Chapter 49 – Lessons From Old Blood
The Next Day
“Alright, finally! Back to some outside lessons!”
“You seem excited,” Conrad deadpanned as he passed Pierce a blank glance.
“Of course I am,” Pierce replied, “we spent the entirety of last week inside, aside from some basic core and strength training. Sure, some of what we learned was useful, but there’s only so much you can learn about being a Chaotic while just sitting around!”
From a short distance away, Austin eyed Pierce uneasily, and then turned to quickly survey the group’s surroundings. Once again, the Earthian Chaotics stood upon the practice fields of WCU, waiting in the morning sunlight for another day of classes. Overall, the atmosphere was similar to when they had been learning from Davídrius two weeks ago, but Austin knew there was one key difference today.
“…Aren’t we learnin’ from Ralak, today, though?” he questioned out loud, drawing everyone’s attention.
“Ralak… she’s the Head of Combat or something, right?” Sky said.
“We’ve met her before,” Phoenix remarked. “Is there something wrong?”
“Well, yeah,” Austin insisted. “I heard that she’s a former Bleeder…”
Pierce audibly scoffed in response. “So what?”
“So what?!” Austin echoed incredulously, “have you not been payin’ attention to what the Bleeders have been doin’ lately?!”
“Sure, but Ralak isn’t one of them. She’s a former Bleeder. You said so yourself.”
“Doesn’t that concern you, though? If she used to be with the Bleeders—“
“So fucking what? She isn’t now. People can change, you know.”
Austin stared at Pierce, at a loss for a response. If people can change, then maybe you should, too, he thought irately. Before he could think of anything to actually say, however, the sound of approaching footsteps drew everyone’s attention away. In front of the group soon appeared Kaoné, along with a second woman with a stern expression, sporting long black hair tied back in a ponytail, black gloves, and the same white, beige, and brown desert robing that was commonly seen around Compound Tresnon.
“I see everyone is here. Good,” Kaoné remarked, stopping in front of the Keys as the woman stepped up next to her. “Now… as I told you all yesterday, today’s lesson will be a practical one, focused on training your abilities for potential combat usage. And to that end, I managed to convince WCU’s Head of Combat to teach you all!”
“Ralak, right?” Phoenix questioned, turning toward the second woman.
“That’s right.” Ralak nodded. She then swept her gaze over the group, as if giving them a brief visual assessment. Austin couldn’t help but shift uneasily and avert his attention when her eyes fell on him; he had no idea if she noticed his unease, but if she did, she said nothing about it.
“So we’ll be learning from you, rather than Kaoné, huh?” Conrad asked, breaking the brief silence.
“That’s the plan,” Kaoné replied. “While I do have combat experience, myself, Ralak is much more skilled in teaching this subject matter.”
“No need to oversell my skills…” Ralak muttered.
“You’re still the Head of Combat, though,” Pierce pointed out with an eager grin. “If you’re here, then I bet we’re finally going to learn some advanced techniques today, huh?”
“Don’t get ahead of yourself,” Ralak countered. “Y’all’s Chaotic abilities are all too different for me to teach the eight of y’all any kind of ‘advanced technique’ as a group.”
“…So more basic training, then?” Spike questioned.
“If you’d let me talk, I’ll tell you what you’ll be learnin’.” Ralak glanced impatiently between Pierce and Spike, filling the air with a brief moment of silence. She then looked back at Kaoné, who offered only a sheepish smile — to which Ralak’s already stoic expression responded by growing sullen. Eventually, she turned back to the Earthians and continued, “…alright. From what I hear… the eight of y’all are surprisin’ly good at handlin’ yourselves in a fight. For novice Chaotics, that is,” she quickly appended as Pierce began to open his mouth. After staring him down for a second, Ralak began again. “However… it’s time for y’all to learn some control. So today, I’ll be teachin’ you how to effectively attack.”
“What does that mean?” Sky questioned.
“There’s two parts to that,” Ralak replied. “First one applies to you especially, as a Pyrotechnic. You fire types tend to attack with big sweepin’ flames and flashy shows of power, but that’s a waste — worse, it can even give your opponents cover.”
“Yes, a waste. And this goes for all of the rest of y’all, as well,” Ralak insisted as she swept her gaze across the group again. “Big sweepin’ attacks are easy, and they can have their uses. But usually, they’re just a waste of energy, and can leave you open to attack. Anythin’ that causes you to lose sight of your opponent can leave you open to attack, after all, and sweepin’ flames or waves of water tend to do exactly that.”
“Yeah, but the whole point of the waves of flames stuff is to take out the other guy before they can get me!” Sky argued.
Ralak shook her head in response. “That can be useful against groups, or even against a single target, if you know what you’re doin’. But many Chaotics have ways to block or evade attacks; you should never count on bein’ able to end a fight in a single blow. Not as a novice. You always need to think about how your opponent will respond to you, and it’s hard to do that if you can’t see ‘em because your own flames are in the way.”
“…I guess…” Sky muttered dejectedly.
“This doesn’t really apply to me, though,” Pierce remarked dismissively. “I only have my body. It’s not possible to do ‘big sweeping attacks’.”
“And that’s where you’re wrong,” Ralak countered. “It’s easy for Introtechnics like you to over-commit to an attack. A sweepin’ kick or an overly forceful punch can leave you just as open as a Pyrotechnic throwin’ out waves of flames.”
“So? With my superspeed, any openings I leave won’t be open long enough for an enemy to take advantage of them.”
“You’d be surprised — Velocitechnics often think they’re movin’ faster than they really are. And if you ever fight another Velocitechnic, then they’d definitely be able to take advantage of any openin’ you give ‘em, so it’s best to practice never leavin’ openin’s at all so it becomes habit.” She slowly swept her gaze across the group once more, pausing for just a second to let her words sink in before continuing, “the answer to all of this is smaller, targeted attacks. Don’t use waves of flames; use a fireball. Don’t use waves of water; use a jet. And in your case,” Ralak glanced toward Pierce, “don’t use roundhouse kicks or anythin’ of the like.”
“Davídrius uses those kinds of kicks all the time,” Pierce shot back.
Ralak sighed in frustration. “And I’ve been tryin’ to change that for years…”
“He is self-taught,” Kaoné pointed out. “It’s hard to break a habit you’ve had for 20 or 30 years.”
“Doesn’t change that it’s a bad habit,” Ralak countered. “He’s at least learned not to do that against other Velocitechnics, for the most part…”
“Even the teacher needs teaching, huh?” Twy observed.
“There’s a reason I’m the Head of Combat, and not him,” Ralak declared. “But we’re gettin’ off-topic. Before we get to actually practicin’ focused attacks, there’s one more thing I wanted to teach today. After all…” Her gaze drifted toward Pierce, Phoenix, and Kestrel as she continued, “I heard some of y’all actually fought other Chaotics last weekend.”
Pierce scowled. “So what?”
“So it’s important that you keep one other thing in mind, for if you ever fight other Chaotics again,” Ralak insisted. “When you fight a Chaotic, it’s very important to keep their ability in mind when makin’ your own attacks. Not all Chaotic match-ups are equal. For example… I’m an Imperator Psychotechnic, which means that I can directly control anythin’ that touches my skin.”
Wait, really? Austin mused, she’s an Imperator, too? I wonder if I could learn anything from her…
“And… Spike, over there,” Ralak continued, gesturing briefly at Spike before placing her hands on her hips. “With superstrength, typically, if you can get your hands on your opponent, then it’s over. You win. But against someone like me, it ain’t so clear cut.” She then held up her right arm, showing the exposed skin on her upper forearm. “All I have to do is block one of your punches with my bare skin, and I can immediately seize control of your body before the force of your punch even goes through. If that happens, I win, because you’re at the mercy of my control.”
“Makes sense,” Spike replied. “In that case, I’d just have to target the clothed parts of your body, right?”
“Exactly, while bein’ careful that you never once touch my skin, or hair.”
“Sounds like Imperator Psychotechnics should just be naked all the time,” Conrad quipped.
An annoyed expression crossed Ralak’s face. “…There are some Imperators that do that,” she eventually responded, “…and it is very effective against material attacks. No Materiatechnic or Introtechnic could touch you, not directly. But you wouldn’t have any defense against a Pyrotechnic’s flames, or an Electrotechnic’s lightning. For some Chaotic types, fightin’ nude can work pretty well… but only in certain match-ups. You can’t count on it.”
“Basically, the only real defense is to remain adaptable?” Twy asked.
“Yes, that’s it exactly,” Ralak declared. “Pay attention to what your opponent can do, and adapt to it, while keepin’ in mind that they’re certainly adaptin’ to whatever you can do, too.”
“This is starting to sound a lot like one of Sensei Roshu’s lessons,” Sky muttered.
“That’s because this is basic fightin’ stuff,” Spike remarked. “If you’re predictable, you lose.”
“And I appreciate the lesson,” Phoenix commented, “but I’m not sure how we’re supposed to practice that. Are we supposed to fight each other?”
“No. Not yet,” Ralak refuted. “Your adaptability trainin’ won’t start today; I just talked about the topic now to introduce y’all to it early, and get you thinkin’ about it.”
“Then what are we doing today?” Pierce questioned impatiently.
“Focused attack trainin’, the first thing I said,” Ralak replied, and then made a gesture toward Kaoné, who promptly created a dozen practice dummies out of thin air, spread out across the practice field. “Using these target dummies,” Ralak explained, “we’ll practice doin’ targeted attacks. Now everyone spread out, and find your own target. We’ll get started on my mark.”
Alright… steady does it…
Brow furrowed and body tense, Austin focused intently on his claymore, and on moving it through the air — without touching it — toward the training dummy in front of him. The weapon moved slowly, yet steadily under Austin’s influence, though it remained eerily upright as it floated through the air. A second later, Austin judged that the blade was close enough to take a swing at the dummy; he proceeded to psychically rotate the blade to slash through the dummy, and scowled when he reflexively leaned forward in nearly the same motion. Damn it… why is this so hard?
He then looked up at the dummy, and the thin gash he had managed to sweep across it with his sword. A small sigh of relief escaped his lips as his mouth began to turn up into a smile, only for him to stop and scowl as he spotted Pierce practicing not far over. The Velocitechnic was easily and rapidly slashing through training dummy after training dummy with his energy chain weapon, destroying a dozen dummies on his own and slicing each of them to tiny pieces in the mere blink of an eye. Compared to Austin’s dismal display, Pierce’s level of ability seemed to be leagues ahead.
…Meh, he’s missing the point of today’s practice, anyways, Austin told himself, we’re supposed to be practicing focused attacks, but he’s just doing the same old sweeping blows as ever. If I’m patient, and practice properly, then I’ll pull ahead of him eventually… aw, shit…!
Austin quickly diverted his gaze, having just locked eyes with Pierce. He quickly summoned his sword back to himself and attempted to focus on training again, hoping that Pierce hadn’t noticed that he had been watching.
“Heh. Jealous, dweeb?”
“…Ngh…” Austin groaned as Pierce smirked at him, having just approached. Of course he’d notice me watching… Austin thought bitterly, his claymore freezing in the air a meter away as he turned toward Pierce to respond to his taunt. “You’d like to think that, wouldn’t you.”
“Well how else am I supposed to interpret someone like you watching my training?” Pierce replied as he dismissed his weapon and crossed his arms. He then glanced toward the dummy standing in front of Austin, and the lone, shallow gash across it. “…Figures you’d only be able to do this much.”
“Fuckin’…” Austin growled in irritation. “Don’t you have your own trainin’ to do?”
“I just finished,” Pierce replied haughtily. “I destroyed so many dummies that Kaoné had to make another 30, just for me. This ‘focus training’ is a cinch. Looks like you’re having a hard time, though, huh?”
“It’s not my fault that my powers are less intuitive than yours!”
“Oh please. It’s still been almost three months since we all got our powers. I’d think you’d be better than this by now,” Pierce countered as he gestured toward Austin’s claymore, which in that moment clattered to the ground. “…But, hey,” Pierce continued, “if you really need help, then I can offer tips. I am done with my own training, after all.”
“Tch…” Austin scowled, refusing to pass his blade so much as a glance as he dismissed it from afar, causing it to disappear into thin air. “You really are king of talkin’ out of your ass, aren’t you?”
“This isn’t the first time I’ve heard this kind of criticism, and I’m sure it won’t be the last,” Pierce replied with a roll of his eyes. “Maybe if you focused on your own training, instead of on being mad at me, then you’d be better by now.”
“Oh, c’mon! I have to split my training between two different abilities, you know! I’ve got a pretty good hang on my Simulator powers, too, now that I think about it. Hell, with that alone, I could do literally everything you can do!”
Pierce’s smirk deepened into a dangerous grin. “Ha! I’d like to see you try, dweeb!”
“You…!” Austin’s lip curled, and he began to crouch down, as if to lunge — but before he could, he felt a hand on his shoulder. Startled, he jumped away, spinning around as he did to find Ralak standing nearby.
“…We’re trainin’ against target dummies today,” she declared as she fixed Austin and Pierce both with a level stare. “Y’all ain’t ready for sparrin’. Not against each other.”
“Ha!” Pierce snorted. “What, because I’d just wipe the floor with him?”
“I’d like to see you keep up that grin when you’re face-first on the ground,” Austin snapped back.
“This attitude is exactly why you two ain’t ready for sparrin’,” Ralak interjected, stepping forward as she did to physically separate Austin and Pierce. “Today, we’re doin’ focus trainin’, and that does not involve fightin’ each other. Do y’all understand me?”
Austin and Pierce exchanged an irate glance before turning away from each other in a huff. Pierce then waved Ralak off as he began walking away. “Yeah, yeah, whatever…”
“What an asshole…” Austin muttered under his breath, at which point he glanced back at Ralak with a sheepish smile. “Sorry about that…”
“Rivalries are common among Chaotics,” Ralak replied, “but watch yourself. Don’t let yourself lose control. That can lead to nasty things.”
“Like goin’ berserk?”
“That’s one of ‘em.” Ralak then looked at the training dummy that Austin had been using. While the gash across it was shallow, it was nonetheless an incredibly clean cut. “…Those weapons y’all have are sharp.”
“Yeah…” Austin summoned his claymore again and closely inspected the blade, noting that the metal surface was completely devoid of imperfections, and certainly appeared to be razor sharp. He tentatively held one of his fingers up to the blade, paused for a moment, and then thought better about testing its sharpness on his own body. “…Well, thanks for breakin’ that up, I guess,” he eventually commented as he turned back to Ralak. “Guess I’ll get back to training, then…”
“You’re an Imperator, right?”
“Huh…? Uh, yeah. And a Simulator.”
“I’m not too familiar with Simulators…” Ralak said, “but as an Imperator myself, I got some advice. You’re on the right track, tryin’ to use your sword to attack at range, but it looks like you’re runnin’ up against the biggest hurdle an Imperator will hit. Do you know what I’m talkin’ about?”
“I think so… are you talkin’ about how it’s hard to control other stuff without accidentally moving my body in the same way?”
Ralak nodded. “Yes. It’s the main difference between Imperator and Manipulator Psychotechnics. Manipulators control things from afar as though they were movin’ the object around with their own hands, but for us Imperators… when we take control of an object, it’s like we become that object.”
“When you take control of somethin’, and move it around, it’s like you’re movin’ your own body. Just, the movement happens to the object instead.” She frowned and scratched her head. “…Little hard to explain, I guess. But that’s why it’s hard to move the object and not yourself, ‘cause to your mind, it’s the same thing.”
“Yeah, but it’s somthin’ you have to deal with.”
“Sure, but how? It sounds like you’re saying that I have to figure out how to move my body, without actually movin’ my body.”
“Well, that’s because I am. It’s hard, but it’s possible.”
“Seriously?! I find that hard to believe…”
Ralak shook her head in response. “Bring that sword of yours back, and I’ll show you.”
“Okay…” Austin held out his right hand, into which his blue and golden claymore again appeared. Ralak then extended her own hand toward him, prompting him to pass her the sword. Once in her possession, she grasped the hilt with her gloved left hand and gingerly tapped the flat of the blade against her exposed right forearm, at which point she released the weapon, allowing it to float suspended in the air. She took one step backward, placed her hands on her hips, and then began to spin the sword around and move it in circles around the training dummy — all while her body remained still, her hands on her hips the whole time.
“…It’s tricky, at first,” she stated while she continued to psychically move the sword through the air, “but you have to learn how to separate your mind and body, but not so much that you stop movin’ your real body at all.” She then turned to face Austin and crossed her arms, all while still flying Austin’s sword through the air. “I ain’t sayin’ that it’s easy, it took me a while to figure it out. But that’s where you should start.”
“Well that isn’t a tall order at all,” Austin muttered. “How the hell am I supposed to separate my mind and body, without actually separating my mind and body?!”
“You ever have an out of body experience?”
“What? No. Always thought that stuff was silly…”
“Hmph…” Ralak grunted as Austin’s sword flew into her hands, hilt-first. She grasped the sword and glanced back at Austin. “Maybe if you have one, you’ll understand.”
Austin regarded Ralak with a doubtful expression, but couldn’t come up with any kind of verbal response. She was a skilled Imperator Psychotechnic, after all, so she was certainly an authority on the matter — and yet Austin couldn’t help but find her advice confusing.
“Anyways…” Ralak tapped the claymore against her forearm again and then continued idly spinning it in the air as she continued, “even figurin’ out the mind-body separation is only a first step. Once you figure out how to flip a rock without doin’ a somersault yourself, then you have to move on to figurin’ out how to control other people. I can tell you now that usin’ your Imperator abilities on somethin’ with an actual body, with the same number of limbs and general shape as you, is much much harder than controllin’ a rock or a sword.”
“If you say so…” Austin sighed wearily. “…Man, why is this so hard? And you said that this Imperator stuff is similar to some ‘Manipulator’ type, too, right? Why are those even different? And why do I have the hard one…”
“Imperators and Manipulators can both control other objects and people with psychic force, but there’s a difference,” Ralak insisted. “Manipulators have it easier, but Imperators have much better control. An Imperator controllin’ another person can make that person say or do literally anythin’ that the Imperator’s own body can do. A Manipulator, meanwhile, can only manhandle them from a distance. Not to mention the fact that a Manipulator’s force can be overcome through sheer strength, but an Imperator’s control can’t be stopped at all.”
Ralak responded with silence, instead focusing again on Austin’s sword as it zipped over to her hands. Once again in her gloved grasp, she extended her left hand toward Austin, holding the hilt of his sword toward him. “Here.”
Austin accepted his sword back, though as he did, his gaze lingered on Ralak’s gloves. “…Why the gloves?” he eventually questioned, “for an Imperator to control something, it has to touch our bare skin, right? Wouldn’t it be easier for you to do that if your hands were, you know, exposed?”
Ralak’s previously neutral expression rapidly collapsed into a scowl, though she turned away before Austin could see much of it. “You’re right that it’d be easier,” she replied, her voice strained. “…That’s exactly why I wear gloves.”
Confusion crossed Austin’s features as he looked away from Ralak. Looks like I hit a button, but… why? I don’t get it…
“…It figures you wouldn’t get it.”
“Wh-what?” Austin snapped his attention back to Ralak, finding that she had half-turned back to look at him through the corner of her eyes. Could she tell I was confused just by looking at me? I’m not THAT transparent, am I? “…U-uh,” he eventually stammered out, switching gears back to the conversation at hand. “I just, uh…”
Ralak shook her head. “…Once you’ve spent more time here, you’ll get it. Though, the fact that you don’t already…” She looked upward, at the empty blue skies above. “…Guess you’re a better person than I was, at your age…”
An uneasy silence filled the air, with Austin unable to come up with anything to dispel it. He simply stood idly by, fidgeting uncomfortably until Ralak cleared her throat and turned away.
“…Sorry about that,” she muttered. “Ignore what I just said. But remember my advice. Consider that your ‘focus’ for today’s focus trainin’.”
“Uh, right!” Austin replied uneasily, but Ralk was already leaving as he did. He stared after her in uneasy confusion before turning his attention back to the training dummy in front of him, and his sword in his hands. …So I have to figure out how to dissociate my mind from my body, somehow, he mused, and then frowned. How the hell do I even do that? Ugh… guess all I can do is keep doing what I WAS doing, before I was so rudely interrupted…
As Austin once again began to focus on his sword and moving it through the air, Twy eyed him from across the practice field. Her gaze lingered for a moment before switching over to Ralak and Kaoné — who both wandered the practice field to offer advice every now and then — and then down to a bubble of water that she held in her hands. With a small sigh, she returned her attention to the training dummy standing in front of her, and the small holes poked through its patchwork face. During the morning’s focus training, she had been practicing a technique she had thought up some time ago, wherein she would shoot out a small jet of water at high speed and puncture her target, not unlike a bullet. When she first attempted it a couple days ago, her aim had been off, and she had had a difficult time controlling the water jet’s speed — but today, she was having an easier time of it than ever. Every single jet she had fired off had punctured the dummy’s head, exactly as she had intended.
“Why is it so easy, today…?” Twy muttered under her breath, “this level of control would’ve been useful last weekend…”
At the thought of the events that had transpired in Relédiaka, Twy snuck another glance toward Austin — only to jump in surprise when she spotted Sky standing just behind her.
“S-Sky!” Twy stuttered out, accompanied by the splattering sound of her water bubble hitting the ground. “D-don’t sneak up on me like that!”
“Surprised to see me, huh?” Sky replied with a knowing smirk. “Expected to see someone else?”
“I-I don’t know what you’re talking about,” Twy huffed as she pulled the water out of the ground and back to her hands. She then turned her back on Sky to face the training dummy once more. “Anyways, we’re training right now. Don’t distract me.”
“Distract you from what, though, eh?” Sky stepped forward and threw her arm around Twy’s shoulder. “For someone so hard at work, you sure are lookin’ away a lot.”
“…So…?” Twy muttered, her gaze pointedly averted from Sky’s. “Everyone needs breaks every now and then…”
“Oh, c’mon, sis! Just admit it!” Sky poked her sister in the cheek while wearing a cheeky grin herself. “You’re lookin’ at Austin, aren’t ya?”
“I—!” Twy’s face flushed red; she then brushed Sky off as she retorted, “I, I was just concerned, that’s all. Ralak was talking to him, for some reason…”
“Oh, yeah, sure. It’s because of Ralak. Right.”
“What’s your point? Did you just come over here to get on my nerves?”
“I think the fact that I am getting on your nerves is pretty telling!”
Twy responded only by staring at Sky with a furrowed brow. Eventually she shook her head and sighed in resignation. “You are… insufferable.”
“And you love me for it!” Sky replied with a grin and and finger guns pointed at her sister.
“Well, I guess we should get back to training, then, huh?” Sky remarked, and began to turn away.
“Hmm?” Sky stopped a couple steps away from Twy and turned back to face her. “What’s up?”
“This… might be a weird question,” Twy began, an uneasy look upon her face. “But… are you having an easier time using your powers, today? Compared to last weekend?”
“No way,” Sky replied with a scowl as she crossed her arms petulantly. “This focus training stuff is really hard! Why do I have to focus on small stuff, anyways? It isn’t nearly as cool as the big sweeping flames I can do! Big stuff has to be harder than small stuff, anyways, right?!”
“You just contradicted yourself.”
“I did? …Well, whatever, you get the point.”
“Yeah…” Twy turned back to her training dummy, and the handful of holes in its face. “…I guess it’s just me, then…”
Sky cocked her head in confusion, following her sister’s gaze to the dummy’s head and then adopting an impressed expression when she did. “Wow! I don’t really know what you’re talkin’ about, but it looks like you already have a good handle on this stuff!” With a grin, she then threw her arm around Twy’s shoulders again. “Just what I expected from my sis!”
“You should expect it from yourself, too,” Twy shot back.
“Aw, now you just sound like mom…” Sky responded with a pout.
“What you should sound like is students in trainin’!”
“Wha—?” Twy and Sky both jumped in surprise as they each felt a hand descend on their shoulders. Sky quickly backed away from Twy and they both spun around, finding Ralak standing just behind them with her brow furrowed in irritation.
“This is time for trainin’,” Ralak declared as she fixed the twins with a level stare. “Not talkin’.”
“Ah ha ha ha…!” Sky laughed sheepishly as Twy shot her an annoyed glance.
“Sorry, Ralak,” Twy apologized.
“No need to say ‘sorry’, just get to trainin’,” Ralak stated. “You only hurt yourselves by not doin’ this.”
“Spike says that a lot…” Sky muttered.
“He says it because it’s true,” Twy replied, and then turned to face her training dummy once again as she focused on her floating bubble of water. “Now, let’s get back to training…”