Chapter 67 – A Trip’s End

Chapter 67 – A Trip’s End

The Next Evening

“Ahhh, finally, we’re back!”

“Well… sorta,” Spike replied, casually striding out of the sleek train car and onto the station platform behind Sky. “We still ain’t back in Treséd, yet.”

“Well, no, but we’re at least on the same planet,” Sky retorted, spinning on her heel to grin at Spike and gesture up at the large windows of the Gatetrain station. Through the massive windows shone the golden light of sunset, illuminating both the building interior and the distant skyline of downtown Nimaliaka Central — the capital of Nimaliaka, one of the five great nations of Nimalia.

“Long day of travel, though, huh…” Conrad muttered just before allowing a yawn to overtake him. He then glanced to the side; the entire WCU travel group was disembarking from the same train, rapidly filling the station platform with bodies and luggage. With a weary sigh, Conrad then remarked, “still got more traveling tomorrow, too…”

“Mhm…” Kestrel nodded slowly. “…Almost home.”

“Home, huh…?” Twy echoed as she looked contemplatively up at the sky through the station skylights. “I guess that is one way of putting it…”

“We’ve only been away from Earth for a little over a month, ain’t we?” Spike questioned.

“Sure, but it looks like we’re going to be at WCU for many more months yet. When you think about it like that, it kind of is our home, for the time being.”

“I don’t know if that’s a good or a bad thing…” Sky responded with a frown.

“It’s a mixed bag,” Phoenix asserted as she stepped up next to Kestrel, joining the group conversation. “The food is nice at Tresnon, and the place is interesting enough, but it’s so damn dusty. And the people…”

“…Heh.” Conrad chuckled briefly as he eyed the scowl on Phoenix’s face. “What happened to your boyfriend, huh?”

Phoenix quickly passed him the stink eye. “Sh-shut up. …I knew it wasn’t going to work out, anyways, so this is fine!”

“Wait, did y’all break up?” Sky questioned.

“And what’s it to you?” Phoenix shot back.

“Uh… n-nothing…?” Sky responded, taken aback by Phoenix’s attitude. She passed Spike a glance, as if to ask him for help, but he replied only with a hapless shrug.

“…Pierce?” Kestrel spoke up a second later, her attention directed to the side.

“Hey, yeah, good point,” Conrad muttered, following Kestrel’s gaze to spot Pierce — who was standing off to the side with a sullen expression on his face, his attention seemingly focused on the ground. “Yo, Pierce, you really not going to say anything, right now?”

“Huh?” Pierce looked up to meet Conrad’s eyes. “…Oh, about Phoenix and Arn? Yeah, that sucks, huh…”

“What?” Phoenix turned to give Pierce a concerned look. “What was with that… surprisingly empathetic response? Are you alright?!”

Pierce shook his head and diverted his attention again. “I’m fine.”

“I guess you only save your aggression for certain people, huh?” Twy accused, glancing to the side as Austin finally disembarked from the train himself. “Oh, Austin, you’re finally here.”

“You sure took your time!” Sky exclaimed.

Austin passed the twins a wordless glance, his expression unreadable. He then looked off to the side, briefly meeting eyes with Pierce before the two quickly looked away from each other.

“…Hmph,” Pierce snorted, his brow furrowed. He briefly scratched his side before grabbing his lone duffel bag and charging off. “I’m going ahead. Don’t try to catch me.”

“…What the hell’s gotten into him?” Phoenix questioned incredulously as she watched Pierce disappear into the station crowds.

“He ain’t the only one actin’ out of it,” Spike muttered under his breath as he turned to look at Austin, who himself seemed intently focused on the contours of the stone flooring. “…Yo, Austin.” Spike raised his voice to address his friend. “Somethin’ up?”

“Yeah!” Sky quickly chimed in, “ever since you and Pierce got back last night, you—!”

“If you wanna talk,” Spike interrupted, throwing Sky a reprimanding glance before looking back to Austin. “I got time.”

“…Yeah…” Austin muttered in response, making eye contact with Spike for only a brief moment. “Maybe… maybe later.” He then turned his attention to the skies above, taking in the golden sunset.

“…Austin…?” Twy looked up at him with concern.

His chest heaved as he took a deep breath; he then dropped his head to look at Twy, an apologetic smile upon his face. “Sorry. I’m just… a little out of it. We, you know, we just had a lot of busy days. So I’m, uh… tired.”


“Man, I can agree with you there,” Conrad remarked, yawning again and stretching his arms. “We did so much shit on Sikalia, it feels like those four days took hella long. And then one whole day of travel, both going there and coming back. Oof. I can’t wait ‘til things slow down and I can get some actual, proper sleep.”

“Your definition of ‘proper’ sleep is laying in bed for half of the damn day,” Phoenix retorted with a smirk. “Are you sure you aren’t secretly a cat?”

“Sometimes I wish I was. Cats have it so easy, you know? Sleep away the whole day, and then just eat and drink a little… man.” Conrad’s shoulders slumped. “But, alas…”

“…Well, I guess we should probably get going,” Twy spoke up. As she did, the train that the travel group had arrived on began to leave the platform, and the crowd that had disembarked was already thinning.

“Just one more night in a hotel ‘fore we’re back at WCU,” Spike declared as he easily hoisted both his and Sky’s luggage onto his back. “Never thought I’d look forward to goin’ back this much, huh.”

“Whoa, Conrad, slow down, now!” Phoenix remarked as the group began to leave, with Conrad ahead of everyone else. “You really can’t wait for a bed, can you?”

“You know me well!” Conrad replied cheekily, not once turning to face Phoenix as he did.

Twy lingered for a moment, watching everyone walk off before turning to give Austin a wary look. His attention was still directed skyward, his head turned in such a way that Twy couldn’t see his expression. “…Are you sure you’re fine?” she eventually questioned.

Austin finally looked down at her, and then at the rest of the group that was walking off. His face remained blank for several seconds, at which point he released a deep sigh and forced a smile. “I’m fine, don’t worry. Let’s go.”

“Right…” Twy responded doubtfully, though quickly fell into step beside him as they followed behind the rest of the travel group.

As they left, two figures watched on from further back along the platform. They watched in silence for a moment before the larger of the two looked down at his compatriot. Are we not going to say farewell…?

“Ah… didn’t really seem the time for it,” Luke replied, passing Mark a quick glance. “Austin and Pierce are distracted, and the others are clearly concerned, even if they don’t show it openly. Just didn’t seem like the right time to announce our temporary departure.”

…I suppose, Mark replied, and then sighed. Still… we’re being called back for a mission immediately, huh?

“Sure looks that way. And for a mission to Sunova, of all places…” Luke sighed, and then started walking off, with Mark quickly following suit. “Oh well. Our train to catch is in an hour, so we might as well stick around at the station. But before we leave, we need to talk to the Deans.”

What about?

“Well, to tell them that we’re leaving, for one. We’ll be back in a week or two, most likely, but we can’t just leave them without any warning.”


“And I do also have some… questions…” Luke’s brow furrowed for a moment, but as soon as he spotted Davídrius and Kaoné standing to the side of the station entrance, seemingly in conversation with each other, he adopted a friendly smile. “Ah, Deans. Perfect,” Luke called out to them, drawing their attention. “There’s something I need to talk to y’all about.”

“Is there a problem?” Kaoné questioned warily. She then glanced about; at that point in time, the four of them were the last members of the WCU travel group still remaining in the train station. After determining that, she lowered her voice and added, “…is this about last night?”

“Well… yes and no,” Luke responded.

“I don’t like the sound of that,” Davídrius replied, his arms crossed.

“It’s really nothing that special. First of all…” Luke reached up and slapped his hand down on Mark’s shoulder. “The two of us have been called back for something. I’m afraid we’ll have to leave the recruits to y’all for the next week or two.”

“You’re leavin’?!” Davídrius questioned incredulously.

“Something happened with SERRCom, I take it?” Kaoné asked.

“It’s just silly politics, nothin’ to get worked up over,” Luke replied with a sheepish smile. “But we have to leave tonight. Apologies for the short notice.”

“I guess SERRCom ain’t much different from the NSD, huh.” Davídrius snorted. “I remember bein’ yanked off on some mission on a second’s notice, too. Really don’t miss those days.”

“We’ll make sure that the Keys don’t get into any trouble,” Kaoné declared. “You can trust us on that one. Or, well…” She immediately began backtracking when Luke and Davídrius both grimaced. “I, uh, well…”

“Relax. What happened between Pierce and Austin last night wasn’t either of y’all’s faults,” Luke commented. “If anything, it’s mine. I really should’ve realized sooner what was happening…”

You shouldn’t blame yourself, either, Mark insisted. I mean, you did tell me to watch Pierce, yesterday, but I still left him on his own. So, if anything—

“A’ight, we ain’t here for a fuckin’ pity party,” Davídrius quickly interjected, an annoyed scowl upon his face. “What happened, happened. We’ll need to talk to Austin and Pierce about it, sure, but Chaotics go Berserk all the damn time, especially young ones. Better they learn how to handle that now, than later.”

I’ve never gone Berserk… Mark muttered. …Neither have Mote, Danielle, or Kate, for that matter…

“Well good for y’all, but that ain’t the norm. Most Chaotics go Berserk at least once or twice over the course of their life. Learnin’ how to deal with it is an important skill.” He then frowned. “One we probably should’ve taught ‘em earlier…”

“Either way, this leads me to something I wanted to ask about,” Luke commented, his attention focused on Davídrius. “Last night, you clearly had some kind of idea to deal with the situation, but you didn’t want to act on it, for whatever reason. Well, I’m sure you had a reason, but now that we’re out of the moment, I’d really like to know what you were thinking.”

“…Agh, me and my damn mouth…” Davídrius muttered. “I bet you think I had some secret technique to deal with a berserker or somethin’, but just didn’t use it ‘cause I wanted to teach a lesson. Is that it?”

“Not exactly,” Luke replied with a smile, though a hint of bitterness hid within his expression. “But I was there for everything you said to Pierce, last night. Including the part about not wanting us ‘outsiders’ around.”

Kaoné turned to give Davídrius a reproachful glare — an action that felt almost meaningless, given that Kaoné stood just over a foot shorter than Davídrius, but the latter responded with an uneasy grin all the same. “…Davídrius, what did you say?” Kaoné questioned.

“Ah ha ha… aaahhh… fuck.” Davídrius shook his head and sighed before turning back to Luke. “Yeah… I understand why you’d be wary of me, after that…”

“I can certainly understand if you were feeling stressed out at that moment, for a number of reasons,” Luke replied. Can hardly imagine how I’d feel in his shoes after what I saw on Sunidobu, and in the museum, he mentally added, but still “Even so,” he continued, “I think those words were uncalled for.”

“Yeah…” Davídrius released a long, drawn-out exhale before adding, “…Suppose it was. But for the record, just ‘cause it wasn’t my decision to have y’all here doesn’t mean that I’m tryin’ to sabotage y’all, or anythin’. Your Chaotics still got a lot to learn, but all things considered, they ain’t doin’ too bad, for people who just discovered their abilities a few months ago. …Don’t tell ‘em I said that, though.”

“You really should praise your students more often,” Kaoné admonished.

“Praise only works if the target’s got humility and won’t let it go to their heads,” Davídrius countered.

“Yes, yes… now, what about my original question?” Luke pressed.

“Ah… right. Well, you know about the Ayas Weapons, right?”

Are you talking about those special weapons that a Chaotic can summon when they’re holding one of the Chaos Ayas? Mark questioned.

Davídrius nodded. “Yeah. Well, if you hit a Berserk Chaotic with an Ayas Weapon, then instead of slashin’ ‘em, you instantly stop their Berserk episode.”

“So we hear, anyways,” Kaoné added. “Kevken — uh, Kievkenalis is the only one who’s actually seen it happen.”

“I see…” Luke mused. “…What does that have to do with last night?”

“The Keys can all summon an Ayas Weapon, can’t they?” Kaoné pointed out, and then glanced at Davídrius. “Is that what you were thinking?”

Davídrius nodded again. “Right. If those weapons they can summon really are actual Ayas Weapons, then we could’ve used Pierce’s to stop Austin.”

“Why didn’t you?” Luke questioned.

“’Cause we don’t know if Pierce’s weapon is actually the real thing,” Davídrius replied. “Sure, it looks like Hastryth — and trust me, I would fuckin’ know. But we ain’t done any tests yet to see if it can do everythin’ the real Hastryth can. Worst case scenario, instead of endin’ Austin’s Berserk episode, we would’ve sliced ‘im in half!”

“There’s more to Pierce’s weapon than the blade,” Luke countered. “We could’ve made it work.”

“Unfortunately, only the bladed part of the weapon works for this purpose,” Kaoné stated. “And Ayas Weapons are exceedingly sharp. They’ll cut through anything physical with virtually no effort.”

“Exactly. Tryin’ to touch a Berserk Chaotic with just the tip of a weapon is practically impossible,” Davídrius declared. “Especially if that Chaotic is a Simulator, like Austin. Besides, Mark clearly had the situation under control. More than I expected, too.” The Dean passed Mark an approving nod. “Good job.”

I was just trying my best, that’s all, Mark replied sheepishly.

Luke remained silent for a couple moments as he glanced between Davídrius and Kaoné. Eventually, he released a deep sigh and said, “well, I can’t say I’m a fan of holding back information like that, but your reasons are sound enough.”

“There’s nothin’ to like about a Chaotic goin’ Berserk, but you just gotta deal with it how you can,” Davídrius declared.

I suppose your questions about Pierce’s weapon highlight just how little we know right now, too, Mark pointed out. Why are the recruits special? Why can they summon those weapons?

“Twy and Phoenix have both claimed to have some kind of secondary sense, too, now that I think about it…” Luke mused.

“And Kestrel, too,” Kaoné added. “She and Phoenix both were able to sense the Bleeder attack in Relédiaka just moments before it happened. I didn’t think much of it at the time, but now… hmm…”

“I’ve been thinkin’ the same,” Davídrius replied with a scowl. “That old bastard Pallan sure likes keepin’ folks in the dark, huh? Well, I done had enough. I arranged with Kievkenalis for the ‘Keys’ to visit YCUR next week. He should be able to teach ‘em more about their special weapons, and convince Pallan to tell us more about whatever the fuck he expects from them.”

“That’s a rather hostile attitude toward the Archoné of Riverana,” Kaoné commented.

“Oh shut up. Pallan’s an old cagey fuck and we all know it. He was 20 years ago, he still is now, and I’d bet my ass that he will be 20 years from now. Stupid prophecy bullshit.”

“Heh,” Luke chuckled. “I see not all Nimalians take that prophecy stuff seriously.”

Most Nimalians think it’s bullshit,” Davídrius countered. “It’s only those idiots over in Riverana who believe.”

“They aren’t ‘idiots’, per se,” Kaoné refuted. “The Oraculm has actually been right several times, to an almost scary degree. …It’s just also been wrong a handful of times, too.”

“Exactly. Throw enough shit at a wall, and eventually somethin sticks. I don’t see why we’re listenin’ to the thing now.”

“Do you have any other explanation for why the Keys can summon Ayas Weapons without an Ayas?”

“There’s gotta be a reason. We just ain’t found it yet.”

“Right…” Kaoné shook her head and turned back to Luke. “I hope it’s fine by you if we take the Keys to Riverana in your absence?”

“As long as one of y’all sticks with ‘em,” Luke replied. “I’m pretty curious about this supposed prophecy stuff, too, so if you can learn from this trip, then I’m all for it.”

“Glad to hear it,” Davídrius remarked, and then looked up at the skies above, which were now darkening with dusk. “…Well, we gotta get to the hotel, now. Gotta make sure all the kids’re behavin’ themselves.”

“Of course.” Luke nodded toward the Dean. “Thanks for hearing me out.”

“…Yeah, sure,” Davídrius responded uneasily as he turned toward the exit.

“Stay safe on your mission!” Kaoné called out, and then left after Davídrius, leaving Luke and Mark alone in the station.

…Time to head back to Earth? Mark questioned as he looked down at Luke.

“Oh, if only we were actually goin’ to Earth…” Luke lamented as he turned toward the station interior. “But apparently, we don’t have the time for that detour. Man. Just what kind of op are the brass planning…?”