“Yuki, Tess said you’re banned from doing any fighting today,” Zhuyu informed me in the training facility.
“Why am I even here then?” I questioned with a heavy sigh.
“Good question. You know Tess, she always wants you to observe things and see what you can pick up. Besides, I know for sure you’re not ready to do anything crazy,” Zhuyu answered, swinging his left fist at my face.
I flinched, unable to react in time. He pulled his fist back, getting close enough to scare me, but not intending to make contact. Damn, my entire body was sluggish, still not fully recovered from utilizing all that magic.
“Really?” En shook his head at Zhuyu’s actions.
“Just trying to prove she’s not fully healed up yet,” he answered, shrugging his shoulders.
“Again, I really shouldn’t be here then. Might as well head home and sleep. It was terrible doing homework last night with all this pain,” I decided, heading toward the exit.
“Leaving already?” Kisai greeted me as he walked down the last steps of the stairs.
“You’re joining Zhuyu and En today?” I gestured toward the two men.
“Nah, I don’t have time to waste on Long. Tess sent me out on a mission but I have to take care of stuff here first,” Kisai replied, heading towards the archives room.
I arrived upstairs at the lobby and saw Tess sitting behind the reception desk. Damn it, I could already tell where this was headed. She picked up her tablet before approaching me.
“Still not fully recovered?” Tess inquired, pointing at my forehead with her stylus.
“Yeah but not anything serious,” I answered.
“I am glad to hear you’re not suffering any catastrophic side effects. However, there is a reason I asked you to accompany Long today, despite my mandate of not allowing you to partake in any physical combat,” Tess said, walking down to the training area.
I should have just stayed down there and waited for her. Even though the stairs weren’t that steep, each step down hurt a little. This was definitely my worst experience after using powers. Tess called the two men over and gave me a slight nod. Thank you for showing mercy!
“Long will fight Xiaongmao Xiansheng again and he will do so with more of his previous Dragon’s Mandate powers unlocked. As such, you will not need to do any fighting yourself. If any adverse situation were to occur, Zhang will ensure your safety. You don’t have to take any action,” Tess explained.
“I’m sorry, who’s Zhuyu fighting?” I stared at her, not familiar with the name she gave.
“Mr. Panda,” En translated.
“Oh, Kuro. Didn’t he already defeat him?” I recalled him beating the beast.
“That was only a warm up. This time, it’ll scale to my current level,” Zhuyu revealed before biting into a nutrition bar.
“Zhuyu, that still doesn’t answer my question. How are you able to fight him again?” I asked for more details.
“The second to last piece is guarded by another panda. Uh, well, it’s not quite correct to say they’re the same being. It’s pretty much just version 2.0,” the math major responded, tossing his wrapper into a nearby garbage can.
“So it’s just a stronger version then?” I stretched out my legs.
“Correct,” Tess confirmed.
“Where’s the panda this time?” I inquired.
“At the second tallest mountain in Zhongjie,” Zhuyu replied, taking the top off of his water bottle.
“You know what, I’m not going to even harass you about it this time,” I decided, waiting for him to expand on his answer.
“Xuejiao, a horn-shaped snow mountain in the northern region. There’s no direct connection to the area so we’ll have to get up there manually,” he elaborated.
“Of course we do. Tess, there’s no combat but I’ll have to climb? That doesn’t sound great for me,” I pointed out.
“Long did not mention the transportation method yet. Do not jump to conclusions so quickly,” Tess countered with the faintest of smiles.
“Okay, fair point. It does make me feel better that I won’t have to scale up a mountain so soon again,” I said.
“Long, I leave Tomo in your care. If any issues arise, do not hesitate to contact me as always,” Tess instructed before heading back upstairs.
Zhongjie, Enroute to Xuejiao
“I’m surprised Kyoi isn’t tagging along with you today,” I remarked, resting my left arm against the window.
“She has something to take care of. We’re not free all the time you know,” Zhuyu said from the seat across from mine.
We rode in a large camper Fei provided. The former princess was also accompanying us on the trip as well. Two of her subordinates were up front, managing the navigation, while the rest of us were in the back. It was a pretty nice interior with the usual amenities inside these types of vehicles. Fei opened up one of the cupboards and tossed each of us a… MRE?
“I forgot to restock. This is all we have,” Fei explained.
“I appreciate this but do we really need to eat?” I questioned, inspecting the bag of dehydrated food.
“It’s going to get cold even inside here. I thought you might like something warm in your stomach,” Fei responded as she poured hot water into her bag.
“Guess that sorta makes sense. What’s inside here?” I didn’t quite accept her reasoning but wouldn’t refuse a free meal.
“Fried rice,” she answered and tossed spoons over to us.
“Doesn’t sound like that would work,” En commented, staring at his MRE.
“I think it’s good,” Zhuyu said, scooping a large amount of it.
Three minutes later, my MRE was ready. I didn’t trust Zhuyu’s judgment on the food. He seemed like the type of person to just eat food and not care about the taste. En was more careful than his friend, taking a small test bite before consuming more of it. Fei already finished hers and was reading documents. I placed small spoonful into my mouth and chewed. Okay, not too bad so far. Pretty flavorful actually.
“You’re right, it’s not bad at all,” I admitted.
“Yeah,” En agreed.
“There’s thirty more minutes before we arrive. Tomo, can you hand me your grimoire?” Fei requested, putting her papers away.
“Sure, what are you planning to do with it?” I handed the magical tome over to her.
“Fulfilling a favor Tess asked. Here, you can take it back. A mind dive courtesy of me,” she answered.
One involving Fei, huh? If I was correct, Tess wanted me to see something related to Zhuyu’s role as a royal guard for the former princess. I leaned back in my seat and opened it to the bookmarked page.
MIND DIVE 19: Bodyguard
Oh, a fight right away. That never happened! I was really lucky this time. Zhuyu, along with two other people, were confronting a large group. Their opponents’ uniforms all contained a chrysanthemum emblem. Was there a connection to the Black Lotus since both were flower related?
“The Servant Dragon! It’s a pleasure to finally meet you. Especially after the beatdown your little friend, En Zhang, gave us. If that wasn’t enough, a guild member called Kang helped him too! You’ll pay,” a tall man declared, pointing a finger at Zhuyu.
“I don’t see how that’s my problem,” Zhuyu responded, no emotion on his face.
The hero had a point. Their words didn’t provoke the math major at all which I’m sure they were trying for. Zhuyu’s two allies were a man and woman in their early twenties. Both carried no visible weapons and wore civilian clothes.
“Uh, might not be the best idea to say that right now, Long,” the man whispered to him.
“It should be okay. Long has always been like this,” the woman said.
“Tell you what, hand over the princess and I’ll forget all about how your little friend beat us all up,” the tall man negotiated with a snicker on his face.
“Again, I don’t see how that’s my problem,” Zhuyu repeated, his voice super flat.
“Are you messin’ with me right now? Of course it’s your fuckin’ problem! You’re protecting the damn princess, aren’t you?” the tall man spat on the ground in front of Zhuyu.
“That’s just your assumption. What Fei does is her own business. I’m just here to get experience,” Zhuyu responded.
This was not my preferred method of dealing with thugs. I didn’t expect him to slug the man but this was getting boring. Although, maybe he was just intentionally provoking the group of people with his responses. Kind of a dick move but not unexpected really.
“Hey Long, maybe you pull back just a little,” his male companion advised, glancing back at the tall tower behind them.
“These two are the ones responsible for protecting Fei. I’m just here to help out if needed. You really should be going after them instead of me,” Zhuyu suggested, pointing at the two people besides him.
“Are you serious? Long, don’t do this to us!” the man next to the hero pleaded.
“Let’s just take care of it. Long, you’ll back us up?” the woman placed her left foot forward.
The math major nodded, stepping back from his allies. Huh, I did not see the fight going this way. I honestly expected Zhuyu to just wipe out the entire group by himself. Hold on, when did this take place? If he was still inexperienced, this entire situation made much more sense. But, his two companions were already on first name basis with him so it couldn’t have been when he just started.
A bright light appeared in front of the woman, materializing into a ethereal panda. It crashed into the tall man before pummeling him with its paws. The other members of his group charged at the panda with their weapons but were stopped by an enormous mantis. The creature knocked away everyone with two swings of its spiked foreleg. The mantis then leaped towards the scattered group, reaching out for them with its foreleg. Oh, summoners! This was only my third time witnessing people using such powers. I could tell from the magical energy emanating from their two creatures that these two weren’t normal summoners either.
All of a sudden, Zhuyu appeared behind the group of people with his sword drawn. He slashed one of them in the chest as lightning crashed down from the sky. It knocked all of the unconscious as the panda continued mauling the tall man. Taking one step forward, Zhuyu was now next to the fallen tall man. Rain was now falling, drenching the tall man’s body. Seconds later, he screamed out in agony as cuts appeared throughout his body where the rain struck him.
“That’s enough,” Fei ordered as she descended from the tower.
The princess knelt downward and stared at the injured tall man. She reached into his shirt pocket, pulling out a laminated business card. Fei then handed it over to Zhuyu.
“It’s a Black Lotus address. Is the Chrysanthemum Triad working with them now or is this just an invite?” Zhuyu speculated, flipping the card over.
“There’s your answer, Long,” Fei said, pointing at the crimson lotus flower on the back.
“Suggestion magic? That’s not how the Black Lotus usually operates,” Zhuyu remarked.
“That’s what I like to know too, Zhuyu Long,” a woman said, walking up to them.
Oh, it was Lilith. She walked straight up to Zhuyu and grabbed him by his shirt collar. The math major remained calm, waiting for Lilith to speak.
“Princess Fei, you always pick weirdos to join the royal guard,” Lilith said and finally released the hero.
“I try my best, Lilith. Please try not to rough up my subordinates too much. No matter how much you dislike him, Long does work for me. By extension, you’re disrespecting me with such actions,” Fei warned.
“It’s not like I dislike him. He’s just always in our way at the worst times,” Lilith denied, shaking her head.
“Of course. Anyways, if you want any information, you can either beat Xinya or Luoyang,” Fei offered.
“Why isn’t Zhuyu an option?” Lilith glared at the man.
“You’ve fought him several times, haven’t you? I’m sure you prefer more of a challenge. You won’t be disappointed fighting either of them,” Fei explained.
Interesting, I thought this mind dive would only focus on Zhuyu. Seeing Lilith fight was a nice bonus. She sighed and pointed at Xinya.
“I’ll pick her. Let’s get this over with. I don’t have time to waste,” Lilith decided.
“Oh cool! I thought you would pick him over me. I can’t wait to beat you,” Xinya said, summoning her panda.
Lilith moved her left hand downward and explosions occurred around Xinya. The summoner was unfazed by the attack and pointed at her opponent. Her panda dashed toward the hero. When the beast was centimeters away from Lilith, it was blasted backwards. It was hard to see but the hero weaved together a web in front of her. I always assumed she utilized them as just trip wires but it made sense there was more utility than that.
“Is that all you have for me?” Lilith approached Xinya, swinging her right hand towards the summoner.
“Of course not. Don’t assume I only control one thing at a time,” Xinya refuted as bamboo sprouted up from the ground around Lilith.
The panda, its fur scorched from the explosion, rose from the ground. Lilith sliced through the bamboo trees with her explosive wires. Xinya distanced herself from the hero and extended her right hand out. A bamboo pole appeared in it and she swung it at her opponent. Bamboo sprouts flew out from her weapon and landed around Lilith. Blasts of magic were released from them, hitting the hero directly. The panda tackled Lilith to the ground, punching her face with its paws, before launching her into the air. Xinya leaped up, smashing her bamboo pole into the woman’s stomach. Lilith struck the ground hard and coughed up blood.
“Lilith, that’s enough!” Kaze appeared from out of nowhere, hoisting the hero over her back.
“Ah, I was just getting started!” Xinya pouted, her panda dissipating into tiny orbs of magic that traveled toward her weapon.
“I’m sorry for the trouble she caused. Lilith, you weren’t even assigned to this area today. I’ll have a long talk with you when we get back,” Kaze scolded, leaping into the air and then flew off.
MIND DIVE 19 END