Chapter 26 – Wasteland Chaos
“What the hell is goin’ on here…”
“Davídrius…?” Karísah questioned, passing the Dean a wary glance.
He responded with silence, instead stopping in the middle of the street as he began sweeping his gaze across his dusty surroundings, lit by the late-afternoon sun. Just behind him were Pierce, Phoenix, Conrad, and Kestrel, with the bar they had found the survivor in standing just across the street.
“…Something wrong?” Conrad questioned, watching Davídrius slowly survey the buildings around them.
“Of course somethin’s wrong,” Davídrius replied, and then turned his attention back to the group. “Nothin’ about what happened here adds up. We got a Bleeder attack, that somehow happened fast enough to clear out the town in two days. Ain’t no one got word out about it. And on top of that, the Bleeders had a whole bunch of powered armor with ‘em, on top of some new supposedly powerful Chaotic. And they attacked a Compound so close to Tresnon, too. It woulda been far easier for ‘em to attack a Compound farther out in the wastes…”
“Seems like they were more of a threat than you expected, huh?” Pierce commented.
“Cut the attitude,” Davídrius snapped, “this is serious. Folks have been leavin’ the Bleeders in droves over the past few years — the gang’s smaller than it’s ever been. They shouldn’t be a threat…”
“Maybe this attack was just an attempt at revenge, then?” Phoenix suggested, “some kind of attempt at sending a message?”
“When the Bleeders send messages, they ain’t this subtle about it. Revenge, though, I could get — but it doesn’t explain how they pulled this off.”
“You just need to figure out where they got that powered armor stuff, right?” Conrad questioned, “if you can do that, then you can find the source of the problem.”
“Well, yeah. That’s obvious enough,” Davídrius replied, “but figurin’ out where it came from is easier said than done. Ain’t no one sellin’ powered armor in Treséd, that I know of at least. Even Tresnon barely has any armor.”
“Dumping grounds?” Kestrel prompted.
“Yeah, you mentioned something about dumping grounds, earlier,” Phoenix commented. “What’s that about? Could the armor have come from there?”
“The dumping grounds are areas along the coast where the other nations, well… dump their junk,” Karísah explained. “It’s… pretty disgustin’, really. And disappointin’…”
“Not to mention it lets all kinds of tech fall into Bleeder hands,” Davídrius muttered. “I’ve seen Bleeders with powered armor before, recovered from the dumping grounds. But not in this volume. The design of the armor looks off, too… not many Nimalian armors I know of are black and silver, and most need chest plates or codpieces to work, while none of the Bleeders have had either. I guess it could be some new model or somethin’, but… just don’t seem right.”
“Sure, it’s weird, but we can handle it just fine,” Pierce insisted. “I’ve fought shielded enemies before, and won. I’ll just do the same to these Bleeders.”
Davídrius passed Pierce a doubtful glance. “You may’ve fought shielded enemies, but were they Chaotics?”
“No, but how’s that matter? With superspeed, the approach is the same.”
“Don’t get carried away. The vast majority of Chaotics have ways of dealin’ with Velocitechnics. Shielded Chaotics are more difficult to fight than you might think — even more so when you don’t got any shields yourself.”
“Is there a way to get shielding?” Phoenix questioned. “Seems like it could be useful, right about now.”
“You don’t fuckin’ say,” Davídrius deadpanned, and then released a deep sigh. “…But like I said, there ain’t much of a market for powered armor or any kind of personal shielding here in Treséd. No one can afford it. I’ll have to talk to some folks…”
“If there’s anythin’ I can do to help, let me know,” Karísah declared. “This problem isn’t just yours to deal with, Davídrius.”
“Yeah, yeah…” he muttered as he waved her off. “Either way, we’ll need to—”
The low rumbling, thundering noise of an explosion swept across the street, interrupting Davídrius’s speech and drawing the group’s attention to the west.
“What was that?!” Conrad exclaimed.
“…Shit.” Davídrius scowled. “Is there another attack? Damn! Let’s go, we don’t have time to spare!”
“Ha! A real fight!” Pierce whooped as the group began running off after Davídrius. “Finally, a real chance to prove ourselves!”
“Chaos Boost— Chaos Massive IMPACT!”
A nigh-invisible plane of force swept across the cracked and sandy Goresan plaza, flooring two of the attacking Bleeders as Relia leaped into the fray. The rocks under her feet immediately shifted and created a massive hole, only for her to call out “Chaos Teleport” and appear off to the side of the plaza — where one of the Bleeders, flying in the air, was engaged in combat with Sky, who also launched herself through the air with bursts of flame.
“You’ve gotta be kiddin’ me— ack!!” Austin reflexively ducked backwards as a rock sailed through the air toward him, narrowly missing his shoulder by a hair and crashing into the building behind him. He glanced back warily; the moment the new Bleeders appeared, Relia had taken action to knockout the four captured Bleeders, leaving only the five new arrivals to deal with. On paper, the odds seemed even, with five Bleeders against Relia, Austin, Spike, Twy, and Sky — but on the latter side, only Relia had true combat experience, and that fact was made all the more obvious by the group’s current performance against the Bleeders.
“Look out!!” Spike roared from the side as he chucked a metal shield at Austin, just in time to intercept another rock flying his way. The Forcetechnic then bounded onto the scene, grabbing Austin and bowling him to the side as a high-intensity beam of light swept across their former position. As Spike released Austin and turned back to face the Bleeders, however, the two men began slowly lifting into the air, as though lofted by an invisible force.
“What the—?” Austin started, only to notice one of the Bleeders standing to the side with her hand outstretched toward him. Is this telekinesis? Aw man, I wish I could— oh, shit!! He immediately clapped his hands and then took control over his body using his Imperator powers, overpowering the telekinesis and flying through the air just in time to avoid being crushed by a massive pillar overhead. As he flew across the ground, skimming just a couple feet over the broken plaza, it occurred to Austin that his flight didn’t require as much mental effort as it had needed when he first got his powers — but before he had time to revel in that realization, he felt his entire body grow heavy. He was soon forced to the ground, barely able to even lift his arms against their incredible new weight.
“Why doncha just lay down for a bit, huh?”
Austin slowly turned his attention upward, moving only his eyes, as his head felt too heavy to move. Standing there was a shorter man, also clad in black and silver greaves and gauntlets as he stared down at Austin — only for a purple ball of energy to slam into him and launch him across the plaza, followed quickly by Relia. Immediately, the heavy sensation lifted, allowing Austin to jump back to his feet just as Twy alighted on the ground next to him.
“Are you alright?!” she questioned, though she scooped the both of them up in a bubble of water and carried Austin to the side of the plaza before he could respond.
“Uh… y-yeah,” Austin muttered, and then looked out over the plaza, where he noticed Spike holding off a hail of rocks while Relia launched Chaos attack after Chaos attack. “…Fuck… we’re not doin’ so well…”
“Yeah…” Twy frowned. “As far as I can tell… it looks like one of the Bleeders can control rocks, another can control air, one can control gravity, one can control light, and the last is a telekinetic.”
“Huh? You were able to figure that all out?”
“It pays to pay attention.”
“Hmph. Yeah, well— aw, shit!!” Austin exclaimed as the area immediately around him and Twy fell into pitch darkness. Quickly, he clapped his hands to re-initiate his Imperator control over his own body and then grabbed Twy’s arm, yanking the both of them out of the darkness just in time to escape a massive stone column that crashed down on top of their former position. At least the Bleeders don’t seem to have many tricks, Austin thought to himself as he released Twy, and then glanced to the right, where Sky was engaged in an aerial battle with the Bleeder Aerotechnic. …But if that’s the case, then now might be as good a time as any to try a few of my own!
With a brief nod to Twy, Austin shot back into the air, dodging around two beams of solid light before curving up to meet Sky and the Bleeder Aerotechnic, just as Sky blasted the Aerotechnic with two plumes of flames. The fires simply rolled over the Bleeder’s flared shielding, doing no damage — but Austin took advantage of the momentary distraction to launch himself toward the Bleeder. As soon as Sky halted her fire assault, Austin dashed in close and slapped the Bleeder across the back, at which point he attempted to exert control over their movements. …It’s not working? He questioned mentally, only for his face to fall as the flying Bleeder turned to stare at him incredulously. Oh, shit, that’s right, the shields block me from actually touching them. Oops—!
“Austin, you idiot!” Sky shouted as she blasted herself through the air, managing to grab Austin and then launch them both upwards just in time to escape a handful of air blades. “What do you think you’re doing?!”
“I’m helping, damn it—!” Austin insisted, only to suddenly feel a lack of air around his head. In a panic, his clapped his hands again and then propelled himself downwards, at which point he regained the ability to breath — only to feel a sudden sidewards yank. Disoriented, he was barely able to discern what was going on before realizing that he was being dragged through the air toward a massive rocky spike. Before he got too close, the spike was obliterated by a purple projectile, revealing the Geotechnic standing behind it. Thinking quickly, Austin exerted control over his body to stop himself midair barely two meters away from the Geotechnic, and then attempted to use his other set of powers: Simulator Psychotechnism. With but a thought, he was able to copy the Geotechnic’s powers to raise the rocky ground around him, forming a stone shield that he then forced outward, hitting the confused Bleeder Geotechnic and launching them backwards.
“Alright!” Austin pumped his fist and grinned, only to stare at the rocks around him in confusion when he could no longer control them. Ah, that’s right, my simulation range is only a few meters, or something like that. I guess I shouldn’t have shoved them away, huh—?
“Austin, LOOK OUT!”
“Huh—?” He began to turn in response to Spike’s warning, only to be blinded by a bright flash of light. Disoriented, Austin was barely able to discern what was going on around him, except that some kind of force yanked him to the ground — and his body then rapidly grew far heavier than he could manage.
“Stop fighting, now! Or he dies!”
What…? Austin squinted, his sight slowly returning to him. He tried to move his arms, but their pure leaden weight kept them grounded. Even his head felt too heavy to move, allowing him to survey his environment only by moving his eyes — which allowed him to spot two of the Bleeders standing a few meters away from him, while Spike and Relia stood farther off. Oh no… did we lose…?
“The hell do you want, huh?!” Spike shouted across the plaza, “he hasn’t even done anything to you!”
“…Tch.” The Bleeder, which Austin now recognized as the tan-skinned man that seemed to have been leading the group, scowled and turned his attention toward Relia. “Are you fuckin’ serious? More outsiders?”
“I wasn’t the one who brought them,” Relia countered, as Twy and Sky slowly alighted on the ground near her — while two of the other Bleeders surrounded them menacingly. “…Still,” Relia continued, as she eyed the two with disdain, “just what is it you want with this Compound? What do you gain, here?”
“Yeah, is it really that hard to leave people alone?!” Sky exclaimed.
“You, shut the hell up!” the Bleeder snapped, pointing his finger directly at Sky. “I can’t understand a word you’re sayin’. But I bet y’all can understand me, can’t you, you fuckin’ high-life outsiders? Your dirt-speakin’ pisses me off, so if you say another word, then your friend’s dead!”
Shit… Austin scowled as he watched helplessly. …Shit! I can’t believe we ended up like this. If only we hadn’t come here, if only Pierce had shut the hell up about wanting to see action…!
“…What do you want?” Relia questioned after a moment of tense silence. Her tone no longer carried active disdain, but a hint of tension remained.
“What we want is a return to the good ol’ days,” the Bleeder replied.
“You mean when you were free to rape and pillage across the land?”
“Ack—!” Austin released a pained yelp as he felt an uncomfortable pressure on his chest. Sky and Twy both nearly made to run to his side, only for Spike to extend his hand in front of them and pass Relia a concerned glance.
“…Glad to see the outsiders get it,” the Bleeder muttered, and turned his attention back to Relia. “…Wait a minute, I think I recognize you. A short young woman with tan skin, dark fluffy hair, and a cloak with those purple designs. Movement and directed Chaos abilities, too. You’re the Wanderer, ain’t ya?”
“…And if I am?” Relia responded tensely.
“Then you should know better than anyone, that the old times were way better than what’s comin’ for Treséd!” the Bleeder declared. “We used to have the ultimate freedom. The freedom to go anywhere, to do anything!” His face then contorted into a nasty scowl as he continued, “and then that bastard Sentry started fuckin’ shit up, tryin’ to bring ‘law’ and ‘order’ to this wasteland. And aided by outsiders! The hell have outsiders ever done for Treséd, huh?!”
“Is that all this is, then?” Relia questioned, “you attacked Goresan, just to get back at the Sentry — at Davídrius?”
“That’s part of it, aye! But that sure ain’t all of it! We Bleeders won’t be done ‘til we’ve wiped out every last trace of outsider influence. That means gettin’ rid of the Sentry for good… as well as that stupid Compound he calls home.”
“You want to destroy Tresnon?”
“‘Course we do. It’s the only Compound to benefit from outsider connections, and it hoards all those gains to itself. They even insist that other Compounds send their young Chaotics, under the ruse of trainin’ ‘em!”
“It’s no ruse—”
“Shut up,” the Bleeder snapped. “I know you’re in with the Sentry, Wanderer. And more than that, you’ve been a real pain in the Bleeders’ ass yourself, these past couple years. But, we’re a forgivin’ lot; if you apologize for all that and join up with us, then we’ll spare this outsider here.”
Relia snorted. “After talkin’ about getting revenge, you want me to believe that you’re ‘forgiving’?”
“Hey, what are you—?!” Twy began, directing an incredulous glare toward Relia, only for Spike to again stop her.
“…Man, why can’t anythin’ ever be easy?” The Bleeder shook his head forlornly, and then shrugged. “Oh well. I gave you the chance—”
An audible crack filled the air as a blur blasted onto the scene, slamming into the Bleeder and launching him across the plaza. In that brief moment, the blur resolved into a concrete appearance — into the tan-skinned, bearded appearance of Davídrius.
“Shit, it’s the Sentry!” one of the Bleeders shouted; as soon as he did, Austin felt his body’s weight return to normal as a Bleeder vaulted over him and lunged for Davídrius.
“Overdrive: Speed Break!” the Dean shouted as the Bleeders all lunged for him — only for him to instantly disappear in a cloud of dust. In that same instant, he appeared next to the Bleeder Gravitatechnic and slammed his foot into the Bleeder’s side, launching him across the plaza and into the Bleeder leader, who had yet to recover. The rocks and stone all around Davídrius began rising into the air, forming a makeshift prison, only for the Velocitechnic to smash the rocks with a speedy kick and then grab part of the debris to block an incoming hardlight beam. He then disappeared again, dashing across the plaza to grab the Bleeder Solartechnic by her arm, whirl her around, and then slam her into the ground, causing her energy shielding to flare up all over her body.
“Whoa!” Pierce exclaimed from off to the side, having just arrived to watch the battle unfold with a grin. He then began to crouch down into a runner’s stance, shouting, “c’mon, guys, let’s back him up—”
“No,” Karísah interjected, grabbing Pierce’s arm to prevent him from running off. She glanced back toward the plaza as Davídrius overpowered one of the Bleeder’s energy shields through the sheer momentum of his kicks, and then turned her attention back to Pierce. “When he’s like this, we’d just get in his way.”
“I would say that ‘I see’,” Conrad replied, “but things are moving a little too fast for that, huh?”
“Tch…” Pierce grunted in annoyance as he turned his attention back to the plaza fight as well. “…I could do all this, too…”
Two of the Bleeders — the Solartechnic and the Gravitatechnic — now laid on the ground to the side of the plaza, unconscious, utterly defeated in the face of Davídrius’s superior speed and experience. With the two of them down, the Dean turned his attention on the remaining three, only to be yanked into the air by an invisible force as the telekinetic held her hand out toward him. The Aerotechnic then began attempting to force the air out of Davídrius’s body, who quickly reacted by pulling a small rock out of his pocket and chucking it at the telekinetic so fast that the kinetic energy knocked her several meters backward. Distracted by the blow, she dropped her focus just enough to allow Davídrius to drop to the ground — where he immediately rolled over, sprung to his feet, and dashed over to the telekinetic. Before she had the chance to realize what had just happened, he had dove under her and launched a kick into her backside that launched her into the air, where she slammed into the flying Aerotechnic. The latter attempted to catch his friend with a cushion of air, only for Davídrius to leap up to the Aerotechnic and slam him down to the ground with an overhead kick.
“Alright…!” Austin pumped his fist as he watched the two Bleeders crash into the plaza, with Davídrius landing on his feet just nearby. This is actually kinda cool, he thought to himself, more than it should be, given the circumstances, but hey, we’re not in danger anymore, so that’s good—!
In the middle of his thoughts, Austin felt the rocky ground under him suddenly absorb his feet, followed by the Bleeder Geotechnic grabbing his arms from behind and holding him still. “Keep goin’ and this one dies!” the Geotechnic shouted at Davídrius, while Austin winced under his painful grasp.
“Fuckin’… damn it!” Austin muttered with a scowl, as Davídrius slowly turned to face him. Not fucking again! I can’t keep being the weak link. What can I do… He glanced back at the Geotechnic. He has shields, so I can’t use my Imperator powers on him, but there’s still one other option…
“Always with the fuckin’ hostages,” Davídrius shouted from across the plaza, where he remained in place, but still maintained a battle-ready stance. “You Bleeders never can win the real way.”
“Shut it,” the Geotechnic countered, as a spire of rock appeared out of the ground, pointed toward Austin’s stomach. “Or do outsiders not mean as much to you as you think?”
“Man, y’all are fuckin’ full of shit,” the Dean muttered, his gaze momentarily dropping — at which point a slight smirk crossed his face. “…Not very perceptive, either.”
“Huh—?” the Geotechnic started, confused, only for a pillar of rock to explode out of the ground underneath him and Austin, launching the two skyward. Austin, having already subtly undone the rocky bounds on his feet, was able to extricate himself from the Geotechnic’s grasp and fly away — just as Davídrius appeared in the air and slammed the Bleeder back to the ground with a kick.
“Whoa, hey!” Spike grinned and held up his right hand as Austin flew to his side, with the latter readily accepting the high-five before alighting on the ground. “Some quick thinkin’, there!”
“Yeah, well…” Austin muttered as he brushed himself off, and then took a deep breath. “Figured I might as well use those Simulator powers at some point.”
“Now if only you’d done stuff like that earlier!” Sky remarked.
“Hey, leave him alone. This is a serious situation…” Twy pointed out, as she passed a wary glance toward the two unconscious Bleeders on the side of the plaza. The telekinetic and the Aerotechnic remained in the middle of the plaza, with Relia standing over them, having just negated Chaos Energy around them and thereby blocking their powers. And Davídrius stood a bit farther across the plaza, staring down at the leader of the Bleeders with his hands placed on his hips.
“Y’all are a real piece of work,” Davídrius declared disdainfully as Karísah, Pierce, and Phoenix approached.
“Fuck you,” the Bleeder retorted, spitting at Davídrius — and releasing a bloody tooth in the process. “The Bleeders still won. We got Goresan. Ain’t nothin’ you can do about that!”
“Sounds like we have a sore loser, over here,” Pierce remarked with a smirk.
“…More fuckin’ outsiders,” the Bleeder muttered, and then glared up at Davídrius. “This ain’t over, Sentry. The Bleeders won’t stand for what you’re doin’ to Treséd. We’ll drag these wastelands back to the glory days, kickin’ and screamin’ if we have to. And when that happens, you’ll regret thinkin’ that you can trust a bunch of stupid outsiders to rebuild this place, over the people who actually live here!”
“I’d argue, but you ain’t gonna live long enough for that to matter,” the Dean countered as he placed his foot on the Bleeder’s neck.
“Wait, hold on!” Phoenix interjected, “is this really necessary? You already won!”
“Wins can turn into losses real quick if you don’t deal with the losers,” Davídrius replied. “I’ve dealt with many Bleeders. Some are redeemable, but ones like these folks? Folks who talk shit even when they’re on death’s door? They never learn. Lettin’ ‘em go does more harm than good in the long run.”
“But—!” Phoenix started, and then stepped back with a hand held to her head, as though suddenly confronted with a headache. “Wait, wait… something bad is about to happen—!”
“Typical outsiders, thinkin’ they know best,” the Bleeder interjected with a sneer, as he slowly relaxed his arms and moved them to his side. He then turned his gaze up to Davídrius. “Told ya. Outsiders hold ya back.”
“Why do y’all always have to be assholes,” Davídrius sighed, and made to stomp, only to be stopped again by Phoenix.
“I’m telling you, we need to get out of here,” she insisted as she began backing away, “I can’t explain why, but I can feel it. We need to leave!”
“What are you talking about?” Pierce questioned, and then turned his attention back to Davídrius and the Bleeder on the ground, just in time to notice a brief red flash — a flash that the armors of the other Bleeders immediately reciprocated.
“Aw, fuck—!” Davídrius swore, and began to turn, only to be interrupted by a blinding flash of light and a thundering echo as each of the Bleeders on the plaza… exploded.