Sybil wasn’t used to traveling long distances. Her roots laid in a city that was best described as condensed. Not letting that deter her, she and a set of schoolmates had chosen to travel a long distance away from home in order to reach the Cenotaph Geysers. They were located on the border between their native Crimson Region and the Gilded Region. All around them, sulfur-scented steam rose up from boiling pits, and the only thing that protected them was the partially rotted wooden pathway.
Their destination wasn’t much farther off. They were heading towards a temple made of white quartz spires and chunks of scoria. Sybil paused at the sight if it, just to take it in. It was difficult to explain the importance of the place. To the rest of the world, this place had no meaning. It housed no religion and served no noble house. Though to people like Sybil, this was a temple of great reverence, for it carried within the requests of the fallen.
“Volo Refuge.” The girl muttered under her breath as she brushed away the sweaty hair from her face. She was tired and frail looking. Pale skin with dull brown eyes and short black hair that curled in slightly right underneath her jawline.
Next to her was one companion that vastly differed from her in appearance. Long, wild blue hair in tight curls, with loose, revealing clothing, and a battle axe that she had attached to her back by a halter. She was tall in height, had a face that was a massacre of freckles, and thick lips were always spread in a wide smile full of broad teeth.
“You think they have a gift shop?” Zaniyah stepped in front of Sybil and bent down so her amber colored eyes met her friends. She wanted to be sure that her next question would be taken seriously. “Do you think they have eggs? Are we allowed to dunk eggs into the geysers?” Her caterpillar brows furrowed in concern. “You should’ve let me climb that tree earlier to get those eggs.”
Sybil’s other companion, Chickadee, let out a huff of air. He was as similar to Sybil as Zaniyah was different. Short, with a saggy cloak and a series of scarves that covered most of his face and all of his hair. His shoulders bent forward in a permanent slump and he had a small, dark-skinned nose that had a slight upturn to it. Everything else was hidden. He was also never one for words, leaving the other two to fill in for him.
“I don’t think this is the type of place to sell souvenirs.” Sybil glanced over at Chickadee. She also had concerns between the summer heat and Chickadee’s heavy clothing. Even if he claimed to be used to heat, the humidity of the geyser field might end up doing him in. That huff could either be him dying or him being annoyed with Zaniyah, and she wasn’t quite sure which. “We should pay our respects quickly and head over to Braytons.”
Zaniyah held up a finger as a point of argument but stopped as Chickadee walked past them. “I want to find some eggs when we’re done!” She took a quick step backward and twisted about so she could catch up with her friend.
“We won’t have time for that! We need to get there before nightfall!”
She said that, but Sybil gave pause again as nervousness began to overwhelm her. There was nothing but a wasteland of bubbling stink around them. She doubted that any bird would want to build a nest near here, but she could be wrong. Animals were something she had never paid close attention to in the past or bothered to understand.
Thoughts started to buzz around her mind as she mentally prepared herself, yet there wasn’t enough time to do so. She was blocking the pathway for the others that were trying to get past. Her feet hastened a bit to catch up, making little sound against the planks as she went. Entering the temple itself made her shudder as a blast of cooled air bit against her cheeks. On reflex, she protected her face by pulling up her hood.
They called this place a temple, but it was actually a graveyard for weaponry. The crystal walls were embedded from corner to corner with swords, maces, arrows, or any sort of item that served as a memento for a hero. Sybil hadn’t expected it to be crowded, but it was full of those who were her own age. Most were in small groups of matching uniforms, not unlike the cloaks that both she and Chickadee wore.
The majority of them were talking to each other, relieved to be out of the heat, but there were a few who were placing their hands on a weapon so they could give it a firm tug. Every item here belonged to a renowned hero who had a final request. Those who managed to successfully draw the weapon are said to be those that hold the same virtues as the knight that came before them. They would then be given the task of completing the fallen’s wish.
This was a place that had little value for most, but it was everything for an aspiring squire. That was part of the reason why Sybil chose to stop by this place. The other was that there was a particular weapon she wished to test her hand on. Slowly, with a dazed look on her face, she started to scan the plaques placed next to each weapon.
“Apologies.” A monk pressed his hand gently against her shoulder, making her tense up and grasp at one of the daggers on her belt. “All weapons must be checked in at the front desk, but I can carry them there for you if you wish.”
“Ah, sorry.” Sybil undid the pair of daggers on her belt and passed them over.
The monk quickly noted the emblem of the clockwork hound embroidered on her black cloak. “Apologies again, I don’t recognize your school’s emblem.”
“Dogfall Academy.” Sybil gave half a smile, but the monk scrunched up his face as he tried to remember. “It’s in Carapace.” He dwelled on that a bit. “... T-the core of Carapace.”
“Ah! Of course! “ His face lit up. “It’s been a few years since we got that item in, and I was beginning to wonder if any of you would be coming in to claim it. What you seek is located on that back wall. Second row from the left.”
The air was caught in her chest as she looked off to where he pointed. “Thank you. I’ll go check there right away.” She hastened off in that direction, once again glancing quickly over the plaques. Her hands clutched the cloak about her torso as she did so.
Haztooth, to defeat a dragon in a test of strength. Emiel Snider, to outwit a dragon. Skuti Bardsen, to investigate dragon activity about his village. Now that she was looking through these, a surprising amount had to do with dragons. Which was odd, since she was certain they were extinct… She gave a shake of her head and continued to read. Ribnjak Grulick, to meet their successor.
Lydia Larkin, to unite her home.
Sybil’s fingers rested against the plaque. Her eyes became fixated on the hilt of a rapier sticking out from the crystal. Lady Larkin. Hero of the southern war and someone who dedicated her life to equal rights within Carapace. After she died, Sybil never thought she’d get the chance to see this blade again. Her heart was racing at the sight of it.
The image of the lark that was carved into the blood iron pommel was burned in her memories, along with the stories Lydia would tell. All of those wondrous adventures were the reason why Sybil had left the core. She wanted to be a knight. Someone who would stand up for what was right in the world and inspire a new generation.
She started to rub her hands together to stop them from shaking. Her eyes then glanced around. Was there any sort of protocol? Should she just go ahead and go for it? Sybil began to reach up, hand still shaking, towards the hilt. Maybe just a quick tug. No one would notice if the blade remained stuck. Maybe no one would care either. After all, everyone was doing it.
Her fingers had only begun to curl about the hilt when a hand snapped about her wrist She let out a surprised gasp, going wide-eyed as she looked up at the young man glaring down at her. Despite his youth, his hair was already silver, and his eyes had such a hateful look to them. His uniform was tidy and had the coat of arms for Starsons Academy on it in a brazen manner. That is to say, it was quite large and covered the front and part of the left side of his torso. It was simply how everyone dressed in that area of Carapace.
“What are you doing?” He tugged her hand off of the weapon and made a motion as though he were tossing it aside as he let go. “Don’t dare to touch Lady Larkin’s blade with your soiled hands, cave mouse. She’s from a more revered group than your kind.” His eyes glared at her. The color of them constantly shifted from violet to green within the flickering light of the temple.
“I am just as much from Lydia’s ‘group’ as you are,” hissed Sybil under her breath.
He raised his arm up, as though he were about to backhand her. “Her name is Lady Larkin, and you will not address her so casually with your filthy, grub munching lips.”
Sybil gritted her teeth and glared up at the rude individual. Her hand went to her hip, where one of her daggers would normally be. Fingers tensing up as though she were grabbing it, she mentally cursed their absence. For a moment, a slight mist began to build up about her feet, and her mouth opened up as though to say something.
But she was forcefully silenced as a hand grasped about her mouth. It gave her head a small jerk back into the chest of someone unknown. They smelled musty, and the sensation of the cold metal of their chestplate wasn’t comfortable.
“Dogfall Academy of the core of Carapace.” The voice sounded sickly, and his hand dropped from her mouth to point at the badge on the front of her cloak. “Apologies for my rudeness, but I overheard her tell a monk that. I assume by your behavior that you are from the same city? Should the two of you be fighting in front of the grave of one of your city’s heroes?”
“Alton!” From behind the silver boy ran up a pair of boys in Starsons uniforms. One matched Alton’s, but the other had an additional insignia labeling him as a cleric. The shouting non-cleric’s forearms became enveloped in flames. “I don’t know or care who you are, but we’ll finish things here and now if you have a problem with us,” he growled.
Sybil ducked away to remove herself from the situation as Alton stepped forward. Her “savior” also stepped back, raising up his hands. He was a tall figure with long dark hair that waved about just above his shoulders. His face was hidden behind large tinted glasses that were held up by a hooked nose. The rusted armor he wore was loose on his skeletal frame, and he wore dusty robes covered in patchwork underneath it.
When he spoke, it was in a gentle manner. “You are mistaken to believe that we are in the middle of a fight. There is no need to be hot-headed. Let us take a step back and evaluate this situation calmly.”
The flames began to grow in intensity, enveloping the boy’s arms completely. “What a highbrow attitude for a ditch crawling roach. Hey hobo, let me knock you down a notch and see if you croak a different tune.” This made the one with the cleric insignia hang his head off to the side and sigh in a tired manner as if he had seen this play out a hundred times before.
“We should head out, Barcus.” Alton tilted his head towards the mage, but he kept his eyes on Sybil. She was still attempting to sidestep out of the situation while no one was looking. “I don’t need to hear Highland complain about how we’re going to be late.” His eyes flitted over to where Lydia’s rapier was and he shook his head.
“Vincent already ordered us to head out. We need to get there before we miss out on being interviewed,” muttered the cleric. He smacked Barcus upside the head, and the flames vanished in an instant.
Suddenly the harsh pose he had before was gone, and he spoke in a relaxed and charming manner. “Thanks, Luca. He would’ve been fine with leaving me behind.” His expression immediately soured, pointing at Sybil in the process. “Dogfall trash should stay in its hole. Go home, cave mouse.” He then let out an annoyed scoff as the other two headed towards the entrance.
Sybil shook her head. If they were already starting the interviews to Braytons’ exam, she’d have little time to get Zaniyah and Chickadee. She didn’t bother to thank her rescuer, looking instead around the different crystal structures to see if she could find the pair quickly. Turning a corner too sharply, her forehead smacked into the armored boy’s chestplate.
“Veximarl Tuton.” He brushed some hair away from her forehead to see if there was a bruise, which made Sybil swat at his hand. “No need for panic, I am a paladin trainee. I only wish to ensure that you are uninjured.”
She dealt with healers before. They were rude folk that had no taste for personal space. “Sybil Twist, scout,” she muttered. Looking around him, she finally caught sight of Zaniyah. Both of the girl’s legs were against the wall, and her hands were struggling to yank out a claymore. “I’m fine, and… Thanks, I guess, for helping me out earlier.” She didn’t think she needed the help, but she had been rude enough as it was.
“They do say paladins and damsels in distress go hand in-” Veximarl waved his hands back and forth as he had a change of thought over his words. “You are not that type, apologies. I only interrupted because it appeared as though you were about to cast a spell. I had met people from Carapace before, and they always spoke strange rumors about the core.”
“I wouldn’t know what you’re talking about.” Sybil narrowed her eyes at him. “We don’t talk rumors about ourselves, and I don’t let outlanders tell me what I’m supposed to be.”
“Right, of course. I did not intend to be rude. Though if you were to consider the unusual nature of the items here, casting magic could result-” She had started to walk away, forcing Veximarl to sidestep so he could continue to talk to her. “Lectures aside, I am from the northern peninsula swamp, and the idea of mist powered technology is an amazing concept that I would love to- AHHH!”
Veximarl had continued to sidestep as Sybil walked towards Zaniyah. The latter had just lost her grip on the claymore, which sent her flying into the paladin trainee. The two of them tumbled along the floor as Chickadee stepped aside to avoid them. He simply stood there, showing no emotion at the scene playing before him.
“I think they’ve already started registration. We must have gotten our dates mixed up.” Sybil said to Chickadee, who gave her a nod. “Zani, we need to head out.”
“Yeah, but I wanted to get a friend for my axe. Whisper is lonely and needs a buddy.” Zaniyah whined as she sprung up to a stand and dusted herself off.
“You already have Fling,” muttered Sybil. She gestured to Zaniyah’s thigh where the throwing axe was normally strapped.
Zaniyah’s face scrunched up. “They’re great weapons, don’t get me wrong, but they’re sort of hand me downs. I wanted something new and shiny!”
“Every weapon here is a hand me down. That’s the entire point of this temple, and you’re supposed to let the weapons choose you, not the other way around.” Sybil gestured to Chickadee, who looped his finger in the hole of a rope dart blade. “You can’t walk up to just any random blade here and expect to pull it free.”
Chickadee gave it a firm tug, and it popped easily out of the wall with a small click. Zaniyah’s jaw dropped as Veximarl and Sybil stared in stunned silence. Chickadee panicked and attempted to cram the weapon back into its hole. He managed to shove it back in, only to have it slowly slide out once more. His hand darted out to catch it, and his feet began shuffling back and forth in panic as he didn’t know what to do next.
“Leaving now,” he hissed out a sharp whisper, hiding the knife in his sleeve he walked as fast as he could towards the exit.
“Leaving is ill-advised. There is a protocol to follow when it comes to these sorts of rituals.” Veximarl started to stumble to a stand, and Sybil’s hand suddenly pressing itself against his mouth.
“Sorry. We’re running late. We’ll deal with it after the exams are over.” Sybil removed her hand and grasped onto Zaniyah’s wrist. “We’ll fetch Chickadee’s cane when we reclaim our belongings. Who knows how many hours are left until we reach Braytons, and it’s already afternoon.”
Zaniyah shook her head. “But the eggs. The gift shop. My claymore!” Sybil didn’t release her grip, half dragging her friend towards where a monk was standing at a counter.
“A set of daggers, a great axe, a throwing axe, and a cane within a long box. Everything should be marked with the Dogfall Academy emblem.” Sybil gestured to the badge on her cloak to show what it looked like. The monk was quick to pass them their weapons, which were picked up by the set of girls before they dashed out of the temple.
The paladin trainee let out a shout as they hurried away. It might have been important, but Sybil didn’t care. They were running late. Chickadee had plenty of time to deal with other responsibilities afterward. To her, the only thing that mattered is that they got to the exams on time.