“Around here,” Jun said, peering down at a paper map full of creases.
I couldn’t sense anything yet. We huddled near a large tree, deciding on our next steps. We were now out of the large network of caves and back into the freezing snow. The sky remained the same as before, a bright white with tinges of gray. I blew on my hands and brushed the snow off my clothes.
“There’s definitely something here! Be careful,” Zhurong warned, tapping the twins.
The ground suddenly shook underneath us and a hooded figure shot out. They went straight for En. Damn, so much snow flew into the air that I couldn’t clearly see what was happening. When everything finally cleared, En’s sword clashed against his assailant’s.
“Is that the thief?” Ying summoned her halberd.
“Let Zhang handle it! There’s more enemies!” Zhurong pushed back someone with her sledgehammer.
Individuals wearing full tactical gear surrounded us. Their faces were covered by goggles and ski masks. The left shoulder patch of their gear contained a splintered golden crown insignia. Wait, were these the people Fei was investigating? I recalled she was checking in on groups involved with the former king. That design couldn’t be a coincidence.
I felt someone’s presence and immediately pivoted behind them. Freezing their legs in place with ice, I cracked their helmet with a hard hit using my blade. Shan’s gravitational powers sure were useful. They escaped my ice and charged at me with a glowing blade. Why make things difficult for yourself? I tripped them with Shan’s powers before shocking them. However, my electricity had no effect. Looks like these people weren’t just ordinary bandits.
“An unexpected factor,” my opponent remarked, pulling out a baton.
They tapped the ground and generated magical waves. I repelled them with En’s electric powers and froze them in place with Zhuyu’s zero-vector skills. Hmm, what did Shan teach me before? Oh right, a wall slam! There weren’t any walls around but that was an easy problem to fix. I created an ice wall and pinned them to it. Next up was the finishing kick! They collapsed to the ground, knocked unconscious.
“You’re killing it, Yuki!” Ying raised her hand in the air for a high five.
“Not the time for that, Mei!” Jun hurled his ax into the enemy’s chest.
I retrieved the opponent’s baton from the ground, swinging it around. Small sparks of magic flew out from it. Hmm, this could be useful in the future.
“Return that immediately!” another enemy barreled towards me.
Another opportunity for application of Shan’s powers. I smashed my baton over their helmet and cracked it immediately. My opponent clutched their head in pain and fell to their knees. I couldn’t pass up that kind of opportunity! I drove my knee into their exposed forehead before punting them into the ice wall.
“You have to give me a high five this time!” Ying insisted, popping up in front of me.
She looked at me with expectant eyes. I nodded and high-fived her. Ying then pushed back an enemy with her halberd and sent them flying into my ice wall. I was surprised no one destroyed it yet.
“Yuki, watch out!” Zhurong shouted.
I turned around and saw a phantom figure. Their body was transparent and they held En’s stolen blade. What the hell? I summoned my blade to parry but they didn’t attack me. Instead, they passed right through me and then my grimoire appeared in my hand. It opened up to a blank page before the familiar sensation of a mind dive occurred. The last thing I saw before entering the mind dive was their surprised expression.
MIND DIVE 18: Heavy Winds
I needed to end this mind dive fast before something bad happened to me! But none of the usual methods worked at all. Might as well check out what was going on if I was stuck here for awhile.
“Zhang, I need a favor from you,” Kyoi said, grinning at the dual elemental user.
“Okay, what is it?” he glanced at the woman with a skeptical expression.
The two were in a small school gym and both wore work out clothes. The bleachers on the left and right side were pushed in and the lights above them flickered on and off every few seconds. Kind of strange they were practicing in such a public area. Unless, this was one of those places that Felicity let the heroes use like the training facility.
“What, you don’t trust me yet?” Kyoi laughed at his response.
“Kind of hard to after you just showed up at my house that day,” En remarked.
“Oh, that little thing? Just my way of proving that I’m serious about this,” she said, pushing her hair back.
“What do you want me to do?” En questioned, siting down on the ground.
“Not yet, Zhang. Let’s run a couple of laps and I’ll tell you what’s going on,” Kyoi replied, hauling him up from the floor.
En lagged behind the woman as they jogged around the gym. Still, I could tell she decreased her pace so that they weren’t too far apart. It was strange to associate the word “considerate” with Kyoi but she was really thoughtful. This was clear to me as I learned more about the top ranked hero.
“My training alone isn’t enough to develop your powers. You’ll need more than that. So, I signed you up for the guild in Zhongjie. Don’t worry Zhang, I see that look on your face. You won’t work anything too crazy just yet. You will eventually though,” Kyoi revealed, glancing back to check in on him.
“I don’t even know what to say,” En said, his breathing heavy.
“There are a couple I can think of. Like “Thank you” or “You’re the best” or maybe even “What a great opportunity”. You know, things like that,” Kyoi listed.
“Okay,” En simply responded, probably too fatigued to even argue with the woman.
“Great! Now that’s out of the way, let’s do two more laps,” Kyoi decided as she sped up.
I knew she was fast but this was just ridiculous. She blazed past En, completing her two laps and then five more, before the man finished his. The dual elemental user collapsed to the ground, gasping for air. Kyoi slid over a bottle of water to him before checking her phone.
“What did you think about Tess?” she glanced up from her phone.
“Super smart. Kind of hard to talk to,” En answered, leaning his back against the bleachers.
“What about me, Zhang? I’m pretty smart myself,” Kyoi teased.
“Uh, you’re different. Don’t ask me to explain. I have no idea how to put it into words,” En responded before wiping the sweat off his forehead.
“Interesting thing to say. That’s it for training today but we’ll head to Zhongjie and get you all signed up sometime in the next few days,” Kyoi said.
The scene blurred before turning clear again. En was alone now and adjusted a sniper rifle on a rooftop. Just like the movies, huh? He stood up a few seconds later and then took apart the weapon. The hero placed all of the parts into a instrument case before heading towards a door.
As he placed his hand on the doorknob, a strong gust of wind struck the hero. His long hair was sent flying into the air and he struggled to maintain his current position. Sparks of electricity appeared around him as he stood in place, no longer bothered by the wind that continued striking the man. There could only be one person capable of this.
“Sorry that we have to meet like this again, En. I really believe you have no ulterior motives but Kyoi does for sure. It’s nothing personal,” Kaze said, descending from the sky.
“I know,” En responded, placing his instrument case down before raising his hand into the air.
“Hang on! Let’s talk a little before you swing at me with your sword,” Kaze requested, closing her traditional fan with a flick of her left hand.
“Not sure what we can talk about,” En said, pointing his sword at the woman.
“We could talk about your friend! Um, his name was Zhuyu right? I’m really sorry about what happened last time. It probably doesn’t seem sincere to you but I really didn’t to hurt him. All of you just happened to be in the wrong place. It was my job to stop you,” Kaze said.
She was definitely nicer than Kyoi. But, Kaze did attack En first. I was surprised the man wasn’t already slashing at her especially since Kyoi prioritized making the first move in battle. But, En lacked experience so it was a smart move on his part to just wait, especially against a strong opponent like Kaze. This was my first time witnessing Kaze using her powers so I really hoped they would end up battling each other.
“Long’s fine now. He doesn’t really care about what happened,” En said.
“That’s good to hear! So, do you mind leaving this to me? I know you have a target but this isn’t something you should handle. I’m sure Kyoi disagrees but she’s not here right now,” Kaze suggested with a smile.
If I was in his position, I would just give up and let her take care of things. Kaze’s smile was persuasive and most importantly genuine. Still, I knew En wouldn’t just give up.
“I would but I really don’t want to do more laps. Sorry Ruiqi,” En refused, arriving at her backside in two seconds.
“It’s okay. I thought you would say that. Kyoi is really serious about training you and Zhuyu. You’ve improved quite a bit since we met last time. But, you still have a lot to learn!” Kaze opened up her fan and blocked En’s strike with it.
I detected a surge in magical energy from Kaze as she swung her fan multiple times. En dived and avoided the bursts of wind she directed at him. He dashed at her again but was buffeted by heavy winds. He swung his blade downward, electrical magic pulsating from it. En managed to break through one layer of the winds but couldn’t destroy the next one. A blast of wind knocked his sword out of his hand and it flew off the rooftop.
The dual elemental user sighed and shot multiple wires into Kaze’s wind barrier. He channeled his electric powers into them and finally eliminated the strong winds in his way. Oh, that wasn unexpected. I assumed En was still using his powers at a basic level but this was an advanced application. En’s electrical powers were capable of “short-circuiting” magical barriers and defensive measures. I still had difficulty doing that so I rarely ever tried. For him to already succeed, especially against someone of Kaze’s caliber, it was impressive.
En pulled out a hunting knife from underneath his hoodie, aiming for the woman’s left shoulder. At first, red flames enveloped his blade but the color of it shifted to purple. However, his attack never made contact. Red twisters surrounded the woman, blocking the hero from approaching her. He plunged his blade into one of the twisters and pulled back his hand right away. En’s weapon vanished and blood dripped from his hand. No wonder Kaze was the previous second-in-command. Not only was her defense solid, the woman could also inflict damage too. It would be hard breaking through something like this.
“En, you can’t win against me right now. Give up now before you end up like Zhuyu!” Kaze’s winds increased in intensity.
The hero remained silent and reached into the inside of his hoodie again. Just what else could he do against her? He pulled out metal stakes, plunging them into the ground. En tapped his wrist and red smoke poured out from them. He stepped back, reaching the rooftop edge. Wait, what was he planning to do now? As Kaze’s winds distributed the billowing red smoke everywhere, I noticed her winds losing their power. This was similar to the tools Kang and the twins utilized.
“En, watch out! You’re too close to the-,” Kaze shouted as the hero fell from the roof.
No, he was fine. The situation was finally making sense now. En rappelled down the building, his wire anchored to one of the stakes placed down earlier. He arrived at the bottom within ten seconds and collapsed to the ground. Yep, pretty scary stuff. This was probably his first time doing anything like that too.
“Don’t worry about Zhang! Keep your eyes on me!” a red streak crashed into Kaze.
All of the twisters vanished, revealing Kyoi and her flaming sword. She swung her blade and unleashed a stream of fire at Kaze. Kaze countered with a burst of wind and nullified her opponent’s attack. Her fan collided with Kyoi’s sword as the two exchanged strikes with their respective weapons. Their movements were so fast that they were just blurs of gray and red.
En glanced up at the rooftop and then dashed off. Where was he heading? Damn, it was disappointing I would miss the showdown between Kaze and Kyoi. The surroundings then transitioned to the inside of an apartment building.
“Are you the backup?” someone exited the bathroom.
Oh, this was the first meeting between En and Kang. His attire was exactly the same as the last mind dive involving him. He tapped the wall with his gun, staring at the dual elemental user. En pulled out a badge from his pants pocket and held it in the air.
“Just started, huh? Don’t worry about all the technical stuff. All you have to remember is complete the objective and that’s all. Pretty easy stuff,” Kang said, spinning around and fired his weapon.
Slime splattered the floors and wall. A few seconds later, all of it coalesced back into a big blob. En trapped it a flaming vortex before surrounding that with a ring of electricity. Okay, fancy stuff. Kyoi must have pushed him super hard if he was this capable of wielding both his elements already.
“Good job trapping it! I’ll finish it off,” Kang exclaimed, pointing at a metal sphere in his hand.
En nodded and freed the blob from the flaming vortex. It bounced forward but was repelled by the electric ring. Kang tossed his metal sphere at the blob. It was absorbed into the blob’s translucent body and bounced around inside. A bright flash of light then filled the room as the blob was sucked into the sphere. Not gonna question how that worked.
“Mission accomplished. Thanks for the help back there, man. What’s your name?” Kang retrieved the sphere from the floor.
“En,” the hero answered.
“Family name, huh? The name’s Kang. I’m sure we’ll meet again and I’ll treat you to a drink as thanks. Gotta go before the big boss docks my pay again for being late,” Kang revealed and then leaped out of an open window.
This must be the end of the mind dive, right? I anticipated En leaping out the window too but he exited through the front door. When he arrived at the bottom of the building, Kyoi was there to greet him.
“Nicely done, Zhang. You did a great job stalling,” Kyoi congratulated him.
En only nodded in response. Kyoi spoke but her words were inaudible. I was finally going to return! As I exited, I noticed her hands were full of deep gashes. So even Kyoi had difficulty fighting Kaze. She really was a formidable foe.
MIND DIVE 18 END