Volume 13, Chapter 8: A “Peaceful” Shrine

“What does it say?” Zhuyu peered over En’s shoulder.

“Straight,” En replied, holding it up.

We departed the village, walking alongside a calm river. A couple of boats passed by and its occupants waved at us. Most carried fishing rods and nets. After awhile, a pagoda appeared in the distance.

“Four floors. We’ll cover the first two today,” Zhuy explained once we were close to the base.

“What is this place?” I peered upward.

“It’s a shrine dedicated to nature. When the previous king ruled, he closed off this entire area because of the rich amount of magical energy. He wanted to pipe it into bigger cities for certain experiments,” Zhuyu elaborated.

The dim lighting inside generated a spooky atmosphere. Sheets of paper fluttered around on the ceiling. Faded brush characters were on them, along with crude drawings. Was this floor full of people’s wishes?

“This area has so much magical energy,” I commented.

“People’s wishes are here. You’ve figured it out by now. Every time someone makes a wish, it boosts the overall reservoir already present,” Zhuyu confirmed.

“Any enemies?” I asked.

“Maybe. The last time I was here, we were on the run from authorities. That’s a story for another day. You might find some cool things in here though. The first floor is full of people’s wishes so there might some kind of guardian,” Zhuyu replied.

All the windows were shut and I saw no possible source of wind. How the hell were the papers moving around? Oh wait, magic That was idiotic of me.

“Long, slow down, stop going so fast!” En warned.

The math major listened to his advice and halted suddenly. He glanced backward at his friend before staring forward at something. En followed his gaze and immediately summoned his katana. An enemy already?

“Shui and Tomo, go to the second floor. Zhang and I will handle this,” Zhuyu instructed.

“Wait, I can handle whatever’s down here!” I argued.

“No, this is personal! Leave it to us!” Zhuyu shook his head with a quick glare.

“Ugh… fine!” I followed Shui as he bounded up the stairs.

I glanced back and saw a figure wearing a white cape. I was curious why Zhuyu was so forceful. This was one of the rare times I ever saw the man like this. He usually didn’t display much emotion at all.

We finally arrived on the second floor. I got there first with Shui right behind me. As soon as his feet left the last steps of the staircase, it vanished. Of course!

“Great,” I muttered, staring at the solid floor.

“That sucks. I’m sure we’ll find some way back down. For now, Long and Zhang left me directions on what to do here,” Shui said.

He handed me a stack of note cards containing Zhuyu’s handwriting. I perused them and learned the second floor contained offerings from visitors. The lighting here was bright enough to actually see my surroundings. Empty glass bottles and wilted flowers were scattered on the floor. I smelled fresh incense burning and glanced over at Shui. He shook his head in response. Someone was here before us? There shouldn’t be any visitors according to Zhuyu.

“Tomo, see anything that might help us?” Shui inspected the bundles of flowers.

“Not really, stay on guard. Someone is definitely here,” I answered.

Upon closer inspection, various trinkets adorned the top of desks and tables. No doors or windows in sight, just a wide open floor. Were we just stuck here until Zhuyu and En finished fighting on the first floor?

A pleasant smell, distinct from the incense, suddenly filled the room. Shui created an ice wall right away. A man, wearing yellow robes, shattered it with a single poke from his finger. Shui leaped back and then filled the room with a thick steam.

“Tomo, sneak attack!” Shui directed.

I arrived at our opponent’s backside, stabbing a flaming blade downward at him. The steam suddenly vanished and he was no longer there. I pivoted and saw piece of paper flying towards me. I set it ablaze before teleporting next to Shui.

Icicles shot up from the floor, piercing the man’s body. However, it was just a substitute as Shui’s attack ripped the yellow robe apart. I scanned the room, searching for his position.

“Up there!” Shui pointed upward.

I fired off a weak bolt of compressed magic towards the ceiling. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw movement and directed Shui towards it. He unleashed a shower of hail but nothing was there. All of a sudden, Shui was down on the ground. A glowing piece of paper was stuck to his back.

“Give up and leave! You are not welcome. We must protect the holy sword!” I heard a booming voice.

Shui remained motionless on the ground so I would have to do this myself. A piece of paper shot towards me. In response, I fired off a blank round of compressed magic. Alright, time for you to come out! I saw movement again but wasn’t fooled this time. I amplified Shan’s gravitational powers using En’s electric charge.

“You…,” the robed man collapsed to the ground with a thud.

“Remove it from him!” I shouted, pointing at Shui.

The piece of paper dissipated, allowing the hero to move again. Shui encased the man in ice. I set up a ring of pulsating electricity around our opponent just in case he tried anything.

“You won’t be able to….,” the robed man shouted before his eyes widened.

I glanced behind me and saw Zhuyu and En. Zhuyu raised his left hand in the air as a greeting along with a slight grin. Perfect timing!

“Zhang, show Tomo your cool move,” Zhuyu directed.

“Don’t listen to him. It’s not cool at all,” En refuted.

He carved a crude circle with his blade outside my flickering ring. En then lit it up with a small flame as the entire circumference glowed with a golden tint.

“He can trap enemies within this ring of flames as long as the circle isn’t disturbed. Unless the person inside has crazy magic of course,” Zhuyu revealed.

“Must protect holy sword. Must protect holy sword,” the man repeated with a deranged look.

The ice imprisoning him burst. I rushed forward but only saw a pile of clothes on the floor. En’s flames died out, leaving behind scorch marks.

“There’s a note for you, Zhang,” Zhuyu commented, pulling out a note card from the robe pockets.

“What was that thing?” I watched Zhuyu hand the card over to his friend.

“Animator. Someone who brings inanimate objects to life. That’s annoying to deal with. I want to talk to Fei before we do anything else. Sorry to drag you out here for no reason, Tomo,” Zhuyu decided.

“Long, we gotta talk later,” En said with a serious expression, pointing at the card.

“Yeah, I know. We should let Fei know too,” Zhuyu responded.

“What’s going on?” I inquired.

“A little something from my good friend’s past. You don’t have to worry about it for now, Tomo,” Zhuyu replied.

“You know that just makes me more curious. Whatever, you’re always like this. Shui, know anything about it?” I glanced over at the water elemental user.

“Nope. I’m sure Long will tell you next time,” Shui assured me.

We returned to the village, encountering no enemies on our way back. Zhuyu revealed nothing about the enemy he and En fought on the first floor. I knew better than to ask after what happened. But, things were finally coming together now. For the past seven or eight months, my excursions into the other dimensions lacked focus other than to gain experience. Now, all the heroes were following a solid plan of action.

Monday Spring Quarter 2016 Week 8

“Yuki, you okay?” Felicity noticed me wince when I stood up after chemistry class ended.

“Uh, just a little tired after coming back from training on Saturday. I’ll be fine after a few days of rest,” I answered.

“You sure? I really think you should talk to Tess. I don’t want you pushing yourself if something is really wrong,” Felicity suggested with a worried look.

“Maybe. I’ll text her right now and see when she’s free to meet up,” I said, taking out my phone.

We went our separate ways since Felicity already scheduled a study session with her classmates for a different class. I didn’t have class yet so I walked towards the usual spot, the student lounge. It was a habit now ever since meeting the heroes back in autumn quarter.

When I arrived, only Jacque was there. He wore earphones, staring down at the table with anguish and sadness. I greeted him and the artist acknowledged my arrival with a slight nod. Looked like he had a bad weekend. Or maybe it was just normal considering it was Jacque after all.

“Something bad happen over the weekend?” I felt my grip weaken while setting my backpack on the ground.

“Uh, just the usual. Should have started on a project sooner but waited until the last minute. You think I would have learned by now, it’s almost the end of sophomore year,” Jacque revealed with a hollow laugh.

“Yeah, I get how it is. You didn’t get enough sleep then?” I questioned.

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“Yep. I don’t know, it’s one of those weird things. I wasn’t really tired when I took the train here. But once you’re on it, it just hits you. I just want to sleep,” Jacque replied.

“I know that feeling. You do anything fun over the weekend besides your project?” I sipped water from my water bottle.

Before he could answer, Tess appeared in the empty seat next to mine. Weird, I couldn’t remember a single time she visited or sat with the rest of the heroes here.

“Fel informed me you might be suffering side effects from your adventure over the weekend,” Tess said.

“Yeah, I feel more tired than normal. Probably because I used so many different types of powers at once. You don’t think anything is wrong, right? I wanted to go back with Zhuyu and En tomorrow to pick up my sword from Zhurong and help with the retrieval of En’s weapon,” I answered.

“I am unsure until I run diagnostic tests. Hold still, Tomo, and look at me directly in the eyes. Jacque, please restrain Tomo if necessary,” Tess instructed, grabbing my shoulder.

Her sudden movement resulted in some initial pain but it dissipated. As I stared into the Gatekeeper’s eyes, I felt my surroundings wavering. This sensation resembled the initial set-up of a mind dive. Wait, was Tess doing something similar? Soon, everything turned dark.

“Tomo, Tomo!” someone shook my shoulders.

I opened my eyes and saw Jacque. What just happened? I blinked and didn’t see Tess anywhere.

“Tess said nothing’s wrong. Something about your body adapting to you using your powers more. She left a couple of minutes ago for a meeting. Sorry about shaking you,” Jacque explained.

Good to know nothing was wrong. Jacque pulled out his sketchbook, doodling inside. Thirty minutes passed since I first sat down. I was out for at least a good twenty minutes. I yawned and planned on sleeping earlier today. After all, I had to go back and fight tomorrow.

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