Volume 11, Chapter 4: Tea Break

Saturday Spring Break 2016 Day 6

I woke up to the sound of my phone ringing. F***, it was probably Tess. I fumbled for my phone, and almost fell out of bed, seeing Felicity’s name on the screen.

“Yeah?” I asked, not invested in the conversation.

“Yuki, Yuki! Are you okay? Did you get hurt anywhere? Any serious injuries I need to know?” Felicity blasted me with questions.

“Felicity, it’s too early for this! I’m fine, just a few bruises, nothing too serious. I heard you’re in the hospital. I should be more concerned about you,” I remarked, laying back down in my bed.

“Yuki, what are you talking about? I have top-tier medical care, nothing to worry about! Tess didn’t want to tell me anything,” Felicity disagreed, her voice blasting through my speakers.

“Right. Can we do this a little later? I’m not fully awake yet,” I requested.

“Of course! Go get your rest. I’ll call you back later tonight,” Felicity replied.

I threw my phone back onto my bedside table and fell asleep again. When I woke up, it was already 10. Feeling refreshed, I stretched and went through my usual morning routine. Downstairs, Yukie sketched on a piece of grid paper. I saw a battery and lines connecting to a circuit board.

“Are you heading out today as well, Yuki?” Yukie asked, positioning her ruler.

“Yeah. I’ll probably be out tomorrow too. I already told Mom,” I answered, scouring the fridge.

“Will you return in time for dinner?” Yukie questioned.

“I should. I’ll call home if I’m late,” I replied.

“Have fun, Yuki. You always have a pleasant time with your friends whenever you head out,” Yukie noted.

I don’t know about that, Yukie. Half of the time, I end up dead tired or sustaining a minor injury. I’m surprised the heroes balanced such a lifestyle back in their high school days. Although, I suppose there wasn’t too much to worry about back then. If what Tess said was true, I might witness their true strength very soon.

An hour after eating breakfast, I glanced at my phone and saw a surprising name. Zhuyu? It was rare for him to call.

“Tomo, sorry if I’m interrupting anything, but Tess asked me to pick you up. But if you don’t want me to, you can drive there yourself,” he informed me.

“Is it the training facility?” I questioned.

“No, it’s somewhere else,” Zhuyu replied.

“Yeah, that’s fine. You know my address, right?” I agreed.

“Tess gave it to me already. I’ll be there in ten minutes. Tess will meet up with us around one,” he relayed, providing an estimated time of arrival.

Damn it Tess, always planning things so early. My phone vibrated twenty minutes later. I exited and saw Zhuyu resting his hands on top of the steering wheel. He saw me approach, unlocking the doors.

“Sorry about the delay, had to pick Jacque up too,” Zhuyu revealed, pointing at the pessimistic man who sat next to him.

“Sup, Tomo,” Jacque greeted.

“So where exactly is the place?” I asked.

“Close to where Jacque went to high school,” Zhuyu answered.

“You know that doesn’t tell me anything at all,” I responded.

“Jacque, tell her,” Zhuyu instructed.

“Sort of near downtown. Tomo, you know where the fancy museum is?” Jacque described.

“Oh, the one where if you lean against the wall, security guards warn you, even though there’s no art there?” I asked for confirmation.

“Yeah, that one. You’ve been there before?” Jacque questioned.

“For school. I wrote a report for extra credit and went there with Ichizen. It’s a private school nearby, isn’t it? You must be loaded, Jacque,” I recalled.

“Nah, I’m pretty average. Just because I went there doesn’t mean I’m rich,” Jacque denied.

As Zhuyu drove along, I definitely felt the difference between his skill and Tess’. Tess’ driving was smooth, almost as if you weren’t in a car at all. His was the exact opposite, not reckless or endangering, but could show improvement.

“Tomo, I know what you’re thinking. I’m a pretty bad driver. Everyone else is better. Unfortunately, you’re stuck with me so don’t hate me too much,” Zhuyu stated.

“Bro, that’s something I should be saying. Come on, have a little more faith,” Jacque encouraged.

“No, Jacque, I’m still bad. Tomo, I’m sure you regret accepting this ride,” Zhuyu countered.

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S***, I didn’t think he would predict my exact thoughts. how he knew what I was thinking about. To be fair, Zhuyu wasn’t terrible, just not as polished as Tess.

“Look, it’s not too bad. Tess is just a hard person to match up with,” I said.

“Don’t try to sugarcoat it, I know how it is. By the way, how’s Champ? Heard from Tess he decided to change his powers,” Zhuyu switched topics.

“He’s back to his normal self, well, not the one that did dumb s***. Does that make sense?” I inquired.

“Yeah. Champ was trying to become someone he wasn’t. Really made us hate him,” Zhuyu replied, making a left turn.

“Do you know why Tess is busy?” I wondered.

“No, she just called me this morning and asked me to pick you up. I was just driving back from grocery shopping. Probably something with her schoolwork. Tess’ course load is pretty heavy,” Zhuyu replied as we entered a residential area.

Three minutes later, Zhuyu parked outside of a house. The neighborhood was pretty nice. A lot of the house were brand new. The zero vector user grabbed his backpack from the trunk and walked up the steps.

“Tess own this house?” I asked.

“Sure, let’s say that,” Zhuyu answered, providing no further details.

That was suspicious. He unlocked the front door, revealing a desk with a chair scooted into it. Jacque closed the door behind us. I was about to take another step but Zhuyu grabbed my shoulder.

“Sorry, we have to solve a problem first. The alarm system will go off if we don’t,” Zhuyu informed me and sat down at the desk.

I peeked over his shoulders and saw him solving math problems. The hell was this place that it necessitated so much security? Tess didn’t seem the paranoid type, but it made sense she was cautious. He lifted the piece of paper up and punched in numbers on a security keypad. He picked up a stylus and wrote down answers on a touch screen. The light turned green and Zhuyu heaved a sigh of relief.

“Okay, it’s safe,” Zhuyu revealed.

“This is all pretty crazy!” Jacque stared at the desk.

“Have to follow Tess’ protocols. It’s different for everyone,” Zhuyu said, shrugging his shoulders.

I plopped down on the couch, checking the living room out. Pretty standard. TV, two couches, coffee table, and a recliner.

“You want some tea?” Zhuyu offered, lifting up the teapot.

“Sure, we still have an hour left anyways,” I nodded, checking the time on my phone.

Zhuyu departed the living room, returning five minutes later. He carried a wooden tea tray containing the teapot and three cups.

“Tomo, anything you want to ask?” Zhuyu initiated the conversation, taking the teapot lid off and inspecting the tea inside.

“Can you even tell me what Tess will do so Champ’s powers change? Actually, what about Jacque? How does it even work?” I expected a minimal answer from him.

“I’ve gone through it before, although my case was a little different, but I can give you the basics. Aren’t you happy you’ll receive an actual answer for once?” Zhuyu gave a slight smile which brought back memories of the time in that other dimension.

“Be a lot more happier if you were that clear all the time. So what do you have to do?” I questioned, not impressed.

“You sign a contract forfeiting your old powers. Tess then reassigns the user with a new one based on their knowledge and personality. Sometimes she can tell you what it is and other times, it’s random. That’s the risk you take,” Zhuyu explained, pouring tea into everyone’s cups.

“Does that apply to Jacque?” I glanced over at the man.

“Tess believes there is a hidden potential to his power. Not sure how it’ll work for him. You’re angry at me since I couldn’t give you a solid answer, right?” Zhuyu handed me one of the cups.

Not really. He did give me a ride here after all. This tea was superb. Nice to have a warm drink on a cold day. I drank this tea before, but there existed a subtle difference with the one Zhuyu brewed.

“This is pretty good. What’s the secret, man?” Jacque asked.

“Nothing. Just hot water and the correct tea leaves,” Zhuyu replied.

“Bro, if I made this, it would not be this good,” Jacque disagreed.

“My aunt worked at a tea shop for a long time and she taught me a few things. That’s about it,” Zhuyu revealed.

“Jacque, what would you want your new powers to be?” I was curious about his expectations.

“Anything is better than turning into a rock. As long I’m bait or super weak, I’m cool with it,” Jacque replied.

“Hopefully you’ll get something good, especially since you’re in Shigetzu’s team. Ksi is strong too, so it would be nice if you could balance those two out,” Zhuyu commented.

“How well do you know the other heroes? Just wondering what the chemistry is like since you’re with Xi now,” I wanted to see what his experience was with Lilith’s current team.

“Not that well. Besides Kaze, I’m not that close with anyone on Lilith’s team. The only ones I’ve worked with extensively are Lilith and her second-in-command, Er Zhi,” Zhuyu replied.

“I’m surprised you’re on good terms with Lilith,” I remarked.

“I collaborated with her on several missions. Didn’t have any issues,” Zhuyu revealed.

“You don’t look like the type. I misjudged you,” I stated.

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“She’s pretty easy to work with if you don’t piss her off,” Zhuyu said, pouring his fifth cup of tea already.

How could he consume so much without going to the bathroom? He downed the tea like shots of alcohol.
Tess finally arrived, wearing an expensive winter coat with a hood fur. She wheeled in a suitcase with numerous charms and key chains hanging from it. Zhuyu left the living room, returning with a refilled teapot and another cup.

“Thank you for the tea, Long. It is much appreciated after my busy morning,” Tess said.

“What were you doing?” I inquired, pointing at the suitcase.

“I was giving a speech for one of the masters’ programs I’m part of. But, that is irrelevant right now. Champ has not arrived yet,” Tess observed as Zhuyu refilled her cup.

“Didn’t you contact him?” I asked.

“Yes, he is delayed. I will speak with Jacque while we wait,” Tess decided.

Tess handed papers over to the artist, discussing the next steps for unlocking his potential powers. I paid minimal attention, checking my phone during their conversation. Zhuyu read something on his phone, pushing up on the screen every few seconds.

“And that completes my quick overview,” Tess wrapped up her long explanation.

“I didn’t understand most of it,” Jacque admitted.

“It is understandable. You have a strong grasp on the actions required, which is the most important part,” Tess assured him.

There was silence for three minutes as everyone did their own thing. This really sucked. How much longer would we have to wait for Champ?

“Long, there is an important question I must ask of you,” Tess brought up.

“Okay. What is it?” Zhuyu drank his eleventh cup of tea.

“What is your opinion on Tomo?” Tess pointed at me, no visible emotion on her face.

Was it random or did the Gatekeeper really want to know? Now, how would he reply?

“Tomo is…. alright, I guess? She’s improved in combat and she isn’t as… harsh, let’s say,” Zhuyu replied, pausing between sentences.

“I see. Would you consider Tomo pretty?” Tess continued her questioning.

“Yeah, sure, why not? I don’t see how it really matters though,” Zhuyu replied, scrunching his forehead in concern.

“Just out of curiosity and determining how much your opinion of her has shifted. Part of my analysis on the overall team dynamics and morale,” Tess answered.

“Alright, I hoped that helped. Sorry about that, Tomo. Pretty weird,” Zhuyu responded, refilling Jacque’s cup.

“Tess, any other burning questions about me?” I said, staring at the Gatekeeper.

“Not at the moment. Champ has finally arrived,” Tess declined, walking to the front door.

She opened the front door, and Champ stood outside, a subdued expression on his face.

“Sorry for being late. I had to take care of something for my Dad,” Champ apologized.

“No need, Champ. You are here and that’s what matters. Have you changed your mind since we last spoke?” Tess questioned.

“No, I’ll give up these powers. They don’t suit me at all. Might as well be more mature, right?” Champ gave a small grin.

Zhuyu handed him a cup of tea. I didn’t even notice him leave the living room. Tess opened up her suitcase, pulling out a small briefcase. There were weird keyholes near the clasps and handle. A variant of the magic circles Kyoi and other magic users utilized in battle were carved into the exterior.

“Let’s depart. Zhuyu, I trust you will take good notes,” Tess said.

“Yeah, I’ll keep track of everything best I can,” he agreed.

Champ drank his cup of tea, much calmer than the last time I saw him. Zhuyu reached underneath the table, pulling out a thermos. The zero vector user slung it over his shoulder, glancing at Tess for further instructions.

We all followed her upstairs and into a bedroom. Tess opened the closet door and held her golden key upward. A thin outline of a door appeared and the Gatekeeper motioned for us to head in. No one moved and I sighed. Guess they wanted me to go first. I stepped in and felt a very painful headache. My vision blurred and everything around me warped, similar to a bizarre surrealist painting. I lost consciousness and the last thing I remembered was Tess standing over me.

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