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1736, 2nd Day of the second month of the early warm period. Sixth day of the week (Two weeks later)

A monster, Sir Orris is a monster. I’ve spent the last two weeks attempting to make copies of the original super art of the Shell. Each time I copy it, he pseudo activates the original skill to compare my work. Without fail, he always finds issue with it.

Four hours each attempt, wasted. My variant, that Sir Orris calls the Super Art of Anessa’s Shell to tease me, is too simple to be a challenge by comparison.

It’s much more arduous to copy an art with a quill because it still requires the same amount of essence, which Sir Orris provides. I have to be much more careful when I ink it. There’s a slight disconnect from your mental image and what ends up on the page. My practice should help me fix that disconnect.

“Anessa,” Sir Orris says.

I pull my head off my desk and look up at him, I must’ve taken a cat nap, “Yes, Sir Orris?”

“Orris,” He reminds. He allows me to drop the Sir of late.

“Yes, Orris?” I retry.

“Take this with you tonight,” Sir Orris says. He pulls a rock from his robe.

I take it from his hands and look it over. It looks like obsidian glass but it radiates a faint light from its center. I look up at Sir Orris and ask, “What’s this for?”

Sir Orris smiles, “So you can practice at home.”

I let a groan slip past, “Nnnn, really?”

“Yes, really, you’re not improving fast enough. If it helps you can take Octday off each week to recover mentally. You’ll be taking home one every night, and exchanging the old one each morning.”

I nod and stand, the clock that I requested he hang from the ceiling of his alcove says I must have slept twenty minutes past my shift.

“How long was I asleep, Orris?” I ask, hoping I didn’t waste too much time.

“About thirty minutes, don’t worry about it. I won’t dock your pay.” Sir Orris pauses for effect, “This time.”

They pay me for my work now. Once a day Sir Orris has me copy an art to put my practice to use. I’m not allowed to collect my money for now. He will not tell me why, though.

I walk down the stairs of the town archive. Bola thinks I’ve learned the walk well enough to go it alone. The noble districts tend to be safe during the day. The town archives are in the highest class district for the Marquesses and Marchionesses.

Few of their houses are filled as there are aren’t very many nobles of their class. Westwood Empire has 30 nations under it, so the extra dwellings are for nobles that visit from other kingdoms.

I reach the wall that separates the commoners from the nobles, and start down the alleyway in the commoner’s district. I get this uncanny sensation I’m being watched. I look behind me and see no one. Must be my imagination because I’m so tired.

I reach the Rubble Rat’s second hideaway. We use this place when we don’t want to walk as far. The kids use it to enjoy our pilfered snacks. This smaller area is a dilapidated home missing a wall. I see our usual crappy couch and the wooden box we use as a table, but no one is here. I sigh, I guess I’ll head to the HQ.

I turn to head home and there’s a figure in a tan cloak stands in the way. I turn to dash the other way and there’s two more figures that block that route. I look to the exit in our hideaway and see a fourth person that obstructs the door frame.

Shit. I may as well ask what they want.

“Can… I help you?” I ask, my voice quivers. I back up against the wall to make sure I can see them at a glance.

A woman’s calm voice breaks the silence, the one that is blocks my most direct route back speaks up.

“Father Lucient is waiting,” She brings her hands up as though she is praying, “as is the almighty Sovereign of Light,”

Who is this father Lucient? The Sovereign of Light? What’s she on about. I feel a tingling all over my body and I break into a sweat. In a few breaths I can feel my heart hammering in my chest, I place my arms flat against the wall.

The woman uncovers her head and holds her pendant up. A triangular shaped eye. The same kind as what I saw around the man’s neck that I killed. Her eyes and hair are deep brown.

“Do not fear them, embrace their love,” the woman continues.

“Like hell!” I shout, I run toward the woman and try to get around her. She grabs me by my hair and then around my torso. I look back at her to see deep purple eyes glowing at me.

Her voice deepens and matches the monster’s from that night, “I will enjoy our time together you filthy wretch!”

I try to lean forward and hit her in the chin with my head, but she holds me with one arm and stops my head from getting any momentum with her other hand. I struggle as much as I can but I fear I am going to lose this fight.

“Help me! Anyone, can you hear me!” I begin to cry out for help, in hopes anyone will hear me.

The woman covers my mouth and shoves something in. It tastes like day old gym socks smell. She clamps her hand over my mouth eliminating my cry for help. I get dizzy for a moment as we both fall back.

She releases me from her grip and I find her hand still over my mouth with no pressure. I unwind myself from her limbs and stand up, spitting the nasty cloth from my mouth.

All four of them are on the ground. A clear red dot is visible on her forehead. I look closer at her forehead and see the dot is a hole clean-through her head. I fall back onto my rear in seeing this.

“Sorry I took so long,” A man says. He’s at least six and a half foot tall, no less than two foot across from shoulder to shoulder. He’s wearing a black jacket, undershirt and pants.

“Who are you?” I ask, backing away on the ground like a crab.

He takes off his sunglasses and his white-blue eyes send a chill down my spine.

“Julian, Julian Valar,” Julian remarks. He walks forward and extends his hand to me.

I take it with caution as I glance at the woman that grabbed me.

“There’s importance placed on your position as a Hidden Art Archivist, we also knew about the Sovereign having his eye on you.” Julian helps me to my feet and dusts me off, “Normally, I would have liked to question them first, but your safety takes priority.”

“Did you have to kill all of them,” I point to the two that lie the furthest away, “even the ones that far away?”

Julian gently taps my sternum with an outstretched finger which causes me to move back a little. That simple act hurt surprising amount for what it was.

“You’re far too weak. If their job was to kill you if they couldn’t secure you, I couldn’t guarantee I was fast enough to prevent it.” Julian gestures behind himself with his thumb, “I was three blocks away when I saved you.”

I take a moment to gather myself, looking at their bodies one last time. That’s five. One I directly killed by him falling on the key I jammed into his eye, and these four. I push it aside to deal with later and face Julian.

I bow deeply to him, “Thank you for saving my life Julian Valar.”

“I need to go,” Julian comments, “I am only here to protect you when needed. We can’t be seen together. Someone will come by later to clean this up.” He pauses, “I’ll keep you safe.” He vanishes before my eyes. No trickery or illusions. I guess he can just move that fast.

I run home as fast as my dumpy legs will allow. I’m not sure why but tears fall from my eyes as I go. Halfway there I void my stomach. I have flashes of the hole in the woman’s head as I go. I didn’t know her name, but I don’t believe she had to die.

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Allen Clark Copeland, Jr.

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