Chapter 99 – Defenders of the Peace

Chapter 99 – Defenders of the Peace

“Hello? Kirstin, you in there?”

“Uh—!” Kirstin shot upright, startled by a loud knocking sound on the door to her room, followed by Luke’s voice. After gathering her bearings, she tentatively called out, “u-um, c-come in…”

A second later, the door to the quaint tavern room opened, with Luke striding through. Kirstin eyed him warily as he closed the door behind him and then turned to survey the small space, furnished with only two modest beds and two small dressers to accompany them. Stone flooring, walls, and ceilings rounded out the room, along with two small windows — over which the curtains were drawn shut, blocking out the mid-afternoon sun.

Luke’s gaze lingered on the nearest bed for a moment, taking note of a couple of Hackett’s belongings on the dresser, before he shifted his attention to Kirstin — who was sitting cross-legged on the floor in the small space between the side of her bed and the far wall, her head just barely peeking over the bed covers. With an amused smirk, Luke nodded toward her. “Workin’ on something?” he questioned.

“Um… y-yeah…” Kirstin briefly glanced down at the laptop in her lap.

“Not gonna go out and enjoy the holiday?”

A mild grimace appeared on Kirstin’s face, though she didn’t realize she was making the expression until Luke chuckled in response.

“Suppose I shouldn’t even have asked, huh?” Luke remarked, stepping over to one of the room’s windows and peeking behind the curtain to the world outside. The sounds of crowd chatter could be heard through the window, such that Kirstin didn’t need to see to know that the streets of Tresnon were busier than ever. “Kinda interesting how busy things are today,” Luke commented as he continued looking out the window. “Hunger’s Bane is supposed to be something like Thanksgiving, right? I guess folks around here just collaborate on the cooking a lot…”

“It… i-it is busy, huh…” Kirstin meekly affirmed.

Luke passed her a glance before backing away from the window to lean against the wall next to Hackett’s bed, which also put some distance between him and Kirstin. As he did, he said, “I think I probably know the answer to this question, but I figured I’d ask anyways. I’m going to go shooting with Gavon and Selind soon, do you wanna tag along?”

“Sh-shooting…?” Kirstin echoed, a contemplative look crossing her face — only for her to suddenly jump as the playful shrieks of children burst through the windows. She quickly recovered from being startled, only to hunch over with her head bowed, her bangs obscuring the troubled expression she was wearing. “…M-maybe, um, a-another time…” she eventually replied in a quiet voice.

“I figured. I know crowds aren’t your thing,” Luke said, and then sighed as he eyed the curtain-covered windows of the small tavern room. “Some more soundproofing here would be nice, too, but, uh… I guess we shouldn’t really expect that from Tresnon, heh.”


“…Well.” Luke pushed off of the wall and turned toward the door. “Suppose I’ll get out of your hair, then. Just thought I’d check in on you, but you seem to be doing fine.”


The Captain stopped with his hand on the doorknob, and then glanced over his shoulder toward Kirstin — who had lifted her head just enough to make eye-contact. As soon as their eyes met, however, she quickly diverted her gaze and began to fidget.

“Am…” she started, her voice as meek as ever. “…Am I… a b-bother…?”

“A bother?” Luke echoed incredulously, turning away from the door to give Kirstin his full attention. “I can think of a hundred things that bother me more than you do or ever will, Kirstin.”

“But… y-you said you came to, um, ch-check in on me. Th-that… th-the Colonel p-probably told you to, right…?”

“Oh boy…” Luke muttered under his breath, and then sighed deeply before offering Kirstin a reassuring smile. “Listen, the Colonel had nothing to do with me coming here. I just wanted to see how you were doing, myself — as a friend, not because of my job.”


“I know Tresnon probably isn’t your favorite place to be, given the general lack of tech and amenities around here, but I’ve heard that you’ve been making yourself busy with the shield generators and other defense tech. You fixed up the shield array the other night, right? Something about setting up a more efficient shield dome? Selind really appreciates it, you know.”


“I wouldn’t be saying it if it wasn’t true.”

“Ah… r-right…” Kirstin’s posture relaxed slightly, though her gaze remained diverted from Luke’s. “…I, um… I-I ran into Kestrel w-when I was, uh, working on the sh-shields, actually… She was, uh, p-practicing her powers, I think…”

“Oh, yeah?” Luke slotted his hands into his pockets as he kept a casual eye on Kirstin. “You talk about anything?”

“W-well… no…”

“Ha! Fair. Kestrel isn’t exactly the talkative type, is she? Though she also doesn’t seem like the type to mince what few words she does say, or to hide how she feels about someone. So if she stuck around you for long, then maybe she likes you.”

Kirstin’s cheeks promptly flushed a rosy red. “L-likes me?!”

“Uh, not that kind of like,” Luke replied. “I don’t even know if she swings that way. Wait, do you swing that way?”

“Um…” The Researcher stared at Luke for a second, clearly confounded. “Uh… I, um…”

“Sorry, I guess that was a pretty insensitive thing to ask,” Luke promptly interjected, and then glanced down at his watch as it beeped at him. “Oops. Seems like that’s my cue to leave. Don’t want to leave Gavon and Selind hanging for too long.”

“Oh… r-right…”

“Well, until next time,” Luke declared, once again turning toward the door — though as he did, he was stopped once again.

“Um…!” Kirstin quickly spoke up, drawing Luke’s attention back to her. For a moment, she simply fidgeted in place, her eyes turned downward, but after a couple seconds she looked at Luke, briefly making eye-contact as she said, “th-thanks for, um… a-asking me. E-even though I, uh, said no…”

An amused smirk appeared on Luke’s face. “Heh. It’s no problem. But, if I recall correctly, you didn’t actually say ‘no’ — you said ‘maybe another time’.” The amusement on his face turned playful as he questioned, “you mind if I hold you to that?”

In surprise, Kirstin snapped her gaze to the Captain again, her eyes wide. She then glanced away again, bowing her head such that her bangs obscured much of her face — but not enough to hide the faintest of smiles from Luke’s view. “Um, I… I guess,” she quietly replied.

“Perfect,” Luke remarked, and then offered Kirstin a farewell wave as he turned back to the door once more. “I’ll see you later, then, Kirstin. Looking forward to it!”

“Uh, y-yeah…!” Kirstin meekly responded, watching as the Captain finally left the room and closed the door behind him, leaving her alone with her work once more.


Uggghhh, this is so fucking boring

Boring though it may be, it’s still our job, Mote insisted. So stop complaining.

You and that goddamn stick up your ass… Kate muttered, passing Mote an annoyed glance before returning her attention to the duo’s surroundings. They were both slowly patrolling the walls of Compound Tresnon, allowing them a view of the Compound to their right, and the sprawling, dusty wastelands to their left. Bright, midday sun shone down on them; with nary a cloud in sight to shield against the light, the entire environment had begun heating up, and faint heat shimmers could be seen in the distance. Despite all of this, however, Mote and Kate both still wore their thick green and black uniforms — though Kate had rolled up her sleeves and undone the top couple buttons of her jacket and undershirt in an attempt to cool herself, much to Mote’s chagrin.

…Still don’t see why we’re out here, Kate complained, her gold and crimson summoned greaves clanking with each lethargic step she took along the top of the wall. We aren’t even fucking locals! And they want us to stand out here in this fucking heat all day…

Mote eyed Kate, watching her grab the collar of her shirt to fan herself before shaking his head and turning his attention forward. It isn’t that hot, he countered. Likely only 80 degrees or so.

’Isn’t that hot’ my fucking ass! 80 is hot!

Funny, I haven’t seen any of the recruits complain about the heat.

Don’t you fucking try to say I’m worse than those idiots, you asshole. They’ve had two months to get used to this hellhole, anyways. We just got here!

If by ‘just got here’ you mean ‘arrived 8 days ago’, then yes, you’re correct.

I swear on my goddamn research, I am going to throttle you one day, Kate snapped.

You’re free to try, Mote challenged. But would you please at least stop complaining for now? We’re supposed to be on guard duty.

Guard duty, tch, Kate echoed incredulously, turning to glare out over the wasteland as she did. No movement could be seen; the sandy grounds were as still as a painting, and featured no traffic attempting to cross them. …What the hell are we guarding against, huh? Those fucking lame-ass gangsters we heard about?

The Bleeders have been a threat to this area for a long time, now. They’ve even been brazen enough to attack Compounds before, just like this one, so I’ve heard. We can’t let our guards down.

Fucking please. They’re untrained criminals from a backwards-ass wasteland. No training, no education, and all their equipment is shitty hand-me-downs. The two of us could take all of them down, all on our own. Hell, I bet either of us could handle anything the fucking ‘Bleeders’ could throw at us, single-handedly!

What a flattering assessment, Mote deadpanned. That doesn’t change the fact that we need to take our duties seriously. Anything less can and will bite us in the ass.

Damn, you are such a fucking downer, Kate retorted with a scowl. Can you ever not take yourself seriously? Today is a fucking holiday, too! Cut loose for once!

What’s wrong with taking myself seriously?Mote countered.

“Well, well, if this isn’t a classic.”

Mote and Kate both turned their sour expressions forward, where they spotted Colonel Saito and Major Hackett approaching along the top of the wall, both of them wearing their combat gear and carrying their rifles. Oh, Colonel, Mote greeted, offering a salute as he did. Upon seeing his reaction, Kate snorted in derision, though she still offered the two officers a nod of acknowledgment.

“Getting along as well as ever, I see,” Saito remarked as he and Hackett stopped in front of Mote and Kate.

Why do you keep pairing me with this asshole? Kate complained as she jabbed a finger at Mote. He’s such a fucking stick-up-the-ass.

You’re the one who’s far too loose with the rules, Mote shot back.

“You’re both right,” Saito cut in, drawing Mote and Kate’s attention. “Mote, you really do need to learn to let loose a little. And Kate, you need more respect for the rules than you have.”

“There’s a middle ground between the two of you where you should really try to meet,” Hackett commented.

Mote and Kate exchanged a glance, only to scowl and look away from each other — an action they unintentionally performed in unison.

“Still the same as ever, I see,” Saito observed, and then shook his head in resignation. “Anyways, the Major and I are here to relieve the two of you.”

Fucking finally, Kate remarked, immediately making to jump off the wall to the town below — but Saito held his hand up, stopping her in place.

“Now, now, Kate, you know how this goes,” the Colonel said. “Let’s get a status report before you actually leave.”

The status is that absolutely jack shit has happened, Kate retorted.

…Vulgarity aside, she’s correct, Mote affirmed. The wasteland has been quiet all day, and all of the weapon emplacements we passed seem to be in working order.

I still don’t get the point of any of this, Kate stated. Why are we so concerned about these fucking ‘Bleeders’? And why the fuck are we helping on our time off?!

“Never underestimate an active threat,” Saito replied.

“Based on our intel, the Bleeders just might be a credible threat to Tresnon,” Hackett pointed out. “They did recently attack another Compound in the region, after all.”

As I mentioned earlier, Mote declared while side-eying Kate.

What-fucking-ever, Kate snapped back. But these Bleeders are still just common thugs, aren’t they? Some of them might be Chaotics, sure, but it’s nothing we can’t handle.

“Which is why you’re helping out,” Saito remarked with a smirk, which then transformed into a frown as he began to survey the town of Tresnon. Beige and sand-colored rooftops stretched into the distance, and the streets were alive with the buzz of citizens preparing for the feast at day’s end. “Personally, though… I’m more concerned about threats coming from within the city.”

Within the city, sir…? Mote echoed warily.

“Is this about that former Bleeder we ran into?” Hackett questioned.

“And her friend,” Saito answered. “Ind and Shade are their names, according to Travis.”

Former Bleeders? What? Kate looked cluelessly between the other three. What the hell are you talking about?

“From what I hear, Compound Tresnon has a Bleeder Reformation Program where they take in people who used to be Bleeders and, well… reform them,” Saito explained. “They’ve been doing this for years. Supposedly, dozens, if not hundreds of the people living in Tresnon came here under the reformation program — if so, I don’t doubt the program’s effectiveness. Even so…”

Hackett nodded in understanding. “You’re wary of the two newest members of the program?”

It certainly does seem like convenient timing… Mote muttered.

Wait, am I really hearing this correctly? Kate glanced between Mote and Saito. The locals think the Bleeders are a threat, but they’re still letting recently former criminals join their fucking city? Just like that?!

“We aren’t from here, so I’m not about to try telling them how to do things,” Saito commented, “…but, yes, that certainly is how it seems. On top of that, based on what Travis told me, Davídrius was wary of them, too. It was another former Bleeder, along with that Black Suns officer, who convinced him otherwise.”

Are you saying that they’re in on it? Mote questioned.

“I’m not going to go that far,” Saito countered. “I don’t know either of them well enough to say. It could really be that they want to assume the best, or that they think they can handle the former Bleeders if they act out. Or, they just think that the two newcomers being plants is too obvious.”

It sounds fucking obvious, Kate pointed out. So obvious I almost don’t think it’s true, ‘cause of how fucking dumb the Bleeders would have to be to think we’d fall for it. But, then again, they are just a bunch of lame-ass criminals…

It sounds like we have fallen for it, though, Mote countered. ’We’ in the royal sense, that is. The two former Bleeders are in the city already. Obvious plants or not, they’re still here. He then shifted his attention to Saito, a concerned expression upon his face. Sir, if this is all true, then aren’t the Tresédians being extremely derelict in their duties to protect this city?

“I don’t think so,” Hackett countered. “On our way here to relieve you, I noticed that the security in the town was increased today, compared to earlier in the week. It’s subtle, but there are guards watching over all the points of defensive interest. The energy shield generators, the armories, the warehouses…”

“Hmm, I thought I noticed something along those lines, but I wasn’t certain,” Saito remarked. “If you picked up on it too, Major, then it’s likely true. It would seem that Davídrius and Selind are taking the threat seriously, after all.”

Then it sounds like the locals have everything covered, Kate said, which brings me back to my original question: why the fuck are we here?

“It’s just a little favor to Davídrius, that’s all,” the Colonel replied. “Us helping out on the wall patrols means more of their defense force can focus on protecting the city.”

Wouldn’t it be better if they had someone watching the suspects? Mote questioned.

“If they had the foresight to establish guards around all of the city’s defensive equipment, then I’m sure they have some way of keeping an eye on the suspects. Let’s not assume that our hosts are stupid, now. They’ve survived here for quite some time, after all.”

Mote and Kate exchanged a wary glance, but neither of them offered a response, aside from Mote stating, if you say so, sir.

“As a matter of fact, I do!” Saito declared, and then stepped forward to pat the duo on their shoulders. “Anyways, I’ve held you up here long enough. The Major and I have some patrolling to do; why don’t the two of you go enjoy yourselves? It is a local holiday today, after all.”

Fucking finally!! Kate wasted little time in catapulting herself from the top of the wall, falling to the ground just over fifteen meters down and easily landing in a roll.

Mote watched her jog off down the streets and released a weary sigh before saluting Saito once more. …Apologies for her behavior, sir.

“It isn’t needed. You aren’t responsible for her, anyways,” Saito countered. “Now get going! There’s only so much of the day left.”

…Right. Thank you, sir, Mote replied, and then stepped past Saito and Hackett on his way to the ladders that were the intended way to descend from the walltop, wary of what the rest of the day would bring.