Volume 12, Interlude C: Piecing It All Together

Za’ard Main Grid

“Anything else I should know?” Maka questioned Bran, writing down the orc’s testimony in his notebook.

“Nothing. That woman pretty strong though. Uh, Fei, I think her name was,” Bran replied, unstrapping his hardhat.

“So I’ve hard. Thanks for your time. Sorry, one more question actually if you don’t mind,” Maka said, putting away his notebook.

“What is it?” Bran unbuttoned his work uniform, glancing at his watch.

“How’s an orc like you working in the gird anyways? Sorta personal, I know, just curious since I know the people here still aren’t real trusting of orcs yet,” Maka brought up.

“You heard of Shan Shigetzu and Ichaival Darryl? We helped each other. Got job here after helping them and Lyra. People here still suspicious of me. Watch me all the time but not mean though,” Bran answered, heading toward the exit.

“I see. Thanks for your time, Bran,” the SIU captain said, checking in with his team.

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Bran waved farewell to the investigator, finished with his work shift. Several areas of the instant transportation grid were cordoned off, members of both the SIU and Za’ard law enforcement performing a joint investigation on Bran’s sudden entry into Fei’s dimension. There were no malfunctions within Bran’s assigned work section. In fact, at the time of his disappearance into another dimension, that part of the grid wasn’t even operable.

“Rev, any signs of that masked woman?” Maka pulled his subordinate aside.

“Not so far, boss. Still trying to analyze any possible magic interference. You think she’s involved?” Rev showed him a chart.

“It’s very likely. Anytime something weird happens involving different dimensions, she’s been sighted. Rev, I want you to check the control room, talk up the operators in there,” Maka ordered.

“You got it!” Rev dashed off, flashing his badge at a guard stationed at the stairs.

Maka felt a tug on his pants. He glanced downward, seeing a stuffed bear. The man knelt and heard a female voice coming from it.

“Captain Maka, I’m Lyra Tachibana, we’ve met before in a more formal setting. How are you doing today?” she asked.

“Miss Tachibana, I’m doing well. I was aware of your… eccentricity but didn’t expect to speak with you through a stuffed animal,” Maka responded, taken aback.

“I have information pertinent to your investigation. You won’t find it at your current location. I assume you’re confused on how Bran was sent over without any activity occurring within the grid. I can provide you with the details,” Lyra offered.

“You live up to your name. What can you tell me?” Maka pulled out his notebook.

“Information, as you know, doesn’t come free. The Special Investigations Unit holds classified information on the Crossroad. Let’s swap,” Lyra negotiated.

“How much do you want to know? I can’t give you everything. That’s not a fair deal and you know that, Miss Tachibana,” Maka said.

 Captain Maka’s team observed the strange conversation, finding the entire situation amusing. The Za’ard investigators, familiar with Lyra’s antics, continued on as usual.

“I’ll discuss further details in a more secure environment. You’ll find the meeting spot inside my small companion’s stomach. I’ll hopefully see you there, Mr. Captain!” the stuffed animal fell face-first to the floor.

Maka picked it up, discovering a zipper on its stomach. He pulled out a piece of paper, scanning it. The man nodded, calling over one of his team members, instructing them to place the stuffed animal into a evidence bag. The SIU captain pulled out a pocket watch, flipping open the cover to reveal multiple analog displays. Sliding and twisting the knobs on both sides, he entered in the coordinates listed on Lyra’s piece of paper.

“What do you have for me, Miss Tachibana?” Maka wondered as he teleported to the location provided by the woman.

Zhuyu’s House

 Zhuyu sat on his bed, waiting for the Gatekeeper to speak. She sat in an office chair, inspecting folders within a box on the man’s desk. The woman paused, staring at one of his visual novel posters near the window.

“That’s a new addition. Grisaia, correct?” she stated before pulling out a folder.

“Yeah, got it after supporting the localization team translating it. Kinda weird that you wanted to talk about things here, Tess. We usually go over things at the training facility,” Zhuyu revealed, grabbing a notebook.

“Since I brought over folders for you to organize and file, I thought it would be a good opportunity to update you as well,” Tess answered.

“Makes sense. So, what did you find out?” the man questioned, pulling a golden pen out of his left pants pocket.

“After further investigation, I determined an awakening ritual occurred at the location where Michi Ichizen’s body resides. This explains the fluctuations we previously discussed,” Tess started, handing the zero vector user papers from inside her folder.

The Gatekeeper gathered samples and submitted them to Shane and Emily for review. Their four page report indicated an unclassified source of magic similar in structure to the pattern emitted when a person awakened to their powers. Their footnotes also mentioned a possible correlation to the masked woman appearing throughout the various dimensions.

“Michi Mirei’s powers originated from her brother’s death. We’ve known his death triggered Tomo’s powers but it also did the same for his sister? That can’t be a coincidence,” Zhuyu said, re-reading the last page of the report.

“I agree. Ace monitored Mirei and believed her dormant state posed no threat. This surveillance occurred during the three months after Michi’s death,” Tess disclosed, searching for another folder in the box.

“Hold on, shouldn’t Michi’s death awakened her powers right away just like Tomo’s?” Zhuyu glanced upward at the ceiling, contemplating different possibilities.

“Multiple catalysts were required for his sister. Right Tess?” Kisai opened the door, unfolding a chair to sit down in.

“Correct. His sister’s awakening required more than her brother’s death. I suspect the masked woman found such a method when she revisited the original location of Michi’s passing,” Tess confirmed.

“She broke through your seal, Tess?” Kisai asked.

“I’m unsure. She entered through an unrecognized entry point. My seal blocks all known connections in the Crossroads database. However, she circumvented it by selecting one not on that list,” Tess explained.

“An unknown dimension? Interesting,” Kisai commented with a grin.

“She targeted Champ and succeeded. You think she’ll try to free Mirei from her current predicament?” Zhuyu accepted the stack of folders Tess handed him.

“No, her pattern of behavior so far shows that she’ll move on if a failure occurs. However, as you mentioned, she enticed Champ twice. I’ll monitor Mirei closely,” Tess replied.

“Good stuff,” Kisai responded.

“Before we move on, I want to question both of you abut Tomo Yuki,” Tess requested.

“Oh yeah, what did you want to know?” Kisai glanced down at his phone, checking the schedule for basketball games airing tonight.

“Your evaluation of her growth and upside,” Tess stated.

While Zhuyu checked his notes on their current discussion, Kisai glanced around Zhuyu’s room. He wanted to think about his answer before speaking. If it was just a standard conversation, the man would have provided whatever came to mind. However, he knew the Gatekeeper sought a more nuance response.

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“When Tomo first joined us, she wasn’t committed. She was still adjusting which isn’t surprising especially since her long time friend died. As Tomo learned more about us, I think she got it and became more open. She’s bright and a quick learner. Honestly, she’ll probably be better than all of us eventually. If she can beat Ace or even get close, that’s her true test,” Kisai detailed.

“What about you, Long?” Tess nodded after Kisai’s evaluation.

“Tomo’s not really fond of us at all, even now. She’s a lot like Konoe in that sense. But, she’s willing to work with us despite those differences. And Tomo’s handling all of our powers pretty well too. She’s a little judgmental, but hey, that’s something we all do. Tomo’s upside is dependant on us really. If we all teach her what she needs to know, then she’s good enough to synthesize all of it. That’s when she’ll show us what she’s really capable of,” Zhuyu answered, tapping his pen against the notebook page.

“Thank you for your thoughts. Let’s move on to the next topic,” Tess said.

For the next three hours, the three heroes discussed modifications to everyone’s powers and general improvements. Tess consulted with all the heroes, holding meetings with them whenever she was free. Since Zhuyu maintained records for her, she often discussed various matters with him. She utilized these meetings as a way to catch up with everyone and obtain an idea of their current mood. It was a valuable asset for the Gatekeeper and one she enjoyed, despite the lack of emotion on her face.  

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