Chapter 22 – Bleeding Arrival

— Skydia, Skydiath 15, 8054 —

(Friday, November 4, 2129 AD)

“…How much longer?”

“We’re almost there,” Davídrius replied impatiently as he maintained his grasp on the steering column in front of him. “Damn, y’all have no patience at all.”

“I just wanted to know how much longer we’d have to sit here…” Austin muttered.

“Sure, but you’ve asked that damn question a thousand times already. We’ll get there when we get there!”

“…Hmph…” Austin turned away from Davídrius with an annoyed frown as he returned to staring idly at his surroundings. The two men — along with Karísah and the rest of the Earthian Chaotics, barring Mark — were currently sitting inside of a large truck-like vehicle as it raced over the sandy wastelands of Treséd. The angular vehicle was clearly built with the intention to carry cargo rather than people, as the back area didn’t have any actual seats, nor anything even resembling a seatbelt. As a result, the Earthians were forced to sit on the uncomfortably bare metal while Davídrius and Karísah occupied the only two seats at the front; and then, to add to their discomfort were the full-body beige desert robing that Davídrius had forced on everyone. Austin understood that covered skin was far more preferable to uncovered skin when trekking through the desert under an overbearing sun, but that didn’t change the fact that the robes he currently wore were coarse and physically irritating.

Austin glanced out one of the small windows in the back of the truck, and at the flat lands around them that extended for as far as the eye could see. The truck levitated over the ground instead of running across it with wheels — as did all other Nimalian vehicles, as far as Austin could tell — so the ride was at least smooth. But despite setting out north from Compound Tresnon right at daybreak, the sun now sat high in the sky, with the group yet to reach their destination of Compound Goresan. Those six hours were beginning to take their toll on him.

“Don’t worry, everyone,” Karísah spoke up, half-turning in her seat to eye everyone in the back. “We really are almost there. I can even see Goresan in the distance!”

“I could’ve gotten there faster if you’d let me run…” Pierce muttered.

“And I could’ve, too, but that woulda left the lot of you high an’ dry,” Davídrius countered. “Sometimes, you just gotta accept that you can’t use your speed. Suck it up.”

“What are we even going to be doing?” Phoenix questioned, “I mean, don’t get me wrong, I’m glad to get the chance to see new places… but is there anything special about where we’re going? About, uh, Goresan?”

“Goresan is one of the few Compounds close enough to Tresnon to fall under our protection,” Karísah explained. “It’s a much smaller Compound than Tresnon, but we still coordinate supplies and defenses with them. The people there are friendly enough, if a little rugged…”

“It’s to be expected from a smaller Compound,” Davídrius claimed. “The smaller the place, the more self-sufficient you have to be, and the lesser your tolerance for bullshit. I kinda like it!”

“I hope that doesn’t mean everyone in there is like Davídrius…” Austin muttered under his breath, just loudly enough for Twy next to him to hear. She passed him a quick glance with furrowed brows, as if to say “shut up”, before turning toward Karísah.

“You say that Goresan falls under Tresnon’s protection,” Twy started, “and that it’s one of the few that do… but we’ve only been driving for around 6 hours. We can’t possibly be more than a few hundred kilometers out of Tresnon. Isn’t Treséd much, much larger than that? How does the rest of the continent protect themselves?”

“The same way Tresnon does, just without our help,” Davídrius replied. “Without our direct help, at least. We still coordinate with the other Compounds for supplies and information, though only sorta recently. Took a long-ass time to convince folks to go along with that…”

“What, did they just not realize that there’s safety in numbers?” Sky asked.

“There is… and there ain’t. We’ve already mentioned the Bleeders to y’all a bunch, so I won’t bother describin’ all the nasty shit they do… but for a long time, there were a lot of ‘em. A lot a lot of ‘em. If a Compound ever got too big, then they just turned into a Bleeder target. Bigger ‘reward’ for a raid.”

“Oh…”

“That’s been changin’ recently, though,” Karísah commented. “Bleeder membership is way down from what it used to be, all thanks to Davídrius!”

The Dean grunted in response. “Wasn’t all me. Selind helped, among others.”

“Still, sounds like a lotta work,” Spike remarked. “Must’ve had a hard time fighting these Bleeders.”

“It is what it is. And while we’re on the subject, today’s visit to Goresan is actually Bleeder-related. Some of the folks we’ll be talkin’ to have had personal experience with the Bleeders… and more recently than me or Karísah.” Davídrius momentarily glanced back at the Earthians. “Maybe y’all can learn a thing or two from ‘em.”

“…That’s heavier than I expected,” Conrad deadpanned.

“I’ll bet,” Davídrius retorted as he brought the truck to a stop just outside of a tall stone wall. “…A’ight, we’re here. Now, y’all need to stick close to me an’ Karísah, since the folks here at Goresan don’t have these fancy-ass translation implants that we got. Y’all understand?”

“Yeah, yeah, sure. Whatever,” Pierce responded flatly as he kicked open the truck’s back door, revealing the vast sandy wastelands behind them. He quickly disembarked and rounded the truck to stand near the front, with the rest of the Earthians following suit.

“Urgh, it’s so bright out…” Austin muttered as he shielded his eyes with his hand. “And these clothes are so… uncomfortable.”

“Are you about to complain about the sand, too?” Twy retorted as she glanced up at him.

“Funny,” he responded, deadpan, as Spike and Sky approached the duo. “I’m just sayin’, these clothes suck, and I hate deserts.”

“These clothes actually breathe pretty well!” Sky remarked as she made several motions with her arms, as though stretching. Despite the robing that draped from her arms and the cloak she had on over everything, her movements appeared to be just as fluid as in her typical spaghetti-strap shirt and shorts.

“Yeah. All things considered, this ain’t too bad,” Spike added, and then shrugged. “It ain’t perfect, but then, what is? Anyways, let’s get goin’. Don’t wanna fall behind.”

Austin watched as Spike and Sky turned away to begin following the rest of the group toward a small set of gates in the wall they had parked next to. He released a weary sigh, and then glanced down at Twy, who returned the look — only to jerk her head in the direction of the group and begin walking off herself. “…What a day,” Austin said quietly, taking another moment to look up at the tall wall before him. A second later he shook his head to clear his thoughts and jogged over to the rest of the group just as Davídrius led them through the gate.

On the other side was a small village, with a similar sandy stone appearance to Tresnon, but two key differences: none of the buildings seemed to reach over two stories tall, and the walls that encircled the town couldn’t have been any larger than a kilometer across. The streets themselves were narrower, as well, contributing to a far more cramped feeling.

“…Wow,” Conrad deadpanned as he and Kestrel stopped at the edge of a nearby street square. “…Really different from Tresnon, huh?”

“Don’t be a smartass,” Phoenix reprimanded, “this place is still someone’s home, you know. We should be respectful.”

“She’s got a point,” Spike said as he approached the rest. “Let’s try not to bad-mouth people here.”

“I wonder who we’re even here to meet!” Sky exclaimed as she bounced onto the scene, her head swiveling all around to inspect her surroundings. “But this is a really quiet place, huh? I know Tresédians apparently like to keep to themselves, but wow, there really isn’t anyone out and about here, is there?”

“That’s…” Phoenix glanced around herself, slowly scanning her surroundings. Indeed, despite standing on the side of what appeared to be some kind of small plaza right next to the entrance gates, there wasn’t a single person to be found, aside from everyone who had just arrived. “…You’re right. That’s… weird…”

“It’s more than just weird…” Davídrius replied quietly as he approached the group. “Goresan ain’t a busy place, but it’s never been this quiet… somethin’s wrong.”

A tense silence fell over the group as Davídrius continued scanning his surroundings, and the Earthians exchanged uneasy glances.

It was Karísah who broke the silence as she pointed to the east. “Look!” she whispered loudly, “there’s… signs of damage!”

“A surprisingly empty town, and signs of damage, huh?” Pierce began cracking his knuckles as a smirk spread across his face. “Are the rest of you thinking what I’m thinking?”

“I’m thinkin’ that you need to settle down—!” Davídrius started, but was interrupted as the sound of shattering rock echoed through the air from the northeast.

“What- what was that?!” Twy exclaimed, her eyes wide.

“Shit! Fuckin’… damn it!” Davídrius scowled. “Don’t tell me—!”

Just as he was crouching down in preparation to dash off, a massive boulder came flying over the top of a nearby building, straight for the plaza that everyone was standing in. Karísah quickly moved to intercept the boulder before it impacted the ground, bracing herself against the stone plaza underfoot and successfully grabbing the boulder out of the air — though immediately following it was a stout woman wearing black and silver greaves and gauntlets, who tumbled to the ground to Karísah’s side. The woman quickly jumped back to her feet, her attention initially directed toward the building she had just been launched over, only for her to suddenly turn to her left and stare dumbfoundedly at the newcomers.

“…Yo?” Conrad responded flatly as he offered a casual wave.

“…Backup?! Where did you—? Damn it!” The woman scowled and whipped around, and as she did, the sand and rocks all around her rose into the air and coalesced into a giant boulder in front of her.

“A Geotechnic? And with powered armor, too! Fuck!” Davídrius swore as he quickly interposed himself between the woman and the Earthians. He then shouted back at them, “y’all stand back, and wait ‘til we’ve cleared this place out—!”

No sooner had the words come out of his mouth than the woman launched her boulder at the group. Karísah quickly lunged forward and easily pulverized the rock with her fist, revealing the woman standing behind it — just in time for a second woman to suddenly appear out of thin air. She wore the same kind of desert robing as everyone else, though with subtle black and purple designs interwoven into the fabric. The woman possessed a short and lithe stature, with tanned skin and puffy black hair that extended down just past her shoulders; her face featured the soft contours of an adult in their late teens or early 20s, though still hardened with experience as she shouted out, “Chaos Impact!” with her hands held toward the enemy Geotechnic. A second after the words left her mouth, a nigh-invisible force blasted the Geotechnic clear across the plaza and into a nearby building — though as she flew through the air, the signature golden glow of energy shielding appeared around her body.

“Relia!” Karísah exclaimed, jogging over to the new woman as she did so. “What— what’s going on here?!”

The tan-skinned woman — Relia — passed Karísah a brief glance before turning her attention back toward the building. “…It’s the Bleeders,” she responded.

“Go fuckin’ figure,” Davídrius muttered as he approached Relia and Karísah. “And they somehow found powered armor, too. Damn. How many are there?”

“No matter how many there are, with us here, taking them on will be a piece of cake!” Pierce declared as he rushed up to the group as well. “Just point us in the right direction, and we’ll help out!”

Relia stared blankly at Pierce. “…Who are you?”

“An idiot, that’s what,” Davídrius growled as he turned to glare at Pierce. “The hell did I just say—?”

Chaos Impact!

“What—?!” Davídrius and Pierce both drew back as Relia lunged forward and held her hands upward, firing off an imperceptible plane of force just in time to shatter a massive ice spike that had formed overhead. As soon as the ice shattered, the ground underfoot began to rumble and rise; the four Chaotics in that space quickly dispersed, with Karísah breaking the rising ground with her fist, grabbing some of the rocks that flew off, and then chucking them at the building that the Geotechnic had crashed into earlier. Before the rocks could reach the building, however, a wall of ice appeared to block them — followed quickly by a tall, dark-skinned man clad in black and silver greaves and gauntlets, as well as ice armor over the rest of his arms, legs, and chest. He leaped off of the ice wall and began creating a levitating path of ice through the air that he deftly ran across, all while the Geotechnic burst through the ice wall with dozens of stones whirling around her, forming a makeshift shield.

Chaos Cannon! Chaos Cannon!” Relia called out twice, generating small purple projectiles in her right hand that were launched toward the two enemy Chaotics. One of the projectiles hit the Cryotechnic head-on, shattering his ice armor and flaring up his energy shielding as he was flung backwards, while the whirling shield of rocks around the Geotechnic deflected the other projectile. With a furious shout, the Geotechnic lunged forward, using her control over rock and stone to shatter the entire plaza and drop everyone to their knees under the newly uneven terrain. Karísah was able to brace herself against the attack and just barely remain standing, allowing her to quickly reach out and rip up part of the plaza to hurl it at the Geotechnic; the enemy Chaotic dodged out of the way of the rock, but was instantly floored as Davídrius appeared next to her and slammed his foot down over her head.

Despite the incredible force behind Davídrius’s kick, however, the Geotechnic remained alive — her energy shielding was still active. The Dean made to address that fact by throwing another high speed kick, but just as his foot connected, the rocky ground underneath him blasted upwards, flinging him high into the air. Now free from immediate interference, the Geotechnic jumped to her feet, raising the ground around her as she did so to provide cover — only for Karísah to pulverize the barricades with a single punch, sending a cloud of rocky debris blasting backward and peppering the Geotechnic’s energy shielding. As the latter reeled back from the flaring shields that blocked her vision, Karísah grabbed the Geotechnic’s arm and slammed her into the ground. Karísah then grabbed a large chunk of rock, hefted it onto her shoulder, and then chucked it through the air toward the still-airborne Davídrius, who readily used it as a springboard to instantly return to the ground.

Just before he reached ground level, however, a cluster of ice spikes suddenly manifested on and all around the enemy Geotechnic. Davídrius quickly whipped around mid-air to launch a kick into some of the spikes, managing to shatter some of them just before they would have impaled him. Just after he touched down on the ground, he snapped his attention up at the Cryotechnic, only to see Relia instantly appear in the air next to the Cryotechnic and launch him across the plaza with another call of “Chaos Impact!” Davídrius then intercepted the Cryotechnic mid-air with his heel, spiking the man down to the ground on top of his own ice spikes. The energy shielding protecting him flared up, preventing the spikes from piercing his body — but Karísah then brought both of her fists down on top of him full-force.

Kra-Kooooom!

An incredible shockwave emanated from the impact as all of the ice spikes disintegrated and the Cryotechnic was blasted downwards, slamming into the Geotechnic below him and cratering the entire plaza. Karísah then dropped down to the bottom of the crater as both Chaotics lay on the ground, stunned, their energy shielding brightly covering their bodies in a golden glow — only to disappear in a visual static fuzz a second later. As soon as that happened, Davídrius dashed down into the crater and dealt a knockout blow to both Chaotics, just as Relia teleported to his and Karísah’s side.

“…Oof.” Davídrius took a deep breath and then glared down at the two Bleeder Chaotics. “…Fuckin’… hell.” He then glanced over at Relia. “Were there any more?”

Relia responded with a nod. “There were two others that I was able to subdue on my own.”

“So there were only four of them…?” Karísah questioned doubtfully.

“When I first arrived, at least. Who knows if there were more earlier.”

“Hmm…” Davídrius returned to glaring at the two Bleeders. “…Somethin’ doesn’t add up…”

“Hey!”

Davídrius, Karísah, and Relia glanced up at the lip of the crater, where Pierce now stood — followed shortly by the rest of the Earthian Chaotics.

“Alright, I have to admit, that was pretty cool!” Pierce shouted down from the top of the crater, “but next time, why don’t you let us in on the action?”

“You…! Tch.” Davídrius scowled and shook his head. He then gestured for Karísah and Relia to follow him before leaping up to the edge of the crater, where he turned to face the Earthians with his arms crossed.

“That actually was pretty cool!” Sky exclaimed as Karísah leaped up after Davídrius, and Relia simply teleported to his side. “I’ve never actually seen—!”

“Shut the hell up, all of you,” Davídrius snapped.

“…Uh…?” Sky drew back, startled. “Wha-what…?”

“Is this just a show to you? A joke?” The Dean’s brow furrowed deeply as he swept his gaze across the Earthians. “A Compound has been attacked by Bleeders, and given that I don’t see any other bystanders right now, the people have been disappeared, too. And you wanna talk about how ‘cool’ a fucking fight is?!”

Uneasy silence fell upon the group, as Pierce and Sky both fell for a loss of words. Behind them, Phoenix pinched the bridge of her nose while Twy and Spike released wary sighs, with Austin laughing uneasily and Conrad simply rubbing the back of his neck. Kestrel, for her part, remained stoically straight-faced and quiet.

“…Let me just apologize for Pierce,” Phoenix eventually spoke up. “He can get a little ahead of himself, sometimes.”

“I can apologize for myself,” Pierce shot back.

“A-anyways…” Karísah glanced down at the two unconscious Bleeders at the bottom of the crater. “…This… really wasn’t what I was expectin’ to find…”

“Yeah, what… what happened here?” Spike questioned. “Is there any way we can help?”

Davídrius turned his glare on Spike, but didn’t offer a verbal response. Instead, he glanced away after a moment and held a hand to his brow, as he said, “…Relia, do you know what’s goin’ on here?”

“No… I don’t.” The tan-skinned, short woman — a flat 5 feet tall, even shorter than Phoenix — turned to look out over the empty and battered plaza. “I only just arrived here an hour ago. When I did, the place was already empty… the only people I found were these Bleeders, walking the streets.”

“Damn…” Davídrius released an irate sigh. “…How long ago did this happen? I talked to someone here just a few days ago… there has to still be people here.”

“Do we know that there aren’t any more of these, uh… Bleeders, either?” Twy asked.

“We don’t…” Davídrius muttered. “…Relia, did all four of ‘em have powered armor?”

“They did,” Relia answered. “Black and silver greaves and gauntlets…”

“Fuckin’ powered armor. I bet they got it from the dumpin’ grounds. Damn Nimaliakians and Tekdecénians, just dumpin’ their trash on our coasts…”

“Wait, do they seriously do that?!” Sky questioned incredulously, “just, dump their literal trash on your land? For real?!”

Davídrius regarded her with a deadpan stare, before turning his attention to Pierce. “Alright… I almost hate to say it, but your help would be useful here.”

“Ah ha! I knew you’d come around eventually,” Pierce replied with a smirk.

“Don’t talk like that just yet,” Davídrius countered. “We need to search this Compound for survivors or more Bleeders, and your speed would be helpful. But we might also find bodies — dead bodies. Are you prepared for that?”

“Ah…!” Pierce’s smirk faltered for a brief moment, but he managed to maintain his overall confident aura as he responded, “…yeah, of course. Wouldn’t be the first time I saw a body.”

“Pierce…” Phoenix passed him a doubtful glance. “…Are you sure?”

“Of course I’m sure. I’m fine,” he insisted. “Besides, this is exactly what I was asking for! A chance to use our powers for real!”

“And that attitude is why I’m gonna regret this…” Davídrius muttered. “Look, just look for any other people, and come back here immediately if you find somethin’. Don’t try to start a fight on your own. You got that?”

“Yeah, yeah, I got it,” Pierce replied with a roll of his eyes. “But let’s get going already, huh?”

“You better not make me regret this,” Davídrius snapped back, before turning on his heel. “But yeah. Search the place as fast as you can!”

“Ha! Got it!” Pierce remarked as he and Davídrius both dashed off in opposite directions, beginning their search of the Compound.