“There are two distinct methods for casting magic.” Veximarl was lecturing Alton and Sybil as they walked. “Humans are able to use both mist and mana, but animals are only able to use one or the other. The ones who use mist have mutated from its influence after living in mist regions for generations, and are unable to survive outside of them. The mist cats of the Crimson region are an example of this.”
Alton kept looking about as they traveled up the hill. He was seeking for anything that might be of interest to them as they went. “That’s basic knowledge. They teach every child that when they test for magic proficiency.”
Veximarl lifted his nose and continued to educate. “I would think that they would instead bother to teach the origin of mist. Everyone I’ve met so far from Carapace only thinks of it as a power source for their weapons or golems.”
“It comes from deep below the world’s surface,” explained Sybil. “Any place that is a mist region has fractures within the ground at it. The geyser fields, the volcano that Carapace is built on, and the valley where Crookstead is. The capital also has mist blow in from beneath the ocean surface, and the sea winds carry it in.”
Veximarl sighed at her scientific view. “Long ago, Eishur was once a living being. She was one of several entities that lived along the stars. I would love to go further in depth on the mythology, but there are simply too many tales to expand on. For now, let us say that she is no longer with us. The first life to appear used the forces of water, stone, and mist to shape her body into our world. Mist is a sign that her body is still in decay. When the day comes when it will stop flowing, our world will finally be at an end.
To add onto that, the arcane script is the ancient dialect that the first people used to control the mist. It asks Eishur for assistance and allows for a part of her remaining essence to possess the inanimate objects we write on. Golems are, in a way, the closest we will ever get to the sacred rituals of the first people.”
“Are you sure that’s what happened? Couldn’t that all be...” Sybil struggled to find the right words. Her hands tumbled about the air as she debated them. “Swamp people mumbo jumbo?”
“It is all truthful and accurate! Exceedingly so!” Veximarl snapped back. “Continuing on! Humans have for generations struggled to cast magic in tandem with mist. It amplifies magic, yes, but doesn’t make it stronger unless you train with it often. Summoning a ball of light for example. Using mist will make the ball bigger, but not brighter.
Mist enables for better manipulation of one’s spells. It allows for magic to be cast in different sizes and distances, but it is still mana that is powering the spell. A larger shield will deflect wide attacks but will break more easily. However, being able to force that shield into a smaller shape will make it nearly impenetrable.”
Rolling his eyes, Alton added to the conversation. “That doesn’t explain why Zan’s axe broke.”
Sybil nodded. “I think it might be the blood iron.”
“You’ve mentioned that before, blood iron.” Veximarl mulled over the words. “We mostly rely on arcane writing and other methods where I am from, and I will admit I have never had much of a chance to study it.”
“Part of blood’s composition is iron. If you process a large quantity of it, you’ll have enough to make something like this.” Sybil pulled out a dagger and showed the small button decorations along the center of the blade. “It can trap magical properties of the creatures whose blood it was. The animals raised around the base of Carapace are constantly in mist, thus have some magic in them. In recent years, Carapace has become well known for the manufacturing of blood iron for use in many objects, like weapons and armor, but mostly in cooking tools. Self-heating pots and kettles are popular.”
“That… Is a horrific explanation. But, in theory, a magical beast’s blood would produce powerful blood iron?” Veximarl asked Sybil, who responded with a nod. “What would that have to do with the axe?”
“The mist charges in her axe amplify the blood iron enchantments. Hers focuses on building up charges of wind magic, and using a mist charge allows her to cast small whirlwinds. Either there is mist flowing beneath the barracks or it has a large source of blood iron nearby that she accidentally channeled. Maybe both.
But that blood iron could be what powers the golems within the barracks, now that I think about it.” Veximarl tilted his head and Sybil held up a finger from each hand. “It’s like electricity passing between metal rods. Whoever made this system never accounted for it needing to be isolated, so any item that attempts to channel energy will inadvertently summon it from the main source.”
Alton shook his head, ignoring the science talk. “Than overloading Silas’ and Vincent’s tools will only work if we are close enough to the barracks. Mist charges may not even be as useful as we thought they were. I don’t think they would help us take down a guy like Grimhawk.”
Sybil shuddered at the thought. The old man was suddenly a completely different person. “He was muttering single syllables the whole time. If I had to guess, I would say it had to do with his weapon’s powers, but I don’t know if he was summoning in different weapons from somewhere or if his own weapon could change shapes.”
Veximarl shook his head. “The two of you were moving so quickly, and with your injury, I am surprised you had time to notice that at all.” They had reached the top of a hill that he had mentioned earlier, the paladin trainee pointing down it. “There is the grove. I’ve heard that there is a cave system around here, so the river may be deeper than it looks. Try not to go in it. You’ll be lost forever if there is an undercurrent.”
Sybil nodded in agreement. “It’s good Zani didn’t come. She doesn’t know how to swim.”
“... Do you?” Alton scrunched up his face at the thought.
“Not at all,” she replied sarcastically. “I also won’t go near the river.” A slight mist started to build up around her feet. “I’m going to go on ahead. I’ll meet you at the edge after I’ve done a sweep.”
Veximarl turned to where she had spoken, but she was already gone. He could see traces of her, like the flattened grass that she had made when she had slid down the hill, but there wasn’t much left of her aside from that. Another sigh escaped his lips and he started down as well.
He didn’t hesitate to enter the edge of the grove. Interesting plants often grew within the shadows of trees. There was already a patch of mushrooms he had spied. They were better suited to be placed in his sack than to lie in the dirt as they were now. All he needed to do was leave one behind so that they could regrow again.
Alton didn’t join in. He kept his posture tense, ready to draw his sword at the first sign of trouble. “Why be bothered that she ran ahead? She’s the scout. That’s her job.”
“Regardless of her ability behave like a ghost, it isn’t safe to run in without having a better idea of the surroundings.” Veximarl’s statement made Alton squint his eyes. “I am already aware that that is precisely her role, but I also aware that she grew up in a cave. She might not know to look for pitfalls that would lead to hazardous terrain.” He pointed at a bush that Alton was about to walk through. “Halt. That’s blisterweed. It has thistles that will burrow into your clothing, blister up your skin, and give you a slew of other health problems.”
The squire paused, then took a wary step away from the bush. He shuffled back and forth at the edge, obviously being made uncomfortable by nature and the outdoors. “Do you need help with picking mushrooms?”
“The majority of these are poisonous. I’m only picking the young ones that haven’t had a chance to build up toxin.” He held up one for Alton to see. “They have gone bad when they develop a blue ring along the edge of their umbrellas. Though, do you see that grouping of plants over there? Those spiky dark red flowers? Those have edible stems and roots. The leaves also help with indigestion. Please gather a bundle of that. I have some string if you need to tie it all together.”
Veximarl continued to gather mushrooms. Occasionally he would see a different plant he liked and would stuff that in his inner pockets. He had spaces in his robes to hide all sorts of treats, but it was an ill fit whenever he put on armor. It was the clothing he was most comfortable wearing, and that’s what mattered to him. More important of a detail was that it was one of the few outfits he owned.
He finished quickly and attempted to inspect what Alton was doing. Instead, his interest fell upon an area of tossed dirt. “Alton.” He gestured over to the spot, and then over to where a tree had parts of its bark scraped off. “There’s wild pigs in the area. We should be careful. They can be dangerous in a group.”
“They’re just pigs.” Alton frowned. “You’ve seen Twist. Pigs are nothing to worry about.”
Veximarl pulled some string from his robe and tied it about the bundle that Alton had gathered. He then proceeded to take it and stuff it into his bag. “I am going to ignore one of those comments.” He flashed Alton a stern look. “Boars have sharp tusks, and they’ve been making them sharper by rubbing them against the trees. It’s possible for them to cause permanent damage to the nerves in your legs or even kill you if they manage to hit an artery.”
“But you’re a paladin.”
He blinked at Alton’s statement. “W-what? Well yes. Of course, you are right about that. I am a paladin trainee.” Veximarl stared at Alton in a confused manner. “How does that matter again?”
“You can cast healing spells.” Alton stared back, furrowing his brows as he did so.
“Right!” Veximarl looked off to the side nervously and then back to him. “You are absolutely correct! However, I have already used plenty of magic today and would prefer to preserve my mana until tomorrow’s exam. Not to mention that paladins are unable to heal as cleanly or as well as clerics. It is better to avoid injury rather than depend on magic.”
Alton pulled up on the hilt of his sword, just enough for him to scrape the pad of his thumb against the blade. He then held up the bleeding digit for Veximarl to see. “Heal it.” He glared as Veximarl attempted to stammer out a response. “I need you to prove to me that you aren’t a liar about your abilities. If you want me to have any faith in you as a captain, you will do this.”
The paladin hesitated before reaching out with his gloved fingers. The wound on Alton’s thumb sealed itself, and the squire examined it for any signs of scarring. He gave a nod of approval and looked off to the rustling sound heading towards them. Sybil was approaching. She had a small boar across her shoulders and had a slight limp to her walk.
“I had assumed you were going to report after looking over the perimeter,” stated Veximarl in a worried tone. “You’ve acted on your own in what you’ve claimed was a team building exercise.”
Sybil’s response to being scolded was to shrug. “This is teamwork.” The tone of her voice shifted to a cocky one. “Hello, boys. I saw some animals. Do you want me to go use my unseen powers to go stab one real quick like and bring it back, thus keeping you two out of danger? Okay? Good. Nice teamwork, gentlemen. Let’s do this again sometime.” She swayed slightly, and Alton took the boar away so she could balance herself better.
Veximarl steadied her by placing his hands on her upper arms. “You do not look well. Did you eat anything odd? Berries? Mushrooms?”
She shook her head. “I think a plant bit me? Does that sound right? My legs seemed to have swelled up and I feel a little dizzy. I don’t think I can feel my toes.”
The squire raised an eyebrow as he adjusted the boar on his back. “Nice work, cave mouse. You lost to a shrubbery.”
Veximarl frowned at Alton. He would be in a similar condition had not the paladin interfered. “Alton, give me the boar to hold. Please carry Sybil. If the other pigs see us with a dead one, we are sure to be attacked. I have an ointment that will lessen her symptoms, but I would rather do it back up on the hill.”
Alton nodded and handed the boar over. Veximarl groaned as he tried to balance it. It was much heavier than he anticipated, and he was still sore from the morning run. What mattered was that it wasn’t as heavy as Sybil, so he did it without complaint. They ventured out of the grove together and to the top of the hill. There, Veximarl dropped the dead boar and started to fumble around his belt pouches and robe pockets for something to use.
“You’ll have to remove your pants. The bush has thistles that have already worked their way into the fabric.” Veximarl frowned as both of them stared with silent scrutiny. “I assure you that my intentions are pure, and I have studied under several town physicians and witch doctors. When it comes to medicine, I take my job quite seriously. If it is a problem, I can just as easily cut away the fabric as needed.”
Alton set Sybil down and gave Veximarl a stern glare. “Thistles in the fabric. That’s why you want her to take off her pants. I’m certain that’s what you meant.” The glare lingered for a moment before he scoffed and turned his head away.
Unclasping her cloak from her shoulders, Sybil started to fasten it about her waist. “I can wear this as a skirt. It’s not a problem.” As strong as she was pretending to be, the pain was becoming intolerable. She was careful as she pulled off her shoes and pants, carefully bundling them up and placing them within in a sack.
Finding the correct container in his robe, Veximarl offered it to her. “Rub this where your rashes are. We’ll carry you back to the barracks after treatment is done.” She complied, even though she had made a face when she saw the contents of the jar. It was a mud-colored mixture that had a horribly bitter yet sweet smell to it. “We will need to wait until it dries before we continue.” He then turned his back to her to give her privacy. Alton didn’t bother, giving her the occasional glance when he thought she wouldn’t notice.
The wind was picking, up and they chose to all sit down on the hill so that they could stare at the mountains in the far distance. Somewhere on that path was Carapace. Actually, Carapace was the easiest one to spot. It was the mountain that had the top blown off of it thousands of years ago. Supposedly it was the tallest mountain in the world before that.
Now it was nothing more than a very large hill with quite the indent in the middle. Sybil didn’t mind it though. It was the place she was born, and the place she hoped to change for the better someday. Her eyes flitted towards Alton, who was staring off in the same place. His expression was different. Saddened, and a little miserable. His eyes had shifted color, easing into a green. The color didn’t seem magical. They were more like alexandrite, where the color was based on how bright the light was around them.
His sullen expression was probably because he was separated from the other Starsons students. At least, that’s what Sybil told herself. But they, aside from Barcus and Luca, seemed distant to him. Sybil didn’t care though. As long as he stopped having that attitude towards herself and the other core kids, she’d be happy. She looked over at Veximarl, who was in a daze. He didn’t seem to be looking at anything at all. Most likely he was still tired after everything that happened today.
“What do I do when it dries?” She looked down and started to pick at the crusty mud mixture.
“Ah.” Veximarl looked over, and then quickly away again. “Pull it off. The main purpose of it is to pull out the smaller thistles. I am sorry to say that the rash won’t go away for a few more days. The rest of the symptoms will be gone by morning.”
It came off in large chunks, with Sybil making grossed out expressions the whole time. When she was finished, Alton stooped down and lifted her up on his back. Her arms looped around his shoulders to support herself, and neither of them was happy about the situation. Veximarl was stuck with the boar. It had stiffened due to death, and it was all the more uncomfortable to carry because of it.
They made it back to the barracks within a decent amount of time. Veximarl was panting, with sweat dripping down his features. Sybil wondered how he even made it to Braytons from the swamplands in the first place, or even how he was still participating in the exams. He was far from being adept at physical tasks but seemed book smart. Maybe he did really, really well on the written exam, and had a very impressive application before that.
The forge was easily found once they went looking for it. Chickadee was in the process of dunking the red-hot axe head in oil using nothing but his hands. The metal screamed out as it cooled rapidly. He set it down and adjusted the gloves he was wearing. Despite the heat, most of his features were still hidden. He only bothered to remove his cloak.
“Reheat to temper metal and increase hardness, then chisel blood iron to attune it properly. Heat would have altered glyphs.” Chickadee frowned. “New handle needs preparing. Not enough time.”
Zaniyah let out a whining sound. “But I didn’t like any of the weapons they had in the armory. Got any other ideas?”
“There is spare blood iron. Minor augmentation of new weapon easily achieved.” Chickadee held up a hand. “Rephrasing. Augmentation of anything of familiarity is possible. Don’t gather strange things.”
Alton set down Sybil and took a few steps back from her. “I need to wash off. Now. I’ll find you later.”
Sybil couldn’t agree more. The trials of the day had left him with a strong musty odor. Though the scent was manly, it was far from pleasant. What was worse was that she was covered in it after hitching a ride on his back. As soon as she was able to, she was also going to wash herself off.
She approached her fellow Dogfall students with a slight limp and waved her hand. “So that’s a no for the axe?” Zaniyah let out a whine again. “I’m sure it’ll be fine, Zani. It’s Braytons. They’ll either loan you something nice or we’ll have to forcefully remind them that they had you go to hard on your weapon as part of a demonstration. It’s their fault it broke in the first place. Also, we caught a pig.” Sybil pointed over to Veximarl, who let out a wheeze as he staggered in an effort to remain standing.
“Need break. Will take carcass to kitchen to be processed.” Chickadee nudged Zaniyah and gestured to the pig. She took it off Veximarl’s shoulders and placed them on her own.
“He also got some vegetables or something.” Sybil took off the sack off of Veximarl while he wobbled about and put it around Zaniyah’s neck. “I’m going to find out where we can bathe and take Vex there. He’s had this weird odor about him.” Veximarl would argue that was the crow garlic he was carrying but didn’t have the strength.
“Success in securing interior room.” Chickadee pointed to one of the large dorm buildings. “Supplies relocated. Will wait there. Third floor, last door on left. Look for bird.”
Sybil nodded with a grin. “Deal. See if they have any biscuits while you’re at it?”
“Yeah, right. If they have any, I’m eating them all first.” Zaniyah stuck her tongue out at Sybil and started off to the kitchen.
“One will be spared for the sake of celebrating victory,” said Chickadee as he waved a hand to reassure Sybil.
Sybil laughed to herself. It seemed like those two were already squires here. She would like to say she felt the same about herself, but she was uncertain of her chances. Veximarl might still do well since he was somehow still around. If he got in, maybe she could have some hope. Either way, being outside the core wasn’t as bad as she thought it would be. Hopefully, she could find a way to make it to last.