“… and then her whole conversation and feelings changed. I’m no expert, but I’m pretty sure her memory was erased after she passed out of the fog,” Shavie announced to their small Party from within the safe room. Even Bishner was present now that he was done with his investigations, though the sole reason he had come here was for a business exchange. And with magic circles being almost nonexistent, a safe room like this was probably the most secure place in Alcudia.
“Are you sure they said Paige? Shavie, that is important. They might know what happened to Markus.” Bishner responded gravely. Markus’s situation weighed heavily on his mind as he was Markus’s advisor, as he was the one who initially developed the plan to secure the demon blade. Shavie knew that the loss of both probably did not sit well on his conscious at all.
“I’m sure, Bishner. I say we follow them. That’s the best lead we have so far on Markus.”
Even Stella was happy with them finding a clue on Markus. “If we find Markus, we can head back to Trent with him and Isabella in tow.”
“No. We need to stay put here.” A single cold voice broke the mood of the room.
Shavie frowned as she looked over to Luna, her dark black eyes tinged with concern. What was her friend doing, disagreeing at a time like this?
She held up two fingers. “First off, we have to remember our circumstances. We’re Humans right now, and it’s a major crime to investigate the whereabouts of Imperial Servants, which we can assume they are. The moment we start moving, we will be facing everyone here alone.
Two, Shavie, Stella and I still can’t leave the city. And finally, we still need to bring Isabella with us as well.”
Luna looked to each of their eyes. “Right now, this is the best time to figure out what is happening in Trent. Whatever this fog is, it looks like it is meant to protect us somehow. Even our race is Human for god’s sake. Not being able to use demon spells or skills is hardly a punishment for us. This is practically a godsend for a spy,” Luna said quietly.
“No buts Bishner. I am the temporary party leader, and what I say goes. Unless someone wants to fight me for this position.”
Bishner paused, and Shavie could tell he was gauging his chances of winning a fight. She shook her head discreetly as he glanced her way. No way she was going to get into a fight with Luna, especially when Stella was here as well. Alone , Shavie was sure Bishner and her could overpower Luna, since a Nightwalker was technically a slightly craftier Assassin. But Stella was able to provide magical support, which would quickly flip the scales. Plus, the moment they start using skills the fog was liable to come and incapacitate them all, rendering their battle useless as Stella would recover far faster than they would.
And that’s not even mentioning the fact that Stella was an Alchemist now too. She had far more worries that Stella would poison them outright by this point. Or already had. But Stella’s cooking was the best of their party and continued on cooking all the food.
‘Note to self, test all known poisons again for immune response.’
Bishner closed his eyes and calmed down/ “No, Luna. We all agreed. Reluctantly in my case, but I will still follow your lead.”
“We will go and find him; just as soon as we can all leave this city. Shavie, we’ll have to start testing the surroundings again.”
Shavie shivered. That wouldn’t be a fun experiment. Not one bit.
“Bishner, you’re lucky you weren’t here when the Healer Hall and the Royal Family were initially investigating us. That gives us some leeway, though we will have to work on your disguise. The Queen has been checking all the backgrounds of everyone we have contact with. Are you sure your identity is solid?”
“Yes. Same with my merchant company. Everything is legitimate and aboveboard.”
“Okay. You’ve been gone for almost three years now. What were you able to find out so far.”
Bishner nodded, taking off a bag he had over his shoulder. Shavie frowned as she saw him take out bottles of wine. He scoffed at her confused face. “I’m an appraiser, Shavie. How do you think I’ve been funding our party? Fine wine is one of the simplest ways to make money. And no one asks questions how I store the rarer variety either, which helps when dealing with the… harder inventory.”
“Not judging you Bishner, though really I am. You should’ve just created your own gang and become a boss. How’d you think I was keeping track of everyone here?”
“Duly noted. I’ll put that in my logs that you were killed by a Human Guardsman for starting a low level, useless gang.” Bishner sneered as he uncorked a bottle and started unscrewing the bottom, the glass screeching in protest as the sealed end slowly opened. Evidently a few of his bottles were there to hide his more covert journal logs.
Smoothing the rolled logs and maps, Bishner handed them to his left and right, passing them around for the others to see. Having detailed maps of the country helped immensly, though Shavie frowned at the numerous red cross marks that were on the map.
“It took time, but I was able to sneak back to the second military zone in Evidia and investigate discreetly. The rest of the time was spent making money legally. But I can tell you that all of our connections are gone. We have no real way of gaining up to date information of the happenings in Trent.”
He paused and shuffled his logs to the very beginning, pointing to a few symbols Shavie recognized. Military divisions. “Judging by the divisions guarding the border, over the course of a year, Trent had to pull back the majority of the divisions to the interior. And since the last four years have passed without a major conflict on this side, my best guess is the Senate needed to reinforce the eastern frontlines.
Assuming everything else is the same, securing the demonic weapon was vital for stopping at least two portals for the devils. Without it, I have no doubt that they will only be able to stop one of them at a time. For that, they’ll need enough bait to draw out the devils from hiding, hence why they have pulled back the majority of the divisions.”
“Best guess on the time of attack on the rear lines? That will play a major role in how we approach the next few years.”
“Can’t say. It really depends on how the frontlines are doing. It could be as little as one year, depending on how many portals they are able to shut down before the area is entrenched. We should see an uptick in Scouts when it is getting close though.”
“Did you make any headways on the other issue?” Stella asked quietly.
Bishner nodded slightly. “A bit. I’ve gone ahead and looked into what happened at Terpeii, as well as the other parts of the country. The blood sacrifices did happen, but I did not see any alters in the towns. Even Evidia had a few villages that were massacred outright”
“So that did really happen. Even in Evidia?”
She was shaken. Shavie knew that it was one thing to kill enemies, but it was an entirely different problem when it came to a full-on slaughter of noncombatants, especially with blood sacrifices. That almost sounded like what the Devils would do. So then why would Trent try the same thing?
Evidently Luna had the same thoughts on her mind. “What about the symbol the Senate had engraved onto Markus. So far we only have Isabella’s second-hand account on what the symbol supposedly does.”
Grabbing a book from her bag, Luna laid it carefully on the table. Shavie recognized it, as it was one of the few items Luna had pre-ritual. The title simply stated ‘A History of Demons and their War against Humanity’.
Luna continued talking. “It has a ton of information relating to our wartime patterns, but the main problem is that the blood sacrifices aren’t covered here. It just notes to destroy any and all altars as soon as possible, as well as alerting the Royalty if the symbol Markus had engraved was seen. I’ve searched numerous times, but I have not found anything remotely like this book here. It is possible that the Imperial Family has restricted access to this book for some reason now.”
*I’ve tapped into my underground contacts as well, and they don’t have any books on Demons like the one you have.”
“So we are still in the dark… Bishner, of the three goals we had for the mission, how many of them were actually done?”
“… The main goals were to secure a westerly escape route, weaken the Human resistance and secure the blade. As far as I can tell, the first two were done well. Even better actually. Barring the sacrifices, the entirety of the western defensive lines were lost. No castle was left standing after the war.”
“Hm? I thought all of the southern castles were left standing?” Shavie thought back. Markus had been furious that there were Demons defending the castles, but by the sounds of it now there were hardly any Demons. Perhaps the discrimination against Demons was farther reaching than she had initially thought.
“Apparently there was heavy resistance, but there were two major problems. For one, there was no demons defending the castles, thus the scouts were able to slip in easier; secondly, the magic formations were incomparable to what we are used it. They barely had defensive magic placed on the walls, and from what I could tell, they only had three or four offensive magic circles.
“… Keep us in the loop if you start seeing Trent’s Scout divisions in our area. Worst case scenario, we’ll have to evacuate Isabella out with you Bishner. Shavie, we’ll test the perimeter tonight. Anything else?”
Shavie frowned as Stella fidgeted to the side. Suspicious. But then again, she was raising Isabella, running her business and slowly working Isabella’s new party members.
“Bishner, we’ll make a show of buying your wines. Stella, make sure that at least one spy sees the transactions.”
“No, Luna. I’ll head over to Bishner’s shop and pick up a few goods. I need to get rid of a few things at the same time, so that might be a better option.”
“From the gang you created? Guh, fine. Just make sure it’s nothing terribly illegal. Meeting adjourned.”
“Welcome, Lady Shavie! Come in, come in! I have everything and more you are looking for.”
“Thank you Sir Bishner. I have some curio’s I’d like to sell. That is, if you are still in the market for them. One can never trust a merchant too much. Especially one of your stature.”
Shavie almost threw up then and there. What kind of Assassin had she turned into!? How she missed the days she could just go out and covertly kill a few enemies.
‘Peh, this is terrible. I can’t imagine Luna or Shavie ever doing this willingly… Meh, they probably use their skills more often than not. Gods, I’d kill for that Skill!’
“Anyways, I’d hate to take up your time for nothing. How about we go into your office for some..one on one time? Hmm?”
“Ho ho, you certainly drive a hard bargain. Please, step this way.”
Her eyes promised vengeance if Bishner actually had the gall to touch her. ‘Touch me and die.’
Bishner’s strained smile was his response.
“Very well. I do hope you will have a nice vintage available for my perusal. I can guarantee that my items are worth quite a large sum of money.”
Leading her to the back of the shop, Bishner closed the door and isolated the room, completing the inlaid magic circle surrounding his office floor.
“What is so important that you couldn’t tell us as a Party?”
“Not tell. Show.”
Gently grabbing his arms, Shavie frowned as he started rolling up his sleeves. It had been getting noticeably colder out, so she hadn’t thought twice of Bishner’s long-sleeved shirts.