“Gillhorn Squad! You’re dead! Three laps around the field!” Stonetoe waved one of his sabers around as he shouted. “No dragging your feet! I’ll make it four laps!”
Caitlin leaned forward on the fence. She had been watching Zaniyah’s movements closely for the past couple of matches. “How is she handling?”
A few practice swings of the axe were given. Zaniyah jumped from one foot to the other in a repetitive manner as she called back, “She still feels a bit sluggish! I don’t know how to explain it? There also isn’t that OOMPH that there is with the mist charges.” Another heavy swing was given. Gotta keep limber between squad decimations.
“Treant Squad!” Stonetoe looked around. “... Stop hiding. Why are you all hiding behind the same post?! Not a single one of you is skinny enough to fit there, which is even less of a reason for you to cluster behind it like ducklings! You have a blasted mage in your group! Just shoot fire at her already!”
Zaniyah rested her axe on her shoulders as she watched the next five squires walk in. Her tongue ran against her teeth as she examined her prey. Their uniforms were kinda cute, with a green leaf motif about them. She was kinda jealous of the design. A nature design or anything that wasn’t a dull brown and gray would be nice.
“Eremurus!” The captain of Treant gave pause at Stonetoe’s request. “Stay out of this one. Give your orders and trust your squad to take care of the rest.”
“Yes, sir,” Theodoric replied. He then quickly spoke to his squad, hands dancing about the air as he did so. “The smaller field is to her advantage. Parcel, don’t forget your shields this time. We’ll attack her from a distance and save Magnolia as the last gambit.” They gave a salute before entering the field.
“Krogastein! Attack when ready!” Stonetoe called out.
Unlike the other groups, who had chosen to rush her, this one had a plan. She decided it was better to wait for a second so she could see what they were up to. There was an archer pulling back an arrow right next to the mage. Behind them were another man and woman, who were wearing cleric robes.
The mage himself was swirling his staff around. Above him, a whirlwind of flames were forming. A sudden drop of his staff and the whirlwind shot forward, spiraling wildly towards his target. Zaniyah spun around, moving the axe off her shoulders as she did so.
A heavy swing downward caused a sharp blade of wind to fly through the air. It split the mage’s spell in half and cleaved through both the mage and the archer. Behind them, the female cleric had put up her shield while the other had ducked behind her.
“Don’t stand together like that! Didn’t you see what happened to the other groups?!” Stonetoe shoved at the mage back onto the ground with his boot. “You’re dead! Five laps for being a special sort of idiot!”
Zaniyah ran towards the remaining pair and ducked underneath a polearm as it was jutted forward at her head. She skidded on her knees and swung the axe in front of her. The cleric jumped up to avoid it, while the polearm wielder leaped to the side. Rolling to a stand, Zaniyah pulled Fling off her thigh and hurled it at the polearm cleric’s head. He also vanished, leaving only one remaining.
“I told you to stick to Whisper!” Caitlin called out from the sidelines.
The cleric frowned at the small size of the field and stepped back against the fence as Zaniyah continued to step forward. Her axe came down with a loud clang as it made contact with the shield. Everyone nearby was forced to cower at the loud ringing, which was similar to a large bell being rung. It was enough to make Zaniyah stumble back in a startled manner.
Vincent tilted his head to the side as he approached the field. He dug a finger into his ear as he did so. “I have never been fond of the cleric’s shield.” He took to resting against the fence next to Caitlin. “I am here for my bracer.”
“What?!” Caitlin called back. She winced as another clang rang through the air, followed by several more in quick succession while Zaniyah screeched loudly in rage. Now everyone in the general vicinity was forced to cover their ears or risk permanent hearing damage.
The shutters to Lady Till’s office window slammed open. She leaned out of her window in an attempt to find out what was happening. Her eye was quickly caught sight of the dueling field, and a wooden cone was held up to her lips.
“STOP THAT RACKET THIS INSTANT!!!”
Her voice boomed louder than either the shield’s ringing or Zaniyah’s shouts, forcing everyone to wince twice as hard as before. Lady Till continued to glare down at the dueling field. Her eyes locked onto Stonetoe, who was giving a meek wave back. She said nothing more, slamming her shutters closed as a response.
Everyone paused… Then the faint noises of Alton being forced to return to his singing drifted through the air. A collective sigh was given as Zaniyah dropped her axe in the dirt.
“Come on! I almost had-” She stopped mid-sentence, having had a short sword plunged into her gut by the cleric. It was only after Zaniyah’s golden dust had completely dissipated did the cleric slump to the ground and clutch onto her ears in an attempt to heal them.
Zaniyah stumbled to a stand. “Oh, I am going to throttle her good.” She made her way to jump over the fence when Stonetoe called out to her.
“Krogastein! You’re dead! Two laps!” He pointed to the cleric. “Magnolia! Three laps for taking to long to counterattack!”
The cleric slumped all the more. “Yes, sir...”
Stonetoe looked over the group of third years who were still lined up. “Any of you feel the urge to fight her again?”
The third year class was doing their best impression of a statue garden. The knight looked up at the sky and pinched the bridge of his nose. He kept looking up even as Zaniyah jogged in front of him, muttering many a phrase that was not appropriate for a lady. As soon as the words left her mouth, he picked up a small rock from the ground and chucked it at her back.
“Perhaps my student?” Sir Pegasus gestured to Trenchall, who was obediently following behind him.
“Greetings, Mordiern!” Stonetoe gave a wave. “I’m showing off what the first years brought in to these slackers. How did my kid do with- Nevermind. You wouldn’t be here talking to me if he did well.” He made a shooing motion to the third years. “All of you go to the outer field for self-study. Actually, do it right this time or I’ll send Grimhawk after you! Keep them in line while you’re out there, Eremurus!”
Pegasus gave a stern eye as he watched the squires leave. “I’m certain that they all learned to slack off from the very best, but that doesn’t answer my question on if Kindrick may have a go at the girl.”
“Whoa, hey, Krogastein is just a glass arrow. All hit and no defense. She’s not ready to take on that nightmare.” Stonetoe put his saber away and lifted up his hands. “No need to be so eager to crush the melees on their first day.”
Vincent tightened his newly repaired bracer onto his arm. “If she requires defense, I am able to provide. My bracer is in need of testing.” Caitlin nodded to back him up.
Trenchall gave an uncaring glance in his direction. “Numbers matter not.”
“I suppose that would settle it, Sir Stonetoe? After all, the girl does appear to need at least one more fight to calm herself down.” Pegasus gestured to Zaniyah, who was still cursing as she made her way around the other side of the field.
Stonetoe chucked another rock at her before addressing Caitlin. “That bracer is safe for combat? Inner fields aren’t cleared for explosions. They aren’t cleared for elementalist duels either,” he said with a glance towards the field that Chickadee’s magic had recently terraformed, “so that boy of yours better keep his cool, Mordiern.”
Caitlin considered the possibility of Vincent’s bracer blowing up again. “Probably. I have no idea if it’ll work properly, but it shouldn’t bust. Sybil was the one who worked on the runes for it this time, so...” She thought about it some more, folding her arms as she did so. “... Nah, it’s fine. He can go for it.”
Zaniyah disgruntledly hopped back into the field, and Vincent tied back his hair so it wouldn’t get in the way. He winced as he felt a strange sensation at the back of his head. Turning about quickly, he was surprised to learn that it was Zaniyah swatting at his short ponytail.
“So curly… It’s like a little pig’s tail,” she muttered. Vincent’s eyes widened. He didn’t say anything, as he had completely frozen up like a statue. “Oh, sorry! Didn’t mean to get distracted there. I’ll get into a fighting position!”
She jogged over one end while Trenchall moved to the other. The mage flicked the metal circle off of his hip and tossed it up in the air. Coins flew off of it. They stopped mid-air and began to spiral about him in a pattern, and the hoop was swiftly caught and attached back to his belt again.
“Odd sort of weapon, isn’t it?” Zaniyah flashed Vincent a smile.
Vincent drew out his short sword and flicked out the fingers of his free hand. A blue shield of light with a mountain emblem appeared next to him. He tossed her a sideways glance but kept his attention on Trenchall. “Stay on my right.”
Stonetoe called to begin the fight, and the coins immediately began to glow a multitude of colors. They formed into a series of circles, and a grid of arcane runes appeared between them. Trenchall raised up his arm and pointed it at the pair. Suddenly the coins burst out with energy. Lightning, fire, and ice twisting about in the air in an all-out attack.
Vincent shifted his bracer to in front of him. His spell expanded into a full tower shield, splitting the blast harmlessly to either side of them. Zaniyah turned and pressed her back against Vincent’s, looking over her shoulder to see if there was a pattern in the spells that she could weave between. The slightest of vibrations were felt beneath her feet, and she pressed her elbow against Vincent’s side.
“Step left!” She gave a firm push, forcing them to move in that direction as the ground gave way next to them.
Stonetoe tsked his tongue. “What’s a Grand Temple beast doing here anyways? You always expect one or two monsters to show up every year, but last years exams were a joke.”
“Shame this current year failed to produce anyone of interest,” quipped Pegasus as he waved some cooler air towards Stonetoe with his fan. “Ah, perhaps the quiet one in Bronzescale, but I doubt he’ll prove to be anything worthy.”
“Dalkirk does have a type when it comes to his squads. Aside from Byers, we got a solid group. Singing boy, little blacksmith, animal girl, plant girl-”
“Why did the plant mage not show up to my meeting today?” Pegasus slapped his hand fan shut and held the tip of it against his chin. “I would rather have someone like her under my wing instead of the three fools that showed up today.”
“Bridal doll,” muttered back Stonetoe.
Stonetoe placed a finger against the side of his nose and smirked at his fellow knight. “I think you’ll find that we have a literal monster who is still waiting to pounce, but I’m not going to give my rival any of that information.”
Struggling as he carried a bucket of medical supplies, Veximarl let out a loud sneeze. All of this hay was making his allergies act up. The animals kicking up all this dust weren’t helping either. Another sneeze nearly made him drop the bucket and bit down on his lower lip to prevent himself from uttering out a curse.
“Three bottles on Mister Byers for taking top squire position next spring,” muttered Pegasus.
“One bottle on Cully,” replied Stonetoe.
“One bottle of wine is hardly a game. Take this seriously,” remarked the mage knight.
“Are you saying that foxnip is not a serious wage?” Stonetoe gave Pegasus the side eye. “Bottled this spring. Should be nice and sweet by the time winter is over.” He held out a hand. Pegasus stared at it for a moment before giving it a firm shake.
On the field, Vincent gave a small nod towards Trenchall. “Charge in.”
Zaniyah didn’t need to be told twice, but it was difficult to tell where spells would be coming from. The coins could travel some distance from Trenchall, giving him more range than normal mages. There didn’t seem to be much Trenchall was doing aside from waving his arms about like an idiot, and she didn’t know how to read those motions. Either way, she was told to run, so she ran. Vincent stayed right beside her, his arm moving this way and that to keep his shield protecting them.
Keeping his concentration while on the move was difficult for Vincent. A blade of ice struck Zaniyah in the arm. A sickening pop rang out the field as it severed a tendon, and the limb began to glow to signal that it had become paralyzed.
“Zaniyah.” Vincent pressed his free hand against her shoulder, and of the light faded from her arm as he cast a healing spell. It wasn’t a perfect healing, but she could at least move it again. His teeth gritted as two icicles hit him in the back. Too much of his attention had been placed on protecting her, and he rotated an awkward angle so she wouldn’t notice the injury.
A nod was given to thank him, and she continued to press on. She stepped out in front and swung her axe. Great gusts of wind blew forward, knocking the coins off course. Trenchall kept his focus on maintaining a multitude of spells rather than putting power into a few. He hardly moved from his spot as a result.
Vincent concentrated on his shield, and it expanded out into his armored golem. As it dashed forward, it made contact with a surprised Trenchall, sending him tumbling back. The coins began to fall out of the air around him. Zaniyah raised her axe up and ran to get into attacking range.
Raising up an arm, a handful of coins flew to Trenchall’s aid. They began to spiral about his wrist, and a large arcane circle appeared in front of his palm. Just as the spell was being released, the shield golem slammed into Zaniyah to move her out of the way. It attempted to absorb the blast, with Vincent falling to a knee as he poured more of himself into it. Not enough though, as he wasn’t able to overcome it. All he could do was roll out of the way as the golem evaporated, and clutch at his chest as he attempted to regain his breath.
Zaniyah recovered quickly, skidding to a stand. She looked over to Vincent, only to see a different arcane circle appearing behind the paladin as another one appeared next to her. Their eyes made contact, and both were simultaneously swallowed up in a golden light. The next thing they knew, they were out of the field.
Falling to her back, Zaniyah let out an annoyed sound and began to kick her feet. What were melee fighters like herself supposed to do against mages anyways? Stupid magic was everywhere. It was completely unfair. Her anger increased as Naiov bent over her to see if she was alright. He had a staff propped up against the small of his back with his arms, and a trio of glowing hot rocks were rotating about his head.
“Hey! I did great at avoiding most of his attacks, alright?! I have a great sense for when a spell is about to happen!” Naiov twirled a finger about, and a small static shock smacked Zaniyah in the forehead.“Ow! What was that for?!” She sat up, and her hair was all the more puffier than it was before.
“To see if you would dodge it. You didn’t.” He gave a nod to Vincent as the paladin approached. “Hello, Vincent.”
Vincent froze up, not recognizing Naiov until that moment. He appeared vastly different from the monster that had terrorized the squires of Starsons. The legends of the wild mage who was ordered to chase around squires with lightning bolts for hours on end would no doubt live on in Starsons history forever. They called it agility training. Naiov called it funny.
There was a tick in Vincent’s eye as he greeted his upperclassman. “Salutations, Mister Furrow.”
Naiov’s smile grew wider. “I’m training right now, but we should have dinner together sometime. With Alton and Mila, of course. I want to know how you’ve all been doing. Meanwhile, you should train with this one some more. She can’t seem to dodge anything.”
“It only works with earth magic right now, but I’ll get the hang of it soon enough!” Zaniyah glared as Naiov walked away. He was chuckling to himself, as though he didn’t believe her. “I will! Then I’ll beat the two of you up!” She looked over to Vincent. He was looking off to one side and awkwardly rubbing one of his arms. A sigh came out her lips. Magic wasn’t fair.
Trenchall tossed the ring back into the air and his coins obediently flew back onto them. He then stepped out of the field and gave a bow towards Pegasus. “They managed a hit, but I suffered no damage.”
“I saw.” Pegasus gave a frown at his pupil’s performance. “It is only the first day. They will improve quickly. Keep your skills sharp, Kindrick. Even if the fools at these barracks barely provide you a challenge, there are stronger foes waiting for you on the outside.”
Stonetoe was the next to approach Vincent. “You know how you messed up?” Vincent nodded. “Good. Make sure it doesn’t happen again. Go run two laps after you talk with girl Cully.”
Caitlin was already waiting with her hand out. “Confiscation.” Vincent pulled off the bracer and handed it over. “I’ll have my ‘expert’ look at it again, but it might take some time. We’re going to see if we can add some strength to your spell while we’re at it.”
“It controls oddly,” Vincent muttered. He pulled out the string that was holding up his auburn hair and ran his fingers through it in an effort to smooth out the waves.
“It works on instinct now so you’ll have faster response times, but you’re going to have to keep your emotions in check while fighting.” Caitlin rolled the bracer around in her hands to check it for damage. “I’ll see if I can have it edited to give you more control, but you’ll have to get permission to have your blood iron drawn. I’ll let you know what Sybil says. She thinks the instinct thing is the smoothest form of control, so that’s your job to convince her if you don’t like it.”
Zaniyah rolled up to a stand, waving over at Trenchall as he walked away. “Good fight! Let’s have a rematch soon, okay?” He ignored as he walked away. Not caring either way, Zaniyah set her sights on Vincent. “You alright?” Her hand reached up and brushed some of the hair away from his brow. “You got all sweaty.”
“Fire magic and summer do not make a good combination.” Vincent turned his head away from her.
She reached up and grabbed his cheeks, forcing him to look down at her. “You good though?”
“Zani…” Caitlin strained her face. “Have some respect for the paladin. And learn to wear a bra, damn. Your uniform is ripped up enough as it is. He doesn’t need to see that.”
Zaniyah pulled back and crossed her arms over her chest. “He’s probably just embarrassed because he got beat. I mean, I held him back. He wouldn’t have gotten hit if he wasn’t guarding me.” She tilted her head to the side and grinned widely. “Plus, Mama Stonetoe says there’s no way I can land a guy on account of how scary I am. I don’t have to worry about arousing anyone ever.”
“Mama Stonetoe..?” Her knight raised a brow.
“Yeah. ‘Cause you always yell that no one does any work around here except you, but deep down you secretly love all your babies.” Zaniyah nodded. “And Grimhawk is the papa because he’s almost never around.”
Stonetoe pinched the bridge of his nose. “Krogastein… Do three laps around the field.”
Zaniyah stuck out her tongue. “You’re just making me do that because you can’t argue with pure logic.” She then started to make her way around the field again.
“Get your damn uniform fixed when you’re done! It’s scorched in weird places!” Stonetoe called after her. “I don’t need some useless false daughter of mine flashing her goods out to a bunch of caged up men who would give it to a donkey as long as it wore a dress! Even if the donkey would look better than you, I don’t want to deal with that!”
Caitlin let out a sigh and patted Vincent on the shoulder. “Don’t let her bother you. She’s just…” She rolled her hands in the air. “Very touchy. It’s a family trait, and trust me, you don’t want me to get started on how bad her brothers are. The moral of the story is, if you see Sybil before I do, send her my way.”
Vincent gave a nod as he came to a stand. “Understood.” He bowed. “Thank you.”
“She said she’d be back late because she’s out hunting!” Zaniyah shouted out at them.
“Then tell her to see me during tomorrow’s lunch break!” Caitlin called after her.
“Kay!” Zaniyah waved an arm about to indicate she had heard her.
Going out to do hunting like Sybil sounded fun at all, but Zaniyah was having a blast here. Even if she was the one being blasted, it did little to bring her down. Her lips spread into a broad smile. If this is what she was going to have to do every day, she couldn’t wait until tomorrow came.