Chapter 37 – Forested Arrival
4 Days Later
— Isdia, Skydiath 25, 8054 —
(Monday, November 14, 2129 AD)
“Aw man… isn’t it the weekend? Why are we here?”
“What, Conrad?” Pierce taunted, “mad that you can’t get your ‘beauty sleep’?”
“It’s the alien equivalent of a Saturday, I think I’m justified,” Conrad shot back, only to sigh and slouch. “Ah, whatever…”
The mid morning sun shone down on Pierce and Conrad as Pierce continued poking fun at his friend, the both of them standing off to the side of WCU’s main gates. With them were the rest of the Earthians — Phoenix, Kestrel, Austin, Twy, Sky, Spike, Mark, and Luke, all gathered together at Kaoné’s request. Morning chill blanketed the campus and the rest of Compound Tresnon, forcing everyone to robe up tightly as they passed the time conversing.
“Honestly, I’m with Conrad on this,” Austin muttered as he turned toward Twy, Sky, and Spike. “What did we have to wake up so damn early for…”
“And on a weekend, too…” Spike grumbled.
“It’s not ideal, but don’t act like this was a surprise for you two,” Twy countered. “We knew that we’d have to meet here at this time since lunch, yesterday.”
“But we still don’t know why!” Sky exclaimed. “I mean, something about a weekend trip I guess, which is nice. But a trip where?”
“Hopefully not another Compound,” Austin responded bitterly.
“I somehow doubt that,” Phoenix remarked, stepping up to the group with Kestrel in tow. “Ever since Kaoné took over teaching us, we’ve barely seen Davídrius. Wherever we’re going, I doubt he’s coming with, and that likely means our destination isn’t in Treséd.”
Austin looked down at her doubtfully. “How can you be so sure?”
“Just call it intuition,” she replied, only to quickly cover her mouth with her hand as she was overtaken by a long yawn. “Oof… it’s so early…”
“You too, huh?” Spike responded with a weary smirk.
“I’m no morning person…” Phoenix commented.
Sky’s hand shot into the air as she threw the other arm around Twy’s shoulder. “That’d be us!”
“More like just you,” Twy replied as she removed Sky’s arm from her shoulder. “And in your case, it’s more that you never get enough sleep.”
“You keep saying that, but I feel perfectly fine! Not everyone needs 8 hours, you know!”
“Maybe, but I can’t even count the number of times you’ve gone to bed later than me, and been up earlier. Consistently getting only 4 to 6 hours of sleep can’t be healthy…”
“It’s a real pain in the ass for me, too,” Spike remarked.
“Hey, I let you keep sleeping every time I wake up before you!” Sky shot back.
“Oi, oi…” Austin muttered, “can we stop talkin’ about sleep, now? It’s just reminding me of how much I’m missin’…”
“Classic Austin,” Twy replied with a smirk.
“And I couldn’t agree with him more,” Phoenix declared — and then yawned once again. “Ugh… why is there so little caffeine around here…”
“Well, if we’re changin’ topics…” Spike looked over the group. “What’d y’all do these past few days? Anything fun?”
“Not really…” Austin said. “Just played a few games… good thing there’s power for my laptop, but not having Internet really cuts down on what I can play…”
“What? We can access the Relaynet here, right?” Sky questioned.
“Yeah, but the Relaynet and Internet are two different things. They’re similar, but the Relaynet has massive lag times, like hours to days. It’s only good for text posts, searches, and archives. You can’t game through it.”
“Well, the Relaynet does span the entire colonized galaxy,” Twy pointed out. “On that scale, the lag times make sense.”
“Nimalia has Internet,” Kestrel stated.
“Uh… well, I guess, yeah,” Austin replied, “but it’s not Earth’s Internet, and there’s no way to directly connect to Earth’s Internet, and that’s what matters. Not to mention the fact that the Nimalians call their Internet ‘Relaynet’, just because it can seemlessly connect to the actual Relaynet. You know, just to make things confusing…”
“You know, you remind me a lot of Conrad,” Phoenix remarked.
“I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing…”
“Neutral,” Kestrel asserted.
Austin passed her a doubtful glance. “Why does that feel even worse…?”
“You only think it’s worse because you think about this shit too much,” Sky retorted. She then glanced toward Twy, saying, “hey, sis, you’ve been working on something this week, haven’t you?”
“Uh…” Twy stared at her sister, startled at being addressed so directly. “Well… I suppose, yeah.”
“You mentioned painting earlier this week, right?” Phoenix asked, “did you get your hands on some paints?”
“Yeah. Kaoné actually made me a bunch. I was a little surprised, to be honest…”
“So she really can just make stuff out of thin air, huh?” Spike questioned.
“I mean… I guess?” Twy shrugged. “I didn’t see her do it, I just know that she can.”
“Hmm…” Austin looked down at his hands. “…Maybe I should practice using Materiatechnism while she’s around. This seems like a really good opportunity to get a lot of free stuff!”
“Ha! Figures you’d say that,” Sky responded with an amused snort.
“How goes the painting, though?” Phoenix asked, directing the conversation back to Twy. “How long have you been doing this?”
“Oh… you know, just a few years…” Twy replied sheepishly. “I’m really not that great at it. I haven’t actually painted in a while…”
“’Not that great’ my ass!” Sky exclaimed. “You’ve always been good at painting and drawing! Like, legitimately, you should’ve pursued a career as an illustrator or something! You would’ve been really good at it!”
“I think I’ve said the same to you about your singing, only to have you ignore me.”
“…Ah ha ha…!” Sky responded with an uneasy laugh.
“Good to hear you’re gettin’ back into it, though, Twy,” Spike remarked, drawing the twins’ attention to him. “I agree with Sky, honestly. Always thought it was a shame that you seemed to stop paintin’.”
“I mean, sometimes you just stop enjoying something, right?” Austin commented, and then glanced over at Twy. “But hey, if you’re into it again, that’s cool.”
“Just ‘cool’, huh…?” Twy muttered to herself, just quietly enough for no one else to notice. She then made to speak again, but was beat to the punch.
“Alright, so what are you nerds talking about now, hmm?”
“How gracious of you to ask,” Phoenix deadpanned as Pierce sauntered up to the group, with Conrad slouching to his side.
“Well, of course. You can’t make fun of people if you don’t know anything about them,” Pierce replied with a smirk.
“If that’s supposed to be a joke, it ain’t funny,” Austin countered.
“Maybe not to you, dweeb,” Pierce shot back. “Maybe you just take life too seriously.”
“Maybe you don’t take it seriously enough,” Conrad said.
“That’s hella rich, coming from you.”
“So how have you been spending your week, hmm?” Phoenix questioned as she eyed Pierce. “Just condescending down to people, like normal?”
“Ha!” Piece snorted in derision. “I’ll have you know that I got a date — and we went the whole way.” He looked down at Phoenix with a triumphant smirk. “I believe that’s a win for me.”
“A ‘win’ my fucking ass,” Phoenix countered. “When’s your second date?”
“…That’s still in the air.”
“She ghosted him,” Conrad loudly whispered.
“Which, I’ll have you know, isn’t my fault,” Pierce interjected, and then crossed his arms as he looked back to Phoenix. “I still win our little challenge, though.”
“Our argument was over which of us is more dateable, not whoever can get a date first,” Phoenix shot back.
“What?! That’s not what I said at all!”
“And what you’re saying isn’t what I agreed to! You have to stick the landing, Pierce, or it doesn’t count.”
“Alright, Ms. Goalpost Mover, what is the win condition, then? Number of dates?”
“Not with different people, you playboy. The first person to hold down a relationship for a month wins.”
“A month?! But that’s—!”
“Don’t say it isn’t doable, there’s an example right here!” Phoenix gestured toward Spike and Sky.
“Uh, what—?” Spike started, only to be cut off by Pierce.
“Oh c’mon, that doesn’t count,” Pierce countered. “They’re both from Earth. We’re dealing with foreign people, here! The culture is different!”
“Not that different,” Phoenix argued. “Listen, all I’m saying is that…”
Standing off to the side of the group, Mark and Luke listened to Pierce and Phoenix’s ongoing argument for a few moments before glancing at each other and sighing in tandem.
“They sure are a lively bunch, aren’t they,” Luke remarked.
“I suppose that’s one way to put it…” Mark replied. “Still… I can’t help but feel like I should intervene…”
“Ah, let them be. This is the kind of thing that bein’ in your twenties is all about. They’ll learn better eventually.”
“If you say so…”
“You could probably stand to take a page out of their book, actually,” Luke said as he passed Mark another glance. “What about Karísah? You seem pretty friendly with her.”
Mark shook his head. “I’m pretty sure she has her eyes elsewhere. Besides, I doubt I’m her type.”
“Oh? Why’s that?”
“I’m a man.”
“…Ah.” Luke shrugged. “Well, it do be like that sometimes…”
“It’s not as though any of us are any good at relationships, anyways…” Mark looked up, at the bright blue cloudless sky above. “…Mote, Kate, Danielle… I wonder what they’re up to.”
“They’re off on a mission now, actually,” Luke remarked. “They left Earth a couple days ago.”
“Really?” Mark glanced down at Luke. “Where are they going?”
“I can’t say. We’re in public.”
“I’m sure they’ll be fine, though. They survived their last mission intact, after all.”
“Yes, but…” Mark looked doubtfully at Luke. “…Wasn’t that the one where they ran into the… uh, metallic infection?”
“Yeah, and they made it out just fine.” Luke flashed a smile at Mark. “Look, your buddies can handle basically anything that’s thrown at them. Mote’s even gone toe-to-toe with a Drakkar Faction Leader! I don’t think you should be worrying about them.”
“Excuse me, did I hear that right?”
Luke and Mark both glanced over, just as Kaoné alighted on the ground next to them. “Uh, ha ha…” Luke laughed uneasily. “Which… which part?”
“Something about someone you know going toe-to-toe with a Drakkar Faction Leader?” Kaoné replied.
“Uh, well… I don’t know if you were supposed to hear that, actually…”
“Fair enough. I won’t speak of it to anyone else,” Kaoné stated. “Though… if you know someone who can actually fight a Faction Leader head-on… I think that would be very useful information to the CSA. They’ve been fighting the Drakkars for a long time, after all.”
“It was an impressive feat, yes, but my friend was still only able to hold her off,” Mark responded. “He didn’t actually defeat her.”
“Is that so… well, still, that’s an impressive level of power.” Kaoné glanced between Mark and Luke. “…I’ve heard about SERRCom’s Eximius Vir, actually, and from what I’ve heard…” She then looked over at the other Earthians. “…Well, if you don’t mind, I’d like to ask some questions, later. In exchange for setting up a meeting for you to learn about the metallic infection.”
“…Didn’t realize there’d be strings attached,” Luke commented uneasily.
“Sorry — I didn’t mean to imply that there were. If you really can’t say, then that’s unfortunate, but let’s have this conversation another time.” Kaoné then turned toward the students and clapped her hands loudly, drawing their attention. “Alright! It looks like everyone is here.”
“So what are we doing?” Sky questioned eagerly, “we’re going on a trip or something, right? Where to?”
“And why couldn’t you tell us earlier?” Austin added.
“I had to make sure that everything was actually lined up,” Kaoné replied. “Thankfully, it is. So I can tell you now that we’ll be visiting one of Nimalia’s most fantastical locations: Lédia, the City in the Trees — and the capital of Relédiaka!”
6 Hours Later
“Whooooaaa! Look at this!!”
With an expression of amazement plastered across her face, Sky dashed forward and jumped at the guardrails in front of her. Standing behind them, she began swiveling her head around, looking at the vast city that laid below her — and the massive trees that extended high into the sky, with trunks dozens of meters thick and standing several hundreds of meters tall. The size and branch density of the trees, coupled with their massive leaves, generated a canopy so thick that the city below it permanently laid in the dim light of an overcast day — despite each individual tree being no closer than a few hundred meters to any other tree.
“This is… really somethin’,” Spike remarked as he approached the guardrail next to Sky. He turned his attention downward, at the city built around the trees, at which point he noticed what appeared to be vast holes in the streets. “…The hell are those?” he questioned, pointing into the distance.
“Looks like big holes in the ground,” Conrad stated plainly as he stepped up to the guardrail himself.
“Oh, those aren’t holes,” Kaoné declared, approaching from behind the group with a grin on her face. “Has nobody told you? We’re in Lédia, the City in the Trees — so called because the entire city is built hundreds of meters above the ground, using the massive Relédiakian trees as supports!”
The Earthians regarded her with surprise before going back to surveying their surroundings in awe. Just over 6 hours had passed since they had all gathered at the gates of WCU; half of that time had been spent aboard a Nimalian airliner, which had been a far more comfortable and significantly faster experience than any air travel on Earth. The other half of that time had been lost to layovers and customs — Relédiaka was its own sovereign nation after all, and entry wasn’t free. However, Kaoné’s presence helped to expedite the entire process, and the group soon found themselves descending into Lédia, the capital city of Relédiaka. Lédia was so far west of Compound Tresnon that its clocks ran six hours behind, so the local time of their arrival happened to match the local time of their departure from Compound Tresnon — but this time difference was masked by the sheer awe-inspiring construction of Lédia, an entire city built far above ground.
“This is… incredible,” Twy commented, her eyes wide with wonder. “If you look closely, you can tell that the city is built in layers! Look, there’s foundation platforms higher up, over there!”
“Huh…” Austin followed her finger to look at a nearby tree. A few dozen meters above what appeared to be the city’s base level was a wide-brimmed ring, built all around the tree’s trunk and clearly fastened to it. On top of that ring were several buildings, as well as a handful of elevators down to the main city level. “…Damn,” he remarked, “it’s like one massive fucking tree house, huh?”
“How does… how does any of this even work?!” Phoenix exclaimed, “how are the trees so large? How are they sturdy enough to support a city like this? Why is the city built like this? How was it built like this?!”
“Yeah, why not just put it on the fucking ground?” Pierce questioned as he directed his attention to Kaoné.
“All of your questions have answers, but I don’t think I’m the best person to provide them,” Kaoné replied. She looked around at their immediate surroundings: the passenger arrival area of Lédia’s airport, built as an open-air balcony that overlooked the city. All around the group were other passengers arriving in Lédia, some of them showing the same awe-filled reaction of the Earthians, but many of them simply moving on with their day as though the massive tree city was an ordinary sight. “Where is she…” Kaoné muttered, only for her eyes to light up a moment later. “Oh! There you are!”
As the Dean began waving, the Earthians turned their attention in the direction she was looking. Approaching across the balcony were a woman and a man, both light skinned, but otherwise sharing little physical similarities. The woman stood at a few inches over five feet tall, with silky, shoulder-length black hair. Her outfit appeared to be similar to a pantsuit, primarily a dark, earthy green in color with black trimming. The right side of her jacket slightly overlapped the left, and extended a little farther down her sides than it did in the front, revealing a hint of her brown belt and white blouse. Her pants were similarly white, though each leg from the upper thigh down to her ankles featured the same green and black coloration as her jacket. She walked confidently, with quick strides, each footfall marked by the loud tapping of the heels on her shoes.
The man accompanying her stood a little taller, though with significantly more casual attire. Brown bangs framed his youthful face, while the rest of his hair appeared mildly unkempt, tamed only by a short tied-low ponytail. A navy blue vest atop a black short-sleeved shirt adorned his chest, while earth-brown shorts extended just past his knees, and a pair of black shoes rounded out his outfit. As opposed to the woman’s confident gait, the man’s seemed slower and more uneven, as though he wasn’t accustomed to walking long distances.
The two stopped just short of the group as Kaoné stepped forward, a smile upon her face. “Rebehka! It’s good to see you!”
“It really is! It’s been a while,” the woman remarked as she returned the smile, and then swept her gaze over the Earthians. “So, this is them?”
“Yes, allow me to do the introductions.” Kaoné stepped next to the woman and the man as she turned to face the Earthians. “Everyone, allow me to introduce my friend: Rebehka Tchiréon, Dean of the Wanléon-Tchiréon Academy of Chaotics here in Lédia.”
“It’s nice to meet you all,” Rebehka said with a smile.
“And I’m Liéhdan,” the man declared with a quick nod. “The Academy’s representative in the so-called ‘Elite Six’.”
“Isn’t it funny that you’re only dismissive of the title when it means you have to work,” Rebehka deadpanned.
“Ah ha! Sorry, Dean,” Liéhdan replied with a grin. “But it is the weekend, you know.”
“Just bear with me today, please…” Rebehka then turned back to face the Earthians and clasped her hands in front of her. “It’s nice to meet you all. I’ve heard plenty from the other Deans.”
“Uh oh,” Austin muttered.
Rebehka responded with a brief laugh. “Ha! There’s nothing to worry about. I know better than to blindly trust Kevérin’s or Davídrius’s complaints.”
“Sounds like you’ve known them for a while,” Conrad remarked.
“A little over 20 years at this point, in fact. But let’s not get caught up in the past,” Rebehka replied. “My lesson for you all will be tomorrow; until then, please feel free to explore Lédia. You won’t find many other places like it in the galaxy.” She then glanced over at Liéhdan. “Can you be their guide? Show them around a little. Be sure to show them where they’ll be staying, too.”
Liéhdan responded with a wink. “Sure thing, Dean—!”
“And don’t prank them, please.”
“…Now whyever would you say that? The thought hadn’t even crossed my mind.”
“I’m sure,” Rebehka replied, deadpan. “…Anyways. Kaoné and I have some matters to discuss, so we’ll have to leave you for now. We’ll meet up again for dinner, how’s that?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Luke said.
“Alright! Be sure to behave yourselves,” Kaoné commented as she and Rebehka began to walk off. “And if you need to contact me, I left my info with Luke. Have fun!”
“…Did they seriously just leave us alone, in a foreign city?” Austin questioned in disbelief.
“Oof, you already forgot about me? That hurts, man,” Liéhdan remarked as he placed a hand over his heart and feigned a pained expression.
“You’ll have to excuse our friend…” Twy said as she shot Austin an annoyed glance. “He can be a bit of a pessimist sometimes…”
“Is this the part where I say that a pessimist is what an optimist calls a realist?” Austin replied.
“What a truly profound insight that no one has ever stated before,” Phoenix responded flatly.
“Hey, look, I was just—“
“So you’re Liéhdan, huh?” Spike questioned as he faced the Nimalian. “Karísah’s mentioned you.”
“Oh, no shit? You know Karísah? Good to know,” Liéhdan said, and then gestured at the group. “But before we get into all that, do you guys want to drop off your bags at your rooms?”
“C’mon, it’s only a weekend trip,” Pierce remarked as he patted his satchel. “We packed light.”
“It would still be nice not to carry everything around all day,” Luke interjected. “If you could lead the way, Liéhdan, that’d be great.”
“Oh, I can do you one better,” Liéhdan replied with a wink. He then snapped his fingers — at which point everyone’s luggage immediately disappeared.
“What the—?!” Phoenix exclaimed in surprise.
“Where’d our stuff go?!” Sky questioned.
“…You guys didn’t know? I thought you did, since Karísah mentioned me,” Liéhdan commented as he wiped his hands together. “I’m a Spacetechnic. I teleport stuff.”
“A little warning would’ve been nice,” Pierce snapped.
“Now where’s the fun in that?”
“I don’t like where this is going…” Austin muttered.
“Ha! Come on, my friend, everything will be just fine,” Liéhdan replied cheerfully as he threw an arm around Austin’s shoulder. He then looked around at the rest of the group, as he declared, “now how about we get going? We have a whole day to burn, and a whole city to see! Let’s go!”