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“Where’s Champ?” Lilith demanded, looking around the makeshift conference room at their warehouse headquarters.
“No idea. Why am I always the only one who shows up?” Lionel responded, wincing after his left leg struck the table.
“I shouldn’t be cutting you any slack after that stunt you joined, Lionel. Did you really think that Champ actually had any chances of taking down Tomo Yuki?” she questioned.
“Well, honestly, I didn’t really care too much about Champ’s plan. I just wanted to fight. Although, it’s kind of obvious now that Tess would show up to bail her out,” he admitted.
“This is why you don’t just go out and pull stupid s**t like this. Listen, even I realize at this point, it’s dumb to pick fights with them. We’ll settle our differences after dealing with the Traveler,” Lilith admonished.
There was a knock on the door and Ksi entered. She headed straight toward Lilith, a serious expression on her face. The woman carried a piece of paper, placing it down on the table with authority. It caused the already wobbly table to tilt even more to one side.
“I apologize for heading out with Champ on an unauthorized mission. I believed him to have a valid purpose for recruiting Tomo Yuki over. In hindsight, that was poor judgment on my part,” Ksi said.
“Natalia, I get it, you don’t have to keep apologizing. I already heard several of your voicemails already. Out of everyone, you’re the one I’m not that mad at. What’s that?” Lilith revealed, pointing at the paper.
“Oh, this is an analysis I did on how Kisai Jin nullified my powers,” Ksi explained.
While Lilith read the report, she knelt, adjusting the table back to its original position. Lilith nodded, always impressed by the time and dedication put into them. The leader suspected it beforehand, but this confirmed her hypothesis. Kisai Jin was capable of biological manipulation via his magic and thus able to break down Ksi’s blood with ease. It was one of the main reasons why he ranked so high.
“Have you come up with any potential safeguards against it?” Lilith inquired.
“I’m still researching that. But, I’ll have a solution, at least a method of stalling if I ever face off with him again,” she answered.
“Yeah, have a good time with that. Kisai’s so good, he doesn’t even need to put in effort to win,” Lionel remarked.
“It doesn’t mean you stay complacent, though. There’s always an opportunity to improve,” Ksi countered.
“Yeah, makes sense. I haven’t been doing so hot lately. That’s why I’m training to refine my skills,” Lionel agreed.
Several minutes later, Ruiqi Kaze walked in, her younger sister following behind her. Lilith reacted with surprise, seeing the former hero present. Lionel and Ksi said nothing, letting their leader handle it.
“Kaze, are you here to ask for leniency on behalf of Stacia? I can’t grant her that. Not after all she’s done,” Lilith said.
“No, that’s not why I’m here. It’s for something more important. I suspect you have an idea already,” Kaze revealed.
“I do, but are you doing this out of obligation or something else?” Lilith asked.
“Consider it as a favor for those that aren’t part of this anymore. Besides, do you really believe Stacia has the potential for facing off against threats such as the Traveler?” Kaze explained.
“Hey, I’m here! You don’t have to say it like that,” Stacia pouted.
“Your sister has a point. You’ve seen Tess and her team fight, right? That’s nothing compared to what will happen when we fight against the Traveler. No, not even him. Ace is just as tough,” Ksi brought up.
“You-,” Stacia blurted, glaring at the woman.
“She’s right, Stacia. You weren’t part of this when Ace was still considered an ally. Now that she’s partnered with the Traveler, I shudder thinking about how much stronger she’s become,” Kaze agreed.
Stacia held her frustration in check, only nodding. The woman couldn’t refute any of the claims the senior team members made. Still, she only desired an opportunity at proving her ability to continue her sibling’s legacy. But, she blown her chances at critical times. Now, she paid the consequences for doing so.
“I’ll give you a week, Stacia and Kaze. I’m sure your decision won’t change by that time, but just to talk over it with some people. Make sure that’s what you really want to do,” Lilith decided.
Kaze nodded, departing with her sister. Lilith sighed, conflicted about the woman’s plan. On one hand, it bolstered the team. But, it also robbed Stacia of a chance to show off her full prowess. Still, if it meant increasing their chances of winning, Lilith didn’t mind. In addition, Kaze was a tenured member, so her words contained sway.
Eventually, the main culprit arrived. Champ sat opposite of Lilith, a sheepish look on his face. Xiu, the flashlight wielding woman, and Bartholomew joined the table as well. All the guilty members of the failed attack were present now.
“Champ, you’re late, that doesn’t help your case,” Lilith said.
“I realize that, Lilith. I had something to do with Yuka, cut me a little slack, please,” Champ pleaded.
“The fact you involved Yuka and Felicity, civilians, makes matters even worse. So, no, I won’t grant you any mercy,” Lilith denied his request.
“He should be barred. Strip him of his powers and have Tess slap a seal so he can’t do anything,” Ksi suggested.
“Hey, that’s too harsh! Listen, there’s a reason why I even did this in the first place, okay? Give me a chance to explain,” Champ protested.
Ksi, not one for frivolous matters, glared at the man with no mercy in her eyes. Lionel and Bartholomew didn’t have a strong opinion, content with letting Lilith decide his punishment. Xiu, mostly a silent participant, felt the same way as the two men.
“Fine, let’s hear it,” Lilith said.
“I was approached by an orange haired woman, with an ornate mask, during one of our missions. She suggested that Tomo Yuki was still unsure of her place with Tess and her team. If I recruited Tomo over, then we would benefit since she knew several Artifact locations. No disrespect Lilith, but we haven’t done anything really impactful,” Champ recounted.
“Are you really trying to say you pulled all of this because of some mystery person you just met?” Ksi said in disgust.
“Hold on, the Special Investigations Unit is following leads about masked individuals. Champ may have been gullible to follow her advice, but she’s not just a random stranger. Regardless, your powers were altered, Champ. By that same woman you mentioned before?” Lilith hypothesized.
“Yeah, you’re right. She promised to power me up, make me as good as Tess,” Champ confirmed.
Lilith stared at the ceiling, pondering this new development. Modifying powers without any special devices or aid, that was on the level of the prophets involved with Tess and her companions. This woman, though, didn’t seem to be affiliated with any dimension. In fact, the SIU report suggested that these masked individuals were from a parallel world, only recently connected to the multitude of dimensions accessed through the Crossroads.
“Champ, you went on a rogue mission that could have endangered everyone. In fact, Lionel injured his leg, but that’s partially Kyoi’s ferocity. So, this what I’ll do. We’ll send you to Shane and Emily, get an idea of what exactly happened with your powers. After that, with Tess’ help, we’ll develop a more suitable power. You’ll be on probation for the next two months and on clean-up duty here in the warehouse. Target practice too,” Lilith said.
“I still think he should be kicked out,” Ksi pressed.
“I get your sentiments, Natalia. Let’s be careful now especially since he met that weird woman. Although, if you make even one more minor mistake, then you’re out. Got it, Champ?” Lilith decided.
Champ nodded, aware of the situation. Thinking back to his initial contact with the masked woman, her words were hypnotic and suggestive. It played upon his desire to accomplish something big and make a name for himself. He wasn’t sure if it was magic or not, but it corrupted his normal self-control. No, the responsibility for everything still fell on him, despite whatever tactics the stranger utilized. He vowed to remedy the situation and become an actual productive member of the team from now on.
Synopsis: The online game <