Chapter 8:

Volume 1, Chapter 5-1: A Gracious Host

Heroes of the Past

“I don’t recognize the area,” Tess muttered, brushing the dirt off her black jeans.Bookmark here

“What do you mean you don’t recognize the area?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Every connection I should have knowledge of but this one….,” Tess spoke to herself, not looking at me.Bookmark here

“What now?” I questioned.Bookmark here

“We have no choice but to scout out the area. Stick close by me. I don’t know what kind of things are present,” Tess decided.Bookmark here

We were in a medium sized track field with a building in the distance. A low link fence separated the field from a nearby sidewalk and road. Wait, was this the field I saw before?Bookmark here

“We can’t proceed past the fence. We’ll head toward the building. Michi took that path,” Tess stated.Bookmark here

“Are you sure? If I know Ichizen, he probably would have climbed the fence,” I disagreed.Bookmark here

“He couldn’t. Try for yourself,” Tess said.Bookmark here

I walked toward the fence and heard sounds of traffic. I reached out toward the link fence. However, something prevented me from making contact with it. My hands were repelled back by some unknown force.Bookmark here

“It’s just that kind of place,” Tess said, appearing beside me.Bookmark here

“How is that possible?” I protested.Bookmark here

“This world doesn’t operate on those principles,” Tess cut me off.Bookmark here

“Are you implying that we’re in a some kind of different world?” I asked for confirmation, attempting to make sense of her words.Bookmark here

“An adequate enough description for now. We’ve wasted enough time,” Tess replied.Bookmark here

I expected a grand structure but only encountered disappointment. The exterior was falling apart. A statue perched on top of the building was missing a piece of its head. Tess entered the building without saying a word.Bookmark here

“Come on, Yuki, get it together. Let’s stop overthinking and just follow her,” I told myself.Bookmark here

I caught up to Tess as she pulled out a key. The interior resembled a large warehouse. The lighting was dim and items were strewn about with no recognizable order. We maneuvered our way around the crates and other junk, finally arriving at a door. I turned the doorknob and shook my head at Tess.Bookmark here

“I’ll leave it to you,” I said.Bookmark here

Tess moved her left hand around the door but nothing appeared. She removed two hairpins from her head, sticking them into the keyhole. After a few seconds, there was a click. Tess slowly opened the door and waved at me to follow. I took one step through the door and heard…. running water? Yet, I didn’t see a possible source for it. Further in, I noticed a small crack in the ceiling. Light shone down from it onto a podium containing a book. Ichizen approached the podium, extending his hand toward the book.Bookmark here

“Ichizen!” I shouted.Bookmark here

“Yuki. This place is amazing. I received a message on my phone after the doors shut and found myself here. It sent me another map directing me here,” Ichizen replied.Bookmark here

“How would that even work?” I questioned.Bookmark here

“Someone from here is messaging you,” Tess offered an explanation.Bookmark here

“Who is it?” I muttered.Bookmark here

“Could it have been her? It could have guaranteed his survival…. yet I didn’t find anything,” Tess whispered to herself.Bookmark here

“Guys, you’re missing the point! This is the treasure at the end of the path of heroism. All I have to do is pick up the grimoire and I will finally achieve one of my dreams!” Ichizen announced.Bookmark here

“Michi, don’t touch it!” Tess yelled out, a sense of urgency in her voice.Bookmark here

She rushed towards the podium but was repelled back. Tess clicked her tongue and wrapped a key chain around her hand, punching the air. I heard shattering glass and Tess advanced. However, Ichizen already opened the grimoire, excitement in his eyes.Bookmark here

“Michi, stop!” Tess shouted, striking Ichizen in the face with her right fist.Bookmark here

Ichizen remained stationary, undeterred by the hit. Pages separated from the book spine and floated into the air. Ichizen’s normal bright eyes went blank. I ran up toward the podium, hoping to smack sense into my childhood friend.Bookmark here

“Tomo, stay back!” Tess admonished, dashing toward me.Bookmark here

I ignored her warning, going straight for Ichizen. The pages formed a barricade, denying me further access. A force pushed me back and I landed flat on the ground.Bookmark here

“Wow, Ichizen, I’m impressed you actually resisted,” I said, getting back up.Bookmark here

“Tomo, I’m afraid my powers alone aren’t strong enough to defeat him,” Tess said.Bookmark here

“Defeat him? What are you talking about?” I asked with a quick glare.Bookmark here

“The contents of the grimoire have consumed his body,” Tess explained.Bookmark here

“We’re saving him, no matter what, okay?” I pointed at Tess.Bookmark here

The pages forming a barricade dissipated and ascended through the hole in the ceiling. I looked upward, waving at Tess.Bookmark here

“Tess! Can you plug up that hole?” I asked.Bookmark here

Chains appeared in the air, covering the hole. The grimoire pages shattered Tess’ chains upon contact, continuing their ascent. So much for that plan. Was there anything else I could do?Bookmark here

“Fine, we’ll just have to get to Ichizen some other way,” I decided.Bookmark here

He stared at the blank pages flying up and then grabbed one of the pages. Unrecognizable symbols appeared on them now and Ichizen muttered inaudible words. A circle with a star formed underneath his feet. Ichizen’s eyes reverted back to normal for a brief second.Bookmark here

“Ichizen! Come on, Ichizen, I know you can hear me! If you don’t snap out of it, I’m going to hit you and you know I will!” I warned.Bookmark here

Ichizen cackled and the pages ceased their upward movement. A few blank pages glided down onto the floor. The numerous pages plugged the hole, blocking any light from entering. The only light source now was the strange circle on the floor.Bookmark here

My childhood friend departed from the podium, tucking the grimoire underneath his left arm. He stopped three feet away from us, a cold expression on his face.Bookmark here

“Tomo Yuki, it seems you’ve been friends with him for a long time,” Ichizen spoke.Bookmark here

This was not Ichizen’s voice. His mouth moved but nothing out of it resembled the person I knew. It was sinister and brooding.Bookmark here

“The same obedient Gatekeeper as always. Did you really think you and those other so called heroes managed to seal the Traveler away? It was only temporary, you know,” Ichizen continued.Bookmark here

“And?” Tess responded, a scary expression on her face.Bookmark here

“This vessel is quite interesting. He believes so much in heroes and I can’t help but laugh at his nativity. It really gives me a good laugh,” Ichizen replied, shrugging his shoulders in a nonchalant way.Bookmark here

“Give him back!” I shouted.Bookmark here

“Oh I would love to do that, but I need him and guess what, both of you aren’t at my level. It’s quite a shame, I expected more from the Gatekeeper,” Ichizen refused, shaking his head.Bookmark here

I balled my right hand into a fist and took a few deep breaths. Clearly, this was not Ichizen. If Tess couldn’t touch him, then how could I? Three daggers suddenly flew at Ichizen. Ichizen laughed and with one wave of his hand, all the daggers clattered to the floor. Another three flew in, approaching his backside, missing as well.Bookmark here

“Oh come on!” a voice shouted.Bookmark here

Ichaival appeared, wearing a puffy vest and jeans. Tess acknowledged him with a slight nod. Ichizen glanced at Ichaival with an amused expression.Bookmark here

“What’s this? Ichaival Darryl! I still see you possess the portal archer power. Useless as always,” Ichizen mocked, picking a blade off the ground.Bookmark here

He examined the dagger with a grin. So much like Ichizen except for the warped sense of malice. Daggers converged on Ichizen from both the left and right side. Ichizen sighed and with the blade in his hand, knocked every single one down. Ichaival rushed at Ichizen, revealing a hidden blade from underneath his sleeve. Tess also joined in on the attack.Bookmark here

“I get tired of you lower tier heroes. When will you start bringing me a worthy challenge?” Ichizen remarked, knocking the two away with a simple wave of his hand.Bookmark here

One of Ichaival’s blades slid over to my feet. He appeared distracted, occupied with mocking the two people on the floor. I made up my mind and charged at Ichizen. Damn it, you’ll have to pay me back for this! I aimed my knife at the grimoire Ichizen held and prayed for contact. My hand went numb from the sudden fear entering my body. No, I needed to go through with it no matter what!Bookmark here

“I can’t believe I have to do this again,” a familiar voice said.Bookmark here

I noticed a surprised look on Ichizen’s face for the first time. Yes! I actually plunged the blade through! I stepped back, unsure of my next action. Zhuyu, wearing a zipped up gray hoodie, yanked Ichaival back up onto his feet. He gave me a brief glance and turned his attention to Ichizen.Bookmark here

“Michi? No, of course not. Man, I thought we were finished with this already,” Zhuyu said, pushing his hair up with his right hand.Bookmark here

“Oh, an actual challenge…. No, you’re weak now. If only you didn’t….,” Ichizen remarked, pulling the blade out of the grimoire.Bookmark here

The damage done by the dagger disappeared. Ichizen gave it a quick pat and smirked at Zhuyu. Zhuyu gave a serious glare in return.Bookmark here

“So that’s how she managed to hit my book. Your powers have changed,” Ichizen nodded with a knowing look.Bookmark here

“What do you want with Michi?” Zhuyu dismissed his comment, disinterest on his face.Bookmark here

“This boy is quite a specimen. A burning sense of justice and willingness to follow through with things. A very good vessel indeed. You believed you managed to destroy the Traveler, right? Your mission failed! He was part of a much bigger plan than you ever knew,” Ichizen explained, giving Zhuyu a thumbs up.Bookmark here

“The Traveler lives?” Tess asked, anger in her eyes.Bookmark here

“Very much so,” Ichizen replied with a big smile.Bookmark here

“Look, all this crap about the Traveler and heroes, I don’t care about any of it. Ichizen’s a dumbass, there’s no denying that, but even he’s not stupid enough to deserve this,” I shouted, fed up with the entire mess.Bookmark here

“Tomo Yuki, you actually should care a lot. You have a big role in all of this so don’t go denying anything. It’ll be bad for your health,” Ichizen revealed, stroking the grimoire as if it were a cat.Bookmark here

I stood there, shocked by his words. No one said anything. Really? The one time I needed information and nothing. I should have never agreed to go with Tess in the first place. If anything, it was Ichizen’s fault for my current predicament.Bookmark here

“What do you mean Tomo is a big part of this?” Ichaival questioned, looking at me and then Ichizen.Bookmark here

“Tomo Yuki, why don’t you enlighten them about those messages you’ve been receiving from me? They will be very interested,” Ichizen suggested, pulling out his phone.Bookmark here

“It seems to me it was always Ichizen destined to be the hero, not me,” I countered, shaking my head.Bookmark here

“Was that really the case? Did you ever consider the messages you received were intended just for you?” Ichizen asked, waving around his cell phone with a big smile.Bookmark here

“It’s obvious the recipients of your messages has always been Ichizen. You’re possessing him right now!” I demanded, not following his logic.Bookmark here

“Those other messages you received, well, that wasn’t me. Tell me, Tomo Yuki, who really is the intended hero?” Ichizen asked one more time.Bookmark here

Zhuyu, Ichaival, and Tess glanced at me. I didn’t know what the hell that bastard was talking about. All the messages I got were the same as Ichizen’s.Bookmark here

“No, no, you’re lying. Everything I received, they came from the same numbers that sent Ichizen’s message,” I replied.Bookmark here

“Are you absolutely certain you read every single message or did you just make assumptions? Tomo Yuki, look at your phone one more time!” Ichizen directed.Bookmark here

“I’m not going to check it,” I shouted.Bookmark here

Tess glanced over at Zhuyu and he shook his head. Could it be they were going to abandon me and leave? No, no, I would get out of here alive.Bookmark here

“Tomo Yuki, all you have to do is check your phone,” Ichizen prattled on.Bookmark here

My right hand shook. Was it fear or just nervousness? I unlocked my screen and went to my messages. Scrolling down, my eyes fell upon a new message, different than the ones from before. How could I have missed this? This message must have been sent now. The contents contained a contract, specifically asking for my confirmation of becoming a hero.Bookmark here

“The look on your face tells me that I was right. You can no longer deny your involvement in this,” Ichizen lectured, putting away his phone.Bookmark here

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