Winter Break 2016 Week 1 Sunday
“Tomo, please wake up,” a voice said, arousing me from my sleep.
I opened my eyes at the sound of the voice but could not see clearly the person beside my bed. Was it Mom? No, it couldn’t be. It was the weekend so she should still be sleeping. As I blinked and finally made out who it was, I shot up straight from my bed.
“Wha…Tess, what are you doing here?” I asked, staring at the woman.
Tess, her usual flat expression, just stared back. She wore the same jacket from when she tutored me and held a silver spoon in her right hand. In her left hand, I saw a bowl full of the geometric shaped cereal.
“I came to wake you up. We’re going to figure out what your power is today,” Tess replied with her usual calm voice.
“No, Tess, you…uh forget it. Why so early though? We don’t have school for three more weeks so why not pick a weekday?” I asked, glancing over at my clock.
It flashed 8 AM and I just shook my head. Damn it, all that potential for more sleep lost because of Tess. Tess scooped cereal into her mouth, just watching me.
“I’ve been wondering, but how did you get in here?” I asked.
“Your parents were kind enough to let me in,” Tess answered.
“Uh, my parents? They should be asleep right now,” I remarked.
“Your dad was awake. I think he’s working on something right now,” Tess revealed.
Yeah, Tess was right. My dad sometimes woke up early in the mornings on Sundays to work on a top secret project. Sighing for the third time this morning, I changed as Tess waited outside.
I heard the crunch of the cereal and wondered about Tess’ food. Was the cereal really that good or did she just have no other choice?
“Alright, I’m ready,” I said, opening the door.
“Will you eat breakfast before heading out?” Tess asked, her bowl
now empty and the silver spoon in it.
“I think I’ll grab something unless you’re gonna give me food,” I joked.
“Oh, one more thing, Tomo. You should probably change into more comfortable clothes. Preferably, ones that you don’t mind getting damaged,” Tess warned.
“What? What’s gonna happen exactly?” I asked.
“We’ll just run a few tests. And you probably want to be able to move in your clothes,” Tess replied.
I nodded and re-entered my room. I changed into a pair of black, sleek track pants and threw on an athletic long sleeve, pullover shirt. This should be fine. I exited my room for the second time and Tess nodded at my clothing choice.
After grabbing a breakfast sandwich, I headed out with Tess. The drive took about fifteen minutes and we arrived at a parking lot. There was a building in the distance, about the size of a school gym.
“We’re running the tests here?” I asked, pointing at the building.
“Yes, a specially designed facility that I oversaw myself during the remodeling process,” Tess explained.
Renovation? Tess certainly was not hurting in the financial department either. I saw two other cars parked near Tess’ vehicle. One was an older model four door silver Japanese car and the other was a red SUV. Was everyone not here yet?
“Tess, I only see two cars. Are the others here yet?” I asked, pointing at the parked cars.
“Probably not. I did tell everyone they should be here by ten,” Tess responded.
“Wait, wait. Why are we here so early? I could have slept more!” I shouted.
“Tomo, calm down. We should be here early. I wanted to test out a few things,” Tess dismissed my complaint.
At the entrance, Tess pulled out a key card from her back pocket and slid it across the card reader on the side of the wall. I heard a small beep and Tess pulled open the glass door. I followed her inside and looked around.
Inside, there was a medium sized reception area with expensive looking couches and round glass coffee tables. Behind the oak receptionist desk, I saw four office chairs. On the wall behind the receptionist desk, gold letters spelled out “SHAKAI FITNESS”.
“Is this a gym? What’s going on here, Tess?” I asked, amazed by the interior.
“Felicity’s relatives run a variety of businesses. This was originally intended to be a training ground for athletes but I convinced her to lend it to me,” Tess replied.
The end of her response intrigued me, but I didn’t pry further. Also, the word “Shakai” interested me. That along with Konoe should lead me somewhere.
I followed Tess and we arrived at a door. Tess slid her key card again, revealing a set of stairs leading further down. Why did things have to be so complicated?
“Let’s head down. I believe people should already be down there,” Tess ordered.
We walked down the stairs and arrived at a large room with various training equipment. Kyoi swung her sword at targets. She noticed us and put away her blade.
“Tess, you’ve brought the guest of honor here,” Kyoi remarked, giving me a scary smile.
“Would you like to help me right now?” Tess asked.
No, no, no. This was not how I envisioned my morning. Not only did Tess wake me up at eight but now I would have to deal with Kyoi too? Things were getting out of hand way too fast.
“I would be pleased to, Tess. If I may borrow one of your phrases, I’m feeling like a 95 today against Tomo,” Kyoi said.
“Oh that’s good! Tomo, I hope you’re at that same level as well. Or else Feng will be a difficult opponent for you,” Tess remarked.
That doesn’t help, Tess. I sighed and looked at Kyoi. She wore a black leather coat with two breast pockets and a belt. I really did not want to face her, but with no alternative opponents, I had no choice at all.
“This is just a test. Focus on dodging Kyoi’s attacks. I’ll be monitoring your condition and recording data. I’ll intervene if needed,” Tess assured me.
I pulled out the pendant from underneath my shirt and saw it shake as Tess set up the battle area. Kyoi’s eyes were filled with deadly intent, mirroring an excited predator hunting down weak prey. I shuddered and clutched my pendant.
“Feng, you can begin. Don’t hurt Tomo too much,” Tess signaled.
What? Did Tess just give Kyoi the okay for hurting me? Oh no. Kyoi charged at me before I could dwell on it any further. Her sword tip came straight at my right arm. Run. That’s right, I ran like I never ran before.
Kyoi caught up with me each time I dashed away. Her sword sliced at either my arm or legs. Her blade made contact with my clothes four times. I felt the pain but saw no physical damage to my clothing. So that’s how things worked then. I started understanding how these alternate dimensions and weapons functioned.
Ten minutes later, my stamina ran out. I collapsed to the floor, gasping for breath. Tess stood by, doing nothing. Come on, Tess, help me out! Kyoi raised her sword for the final blow. I then came to a realization. Maybe I knew it all along but things became clear. I mustered up what little strength I still had and executed my plan.
“Okay, you’ve finally made things interesting,” Kyoi commented.
Her sword clashed against another blade. This other blade I referred to was in my right hand. Kyoi pulled her sword back and I returned back to my feet.
“Alright, let’s see how well your blade will last,” Kyoi shouted, a warped sense of cheerfulness emanating from her voice.
With just one hit, my blade shattered. Kyoi swung her sword again and I sensed this might actually hurt. Kyoi’s sword paused mid-air though as if someone froze time. I blinked and saw Zhuyu standing next to Tess.
“Feng, calm down already. Do you want to kill Tomo that badly?” he asked, lowering his right hand.
“Long. You’ve finally showed up. And you’ve brought Zhang as well. Fine, I’ll lay off of Tomo for now. But you know that she’ll need battle experience as fast as possible,” Kyoi ended her statement with a warning.
“Of course, I’m sure we all know that. Tomo, how are you feeling?” Zhuyu asked, looking over at me.
I fell to my knees, drained of all strength. Tess tossed me a bottle of water which I downed right away. I stood up and found myself unsteady. Tess led me over to a bench. Zhuyu and his friend were on the other side of the room talking to Kyoi.
“I did not know it would take this much out of me,” I confessed.
“Don’t worry, it happens when you go up against Feng. I obtained good data about your powers. I have a rough idea of what you can do. Still, I require more data before confirming it,” Tess explained, the ring of keys jangling as she moved.
“I’ve been wondering about this for awhile but if Kyoi is ranked number two then who’s number one?” I asked, looking over at the overpowered woman.
“That is a difficult matter. It is a long story, one that is not important at the moment,” Tess replied.
Her answer resulted in even more questions. But based on her response, I could tell she would not divulge any further information. Well, that was fine, I would learn more about it later. Supported by Tess, I walked over toward Zhuyu.
“Tomo, it looks like you’re recovering. That’s good,” Zhuyu noticed.
“As much as I can,” I said.
“Oh, that’s right. You’ve seen him before but I haven’t properly introduced him yet. Tomo, this is my good friend, En Zhang. I’ve known him since elementary school,” Zhuyu introduced, pointing at him.
“Hello. You’re Tomo Yuki, right?” En said, his voice much softer than the others I met so far.
“Yeah. Nice to meet you, En,” I replied.
En wore a tattered white hoodie with an eagle design on the front. I saw a grey T-shirt underneath. His hoodie was pretty beat up, especially with its frayed sleeves and loose threads sticking out. He wore blue jeans with worn sneakers.
He had rather long hair which dropped down below his ear and part of it almost covered up his right eye. The man also wore a pair of simple modern black glasses. Overall, he seemed much more reserved and calmer than the other people I met so far. Still, his short height stood out. I estimated him to be around 5’ 3″ or to be really generous 5’ 4″.
“How long have you been around these guys?” I asked En.
“About the same time as Long. I went to the same high school as him,” En revealed.
“Oh okay. So, when’s everyone else going to get here?” I asked Tess.
“They might not even show up. It’s up to them,” Tess responded.
“So what else do you want me to do?” I asked.
“I think we’ll wait and see if more people arrive. I want to test you in different kind of situations,” Tess replied.
I nodded and sat down again. I observed the people present in the room while drinking another bottle of water. Zhuyu and En were discussing something while Kyoi went off somewhere. Tess stared at a tablet, flicking through various images on it.
Were these people really heroes? Judging from their current appearances and what little I knew of them, they didn’t seem like it. Well, maybe Kyoi but she gave more of a villainous aura than a hero. If possible, I would avoid facing her in any type of battle in the future.
“Tomo, can I see your grimoire?” Tess asked.
“You mean the thing that corrupted Ichizen and you gave to me for safekeeping?” I replied.
“Yes,” Tess nodded.
“I put it somewhere on my bookcase since it freaks me out. Not exactly good memories with that thing,” I replied.
“I understand your sentiments, but it is a powerful tool. You can summon it though,” Tess pointed out.
“How do I do that?” I asked, not sure how to actually do it.
“Just visualize it in your mind and it should arrive,” Tess gave directions.
I nodded, following her directions. I looked at my hands, picturing it in my mind. As Tess said, the grimoire appeared in my hand. Tess took it from my hand, flipping through the pages at a rapid pace.
“It appears that you are making progress,” Tess remarked, handing the grimoire back to me.
“I don’t exactly know how you determined that, but I’ll take your word for it,” I said, placing the grimoire on the bench.
“I’m the Gatekeeper after all, it’s my job,” Tess answered.
A lot of mystery surrounding Tess. Her parents made cereal by hand. She scored ridiculously high on exams and held an important role. I wanted to find out more about her. But it looked like I would have to wait a long time before I could hope to achieve the level of friendship that she and Felicity had.
When it was 11:00, a few more people came in. Ichaival limped in with Shan behind him. It looked like his injuries from the meeting still had not healed fully yet. Kyoi still had not returned and while I was scared, I was wondering where she went off to.
“That’s the max participants we’ll have today,“ Tess declared, sitting next to me.
“Aren’t we missing people?” I asked.
“It matters not. I’m interested in your response when facing Darryl in battle. That should provide enough information for me to evaluate the true extent of your powers,” Tess replied.
“Isn’t he injured? Is it okay for me to go against him?” I asked, looking over at Ichaival.
“Ichaival just has nagging pain, nothing too bad. He hasn’t broken a bone. In his current state, he shouldn’t rely on physical abilities,” Tess explained.
“I’m still skeptical about this. Is he okay with fighting me?” I asked one more time.
“I’m more interested in seeing how you’ll respond to his portals. He doesn’t need to place any strain on his legs for that,” Tess responded.
“I’ll take your word for it,” I finally conceded.
I headed toward Ichaival. Shan poked him in the shoulder and Ichaival lost his balance. Was this really going to be okay? If Tess said it was fine, I guess I didn’t really have a valid reason for arguing against it. She knew everyone the best after all.
Synopsis: Somewhere in the universe, there was an altar. On it, laid a bloody eye as big as the sun itself. It burst with light and bathed the entire star system in red.
"The aura of an ancestral artifact!" Someone's voice rose in surprise.
The Great Galactic Era had begun.