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“There’s a lot of big cats around here,” Jacque observed, carrying a sketchbook in his right hand.
“Yeah,” I agreed.
We arrived at a small trading post, situated near a rural area. According to the Tess’ information, this dimension’s technology matched ours. Currently, our cover were reporters from a nearby city, which was a four hour drive from here.
“We’re suppose to find Bartholomew’s acquaintance,” I read out loud, checking Tess’ notes.
“Let’s ask around,” Jacque suggested.
The man spoke with a few people, narrowing down the location of our informant. We arrived in front of a dingy inn, the sign on it nearly falling off. Sure, let’s go with the suspicious place.
“Hey, we’re reporters from the Hackball Times. Has someone like this stayed here?” Jacque showed the front desk a photo.
“She went off to Scratchpost Hills. Searching for a dumb rock. She hasn’t paid her damn bill, so if you find her, tell her she owes me,” the manager revealed, waving us off.
“Hey, any change we could get directions? Sorry to bother you,” I cut into their conversation.
“Do I look like a map, girl? Just ask around, it’s not that hard to find,” the manager instructed.
We wandered around for thirty minutes before finding the place. The steep hills in the distance lived up to their namesake. There was a framed map out in the front and pamphlets for visitors to take. I took one before both of us entered.
“Hey Tomo, you hear that?” Jacque inquired.
I heard a low buzzing which grew louder. Small, metallic humanoid enemies descended from the air. They landed in front of us and their eyes were a bright red.
“Tomo, watch out!” Jacque shouted as our enemies spat pellets from their mouths.
I rolled away, seconds before their projectiles detonated. Jacque drew with urgency and a bottle rocket launcher, along with ammunition, appeared by his side. He loaded one in and aimed at a nearby enemy. The rocket sputtered, striking the opponent and then exploded. Burning pieces of the robot scattered throughout our immediate vicinity, but didn’t set any of the grass ablaze. I unleashed a stream of fire from my hands, decimating the humanoids to my right. The artist finished firing off his rockets, eliminating the rest. Charred pieces of our enemies, still on fire, littered the field of grass. However, the grass remained in pristine shape, not impacted at all.
“What a weird place. Jacque, you good?” I checked in on the man.
“Yeah, just glad we didn’t get caught up in any big explosions. Hey, at least, I’m somewhat useful!” Jacque replied, watching his bottle rocket launcher disappear.
“Not too bad for your first official fight. Come on, let’s keep going,” I said, moving ahead.
We encountered more mechanized foes, defeating them with ease. All of the grass remained resistant to flames too. After striking down multiple waves of the same enemies, we arrived at a clearing. A feline woman sat on a rock, next to a slow flowing river. She carried a camera and rested her free hand on a large hiking backpack.
“You think that’s who we’re looking for?” Jacque questioned.
“Yeah, who else would be out here?” I replied.
“The person sending those robots,” Jacque provided an alternate answer.
“Okay, good point. Let’s check. She doesn’t look armed,” I realized, moving ahead.
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“I sure hope so. I’m gonna draw this just in case,” Jacque said.
The woman didn’t move, lifting her camera up. She adjusted her lens, ignoring us.
“Excuse me, we were…,” I started.
“Be quiet! We can talk about the Artifact later. Right now, there’s something right there that will kill us,” the woman informed us, focused on her photography subject.
“Definitely need this,” Jacque declared, threading his head through football shoulder pads.
“Really Jacque?” I stared into the distance, still not seeing anything.
“I’m not as strong as you, Tomo! This better work,” Jacque remarked, tapping his protective layer of clothing.
The river drained and a large serpent burst out. It was ten foot high, flickering its tongue in and out. Green scales adorned its body. Oh, that was the grass we walked through earlier.
“What is that thing?” I yelled at the informant.
“Defeat it and you’ll get your answer,” she shouted, snapping pictures.
“You really can’t just tell us!” I avoided its tail swing.
“Got you! There are several weak points. The tail and head, attack those parts. Don’t use fire! I’m sure you know that by now,” she advised.
Jacque fumbled around with his pencil. The serpent remained still, observing us with its beady eyes.
“Tomo, catch! I’ll draw another one if it doesn’t work!” Jacque threw a lawn trimmer at me.
“I’ll cover the artist,” the informant offered, positioning herself in front of the artist.
Don’t miss the jump, don’t miss the jump! I watched the serpent’s tail and finally leaped on top of it. Come on, don’t fall off. The enemy, aware of my existence, thrashed around with loud hissing noises. I stabbed two blades into it, creating a makeshift hold.
“Please work, come on,” I muttered, holding on only with my left hand.
I swept Jacque’s creation across its tail. The contraption shattered upon impact. This was the worst timing. I waved with my right hand, feeling my grip lessen each time the serpent thrashed around.
“Tomo, this one should work!” Jacque waved back.
The serpent noticed his creation and lunged forward. I was thrown off, hitting the ground with a large thud. The informant pushed Jacque aside and jumped upward, landing on the serpent’s lower back. Without hesitation, she pierced through the scales with her right claw. Jacque hurled me the second lawn trimmer. I caught it, climbing up the tail once more. The informant subdued our enemy, allowing me to traverse its body without worrying about falling. I shredded through its scales with Jacque’s weapon.
“I’ve cleared out most of it! Can we attack directly?” I questioned, leaping off the serpent.
“The main body is just water. Freeze the body and I’ll shatter it!” the informant shouted, following my lead.
Let’s go with long range attack. I compressed my magic into Shui’s icicles and nodded at the informant. She distracted the serpent, allowing time for Jacque to draw. A ballista spawned in front of me, specialized for launching magical blasts of energy.
“Tomo, hope that helps. Glad Tess taught me this before we left,” Jacque said, closing his sketchbook and dashed as the serpent approached him.
I loaded my icicles into it and fired them off, missing two. Once it struck the serpent, my magic activated, freezing the beast. Up to you now, cat lady. The informant leaped up high into the air and eliminated the serpent with one swipe. Large ice chunks rained down, shattering into tiny pieces. I placed my hand on the ground, sending waves of electric energy across the area, wiping out the enemy.
“Thanks for the assist. I just wanted good pictures and this thing pops up. I can fill in the map,” the informant said,.
She picked up a shattered piece of rock and dug through her backpack. The informant took out similar pieces and assembled them together, forming a tablet. She then snapped a photo.
“Tell Lionel I’ve tracked down the Artifact location. As for the payment, same as last time,” the informant said, tossing the tablet over to us.
“How will we know that you won’t go after the Artifact yourself?” I handed the tablet over to Jacque.
“Did you not see what just happened? That’s not worth my money or time. I have better jobs. The picture was just insurance, proving I found the tablet. I can’t even read the inscription,” the informant answered.
“Thanks for the help back there,” Jacque said.
“Never thought Lionel would send two rookies out here. We might meet again, heroes,” the informant said, walking ahead.
She knew our identities. I stared down at the inscriptions. Yep, couldn’t make sense of them. Jacque drew in his sketchbook, inspecting the scenery around us.
“What are you drawing?” I questioned.
“A rough sketch of the area. Tess told me to practice. Not really sure why though. It takes me too long to figure out the perspective,” Jacque replied.
Jacque completed his sketch and we departed the area. Back at the trading post, I saw Shan and Ksi near the pier. She wore a pair of black rimmed rectangular glasses, staring out into the water with irritation.
“Hey, I see you got the job done,” Shan noticed, pointing at the tablet in my hand.
“Yeah, Jacque and I had to fight a serpent,” I responded.
“I came here for no reason then? I’ll need to speak with Tess about this,” Ksi muttered.
“We can all head back. Good, didn’t feel like fighting today,” Shan decided.
“Are there any enemies remaining?” Ksi questioned.
“Jacque and I didn’t see any when we came back,” I replied.
“A complete waste of time,” Ksi sighed.
I handed the tablet over to Tess. Jacque suggested my grimoire could decode the inscriptions. Tess agreed it was possible, but the process would take too long since my grimoire lacked any prerequisite information. Instead, the Gatekeeper would run it through her own personal program.
“Yuki, you look tired again. Did you work out before coming home?” Yukie noticed the tired expression on my face.
“Something like that. I just need more practice,” I replied, fatigue setting in after fighting the serpent.
“Yes, repetition does make perfect as people say. Auntie said she would arrive home late today. It’ll just be the two of us for dinner,” Yukie revealed.
“Oh, okay. I look forward to it,” I said.
I forgot to ask Zhuyu about my math class. Guess I could do it tomorrow.
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