Volume 13, Chapter 7-1: The Blacksmith (I)

Wednesday Spring Quarter 2016 Week 7

“And so… oh, let’s take our break now. If you have any questions about the essay, you can talk to me now or during my office hours,” Professor Rem announced, dropping the marker he wrote with.

Jacque leaned back on his desk, sleeping with his legs propped up against the window wall. Zhuyu poked him in the shoulder with his pen. The artist groaned, rubbing his eyes before glancing around the room. He sat up straight, and reached into his backpack, pulling out a bag of chips.

Kisai didn’t attend class today, and instead went to a special lab for one of his classes, according to Zhuyu. I glanced up at the clock, checking the time, and estimated how long this break would extend past the specified time. Professor Rem sometimes took twenty minutes to return with coffee and food.

“Jacque, you signed up for summer classes, right?” Zhuyu questioned after drinking water.

Out of everyone I knew, Zhuyu and Shan consumed an abnormal amount of water. Either that or I just wasn’t drinking enough. Summer classes, huh? I never considered that an option since I really wanted a break. It would be nice to have one more carefree summer before actually diving deep into things.

“Yeah, I don’t have anything better to do, you know? It’s good to get some classes out of the way now so I don’t have to worry about them later,” Jacque explained.

“Makes sense. You got any days off?” Zhuyu inquired, opening a packet of garlic green peas, and popped them into his mouth.

“Let me check… uh, got Thursdays and Fridays off,” Jacque said, staring at the screenshot of his schedule.

“Okay, we’ll have you train one of those days and any other day you’re not too swamped with homework,” Zhuyu decided, scrolling through the calendar on his phone.

“Bro, really? Okay, well, just make sure to tell me ahead of time. I don’t want to be surprised all of a sudden,” Jacque said with a sigh.

“This will be good. It’ll give you something to do so you don’t procrastinate,” Zhuyu grinned as he texted someone.

“It’s gonna hurt and it won’t be good!” Jacque bit into his cookie.

Professor Rem spoke with students near the whiteboard, not departing yet for his coffee. Maybe we might actually resume class on time! However, once he finished his conversation with them, he shuffled off. Yeah, I should have known better than that.

“Oh, Tomo, your things are ready,” Zhuyu suddenly brought up.

“What?” I didn’t understand what he referred to.

“Jin made adjustments so you can use it freely without relying on Shigetzu’s powers. I have another power-up ring for you too,” Zhuyu whispered, making sure no one overheard us.

“Oh, you mean that. I’ll get them from you next time,” I decided.

“How about this weekend? Jacque, I also have a special present for you,” Zhuyu revealed.

“Sweet, what is it?” Jacque wiped off the cookie crumbs from his hands.

“You remember the brush you and Tomo retrieved? Tess unlocked some of its latent power and it’ll increase your chances of a drawing turning into something useful,” Zhuyu answered.

“Nice! Tell Tess I’m super grateful,” Jacque said.

“You’ll have a chance to tell her in person. She wants you to pick it up from her after class,” Zhuyu responded, showing Jacque a text message.

“I’m kind of scared. Can’t back out now or it’ll be worse for me later on,” Jacque decided, pulling out his sketchbook and worked on a previous drawing.

While waiting for Professor Rem to return, I browsed my emails. I noticed one from Jessica Staccato and hesitated. She was the type to lure people into schemes. I skimmed through it, relieved she wasn’t requesting any modeling. It was just a courtesy check up on the clothes and a request to meet with her when she was in the area again. Professor Rem returned three minutes later, the fastest he ever came back, and class resumed.

“Good luck, man,” Zhuyu said as Professor Rem dismissed us.

“Yeah, f*** my life,” Jacque responded, shaking his head.

“Are you heading home too, Tomo?” Zhuyu asked as we exited the building.

“That’s the plan. I still have to finish chemistry homework when I get home. Math homework, too. Are you planning to go Saturday or Sunday?” I inquired.

“I’m thinking Saturday night. You probably want Sunday off. If you can’t make it, that’s okay. I’m not forcing you,” Zhuyu replied.

“No, I’ll be there,” I promised.

“Have you talked with Mirei?” Zhuyu untangled his headphones.

“Not recently. That’s a weird thing to ask,” I replied.

“Just curious. I don’t know, feels like there’s something more. Maybe I’m worrying too much about it,” Zhuyu said.

He wasn’t wrong. The masked woman, who manipulated Champ, was a concern but the Special Investigations Unit was handling that. There was also those twins who artificially gained powers. Just what was their connection to everything going on already with the Traveler and Ace?

Saturday Spring Quarter 2016 Week 7

“Shopping for what again?” I asked Felicity to repeat her sentence.

“Summer clothes! There are amazing deals going on right now! I wanted to check some of the cookware on sale too,” Felicity repeated.

“I don’t know, Felicity. I have a bunch of clothes from Jessica already. They’re all brand new too so that’s a no for me,” I decided.

“Ah, come on Yuki! It’ll be a fun way to spend a weekend after midterms,” Felicity persuaded.

“I’ll think about it. I probably have something to do next week,” I replied before hanging up.

I entered the Crossroads and saw Shui chatting with Zhuyu and En. Kyoi was nowhere in sight.

“Hey, Tomo. I’ll rejoin you once I’m done with something,” Zhuyu said.

“Important?” I asked, not trying to pry too much.

“Fei told me she found something related to my ultimate weapon, which means Feng is also involved. I’ll get the details from her. Don’t worry, Zhang’s a pro and you have Lau too. You’re pretty strong now too,” Zhuyu answered.

“Zhuyu, before you leave, can I get my things?” I requested.

He nodded, tossing a silver ring at me. Small balls of light gathered around his hand and then Commander Yu’s sword appeared. He lifted up the blade, moving his arm back in a throwing motion, but decided against it. Instead, the math major handed the weapon over.

“Thank Jin when you get the chance. I’ll see you guys later,” Zhuyu said before departing.

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I slipped the silver ring on and it clinked with my other one. I performed a couple of practice swings, satisfied with the balance. This would be much better than the generic sword I used for all my previous fights. The ability for it to reflect magic was a plus too.

“Ready to head out, Tomo?” Shui asked.

“Let’s go,” I answered with a nod.

Zhongjie: Tranquil Forest

“So calming and refreshing too! I can’t believe your weapon is in a place like this,” Shui commented, enjoying the green scenery all around us.

En remained silent, surveying the area. He unfolded a map and consulted it before walking forward.

“How are your classes this quarter?” I made small talk with Shui.

“Not bad. No math or science classes anymore! There’s a bunch of reading but it’s not too overwhelming. What about you, Tomo? I heard you’re taking some hard classes,” Shui answered.

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“I’m getting by. My cousin’s helping me out with stuff and I study with Felicity too. You said something about wanting to be an engineer before?” I recalled a previous conversation.

“No way I’m doing that anymore! I’m going for communications. I actually like it!” Shui replied.

“What are you trying to do with it?” I questioned.

Before Shui could answer, En summoned his blade. I heard a sharp crackling noise, seeing electricity pulsating through his weapon. I conjured Commander Yu’s sword in my hand, searching for signs of the enemy. I glanced upward and then something wrapped around my legs. A line of fire freed me from it. Thanks En! Shui slammed his palm into the ground, coating it in ice.

A large fist punctured the ice. Creatures, with cubic bodies, emerged from the ground. I hurled fireballs at them but my flames dissipated upon contact with their body. Shui fired off icicles but his attacks were neutralized too.

“Try physical attacks!” En removed the electricity from his sword.

Shui was at a disadvantage. Did he even have any other attacks besides his water shifting? I glanced back and saw him retreat. Guess he would play support for this fight. Magic didn’t directly affect our enemies, but the environment modified by it did. Shui constructed ice walls and sheets, delaying their movements. En zipped past me, cutting them down at an incredible speed. By the time I defeated one enemy, he already cleared out the remaining ones.

“Good job En! How did you do all of that so fast?” I was in awe.

“I’m just lucky Feng taught me everything. That’s it,” En replied.

Oh, compliments for Kyoi? It made sense though. Even if her training was harsh, the results were clear. I wondered if Kyoi was harder on Zhuyu than En. However, the zero vector user rarely wielded his sword so it was hard to say.

“Let’s keep going. We still have a long way,” En said, pointing ahead.

After what felt like hours, we arrived at a clearing. I saw a village below us, small brick houses scatted throughout the area. Several cars were parked in a designated area. There were also power lines, some running into the ground. An elderly man, a towel draped over his neck, waved at me. Shui reciprocated his greeting, giving him a big smile. The people were friendly at least. En nodded at the man and pointed to the side.

“Are we meeting someone here?” I descended a worn path, constructed out of worn stone slabs.

“Yeah, a blacksmith,” En revealed, taking slow and deliberate steps.

“Does she have the ultimate weapon or know something about it?” I hopped off of the last stone, arriving at the bottom.

“Yeah. Feng also wanted you to meet her too,” En answered, heaving a sigh of relief when he arrived near me.

A young boy, playing with a pinwheel, stared at us. The elderly man from before ruffled the child’s hair and walked off with him. A man and woman exited from a nearby house.

“Welcome. What business do you have with us today?” the man eyed us with suspicion.

En pulled out a sheet of paper containing a stamp and handed it over to the man. He immediately transferred it to the woman’s left hand. Her eyes widened in surprise.

“Honored guests, follow me,” the man said.

We followed him in silence. I knew En was pretty reserved but that exchange between him and them was just weird. How hard was it to just say a couple of words? Although, maybe it was difficult for En. Maybe he was just super shy but he seemed fine around all the heroes. Then again, those were all people he knew. It was definitely harder when it concerned strangers. I was actually surprised Kyoi didn’t address this type of thing when she trained them. Knowing her though, the woman’s only focus was their battle expertise and nothing else.

The man led us to an area isolated from the main residential buildings. It wasn’t so far off since I could still see people and houses from here. There were a cluster of small sheds all close to each other. An array of wires and pipes ran from one building to the other. He knocked on the door of largest shed and someone stepped out.

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