Shadow's Pursuit

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Chapter Six

THOMAS WAS SOFTLY drumming his fingertips on the table when the messenger rushed through the door. Everyone in the room looked over at the young man, his face flushed from what had clearly been an intense run.

He gazed up at the king, and collapsed to the floor onto one knee. Thomas sat up in his high-backed chair, staring down at him with fierce interest.

“Your Majesty, the bridge has been captured.” the messenger gasped. “The two Companies have defeated the enemy.”

“Thank the Gods.” Shermann said, resting his wrinkled forehead on his entwined hands. Lowth sat back in his chair, his expression somehow becoming smugger than before.

“There was never a doubt in my mind that we would crush the scum.” he said. Damien resisted the urge to raise an eyebrow, having noticed the man’s sweaty brow and agitated hand-twitches.

“A full report please, messenger.” Thomas said, ignoring the two generals, and the man nodded.

“Yes, Your Majesty. The two watchtowers were destroyed and claimed by Avendan forces approximately an hour ago, and the bridge shortly after.” he said swiftly. “Once the watchtowers were destroyed, most of the Treston forces retreated back over the bridge. Those who didn’t were captured. We predict heavy casualties on the Treston side, and moderate casualties for Avendan.”

Cheers erupted around the room but Thomas remained quiet, allowing them their moment of victory. Damien kept his face impassive, but he felt irritation grow warm deep in his gut. This was clearly a trap. Desmond would easily sacrifice his men, but there must have been a greater purpose for this. It’s too pointless even for the likes of him.

“Prepare for the men to be brought home as soon as possible.” Thomas said impassively once the jubilation had died down, and Damien found himself appreciating the man a little more. “There is still much work to be done.”

“Forgive my boldness, Your Majesty,” Lowth said, and Damien knew that he cared not for his own rudeness, “But action must be taken against them now!”

“We’ve been through this before, Lowth!” Shermann snapped, his old, brittle voice cracking with irritation as he glared at the general with an expression close to hatred. His wispy moustache shook as he pushed the words from his thin lips. “We cannot start a battle that we are not yet prepared for, just because Treston built one bridge!”

“And what would you do, Shermann? Allow them to insult us further?” Lowth boomed. His huge, meaty hands were curled into fists and he was clearly resisting the urge to bang them on the table.

The old man clenched his yellow-stained teeth together and his mouth opened to retort, but Thomas put up a hand and the two men instantly fell silent, despite continuing to glare at each other.

“I think,” Thomas said, his voice low, “that the decision would be easier to make if everyone approached this calmly and methodically.”

He paused for a moment, allowing the two men to recompose themselves. Damien resisted a smirk as he read the mutual hatred in their eyes and the clenched muscles in their necks.

“We must be grateful to Rendeis that our troops are returning with few casualties.” Thomas continued. “However, I do not believe that an instant response to this threat is wise.” Damien could hear a frown in his voice.

“I also believe that I need some air.” he said after a pause, and slowly pushed himself upright. The others quickly got to their feet and Damien tensed his leg muscles, feeling energy move through his limbs.

“We will resume in an hour, if that suits you gentlemen.” the king continued, his voice light. They bowed, nodding and making sounds of agreement. Damien, Cowill and the acolyte Illuminator followed the king swiftly and silently as he made his leave.

“This is just not right,” he said as they went. Damien, like the other two guards, remained quiet. “Just not right…”

Then he turned and looked directly at Damien, his eyes sharp despite his weariness. “You are quiet and you are watchful. You take a lot in, Damien. What do you think of this?” he asked.

Damien was taken aback but quickly regained his blank expression. “I do not believe that I am qualified to make such an assessment, Your Majesty.” he said smoothly.

“And what if I am asking you for it, Master Swordsman?” Thomas said. Damien watched Cowill from behind the king as he nodded shortly. Keraan looked on impassively, but he had the feeling that he too was interested in his opinion. Many believed that the acolyte from the desert could not fully understand the language, but Damien could see the intelligence glowing in his eyes.

He rapidly collected his thoughts and chose his words carefully. If I can come to this conclusion, I’m pretty sure that his tacticians would have as well.

“Then I would gladly answer, Your Majesty.” he said. “I believe that this is a ploy or a trap devised by King Desmond to distract you from something greater. I believe that this attack was simply too obvious for it to be all that there is.”

Thomas sighed, the deep and drained sigh of a man who had the weight of a whole country sitting on his shoulders, whose everyday decisions decided the fate of hundreds of lives. “Thankyou for your opinion, Swordsmaster. My heart is heavy at the thought, but I believe that as well.”

Damien was dismissed some time later, the two other King’s Guards coming to relieve him and Cowill from their posts. He kept his expression impassive as his replacement shook his hand, a Guard by the name of Tibbord.

He said or did nothing as he felt parchment pressing against his palm. He nodded his head, released his hand and turned and walked away.

Only when he was in his personal chambers and out of sight did he pull out the note and unfold it carefully. It took him less than a minute to decipher the meaning of the seemingly pointless message.

The prisoners are on their way. Find out what they know, and then kill them. We can’t allow Avendan any access to Treston information.

He held the parchment over the top of the burning candle at his bedside table, and watched as it quickly turned to ashes. They would be swept up by the chamber-maids the following morning.

RAINE LEFT THE Dining Hall as people began to flood inside. She dawdled, pausing to gaze up at the large stone figure of Athos, God of All Magical Powers. His expression was unreadable, his blank face chipped and eroded in places. She looked around her, taking in the buildings and the Avendan magi who walked past her purposely, their blue and gold tunics glistening in the midday sun. The temperature was pleasant and the heat was warm on her skin, and she wished that she could go anywhere else but where her trudging feet were taking her now. She kept her hand tightly curled around the note she had received that morning as she moved slowly along the pathways.

She was grateful to be back in the kingdom, free from the blood and sweat of battling her own people, but now other pressing issues nagged at the back of her mind, some more directly than others. She had written a letter to Aloyce the moment she was given time to herself, asking if he was safe and if the people she knew were safe, but that in itself had taken some time. Chelstra had insisted on looking at her wounds the moment they had all found each other again, despite already being tended to by the Life Mage Atherton, and then had remained by her side for most of the journey back.

And when the two Life Magi were called away to tend to other injured soldiers, Troy had taken their place in monitoring her wellbeing. It was a task that he took on with fierce intensity.

She pushed the memory away as the library loomed up before her like a mausoleum, filling her with dread, unease and the unshakable notions of death and decay. Her feet stopped and she looked at the building, taking in its chipped, damaged walls, the hazy patterns of grey and green mildew growing along the stone, the yellow stains on the circular glass window high above the wooden double doors.

The crunching of the parchment in her fist pulled her from her thoughts and she looked down at the letter as she unfolded it slowly. She had no excuse- there was no specific time she needed to be here, just simply today.

Only one session, she told herself, unwillingly taking a step forward. And if I can’t awaken this so-called Bridge of Death, then I have nothing to worry about.

She moved up the small set of stone steps and placed her hands on the aging doors, pushing her weight against them. They moved with a sound like aching, creaking joints, and she stepped into the darkness within.

It took a moment for her eyes to adjust to the sudden lack of light, but she felt more familiar with the candlelit sconces and the rows of bookcases than she did the last time she had entered. She pulled her cloak closer around her neck and moved forward carefully, her steps silent on the large stone tiles underneath her feet. The quiet of the room and the dim light calmed her a little, and she felt more in control as she went up towards the private study sections.

It was a small room, only big enough to house a low, square table and a long bookshelf that stretched along the opposite wall. The table was cluttered with parchment, open books and candles, and cushions were placed haphazardly on the floor around it.

Sitting on one of these cushions and looking up slowly was Lloyd Wetherdon, and his lips curled into a smile as he recognised her.

“I’m so glad that you could join me,” he said, his voice quiet but polite. “Please come in Raine, and close the door behind you. I wouldn’t want us to be disturbed.”

She complied, ignoring the notion that she was trapping herself in a room with a predator, and approached the table. Wetherdon watched her pleasantly, his hands holding open an old book on the table.

She sat opposite him on a large cushion, her emotions guarded. Her muscles were tense, ready for flight if necessary. Keep focused.

She could smell something lingering lightly beneath the scent of parchment, burning wax and dust, but she could not yet put a name to it.

“You don’t need to look so serious,” Wetherdon said, chuckling quietly. “I’m here to teach you, not to attack you.”

“In fact,” he added, “we won’t be using any magic at all today.”

“We’re not?” Raine asked, surprised. I wondered why we were meeting here; that makes more sense.

“No, for there is little point in teaching you Death Magic if you cannot find its source within yourself to begin with.” Wetherdon said. She watched him as he closed the book slowly, specks of dust escaping from its pages. “That is what we will be doing today-attempting to find your Bridge of Death.”

“What do I have to do?” she asked, her hands clenching into fists in her lap. Wetherdon pushed his glasses up his face as he repositioned himself on his cushion, and looked at her kindly.

“Well, I would imagine that it would be a similar process to that of finding your Bridge of Water.” he said. “Many magi find and activate their Bridge and their mana vital through meditation and other similar processes, and it is no different for Death Magi.”

“Is that how you found yours?” she asked. She vividly remembered the days when she first discovered that she had potential as a Water Mage, and she knew that Aloyce did too. She almost smiled at the clear image of his outraged face when she accidentally flooded the house with her ability.

He had lost his calm composure, present even then at that young age, when he realised that he had to go to training in a saturated uniform.

Wetherdon shook his head, smiling mysteriously. “Yes and no. Whilst there are many differences between Death Magic and the Elemental Magics, the Elemental Bridges can be discovered more easily by being surrounded by those particular elements, as can the Death Bridge.”

“What do you mean?” she asked, dread sinking into her stomach. “You have to be surrounded by death to activate the Death Bridge?”

Wetherdon shrugged slightly. “That is how I found mine, at least.” he said. Ignoring her questioning expression, he continued calmly. “At any rate, I have devised a method which may assist you in discovering the Bridge.” he said.

He turned to his side and only then did Raine notice the basket that had been resting on the floor beside him, invisible from her position across the table. He lifted it up and placed it before them. The unidentified smell in the air intensified and Raine finally recognised it- a musty animal scent.

“Mice?” she questioned, moving up on her haunches to see into the basket. Many white mice scurried around inside amongst a mash of straw.

“Correct.” Wetherdon said. He took a knife from his belt, pulling it from its sheath, and then placed it on the table and pushed it towards her.

Raine looked at it for a moment, and then back at him. Understanding dawned and she quickly stood up.

“No. I’m not killing mice just so that I can be near death.” she said adamantly. Wetherdon was quiet, watching her calmly.

“It’s wrong,” she continued. “I mean, being around the elements in their natural state to tap into the Bridge makes sense, but sacrificing animals for no reason- it’s inhumane.”

Wetherdon looked at her, expression unreadable. “Death is like Life, Raine,” he said slowly, “in that it is always around you. It is as natural as the earth beneath your feet and the air around you that you breathe. It is undeniable.” He breathed in, about to continue, but she cut him off.
“Then why can’t we just detect the Bridge that way? Why does something need to die in front of me for it to work?” she asked. He looked away and gave a small sigh. When his eyes returned, he was smiling a thin, small smile.

“I would need to take you to a place where death is most prominent- a butcher’s store, hospital, perhaps even a cemetery, although I doubt that would be effective. Would you be more satisfied that way, watching people die before you?” he asked quietly. She watched him with narrowing eyes, not liking where the conversation was going as guilt started to grow in her stomach.

“Or would it be easier, emotionally, that is, to sacrifice rodents here and now? It is not like they will be in any pain.” he said.

“What do you mean?” she asked, frowning. “Of course there would be some pain.” A strange look flickered over Wetherdon’s face and he pulled a small vial from within the folds of his open robe.

“This is both a sleeping agent and an anaesthetic.” he said. “Once consumed, the mouse will simply fall into a deep sleep, unaware of its throat being slit.”

He looked at her, taking in her surprised demeanour, and his expression darkened. “Do you think I would deliberately torture the creatures?” he asked, an undercurrent of irritation in his otherwise mild tone. “I am very professional about my work, Miss Raine. You need only death itself, not pain and suffering.”

“I’m sorry Lloyd, I didn’t mean to offend you,” she said quickly, raising her hands. “I just… don’t like the whole idea of it. It seems like a pointless death to me.”

“I see; you don’t like killing.” Wetherdon said. His expression softened and he smiled. “Interesting, seeing as you are an Avendan soldier.”

She frowned, watching the mice as they scurried about in the basket, oblivious. I guess I should be able to kill mice, she thought. I mean, it’s not like I haven’t killed before. But that was different- that was fighting for my life, or other people’s. But here, it’s just so I can access this Bridge of Death. Is it really necessary?

“Very well,” she said, resigned. “Let’s just…get it over with, I guess.”

Wetherdon’s smile grew. “I am glad to hear you say that.” he said. “Please, make yourself comfortable. We shall sit and meditate for a while; perhaps it will help you.”

At that, he picked up his book again, and his eyes started to flicker left and right as he resumed reading. Raine watched him, stunned, and after a moment she realised that he was serious. Guess I have no choice…

She closed her eyes and breathed out deeply, letting her muscles relax. She tried to release the tension from her forehead and her eyebrows, easing away the frown that had developed on her face, but it was difficult to do in the presence of the Death Mage. His aura was unsettling and demanding, but she retreated into herself slowly until she reached a state of calm, listening to the steady drum of her heartbeat and her deep, slow breathing. The moderate darkness and silence of the library helped her, and she automatically relied on her Shadow training to attain control and emotional neutrality.

SHE WASN’T SURE how long the two of them had been sitting there when her trance state was interrupted by the sound of Wetherdon’s low voice, breaking into her calm softly.

“You’re doing well,” the voice said, and her eyelids twitched. She had been focusing on her mana vital, and the pool of water that her mind had been hovering above was flat and peaceful. A ripple spread across the surface at the sound, as gently as if a leaf had landed there.

“Change your focus to your élan vital,” he said. “Feel the flow of life within you.”

HE PULLED THE vial from his pocket with one hand and softly lifted one of the mice from the basket with his other, and fed it the liquid within. He did this to the others and within moments, the animals were sleepy and sluggish in their straw nest. He could feel their heartbeats soften just by looking at them; he didn’t need to touch them to know that they were falling into a deep state of coma, untouched by the sharpness of pain.

Wetherdon straightened silently and his dark teal eyes lifted up towards Raine. The Water Mage’s eyes were closed, shadows dancing along her pale, calm face. She sat cross-legged on the cushions, her hands clasped together loosely in her lap.

He smiled. In comparison to the fading mice, her élan vital radiated like a sun, warm and powerful in the dark quiet of the room.

“Bring yourself back to this realm, Raine,” he said, keeping his voice barely above a whisper, “and keep focusing on your élan vital. You are ready for the next step.”

SHE OPENED HER eyes, feeling her consciousness rise as she surfaced above the deep depths within herself. The room was pleasantly dark and warm; shadows flickered and played along the walls, comforting her.

Her vision sharpened and she looked back at Wetherdon, watching her with eyes hidden by semi-opaque glasses. He had a good-natured look on his face and despite herself, her lips curled into the slightest smile.
“Now, you are not going to like the next stage, Raine,” Wetherdon said, gently breaking the silence of the room, “But I assure you, it is completely necessary.”

“You are going to kill the mice now.” she stated, voice even. He nodded.

“You need to observe the effects of death itself- that is to say, the fading of the élan vital.” he said. “You may have killed people before, but watching the life essence drain away is something else entirely, it is observing death itself at work.”

Both the volume and tone of his voice rose as he continued, his eyes shining with passion. “That is the art of the Death Mage- dampening the light of life, dimming it away like a flame atop a candle, burning on the last of its wick. It is a truly delicate but powerful art.”

Raine’s smile faded. “You’re very fond of Death Magic, aren’t you?” she asked quietly.

Wetherdon chuckled. “I apologise; I often find myself too involved in my craft.” he said, eyes still sparkling, “But yes, I am quite particular to this branch of magic. And once you learn more about it, I hope you will appreciate its incredible nature.”

“We’ll see.” she said evenly.

He nodded. “Very well.” he said. “We shall continue.”

He pulled a mouse from the basket and Raine could tell by its stillness that Wetherdon had already administered the drug that had rendered it unconscious. “Focus on its élan vital,” he murmured, “Feel its life force flowing through it; feel it pulsing with each beat of its heart.”

She turned her attention to the mouse, small and still in his steady hand. A flutter of nervousness raced through her, breaking her calm. I only know how to use Shadowsight. Or at least, what I thought was Shadowsight. I don’t even know what I’m actually doing.

She reached out with her mind, using the same kind of technique she used for Shadowsight, but focused on looking at the light rather than the shadows. She was surprised to find that it came easily to her- when she looked at the mouse through her own eyes, it glittered with gold. Wisps of ethereal golden smoke hovered around it, pulsing with each heartbeat just as Wetherdon had described. She could feel the mouse’s strength, its desire to live, the vibrant power of its own existence. It looked just like everything else she had seen when she looked through the shadows, but much clearer.

“Is this what it means to see élan vital?” she gasped. Wetherdon chuckled beside her, a sound barely registered in the back of her mind.

“Well, what else would you be seeing?” he asked. She didn’t respond, still stunned by the impressive display of light that surrounded the creature.

“This is where your awe will come to an end, I believe,” Wetherdon said with a sigh. She blinked and the apparition vanished.

She turned to look at him properly, her delight suddenly fading. The queasy sensation that usually gripped her whenever he was near had suddenly re-emerged and intensified, a sour, bitter taste growing on her tongue and in her mouth. She felt a powerful need to move away from him so that she could not contract whatever diseases surrounded him, and only her self-control stopped her from edging away. Unpleasant thoughts of poison, sickness and eternal sleep sprang to mind.

It must be the élan vital, she decided, using her training to steer her thinking into a rational direction. I was just visualising life, and he brings death. That must be why I feel this way; I sense his potential to destroy élan vital. No wonder Chelstra can’t stand him.

He was looking at her strangely and she forced herself to speak. “Alright.” she said, throat tight. He nodded.

“Watch again as you have just done.” he said. He raised the knife. “Watch as its élan vital fades away, as it is defeated by death.”

She turned reluctantly back to the mouse, doing her best to will away the noxious sensations that were running through her. She took a breath and tapped back into her newfound sight, still amazed at the intensity of the glow.

Wetherdon put the knife to its tiny throat. “Are you ready?” he asked. She took another deep breath and nodded.

She didn’t look away but she still twitched when the cut was made. In that moment, its élan vital jumped and shuddered, as if it itself was cut, and then moved spasmodically around its owner. Blood flowed over its white fur, dripping down Wetherdon’s fingers and into the basket. The other mice still lay unconscious and unaware as the drops fell as crimson rain around them.

The life force began to dull, ebbing away in progressively weaker pulses as the mouse bled out. Raine forced herself to observe closely. “What are you doing to it?” she asked, voice barely above a whisper.

“Nothing.” Wetherdon replied placidly. “I am not using any Death Magic on this creature. I wouldn’t want to bombard you with too much so soon.”

Raine shrugged, finding that she didn’t really want to know about what else Wetherdon could do with Death Magic. She continued to watch the mouse. Its élan vital flickered and dimmed as its vital organs slipped into failure and into a whole system shut-down, one that ended with a final whisper of a pulse.

The golden glow died away like scattered sand in a breeze.

The two of them stood there for a moment, until Wetherdon broke the trance by placing the mouse back in the basket.

“What happens now?” Raine asked. “I don’t feel any different.” The Death Mage gave her yet another of his condescending looks.

“My dear Raine, you are hardly going to feel any different at this moment in time.” he said, amused. “You will need further exposure to death. Seeing people and animals die is not the same as watching the élan vital die, and I believe that this is what will lead you to your Bridge.”

Raine looked down at the dead mouse. “Fine.” she said, fighting the spasm of her stomach muscles.

WETHERDON’S PALE FACE held the slightest of frowns as he watched her meditate, her hands balled into fists in her lap, her eyelids clenched shut. He could feel his own mana vital flowing powerfully through his veins, his core strong and stable, the magic ready at his fingertips.

All the mice lay dead in the basket on the table, their bodies wrapped together in blankets he had brought with him. He was unfazed by the metallic odour of blood that came from the basket, instead relieved that none of the fluid had soaked through onto the table. The situation between himself and the old librarian was tense enough.

Raine’s lips parted as the look of concentration on her face deepened and he found himself wondering, despite all his intellectual confidence, that perhaps she would not find her Bridge of Death.

He dwindled about the room for as long as he could without disturbing her, waiting, and finally she gave a defeated sigh and opened her eyes.

“I can’t do it.” she said, her voice bitter. He let her continue. “I can’t find anything like that. I have my Bridge of Water and my pool of mana vital and that is all.” She shifted her body on the cushions. “I have no Bridge of Death. Can we please stop this pointless endeavour?”

He smiled despite her despair and despite the despair that he was starting to feel in his own chest, a rare emotion that he was unused to and not fond of. “Come now,” he said, keeping his voice low and gentle. He moved around the table and crouched down a few paces away from her; he was well aware of the effect his dark mana vital still had on her, as well as on everybody else. With time, that sensation would diminish.

“This is only your first try,” he said. “I am sure that with further training, the Bridge will become apparent to you. It is only a matter of time and practice.”

The young woman shook her head, her straight raven-black hair flicking around her face and shoulders. “No.” she said. She wouldn’t meet his gaze. “I can’t do it. I’ve seen élan vital be taken by death but nothing has happened to my mana vital. I’m still just a Water Mage.”

“You are tired and stressed, my dear.” he said. “Perhaps we will try again soon.”

Her eyes narrowed and she finally looked up from the floor at him. He saw pain, frustration and a trace of confusion in her dark, overbright eyes. “I really don’t think so, Lloyd.” she said flatly. “I just can’t do it.”

At that she pushed herself up from the floor quickly, and he hurried to his feet. “At least think about it,” he started as she rushed to the door in large steps, but the set expression on her face sent disappointment flooding through his chest.

“Well, if you ever wish to speak to me, you can find me in the Death Guild in the mage barracks,” he said quickly, “It is located nearby the Dining Hall.”

“I’ll see,” she said, and he knew that she would not be coming back to the poorly lit room in the library again.

He gave a half-hearted smile and shrugged his shoulders slightly, and then she was gone.

WETHERDON HAD CLEANED up his equipment in the library quickly, knowing that Sage Sedley would be retiring to bed any time now- it was a habit of the aging company captain.

He made his way to the officer’s quarters, nodding respectfully to the two guards who stood beside the entrance and then quickly stepped aside without any resistance. Being a Death Mage had its uses, after all- people did not want to remain around him for long.

He tapped his knuckles against the door, thanking Rendeis when the man’s voice rapidly responded, and he entered. Sedley was sitting at his desk, surrounded by piles of parchment, quills and burnt-out candles, and Wetherdon did not envy his position. He could sense the fatigue coming from the older man’s frame, unable to be dampened entirely by his powerful élan vital. A master of both the elements of Earth and Water, Wetherdon knew that he was a strong opponent and one he would not wish to face in combat at any point in time.

“Mage Wetherdon,” Sedley said, eyeing him with recognition and a touch of reproach. Unfortunately, being a Death Mage also meant that one was well-known by one’s superiors. “To what do I owe the pleasure?”

Wetherdon gave a low bow, smiling slightly as he looked up at the officer. The walls of his large office were decorated with banners bearing the kingdom’s crest and images of the various Gods and Goddesses, but he kept his eyes squarely on the man before him.

Straightening, he pushed his glasses up the bridge of his nose automatically.

“Good evening, Captain.” he said politely, curling his lips into a small smile. “I apologise for speaking with you at so late a time.”

“That is quite alright, Mage Wetherdon.” Sedley said. “What brings you here?”

“I will get to the point, Captain.” Wetherdon said. He remembered the look of fear and distaste on the young girl’s face, but he pushed the image and the guilt from his mind. “I have discovered a potential Death Mage within your ranks.”

“Is that so?” Sedley said, his voice now filled with interest. He leaned forward, placed his quill back into its pot and intertwined his fingers before him. “Within my ranks? Do you mean to say that this person is already a mage?”

“Yes, sir.” Wetherdon said smoothly. “A Water Mage by the name of Raine Taylor. She is in Third Platoon of Second Company, I believe. I have detected the Bridge of Death within her.”

“That is most excellent news.” Sedley said, and Wetherdon nodded his head slightly in agreement. He couldn’t help the excitement that raced through his veins at the thought of another Death Mage- they were still so few. Lesson plans and possible techniques were already forming in his mind, and it took all of his self-control to prevent them from taking hold of his concentration.

And besides, all he had to do was to remember Miss Raine’s fervent dislike for the art, and that anticipation would promptly shatter.

“I take it that you have already spoken with this girl then, Mage Wetherdon?” Sedley asked, looking at him with a wry smile. Wetherdon nodded.

“I have sir, and I conducted a class with her today.” he said. “I am attempting to activate her Bridge. I have come here because I require your permission to take her as my apprentice.”

“Indeed you do.” Sedley said. He looked down at his documents for a moment, his eyebrows moving into a frown. “Tell me, does Mage Taylor wish to learn Death Magic?”

Wetherdon paused for a moment, thinking fast, but decided to go with the truth. “Not at the moment.” he admitted. “But I am certain that with time, she will enjoy learning the art.”

Sedley sighed, a sound that stretched into the silence around them. “You know that I will not force a mage to learn something that they do not wish to, Wetherdon.” he said eventually. “Even if it is something as beneficial as Death Magic.”

“Forgive me for saying, sir,” Wetherdon said quickly, not liking the look in his eyes, “but Death Magic is invaluable and there are so few of us- we should be increasing our forces as much as we possibly can. We will be fighting with Treston, after all; that much is inevitable.”

“Hence why I do not like the idea of forcing the girl into learning it.” Sedley replied. “You said that she is from Third Platoon, yes? That means that she is still quite inexperienced in comparison to the other platoons. Give her time.”

“I believe that sooner is better than later in this regard, Captain.” Wetherdon said, but he realised from the sinking feeling in his gut that the discussion was over. He had not expected this outcome- surely the man would have been overjoyed in having another Death Mage under his command? He understood the logic in the sage’s words, but he also knew how rare his kind was becoming. Who knew- would there even be anyone left to teach her following the war with Treston?

“Leave it with me, Wetherdon.” Sedley said, and he didn’t need to use any of his abilities to know that the sage had already made up his mind. He bowed.

Sedley was tired, and he was older and less alert. It took Wetherdon less than a moment to reach out with his mana vital and sense his mind- it sat there unprotected like a glowing orb of gold. He wondered, for a fleeting moment of excitement and temptation, if he could alter the man’s mind. Nothing too drastic, of course- just a touch of persuasion, a hint of trust. Wetherdon knew his own limits, and he knew that he could probably succeed. He was more skilled than people gave him credit for, and his small, weak frame often caused him to be underestimated. Convincing the sage to allow him to teach Taylor wouldn’t be too difficult, surely.

But then, his own mind reaching deep within the man’s before him, he sensed something all too familiar and he pulled back, stunned.

The transfer had only taken a few seconds and Sedley was still looking at him, waiting for him to leave.

“Very well, sir.” Wetherdon muttered, fighting to wipe the shock and confusion from his face. “Good evening.”

“Good evening, Mage Wetherdon.” Sedley replied. He turned and left the room, clicking the door shut behind him, and stormed from the building, allowing his feet to automatically lead him back to the Death Guild.

His mind was racing.

Lloyd Wetherdon was a fairly skilled Death Mage, more skilled than most, and he knew Death Magic when he saw it. For one like he, such runes and castings could not be hidden- he sensed them as easily as he breathed in air.

And Captain Sage Sedley, Commander of the Second Company of the Magic Brigade, had Death Magic present in his mind, controlling elements of his thought processes.

Someone had placed a curse upon him.

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