Chapter 101 – Contaminated Blood

Chapter 101 – Contaminated Blood

1 Hour Later

“And here we are…”

“So this is where Dean Wrikax lives, huh…?” Luke commented, trailing behind Selind and Gavon as the trio approached an unassuming single-story stone building. Two closed and curtained windows sandwiched the building’s lone door, which was utterly featureless aside from the doorknob. The entire front face of the building consisted of featureless sandy stone; combined with the fact that it was located on one of the side streets on the outskirts of Tresnon, near the northern part of the wall, the home seemed incredibly unremarkable. It was merely another part of the long stretch of buildings on the block, and even shared walls with the two neighboring structures.

“It’s at least good to know he isn’t enriching himself off of his position, I suppose,” Gavon remarked. “The place can’t be more than a hundred square meters.”

“Which isn’t bad for one man,” Luke pointed out.

“Don’t forget that Davídrius and Karísah live together,” Selind said as the trio approached the front door — at which point they could hear the muffled sounds of jolly shouting from the back. “…And they have guests today, too. Oh well, I’m sure they can help. Oi! Davídrius!” She began pounding on the front door with her fist, generating a series of loud and heavy thumps. “Open up!”

When the muffled shouts and conversations didn’t cease, Luke and Gavon exchanged a wary glance. Selind, however, patiently waited with her hands on her hips — and sure enough, a second later the door opened, revealing Karísah in the doorway.

“Oh, Selind!” she remarked, her eyes lighting up, and then clouding with confusion as they shifted from Selind to the two men behind her. “And you’ve brought guests…?”

“Well, it is a holiday, after all!” Selind replied with a smirk and a wink. She then peered beyond Karísah into the abode behind her, dimly lit with fading afternoon light. “Davídrius and his two pals must be here, right—?”

“HEY!!” came a loud, slurred female voice from somewhere in the back, startling the group still standing at the front door. “Restart, restart! I was’n ready!”

“I gave you a whole ten seconds to setup your ice!” replied a male voice with similar volume. “But if you wanna try again, be my guest!”

Karísah released an exhausted sigh in response to the shouts, and turned her attention back to Selind. “Yeah… they’re here, alright.”

“More former members of Hero Machina, eh?” Gavon remarked, “I look forward to actually getting to meet them.”

“You aren’t the first to’ve said that tonight.”

“Oh, well look here!” Selind exclaimed with a grin as Relia stepped into view, standing just behind Karísah. “If it isn’t my most wonderful daughter in the whole universe!”

“I’m your only daughter,” Relia deadpanned.

“That doesn’t change how much I love you! C’mere!” Selind pushed past Karísah and attempted to wrap her arms around Relia, only for the latter to mutter “Chaos Teleport” and suddenly appear on the far side of the small entryway. With a pout, Selind turned toward her daughter. “…And there’s that ungratefulness I’m so used to. C’mon, Relia! We haven’t had a meaningful conversation in months! And then you don’t even come home, instead you choose to stay with Karísah? After all that, the least you could do is give your dear mother a hug!”

“Only if you promise not to complain when I leave again.”

“…What about complainin’ before you leave again?”


“Oh, relax. I’m jokin’. I’ve long resigned myself to the fact that you refuse to stay in one place for long,” Selind said, and then released a long, drawn-out sigh. “…Well, at least you look healthy. And so grown up!”

Relia simply rolled her eyes in response.

“A-anyways…” Karísah spoke up, turning her attention back to Selind, Luke, and Gavon. “Selind, you’re no surprise, but, uh… I didn’t really expect to see either of you, here.”

“True, you’re a model student — the last to need a home visit,” Gavon remarked with a cheeky smirk. “You have some of the best scores in my marksmanship class. It’s no wonder you’re one of the Elite Six.”

Karísah laughed uneasily. “Right…”

“More to the point,” Luke interjected, “if greetings are out of the way, we need to speak with—“

“Oi, what’re y’all doin’ here?”

The group all turned toward the back of the short entryway, where Davídrius had appeared. His stern gaze was focused on Luke and Gavon, his arms crossed in displeasure.

“Ah, Dean Wrikax!” Gavon offered a casual wave. “A good evening to you!”

“…Tch.” Davídrius shook his head in disbelief before gesturing inward. “You’re with Selind, so I’ll overlook it for now. But pick a damn side of the door to stand on and close it, already, you cool-air-wastin’ motherfuckers!”

“Uh, sorry,” Luke reflexively apologized as both he and Gavon finally entered the home, with Karísah closing the door behind them. Now inside, Luke could more easily discern the home’s layout; a small entryway with an adjacent closet opened up into a living room, furnished with a simple table and a couple of stiff-looking couches. A couple of small landscape pictures adorned the otherwise bare stone walls, and a handful of small rugs covered the surprisingly cool stone flooring.

The group quickly filtered into the living room, revealing a third couch that was occupied by a man and a woman, both appearing to be in their late 30s, with the woman crafting a stack of giant ice blocks on the table. Both stopped what they were doing and looked up at the newcomers, at which point the man took a massive swig out of his beer mug and then casually waved. “’Sup?” he greeted.

“Greetings,” Gavon replied. “Christeané Kolstén, I take it?” He then shifted his attention to the woman, offering her a polite nod in greeting. “And Rebehka Tchiréon.”

“You know us?” Rebehka questioned, her words holding a drunken tilt.

“Aahhh, of course they know us! Everyone knows us!” Christeané remarked with a self-satisfied grin and the same drunken slur as Rebehka. He then pounded the table in front of him. “C’mon! Have a seat, get a drink!”

“What’re you doin’? Stop pullin’ people into your drinkin’ in my home,” Davídrius interjected.

“Ah, ah, see, that attitude, buddy. That attitude is why you’re still single.”

“Says the guy who’s pretending to be drunk.”

“Just ‘cause my Forcetechnic durability also applies to alcohol doesn’t mean I can’t have fun playin’ around every once in a while!”

“Ahahaha! Something you and Davídrius can’t do, ha!” Rebehka giggled, her face flushed. “Only I can enjoy gettin’ drunk, ha!”

“Why do I even put up with the two of you…” Davídrius muttered. He then glanced at Karísah and Relia as they disappeared into the kitchen, before turning his attention back to Selind, Luke, and Gavon. “And now I got even more guests to deal with… well, dinner’s soon, I guess, so—“

“Davídrius, we need to talk,” Selind declared, her expression turning serious. “We have a Bleeder problem.”

The Dean froze, with even Rebehka and Christeané coming to focus on Selind with a level of lucidity that hadn’t seemed possible a moment prior. After a second, an irritated scowl crossed Davídrius’s face. “…What kind of problem?” he questioned.

“We encountered one of the newcomers, Ind, rooting around in an armory,” Gavon explained. “She had killed the guard to gain entry. When we caught her, it looked like she was looking for something.”

“I had Luke and Gavon here lock her up in the jail,” Selind said. “I took a quick look at the armory, and it didn’t look like anythin’ was tampered with… still, she killed a guard to get in.”

“And tried to attack us when we confronted her,” Luke pointed out.

“…Damn it…” Davídrius released a frustrated sigh. “Just our fuckin’ luck…”

“Didn’t you see this coming…?” Karísah questioned, re-entering the living room alongside Relia after overhearing the conversational turn. “You told me to look out for them a couple days ago…”

“More importantly,” Luke spoke up, his attention focused on Davídrius. “If you distrusted those former Bleeders this much, then why even let them into the city?”

“It’d undermine the reformation program,” Davídrius replied. “The whole thing works on trust — faked trust, to be honest. There ain’t many former Bleeders that I trusted right out the gate, but you get pretty far by fakin’ it.”

“I’d say that’s a ridiculously cynical opinion, but I guess it’s to be expected from you,” Rebehka remarked.

“As I outlined earlier today, we were prepared for some kind of underhandedness,” Selind said, glancing toward Luke. “We just… didn’t expect any move from the Bleeders to be so blatant. Or to catch a Defense Force member by surprise…”

“I told you we shouldn’t’ve let any Bleeders in,” Relia declared, her arms crossed as she eyed her mother with frustration.

“And I told you that wasn’t an option,” Selind snapped back. “We’ve never suspended the reformation program during Hunger’s Bane, before. Why do so now?”

“Aside from the fact that the Bleeders are more of a threat than ever? You should’ve expected some of ‘em to try and take advantage of Tresnon’s naivety.”

“You know well enough that the reformation program isn’t naive — one failure doesn’t mean the whole thing doesn’t work!”

“We expected foul play, anyways,” Davídrius insisted, cutting in to break up the argument. “It’s obvious that somethin’ was up from the very start. Hunger’s Bane is usually the time of year when we get the most former Bleeders signin’ up for the reformation program, but this year, we literally got only two: Ind and Shade. Selind and I figured they were up to somethin’ all along, which is why there’s guards posted up everywhere. Though I’ll admit, the fact that their tips paid off lowered my guard a li’l… and I didn’t expect Ind to overpower a Defense Force member so easily…”

“It isn’t uncommon for an organization to fake ‘selling out’ some of their own, in order to increase the credibility of the agent they’re trying to plant,” Gavon pointed out. “I’ve seen it dozens of times in my work with the Black Suns. In fact, if you can convince your mark to non-lethally capture your bait, then you can plant even more agents through the prisoners.”

“Well that sounds familiar,” Christeané remarked as he eyed Davídrius. “Didn’t you say that you captured the Bleeders at those two outposts for later interrogation?”

The scowl on Davídrius’s face deepened even further. “I did…”

“That would take a lot of plannin’ and organization on the Bleeders’ part, though…” Karísah muttered. “That isn’t usually how they do things.”

“Not usually, no, but they’ve been up to somethin’ for months, now,” Relia said. “Remember Goresan?”

“The raid that happened so quickly and quietly, Tresnon didn’t hear of it until it was already over…” Selind commented with a frown. “Just what the hell are the Bleeders up to…?”

“I hate bein’ in the dark like this… but at least we got a leg up, now,” Davídrius remarked. He paused for a moment, scratching his chin in thought, before glancing up at Selind. “How many people know about Ind’s arrest?”

“We didn’t make an announcement about it, but…” Selind’s attention shifted to Luke and Gavon, as if asking them to comment.

“Well, there’s only so much you can do to hide an arrest when you have to march the perp down the street to jail,” Gavon stated with a shrug. “How many people know depends entirely on how quickly rumors spread in this town.”

“Most Tresédians keep to themselves,” Relia said.

“I’m sure arrests aren’t that uncommon during a holiday like this, anyways,” Christeané pointed out. “Drunkenness on the streets, people making fools of themselves, all that… I bet people just thought the arrest was along those lines.”

“Bet you know all about making a fool of yourself, huh?” Rebehka taunted.

“Still, we have to be careful,” Davídrius said. “Arrests ain’t common around here, so word might still spread. And if Shade hears about Ind’s arrest, then who knows what she’ll do. We need to find her before then.” He then looked around at everyone in the room. “Anyone know where she is?”

“The last I heard, she was helping Mark and Danielle with their dinner prep, back at the dorms,” Luke replied.

“Mark and Danielle… Mark and Danielle…” Rebehka muttered to herself, and then looked up at Luke. “I’ve met Mark, haven’t I? Big guy, broad shoulders, tan skin?”

Luke nodded. “That’s right. Why, is something wrong…?”

“Well… I don’t really know why, but something about him struck me as kinda weird when we first met… like, as a Chaotic,” Rebehka replied. “I can’t really explain. But if this ‘Shade’ person is a plant, then maybe she’s trying to, I don’t know… what am I saying?”

“This is why I don’t drink,” Davídrius deadpanned.

“Don’t give us that, you never warned us that shit could get real the night of the holiday,” Christeané countered, and then turned back toward Luke. “Still, Mark and Danielle are part of SERRCom’s Eximius Vir, right? I’ve actually heard about them, and their high level of power. It might not be a coincidence that a former Bleeder is spending time with them.”

“How would a former Bleeder know about soldiers from Earth, though?” Karísah questioned.

“Yeah, most people here can’t even speak with us, since… wait…” Luke trailed off, distressed realization quickly crossing his face as he snapped his attention to Davídrius. “Hold on. The Bleeders. They don’t usually have translation implants, do they?”

“Considerin’ how damn expensive those implants are? And the kinda equipment and knowledge you need to install ‘em? No, they don’t,” Davídrius replied. “Why are you…? Wait, are you sayin—?!”

“Yeah. If the Bleeders aren’t supposed to be able to understand us Earthians, then how is Shade working with Mark and Danielle?”

A moment of stunned silence fell over the group, with everyone’s gazes lingering at first on Luke before shifting to exchange concerned glances.

“…Maybe they have someone with them, acting as a translator?” Karísah suggested.

“No… no, now that I think about it…” Luke passed a glanced toward Gavon. “Remember when you and Ind ran into my team a couple days back? It didn’t occur to me at the time, but Ind once directly responded to something that Hackett said.”

“Did she? Shit…” Gavon scowled. “I must’ve been too focused on trying to rein in her behavior to notice…”

“Wait, you aren’t from Treséd, either. Why didn’t you think anything was off when she could understand you?”

“I’m not Tresédian, but I am Nimalian. For better or for worse, all of Nimalia speaks the same language: Akian.”

“That’s been the case for hundreds of years, now,” Rebehka pointed out. “Some regions still teach their local language in school, but once both Nimaliaka and Tekdecé adopted Akian as their official language, it forced everything else into irrelevancy.”

“Still… I can’t fuckin’ believe we didn’t catch this…” Davídrius muttered. “Ind and Shade have fuckin’ translation implants? How the hell…? Are they even Bleeders?”

“More to the point,” Selind interjected, “if they have those implants, then it either means that the Bleeders are way more organized than we expected, and likely backed by some bigger organization — or it means that someone is tryin’ to pretend to be Bleeders. Either way, we’ve severely underestimated them.”

“No shit… damn it.”

“Davídrius…” Karísah stepped over to place a reassuring hand on the Dean’s shoulder, but he didn’t so much as look at her, his brow furrowed and his hand on his chin. “…Don’t blame yourself so hard. Taking in former Bleeders has always worked out before, right?”

“No… well, usually, but still,” Davídrius replied with a scowl. “This was the first damn time I ignored my gut when sizin’ up ‘former’ Bleeders. I thought I was just bein’ too paranoid, with everythin’ that’s been goin’ on recently, but… shit. Now it’s gone and bit me in the ass.” He then looked up, brushing Karísah’s hand off before addressing Selind. “We need to find Shade, now. Take a group, and a CENT field generator. Never know what she might be hidin’ from us.”

“I think there’s another issue that needs addressing, as well,” Gavon commented. “When Ind and Shade first petitioned to join, there was one person with us who decided to vouch for them.”


“Who, Ralak…?” Selind questioned, only to turn and give Gavon a reproachful glare. “Ralak’s been with us for years! You can’t seriously be suggestin’ that she’s turned on us, can you?!”

“It’s a possibility we have to consider,” Gavon insisted. “Granted, by the same logic, you should be wary of me, as well, since I vouched for Ind and Shade after Ralak. Following that line of thought, I’ll recuse myself from any investigations, and answer any questions you might have… but you need to think about what to do with Ralak. In the very least, I’d advise against telling her about what’s happening right now. She is, after all, a former Bleeder.”

“So? Half this city is former Bleeders!” Karísah exclaimed. “Do you have any idea how hard Ralak has worked to help the students at WCU? She can’t still be with the Bleeders, I just don’t believe it…”

“She don’t have to be with them to be sympathetic,” Davídrius pointed out. “Or more likely to listen to former Bleeders than other folks…”

“Do you really think she’s that easy to manipulate?” Selind countered. “That woman’s got a more solid head on her shoulders than any of us. Besides that, when it comes to immobilizin’ people — especially Chaotics — she’s one of the best Tresnon’s got. You really gonna leave her out of this?”

Davídrius passed Selind an uneasy glance, but offered no words in response.

“Look, whatever we’re doing, we can’t afford to just stand around, here,” Luke insisted. “We know that there’s a security breach, now. What are we doing about it?”

“Man’s got a point,” Christeané said, and then turned to look at Davídrius. “This is your home. What’s the plan?”

“Tch…” Davídrius looked back at Christeané, his lips pursed, and then shifted his attention back to Selind, Luke, and Gavon. After a moment of thought, he glanced away, but began to speak. “…Selind, as I said earlier: get a CENT field generator, pull three people from the Defense Force, and arrest Shade. And…” He paused for a second to take a deep breath. “…Don’t alert Ralak.”

Selind’s expression stiffened, but she quickly replaced it with a forced smile. “Alright, if you say so, Dean.”

“There’s a chance that Shade might evade your arrest attempt,” Christeané pointed out, standing up from the couch and prompting Rebehka to do the same. He nodded toward Davídrius, saying, “the fact that this ‘Ind’ person acted today means something bigger might be coming, too. We should be on the look-out.”

“I’ll go alert my team, as well,” Luke added. “We’ll be ready for anything.”

“I can help keep a look-out, too,” Relia declared. “Karísah as well. Right?”

“Right, of course!” Karísah affirmed.

“Well we still need to be subtle about it, don’t go tellin’ the whole damn Compound that we’re on a manhunt,” Davídrius insisted, already pushing past the group to approach the front door. “…But you’re all right. What’s important is that we nab Shade before anythin’ goes down. The last thing I want is for the Bleeders to ruin fuckin’ Hunger’s Bane, after all, so let’s get goin’!”


“Oh, hmm… I must say, that does smell good.”

I know, right?! Danielle exclaimed, excitedly glancing between Shade and Mark as the latter pulled three pans filled with roasted turkeys out of the oven. The beautifully tanned turkeys glistened in the kitchen light, and their well-seasoned aroma filled the room and the connected hallways with a pleasant, mouth-watering scent. Shade and Danielle both eagerly eyed the pans as Mark deposited them on the countertop and set about preparing for the final stages of the cooking process.

Ooooh, I can’t wait ‘til dinner… Danielle remarked, inching closer and closer to the sitting meat, her hand steadily stretching toward them — until Mark lightly rapped her on the wrist.

They aren’t done yet, he admonished. Once dinner starts, then you can have your share. Until then, don’t touch.

“Speaking of touching,” Shade commented, finally shifting her attention away from turkeys to focus on Mark. “You grabbed those pans with your bare hands when you took them out of the oven. Doesn’t that hurt?”

Oh, I’m just a Duratechnic. The heat of the pans is nothing to me, Mark replied.

Sure must be convenient to not have to worry about oven mitts and all that, though! Danielle exclaimed.

It certainly is useful, I must admit. Anyways… Mark took a moment to wash his hands in the kitchen sink before grabbing some aluminum foil that Danielle had created for him earlier in the day, and beginning the process of wrapping each of the turkeys. It’s sunset now, so dinner should be soon. I believe they’re setting up a bunch of tables in the courtyard, right? He then nodded toward the kitchen table, where a handful of pans of completed stuffing were sitting. Danielle, Shade, can the two of you start taking those out?

On it! Danielle remarked, readily grabbing two of the pans, one in each hand.

Shade, however, began to draw away. “Oh, I would rather not intrude,” she commented, “I’m not a student here, after all. And I’m a former Bleeder, at that. I’ve a feeling my presence on this campus wouldn’t be tolerated by many of the students…”

Hey, we aren’t students here, either! Danielle replied.

You aren’t the first former Bleeder in Tresnon, anyways, Mark pointed out. I’m sure it’ll be fine. Massive dinners like these should always be celebrated with a group!

A smirk crossed Shade’s visible lower face, accompanied by a slight chuckle. “With a group, you say? Is that why the two of you have been cooking here all by yourselves, today?”

Hey, we had help! Danielle refuted. Sky, Twy, and Pierce all helped manage the other kitchens! And their friends, too!

And you helped us here, Mark stated, turning to pass Shade a welcoming smile. If you’re worried about having ‘earned’ your place here, then I think that worry is unfounded. In the very least, you’ve made some steps in the right direction.

“You really are amiable people, aren’t you?” Shade remarked. “I will say that I enjoyed this opportunity to learn about Earthian cuisine — you don’t get many chances to do this. I don’t think I’ve ever seen Tresédians think to stuff seasonings inside of a dead bird, after all! But let me put my reluctance to help another way — I was just being polite. The reality is that I already have plans tonight, so I’m not available anyways.”

Ah, the real reason.

Well, you can at least help carry some of this stuff out, right? Danielle questioned.

“Oh, I wouldn’t want to be such a bother,” Shade commented with a playful grin, already backing out of the kitchen. “This food is so foreign to me, after all. I hardly know how to handle it. Best to leave it in your capable hands!”

What? But it’s just pans…

“Apologies, but I really must be going now. Bye!” Shade offered a curt wave before disappearing into the connecting hallway.

Upon watching her leave, Mark simply sighed and shook his head in resignation. Of course. Once the food is done and all that’s left is the hauling and clean-up, people suddenly no longer want to help…

Kinda reminds you of Kate, huh? Danielle remarked as she stepped over to the kitchen table and shapeshifted another pair of arms out of her torso to grab the remaining pans of stuffing. Anyways, I can carry all of this on my own. It’ll be fine!

Be careful with that, Mark warned, passing a glance toward the four filled pans that Danielle was holding in her four hands. That’s a day and a half of work, right there…

And I’m a master of balance! This is nothing! Danielle exclaimed, hurrying out of the kitchen as she did. Woo! Let’s finally get this dinner started!…

Mark sighed again in response to Danielle’s enthusiastic departure, but he couldn’t help but smile to himself all the same. Following that, he returned his attention to wrapping the turkeys, putting all of his focus into making Hunger’s Bane a success.