Chapter 21

“Stella, how are the preparations going? Are we able to enter deeper into the mausoleum yet?” Markus asked quietly. It was not the first time today the Demon Lord of Trent had asked his subordinate. He had been impatient ever since leaving his homeland.

Markus was an adult with a lean build. His eyes were the most notable thing about him, a pale yellow that shone like the sun. He was idling the time away by sharpening his blackened sword. In truth, he enjoyed the scenery. A relaxing day, watching others work while he did nothing.

Markus watched as one of his childhood friends calculated something on the ground. “Not yet. I still need a few more days at least. There is something wrong with this mausoleum; it makes the Royal Keep of Terpii look like a child’s doodle.” Stella said exhaustedly, as she retraced the symbols once again, testing what each one did. He didn’t mind the view, as it reminded him of simpler times. Him practicing combat in the garden while she practiced her magic. Not to mention her twin sister Luna, who did whatever she wanted.

“If we recklessly try to force our way into the inner chambers, there is no way of knowing what will happen,” Stella said with a sigh, pulling her cape around her. The mountain had started to get cold as the sun went to the other side of the peak, and it didn’t help that she was still in her traditional Nightwalker outfit; a form-fitting shirt and pants that showed too much skin for her taste, but was the best for moving around in and did not catch on sharp objects. Her sleeveless shirt was the main contributor to her feeling cold and she had to rub her arms to chase away the sudden chill. She was deciding if it was worth it to put on her actual uniform but remembered that her sister had taken it since it had a higher resistance to magic. “Luna had to wear my Nightwalker outfit to even enter the formation. If we didn’t have my uniform, we wouldn’t even be able to analyze the formation from both the inside and outside.” Stella pleadingly looked to her friend Shavie for support; tired of repeating the same answer over and over again to Markus.

Looking over at Shavie, Stella knew that Assassins and Nightwalkers were arguably the same class, but both knew that each class had its own benefits; one was more inclined to combat than the other. Nightwalkers were actually a type of support Class, one that was well suited for coordinating with Warriors to deal the final blow to an enemy. Assassins were more inclined to act independently and were hard to spot if they were concealed.

Shavie stood up and stretched her muscles, her dark brown hair bobbing up and down as she lightly exercised. “Stop rushing the twins Markus, they are doing the best they can. If you really wanted to speed things up, then we should’ve brought the King with us. Evidently, it is usually opened by the King or Queen.” Shavie said as she laid on her side. The Assassin was just as bored as Markus; her idea of relaxing was not quite the same as his. “How about I go and grab the King, and then we can finally go home.”

“I already told you, that is impossible. He was shuttled away by the generals to the homelands as a negotiation tool. I personally saw three of them escorting the King to the carriages; they would be halfway home by now.”

We need to get back sooner than later. There is no telling what will happen with us gone. Have our spies gotten back to us yet from the areas we have conquered?”

Count Bishner stepped forward and bowed, his polished dark armor reflecting the last of the afternoon sun. “The latest news is that all dissension in the former Royal Capital of Alcudia has been stopped and is now under martial law of General Rigel. Grand General Linel has mentioned that there a lot of resistance across the country. He’s even mentioned that most of the humanities defensive castles are still resisting capture, which is surprising. Even more so when I read reports that there are high-class demons fighting with humans.”

“They are fighting for the humans? Have they forgotten about the ancient war when we waged total battle against them?” Markus said furiously.

“Sire, not all of us study the ancient books of our forefathers. You are probably the only one who even remembers there was a grand battle.” Bishner frowned, and although his posture was upright and confident, his eyes betrayed his worry. He was older than the rest of the party, and unofficially he was the Demon Lords subordinate, but it did not stop him from advising Markus. “This is more concerning, especially for you. The Senators have requested us to move at all haste and secure the weapon if there is one. They say the frontlines are in danger of buckling again, and for us to leave the rear as soon as possible. Supposedly, General Rigel has already gotten ahold of House Ricnar, and will be providing support and transportation for us as soon as we can leave.”

“Damn the devils to hell. How are they pressuring the frontlines this time? I thought we stopped their portal?” Markus swore softly. He had worked for over a year to secure the portal, and now it looked like a waste in both lives and resources.

“We did, but it seems like they have another portal farther into their territory. The Senate is grateful that you are personally retrieving the demonic weapon. House Lorn is recommending sending the forces to secure the captured lands and to push toward the interior of Humanities homeland.”

Shavie swore loudly. She had been against an invasion, to begin with. “We should’ve just sneaked in and dealt with this silently. But no, half the Senate favored an all-out war against a semi-peaceful race instead. Like the first war wasn’t bad enough.”

“It’s not an all-out war, not yet. Although demonic level weapons are rare, the Human’s Imperial Family wouldn’t wage a full-scale war over a single weapon; that is well recorded in history. But you are right Shavie, we can’t afford another war.” Markus sighed loudly and said tiredly, “Send a message back to the Senate. We will be pulling out of most of the country once we secure the weapon. We have cleared the human infiltrators in Evidia; the Alcudian King and Queen are still alive, and we are about to have a new demonic weapon. So long as we pull back to Evidia, the humans are unlikely to pursue us.” He touched his shoulders, the pain still radiating from the King’s final attack. “What was that King’s blade dipped in? Poison?”

“I checked it out myself, your highness. It is just plain holy water.” Shavie walked forward, stopping to pat Stella on the head.

Stella looked at the wound worriedly, “Holy water usually has no effect on us though. In fact, it is usually beneficial for us.” She frowned as she looked at the wound. “They didn’t find an antidote in the Royal Keep or that Healer place?” Stella and her sister Luna had hidden in the royal capital for months, looking for clues on where the weapon could be. She had been impressed at the city, and at how the different races treated each other equally in most manners.

Count Bishner frowned, “No. I’ll request General Rigel to look harder though.”

“I told you we should’ve just sneaked quietly instead of attacking. This is why we are in this mess.” A loud female voice shouted irritably out at him. Turning around, he saw Luna walk out from mausoleum entrance, her face dusty and covered in sweat. She was wearing Luna’s Nightwalker outfit; her long cardigan sleeves almost trailing in the dirt as she walked from the mausoleum. Her white one-piece dress was a swirl of different colors, unlike the drab singular color that the Nightwalker outfit was. He knew that Stella had designed the cardigan herself, and had a master weaver crochet the cardigan into her design; a pattern of enlarging circles that glowed faintly in the sun. In fact, Markus new that Stella could usually pass as a Mage if she had a staff or wand, but the steel daggers prominently displayed at her hips indicated otherwise.

No, it wasn’t just her cardigan glowing; her entire outfit was glowing faintly, the excess mana from the formation around the mausoleum had leached itself to the clothing and was slowly dissipating into the air. Stella handed her sister a moist towel from where she was sitting as she passed; which Luna wiped her face with and then proceeded to throw the dirty towel at Markus, a scowl forming on her face. “Just know that you might have started another war; this one for no reason other than a weapon.”

“Sister…” Stella said quietly from the side.

“Don’t sister me, Stella. No one wants to take responsibility for this mess. I heard what Bishner said, and I don’t blame our brethren for helping humans. They’ve lived their entire lives in peace here in the rear, and then we showed up and destroyed it.”

“Luna, is that dissention I hear?” Markus said quietly, the towel smearing dirt on his face as it fell. “I am the leader here, not you. Everyone else agreed, and so did the Senate. We need this weapon, the last one was destroyed during the last excursion.”

“You didn’t even ask us for our opinion. You just heard what you wanted from the Senate, your other friends, and your lover back in the capital.” Luna said vehemently. “Go ahead, ask for our honest opinions. Your PARTY’s honest opinion. Should we have invaded both Evidia and Alcudia, all for a single weapon?”

Markus hesitated. He had been having this argument with Luna over the course of the year. He even felt like he was a villain when Luna said that. “Luna, we’ve been friends for forever. But…”

“ASK!”

“… fine, if only to stop you from continuing with this argument… What is everyone’s opinion on this.” Everyone except for Stella looked away from Markus.

“Stella; Bishner; Shavie. What is your opinion on what I chose to do?” Only silence answered him.

“There. Does that answer your question, Markus? It was a mistake to do this.” Luna hmphed madly while stomping her feet angrily on the ground. She turned and sat on a stump so that she wouldn’t have to look at Markus.

Markus sighed. “It was our only viable option. And don’t start by saying we could have sneaked all the way here undetected. At least we have the human king and the numerous clerics in captivity; kept the civilian casualties down to a minimum and have locked down their defensive lines.”

He stood up, grabbing his darkened blade. Giving it a few swings, he sat back down to sharpen the blade. “We’ll pull back slowly and ransom them for peace. The Imperial Family cares about their Clerics after all. If we are lucky, they will send just an Imperial Scion out. If we are unlucky, they might send a party out.”

“How strong are the Imperial Family. Supposedly?” Shavie asked Markus with interest. “The Senate makes it sound like a walk in the park, but you… you’re hesitating. Why?”

Markus stopped and organized what he knew from old records. In truth, not many from Trent had crossed paths with the Imperial Family. “Although I have been training since I was young, my greatest weakness is still my age and experience. I’m barely a hundred years old. With you all helping me as my party, I can fight against enemies far stronger than me. The problem is, the Senate has forgotten that Imperial Scions are supposedly almost as strong as I am. If they come as a party, we will have problems.

Shavie sucked in a deep breath. “Wow. Well, let’s not fight them anytime soon then.”

“You forgot a part, Markus. Every high-class demon who has invaded past the borderlands were killed soon after, supposedly by the Imperial Family.” Luna responded quietly from the side. “Every single one.” The rest of the group looked shocked.

“I didn’t realize you’ve read the ancient history books, Luna. I’m impressed. When were you allowed to do that back home?”

“I didn’t. Unlike Trent, Alcudia opens its libraries to everyone.” She opened her bag and withdrew a small, leather book, and tossed it lightly to Markus.

Catching the book, he flipped it open to a random page, reading the first few paragraphs he saw.

“…True demons have been invading Humanities western borders over the past few millennia and have only recently gotten stronger. Although Alcudia and Evidia have remained wary partners, both are afraid of an invasion from the west, from the True demons of Trent. Although humanity has classified those living west of Alcudia as demi-humans, you cannot discount that both have similar traits. Only some of the classes vary; a trait that is shared amongst all the races on Humanities borders.

Alcudia has regarded demons as a friendly race and has successfully integrated them into the border country. While Leit and Appealte are still wary of demons, they are no longer as prejudice, perhaps from the Queen’s successful use and policies. But the True demons of Trent have been and will continue to be classified as disasters. Their open policy and liberal use of blood sacrifice, and their utter disregard for all demons, halves, and humans have contributed to the prejudice seen in humanities land. Note for instance the War of ….”

Closing the book in disgust he commented rudely; garnering Luna’s look of ill will; “What is this trash? It’s insulting, to say the least.” He looked at the cover with interest. A History of Demons and their War against Humanity. Author P.A. Markus threw the book back at Luna, who carefully caught it.

“Careful Markus. I had to leave collateral at the library to borrow it. I would like to get my items back if possible. And you didn’t even bother looking at the index. Look.” Luna turned to the back of the book and flipped a few pages, before finding what she was looking for. Holding it up for the party to see, it didn’t take long before Markus noticed what it was; an exact replica of the Ricnar Family Coat of Arms. She turned more of the pages, and he idly noticed that over half of the Senate was listed in the appendix. “Okay, so the book has a few of the Senator’s family crests. Big deal, most demons can recognize them.”

“Look at the dates in which they were killed,” Luna said, passing the book over to Bishner to peruse. Markus watched as Bishner furrowed his brow. Standing up, he grabbed the book and scanned it, looking for what had made Bishner tense up. He quickly spotted the anomaly. “Two hundred years ago? No, there hasn’t been a war in the rear for well over a millennium.”

“Not according to the author. Look, detailed battle plans, mobilizations, and even military communications. Everything is listed here. Something is wrong Markus.”

“Nothing is wrong. Not with us, nor with the army. We just have to trust that everything will be okay. We’ll grab the weapon and then leave.” Although hard, he ignored Luna’s look of disbelief. He noted that Stella went over to Luna and whispered something but quickly shoved it to the back of his mind.

“Markus. What is the plan after we get the weapon? Do we go with House Ricnar directly back to Trent? I really don’t trust them,” Shavie spoke up from beside him. “Not just because my family doesn’t get along with them. To be honest, I agree with Stella. There’s no need for us to listen to the requests of Senate or General Rigel. With our speed, we could arrive there not even a day less than if we waited for them to come and get us.”

“I know you hate hearing bad news Markus, but I too am worried about our army. Our whole battalion has not contacted us since we have left the capital almost two months ago. The general and grand general are insisting they are fighting on the frontlines, but I gave them strict orders to wait for us. It is not like Sargent Xavier to disregard my orders.”

As night fell and the others went to bed, Luna stayed behind as Markus settled in for the first watch of the night. He noticed, and quietly sighed to himself, knowing what she was going to say next.

“Getting that symbol engraved was a mistake you know. You’ve changed since you’ve gotten it.” Luna said sadly.

Markus shook his head in response, rubbing his temples with his hands. “No. I grew up and took greater responsibilities. That’s what war will do to you. And it’s far different than you think. The symbols grant us greater power so that we can fight the devils evenly on the frontlines. It is practically useless for everything else.”

“There is something wrong with the symbols the Senate has created. I just know it.”

“I’ve felt better than ever since I’ve gotten it. Even more so now that I’ve had a chance to relax on the rear.” Markus said contently. Frowning at the thoughts of the future, he asked lightly, not getting his hopes up. “Luna. How far were you able to go now? Your sister says she still hasn’t deciphered the magic circles surrounding the mausoleum. What are your thoughts?”

She hesitated, and Markus closed his eyes with regret. “I’m guessing not far then.”

“Hey now. I was able to get pretty close to the inner chambers this time. But it is bigger on the inside than it would seem.” Luna said, scowling at his lack of confidence in his party. “For starters, it looks like there is a centralized courtyard that is inside the main mausoleum, but somehow none of the entrances lead to it. I’m still trying to sort that mystery out. The design of this mausoleum is really weird.”

“I already talked to Stella, and she agrees that we have a good chance of breaking the magic circle. I think she’s finally figured out how the magic circles are drawing power from the surroundings. Give her three days Markus, and we’ll be able to decipher which way to go. I’m sure of it.”

“Thank you, Luna. Look how helpful your sister is, and she doesn’t even complain about the hard work.” Luna scoffed at his statement. Clearly, only she and her sister were doing anything of importance, the rest just complained every other hour.

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