Chapter 57:

Volume 3, Chapter 4: A Magical Clash

Heroes of the Past

A woman, in her early twenties, exited the front door. She wore a golden locket and a silver dress dropping below her knees. Her bracelets clanked against each other as she walked towards us. Her sleek black hair was styled in an inside out ponytail bun with an emerald hair pin stuck through it.Bookmark here

“Feng, why have you returned? I thought you promised not to bother me anymore,” the woman questioned.Bookmark here

“How I wish that were the case, former princess. You’re running a bandit base. would turn a blind eye, but it’s interfering with my business. I appreciate it if we work this out,” Kyoi responded, giving her trademark scary smile.Bookmark here

“You even brought Long, Zhang, and the others too. So, you’re begging for a fight? I’m more than willing,” the woman glanced over in my direction with contempt.Bookmark here

“Former princess, how you joke. Do you really believe that? Are you really willing to take that risk?” Kyoi asked, her voice turning serious.Bookmark here

“You defeated me once, but now, it’s a different story,” the woman replied, a burning resolve in her eyes.Bookmark here

Tess and the others appeared unconcerned about their exchange. I glanced back and forth between the two woman, unsure who would make the first move. I bet on Kyoi, but this situation seemed different than my previous experiences with the second ranked hero.Bookmark here

“Fine, former princess, I’ll give you a few conditions. If I win, you tell me about this bandit base and provide assistance. And if I lose, I’ll leave and never bother you again,” Kyoi outlined.Bookmark here

“No, if I win, you follow any orders. Seem fair to you?” the woman added.Bookmark here

Kyoi nodded in response, agreeing to her terms. There was obvious history between the two. I looked over at Tess for answers.Bookmark here

“You want to tell me who that is?” I asked.Bookmark here

“She is the former princess of this dimension. Her father was overthrown by Feng, who killed him. That isn’t the main reason for their animosity. It’s more of an issue with the way Feng took care of things during the revolution. Although it is more friendly than actual vitriol,” Tess replied.Bookmark here

“Does Kyoi actually stand a chance at losing?” I asked.Bookmark here

“She is one of the more formidable foes. I, myself, would worry about engaging in combat with her,” Tess answered.Bookmark here

If Tess was concerned, then she must be for real. I looked around the area, but saw nothing resembling a battle field. Were they going to fight here in the open?Bookmark here

“Feng, let’s head down into the battle arena. As much as I would like to fight you here, I don’t want to destroy the area,” the former princess directed, returning back inside.Bookmark here

“The same as always, huh? Tess, make sure there are no traps inside,” Kyoi commented.Bookmark here

Tess nodded, entering with caution. After confirming the area was safe, we advanced to the battle area. Man, why did everything always have to be downstairs? The former princess waited for us by a metal door and then knocked on it. The doors opened, revealing a large square dirt field with metal rods in each corner.Bookmark here

“Feng, I trust you’re familiar with the rules,” the woman said.Bookmark here

“Yes, there’s no need to waste time. Tess, will you serve as the referee?” Kyoi requested.Bookmark here

“Yes. Are you okay with that?” Tess asked, glancing over at the former princess.Bookmark here

“I am. Let’s just get this started already,” she nodded.Bookmark here

Tess raised her right arm in the air and then beams of light shot out from the metals rods. They traveled upward to the ceiling and converged at a central point, creating a structure encasing the combatants.Bookmark here

“What the hell is that? When did this become a steel cage match?” I asked, pointing at the light.Bookmark here

“Oh, I’m surprised you know about stuff like that,” Zhuyu commented, not answering my question at all.Bookmark here

“Yeah, Ichizen liked wrestling. Seriously, what is going on?” I replied.Bookmark here

“It’s a barrier. You’re right about the steel cage though. No one leaves until someone wins. Prevents outside interference too,” Zhuyu explained.Bookmark here

The stakes for this fight were higher than what I was accustomed to. This was a legitimate fight, an impressive match-up between two evenly matched participants.Bookmark here

“What’s her name?” I asked.Bookmark here

“Fei. Her father was the emperor before Feng arrived. Once he fell, the entire royal hierarchy collapsed,” Zhuyu replied.Bookmark here

“What are her powers?” I questioned.Bookmark here

“She’s a mage, well, more like a paladin. Can’t you tell?” Zhuyu said with a slight smile.Bookmark here

“What are you talking about? How do you expect me to know that?” I retorted, shaking my head.Bookmark here

“I was just joking. Calm down, Tomo. I don’t know what she’s like now, but she’s at Jin’s level. I guess we’ll see how much she’s improved,” Zhuyu finally gave me a straight answer.Bookmark here

I blinked and then everything went dark. What the hell was going on? I reached for my phone, pressing the power button, but nothing. The sound of weapons clashing against each other rang out. After what seemed like an eternity, everything became visible again.Bookmark here

“So that’s she intended to start off the match. An interesting move but one Feng can counter,” Zhuyu muttered, his composure the same as before everything went dark.Bookmark here

“Want to tell me what kind of ridiculous magic that was?” I asked.Bookmark here

“She blocked light,” Zhuyu answered.Bookmark here

“What?” I exclaimed.Bookmark here

“No light is reflected to our eyes so we can’t see anything. Of course, it’s quite hard to pull off, but that’s the basic premise. Feng’s good enough that she can fight blind,” Zhuyu elaborated.Bookmark here

Kyoi, in fact, looked quite composed. Almost too comfortable. She suffered a few minor wounds on her face. The former princess held a glowing staff in her hand.Bookmark here

“I must congratulate you on pulling that off. It actually warranted me to try. Bravo, former princess, bravo. Now here comes my attack!” Kyoi said, charging at her opponent with blinding speed.Bookmark here

Kyoi’s sword headed straight toward her opponent’s neck before something unexpected occurred. The former princess deflected the sword blow with her free hand. Kyoi pulled her weapon back, plunging it into the ground. It created a shockwave, knocking Fei down.Bookmark here

The second ranked hero immediately attacked her downed opponent, red flames engulfing her blade. Fei rolled away but her clothes caught on fire. She muttered a few words and the flames dissipated. Fei then knocked on her rod.Bookmark here

“Your magic doesn’t work twice. Do you not remember my specialty in that area?” Kyoi said, her sword landing a solid blow on Fei’s left arm.Bookmark here

Despite Kyoi’s confident statement, her opponent remained calm. She raised her rod and multiple rays of light appeared. Kyoi glanced up in the air, clicking her tongue.Bookmark here

“How come she can’t do that blackout move again?” I inquired.Bookmark here

“One of Feng’s skills is magic decomposition. She breaks down her opponent’s magic structure and creates countermeasures. It’s why she’s ranked so high. Jin can do it too but Feng’s the master at it,” Zhuyu answered, staring up at the ceiling.Bookmark here

Tess stood in the left corner of the battlefield, a flat expression on her face. Kyoi swung her sword back and forth, deflecting light rays shooting at her from multiple angles. Every time Kyoi deflected, they returned, with only a few seconds delay. Kyoi seemed amused by the entire situation and finally stopped defending. She raised her left hand in the air and a portal opened up. The light dissipated and the former princess’ brows furrowed.Bookmark here

“Care to tell me what kind of dumb science that was?” I pointed at the battlefield.Bookmark here

“The former princess set up a bunch of magical mirrors, deflecting her light magic around. Feng reduced the intensity by using physics, you know polarizers and such,” Zhuyu replied.Bookmark here

Right. Kyoi was apparently a top student. The match was at a stalemate. Kyoi baited her opponent, waiting for a mistake. The former princess’ rod dissipated and she entered a fighting stance. Kyoi sheathed her sword in response.Bookmark here

“Hand to hand magical combat. It’s been awhile since I’ve seen Feng actually do this. The former princess was trained in this subject matter by her father so she does have the advantage,” Zhuyu replied.Bookmark here

“I don’t really understand. If they can use magic, why not keep using it? I mean, that’s their strong point, right?” I inquired, confused.Bookmark here

“The former princess realized her magic isn’t at Feng’s level. She now intends to prove her strength through a different branch of magic. This is the one she specializes in so she’ll go all out,” Zhuyu explained.Bookmark here

“It’s been a long time since I’ve seen something like this. I still think Feng will win,” Shui spoke for the first time since the fight started.Bookmark here

“I guess we’ll see,” Zhuyu nodded.Bookmark here

I looked away from the two combatants, focusing on Tess. She moved closer to the participants, her eyes now containing a bit of emotion. Before she seemed bored, but this sudden development intrigued her.Bookmark here

Fei started off with a low punch. Kyoi moved her right arm down to block, but it was a feint by the former princess. She instead went in for a low kick, striking Kyoi in her knee. Kyoi showed no signs of pain, moving behind Fei immediately.Bookmark here

With a swift kick to the back of Fei’s leg, Kyoi hurled her down to the ground. She then slammed into Fei’s back with her left knee. However, the woman clutched her knee after the initial contact, grimacing. It was the first time Kyoi made such a face.Bookmark here

Fei took advantage, thrusting her palm into Kyoi’s stomach. The fluid motion and quick speed of the move caught me off guard. Kyoi clutched her stomach in pain. The former princess continued her assault. She followed up with a multitude of kicks, leaving Kyoi crumpled down on the ground. Fei then punched Kyoi right in the stomach, shaking the ground around them. Kyoi coughed, a slight trickle of blood dripping out from the right side of her mouth.Bookmark here

“Zhuyu, Kyoi’s in some serious trouble. She’s bleeding! I’ve never seen that before,” I said with concern.Bookmark here

“Tomo, what do you think we should do if we lose?” Zhuyu asked.Bookmark here

“What? Don’t think about that right now. Are you crazy?” I questioned.Bookmark here

“It’s a possibility,” Zhuyu said with a serious look on his face.Bookmark here

Kyoi finally displayed signs of resistance, escaping her opponent’s hold. With incredible dexterity, Kyoi jumped, driving her right knee down into Fei’s neck. Fei collapsed and Kyoi stomped on the former princess’ left kneecap. She continued targeting it and Fei failed at escaping. Kyoi smashed her right fist into the other kneecap. A look of surprise appeared on Fei’s face as Kyoi relented.Bookmark here

“I believe the fight is now over,” Kyoi declared.Bookmark here

“No, Feng, it’s not….,” Fei protested.Bookmark here

What the hell happened within those few attacks? Fei controlled the fight for the entire time, but then Kyoi somehow dealt fatal blows. Zhuyu tilted his head to the left, a thoughtful expression on his face.Bookmark here

“Tess, what’s the verdict?” Kyoi asked, facing her.Bookmark here

“I deem Fei unable to fight and award you the victory. Fei, Feng has disrupted your magic flow, and dealt severe damage to your legs. You may continue if you wish. I advise you not to,” Tess answered.Bookmark here

“Feng, it’s your victory. You’re fast as usual, locating the weak points in my channeling,” Fei admitted,munable to stand on her own.Bookmark here

“I just have insight. It’s as simple as that,” Kyoi replied, offering her hand to Fei.Bookmark here

Fei accepted begrudgingly and Kyoi hauled her off the ground. Kyoi and Tess carried her back up to the main floor and we followed behind them.Bookmark here

“How is she going to help us?” I asked.Bookmark here

“The former princess should be fine within a few hours, once her magic flows again. As for our next steps, I’m not sure,” Zhuyu answered.Bookmark here

When we arrived at the stairs, ten bandits dressed in high-end equipment appeared. Kyoi gave them a stare and they backed off. Still, I could tell they weren’t the run of mill enemies from before.Bookmark here

“It’s okay. She’s an ally for now, be at ease,” Fei ordered.Bookmark here

“You know about her exploits, right?” one of the bandits spoke up.Bookmark here

“Fool! It’s obvious I know. Leave and defend this place. Don’t worry about me. While you’re at it, set up guest rooms for their use,” Fei chided.Bookmark here

They nodded and left. She glanced at me for a few seconds before shifting her focus over to Zhuyu and En. We finally arrived at Fei’s room after traversing through a set of complicated hallways. I expected lavish furniture and beautiful decorations inside. My expectations were shattered immediately. This looked like my room. No, that was a lie. It was slightly better. The furnishings were simple and practical.Bookmark here

“Your friend seems to believe I live in luxury,” Fei commented, seeing the surprise on my face.Bookmark here

“You’re a princess,” I retorted.Bookmark here

“Note the emphasis on “former”. That title should have been dropped once my father died. Still, Feng and Long insist on addressing me as such. What poor tastes. Long, you seem quiet, much more than usual. Has Feng broken you to the point where you can’t even speak without her permission?” Fei laughed.Bookmark here

“That would be a terrible day. Not much to say. You appear fine for someone banished from the administrative branch,” Zhuyu replied, his tone much more natural than when he spoke to me.Bookmark here

“I do what I can. So, tell me about this newcomer. Don’t tell me she’s someone’s girlfriend? You can’t bring people in here like that,” Fei asked, looking at me.Bookmark here

“What? Of course not, that’s crazy. I’m here to learn how to be a hero,” I replied.Bookmark here

The woman gave me a blank look. She glanced over at Kyoi and the others for confirmation. Kyoi nodded and the former princess heaved a heavy sigh. She sized me up and finally spoke again.Bookmark here

“You know what they do, right?” the former princess asked, pointing at Kyoi.Bookmark here

“I have a general idea. They aren’t exactly model heroes. If you’re talking about that, then yes,” I nodded.Bookmark here

“Putting that aside for now, how did you get dragged into this mess? I doubt you chose it,” Fei requested details.Bookmark here

I informed her about Ichizen and everything leading up to current events. Midway through my story, I realized a potential mistake. I didn’t fully trust her yet. She was one of Kyoi’s acquaintances and any involvement with her raised red flags.Bookmark here

Despite my doubts, I continued on. Maybe because I wanted someone to hear my story so far. Or the hope she could provide an easy answer for this entire situation. Regardless of what it was, I revealed mostly everything, waiting for Fei’s response.Bookmark here

“You’re a victim in all of this. I could console you, but that doesn’t change anything. There’s a way out. We can do a power transfer ritual. If you really don’t want any of this, Tess and I are capable of removing this burden,” Fei offered.Bookmark here

The former princess raised the exact same point as Tess. Before I was unsure, but now I knew. Everyone probably didn’t relish jumping into different dimensions as a viable hobby. Kyoi might be an exception though. I’m sure the others were offered opportunities to quit. If they managed to persevere, then I could too. Probably stubborn pride on my part, but I would see this through.Bookmark here

“No, I appreciate you asking though. Kyoi, you said we’re going hunting, so let’s do that,” I stated.Bookmark here

“We shall, but our beautiful royalty has a few things to tell us,” Kyoi said, looking at the former princess.Bookmark here

“How does that involve me? Hunting those creatures is of no concern to me. Do what you want,” Fei asked, shaking her head.Bookmark here

“Why go through all of the trouble setting up guards if you felt secured enough here? You also have that long winding tunnel which isn’t just for show. Something is out there, care to tell me?” Kyoi interrogated.Bookmark here

Fei remained silent, not saying a word. Zhuyu and the others stood by the window in silence. Was there really such a dangerous creature? I couldn’t tell if Kyoi was bluffing so Fei could divulge information.Bookmark here

“Like you suspect, there are creatures. It multiplies after devouring prey, growing stronger. I’ve hunted down several copies, but haven’t found the original. Take that down and its clone die along with it,” Fei revealed.Bookmark here

“Has the original crossed the boundary line?” Kyoi questioned.Bookmark here

“We don’t know. Judging from the data, it was in this general area. None of my traps triggered,” the former princess replied.Bookmark here

“What time is it now?” Kyoi asked.Bookmark here

“Early evening. You don’t plan to head out now?” Fei asked.Bookmark here

“Of course not. That’s a suicide mission. Once darkness hits, the snow picks up and we can’t even see anything,” Kyoi answered.Bookmark here

“So, what’s the plan, Feng?” Zhuyu asked.Bookmark here

“We’ll hold a strategy meeting and stay the night. We don’t have much of a choice. Unless Tomo prefers to trek through the tunnel and back to the vehicle in the dead of night, that’s always an option,” Kyoi replied.Bookmark here

“Of course not. Out of curiosity, how does time work here?” I asked.Bookmark here

“It’s not equivalent. One minute here doesn’t equal one minute back in our world,” Tess replied.Bookmark here

“If we stay the night, then it’ll be the same day back home?” I asked for confirmation.Bookmark here

“Correct. There are certain exceptions, but in those cases, we evacuate and return immediately,” Tess nodded.Bookmark here

“Think of it like a simulation game. You go through multiple days in span of two to three hours? Something like that,” Zhuyu added on an unnecessary amount of detail.Bookmark here

“Yeah, I get it,” I nodded.Bookmark here

Fei directed us to the guest rooms. Kyoi, Tess, and I all shared one room. There were three separate beds, sheets already tucked in, and blankets folded with precision. There was still downtime before the meeting. For now, it might be a good idea to check my grimoire. Now was a good time to see what En’s memories would reveal.Bookmark here

You can resume reading from this paragraph.