Volume 9, Interlude A: Nefarious Plans

Tess retrieved Champ’s mask from the training facility, taking it to her laboratory. She donned a pair of special gloves before reaching into the evidence bag. The Gatekeeper scanned the mask, saving the data onto her computer. She ran her fingers across the back of the mask, searching for something specific. When Tess inspected the front, the mask suddenly crumbled into small chunks. The pieces disintegrated into dust, evaporating into the air. She grabbed a nearby empty bottle, sucking up any remaining dust.

“I need to be more careful,” she muttered, staring at the fading sparkles in the air.

She picked up the phone, calling the Special Investigations Unit captain. Tess explained her discovery, staring at the bottle. The captain, investigating the mysterious masked individuals, was excited to receive any potential evidence. The Gatekeeper opened a nearby glass cabinet door, inserting a key underneath it. She placed the bottle inside and then shut it, yanking her key out. The bottle disappeared, sent over to the Crossroads.

Tess’ next task was to contact Lilith, inquiring about Champ’s condition. After reading Long’s report, she suspected the man’s action weren’t of his volition. The Gatekeeper desired details from Lilith to support her hypothesis.

“Lilith, are you busy?” Tess questioned, dialing the woman’s number on the desk phone.

“Tess, good timing. I wanted to talk to you too,” Lilith responded.

“You wish to discuss Champ, correct?” Tess guessed.

“Astute as always. I spoke with him and the other guilty members. I understood Stacia’s motive, but not Steph’s or Xi’s. They’re the more quieter members of the team, never ones to do anything foolish like this,” Lilith revealed.

“They may have been influenced,” Tess said.

“I thought so too. Champ mentioned being approached by a woman before and felt strange after talking to her. That was when he first attempted to recruit Tomo. This second transgression he’s committed, it’s the same story. It’s hard to believe him, but you probably have evidence,” Lilith agreed, already knowing the answer.

“Shigetzu recovered a mask Champ wore. Long wrote that Tomo saw an ethereal mask appear on Champ’s face after slipping on ice. This mask assumed a solid form, allowing Shigetzu to rip it off. My initial analysis of the mask indicated it contained hidden runes, activated by a specific voice. However, I couldn’t investigate further because there was a self-destruction mechanism that triggered once the mask was removed from him,” Tess explained.

“So Champ’s story has validity. Hah, damn, I don’t know what to do now. This person, whoever she is, has targeted him twice now. He’s a liability, Tess. We should strip him of his powers,” Lilith debated.

“I understand your concerns, Lilith. However, there’s a simple fix. I can place a seal on Champ. If she attempts to contact him for the third time, I will be notified right away. And it should repel any further suggestions from this mysterious woman,” Tess offered.

“I appreciate that, Tess. We may have our differences, but I’ve always respected you. Let’s try that and hope nothing else goes wrong. Anything else I should know?” Lilith inquired.

“Not at the moment. I’ve sent over a sample to the SIU. They are better equipped for it than I am currently. They’ll inform me and you once they’ve found anything relevant,” Tess answered.

“I appreciate the information, Tess. Bye,” Lilith hung up.

The Gatekeeper exited the training facility, switching her focus to schoolwork. Her presentation for the research grant was tomorrow. She still had slides to fix and check that the latest data was included.

“He failed again. I shouldn’t have expected anything grand from a low tier individual like him. His easy access to the heroes was useful, but he’s a liability now,” the orange haired woman spoke to Al.

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“My lady, I agree it is time for better test subjects. Ones that will actually produce results,” Al agreed, handing her a list of prospects.

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“Thank you, Al. Have these people been vetted?” she questioned.

“Yes, I inspected the data personally and made sure that these people meet your standards,” he replied.

“Good. I will go ahead and make sure the masks are functioning. Send out teams to contact them. Take anyone off the list that doesn’t show the motivation. That’s one of the most important traits,” she reminded him.

“Of course,” Al said, bowing as she departed.

He sent his daily report over to the Master and then scheduled a meeting. Champ Shinji didn’t fulfill any of the goals. However, his experience with the mask provided valuable data. Data that would ensure phase two was successful. Al proceed to the kitchen, whistling a cheerful tune.

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