Shadow's Pursuit

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Chapter Sixteen

LLOYD WETHERDON SLEPT poorly that night, but he was not surprised. He had stayed up late doing as much final research as he could, but there was little that he did not already know. His knowledge of Death Magic was quite possibly the greatest in his small Guild, as modestly as he looked at it. And besides, if he was only facing a young, new member, what problems could possibly arise?

Nevertheless, he spent most of the night lying on his back in his bed and staring at the ceiling, his vision blurry and unfocused without his glasses. He thought through countless possible scenarios, tried to find the answers to multiple questions, and then determine the actions against those answers; his mind would not let him rest. It was only when he drank one of his own sleeping concoctions did unconsciousness come- it was a useful recipe that he had devised years ago.

His attempts at eating were as effective as those at sleeping, for his stomach was a swirling whirlpool of unease, confusion, malcontent and curiosity, and he soon gave up. He moved through the barracks instead, watching as dewdrops glistened on the grass beneath him as the sun rose and gave birth to light. Unfortunately, the calmness of the world did not calm him.

He knew that Grindale was from First Company, but such information was unhelpful at this point in time; no doubt the man would still be asleep in his own home in the noble district.

He headed there instead, ignoring the glares from the guards as he stepped out of the gates of the military zone and into the city streets. The citizens of Avendan were slowly stirring, merchants setting up their wares on the sides of the pathways, the smells of cooking bread and fresh meat rising up in the air along with murmured conversations and the rolling of carts against the pebble road. Wetherdon ignored them, keeping to himself and running through all of the information he had collected over and over in his mind.

Thomas is the head of the Grindale family, his parents having passed away a couple of years ago, shortly after he became a Death Mage of the Avendan military… I wonder if the two events are connected.

Why would he alter the minds of the officers? What does he hope to accomplish by being able to change their thoughts and direct their decisions? What does he want?

Who is he working with? Surely such a momentous task cannot be completed alone… Who is leading him, telling him what to do?

And what do they truly want?

His presence in the noble district certainly drew the eyes from some of the street guard as they passed, but nothing was ever said. Wetherdon had considered and decided against wearing ordinary clothes- he certainly wouldn’t look like nobility had he done that and besides, Death Magi tended to have more authority than any other elemental mage anyway. He knew that his aura was crippling and uncomfortable, and he could often get what he desired simply by relying on it to increase the pressure and discomfort in the other person’s mind. Half the time, he didn’t need to raise a finger or cast a curse.

But they don’t seem too surprised, however… Does that mean that Death Magi, or at least military members, have come to this area often?

He tucked his hands into the pockets of his open black robe, feeling his body shiver involuntarily with the morning’s cold. The air stung his eyes and his lungs ached, a cough rising in his chest, but he pushed the unpleasant sensations away. He had long become used to the unfortunate symptoms of being a Death Mage. A lowered, weaker élan vital was the price he constantly paid for the magical power he wielded.

He slowed his pace as he looked at the family crests on the gates of the houses he silently passed, the insignia of the Grindale family burning fiercely in the forefront of his mind. These houses were beautifully made and wonderfully decorated; he knew that their appearance was designed to impress, but such things meant nothing to him. He just merely hoped that some of them would be empty, or the inhabitants fast asleep, at the very least. In all honesty, he still had no idea what he was getting himself into, and what that could mean for those that lived nearby Grindale’s domain.

Here. Wetherdon stopped and looked around, finding that the clean, well-maintained street was virtually empty. Then he turned and looked back at the mansion, though he didn’t know what he was looking for.

He wondered for a moment if he was making his intentions too clear so he took a few steps back, moving out of the view of the windows.

I have no idea what I’m doing, he thought, scoffing darkly at his pathetic attempt of espionage. But still, doing this in daylight is probably safer than at night. I’d rather not fight him, though I have a feeling that I won’t have much of a say in the matter.

He breathed in deeply, his heart beating surprisingly fast in his chest. This was not something that he knew how to do, and it was not something that he liked doing. Sneaking down streets and trying to extract information from another was not in his collection of skills at all. But he straightened, pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose with a finger and continued forward. He’ll sense me soon enough anyway.

The gate was closed but it was not locked, and Wetherdon pushed it open, cringing as it screeched loudly with the movement, the sound piercing the air like an eagles cry, echoing in all directions. His footsteps seemed illogically loud, and he wondered if he should have come in the middle of the day, when the streets were busier.

What’s done is done, he thought, reaching out and touching the tall double doors, preparing himself for the knock and the inevitable conflict to come.

But his eyes widened as energy surged through his fingertips, so powerful that he almost pulled away from its sudden heat, and all thoughts of retreating were lost. The Death Magic was so strong that he felt his own soul being pulled towards it, his Bridge responding in kind.

There is more than just one Death Mage behind these doors, he thought, his heart now pounding fiercely in his throat with the realisation. Far more than that. How come I haven’t felt this before? I should have felt this power from all the way down the street!

Wetherdon frowned as he raised his mana vital, deciding to sense more of the door and the room within. It was highly likely that Grindale would sense him, but he’d rather run that risk than activate and be struck by multiple Death Curses at once. He was good, but he was not that good.

He turned the handle, finding it strangely unlocked, and took a deep breath as he slowly pushed it open. He had already gained control of the runes covering the doors, and they did not activate as he entered. Indeed, it seemed as though they were specifically avoiding activating in his presence. The thought was unsettling- could they be modified to allow the door to only open for Death Magi?

He walked in, his boots clicking on white tiles that stretched out into a wide room that appeared empty, void of any signs of life. The room was huge, but it was also bare. He had been expecting lavish tapestries, pieces of art, fine furniture, but there was nothing but painted walls and tiles. There were a few rooms to the sides of him, opening up into depths unknown, but his eyes were drawn to the two sets of arched stairs that rose before him on each side of the room. Both moved up to meet one another, creating the landing for the level above him.

Wetherdon looked up there now, half expecting someone to be standing above him, watching his entrance, but the platform was empty.

Yet, his mana vital and his Bridge of Death were both screaming at him, alive with the magic around him. He could sense runes everywhere, though none of them were active- what could they be used for? They were clearly meant to keep invaders out but yet, he had entered with no problems.

These runes are not activating either- will they only activate against those that do not have the Bridge of Death? If so, then this further supports my hypothesis that this place allows Death Magi to come and go freely…

He became still, the realisation that he was probably up against multiple Death Magi chilling him to his very core. Beads of cold sweat rolled down the sides of his face but he left them be, focusing his eyes on his surroundings, straining his hearing as best he could. His heartbeat sounded horrendously loud in his chest.

There. He felt the élan vital instantly, coming from above, and he instinctively moved his hands in front of him, ready to create a rapid flurry of Death Magic if need be. Fear was not an emotion that he was used to feeling, and he did not like the way it threatened to take control of his thoughts and his actions. He needed to remain calm and vigilant.

Then he heard the sound of applause, and he simply waited as he sensed the being approach. Finally, he came into view, staring down at him from the landing.

His memory clicked into place at the sight of him, finally putting a very clear face to his name. Grindale was young, perhaps the same age as Raine, and was currently dressed in the uniform of an Avendan mage. Short, cropped brown hair covered his head, and deep blue eyes looked down at him, glowing with dark amusement. His lips were curled into a teeth baring grin.

“So you found us, Mage Wetherdon.” he said, his voice easily travelling down to where he stood. “I must congratulate you- I knew that you were sharp, but I didn’t think you were that sharp.”

“Enough with the fake pleasantries.” Wetherdon said, keeping his voice clear and even despite the unease that was growing in his chest. He was starting to sense other élan vitals now; his Bridge was recognising like-kind all around him, and he realised that there were more than just curse runes on the walls and floors.

“I couldn’t sense you because of the blocking runes,” he said, more to himself than the young man before him. “That’s why I couldn’t sense the Death Magic until I touched the door.”

“That’s right,” Grindale said, nodding slowly, still smiling. “Judging by the look of fear in your eyes, I am going to assume that you’ve just realised that I am not alone.”

Wetherdon reached out, openly sensing their Death Magic and trying to trace their signatures, but he did not recognise most of them.

“Who are you?” he called instead. “What is your plan? Why have you placed these curses upon our superiors?”

Grindale laughed, a harsh, jagged sound, eerily reminding Wetherdon of a dog chewing and growling at a bone. “One question at a time, dear comrade. Trust me, I want to tell you the answers you seek, but I cannot do that here.”

Wetherdon’s eyes narrowed. “What do you mean? Why not?” he asked. He looked around the lower level he was on, but no one was with him. “This seems as good a place as any. We can discuss this without resorting to violence.”

“I truly hope so, Lloyd.” Grindale said, moving forward and leaning on the rails that prevented him from falling to the ground floor. “I don’t want to have to kill you.”

Wetherdon said nothing, his mind racing.

“So, step forward.” Grindale said. “Come to me, and I will give you your answers. I will tell you everything. I have no doubt that you’re simply dying to know.”

Wetherdon swallowed but moved forward- his chest was burning with curiosity, his mind screaming for results.

Perhaps, just perhaps, he might get out of this alive.

Then the ground beneath him started to glow, so brightly that he automatically covered his eyes as they burned with the ferocity of the light. He gave an involuntarily cry of pain, his hand knocking his glasses from his face, and he could hear them clatter against the tile floors somewhere near him.

A Teleportation Rune, he realised with panic as Death Magic rose up around him, unbelievably powerful. Combined again with a concealing technique… Gods damn it; I should have sensed this…

“Come, and we’ll talk!” he heard Grindale say loudly. He wanted to fight the spell, but it was already activated. There was nothing he could do, so he kept his eyes closed and embraced the magic around him, the light burning bright behind his eyelids.

WHEN HE OPENED them again, sensing the end of the teleportation, he realised that he was standing somewhere dark, illuminated only by burning flames nearby. His vision was blurry and he tried to remain still, resisting the urge to put his hands out before him to check his surroundings.

Then he shivered, and he felt pain rise through his bones. It’s freezing…

“Where are we?” he called out, but no one answered. He reached out with his magic but it was too difficult- the entire area was brimming with Death Magic, dampening out any individual sensations. Even his own élan vital seemed faded and dull, and he knew that it wasn’t because of the sudden cold that had gripped his small, thin frame.

They haven’t come through yet, he thought and at that, he immediately dropped to his knees, reaching out along the floor. He felt large stones beneath him, laid well, so he knew that he was not outside. His fingers stumbled along, feeling the cracks and the gaps in between each stone, but he was not investigating the ground- he was looking for his damned glasses. They would have landed on the rune, so they should also be where he was.

At last, his fingertips touched the familiar metal and he pulled them onto his face, his eyes adjusting instantly. He got to his feet and quickly moved off the rune, not wanting to be transported by it again. He looked around.

Wetherdon was standing in another large room but this one was much darker, both literally and in character. The walls were painted grey or black, and the floor was built of large stones. There were some tapestries and paintings along the huge walls, but the area was too poorly lit for him to determine any intricate details.

He pulled his open robe around him tightly as another shiver shook him- by the Gods, it was cold. And the place is positively drowning in Death Magic. Where in Athos’ name am I?

He started to move forward, deciding that if he remained still, the cold would probably kill him before the other Death Magi even had the chance. His mind was reeling and he wondered if he should return to the mansion in the city by reactivating the Teleportation Rune, but he knew that he was too curious for retreat. That, and if the others were still back there, they could easily kill him or force his return to this strange, dark place.

He saw light coming from the end of a corridor so he headed for that, hoping to find warmth as much as answers to his burning questions. There was nothing else he could do, after all…

“Come in, come in!” came a light voice from the end of the corridor, echoing down to reach him with ease. Wetherdon froze immediately. “It’s hell of a lot warmer in here, I promise you that, Lloyd!”

The voice was filled with laughter and amusement, but it was not one that he recognised.

“Who are you?” he called, deciding that silence was pointless now that his presence was known.

Laughter filled the corridor, surrounding him. “No one who has any want to harm you, I can assure you that. Come, come in and meet me! We have hot tea.” the stranger called.

“I don’t have a choice, do I?” Wetherdon responded, starting to slowly advance again. Laughter resumed once more, but it was not filled with malice or dark humour.

“No, I don’t think you do, unfortunately. I only wish that I had been informed of your impending arrival sooner; I like to be ready for my guests.”

“I wasn’t planning on coming here either.” Wetherdon muttered. “This is just as much as a surprise to me as well.”

“Well, there you go. A pleasant surprise, I must say.” the stranger said.

Wetherdon narrowed his eyes as the light grew at the end of the corridor, and he braced himself for whatever attack was to come. He could feel warmth washing over his body as he approached the room, easing the aching that had grown over his limbs. Once again, he cursed his wretched weak constitution.

He was ready when he stepped out into the room, his muscles braced, his mind prepared, his mana vital ready to summon techniques with ease.

But then his eyes widened as he saw the figure watching him, sitting in an armchair in the opposite corner of the small room.

“Oh, I know you.” Wetherdon said, momentarily stunned.

“Come. Sit down and have tea with me.” the man said casually, gesturing to the empty armchair next to his.

RAINE MOVED THE food around her plate, finding that she was in no mood at all to consume her meal. Her stomach was a tight knot, barely allowing her to breathe properly, and anxiety and concern wracked her body, near-panic racing through her blood. She knew that she had to keep calm, but she was having great difficulty in doing so.

It had been four days, and she had not heard from her tutor at all.

She had tried to do as he had told her, and had spent the first three days in the Death Guild, reading about Death Magic lore and memorising and practising the various symbols and shapes that were used in the creation of Death Magic runes. It was depressing work- the Guild was cold and dark, void of life or even sounds of life from outside, and she was constantly haunted by her own thoughts, trying to drag her away from her concentration. She had considered hunting for more information to send to the Shadow Guild, but she found that she just couldn’t make herself do it- she was far too distracted to be running around in places that she had no right to be in.

And today, well, she didn’t know what she was going to do today. She had looked at the note Wetherdon had given her, his handwriting as scribbled and incoherent as always, and she knew that the house belonging to that address was from the upper class district of the city.

If he had gone there, surely he would have been finished by now?

Unless something did indeed happen to him…

There came a thud and the table shook, causing her peas to move around her plate suddenly, and she looked up in surprise. Troy was looking at Hammond with equal shock, but the Fire Mage had his bright green eyes firmly set on her.

“What is going on with you now?” he demanded, pointing his fork at her. “You’ve been sullen and miserable for the last three days, and you’re barely eating or speaking. You better not tell me that you’ve called it quits with that Kayokian guy already because I swear to the Gods-”

“It’s not that Hammond,” she said quickly, bewildered at his raised voice and the look of anger on his face. “There’s nothing wrong with Hayato and I. There’s nothing wrong with anything.”

“Liar.” he said, but he lowered both his voice and his fork. His lips moved into a firm frown. “Like I said, you haven’t been acting like yourself, enough so for even me to notice. So, what’s going on? Has that Chelstra bitch said something to you?”

“Hammond!” she hissed, turning automatically to see if Chelstra had heard him.

But she was sitting with the Life Magi, like she had been ever since Raine last talked to her, and she was laughing loudly at something. Luckily, she hadn’t witnessed or heard Hammond slam his fist on the table.

“What Hammond is meaning to say,” Troy said quickly, casting him a firm look, “is that we are worried about you. Like he said, you’d been a little… distracted lately, and we want to help you.”

He was smiling, but there was strong concern in his eyes. “So, what’s going on? You can talk to us.”

Raine looked at the two of them slowly, her heart starting to race in her chest. She knew that she could trust them- they were just magi, like her. They had never said or done anything to suggest otherwise during the long time she had known them.

She placed her fork down on the table gently and swallowed, finding her voice. Troy was smiling encouragingly at her and Hammond’s eyes were questioning, so she told them everything that Wetherdon had told her, including what he was planning on doing, and what she was meant to do in turn.

“And that’s why I tend not to associate with Death Magi.” Hammond grumbled at the end of her quiet explanation. He sighed deeply and looked at her, resting his cheek against his hand. “No offence, of course, but they’re always damn trouble. And just creepy in general.”

“Not helping, Hammond.” Troy said. He was now frowning, an uneasy look in his usually shining blue eyes. “But this doesn’t sound very good, Raine. What do you think happened to him?”

“I don’t know.” she said, shrugging and looking down at the table. “I feel like something bad might have happened. It’s been too long.”

“Well you can’t go charging in on your own, even if something bad did happen,” Hammond said dryly. She opened her mouth to respond but he cut her off. “No, you can’t. You’re only a newbie Death Mage anyway- what are you gonna do? Sounds to me like Wetherdon’s gone and bitten off more than he can chew, and I’ll bet that that’s definitely more than you can chew, Raine.”

“There would have to be more people involved.” Troy said, agreeing with what she had suggested earlier. “He would be fine against one Death Mage, so perhaps there are a few of them?”

“I don’t know.” she muttered. “He didn’t tell me much.”

“At any rate, there’s not much you can do, so don’t even think about gallivanting off for some heroic rescue.” Hammond said. He leaned back in his chair as Troy glared at him, and crossed his arms over his chest. “Stop looking at me like that; you know it’s true.” he told the Air Mage. “Raine won’t stand a chance. If there is some bizarre Death Mage cult going on or something, she’d need more than just herself to get her teacher back.”

“She has us!” Troy said, poking himself in the chest with his thumb. “Or at least me, if you’re not going to help, Hammond.”

Hammond rolled his eyes. “Okay, so how skilled are you against Death Magi, Claybrook? When was the last time you stood up against a Death Mage and won?”

“Just because I haven’t doesn’t mean that I won’t,” Troy snapped, but Hammond just shook his hand dismissively at him. He looked at Raine again, eyes serious.

“Don’t get involved, Raine.” he told her. “Best bet you have is to notify that prat Preston, and leave it to him. He’s got the resources and the right people to talk to about it- you don’t.”

“Do you think he’ll help?” she asked him, a touch of hope growing in her chest.

“Oh Gods no,” Hammond said bluntly, “but he’ll talk to those that will. But it’s not like you can’t not tell him anyway- you’ve been out of training for four days now, as you said, and you can’t just roam around the barracks doing nothing all the time. Not that I’d complain, personally…”

“I guess I’ll go speak with Lieutenant Preston then,” she said, making up her mind and pushing herself up from the table.

“What- you’re going now?” Troy cried, startled.

Hammond just shrugged. “’Course she’s going now.” he said, voice monotonous once more. “It’s what she does- go, go, go.”

“I’ll speak with you later,” Raine said, ignoring Hammond, and quickly left the Hall. Chelstra’s high-pitched laugh followed her, along with the laughter of the other Life Magi she was sitting with.

“SO YOU CAME to tell me that Mage Wetherdon has gone missing?” Preston asked her, his eyes rolling up from his paperwork to look at her. “And that you haven’t seen him for four days?”

“Yes, sir,” Raine said, trying to keep the concern and panic from her voice as she stood in front of his desk at attention. “I think… I think he might be in danger, sir.”

“And why is that?” he asked her. She could tell from his body language that whilst he was being respectful in listening to her, he was uninterested. “What danger could an accomplished Death Mage such as he face?”

“Well…” She looked down at the ground, finding that her voice was suddenly stuck in her throat. She doubted that Preston would be involved but then, Wetherdon did say that Sedley had been cursed… “I don’t know, sir, but I do think that he is…”

“You’ll have to give me more than that, Mage Taylor,” Preston said, now crossing his arms over his chest. He eyed her squarely, his hazel-brown eyes serious. “If you have any information related to his absence, than I will need to hear of it.”

“I…” She frowned, feeling her frustration rise. “I don’t, sir. But I still think that an investigation needs to be brought underway, and soon.”

“I will speak to Lieutenant Shorditch regarding his absence.” Preston said. “He is his platoon lieutenant, after all. I am sure that he will look into it.”

“But…” she started, and then closed her mouth as he raised his eyebrow at her. Something needed to be done, damn it, and what if Shorditch was also involved? She had a feeling that Wetherdon would have already known, but still…

“But what?” Preston said coldly, leaning forward in his seat. “Do you have anything else that needs to be said, Mage Taylor, or are you just wasting both of our time?”

“No, sir; there is nothing else,” she said, resigned. She moved into a short bow. “Sorry for disturbing you, sir.”

Preston nodded his head. “Until Mage Wetherdon is found, or until he returns from wherever he is,” he said as she turned to leave, “you can resume training activities with Third Platoon, so that your time does not go to waste. Understood?”

Raine felt her jaw clench but she willed her frustration away, controlling her facial expression and voice as she responded. “Yes, sir.” she said.

Preston looked back down at the pieces of parchment before him, picking up his quill from an inkwell. He resumed writing, as if she had never been there at all.

HE’S NOT GOING to do anything, she thought savagely, slowly walking forward without any sense of direction, her hands stuffed into her pockets so that no one could see that they were clenched into fists. He’s going to tell Shorditch, and he’s in no rush to do so, and then that’ll be it. Shorditch will wait a few more days, realise that I’m right, and then take his time in doing something about it.

She felt herself becoming uncharacteristically angry as her fingers brushed against the small note in her pocket. She knew that Wetherdon’s absence was not Preston’s problem, but she didn’t know who else to notify.

I don’t know who else is involved, Rendeis damn it, she thought. Sedley has been affected, which means that I can’t go to any of the company captains for help, not that they’d listen to me anyway.

She thought of Hammond’s words of caution. I know that I can’t go in alone but still, I can’t sit around and do nothing. Wetherdon’s in danger- I just know it. I have to do something.

“I’m guessing that went badly.” Hammond said, approaching her from the side. She looked up at the Fire Mage, surprised to see him, and he scoffed.

“Yeap, went badly.” he said. Raine didn’t bother to conceal the anger and panic on her face; he had already seen it. “You’re planning on doing something now, aren’t you?”

“There’s no one that I can trust, Hammond.” she told him, fighting to keep her voice level. She looked at him, letting him see the frustration and anxiety that she felt. “I don’t know which officers have been compromised and by the time Preston or Shorditch do anything, it’ll probably be too late.”

Hammond nodded slowly. “So you’re gonna go do the hero thing, right?” he said evenly. She frowned, but maintained eye contact.

“I have to.” she said. To her surprise, the Fire Mage shrugged.
“Alright, what have you got planned?” he asked. “When and where do you need me?”

“What do you mean?” she asked, confused. “Do you mean that you’ll come help me?”

He raised his eyebrow, clearly unimpressed. “Can’t let you get ripped apart by Death Magic alone, right?” he said. “You’re gonna go anyway; I know that look in your eyes, so I might as well go as well. Who knows, might be fun.”

Raine looked at him for a moment, stunned. “Thanks, Hammond.” she said. “I truly appreciate it.”

“Yeah, yeah,” he muttered with another shrug. “Just tell me what we’re doing, alright? And don’t run off on your own. I know you want that promotion but still, don’t wanna get it once you’re dead.”

“I don’t want to get promoted,” she started but Hammond had already turned to leave, putting up a hand in farewell.

“Just let me know.” he said.

She watched him go, surprised, but felt that unfamiliar feeling of hope growing once more. Maybe I won’t be doing this alone after all.

She pulled the note from her pocket and looked at it for what was probably the hundredth time. I might as well know where I’m going, though.

THE STREETS OF the nobility district were busy, as Raine had expected for the middle of the day, so she kept her head down and her movements discreet as she walked forward. Carriages occasionally swept past along the street, the sound of clattering hooves and rolling wheels temporarily overwhelming her hearing. All around her people were moving about in the sun, conversing and admiring their environment, and no one looked at her twice as she continued, dressed in common clothes with a pile of scrolls and letters tucked under her arm. If anyone had looked at her for longer than an uninterested glance, they would have thought that she was just a messenger-girl and no one of any importance. She enhanced the guise by pausing at random houses along the streets, looking at both the buildings and one or two letters under her arm. Then she would continue on, her expression focused. It was something that she had done before- Damien was a fierce instructor when it came to her Shadow training. She could move about undetected virtually anywhere in the city, as long as she knew what kind of people lingered there and the kind of person she could pretend to be.

Finally, I’m using my Shadow training because I actually want to, she thought with a touch of bitterness. I’m not doing something against my will.

She double-checked the note again as she came to stand in front of a tall mansion, but she had committed the address to memory days before, so she knew that she was in the right place.

It looked respectable; the garden was well kept and filled with colour, and the walls of the double-storey building were painted recently. A stone path travelled from the stairs before the double-doors and up to the metal gates, which Raine stood before now. She looked up at the windows, already creating an image of the interior in her mind, and she noticed that they were all closed. It’s a nice day and there is a cool breeze- most people would have their windows open.

Adjusting the collection of paperwork under her arm, Raine pushed the gate open and moved onto the pathway, walking as though she had every right to be there. No one stopped her and no one moved behind the windows, but she felt her heartbeat rise nevertheless, her chest starting to constrict. This is where Lloyd would have come. This is where he would have been taken, surely.

She contemplated knocking for a brief moment but cast the idea aside, knowing that she would not stand a chance if the house was filled with hostile magi. She promised Hammond that she would tell him where she was going, anyway.

But still, she put her hand on the handle, wondering desperately if Wetherdon was somewhere inside, just on the other side of the tall piece of wood in front of her.

She gasped, unable to help herself. The scrolls beneath her arms escaped her loosened grip and tumbled onto the ground, rolling down the short set of stairs that brought her up to the double-doors. Raine struggled to regain composure as she bent down and quickly picked them up, finding that her hands were shaking, and she rushed away from the house as rapidly as discrepancy would allow.

She closed the gate shut and walked back down the street towards the military barracks as fast as she could.

Raine had left the noble district but her fingertips were still burning. The flicker of power that had been exchanged when she touched the door was still racing through her blood, making it even harder for her to breathe.

The Death Magic had been overwhelming; she had not been prepared for such a sensation, and it had startled her as effectively as being shocked by lightning. She didn’t know what lurked behind the door and she had no time to consider it- for all she knew, she could have just activated something, or alerted someone of her presence.

There’s more than one Death Mage in there, she thought, certain, as she approached the gates of the military barracks. She had long discarded her scrolls and envelopes, and the guards standing by said or did nothing as she entered.

Wetherdon said that Grindale was a newer Death Mage, the one who arrived before me. But that power… that was from more than just one person. It had to be.

She frowned, realising that she would need far more assistance than she thought.

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