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XXII : Escape

Before Daybreak on Primoris, Second Day of Autumnmoon


Rosa left the Archives only to step into her worst nightmare. The king's scholars had arrived. Known as the Antares Sentinel, these wizards and sorcerers were not to be trifled with. Unlike the Royal Guard, who were laymen trained only to search with their bare eyes, the Sentinel were masters of magic. They knew how to search in enigmatic places for furtive fugitives, and they were relentless in their pursuit.

Rosa hid behind her veil of invisibility, but it wouldn't be enough. To evade these magical mavens, she needed every spell she had ever learned at her disposal. This included shrinking to the size of a mouse and running in between tiny spaces, hiding behind illusionary walls made to look like extensions to existing buildings, and melding into dark corners by turning her body as dark as shadow.

The Sentinel patrolled the streets in pairs, guarded by magic, spells ready. Fortunately, an overcast sky obscured Gaia's twin moons and offered Rosa extra cover. For a time, she was able to abandon her magic and rely on her own clandestine movement. This allowed her to conserve precious manna, as well as leave less clues for her pursuers.

Wizards and sorcerers both shared in the ability to detect the traces left behind by magic. The more Rosa cast her spells, the more she helped her pursuers to find her. She figured she might be able to use this to her advantage. After casting numerous spells and leading the Sentinel to one side of the district, Rosa doubled back with no magic at all. The only enchantment she kept was the shadowy illusion that made her dress and body as black as night. Under this cloak, she dashed from one empty alleyway to the next, always vigilant and one step ahead.

But she couldn't run forever. Sooner or later, they would adapt to her tactics and use them against her. They had already closed off the First District, trapping her inside. In a few hours, daylight would appear and defeat her only advantage. And even a single careless mistake in the meantime would cost Rosa her freedom.

At that point, the Sentinel would treat her like any other Rogue Scholar. First, they would cut off her powers with an Anti-Magic Functionality Field. Once inside the AMF field, Rosa would have her sight and speech sealed, and her arms would be bound tightly behind her back. Finally, she would be taken to a special tribunal of her peers, where they would decide her fate.

If she was found guilty, she would be killed or banished. Or worse, subjected to a manatomy, in which the glands inside her brain responsible for manna creation would be surgically removed. The procedure was irreversible, leaving Rosa without magic for the rest of her life. While the punishment was reserved for only the worst offenders, Richard or Virgil could enforce the maximum sentence as a way of silencing her forever. For any scholar, it was a fate worse than death, and Rosa felt sick just thinking about it.

As a student of healing, she had been exposed to those who had lost their powers later in life. They were a sad sight, people who could never again experience the bliss of casting magic. They would never feel happiness, and nothing would drive their thoughts or ambitions, except for the memory of what they could never attain again. All emotions, all love and excitement, would turn into ice-cold apathy. Scholars would sooner die than lose their magic.

Thus, Rosa felt fear. Even as a veteran of war with plenty of battlefield experience, she had always had Bram by her side. But now she was cornered, an enemy to her own country, with no one to protect her. After dodging her pursuers for hours, she was losing strength. It was just a matter of time before her manna ran out and the enemy tracked her down.

No! She refused to believe that. Not until the last moment. Holding her breath, she summoned her courage and searched for options. Nearby was the estate of King Richard's Commerce Advisor. And it occurred to her that a Councilmember's private property might be especially convenient. After all, Richard's ill-tempered oligarchs tended to hate being disturbed. With the exception of her dear Cedric, of course. Therefore, the Antares Sentinel would do their best to limit their sweeps of those areas.

So Rosa watched and waited for the right moment. As soon as she caught sight of two shiny streaks leaving the property, the sign of a pair of sorcerers who had implemented a movement acceleration spell, she leapt out of her hiding spot and raced along the gravel path to the front entrance. But, rather than sneak in through the gate, she ran along the exterior stone wall. Further down, thick ivy vines climbed all the way to the top, providing a good enough handhold to hoist herself up.

Once on top, she realized the property was completely walled off from the rest of the district. If the Sentinel found her there, they could easily trap her inside. She needed to be careful, but it still felt safer than anywhere else in the First District. So she lowered herself down and took note of her surroundings.

She was standing inside a rose garden. An icy, damp breeze kissed her neck and sent shivers down her spine. She was still in her sleeveless dress, unprepared for nighttime temperatures. Huddling against the cold, she wandered further inside, hoping to find a warm place to hide. A second breeze brushed by her ear, but this time a whispery voice rode on top of it.

"Rosa …."

She wondered if it might have been her imagination. But then she heard it again.

"Rosa …."

She sensed the faintest hint of magic. Clearly, someone was trying to reach out to her. It came from deeper in the gardens. Although wary, Rosa figured the person behind the voice must not intended her any harm. Otherwise, they would not have announced their presence. So she commanded herself forward.

Soon, she reached a pear orchard full of flickering fireflies and chirping crickets. There was an old shed, off to the side, most likely where the gardeners kept their tools. At the very least it seemed like a warm place to hide.

"No, Rosa," the voice warned. "The enemy will find you there. Go behind the shed, to the base of the stone wall."

Rosa followed, still hoping the voice was benevolent. Sure enough, she found a depression at the southern edge of the property, where some loose brush covered an entrance. She brushed it aside and saw a series of stone steps leading underground. Heart pounding, she took the steps down into a small hollowed space. Further inside, a tunnel led under the streets of the First District. There wasn't much space, so Rosa crouched down and followed it.

She figured that Richard's Commerce Advisor had probably installed it as an escape route. It was illegal, of course, since it provided an unguarded entrance for scoundrels to bypass security. But it wasn't too surprising. Many of Richard's own advisors didn't trust the safety of their own employment, and it must have seemed worth it to this Commerce Advisor to have a second route handy in case of emergency.

The tunnel was long. Rosa followed it for what seemed like forever. Hopefully, it led all the way to the Township of Niedam, and the voice had steered her correctly. If so, the Antares Sentinel would be busy searching the First District for hours. They would never believe that their fugitive had slipped through their fingers. Rosa might even have a long enough head start to leave Angkor altogether.

At last, she found a hatch at the end of the tunnel, which opened into a wooden stall, where a horse was chewing on its morning oats. Rosa climbed out and covered the hatch with some hay. Looking out to the horizon, she caught the slightest glimmer of morning light. She looked further to get her bearings. Niedam was a good sized town, but only one stable stood atop a hill with a full view of the sea. Below her was the Port of Niedam, where massive ships of imported goods unloaded their wares.

She had made it. At last, she breathed a sigh of relief. She didn't even mind the scent of manure that went along with it. She released the spell on her dress, turning it back to white. Although, now it was tinged gray with all the filth she had acquired during her escape. Nevertheless, she had cause for celebration. The First District was finally behind her.

"Rosa?"

She leapt at the sound. But by the time she turned around, she saw that it belonged to nothing more than a child. In fact, it was a child she had seen twice before. "Wait … you're that boy who ran into me the other day. The same one I saw in the courtyard later." Her eyes widened. "So that's how you've been able to make it into the First District. You've been using this tunnel, haven't you?"

Another thought occurred to her. "And … how did you know my name?"

Rather than answering, the child looked offended. "I'm not a boy!"

Rosa was taken by surprise. She inched closer, wondering if she had misjudged the child's gender. There was nothing inherently feminine about the youth, and in fact the child was wearing boy's clothes. But he or she couldn't have been more than five or six years of age. Rosa could have easily made a mistake, a thought that made her flush with embarrassment.

"I'm so sorry." She sank to her knees, hoping to appear less threatening. "Of course you're a girl! How silly of me."

"No, I'm not!" the child insisted. "I'm Yuri."

Rosa shook her head. Now she was really confused, and the child seemed to sense it. They removed their woolen cap, exposing bountiful white strands of hair, as delicate as spider's silk. The curls cascaded all the way down to the child's shoulders.

Rosa recognized the trait instantly. "You're one of the tribal children from Ur, aren't you?"

The child didn't answer, but the gesture was enough for Rosa. She didn't understand the tribe's customs, but she was willing to avoid gender references if it bothered Yuri. As for their heritage, it had to be much more than a coincidence that Yuri's village was the basis of Bram's mission.

Rosa looked into their eyes and spoke calmly. "Why are you so far from home, Yuri? I'm grateful that your magic saved me when I was in trouble, but … how did you know?"

The child pouted, prompting Rosa to respond. "What's wrong?"

Yuri wiped their eyes. They looked on the verge of tears. "You have to come with me, Rosa. Mamma … Papa … they need your help."

Rosa worried what it could mean. "Tell me, Yuri. Are your parents in trouble?"

Yuri looked both terrified and frustrated. She shook her head vehemently and tugged on Rosa's arm. "Come on. Hurry. Before he arrives. Before it's too late!"

"Who?" Rosa cried, wondering if the child was referring to Bram.

But Yuri's eyes welled up with tears. The sorceress didn't have the heart to press for details, since the child clearly had trouble communicating. So Rosa merely clutched them to her chest, delivering safety and comfort in the form of a hug.

As she held the child, she wondered whether to accept their plea. The Ur village was at least a two day hike, even for well-seasoned travelers. Going any faster, such as with a movement acceleration spell, would be an exhausting drain on her manna. Meanwhile, sorcery lacked the same instant modes of transportation compared to wizardry. Nevertheless, it was no longer safe to remain in Angkor. Rosa's best bet was to find Bram and work with him on next steps, which meant traveling west.

She was pleased to deliver the good news to Yuri. "Alright. I'll come with you. I know where to find a horse. Don't worry. I'll have you back home in a couple of days."

Yuri shook her head. "I know a faster way. But we have to leave quickly!"

Rosa was about to accept the offer when she remembered her old school professor. Her heart sank. "Dear Gaia … Jean!"

She could never leave Angkor without warning him. As Head Librarian, the Antares Sentinel would come looking for him. And if they discovered that he had leant her his Librem Arcana, he'd be just as culpable. She couldn't let poor Jean take the fall for her mistakes. Fortunately, his house was right at the bottom of the hill by the docks. She could be there in minutes.

"Please," she begged the child. "I can't leave until I speak to a dear friend. I promise to be quick. Wait for me at the edge of town. Can you do that?"

Yuri was hesitant. They looked at Rosa with piercing gray eyes. But in the end they nodded.

"Thank you," Rosa told them. "And … thank you for saving me. I'll be back soon."

With that said, she raced out of the stall and ran through the grassy fields of the stables. She lifted her dress to give her legs room to sprint. She no longer needed to conceal her movements. Now she was free to shake off the stress and tension.

At the same time, she said a silent prayer for Cedric. He had put his entire career on the line to warn her of Virgil's conspiracy. If he hadn't come back to the Archives and convinced her to leave, she might have already been surrounded by the Antares Sentinel. She wondered what had become of him.

At last, she reached her old professor's cottage. Making one final glance over her shoulder to ensure that she wasn't followed, she entered through Jean's private gate and headed to the back door closest to his sleeping quarters. She knocked three successive times and waited. There was no response, so she grew nervous. She risked one more spell to unlock the door and stepped inside.

Creeping forward, one step at a time, she announced her presence to the darkened interior. "Master Jean? Are you home?"

A spectral chill descended upon her, the cold spidery touch of an AMF Field. Terror rose inside her chest, and she screamed.

Thankfully, the field disappeared and darkness vanished. Candles all across the room burst into flame, lighting the way to a very concerned Jean Vieillechaise who hobbled toward her.

"Rosa, thank goodness!" There was no anger in his eyes. Only relief. "I was so worried when I sensed that the Archives had been seized by the king's forces. What happened?"

Rosa was comforted by her professor's voice. It calmed her chills, and she was happy to relay her story. But, along with relief came shame and guilt. Jean was supposed to be a retired old school teacher who led a quiet life as Head Librarian. She should have never involved him.

At the end, she summarized her feelings. It was difficult to speak past the lump in her throat. "I'm so sorry, Master Jean. I tried to do the right thing. But … it got out of hand. And then I … I couldn't stop it. I—"

Jean calmed her with both hands. "Easy, dear Rosa. You've done nothing that warrants blame, unless you consider your search for truth to be a crime."

Rosa always valued how encouraging her beloved professor could be. But she still felt terrible about her sudden intrusion in the early hours of morning. "You're too kind, Master Jean, but if you only knew …."

She trailed off when a wide grin crept upon his face. "You must think me ignorant, dear child." He chuckled. "But I might know more than you think. Come." He waved her forward. "Sit down and I'll get you some tea."

Rosa was itching to get back to Yuri. Or, at the very least, she wanted to take Jean to a safer location. For sure, the Sentinel knew where he lived. "We shouldn't, Professor. There's no telling when the authorities might come for us. It's best if we left Angkor altogether."

But Jean shook his head. "Run all you'd like. It makes no difference. They'll hunt you down, sooner or later."

Rosa was shaken. Her body trembled. "Then what should we do?"

Jean sank slowly into his old rocking chair. "Oh, you'll need to flee, eventually. But not with me. I'm too old to be on the run, my dear."

The lump in her throat grew heavy, and she felt her eyes water. "I can't just leave you! Come with me, Professor. I'll find us a way out of Angkor that won't be a burden for you. We'll go together!"

Jean looked straight into Rosa's eyes. "This is one thing I forbid you to debate with me, Rosa. Now, please sit. There is much to explain, and I can't let you go without relaying this knowledge."

Rosa was stunned. Jean had never been so direct with her. Her body felt compelled to listen. She joined the old man in a simple chair with a straight back and a thin pillow on the seat. Beside her was a small round table, on top of which were piled stacks of old, leather-bound books. Jean said a few simple words, and a cupful of hot tea materialized in front of her. She leaned forward and sipped, trying to be polite. But, her insides churned as she awaited Jean's explanation.

He let out a long tired breath. "Dearest pupil. When you came to me yesterday morning asking to enter the Archives, I had a good idea what you were seeking. You see, for a long time now, I've been following a man named Virgil Garvey, whom I believe is searching for the very same thing."

Rosa gasped, glad she didn't still have her lips on the teacup. "You mean the sunstones?"

The old sorcerer nodded. "Yes, indeed. I know all about Virgil's mission to Minoa, as well as his successful capture of a sunstone. And I also know about Sir Morrison's involvement."

Rosa couldn't believe her ears. "But, Professor, why didn't you tell me all this yesterday?"

Jean sighed. "I had hoped to spare you, dear child. I didn't want you involved in such a dangerous endeavor, any more than you wanted to involve me."

Rosa was now more confused than ever. "I don't understand. Why grant me access to the Archives, if you didn't want me finding the answers?"

The old librarian adjusted his thick spectacles. "Because the answers no longer lie in the Archives. At least, not anymore. I figured that you might spend the day searching, satiate your curiosity, and leave emptyhanded. And in so doing, you'd remain safe. But, clearly I was wrong. On multiple counts."

Jean adjusted his position in the chair, wincing at what appeared to be severe back pain. He grunted, then returned to his story. "I never expected Virgil to track your activities, especially given your relative inexperience. You were never a threat to him, as long as you didn't learn about his plans. Unfortunately, it seems that he has chosen to leave nothing to chance. And in his thoroughness, he has made you a target. Now … I'm afraid there's nothing I can do to stop him."

Rosa's heart fell, but not because she feared Virgil's wrath. Rather, it had to do with her old school teacher's lack of faith. "It sounds like you're saying you didn't trust me with the truth, Professor. You should have just said so in the beginning, rather than sending me on a fool's errand."

Rosa was hurt. She thought that her longtime aptitude and diligence had earned Jean's respect, but instead he had given her busywork to distract her. And in the process, she had wasted an entire day, when she could have used that time to catch up to Bram. And avoid putting Cedric's life in danger, too!

But it seemed that Jean had a very different perspective. He grabbed his cane with the eagle's bust on top and used it to lean forward. "That's not true, Rosa. I never distrusted you. You were always my finest student, deeply gifted, and perhaps capable of becoming one of the greatest sorceresses of our time."

But then he leaned back and his voice became solemn. "As for the sunstones, I'm afraid that you're as naïve as I was in the beginning. Soon, you'll discover that the truth comes with a price … one which few would pay willingly. I simply couldn't leave you with that responsibility. Not without your full consent. Yet, therein lies a conundrum. I couldn't ask for your permission without forcefully dragging you into it."

Rosa had mixed feelings over Jean's response. Sure, his wondrous praise was soothing and generous. It made her feel like she could conquer anything. Yet, the ominous words that followed made her hunger for the truth. She wanted to prove that she was worthy of the sunstones' secrets.

She answered with confidence. "I shall willingly face whichever dangers stand before me, Professor. Just tell me what you know, and I will do whatever it takes to defend Angkor and maintain peace."

"Not just Angkor," Jean corrected, his voice carrying a surprising level of gravity. "All of humanity is at risk. But enough forewarning. Let me show you the answers you seek."

Jean grabbed one of the leather-bound books from the tabletop and handed it to Rosa. She stared at it in disbelief, shocked that the answers had been right in front of her the whole time.

"My privileges as Head Librarian have allowed me to remove these journals from the Archives," he explained. "I had been tracking Virgil's activities, and I saw him place these within a hidden compartment. He thought he was clever, but I was able to disarm his traps and remove his stash without him knowing."

Rosa practically fell out of her chair. She stared at the book in her hand, eager to open it and start reading. But first she had to let Jean know what had happened. "I also found the hidden compartment, Professor. The one behind the bookshelf. Using my magic, I disarmed the trap but ran out of time before I could remove the lock."

Jean looked surprise. "You never cease to amaze me, Rosa. Perhaps I shouldn't have underestimated you. I worried about you running into Virgil's trap, but I never thought you'd manage to get past it. Thankfully, you have proven your capabilities, and though I probably haven't said it enough, you are truly worthy to be my pupil."

Rosa's heart swelled, and she forgot all about her hurt feelings. "Thank you, Master Jean. But, tell me: To whom do these journals belong?"

Jean seemed pleased that she had asked. "That is truly an important question, my dear. Are you familiar with a sorcerer named Maurice Vance?"

Rosa had in fact heard the name. Many times. "Yes, Professor. He was famous, even to first-year students. We learned about his principles, how he was a genius of our time, and how modern magic is largely based on his theories. I had even intended to base my thesis on Vance before Angkor's military took control of the school."

Jean nodded. "Right you are, Rosa. But, how familiar are you with Vance's legacy? In particular, with how it ended?"

She thought back. "I recall there was some sort of scandal. He was conducting research in Vineta, where he had supposedly failed at one of his experiments. Humiliated, he disappeared and was never seen in the public eye again."

Jean took a deep breath. It looked like he had much more to add. "Yes, that's what most people had assumed. Regardless, the important part was the nature of his work. Originally, he had gone to Vineta's world-renowned medical facility under the auspices of finding a cure for a certain disease. However, the true nature of his work was something quite different."

Rosa was familiar with this famous facility. It was run by a group of old sorcerers who were also known to be protectors of one of the four—

"Sunstones!" she concluded. "Vineta is home to one of sunstones, is it not? That must have been the true nature of Vance's research."

A twinkle appeared in Jean's eyes. "Well done, Rosa! Those old enough to remember the Maurice Vance scandal, such as myself, know that he had been researching the sunstones in secret. He had put his reputation on the line, since other scholars tend to look down on those who repeat the failures of the past."

"That makes sense," Rosa theorized. "We build our reputations based on forging ahead. Unless Vance found something about the sunstones that proved his predecessors wrong, he would be seen as just another failure. A master wizard like him would never have advertised the true nature of his experiments until he was certain."

Jean beamed, never looking more pleased. "Exactly right, Rosa. Most people still assume that Vance had disappeared because he was embarrassed about such a failure. But what they don't realize is that he had succeeded! The only reason this truth is not widely known is because Vance's records disappeared along with him. But in fact, they had somehow ended up in the Archives. And now you hold them in your very own hands."

Rosa felt a rush of excitement. She wanted to open them right away and begin reading. "Professor … would you mind?"

He held out his hand. "Read to your heart's content, my dear. Just be sure to brace yourself, for you're about to learn more than you bargained."

Rosa's hands trembled as she turned the first page. She handled the tomes carefully, mindful of their age. She was experienced in skimming, so she quickly read through and devoured the words while Jean sat patiently in his rocking chair. Before long, she was onto the second journal. Then the third. All the while, her breathing slowed, and her eyes glazed over in fear.

Rosa tried to work her voice, but her whole body shook. "Pr—pr—professor … is there any doubt in your mind … any at all … as to whether this testimony is true?"

He shook his head decisively. "None."

Her blood went cold. The truth went far beyond what she could have ever imagined. Jean was not far off when he had stated that all of humanity stood at risk of the sunstones' true nature.

Her nerves tightened, and she was soon frantic. "But … what can we do? How could we ever hope to fight this?"

Unfortunately, all she received was the slow shaking of Jean's head. "I can offer you no solace, dear Rosa. This is why I wanted to save you from the burden. Unfortunately, the knowledge is now yours to keep. And while I do not have the answers, I believe our future is safer when entrusted to gifted individuals such as yourself."

Rosa was both gleeful and terrified. Jean had given her the praise she so badly desired, but he had also given her a daunting responsibility, one which seemed so far beyond her capabilities. She had no idea how to even begin!

"Quickly, now!" Jean roused her from her daze. "Now that you know the truth, you must leave quickly."

"Yes, Professor! I'll figure something out." She brimmed with tears. She hated leaving her cherished mentor behind, but he was an old man, unable to make the long journey ahead.

"I know you can do this," he coached. "I promise we'll meet again."

He rose from his rocking chair, and she stood and embraced him. She understood just by the way he hobbled to his feet that he was far too frail to leave Angkor. She was on her own.

He tapped her shoulder. "Hurry, now. Before the Sentinel arrives."

She gripped his arm, now with stalwart conviction burning inside of her. It was time to leave, but just as she let go, she heard a slow, sarcastic clapping from the darkened side of the room.

"How touching." A voice came with the applause. "But I'm afraid I can't let you go."

A light appeared, revealing a man who had been standing there unnoticed. Jean's face contorted with rage. Rosa had never seen him so angry.

"Virgil!" he snarled. "You dare to set foot in my home?"

The old wizard raised his arms to cast an AMF field, but Virgil brushed it aside like a gnat. Rosa stepped forward to cast her own spell, but she realized with horror that the wondrous feeling of bliss and happiness that came with her manna was gone! She reached out again, only to find nothing. She might have expected Virgil to place her inside an AMF field, but she felt no icy chill, no detection of wizardry magic … not anything! It was as if Virgil had stolen her powers.

Her knees felt weak. "What have you done to me?"

"Be brave, Rosa," Jean advised. "This is just one of Mister Garvey's many tricks. Notice how he keeps one hand inside his robes at all times?"

Sure enough, Virgil seemed to be clutching onto something inside of his Councilmember's vestments. He grinned broadly. "After all these years … I find you hiding in plain sight all along, Old Man. Too bad it finally ends here."

Jean bared his teeth. "Think again!"

He reached into his own garments and produced a small figurine, which looked like a person kneeling and praying. It glowed with a faint purple light but did not appear to emanate any of the usual magical signatures. Rosa was astounded.

Jean held out the figuring and spoke in words that Rosa could not comprehend. Almost immediately, a beam of pure white light flew across the room in Virgil's direction. The chancellor raised his arm, and the beam veered off and hit the roof high above. Rosa rolled to the side just as the roof exploded, sending a wave of splinters in her direction. She braced herself, expecting to be pummeled with shards of wood, when Jean stepped in front and summoned a magical shield.

Just like Virgil, Jean seemed to cast magic out of nowhere. It was foreign and had none of the usual signs, leaving Rosa frightened and confused. Meanwhile, Jean pulled her to her feet, bursting with mysterious new strength. He hardly resembled the frail old man that had been in the rocking chair moments before.

Beyond Jean's shield was a cloud of dust and debris. His home was in shambles, but he held his figurine with an ironclad grip, waiting for the air to clear. As soon as the cloud dissipated, Rosa cringed. Virgil was still standing.

He was livid. "I don't know how you've managed to replicate my powers, but that figurine of yours will grant you no more than a fraction of my own."

Virgil looked like he was preparing another spell when Jean turned to Rosa. "I'm sorry, but your survival is more important. Flee, Rosa. Flee!"

With bony fingers extended, Jean cast a spell that vaulted Rosa into the air and through the newly made hole in the roof. As soon as she was outside, flying through the air, she felt her magic return. Thinking quickly, she cast a spell to slow her momentum and save herself from crashing.

She landed gracefully, all except for her soiled white dress. It was even dingier than before, now covered with dust and broken glass. She glanced over her shoulder, worried for her old professor, when suddenly her eyes were blinded, and a powerful force knocked her off her feet.

The next thing she knew, she was she coughing and hacking out dust from her lungs. The wind had been knocked right out of her, so it took her a moment to stand and catch her breath. As soon as she could, she looked back at Jean's cottage.

"No!"

She sank to her knees. Some sort of powerful explosion had taken everything, including the earth beneath Jean's house. Nothing remained but a smoldering crater. Tears entered her eyes.

"Professor!"

No one answered. Rosa felt powerless, but she slowly dragged herself to her feet. She had to move forward, or else her dearest professor will have died in vain.

She took a few steady steps, ready to cast a spell to aid in her escape, when she felt an overwhelming exhaustion. The strength was being sapped from her body. With all her might, she tried to resist and move forward. But she could hardly keep her eyes open.

She looked back, and soon she was overwhelmed with fear. There, among the ashes, an unharmed Virgil marched toward her. She tried to run, but her legs were like gelatin. She slowly collapsed, and a magical slumber overtook her.