Heroes of the Past
“This place be spooky,” Jacque commented, looking around.
“Yeah, it kind of is,” I agreed, walking toward the open elevator.
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.
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.
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.
“What’s going on?” I asked, interjecting myself into their conversation.
“A power transfer,” Ruiqi replied.
“Stacia’s injured that badly?” I questioned.
“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.
“So, you’re getting your old powers back?” I inquired, curious about the process.
“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.
“The fundamentals of her power should not change. There are rare cases where a mutation occurs,” Tess backed her up.
“Is everything in order, Tess?” Ruiqi glanced at Tess.
“Yes, I’ve been in contact with Lilith about it. We can do it anytime you and your sister are free,” the Gatekeeper confirmed.
“Perfect. Let’s do it later today. I prefer to get this done as soon as possible,” Ruiqi said.
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.
“There a reason we’re talking here?” I asked Tess.
“It provides the most space and everyone has access here,” Tess answered before heading to the back.
Might as well chat with everyone while waiting. I wanted to see how they felt after declining Mirei’s request.
“Zhuyu,” I called out to the zero vector user.
“Something on your mind, Tomo?” Zhuyu responded.
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.
“How’s your leg holding up? Looks pretty bad when you’re walking,” I pointed out.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“Alright, I’m going to talk to everyone else and see what they say,” I said.
“Tomo, how are you feeling?” Zhuyu inquired, staring at me.
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.
“Other than the occasional tightness in my arm, I’m doing fine,” I replied.
“Don’t strain yourself, Tomo. The responsibility isn’t all on you,” Zhuyu encouraged.
Was he just nice to me? No, I was just overthinking. Zhuyu was like this all the time.
“Tomo, what’s going on? You’re moving around pretty well. A lot better than me,” Kisai greeted.
“I’m lucky. I noticed your knee looks pretty bad. Did you see a doctor?” I recalled him massaging his kneecap.
“Damn Tomo, makes me feel weak. Maybe I am. It hurts but it’s tolerable,” Kisai answered.
“You were in pain back at the training facility,” I disagreed.
“Don’t worry, Tomo. I’ll be fine. I’m sure you have something else to ask though,” Kisai realized my intentions.
“Are you really all in on this? Zhuyu and Shan had reservations,” I inquired.
“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.
“Right, thanks for your time, Kisai,” I said.
“Any time, Tomo,” Kisai responded with a grin.
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.
“No, why would I….?” Ichaival shook his head.
“Come on, go for it. You have nothing to lose,” Shan countered.
“Maybe not for you, but I know it won’t go that smooth,” Ichaival disagreed.
“Guys, am I interrupting something important?” I interrupted their talk.
“Hey Tomo. It’s nothing important. You have something to ask us?” Ichaival glared at his friend.
“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.
Ichaival gave Shan a sharp look. Shan only laughed in response. I wondered how Ichaival felt speaking with Shan. Must be an arduous process.
“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.
“Oh this? It’s great, love being punted, it’s the best,” Shan gave a sarcastic response.
“Okay…,” I said.
“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.
“You’re not even hurt as much as I am!” Ichaival protested.
“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.
“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.
“That’s what you do all the time! Doesn’t even matter your leg got targeted!” Shan shook his head in disappointment.
“Hey, I’m not in my bed all the time! Don’t lie,” Ichaival defended himself.
At least they were in high spirits. Good for them. Although, this raised questions about their friendship.
“So, in others words, you’re okay?” I summed up.
“Better than Lionel over there in a wheelchair. How about you, Tomo? Besides Jacque, you appear decent,” Shan inquired about my injuries.
“I guess. My arms have some tightness, but other than that, don’t feel a whole lot of pain anywhere else,” I answered.
“That’s great to hear. We never have these big meetings unless it’s really important,” Ichaival observed.
“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.
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.
“Do you know what happened to Felicity?” I asked them.
“Darryl, you know anything about it?” Shan deferred to his friend.
“Don’t assume I know everything, Shigetzu. I heard she was taken to the hospital. Tess would know more,“ Ichaival answered.
“If you’re really worried, go ask Tess right now,” Shan suggested.
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.
“Tess, I forgot to ask you about Felicity,” I brought up.
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.
“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.
“Did they stomp on her like Shan? Felicity isn’t a hero. There’s no reason to even touch her,” I pointed out.
“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.
“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.
“Mirei would have known. She followed us for a significant amount of time and she would have seen Fel,” Tess answered.
“I wonder about that. Tess, you’re pretty busy, so I’ll catch up with you later,” I said, walking away.
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.
“Tomo, I’ve finally caught you,” a scary voice stated.
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!
“The harder you resist, the more it’ll hurt,” Kyoi warned.
“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.
“I don’t care about that. I’m curious about your little journey during the time you were unconscious,” Kyoi said.
“What are you talking about? You can’t expect me to remember anything,” I lied.
“Don’t play dumb, Tomo. If you communicated with Ace, then Mirei did something. What exactly was it?” Kyoi questioned.
She was perceptive as always. I came clean and explained the strange experience.
“Tomo, let me see your grimoire,” Kyoi requested.
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.
“What did you do?” I stared at Kyoi.
“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.
I shuddered at her words and stared down at my grimoire. No doubt she knew what I saw during that weird dimension.
“Tomo, something bothering you?” Jen came up to me.
“No, it’s nothing. I should be asking you that question. Can you see?” I pointed at her bandaged eye.
“Some things are blurry. I can’t practice my archery for at least a week,” Jen replied, staring at her brace.
“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.
“That’s a good way to think about it, Tomo. I like that. Oh, the meeting’s about to start,” Jen said.
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.
“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.
“The teams Tess assembled will involve at least one member from our group and one from hers,” Lilith added, adjusting her microphone.
“Form the groups listed above and I will discuss in more detail what our next steps will be,” Tess directed.
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.
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.
“Tomo, over here,” Tess called me over as everyone split into their respective groups.
“Am I with you?” I stretched, watching everyone familiarize themselves with their new teams.
“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.
“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
“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.
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.
“Tess, hold on,” I said.
“What’s wrong?” Tess questioned.
“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.
“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.
“Wouldn’t it be better to just work it out here or the training facility?” I suggested an alternative.
“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.
“I’m still worried something bad might happen. The majority of us aren’t 100\%,” I pointed out.
“Such concern for others, Tomo. Your opinion on everyone has evolved since our first encounter,” Tess observed.
“Huh? I guess. I’m worried only because we need everyone to beat Mirei,” I said.
“It’s true there are risks, sending everyone out like this. However, the locations will be devoid of any serious threats,” Tess assured me.
“If you say so,” I relented, not wanting to argue with the Gatekeeper.
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.
“Champ, something on your mind?” Tess inquired.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“That’s the spirit! We’ve all had our own issues in the past so let’s get this started right,” Bartholomew agreed.
“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.
“Yeah, I deserve that. I swear, I’ll be on my best behavior. I’m a pretty chill guy, you know,” Bartholomew responded.
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?
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.