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Though they were both two-handed weapon fighters, the fighting stances between Zaniyah and Silas varied greatly. He held his hammer aloft, scanning for details in Vincent’s form. How he held his short sword, how he balanced on his feet, and how he studied Silas in return. Each could give a hint to how Vincent would defend himself or how he could charge in for the attack.

Silas’ own feet dug into the ground, his hammer swinging hard into the dirt before him. It erupted in a wall of flames that shot straight towards Vincent. A barrier of blue light surrounded the paladin, twisting into the shape of a large shield that split the flames. The now two streams of fire blasted harmlessly on either side of his person. He scoffed at the attack.

“I had advised you to stop using that as an opener. It has become predictable,” he called out to his opponent.

“Is that how a paladin is supposed to fight?!” Zaniyah looked away for a moment at Veximarl, who was just now sitting up from his daze. He looked down at his chest, only to see the broken armor on his body. A groan was let out and his face fell to his hands. Zaniyah’s own expression was that of utter disappointment. “Why’d I get the broken one?”

Chickadee gave a nod at Zaniyah’s statement. “Standard acolyte spell. Paladin has strong shields, less refined healing spells.”

The shield around Vincent moved forward and began to shift in shape. It was now a fully armored figure holding the shield that had come before it, decorated with three mountains. It continued to step towards Silas, who took swing after swing. Flames were flashing through the air like blades. The armored figure stepped side to side to ensure that Vincent wouldn’t be hit as the paladin also started to walk calmly forward.

Stonetoe took to leaning on the fence near Chickadee, gesturing towards Vincent’s spell. “Is that what you call mist tech?”

Chickadee nodded. “Hammer is simple design. Only has flames while mist charge lasts. Unlimited use in mist regions, like the geysers at Volo Refuge.”

“Vincent is using a golem.” Sybil’s brow furrowed as Stonetoe turned towards her. “The bracer on Highland’s arm, it enables him to summon a golem that he can cast his shield spell through. However, he needs an arm free to use it.” She gestured to Vincent’s hand, which was being held out to his side. His fingers moving about as though he were puppeteering something.

“It’s impressive that you kids can read their tricks that quickly.” Stonetoe let out a laugh. “I guess that’s because you’re used to seeing those things. Each of the regions has a different style of fighting, and someday you’ll run into something you’ll have no idea how to counter.”

Looking off to the side, Sybil’s cheeks flushed a bright red. Reading Vincent’s movements was simple she had a hand in making his bracer. Her father helped, actually, a lot of it was him, but Chickadee’s sister had asked for help in making something for a client and Sybil complied. She had no idea that it was for a Starsons’ student, otherwise, she would have refused.

“I just have to hit it with an axe,” said Zaniyah with a shrug. “Never did me wrong in the past and I doubt it’ll stop working in the future.” Her voice became cold for a moment. “No need to learn how to do magic as long as I have that.” A glance was tossed to her by Chickadee for a moment before he went back to watching the fight.

Vincent ceased his slow approach and hastened his movements towards Silas, who in turn sidestepped around the golem to get at Vincent. With a final shout, Silas swung his hammer against the ground again, this time a wall of fire split a line between the two combatants. The paladin gave pause, taking a step back to prevent himself from being burnt.

He scanned the fire to see if he could spot where the hammer wielder went. Not left, or right, but it was from above that Silas came flying down. Vincent smirked and dodged to the left. His free hand thrust forward, and his golem vanished and reappeared right behind Silas.

Before Silas could hit the ground, the golem slammed its shield into the teen in order to increase his momentum. He was sent flying past his intended landing spot, tumbling along the ground in a painful manner. His grip on the hammer was lost, and he struggled to plant his hands and feet so he could come to a stop and defend himself. But Vincent had already moved into position, his sword pointing at Silas’ neck as he tried to stand up.

“Relent.”

Silas smirked and raised his hands up. “Yes, captain,” he stated. Though his eyes squinted slightly and his jaw tightened in anger.

“See?” Zaniyah gestured to the fight. “It really doesn’t matter what the other person can do as long as you can hit them hard enough.”

“He used magic,” replied Chickadee in a cocky manner. The response made Zaniyah flash him a glare.

“You should be paying attention, Zani,” said Sybil. “If all of us are stuck with Grimhawk, these guys are who we’ll be fighting tomorrow.”

“Yeah, but I already showed them what I’m made of.” She gestured to the dejected Veximarl. “You just have to beat up their guy in your match and they’ll be set to tuck their balls between their butts and run. They should already be worried.” Her voice was raised up so they would hear her. “We have our own paladin!” She gestured again to Veximarl, who groaned out in pain as he tried to peel off his broken armor. “He’s rough around the edges but I can get him to where he needs to be by tomorrow!”

“Krogastein.” Stonetoe raised an eyebrow at Zaniyah. “Your weapon also use that weird tech?”

She nodded. “Both mine and Chickadee’s. Sybil relies on blood iron augments because she’s boring.”

“For the last time, it’s not boring, it’s functional,” argued Sybil. “And economical.”

Stonetoe looked over to where Silas was folding up his weapon and then back to her. “Did you use a mist charge in your fight?” Zaniyah shook her head. “I see.” The teacher nodded to himself before walking away, moving to Grimhawk’s side to have a personal conversation.

Veximarl finally had enough of being talked about and took to standing. He placed the broken armor safely out of the way where no one would trip over it. His head shook back and forth, shaking off the disparaging thoughts that were going through his mind. “I am beginning to learn that mist means different things to different regions of people.”

Sybil tilted her head. “How do they use it in the swamp?”

“Well, hrm… We don’t use it at all. At least, we have no ability to make golems. Bone golems, yes, but that is necromancy magic and has nothing to do with mist.” He leaned his back against the fence and looked over to Grimhawk and Stonetoe. “I would actually like to write some notes down about the Carapace core after we’re done with today’s tests. That is, as long as it isn’t a bother. I can go over the details of it then.”

A look of dismay fell over Chickadee’s face. He was hoping to hear something weird and interesting. Sybil gave him a pat on the back. “Don’t worry. I’m sure the two of you will have a lot to talk about later.”

“Krogastein!” Stonetoe called out for Zaniyah. “Grab your axe and a mist charge! I need you for a demonstration out in the field.”

“I would, but there was this bear or puppy on the way here and-” Zaniyah felt Sybil press her last remaining mist charge into the palm of her hand. “You sure?” Sybil nodded and Zaniyah jogged up to Stonetoe’s side. “Aye, sir! I have it right here!” She held up her hand and waved it wildly about.

“I’m borrowing her. Come claim her out in the outer field after you’re done.” Stonetoe waved a hand at the group and started to head towards one of the main doors.

Sybil was suddenly frowning. She shook her head and started to walk towards the hook that had the pendants hanging from them. Her hand pulled one off and she was about to place it around her neck when the end of Grimhawk’s staff looped within it and pulled it free from her grasp.

“You’ll be going last. I assume that it’s Atwater and Falk next?” The two nodded and proceeded to grab their pendants. “Fight when you’re ready.”

With a sigh, Sybil returned to where Veximarl and Chickadee were standing at the fence. “It doesn’t make sense on why he’d want me last. I just want to get this over with.”

Chickadee responded by pointing over to Alton. He was leaning against the pendant post and absolutely fuming. His posture was tense and his foot wouldn’t stop tapping against the ground. Perhaps Grimhawk liked having the hot-tempered boy stress out.

Luca and Oscar stood near each other at the center of the ring. Oscar twisted around a short sword in each hand while Luca had hooked his quarterstaff underneath his elbows and pressed against the small of his back. Luca had also removed his shoes, giving him a relaxed look. As Sybil recalled, he and Zaniyah were the only two that didn’t have any issues during their force marched, showing little weariness by the end of it.

“I am prepared. Yourself?” Luca asked with a cheeky grin.

Oscar nodded. “Stabby stabby, at the ready.”

That seemed to be acknowledgment enough between the pair. Oscar lunging forward to strike at Luca, only to have both of his blades deflected by a magic shield. It made a sound of a bell being hit, and the scout hopped back a few steps. He shifted both of his swords into one hand as his hand went to his bandolier, withdrawing from it a trio of throwing knives. Each of these was thrown in succession at Luca while he went wide and ran in a half circle around the cleric.

Luca wasn't concerned. He brought his quarterstaff forward, spinning it round to his front to deflect what blades his shield didn’t catch. His spell wasn’t as agile as Vincent’s, moving around him at a slower pace. It continued to make small chiming sounds whenever something did hit it. When the onslaught finally stopped, he grabbed one of the knives embedded within his staff and tossed it back at Oscar.

It appeared to do little. Not only had Oscar dodged it easily, but the blades suddenly burst into clouds of colored smoke. Now all the others could see were a set of shadows. As they moved, they mixed the different colors together to form different shades of gray and brown. It twisting about them like a whirlwind as they fought.

Luca exhaled deeply and swirled his staff around him. A burst of wind appeared, and it shifted the smoke away from him so that he could see more clearly. His eyes scanned for movement within the dust. Using his staff as a pole, he embedded it into the dirt as he ran forward and used it to further propel himself.

His kick knocked Oscar squarely in the chest, sending him flying out of the smoke as Luca followed. The two teens started to engage in close combat, their weapons clashing against one another, with the occasional punch or kick soaring through the air.

“Starsons appears to be heavily orientated towards technical work. What sort of fighting style does Dogfall teach?” Veximarl kept his eyes on the pair dueling but turned his head slightly towards Sybil so she would know who he was addressing.

“The squire program was fairly limited, so it was mostly self-study.” Sybil muttered, embarrassed at the lack of resources her school provided. “Mostly it was Chickadee flinging spells at us while we tried to charge at him. A lot of acrobatics work as well. We also tried getting a golem to use as a practice dummy, but we couldn’t find one that could survive one of Zaniyah’s hits.”

Veximarl raised a brow. “How did either of you survive Zaniyah?”

“We only let her use a stick that had a lot of padding wrapped around it.” Sybil grimaced. She had gotten a concussion in the past from Zaniyah hitting her in the temple, and there were several incidents involving broken bones. It was better than being dead, she supposed. A frown appeared on her lips as she watched the fight.

Oscar had flung more of his smoke bomb daggers against the ground. None of the observers could see what happened next, but Oscar’s body suddenly appearing outside of the ring gave a strong indicator of who the winner was. Another whip around of Luca’s staff blew the smoke away from him. He smiled and exited the field so he could put the pendant back on the hook.

“I guess that’s that.” Sybil sighed. “We shouldn’t keep Zani waiting.” She flashed a smile over to the two who were standing with her. “I’m lacking confidence but… I’ll do my best.”

“Toval.” Vincent held up a metal vial up for Alton to take.

“No need for dirty tricks against a weakling like her. This will be quick,” replied Alton in a cold manner. He already had a pendant on and was waiting for a chance to get in the field. As he passed Luca, he gave the boy a pat on the back. “You’ve improved.” He flashed a cocky smile as the cleric made a rude gesture with his hand back at him. The two laughed it off.

Sybil followed, dragging her feet as she did so. She didn’t hate the idea of dueling, what she didn’t like was how Alton seemed to have a serious problem with her. Whether it was the fact that she was from the core, or maybe it was when she spoke so casually about Lady Larkin... She hadn’t a clue.

“We’re both trying to be accepted into Braytons. Let’s not make this personal.” She muttered as she pulled out her daggers and got into position.

“It isn’t personal for me, cave mouse.” Alton set one of his arms forward, a small shield spiraling out from his bracer. His other hand drew out his short sword. “It’s basic cleanup. Trash is meant to be disposed of. You should’ve stayed in your hole.”

“I suppose you two believe it’s your turn?” Grimhawk muttered from the entrance gate of the field. Both combatants lowered their guards at the interruption. “Go on. Get started. Not like the opinion of the old blind knight conducting the test matters.”

Sybil tilted her head. “Should wait a bit longer or-” She hadn’t time to finish her question. Alton had rushed towards her, prepared to bash at her body with the shield that had unfurled out of his bracer. It would have hit her if she hadn’t had sidestepped at the last second.

That was also one of Caitlin's inventions that Sybil had helped design. She really should’ve asked who her clients were. Caitlin may have been eager to surpass Talwyn Cully’s renown, but that didn’t mean she should do experimental projects for Starsons students, and especially not for such stubborn brats!

“Pay attention! He said to begin!” Alton swung his sword towards her from the side, and Sybil using both of her daggers to deflect it down and away from her.

Sybil didn’t see this as a fight. This was a disagreement. Even Veximarl, who couldn’t fight at all, at least put in all of his effort. Alton only wanted to put her in her place while not using all of the tools he had available. Winning for Sybil didn’t mean that he was wrong, it would only serve to make him all the more angry with. Losing meant that she might forfeit her chance to enter Braytons. That and Alton having a more inflated ego. She already didn’t like the guy as is.

Did his sword have special abilities? He didn’t take the mist charge when offered, and his bracer only had the shield function. Her daggers had blood iron enhancements, however, they were basic ones. They never lost their sharp edge and would fly to her hand if called. His shield was attached to his forearm, which left his left-hand open. Did he leave it open so he could cast magic, or was he hiding throwing knives somewhere on his person?

The more time she spent trying to figure him out, the better the chances he had of reading her in return. She started to dash backward. Her arm lifted up, and she tossed a dagger straight for the spot between his eyes. Alton raised his shield to deflect the weapon, lowering it after he heard the clang. He then looked around in a puzzled fashion.

“Tal…” Sybil’s whisper was faint. The dagger silently flew to her hand. She let out a long exhale, and the swirl of mist continued to build around her feet.

“What is he doing?” Veximarl gestured to Alton. The squire was turning his head from side to side, fuming with frustration. “She’s-”

“Shhh…” Replied Chickadee, placing a finger against his scarf, where his mouth was hidden underneath.

Alton turned about in a confused manner. He found himself alone in the field, with no trace as to where Sybil went or the mist about her. All he could do was to maintain his stance and wait for her to appear. His jaw tightened and his teeth ground together. The grip on his sword was tight enough to make the knuckles beneath his glove white.

“Did you run away?!”

He glanced to the perimeter of the fence, all the more befuddled when he didn’t see her next to her friends. What was that weak paladin gesturing at? His head turned and... Still nothing. Was it possible that she played some illusionary trick on her? He had heard of mages with mental magic from the peninsula, but she was a core girl. She shouldn’t have that.

“Come on!” Alton called out again as he twisted about. “Are you really that afraid of me? Or was there some hole you’re hiding in that makes you think you’re safe?!”

The dust behind him stirred. Just the slightest bit. Just enough to make him hesitate if anything was there. By the time he realized he should be turning around, he already felt the metal piercing the side of his neck. A blinding light surrounded him. It was disorientating and made him feel like vomiting. Suddenly he was standing by the Starsons group, confused on how he got there.

Sybil let out a sigh of relief, pulling off the pendant from her neck. Even though she had seen the others teleport out safely, there was still doubt that she should actually go through with a killing blow. She turned to give Chickadee and Veximarl a smile, only to see the pair leaning against the fence with panic in their eyes. “It’s alright! I won! Let’s go get Za-”

“Get down!” Veximarl cupped his hands around his mouth and shouted.

She felt the sensation of a breeze blowing near her head, dropping down to all fours as a response. A large axe passed above her, evaporating into smoke and reforming into a hammer. The girl had to roll out of the way as it came down on the dirt next to her, dropping the pendant in the process. She let out another exhale, and the mist that formed at the ground around her intensified.

“First lesson.” The hammer dissipated, reforming into a short sword. Grimhawk smiled at the girl as he gave it a few practice swings. “Tricks like that don’t work on a blind man.”

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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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