Shane and Emily sat at a conference table, holding a meeting with Zhuyu, Kisai, and Shan. A medium sized stack of papers were in front of each hero. The math major stared down at his papers, marking it with his fancy pen. Kisai leaned back on his seat, nodding at their words. Shan adjusted his pile before pulling out a piece of paper from it. He glanced at it for ten seconds before looking upward at the two researchers.
“What’s going on over there?” Tess led me over to a nearby table.
“I asked Long, Jin, and Shigetzu to research a matter for me. They’re discussing their findings with Shane and Emily,” Tess answered, asking us to wait.
En and Ichaivial selected seats opposite of me. The dual elemental user lay his head down on the table, closing his eyes. The false archer took off his watch, inspecting the back of it. I heard a hissing and saw Jacque emerging from a pod. He wasn’t as disorientated as the first time, joining us without any assistance.
“It’s nice to actually get enough sleep,” Jacque remarked, stretching his arms.
“We all want that. What did you do today, Jacque?” I noticed the heroes finishing up their meeting with Shane and Emily.
“Just observing a bunch of fights between different people. Tess did kick my ass for over ten minutes too,” he revealed, pointing at the bruising on his face.
“We’ve all been there. You’re not alone,” Ichaival commented, strapping his watch back on.
“Yeah, but I suck though, that’s the difference. Pretty sure your powers at least protected you from the hard hits,” Jacque pointed out.
“No, Tess used my powers against me. Hurt like hell,” Ichaival disagreed.
“Any idea what Tess wants you to do with your sketches?” I wondered if Jacque realized why she assigned him that task.
“Not really. Something about getting an epiphany so I can use it later on,” the artist answered, shaking his head.
Would that ultimately end up as the cards Jacque utilized in the future? It was an exciting prospect if he developed his powers into that. Not to be selfish, but it helped out my cause too. Perhaps I should nudge him in that direction. No, I shouldn’t force it. Jacque needed to figure things out for himself.
“Where’s Feng?” Zhuyu sat next to En, tapping his friend’s shoulder.
“Off on a mission for Tess,” his friend answered.
“That means she won’t be back until later,” Zhuyu remarked.
Jen, Kuan, and Shui exited the elevator, walking towards us. Shui sat next to Zhuyu. Jen and Kuan chose seats adjacent to Ichaival.
“Feng is away and won’t be returning in time to join us. I thank everyone for their participation and appreciate the effort you’ve all put in. I wish to go over a few things before allowing everyone to finally return home,” Tess said, pointing at the projection screen.
She spent the next thirty minutes reviewing our performances and addressing any issues we brought up. Huh, it wasn’t actually boring. Tess’ presentations usually dragged on, but since this one involved our participation, it broke up the monotony.
“You’re all dismissed. Take time to rest and not overdo things. I’ll contact everyone if needed,” Tess concluded, picking up multiple folders from the table.
I stood up and a sharp pain struck my stomach. I staggered, clutching the table edge. What the hell? Ichaival noticed my condition and called Tess over.
“Tomo, is it the same pain from before?” she ran her hand over my body, a concerned expression appearing on the woman’s face.
“Yeah…,” I uttered, slumping back into my seat, losing consciousness.
“Internal bleeding is occurring. I suspect Long’s strike is the culprit. I’ll escort you to the Crossroads and resolve the matter there,” Tess decided, calling over Jen and Ichaival.
I woke up, white sheets covering me. Tess sat in a chair next to my bed, holding my grimoire. She noticed my movements and shut the magical tome closed.
“You’re fine now, Tomo. I don’t know the origins of Zhuyu’s strike but will research it further. I’ll update you once I have more information,” Tess said, standing up.
“Thanks Tess,” I said in a hoarse voice.
“No need, Tomo. It’s my responsibility and duty to take care of everyone. It’ll be a few more hours before they authorize your release. I’ve procured mind dives for you. Take the time to enjoy them while you rest,” Tess revealed, opening up my grimoire for me.
I wanted to say “you’re the best”, but there were also so many questions. I noticed several new bookmarks present. Tess, how did you even…? Before I could ask her, the Gatekeeper tapped my forehead before placing the grimoire in my hand. My eyes drooped and I dozed off.
MIND DIVE 13: THE SWORD TRIO’S BEGINNING
En flipped open his phone, an unknown number appearing on the screen. He shut it, returning to his game. He was in an open space, probably his living room. Someone suddenly rushed into the room as he reached for his controller.
“Someone’s looking for you!” the new arrival informed him before dashing off.
“Wait, who is it?” En shook his head, exiting the living room.
The hero approached the front door. A girl and younger boy huddled in the corner, snickering at him. En’s siblings? He turned the door knob, revealing Kyoi and a middle-aged woman. The older woman was around the same height as En. Ah, his mom! I noticed the resemblance right away.
“Zhang, you never told me you knew such a nice girl!” his mom said in Chinese.
“Uh…,” En uttered, at a loss for words.
“Is it his girlfriend?” the younger boy whispered to the girl.
“No way! Zhang would never have the courage to invite someone like that over to our house. I wonder what she’s really here for,” the girl disagreed.
“I can hear you guys!” En gave them a sharp look.
“Auntie, I’m here to talk with Zhang about the school club he just joined. Long’s part of it too!” Kyoi pointed at the math major, who walked towards them.
“Son, I’m proud of you!” his mom gave him an approving look, heading back inside the house.
“Oh, she knows Long too! See, I told you it wasn’t his girlfriend,” the girl proclaimed.
“Yeah, but is she Long’s girlfriend then?” the younger boy tapped the girl’s shoulder.
“Hmm, maybe? Oh, let’s go! He’s gonna get mad at us,” the girl decided, dragging the boy away.
“Sorry for intruding. Do you mind if we come in?” Zhuyu glanced over at En’s mom, hands in his pockets.
“Come in, come in! Zhang, tell me earlier when guests are over next time!” his mom scolded him.
Honestly, I expected this type of interaction between Kyoi and the two men. She was quite forceful so it wasn’t a surprise the woman visited their residence without warning. Although, I wondered if that earlier call was from her. Kyoi also was adept at conversing with people, never giving off the deadly aura she showed when in combat.
En led Kyoi and Zhuyu into the room from before. He turned off the television, glancing at the woman with both fear and confusion. Zhuyu shrugged his shoulders when En gave him a questioning look. She unzipped her backpack, pulling out manila folders. The woman set them down on the couch seat with a grin.
“Contracts again?” Zhuyu remained standing.
“No, you’re wrong this time. These are just notes from me. Read over them and follow the instructions inside,” she revealed, handing both of them a folder.
En sighed, flipping through the papers inside. His eyes glazed over on the first page and the man quit reading right away. Zhuyu showed more patience, but was eventually overwhelmed by all the information. I assumed the contents were just battle memos and training regiments. She reached into her beast pocket, pulling out two business cards, and handed them over to the two men.
“Wait, Tess? Like as in Zha Tess?” Zhuyu stared at the card in shock.
“That’s right, you both attend the same school. Reach out to her tomorrow. She’ll answer any questions you’ll have. Don’t think about running away, En. It’s far too late for that,” Kyoi warned.
“I’ve already accepted my fate,” Zhuyu declared, slipping the business card into his wallet.
“Me too,” En answered with dejection.
“Excellent! We’ll meet up on the weekend and start your first lessons. Don’t be late or you’ll run laps,” Kyoi said.
“Just like fifth grade all over again,” En remarked.
“Except that was for spelling words wrong on the test. You know, I actually never had to do that many laps,” Zhuyu said.
“Yeah, lucky you, it’s because you’re smart,” his friend shot back.
“All this talk about running means I need to include more of them. Good suggestion. Don’t worry, I’ll run along right by your sides. I promise,” Kyoi decided.
En buried his head in his hands. Zhuyu sighed and checked his digital watch. He leaned back on the sofa and rubbed his eyes. Okay, a really shaky start for both of them. The scene warped, indicating the end of the mind dive. Alright, what’s next?
MIND DIVE 13 END