Volume 4, Chapter 4-1: Research Couple v. Zhuyu and Ichaival

“Okay, are both sides ready? Go!” Tess shouted, jumping down into the fighting area.

At first, neither side made a move, staring each other down. Zhuyu didn’t even look at the couple, monitoring the ceiling with concern on his face. Was he just messing around and not even trying? If so, Ichaival would be screwed.

“Come on, what are you doing?” I shouted at him.

Zhuyu finally exchanged a glance with Ichaival, who tossed one of his hidden blades over to his partner. The zero vector user took the first step, targeting Emily’s husband. Shane signaled toward his wife, confronting the advancing man. Emily took a few steps back and then the entire landscape changed. A night sky, with twinkling stars, replaced the ceiling, along with a full glowing moon. The ground became a field of grass, dew drops covering each blade.

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“What’s going on here?” I asked Shan.

“It’s their power. Clime Shift. It transforms the entire battle area to their own choosing,” Shan replied.

Shane clashed with Zhuyu’s, revealing a blade of his own. His weapon glowed with a bright light. Zhuyu retreated right away, a concerned look on his face. Dashing back to Ichaival, he raised three fingers in the air. Within seconds, a portal appeared. Zhuyu dove in, appearing behind Shane. Zhuyu knocked Shane’s weapon out of his hand, catching it and redirected it toward Emily. Before it arrived in her vicinity, a portal sucked the blade into it. In response, the woman knitted her brows and the battle area transformed once more.

Ominous rain clouds replaced the night sky. The lush grass from before turned into a swamp, filled with tree stumps. Zhuyu’s thrown blade struck Shane’s leg. Soon after, Ichaival appeared, slashing at Shane’s chest. Zhuyu rolled away from the sharp shurikens flying towards him. A faint blue glow emanated from the projectiles as they lodged into the ground. Shane took the opportunity to pull the blade out from his leg, tossing it away.

“Better than expected,” Tess remarked, suddenly appearing next to me.

“Freakin’…. damn it, Tess! Don’t sneak up on me like that!” I shouted.

“Zhuyu does this all the time, you’ll get used to it,” Tess chided.

“What’s the point of this exhibition match, Tess? I’m not really seeing anything amazing yet,” I asked.

“There is a high chance Zhuyu and Ichaival will lose, but they might pull it off. Observe their teamwork,” Tess replied.

Shane twirled around, avoiding Ichaival’s blade. He stomped on the ground, sending two of the shuriken up into the air. Ichaival shot blades toward the shuriken but Shane smiled in response. He leaped up, grabbing Ichaival’s two blades. Using the hilt of the knife, he delivered an uppercut to Ichaival’s chin. He followed up with a slash at Ichaival’s knees. Shane then rolled away, the shuriken from before whizzing toward the false archer. They struck Ichaival in the knee, bringing him down.

“This isn’t looking good,” Shan commented.

Emily and Shane regrouped. Emily hurled more shuriken at the two heroes. Ichaival only evaded one, the rest striking him in the legs. Zhuyu deflected the rest with the blade previously stuck in Shane’s leg. However, he suffered damage too, shurikens striking him in the right arm.

“Why isn’t he stopping them?” I asked, glancing over at Tess.

“The explanation is simple. You know it well, Tomo,” Tess answered.

That’s right, I recalled Tess’ explanation. Zhuyu’s current powers were grounded in the natural world, so they were ineffective against magic. That meant the weapons Shane and Emily utilized were imbued with magic of some sort.

“Is there anything he can do about it?” I asked.

“They’ll have to come up with a strategy,” Tess replied, shrugging her shoulders.

Ichaival finally avoided the barrage of shuriken with his portals, but he couldn’t keep that up forever. Shane and Emily anticipated the hero’s counter, moving away as the shuriken flew back at them. Shane pointed at the ground and Emily nodded. Another area change then. This time, cracks developed in the ground. I felt a slight rumbling and pieces of it crumbled, falling into what looked like an endless black hole. The couple held rods in their hands, ready to go on the offensive.

“Darryl, do it now!” Zhuyu shouted, tossing Ichaival’s blade back at him.

The ground Emily and Shane stood on vanished. I thought that might have secured the victory for the two heroes. A bright light emanated from the researchers’ weapons. Zhuyu acted immediately and dove down. He pointed upward at Darryl. All four descended downward but then a large portal appeared below everyone. When they reappeared, Zhuyu was locked into a struggle with Shane. Everyone landed on the single remaining piece of land. The rest had been sucked into Ichaival’s portals. With a knee to Shane’s stomach, Zhuyu pried the rod away. Emily dashed to her husband’s rescue, but then a barrage of rock fell onto her. She lost her footing and fell.

“The rod! You’re close enough now!” Zhuyu shouted.

Ichaival appeared behind Emily. With his portal, he removed the rod and then appeared next to Zhuyu. Shane remained on the ground, unable to move. The zero vector user had an apologetic look on his face as he kicked Shane off. The broken ground landscape dissipated and then everything returned to normal. Shane and Emily stood near the tunnel they arrived from. Zhuyu let out a sigh and looked up at us.

“Ah, they won. Tomo, what are your thoughts on their victory?” Tess asked.

“It was kind of ridiculous. If they hadn’t changed to that specific terrain, Zhuyu and Ichaival would have lost,” I replied.

“Sometimes, wins occur by luck. A little something to consider,” Tess remarked with the slightest hint of a smile.

Zhuyu and Ichaival appeared fine, no signs of fatigue. Unlike them, even with short fights, I felt winded. It was probably because I used multiple powers. Hopefully, I would get to the point where I didn’t feel like sleeping after a battle.

“Well done, that was excellent data you provided for us. Although I have to say, you’re not as intense as before,” Shane complimented.

“I have to agree. Long, have you become accustomed to your zero vector powers?” Emily added.

“Better than before. Although as you see, it has its weaknesses,” Zhuyu replied.

“Ones that we will make sure to fix,” Kyoi entered the conversation, looking at him.

“Yeah, I guess we will,” Zhuyu nodded his head, an enthusiastic look on his face.

The battle between them was weird. Zhuyu and Ichaival’s teamwork was shoddy, but they managed to win. Maybe I was just being too hard on them. I had gotten used to seeing Ichaival and Shan fight, so perhaps that influenced my opinion.

“You didn’t mess it up. Good job, Darryl,” Shan complimented.

“Is that all you have to say?” Darryl exclaimed with indignation.

“Pretty much,” Shan nodded with a large smile.

“Shane and Emily, could you give me the data you obtained from this battle?” Tess requested, pulling out her tablet.

“Of course. You’re coming to the lab anyways,” Emily agreed, taking Tess’ tablet.

Emily pulled out her phone, tapping the back of Tess’ tablet. I heard a quiet ping. Tess thanked her, pulling out a stylus.

“By the way, Tomo, if you have any questions feel free to ask them,” Shane said, looking over at me.

“Oh, in that case, what are your powers exactly?” I took him up on his offer.

“Ah, a good question. We shift the clime or in other words change the setting to our own choosing. Emily does it better than I do. There’s a catch though. We must visualize the area clearly or it won’t work. That’s why when we were falling, we couldn’t change it,” Shane explained.

“And the weapons you use are directly influenced by the surroundings, right?” I surmised, recalling the glow from their weapons.

“Right. Different weapons are powered up by different climes. Moonlight strengthened my blade and the shuriken Emily used were powered up in the rain,” Shane confirmed.

“What about those rods near the end?” I asked.

“Wands, the magic isn’t as powerful as Jin’s or Feng’s. They are one of the harder weapons to control, devoting our attention to both controlling them and maintaining the area too,” Shane answered.

The couple had pretty cool powers, could be useful in the future. Did I have access to them yet? I recalled the fight but felt nothing. Okay, I still lacked the appropriate knowledge for now.

“Emily, let’s take them to the lab,” Shane agreed, pointing at the tunnel.

After various turns in different hallways, we arrived at a large metal door. Shane and Emily slid their ID cards on the card reader and placed their fingers onto a fingerprint scanner. The doors opened with a small hiss, revealing a large amount of high tech equipment inside. I peered down, seeing a large desk on the first floor filled with papers.

“Sorry for the mess. We’re in the middle of research right now and didn’t have the time to clean up,” Shane said.

“Is it okay for you guys to have the exhibition battle since you’re so busy?” Shui asked.

“No problem at all. We were stuck on something so it was a nice distraction,” Emily answered, walking downstairs.

“What do you guys do around here?” I asked.

“We research powers and abilities various heroes have. We’re trying to figure out how they resonate with their users,” Shane explained.

“Compatibility then?” I asked.

“Right. I believe it is of great interest to Tess,” Shane nodded.

Shane gave a brief tour, pointing out everything. I was confused by most of his words, not really paying attention. After ten minutes of walking around upstairs, Shane led us downstairs.

“Emily, how’s it looking so far?” Shane asked, peering down at their table.

I saw papers containing difficult formulas and drawings. I placed my finger on the table, finding it smooth. The texture felt similar to certain tables in the student lounge that allowed users to write on them with markers. Emily organized papers, clearing about half of the table.

“That’s a viable option. But that will be hard to pull off. You have to bypass the restriction that’s there,” Tess remarked, glancing at their writing.

“Yes, this is what we’re trying to figure out. We don’t want to put too much strain on the brain or it will reduce the power output by a large amount,” Shane said, pointing at the location Tess stared at.

Okay, this conversation was not for me. Even in a different dimension, Tess showed off her high intellect, a talented woman indeed, able to keep up with the researchers. I walked away from Tess and looked around. Near their large table, I saw three monitors on a desk. Each screen was filled with a three dimensional models spinning, streams of data flowing down on the right side. Not for me either. What else was there to see around here? I saw a pod with the cover open. Was this used for scanning like our CAT machines or something else?

“Ah, that’s our main device for examining anyone with powers. It gives us a basic overview of their power and monitors their mastery over it,” Emily said, standing behind me.

“Are there a lot of heroes? I mean, it seems like there might be, if you’re dedicating so much time and space,” I asked.

“Not everyone becomes heroes, but people are endowed with powers. We mainly focus our efforts on that. However, from that data, we discover more about heroes,” Emily replied.

People had powers but weren’t designated as heroes. I would ask Tess about it later. I glanced back, seeing the Gatekeeper conversing with Shane. Kisai joined them, pointing at one of the drawings. Shane pulled out a marker and started circling the picture. Kisai asked for the marker and drew something as well.

“Tomo, how long have you known Tess now?” Emily asked, bending down to pull out a part of the machine.

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“Almost four months now. What about you?” I replied.

“It’s been about three years now. At first, it was just Tess, but she brought more people with her,” Emily answered.

“What did you do before you were researchers?” I asked.

“We were normal students just like you. Although we were dabbling in some small research not related to heroes at the time,” Emily replied.

Emily excused herself, examining the part she removed. I guess she was doing maintenance right now. By now, Tess and Kisai were reading papers Shane handed them. Zhuyu conversed with Kyoi about something in the corner. Shui and En looked a bit bored. I couldn’t blame them. Most of the stuff here was way over my head. Ichaival sat down in one of the office chairs, examining his arm. Shan slapped his back, startling him. Some things never changed, even in a different dimension.

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