“Next! You two verses you two.” Grimhawk waved his hand about in the air, as though he were gesturing towards different pairs. Instead, it was at no one again.

Gwyn stood up and shifted about uncomfortably. “Meeting my captain on the field of battle is necessary for our training, but I would rather be fighting by his side.” It appeared as though she had taken a lesson from Duxton and had chosen her own opponent.

“He can handle himself just fine. Remember what he said earlier?” Ivy put on a mocking tone. “Neither rank nor nobility matter. When it comes to training, we should show no one mercy. Otherwise, we won’t get stronger. Isn’t that right, darling?” She passed an innocent smile to Vincent.

“Watching that fight got me pumped, so I don’t mind going in for a tussle now.” Zaniyah smiled back at the pair. She liked big weapons. Shame Duxton’s monstrosity was a magic summoned thingy because she wanted to give it a few practice swings.

Ivy spoke to her in a low growl as she passed. “I’m going to enjoy taking you apart piece by piece.”

The threat was ignored. “Vincent! You coming?” Zaniyah grinned at the paladin before turning around to skip down the hill.

The set of pairs stood a little way apart from each other once they reached the field. At the signal, they raised their weapons and clashed against one another. Axe against sword, sword against shield. They appeared evenly matched from Chickadee’s view. He watched from the fort’s rampart, even though he was supposed to be practicing his magic.

“Cully!” Naiov called for him. “You’re falling behind!”

“Yes, sir!”

The mages skilled with elemental spells were working on air magic today. Naiov was balancing on the edge of the wall with one foot, waiting for Chickadee to catch up. There was an obstacle course laid out around the rooftops of the buildings, and they were supposed to gather the rings that were suspended from ribbons hung all around the barracks.

Pegasus was in the courtyard, watching Anais work her magic on a group of mice she had lured out from the stables. There was a look of disgust on his face as she made them dance and twirl about in elaborate patterns. He had scolded her the previous week for having a useless talent that was not beneficial for any knight. His words were so harsh that she had started to cry. Now she was seeking to prove herself.

Chickadee didn’t particularly care for the condescending nature of those within Horsetalon squad, but it was something he would have to put up with he wished to continue studying here. He jumped up after Naiov and his hand twisted through the air. A gust of wind blew a ribbon to his hand. Looping the ring about his wrist, he moved on to the next rooftop.

Along with him was Chester, who was already ahead. Although Chickadee had overall better balance and agility, Chester had more practice with air magic. He could also create bridges of ice between roofs to skid across while Chickadee had to look for the shortest span to jump. Chickadee whipped air around him as extra insurance as he hopped across another gap, and softened his landing on the other side.

“I don’t care what you can make them do! The point of the exercise was to get them out of here!” Pegasus waved his fan through the air and the mice were swallowed up into the dirt below. The ground took on a reddish stain as Anais stepped back in horror. “Was that the last of them?”

“Y-yes, sir…” Anais bit her lip and her bracelets rattled as she formed her hands into fists. He didn’t need to kill them. She could have taken them far from the barracks, to some wooded area where they would be safe.

Chickadee got distracted. His gloves creaked as his own hands flexed. Extermination had never sat well with him. Watching Pegasus have such little regard for life had struck a nerve.

“Cully!” A lightning bolt went past Chickadee’s head. He looked over to see Naiov glaring at him. “Compton has already finished the course. Hurry it up!”

Another few jumps and he finished gathering the rest of the rings. He leaped off the roof and landed gently on the ground, then approached to where Chester and Anais were standing. Pegasus appeared tired. His fan waving at his face to keep away the summer heat.

“It will be a blessing once we travel to Fogbloom to fetch Duchess Elbellziara,” he spoke softly to Naiov, who nodded in agreement. “The rest of you…” He peered at the three. “Cully, lightning meditation. Compton, go find two large rocks and smash them together until they are much smaller in size. Reese…” He let out an aggravated sigh. “Go mop the kitchens. If you can’t use magic for that, do it manually. Dismissed.”

Chickadee had heard rumors of this sort of prejudice among mages but had never seen it in person. There were many different types of magic in the world. Mages were those who tossed themselves wholly into the magical artes, but there were those within that group who thought only elemental magic was the purest form of casting. Others were considered unclean and better left wiped out in order to keep the bloodlines clean.

He looked over at Anais, who hiccuped to keep herself from crying. She sulked her way to the kitchens as Chester gritted his teeth. It would seem that there were words that both of them had for Sir Pegasus, but lacked the authority to say. Glancing over to Naiov, he was surprised to see to see that he was also glaring, but only momentarily. From his understanding, Naiov was barely average when it came to his own strengths, and he was nothing more than a shadow when compared to Trenchall. Pegasus might not give him an easy time either.

Making his way back up the wall, Chickadee noticed that Zaniyah was still in the middle of her duel. He sat on the edge and extended out his hand. A ball of sparking energy appeared above his palm. It took a considerable amount of concentration on his part to keep it stable, but at least he could do this and watch his friends at the same time.

Zaniyah was beginning to falter. She had suffered a few false injuries. Gold light was dripping heavily from multiple slash marks on her body. Ivy was in a similar condition and was dragging one of her legs behind her. Both of them were panting as they struggled to hold onto their weapons.

Some advantage went to Zaniyah’s pair, as Vincent had healing magic at his disposal. However, he was still locked in battle with Gwyn. Grass grew up and around Vincent’s feet, tangling him up and slowing his ability to approach. He was forced to use his summoned shield as a board to stand on in order for him not to be caught up in her trap.

Vines shot up around the edges of the shield and started to drag the paladin towards Gwyn at a high speed. Vincent dropped to one knee, doing his best to keep his balance. His eyes flitted over to Zaniyah’s and they made contact during the brief moment as she spun around to swing her axe at Ivy again.

Continuing her spinning, Zaniyah finished off her attack by performing a large upswing. A blade of wind was launched directly at Vincent. He, in turn, unsummoned his shield and shifted it up to deflect the wind blade, knocking it directly at Gwyn. She let out a shout of surprise as it cleaved through her at an angle, and her scream was cut short as she vanished in light.

Vincent then let out a grunt of pain as the vines about his feet began to swallow up his body, contorting and twisting it as they struggled to pin him to the ground. Without Gwyn’s influence, they were acting out on their own. Both Ivy and Zaniyah paused as Vincent let out another tense grunt as he was lifted up and bent backward.

“Darling! Hold on!” Ivy dropped her guard for the slightest moment before she lifted up her weapon. Her grip shifted and slits along the blade of her bastard sword opened up. She gave a swing towards Zaniyah, and a volley of blister thistle buds was launched towards her.

Raising up her arms to block, Zaniyah was surprised as the flowers stuck to her rather than harmlessly bounced off. It was summer. She wasn’t wearing much. The flowers easily embedded themselves into her arms and legs, giving her a horrific itching sensation. She let out a cry as rashes immediately started to spread across her skin, and her muscles began to go numb.

Ivy took her chances and raised her sword high. Not about to be taken advantage of, Zaniyah gave another upswing of her axe. The hooked part of her axe caught onto the blade of the sword and both weapons went flying as Zaniyah was forced to let go. Her hands were suddenly not working so well.

Ripping a handful of the flowers off of her arm, Zaniyah shoved a clump of them against Ivy’s face as the squire turned to fetch her fallen sword. Ivy let out a sharp scream and then pounced on Zaniyah. The two took began punching and kicking at each other as they rolled about the blister thistle covered ground.

Struggling to get a grasp on her handaxe while defending herself, Zaniyah managed to get it loose from its sheath as she rolled on top of Ivy. There she let out a series of sharp cries as she brought the axe repeatedly down on the squire, gold light spewing in all directions until Ivy was teleported away.

Wheezing, Zaniyah struggled to a stand, but all she could do was stumble. Her wrestling match with Ivy had torn parts off of her uniform and worked more of the ill plant across over her body. She decided it was better to give up and landed face first into the dirt below, sending up a cloud of dust as she did so. It was becoming more and more difficult to move. Death would be a blessing, but her body was so stubborn that it refused to be swallowed up in light.

“Do something!” Tish clutched her hands into fists as she looked over at Gwyn.

Gritting her teeth, Gwyn kept her hand outstretched. “... I can’t,” she growled out.

Choke vines will naturally tighten against anything it can find until it breaks. Normally it was slow enough to not be a bother to people or animals, but her momentary break away made her unable to stop its accelerated growth. It was using its surge of energy to snap Vincent to pieces, but it was not strong enough to finish him off. All he could do was suffer until the air was squeezed out of him.

“That was a tactical error on Nox’s part,” Basil remarked as he gestured with a set of fingers at Peter. The secondary archer of Moontear Squad gave a nod and lifted his bow. He let one fly, and it embedded itself into Vincent’s throat.

Appearing in a glow of light nearby, the paladin grasped at his throat. He coughed for a few moments to help clear away the strangling sensation that he had. Then he turned to Ivy, shouting at her with a reddened face.

“Why would you bring poison onto the field?!” He was fuming, showing a high level of emotion that startled those who knew him.

Ivy was on the ground, pawing at her face while wheezing. A blistering rash was spreading out from where Zaniyah had forcefully rubbed the plants onto it. “I thought the point was to win...”

Tish immediately rushed over. “Please hold still. Allow me to treat it.”

“Don’t bother, Maplehammer. Fetch Krogastein first,” Vincent growled out. Tish looked between him and the Ivy with some hesitance. “Go help Zaniyah! She’s in worse condition!”

Basil waved a hand to get their attention. “You shouldn’t touch their skin. Blister thistle has an oil that seeps into everything and it will cause paralysis. We need to get them back to the dorms and wash it off with lye based soap.”

Vincent looked over to where Zaniyah was. Sybil, Alton, and Veximarl had already entered the field in an attempt to help her. “Thistleweed, go-” He held his arms out as he stumbled. The ground had started to rumble, and he had nearly lost his balance because of it.

Looking over to the fort, the group could see a flat rock sliding towards them at a high speed. Chickadee was balancing on top while Chester was holding on for dear life. He gave a stop by where Vincent was and pointed a hand to Zaniyah. She was swallowed up into the ground, rumbling below them for a moment before popping up nearby. Chester worked to open the water flasks on his belt, and he pulled the liquid free using his magic.

The water mage enveloped Zaniyah’s body in liquid, giving a small air bubble around her nose and mouth so she could breathe as he worked. Droplets of oil, dirt, and plant particles were being slowly pulled off her, eased off by a powder agent that Chester had started to sprinkle in. Vincent’s tense nature eased up as he watched the process. Though he still gritted his teeth and held his shield hand in a tight fist.

“What’s going on?” Grimhawk cupped a hand to his ear. “Was there an earthquake?”

Evan politely poured the old knight another cup of tea. “Nox used some sort of poison against Krogastein and it ended up backfiring on her. Both of them are unable to continue until they’ve been medically treated.”

“After they’re stable, go ahead and get on with your match,” said Grimhawk as he summoned up a wooden cone. “You all need to work on learning how to do practice matches correctly! It’s called practice, not murder fun time!”

“Yes, sir!” The others replied, though none of them sounded enthusiastic when they said it.


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About the author

Adelaide West

Bio: Author of the Grimstone Series and Duck and Wolf.

I have a Twitter. I check it often, so I guess tag me anytime you want. I just don't post very often. @AdelaideGWest

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