Volume 13, Chapter 4-2: Artifact Search

Friday Spring Quarter 2016 Week 4

“Oh, Zhuyu did mention you coming here for an assignment,” I said, noticing Jacque arrive.

I received a text from Tess in the evening, asking me to come to the Crossroads. I thought someone else would show up but it was just me until the artist showed up. He didn’t carry his sketchbook today.

 “Glad to know I’m not alone. How long have you been waiting?” Jacque questioned, sitting next to me.

“I got here about twenty minutes ago. Just been reading up on the place while waiting for Tess. Any idea what we’re going to do?” I placed the guidebook down.

“You and Jacque will travel to different areas, Tomo,” Tess suddenly appeared next to the artist, crossing her legs.

“S***! When did you get here, Tess?” Jacque jumped out of his seat, staring at the Gatekeeper.

“Only a few seconds ago. Jacque, you will travel to the underground coliseum and witness the fights there. All the materials have been prepared for you in advance. This person will be your guide,” she answered, handing him a business card.

“That’s a shame. I thought I have a chance to work with Jacque. Wait, you sure it’s okay for him to just walk off alone like that?” I watched him depart.

“Jacque is more than capable. He’s accustomed to the Crossroads by now. Tomo, you’ll rendezvous with Lilith and assist her in the search for Artifacts,” Tess answered, providing me the meeting spot location.

“You don’t send me out to work with her or her team. Something going on?” I stood up, stretching out my arms and legs.

“No, it’s a natural progression,” Tess replied, not saying anything further.

I guess that was just her way of saying she trusted me. She didn’t give me any more details, and sat down, flipping through her notepad. I headed up to the designated travel room and inserted my key into the door.

Unknown Dimension, Thyme Cafe

“Excuse me, have you-?” I started asking my question but someone tapped my shoulder.

“Looking for me, Tomo?” Lilith led me over to a table in the diner.

“What exactly are you looking for here?” I thanked the waiter who brought up two cups of tea.

“An Artifact for Champ. I have some information that leads me to believe it is somewhere in this area,” Lilith revealed.

“I’m surprised you’re even prioritizing Champs’s stuff right now. Shouldn’t you be more concerned about yours or Yui’s?” I sipped the tea, finding it too flat.

“Yui is already working on it. I thought it might be a good idea to take Tess up on her offer,” Lilith answered before calling the waiter over.

She ordered a slice of cake and asked me if I wanted anything. I declined since I already ate dinner. Sweets did sound good but I rather not upset my stomach since I was pretty full.

“How have you been, Tomo? The training camp was quite rough on everyone,” Lilith questioned, picking up her cup of tea.

“Had a little bit of a scare near the end but my body’s not sore anymore. How did you think everyone did on your side?” I browsed the menu, curious about the diner’s offerings.

“We did a decent job. I’m still worried about our progress compared to yours. That’s why getting Artifacts is a priority for us,” Lilith replied, thanking the waitress who brought her cake.

“So what exactly do Artifacts actually do? I’ve heard the phrase so many times but have never gotten a good explanation,” I questioned, hoping she could explain it in detail.

“They’re analogous to ultimate weapons for Tess’ team. Once we equip and modify them, it enhances our current powers and unlocks new skills for us,” Lilith explained.

“So all of your powers are already unlocked? No limitations like us?” I finished my tea.
“To an extent. Tess is the Gatekeeper so she did lock us out once the final battle concluded. However, unlike ultimate weapons, Artifacts don’t lift any seals or limitations. Think of them as accessories like your ring,” Lilith responded, biting into her cake.

“Okay, still kind of confusing. So Artifacts power you up unlike the ultimate weapons which just unlocks the true potential of everyone. This is still not making sense,” I reasoned.

“It’s convoluted, I know. Tess phrased Artifacts as “retrofits”, if that makes any sense,” Lilith said, as the waiter picked up our cups and utensils.

“What does that even mean?” I didn’t understand the context.

“You know how ships and planes get new equipment installed onto them? That’s what retrofits are. Add new technology or parts that weren’t needed initially to make it better. Typically done on something older or preexisting. That’s what Artifacts do for us,” Lilith elaborated.

That cleared things up a little. Artifacts added onto their preexisting powers which were already maximized, in a sense. Ultimate weapons, on the other hand, got Tess and everyone to reach that maximized point. Still, even without their ultimate weapons, they were just as good if not better than Lilith’s team. I understood her desire to obtain Artifacts as fast as possible. They wanted to keep pace with them even if it was a daunting task.

“Let’s go, Tomo. That’s enough chitchatting for now,” Lilith decided and led me to our next destination.

Mint Village

“I didn’t think you knew how to ride a horse!” I grasped Lilith’s back, amazed by the openness of the area we traveled through.

I was confused when Lilith led me to a stable. She explained there wasn’t any reliable transportation. Renting a horse was the fastest way out there. I was nervous at first since Lilith didn’t seem like the type of person to know how to ride a horse. To my surprise, she mounted the animal with ease, and we were off.

“Bartholomew loves this kind of stuff. He took me and a couple of other people out to try it. I ended up getting lessons for free through an outdoors program he was part of. It’s pretty cool,” Lilith responded, slowing the horse down as we neared a wooden gate.

Half of the gate was torn off, blood spatter across it. Of course we couldn’t just waltz in and talk with the villagers in peace! Lilith knelt, inspecting the gate with a concerned expression.

“Any idea who our guests might be?” I walked past the gate, searching for clues.

“No idea. Let’s be careful heading in. We’ll probably have to end up fighting,” Lilith answered, pulling on a pair of gloves.

We headed further in, hearing nothing. Not suspicious at all! I glanced back at our horse, who nuzzled the grass with its nose. I really hope nothing happens to you, buddy. After three minutes, we arrived at the village itself. Small brick houses and tiny huts dotted the landscape, but no people were in sight.

“Why even target this place? Is the actual Artifact even here?” I wondered, noticing deep footprints and tire marks.

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“Maybe, all I heard was that someone knew about it. The bigger questions is how did they get up here in a vehicle? There were no signs of it during our ride here. From what I know, it’s only a one way road in and out of the village,” Lilith pondered, checking the tire marks.

I heard a noise behind us and summoned my sword. Two wolves slowly approached us. Lilith moved her hands. The two wolves dashed at us, triggering the woman’s trip wires. Small explosions blasted both animals back. I encased them in ice, keeping my eye out for more threats.

“Those wolves are from Lionel and Bartholomew’s dimension. What’s going on here?” Lilith followed the tire tracks.

“Someone with a grudge against them?” I guessed, walking behind her.

“Let’s see where these lead. I’m sure it’s a trap though,” Lilith said.

The tire tracks led all the way up to a large house, bigger in size than all the rest. Probably the residence of whoever was in charge here. Still no sign of the actual vehicle though.

“That’s definitely a trap for sure,” I said, pointing at the wide open door.

“Yeah, but- we have to run, now!” Lilith ran off, pulling me away from the house.

A huge explosion occurred behind us, leveling the entire building. Lilith and I watched it crumble down, rubble flying in multiple directions. An armored vehicle was flipped over, catching on fire. How did we miss that before?
“Shoot, I’m too late,” a voice commented behind us.

Lilith grabbed the person by their neck and her wires surrounded them. I noticed a badge on their belt. The insignia on it was a helix wrapping around a sword blade framed in a magic circle. This… was from Kisai’s dimension?

“Calm down, I come in peace. You’re uh, the gals from Tess’ squad, aren’t you?” the woman pointed at her coat pocket.

Lilith gestured at me and I reached into her pocket. Pulling out an ID case, I flipped it open, showing the interior to Lilith. She stared at it in silence, relaxing her grip, before finally releasing the woman. She dropped to the ground, coughing in pain.

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“Inspector Enterprise, what brings you here?” Lilith helped the woman back up to her feet.

“Tomo Yuki, I recognize you from the pictures. And you are… Lilith!” Inspector Enterprise shouted out in excitement.

“Please answer my question!” Lilith glared at her, irritated by the lack of an answer.

“Since you gals know Tess, I can tell you what I’m here for,” she answered, removing a manila folder from the inside of her coat.

She handed it over to Lilith and stared at the burning building. Oh yeah, that was still happening. I doused the entire area with water, extinguishing all of the flames. Inspector Enterprise clapped her hands and then slid downward to inspect the rubble.
“Hey, be careful!” I watched her walk around the explosion site, peering at various piles of rubble with interest.

She dismissed with a wave of her hand. Lilith finished going through the content in the folder and walked over to my side. She handed me the folder, staring down at Inspector Enterprise.

“We can trust her?” I scanned the documents inside.

“All the signatures, stamps, and seals appear official. It would be pretty impressive if it was all forgeries,” Lilith replied, stretching her hand out to pull the woman back up.

“I’m part of a joint investigation involving multiple agencies. You gals know the Special Investigations Unit pretty well so need for any explanations there. I’m part of internal affairs in *, working with the Mage Association and Knight’s Guild. Probably doesn’t mean anything to you now that I really think about it,” Inspector Enterprise explained.

“You know Kisai then?” I asked.

“Oh Jin, yeah, I’ve worked with him a few times. Anyways, someone’s trying to retrieve Artifact pieces and use them for-,” she replied before reaching for her gun.  

The rubble beneath us shook before rising into the air. Broken bricks, bent steel bars, burnt plastic, and other destroyed items from the house merged into a monstrous blob. What the hell was this? Inspector Enterprise inserted a magazine into her handgun before firing multiple shots at it. I expected her bullets to bounce off but they actually broke chunks off of it. She took a deep breath and then ran forward, leaping on top of it. I glanced over at Lilith, not sure if we should help or not.

“Let’s go, Tomo,” Lilith said and joined the woman up on top of the enemy.

Alright, I guess that was the plan. I floated upward, avoiding the junk that it spit out at me. Inspector Enterprise sprayed shots into the enemy with her submachine gun, removing large chunks from it. Those parts plummeted below us, striking houses and leaving huge dents in the ground. Lilith placed her hand down onto it, causing violent explosions. At this point, I might as well sit back and let those two handle everything. But, I should do my part too. I summoned my sword, charging it up, before slamming it into the blob. I leaped back, releasing the large amounts of magical energy stored inside it. Three minutes later, we broke apart the blob and destroyed the core.

“Any idea what the hell that was?” I surveyed the damage.

“Animate magic, probably a powerful magic user. The expenses report is going to be a hassle!” Inspector Enterprise lamented, burying her face into her hands.

I sure hoped everyone in the village evacuated because houses were on fire, buildings in shambles, the ground ripped up, and rubble scatted everywhere. Lilith closed her eyes, shaking her head with disappointment, probably directed at herself.

“Thanks for the help! It was a blast working with you gals! I’m sure you know by now that the Artifact piece is no longer here. Don’t worry about this place! Our people will handle everything! Better luck next time!” Inspector Enterprise dashed off.

“Guess we should head back, Tomo,” Lilith decided.

“Yeah,” I agreed.

We rode the horse back before returning back to the Crossroads. Tess and Jacque were talking in the lobby. I noticed a couple of scratches on the artist’s face. Weird, I thought he was just observing fights, not actually participating in them.

“I’ve received a report from the SIU about what occurred. It’s unfortunate someone arrived there before you. Tomo, you’re free to go. Lilith, we’ll discuss the situation in a private room,” Tess dismissed me.

“Jacque, what happened to you?” I walked with him toward the return portal.

“People got kinda crazy about the fight and there was a brawl. Being me, I got f***** up,” the artist revealed.

“That… does sound like you,” I said.

“Yeah, at least nothing happened to my hand. I’d really be f***** for my project if that happened,” Jacque responded.

I returned home, curious about who was responsible for what happened In the village. Inspector Enterprise believed the culprit was from Kisai’s dimension, but there had to be more to in than that. After all, she was part of a joint investigation involving multiple dimensions. Was it possible that the masked woman Mirei met was responsible?

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