“Chickadee wrote us about the mist charges causing explosions, and this Highland kid stopped by saying the same thing.” Caitlin explained as they rode together on a cart. “Mom wants me to see how bad it is first hand and get back to her. I’m supposed to do any modifications I can to the gear there and see if some of the abilities can be replicated with stronger blood iron.”
She and Zyris were riding in the front, while Sybil and Veximarl sat in the back with the boxes of supplies. Some of it was items requested by Chickadee and Zaniyah, and a good portion was for Caitlin’s work. They were traveling through a heavily misted area. Posts with glowing stones on them gave a hint to where the road was.
Zyris gave a nod. “My mother insisted I come along… Because reasons.” He didn’t want to admit that it was because Miss Krograstein was overly upset about the breakup. Sybil knew. She chose to not draw attention to it.
Veximarl gave a nod. “Supposedly mist charged weapons have been around for a few years. Why is this the first time the Braytons incident was brought up?”
Caitlin and Zyris shot each other a look while Sybil turned her head away. “Well.” Caitlin started. “There is a lot of secret work involved in making one of those. It wasn’t exactly legal to make them for minors until two years ago. This is probably the first batch of squires there to have them.”
“Their specialty weapons that contain human blood iron,” replied Sybil in a flat tone.
“That’s a trade secret!” Caitlin pointed at her accusingly. She then looked over to Veximarl. “You forget you heard that right now!”
“Doesn’t that kill the person?” Veximarl asked, only to sulk in his seat when Caitlin glared back at him.
Sybil shook her head. “It requires a special diet, and it can take maybe years to extract enough iron to get a useful enough sample. The only reason I mention it is because Chickadee will probably want to put you in the process so he can improve your staff. They only use human blood iron if that item is being made for that particular person, and it helps with casting and other enchantments.”
Caitlin reached back and made grabby hands at Veximarl’s staff. “Confiscated.” He handed it over and she started to examine her younger brother’s work. “It’s a rush job. Not fit for a mage just yet. I hate to say it, but she’s right. Since you were raised in a mist region, your blood iron could make for a great weapon.”
“It’s the reason why my daggers return to me, why Zaniyah has increased strength and speed while carrying her axe, and why Chi can cast his spells at such a long range. It could possibly unlock some potential you didn’t know you had in yourself,” said Sybil.
The cart came to a slow stop. “There’s something in the road,” Zyris called back at them.
Sybil hopped out the back, with Veximarl following behind. There was something the size of a medium sized dog laying out in the middle of the road. As they approached, Sybil gave a frown. It was a cat, with white fur and tufted ears. The oversized paws implied that it might still be a juvenile. Veximarl approached, kneeling down and giving it a stroke to its neck. He shook his head over at Sybil.
“It happens. You can’t see into the mist, and sometimes an animal dashes out on the road. A horse or cart will trample over it and…” Sybil gestured to the creature. She then looked over her shoulder. “Caitlin! Get an extractor!”
“An extractor?” Veximarl clutched onto his staff and took a step back.
“It’s still a mist creature. Even if it’s still an adolescent, the blood iron from it might be valuable.” She shook her head. “You should get back into the cart. This might not be pretty.”
“Moment.” He held a set of fingers over the animal and chanted quietly. Blood leached out of the wounds and formed into a ruby that he stashed into his pocket. When he turned around, Sybil was glaring at him.
“Really? We’re not not even at Braytons yet and you’re already doing that?”
His mouth dropped open at the realization of what he had just done. “But it’s an adolescent.” He gestured to the mist cat. “... I-I couldn’t leave it here in the cold.”
“Get in the cart.” She pointed firmly at the cart as he stammered at her. “Go!”
Veximarl did as he was told. He was rather fond of cats. They were, after all, the animal on his shield’s crest. Not that it mattered much, since his family was both dead and not the best of people. Despite that, he still liked cats. His hand fiddled with the jewel in his pocket. It honestly did felt wrong to let it lie there like that, but he would have to be more careful about such actions in the future.
They continued on until they were out of the mist region completely, only making camp when they thought the area was safe. If they were traveling by cart, it should take less than a week to get to Braytons. Sybil kept looking over the letter that Grulick had written for her, and she still didn’t know what she should do.
She was also eager to spend her time avoiding Zyris. It was complicated. Maybe not so. Here was her first love in life, who had told her to stay behind with him. She said she wanted to leave and he’d only have to wait a little while for her return. He said that she would be a completely different person, and he wouldn’t know if they would still work.
But he came along anyways. He had chased after her.
There wasn’t enough time for her heart to recover from that sort of break. There were too many distractions for her to even think about it seriously. Worst of all, she had run out of Alton’s little love notes. Burning those in a fire always made her feel better.
Veximarl was also quiet. She thought the reality was sinking in that he was going to have to fake a lot of things over the next few years in order to make it out alive. However, he had an ally in her. There was also Chickadee, who was excellent with magic and blacksmithing. If anyone could help Veximarl fake anything, it was him.
She spent her time doodling in a journal. Whatever operated Archive back and Braytons was something that interested her. It was probably the reason why the mist charges had failed, and Caitlin and her discussed at length on how that would be possible. They also wondered if it could be used to power other golems or devices.
A few days passed had as though it were no time at all, and Braytons was in sight. It made Sybil’s heart sink as they approached. She drew her hood over her face as they entered. There was a fear that Lady Till would show up at any moment and forcefully evict her from the premises. She did fail the entrance exams... It wouldn’t surprise her if such a thing happened.
The cart was pulled over to the forge, where forgemaster Ira Knut was more than happy to have another Cully around to help him out. Even if Caitlin assured him that they wouldn’t be around for longer than a few weeks, he was eager to encourage them to stay for as long as they wanted.
Sybil did a jump when Stonetoe leaned against the back of the cart, peeking in. “Tuton.” He called out for Veximarl. “Unload what you guys need into your room. I assume that’s Twist hiding over there?”
“Yes, s-sir…” She stammered.
“Get out here.” He spoke firmly, and she hesitated. “I just want to talk. No need to be worried.”
She followed him into a gap that laid between a building and the outer wall. Stonetoe leaned against the wall and looked down at her. Sybil felt small at that moment. Her heart was racing. Inside her cloak, she was gripping tightly to the letter from Grulick.
“Out with it.” He demanded, making her wince. “You wouldn’t have come all the way back here without something to show.”
“Lady Grulick…” Sybil gulped. “She’s quite ill.” She bowed deeply.
“Figured as much. She’s ancient, after all.” Sybil looked up at Stonetoe, who was annoyed by her statement. “That letter that Tuton handed looked like it had been opened up and read a hundred times. Figured she wrote it while her hands were still good.”
Sybil let out a sigh of relief. Good, she hadn’t accidently let out Veximarl’s secret at the first chance she got. “I’m sorry.”
“You still met with her, right?” She looked up at him in surprise. “That swamp is riddled with necromancers, and she has connections. Even if she’s on death’s door, she’ll probably last there for another decade or so before she lets Tria claim her.”
“... Yes. I met her.”
“She’s great, isn’t she?” Stonetoe grinned. “I mean, she took in a vagrant like me and Grimhawk, even though he’s blind. Countless others as well. That was a woman who only cared about who an individual was. Not their background, not their family, just who they amounted to as a person. With that said, I’m going to assume Tuton helped forge a letter?”
“... Yes.” Sybil held it forward hesitantly.
“Good. As long as you met with her, that’s good enough for me.” He took it. “Come on.”
They walked together into a building and through a long hall. At the end was a wooden door with the Braytons crest carved into it. Rather than knocking, Stonetoe marched right in, holding the letter up high as he did so.
“Hey, Nita! Look what I found!” He slammed the letter down on the desk.
“Braden!” Lady Till came to a stand. She had been in the middle of paperwork, and Stonetoe’s antics had knocked some of it over on the floor. “I told you, and Grimhawk, and Dalkirk, that I wasn’t going to accept Miss Twist into these barracks.” She shot a glare at Sybil, was was still standing in the hallway.
Stonetoe put on an arrogant smirk. “This girl was trained by Lady Larkin, who you might remember as being your bestest friend in the whole wide world.”
“And her, and her death, is precisely why I cannot allow that girl to attend here,” Till hissed back.
“Now hear me out, I’m not done yet.” He raised his hands and stepped back. “Twist here went to Volo Refuge after you gave her the boot and yanked Ol’ Grulick’s sword out from the wall. Then she traveled all the way over to the swamps to get this letter of acceptance. I don’t know about you, but she probably fought all sorts of dangerous things to get there. Right, Twist?”
Sybil shrunk back. “There was a necromancer who had a fire golem, yes. She did try to kill me at one point.”
“See? She had to fight off a necromancer who had a- Wait, seriously?” He looked back and she nodded. “... Did you kill her?”
“... Y-yes,” she muttered back. “But, uh, Vex was the one who defeated her golem. At least, both of us did, together... “
“... Huh.” Stonetoe stared at her, still unsure of what she was claiming. “See? She had useless Tuton with her and managed to survive that. So you’re going to tell me that this girl ain’t worthy of knighthood?” Till glared at him. “Am I gonna have to tell Duchess Elbellziara that you’ve gone ahead and-” The woman held up a hand to stop him from finishing that sentence.
Till leaned back into her chair. She opened the letter and quickly read through it. Her hand went up and she pinched the bridge of her nose. “Any further objections before I assign her to Dalkirk’s squad?”
“None whatsoever.” Stonetoe folded his arms and looked quite smug with himself.
“I have one.” Sybil sheepishly spoke out. “If possible, I would like to be assigned to the same squad I had during the exams.”
Till shook her head. “Dalkirk will need another first year squire, and your skills will be much better honed under his tutelage. The squad you are requesting follows a difficult training schedule, and I feel as though you may find it difficult to flourish there.”
“I can do it.” Sybil bowed. “Please. I already have a strong bond with several members within that squad. If possibly, I would like to continue studying with them.”
A sigh came out of the woman. “Very well. Dalkirk will be given a chance to borrow you for whenever he needs it. Is that understood?” Sybil nodded. “I’ll get the paperwork ready. Welcome to Braytons, Miss Twist.”
And with that, the total students for the first year class went to seventeen. Sybil let out a huge sigh of relief as they stepped out of the room. She and Stonetoe walked side by side until they reached the outside of the building.
“I don’t like this.” Stonetoe muttered. “I don’t like extra work. That’s why there’s two heads of my squad, because I don’t like extra work. Anytime I try to help someone out, I always end up with more stuff to do.”
“I’m sorry, Sir Stonetoe. I promise that I’ll make it up to you.” Sybil bowed again with gratitude towards her newfound mentor.
Stonetoe scratched at his nose and looked off to the side. “You’re going to have to go to the tailor and ask for a uniform. Tell her that it’s the Stonetoe special.” He gave a slow and determined nod. “Yeah... That would work. With that out of the way, welcome to Grimstone Squad. Don’t mess it up.” He gave her a slap on the back and walked off.
She breathed out another sigh of relief and went to the tailor. Her measurements were taken, and she was given a spare uniform from a previous year to use until the new one was finished. From there, she went up to her squad’s room. All she wanted to do was unpack and prepare for her new life.
When she entered the room, Veximarl wasn’t to be seen. The items they had brought back with them from Carapace were neatly placed under each bed, and Grulick’s spear had been hung above the door as a good luck charm. After some debate, they had decided to bring it with them after all. Her personal space had some extra items, as Zaniyah had thought to add to it. There was an empty bookshelf and a low table, with sitting pillows tossed about it, and a privacy curtain. It was plain looking, but she liked plain things.
Sybil took a moment to step from bed to bed, noticing the uniforms that had been hung up in front of each. The Grimstone colors were gray and copper. Their uniforms seemed to match each person’s preferences. Zaniyah’s was tight fitting with no back to it, Chickadee’s a simple tunic, and it came with a cloak and scarf. Veximarl’s was somewhat plain like Chickadee’s, just in a larger size. She glanced for a moment to where Alton had been staying, and frowned that there wasn’t anything to find there at all. Maybe he had been assigned to a different squad, which would have been an excellent thing.
She took a seat at her table and pulled out the project that she and Caitlin had been working on. The skull of the mist cat they had found had been cleaned of flesh. Veximarl’s gem, which Sybil had pilfered, had been hidden inside, and blood iron had been placed into the forehead. Sybil had been carefully carving arcane writing into it over the past few days while Veximarl was asleep.
The idea had come from the flame golem she had seen at the swamp. That one was powered by mist, but maybe this one can use the same power source as what the other golem used here. She set to work setting a pair of white stones in the eye sockets, and pulled out her letter. After poking at it a few times, she was able to finalize the carvings to the skull after tuning it to the energies present within the barracks.
It appeared to struggle as it begun to activate. Light started to pour from its eye sockets. The color was a bluish-white, similar to the light golem that lived within the library. Eventually, it took shape, standing on the table before her. No motion was made, it simply chose to stare at her.
It didn’t reply, which might have been a good sign. She was worried it would start scolding her in an old man voice. Her hand went out to touch it, and it felt only slightly warm to the touch. There was a slight pressure when she ran her hand against the light body. With force, she could easily put her hand all the way through as though it were a ghost, but it didn’t seem to like that at all.
Sybil moved back to give it some space, and it curled up agains tthe table. She looked around and let out yet another sigh of happiness. There was a lot to used to, but she was going to enjoy it.
When Veximarl returned, it took a bit to calm him down. Blah, blah, floating light skull, no necromancy, blah blah. She insisted that it was their new pet, and the golem should be treated as such. They hadn’t thought of a name for it, but it didn’t seem to mind. It also seemed to have a strong preference for Veximarl, following him about the room and awkwardly standing on his shoulders. Both of them thought it wise to keep her in the room for now, least something bad were to happen.
But the golem would have found it more entertaining to be able to follow Veximarl about. Grimhawk and Stonetoe had a discussion on what to do with Veximarl, and decided to start from the bottom. Level one. Kid’s stuff. This meant that Veximarl was expected to do stamina and strength training every day.
In the mornings, he assisted on the farm. Moving carts, harvesting plants, digging irrigation, whatever needed to be done. Afterwards, he was expected to run for long periods of time and do stamina building exercises. Anytime he had a break, he laid in a puddle of misery, refusing to move until it was time for his next activity.
With classes a week away, Sybil had less to do. She watched as the second and third years returned, and some of them immediately left again on other missions. In the mornings, she worked in the forge with Caitlin. Classes weren’t starting until the rest of the first years returned. Most of her time was spent avoiding Zyris and his attempts to have private conversations, but she didn’t know that many people here and Veximarl was often busy… It was hard to avoid him as a result.
And so the days passed as she waited for the others to return. She couldn’t wait to hear what they had done in their time away, and in turn had much to share with them. Sure, the trip had some excitement to it, but at the same time, she couldn’t wait to have both Chickadee and Zaniyah at her side again. After all, the whole reason she had the strength to carry on was because of them, and she wanted to give them the good news that they were going to stay together for a few years longer.