Chapter 12: Laying Plans

“James! James! Are you alright? They’re missing!”

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James groggily sat up to find Howard shaking his shoulder. Howard stared at James, trying to ascertain whether the man was alright. “What happened? What’s going on?” asked James.

Howard shrugged. “I dunno. You were lying this when I came in. As for who’s missing, why, Kira and Diana, of course. I’ve been looking around for you all day! They haven’t come back for the last two nights. I think something’s gone wrong. They’re supposed to be at trial tomorrow. If they don’t come back tonight…” Howard trailed off worriedly.

James hurriedly stood, surprised to find that he felt relatively refreshed despite that it appeared he had been sleeping on the floor half the day. He looked around the lab and found everything neatly set up. He struggled to remember what had happened; he felt that his reaction had been going successfully when something unexpected had occurred, but everything was far too neat for that. He frowned, looking through his research notes in order to try to figure out what had happened.

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Apparently, he’d successfully completed his reaction to create an elemental within the tube, but it had fizzled out of existence far too quickly for him to conduct any tests.

James rubbed his head. He could only vaguely remember something fuzzy about that moment. What had happened? As he thought back on the moment, he realized he couldn’t remember anything at all about what he’d written. In fact, it was like it had never happened. A bit concerned, James quickly jotted down the possibility that this experiment had produced some fumes that had knocked him out and caused short term memory loss before focusing on Howard’s warning. He reflected on it while carefully stowing away the materials, including the now empty electrical current setup: apparently, he’d cleaned it up already. Examining the only physical proof he had that this experiment had been a success, the liquified fire essence he had collected from the top fraction, he sighed. The Queen and Marximus would not be at all happy. In fact, Marximus would probably make James re-perform the reaction in front of himself to prove that he’d truly obtained the results he had written down that he had.

James groaned. That beast was not just unruly and rude, but also terrifyingly powerful, capable of crushing James with one talon. He hated working with the Red Dragon who was so accustomed to everything always going his way. James was about to neutralize his waste bing with Holy Water before throwing it out when Howard appeared next to him. Looking at his jittery appearance, James finally realized how serious the situation was.

The old [Knight] handed James a satchel filled with potions and a sword. “I took the liberty of taking some of your emergency supplies while you were busy cleaning up. I don’t know where you keep your more special weapons, but the sword’s for appearances. It’s best that we leave immediately. I’ve already sent a [Messenger] to alert the Adventurer’s Guild about the missing pair.” Howard frowned, pondering a bit. “I had to find replacements for a few of the potions. For some reason, one of the sets was missing.”

James slapped his forehead. “Kira!”

Howard nodded sagely, immediately understanding. “I thought you said you’d keep them under lock and key after last time?”

James sighed. “I was just reprimanding her in an attempt to dissuade her from taking foolish risks. It’s not that I mind her taking the [Archmage]-level potions. After all, it’s best that she has some protection if she’s going to be going Adventuring. It’s just that I don’t know to restock if she does it when she thinks she’s stealing. She’s the god damn accountant. Doesn’t she know she just has to mark it on the sheet? In my homeland, people did it all the time… Corporate fraud, it was called.”

Howard coughed. “In this case, I must apologize for this matter either way. I fear that my granddaughter managed to cajole Kira into taking this rash action.”

James waved his hands. “Hell, it’s fine. We were all young once.”

Howard chuckled. “You know, you and Diana are about the same age. You’re what, 23?”

James paused, unsure of exactly how much time had passed in his own world. “Something like that.”

Clasping the old [Knight]’s hand, the two of them made sure that nothing looked like it would explode while they were gone before they walked up the stairs.

Meanwhile, back in the dim room, Kira and Diana were discussing what to do while trying to figure out some way to coordinate an escape plan without alerting the nearby guards who they suspected were present. Diana’s stomach gurgled.

Kira frowned for a moment before calling out into the darkness, “My friend is hungry! I know that you guys don’t really care about us, but I suspect that you don’t want us dead since you’ve only kidnapped us.”

Diana imagined she heard a whisper passing through the shadows, but it could just as well have been her imagination. After a few minutes of nothing happening, Diana turned to Kira and asked, “What now?”

Kira shrugged her shoulders. “We wait. We figure stuff out. We’ll know what to do when it’s the right time.”

Diana was a bit confused by Kira’s wording but even after several minutes couldn’t puzzle out any possible double meaning the Hersha might have been implying. Resting her back against the wall they were tied up against, the [Knight] tried to doze off while dreaming of an escape.

Just as her eyes were about to fully close, a strangely gaunt figure emerged from the darkness. It approached with faltering steps, with a gait unlike any creature or monster Diana had ever seen. As it approached their little circle of light, Diana realized why that was. She looked on with a horrified fascination as a puppet with a smiling clown face painted on it jerked toward her while holding a cup of water.

Kira hissed at it. “It smells… unnatural. Like that bear!”

Diana sagged against her ropes, despair finally settling onto her face. “It’s a Mimic, a humanoid one, forbidden by the Alliance and the Church.” Her voice was hollow as she finished, “Servants of the Dark Lord, Demons, and Beings of Night. May the Gods watch over us all. For the Dark roams.”

James and Howard surveyed the place where the Hunters had supposedly disappeared, which they had learned had been Diana’s Quest from a brief stop at the Adventurer’s Corner. Howard paused, trying to scan the ground for any tracks. “James, I think we’re going the wrong way. We haven’t seen any signs of someone in plate armor for at least the past few kilometers. Actually, there haven’t been any signs of any people walking through for the past few weeks.”

James rubbed his chin. “Did they never reach here then?”

Howard frowned. “Well, we know the [Guard]s at the gate saw them passing through, and they entered this forest. While they’re not the best, they shouldn’t have mistaken a Hersha and a female [Knight] for someone else. According to them, those two never returned from this forest. In fact, they haven’t seen anyone leave it in the past few days.”

“Doesn’t mean much.”

Howard nodded in agreement, toeing the ground.

James sighed. “This wasn’t going to be my first choice as it can probably only be used once before they notice it, but…” James pulled out a small device from his pocket. Howard watched him curiously.

Suddenly rethinking his actions, James pocketed the small device and paused to tell Howard, “Do you have an enchanted Messaging tool connected with your niece?”

Howard grimaced. “I can send an automated calling card to her with three modes of urgency: at her leisure, as soon as possible, and immediately. You know how the Nobles love to have their little tools to assure their eloquence.”

“I thought so. Well, this is going to be an immediate call. We’re going to need to meet her before we do this. We’re going to need her contacts to call in some help.” James grimaced. “And after this fiasco, it looks like I’m going to have to report to the Queen a lot sooner than I had hoped to. She’s going to have a lot of questions.”

He’d try his best to make sure she wouldn’t be asking the right ones by wiping all the evidence off the face of the planet.

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