Zhuyu took one step forward, pulling his sword out of its sheath. I blinked and the hero appeared behind the person responsible for the shots. The zero vector user slashed their hand, sparks of electricity emanating from his weapon. The enemy clutched their burnt hand in pain, blood spilling out from where the hero’s electrified blade made contact. With a swift kick, Zhuyu then pinned them down to the ground with his powers. During all of this, our opponents unleashed a barrage of bullets at the math major but none of their shots landed.
“My turn!” Kisai declared, snapping his fingers with a huge grin.
Their bullets, suspended in the air, all exploded with a large bang. Smoke filled the battleground, obscuring everyone’s vision. Come on, give me a heads up when you do that! I detected movement near me and froze the ground to stop them. There was a ringing clang as metallic objects collided. Shoot, was that Xi? I already failed at preventing them from breaching my assigned spot. Once things were clear, Xi still stood near the door, untouched. An enemy, a large dent present on their helmet, was unconscious on the floor. Xi gave me a confident nod. I bent down and yanked the Stellar Foundation device off of their combat vest. I destroyed it with several stomps before assessing the situation that the boys were in.
“Ho-, you gotta stop doing that!” I stepped back in surprise after Zhuyu appeared in front of me without a word.
The hero gave no response, focused on two major fights. Two enemies remained, each locked up with Kisai and Kuan respectively. The rest of them were sprawled out on the ground, six feet in front of him. Did Zhuyu take them all down? I needed time to get used to this since I was so accustomed to the man playing a defensive role instead of an offensive one.
“Yuki, cover Xi,” he ordered before dashing toward Kuan.
A mechanical creature, resembling a spider with its eight steel legs, crawled towards her. I shattered it into pieces with my baton. However, its broken parts all converged and it reformed into a wolf. It lunged at Xi but crashed into my ice wall instead. I’m not letting you get off that easy! I trapped it in a cube of ice, hoping it wouldn’t regenerate inside. For now, the situation was contained.
Kuan dodged his opponent’s gunfire and then tossed a grenade at them from his belt. Instead of an explosive, it released tiny, glowing aerosols into the air. The Stellar Foundation device attached to the enemy’s weapon beeped and then exploded. Kuan fired three shots from his handgun. The first two bullets struck the enemy’s legs, forcing them to the ground. His third bullet unleashed a thick wire that coiled around their body.
Kisai and his opponent were evenly matched, both of them manipulating magic to change weapons. The hero swung his mace but the enemy countered with a shield. At the last second, the mace transformed into a whip that wrapped around the shield. Kisai disintegrated the opponent’s shield, infusing his weapon with it, and then pointed his left finger at them. A flash of light occurred and then thousands of magical daggers surrounded the enemy in all directions.
“Kinda sucks that you came all this way and didn’t get to see Darryl. This is close enough except that I’m much better at it!” Kisai boasted before all the daggers pierced the enemy’s body.
His opponent cried out in agony before fainting. Kisai bent down, removing their Stellar Foundation device from their belt. He flipped it over and stared at if for a few seconds before pocketing the device. He nodded at Xi before glancing over at me.
”Pretty easy, right?” he smiled at me.
“I expected a tough fight after the last one involving these devices,” I admitted, collapsing into a nearby seat with relief.
“Could have been if these weren’t outsiders,” Kuan revealed, examining the intruder’s uniforms.
“You noticed too, huh? These people were for hire, Za’ard natives looking for some revenge against our popular friend, Darryl,” Kisai elaborated, checking the identification Kuan handed over.
“Xi, good job back there. You really saved me when those three had me surrounded,” Zhuyu thanked the defensive hero, giving her a slight smile.
Whoa, this was getting too weird for me! Of course the zero vector user was capable of showing emotion but this side of him was so rare. Wait, maybe it was more common than I thought. I really didn’t work with him on too many missions but this clashed so much with his usual personality.
“Yo, you trying to make a move on Xi? Feng’s gonna kill you,” Kisai remarked as he slapped his friend’s shoulder before laughing.
Xi shook her head vigorously. Leave it to Kisai to be so fearless and give voice to my thoughts. Kyoi probably was aware of this already so I’m sure Zhuyu wasn’t in trouble. Besides, the math major wasn’t that bold.
Ten minutes later, the plane finally landed. When we disembarked, three uniformed men stood outside. Oh, the Specials Investigations Unit, and their boss was here too. Captain Maka, was it?
“We’re here to take them into custody,” Captain Maka said, gesturing at the plane interior.
“They’re all yours,” Kisai agreed, stepping aside to let the three men enter the aircraft.
“Miss Tomo, Tess has told me great things about you. I hope to spar with you again soon,” the SIU leader praised me before pulling out a thin, rectangular device from his vest pocket.
“Captain! We’ve secured all six suspects,” one of his subordinates reported.
“Now, it’s about time that I get some testimony from everyone before you all visit the Stellar Foundation headquarters,” Captain Maka decided, walking over to Kuan first.
After recording all of our eyewitness accounts, Captain Maka and his two officers departed with the six Za’ard natives in custody. I didn’t see any other aircraft beside ours so how did they even arrive here in the first place?
“They have a direct connection here from the Crossroads if you were wondering,” Kuan revealed.
“I kind of figured. Must be special if we can’t use it,” I deduced.
“The SIU has all kinds of connections. Their network is huge,” Kuan elaborated, shielding his eyes from the bright sun.
“I’ll stay here, Jin. Don’t want to mess with any of the Stellar Foundation folk.’Sides, I’m better off here anyways, making sure they don’t screw up the plane,” the pilot informed him.
Kisai nodded and tossed a small metallic box over to her. She caught in in her left hand and cracked it open, taking a peek inside, before closing the aircraft door.
“What was that?” I asked Kisai as we traveled through the checkpoint.
“Just in case anything happens. The Stellar Foundation isn’t like the Knight’s Guild or Mage’s Association, you know,” Kisai provided a cryptic answer.
After we were vetted by the autonomous security system, all of us were led to a waiting terminal outside. A fancy limo pulled up and the doors opened. Inside, I saw no driver in the front, just an array of bright panels. Cameras were mounted everywhere, swiveling every few seconds. An orb of light darted towards Kisai and then a disembodied voice spoke from it.
“You want the key so let’s not make things complicated. We want data and you’re one of the best sources. Unlike those two squabbling groups, I really don’t care about your seal. Truth be told, I would just let you go to the main attraction but those aren’t the rules,” a distorted voice said.
“Sure,” Kisai agreed, placing his finger on the orb.
“Your friends must participate too! Especially the Gatekeeper’s pet project,” the voice continued, floating over to me.
“Hey, I have a name, it’s Tomo Yuki!” I slapped the orb of light and it evaporated.
“Sorry ‘bout that. If they’re just after data, they won’t do anything dumb. This is a good chance for you, Yuki. I want to see just how powerful their devices can get,” Kisai apologized and then struck the paneling separating us from the front with his fist.
The orb of light appeared again and floated back to its original position. It remained silent, changing different colors. Kisai sighed and flicked it with his right hand.
“Now I’m really curious to see what Test Subject #03 can do. Even at a distance, I can tell she has an enormous magic reservoir. There just might be something useful coming out of this collaboration after all,” it gushed, dashing back and forth with excitement.
“Listen, if you don’t start calling me by my name, we’re gonna have a problem,” I warned, glaring at the orb of light.
“Hmm, I guess I can make that concession. Test Subject #04 is different than the original reports. Have you gotten stronger maybe? Or…,” the orb agreed before circling around Zhuyu’s head.
Zhuyu materialized his sword and pulled it out. A streak of lightning struck the orb before he cleaved it in half with his blade. The residual magic gathered into the hero’s blade, giving it a minor shine.
“Damn, I was gonna shoot it,” Kuan remarked, putting his handgun away.
“So what’s the deal with that thing?” I questioned, really pissed off by it.
“That’s the Stellar Foundation’s messenger, their version of a familiar. They designed it to be especially annoying,” Kisai explained.
“Is the actual person that annoying too?” I was ready to punch their face.
“Eh, I’ll let you decide when you meet them,” Kisai answered.
I tried glancing out the window but blackout shades prevented me from seeing anything. Great, I couldn’t even get a view of what the floating city actually looked like. The vehicle eventually stopped and the doors opened. I stepped out and saw five large towers looming above us. This put Felicity’s family ‘s company headquarters to shame.
An actual human exited the front entrance and bowed at us. He opened the door, motioning for us to all enter. We then boarded an elevator and traveled up to the twentieth floor. From there, we crossed a skybridge to a different tower and rode another elevator downward to the 11th floor this time. We were now in a bustling laboratory, people clad in lab coats staring at screens and tinkering with machinery.