Shadow's Pursuit

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Chapter Seventeen

RAINE WENT TO her room first, knowing that Troy would probably still be in his afternoon training session with the rest of the platoon, and Hammond could be practically anywhere. She would have to wait until he was finished, and only then could Troy go to Hammond’s room to check if he was there.

And then what? She paced around her room, not knowing what she could take with her for a potential battle against Death Magi. Her Shadow armour and gear was in the possession of Crow and even then, she still couldn’t wear it regardless.

She opted for the leather training armour that she wore whilst sparring against Hayato, though she seriously wondered its worth. Death Magic did not work in the same way that other physical elements did. She knew that she would look out of place with the training gear on, so she pulled a loose tunic over the top, concealing most of the chest armour. A long sleeved black robe, an optional part of the mage uniform, concealed the rest around her arms, as well as the shortsword she tied to her hip.

Not that I think a sword is going to be of any use against magic… she thought darkly.

Then she meditated, doing her best to think through her Shadow mantras, controlling her emotions, breathing and muscles. She thought through possible routes of entry, potential attack and defence positions- anything that could be of use to her and her small team. She went through the various curses she knew, over and over, and memorised a collection of potential Death Runes that she may come across. Her inactivation skills were poor, so she knew that avoiding them altogether would be the best option.

I’m going to need a Life Mage, she realised, her heart sinking somewhere even lower in her stomach. I can’t go up against Death Magic and not possibly think to bring Life Magic with me- we won’t stand a chance otherwise.

But… what Life Mage do I know who will help me? Chelstra positively hates me at the moment…

Wait… She remembered what Wetherdon had told her, as they stood behind the lines of trees outside of the female quarters. He said that I could go to Revren for help. He’s a Healer, and he’s helped me before- surely he’d help me now?

She quickly rose from her sitting position on the floor and rushed from the room. She knew the location of the Life Guild; she had walked by it enough with Chelstra in the past, and she merely hoped that the stern, older Healer would be there.

HER TRAVEL WAS uninterrupted- most magi were training with their platoons or doing other tasks. Her leather training armour and loose tunic were rapidly heating up her body, but her mind was set on her task. How was she going to ask for Revren’s help? And would he give it? Despite what Wetherdon had said, she personally felt doubtful about the Healer- he didn’t seem exactly fond of either of them.

Raine approached the Life Guild, a plain, round building with the large spiral symbol of Life Magic painted on the door. She tapped her knuckles gently on the door; she did not know if she should just simply enter.

A moment later and the door opened, and a Life Mage she did not recognise was staring back at her, expression polite. “May I help you?” he asked mildly, and she resisted the urge to stick her head further in to look around.

“I was looking for Healer Revren, actually,” she said. “I was hoping to find him here.”

“Raine, is that you?” came a familiar voice, and the other mage stood aside, frowning slightly.

Atherton now stood before her, his green-brown eyes glowing with recognition. “How nice of you to visit the Life Guild!”

“Hello, Erwin,” she mumbled, glad that she had remembered his name, “I am here to see Healer Revren, actually; do you know where he is?”

“He’s not here, I’m afraid. He spends most of his time at the hospital, since he works there, but he drops by every now and then.” Atherton said pleasantly, but his smile faded as he saw the look of disappointment on her face. “Why is that? Are you looking for him for something particular?”

“Well, yes, I am…” she said. Her desperation was starting to rise once more. I should have realised- he’s not a Life Mage, just a Healer. He probably wouldn’t even be much help against Death Magi. But still…

“He’s probably working at the hospital, I would wager.” Atherton said. He scratched the side of his face, the white fringes on the sides of his forehead swaying with the motion. “Is something wrong? You don’t seem too pleased.”

“No, it’s nothing,” she muttered. She stepped back, preparing to leave, already thinking furiously about what she should do next. “Thankyou anyway.”

Atherton nodded, though he was frowning slightly, and she felt his eyes on her as she turned around and walked away from the Guild.

Then she stopped. I don’t have time for this, and I highly doubt that a Life Mage would be involved in this anyway.

“Wait, Erwin!” she called and the door, almost closed, opened once more.

The older Life Mage looked at her curiously. “Yes, Miss Raine?”

“I…” She walked back towards him again, pushing away her uncertainty and unease. “I really need your help. I was going to ask Healer Revren but he’s not here, and I don’t have much time…”

“I will do my best to assist you, though I’m not sure what it is you want me to do,” he said, grinning bashfully. “What do you need?”

“I…” She looked around, but it appeared as though the other Life Mage had left them to their conversation. She lowered her voice regardless. “I need help fighting against Death Magi.”

Erwin’s eyes narrowed immediately and his smile vanished into a frown. “That sounds very serious, Miss Raine,” he said, and his tone was stern, all humour gone. “Why would you need to do such a thing?”

“I believe that they have kidnapped my tutor, Mage Wetherdon, and very possibly may have attacked him.” she said quietly, trying to decide how much information to give him.
“They? As in a group of them?” Atherton said, his own voice now lowered, and she nodded slightly.

“I know where they are; at least, where they might be, and I think Lloyd is there as well.”

“I see.” he said. He turned his head to look around behind him, but Raine could sense no other life forces besides their own. “Have you spoken to your superiors about this?”

“I’ve tried, but I doubt he will do much.” she said bitterly. “Lieutenant Preston doesn’t seem to care. He doesn’t believe me but then again, I can’t tell him much…”

Atherton was watching her closely, a sharp intelligence burning in his eyes. The change from the light-hearted, awkward Life Mage that she had known before was startling. His jaw was clenched and his hands were pressed together into fists, and she wondered suddenly if it had been a bad idea to ask him for assistance on such a whim.

Then Atherton smiled suddenly, showing his white teeth. “Well, it sure sounds like an adventure. Count me in!”

“What?” She looked at him dumbly for a moment. “Are you sure? It could be dangerous…”

He shrugged slightly. “You said that you needed a Life Mage, right?” he said. “I’ll admit that I’m not the greatest in the world, and Mage Revren definitely has more experience than I but still, better than nothing?”

“I…” Raine looked at him for a moment, but the man’s words made sense. Plus, Troy and Hammond should be finished their training soon, so we can go and get them, and then…

“You did say that Mage Wetherdon is in danger, didn’t you?” he added. “Can you afford to wait for Mage Revren? I hate to say it, but I don’t think he’d agree to this kind of thing.” He gave a small, awkward laugh. “It’s not exactly in his nature to help Death Magi, especially against each other. He’d probably prefer for them to knock each other off.”

“Thankyou,” she said, convinced. “I would really appreciate your help, Erwin.”

“Of course.” he said, beaming. “I would be glad to repay the debt that I owe you.”

TROY EYED ERWIN with both suspicion and confusion, and the Life Mage merely laughed awkwardly at his open stare. “I thought you were going to ask Revren to help us?” he asked her. “Not that I mind the offer, Mage Atherton.”

“Please, call me Erwin.” He extended a hand towards Troy. “I’d be glad to help out a fellow mage and besides, I owe you all my life.”

“I thought we’ve been over that…” Troy muttered, but he shrugged, accepting the handshake. “I guess it would be good to have a Life Mage with us anyway.”

Then he looked at Raine, expression darkening. “Are you sure about this, Raine? From what you said, it sounds mighty dangerous.”

“Scared, Claybrook?” Hammond said, walking up behind him.

As Raine had expected, Troy had been on his way to the male quarters following his afternoon training session when they found him, and it seemed that the Fire Mage had been sleeping in his room. Now they all stood a few paces away from the building.

“What are you all doing out here anyway? No one invited me to a pep-talk meeting.”

“Hammond,” Raine said, speaking before Troy had the chance to retaliate, “I went to the house that Lloyd told me about. I sensed Death Magic there- really powerful Death Magic.”

“I thought I told you not to run off on your own?” Hammond said, his eyes narrowing as he cleaned his ear with his little finger. She could sense his irritation despite his casual tone. “You know, not to end up getting yourself into trouble?”

“I had to check, Hammond.” she said firmly. “And besides, that’s why I’m here now. We have to go there- I know for certain that Lloyd is in danger.”

“Aren’t you that guy we found crawling around in the trenches?” Hammond asked Atherton, eyeing him with mild interest. “Why would a Life Mage want to help a Death Mage? You do know that she’s a Death Mage, right?”

“Such things don’t bother me, Mage Tallon,” Atherton replied, unfazed by his comment. “And besides, I owe Raine.”

“So he keeps saying, anyway,” Troy muttered.

“Well, whatever,” Hammond said, shrugging. “Beats that Revren guy; he was a bit of a wet blanket anyway.”

“You probably shouldn’t say that.” Atherton said with a nervous laugh. “Healer Revren is one of our more powerful Healers. He may not be trained for combat, but his skill is still extraordinary.”

“Also a wet blanket.” Hammond said.

“So, can we get going now?” Raine asked. Hammond looked at her, and then slowly raised an eyebrow.

“Are you wearing training armour beneath that tunic?” he asked her wryly. She felt heat rush to her cheeks as the three males suddenly stopped and looked at her intently.

“I did think that that tunic was too large for you,” Troy commented.

“She is also carrying a sword.” Atherton noted.

“Yes, and what of it?” she said, embarrassed. “We don’t know what we will be encountering.”

Hammond shrugged, but she could see his eyes glowing with amusement.
“Then I’ll go and get my weapon as well,” Troy declared, and rushed off into the male quarters. Atherton watched him go, and then looked back at Raine. “I’m sorry, but I’m not very good with swords, or any weapons for that matter,” he said, scratching the back of his head as he grinned bashfully.

“You won’t need it.” Hammond said, yawning widely. “You just stick to the healing and preventing our minds from being turned to mush. Leave the offence to me.”

“We’ll need to be careful, Hammond,” Raine started, but he put his hand up to cut her off.

“You’ve got the passion Raine, don’t get me wrong,” he said, “but you don’t tend to have the power. Like I said, leave the offence to me.”

She could only sigh as Atherton watched them curiously.

They swiftly left the mage barracks, and were currently heading through the infantry barracks on their way to the exit out of the military area. Raine and Troy were equipped with weapons; Raine had her shortsword and a couple of throwing knives tucked away under her clothes, and Troy carried his rapier. Hammond and Erwin Atherton carried nothing and whilst Atherton seemed nervous, Hammond didn’t appear to give a damn at all about what they were about to do.

Raine tried to control her nerves, knowing fully well that they were going outside of their boundaries as members of the military. They were probably going to be punished when they returned, but she hoped that an explanation from Wetherdon would lessen the verdict for their crimes.

Damien won’t exactly be impressed if I end up being imprisoned for this- it will render me useless as a Shadow.

She felt a surge of panic threaten to overwhelm her. And the Guild will be even less impressed. I’m breaking some serious rules here and getting involved in affairs that I shouldn’t. I could always say that it may affect Treston’s security as well, but I doubt that they’ll care much for that excuse. But still, I can’t just leave him…

“Relax, Raine.” Atherton said quietly, startling her from her thoughts. “We will work together as a team to get through this. There is no need to panic so much; you will need your wits about you when the time comes.”

She looked up at him, stunned at the gentleness in his eyes. “And besides,” he added with a soft chuckle, “you know more about Death Magic than the rest of us. We really need you here.”

“Right,” she murmured, “Sorry. I’ll do what I can.”

“Aaand now things are about to get interesting,” Hammond muttered suddenly, his tone monotonous as always, but Raine frowned at his choice of words. She realised that he was looking to the side of them, and she followed his gaze.

“Oh,” Troy added.

Raine’s heart skipped a beat as she recognised Hayato, walking towards them with a pleasant but intrigued look on his handsome face.

“We’ll be over here.” Hammond said, grabbing Troy’s arm and pulling the Air Mage away before he could say anything. “C’mon, Atherton.”

“Right,” Atherton stammered, following him after casting one last curious glance at Raine.

“Hello, Raine,” Hayato said, smiling widely as he looked at her, affection blazing in his dark eyes. “It’s been a little while since I saw you last. I was worried that I had scared you away.”

“No, not at all,” she said, feeling the familiar warmth in her cheeks at the fondness in his gaze. “I… I’ve been very busy.”

She tried to smile, but he saw through her pleasant façade immediately and his expression darkened. He looked over at Hammond, Troy and Atherton.

Atherton waved.

“Is something wrong?” he asked her. His eyes narrowed as he took a closer look at her appearance. “You’re wearing armour and carrying your blade. Have you been sent on a mission?”

“Well, not exactly,” she muttered, looking at the ground. “Something… something serious has come up, and you see…”

Her eyes widened as she felt Hayato’s hand gently grip her chin, and he pulled her face up so that she was forced to look at him. Concern was etched along his features, and the proximity and familiarity of the act made her face burn even further. She knew that the others were watching them, but Hayato didn’t seem to care.

“You have panic and fear in your eyes.” he said quietly. “What is going on? Where are you going, Raine?”

“My friend is in danger.” she said, the words spilling from her mouth against her will. “My teacher, Lloyd Wetherdon. We are going to help him.”

“How is he in danger?” Hayato asked her.

“I think he’s been kidnapped,” she said, unable to tear her eyes away from his piercing gaze. “By other Death Magi.”

“Have you spoken to the officers about this?” he asked and she gave a short nod.

He released her chin, but his face remained close to hers. She could feel his warm breath on her skin and it sent hot shivers through her stomach. Unbeknown to her, Troy was fighting the urge to storm over and assist her, but Hammond was gripping his arm quite tightly. Atherton was continuing to watch on with curious interest.

“I have, but I don’t think they’ll do anything.” she said quietly. She swallowed. “Hayato, I’m worried about him.”

“That doesn’t mean that you can just charge off with your friends Raine, whether this danger is real or not.” he told her sternly. “I don’t know about any of this- why haven’t you told me sooner? I could have helped you, or at least notified the officers alongside you.”

“I…” She realised that she didn’t have an answer for that; the idea of going to Hayato for advice had strangely never even entered her mind, and she was filled with guilt at the realisation.

“I guess I was too caught up in it to think about it,” she eventually admitted. “I’m sorry.”

“It’s alright, Raine,” Hayato said quickly, his voice filled with exasperation, “but by the Spirits, you could have come to me. There are other proper ways of doing this.”

“They won’t do anything soon enough,” she told him, certain. “I told Preston and he said that he’d tell Lloyd’s lieutenant, but they’ll probably wait a few days and even then…”

“Even then?” he prompted, watching her sternly. She looked away again. “Raine? Now is not the time to be withholding information from me.”

“I don’t know who is involved,” she confessed. “Lloyd thinks that some Death Magi may have something to do with it, and it’s quite possible that high-ranking officers are involved as well. Even someone from the infantry.”

“Involved in what?” Hayato asked, his frown deepening. “Start from the beginning Raine; you’re starting to panic.”

“Lloyd discovered that captains from the Magic, Infantry and Mounted Companies have been cursed by Death Magic,” she said quickly, having had recited this a few times now, “and he believes that whoever has done it is altering their thoughts, or their decisions. That’s why I can’t just go tell the officers- we don’t know who else is involved, or could be cursed, and if we say anything, we will be making ourselves targets.”

Hayato looked at her for a moment, and she understood the flash of doubt that moved through his eyes. “Does this Lloyd know who the Death Mage is?” he asked, and she nodded.

“He does, and now I do, too.” she said. “And I know where he probably is, which is where we are going now.”

“No, you are not.” Hayato said immediately. “If this is true, than you are placing yourself in danger. I cannot allow that.”

“I have no choice,” she pleaded, but his body language was set. His jaw muscles were clenched, his hands tight in fists, and even the way he was standing with his shoulders back told her that he was adamantly against the idea. “There is nothing else that I can do and if I wait, something bad might happen to Lloyd.”

“I am sure that this Death Mage knew what he was getting himself into when this happened.” Hayato said, unknowingly echoing Hammond’s previous comments. “He doesn’t seem to me like the sort of person that would rush into something without thinking it through.”

“He’s not, which is why I am worried.” she said. “It must be something quite serious to have him missing for so long.”

Hayato looked at her for a moment, and sighed heavily. “You will have to run the risk and alert the authorities.” he said. “I will go with you.”

“No.” she cried, no longer trying to hide her desperation. “You don’t understand- they won’t help; it could make it worse!”

“You can’t just run off on your own!” Hayato said, and now anger was evident in his tone. “Not only is it stupid and dangerous, but illegal! Have you considered the trouble you will be in when you return, if you even do?”

“Yes,” she said quietly, surprised that he had raised his voice, even just a little. She was seeing a side of him that she had only seen once, when he was given the temporary title of Second Lieutenant- a cold unwillingness to bend the rules, regardless of the situation. It stunned her. “And I am willing to accept the consequences.”

“By the Spirits…” Hayato breathed, looking away and glancing over at Troy, Hammond and Atherton. They were still watching them, and now even Hammond had a tight look on his face. “And these three have agreed to come with you?”

“Yes.” she said. “So I’m not alone; you don’ need to worry. I have a Life Mage with me- he can heal me if something bad happens.”

“By the Spirits…” he muttered again, putting a hand up and running it absentmindedly over his head and horsetail of hair. “This… You will be in serious trouble, Raine.”

“I know.” she said again, knowing that he was starting to back down. She hated that she had to push him so, but she had no choice. “You don’t need to worry about it, Hayato. I know you’re worried about breaking the law, and I’m not asking you to do anything. Please, just let me go.”

Hayato put his hand to his face and was silent for a moment, looking at her through his fingers. She waited and watched him, desperate to know what he was thinking.

“I can see that I cannot persuade you, Raine,” he eventually muttered, “and that you are going to do this anyway, regardless of what I have to say.”

“I value what you have to say, Hayato,” she said quickly, “and I’m grateful that you are worried about me, I truly am! It’s just that… he’s in danger, and I can’t stand by doing nothing whilst knowing this.”

“And as I was going to say,” Hayato continued, lowering his hand to reveal a humourless smile, “that since you are going to go anyway, then I will have to go with you.”

“But-what?” She looked at him, stunned, and he gave another dark sigh.

“Though I can’t say that I am happy about it…” he said. Then he looked at her, and his frown deepened. “I don’t think I like how surprised you are that I would assist you, Raine. It would be wrong of me to let you go on your own, knowing that you are putting your own life at risk. If your actions cannot be avoided, than the risk can at least be minimised.”

“You’ll come with us?” she asked. “Really? You don’t have to Hayato; I know now how you feel about-”

“Breaking the law is not my main concern, Raine!” Hayato said sternly, indignation flashing in his eyes. “My primary concern is you, and your safety. I do not want harm coming to you and so if I can protect you, I will.”

“I…” Raine could only stare at him for a moment, stunned by the intensity of his words and his gaze.

“Though can you at least grant me a few moments to go and collect my armour and blade?” he asked, his lips curling into a wry smile.

“Oh, yes, of course,” she stammered, her mind still reeling.

“Good,” he said, nodding slightly. “I will be right back; please remain here.”

He turned on his heel and left, disappearing between the buildings with rapid strides. Raine watched him leave as the others returned to her.

“I don’t like the way he was looking at you, Raine,” Troy started, his expression angry, but Hammond gave him a stern look.
“What’s the go?” he asked her.

“Hayato is…coming with us,” she said quietly, finally tearing her eyes away from his back and looking at Hammond. “He’s just gone to get his gear.”

“Wonderful.” Hammond said, his voice toneless. “The more the merrier.”

“Is he a friend of yours?” Atherton asked her pleasantly.

“Beau,” Hammond said before she could answer. “You seem surprised,” he added, looking back at her. “Thought he’d be chuffed about sending you off into a mansion filled with Death Magi? You know, throwing you head-on into mortal danger and whatnot.”

“Well no, but…” Raine started, guilt spreading through her chest as she realised how unpleasant a situation she had just placed Hayato in. Yet, despite everything, he had decided to join them, just to protect her. “I didn’t think he’d agree to it, at any rate.”

“It doesn’t look like he ‘agreed’ with it at all to me,” the Fire Mage said. “If anything, I think he thinks he doesn’t have a choice in the matter. Not that I blame him- this is pretty reckless, especially for you.”

“Well, he does have a choice…” she mumbled. Have I just pushed him into doing this? I know I should have told him about it sooner, but… He seems so focused on following the rules and following procedure… I never realised it up until now. He’s running the risk of getting into serious trouble, just for my safety.

“Well, he better not stop us from doing what we have to…” Troy grumbled, and Hammond rolled his eyes.

“Stop being jealous; it’s only boring now.” he said, causing Troy’s eyes to widen.

“Excuse me?” he said, voice incredulous, but even Raine could see the blush that was growing along his cheeks. She turned away.

“I can see that this is going to be an interesting adventure,” Atherton said happily.

I’ll say, Raine thought darkly.

“SO WHAT IS the… plan of entry?” Hayato asked her, lowering his voice as they walked through the gates of the noble district. Troy was looking around, still seething from Hammond’s previous comment, though she could tell that he was interested in the architecture and design of the upper-class houses around them.

“Well we… didn’t really have much of a plan of entry,” she started, and the Kayokian warrior raised an eyebrow at her.

“What did you have planned? Anything at all?” he asked.

“I figured knocking on the door might be a good idea.” Hammond said casually. “Then just stroll in, ask for good ol’ Wetherdon back, and then sneak out and be home by dinnertime.”

“You’re going to need a better plan than that.” Hayato said, his voice deepening into a near growl. He looked at Raine but she could only smile bashfully at him.

I had thought about other ways to infiltrate the building, but didn’t think the others could go along with it…

“Sorry,” she said, “but I didn’t know what else we could do. I mean, we’re a group of magi…”

“I ain’t climbin’ no window.” Hammond said immediately.

Hayato sighed. “So you are simply going to knock, enter, and ask for your friend back?” he said, shaking his head.

“Well, do you have a better plan?” Troy snapped, turning his face away from a series of buildings to look at Hayato. “Raine’s doing the best she can here.”

“I am well aware of that, Mage Claybrook,” Hayato said, and Raine could tell by the twitch in his jaw muscles that he was refraining from releasing his frustration on the Air Mage. “I was simply asking.”

“Cool it, Claybrook.” Hammond said, and Raine wondered if she was imagining the touch of warning in his otherwise nonchalant tone. “Use that aggression of yours against the enemy.”

“We’re not going to charge the building, are we?” Atherton asked, a nervous smile on his face. “I’m not really good at physical attacks, just so you know…”

“I think we should just sneak in, if we can,” Raine said, looking up at Hayato. “If we be quiet and careful, we might be able to find another way into the mansion.”

“Good luck being discreet in a place like this,” Hammond said, staring back at a man who was openly watching him. “We stick out like a handful of sore thumbs, dressed in military uniforms.”

“We could take the guise of a military operation,” Hayato muttered, looking thoughtful, and Raine nodded. “If anyone asks, that is…”

“I doubt the people inside will want to start an open fight against us either,” she said. “It is the middle of the day, and in a highly open place.”

Hayato continued to look thoughtful, but she could see the discomfort in his eyes.

I can see how this disturbs him- it’s a dangerous mission on its own, let alone with our lack of planning for it. I can just imagine how Damien would respond too.

The house rose up on the horizon and Raine felt the familiar feelings of unease and nausea rise in her chest. She firmly remembered the powerful aura of Death Magic that resonated from the door when she had touched it earlier that day, and wondered if it would shock her so strongly again.

“You said that Wetherdon was going to speak with him?” Hayato asked quietly. “Does that mean that he also chose to simply knock on the door and act civil?”

“I would imagine so,” she replied. “I can’t imagine him trying to do anything but that. They must have let him in, and led him to a trap or something.”

“So we cannot allow the same thing to happen to us. Raine,” She turned to look at him, momentarily stunned by the fierce look in his eyes, “If battle is to happen, I want you to remain by my side. I do not care that you are trained in Death Magic- I will not allow you to leave my sight. Do you understand?”

“Yes.” she said. He must have seen the shock in her eyes, for his expression softened.

“I cannot allow any harm to come to you, Raine.” he said quietly, affection returning in his gaze.

“Thankyou.” she said, and he looked ahead once more.

Raine led them through the gate and up the small pathway in single file, Hayato right behind her. Troy became quiet, a grim look befalling his face, and even Hammond had a serious glint in his eyes. Atherton appeared cautious and uncomfortable, and he remained at the rear of the group until Hayato commanded him to move up with them. Raine personally agreed with his decision.

She breathed in deeply as she reached out and touched the door handle, the sensation of near-overwhelming Death Magic charging up her fingers, hand and arm. Despite this, she was surprised to find that there was no malice in the magic; rather, it seemed to be welcoming her. She frowned, but followed her instincts as she turned the handle, and found that it was unlocked.

At least I won’t need to pick it open. I’d have no problems in doing that, but it would endanger my identity as a mage.

“Well isn’t that convenient,” Hammond muttered from behind them, and Troy cast him a stern, disapproving glare.

Hayato nodded, his hand sliding over the hilt of his Kayokian longsword, and Raine slowly pushed the door open, her muscles tense and her body ready for an attack.

But none came. Instead, as she pushed the door wide open and light streamed into the mansion, she was met with silence and a large, empty room. She entered cautiously, Hayato still a footstep behind her, and she moved to the side to allow the others to enter. They did so as quietly and carefully as she had, and Atherton was staring around in wonder.

The entire room was white, the floor tiled, and a pair of staircases sat to the left and right corners at the back of the room, winding up and connecting together again on the next floor.

“Do you sense any traps?” Hayato immediately hissed to Atherton, and he shook his head quickly, blushing with embarrassment. Raine was already reaching out with her Death Magic as gently as she could, not wanting to alert anyone of their presence, but she could not sense anything.

As if I could anyway, she thought, guilt rising in her chest. I’m only an apprentice- if Lloyd fell for any traps, than it’s almost certain that I’ll fall for them too.

“I cannot sense any élan vitals.” Atherton whispered, and it felt as though his quiet voice was pounding through the silence. “I’m reaching out as far as I can but… I do think that this place is empty.”

“The whole mansion is empty?” Hammond muttered, his deep voice sounding louder in the large room. “All this expert stealth for nothing?”

“We should search the rooms anyway.” Hayato said, his hand still gripping the hilt of his blade. “They could be using magic to conceal their presence.”

He looked at Raine, eyes narrowed. “That is possible, yes?”

“Yes, very possible.” she agreed. “Though I can’t sense anything; not even a trace.”

“Shall we get started then?” Troy said quietly, moving forward. “Will we split up or search together?”

“Together.” Hayato said instantly. “We will not split up. Raine and the Life Mage are the most useful assets we have at the moment.”

“Erwin Atherton,” the Life Mage said, extending a hand, “A pleasure to meet you.”

Hayato ignored him as he advanced, aiming for the room to the left of their position. Raine followed suit, keeping her eyes on their surroundings.

There are too many openings here, she thought, forcing herself to remain calm. There are too many places that they can watch us and attack us from. Damien would kill me if he saw me acting in such an open, careless way.

As she went, a sudden surge of energy went through her body, far more powerful that she had experienced when touching the door. The Death Magic, which was all but vacant before, had suddenly returned, and with a vengeance.

“What is wrong?” Hayato said, turning to face her the moment she clutched her stomach, giving a gasp of shock.

“Death Magic.” Atherton said, looking around. “And very powerful Death Magic.”

“From where?” Hayato snapped. Troy and Hammond were looking around, their hands before them and ready to send attacks in any direction.

“Everywhere,” Raine gasped, pushing back the familiar sensation and straightening. She couldn’t pinpoint the location- it was literally in the walls, over the windows, all across the floor…

The floor… she thought, looking down.

“Oh no,” she said. “It’s in the floor- a rune! Get back!”

She didn’t know what kind of rune it was, but she didn’t have the chance to figure it out either- an immense burst of light erupted from beneath them, like the glare of the sun, and they had to cover their eyes for a moment, yelping with surprise and pain.

Raine felt an arm grip her waist, and then Hayato’s body was against her back, keeping her close.

“What is it?” he yelled, but she could only shake her head, unable to see through her hands as they covered her eyes.

“Don’t move!” came Atherton’s voice, loud and shaky, but she obeyed him.

This sensation… what is it? She felt like she was surrounded by Death Magic and it was enveloping her, wrapping around her body with invisible limbs, swallowing her whole.

“Can’t say that I like this, Raine!” came Hammond’s voice, and she realised that they were all experiencing the same thing.

“It’s not a curse,” she yelled, realising that nothing was harming them- the magic wasn’t actually piercing through their bodies or minds. “It must be…”

“A Teleportation Rune!” Atherton called. “Remain still and it cannot harm you!”

Raine heard the sliding of blade against metal as Hayato unsheathed his longsword, holding it before the two of them.

I just have to keep calm, she thought, her heart beating furiously in her chest. I have to keep focused.

She kept her eyes closed as the light continued to burn and a strange sensation gripped her, one that she had never experienced during her training sessions in the underground tunnels of the Death Guild.

She allowed it to consume her.

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