-high was a veritable whirlwind of metal debris, whirling around at high speeds in a loose dome. Nearby buildings, street lamps, and signs were crumbling and disintegrating as the dome absorbed all nearby metal; several nearby individuals, dressed in the same kind of green uniform as Trenon, seemed to be trying to stop this process by freezing items in place with ice or obscuring the street with steam, but nothing seemed to be working. And then, in the middle of the whirling dome of metal, was a hunched over silhouette — it looked something like a dark, feral wolf, but with no tail, nor snout. Wait… is that… a person?!

“Agh—!” Pierce released a pained grunt as a chunk of metal flew through the air from behind him, lacerating the side of his torso. He immediately clutched the wound with both hands and clenched his teeth, trying his best to put the pain out of mind.

“PIERCE!!”

“Huh…?” He looked up, his face scrounged up into a pained grimace — and then his eyes widened in panic…

…for the silhouetted person in the middle of the whirling dome was staring directly at him.

Shit… shit…! He immediately tried to stand and search for cover, but stumbled as the pain from his torso wound shattered his concentration. A sort of gargled snarl reached his ears, drawing his attention back to the feral silhouette, just in time to spot several chunks of debris zipping through the air toward him —

Before he could process what was happening, Trenon appeared in front of him and snatched one of the chunks out of the air, managing to keep it from hitting Pierce. The Velocitechnic visibly winced as a second chunk pierced his left arm, but he managed to keep his composure together and spin around to deflect the rest of the incoming pieces of metal with supersonic punches and kicks. He then dropped to one knee, panting heavily. Pierce wasn’t sure what he had just watched, as it had happened so quickly, but he could at least tell two things: Trenon had just saved his life, and he had taken injuries to both an arm and a leg to do it.

“Just… lay low,” Trenon managed to grunt out as he climbed back to his feet.

Pierce stared up at him with a mixture of awe and incredulity — the officer clearly had metal sticking through both his left forearm and right lower leg. He couldn’t seriously be considering continuing to fight, could he?

“Don’t worry…” Trenon glanced back at Pierce and forced a smile. “We’ve… got this taken care of.”

Bewildered, Pierce couldn’t help but simply turn his attention back to the street. The feral silhouette seemed to have lost interest in Pierce and Trenon and was now staring up at a hovering Chaotic a block over who was flooding the street with water. Several pieces of metal debris whipped through the air toward the distant Chaotic, forcing them to evade as the silhouette began to advance on them. A cage of ice then appeared around the silhouette, only to be obliterated a moment later by metal debris. With a snarl, the silhouette began looking around for the source of the ice — at which point a flash of light drew both it and Pierce’s attention toward the other end of the block. Pierce could see flames, and then a second later, steam erupted across the entire block and obscured the street.

“Here we go…” Trenon muttered, and crouched down, as if preparing to start a race. Before Pierce could say anything, a loud THUNK emanated from somewhere within the steam — and immediately afterward, as if on cue, Trenon disappeared in a cloud of dust. The whizzing sounds of the whirling metal debris continued on for a second, if somewhat dampened, and then they suddenly faded into nothing.

Alarms and shouting continued to fill the air, but no longer was it accompanied by the noises of building destruction. The relative, yet sudden quiet left Pierce’s ears ringing, but he managed to put it out of mind and finally pull himself back to his feet. A quick check of his torso wound revealed that the cut didn’t seem to be that deep, but before he could investigate further, the steam that previously obscured the street finally dissipated. There was no sign of the metal whirlwind or the feral silhouette; all that was left was a scarred battlefield, as if someone had taken a sandblaster to the street and the buildings all along the block. Broken glass and debris littered the street and the sidewalk, several buildings had collapsed altogether, and in the middle of the street…

“Shit! TRENON!” Pierce rushed to the Velocitechnic’s side just as he collapsed to the ground. The NSD officer was wounded and lacerated all over, his uniform torn to shreds, and multiple thin, sharp chunks of metal now protruded from all over his body. From his hands, from his shoulders, from his legs… from straight through his torso.

“Trenon, are you—? Holy shit…”

Pierce looked up to see Phoenix and Brikén approach, only to stop short as they witnessed Trenon’s wounds.

Brikén scowled and looked away. “Damn it…”

“Is he…” Phoenix kneeled down beside Pierce and Trenon, and looked down at the Velocitechnic’s still body. “…Is he—?”

“Agh! Ow… ow…”

“Whoa! Dude, careful, careful!” Pierce quickly grasped Trenon by his shoulders as the latter coughed and attempted to sit up. Phoenix and Pierce carefully helped him up, with Pierce holding him up in his arms. “Dude, are you okay?”

“Hurts…” Trenon muttered, his eyes fluttering open. He slowly looked up at Pierce, but he seemed to stare straight through the Earthian. “Li… Liask? Is, is that…?”

“It’s— it’s me. Pierce. It’s Pierce.” He forced a smile as he attempted to ignore the growing dampness against his arm that supported Trenon. “I’m here, dude. It’s okay.”

“…Oh… r-right, Pierce…” Trenon’s eyes finally managed to focus, and his mouth turned up into a pained smile. “Ah… ha ha… never was… good at fighting…”

“You were— you were good enough. The, that weird fucking silhouette’s gone. So is all the metal.”

“Ah… good…”

“Look, dude, you’re gonna be okay,” Pierce insisted, casting a side eye at Brikén, who had left to find help. “You— look, man, you saved my life. I’m not gonna let you… …”

He noticed Phoenix’s gaze on him as he failed to finish his sentence, but he pushed her attention out of mind.

“Thanks, Pierce…” Trenon muttered weakly, and then coughed again, this time spitting up blood. Pierce couldn’t help but note that his blood was a deep red — just like Earthians. “H-hey, listen…”

“Yeah?” Pierce forced himself to focus on Trenon’s face.

Blood slowly dripped out the corner of the Velocitechnic’s mouth, yet he wore on his face a sort of serene, resigned smile. “If… if you ever see Liask… tell her… tell her that I… …that I…”

Silence followed for several moments as Trenon’s eyes lost focus, and his body fell limp. At a loss for words, Pierce quietly and carefully allowed Trenon’s body to lay down on the ground. He then sat back, and looked down at his right arm. All the way up to his rolled up sleeve, his arm felt sticky, and was dyed a deep red.

In that moment, Pierce’s vision went black. A moment later, he found himself staring up at a bright, clear sky — and a moment after that, the sky was replaced by the darkness of night, backlit by a deep red hue. He saw burning buildings, collapsing buildings… and then, simply nothing but a desolate wasteland. Then, a man’s tan face, framed by dirty black bangs and a rough goatee — following that, a young woman, with tan skin, shoulder-length black hair, and a prominent scar stretching from just above the left corner of her mouth, down her neck, and disappearing below the collar of her shirt. She seemed to smile at Pierce, before she turned around and ran off, disappearing into the darkness… which was quickly replaced by the sight of a singular, feral, wolf-like beast with silvery, metallic rashes covering its body. It snarled, and then lunged at him—

“PIERCE!”

“AH!” Pierce yelped, his vision instantly yanked back to the dark and battle-scarred urban scene before him. He looked around frantically, wide-eyed, before feeling something grab his chin and forcefully move his head.

“Pierce, look at me!”

“Ah, ah, uh… huh?” He slowed his breathing and blinked repeatedly in an effort to clear his sight. A moment later, he realized that he was mere inches from Phoenix, who was staring at him in concern.

“Finally! Are you okay?” she questioned, “you just— you just zoned out there.”

“O-oh…” Pierce stared back at her for several seconds before finally shaking her off of him and climbing to his feet. “I-I’m fine. But…” He stared down at his blood-covered arm and grimaced. “I, I just… fuckin’ hell…”

“Come on… we need to move.” Phoenix glanced backwards, prompting Pierce to do the same. From farther down the block, several individuals were approaching, all dressed in the NSD uniform.

“R-right…” Pierce took a deep breath and looked down at Trenon’s body one last time.

 

“If… if you ever see Liask… tell her… tell her that I… …that I…”

 

Trenon’s final words echoed through Pierce’s mind. He bowed his head solemnly, muttering quietly to himself, “don’t worry, Trenon… I’ll remember.”

As soon as the words left his mouth, the NSD soldiers were on the scene, clearing up debris and gesturing for Pierce to leave. He obeyed quietly, backing away before turning around to follow Phoenix, who had already reconvened with Brikén.

“Oh, fucking thank the skies! You’re both okay.” Brikén released a sigh of relief as Pierce and Phoenix approached her. “Not everything’s gone bad, at least…”

“What’s going on, Brikén?” Phoenix questioned, “you said earlier that you’ve seen this before. What’s happening?”

“The one thing that the galaxy had hoped to never experience again…” Brikén sighed again, this time of apprehension. “It’s the beginning of another Chaos Energy Quake.”

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