"If there really is a weapon capable of defeating an Awakened, we must get to it first. That's why I've given her the royal override and control over a division of the royal army. We cannot afford any more failures."
Queen Sylpha pondered on those words, before agreeing with her husband. The Royals needed all the power they could muster to survive the impending crisis.
"Mom, dad! Thank the gods you are here!" Phloria quickly embraced them both. Their presence was enough to mitigate her fears.
"I'm glad to see you too, my little Flower." Jirni returned her embrace, feeling something was different about Phloria.
"There isn't a moment to lose. Mom, this is the list of all those Lith had marked as suspicious." She handed Jirni a list of names followed by their addresses in the academy. Phloria hadn't been idle either, collecting all the intel she could while waiting.
"This one is the closest one to my room." She pointed a name in the middle.
"Dad, whatever happened, it must have taken place between my room and his. I can guide you there."
"There is no need." Orion replied. "My amulet already contains all the blueprints of the fifth floor and the list of its residents. I'll go check on my own, you go with your mother. You are the only one that knows these kids. Maybe you can notice if anything is out of the ordinary."
'And maybe keep your mother in check.' He inwardly added.
Orion took off, quickly reaching Lith's room and moving from there towards Phloria's after taking out his equipment. Open spaces were a nightmare to investigate, too many things could go wrong.
Animals, bad weather, worst case scenario the culprit could burn everything. A closed space, an academy at that, was another matter entirely. Orion didn't take much to find the place of the ambush.
"What a smart son of a dragon." Orion smirked while finding a cut alongside the stones on the floor. Before falling, Lith had employed his failed slash against the girl to leave a mark behind. Darkness magic could delete many things, but couldn't hasten the academy self repair mechanism.
Starting from there, Orion found traces of water marking the use of ice magic and small burnt marks in the crevices between the rocks. That coupled with the lingering traces of ozone indicated a powerful lightning had been employed.
'Whoever attempted to clean the scene is an amateur. Either they know nothing about our investigation methods or they didn't expect an investigation at all.' Orion's guesses were actually both right.
Nalear had cleaned the crime scene to the best of her abilities, but not being a Forgemaster, she had a limited idea of what they could achieve, aside from what Wanemyre knew.
Professor Wanemyre was many things, but not a member of the Knight's Guard.
Hung on the wall, Lith had already undergone several cycles of regaining consciousness just to be knocked out by the anti-academy weapons again. Nalear's little lambs weren't allowed much freedom of thought or movement.
They were trapped in a nightmare of their own creation. When they accepted to follow Archmage Lukart's plan to trigger the civil war, only a few raised objections about the use of slave collars.
Even then, it was only because slave collars were one of the most universally despised versions of forbidden magic. Simply owning one carried the death penalty, if not for the whole families to be stripped of their titles and wealth before being executed.
Most of the little lambs considered slave collars the most natural course of action. Each one of them would receive a Master ring, allowing them absolute control over their victims. Just considering all the possible uses an obedient slave could have made their mouths watery.
Little did they know that even their Master rings had been replaced with normal slave items. Nalear made sure no little idiot could endanger her plan out of lust or cruelty. She hated nobles the most, so she had always intended to use them as cannon fodder, in case something went wrong.
Once the little lambs discovered the truth about their rings it was already too late. They had been trapped in their own bodies from months, drowning themselves in self-pity, which made them more than happy to vent out their frustration on Lith.
Between their rage and the boredom of the task, they didn't notice that every time it took them a little longer to make him faint again.
Unlike Nalear, who had Awakened at fifteen years of age with an already cyan core, Lith was Awakened from birth, starting with a measly red core. It meant that his body had all the time to adapt to the changes, expelling impurities little by little.
So far, Nalear's core had progressed only once because of the long time it took for her body to adjust from a dormant cyan core to an active one. It also meant that she had expelled impurities only a few times.
She was magically superior to Lith, thanks to her blue core, but her body was weaker. When she planned how to keep him prisoner, Nalear used herself as a standard. According to her calculations, the pain would keep him from casting spells before losing consciousness.
Lith's pain tolerance, however, was higher than hers, especially since the bond with Solus had been broken. The emotional pain he was experiencing, together with the endless void her absence left behind, allowed him to clench his teeth and emit small bursts of darkness magic inside his body.
With every cycle, Lith was able to shut down more and more pain receptors. At first, he would last barely a few seconds, too weak to project magic on the outside.
Soon, the pain wouldn't break his focus anymore.
As soon as constable Ernas arrived, Nalear knew she had to move ahead of schedule, even if it meant endangering her master plan. Her lambs on the outside had warned her about an incoming division of royal guards. They would reach the White Griffon any minute.
Too many external witnesses would ruin everything. All of her planning was based on each floor of the academy being strictly isolated from the others and the outside world alike. The only silver lining in all that situation was that the Code of Practice had been suspended.
All the students were still present, making her plot still feasible.
She walked right behind Wanemyre, who knocked out Balfas, Linjos's secretary on their way in.
"Headmaster, we heard the news. Is there anything we can do to help?" Wanemyre voice was genuinely worried, yet her hands kept trembling, one of her eyes twitching.
"I wish." Linjos sighed, not missing any of the odd details of that meeting.
The two Professors had never been close. Quite the contrary, he was pretty sure that being Wanemyre from an ancient noble family didn't make her pleasant company for a self made woman like Nalear.
"Please, return to your apartments. You'll be contacted when your turn to be interrogated comes. I can't believe this is happening. Never before a student has disappeared like this inside an academy."
Those words triggered Nalear's rage.
"Yeah, if it happened outside, it would have made things a lot easier for you." Her voice was full of contempt.
"Nalear, I know what happened to you and it was terrible. Now things are different..."
A shower of lightning and ice rained down on the Headmaster while he was still talking. All he needed was to activate his Headmaster ring to trigger the defensive arrays and make the attacks vanish into thin air.
"How did you silently cast such a powerful spell?" Another wave of Linjos's hand and both Professors were trapped inside a circle of light. He hadn't missed how Wanemyre just stood there while he was being attacked.
Whatever was going on, he wasn't willing to take any chances.