Volume 3, Chapter 1-1: Severed Ties

Sunday Winter Break 2016 Week 1

I woke up, expecting Tess’ presence. Thankfully, no one was there. The incident with my underwear weighed on my mind. Maybe I was jumping to conclusions, but Tess appeared the type to put a tracker on things. Could that have been what she meant?

“You and your silence, Tess, ” I muttered, heading downstairs.

“You seem in good spirits. Is it because of the party? More specifically, any boys you met?” Mom teased, pulling out ingredients from the fridge.

“No, Mom, we’ve been through this before. I’m heading out later with Tess,” I informed her.

“Have fun, don’t forget your keys again,” Mom reminded me.

Tess arrived around ten. She wore a pair of white earmuffs and jacket of the same color. Her hairstyle bothered me today, probably because of the asymmetry, having a ponytail dropping down to her right side.  After a twenty minute drive, we arrived at a medium sized house.

“Whose house is this?” I asked.

“Fel’s. She stays here when classes go too late into the night,” Tess answered.

As expected, the interior was quite nice. The furniture looked new, more expensive than what I could afford. Kisai, Ichaival, and Shan sat on one of the couches in the living room.

“Tess, something big happen?” Kisai questioned.

“I’ll explain once everyone arrives,” Tess replied.

Zhuyu, En, Shui, and Kyoi arrived half an hour later. Looked like all the main members were accounted for.

“Jin, have you connected with Kuan?” Tess asked.

“He’s on standby,” Kisai confirmed.

“I’ll start setting up,” Tess instructed, taking out her tablet.

I sat down on a recliner, observing everyone. Zhuyu and En conversed about something. En wasn’t at the party. Guess he wasn’t the type to attend those kinds of things.

Shan made fun of Ichaival, with the assistance of Kisai. Shui closed his eyes, looked like he had not gotten enough sleep. Kyoi stood near the door,  crossing her arms with a thoughtful expression.

“The goal of today’s meeting is simple. Tomo confirmed Ace’s status,” Tess announced, displaying the photos I sent over.

My suspicions were confirmed about the heroes knowing her. Kyoi had a difficult expression on her face. Everyone else stared at the screen with serious looks. Who was this woman, that it impacted everyone’s mood like this?

“What’s the plan, then?” Zhuyu broke the silence.

“We bide our time for now. Her motives remain unclear, so we’ll observe and gather information first. This, however, hastens the need for everyone to return to peak condition. Starting next week, I authorize travel to your respective dimensions for training. Tomo, I will handle your initial training,” Tess responded.

“Wait, I’m really confused about what’s going on. What’s your connection to her?” I raised my hand.

“The number one ranked hero, codenamed “Ace”. Her real name…. I cannot reveal. It is for your own safety,” Tess answered.

“What are her powers? That’s allowed, right?” I inquired.

“Yes, her last known powers were time and memory manipulation,” Tess said, staring down at her tablet.

“Last known, what do you mean by that?” I asked for clarification.

“There are special cases where one can evolve or gain new powers. One such exception is through a trade. You give up your powers, gaining a new one, but there is no guarantee the new power is compatible with the user. As such, she may have retained her powers, or even added a new one,” Tess explained.

“You’re not telling me something, Tess. Isn’t she part of this group? You’re referring to her as an enemy,” I observed.

“We don’t know where she stands. In our final confrontation with the Traveler, Ace dealt the final blow, but none of us saw it. I sealed all entry ways after, detecting no abnormalities. I assumed we were victorious. She disappeared soon after and we lost all contact with her,” Tess responded.

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“Why doubt her? You confirmed the Traveler was defeated, right? I mean, she is a hero, after all,” I said.

“You have made an assumption. Fel is one of the few who calls us heroes. Most of our actions do not fit fall into that category. We can’t eliminate the possibility she turned on us,” Tess said.

“You trusted her though. There’s no way she would betray you,” I refuted.

“Ace was our friend, but during the last battle, she was unstable. There is a high possibility she made a deal, explaining the appearance of the Traveler once more,” Tess replied.

I looked around the room, waiting for a rebuttal to Tess’ explanation. No one spoke. Did they all share the same opinion of Ace? How could someone ranked so high be viewed like this? However, I was an outsider, someone not privy to the details of the situation. For now, I would remain quiet.

“Fine, let’s talk about something else bothering me. If she’s in a photo with Ichizen, that can’t be coincidence,” I shifted topics.

“Ace’s connection to Michi remains unclear. There’s no doubt in my mind that it was the origin of your current situation. I would apologize for Ace’s actions, but I am unclear on her involvement,” Tess agreed with my assessment.

“So what, she used her powers? Powers only work in a different dimension, you said that yourself, Tess. Unless you’re gonna tell me Ace is a special exception,” I questioned.

“She could have persuaded Michi, leading him to an alternate dimension through a possible entrance I missed. I can only speculate given the lack of information,” Tess conjectured.

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Ichizen already had been involved from the very beginning. The Traveler claimed it was for a vessel,  but there must be more to it than that. I stared at the floor in frustration.

A knock on the door interrupted our conversation. Kyoi tapped a panel next to the door. I couldn’t see what appeared on it from my vantage point. She opened the door, immediately confronting the person outside.

“Lilith, what a nice surprise to see you here. I assume you’re here to complain and bicker like usual,” Kyoi stated, slamming her into the door.

“And you’re as violent as ever,” Lilith responded, slipping out of Kyoi’s grasp at the last moment.

“Lilith, what brings you here?” Tess asked, placing her tablet down on the coffee table.

“I’m here about Ace. Someone saw her, so don’t go denying it. You know her well, care to explain what she’s doing?” Lilith asked, staring daggers at Tess.

“We are in the same predicament as you. Ace’s reappearance caught us off guard as well. I know as little as you do,” Tess responded.

“You guys are always hiding something. What else do you know? I won’t be leaving without an answer,” Lilith demanded.

Kyoi looked over at Tess with an inquiring look. Tess shook her head. Lilith looked around the room with impatient eyes. Zhuyu picked up the tea kettle, pouring green colored tea into a cup. He glanced at Lilith with no fear, as if the tension in the room did not exist. Damn it, what are you doing? She’s going to be pissed.

“You really don’t know anything?” Lilith asked, finally realizing the truth.

“Yes, we aren’t witholding anything from you. Any other issues you want taken care of?” Tess said, looking over at Lilith.

“Ugh. Figures that the one time I want something, you actually aren’t hiding anything!” Lilith shouted, pointing an accusatory finger at Tess.

“Please leave then, seeing you have nothing else to say,” Kyoi said, twisting Lilith’s arm with substantial force.

“Hey, we’re not done yet! I want to discuss one more thing,” Lilith protested as Kyoi pushed her out.

Lilith whistled and members from her side arrived. Lionel wore a sweater,  a lion design in the center, and a  gray overcoat over it. Bartholomew, following behind him, wore a black jacket with a cat pin. Two other woman accompanied them, but I didn’t know their names.

“Tess, I request a ranking match,” Lilith said.

“For who?” Tess asked.

“Stacia,” Lilith pointed to a girl with her ponytail wrapped around the back of her neck.

“I will consider it, after hearing who she wishes to face,” Tess decided.

“Zhuyu,” Lilith announced, looking over at the man drinking tea.

“What’s your ulterior motive?” Tess asked.

“Tess, what do you mean? The purpose is within the request itself, a ranking match. There’s no other motive as you’re accusing me of,” Lilith retorted.

“You’re not being honest,” Tess disagreed.

“She wants to settle a personal grudge against me,” Zhuyu answered, standing up and looked over at Stacia.

I looked around the room, gauging everyone’s expression. What did he mean by a personal grudge? Kyoi looked over at Stacia, a look of recognition appearing on her face.

“Stacia, you’re her sister,” Zhuyu stated, looking at the the woman.

“What if I am?” Stacia asked.

“Your sister appointed you as the successor, right? I think there’s a misunderstanding,” Zhuyu answered.

“There’s no misunderstanding. You’ll be my opponent, that’s all,” Stacia denied.

“See, Tess? Stacia just happened to choose Zhuyu,” Lilith pointed out.

“I see an agenda being pushed here. If you desire a grudge match, then what you ask for is not suitable,” Tess stated.

“But….,” Lilith protested, looking over at Stacia.

“Lilith, I will be lenient. May I suggest you ask for an exhibition battle, instead of a rank up match?” Tess suggested.

“Fine, whatever let’s Stacia fight him,” Lilith relented.

Tess glanced up at the ceiling and nodded. Zhuyu sighed, taking one last sip from his cup of tea. A good chance to finally observe his battle style. Also, it provided another opportunity for me to copy his powers.

“Who’s this sister Zhuyu’s talking about?” I asked Kisai.

“Oh, it’s uh, Kaze. It’s gonna be a long story if you want to know everything,” Kisai answered, staring at Stacia.

“I’ll ask Tess later about that. So, what’s this about a successor?” I asked another question.

“Blood relations allow for successful power transfers. Another topic that would take some time to explain,” Kisai grinned.

Tess held her key out and my pendant shook as the artificial dimension formed. Zhuyu glanced up at the ceiling with a serious expression. Was he going to go all out for this fight?

“Stacia, are you sure this is what you want?” Zhuyu asked, glancing over at the woman.

“I don’t need your damn pity. I’ll avenge my sister, proving that you’re nothing but trash,” Stacia nodded, her words filled with anger.

“If that’s what you want. Tess, are we ready?” Zhuyu asked, looking over at the Gatekeeper.

“Yes. Stacia, I expect that you have no complaints, correct?” Tess asked.

“Let’s just start the battle already!” Stacia nodded her head.

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