'You're worried because of a dream?' Sheath asked. 'Do you know how stupid that sounds?'
They were back in the school workshop, finishing their chain mail shirt. With only the shoulders left, Reggie had estimated that they would be able to finish before lunch. Rayla had just finished recounting her dream from the previous night. She had once again woken up shivering and drenched in cold sweat, startling Ebion awake as well, who hissed angrily at her before going back to sleep. She found herself unable to sleep for the rest of the night, afraid of what might see if she closed her eyes again.
'I'm telling you, it wasn't just a dream,' she argued, pacing in frustration. 'It felt too real. I was Reno and I was locked in an underground cell somewhere.'
'Are you just going to keep pacing or will you help?' Winz asked, jiggling the incomplete chain mail shirt.
'It makes sense,' Rayla continued, ignoring Winz. 'We haven't been able to communicate with them for more than a month now. They were supposed to seen a report every two weeks but they haven't send a single one since they left. Obviously they are in trouble.'
'So you are not going to help,' Winz muttered, turning his eyes back to the chain mail.
'Even if they are in trouble, there is nothing we can do,' Adam said. 'The Council has already decided that they won't be sending a rescue team.'
'But that is not fair!'
'No one said that it was,' Reggie said calmly. He reached over to the table to grab a few more rings. 'But the truth of the matter is that even if that is what happened our hands are tied.'
'Listen, Peri is important to all of us,' Lucy said. 'He saved all of us here. None of us would have made it to Mirran without him. We are just worried as you are. But we need to have faith in him and your friend Reno that they can look after themselves.'
'Right now the only thing you can do is concentrate on your exams,' Adam said. 'They are starting next week right?'
'…Right,' Rayla finally admitted. She sighed deeply. 'I'm just… worried.'
'I know.' Lucy held her hand as a sign of comfort. 'We all are.'
They lapsed into silence, working quietly on the chain mail. By lunchtime they were done. Putting away their project in a cabinet, they thanked Adam, Lucy and Reggie for their help before parting ways. They decided to have lunch at Sheath's home. On the way, they ran into Claire, Julia and Shelia. A short argument erupted which would have ended in fisticuffs between Claire and Rayla if Sheath and Winz hadn't dragged her away.
'Come now Rayla,' Winz said loudly enough for Claire and her two followers to hear. 'We have a study session planned at Sheath's house today after lunch. Aren't you curious to see where he lives?'
Claire looked like she could murder someone.
Sheath's house had a similar layout as Winz's house. His elf butler Shyl greeted them, promptly arranging lunch for three. After lunch, they sat until evening, quizzing each other on the different plants they had learned in Herbalism that year.
'Master Sheath,' Shyl suddenly entered his room, a letter clutched in his hand. 'A raven dropped this off.'
'Oh, thank you Shyl.' Sheath took the letter before dismissing him. The elf gave a slight bow before leaving.
'What is it?' Winz asked, craning his neck to read it over his shoulder. Sheath's eyes skimmed over the letter's contents before speaking.
'It's from Sith to the peasant,' he replied. 'She said that she wouldn't be able to make it home tonight.'
'Oh, she must be busy,' Rayla said. 'Well, looks like I am all alone tonight.'
'Or,' Winz offered. 'We three could stay here tonight.'
'Don't invite yourself to stay at my house,' Sheath said. 'It's my house.'
'So is that a no?' Winz asked.
Both Winz and Rayla looked at him pleadingly. Sheath held strong for a few minutes before letting out a sigh and giving in to their demands.
'Just this once,' he conceded. 'This is not to become a habit.'
'Yes!' Winz exclaimed in victory.
'Look at it this way,' Rayla said. 'This way we can study together longer.'
'Also, can you imagine the look on Claire's face when she finds out about this?' Winz said gleefully. 'She looked ready to pop a vein in anger when she heard that we were coming to your house. When she hears that we stayed here as well, she might just try to kill someone.'
'You mean if she hears, right?' Rayla asked.
'No, I meant when,' Winz said nonchalantly. 'If no one else tells her, I definitely will.'
'If that is the case, then the one she tries to kill will probably be me,' Rayla said glumly.
'You love getting under her skin, don't you?' Sheath said.
'Yes, very much,' he replied shamelessly. 'It is one of my favourite pastimes.'
Sheath sighed. 'I'll inform Shyl to prepare dinner for three.'
Dinner was delicious. It reminded her of Reno's cooking and how he could turn even the simplest ingredients into an absolutely scrumptious masterpiece. After dinner, the three of them sat up late into the night, listing out the various properties and uses of different plants from memory. Rayla was shown to a guest room on the first floor, with Sheath and Winz occupying the rooms on either side of her room. She plopped down on to the soft mattress, pulling up the covers to her chin. Her head was filled with different coloured flowers, misshapen roots and various types of leaves as she slowly drifted off to sleep.
The feeling of the soft, feather mattress disappeared from under her. She found herself back in the underground cell. Hunger pains clawed at her stomach, gurgling loudly in protest. A white, fluffy tail wrapped around her tightly. Her eyes downcast, not moving from the floor in front of her cell. Silence hung thick and heavy over her.
Suddenly the sounds of footsteps disturbed the quiet. A pair of boots appeared in her vision and she slowly raised her head to identify the owner. A small gasp escaped her mind, which was not imitated by Reno's mouth. Instead she felt her lips press into a thin line of anger and hatred. Rayla recognized the man in front of her. In fact, she doubted she could ever forget him.
Her vision was suddenly clouded with darkness and she found herself jerking awake in bed, cold sweat running down her spine, soaking the night shirt she had borrowed from Sheath. Her breathing was ragged as she jumped out of bed and ran to the room next to her, banging on the door desperately. Her hands shook as she waited for an answer.
The door was thrown open. In the doorway, Sheath stood in all his drowsy and furious glory, his night shirt crumpled from where he had laid on his side. Before he could even snap at her about the time, she barged in without waiting for permission. It would have been considered incredibly rude and inappropriate but Rayla was in a state of panic after what she had just seen. Drawn by the noise, Winz had appeared as well, looking curiously at her. He raised a questioning eyebrow at Sheath, silently asking him what happened. Sheath responded with an unknowing shrug.
'I saw him again.' She settled herself on the bed, tucking her legs under her chin. She swung back and forth as she rambled. 'I saw him again. I was him again. It was real. Do not tell me it was just a dream. It was real. I know it is. It felt real. And I saw him. If he was there then Reno is in trouble, so much trouble. And if Reno is there, then so is Peri. But I didn't see him, which means there is a chance that he isn't there. But then where would he be? And if that man is there then that means-'
'Rayla!' Winz shook her slightly, snapping her out of her thoughts. 'You're rambling. You're not making any sense.'
'First calm down peasant,' Sheath sat next to her on the bed. 'Deep breaths.'
Rayla did as she was told, forcing herself to breathe deeply. Once she was calm enough, she realized that she had just barged into a boy's room in the middle of the night. However, before her cheeks could be set aflame with shame, Winz interrupted her thoughts once again.
'What did you see this time?' he asked calmly. He sat down beside her. 'Tell us everything.'
Rayla narrated her dream as quickly as possible. Once she was done, a heavy silence engulfed the room as they all thought about what she had just told them.
'Assuming that you are right,' Sheath said. 'Assuming that, then it seems like Reno is being held as an item for an auction. It would make sense as to why you didn't see Peri. He is just an ordinary human. He was probably kept separate from the magical creatures.'
'It also means that they are still alive,' Winz added. 'For now at least.'
'What do you mean?' Rayla felt dread creep up her back.
'Well you don't purchase magical creatures to work as your servants.' Winz hesitated before he continued. 'Well assuming it is them, from what my father has told me, the Sentinels have an arena where the owners who purchased these creatures let them into the ring to fight to the death. Sometimes, it's not even magical creatures, but normal humans. Slaves to be precise.'
'Gladiator fights,' Sheath breathed.
'Why doesn't the king do anything?' Rayla asked. 'Forgetting the magical creatures, forcing ordinary people to fight like that must be illegal!'
Winz shook his head. 'It is. However, it is also a sport that is heavily endorsed by the nobility. That is why the king is unable to raise his hand against them. Since more than half of the nobility in the country support it, trying to uproot it might lead to civil strife. The royal family's hands are tied.'
'You know, in gladiator fights, the hosting body also maintains a collection of fighters they can send out in case someone wishes to challenge the host or if there are no challengers at all,' Sheath said. 'It could be that Reno is not considered for sale but is actually kept by the Sentinels as one of their fighters.'
'Who is this Savant person you mentioned?' Winz asked.
'Savant Oryonis,' she explained. Both Winz and Sheath's eyes widened in recognition of the name. 'Before Peri brought me here, I was captured and almost sold by him.'
'The Oryonis family,' Winz whispered quietly. 'My family has been trying to gather evidence against them for decades but they always seem to be able cover their tracks. No matter how close we get, they always manage to slip through our fingers. People who agree to testify against them turn up dead. Even their victims refuse to speak in fear of what might happen to them or their families in retribution.'
'My father said that they had managed to disrupt a few of their auctions,' Sheath said. 'But he doubts that it even put a dent in their operations. According to him, right now the Oryonis family is just as powerful as the royal family itself, with plenty of noble families supporting them from the shadows. That's why it's so hard to gather evidence. It is hard to do that when the officials themselves are under the control of the Sentinels and help them hide their tracks.'
'And it's not just slave auctions and gladiator fights,' Winz said. 'They also deal in drugs, assassinations, smuggling of antiques and weaponry, and even…' Winz cleared his throat. 'Well, they deal with the escort business as well. They even collect a protection fee from several towns and villages. They don't really protect anything. It is just assurance that the Sentinels won't turn their fangs on them.'
'All of this and the government does nothing?' Rayla asked incredulously. 'Instead they try to hunt own mages like us who haven't done anything.'
Winz shrugged. 'Like I said before, the royal family has no power against them as of now. Also there is no solid evidence to convict them of anything.'
'That means there is no hope for Reno,' Rayla concluded.
'I wouldn't say no hope.' Winz rubbed her back soothingly. 'You said that you didn't see Peri. Maybe he wasn't captured. Maybe he can rescue Reno just like he did for you.'
'Maybe…' Rayla looked unsure.
'Listen, you have been told this before, but I am saying it again.' Sheath laid a firm hand on her shoulder. 'There is nothing you can do for them. Focus on what you can do right now, that is study for your exams.
'So you are telling me to forget about them?!' Rayla's tone was accussing. 'Just forget about them and keep smiling like nothing is wrong.'
'I'm telling you to set it aside for now. Right now, we are of no use to them, no matter how much we worry. If you keep thinking about this, that helplessness will eat at you from the inside and drive you insane.'
'He is right,' Winz agreed. 'No one is telling you to abandon them. But as of right now, there is nothing you can do.'
Rayla sighed deeply. '…I'm going back to sleep.'
Without a word to either of them, she returned to her room, shutting and locking the door behind her before curling up beneath her sheets. She knew she was far from being polite when she had left without so much as wishing them a good night but she couldn't bring herself to care. She could hear Sheath and Winz whispering in hushed voices in the other room, but she wasn't concerned enough to try and listen to their conversation. After a while, she heard Winz padding softly past her room in attempt to not wake her as he returned to his room. He shouldn't have bothered as Rayla was far from falling asleep. Worry gnawed away at her as she tossed and turned, trying to get comfortable. At dawn exhaustion claimed her as she was pulled into a restless slumber. Thankfully, she didn't see any more disturbing visions and instead was engulfed by darkness until she awoke.
Rayla was awakened by Shyl's gentle knock on her door and the anxiety presiding in her mind. She sighed as she pulled herself out of bed for what would be another exhausting day. During breakfast, she mumbled an apology to Winz and Sheath for disturbing their sleep and for leaving so rudely when they were only trying to comfort her. After grudgingly accepting her apology, the three of them once again dove into their books. Rayla took her friends' advice and pushed her worries to the back of her mind for the time being, instead concentrating on memorizing the five steps to training a griffin.