I headed toward the dining room, interested in what Tess was doing there. I hadn’t really seen Tess outside of school. Even outside of the school, Tess’ personality remained the same. I wondered if I would see another side of her at this party. I felt there was more to Tess than her flat, robotic personality. Walking into the dining room, I heard cheers and shouts.
“Tess is too good. I swear, no one can beat her at this point,” I heard someone say.
I saw Tess by herself on one side of the table and two other people on the opposite. I didn’t know their names, but they cried out as Tess held a ping pong ball in her hand. With one smooth flick of her wrist, the ball traveled straight into the red cup with a plop. Tess, no visible signs of happiness or excitement, nodded at her achievement.
“Damn it, Tess, this is your tenth win already! You need to go easy on people,” one of them complained as they drank from the cup.
Looking for a familiar face, I saw Zhuyu and Shan standing near a large box of water bottles. Shan had a bottle of water in his right hand, half of it almost gone. Zhuyu also held a bottle in his hand, three fourths of it gone.
“What’s going on here?” I asked the two.
“I think Felicity might have already told you. Beer pong with substitute drinks if necessary,” Zhuyu replied, finishing the water in the bottle.
“Oh, that. What’s been going on with Tess?” I asked.
“Complete domination,” Shan answered.
“Huh? What do you mean by that?” I asked for clarification.
“Tess has won all of her games without any help from a partner,” Zhuyu revealed.
Tess’ skill spanned even those not related to school? There had to be a limit on what she could do. I saw Shan point at the table and Zhuyu nodded. The two walked up, replacing the losers of the last game.
An audible murmur filled the room, the mood changing as well. One filled with expectation. Ko shouted out and took out her phone. Was Zhuyu and Shan’s participation in this game that exciting? I watched closely as the game began.
“Tess, would you like to go first?” Zhuyu asked.
“It doesn’t matter. I’ll let you go first,” Tess replied.
Zhuyu nodded and caught the ball as Tess tossed it over. He rubbed it and then stared at the table. With a calm look in his eyes, but a serious expression, he threw the ping pong ball down. With one bounce on the surface, it flew in the air and then landed in the red cup. There was silence as the ball landed and then shouts of excitement.
“Oh dang, it landed in. Man, this is unfair. You have two of the smartest kids here,” someone said.
“Did you see that? There was almost no effort. One soft bounce and it just went in,” another person commented.
Three cups on the bottom, two in the middle, and one at the top. I looked at the contents in the cup and saw a light brown liquid. I assumed it was beer. Tess drank without emotion and then held the ping pong ball in her hand. With the same flick as last time, the ball sailed over and landed in the top cup.
Zhuyu reached out to grab the cup but Shan shook his head. After drinking it, Shan had a disgusted look on his face and handed the ball over to Zhuyu. Zhuyu once again threw the ball and with one bounce again landed in the lower left bottom corner cup on Tess’ side.
“Two in a row. They might just beat Tess. Yes, we can be saved from her dominance,” someone said with a sigh of relief.
Tess unfazed, drank from the cup and then stared at the table. I noticed a shift in her eyes. She suddenly looked serious, much more so than usual. With one toss, the ball landed in the right cup on the bottom. Zhuyu took the ball out and then chugged the alcohol from the cup.
The level of excitement grew in the room. He offered it to Shan but the gravity manipulator shook his head. Zhuyu nodded and then with the same soft toss, the ball bounced. It hit the side of the cup and then rolled down. Zhuyu and Shan high-fived, their victory over Tess secured.
“They did it! They did it! Tess’ winning streak is broken!” people shouted.
“Man, they must be cheating using those math and physics skills. Not that I care, Tess was too much of a beast and I’m glad she’s out,” another person said.
“Too good! Too good!” another person complimented.
Tess stared at the table. How would she react? There was a fleeting moment of surprise on her face, but it vanished. That was the first one I witnessed something like that before. So she was capable of such expressions too. Tess walked away and the next challenger was up.
I felt someone grab my hand and Ko dragged me up. What was this? I never gave my consent. Please, let go of it already! Damn it, I wasn’t ready!
“Yuki, don’t worry! This is the chance of a lifetime. I have to face off against Zhuyu!” she declared, her face already a little flushed.
“Uh, Ko, are you okay? I mean..,” I started.
“I am just fine! Let’s go and we’ll do this!” Ko confirmed.
I didn’t have much of a choice. I stared across the table, checking the expressions on our opponents’ faces. Zhuyu and Shan had smiles on their faces fresh off their victory. Seeing their smiles, I wanted to beat them. Maybe it was because I lost to them during the training battles. I looked into Ko’s eyes and she nodded with understanding.
“We’ll go first!” I declared pointing at the ball on our side.
“Okay,” Zhuyu simply said, ignoring the hostility and determination in my voice.
I glanced over at Ko who gave Zhuyu and Shan a serious glare. How should I approach this? Could I pull off what Tess did and do a basketball shot? Or should I just bounce it on the table and hope it just went in? There weren’t many options so I went with the latter.
If Zhuyu could pull off something like that then I should too. Throwing it on the table, the ping pong ball bounced but missed the middle cup by a few inches. Damn, I should have applied some more power.
“It’s okay. I’m feeling it now. We got this, Yuki!” Ko encouraged.
For the first time, Shan threw the ball. He looked at the table surface and then hurled it to the left. It bounded up and then landed in the center cup. I sighed, disbelief on my face. Really? Not only Zhuyu, but Shan now too.
I reached out for the cup but Ko was too fast. Her right hand slapped mine away. She adjusted her glasses and gave me a thumbs up.
“I’ll handle this, Yuki,” Ko decided and picked up the ball.
Ko held the ball up in the air and then threw it down with a thud. It skyrocketed up into the air and hit the edge of upper cup. For a moment, I thought it would go in but it rolled on the table missing its target.
Damn, this was not looking good at all. Based on the pace Zhuyu and Shan were going at, we would lose at this rate. Shan picked up the ball from the table and looked at the cups. This time, he flung it to the right. I held my breath as it nearly went into middle left cup. However, it missed and bounced onto the floor.
Good, we still had a chance then. I picked up the ball from the floor and aimed for the upper cup. It was the closest one so it should be an easy shot. I threw the ball right in the middle and with a short bounce, it plopped right in. Zhuyu nodded as he took the ball out of the cup. He downed the beer in two gulps and looked over at Shan. Shan nodded, allowing him to take the shot.
“You won’t make it. There’s no way you can do four in a row,” I taunted.
Zhuyu said nothing and stared at the table. He held the ball up in the air and then with two bounces, it landed straight into the lower right cup. Why? How could they be so good? Was it their math and physics background? Were they applying the same tactics as Tess?
“Man, those angles and that geometry, Zhuyu is just too good,” someone in the crowd commented as I drank from the cup.
It was nasty. Instead of a refreshing taste, it was flat and hard to swallow down. Ko grabbed me and stared straight into my eyes. Her eyes burned with passion, telling me that we must win at all costs. I picked up the ball and aimed for the middle right cup. Yes, I made it! Alright, this was good.
Zhuyu shook the ball as he pulled it out. Shan drank his second cup of beer and then gave Zhuyu some encouragement. There was no way that Zhuyu could make it for a fifth time. I mean, what were the chances?
Zhuyu’s hand barely moved as he threw the ball. Oh damn, he was aiming for the upper cup. The ping pong ball rolled on the rim of the cup and then dropped straight down. You must be kidding me! FIve in a row. Before I could react, Ko snatched the cup off the table. She looked a little tipsy but otherwise still sober.
“It’s okay, Yuki, we didn’t win but I accomplished my mission. I thank you for your help,” Ko said, the tone of her voice much calmer now.
As we departed from the table, Ko took out her phone and took a few pictures of Shan and Zhuyu. Zhuyu laughed as Shan said something. He stretched his arms and pulled up his dress shirt sleeves. The expression on his face beamed with confidence and excitement. It was a rather strange juxtaposition to his usual stoic expression. If only I saw this side of Tess if it even existed.
“Alright, enough of this already, I believe it’s my turn to win,” Kisai declared as he walked up with Ichaival next to him.
“Let’s do it,” Zhuyu agreed, a smile on his face.
“Oh, this is a cool match up. Former tennis players on each side and brains vs brains,” someone near me commented.
Oh, this was new information. Ko stood next to me, a glass of alcohol in her left hand. Where did she get that in such a short amount of time? Felicity now arrived in the room, standing next to me.
“I see that Shigetzu and Long are dominating,” she remarked, handing me a shot glass of a blue liquid.
“What’s up with the tennis player and brains?” I asked.
“Probably referring to Shigetzu and Darryl being tennis players. The brains of course are Long and Jin,” she explained.
This would be an interesting match then. I sensed something different about this matchup. It felt like there was a healthy rivalry between the two sides. Kisai bounced the ping pong ball a few times on the table. With one smooth movement, Kisai threw the ball. It resembled a basketball player making a shot straight through the net.
Zhuyu acknowledged his shot and drank. He took a deep breath and then threw the ball to the left side. It bounced off the center and landed in the upper cup. Wow, this was just ridiculous. Six consecutive shots made. Ichaival drank from it, no doubt experiencing the same terrible taste.
“I’ll make it. Let me handle it, Jin,” Ichaival said.
He bounced it and hurled the ping pong ball. It smacked into the lower left cup and landed on the floor. Shan picked up the ball from the floor and tossed it to Zhuyu. Zhuyu said something I couldn’t hear and Shan took possession of ball again.
“As much as I want Jin and Darryl to win, it’s not going to happen. Long and Shigetzu are too good right now,” Felicity said.
Shan bounced the ball and then threw it down on the table. It traveled right and landed in the middle right cup. Kisai and Ichaival groaned. This time, Jin drank and eyed the cups on the table. He pointed at lower left cup, indicating his target. Like last time, it landed in perfectly and Zhuyu chugged down the beer in the cup.
“Are you sure Zhuyu and Shan won’t be defeated? I mean, Zhuyu can’t possibly be this good where he’ll make it again,” I questioned Felicity.
“No, Jin and Darryl will still lose. It’s too hard to overcome at this point,” she replied.
Zhuyu held the ball in his hand and then applied power to this shot for the first time. It veered away from the middle cup and for a brief second, I thought he missed. But the ball struck the middle left cup and then with a high bounce rolled in the lower middle cup.
Zhuyu pumped his fists with excitement as he made his seventh consecutive shot. He and Shan exchanged high fives. They were all smiles. I just stared at them, still not believing my eyes. Three overall victories in a row. And not your standard opponents either. Something had to give eventually.
“Oh come on, that was..,” Kisai exclaimed but picked up the cup of beer.
“Wow, really? Ugh..,” Ichaival said, shaking his head.
For the next five games, Zhuyu and Shan dominated. Zhuyu finally missed a shot and there was silence when it occurred. I rubbed my eyes. Although Zhuyu missed his next three shots, Shan picked up his game. He made three consecutive shots, covering for his partner. If one faltered, the other stepped up. By the end of it, the two won eight games in a row. They retired from the game, not losing once.
“How did they do it? I mean, it was..,” I said.
“It was just their day. A legendary performance. Although, not too unexpected. It is Long and Shigetzu after all,” Felicity summed it up.
Zhuyu laughed as Shan tossed him a bottle of water. Based on my observations, this was at least the third bottle of water they consumed. Were they really that thirsty?
Zhuyu snapped off the cap, drinking almost half of it. Shan’s bottle was more than halfway consumed as well. I understood if they had drank a lot of beer but during their amazing run, almost no one managed to pose a large challenge. Maybe they were just weird like that.
“It really is amazing. No one would believe it if they didn’t see it with their own eyes,” Yuka remarked, walking up to me.
“Yuka, how long have you been here?” I asked.
“Enough to see the two dominate,” Yuka replied.
“I still can’t believe it,” I just shook my head at their incredible feat.
“Oh, I forgot my book in the bar,” Yuka suddenly said.
“I’ll go with you there,” I decided.
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.