Saturday Spring Quarter 2016 Week 2
I heard the sound of rain pelting against my room window. I opened my eyes and expected the Gatekeeper to stand next to my bed. However, no one was there. Damn it. I was so accustomed to Tess’ presence in these situations now. I suppressed a yawn, raising my blinds.
“It’s raining pretty hard,” I muttered and then changed to prepare for the day.
Downstairs, Mom stood by the window, staring outside. She held a flower pot in her left hand and a pair of gloves in her right.
“What are you doing, Mom?” I asked.
“Hmm… good morning, Yuki. It’s such a shame that it isn’t nicer today. I really hoped to be able to plant this today. But I saw there’s supposed to be a thunderstorm later. I’ll wait until it’s nicer,” Mom answered.
“Okay. I’m heading out in about an hour. I should be back by dinnertime,” I informed Mom about my plans for the day.
“Have fun! Just don’t do anything that would worry me, okay?” Mom grinned and then headed outside into the garage.
Yeah, I’m sure that’s all you wanted to say, Mom. I checked my phone, rereading Tess’ message. Everyone would meet up at the Crossroads and then began the training session. We would also repeat the same procedure tomorrow but the time spent would be shorter. After eating breakfast and preparing myself, I inserted my key into a doorknob and turned it.
“Morning Yuki,” Kisai greeted.
“Is it just you guys?” I asked, sitting down on a couch.
“Tess went somewhere and took Feng with her. Jen and Darryl are down in the training room,” Zhuyu answered.
“What are you doing?” I noticed a notebook in his lap.
“Just going over notes for math class. Kisai’s watching basketball highlights,” Zhuyu replied, turning the page.
I found his shift in dedication jarring. He demonstrated a level of incompetence similar to Kisai and Shan. However, I recalled he said that Kisai and Shan were always ahead of him. He didn’t possess the natural talent of Kisai and Shan. Zhuyu stressed he spent hours just to reach Kisai’s level. In a way, it was admirable. Yet, I felt he downplayed his own skills. Was there something he didn’t tell me?
“Have you ever wondered about this…?” Kisai questioned, proposing a ridiculous hypothetical situation.
Zhuyu played along with his friend, providing brief answers to Kisai’s scenario. Okay, I’ll just leave you two to that. I walked around and headed to the information desk for guides. It was a good idea to learn more about the Crossroads. A receptionist handed me a thick map and two medium sized guidebooks.
Thirty minutes passed as I read through the material. Zhuyu and Kisai discussed logistics. En, Shui, and Shan arrived. En sat with Shui, checking a piece of paper. Shan yawned, walking over to Kisai and Zhuyu. Zhuyu handed the gravity manipulator a sheet of paper. Shan glanced at it, grimacing.
“Tomo, here you go. This is the itinerary for our training session. The first three parts will be done today. The rest is tomorrow,” Zhuyu said.
I glanced at the top, dread already creeping in. Crap, we had a test? Typical of Tess. A scavenger hunt was scheduled afterwards. A note below mentioned it wasn’t a competition. Sounded like a survival mission. Definitely not ecstatic about that either. The last task for today was specialized training with the heroes. Everyone finally arrived. Tess went over the basics and took us to Shane and Emily’s laboratory for our tests.
Shane and Emily’s Laboratory
I stared at the word problem. It matched almost verbatim one of the examples my professor went over. I leaned back in my chair, glancing around the room. Some of the heroes struggled. En tapped his pencil, not writing anything. Shui wrote and then erased. Zhuyu stared at the ceiling before writing. Ichaival, Jen, and Kuan kept a good pace. Kuan shared En’s sentiments though, his expression indicating he rather be anywhere else than here. I swore Kisai scoffed at his test, deeming it too easy. Shan remained neutral, frustration appearing on his face at times, but kept himself in check.
Lilith’s members displayed a range of emotions. Lilith, Champ, and Yui were the most comfortable. Bartholomew, Steph, and Xin were middle of the road. Xi and Ksi worked with diligence, checking the timer every few minutes. Lionel had a pained expression on his face but it could be his injuries.
I’m sure deep down everyone viewed Tess’ test with contempt. Ruiqi and Kyoi turned in their exams before everyone else. Kisai finished early too, but kept his test, probably checking his answers.
“Time’s up!” Tess announced.
I didn’t even finish my test, leaving the last page blank. I handed it in, trying not to glare at Tess. She probably didn’t care, still I worried about any potential repercussions.
“Tomo, can you stay behind for a quick checkup? Jacque, you as well. I want to verify nothing is wrong since you just awakened. Champ, the same reasoning applies to you too. I’ll pick all of you up later,” Tess requested.
“What’s everyone else doing?” I wondered.
“Preparation for the scavenger hunt. Shane and Emily, I leave these three in your capable care,” Tess replied, leading everyone else away.
Emily directed me to enter a pod. I closed my eyes, feeling sleepy. Emily finished hooking wires up, and then the pod cover closed, plunging me into total darkness. It was really comforting and soon I drifted off.
202X, Unknown Location
“You’re back, Yuki. That’s probably a bad sign,” Zhuyu greeted me with a slight smile.
I thought this entire world was constructed by Mirei. How was it possible I experienced a continuation of it?
“Yuki, you with me?” Zhuyu moved closer, staring at me with a concerned expression.
“Yeah, this is just so weird, you know? Trying to get used to it again,” I replied.
“It’s been a few weeks since you were here last time,” Zhuyu revealed.
We were in an open area with the night sky visible above us. The math instructor sat on the ground, leaning his back against a wall. He drank from a red can with golden lettering, staring at his phone. The pages of his textbook turned as a breeze blew past.
“Where am I?” I asked, peering down the railing.
“Apartment rooftop. No one usually comes up here at this time,” the man answered, standing up.
“Are you drinking?” I questioned, staring at the metal can in his hand.
“Nah, just a Chinese herbal drink, need to clear out bad stuff I ate. At least that’s how it’s suppose to work,” he replied with a grin.
I stared at him, taken aback by his humorous tone. My necklace shook and then the grimoire appeared in my right hand. A new bookmark appeared within it.
“Oh, a mind dive huh? Not a bad idea actually. I’m curious what you’ll see,” Zhuyu commented.
“Of course you would know. This is the first time it’s done this automatically. I usually have to trigger it manually,” I said.
“Must mean your powers are improving. I’ll take you back to your apartment. We’ll figure out what to do tomorrow. How did you
get here this time?” the man inquired.
“Shane and Emily,” I answered.
“Interesting. I don’t work tomorrow so I’ll figure out a way to get you back somehow,” he said.
Thirty minutes later, I collapsed into my luxurious bed. This felt way too nice. Zhuyu informed me he would come by tomorrow morning and discuss possible methods of returning. Since this was one of their tests, I expected to exit at an inopportune time. Might as well check out what my grimoire grabbed from this Zhuyu’s memories before sleeping.
MIND DIVE 1’: HIS RETURN
Winter 202X, Morning
Zhuyu Long, a black backpack over his shoulders, exited the airplane. Key chains of chibi anime and gacha mobile game characters hung from the straps and zippers of his backpack, striking against each other. He pulled a large suitcase behind him and threw it onto the conveyor belt for inspection. Ten minutes later, the man retrieved it and merged with the large crowd of people departing the security check.
“The Asian bro is finally back,” a man’s voice greeted him.
Zhuyu nodded with a slight smile and fist-bumped his old friend, En Zhang. He followed the dual elemental user, arriving at the underground parking garage. On the way there, the math major noticed the majority of the advertising along the walls were funded by the Shakai Group.
“Wait, you drive now?” Zhuyu questioned when En pointed at a car.
“No man, it’s my sister driving!” En deadpanned, pressing his finger against the scanner.
“S***, you don’t gotta be like that,” Zhuyu responded, throwing his luggage into the trunk.
“I’m just messing with you. Cars are super advanced, even a bad driver like me can do it,” En said, opening the door for him.
“Should I be scared?” Zhuyu smelled a perfume, not overwhelming but still strong.
“Trust me, my dude. I’m borrowing my sister’s car so I can’t f*** it up,” En revealed.
“That explains the smell. Thought you might have gotten a girlfriend and didn’t tell me,” Zhuyu remarked.
“Come on, I would tell you if I did. My mom’s been on my ass about that. Trying to set up meetings and telling me to get married as soon as possible. Don’t need you to do the same,” En said, departing the parking garage.
“Yeah, I know. I’ve gone through the same thing with my mom too,” Zhuyu said.
“Really? Didn’t think your mom would do that to you,” En asked.
“She’s been bringing it up whenever I call her,” Zhuyu revealed.
“Gotta get a real waifu, Long. What the f*** am I saying? How are you feeling after being gone for so long?” En allowed the automated driving system to take over once they entered the freeway.
Zhuyu didn’t answer immediately, staring out the window. The lane markings on the freeway were modified to work in conjunction with the newer car’s sensors, ensuring a higher level of safety. He read in a news article that Tess’ parents were the main developers of the technology.
“Pretty good. It was nice to get away for awhile but it’s good to be back finally,” Zhuyu answered, glancing at the automation screen.
“What’s up with the long hair?” En asked, pointing at his friend.
“Just trying to steal your style. You cut your hair short, haven’t seen that since we were in elementary school,” Zhuyu joked.
“Had to do it for my new job,” En explained.
“Hold up, what new job? I didn’t hear anything about this,” Zhuyu said.
“I’m working with Lau on one of his new projects,” En revealed.
“That’s cool. I’m assuming you can’t tell me what it is, right?” Zhuyu recalled seeing his friend credited on one of Lau’s videos.
“Yep, you’ll see it what is in a couple of months,” En replied.
Half an hour later, they arrived at Zhuyu’s house. His friend reminded him about their plans for later tonight before leaving. After catching up with his parents, the man headed up to his room. He noticed the window already open, something his mom always did to prevent a musty smell. He departed four years ago, two months after his graduation. Zhuyu enrolled at an international university, earning his masters degree there. The man intended to stay for another year, but an opportunity to teach and further his education opened up at his alma mater. In fact, it was Kisai Jin who informed him about the opening.
After changing into a fresh set of clothes, Zhuyu, carrying a stack of papers, entered the spare room at the end of the hallway. He pulled out a ring of keys and inserted one into a locked cabinet. The man pulled out multiple folders and placed his various papers inside them. Zhuyu then placed everything back inside and locked it.
“Welcome back Long!” Shui greeted his friend.
“Bro, who even are you?” Jacque pointed at Zhuyu’s long hair and clean shaven face.
“Damn Jacque, really? I bet you’re gonna use that as your excuse to not finish the drawings for me,” Zhuyu responded.
“F***, you went there. Seriously though, how have you been, man? It’s been forever,” Jacque said with a grin.
“Pretty good. It’s lucky I managed to get a job back here. Gotta thank Jin but he’s not even here,” Zhuyu answered.
“He’s a busy dude especially with all that famous research,” Jacque said.
The four friends gathered at Kao’s, a Chinese barbecue restaurant well-known for their lunch take-out boxes. The establishment also served dim-sum in the mornings and afternoon. For dinnertime, patrons ordered specialty dishes off of their menu. They were well-known for their fresh seafood dishes. Customers could see the fish, crab, and other aquatic creatures swimming around in tanks at the front of the restaurant.
“How’s Yuki?” Zhuyu moved around plates as the waiter brought in the soup and ladled portions for everyone.
“About the same, not much improvement, unfortunately. Did you find anything out?” Jacque answered, passing a bowl of soup over to Zhuyu.
“Hard to say. Tess has always been tight with her security. I asked around but most of them had no idea where to even start. A few professors gave me a few suggestions. I’ll try them out once Jin isn’t as busy,” Zhuyu replied.
“What about the Crossroads?” Shui questioned.
“Nothing. Everything’s sealed, no response from any of Tess’ keys. Maybe it’s a good thing,” Zhuyu replied, staring downward at the ring of keys strapped to his belt.
“You’ve done all you can, Long. It sucks we can’t do anything for Yuki, but you’ve already gone through everything. It’s time,” En recommended.
“Yeah, I know. Anything happen here while I was gone?” Zhuyu spun the turntable.
“Nothing hero related if that’s what you’re asking,” Jacque answered.
“Cool. There’s still a couple of more years before our powers expire. I’ll seal all the information for now. If anything new happens, I’ll reopen it. Like you said Zhang, it’s about time,” Zhuyu decided.
“Come on Long, you better drink up tonight! It’s on me!” Shui filled a cup up to the brim with baijiu and pointed at his friend.
“Alright, alright, I know! Let’s do this!” Zhuyu accepted the cup, taking a small sip.
“You too, Zhang!” Shui pushed a cup toward the man.
“No, I really don’t drink. You know that Lau. I’ll drink this tea,” En refused, shaking his head.
“Zhang, it’s been four years since we’ve seen Long! Just once, come on, just a little,” Shui encouraged, staring at his friend with a smile.
“That’s strong stuff. S***, I’m gonna regret this,” Jacque remarked after finishing his cup.
The four friend spent the rest of the night eating and drinking. En stopped drinking after the fist cup, consuming water instead. By the end, Shui’s head was slumped on the table and required assistance returning home. Zhuyu, his face red, sipped tea and finished off the remaining food. He glanced up at the ceiling, recalling Felicity’s offer before Jin informed him about the university opportunity.
MIND DIVE 1’ END