Volume 13, Chapter 15: Sword Retrieval

“Yuki!” Ying pushed me away from an enemy.

I glanced around, searching for the figure that passed through me. Oh, they were fighting En! The dual elemental user dodged an attack before swinging his sword but his weapon went straight through them. How was he suppose to inflict any damage?

“That was bad timing, Yuki,” Ying remarked.

“Didn’t really want a mind dive to happen,” I said, noticing my grimorie was no longer in my hand.

“They wanted to possess you but your grimoire prevented that. They lacked the foresight to even consider such a possibility,” Jun explained.

“So mysterious! I’m glad we took everyone out. Now it’s all on Zhang! It’s his time to shine!” Ying shouted in excitement.

“Ying’s right. This is Zhang’s fight. No reason for us to get involved yet,” Zhurong tossed an unconscious opponent to the floor.

“You guys say that way too much. It would be much easier to just gang up on them,” I argued, shaking my head in disagreement.

“I would love to do that but there’s a barrier. Can you see it?” Jun placed his hand in the air and a slight shimmer appeared.

That was annoying. En fired multiple wires into the ground and channeled electricity into them. The terrain became engulfed in a bright white and purple color. His opponent was stuck in place as the electricity flowed into them. Oh, that was a great idea! I could only speculate but En’s powers most likely caused the particles that formed the phantom figure to come together and assume a solid form.

“En’s fought something like this before, hasn’t he?” I watched En finally slice through the figure with his flaming blade.

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“That’s likely. He and Ge fought a variety of enemies on missions,” Jun responded, crossing his arms.

The dual elemental user’s strike set the phantom figure ablaze, reducing it to wilted flower petals. Of course it wasn’t that easy! Wait, where was the blade it stole from the hero? The phantom figure wielded it when they passed through me. En plunged his blade into the ground, creating red cracks in the ground. He leaped up into the air and levitated there. Fire burst out from the cracks, along with a burning figure. The hero immediately sped towards them, swinging his blade.

“Oh, I get it,” Zhurong commented.

“I have no idea what’s going on. What do you get?” I watched En and the figure plummet to the ground.

“Watch carefully, Yuki. Right about now,” Zhurong said, counting down underneath her breath.

The figure threw off their tattered mantle and revealed a red one underneath. En dissipated his sword and pulled out a butterfly knife from his belt. He hurled it at his opponent, imbuing the projectile with flames. It bounced off the figure, snuffing out the fire on the blade immediately. Oh, that’s what Zhurong meant, annoying but not impossible to deal with.

En retrieved his butterfly knife and extended his left palm out. A purple tinge surrounded it and then his opponent was pulled towards the hero. He stabbed them in the stomach with his blade. Sparks surrounded the handle and then electricity surged into the figure’s body. They collapsed to the ground, smoke wafting from their clothing. However, the figure recovered five seconds later, removing two mantles this time. They displayed no signs of pain despite the knife jammed into their stomach.

“Something’s wrong,” Jun stated, staring at En’s opponent with an intense expression.

“That’s pretty obvious, Ge!” Ying slapped her brother’s back.

“No, that’s not what I mean, Mei. Zhurong, do you understand what I’m getting at?” Jun sighed, glancing over at the blacksmith.

“Yep, gotta wait and see if it turns out the way ya think it will,” she answered with a concerned look.

The mantles were only a temporary protection. Once En inflicted enough damage or enough time passed, the clothing was useless. They were stalling but for what?

“I think that’s enough time,” the phantom figure finally spoke, removing their white mask.

A man with a grizzled gray beard and a flower tattoo on his neck stared at the hero. He had heterochromia, his left eye a dull red and his right a pitch black. The man removed his final mantle, revealing a thin shirt with tubes running across it. Multiple colored fluids traveled through them, connecting to various parts of his body.

“Damn it, I really hoped it wasn’t that!” Jun grimaced at the sight of the man.

“‘Nother one of his projects. This one worked, huh?” the blacksmith shook her head.

En remained still, now wielding his sword in silence. Sparks of electricity and hot embers mingled on the surface of his weapon. Oh, it was serious if he channeled both his elements into his weapon already. Jun and Zhurong’s response to the man was also concerning. Even Ying, who was usually bright and cheerful, appeared wary. His magic levels weren’t especially high and the flow of it wasn’t pure.

“En Zhang, the feared sweeper. Such a pain in the ass to deal with. You and that idiot Kang healed so many of our colleagues. But it won’t happen with me! I’m too far gone,” the man stated, a deranged smile appearing on his face.

He grabbed the tubes protruding from his shirt and ripped them apart. The man maintained eye contact with the dual elemental user the entire time as the liquid from the tubes spilled out onto the floor. Parts of the ground melted once the liquid made contact with it and smoke formed.

“Before I lose all my sanity, I’ll tell you my nickname, “Lab Rat”. Remember that name as you fall by my hands!” he shouted, rushing towards En as more of the tubes popped out from his body.

A person willingly giving up their body for research. Still, he didn’t seem upset by his choice to do so. No wonder his body was capable of sustaining so much abuse. I detected a surge of magic from En as Lab Rat came within one feet of him. Bursts of electricity shot out from the hero as he stood in place. It repelled Lab Rat, hindering him from making contact with En. Streaks of blue and purple crashed into Lab Rat, bringing him to the ground. He wriggled around but only grinned in response.

“Ah, it’s been a long time since I’ve felt any pain. This is very good. Very good. Thank you so much En Zhang!” Lab Rat chuckled despite his dire predicament.

A bright light surrounded Lab Rat’s body and then his entire body morphed. No, not just the body, it was his entire being. Lab Rat was no longer human anymore. A large beast emerged from the aftermath and snarled at us. Its differing eye colors were the only recognizable trait from before. A sudden realization hit me. Was this beast in front of us related to the enemy that Kang and En fought in one of the previous mind dives I witnessed? Lab Rat, could I still even call him that anymore, swung its tail at En. Surprisingly, the barrier preventing any interference remained intact.

“It’s huge! We have to find a way in to help Zhang out!” Ying summoned her halberd.

Mei, calm down! Zhurong, do you have any ideas?” Jun bit his lips, scanning the area.

“Yuki’s got it!” the blacksmith pointed at me.

“Excuse me?” I stared at her with a blank look, having no idea what help I could provide.

“Your grimoire! It can crack the barrier,” the blacksmith responded with a grin.

I walked up to the barrier boundary, searching for its exact location. Ah, there it was! My grimoire appeared in my left hand and its pages started flipping. I guess it was going to do all the work? Meanwhile, En dodged multiple tail swings before firing a wire at Lab Rat’s upper body. He traveled upward and landed on its back. En switched his katana into its greatsword form before hacking at it.

“Yuki, how much longer?” Ying appeared next to me, staring at my grimoire with impatience.

Lab Rat threw En off and stomped on the ground, generating massive tremors. I fell down but it didn’t interrupt my grimoire’s progress. The beast charged at the hero with its curved ram horns but En blocked its attack with his greatsword. Lab Rat retreated a few steps before attempting to ram the dual elemental user again. Was it worth the sharpness of his weapon to block once more? This time, the hero performed a back-flip, avoiding the attack, and hurled a butterfly knife at his opponent’s back. His projectile bounced off before breaking in half.

I stared down at my grimoire, checking the progress. Damn, still a lot of time left. But, I had seen enough of En’s battles to trust that the man could pull it off without our help. Electricity enveloped En’s body and he dashed at Lab Rat. He left behind streaks of electricity, reminiscent of tire marks, and his enemy ran right into them. Lab Rat was bounced back and forth between the streaks, electricity shooting upward from them, shocking him. After one minute, Lab Rat tumbled to the snowy ground, paralyzed by repeated contact with the electricity.

En reverted his sword back to its katana form and unleashed magical waves at Lab Rat. The waves resembled a half-crescent, red and yellow in color. He aimed them at Lab Rat’s back, one after another. The surface of the beast’s back became scarred and liquid poured out from the wounds. It matched the substance running through his tubes earlier.

“Still taking awhile?” Zhurong questioned, standing next to me now.

“Barrier’s tough. I’m just letting it do all the work,” I responded.

“Ya got it, Yuki! Zhang can hang in there but sure be nice if we could help ‘im out,” the blacksmith encouraged and then returned to where the twins stood.

En dashed toward Lab Rat, transforming his weapon in mid-air as he leaped upward. At first, a green glow surrounded the blade before changing to a bright white that fit in with all the snow around us. When his weapon finally struck Lab Rat’s back, a medium shade of purple now emanated from the hero’s sword. The ground shook once En drove his weapon deeper in and then an explosion ripped apart Lab Rat’s back. It was now just exposed flesh, not a pretty sight at all to look at.

Despite the damage done, Lab Rat returned to his feet and pounced on En. His horns bashed the hero’s shoulder and then his forehead. It was enough to cause a significant amount of bleeding. The hero rolled away from Lab Rat’s next attack and stood back up. He clutched his left arm in pain. Blue flames appeared on his forehead, stopping the bleeding and healing his wound. When Lab Rat slammed the ground with his tail, En sprinkled red and orange embers from his hand into the air. They clumped together, spreading out around Lab Rat.

Lab Rat bumped En to the ground with his left shoulder and then swung his tail at him. The embers from before turned bright and a series of explosions struck Lab Rat. The dual elemental user fired a wire at his opponent’s leg, traveling there in an instant. En ran up Lab Rat’s body, each of his steps burning the area he touched, and then jumped up into the air. He pulled his azure colored greatsword back before swinging downward, slicing off Lab Rat’s tail. The top half of his blade then broke off, careening into the air. En fired a wire immediately, wrapping it around the broken piece, and then swung it into Lab Rat’s left eye. Sparks of electricity appeared around it right away and a massive amount of electricity surged into the former human. Burnt marks appeared throughout Lab Rat’s body as he toppled to the ground.

“We’re in!” I shouted as the barrier disintegrated in front of me.

“Yuki, it’s not over yet!” Zhurong jumped in front of me with her sledgehammer.

She blocked a sudden steam of magic unleashed from Lab Rat’s mouth. En hurled the bottom half of his weapon at Lab Rat’s head but it bounced off. No, that wasn’t quite right. It struck the beast’s skin and was absorbed into it. A protective layer, rocky in appearance, now covered Lab Rat. En fell to one knee, his left arm limp.

“Yuki, I’ll bait it away! Make sure Zhang’s safe,” Zhurong commanded, swinging her hammer into Lab Rat’s horns.

“We’ll help!” Jun and Ying shouted in sync, flanking Lab Rat.

I teleported over to En’s location and grabbed his good shoulder. Opening a portal, I dragged him into it and then entered it myself. Both of us were now a safe distance away from the main battle. Glad that worked out well. I was worried something would go wrong and the dual elemental user would end up hurt in the process.

“En, anything else wrong besides your shoulder?” I scanned his body for other visible wounds.

“Hurt my back,” he revealed as dim blue flames traversed his entire body.

“You have any idea when you’ll be back to normal?” I flipped open my grimoire, running a quick diagnostic on his condition.

“Not enough time,” the hero responded, testing his bad shoulder.

Not the encouraging words I needed from you right now. Damn it, was there anything I could do to speed up his recovery? I lacked any healing skills which was a major flaw in my powers.

“Tomo, charge me up with my powers,” En instructed, standing up now.

“What?” I stared at him in confusion, shocked more by the fact that he addressed me by name.

“Channel lightning magic into me. It’ll boost my attack and help a little bit with healing,” he elaborated.

Oh, a great idea! I placed my right hand on his injured shoulder and then small sparks appeared. Nothing wrong so far. He nodded and I soon felt my magic flowing into his body. Now was a good time to check in on Zhurong and the twins.

With each strike of her sledgehammer, the blacksmith left behind red spots on Lab Rat’s tough skin. She dodged all of his charges, pushing him back with bursts of hot steam. Jun and Ying swung at the red spots with their weapons, chipping away at the hard exterior. Eventually, the twins broke off chunks of the protective skin, revealing soft flesh underneath.

Lab Rat roared before balling himself up. He rolled around like a pinball, bouncing off nearby trees, causing them to collapse. Ying reacted right away, slicing up all the falling foliage with her halberd, preventing any of it from striking them. Jun hurled his ax into the ground just as the opponent barreled towards him. His weapon forced Lab Rat to unfurl and Zhurong was waiting for him. She slammed her sledgehammer into his horns, shattering them. The red spots from her attacks sizzled and then smoke poured out from those locations. She grinned and gave us a thumbs up.

“Heard you needed a new sword, Zhang!” someone descended from the sky and landed next to us.

Ge!” the twins shouted in unison as they continued removing the protective layer from Lab Rat’s body.

“Hey Tomo,” Kuan greeted, dropping down next to Kang.

Kuan too? Tess didn’t mention anything about him. Well, no time to think about it, I would take all the help we could get. Both men wore white tactical gear, camouflaging with all the snow surrounding us. Kang stabbed a katana blade into the ground next to En. He grinned at the man, motioning for him to take it. No way, how did he obtain that? Lab Rat was holding that blade at the start of this battle!

“Thanks for the help, good sirs,” En said with a slight grin, grasping the blade handle and yanked out the weapon.

An interesting response from En, very unexpected, but cool to see. So it was possible for the dual elemental user to break out of his shell. My magic surged into his weapon, lighting it up.

“Thanks for the help, Tomo. I’m good now,” En said, sparks flying out from his hands and into his sword.

“Let me help you out, Zhang,” Kuan said, aiming his handgun at the hero.

He fired his weapon and the bullet exploded in mid-air, covering En in a crimson dust. Kuan then switched out his handgun for an assault rifle, spraying bullets all over the ground. A few seconds later, it made sense why he chose to not direct any of his shots at the enemy. Wires burst out from them, trapping Lab Rat and prevented him from moving.

“One more thing,” Kuan said, glancing over at En.

En nodded in response. Kuan now wielded a shotgun, firing ten flares into various parts of Lab Rat’s body. He leaped back, allowing the dual elemental user to handle the rest.

“Oh, this will be very fun!” Zhurong commented, retreating from Lab Rat.

The twins evacuated the immediate battle area as well. En dashed at Lab Rat with his sword in its katana form. My eyes couldn’t even catch up with his attacks. The hero was a blur, slashing away at Lab Rat. Sparks of electricity danced around in the snow as En continued his assault. When he finally stopped, large gashes covered Lab Rat’s entire body. Purple and yellow lightning surrounded all of its wounds.

“I didn’t even see what happened,” I said, still trying to process everything.

“He’s not done yet!” Ying said with excitement.

Kuan’s flares remained intact despite the heavy damage En inflicted. I assumed he just avoided hitting them which took a lot of skill. The hero changed his sword into its greatsword form and leaped into the air. His blade slammed into Lab Rat’s horns, cleaving them from the head, and then multiple explosions bombarded the former human’s body. So that’s why Kuan fired those.

But the explosions weren’t over yet. It was faint at first but tiny embers floated in the air around Lab Rat. These converged into multiple glowing spots on the ground and then flame pillars shot up, striking Lab Rat. He became covered in flames and then En delivered the final blow. His blade, the upper half glowing purple and the lower half white, struck Lab Rat’s head once more. The ground underneath Lab Rat sunk and he plummeted down into a pit of molten lava. En stumbled backwards and fell into face-first into the snow with a thud.

The sounds of chains snapping followed afterwards. However, no one acknowledged it though. The outline of golden chains wrapping around the hero’s body appeared and then they burst apart into tiny glowing orbs. These orbs converged at En’s sword before vanishing. Again, no one commented about this at all. Was this the norm for when one of the heroes unlocked their true powers? Kind of weird that I was the only seeing it too.

“We’ll handle Lab Rat from here. Give us a hand, Jun and Ying,” Kang said, pointing at the gaping hole Lab Rat was in.

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Zhurong pulled En up from the snow and threw the man over her shoulder. Damn, I knew she was strong but she carried him with no difficulty at all. I felt my knees buckle underneath me as the fatigue finally set in. Must be the cost of breaking the barrier from earlier.

“A job well done,” Tess congratulated us, appearing out of nowhere.

“I’m so tired I won’t even ask how you got here,” I said, limping towards the Gatekeeper.

“Tess, we got the info for Long,” Kuan revealed, walking over to us.

“What are you doing here, Kuan?” I questioned, glancing back and forth between the two.

“Oh yeah, you don’t know. I’m a contractor that works for the guild. Not just here really but any similar places in other dimensions,” he revealed.

“Why am I not surprised?” I sighed.

“What?” Kuan responded with an amused smile.

“Tomo, you are free to go. They will handle the rest of this,” Tess dismissed me, pointing at a plane hovering above us.

Fei descended from the aircraft, directing her subordinates to load Lab Rat’s corpse onto the plane. Hmm, although he was dead, I didn’t really feel anything. This was way different than what went down with Ichizen. There was some sympathy but not a lot since Lat Rat chose this. As far as I knew, there wasn’t any other way to resolve this. Maybe I was being naive since I wasn’t personally involved.

Zhurong received a ride from Fei, taking En to one of her facilities for a check-up. Tess accompanied them along with Kuan and Kang. Looks like they had information to share with her. Jun and Ying would meet up with their brother later after reporting back to the prophet. I wanted to tag along but my body was in no shape for that. Instead, I headed back home and collapsed into my bed.

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