Volume 12, Chapter 15-1: Spring Training Camp, Session G: A Peek into Tess’ Past

The Gatekeeper remained silent during our entire walk to the next location. I thought about initiating a conversation but decided against it. She seemed… more closed off than usual. Kinda weird to actually think about actually. Tess never displayed much emotion, but she was a person I could depend on, no doubt the other heroes agreed with that as well. However, this wasn’t one of those times. She stopped at a door with a blinking panel containing a hand and eye scanner. I noticed a keyhole it too. What the hell was in this room?

“Tomo, please enter your key,” Tess instructed as she unhooked her ring of keys.

Wait, me first? I nodded, inserting my designated key into the slot. I expected resistance but found turning it an easy task. The electronic panel lit up afterwards. Tess stood behind me, saying nothing. Guess it still required my information. I bent down, blinking as the device scanned my eyes, and then placed my palm onto it. A red border appeared around the panel before turning green in color. Tess, what are you hiding in here that requires so much security? The door slid open, revealing a plain room with white walls.

“Have a seat,” Tess directed, selecting a chair on the left side of the single table inside.

I sat in the chair opposite of hers and glanced around the room. Nothing hung on the bland white walls. My seat felt uncomfortable, the backside of the chair too hard. This room was devoid of any personality, no personal touches placed into it. In a way, it matched Tess. I rested my hands on the square, wood table. There was just enough room for me to fit my legs underneath and big enough for two or three books. Tess requested I summon my grimoire onto it.

“What’s going on here, Tess?” I questioned, watching the chains from my grimoire vanish.

“Just a precautionary action to prevent prying eyes and ears. Rest assured you and I are completely sealed off from any distractions,” she responded, flipping through my grimoire pages.

“Hold on, why does that sounds so sinister? You think there’s a mole?” I stared at the woman with concern and confusion.

“No, not from the inside. However, there exist various parties who have much to gain from what I’m about to show you. I can not take that risk,” Tess denied, shaking her head.

F***, this was way too cryptic. I sighed, watching her peruse through the contents of my magical tome. Wait, did I always have so many bookmarks? When I first received it, there were only two or three. But now, based on a rough count, maybe around fifty or more with all of them various colors. Must be related to my growth and the background data it collected.

“Ah, this is an excellent spot,” Tess decided, pointing at a page midway through the grimoire.

“I’m so confused right now, Tess. What exactly are you going to show me that requires so much secrecy?” I stared at the blank page.

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“A mind dive courtesy of me. I believe it’ll provide context on all the activities you’ve gone through today,” Tess answered, staring straight into my eyes.

“Okay,” I said, lacking a good response.

The entire temperature of the room turned chilly, causing me to shiver, before shifting to a sweltering heat. I felt light-headed and my vision blurred. Outlines of metal chains appeared around Tess before vanishing with a loud snap. Aargh! My head then struck the table with a thud.

MIND DIVE 11: Rookie Tess

I woke up in a dim room, the lights flickering above me. Tess sat in a wooden chair, reading a book. Her hair was short, no signs of her trademarked hairpins. Instead, a single golden hair clip was attached to her left bang. This younger version of the Gatekeeper wore a green undershirt and an unbuttoned red cardigan with black jeans. I didn’t recognize the place at all.

“Tess, you’re here early,” someone commented, entering through the right door.

A teenage girl, with silver hair pulled back into a bun, waved her hand over Tess’ face. In response, the hero placed her book down and stood up. Both entered the left door and then the scene transitioned to a gym.

“Yamamura, thank you for this opportunity,” Tess said, taking her cardigan off, and then folded it up before placing it down on the nearby bleachers.

“Tess, there’s no need to be so formal. It’s fine if you just call me Kotomi, you know,” the woman responded as she splashed water onto her face.

“I believe our relationship has not progressed to the point which necessitates that,” Tess disagreed, removing her hair clip.

“Ouch, that really hurts. I guess I have only known you for two months though,” Yamamura said, retying her shoe laces.

“I apologize if my words come off as blunt. It’s a habit my friend warns me about often,” Tess revealed, walking toward the center of the hardwood floor.

“So you do have friends! Glad to know you’re not just a weird loner. It’d be bad to have someone like that be the Gatekeeper. But, that’s kinda mean of me to say now that I think about it. Looks like we both have things to work on,” Yamamura remarked, standing opposite of Tess.

“Shall we begin?” Tess questioned, a small hint of emotion creeping into her voice.

“Yeah, let’s do it! Um, don’t think I really have anything to warn you about this time. Just come at me and we’ll see how it ends up for both of us,” the woman answered, materializing a staff in her hand.

Exhibition Battle: Yamamura v. Zha Tess

The design of her staff resembled the ones magical girls wielded. At the top, a circular frame surrounded a white rose, containing a sharp pointed upper edge. Two overlapping triangles framed the flower inside. The edges of the circle contained symbols all around, in the style of a roulette wheel. The upper tip of the rose pointed upward at a red section.

Tess dashed at Yamamura, three chains trailing behind her. Her left chain shot toward her opponent’s legs while the right whipped at the arm. The remaining one followed behind the hero. Yamamura grasped Tess’ right chain with her free hand, shattering it with one quick squeeze. She slammed the bottom of her staff into the left chain, destroying it as well. Tess pivoted behind Yamamura, tossing her single chain over the woman’s neck. The rose tip spun on her staff, now pointing downward at a blue section. The Gatekeeper’s hand and the chains she wielded became encased in solid ice.

“I can still predict your movements but they’re not as obvious. Not surprising that you’ve improved so much in just a month,” Yamamura complimented, breaking the chain with one tap from her finger.

Yamamura lifted her staff into the air, and the rose tip shifted positions, pointing at a yellow section. Sparks flew up from the ground before the entire floor became electrocuted. Tess avoided contact by shooting a chain upward into the ceiling, hanging from it. Yamamura aimed the staff head at her opponent’s chain and a magical circle developed underneath her. Multiple pillars of flames shot upward at Tess. The Gatekeeper swung around, avoiding all of it, but the chain broke at the end of her maneuvers. She plummeted toward the floor. At the last moment, two layers of chains broke her fall, protecting her from danger.

All of the electricity on the ground vanished two seconds later. The Gatekeeper slammed her hands into the the chains. It wrapped around both her fists instantly. She dodged a barrage of bubbles from Yamamura, sliding underneath them, before they detonated. Tess swung an uppercut at her foe, her fist making contact with the staff. I expected her chains to nullify or weaken Yamamura’s weapon. With her other hand, Tess whipped the chain at the woman’s ankle, tripping her. Yamamura’s staff glowed, and a magical barrier bounced her back up, preventing a fall. Tess’ chain also vanished, leaving her only with the one wrapped around her left fist.

“Okay, you’re getting to the good stuff, Tess! I’ll take you head on then,” Yamamura decided, dissipating her staff with an excited grin.

I assumed Yamamura wouldn’t excel in physical combat because she cast magic with her staff. Oh, I was very wrong about that! Her speed matched that of Tess’, faster than even Kyoi’s movements. She evaded every one of Tess’ punches with a combination of weaves and bobs. Yamamura’s motions mirrored an expert boxer’s. Just who was this woman? Tess eventually pushed her up against a wall, aiming a kick at the woman’s stomach. Yamamura avoided the attack and the Gatekeeper’s shoe struck the wall instead. Tess’ opponent then grabbed the hero by her waist, tossing her face first into the wall. Chains appeared on the wall, ready to cushion the woman. Yamamura stomped on the ground and a sudden burst of wind rattled the chains. A second later, they vanished and Tess’ face slammed into the wall hard.
“Tess, are you okay?” Yamamura knelt, offering a towel to Tess.

“I can continue,” Tess replied, wiping away the blood flowing out of her nose.

Yamamura allowed her a thirty second rest before they continued their fight. She attempted to toss Tess again, but the Gatekeeper escaped, appearing behind her. Tess trapped Yamamura in a rear neck choke but couldn’t quite lock it in. Yamamura kicked Tess’ knees, and then threw her into the ground, before locking her into an arm bar. Tess endured the pain but eventually tapped out.

“Don’t feel bad Tess. You did a good job at hanging in there. In one more month, it’ll be me losing,” Yamamura said, sipping water from her water bottle.

“Thank you for fulfilling my request. It has been an enlightening experience,” Tess responded.

“No, I should thank you. You’re one of the few people I can train with without holding back. Say Tess, how’s school going for you?” Yamamura shifted the conversation topic.

“What is the relevance of such a topic to my training?” Tess blinked at her.

“I kinda want to know just because I’m curious. But, it’s also relevant because your workload in school or a job could impact your training,” Yamamura answered with a sheepish smile.

“I’m currently enrolled in two community college courses while taking graduation required classes at my high school,” Tess answered.

“You’re a model student, Tess. Just hit me up whenever you want to spar. My schedule isn’t as busy as yours,” Yamamura commented.

Tess nodded, donning her cardigan and then retrieved her book. Her face displayed no emotion at all, giving me no idea how she even felt about her fight with Yamamura. But I’m sure she wasn’t satisfied with the results considering her high standards.


MIND DIVE 12: A Prophetic Battle

 In an instant, the previous scene ended, replaced with a grass field and an orange tinged sky. No signs of any nearby buildings, just wilderness all around. Pretty relaxing, Shui would appreciate this type of place. Tess, wearing a white collared shirt and brown leather jacket, held a notepad in her right hand. A woman, in her early twenties, stood next to her. She wore a casual black blazer and matching business pants. Her hair was violet in color, pulled back into a tight dutch braid in the back. A new face, who was this woman?

“Tess, what is your assessment of Kyoi Feng?” the woman questioned, pointing at a flock birds.

“She’s very perceptive, able to manipulate magic at a high level. However, Kyoi lacks good judgment in certain situations,” Tess replied, sketching the birds.

“Good eye, Tess. You are correct. There are two more arrivals. I wonder how she’ll handle them when they arrive,” the woman agreed, removing a pocket watch from her breast pocket.

“Kyoi will be a good instructor as long as she’s patient. However, her mastery and talent is not an indication of her proficiency as a teacher. We shall see,” Tess analyzed, slipping her notepad into her rear pants pocket.

Damn, why was even her art so damn good? Sorry Jacque, but her art was far superior to yours, and I’m pretty sure she wasn’t even putting in maximum effort. Just another thing to throw onto the list of everything she excelled at. The flock of birds vanished into the distance and a breeze blew past the two woman. All of a sudden, Tess swung one chain upward, deflecting a throwing knife that the woman hurled at her. Oh s***, time for another fight.

Zha Tess v. ?

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“Excellent, I expect nothing less from the rookie Gatekeeper,” the woman complimented, wielding a glowing Chinese sword in her left hand.

That was Zhuyu’s sword! Oh, this must be the prophet for their dimension. She slashed at the Gatekeeper, narrowly missing Tess’ chest. The hero responded with two chains, wrapping around her foe’s blade. Tess yanked, relieving the woman of her weapon. The prophet was unfazed and snapped her fingers. I heard the loud rumbling of thunder as dark clouds appeared on the horizon. A light rain started falling before multiple lightning bolts struck Tess’ chains. In an second, the hero was electrocuted and collapsed to the ground. Zhuyu’s sword now glowed brighter than before. The well-dressed woman stepped on Tess’ chains, disintegrating them. She reclaimed possession of her sword, staring downward at Tess.

“Tess, don’t tell me that’s all you can do. The title of Gatekeeper should have gone to someone else,” she taunted, plunging the tip of her blade into the grass.

 Tess sprung up from the ground, balancing on a single chain, avoiding the electrified ground. She shot another chain into the grass. Electricity shot up through it, straight into her body. What the hell was she thinking? Instead of getting shocked, Tess’ hand glowed with the same brightness as Zhuyu’s sword.

“Good conversion. You’re as fast as Kyoi,” the woman remarked, pulling her blade out.

Tess sped towards her foe. She wrapped chains around her fist, swinging for Zhuyu’s sword. The two woman exchanged blows for the next thirty seconds, both sides not giving an inch. Tess finally broke through, knocking the blade out of her opponent’s grasp. She followed up with a solid punch to the stomach, knocking the prophet to the ground. Tess snapped her fingers, binding her opponent with two chains, one around their legs and the other around their hands. The Gatekeeper closed her eyes, taking a deep breath. This was one of the rare times I ever saw her like this.

“That’s what I was looking for from you, Tess! Unfortunately, you still lack experience!” the woman broke free of her restraints, charging at the hero with a new sword in hand.

Ah, En’s katana! This definitely confirmed her role as the prophet. Tess slid away, grabbing Zhuyu’s sword, blocking the woman’s swing. The Gatekeeper gritted her teeth every time she moved the blade. I noticed a burn developing on the palm of her hand. After a minute, she relinquished control of the sword, grabbing her hand in pain. Tess leaped back, three chains shooting up from the ground in succession. Her opponent slashed through all three chains with ease. However, the chains immediately reformed, buying Tess time. With each swing, the prophet’s weapon turned a different color. It started off red, turning orange, then yellow, transitioning to green, became blue, and finally white.

“Your chains can no longer protect you, Tess!” the woman declared, holding the katana over her shoulders.

Oh no, I remember En performing a similar motion in one of the archived videos. She slammed her blade downward, and it transformed into a greatsword, before pulling it back up again. The glow of her weapon intensified as the woman slammed the tip of her blade into the ground, bounding into the air, before finally striking Tess. The Gatekeeper formed a defensive barrier but it was shattered. Tess was knocked unconscious, lying face down in the grass.

“Your potential is vast, Tess. I could see it,” the woman stated when Tess woke up.

“I thank you for your praise. However, it does not change the outcome. Kyoi will have a strong team if they can wield the blades as well as you did,” Tess said, brushing off grass from her pants.

“We’ll see. Speaking of which, who are some of the people you’ve scou…?” her voice drifted off.


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