Chapter 32 – Living Memories
“Ah, urban liveliness! Oh, how I’ve missed this!”
“…Do you really like being around people that much?” Twy questioned as she passed Phoenix an incredulous glance.
“I don’t understand how you couldn’t. Humans are social creatures, after all!” Phoenix remarked with a grin, and then strode forward. “Now let’s go! I’m hella hungry!”
“Phoenix is right. You should really get out more, sis!” Sky declared, keeping pace alongside Phoenix as she glanced behind herself to address her sister. “It’s healthy for you!”
“I’m sure,” Twy deadpanned. But just as she made to begin moving forward herself, she felt a hand on her shoulder; looking up, she met eyes with Kestrel. Kestrel’s gaze lingered for a moment before she patted Twy on the shoulder, at which point she adjusted the wide-brimmed straw hat that adorned her head and strode out into the crowd. “…I guess that’s Kestrel, for you,” Twy muttered to herself. “…How did I get dragged into this? Oh, whatever…”
With a resigned sigh, Twy began the descent down the gentle slope onto Tresnon’s Market Street. The sun hung low to the western horizon, casting long shadows and orange-tinted light upon the crowded street as the busy citizens of Tresnon went about their business. A cool breeze rolled over the street from the adjacent lake, prompting an involuntary shiver from Twy; Treséd may have been largely a desert, but the continent was currently experiencing a waning winter, so the cool air was common. Too bad there hasn’t been any rain… Twy mused, and then glanced skyward, where there wasn’t a single cloud in sight. Such a weird place, being right on a lakefront, but still being a desert…
“Oi, c’mon, sis! Are you really that afraid of crowds?!”
“Shut up,” Twy responded with a roll of her eyes as she finally caught up to Sky, Phoenix, and Kestrel.
“Well, different strokes for different folks, I guess,” Phoenix commented with a shrug. “Personally, I’ve never been able to stand just staying cooped up in a room all by myself. Talking to people, meeting people — that’s what life is all about!”
“Meeting people, eh? Is that really it?” Sky elbowed Phoenix playfully as she looked her over head-to-toe. All four women were wearing a set of beige desert robes that they had been granted when first settling in — Compound Tresnon was located in a desert, after all, and the robes of the locals offered better protection against the elements with fewer movement restrictions than any clothing the Earthians had brought with them. Phoenix stood out, however, as she had tied off the loose shirt to expose her midriff — and with it, her toned abs. She also folded her cloak in half and tied it around her waist, replacing it on her torso with a thick white jacket that she left unzipped. When paired with her fluffed-up ponytail and the long, thin strand of hair that draped down the right side of her face, adorned with purple beads, Phoenix’s outfit looked to have much more consideration for style than that of the others.
“Just because I put more thought into what I wear than the normal person doesn’t mean I’m looking for anything,” Phoenix asserted, and then passed Sky a wink. “Though I certainly wouldn’t complain if I did find something.”
“We’ve only been here for two weeks…” Twy responded.
“I think a better way of saying that is we’ve already been here for two weeks!” Phoenix exclaimed. “And we’re going to be here for a whole year, at least! Don’t you think we should make the most of that?”
“By going out to dinner…?”
“Yes, by going out to dinner! Eating is, like, the quintessential method of enjoying yourself in a foreign land!”
“Man, sis, you’re really bad at this, huh?” Sky remarked.
Twy simply shook her head in response. “Whatever. Why dinner, though? Mark already cooks for us.”
“Sure, and his cooking tastes great, but it’s all Earth recipes,” Phoenix countered. “Or at least, approximations of Earth recipes, made with local ingredients. Which is certainly interesting on its own, but it’s no eating out.” She threw her hands up, as though beholding the bustling streets around the group as they continued walking along. “By coming out here, we get to see how Tresédians do things — how they act, how they eat! We get to eat their food on their terms, and maybe even make a few new friends along the way!”
“Why us?” Kestrel questioned.
“Oh, c’mon, Kestrel! Everyone knows that these sorts of things are more fun with friends!”
Twy and Kestrel exchanged a blank glance, at which point Twy sighed again and shrugged. “If you say so. How’re you going to make new friends, though? The locals can’t understand us.”
“Some of them can’t,” Phoenix corrected. “If we run into any WCU students, they’ll be able to talk to us just fine. I’m sure there are some merchants here who have the translation implants, too.”
“Besides, even if they can’t understand us, we can understand them. We’ll just have to communicate non-verbally!” Sky remarked, only to freeze as a loud growling noise emanated from her stomach.
Phoenix grinned in response. “Non-verbal communication, huh?”
“If that’s the cue you’re going off of, you’ll be feeding Sky a lot,” Twy commented with a smirk.
“Shut up,” Sky retorted, and then pointed to the right, toward the lakefront. “That Akos’ Lakefood place is over there, right? Let’s go get some damn food, already!”
“Way ahead of you,” Phoenix remarked as she led the group off of Market Street and down a ramp to the piers that made up the Mirage Lakefront. The smell of fresh fish filled the air, though with a slight earthy undertone, compared to the fish Twy was familiar with on Earth. Shouts of fishers negotiating prices with would-be buyers or making general conversation accompanied the smell of fish, as well as the sight of several small fishing boats coming in to dock amongst the dozens that were already parked.
“It really is something, huh?” Sky remarked as she looked around at her surroundings in wonder. “I’ve never lived on a waterfront before. This is so cool!” She then shivered as the breeze over the pier momentarily intensified, prompting her to add, “literally!”
“Kestrel and I grew up near the coast, so this is familiar to me — though the fishing markets are new,” Phoenix declared, and then sniffed at the air. “…The smell of raw fish is a bit much, but I can bare it for some good, fresh seafood! Or I guess, lakefood, huh?”
“It might as well be seafood,” Twy commented as she looked out over the lake, where the waters extended out to the horizon. “The Mirage Lake is freshwater, but if you look at a map, it’s huge! I think it’s bigger than the Great Lakes, back on Earth.”
“Makes you wonder how the land surrounding it is desert, then…”
“Probably just weird alien planet climate stuff,” Sky responded dismissively, and then bounded forward as the group approached a building on the side of the pier. “Akos’ Lakefood!” Sky read from a sign near the door, and then whipped around toward the other three. “C’mon, already! I’m starving!”
“Don’t make a scene,” Twy countered, her cheeks tinged red with embarrassment as many of the patrons on the pier glanced Sky’s way. “You don’t have to be so loud, you know.”
“Not the volume,” Kestrel commented.
“Yeah, Kestrel’s right,” Phoenix replied as the group gathered just outside of the restaurant. “There are plenty of people around here louder than Sky. I think it’s our language that’s drawing attention.”
“I’m not gonna just stop talking because people think I’m weird,” Sky asserted.
“I’m not saying you should. I sure as hell won’t — but a little bit of discretion might be advisable. Like Karísah’s told us, many times; Tresédians don’t seem overly fond of outsiders. Let’s not give them a reason to kick us out.”
“They can try to kick us out, but what’re they gonna do? We’re Chaotics!”
“This isn’t Earth. We aren’t the only Chaotics around here,” Twy countered. “Besides, it would be incredibly irresponsible to use your powers like that.”
“Leave it to you to talk about responsibly using our powers, ha!” Sky then turned around on her heel and barged into the restaurant, shouting, “now come on! How many times do I need to tell y’all that I’m hungry?!”
Twy hung her head in response, though Phoenix couldn’t help but chuckle. “She’s right, we’re really dragging our feet,” the Chaostechnic declared as she entered the restaurant herself.
Kestrel and Twy quickly followed, soon stepping foot into a dimly lit restaurant. Nearly a dozen stone tables filled the open space, a couple of them empty, while a chest-high counter top ran along the far wall, lined with stools. Rowdy shouts and conversation filled the air as the patrons loudly socialized; a couple of them glanced toward the entrance as the Earthians stepped forward, but most of them paid the group no heed.
“It’s so… loud…” Twy muttered with a frown.
“I know! Isn’t it great?” Phoenix remarked, and then looked out over the tables. “If I remember correctly, we can just claim one of the empty tables, and then someone will come around to take our orders.”
“There’s a good one, by the wall!” Sky pointed at the table in question, and then began making her way toward it without waiting for further input. The other three women quickly followed her, and the four were soon seated.
“…More stone furniture,” Twy observed, as she looked over her stone chair.
“At least it’s cushioned,” Phoenix remarked, “but you’re right. Stone buildings and furniture are very common around here, which seems odd, considering there aren’t any mountains or hills in sight!”
“Chaotics?” Kestrel suggested.
“I suppose that’s it,” Twy replied. “One Geotechnic could probably make a building like this in an afternoon. If that…”
“Now if only our powers were so useful…” Phoenix muttered.
“Ah, our powers are plenty useful! Just in different ways,” Sky commented, and then nodded toward a table across the restaurant. “Hey, do those guys look familiar to y’all?”
Twy, Phoenix, and Kestrel all glanced in the direction Sky was looking, where they spotted two young men sitting at a table with drink and food.
“They do look the same age, as us…” Twy stated. “Maybe they’re students at WCU?”
“…Looking at us,” Kestrel muttered as she turned her attention away and grabbed a menu off of the table.
“Oh…” Twy quickly averted her gaze as well, uneasily snapping up one of the menus as she did. “I didn’t come here for this…”
“Don’t worry, sis! If they try anything, then I’ll kick their asses for you!” Sky declared.
“I somehow doubt they will, anyways,” Phoenix commented with a roll of her eyes. “We’ve been here for two weeks, and I’ve never been approached by anyone.” She glanced back at the table with the two men, only to smirk when she noticed them both quickly look away. “…Though not for a lack of interest, it would seem.”
Twy regarded Phoenix with an irritated frown. “Don’t tell me you brought us out here just so you can pick up guys…”
“I won’t tell you that, because that isn’t why I brought you here,” Phoenix retorted. “…But it would be a nice bonus.”
“Wait, is this about that argument you had with Pierce a couple days ago?” Sky questioned.
“Don’t sour the mood by bringing him into this,” Phoenix countered with a scowl, only to quickly replace it with a smile. “But, the way I see it, there’s more than one way to get to know the locals.”
“Ooooh…” Twy moaned in embarassment as she used her menu to hide her flushed face. “Why are we talking about this?!”
“Girl, you need to lighten up. I don’t even remember the last time someone tried to lecture me about this kind of thing.”
“Phoenix…” Kestrel muttered.
“…Alright, alright. Sheesh.” Phoenix sighed and shook her head. “Let’s get some food, then. But after this, I’m going to try making some new friends, and nothing you say can stop me!”
“As long as you bring me along!” Sky insisted. “For the friends part, at least. Any more than that is off limits for me.”
“Ha! That’s fine by me!” Phoenix replied with a grin, and then held her fist out toward Sky — to which the latter readily replied by completing the fist bump. She then grabbed a menu and began scanning it. “Alright, now let’s have a fun night!”
“Yeah!” Sky exclaimed in response.
Twy simply shook her head in disbelief as the four began going over the menus for dinner. “Why did I agree to come along…”
“Alright… not a bad day, Pierce. Not a bad day, at all…”
Pierce smirked to himself as he sauntered down the streets of Compound Tresnon, toward the front gates of WCU. Dusk blanketed the town in dim light and the temperatures had already begun to drop rapidly, but under his robing and cloak, Pierce felt perfectly warm — not that he was focused on the weather, anyways.
This place might be a dusty dump, but there actually are some cute chicks, here, he mused while thinking back over his day. At first light, he had woken up with the intention of exploring town on his own, partially to get a better feel for Tresnon’s layout, but mostly to see if he could land a date. The initial going was difficult due to the language barrier, but it hadn’t been long before he ran into a female student from WCU. After striking up a conversation and managing to charm his way past her initial standoffish attitude, he successfully ingratiated himself to her and arranged for dinner in a couple days.
Karísah was right that the people here aren’t too open… but she didn’t account for good old foreigner charm. Phoenix, too. I told her it would work! He stopped for a moment to look up at the rapidly darkening sky, and the lone moon that hung above. …Shame Conrad didn’t come along. A wingman always helps — not that I need one, of course — and I could’ve gotten him a date, too, I’m sure. A guy like him could sure use one. What did he even do, today? Don’t tell me he just slept all day long… who am I kidding, of course he did. Lazy bastard.
“Hmm?” He glanced down, toward the source of the call. Approaching from behind was a young woman 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. Upon spotting her, Pierce felt a brief throb pass through his torso, nearly causing him to wince — but he managed to suppress the expression and replace it with a casual smile. “…Hey,” he commented, turning to face the woman head-on. “Liask, right?”
“Oh, so you remember me…” Liask commented as she stopped next to Pierce, with a large bag in hand. It looked to be full of groceries.
“…Uh, yeah, of course,” Pierce responded tepidly, distracted by fighting back the flashes of Trenon that surfaced in his mind. Damn… what’s up with me? Is just looking at her enough to make me think of Trenon? I need to work on this…
“…Is this a bad time?”
“No, no… I’m just a little, uh, distracted. Ha ha.” Pierce forced a chuckle as he smirked sheepishly. He then nodded toward the bag in her hand. “Taking care of some errands, huh?”
Liask glanced down at her bag and hefted it a bit. “Yeah. Just the, you know, the standard. Food and stuff. Though Minilas keeps sayin’ she can just make food, so I don’t need to buy any, but still… uh, sorry, Minilas is one of my friends, you probably haven’t met her, ha ha…”
Pierce eyed her as she glanced down and laughed uneasily. …She’s probably thinking about Trenon, too, isn’t she? I mean, how couldn’t she, all things considered. At least it’s not just me.
“I, uh… wanted to talk to you, actually.”
“Oh?” Pierce raised an inquisitive eyebrow. “What can I help you with?”
“No, no, nothin’ like that. It’s just…” Liask briefly met eyes with Pierce, averted her gaze again, took a deep breath, and then returned to making eye contact. “I wanted to apologize. For… well, how I acted when we first met.”
Pierce momentarily thought back to their first meeting, when he had delivered the news that Trenon — Liask’s older brother — had died, and she stormed off after breaking a stone door in frustration. The door and the other damage Liask had caused had since been repaired, but her initial outburst was still fresh in Pierce’s mind. “Oh, that… don’t worry, it’s fine,” he replied, his smirk shifting into an uneasy smile. “If I were in your shoes, then I probably would’ve done the same, honestly.”
“Still… I accused you of lyin’, even if only for a moment, and that was really rude.”
“I suppose, but like I said, it’s fine. Don’t worry about it. Hell, given the circumstances, I’m a little surprised you aren’t even angrier, ah ha…”
Liask stared at Pierce in surprise for a second, only to smile a moment later, accompanied by a short laugh. “…I guess, even in the end, Trenon was right. He always was…”
“…What?” Pierce questioned uneasily, “uh, what do you mean…?”
“I told you that he talked about you and Phoenix a lot, right? From his messages, I kinda just assumed that you were, uh… well, full of yourself.”
“I do get that a lot…”
“Maybe, but Trenon also said that you were a serious, reasonable guy when it mattered. And that seems to be true.”
“Ah, c’mon…” Pierce smiled sheepishly. “I think that’s a bit much…”
“Trenon sacrificed himself to save you, didn’t he?”
“Uh, w-well… sort of… …Wait. How’d you know that?”
“When you told me about what happened to him, that helped me figure out what to look for on the Relaynet for more information. It took some effort, but I found the full story there, about Berserkers in Alus, and how Trenon died while stoppin’ one, after savin’ ‘an Earthian’ from the Berserker’s attack. Some soldiers in the NSD seem to blame you for my brother’s death, but…” Liask lowered her head, her gaze directed downward as her tone softened. “…Part of me wants to blame you, but I know it wasn’t your fault. You didn’t do anythin’ wrong, as far as I know. And Trenon — he was a nice guy, but he wasn’t the kind of person to sacrifice himself for just anyone, you know? But the fact that he did that for you… it says somethin’. About him, and about you, and… I think I should listen to that.”
Pierce’s only response was stunned silence as he frantically searched for the words to form a reply. Shit, I was NOT expecting the conversation to go like this. This is way more serious shit than I usually talk about. What do I even say, here…?
“…Ah, sorry,” Liask commented with a sheepish smile. “I didn’t mean to just dump all of that on you outta no where.”
“…Nah, it’s… it’s fine,” Pierce replied. “It sounds like you’re doing better now, though. That’s good.”
“Yeah…” She averted her gaze again and sighed loftily. “…A-anyway, I have some food to put up. And some homework I should probably get to, so I gotta go. But, uh…” She looked up at Pierce again and flashed a smile. “Let’s… talk again, maybe? About less serious stuff?”
“…Uh, yeah. Sure.” Pierce nodded in affirmation.
“Good!” Liask then turned toward WCU’s front gates and began walking off.
As she left, Pierce found himself staring at her retreating form, his brow furrowed with unease. After having the NSD soldiers blame him for Trenon’s death, he had been fully prepared for Liask to do the same — but to forgive him instead, and in such a heartfelt manner? Of all the feelings that were swirling through Pierce’s heart, the only one he could concretely nail down was confusion. What’s going through her head? What was her relationship with Trenon even like? I had assumed it was a one-sided admiration, but after that… just how the hell do siblings get that close, anyways? Riley would never say any of that about me. And, more than that…
For a brief moment, Pierce’s thoughts returned to the vision he had received just after Trenon’s death. Now that he had been face-to-face with Liask twice, there was no doubting it — she was the woman he had seen in his vision. The prominent scar on her face, that crossed her mouth and ran down her neck, was too distinctive to ignore. But why did he have a vision of her, and why then? And if that part of his vision had revealed to him information that he couldn’t possibly have known on his own… then what other parts of his vision could be real?
“…Ah, fuck…” he muttered to himself as he began trudging toward the campus’s front gates himself. “…What a fucking day this has become. Just what the hell is going on around here…?”