Chapter 12 – Key Placement

Chapter 12 – Key Placement

“Three! …Two! …One! …MARK!”

As soon as the word left Kevérin’s mouth, Sky swept her right arm in front of her, generating a massive blast of flames that rolled across the ground in front of her. Reacting quickly, Kevérin jumped backwards and then launched himself into the air with a blast of his own, where he then began hovering by continually combusting the air beneath his feet and palms. Sky snapped her attention up to him and rapidly launched a series of firewaves toward his location, only for the Nimalian to deftly maneuver around the flames without being touched once. As soon as there was a lull in Sky’s attacks, Kevérin launched one of his own, firing a small fireball straight at Sky’s position — a fireball that she just barely managed to dodge by diving out of the way.

“Tch…!” Sky turned her annoyed gaze back toward Kevérin, just in time to spot another three fireballs headed her way. She dived out of the way once more before rolling back to her feet and blasting the ground directly underneath her, launching herself into the air toward Kevérin. He blasted himself backwards to remain out of reach and then fired off another two fireballs toward Sky, who managed to evade by blasting herself to the side and then further upward.

“Alright, so you already figured out the flying trick!” Kevérin remarked as he watched Sky maintain her position in the air just as he was. “That’s not bad! But what else can you do?”

“What else is there to do… but blast you away?!” Sky exclaimed as she thrust both her palms forward, generating a massive plume of flames that filled the sky and roared toward Kevérin. With no where to dodge, the Nimalian instead seized control of Sky’s own flames and forced them to part just as they passed by him; surprised by the move, Sky faltered just long enough for Kevérin to lash out with his own attack, firing off a narrow gout of flames several dozen meters long from his fingertips directly at his opponent. The gout initially hit Sky and knocked her back, the flames licking away at her clothes and skin yet leaving no burns due to her own fire resistance as a Pyrotechnic — after the first blow, however, Sky finally came to her senses and blasted herself away from the gout, where she briefly flew an evasive path through the air in an effort to keep away from Kevérin’s flamethrower technique.

A couple seconds of dodging later, the Earthian Pyrotechnic dived toward the ground, at the same time that she held her right hand out toward Kevérin and generated a massive spinning column of flames around him. The flames blocked his vision of his surroundings, so he stopped launching fire from his fingertips and instead wiped away the fire tornado around him — just in time to spot Sky rocketing up at him from below, with a green and silver bo staff in her hands. Kevérin’s eyes momentarily went wide as he spotted the weapon, and then he blasted himself backwards just as the tip of the staff intercepted the air where he had just been. Undeterred, Sky pressed the attack as she lunged forward through the air and made several more swipes with her staff at Kevérin, each time just barely missing as the Nimalian easily dodged out of the way. After several more swipes, Kevérin lashed out on his own, creating a whip of flames out of his hands that he used to snatch Sky’s staff out of her grip and chuck it away.

“H-hey!!” she exclaimed indignantly, her attention momentarily on her staff as it clattered to the ground below. Just as she returned her attention to Kevérin, however, he lashed out with the fire whip again; she just barely managed to dodge out of the way, but as she did, Kevérin launched a small wave of flames at her from his left hand. She reflexively blasted herself upwards to evade the flames — where she then fell into the waiting grip of Kevérin’s fire whip. It wrapped around her ankle and yanked her out of the air, at which point Kevérin chucked her directly at the ground. Disoriented, Sky was little able to catch herself, though a cushion of flames nonetheless appeared under her just as she hit the ground, successfully softening her fall.

“What the…?” she muttered as the flames winked away, only to leap back to her feet as Kevérin alighted on the ground a couple meters away. Before she could launch another wave of flames, however, the Nimalian held up the palm of his hand toward her.

“Stop. The duel’s over,” he declared.

“Aw, what?!” Sky responded incredulously, “but I can still fight! We aren’t done here!”

“The purpose of this duel wasn’t to fight to incapacitation,” Kevérin countered as he brushed off his sleeves, offering Kaoné a brief glance as she used her powers to return the burnt practice grounds to their lush green appearance once more. He then turned back to Sky. “The purpose of this duel was to judge your abilities, and I’ve learned enough in that regard already.”


“Hey, don’t sweat it,” Spike remarked as he approached Sky, along with Twy and Austin. “Considerin’ you were up against one of the members of Hero Machina, I think you did pretty well!”

Kevérin sighed in exasperation. “Hero Machina is in the past. None of us are in the NSD anymore.”

“Well the point still stands,” Spike replied as the rest of the Earthians approached as well.

“It was a fun fight to watch, at least,” Luke declared.

“Yeah, yeah, but more importantly than that…” Pierce eyed Kevérin impatiently. “You said that duel was supposed to determine what school we get into, right? So which one is it? And if it’s not the better of the two — you should give me a chance, I’m sure I could do better than her!”

“You aren’t even a Pyrotechnic!” Sky countered.

“So?” Pierce crossed his arms as he glanced between Sky and Kevérin. “Chaotics fight other Chaotics of different types all the time, right?”

“While that’s certainly true, it’s also true that it’s far easier for a Chaotic to judge the abilities of another Chaotic of the same type,” Kevérin stated.

“What’s your judgment, then?” Phoenix questioned.

Kevérin glanced at her for a moment, and then over at Kaoné, who offered a brief nod. “…Well,” Kevérin began again as he turned back to address the Earthians, “…there was a little more skill there than I expected, I’ll admit, but there’s also still a lot for you to learn. Which, to be clear, is not meant to be an insult — it’s expected. Honestly, for having just discovered your powers less than two months ago, you’re actually faring rather well.”

“Alright!” Sky pumped her fist. “That means I did good, right?”

“…Eeeehhh…” Kevérin eyed her warily. “You did well for someone who just recently discovered your Chaotic ability, but the overwhelming majority of Chaotics your age have had over a decade to learn how to work with their abilities. That means that there’s quite a bit of catching up you all have to do.”

“You better not be saying what I think you’re saying,” Pierce growled.

“Relax! It’s not like we’re going to send you to an inferior school,” Kevérin retorted. “All six of the Schools of Chaos are prestigious institutions. Normally, admittance is incredibly competitive — we cap each class at 100 students, after all, and we receive thousands of applications every year. The fact that the eight of you get to bypass all of that is an opportunity you should be very grateful for.”

“And we are,” Phoenix stated, cutting off Pierce just before he could respond. “We don’t mean any disrespect… we just want a properly challenging education, is all.”

“We do?” Austin questioned.

Maybe we should start from the top, Mark interjected. I’ve heard about the Schools of Chaos, and how the Dean of each school is a former member of Hero Machina, but I’m afraid we don’t know much of the details. If it isn’t any trouble, would you mind explaining how the Schools work to us?

“Wait, really?” Kevérin looked at Mark in surprise, and then passed an irritated glance toward Kievkenalis. “Hey, Kevken, I thought we told you to tell them about the Schools!”

“You did?” Kievkenalis questioned, and then glanced off to the side, as though looking at invisible text. “…Oh, hey, you did. I guess I missed that message. My bad.”

“Kevken…” Kaoné responded in an admonishing tone.

“Ah ha, sorry, sorry,” Kievkenalis replied with a sheepish grin. “I was a little busy…”

“Well, I guess it falls to me to explain things, then.” Kevérin sighed and turned back to address the Earthians. “The Schools of Chaos are a group of six academic institutions that are focused around teaching young Chaotics how best to handle their abilities. Typically, the Schools are an optional, but challenging final stage of education before a Nimalian Chaotic would enter employment with the Nimalian Systems Defense — or the NSD, the military of the Nimalian Union, in case you didn’t know. And each school involves six years of schooling, instead of the standard two years of conscription training. As such, we both expect a certain level of prior training, as well as teach a lot of military-oriented material. The one exception is Wrikax Chaos University, which hosts a number of classes for novice-level Chaotics for… a number of reasons.” Kevérin briefly glanced off to the side before clearing his throat and continuing, “regardless, all of the Schools expect the most out of their students, and hope to instill the proper sense of responsibility that comes with a Chaotic’s powers.”

“Question.” Conrad half-raised his hand for a moment. “What if I don’t want that responsibility?”

“Conrad, seriously?” Phoenix interjected in an admonishing tone.

“Yeah, actually,” he replied, passing her a quick glance and then looking over the rest of the Earthians. “I mean, c’mon. Pierce, Austin, just a week ago you both were complaining about being forced into this.”

“Well… sure, but…” Austin stammered out.

“The ‘being forced’ part sucks, but I’m not about to argue against getting a premiere Chaotic education,” Pierce replied. “You sure you aren’t just trying to avoid all of the extra work, Conrad?”

“No, I’m with Conrad!” Sky exclaimed, her fists on her hips as she turned to glare indignantly at Kevérin. “We haven’t actually agreed to any of this. And now, we don’t even get a say in what School we go to! Don’t you see how fucked up this is?”

The Nimalian Pyrotechnic simply regarded her with pursed lips, not responding for several seconds. “…Do you not think that every Chaotic has the same questions?” he eventually replied, with his brow furrowed in frustration. “You aren’t unique here. You’re already getting tons of preferential treatment, as is.”

“What Kevérin means to say,” Kaoné quickly stepped up next to Kevérin, passing him a brief glance before turning back to address the Earthians, “is that, unfortunately, no Chaotic has the luxury of choice that you desire. Gaining a Chaotic ability is not something that you can choose to do. It isn’t something that you can influence — it isn’t based on your environment, or your upbringing. Even genetics can’t fully explain who becomes a Chaotic and who doesn’t. Ultimately, people all over the galaxy are unexpectedly and randomly being granted incredible power, and this power can absolutely harm others if not handled responsibly. This is why Chaotic education is so important.”

“This basically sounds like you’re just forcin’ people to learn the difference between good and evil,” Spike replied. “How’s that different from just a regular upbringin’?”

Kaoné shook her head. “No, it isn’t just that. When I talk about responsibly handling your powers, I’m not just talking about conscious decisions. Even unintentional actions can have dire consequences. Perhaps it’s a Pyrotechnic who unconsciously superheats the air around them when they’re angry, or a Velocitechnic who accidentally kicks just a little too hard when playing with their friends. It’s the little things that you don’t think of that you need to look out for; that’s probably the most important part of a Chaotic’s education.”

“…Sure, yeah,” Pierce responded, his tone at first uneasy before he fell back into his normal confidence. “But none of us have had accidents like that. I think we’re all good to go on that front.”

I don’t think that’s necessarily true… Mark countered.

“…Even if it isn’t, so what?” Pierce replied impatiently, “these ‘accidents’ can’t be that deadly. Otherwise they’d be all over the Relaynet!”

“They aren’t ‘all over the Relaynet’ because of how unfortunately common they are,” Kevérin retorted. “Even some of the most powerful Chaotics in the galaxy have stories about accidentally harming friends or loved ones. This is not a subject to be taken lightly.”

“Even in Hero Machina?” Austin challenged.

Kevérin’s irritated gaze fell on Austin; for a moment, Austin thought he saw the Pyrotechnic’s eyes briefly flick toward Kaoné, at which point he opened his mouth to speak.

“Enough,” Kaoné interjected before Kevérin could say anything, stepping forward to place herself between him and the Earthians. She slowly glanced between the two, and then continued, “…this is not the time nor the place for disclosing tragic back stories. Now, listen…” She turned to face the Earthians front-on. “I sympathize with your frustration here, I really, sincerely do. More than you realize, or perhaps want to accept. But for the time being, I implore you to give a proper Chaotic education a chance. Don’t do it for us, don’t do it for Archoné Culana, don’t even do it for SERRCom… just do it for yourself, and your friends. I promise I will do my best to make sure you don’t regret it.”

The soft sound of grass and distant leaves being rustled in the wind filled the air as silence briefly befell the group. Kaoné remained where she stood the entire time, her hands held out toward the Earthians in a disarming gesture; it was not for several more seconds before the silence was finally broken.

“Well, if you really insist,” Pierce replied airily. “Like I said earlier, I won’t argue against a chance like this.”

“Weren’t you literally just arguing the point?” Phoenix questioned.

“I was arguing one specific sub-point, not the whole deal,” Pierce quickly countered. “If someone’s going to give me a free spot at a prestigious school, where I can learn from the best, then I’ll be damned if I just walk away from that.”

“In isolation, it definitely is an intriguing offer…” Twy mused.

“SERRCom supervision will be minimal while we’re here, anyways,” Austin remarked. “We can do as Kaoné said… learn for us, not anyone else. I mean, I don’t know about the rest of y’all, but I’d certainly like to be able to get back at EA one day.”

“It’s better motivation than nothin’,” Spike replied. “I’m in.”

“Of course you are…” Sky muttered, and then shrugged. “Well, I guess if I can learn more cool tricks to use with my flames, then it’ll be worth it!”

“Man, you guys are nuts…” Conrad sighed. “Guess there’s not really much of a choice, though, is there?”

“It sounds like we’re all in, then!” Phoenix remarked, as Kestrel offered a brief nod of affirmation.

“And now, for the real question,” Luke commented, his eyes on Kaoné and Kevérin. “So where are we headed, and who’s doin’ the teaching?”

“Right. Ahem!” Kevérin cleared his throat and straightened his back as Kaoné stepped back to stand beside him. “Based on a variety of criteria and circumstances, we’ve decided that you all will be attending Wrikax Chaos University — or WCU, for short — headed by Davídrius Wrikax himself. He should be able to help teach you the basics.”

“I will be helping to teach you, as well,” Kaoné stated, “but I won’t be able to join you immediately. I do still have things to take care of here, after all.”

“Finally! An answer!” Sky exclaimed.

“Yeah, but we already know the basics…” Pierce muttered.

“Do you?” Kevérin challenged, “tell me, what do you know about Berserk episodes? Direct versus indirect manipulation? The different types of Chaotic abilities?”

“…I’m sure I could figure it out on my own…”

“I’m sure,” Kevérin replied dryly. “Anyways… it’s only fair to warn you that Davídrius can be a bit of a hardass, and rough around the edges. Try not to be too flippant with him.”

“Duly noted,” Phoenix responded as she passed Pierce a side glance. “I’ll make sure everyone behaves.”

What’s it like at WCU? Mark questioned. Is it as nice as here?

“…You’ll get a chance to see the campus later today,” Kevérin replied. “In fact… I believe your transport should be leaving soon.”

“Indeed it is,” Pallan commented, stepping forward and nodding toward the other Nimalians. “Dean Tyrion, Densalin, I again thank you for your time and patience.”

“You’re welcome, Archoné,” Kaoné responded cordially.

“As for the rest of you…” The Archoné turned toward the Earthians. “It is time to be going. I would very much like to reach Compound Tresnon before nightfall.”

“Compound Tresnon?” Pierce echoed, “…why does that sound familiar…?”

“Perhaps you will learn once we get there,” Pallan replied, at which point he turned around and began walking off. “Now, after me! We have a transport to catch!”

“…And just like that, huh?” Austin muttered as everyone began picking up their bags and following Pallan off of the practice field.

“Hey, it’s not so bad,” Twy replied as she fell into pace alongside Austin. “At least we know where we’re going now, right?”

“I suppose so,” Austin commented, and then looked up at the snow-capped mountains to the west, and the crisp, blue skies filled with fluffy, white clouds above. “…I can only hope it’s as good as here.”