Multiple teleportation magical circles suddenly appeared on the ground around us. Both knights and mages exited from them, outnumbering us. Kisai was the lone exception, isolated from us by a magical partition.
“Madame Charlotte, you’re really overestimating them. Honestly, just ten would have been enough,” Kisai said as two figures materialized before him.
“They really are true friends, putting up with your underhanded insults. Regardless, a two-on-one is much more advantageous for us,” a woman said, pointing her staff at the hero.
“It is annoying to deal with a two-on-one even if I could probably take on both of you at once. Long!” Kisai fired a spark of magic into the air.
The zero vector user fired off a wave from his sword at Kisai’s projectile. This split the spark into orbs of light which landed on the ground and lit up the rooftop in the shape of a bracket. Zhuyu plunged his blade into the ground and everyone shifted positions, restricted to a specific portion of the area. What the hell did those two pull off? I didn’t have time to ponder it further because a man, wearing an eye patch, swung his large sword at me. He shattered my ice wall defense with ease and flames appeared around my foot. Shit, he was a dual threat like Kisai. I tried extinguishing the flames with water but they continued burning with more intensity than before.
“I take it this is your first time seeing cursed flames, young lady,” the man said.
“Who the hell are you?” I teleported away with a portal but the flames followed me.
I swung Mirror’s Rend at the dark flames but no absorption occurred. A thin crack appeared at the blade tip. Seriously? The flames didn’t burn me but they were sapping my magical energy. It was also increasing my internal body temperature as sweat poured down from my forehead. Fuck, I wouldn’t last much longer if I didn’t figure out a counter soon.
“People call me One-Eye Hei. I’m the leader of the vagabond mages and spokesman for various splinter groups who broke off from the Knight’s Guild and Mage’s Association. Right now, I’m just a hired hand so it’s easier to think about me as just a mercenary,” he introduced himself.
“Yuki, you can hear me, right?” Kisai’s voice popped into my head. “I kind of thought they might hire Hei for this finale. There’s a way to deal with his cursed magic. Use your grimoire to read the flow of it and you’ll know what to do from there!”
Damn it, Kisai, you definitely withheld information at the end there on purpose! I summoned my grimoire and the pages of it flipped rapidly back and forth. The cursed flames were still dark, nothing changing just yet. Thirty seconds later, I noticed multiple layers of chains overlaid on top of Hei’s magic. The chains were static at first but then shifted around in a curved motion. I swung at the chains with my blade, afraid the slightest contact would shatter it. However, it was a clean hit and I finally sliced through all of them, arriving at the magic’s core. With one more swing, the flames around my left foot finally vanished.
“Oh, you’re able to cut through my cursed magic?” Hei pointed his sword at me.
I didn’t respond and destroyed the chains protecting the flames crawling up my right leg. Finally free! I heaved a sigh of relief but my internal body temperature still didn’t drop yet. I still felt weak too as the magic drainage continued. A searing pain flared up in my right hand and that’s when I noticed a blood sigil on it.
“Good job putting out my flames but don’t think that’s the only trick I have. Even Jin had trouble beating me as a rookie,” Hei said, stabbing his blade into the ground and leaned his arms on the hilt.
I didn’t even notice him establishing a connection to my magic. When did he gain access to my blood? Of course, it occurred when I hacked through all the chains. The kickback was so minuscule I didn’t even feel it. Damn, I was placed into another tough spot. My grimoire glowed and then the blood sigil vanished from my hand. Huh, what just happened?
“An auto skill? Guess you aren’t just lugging that thing around for show. If that’s the case, I’ll have to handle it this way!” Hei charged towards me and headbutted my forehead.
The impact knocked me unconscious. At least, it felt that way but Hei stood in front of me. Wait, where the hell was I now? Towering shelves, full of books, surrounded me in all directions. A spinning magical circle, a butterfly in mid-flight with strange wings as a design, was underneath me. Hold on, I recognized this design, it was the one Tess and the others utilized when on assignment with the SIU. This place was definitely connected to the Gatekeeper somehow.
“Man, I got a mind link going and I can’t even pass through the first security layer. You must be something special,” Hei commented, gazing around the area with awe.
“You’re the last person I want to ask but where the hell are we right now?” I stumbled backwards in surprise as two ornate chairs suddenly appeared.
“You probably have some idea of what’s going on. It’s a familiar sensation for you, isn’t it?” Hei sat down, crossing his left leg over his right.
I swear, people always loved dodging my questions. Wait, I was inside a mind dive?
“Oh, figured it out already. You know, It’s been a long time since I got stuck at the outer layer. Tess is one sharp lady for setting up all of this in advance,” Hei said, leaning back in his seat.
“How do I kick you out?” I remained standing and glared at him.
“I get you’re super pissed at me right now but let’s have a little talk before we’re at each other’s throats,” Hei suggested, raising his hands in the air to show his sincerity.
“I refuse. There’s nothing to talk about other than you getting the hell out of my head!” I lifted him up into the air.
“Damn, you’re pretty strong. Just hear me out, okay?” Hei didn’t struggle and smiled at me.
What a weirdo. As I released my grip on him, two chains shot up from the magical circle and dragged Hei face first into the floor. More chains appeared, strapping his hands and legs to the ground. I stepped back and bumped into something. Turning around, I saw a familiar face.
“Don’t be alarmed, Yuki,” Tess said, walking past me and towards Hei.
“Been awhile, Tess. Nice space you’ve set up here in her head. You do this for everyone?” Hei tilted his head up.
When did Tess start calling me by my first name? She placed her right finger on Hei’s forehead and then the scene around us changed. The tall book shelves vanished, replaced by bright sunlight streaming in through classroom windows. Tess sat on top of a desk near the front, observing Hei with her usual monotone expression. The man was bound to the the blackboard, a chalk outline around his his body. Things just kept getting weirder.
“Well shit, I should have known you could pull off something like this. That’s why I already prepared for something like this,” Hei said, breaking free of Tess’ chains and slipped past her.
Tess didn’t move from her spot. Uh, you’re not going to help me out? Hei, a halberd in his left hand, swung it at me. I blocked with Mirror’s Rend, heaving a sigh of relief. That could have been bad if I couldn’t summon weapons here. The vagabond mage leader pulled his weapon and thrust it at me this time. Cursed flames surrounded the halberd blade before transforming into fireballs. Damn, I couldn’t risk shattering my blade by deflecting.
“Yuki, Kuan’s gun,” Tess’s voice popped into my head.
Mirror’s Rend vanished and Kuan’s handgun appeared in my right hand. All I had to was fire it, right? Pulling the trigger, a magic circle surrounded the gun barrel, and bullets appeared on the circumference. They crashed into Hei’s fireballs and extinguished them.
“I get your plan, Tess. Okay, I’ll play along for now,” Hei said, exchanging his halberd for an ax.
The Gatekeeper snapped her fingers and Kisai’s purple glowing blade replaced Kuan’s gun. Hei hurled his ax at me. I swung Kisai’s blade and golden orbs appeared in the air. They converged in front of me and formed into a circular shield. Hei’s ax struck the magical shield and immediately shattered. The vagabond mage shrugged his shoulder, not surprised at the result.
“Really like pulling the strings, huh? I don’t mind. Makes things more fun for me,” Hei said, dashing towards me with his large sword, a crimson aura surrounding it.
Kisai’s magical blade vanished and En’s greatsword materialized. Hei’s blade crashed into mine, dark crimson flames surging out of his weapon. En’s weapon glowed blue and countered with aqua flames, pushing back the vagabond mage’s cursed magic. Each time our weapons clashed, the flames grew brighter, eventually resulting in a blinding light filling the area. Really, not this again!
“Yuki, calm down, you know what to do,” Tess advised.
I swapped out En’s greatsword for Zhuyu’s blade. It was just my intuition but the zero vector’s weapon was the correct choice in this scenario. The blinding light vanished and Hei sighed. He pointed his weapon at me and purple magical energy gathered at the blade tip. Oh, cursed electricity this time. I plunged Zhuyu’s blade into the ground and a light rain fell. It grew into a downpour ten seconds later, accompanied by multiple thunder booms. Lightning bolts shot down from the sky, all striking Hei’s blade tip, and negated the magical energy there. The cursed flames flickering around the vagabond mage’s foot were extinguished by the heavy rain as well.
“Man, this is kind of embarrassing. Not a good look for me to be outmatched by someone who isn’t even at rookie Jin’s level,” Hei remarked, raising his left hand upward.
The rain stopped and red streaks of light flew down from the sky. Shit, they moved so fast I couldn’t even track them. I tried parrying with Zhuyu’s blade but was too slow. The red streaks inflicted multiple cuts on my body before forming a cage around me. Hei, wielding a chrome sword with a glowing orb on the hilt, walked towards me.
“The guys at the Stellar Foundation weren’t messing around. This really ups my magic. Sorry I had to test it out on you. Alright, enough playtime,” Hei said as his magic level surged.
Fuck you, like it’s going to be that easy. There was one person ranked above Kisai and her weapon would shift the battle. I grasped Kyoi’s sword in my right hand and a painful headache hit me. My entire body turned stiff and sweat kept pouring down from my forehead. What the hell? Still, I couldn’t just give up now. Taking a deep breath, I let out a loud shout and everything loosened up. First thing was to get out of this cage. Stabbing the blade tip into the ground, flame pillars shot up and burned through the enclosure trapping me.
“Well now, I should have known. Still, even if you do have her sword, you’re not her,” Hei stated, swinging his sword at me.
I parried and flew into the air. Charging up my blade, I slammed it downward into Hei, and sent him flying into the confines of our battle area. I dashed forward and delivered another strike, lines of flames erupting from my blade. The flames met at the orb on his sword hilt and shattered it. The vagabond mage retreated, taken aback by my attack.
“Tch, you’re-,” he started but I interrupted his words.
Channeling all my remaining magic into Kyoi’s blade, I delivered the final attack. My sword cleaved through Hei’s sword, slicing it in half, before plunging into his chest. Over a hundred Chinese mantis, bathed in a red glow, appeared and latched onto Hei. Five seconds later, he burst into flames, unable to put them out even with his cursed magic.
“Guess you win this round. Looks like Jin is close to winning too,” Hei conceded before falling unconscious.
Deep burn marks appeared on the ground around the vagabond mage and smoke billowed from his body. I fell but Tess caught me.
“Well done, Yuki. Your battle has been most helpful for Jacque. I’ll see you soon,” she said before the classroom scene around me crumbled and I blacked out.
“You good, Yuki?” Ichaival stood above me, a concerned expression on his face.
“Yeah, I think so. Where’s Hei?” I returned to my feet, my head pounding.
“Unconscious. Something to do with that mind dive powers of yours?” Kuan gestured at the vagabond mage near me.
“Yeah, what about Kisai?” I looked around the area.
“He’s just about done,” Shan said, pointing at the rooftop edge.