Volume 14, Chapter 14: The Third Key (II)

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“Hey Jin, what can I get for you today?” a worker greeted him.

“Anyone come in looking for this stuff?” Kisai showed him a list of items.

“Let me check in with the boss. Feel free to grab some snacks and drinks over there,” the worker said, dashing away.

Shan poured tea into three cups, offering them to us. It was bitter at first but then mellowed out into a refreshing taste. This was the go-to place for purchasing rare items required for difficult rituals. Kisai was a frequent customer in the past and knew the owner.
“Jin, someone’s coming for us,” Shan said, tossing his empty cup into a garbage can and glanced upward at the ceiling with concern.

“How strong?” Kisai continued drinking his tea without worry.

“Three incoming hostiles. One of them will be a challenge for you, Jin. Yuki and I can handle the other two,” Shan reported.

“Too easy. Hey, tell someone inside to set up an area barrier,” Kisai ordered.

The worker from before nodded and dashed into the back. A magical circle expanded out from underneath Kisai’s feet, covering a radius of twenty feet. Three people, wearing ninja masks, burst through the ceiling but were dragged into Kisai’s circle. Two of them were immediately expelled out of it, landing near Shan and me.

“Yuki, which one do you want?” Shan leaped into the air.

“Doesn’t matter, I’ll take the one closest to me,” I replied.

Shan nodded and stomped his opponent through the floor. A huge gaping hole was left behind as they fought beneath us. I shot a fire beam at my opponent. They leaped to their left but I broke my beam up into small flame orbs. My orbs pelted the enemy’s back, setting them ablaze. My opponent crossed their pointer and middle finger. They extinguished the flames and hurled pointed stones at me. I created an ice wall to block their projectiles but the stones converged in the air. They combined into a three pronged claw that trapped me in its grasp.

“Crush her!” the opponent balled their left hand into a fist.

Hell no! I teleported out of the claw with a portal and sliced up the claw into pieces with Mirror’s Rend. After absorbing the magical energy into my blade, I dashed towards the enemy and aimed for their right leg. I missed but launched a blast of magic stored within my blade. The explosion knocked them to the ground and I plunged the tip of my sword into their stomach. Releasing all of the stored magic, I removed my blade and leaped away. Another explosion launched them into the air as rock shards pierced their legs.

“S***!” I realized the one in the air was just a substitute.

I turned around and the opponent slammed the palm of their left hand into my stomach. The impact sent me crashing into the wall and forced me to dissipate my sword. Damn, I was too careless. My lack of attention to their magic flow was a huge mistake. I stood back up, legs wobbling, and noticed an irregularity in my magic flow. F***, this was the worst! They used manipulation techniques similar to Kisai’s.

“Is that all you’re capable of?” the opponent clapped their hands together.

It was possible to restore my magic flow back to its normal state but I was scared to do it myself. Kisai taught me the basics but one incorrect move could disable my magic for the duration of the battle. S***, what to do? Hold on, it was risky but time for a gamble! I summoned Mirror’s Rend again and plunged the blade into my stomach. I coughed out blood, grimacing in pain.

“You’ve given up already? What a disappointment,” the opponent stated and shook their head.

“I’m just getting started,” I disagreed and yanked my sword out.

My enemy narrowed their eyes, surprised by my recovery. Definitely needed to thank Kisai for teaching me those blood magic tricks. I appeared at their backside and stabbed two arrow tips into their neck. They slumped to the ground, paralyzed and poisoned.

The ground underneath me shook and a large stone fist struck my stomach. I adjusted my gravity and stopped myself from colliding with the ceiling. The stone fist opened up and chopped at me, leaving behind deep indentations as it narrowly missed each time. I tried changing its gravity but something blocked me. I fired an ice blast but my attempt at freezing it failed too.

“I’m down but you won’t get out of it that easy!” my opponent snickered at me.

I ignored their remark and leaped onto the stone fist. Sharp rock protrusions shot out from the surface of the fist. I leaped into the air, floating above it. S***, this thing was well protected. I observed it, trying to discover a pattern, but gleaned nothing useful. As I weaved around in the air, the stone fist finally caught me, squeezing me in its tight grasp. I escaped with a portal, arriving back on the ground. Time to just try all the different elements at this point.

Summoning Mirror’s Rend, I infused the blade with electricity and flew at the stone fist. Dodging its punches, I attacked but my blade bounced off of its surface, not even damaging it. I dispelled my sword and performed a jumping side kick, flames surrounding my feet. My kick broke through its rocky protrusions but didn’t scratch the surface. I rebounded off of it and fired a compressed bolt of magic. The stone fist’s defenses didn’t treat the bolt as a threat and it struck the pointer finger.

Once it made contact, electricity surged through the entire fist, causing it to plummet from the air. The stone fist headed straight for Kisai and his opponent but its trajectory suddenly changed. Must be the hero’s magical circle’s influence. The stone fist spun around three times before careening towards me. I teleported out of its way and saw Shan appear from the hole he created earlier in the fight.

“Yuki!” he hurled an ear piece at me before disappearing back into the hole again.

I placed it into my left ear and heard static before the gravity manipulator’s voice came through. The stone fist convulsed on the ground before flying back up into the air.

“There’s three weak points, Yuki. First, go for its pointer finger and then the middle finger. The last spot is the palm. I’ll let you know how close you are when you get there,” Shan directed, sounds of rapid kicks in the background.

“How do you know all of this?” I traveled upward once more.

“It’s just my powers. I can see weak spots on opponents and analyze them. Think Tess told you all about it when you met us for the first time,” Shan replied as a large thud occurred in his vicinity.

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“Now you decide to use them, Shan, really? That could have been really useful when I worked with you on past missions!” I grasped the stone fist’s pointer finger and snapped it off.

“Never really needed to since you were fine without it,” Shan explained.

“Of course that was the reason!” I froze the stone fist’s middle finger and stomped on it.

The middle finger broke off, striking the ground and landed next to the pointer finger. I flipped over and hovered upside down, staring at the fist’s rough palm.

“Shan, where do I hit it?” I gathered magical energy into my fists.

“You see the place where the M-shape crosses with the H-shape? Somewhere around there should be enough,” Shan instructed, his audio cutting off near the end.

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I launched a layered magical punch, the exterior of it water and the interior electrical, into the indicated area. Golden cracks appeared throughout the stone fist and then bursts of electricity shot out from it. Five seconds later, the stone fist crumbled, disintegrating into faint magical residue.

“We got a real boss right here,” Shan congratulated, standing next to me now.

“I don’t think so. I heard you wailing on them with kicks,” I disagreed, trapping my opponent in a block of ice.

“Shigetzu’s right, Yuki. Good job out there,” Kisai said, exiting his magical circle.

“You had an easy time,” Shan commented, glancing over at Kisai’s unconscious opponent.

“Nah, they were actually strong. If it was easy, I could have helped Yuki out in her fight,” Kisai denied, pulling out his map.

“Is it safe yet?” the worker who greeted us earlier poked his head in from behind a curtain.

“Yep, you’re back in business. Did you find anything about the stuff I showed you?” Kisai peered at his map and crossed out locations on it.

“The boss has a location for you,” the worker replied, handing him a slip of paper.

Kisai cross-referenced the location with his map. He thanked the worker and scribbled coordinates.

“Let’s go. The key should be here,” Kisai instructed.

Meridian Lake – Suspected Ritual Spot

“The water here is so beautiful! I can’t believe they would pick a place like this,” I said, admiring the sunset in the sky.

“Yeah. This your first time in a boat, Yuki?” Kisai adjusted the speed of the watercraft with his magic.

“I’ve been fishing with Ichizen before but this thing is way faster!” I stretched my hand out towards the water.

“Cool, I wanna try one day,” Kisai mused as we neared a coastline.

“It’s really fun! We should all do it once everything is over,” I agreed.

“Jin, how many people are we expecting?” Shan grabbed a pair of binoculars. 

“They need at least four people for the ritual,” the magic user replied.

“Yuki, sense any weird magic?” Shan lowered his binoculars.

I closed my eyes for five seconds and shook my head. Kisai docked the boat and we all jumped out. A powerful magic flow swirled around the highest point of the island. It was vile, hard for me to observe without feeling ill.

“S***,” Kuan commented, removing his glasses and stared at the ground.

“Damn, they’ve already started! Yuki, use your grimoire to take us up there!” Kisai directed.

My grimoire appeared in my left hand and multiple pages shuffled back and forth as it locked onto the location. Ten seconds later, the magical tome took us to the ritual location. Four robed individuals, standing in a magical circle drawn with blood, raised their arms in the air. I didn’t’ sense anyone else besides them. In the center of the circle was a simple key. I stepped forward but was repelled by a barrier. Kisai extended his hand out and shattered the barrier. All four vagabond mages lowered their arms and stared at us with lifeless eyes.

“Just coming to get something that’s mine!” Kisai avoided the magic blasts flying towards him and retrieved the final key. “I’m kicking the purple hood’s ass first!”

I turned around as the crimson hooded mage appeared behind me. I summoned Mirror’s Rend, at least I tried to, but the blade didn’t appear. This again! My opponent waved their staff at me and we both appeared at the island base near the boat.

I launched a line of flames at my opponent but they vanished. Multiple lightning strikes zapped me as the mage floated in the air above me. I launched myself upward and missed them by inches. By then, they were back on the ground, pointing their staff at me. Traveling back down would take up too much time. I opened up a portal but nothing appeared. Come on! The same pattern played out over the next minute as I failed to land a single hit on the opponent. S***, this was the same as facing Ichaival except I couldn’t neutralize their teleportation method.

“We know all about you! You’re powerless without everything at your disposal!” the mage shouted.

Time to reevaluate the situation. Was it their staff or an innate power that allowed them to teleport everywhere? I hoped it was the staff, easier to take care of than finding a way to stop them from using their powers. But if it wasn’t the staff, I still needed to find a way to shift the battle in my favor. Wait, if I could limit the amount of space available for them to travel in, then their powers were less effective. How could I box them in with my current powers? Hold on, a literal box was possible. The only issue was creating it without them realizing my intent.

“Already given up? I won’t feel sorry for finishing you off then!” the mage appeared at my backside.

Perfect! I trapped him in place with Shan’s gravity powers. Next was a nested layer of ice cubes surrounding the mage. This was a huge gamble but even if they managed to break out of all one hundred layers, it would exhaust their magic supply. The final touch was gravity and En’s electrical powers, forcing them to always travel within the ice. When I finished, I dropped down to one knee, feeling drowsy. S***, I was an easy target now if another enemy appeared.

“I’m impressed, Yuki. Nice thinking,” Kisai complimented, rapping his knuckles against the ice.

“Yeah, that’s an interesting way to use my powers. Getting really creative here, Tess will really like this thing,” Shan said, staring at my ice prison.

Two minutes later,  a helicopter descended down and four SIU agents exited the aircraft. They took the vagabond mages into custody, leaving us alone on the island.

“We’re storming their place right now,” Kisai decided, holding all three keys.

“F*** no!” Shan headed towards the boat. 

“Yeah, gotta talk to Tess first. She’d destroy me if I actually went right now. Let’s go home,” Kisai said, entering the boat with a smile.

I felt terrible during the boat ride back. Despite that, I was proud of my accomplishments today. I was looking forward to seeing what would await us at the real fortress.

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