“How was your mind dive?” Tess asked, approaching me.
“Oh, you knew, of course you would. It worked so I’m glad about that,” I answered.
“Good to hear. Let’s head down to the meeting room. Feng wants to talk strategy,” Tess suggested, heading toward the exit.
I hurried after her. We walked in silence, arriving at the meeting room. Inside, the former princess and Kyoi viewed a holographic map containing red markers.
“You’re here early, Tess,” Kyoi remarked.
Damn, I got tricked. Might as well take a seat and wait. This was pretty boring, but it was my fault for chasing after her.
“Tomo, how confident are you with your powers?” Kyoi asked.
“Enough to fight enemies by myself without help. What are you planning?” I answered.
“Good. I’ll formulate a strategy with that in mind. We’ll be relying on you, Tomo,” Kyoi revealed.
“Wait, that’s crazy. You can’t expect me to take down a high level enemy all by myself. That’s suicide. You’ll get us all killed,” I protested.
“This is the perfect time for battle experience. Don’t worry about the small details. We’ll be there supporting you,” Kyoi reminded.
“I just..,” I began.
“Feng’s assessment is correct. This provides the perfect opportunity for evaluating how far you have come,” Tess cut me off.
The former princess remained silent during our short exchange. I hoped she might insert herself into the conversation. That was a foolish thought though considering she didn’t know me that well. Twenty minutes later, everyone else arrived and sat down, glancing up at Fei. She stood up front, projecting the map onto a screen. Kyoi stood beside her, holding a pointer.
“Fei will remain here in case the main enemy shifts locations. Our group will head out here. It’s a pretty simple plan, no complicated maneuvers involved. An all out assault,” Kyoi announced, shining her laser at the northern region of the map.
“Are we heading out in the morning?” Zhuyu asked.
“Yes, we’ll want an early start. One more thing, let Tomo handle the main enemy. We’ll take care of the copies,” Kyoi added.
“Will she be okay?” Shui asked, concern on his face.
“If we’re there, no problem. Of course, you’re not thinking about abandoning her during battle? You wouldn’t do that,” Kyoi answered, giving her usual trademark smile.
“I would never do that! Don’t worry Tomo, we got your back,” Shui assured me.
Kyoi spoke for a few more minutes and let Fei take over. The former princess discussed potential dangers involved at higher elevations, leaving us with helpful tips. I raised my hand before the meeting adjourned.
“Oh, how rare. Tomo, are you so excited about fighting your first strong enemy solo that you’re willing to head out now?” Kyoi teased, grinning.
“You know that’s not what I wanted to ask. I’m worried about what kind of enemy we’ll fave,” I voiced my concerns.
“Fei, herself, knows little about the enemy. You can’t expect me to give you any more details than what she knows. Tess warned you about such situations before,” Kyoi shrugged her shoulders.
“It’s true. The only reliable information I’ve learned is the enemy emits specific signals. If you manage to decode that, it’s possible you could slow it down,” Fei revealed.
“An interesting proposal. I’ll look into it,” Tess remarked.
In the end, no one alleviated my worries. Although this time, I couldn’t really blame anyone. There was a lack of information. Time to rest up and hope for the best tomorrow.
Next Day- 5:45 AM
Someone shook me. Ugh, can’t you just let me sleep in? It’s still winter break.
“Tomo, please wake up, all the others have already gathered downstairs,” Tess informed me.
I threw off my blanket, staring at Tess. Her blank face stared right back at me. That’s right, I wasn’t home. I expected breakfast, but Tess directed me to the front door. Shui and En yawned, drowsy looks still on their faces. Zhuyu appeared fine and Kyoi’s face contained her usual confident look.
“No food?” I asked, looking around.
“No time to waste. We’ll eat while traveling,” Kyoi replied, tossing me a plastic Zeta-Lock bag.
I inspected the contents, seeing trail mix. It consisted of a variety of nuts, dried fruit, and other snack foods. What the hell?
“This is breakfast?” I pointed at the bag.
“Yes. It’s quite delicious. And without any further questions, it’s time to head out,” Kyoi answered, exiting through the front door.
Everyone else followed behind her. I stood there, shaking my head. We headed up a steep path. A light flurry of snow fell, forcing me to wipe away the snowflakes bombarding my face. We continued traversing the long path and finally arrived on flat grounds again. Kyoi stopped in the front, deciding it was an appropriate time for a short break.
“This is not poisoned or anything right? I swear….,” I muttered, opening the plastic Zeta-Lock bag.
“Of course it’s not. You’re of utmost importance to the mission,” Tess assured, sitting next to me.
“I guess. This isn’t too bad. Who put this together?” I asked, finding the mixture edible.
“The former princess suggested it. Long woke up early to put all of it into bags for everyone,” Tess revealed.
“Zhuyu did? I didn’t expect that. If anything, Shui looks more capable,” I remarked.
“You still have much to learn. Let’s get going,” Tess said, standing back up.
We resumed our search, continuing our trek. A thick layer of snow now covered the rocky terrain. I almost tripped, but Tess saved me. Damn, I hated the snow here. It made things too difficult. After what seemed like two or maybe even three hours, Kyoi paused.
She glanced toward her left side, motioning at Shui. Large amounts of snow slid down towards us. Shui held his left hand out, transforming the snow slide into light raindrops. I pulled on my hood immediately, but the drops still splashed onto my face.
“That was….,” Kyoi started, pulling her sword out.
She slashed through the remaining snow still in the air. Black sludge splattered everywhere. An enemy already? Oh, come on. Was this the main enemy or a copy? I transported away, appearing next to Tess. The Gatekeeper fought bare handed, punching golems. She punched one in the chest, shattering it. I formed a fireball in my hand, hurling it at large tree-like enemies scuttling toward us.
“We got ambushed! Damn it, are any of these what we’re looking for?” I shouted, forming another fireball.
“Feng, do you have a reaction from the tracking stone Fei gave you?” Tess asked, grabbing a golem’s head and slamming it into the ground.
“I can’t pinpoint its exact location. Tess, can you identify the waves?” Kyoi responded, dispatching a sludge-like enemy with her glowing sword.
“Tomo, please buy me time,” Tess requested.
I nodded, forming a small portal near the Gatekeeper. In a worst case scenario, she could utilize it for her own personal use. The number of enemies kept growing despite our efforts.
Metal feathered birds joined the battle. Crap, their intended target was Tess. I formed a portal, ready to assist, but En resolved the issue. The bird’s flight path changed after a sharp crackle. He leaped into the air and with five slashes, decimated the enemy.
“Feng! I’ve locked onto the enemy. Tomo, head over there now. This key will lead you over there!” Tess reported, tossing a golden key.
“What about you guys?” I asked, catching it in my left hand.
“Who do you think we are, Tomo? The situation’s under control, see?” Kyoi retorted, pulling out her gun.
She fired two bullets into the ground and a large explosion burnt half the enemies. Couldn’t argue with that. I had my own assignment now. They would be fine. I glanced down at Tess’ key, relying on it for navigation. I finally stopped jogging, after hearing a loud sound. The golden key pointed straight ahead.
Taking cautious steps forward, I noticed Tess’ key stop glowing. Sounds of gnashing teeth grew closer. Where was this thing? Something shot out from the corner of my eye and I was too slow in dodging it.