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“Not blind?” Chickadee tilted his head.

Veximarl adjusted his glasses and gestured to the scene in front of them. “That might have been us jumping to conclusions. Though he did just claim to be lacking in sight just now.”

Grimhawk was switching to a new weapon with each attack. A spear would lunge out, then he would spin it around and attempt to hit Sybil with the back end like it was a staff. It would suddenly shift into a blade on the end of the chain, which he whipped around and attempted to slash her with. Her cheek erupted in pain as the tip of the weapon cut through, and she rolled away to prevent any more damage to herself.

Sybil struggled to adjust to the incoming attacks. Each weapon should have weaknesses that can be exploited, but she had no time to prepare for a counterattack if he changed his weapon every few seconds. Instead, she sought to increase the distance between them, running along the edge of the fence. She wanted to hop over and be done with it, but he always found a way to reach her before she could.

The weapon within Grimhawk’s hand switched again. This time in the form several flexible blades coming out from a single handle. He whipped this about his person at a blinding speed. This was also the weapon that he stuck with as he closed the gap between the two of them. The spinning appeared to be in a set pattern as to not cut himself. Sybil was confident she could toss a dagger in at the right moment if she tried, but hesitated. Exam or not, she couldn’t risk it.

“End the duel!” An authoritative voice rung out. The source was a woman who had shouted through a wooden cone and she was now approaching the field while riding a regal looking blonde horse. She was somewhere in her late forties, with graying hair and an elegant blue dress and matching wide brimmed hat.

Grimhawk’s whips shifted back into a staff, which he started to jab at the ground in front of him innocently as he became a feeble old man once more. “Is that you, Nita? Were you done with your visit to Tilrey already? We should’ve planned a demonstration with the remaining applicants. Lot of good apples this year, unlike last year’s mess.”

“Stonetoe and you have already given me enough of a demonstration.” The woman hissed out between her teeth. “What with the destroyed course outside the barracks, and now this! What is even this?! Fighting against an applicant in your condition, with neither of you wearing a pendant! How was she supposed to defend herself?!”

The old knight padded around his chest, coming to a realization. “Ah, you are right. Sorry, Nita That was my mistake!” He let out a roaring laugh that brought into question the reliability of his mental state. “Don’t know what happened to yours though! You should know you’re not allowed to be in the field without a pendant! That’s the rules! The rest of you lot, show some respect for Lady Till! She heads these lands.”

The woman sighed as the Starsons’ students immediately saluted. She dismounted and stared at them with scrutiny. Chickadee fumbled for a bit before attempting to match their stance “Give the applicants their results for the day and dismiss them. You and I have matters to discuss.”

Grimhawk hobbled to outside the field. His head bobbed up and down while he thought to himself. “I would wager all of them have passed their exams for today. As for tomorrow’s squad testing...” He turned and looked between the applicants. “You lot versus the other lot plus Tuton should be sufficient enough for tomorrow's match. Remember to bring your axe and arrow girls with you tomorrow.” He gestured between the Starsons and Dogfall groups.

“Yes, sir!” They shouted in unison.

Vincent then nodded at Luca. The cleric went to exam Sybil’s injury. She had nearly been sliced through to her teeth, and her clothes were being stained with the heavy flow of blood. Her head turned to the side obediently, being grumpy about getting help from an outlander. Pain or not, it still felt humiliating.

“Thank you,” she muttered quietly as Luca held his hand to her cheek. It begun to seal quickly without leaving behind a scar.

Luca gave her a reassuring smile. “Try not to move your cheek for an hour. The skin is going to be soft and will easy to bruise until then.” He brushed his finger tips against her cheek as he pulled his hand away. “Though your skin is already soft and pleasant.” His head tilted to side, and he smiled broadly. Behind him, Alton let out a loud growl and Luca immediately lifted both of his hands up in the air. “All done! No need to worry!”

“No wait, that would be six against four.” Grimhawk leaned against his staff and started to think to himself. “Angry boy…” He snapped his fingers a few times while he tried to remember the name. “Toval! Go join the Dogfall group.”

“... W-what?!” Alton nearly dropped his sword in shock, and Sybil’s eyes went wide in horror. So much was her dismay that she had completely forgotten that Luca had just attempted to flirt with her.

Grimhawk nodded. “Starsons group has a captain, hmm... I don’t think that boy will listen to Twist at all, don’t need that sort of problem in the ranks. Tuton! Take over the role of captain for your group.”

Veximarl’s eyes widened. “Pardon? Ah, well… Ah,” he whispered, his skin going unusually pale for the second or third time today.

“Go and fetch Krogastein. Eat dinner in the hall if you’re low on rations and figure out yourselves where to spend the night.” Grimhawk flashed a chaotic grin and turned his back to them. He fumbled with his staff, poking about the ground once more as he waddled-walked behind Till. “Do you still have biscuits in your office, Nita? Or fresh tea made?”

“No biscuits until after you’ve seen Lady Blu and taken your medicine. I know you would have ‘forgotten’ to have taken it today.”

“I’m old, Nita. Be nice to me,” he whimpered back.

Sybil didn’t bother paying attention to the knights or waiting for others. She quickly muttered thanks to Luca again and swiftly went for the gate that led towards the field. The girl was eager to meet up with Zaniyah. Grimhawk had outright attacked her in her duel, and Stonetoe might have some worse plot in mind for her friend.

Chickadee didn’t miss a beat when it came to following her. Veximarl left behind his broken weapon and armor and jogged slowly after the pair. They walked as a trio through the door, only to be greeted by the remaining applicants lined up next to one of the larger obstacle courses. The looks on their faces were a mix of emotions. Amusement, bewilderment, fear. A mage with a long ponytail was laughing loudly at the scene, but the blonde cleric next to her was less amused, watching with her hands clasped over her mouth.

The obstacle course was the sort of thing that had a long balance beam with swinging blades. All of the pendulums laid in broken pieces, though the beam itself was still intact. The rope course over the mud pit was also in shambles. Any of the mud within had been split in the middle and splattered on either side of the pit, as though a tornado had gone through to dry it out.

Spinning training dummies were torn from limb to limb, a pile of ropes was what remained of the web obstacle, and the worse off was the tall stone wall at the end. It had been cleaved clean through, and the two new segments had fallen against the ground. On one sat Zaniyah, who was cradling her axe in her lap.

“You are all young and inexperienced!” Stonetoe shouted through a cone. “Braytons can train you to be strong, we can train you to be brave, but what we cannot culture is raw talent! There are monsters in this world, unimaginable and horrific beasts! Nightmares made into reality! As knights, we are sworn to protect the innocent from such beings.

Bravery will you far, but humility can save your life. If you can not envision yourself realistically having great power and using it justly, Braytons is not for you. We will be taking a break after this, and then you will be receiving your team assignments for tomorrow’s testing. Think carefully on who you may end up facing tomorrow on the battlefield. If you feel as though you cannot compete, there is no shame to be had for withdrawing your application before assignments are made. Is that understood?”

“Yes, sir!” The applicants shouted together in unison.

“Dismissed! Team assignments will be given this evening after the rest of the applicants have passed their physical exams.” Stonetoe gave a nod over to the Dogfall group as they approached. “Good luck with your match tomorrow. I mean it.” He grinned in a cheeky manner and patted Veximarl on the shoulder as he passed.

“W-we… We will do effort well, probably, s-sir.” Veximarl’s voice cracked with each word he spoke.

“We will supply nothing but our best efforts, sir.” Alton replied, saluting the knight as he approached from behind. “I’m positive that we will surpass your expectations.”

“Manage to get Tuton to survive getting hit once and you’ll all have guaranteed acceptance.” Stonetoe let out a laugh, walking away from the group and heading back into the barracks.

Sybil grimaced at the thought and continued to walk briskly to where Zaniyah was sitting. The axe wielder appeared fine from a distance, but was in fact a sobbing mess. Giant tears were streaming down her cheeks as she ran her hand gently up and down the length of her axe head. She was petting it gently as though she was coaxing a dying animal.

“Zani…” Sybil frowned. “Did Stonetoe do anything to you? What happened after you left the field?”

“He… H-he…” Zaniyah sniffled and hiccupped slightly. “He told me to use the mist charge and to get to the other side of the course as fast as I could, so I did a-and… And…” She held up the axe so Sybil could see. A fissure had appeared in the blade. The crack was deep within the metal, and possibly meant the end of the weapon’s usefulness. “My poor Whisper.”

Sybil shook her head and gave off a smile. She knelt down on one knee and placed her hand on Zaniyah’s shoulder. “It’s alright. We’ll have Chickadee look at it. He’ll do what he can so you can do your best tomorrow too.”

“And you beat the mean boy’s butt so you can be there too, right?” Zaniyah wiped her snotty nose with her forearm. “Please tell me you beat the mean boy’s butt.”

“I’m standing right here.” Alton narrowed his eyes. He had arrived with the other two, folding his arms in annoyance.

“Yes. I beat the mean boy’s butt. There’s nothing to be worried about,” cooed Sybil.

“I’m still standing right here.” Alton growled between his teeth.

Chickadee approached and gently picked up the axe. He twisted it about in his hands before crudely yanking the axe head away from the handle. This lead to Zaniyah letting out a choked sob. “Lug fractured. Damaged handle integrity. Mist charge overload?” He was confused at the possibility. “How?”

Sybil’s face scrunched up. “The arcane script in the interview rooms summoned golems. It forcefully activated when I used a mist charged on it. The two from the Starsons group used charges without issue, so I don’t know.” She came to a realization. “Though I don’t think they channeled as much into their weapons as Zaniyah did. There’s a chance that they are damaged.” At the statement, Alton rubbed at his throat with an uncomfortable upon on his face.

“Whisper is poor metal quality. Starsons uses golem grade? Caitlin does work for students as practice. Overcharges and uses only the best materials. Too expensive and mostly decorational. Cut corners when making yours.” Chickadee stated, leading Sybil to nod in agreement. “Starsons weapons not undamaged. Reduced integrity. Microfractions.”

“Even golem grade metal has issues with internal pressure,” muttered Sybil. “Both of those weapons seemed to focus on a consistent stream of mana while Zaniyah’s saves up bursts to release all at once. The stress of that is probably what did it.” Chickadee nodded at her assessment.

Veximarl crinkled his nose and looked between the two. Zaniyah just shook her head as a response. “It’s science stuff. They do this sometimes. Actually, a lot. They do this a lot. Like, way too often. Normally I go off and get a snack whenever they do this.”

Scratching the side of her head, Sybil continued to offer her opinion. “The barracks is in a more elevated area than the geyser field, but it didn’t seem to be a mist region at first. The air isn’t perfect here, but I don’t sense enough of it where it would have been an issue. How would she have been able to overload it if it wasn’t that?”

“Confiscated.” Chickadee held up the axe. “Taking to barracks forge. Initiate squad bonding training?”

Sybil nodded. “We’ll bring you some food around sunset. We should have the information on tomorrow’s fights by then.”

Chickadee gave a final nod, taking the broken axe with him as he left. This left Sybil to contemplate over what had caused Zaniyah’s weapon malfunction. Even if Chickadee had made it of a cheaper ore, there shouldn’t have been a way for Zaniyah to damage it on her own that badly.

Alton cleared his throat to get their attention. “What are your names?” The group frowned at the question. “It didn’t seem important before, so I didn’t bother learning them,” he mumbled while looking off to the side.

Grumbling to herself as she realized that he was still here, Sybil began to fret over the fact that he wouldn’t be leaving anytime soon. He didn’t actually need to stay with them. He should just go. Then again, there was no harm in answering his question.

“I’m Sybil. This is Vex and Zani. Our weapons guy is Chickadee.”

“What are your actual names?” Alton muttered, giving a sideways glare in Sybil’s direction. He seemed to be addressing Veximarl more than the other two.

“Sybil Twist, Veximarl Tuton, Zaniyah Krogastein. Our weapons guy is Chickadee. It might be hard to say all of those while we’re in the middle of the fight so just stick to the short versions,” Sybil replied, with annoyance dripping freely from her voice.

“Chickadee. His name is Chickadee” stated Alton in a flat tone.

She scoffed. “No, that’s just what everyone calls him. His real name is…” Her eye ticked. “Uh, it’s… Uh…” Sybil looked over at Zaniyah, who looked around in a panic before turning her back towards the group and letting out another fake sob over her fallen weapon. “Look, it doesn’t matter what his real name is. Everyone calls him that. He likes being called that. It’s been like that since forever.”

Alton nodded. “Twist, Vex, Zan, and Chi. Understood.”

“C-chi…” Zaniyah’s head snapped in Alton’s direction. Her hand covering her mouth to stifle her laugh. “That’s so… S-so adorable. How come we never called him that? It’s absolutely adorable.”

“It is…” Sybil frowned and tried to remain serious. “We already know who we’re fighting tomorrow. I think it’ll be a simple match. Everything depends on the layout we get.” Alton narrowed his eyes at Sybil, as though she had just uttered a great insult. “Alright, some of it may be hard. If both Vincent and Silas were to use mist charges, they might end up blowing out their weapons. No fire hammer, no golem. That will give us an advantage.”

“It will only even out the fight if you survive for that long.” Alton was confident in the abilities of those from Starsons. Even if it meant he would also fail if they lost, he wasn’t going to let them belittle his schoolmates.

Veximarl shook his head. “You’re going to have to go over some terminology for me so I may understand everything.” He sat down on some nearby rubble and frowned to himself. He was clearly moping. “I am supposed to be the captain.”

Sybil patted herself down to check her gear. “Chickadee suggested we do some squad building exercises. I assume he wanted us to go kill something for dinner. We have a few hours to do that and talk if you want.” She was set for battle. Hunting wouldn’t be that different.

“I’ll go help out Chi. I don’t feel like doing anything like that without Whisper,” Zaniyah looked off to the side, her lip quivering for a moment as she remembered that horrifying, harrowing incident. She wanted to act strong, but it was difficult.

“The three of us-” Alton paused on that thought. “The two of us can gather things easily enough.” He then gestured to himself and Sybil. “Vex can go with us so that we can fill him in on the strengths and weaknesses of our allies.”

“I, as captain, will approve of that plan.” Veximarl was still pouting. He did at least know how to hunt for food and would have more of an advantage at then some city kids. “South of here is a river. It should take only half an hour to trek it. There may be some meat, but more likely there will be an abundance of edible plants that will do us good.”

Sybil pulled her hood over her head and double checked the clasp on her cloak. “Let’s head that way then. Lead on, Captain Tuton.”

“... Vex is a suitable enough title for me.” Veximarl let out a sigh as he stood up. Nicknames were never something he had had in the past, but he preferred that to a title. “We will gather bags for us to our carry supplies in and head out immediately.”

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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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