Chapter 118:

Volume 5, Chapter 3: It's the Beach!

Heroes of the Past

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Bright sunlight streamed down from a clear, blue sky. Seagulls flew around in circles, screeching at each other. A beach, really? Tess, I don’t think this is the most appropriate location.Bookmark here

“Nice, a beach! This certainly is a nice change of pace,” Bartholomew commented, shielding his eyes from the sunlight.Bookmark here

“Didn’t really think we come to a place like this, but it’s not bad,” Ichaival agreed.Bookmark here

Champ sat down, letting his crutches drop down with a soft plop. Tess scooped up sand, watching it stream back downward. I didn’t understand the Gatekeeper’s motives, taking us to such a relaxing location.Bookmark here

“Darryl and Bartholomew, head into the nearby forest and collect firewood,” Tess instructed, sitting down as well.Bookmark here

“Can I….,” I started but Tess shot me down with a sharp look.Bookmark here

“You got it,” Ichaival responded.Bookmark here

Bartholomew limped behind him. Tess patted the sand and dug into it with a nearby stick. Tess, are you really building a sandcastle? Champ observed the waves, a slight smile developing on his face. What the hell was I supposed to do if there were no enemies around?Bookmark here

“Tess, what am I suppose to exactly do around here?” I questioned.Bookmark here

“Tomo, it’s a beach. Execute whatever actions you deem appropriate,” Tess directed.Bookmark here

I couldn’t determine if Tess was messing with me. She continued construction of her sand castle, placing an incredible amount of effort into it, resembling a Japanese fort in shogun times. The Gatekeeper looked up as she finished the roof.Bookmark here

“Something wrong, Tomo?” Tess questioned.Bookmark here

“I am always at a loss for words when you do something like this,” I sighed, shaking my head.Bookmark here

“You seem rather bored, perhaps converse with Champ,” Tess suggested.Bookmark here

“I don’t think Champ wants to talk to anyone. He needs to work things out on his own,” I pointed out.Bookmark here

“Another person can provide a fresh perspective. Seeing as you have nothing else to do, it’s the best course of action for you,” Tess convinced.Bookmark here

I walked over to Champ. What to talk about? Yuka was the only connection he and I shared. Actually, this was a good time to discuss that with the man.Bookmark here

“Champ, I want to talk about Yuka,” I said, sitting down enxt to him.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I get it. You have a lot of concerns about me, especially after all the dumb crap I did,” Champ obliged.Bookmark here

“Anyone would! Just to make sure, Yuka doesn’t know anything right? She better not be involved in any of this. It’s already bad enough I’m hiding this from her,” I questioned.Bookmark here

“No, she doesn’t. I’m hoping to keep it that way. I really do care about her. You’ll do the same, right?” Champ’s propped himself upward with his crutches.Bookmark here

“Of course. After what happened Felicity, I want to make sure she’s not a target. Okay, I want to know what’s been going on with you. Tess said ‘You’re safe from her’, what does that mean?” I interrogated.Bookmark here

Champ divulged his experience concerning the masked woman and her powerful hypnotic suggestions. He was responsible for his actions, but he had been influenced. That explained his aggressive behavior towards us and his pursuit of Jacque.Bookmark here

“Tomo, I’m not like that around Yuka. I’m quite mild mannered. However, that woman awakened a less than desirable side of me. I really need better self-control,” Champ assured me, an earnest look on his face.Bookmark here

“It’s still your fault, Champ. But, everything makes more sense now. Still, what did she play on? You adopted a whole new persona, unless….,” I realized something.Bookmark here

“Yeah, not my proudest moment,” Champ admitted, cleaning his glasses.Bookmark here

“You’ve read way too many books, Champ,” I remarked.Bookmark here

“I am guilty, Tomo. Engrossing myself into a character or an exciting storyline, a book’s most powerful weapon. She exploited my weakness and I wasn’t strong enough to realize the error of my ways,” Champ said, shaking his head.Bookmark here

“Champ, is she the reason why you came after me so hard?” I connected all the dots.Bookmark here

“Yes, same with Jacque. She’s recruiting people, trying to form a group, I suspect. In fact, she’s probably the reason why Mirei came after everyone. I was just her puppet, saying whatever was on her mind,” Champ replied.Bookmark here

For once, an actual productive talk, who would have thought? Champ was an easy person to speak with, honest about himself. Wish it was that easy for people like Zhuyu, it’d make honing and copying powers so much easier.Bookmark here

“Tomo, anything else? I’ve already admitted how broken I am. Maybe more secrets about myself?” Champ chuckled.Bookmark here

“That’s enough from me for now. Just remember Yuka likes the person she met at the bookstore, not the dumbass puppet you were,” I reminded him, returning back to Tess.Bookmark here

“Ah, welcome back. You did well, Tomo,” Tess remarked, brushing off the sand from her pants.Bookmark here

“You did that on purpose,” I remarked.Bookmark here

“Maybe you’re finally getting to know everyone better. It’s up to your interpretation,” Tess said.Bookmark here

Ichaival and Bartholomew returned, carrying a pile of sticks and large branches. I didn’t see any signs of outward hatred between the two. A good sign?Bookmark here

“Four sandcastles, huh? Tess, you’re a madwoman. Hm, where’s Champ?” Bartholomew questioned.Bookmark here

“I saw him walking off somewhere,” I revealed.Bookmark here

“He had a lot on his mind. You sure he’s fine by himself?” Lionel’s protégé placed his pile down.Bookmark here

“Tess, are we trying to cook something?” Ichaival inquired.Bookmark here

“Correct. However, not all of the sticks and branches are for that purpose. Why don’t the two of you search around for anything edible? Tomo, come over here, assist me with this,” Tess ordered.Bookmark here

She pulled out a knife from the back of her belt, tossing it to me. She pointed at the branches, instructing me to cut them into smaller pieces.Bookmark here

“What am I doing this for again?” I asked, peeling off the exterior layer.Bookmark here

“Reinforcing the sand castle,” Tess answered, building a stone wall.Bookmark here

“Tess, are you messing with us just for the fun of it?” I asked, shaving off the bark.Bookmark here

“At times. However, sending Ichaival and Bartholomew off together serves a purpose. My sand castles are just a pastime. It has no real meaning other than for my own personal enjoyment,” Tess replied, placing the finishing touches on one of the buildings.Bookmark here

“Is that why you picked this place?” I brushed the wood shavings off my shirt.Bookmark here

“Would you prefer a rugged terrain filled with steep cliffs and neglected, rotten bridges?” Tess offered an alternative.Bookmark here

“This place is awesome! You think Bartholomew and Ichaival are getting along?” I asked, handing a finished stick over to her.Bookmark here

“I believe in time they will grow to be strong partners. Maybe even better than his partnership with Shigetzu. It’ll take time though, which we do not have much of. If Ace can prolong it, I would prefer that,” Tess answered.Bookmark here

“Really? Seems hard to top his chemistry with Shan, considering they’ve known each other for several years,” I remarked.Bookmark here

“We’ll see. Darryl and Bartholomew will be solid together. Let’s hope my prediction comes to fruition,” Tess said, taking her shoes off and then stepped into the water.Bookmark here

“What about Champ?” I asked.Bookmark here

“With no external influences clouding his mind, he will show his true worth. The newfound powers he develops may prove useful to the two,” Tess replied, splashing water onto her face.Bookmark here

Ichaival and Bartholomew returned, carrying fruit in their arms. Tess pointed at the water. The false archer stared at the Gatekeeper in confusioon. Bartholomew nodded in understanding and a fishing pole appeared in his hand. A cat design bobber was attached at the end. I stared at it and noticed the cat’s mouth actually opened and closed.Bookmark here

“Tess, I can’t do that. I’ll let Bartholomew handle it,” Ichaival said.Bookmark here

“You are capable, Darryl. Tomo, show him how it’s done,” Tess instructed.Bookmark here

I pondered for a few seconds and stared out into the water, searching for fish. I located a shadow and created a portal. Another one opened up besides me and water spilled out from it along with a flopping fish.Bookmark here

“Tess, is that what you had in mind?” I picked up the fish.Bookmark here

“Good job, Tomo. Darryl, you know what to do. We’ll only need six fish. Champ should be returning soon,” Tess complimented.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I can do taht,” Ichaival nodded.Bookmark here

The two completed Tess’ quota within a few minutes. The sky now turned a faded orange, evening arriving. I swear we hadn’t even been here that long. Bartholomew built a fire pit, cooking the fish over it.Bookmark here

“Bartholomew, you have a lot of experience,” I noted.Bookmark here

“I like camping and my family always goes on trips to the back country whenever they’re free,” Bartholomew revealed, handing a finished fish over to me.Bookmark here

“Thanks. Tess, shouldn’t we be looking for Champ? He’s been gone for a pretty long time,” I suggested.Bookmark here

“Tomo, do you mind searching for him? Or would you rather have Darryl or Bartholomew do it?” Tess asked.Bookmark here

“I can do it. Ichaival and Bartholomew have been walking around the whole day so it’s my turn now,” I replied, handing my fish over to Tess.Bookmark here

“Be careful, Tomo,” Tess warned.Bookmark here

I followed his footsteps, eventually hearing sounds of heavy breathing.Bookmark here

“Champ, is that you?” I called out.Bookmark here

I saw a shadow bounding in that direction. I followed it and saw Champ collapsed on the ground. A small cat jumped on top of his stomach, purring.Bookmark here

“Champ, you good?” I bent down, shining my torch light in his face.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I’m okay. Just exhausted. You know the way back?” he asked.Bookmark here

“This little guy will take us back,” I answered, pointing at the cat.Bookmark here

“Bartholomew, huh? He’s not a bad guy. Mind giving me a hand?” Champ requested.Bookmark here

I hauled Champ up. The cat guided us back and soon the bright fire Bartholomew started was in our sights.Bookmark here

“How long has your cat been following me?” Champ asked, accepting a grilled fish from the man.Bookmark here

“After your talk with Tomo. Come on, don’t hold it against me. You’re still my teammate, man,” Bartholomew answered.Bookmark here

“No, I really appreciate it. Thanks, Bartholomew,” Champ said.Bookmark here

“No problem, man. Hey, you’re finally starting to be yourself again. Tomo helped you out after all,” Lionel’s protégé remarked.Bookmark here

“Tess, we leaving soon? It’s already pretty dark,” I questioned.Bookmark here

“In time, Tomo. Let’s sit down and stare at the fire. Enjoy it,” Tess directed.Bookmark here

This was a nice reprieve from the grind of schoolwork. Tess stood up, staring out into the darkness.Bookmark here

“Champ, have you arrived at a decision yet?” Tess asked, sitting back down.Bookmark here

“Yeah. I’ll go along with these two. Might as well learn a few things and figure out what my role is,” Champ answered, a calm look on his face.Bookmark here

“Good, you’ve arrived at an answer,” Tess stated.Bookmark here

“Took awhile but I just need to get over it. I’m just a pathetic bookworm in the end,” Champ said with a chuckle.Bookmark here

“You are able to fight, even with new powers. Although it is presumptuous of me to assume you’ll relinquish your current power. The choice is yours,” Tess said, staring at him.Bookmark here

“Tess, I’ll do it,” Champ agreed.Bookmark here

“Good, I’ll set it up for you along with Jacque tomorrow,” Tess said.Bookmark here

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Late Afternoon, Spring Break Day 5

“Tomo, I would like for you to accompany me tomorrow. Both Ace and Mirei expect answers from you on Sunday. I will be by your side the entire time that day,” Tess informed me before I headed out.Bookmark here

“Oh, for Champ’s thing?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Yes and Jacque as well. Until tomorrow,” Tess said, siting down at a table and checking her tablet.Bookmark here

I entered my car and realized something. Oh yeah, Jacque. Tess probably handled it, right? To drive the man or abandon him? No, I couldn’t do that. Jacque already suffered enough. I rather not cause him any more troubles if possible. I headed back inside, waiting for Shan and the others to return.Bookmark here

“Jacque, let’s go,” I greeted him as he returned from his excursion.Bookmark here

“Oh shit, you actually waited? You’re awesome, Tomo. I thought you might have gone home already,” Jacque remarked.Bookmark here

“I was thinking about it,” I admitted.Bookmark here

“I would have driven Jacque back. Ksi, you need a ride?” Shan offered.Bookmark here

Ksi shook her head, leaving without a word. Great team chemistry there. Already saw the potential.Bookmark here

“Bro, she didn’t even say anything. Damn,” Jacque observed.Bookmark here

“She’s not use to us yet. Don’t worry, she’ll get there. Tomo, Darryl already leave?” Shan questioned.Bookmark here

“Yeah, he did. Wait, didn’t you drive him here? He’s probably outside waiting for you,” I recalled.Bookmark here

“Yeah, probably is. Better check this first,” Shan decided, tapping his phone.Bookmark here

“Bro, really?” Jacque stared at the older man.Bookmark here

“It’ll just be a minute or two. He can wait. Don’t worry about him,” Shan replied.Bookmark here

As I neared my house after dropping Jacque off, I saw Yukie on the porch. She held a camera, pointing it at the street.Bookmark here

“Yukie, what’s going on?” I called out, opening the car window.Bookmark here

“Ah, Yuki. I’m installing a security system and currently determining which angles are the
most vulnerable,” Yukie revealed.Bookmark here

“Good luck with that. I’ll be in my room if you need me for anything,” I said.Bookmark here

I sat down in my office chair, spinning around. I wonder how Ace would contact me. Actually, I was pretty scared of her potential methods. No use dwelling on it. Like Tess, I’m sure Ace would make her presence known when required. If anything, Mirei was a bigger threat because of her proximity to me.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.