Chapter 94 – New Blood

Chapter 94 – New Blood

2 Days Later



In the blink of an eye, Pierce blasted forward, leaving behind only a cloud of dust as he instantly crossed the distance between himself and Liask. While sailing through the air, he swung his right foot around, slamming it into Liask’s crossed forearms at supersonic speeds. She bore the blow with a grimace, yet with her locked and braced legs, Pierce’s kick only slid her a few meters across the ground — rather than launched her clear across the campus.

Upon seeing Liask standing her ground, a smirk crossed Pierce’s face, as if he was daring her to keep up with him. A second later, he disappeared again, circling around Liask to her blind spot before charging straight at her again. While unable to keep up with Pierce’s incredible speed, Liask was nonetheless able to shift her stance just in time to partially block Pierce’s incoming kick with her upper left arm. She was unable to entirely mitigate the force of the kick this time, however, and as a result she was sent tumbling to the side — though she maintained her balance well enough to not fall over. After re-establishing her defensive posture, she turned back to face Pierce, who himself was watching from a short distance away to ensure she was alright.

“…Heh.” Pierce smirked, his hands on his hips as he eyed Liask across WCU’s training grounds. “You got a handle on your stance pretty quickly.”

“Guess all I needed was some practice,” Liask replied, relaxing her posture and returning to a neutral standing position. “All of the other Velocitechnics I’ve trained with didn’t want to go full speed against me, even though I’m a Forcetechnic, so I never had much chance to practice bracin’…”

“Can’t say I blame them.”

Pierce and Liask both glanced to the side, where Conrad, Minilas, and Obra were all standing while they watched the duo train together.

“…What?” Conrad questioned after noting Pierce and Liask both looking at him. “Wanting to hold back is a legitimate concern. I bet those other guys were just afraid they’d hurt you, or themselves.”

“I’m a Forcetechnic, though,” Liask reiterated.

“…Nah, Conrad has a point,” Pierce declared. “Not every Velocitechnic is equally fast, and not every Forcetechnic is equally strong or durable. So if you don’t know how much stronger or weaker you are than a potential training partner, then it’s best to hold back.”

“Truly insightful, coming from you,” Minilas deadpanned.

“Why are you here, then?” Obra challenged as he glared at Pierce, with his arms crossed. “Bet you think you’re better than us, huh? Tryin’ to say that what you’re doin’ here is ‘holdin back’?”

“Well… sort of,” Pierce replied. “Look, dude, I wasn’t the one who made me this fast.”

“Either way,” Liask quickly interjected, preventing Obra from responding, “thanks for trainin’ with me today, Pierce. Really like the help.”

“Yeah, same to you,” Pierce said with a grin. “There aren’t many people around here who both want to train with me and can stand up to the kind of blows I can put out.”

“I wonder why that is,” Conrad muttered under his breath.

“I hear you guys’ve gotten into a bunch of fights,” Minilas remarked, ignoring Conrad’s idle comment as she addressed him and Pierce with a flat tone. “Really helps you get better as a Chaotic, huh.”

“I missed the one in Riverana, and nothing happened on Sikalia… so I hear,” Conrad commented as he shot Pierce a glance.

“I missed the fight in Anika, too,” Pierce said, pointedly avoiding eye contact with Conrad as he replied to Minilas’s question. “But yeah, I’ve been in a few fights. It kind of actually does help to have that kind of experience — it lets you know what you have to work on to get better.”

“Really,” Obra deadpanned. “You think a fight is just a trainin’ opportunity, huh?”

Pierce passed Obra an annoyed glance, but before he could begin to respond, someone else called out to the group.

“Hey! You, there!”

“Huh—? …Oh…” Liask’s face fell as the whole group turned toward Ralak, who was approaching from the direction of the campus gates. Just as quickly as she frowned, though, Liask forced a smile. “Hi, Ralak. Do you need somethin’?”

“Not much…” the instructor commented, her stern gaze sweeping quickly across the five students in front of her before refocusing on Liask. “Have you seen Davídrius around?”

“Not today,” Pierce replied. “Who knows where that guy got off to, but he hasn’t been around the training grounds.”

“Not for the past half hour or so, anyways,” Conrad added.

“Someone in trouble?” Minilas questioned.

Ralak passed her an unamused glance before sighing and walking off. “No one’s in trouble,” she shouted over her shoulder, “but let me know if you see him.”

“Uh, sure…?” Conrad responded in confusion, watching as the instructor walked off toward the campus buildings. Eventually, he turned back toward the group. “Weird, huh?”

“That was… Ralak Adax, the Head of Combat, right?” Pierce questioned. “I think I’ve only met her once or twice… hey, Liask.” He shifted his attention to the scarred Forctechnic standing nearby. “You ever think about asking her to help you get a training partner?”

“…Maybe…” Liask muttered, her attention still focused on the campus buildings — as were Obra’s and Minilas’s.

Upon noticing this, as well as the fact that all three were wearing cloudy expressions, Pierce and Conrad exchanged a wary glance. “…Something wrong, guys?” Pierce questioned, this time raising his voice a little to get their attentions.

“—Oh! Uh, sorry…” Liask finally turned away from the buildings with a sheepish smile. “What were you sayin’?”

Pierce eyed Liask, and then Minilas and Obra — even Minilas, who Pierce had by now determined to be unflappable, seemed a little perturbed. “…What just happened?” Pierce asked, “do you guys just not like Ralak, or something?”

“Pierce…” Conrad muttered.

“Heh. Perceptive,” Minilas commented with a small smile, only to settle back into a neutral expression, made somewhat more ominous by the unkempt locks of black hair that obscured the right side of her face. “…But also not.”

“You wouldn’t understand, bein’ outsiders,” Obra declared.

“We might not be able to empathize, but we can still sympathize,” Pierce insisted. “What, is Ralak secretly a raging asshole, or something?”

“…I try not to think about it too much, given that she is an instructor now, and Davídrius seems to trust her…” Liask said, “but… Ralak used to be a Bleeder, you know.”

“Oh, yeah, we’ve heard about that…” Conrad replied.

“…I take it that’s a sticking point, then?” Pierce questioned, his tone growing solemn. “That she was part of a gang?”

“A gang that destroyed all of our homes and killed our families,” Obra snapped. “You can’t possibly understand how that feels! So to see her walkin’ around like this, just…!”

“Obra… you know she’s changed,” Liask insisted. “She wouldn’t be the Head of Combat if she hadn’t. Besides, Davídrius has had experience with the Bleeders — even worse than most of us. So if he’s willin’ to give former Bleeders a chance, then so should we.”

“Says the one who’s just as wary as everyone else,” Minilas commented with a hollow smile.

“Sounds like not everyone is behind this ‘Bleeder forgiveness’ thing Davídrius has going,” Pierce remarked.

“…Tch…” Obra snorted, though adopted a pained expression as he diverted his gaze. “…It ain’t all bad. Lotta people in Tresnon used to be Bleeders, includin’ some students. They ain’t bad.”

“…But?” Conrad prompted after a moment of silence.

“Ralak is a little different,” Minilas said. “She wasn’t just a Bleeder, she lead a whole group. A small one, but a lotta people still knew her — she even had a nickname. ‘Willthief’.” She then shrugged. “Or so the rumors go, anyways.”

“Minilas!” Liask exclaimed in admonishment. “Don’t go spreadin’ rumors!”

“Heh heh…” Minilas chuckled and flashed a grim smile. “Sorry.”

“Willthief, huh…?” Conrad echoed. “Sounds ominous.”

“What does that even mean?” Pierce questioned.

“She’s an Imperator Psychotechnic,” Obra stated. “She gets complete control over anythin’ she touches — includin’ people. I’ll leave the rest to your imagination.”

“I see…”

“But it doesn’t matter to the person that she is today,” Liask insisted. “Ralak’s been the Head of Combat for two years, and an instructor for seven. If she was still secretly with the Bleeders or somethin’, she would’ve done somethin’ by now. And she wasn’t behind any of the groups that attacked any of our homes, either. We just need to get over ourselves.”

“Tch…” Obra snorted dismissively. “…Whatever.”

“Can always trust our little Liask to be that one ray of optimism,” Minilas remarked flatly, though with a smile.

“She does have a point, though,” Pierce insisted. “Rumors are rumors — unless you find any proof that substantiates them, they aren’t worth your time. Now, I won’t tell the three of you how to feel about Ralak, or any other former Bleeder, but at least for the time being…” He shifted his attention to Liask. “I think that break was long enough. You want to continue training?”

“Yeah! If you’re willin’,” Liask replied, quickly backing away from the group and adopting a defensive posture. “Hit me with everythin’ you’ve got!”

“Ha! Be careful what you wish for!” Pierce retorted with a smirk as he took up position some distance away from Liask, readying himself to continue with her training — all while Conrad, Minilas, and Obra continued to spectate.

1 Hour Later

“Damn, Luke! You really are a crack shot, huh?”

“Heh, well… can’t deny that, I suppose.”

“And that gun of yours, too!” Selind remarked, heartily slapping Luke on the back as he leaned his black rifle against the ramparts. “An actual current-gen mag sniper… wow!”

“I must admit, it’s more effective than I expected, as well,” Gavon remarked from the side.

Luke responded with a sheepish smile, finally stepping away from the ramparts of Tresnon’s walls to turn and face Selind and Gavon directly. Bright midday sun shone down upon them and the wastelands beyond the walls, clearly illuminating a pile of wreckage nearly two and a half kilometers in the distance that the trio was using as target practice. Gavon still had yet to acquire his own sniper rifle, but the group was more than content to trade Selind’s Lisarin laser sniper and Luke’s Gauss-SR02 sniper rifle amongst themselves.

“…Even so,” Luke commented, eying his rifle, “…the Gauss-SR02 is only effective out to three and a half kilometers. That’s basically nothing, compared to what the Black Suns have.”

“From a pure range and power perspective, perhaps,” Gavon replied, “but you almost never need an entire seven kilometers, I find. Even having to make a shot beyond three is rare. Not to mention the fact that many Black Suns weapons use our cybernetics as a kind of crutch.” He held his left arm up toward the sun as he continued, “without an arm like this, using an SR24 can be very difficult, what with having to worry about keeping it steady, dealing with recoil, or various processing power issues. Personally, I think there’s a kind of elegance to a gun that can be handled well even by those with a normal body — such as anything SERRCom or the NSD uses.”

Luke and Selind both found themselves staring at Gavon’s arm — despite his claim that it was a prosthetic, it appeared indistinguishable from his organic right arm.

“…So it really is true what they say, huh?” Selind remarked. “That all of you Black Suns have a fake arm?”

“Ha! That’s certainly one way of putting it,” Gavon replied with an amused smile. “But yes. It can be incredibly useful at times, though there are many people in the galaxy who think that cutting off an arm just to replace it with a prosthetic is… poor taste.”

“You’re right. Always thought it was fuckin’ weird, myself.”

“Oh, Davídrius!” Selind exclaimed as she, Gavon, and Luke all turned to face down the walkway atop the walls, where Davídrius and Ralak were approaching.

“Not a fan of Transhumanism, are we?” Gavon questioned, eying Davídrius as he stopped just short of the trio already on the walls.

“I mean, those prosthetics seem useful enough… it’s just fuckin’ weird to lop off a perfectly good arm,” the Dean replied, and then shook his head, as if to clear his thoughts. “Anyways, that ain’t why I’m here. Selind, I need your help with somethin’.”

“Really?” Selind questioned as she grabbed her sniper. “What for?”

A poignant pause followed, with Davídrius pursing his lips and glancing between Luke and Gavon. After a second, however, his gaze fell on the Black Suns officer. “…You’re a Chaotic, ain’t ya?” the Dean asked.

“I am,” Gavon replied.

“Is something wrong…?” Luke questioned warily.

“Not really… just bein’ cautious,” Davídrius remarked. He then glanced back at Ralak.

“There’s no use hidin’ what we’re doin’,” Ralak commented, as if to answer the Dean’s unspoken question. She and Davídrius then turned back to the trio as she explained, “earlier today, I heard through some old contacts that some former Bleeders want to seek refuge in Tresnon.”

“They’ll be here, soon,” Davídrius stated. “I wanted someone to tag along and keep watch while Ralak and I greet ‘em outside the walls.”

“Ah, more folks usin’ that Reformation Program you set up, eh?” Selind said with a smirk, only to quickly frown. “This timin’, though…”

“Are you really going to just let them into Tresnon?” Luke questioned.

“That depends on what they’re like,” Davídrius answered. “We can’t just up and close our doors to everyone, ‘specially not this close to Hunger’s Bane. In fact, holidays like this are when most former Bleeders show up at Tresnon — hell, Ralak here did the same.”

“That’s right,” Ralak affirmed with a nod. “With the chance that Davídrius, Selind, and Tresnon gave me, I was able to turn my whole life around. I don’t want to rob that chance from others. That said…”

“Between the events in Relédiaka and Riverana, the Bleeders are more of a threat than ever before?” Gavon finished.

“…You sure know a lot,” Davídrius responded as he eyed Gavon warily.

“What can I say?” The Black Suns officer shrugged. “It’s my job to keep apprised of all potential dangers.”

“And those ‘dangers’ are the Bleeders themselves,” Luke pointed out. “Dean, you know better than any of us. Someone is giving the Bleeders info and tech, and they clearly have it out for Tresnon and the outside world. In light of that, doesn’t it sound really convenient that some former Bleeders would want to show up now?”

“I know the stakes,” Davídrius snapped. “But I can’t just say ‘no’, either. Like I said earlier, it ain’t uncommon for Bleeders to wanna join Tresnon ‘round this time of the year, so this could easily just be a coincidence. Still, I’m gonna go talk to ‘em, size ‘em up. If somethin’ seems off, then the whole deal’s off. But, just in case somethin’ goes really wrong…” He glanced down at Luke’s rifle, and then over at Selind’s gun. “…Luke, Selind, I’d like y’all to stay here and keep watch with those guns of yours. Gavon, I want you with Ralak and me.”

“An appropriate level of caution, I think,” Gavon replied.

“…Suppose it works,” Luke commented.

“Good. Now let’s get goin’; the refugees are supposed to be here any minute, now,” Ralak declared.

As Ralak and Davídrius turned to leave, Luke found himself eying Ralak with concern. A former Bleeder, vouching for other former Bleeders, at a time like this — he couldn’t help but feel suspicious, but he also couldn’t bring himself to voice his concern. Davídrius and Selind both seemed to trust her, after all.

“Hey, Luke, catch.”

“Huh—?” Startled out of this thoughts, Luke was barely able to react fast enough to catch a small communicator that Gavon had tossed to him.

“So we can talk while you stay on the walls,” Gavon said. “That communicator is connected to a mic in my arm. You’ll be able to hear everything I can hear, and if you talk into the communicator, then I can have your voice go into my ear only, or out on a speaker.”

“Oooh, convenient!” Selind remarked.

“That’s the idea,” Gavon replied, glancing to the side as both Davídrius and Ralak jumped from the ramparts to the ground outside the walls, using their Chaotic abilities to land gracefully and without harm. The Black Suns officer moved to join them, manipulating the gravity around him to levitate through the air — though just before he dropped to the ground, he glanced back at Selind and Luke again. “I’m sure the others and I can handle ourselves, but do keep an eye out for us, just in case.”

“Will do,” Luke replied.

Gavon simply nodded in response before descending to the ground himself, several meters below. He quickly joined Davídrius and Ralak in walking across the sandy wasteland, toward a couple of figures standing a few dozen meters outside of the walls.

“Wait, what?!” Selind quickly grabbed her sighting binoculars and held them up to her face as she stared out at the two figures. “When the hell did they get there?”

«I told you they were goin’ to arrive soon,» came Ralak’s voice over the communicator in Luke’s hand.

“Right…” Luke muttered, taking up his own rifle and aiming in the general direction of the two newcomers. Using the rifle’s sights, he carefully scoped out the two. One of them appeared to be a woman, while the other was wrapped in white robing so completely that their figure was hard to discern — even their light-skinned face was partially obscured, their eyes hidden by the shade cast by their oversized hood. The woman, on the other hand, was dressed in the typical beige and off-white desert robes that most Tresédians wore. Short, scruffy brown hair topped her surprisingly pale head, and on her face were faint age lines indicating she was likely in her 40s. While the robed individual stood still and steady, the woman’s arms were crossed, and her foot tapped the ground impatiently.

“Nothin’ out of the ordinary just yet…” Selind muttered to herself, still using her binoculars to watch the meeting.

Luke passed her a wary glance. “Those heavy robes are normal?”

“Ain’t the first time I’ve seen someone show up like that. Some folks just really don’t like the sun, here.”

“I suppose…”

«Switching off the broadcast speaker,» came Gavon’s voice, though low, as if he were speaking directly into the mic such that the newcomers couldn’t hear. «Luke, Selind, I’ll keep the mic on. But if you talk, only I will hear.»

“Makes sense… don’t want to give away the fact they’re being watched,” Luke replied.

«Alright!» Davídrius’s loud voice cut short all idle conversation. From his position atop the walls, Luke could see that Davídrius, Ralak, and Gavon were now standing just a couple meters in front of the two newcomers. «So,» the Dean continued, «I hear y’all are former Bleeders.»

«Yep! That’s us~!» came a surprisingly cheerful female voice — Luke’s scope was sharp enough at this close range that he could see the brown-haired woman’s lips moving, so he figured the voice belonged to her. «Sure took you long enough to greet us!»

«Sorry, it’s a busy time of the year,» Davídrius replied. «Got a school to watch, and Hunger’s Bane to prep for… lotta stuff to take care of.»

«We appreciate you sparing some time for us, then,» came a husky female voice — Luke reasoned this must be the robed figure speaking.

«So, this is how you greet former Bleeders, huh? All the way outside the walls?» remarked the first woman. There was a brief pause as she tilted her head slightly upwards; from Luke’s perspective, her nostrils seemed to flare, as if she were sniffing. «…I smell uncertainty. Not very welcomin’, are ya?»

«It’s standard procedure,» Ralak replied. «Now. How about we start with the introductions?»

«You’re Ralak,» commented the husky voice. «With you is Davídrius Wrikax, the Sentry.»

«Wow, you know my name,» the Dean deadpanned. «So does half this fuckin’ continent. How ‘bout your names, huh?»

«Oh, that’s right! So sorry~!» replied the cheerful voice. «You can call me Ind! And this here— well, she goes by Shade.»

«A pleasure to meet you,» Shade commented, adopting a smile as she did — though something about the smile caused Luke to recoil away from his scope.

“I know, I know…” Selind muttered, passing Luke a quick glance before returning to her binoculars herself. “But you can’t judge by looks. If we blocked anyone who had a creepy smile or appearance from enterin’ Tresnon, this place would be half empty.”

“…If you say so,” Luke responded. She’s right. This isn’t the first time they’ve dealt with taking in former Bleeders. They clearly know how things work around here better than I would, so I should let them take care of this. …Still…

«Ind and Shade, huh…» Davídrius mused. «…Alright. Well, this next question is just standard procedure, too: are either of y’all Chaotics?»

«Just me!» replied Ind. «I’m a Chaostechnic! Pure Directed type!»

A brief pause followed. Despite the resolution of his rifle’s scope, Luke couldn’t see what expression Davídrius, Ralak, or Gavon were wearing — their backs were facing the wall.

«A Chaostechnic, huh…?» Davídrius eventually replied. «And a Directed type, too… well, you ain’t the first. I’m sure we can find work for you.»

«Sounds great to me~!»

«Before we get to that, though, I’ve got two more questions. One: as part of the Bleeder Reformation Program, we try to overlook what you’ve done in the past, so long as you behave yourselves goin’ forward. That said, I still wanna know just what ties you had to the Bleeders. Could be important to know if someone comes after you.»

«Just regular members,» Shade answered. «No family to hold hostage, either.»

«Yeah, we just did the whole raidin’ thing. You know, that all Bleeders do,» Ind replied airily. «What else do Bleeders even do?»

“What else do they do?” Luke questioned to Selind.

“Some of ‘em do recon, and the like. Or even manage resources and transportation,” Selind replied, and then shrugged. “But she’s pretty much right. Raidin’ is what the Bleeders do, and it’s basically all a normal Bleeder does.”

«As for our last question,» Ralak spoke, drawing Luke and Selind’s attentions back to the conversation, «what made you want to leave the Bleeders, and why do you want to join Compound Tresnon?»

«You’re a former Bleeder yourself, aren’t you… Willthief?» Shade replied. «You know as well as us why people leave.»

«I don’t use that name anymore,» Ralak snapped.

«We still wanna hear it from y’all directly,» Davídrius insisted.

«Wow, really pressin’ us for our motives, huh?» Ind remarked. «That’s not very nice~. I thought this whole thing was ‘no-questions-asked’!»

«At certain points in the past, sure. But as folks who recently left the Bleeders — as you claim — you gotta know that somethin’s up, recently. That’s why I wanna make sure y’all are bein’ sincere. If you are, then great, I’ll give you the same chances I gave other former Bleeders. But if you ain’t, then, well…» Even with Davidrius’s back facing the wall, it was easy for Luke to watch the Dean’s right arm drop to his hip — where a single sheathed sword was attached to his belt. «…I’m sure you get what I mean.»

«Well, if you really wanna know…» Ind made a show of shrugging. «All the Bleeders do is raid, and raid, and pillage, and steal. After a while, it just gets borin’. The same sights, the same smells, over and over again, you know?»

«Or, worded another way,» Shade added, «we just want to see if there’s more to the world than that. A better way for us to use our skills, that doesn’t just involve chasing our base instincts or desires — and we figured that a Compound as large and well-connected as Tresnon would be the best place for us to do that.»

“…Well, that’s new,” Selind commented.

Luke glanced at her in worry. “This is the first time you’ve heard that reason for leaving the Bleeders?”

“Well, no, I’ve heard similar before. Not often, but I have. Most former Bleeders talk about how they regret what they did, but I have heard the ‘bored’ schtick before. What’s really new here, though, is how well she said it. Most Bleeders don’t talk that good — hell, most Tresédians don’t talk that good.”

“I see…” Luke muttered, returning his attention to the meeting in the wasteland.

«…Interestin’ answers,» Davídrius remarked after a moment’s pause. His hand had left his sword by now, and he instead seemed to be crossing his arms. «…Anythin’ else the two of y’all wanna add?»

«Well, I suppose there is one thing,» Shade commented, a slim smile upon her face. «If you take us in… we can tell you the location of two active Bleeder outposts.»

«But only if you take us in!» Ind declared. «No forgiveness for us, no info for you~!»

«…Right,» Davídrius deadpanned, and then turned away from the two as he gestured toward Ralak and Gavon. «Give us a second.»

Luke kept a watchful eye on Shade and Ind as Davídrius, Ralak, and Gavon retreated a few meters closer to the wall.

«Turning broadcast mode on,» Gavon declared once the trio was out of earshot of the two former Bleeders. «Alright, Dean. What now?»

«…Selind, Luke. How did things look to y’all?” Davídrius questioned.

“No surprise they used to be Bleeders, I’ll say that,” Selind remarked.

“…I don’t have as much experience with this ‘reformation’ program as the rest of you,” Luke eventually replied, still watching Shade and Ind as they began to chat, “…but… I really don’t know how I feel about this.”

«That’s just former Bleeders, for you,» Ralak stated. «Few people have good social skills after spendin’ time with the Bleeders. Most folks get a lot better after some time away.»

“If you say so…”

«Ralak’s right, but somethin’ about this still seems… off,» Davídrius muttered. «I ain’t too fond of Ind’s flippant attitude.»

«Many Chaostechnics adopt that kind of attitude as a defense mechanism against emotional berserk episodes,» Gavon commented. «Chaostechnics don’t go berserk as often as other Chaotics, but when they do go berserk, the results can be devastating. But it’s difficult to go mad with rage if you don’t take anything seriously.»

«Believe me, I know that Chaostechnics are a weird lot.»

“I feel like I should take offense on behalf of my daughter,” Selind interjected cheekily.

«Not now, Selind,» Davídrius retorted.

«What about their offer of information?» Ralak questioned. «We currently don’t know anythin’ about what the Bleeders are plannin’. If these two newcomers can really tell us the location of two Bleeder outposts, then we could raid ‘em and maybe find somethin’ useful.»

«I knew you’d say that…» Davídrius muttered.

«She does raise a valid point,» Gavon stated. «Information is king. Their offer could be a good chance for you, Dean.»

“Assuming their information is valid,” Luke pointed out.

«True, it is a risk… but this entire Bleeder Reformation Program seems to be founded on accepting this kind of risk.»

«Now, though…?» Davídrius grumbled.

«Davídrius… I know this is a hard decision,» Ralak responded; even from several dozen meters away, Luke could see her place a gloved hand on Davídrius’s shoulder as she spoke. «I don’t want to undersell the importance of Tresnon’s security, but givin’ former Bleeders the opportunity to join Tresnon is… really important, I think. After all, you took the same risk when you accepted me, right? Even after knowin’ everythin’ I did when I was a Bleeder.»


«…If you don’t mind me saying,» Gavon spoke up after Davídrius remained quiet. «Ralak, you’re speaking up for these newcomers a lot. Do you know them?»

«No, I don’t,» Ralak replied. «I just know their situation. I was there, once, talkin’ to Davídrius and Selind like we’re talkin’ to them. And I know that it’s a little different right now, given whatever the Bleeders are up to. But…» She trailed off for a moment, forming a poignant silence before continuing, «Davídrius, if it helps, I’ll watch ‘em. We can check if their info is valid, and if it is, then I’ll stick with ‘em, and make sure they reform.»

«…You really want this, huh?» the Dean commented.

«I don’t think you understand how important this program was to me. If you and Selind hadn’t accepted me all those years ago, I… well, I don’t really wanna think about it.»

«I have to admit, her words have moved my heart,» Gavon remarked. «The Black Suns have similar dealings with ex-cons, actually. I’m not one myself, but I’ve worked with reformed criminals before. They were some of the most effective and hardworking soldiers I ever worked with, so the idea certainly works in general… though you do occasionally get someone who fails, or refuses to reform. Ralak, can you acknowledge that risk? Can you accept that your judgment here might be wrong?»

«I can,» Ralak insisted. «I’ll take responsibility for these two newcomers.»

«Great! Then I’ll lend you a hand,» Gavon declared. «There’s two newcomers, after all. We can’t leave both of them in the hands of just one person.»

“Gavon…” Luke muttered.

“What a weird outsider,” Selind remarked, “but you know, Gavon, I really do like your attitude!”

«Tch… to think a fuckin’ outsider would get more on board with my own damn program than me…» Davídrius muttered, and then sighed. «Alright, then, Ralak, Gavon… I’ll hold you to this promise of yours.»

«I’ll do my best to ensure you don’t regret it,» Ralak replied.

«Glad to hear you trust me, Dean!» Gavon responded cheerfully.

«Yeah, yeah, fuckin’ whatever,» Davídrius retorted, the three of them turning back to face the two former Bleeders. The Dean waved them over, at which point they both began to approach.

«Finally done talkin’, huh?» Ind commented. «Took ya long enough!»

«I notice you waved us over, instead of coming to us,» Shade said. «I hope this means what I think it does?»

«I suppose so,» Davídrius remarked, and then jerked his thumbs back at Ralak and Gavon. «Until we can verify that outpost info of yours, Ralak and Gavon here will be watchin’ y’all. I hope that ain’t a problem.»

«Chaperones? Booooriiiiing,» Ind groaned.

«But it is, nonetheless, a compromise we can accept,» Shade responded. «I trust once you’ve verified our intel, we’ll be free to do as we please?»

«Within reason,» Davídrius quickly replied. «But as long as y’all can behave yourselves, and you can prove you really do know two Bleeder outposts, then, well…» The Dean stepped aside, stretching his arm out toward the Compound walls — an open gesture to which Luke could only respond by lowering his rifle as Davídrius finished, «…Welcome to Compound Tresnon.»