Chapter 24 – Grievances of the Wasteland

Chaos Negation.

“Tch. You think you’ve won, haven’t you?” The stout Geotechnic spat at the ground, and then glared up at Relia as she struggled against the rope that currently bound her hands and feet. “Just you wait! When we don’t return, they’ll—!”

“Would you shut the hell up, already?” Phoenix interjected irately as she tied a gag around the Geotechnic’s mouth, preventing her from speaking further. “I hate it when people refuse to admit when they lost.”

“There really are too many of those in this world…” Relia muttered as she glanced around at her surroundings. She and Phoenix both currently stood inside of Goresan’s jail, where the Bleeder Chaotics had been thrown behind bars and tied up. Relia herself remained in the jail due to the fact that she could use Chaos Negation, a Chaostechnic ability that temporarily negated all Chaos Energy in a small surrounding area — and thus allowed her to prevent the Bleeders from using their Chaotic abilities to escape. Phoenix and Karísah also remained inside to help, while the rest of the Earthians stood outside, waiting for the return of Davídrius and Pierce.

After fully tying up the Geotechnic and retreating from the jail cell, Phoenix approached Relia and Karísah and released a weary sigh. “…This is hella crazy…” she muttered, passing the jailed Chaotics a brief glance. “I didn’t expect to see an attack like this so soon… is this common?”

“Not around here…” Karísah replied quietly, her voice lowered to prevent the Bleeders from eavesdropping. “The Bleeders haven’t attacked a compound this close to Tresnon in years…”

“And yet they were still able to kill or kidnap everyone in Goresan without Tresnon knowing,” Relia stated. “We’ve been gettin’ too complacent.”

“Relia… that’s not fair. Everyone in Tresnon has been tryin’ their best to reduce the Bleeder threat…”

“I’m not sayin’ that their efforts are pointless. But Davídrius and my mother have been too focused on ‘rehabilitation’, to the point that they’re overlookin’ how the Bleeders — while a reduced threat — are still a threat.”

“If you feel that way, then why don’t you stay with us in Tresnon? You can help us make more positive changes!”

Relia frowned and looked away. “Are you tryin’ to tie me down, too?”

Karísah released a weary sigh and then adopted a forlorn smile. “You really won’t change your mind, huh.”

“The rest of Treséd needs help, too. I can’t just stay in one place.”

“You’re right, you’re right… you should really visit more often, though. We all miss you.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Relia muttered, her gaze directed at her feet.

Phoenix glanced between the two women in mild confusion. “…Uh… if you don’t mind me interjecting myself, here,” she eventually spoke up, drawing their attention, “sorry, I don’t think we’ve properly met. You know, with everything that’s happened here. I’m Phoenix.”

“And I’m Relia… as you ought to already know,” Relia replied as she gave Phoenix a wary glance. “…You aren’t from around here.”

“Nope. I’m from Earth, as well as everyone outside. We’ve only been here for a couple weeks.”

“Explains a lot.”

“Ha ha…” Phoenix laughed uneasily. “Yeah… we… wait. You can understand me?”

Relia nodded once. “I have the translation implants. They’re a useful tool for a wanderer… for the most part.”

“For the most part?”

“Most Tresédians can’t afford the implants. Even I only got them due to a family connection.”

“That’s not true,” Karísah refuted. “You passed the entrance exam to WCU, and all WCU students get RTA implants. You earned yours, even if you didn’t actually attend the school…”

Relia shook her head. “The fact that I didn’t go means that I didn’t qualify for the implants. The only reason I ever actually agreed to get them was to get my mother off my ass about leavin’ Tresnon…”

“Who is your mother?” Phoenix questioned, “she sounds important.”

“Oh, I guess you haven’t heard her last name,” Karísah remarked, and then looked down at Relia. “Her full name is Relia Condsa, the daughter of Selind Condsa — the head of Tresnon’s Defense Force.”

“For all that matters,” Relia muttered.

“…Oh, right, I remember now!” Phoenix exclaimed, her eyes widening in recognition. “Selind mentioned you back when we first met.” She then shifted her gaze toward Karísah. “She said something about you and Karí—”

“Y-yeah, that’s Selind for you!” Karísah interrupted, as a tinge of red crossed her cheeks. “Always, you know, talkin’ about her daughter. Ah ha ha…”

Phoenix’s mouth slowly turned up into an amused smirk as she watched Karísah fidget and avoid eye contact with Relia. “A lot of things might be different here, compared to Earth,” Phoenix commented, “but some things really are the same. Heh.”

Relia eyed Phoenix suspiciously. “What’s that mean?”

Phoenix shook her head. “Nothing. It’s nothing. But, hey, you’re a Chaostechnic, right?”

Chaos Negation,” Relia quickly called out, passing the jailed Bleeders a brief glance as she did so. “…Yes, that’s right,” she eventually continued, returning her attention to Phoenix.

“Cool! I’m one, too, actually, but this is the first time I’ve actually gotten to meet another Chaostechnic, aside from Kievkenalis. If you don’t mind, I have a few questions about how this all works. For one…”

As Phoenix began laying out her questions for Relia, Kestrel peered through a window into the jail to quickly take stock of the situation. Upon noting that everything seemed to be under control, she stepped back from the window and approached the rest of the group standing outside.

“Everything fine?” Conrad questioned as she came to a stop next to him.

She nodded once in response.

“Well it’s good that we got everythin’ under control, for now,” Spike remarked, his hands on his hips as he slowly surveyed the dusty and eerily quiet town around him. “Still… didn’t expect to run into Bleeders so soon.”

“Or at all,” Austin added. “Isn’t this place supposed to be safe?”

“Why are you complaining about what’s ‘safe’ all the time?” Sky retorted. “You were the one who said that going along with this ‘chosen one’ crap might be a good idea!”

“Well, sure, and I still think that… sorta. But that doesn’t mean puttin’ us into deadly fights right off the bat,” Austin countered.

“I just wish we went to one of the schools that wasn’t in the middle of a desert,” Conrad said.

“Yeah, that too!”

“Austin does have a point, though,” Twy stated. “What would Luke think if he knew what was happening here? And more than that… what if more Bleeders show up?”

“Then we fight ‘em,” Spike replied. “What else?”

“But none of us have fought other Chaotics before, outside of training duels with Davídrius,” Twy argued. “If we had to go up against other Chaotics who actually had experience with their powers, then we’d be toast! Not to mention that the Bleeders must have enough people to make an entire small town disappear.” She glanced around, making momentary eye contact with everyone present. “Do you guys really think that we could handle that?”

“I know what Pierce would say,” Conrad replied with an amused snort.

“And I’m sure that he’d be wrong.”

“…You’re back,” Austin commented flatly as Davídrius approached the group, having just appeared on the street in front of the jail.

“You find anythin’?” Spike questioned.

The Dean shook his head. “Nothin’. No people, no corpses, no Bleeders. There’s a crater where the comms station used to be, which could explain why they didn’t get a warnin’ out to Tresnon, but there’s no way to tell if it blew before or after the Bleeders showed up.”

“That sounds… bad,” Sky responded.

“You don’t say,” Davídrius deadpanned. “The way my search went, Pierce likely won’t find much, either. Which means it’s time for the next plan.”

“Huh?” Sky eyed him with confusion as he pushed past the group and toward the jail. “…Oh! Are we interrogating them, now?”

I’m interrogatin’ them,” Davídrius declared, “y’all stay out here, just in case shit goes bad, somehow. …Actually, Spike, follow me. The rest of you, stay put.”

“Sure thing,” Spike replied, cracking his knuckles as he began approaching the jail behind Davídrius.

“Now don’t get carried away,” the Dean ordered as the two men stepped into the jail, “you’re only here ‘cause you’re a Forcetechnic, and a defensive Formtechnic. If these Bleeders here manage to start a fight, you focus on protectin’ the others. Don’t fight back.”

“Got it.”

“What’s this about fightin’ back?” Karísah questioned, as she, Relia, and Phoenix all turned to face Davídrius and Spike.

“I take it we’re talkin’ to the Bleeders, now?” Relia asked.

“That’s it, exactly,” Davídrius stated, and then approached the cell containing the Geotechnic who had attacked the group earlier. She simply glared back at him, unable to move her arms or speak past the gag. “Now, I expect y’all to be cooperative,” Davídrius muttered as he opened the cell and approached the Geotechnic to remove her gag. “The more information you give me, the better things’ll be for you.”

“Of course you’d say that,” the Geotechnic spat as soon as her gag was removed. “You probably think you’re Treséd’s savior or somethin’, huh, Sentry? Bein’ all high and mighty in that compound of yours, thinkin’ you can save the whole continent yourself!”

“If I really thought I could do things on my own, then you can bet your ass I would be,” Davídrius shot back. “But about the matter here — what’re y’all doin’ in Goresan? What happened here?”

The woman sneered at him. “Wouldn’t you like to know?”

“Yeah. That’s why I’m askin’, dumbass.”

“Well we aren’t tellin’.”

“You serious? You know who I am, and what I do.” Davídrius looked over at the other jail cells, containing the other three Bleeder Chaotics. “Y’all gotta know that I can help y’all find real, stable jobs, where you don’t have to use your powers to hurt people, and you don’t have to risk your lives just for food and water.”

“And earn nothin’ while we’re doin’ it, I’m sure,” the Geotechnic countered.

“That’s far from true,” Karísah interjected. “Tresnon and our allied compounds are all doin’ pretty well, all things considered. You’d have a decent life if you joined us.”

“Doin’ well, huh?” The woman grinned, and moved her head as though she were gesturing at everything around her. “This is what you call ‘doin well’?”

“Don’t blame us for shit that you did,” Davídrius snapped. “We’ll find out what happened to Goresan eventually, even if you don’t tell us here.”

“How do you know that the people here disappeared ‘cause of the Bleeders?”

“Don’t try that shit with me. I know how y’all work. Besides, there ain’t nothin’ else around here that could do this.” Davídrius then released an irritated sigh. “But you clearly ain’t gonna be helpful there. What about that armor that y’all had? Where’d you get it?”

The woman turned her nose up. “We bought it.”

“Bullshit. Bleeders ain’t got money for shit, and you want me to believe you bought legit military hardware?”

“Would you believe me if I said it was a gift?”

“No, ‘cause that’s just as stupid. No one with powered armor cares about Treséd enough to give anyone here free fuckin’ armor, let alone a criminal gang.”

“Davídrius…” Relia spoke up, “I have a feelin’ we aren’t goin’ to get anything useful out of them.”

“Yeah, sure seems that way…” The Dean shook his head warily and then stepped up to the woman to replace the gag. “Fuckin’ Bleeders, always makin’ shit harder than it needs to be. Well, I guess we can try the next one—”

His words were cut off as the door to the jail blasted open, followed immediately by Pierce appearing in the middle of the room. The rapid arrival and stop kicked up a sizable cloud of dust, which Phoenix and Spike reflexively backed away from, but Pierce remained unbothered as he locked eyes with Davídrius.

“Well that was fast,” the Dean commented as he returned the gaze. “What’s up with you?”

“I found someone,” Pierce replied. “In the northeastern part of the town, there’s a survivor!”


“This is the place?”

“Yeah,” Pierce replied with a nod. “He’s hiding behind a counter back there, and he looked pretty hurt.”

“I see…” Davídrius mused, and then glanced back at the other Chaotics who had come with him and Pierce: Karísah, Phoenix, Conrad, and Kestrel. The group currently stood to the side of a narrow street, just in front of a building that advertised itself as a bar. In the near distance, the compound’s surrounding wall could be seen, extending just over the tops of the low-height buildings that lined the street.

“How badly hurt did he look?” Phoenix questioned.

“There was some blood… it looked like he might’ve been shot,” Pierce responded. “He was conscious, though.”

“If he’s conscious and bleedin’, then he’s probably feelin’ panicked, too,” Davídrius asserted. “Just in case he tries to shoot us… Karísah, you and I go first. Pierce, you keep an eye out, make sure nobody sneaks up on us. The rest of you, only come in when I give an ‘all clear’.”

“Got it,” Pierce replied with a mild smirk. “You won’t have to worry about an ambush, nobody will get by me!”

Davídrius eyed the Earthian as he leaped up to the roof of a building across the street. “…Alright.” The Dean then turned around and approached the entrance to the bar, with Karísah following closely behind him. “Hey!” he shouted as he knocked loudly on the door, “we’re friends, from Compound Tresnon! We don’t mean you any harm.”

A second passed in silence, as Davídrius waited for some kind of response. When he heard none, he passed Karísah a quick nod and then slowly opened the front door — and just as he did, a chunk of the door exploded outwards in a burst of energy.

“Hey, hey!” the Dean shouted irately as he took cover behind the rest of the door, “we’re friendly! Don’t shoot!”

“Th-that’s what the others said, too!” came a male voice from inside the bar, “how do I know you ain’t Bleeders?!”

“You’re shootin’ at Davídrius Wrikax,” Karísah replied, “he’s as anti-Bleeder as they get!”

“My name ain’t that important,” Davídrius muttered, though as he peeked inside the building again, he noticed the top of a man’s head peeking over the counter in the back.

“…Oh…” the man responded wearily, “S-Sentry?… I… I thought I recognized that voice. Are you really…?”

Davídrius passed Karísah an annoyed glance and released a sigh before pushing the door open to fully reveal his body. “Yeah, it’s me,” he stated. “We only just got here, though.”

“Finally, some help…” The man slowly pulled himself to his feet, in the process revealing the gun that he held in his left hand — and the blood running down his right arm.

“Well, that looks rough,” Conrad commented as he peered into the building from outside, his entire body invisible.

“Yeah…” Karísah responded quietly, and then rose her voice to address the man. “Your wound… how bad is it?”

“This?” The man glanced over at his right arm, which hung limply at his side. “It’s nothin’ I can’t recover from…”

“Sure doesn’t look that way to me. Here…” Karísah quickly removed her cloak and easily tore off a strip of cloth, at which point she began moving toward the man. “You’re clearly losin’ blood, let’s stop that.”

“Uh, well, okay, then…” the man muttered as Karísah guided him to a nearby seat and then began wiping blood off his arm with the rest of her cloak in preparation to tie a tourniquet. He then turned his attention up to Davídrius, and then to Phoenix and Kestrel, who stood in the doorway. “There’s a buncha you, Sentry… are the Bleeders gone?”

“Yeah,” Davídrius replied as he took a seat facing the man, and gestured for the Earthians to come closer. “Good to find that you’re alive. About what happened here, though — it was the Bleeders, right?”

“I don’t know who else it could’ve been,” the man answered, wincing slightly as Karísah tied off the tourniquet and then stepped away. He glanced down at it and then offered Karísah a quick nod before turning back to Davídrius, a sullen expression upon his face. “They just attacked so suddenly, in the middle of the night… I barely had time to grab my gun. By then, they were already roamin’ the streets uncontested, so I…” He looked down. “I just… y-you know, I panicked, so, I…”

“It’s fine. That’s perfectly fine,” Davídrius said. “I get what you’re sayin’. You wanted to go out an’ help, and I get that. But for most folks, hidin’ is the way to go. You ever been in a fight?”

“Uh… not aside from breakin’ up bar brawls.”

“Then it’s best to keep it that way. Folks who never were in a real fight, with life-or-death stakes, often ain’t much use in one. All you woulda done is gotten yourself killed, and that wouldn’t’ve helped anyone.”

“I guess…”

“So, what happened here? You said they attacked at night?”

“Yeah. A… a couple days ago, I think,” the man responded wearily. He paused to take a deep breath, his eyes averted from Davídrius. “I… heard a bunch of explosions. That’s what woke me up. Don’t know what happened before then. After that, I heard some fightin’, but… not much. The Bleeders were in the streets barely an hour later.”

“That sounds… fast,” Phoenix commented. “Did this place not have any protection, aside from the walls?”

The man stared at her cluelessly, and then looked helplessly at Davídrius. “…What’d she say?”

“Oh, right, he can’t understand us…” Phoenix muttered.

“She asked about Goresan’s defenses,” Davídrius said, and then glanced back at Phoenix. “Goresan’s got— well, they had two Guardians. That is, two folks in charge of defendin’ the place. Both were Chaotics, and pretty competent ones, too. They could sure give me a hard time.”

“Guardians, huh? Does that have anything to do with this ‘Sentry’ title everyone’s using for you?”

“A lot of Tresédians like titles and nicknames,” Karísah replied. “The way I hear it, when Davídrius started makin’ a name for himself with WCU and this Bleeder Reformation stuff, people started callin’ him ‘Sentry’, like an upgraded Guardian.”

“He’s certainly watched over Treséd like one,” the bartender declared. “I don’t know what we’d all do without him.”

“Oi, oi, y’all are really overestimatin’ my abilities,” Davídrius countered. He then turned back to face the barman. “Anyways. About Goresan’s Guardians. Do you know what happened to ‘em? How’d the Bleeders get past ‘em?”

“I, I don’t know. I didn’t see any of the fightin’…”

“Accordin’ to Relia, there were four Bleeders here when she arrived,” Karísah pointed out. “Maybe the Guardians were just outnumbered and overpowered.”

“Maybe, but Relia was already fightin’ all four before we got here, and she did fine on her own,” Davídrius pointed out. “Now, she’s one of the best Chaotics I know, so part of that’s down to her skill… but the Bleeders ain’t never been that good at fightin’ in the first place, and Guardians train specifically to fight off groups of Bleeders. So to overpower two Guardians would require a lotta numbers, or a lotta firepower… damn.”

“A-about that, actually,” the man spoke up, uneasily glancing between Davídrius and Karísah. “I overheard some of the Bleeders talkin’ yesterday, when they walked by the bar, and it sounded like they had someone new with ‘em, or somethin’. Someone really powerful. They called her ‘Feral’… like, as if that were her name.”

“…Feral?” Phoenix echoed incredulously.

“A really strong Chaotic who just showed up, is that what you’re sayin’?” Davídrius questioned, “well that’s just great. You have any idea what kind of Chaotic they were?”

“No…” the man replied. “From what I heard, it seemed like the explosions that started everythin’ were because of her, but… that’s all I know.”

“A Chaotic that causes explosions?” Karísah passed Davídrius a glance. “That could be anything…”

“Well, at least we got a name: Feral. Sounds like a hint to her attitude, too. So it’s a start, even if we don’t know much more than that,” Davídrius commented, and then directed his next question at the man. “Since you overheard some of the Bleeders, do you now what they were doin’ here?”

“Uh…” The man looked down again, silent for a few moments as he wracked his thoughts. “Not really, but… I did go outside, just once, to try and figure out what was goin’ on. It… it looked like they were roundin’ people up. There was a big group in the plaza, guarded by some of the Bleeders. There were a bunch of… a bunch of corpses, too. In a big pile, right outside the walls. I watched a Geotechnic bury them under the sand in an instant. I…” His breathing turned heavy, as he finished, “…I recognized some of those folks. Regulars, at this bar. Some captured, some killed, and… and I…”

A heavy silence fell over the bar as the man continued staring at the ground. Phoenix and Kestrel exchanged uneasy glances, as Davídrius pursed his lips and glanced around irately, as though searching for something to direct his anger towards.

“…Ah, damn it.” The Dean broke the silence and took a deep breath to calm himself. “A full-on compound raid… and so close to Tresnon, too. That ain’t happened in nearly a decade. What the hell are they plannin’?”

“I… don’t know,” the man replied quietly. “Though… even after they, uh… got rid of all the people here… I noticed that they were still patrollin’ the streets. Kinda like they were inspectin’ the place. And not for people…”

“Inspectin’?” Davídrius echoed, “…hmm. Did any of the Bleeders you saw have powered armor? Black and silver gauntlets or greaves, anything like that?”

“I don’t know about powered armor, but yeah, some of ‘em had some black and silver stuff on them. Not all of ‘em, but some. Was that really powered armor, though? The Bleeders have that?”

Davídrius shook his head. “It’s nothin’ for you to worry about.” He then stood up and patted the man’s uninjured shoulder reassuringly. “You’ve been a lotta help, here. Really appreciate it. We’ll get you to Tresnon soon, and take care of ya there, but just hang on for now, alright?”

“Uh, yeah, of course. Th-thanks, Sentry.”

“No problem.” Davídrius glanced at Karísah, and then at the Earthians, before gesturing toward the door. “C’mon. We gotta lot to figure out, here…”


“Man, this is messed up.”

“Yeah, no kiddin’…” Spike muttered. “A whole fuckin’ town, disappeared. Just how the hell did that happen?”

“I really don’t know…” Austin responded warily. Nearly half an hour had passed since Davídrius and the others left to search for the survivor Pierce had found, leaving Austin, Spike, Twy, and Sky to remain within the jail. The Bleeders were still tied up and gagged within the cells, while Relia stood apart from the Earthians and stoically watched over the new inmates.

“I thought the Bleeders were just a gang, or something,” Twy commented, “but if they have enough organization to take over an entire town, without letting any alerts go out… they’re a lot more dangerous than I thought.”

“Well, sure, but there’s a lot of us!” Sky remarked. “The four of us, plus Davídrius, Karísah, Pierce, Phoenix, Conrad, Kestrel, and now Relia… that’s like, what, eleven Chaotics? We could take on anything!”

“I dunno about that,” Austin countered. “There might be eleven of us, but of those eleven, only three have any real experience…”

“Yeah, but you gotta get experience somehow. Everyone has a first fight! Hell, we’ve had two!”

“We may have fought EA twice, but those weren’t Chaotic fights,” Twy replied. “It hasn’t even been a week since we learned about Chaotic basics, not to mention the fact that we haven’t received any training with our special weapons whatsoever. We’re woefully under prepared for a real fight with other Chaotics.”

“Oh c’mon, what’s so hard to figure out about our weapons?” Sky exclaimed as she summoned her green and silver staff into her hands with a flash of light. “You just swing ‘em around!”

“I have a bow,” Twy retorted.

“Yeah, well, the key thing is still there. These weapons are supposed to be unique, right? That means no one will know you have it! So just whip it out at the moment they’d least expect it, and boom! Victory!”

“That’s a lot easier said than done,” Austin pointed out.

“Yeah, there’s a lot of technique behind actually usin’ martial weaponry,” Spike said. “I’ve got a bit of trainin’ with a bo staff, so I could help teach you how to use yours, Sky. But Austin and Twy… well, claymores and bows ain’t what I’ve trained with.”

“It always comes back to trainin’, doesn’t it…” Austin sighed warily. “Man… how’d we even get involved in all this? Why us?”

“That old dude said something about a prophecy,” Sky responded.

“Yeah, but do you really buy that? A fuckin’ prophecy?”

The Pyrotechnic shrugged. “I dunno. Do you have a better explanation?”

“That’s not really how this works,” Twy countered. “You don’t accept wild explanations just because it’s the only one you have.”

“Well there’s not much use in getting worked up over it, anyways, is there? We’re already here. We can’t change that. Besides…” Sky passed an incredulous glance toward Austin. “You were the most excited of all of us to learn that you had a special weapon that you could summon out of thin air. Why are you complaining now?”

“Because I didn’t think we’d get thrown into fucking life-or-death situations, that’s why,” Austin countered irately.

“What the hell did you think would happen when we got drafted into the military?”

“That’s why I thought the conscription was so fucked up! And… I guess I’d hoped that it would get reversed before anything actually happened…”

“Well… me too,” Sky responded, and then dismissed her staff as she sat down on the ground. “The conscription stuff sucks… but it already happened, so there’s not much use worrying about it, you know? And this whole life-or-death thing sucks too, I guess, but, like… we have superpowers now, you know?! I think the best thing to use those for is to help other people, and sometimes, that means putting yourself in danger. It’s just what happens.”

Austin looked down at his hands. “…I guess…”

“It still doesn’t change the fact that we aren’t yet prepared for a real fight,” Twy asserted. “I agree with you, Sky, for the most part. But I’d like a little more than a single week of training before getting thrown into the deep end.”

“…Hey, Relia,” Spike spoke up, his attention directed toward the short Chaotic standing near the jail cells. “Have you been listenin’? What do you think about all this?”

She passed a glance toward the group, her expression neutral. “…It’s not my place to say,” she eventually responded. “Davídrius is the one teachin’ you. Right? He probably knows what he’s doin’.”

“Probably?…” Austin echoed uneasily.

“I don’t know what’s goin’ through his head. Karísah would know better.” Relia then returned her attention to watching over the Bleeders. “…But, I will say this: not all Chaotics get the benefit of trainin’ before bein’ thrown into their first fight. And most don’t get to choose to fight.”

“That’s not the first time we’ve been told that…” Sky replied.

“That doesn’t make any of this right, either,” Austin argued.

“…You all really are outsiders,” Relia said. “That naive idealism doesn’t fit Treséd. If you want to keep it, you’d better leave.”

“That’s… harsh,” Sky responded warily.

“It’s the truth. Though maybe that’s why Davídrius took you in — to show you the truth.”

Austin, Sky, and Twy all passed each other uneasy glances, each of them at a loss for how to respond. Before any of them could think of something to say, however, Spike spoke up.

“Someone’s here,” he declared in a loud whisper, staring out one of the jail windows as he did. He squinted his eyes, and then ducked down beneath the windowsill as he gestured for everyone else to follow suit.

“What? What’s going on?” Sky questioned in a whisper as she quickly crawled to Spike’s side.

“There’s folks out there, checkin’ out the plaza,” Spike replied, “and they aren’t the others. They’re wearin’ that black and silver stuff, too—”

In the middle of his sentence, the entire front wall of the building exploded outwards, as though yanked by some invisible force. Standing just on the other side was a tan-skinned man, clad in desert robes and metal greaves and gauntlets, while behind him were another four individuals, all dressed similarly.

“…Well, what do we got here?” the man remarked as he looked over the Earthians. “…I guess we’ve been found out, then, huh?”

“Shit,” Relia muttered as she backed into a defensive stance. “It’s the Bleeders!”