Champ, after seeing Yuka off, rode the bus home. He listened to an audio book but his attention was elsewhere. He kept revisiting the events involving Tomo Yuki. The man resolved not to cause further trouble for Lilith and the entire team, yet ended up in another precarious situation. That woman, she was the culprit for his irregular behavior. However, whenever he attempted to recollect his interactions with her, his mind drew a blank. Damn, what exactly did she do to him? The rookie hero questioned his own gullibility, falling for the same trick twice.
“I’m not helping anyone, am I?” he muttered to himself, staring out the window.
“Oh, you’ve helped me out quite a bit, though. Don’t be so hard on yourself. You showed really great promise,” someone responded to his worries.
Champ looked around, searching for the source of the voice. The seats around him were all occupied but no one looked in his direction. They were all interacting with their phones, oblivious to his existence. He inspected the window, expecting his reflection, but instead found a masked woman’s face looking back at him. It was a familiar sight even if his memories of it were murky.
“You!” he accused, keeping his voice low in fear of disturbing those around him.
“Don’t be so mean. I merely gave a little motivation to pursue your true desires. Isn’t it more fun to fully recognize what you can really do instead of just lazing around?” the woman questioned.
“You’ve caused me so much trouble! Betraying my teammates and going after Tomo when she never was my target to begin with!” he disagreed.
“Tomo Yuki, best friends with your very cute girlfriend, Yuka. You say Tomo isn’t a target but she’s with those degenerates, isn’t she? Not a very good influence on dear Yuki. Who’s to say that those poor people’s tastes and habits won’t eventually make their way to your beloved Yuka? A noble and fair goal if you ask me,” she countered, her tone constant.
“Don’t play mind games with me. I’ve had enough of them. Your lies won’t convince me anymore,” the man refuted.
The masked woman shook her head in pity. Al warned her not to interfere with Champ, considering him a failed test subject. However, she believed he could still be convinced and utilized as a valuable asset in the final stages of her plan. Just one more “push” and he would recognize the errors of his ways, finally joining the correct side. She stared directly into Champ’s eyes, influencing him yet again with her hypnotic suggestions. A piercing headache developed after five seconds, forcing her to break eye contact. She tried again but it only aggravated her head pains.
“We’re done here,” Champ declared, turning his head away from the window and closed his eyes.
Still, he couldn’t discount the woman’s words. He worried about the potential influence Tomo Yuki wielded over Yuka. After all, they were close friends, acquainted since middle school. The masked woman wasn’t incorrect about Tess’ party members either. They lacked discipline, often bending rules and didn’t follow proper protocol. But, he needed to trust Yuka. At the same, he also needed to reflect on his own insecurities.
“Lilith, are you busy? I have something to talk to you about,” he said, calling the leader.
“Oh well, should have known that Tess caught on. She’s always been a smart one,” the masked woman admitted, leaning back in her chair.
She draped a fancy cloth, embroidered with roses, over the vanity mirror on her office desk. The woman pressed a white button on her office phone, calling Al over. Her loyal attendant arrived within half a minute, awaiting her request.
“Al, you can definitely remove Champ Shinji from the list now. He is now one of Lilith’s lackeys through and through. To a certain extent, Tess’ as well. Please take away the mirror too. I have no need for it anymore,” she commanded.
“Of course, my lady. I don’t want to overstep my bounds, but I did give you fair warning about pursuing Champ again. Any negative effects interacting with him?” Al inquired.
“Just a little headache, it’s nothing to worry about. Have the preparations been made?” she replied.
“Yes. We did run into a bit of trouble with Ace and her companion. However, it’s been resolved. The key masks are all ready to be distributed. Have you obtained sufficient information or should we continue to gather more?” Al replied.
“No, it’s satisfactory. We’ll return to the Mirror and refine it there. Prepare the things. We’ll leave in an hour,” the woman instructed.
Al nodded, picking up the mirror. The woman removed her mask, staring at it. Champ Shinji failed at his task but Tomo Yuki would have another challenger soon enough. And this one wasn’t a pushover either, much more formidable. She picked up her clipboard, staring at the names listed. Yes, it was time to decide which masks were the right fit for them.
“Tess, time is ticking for you,” the woman declared, grinning at what was to come.