Volume 13, Chapter 22-2: Dragon Pieces (III)
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Turning the doorknob, I entered a bright room and saw an unexpected sight. A lone person sat near a control panel and placed a brown paper bag down near it. What the hell was going on here?

"Oh, I hope you don't mind, but I'm going to eat my lunch first," he said, not even looking in my direction.

Someone in a white lab coat was sprawled out on the floor near him. He reached into his paper bag and pulled out a wrapped sandwich. Wait, this man was serious about eating first?

"Come on, feel free to have a seat. It'll take a few minutes for me to finish all of this," he suggested, gesturing toward a chair.

I was at a loss of words. His behavior was strange, even with everything I'd gone through. I considered a preemptive attack but that was risky, knowing nothing about this potential enemy. He could turn out to be just as strong as Kyoi and destroy me. For now, I would continue observing before doing anything rash.

"Relax, I don't bite. Also, they're not dead if you were wondering. Just taking a little nap," he revealed, drizzling ketchup over his fries.

"Who exactly are you?" I questioned, staying in my current position.

"Oh yeah, guess I haven't introduced myself. What's a good name to use? Uh, you can just call me Doctor E," he replied, taking a sip from his soda.

"Doctor?" I questioned, unsure if it was just an arbitrary title he selected or if he was actually competent enough to have earned it.

"Guess it's kind of haughty. Well, it's too late to take it back now. It's your turn now," he remarked, unwrapping a burger this time.

"My turn for what?" I asked.

"Introductions, duh. I gave you my name. Makes sense for you to do the same, right?" Doctor E pointed out.

"Tomo Yuki. I have a feeling you already know my name though," I answered.

"Yuki, huh? Oh, I guess that's rude of me to address you by your first name already. Anyways, I guess you're here for this, aren't you?" Doctor E pulled out a shimmering dragon piece from the brown paper bag.

Had he been keeping it there the entire time? Okay, that's not what you need to focus on, Yuki! Now, the only issue was getting it from him. I knew from experience that despite a laid back attitude, that meant nothing in relation to a person's combat ability. Just how strong was he?

"Did you take it from them?" I stalled for time.

"Guilty as charged. It doesn't belong to them and they were just doing dumb tests on it. Wait, that makes me a thief too!" Doctor E finished his burger.

"I'm guessing you don't have any intentions of returning it to the rightful owner, do you?" I took one careful step towards him.

"Oh, talking about Zhuyu Long? He's a little busy outside right now handling all the security. It will be intriguing to see what he can do once he combines his Dragon's Mandate with his current zero-vector powers. I'm really looking forward to it!" Doctor E tossed the dragon piece into the air with a grin.

Oh, a chance! Adjusting the gravity, I pulled the dragon piece towards me. I blinked and then Doctor E stood right in front of me. He held a can of soda in his left hand and the dragon piece in his right. This was not good.

"Not magic but gravity manipulation. You're full of surprises, Yuki. Keep working on it and you'll be able to snatch anything. Looks like Shan Shigetzu hasn't taught you all the tricks just yet," he remarked, sipping soda from his straw.

"You're pretty familiar with the heroes. Just who exactly are you?" I attempted to summon my sword.

"Doctor E, just like I said earlier. Just like you're Yuki," he replied, immediately appearing back at the control panel.

My blade failed to appear. Are you serious?

"Yuki, you're here for this and I happen to have it in my possession. I'm not like the Black Lotus people here. So, I have a proposition for you," he offered, finally finishing all of his food.

"What is it?" I questioned, very suspicious of him.

"Ouch, that hurts. Anyways, it's simple, really. Show me all the powers you've learned from all of them. Feng, Jin, Shigetzu, well you get the idea. Maybe I should list off all of them," he replied, crumpling up his brown paper bag.

"You really don't have to! That's all you're asking?" I stared at him.

"Yeah. Of course I'm not going to just stand around and take all those attacks you're dishing out. I'll tell you when I've seen enough. And then you'll get this. Simple as that," he explained, holding the dragon piece out.

Definitely a trap. Still, it was a good opportunity. I wouldn't show him everything, just enough to fulfill my end of the deal.

"Fine, I'll do it," I agreed.

"I'm a man of my words. I'll definitely give this to you. Now, one more thing, no weapons. I'm sure you already realized when you couldn't conjure up that sword earlier. Come at me when you're ready!" he shouted, giving me a dopey grin.

He pissed me off. Okay, what to do? I needed to confirm his speed first. Creating a portal, I prepared to get the jump on him from above. Once I took one step forward, Doctor E was already in front of me. Shit, I didn't even see him move at all! He shoved me into my own portal and then appeared in the air next to me. With a swift chop to my neck, he turned my entire body numb. I lost all feeling, not able to move my fingers or feet.

"Ah, might have overdone it there. Gotta monitor my own strength," Doctor E said, scratching his head.

Don't count me out just yet! Even I couldn't move, that didn't mean my magic was shut off. I unleashed a barrage of icicles at him. Doctor E dodged all my projectiles and shattered each one. Good, that's exactly what I wanted! Using the chunks of ice on the floor, I filled the entire room with burning steam. That should provide enough time for me to recover. However, Doctor E cleared away all the steam instantly.

"Not bad, Yuki. Tess made sure you were ready. Gotta hand it to the Gatekeeper," he commented, raising his foot to stomp me.

I generated electricity and repelled myself away from his attack. That was way too close but at least I could move again. Doctor E appeared behind my back but I pivoted away using the move Kyoi taught me. How to slow him down? If I couldn't track his movements, the best method was to keep him in one place. Time to see if this would work. Firing off waves of lightning as a distraction, I used the residual magic from it to create electrical orbs around him, hoping the repulsion from each orb would lock him in position.

"Great use of Zhang's powers but still not there yet!" he complimented me before spinning around in a circle.

My electrical orbs vanished and Doctor E appeared in front of me. Multiple layers of ice shot up from the ground, blocking him. When he shattered through one layer, I attempted to trap him in between ice walls, but he was too quick. Using chunks of the broken walls, I encased the entire floor in ice. Doctor E slipped, landing near me. Finally, an opening! I slammed my palm into the ground, gathering all the residual magic in the area. Before releasing it, I compressed it using what Kisai taught me, and then fired off a devastating beam at him. It struck Doctor E and then smoke filled the entire place. When it all cleared, he was no longer on the ground. I felt a presence behind me and spun around.

"Good attack, almost got me there. I still haven't seen enough just yet. Getting real close though. Keep up the good work, Yuki," Doctor E said, no signs of any damage on his body.

"Do you realize that everything you say sounds really insulting and sarcastic?" I pried off the stair railing, planning to utilize it as a blunt weapon.

"Yeah, people have told me that before but I'm sincere! Trust me, I wouldn't have offered up this dragon piece if I wasn't!" Doctor E avoided my attack.

I took a deep breath and then applied Zhuyu's zero vector powers. Doctor E stared at me in confusion, not noticing the ice wall developing behind him. Dashing forward, I performed a side kick, utilizing my ice wall. I then pivoted behind him, choking the man out with the stair railing. He wriggled out and disarmed me. That was progress at least.

"You're starting to show me what you can do, Yuki. Keep it up," he encouraged before punching me in the stomach.

I collapsed to my knees, gasping for air. Shit, he was at the level of Tess, maybe even better. I bowed my head down, and opened my mouth to throw up, but nothing came out. After breathing in and out repeatedly, I felt better but still not normal. Finally returning to my feet a minute later, I considered my next move. Close combat and range attacks weren't optimal. Really, a lot of the techniques I learned from the heroes were useless against Doctor E. His ability to arrive at my position instantly and the man's hard strikes proved a deadly combination. Still, I wasn't giving up just yet!

"Probably going to waste a bunch of portals trying this," I muttered, executing my plan.

"Interesting way to finish me off. Let's count how many you've managed to summon up. Twenty, no, definitely more than that. Oh, you're really pushing the limits, Yuki. Okay, this might just be it!" Doctor E clapped his hands in joy.

Sixty portals, placed throughout the room in different angles and elevations. This was my first time summoning so many at once and I already felt the mental strain. All the magic I learned from the heroes blasted out from them, all traveling straight for Doctor E. I already anticipated him either dodging or manipulating it for his own use. But, that was fine. My intention was not to ever have all of it strike him. Doctor E masterfully evaded all sixty blasts, contorting his body at crazy angles and zipping away as my magic was centimeters away from touching him. I was surprised I could even track his movements. I suspected my grimoire somehow finally adjusted to his ridiculous speed and was able to process all of it now.

"This is quite a workout, making me dodge all of this! But, you have something else planned so show me what it is already!" Doctor E grinned with excitement, holding up the dragon piece in the air.

You asked for it! I converged all the magic unleashed from my portals into a compressed, unstable glowing orb. It flickered around in the air and I had difficulty keeping it in place. I gasped for air, drained mentally and physically. Now for the finale! A huge blast of magic erupted from the orb, striking everything in sight. I could mitigate the damage on my end so it didn't matter if I was collateral. My control of the blast radius was terrible but I tried concentrating the majority of it on Doctor E. He might be fast but I doubt he could evade this. My vision blurred as I collapsed to the ground. Fuck, was this enough?

"Yuki, a promise is a promise. I've seen enough from you to give you this. When we meet next time, let's fight for real," Doctor E said, his voice turning faint as I blacked out.

When I woke up, Tess stood over me. Where was I? She handed me a cup of water, directing me to drink it. I sat upright, still a little light headed. Oh, an infirmary room. There was a knock and she opened the door. Zhuyu, En, and Kyoi entered with worried expressions. That was a lie. Kyoi had a slight grin on her face when she walked over to my bedside.

"I didn't expect you to wreck half of their hideout. You're a fast learner," Kyoi revealed.

"What?" I stared at her in confusion.

"That little magic blast you did at the end was really something. You actually managed to scare me a little bit," Kyoi explained.

"Yuki, thank you for getting this dragon piece. But, don't kill yourself doing it next time. I'm serious," Zhuyu said, showing me the dragon piece.

"All I remember was him not even getting hit by it," I said, trying to recall what happened.

"Feng discovered you holding the dragon piece in your right hand. The enemy wasn't a Black Lotus member, correct?" Tess asked, refilling my cup with water.

"Yeah, I don't think so. He told me to call him Doctor E," I responded.

"An intriguing pseudonym. I will investigate and inform you if anything comes up. Tomo, like Long said, refrain from emptying your magical reserve so much in a battle. Whoever you faced was compassionate enough to not take advantage and injure you seriously," Tess warned, handing me water again.

"I'll keep that in mind," I agreed.

"Get some rest, Yuki. You'll need it. Two more dragon pieces to go," Kyoi said, holding up her pointer and middle finger.

"We'll return in a couple of hours to take you back home once you pass all the tests. Long, Fei has something to discuss with you," Tess directed and then everyone left.

I lay back down in bed and stared up at the ceiling. Shit, Doctor E was a strange opponent. Why was he so interested in seeing all the moves everyone taught me? A spy maybe but that didn't give him any reason to give me the dragon piece. Could it be related to what the Special Investigations Unit was working on? That might explain why Doctor E was so familiar with the heroes if he traveled around. It hurt my head just to even think about the possibilities. Time to get more sleep and figure it out when I was actually thinking straight.