Shadow's Pursuit

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Chapter Ninteen

WHEN RAINE SLOWLY opened her eyes, her vision was blurry and all she could see was red.

She wondered for a confused moment if the world was bleeding around her, or if she had descended into the realm of Hell for her crimes during her lifetime.

It was certainly hot enough.

She coughed, tasting smoke on her tongue, and then her thoughts snapped back to reality as she felt her lungs burning with searing pain, like thousands of needles were embedded to her chest. She opened her mouth and gasped in a long mouthful of air, feeling relief flood through her system as her lungs expanded, and then she coughed again.

“Raine!”

She blinked a couple of times, her eyes watering, and looked up at the concerned, ash-stained face of Hayato. The Kayokian’s expression was fierce; his eyes were wide and filled with fear, and his mouth was partially open as he waited for her to speak. A few strands of his long black hair were hanging across his face, damp with sweat. “Are you alright? Can you breathe now?”

“Yes,” she gasped, realising that she was lying on the floor. Hayato held onto her shoulders as she pulled herself upright, strength having returned to her left arm. “The curse-?”

“He dropped it, I think.” Hayato said, frowning at her. “Claybrook has been feeding you air until Grindale lost focus.”

“Feeding me air?” she asked, confused. “How?”

“With his magic.” he said. “I don’t know how, but he was pushing and pulling air into and out of her lungs whilst you’ve been unconscious.”

“Oh…” she said. Her mind was still slow, but energy was starting to move through her system and she looked around.

It took her a moment to realise that they were alone, and in a much smaller room. “Where is he now? Where are we?”

“I moved you to the previous room,” Hayato explained. “I had to get you out of the danger.”

“Are they still in there?” she asked, horrified, and she tried to stand. The Kayokian gripped her shoulders tightly, keeping her still.

“Yes but do not worry- we need to get out of here.” he said. Finally, anger flickered in his dark eyes and she watched him, thoroughly confused. “This entire building is burning.”

“What?” she said numbly. Suddenly the heat, light and smoke made sense. “How?”

“Your Fire Mage friend.” Hayato said, his voice lowering into a disapproving growl. “He lost control when you collapsed, and started throwing fireballs around everywhere. The room won’t last much longer.”

“Hammond?” she said, stunned. “What do you mean? Are they still in there? Where’s Lloyd?”

“Atherton found him,” Hayato said and now, his words were rushed. “He is unconscious but alive. Atherton is now assisting Hammond and Claybrook against Grindale.”

She went to stand again and this time Hayato did not force her down; rather, he pulled her up and supported her. “I need to help them,” she said, but he simply shook his head, his long horsetail of hair swaying with the motion.

“If you have energy left, then you will need to retain it for when we get out of here.” he said sternly. “This building will start to collapse at any moment, I’ll wager.”

“Hammond…” she muttered.

He lost control? But… that doesn’t sound like him at all. The only time I’ve seen him lose his temper was when he was fighting Preston…

She was about to head toward the closed door, ignoring Hayato’s warning, but suddenly the door was kicked open and Troy nearly fell through, dragging an unconscious Atherton with him. Smoke, fierce light and heat poured into the small room.

“You’re awake!” Troy yelled over the flames, looking at her. He was covered head to toe in ash and soot, and his blue eyes were ablaze with energy and fear. “Thank the Gods.”

“Atherton!” she cried, finally shrugging away Hayato’s hands as she raced forward and leaned down in front of the older man.

The Life Mage was coughing, his eyes half-closed, and a quick look with her Death Magic told her that his mana vital was all but depleted. A trickle of blood rolled down from the corner of his mouth.

“He’ll be alright,” Troy told her, gasping for air himself, “He’s just exhausted.”

“What happened?” she cried. “How long was I unconscious for?”

She looked up at Troy but then she was dragged backwards onto her behind by Hayato. She was about to protest, but then a body landed where she was just kneeling, having been thrown in from the other room.

She looked up through the door, and had to cover her eyes as light and heat continued to flood towards her. It was as Hayato had said- the entire room was now filled with fire. But-

“Hammond!” she yelled. There came the sound of cracking wood, and the ground beneath her shook as part of the room next to theirs collapsed. Hayato pulled her back away from the entrance; smoke was now rapidly pouring in around them. “What about Grindale?”

“Oh he’s dead.” said Hammond, stepping through the thick wall of smoke. His clothes were burnt and stained, and his blonde hair was coated in ash. Parts of his cloak had been ripped and seared, and both sleeves of his tunic had been burnt off right up to his elbows. His skin was red, probably lightly burnt, and his fingers were bleeding heavily, droplets falling onto the floor.

His eyes were burning with energy, contrasting violently against his pale skin. They glowed in the firelight, filled with a cold anger that she had not seen before. It sent shivers up and down her entire body; she could sense his bloodlust even from where she was, sitting on the ground.

“He won’t be getting up any time soon, if there’s anything left of him.”

“You idiot!” Troy roared over the sounds of creaking wood and roaring flames. “You’re going to burn the whole damn place down! Didn’t you see that it’s made of wood?”

“What?” Hammond looked back into the room that he had just left, seemingly unfazed by the heat, smoke and fierce light. “I had to kill him; I couldn’t see any of you doing it any time soon.”

“Can’t you stop it?” Hayato yelled from behind her, and she realised that she was now resting against his chest. His heartbeat was a furious reverberation; she could feel it coming through her back. Hammond’s eyes narrowed as he continued to look into the burning room, and he slowly put his hand up in front of him. It was shaking.

Raine looked at him with her Death Magic. He’s exhausted. He must have used all of his mana vital against Grindale- I’m surprised that he’s still standing.

“He’s run out of mana vital,” she muttered. “He won’t have the energy to do it and then keep conscious.”

“You damn fool!” Hayato yelled at Hammond as he caught her words, now turning to stare at her, as if in a trance. “You’re going to kill all of us!”

Anger blazed in his green eyes. “Well I didn’t see you doing anything useful!” he roared, his voice filled with strength and fury despite his weakened condition. “What good were you that entire time, huh?”

Raine felt Hayato’s hands tighten around her arms and she quickly sat upright, ignoring the vertigo that followed. “We don’t have time for this,” she said. She looked over at Wetherdon, and felt relief flow through her like cool water on a hot day. He was unconscious and one of his spectacles was shattered, but he was alive. She could have almost cried with happiness at finally seeing him again. “We have to get out of here.”

“Right.” Troy said. He helped Atherton get to his feet as he started to stir. A quick flick of his hand removed the smoke from the room, but Raine knew that it would not be suppressed for long.
“Thank you,” Atherton breathed, his eyelids flickering as his consciousness returned. “I do believe… that you just saved my life again, Mage Claybrook…”

“You can thank me later,” Troy said, though the corner of his mouth moved into a wry smile. “You’ll have to move on your own, I’m afraid- I’m exhausted.”

Hayato helped Raine to her feet, and she shuffled over to look at Wetherdon again. The Death Mage was bruised and bleeding in some places, and was still coated in Death Magic, but he did not seem to be in any imminent danger.
“You alright?” Hammond asked her roughly, and she turned to look up at him. His expression was unreadable, and there was something in his eyes that she could not recognise.

What is going through his mind? That look- I’ve never seen it before.

Vibes of anger and violence were positively pouring from his tall, thin frame and with his deathly pale skin, the scar beneath his eye was even more noticeable. She realised for a horrifying moment that she was afraid of him.

“Yes.” she finally said quietly, and he nodded curtly. “What happened?”

But Hammond did not answer, instead stepping past her to the other side of the room.

“Come on, Raine.” Hayato said. “We need to get out of here. What can you sense?”

“More are coming,” Atherton breathed, now leaning heavily against both Troy and the wall. “They are responding to the fire and Grindale’s death. They’ll want to kill us before they get out of here.”

“We can escape through the Teleportation Rune,” Raine suggested, but the Life Mage shook his head.

“It’s deactivated…” he gasped. His skin was dangerously pale, blood now seeping from his nose as well as the corners of his mouth.

His mana vital… It’s gone. His élan vital is now being damaged. We need to get him to a Healer.
“We’ll talk as we move!” Hayato said, swiftly moving over to him. “I will carry you again- you can barely stand.”

“Thank you.” Atherton said with a short nod. Troy helped Hayato to put the pale, trembling man onto his back once again.

“What about Lloyd?” Raine called. Hayato cursed as a loud rumbling sound swept over them, and smoke and soot tumbled out of the room beside them. The building was starting to collapse.

“At least keep yourself upright,” she heard Hayato say to Atherton as he moved beside her. He gave a grunt of exertion as he crouched down and then, to her immense surprise, clumsily pulled Wetherdon into his arms. Atherton continued to cling onto him, both his arms now tightly gripped around his neck.

“You can’t carry both of them!” she cried, rising to her feet as he slowly straightened. Hayato looked at her, his teeth grit together in an expression of pain, sweat rolling down the sides of his face. His skin was red, his neck muscles tight with the effort, exposing thick veins.

“We move.” he managed to growl, his eyes burning with exertion and anger.

RAINE HADN’T REALISED how physically strong Hayato was until now, and she thanked the Gods that he had agreed to come with them- she wasn’t sure if even Troy or Hammond could carry anyone in their current condition. It seemed as though that whilst Hayato was of little use in combat against the Death Mage, he was quite worthy elsewhere.

The Kayokian thundered after her and she resisted the urge to turn around to check on him, hearing his heavy breathing and thick footsteps on the stone floor. She knew that he would not appreciate her sympathy and concern at this point in time and besides, she had other matters to consider. The hallways and rooms were rapidly filling with smoke as Hammond’s vicious fire spread, pulling apart the walls, roof and furniture.

Why did he even create flames that powerful in the first place? she wondered for what was probably the hundredth time in the last ten minutes or so. He should have known what he could and could not keep control over. He should have known that the building would catch as well.

But Hammond continued to move in front of her, and he did not look back. From time to time, a Death Mage would appear in front of them following Raine’s warnings, screaming obscenities and hurling curses at them. Both Hammond and Troy would work together to destroy them with gusts of wind and smaller fireballs and if anything caught alight, Raine would extinguish it with her Water Magic.

At least he’s being more cautious now.

They moved through the mansion using her Shadow-trained memory, slowly making their way back to the room with the Teleportation Rune in it. Raine could sense Death Magic coming and going from various areas in the building, but she was not completely sure what they meant.

The survivors are probably escaping with Runes. How many are in this place? I know that these power-enhancing Runes are meant to make such techniques easier, but that’s just ridiculous. Lloyd had always told me that it took a great deal of time, power and concentration to create and use those things.

“Plan?” Hayato called from behind her, his voice strained.

Atherton said that the Teleportation Rune we used has been deactivated, and I don’t have the ability to use or create one myself…

“We will need to find a way out of here,” she said. “Even if we just get outside of this mansion, and regain our bearings. I have no idea where we actually are.”

“It’s cold outside,” Hammond said, his voice now back to its usual monotonous tone. Once again, she had no idea what thoughts were racing through his head. “I know that much.”

I haven’t seen any windows since we’ve been here, so I can’t gain my bearings any better, she thought furiously, her mind racing through all of her Shadow training in the hope that something may be of use to her. “Could you blast a hole in the wall, Hammond?”

“Looking for a door might be safer,” Troy muttered, casting an uncertain look at the Fire Mage, which he ignored.

“This whole place will be consumed in a few minutes, probably.” he said, still looking forward. “I’m barely keeping it from catching up to us as it is.”

“You’re holding it back?” she asked, surprised.

Hammond scoffed and he finally turned back to her. Her heart skipped a beat as she saw blood trickling down from one of his nostrils. “Give me some credit, would you?”

And Hayato can’t run for much longer either, she thought, trying to push away her panic as she realised that most of them were severely injured. We need to get out now, so we can find out where we are, and then deal with it.

“We could use our combined attack to blast through the walls,” Troy muttered, and she knew from the tone of his voice that he didn’t like the thought, “but hoping we’ll reach the outside eventually is a bad idea…”

“The whole house is going to burn down.” Hammond said coldly. “We have no choice- I cannot stop the smoke, and neither can you. You’re just as damn exhausted as me.”

“Then do it.” Hayato grunted from behind. “We don’t have time.”

But what can I do? she thought desperately as she sensed both Hammond’s and Troy’s magic rise around them as they delved into the remainder of their mana vitals. I don’t know if I’m strong enough to blast through wooden walls with water attacks…

“We need you to remain strong, Raine,” Hayato said suddenly, as if reading her thoughts. “Don’t do anything. You may need to defend us, depending on where we end up; Spirits save us…”

She gritted her teeth together, ignoring the aching of her chest and the burning of her muscles, and continued forward.

“Here goes nothing,” Hammond muttered, and both he and Troy put their hands forward.

They ran through burning walls, the flames clutching at them with orange talons, kept at bay only by Hammond’s strength of will. Raine did her best to remember which way they were going, creating a map in her mind, but the smoke was pressing down on them and fogging her thoughts, and many of the hallways were not lit by sconces at all.

Then Raine heard Hammond swear profusely, and all logical thinking ended.

She felt the earth beneath her tremble violently, and the walls to either side of her were shaking. She could hear a rumbling sound from far behind them, like the turning stomach of a giant beast, and she couldn’t help but recall the sandworm of the desert and the sounds of its impending approach.

“The roof is collapsing!” Troy cried a moment later, coming to the same realisation as the rest of them.

“The walls, Troy, damn it!” Hammond roared, placing his hands in front of him and sending another stream of fire forward into the next wall. Raine picked up her pace as the sound intensified, as wood cracked, broke, and collapsed to the floor. The smoke in the air was intensifying regardless of Troy’s efforts, filled now with dust from all of the destruction.

Please let us be near the side of the house, Raine prayed, her heart beating painfully fast in her throat and temple. If we don’t reach it, we’ll be crushed…

She watched with wide eyes as Hammond gave a sudden roar of anger and frustration and a huge fireball erupted from his hands, bursting through the next wall and the one behind it, heat washing over them. The sensation lasted for only a few seconds because the next thing she knew, freezing air was sweeping inside, stinging her eyes.

She heard Troy’s voice, filled with incredulous surprise, but couldn’t perceive his words as a powerful wind raced past her ears. The rumbling continued behind her, however, so she rushed forward, following them both out into the new white light.

She lost her footing as the ground suddenly changed beneath her and she slipped forward, instinctively putting her hands forward to protect her face. The rumbling and crashing continued, loud and fierce in her ears now, and she curled into a foetal position, covering her head. She knew that she only had a couple of seconds before she was crushed by wood and stone.

But the sensation did not come and instead, she felt cold pain erupt in her bare hands and her face.

What?

She sat up and looked around, and she couldn’t help the gasp that escaped her lips. It seemed as though they were in the middle of nowhere, the horizon littered with tall trees. The ground was coated in a thick layer of snow that stung her bare hands, and the tips of rocks and small plants poked through its white blanket. The air was fresh and also painfully cold but she gulped it in regardless, pressing down the urge to cough as the last of the smoke left her lungs.

Snow? She looked down at her hands, now bright pink, her mind reeling. How can there be snow?

She heard furious coughing to her right and she turned around from her spot on the ground, watching Troy as he remained standing, keeled over with his hands on his knees, his face red. Hammond was lying on his back next to him and his eyes were closed, but there was an expression of pain on his face as he gasped in air.

“Hayato!” she cried suddenly, turning around again to look back at the building they had just narrowly escaped from being crushed under.

“I’m fine.” Hayato said weakly, lying face-down in the snow. The band that kept his hair back had somehow been broken in the mayhem, and black hair covered most of his face and shoulders, now flecked white with snow.

Wetherdon was lying on his side next to him, still unconscious, and Atherton was gasping for breath on his other side. Before her lay a massive pile of ruins, the last of the flames continuing to burn in defiance of the new environment, and she could still smell smoke and dust. She tried to get to her feet, pushing and kicking away pieces of wood that were now sitting on her.

They had survived.

“Is everyone alright?” she called, her voice startlingly loud in the new silence. Troy put up a hand in response as he continued to cough, and Hammond groaned. Hayato was already trying to get to his feet, but she could see his chest rising and falling rapidly and she knew that he was thoroughly exhausted, pushed past his physical limits by having to carry two magi and run for his life at the same time.

“Somewhat…” Atherton said weakly, but he too remained still, taking a moment to regain his breath. The blood seeping from his nose and mouth had trickled down his chin and neck, staining the white snow beneath him.

She crawled towards Wetherdon, desperately hoping that she would hear his mild, intelligent voice. She turned him over, her arms aching with the effort, and looked down at him as he lay on his back.

His glasses had been lost during the chaos and his eyes were closed, though his eyebrows were held in a slight frown, as if he was dreaming. His face was as dirty as the rest of theirs, cut and scratched in a few places, and his long brown hair was a dishevelled mess. She checked his pulse, her hands shaking, and felt a faint beat against her fingertips. He’s still alive, thank Rendeis…

She delved into her mana vital and looked at him with her Death Magic, and felt her relief rapidly fade away. Wetherdon was completely covered in Death Runes, though she couldn’t understand any of the complex symbols. She didn’t see anything she knew- there were no marks of Paralysis, Confusion, Fear or Sleep, but he was obviously deeply unconscious. She wondered if she should try to check his mind, but she knew that even if he had been hit with Mind Magic, there was nothing she could do about it.

“I advise you to keep the last of your strength, Miss Raine…” Atherton said softly, watching her. “Whilst there is nothing more I can do for him at this point in time, his condition is stable. You should let him rest until we can get him to the hospital.”

“Where are we?” Hayato muttered, finally able to push himself onto his knees. He looked around slowly, his gaze pausing on her. “Are you alright, Raine?”

“I’m fine,” she said, dragging her eyes away from Wetherdon and out at their surroundings. “I don’t know where we are- we’re in the middle of summer…”

“Not in the mountains, we aren’t.” Hammond said suddenly. He still hadn’t moved from his position on the ground, and Troy was now sitting down in the snow next to them, his hands curled up against his chest. “Always snows in the mountains.”

“That’s ridiculous.” Hayato snapped immediately. “We can’t be in the mountains. For there to be this much snow, we’d have to be…”

“Near the top.” Hammond finished. “Fan-friggin-tastic.”

“No way,” Troy said quickly. “We can’t be at the top.” He looked at her, eyes wide. “Can those Runes even send us that far, Raine? We’re weeks away from Avendan!”

Raine could only shake her head. “I don’t know, Troy. The house was filled with Amplification Runes, so it could be possible.”

“It’s possible.” Atherton said, slowly turning himself over with a groan of pain. Blood was still dripping from his face, and he wiped it off with a shaking hand. “Though, for it to be this high up…”

“It must have been here for some time.” Raine said, her mind slowly starting to function once more. “They must have been doing this for a while.”

“Doing what?” Hayato asked her, moving his long hair away from his face. Now that it was loose, she realised that it was probably longer than hers. “What would a group of Death Magi be doing on the peaks of the Cathuin Mountain Range?”

“We can’t be in the mountains,” Troy muttered, his head now in his hands. “We’re… weeks away from help… No one knows that we’re here…”

“Quit freaking out, Troy.” Hammond snapped. “You being all dramatic is not helping anyone.”

Then he slowly sat up, and looked at her. “But seriously, Raine, what the hell are we gonna do now? It’s friggin’ freezing.”

“This is your fault in the first place, you know,” Hayato snapped. “If you hadn’t burned the building down, we wouldn’t be exposed to these conditions…”

“Like you could do anything better,” the Fire Mage said wryly, but Raine could hear the underlying anger in his tone.

“If it wasn’t for me,” Hayato started, slowly getting to his feet, and she reached out and grabbed his hand.

“Hayato, please,” she said quickly. She looked over at Hammond. “Don’t argue. We don’t have the time and energy.”

Hammond scoffed and shrugged, and turned his body away from them. Raine felt her curiosity and concern rising, but she ignored it.

“We’ll need to find shelter.” she said. “Once we recover from our injuries, then we can start getting down from here.”

“Yes, let’s just climb down from the top of a giant mountain range, with virtually no mana vital, or water or food,” Hammond said, expanding his arms out to either side of him, his back facing them. “Sounds like a good old time.”

“Your attitude is starting to get on my nerves,” Hayato growled, his eyes glinting with anger, but Raine moved in front of him, her legs aching. “If you have nothing useful to contribute, than I highly suggest that you keep your mouth shut.”

“Hammond!” Raine said, adding a touch of reproach to her tone. “Please!” She looked at Hayato and placed her hands on his chest. “Let me talk to him.”

Hayato looked down at her and after a moment, sighed heavily. “Fine.” he said quietly. “We need to make shelter though, Raine.”

“I know!” Atherton said suddenly, reminding her that he was still on the floor nearby them, “How about you create an ice-hut?”

“A what?” Hayato said, momentarily stunned. He turned to look down at him, and Raine lowered her hands.

“An ice hut,” the Life Mage said. “Miss Raine could use her water to create a dome, which Master Claybrook could then freeze with air to turn it into ice!”

“Wouldn’t we then freeze to death?” Raine asked, frowning.

“I am doubtful, given that we have a very powerful Fire Mage in our company,” Atherton said, grinning.

Hayato looked at her, one of his eyebrows raised.

TEN MINUTES OR so later, the six of them were huddled inside a small ice-dome, its thin walls protecting them from the cold winds that were picking up outside. Raine was sitting beside Hayato, whose arms were folded and eyes closed, and Troy was on the other side of her. Hammond was looking at the ground, now unable to avoid any of their direct stares, and Atherton was watching over Wetherdon, who was still slumped on the ground.

Raine was going to sacrifice her cloak so that the Death Mage had something to lie on instead of the direct snow, but Hayato had refused. Now Wetherdon lay on his cloak instead, with Troy’s was wrapped over the top of him.

“He’s too out of it to feel the cold, so why bother…” Hammond had muttered, but his comments had been silenced when the small mage had started to shiver. Raine remembered his poor constitution, and wondered fervently if there was anything else they could do for him.

A small fire burned in the centre of them, maintained by Hammond despite his grumblings.

“So what do we do now?” Troy asked quietly, his voice piercing through the silence. “We’re all exhausted- we can’t head down the mountain in our current condition.”

“Then we wait until we are,” Hayato responded, his eyes still closed. “I suggest that you rest, Mage Claybrook.”

“Right…” Troy said. He looked at the ground for a moment, before copying Hayato and closing his eyes. Raine glanced over at Wetherdon, and she felt her desperation rise once more.

I hope we can keep this dome warm enough for him, she thought miserably. I think I now have the most amount of mana vital, and I’m near exhausted.

“Rest, Raine.” Hayato said quietly, opening his eyes and looking down at her. He ran his hands through his long hair in an attempt to tidy it.

“Here,” she said, reaching up and pulling the band from her own hair. His eyes widened as she handed it to him and he smiled warmly, that familiar look of affection growing across his face.

“Thankyou.” he said, and tied his hair back up again. “You look nice with your hair down.”

“Thanks, but I’ll bet it’s filthy with smoke and soot,” she said, smiling slightly, feeling her cheeks warm.

“Get a room, would you?” Hammond said. “I’m sure you could just make one.”

Hayato frowned but he said nothing, and Raine cast him a look. He shrugged, and continued to make patterns in the snow in front of him with a finger, resting his chin on his other hand.

Raine breathed out slowly and closed her eyes, intent on meditating and restoring some of her mana vital.

“SOMEONE’S COMING.” ATHERTON said suddenly and her eyes snapped open once more. She realised that her face was resting against Hayato’s arm. Did I fall asleep?

“Where? How many?” Hayato asked, his tone serious but tired. “Have you only just sensed them now?”

“I fell asleep, actually,” Atherton said, scratching the back of his head as he moved into a sitting position. “And when I woke up, just then, I sensed them.”

“Great.” Hammond said. He hadn’t moved since Raine had closed her eyes, but she could see that the blood from his nose had dried on his skin. He was still frighteningly pale.

She reached out with her mana vital, feeling her chest ache, but she could sense nothing close to their small ice-hut. The structure was still strong despite the fire beneath it, and water was slowly trickling down its sides.

“Do we have the strength to fight again?” Troy asked, and it was clear from the look on his face that he was doubtful.

“I don’t think that they are here to fight,” Atherton said, looking thoughtful. “They are not Death Magi.”

“In what direction?” she asked him. “I cannot sense them.”

“To the southeast, some twenty paces or so from here, I think,” Atherton said. He grinned bashfully. “But I’m still exhausted, so I could be wrong.”

“You’re recovering quickly,” Hammond commented, “and you used the most magic out of all of us.”

“Life Magic is good like that,” Atherton said with a small chuckle. “Unlike Death Magic, it restores itself fairly quickly.”

“Sucks to be you then,” Hammond muttered, looking sideways at Raine.

“We will have to meet them.” Hayato said. “This ice-dome is obvious enough.”

“What if we’re on the Treston side?” Troy said suddenly, his voice rising at the realisation. “We’ll be deep in enemy territory!”

Hammond swore.

“I don’t think we would be,” Raine said slowly, trying to lessen her racing heartbeat at the thought of being in her home country. “The Death Magi in that mansion… There were too many of them to be just from Avendan’s military alone. Maybe they were a mix…”

“You mean that they don’t have any affiliations with a particular country?” Hayato asked her sharply. “Why?”

“I don’t know.” she said with a shrug. “But if Grindale was in Avendan, then I think that this mansion would be too, but that’s just a guess at best.”

“Oh God, what if it’s Treston…?” Troy muttered.

“Either way, there’s only one way to find out,” Hayato said grimly. He looked down at her. “Can you remove this barrier, Raine?”

“They’re getting closer.” Atherton said, voice uncertain. “They’re only ten or so paces from us now.”

Raine did not want to destroy the only protection they had against the elements, but she knew that he was right. And if they were in Treston… then perhaps she could alert them of her position, and save them from being killed… Either way, it was better than being left on the mountain-top.

“Alright.” she said. She slowly got to her feet and the others followed.

“We’ll stay in a circle formation, like before.” Hayato said. “If they are Treston forces, then attack immediately. We might surprise them.”

“Easy as.” Hammond said wryly. Troy just nodded.

Raine breathed in and reached out with her magic, causing the water in the ice around them to move and become unstable. Within a few seconds, the entire structure was turning to water, and falling down around them. Her hair was picked up and swept past her face by the wind.

“Not the best ice technique I’ve seen, but not the worst either,” Lieutenant Sage Preston said, crossing his arms and looking at them.

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