“Tomo, you okay?” I heard someone’s concerned voice.
Champ stood over me, in a barren field, lines of doors on either side of us. He offered me a hand, assisting me upward.
“Where the hell are we?” I said, still feeling slight pain in my head.
“Gatekeepers’ Domain, Tess’ own personal dimension,” Zhuyu answered, walking towards us.
“Her dimension?” I asked, still confused.
“Yeah. Unlike us, Tess obtained her powers without a prophet. This place isn’t connected to any others as far I know. It’s special. She hasn’t told anyone much about it,” Zhuyu expounded.
“Where are they?” I noticed their absence.
“Jacque’s here. Tess went off somewhere. We’ll wait for her,” Zhuyu said, pointing in the distance.
I squinted, seeing a smudge. Jacque eventually joined us. His face was pale, drained of energy, more so than usual.
“Jacque, what happened?” I inquired as my headache intensified.
“Don’t know. It felt like motion sickness,” Jacque replied.
“Tomo, you don’t look so well yourself,” Champ noticed.
“It’s nothing. Just a slight headache,” I assured him.
“You sure? Zhuyu, should Tomo leave right now and come back another time?” Champ asked.
“If she said she’s fine, let’s wait it out. Tomo, any vision problems?” Zhuyu asked.
“No. It’s starting to get better. I don’t know why I suddenly felt so much pain,” I replied, the pain in my head subsiding.
Tess returned, still carrying her briefcase. She motioned for us to follow and pointed at a gate with chains across it.
“We’ll take care of Champ’s matter first. As for Jacque, his case will be a little more difficult. There are special steps for him,” Tess informed us, raising her right hand in the air.
The chains vanished and Tess pushed the gates open. We found ourselves in a room containing just a couch and table. Tess snapped her fingers and chairs appeared across from the couch, enough for each of us. Chains rattled but I didn’t see any. Champ sat near the table. Zhuyu picked the seat to his left, leaving Jacque and me the right side ones. Tess crossed her arms on the couch and inserted four different keys into the briefcase. She opened it, taking out a blank piece of paper. Words appeared but I couldn’t read them at all. Champ nodded as they filled up the page.
“Champ, before you sign, I must confirm this is your final decision. You choose to relinquish your current powers. However, there is no guarantee these new ones will suit you. The possibility of regaining your old powers are slim to non-existent. Do you wish to proceed?” Tess asked, leaning her elbows on the table, staring straight into his eyes.
“Tess, I accept any responsibilities that come with my new powers. I’ll do it. Sign here?” Champ met her serious gaze with a confident look.
“Your response has been recorded. Champ, sign your name here and the contract will be complete,” Tess confirmed, pointing at a signature line.
The Gatekeeper handed him a golden fountain pen with a key engraved onto the handle. Champ signed his name, the only legible words I could read on the paper. Tess nodded, placing the document into her briefcase. She then pulled out a key, placing it on the table.
“Champ, take the key,” Tess instructed.
Chains wrapped around him, trapping the man inside a makeshift cocoon. Tess slapped his contract onto the glowing chains. They shattered and Champ fell to the ground, clutching the key. She retrieved the key and contract, placing both into the briefcase. Tess then snapped her fingers. Another key appeared, landing near Champ. The man crawled over, finally clasping it with his right hand.
“It’s done,” Tess informed him.
“What are his new powers?” I asked.
“Champ, do you feel anything?” Tess looked over at him.
“It’s very rough. Tess, maybe a hint?” Champ shook his head.
“Root Modification,” Tess stated.
“Oh! Very fitting for someone like me who loves to read. Did you set this up?” Champ asked the Gatekeeper.
“No. You’re lucky,” Tess responded.
“Yeah, I think I’ll like it. Thank you again, Tess,” Champ said, clutching the key in his hand.
No idea how Champ understood his powers with only two words, quite impressive. I glanced over at Zhuyu. He nodded with a serious look on his face as usual.
“Let’s attend to Jacque,” Tess decided.
“Wait, I still don’t know what Champ’s powers are,” I said.
“Oh, yeah, that’s right. Sorry about that, Tomo. I can see the…. I guess, essence of an object, and return it to its base form,” Champ explained.
“Anything else?” Tess questioned.
“No, I’ll probably see it in action. I’ll just wait until then,” I realized.
“We’ll relocate,” Tess revealed as the familiar outline of a door appeared behind the couch.
We all exited, returning to the field. Tess led us to a door, chains forming an X-shape across it, with a single padlock in the center.
“Jacque, insert your key,” Tess instructed.
The door slid open, chains vanishing, allowing us entry. Tess shoved Jacque in. We were inside a large classroom full of paintings and unfinished sketches plastering the wall. A large cloth covered something in the center, most likely a canvas. The artist glanced at Tess in confusion.
“I’m sure you know the circumstances. Jacque, will you break through?” Tess challenged him.
Zhuyu sipped tea from his thermos, observing Jacque. The man sighed and threw off the sheet, revealing a rough sketch. The face was well-drawn, conveying realism and solid textures. A lot of effort was placed into it. Everything below that was…. complete s***. It was a grating juxtaposition with an in-depth face resting on top of a stick figure body. The ones an elementary school student doodled. No, that was giving him too much credit, even preschoolers were more capable.
“The f*** is that?” I blurted out.
“A bad habit of mine,” Jacque answered, grabbing a chair.
“Something you drew? I’ve seen your them and they’re not this bad,” I responded.
“Like I said, I’m great at drawing the head, but suck at bodies. I’m super lazy and end up doing this,” Jacque explained.
“Jacque is fully aware. As such, he will fix it. I can show you to a different area while he works,” Tess offered, handing Jacque drawing utensils.
“You’re taking lessons, right?” I recalled Felicity’s offer to him.
“I’m lazy but I know the basics. Just that it takes a lot of time which is a pain. The lessons are helping. Let’s get this over with. I don’t have a choice, do I, Tess?” Jacque accepted his fate.
“Until you overcome that, I am one hundred percent certain your powers will not change. Give a full 95 effort or else,” Tess warned, swinging her golden key around.
Jacque nodded, erasing the stick figure body. The canvas adjusted, allowing him more room. He then sketched out the rough outline of a chest.
“Tess, will you permit me to test out my new powers while he does that?” Champ asked for permission.
“Yes. I will lead you to a different room. Long, keep an eye on Tomo and Jacque,” Tess directed.
“Got it,” Zhuyu agreed.
I pulled out my grimoire. An optimal time for another mind dive. It had been awhile since I performed one.Time to see what kind of b******* would manifest this time.
“Zhuyu, I’m going to….,” I started explaining.
“Oh, mind dive. Yeah, go for it. Don’t know what you’ll see, but hopefully it doesn’t bore you too much. I’m sure it will though. I’m not that exciting,” Zhuyu predicted, pointing at the bookmark in my grimoire.
“How did you know?” I questioned, staring at him.
“Feng and Tess explained it to me before,” the man replied.
I flipped to the bookmarked page and stared at Zhuyu. S***, this was really weird now, especially after what happened in the other dimension. My vision blurred and then I was transported.