Volume 10, Interlude B: A Defensive Test feat. Tess, Xi, and Zhuyu

“Something’s lacking,” Lilith commented, watching Xi block Bartholomew’s attacks.

“The underlying mechanism for her defensive fields and barriers requires knowledge she lacks at the moment,” Tess stated, appearing next to the leader.

“How-, wait, Champ and Natalia were outside!” she exclaimed, staring at the Gatekeeper.

“Oh, they allowed me entry without any resistance,” Tess responded.

“You can’t just…. what do you want, Tess?” Lilith questioned with a sigh.

“Scouting,” she replied.

“Of course! Who do have your eye on?” the leader asked.

“Xi. She can further her powers by applying certain mathematical elements,” Tess answered, recording observations in her notebook.

“She’s an undecided major, but I know Xi’s an above average math student. What’s your big plan, Tess?” Lilith suspected the woman.

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“No grandiose plan. Just a minor shakeup,” she responded.

Lilith didn’t believe her. Tess was calculated, not one to waste time. Most likely, the woman was gathering information for the formulation of a scheme. Still, if it meant everyone improved, the leader had no objections. Despite their lack of agreement on various subjects, Lilith respected Tess and knew she looked out for everyone wielding powers.

“Anything else you want to share?” Lilith asked.

“No. However, I hope you grant me a request,” Tess replied.

“I can already tell what you want. Go ahead,” Lilith agreed, ordering

Bartholomew to exit the makeshift battlefield.

Tess took his place, giving Xi a small smile. The Gatekeeper’s opponent stared at her in confusion and fear. Bartholomew glanced over at Lilith with a questioning look. She only shrugged her shoulders in response.

“Don’t worry. I only wish to witness your defensive capabilities first hand,” Tess assured Xi as she constructed an artificial dimension.

The Gatekeeper launched five chains at her opponent. Xi held her left hand out, repelling the attack. Tess snapped her fingers and chains burst from the ground, wrapping around Xi’s legs. She fell to the floor, hitting her back.

“You’re capable of more than this,” Tess stated, removing the chains from Xi.

“What’s she thinking? Tess must know she’s terrible at physical attacks, even worse when she’s trapped like that,” Bartholomew questioned Lilith.

“Tess is on a different level than us. It’s hard to know what she’s thinking,” Lilith responded, shaking her head.

Tess continued her assault, pummeling Xi with multitudes of chains. Xi’s success rate at blocking was only fifty percent. By the end, she collapsed to the floor, cuts and bruises across her face. The Gatekeeper held her hand out and Xi accepted her assistance.

“S***, Tess really went hard,” a voice said, startling Lilith and Bartholomew.

Zhuyu sidestepped Lilith’s grapple, nodding at Tess. Bartholomew stared at the zero-vector user, unsure how to respond. Zhuyu ignored them, heading straight for the Gatekeeper. Lilith sighed, concerned about how her team members allowed two people to enter without alerting her first.

“You have a bad habit of sneaking up on people just like Tess,” Lilith accused Zhuyu.

“Do I? You were preoccupied with Tess and Xi, so it’s understandable,” the man responded with a small grin.

“If you’re here…. looking for Kaze?” Lilith guessed.

“No, ask Tess about it. She called me over,” Zhuyu answered, gesturing at
the Gatekeeper.

“Should have known. He’s part of your little plan too?” Lilith asked.

“Yes. Xi, I know you endured my chains, but I hope you’re ready to go again after a short rest,” Tess revealed.

“Um…. sure,” Xi agreed in a low tone.

“Fifteen minutes and you’ll face off against Long. Don’t worry, he won’t land any hits on you. Recognize counter opportunities and strike! Don’t worry about him. He’s gone through worse,” Tess instructed.

“Thanks for the vote of confidence, Tess,” Zhuyu said, stretching his arms.

“Hold on! You can’t just go ahead and do things like this without telling me first,” Lilith exclaimed.

“Both parties gave consent. I don’t see any issues, Lilith,” Tess countered.

“That’s not the point, Tess! Throwing Xi into multiple fights, it’s….,” Lilith began.

“Sustaining damage and encountering difficulties is a given, Lilith. You can’t protect her forever,” Tess interrupted.

Lilith bit her lips, remaining silent. The Gatekeeper was correct. Zhuyu didn’t possess Dragon’s Mandate, no longer a frontline fighter. She could learn from an opponent like him.

Zhuyu and Xi stood in the battlefield once her allocated rest time ended. Champ, Ksi, Lionel, and Lilith’s second-in-command joined the original two spectators. Tess stood on the outside, keeping a close eye on both fighters.

“Long, your sword,” Tess ordered.

“Hold on, I don’t think that’s necessary,” the man said.

“Xi is accustomed to hand-to-hand combat because of Lionel and Bartholomew. No one on Lilith’s team utilizes swords. It’s an opportunity for her to see one in action,” Tess pointed out.

“Always on point, Tess. Sorry to take up your time, Xi. Hope you get something out of this,” Zhuyu said, materializing his sword.

“No, no, it’s not a bother at all!” Xi shook her head frantically.

The zero-vector user put on his glasses and then took a deep breath. He dashed toward Xi and slowly drew his sword out from the scabbard. The woman’s eye tracked the weapon, not focusing on his movements. In an instant, Zhuyu pivoted behind her, fully drawing his weapon, missing the woman’s right cheek by a few centimeters. He spun around, sheathing his blade.

“Why is no one surprised?” Champ inquired, shocked by the man’s speed and ability.

“Oh yeah, you’ve never seen him like this. What do you expect? He trained with Kyoi,” Lionel replied.

“I can’t believe it. He’s so different when using a sword,” Champ said, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Zhuyu Long was one of the strongest frontline fighters. His ability to sustain damage and strike back hard made him a versatile member of Tess’ team,” Ksi informed the rookie hero.

Xi waited, searching for an opening. When Zhuyu swung his sword hilt upward, she created a barrier immediately and reflected his attack. The man dropped his weapon, shaking his hand in pain. Xi took a chance, kicking away his scabbard, and formed a field around it.

Zhuyu slid towards his sword, extending his right hand outward. Her field blocked his attempt at retrieval. He closed his eyes for three seconds before attempting again. This time, he broke through Xi’s field and grabbed his blade. He flung it to his right and Xi’s eyes stopped tracking him. The zero-vector user appeared behind her, aiming a punch at her back. He pulled back at the last second, retrieving his weapon.

“Nice,” he congratulated and then his eyes turned serious.

He unsheathed his sword and swung at Xi multiple times. She already created several barriers in preparation, but the man broke through them with ease. Xi stared at him in shock and summoned her shield.

She met each of his sword strikes with her shield, eventually pushing him back. He tried to stop her movement, but the woman nullified his powers with her own. He responded with a small smile and stabbed his sword in the ground as Xi bull-rushed him. He realized the woman absorbed his attacks and was now releasing the stored energy. Her shield slammed into his blade and she expected her charge to knock him to the ground. However, Zhuyu remained upright, yanking his sword out.

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“Damn, kind of in a bad position,” the man muttered.

When he swung his blade at her, Xi noticed his attacks didn’t hit as hard. She observed his footwork and arm angle but saw nothing different. The sword itself was weakened. On his next swing, she pushed his sword back with her shield, and knocked him prone. The woman slammed her shield down, bashing his legs. She then aimed for his arms. He rolled away, sheathing his blade, and blocked her next attack with his scabbard.

Zhuyu met each of Xi’s shield bashes with his scabbard, eventually feeling numbing his hands. He dropped his weapon and Xi smashed him in the face with her shield. The man clutched his nose as blood flowed out from it.

“That’s enough,” Tess called out.

The Gatekeeper tossed her team member an ice pack and pulled Xi aside. Zhuyu placed the compress against his nose, exiting the battlefield.

“You okay? This is the first time I’ve seen her do enough damage where someone’s actually bleeding,” Lilith checked up on him.

“This is nothing. Xi’s good, she just has to train under the right circumstances,” the man responded.

“Why the hell are you hiding your true power?” Champ inquired, staring at the man intently.

“No idea what you’re talking about. I’m not even ranked anymore, remember?

Besides, like Shigetzu says, can’t show you everything right away,” Zhuyu denied.

“Give up, Champ. He’s obviously not going to tell you anything. They’re all like that,” Ksi said.

“She’s right. Especially with Kyoi Feng as his master. You’ll know what we mean once they get their ultimate weapons,” Lionel added.

Zhuyu walked over to Tess, removing the ice pack from his nose. They conversed for five minutes, reviewing the fight. Xi went up to the man and bowed.

“Whoa, there’s no need for that,” he said.

“I’m sorry for hitting you so hard. I really didn’t mean to. I’m….,” Xi apologized, flustered by the third sentence.

“Don’t worry about it. Feng’s put me through worst. Seriously, it’s not your fault,” he assured her.

Xi nodded, bowing again. Tess called Lilith over, handing her a piece of paper. The leader saw a list of mathematical concepts listed.

“Have her research those. She can forward any questions to my email. I’ll provide more in-depth details a few weeks from now,” the Gatekeeper instructed.

Tess and Zhuyu departed fifteen minutes later. Xi conversed with Ksi about the topics on the piece of paper. Lionel and Bartholomew sparred in the ring. Lilith sat in a chair, checking her tablet. Tess’ visit showed her the lack of progress made. Time to step things up and match the Gatekeeper’s side.

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