Shadow's Pursuit

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Chapter Seven

RAINE RUSHED DOWN the crumbling stone steps, her cloak bouncing around behind her. The day was well into the afternoon, the cries of birds as dusk fell splintering the air’s silence, the smells of dinner drifting to her nose. Her heart was in her throat as she rushed towards the training grounds, her chest rising and falling rapidly with each breath.

She almost moved into a run as she noticed one lone figure on the grounds, a black silhouette that was brandishing a blade.

The figure turned to greet her as it saw her approaching, climbing clumsily over the fence. She bent over, her hands on her knees, struggling for breath.

“Hayato,” she said, her voice coming from her mouth in short gasps, “I am so, so sorry.”

She was staring at the grass when his shadow came over her, and she lifted her head to look at him. He looked down at her with a curious expression on his face.

“Is everything alright?” he asked. He was dressed in his usual training garb, his longsword held loosely in one hand. Black custom armour, thin and decorated with patterns that were not of Avendan design hugged his chest, arms and legs. Beads of sweat were trickling down his brow and strands of loose hair were swaying in front of his face, but his eyes were sharp and alert. “I was worried something had happened to you. I was about to come looking.”

“No, no,” Raine said, shaking her head. Slowly, her breath returned, and she stood upright. “I just lost track of time, that’s all…” she said. Hayato raised an eyebrow, but his lips curled into a smile.

“Is that your roundabout way of saying that you forgot, Raine?” he asked, eyes shining.

“I’m so sorry,” she said, bowing again. He gave a light laugh.

“It’s quite alright,” he said, sheathing his sword. “Look, we’ll meet up again at another time; you’re clearly very busy.”

“No, no, it’s not that,” she said hurriedly, worried that she had disappointed the infantry swordsman yet again. “I just…”

He watched her with keen interest as her voice trailed away, her eyes drifting to the side.

“You are troubled.” he said. She sighed and found herself looking back up at him.

“I had a Death Magic lesson a few days ago.” she said.

“I see.” he said. “Come, let us talk. I was finishing up here anyway.”

She waited for a short moment as he went to retrieve his shield, and then came to join her at the fence. They leaned against it, looking back in the direction of the other buildings.

They stood quietly for a moment, listening to the sounds of birds as they settled in for the night.

“How did it go, then?” Hayato asked her eventually. “Was it as bad as you thought it would be?”

“Worse.” she said, frowning at the memory. “I had to watch him kill a basket-full of mice, and then I was still unable to activate my Bridge. I was completely hopeless.”

“Don’t say that.” Hayato said softly. “It is completely new to you; you shouldn’t expect results straight away.”

“That’s what Wetherdon said, too.” she muttered.

“He seems like he knows what he is talking about, then.” Hayato said. “Do you still not wish to learn Death Magic?”

“Not really.” she admitted. “After watching what it does and how it effects and destroys life… It’s not a skill that I wish to have. I want to save people, not kill them.”

“It is a shame that you do not have a Life Bridge then.” Hayato said, smiling gently. “Will you try again?”

“Probably not.” Raine said. She had promised Wetherdon one lesson, and she had completed it. She felt slightly guilty, remembering the look of disappointment on his face, but she knew what she could and could not do. “I think I’ll stick to what I know- Water Magic and swordsmanship.”

“I am glad to hear it.” Hayato 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 spy, either. You certainly surprised me that day.”

“Hey!” Raine said indignantly as he laughed, “I wasn’t expecting to run into you, of all people!”

“Yes I know, I could tell from the look on your face when you saw me!” he said. He leaned off the fence. “Come, tell me about it as we return to our barracks. I’m afraid that my comrades will be expecting me back sometime tonight.”

Raine smiled and fell into step with him as they walked. “So you’re not mad at me for trying to infiltrate your ranks?” she asked, stealing another laugh from him. She felt her anxiety drift away as she watched him, seeing the easy happiness on his tanned face.

“Well I was at first,” he admitted, looking down at her with glowing eyes, “but once I realised that you were only doing what you were ordered to, I discovered that it was quite an ironic and amusing situation. However, my colleagues still mock me for getting caught in that tent.”

She looked over at the approaching buildings and despite her happiness and relief, she felt guilt return in her gut.

Only doing what I was ordered to… If only you knew…

“Oh! I just remembered,” Hayato said suddenly, “Have you heard about the festivities that are to begin soon?”

“Festivities?” Raine repeated, frowning. “About what?”

“It has been said that King Thomas has called for a festival or celebration to commemorate the achievements of the Magic and Mounted Companies in Kreshna.” Hayato said. “Who knows, you may even dine with the King himself.”

“Because Avendan forces beat the sandworm, you mean?” she asked. Hayato nodded.

“There is more to it than that, obviously. Such an act has strengthened the relationship between the Kreshnan tribes and Avendan, something that has been very difficult to achieve with such a neutral country.” he said. Raine vaguely remembered Troy saying something similar.

“Oh, I see,” she said, thinking from a strategic viewpoint. “That makes sense. I guess King Thomas would want to benefit from such positive publicity as well.”

“It would be good for his position, most definitely,” Hayato said, looking at her strangely, “but I doubt that popularity would be his primary reason to celebrate the success of his forces.”

“Oh no,” she said, putting up her hands in defence. It still amazed her at how quickly the Kayokian could change from being casual to serious. “That’s not what I meant at all. I mean, he could have done something small, perhaps a feast with his close comrades. But having a festival is a good way to get the public involved; that’s all.”

“I suppose so,” Hayato said slowly. “Nevertheless, it will be something to look forward to.”

“Definitely.” Raine said with added vigour. “It will be a nice change from training and studying so much.”

The suspicion in his eyes faded as his smile grew. “So you would go, then?” he asked her mildly.

“Sure.” she said, nodding, “It would be fun, I think.”

Hayato gave a short nod, looking forward again. “I will as well.” he said. He was quiet for a moment. “There is a similar celebration in my home village coming up soon.” he added. She looked up at him with interest.

“In the Archipelago, you mean?” she asked. Hayato chuckled and looked down at her.

“There are names for the islands, you know.” he said pleasantly. “The one I hail from is called Hanaka, and the village is Shunshi. At this time of year, there is a celebration of the moon, where the people decorate the streets with streamers and flowers and they all stand outside, staring up at the sky.”

She looked up at him but he was now looking away, a faraway, reminiscent look on his face. “Why?” she asked softly, finding herself intrigued by the change in his demeanour.

“Well, most of the time it’s just a celebration of the moon itself. Sometimes, however, it falls upon a lunar eclipse, which it does this year. It makes it doubly important.” Hayato said, slowly looking at her.

She saw a soft yearning in his eyes, and she truly appreciated his homesickness.

“You must be upset to be missing it.” she said gently. Hayato shrugged.

“It is fine. One must expect this kind of thing to happen, after all. In any case, it will be good to have some kind of celebration at the same time.” he said, smiling. “And a chance of being up close to the king- that would be exciting. I almost wish that I could have gone to fight the beast just so I could attend.”

“Yes.” Raine mumbled, guilt returning fiercely once more.

“WELL, WE DEPART our different ways,” Hayato said, and she was stunned to find that they were already back at the intersection between the mage and infantry barracks. The sun had almost disappeared, the hint of frost in the air, and she realised suddenly that she didn’t want their conversation to end. It was such a powerful sensation that is startled her.

“Right.” she said, willing the feeling away. “I’m sorry again for missing training with you today.”

Hayato waved his hand at her gently. “It is understandable. Hopefully next time you won’t be so preoccupied.” he said, smiling.

“I won’t be.” she promised. “I’ll see you next week then.”

“I will be there.” Hayato said, and turned and walked away.

Raine watched him leave for a moment and then made her own way towards the Dining Hall, feeling much more relaxed than she had been earlier. A sense of peace came over her, disturbed only by the sudden wonder if Damien would be present if such a feast were held.

HE TAPPED HIS fingers gently in a tuneless melody on the desk before him, slouching forward despite his training and ignoring the burning in his back. His head was resting in his free hand and his dark eyes were drawn to the parchment that lay before him, untouched for some time now.

His own writing, delicate and beautiful, stared back at him blankly, but no matter how long he looked at the parchment and willed more words into creation, nothing came. The flame on the candle to the side of him flickered in a seductive dance, casting splashes of light across the room and trying to draw his eyes. It was quiet, thankfully, and the only sounds in the room were his occasional small sighs of exasperation and the drumming of his fingers.

Aloyce finally sat back in his armchair and looked around, hoping idly that something in the rich tapestries and paintings that decorated the walls would inspire him. His eyes scanned past sketches of rolling plains, woodlands and lakes, the tapestry banner of House Evernest- the eyeless snow fox with its paw raised in eternal service.

Nothing, however, could wake him from the artistic slumber that he was in.

His gaze then fell to the full set of armour on its stand at the foot of his bed, the red and black patterns shimmering in the candlelight. At last, he admitted defeat and pulled himself from his chair, crossing the room in a few large, slow strides.

He looked at his own blurry face in the reflection of the armour and he saw weariness and irritation in his eyes. I keep forgetting to thank Merrick for keeping this so well maintained, even if it is his job, he thought. He pressed his hand along his tense jawline and high cheekbones, feeling only the slightest of regrowth on his smooth skin.

Then he sighed and pulled away. He wrapped one hand around the familiar leather hilt of his bastardsword, lying sheathed against the armour stand, but found himself letting go of it again.

He sat at the end of his bed and, having not found any other distractions, reached out over the blankets and picked up the open envelope that had been sitting near the wall for the last few hours. The seal broken, he pulled the folded parchment out yet again and held it softly in his hands. The letter was becoming frail now as he constantly folded and unfolded it, and he knew that he needed to stop the habit before it tore completely.

But every time he read it, her writing style similar to his but not quite as intricate, he felt the all too familiar desperation rise in his chest again.

Raine had been at the battle of the bridge. She had fought Treston soldiers, attacked by her own unknowing brethren, but she had survived. I should have known that she would, he thought. She is capable enough, otherwise they wouldn’t have given her the mission in the first place.

Have faith, he told himself, dropping the letter in his lap and looking over at the shadows that moved on the stone wall. There is nothing that can be done now. I should be merely grateful that the Shadow Guild deciphered this letter for me at all.

At that, he took his place back in his chair and picked up the quill that sat waiting on his desk. He dabbed the tip into the glass inkwell before him, a beautifully crafted gift from Raine years ago, and felt the knot in his brain loosen as he started to write.

IT SEEMED AS though only a few minutes had passed when a polite rap on the door brought him from his writing reverie. He blinked, and felt satisfaction when he saw how many lines he had managed to place onto the parchment.

He turned his head as the knock came again.

“Excuse me, sir,” came the familiar voice of his squire, “I have been sent to collect you. The meeting will begin shortly.”

“Just a moment,” Aloyce said, returning his quill to the inkwell and folding down the sleeves of his tunic so they sat properly at his wrists again. He stood and quickly checked himself in the free-standing oval mirror in the corner of the room and then made his way out.

A boy in his late teens stood before him, dressed in the grey uniform of a squire, and he gave a quick bow as the door opened.

“Sorry to interrupt you, milord,” he said, rising to look up at him again, “King Desmond has summoned his knights together for a discussion of sorts.”

“I understand.” Aloyce said, taking the lead down the hallway with earth-eating strides, his black cape flicking around his arms as he went. His eyes moved down to the boy for a moment and he slowed his pace slightly.

They turned down finely decorated corridors, their footsteps softened by lavish rugs in bold, royal colours. Once or twice did they pass maids and manservants in their travels, and they immediately bowed as he approached. Aloyce would nod his head in return.

“If I may be so bold as to ask sir,” the squire, Merrick, started in a polite, conversing tone, “How fares your poetry?”

“Slower than I would like,” Aloyce said lightly, “but progressive.”

“I am glad to hear that sir.” Merrick said. He tried to suppress his smile, proud and joyful that he could share this private information with his knight.

Merrick had been fearful when he begged Sir Evernest to take him into his service years ago, as the man had watched him with his dark eyes and an unreadable expression. There had been whispers amongst the pages- Evernest was not a highly noble house; the father was a travelling merchant of sorts and the mother dead, the youngest child taken from mage training and into areas unknown. Aloyce was the elder and some had said that he had practically raised his sister himself, spending less time training and completing his own duties.

Merrick cared not for the rumours regarding his master- he was simply honoured to be taught by the quiet, intelligent, skilful knight.

But sometimes, every now and then, Merrick sensed darkness in the young man. It would often be when he had completed the tasks ordered of him and was free to his own devices, and he would sit alone in his chambers for long durations of time. At those times, he was quieter than usual, seemingly staring at nothing in a deep trance.

Merrick wondered what thoughts haunted his master’s mind.

“What are you thinking, Merrick?” Aloyce said quietly, having felt the gaze of the squire on his back for some time now. “You are uncharacteristically quiet.”

The squire jumped, and rushed to his side again. “I’m sorry milord,” he said, “My thoughts were elsewhere. Is there anything you need for your court with His Majesty?”

“No I don’t think so, thankyou.” Aloyce said. He turned his face to look at the boy directly. “Which reminds me- you cleaned and polished my armour well.”

The squire bowed his head, a proud blush glowing on his pale cheeks. “Thankyou milord, I am glad to have pleased you.” he said modestly. Aloyce nodded.

“Is everything ready for tomorrow’s training session?” he asked, his voice sharp once more.

“Yes sir, everything is prepared as to your orders.” Merrick said dutifully.

“Good. You will be practising your parry tomorrow; Rendeis knows you need work on it.” Aloyce said.

“Yes sir,” Merrick said, smiling despite himself.

There was silence between them as they continued down the halls.

“I think I am capable of taking myself to the king,” Aloyce said eventually, coming to a slow stop. “Go and rest; I will see you tomorrow morning at dawn.”

Merrick bowed low. “Yes milord,” he said. “Good evening, sir.”

Aloyce nodded.

I sure hope so, he thought as the squire turned the corner at the end of the hall and out of his sight.

“AT LAST, SIR Aloyce has joined us.” one of the knights said snidely in his dry voice. Aloyce ignored him as he entered the room, and instead moved around the large table and knelt before the throne that sat in front of him. The marble floor was cold under his hand; not even the warmth from the fireplace on the side of the large room could defeat the night’s frost.

He looked at the blurry outline of himself through the tiles, feeling many pairs of eyes on him as he did so- some with friendly interest, other’s as piercing as blades.

“You only arrived minutes before he did, Sir Fendrel; I’d hardly class his arrival as tardiness.” said another, and Aloyce kept his expression blank as he recognised the booming voice of Sir Borin Terrowin.

He was built like a bear, but with the golden mane and facial hair of a lion. Aloyce also knew that the knight could hit like a sledgehammer and drink like he was throwing back water. He could imagine the scowl on Fendrel’s face as the insult was passed.
“Enough. Your presence is noted, Sir Aloyce.” said King Desmond.

“Thankyou, my liege.” Aloyce said, and rose. The king’s gaze was already focused on someone other than him so he made his way to stand beside Terrowin.

They gripped arms in greeting, Terrowin shaking him with his usual fierce enthusiasm, his other giant hand clasping around his shoulder. Aloyce felt the corners of his lips twitch into a smile.

“How are you, lad?” the larger, much older knight muttered, his voice rumbling like thunder.

“Well thankyou, and yourself? I see Lady Terrowin has been keeping you fed.” Aloyce said, his eyes glinting in amusement. The man let go of his arm and shoulder and stepped back, now smacking his gut.
“Of course she is; got to keep up with the rest of you, you know.” he said, grinning heartily. “Speaking of, Matilda’s been wondering when you’re coming round for dinner next. She’s starting to worry that you’re going to drift away into nothingness, since you still don’t have your own lass.”

“That’s hardly going to happen, I assure you.” Aloyce said, ignoring his jibe. “Please thank her for me, and tell her that I will join you both as soon as I am able.”

Terrowin nodded, his blue eyes sparkling with hidden knowledge. “Ay, that I will. She’s taken a liking to you, you know.”

“I know.” Aloyce said. “Both you and Lady Terrowin are much like family to Raine and myself.”

“Mm, don’t I know it.” Terrowin said. He went to say something more, but his eyes were drawn to the movement on the throne and his expression turned serious. “Looks like everyone is here, then.”

The proper respects given, the knights all sat at the long table that was seated before the throne. King Desmond watched them with cold, emotionless eyes, his expression as unreadable as always.

Despite the lateness of the hour, he was dressed in red and black chest and arm armour, the hammer and axe insignia glowing in the candlelight. The crown of Treston sat atop his greying mane, hair still flecked with the red of his youth, and a beard grew around his nose and thin lips. His narrowed eyes were a light shade of brown that lacked any warmth and were filled instead with a keen intelligence and an ambitious hunger.

To his side was a man, remaining just a step behind him. He was dressed in the light but impressive red and black armour of the King’s Guard, and a single greatsword hung casually from his hip. Aloyce had no doubt that the warrior carried other weapons beneath his tunic, perhaps on his back, concealed by his long black cape, but he cared not.

He was tall and lean, not as muscular as many of the knights, and had dark-brown hair that just passed his ears. He was one of two King’s Guards, for only a single soldier guarded him during the day, and another by night. Aloyce often wondered if it was a sign of confidence by the king; perhaps he thought he could sufficiently protect himself, or perhaps he simply did not like being followed by a large entourage, whose eyes would follow him everywhere and hear every word he spoke.

“The battle between Treston and Avendan was successful,” the king said eventually, his voice easily carrying across the room, drawing his thoughts back to the present.

As always, his voice was low, not out of gentleness but of suspicion. It was a constant suspicion that Aloyce had become accustomed to over the few years of his direct service to him. His voice was rough, like the sound of rock being slowly ground together, or like the rumbling of a volcano before its eruption. His voice was much like his personality, Aloyce realised- an undercurrent of suppressed rage and thunderous violence, contained by sharp intelligence.

“The bridge was destroyed.”

Aloyce watched as a smirk appeared on Fendrel’s face, sitting on the opposite side of the large, rectangular table. Same age as he, he had golden blonde hair, and his appearance and posture screamed of his noble blood and standing.

Catching his gaze, he cast Aloyce a spiteful, challenging look before turning back to the king.

“The second stage of the battle is underway.” Desmond said. “While Thomas casts his attention to the Severin and all possible crossing points, Treston forces will move across the mountains and begin preparations for an assault on the western side of the kingdom.”

“How long till we attack, sire?” one of the knights asked. Many nodded in shared curiosity.

“Not any time soon, knight. You will be informed when you need to be.” Desmond said. The finality in his voice was enough to silence the others.


A FEW HOURS later, the knights were dismissed and Aloyce went to leave. Finding that Terrowin was taking his time in departing, he slowed his pace and matched his, drifting on the side of the hallway till all others had passed them. Fendrel cast him a particularly savage look as he did so.

“After your blood, he is.” Terrowin observed quietly. Aloyce gave the slightest of shrugs.

They walked for a moment in silence before the older knight finally stopped and looked at him. The area was deserted, the cold of night bringing fog on the closed glass windows.

“Look Aloyce,” he said heavily, “I’ve got something to ask you. What’s the news with young Raine? I remember she was pulled out of her mage training a while back, even though she was nearing the end of it, and then I haven’t really seen her since. The latest rumour is that she’s not even in the country anymore. I know we don’t speak often about such things, but it’s been a damn long time since we saw her last.”

Aloyce looked at him for a moment. “I appreciate your forwardness,” he said eventually, “so I will be just as forward with you, Sir Borin.” He kept his voice low and his expression sharp. “Raine was taken out of the Magic Academy because she was accepted into the Shadow Guild.”

Terrowin’s eyes went wide. “By the Gods, the Shadow Guild, of all the unholy places?” he breathed.

Aloyce nodded, feeling the knot in his stomach tighten. “Yes. For obvious reasons the fact of the matter has been kept quiet; only necessary people have been informed. She has been with them for two years, and as such has been in Avendan acting as a spy for the most part of half a year.”

“Well, that explains her absence.” Terrowin said, rubbing his forehead. “Sweet Rendeis, what a thing to happen! Of all the places for her to go, the Shadow Guild…”

“I know.” Aloyce said shortly. He felt his dark mood returning. “I cannot speak much more of it, as I’m sure you’ll understand.”

Terrowin nodded, now moving his hand along his bottom lip. “Of course, I get that, lad. Well I’ll be; what a thing.” he said.

Aloyce started to move forward. “Goodnight, Sir Borin.” he said.

There was the shuffle of feet and the knight’s hand gripped his shoulder. Aloyce turned to look at him.

“One last thing then, lad.” he said, voice sympathetic. “I thought they took them for training when they’re very little?”

Aloyce nodded. “They’re supposed to.” he said. Terrowin let go of his shoulder as he saw the look in his eyes and he turned down the hallway again.

THEY’RE SUPPOSED TO.

He had only been knighted a few months before- a moment that still burned gloriously bright in his memory. His father had been at the Knighting, a sight he had not expected, as had Raine, in her last year of mage training. He was honoured to see his master, Sir Roland, also attend the event.

There were other squires standing beside him in a line, young men filled with the passion of youth. There in the midday sun, they all took their heart-stopping turn at kneeling before the straight-faced King Desmond to pledge their everlasting loyalty.

His father had clasped his shoulder with the proudest look on his dark-eyed face, and tears were rolling down Raine’s pale cheeks.

Some of his companions had been sent to lands belonging to the king, ordered to govern and protect them, but his duties were to remain inside the capital. Even so, with Raine soon to become a Mage of the Magic Companies, he knew that there would be precious little time for the two of them to meet again.

He also knew that he had to keep paying for her studies until she was ready to start earning money on her own, although he had never told her that it was he and not their father who had financially supported her for majority of her education. Magic training was costly for anyone, even their low-ranking noble family.

HE WAS INCREDIBLY confused when he received a note one afternoon, alone on the training grounds in the knight’s barracks, by a messenger squire who seemed too nervous to approach him. He had sheathed his bastardsword, a congratulatory present from Sir Roland, and quickly opened the envelope.

In moments, he had collected his belongings and after ordering the boy to return them to his room, pulled a tunic down over his head and made a dash to the area of the castle grounds belonging to the Magic Brigade.

Raine spotted him first, her wide eyes looking over at him with hope, her face even paler than usual. She was surrounded by superiors- he recognised one as a Mage Company Commander, a powerful Fire and Air Sage, and another self-assured mage with the rank of a captain on his shoulder. He assumed that he was her platoon captain, and rushed to greet them.

He only really noticed the third person when he approached the group, and was later surprised by his lack of attention. The man wore simple black garb, with no insignia or bearing of rank anywhere on his body, nor did he appear to be carrying any weapons. He was older; Aloyce realised that immediately from his retreating grey hair, but he held himself with the strength and confidence of a younger man.

“You must be Sir Aloyce Evernest,” the commander said politely, nodding his head in respect and greeting as he finally came to stand before them.

“I am.” Aloyce said, keeping his face devoid of emotion. The man in black watched him with an equally expressionless face whilst Raine’s was as open as always, and it was clear to him that she was panicking. “You must be Third Company Commander Deacons. A pleasure to meet you.” He held out his hand, which the commander shook politely. Aloyce made sure that there was enough strength in his grip.

“I am honoured that you know my name, Sir Evernest. I assume you received my note?” Deacons said. He was being just as polite as he was, but Aloyce heard the underlying strain in his voice. His eyes flickered over to the man in black again.

“That I did. May I ask what is going on?” he said. A spasm of discomfort passed over the commander’s face. Raine crossed her arms over her chest.

“If I may interrupt, Commander?” said the man in black smoothly, his voice controlled and level. He took a few steps towards Aloyce, and he was shocked by the grace and ease of his movements. He saw Raine take an involuntary step back, and he couldn’t stop his automatic reaction as his eyes narrowed with dislike.

“I am the one in charge of what is known as the Shadow Guild, Sir Aloyce Evernest. I am simply called Kyushu by those outside the Guild.” he said, looking at him squarely with eyes that glinted with intelligence.

“What reason have you summoned me here, Kyushu of the Shadow Guild?” Aloyce asked, suspicion growing. “I have not heard of the Shadow Guild conducting discussions this way.”

Aloyce’s tone of warning was discreet, but he knew from the sudden flash in the man’s eyes that he had detected it.

When he replied, his voice held the same warning.

“And we generally do not, Sir Evernest.” he said. “However, this is not an ordinary circumstance. You see, it has come to my attention that your younger sister, Raine Evernest, was born a Shadow.”

Aloyce couldn’t hide the surprise that spread across his face. He looked at the commander and the captain and he could see the disbelief in both of their faces. Raine was shaking her head fervently at him, eyes as wide and round as the moon. He looked back at the leader of the Shadow Guild.

“This is a mistake.” he said, trying to suppress the emotion in his voice. “My sister was not born a Shadow, otherwise she would have been taken away the moment it became apparent.”

“It has become apparent now.” Kyushu said smoothly. “With all due respect, Sir Evernest, perhaps your parents were unaware of the signs of a Shadow child.”

“I’m not sure that I like what you are implying, Kyushu,” Aloyce said as he felt his temper rise, and he did his best to repress it. “The identification of a Shadow baby is common knowledge- they do not cry at birth. They are silent. Handing over a Shadow child is Treston law, and one that my parents were familiar with.”

Kyushu gave the slightest of shrugs. “I do not imply that your parents were careless, Sir Evernest. Perhaps they did not realise, or thought that they had the child’s best interests at heart. It is a grave moral dilemma, one can understand.” he said.

He paused for a moment. “Is Lord Evernest here in the kingdom, Sir Evernest? Perhaps I can ask him personally.”

“My father is not here,” Aloyce said with forced lightness, and he had a feeling that the man already knew that, “but I can vouch for him personally. Under no circumstance did my parents believe Raine was a Shadow, otherwise they would have followed the law and passed her into Shadow training the moment that they did.”

“Then I will gladly assume that in this case, they did not know.” Kyushu said plainly. There was a pause as the two men looked at each other, and the three magi watched on in stunned trepidation.

“Then how do you know, master of the Guild?” Aloyce asked softly.

“We have ways, Sir Evernest, ways that I will not waste your time in explaining. I can simply assure you that Miss Raine is indeed a Shadow and will need to be relocated into the Shadow Guild for appropriate training.” Kyushu said.

His eyes narrowed. “You said yourself that this is the law, as decreed by King Desmond himself.”

Aloyce looked over at Raine. She was staring at him, shaking her head slowly. He didn’t need to hear her speak to know what she was thinking. “If this is true, does she have a say in the matter herself?” he finally asked the Guild Master.

Something, perhaps sympathy, crossed the older man’s face as he heard the gentle change in his tone.

“I am afraid not.” he said. “The law is the law, Sir Evernest. She may be quite old for Shadow training, but there are regimes that can work around that.”

Aloyce held back a bitter sigh. “So what happens now then?” he asked. Raine’s hands slowly rose to her face.

“Miss Evernest will need to pack her belongings and relocate to chambers in the Shadow Guild. I will escort her there personally.” Kyushu said.

THE GUILD MASTER at least had the decency to give them a moment alone as they left for her room. Kyushu stayed with the commander, no doubt smoothing over the transfer details.

Raine looked up at him the moment that they were out of earshot.
“Brother, I’m not- I’m not a Shadow,” she said, tears welling in her dark eyes. Aloyce let the heavy sigh he was holding back finally slip from his lips.

“I know. I don’t know why they think that you are. I don’t even know how they got the idea in the first place.” he said.

“Was I silent when I was born?” Raine asked fervently. “Did Mother and Father keep this from us, and from them?”

“I don’t know; I was little then myself. I don’t remember anything particular like that.” Aloyce said truthfully. There was a painful silence as she considered the new information. He too was thinking furiously.

“Look,” he said eventually, and she looked up at him with hope again; that look that always made his heart ache in all his uselessness, “All we can do for the moment is sit through it. They will do more tests on you, no doubt, and then they will see that they were wrong. Then they will have no choice but to put you back in your Magic Company.”

“Are you sure?” she asked. He nodded firmly.

“I am certain.”

ALOYCE CLICKED HIS door shut quietly and stepped into his room. He sat down at his desk and put a hand through his hair, no longer caring if the action made it untidy.

His fingers drummed on the wood for a few seconds and then slammed down in a tightly clenched fist. He opened his eyes and looked at the parchment before him. He swiped it from the desk roughly, and it floated down and rested on the floor.

“I’m sorry Raine.” Aloyce said into the silence, voice cracking. “I was wrong.”

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