Chapter 126:

Volume 5, Interlude: A Look Into Their Lives

Heroes of the Past

“I’m not surprised you finally moved over here. The Shakai Group controls ninety percent of all major businesses in the region,” Jessica Staccato said, glancing over a resume.Bookmark here

“I’ve known Felicity since high school. Her family has always been strict. Even if her parents aren’t CEO anymore, they’re still involved. I figured things wouldn’t change,” Ko stated.Bookmark here

Ko made a name for herself as an adviser for many budding entrepreneurs. However, the Shakai Group’s influence proved too strong, and many of those small businesses were absorbed into the corporation. To people on the outside, they were allowed their own autonomy. However, there existed rumors that the large company mandated non-negotiable guidelines. There was never any evidence to collaborate such claims.Bookmark here

“Konoe offered you a job. Why did you turn it down?” Jessica questioned.Bookmark here

“It’s not the right fit for me. Besides, I could never work for a company like that. It’s all a little too stuffy for me,” Ko replied.Bookmark here

“And you think my company isn’t?” Jessica pressed her.Bookmark here

“Of course. I’ve worked with enough people to know how you run things. Look, I didn’t graduate with a business degree like Felicity. But, I’ve worked enough places and made enough connections to really help people out when they’re just starting,” Ko responded.Bookmark here

“I do like interesting people. Oh, excuse me, I’m getting a call. Do you mind waiting outside while I take it?” the woman requested.Bookmark here

“Of course,” Ko obliged, walking out of the office.Bookmark here

The head of Sica tapped a button on her board and a frantic voice came through. Staccato didn’t like unscheduled distractions, especially when conducting a job interview. However, the caller on the line only called if it was a real emergency.Bookmark here

“What is it, Doctor Xiao?” Jessica asked.Bookmark here

“Don’t start off by calling me that, Jessica! It’s a serious matter that the company is dealing with. Why am I even involved on the business side when I’m suppose to be a researcher?” the head of the Sica R&D team shouted.Bookmark here

“It must be bad if you’re already using that tone with me,” Jessica remarked.Bookmark here

“Of course it’s a big deal! The Shakai Group is finally making their move!” Doctor Xiao revealed.Bookmark here

“Oh, that’s nothing. Just ignore it and they’ll go away,” Jessica dismissed.Bookmark here

“They’ve already started contacting our shareholders, Jessica. I know they made advances in the past, but this is the most blatant they’ve been about it in the past few years. Are you really not concerned at all?” the researcher said.Bookmark here

Jessica leaned back on her chair, remaining silent. It was true that in the past two years, the Shakai Group made their intentions clear about acquiring Sica. Being the president, she knew what they were capable of when her company agreed to a working partnership with them. The woman had the smallest of hopes that when Konoe was named the new CEO, there would be a culture shift. Still, the Sica head always planned ahead so this sudden surge by the Shakai Group was nothing but a minor annoyance. One that could be dealt with ease.Bookmark here

“Castalia, inform all the shareholders that there will be a meeting tomorrow. Also contact any news outlets and make posts on social media that I’ll hold a press conference in the afternoon addressing the actions of the Shakai Group,” Jessica’s voice turned serious.Bookmark here

“I still don’t know why I’m stuck doing all of this for you. Can you not just hire a full-time secretary to handle these things. I’ll do it but I’m not happy at all,” Castalia grumbled.Bookmark here

“Please, I pay you a bonus every month for being so skillful at doing all of this. You’re a valuable employee and one that’s known me long enough to know all my quirks. Of course I would trust you to perform those kind of menial tasks for me,” Jessica countered.Bookmark here

“Fine! Have it your way. I’ll call back if anything else comes up,” she stated before hanging up.Bookmark here

Ko was called back into the room. She was hired as the leader of the new team that the Sica president just formed. Jessica had kept tabs on the woman ever since Ko worked with the major tech companies during her junior year of college. Ko certainly had eccentricities, but she was a hard worker. Jessica foresaw her move into her area and planned out the new position accordingly even before the woman submitted her application. Sica was too well-run to ever fall into the hands of the Shakai Group.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

“So you’re telling me that a younger version of Yuki is back?” Zhang responded in surprise as he played Monster Slayer with Long.Bookmark here

“Yeah. Scared the shit out of me when she just appeared in my class all of a sudden,” Long said, taking damage as the monster hurled his character across the map.Bookmark here

“Why do I get the feeling that you’re actually telling the truth?” Zhang asked, healing the math instructor before the monster carted him.Bookmark here

“Come on, there’s no reason for me to lie about this,” his friend shot back.Bookmark here

“Yeah, it would really be scummy of you to do that. Watch out for its tail! Let me mount it first. Get your shots ready. So, what do you want from me?” the short man inquired, mashing the A button.Bookmark here

“What do you mean?” Long asked, aiming the bowgun’s reticle at the monster’s head.Bookmark here

“Aren’t you going to ask me to join you or something like that?” Zhang inquired.Bookmark here

Long remained silent for so long that his friend thought he disconnected from their call. Zhang’s character leaped off the monster and chugged a potion. The lecturer fired rapid shots before switching over to sleep ammunition. He then put the enemy to sleep and placed down barrel bombs around its head.Bookmark here

“Go for it! Yeah, that’s part of the reason why I wanted to play,” Long finally said, leaping back as Zhang swung his blade downward, detonating the explosives.Bookmark here

The monster wriggled around and then victory music played. Long placed his controller down, sighing with relief. He nodded with approval, satisfied with the amount of time they cleared that quest, especially against a high-ranking monster too.Bookmark here

“Can’t believe we actually beat it so fast. Remember to bring traps,” Zhang said.Bookmark here

“Damn, where was my invite?” Shigetzu joined their call.Bookmark here

“We all know you’re too busy to play this regularly anymore,” Long replied.Bookmark here

“Nah, I’m on sometimes. What’s the event going on?” Shigetzu said.Bookmark here

“Just your standard collaboration with Devil Mayhem,” Long informed him.Bookmark here

Long sipped tea from his mug, letting Shigetzu select the monster for their next quest. Zhang departed for a bathroom break. The lecturer scrolled through past messages, searching for the link to optimized equipment.Bookmark here

“You think Zhang will join us?” Shigetzu asked.Bookmark here

“Huh? Oh, you mean that. Probably not. He works the night shift. Besides, I don’t think he’ll come back anyways. You’re not all in either, right?” Long answered.Bookmark here

“Still deciding. It’s not everyday you get to jump back into other dimensions and deal with the aftermath,” Shigetzu responded.Bookmark here

“Very true. Your wife isn’t too excited to learn about all of this, I assume?” Long guessed.Bookmark here

“Why did you even ask, Long, when you know the answer?” Shigetzu scrolled through the change log, checking all the updates he missed.Bookmark here

“Should have known,” Long stated.Bookmark here

“What about you, Long? It’s only been what, three or four years, since you’ve come back from that long trip of yours. You ready to get back into the game?” Shigetzu shifted the focus over to him.Bookmark here

“If I’m honest, no, not really. Shit’s gonna be worse now that we’re all working full-time. And we’re missing a Gatekeeper,” the man admitted.Bookmark here

“You should do it. You worked with Tess the most. Come on, just do it!” Shigetzu encouraged.Bookmark here

“No way, I can’t handle all of that. I have a much better candidate in mind,” Long refuted.Bookmark here

“What’s going on?” Zhang returned, adjusting his headphones.Bookmark here

“Just talking about the old days. You down to swing that greatsword again? I’m not talking about in-game, Zhang,” Shigetzu asked.Bookmark here

“I’m good. Swinging it in the game is a lot easier. I’m way too out of shape for any of that. I say that now, but Long’s gonna find some dumb way of getting me involved. My answer’s no for now,” Zhang stated.Bookmark here

“I get it. I’m still thinking about it too,” Shigetzu said.Bookmark here

“Alright, let’s actually hunt now. We’ll talk about this soon anyways, Shigetzu,” Long decided.Bookmark here

Long took off his glasses and stretched. It was a rarity for all three men to be online at the same time. So, might as well get a few hunts in while they could. Shigetzu selected the bow for his character, joking it was in honor of Darryl joining them for drinks with everyone. Long contemplated a heavy weapon, but ended up selecting his old favorite, dual blades. Zhang switched his greatsword out for a bug glaive. It wasn’t the original set-up the three people ran when they first played Monster Slayer together, but that didn’t matter. The fun was in figuring out how to take down the monster and at times suffering an excruciating defeat, only to avenge their loss in a thrilling battle the next time.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

“How can I help you today?” Yuka greeted a woman walking into the library.Bookmark here

“Yuka! It’s been such a long time!” Manami hugged her right away.Bookmark here

“I didn’t know you were back in town! Sit down, please,” Yuka said, pulling out a chair for her.Bookmark here

“Is this a good time, Yuka?” Manami questioned.Bookmark here

“Yeah. The afternoon rush already ended. I’m just volunteering anyways,” Yuka revealed.Bookmark here

“Volunteering? That makes sense. You still love books as always,” Manami said.Bookmark here

The two woman caught up with each other, exchanging stories. Yuka learned Manami was in the region for a medical conference hosted by the Shakai Group. Ichizen’s cousin relocated after graduating and had not returned in the past four years. She also wanted to visit her cousin’s grave while here and planned to stop by the hospital as well.Bookmark here

“How’s Yuki?” Manami’s voice turned serious.Bookmark here

“No change. The doctors think she’ll stay like that,” Yuka answered.Bookmark here

“I was hoping for better news, but at least she’s stable. When are you free, Yuka? I want to stop by Yuki’s house and talk with her mom,” Manami questioned.Bookmark here

“Let’s me check my schedule. How long are you here for? Mrs. Tomo will be glad to have company when she’s visiting Yuki,” Yuka replied.Bookmark here

“I’ll be here for two weeks. The Shakai Group has a lot of events going on for this conference,” Manami explained.Bookmark here

“The Shakai Group is keeping busy as always,” Yuka commented.Bookmark here

“In a good or bad way?” Manami asked.Bookmark here

“That depends on who you’re asking. Felicity will always say it’s for everyone’s best interest,” Yuka replied.Bookmark here

“Oh yeah, I keep forgetting you know the president of the Shakai Group. It’s old news by now since she took over a year ago,” Manami said.Bookmark here

“I only message with her occasionally. We don’t talk that much. Oh, this is the perfect book for you. It’s based on a childhood book about a traveling bear,” Yuka said, grabbing a hardcover from a nearby shelf.Bookmark here

“I do love stories about anthropomorphic animals. This is honestly a very appropriate book for Yukie. Her style and manners are impeccable just like the bear,” Manami commented, reading the synopsis.Bookmark here

“Where are you staying, Manami?” Yuka asked.Bookmark here

“The Shakai Group provided rooms for us at a hotel near the convention center. Honestly though, I prefer to stay in my old room whenever I’m back home. But my parents already sold the house so that’s not possible anymore,” Ichizen’s cousin answered.Bookmark here

“Things always change. I’ll let you get to your hotel and relax,” Yuka remarked.Bookmark here

“Don’t forget to message me!” Manami reminded before she departed.Bookmark here

***Bookmark here

Maka, the SIU director, scanned the area with his abnormality detector. The digital display showed a zero at first but then beeped, flashing a 101. He recorded the measurement in his notebook, comparing it to previous results. Over the past month, a sudden spike occurred, despite the Gatekeeper sealing off the entire Crossroads from where the heroes originated from. Connections to other dimensions were still active but unstable. Travel between different dimensions were sparse but still ongoing. As such, the Special Investigations Unit was still active.Bookmark here

“Rev, can you check something for me?” the director asked.Bookmark here

“What do you need?” his subordinate responded.Bookmark here

“Pull up files on Tess’ team and any information that the Gatekeeper left behind about Crossroad connections to their world,” he requested.Bookmark here

“Got it,” Rev replied.Bookmark here

Maka wasn’t sure if the heroes were returning or not. It had been a decade without any contact. This sudden surge in activity intrigued the man. Whether it was them or another group, he would prepare for a potential arrival.  Bookmark here

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