“Your results always surprise us each time,” Shane commented as the pod cover opened.
“I don’t want them to be!” I coughed as Emily helped me out.
“We won’t tell anyone except Tess. Your grimoire reaction was very active. We’ll need to research this further,” Shane reported.
“All of that was part of something Mirei showed me before. My grimoire must have kept a record of it,” I informed them.
“Thanks for telling us. We’ll look into it,” Emily said.
Tess descended down the stairs, carrying a notepad in her left hand. She conversed with the researchers before walking over to me. Jacque sat in an office chair, clutching his forehead. Did something go wrong? Probably just a side effect of being in the pod.
“I heard from Shane your grimoire reconstructed and continued one of Mirei’s scenarios. Have you felt any pain or any lapses in your overall movement?” Tess questioned.
“No. I thought Mirei was the only one capable of that. My grimoire is running background activity I don’t even know about,” I replied.
“This warrants more investigation. Jacque, let’s go,” Tess called out.
The three of us returned to the Crossroads. Everyone wore a hiking backpack. A miniature square device hung from the shoulder straps, blinking with a faint red light. Tess tossed backpacks over to Jacque and me.
“The required items are listed on the devices hanging from your backpacks. If necessary, you may also use the device to contact me. Your teammates are listed on the device as well. Good luck,” Tess instructed and then left.
I saw En and Shui’s names listed on my device. Not too bad. My preferences would have been Jen and Ichaival. I looked around the room, seeing the two men already talking.
“Looks like I’m with you guys today,” I said.
“Hey, Tomo. I hope everything goes well for us,” Shui greeted.
“Yeah,” En agreed.
We inspected our backpacks before leaving just as a precaution. Zhuyu, Xi, and Lilith stood near the counter. Shan, Ksi, and Lionel headed toward one of the gates. Ichaival, Bartholomew, and Steph followed behind them. Kyoi stood near a couch, conversing with Jen and Xin. Kisai grinned at Jacque as Er Zhi waited for them. The last group consisted of Champ, Ruiqi, and Kuan.
“Have you guys been to this place before?” I questioned, adjusting the straps on my backpack.
“Nope. How about you, Zhang?” Shui shook his head.
“Only once with Long and Feng,” En replied.
Tranquil Forest, Unaffiliated Dimension
“So many trees. I love this place! Much better than a bunch of buildings,” Shui remarked.
“Yeah,” En agreed, scanning the area.
There was a pleasant feeling associated with a wide area full of green everywhere. It contrasted from the city life we experienced.
“Let’s see… a branch from a burnt tree?” I checked the device.
“Probably a tree hit by special magic,” En guessed.
We trekked upward. This was one of the few times En spoke more than a single word. It was curious how he and Long were friends. Both were pretty reserved but Zhuyu could be more active if he felt like it. That certainly was true during the future timeline. Still, I wondered how they became friends.
“Hey En, how did you meet Zhuyu?” I questioned, struggling up the steep path.
“In elementary school, fourth or fifth grade. Don’t really remember, we just started hanging out,” En replied.
I waited, expecting more information, but it was just silence afterwards. I would have to prompt him, but at the same time, I felt kinda bad. Maybe En just didn’t want to say anything else. Shui was the better option for small talk.
“Shui, how about you?” I questioned, hearing the sound of flowing water in the distance.
“Met him in middle school, he was in the same class as me. Long was kind of weird, but not in a creep way. How about you and Michi? Oh wait, probably shouldn’t have brought that up,” Shui realized.
“It’s fine, you should get to know about me too especially after all the questions I asked. I knew Ichizen since elementary school. We always lived near each other, and even after I moved in middle school, he ended up just a block away. I guess you could say we were childhood friends,” I revealed.
“Oh cool. I wish I didn’t live so far away from everyone. I used to live pretty close to Long but moved in high school. Could just walk over back then. Well actually, Zhang lives close to where I am now,” Shui disclosed.
Shui and En knew Zhuyu for a significant amount of time. I recalled Kisai didn’t meet Zhuyu until high school, same with Ichaival and Shan too. If I wanted to learn about the math major, they were valuable sources of information. I shuddered, realizing I sounded like Mom.
We stopped at a tree upon En’s request. Good time for a water break. This was pretty tiring. Going up steep hills didn’t help. I slapped my legs, enduring the pain.
“Do we just cut a branch off?” I questioned, summoning my sword.
“Hold on, I’ll take care of it,” En offered.
He placed his right hand near the tree base. Light, blue flames trickled out from his palm. It shot up to the middle and then traveled to the right, engulfing a specific branch. I heard a crackle and then it fell to the ground with a thud.
“How did you know how to do that?” I stared at him with both respect and curiosity.
“Just remembered Feng talking about this tree,” En explained, picking up the branch.
Despite her aggressive methods, Kyoi was a good instructor. She elevated Zhuyu and En to such high levels. En dropped the branch into his backpack as Shui read off the next item.
“Defeat a whetstone,” Shui said with confusion.
En displayed a small half smile at his words. I was completely lost too.
“Do you think it’s further up or back down where we came from?” I asked, taking out an energy bar.
“Tomo, there’s a picture here. Could we use your grimoire?” Shui suggested.
“Let’s try it,” I agreed.
An arrow pointing downward appeared on my grimoire page, answering my question from before.
“Cool. Let’s go!” Shui said and we all descended.
I saw whetstones appear on TV commercials before. But why the hell was this generic item an enemy? It made no sense. A stop sign appeared on the page. What was even our strategy for beating this?
“What should we do?” I asked as we all hid behind the multitude of foliage available.
“Didn’t really think about it,” Shui admitted, giving a sheepish smile.
It was gray, resembling a perfect slab of concrete. Hmm, it was whetstone, right? It should dull after striking it a few times with my blade.
“Guys, I’ll attack it with my sword. If everything works out, my blade should be powered up. En, can you power me up further with your powers?” I explained my plan.
“Okay,” En nodded.
“Sounds good,” Shui said.
Since Shui and En both held seniority over me, I thought they might veto my suggestion. The enemy remained motionless. So strange, almost as if I was being baited into a trap. Yet, we couldn’t just stand here and do nothing. I slammed my blade against the enemy and it did nothing in retaliation. Something was definitely wrong here. A whetstone’s purpose was to sharpen blades. Would continuous slashes from my blade even wear it down to the point where I could actually beat it?
“Tomo!” Shui yelled, raising his right hand up.
Shavings shot at me after I retracted my blade. An ice wall appeared, shielding me. I jumped back and wondered if my grimoire could analyze the enemy.
“Tomo, let’s stop. We should be careful,” En suggested.
I retreated. The whetstone didn’t budge, remaining stationary. En stared at our enemy, a thoughtful expression on his face. Shui stared at the sky while I recovered my breath.
“En, did you think of something?” I glanced at the fire-electric user.
“Not sure yet,” En responded.
“A whetstone sharpens a blade, right? But it’s useless when something is already sharp. The answer is to dull my blade and destroy it that way!” I reasoned.
“Makes sense. I was thinking something like that too. I have an idea,” En said.
The man summoned his own blade. Sparks flew out from his hand and a golden glow emanated from it. Shui swiped his hand over the sword and a bright blue mixed with the golden glow. En’s blade carried a sleek, white sheen.
“Hit your sword against mine, should drop your sharpness to nothing,” En instructed.
I braced myself, taking a deep breath. I was afraid the impact might not only shatter my weapon but damage my arm too. A thin piece of my weapon chipped off but my entire blade remained intact. Time to take care of this nuisance! I considered striking the whetstone but reconsidered. Mom usually moved her knife blade over it. After two minutes, the whetstone crumbled into pieces. Among the rubble, I saw an item listed on the scavenger hunt.
“Got it!” I announced.
Damn, Tess didn’t intend to make it easy. The three of us reached the bottom. I felt especially tired after leaping across rocks and clearing out foliage blocking our way.
“Let’s take a break. You look tired, Tomo,” Shui suggested.
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