Shadow's Pursuit

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Chapter Fifteen

CHELSTRA SAT BESIDE her during breakfast the next morning, watching her expectantly as she ate her porridge. Raine did her best to ignore her but even Troy caught on, sitting opposite them and observing the girl’s bizarre behaviour.

“Alright.” he said eventually, “This is getting a little strange. What’s going on, you two?”

“What do you mean?” Raine asked, feigning confusion. Troy put down his utensils and looked at her, smiling slightly.
“Chelstra’s been staring at you all morning with a cheeky look on her face, and that can only spell trouble.” he said. Raine finally looked at her, frowning.

“Raine’s got news!” she blurted, finally unable to control herself.

Rendeis damn you; Raine thought with mild irritation, you just can’t help yourself, can you?

“It must be big, seeing as you’re almost bursting at the seams.” Troy said. He looked at Raine with polite curiosity. “So, what’s going on? Or am I not allowed to know?”

“It’s not that,” Raine started, feeling her blush return, “It’s just that I wasn’t ready to tell you, and it only just happened last night…”

“And suddenly you have my interest.” Troy said, leaning forward. “Pray tell.”

“Well, um…” Raine said, unable to look at him. She was too worried about his response.

“Raine and Hayato are courting! He asked her!” Chelstra blurted happily.

“Chelstra!” Raine cried, looking at her with horror. Troy’s eyes went wide and surprise crossed his face, but he quickly recovered with a smile.

“I see! Well, congratulations! I’m sure he is a fine man and will treat you with the respect you deserve.” he said.

“Are you…alright with it?” Raine asked cautiously. Another strange look flickered over his expression, but he nodded.

“Of course; why wouldn’t I be? This is most exciting!” he said, but she could hear the strain in his voice as he grinned broadly. The usual shine in his eyes had disappeared and Raine had the distinct feeling that he was disappointed. Guilt grew in her stomach and she made a mental note to not mention Hayato in front of him again. She didn’t want to rub salt into a possible wound.

“Morning, all.” Hammond said, coming to sit beside Troy. Chelstra’s excited chatter fell away as he joined them. “What’s the celebration?”

“There’s no celebration,” Raine said quickly, but Troy looked over at him pleasantly.

“Raine just told me that she is courting Hayato.” he said with a smile that didn’t reach his eyes.

“That so.” Hammond said placidly, taking a forkful of bacon and shovelling it into his mouth. “Well there you go.”

“You should sound a little happier for her, you know.” Chelstra said, a thin frown forming on her brow. “It’s about time something nice happened to her.”

“I am happy; can’t you tell?” Hammond said, looking up at her through his long fringe. “I’m positively ecstatic.”

They became quiet as they ate their meals and although Troy held a small smile on his face, Raine could tell even without her training that his happiness was a façade. Her sympathy and guilt grew in equal measures.

But if he really had feelings for me, he could have asked first, she thought with sudden and surprising conviction. It’s not exactly my fault.

Then Hammond stood up suddenly, having finished, and bid them farewell before promptly disappearing.

“He always runs off as if he’s in a hurry, but then never shows up to training,” Chelstra muttered, watching him leave. Then she turned to her. “Speaking of, are you well enough to re-join us? It’s been a while now- I figured that surely your mana vital would have stabilised itself by now? Do you want me to have a look at it for you?”

“Uhm…” Raine looked sideways at Troy, whose eyes had gone wide at her words.

Might as well disappoint and upset everyone at the same time I suppose... And might as well do it all here; I doubt it will make a difference to the outcome…

“About that, Chelstra…” she said, turning in her seat and looking at her cautiously. The Life Mage’s expression was pleasantly curious, and she felt her trepidation rise. “Well, I have something to tell you.”

“Okay?” she said, frowning. “What about? Your mana vital?”

“Yes, actually.” she muttered. Troy continued to watch her, his expression serious, but he gave her a nod of encouragement.

“Well, you see, I’ve been…ordered by the company captain to undergo apprenticeship training.” she said. Chelstra frowned.

“Training in what?” she asked. “Does that mean that you’ve recovered?”

“Well, I’ve actually been training for a few weeks now instead of doing normal classes, Chelstra,” Raine said, fear rising and almost blocking her throat, “I wasn’t sure where it was going to go at first, so I didn’t tell you just in case it turned out to be nothing.”

Chelstra just frowned at her, her confusion clearly growing.

“But now I know that it’s going to be fairly permanent, so I want to tell you about it. It’s just that… whilst I’ve been here, with the Magic Company… I’ve discovered something.” Raine said slowly.

“And it won’t affect anything around me, like who I am, or what I do, I think.” she added quickly and Troy nodded again in support of her approach. “I mean, I’m the same person, and always will be, so please don’t get mad at me.”

“Mad at you for what? Raine, what’s going on; you’re starting to scare me.” Chelstra said, her frown deepening. “What have you been doing all this time?”

“Promise you won’t freak out or get mad?” Troy added gently, looking over at her.

“What? Why would I? You already know?” the Life Mage said, bewildered. Raine gave him a look as he leaned away, putting his hands up in apology for interrupting.

“Chelstra…I found out that I’m a Death Mage. I have the Bridge of Death.” she said slowly, forcing the words through her teeth as if they were slicing her gums on the way out.

She heard Troy breathe in sharply as they waited for her reaction. Chelstra’s eyes went wide, still confused, and her open lips curled into a smile that continued to grow until she laughed.

“This is a joke, right?” she said, grinning. “And you’re both in on it. Nice- you nearly had me there.”

Raine shook her head sadly. “I wish it was, Chelstra.” she said softly. “I really do. But it’s true. Lloyd Wetherdon confirmed it. In fact, it was he who found it. They’ve ordered me to train with him until I become a proper Death Mage. That’s where I’ve been these last few weeks- studying Death Magic with him.”

Troy frowned, but continued to watch Chelstra. Her smile faded, the look of confusion growing as she tried to interpret the information.

“You- a Death Mage? No way.” she said eventually, but the smile was gone from her face and eyes. Raine nodded slowly.

“Yes. I know you can’t sense it; it’s because my Water Bridge is blocking it. My aura doesn’t affect other people like Lloyd’s does.” she said.

“Like Lloyd’s…”Chelstra repeated. Then something flashed in her eyes. “You mean you’re on a first-name basis with that creep now?”

Troy’s eyes narrowed but Raine saw the warning on his face well enough. “I wanted to make sure before I told anyone. Trust me; I didn’t believe it at first either. I mean, it’s crazy, but it’s true. That night of the eclipse- I think it activated my Bridge somehow.”

“So…” Realisation dawned in Chelstra’s eyes. “So that’s where you’ve been all this time, whilst people have been telling me that you were sick. You were taking classes with him. That’s why you’ve been able to still come to meals and train in your own time, and why Preston never had a problem with it. There was never anything seriously wrong with your mana vital.”

“Well there was for a while,” Raine said quickly, her panic rising at the anger in her eyes. “I still don’t know what happened at the festival, but it seriously disturbed it. It was even worse the next day- I could barely stand. It took me days to recover.”

But the Life Mage was shaking her head. “You’ve been learning Death Magic, and lying to me about it?” This time, her voice was filled with anger.

“I only did that because I hoped that it wouldn’t last for long!” Raine said. “I couldn’t control it; it was damaging me. That’s why they’re ordering me to learn it now, to control it!”

“Not just to control it,” Chelstra said, her skin turning a bright shade of pink. Disgust and anger grew in her eyes. “but to use it! They’re training you to be a Death Mage.”

“Chelstra, it’s not that bad.” Troy said, jumping in as Raine leaned back, amazed by the intensity of her gaze. “This is Raine we’re talking about, not some blood-thirsty killer. She’s our friend.”

“And you knew, didn’t you!” Chelstra hissed, ignoring his words and pointing at him theatrically. “You knew the whole time and you didn’t bother to tell me!”

“It’s not that! It’s just that we weren’t sure, and we didn’t want- well, this!” Troy retorted, gesturing back at her.

“But-but-they’re bad, Raine!” Chelstra said, looking at her with disbelief again. “You know that, don’t you? They’re evil!”

“No they’re not, Chelstra.” she said quietly. “It’s just a form of magic and whether it’s evil or not is up to the user. I never said that I was going to use it all the time!”

“But-I can’t believe this- you sensed him, didn’t you?” she said, clearly unable to comprehend her calmness. “That discomfort, that unpleasantness- how can that be a good thing?”

“It may seem bad, but that’s because you’re a Life Mage; you’re more tuned in to it than other people.” Raine said. “Death Magi get the same feeling from Life Magi too, you know.”

“What, disgust?” Chelstra said angrily, and Raine cursed her choice of words. “Do I disgust you, Raine? Do I make you feel uncomfortable?”

“No Chelstra, you don’t! That’s not what I’m trying to say at all!” she cried, but she knew that she was losing the discussion. Even Troy sat back, surprised.

“You need to calm down and think about this rationally, Chelstra.” he tried to say, but she shook her head, lips pursed.

“I can’t believe this. You hid this from me. Death Magic!” She hissed the words with so much hate that Raine felt her blood turn to ice. “I can’t believe this. You’ve changed so much.”

“I haven’t changed at all!” Raine said, stunned. “I’m just learning Death Magic, that’s all! I’m still the same person!”

“No, you’re not! I bet that when you first arrived, the thought of using it had never crossed your mind!” she hissed, eyes wide and manic. “You used to hate the idea of fighting, didn’t you? You were like me! But the Death Bridge has changed you! Now you’re approving, Gods, using, an element that’s based on killing others! And I’m the only one who can see that!”

“I never said I approve of killing people!” Raine said, bewildered at the notion that a Bridge could possibly change someone in such a way. “I never said anything like that!”

Chelstra got to her feet with so much force that the seat she was sitting on was knocked over, clanging on the stone floor loudly and resounding across the Hall. The few people still remaining turned and looked in their direction.

“Chelstra, come on; sit down.” Troy pleaded, standing up quickly. “We’re your friends.”

“If you knew how I feel, then you wouldn’t be saying that.” Chelstra said. She looked back at Raine, eyes furious and face red. Tears were starting to form in her eyes. “You’d understand.”

“I didn’t get a choice in this!” Raine said but it didn’t matter- she turned with a fierce swing of her curly hair and almost ran from the Hall. Raine watched her go, stunned, and realised that everyone’s eyes were on them.

Troy sat back down opposite her, also watching her go. Eventually, he looked back at Raine.

“I cannot say that I expected that reaction.” she heard him say into the silence. She continued to stare through the open doors and out into the brightness beyond, but she did not return.

A slight cough tore her from her gaze and she looked around, still bewildered, to see Erwin Atherton smiling shyly at them, his hands deep within the pockets of his open robe.

“Forgive me for intruding,” he said quietly as both she and Troy openly stared at him, “but I couldn’t help but overhear Miss Chelstra just then.”

“Pretty sure everyone overheard Miss Chelstra just then,” Troy muttered, finally finding his voice. He looked up at the thin, lanky man, and his eyes narrowed as he saw the symbol of Life on his sleeve. “You’re not about to berate us as well, are you?”

“No, no, of course not,” Atherton said quickly, putting his hands up in defence at the ferocity of his tone. “I just wanted to congratulate you, that is all.”

“I don’t think it’s something worth congratulating, personally.” Raine muttered darkly, looking down at the table as guilt and anger swirled around painfully in her gut. “I just lost a good friend because of it.”

“I’m sure she will come round.” Atherton continued pleasantly. “I am sure that she is just a bit surprised about it.”

“Do you actually want anything?” Troy snapped, stunning her with his fierceness. “Can’t you see that she’s not exactly in a talkative mood right now?”

“It’s alright Troy,” she said quickly, seeing Atherton’s eyes widen with shock and surprise, “He is only being polite.”

She looked up at him again and sighed. “I’m sorry, Mage Atherton.” she said, but he was shaking his head, his low white horsetail of hair moving about his shoulders.

“Not at all; I shouldn’t have intruded.” he said. “I just wanted to let you know that, well, if you need anything before Chelstra speaks to you again, then my offer still stands.”

“Offer of what?” Troy asked, controlling his tone despite the frown on his face. “Why would Raine need a Life Mage?”

“Well, I just happened to be speaking with Mage Revren the other day,” Atherton continued, scratching the side of his face with a sheepish smile, “and he mentioned that yourself and Mage Wetherdon required his services for your Death Magic training.”

“Oh.” Raine said, remembering the cold, wry Life Mage. “Was he unhappy about it?”

“Mage Revren isn’t the greatest fan of Death Magic, I will admit,” Atherton said with a short chuckle. “So, if you do require any more help in that area, I happily offer my services.”

“Why?” she asked, seeing Troy open his mouth to ask the same question from the corner of her eye. “Not that I am ungrateful, but it’s a little strange.”

Atherton shrugged. “Death Magi are exceptionally important to Avendan,” he said, “so I would be doing my duty in assisting you in becoming a skilful Death Mage.”

“Not only that,” he added, a slight blush growing on his pale face, “But you did kind of rescue me during that battle at the riverside against Treston. I probably would have been a goner had you and your friends not found me.”

“We didn’t really find you…” Raine muttered, “but you don’t owe me anything for that, anyway.”

“Well, I firmly believe that I do.” Atherton said, a touch of seriousness growing in his green-brown eyes, “I believe that had it not been for the will of Rendeis blessing me with your presence, then I surely would have perished that day.”

“Let’s not get a little carried away, shall we…” Troy muttered, and he too was looking at the Life Mage with curiosity and a touch of concern. Atherton continued to look at her, smiling.

“But I shall not interrupt your meal any longer, Magi Taylor and Claybrook,” he said. He gave a short bow. “Please, feel free to speak with me if you need anything regarding Life Magic. I am more than happy to assist you.”

“Sure.” Raine said, watching him as he walked away, “Thankyou.”

“He was weird.” Troy said. Then he sighed heavily, returning his gaze back to her. Many of the magi around them were still watching them.

“What are we going to do?” he asked her softly.

“What am I going to do, you mean.” Raine said darkly, still looking out of the open doors. “It’s me that she has the problem with.”

WETHERDON TOOK ANOTHER quick look at the piece of parchment in his hands, checking that he was, in fact, at the correct location. The Mounted Brigade was not a group of people that he often associated with and had he not had the map, he probably wouldn’t have found their barracks at all.

The smell, however, told him that he was where he was supposed to be- the air was rich with the scents of dung and animal sweat. The stables were somewhere nearby, that much was for certain.

At last, he found the officer’s quarters, the building where they met for important meetings and conducted their clerical duties as captains and lieutenants of their various platoons and companies.

The clerk at the front desk seemed surprised and confused by his presence, but he allowed him through without any complaints. Here, away from the sensory range of other magi, he was able to enhance his mana vital, reaching out at those around him and sensing their physical and mental states without anyone even knowing. He felt and saw the élan vital of the young clerk- he was full of life energy and in good health, brimming with strength and vitality, and was untouched by any Death Magic.

He continued down the hall, moving past doors both open and closed, extending his Death Magic around him until he could sense each and every person on the floor. Usually, such an act would have magic-users responding and questioning his magical probing, but these people felt nothing of what moved around them. Some shivered, his undeniable aura unsettling them on a basic, subconscious level, but they did not recognise the sensation for what it was.

Wetherdon magically interrogated each and every officer in the building, sweeping into their minds undetected and looking for any traces of Death Magic within them. Two captains had already been affected, one from a Magic Company and the other from an Infantry- it would only make sense that a captain of a Mounted Company had also fallen prey to the mysterious caster’s curse.

And I will find him, Wetherdon thought fiercely, moving past each door once he realised that they were untouched. I will find the magical signature, analyse it, and then locate the one responsible. I should have more than enough time now to examine the trace.

At last, just as he was reaching the end of the hall, he sensed the all-too-familiar feeling of Death Magic in the air, and it was not his. He moved alongside the wall, reached the open door, and waited, deciding to take his time. He did not want to alert the captain that he was a victim of Death Magic, for he did not yet know who was involved, and how high up the ranks they were.

The fact that one of his own had done this was still difficult for him to comprehend- could one of the Death Guild members be a spy, or a traitor? What information were they seeking; what actions or decisions did they wish to control?

He leaned against the wall, reaching out with his magic as delicately as he could, not wanting to leave any magical trace of his own signature in the air or on the captain. If he were to alert the caster, or anyone involved… well, who knew what would happen then? He may lose all the leads he already had.

The captain was shifting through paperwork, idly reading reports and occasionally signing his name at the bottom of some pieces of parchment. He was tired; the afternoon sun was coming in through his window and filling his office with heat, making him sleepy. He was wishfully thinking about leaving the room and returning to his private quarters to sleep, or perhaps having a late lunch in the Mess Hall. Wetherdon brushed through his thoughts with ease, his mind sluggish and slow, and quickly found what he was searching for- the Death Curse attached at the back of his mind, discreetly and gently altering his thoughts and decisions. Which particular thoughts were altered, Wetherdon could not determine, but he desperately wanted to know.

He drifted around it, looking at it from as many angles as he could manage, reaching in as closely as he dared. It was definitely the same signature, of that he had no doubt, but he needed to know more. There had to be something that he had seen before, something he could recognise as being from his fellow Death Magi.

There.

His eyes widened with surprise and he couldn’t stop the soft gasp that escaped his lips. He realised why he had had such difficulty in recognising the trace- he had only felt it once or twice before. The Death Mage who owned it was the most recent member of the Guild, apart from Raine, of course, and he had rarely interacted with the young man.

Wetherdon put his hand to his chin, thinking hard, moving back through countless memories. Grindale.

Grindale was his name. It was an old family, a powerful family, one that sat near the top of the hierarchy of nobility. Ordinarily, such nobility would not be required to join the military, but he would have been forced to once his rare Bridge was discovered, though Wetherdon had no idea how that situation would have occurred.

He rapidly turned on his heel and left the building, mind racing.

The rest from here on out shouldn’t be too difficult. I just need to find him.

Locating his records was easy.

Thorton was the head of the Death Guild and as such, kept papers regarding each of his members, since there were so few of them. He was actually a lieutenant of one of the platoons in the Magic Brigade, but Wetherdon paid little attention or interest in such things- he didn’t even know what company he hailed from. The only reason he knew that Thorton was an officer at all was simply because he was the only one in their small group.

What Wetherdon did know with confidence was that Thorton had his own office in the Guild, one that was always locked with Death Runes and one that, until now, Wetherdon never had a need to enter.

The warmth of the sun faded away as he stepped into the underground tunnels of the Death Guild, his eyes slowly adjusting to the darkness. He could sense the various runes embedded into the walls, earth and ceiling- had he been a thief, they would have activated and attacked him with various kinds of Death Curses. But they remained still and silent, the only movement in the long passageways being the flickering of the flames atop the wall sconces and his shuffling feet.

Deactivating the runes that were built into the door did not take him long- they were only mild curses of paralysis and sleep, created against common thieves and not fellow Death Magi. Wetherdon pushed the door open and entered quickly. He carried a burning torch with him to illuminate the darkness within, and looked about at the full shelves of tomes with mild interest. Thorton’s office smelt of parchment and earth, and a thick layer of dust covered the walls and the stone floor. A fireplace sat in the corner of the room, its hearth filled with ash and half-burned pieces of wood.

Wetherdon wondered idly if any of the other magi knew how messy their Guild leader was- pieces of parchment were strewn about his desk with disregard; a quill lay on its side over a pool of ink that trailed back to a lopsided inkwell. But he threw the thoughts aside as he moved behind the piece of furniture and pulled open its drawers. There were many tomes, sheets of parchment and stationary items, but he was solely focused on one thing.

It didn’t take long for him to find it- a thin, bound book that had no title or description on the front. He had seen it a few times now, for the Head of the Guild liked to refer to it when addressing them at their quarterly Death Guild meetings. From what Wetherdon had gathered, it contained all information pertaining to the Guild, as well as its members.

And his assumption had been correct.

The young man’s name was Thomas Grindale and as Wetherdon already knew, he hailed from a high-ranking noble family. He had begun Death Magic training at a young age, and was accepted into the Guild as a skilled Death Mage a few years ago. Wetherdon skimmed through some more basic information until he found his living quarters, discovering that yet another of his assumptions was correct. Grindale did not live in the mage quarters of the barracks; he lived in his family’s home in the upper-level district of the city, reserved for noble families and the highly wealthy.

Wetherdon looked at the address and burned it to memory before closing the book again, tucking it away once more in the drawer. Then he left the room and closed the door, reactivating the defensive runes as he did so.

He rapidly made his way up and out of the Guild, but the success of having found Grindale’s address had faded as he realised that he now needed a plan. He could not simply waltz up to the door of the Grindale family and demand that their youngest member, now the head of the family due to the recent death of his parents, explain his criminal actions to him. No, he needed something more discreet.

And I’ll have to do it alone, he thought grimly, his eyes narrowing as he moved up the stairs onto the ground floor of the Guild. I don’t know who I can trust at this point.

But still, I’ll need a backup plan, just in case…

“EXCUSE ME, BUT I am looking for Miss Raine Taylor?” came a muffled female voice, and Raine spun on her feet, having been practising her Shadow combat techniques in her bedroom.

She frowned but stepped towards the door, sensing nothing untoward from the person on the other side. She tucked her dagger away as she opened it, and looked into the elderly face of a chambermaid.

“Oh, I’m sorry to have bothered you,” the old woman said quickly, taking in her red face and sweaty appearance. Raine forced a smile onto her face.

“That’s alright, I was just exercising.” she said. “Did you need me for something?”

“Ah yes, actually,” the chambermaid said. An awkward, uncomfortable look crossed her features. “There is a man outside asking for you.”

“For me?” She frowned. “Did he give you his name?”

“No, and I didn’t think to ask.” she said. “He was short, with brown hair, and glasses.”

“Lloyd?” she said, surprised. What would he be doing here? “And he asked for me?”

“Most definitely for you, Miss.” the woman said. “He was very polite but a little…creepy.”

“That’s Lloyd,” she said, unable to stop a small smile from forming as she watched the chambermaid’s face. “Sorry for him bothering you; I’ll go out and speak to him in a moment.”

“Not at all,” the woman said. She gave a short bow and shuffled off again as Raine closed the door. She wiped the sweat from her face quickly and neatened her hair, finding that some of her dark mood had faded since that morning. The memory of Chelstra’s response was still enough to send both pain and anger flooding through her veins, regardless of what both Troy and the Life Mage Atherton had said to her.

She rushed out of the female quarters, shielding her eyes as the light from the impending sunset near-blinded her. She moved down the steps carefully, only removing her hand from her face as she felt her boots touch soft ground.

“I’m so sorry for invading upon your privacy, Miss Raine,” Wetherdon told her, a small, apologetic smile on his pale face.

Raine smiled, her curiosity rising. “That’s alright Lloyd; I don’t mind. Is everything alright?”

The Death Mage frowned, and looked at the ground whilst scratching the side of his face. “Actually, I would like to speak with you privately, if that is suitable…” he muttered, an uncharacteristically uncertain look crossing his features. “I have something of a somewhat… clandestine nature that I need to speak with you about. Perhaps… just behind these trees, yes…”

Raine’s smile vanished, but she controlled the surge of panic that raced through her.

He can’t know about me being a Shadow, it’s impossible. It must be something else.

She opened her mouth to respond but the Death Mage was already moving, his feet shuffling beneath him and his eyes darting around them suspiciously. Does he think that we are being watched?

She looked around discreetly as she followed him, but she did not detect anyone nearby with her Death Magic.

“What is it?” she asked him, lowering her voice as Wetherdon stopped behind a series of trees, their bodies invisible to those passing nearby. “Are you in danger?”

“Not at the moment, dear Raine.” Wetherdon muttered. His pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose, his narrowed teal eyes still looking around him. Up close, Raine could tell that her Death Magic mentor had not slept properly for some time, and she felt her concern and curiosity growing.

He finally looked at her, his expression serious. “Raine, there is something that I have been investigating for some time, but it seems that I have now reached the next stage of my examination.”

She wanted to ask questions, but forced herself to remain quiet. She wondered if she had ever seen him so stern before.

“I have…learned…” Wetherdon’s expression darkened, “that a Death Mage has been casting Death Curses upon various high-ranking officers of the Avendan military. I believe that he is altering the thought processes of these officers, but I do not know how and I do not know why.”

“You know who he is?” Raine asked, her mind already racing. A Death Mage traitor? There weren’t any Death Magi spies from Treston here that I knew about…

“Where is he from?”

“He is most certainly from Avendan, dear Raine,” Wetherdon said, but she knew from the tone of his voice that he was now speaking more to himself than her. “And as for his identity, well… he is a Death Mage by the name of Thomas Grindale.”

“What are you going to do? Have you notified Captain Sedley?” she asked immediately, but Wetherdon shook his head.

“Sedley was the first I had detected,” he said wryly. “And as for notifying the officers, well, right now, I do not know how many are affected and how deeply this treachery lies.”

Of course, she thought, instantly scolding herself for such a basic mistake. If Death Magi and officers are involved, then there is no knowing who else is a part of it as well. Wetherdon needs to be very careful about who he notifies- could his Guild be involved?

“What are you going to do?” she asked him. “And why are you telling me?”

Finally, the corner of his lips curled into a small smile. “I am telling you, Miss Raine, because I know that I can trust you.” he said. He gave a small chuckle, devoid of humour. “I know that you are not capable of producing such high level curses, forgive me for saying so. And I trained you myself, so I know that you have very minimal if not non-existent contact with my fellow Death Guild colleagues.”

Raine let the comment pass, knowing that he was right, and waited for him to continue.

Wetherdon sighed deeply. “I am telling you this because, my dear, I am about to go and do something that will put me in a considerable amount of danger. I want you, at least, to know where I am going so that if I do not return, you can indeed inform our superiors of my possible location.”

“Where are you going?” she asked instantly, her heartbeat starting to rise. “You cannot go alone; you don’t know who is involved!”

“That is precisely why I must go alone, Raine.” Wetherdon said, watching her squarely. “You would only be a burden if you came with me- Grindale is a far more skilled Death Mage than you are. I do hope you understand.”

“I do, but…” Raine understood very well; her Shadow training was telling her the same thing. Wetherdon needed to move secretly and carefully and if battle was to be had, it would be between powerful Death Magi, and she certainly was not one of those. Given that she was unable to use her Shadow techniques lest she be detected by Illuminators, she was near useless against such a being.

Logic was struggling against her natural instinct to assist her mentor- Lloyd Wetherdon had done much for her after all, even if she had not wished for it, but she knew that she would only make his personal mission more difficult.

“What do you want me to do?” she asked eventually and Wetherdon nodded, eyes glowing with appreciation.

“Take this address,” he said, passing her a small, folded up piece of parchment. She did so, putting it away in her tunic pocket before curiosity overtook her. “Remember it. If you do not see me for some time, then I need you to alert Mage Revren of my absence, along with what I have told you.”

“Revren?” she repeated, frowning. “What good would it do for him to know?”

“He is aware of some of the situation already.” Wetherdon replied, eyes narrowing. “He is not my first choice when it comes to assistance, but I know that his heart and intentions are pure. I can trust him, to some degree.”

“Alright.” she said. She didn’t like the feelings of fear and unease that were rising inside of her.
“I doubt there will be anything to be concerned about, though,” Wetherdon said, smiling suddenly, “as Grindale does not match me for magical skill. Do not be worried, my dear.”

“You don’t think Treston is involved?” she asked him, not reassured. He shook his head.

“I am highly doubtful, but this is why I wish to speak with Grindale, or at least follow him for a time and see what I can discover.”

She opened her mouth to say more, to tell him that she did not like his plan of operations, but the Death Mage tilted his head, looking at the thin line of trees as though he could see something she could not.

“It appears that your friend Mage Claybrook has come here, perhaps to escort you to dinner.” he said mildly, slowly turning to look back at her. “I suppose I shall leave now.”

“Wait!” she said as he took a few steps, heading away from where Troy was now standing, “You need to be careful, Lloyd. You don’t know what you could be getting yourself into, and going alone is a dangerous idea!”

When he looked at her, his expression was the most serious that she had ever seen on him. “I am well aware of the danger I face, Miss Raine. I appreciate your concern but please, I beg you to stay out of this. Simply remember what I have asked of you, and I will see you in a few days if all goes well. You need not panic.”

“So you’ll be gone for a few days then?” she asked him softly. “What do you want me to do during that time?”

He chuckled. “Why, study your magic and work on your techniques, of course.” he said, now smiling. “You will find all that you need in the Death Guild.”

With that he walked off, nodding in farewell. Raine watched him go, shocked and confused, before she remembered that Troy was still waiting for her in front of the female quarters.

She rushed out of the trees, her mind still reeling, and he jumped at the sudden sight of her.

“What were you doing over there?” he asked her, frowning slightly but still smiling in greeting.

“Oh, nothing,” she lied quickly. “Shall we go to dinner then?”

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