Volume 5, Prelude: The Next Step

“My lady, my lady! She’s initiated contact with Miss Tomo!” Al proclaimed, bursting into the woman’s mask room.

Al’s employer showed no visible surprise at his announcement. She sat at her work desk, staring at multiple stacks of papers. He stood still, unsure how to proceed next. The woman finally stood up from her chair, tapping her left floor with irritation.

“Al, I don’t get it. Why now? This timing, not good at all. Makes things difficult for us,” she said, staring at the wall of masks.

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“Are your referring to the master’s plans for expansion?” Al questioned.

“Yes. Not to mention Miss Tomo is finally making actual progress. I thought she might have given up by now. She will be an obstacle for our plans if we can’t convince her to come over to my side,” the woman mused.

“Do you suggest that we send someone after her?” Al asked.

“No, I have a better idea. Get me the files on the newest members of Lilith’s team,” she directed with a grin.

“Of course, may I be so bold to inquire about what you’ll do with it?” Al questioned.

“Al, I’ll explain once I figure out who will be the poor victim,” she answered, spinning around with a flourish.

Ace wiped away the rain from her glasses, ducking under a nearby restaurant’s canopy roof. She watched a nearby puddle ripple and sighed. To not look crazy, the woman put on earphones and spoke into the microphone.

“Like I said, she doesn’t pose a threat, even if she’s residing with Tomo Yuki now. Why the concern about someone who won’t awaken anytime soon?” Ace asked.

The rain grew in intensity and several raindrops struck her coat. She pulled out a napkin, wiping it off. Ace was picky about these sorts of things.

“Fine, fine. I’ll set something up to monitor it. This is why I hate working with you sometimes, worrying about something so trivial. But, I do see your point, especially after seeing what kind of “potential” she has,” Ace relented, pulling off her earphones.

Someone rushed towards her, wielding a blade. Ace sidestepped her assailant, tripping them. She yanked them up by their clothes collar, hurling her attacker into the front window.

“What are you thinking?” Ace asked, pulling out her bloodied opponent.

“Ugh,” the attacker groaned.

“Alright, who sent you?” she questioned, searching their clothes for any relevant information.

The woman found a Crossroads Defense badge in the back pocket. Crossroads Defense was the first line of protection if anything occurred near the numerous portals operating in the Crossroads. It was strange then that an agent would seek her outside of the Crossroad confines. Usually the Crossroads Special Investigation Unit was responsible for those types of missions.

“Not gonna talk, huh? Oh, don’t you worry, I have my ways,” Ace declared, placing her hand on the agent’s forehead.

Much like Tomo Yuki, Ace was able to mind dive. However, her version was more advanced, allowing the woman to parse and find exactly what she desired. She moved her hand away and pulled out a pad of sticky notes.

Half an hour later, the agent’s partner arrived after hearing no response. He found his partner tied to a chair inside with a sticky note pasted on their badge.

Pry any further and you’ll regret it. Send someone from the SIU next time. They’re better at this than you. -With much love, Ace

“I looked into the readings you spoke of last time,” Tess said, handing a folder over to Long.

“Oh, anything interesting?” Long questioned, scanning the contents.

“See for yourself,” Tess directed.

Long flipped through the detailed report, nodding every so often. He took a seat at a nearby desk, pausing near the end. The zero vector user stared at the Gatekeeper with concern.

“Someone’s attempting to examine Michi’s corpse? I don’t get it. Tomo’s the one with powers and the grimoire,” Long said, leaning back in his chair.

“Unless they think there’s something of value to be gained. Unfortunately, what that exactly is eludes me. It seems they’ve already obtained what they sought,” Tess explained.

“And the responsible party elevated the readings? Hmm, Lilith and her team aren’t that despicable. Then, that leaves Ace and the Traveler,” he speculated.

“No, there’s no reason for them to revisit Michi. He serves them no purpose dead. Besides, knowing Ace, she already scouted Michi many months in advance and knows everything already,” Tess countered.

“I can see that. So, do you have any potential suspects in mind?” Long inquired.

“No. We’re missing something, Long. I fear that whatever is occurring extends far beyond our scope. It may very well involve the entire Crossroads and the dimensions it connects to,” she postulated.

“Oh great, just what we needed. You doing okay, Tess? I can’t obviously do the things you can, but you’ve taught me a few things. I can handle at least that,” Long offered.

“I appreciate your concern. No, I’m more than capable. When the time arises, I’ll accept your generous offer. Although, I hope Feng will allow me to, of course,” Tess replied, the slightest of smiles on her face.

“That’s really funny, Tess. Feng knows better than anyone that you call the shots. If you want something done, you’ll find a way,” Long said, shaking his head.

Tess dismissed Long, asking him to continue following Ace’s trail. She picked up her report, inspecting the data within it again. The Gatekeeper titled her head to the side, realizing something she missed before.

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“Ah, so that’s it….,” she muttered, heading toward her computer.

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