“This is the place,” Axel said. “Do you guys wanna go first or should I take my people in?”
“Shin,” Lulu said. “Take some of the soldiers and watch the exits. The rest of us will go in.”
“No offense, Uncle,” Shin said. “But you aren’t at your best. I should be the one to go inside.”
“Don’t go burying me yet,” Lulu said. “I’m still spry enough.” He nodded to Axel. “Let’s move in.”
The two led their troops to the entrance. They moved in, kicking the doors open and hurrying inside.
“I don’t see anyone,” Axel whispered.
“Maybe your intel was wrong,” Lulu said.
“No,” Axel said. “Trust me. I used… very persuasive methods.”
They looked around, going through empty halls and rooms.
“Sir,” one of Lulu’s soldiers addressed him. “There are signs that someone started a fire, tried to burn some documents. We’re trying to salvage something we can use.”
“We waited too long,” Axel muttered.
“It would appear so,” Lulu agreed. “I’ll look around for tracks. stick around and organise the search for evidence here.”
“Don’t tell me what to do,” Axel said.
“Did you have a better suggestion?” Lulu asked, glaring.
“No,” Axel admitted.
“Then we do it my way,” Lulu said.
“Fine, but I won’t like it,” Axel said.
One by one they collapsed. Over a dozen mages, all working on a single counter-spell. Zero fell to one knee, but kept going. He refused to let this thing beat him. Not again.
They were down to five. No… four. His last companion fell. Now it was just him and three of the dark elves. One of them fell. Several of the townspeople came to carry her inside. Then another. Finally, Zero himself lost consciousness.
“ther… Father dearest.”
“Rachel,” Zero muttered. “Did we get it?”
“I’m sorry,” she said. “But you didn’t. I do so hate this kind of magic. It’s made everything terribly dreary.”
“Perhaps the Matriarch herself should come here,” the head of the Archmages, Lila, was it? spoke up.
“That might be for the best,” Zero said.
“It was like something was fighting us,” Lila noted. “Not just the spell, but a force strengthening the spell even as we tried to undo it.”
Why hadn’t he thought of it before? “That’s exactly what it was!” Zero declared. “Some incredibly powerful mage is actively blocking our efforts. So if we can get enough strong mages…”
“We can surpass her,” Lila said.
“Or him,” Zero said. “I’ll call for reinforcements from the Academy as well. This being, whoever they are, won’t make a fool of me for long.”