Volume 11, Chapter 6: Morning Preparations

Sunday Spring Break 2016 Final Day

I woke up to the clanging of a spoon striking against a glass bowl. The person responsible for that sound was obvious. Knowing Tess, she arrived at my house two hours earlier.

“Good morning, Tess. What time is it?” I greeted the Gatekeeper.

“9:30. Would you care for oatmeal?” Tess asked, showing me the contents of her bowl.

No way, that couldn’t be right. There was no way she arrived at her promised time.

“Tess, at least you’re not eating those weird….,” I started but paused.

Cereal, in the form of math symbols, was mixed with the oatmeal. I saw an integral sign, Greek letters, and variables.

“I’ll have to decline, Tess,” I replied.

I saw an unexpected guest downstairs. Ace spoke with Mom at the dining table. Ah s***. Such a combination could only mean bad news.

“Good morning, Yuki. I hope you had a good night’s sleep. You’ll need it for what we’re doing today,” Ace greeted.

“Yuki, you always find such interesting people. I’m proud of you, my daughter,” Mom declared, placing her hand on my shoulder and brushed away a mock tear.

“Mom, that’s not something you congratulate your daughter on,” I disagreed.

“You really do have to tell me when you’re having friends over so early. Ace was kind enough to cook breakfast for everyone. Tess donated several boxes of cereal for our enjoyment,” Mom revealed, pointing at two grocery bags.

“What did you make, Ace?” I questioned.

“Nothing special. Just scrambled eggs and bacon pieces, layered with cheese and tossed around in a pan. Even an amateur could make this,” Ace answered, bringing me a plate from the kitchen.

It smelled amazing. Where was Yukie? After the first spoonful, I was hooked, and stared at my empty plate afterwards. This exceeded Yukie’s food, not by a large margin, but enough for me to rank it so high.

“That was great, Ace. I’m surprised you’re so good at cooking,” I remarked.

“You pick up a few things when your parents aren’t around. Tess, has she made a move yet?” Ace questioned.

“She is stationary,” Tess answered.

“Might as well grill Yuki about a few things while we wait. Excuse us, Mrs. Tomo. We’ll have girl talk in Yuki’s room,” Ace decided, smiling at Mom.

This was a good chance to dig deeper about Ace’s connection with Ichizen. Ace sat cross-legged near my table, looking around with a mischievous smile. Tess stood near the window, peering outside.

“Ace, now that you’re here-,” I spoke first but she cut me off.

“I know you want to ask about Michi Ichizen. I will get to that, but first, let’s discuss the plan,” Ace interrupted.

“Proceed, Ace. I have a general idea, but it’s always better to hear it from the person herself, rather than just hypothesize,” Tess allowed.

“Stoic as always, Tess. I thought you might perk up a little since she joined the team. Has she made you even more serious than before?” Ace laughed.

“Just get to the point,” I urged.

“Someone’s impatient. Tess restrains Mirei with her chains. Normally, they drastically cut down someone’s power and seals them. There are only two people it doesn’t work on. Care to guess?” Ace glanced over at me.

“You and…. Kyoi? No, that doesn’t make sense,” I replied.

“The other is you,” Ace revealed.

“That doesn’t make sense. Her chains worked on me before,” I refuted.

“In your current state, that’s true. Once you reach your potential, it’ll be difficult. Once Tess restrains her, I’ll apply my powers. It should buy you enough time to retrieve everyone’s weapons and figure out other countermeasures,” Ace laid out the basics,” Ace explained.

“What Mirei’s teammates?” I questioned.

“You’ll deal with them,” Ace responded.

“Do you not see what condition I am in right now? Her group took care of us with ease,” I recalled.

“That was a joke, Tomo Yuki. I have a strategy for dealing with her lackeys,” Ace said.

“What is the max restrain time you’ll be able to apply? Mirei holds a powerful grimoire. There is a high probability it’ll break the seal within a short amount of time,” Tess remarked.

“My powers will ensure that it’ll be at least six months before she can strike. I’m sure you’ll be able to do it within that time limit,” Ace assured Tess.

“Half a year is more than an adequate amount of time to devise a plan and make necessary preparations,” Tess agreed.

“You’ll want Long to regain his old powers and Jin as well. Even then, you’ll have to be careful. But, let’s not get ahead of ourselves,” Ace said.

My phone vibrated. Must be Mirei. \textit{“Meet at noon. I’m sure you’ll bring friends. Just remember that I have allies of my own”.} Only one hour and thirty minutes remaining.

“She’s made her declaration. Tess, let’s move out in half an hour,” Ace suggested.

“Agreed,” Tess said.

“About Ichizen, Ace,” I brought up.

“Michi Ichizen. The catalyst for your and Mirei’s powers. Part of the responsibility falls on me,” Ace said, a serious expression finally appearing on her face.

“Why Ichizen?” I inquired.

“He had potential. I didn’t scout him out. He happened to be a person I was looking for and you know the rest,” Ace replied.

“That doesn’t answer anything! I saw a picture of you with him. What was that all about?” I pressed her for more.

“Jealous? It’s natural for people who are friends to take photos. Just so you know, I wasn’t the one that requested it. Michi Ichizen himself suggested it,” Ace answered.

“Sounds like something he might do, especially around a beauty like you,” I said.

“I’m flattered. I can tell you one thing. The Traveler tasked me to find someone like Ichizen,” Ace added.

“There’s still something bothering me, Ace. Did you take his display case?” I inquired.

“Display case? I’ve only been in Michi’s room a few times. There’s no need for me to take such an object,” Ace reacted with surprise.

Did she really not know? Could it be Mirei then? She was the only other person. That didn’t make sense though.

“For what reason would someone take it?” Ace pondered, staring up at the ceiling.

“It was required to complete a process,” Tess provided an answer.

Still an hour left. I reached towards my table for a snack and then realized nothing was there. S***, I grown accustomed to having food nearby.

“Tomo, are you sure you don’t need a quick nap before heading out?” Tess questioned.

“No, I’m fine. I’ve gotten too used to Mom bringing up snacks whenever someone comes by,” I explained.

“Tess’ suggestion isn’t a bad idea. It’s never good to head into a major confrontation without your best focus or max energy,” Ace pointed out, resting her elbows on the table.

“I’m fine. Let’s talk about something else,” I responded.

“Maybe the alternate reality Mirei showed you?” Ace provided a possible topic.

“Wait, how did you….,” I stammered.

“Mind dive, yeah, I can do that too,” Ace said.

“You can pinpoint exactly what you want to see?” I inquired.

“It’s a part of my powers. You should have considered taking Mirei up on her offer. It’s a sweet world. Everyone was a lot nicer and there aren’t any burden. What a masochist, Tomo Yuki, choosing such a hard path. I applaud you for your decision,” Ace answered.

“You saw everything then?” I wanted to figure out how much she knew.

“Most of it. Long fed you soup, huh? How heartwarming. You would never see him doing that here, unless Feng asked for it. And look at Darryl, all popular. Really, such an interesting world. I feel left out. Where was I?” Ace lamented her exclusion.

“Tess was there if that makes you feel any better,” I said.

“No matter what version we look at, it’s always the same,” Ace remarked.

“You had quite an adventure, Tomo. Tell me more when you’re free. I am quite interested in hearing all about it,” Tess requested.

“Yeah, definitely. Ace, what else do you want to talk about?” I looked over at the former leader with urgency, hoping she would take my hint.

“What do you want to know about the heroes?” Ace provided me a lifeline.

A tough question. Kyoi and Zhuyu’s contract situation intrigued me. Shan and Ichaival’s friendship also stood out. So many topics but which one to choose?

“I’ll just pick something random to tell you,” Ace decided, interrupting my thoughts.

“You can’t….,” I protested.

“Sorry, you should have decided sooner. I’ll talk about how Ichaival and Jen met. Does that seem good to you?” Ace offered.

“I rather learn more about everyone’s fighting techniques. I can see that anytime I do a mind dive,” I declined.

“That burns, Tomo Yuki. A battle story, huh? Maybe….,” Ace pondered.

“Perhaps it would better for you to not, Ace. Time is limited,” Tess interrupted, pulling out a ring from her pocket.

She placed it in my hand. It was simple in design, a silver band with…. rubies? Fine pieces of red stone adorned the band like spikes on a collar.

“Long’s gift for you,” Tess stated.

“What?” I almost dropped the piece of jewelry.

“I can’t imagine what Feng will do once she finds out. I will keep you in my thoughts,” Ace joked.

“Tomo, do you remember the salamander you defeated? The gem has been converted to this accessory. It’ll boost your magic output and also strengthen your mastery over the flame skills you copied from Zhang,” Tess elaborated.

“You should have just said that in the first place. Even Ace assumed things when you begin with a statement like that,” I said, slipping it onto my middle finger.

“I apologize for my wording choice. I hope you’ll gather more gems and convert them. It will boost your power significantly,” Tess advised.

“Tomo Yuki, the “Ring Queen”. It certainly will give you an edge especially when you’re still learning your powers. Anyways, it’s about time we head out,” Ace agreed.

“I will drive. Ace, I assume you’ll make your presence known and not hide yourself,” Tess said.

“Mirei said herself she doesn’t care,” Ace confirmed.

“Then let’s not delay the inevitable,” Tess said.

Mirei Specified Meeting Place, 11:45 AM

I expected a house or building, but it was an open area. Was this even the right place? I opened up my messages, reading over the address again. This was definitely it.

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“How fun! Mirei came prepared for a fight,” Ace commented, looking around the place.

“Let’s go. She prepared a pathway for us,” Tess directed, pointing at white chalk lines drawn on the ground.

We followed the trail until we arrived at a clearing. Mirei sat at a circular desk, pouring tea into four cups. I looked around, checking for her masked friends. I’m sure they were lurking around, ready to strike if needed.

“Yuki, you’ve already revealed your answer with the guests you brought. I can safely say you reject my offer,” Mirei said, standing up.

She wore a black dress, small frills at the bottom. Sunlight reflecting off her necklace, similar in design to mine. Now what?

“What a bold assumption, Mirei. What if we came here to show solidarity and arrived together to officially pass the torch over to you?” Ace gave her usual smile.

“I only wish that were the case. If you’re here, Yuki already has a plan in place. Tess and Ace, the two most formidable heroes. How very nice of you to set up this opportunity for me,” Mirei said, raising her hand in the air.

S***, an artificial dimension already? She motioned for us to sit down. Ace complied, sipping the cup of tea Mirei provided. Tess followed and I was the last to sit down.

“Did you expect a big fight already, Yuki? I don’t do things that way. Let’s talk it out and maybe I’ll change your mind,” Mirei said.

“How can you be so calm, Mirei? You’re dealing with the most two dangerous people, inches away from you,” I questioned.

“It’s just the way I am. Now, let’s talk business. Ace, you’re going to oppose me no matter what. How about this? I can get what the Traveler needs, provided I take over for the heroes of course. I’m sure that’s quite enticing,” Mirei offered.

“That’s very sweet of you, but I refuse. The Traveler sees you as a threat. I can’t put him in a compromising situation, agreeing to your terms so fast,” Ace responded, refilling her cup of tea.

“There’s no use in negotiating with you. I’ll turn to you, Yuki. You saw a glimpse of the past that could have been. Now I’ll show you the future that could be,” Mirei said, scooting closer to me and placed her right hand on my forehead.

Tess didn’t react, watching things unfold. Ace did the same as well. They assumed Mirei didn’t mean any harm. Time for another one of those weird flashbacks. No, time skip was the appropriate term. What b******* would I see?

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