Chapter 24 – As the Leaves Fall
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I was so focused on Silvia that I did not even hear Lucas. What the hell is 'soul poison'? Can I save her? Should I even try? I cast 'slow poison' and the 'Lesser Detoxification' on her to give me more time but the 'Soul Poison' displayed did not indicate any change. There was no 'slowed' next to it nor did it go away. Basically, I had nothing that could help her. I could heal her and give her my remaining potion to remove the charmed effect, but I had to get close enough to do it. I looked at the earth spirit in front of her tree and saw it riddled with holes and roots that were slowly digging their way through it. I did not think I would fair that well if she started attacking again once she healed. The 'Critical Damage' was blinking faster and faster which I did not think was a good sign. The leaves of her tree were going from a luscious green of spring to the fall browns and reds. I had to make a decision.

I turned to Lucas for advice and heard him saying, "… going on?" in a questioning manner. My ever so witty "huh" made him frown and repeat himself, "What is going on?"

"Well to quickly sum it up the school has been taken over by unknown people and the students are charmed or captured." I pointed at the dryad and continued, "Should I heal Silvia?" He started to answer but before he could Silvia's window winked out of existence and she stopped the small movements she had been making. He stopped replying once he saw the tree whither and the leaves begin to fall.  He did not need to continue as we all could tell the tree, her tree, was dead.

I thought of my family I had lost and how she was made to fight. I was sad for her loss, but I would cry for her and any others when we had taken care of the people behind it. Even as I thought this my eyes were misty. To die as somebody's puppet was no way to go.

"Lucas, thanks for your aid. You saved me and I appreciate it. That goes for the rest of you." I made eye contact with each of them as I was talking. "Do any of you know what soul poisoning is?" All of them shook their heads no but, unlike the confused looks the others had, Lucas seemed to know something. "Lucas?" I made his name a question.

He sighed, "Nothing I can say."

"Fine, what about those men? Who are they and where did they take the children?"

His eyes narrowed and it took him a minute to answer, "They are my 'retainers' and they will make sure the kids cannot do anything while keeping them safe." The way he said retainers was like he substituted that for another word but before I could think on it too much he quickly continued, "Our friend went missing. we heard you might be in trouble and thought it might lead us to him. You said some of the students were captured? Where?"

I filled them in on what I knew. About the charms, the metal flowers and the facility building. By the time I was done everybody had grim looks on their faces. Dark magic was a corrupting influence and if they broke their friend with it he or she might not be able to recover. The way I understood it, it was like them spiking your favorite food with the most addictive drug, letting you know and then waiting for you to eat it. You might be able to not eat but for how long with the craving growing by the day? Would they be able to stop using it if they did end up giving in?

I could see the nervousness and the hankering to get moving, to do something. Everybody except Lucas; he just took it all in and thought it through. After a bit he said, "Get your gear" to his people and then looking at me said, "If you have dungeon equipment you should get it."

Wait, why? Tentatively I asked, "Are we going into a dungeon?"

Lucas gave a nod, "I believe so. There is a low-grade dungeon under that building where tests are performed and some resources are gathered. If I am not mistaken, they are being held within it to stop scrying magic from finding them."

"Ok, I will be right back." I briefly thought about bringing up the stupidity of splitting up, but time was of the essence so I decided to take the risk. I gathered up Lilly and her retainer and headed back to my room. Ben had vanished during the fight. I figured he found out the odds were not in his favor and decided to make a break for it, so I did not have to worry about him. "Lilly, I am going to go with them to get Bella back. I would like you to keep watch over the fake Gideon. Beat him unconscious if he wakes up. He may be an issue with his illusion magic… plus I do not like him and want you to hit him for me." It may be petty but for once I did not mind the truth curse adding on to what I wanted to say. I did want him to pay for stalking me.

Lilly just nodded. I could see she wanted to come with me, but she was not ready for combat. She may never be. Unless the empire was endangered to the point of collapsing, the female nobles were expected to stay home and produce more nobles. It made me shudder at the thought of a person's purpose being reduced to a womb. At least she will be safe for now.

Maybe after this I can get my friends to take the boy's combat classes. I had a feeling that the battlefield magic class would be right up her alley. She had the power and just lacked training.

Putting those thoughts off for another day, I changed into my beaten-up cloak and then took all the items from the new cloak and put them into the old one. Grabbing my ingredients from the counter, I was ready to go. I thought I had a few months left to gather equipment … and a pair of pants. Sighing, I thought of all the anime I watched and how they created so many things from firearms to modern equipment. All I wanted to create was a bra and pants. Laughing at myself I headed out the door. Lilly just looked at me laughing crazily and smiled.

When I got back, the others were all there clad in armor of various types. William was the most impressive. He stood tall in full plate armor and held a shield as tall as he was in one hand and a large war hammer was strapped to his back. He looked like a god of war ready to do battle. His friends paled in comparison. James and Philip had fancy leather armor and their normal weapons.

I approached Lucas. He was talking to one of those men that grabbed the kids. He was now garbed in a gold silk robe with fancy embroidery going up each sleave. The right arm of it had a black dragon coiling its way up the sleave but because the other man was standing in the way I could not make out what have the other embroidery was. As I got closer, they stopped talking so I did not hear what they were talking about.

Looking at me the man said, "I will go take care of it" and left.

'Fine keep your secrets' I thought. "Ok, what is the plan?" I asked.

"Obviously, we go in and get our friend back and free the others. Are you up for it? You are a bit young but having a healer would be nice change." Silently cursing that he should have asked that before I walked all the way back to the dorms to get my stuff. He was just having second thoughts. After all they were all a head taller than me and William was easily two, I must look even more like a child standing next to them.

"Of course I am. My friend is in there too. I am going no matter what but it would be easier if I had your help."

"Good, glad to have you." He looked a little relieved. I got the feeling that healing magic was not common, at least in our school, from the size of the holy magic class. He made a 'move out' gesture to his guys and we made our way toward the Facility building.

It did not take us long to get there. I expected to have to fight our way in but more uniformed men were standing outside of the building with groups of people in our school uniforms being held at sword point.

Lucas did not even slow down as he marched his way into the building and made his way down the stairs. We went down three levels. I was surprised at how deep this building really was. When we finally arrived at the bottom floor it was completely barren except for a glowing arch in the middle of the huge room emanating a black fog.

They quickly checked their equipment one more time and, as if they did it a hundred times, moved into the archway and vanished until only I was left.

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