Volume 9, Chapter 1-1: A Rocky Start

Sunday Winter Quarter 2016 Week 8

“Right now? Yeah, I’m free,” I said.

I turned off my monitor, grabbing my car keys. Damn, I wanted to relax after midterms. I bumped into Yukie on my way out and she flashed her usual pleasant smile.

“Heading out, Yuki?” she asked.

“Yeah, my friends wanted to do something,” I replied.

“Have fun,” she encouraged.

Training Facility

Zhuyu wrote on a whiteboard while glancing down at his phone. Shan peered down at his phone too, playing a mobile game as usual. Shui sat on a bench, humming a tune. No sight of Ichaival anywhere.

“Everyone ready to go?” I questioned.

“Yep,” Shan replied, looking up from his phone.

“Is it really that serious? You don’t seem to be concerned at all,” I noted.

“We’re always like this, Tomo,” Shan countered.

“Fine, let’s go,” I said, heading toward the supply closet.

I glanced over at the whiteboard, expecting equations, but saw a flow chart. Boxes contained phrases such as: “I don’t think so”, “Ignore her”, and “Don’t open the door”. What the hell was he pondering?

“So this choice leads to a route I have to do before going to that one. Okay, so then….,” Zhuyu muttered.

“Hey, we’re ready to go!” I informed him.

Zhuyu capped his marker and followed me. I swear, everyone had such weird quirks. Then again, it was better than being around uptight and bland people. Even if I hated to admit it.

Unaffiliated Dimension, Parts Unknown

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I shivered as snowflakes fluttered in the air. The entire sky was gray, with the ground blanketed in a crisp white.

“Damn, it’s cold,” I commented.

“Something wrong?” Zhuyu inquired, standing next to me all of a sudden.

“Son of a…., you scared me. How did you get here so fast?” I asked.

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“You’ve been staring at that for awhile now. Probably why you didn’t notice me,” he replied.

“That snowman’s nose bothers me,” I said.

“What about it?” Zhuyu asked.

“It’s just weird someone used a daikon,” I answered.

“I guess? Lau, you’re having fun,” Zhuyu said, glancing over at the water elemental user.

“Of course! It almost never snows where we are. This is great!” Shui exclaimed, running around in the snow.

“Let’s see what we can find,” Shan suggested, trudging forward.

“Zhuyu, what’s here that’s so important?” I asked.

“Tess said something about detecting a weird signal. Also, an Artifact might be here,” Zhuyu responded.

“Shouldn’t we have brought more people?” I questioned.

“Jin has work. Darryl, well, he’s Darryl. And on it goes,” Zhuyu answered.

“We better not get ambushed!” I shouted.

“When is that ever something someone wants?” he shot back with a smile.

“When you play Monster Slayer, of course. We need the material!” Shan offered a scenario.

“You have a point, but Tomo has no idea what you mean,” Zhuyu agreed.

Shui lagged behind, infatuated with the snow. He personified a child seeing snow for the first time, moving around with a huge smile. Zhuyu and Shan, well, they looked pretty indifferent. If anything, these conditions annoyed them.

“Any luck?” I asked as the wind picked up.

“Nothing. Really wish Tess was here,” Shan replied, shaking his head.

We finally arrived at a small village. The roofs were all covered in snow, no light emanating from any of them. There was a well in the center, but not much else.

“Barge in?” I joked.

“Good idea,” Shan said, heading towards a nearby house.

“Wait, that was a…. fine, if it’ll get us out of the snow,” I yelled but reconsidered as the snowfall increased.

Shan knocked on the door, but no response. I peered through the window, noticing no movements inside. He called Zhuyu over, pointing at the doorknob.

“Tomo, know how to pick a lock?” Shan grinned at me.

“No. I doubt anyone here does,” I replied.

“I don’t want to break it down,” Shan contemplated.

“Hang on, we’re breaking and entering?” I glanced at him.

“Those are serious accusations, Tomo. All the houses here are dark, isn’t that weird?” Shan pointed out.

“This one’s open,” Zhuyu called us over.

There was a light switch near the front door. I flicked it, but nothing. Still complete darkness.

“Tomo, give us some light,” Shan requested.

I conjured a small fireball, providing adequate lighting. The furniture inside was sparse, only a couch and dinner table. There was small kitchen, but it was pristine, no dishes in the sink.

“Find anything useful?” Shan asked.

“Not really. Tomo, can you point it up here?” Zhuyu requested, opening a cabinet above the stove.

I redirected my light and he checked the contents. The man pulled out a single can. Oh great, nothing. At least we had shelter from the snow.

“Guess we’ll have to try the other houses,” Zhuyu decided, shutting the cabinet door.

“Are you serious? The snow is crazy out there,” I protested.

We checked several houses before arriving at an authority figure’s house. Every door was unlocked. Something bad must have happened for them to abandon the area.

“Documents, perfect,” Shan said, opening up a table drawer.

I saw a framed picture behind the desk. Upon closer inspection, it was a family portrait. There was a middle aged man, his wife, and two kids.

“There was a monster and it chased off the people,” Zhuyu read.

“Check this out,” Shan said, holding up a photo.

“That thing’s ugly,” Shui observed.

No disagreeing with you there. The picture depicted a round ball of fur, icicles protruding out from it in all directions.

“We fighting it?” Shui inquired.

“No idea,” Shan responded.

“This place hasn’t been abandoned for too long. Not that much dust yet,” Zhuyu observed, rubbing his thumb and finger together, after touching the table and chair.

“Now what?” I asked.

“The snow is slowing down. Maybe we can see what’s beyond the village. If it gets too dangerous, we can just backtrack and leave,” Zhuyu decided.

“Great, let’s get going,” Shan agreed.

We saw a temple in the distance after trekking for a few minutes. We ascended up the steep stairs, seeing two fox statues guard the entrance. The wind howled when we walked past. There was a wilted tree inside and even more steps to go up.

“It’s creepy,” Shui commented.

There was another large fox statue, a scarf wrapped around its neck. Shan and Zhuyu moved to the left, motioning at us. Shui and I followed, hiding behind a large pillar.

“Somebody’s here?” I whispered.

Zhuyu nodded. Familiar faces showed up, descending from the stairs. Champ, an agitated look on his face, slapped the fox statue. Stacia and two other women accompanied him.

“We still haven’t found anything! Lilith said there was something here,” Champ shouted, glaring at Stacia.

“Don’t blame me just because you can’t find it!” Stacia lashed out at him, ready to snap her fingers.

“Okay, okay! I won’t blame you. We got a useless captive too! Their power is trash. How befitting of those trash heroes,” Champ backed off.

“Maybe we should look someplace else,” one of the women suggested.

“It has to be here! I’m not heading back empty-handed. If I fail, who knows what she’ll do,” Champ disagreed.

“Champ, we have guests,” the other woman informed him.

Oh s***. Stacia was one crazy person, and with Zhuyu here, she would turn berserk.

“You tracked me down, Tess! Come out and get your ass kicked!” Champ screamed.

“Do we go or stay?” I glanced at Shan and Zhuyu.

“There’s no use hiding if he already knows,” Zhuyu decided, revealing himself.

“What a surprise! The Gatekeeper isn’t with you. Is my luck finally changing?” Champ noticed Tess’ absence.

“Not really,” Zhuyu denied, shaking his head.

Stacia glared at him, but restrained herself, not taking any action. The other two women remained silent, allowing Champ to ramble.

“Looking for the Artifact?” Zhuyu guessed.

“I’ve been looking for it to perfect my powers. I doubt a fool like you knows the location,” Champ belittled the zero vector user.

“We don’t know anything just like you said,” Zhuyu confirmed.

“I have a bargaining chip. You don’t report me to Lilith and I’ll return this worthless piece of s*** to you,” Champ offered, pulling out a rock from his pocket.

“What?” everyone said in unison.

Champ held the rock as if it were a precious treasure. Had he finally lost it?

“This rock is very special. You know it well,” Champ declared, pacing around the statue.

“Right,” Shan agreed, playing along with him.

“In fact, it is a very dear friend,” Champ continued.

“Get to the point,” Zhuyu demanded.

“Fine, this rock is a hero,” Champ finally disclosed.

Hold on. Did Champ declare the rock was a hero? He made no sense at all.

“Long, Champ’s gone. How do we deal with those three?” Shan ignored the man’s claim.

“I’m serious! You don’t believe me. Catch!” Champ laughed, hurling the rock at us.

Shan conjured a tennis racket, smashing the rock back at him. It struck Champ in the left eye, bouncing down to the ground.

“Damn, you still don’t believe me! Fine, I’ll just try again!” Champ yelled, picking up the rock.

He hurled it with more strength, but Shan shot it back at him. Champ clawed at his eyes in pain. The three women only observed, allowing us to do what we wanted for now.

“You fuckers! Tell them already! I’m not lying. Xi, tell them!” Champ barked as blood spilled down from his forehead.

“I guess…. that…. it’s really…. a….,” she whispered.

The rock suddenly glowed, emitting a bright light. When it dissipated, a person lay on the ground. Jacque?

“Oh s***,” Shan remarked.

Jacque stood up, looking around. He stared at us and then Champ. This was awkward, didn’t expect anything like this.

“F*** my life,” Jacque uttered, heading towards us.

“Jacque, you good?” Zhuyu checked in on him.

“Ah…. as much as I can be,” Jacque replied with a sad laugh.

“You’ll get used to it,” Shan encouraged.

“I’ll try…. nah, my life sucks,” the man disagreed.

“Are you guys done? I thought I could recruit someone powerful but no! A f****** rock. Tomo, do you see why our side is superior? That’s what they really are, summed up by that useless piece of s***,” Champ shouted, pointing at Jacque.

“Let’s not get carried away. Jacque may be a rock, but he still f***** you up,” Shan disagreed, grinning at Champ.

“That’s true. He’s lethal,” Zhuyu supported him as well.

“Just get them,” Champ ordered, touching his head in pain.

“I’ve been waiting for this!” Stacia ran straight at Zhuyu, no mercy in her eyes, snapping her fingers.

He stood still, extending his left hand out. Stacia stepped back, shock on her face.

“How is that possible?” Stacia attempted another attack but failed.

Shui constructed a large ice wall, blocking potential attacks. A sudden grating noise forced me to cover my ears. The ice wall shattered, leaving us open once more.

“Long, can you cut it off?” Shan asked, staring at the zero vector user.

“Yeah, but I won’t be able to do it multiple times,” Zhuyu replied.

“I’ll let you handle it!” Shan shouted.

I heard a shrill sound but it ceased immediately. Zhuyu collapsed to the ground, his breathing heavy. Shan flung the woman, producing the high pitched sounds, down to the ground with his gravitational powers. I ran over, slamming my hand down on the ground, freezing her. Shui created a thin layer of ice, causing Champ to slip and hit his forehead. My necklace shook, indicating a large amount of magical energy released. A mask silhouette appeared around his face.

“Are you kidding me? Xi, you’re useless. Go stall for time since that’s all you can do,” Champ ordered, clutching his head in pain.

When I attacked Xi, my attack was repelled. I tried again, but could not approach her. She picked up her frozen ally, sliding her into an opening portal. The woman rushed over to Stacia and hurled her into the portal too. Shan dashed after Champ, yanking off his mask. The man collapsed to the ground, shouting out in pain. Shan attempted an uppercut, but pulled his fist back at the last moment, staring at the quiet woman. She gave us a respectful nod, departing with the unconscious Champ into the closing portal.

“What now?” I looked at Shan.

“Report back to Tess. Don’t want to put Jacque in any more danger,” Shan decided.

Shui assisted Zhuyu up from the floor. He stumbled but managed to walk on his own after a few minutes of rest. I stared at the portal location, stretching my hand towards it. My necklace shook once more. This was a significant amount of magical energy. Was Champ really capable of that or did he have help?

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