Chapter 47 – A Bleeding Threat

Chapter 47 – A Bleeding Threat

— Ligdia, Skydiath 27, 8054 —

(Wednesday, November 16, AD 2129)

Gold and orange light blanketed the still sands, stalwart walls, and beige buildings of Compound Tresnon as the sun slowly set on another day. Clear skies and calm waters in the adjacent Mirage Lake made for a stagnant atmosphere, disturbed only by a lone aerial transport craft coming to rest in Tresnon’s small airport after traveling from thousands of kilometers away.

An uncomfortable silence filled the interior of the craft while it came to a stop. Captain Luke Travis looked around idly at his surroundings: Austin and Spike sat across the craft, both of them quietly watching the low skyline of Tresnon through the craft’s windows; Twy and Sky sat just behind them, Sky beginning to stand up and gather her bags; Conrad sat in the back, his head against his seat with his eyes closed in slumber, while Kestrel sat stoically beside him, her own eyes also closed; and Phoenix and Pierce sat across from each other, Pierce’s lips pursed in a frustrated sulk while Phoenix crossed her arms and distracted herself by looking out the windows.

…It’s quiet, Mark commented from his seat next to Luke, his voice low.

“Well… that trip was probably a bit much for them…” Luke replied in kind. “A run-in with the both the metallic infection, and the Bleeders… we’re lucky no one was hurt, or infected.”

Yes, that’s true… Mark nodded slowly, and then turned his attention forward as Dean Kaoné Densalin stood up at the front of the transport craft.

“…Alright,” she began, turning to face the Earthians as the exit door to her right opened outwards. “…We’ve returned to Compound Tresnon. It’s sunset already, so let’s all call it a day — and remember, you have class tomorrow.”

“…Really?” Austin questioned wearily, “even after all this?”

“Yeah, we just got back!” Sky exclaimed.

“…I know,” Kaoné responded, “but this, too, is part of being a Chaotic.”

“Yeah, yeah…” Pierce muttered dismissively as he shoved past Austin on his way to the exit. “Fuckin’ bullshit…”

“…Wow,” Sky remarked, staring at the exit that Pierce had just disappeared through. “What’s up with him?”

“Do you really need to ask?” Twy questioned incredulously. “You remember what happened yesterday, right?”

“Yeah, but why’s he so sour about it?”

“Because he lost,” Austin snidely replied. “I bet he deserved it, too.”

“Now, now, this is no time for schadenfreude,” Luke interjected, glancing to the side as Phoenix approached before turning his attention back to Austin. “Pierce did get ahead of himself… but at the same time, from what I hear, his actions — as well as those of Phoenix and Kestrel — did minimize the spread of the infection.”

“So… are we in the clear, then?” Phoenix questioned, looking up at Luke with a blank expression.

Luke looked back at her, and then at Conrad and Kestrel, who had finally moved up themselves. With a sigh, the Captain replied, “…for now, yes. But let’s see that this situation never happens again.”

“Gladly,” Conrad responded, and then yawned broadly, making no attempt to cover his mouth or quiet his voice as he did. He then nodded toward Luke before gesturing back at Kestrel. “C’mon. Let’s get out of here.”

“Mm…” Kestrel grunted in acknowledgment and followed Conrad out of the craft, pausing for only a moment to place a reassuring hand on Phoenix’s shoulder. Phoenix shook her head in response, and then, with a sigh, she followed her friends.

“Time for us to make like them,” Spike declared, grabbing his one bag and relieving Sky of hers before leading the group out of the transport craft, leaving only Luke, Mark, and Kaoné behind.

As the three began heading for the exit themselves, Luke passed Kaoné a glance. “Hell of a weekend, huh?”

“It wasn’t supposed to be…” she muttered in response.

“Sure, but that isn’t really your fault.”

Kaoné looked back at Luke, and then off to the side, as if in thought. Eventually she took a deep breath and began down the steps outside of the craft without responding further.

Luke and Mark exchanged a glance before grabbing their own bags and making for the exit as well. Once outside, the light of the setting sun fell upon them, prompting Luke to hold up his right hand to shield his eyes. As he did so, he looked down at the dusty grounds of Tresnon’s small airport; the recruits were already some distance away, on their way back to the WCU campus, but Luke also noticed that Davídrius and Selind both were standing at the bottom of the transport craft’s disembarkation stairs. Davídrius had his arms crossed, his foot tapping the ground impatiently as he eyed Kaoné on the stairs.

“Oi!” he called up to her, “Rebehka told me what happened. Is it all true?!”

“Unfortunately, yes,” Kaoné replied, finally descending to the ground with Luke and Mark just behind her. “It isn’t good.”

“I’ll fuckin’ say,” Davídrius retorted. “Bleeders, in Relédiaka? And tryin’ to do shit with the metallic infection? Ain’t none of that sounds good.”

“If you don’t mind, we’d like to hear all of the details,” Selind declared. “If the Bleeders are up to somethin’, we need to get ahead of ‘em.”

“Ah… right.” Kaoné nodded once as Davídrius began leading the trio away.

“Hey, hold up!”

“…Huh?” Davídrius stopped in his tracks and half turned around to stare at Luke, who had just called out to him. “…The hell do you want?”

“I think that should be obvious,” Luke replied, stepping up to join the Nimalian trio. “Did you seriously expect to just keep us in the dark about everything that’s goin’ on here?”

“Tch…” Davídrius scowled and crossed his arms. “So what if I did? This is our problem, not yours.”

“That’s not true,” Luke countered. “We were the ones put into danger at the WTAC campus, and it was my nephew and his friends who were with you during that Bleeder skirmish last week.”

“He’s got ya there,” Selind remarked as she elbowed Davídrius in his side.

“Look, I get that we… haven’t been as careful as we should’ve been,” Davídrius admitted. “But this is still our problem. Ain’t nothin’ you can help with.”

“I think you’d be surprised what a trained military officer can do,” Luke said, and then jerked his head toward Mark. “As well as Mark here, he’s no slouch in a fight. But, more importantly…” Luke glanced over at Kaoné. “If what you said yesterday is true, then the reason we’re here is to learn how to fight the Nanocreatures — the metallic infection. If that’s the case, then we deserve to know everything about what’s happening on that front.” He then returned his attention to Davídrius. “And if you want to keep us here, at Compound Tresnon, while you teach the ‘Keys’… then, as their official guardian, I also demand to be made privy to any security concerns. That certainly includes the Bleeders.”

“You wanna know everythin’ we know? Just like that?!” Davídrius exclaimed incredulously. “What the hell would you even—?”

“Davídrius, he has a point…” Kaoné interjected. “We’re asking a lot of the Earthians. It’s only fair that we let them know about the dangers that face them.”

“So you’re tellin’ me that ‘cause you, Kevérin, and the rest forced these Earthians down my throat, that I’m then forced to let them in on all of Tresnon’s security issues?!” Davídrius retorted.

“Oh c’mon,” Selind replied as she shook her head. “Think about it differently. If Luke here is as well trained as he says he is, then he could be a lotta help.”

“Yep.” Luke nodded. “Just hand me a sniper rifle, and I’ll show you how useful I can be.”

“And Mark over there is strong, too,” Selind commented. “I know you’ve heard as much from Karísah, Davídrius. Just face it — these are two outsiders who actually stand to help us.”

“Tch…” Davídrius snorted, passing an irate glance toward Selind before glaring at Luke and Mark. After a couple moments of silence, he averted his gaze and exhaled wearily. “…Alright. I suppose we could use some help…”

“So long as you’re up front with all of Tresnon’s security risks,” Luke replied.

“Yeah, yeah…” Davídrius sighed again before turning on his heel and marching off. “Aight then, follow me. We’ve got a lot to talk about…”

“A’ight… looks like we got everyone.”

“Of course we do,” retorted an older, tan-skinned woman, in reply to Davídrius’s statement. “Let’s get this started, already.”

“We can always count on you to be even more impatient than Davídrius!” Selind remarked with a grin.

Luke passed Selind a brief glance before looking around the small room he now found himself in. A small meeting table occupied the center of the dimly lit room, featuring just enough chairs to seat everyone present: Luke, Mark, Davídrius, Kaoné, Selind, and another woman that Davídrius had called in when the group arrived at the WCU campus. Her long black hair was tied back into a ponytail, while she wore the same kind of white, beige, and brown desert robing as Davídrius and Selind. Aside from her height — a modest 5 feet and 4 inches, putting her nearly halfway between Kaoné’s almost 5 feet and Davídrius and Selind’s 6 — the one key difference were the black gloves that fully covered her hands and wrists, whereas the gloves that both Davídrius and Selind wore were fingerless.

Based on the woman’s brief interaction with Davídrius, Luke gathered that her name was Ralak — and he knew that he had met her once before, when Karísah had given the Earthians a tour of Compound Tresnon. So he knew that Ralak was WCU’s Head of Combat, but he knew little else about her, particularly what reason Davídrius would have for including her in their meeting.

“Alright…” Davídrius began, drawing Luke out of his thoughts and to the matter at hand. “I’ll lay everythin’ out up front. We’re here to talk about the Bleeders, and what the hell they’re up to. And on that front, we got three questions to answer: one, how the hell did they get powered armor? Two, how and why the hell did they go to Relédiaka? Three, what do they know about the metallic infection, and why do they know it?”

“Sounds like five questions to me,” Selind commented cheekily.

“Now ain’t the time, Selind,” Davídrius admonished.

“Ah ha… right, sorry.”

“Uh, if you don’t mind…” Luke slowly interjected, “could you give me and Mark a quick overview of what the Bleeders are? And what they do?”

Davídrius stared at Luke for a moment. “…Right. Well. As you’ve probably figured out by now, they’re a violent gang that plagues Treséd. All over the continent, they rape, pillage, murder, and steal, all in some misguided attempt at ‘survival’.”

“Treséd is a harsh wasteland, after all,” Selind added. “For many people, turnin’ to raiding seems easier than tryin’ to live an honest life. Especially if you’re a Chaotic.”

Davídrius nodded. “Right. And since there ain’t no government here to squash ‘em, the Bleeders have basically free reign over the whole fuckin’ continent.”

Is that really all they do…? Mark questioned uneasily. They’re just… bandits?

“Yeah, but don’t underestimate ‘em,” Ralak declared, her arms crossed as she side-eyed Mark. “They’re filth, trash, and bandits, but they’re headstrong bandits who don’t know how to back down, even when they’re losin’. And they have a lot of Chaotics with ‘em.”

“Fewer now than in previous decades, thankfully,” Selind pointed out, “thanks largely to Davídrius’s efforts to reform any Bleeders who swear out of that life.”

“Wasn’t just me,” Davídrius said. “You’ve helped a lot, too, Selind. But… damn. Seemed like it was workin’. I hope we weren’t gettin’ too soft…”

“Extending a peaceful hand to your enemy isn’t soft,” Kaoné asserted. “It’s true that it doesn’t work as often as I would like… but it’s certainly better to try than to not.”


“Not to be an asshole, or anything…” Luke spoke up again, “but that attitude sounds counter to what you did in Goresan. According to what I heard from Twy and Spike, at least.”

“You’re right, because it was,” Davídrius replied. “If a Bleeder comes up to me with their hands up, askin’ to leave the gang and join Tresnon, then I’d be happy to help ‘em do so. Hell, if I ran into some random-ass Bleeders in the middle of nowhere and defeated them in a fight, and they surrendered then, then I’d at least give ‘em a chance.” His expression then darkened and a scowl developed on his face as he continued, “but after makin’ off with all the people of a Compound? And then attackin’ us so aggressively when we arrived to check the place out? That’s too far. ‘Specially after what I heard from the victim we rescued. And at the end of the day, those Bleeders we fought weren’t willin’ to surrender, anyway. They were bastards to the very end, and didn’t deserve my help.”

“Fair. How effective has rehabilitation been, though? Do you have stats?”

“Uh, well…” Davídrius rubbed the back of his neck uneasily. “Math ain’t really my thing…”

“I think at this point, there have to be a couple hundred former Bleeders here in Tresnon, alone,” Selind remarked, and then nodded toward Ralak. “Hell, she’s one.”

Ralak shifted uncomfortably, her brow furrowed. “Emphasis on ‘former’.”

Luke glanced her way, fighting to maintain a neutral expression as he looked her up and down. So she’s a former Bleeder, then… and she’s WCU’s Head of Combat? I’m not sure what to make of that. Should definitely go in my next report to the Colonel. It does explain what she’s doing here, though — an insider’s insight is always welcome at these sorts of meetings.

“With that outta the way…” Davídrius spoke up again, “let’s get to the actual topic at hand. Startin’ with the armor. Of all the Bleeders that we found in Goresan, and that attacked the Academy — they all had armor. That’s a fuckin’ lot.”

“They were Black Suns armor, too,” Kaoné said. “Rebehka was able to recover the armors from the two Bleeders that we captured. The serial numbers were wiped, both physically and from the armor’s internal memory, so we can’t trace their ownership history… but we do at least know that they’re CPA-1430 models.”

“CPA-1430…” Luke nodded. “The lowest grade model of the Black Sun’s current gen Chaos Armor line-up, right?”

“That’s right. The 1430 and 1450 both are mass-produced by the Black Suns and sold all over the galaxy. They’ve been on the market for around five years now, so the sets the Bleeders had could have come from anywhere. That leaves us with no leads…”

…Is it possible that the Black Suns have a direct hand in this? Mark questioned.

“It’s possible, yeah,” Davídrius replied, “but I don’t think it’s likely. What the hell would the Suns gain from bullyin’ a backwater wasteland like Treséd?”

“Who knows what goes through their minds,” Luke commented, and then released a deep breath. “In my experience, the Black Suns… aren’t exactly benevolent folks.”

“You’ve had experience with them?” Kaoné questioned in surprise. “I didn’t think they dealt with SERRCom.”

“It was a chance encounter. I’m not at liberty to give any details, but let’s just say that I’m not a fan.”

“Oof,” Selind remarked with a grimace, and then glanced over at Davídrius and Kaoné. “That’s awkward…”

“Don’t look at me,” Davídrius grunted. “Wasn’t my idea.”

“…What wasn’t your idea?” Luke questioned warily.

“Well, ha ha…” Kaoné laughed uneasily. “Uh, well… we Deans figured that it could be useful to expose our students to different viewpoints of Chaotic employment. To that end, we decided to start a test run of a new ‘guest instructor’ program, starting here, in WCU.”

“Always usin’ my damn campus as a test ground…” Davídrius muttered.

“I can see where this is going, and I don’t think I like it,” Luke said with a frown. “This guest instructor is from the Black Suns, aren’t they?”

“Sector 1, specifically,” Kaoné replied. “Sector 1’s reputation is stellar, especially when compared to Sectors 2 or 3. Personally, I’ve had nothing but good experiences with them.”

“Still Black Suns, though. Why weren’t we made aware of this?”

“The decision to bring him to WCU was independent of our decisions regarding you. I, uh… also didn’t expect there to be a problem…”

Mark leaned toward Luke to whisper in his ear. Commander Rabine was Sector 3, not 1. Does that matter…?

“Realistically… yes,” Luke whispered back. “The Black Suns have a sort of weird command structure. The four Sectors might as well be separate organizations. And it’s certainly true that Sector 1’s rep is better than the others. Still…” He turned back toward Kaoné and raised his voice for her to hear. “I’ll have to inform my superiors about this.”

“Yes, of course.” Kaoné nodded once. “I should perhaps also say that he’s due in tomorrow.”


“…But hey, look on the bright side!” Selind interjected. “With an actual Black Suns person here, we could ask ‘im directly about these armors we got! Maybe he’ll know how to trace ‘em back to the original owners, so we can figure out how the hell the Bleeders got their hands on ‘em.”

“Maybe, but I know those PMC types. They ain’t gonna blab about company secrets,” Davídrius refuted, and then glanced over at Ralak. “Do you have an insight on this? Any idea how the Bleeders got their hands on this armor?”

Ralak grunted, her eyes closed in thought. “…Bleeders usually scavenge around the dumpin’ grounds on the north and east coasts,” she eventually stated. “Usually it’s just trash. But sometimes, some idiots from Tekdecé or Nimaliaka dump somethin’ useful. That’s how Bleeders usually get advanced tech.” She then frowned and passed Davídrius a doubtful glance. “A dozen sets of workin’ current gen armor, though… that’s a stretch. Never seen a find like that.”

Sorry… dumping grounds? Mark questioned.

“Some folks on Nimalia take the word ‘wasteland’ a little too seriously,” Davídrius replied. “People from Tekdecé, the Nimaliakas, and Relédiaka will dump trash on our coasts. It’s fuckin’ nasty.”

“I’d say that the bright side is it sometimes gives us access to advanced tech we wouldn’t be able to get ourselves…” Selind remarked. “Like my rifle, I picked that up from the dumpin’ grounds. But…”

“But it would be ideal if the dumping grounds didn’t exist in the first place…” Kaoné finished with a sigh.

“Aren’t you a Materiatechnic?” Luke asked, “can’t you just clean it up?”

“Technically, yes. But covering thousands of kilometers of coastline is too much for one person. Besides, simply getting rid of the trash won’t solve the root cause, which is the people who put it there in the first place.”

“Fair point.”

“Tch…” Davídrius shook his head. “We’re gettin’ off topic. Back to the Bleeders. So… we don’t have any idea how they got those armors, huh? Fuckin’ great. Well, what about the Relédiaka attack?” He looked over at Kaoné. “What do we know about that?”

“The two attackers that we captured are still under investigation,” Kaoné replied. “They haven’t spoken since the initial questioning, and I wasn’t there for that…”

“We were, though,” Luke declared, gesturing at himself and Mark before continuing, “they claimed to be Bleeders, and that someone had sent them to ‘blow up cages’. Based on the way they were talking, I don’t think they knew much about the metallic infection — but whoever sent them definitely did.”

“That the Academy studies the infection isn’t exactly secret information,” Kaoné mused, “but it isn’t common knowledge, either. How could the Bleeders have heard about it?”

“Seems clear to me that they’ve got their hands on more advanced tech and info than we’ve ever seen ‘em with,” Davídrius said. “Don’t know how, don’t know why. Given Ralak’s comments, they probably got a supplier — that would explain how they knew about the Academy, at least. But who would supply the Bleeders…?”

Selind glanced over at Ralak. “Any ideas?”

“I left the Bleeders years ago,” Ralak replied crossly. “I got no idea what the hell they’re plannin’. Though…” She passed Davídrius an uneasy glance. “This level of organization from the Bleeders… it ain’t common. The last time I saw it was twenty years ago…”

“Twenty years?” Davídrius echoed, only for his expression to then collapse into a scowl. “You mean that fucker Strén?”

“Crass as he was, the Bleeders were never more organized than when he was in control.”

“Maybe, but that asshole’s dead.” Davídrius looked over at Kaoné. “Y’all made sure of that.”

“Uh, I wasn’t there for it,” Kaoné quickly refuted. “It was Kevérin and Siyuakén who fought him, and Siyuakén knocked herself out in the process. Kevérin was the one who verified that Strén was dead.”

Davídrius nodded. “That’s enough. Doubt you can come back from a flame bath, ha!” He then frowned. “Still… Ralak, are you tryin’ to say that the one leadin’ the Bleeders now was one of Strén’s followers, or somethin’?”

Ralak shook her head. “No idea. It was just a suggestion.”

“Who’s Strén?” Luke questioned, “I know you said that he’s dead, but he sounds important.”

“’Important’ ‘cause of how much of a fucking psychopathic asshole he was,” Davídrius replied, his expression growing foul. “Li’l over twenty years ago, that bastard took over the Bleeders. They got a lot nastier under him, and more effective, too. Plenty of folks died to the Bleeders while he was in charge… or worse. And he definitely got a kick outta tormentin’ the people of Treséd. I tried to stop him, over an’ over, but… …well, I never personally beat him, but at least he’s dead.”

“Before Strén, the Bleeders were just a bunch of different groups that used the same name,” Ralak explained. “They’ve basically reverted back to that — present situation excluded — but under him, they acted like one big group. His presence really was on another level, despite bein’ a torture-lovin’ psychopath. Or maybe because he was a torture-lovin’ psychopath…”

“You say that like you were there,” Luke commented warily.

Ralak’s expression clouded. “…’Cause I was. Took me a few years even after Strén’s death to realize just how fucked up the Bleeder lifestyle was, and leave it behind… but because I was there, I know how Bleeders think, and why they’re drawn to people like Strén. Every few generations, someone comes along and ‘proves’ that you can do whatever you want if you’re stronger than everyone else, and the average Bleeder eats that up. They’re more than willin’ to listen to someone like Strén if it means they get all the food, drink, and pleasure that they want.”

But that’s so… basic, Mark said with a frown. Is that really all that drives them…?

“You don’t know the average Bleeder like I do,” Ralak countered bitterly. “Bleeders have simple wants. Hell, that’s what makes ‘em dangerous — they know what they want, they know how they wanna get it, and they don’t take ‘no’ for an answer.” She then glanced over at Davídrius and Selind. “Anyways. If the Bleeders got someone like Strén leadin’ ‘em now, then it’d explain why they’re so organized.”

“Fuckin’… I can’t believe we’re dealin’ with this, again…” Davídrius commented with a scowl. “At least we caught on to the Bleeders early, this time. Relatively early, anyways… actually, hold on. Back when I was at Goresan, the lone survivor said somethin’ about the Bleeders havin’ a powerful new Chaotic with ‘em. Someone named ‘Feral’, who can cause explosions, and apparently led the attack on Goresan… Ralak, you ever heard of someone named Feral?”

“No. Definitely sounds like a title that the Bleeders would give to one of their own, though.”

“Damn. Well, this Feral person might be the new leader we’re lookin’ for. The question then, is why are they doin’ this? Why are they tryin’ to ramp up Bleeder activity? Are they really just a Strén copy-cat?”

“Well, knowing the motivations of the Bleeders we captured might help figure that out,” Luke suggested. “The ones in Relédiaka seemed to be angry about ‘outsiders’. Their ranting wasn’t totally coherent, they kinda seemed to contradict themselves here and there…”

“To be expected from the low-level grunts,” Davídrius snorted.

“Maybe, but they seemed to have an issue with WCU, and with someone they called ‘Sentry’ — which I can only assume means you,” Luke replied. “They seemed mad at you for ‘accepting outsider help’.” …And also for accepting Austin and his friends into your school, the Captain mentally added, though telling him that couldn’t possibly help, here…

“It would figure…” Davídrius shook his head in disbelief. “The Bleeders were always xenophobic assholes.”

“I dunno, Davídrius,” Selind remarked, “you talk down to outsiders a lot to be sayin’ that about others.”

“Bah… I only talk down to the ignorant ones. Bleeders don’t even give outsiders a chance.”

“Davídrius is right,” Ralak asserted. “Back when he first founded this school, the fact that he had help from his outsider friend was enough for the Bleeders to call him a sell out.”

“They sure wouldn’t say that if they actually met Christeané,” Davídrius commented. “If anythin’, he held me back more than he actually helped.”

“Oh come on, you don’t mean that,” Kaoné replied, “Christeané can be a bit laissez-faire at times, but he does help.”

“I think he’s a pretty good guy,” Selind said. “We could use more folks like him.”

“Yes, yes… back on topic,” Davídrius insisted, and then looked over at Luke. “The Bleeders we ran into at Goresan said the same stuff as what you’re sayin’ the two in Relédiaka did. So whoever is leadin’ the Bleeders now, ‘fuck the outsiders’ seems to be their rallyin’ cry.”

“Hmm… so, to lay out what we know…” Selind leaned forward, placing her elbows on the table as she held out her left hand and began counting on her fingers. “One, someone new seems to be leadin’ the Bleeders, possibly this Feral person Davídrius talked about. Two, they all hate outsiders. Go figure. Three, they somehow got fancy Black Suns armor. Four, they somehow know about that infection stuff over in Relédiaka.” She glanced around the room. “Am I missin’ somethin’?”

“That does sound like all we know, for now…” Kaoné mused.

“Seems a little hypocritical of them,” Luke pointed out. “They hate outsiders, but they’re clearly getting supplies and information from one, right?”

“Just ‘cause the grunts hate outsiders doesn’t mean the leaders ain’t dealin’ with ‘em,” Ralak refuted. “In the Bleeders, might makes right. If the guy on top is strong enough, ain’t no one gonna question how he managed to pull advanced tech or info out of his ass.”

“Is that so…”

“Still, with it all laid out like that, we do at least got some kinda lead,” Davídrius commented. “The Bleeders have, or at one time did have contact with someone outside Treséd. The armors and their knowledge about the Academy is evidence of that. So now we just gotta find a way to watch Treséd’s borders, see if anyone suspicious comes through or leaves…”

“Easier said than done,” Selind pointed out. “Watching who comes and leaves from Tresnon alone is hard enough, and we have walls! And you want to watch the whole damn continent?!”

“Obviously we can’t keep permanent watch for that,” Davídrius countered, “but we gotta keep an eye out, anyways. If we let the other Compounds know about the increased Bleeder threat, then they’ll know to look out for suspicious activity, too.”

“So you do admit that the threat is greater than you expected, then?” Luke questioned.

Davídrius adopted a pained expression. “…Yeah,” he eventually admitted, “but Tresnon itself still ain’t at risk, I promise you that. The defenses are too tough.”

“I can give you a more thorough walk-through, if it’ll put your mind at ease,” Selind remarked, and then smirked at Luke. “Maybe you can show me if your skill with a rifle matches what you know about ‘em while we’re at it.”

“I’ll take you up on that tour… but I gotta say, I’m not thrilled about what’s goin’ on here,” Luke stated. “Not to sound insensitive, but I have to look out for the recruits.”

“And I have to look out for my whole damn school,” Davídrius countered, crossing his arms as he stared back at Luke. “If I thought Tresnon was in danger, I wouldn’t be keepin’ all the students around!”

Several counterarguments flew through Luke’s mind in that moment — particularly, he didn’t think that Davídrius’s argument was sound, as the Tresédian students didn’t have as many evacuation options as the Earthian Chaotics. The Bleeders seemed to be a threat to all of Treséd, after all, and the rest of Nimalia seemed unwilling to take in Tresédian refugees — why else would the situation on the continent be so dire? Nonetheless, Luke quickly determined that using such harsh truths against Davídrius would only further sour his already unfavorable opinion of the Earthians, and thus he decided to keep his mouth shut. Things should be fine, for now he thought to himself, but if they get worse, then I really will have to talk to the Colonel about this arrangement. As for what I can do about it now“…That may be,” Luke eventually replied, “but given the situation, I’d like to requisition my gear from SERRCom.”

“Huh?” Selind looked at him cluelessly. “You say that like it’s a problem.”

“When I was first preparing for this trip, I was told to leave my military gear behind, so as to not leave a bad impression on the Nimalians… well, on you.” Luke then eyed Davídrius. “I hope you don’t think that’ll be a problem.”

“Ah ha ha ha ha…” Kaoné laughed nervously. “Well, typically, even NSD officers need permission to carry their gear around in public, and even then, it’s only allowed in specific scenarios. That’s why you were advised to leave your gear behind. But, uh, given where we are, I suppose that restriction can be waived…”

“Always thought that concern was silly, anyways,” Davídrius declared. “Ain’t no one ‘round here gonna be afraid of a gun, or a man in armor.”

“Access to modern military tech can only be a good thing, I say!” Selind remarked.

“Well, hold on now,” Luke quickly interjected, “I don’t think I can swing a whole arms shipment, I just wanted my own rifle and armor—“

“Yeah, yeah, I know, I know. Still, even just getting to look at the one rifle would be a dream come true!”

“Seriously, Selind?” Ralak commented with a scowl. “Stop actin’ like a star-struck maiden. You’re the Head of Defense here, clean up your act.”

“Oh, Ralak, Ralak, Ralak…” Selind shook her head and sighed. “Always so stiff…”

“Tch. And how do you think I feel, havin’ to leave the Compound’s safety to you?” Davídrius remarked.

“You say that, but you know I’m good at what I do,” Selind replied, and then winked at Davídrius. “Don’t worry, I’ll keep Tresnon safe while you’re gone next week!”

“Urgh…” the Dean groaned. “Don’t remind me. What fuckin’ timing…”

Uh, what’s this about? Mark questioned, what’s happening next week?

“Oh… sorry, I really meant to tell you earlier,” Kaoné spoke up with a sheepish smile. “Things have been a little busy… anyways, in about a week, the upperclassmen of WCU will be leaving on a field trip. We’ll be gone for the first six days of Aldredath.”

“We’re goin’ to Sikalia this year,” Davídrius explained, “a Tier 2 world, here in the Nimalian Union. Haven’t been able to arrange an off-world trip like this for a couple years, now… still, I don’t like the thought of bein’ away from Tresnon for almost a week, in these circumstances…”

“So you’re going to be gone?” Luke questioned, “what about us?”

“You’ll be coming with,” Kaoné declared. “Archoné Culana has already filed the paperwork, so you and the Keys should be free to come along without issue.”

Keys…? Mark echoed in confusion.

“Ah ha…” Kaoné laughed sheepishly. “Well, I was just thinking that it would be kind of awkward to refer to you as, uh, ‘you Earthians’ or something like that, and we can’t really call your Chaotics ‘recruits’ since that’s basically everyone here. Archoné Culana called them ‘Keys’, so… I thought I’d just do the same.”

“You’re givin’ that idiot too much credit,” Davídrius muttered.

“Ha… maybe. But do you have a better idea?”

“It’ll have to do, for now,” Luke commented, and then smirked. “I somehow doubt either of Austin or Pierce would have much issue with it, at least.”

“And now we’re even more off topic than we were before…” Ralak grumbled. “Are we done here?”

“Tch… right, of course.” Davídrius glanced over at Ralak, and then at everyone else in the room. “…I don’t think we got much else to talk about, here. We covered the Bleeders… Selind, like I said earlier, make sure all the other Compounds know to look out for Bleeder contact with the rest of the world.”

“Aye aye, sir!” Selind replied with a playful salute.

Ralak shook her head disapprovingly. “And you’re supposed to be the oldest one here…” she commented.

“Ha ha!” Selind smirked. “You could stand to learn more from your elders, Ralak.”

“Save the spats for when I ain’t around,” Davídrius cut in, and then stood up. “Anyways, we covered everythin’.” He passed Luke a glance. “You happy?”

“As much as I can be, given the circumstances,” Luke replied. “Thanks for trusting us with this info.”

We’ll help you against the Bleeders however we can, Mark added.

“Good.” Davídrius nodded. “Whatever the hell they’re plannin’, we’ll be there to stop it. But that’s a problem for future us, so for right now, let’s call it day.” He then turned to leave as everyone else followed suit. “I’ll see y’all tomorrow.”