Shadow's Pursuit

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Chapter Thirteen

ALOYCE HELD THE hilt of his bastardsword firm, pushing down with two hands against the blade of his opponent. His arm muscles were burning with the prolonged effort, small beads of sweat trickling down his brow, but he ignored it and pressed forward. His opponent, another young knight and a close friend of his, grimaced with the increased pressure.

Sir Mackay had blonde hair, cut short on all sides, and glowing blue eyes that always seemed to sparkle with laughter, now looking at him seriously through the thin slots in his helmet. Aloyce stepped back, sweeping his sword up and breaking the lock on them both. They moved into ready stances, blades before them.

“The scouting forces have returned.” Mackay said, his voice muffled, jumping forward. Aloyce blocked, pushing his sword away and retaliating with a low swing at his gut. Mackay stepped back, then pulled his sword into a two handed grip and stabbed at his heart. Aloyce parried again, the blade of his weapon sliding down his opponents till they were pushing from the guards. They moved forward, now pressing against each other in a battle of strength and endurance. Each step was a clanking of metal armour, each swing of a blade causing plates to creak against each other.

“Is that so?” Aloyce said, voice low and barely audible behind his visor. He moved his feet, giving himself the advantage, and Mackay pulled away as his grip failed, his blade being pushed into the earth. Aloyce quickly brought the tip of his bastardsword up, his muscles screaming in protest, and aimed it at his friend’s chest before he had the time to lift his own. Mackay sighed, putting a gloved hand up in surrender.

Aloyce smiled slightly as he sheathed the heavy weapon and removed his helmet, breathing in the fresh air as a slight breeze swept over them. His hair and face was streaked with sweat, his usually pale skin now pink with effort. Mackay did the same, his own face covered in perspiration.

Merrick rushed up to him, giving a small bow as he approached the knights. “A wonderful fight, my lords.” he said. He held up towels for the two men and Aloyce took his gratefully, handing him his helmet in return. It was black and shaped to his head, the visor cutting along the outline of his jaw and coming to a rounded tip at his chin, angled at the top to cover most of his nose and leaving only his eyes revealed. The helm was decorated with a thick brow, and a raised line in the centre travelled along to the back where it turned into a rounded crest. A long red plume came out and down from the crest.

“Can you get us some drinks, Merrick?” he asked quietly, trying to control his breathing. Deciding to spar outdoors, the black armour of the Treston Knights only exacerbated the heat from the sun. His squire nodded and disappeared back inside again.

Mackay finished wiping his own face and extended a hand, and they shook firmly.

“What have the scouting forces reported?” Aloyce asked, throwing his towel over his shoulder.

“What we predicted- Avendan’s set up watch points all along the Severin.” Mackay said. “Some made of infantry, others magi, others still of both. Rumour has it they’ve even got Shield Maidens at the water’s edge.”

“Thomas must be tense if he has the likes of them there.” Aloyce said. Although it’s not like we’re going to be charging over the river any time soon, he thought.

Mackay nodded in agreement and then moved closer to him as Merrick returned, carrying a jug and goblets with Aloyce’s helmet beneath his armpit.

“King Desmond seems particularly pleased of late regarding his progress against Avendan.” he muttered. Aloyce’s eyes flickered over to his friend but he kept his face impassive.

“What has happened to please him so? What changed?” he asked. Mackay shrugged, his pauldrons creaking with the effort.

“Something. I’ve never seen His Majesty smile so much in the one day. A messenger brought him great news, I’ve heard.” he said.

“Great news for him can only be great news for us.” Aloyce said, moving forward to take the jug from his squire’s hands before the boy dropped everything. He could already see his helmet starting to slip.

“You must want to know what he’s planning, Aloyce.” Mackay said, making him pause. “We are his knights, his closest of warriors, and yet he doesn’t tell us anything. Doesn’t that bother you?”

“His Majesty will tell us his plans when he thinks it is right to do so.” he said. He kept his own thoughts to himself, the familiar anxiety nagging in his gut yet again.

He forced it down. “I’m sure there is a purpose to his silence. We just have to be patient and wait.”

“War is almost upon us.” Mackay said, also watching his squire as he stumbled. “Do you think we are ready? We keep making these obvious threats against Avendan, but are we actually ready for a response?”

“We are ready when His Majesty says we are ready, Rhys.” he replied, tone even.

“You know what I mean.” Mackay responded, a touch of irritation to his tone.

“I do.” Aloyce turned to face the knight. He swallowed his doubts away, keeping his face impassive. “And personally, I am ready. Whether or not the country is ready is not for me to say.”

Mackay sighed. “You never used to think that before. You know, back before you gained your Knighthood, back when it was you and I playing with wooden swords in our parent’s courtyards.”

“I know what I used to think, and what I think now. And I also know that what I think doesn’t matter, and it never will.” Aloyce said, his temper rising despite his attempts to keep it down.

“What changed your mind? What makes you suddenly so eager for war? No matter what I ever said, you always despised the idea.” Mackay said, either ignoring or not noticing the warning in his voice.

“I never said I was eager for war, or that I changed my mind.” Aloyce said quietly, his eyes flashing. Incredulous disbelief crossed the blonde knight’s face.

“You still don’t think that we need this, Aloyce? Think of the tactical advantage we’d gain by taking the Severin. Avendan has most of it already, treaty or no, and you know they don’t need it like we do. It’s only going to get worse for us now that we’ve stopped trading with them.”

Aloyce turned to face him fully, the anger on his face unavoidable. “I don’t like what you’re implying. I don’t care what we need, or what advantage we would gain by doing anything. I obey the king, and when King Desmond tells me to go to war, that is what I will do.”

“You just won’t like it?”

“What I like has nothing to do with my orders.” Aloyce said, and turned on his heel to help Merrick as his helmet slipped out from beneath his armpit and clanged against the ground.

RAINE SOON FOUND her world changing around her, once again.

Recovering from her activated Death Bridge and wildly out-of-control mana vital had taken a few days, days that were spent confined to her room, mostly sleeping and sorting out the many questions that raced around in her mind. As promised, Troy had not told anyone of her situation, though she had a strong feeling that Lieutenant Preston would be aware of it by now. Chelstra occasionally checked up on her, believing that her illness was due to the incident on the night of the eclipse, and those were awkward times filled with guilt and a burning wish to tell her the truth.

That self-reproach only continued to grow as she no longer participated in magic training with the rest of her platoon, her attention now focused solely on learning Death Magic with Lloyd Wetherdon.

DAYS PASSED INTO weeks and she stuck to her old excuse, telling the Life Mage that she was no longer allowed to practice magic until her mana vital had stabilised. It was a lie that she had accepted, though she was obviously confused about it, but Raine knew that it wouldn’t last forever. She would have to tell her at some point, but she didn’t want to witness her response.

She distracted herself instead by focusing on her new studies, learning about the various kinds of Death Magic and the techniques that they could bring. During the night she hunted for information for her Shadow masters back in Treston, sending back what she could through her informant, Crow. Seeing Damien at the king’s feast had been a firm reminder of what she was and what her true duties were, as much as she hated to admit them.

WHEN RAINE ENTERED the Death Guild one day, the location now imbedded firmly in her memory and as easy to locate as her own quarters, her eyes went wide with shocked recognition.

Hammond sat in one of the armchairs, holding a ceramic mug in his hand. His long legs were stretched out before him, and he looked up at her slowly as her boots clicked on the stone floor as she entered.

“Hammond!” she exclaimed eventually. It had been a long time since she last saw the Fire Mage- he rarely showed up to meals at the same time as her, and being separated from her platoon meant that she never saw any of them anymore.

She felt happiness grow in her chest as she looked at him, although she was still greatly confused.

“Greetings.” the Fire Mage said nonchalantly, raising his mug slightly in greeting. “Still kicking, then? Death Bridge hasn’t killed you?”

“Well no, not really…” she muttered, still stunned. “How are you?”

He shrugged. “Alive, I guess. For now, anyway.” he said.

“What do you mean?” she asked, moving further into the small room.

“Aren’t you gonna ask what I’m doing here?” he said, raising an eyebrow. “For a bright one like you, I figured that’d be the first thing coming out of your mouth.”

“Well, I was,” she spluttered, stunned, “but I haven’t seen you for a while now so I thought I’d start with that.”

“More polite; I get it.” he said, considering it. He sat straight and turned to look at her, eyes serious. “I am very well thankyou, Miss Raine. I do hope you are of exemplary health yourself.”

“I don’t need the sarcasm, Hammond,” she said, sinking into the armchair opposite him. She smiled despite herself and the corner of his lips curled with amusement.

“So, you’ve recovered from that weird night of yours then?” he asked, a touch of seriousness returning to his bright green eyes. “Claybrook has been telling everyone that you can’t use magic at the moment, because of some serious magical illness, or whatnot… Makes for interesting gossip.”

“Fantastic.” she muttered. This is getting out of control. I’ll need to allow the truth to come out soon, but I don’t want to hurt Chelstra.
“But such is life.” Hammond said with a yawn. “Now, for the prize-winning question?”

She looked at him for a moment, and then frowned. “What are you doing here? You’re supposed to be training with Third Platoon, aren’t you?”

“There we have it, ladies and gentlemen.” he said, gesturing wide. “And yes, I’m supposed to be. But you should know me well enough by now to know that I’m not going to do that.”

“So…?” Raine ventured as he took a sip from his mug. Then he frowned, looking at it.

“This is revolting. Gods only know why I’m drinking it; save my head from exploding, I guess.” he muttered to himself.

“Hammond!”

“Well somebody else, at least, picked up on my busy schedule, so Master Death Mage asked me to come and train with you.” he said, sighing.

Her eyes went wide.

“What do you mean, train with me? You can’t do Death Magic!” she said. Hammond raised an eyebrow patronisingly.

“Give her a moment.” he said. Understanding dawned and she looked at him incredulously.

“Are you being a practice victim for me?” she cried and he nodded slowly.

“There’s the mind that I love and admire.” he said evenly. “Yes, and although I don’t like the word victim, I think it suits my perilous situation.”

“Why?” she asked and he shrugged again.

“Something to do, I guess.” he said. Then he looked at her with a serious expression. “And that Wetherdon gives me the creeps. I think he would’ve turned me into a bat if I didn’t.”

“Human transformation is impossible, Master Tallon.” said a voice from nearby and Raine couldn’t help but jump. Hammond merely frowned as Wetherdon entered the room. “Although it may be possible in the future. Who knows?”

“Unless you’re planning on doing it to me, can’t say I care much.” Hammond said, looking at him. “So, is torture class ready?”

“I’d hardly call it that, Hammond.” Wetherdon said. He then looked over at Raine. “Good morning, Raine; how are you today?”

“What’s going on?” she asked, frowning. “Do you two know each other?”

Hammond shrugged slightly. “Enough for me to agree to these shenanigans. We’ve been around for about the same time.”

Raine looked at Wetherdon for further explanation but he merely nodded his head in agreement.

“So how did you happen to get here, then? I can hardly imagine you volunteering.” she said to Hammond.

“Right you are, my inquisitive one.” he said smoothly. “Lloyd here came up and asked me out of the blue one day.”

“I asked our superiors first, actually,” Wetherdon added, taking his mug from him and moving over to the kitchen. “Both Lieutenant Preston and Captain Sedley seemed to think that it was a wise idea.”

“Well good for them.” Hammond said evenly.

“Preston knows that I’m learning Death Magic, then?” she asked, her thoughts now confirmed. Wetherdon nodded. “Does he mind?”

“I think he is quite pleased with the notion that he will soon have an adept Death Mage within his ranks, actually.” Wetherdon said and Hammond shook his head, a sudden scowl on his face. “He seems to approve of the idea of advancing your ability through practice on a human subject.”

“And you’re going to let me practice curses on you?” Raine asked, turning to Hammond. He nodded slowly. “Shouldn’t we have a Life Mage around for this kind of thing?”

“We do.” Wetherdon said, returning and now standing between them. “He is downstairs, waiting for us.”

He caught the look on her face and chuckled. “Death Magi don’t have problems with all Life Magi, you know.” he said. “Some of us actually get along to a certain degree.”

“They’re not all Chelstras.” Hammond added. Wetherdon gestured to the other room and Raine got to her feet, ignoring Hammond. He sighed and followed them.

A MAN RAINE did not recognise was waiting for them in the training room, looking intently at the bottles and flasks of liquid that sat upon one of the lowered tables. He was much older than them, his hair grey and short like the bristles of a broom.

He straightened as they entered, holding up a bottle and looking at it in the dim light.

“I’d say this one is too strong, Lloyd.” he said, not looking at them.

“It’s fine, Healer Revren.” Wetherdon said, a hint of weariness in his voice, and Raine had the distinct feeling that the two of them had had this conversation before.

Finally, the older man turned around, his pale blue eyes falling upon her.

“You must be the new Death Mage.” he said by way of greeting.

“Raine, Hammond, this is Lucius Revren.” Wetherdon said. “He is a highly skilled and experienced Healer who will be overseeing our training for the next few days.”

Revren nodded his head, eyes still focused on Raine. “Lloyd tells me that you are also a Water Mage.”

“Yes, I am.” she said quietly. “Thankyou for helping me today.”

“I won’t say that I did it especially for you. Lloyd has a way of twisting arms; don’t let his harmless appearance fool you.” Revren replied evenly, shrugging off her thanks. Raine frowned, deciding not to say anything.

“Well I came here willingly.” Hammond stated, examining the books on one of the bookshelves. Revren’s eyes narrowed.

“That says a lot about your intelligence. Or inexperience with Death Magi.” he said wryly. Wetherdon pushed his glasses up his nose again.

“If it wasn’t for Master Hammond’s offer of help, Raine here would have a difficult time mastering her techniques.” he said evenly as Hammond shrugged nonchalantly from his place beside the bookshelf. “And I am sure that we can both agree that it is essential that we have more Death Magi in our military, seeing as how rare and difficult they are to replace.”

Raine decided to jump in as she saw Revren’s eyes flash with anger. “So, looks like we’ve got a Death Mage to guide me and a Life Mage to assist me. And someone to practice on.” Hammond put up a hand. “Shall we get started then?”

“Of course.” Wetherdon said, tearing his eyes away from Revren’s.

This must be the certain degree of ‘getting along’ that he was talking about- they can tolerate being in the same room together. How do they even know each other, seeing as Revren is based in the hospital, and wouldn’t have anything to do with the military in the first place? Healers and Life Magi are two separate beings- one trained in healing and combat techniques, whilst the other is healing only.

“I’m quite satisfied with your fear technique so I think today we will move onto confusion.” Wetherdon said, referring to a skill she had only recently acquired- the ability to terrify another being. Raine forced her attention back to the present. “You found it easy against rats but as I have mentioned before, it is more difficult against a human mind.”

“Suddenly wondering why I agreed to this.” Hammond said as he moved to stand beside her and Raine looked over at Wetherdon quickly. He chuckled at the look on her face.

“No Raine, I did not alter Master Hammond’s mind.” he said, eyes shining. “He volunteered on his own free will.”

“So what do I do?” he asked. Wetherdon rubbed his hands together softly and gestured to the cushions on the ground.

“You have already drank some of that calming tea I made for you,” he said, using particular emphasis on the word ‘some’. “So all you need to do now is sit down and relax. You don’t need to do anything else.”

“Well that’s easy enough.” Hammond said. Then he leaned over to whisper in Raine’s ear as Wetherdon talked to Revren. “Sitting down, that is. Drinking that stuff was the actual torture for today.”

Raine giggled, her nervousness temporarily eased as the two magi turned to look at her. Hammond sighed and sat down casually. Wetherdon nodded encouragingly to her and she followed, sitting opposite Hammond. Revren sat beside him, looking at Raine intensely, and Wetherdon joined her.

Raine felt a blush of embarrassment forming on her cheeks as Hammond looked at her through the slits in his blonde fringe.

“Problems performing in public?” he said and she narrowed her eyes at him.

“When you’re ready, Lloyd.” Revren said and Wetherdon nodded.

“Confusion, Raine.” he said softly, looking at her. “The same method as with the rats. You have nothing to worry about.”

“Alright.” she said quietly. She breathed in and out slowly. It was difficult focusing with all three of them waiting expectantly so she closed her eyes and willed her heartbeat to slow. She firstly reached out and sensed Hammond; both his physical and mental states were calm and placid. He was much easier to read than Wetherdon, whose mental state she could barely access at all, and she felt a pang of hopeful relief. Then she thought through all of her recent training, remembering the theory and the practice. She focused on things that had confused her in the past, events that made little sense to her- her discovery at being a Shadow, the events on the night of the festival. She frowned as the feeling grew and then she opened her eyes, delved into her mana vital and cast the sensation across and into Hammond’s placid mind.

Hammond blinked a few times, eyes widening slightly. “Is something meant to happen?” he asked as both Wetherdon and Revren looked at him, as though seeing something that she could not. “Did it work? How am I meant to know?”

“Not bad for a first time, Raine.” Wetherdon said as the Fire Mage looked over at her, his eyebrows furrowed slightly. “You can see that he is asking questions, which means that he does not fully understand the situation.”

“It’ll need to be more powerful than that if you want a decent effect, though.” Revren added evenly, putting a hand up before Hammond’s forehead. A moment later and his eyes narrowed again, the placid look returning. He seemed to be fine, so she tried again.

REVREN DEMANDED A break a few hours later, but it was more for Raine’s benefit than Hammond’s, who yawned widely and stretched back onto the cushions. Beads of sweat were forming on her forehead, sticking her hair to her face, and she was panting slightly. The amount of energy required was surprising, and she felt as though she had been practicing on the training grounds with Hayato. Her face was flushed pink with effort and after giving her a quick glance, Wetherdon agreed with the Healer and went to make her some mana vital-restoring tea.

“What does it feel like, Hammond?” she asked him, coming to sit closer to him. He shrugged, eyes closed, arms underneath his head.

“Feels like being slightly confused. Like when you walk into a room and you realise suddenly that you don’t know where you are, or why you’re there.” he said after a moment’s thought. He opened one eye slowly, taking in the frown on her face. “I wouldn’t be concerned though. Just needs a bit more juice.”

“And you don’t mind me practicing on you?” she asked again.

“Do you think I’d be here if I did?” he said, closing his eye again and stretching out. “I just can’t wait till you do the sleep one.”

AT LAST, AFTER drinking some tea and allowing Revren to settle her with a charm of his own, Raine achieved the desired effect. She could tell by Revren’s nod that the curse had worked.

Hammond’s eyes went wide and he looked at the Life Mage with his mouth slightly opened, as if about to speak, but unsure what to say. Then he looked at them with the same expression and shifted backwards along the cushions, tilting his head.

“Now if you added a fair dose of anger or aggression into his mind, he would probably attack just about anyone in the room.” Wetherdon said mildly, unfazed by Hammond’s strange behaviour. “Don’t fix him just yet,” he added as Revren went to heal him, “Raine needs to see the symptoms so she knows that the curse has worked.”

“I can tell that he’s confused.” Raine said, watching with growing unease as Hammond continued to back away from them, looking at everything around him with a bewildered look on his face. He’s too confused to even speak.

“And this is another way to instil fear into a person.” Wetherdon said, ignoring the scowl on the Life Mage’s face as he put his hand down. “Fear automatically follows confusion and with fear comes the natural need to be defensive. It all depends on the person, of course. If they are naturally passive, they will back away, cry, or run. If they are naturally aggressive then the opposite happens.”

“So why isn’t this whole building on fire?” Raine asked, unable to turn her eyes away from Hammond.

Wetherdon chuckled. “You only used a small amount of confusion. Hammond can still recognise us as other people and since we are not moving, does not see us as much of a threat as of yet. If you heightened the sensation and used more of your mana vital, than it is quite possible that he would attack.”

“Thankyou, Lucius.” he added, and Revren reached out slowly towards Hammond.

“You are safe,” he said, his voice low, calm and relaxing. Hammond frowned at him, his chest rising and falling quickly, but he did not move away from him as the Life Mage put a hand to his forehead. His eyes closed, and then he looked back at them with sudden coherence.

“I take it that it worked then?” he asked, sitting upright and realising that he was sitting a few paces from where he originally was.

“You don’t remember?” Raine asked. He shrugged.

“I remember; I just have no idea what was going on.” he said.

“Do you mind if we try again, Hammond?” Wetherdon said and he shrugged.

Raine focused on the sensation and, following Wetherdon’s advice, used a substantial amount of mana vital. This time, to her alarm, Hammond jumped to his feet with a yelp, moving backwards until he bumped into the bookshelf behind him.

“You need to be very careful about what you do now, Miss Raine.” Wetherdon said, looking over at him. “You used more mana vital, which is good, and so the effects are much stronger now. Do nothing to aggravate him.”

Raine sat on the floor, her own heartbeat racing as she watched Hammond, completely bewildered, back away from Revren as the older man slowly got to his feet. “Where am I?” he asked, his voice rising. “Who are you?”

The change in him was startling, almost ridiculous, but Raine was so horrified that any humour couldn’t even form. He put his hands before him as Wetherdon also got to his feet.

“Stay away from me!” Hammond yelled loudly, his voice an octave higher than usual. He looked around, his eyes wide and frantic, and he picked up a ceramic flask, containing one of Wetherdon’s concoctions.

“I do hope that he doesn’t destroy that.” Wetherdon muttered.

“I am not going to harm you. I am going to help you. You have nothing to fear.” Revren said quietly, his voice soothing. Then he glanced over at Wetherdon, eyes narrowing. “Happy now, Lloyd?”

“You have no idea.” Wetherdon replied dryly. Hammond watched the exchange and it did nothing to alleviate his panic.

“What is this?” he asked, gesturing to the bottle.

“It is a drink.” Wetherdon said.

“Do not drink it.” Revren said quickly. “It is not good for you. It would be good if you put it down.”

“What is it?” Raine asked. Wetherdon looked down at her, shrugging slightly.

“It restores consciousness. It won’t harm him if he drinks it, but I’d rather not waste the ingredients.” he said. Hammond looked at it for a moment more before putting it on the bookshelf beside him, eyeing them suspiciously. Revren took a step forward and Hammond scowled, his eyes glowing.

“I wouldn’t approach him if I were you, Lucius.” Wetherdon said.

“Thanks for the advice, Lloyd.” he hissed in response.

As if sensing their dislike of each other, Hammond moved his hand before him, a ball of fire forming instantly above his palm.

“Stay away from me, the both of you.” he said fiercely.

“You might want to help us, Raine.” Revren said suddenly. She looked over at Hammond, eyes still wide, and she very slowly got to her feet.

“What can I do?” she asked, bewildered. If a Life Mage can’t remove his confusion, what can I do?

“You’re the least threatening one here, my dear.” Wetherdon muttered. “I would really prefer for Master Hammond not to set fire to my tomes. Their worth is unimaginable.”

“You would say that.” Revren hissed. “Not to mention the damage he could do to other people or buildings if he got out of here. You really shouldn’t have used a Fire Mage as a test subject.”

“Shut up! Stop talking to each other!” Hammond yelled, watching them. Anger was growing on his face.

“See what I mean? Confusion turning to fear, turning to anger.” Wetherdon said, unable to help himself. Raine stepped forward.

“Move away, Healer Revren.” she said, trying to keep her voice even. The Life Mage looked at her with a frown, but he took a few steps away from Hammond. “Leave him be.”

“You too please, Lloyd.” she said. Wetherdon nodded, eyes flashing in approval at her approach, and the two magi moved to the back of the room.

Hammond watched her intently. “I won’t let them cause you any harm.” she said to him softly.

“Well that’s very nice of you and all,” Hammond snapped, “But I have no idea who you are either.”

“I’m no one.” she said. “I’m not strong, like they are, and I have no weapons on me. You could set me on fire right now if you wanted to and there’s nothing I can do about it.”

“Yes, goad him into attacking. Excellent.” Revren muttered. But it was enough to get Hammond to lower his hand.

“Good work.” Wetherdon said. Raine sensed a sudden intense energy fly past her, so quick that she could barely register it, but the flames instantly disappeared and Hammond’s eyes rolled back in his head. His legs gave way underneath him and he dropped to the floor.

“Hammond!” Raine cried but as she rushed to his side, she realised that he was asleep.

“That was quick.” Revren noted, coming over to inspect him. Wetherdon shrugged.
“Thankyou for the opening, Raine.” he said, nodding at her.

“Will he be alright?” she asked, watching Revren as he put his hand to the unconscious Fire Mage’s forehead.

“He’ll be his normal, sarcastic self in no time.” the Life Mage said. Then he looked at her, eyes fierce. “That was one hell of a risk you took. He could have burned you alive.”

“I don’t think that he would have, to be honest.” Raine said, her own certainty surprising her. “He was confused, but his anger was aimed at the two of you. Even if his mental state was altered, he’s still Hammond. I don’t think Hammond would attack a clearly defenceless person.”

“I’d say it was a good and quick decision, personally.” Wetherdon said, crouching down with them to look at him.

“And I’d say that he’s done for the day.” Revren snapped. “No more messing with his head, Lloyd. The boy needs rest.”

“Well he’s getting it now.” Wetherdon said with a smirk. Raine held back a smile as the Life Mage openly glared at him.

Hammond came around some time later and he smiled at Raine. “Good work, kid.” he said. “I’d say you’ve got the confusion thing down-pat.”

“You nearly set me on fire!” she said, stunned that he seemed so unfazed by his previous actions.

“You only have yourself to blame for that,” he said, shrugging. “I’m just acting the way you tell me to. Looks like I get violent when I’m confused.”

Wetherdon then managed to convince Revren to allow Raine to practice putting Hammond to sleep, something the Fire Mage accepted enthusiastically.

“Don’t overdo it or you’ll stop his heart.” Revren warned; his older face scrunched into a scowl. With that in mind, Raine started off slowly until finally, Hammond lay still, snoring gently, his face relaxed.

Wetherdon labelled the effort as another success as he woke him and, finally succumbing to Revren’s scowls of displeasure, dismissed them both for the day.

REVREN REMAINED WITH him as the two younger magi left, Raine’s voice drifting down the long corridor that linked the underground levels of the Death Guild to the ground level. She was apologising profusely to the Fire Mage regarding her Curse of Confusion, but Tallon did not seem to care.

Wetherdon felt the corner of his lip twitch in a smile as he listened to her- she was truly one of the gentlest souls he had ever met.

Then he realised that the Life Mage was still in the room with him, and he turned to look at him.

“I appreciate your assistance today, Lucius.” he said, keeping his tone even despite the automatic dislike that was rising inside of him as he looked at his colleague. Revren shrugged, his eyes expressing the same feelings, and his lips curled into a scowl.

“I have news that you might find interesting, Lloyd.” he said, his tone as dry as always. Wetherdon folded his arms, watching him, but found himself intrigued nonetheless. It wasn’t often that Lucius Revren exchanged information with one such as he. “Though it’s not something that I’d be cheering about, personally.”

“What is it?” he asked. The older man’s eyes flickered over to the open door, making Wetherdon’s interest spike dramatically. Revren wasn’t the sort of man to waste time with theatrics, so he knew that his suspicion and caution was genuine.

“You’ll need to keep your mouth shut about it.” Revren continued, his eyes narrowing, his voice softening into a near-whisper. “This kind of thing could mean serious business to the likes of you.”

“You mean Death Magi?” he asked. “Speak of it, then.”

“Well…” A look of uncertainty crossed his usually stoic features. “I was asked to tend to the wounds of an infantry captain who just happened to get himself injured during his time at the Severin. That was this morning…”

He swallowed and Wetherdon nodded encouragingly, his own face set in a mild frown. “Lloyd… The man had a Death Curse attached to the back of his mind. And it wasn’t exactly recent either.”

Revren looked at him, his eyes filled with dark concern. “I don’t know who did it, as I don’t exactly like to recognise the signatures of your kind, but I know what it was. It was a mind-altering curse, a subtle one, but a curse nevertheless.”

“I see.” Wetherdon said eventually. His mind was racing- could it be connected to the curse inflicted upon Captain Sedley? Was this Death Mage actually targeting multiple victims, and high-ranking ones at that?

“Is this captain aware of his situation?” he asked him, and Revren shook his head.

“I figured that I’d leave that to you, Lloyd.” he said curtly. “Death Magic is your forte, after all. I also didn’t want to contemplate what that means- a Death Curse on a company captain? Your Guild could be in a realm of trouble if this came out.”

“I understand.” Wetherdon said and he did, all too clearly. It was the same reason he hadn’t raced to the authorities to notify them already- who knew who was involved? “I appreciate your discrepancy.”

“His name is Captain Jordan Mayne, of First Company of the Infantry Battalion.” Revren continued, watching him intently. “I made him stay in the hospital for another night, so that you could have the opportunity to examine him yourself. I suggest that you take the guise of a Healer, Rendeis forgive me for suggesting such a thing.”

“I think I will.” Wetherdon said.

“I’d be very careful if I were you, Lloyd.” Revren warned as he walked past him, heading for the door, “I don’t want to even contemplate the meaning and depth of such a crime.”

MOMENTS LATER, WETHERDON was rushing through the halls of the hospital, the white robes of a Healer moving about his small, hurrying frame. He ignored the expressions of those legitimate Healers around him- they could sense his Death Bridge and did not like that he was acting as one of them, but they remained quiet. There were a couple of Death Magi employed by the hospital, and he intended on pretending to be one of those for the time being.

The infantry captain regarded him with tired exasperation when he entered the room, and he was thankfully alone. Wetherdon worked quickly, stating that he was there to double-check both his physical and mental condition, and that it would be a short process. The captain just needed to remain still, calm and quiet, which he seemed more than happy to do.

Wetherdon was glad that Captain Mayne was indeed not a mage, for he delved into his mana vital and used levels of magic that were surely too advanced for a mere health inspection. His aura was as unsettling as always, of course, but Mayne would have no idea why; he’d just put it down to his personality.

Wetherdon took his time in investigating Revren’s claims, and felt intrigued and horrified when he discovered that they were indeed true. The captain had a subtle but powerful Death Curse placed upon his mind, discreetly and gently altering his thought patterns when triggered.

And, as Wetherdon had predicted, it held the same magical signature as the one he had found in Sedley’s mind. One single Death Mage had cursed both of the company captains.

He thanked Mayne for his time and quickly left, pulling the white robe off and dumping it in a laundry basket sitting beside one of the doors. No one looked at him twice as he left, for they did not want to. A Death Mage in a place of healing was never a good sign for anyone.

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