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The three that had remained at Braytons were awoken by heavy knocking on the door. Alton was the first to wake up, peeking over the edge of his bed as Grimhawk bombarded into the room. Despite being blind, the old knight made a point to look about.

“... Are any of you still here?”

“Yes, sir,” both Chickadee and Alton replied. The latter of the two climbed down from his bed and gave a polite bow.

Grimhawk took a few feeble steps forward, being careful to feel around with his staff. “It seems cramped in here.” He tapped on one of the chairs with his staff, swung it off to his other side and tapped it against the edge of the support beam for Veximarl’s bed. “Toval. Did you want to bunk up with your Starsons group until squad assignments are finished?”

“No, sir.”

Only Vincent and Mila were left. There was still tension between himself and Vincent, and Mila was someone he had never been close to. Besides, Alton still had to work on his plans on making Sybil fall in love with him. Staying put to gather information seemed wisest.

“That’s your choice. You’ll need to vacate soon anyways. Dismantle any beds that aren’t being used. It’ll open up some space to breathe,” said Grimhawk. “Did the other three head home?”

“No, sir. Krogastein is still asleep. Tuton and Twist left for Carapace earlier today.”

Lydia was also present, despite Alton’s annoyance. She was floating in circles about Grimhawk, gushing over her days when she and Lady Till were always being yelled at by him for being poor fighters. They had a lot of fun in those days.

Grimhawk’s face became stern. “Leaving early is going to get that boy in trouble. He was supposed to attend the orientation first. You lot going to Herring to help out that forge boy?” Alton muttered a yes. “Train hard this week and figure out a solid plan. Don’t need to lose any of you too early. Till will have my head.

Remember that you’ll all need to earn your keep while you’re here. When I leave, wake up the Krogastein girl and go have had some breakfast. Afterwards, Toval, work at the stables until Stonetoe wakes up for your sword training. Krogastein report to the farm. The other one, report to Lady Till. She wants another word with you. You all clear?”

“Yes, sir!” Both Chickadee and Alton stated.

After they prepared for the day, they moved as a unit to the meal hall. There was an increase of people their own age present, unlike the other times any of them had stopped by. They were sitting around either by themselves or in pairs. A trio of boys were sprawled out against a table, still in full armor and struggling to stay awake. The three must have barely passed the exams at the last possible moment.

They were served a savory bowl of oatmeal that was mixed with sliced almonds, cheese, and peas. Each was topped with a fried egg and fresh herbs. Alongside that was a bowl of mixed summer fruits, and tea to drink. Knights sat alongside students as equals, weary from the days of testing they had to conduct.

Lady Till held a stack of papers in her hand as she approached a raised platform that sat near the far wall. She was dressed in simple attire. Flowing dark blue robes with a gold brooch pin that had Braytons coat of arms on it. A hand went up as she stepped upon the platform, and the room fell silent in an instant.

“As you are aware, after orientation week, you are free until the training year starts. This year we will be having fifteen squires join in our program.” She waited for a light applause, which was mild at best. “That brings our total to forty-nine promising squires over the course of this year. Mind you, this will be your last summer of freedom for quite some time. I suggest you spend what little free time you have wisely.

Your duties as first-year squires are to maintain these barracks and study. If you wish to eat and have a roof over your heads, you will have to work. Training will occur on all days with exception given to Satyrday. On that day, we have religious service in our church, and attendance to that is optional unless you are members of our acolyte program. Educational courses will include strategy, etiquette, estate management, and wilderness survival. We expect exemplary results in all categories.

Your dorms are located in the southeastern lodge. By the end of this week, you all should be assigned a squad room and a knight who will oversee all of your efforts. Think of them as your lord or lady during your stay here. Remember that their word is your livelihood. Respect them and you will be rewarded. The first day of class 8th Summer Solsday. If you are a squad captain, be sure to be back by 7th Summer Eathaday.”

Zaniyah took a sip of milk and ran her forearm against her lips to clean off her lips. “We’re already assigned, right? Grimhawk is ours?” She grinned. “I hope so. I like the old dog. He’s hilarious.”

“Vex and I with Stonetoe,” Chickadee replied quietly.

“The knights starting new squads have the most say on who gets in each year,” replied Alton. “It makes sense. No point in being forced to oversee squires that you don’t like.”

As they ate, a blonde girl dressed like a Priestess of Eatha took a seat next to Alton. His eyes narrowed as she held out her hand and smiled wildly. “Tish Maplehammer. Newly elected captain of Macestar Squad. Are you Veximarl Tuton?”

“... No.” Alton slid away from her.

Tish turned Chickadee, whose eyes widened as she darted her open hand towards him. “Mister Tuton, right? Hi! Tish Maplehammer! I’m just trying to meet all of the other captains and introduce myself. That is, as many captains as I can meet. I can’t seem to figure out who Bronzescale’s is and I heard something weird happened with Jewelclover’s knight right before exams.” She let out a light and cheerful laugh. “Well, I know we’ll all meet at captain meeting this afternoon, but I have always felt that one on one introductions were best.”

Alton frowned. “That’s not Vex either.” Tish pointed to Zaniyah and then stared at Alton in befuddlement. “Vex left this morning to help escort another squire home. There was an emergency and he is unable to stay during orientation.”

The news made Tish absolutely crestfallen. “I see. When he returns, please tell him to come to talk to me first. We don’t have a commander for the class yet, but,” she crossed all of her fingers. “No need to drag my feet talking to you about it. There are still others I need to speak to.” The sight of three boys sleeping at the far end of the hall made her stand up abruptly. Her hands slammed loudly against the table. “Emery Penvil!” The one on the left sat up with a start. “Found you! We need to talk!”

As she ran off, Zaniyah’s eyes followed her. “I don’t remember being assigned a squad. Were we supposed to have those already? Oh no...” She was suddenly nervous. “What if I’m not in Chi’s squad?”

“They didn’t give me one either.” Alton thought about asking to stay with this group but hadn’t made up his mind yet. He also didn’t know if he had a choice in the matter. That and it would be bothersome if Sybil failed to get in. “You’re probably with Chi and Vex. Stonetoe seemed interested in you.” He put his arms behind his head and looked smug. “Rich kid like me is going to end up in Jewelclover.”

“By Eatha’s saggy tits, I won’t let that happen.” Zaniyah was firm when she spoke. “We already told you, Alton, you’re one of the group! Misfits all the way!” Alton rolled his eyes in as Chickadee nodded his head in agreement. “Together forever!”

“B-best buddies!” Chickadee stammered out.

“Hurry up and finish your food. We all have places to be,” grumbled Alton.

It didn’t take much longer for them to finish and figure out their individual tasks. Summer meant that the sheep flock the barracks owned would need shearing, and it was tradition to let some of the new squires each year help out. Zaniyah and a pair of other students were asked to do it. She recognized one as Vincent from Starsons, and the other was a young looking girl with wide glasses.

They weren’t asked to do any of the shearing itself as it would be dangerous for themselves and the animals. Rather, she was asked to wash the newly sheared wool. The girl, named Anais Reese, was a mage who used a set of bracelets to channel her magic. Her specialty was empathy spells that worked on animals. It assisted in keeping a order while the farm workers tended to the sheep.

Such work didn’t bother Zaniyah. In fact, she was happy to do it. Herd animals were never kept in the core. Her only experience with animals was through her brother’s work with Chickadee’s family. She’d go with him sometimes to a farm whenever he went to drop off or pick up messages. The ranchers never let her near the animals, as she had a tendency to make them nervous. It was a pleasure to know she’ll spend the next three years working with them.

“Krogastein.”

Zaniyah tossed her sudsy arms up in the air, holding them away from the bucket as she stood up quickly and hopped away. “I’m working! I swear!”

Blinking a few times in confusion, Vincent gestured to the fence gate. “The farmhands said that they’ll handle the rest. We’re scheduled to leave now.” His voice was flat and emotionless when he spoke, but at the same time authoritative.

“Right!” She shook off her hands, walking slightly behind Vincent as they started to head back to the barracks. “Where’s Anais?”

“Reese was asked to stay longer and assist with the cleanup,” replied Vincent. He slowed down his stride so that he could walk next to Zaniyah at a more leisurely pace. “... Congratulations on acceptance to Braytons.”

“T-thank you!” Zaniyah stammered out.

She felt nervous. This guy went out of his way to demand she remembered his name, and she had never met aside from her friends who could beat her in a one on one duel. Vincent was intimidating. He was big and muscular, but not overly mean like most of the outlanders she had met in the past. Zaniyah didn’t know how to deal with him.

They walked in awkward silence. Vincent glanced at her several times out of the corner of his eye before he spoke again. “I have yet to be assigned a squad, but I was told that they are considering me for the position of captain. Yourself?”

“I might be in Stonetoe’s squad? Vex is probably gonna be our captain. You know, Vex, the uhm, tall one who smells like medicine all the time. He’s weak, but might be smart. Probably won’t be bad.”

Her hands were wringing behind her. Now she was embarrassed that she didn’t know what the squad’s name was. It hadn’t been brought up before. There has been a severe lack of orientation so far during orientation week.

“Your room is next to mine then,” he remarked. “I plan on heading to Carapace after this week is over. It may be beneficial for us to travel together.”

“Oh, no thanks, I guess. That sounds, uh, fun and all, but I’m heading west. Towards Herring, actually. We’re gonna do stuff there.”

“I see… If I may make a suggestion, Krogastein?” She tensed up at him saying her name, nodding nervously. “I have sent word back to Carapace asking for work to be done on my bracer. When our gear has been fully repaired, would you like a rematch? I felt as though the previous duel was unfair.”

Zaniyah beamed at the idea. “I’d like that.” She punched Vincent in the arm, making him wince and stagger in order to keep standing. “Thanks. You’re not such a bad guy, Vincent.” Her hand went to her mouth. “I mean Highland. It was Highland, right? I’m not going to get used to calling people by their last names. Seems rude.”

He rubbed at his arm to heal it and looked down at the ground as he became trapped in his own thoughts. A moment of silence followed before he looked back up at her. There was an almost pained expression on his face as he studied hers. It quickly became stonelike again as he looked off to the side.

“Vincent is adequate. As long as you remember my name, it is fine.”

“Awesome. Krogastein is a mouthful, so you can just call me Zani.” She flashed him a smile which fell flat as he frowned her way. “Zaniyah is also a mouthful. My name was sort of an accident anyways if you can believe that. My brothers, Zynn and Zyris, got much easier names to say, and I am just rambling at this point... Sorry. It’s been a long time since I spoke to an outlander, and I don’t think Alton counts because he’s all weird and stuff... Don’t really know what to say, and all, and wow, I just keep going, don’t I?”

Vincent stopped walking and thought to himself for a moment while he debated a response. “My position within these barracks is different from your own.”

The sentence soured her mood in an instant. “I mean, yeah. I get it. You’re a captain and paladin sort of guy and I’m the low axe fighter type. It’s probably not much different than me being from the core and you being an outlander. I get it. You’ve made your point, so I’ll try to keep it professional.”

“I did not mean it like that!” His alarmed tone made her take a step back. He coughed into his fist and turned his head to the side. “I meant to imply that I am in contention to be the commander of our class year. In a way, that makes every member of the first year effectively a part of my unit. Being able to learn about you, because you will be serving under my command is… Invaluable to me.”

“... Alright?” Zaniyah didn’t understand where he was going with this.

“Feel free to ‘ramble’ to me whenever you see fit. I will always make time for you.” Vincent kept his gaze averted from hers. “To clarify, not you in particular, but for anyone who wishes to speak to me. About anything in particular. You are welcome to come to me if you ever need to speak about anything at all... Apologies, I am as used to speaking to women as you are to outlanders.”

Poor mister paladin. Sure there was Mila and Alton, but the guy had just been separated from his whole squad. Not to mention the whole betrayal thing with Barcus. Now he was all alone and he didn’t have anyone to reach out to but her. That was cute and all, but disturbing in its own right. Zaniyah frowned at the thought.

“Do you need a hug?” She held out her arms wide.

“Pardon?” He took a step back as she took a step forward. “I am certain that would be inappropriate. You are both a subordinate and a member of the opposite sex.” Vincent became all the warier as Zaniyah took another step towards him. “I am covered in sweat from wrangling animals. It would hardly be a pleasant experience for you.”

“Come on! We’re friends now, right? What’s a hug between friends?” He shook his head. “Buddies? Allies? What do you think we should call ourselves?” She did a hop forward and he turned to walk away as fast as he could. “Hey! Vincent! Hey, wait! You’re walking away from a pivotal moment in your emotional development! Let me help you!”

Zaniyah had been nervous at the idea of herself being separated from Chickadee and Sybil. Aside from those in her family, she had trouble getting along with others in the core. Being here wasn’t so bad. Anais was like having a girl version of Chickadee around, and Vincent had some good points as well. Zaniyah laughed to herself as she jogged to catch up to Vincent. Braytons wasn’t such a scary place after all. So far, she was really liking it here.

Chickadee, meanwhile, was asked to visit the forge. There he formally introduced to the forgemaster, an older man named Ira Knut, whom he had had brief conversations with over the past few days. He was eager to have Chickadee as an assistant and needed help in maintaining the weapons and armor that were kept in storage. Squires were allowed to borrow them as needed, and the forge would craft new items for them if it was necessary.

This was actually a boon in Chickadee’s eyes. He was concerned he wouldn’t be able to work on maintaining his own squad’s gear, but operating as Ira’s assistant allowed him to do as he pleased. There was even potential for him to develop new smithing techniques. Chickadee was overjoyed at the new challenges he would face in the future.

Just outside the forge was one of the inner dueling fields. Alton had spent part of his morning cleaning out the stables and was now practicing with Stonetoe. He held his rapier in hand and his shield in front of him. Stonetoe held a saber in each hand. The tip of one danced about in the air as he spoke, making figure eights and jabs.

“Lady Lydia Larkin was known as being a skilled duelist who could easily turn the tide of battle against her opponent. Her rapier acted as her wand, amplifying her own abilities. She was able to stop the war with the southern regions through her words and wits alone. Stories claim she was able to do so without shedding a single drop of blood.”

Only visible to Alton was Lydia. She floated about, the tips of her toes barely above the ground as she circled about Stonetoe. “I was one of the best, but I did draw a considerable amount of blood. I also had a squad of three others with me. Better yet, one of my unit members was in Stonetoe’s squad while they were at Braytons. I ended up getting some delicious dirt on him.” A cheeky grin appeared on her lips. “If you do well, I’ll tell you some of it.”

Lydia didn’t appear to be that old, seeming to be in her early twenties herself. The war had ended over ten years ago, and she claimed to have been squadmates with Lady Till, making her apparent age an impossibility. Alton had supposed that ghosts could appear at any age they wanted after death, and didn’t put much thought into it. Putting thought into anything involving Lydia was guaranteed to give him a headache.

“We’ll work in phases since you’re still a baby with the rapier,” continued Stonetoe. “First see how well you can focus magic through it.”

Lydia grinned. “Baton was made by none other than the famous blacksmith, Talwyn Cully. She approached me one day and asked if she could make me one for marketing purposes. Stallis and I traveled a lot before Sybil was born, and she wanted to get her name outside of Carapace. The request was so amusing that I couldn’t tell her no. My goodness, I had no idea how clever she was at the time, but that decision paid off for her well in the end. But I am getting sidetracked. Baton is a simple weapon to cast with. Anyone gifted with magic should have no problems using it.”

Alton looked off to the side, annoyed with her rambling. Hearing two different conversations at once was giving him a headache. “I would rather not. Maybe against someone else, but...”

Shifting over to Alton’s side, Lydia gave a shrug. “You don’t have to worry about appearing weak. Stonetoe won’t judge you. It’s his role to improve your skills. The charms on the rapier enhance any type of spell casting. Even minor cantrips will appear robust. Please give it a try. I am also interested in seeing what you can do.

Which does remind me,” she sat in the middle of the air, placing her hand to her cheek. “What was that one thing that stood out to me when it came to Braden? It’s on the tip of my tongue… I know Paladin Birch told me something especially hilarious about him once.”

“You don’t get to choose who you fight, kid. Different sorts are going to be showing up to pick a fight, and you need to make sure you’re the one who wins.” Stonetoe readied his fighting stance.

Lydia started to slowly rotate upside down while she maintained her thinking pose. “While I’m at it, you should also work on that terrible plan you have for Sybil. You might not be motivated to do it while she isn’t here, but try to use this time to think of something new.”

Giving a few practice swings with the rapier, Alton grinned to himself. “I have it handled,” he said as a reply to them both.

It was around that time when Sybil and Veximarl had stopped for a break. Sybil unwrapped some of their food, only to see a note flutter out from it. She picked it up and gave it a glance. The words of the note were elegantly written, and it had held the scent of musky cologne.

“Someday we’ll be side by side again. I’ll count down the days eagerly until I can once more take comfort with you in my arms.” - A.

Her face was twisted into disgust, so much so that Veximarl asked her if the food had gone bad already. She waved his words away and tossed the note over into a nearby ditch. The food was fine. It was simply a bug that had flown by, and nothing more.

“I remember what it was now!” Lydia slammed her fist into her open palm. “He would write these little love notes and leave them in the strangest places! He certainly was a charmer at your age, but the lady of his affections absolutely hated it.” She shuddered at the thought. “You shouldn’t do such a thing if you don’t know if a lady would appreciate it or not. Love notes are not the way to go.”

Alton looked over at her. “Seriously?”

A saber flew at his head at that moment. Alton reached up with his shield arm and knocked it over to the side. He was forced to step back as Stonetoe slashed at his stomach with the other saber.

“I am being very serious. Pay attention, Toval,” Stonetoe snarled.

“He did eventually get married.” Lydia frowned and thought to herself. “No wedding though. Put a child in her before he ran off to join the war, and forced her to marry him after he found out he was a father.” The look in her eyes became far off and worried. “I certainly hope she’s happy now.”

There wasn’t enough time for Alton to pay attention to what she was saying, as she seemed to keep forgetting that he was in the middle of a fight. Stonetoe was to close for him to get a stab in with the rapier. The blade was longer than what he was used to, and it felt uncomfortable to hold because of it.

His thoughts froze up as he tried to think of a counter attack. Thinking shifted into panic as Stonetoe kicked out the legs from underneath him. A piercing sensation happened within his gut, and he was bathed in warm light.

“You’re dead, Toval!” Stonetoe shouted over to Alton as he teleported outside the field. “Two laps around the fence and then get back in here!”

The punishment that was Stonetoe’s training went on for the next two hours. It was difficult to keep track of the number of laps that Alton had done by the end of it. A group of onlookers appeared, watching with mixed expressions as Alton struggled to get a grasp on the basics. Stonetoe’s violent methods were doing little to help.

A lunch break couldn’t come quick enough. Alton slumped his way to the dining hall, continuing to ignore a taunting Lydia as he went. She actually did try to talk to him about his form, but she hadn’t been much of a help either. A sudden slap to his back made him stand up straight. It also made him spin around so that he might snarl at his newfound aggressor.

What he got in return was a nod from Vincent. The paladin smelled of soap. He also looked damp and his usual prim appearance was replaced with a more peasantish look. Alton would’ve said a rough word or two, but he found that some of this weariness had dissipated. He gave a nod back and went to find the others.

When he entered the hall, he sat opposite of Chickadee and Zaniyah. The pair from Dogfall were beaming at their newfound tasks. Braytons and Tilrey were both under Till’s guidance and the two often bartered goods with each other. The barracks also owned several farms, and anything left over was sold for profits.

Part of being a member of the barracks was that the squires had to assist the local area. Exterminating nearby threats or acting as guards on caravans for trade routes. More advanced work involved directly serving under barons, and the duke of this region often took in third years to train at his estate. Being hired out for such work was one of the highlights of studying here, as it gave a chance to earn renown and help with job hunting after graduation.

Those were the days that Alton was looking forward to. Currently, he was dunking his bread into a mutton stew and wishing that this was the end of his day. Either this or anything that didn’t involve Stonetoe or rapier training. Hopefully, he’d get some time to talk to Chickadee and Zaniyah about horse riding. That was his main priority this week, but his heart sank slightly as he watched Stonetoe stand up on the platform. The knight coughed loudly to gain everyone’s attention.

“There are some kids who have failed the exams that are still loitering around,” Stonetoe began. “We’ve stated that we would reconsider their application if they manage to beat some of you in duels. I need some volun- Not you, Krogastein. You already terrified them enough by beating an obstacle course to death.”

Alton stood up and partially raised a hand. A few tables down, Vincent did the same. Pouting was more Zaniyah’s thing, feeling dismayed as she scooped stew into her mouth with her bread. No one else rose up, as there were afternoon tasks that needed to be done. Many also felt bad for the applicants and didn’t want to beat them while they were already down. Stonetoe gave a shrug and took what he could get.

“Alright. You’re in, Krogastein. No picking fights. Do as you’re told and try not to take out the property this time,” Stonetoe said as he tossed his hand in the air.

“Aye shir!” Zaniyah sputtered and snorted part of her meal as she acknowledged him. She gulped down her food and wiped her mouth with her arm. “I won’t disappoint you, sir! I am going to do my very best this time, sir!”

“We’re heading out in ten minutes. Wolf down what you can get and put your gear together.” The knight gave them a nod and stepped down.

As they started to gather their things, Vincent walked over and placed a hand on Alton’s shoulder. “Bring your best to the field, Toval.”

“I don’t remember anyone telling me that you were in charge here, Highland,” Alton spoke in a cold tone, giving only a sideways glance to Vincent.

Vincent didn’t respond to the resentment. “They have already failed. The more quickly we defeat them, the easier they will be able to transition into the next phase of their lives. We will filter them out in the same fashion as we filtered those from Starsons.”

Alton paused, studying the flat expression on Vincent’s face for a moment. He didn’t need to be reminded about those tests Vincent put his so-called friends through. “... Fine. Before you ask, I’m not going to risk blowing my head off. It can be done without a mist charge.” Baton would be enough to make up part of the power he would be losing otherwise.

“It is time we broke our dependence on them,” replied Vincent. He gave a nod over to Zaniyah. “Let us prepare. The dead might have an eternity, but we should not keep them waiting.” A tilt of his head towards the door was enough to get them going.

Whisper had been newly finished and was presented to Zaniyah. Chickadee spared no expense when it came to raiding storage for materials. The crack in the double bladed head was filled in with a copper-colored metal, which would turn green over time. A new handle was carved from bone. The natural gaps within the material were filled with a hard resin to give it a smooth finish and to strengthen it.

Four small blood iron medallions were embedded into the bone near the axe head. They were all simple enhancements meant to strengthen the materials and allow them to withstand punishment. The other side had a carving of two dragon tails twisting together, a design that made up part of Braytons’ insignia. These were trailing down from a clockwork design meant to represent Dogfall. It was filled in with a dark brown resin to make the detail pop out.

Zaniyah loved it. She couldn’t bear to put it in her harness, instead cradling it while giggling. Words of praise were poured over Chickadee, who stiffened up out of embarrassment. He had the skill to make good items. Using it for his friends made sense. It was nothing to receive praise over.

At Stonetoe’s direct orders, Alton was only to use the rapier. He also fetched a black mask from the room. It was made of a hard leather and embellished with silver and opals carved to look like scales. He wore it on the upper half of his face, held in place with the long black ribbons that trailed down his back. A cloth collar was also worn on his neck, with the metal clasp laying in the middle of his throat.

Vincent stuck with his usual gear. The only weakness he had gained was the loss of his bracer. His shielding spell was less efficient, but he wouldn’t be crippled by its absence. Together, they rode to the field on a set of horses. Alton and Zaniyah partnered up on one while the bulkier paladin took the other.

Once at their destination, they took a moment to survey the area. It was a wide field that was mostly flat. However, it was scattered with the remains of stone walls and other broken obstructions. This made for difficult terrain for most to fight across.

After they had dismounted, Alton produced a metal case for Vincent to take. The paladin opened it up and took a pinch of the soft wax within. He rolled it into a ball between his fingers and placed this within his ear. Then he repeated the process for the other one.

“Hold still, Krogastein.” Vincent carefully placed a dab of wax in each of a confused Zaniyah’s ears. He then handed the case back to Alton, who stored it away again. “Toval, take point.”

“Gladly,” stated Alton as he stepped forward.

Stonetoe, Grimhawk, and the knight who had saluted Sybil on her way out were waiting on top of a hill. The failed applicants were being given pendants for use on the field. Stonetoe handed pendants to the Braytons squires, each taking a moment to loop them around their necks.

“How many?” Alton felt too lazy to actually count.

“Eh…” Stonetoe looked over and shrugged. “Over thirty? Probably half of the kids from yesterday.” He started to grumble under his breath. “Always the stupid ones that stick around the longest.”

Vincent nodded. “We are prepared to face all of our opponents in a single battle. Tell them to get under cover.” He gestured between Zaniyah and himself. “Toval will take command over the field while myself and Krogastein will handle cleanup.”

“What?” Zaniyah reached to take out one of the wax pellets, but Alton swatted her hand. She looked over at him, but he shook his head as a response. “But… What?” He waved a hand at her to assure her it was alright. Her nose crinkled as she failed to understand what was going on.

Stonetoe gave another shrug. “Your funeral.” He gracefully skipped over a series of stones until he was on top of a pillar. Unhooking a wooden cone from his hip, he raised it up to his lips and began to shout through it. “Supervisors need to clear the field! New plan! We’ll have an all-out battle starting in ten minutes! Your goal is to take out these three!” He gestured to the squire trio. “If you manage to survive, we will reconsider your admission to Braytons!”

“The battle should be finished promptly,” muttered Vincent, resting a gauntlet on the hilt of his sheathed sword. “No delays.”

Alton shook his head. His opinion of the paladin had always been that he lacked compassion. If only Vincent could learn to have the humanity that was so generously instilled within himself. With a smug smile, Alton looked over to Zaniyah, suddenly frowning once more. He reached over and swatted her hand again as she picked at the wax again.

“Ten minutes! Whistle blow! Kill everything!” Alton exclaimed. Zaniyah gave a thumbs up. That wasn’t a good sign. “Not us! Everyone else!” He clarified, and Zaniyah seemed confused. “Kill everything but us!” She rolled her eyes and thumbs up again. “Not the knights either!” She stamped her foot and waved a hand about like he was an idiot.

“Don’t be so paranoid! I can manage that.” Zaniyah let out a low laugh while grinning widely. “But uh… Just be sure to dodge if I get close. Sybil says that sometimes I get uhh…” She waved a hand in front of her face. “Blind eyed? Blood fury? Forget what it was specifically.” Alton took a step back out of concern for his own safety. “Don’t be like that! It’s really not that bad!” He didn’t believe her. “I’ve only accidentally given Sybil two concussions and one broken leg! It wasn’t all at once and it was hardly all that bad! I’ve done a lot worse to her on purpose!”

Alton remembered what the obstacle course looked like after she had obliterated it. There was no way to downplay her violent tendencies after that display. Especially after she claimed to have managed to injure an invisible girl that severely. He gave her a thumbs up and smiled nervously, taking small side steps away from her whenever she wasn’t looking in his direction.

“This is going to be a good workout.” Zaniyah put her axe on her shoulder and tapped her foot on the ground in a rhythmic pattern. “Why do we have to wait? Let’s get this party started! I feel like dancing!” Her insane laugh rippled across the field, sending a chill down the spines of everyone that heard it. She had her one true partner in her hands once more, and she couldn’t wait to try her out.

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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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