“We’re almost there. Just missing two,” I informed everyone.
“That’s good,” En remarked, eating an energy bar.
“So tired and my legs hurt. Let’s get through this as fast as we can. We still have stuff to do tomorrow!” Shui sighed, drinking water.
“How often does Tess make you do this kind of stuff?” I was curious about the frequency of planned group activities like this.
“Really not a lot. We’ve only done stuff like this maybe five or six times. That sound right?” Shui asked the electric-fire user for confirmation.
“Probably,” En nodded.
“En, you said you were working? Ever thought about going back to school?” I made small talk as we rested.
“No, pretty bad at stuff like that. Long is the one who’s the best at school stuff,” En shook his head, uncapping his water bottle.
“Come on, Zhang, you have good qualities too! School’s not for everyone. You’ll find something you want to do,” Shui encouraged him.
“Thanks,” En said.
Interesting. The short man was opening up a little more. Shui was his usual chipper self, nothing different there. Shui and En… Tess did this pairing on purpose. It all went back to her core ideal of having me interact with all the heroes and learn about them.
“Which one are we going after first?” I asked.
“The easy one,” En replied.
“There’s actually a difference?” I stared at him in surprise.
“Dragon scale is easier to get than the jewel. Let’s go dig it up. I’m the one who buried it,” En answered.
“Do you remember where?” I was hopeful about the man’s memory.
“Don’t know the exact place. My memory sucks, part of the reason why I don’t want to go back to school,” En replied.
“Tomo, try your grimoire again!” Shui clapped his hands.
We arrived at a cave entrance. Of course, things were never that easy. En stopped us before we entered.
“Torches,” En said, picking up a nearby branch.
“You’re right,” I agreed, picking one up as well.
I handed a lit one over to Shui and then constructed one for myself. Let’s do this! I intended to lead the way, but En walked ahead of me.
“You remember something?” I moved my torch around, inspecting dark corners.
“Sort of. I think it’s near water,” En replied.
The three of us paused after hearing the sound of crashing water. I held my torch upward and noticed stalagmites. Shui glanced upward with a frown.
“This it?” I noticed the Shui’s flame dimming.
“I think so. Feng set up a trap,” En replied, taking a few steps back.
It would be tough to disarm anything she set up. Then again, En was her protégé, so he might have an idea of what to do.
“There’s a magic barrier,” En revealed.
“You can detect magic?” I re-lit Shui’s torch.
“Yeah, not as good as Feng or Jin. You’re better at it than I am,” En explained.
We were required to solve a puzzle in order to remove the magical barrier. If we failed, the stalagmite would descend and destroy the dragon scale.
“Puzzle is carved onto the ground here,” En informed us.
I stared at the spot but saw nothing except the damp, cave ground. En noticed the confusion on my face. He blew out his flame and re-lit it with a blue one before waving it over the ground.
“Figures Kyoi would do something like that,” I said, kneeling down.
A math puzzle. I sighed, not in the mood for problem solving. However, the scavenger hunt success depended on it. Was this asking for a proof? Doubt clouded my mind. Shui’s voice snapped me out of my panicked thoughts.
“Some kind of calculus stuff. Write this function’s derivative using limits,” Shui read the problem out aloud.
En shook his head. This was way out of his scope. Shui seemed to have an idea what was going on. Maybe this wouldn’t be too bad.
“Do you know how to do it?” I reread the problem once more.
“Nope, I’m done with math. I haven’t done anything like this since freshman year. Just know it looks familiar. Can’t help you out, Tomo,” Shui answered, scratching his head.
Damn, that was unfortunate. How to approach this? I recalled previous lectures from past quarters. Ugh, I know I did this in my first quarter. Unfortunately, that was also the quarter everything with Ichizen happened, so my grasp on the material wasn’t great. If only Zhuyu were here. No, Yuki, stop thinking like that. I dug through my backpack, pulling out a small notepad.
“Here you go,” Shui handed me a pen.
Five minutes later, I finally recalled the procedure for calculating a derivative using a limit. Okay, that should do it. Where to put the answer though?
“Over here!” En pointed at a spot.
I placed my hand there and found it soft to the touch. I utilized the end of my torch, writing the answer down. The stalagmites at the top vanished.
“Here it is,” En said, retrieving the dragon scale.
“Now the hard part, right?” I sighed.
“Yeah,” En replied.
We departed the cave and it was already dark outside. What a fast day-night cycle. Numerous stars filled the night sky, a rare in the city. This was an opportune time. The three of us headed upward, arriving at the building housing the jewel. There were four statues, the eyes containing a strange glint, on each side of the entrance. Any alternative way around?
“Too bad Feng’s not here. She could just snap her fingers and disable them,” Shui whispered.
I opened up my grimoire, hoping for a blueprint or layout of the area. En and Shui looked downward with expectation. Lines appeared, eventually forming a map.
“We can go through here to get inside,” I directed, tapping the page.
“We should move fast,” En warned .
Following the path, we arrived at a backdoor. I reached out but En shook his head at me.
“Tomo, there’s a barrier. We don’t want people to know we’re here,” En revealed.
Shui glanced at the ground. I noticed a puddle near the door. Shui snapped his fingers, steam formed and the puddle dwindled in size. En held a knife over the steam. The blade turned a light red and En slashed at the air. I heard shattering glass and a sigh of relief from him.
“Okay, I disarmed it. Let’s go,” En said.
Not even going to question it. En Zhang and Shui Lau, what an interesting pair up. I should question Kyoi or Kisai about this “magic” I couldn’t visualize yet. We encountered a few enemies along the way, but dispatched them. We finally arrived at a door, a golden symbol emblazoned on it.
“This is it,” I pointed at the door.
En and Shui remained silent. I opened it, preparing myself for a fight. To my surprise, a familiar buff cat sat inside.
“Oh, you’re the girl helping out the artist!” the buff cat exclaimed.
“Wait… what…?” I was at a loss of words.
“I should be asking you that question. There was a gang of bandits here but I cleared them out. Did you come here for the same reason?” the buff cat laughed.
“Hold on, didn’t you say were an archeologist? Actually, before you answer that, is there a jewel in here? I was hoping to get it back for the client who hired us,” I lied.
“You mean this worthless thing? Take it!” the buff cat tossed me the final item we required for the scavenger hunt.
“Thanks,” I stared down at the jewel, feeling let down.
“It’s nothing. That thing is worthless around here anyways. I have a bunch of those. To answer your question, just using the skills I learned back in my military days,” the buff cat explained with a shrug.
“We’re done then,” En said.
“You sure you don’t want anything in return?” I asked the buff cat.
“Actually, there is something. Here’s my card. I really liked the sketch your friend did. If he’s free, ask him to come by and do another one. I’ll pay him generously!” the buff cat flicked me a card from out of his vest.
Jacque would be happy about this. His art was good enough for a repeat client. I inserted my key into a nearby door and twisted it. The three of us walked through, returning to the Crossroads.
Kisai and Kyoi’s group already returned. Everyone threw off their backpacks with relief. I looked around but didn’t see Tess.
“Tess still not back?” I helped En and Shui remove our scavenger hunt items.
“She’s off doing her own thing,” Kyoi replied.
“You know what she’s doing?” I questioned.
“I rather not ask. Whatever Tess wants to do on her own time, it’s best not to pry too much,” Kyoi said with a shrug.
“What did you have to get?” I inspected the other groups’ items.
“Interesting relics,” Kyoi answered with a sly smile.
“You figured it out too? It’s a clever way for Tess to make us get stuff we can actually use,” Kisai joined our conversation.
“I’m confused,” I said.
“You’ll figure it out once everyone returns,” Kisai remarked with a grin.
I was just glad to have a little rest. What was up next? Damn, it was individual training sessions, not a good sign for my exhausted body. All the participants finally returned. Tess, cuts on her face, returned ten minutes after everyone else.
“Tess, you okay?” I asked.
“This is minor, no need for any concern. There was information I desired and it turned livelier than expected,” Tess replied.
“As long as you’re not hurt,” I said.
Tess gathered everyone’s materials, placing them into a duffle bag. She informed us we would head to Shane and Emily’s laboratory to complete the last part of our training for the day.
Shane and Emily’s Laboratory
Shane’s hair was now disheveled, a stark contrast between when I saw him last. He greeted us with a weary look. I didn’t see Emily around anywhere.
“Tess, I’ve prepared everything you wanted. The equipment and the specs you requested have been implemented. Just go up to the third floor. Here’s the card key,” Shane informed the Gatekeeper, handing her a plastic card.
“Thank you for your hard work, Shane. Is Emily still working on that task from before?” Tess asked, giving Shane an encouraging look.
“Yes, we’ve still haven’t quite figured it out yet. Don’t worry, I’m sure we’ll make a breakthrough eventually,” Shane said.
Everyone followed Tess upstairs. What kind of funding did Shane and Emily receive that they ran such a large operation?
“Tomo, over here first,” Tess instructed.