Chapter 38 – Tours in the Leaves
“Alright, I gotta admit… this is pretty cool.”
“Yeah!” Twy exclaimed, “I never thought we’d get to see a sight like this… the trees are just so huge!”
Austin nodded along as he slowly took in his surroundings. He and Twy were currently walking down a winding path through a massive park, built as a large ring around one of the tree trunks supporting the city of Lédia. The park consisted of flat, wide-open green areas and dozens of benches on which to sit and observe the dense treetop canopy that extended over the park like a massive roof rustling in the wind. Few other buildings could be seen from the park, as it was located at one of the highest city altitudes, near enough to the canopy that the sound of the distant rustling leaves served as a permanent — if faint — audio backdrop.
Guardrails surrounded the park at the edges, and Austin stopped at one to peer over it. Nearly a hundred meters below was the sprawling city of Lédia; most of the city’s buildings reached no higher than four or five floors, allowing a view over the entire city, reaching several kilometers out in every direction. The massive trees that served as the city’s physical supports seemed to be spaced apart by a couple hundred meters, ultimately giving off the impression as though the city were located in a massive cavern, with leaves and branches as a roof and bark-covered tree trunks as support pillars. Austin couldn’t spot many openings to the forest floor below the city, but one such hole existed nearby the park — and through it, he could see only darkness.
“…We really are high up,” he commented as he eyed the hole uneasily.
“I suppose so…” Twy replied as she glanced at the hole herself, only to turn back to the rest of the city. “But just looking at the city, you wouldn’t know. It’s just as sprawling as Dallas…”
“But with none of the skyscrapers,” Austin remarked. “…Except for the trees, I guess.”
“They are pretty tall, and literally block out the sky,” Twy said as she looked upward, at the expansive forest canopy. “I’ve seen skyscrapers that are taller, but still… I wonder just how the trees grew to be so big…?”
“No one actually knows.”
“Huh—?!” Austin and Twy both jumped in surprise and whipped around, where they found Liéhdan standing just behind them.
“Wow…” The Nimalian glanced between them. “You guys sure are jumpy.”
“Wh-where did you come from?” Twy questioned uneasily.
Liéhdan grinned. “Spacetechnism, man.” He then stepped up to the guardrail next to Austin and turned around to lean on it, as he looked upward at the massive tree the park was built around. “Like I said, though — no one actually knows why the trees in Relédiaka are so big. As far as I know, with very few exceptions, you can’t find trees this big anywhere else in the galaxy.”
“That’s a big claim to make,” Austin replied.
“Hey, I did qualify it with ‘as far as I know’.” The Nimalian slowly swept his gaze over the park, his eyes momentarily lingering on each of the other Earthians: Spike and Sky, staring up at the tree that supported the park as they tried to figure out a way to climb it; Phoenix and Kestrel, looking over the city of Lédia from farther down the walkway; Pierce and Conrad, lounging on one of the benches in the middle of the park; and Mark and Luke, also leaning on the park guardrails some distance away as they held a quiet discussion. After noting all of this, Liéhdan returned his attention to Austin and Twy. “Everyone else seems to be having a good time, here. What about you guys?”
“It’s amazing,” Twy replied, “I’m really glad you brought us here!”
“Yeah.” Austin nodded in agreement. “This park must’ve been hard to build, what with having to get dirt and grass all the way up here… and it looks like there are other parks like it around some of the other trees. This is nuts.”
Liéhdan glanced between the two curiously. “…You two are really serious, huh?”
“I guess you’re probably used to the sights, as a local,” Twy commented, “but to us, this is a sight like nothing else we’ve ever seen! Right, Austin?”
“Yeah!” Austin nodded again. “Seeing this almost makes everything worth it.”
Liéhdan simply looked at them again, and then back to the park. As he slowly swept his gaze over the park, he muttered, “…uh oh, there’s some guards over there…”
“Huh?” Austin glanced at Liéhdan, and then in the direction where he was looking. Patrolling through the park were two individuals in green military uniforms, their gait casual, though clearly synchronized as they looked around the park. “…Do we need to worry about the guards?” Austin questioned uneasily.
“Well… yeah,” Liéhdan replied. “Oh… I guess I forgot to tell you, huh? We don’t actually have permission to be here.”
Twy’s eyes widened in alarm. “What?!”
“Yeah. This is a private park. All the high-tier ones are. Usually you have to pay out the ass to get in…” Liéhdan glanced over at Austin and Twy. “You two can fly, right? You might want to hide.”
“H-hide?” Austin echoed in disbelief, “w-why?! What about you?”
“Oh, I can talk my way out of this,” Liéhdan said airily. “The two of you, though? You aren’t even citizens, here! The guards will probably be really harsh on you — uh oh, they’re headed this way.”
“What?!” Austin looked over at the guards again, only to find that they had indeed turned down the pathway that would bring them by the trio. “…Aw, what? Are you fucking serious?”
“Can’t you just teleport us out of here?” Twy questioned.
“They’d know it was me, then,” Liéhdan replied. “But you guys need to hide before the guards look this way.”
“Tch… figures things would go wrong, somehow,” Austin muttered, at which point he clapped his hands and used him Imperator powers on himself to leap the guardrail and hover just below the platform. Twy quickly followed, using a levitating bubble of water to keep herself afloat nearby.
“…I can’t believe him,” she said with an irate frown. “How could he be so careless?”
“A lot more of the Nimalians are assholes than I expected…” Austin responded impatiently. “The least he could’ve done was help—?!”
His statement was cut off as Liéhdan suddenly appeared in front of him, hanging from the edge of the platform above with his arm. With an amused smirk, he said, “damn, the two of you are way too serious. Get back up here, everything’s fine.”
“Huh…?” Austin stared at Liéhdan incredulously, only for the Nimalian to disappear just as instantly as he had appeared. “…What?”
Twy slowly moved through the air up to the platform, peeking over the top to the rest of the park. As she did, she noticed Liéhdan standing near the guardrail, as well as the two guards they had spotted earlier. One of the guards wore an exasperated expression as he motioned for Twy to approach.
“You’re not in trouble,” the guard stated, “but please return to the platform.”
“…We’re not?” Austin questioned as he exchanged an uneasy glance with Twy. The two of them then returned to the top of the platform, Austin softly alighting while Twy carefully dispersed her bubble of water over the park grass.
“Liéhdan, what are we going to do with you…” muttered the other guard as she passed the Spacetechnic an unamused glance.
“Ah ha ha ha! Come on, no one got hurt,” Liéhdan replied with a laugh.
“One of these days, someone will,” the first guard stated, and then turned to Austin and Twy. “We’re sorry for Liéhdan. He can be a little… unscrupulous.”
“…I’m lost,” Austin replied. “What’s going on?”
“…I get it.” Twy released an annoyed sigh and glared at Liéhdan. “You lied to us, didn’t you?”
“I think ‘lie’ is a little harsh,” Liéhdan responded. “I like to think of it as a harmless prank.” He then turned to the guards. “But, if it really bothers you that much, then I promise not to do it again.”
“That’s what you said last time,” the second guard replied.
“And the time before that,” said the first. “If this happens again, we really will have to report you.”
“Ah, it’s fine, don’t worry about it,” Liéhdan replied airily. “I only pull this on Chaotics that can fly! There’s no harm.”
“Fine, fine…” responded the first guard. “But this is a warning, Liéhdan. We better not catch you pulling this again.”
“Ah ha ha ha…!” Liéhdan grinned sheepishly as the two guards began walking off, leaving him alone with Austin and Twy.
Austin then turned toward Liéhdan in annoyed disbelief. “You pranked us?”
“Ha! It’s all too easy on serious people like you,” he replied. “No one was hurt, so it’s all fine.”
“You’re reminding me of my sister… and not in a good way,” Twy muttered.
“No shit…? Well, either way, I’ve had my fun for now. And to make it up to you, I’ll answer any questions about this place that you have.”
“You could’ve done that without making us think we were going to end up in international trouble,” Austin countered.
“Sure, I could have, but where’s the fun in that?” Liéhdan replied with a shrug and a grin.
“I’ll just have to make a mental note to never take you seriously again,” Twy declared as she turned around to look out over the city once more. “…I bet you won’t even answer our questions seriously.”
“Now that’s a bit much. Here, let me start by telling you the reality of these parks: they’re all public, with free admission. You don’t have to pay or show any kind of ID to get in. It’s pretty great.”
“What’s the point of the guards, then?” Austin questioned.
“Ah, they’re just groundskeepers. Or ‘park rangers’ as they like to call themselves,” Liéhdan replied casually. “Some of them are off-duty NSD soldiers, sure, but they really can’t do anything more than lecture you.”
“How could they understand us? I thought translation implants were expensive…”
“Maybe for Earth, or Treséd. But they’re pretty easy to get anywhere else on Nimalia. Pretty much anyone you run into in any of the big cities will have RTA implants. Everyone who joins the NSD gets the implants, too, if they didn’t have them already.”
“Why should we believe you this time?” Twy asked with an accusatory tone.
“Hey, take it or leave it.” Liéhdan shrugged. “You can verify on the Relaynet, if you like.”
“…This city must’ve taken a lot of effort to build, though,” Austin commented, ignoring Twy as she continued to glare at Liéhdan. “Built in the trees, like this… how old is it?”
“Lédia’s history goes back a few thousand years,” Liéhdan remarked.
“A few thousand?!”
“Yeah, man. It’s an old city. The oldest and largest of the tree cities, in fact.”
“There’s multiple cities like this one? What?!”
“Yeah, dude. The Giant’s Forest doesn’t just have Giant Trees, it’s also a literal giant forest. Millions of square kilometers, filled with trees just as big as these, and several other cities built way above the ground, like Lédia.”
“Why, though? Why build the city in the air, instead of on the ground?”
“Well, it looks cool. Relédiaka gets a lot of tourist money from the tree cities, ha ha ha.”
“That can’t be why they were first built this way,” Twy countered.
“Ha! Imagine if it was, though,” Liéhdan replied with an amused smile. “…But you’re right. The tree cities were built above the forest floor because it’s actually really dangerous down there. So dangerous that it was easier for ancient Chaotics to build a city in the trees for everyone to live in, instead of constantly putting up and fixing walls.”
“…How dangerous are we talking, here?” Austin questioned.
“Let’s just say that the trees aren’t the only giant things around here.”
“That seems hard to believe,” Twy replied flatly.
“Hey, like I said, take it or leave it.” Liéhdan shrugged again. “Anyways, I’m going to go check on the others.”
“And prank them, too?”
“Hey, what happens, happens.” Liéhdan winked at Twy. “Let’s meet up at the elevator in half an hour for lunch. See you guys then!”
Austin and Twy stared blankly at Liéhdan as he instantly disappeared from sight. “…What a guy,” Austin eventually commented.
“Yes…” Twy responded slowly, and then turned her attention back to the city beyond the park. “…Well, I suppose he did show us to this park, so he can’t be all bad.”
“It is a pretty nice view,” Austin replied. “But we still have a whole afternoon ahead of us. I wonder what else there is to see…”
3 Hours Later
“Spike, c’mon already, you slowpoke!”
“Oi, oi, oi…” Spike muttered as he carefully maneuvered through the crowd around him, eventually coming to a stop at Sky’s side in front of a guardrail. “Slow down a little, will ya?”
“No way!” Sky exclaimed, “we only have, like, two or three days, here? And tomorrow is all gonna be lessons and shit, so if we want to shop, we have to do it now! Besides!” She threw her arms out, as though beholding the world in front of her. “Just look at this!”
Spike turned his attention forward. The couple stood on a third-floor pedestrian walkway that overlooked a wide park, with more pedestrian walkways on the other side — though each walkway was wide enough that they could have supported three lanes of cars. Trees and shrubbery of normal proportions filled the park, offering a natural green contrast to the massive brown and blue buildings that lined the park walkways on both sides. Stretching from the ground to fifty meters up were thirteen floors of walkways and shops of all kinds, ranging from clothing, to sporting goods, to electronics, to gaming, to even food and laundry. The area was a veritable shopping mall, though taller than most Spike had seen, and it stretched far into the distance — where he could see the massive trunk of one of the trees that supported the city of Lédia. Between the trees of the park below, and a hyper-realistic animated hologram of cloud-filled blue skies above, the mall appeared to be open air, despite actually being located underneath the top building layer of Lédia.
“It’s a good thing we got some spending money!” Sky remarked, drawing Spike’s attention back to her. “It would be a crime to visit another planet and not come back with anything, after all!”
“That money ain’t even ours to spend,” Spike refuted. “Liéhdan said Dean Tchiréon only gave him that money for food and stuff…”
“You’re ignoring the stipend we get from SERRCom. And besides that, we just had lunch. The Deans said they’ll cover dinner, so there’s no other food for Liéhdan to pay for. Besides, if he didn’t want to spend the rest, then why would he have brought us here?!”
Spike sighed in resignation. “Fine, fine. And where did you wanna go, exactly?”
“I knew you’d come around!” Sky replied with a grin, only to whip around and point at a sporting gear shop across the way. “Let’s go see what they have there! I wanna know what camping and hiking looks like in a city built in the trees!”
“They probably just don’t camp or hike,” Spike muttered, though Sky had zipped off before she even had the chance to hear him. A resigned smile crossed his face as he began to follow in her footsteps, though more slowly and carefully as he tried his best to make sure he didn’t accidentally injure anyone in the crowds with his superstrength.
“Hmm?” He stopped and turned around, where he spotted the approaching figure of Kestrel, the top of her silver-haired head poking a few inches above the crowd around her. As she stopped next to Spike, he then noticed that Phoenix was accompanying her; the short Chaostechnic had been obscured by the crowds until that point. “…Bought stuff already, huh?” Spike questioned as he eyed the two bags hanging from Phoenix’s arms.
“And how could I not?” she replied incredulously, “have you seen some of the things they have around here? I mean, look at this!” She reached into one of the bags and pulled out a box, on which appeared an image of a city built around trees. “They even have models of the city! And I caught a good sale, too! I’m sure my dad will love this. And for my mom, I found a couple of Relédiakan jerseys on clearance. I have no idea what they’re made out of, but they breath so well, it almost feels like you’re wearing nothing! And the colors work together well, a nice earthy mix of greens and browns… I can’t believe you can get this kind of quality for so cheap!”
Spike looked down at Phoenix in mild confusion. “Your mom likes jerseys?”
“Well, sports in general, really,” Phoenix responded. “But these jerseys give a glimpse into what Relédiakian sports look like. For example, look at this.” She quickly put the box back in the bag and dug through the other bag, eventually pulling out a dark green long-sleeved shirt. As she held it up against her chest, she continued, “look at the waistline, the back, and the shoulders. There’s extra padding there, see? That’s to help protect the wearer from the chaffing and pressure of swinging gear.”
“Yeah, that’s a whole thing on its own.” Phoenix stuffed the shirt back into the bag before looking up at Spike again. “Swinging gear is what the Relédiakians apparently used to use as their primary mode of travel through the forests. It’s like a system of air-powered grappling hooks and stuff, attached to your body so you can fire the hooks at tree branches and swing around like Tarzan. The military around here still uses them, in fact, but otherwise you’ll only see the gear on Leafball players — oh, that’s basically like 3D soccer. It looks pretty fun, actually.”
“Uh… right…” Spike replied slowly. “…How do you know all this?”
“Relaynet,” Kestrel stated.
“Yeah, there are some public terminals back there.” Phoenix gestured behind herself. “Conrad and Austin were practically glued to them when I left.”
“Ha! Yeah, that’s Austin for ya,” Spike responded with an amused smile.
“Seems like a waste of time, to me. You can access the Relaynet anywhere at anytime, but this mall is now!”
“Sky said basically the same thing…”
“See, she understands.” Phoenix then glanced around. “…Where is she? Is she not with you?”
“She ran ahead to some sports gear store,” Spike replied, and pointed in the direction that Sky had left. “You just missed her, actually.”
“Sports gear? Perfect! I wanted to see if it was possible to get some swinging gear.” Phoenix took a moment to shift the weight of her bags before marching off into the crowd. “Come on, Kestrel! Let’s see what else this mall has to offer!”
“Mm…” Kestrel grunted in response as Phoenix disappeared into the crowds.
Spike passed her a glance. “You bein’ dragged around, too?”
Kestrel returned the glance blankly. Spike could see her shoulders heave slightly, as though from a sigh, only for her to turn away and walk off after Phoenix.
“…I’ll take that as a ‘yes’…” Spike muttered to himself. He then followed suit, beginning again to maneuver through the midday weekend crowds.
From one floor up and across the park, Luke watched Spike for a moment. The Captain then released a long, tired sigh before turning around to look up at the store that he stood in front of. Books lined every wall and shelf, and the store itself featured warmer lighting than the bright white sunlight emulation of the rest of the mall. Fewer people were present in the bookstore than in the other stores Luke had seen. “If anything, I’m surprised this store exists at all…” he muttered to himself as he glanced around at the people in the crowds, and how several of them seemed to be interacting and gesturing at invisible objects. “…Seems like everyone has some kind of AR tech. I mean, I do, too… with this stuff, I’d think physical books would be near obsolete.”
“Sorry. I hope you weren’t waiting long…”
Luke turned his attention forward again as Mark approached with a bag in hand, and Liéhdan in tow. “Ah, don’t worry about it,” the Captain insisted, watching Mark and Liéhdan join him against the walkway guardrail. “This is a time to relax. You should enjoy it while you can.”
“I couldn’t agree more,” Liéhdan remarked as he casually stretched his arms. “Though personally, I prefer to spend my time in less crowded spaces.”
“I know what you mean,” Luke replied, and then grinned. “But you probably should’ve expected this when you dropped the fact that you had money to spare after lunch.”
“Hey, I didn’t say I didn’t expect this.”
“Still, I have to thank you for accompanying us here,” Mark commented as he turned toward Liéhdan. “And especially for helping me find a bookstore. It was more difficult than I expected…”
“Would’ve been easier if you were looking in Nimaliaka, or Riverana,” the Nimalian replied. “Everyone else uses AR too much.”
“I can see that…” Luke said as he eyed a few individuals down in the park, with their hands moving through the air as if interacting with something invisible. He then turned his attention upward, at the false sky above. “…This place really is somethin’, though. It sure doesn’t feel like we’re underground.”
“We aren’t,” Mark stated.
“Well, no… but we might as well be. There’s an entire level of city above us.”
“And below, too,” Liéhdan pointed out.
“…How’s that work?” Luke passed Liéhdan a questioning glance. “You’re tellin’ me that this city isn’t just built entirely in the trees, it also has multiple levels?”
“Yeah. All tree cities do,” Liéhdan replied. “Lédia in particular has three main levels — we call them tiers, and each one is about 50 meters tall. All three of the main tiers span the entire city, so they pretty much completely block sight from above to the areas below.”
“Must be dark on the forest floor, then,” Mark said.
“Oh yeah, definitely. Basically perma-darkness down there, if not for the artificial sun lights.”
“Huh. That must mean that the city prevents rainwater from reaching the forest floor, too. How do the trees and other life down there get water, then?”
“Well aren’t you a smart one — most foreigners I talk to don’t think of that,” Liéhdan remarked with a smirk. “Lédia, as well as the other tree cities, all have extensive drainage systems to get water from the top tiers down to Tier 1. There, the water gets cleaned and processed, and any water the city doesn’t need is sent out to a whole bunch of sprinklers and drainage nets attached to the bottom of Tier 1. End result is that the forest floor still gets rain, just delayed by an hour or so.”
“That must be a lot of sprinklers,” Luke pointed out.
“Lédia’s an old city,” Liéhdan replied with a shrug. “We’ve had plenty of time to build out the systems that keep us and the forest alive. It helps that there’s a river flowing underneath the city, too, so there’s a second source of water for all the life down there.”
“I suppose so. But what about these… tiers? How do those work? You said there’s three main ones, what does that mean?”
“There are subtiers below Tier 1, and supertiers above Tier 3. Subtiers and supertiers don’t cover nearly as much of the sky as the main tiers. Like that park I took you to earlier — that was a top tier park. Literally, it was on the top tier. The city you could see below from that park was Tier 3.”
“Most people live in the upper two main tiers, Tier 2 and 3. Some people live in Tier 1, but they’re typically… less well off. Tier 1 is mostly power generation, water processing, and other industrial stuff, anyways. Some forest floor supervision, too.”
“Let me guess — the richest people live on top?”
“No shit, that should be obvious. The real rich people live in the supertiers, though. Normal people can still afford to live on Tier 3.”
“I suppose wealth stratification exists wherever you go…” Mark commented.
“Aren’t you guys staying in Treséd long-term?” Liéhdan questioned. “That alone should’ve made it super obvious that some people are doing better than others.”
“What about your school?” Luke asked. “You go to… what was it? WTAC? Where’s that?”
“The Academy is… a little special,” Liéhdan replied. “I’ll leave the campus tour to Dean Tchiréon. But I can show you a nice view from above later today.”
“Uh…” Luke and Mark exchanged confused glances.
“Don’t worry, don’t worry! Everything will be fine,” Liéhdan insisted, and then backed away from the guardrail. “Anyways, I’m going to go check on the others. See you guys in a bit.”
Luke and Mark both watched as Liéhdan disappeared into thin air, an act that drew surprisingly little attention from the surrounding crowd.
“…This really is a whole different world, huh?” Luke remarked.
“It is a different planet, sir,” Mark replied.
“What did I say about calling me ‘sir’?”
“Heh. It’s fine.” Luke then pushed away from the guardrail himself as he looked around at his surroundings. “…Well, we do still have a few hours to burn. Let’s go see what else there is to find, here…”
3 Hours Later
“We’re kinda high up, huh?”
“This is nothing,” Pierce scoffed. “I’ve stood atop buildings that were far taller.”
Conrad passed Pierce an unamused glance before returning his attention to the sight before him. After spending a couple hours in the shopping centers on Lédia’s Tier 2, Liéhdan had decided to show the Earthians to Tier 1 — and below. The group now stood on a small platform adjacent to one of the many elevators running from the city down to the forest floor, attached to the trunk of one of the supporting trees — and from the platform, the underbelly of the forest could be seen. Despite the sun not yet descending past the horizon, the forest floor was bathed in a night-time level of darkness. The bottom of Lédia spanned as far as the eye could see in every direction like a cavern ceiling, supported by massive pillars that were barely identifiable as tree trunks without the leafy tops. A handful of small platforms and buildings hung down from the bottom of Lédia’s Tier 1, providing visual contours to the otherwise flat surface. Furthermore, bright lights were installed all along the city’s underside as well as down the trunks of several of the trees, providing a small amount of illumination in the dreary space — though still no where near enough to dispel the darkness.
The forest floor itself appeared devoid of light and activity, though a wide river ran from the south to the north, weaving between the massive tree trunks. A handful of buildings could be seen on the banks of the river, illuminated by their own lights, though the waterway itself remained as dark as the forest around it. The only other buildings that could be seen on the forest floor were directly below the Earthians, surrounded by tall, thick walls and sentry towers. If not for the fortifications, the arrangement of buildings appeared from above to strongly resemble a university campus.
“Damn… this is even worse than up top…”
Conrad glanced at Pierce again, noting that his friend was scowling as he surveyed his dark surroundings. “Don’t like the view?” Conrad questioned.
“There barely even is a view,” Pierce retorted. “But no, I don’t. These kinds of big, wide-open spaces where you can’t even see the sky… they’re the worst. It’s unsettling. What’s the point of being outside if you can’t even see the sun and the clouds?”
“For once, I agree with you…” Phoenix commented as she approached from behind. She stepped next to Pierce to lean on the guardrail beside him, as she continued, “from a technical and engineering standpoint, this city is hella amazing. But from a visual one…”
“Wow, the two of you actually agree on something,” Conrad deadpanned.
“It’s a pretty obvious ‘something’,” Pierce replied, and then gestured at the vast darkness below them. “Nobody likes being in darkness like this. Literally, humans need sunlight. …Well, not sure about the Nimalians, but on Earth, we do. And what the hell is that campus below us, huh? What losers work there?”
“That would be the Wanléon-Tchiréon Academy of Chaotics.”
Conrad, Pierce, and Phoenix all glanced to their left as Liéhdan stepped forward, coming to stand next to Conrad.
“…So that’s WTAC?” Phoenix questioned as she turned her attention downward.
“Yep,” Liéhdan replied, “that’s what I just said. Though, most people just call it ‘the Academy’. Pretty cool place, if not for all the darkness.”
“See?” Pierce elbowed Conrad. “Even the locals agree.” He then turned to face Liéhdan as he asked, “why the hell is the campus down there, anyways? Why not build it in the city?”
“Was there just not enough space for it?” Phoenix added.
“I think that was part of it,” Liéhdan answered. “The bigger answer is that the Academy has a big research focus, and the subject of that research is on the forest floor.”
“What the hell is there to study down there?” Pierce questioned incredulously.
Liéhdan looked down for a moment. “…Well, there’s big, dangerous animals and plants down there. Dangerous enough that even Chaotics can get caught by surprise and overwhelmed. See those sentry towers? Those are to protect against the animals.”
“Seems like a good reason to not build a campus down there,” Phoenix countered.
“First WCU in Treséd, now this campus here…” Conrad glanced at Liéhdan. “Do Nimalians like putting themselves in danger, or something?”
“Ha! Hardly,” Liéhdan replied with a smirk and a chuckle. “WCU isn’t even unsafe, from what I hear. And the Academy has been just fine. There’s a more important reason that the campus is down there, but… …well, the Dean should explain that tomorrow.”
Pierce and Phoenix exchanged a suspicious glance before both turned back to Liéhdan. “What the hell does that mean?” Phoenix questioned.
“It means you’ll learn tomorrow,” Liéhdan insisted, and then shrugged. “Don’t ask me, Dean Tchiréon was the one who told me not to say too much on the subject. I probably wasn’t even supposed to tell you that, honestly.”
“I’m more suspicious of you saying that Treséd is safe,” Conrad commented.
“Hey, I never said Treséd was safe,” Liéhdan responded. “I said that WCU was safe. Or at least, that’s what Karísah tells me. And it seems true enough, Compound Tresnon hasn’t been attacked at all in recent history.”
“Not exactly a high bar,” Pierce retorted.
“But you really do know Karísah, then?” Phoenix said, “how’s that?”
“She’s the coolest member of the Elite Six, that’s how,” Liéhdan replied.
“I’ve heard a little about the title from Karísah, but I’m still not sure what it really means. It felt like she played it down a lot…”
“I’m not surprised,” Liéhdan said with a smirk. “Karísah isn’t the type to boast, and the Deans aren’t super fond of the Elite Six title, either, since most of the people who get it are over-competitive assholes.”
“Sounds familiar,” Conrad deadpanned as he shot a glance toward Pierce and Phoenix.
“You only think we’re over-competitive because you have no ambition,” Pierce countered, and then turned to Liéhdan. “This title sounds impressive, though. How do I get it?”
Liéhdan’s smirk broadened into an amused grin as he laughed aloud. “Ha ha ha! Shooting for prestige already, huh? Heh. I guess this could be fun to watch.”
“Just tell us, already.”
“Well it’s not simple. ‘Elite Six’ refers to the top student at each of the six Schools of Chaos. How is ‘top’ determined, you ask? That would be a combination of exam scores and performance in the ACT — the Annual Chaotic Tournament.”
Pierce broke into a grin. “Now we’re getting somewhere!”
“An annual tournament, huh?” Phoenix remarked, “Karísah mentioned the ACT before, but she didn’t explain much about it. How does it work? How do we join?”
“I mean, it’s pretty straight-forward,” Liéhdan explained. “Each year, each of the Schools of Chaos send four teams of Chaotics to fight in the tournament, which lasts just over a month — or two months, if you count the two weeks of qualifiers and the two weeks of bracket placements. Each school determines what teams it sends in a different way, but let me tell you, it’s always competitive. It won’t be easy. Especially since the qualifiers are in less than a month.”
“Less than a month?!” Pierce and Phoenix exclaimed in unison.
“Shit, we need to get training…” Pierce muttered.
“What date, exactly?!” Phoenix questioned.
“Uh… Aldredath 19th,” Liéhdan responded, his eyes wide with surprise at the pair’s excitement. “Though sign-ups typically open a week before that, on the 10th. Don’t get ahead of yourselves, though. You guys are newbies, right? I don’t think you stand a chance against any of the current Elite Six, let alone all the other students who’re gunning for the title.”
“If you say that, you’ll just encourage them,” Conrad said.
“Ha, you know it!” Pierce declared with a smirk.
“Who are the Elite Six, anyways?” Phoenix questioned, “from what you said, it sounds like they’d change every year.”
“Typically, yeah,” Liéhdan replied, “but looking at the current group… I don’t really expect any of them to be replaced before they graduate. They’re just too powerful.”
“Well, let’s see.” Liéhdan held out his hand and began counting on his fingers. “At the top of the list is Cartérius Kines, over at the Tyrion Institute of Chaotics in Tekdecé. He’s a Materiatechnic. Rumor has it that he could even give Dean Densalin a hard time… though I don’t really believe that, myself. He’s way too far up his own ass to manage that, ha! …But he certainly is pretty powerful. Last year, he won all of his team’s matches singlehandedly.”
“Sounds like he’s the one to beat, then,” Phoenix remarked.
“You guys really are ambitious, huh? But he’s not the only one. Number two is Derynii Nimal, up at the Densalin School for Chaotics, in Nimaliaka. She’s a Navitastechnic, and almost as powerful as Cartérius. She takes herself and her training really seriously, too, so beating her won’t be easy — certainly not as easy as making her lose her cool, heh.
“Number three is Sméthan Leta, from the Kolstén College of Chaotics in East Nimaliaka. He’s a dual-type Chaotic — a Pyrotechnic and a Geotechnic. He really likes to smash the two together and fight with lava, which is just as effective at defeating his opponents as his short temper and hot-headed attitude.
“Number four is Karísah. Her Force- and Duratechnism are just too hard to get past, not to mention her Overdrive. Most students, including most of the Elite Six, don’t have Overdrives, so she has an advantage, there. She does have a bit of a hard time actually taking down her opponents, since she doesn’t have as much mobility or any real way to attack from range without ripping up the ring, but it’s almost impossible for anyone to beat her, either. She usually only loses to time-outs, which is pretty impressive when most people lose to ring-outs or KOs… though you’ll never hear her admit that, heh.
“Number five is Maeshi Anar, from the Yumach Chaotic University of Riverana. She’s pretty quiet, but also kinda, uh… scary. See, she’s an Animatechnic, which means she can control animals. And as it turns out, humans are animals. All of her wins come from taking control of her opponent and forcing them to just walk out of the ring. Let me tell you, it’s a pretty unpleasant feeling. She’s not a very pleasant person, either. Everyone over at YCUR seems to think she’s a sociopath…
“And then, there’s number six…” Liéhdan flashed a grin. “That would be yours truly, Liéhdan Kialda. Personally, I kinda wish I was off the list… I get way too much attention and responsibility as is.”
“…Can’t you teleport things?” Phoenix questioned. “You mentioned ring-outs, why can’t you just teleport all of your opponents out of the ring? Wouldn’t that put you at the top of the list?”
“And where’s the fun in that?” Liéhdan countered. “It’s loads more fun to poke fun at my opponent and run down the clock than it is to just walk up and snap them away.” He then looked up and broke into a grin, as though reminiscing over fond memories. “Man… you should’ve seen my match with Derynii last year, and Cartérius the year before that. The two of them just cannot take a joke.”
“Hmph,” Pierce snorted in derision. “What’s the point in participating in a tournament if you don’t take it seriously?”
“It’s just a stupid interschool tournament,” Liéhdan countered. “Life’s too short to worry too much about it. Besides… since the tournament is non-lethal, obviously, that already means the fights aren’t real. Chaotic abilities that should win, don’t, and ones that shouldn’t, do. Whoever wins the ACT wouldn’t necessarily win in a real life-or-death fight, so why care?”
“What a shining example you set,” Phoenix deadpanned.
“I dunno, I think I agree with him,” Conrad remarked.
“Of course you do, you don’t have a single competitive bone in your body,” Pierce retorted. “I don’t really care about your input anyways, Liéhdan. Tournaments are there to win, and win one, I will!”
Liéhdan stared at Pierce for a moment before releasing a sigh and shaking his head. “Man… you Earthians are a really intense bunch.”
“Do you really mean that, though?” Phoenix questioned. “You clearly care enough to actually participate in the tournament. Why not go all the way for the victory, then?”
“Like I said, it just isn’t fun.” Liéhdan shrugged. “Really not worth my time, either. If I were to ring-out Cartérius or Sméthan, then they’d be on my ass asking for rematches every damn month until the next tournament. I just don’t have the patience for that.”
“They really do sound like over-competitive assholes, then…”
“Exactly. Karísah is the only one who doesn’t take the whole thing super-seriously, and that’s why I like her. She could use a little more self-confidence, though.”
“You don’t even know,” Pierce retorted.
“You might be surprised,” Liéhdan countered, and then turned toward the nearby elevator as a light near it popped on. “…Ah. That should be the Deans, coming back from whatever they’re doing at the Academy. Come on, let’s meet up and get some dinner!”
Conrad, Pierce, and Phoenix all watched as Liéhdan sauntered over to the elevator. “…I think I like him,” Conrad remarked.
“Figures you would,” Pierce snorted in amusement. “That ACT, though… so we have less than a month to prepare, huh?”
“It’ll be tough…” Phoenix mused, “but we can definitely try. And if we fail, there’s always next year.”
“Ha! Failure is for losers,” Pierce retorted.
“Uh… yeah,” Conrad deadpanned. “Losing, by definition, is failure.”
“You know what I meant, you smartass.” Pierce passed Conrad an annoyed glance and then turned to begin approaching the elevator himself. “Now let’s get some dinner and wrap up this long-ass day already! And starting tomorrow, we train for the ACT! We’ll win it all, I guarantee it!”