Chapter 117:

Volume 5, Chapter 2: New Teams

Heroes of the Past

“This place be spooky,” Jacque commented, looking around.Bookmark here

“Yeah, it kind of is,” I agreed, walking toward the open elevator.Bookmark here

Shan and Ichaival stood inside. The gravity manipulator extended his finger toward the control panel. If you close the door on me one more time…. however, he didn’t, and everyone ascended upward. The entire layout changed from my previous visit. Only the projector screen positioning remained the same. Recliners were set in the middle, enough seats for everyone. Tables, on the side, were filled with a variety of food and drinks. Lilith and her team were already present, looking worse than us.Bookmark here

Bartholomew’s left arm was in a cast and his right cheek wrapped in gauze. Lionel, now bald, sat in a wheelchair. He tapped his fingers against the armrest with a subdued expression. Mirei didn’t hold back at all. There were crutches propped up against Champ’s seat and his right hand was wrapped in bandages. Yuka’s boyfriend wore his usual glasses over his bandaged left eye.Bookmark here

Lilith, a small cut underneath her right eye, moved around with the assistance of a forearm crutch. Streaks of red ran across the left side of her cheek. Er Zhi, Lilith’s second-in-command, had a sling on her left arm. When she adjusted her shirt, I noticed bandages around her stomach. Ksi, a gauze pad covering her forehead, had a bandage on each cheek. Her fingers were wrapped up as well. She winced when moving her arm. I noticed a bulge on her knee too. Aside from a cut lip and a bruise on the left side of her face, Xi appeared fine. Her defensive powers must have minimized any serious damage. Xiu, the shadow user, had her right arm in a sling. A knee brace covered her left leg and wore finger splints on her right hand. Steph’s left hand was in a brace and facial wrap covered both the woman’s ears. Someone was missing. Where was Stacia? Given her aggressive attitude, her injuries should be the most severe. Ruiqi, her sister, was here though. She spoke with Lilith, handing her a piece of paper. Lilith nodded and they headed toward Tess.Bookmark here

“What’s going on?” I asked, interjecting myself into their conversation.Bookmark here

“A power transfer,” Ruiqi replied.Bookmark here

“Stacia’s injured that badly?” I questioned.Bookmark here

“Yes and no. It’s been a request I decided on several months back. I kept pushing it back because there wasn’t much going on. However, Mirei’s ambush changed the urgency. Besides, I don’t want her to continue fighting, especially with her injuries. Stacia won’t be happy but it’s in her best interest,” Ruiqi explained.Bookmark here

“So, you’re getting your old powers back?” I inquired, curious about the process.Bookmark here

“Not exactly. Shane and Emily’s research shows a possibility of it not being the same. I’ll just have to get used to things again,” Ruiqi answered.Bookmark here

“The fundamentals of her power should not change. There are rare cases where a mutation occurs,” Tess backed her up.Bookmark here

“Is everything in order, Tess?” Ruiqi glanced at Tess.Bookmark here

“Yes, I’ve been in contact with Lilith about it. We can do it anytime you and your sister are free,” the Gatekeeper confirmed.Bookmark here

“Perfect. Let’s do it later today. I prefer to get this done as soon as possible,” Ruiqi said.Bookmark here

Ruiqi replacing her younger sister would benefit Lilith’s team. It sucked Stacia was injured, but I lacked sympathy for her. Maybe I was just a terrible person.Bookmark here

“There a reason we’re talking here?” I asked Tess.Bookmark here

“It provides the most space and everyone has access here,” Tess answered before heading to the back.Bookmark here

Might as well chat with everyone while waiting. I wanted to see how they felt after declining Mirei’s request.Bookmark here

“Zhuyu,” I called out to the zero vector user.Bookmark here

“Something on your mind, Tomo?” Zhuyu responded.Bookmark here

My experience in the alternate reality made it easier to approach him now. It actually turned out useful after all. However, I was regretful I couldn’t uncover any blackmail material.Bookmark here

“How’s your leg holding up? Looks pretty bad when you’re walking,” I pointed out.Bookmark here

“Walking up and down stairs isn’t fun. Other than that, I’m getting by. Mirei and her team didn’t hold back,” Zhuyu replied.Bookmark here

“Yeah, she isn’t shy about it. You said before it might be for the best Mirei takes over. How much do you really believe that?” I wondered about his statement.Bookmark here

“Let’s say about half. I don’t know Mirei, but she’s crazy enough to willingly do this. Not exactly everyone’s idea of fun, unless she has bad intentions. We’re assuming she’ll keep her word,” Zhuyu answered.Bookmark here

“Alright, I’m going to talk to everyone else and see what they say,” I said.Bookmark here

“Tomo, how are you feeling?” Zhuyu inquired, staring at me.Bookmark here

For a split second, I thought Zhuyu might smile at me. But he didn’t, because this was fuckin’ Zhuyu, and not the other one. His expression contained compassion, but didn’t match the one I saw in that weird world. My expectations were all screwed up.Bookmark here

“Other than the occasional tightness in my arm, I’m doing fine,” I replied.Bookmark here

“Don’t strain yourself, Tomo. The responsibility isn’t all on you,” Zhuyu encouraged.Bookmark here

Was he just nice to me? No, I was just overthinking. Zhuyu was like this all the time.Bookmark here

“Tomo, what’s going on? You’re moving around pretty well. A lot better than me,” Kisai greeted.Bookmark here

“I’m lucky. I noticed your knee looks pretty bad. Did you see a doctor?” I recalled him massaging his kneecap.Bookmark here

“Damn Tomo, makes me feel weak. Maybe I am. It hurts but it’s tolerable,” Kisai answered.Bookmark here

“You were in pain back at the training facility,” I disagreed.Bookmark here

“Don’t worry, Tomo. I’ll be fine. I’m sure you have something else to ask though,” Kisai realized my intentions.Bookmark here

“Are you really all in on this? Zhuyu and Shan had reservations,” I inquired.Bookmark here

“No matter what Long said, he’ll stick around. He better, you know, cuz I’m here. Shigetzu too. Mirei could handle everything, but you always want to complete what you started, if possible. I don’t like leaving things half-finished. Even if I half-ass it, I’ll finish,” Kisai clarified.Bookmark here

“Right, thanks for your time, Kisai,” I said.Bookmark here

“Any time, Tomo,” Kisai responded with a grin.Bookmark here

Should I talk to Kyoi? She seemed pretty angry about Mirei’s assault. I feared she would do anything to obtain information about Ichizen’s little sister. Best to stay away from her. Ichaival peered down at his brace as Shan conversed with him.Bookmark here

“No, why would I….?” Ichaival shook his head.Bookmark here

“Come on, go for it. You have nothing to lose,” Shan countered.Bookmark here

“Maybe not for you, but I know it won’t go that smooth,” Ichaival disagreed.Bookmark here

“Guys, am I interrupting something important?” I interrupted their talk.Bookmark here

“Hey Tomo. It’s nothing important. You have something to ask us?” Ichaival glared at his friend.Bookmark here

“It’s totally important, but you just don’t want to talk about it in front of Tomo. I understand. Darryl and I will continue this later,” Shan emphasized, shaking his head at Ichaival with a mix of pity and mock sadness.Bookmark here

Ichaival gave Shan a sharp look. Shan only laughed in response. I wondered how Ichaival felt speaking with Shan. Must be an arduous process.Bookmark here

“Just wanted to check in and see how you were doing. Shan, how’s your head? One of them kicked you pretty bad,” I recalled, pointing at his bandaged forehead.Bookmark here

“Oh this? It’s great, love being punted, it’s the best,” Shan gave a sarcastic response.Bookmark here

“Okay…,” I said.Bookmark here

“Fine, I’ll be serious. My head’s alright, don’t have a concussion. My upper shoulder is wrapped up too but still can function,” Shan said.Bookmark here

“You’re not even hurt as much as I am!” Ichaival protested.Bookmark here

“Darryl, what the hell are you talking about? They didn’t target your head. You know how important that shit is?” Shan pointed at his head.Bookmark here

“Of course I do. I can’t even work out because of this. Freakin’ sucks. I have to lie down in bed so it doesn’t hurt,” Ichaival replied.Bookmark here

“That’s what you do all the time! Doesn’t even matter your leg got targeted!” Shan shook his head in disappointment.Bookmark here

“Hey, I’m not in my bed all the time! Don’t lie,” Ichaival defended himself.Bookmark here

At least they were in high spirits. Good for them. Although, this raised questions about their friendship.Bookmark here

“So, in others words, you’re okay?” I summed up.Bookmark here

“Better than Lionel over there in a wheelchair. How about you, Tomo? Besides Jacque, you appear decent,” Shan inquired about my injuries.Bookmark here

“I guess. My arms have some tightness, but other than that, don’t feel a whole lot of pain anywhere else,” I answered.Bookmark here

“That’s great to hear. We never have these big meetings unless it’s really important,” Ichaival observed.Bookmark here

“No shit, Sherlocke. I have a pretty good idea of what Tess is planning. Hopefully, it works out like I think it will. A good opportunity for me,” Shan commented.Bookmark here

I half-expected Felicity to burst in and defend Ichaival’s honor. What actually happened to her? Her well-being didn’t even occur to me until now. I was truly a despicable human now. Damn you, Shan and Kisai. I should have asked about Felicity’s condition earlier in the morning when Tess was over at my house.Bookmark here

“Do you know what happened to Felicity?” I asked them.Bookmark here

“Darryl, you know anything about it?” Shan deferred to his friend.Bookmark here

“Don’t assume I know everything, Shigetzu. I heard she was taken to the hospital. Tess would know more,“ Ichaival answered.Bookmark here

“If you’re really worried, go ask Tess right now,” Shan suggested.Bookmark here

Shan didn’t care too much about Felicity’s condition. Actually, it made sense. Shan was a year older than her so didn’t have any classes with the woman. Their chances at any interaction were limited to ater school or anytime the heroes did anything. Still, he could show a little more concern.Bookmark here

“Tess, I forgot to ask you about Felicity,” I brought up.Bookmark here

She ignored me at first. I peeked over her shoulder and saw her scribbling something on her tablet. Tess finally looked up, providing an answer.Bookmark here

“She is currently resting in a private room at a hospital. Her injuries are not as severe as ours. She did test positive for a concussion. I do not believe Mirei inflicted any of the injuries she has. It appeared to be happenstance,” Tess answered.Bookmark here

“Did they stomp on her like Shan? Felicity isn’t a hero. There’s no reason to even touch her,” I pointed out.Bookmark here

“Either Mirei or one of her comrades threw someone into Fel and pushed her back into a chair or wall. It is unfortunate, but her parents accepted the excuse I constructed,” Tess replied.Bookmark here

“Sucks for Felicity. I never expected she would be caught up in this mess. Can’t really blame Mirei for that. I wonder if she was aware of Felicity?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Mirei would have known. She followed us for a significant amount of time and she would have seen Fel,” Tess answered.Bookmark here

“I wonder about that. Tess, you’re pretty busy, so I’ll catch up with you later,” I said, walking away.Bookmark here

Tess walked over to the other side, speaking with Lilith. The leader nodded, staring at a clipboard. How much administrative items did the two deal with? There must be a major development if the talks were so serious.Bookmark here

“Tomo, I’ve finally caught you,” a scary voice stated.Bookmark here

Kyoi tightened her grip on my shoulder. Even with injuries, her strength was still impressive. Damn it, nowhere to run. I searched for Zhuyu, but he conversed with Shui and En, unaware of my plight . Shit, shit, don’t do this to me!Bookmark here

“The harder you resist, the more it’ll hurt,” Kyoi warned.Bookmark here

“What do you want to know? I won’t tell you anything about Mirei!” I tried putting on a brave face but my voice wavered.Bookmark here

“I don’t care about that. I’m curious about your little journey during the time you were unconscious,” Kyoi said.Bookmark here

“What are you talking about? You can’t expect me to remember anything,” I lied.Bookmark here

“Don’t play dumb, Tomo. If you communicated with Ace, then Mirei did something. What exactly was it?” Kyoi questioned.Bookmark here

She was perceptive as always. I came clean and explained the strange experience.Bookmark here

“Tomo, let me see your grimoire,” Kyoi requested.Bookmark here

She flipped through the pages, stopping at one. I don’t know what she was staring at since all I saw were blank pages. My necklace shook. What the hell? Her eyes were completely focused on the magical tome. My necklace swayed once more and Kyoi returned my grimoire.Bookmark here

“What did you do?” I stared at Kyoi.Bookmark here

“Nothing much. Let me remind you of something. Long’s still bound to me by contract. If you wish to challenge that, well, it will certainly be fun,” Kyoi said before departing.Bookmark here

I shuddered at her words and stared down at my grimoire. No doubt she knew what I saw during that weird dimension.Bookmark here

“Tomo, something bothering you?” Jen came up to me.Bookmark here

“No, it’s nothing. I should be asking you that question. Can you see?” I pointed at her bandaged eye.Bookmark here

“Some things are blurry. I can’t practice my archery for at least a week,” Jen replied, staring at her brace.Bookmark here

“It might be good for you, Jen. Get some time to rethink some things you might want to work on,” I pointed out a positive.Bookmark here

“That’s a good way to think about it, Tomo. I like that. Oh, the meeting’s about to start,” Jen said.Bookmark here

Tess and Lilith approached the meeting room center. All ongoing conversations ceased. Tess handed Lilith a clip-on microphone and motioned at Kuan. The man adjusted knobs on a silver control panel and nodded at the Gatekeeper.Bookmark here

“Because of Mirei’s brazen actions, I convened this emergency meeting. I’ve formulated a plan, in tandem with Lilith, to combat her. There will be a shift today, consider it a reordering between all present members. These new teams will work together in retrieving ultimate weapons and any other pertinent items,” Tess informed everyone.Bookmark here

“The teams Tess assembled will involve at least one member from our group and one from hers,” Lilith added, adjusting her microphone.Bookmark here

“Form the groups listed above and I will discuss in more detail what our next steps will be,” Tess directed.Bookmark here

She pointed upward at the descending projector screen. Two tables, containing everyone’s names, appeared. I noticed my name and Tess’ weren’t part of any groups.Bookmark here

For Ichaival to be separated from Shan, that was unexpected. Their chemistry was solid despite the gravity manipulator’s constant slandering of his friend. What prompted Tess to separate them? I felt sorry for Ichaival. He was paired up with a rival and stuck with Champ too. Kyoi and Ruiqi were a terrifying pair. Lionel stood out as well. I thought he would be involved with the main offensive units but was relegated to the reconnaissance teams. Lilith also wasn’t part of the offensive unit. As a leader, I thought Tess would assign her to the front line.Bookmark here

“Tomo, over here,” Tess called me over as everyone split into their respective groups.Bookmark here

“Am I with you?” I stretched, watching everyone familiarize themselves with their new teams.Bookmark here

“In a sense. Your goal remains the same as before, forge a working chemistry with everyone, thus you won’t be assigned to a specific team. I apologize if this is an inconvenience. However, I believe it is the best way to utilize your skills since they are a reflection of everyone else’s. I will join you whenever I have a lull in my schedule,” Tess answered.Bookmark here

“I understand, Tess. I’m fine with this setup. I’m learning everyone’s powers so it makes sense not to be stuck on one team,” I agreed, scoping out the room.Bookmark here

Kyoi and Ruiqi were familiar with each other, nothing too exciting there. Bartholomew wheeled Lionel over to Jen and Shui before departing to meet with his new teammates. Jen spoke with him, offering a smile. Shui stood behind her, joining the conversation. Lionel lightened up, chatting with them.Bookmark here

Bartholomew offered his hand out to Ichaival, who stared at the gesture with suspicion. Champ, a thoughtful look on his face, stood to the side. All three men stared at each other in silence. The false archer finally shook hands with Bartholomew and called Champ over.Bookmark here

Xi approached Zhuyu and En with caution. She was rather shy. Their team just might work out. Zhuyu was serious and En didn’t talk much. A good pairing of personalities.Bookmark here

Er Zhi was already scolding Kisai about something. Xiu stood next to the second-in-command in silence. The man smiled at her actions. She finally raised her hands in exasperation although with a slight smile. No problems there, Kisai got along with everyone.Bookmark here

Jacque looked confused. Shan spoke with Ksi, who only provided slight nods in acknowledgment. An odd mix of people. Still, it was rather powerful, with Jacque being the wild card. How would he contribute with his lackluster powers?Bookmark here

Lilith handed Kuan a piece of paper which the man scanned over. He pointed at a few spots on the page. She nodded in agreement. Steph, standing behind Kuan, didn’t speak.Bookmark here

“I know it’s spring break but head into the Crossroads. You’ll find instructions there, regarding training exercises, that will help familiarize everyone with their new teammates. I’ve capped it at two hours and you will be notified once time is up. Tomo will accompany various teams in the future at my discretion. She’ll join Bartholomew’s team today. I will join her as well. You are all dismissed,” Tess announced.Bookmark here

Of course she chose the most dysfunctional team. I half expected Champ to turn on Ichaival and fight him right now. Bartholomew seemed open to working with the man but that could just be a facade.Bookmark here

“Tess, hold on,” I said.Bookmark here

“What’s wrong?” Tess questioned.Bookmark here

“Is it really such a good idea to send everyone out like this? Everyone is…. well, fucked up. I mean, Lionel’s in a wheelchair,” I pointed out.Bookmark here

“I don’t see an issue. They’re not heading into combat situations, merely a quick test run so everyone gets accustomed to their partners,” Tess refuted.Bookmark here

“Wouldn’t it be better to just work it out here or the training facility?” I suggested an alternative.Bookmark here

“No, that would be counterproductive. It’s better to force them into scenarios where they rely on each other. While there is no fighting as of now, it’s crucial everyone moves past the initial awkwardness and learn about each other,” Tess disagreed.Bookmark here

“I’m still worried something bad might happen. The majority of us aren’t 100\%,” I pointed out.Bookmark here

“Such concern for others, Tomo. Your opinion on everyone has evolved since our first encounter,” Tess observed.Bookmark here

“Huh? I guess. I’m worried only because we need everyone to beat Mirei,” I said.Bookmark here

“It’s true there are risks, sending everyone out like this. However, the locations will be devoid of any serious threats,” Tess assured me.Bookmark here

“If you say so,” I relented, not wanting to argue with the Gatekeeper.Bookmark here

I looked around, watching everyone depart. Champ leaned on his crutches, pondering something, keeping his distance from Ichaival and Bartholomew. Bartholomew initiated a mundane conversation with the false archer, attempting to learn about his new teammate.Bookmark here

“Champ, something on your mind?” Tess inquired.Bookmark here

“It’s just…. I’m a liability, you know? Why would you pick me to be on an offensive team? It doesn’t make sense,” Champ revealed.Bookmark here

“I’ve already discussed this matter with you and Lilith. You’re safe from her. She already tried and failed. It’s not in her nature to pursue a lost cause,” Tess countered.Bookmark here

“I just… don’t want to drag everyone down. But, you’re right. I can’t keep sulking like this. I have to make up for my past transgressions,” Champ said, nodding to himself.Bookmark here

“That’s the spirit! We’ve all had our own issues in the past so let’s get this started right,” Bartholomew agreed.Bookmark here

“Guess I don’t have much of a choice. I’ll respect Tess’ decision and work with both of you. Bartholomew, if you pull any dumb shit, I’m not going to just let it go!” Ichaival warned, glaring at the man.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I deserve that. I swear, I’ll be on my best behavior. I’m a pretty chill guy, you know,” Bartholomew responded.Bookmark here

Huh, didn’t expect such a swift change in behavior from everyone. Champ surprised me with his remorse, considering his behavior from my last encounter with him. What exactly was going on?Bookmark here

Tess snapped her fingers, generating a portal for us to enter. Champ hobbled in first with Bartholomew following behind him. Ichaival allowed me entry first which I accepted. Time for some shenanigans as the false archer loved to say.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.