Someone suddenly appeared behind him, wielding a glowing knife blade. It missed his neck, slashing Ichizen’s right arm instead. My friend dropped the grimoire, staring at his wound in shock.
“Zhuyu Long was just bait. You finally made your move, Kisai Jin!” Ichizen shouted, ignoring the blood spilling out from his arm.
“Of course, the best always comes to save the day,” Kisai remarked, grinning despite the situation.
“I have to admit you did manage to get the best of me. You really are a high caliber hero, Kisai Jin,” Ichizen said.
The grimoire flew up into the air and towards someone. A tall man wearing a black rain jacket leaped up, grabbing it by the spine. Why couldn’t they have arrived sooner? Maybe Ichizen wouldn’t have been possessed in the first place.
“Here!” Shan said, tossing the grimoire over to Tess.
Tess nodded and drove her key into the grimoire. Golden chains wrapped around the grimoire, securing the item. I let out a sigh of relief.
“Really? Let me summarize your attacks. Ichaival Darryl, the lower tier hero, attacked me with toothpicks. The Gatekeeper broke my barrier but couldn’t do a single thing. Zhuyu Long, a supposed high ranking hero, is trash now. Kisai Jin, I applaud you for dealing some damage, but surely a battle mage of your talent is capable of more than this. Shan Shigetzu, you grab my grimoire with your gravitational manipulation, but what more can you really do?” Ichizen berated, the wound on his right arm vanishing.
“The grimoire isn’t your only source of power. Where are you getting it from?” Kisai asked.
“Why don’t you ask Shan Shigetzu? I do believe he can read minds,” Ichizen dared, sticking out his tongue.
“Not even I can read closed minds,” Shan stated, looking at him.
Were these people really heroes? I expected more especially in this type of situation. My lack of power frustrated me. If I took Ichizen’s delusions of being a hero more seriously, then I could have prevented all of this.
“Is this all you could muster? I had strict orders not to harm any of you since my master would like to see you struggle. Don’t worry, your friend Michi Ichizen will be taken care of,” Ichizen laughed.
Ichizen pointed at the bound grimoire in Tess’ possession. The chains binding it broke off with ease. Halfway through its travel back to the owner, a woman appeared out of nowhere. She carried two swords and the look on her face was more terrifying than Tess’ glare. The mysterious person drove her left sword into Ichizen’s leg and the other blade slashed Ichizen’s chest.
“Son of a…!” Ichizen screeched, a pained look appearing on his face.
The woman continued her assault. Ichizen countered, flinging Ichaival’s dagger at her. It burst into flames, disappearing with a waft of smoke after a wave of her hand. She continued slashing, relentless in her attacks.
“Stop it! You’re going to kill him!” I shouted, worried for Ichizen.
I witnessed the true meaning of fear. Her face displayed a smile containing killing intent. I shut my mouth, saying nothing for fear of becoming a casualty. Ichizen lay on the floor, blood spilling out from the heavy wounds inflicted. She loomed over him, her swords still raised. Ichizen rose up and like before, his wounds vanished. Unlike the time Kisai struck him though, a few wounds remained.
“ I did ask for a challenge and I should have kept my mouth shut. Kyoi Feng, I should have known you were lurking somewhere around here,” Ichizen muttered, clutching his stomach.
“I enjoy a good fight. Long, won’t you consider taking up this sword again?” she asked, smiling at Zhuyu.
Zhuyu remained silent and only shook his head. Kyoi gave him a disappointed look but shrugged her shoulders.
“You actually did damage I can’t reverse. I’m starting to see why people fear you so much,” Ichizen said, inching away from her.
“I’m so nice to everyone though. How could you say mean things like that about me?” Kyoi asked.
“The hell you are,” Zhuyu remarked.
The sound of water, from when I first entered, was audible again. Kisai, seeing an opportunity, backed up Kyoi. When Kyoi slashed at Ichizen from the front, Kisai cast magic. A surge of light engulfed Ichizen. However, my eyes were not focused on the battle. The wall behind them opened up, revealing a small spring. I stared at it, mesmerized by its beauty.
“That was not suppose to open! Michi Ichizen, don’t do it. You know what will happen and you still choose that path?” Ichizen exclaimed.
Ichizen advanced toward the spring but stopped. Zhuyu and Shan collaborated, preventing Ichizen from advancing. The task was difficult for them, judging from the strain on their faces. I took advantage of the situation, walking toward the spring, drawn in.
“Tomo, what are you….?” Tess asked.
I arrived at the spring and bent down on my knees, splashing water onto my face. It felt refreshing. If only my everyday life was like the glistening, pristine water. How I wished for peaceful days.
“They will never come unless you do something about your friend. Do you desire peace?” a voice asked, breaking up my peaceful reverie.
“Of course I do. Everything around me is collapsing. I hate it all!” I shouted.
The peaceful water rippled and I tried shouting. Nothing came out of my mouth. I looked at the water, seeing my own reflection. What was going on?
“Steel yourself, Tomo Yuki. If you desire peaceful days, you’ll have to earn them back. Did you really think you could just close your eyes and everything would go away?” the voice warned.
“Where and who are you?” I questioned, staring at my own reflection.
“There’s no need for you to know. Only one decision must be made. What extents are you willing to go for your peace?” the voice asked.
“I’ll do whatever you want me to do,” I finally agreed.
“Very well. Anything which happens next is of your own will. You agreed to peace which will be obtained no matter what circumstances you must endure. I am not responsible for anything,” the voice warned.
The water in front of me moved with violent motions. Water drenched me in the face with a loud splash. I felt the sensation of sharp objects piercing my face. I clutched my face in pain, expecting blood on my hand. When I glanced downward, there was nothing.
Noise rushed back into my ears. Ichizen laughed as those opposing him breathed heavily. I stared down at my feet and no longer saw water. Instead, a stone tablet appeared in the space previously occupied by the spring. I inspected the strange symbols carved on it.
“What? You…!” Ichizen said, noticing my actions.
The symbols on the tablet lit up with a bright light and the circle around Ichizen’s feet vanished. Ichizen stepped back in shock but regained his composure.
“Now that it has come to this point, I guess I should tell you one thing,” Ichizen said.
“You have nothing to tell me that will change my mind. I will get my friend back so get over here,” I shouted with a renewed confidence.
“Now, now, Tomo Yuki. I beseech you to think about this before taking any rash actions. If you hurt me, you’ll hurt your friend. I’m sure…,” he explained but I cut him short.
I delivered a powerful punch to his stomach. Ichizen crashed into the left corner of the wall with a thud. Kyoi pinned him to the wall with both her swords. She stared straight at me and grinned.
“You’re finally ready to do something. I’ll leave it to you. You mess up even once and I can’t guarantee your friend’s safety or yours for that matter,” she admonished and stepped away from Ichizen.
I ignored her words but was thankful for her actions. Ichizen struggled against the blades. I held the stone tablet over his head. Fear finally appeared in the eyes of whoever possessed him. Good, no hesitation on my part then.
“Ichizen, I’m sorry about this,” I exclaimed, smashing the tablet over his head.
Ichizen stared at me and for a moment, I saw a glimpse of the person I knew. Pieces of the stone tablet scattered across the floor. Kyoi looked at me with scary eyes, beckoning for me to finish him off. I hesitated though.
“Take this as a suggestion. Kill him now!” Kyoi urged.
When Tess and I entered this place, there was only one goal in mind. Rescue Ichizen and get out as fast as possible. I stared at the swords pinning him to the wall.
“No, I won’t do that. I’ve saved Ichizen already by following the directions on the tablet,” I refused.
“Your loss then,” Kyoi shrugged her shoulders and reclaimed her two weapons.
Ichizen fell to the floor, falling on top of shattered tablet pieces. Ichizen should be fine, right? I still had reservations about the voice. What was the trying circumstances it mentioned?
“Feng, stand back. It’s done,” Zhuyu said.
Kyoi stepped back, sheathing her two swords. Everyone else kept their eyes on Ichizen. She gave me one last look, convincing me to reconsider. I shook my head.
“Ichizen, are you okay now?” I asked, bending down to check on him.
“Uhh,” he groaned.
He gave me a weak smile and tried standing up. His legs shook and he collapsed down onto his right knee.
“Man, Yuki, the path of heroism is pretty hard. Thanks for breaking me out of that. My head really hurts and my vision is kind of blurry,” Ichizen said.
“You’re an idiot but at least you’re safe now. How are you feeling?” I asked.
“Like crap. I think….,” he muttered and then fell onto the floor face first.
The tablet pieces shone with a strange light, piercing Ichizen throughout various parts of the body. Ichizen shouted out in pain, grasping his bloody chest.
“Ichizen!” I shouted.
“I’ll stabilize him. Long, Jin, and Shigetzu. I’ll need your help,” Tess immediately barked out orders.
Golden chains wrapped around Ichizen and the blood flowing out of his body ceased. Tess knelt down, touching a tablet piece lodged in his body. Ichizen’s breathing became heavy. Ichaival watched from the side, biting his lip.
“Remind me of your limitations in terms of healing magic,” Tess looked at Kisai and Kyoi.
“Only third tier relief spells. No pain healing or severe wound damage,” Kisai replied.
“Protective magic only,” Kyoi revealed.
“We’ll have to improvise. Jin, key! You know what to do, right?” Tess decided, placing her hands on the tablet piece lodged near Ichizen’s heart.
Kisai held the key with a tight grip as Tess moved her hand across Ichizen’s upper body. She then gave Shan and Zhuyu orders. Kisai stopped Tess when her hands neared Ichizen’s upper left chest.
“What’s going on?” I looked at Ichaival who only shook his head.
“Tess is attempting to cut off whatever magic or force is being forcibly injected into Michi by the tablet,” Kyoi explained.
“Feng, maintain my chains while I open up an exit for Darryl. Darryl, tell Felicity to call a private ambulance, specifically….,” Tess ordered.
“Okay,” Ichaival nodded.
A golden sliding door manifested and Ichaival went through it. The door vanished once Ichaival stepped through. Kyoi knelt down, grasping one of the chains and a red glow emanated from the woman’s hand. I stared at Ichizen, having no choice but to watch them. I grabbed Ichizen’s hand, comforting him.
“Long, how are you holding up?” Tess questioned.
“I cancel one and an exponential amount replace the one I destroyed,” Zhuyu wiped the sweat from his forehead.
“Tess, it’s becoming unstable. There’s too much to keep up with,” Kisai warned.
“Damn it,” Shan said, sweat pouring down from his forehead as well.
The tablet pieces shook and the chains wrapping around Ichizen snapped. Tess collapsed to the floor, clutching her head in pain. Zhuyu fell to his knee. Kisai dropped the key, breathing heavily. Shan limped over to Zhuyu, helping the man up to his feet. Kyoi clicked her tongue, lifting Tess up from the floor.
“What now?” Kyoi questioned Tess.
“Sh-, can’t do anything. Only thing we can do is get him out of here,” Tess said in a labored voice.
Tess flung a key down on the ground and in its place, a door appeared. Kyoi shoved me through the door. Did this mean…. Ichizen was going to die? I found myself back in the gym storage room. Felicity was there on her phone but dropped it, giving me a hug.
“Sorry about all of this, Yuki. This is the only thing I can do for you now,” Felicity said in a choked voice.
Everyone else appeared soon after. Ichizen was on the ground, cuts across his face but no lodged tablet pieces. I knelt down, grabbing his hand. He held a pendant, similar in color to the stone tablet. Ichizen’s hand were cold and I didn’t feel a pulse. Come on, you have to make it through. This was the one time where you need to believe in your heroism the most.
“Is it here yet?” Tess asked in a weak voice.
“Waiting outside,” Felicity answered.
Two paramedics came in through the door, placing down a stretcher. They loaded Ichizen onto it, carrying him out. I requested to ride along in the ambulance and we arrived at the hospital within ten minutes. I looked at the vitals screen, knowing that the chances were slim. But even so, I wanted to keep believing.
“You’ll have to wait outside here,” the doctor told me as they moved Ichizen into the emergency room.
Tess and the others sat down, conversing. I sank down into a chair, devoid of energy. Felicity sat next to me, offering tissues. I blew my nose and wiped away my tears, thanking her.
“Tomo, I apologize we were unable to bring Michi back to the normal world in stable condition. When you’re ready, I will explain everything to you,” Tess bowed her head.
“Yeah, I expect you will. Ichizen’s going to die, isn’t he?” I looked at her.
“It is very probable. I can’t guarantee you anything. The damage he sustained…. it is past the point of survival even for the most experienced of us,” Tess shook her head.
I wanted to hit something. More specifically, any of these so called heroes. They could have arrived earlier, they could have…. no, that was wishful thinking on my part. I slammed my fist into the chair, frustrated with my inability to do anything. Ichizen, you bastard, always going out there without any consideration for others. I shook my head, wiping away more tears.
The doctor walked out soon after. He walked over towards Felicity, handing her a clipboard. He then made his way over to me, a kind but solemn look on his face.
“We’ve tried everything we can but… it was not possible to bring your friend back. I offer my condolences to you,” the doctor shook his head.
I teared up and nodded without a word. Felicity handed the clipboard to Tess, sitting next to me. I appreciated her concern, glad to have someone by my side. The boys didn’t say anything. I felt a buzz and pulled out my phone.
“You’ve completed the path to heroism. It hurts now but in the end, it will all work out. You’ve obtained the status of a hero! Congratulations!” I read to myself and felt disgusted.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.