Volume 5, Chapter 2: A Rough Road Ahead

“What is this place?” I asked, looking around.

“A branch of the dimension Feng, Long, and Zhang are affiliated with,” Tess replied.

“Looks pretty modern,” I observed.

“The others are preparing already. You were out for five minutes. Don’t worry, it takes time to adjust,” Tess revealed.

Was travel to other dimensions this draining? I followed Tess out of the room and into a large office space filled with cubicles. Someone walked past us with a sword strapped to their belt.

“Took you long enough,” Kyoi said, approaching us.

“Is this some kind of police station?” I asked, recalling the badge on their belt.

“Yes, it’s the Knight’s Mountain Office. A prime location for hunting and an excellent practice locale for you, Tomo,” Kyoi answered.

“Hunting? Wait, what are we talking about here?” I sought more details.

“Call them crazy spirits. They bind themselves to the wildlife or any potential visitors,” Kyoi explained.

“You’ll see what she means, Tomo. Let’s get some equipment for you. Tess and Kyoi can take you there. I’ll gather reports and figure out where to go,” Zhuyu said, appearing with En and Shui.

“Are we in the right room?” I asked once inside.

“Yes. Didn’t you hear what Long said?” Kyoi asked.

“Yeah, but this looks more like an armory than a locker room,” I remarked, glancing around.

“Did I ever say we were heading to a locker room?” Kyoi responded, pulling open a cabinet drawer.

“I mean, there are lockers everywhere. Showers too and benches to sit down on,” I pointed out.

“This is an all purpose room designed to cut down on space,” Tess explained.

Kyoi opened a locker, revealing even more weapons and equipment. She pulled out a gun, examining the weapon with great care.

“Tomo, how good are you with a gun?” Kyoi asked.

“I’ve never handled one before. Don’t tell me you were thinking of giving that to me?” I questioned.

“It was on my mind. But, that would be a bad idea. Tess, how about you?” Kyoi asked.

“I’ll take a shotgun,” Tess replied.

“Alright. They should be in those lockers over there,” Kyoi directed.

The Gatekeeper inspected the shotgun pump, selecting one from a nearby rack. She also selected five boxes of ammunition, pouring the bullets out onto a nearby bench.

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“Tomo, here’s useful gear for you. I don’t know how effective it will be for stronger enemies, but overall, it should provide solid defense,” Kyoi said.

She handed me a normal looking sweater. I inspected the fabric and it felt ordinary.

“You’re thinking about how plain it is. Don’t be deceived. All the clothes here are woven with special materials, imbued with protection magic. Best to stick with simple clothes like this,” Kyoi said, noticing my confusion.

I changed into the sweater and Kyoi handed me a coat as well. Tess’ slung the shotgun over her left shoulder and strapped a belt full of ammunition over her right.

“How cold is it out there?” I asked, noticing the warm clothes Kyoi and Tess picked out.

“Pretty cold. My magic only protects us from the weather so much. It’s best to be prepared,” Kyoi replied, loading a magazine into her handgun.

We exited the room after selecting all of our equipment. Kyoi strapped a gun holster and hunting knife onto her belt. What kind of hunt required so much preparation? I shuddered, fearing the worst.

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“Did you even give her anything?” Zhuyu exclaimed, after we met back up.

“Of course I did. She’s wearing this,” Kyoi responded, unzipping my coat and pointing at the sweater.

“I was expecting you to give her backup weapons. Although, at this point, that might be too much to ask for,” Zhuyu commented.

“Long, I insist you take this,” Kyoi demanded as we approached the exit.

She materialized one of her twin swords, tossing it over to him. Zhuyu glanced at the weapon and sighed. A golden dragon design wrapped around the scabbard. The others did mention Zhuyu using a sword before.

“Things will get dangerous. You’ll want this more than some inferior weapon,” Kyoi suggested.

“Fine, but there’s no need for me to use the blade,” Zhuyu agreed, strapping the weapon to his belt.

“Isn’t that nice? I thought you might put up more of a resistance,” Kyoi remarked, a more humane smile than usual on her face.

“Isn’t that Kyoi’s weapon, though?” I whispered to Tess.

“It will be best for you to discover that connection on your own. I can confirm, however, it was once Long’s weapon,” Tess replied.

“Let’s make sure we actually have everything first before heading out,” Zhuyu said.

We inspected our equipment one more time. Shui didn’t carry a weapon, but with his water powers, he could just construct one. En held a katana in his right hand, the weapon used against me in the mock battle. A few light snow flakes fell down on us once we exited. The road in front of us was blanketed in snow.

“We’ll head to the garage. Long, have you confirmed the location?” Kyoi directed, leading the way.

“Yeah, we can input it into the navigation system,” Zhuyu answered, waving a piece of paper in the air.

“Lau, you’ll drive. Tess, support Zhang as he takes control of the turret. I’ll go over logistics with Tomo. Long, you’ll back up Zhang,” Kyoi handed out orders.

After a brisk walk in the light flurries, we arrived at a large building, armed personnel guarding the front. They stood in front of a large hangar door, stern expressions on their faces.

“Commander Kyoi, it’s been a long time. We’ve been informed of the situation. The vehicle you requested has been prepared,” a guard greeted, giving a salute.

“Thank you for your troubles,” Kyoi said.

Kyoi pulled out an ID card upon arriving at a large door, stenciled with the number “00”. She slid her card and then placed her thumb on the scanner. The door opened with a hiss, revealing an armored vehicle inside. I saw a medium sized turret at the top, with a seat available for someone to man it. The vehicle was red and phoenixes drawn on the doors.

“Lau,” Kyoi shouted, tossing the keys over to him.

Shui bobbled them in his hands but regained control. I expected the interior to be cramped but found it quite spacious. The back seats were set up where everyone faced each other. I also noticed a sliding compartment on the vehicle roof.

Tess sat next to Shui in the front, turning on all the screens. Kyoi took out a tablet from a bag, scribbling on it with a stylus. Shui started the engine and I felt the vehicle bounce.

“Zhang, get ready. Long, I want you to outline what we’ll do once we’ve arrived. Tess, how’s it looking?” Kyoi asked, continuing her scribbling.

“Conditions appear fine at the moment. But, as expected, there are threats along the way. Lau, go ahead and drive,” Tess replied.

Shui nodded, pressing a button on the rearview mirror. Our vehicle platform descended, transporting us underground. Lau turned the wheel and stepped on the gas, traveling along a dimly lit road until arriving outdoors.

“Zhang, your turn,” Kyoi commanded.

En nodded, popping the roof compartment open. Cold wind blew in immediately. I felt sorry for him. Must suck having to handle the weapon in such bad weather.

“Zhang, catch,” Kyoi yelled.

She tossed an earpiece upward. He caught it, sticking the device into his right ear. Tess spoke into her headset and En nodded in response. Several blinking lights on the screens moved downward at a rapid pace.

“Enemies incoming. Zhang, follow my directions,” Tess ordered.

The turret rang out a minute later. I peered outside and saw spinning shells hurtling toward us. En shot them off course one by one, preventing a collision. Tess threw off her headset after the initial barrage of enemies, opening a window.

“Feng, hand me a sniper,” Tess commanded.

Kyoi nodded, pulling out a sniper rifle from a hidden compartment in the floor. The Gatekeeper fired. Seconds after her shot landed, a burst of flames enveloped the target. Damn, this was pretty intense and we weren’t even at our main objective yet.

Enemies surrounded us but everyone maintained a calm composure. Shui drove with confidence despite all the commotion. In fact, I actually respected them a little now.

Kyoi showed me a list of potential enemies on her tablet. Some of it included:

  • The terrain itself. Since snow covers the foliage, it is important to be careful. Tess will lead us through most of this.
  • Vulture-like creatures with steel wings that reflect light. They are able to launch metal pins from their wings.
  • Bandits who have taken up residence, preying on unsuspecting visitors.

“Tomo, I’ll give you a quick rundown on potential enemies,” Kyoi said, flicking through photos of them.

Zhuyu pounded on the rooftop and En returned back down. He shivered, brushing snow off his shoulders.

“How did it look?” Tess asked, shutting her window.

“Okay,” En replied.

“En, you good?” Zhuyu asked, concern on his face.

“Yeah, it’s pretty warm with these clothes,” En answered, closing the roof compartment.

“Tess, give us an estimated time of arrival,” Kyoi requested.

“Ten more minutes. Cut through here and it’ll decrease travel time, but we have to fight through more enemies,” Tess replied, pointing at her middle screen.

“We’ll go with that one then. Tomo needs an introduction to enemies,” Kyoi decided.

Shui took a sharp left turn and I almost collided into Zhuyu. Damn, this was reckless driving. Kyoi stared at her tablet the entire time, circling the screen. Five minutes later, Shui braked and glaneced back at Kyoi.

“Alright, let’s get hunting. Tess, you’ll be Tomo’s caretaker today so make sure to not fail her,” Kyoi jumped out of the vehicle with absolute glee.

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