Chapter 97 – Elders’ Advice

Chapter 97 – Elders’ Advice

The Next Day

Chaos Armor.”

Phoenix stood still, looking down at her body as a set of translucent purple armor, reminiscent of medieval plate, encased her skin and clothes. As soon as the armor appeared, she moved to run her fingers over the energy covering her left arm — only to quickly remember that the armor covered her fingers as well, and thus prevented any direct touch. Nonetheless, the level of physical resistance given by the translucent armor was enough for her to know that, despite being translucent and made of Chaos Energy, it was as hard as metal.

And sturdier, too, given the kinds of attacks this armor has protected me from, she mused. She then tore her attention from her armor to quickly take stock of her surroundings: an empty plaza on the outskirts of Compound Tresnon, with minimal to no foot traffic, even in the face of Tresnon’s increased holiday business. Content that she was alone, Phoenix began some pre-workout stretches, partially to test the movement restrictions of her Chaos Armor. This wasn’t the first time she had come to this plaza alone to train — her Chaostechnism required her to verbally call out all of her moves, after all, which wasn’t conducive to training in a group. However, this was one of the first times that she had tested Chaos Armor to any real extent; after her run-in with the Chaos State Chaotic a week prior, Phoenix knew that getting the hang of Armor and her other Defensive abilities would be key to surviving any future battles.

“This armor isn’t quite as restrictive as I expected…” Phoenix muttered, ceasing her stretches to inspect her elbows and knees — which maintained almost their full range of motion, despite the armor that covered them. She then clenched her fists and shifted her attention to a handful of training dummies she had placed across the empty plaza. “Okay… let’s try some target practice.”

The plaza was located adjacent to the massive walls that surrounded Compound Tresnon, and Phoenix quickly ensured that all of the training dummies were secured with the towering wall as their backdrop. She then retreated to the far side of the plaza nearly 50 meters away before turning to face the dummies once more. Each of the six human-sized dummies were placed around five meters apart, though from 50 meters away, they each looked to be difficult targets. Phoenix was undeterred, however, as she reached her right hand out toward the left-most dummy.

Chaos Arrow.”

As soon as the words left her mouth, a translucent purple arrow shot out of her hand before tearing into the training dummy a second later, creating a fist-sized hole in its chest. Phoenix spent little time to inspect the damage from afar as she quickly shifted her attention and aim toward the next dummy in the line, declaring, “Chaos Cannon.” This time, an orb of energy shot out of her hand, careening through the air so quickly that it nigh-instantly impacted the training dummy and completely tore it to shreds. With a simple nod, Phoenix then moved on to the third dummy, calling out “Chaos Strike” to instantly produce a bright streak of purple lightning between her hand and the dummy. The energy of the attack blasted the dummy backwards against the wall, and left it with black char marks, similar to actual lightning. Finally, Phoenix moved on to one more dummy, her hand still outstretched as she uttered, “Chaos Impact.” Immediately, a faint purple sheen appeared in the air, as if Phoenix had launched a wave of energy across the plaza; the wave traveled for a long second, growing so faint with distance that Phoenix wasn’t sure if it still existed — until the dummy she had aimed at was suddenly blasted backwards by a seemingly invisible force, violently slamming into the wall behind it before collapsing to the ground.

“Hmm…” A contemplative look crossed Phoenix’s face as she lowered her hand and began to approach the damaged training dummies to inspect them. Her attention lingered particularly on the first two dummies, the ones she had shot with Chaos Arrow and Chaos Cannon. “…Cannon did so much more damage, and the projectile moved so much faster…” she muttered to herself, “why ever use Arrow, then…?”

“Arrow homes.”

“Huh—?!” Startled, Phoenix quickly spun around to lay eyes on who had just spoken. The sight that met her was a short, tan-skinned woman casually approaching from across the plaza. She possessed a short and lithe stature, masked somewhat by her desert robing — which itself had subtle black and purple curving designs embroidered into the fabric. Her puffy black hair extended down just past her shoulders and framed her youthful face, though with steely eyes that belied plenty of experience.

The newcomer stopped a couple meters short of Phoenix before nodding toward the training dummies. “You were wondering why anyone would use Arrow instead of Cannon, right?” the woman asked.

“…Uh, yeah,” Phoenix responded warily, though her attention remained completely on the woman. “…You… we’ve met before, right?”

The woman nodded once. “Right, at Goresan. I hear you’ve been busy, though, so I don’t blame you for forgetting. I’m Relia.”

“Oh, right! Sorry. I’m Phoenix.”

“I know. Anyways. You’re training, right?”

“That’s right. Training both my aim, and trying to figure out the best moves to use. And…” Phoenix glanced back at the training dummy that had been obliterated by her Chaos Cannon shot. “…It kind of looks like Cannon is the solution to everything.”

“Some people think that, but they’re wrong,” Relia declared. She then reached her left hand straight upwards as she turned to look at the leftmost training dummy, at which point she called out, “Chaos Arrow!” Once she did, a translucent purple arrow shot directly out of her hand and into the sky above, but it then began to arc through the air before piercing straight through the dummy’s chest, despite having been fired in a completely different direction.

“…Right, okay,” Phoenix commented, “I understand that Arrow homes, and I can see how that would be useful, but Cannon moves at the speed of sound by default. That’s fast enough to hit most targets before they have a chance to move out of the way, and it does more damage than Arrow. And you can increase Cannon’s speed even more with keywords!”

“Those are all of Cannon’s strengths, yeah, but there’s still drawbacks. Cannon only goes in a straight line, which makes it predictable. It also can’t deal with cover. Makin’ the projectile faster makes it more devastatin’, but the keywords to do that increase the invocation time, which is time you don’t always have.”

“I suppose…”

“Cannon also uses way more Chaos Energy than any other Directed-type ability — except for Beam, but that one’s weird, anyways. Usin’ Cannon too much in a short period of time will drive you berserk faster than usin’ Arrow.”

“Right, I suppose that’s a risk, too…”

“You ‘suppose’? You’ve never seen someone go berserk, have you?”

An image of the night on Ainminthalus at the beginning of the recent Chaos Quake, and the damage wrought by the berserk Chaotic in the city, briefly came to Phoenix’s mind. “…I have, actually.”

“Oh. Well, sorry for assumin’, then,” Relia replied. “But if you have, you should know how dangerous goin’ berserk is. Chaostechnics like us usually don’t go berserk as often as other Chaotics, but it’s still pretty bad when it happens, since a berserk Chaostechnic doesn’t have to invoke their attacks to activate them.”

“What? How does that work?”

Relia shrugged. “The ‘how’ of anythin’ related to Chaos Energy is beyond me. But I’ve seen plenty in my travels, and the one thing I can tell you is that a berserk Chaostechnic isn’t pretty.”

“Right… in your travels, huh? Oh, I remember someone calling you ‘Wanderer’ back in Goresan… wait!” Realization, followed quickly by confusion, crossed Phoenix’s face. “When we left you in Goresan, you were talking like you didn’t want to come back to Compound Tresnon. So why are you here, now? Does Karísah know you’re here—?”

There you are!”

Phoenix and Relia both turned to look to the side of the plaza, where Karísah was jogging up to them.

“So you’ve caught up to me,” Relia remarked.

Karísah stopped short of the two other women and placed her hands on her hips, a displeased frown on her face as she looked down at Relia. “Why do you always have to just disappear like that? And after showin’ up in Tresnon unannounced, too! I know you can teleport, but at least tell me where you’re goin’…”

“Where’s the fun in that?” Relia replied with a smirk. “Besides, you know me. I can’t sit around in one spot for long.”

“So you decided to come out here and offer advice to a random stranger?” Phoenix questioned with a raised eyebrow.

“I’ve met you once before, we aren’t complete strangers.”

“This is all expected from Relia, anyways,” Karísah said. “For better or worse, wanderin’ the world and helpin’ random strangers is kind of her thing.”

Relia passed Karísah an annoyed glance. “If more people did it, Treséd wouldn’t be half the shithole that it is.”

“Maybe, but most people can’t make the nomadic lifestyle work like you can.”

“So you really are a wanderer, then?” Phoenix questioned, looking at Relia. “I’ve always kind of liked the idea of a nomadic lifestyle, but I don’t think I could actually handle it…”

“It isn’t hard,” Relia insisted. “I just travel from Compound to Compound, doin’ odd jobs and offerin’ up my skills in trade for food and a roof over my head. If you can prove you can do the work, then you’d be surprised how many people are willin’ to help you out.”

“I think you’re undersellin’ how well-known you are,” Karísah countered. “I think everyone in east Treséd knows of the ‘Wanderer’ who fights Bleeders and helps out locals. You’ve held off Bleeder raids all on your own, it’s no wonder people would welcome you.”

Small raids, that were disorganized,” Relia quickly corrected. “Besides, I still had to build that reputation.”

“Wait, you can fight off a raid on your own?” Phoenix turned to give Relia an impressed look. “Even if they were ‘small’, as you said, that’s still pretty impressive.”

“If you knew how disorganized the Bleeders usually are, then you wouldn’t think so,” Relia said. “And if I didn’t have my Overdrive, then I wouldn’t be half as useful as I am…”

“The fact that your Overdrive is called ‘Wanderer’ is pretty appropriate, though!” Karísah remarked cheekily.

“Yeah, yeah…”

“Still… it sounds like there’s a lot I could learn from you, Relia,” Phoenix commented. “Could I ask you to train with me more?”

Relia stared incredulously at Phoenix, only to sigh and look up at the cloudless skies above. “…I guess. I’m only goin’ to be here for a few days, though.”

“…I already know the answer, but I’ll ask anyways,” Karísah said, and then turned to face Relia directly. “Why not stay for longer? Tresnon could really use you, right now…”

“You said it yourself, you already know the answer,” Relia replied, without taking her eyes off of the skies. “Especially nowadays — if Tresnon needs my help, then there are smaller Compounds that need my help more.”

“Ah ha, yeah, I figured you’d say that…” Karísah responded sheepishly.

“Hmm, so these are the motivations of the famed ‘Wanderer’?”

Phoenix, Relia, and Karísah all quickly turned their gazes to the right, where they spotted a heavily robed figure standing in the shade on the side of the plaza. The figure’s robes included a oversized hood that cast heavy shade over their eyes, leaving only their pale lower face — and mouth turned up in a casual smile — to be seen.

“What the—?!” Phoenix exclaimed in surprise, “…who are you?”

“And how long have you been there?” Relia questioned, her brow ever-so-slightly furrowed as she fixed the newcomer with a level stare.

“Ever on your guard as well, Wanderer,” the figure replied. “But relax. I only just got here.”

Relia responded with wary silence, her expression unmoving. A second later, she declared, “Chaos Negation.

“My, so distrusting!” the robed figure remarked with a shrug, and then began to saunter over to the three women. “But I’m sure you can see now that I’m not hiding anything.”

“Do you know this person…?” Phoenix questioned in hushed tones, while glancing between Relia and Karísah.

“No…” Relia muttered.

“I think I do, actually…” Karísah said, and then raised her voice to address the robed figure. “You’re Shade, right?”

“That is how I introduced myself,” Shade replied, stopping a few meters away from Phoenix, Relia, and Karísah. “Though I think this is first time we’ve met. Karísah, correct? I understand that you’re the strongest individual in all of Tresnon.”

“Well, I am a Forcetechnic…”

“Shade…? Oh, I see.” Relia’s expression hardened, her eyes kept squarely on the robed woman. “You’re the newest member of that… Bleeder Reformation Program, huh?”

Shade nodded once. “Along with my friend, Ind, yes.”

“Bleeder Reformation Program…?” Phoenix echoed, and then involuntarily grew tense as she eyed Shade. “Wait, so… she’s a Bleeder?”

Former Bleeder, thank you very much,” Shade insisted. She then looked around at the empty plaza and the dusty buildings that surrounded it. “…I must say, it truly is a privilege to be able to walk the streets of Treséd’s most renowned Compound. Though… it is smaller than I expected.”

“As much as the rest of Treséd builds up Tresnon to be this beacon of hope and civilization, it’s still just a Compound, like all the rest,” Relia replied.

“I suppose it is,” Shade responded with a wry smile.

“Right…” Karísah commented uneasily, and then stepped forward to stand between Shade and the others. “But now that I think about it… aren’t you supposed to have someone watchin’ you?”

Supposed to, yes.”

The four women shifted their attention to one of streets leading onto the plaza, through which Ralak was approaching with an annoyed look upon her face.

“Oh, Ralak! I didn’t realize I had left you behind,” Shade remarked innocently as Ralak stormed up to her.

“Cut the shit,” Ralak snapped, her arms crossed as she glared at Shade. “…I know that your tip paid off, so we decided that you didn’t need permanent supervision. But part of the conditions of former Bleeders joinin’ Tresnon is to meet with another former Bleeder every now and then, to check on your progress. Which is supposed to be me, and it’s supposed to be now.”

“Well, you’re here now. What’s the matter?”

“Don’t give me that. The Bleeder Reformation Program has done a lot to help both former Bleeders and Treséd in general, and it only exists ‘cause of the patience and generosity of the citizens of Tresnon,” Ralak lectured. “But that kind of trust can be broken easily. For the sake of Bleeders who want to leave the gang in the future, and have a way to turn their lives around, we need to make sure that Tresnon doesn’t feel like this reformation program was a mistake — which means that you need to follow the rules!”

“My, quite the stiff one, are we?”

Ralak held a hand to her brow as she released a frustrated sigh. “You don’t even have to agree entirely with what I’m sayin’, just, keep to your damn word. I don’t want to have to throw you out.”

“Very well, very well. I don’t want to leave, either,” Shade commented airily. She then turned around and began walking away. “…Though I suppose this ‘reformation program’ is more effective than I thought. The you of now is so different from the tales I’ve heard about the ‘Willthief’, after all.”

“You—!” Ralak started, fury momentarily flashing across her face, but Shade was already off of the plaza and walking down the street. With a frustrated huff, Ralak turned to offer a hurried head bow toward Phoenix, Relia, and Karísah. “Sorry ‘bout her. I’ll try to shape her up.” Then, without waiting for a response, she spun around and rushed after Shade. “Oi! Slow the fuck down! We have more to talk about!…”

Phoenix, Relia, and Karísah were left to stare dumbfounded after Ralak and Shade, watching as the two former Bleeders trudged down the streets and eventually disappeared around a building. The bemused silence was eventually broken by Phoenix adopting an uneasy smile and a small laugh. “Ha… that was… something, huh?”

“Former Bleeders can be some real characters, sometimes…” Karísah remarked with a sigh.

“…That’s one way to put it,” Relia muttered. She then began stretching her arms as she declared, “well, we’ve been standin’ around for long enough. It’s time for me to get goin’.”

“You really are restless, huh?” Phoenix observed as Relia began walking away, toward a different street than the one Ralak and Shade had disappeared down.

“Call it what you want,” Relia responded dismissively.

“Hey, wait for me!” Karísah exclaimed, making to rush after Relia before stopping herself and offering Phoenix a quick head bow. “Sorry if we got in the way of your trainin’.”

“Oh…” Phoenix glanced over at the damaged training dummies before smirking in amusement. “I was training, wasn’t I? Don’t worry though, Relia gave me some good tips.”

“That’s just like her, isn’t it…” Karísah commented, and then turned back toward Relia — only to freeze and then sigh in disappointment when Relia was no where to be seen. “Aw, damn it, she teleported again, didn’t she…? C’mon, Relia…!”

Phoenix simply watched in amusement as Karísah began jogging off before turning her attention back to the training dummies, prepared to resume her practice with her Chaostechnic abilities.


Bright rays of mid-afternoon sunlight shone down on the buildings and streets of Compound Tresnon, casting short shadows that offered respite against the steadily increasing heat. Spring had only just begun, but already Tresnon was beginning to taste the high heats associated with summer — with little wind to compensate.

Even so, the temperatures were not yet to the point of being unbearable, and Tresnon was just as busy as ever, particularly with the Hunger’s Bane holiday fast approaching. Most of the town’s denizens walked the streets, however, and remained ignorant or uncaring of any activity upon the walls or rooftops. On one such roof — atop a three-story tower a few blocks away from the walls — stood a tall metal pole, with thin, long metal flaps extending up at an angle in every direction. The flaps numbered in the dozens, and were long enough to provide a small amount of shade for the brown-haired technician who sat next to the base of the pole, with her laptop plugged into a small interface.

In the windless silence of her altitude, Kirstin switched between bouts of rapid typing and stopping to inspect the output on her laptop’s screen. Ever since being introduced to the technology of Compound Tresnon’s defenses a few days ago, she had set about doing her best to improve them — both because of a restless drive to tinker with something, and because doing so would give her an excuse to be all by herself. Tresnon’s defensive technology presented a particular challenge to her, as well: it was Nimalian, and thus already foreign to her, but it was also unconventional Nimalian technology, having been created on the spot by Kaoné instead of procured from an established manufacturer. This made most of the references she could find on the Relaynet unhelpful. Luckily, her Earthian-Nimalian hardware adapters still worked with these shield emitters, but figuring out the protocols and intricacies of the hardware and software beyond that was quite the challenge — made all the more difficult by the lack of proficient technicians among Tresnon’s populace.

The program that drives the shield array doesn’t even have any kind of access protection… Kirstin mused, and then glanced out over the city. The three-story tower on which she sat was one of the tallest, allowing her to easily see the other handful of towers with similar metal contraptions that dotted the town. And you can access each of the shield emitters directly from the roof… this system isn’t secure at all. At least you can’t remotely access it, I guess…

She then turned her attention back to tinkering with the shield emitter, and her attempts to figure out how best to optimize the systems. Earlier in the week, she had submitted some advice to Selind and Tresnon’s defense technicians about how best to configure the shield array to increase uptime and decrease energy consumption; however, when the defense technicians attempted to implement her advice, they had run into significant difficulty. As such, Kirstin had endeavored to reach the root of the problem herself, and after several days of investigation, she felt that she was on the verge of a breakthrough.

A sudden, sharp breeze snapped Kirstin out of her thoughts, and drew her attention to the side of the tower — just in time to spot none other than Kestrel appear from below, as if lofted by some invisible force. Gently, Kestrel touched down on the top of the tower, her attention directed outwards across the city… until she noticed Kirstin. For a moment, the two women locked eyes, Kirstin wearing a startled expression while Kestrel’s face was blank. Kestrel then glanced down at the laptop in Kirstin’s lap and the wire that connected it to the shield emitter; after taking that in, she glanced to the side, toward one of the other shield towers in the distance.

Seeing this, Kirstin quickly made to reply. “I-it’s fine,” she stuttered out, “I’m, um, a-almost done here…”

Kestrel looked back to Kirstin. After a moment of silence, she responded with a curt nod, and turned her attention toward the outer walls once more.

Kirstin remained silent as well, watching Kestrel out the corner of her eye as the silver-haired woman seemed to stand quietly in one place. I wonder what she’s doing…? Kirstin thought to herself, only to shake her head and return her gaze to her laptop’s screen. Well, not that it involves me. Let’s finish this up and get out of her way…

Soon, Kirstin’s fingers were flying across the laptop’s keyboard once more. Despite the shield emitters having no access protection, and even having explicit permission from Selind to access the systems, the difficulties of interfacing with the hardware combined with certain obfuscations built into the emitter software had prevented Kirstin from directly accessing the settings — until just now. Even then, however, she still had to figure out how to alter the settings, and the best parameters to change the settings to. She knew well what her end goal was: to get the six shield emitters in the array to form a single, large dome, rather than a half dozen overlapping smaller ones. The energy consumption of an energy shield generator was proportional to the surface area of the generated shield, after all — and overlapping shield domes meant that there was wasted surface area, and thus wasted energy. In most settings, the waste would be accepted as redundancy, but in places where energy was at a premium, such as Compound Tresnon, it was best to eliminate such redundancies.

But, more than that, I also need to make sure the emitters can all remotely communicate with each other, and automatically change their settings on the fly to maintain 100% coverage even if one of the emitters goes down, Kirstin thought to herself, that’s going to be the really hard part, I’m sure. I could write a script to handle that easily enough if these were Earthian shields, or even just regular Nimalian shields, but… hmm… well, it’s no wonder that the Tresédian technicians were having trouble with this…

As her thoughts stalled — followed soon by her typing — Kirstin found herself idly looking out over the dusty city of Tresnon. A soft breeze had picked up, alleviating some of the discomfort from the heat— wait! Kirstin snapped her attention over to Kestrel, who was still standing as still as she had been earlier. This time, however, her robes, as well as the light gray shawl draped around her shoulders, were fluttering in the wind. …She’s an Aerotechnic, right? Kirstin mentally questioned, her gaze remaining on Kestrel’s tall figure. I guess she’s practicing with her powers? I wonder what that’s like. Being able to control air and the wind… it sounds cool, but also difficult, since you can’t really SEE air. …Ah, what am I doing? Focus, Kirstin, focus! The shield array! I need to find the automation settings, or some way to add my own. …IS there a way to do this? There has to be, right? I’m just missing it— oh! She stopped her train of thought, having just found a key piece of information; as if by reflex, she sighed in resignation. “Of course it’s like this…”

Almost immediately, a wave of unease crashed over Kirstin, causing her to tense up. For a moment, the sensation left her confused, but then she noticed out the corner of her eye that Kestrel was looking at her. Kirstin’s eyes immediately grew wide as she realized she had just spoken aloud, and she immediately grew flustered. “Uh, um, s-sorry! I-I didn’t mean to b-bother!”

In the face of Kirstin’s frantic comment, Kestrel merely responded with a calm shake of her head. After a moment of contemplative silence, however, she pointed toward Kirstin’s laptop, and then cocked her head.

“…Um…?” Kirstin eyed Kestrel cluelessly. “…Are… a-are you asking what, um, I-I’m doing…?”

Kestrel nodded.

“Oh… um, well…” Kirstin looked down at her laptop, and then back at Kestrel, at which point she smiled sheepishly. “I-it’s, um, k-kind of boring. Just, um, tinkering with the shield array. And I just, uh, f-found out that the automation controls are, um, well… o-only in the main generator unit. H-half of what I’m doing can’t, um, c-can’t even be done here, ha ha…!”

Kestrel’s gaze dropped to the laptop, and then to the wire connecting it to the shield emitter. “…Interface with Nimalian tech?”

“Uh—?” Kestrel’s words caught Kirstin off-guard, having been the first time she spoke since appearing atop the tower. After a second of startled silence, however, Kirstin quickly snapped her own attention down to the wire. “Um, y-yeah, we have a-adapters and stuff…”

“Hard to do?”

“Uh, the interfacing…? Well, uh, n-normally, not really, but these emitters, um, aren’t standard, so… it’s a little tricky…”

Kestrel grunted in acknowledgment, her gaze lingering on the cord before turning her attention back to the outer walls. “…Good luck.”

“Uh… th-thanks…?” Kirstin responded, confounded by Kestrel’s curt replies and comments. Nevertheless, as she looked upon the silver-haired woman’s relaxed standing posture, her long braid and clothing gracefully fluttering in the wind of her own creation, Kirstin couldn’t help but feel a little jealous of Kestrel’s apparent unflappable nature — as well as the curves of her body, occasionally made evident by the shifts of her clothes in the wind. …Wait, why am I focusing on that?! Come on, Kirstin, focus. The shields, you’re working on the shields… The researcher quickly shook her head to clear her thoughts and began to rapidly gather up the equipment she had with her. With laptop and unplugged wire in hand, she practically jumped to her feet, and flashed a brief, uneasy smile at Kestrel when the Aerotechnic passed her a glance. “I-I’m done here, so, uh… I-I’ll just get out of your way…”

Kestrel replied with silence, her face as stoically blank as ever, before turning her attention once more to the outer walls. “…You’re no bother,” she said.

“…Uh…” Kirstin simply stared back at Kestrel, at a complete loss for words. Eventually, she gathered herself and scurried over to the entrance to the stairs that led to the lower floors of the tower, responding as she did, “i-if you s-say so…! Uh, b-bye!” Without waiting for any kind of response, or even looking at Kestrel, Kirstin practically flew through the door and down the first flight of steps. Only then did she slow her pace, and take several deep breaths in an attempt to slow her rapid breathing. Ugh… I can’t even handle just one little exchange with a stranger! God, Kirstin, you’re so pathetic…! She then stopped for a moment, passing an idle glance up the steps to the door that led out onto the tower’s roof. …Kestrel seemed nice enough, though, I guess… and I guess Saito DID say that the recruits are all my age, right? Maybe I should try to make friends with them… maybe… a-anyways, that’s a thought for another time! The shields, Kirstin, focus! The shields…!

With that, the researcher continued on her way, trying her best to put her recent social interaction out of mind as she focused on completing her modifications to the shields before the end of the day.