Azhure: Just finished mid-terms.
Richard, what’s the status of the cultists on your end? (Darc)
They are going straight to the other cultists… Oh, they caught up to them. Also, I spotted Jillianis. (Richard)
Do you even need to state that, Lazulian? (Jill)
I am just giving a report… (Richard)
Shut up, idiot! (Jill)
Continue following them. (Darc)
Alicia chuckled over their exchange as Darc cut them off, moving the artificial shadow he was in, with Alicia in tow. Speaking of which, being inside the shadow, officially named [Carpet], of the Dark Guardian was an odd experience for her. When Alicia sank into the shadow with Darc, it was like going down on an elevator while being able to see what was outside or standing on an unsafe platform lowering down, into the ground. There wasn’t much resistance either, like standing on a giant jelly and gradually drowning in it as the soft confection couldn’t take the pressure concentrating on her two feet.
Then traveling inside the shadow was another thing entirely. For one thing, Alicia couldn’t even move a muscle. While she was submerged in darkness, she could still see clearly the outside world. And she wasn’t constantly looking up either, her vision was as if she was still on the ground while feeling her immobile body underground. In fact, she could see in 360 degrees and even see Darc’s [Carpet] moving and herself being held by the robe by Darc, who could stretch his muscles unlike her, but not his hold of her.
Ignoring Voice’s remark, Alicia focuses on the task at hand, even though she couldn’t even break a leg to do so, literally. As the four cultists silently trotted into the dark alleyway, the Court Wizards followed, or in Alicia and Darc’s case, just directly moved right at the end of the corridor – now Alicia knew Darc’s Personal Skill was technically teleportation magic which sounded even more powerful at night as he could essentially appear anywhere at will.
Can he even go through the thin silhouette of a string? Alicia wondered.
Anyway, the cultists were now stuck in a problem: they were at the end of the alleyway and had to cross the next street. They had crossed the previous one that Jill staked out just fine as it was quieter, but this street was much, much busier. With an unconscious child, their black robe would make them deer stuck in headlights.
We’re done. (Jonathan)
Woah! That was quick!
…Eh, we’re just getting everyone out of there. The firefighters will put out the fire. (Owen)
The guards came. I had revealed myself, we’re fine now. (Jonathan)
Did you give them the message? (Darc)
Yes, I did. (Jonathan)
“Jonathan had already told the king about this,” Aqua explained. “After this briefing, he will inform him of our plan to deal with this so he can get the knights ready. We will still need to tell the knights again once we begin the mission.”
Focusing back on the cultists, they stood still for a moment, but Alicia was sure they were chanting something. Sure enough, the cultists slowly disappeared from the bottom up and turned invisible. However, as she looked closely, she could tell the shimmers in the air indicating their presence though once in a thick crowd, they’d go unnoticeable unless one already trained their eyes on them. As the vibration in the air began to move, Darc’s shadow followed. Being on a busy street, a shadow without anyone casting would similarly go unnoticed.
“Out of the way!”
Whip cracks were made as a carriage rushed through the street. Everyone has themselves out of the road to avoid getting run over. The cultists hiding behind their spell recognized the oncoming vehicle going straight for them and made a run for it. However, the cultists being packed like sardines to maintain their spell while also carrying a child were moving too slowly to get out of the way.
They are not going to make it!
CRACK CRACK CRACK CRACK
But then, in the shadows under the wooden beams attaching the carriage to the galloping horses, four thin black stakes lunged out and snapped them. Without the main part that allowed horses to pull carriages, the two horses would soon separate from the carriage as the carriage driver could only hold on to the ropes for so long.
Then, a more blunter stake emerged and bashed one of the horse’s sides. It pushed the horse to bump into the other horse and the math resulted in both of them veering away from each other and barely brushing past the invisible cultist. The cultists weren’t in the clear though, the carriage was still crashing into them.
Then, the carriage driver, already in a state of shock as the reins slipped from his hands, was struck in the shoulder by another blunt stake emerging from the shadow he casted with a force large enough to launch him out of his seat.
And as if fate smiled upon the poor carriage handler, he happened to land on a wheelbarrow of watermelon-like fruits that gave in to the weight of the crashing man, cushioning his fall. While the driver was out, there was still the carriage that still carried enough momentum to reach the invisible kidnappers. Although Darc’s stake and the one earlier also altered the carriage’s trajectory, it wouldn’t be enough to dodge the cultists.
“Mother Earth! Watch out!”
The pedestrians fell into a state of panic, scurrying themselves out of harm’s way as the carriage suddenly tilted more than forty-five degrees, lifting two of its wheels. The floating wheels had barely nicked the hood of the cultists as they shaved right above them.
In an ear-shattering noise, the carriage tumbled to its side and ground its side on the road, screeching, until it stopped. After witnessing such a bizarre event happening all too fast, it took a moment for Alicia to recognize what it was: Darc’s Shadow Stake magic.
“It is Master Darc’s original magic?” Alicia muttered, sipping her tea.
“That’s right,” Ilezenya Erith, Darc’s little sister, smiled, coming out of the kitchen with a tray full of cookies. “He may not carry his magic’s ‘origin’ like Aqua, but as long as the world has a magic system, he can use its full power!”
“That does sound impressive,” Alicia remarked, remembering the few times she saw the dark elf’s magic in action.
“Of course it is,” the half-elf said smugly as she sat on the other sofa, having dusted off the crumbs on her apron to the nearby trash can. “No one can beat my brother’s Shadow Stakes!”
Alicia can only smile as the Nature Guardian wasn’t on the same page. “I have seen them before. How do they work, Zenya?”
“Oh! That’s simple! It’s just like his Shadow Sink spell,” Zenya, what everyone calls her, explained. “Anywhere there is a shadow, he can shoot them from its surface! Of course, they wouldn’t be as great if the shadow is less shadowy, but that’s what [Carpet] is for!”
“…That makes it sound a lot scarier,” Alicia couldn’t help but remark, the tea in her hand going cold. Even before Darc became a Guardian and had access to [Carpet], his magic already sounded deadly as it wouldn’t be useless in the daytime when everything cast a shadow.
“My brother’s magic isn’t all about stabbing people if that’s what you think,” Zenya said, breaking Alicia’s chain of thought. “He can make them blunt and use them for all sorts of things. I remembered him making a swing out of them when I was little, he’s such a genius!”
Alicia could only chuckle at the Nature Guardian’s enthusiastic praise for her big brother while remembering not to sell her short. After hearing about both siblings’ educational backgrounds, she saw having long lives in a whole new light.
“Right? Unless someone can shine light in all directions, nothing can stop my brother!”
I-Is that not excessive!? The passengers could get hurt!
I’ve done this plenty of times before. The passengers would get bruised, but nothing serious will happen. (Darc)
When the red-haired girl thought about it for a second, the dark elf was right. The horse was directed not to trample over any passerby; the driver was bumped off his seat at the moment where he would land safely, and; the carriage was toppled over did seem to not suffer extensive damage. Everything was calculated precisely on the fly, it would not be a stretch Darc had taken measures to ensure the passengers would survive.
Alicia would have asked more questions, but the Fire Court Wizard couldn’t do that any further as she was shocked at what happened next.
Wait a second? Is he not?
An elderly man in merchant wear climbed himself up from the tumbled carriage while being pulled out by the driver, sweating bullets over the harrowing experience. True to the Dark Guardian’s word, he was relatively unharmed but that was a minor concern as Alicia recognized him having met the man two months ago. Looking at the flipped carriage, it was even more apparent as Alicia would never fail to recognize the rust-covered bell wrapped in a light-blue cloth and the name, ‘The Bell Conglomerate’ on its side.
What could make mister Davis in a hurry like that?
Who knows, but we better catch up to the cultists. He’ll survive. (Darc)
Without any further incident, the cultists entered a secluded slum after squeezing through a narrow path in the city where its dwellers seemed to have already left the place. In the middle of the dank clearing, there was a wooden hatch on the ground which the cultists opened. Subsequently, they entered the hatch with the child in tow.
RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE RATTLE
“Stop pushing, Lazulian!”
“I am not pushing you, Jillianis.”
It was an equally surreal experience rising back up from the shadow, but Alicia didn’t have time to let it sink in as she looked at the noise coming from the narrow entrance to this area. The cultists had to slip into this place one by one, especially when one of them was carrying a child in tow. The knights, while doing the same thing, had the extra baggage of their full armor under their robes leading to their situation now.
Don’t they get hot wearing all of that? Alicia wondered.
“We’re coming down.”
Just as Jill and Richard popped into the other side, Jonathan and Owen came in jumping off the roof and squatting for a safe landing. The redhead knight seeing this had a look that she wished she had done that instead.
“So this is the place, huh?” Jill huffed in annoyance. “Just about what I expected of such scum.”
Ignoring the red knight’s remark, Jonathan went to a corner of the slum and stabbed a pole into the ground. It was metallic and from the distance, Alicia saw runes etched throughout its surface.
“Jonathan will place a Catalyst at the base that will act as a beacon so the knights will know where we are,” Aqua continued. “The other Catalyst to track the beacon will be given to them by him as well.”
“Alright,” Darc said. “Is there anything else you have to report before we go?”
As Alicia looked around, none of the other Court Wizards seemed to have anything to say. Then she turned to Owen and just barely spotted the tell-tale signs he had something that needed to be free from his chest even under the robe and mask hiding everything. There was no way she couldn’t have known having known him since childhood.
“No? Then let’s-”
“…I think I saw one guy dead at the bakery,” Owen spoke up after a moment’s hesitation. “Pretty sure he’s near the explosion, I definitely saw a dead body under the debris.”
“…Yes, I saw it as well,” Jonathan nodded in confirmation.
“Oh no…” Alicia gasped. So that is why…
“Considering the explosion, I am afraid all of the victims surviving would be too much to ask,” Richard remarked sadly.
“Damn it! That is already one killed in this mission!” Jill cursed. “We should have gone to the discussion.”
“We all knew the risks of agreeing to this mission, and you all know even if we tried our hardest, not everyone can be saved,” Darc said. “The best thing we can do is to keep pushing through.”
A large, murky black shadow crawled into the tomb-like structure of the cultists’ base. Though it was a dark corridor, the torches littering the walls provided sufficient lighting to make an instant relocation inconvenient. They seemed to be magical in nature too as there was no smoke coming from them which made sense in this poorly ventilated place.
“From Jonathan’s observation, there were around thirty mages in the GrassPlains base so we can expect the one in CoastLine to be similar,” Aqua stated. “Considering their operations, assume they are all capable.”
The six Court Wizards infiltrated the base inside Darc’s [Carpet] which was quite the trip as the dimly lit corridor seemed unusually endless. Eventually, they got to the end of the corridor where the light shined the brightest in the dark main tomb-like chamber could be seen. Already they could make out the cultists and at first glance, they didn’t seem to discriminate who could be their members as they could make out several beastfolk ears sticking out in their black garb.
“We can safely say all of the cultists will be at their base for the ritual. They will probably take shelter there as well after unleashing what they sacrificed for.”
It appeared the Court Wizards came just in time as the cultists were about to begin. They surrounded the abducted boy who was placed unconscious on top of an altar. What had Voice blanche in disgust was that the boy was stripped naked for some reason. Probably the ‘purity’ thing Jonathan heard.
No time to waste, get ready to strike. (Darc)
Just as the Court Wizards were about to enter the chamber, an almost blinding light emanated from the walls, the floor, and even the ceiling throughout the corridor. With the brightness erasing all traces of darkness, it rendered even [Carpet] useless no longer able to maintain Darc’s spell. As a result, the Court Wizards were unceremoniously kicked out of the disappearing shadow and into the material world.
Before they could get their bearings, a black-tinted glass wall shut the five Court Wizards inside the corridor. While masked by the front glass, they could hear the same sound coming from this tomb’s entrance. Only Jonathan wasn’t trapped as he was in front of Darc when he pulled them in. However, that meant the Nature Court Wizard was right in front of the cultists who were gazing at the Court Wizards under their black robes.
“They may rig some traps in their base, so be careful. Alicia, do not forget to bring your Catalyst.”
Alicia instinctively held onto the necklace Catalyst around her neck. This will not end like the last time she was in this world. As she got herself up, so did the others reeling in the backlash of the violent expulsion.
“Ugh! So bright!”
“A trap, obviously. But how did it kick us out?”
“Ahahahaha! I didn’t expect it to work!”
Breaking the Court Wizards out of confusion was a laugh of lunacy coming from the cultists. Immediately, they turned towards the chamber and saw one of the cultists who looked to be the leader stepping forward. Although Jonathan at the other side of the glass wall materialized his sword at the ready, he, nor the others, was ready for what the lead cultist said with a mocking bow.
“Welcome! It is a pleasure to see each other again… Court Wizards!”
Azhure: So, what do you all think of this sub-chapter? Is it good? Are there any problems with it? Any reviews or feedback is appreciated as long as they’re not plain insults meant to blow off your stress.
Voice: Don’t do that to people! Not even on the internet!
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