chapter nineteen | a pat on the shoulder

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One by one, ladies and gentlemen began to file into the ballroom in their specially tailored suits and gowns. The twelve of us sat at a table filled with an assortment of food for us to choose from- However, the generous supply of food was quickly cut down due to a certain Metal mage snatched most of if away before anyone else could do anything about it.

I scrutinized the dresses of the girls. Lyra had a long, flowing dress that reached her ankles. A sash of golden roses wound their way around it, finally twisting their way above her right shoulder and forming a large strap.

Sienna's dress was huge. Colours of the flame- yellow, orange, and bright red- filled in the dress, almost making it seem like her dress was lit on fire. The multi-layered dress was so long that it reached beyond her feet.

Emma had a shorter dress. She wore earrings that resembled snowflakes. Her dress looked as fluffy as a cloud and as white as snow, bouncing slightly with every step she took, ruffles lining the bottom, like my dress. Every girl's dress was suited to their element.

"Please welcome the Duchess of Shera!" announced a guard.

My thoughts abruptly came to a stop as a roaring round of applause sounded throughout the ballroom. The doors that we had come in front had been pushed open by two butlers, a lady clad in a white dress with a scarf made out of snow white animal fur strode into the room, curtseying when she reached Princess Crystalline and her mother, the Queen.

"Good afternoon, ladies and gentlemen. All of you have been summoned here to witness the passing on of the Viribus Jewel- also known as the jewel of strength, and the jewel that trusted kingdoms pass to one another every four years," the Duchess held a small box in her palms after stepping up onto a podium. Having a rather short attention span, my attention slowly drifted off elsewhere and I started to return deep into my thoughts. "I am honoured to be... ceremony... passing on..." The Guest of Honour's voice faded off.

I stifled a yawn. After ten minutes of speech, she still wasn't done talking.

How boring. I looked around the room to find something of interest.

My eyes scanned the room, passing by a bent over figure who quietly slipped into the room, riveting back to the figure. I squinted, trying to see who it was.

That bent over figure was an old lady who had a dark purple shawl draped over her hunched back. She clung onto a crooked wooden pole as she staggered into the ballroom, sitting down at the nearest seat. She looked up towards the Duchess and appeared to be listening to her.

Eh, nothing much. This was still boring. The guest book attendant probably allowed her in or something, seeing that she got in without a hitch.

Just when I finished that thought, the sound of the Guest of Honour's voice stopped. I glanced up to realise that she had finally finished her speech. The Duchess walked gracefully down the podium.

Guests started to stand up and initiate conversations, mingling with one another. My guild members and I exchanged wary looks. This was when everyone was at their most vulnerable to attacks. Nothing happened so far though, so I wasn't too concerned.

"So, you are the mages from Clement Guild...?" A gravelly voice called out to us.

We turned immediately towards the voice. It was the old woman from earlier. How coincidental.

"Yes, we are," Sienna replied with a friendly smile.

"Would you mind introducing yourselves to me? I've been interested in how this guild operates, so I would like to know each and every one of you." said the old lady.

"Sure! Of course!" Kaito enthusiastically nodded.

"Let's start with you, young man." She patted his right shoulder.

"Okay! So, my name is Kaito, and I'm a Metal mage. I love sweets. The girl standing next to me is my sister, Hikari!" Kaito introduced.

After exchanging introductions, Sienna finally asked who the old lady was.

The old lady looked slightly taken aback at first, but quickly regained her composure. "A relative of mine was invited to the ball and was allowed to take a familiar with her. So I was asked to come as well."

There was no reason not to be skeptical of what she said, so I had no objection. She peered up to the high ceiling and squinted as if something invisible was mocking her.

Reaper and Grim. Could she sense their presence?

I shook the bad feeling off me and continued to patrol the ballroom, trying my best to not appear as surreptitious. So far, there was nothing. It looks like nothing really bad was going to happen. Maybe I was too paranoid.

I shouldn't have jinxed it.

BOOM

There was a sound of an explosion, followed by a cry of agony, screams following it.

I whipped my head back to see Kaito desperately clutching onto his right shoulder, kneeling down.

Crimson blood flowed down from underneath where his left palm was placed, a dark red wound largely apparent covering most of his entire arm. The blood flowed from his arm down to the ground.

It was then I noticed that he was standing in a crater made by the explosion.

How could this have happened?

I had never seen so much blood in my life before... From what I remember.

"KAITO!" Hikari shrieked as she ran to her brother's aid. She gingerly lifted him up, uncaring of the blood dripping onto her specially-tailored clothes.

"Who... WHO DID THIS?" Sienna bellowed. Her voice was shaky- I wouldn't be surprised.

"Calm down, Sienna. There could only be one person who did this- It has to be Morrison-" Reaper said as he and Grim made themselves visible, swiftly dropping down from the ceiling. They landed on the floor, specks of blood dotting on it.

The bomb should have killed him, but his tough Metal element prevented him from getting completely blown up. That was a relief.

 The explosion was at Kaito's right shoulder... right?

Has anything come into contact with Kaito's right shoulder?

...

My heart felt like it stopped for a split second. Something clicked. I remembered something that happened very recently.

"Would you mind introducing yourselves to me? I've been interested in how this guild operates, so I would like to know each and every one of you." said the old lady.

"Sure! Of course!" Kaito enthusiastically nodded.

"Let's start with you, young man." She patted his right shoulder.

...

"No. You're wrong," I countered. "It isn't Morrison who made that explosion. It's someone else..."

The old woman wasn't just what she seemed to be.

"You're right, I'm not."

My eyes widened in fear and anxiety as I glanced up to see the same old woman I saw from earlier change shape. Her old wrinkled skin twisted and turned, leaving her to look like a mangled mess. Her height turned from short to tall, her shawl turning into a misty purple dress. The cane which she held on to earlier changed to a dark wooden staff, a purple eye fixed into the end.

She wasn't an old lady.

She was a witch.

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