Volume 8, Chapter 4-1: The Crossroads

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Friday Winter Quarter 2016 Week 7

“Jen, you joining us today?” I inquired.

“Tess asked me to tag along. I hope I’m not in the way,” Jen replied, shooting an arrow and missing the bullseye by a few centimeters.

“Glad you’re here. Kinda awkward with just Kisai and the others,” I said.

“I’m looking forward to working with you today, Yuki,” Jen responded with a soft smile.

“Same here. Trying to get in some practice before we head in?” I asked, seeing no one else around.

“Yeah, I haven’t picked up a bow in two weeks, so this is a good opportunity. It would be bad if I couldn’t help you guys out,” Jen answered, notching another arrow.

“Must be hard with school and then having to come here,” I commented.

“You’re right, but everyone has it like that. You have it the worst out of everyone, Yuki,” Jen said.

“You think so? I haven’t really done anything besides just standing back and watching,” I disagreed.

“You’re still learning. Besides, your powers make it hard on you, having to pick up so many things at once,” Jen pointed out.

“I guess,” I admitted.

“Everyone around here is nice, so I’m sure they’ll help you. I was like you when I started out too,” Jen encouraged.

“Everyone’s nice, huh?” I muttered, not believing her words.

In terms of battle, Jen’s words were valid. I held reservations about them as people though. Especially Shan. He didn’t do it out of malice, but still. I couldn’t pass judgment on Jen yet. For all I knew, she was a secret sadist. I hoped she wasn’t.

“Hey, Jen, you’re already here. Tomo too. Perfect, we don’t have to wait,” Kisai greeted, making his appearance.

He wore a black trench coat, with his usual red checkered hoodie, and black jeans. His gray cap contained the school logo. I expected Ichaival behind him, but didn’t see anyone.

“Where’s Ichaival?” I asked.

“Kuan got him. I was feeling lazy,” Kisai answered, sitting down at a bench and taking off his cap.

“Are we finally storming that fortress today?” I asked about our goals for today’s mission.

“Yeah, what else are we going to do?” Kisai replied with his usual humor.

“What else is there?” I discerned the answer from his expression.

“I hate preparing, but we’ll have to. Without Tess around, it makes things harder. We’ll stop by somewhere,” Kisai revealed.

Kuan and Ichaival arrived soon after. Jen stopped firing her arrows, packing up her equipment. I looked around, expecting to see a portal.

“S**t, almost forgot. Something from Tess for you,” Kisai exclaimed, handing me a white key with my name engraved on it.

“Is this for entering that portal Tess talked about?” I asked.

“Sort of. Follow me,” Kisai replied.

He led everyone towards the locker room and then pointed to the left of it. Oh, the storage closet. I went in there a few times to grab cleaning supplies and never noticed anything special.

“Is there suppose to be something inside I don’t know about?” I asked.

“Uh, it’s not what’s inside that matters. I’ll show you,” Kisai answered, inserting his own engraved key into the keyhole of the door.

He twisted left and then opened the door. A bright blue light, quite relaxing in nature, shone from it. No signs of the shelves or usual items stored inside.

“This is how you enter the Crossroads. I’ll explain more once we’re there,” Kisai revealed, letting everyone else enter first.

Of course the Gatekeeper would have something like this set up. I was the penultimate one to enter and Kisai followed behind me.

CROSSROADS

I saw a large number of reception booths all arranged in an orderly fashion. There was a central area furnished with sofas, desks, and other accommodations. Multiple sets of stairs led up to metal gates, glowing with a dim red color.

“What the hell is this?” I asked, looking around in amazement.

“The Crossroads. You’ve heard it about from us, but this will be your first time actually here in person. People come here so they can travel to different dimensions,” Kisai explained.

“We can go wherever we want from here then?” I guessed.

“Yep. You guys can hang out here. I want to talk to someone first,” Kisai said.

“Impressed?” Ichaival asked, taking a seat on a sofa.

“Yeah, I didn’t expect anything like this. I’ve gotten so used to Tess’ instant teleportation that this seems like a hassle,” I replied.

“I know what you mean. But, this lets us go where we need to when Tess is busy,” Jen said.

“Yeah, I’ve been spoiled by having Tess around all the time. I wish you’d taken me here sooner. Anyways, who’s Kisai talking to?” I asked.

“His girlfriend,” Kuan responded immediately.

“Who’s he really talking to?” I asked again.

“Probably an informant,” Kuan told the truth this time.

“Kisai’s pretty popular, isn’t he?” I brought up.

“It’s freakin’ Jin, he gets all the ladies,” Ichaival commented.

“Nah, Jin has pretty big faults,” Kuan countered.

“Like he’s a douchebag,” Ichaival followed up.

“Isn’t that Shan?” I questioned.

“Shigetzu’s more of a b*****d than Kisai,” Ichaival clarified.

“What about Zhuyu?” I wondered.

“Eh, he’s not too much of a b*****d. More like an occasional scumbag,” Ichaival replied, shrugging his shoulder.

“What about me, hm….?” Kuan asked, placing his hand on Ichaival’s shoulder.

“No, f**k you. Get away from me,” Ichaival shuddered, moving away.

“Why so cold, Darryl? Is it because you-know-who is here?” Kuan motioned at Jen.

“No,” Ichaival denied.

“Fine then. Tomo, I’m not sure what Jin wants to do actually,” Kuan relented.

“I thought he had a plan,” I responded.

“You were just assuming,” Kuan said.

I now had doubts. If Tess usually reigned everyone in, how would they act when she wasn’t around? Without her, I feared nothing would get done.

“Nah, Jin’s got a plan,” Ichaival assured me.

“I want to believe you, but at the same time, not really,” I hesitated.

“Can’t disagree,” Kuan backed me up.

“If you don’t even believe in Kisai, and you know him, what does that mean?” I questioned.

“It means I have to stop f*****g around, and get things done,” Kisai returned with a grin.

“Are we ready?” I asked.

“One thing before we go. I’ll have my buddy, Long, give you a quick tour,” Kisai smiled.

“You dragged me over here for this?” Zhuyu sighed, adjusting his glasses.

“You’re perfect for this. Come on, you want to help out Tomo,” Kisai convinced him.

“Fine. Jin, I assume you’ll be here waiting,” Zhuyu said, looking over at Kisai.

“I will definitely be here. Kuan, let’s ditch Darryl,” Kisai nodded.

“What?” Ichaival retorted.

“Come on, Jen’s waiting for you, isn’t she?” Kisai whispered, patting him on his shoulder.

“Shut the f**k up, man,” Ichaival shook his head but went over to Jen anyways.

Zhuyu explained the services offered. There were a total of 30 booths in all. Ten dealt with interdimensional travel, filling out paperwork, providing the proper licenses, and other related matters. The rest were shops, providing a wide range of services, including weapons and relaxation.

“What’s upstairs?” I pointed upward.

“There are rooms you can stay in, like a hotel. That’s where Jin was,” Zhuyu responded.

“Pretty convenient. This place really has everything, doesn’t it?” I asked, impressed.

“Yeah, it’s great,” Zhuyu nodded.

“One more thing, remember what Kyoi told me about Felicity?” I questioned him.

“You’re talking about the name she mentioned, right?” Zhuyu asked.

“Exactly. Does Jen have the same thing going on?” I asked.

“Pretty perceptive, Tomo. A little bit different for Jen, though. Not uncommon for someone to have a Western name,” Zhuyu confirmed my suspicions.

“You’re not going to tell me, are you?” I guessed, seeing the expression on his face.

“You know us so well. Actually, I have an idea. Why don’t you ask Darryl?” Zhuyu changed his mind midway.

“Just tell me already,” I demanded.

“Darryl is definitely the better option. Anything else you want to know?” Zhuyu shifted the topic.

“Not especially. Wait, why are you even here today?” I asked.

“I needed to check on something. You remember Fei?” he asked.

“Yeah, something happen to her?” I recalled the powerful magic user.

“No, I just wanted to talk to her about the ultimate weapons and Artifacts. Jin told me about what he found,” Zhuyu responded.

“Can Artifacts really make that much of a difference?” I questioned their impact.

“Some Artifacts are dangerous because it autonomizes almost everything, no skill or experience required. You equip it and gain an extraordinary amount of power right away,” Zhuyu explained.

“Seems pretty overpowering. And there are no side effects at all?” I inquired.

“That’s part of what Emily and Zane are researching. In my opinion, after prolonged usage, something is bound to happen. We actually don’t know too much about Artifacts since they only appeared near the end of our final encounter with the Traveler,” Zhuyu revealed.

“Got it. Is Kyoi with you today?” I looked around, scared she might appear.

“She’s not here. You’re still scared of her, huh?” Zhuyu answered.

“Yeah. She’s crazy,” I nodded.

“I don’t blame you. She still scares me too,” Zhuyu agreed.

“Is that okay for you to say?” I asked.

“Yeah. She already knows. I’ll take you back to Jin,” Zhuyu informed me.

“You’re not coming with us?” I asked.

“Knowing Jin, he’ll somehow stall. Besides, I gotta talk to Fei and that takes awhile,” Zhuyu replied.

“Thanks for the quick tour,” I called out to him once he led me back.

Zhuyu nodded, waving his right hand in the air as a farewell. Jen and Ichaival discussed something, probably shouldn’t bother them. I walked over to Kisai and Kuan.

“Did Zhuyu do a good job?” Kuan asked, noticing me.

“Yeah. We ready to head out?” I answered.

“Once Ichaival finishes talking to Jen,” Kisai smirked.

Ten minutes later, we finally departed. I walked next to Ichaival. Jen talked with Kisai, discussing her role for the mission. Kuan was behind us, wiping his glasses.

“Ichaival, I have something to ask,” I said to the false archer.

“What’s up?” Ichaival said.

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“Zhuyu told me Jen goes by another name. Is it okay if you tell me what it is?” I questioned.

“Did he tell you that? Freakin’ Long. Her actual name is Jian Yi. People have called her Jen for so long, it’s weird to call her anything else,” he revealed the name.

“Jian, huh? An interesting family name,” I wondered.

“He could have just told you,” Ichaival remarked.

“He told me to ask you instead,” I said.

“Of course. He’s just like Shigetzu sometimes. I seriously wonder why I’m friends with them,” Ichaival commented.

“Because they’re there for you? They help you out a lot even if they do make fun of you,” I ventured a guess.

“Yeah, I know. Those freaking bastards,” Ichaival agreed, shaking his head with a smile.

Kisai led us up to an unmarked gate with a large warning sign stapled on the top. A card reader device was located to the left of it.

“Oh, I forgot to tell you. You can use the key card for the training facility to get in,” Kisai said, pulling it out.

“Really? How does that even…. you know what, the less questions the better,” I decided.

“Nah, questions are good,” Kisai said, sliding his card.

We followed him inside. There was an elevated platform in the center of the room with a panel containing a keyhole in the corner of it. The rest of the room was decorated with tables, chairs, and sofas. Very much like a high class airport lounge.

“You’ll probably end up spending a lot of time here. So I’ll go over how things work. Well, really, you only need to know one important thing. Put your key in and select the destination. Once everyone is ready, twist your key and take it out. Pretty simple, right?” Kisai instructed.

“Why can’t we have something like this in the training facility? Make things a lot simpler, right?” I inquired.

“Harder to power everything with the extensive network that it requires. The Crossroads provides all of that and more,” Kisai pointed out.

“You’ll have plenty of time to learn, Yuki. There’s still a lot of interesting things in here,” Jen said.

“Let’s go. Tomo, why don’t you step on first?” Kisai directed.

I inspected the panel, seeing nothing on it yet. Pulling out my key, I inserted it in and a screen popped up with a scrollable list of locations. Some were grayed out.

“Oh yeah, there are certain places you can’t go. Probably just Tess’ idea of making sure you don’t do anything too dumb. Pick the one that has my name on it,” Kisai said, noticing my perplexed look.

I tapped it and the panel keyhole became illuminated in a yellow light. Right, next step was to turn the key. I twisted it and the color changed green. I glanced around, making sure everyone was ready. This was weird without Tess. I couldn’t help but worry something might go wrong without her guidance. I took a deep breath and exhaled. Let’s go!

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