Volume 14, Chapter 31: Break-In

“You sure it’s safe to split up?” I questioned Shan in the training facility.

“Tess’ orders. She wants Jacque to fight. Something about unlocking his true skills,” the gravity manipulator replied.

“No Ichaival today?” I noticed.

“He’s busy with something. Jacque should be here in a few. I’ll go with Ksi to the capital and see what we can find. You’ll go to the Central Node with Jacque. Lyra told us that there’s a disturbance in one of the networking sections. Probably dangerous so you guys will handle that,” Shan explained.

 The artist, empty-handed, arrived ten minutes later. Was this part of the Gatekeeper’s plan? I didn’t understand his powers at all. The only sure thing was that he could transform into a rock. All the other times, his success rate was usually a coin flip.

“Yo, sorry for being late,” he said.

“You’re here and that’s already better than Darryl. Let’s go!” Shan said.

Za’ard: Central Node, Section Z-13

“Did Tess tell you anything special?” I asked as we waded through an underground passageway.

“Nah, to be honest, half of what she said went over my head. Just something about focusing on enemies and manipulating it like a digital image,” he answered.

“S***, that’s uh…. kind of hard to do, right?” I asked.

“Yeah, I have no idea. F*** my life,” Jacque admitted, shaking his head.

Even with my flames, the area was still dark. Just the sound of our footsteps and the occasional electronic buzzing. Jacque looked at my hand and a look of inspiration appeared on his face.

“I got it!” the man shouted.

“Enemies?” I exclaimed, startled by his sudden epiphany.

“I’m starting to get what Tess was trying to tell me,” he explained.

“Cool, I guess?” I was still confused.

“Check this out,” Jacque said.

Our surroundings turned bright. I extinguished my flame and it remained that way.

“You did this?” I asked.

“Yeah. Just adjusted the contrast and brightness,” Jacque answered.  

“That’s super useful. Hopefully, you’ll figure more things out,” I complimented.

 We reached a large circular vault gate. A blinking panel was situated next to it. An adhesive was pasted on the platform base, marked with “DANGER”. I summoned my grimoire and unlocked the gate. It creaked open slowly, revealing another passageway leading to a metal door. I approached the door, finding another notice. This one read “CONTAINMENT”.

“S***, we about to fight?” Jacque commented.

“Looks like it,” I answered, unlocking the door.

We walked through and the door slammed shut behind us. Jacque glanced back with a resigned look on his face. We weren’t leaving until we dealt with whatever was in here. The artist brightened the room to reveal a large assortment of dormant plants.

“Let’s burn this place up!” I figured out the optimal method of incineration.

I designated several plants as markers and unleashed my flame chain. My flames spread and burned through most of them. I stepped back and hacked at those unaffected by my fire. Jacque stared upward and pointed at something.

“What the hell?” I rolled away from the new enemy.

An orc, carrying a battle axe, descended. He destroyed all the plants and snuffed out my flames too. After his rampage, the orc slammed his weapon into the ground, staring at Jacque. For once, I wasn’t the target. He snarled at the man and pulled his weapon up.

“Both of you will die here!” he declared.

Guess it didn’t matter who he looked at. I stepped in front of Jacque and parried his axe swing with Mirror’s Rend. I accelerated forward using En’s powers and pushed him back. He was too strong and knocked away my sword. Jacque stared at the orc’s weapon and pulled out his mechanical pencil. He drew in the air and the orc’s weapon vanished from his hands, clattering onto the ground.

“Jacque, great timing!” I took advantage of the situation.

I teleported the axe into the orc’s chest. He stared downward in confusion. Jacque closed his eyes and clicked his mechanical pencil. Five seconds later, he pointed at the weapon with his writing utensil. An exact copy of the axe embedded in the orc’s body appeared on the ground next to me. Perfect, time for another portal! The second axe struck him in the back and he stumbled around, stunned by our actions.

“What… is…. this madness?” he cried out, ripping out both axes from his body.

 Despite his injuries, the orc swung his weapons with ease. He aimed for the artist. I constructed an ice wall, protecting the man. Jacque heaved a sigh of relief. The orc threw down his weapons, swinging his large fist at me. I repelled his attack with En’s electrical elemental and leaped over him, shooting multiple blades at him through a portal. I fired off a small bolt of compressed electricity at my blades, paralyzing the orc. He collapsed to the ground, knocked unconscious.

“I think it’s over,” I said.

“Thanks for the save. I would have been pretty f*****,” Jacque said.

“Jacque, how did you do all of that?” I pointed at the bloodied axes on the ground.

“It just came to me. Is it supposed to happen like that?” the man asked.  

“Sometimes? Pretty sure it happens differently for everyone. Who cares though? You figured out some pretty nice skills. Tess should be satisfied,” I replied.

I heard static through my earpiece and saw an incoming call from Shan on my watch display. I moved out of the room and accepted the call.

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“Yuki, you guys still alive?” Shan joked.

“Yeah. Jacque surprisingly helped out a lot,” I answered.

“You serious? You gotta tell us all about it when we meet back up. I’ve sent the location to your watches already,” Shan said.

Za’ard: Zaard, Capital City, Zone C-11

 “Damn, you’re moving up, Jacque. You turning into a rock was just to make our opponents feel insecure so you can hit them with that real power,” Shan complimented after seeing a demonstration of his new powers.

“Pretty sure I’m still bad, Shigetzu,” Jacque denied.

“Are you done playing around?” Ksi cut in, staring both men down.

“Oh yeah, serious business. We managed to locate a part for this,” Shan said, pulling out the watch Chief Helix handed him.

“What’s so special about it?” I questioned.

“This is my ultimate weapon. It’s what allows me to morph weapons,” Shan answered, pocketing the item.

“You must have picked this place because we’re close?” I guessed.

“Apparently, it’s stored in a local museum,” Shan revealed.

“I don’t like where this is heading,” I predicted.

 “I don’t agree with what we’ll do but it originally belonged to Shan. More accurately, Lyra,” Ksi confirmed my suspicions.

“Hold on, what are you talking about?” Jacque stared at everyone with a lost look.

“We robbing the place,” Shan said with a small grin.

“I knew it,” I said with a sigh.

“Man, why do we do such shady things all the time?” Jacque lamented.

“I mean, it’s not that bad. Like Ksi said, it belongs to us. We already talked to the officials there and they’re not willing to hand it over even with proper documentation,” Shan explained.

“That sucks,” Jacque commented.

The plan was to sneak in during nighttime. Ksi would remain outside, serving as the watchdog, making sure no one saw us enter or leave. Thanks to Jacque’s new powers, he could create a copy of the part, and leave it there to avoid suspicion. Shan, familiar with the museum layout, would accompany Jacque inside. I would be on standby, near Ksi, cleaning up any potential messes.

 “Hold on, I can transport us out of there. Why not have me go inside with you?” I brought up.

“Easier to leave if anything comes up with just two people. Besides, the museum has an anti-magic field set up for powers like Darryl’s. We could disable it but I rather not take that risk. We’ll go old school for this one,” Shan disclosed.

I didn’t agree but he knew the place better than I did. Shan showed us a map of the nearby area and marked important places nearby. He pointed out potential buildings optimal for hiding out in. I scribbled down all the relevant coordinates in my grimoire. This plan sounded good but I had a bad feeling something would happen.

Za’ard: Museum Exterior

Shan and Jacque entered through a backdoor. Ksi, staring at her watch, sat on a bench outside the front entrance. Peaceful for now. The capital city differed from other parts of the dimension. It was cleaner with standing buildings and a clear sky. I could see stars here too. I stretched and heard Ksi’s voice through my communicator.

“Tomo, possible hostiles heading your way,” she warned.

I teleported myself to the top of the building. Three people, clothed in sanitation uniforms, walked toward the dumpster. They placed massive silver, cubic containers onto a cart. Two of them pulled the containers away while one remained behind. That person climbed into the dumpster and vanished. I updated Ksi on the situation and peeked at the waste container. Nobody inside. However, I felt a strong magical energy emanating from it.

Summoning my grimoire, I analyzed the magic. Teleportation-based, different from Ichaival’s portals. The destination was inside the museum. S***, someone else was inside with Shan and Jacque now. I notified Ksi about my discovery before contacting Shan.

   “Shan, someone just warped in. I don’t know where exactly,” I reported.

“I’ll keep an eye out. Keep monitoring the area,” Shan said.

Two men descended from the building rooftop. They concealed their presences so well that I didn’t even notice them. Both wore gas masks and carried firearms with suppressors. One fired multiple shots at me. All his bullets clattered to the ground after applying Zhuyu’s vector power. He glared at me and fired again. I avoided his attack and teleported behind him. His shots struck his ally instead. I ripped off the man’s gas mask and applied Kyoi’s patented neck hold. Within seconds, he fell unconscious.

His ally, protected by a bulletproof vest, pulled up his sleeve and revealed a silver bracelet. It was a similar model to the one Lieutenant Anion wore. He fired off several shots, each imbued with a different elemental. I sliced them down with Mirror’s Rend and kicked his knee before driving him into the wall. His gas mask tilted to the side and fell off. The man wobbled around, and I picked up his handgun, pistol-whipping him in the head. He stared at me in surprise before crumpling to the ground.

“As expected, you didn’t need my help,” Ksi commented, arriving on the scene.

“Anything happen with those two that left?” I asked.

“No, they loaded up the trash into their van and drove away. They’ll come back later and pick up the one that went inside,” Ksi predicted. 

“Want to switch?” I suggested.

“No, you stay here in case anything happens,” Ksi replied.

I nodded and deposited the two unconscious men into the dumpster. Deciding to play it safe, I added a multi-layered lock on the container, ensuring they couldn’t escape. I contacted Shan again but received no response.  

“Shan, you there?” I tried again.

 I inspected my watch but saw no emergency messages. If Shan didn’t answer, maybe Jacque would. No luck there either. Were they just in the middle of something and couldn’t pick up? After two minutes, there was crackling, and Shan finally responded.

“Sorry about that. We just made the exchange. Returning right now,” Shan informed me.

“Great. Just to let you know, there’s a group of people working a heist on the museum. You see anything suspicious?” I updated him.

“I noticed a few paintings and displays missing. Not our problem right now. We’ll deal with it only if they get in our way,” Shan decided.

 Shan and Jacque emerged from the backdoor several minutes later. As they walked toward me, I repelled them backwards. I teleported the burning explosive away before heaving a sigh of relief.

“What the hell?” Jacque stared at the burnt ground.

“I guess it’s our problem now,” I said, glancing over at Shan.

“Wish it wasn’t,” Shan responded.

Four gas-masked assailants confronted us. Shan stopped their movement with his powers and pointed at me. I shot off a small spark which paralyzed all of them. Shan knocked out all four with spinning kicks. More trash for the dumpster.

“Let’s meet back up with Ksi,” Shan directed.

We rushed to the museum front entrance. Ksi stood there, watching a fight between Rev and another gas mask individual. However, this person was no grunt, most likely the leader.

“What happened?” Shan inquired.

“I took care of some trash and their boss showed up. Before I could fight them, Rev appeared and asked to take care of it. I let him since he was really serious,” Ksi revealed.

Rev dodged his opponent’s punch before leaping over them. He jammed his baton end into their back, triggering an electric shock. They collapsed to the ground, stunned, but recovered a few seconds later. I noticed a silver bracelet on their wrist. They accelerated, punching the SIU officer in the face and then aimed for his stomach. Rev blocked at the last moment, knocking them back. He pulled out thin metal stakes from his belt, aiming for his adversary’s arm.

Rev’s opponent stomped the ground, a piece of concrete flying into their hands. They swung it at him and struck his jaw. He slid underneath their next attack, jamming stakes into their shin. There was a shrill beep and his foe collapsed, clutching their head in pain. Smoke poured out from their silver bracelet when it caught on fire.

The SIU officer pulled out a canister, spraying its contents onto their wrist, extinguishing the flame. He pulled out a syringe from his pouch, injecting them with it. The man removed their gas mask with care, revealing a sleeping woman.

“Rev, what are you doing here?” I walked toward him.

“The gang’s all here!” he glanced up after taking a photo of the woman’s face.

“What’s up with her?” I questioned.

“A suspect, part of the group that I’ve been investigating. You see the tattoo on her neck?” Rev pointed out. “Shan, you know who she’s part of.”

“I didn’t know they were still at large,” Shan said, glancing at the symbol.

“Not as big but still a threat. They’ve been searching for parts to make an exact replica of the one that messed this place up. We can’t afford to have another Crossroads,” Rev explained.

“I know. Are they working with anyone?” Shan asked.

“Not that we know of. If you find anything, contact us. I’ll be around too. You can find me at the hotel in the main district,” Rev answered, handcuffing the woman.

Another man, a SIU badge clipped to his belt, joined Rev. He gave us a respectful nod before assisting with the transfer of their suspect. Another Crossroads? The situation was getting pretty dire.

“Now what?” I asked Shan.

“We got one part. That’s enough for today. You guys can head back. I want to talk to Lyra about something,” Shan informed us, a serious look on his face.

 Cafe D.C.

 Ksi invited me to a cafe to review our last mission. Jacque, swamped with art homework, couldn’t make it.

“What are your thoughts on Rev, Tomo?” Ksi questioned, sipping her tea.

“He’s a weirdo. Still, he’s a Special Investigations Unit officer so he knows what’s he’s talking about. How much do you know about what’s happening?” I asked.

“I’ve been briefed by Shan and went over the records at our place. That group was quite powerful. They’ll keep getting in our way since they hold Shan and Ichaival responsible for their leader’s death,” Ksi replied.

“Pretty similar story for everyone. Jacque and I ran into an orc at the Central Node. I don’t know his allegiances but if that group contacted a few more rogue orcs, that’s annoying,” I said.

“We’ll see how much trouble they’ll cause us. Tensions still exist between the orcs and regular inhabitants. It’s an issue while recovering parts for Shan. The Central Node employees are also untrustworthy. We should come up with a backup in case they shut us out,” Ksi suggested.

“Yeah, makes sense,” I agreed.

We exchanged more information before leaving. Was there a way to access the mainframe even if they shut us out? This was right up Yukie’s alley. Too bad I couldn’t exactly share any of it with her.

Sunday Summer Quarter 2016 Week 0

I walked home from the nearby convenience store, carrying a bag of various snacks Mom requested. I didn’t want to drive and walked to the closest store even if the prices were slightly higher. Nearing my house, I saw Ichaival jogging towards me. He lived about fifteen or twenty minutes away from me. But, there was a bike and walking trail that connected his neighborhood to mine. I’m surprised I didn’t run into him more often.

“Training or just doing some running?” I placed my bag of food down on my porch steps.

“Just running, try to do it every day if I can. I’m heading to the gym later. So this is where you live, huh?” Ichaival paused to chat with me.

“How are you feeling after getting your Kali sticks back?” I pulled out a packet of fruit candies from the bag.

“Feels nice to be at full power again,” Ichaival answered, wiping off the sweat from his forehead with a towel.

“Good to hear,” I responded, walking up my steps.

“Hey, before you go, you hear anything about Long?” Ichaival questioned.

“Just that he’s taking a break and providing support for us on future missions. You should know better than I do, right?” I turned back to face him.

“You talk with Tess and everything so maybe she told you something I didn’t know yet,” Ichaival explained.

“Nope, she’s just as secretive as ever,” I said.

“Can’t really do anything about that. I’ll see you later!” Ichaival jogged off.

I handed Mom the bag and spun around in my office chair. I should look for a part time job. The experience would help later on. I turned my computer on as someone knocked on my door.

“Come in, it’s unlocked,” I said.

Yukie walked in, wearing a work apron over her normal clothes. A pair of goggles rested on top of her head. A pair of gloves stuck out from her left back pocket. Damn, she was in her full work gear.

“What’s going on, Yukie?” I asked.

“Auntie wanted me to check in on you,” my cousin replied.

“Oh, I was just going looking for part time summer jobs. What have you been doing?” I asked.

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“Finishing up a project. I’ve been doing something similar to an apprenticeship, working at a metal shop,” she answered.

“Oh cool. Let Mom know that I’m fine,” I nodded, amazed by her skill.

“Of course!” Yukie nodded and left my room.

As expected, the choices were limited for someone with no experience. I wrote down a few appealing ones and submitted my information to them.

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