“Welcome! I arrived too early and cleaned up the exterior!” Yukie appeared from the back, a white scarf tied over her mouth and a apron draped over her clothes.
“Yukie, I’m glad to see you’re doing well in the future,” I greeted.
Yukie removed her scarf and promptly hugged me. Zhuyu and Jacque entered first, allowing the two of us to catch up. Once inside, I noticed the reception desk was covered in a thick layer of dust. All of the furniture was draped with white sheets. There were also cleaning supplies in the back, no doubt Yukie’s doing. The two men yanked one of the the sheets, revealing a couch. Zhuyu patted it, sending dust flying everywhere.
“Sorry to disturb you when you’re so busy, Yukie. I’ll make it up to you. If you have anything you want me to do, I’ll fulfill it to the best of my abilities,” Zhuyu said, coughing in response.
“Please, there’s no need, Long. With the convenience of the Gatekeeper’s powers, I’m able to transfer myself over here without any trouble. Since the threat is so great, it’s my responsibility and duty to assume the role Zha Tess previously held,” Yukie declined, a determined look on her face.
“Glad to have you on our side,” Jacque said, setting his bag on the floor.
“As am I. I will fulfill the request you asked for,” Yukie said, glancing over at me, before descending towards the training field.
Zhuyu and Jacque stared at the field with nostalgia. How many years had it been since they were here last? For me, it had only been yesterday.
“I shall power up the artificial dimension generator so you may use it to your liking at anytime without my presence,” Yukie informed us, heading towards the side of the main training field.
Zhuyu headed upstairs to the broadcast booth. That brought back bad memories. Jacque hopped up to the seats, and sat down, surveying the place.
“It is set. I noticed the wiring detoriating. I’ll come and fix it whenever I’m free next time,” Yukie said.
Zhuyu returned, leaping onto the field. He held a small rectangular black box in his left hand.
“Some kind of hard drive?” I saw dust fly off and multiple labels on it.
“Yeah. Yukie, mind taking a look when you’re free?” Zhuyu handed it over to my cousin.
“Yes, I’ll do my best. Long, do you mind if I spectate? I am interested in learning more about the fighting style everyone utilizes,” Yukie questioned.
“You don’t even have to ask. After doing this, you’ve more than earned the right to do whatever you want. There’s no need to ask permission from me. Oh, one more thing,” Zhuyu answered, removing a ring of keys from his belt.
Tess’ famous keys. They were in his possession even during that mind dive I witnessed my second time here. My cousin accepted them, clasping the keys tight in her hand. I saw a wistful look on the math instructor’s face. He placed his hands into his pocket and headed back in my direction. Yukie gave him a soft smile before sitting down. Wondered when they got so close? Maybe it was only natural considering his quest to recruit her. Jacque flipped to a new page in his sketchbook.
“I won’t take it easy on you, Yuki. You’ve had decent experience fighting by now. However, if it starts getting rough, tell me to stop anytime. Either that or you’ll kick my ass. Just continue beating me down if that’s the case,” Zhuyu announced.
Of course he added that offhand comment. It was just his personality. The man appeared reserved, but had a quirky sense of humor. The heroes were all similar in that respect.
“We’ll start with some sword sparring. You okay with that?” Zhuyu decided, already materializing his weapon.
“Yeah, sounds good,” I agreed.
Future Mock Battle #1: Yuki v Long
I ducked immediately as his blade swung over my head. Strands of my hair dropped to the floor. What the f***, Zhuyu? I readied myself, parrying his next attack. I blinked and then realized he wasn’t even in front of me anymore! A sharp pain occurred in my back as the man appeared behind me. I dropped to the ground and opened up a portal. Jumping in, I bought some time to just process what happened.
Zhuyu said nothing, covering the ground between us faster than expected. I opened up a decoy portal, drawing Zhuyu’s eyes towards it. However, he called my bluff and performed his signature pivot. Three more slashes landed on my back along with a burning sensation.
“Don’t give up, Yuki!” Jacque encouraged, standing up from his seat.
I spun around and multiple lines of flames rocketed towards me. I constructed a large ice wall and adjusted my gravity. However, Zhuyu nullified my gravity manipulation. Shards of ice flew everywhere when his attack connected with the ice wall. I shot back some of the ice shards at the man. As the projectiles came within inches of him, I transformed the shards into burning bursts of hot steam. He raised his left arm up in defense, severe burn marks appearing on it within seconds, but vanishing just as fast. Damn it, should have known he would just take the attack because of his potent regeneration.
I charged my sword via En’s electric powers and searched for an opening. This was bad. If Zhuyu maintained his current pace, I would lose. He plunged his sword into the ground, more flames appearing.
“Not this time!” I hurled a blade into his magic, establishing a connection.
Okay, time to put Kisai’s lessons to use. I feared the math instructor might lock his magic, preventing me from manipulating it. But, I assumed control of it, extinguishing them. Capitalizing on his surprise, I finally landed a solid hit on him. Zhuyu acknowledged my attack with a simple nod. His sword split into two different blades and he hurled one of them at me. I raised my blade, deflecting Kyoi’s sword. He then pivoted behind me, searing my skin with his sword. Torrential rain suddenly poured down on me, cutting into my skin like sharp needles.
“Oh s***!” Jacque remarked, staring up at the ceiling.
Come on, Zhuyu, let me have it! I know you want to boast. It’s understandable, you did a damn good job. He retrieved Kyoi’s sword, fusing it back with his original blade. This wasn’t over yet. I recalled my training session with Ichaival. Multiple portals appeared around him. I applied Shan’s gravitational powers as well. Zhuyu grinned, realizing my plan. He was now constricted, the portals trapping him in that position. I knew he would break out of it, but this allowed me to brainstorm potential ideas.
“Yes, why didn’t I think of that sooner?” I developed a potential solution.
I fired several bolts of compressed magic at the man. Zhuyu’s eyes grew serious. He countered two of my bolts. The other three made contact with one of the portals, amplifying the damage. The math instructor dropped down to his knees as all my portals dissipated. The upkeep cost of those things was too high. I would need to remember that for future fights. I released multiple waves of magic from my sword at him before smacking his chin. He flew all the way back, crashing into the wall with a large thud.
He stood up with a groan, clutching his back in pain. His glasses fell off from his face. I felt the shift in his power levels immediately. It made sense why he wore glasses now despite having decent eyesight. The zero vector user was suppressing his powers. If that was the case, I wouldn’t last long. I fired more compressed magic shots, two of them duds, so I could run. Zhuyu stared at the approaching projectiles, shifting the magic from them into his sword.
He retrieved his glasses, hanging them from his vest pocket. F***, f***! Not good at all! I tried moving but was rooted down to my current spot. My hands and legs felt numb. The zero vector user met my gaze. I felt scared for the first time in this fight and shuddered. I gritted my teeth, regaining movement in my right arm. I drove my sword blade into his left shoulder. Zhuyu remained silent, displaying no signs of pain. S***, what had I done?
Not bothering to remove my sword, Zhuyu kicked me in the stomach five times, increasing the strength each time. I spat out blood on his final kick, unable to react. He followed up with a boot to my right ankle, forcing me to the floor face first. He then stomped on my back, electric shocks jolting my body with each strike. The man flipped me over, a sadistic grin on his face. Yukie leaped down from her seat, shouting at him to stop. Chains burst out from the ground near him when he didn’t comply. Yukie, don’t do it!
Sounds of booming thunder echoed throughout the room as lightning strikes destroyed all of the chains. Zhuyu shifted his attention away from me, glaring at my cousin. He tapped the tip of his sword on the ground. Pillars of flames shot up around Yukie, eventually forming a burning cage, trapping her inside. I tried summoning my grimoire but felt no connection to it at all. Just what kind of s*** was Zhuyu pulling off right now?
“Back to you!” Zhuyu announced, ignoring my cousin.
“Long, come on, what are you doing? Snap out of it, bro!” Jacque descended into the battlefield.
“Don’t even try!” Zhuyu fired a stream of electricity at his friend.
The artist convulsed on the ground after taking a direct hit. After ten seconds, he remained pinned, now in the same predicament as me. Yukie tried escaping from her fire prison but was unsuccessful. Zhuyu stepped on my right shoulder, landing slow and deliberate stomps for the next minute. After bruising my entire shoulder, he slapped his flaming blade down, further aggravating my injuries. His next target was my knees. Zhuyu wielded a knife in his left hand, making small slits into the bottom half of my leg. F***, this man was crazy! He stomped on the incisions, setting my leg ablaze after finishing up. I was going to pass out if he kept this up.
Zhuyu lifted my arm up, stretching it all the way up, before slamming it to the ground. He then transitioned into an arm bar, further damaging it, keeping me in the submission hold for more than one minute. The math instructor propped me against a nearby wall before punching me in the stomach. I heard a crack. Uh, did he just shatter my ribs too? That punch felt strange though, weaker than any of his previous strikes, but somehow felt ominous. I couldn’t handle anymore. I slumped to ground and then saw chains yank him down. Yukie, anger on her face, stood over the man.
“Long, that’s enough!” she tightened the chains around him and placed his glasses back onto his face.
The increased power levels decreased, returning back to normal. Yukie freed Jacque, asking him to keep an eye on Zhuyu. My cousin placed her pointer and middle finger onto my forehead, healing most of my external injuries.
“Long, have you calmed down?” Yukie pulled on her chains.
“Yeah, sorry about that. I lost control there,” Zhuyu removed my blade from his stomach with a pained expression.
“We’ll speak about your affliction later, Long,” Yukie decided, helping me over to the bleacher seats.
“I know. Yuki, hope you’re not too beat up,” he said, clutching his shoulder.
“I’m not even going to ask. I’m sure I’ll find out about it sooner or later,” I said, glancing over at him.
“Might be a good choice, Yuki. If you’re feeling up for it, why not try facing off against Jacque?” he suggested, pouring tea from a thermos.
“Long, I don’t think it’s…,” Yukie started.
“No. I came here to learn. It would be a waste not to see Jacque in action. Let me rest for a few minutes and we’ll go,” I interrupted her, wanting to push myself.