Chapter 11 – A New Life’s Dawn
Just as soon as Austin had started walking, he stopped again. He now stood with his back to an Interstellar Gate, having just stepped through — and feeling nothing in the process. The only sensation that crashed over him was a brief moment of disorientation as the glass-walled Gateport in New York was instantly replaced by a comparatively narrow hallway, barely larger than the Interstellar Gate itself. As with the Gate on Earth, two sets of railroad tracks ran right up to the Gate, and disappeared down a dark concrete tunnel in the opposite direction. On either side of the tunnel were two wide ramps that each lead up to large double-doors, and the ceiling entirely consisted of glass panes that allowed Austin to see the blue skies and wispy white clouds above. If not for the railroad tracks, Austin might have guessed that he currently stood at an airport gate, rather than an interstellar traveling facility.
“Yo, Austin! Get your ass in gear!”
“Huh?” Austin snapped his gaze to his left, where he spotted Spike standing amongst the rest of the group at the base of the left ramp. Pallan and Kievkenalis were already at the top of the ramp and discussing something with an individual that Austin didn’t recognize; Pierce, Phoenix, Conrad, Kestrel, and Mark were already climbing the ramp as well, leaving only Luke and Austin’s friends to wait for him.
“You really did take your time, huh?” Sky remarked as Austin finally approached them.
“Maybe if someone had actually answered my questions earlier, I’d already be here,” he grumbled. He then glanced back at the Interstellar Gate behind him, just in time to watch the black film that was its event horizon briefly flash white before dissolving into nothing, revealing the long extent of dark tunnels that existed behind the Gate. “…Kinda expected more outta the Gate, to be honest.” He then looked around at the concrete tunnel the group currently stood in. “The Gateport, too. This place looks really bleak…”
“The Interstellar Gates are basically a mass transit system, to the rest of the galaxy,” Twy commented. “I guess they’d probably view a Gateport like we do an airport, and those aren’t always fancy.”
“Most Gate travel is done through trains,” Luke stated, and nodded down at the two pairs of rails that ran up to the Gate. “So most people would only see this part of the Gateport for a couple seconds. I bet once we get through those doors, we’ll see what Nimalia really has to offer.”
“Then let’s get going, already!” Sky exclaimed, her bags in hand as she whirled around on her heel and began marching up the ramp. Spike quickly followed, as did Luke and Twy — until Austin stopped her.
“Hey!” he called out, “you were gonna tell me how the Gate works, weren’t you?”
“Oh… right.” Twy glanced back at him, then up at the currently inactive Gate. “…Uh, well, it’s kinda complicated. It’s something to do with Subspace… I don’t really know all of the details, but the the important part is that there’s no molecular disassembling or reassembling involved. Your body is perfectly intact.”
“Oh, good! Now, see, why couldn’t anyone have just said that?” Austin muttered as he began ascending the ramp alongside Twy. “That was, what, two sentences?”
“Maybe you should’ve thought of this concern before actually showing up at the Gate?” Twy countered.
“You want me to think ahead? C’mon, Twy, what do you take me for?”
“I suppose that is too much to expect of you, isn’t it?”
“Wha—? Aw, c’mon, you weren’t supposed to agree with me!”
“Hehe.” Twy responded with a brief giggle before shaking her head and looking up at the double doors that the duo were now approaching. “…We’re on a whole new planet, can you believe that? I wonder what we’re about to see!”
“The Nimalians don’t look much different from us,” Austin replied as the two passed through the doors, “so the Gateport probably doesn’t look much different from Earth… either…?”
On the other side of the double doors was a long, elevated pedestrian pathway. The rest of the group that had gone ahead of Austin and Twy were all gathered along the pathway’s railing, looking out over the Gateport that was now visible to them. The pathway itself followed the tunnel that led to the Gate for a couple dozen meters before turning off to the side, where it passed over a massive indoor arboretum, filled with lush green trees and a handful of small creeks. Along the far wall, at the bottom, were a number of storefronts, not unlike a mall; while on the second floor, at the other end of the elevated pathway, appeared to be a long chain of security devices and checkpoints. And on the other side of those were massive glass walls, through which the outside world could be seen.
Towering, snow-capped mountains dominated the distant landscape, stretching for as far as the eye could see in a vaguely parallel direction to the Gateport windows. Billowing white cumulus clouds, along with more distant strands of cirrus clouds, covered nearly half the sky, offering a varied backdrop to the sky-reaching mountains — as well as to the city skyline in the distance. Skyscrapers of all manner of design filled out the skyline; some of them towering chunks of glass and metal, similar to many skyscrapers found on Earth, while others bore more natural contours, appearing as though they were the trunk of a branchless tree or an artistically organized stack of boulders. Many of the buildings were wreathed with greenery every five to ten floors, a fact that was obvious even from many kilometers away. And then, in contrast with the natural building contours were colored floating dots that zipped through the sky — dots that Austin was able to identify as hovering transit vehicles, as one landed on the grounds just outside of the Gateport.
“Whoa…” Austin muttered, his head slowly sweeping from left to right as his eyes took in the sights around him. His attention was then brought back to his friends as Spike released an impressed whistle.
“The Nimalians sure know how to make a Gateport, huh?” he remarked as he looked down at the indoor forest below.
“Yeah… it’s really something, isn’t it?” Luke replied. “I’ve used the Gates before, but now that I think about it, this might be my first time through a proper Gateport.”
“It’s certainly nice, I agree,” Kievkenalis affirmed as he approached the group, “but if you like this, then you should see some of the Gateports in the CSA. They put Nimaliaka Central to shame.”
“The CSA?” Sky questioned as she turned to face the Nimalian. “What’s that?”
“The Core Space Alliance,” Luke answered. “A government-like alliance of the United Siion Nations, the Dra’kis World Coalition, and the Citan Republic — all located close to the galactic core, relative to the rest of the galaxy anyways. Hence the name. As a whole, they’re the biggest, richest guys on the galactic block.”
“…That’s one way of putting it,” Kievkenalis commented, and then cocked his head in thought. “Hmm, it’s pretty accurate, actually.”
“Even so, what you have here is beautiful,” Twy declared. “Even if it’s manicured…”
“There are much more beautiful places on Nimalia than the Gateport Arboretum, I can tell you that!” Kievkenalis replied with a grin. “Just take a hike through the Nimaliakian mountains, visit Lake Deepsough over in East Nimaliaka, see the Giant’s Forest in Relédiaka, or the Anika Falls, in Riverana… you might just be able to see it all during your studies here. Oh! Which reminds me.” He glanced over his shoulder at Pallan, who was confidently presenting some kind of identification to bewildered security agents across the pathway. “…Being an Archoné means that Pallan can fast track us through all of the Gateport security. We’ll be on our way soon to meet with Kaoné and Kevérin.”
“Will we be studying under them?” Austin asked.
“Probably?” Kievkenalis shrugged. “I’ve been on Earth for a week, so I’m a little out of the loop. But whatever the plan is, I’m certain they’ll know.”
“How… uncomfortably cavalier of you,” Twy remarked.
“You’re not the first person to have said something like that about me. Weird.” The Nimalian passed Twy a curious glance before turning around and gesturing for the group to follow him. “Anyways, it’s time to go. Let’s not keep Kaoné or Kevérin waiting!”
1 Hour Later
“…It’s kind of a small campus, isn’t it?”
“Smaller than UT, sure, but there are also way less students here,” Twy commented.
“And this campus is waaaay nicer than UT’s, anyways!” Sky exclaimed. “Hell, it feels like even the air itself is cleaner, and crisper!”
“Yeah… I guess so,” Austin responded, passing his friends a glance before turning back to look at the grounds in front of him. All of the Earthians, along with Kievkenalis and Pallan, were currently standing in a large practice field, around the size of a soccer field, covered with grass and bounded by trees on all sides. To the east of the field was another just like it; both fields were located on the west side of a small school campus, located in the foothills to the west of Nimaliaka Central. Well-kept stone pathways connected the fields to the rest of the campus, which featured a handful of multi-story buildings that almost seemed to disappear against the sky and the backdrop of the city, due to clever use of windows, paint, and the simple fact that they all featured magnificent gardens on their roofs. The grounds all around were immaculate, featuring well-maintained grass and shrubs, while also hosting a number of mature trees with sturdy branches and thick leaves to provide cover from the sun above. In front of the campus’s main hall — which could be seen from the practice fields — was a large fountain, firing spouts of water nearly twenty meters into the air as students occupied nearby benches and chatted away their free time. The tallest of the trees grew near the main hall, reaching such impressive heights that the five-story building almost appeared to be a small house in the woods; only the large banner on its front stood out, reading: “Densalin School for Chaotics”.
“No litter… everyone picks up after themselves,” Spike observed as he watched two students grab their lunchtime remains and carry them back into one of the buildings. “Doesn’t look like there’s uniforms, either. I could live with this!”
“And the view…” Twy looked up to the west, where the magnificent mountains loomed even closer than at the Gateport. “…I could get used to this.”
“Neither of you are wrong, for sure,” Austin remarked, and then crossed his arms impatiently. “But if this is where we’re supposed to be… then where are the Deans?!”
“What, you can’t handle a little wait?” Pierce interjected, turning toward the group of four with an amused smirk.
“Oh shut up, Pierce.” Phoenix moved to face Austin and his friends as well, while standing beside Pierce. “You were complaining about tardiness just earlier today.”
“Ah, that was different.” Pierce simply waved her off as he scanned the surrounding trees and the nearby mountains. “We were stuck in a tiny little room then, but now! Get a load of this fresh air!”
“It certainly is nice,” Spike commented, and then glanced over as Conrad and Kestrel joined the group. “So what do y’all think of this place?”
“Lots of nice places to nap. Soft grass, lots of shade…” Conrad said, briefly eying Kestrel as she stepped to the side to take cover in the shade of a massive tree. “…Kinda warm, though, despite the breeze.”
“…Do you always think of napping?” Sky questioned incredulously.
“Hey, sleep is good for you.”
“‘All good things in moderation’,” Twy replied. “Too much sleep is bad for you.”
“I try to tell him that all the time,” Phoenix responded with an exasperated sigh. “He never listens, though.”
“Don’t knock it ‘til you try it,” Conrad quipped.
“Nah, I’m with Phoenix on this one,” Pierce remarked. “Life is too short to spend half of it unconscious. I have places to be, things to do! Which reminds me, where the hell are those Deans we’re supposed to meet?”
“What?!” Austin exclaimed, “weren’t you just—!?”
A nearby boom interrupted Austin, drawing everyone’s attention to the air over the field just in time for a man to gradually lower himself to the ground using jets of flame. The man wore a black and gray uniform with white trimming, coupled with a black scarf that fluttered behind him in the heat generated by his flames — flames that set the ground around him on fire as he landed. As soon as he alighted, however, he casually snapped his right fingers, at which point all of the flames around him instantly winked out, leaving behind slightly charred grass and dirt. He then brushed himself off and turned toward the Earthians, revealing his average height, light skin, short black hair, and thin mustache; just as he opened his mouth to speak, however, a woman’s voice interrupted him.
“Kevérin! What have I told you about setting the grounds aflame?!”
The man glanced up as a short woman with olive-toned skin and dark wavy hair alighted on the ground next to him. She wore a dark blue uniform instead of the man’s black and gray, which came with a shawl wrapped just around her shoulders, as well as a sort of blue half-cloak that attached to her belt and extended down to her boots around her black slacks.
“…Ah, it’s fine,” Kevérin casually responded as he watched the burnt ground around the woman quickly turn green and lush once more. “See? Fixing this pitiful amount of damage is easy for you.”
“I’d prefer not having to fix it at all,” the woman shot back.
“Ah, Kevérin! Kaoné!” Kievkenalis stepped forward to approach the two newcomers, and then stepped to the side to glance between them and the Earthians. “Everyone, you’ve already met Kaoné once. She was present when the Archoné told you all about being Keys. She’s also the Dean of the Densalin School for Chaotics — the campus we’re standing on right now, in fact!”
“And the campus I’d very much like to keep intact,” Kaoné muttered as she threw Kevérin an annoyed glance.
“And this,” Kievkenalis gestured toward Kevérin, who promptly gave a brief wave. “Is Kevérin Tyrion, Dean of the Tyrion Institute of Chaotics. He and Kaoné are here to talk with you all about how your stay here is going to work.”
“Does this mean we’re finally going to learn where we’re going to be?” Sky immediately questioned, “we’ve been in the dark this whole week!”
“Yeah, that was a bit much,” Phoenix added.
“Let’s calm down, everyone,” Mark interjected, glancing toward the other Earthians before looking back at the Nimalian Deans. “We are in the presence of Hero Machina. Let’s show some respect.”
“Well that’s a name I haven’t heard in a while,” Kevérin remarked, and then rolled his eyes. “…Is what I wish I could say. You save the galaxy one time, and it’s all people ever remember you for…”
“Well, yeah! Because what you did was fuckin’ awesome!” Austin exclaimed. “I mean, yeah, the Nanocreature War was bad, but stuff like the battle of Neticen is like straight out of a movie, you know?”
“The Battle of Neticen isn’t where the war ended…” Kaoné responded.
“Regardless, we can talk about what happened two decades ago another time,” Kevérin cut in. He then crossed his arms and slowly swept his gaze over each of Austin, Spike, Sky, Twy, Pierce, Phoenix, Conrad, and Kestrel. “…So you’re the ones we’re supposed to teach?”
“These are indeed the Keys mentioned by the Oraculm,” Pallan stated from the side. “Your task is to prepare them for—”
“Yes, yes, I know, I know.” Kevérin waved off the Archoné and turned back to the group. “…Do any of you have any prior military experience or Chaotic training?”
“Nope,” Conrad replied.
“We were kinda, you know… conscripted? Against our will?” Austin responded in mild irritation.
“Yes, you and every other Chaotic in the galaxy. We can discuss that part later,” Kevérin said. “Here’s a more immediately relevant question, though: do you guys think that you’re as important as the Archoné says you are?”
“Uh…” Austin glanced uneasily at his friends. “…Well…”
“We can do this,” Pierce interjected as he summoned his bladed whip weapon into his hands. “Seems impressive to me!”
“…Huh. That really is an Ayas Weapon,” Kevérin remarked after taking a moment to inspect the weapon in Pierce’s possession. “Be careful around Davídrius with that one, though.”
“Anyways!” Kevérin clapped his hands together and took a step back. “I’m not one to back out of a deal that’s already been made. The eight of you, and your two chaperones, will join one of the Schools of Chaos, where you’ll learn all of the skills you need to handle yourselves as Chaotics. But we don’t yet know which school that will be.”
“You can’t be serious!” Sky exclaimed impatiently.
“Uh, as one of the designated chaperones, I think it’s my duty to step in, here,” Luke commented, momentarily raising his hand to get Kevérin’s attention. “Respectfully… we’re grateful to have this opportunity, but are you really saying you aren’t ready for us yet?”
“I never said that,” Kevérin countered. “The choice of school has already been narrowed down to two, we just need one final piece of information to make the choice.”
“I don’t like where this is going…” Conrad muttered.
“What is it that you need…?” Twy questioned uneasily.
“Well, it’s pretty simple.” Kevérin turned toward Sky and pointed at her. “You’re a Pyrotechnic, right? Step forward.”
“Me? Why?” Sky eyed him warily, though stepped forward all the same. “What’s going on?”
“Oh, I think I get it,” Austin remarked. “Is this—?”
“It’s your tryouts,” Kevérin finished with a smirk, and turned toward Sky. “I’m also a Pyrotechnic, which means that your skill as a Chaotic will be the easiest for me to judge. Seeing as you all have the same amount of experience, which is to say… minimal—”
“Hey, don’t lump me in with those guys,” Pierce interjected. “I’ve had plenty of experience with my power!”
“I’m sure you have,” Kevérin deadpanned. “Regardless, to see what school you make it into, we’re going to have a little duel here. Me and… what’s your name?”
“I’m Sky! Sky Chao!” Sky responded, her previous wary expression wiped clean by an excited grin while small flames licked at her fists.
“I see you’re all ready to go,” Kevérin observed, and then gestured for everyone else to stand back. “Now, don’t expect to win. Just fight as best you can, and we’ll judge you based on that.”
“Ha! You say that, but I’m still trying for the win!” Sky nodded in affirmation as she took a battle-ready stance. “Another Pyrotechnic, huh? Finally, a chance to really let loose!”
“You get ‘im, Sky!” Spike shouted from behind her, “kick his ass!”
“You damn well better!” Pierce added, “if we end up in a shit school, then this is all on—!”
“Ignore him. Do your best, Sky!” Phoenix cheered.
“…You all are really excitable, huh?” Kevérin commented, and then shook his head before turning back to Sky. “Well, there’s nothing else to it. But first, a couple ground rules: don’t leave or shoot any flames outside of the practice field, and make sure that you don’t accidentally target your friends. Also, when I say ‘stop’, the duel stops. Understood?”
“I got it, I got it,” Sky responded impatiently as she bounced on the balls of her feet. “Let’s hurry up and get to the fighting part already!”
“…Right.” Kevérin took a deep breath and then backed into a defensive stance himself. “…Alright. We start on my mark. Three! …Two! …One! …MARK!”