Chapter 17 – An Old Hero’s Teachings
3 Days Later
— Sundia, Skydiath 10, 8054 —
(Sunday, October 30, 2129 AD)
“Alright, our first day! I’m so excited!”
“Figures you would be…” Austin muttered groggily.
“Oh c’mon, who wouldn’t be?!” Sky exclaimed, energetically looking at each of Spike, Twy, and Austin as they stared back at her with varying levels of awareness. “We’re finally about to get some real lessons on how to use our powers! Austin, weren’t you really excited about this yourself?!”
“Well, yeah, but I didn’t think I’d have to be up and about by 8 in the morning…”
“Still aren’t used to it, after over a month of dealing with SERRCom?” Twy questioned.
“…Hmph.” Austin snorted dismissively, and then glanced off to the side as Pierce, Phoenix, Conrad, and Kestrel approached. The eight Earthians now stood in the middle of WCU’s practice field, each of them — except for Sky, who could easily warm herself with her Pyrotechnism — bundled up in some kind of jacket or coat as they stood in the cool winter morning air, watching morning light pour over the campus as they awaited the start of their first class. A handful of students could be seen crossing the campus’s central square to enter either of the two classroom buildings, but overall, foot traffic seemed light.
“I see the four of you are up early…” Phoenix observed flatly as she stepped up next to Twy and Sky.
“Not by choice,” Austin responded impatiently.
“Can’t handle a good morning start, huh?” Pierce jabbed with a smirk. “This is the best part of the day! Albeit in part because losers like you aren’t around to bring down the atmosphere.”
“C’mon, Pierce… I’m pretty sure you’re the only one here who actually likes early mornings,” Conrad commented.
“Early my ass, 8 in the morning isn’t early. 5 is early, maybe 6. This is just normal!”
“I see you’re full of energy, too,” Spike deadpanned, his voice filled with the low rumbling of just having awoken.
“Of course I am.” Pierce shot Spike an incredulous glance, as though the latter had failed to understand a basic fact. “How else are we going to show this Davídrius guy that we know our stuff, if we aren’t fully awake and ready to go?”
“Aw fuck, you’re one of them mornin’ folks? Just fuckin’ great…”
The group turned toward the main campus area, where they had just heard a deep voice — only to find Davídrius approaching from that direction, dressed in the same beige outfit as when they had first met him as he groggily rubbed his eyes.
“…You’re not a morning person, either?” Phoenix observed as he stopped just in front of the group.
“Not durin’ the winter, I ain’t,” Davídrius replied, and then took a deep breath. “Well, ain’t nothin’ to it. I got a lotta shit to do today, so an early mornin’ class is the only place I could fit y’all.”
“Works out for us!” Pierce remarked as he cracked his fingers. “I’ll take every advantage I can get!”
Davídrius stared blankly at Pierce. “…Right.” He then turned his attention to the rest of the group. “Alright, well, looks like y’all are all here, so let’s get started.”
“What are we doing first?” Sky asked as she shot her hand into the air. “Basic training? More mock battles? Some kind of secret Nimalian training technique?!”
“Get your head outta the sky,” Davídrius countered. “Y’all are basic-ass Chaotics who just discovered your abilities barely two months ago. Y’all still need the basic courses.”
“Basic?!” Pierce exclaimed incredulously.
“I’m not complaining,” Conrad commented.
“Y’all talk back so much… you’re more like Tresédians in that regard than I expected. Which ain’t a good thing,” Davídrius said. Pierce opened his mouth to respond, but Davídrius quickly continued, cutting him off. “Anyways. I’ve read what SERRCom’s been ‘teachin’ y’all, and it’s nothin’. They ain’t said a word about any of the important shit, just jumped straight to tryin’ to train your powers, which is nuts. They clearly don’t know what they’re doin’.”
“We are some of the first ever Earthian Chaotics,” Twy pointed out. “It’s to be expected that SERRCom doesn’t know how to train Chaotics.”
“You’re defending SERRCom, now?” Austin questioned incredulously.
“That ain’t the point, anyways,” Davídrius insisted. “The point is that y’all don’t know as much as you seem to think you do.” He then glanced over at Sky. “What I heard from Kevérin about his little match with you supports that.”
“What?!” Sky exclaimed indignantly, “but I did just fine! Hell, considering who I was up against, I think I did great, even!”
Davídrius shook his head. “You don’t know enough to self-judge like that. Kevérin said that all of your attacks were big, sweepin’ plumes of fire. Nothin’ focused, minimal strategy, attackin’ with reckless abandon — all marks of a beginner.”
“And you’re going to show us better, then?” Pierce replied crossly.
Davídrius nodded. “Eventually, aye. But, before that, I need to see where the rest of y’all stand. Kevérin tested our li’l pyromaniac here, but now it’s up to me to test the rest of y’all.”
“So we are doin’ mock battles, then?” Spike slammed his fists together eagerly. “Against a Velocitechnic… I won’t argue with that!”
“But wait, didn’t Kevérin say that he could only test Sky since he wasn’t familiar with the rest of our abilities?” Twy questioned.
“He’s plenty familiar with Chaotic abilities across the board. All of us Deans are,” Davídrius countered. “I bet what he actually said was that it’s easier for him to judge a Chaotic of the same type, which is true. But that doesn’t mean we can’t judge other Chaotics at all. In fact, I have to judge y’all, just to know where to start when teachin’ y’all. That said…” He turned toward Pierce. “Let’s start with the Velocitechnic. You can be my warm-up.”
“Warm-up? Ha!” Pierce scoffed. “You’d better watch out, old man, or that attitude will bite you in the ass!”
“Old man?! I ain’t even middle-aged!”
“Still past your prime, though.”
“…You really don’t know anythin’ about bein’ a Chaotic. Or even anythin’ about Nimalians. Tch.” Davídrius pursed his lips and then pointed at the sidelines of the practice field. “A’ight, everyone, back off. Hot-head stays here for the match.”
“I would say good luck,” Phoenix commented as she began backing away from Pierce, “but I think it would be more fun to watch you get your ass handed to you.”
“As if I need luck, anyways,” Pierce shouted back with a smirk. “The drive to prove your spite wrong is more than enough!”
“I can’t tell if you’re self-aware or just that much of a hotshot,” Davídrius remarked as the practice field cleared out. “Just how fast do you think you are, anyways?”
“Faster than you, I bet,” Pierce retorted.
“…Uh huh. Right,” Davídrius deadpanned. “…Anyways. Some ground rules: don’t leave the practice field, and no cheapshots. No neck, no groin, no headshots. This is just a sparrin’ match, and while I doubt you could actually hurt me, you still need to take those rules to heart. Not everyone you fight will be as durable as you.”
Pierce had opened his mouth to respond halfway through Davídrius’s comment, but suddenly faltered after the final sentence. His brow furrowed, only for him to quickly wipe the frustration off of his face and crouch into a runner’s stance. “Yeah, yeah, whatever. I’m still gonna show you up, though.”
“Still with the attitude. Folks like you never learn with words…” Davídrius muttered, though his focus remained squarely on Pierce. “…So, here we go. We start on ‘go’. Three… two… one… go!”
A cloud of dust instantly replaced Pierce as he blasted forward at supersonic speeds, reaching Davídrius in the blink of an eye — only for the Nimalian to deftly sidestep the incoming kick. Surprised, Pierce was little able to defend himself, leaving his back open for Davídrius to whip around and slam his own foot down onto Pierce’s back, dropping him to the ground. Pierce quickly jumped to his feet and backed a couple steps away from Davídrius before disappearing in a cloud of dust again, crossing the entire practice field and back again in a zig-zagging attempt to confuse Davídrius. After a second of that, he then dashed toward the Nimalian’s back for another strike attempt, only for Davídrius to whirl around and grab Pierce’s incoming leg, yanking him through the air and chucking him at the ground. Pierce rebounded with a pained grunt, but quickly rolled back to his feet and instantly lunged at Davídrius again, only for the latter to deflect Pierce with a kick. The Earthian hit the ground hard, but again rolled to his feet and lunged for Davídrius, hoping that a series of rapid-fire attacks would work better than the failed attempt to confuse his opponent. What followed were a series of lunges, each blocked by Davídrius, and each time Pierce simply jumping back to his feet and lunging once more; a dozen such attempts occurred over the span of a second, only for Pierce to once again back away as he realized that the Nimalian remained completely unfazed.
“That really the best you got?” Davídrius questioned, his arms crossed.
“Hmph…” Pierce snorted in irritation before dashing off once more. He made to throw another kick, but just before Davídrius could catch his leg, he feinted and dodged around to the Nimalian’s back, where he launched another kick — only for Davídrius to whirl around on his heel and drop his elbow on Pierce’s incoming leg, dropping the both of them to the ground. Just as quickly as they went down, they were both back on their feet, at which point Pierce disappeared again and began running a circle around Davídrius, just out of arm’s reach. At his supersonic speed, Pierce’s circular running rapidly whipped up a massive, whirling cloud of dust, obscuring the environment all around Davídrius — only for the Nimalian to suddenly jump to the side, grab Pierce’s arm out of the dust cloud, and then chuck him at the ground across the practice field. How the hell did he catch me?! Pierce thought in frustration, but just as he jumped back to his feet once more, a whirling cloud of dust appeared around him. Reflexively, he squinted and shielded his eyes to block dust and sand from getting into them as he attempted to make out Davídrius’s moving form. You can’t be serious. Is he just copying me now—?
Pierce’s thought was cut short as a sudden blow from below launched him skyward. The swirling dust rapidly disappeared from sight, replaced instead by a view of Compound Tresnon below, the shimmering blue of Mirage Lake to the south, and the vast swathes of sandy wasteland to the north. Based on how small WCU now looked, Pierce estimated that he was now just over a kilometer in the air — and just as he determined this, he noted a small speck rapidly approaching him from below. It didn’t take long to figure out that the speck was Davídrius, so Pierce whipped his body around in the air just fast enough to slam his foot down on top of Davídrius’s approaching form — only for Davídrius to grab his leg, whirl him around through the air, and then chuck him at the ground. Startled by the sudden reversal, Pierce was little able to catch himself as he slammed into the ground a half-second later, kicking up a massive cloud of dust that obscured his surroundings. As he slowly regained his bearings, he began climbing back to his feet, only for the cloud of dust to be wiped away by a blast of wind as Davídrius stopped just in front of him.
“You adapt fast,” Davídrius remarked, only for Pierce to quickly jump to his feet and back away. “…Don’t tell me you still ain’t done.”
“Of course not,” Pierce retorted. “You think I’m willing to lose here?”
“Fuckin’ hell…” Davídrius sighed warily as he shook his head. “The point ain’t about winnin’ or losin’—!?”
The Nimalian stopped himself short as a curved blade on the end of a long energy tether attached to a blue and silver hilt appeared in Pierce’s hands with a flash of light. Davídrius’s expression immediately collapsed into a scowl as Pierce whipped the weapon forward, sending the silver blade streaking through the air. Davídrius quickly threw himself out of the blade’s path, only for Pierce to whip around toward his new location and yank the tethered blade in a new direction. Streaks of light flitted through the air as the blade’s ever-changing path reflected sunlight in every direction while it chased Davídrius, whose attention was focused on the blade to constantly dodge out of its way. Alright, he’s distracted! Pierce continued directing the whip blade for another couple moments, watching Davídrius for an opening — until the Dean had turned his back on Pierce. Time to strike!
Instantly, Pierce lunged forward toward Davídrius’s open back and slammed his foot into the Nimalian, launching him across the practice field, where he hit the ground tumbling. “Ha HA! Yes!” Pierce whooped, and pumped his fist — though as he did, he realized that something was missing. …Wait. …Where’d my weapon go?!
Just as he realized that he had somehow been disarmed, Davídrius was on him again, grasping the whip blade in his own hands. Before Pierce could react, Davídrius swept his legs out from under him with a kick and then immediately followed with a bicycle kick, launching Pierce skyward before he could even hit the ground — and then, before Pierce could gain any real vertical distance, Davídrius firmly grasped the blade and threw the tethered handle around Pierce, instantly wrapping the Earthian with the energy tether. Davídrius then yanked on the tether, reversing Pierce’s upward momentum in a split second and slamming him back into the ground, stunning him and blasting dust away for meters around. For several seconds, Pierce’s dusty world spun around him as he fought to suppress the nausea that had briefly overtaken him… and then, just as he tried to get back up, he felt someone’s foot on his stomach holding him down.
“Alright, you little shit,” Davídrius growled as he glared down at Pierce. “This match is over.”
“…Heh.” Pierce smirked with spite as he returned Davídrius’s glare. “Mad that I finally got the best of you?”
“You didn’t ‘best’ me for shit,” Davídrius countered. “Pullin’ out a fuckin’ knife is needless escalation. Never do that in a sparrin’ match. You hear me?”
“…Hmph.” Pierce then began struggling against the light blue energy tether that had him restrained. “Just get this thing off me.”
“It’s your weapon,” Davídrius remarked as he stepped back. “Just dismiss it.”
“…Oh yeah.” A brief flash of light followed, at which point the blade, tether, and hilt all disappeared from sight. Pierce quickly jumped back to his feet and began brushing himself off.
“Can’t believe the old bastard was right…” Davídrius muttered as he continued staring at Pierce. “…You really can summon Hastryth.”
“Pretty great, isn’t it?” Pierce remarked with a grin.
“Tch.” Davídrius snorted as the rest of the Earthians began to approach the two Velocitechnics. “…I’ve used that damn weapon before,” he continued, “and I’ll tell you now that it’s more trouble than it’s worth. Don’t rely on it.”
“Weird advice, coming from someone who it worked on.”
“A single landed kick doesn’t make you a winner,” Davídrius countered. “If that’s your logic, then I’ve won a dozen times over. The more pressing issue is you tryin’ to use a bladed weapon during a sparring match!”
“Yeah, that’s really not cool,” Spike declared. “Were you tryin’ to draw blood?”
“That’s not…!” Pierce scowled as he glared at Davídrius. “Didn’t you say before the fight that nothing I could do could hurt you?”
“That was before you whipped out a fucking blade,” Davídrius countered irately. “A blade moving fast enough could cut you or me just as well as a normal person. And Ayas Weapons, like Hastryth, can entirely bypass Introtechnic durability. Using that weapon is playing with fire!”
Pierce simply regarded the Nimalian with an annoyed scowl. As much as he wanted to argue, he could tell that Davídrius was legitimately agitated — and more than that, the Dean had a point. “…Well, fine,” Pierce eventually responded. “What about the rest of my performance, then? Surely I’m better than just a ‘beginner’!”
Davídrius released a wary sigh and scratched his head before replying, “…you did adapt faster than most beginners, I’ll give you that. Once you found that somethin’ didn’t work, you didn’t keep tryin’ it, for the most part. But!” The Nimalian pointed at Pierce just as he began to pump his fist. “You still made a number of beginner Velocitechnic mistakes. You might be fast, but you can’t ever just assume that you’re faster than your opponent — and most of the shit you tried only works if you are. Based on this match, I’d guess that you can max out at or just above Mach 3… but I can do more than twice that.”
Conrad whistled. “That’s pretty fast. I already had trouble following the fight, as is…”
“Are you just boasting, now?” Pierce retorted.
“Funny, you were doin’ just that ‘fore we fought,” Davídrius countered. “But I’m statin’ facts. If you ever find yourself fightin’ another Velocitechnic… well, generally, you should try not to fight Velocitechnics. But if you have to, you need to figure out if they’re faster than you or not, because that answer will change everything about how you approach the fight. ‘Cause if they’re faster, then they can track everything that you try to do.”
“…Hmph.” Pierce scowled and glanced off to the side. “…At least I was able to land a blow once.”
“You’ve got a lot to learn before you can celebrate that,” Davídrius responded impatiently, and then gestured for Pierce to step back as he turned to address the rest of the Earthians. “Alright, that’s one down. Which of you is up next?…”
20 Minutes Later
“…And that’s the last of you, innit?”
“Ngh…” Spike grunted as he rolled and massaged his shoulder. “…I’ll feel that in the morning…”
“You’re a Forcetechnic, you’ll be fine,” Davídrius insisted, and then turned his attention to sweep across the rest of the Earthians. Each of them had now engaged the Nimalian Dean in brief 1-on-1 sparring matches, with each of them attempting to land a blow on Davídrius — and only Pierce, Kestrel, and Spike managing to actually do so. Now, they all stood on the sidelines to catch their breaths and recover from the momentary spurts of activity.
“…Well?” Sky eventually questioned as Spike approached and stopped at her side. She turned toward Davídrius to continue, “how’d we do?”
“Did you learn anything useful from these matches? Or were you just tryin’ to beat up a bunch of newbies…?” Austin asked warily.
“There’s no fun in fightin’ folks who don’t know what they’re doin’,” Davídrius retorted. “But I did learn a couple things from these matches, here. Namely, that no one’s taught y’all the meanin’ of restraint.”
“Are you seriously telling us to hold back?” Pierce questioned with a smirk. “Are you just mad that some of us managed to land hits on you?”
Davídrius sighed and massaged his brow for a moment before turning to address the group again. “My point is that many of your attacks are wasteful. The Pyrotechnic, especially — what’s your name, again?”
Sky stared at him incredulously. “…I’m Sky.”
“Right. Well, what I’m talkin’ about is most obvious with you. Big sweepin’ waves of fire, columns of flame, fire tornadoes — it’s all pointless if you’re only fightin’ one person. And this goes for all of y’all.” Davídrius slowly surveyed the group as he continued, “learn to focus your attacks. Try not to destroy everythin’ around you if you don’t have to.”
“Great advice,” Conrad remarked, deadpan.
“You have entirely different trainin’ to focus on,” Davídrius replied, passing Conrad a glance. “A Visitechnic like you ain’t much good in a straight-up fight, but there’s still plenty of shit you can do.”
“So… you want us to learn to focus our abilities, okay,” Twy responded, “…is that really all? That sounds like basic advice…”
“A basic level of skill calls for basic advice,” Davídrius commented. “But no, that ain’t all. Given how much some of y’all like to go all-in…” He passed an impatient glance toward Pierce, who simply responded with a smirk. “…I figure just tellin’ y’all to reign it in won’t actually stick. So, today, y’all are gonna learn about the one thing that’ll force you to reign it in: the Berserk State.”
“Berserk State…?” Phoenix echoed uneasily. “Is that… the same as ‘going berserk’?”
“Aye. You’ve heard of it, then?”
“…In a manner of speaking,” Pierce answered, with his lips pursed and gaze averted.
Davídrius glanced between Phoenix and Pierce. “…Sounds like someone’s had direct experience. How much do y’all know?”
“Can we not talk about it?” Pierce responded irately.
“…That bad, huh?” Davídrius exhaled deeply. “Well… that’s what can happen if you ain’t prepared. Goin’ berserk ain’t somethin’ to take lightly.”
“What does going berserk even mean?” Sky questioned.
“It’s what it sounds like. When a Chaotic goes berserk, they basically lose their mind and revert to a sort of feral rage where they attack everything and anything in sight, usually with full force. It doesn’t last forever — usually only a couple minutes, if you let the Berserk State run its natural course — but that couple minutes can be more than enough to cause a lotta destruction.”
“That sounds… bad,” Austin muttered.
Davídrius snorted. “Yeah, you don’t say. It’s the single biggest piece of ammunition that non-Chaotics can use to justify conscription, and the worst thing about it is that they ain’t even wrong to be worried.”
“Why’s that…?” Phoenix questioned.
“What even makes someone go berserk?” Twy added.
“The answers to those questions are the same,” Davídrius replied. “The basic cause of goin’ berserk is usin’ your abilities too much in too short a period of time. All that Chaos Energy usage builds up and basically overloads your body, forcin’ you to go berserk.” He then cast a glance at Pierce and Sky. “Which is part of why it’s good to have restraint.”
“Ah, ha ha…” Sky released a nervous laugh. “Ah… I didn’t know…”
“Well, you do now,” Davídrius commented. “In fact… Chaos Energy overusage can have even worse long-term effects. Y’all ever heard of CSD? Chaotic Self-Destruction?”
“…You’re makin’ that up,” Pierce countered warily.
“I wish I was, but CSD is very real. In fact, Kevken — uh, Kievkenalis — almost died from it. The only reason he didn’t is that he got lucky.”
“What’s CSD…?” Twy asked.
“It’s kinda like cancer, but caused by Chaos Energy,” Davídrius explained. “As you use Chaos Energy throughout your life, by using your Chaotic ability — well, it causes small amounts of damage to your body. Damage that you can heal, if you’re responsible with your powers… but too much Chaos Energy causes a bunch of damage that you eventually can’t recover from. Now, before you worry too much, most Chaotics don’t actually die from, or even suffer from CSD. But it is somethin’ to keep in mind…” He glanced at Phoenix. “…Especially you. Chaostechnics are far more likely to suffer from CSD than any other type of Chaotic.”
“That’s… good to know,” Phoenix replied uneasily.
“Yeah, but it’s also a long-term problem. This berserk stuff sounds more immediately relevant,” Pierce insisted, and then turned toward Davídrius. “You said that Chaotics can go berserk from using their powers too much, but how does that explain someone going berserk in the middle of a calm city?”
“That ain’t the only way to go berserk,” Davídrius countered. “Where was this city? Wait… does this have anythin’ to do with the Chaos Quake a month or two ago?”
Pierce and Phoenix exchanged uneasy glances before the latter replied, “well, it was immediately before the Quake began…”
“Ah, okay. I see. Well, as I said, anythin’ that causes a Chaotic to use or process far more Chaos Energy than normal over a short period of time can drive them berserk. Overuse of your abilities or Overdrives is the most common example… but the Chaos Energy Quakes are an example of an environmental effect that’ll do it, since there’s a short burst of Chaos Energy before it all goes unusable.”
“That sounds like an uncomfortably broad cause of going berserk…” Twy commented.
“Ain’t it?” Davídrius remarked with a bitter smile. “And that ain’t all, either. Too much stress’ll do you in, too. As will any kind of extreme emotional response. Get too angry, frustrated, or sad — that’s a berserk Chaotic.”
“When you put it like that, I can see why people would be wary of lettin’ Chaotics do their own thing…” Spike muttered.
“Kind of, but a more humane response would be to install a robust support system for Chaotics. Not conscript them into the fucking military!” Phoenix exclaimed. “The only ones who benefit from that are the governments.”
Davídrius chuckled. “Ha! You won’t hear any arguments from me, there. But, as it turns out, fightin’ against literal millenia of conscription culture is just a little bit difficult.”
Austin regarded Davídrius with surprise. “You’re against conscription, too?”
“‘Course I am,” Davídrius replied indignantly. “…That said, I grew up here in Treséd, where conscription ain’t a thing anyways. None of the Nimalian militaries want Tresédians. So my perspective is a bit different… still, last I checked, all the other Deans are against it, too. Either way, that ain’t the topic of today’s lesson.”
“What is today’s lesson?” Sky questioned, “so far we’ve just fought a bit and then learned about this berserk stuff…”
“And the rest of today will be spent on exactly that,” Davídrius declared. “Now that you know that goin’ berserk is a possibility, we’re gonna work on tuning how you use your abilities to minimize the chances of you goin’ berserk in a real fight.” He then began stretching. “Which will, of course, involve some more sparrin’ and power usage. So let’s warm up! This might be your first day — but it’s gonna be a long one!”