Wait, what? I detected no threats in our immediate vicinity. My necklace suddenly shook, bouncing against my snowflake one. This was the first time such a volatile movement occurred from it.
“To your right, Tomo!” Tess warned.
I rolled away from the magical blast. A female ghost-like figure now floated next to Mirei. It wore a slim qipao, glowing circles running down the hem line. The strange newcomer also donned the same butterfly mask Mirei wore during her ambush of us.
“Tess, what’s going on?” I questioned.
“It’s rare for a grimoire to take on a form, but it appears Mirei is a lucky one,” Tess answered, still focused on her task.
“You’ve given me a hard time so I had to finally pull this out,” Mirei announced.
“Whoever sent you meant business,” Ace remarked.
“I didn’t want to do this, but now we’re on equal footing. One thing bothers me, what is your real name?” Mirei questioned.
“Can’t do that!” Ace saw right through her plan.
“Yuki has no knowledge of it either. You planned ahead, Tess. Analyze that for me,” Mirei requested of her grimoire.
“No results were found. There exist too many parameters and branching possibilities. Overflow error,” the grimoire responded with a melodic and sweet voice.
“Interesting. You’re risking it all. I commend you for that. Go deal with Tess and Yuki. I’ll handle this on my own,” Mirei ordered her grimoire.
“As you wish,” the grimoire responded, flying towards us.
“Tess, I’ll cover you. Just continue… whatever you’re doing,” I said, engaging Mirei’s grimoire in combat.
“Tomo Yuki identified,” the grimoire stated.
First, I needed to relocate. I created a portal near the grimoire, transporting it away, before joining my enemy. Good, that worked. We were far enough that I didn’t have to worry about any immediate attacks striking the Gatekeeper. Mirei’s grimoire formed a portal but I shut it down. It then went on the offensive. I felt myself pinned to the ground. Of course, it would pick Shan’s powers. Tess didn’t teach you physics for fun. Some way to… yes, vectors!
“Sensing an abnormality,” Mirei’s grimoire analyzed.
Nice, I finally grasped the basics of Shan and Zhuyu’s powers. A circle of flames appeared, trapping me inside. I swiped my right hand in the air, extinguishing the flames, and fired a bolt of compressed magic at her grimoire. A large magical barrier, resembling a shield, formed in front of the grimoire. My magical attack was absorbed by the shield and then redirected at me. I generated an ice wall, but the reflected attack tore through it, striking my left shoulder. I conjured a flame in my hand and it fizzled out immediately. Great, the grimoire sealed my magic.
Chains burst out from the ground, binding me to my current spot. Mirei’s grimoire hovered over me, extending its left hand toward my forehead. As I struggled, a soft glow enveloped my body. What the hell was happening? Mirei’s grimoire retreated upon seeing this development. The chains vanished, allowing me to move freely again. I materialized my sword and swung at Mirei’s grimoire. It evaded and then warm steam wafted from the ground. I felt my strength draining and everything around me became hazy. Time to turn down the temperature.
All of the steam vanished right away, replaced by tiny pieces of ice. It was finally clear enough to see Mirei’s grimoire. Extending its right hand out, all the ice exploded and the resulting shards flew at me. I adjusted the gravity and avoided a devastating attack.
“Never thought I would thank Shan,” I muttered, rolling away from pillars of fire.
I felt the ground underneath me turn slippery. S***, not cool, using all my attacks. I couldn’t maintain my balance and fell. The thin layer of ice melted and I saw electricity suddenly pulsating through it. Not good. I tried floating by manipulating my gravity but couldn’t pull it off in time. I felt numb, unable to move.
Mirei’s grimoire hurled a spear at me. I couldn’t avoid that attack, having witnessed it once already. The projectile pierced my right kneecap. I grabbed it and then yanked the weapon out. I resisted the urge to let out a steam of curses and then applied the healing effects of En’s flames. It erased the pain but I couldn’t make sharp cuts or dodges anymore.
I accelerated forward and shot icicles at my opponent. Mirei’s grimoire mask glowed and my projectiles burst into flames. I teleported upward, deciding to target its mask this time. I I slashed at its mask as I descended but missed. A force repelled me back and was sent flying back to my original location. Tess snapped her fingers and I missed crashing into the woman.
“Please tell me you’re almost done, Tess,” I pleaded, feeling fatigue set in.
“Thanks for the distraction. Tess, it’s time, you ready?” Ace appeared in front of me, giving a chilling but grateful smile.
Chains surrounded Tess’s circle, aligning in a radial direction. Ace caught Mirei, hurling her into it. The chains sprung up, bolting her to the floor. Mirei’s grimoire evaded my stream of flames. F*** it, I lacked the motivation to give chase, hoping Tess or Ace would intercept.
“Tomo, you can’t be slacking off in such a big predicament!” Ace prevented Mirei’s grimoire from reaching her master.
Everything Tess carved into the ground lit up. Mirei’s human form vanished and reverted back to a standard grimoire, striking the floor with a thump. Ace walked over to Mirei, placing her right hand on the woman’s forehead.
“Mirei, you will be without powers for the foreseeable future,” Ace declared.
Tess opened her mouth but I couldn’t her words. All of a sudden, the bright circle vanished and darkness enveloped the entire room. I attempted to form a small fire in my hand but nothing appeared. Minutes later, everything became visible again. Ichizen’s sister remained on the ground, still chained, eyes closed. Ace let out a sigh of relief, finally removing her hand from her forehead.
“Okay, that should do it,” Ace announced, walking towards me.
“I couldn’t hear or see anything,” I questioned, staring at the Gatekeeper and Ace with a concerned look.
“Tess removed the seal on my powers temporarily. That’s why you couldn’t see or hear anything. You don’t have to worry, I am still sealed. My true powers are locked,” Ace explained.
“And Mirei?” I pointed at the woman.
“Sealed for at least a year, just in case you need more time. Six months should be more than enough but you never know. Tess, I trust you also have preventive measures in place,” Ace predicted, glancing over at her.
“You are correct. Ace, you fulfilled your end of the deal,” Tess replied.
“Of course I would. I know, I know. You’ll be gunning for me after all of this wraps up. Trust me, I knew that was the case when I approached Tomo Yuki, but Mirei was an obstacle. Let’s call it even and leave it at that. Tomo Yuki, I look forward to the day I fight you when you’re reached your full potential,” Ace reminded, waving her hand in the air, walking off.
“Not going to stay?” I shouted after her.
“I’ve done my part. There’s nothing left for me to do. Of course, I’m sure you’ll be chasing after me sooner or later. Until then. Tess, make sure you properly train her,” Ace yelled back and vanished.
Tess knelt downward, checking Mirei’s condition. The Gatekeeper then attached a choker around her neck.
“She can’t use her powers anymore?” I questioned.
“As of this point,” Tess confirmed.
“What about those four over there?” I pointed at her accomplices.
“Their powers originate from Mirei herself. With her powers disabled, they will be unable to do anything. Relax Tomo, you did an admirable job,” Tess complimented.
“Thanks. Is Mirei waking up anytime soon?” I inquired.
“No, she’ll be out for another half an hour. In the meantime, I shall implement my countermeasures,” Tess answered, flipping Mirei onto her back.
“I thought that choker was it. You have something else too?” I watched Tess move her hand down Mirei’s back.
“Tomo, assist me please,” Tess requested.
“What do you need?” I questioned, bending down too.
“Pull her shirt up,” Tess ordered, unhooking a key that contained a Chinese guardian lion on its bow.
I yanked the woman’s shirt upward and Tess etched symbols onto her back. I heard a moan and noticed one of Mirei’s associates moving.
“Hey Tess. I’m going to deal with that,” I said.
“Go ahead. I shall be finished soon,” Tess allowed.
I bent down and checked on the person waking up. The person, startled by my appearance, scooted back. Their mask fell off, revealing a familiar face. After witnessing that future, it now made sense why Len visited Mirei.
“Len, are you okay?” I asked.
“Yu… ki? What are you… wait, what happened? I can’t remember anything,” Len stammered, a dazed expression on her face.
Had Mirei controlled her this entire time? No, that didn’t match up with what I knew.
“Oh, that’s right. I remember now. Yuki, I guess we lost then,” Len finally recovered, glancing over at Mirei.
“How did you even get involved in this mess?” I sighed, helping Len up to her feet.
“Mirei told me everything about Ichizen and what happened. I just… felt like I needed to do something for him. I know that seems absurd but I just…,” Len answered, looking at me with a distraught face.
“Len, you…,” I started but stopped myself.
“Tomo, it’s done,” Tess announced, walking over to me.
“Guess that means we’re clear for now, right?” I asked.
“Yes, we’ve accomplished our goal. As for Mirei’s friends, they are powerless as well. I trust you won’t try anything?” Tess pointed at Len.
“Of course, like I said to Yuki, we’ve lost,” Len replied.
Mirei finally awakened. Tess shut down the artificial dimension, propping up the unconscious members of Mirei’s team against the wall. Ichizen’s sister sighed, touching the choker around her neck.
“It turned out like this. Tess, promise me one thing,” Mirei requested.
“We will defeat the Traveler, Mirei,” Tess stated.
“As we speak, the Traveler continues his plans. This is one of the main reasons I wished to take over. You waste too much time, allowing him to grow stronger, but it’s out of my hands now. At least allow me to monitor your progress,” Mirei asked.
“I will permit it but with restrictions. We can talk about them at a later time. Mirei, I sense you did not fight us out of a desire to prove yourself. I understand your desire, but you lack experience. You may know everything but lack the context and awareness on when to apply it. That’s what separates us,” Tess explained.
“Let’s be friends, Yuki. What a turn of events. I’m powerless to do anything. I’ll rely on you. Do what you need to,” Mirei relented.
After going over logistics, everyone left. I sat in Tess’ car, fatigue really setting in. I ended up dozing off. When I woke up, we were in front of my house.
“Since Mirei’s been restrained, is the truce off between all the heroes?” I questioned.
“It is still in everyone’s best interest to continue the alliance. Mirei’s assault showed us how unprepared we are. Besides, we worked with them extensively in the past. I know it will make a difference once we fight the Traveler again. The new teams may end up being a positive. Sometimes being with the same people for too long blinds us,” Tess replied.
“Yeah, you have a point,” I understood.
“Have a good rest tonight, Tomo. Tomorrow is the start of spring quarter. You’ll want to be alert for the first day,” Tess reminded me.
That’s right, spring quarter was tomorrow. Crap, I almost forgot. I entered my house and saw Yukie standing in the living room, an apron draped over her clothes.
“Welcome home, Yuki! You look tired. Go ahead and get some rest. I’ll call you once dinner is ready,” Yukie suggested.
“Thanks, I’ll do that,” I headed straight upstairs and collapsed into my bed.