Shadow's Pursuit

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Chapter Three

“YOU ARE DISTRACTED.” Hayato said, his dark eyes watching her as she pulled herself up from the ground, brushing the dirt from her tunic.

“I’m sorry.” Raine said as she went to retrieve her sword, which had been knocked out of her hands and was now a good few feet away. He followed her.

All around them, magi and infantrymen were attacking each other on the wide, open area of the Infantry Company training grounds. The mixed-class training exercise was put into place by Preston and the lieutenant of the Third Platoon of Third Infantry Company, to enhance their overall combat skills.

Her partner, Hayato Kimura, had been sparring with her for some time now, and had just cut through her defence as easily as breathing.

Raine picked up her shortsword, moving it about with ease as she felt its familiar weight and shape in her hand. She had slept reasonably well the night before despite being filled with questions, but now those questions were awakening her emotions once again, dominating her thoughts. All she could think about was how she possibly might be a Death Mage, and what that could mean for both her and her mission.

“Is something bothering you?” Hayato asked suddenly.

Raine looked away. “No, I just… have a lot on my mind.” she said.

“Something is bothering you.” Hayato said, watching her. “Your techniques are weaker and poorly executed, and your spells lack focus.”

“I’m sorry,” she said again. She knew that she was fighting badly, but she just couldn’t concentrate enough to stay at his level. Her mood had dropped and whilst she was initially glad at seeing her sparring companion again, she couldn’t find the motivation to keep up. Hayato Kimura was a fierce and talented fighter, relying on techniques that he had learned from his homeland, a cluster of islands to the west of the continent known as the Kayoki Archipelago.

Tall, lean and sporting long black hair kept in a high horsetail, he physically stood out from the Endronians around him. His skin was tanned, indicative of long hours spent under the sun, and his eyes were as dark as his hair. Dressed similarly to her, he wore a black customised steel chest piece, tuille and greaves. The leather vambraces around his arms were decorated with simple but elegantly carved patterns and rounded metal studs, his hands protected with half-gauntlets of similar design. His proper infantry armour was far more impressive than her borrowed training set and she felt embarrassed as she stood there in it.

He took in her appearance as intently as she did his.

“Your friend Troy is very busy with his own training right now,” he said mildly, “You need not worry about his opinions of you.”

“I know,” Raine said, deciding to look at the ground to avoid his piercing gaze. She had told Hayato sometime before that she did not want to embarrass her Air Mage friend with her superior swordsmanship, but there was more to it than that. She didn’t want anyone to know of how skilled she was with a blade- she was meant to be just a Water Mage, after all.

“So, what is it? Could it be something to do with the mission you underwent in the desert?” he asked gently.

The breeze blew her fringe into her eyes and she brushed it away.

“Raine?”

She finally made herself look up at him, doing her best to hide her unease. His expression was soft and gentle, and she wondered if she could tell him the truth. She was yet to speak to Hammond, Troy and Chelstra regarding the new piece of information, for she did not know what to say or how they would react.

“Perhaps we should call it a day then,” Hayato said suddenly after a moment of silence. She looked up at him.

“What- no, I’m not completely useless; I just need to focus more.” she started, horrified at being seen as so redundant. He gave a small, quiet chuckle as she frowned.

“I never said that you were useless, Raine.” he said, smiling. “But I know that when one’s mind is set on something, one will not be able to concentrate until it has been resolved.”

“But what about our practice?” she asked, genuinely disappointed. She was beginning to enjoy their training; Hayato was far nicer to her than Damien had been, but still pushed her until she produced results.

His smile grew. “Never mind; we will train again soon. Perhaps we can arrange for other times apart from those organised by our superiors?” he suggested. “It will make life easier; we will have more space to move and no need to worry about colliding into others.”

“Well, if you want to?” she asked. I’d be able to relax more too, I think. He doesn’t seem to realise that most magi can’t wield weapons as well as I do.

“I would like it very much,” Hayato said, and the look in his eyes meant it. “Good luck with sorting out whatever it is that is distracting you. I am here to talk to if you like, even if I am a bit far away. I don’t know much about magic, but I am told that I am a good listener.”

Raine smiled. “Thankyou; I appreciate it.” she said. He nodded before turning and walking away, his hair flicking side to side with his steps.

Maybe… maybe it would be good to get his opinion, from a non-magical person’s point of view?

“Hayato!” she called, moving quickly towards him in a half-run. The Kayokian turned to look at her. “Are you busy now?”

He smiled. “Of course not. What is it?”

“Can we talk?” she asked, feeling warmth rise to her cheeks. “I’d like your opinion on something, if you wouldn’t mind?”

“I’d be glad to help.” he said. He looked behind her, over at the various groups of sparring magi and swordsmen. “I don’t think anyone would care for our absence at any rate.”

“Thanks.” she said quietly, falling into step beside him.

Behind them, Troy was looking over in her direction, frowning.

“SO, WHAT IS on your mind?” Hayato asked her as they walked, slowly heading back up towards the barracks of the Magic Companies. The soldiers around them paid them no heed as they swept past, too uncaring or busy to notice their conversation.

“I’ve received some…interesting and disturbing news lately.” Raine said eventually, voice low. She took a deep, calming breath.

“It’s about me, as a mage.” she continued. The words were tight in her chest and releasing them was much more difficult than she thought. “You see, I’m a Water Mage. Well, you know that already, but apparently I might be more than that.”

Hayato turned his head to look at her. His eyes were warm and encouraging, but she could see the curiosity that lingered beneath.

“There’s a mage I met, a Death Mage. Yesterday he spoke with me, because he seems to think that I’m also one as well.” She rushed her words, forcing them from her lips.

“He thinks you are a Death Mage?” Hayato asked, interested. “Is that possible? I’ll be the first to admit that I don’t know much about magic and magi.”

Raine nodded. “Well yes, you can have magi who have learned more than one element, but… he thinks I have the potential to be a Death Mage as well as a Water Mage.”

“Judging by the look on your face, that is not a good thing?” Hayato asked, slightly confused.

“Well, I… I don’t know.” Raine said. She was surprised by how difficult the question was to answer. “It’s not a bad thing in itself, I guess, I mean it’s just a branch of magic but…”

“There is a particular stigma attached to Death Magic?” Hayato ventured, watching her struggle.

She nodded. “Yes. Death Magi, well…aren’t really liked that much.” she said.

“Why?” he asked, his curiosity genuine. “I’ve never really heard of it as bad, or evil?”

Raine opened her mouth and closed it again, frowning as she continued to stare at the grass. It was a simple enough statement, but one that stopped her thoughts in their tracks.

“I… don’t actually know.” she finally said. “I always just thought of it as a bad thing.”

“Perhaps whether or not Death Magic is evil depends on the user?” he suggested quietly. That makes sense but…just to have that aura like Lloyd does…

“Probably, I mean, it makes sense…” she muttered.

“Are you worried about being a Death Mage? What would happen if you were?” Hayato asked.

She nodded and looked up at him. His dark eyes looked back at her calmly, his sharp, black eyebrows curved into a slight frown.

“I’m terrified.” she confessed. “It’s just an unpleasant type of magic. I know that it can have its purposes, sure, but…it still just makes me uncomfortable. Not only that, but other people can’t stand to be around Death Magi.”

“Do you have the choice to be one?” Hayato asked seriously. “You are a Water Mage; can’t they just leave it at that?”

“Well, I…” She was shocked to silence. The obviousness of the answer stunned her; it was something so simple that she couldn’t believe she hadn’t realised it herself. Even if I do have the Bridge, it doesn’t mean I have to be one; I’m under no obligation to become one.

“And even if you did become a Death Mage, I doubt it would make a difference to those who care about you,” Hayato continued, delving into her fears with startling accuracy. “Your true friends wouldn’t care what kind of a mage you are. For me, it makes no difference- I can still stand to be around you, right?”

A small chuckle escaped her lips. “Thanks Hayato,” she said, the tension inside her drifting away. “I think that actually makes me feel better.”

“I am glad to hear it.” he said, and a mischievous grin spread across his young face, revealing his white teeth. “Although, I’m not sure if I like how good you are as a swordswoman. You’ve come close to disarming me too many times.”

“That’s not fair,” she said, smiling back at him, “You use techniques that I’ve never seen before, so of course I haven’t beaten you yet.”

“You’re slow.” Damien said quietly, still aiming the small blade at her chest. Raine watched him as he pulled back and quickly moved his feet into position. She did the same, and they started again.

This time, he flipped her weapon from her hand and it tumbled some twenty feet away from them, forming tiny dust clouds as it rolled. He lunged and stabbed but she moved back, knocking his arm aside with her own. He moved too quickly, too gracefully, seeming to know exactly what she was going to do next.

Within a few short exchanges he had the tip of the blade at her throat.

“Too slow.” he said. Raine’s hands clenched into fists.

“You’re using techniques that I haven’t been taught.” she said, voice even. Damien looked at her with cold, amber-coloured eyes, his expression blank.

“Do you think the enemy will teach you their techniques before they use them on you? Do you think the enemy will go easy on you because you are less skilled than them?” he said. She didn’t answer.

“I didn’t think so.” He gestured to the dagger on the ground, “Again.”

Pushing the memory aside, Raine walked in silence until they reached the gates of the magic barracks. Hayato slowed to a stop and turned to look at her, his expression as pleasant and placid as ever.

“Shall we train again at the next session?” he asked and, feeling much calmer than before, Raine nodded.

“I’d be more than happy to,” she promised. “Lieutenant Preston really pushes us with our mixed training.”

“As he should,” Hayato said with approval. He gave her a last smile as he turned on his heel. “Until then, Raine. Look after yourself.”

“You too,” she said, watching him go.

“YOU’RE EARLIER THAN usual.” Hammond commented dryly as she placed her tray down on the table, looking at him with pleasant surprise. The apathetic Fire Mage rarely showed up to training, but had recently started dining with them at random times of the day.

Now, he looked up at her with his fiercely green eyes and nodded in greeting. “Got bored with clashing swords, did you?”

“We finished early,” she said, sitting down opposite him. “I take it that you didn’t go to training again today?”

“Of course not,” Hammond said, looking back at his meal with disinterest. “Don’t be ridiculous.”

She gave him a look, and he sighed. “Preston booted me off training, okay?”

“Was it because you didn’t do anything again?” she asked, finding herself smiling.

“Yeah I think he was sayin’ something like that.” he said, “I got used to his ranting ages ago; just can’t make myself listen anymore.”

The way that he spoke as he continued to flick his peas around awoke her curiosity.

“You sound like you know him well,” she questioned.

He shrugged. “I suppose. We went to school together. He hasn’t changed much since then.” he said.

Raine began to eat, her own problems fading.

“But that would have been ages ago, right? Didn’t you join the Magic Company at the same time we did? What were you doing all that time?” she asked.

“She’s a quick one,” Hammond said dully. He took in another mouthful of food but when he looked up from his plate she was still watching him with interest.

He rolled his eyes.

“Yes, it was ages ago. I just couldn’t be bothered joining the Company so after I graduated Mage School I dawdled around for a bit.” he said.

“I see. So why did you join in the end?” she asked. Around her, kitchen boys were refilling the baskets of bread and fruit on the tables, some sweeping up the mess that accumulated on the floor. Hammond turned his head and watched one lazily for a while.

“’Cos I did.” he said. Then he finally looked at her again. “You gonna finish that?”

Raine slid over her plate to him, and he immediately resumed eating. Then he looked at her, paused, and sighed again.

“So what’s on your mind then?” he asked exasperatedly.

Raine jumped. “What do you mean?”

“You’re sitting here for no reason and sweetheart, you’re not the kind to just sit around doing nothing; it’s just not your way.” he said. “Something’s on your mind and you wanna talk about it.”

“No I don’t!” Raine said, indignant. “Just because I’m sitting here quietly doesn’t mean I want to talk about something.”

“But you do.” Hammond said. He pushed her plate away to the side and leaned forward, looking at her with unusual attentiveness. “Look, I’ll give you the only advice I think worth telling.” he said. “If you can do something about it, do it. If you can’t, or if you tried and then failed, get over it.”

She looked away, frowning.

“Now if you’d excuse me, kid,” he said, pulling himself up from the table as if it was a great effort, “I think I’m gonna go catch some early shut-eye.”

She watched him as he turned and walked away, putting his hand up to the statue of Athos, God of All Powers, as he walked through the open doors. That was unusual for him, handing out advice like that, she thought, I really must look troubled or something.

“SOMETHING IS HAPPENING; I can feel it!” Troy said excitedly as they made their way to the Magic Company training grounds, early the next day.

Raine stifled a yawn as they moved, but she too was interested as she noticed that there were many platoons lined up on the large training ground.

“It sure does look like something’s happening,” Chelstra said, craning her neck to see. Hammond followed them sullenly.

“Guess we’d better line up and see,” Raine said, glad for the new distraction.

They found Preston, talking with another lieutenant and looking as serious as ever, and they quietly fell into rank, still looking around. The other two platoons of Second Company were also there- the first time that the whole company had been called together since Raine had joined. The company consisted of three platoons, each of which containing about thirty magi, and so the training ground was far more crowded than usual.

A few moments later, the other lieutenant went over to his own platoon and Preston turned and faced them. Suddenly remembering what Hammond had said at lunch about the two of them, she cast the Fire Mage a glance. He was looking away nonchalantly into the distance.

“May I have your attention, everyone,” Preston said quietly, and Raine turned her eyes back onto him. Conversations dissipated as he went to speak, the other lieutenants also talking to their platoons.

“Archsage Lieutenant Colonel Grephin has decided that the Second Company from the Magic Battalion will undergo a war-time training exercise in collaboration with the Second Company of the Infantry Battalion.” he started. So that’s why we were made to train with them.

“Both Companies, obviously composing of three platoons each, will head northwest, to an area besides one of the fishing villages that is situated along the Severin River. It is predicted that there will be military conflict between Avendan and Treston sometime in the future, and this will assist you for when that happens.”

Raine could feel a wave of unease sweep through the magi as the possibility of war was brought up. Looks like Damien was right about everything he used to tell me. I’ll bet he’s pleased.

“The plan is as follows- the three Magic Platoons will be divided amongst the Infantry Platoons into new groups composing of a mix of the two. These two new companies will be taken separately to this mock ‘war-zone’, and a battle between the two companies will commence. Take note, however,” Preston said, his tone somehow becoming more serious, “that whilst this is a mock situation, you will be expected to fight one another as if you are enemies. Aim to kill, but do not. The rules will be provided to you later on as to what classes as a kill and what you need to do if you are ‘killed’. As such, you will also be moving across the woodlands as if you are in enemy territory, so expect war-time formations and possible ambushes and attacks.”

Chelstra gave her a glance, her lips curled into a frown and her eyes wide with worry. Hammond continued to watch the clouds discreetly, still bored. Thin lines were forming between Troy’s eyebrows and his expression appeared set and determined.

“You should expect to be gone for two to three weeks, so pack your equipment wisely. Some rations will be provided to you, but you will also be expected to find your own as you did with the mission to Kreshna.” Preston took a breath and looked around the group expectantly. In the other platoons, some people were asking questions but most, like them, were accepting the news silently.

“So now you will return to your quarters and prepare your gear for two to three weeks of travelling and combat. As we are mixing with the infantry, we will be moving on foot. Once everyone returns here, the Infantry Company included, you will be split into your new platoons.”

“If there are no questions, you are all dismissed. You have two hours to prepare your belongings and eat from the Dining Hall if you wish to do so, although you should have had breakfast recently.” Preston said.

There was another pause as nobody raised their hands, and he gave a curt nod before turning on his heels and walking away to join the other two lieutenants.

Chelstra looked over at them, her eyes wide. “What if we get split up?” she gasped, and Raine could hear many of the other magi saying the same thing to their friends.

“I’m sure it will work out fine,” she told the Life Mage reassuringly, “It’s quite possible that we will all get put together anyway.”

“That’s right,” Troy added, “They just want to have some experienced magi with us amateurs!”

“Speak for yourself,” Hammond said dryly, “I’m no amateur.”

“Then why are you with us then and not in First or Second Platoon?” Chelstra said sharply, frowning as she turned on him. Hammond shrugged and moved away, walking alone to the quarters.

The Life Mage turned to the two of them, her face slightly pink.

“He makes me so mad,” she said quietly.

“Let’s go get our gear,” Raine suggested, “We don’t have much time.”

ONCE EVERYONE HAD returned two hours later, the rollcall began, and they all listened intently for their names and position. Not knowing many of the magi by name, it was hard to tell how balanced the two Companies were in terms of new and experienced soldiers.

Either way, Raine was pleased to discover that Troy and Chelstra were in Second Company with her.

Hammond, however, was placed into First Company. Raine could see the corner of Chelstra’s lips twitch with a barely suppressed smile, whilst Hammond didn’t seem to recognise his own name being called at all. Troy looked downcast as he realised that he was in First Platoon on his own, and Chelstra was delighted that her and Raine were together in Third Platoon. Giving her a fleeting smile, Raine wondered if she would be better off with Troy or on her own, seeing as all the Life Mage could do was heal and cast shields. Who knows, could be useful if I’m pitted against Hammond.

Wetherdon was also in First Company, and it was Raine’s turn to suppress a sigh of relief. Refusing to speak to him since their encounter in the library, she was wondering if and when he would try to contact her again.

“That is the end of the list. Come to me if your name has not been called out; otherwise please move into your new platoons. Do your best not to drag your new company down.” Preston said, promptly folding up the parchment and putting it away in a pocket in his long tunic. Movement and hurried conversation began.

“Well, good luck then, I guess,” Troy said, smiling slightly. Then he frowned. “And don’t get killed. I won’t be there to save you, you know.”

Chelstra laughed. “Like you’ve saved us before!” she said. Raine was about to add that they probably wouldn’t get killed in a training exercise when she saw Hammond move in her peripherals. She turned and looked at the back of his messy blonde hair as he walked away.
“Good luck!” she called. He put a hand in the air and turned his head slightly.

“Don’t get all serious on me on the battlefield like you try to do in training Raine,” he said, looking at her with one eye, “I really can’t be bothered setting you on fire.”

Then he strolled away casually.

Raine frowned and then looked back at Chelstra and Troy. The platoon was quickly dividing.

“We’d better get moving,” she said. Troy cast her a stern look.

“You’d better look after yourself, Miss Raine,” he said seriously, “I’d hate to have to come and rescue you.” Raine gave a small laugh.

“Let’s just hope it’s not the other way around!” she joked.

“Yes, that would be awkward,” he said, looking thoughtful with his hand on his chin, “Not to mention completely unchivalrous.”

“And we can’t have that,” she said, grinning.

He nodded. “Glad to see that we both agree!” he said. Then he turned and started to move through the group. “See you both later!”

“Take care!” Chelstra called after him, his honey-blonde head disappearing through a sea of magi.

Then she looked back at her, her face flushed. “So, where do we go now?”

Raine looked about and then, seeing one infantryman holding up a sign with their platoon on it, she gestured to Chelstra and they started to move.

Raine’s arm brushed up against another’s and she went to apologise, but realised that the hand had gently gripped her arm. Hayato looked down at her with a pleasant smile.

“Raine! Sorry to grab you like that,” he said, releasing her. Chelstra looked at him with interest from over her shoulder as Raine smiled, surprised.

“That’s okay; I take it you’re on the training exercise as well then?” she said. Hayato nodded, beaming.

“Yes, I’ve been designated as the second-lieutenant for the platoon!” he said. “I’m nervous, to be honest; I haven’t been here for very long…”

“That’s a great leadership opportunity for you!” Raine said. “Congratulations! Which company?”

He nodded in thanks. “First. They’re putting me in charge of people who have been here longer than I. It’s a bit intimidating.” he said.

“I’m sure you’ll be fine; you’re great with a sword, at least,” she said.

The nervousness in his eyes faded a little. “So are you in Two then, Raine?”

“Yes. Guess I’ll have to seek you out in combat!” she joked.

“I look forward to it!” Hayato said, his eyes shining. He looked over her shoulder through the crowds. “But I must be going now. Good luck Raine; I wouldn’t want you to get killed before I have my chance!” he said. She grinned.

“I’ll do my best!” she said. He nodded, smiling, and disappeared. Raine and Chelstra kept walking forward.

“Was that the Kayokian guy you train with during the mixed sessions?” Chelstra asked from behind her as she rushed to keep up. “He’s even cuter up close!”

Raine found herself laughing. “Yes, that’s him.” she said, looking ahead for the platoon’s sign again. She could barely hear Chelstra sigh through the conversations and yelling of those around her.

“Maybe I’ll have to put more focus on my hair for those classes, since all I do is stand around and summon shields.” she said.

Raine pretended that she couldn’t hear her.

Finding their platoon and falling into file along with the others, Raine looked around and was encouraged when she recognised a few faces from her previous platoon. It was definitely a mix- there were some experienced magi as well as newly initiated ones, as well as some of the infantry soldiers.

The four sergeants of the platoon were making themselves known by putting up their hands and calling out the section they represented.

“But I’m Section One!” Chelstra cried, looking at her, disheartened.

“It’s not that far away; I’ll bet we’ll travel together and all that anyway.” Raine said. She heard her section being called out and she looked away, trying to find her sergeant. “I’ll talk to you soon!”

“Yeah, okay…” Chelstra grumbled, moving away to her section.

Raine approached the man calling for Section Three. He had golden-blonde hair that nearly reached his shoulders and his eyes were an intense bright blue, looking over them all with focus and interest. With his pale skin that seemed to almost glow in the sun, he looked ridiculously young.

“Welcome to Section Three- is this everyone?” he said. His voice was gentle but firm. He has to be one of the more experienced magi; I haven’t seen him in Third Platoon, that’s for sure.

Raine exchanged glances with the others around her- five infantry people and four magi, herself included.

“Yes- ten of us, excellent. That seems to be all in order!” the sergeant said, smiling at them. “My name is Martin Highgate and as such, Sergeant Highgate for this little exercise.”

He gave them a warm smile that they returned, and she felt her nerves start to settle at his casual, pleasant demeanour. “No doubt the title will be taken from me at the end of this trip. At any rate, welcome to Section Three. The ten of us make up this section, so I hope to get to know all of you well as soon as possible. Teamwork, as I’m sure you are all aware, is vital in a wartime exercise.”

He looked around the group. “Alright. Let’s get started. Please huddle together; I want everyone to get a good look at the map.” he said, pulling out a scroll that was sitting at his waist.

It was a topographic map of Avendan, showing the kingdom capital and the four main roads that came from it, streaming off to all directions, and the Severin River, north of the city. Fishing villages along the Severin were drawn as little huts.

“Here is where we are, obviously.” Highgate said, pointing at the circle labelled ‘Avendan’. “We will travel through the Northern Gate, here, and that is where we will wait.”

“Wait?” one of the section members said. Highgate nodded.

“That is correct. Complete information has not yet been provided to me, but our company has been commanded to implement a lightning attack strategy rather than the traditional one of building a defensive structure and waiting for the go-ahead.” he said.

“So we’re going to attack them early or something?” the same man asked. Highgate shook his hand and put up a finger.

“Allow me to explain,” he said, his eyes scanning over them. “The plan consists of four operations. Firstly, we are sending a small group that will travel to our flag zone and acquire the flag. Meanwhile, a secondary scouting party will be sent ahead to follow the enemy company and will relay information back to us, as the remainder of the company follows them. Lastly, a fourth group, an infiltration section, will place themselves inside the enemy company and pretend to be a part of them until the time of battle. When the week timeframe is up, they will destroy the company from the inside and claim the flag. Our company, already there and waiting, will simply rise up and attack. They will not be expecting it- it will be swift and fierce.”

He watched them. “Does everyone understand?” he said. “We are acting in a full-force offensive rather than the expected ‘built a fort and protect it whilst trying to attack the other’ technique.”

“And are we certain that that is what the enemy will be doing?” one of the infantrymen asked. Highgate looked at him with recognition and nodded.

“That’s what the tactician generals seem to think, Bedell, and that’s what they’ve ordered us to do, at any rate.” he said. Bedell leaned back, satisfied.

“So what role will we be playing then?” a male Earth Mage asked, one Raine recognised from her platoon. All eyes were on Highgate again as his light smile faded and a serious expression grew.

“Section Three has been given the role of infiltration. We will catch up with the First Company now, within the city walls, and incorporate ourselves into their ranks as quickly and seamlessly as possible. Then we will hide amongst them till the order to attack is given.”

A few of the group cast nervous looks at one another, and Raine watched as another mage whispered something to the Earth Mage.

She personally felt like smiling at the irony. I’m already infiltrating as it is, she thought dryly.

“How are we meant to infiltrate them without them knowing?” one of them asked. Highgate rubbed his hands together.

“It shouldn’t be too difficult whilst we’re inside the hustle and bustle of the city. Move between different platoons when you can so as to not arouse suspicion, and help them out with section jobs and tasks until the time comes.” Highgate answered swiftly. “Most people won’t suspect someone who’s helping them dig a trench or set up traps.”

Raine approved of his answer, automatically thinking back to her Shadow teachings. Thank Rendeis; something I can already do.

“Anyway, we have little time. The rest of the company is waiting for us and we don’t want the enemy to leave the city without us amongst them. Are there any questions?” Highgate asked. There was silence, and Raine did her best to look as unsure as those around her despite her unusual confidence and familiarity at such a task.

“Alright. Let’s get going before Lieutenant Hayes gets grumpy.”

He cast them a smile again, trying to lighten the mood, but Raine could sense that he too felt uneasy at the idea of infiltrating the enemy company.

I’ll have to make sure Hayato and Hammond don’t see me, else my own cover will be destroyed, she thought.

“Oh, I nearly forgot- your armbands!” Highgate added as he rolled up the map. He passed them all a piece of green cloth from a pouch at his side. “Don’t put these on now,” he said as one of the magi went to wrap it around her arm, “We don’t need to wear them until the battle actually begins. You need to steal one from someone from First Company when we catch up to them, perhaps at night or something, and wear theirs. Only once the order is given do we actually have to show our true colours.”

Raine had to agree that the plan was clever as she tucked her cloth away firmly in her pocket.

He stood up, marking the end of the conversation. The group got up and left the training grounds, heading back alone towards the mage quarters. The other platoons of Second Company watched them leave with curious glances, and Raine gave Chelstra a fleeting smile before she disappeared around a building. They moved quickly through the lesser populated pathways and alleys, discreetly making their way to the Western Gate.

Emerging from a side street into the main, Raine pulled her black cloak around her to cover her uniform and fell in line with the commoners that flooded the area. She kept her eyes on the back of the head of the infantryman Bedell in front of her as she gently moved past shoppers and merchants.

It wasn’t hard to find First Company, moving through the crowd as a single mass and forcing people to move to the sides at the sight of their imposing blue and gold uniforms. Raine picked up her pace and watched as her section members mingled through the rear of the company, and she quickly followed suit. With a quick and fluid flick of her hand, she untied the loose knot of the red band around the arm of a mage and swept the fabric up in her pocket. She kept her face impassive and her movements natural and once she was four or five people ahead of the mage, she pulled it out and calmly tied it around her arm tightly.

A SPRING breeze was sweeping through the light woodlands that surrounded the city, whisking away the warmth from the sun as it grew on their tunics and cloaks. Rather than walking on the road itself, they followed beside it on the grass, their boots crunching through the light leaf litter in an uneven yet rhythmic tune. Villagers and travellers watched with interest as they passed, a few waving at the soldiers. Raine looked around her casually, plotting out the terrain in her memory, the size of the main road, how many guard-posts stood at the gate…

She mentally prepared herself for the days walk and kept her eyes scanning around her. There were approximately one hundred to a hundred and fifty people in the First Company but if Hayato or Hammond caught sight of her, her mission was over and she would immediately be captured or ‘killed’. She had no desire to sit around in a tent blindfolded with her hands tied.

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