THE MEETINGS HAD gone on for days. They were days that Damien had spent mostly standing behind the throne of His Majesty, watching the advisors as they talked and bickered amongst themselves. The situation had been frantic at first, confusion and disbelief reigning as the primary responses, but now there was some degree of control.
Though the confusion still remained.
Now, Damien kept his face impassive as Thomas paced the room, his boots clicking on the marble floor. The king’s expression was grave, his lips pursed tightly together, his forehead creased into a frown. His eyes were aimed at the floor, filled with a mix of emotions that Damien could very well relate to.
“A group of Death Magi, from both Treston and Avendan origin…” Thomas was mumbling. The long table in front of him was empty, the last of his military advisors having left some half an hour ago.
The king had remained silent in his seat for a time, but he was now up and pacing the room. Damien resisted the urge to follow him, but there was no point- he was simply walking back and forth, deep in thought. “If only Grindale had been captured alive…”
As he should have been, Damien thought coldly, a surge of irritation racing through his bloodstream yet again. The fact that she had disappeared on her own on such an irrelevant mission, and then had not even bothered to bring back or interrogate the suspect…
The information that was now lost to Treston… He had to breathe out slowly and relax his muscles, lest the other King’s Guard beside him caught his display of frustration.
“And from what the lieutenant’s primary report said, most of the mansion in the mountains was destroyed in a massive fire, reducing any chance of finding other pieces of evidence or recovering bodies…” Thomas continued, unknowingly further maddening him.
At last, Thomas stopped pacing and leaned against the table, looking over at them with a weary expression on his tired face. Creases were visible around his lips and eyes, and Damien knew that he had experienced very little sleep of late.
“And what is possibly the most irritating part of this entire nightmare,” Thomas said, sighing deeply, “is that the one person who knows the most about this is in hospital, in a suspected coma. We will not be able to investigate much until he wakes.”
Wetherdon… Raine’s Death Magic tutor, Damien thought. I hadn’t even known that she was doing such training.
“The members of the Death Guild have been placed under watch though, milord,” Cowill said mildly from beside Damien. “That has largely prevented more officers from being cursed, at the very least.”
“The fact that they were cursed in the first place in unacceptable.” Thomas said, looking down at the ground as he crossed his arms over his chest. “For high-ranking officers to be targeted and by my own Death Magi… Just how large was this organisation?”
And what did they want? Damien thought. “It’s quite likely that a few will have escaped and remain at large, Your Majesty,” he said, his low voice travelling across the large throne room with ease.
“I have sent out as many Illuminators that I can afford, Master Delamere,” Thomas said, still looking at the ground. “With the Death Magi that I do have control over being watched and isolated, those that perform Death Magic will be found and brought into custody rapidly.”
“Life Magi have also been deployed,” Cowill added, and Damien knew that he too was trying to ease the feelings of guilt and shame that the king was no doubt experiencing. To be completely unaware of such a thing, right up to this point… Damien could just imagine King Desmond chuckling darkly at the news. “They will be able to detect any Death Magi in the city and country as well.”
Thomas said nothing, too caught up in his own thoughts, giving Damien the opportunity to sift through the information in his mind as well.
“You have a request from a Lieutenant Sage Preston of the Third Platoon of Second Company to begin an investigation into a group of missing magi, my Lord,” the chamberlain said, his voice reedy and ancient. Even Damien’s eyes had widened for just a fraction as he listened- that was Raine’s platoon. “He says that a group of his magi have disappeared, and that he has an idea of where they could have gone.”
“How is that His Majesty’s problem?” Lowth snapped, sitting at the table and eyeing the messenger with distaste. “A lieutenant should use the correct chain of communication- shouldn’t the lieutenant colonel of the Magic Battalion be dealing with this?”
“Yes sir, but…” The chamberlain looked down at his ever-growing scroll of parchment, and frowned. “Preston is asking for discrepancy for this investigation, as he believes that his subordinates may have uncovered a secret group of enemy Death Magi that have infiltrated the ranks. They are said to have altered the minds of many of the company captains of the Magic, Infantry and Mounted Battalions.”
“What?” Even Thomas turned to look at the chamberlain after his long spiel. “A secret group of enemy Death Magi?”
“Yes, Your Majesty.” the chamberlain said. “He believes that some of his subordinates have left the city on their own accord to deal with the potential threat, and he seeks permission to follow up with a proper investigation.”
“It is approved.” Thomas said, frowning deeply. “But I want a full report on this when he returns- from both him and the company captain.”
“Of course, Your Majesty.” the chamberlain said. “I will inform him immediately.”
Damien had a bad feeling in his gut as the old man tottered away and Thomas leaned forward, watching as the War Room erupted into a burst of noise at the news. He did not like bad feelings; they very often turned out to be correct.
And he had a bad feeling that Raine was somehow involved in this…
“I wonder if I should speak with the magi who were involved in this…” Thomas muttered. “I would like to hear things from their points of view.”
“You would be wasting your time, Your Majesty,” Cowill said quickly, but his tone was even and polite. “Their platoon lieutenant has already questioned them, has he not? Isn’t his report a combined collection of all of their information? You need not address commoners, milord.”
“Possibly…” Thomas said, but Damien personally agreed with Cowill.
Let the officers do their jobs and find out everything you need to know for you. With this many Illuminators and Life Magi searching the streets and fields, they’re bound to find someone.
And if Raine could find their main base of operations that easily, than I’m sure the Illuminators can find stray magi, he added darkly.
“I do think that I will lessen their sentence, though.” Thomas said finally, nodding to himself. “It is true that they breached military protocol and committed absence without leave, but I do not believe that they had any intention of desertion.”
“If anything,” he added, “They were attempting to protect Avendan.”
Damien recognised the look in his eyes, and he did not like it. Such acceptance and sympathy was not befitting a ruler of a country.
“They still committed a crime, Your Majesty.” he said, keeping his voice even. “Regardless of their intentions, they will still need to be punished.”
Thomas sighed. “I know, Swordsmaster Delamere.” he said heavily. “They will remain in the cells for another week, I think, rather than the suggested three, and then be given extra duties once they are released.”
Her lieutenant’s suggestions are harsher than his, Damien thought. Though I wonder if he too will be punished for allowing his subordinates to just up and leave like that…
Damn you Raine, he thought after a moment. I’ll need to talk to you about this, and then notify the Guild. But I can’t do anything whilst you’re in prison.
“If I may ask a question, Your Majesty.” Cowill said slowly, drawing him from his thoughts, “Whilst I am glad that this threat has been mostly eradicated, what do you think they were planning? The report said that the Death Magi involved were probably not from Avendan alone.”
“Then that means that this group is composed of either Treston enemies and Avendan traitors, or traitors from both countries.” Thomas said slowly, summarising what many of the generals and military advisors had said earlier.
We don’t have a group of Death Magi in the mountains, Damien thought immediately. I know that- Treston’s Death Guild is only about the same size as Avendan’s. This definitely must be a collection of both, soldiers with no loyalty to either country. They may not have had any loyalty to begin with, and if that’s the case…
Wait… He couldn’t hold back the frown that grew across his face. Does that mean that there are Death Magi spies within Treston’s forces as well, also acting to alter the thinking of their high-ranked officers?
The thought was deeply concerning, and his urge to speak to his Shadow pupil rose considerably, a sensation close to desperation racing through his otherwise controlled body.
“But why?” Cowill said, speaking the words that had been spoken many times those few days, and constantly on everyone’s minds, “Could it be to do with the political instability between us and Treston?”
No, Damien thought. It’s something else. This… is a different group, separate from the two warring countries. What they are doing, and what they want… They are questions that I will need to find the answers to. Treston needs to know.
“They wanted to control officers of Avendan’s military for some reason, Master Cowill,” Thomas said, looking up at him with a grave expression. “Either they are spying on us, and gaining information from us, or they are aiming to control us and modify the way this military runs. They are the only two explanations that I can think of.”
Cowill nodded, and silence fell in the spacious, empty room.
And neither of them are acceptable ones, Damien thought coldly. Just when I thought that my mission would be to remain around the king and listen to what information he receives, it seems like I have a lot more investigating of my own to do. This is far more important than la Barre and his potential raping of one of his maids.
Despite his irritation, Damien felt new energy rise in his muscles, and his amber eyes shone with sudden vigour.
RAINE LEFT PRESTON’S office as quickly as she could, her face burning and her limbs shaking. Troy was standing in front of her and he appeared to be in control of himself, though his face had gone a startling pale white. Hammond was behind her, and he yawned.
She thought that she was going to be in trouble when they emerged from the ice-hut to see the lieutenant sage and a group of magi, many of them Death Magi, but the man had been too concerned over their physical conditions to start berating them then and there. Instead, he had returned them to the city with a Teleportation Rune that his loyal Death Magi had created.
But now, back in the safety of the military barracks…
I should be grateful to him, she thought, trying to push away the memory of Preston’s eyes, blazing with cold fury, his words spoken with barely suppressed rage. He too had a pale face and his hands were shaking, tightly clasped in front of him as he sat at his desk, but it was not fear that was causing his symptoms. He could barely speak, and looking at Hammond would bring an extra flare of fury to his eyes as he stood there in front of him, expression nonchalant as always.
“Look Preston, we just got outta prison, alright?” he had said, causing both her and Troy to look at him in panic, eyes wide. “Give us a break already. We’ve copped our punishment, and we’ve still got a heap of it to go.”
“You’ve ‘copped’ the state’s punishment, Hammond,” Preston had managed to say, his teeth gritted tightly together, “But you have not received mine.”
“Hey! Raine asked you for help, didn’t she?” he had said, emotion finally awakening in his eyes as he gestured towards her. “You can’t blame her for you not listening to her warnings- she said that something was going on, yeah? It’s your fault, if anyone’s.”
“Hammond, shut up!” Troy had hissed at him. “You’re making things worse!”
Raine had seen that the Ice Sage was about to stand, so she quickly looked at Hammond. “That’s enough,” she had told him, her voice quiet but stern. “Leave it, Hammond.”
He had just merely rolled his eyes and looked away.
Troy breathed out heavily as they exited the officers’ quarters, the afternoon sun warm on their faces and the light temporarily blinding them. Raine embraced it gratefully, having spent the last two weeks confined in the cold and dark cells of the underground prison in the castle. She had felt as though there had been some victory upon defeating Grindale and bringing about the end of the secret Death Magi’s organisation, if only temporarily, but now that satisfaction was gone. She knew that the military was thankful for their actions to some extent, for their prison sentence was shortened, though she was not told why. However, Preston had been furious that they had left on their own and in such small numbers, given the highly dangerous situation.
“The prat’s just jealous that he didn’t get in on the action when he had the chance,” Hammond muttered once they were out in the open, slowly making their way back through the barracks. “Now he looks like a dolt ‘cos he didn’t do anything when he was warned about it. Tssk, friggin’ idiot.”
“You’re going to get us in even more trouble if you talk like that around him, Hammond,” Troy said, turning to look at him with a stern frown. “It’s fine by me if you want to go back to the cells, but I can’t say that it appeals to me personally.”
“Shut up,” Hammond said, his voice uncharacteristically irritated. “You know that it’s true.”
Raine slowly looked at him. He speaks as if he’s fine, but he’s clearly annoyed by what happened in there. Preston got to him, even if he acts like he didn’t.
“What?” he asked, catching her glance. Then he shrugged when she did not answer, merely watching him with concern. “Whatever. I’m gonna go get something to eat; friggin’ starving…”
At that he turned off from the stone path and disappeared, putting his hand up in farewell. Raine watched him as he went, her confusion rising.
“What happened to him when we were in that mansion?” she asked Troy quietly, who had also stopped to watch him go.
“I don’t know.” Troy said. “Something happened when you passed out from that Death Curse- he really lost it. He wouldn’t listen to any of us and just went on a frenzy on his own. Despite burning the place down, I don’t think we would have survived had it not been for him. That Death Mage was too much for us.”
“It’s more than that,” she said softly. “I know that he would have been concerned for me, but even Hayato kept a cool head despite it…”
Her eyes widened as she turned to look up at the Air Mage, who was watching her intently. “I forgot- you saved my life!”
“Ah, it was nothing,” Troy said, scratching the back of his head and looking away. “You couldn’t breathe, so I just gave you air, that was all.”
“I probably would have died,” she said, the realisation turning her blood cold. “Thankyou, truly, Troy.”
“It’s alright,” he said, but his lips were curling into a bashful smile. “Like I said though, if Hammond hadn’t lost it, I probably wouldn’t have been able to tend to you in time; he really distracted that Grindale guy.”
“I suppose…” she said. She turned her head to look for Hammond, but the Fire Mage was already gone.
Something had awoken in him that day, she thought darkly, and I don’t think it was just me being injured. The flames, the smoke, the blood… Something triggered him, but I don’t know what it could have been.
Maybe I should have listened to Hayato after all… she thought, her eyes drifting to the ground as painful realisation set in. I could have walked us all to our deaths, because I was too desperate to find Lloyd to even come up with a logical and sensible plan.
Troy sighed heavily, returning her to the present. “At any rate, I think I’m gonna go wash and rest.” he said. “That cell was just disgusting; I don’t think I’ll ever feel clean again.”
Raine couldn’t help but smile at his words. “But it was quieter than your quarters, wasn’t it?”
“It’s not a place that I’d like to go back to again,” Troy said, catching and ignoring her humour. “I just can’t wait until my family hears about this; the tainting of the Claybrook name.”
“Tell them the truth, then.” she said. “We did a good thing, even if we did have to break a few rules to do it.”
“Tell them that,” Troy scoffed, but the darkness in his eyes had faded. “At any rate, I’m beat. I’ll see you tomorrow, Raine.”
“Right.” she said, waving as he disappeared. He still walked with that playful, bouncy step of his, but his shoulders were drooped forward, his feet scuffing along the floor. Raine knew that Troy was just as exhausted as the rest of them, both physically and mentally, and her guilt rose sharply in her chest.
SHE CONTINUED TO walk for a time, pushing the troubled thoughts of Hammond from her mind as her feet moved automatically and before she knew it, she was at the hospital.
The clerk at the front desk merely nodded his head at her as she entered, having seen her many times before her imprisonment, and she made her way through the familiar corridors and wide rooms with ease.
“Still asleep, Taylor,” Healer Revren said, looking up at her as she approached the bed. “Or comatose, whichever way you wish to look at it.”
“He hasn’t stirred at all?” she asked him softly, coming to stand opposite him to look down at Wetherdon.
Some colour had returned to the Death Mage’s face, and the scratches and cuts were healed, but his eyes were still closed, his eyebrows in a frown. He was lying on his back, still, with white sheets covering his body and reaching up to his shoulders. Up close, Raine could see the lines of fatigue, stress and premature age around his eyes and lips. She could hear the coughing and moaning of the sick and injured around her, but her eyes were firmly fixed on him.
“Not at all,” Revren said, the previous reproach in his voice gone. “Though I told him he’d be getting in damn trouble by running off alone; he knew what he was getting himself into.”
“Do you know what it is?” she asked, ignoring him. She had heard it many times before.
“High-level Death Magic, and that’s it, as I’ve already told you.” Revren said, watching her with stern eyes. “It’s damaged his mind and there’s no way I can tell how badly until he wakes, if he ever does.”
“He will,” she said softly, though it was more to herself than him. “I know he will.”
“If he’s got any trace of his usual personality remaining then yes, he damn will.” Revren agreed wryly. “And then I’ll wish that he hadn’t.”
“And no, I don’t know when he’ll wake either, before you ask.” Revren said after a pause, but his tone was gentler than before. “You ask the same questions of me every time you come here, Taylor- I will notify you once I know, alright?”
“I’m sorry.” she said, finally looking up at the older Healer. His expression was stern, but his eyes were soft as he considered her. “I’m sorry for causing you so much trouble.”
“You didn’t; he did,” Revren said with a shrug, “And trouble is part of my job, unfortunately. Just don’t get involved in any more crazy goose-chases, you hear me?”
“Yes.” she said, nodding.
“Good.” Revren said with a small sigh of relief. Then he looked down at the pile of parchment in his hands. “Oh, while I remember- Atherton is recovering as well, though his mana vital was seriously damaged.”
“Erwin is getting better?” she asked, relief growing in her chest. “He wasn’t very well when we arrived.”
“No, he damn well wasn’t,” Revren said, old irritation back in his eyes, “And he shouldn’t have gone off with you when you asked him to, either. But he’s always been a bit of a hopeless fool, so I’m not surprised.”
“At any rate,” he continued, looking back at her, “He is doing well, and Wetherdon is stable. You need not worry.”
“Thankyou.” she said, giving a short bow. The Healer’s eyes widened, but he just crossed his arms and looked away.
“Now get out of here,” he said, “You’re taking up all of the room.”
“Right.” Raine said, and looked at Wetherdon for a final time before quickly exiting the building. The smell of death and decay, and the sounds of suffering and anguish, were alone enough to chase her from the place.
“I thought I would find you here,” Hayato said softly, waiting outside the entrance of the hospital. Raine couldn’t help the smile that grew across her face as he approached, dressed in common clothing, his hair tied up as per usual. “I didn’t see you outside the prison when we were released, so I figured that you had already left.”
“Sorry, Hayato,” she said, guilt rising in her chest, “I was summoned to Preston’s office, and that only just finished. I wasn’t sure where you’d be, so…”
“It’s alright,” he said with a small chuckle, reaching out and patting the side of her face with his thumb. She felt her cheeks turn warm. “I understand. I had to speak with my superiors as well.”
“Are you in much trouble?” she asked him as he gestured for her to walk beside him, and they set off away from the hospital. “Preston was furious with us; I’ve never seen him so angry.”
“I can definitely say with confidence that I am in trouble, yes,” Hayato said slowly, but he would not meet her eye as she looked up at him. “Leaving without permission is a serious crime, especially as I had not notified anyone in my platoon about it.”
“I’m sorry that I dragged you through all of this, Hayato…” she said, looking back at the ground again. She sighed. “I didn’t mean to drag anyone through this.”
“I made my own decisions, Raine,” Hayato told her firmly, “So I only have myself to blame for my actions, and I accept my punishments. Do not blame yourself.”
“I suppose…” she muttered, not comforted.
“And as for the whole painful affair…” Hayato sighed as he looked up at the sky. His lips were curling into a small smile. “Well, that is just the way you are. You rush to the aid of your friends regardless of the severity of the situation, for that is who you are. I would not want you any other way.”
Raine just nodded, her cheeks burning, some of her guilt and regret at last ebbing away.
THEY WALKED IN silence for a time, slowly trailing back to the magi barracks.
“I learned that the captains have been cured of the curses, though,” Hayato said after a while, as if just remembering. “They were completely unaware of being cursed in the first place, but now their thoughts are their own again.”
“Oh, that’s good,” she said. “Now they’ll just have to focus on finding those responsible, if they can. Hammond just about destroyed everything in that mansion.”
“That he did,” he said, and she could hear the touch of disapproval in his tone, “But I am sure that they will have some luck-we must be grateful that Death Magi are incredibly rare.”
He looked down at her. “You will have someone watching you then, I would imagine?”
“Yes, in a sense,” she said, sighing. “Since Lloyd is still in a coma, I will go back to my regular duties in Preston’s platoon, as well as completing extra chores. I don’t think I’ll be followed all night and day though, but he’ll be still keeping a firm eye on me.”
“That will diminish any suspicions they may have of you, though.” Hayato said, not unkindly. “I suppose it is something that you will need to endure for a time.”
“Yes.” she said.
“But you are still allowed your down-time, yes?” he asked her suddenly, turning to look at her, his lips curled into a small smile. “They have not taken that from you, have they?”
“Not that I know of,” she replied, frowning. “Why?”
“Well, I would like to spend some more time with you,” he said, eyes shining. “Time that does not involve fighting for my life, running through a collapsing building, or being paralysed by Death Magic.”
“Or carrying injured men?” she said, grinning.
“Especially that,” he said, returning her grin. He reached out and took her hand, bringing it gently to his lips. “Something much more pleasant, and relaxed, is preferable.”
“What did you have in mind?” she asked.
“Dinner, perhaps?” he said casually. “There is a place in the city that I find quite peaceful, and absent of the experiences I just mentioned.”
“Sounds good to me,” she said with a giggle. “Sounds incredible, actually.”
“Go and get ready then,” he said, releasing her hand. “I will be waiting here in an hour. Is that suitable?”
“More than suitable.” she said. “In fact, how about half an hour?”
His eyes widened with surprise, and his grin grew. “I think I can agree to that.” he said.
Raine turned away with a quick wave, and made her way back to the female quarters, the last of the setting sun on her back. There were many unanswered questions racing through her mind, Lloyd Wetherdon was in a coma, and she knew that there was still much work to be done, but she was tired. The time spent in the underground prison had been unpleasant and boring, leaving her only with her imagination and thoughts to torture her, and she was desperate to be free from those feelings of unease, doubt, fear and confusion.
Not only that, but she still had her role as a Shadow to play. There was still a war looming between Avendan and Treston, regardless of the actions of the Death Magi organisation, and the Shadow Guild still wanted information.
But… I’ll deal with it all tomorrow, she thought, a small smile growing across her face.
“SHOULDN’T HAVE DONE that, shouldn’t have done that…” he said in a singsong voice, skipping up and down the room. “Should not have done that at all…”
“Shut up,” he told him viciously. “I do what I want. I don’t answer to you, or anyone.”
The man stopped skipping and watched him, a stern look crossing his features.
“But you answer to him, don’t you?” he asked, his voice suddenly waspish and sly. “You like to believe that you’re free from everything, but you’re not.”
“I choose to answer to him,” he retorted. “It’s completely different.”
“Sure it is,” the other man said. “But you don’t want to answer to him. You choose to, but you don’t like it.”
“Just shut up.” he snapped. “Leave me alone.”
“Sure was fun though,” he continued, grinning wildly, his childish voice returning once more. “All that screaming, and fire, and people dying… You’re a very bad person, you know?”
“It was fun,” he agreed, looking away at the fireplace as it burned before him. “More fun than I had anticipated.”
“But you’re gonna be in trouble for it,” the other said. “He’s not going to be too impressed with you at all.”
“I said that I do what I want, didn’t I?” he responded, his voice low and controlled. “Why would he care? They were wastes of space; an insult to his presence, even just his name.”
“Nice excuse,” he said, coming to stand beside him, his eyes glowing with the firelight. “Although, what the real excuse is…”
“Has nothing to do with you,” he snarled, his anger rising up from nowhere like a caged beast. He looked at the man beside him, his teeth bared, eyes wide. “And has nothing to do with him. So shut your mouth.”
The man shrugged and after a moment, turned and walked away. His boots clicked on the stone floor, the sound reverberating through the room and across the walls. He remained still, looking into the fire.
“Guess I’ll leave them to you, then.” he man said as he approached the door. “For now, of course.”
“Of course.” he replied, his voice barely above a whisper, watching as a log of wood split into two, flames licking across its surface.
Did you enjoy my story? Please let me know what you think by leaving a review! Thanks, Leah McGlashanWrite a Review