Sybil did not feel her heart fluttering. She did not feel the aches of fresh love or the longing for the touch of a particular being. What she did feel was loathing. She thought that maybe Alton was just a victim of society, but now she knew. He needed to feel worshipped. Now that it wasn’t easy for him anymore, he was seeking out a new group to manipulate.
Not her! She wouldn’t fall prey to his perversions. Sybil had been warned, and she will take Mila’s words to heart. Next time he tries something like that… Oh, she didn’t know what she would do. It would be serious though. Very serious. She would channel her inner Zaniyah and things will be stabbed.
Her intent was so serious that she was oblivious to the stares some were giving her as she angrily ate her meal in the hall. She scoffed down her bread and meat quickly and stormed out as the others continued to watch her in silence.
Once she was done with that, she made her way to the bedroom and climbed up onto her bed. There she roosted, as well as brooded, with one of Veximarl’s books. No, she hadn’t asked permission for it. That’s the kind of renegade she felt like being right now. Veximarl could just deal with it. Not liked it mattered anyway since the words were a jumbled mess to her eyes. None of it was sticking in her head, yet she kept turning pages.
Alton didn’t return. Eventually, Veximarl and Zaniyah did. Zaniyah made a few trips, removing the benches from the large table and replacing them with a different assortment of padded chairs. She insisted on each of them needing a different throne, and she had picked out the perfect ones.
Her own was covered in different furs, and she was quite pleased with it. Chickadee had a plain looking chair made of worn wood, Veximarl’s had a tall back and was dark in color, Sybil’s was feminine with bird designs, and Alton’s had a majestic wooden piece with fancy patterns cut out of the back. Zaniyah had also insisted on picking out several paintings to hang up on the walls. Most of them had hunting or animal themes.
Veximarl kept his area neat but did hang up some smaller paintings of medicinal plants on the wall space beneath his bed. He had reminded Zaniyah that they might want to head home at some point during the summer and bring some personal possessions back, but she scoffed at the idea. Their room would be an abundance of treasures that they found during their stay here.
Sybil eventually came down from her brooding spot, placing Veximarl’s book back where she had found it. Her attention then fell on Chickadee, who was still looking over every detail of Grulick’s weapon. “Did you find anything?” She asked inquisitively.
“Falchion uses ancient blood iron techniques.” Chickadee’s hand began to glow in an attempt to shine a light through the semi-translucent stone. “Commonplace in ancient times, but technique was lost when Tria fell. Stone obscures incantation details. Unable to read. Hilt is simple wood and leather. Will replace to ensure better grip.” He then picked up the scabbard. “Leather dyed unprofessionally many years ago. Not original color.” His finger pointed to the medallion that was embedded into it. “Twelve cow coin.”
“Twelve cow coin?”
Veximarl approached, looking over Chickadee’s shoulder. It looked like a normal coin with arcane script around the edge and a flower pattern in the center. It was a combination of Hollyhock, buttercups, wolfsbane, and a smaller flower that Veximarl didn’t recognize. Possibly from a flowering tree.
“He means its blood iron, and its amount is the equivalent to what would be harvested from twelve cows. Something really large went into making it.” Sybil answered. “Livestock around Carapace don’t supply the same blood to iron ratio as magical creatures or predators would. It could’ve also been something very powerful.”
“It’s composite, different beings, but the blood was processed at the same time. Coin is capable of multiple enchantments.” Chickadee frowned, looking up at Sybil. “Flower crests are a western trait. Cannot tell you more.”
Sybil nodded. “Do you know what the scabbard enchantments are?”
“Yes. Lets you know how many people are looking directly at you.” Sybil’s face fell at the statement. “Designs on scabbard also faded. Noble in origin? If true, knowing who is watching is important.” Chickadee shrugged. “Example, assassinations?”
She didn’t want to hear the word “assassination” for a long time. Not after Till claimed she would make for a good killer. “I guess that makes sense.” And for someone like her, who could disappear, knowing if someone could see her was important. “Anything else?”
“Apologies, not familiar with the rest of arcane script. Very, very old. Have copied down.” He held up a paper for her to take. She could read more of it than him, but these were equations that were beyond her ability to decrypt. They seemed quite stylized, which meant that they might be able to track down the original blacksmith if they had made any famous works. “Heading to forge for supplies. Hilt done tomorrow.”
Sybil’s lips pursed. Any other questions she had could be answered by Lady Grulick. “Did you figure out what your knife does?”
“Possible hunting tool. Main use tracking creatures for their blood iron?” He pulled the knife out from within his cloak and held it in front of him. Dropping it, a red string made of mana connected between his hand and the circular portion of the rope dart. It swung oddly back and forth for a moment before coming to a complete stop.
Zaniyah’s eyes went wide. “By the core! There is something below us!” She dropped the bearskin rug she was dragging in and clasped her hands to her cheeks.
“That could also be gravity,” remarked Veximarl helpfully.
“Most likely nothing is near.” A flick of Chickadee’s hand and the knife jumped back to his palm. “Keep me informed on traveling plans.”
“I’ll help!” Zaniyah shoved the rug with her foot to make sure it was in the proper place. “There’s a few things I want to work on as well, so just let me know what you need, Chi.`”
Sybil was worried about what Zaniyah had planned but shook her head to clear it of those thoughts. The window was better at being a companion anyways. This was quickly becoming her favorite spot in the room. Veximarl took a seat on the chair across from her and looked out as well. Being indoors for extended periods of time made him feel claustrophobic.
“Ribnjak Grulick was your caretaker?” Sybil kept her eyes on the courtyard below.
“She is a wonderful woman.” Veximarl leaned back in his chair and smiled to himself. “My parents passed on when I was young. A powerful tainted beast destroyed my home village, but Grulick and her squad were able to defeat it. We traveled for a time while she settled her affairs, and then she took me home to raise me as her own son. Such stories are the backbone of the swamps. Winter is a dangerous month. The most unfortunate events tend to happen, and families are rarely blood relatives as a result.”
Sybil got a far-off look in her eyes as she spoke. “I want to meet her. There are caravans that go from Carapace to the Sky Region. I was hoping that you and I could go part way with one to your home village. Or we could go on our own, but that seems like the safest route.”
An abrupt cough sputtered from his mouth. “That is certainly a... A thing that could happen,” squeaked out Veximarl. He was suddenly nervous, bringing up his legs up into the chair and laughing in a fake manner. “The swamps smell horrendous. You will have to climb across rope bridges due to unstable ground, and the gallinippers are hunting in droves during this time of year. I am certain it is not worth the effort if you only want to have a look around.”
The peninsula swamp became a pit of misery during the hotter months of the year. High humidity and heat made the ground dangerous to traverse. Winter froze up the mist vents within the ground, making it walkable. However, it also brought in a host of ill beasts who migrated south for the winter month.
Though the Sky Region receded from Lustro over two hundred years ago, the tension between the two lands had lessened in recent years. Wealthy mineral deposits and rumors of their advance in technologies spurred on interest. Caravans transported goods and migrants between the areas. Sailing was impossible due to stone filled seas and the high cliff sides.
The swamplands acted like a barrier between the two regions, and caravans had worked to make travel safer. Private pathways, tree house waypoints, and armed guards were all available for the right price. Most of them were rumored to overly priced, but they were necessary for travel.
“Vex,” said Sybil as she leaned forward in her chair. “There isn’t a point in me lying to you. I… I-I didn’t get accepted here. I failed. They said I was prone to- I don’t want to talk about why it happened. Things are a bit complicated right now because of it. I ended up drawing out Lady Grulick’s sword out from Volo Refuge in an act of desperation. She’s the one that got you in here, right? I’m hoping she’ll be willing to do the same for me.”
“There are other barracks…” Veximarl rested his chin on his knees. “Your dream is still out there. It doesn’t have to be this place. It doesn’t have to be knighthood. There is perhaps a dozen or more of ways you can fight to bring equality to Carapace. Having drawn a weapon from Volo Refuges opens the doors to many a place, and you seem to have the ambitions needed to get it done.”
The look in her eyes was intense. “I’m not evil.” She muttered with a sigh, resting back in the chair once more. “I’m not going to let this place tell me that I’m bound to fall to dark thoughts at some point. This is stupid and selfish of me, but I need to be here for Zani and Chickadee. I want to prove to Lady Till that she’s completely wrong about me. I’m not the most talented, I may fight dirty sometimes, but I have something to prove. I’m going to make them acknowledge me.”
“How many people today are forcing themselves to feel the same way? ‘I am good enough. I do have enough talent. There has to be some way I can prove them wrong. I do deserve this.’” Veximarl’s voice was quiet when he spoke.
Barcus. The thought of him popped up in Sybil’s mind at that moment. It wasn’t her or Alton’s fault that he didn’t make it in. His own actions may were the reason why three of the Starsons students were also disqualified. Yet he still put up a fight. He was convinced that he deserved to be here.
He was willing to die for it.
He was willing to kill for it.
“I’ll forget about it if Grulick turns me away,” she said with a frown. “You’re right. I’m not going to give up on Carapace and there are other methods to get it done. I know that they already rejected me here once, but unlike the others, I actually have one final chance to get this right. I’m going to regret for the rest of my life if I don’t do this.”
Veximarl let out an bothered sigh. His hands tightened up about his legs to the point where his knuckles turned white. “We can only take the caravan halfway through the swamp. Husk is away from the main path, but it isn’t too far from Bog Vale, which is a major junction point. Most caravans make a stop there at some point. We may have to risk travel on foot, as the bridges do not extend that far out. We won’t be able to join the others on their trip to Herring. They will be on their own.”
“They’ll be okay,” she smiled to herself. “They’re Dogfall students.”
It was close to nightfall before the others returned. Chickadee resigned himself to his work desk, twisting black and brown leather on the sword’s new grip in a decorative manner. Occasionally he would take a bite out of a bowl of dried fruit and nuts but was otherwise concentrating on his work.
Dinner was a combination of beans and grains and little in the way of meat. The weariness of the day had set on all of them, thus the conversation was sparse. Sybil made sure her items were packed for the trip ahead. She had asked Veximarl to do the same, as she planned to get up early.
Alton didn’t say anything to her. There was a chance she would end up stabbing him if he had. That and he didn’t want a few more hours of Lydia scolding him. Zaniyah sat on top of the rug that she had placed underneath her bed. She fumbled around with a sewing project, cursing as the needle stabbed her in the fingers over and over again. The paladin of the squad had already gone to bed, snoring quietly as all hints of the sun vanished.
Sleep for Sybil was uneasy, which was unusual. Normally she fell asleep in an instant and was known for being a heavy snoozer. Sybil slept with a pillow over her head out of fear of a night ambush from Alton. In what seemed like no time at all, a small stone vibrating by her head was telling her that it was time to go. She lowered herself from the bed and moved around quietly as she double checked her supplies.
They had traveled lightly when they came to Braytons. Just a change of clothes and the rest was simple supplies. Most of what they needed was gathered directly from the land, which was difficult for three individuals with very little survival experience. They also hitched rides with any passing merchants, which helped a great deal. Hopefully, things would be easier with Veximarl. He might be able to arrange for transport between Tilrey and Carapace.
Chickadee had placed her sword on top of her traveling pack. She examined it and noticed that three small dolls had been tied to the sheath. One each of Chickadee, Zaniyah, and Alton. They had different degrees of quality to them, with Zaniyah’s being the worst. Chickadee must have offered to make all of them, and Zaniyah stubbornly made her own.
A smile came to her lips as she made sure the sword was attached firmly to her belt. If they had told her about it yesterday, she could have at least done something for her fellow Dogfall students. She took the stone, set it to buzz, and tossed it up on top of Veximarl’s bed. He made a grunt as it hit him, peeking over the edge only after he had put his glasses on.
He attempted to leave as quietly as she did, though he had some difficulty fumbling about in the dark while wearing his darkly colored glasses. Veximarl at least succeeded in not waking anyone else up. The last thing Sybil needed was to have weepy goodbyes.
There wouldn’t be any mules for them to ride to Carapace on. Apparently, they were part of a transport deal Veximarl had worked out with a merchant wanting to make a delivery to Tilrey. But being a squire at Braytons came with certain advantages and he was certain he could abuse them fully as they traveled.
“We have a five weeks before classes start,” explained Veximarl. “I suggest we go a path that lets us reach a tavern each night. We will likely be able to hitch rides with passing merchants as we go, but it will take over a week to reach Carapace. Regardless of how we go, we should ensure we stay at a tavern and avoid camping at all costs.”
Sybil nodded with his assessment. “As much as I would like to rush, you’re right. It’s better to be safe.” But she was worried about their funds. Hopefully, she had enough. “Do you have everything you need?”
Veximarl patted himself down. He was wearing the new gear that Chickadee had gotten for him. “Everything is in order. Alton gave me a coin purse that should have enough to cover the majority of our travel costs. I doubt we will dip that far into it. I am capable of scavenging the majority of what we need and my squire identification should allow us to get discounts at several locations.”
“We’ll get the rest when we get to Carapace,” said Sybil with a weak smile. “That’ll give me a chance to show you what sort of connections I have.”
As they walked across the courtyard, Sybil noticed a set of figures standing upon the rampart. One was Stonetoe and the other was possibly one of the other knights here, but not one she had seen during testing. The low light of the area hid the majority of his features. She did see him raise up his arm, giving them a half salute as they passed through the door. Sybil returned the gesture and hastened her footsteps to catch up to Veximarl, who hadn’t noticed the exchange at all.
The road ahead was heavily trampled and covered in litter. Having over two hundred teenagers pass through did little to help the environment. A part of her was glad that those who would make this sort of mess probably didn’t pass. This was disrespectful.
With a heavy sigh, Sybil kept glancing off to the east, where the sun had finally started to break through the horizon. Things wouldn’t be different for long, she assured herself. She’d be a squire here someday. Her path to get in was just a little different from the norm.