Sybil found the showers within the dorm building and made her way to the dorm room afterward. Each of the three years at Braytons had their own dorm building. Tomorrow, this one would belong to the new first years. The first floor had a classroom and storage area, the second floor had showers and a common area, along with one of the squad rooms, the third floor had the other four squad rooms, and the attic was home to the dorm’s knight.
A painted plaque hanging on the dorm room door depicted the image of a hawk flying over a fort. Inside was a decent sized room with five beds set on raised platforms. Three one one side, two on the other, pressed against each other with a short wooden barrier between each. On the side with three beds, the last in the chain laid flush to the back wall, but the others were against the sides. Beneath each platform, there was enough room for someone of Alton and Zaniyah’s height to stand up.
Each spot was also bare, waiting for the bed owners to set up their own private spaces. Only two of the beds towards the back had a large curtain that could be pulled around to give enough privacy for changing clothes. There was also a small bathroom with a toilet and sink. Hardly enough for five people, but better than nothing. More bathrooms were on the second floor, so they at least weren’t left wanting.
A large table with bench seats and a chair for the squad captain was set up near the center of the room and close to the door. Next, the door were racks for weapons and armor. The walls of the place were also bare, but nail markings in the wood showed that many items have hung up on them over the years. She walked over and opened the double windows to let some fresh air in, taking in a deep breath as she did so. Summer was hot, and that was the number one thing she didn’t like about being outside the core.
Alton and Veximarl stepped in while she was sitting the chair she had dragged by the window. It faced to the northwest, looking over the courtyard of the fort. The setting sun was bathing the room in an orange light, and the sight of it was making Sybil feel sleepy. The two teens looked around the room, Alton inspecting the positions of the beds for some unknown reason. He was keeping his gaze up high and away from Sybil. Veximarl seemed interested in looking out the window, standing next to Sybil as he did so.
“It’s good that it isn’t directly west. The hill would block the view,” he remarked. His eyes suddenly fell to her clothing with a look of confusion. “... I did not take you for the type to pack such an outfit for this journey.”
“Oh, right…” Sybil grimaced. She was wearing a faded yellow dress that was tight about the torso, and flowed about the thighs. The skirt was too short in her opinion, and the fabric was uncomfortable and itchy when compared to her usual silk clothing. “I asked if there was someplace where I could wash my clothes and they made me put this on and stole my clothing.”
“It looks terrible on you,” replied Alton flatly. He sat down at the table and rested his chin on his hand, but he still didn’t look towards her direction.
“I already know that!” Sybil snapped back.
Around the same time, Chickadee and Zaniyah walked in. He carried some scrolls under one arm and a picnic basket in the other. Zaniyah was also carrying a set of baskets, setting them down on the table and unloading them. Bowl after bowl came out filled with food. Chickadee helped, putting down a pitcher of water and setting up empty plates at the different seats.
The mushrooms and garlic stalks had been cut up and fried in a pan with some of the pork. Steamed barley mixed with nuts, greens, and radishes came next. A loaf of seedy bread, a selection of small cheeses, and dried fruit were also available. To drink, there were bottles of differently flavored ciders to try, and tea for those who weren’t as adventurous.
“Why does it take so long to make bacon?” Zaniyah muttered as she took a seat across from Alton.
“Needs aging to bring out flavors,” replied Chickadee as he took a seat next to her. He pulled the scarf down from around his mouth so he could eat.
“I don’t care about bringing out the flavors if I don’t know what flavor bacon is supposed to be.” Zaniyah squinted her eyes at Alton, blinking a few times as she did so. His hair was still wet and was without his tunic or armor, choosing instead to wear a simple linen shirt. “... Whaaat? Hey, you know..?” Zaniyah leaned over the table and started to serve herself some of the barley. “Without that giant Starsons symbol on you, and when you’re not talking, you’re actually quite beautiful.”
Alton’s now violet eyes met with Zaniyah’s. He made a sound of absolute disgust. A gruff scoff came out as he tossed his head to the side.
“... And suddenly it’s gone.” Zaniyah shrugged and started to heap the garlic stir fry on her plate.
Veximarl and Sybil moved the chair back to the table together. He was uncomfortable to be in the captain’s seat, fidgeting with his gloves for a moment before sitting down. He had also showered and had replaced his old patchwork robe with another old patchwork robe.
“This all looks quite elegant. Thank you for bringing it here.”
“Was there any word about tomorrow?” Sybil was forced to sit down next to Alton, which made both of them uncomfortable. There wasn’t a different seat open, as no one else seemed willing to sit with him.
“Lydia always said that work comes after the meal, not during. We eat to enjoy company, and nothing else,” said Zaniyah in a scolding manner. “But we did get a map and our mission objectives. I’m eating first though. You can’t stop me. Let our captain come up with meal conversation in the meantime.” The use of Lady Larkin’s first name made Alton’s nose scrunch up, but he didn’t say anything about it this time.
Veximarl was in the middle of taking a bite of bread, choking on the piece and having to force it down with some cider. Zaniyah’s demand had caught up off guard. This made him look around as he attempted to think up of something. He hadn’t seen Chickadee’s face until this point and was surprised by how feminine and frail his features were. Starring for a moment, he gave a shake of his head and quickly stammered something out.
“Right! What? Me? Ah, yes, well uhm… If we all succeed in our venture here, what were your plans after Braytons? I understand that was a question that the golem may have asked, but I am I curious to know what each of your intentions are.”
“I wanted to continue Lydia’s work on bringing the core and outerlands of Carapace together, Chickadee wants to expand on his blacksmithing, and Zaniyah is going to travel the world and hit things with her axe.” Sybil stated.
Zaniyah swung her fork victoriously in the air. “Damn right, I am!”
“I am aiming to become an instructor.” Veximarl responded to his own question. Paladins often went into military or education, so it was not a surprising statement for anyone. “Due to the experiences I have had in my youth, and my mentor’s influence, I wish to work towards inspiring children that they can be anything, no matter what sort of background they may have.” He gave a reassuring yet nervous smile. “Alton. What about you?”
“Hmm?” The squire had been pushing food about his plate and had stopped paying attention for the most part. This group of people annoyed him and he was too tired to put up a fight about it at this point. If he weren’t up against his classmates tomorrow, he wouldn’t bother staying here.
“Distracted.” Chickadee stated. Veximarl looked at Chickadee and was about to ask for him to clarify when Zaniyah interrupted.
“When he carried Sybil in from the field, he had to feel up her legs to do it. He must have been touching her bare butt the whole time since it didn’t look like she was wearing any pants,” Zaniyah explained, much to Sybil’s horror. “And I’ve never seen her wear a dress, like, ever. I’ve been her best friend since we were three, so I would know if she’s worn one. Girl, I knew you were ready to move on.” She pointed her fork as Sybil. “You look good, by the way. Definitely do this more in the future.”
Alton stood up with a start, slamming both of his hands on the table. He inhaled loudly. It appeared as though there was many a curse word he wanted to scream at Zaniyah at that moment. “Don’t make up your own version of what happened! Take the time to consider my situation more carefully before your ugly mutant mouth speaks out against me,” said the silver-haired squire with the color changing eyes. His teeth gritted together as he glared.
Zaniyah grinned wildly and dropped her fork, quickly standing up and pulling the throwing axe free from her thigh. “You want to have a go?”
“What was it that you wanted to do if you graduate from here?!” Veximarl’s voice squeaked out, trying desperately to change the conversation.
“Apply for the king’s personal guard,” stated Alton bluntly. He tossed Zaniyah another disgusted look and sat back down. Pretending to eat was safer than trying to pick a fight with a crazy woman. Though his answer had made Chickadee stare at him in bewilderment, making Alton glance at him in equal confusion.
“How boring.” Zaniyah sat down as well, cramming her mouth with food and speaking with her mouth full. “That’s gotta be what everyone says when it comes to being a knight. I guess you do have to graduate from a prestigious barracks to do it, though I worry about this place. I mean, they haven’t flunked Vex yet. Who knows what else they’ll let in?”
An awkward silence fell over the table as Veximarl hung his head. The sound of cutlery against plates was the only sound to be heard until Sybil chose to speak up. “I don’t mean to be rude, but uhm... Why haven’t you kicked you out yet?” She smiled nervously at Veximarl, who seemed oblivious to the question.
“Because we are in Sir Grimhawk’s group. I heard he was lazy about learning names, so he just sticks with one group and fails who he doesn’t like on the last day,” replied Alton flatly.
Veximarl let out a cough. “I am actually already a student here, but I haven’t received my squad placement yet. Supposedly it would be Grimhawk’s, but I haven’t received confirmation.” Everyone stopped what they were doing so that they could stare at him. “They accepted me during the application process. I am simply going through these steps because they wanted to see where my skill level was. Apologies about having Grimhawk conduct our tests. That was not my intention when I joined your group.”
“And they’re still letting you go here?” Sybil asked with concern. “Even after today?!”
“I am assuming so.” Veximarl nodded with a furrow of his brow. “Is that a problem?”
Alton raised his voice. “How were you accepted before the application process?!” It didn’t seem like Veximarl would know a knight who would sponsor him in. “I know they automatically give acceptance to those who draw out a weapon at the Volo Refuge, but-” His eyes went wide, his voice began to tremble. “W-was it the sword that Zan broke?!”
Zaniyah went pale. “How much trouble am I going to be in for that?”
“No, no. That was just a good luck gift from my village, Husk. They raided it off a corpse of a- It’s a long story.” Veximarl twirled his fork through the air. “My mentor, who raised me since I was little, was a knight here for many years. Grimhawk was her student and former partner when he became a teacher here as well. He chose to accept the responsibility of having me here.”
“Wait...” Zaniyah became distracted by another thought. “I guess that works, but doesn’t that mean that Chickadee is already in? He pulled a little knife out of the wall while we were there, or are we still hiding that? Because that was an accident, right?”
Chickadee looked off to the side. “... Already accepted.” His cheeks flushed from embarrassment. Lady Till had dragged him back to Volo Refuge and forced him to complete paperwork there before telling him that he was accepted and assigning him to Sir Stonetoe’s squad afterward.
“Why would you even put yourself through the test tomorrow if you are already in?” Alton raised an eyebrow. Everything about this group confused and infuriated him.
“Its…” Zaniyah sniffled and Sybil rose up from her seat, going over to Chickadee’s side of the table. “It’s because Chi loves us! He really loves us a whole lot!” The two of them squeezed him in a double hug as the mage squirmed uncomfortably.
“Please stop.” Chickadee murmured, his cheeks going all the redder. “... Why Chi?”
“Alton gave you that nickname.” Chickadee’s cheeks turned all the redder at that fact. “Now he is one of us,” purred Zaniyah.
“Neither of you would tell me his real name.” Alton scowled. “And I am not one of you! Don’t drag me into this!”
“Denial only makes family stronger,” Zaniyah stated in a motherly tone, with Sybil nodding in agreement. She then realized who Zaniyah was talking about and frowned at her friend’s statement.
“That doesn’t make any sense!” Alton fumed and took a hefty swig of his cider to numb away the headache of their stupidity. It was hardly alcoholic, but the thought of it made him feel better.
Sybil broke off from the hug and returned to her seat. “I’m actually grateful. Chickadee was the strongest in the squire program at Dogfall. Both me and Zaniyah would be a complete loss if he wasn’t here with us.” Both Veximarl and Alton looked between Zaniyah and then Chickadee. Alton raised an eyebrow while Veximarl adjusted his glasses.
Alton held up a finger and then lowered it. “He’s the strongest?”
“By a large margin, yes. And even if you pass without myself or Zani, you’ll still be associated with these two.” Sybil held up her mug towards Alton. “Welcome to a lifelong membership to the loser brigade. A band of core misfits and a paladin who can’t even cast a healing spell.”
“I healed his thumb earlier when he cut it.” Veximarl pointed to Alton, who nodded. “I didn’t heal you because you ran in without a sense of caution. It is a minor punishment from your captain. I will also need to rest and conserve my mana until tomorrow’s match. No one get injured until then.”
“Yes, captain.” The group responded in unison, except for Zaniyah who used, “aye,” instead.
Chickadee stood up and gave everyone a nod. “Work now. Back later.” He strapped his gloves back on and waved at the others. Adjusting a new weapon for Zaniyah’s use shouldn’t take long, but Chickadee was a perfectionist.
The rest of the group worked on finishing the meal. Veximarl tapping on the table with a finger in thought. “Did you know that this place was built where a large city once thrived?” He asked the group. “Hundreds of years ago?”
Alton nodded. “The people to the city left due to a major threat centuries ago. A knight, Sir Brayton, killed the rampaging monster. When the people chose not to return, he established a barracks. It’s basic history.”
“A place dedicated to creating only the strongest of warriors. But I have also heard that survival rates for the knights who do graduate isn’t the best. They often choose to be in quite dangerous situations.” Veximarl frowned at the idea. “The important fact is that there are dozens of tunnels underneath the barracks. Part of those tunnels are the remains of the city which were swallowed up by the earth itself.
This was all flatlands at one point, till a powerful dragon named Tyrtain appeared. It thrashed around the ground and turned these plains into rolling hills. Sir Brayton went to Tria, who took half of a mountain and used it to forge him a weapon. A flood of mist from the now broken mountain covered half the world, and Brayton not only succeeded in killing the dragon, but his descendants went on to become the first kings of Lustro.”
Zaniyah’s eyes had a glimmer in them. “How big of a weapon was it?” She held her hands up, clenching and unclenching her fingers. “And how do I get my hands on it?”
Veximarl leaned over on the table. “Brayton thought that no man should ever have to wield a weapon that powerful again. He chose to shatter it. The pieces of it were tossed into the ocean so it would never be reforged.”
“But the sea carried them to shore,” continued Alton in a sarcastic manner. “Where no man was strong enough to lift a single piece. People took refuge among the ruined weapon and thus was born the city of Fogbloom, the grand capital of Lustro. The remaining half of the broken mountain became the city of Carapace, the famed eastern capital until their armies lost to Brayton’s descendants. Ooh and ah at the wonders of it.” The squire rolled his eyes.
“It is a very important story on the origins of our country and religion,” muttered Veximarl.
“It’s a fictional tale from a time period where every made up story was considered to be literal fact.” Alton retorted.
Sybil rose up and dumped any remaining food from the bowls onto Zaniyah’s plate. She then started to clean up around the table. “I’m going to take the dishes back to the kitchens while you two figure that out. I’m also going to help out Chickadee with his work, so I’ll be back late. Start strategizing without me.”
Zaniyah scrunched up her nose. “Fine. Guess I’ll do the briefing.” She went to the scrolls and unraveled a map on the table. “We are going on a rescue mission tomorrow! There is an old baby fort that we need to approach, break into, and save someone within. The other team has to stop us. I guess they’re being told that we’re potential kidnappers.”
Veximarl would rather have both Chickadee and Sybil present to cover what their strengths and weaknesses were. Not that Zaniyah wasn’t capable of doing so, but he had doubts of her ability to answer in a manner that he would understand properly. Sybil was also their captain. She might have insight he would need to plot things out accordingly.
He waved at the Sybil as she left the room, turning to Zaniyah afterward. “Before you ask, the answer is no. We cannot rush in there and beat them up.”
Sybil smiled as she closed the door behind her, clutching a basket in her arms. Though that seemed like it would be a fun conversation, there were matters that needed to be attended to. She was halfway across the courtyard when she was approached by a cloaked figure.
“Psst! Sybil.” A feminine voice beckoned her to the shadows of a building. When Sybil approached, the figure lifted up their hood just enough for her to see that it was Mila Fletch underneath, the archer from Starsons. “I need to talk to you about Alton. It might be important. Also, you look cute in that dress. It’s nice to see you outside of your fighting clothes. You seem much more relaxed than you were before.”
Sybil frowned at the compliment and chose to ignore it, stepping further into the shadows so neither of them would be seen. A faint mist started to form at her feet. “You won’t get into trouble for this, right?” Mila shook her head. Sybil set down the basket and smiled. “Good. How quickly can your horse get to Volo Refuge? I need to fetch something from there.”
Mila’s eyes went to the side as she thought. “Two hours? I doubt they’ll let anyone in by the time we get there. Tilrey is just under an hour. They might have what you need?”
“Hopefully it’ll do.” She thought about it, then gave a nod. “Alright. May we talk about it on the road? I’m in a bit of a hurry.”