I woke up, pain in the back of my head. How much time passed since I was knocked out? I struggled to my feet and checked the digital map on my wristband.
“Nothing, am I even in the same place?” I only saw a constant flickering.
Kyoi mentioned this place contained high variance so maybe it was freaking out because of that. There weren’t many trees, just a lot of bushes. I suddenly noticed something poking me. Pulling it out of my back pocket, I discovered Kyoi’s map. When did she….? Oh, probably during that bright flash. Thank you, Kyoi. However, I didn’t know how to read this. Time for my grimoire.
I slipped my map inside, hoping it would pinpoint my location. The front cover lit up and then my grimoire shook. The magical tome opened up, revealing a replica of Kyoi’s map. A red dot flashed in the middle of it which didn’t move. That was my current position.
“Where next?” I didn’t even know how to read this thing.
Oh, she labeled the path Zhuyu and Kuan took. My best option was to track them down. I hoped they saw the huge ball of light in the air and would follow it. Meeting up with the two heroes also increased my chances at finding Kyoi and En too. Although, I’m sure those two could handle whatever trouble they were in.
I traced the page with my finger and discovered I could mark it like a tablet screen. Perfect, this made navigation much easier. Traveling along Zhuyu and Kuan’s path, I discovered why they had such a rough time. The terrain was uneven with random shifts in elevation. I slipped multiple times, scraping my hands and bumping my face against branches and other obstructions. I finally arrived at the end and hid behind foliage. Were the people who ambushed us gone already?
“Where could they have gone?” I referred to my grimoire one more time.
Something suddenly pressed against the back of my head. I raised my hands in the air. Someone turned me around and I saw Zhuyu and Kuan.
“Tomo?” Kuan lowered his gun.
“So you did see that huge flash in the sky!” I heaved a sigh of relief.
“Oh, that was you then. Where’s Feng and Zhang?” Zhuyu glanced around the area.
I informed the two men about what happened. Kuan wiped his glasses and then tapped the frames after putting them back on. Zhuyu sighed once I finished updating them. He appeared critical of Kyoi and En’s capture instead of showing any concern.
“You said there were strange symbols around the circle?” Zhuyu reached for his golden pen clipped to his vest pocket.
“Yeah, Kyoi said something about needing the blood of someone. Do you know who the person En fought is?” I tried drawing the symbols from memory using his pen.
“Maybe. Can you take us to the circle? Kuan and I hit a dead end trying to find the beacon,” Zhuyu responded.
“Kyoi probably marked it on the map. Here,” I answered, handing Kyoi’s map over to him.
The man cross-referenced Kyoi’s map with his own. I was glad there was someone who could actually read it. The three of us finally returned to where I was ambushed. All the pillars remained broken, but the circle was still intact. I was wary of enemies but it was safe so far. I wouldn’t be surprised again!
“Starting to make sense. The magical beacon and the circle are related. Once the seal is lifted, we should find the magical beacon. But we’re missing their blood. What to do?” Zhuyu tapped his foot on the ground.
“Do you know which person it is?” I questioned.
“Yeah, probably a prince from a branch family of the deceased king. Not exactly a prince really, more like an administrator,” Zhuyu revealed.
“He said he needed me for something. I’ve never been here before though,” I said.
“Don’t know. Alright, I guess it’s time to brute force this!” Zhuyu removed a knife from his belt.
Kuan understood his friend right away and placed his hand on the circle. Zhuyu took a deep breath before cutting his arm intentionally, blood spilling out onto the circle.
“Kuan, that enough?” the zero vector watched his wound heal.
Hold on, I thought he only had his zero-vector powers now. Don’t tell me he had access to his old powers all this time and just didn’t use them. I glared at him but he ignored me.
“Maybe a litle too much. I’ll need your help with some of the math stuff,” Kuan replied.
Kuan stared at the seal and Zhuyu’s blood changed color. It was as if he never used the blade, his wound almost gone.
“Zhuyu, what’s he doing? Also, when the hell could you just heal yourself like that? You better not have been holding out on me!” I accused him as Kuan muttered underneath his breath.
“He’s manipulating the blood using his magic to trick the seal. Magical hacking. One of Kyoi and Jin’s specialties. But he learned enough from them to do it,” Zhuyu explained.
“You didn’t answer the other part of my question,” I pointed out.
“Huh? Oh my healing thing. I don’t think anyone has told you but Zhang, Feng, and my seals are all interconnected. With Zhang’s seal broken, I assumed I regained some of my old powers,” he replied with a nonchalant look.
“You just assumed? You could have died if you cut yourself any deeper!” I stared at him in astonishment.
“What? I’d trust Kuan to patch me up. He’s more reliable than you think,” Zhuyu responded, shrugging his shoulders.
The heroes acted childish but they were all talented. It didn’t really click since they goofed off so much. These types of situations made me appreciate them. Raised my respect for the heroes too, just a tiny bit.
“Okay, I finished. Let’s see this baby broken,” Kuan declared.
The circle lit up and then a spinning disk shot up from the ground. A beam of light then pierced the sky. Zhuyu immediately shoved me to the ground. Hey, what the f***? Oh, that’s why. Projectiles hovered over my previous location. Thank you Zhuyu, even though you could have given me a warning first.
“Tomo, we gotta fight. You take the left side. Kuan, back me up!” Zhuyu summoned his sword.
I destroyed the projectiles with icicles, and then plunged my sword into the ground, generating waves of electricity at the incoming enemies. It repelled the assailants back, allowing me to slash them. Aerial enemies then descended from the sky. I increased the gravity, sending them plummeting to the ground, and right into my blazing flames.
I checked up on Zhuyu. Kuan stunned enemies with his bullets, and Zhuyu finished them with his scabbard, not drawing his sword. Would he finally use the blade itself once the seal was lifted? Time to worry about myself again. Someone with an ax charged at me. I switched out my sword for a baton, pivoting behind them, and knocked them out with one whack to their head. Great, more enemies parachuted down from the sky. When would this barrage end?
“We’re retreating! There’s too many enemies!” Zhuyu dashed away.
I constructed ice walls during our retreat, slowing down the pursuers. Kuan led us through a winding path and we eventually escaped. Everyone’s breathing was ragged as we rested.
“Once we reach the beacon, I’m sure there will be clues about Feng and Zhang. Let’s go!” Zhuyu recovered faster than us but was still winded.
My lungs burned as we ran again. Kuan struggled, worst off than me. Actually, this was better than before. Tess’ training was finally paying off. The beam of light we activated was still visible. Did that thing just not go away? Kuan took a sharp turn and I saw something glimmering in the distance.
“Kuan!” Zhuyu turned to his friend.
“That’s it!” Kuan confirmed.
A portal? The three of us dived in. Damn, this was a deep descent! We tumbled downward and hit the ground hard. F***, that really hurt. Where the hell were we now?
“Ah, damn it,” Kuan muttered, checking his leg.
“Tomo, you okay?” Zhuyu glanced over at me.
“Probably just bruised my leg,” I answered.
“Where’s your concern for me?” Kuan grabbed his friend’s shoulder.
“I know you’re fine. You’re not that fragile. Problem is, are we even in the same place?” Zhuyu dismissed his friend’s concern.
I opened my grimoire and checked the map. There was no red dot and the map was distorted. Not a good sign for us.
“We’ll just have to explore,” Zhuyu decided.
A dim light shone through a small hole. I conjured a fireball and inspected the area around us. Definitely a cavern. Water dripped down every few seconds and just solid ground beneath us.
“Can we climb out?” Zhuyu pointed upward.
“Might be something we can grip,” Kuan answered, checking the cavern walls.
“I’ll float up and see what’s there,” I offered.
I went upward and saw an exit. Perfect! Once outside, there was sand everywhere. A beach, huh? I reported my findings and the two men scaled upwards by grabbing onto ledges and protruding rocks. I was shocked by Kuan’s athleticism since he was so out of it during our run. The sun shone down on us as a flock of seagulls flew over us.
“A beach? It goes on for a long way too,” Zhuyu observed, shielding his eyes.
“What exactly are the conditions for breaking your seal, Zhuyu?” I fanned myself with my hand.
“Gotta find the multiple parts of my sword,” Zhuyu answered, lifting up his weapon.
“What do you mean?” I stared at him in confusion.
“The blade in this scabbard is just a placeholder. I’ll have to find the blade pieces and put them together,” Zhuyu explained.
Kuan took off his sweater, revealing a white soccer T-shirt underneath, which surprised me. Zhuyu didn’t care about the warm weather, still wearing his unzipped hoodie despite the heat. I took off my jacket, tying it around my waist. The waves crashed against the sand, creating a loud but melodic roar. Seagulls pecked at the sand, flying away once we approached them. I expected palm trees but there were just normal spruce and evergreen trees.
“Bad idea top keep walking,” Kuan said, wiping away the sweat on his forehead.
“Yeah, I don’t see an end to it,” Zhuyu agreed.
“I’ll check my grimoire and see what it says,” I decided.
The pages flipped back and forth, creating a light breeze that blew my hair. Zhuyu adjusted the zipper on his hoodie. How was he still wearing three layers, his vest and dress shirt, in addition to his outer layer in this kind of heat?
“Oh, something showed up!” I saw the pages stop flipping.
A faint map developed and the familiar red dot appeared. Kuan circled a spot on the map with his fingers.
“I recognize this landmark. Let’s check that first!” Kuan said.
“How far is it?” I handed my grimoire over to Kuan.
“Maybe a thirty minute walk? Nothing can be as bad as Long’s death walk. That was terrible,” Kuan commented, ripping out the page from my grimoire.
Could he just rip out a page? Kuan returned my grimoire and checked the map. I guess it was fine since the grimoire still functioned. I wondered if the page in his hand would still update since it was separated from the grimoire now.
“That was literally just walking from the train station to my house,” Zhuyu disagreed.
“Don’t even try to say it was easy. We all carried heavy s*** in our backpacks and there was a big ass hill. Terrible,” Kuan countered, shaking his head.
“Kyoi’s training is much worse,” Zhuyu responded.
The landmark Kuan mentioned was a rusted statue. I stared at it, unsure what it was modeled off of. Zhuyu walked to the back and tapped it.
“What is this thing?” I created water and drank it from my hands.
“Guardian statue. You’ve seen them outside of temples and other places,” Zhuyu answered, raising up an object into the air.
It glittered in the bright sunlight. A tail? The end tip resembled a traditional calligraphy brush and golden in color. There were scales across it. Oh, a dragon tail!
“This is what you were talking about earlier?” I offered water to Kuan.
“Yeah, four more pieces to go,” Zhuyu replied.
“Lucky for us, your grimoire is doing all the hard work,” Kuan said, holding up the torn page from my grimoire.
Nice. This must be a natural progression from all the training. Kuan stared at the map and chatted with Zhuyu. What were they scheming?
“Trying to figure out a way to abandon me?” I interrupted their conversation.
“We would never do that. Just trying to figure out where to go next,” Zhuyu revealed.
There was no relief from the heat as temperatures continued rising. No idea how Zhuyu wore three layers without suffering. He eventually took off his hoodie, slinging it over his shoulder. That did nothing for you, Zhuyu! I finally saw a statue in the distance.
A panda this time. Very cute! It was well designed, capturing the animal’s essence. I checked for any grooves or odd areas but discovered nothing. Zhuyu walked over to me and shook his head.
“This one requires a trial,” Zhuyu explained, admiring the statue’s craftsmanship.
“What kind of trial?” I accepted the fact that he just knew this for sure.
“A fight. This will not be fun,” Zhuyu answered and extended his hand out.
The zero vector user tapped the panda head before rotating it clockwise 90 degrees. He then pressed the statue’s eyes. It descended into the ground and a circular platform replaced it. An actual panda stepped off and stared at Zhuyu.
“What the f***?” I rubbed my eyes to make sure I wasn’t seeing things.
“He probably will win,” Kuan commented, complete confidence in his friend.
Zhuyu stared back at the panda. His adversary wore two overlapping jade necklaces and red gloves over its paws.
“Oh s***, how’s this going to start?” Kuan adjusted his glasses with a huge smile.
An eye patch covered the beast’s left eye. Jacque would love this s*** right now. Whenever he doodled in class, he always added an unnecessary addition, an eye patch. The panda took one step forward. Zhuyu didn’t budge. Who would make the first move?
“We need a name for the panda,” Kuan commented.
“There are more important things going on!” I gestured at the animal.
“Kind of disrespectful to just call him a panda. Unless you want to, I’m just saying,” Kuan stated his reasoning.
“Uh… Kuro?” I uttered the first thing that popped into my head.
“The color black? Guess that fits. Sure, we’ll call it that,” Kuan agreed.
Kuro v Zhuyu: Dragon Piece Retrieval
Kuro charged at Zhuyu and lunged for his neck. I shuddered, imagining the severe damage if the animal actually made contact. Zhuyu countered with a knee to the panda’s face.
“Is he seriously going to fight that thing barehanded? F***, this isn’t going to end well!” I shouted, thinking about possible win conditions for the math major.
The panda delivered a devastating uppercut to Zhuyu’s chin. The hero dropped straight to the ground. Kuro yanked the man up by his shirt collar and propped Zhuyu against a nearby tree. The panda then crashed into the man like a cannonball, causing Zhuyu to cough up blood.
“Oh s***, that really hurt,” Kuan commented as Zhuyu stumbled to his feet.
Zhuyu remained unsteady, wobbling around. Kuro attempted another uppercut but Zhuyu evaded. He slid underneath the panda and appeared at the beast’s backside. The math major delivered kicks to the panda’s legs. Kuro, angered by the attacks, spun around and backslapped the hero. Zhuyu crumpled to the ground and clutched his face in pain.
“Zhuyu’s getting destroyed. He can’t keep on fighting like this!” I shook my head.
The panda dashed towards the fallen man, and leaped into the air, trying to crush him. Zhuyu rolled away at the last second, a steam of sand striking the hero’s face when the panda slammed into the ground. Zhuyu slid into the panda’s left leg, causing the animal to buckle. Taking advantage, Zhuyu grasped Kuro’s head and pushed it down. No way! Zhuyu wasn’t powered by any magic so that wouldn’t work. To my surprise, he actually brought the panda down. Zhuyu’s breathing was heavy after the maneuver and his legs shook.
“The panda tipping just a little was enough for Long,” Kuan observed.
The panda recovered quickly and grasped Zhuyu’s right leg. The hero tripped but regained his balance. Kuro pounded his gloved paws together and a glow appeared around them. Damn, not good.
Kuro swung his first and unleashed a blast of magic at the zero vector user. Zhuyu summoned his blade and deflected the magic. Kuro followed up with multiple waves before charging at the hero. The panda scooped Zhuyu up and slammed him into a tree. Zhuyu coughed up more blood. The panda then pummeled his face without mercy.
Zhuyu kneed the panda’s stomach, halting his beat down. He flipped around and locked in a cross face on the panda. Whoa, didn’t see that coming! But, it made sense since Kyoi was a submission master. She showed me a couple of useful ones during training camp. However, the panda was more annoyed than in pain.
“Keep buying time, Long,” Kuan muttered.
With a shout, Kuro threw Zhuyu off his back. Come on, you need to have something up your sleeve! The zero vector user dashed at the panda and rammed his left knee into it’s stomach. He grabbed the panda’s right arm and somehow dragged it toward a log. Zhuyu leaped up onto it, and jumped down, yanking the animal’s arm. Kuro yowled and clutched his arm.
Throughout the battle, Zhuyu didn’t throw any punches and relied on attacks using his legs. Even then, it wasn’t high kicks or agile maneuvers. Was that his limit?
“Kuan, Zhuyu hasn’t tried punching Kuro,” I commented.
“His striking skills are limited. Long’s better at small kicks. Kuro’s big so he has to see what works,” Kuan explained.
The panda climbed a tree and dropkicked Zhuyu. He lifted the man over his shoulder and scaled up the tree again. Kuro leaped off and powerbombed Zhuyu into the log from before. He continued his assault with three suplexes, one after another.
Zhuyu avoided an elbow drop, and retaliated with a dropkick, bringing Kuro to his knees. He finally whacked the animal with a few punches and locked in an arm bar. The hero was just trying everything now. This submission caused discomfort unlike the previous one.
Kuro broke free and tossed the man aside. He went for a leg drop but Zhuyu reversed it into a leg lock. The zero vector user rolled to the front and transitioned into a triangle choke on the panda’s head. Was this the opening Zhuyu needed? Nope, the panda lifted him into the air and slammed the man into another tree. Zhuyu landed on his left shoulder and clutched it in pain.
“I thought he had Kuro there,” I said as Zhuyu dodged uppercuts.
“Kuro’s smart. Besides, he still has the power advantage. About time Zhuyu uses his sword,” Kuan suggested, wiping his glasses.
Zhuyu shoved Kuro away and tripped the bear. He climbed the tree Kuro slammed him into, gritting his teeth in pain. He jumped down and stomped on the panda’s neck. Sweat dripped down from his head and blood poured out from a face wound.
Kuro tossed Zhuyu to the ground before performing an agile move. This was something out of the wrestling shows Ichizen loved. Not that the panda’s other moves weren’t, now that I really thought about it. The panda performed a standing moonsault, lurching backwards, and crashed into Zhuyu’s stomach. However, the math major countered at the last second, jerking his knee upwards. Zhuyu rolled to his right, clutching his ribs in pain.
The panda stared at the sky and removed his eye patch. It’s uncovered eye glowed a dangerous red. A dazzling light engulfed his fists and he catapulted toward Zhuyu. The hero summoned his blade, parrying the panda’s blows. He slowed the animal’s movement down but was pushed back each time he deflected. The panda roared and speared Zhuyu into a tree, shattering the trunk.
“Kuan!” I was worried about the fight outcome now.
Zhuyu avoided another spear from the panda and chopped the panda’s neck with his scabbard. He struck Kuro’s chin and jammed the tip of his scabbard into the animal’s neck. Zhuyu swept Kuro’s leg and knocked him to the ground. Kuro recovered and then raised his paws up. The panda disintegrated into orbs of light. In it’s place, a dragon head appeared. Zhuyu let ou a sigh of relief and collapsed to the ground. If he expended this much energy, he was at a disadvantage for the next challenge.
“You good?” Kuan helped his friend up.
“Barely, s***, that panda was really good. Where’s the next one? I wasted a lot of time,” Zhuyu replied.
Kuan led us to the next location. I walked alongside Zhuyu, monitoring his condition. None of the bruises healed but any major wounds sustained from the fight vanished. Was his regeneration rate capped? The gun user suddenly raised his hand in the air. Kuan and I went ahead, checking out the situation. We discovered a group of armed individuals setting up camp.
“Man, are they really showin’ up? It’s fuckin’ hot! Just wanna jump into the water and go for a good swim. Sucks to stand around,” one of the men complained, stabbing his dagger into the ground.
“Shut up! Don’t let the boss hear ya. Just stand your ass there and we’ll be fine. They have to show up. After all, we got bargaining chips,” another man rebuked, glaring at him.
“Kuan, you think they’re talking about Kyoi or En?” I questioned as we returned to Zhuyu’s location.
“Maybe, can’t be too sure. Thirty of them, about half are magic users. Other half are hired mercenaries. Should be easy to take care of,” Kuan informed us.
“There’s more to it than that,” I anticipated.
“There’s two people that concern me. I’ll talk to the seagulls and have them scout,” Kuan replied before whistling.
A flock of seagulls landed near him. Kuan stared at them and then the birds flew away. Oh right, he had those powers too. Zhuyu leaned against a tree, staring at the sky. A few minutes later, there was a loud pop. Crap, did they figure out the seagulls were spies?
“Did something happen to one of them?” I asked Kuan as the seagulls returned.
“Yeah, one got hit by magic. Not dead though which is good,” Kuan replied, waving good-bye to the seagulls.
“Anything good?” I questioned.
“They’re wearing heavy equipment so probably a booster. Tomo, we’ll use portals to isolate them,” Kuan decided.
The three of us headed to the enemy’s camp. Kuan instructed me where to place the portals and then summoned a rocket launcher. Uh, I would trust his judgment. He counted down with his right hand. When it reached zero, I activated all the portals. Kuan fired off his weapon, covering the entire area in smoke. When everything cleared, two people remained.
“Well, our prey’s here. The hunt is on!” the woman shouted, tapping a glowing device on her belt.
“Crush them. Let’s begin!” the man cackled, slapping the glowing device on his assault vest, and pulled out a handgun.
Kuan pointed at the woman and then me. Guess he would handle the one with a gun, made sense because of his expertise with them. Alright, time to show off everything I learned during training camp!