Shan wore a gray V-neck T-shirt and black shorts. His shoes were a light gray, green highlights running across the sides, with a yellow sole. His hair was wet, sweat dripping from his forehead. The hero glanced over at me when I entered with Tess.
“Tomo’s our next challenge?” he flipped his tennis racquet over.
“How’s it going?” Ichaival commented, throwing off his hood.
The false archer wore a slim, white short-sleeved hoodie. This one didn’t have a front pocket or drawstrings like his usual one. His black shorts contained a blue stripe running down the left leg. Ichaival wore matching colored tennis shoes with a white sole.
“Is this a tennis court?” I noticed the fluttering net in the middle and worn chalk lines.
“Yep, got in a few games while we were waiting for you,” Shan revealed, removing tennis balls from his pocket and tossing them over to his friend.
“I’m assuming that’s part of their training,” I pointed at the tennis supplies near their bench.
“Yes. Shigetzu wields a multitude of blunt weapons once he’s at full power,” Tess explained, leaping upward to catch a stray tennis ball.
The Gatekeeper hurled it like a baseball back at Shan. He stared at it and then flipped his racquet upward. The tennis ball broke his strings and struck him in stomach. Shan coughed, falling to the ground with a muffled groan.
“Oh s***, are you okay?” Ichaival checked in on his friend.
“Tess, what the hell?” I exclaimed.
“Just a test. Shigetzu, be more alert,” Tess warned, grabbing a medical kit from underneath the bench.
I evaluated the damage done to the gravity manipulator. Half of his T-shirt was in tatters, revealing a well-defined stomach. There were signs of a two-pack developing, but not quite popping yet. Huh, never knew Shan was this well-built. It did make sense since he seemed the most active out of all the heroes.
“Oh no! What ever will I do?” Shan screamed out as Tess examined his chest and stomach.
“As a precautionary measure, I’ll apply a bandage here,” she said, slapping a glowing bandage near Shan’s belly button.
“F***, that actually hurt,” Shan said, gritting his teeth.
“Are you serious?” I stared at him with suspicion.
“Shigetzu’s not lying. Didn’t you see that huge bruise? Tess doesn’t mess around,” Ichaival vouched for his friend.
“I leave her in your care,” Tess said before departing.
Shan changed into a new shirt and pointed at Ichaival. The false archer stared back at him, confusion on his face. The gravity manipulator sighed and lifted up the clipboard resting on the bench.
“You’re up first, Darryl. Teach Tomo all your tricks,” Shan declared, flipping through pages of paper.
“What? Why do I have to be first? You go first, Shigetzu!” Ichaival protested.
“Nah, it says so right here. ‘Ichaival Darryl, you are to train with Tomo Yuki before Shan Shigetzu. Once she finishes learning from both, engage in a mock battle.’ See?” Shan waved the clipboard.
“No way! Let me see that,” Ichaival said, grabbing the clipboard from him.
He sighed after reading and then shoved the clipboard back at Shan. The tennis net descended into the ground and then the tennis court lines became bathed in a faint light. Ichaival asked me to follow him inside. Once we both stepped foot inside, light in a sine wave pattern enclosed the area.
“Tomo, the light’s electrocuted. If either of us hit it, we get shocked. Show me what you learned from Long, Zhang, and Feng!” Ichaival shouted.
Skill Exhibition: Ichaival Darryl
Time to show off my pivot. I circled behind the false archer, locking him in a figure-four rear choke. When Ichaival swung his elbow back to break my hold, I applied Zhuyu’s vector power, stopping him. I then increased my pressure with En’s electrical power. Ice encased his lower legs, rooting him to the spot. His body became limp and then the man fell unconscious. I set him ablaze and Ichaival shouted out in agony.
“Uh, might want to tone it down there, Tomo,” Shan said, impressed by my offense.
“Really? That’s funny, coming from you,” I responded, helping Ichaival back up to his feet.
“S***, you got me,” Shan said, nodding his head.
Ichaival slapped his face and confirmed he was ready to go again. I didn’t anticipate Kyoi’s signature move would be so devastating. Might as well try En’s pivot next. I materialized a blade in my hand, ready to strike at his neck.
The false archer swung his right elbow backwards, striking my weapon wielding arm. He then teleported behind me, grabbing my arm and pulled it backwards. Ichaival then swept my right leg, forcing my body downward. The man forced my knife out and released me.
“Since when… ?” I was not prepared for his counter at all.
“I’ve practiced with Tess a little bit. Relearning a bunch of stuff,” Ichaival revealed, handing me my knife with a slight smile.
“Try coming at me from the front,” Ichaival instructed, wielding a knife of his own.
I swung my blade at the man. He chopped my elbow with his left hand before swinging his armed hand into mine. Ichaival wrapped his knife around my right wrist. The man then locked his left bicep around my arm. He pushed downward, striking me with his own weapon and mine. Both knives came close my stomach, but Ichaival pulled back at the last moment. Still grabbing my left arm, he pressed his right arm into my head. He then swung his right knee up, aiming for the top of my head.
“You’ve been hiding all of this from me, Ichaival?” I lay on the ground after the man tossed me.
“Why you gotta fool Tomo like that? You’re as low as me,” Shan shouted from the bench.
“Man, shut up, Shigetzu! Like I said, it’s been awhile since I’ve done any of this. Got my ass kicked by Tess the first two hours. Can’t get worse than that,” Ichaival responded, putting away his blade.
“It’s not over yet, right?” I summoned my sword, pointing the tip at the false archer.
“Of course not,” he replied, nodding with a determined look.
I placed my right foot forward, baiting him. Ichaival remained in place, not reacting. I utilized Zhang’s pivot, slashing at the man’s back. He avoided my attack with a portal, arriving at my backside. I anticipated his movement and parried his knife strike with my sword. He swung his left fist at me, aiming for my right hand. I extended my left palm, ready to counter his punch. In an instant, his knife transferred from his right hand to left. The man slashed my palm, leaving a line of red across it.
Damn, I should have realized his plan sooner. He switched possession of his blade back to his right hand and aimed for my face with his left. Nope, not letting you do the same thing twice. I stopped his left hand’s movement with Zhuyu’s power before kicking him in the stomach. I channeled electricity into my sword and plunged it into Ichaival’s right shoulder. He convulsed, hitting the ground with a loud thud. I yanked my blade out and unleashed magical waves at him. It knocked him into the light barrier, further electrocuting the hero.
“Hold on, that’s enough for now Tomo! We don’t want Darryl to lose all of his self-esteem,” Shan shouted, shutting down the lights.
Ichaival remained on the ground, eyes closed. I dissipated my sword, kneeling down. The gravity manipulator stared at his friend before giving me a thumbs up. Guess the false archer wasn’t in any danger. Shan walked away, returning with a steel water bottle. He uncapped it, pouring the contents down onto the man’s face. This was a really familiar sight. Ichaival coughed, glaring at his partner.
“You bastard. What the hell was that?” Ichaival continued coughing, wiping the water off after Shan tossed him a towel.
“We can’t waste time. You already said Tess beat your ass. I’m trying not to have that happen. If you mess up, I’ll end up going through the same punishment too. Let’s not waste time now, Darryl,” Shan explained, an actual serious expression on his face.
“Fine, I know what you mean. You’ve really improved, Tomo. I shouldn’t be surprised after you learned a few things from Kyoi,” he commented, drinking water from a different bottle.
“You’re probably still holding back, Ichaival. I didn’t realize your switch trick until it was too late,” I remarked.
“Not really. Just able to pull off some old moves since our powers aren’t as restricted anymore. I’m not super confident teaching you any Kali stick moves or bare-handed techniques actually. So, I’ll show you some of the cool portal stuff you can do,” Ichaival decided, pointing at the the battle area.
I nodded, stepping back in. This time, the false archer opted not to have the light barrier up. He constructed one portal in front of me. Okay, pretty simple. I noticed the portal stretching into an oblong shape around me.
“Try moving into it, Tomo,” Ichaival instructed.
I took a step forward, entering the portal, ending up in my starting position. No matter what direction I stepped in, I always ended up back in the same place. After five attempts, the overall portal stability broke down.
“There’s a limit, right?” I escaped the portal.
“Yeah. Depends on how many portals you’ve used so far. I have a feeling your limit will be pretty high. It requires you to be focused on whatever is trapped inside, so it’s not useful if you’re already fighting a bunch of enemies,” he answered, shutting down the portal.
“What’s next?” I asked, materializing my knife.
“Good idea, Tomo. Let’s do a little weapon swapping,” Ichaival responded as my weapon vanished from my hand, replaced with an empty water bottle.
“My turn,” I proclaimed, reclaiming my knife.
“Let’s keep practicing,” Ichaival said, pointing at his friend.
Shan waved my knife in the air with a grin. I held a roll of gauze in my hand. Ichaival tossed the water bottle into the air and then another switch occurred. I rolled away as the bench plummeted down, nearly crushing me.
“Really?” I transported the medical kit above Ichaival’s head.
“Sorry, sorry, just trying to show that you can move almost anything around,” Ichaival apologized with genuine sincerity.
After exchanging multiple items and creating a rather big mess, the false archer decided that was enough practice. I helped clean up and he explained the limitations. Since it was tied to portals, if I had none remaining, nothing would happen. In addition, I could only swap things I could see. Anything above a certain weight, such as a vehicle, cost a large amount of portals. It also fatigued the user, forcing a cool down period with no portal use.
“Oh, you can also do this!” Ichaival created a circle of portals around me and then appeared from them, wielding his knife.
I had trouble blocking his attack since he could appear from any angle. However, this strategy suffered from the same restriction as the oblong portal stretch. Repeated use caused the portals to deteriorate and render them ineffective. Still, it was a quick offensive strike which dealt early damage to an opponent.
“What about swapping positions of people?” I brought up.
“Not yet. I’m pretty sure you’ll be able to do it once we head back to Za’ard. Only thing is that you have to do it two people at a time at the beginning. Once you start mastering it, you can do multiple position swaps at once,” he explained.
Ichaival then showed me another useful offensive maneuver. He sent a blade flying into the ground and then the weapon appeared in his right hand. He called it Double Tap. It allowed him to hit an enemy and then strike again.
The remaining time with the false archer was spent going over useful portal techniques. By the end, I was tired, drained of stamina after creating so many portals. Ichaival tossed me a bottle of water, pleased with my progress. I glanced over at the door after hearing a creak. Zhuyu, wearing a long-sleeve again, walked in. Huh, didn’t expect the zero vector user to make an appearance.
“You’re early,” Shan said, stretching on the bench.
“Am I? Looks like you finished up,” he responded with a slight smile.
“What’s going on? I thought I was the only one moving around,” I asked, grabbing another water bottle from the container.
“Tess is having people cross-train with each other. You’re not the only lucky one, Tomo,” he revealed, brushing off dirt from his shirt.
I noticed his shirt was stained with dirt everywhere. Hopefully that didn’t mean bad things for me. Ichaival picked up the clipboard, sipping from his water bottle.
“It’s my turn. Long will graciously serve as our target practice,” Shan said, pointing at him.
“Again?” I stared at the math major, wondering if his body could sustain so much pain.
“Don’t worry about me, Tomo. There’s a reason Tess selected me for this,” Zhuyu responded, no emotion present in his expression.
“I somehow get the feeling you weren’t a feeling participant,” I said, not believing his words.
“You can trust him. Long’s a big boy, he can handle everything we throw at him. If Darryl can handle my s***, Long is more than suitable,” Shan assured me, giving the man a nod.
Shan’s words could never be trusted. Still, he knew Zhuyu better than I did. There was nothing I could say to sway him either. Fine, let’s see how it would go.