Chapter 16 – Sights of a New Land
2 Days Later
— Isdia, Skydiath 7, 8054 —
(Thursday, October 27, 2129 AD)
“…Oh, Luke, Mark. Didn’t expect to see y’all here.”
“Hey.” Luke offered a casual wave as Austin and Spike stepped into the small kitchen area in which he was sitting. “If anything, I think I’m the one who should be surprised to see y’all.”
“Yeah.” Mark nodded in agreement as he searched through one of the kitchen cabinets. “I thought you guys didn’t like waking up early.”
“Usually, yeah…” Austin admitted sheepishly, “but it’s still already ten or so, right? Figured I shouldn’t spend the whole morning sleeping.”
“Ah, fair enough,” Mark commented as he continued looking through the kitchen. The cooking area was located on the first floor of the dorms, just a couple doors down from the Earthians’ rooms. It featured a small dining table, only large enough for four, as well as counter space for cooking. Accompanying that counter space was a variety of cooking implements, ranging from a stove-like device to a stone fire-driven oven built directly into the wall. The kitchen even featured a large, refrigerated stone box built into the wall across from the oven, with a couple of giant ice cubes sitting in the bottom. As the cubes were far too large to use for any practical purposes — they were nearly half a meter long on each side — Mark speculated that they existed as a backup cooling system for any items in the refrigerator.
Sitting in a bowl atop the counter were a handful of Nimalian cooking tools, of similar shapes to the spoons, knives, spatulas, and other implements that could be found in a common kitchen on Earth. And then, just next to that bowl, was another bowl filled with Mark’s own Earthian cooking tools. However, aside from that, the kitchen and the cabinets that lined its walls were empty. No food was present; aside from the Earthians, there were no occupied rooms near this kitchen, so it seemed to have been completely left alone.
“Enjoyin’ the new place?” Spike questioned with a smirk as he watched Mark unpack more tools and lay them out on the counter.
“…I suppose you could say that,” Mark replied. “We’re going to be living here for over a year, after all. I figured that I might as well make myself at home, and see what kinds of tools this kitchen has. Maybe I can even make regular meals for you guys.”
“Aw, you don’t have to do that,” Austin quickly responded, only for Mark to shake his head.
“It’s fine,” he insisted. “I actually enjoy cooking. Besides… when living in a foreign land, it’s not uncommon to get homesick. If I can assuage that a little bit by making familiar dishes from home, then I’d be more than happy to cook for everyone.”
“Ever the considerate one,” Luke remarked from his seat at the dining table.
“Oh, no… I just try my best to help out those around me, that’s all,” Mark responded bashfully.
“Well, hey, I ain’t complainin’,” Spike declared. “I look forward to seein’ what you can cook! But, in the meantime…” He glanced over at Luke. “Austin, the twins, an’ I were gonna go check out the town, you know, try to get to know this place where we’ll be livin’. You up for that?”
“Oh! It sounds like my timing was perfect, then!”
The four men looked toward the kitchen entrance opposite of Austin and Spike, where Karísah now stood, wearing what looked like the same white and beige outfit as she had a couple days ago.
“Ah… Karísah, right?” Mark turned toward her. “How can we help?”
“I was actually hopin’ to help all of you,” she replied as she glanced at each of the others present in the room. “It’s the weekend, after all, so there aren’t any classes. I had some errands I needed to run, so I thought… why not use this as a chance to show y’all around?”
“Certainly can’t argue with having a guide,” Luke commented as he casually stood up from his seat. “Not to mention how useful it’ll be to have someone who actually understands us.”
“Yes… that was one of the things I was thinkin’, too.”
“Wait, what?” Austin passed his uncle a confused glance. “Didn’t we just get some kind of universal translator implants? I mean, we’re talkin’ to Karísah here just fine, and she understands us. Why would we have problems in town?”
“Not everyone in Tresnon has RTA implants,” Karísah explained. “In fact… pretty much only the students and teachers here at WCU have the implants. Selind and some of the other Defense Force members are some of the only exceptions.”
“Oh… well that’s inconvenient…”
“Still, it’s awfully nice of you to offer a tour!” Spike remarked. “We really appreciate it! Lemme go get the twins, and then we can head out!”
“We should probably check with the others, too,” Luke commented as Spike left. “Austin, can you go get Pierce, Phoenix, Conrad, and Kestrel? See if they’re interested in a tour of Tresnon?”
“…Eugh…” Austin passed his uncle a look of uneasy disgust. “You want me to get Pierce…?”
“Hmm. Well, if you’re that reluctant…” Luke turned toward Mark. “Can you do it, then?”
“Got it, sir!” Mark offered a quick salute and a nod toward Karísah before leaving the kitchen himself. “I’ll be right back!”
“Wow… I didn’t expect y’all to like my idea so much,” Karísah commented.
“Ah… sorry if we’re putting too much stress on you,” Luke responded. “I can roll back that request, if you’d like.”
“No, no, it’s fine. It’s just… a weird feeling, I guess.”
“I see. Well, we’ll be in your hands, then. I am rather interested in seeing what this place has to offer…”
“And whether or not it’s all as dusty as what we’ve already seen…” Austin muttered.
“Oh, don’t worry, there’s plenty enough to see,” Karísah replied as she adopted a reassuring smile. “I won’t be able to show you everything, of course, but by the end of today, you’ll have seen everything you need for your stay here. I hope you like it!”
“…And here is the campus plaza. We just left the dorms, obviously — now, the building to your left is the administration building, and the one across from the dorms is mostly classrooms. Though, most of them aren’t used right now…”
“Why’s that?” Phoenix questioned.
“There just aren’t enough students…” Karísah replied. “The Schools of Chaos cap enrollment at 100 students per class, and WCU was renovated a few years ago to be able to support that… but in reality, we only have around 50 students per class. That’s around 300 in total. Not a lot…”
“So people just aren’t signing up? I wonder why.” Pierce snorted in derision as he glanced around at his dusty surroundings. He, as well as all of the rest of the Earthians, currently stood within the small stone plaza that occupied the space in the middle of the three buildings on the WCU campus. A thin layer of sand and dust carpeted the square, as well as the handful of benches that existed along the building walls — but the square was otherwise empty. Small groups of students would occasionally come and go, offering the Earthians and Karísah odd glances as they passed by, but not stopping to interact. Many of them seemed guarded, or otherwise wary of the Earthians.
“It is pretty dusty around here,” Conrad observed with his hands in his pockets as he followed Pierce’s lead in looking around. “Maybe people just don’t like the desert?”
“Tresédians are well used to livin’ in the desert, believe me,” Karísah responded, and then shook her head forlornly. “I wish we could get more Tresédian Chaotics to sign up for WCU… but it’s hard. Then again, few things aren’t, around here.”
“You really know a lot about enrollment and all that shit, huh?” Sky questioned. “Aren’t you a student yourself, though? Why do you care about all this?”
“That have anything to do with you being one of the ‘Elite Six’?” Luke asked.
“Well… sort of,” Karísah replied sheepishly. “The Elite Six title is… a little overrated, honestly. It’s not like I try much harder than anyone else around here. I didn’t really do anything to get this level of strength…”
“What does the title actually mean? Is there some kind of official tournament, or something?”
“Actually… yes.” Karísah nodded. “The Annual Chaotic Tournament, usually referred to as the ACT. It’s a competition between all of the Schools of Chaos to see who is the best Chaotic — in terms of fighting, at least. The ACT is team-based, but even so… people have taken to grouping the top Chaotic from each school into this ‘Elite Six’ nonsense.”
“So you won a Chaotic tournament against everyone else? Wow, that’s really cool!” Sky exclaimed.
“Ah, no, not quite… my team lost last year, to Sméthan’s team, from KCC. And then they lost to Cartérius, from TIC, in the finals.”
“Sméthan? Cartérius? Heh. They sound like chumps,” Pierce declared. “If there’s a tournament here, then I’ll be at the top of it before you know it!”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Phoenix countered. “You aren’t going to have an easy win as long as I’m around!”
“You shouldn’t underestimate Cartérius, either,” Karísah stated. “He’s a Materiatechnic, and almost as skilled as Kaoné, in many ways. He’ll probably keep winning until he graduates.”
“Ha!” Pierce released a proud snort. “I’ll see about that!”
“Huh… you Earthians really are a proud lot…”
The arrival of a new voice prompted the group to turn to the left, toward the administration building. Approaching from the building was an older woman, about average height, with tan skin, scruffy black bangs, and long black hair tied back into a ponytail. She wore a white shirt, beige pants, brown boots, and a beige cloak, not unlike Karísah — but she also bore a set of black gloves that went up just past her wrists.
“And who might you be?” Pierce questioned as he eyed the woman with mild irritation.
“Ah…” Karísah stepped up to the woman just as she stopped in front of the group. “Everyone, this is Ralak Adax, one of the teachers here at WCU. She’s the Head of Combat, actually.”
“…Mm.” Ralak grunted as she slowly swept her gaze across the group.
“Head of Combat, huh? You must be pretty skilled, then!” Spike remarked. “What kind of stuff do you teach?”
Ralak turned to stare at Spike. “…I teach Chaotics how to not die.”
“…Oh. …Well, yeah, I mean…”
“And I also try to teach them how to not get into fights in the first place.” She momentarily looked down at her gloved hands before returning her attention to the group. “If there’s one thing you learn from your time here, it should be this: never fight when you don’t have to, and never force others to fight when they would rather not.”
“Sounds good to me,” Conrad replied.
“Yeah, but what about when we do have to fight?” Pierce pressed, “what do you know about that? What kind of Chaotic are you, anyways?”
“…Treséd is not a place that usually cares about manners,” Ralak commented, “but few Tresédians will take challenges like that lying down. Be careful who you approach.”
“What?” Pierce stared at her incredulously. “I… what?”
“My Chaotic type does not matter at the moment, anyways. I won’t be the one teaching you. Not at first.” She then turned around and resumed walking, taking her away from the Earthians and the square altogether.
“That was… something,” Sky said with a confused frown as the group watched Ralak leave.
“Are all Tresédians this… curt?” Twy asked as she turned toward Karísah.
The Tresédian released a weary sigh before responding, “…more often than I’d like, yes. But don’t worry, once you get to know Ralak, you’ll be able to tell that she really does care. Just like Davídrius!”
“I’ll take your word for it…” Austin muttered.
“What’s Davídrius’s story, anyways?” Pierce questioned, “he sure didn’t seem pleased to see us when we first got here. So why is he even teaching us in the first place?”
“The other Deans talked him into it… but don’t worry about his attitude,” Karísah insisted. “He complains about a lot of things, even things that he actually likes. It’s just how he is.”
“How endearing,” Phoenix deadpanned.
“Yeah, it’s really somethin’,” Luke remarked, and then jerked his head toward the campus gates across the training fields. “How about showin’ us the rest of the town? I think we’ve spent enough time here.”
“Ah, right! Sorry, sorry.” Karísah began leading the group toward the gates as she continued, “the rest of Tresnon is more lively than the campus, especially on a weekend morning. Just wait until you see the lakefront…”
“…Huh. Nice view…”
“Oh, really now?” Phoenix questioned as she passed Pierce an incredulous glance. “What happened to all of that complaining earlier, hmm?”
Pierce responded with an unamused snort as he continued to look over the scene before him and the rest of the Earthians. A wide, gentle slope descended down to a bustling market street, with solid stone buildings and colorful signage on the north side of the street, and open-air stalls on the south side. Large pavilions covered the stalls, providing much appreciated shade against the overbearing sun shining down through cloudless skies; under these pavilions, crowds of patrons buffeted each other around as they inspected the myriad goods and items for sale. On sale in one such stall appeared to be collections of tools crafted out of stone and metal — in another stall farther down were crates full of fish and other creatures that appeared to originate from the water. Even more goods appeared along the length of the market street, itself nearly two kilometers long by Pierce’s guess — though all of the goods seemed to be utilitarian in some nature. Tools, food, clothing; as far as Pierce could see, there wasn’t much in the way of art or decorative items.
The buildings on the north side of the street were just as busy as the stalls, with people constantly flowing in and out of the doors. With few windows, it was difficult to see inside many of the buildings, but the signage was enough to indicate that many of them were grocers or clothing stores. Most of the buildings had front-facing loading areas as well, where small trucks would park to unload goods. Pierce watched as one such truck, now empty after unloading its cargo, carefully maneuvered through the crowded street and down a ramp on the south side — where it soon entered the Tresnon docks. Said docks spanned the shores of the massive lake that bordered Tresnon; so massive was the lake, in fact, that it stretched to the southern horizon with no opposite shore in sight. Had Karísah not explicitly called the body of water a lake, Pierce would’ve guessed that they were looking at the shores of an ocean.
The docks and piers that lined the lakefront stretched on even further than the market street, with busy cargo docks located near the center of the street and smaller piers on the ends, filled with lakefood shops and docked fishing boats. While not as busy as the market street itself, the piers were still filled with people rushing about to purchase lakefood or tend to the boats. There was even an area on the near side of the docks that seemed to be dedicated entirely to bars, restaurants, and other recreational businesses, each with colorful signage to draw customers in.
However, despite the bustling streets, numerous businesses, and dozens upon dozens of colorful signs, sand-toned beige and stone gray dominated the colorscape. Stone buildings, beige pavilions, beige clothing, and the subtle presence of sandy dust in the air made it clear that — despite the lakefront — this market existed in a desert.
“Didn’t expect to see this many people…” Conrad remarked as he stepped up next to Pierce.
“Yeah…” Pierce nodded absentmindedly. “…Well, I have to give credit where it’s due. This place looks more interesting than I expected. It’s still no bay area, of course, but… not bad.”
“Thanks…? I think?” Karísah responded from the side.
“Don’t mind him,” Phoenix insisted. “That kind of compliment is about as good as you can expect from him.”
“I, for one, think this is an incredible find!” Mark said, his eyes sweeping across the markets and stalls in wonder. “Particularly the grocers, and the seafood there, down at the docks. I’ve been wondering what kind of food items might be available here; I can’t wait to check it out!”
“There any places you recommend?” Luke questioned as he passed Karísah a glance. “Preferably, ones that we could visit and buy from without having to talk?”
“Yeah, the lack of translation implants around here is kind of an issue…” Karísah frowned as she looked up in thought. “Hmm… there’s Sédian’s Produce, at the far east end of Market Street. They sell some of the produce that we manage to grow at the farms; I think they should have enough signs for you to manage without having to ask for help, or haggle…”
“Wait, what?” Sky turned to Karísah in surprise. “Farms? Around here?”
“There is a massive lake right over there,” Twy pointed out. “I’m sure there’s fertile land bordering it, as well.”
“There is, but not as much as you would hope,” Karísah stated. “Mirage Lake does give Compound Tresnon and the surrounding area more water and rainfall than in the rest of Treséd… but it still isn’t much. There’s barely enough to support Tresnon as is, and, well… I’m sure you all know just how small the Compound is, compared to cities on the other continents.”
“Or on Earth…” Austin muttered.
“That sucks,” Spike remarked as he looked out over the massive lake to the south. “Even with this much water around you, you still live in a desert? That’s rough.”
“It also doesn’t make much sense,” Pierce replied. “Where the hell does the lake’s water come from?”
“That’s… not really my area of, uh, knowledge, eh heh.” Karísah laughed uneasily. “I do know that Tresnon has used Hydrotechnics in the past to help refill the lake…”
“Wait. Hydrotechnics can refill the lake?” Twy looked at Karísah in confusion. “Does… does that mean that Hydrotechnics can just… conjure up water out of nothing?”
“Uh, yeah?” Karísah returned the look. “They’re Chaotics. It’s what they do. Just like how Pyrotechnics can make fire out of nothing, or Electrotechnics can make lightning out of nothing. It’s all the same.”
“Uh, well, I guess. But not really? …But I guess it actually is… huh…”
“I’m lost,” Sky declared. “Sis, what the hell are you talking about?”
“Probably the conservation of matter,” Phoenix replied. “Normally, you can’t just make matter or energy out of thin air. Physics doesn’t work like that. With the bullshit that is Chaos Energy, though, I guess it makes some level of sense that being able to conjure up matter out of nothing is just something that Chaotics can do… as little physical sense as it makes.”
Sky stared at Phoenix blankly for a couple moments. “…I’m still lost.”
“Chaotics can defy the laws of physics,” Spike stated.
“…Oh. Well, yeah, I already knew that!” Sky exclaimed, and then crossed her arms in a huff. “Why didn’t you just say that?”
Phoenix responded with a weary sigh. “Right. Why didn’t I.”
“Well, any other places we should know of?” Conrad questioned as he turned back toward Karísah. “Aside from this produce place?”
“Of course. Other than Sédian’s, there’s also Karnan’s — a general goods store — and Ralgia, a clothing store. Those are the big three in Tresnon,” Karísah answered.
“What about restaurants? Or bars?” Pierce asked. “Any cool places to hang out?”
“Bars? Uh… I’m not sure. I don’t really go to bars…”
“Oh no, don’t tell me that you Tresédians are a bunch of teetotalers…”
Karísah stared at him in confusion. “‘Teetotalers’?” she echoed.
“Folks who don’t drink,” Luke answered. “That don’t drink alcohol, that is. You know, beer, wine, the whole works.”
“Uh… right.” Karísah passed him a glance before returning her attention to Pierce. “In that case, drinkin’ alcohol is actually kind of a problem around here. Tresédians tend to do it too much…”
“Not you?” Kestrel asked.
“No. For one, most Introtechnics have a very difficult time gettin’ drunk, and I have two different Introtechnic abilities. So drinkin’ would be pointless.”
“Sucks to be you,” Pierce remarked.
“Aren’t you a Velocitechnic?” Karísah questioned. “Velocitechnism is a type of Introtechnism. Your inherent durability will also make it very difficult for you to get drunk.”
“Not liking that speed so much, now, huh?” Phoenix smirked as she jabbed her elbow into Pierce’s side, to which he responded with an annoyed scowl.
“Last thing we need is a drunk speedster, anyways, so that sounds fine to me,” Conrad remarked.
“Alright, you—!” Pierce started, but was interrupted as Sky asked Karísah another question.
“Was there a second reason you don’t drink?” Sky asked, “you started with ‘for one’. Is there more to this story?”
“Ah… right.” Karísah smiled sheepishly. “Well, Davídrius doesn’t drink, either, so I never really had a chance to try it while growin’ up.”
“I mean, most kids don’t get alcohol while growin’ up,” Austin said.
Pierce snorted in derision. “Most? What kind of losers did you grow up with?”
“What? I didn’t—!”
“Hate to burst your bubble, Austin, but Pierce has a point,” Luke remarked. “Most folks I know had a shot at alcohol before they were of legal age. I know me and your dad sure did.”
“Why would whether or not Davídrius drinks affect you, anyways?” Sky questioned as she turned back to Karísah. “What, is he your dad or something?”
“We-well, no…” The Tresédian Forcetechnic looked down. “He doesn’t really like it if I call him dad… but he did take me in after I lost my parents, and gave me a home. And raised me…”
“…So he’s your dad.”
“Well… don’t let him hear you say that. He doesn’t like the idea of bein’ a parent.”
“But why? Isn’t that kinda messed up—?”
“Ahem.” Luke loudly cleared his throat, cutting off Sky and drawing everyone’s attention. “…Let’s save the deep backstory questions for another time, and another venue,” he continued. “Let’s not burn much more of Karísah’s time than we have to.”
“Oh, no, it’s fine, really,” Karísah insisted. “I don’t have much else to do today.”
“What, do you not have any friends to hang out with?” Pierce questioned with a self-amused smirk.
“What? Of course I do!” Karísah then looked off to the side. “She just… isn’t in town at the moment…”
“Well we’re still grateful for the little tour,” Luke quickly interjected to stave off the awkward silence that threatened to overtake the group. “Anywhere else we should see?”
“What about the walls?” Spike questioned as he looked out over the city. Due to the fact that the group stood at the top of the slope down to Market Street, they could easily see the tall stone barrier that surrounded the entirety of Tresnon. “Seems like an important part of the city.”
“Yes… I guess it is,” Karísah remarked. “I guess it might be useful to show you all the guardhouse, as well. Alright then, everyone, follow me! Let’s go see Tresnon’s wall!”
“So this goes all the way around the city, huh?”
“That’s right,” Karísah responded. “It wouldn’t do much good if it didn’t, after all.”
“I guess so…” Austin muttered as he looked left and right at the long wall on which he and the rest of the group stood. At just over three stories tall and wide enough to host a two-lane road, the solid structure that was the compound wall appeared much sturdier than Austin expected. Stone made up the majority of the wall’s construction, with metal plating attached to the outer side. On the top of the wall, a chest-high barrier protected the path from the outer world, while the inner side of the path was guarded by a simple metal railing that looked to be flaking paint and rusting in parts. Every couple hundred meters along the top of the wall, there were large guns with single seats for a gunner. Each gun had a massive barrel, and they were all currently pointing skyward, as though stowed away for later use.
The wall ran the entire way around Compound Tresnon, and even a couple hundred meters into Mirage Lake so as to prevent any intruders from simply swimming in shallow waters around the wall. From where Austin stood, he could tell that the two wall endpoints in the lake also featured tall towers, out of which several guns protruded — likely additional fortifications to prevent intruders from circumventing the wall.
“There’s a lot of guns…” Conrad observed as he casually looked over the wall himself.
“It’s pretty standard, really,” Karísah commented. “A wall on its own doesn’t help much against attackers. You have to be able to drive them off, too.”
“I guess so…”
“You say ‘standard’ like this kind of wall is common,” Phoenix pointed out. “What’s up with that?”
“They are common,” Karísah answered. “Every Compound in Treséd has a wall. Most of them aren’t as big or heavily defended as Tresnon’s, but every Compound has one. Many have shield generators, too.”
“I remember someone saying that Tresnon has a shield generator,” Mark commented as he looked to the tower in the center of the town. “So this is a common thing, then?”
Karísah nodded. “Unfortunately, yes. Though, accordin’ to Davídrius and Selind, most Compounds don’t have to run their generators as much as they used to.”
“And let me tell you, it was a real pain in the ass to reach that point!”
“Huh—? Oh!” Karísah looked past the Earthians as Selind walked up behind them, dressed the same as a few days ago — including the gun slung over her back. “Selind! Did we interrupt a patrol?”
“Nah, it’s fine.” The older Nimalian manuevered through the group to stand next to Karísah and then looked over all of the Earthians. “Nothin’s happenin’ today, as usual. Ain’t nothin’ to miss.”
“You patrol the wall…?” Austin questioned uneasily before looking out into the desert beyond the bounds of Tresnon. “Just how dangerous is this place…?”
“Hey, I just said that it’s usual for nothin’ to happen,” Selind countered. “This wall, those guns, the patrols… they’re mostly a holdover from the past. From when they were actually needed.”
“Against the ‘Bleeders’, right?” Twy asked.
Sky released an amused snort. “I still can’t get over that name…”
“It ain’t uncommon for gangs to have stupid names,” Spike pointed out, “but that doesn’t change how dangerous they can be.”
Selind nodded. “He’s right. The Bleeders now are a husk of what they used to be, but just ten or twenty years ago… it was real rough out here. It’s hard enough tryin’ to live in this shithole wasteland that is Treséd, havin’ to deal with roving bands of raiders, kidnappers, and just fucked-up ruffians was…” She trailed off before shaking her head and adopting a smile. “Well, it ain’t so bad now, ever since Davídrius started makin’ an actual effort to clean up the place. Y’all don’t have anythin’ to worry about.”
“Why don’t I feel convinced…” Austin muttered as he eyed Selind’s laser sniper.
“How bad could these ‘Bleeders’ really be, though?” Pierce questioned, “you have Chaotics around here, right? Hell, there’s a big fucking school right in this town with a ton of them! I’d think it’d be easy for you to fight off a bunch of gangsters.”
“WCU is pretty new, less than fifteen years old. Most Compounds don’t have nearly this many Chaotics in one place,” Selind countered. “Besides, the Bleeders have Chaotics, too. Hell, it used to be that most Tresédian Chaotics would join the Bleeders. Led to some…. real lopsided confrontations.”
“Most Tresédians suffered at the hands of the Bleeders, or know someone who did,” Karísah said. “I understand that can be hard to believe, since outsiders typically don’t have to deal with stuff like this… but just keep that in mind when you talk about the Bleeders here in Treséd.”
“Suffered… how…?” Austin asked warily.
“Austin!” Twy exclaimed with a frown. “That’s hardly an appropriate question…”
“No… it’s fine.” Karísah passed Twy a reassuring glance before turning to Austin. “I lost both my parents to a Bleeder attack.”
“As have many other Tresédians,” Selind remarked. “Used to be that most Tresédians grew up without one or both of their parents, and let’s just say that not all of that was due to the harsh land. Hell, even Davídrius lost his parents to a Bleeder attack. In fact, he lost his whole Compound! Sometimes I really wonder how he manages to forgive folks who used to be in the gang… I only lost my husband, and it’s still hard.”
“His whole Compound…?” Twy echoed uneasily.
“What do you mean about ‘forgive’?” Sky questioned, “are you saying that these Bleeder assholes aren’t actually being punished for what they’ve done? ‘Cause they sound really awful!”
“Believe me, I used to think like you did,” Selind replied. “Davídrius did, too. Back when his Compound was razed, he tracked down every last Bleeder who participated and killed ‘em all. Wasn’t until later that he had a change of heart, and started the whole Bleeder Reformation Program. But he — and I, as well as Tresnon — are only willing to forgive the folks who admit they were wrong, and come to us with a genuine desire to make things right. No one here will show any mercy to a Bleeder who continues to actively participate in their fucked up crimes.”
“Thinkin’ that you’ll catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, huh?” Luke questioned.
Selind passed him a confused look. “…What?”
“It’s an old Earth saying. Basically saying that you can get better results if you treat people well instead of like shit.”
“Ah. Well, yeah, that’s basically it. And it seems to be workin’. Combined with a handful of other things that I won’t bother boring you with, the reformation program is actually driving down the number of Bleeders around here.”
“It’s kind of amazing, really,” Karísah remarked. “And also weird. There are dozens, maybe hundreds of former Bleeders living right here, in Tresnon, all trying to make up for the things they did in the past. And when you meet any of them… you’d never know.”
“So you’re saying that rehabilitation works? Wow,” Conrad deadpanned. “Who knew?”
“It works most of the time,” Selind commented, and then patted the gun slung over her back. “And when it doesn’t, I have this!”
“I’m still surprised that you all are able to forgive people who do such… heinous things,” Phoenix remarked. “You’ve lost family to the Bleeders, and you can still forgive them? I’m not sure I could do the same…”
“Yeah, well… that’s just how things are, here in Treséd.” Selind shrugged. “You get used to it.”
“And the Deans decided to leave us here…?” Austin questioned.
“Hey, now. The Deans are old friends of Davídrius, and smart people in their own right. If they think you’ll be safe here, then you’ll be safe here,” Selind declared. She then grinned and winked at him. “Hell, as the Head of Defense here in Tresnon, I’ll say that your safety here is guaranteed! I’ve lived in Tresnon for my entire life, and we’ve only been attacked once during that whole time. And that was over twenty years ago!”
“Well now you’ve gone and jinxed it…”
Pierce shot Austin an annoyed glance. “Are you always this much of a downer?”
“H-hey!” Austin responded indignantly, “these are legitimate concerns, you know!”
“Oh c’mon. If this place ever gets attacked, then we can just use our powers to fight ‘em off! Or at least,” Pierce smirked at Austin, “I know I can. Guess it might be a bit much for you, though, huh?”
“Now, now, let’s not fight over this,” Selind interjected. “Don’t get too carried away, either. The Bleeders ain’t as strong as they used to be, but they still ain’t weak. Attackin’ a Bleeder Chaotic head-on without a plan is a surefire way to die. Or worse.”
“…Hmph.” Pierce crossed his arms, at the same time turning his nose up at Austin before looking away. Austin responded with an irate sneer before glaring off in the opposite direction.
“…To talk about less, uh, heavy stuff…” Luke said, and then gestured at Selind’s gun. “You said that was a Lisarin, right? You got any more of those laying around?”
“Oh? You actually remembered? Impressive,” Selind remarked with a smirk. “We have a few more, but only for use by the Defense Force. I could maybe make one exception… if you can prove that you’re a competent sniper.”
“You won’t have to worry about that,” Luke declared. “I’m one of the best marksmen in SERRCom. In fact, I wanted to bring my SR02, but then I was told that it wouldn’t be necessary…”
“SR02? The only SR-series sniper I know of is from the Black Suns…”
“You mean the SR-24 Railgun? Man, I wish I had one of those. A mag rifle that can floor you from 7 kilometers, can you just imagine that?”
“7 kilometers is nice, but I can get 10 with my Lisarin and a good vantage point.”
“Yeah, and laser snipers are great, too, but laser snipers and mag rifles are good for different things. Against a shielded target, a mag rifle is the way to go, and in my line of work, most of my targets are shielded.”
“…Heh.” Selind grinned with amusement. “It sounds like you really do know your stuff. Maybe I could learn a couple things from you.”
“Ah… no, don’t count on that,” Luke replied sheepishly. “I just know some of the specs of laser snipers, I’ve never actually gotten to use one. That’s why I’m interested.”
“You sure you’re interested in only the gun?” Sky teased.
Luke passed her an unamused glance as Selind released a hearty laugh. “Ah ha ha! I think I’m gonna like you guys!” she responded with a smirk, and then winked at Luke. “Let’s just start with the guns and see where things go, eh?”
“That’s not… ah, whatever.” Luke sighed before glaring at Sky. “You can be a real piece of work, sometimes.”
“But kind of refreshing, too,” Karísah remarked. “You guys are a little more energetic and a lot less guarded than most Tresédians. Showin’ you around has been fun.”
“Really?” Conrad stared at her incredulously. “I feel like all we’ve done is dig up a bunch of bad memories for you.”
“Yeah, we kinda did…” Phoenix muttered.
“No, no, it’s fine,” Karísah insisted. “All of that stuff is in the past, you know? You had no way of knowing, anyways. I don’t blame you.”
“You really are a big softie,” Selind declared as she slapped Karísah on the back, causing the latter to jump in surprise. “Now if only Relia was around more to see that!”
“But, all that said.” Selind turned back to face the Earthians. “So she was takin’ y’all on a tour, huh? Well, my patrol is pretty much over, now. Anywhere else y’all were interested in seein’?”
“Oh! Actually, I had one more thing!” Sky raised her hand for a moment before continuing, “how do Tresédians celebrate birthdays? Is that a thing you do around here?”
“…Oh, that’s right, it’s Spike’s 21st birthday today, isn’t it?” Twy mused.
“Hey, you don’t have to go out of your way for that…” Spike insisted.
“Birthday ‘celebrations’ aren’t really a thing around here, anyways,” Selind commented. “Many folks aren’t even sure exactly when their birthday is… but! I certainly won’t argue against a good reason to visit the lakefront!”
“I do remember smelling some decent food from around there…” Conrad said, with Kestrel offering an affirmative nod just beside him.
“I still had a couple errands I needed to run, but…” Karísah glanced up at the sun, noting its slow descent toward the western horizon. “…It’s about mid-afternoon? Akos’ Fish should be open now. They have some of the best lakefood in Tresnon!”
“Not to mention large portion sizes,” Selind remarked as she playfully elbowed Karísah. “Just perfect for a big girl like you, huh?”
Karísah responded with an unamused frown. “Selind…”
“Well, if it’s fish we’re going for, then I’m in!” Phoenix declared, and then passed Sky and Spike a questioning glance. “That is… if we wouldn’t be intruding.”
“Nah, it’ll be great! The more the merrier, I always say!” Sky exclaimed. “Right, Spike?”
“You certainly do say that a lot,” Spike replied with an amused grin.
“Sounds like we’re all on board, then,” Luke remarked. “Karísah, mind leading the way?”
“Sure!” she replied with a smile as she began to lead the group down the wall. “Now, they have a lot of lakefood options, but personally, I think the stuffed Erki is the way to go. Just add a little bit of Kero sauce, and…”
The group then continued down the wall toward one of the exits, everyone more than prepared for a late lunch to celebrate not just Spike’s birthday, but also the end of the tour of their new home for the immediate future.