Volume 12, Interlude B: Visitors in the Snow

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Fei called over one of her subordinates, handing her a scrap of paper. The woman saluted before departing to complete her assigned task. The former princess sat in her tent, staring at a makeshift board full of handwritten notes. There was a surge of malicious activity in the remote areas of the dimension. Such cases weren’t rare since crime and underground syndicates often utilized the backroads to avoid detection. However, all the reported occurrences focused more on supernatural elements.

Her initial investigation showed elevated levels of abnormal magic, often of a foreign origin. She submitted samples to Shane and Emily but had not received any results back yet. Fei’s current objective was to exterminate any enemies and recover biological evidence from them. Her success rate so far was low since a majority of the defeated foes disintegrated, leaving only traces amounts of magic. She suspected the culprit was related to the Traveler but couldn’t confirm it.

“Commander! We have sightings of a rogue bandit group associated with your late father!” one of her scouts reported, showing photos.

Fei dismissed the scout, inspecting the pictures on her desk. The design on their shirt patches was a skull wearing a shattered royal crown. She recognized a few faces, men who previously served in the unit that protected her father. Many of his allies fled and scattered across the dimension after his death, plotting in secret to overthrow the new government. She kept tabs on their activity but didn’t interfere directly. They were mostly men and women lacking in status and power. Still, the woman understood that with enough support, it was possible for them to pose a threat.

“Why choose this place though?” Fei peered outside her tent, watching snow fall from the sky.

Pitfall Peak was the second tallest mountain, challenging even for the most experienced climbers. The constant barrage of snow throughout the year made visibility challenging. There were pockets that were clear, but those were hard to reach even with magic. Fei and her team set up camp near the base, observing the situation. The former princess was confident but even she didn’t dare go more than halfway up. She was then puzzled why anyone would choose the mountain. There could be a hidden route that connected to somewhere. If so, she would need to hunt them down and obtain information on it right away.

“Commander! There’s been sightings of an orc and humans near our base!” another scout burst into the tent.

“What did I say about running in here without even a courtesy knock?” Fei stared at the man with unforgiving eyes.

“I’m so sorry! I promise it won’t happen again! Please, forgive me!” the scout dropped to the ground, bowing his head.

“You’re dismissed!” Fei shouted, waving her hand at him.

The scout dashed off, nearly tripping during his exit. Fei departed her tent a few minutes later, wearing a heavy military coat. She ordered those on duty to remain vigilant around the main camp entrance before heading out to confirm the situation herself. The woman utilized an alternate exit to remain hidden in cover in case the orc and human posed a threat. After ten minutes of trudging trough the snow, she heard sounds of fighting.

“I can’t use any magic here!” a man shouted in frustration.

“That’s why the knights are superior. You would be wise to follow my example!” his companion responded, swinging a short sword.

Her blade pierced into the orc’s broad shoulders. She yanked her weapon out, repeating her previous motion. However, her opponent slapped away the blade and grabbed the woman. He hurled her into a nearby tree, shifting his focus over to the man. Fei took no action, continuing her observation. The orc extended his finger out and chopped the man’s chest. He yelped in pain, tears running down his eyes. The man’s companion clutched her back, remaining on the ground.

“I told you already! I’m not your enemy!” the orc shouted, bending down to stare the frightened man right in the eye.

“Then please tell me what you’re here for,” Fei said, finally revealing herself.

The orc spun around, staring at Fei. She stood still, waiting for his answer. The man and woman watched in silence, afraid to move.

“I was trying to tell them that I’m from Za’ard. Trying to fix the grid and all of a sudden found myself out here in the snow. Ran into these two knuckleheads and they try fighting me. Name’s Bran by the way,” he explained, still wary of Fei.

Fei glanced at his wrist, noticing a digital watch. She nodded, approaching him. The woman took out her firearm and blade, placing both on the ground. Bran grinned in response and raised his hand in the air.

“You two! Where are you from?” Fei questioned, picking up the woman’s short sword.

“We’re from-,” the man replied but his companion glared at him.

“I won’t ask again!” Fei warned, kneeling down and tapped the woman’s forehead.

“You’re working with that orc. How do you expect me to tell you anything?” the woman spat on the ground.

“If that’s the game you want to play, then fine. Mr. Bran, I’ll escort you and this gentlemen back to my base. Let’s see how long you survive out here in the cold,” Fei decided.

Bran hoisted the man over his shoulder, following Fei. The fallen woman gritted her teeth, slamming her fist in frustration. The former princess didn’t look back and soon all three vanished from the woman’s sight.

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“What’s your name?” Bran shook the man.

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“Please, have mercy! I mean no harm!” he begged.

“Just answer his question. You’ve already seen that he’s not the big bad you thought he was,” Fei advised, brushing snow off her coat.

“Mi… mi… chal,” he stammered.

“Michal, what’s the woman’s name?” Fei inquired, telling the guards on duty to allow them through.

“Mika. I swear I meant no harm to you! We were investigating a magical signal and somehow got brought here. Where are we?” Michal answered as Bran dropped him to the ground.

Pitfall Peak, located in Zhongjie. I’m Wang Feiping. You can address me as Fei if you wish,” she introduced herself.

“We’re from the Knights Division of… hold on, are you really going to leave Mika out there?” Michal patted his body, checking for any injuries.

“It was her decision. However, if she changes her mind, I of course will allow her to be in the confines of this warm camp,” Fei replied.

“That would be-,” Michal said as a scout ran towards Fei.

“Commander! There are sightings of a masked individual and they’re heading toward the area where your two guests were just in,” the scout reported.

“I understand. Do you have a description for me?” Fei asked, calling her men over.

“They’re wearing a yellow kabuki mask with three diagonal red lines across it. Their clothes consist of a white track suit with a short fluttering cape,” the scout described.

Fei nodded, asking Bran to accompany her. She told Michal to remain behind. The two ran, returning to their original meeting location. Mika was nowhere in sight. Fei inspected the area, detecting a trace amount of magic. She snapped her fingers, discovering a trail.

“She’s been taken but I can follow the distress signal. Let’s hurry!” Fei pointed in the correct direction.

Ten minutes later, the pair discovered an igloo. Fei instructed Bran to go in from the front while she sneaked in from the back. As the two closed in, the igloo exploded, blocks of ice flying into the air. MIka, frozen in ice, was displayed in the center. Fei spun around, avoiding an attack from a masked individual. The blocks of ice converged into a figure and ran at Bran.

Bran swung his left fist, striking the figure’s head. Ice surrounded his hand, melding it to his enemy’s head. He slapped his frozen hand, freeing himself. The ice figure rearranged itself, transforming into a ram, and dashed at the orc. Bran grabbed the ice ram with both hands, hoisting it up into the air. He slammed it down into his right knee, breaking it in half.

Fei’s opponent mask materialized a sword, the blade engulfed in flames. The former princess observed the flames and shook her head in disappointment. The masked person aimed for Fei’s chest and was taken aback when the woman grabbed their blade with her right hand.

“Such a distasteful imitation,” Fei stated and the flames around her foe’s blade vanished.

She released her hold on the weapon. Flickering embers gathered around the masked individual’s face before flames engulfed their head. However, it was extinguished two seconds later, and their mask remained in pristine condition.

The masked person dashed in, pivoting behind Fei for a surprise attack. Fei sighed in response and caught their right fist. She twisted it behind their back, knocking them to the ground. Beams of light struck the enemy’s backside, burning a hole in their cape and track suit. Severe burn marks soon appeared on their back. As Fei raised her right foot for a stomp, all the burns vanished. Her opponent rolled away, firing magical projectiles at the former princess. They believed this attack would finally catch Fei off guard.

“Who do you think taught Feng?” Fei dispelled the magic before redirecting it back at the masked person.

 Mini explosions detonated around Fei’s foe, knocking them to the ground. Fei dashed over and lifted her opponent up. She poked their forehead with her right pointer finger and then slammed her palm into their chest.

“Bran!” Fei hurled the masked foe over to his side.

The orc caught them in his left hand and then grabbed the ice ram with his right. He bashed the two before releasing his grip on both enemies. Fei signaled for him to stand down. The masked individual stood up in a daze, spinning around in confusion. They covered the eye slits of their mask with their left hand and then removed it. The ice ram transformed once more, this time into a serpent. The masked person stepped on the ice serpent which caused it to wrap itself around them. Ten seconds later, both were frozen in place.

“You got impressive magic. Very good!” Bran complimented with a hearty laugh.

Fei freed Mika and caught the woman in her arms. She suffered from hypothermia but showed no other ill effects. The former princess handed Mika over to Bran and then pointed at their frozen opponents. A dim spotlight pierced through the dark snowy skies, revealing a woman wearing a one-winged butterfly mask.

“Darn it! I thought I could sneak by and retrieve my dear friend here without any fuss,” the masked woman exclaimed.

“You’re a hot commodity,” Fei responded.

“Oh dear me, I’m very flattered by your comment. If only the Crossroads Special Investigation Unit felt the same way, I wouldn’t have to sneak around like this all the time to conduct my little tests,” the masked woman said.

“Your tests don’t match up to the real thing. If that’s your only goal, then you’ll only be disappointed by the end,” Fei warned, approaching the woman.

“Please, keep your distance from me. I don’t want to be tainted by the likes of you. Especially because you’re a friend of Kyoi Feng. I failed this time but I’ll use the data from today to refine them even more,” the masked woman spoke with contempt.

Fei shook her head, firing a beam of light. The masked woman freed her accomplice and then pulled out a perfume bottle, spraying the contents into the air. As the masked woman escaped, Fei’s beam of light bounced around before shattering the accomplice’s mask.

“Oh, you vile beast! No matter, I can still emulate all of this even without direct data. Curse you and the phoenix hero!” the masked woman vanished into a portal.

Fei, Bran, and Mika returned to the base camp. She updated everyone on the situation, asking a messenger to relay the information over to Tess and the SIU. The encounter with the masked woman opened up new possibilities. Through her involvement, the appearance of bandits and other groups in the area made sense. However, Fei believed there was more to it than that. She glanced over at Bran, Michal, and Mika. They weren’t brought here by their own will. She could only hope it wasn’t the case of another Crossroads crisis developing.

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