Volume 2, Chapter 1-2: The Plan Moving Forward
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"Wait, the number one isn’t here? Is that okay?” I asked Tess.

“That is a special case which I will brief you on at a later date. While I prefer mandatory attendance from everyone, sometimes unforeseen matters do occur preventing it. Such matters explain the absence of members from both sides. Quite a few of the lower tiers aren’t present,” Tess replied.

“You mean lower tier like Ichaival?” I asked, glancing over at him.

“Yes,” Tess remarked.

“Why’s the end part of Lionel’s…,” I began my question.

“He really should refrain from adding unnecessary titles to his name. Especially ones that could land him in legal trouble,” Tess responded before I even finished asking.

“I’ve been wondering, but Ichaival talks with Shan a lot. Does he always ask him for advice or stuff like that?” I questioned, switching topics believing it best to not dig any deeper.

“Why don’t you ask them?” Tess shrugged.

The hierarchy between the two was clear. Shan held more power and directed Ichaival. I didn’t want to pry further though because Ichaival would object.

“I think I’ll just avoid that for now. So, when is this gonna get started?” I asked.

“Now,” Tess answered.

Kyoi walked up to the front and passed her eyes over everyone in attendance. She said nothing for a few seconds and looked up at the projector screen. Was she stalling for time?

“I can’t say I’m glad to see everyone here. Especially those on the left side of the room. Lionel, you look a little tired. Should we demote you, because it looks like you’ve declined significantly since last time?” Kyoi finally started.

“Hey, cats have nine lives. I’ll bounce back, don’t you worry,” he protested.

“No, you’re just weak now. Perhaps, you want to test out who’s stronger?” Kyoi challenged, her eyes filled with killing intent.

“I always back out of fights I can’t win. It would be dangerous to fight you now,” he declined, shaking his head.

“Feng, I suggest that you get to the point. Knw that we all have busy lives. It’s not highschool anymore. You can’t expect us to be free at any time,” a woman on the left side said.

I looked at the woman who spoke. On the right side of her head, she wore a red flowing ribbon that dropped down to her ears. She had on a white cardigan sweater with a blue shirt underneath. Her long skirt contrasted with the jeans that everyone else wore on her side.

“Lilith, it’s good to see your tongue is sharp as ever. Fine, I’ll get to the point. The Traveler is back and I’m sure that needs no explanation. Satisfied?” Kyoi uttered, a terrifying smile on her face.

“I am. So, what do you expect us to do?” Lilith asked, crossing her arms.

“Oh, I think it’s qite simple. Travel back to the world where we gained our powers. There’s no doubt in my mind that the Traveler will be seeking the locations where we sealed our weapons,” Kyoi revealed.

I looked over at Tess for elaboration. Zhuyu, the only one standing up, stared at the projector screen with a bored look. Kisai and Ichaival were discussing something. When Shan spoke, Ichaival’s face contorted into one of shock. Hmm, they really were all good friends. Zhuyu’s short friend and Shui looked like they were ready to fall asleep.

“Tomo, I’ll explain the finer details once Kyoi finishes her speech,” Tess said, keeping a close eye on the other side of the room.

Except for Lionel and one other person, everyone else was female on the other side. It was kind of a surprise since most of the people on this side were male. Still, it felt weird that the room was almost divided between genders. Was this deliberate or just somehow work out that way?

“Kyoi, let’s say that you’re right. You expect us to fight the Traveler again? No offense but it seems even with all of you over there, the Traveler overwhelmed you. I read the report Tess wrote, I’m not exactly confident about our abilities to face it,” another woman on the other side remarked.

“Stacia, it seems that you’ve made some assumptions. One, our powers are sealed and not even Tess at this time can remove it. Two, the Traveler has gotten much stronger and something or someone is aiding him this time. Three, why are you scared? I seem to remember you and the others with much more energy than this. Has the peaceful life mellowed you out?” Kyoi explained, emphasizing each of her points with a raised finger.

Stacia glared at her, saying nothing. She wore blue jeans with a pair of laced boots. The woman wore a yellow tank top underneath her silver wind breaker. Stacia’s brown hair was pulled in a long ponytail, wrapped around her neck to the left side of her body.

“With our powers sealed and Tess unable to lift the restrictions, we will be ripped to pieces. But we stand a chance if we can retrieve our ultimate weapons. I’m sure the other know what I mean,” Kyoi replied, her voice calm this time.

“Yeah, she’s right. We don’t have much of a choice,” Zhuyu agreed, nodding his head.

“Of course you would agree with her, still a slave to her as always, “ Lilith said, glaring at Zhuyu with contempt.

“Hey, let’s be careful about what we say here. Zhuyu is pretty much wrong most of the time, but I agree with him on this one,” Kisai offered his support.

“Tch, whatever. As much as it does pain me to agree with Kyoi, the circumstances at this point force us to go along with your little plan,” Lilith finally gave up.

“Since we have an initial plan in place, it’s time to introduce our newest member,” Kyoi announced, looking at me.

I stared at her, unsure of what to do. Tess motioned for me to go up. I rose up from my chair and walked up towards Kyoi.

“Tomo Yuki was the one who managed to subdue the Traveler so I expect great things from her. Not exactly worthy of a rank yet, but there’s a great deal of potential. Tomo, I believe you now have a few words for everyone,” Kyoi announced.

“Wait, no, no, I don’t have..” I started, giving Kyoi a confused look.

“Someone’s a little shy. Don’t worry, you’re among friends, right?” Kyoi stressed the last part of her sentence, giving Lilith a smile.

“Hey, what do you think you’re doing? You didn’t tell me anything about this. I thought I was just going to listen to you guys talk?” I hissed at Kyoi.

“Hmm, oh, I guess I neglected to inform the others about how big of a role you have. Here you go, the stage is all yours. Just give a quick introduction,” Kyoi assured me, giving me a thumbs up.

I looked toward the right side and everyone’s eyes were on me. I didn’t hate public speaking but to be put on the spot with no preparation….that sucked. Closing my eyes for a brief moment, I calmed myself down and then addressed everyone in the room.

“Hello, everyone. I’m Tomo Yuki. I don’t know much about this hero thing and to be honest, I’m only here because I wanted answers. Uh, I guess that’s about it,” I introduced myself, bowing at the end.

I gauged the reaction of everyone on the right side. Zhuyu appeared the same, indifference on his face. In fact, I thought he looked a bit angry.

As for the others, his short friend looked bored. Kisai gave me a confident look while Ichaival raised his hands in a clapping motion. Shan gave a small chuckle at Ichaival’s motion. Tess, as always, just stared up with her stoic expression. Shui nodded at my introduction with interest.

“Well, there you go. Tomo, you can return to your seat now,” Kyoi ordered.

Before I could return, Lionel stood up and walked up towards the front. He pointed at me and stared at Kyoi with a serious expression. Okay, something was definitely going to happen.

The look on Lionel’s face differed than the ones I saw before. It contained a glint of danger, mixed with a blind recklessness. In fact, it reminded me of the expression Ichizen displayed when he dashed away.

“Kyoi, I would like to request a ranking match right now against Tomo Yuki,” Lionel asked.

“Tomo is unranked right now with no experience at using any of her powers. It would not be a fair ranking match,” Kyoi refused, shaking her head.

“Fine, if I can’t fight Tomo, then I’ll fight Long. He’s unranked right now. It would be in his favor to fight me since he could move up. Or do you have another excuse for me?” Lionel challenged, looking over at Zhuyu.

“Please, I’m not scared of you. However Long at this moment is injured, so I doubt it would be a fair fight. Go ahead and try it though,” Kyoi said, smiling with malicious intent.

Lionel’s face contorted into one of discomfort, but he stood his ground. My opinion of him improved a little. Zhuyu sighed and moved away from the wall, standing up straight. Ichaival stood up before his friend advanced any further.

“Hey, if we’re offering free challenges here, I’ll take over for Long. Why not fight me?” Ichaival declared.

“Well, well, the archer finally bares his fangs. I’m not scared of you. I think an injured Long would give me more of challenge. I’ll impose a condition first! You fight Bartholomew and win. I’ll consider it then,” Lionel offered.

Ichaival remained silent. He looked over at Kisai and Shan. Zhuyu said nothing. I felt the tension in the room escalate. I remained at my current position, three feet from Kyoi. What would he do?

“Okay, I accept your challenge. I’ll fight Bartholomew. You better keep your promise,” Ichaival agreed to Lionel’s terms.

“You heard him, right? No one here has any objections? Good to hear then. Tomo, I hope you watch carefully. You’ll get to see a taste of just how powerful cats are,” Lionel said, flashing me a bright smile.

Okay, my opinion of him plummeted. Tess stood up from her seat, walking up to Kyoi. I saw them discuss something for two minutes and Kyoi finally nodded.

“Lionel, I’ll add one more condition. It won’t be a ranking match, refer to it as an exhibition. But the battle will be taken into account during the re-ranking process. Is that fine with you?” Kyoi asked, her eyes not accepting no for an answer.

“I can’t refuse the No. 2, can I? Fine, let’s get this started then,” Lionel agreed.

Well, this turned out be an interesting meeting. By watching their battle, I could gain more insight into how these hero’s power worked.

Ichaival conversed with Shan before the battle. Shan, a joking expression no longer on his face, gave advice I could not hear. Kisai gave Ichaival an encouraging pat on his shoulder. While it was meant as a goodwill gesture, a sense of sarcasm and humor was attached to it.

Zhuyu remained silent and only broke his stare at the projector screen by glancing up at the ceiling. No trust in his friend? No time to worry about that. Focus on the battle between Ichaival and this Bartholomew.

“I think I’ll ask Shan about it. He seems to know Ichaival the best,” I decided after talking to Tess, walking over to the tall man.

Shan glanced over at me as I approached him. Ichaival stood across from Lionel at the center of the room. I looked up at Tess who held a glimmering golden key in her hand.

“Hey, Shan, can I ask you a question?” I asked.

“Yeah, go ahead, what is it?” he nodded.

“How strong is Bartholomew and will Ichaival stand a chance?” I questioned.

“Well, Bartholomew is alright. Darryl can win if the right conditions occur. As long as he listens to me, he should be okay,” Shan answered.

That didn’t really answer my question. Shan avoided my question with a vague answer. That’s fine, I would use other methods to gather information. Who else around here seemed likely to have answers? I scanned the group sitting around me and finally settled on Kisai.

“Kisai, is it okay if I ask you a question?” I asked him.

“Of course you can. What do you want to know?” Kisai nodded.

“How would you describe Bartholomew as a fighter?” I decided to phrase my question in a different way.

“Pretty damn good. Not as good as me of course. But seriously, out of all the lower tier heroes, he would be the closest to the upper tier. There’s a reason Lionel picked him to be his partner,” Kisai replied with a joking tone.

“Can Ichaival win?” I followed up.

“I don’t know. But hey, you’ll get to see a good fight. Enjoy it!” Kisai encouraged, smiling.

I would have inquired further but receiving short and fractured details deterred me. Zhuyu, based on his current expression, would not divulge information at all. And everyone else would just end up giving me the same answer.

“Before we start this, I want to confirm the willingness of both parties to fight. There’s still time to abdicate this match without any consequences. So what do you say?” Tess asked, swinging her key around in a half loop.

“No problems here. Bartholomew will take on anyone,” Lionel said.

“I’m ready to go. Bring it on!” Ichaival answered.

Tess nodded, acknowledging their answers. She threw the key down onto the floor and a dome of light encased the three. I shielded my eyes and felt the pendant tucked underneath my shirt shake.

When the brightness finally dissipated, everything still looked the same. Lionel gave Ichaival a smirk. Ichavial unzipped his vest and prepared himself. Would this Bartholomew beat Ichaival?

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