Volume 10, Interlude A: Impromptu Training feat. Kisai and Kuan
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“You can’t beat me,” Kisai boasted, standing at the starting line. 

“What are you even talking about, Jin? I have freakin’ asthma,” Kuan pointed out, not looking forward to the laps Tess assigned. 

“Enough talking. If you possess such stamina, perhaps I should add on additional laps,” Tess threatened, walking up to the two men. 

The Gatekeeper called in the friends for an impromptu training session, selecting them with her randomization program. The first part of her regiment involved cardio, just a little warm-up to get their bodies moving. Once they completed thirty laps, she would assign them additional tasks.

Kisai breezed through the laps and stood by Tess, watching Kuan struggle. She didn’t let the magic user rest for long, telling him to run more laps. More precisely, he would continue to do so until Kuan completed his laps. 

The gun user finally finished thirty minutes later, collapsing to the floor, grasping his chest in pain. Kisai finally showed signs of fatigue near the end, jogging an additional forty laps. Tess displayed no compassion, allowing them two minutes of rest. 

“You owe me, Kuan. Had to do more laps because of you,” Kisai joked, slapping his friend’s shoulder.

“Fu-…. not worth it,” Kuan decided, chugging his water bottle. 

Tess ordered Kuan to ready his firearm, tossing him an earpiece. The man placed the communication device into his ear and manifested his handgun, awaiting her instructions.

“Jin, we’ll test your defensive maneuvers now,” the Gatekeeper announced, directing the two heroes to meet at the training grounds center.

“No magic, right?” Kisai asked. 

“That is a given,” Tess replied with a slight smile. 

Kuan fired at his friend, aiming for Kisai’s chest and head. The magic user avoided all the projectiles except one and clutched his right shoulder. Tess walked up to him, inspecting his injury, deeming it a minor nuisance. It wasn’t severe enough to stop the training. 

“I’ll have you spar now, hand-to-hand, no weapons allowed,” she announced. 

“You fucked up my arm, Kuan,” Kisai stated. 

“Yeah, what about it?” Kuan responded. 

“You know,” Kisai said, jumping back as his friend threw a high kick. 

Kuan performed a takedown, targeting Kisai’s injured arm. Kisai slipped out of his opponent’s grasp and punched him in the stomach. Kuan coughed, remaining upright, and parried Kisai’s next attack. The gun user grabbed his foe’s injured arm, yanking it back before sweeping the magic user’s legs. Kisai fell to the floor and Kuan stomped on his arm. Kisai rolled away, bounding upward with a grin.

“You almost got me, but not good enough,” Kisai taunted. 

Kuan grappled him, kneeing him in the gut five times. Kisai finally escaped the hold and kicked Kuan’s shin, forcing him to stumble. The magic user took advantage, slamming his palm into his opponent’s back. He followed it up with a chop to the neck. Kuan became disorientated, his vision blurring. Despite his reduced vision, he circled around Kisai and locked in a neck choke. Kisai gasped for breath, slumping to the floor. Once Kuan released his hold, the magic user made his move. Displaying no side effects, he tackled Kuan to the ground and pummeled him with punches. Kuan, still dizzy, failed at blocking them. Still, he rolled to his left and kicked Kisai in the face. Both men were now down.

“That’s enough,” Tess declared, raising her hand in the air. 

She ran Kuan through a concussion test and found him satisfactory. The Gatekeeper halted his training and let him rest. However, Kisai was still in good shape, and she wasn’t one to waste time.

“Jin, let’s continue. I’ll be your opponent. Feel free to use your magic,” she decided. 

“Facing you, Tess? You know…. alright, let’s do it,” he agreed. 

“Get your ass kicked, Jin,” Kuan encouraged from the sidelines.

Tess didn’t hold back, unleashing a flurry of chains at the magic user. Magical circles surrounded Kisai, repelling the Gatekeeper’s attack. She reacted with a faint smile and snapped her fingers. The residual magic remaining from Kisai’s defensive maneuver converged into a beam, striking the man’s chest. He grinned in response, balling up his right fist, and opened it five seconds later. Tess anticipated Kisai’s attack and multiple chains linked together, forming a barricade. A beam, similar in size to the one she launched, zipped towards the hero. It struck her barricade but couldn’t pierce through. Upon contact, he pointed forward and the chains disintegrated, leaving Tess open.

“Jin’s playing a dangerous game,” Kuan commented, understanding his friend’s intention. 

The beam re-formed, shining brighter than before, and traveled toward Tess’ head. She remained stationary and acted at the last possible second. The Gatekeeper predicted the single beam would split and fired off chains matching the divergent paths of Kisai’s attack. Her chains absorbed the magical energy from the beams, reducing the man’s planned attack to a small twinkle of light. Kisai foresaw her next attack but failed at blocking it. Tess’ powered-up chains shot up from the ground, wrapping around his ankles, and yanked him to the ground. He placed his left hand on the chains, hoping to dispel them, but nothing occurred.

“Damn, you got me,” Kisai realized. 

Additional chains appeared, binding him. Tess appeared at his position and looped a golden chain around his neck, choking him out. Kisai didn’t struggle and the chains pinning him to the ground shattered. He grasped the chain around his neck and squeezed, destroying it with ease. The Gatekeeper leaped back and stomped her left foot. All the remaining residual magic gathered in her right hand. She charged at the man, fist glowing. The magic user leaped upward, meeting her fist with his own. The battlefield became enveloped in a blinding light and Kuan shielded his eyes. After a minute, the gun user opened his eyes. Tess stood over Kisai, a chain wrapped around his right wrist.

Kuan noticed blood falling from the Gatekeeper’s hand, a rare sight. Still, it was her victory. Kisai smiled, falling face first to the ground with a thud.

“Jin, you good?” Kuan inspected his friend as Tess dispelled her chain. 

“Let’s go another around, Tess,” Kisai joked as blood dripped down from his right hand. 

“You impress as always, Jin. I will oblige if you wish to spar with no magic. Still care to fight?” Tess offered with a slight smile. 

“Nah, even I know when to call it quits,” Kisai responded, shaking his head.

Tess left them alone, declaring their training over for the day. She left behind a suggested regiment for both men. Although injuries from their fights usually didn’t carry over, Kisai did have a bruised hand. Tess wasn’t holding back much when attacking him.

“Trying to manipulate Tess’ magic? That’s fuckin’ crazy, Jin,” Kuan brought up as he wrapped his friend’s hand with a bandage. 

“Nah, it worked, sort of. If this wasn’t an exhibition battle, there’s no way she let me plant a virus like that,” Kisai responded. 

“So that was what you were doing. I’m surprised you could even inject something like that,” Kuan said, slapping his friend’s hand hard as payback.

“Just something I’ve been working on. We’ll need it fighting Ace and the Traveler,” Kisai said, his voice turning serious. 

“You’re right. How’s Tomo progressing?” Kuan questioned. 

“Better than I expected. She’s a quick learner. Honestly, you should be teaching her stuff,” he replied. 

“It’ll be my turn eventually knowing Tess. Come on, let’s go play that new game with Darryl,” Kuan remarked, heading toward the exit. 

The Gatekeeper watched the two men exit from the upper broadcast room. She leaned back in her chair, replaying the fight, making notes on areas of improvement. Ace and Traveler were certainly a threat, but the woman hypothesized something else was out there, posing just as much of a threat.

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