Chapter 13 – Dashed Expectations
Several Hours Later
“…What the hell is this? Where are we?!”
“Huh? Kevérin told you,” Kievkenalis replied as he glanced at Austin before continuing down the disembarkation ramp of the transport craft. “This is Compound Tresnon, in Treséd.”
“You’re kidding…” Austin muttered as his gaze slowly swept across the scene in front of him. A cloudless, pale blue sky hung above him, filled only with the light of the setting sun. The buildings all around were short — few were over three stories tall, and there wasn’t a single skyscraper in sight. In fact, the tallest building couldn’t have been more than five stories tall, and appeared just as dirty and mundane as all of the rest, constructed out of rocks and concrete as it was. Sand blew across the dreary streets, which themselves appeared severely worn down and in dire need of maintenance. In the distance, Austin could spot a wall running the entire perimeter of the small town. Compound Tresnon couldn’t have possibly been much larger than ten kilometers across, a stark contrast to the incredible urban sprawl of Nimaliaka Central — or even any major city on Earth. Beyond its walls stretched a vast, flat wasteland, filled with nothing but sand for as far as the eye could see. The only geographical feature of any interest was the massive body of water to the south, which itself stretched to the southern horizon, its shoreline reaching far to the east and west.
“Well, this is, uh…” Phoenix briefly stopped on the disembarkation ramp next to Austin as she took in the sandy sights herself. “…I can’t say I expected this.”
“I knew they were sending us to the worst school,” Pierce declared irately as he pushed past Austin and Phoenix with his bags in tow, and Conrad following. “Those assholes, sending us to a desert wasteland, what the fuck…”
“…At least it isn’t hot?” Twy commented hopefully from behind Austin and Phoenix. “In fact, it’s kinda cool…”
“That might just be because it’s sunset,” Austin countered, and then sighed dejectedly. “Man, what a place…”
“Relax, young Earthians,” Pallan commented, placing his hands on Austin and Twy’s shoulders and offering a nod toward Phoenix. “Tresnon may be small, but its people are not. Tresédians are hardy and experienced, Davídrius Wrikax and his compatriots especially so. You will learn much here.”
Phoenix rolled her eyes and began walking down the disembarkation ramp. “Yeah, I’m sure…”
Pallan shook his head solemnly before beginning down the ramp while gesturing for Austin and Twy to follow. “You’ll understand one day. Now come along, let’s not leave our hosts waiting.”
Austin watched Pallan join Kievkenalis and the rest of the Earthians at the base of the ramp. “…How long is that guy gonna stick around with us?” he whispered to Twy.
“I don’t know…” she responded in kind, “probably until we’re actually settled in?”
“…Right.” Austin sighed again. “Well, let’s get goin’, then.”
The two finally descended the ramp themselves, joining Spike and Sky on solid ground. As the last two off of the transport, everyone else was already present, with Austin, Spike, Sky, and Twy standing off to one side, Pierce, Phoenix, Conrad, and Kestrel standing a little bit a ways from them, and Luke and Mark idly chatting near Pallan and Kievkenalis, who both appeared to be looking for someone. Before long, another two individuals entered the small landing area from outside. Both were women, and stood equal in height to Austin’s own six feet. One of the women had dark, messy, shoulder-length hair, tan skin, and possessed a lithe figure, covered in part by a pair of baggy white cargo pants and a large beige shawl that covered her entire upper torso. Slung over her shoulder was a black strap hooked to two ends of a long sniper rifle, and on her mildly aged face she wore a confident smile. The other woman appeared much younger — around 20 years old — and somewhat more uneasy, despite her clearly muscular build that rivaled even Spike’s. Her appearance was otherwise mundane, with a plain face, light skin, medium-length black hair, and a pair of beige cargo pants, a white shirt, and a beige cloak.
“So you’ve finally arrived,” Pallan remarked as the two women approached. He then glanced around. “…Where is Dean Wrikax?”
“Really, old man?” the tan-skinned woman retorted, “you’ve talked to him plenty, you know exactly why he ain’t here.”
“Of course…” Pallan sighed and shook his head in disappointment. “He still doesn’t see, does he?”
“Frankly, I don’t either,” the woman replied, and then nodded toward Kievkenalis. “Hey, Kevken. Nice to see you again.”
“Same to you,” Kievkenalis nodded back. “Is Davídrius doing well?”
“Same as always,” the woman remarked, at which point she nodded toward the Earthians. “So, these the folks?”
“Yeah.” Kievkenalis stepped to the side and gestured for everyone to approach. “Everyone, this is Selind Condsa, the Head of Defense here at Compound Tresnon.”
“Pleased to meet ya, I hope,” Selind replied casually, and then jerked her head toward the light-skinned woman beside her. “And this is Karísah Lekai, Davídrius’s kid-in-training.”
“Wh-what?!” Karísah spluttered out as her face flushed red. “Th-that’s not—!”
“Ah ha ha ha ha!!” Selind released a loud guffaw as she heartily slapped Karísah on the back. “Relax, I’m just playin’ with ya!” She then turned back toward the Earthians as she continued, “but more seriously, Karísah here is the strongest student at WCU. She’s even one of the Elite Six! Which is very impressive, in case you didn’t know.”
“The hell is the Elite Six?” Pierce questioned.
“Well, there’s six Schools of Chaos, right? I’m sure y’all are smart folks, so I’ll let you work it out from there. My main point is that the two of us are leaders of sorts here at Compound Tresnon. If you ever have a problem during your stay here, feel free to come to either of us.”
“What kind of problem could warrant carrying around a Laser Sniper?” Luke questioned as he gestured toward the long-barreled gun on Selind’s back.
“You never know,” Selind replied casually. “Sometimes, you find you need to shoot somethin’. And when I’m in a real bind, this thing works wonders as a club!”
“Isn’t that an Imarin model? Those things could shoot a sandwich outta your hand from 25 kilometers away, why the hell are you just walkin’ around with one?”
“Oh? Looks like someone here knows his guns.” Selind smirked as she eyed Luke. “Unfortunately, this isn’t actually an Imarin. Those things are way too hard to come by. This one is an older model, a Lisarin.” She then glanced back at her gun with mild frustration. “Parts are pretty sparse around here, too, so the damn thing isn’t in very good shape…”
“Well, I’d still like to take a look at it, if you don’t mind,” Luke commented. “I don’t often get a chance to handle a Laser Sniper.”
“Ha! We’ll have to see about that. I can’t just let anyone who asks play with my toys, you know,” Selind replied with a wink.
“Selind… really?” Karísah interjected as she glanced uneasily between Selind and the Earthians. “Please don’t play with the guests…”
“You really need to lighten up, Karísah. You’ll never get Relia like this.”
“Selind…! C’mon, that doesn’t—!”
“Anyways!” Selind glanced back at the group before turning around and gesturing for them to follow. “We have places to be, so let’s walk an’ talk.”
“…Wow, what a duo!” Sky remarked to Spike as she grabbed her bags to begin following after Selind and Karísah. “If everyone’s like that, I think I’ll like it here!”
“Sure… if not for all the sand,” Spike retorted as he brushed himself off before picking up his own bags. “Fuck, it’s everywhere…”
“And we’ve only been standing here for… I dunno, ten minutes?” Austin complained as he joined the group leaving the landing area. “Real sandy place, huh?”
“I’ll say…” Spike muttered.
Before long, the group had exited the small complex that was Compound Tresnon’s airport. Outside were dusty streets and beige-walled buildings, with groups of pedestrians appearing just frequently enough to make it clear that Tresnon was a bustling town, but not enough to make it feel crowded. As soon as the Earthians were outside and taking in their new surroundings, Selind took charge and began leading them down what appeared to be the main street, toward a large, rectangular building in the center of the Compound.
“It occurs to me that I still don’t know all y’all’s names,” Selind remarked as the group passed by one of the run-down buildings on the block.
“Ah, right, sorry!” Kievkenalis apologized, “I forgot to introduce everyone.”
“It’s fine, we can handle it,” Luke replied, and then glanced toward Selind, who was walking backwards to face the group following her. “I’m Captain Luke Travis, from SERRCom.”
“And I’m Lieutenant Mark Cox, from the same organization,” Mark added.
“A Captain and a Lieutenant, huh?” Selind eyed the two before glancing at the rest of the Earthians. “So the eight of you are the ones Davídrius is supposed to be teachin’, huh?”
“That’s right,” Pierce remarked. “I’m Pierce. Pierce Bradley! I’m open to learning from the best, but I’m still not sure what this Davídrius guy can teach to the fastest guy alive!”
“Heh! That’s a good one, Pierce!” Selind chuckled, and then stopped briefly when she noticed the annoyed look on Pierce’s face. “…Oh, you’re serious? Well, in that case! Ba ha ha ha ha ha!!”
“H-hey,” Pierce interjected irately as Selind broke into boisterous laughter, “the hell is so funny?”
“Oof… oh, you’ll see,” Selind replied as she wiped a tear from her eye. “You and Davídrius are gonna get along real well.”
“Realistically, though…” Karísah cut in, “you should be careful with the boasts. Those won’t get you far here in Treséd.”
“Good! Maybe he’ll finally learn,” Phoenix commented, passing Pierce an amused glance before turning to address Selind and Karísah. “I’m Phoenix Myles. Nice to meet you.”
“I’m Conrad. Conrad Ashworth, if we’re doing full names,” Conrad added as he offered a casual wave. He then jerked his thumb toward Kestrel, who nodded once. “And that’s Kestrel Nielson.”
“Sky Chao, at your service!” Sky grinned and pointed finger guns at Selind as she lit small flames at her fingertips. “The fiery, feisty, and in some sense, more spiky of two twins!”
Twy shook her head in resignation as she put Sky’s flames out with a small bubble of water. “I guess that makes me the reasonable one, then. I’m Twy Chao… the older twin.”
“Aw, c’mon, sis! Don’t be like that!”
“Y’all never were good at first impressions,” Spike remarked, and nodded toward Selind. “The name’s Spike Sutna.” He then glanced at Karísah. “You’re the strongest student, huh? Is that literal, or figurative?”
“Most people mean it both ways, but I’d hesitate to say either…” Karísah glanced away, hiding her entire face as she continued walking forwards ahead of the group.
“That means you’ve got superstrength, then, right? Hey, so do I! We should spar sometime!”
Karísah glanced back at Spike, her eyes slightly widened in surprise before she turned forward again. “…Sure. Maybe…”
“That leaves just you, then,” Selind commented, falling back into the group to throw her arm around Austin’s shoulders. “Let me guess. Austin Travis, right?”
“Huh?” He stared at her in confusion. “How’d you know?”
“The old man over there sent a list of y’all’s names before you got here,” Selind stated as she nodded toward Pallan, who simply shook his head in response. “Someone had to read them, and it sure wasn’t gonna be Davídrius.”
“You’re not painting a very impressive picture of the dude,” Conrad commented.
“Is that so?” Selind quipped. She then released Austin and worked her way back to the front of the group. “Davídrius can be a bit of an ass, sometimes, but he’s pretty good at what he does. Surprisingly so, sometimes.”
“What does he do, this grand and fantastic leader of yours?” Pierce questioned, his tone deadpan.
“Ah ha ha! Let’s not get carried away, now!” Selind laughed briefly before stopping in her tracks, causing everyone else to stop behind her. Standing in front of them in the newly dusk light was the large rectangular building in the center of Compound Tresnon, standing only five stories tall — and yet still being the tallest building in the entire Compound. “…Treséd used to be a much harsher place, you know,” Selind eventually continued, and then glanced to her left and right, where the wall surrounding the Compound could just barely be seen over the tops of shorter buildings. “Tresnon is the largest Compound in east Treséd — and one of the largest on the whole continent — but even then, we aren’t that big. We’re still bound by the walls, and this shield generator here.”
“This is a shield generator?” Austin questioned as he looked up at the plain building.
“Well, there’s one inside,” Selind commented. “It used to be running every minute of every hour of every day, because it needed to. But, thanks to the efforts of Davídrius, that isn’t necessary anymore.”
“Don’t sell yourself short, Selind,” Karísah said, “you’ve helped a lot, too.”
“Yeah, yeah.” Selind waved her off as she turned away from the building and began walking again.
“So why was it necessary in the first place?” Luke questioned as the group began moving through the town streets again, “is it related to why you’re carryin’ around that gun?”
Selind glanced back at him; for the first time since she appeared in front of the Earthians, her smile disappeared. “It’s because of the Bleeders.”
Pierce snorted in amusement. “Bleeders? Seriously?”
“You outsiders always laugh,” Selind replied, her expression grim. “But the Bleeder gang of old was nothing to scoff at. They raided and plundered as much as they wanted, all over the wastelands. They killed, they took, they stole. Objects, people, your… sense of personal safety, I’ll say. All of it could disappear in a single night.”
“That sounds… rough,” Spike responded uneasily.
“You did say ‘of old’, though, right?” Phoenix pointed out. “Has it gotten better…?”
“Yep! Thankfully, it has!” The smile returned to Selind’s face, though this time without a hint of cheekiness — her expression seemed perfectly sincere. “Davídrius and I started up this Bleeder Reformation Program, you see. We figured out that the best way to stop the Bleeders was to give ‘em actual jobs and trainin’. Turns out, the only reason half the Bleeders do what they do is ‘cause there ain’t much else you can do to survive in this wasteland of ours, and then they get wrapped up in the evil shit that the other half does. Who knew?”
“When you put it that way, you make it sound like there’s still plenty of them out there,” Austin commented.
“Well, yeah. The Bleeders are still a threat, I won’t lie to you there, but they’re a significantly reduced threat. You don’t have to walk around with a gun everywhere you go anymore!”
“And yet you still do,” Conrad deadpanned.
“Ha ha!” Selind adopted a sheepish grin. “Sorry. It’s an old habit I haven’t been able to break.”
“It’s nice to know that you’re doing better than ever. Sincerely, it is,” Luke commented, and then passed a side glance toward Kievkenalis and Pallan. “But… excuse me while I play the boring adult here, but is it really a good idea to send us to a place with active threats?”
“All is as it is meant to be,” Pallan replied.
“I call those weasel words,” Pierce shot back.
“The Bleeders are a minimal threat to Compound Tresnon,” Kievkenalis stated. “The defenses and number of Chaotics here are too great.”
“Not to mention the attention,” Selind remarked. “The Bleeders know Davídrius has powerful friends in powerful places. Attacking here would be suicide!”
“Well now that you’ve said it, it’s gonna happen,” Austin commented.
“Tresnon, though…” Phoenix muttered, and then glanced up at Pierce. “Tresnon… it sounds familiar, doesn’t it?”
“It sounds like Trenon,” Pierce commented. “I don’t remember if he actually mentioned this place, though…”
“Trenon?” Selind glanced toward Pierce in surprise. “You mean Trenon Rakos? You know him?”
“Uh… yeah,” Pierce responded in kind. “We, uh… met him a few months ago, on Ainminthalus.”
“I guess he did mention Davídrius, didn’t he?” Phoenix said.
“Yeah, and his sister, too. Over and over again…” Pierce turned back toward Selind. “So he really did come here?”
“Yeah. He wasn’t actually that notable, to be honest,” Selind commented. “He was one of the first WCU grads to actually get accepted by the NSD, but that’s really the only reason I remember him. He didn’t stand out much. He has a younger sister who’s currently enrolled at WCU, though. A third-year, named Liask.”
“Liask? Is here?!” Pierce and Phoenix exchanged uneasy glances.
“…Something wrong?” Conrad questioned.
“Uh, well…” Phoenix slowly turned back toward Selind. “What… what was the last you heard about Trenon?”
“Well, he went off and joined the NSD.” Selind shrugged. “Not really sure after that. I heard he was in constant contact with his sister, though. Maybe you should ask her. Speaking of, we’re here!”
The group had just arrived at a set of small gates, connected to a small two-meter wall that spanned just over a hundred meters in length. As Selind pushed through the gates, the area inside of the wall came into view: a barren, rocky field took up the entirety of the front area, with three flat-top buildings in the back barely lit by small lamps in the darkening dusk. Each building possessed the same plain gray-and-beige sand-and-stone appearance as the rest of the buildings in Tresnon, and were arranged in a vaguely ‘U’ shape, with the building at the bottom of the ‘U’ farthest away from the gate and the tallest, at three stories. The two buildings to its flanks were both only two stories tall, somewhat less than a hundred meters in length, and far less than half that in width. A small stone plaza filled the space between the buildings, but otherwise the entire campus was dusty and featureless, save for the austere sign on the center building that read: “Wrikax Chaos University”.
“This is it!” Selind exclaimed, her hands planted on her hips as she surveyed the campus. She then turned around to gaze proudly upon the rest of the group. “What d’ya think? Impressive, huh?”
“…Uh…” Austin muttered uneasily, “it’s, uh…”
“This can’t be it,” Pierce remarked as he looked over the three buildings. “This? A prestigious school? We just got duped, didn’t we?”
“What are you talking about? Of course WCU is prestigious. Look!” Selind pointed at the windows on the left building. “We even shine the windows!”
“…Huh?” Pierce glanced cluelessly between her and the windows. “What… what does that have to do with anything?”
“Ah, relax, I’m messin’ with you!” Selind smirked and slapped Pierce heartily on the back before turning to address the rest of the group. “…Well, sort of, anyways. Look, I know outsiders have places better than this, so I understand your, uh… dislike, to put it bluntly. But for Treséd, this is actually pretty damn good! I’m proud of it.”
“Everyone here is,” Karísah remarked. “I hope you all will come to appreciate it, in time.”
“That’s just what people say about shitty situations that they got numb to,” Austin muttered under his breath.
“Anyways.” Selind clapped her hands once to get everyone’s attention. “I’m sure y’all have had a long day of travel, so let’s go get you all settled—”
“Oi, Selind! Karísah! What’s all this about?”
“And there he finally is,” Selind remarked as a tall man approached. “About time!”
The man simply regarded her with an unamused expression, a full black goatee surrounding his frowning mouth while he did. His dark tan skin and black hair gave him a similar appearance to Selind, and he was just as tall, though his scruffy hair was long enough in front to frame his face down to his cheeks, and long enough in back to be tied into a low ponytail. A light beige scarf wrapped around his neck and drooped down over his right shoulder, barely covering the top of an unzipped thick beige jacket with two breast pockets and the sleeves rolled up, revealing his white undershirt and black fingerless gloves. Baggy beige and white cargo pants and brown boots rounded out the rest of his desert-colored outfit.
“Where were you, Davídrius?” Karísah questioned as the man surveyed the group with his arms crossed. “You were supposed to meet everyone at the airport!”
“Huh?” He regarded Karísah with mild confusion, at which point he noticed Kievkenalis standing off to the side. “Wait, Kevken? What are you—? Oh.” Davídrius’s expression rapidly hardened as his eyes fell on Pallan. “Back again, old man?”
“You’re gathering years just as quickly as I, Dean Wrikax,” Pallan retorted.
“Please. I’m only 40.” Davídrius then turned his attention to the Earthians. “…So these are the ones?”
“Nice to meet you,” Luke commented. “I’m Captain Luke—”
“Yeah yeah, I read the file, I know your names.” Davídrius waved him off and sighed. “I just forgot you were comin’ today. What a fuckin’ day.”
“Is somethin’ wrong?” Selind questioned.
“No. It’s fine.” Davídrius passed her a brief glance before looking back to the rest of the group. “So,” he started, “you idiots really think you can save the galaxy, huh?”
“Idiots?!” Sky echoed incredulously.
“You don’t even know us!” Pierce retorted. “I bet I’m way smarter and faster than even you!”
“Faster? Tch…” Davídrius snorted dismissively — and then instantly disappeared from where he was standing, with only a small dust cloud to occupy his space. Before Pierce could even react, the Nimalian reappeared in front of him, his foot stopped mere millimeters from Pierce’s chin.
“Wha-what?!” Pierce reflexively jumped backwards as everyone else backed away. “The hell was that?!”
“Hmph.” Davídrius snorted again as he casually drew back and returned to a standing position. “So much for ‘faster’, eh? If you really were, you woulda seen that comin’.”
“Y-yeah, well… you just caught me off guard, that’s all.”
“Is it normal for instructors to launch unexpected feints on their students, here…?” Mark questioned uneasily.
“Only if they’re smartasses,” Davídrius retorted. “Even then, I ain’t never once hurt a student, outside of sparrin’ or practice duels, at least, but there it’s expected.” He glanced back at the rest of the Earthians. “Y’all ain’t smartasses, now, are ya?”
“Only a couple of us,” Phoenix replied as she side-eyed Pierce, who responded with a scowl.
“Dean Wrikax, I must ask you to be more considerate toward the Keys,” Pallan interjected. “The circumstances of their enrollment here are most dire.”
“Yeah, yeah, so says that stupid book of yours.” Davídrius shook his head. “You Earth folks, what do you make of this, huh? Do you believe in prophecies?”
Kestrel shook her head as Conrad remarked, “sounds pretty silly to me, honestly.”
“Oh c’mon, guys! We’re supposed to be heroes, or some shit!” Pierce exclaimed, “we might as well embrace it!”
“The opportunities we’re getting because of it are nice,” Twy commented, “but… believing in a prophecy is kinda…”
“Well it’s good that we’re on the same page there, mostly,” Davídrius stated as he fixed the group with a hard stare. “Now I want y’all to understand just one thing: I may have agreed to teach y’all, against my better judgment, but that doesn’t mean I believe in stupid prophecies or destiny or whatever the fuck. And I heard from Kevérin — I don’t wanna hear y’all tryin’ to impress or flatter me by talkin’ about my days with Hero Machina. The shit we did way back when was all luck, that’s all. Right place at the right— well, wrong time, I guess. Still.” He swept his gaze across the group. “You’ll be learnin’ the basics, but that doesn’t mean I’ll go easy on you. We take shit seriously here at WCU, and I expect y’all to do the same!”
“Keverin really wasn’t kiddin’ when he called Davídrius a hardass,” Austin muttered to Spike, who responded with a snort of amusement.
“I’d say that at least he ain’t Mote,” Spike then whispered back, “but I’m not sure this is much better.”
“Anyways.” Davídrius uncrossed his arms to plant his hands on his hips. “Due to the… unique circumstances of y’all bein’ here, you won’t be joinin’ any of the existin’ classes. I’ll teach you personally, at least until Kaoné gets here to take over. Your teachin’ll start on the 10th, that’s in, what, five days? ‘Bout that. Use that time to get used to WCU and Tresnon. Y’all will be stayin’ in the dorms here on campus, on the nearside. Karísah, you know where the keys are, can you show ‘em around? I’ve got some shit I need to take care of.”
“Can do,” Karísah replied. “When should I see you home?”
“Probably ‘fore you. I’ll grab dinner.” Davídrius turned once more toward the Earthians. “Now y’all better behave yourselves. I’m off!” Before anyone could object, he again disappeared in a cloud of dust.
“…Wow.” Sky muttered flatly as she stared at the rapidly dispersing dust cloud. “…What a guy.”
“That’s Davídrius, for you!” Selind remarked with a smirk. “Don’t worry, he’s a great guy once you get to know him.”
“Why can’t anything just be great from the outset around here?” Austin complained.
“Ah, it’ll be fine!” Selind countered, before turning toward Kievkenalis and Pallan. “Hey, I got a couple things I’d like to go over with you two. Karísah, you go on ahead with the dorms.”
“Got it!” Karísah responded as Selind walked off with Kievkenalis and Pallan in tow. She then turned back to the Earthians and gestured for them to follow her as she began approaching the building on the left. “Alright, follow me! The dorms are this way…”
1 Hour Later
“Alright… that’ll do for now.”
Pierce stepped away from the closet, briefly scanning the shirts that he had just hung up before turning his attention to his surroundings: a small room, with a plain bed in the corner just long enough to support his height, a single dresser, and a window that overlooked Compound Tresnon. The floor underfoot was made out of stone, presenting a rough, uneven texture that nonetheless felt strangely comfortable to Pierce’s feet. It’s not the biggest, or the nicest of rooms… he thought to himself as he stepped up to the window and pushed aside the curtains to look outside. But at least I have it all to myself.
The moonlit buildings of Tresnon laid before him, but despite observing them with his eyes, his thoughts were elsewhere. It hadn’t been long since Karísah had led the Earthians to the dorms and shown them their rooms, which seemed to be located on the far end of the building from the current students. The fact that the dorms had empty rooms in the first place was a surprise to Pierce, but he wasn’t one to argue as each of the Earthians received their own room. Austin, Spike, Sky, and Twy, accompanied by Luke, were rooming on the first floor — while Pierce, Phoenix, Conrad, Kestrel, and Mark were staying on the second.
As he continued looking out over Tresnon, however, Pierce couldn’t help but wonder why there were so many empty rooms in the first place; after all, there were a few dozen empty rooms and a couple of kitchens between the Earthians and the closest of the current students. If WCU, as one of the Schools of Chaos, was truly as prestigious as the Nimalians claimed, why wouldn’t it be packed with students? Was there something wrong with the school? Or maybe it’s just the location… he thought bitterly as he eyed the vast sandy desert stretching out to the north of Tresnon. I mean, c’mon, this place is right on the shore of a massive fucking sea, and there’s STILL sandy desert all around it? How fucking shitty can you get?
“I see you’re all set up already.”
“It helps that I don’t bring my entire wardrobe with me everywhere I go,” Pierce shot back as he turned toward the entrance to his room, where Phoenix was leaning on the doorway. “Are you all unpacked?” he questioned as he crossed his arms and passed her an incredulous look. “With all that shit you brought with you? You might even give me a run for speed.”
“High praise, coming from you,” Phoenix deadpanned, and then glanced around the small space. “Still, all things considered, these dorms aren’t too bad…”
“Yeah, it’s kinda weird, honestly.” Pierce tapped the stone floor with his bare feet. “Stone flooring, on the second floor? That’s pretty sturdy. Still, I would’ve liked to at least have a sink in my room. Having to share a bathroom with the rest of you is going to be a real pain.”
“You spent a whole summer sharing one with me, I’m sure you’ll learn to deal with it.”
“Hmph. How do you think I know I’ll dislike it?”
Phoenix fixed Pierce with a disapproving stare, to which he responded with a self-amused chuckle. “…On a more serious note,” Phoenix began after a couple seconds, at which point she paused to step out into the hallway and glance both ways. She then stepped back into Pierce’s room and lowered her voice, saying, “…Trenon’s sister goes to school here, right? Are we… are we going to do anything about that?”
Pierce’s expression collapsed into a scowl as a faint throb passed through his lower torso. “…What is there to do?” he questioned, “we know she’s here… so what? We don’t even know what she looks like.”
“Yes… but it sounds like they don’t know what happened to him. Shouldn’t we tell them?”
Pierce stared at Phoenix for a moment, his brow furrowed, before glancing away and sighing in frustration. A couple seconds passed as he thought the subject over in his head; Phoenix did have a point, in that Trenon’s younger sister certainly deserved to know his ultimate fate. Still… he thought to himself, are we really the ones who should be delivering that kind of news? It’s been almost two months since then. Why hasn’t the NSD informed his next of kin on their own?
“Excuse me… Phoenix? And Pierce?”
“Hmm?” Pierce looked up toward the entrance to his room, where Karísah now stood in the hallway. He approached the doorway, coming to a stop just short of Phoenix as he replied, “yeah, that’s us. What do you—?”
His breath caught in his throat as he laid eyes on another woman, standing next to Karísah. She looked young, younger even than Pierce and Phoenix, with tan skin, shoulder-length black hair, and a prominent scar stretching from just above the left corner of her mouth, down her neck, and disappearing below the collar of her shirt. She seemed to smile at Pierce, before she turned around and ran off, disappearing into the darkness… which was quickly replaced by the sight of a singular, feral, wolf-like beast with silvery, metallic rashes covering its body. It snarled, and then lunged at him—
“Ah!” He jumped, startled out of his thoughts as Phoenix waved her hand in his face.
“You okay?” she questioned, “you just spaced out, there…”
“Uh… yeah…” he muttered, and then slowly looked to the side… where the tan-skinned young woman with the prominent scar still remained. What the hell…? he thought to himself as he reflexively grasped his lower torso with his right hand, she’s… she’s the girl from… from that vision that I had! Shit, now that I think about it, I saw that Davídrius guy in that vision too, didn’t I? What the hell? How? What does this mean?
“What are you staring at? Is there something on my face?”
“—Uh, n-no, that’s…” Pierce drew back in surprise as the woman addressed him. Shit, was I staring at her? Damn it, get a grip, Pierce! He then shook his head and adopted a sheepish smirk. “Sorry, sorry. You just… look familiar, that’s all.”
“Well of course she does,” Phoenix remarked as she gave Pierce an odd glance. “She’s Trenon’s sister.”
“What?!” Pierce’s eyes went wide as he rapidly glanced between Phoenix and the new woman. “That’s… what?”
“Yeah… I’m Liask. Liask Rakos,” the woman commented as she stared incredulously at Pierce. “Were you not listening the first time?”
“Oh… huh. Sorry.” Pierce looked down sheepishly, though internally, he was scowling. This chick is Trenon’s sister? The one I saw in that vision? What the hell… what does this mean?
“Anyways…” Liask’s attention lingered on Pierce for a moment before she turned toward Phoenix. “Trenon and I would write each other as often as we could. About once every other week or so, recently — and he mentioned the two of you a lot. You met him on Ainminthalus, right?”
“…That’s right,” Phoenix replied. “He was our liaison while there. He… he was a good guy.”
“Though maybe a little too strait-laced,” Pierce commented, and then forced a smirk as he glanced at Liask. “He talked about you a lot, you know.”
“Yeah, he’s always done that…” She briefly glanced away before returning her attention to the duo. “He talked about the two of you a lot, too. Which is why I wanted to talk to you…”
“I told her that the two of you seemed to know Trenon,” Karísah stated. “I hope you don’t mind.”
“No, it’s fine…” Phoenix smiled slightly as she looked back to Liask. “How can we help?”
“Well… I’m worried about Trenon,” Liask replied. “Like I said, we’d write each other every week or two, except… about a month and a half ago, he suddenly stopped writing back. I assumed it had to do with that weird Quake, but then the Quake went away, and I still haven’t heard from him…” She glanced at each of Pierce and Phoenix, wary hope in her eyes. “The two of you were with him around that time, right? Is he okay?”
“Uh…” Pierce rubbed the back of his neck uneasily.
“Has the NSD not told you anything?” Phoenix questioned.
“No,” Liask replied bitterly. “But I’m a Tresédian, so of course they wouldn’t.”
“Liask…” Karísah muttered, “you know that’s not true…”
“But it is, isn’t it? Trenon had to fight a lot to get to sign up for the NSD, you know? And the Dean is always complaining about them.” Liask turned back to Pierce and Phoenix. “That’s why I’m asking you. Did something happen to Trenon?”
Pierce and Phoenix exchanged another glance. Phoenix then pinched the bridge of her nose as Pierce sighed wearily. “Well, he, uh…” Pierce began, pausing for a few moments before finishing his thought. “…He died.”
Liask’s expression of wary hopefulness remained unchanged as she simply stared at Pierce. “…He what?”
“It was at the beginning of the Quake…” Pierce pursed his lips and looked down, finding himself little able to maintain eye contact with Liask. “There was… well, I think it was a Berserk Chaotic. They were wreaking havoc, and Trenon was one of the Chaotics who helped get them away from the city. But he got wounded in the attack, and… didn’t survive.”
“…Oh. That’s… …oh…”
Hearing the strain in Liask’s voice, Pierce couldn’t help but finally look up. She was still looking at him, but her eyes were glistening, and she was covering her mouth with her right hand — or rather, as Pierce looked closer, he noticed that she was stroking the scar that stretched across her lips.
“We’re sorry… we really are,” Phoenix said softly. “I… Trenon was a good man. I could tell that he loved you.”
“Did… did he say anything?” Liask glanced desperately between Pierce and Phoenix. “Before he… did he? Anything?!”
Pierce nodded solemnly. “Yeah. He said… to tell you that he loved you.”
“That’s… oh, oh no… no…” She hunched over slightly, grasping her arms as a tear rolled down her cheek, opposite the side of her face with the scar. Then, with a furrowed brow, she turned her attention up at Pierce. “This, this is a joke, right? Some kind of cruel prank that outsiders like to play?”
“…Hmph.” Pierce snorted and pursed his lips. “We wouldn’t lie about something like this.”
“That’s…” Liask looked down again, her scruffy bangs momentarily obscuring her eyes. After a moment, she straightened her back, took a deep breath… and then slammed her left fist into the far wall as she released a furious shout, blasting a hole through the stone wall.
“Holy—!” Pierce and Phoenix drew back in abject surprise as Liask then began stomping off down the hallway, her footsteps shaking the building through force alone and leaving behind cracked imprints in the stone flooring.
“Liask!” Karísah shouted after her, to no avail — Liask continued stomping off, the vibrations from her exit gradually lessening as she got farther away. With a worried expression on her face, Karísah turned back toward Pierce and Phoenix. “I’m so sorry, I didn’t realize it would turn out like this—”
“No no, it’s fine,” Phoenix assured, “you had no way of knowing. She has a right to know what happened to her brother, anyways.”
“Yeah, agreed,” Pierce commented, and then nodded toward the hole in the wall across from his room. “But what the hell is that about?!”
“Yeah… sorry about that. Liask is a Forcetechnic, just as I am, and we can get a li’l… uh… destructive when we’re… frustrated.” Karísah forced a smile. “I’ll tell Davídrius what happened, and we’ll get this fixed as soon as possible. For now, though, I’m going to go make sure that Liask is okay. Sorry!”
Karísah then took off jogging down the corridor, though with conspicuously fewer vibrations than when Liask had departed. Pierce and Phoenix watched her go for a couple seconds before releasing a collective sigh.
“Well that was… something,” Pierce muttered.
“Yeah… was not prepared for that,” Phoenix remarked, and then passed Pierce a curious glance. “…What was that about Trenon’s last words, though? Didn’t he… well, didn’t he not get to finish what he was saying? Don’t tell me you lied to Liask…”
“Oh c’mon, really?” Pierce scoffed. “Yeah, he didn’t get to finish his sentence, but it was still obvious what he was going to say. A guy like Trenon, mentioning his sister in his final words? He definitely wanted us to tell her that he loved her.”
Phoenix stared at him for another couple seconds before shaking her head and looking away. “Alright, then. I’ll trust your judgment… just this once.”
“Heh. That means a lot, coming from you.”
“Only because I’m saying it to you,” Phoenix retorted, and then pushed off of the doorway to Pierce’s room and stepped into the hallway. “Anyways… I think I’m going to head back to my room, unpack a few more things.”
“Yeah…” Pierce sighed again as he glanced at the night sky through his bedroom window. “…And I’m gonna try getting some sleep. You know, try to get my body used to this new time zone.”
“Fair. I should probably do that, too… well. ‘Night.” She offered a brief wave before turning around and moving down the hallway toward her own room.
“‘Night,” Pierce replied, watching her retreating form for a second before backing into his room himself, more than ready to leave the day’s events behind him.