“And so you just use this to prove the final step of the equation. You won’t need to actually prove it on the test, but I think it’s nice to know. Especially if you’ll go on to take more advanced classes,” a familiar voice instructed, accompanied by the sound of a marker scrawling across a whiteboard.
Where was I now? These kinds of scenarios were becoming far too familiar. I didn’t like how these events were becoming common occurrences. Still, a little part of me enjoyed them. It provided me insight I couldn’t glean during everyday conversations.
I glanced around the classroom, inspecting the faces of my classmates. Mirei intended to warn me about the consequences of my decision, so it must be the future. What year was it this time?
“Time to check my phone,” I decided, checking my pockets.
I pulled out a razor thin piece of metal. Had technology advanced so far holograms were possible? After unlocking it with my fingerprint, the screen turned on. Nope, still a ways to go before that was a reality. 2027, eleven years into the future. It was more than a decade, an ample amount of time for significant changes.
“Something was wrong when an extra student appeared. Should have known this wasn’t over yet,” the lecturer commented, walking towards me.
“Zhuyu, huh? You said something similar the first time we met in that other dimension,” I recalled, staring at the zero vector user.
“Yuki, if you’re here, then there’s some hope left. Not that it really matters. Mirei sent you here, didn’t she?” Zhuyu questioned, sitting on top of a desk.
Zhuyu’s expression remained the same as usual. The same serious, piercing stare. He had a medium sized mustache and longer hair, pulled back into a small ponytail. The man wore a pair of professional glasses and a dark gray suit vest over a black collared dress shirt. His left sleeve was pulled up farther than his right one, revealing a golden analog watch. Sleek black dress pants, thin lines shooting down it, finished off his look.
“Something like that. You never change, Zhuyu,” I remarked.
“That’s quite humorous coming from you Yuki,” he responded with a thin smile.
“Are you a professor here?” I inquired.
“Just your standard non-tenured lecturer,” Zhuyu revealed, shaking his head.
I noticed we were on a first name basis. Looked like everyone warmed up to me eventually. Still, an educator, huh? A career I thought Zhuyu might not have the motivation to pursue. He might have chosen a different job in an alternate path.
“This is weird, Zhuyu. Should I add a title to your name?” I thought about how to address him.
“You really shouldn’t. I felt a shift near the end of class. A feeling I haven’t had in a long time. If Mirei sent you here, then you haven’t made the decision yet,” Zhuyu replied.
“Yeah, I haven’t. She wants me to see all of this and reconsider,” I confirmed.
“That’s what I thought. We should-,” Zhuyu started but then stopped.
My pendant shook as the instructor stood up. He pulled down his sleeves and a sword materialized in his right hand. All of a sudden, the man was thrown into the whiteboard, causing a large dent as he slid downward. What the hell just attacked Zhuyu?
“S***, it’s been awhile,” the zero vector user commented, raising his hand in the air.
A circle of flames enveloped the room. Five seconds later, the shapes of hounds appeared. They lacked any facial features, resembling dark lumps of clay with no articulation. Despite having no mouths, I heard them howl. Streaks of red appeared underneath their feet as all of the creatures bounded towards him.
Zhuyu swung his sword, now bathed in a crimson light, at the advancing enemies. His blade sliced through the opposition with ease, but they reformed instantly, merging back into their original shape.
“Try again! I want to test something,” I shouted.
He nodded and cut through two more hounds aiming for him. I responded immediately, freezing the hacked pieces in ice, and then fired off a compressed bolt of magic. It shattered the ice and no signs of the enemy remained. Perfect! Zhuyu mistimed his swing, allowing a hound to strike his right arm. A long, red scratch ran down from his armpits all the way down to his wrist. The man winced, dropping his weapon.
“Zhuyu! I’ll handle this!” I created a portal and transported him away from danger.
I retrieved his blade through another portal. The hilt contained a fenghuang and dragon design, both divine creatures wrapping around, their heads and tails touching. This wasn’t the same blade Zhuyu wielded in my time period. However, there wasn’t time to dwell on that, especially with the hounds now focused on me.
Creating multiple portals, I fired off blades imbued with the freezing property. They pierced through the hounds and encased each piece in ice before any could reform. I recalled Kisai’s lessons and channeled a large amount of magic into Zhuyu’s blade. I then detonated all the charged energy from the blade with a flick of my wrist. Mini explosions filled the room, creating a blinding light. Thirty seconds later, I detected no signs of any enemies.
“Good job, Yuki. You really saved me there. Crap, it’s been too long since I’ve done this,” Zhuyu complimented me.
The artificial dimension dissipated and we were back in the regular classroom. Zhuyu checked his arm, revealing a faint outline of the scratch mark he received. The man then pulled his sleeve down and checked his watch.
“Awesome. Dealing with hunter hounds now?” Zhuyu muttered.
“Hunter hounds?” I questioned.
“Yeah. Trained creatures that are assigned targets to hunt down. At least, that’s what I think they are,” he answered.
“Right. Mind telling me what’s up with those flames you used. I thought Kyoi and En were the only ones who did stuff like that,” I said.
“Oh, I guess you wouldn’t know. I inherited Feng’s powers,” Zhuyu responded.
“What do you mean? She quit or something?” I asked, confused by his answer.
“About that, um, Feng…. died. And others too,” Zhuyu replied, a brief look of sadness passing over his face.
That seemed impossible, considering her incredible strength.
“Who else died, Zhuyu?” I questioned.
“Tess, Kaze, Bartholomew, Champ, and Yui,” Zhuyu listed off, wiping his glasses.
“Hold on, who’s Yui?” I questioned, not recalling a hero with that name.
“Lilith’s second-in-command. That’s her nickname,” the man replied.
Strange, didn’t think Zhuyu was that close to her. In fact, this was the first time I ever heard him refer to someone by a nickname. Maybe that was just how the future turned out.
“Even Tess? Mirei wiped out all the ranked heroes?” I exclaimed.
“Mirei is strong. Yuki, do you know what her power is?” Zhuyu inquired.
“No, she knocked me out before I had a chance to see her in action,” I revealed.
“Mirei, in many ways is almost you. Her mastery is at a much higher level than yours. She knew our powers extensively, allowing her to predict every single move we made in battle. We weren’t healthy enough and lacked the time for a proper counterattack,” Zhuyu explained.
“Where’s Mirei now?” I asked.
“In a coma,” Zhuyu replied.
“How is it that Tess and the others died, but she survived? It doesn’t make sense. And how are you alive?” I stared at the man with an accusatory glare.
“There was a three-way final battle involving us, Mirei, and Ace with the Traveler. Tess tried sealing him again, much like in the previous final battle. It failed though. Mirei implemented her own plan, interfering with Tess’ strategy. In that confusion, the Traveler made his move and the rest, well, you know,” Zhuyu disclosed.
“Mirei wasn’t caught up in the aftermath?” I stared at the wall, forming a timeline.
“Because of her advanced powers, she avoided fatal damage. It did leave her in a coma however,” Zhuyu answered and then headed towards the front.
He grabbed his markers, placing them into his vest pockets, and erased everything on the board. Zhuyu then picked up leftover papers on the desk and placed them into a manila envelope.
“There’s going to be another class here in a couple of minutes. Let’s talk in my office,” Zhuyu directed.
I nodded, following him. This was all so strange. One major question remained. What was my fate? As we exited the building, I looked around. Everything on campus appeared the same. We walked past a parking lot and towards a very old building. They still hadn’t given up on it yet.
“Are the math offices still here?” I asked.
“Yep. I really wish they built a central building for the math department but we’re just not good
enough. I’ve been trying to advocate for it but no one cares,” Zhuyu shrugged his shoulders.
We rode an elevator up to the fifth floor, walking past stained windows. Zhuyu stopped at a door labeled C-501. Students were already lined up outside. Damn, never expected him to have students already waiting. I thought they would avoid his office hours.
“Sorry for the wait. It’ll only be for half an hour today. I have something to take care of later,” Zhuyu informed everyone.
He opened the door to his office, answering questions on the way inside. I observed him from a distance, watching him converse with students. Damn, he actually helped them. The allocated time passed and eventually it was just me and him remaining in the room.
“Okay, what do you want to know Yuki? Not sure when you’ll get sent back so let’s go over anything pressing you want to know,” Zhuyu said.
“What happened to me?” I inquired.
“Not dead, if that’s what you’re asking. Unfortunately, you’re in the same position as Mirei. Tess lifted the restrictions on your powers, but without the expertise, it burnt you out. Probably not the best thing to hear right now,” Zhuyu responded, sitting on top of the desk instead of a chair.
I evaluated the situation. This entire scenario could exist as a fabrication. I lacked insight on Mirei’s powers, but it was possible she created these what-if situations, making them ultra realistic. I couldn’t trust everything Zhuyu said. This representation of him could be biased, molded by Mirei to make sure I listened to her.
“What about everyone else? Seems like you’re leading a pretty normal life,” I questioned.
“With all the entryways sealed, there isn’t much anyone can do. It’s been like that for a long time, until you showed up of course. Must mean this world is f*****, right?” Zhuyu remarked.
“Maybe, not really sure what Mirei has planned. Are you still in contact with the other heroes?” I asked.
“For the most part. Everyone is busy. There’s not much time to hang out anymore,” Zhuyu answered.
“If Tess is gone, who constructed that artificial dimension?” I wondered.
“I assumed it was Mirei from your timeline pulling the strings. Even though we suffered casualties, the Traveler was thwarted. It’s possible he returned for a third time,” Zhuyu mused, tapping the surface of his desk.
“There’s still one thing bothering me. You said all the entryways were sealed off. Why do you still even have powers?” I pointed out.
“Tess’ emergency protocol. Let me think…. should be fine to tell you small details about it,” he decided.
“Go ahead,” I said.
“You should know by now Tess isn’t a person not to have backup plans. This extends to the possible case where she dies. It’s better to get more details from Tess herself when you get back. However, there’s an extended time period in the event of anything going wrong, we all retain our powers. That deadline is coming up soon,” the instructor revealed.
“It’s been eleven years, hasn’t it? Tess doesn’t seem like the type of person to drag things out for so long. There’s something you’re not telling me as usual,” I suspected.
“Um, yeah, there’s a few clauses she wrote. Look, you saw how rusty I was. Feng would destroy me if she saw me in that state. Maybe it’s for the best time’s almost up,” Zhuyu suggested.
“Anyways…,” I said before being interrupted by the sound of the office door opening.
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