“Welcome to the 11th Division of the Stellar Foundation. Jin, you simply must stop by more now that impending disaster is coming,” a shrill voice greeted us.
I glanced downward and saw a short man waving at us. From my estimates, he was barely four feet. He tapped the floor with his cane and two nearby researchers sprinted over to him. They lifted him up into the air so the man was now above our eye level. This must be the person who communicated with us during our ride here.
“Wish I could but the Stellar Foundation doesn’t like me too much for some reason. So, how ‘bout you just hand over all your data and we’ll call it good?” Kisai demanded, staring up at the man with a grin.
“Of course, of course! I honor all my promises but as you know, all of you must do something for me first. I really would love to install monitoring devices on all the heroes just to get more precise data. Unfortunately, the Gatekeeper is not as accommodating as I expected. She’s a tough one to get anything past,” he responded, pointing his cane at Kisai.
“Sure, I’d love to wreck all your training dummies,” Kisai agreed.
“No no no! Not training dummies, my dear test subject, but actual flesh and blood sparring partners for all of you to fight. If you must, demolish the dummies as a warm-up, but I seek more valuable data than that,” he revealed, raising both arms into the air with elation.
“Professor Q, the 2nd Division requests that you allow them access to the exhibition battles occurring today!” a lab researcher saluted the man before handing him a sealed manila envelope.
“Throw this away! They will not have any data from me until I’ve analyzed it myself. Tell those fools that they will get it when I decide it is time!” Professor Q tossed the envelope to the ground in disgust.
His contribution to the Stellar Foundation must be enormous if they were willing to put up with his poor attitude. I wanted to literally knock him down from his high pedestal right now.
“Um, well… they’re actually already here,” the messenger revealed, bowing his head in apology.
“What! Preposterous, how could you let those small-minded buffoons inside our sacred ground? Worker #45, you are now demoted to Temporary Test Subject #20 for at least a week!” Professor Q shouted, jabbing his cane in the direction of the messenger.
“Enough with your little outbursts, Q. You’ve always been selfish with your projects. I would have fired you a long time ago but your contributions are critical to the Stellar Foundation,” a tall man entered the room, flanked by two people in blue lab coats.
“Bah, always interrupting me at inopportune times! Know this, you may have breached my territory but you will not gain anything useful, 2nd Division Leader,” Professor Q stated.
Just what was going on here? I didn’t expect so much friction between Stellar Foundation members. Kisai only smiled as the two leaders of their respective divisions continued quarreling.
“Jin, don’t expect us to give up anything important. You’ll have to go through proper protocols if you want anything related to our new devices,” the 2nd Division leader said, glaring at Kisai.
“Whatever you say, man. So, we ready to do this or not?” Jin looked up at Professor Q.
“You stay out of this, Codex! Don’t even dare follow me!” Professor Q poked the shoulder of the person carrying him.
The two researchers carrying Professor Q departed, walking east. Despite his warning, the 2nd Divsion leader trailed us. We were now in a large open room, neon light strips running across the floor. The two researchers set Professor Q back onto the ground and he waddled over to a complicated control panel.
“What’s the deal with those two?” I asked Kisai.
“They’re both responsible for R&D. Starting to see why?” Kisai replied, not providing in-depth details.
“Sort of, that’s really a pain in the ass to deal with. They ever get into an actual fight?” I wondered.
“Never saw anything like that when I visit. Don’t think they’re the type of people to get physical,” Kisai answered, shaking his head.
“Test Subject #04, you’re up first!” Professor Q ordered over the intercom system.
Zhuyu, no emotion on his face, stepped into the main battlefield. He summoned his sheathed sword in his right hand, waiting for the opponent. A masked person, wearing a glowing band around their covered forehead, descended from the ceiling.
“Activate the system and provide me my valuable data!” Professor Q explained.
Zhuyu took one step forward and arrived at the opponent’s backside. He jammed the sword hilt into their neck before leaping back. Sparks appeared in the air and then two bolts of lightning traveled towards the masked individual. However, a barrier appeared around his opponent, nullifying the zero vector user’s attack.
The math major ran straight at the barrier, lowering his shoulder. I saw the faint outline of a turtle shell as he shattered the barrier upon collision. Zhuyu slammed his left palm into the opponent’s back and knocked them down. With one stomp, the hero shattered the band around their forehead. He pulled his sword out and plunged the tip of it centimeters away from their neck. The ground shook and the floor underneath his opponent broke, plunging them underground.
“So, did Zhuyu just win?” I glanced over at Kuan and Kisai.
“Yeah, too easy,” Kuan answered.
“Damn, Long too good,” Kisai confirmed.
“The data was all wrong for this! Test Subject #04, you’ve piqued my interest. I will make sure there is a challenge for you next time. Test Subject #03, it is now your turn,” Professor Q decided.
“Listen, I already warned you about this already. I’m not doing anything until you say my name!” I stormed over to Professor Q’s location.
The two researchers, who lifted him up, blocked me from reaching the man. You’re not even a threat to me! I activated a portal and bypassed them with ease. Professor Q, caught off guard by my maneuver, fell out of his chair.
“Test Subject #03, I am a man of peace. Violence will not resolve anything,” he stuttered, pointing his cane at me.
“Just say my damn name and I’ll play your dumb game. I’ll start breaking things if you don’t say it in the next three seconds,” I threatened.
“Very well, for the sake of my data, I will utter your name. Tomo Yuki. Does that satisfy you?” he said with resignation.
“Thank you. If I ever hear you refer to me as “Test Subject #04” or anything similar, I’m aiming for your head next time,” I warned, entering the battlefield.
“Bring in the-” Professor Q commanded before Codex banged on the glass partition. “-Excuse me but I am in the middle of an experiment! You will not fluster me with this childish antic of interrupting me!”
“Shut your mouth, you imbecile. Forget about that weak piece of trash you’re sending in. I want in for this one,” Codex said.
“Ignoring the fact that you called my temporary test subjects trash, I’m willing to entertain your proposition. But I want a few things in return from you. Te-, no, Tomo Yuki, please exit the battlefield. I must negotiate with the 2nd Division leader,” Professor Q ordered, beckoning for Codex to enter.
I returned to the spectator area, intrigued but also wary of this new development. Codex was tall but didn’t have the aura of a skilled fighter. But as always, outward appearances weren’t an indication of what someone was capable of. And it was a little concerning he wanted to specifically fight me.
“Super popular as always, Yuki,” Kisai commented with a smile.
“Don’t even start with me on that, Kisai. So, what can you tell me about Codex?” I questioned.
“No idea, never saw him fight. Must be decent if he’s willing to fight you,” Kisai replied.
“Hold on, that doesn’t seem right. If he has no combat experience, why would he do this?” I glanced over at the two division leaders who were still discussing terms.
“Probably wants to see how he can improve it. He’s in R&D, right? Wants to be better than Q,” Kuan replied.
“I guess but isn’t it a huge risk though?” I pointed out.
“Codex is confident enough that he’ll avoid serious injury and he’s worked long enough with Professor Q to know the device’s potential. Be careful, Yuki,” Zhuyu warned, staring at Codex’s associates.
“Great, now you’re making me all worried about this,” I said with a sigh.
“Kuan, you think they’ll make a move?” Zhuyu gestured toward Codex’s associates.
“Probably,” Kuan answered with a nod.
“Xi, be ready if they make a move. Hopefully, it doesn’t come to that,” Zhuyu said, looking up the ceiling with concern.
Xi clenched her fists and nodded. That only made me worry more. Thanks a lot, Zhuyu. The two division leaders finally finished speaking and Codex walked towards me.
“Miss Tomo, whenever you are ready,” Codex said before heading over to the battlefield.
“You got this, Yuki, beat his ass,” Kisai encouraged me, shooting a finger gun at the man.
“Good luck!” Xi clapped her hands for me.
I joined Codex in the battlefield. He offered his hand out for a handshake. Hell no, I’m not falling for that.
“You may begin. Provide me with precious data!” Professor Q announced.
I scanned his body for a device but found nothing. Damn, I hoped to end the fight by just dismantling it but that wasn’t an option right now. Fine, time for a closer look. I teleported over to his backside, ready to bash his neck with my electrified baton. A strong gust of wind pushed me backwards and blocked me from advancing towards him. Sakura petals suddenly swirled around my body, obscuring my vision, and trapping me inside. I opened up a portal to escape the vertex but it immediately fizzled out. Just great, another opponent capable of blocking my convenient escape strategies. Time to just brute force my way out of this!
“Miss Tomo, are the sakura petals to your liking?” Codex projected his voice into my head.
Not gonna respond to anything you say. I summoned Mirror’s Rend and engulfed my blade in flames. I swung twice, setting all the petals ablaze, and then fired them away from me. My line of sight was clear but the 2nd Division leader was nowhere in sight. Of course, why did I even expect him to remain in the same spot as before? I stomped my left foot on the ground and encased the entire battlefield in in ice. Time to turn down the temperature!
“Miss Tomo, what a harsh environment for plants. A change in environment is needed,” Codex decided, still invisible to me.
All my ice melted, flooding the area with water. I leaped into the air and converted all the excess water into burning steam. Two could play that game! I sensed a presence below me and avoided the gaping mouth of a large Venus flytrap. Oh come on! I floated in the air, seeing the entire floor covered in them. Still no sign of Codex anywhere either.
I focused on one in the center and increased the gravity around it. This dragged all the other plants to it, creating an ugly clump in the center of the battlefield. I hurled Mirror’s Rend into the base of the clump and then detonated the stored magic inside it. A huge explosion obliterated the Venus flytrap stack and Codex emerged from the smoke. Sweat poured from his forehead and he clutched his frostbitten hand in pain.
“The Gatekeeper is lucky to have someone like you,” he commented and weakly pointed his left finger at me.
Vines, adorned with sharp spikes, shot out from the ground around me. Really, we’re doing this again? I stomped my right foot and countered with flame pillars, burning them to a crisp. I sped towards Codex with En’s electrical powers and trapped him in a choke hold. He passed out in five seconds, crumpling to the ground. Well, that was easy. I was used to much more resistance than this.
“My goodness, did you kill him?” Professor Q exited his control booth and checked in on his associate.
“Nah, he’s fine,” Kisai replied, poking Codex’s forehead.
Codex’s eyes shot open and he stared at me for five seconds before scooting away in shock. He glanced over at Professor Q and then back at me.
“Did it work?” he asked, rubbing his neck.
“It did. I can’t wait to dive into the data!” Professor Q nodded in excitement.
I looked over at the spectator area and saw Kuan pointing both his guns at Codex’s associate. Zhuyu stood behind them, hands in his pockets. Uh, what the hell happened while I was fighting Codex?
“Stand down, you have no hopes of beating them,” Codex ordered.
“It’s time for a short break. I will return in fifteen minutes. Codex, let’s get that chip out of you too. Jin, you and the other valuable te-, uh, comrades will remain here,” Professor Q directed and then departed with the rest of the Stellar Foundation employees.