Alton got up early and covered Sybil’s work at the stables. Bibi still wasn’t feeling well, and she gave him a distraction from his inner worries. He brushed off her coat and checked her hooves to see if they were healthy. He took his time in the shower, ate his breakfast by himself, and then went to sit with Sybil. There was some argument on who got to do it, but he won by stating that the others were shut in idiots who would actually benefit from classes.

Zaniyah was frustrated, but couldn’t argue with that. Lessons at Dogfall consisted mostly of golem maintenance, which she didn’t care to understand, and cave survival, which she didn’t care about. She and the rest of her squad entered the classroom in a dismayed fashion, and all of them could feel others staring.

Lady Saryu Blu entered with Evan next. The both of them were carrying books which were then handed out to the squires. They were educational texts on the different plant life within Lustro, and how they could be used to treat injuries. These books were theirs to keep and were to be referred to over the course of the class.

“Tish?” Blu flourished her hand towards her squire.

Tish stood. “All but two members of Grimstone accounted for, ma’am.”

“Go ahead and sit down. I’m not Lady Till or Sir Moss. I don’t need respects paid, so don’t bother bowing at me.” She gave a long sigh, thinking over her next words carefully. “I talked it over with Sir Oceans, and we decided that we’re going to spare you the usual first class lessons for today. I’m certain all of you have heard about the incident that occurred during a routine outing, and we are going to address it.”

Again gazes were tossed towards Grimstone Squad, with exceptions from Moontear. They were silent and staring down at the table in front of them. Zaniyah glanced about and noticed that Chickadee was fidgeting uncomfortably. She stood up and waved at the doctor.

“First, thank you for helping Sybil.” Zaniyah made an awkward bow of appreciation. “But, I mean, there’s no need for everyone to be all serious, right? Sybil’s fine. She just won’t be in class for a few days. It’s only a matter of time before she’s back and doing her thing of glooming about and hating on Alton.”

Blu nodded as Zaniyah sat back down. “Of course she’s fine,” she said with a smile, “but everyone has their worries, and those have the right to be acknowledged. Knowledge is the best weapon against fear. Fighting the unknown can be terrifying. It leads to mistakes, and that, in turn, leads to death. Sir Oceans will be addressing recognizing and fighting such monstrosities in his lesson today. For now, we’ll be talking about mist mutation and the miasma, otherwise known as the tainted mist.”

Another series of glances were tossed at Grimstone Squad. Specifically at Zaniyah. With her speed and strength, and Alton’s ability to sing in a hypnotic manner, not to mention Veximarl’s oddly shaped eyes which he always kept hidden behind his dark glasses... The squad was littered with abnormal individuals.

“Mist comes from the core of our world. Before Tria gave us the blessings of blood iron, the races of this world were only capable of casting magic within these mist regions. Terrible wars were fought for their control. The strongholds of these mist regions, Fogbloom, Crookstead, Carapace, and others, are still used today as major cities.

Mist is what used to give Others their strength as well. The races of centaurs, mermaids, harpies, and many other human-animal hybrids. Professors theorize that it’s possible all races could be from one source that was mutated over time into different species, but there is no proof of that.

Regardless, the blessings of blood iron came with balance. Tria flooded the rest of this world with miasma, which is deadly to us but safe to Others. Lustro is possibly the only country in this world where pure-blooded humans may live safely and without fear of miasma. But that does not mean that we are still not affected by it.

Even if there is plenty of evidence to show that humans are capable of being mutated by mist, I want you to know that all of these changes are perfectly natural. There is nothing to fear of evolution. Remember that these changes are within your own blood, and they will be passed to your own children someday.

With that in mind, let us talk more about miasma, which still often appears within Lustro’s northeastern peninsula and several islands within the Coral Kingdom. Miasma is also referred to as Tria’s Wrath or tainted mist. Whatever the name, know that it is a powerful form of magic that is known for its ill color and unique, foul smell.

Sometimes severely mutated creatures will appear within infected regions, and they have the ability to spread miasma poisoning through their saliva and claws. Miasma causes hallucinations and sometimes permanent madness. Herbs capable of curing such taint are rare, so the most effective course of treatment we have is magic.”

Blu continued to expand on her lessons during the duration of class. She repeatedly stressed that mist mutation within humans was completely natural and harmless. It made Zaniyah grateful. In Carapace, mist mutation was treated as a disease by those living in the outerland. That is, unless it was beautiful, like in Alton’s case.

There wasn’t anything beautiful about the mess of blue hair on her head. Her strength and speed were brutish, not elegant. That’s one of the reasons why she was happy for being accepted to Braytons. There were other barracks, but this was the one that could prove to the outerland that nothing was wrong with the core.

As grateful as she was, she couldn’t wait for the break to begin. Sybil was supposed to be waking up sometime this morning, but Zaniyah was stuck doing her chores and classwork. At least the new calf in the barn was cute... That made her world a little brighter.

But in Sybil’s world, everything was cold and gray. Literally. Her mind was filled with a fog which muffled her senses. In the distance, she could hear a harp playing. The tune felt oddly familiar. Something about it was strangely comforting. Her hand reached out and found something warm, but in exchange, that wonderful music stopped.

Her eyes opened, and Alton was holding onto her outstretched hand. He pressed it back against the bed before returning to sit in the chair next to her. A glare was shot in her direction as his fingers toyed lightly with the strings of his instrument.

“Idiot. Quit flailing around in your sleep. You’ll fall out of bed and break your bones again.”

Sybil suddenly remembered where she was, and that’s when the pain hit her. It was excruciating. Every breath in and out was pure agony. Being started led to her to breath in a startled gasp, which only made the situation worse. Her fingers tightened into the sheets of the bed as Alton stood up with an annoyed groan. He poured her a glass of water and brought it to her.

“Come on, I’ll help you sit up.” He gently helped her up just long enough to get a few precious sips. Her mouth felt so dry. “Lady Blu said the pain will last for a few more days. Something about something. Medical jargon. Whatever.”

Sybil did her best to melt with the bed after Alton had helped her lay back down. She turned her head to the side and noticed an assortment of items sitting on the table. Her sword was leaning against it. By the hilt, and attached to the sheath, there were four small dolls instead of the three that had been there before. A little Veximarl had been added to the Zaniyah, Chickadee, and Alton.

“Moontear went and found your daggers. They also dropped off some flowers earlier and wrote a letter. I read it. It’s just a bunch of sappy thank yous, so don’t even bother struggling to look at it now.” Alton rolled his eyes. He didn’t need to have other guys going after his Sybil.

“They’re okay?” She wheezed.

“Don’t talk, and yes. They’re fine.” Alton went back to fiddling with his harp. “I am never going to understand how you could go off and try to get yourself killed after you worked so hard to get into this place.” He spoke in a demeaning tone but was clearly bothered by the situation.

Sybil reached up and wiggled her fingers at a wooden box that was also on the table. Alton looked over and opened it up. He pulled out a decorative shortbread cookie that had jam baked in the center. “Jewels,” she rasped out.

“Chi baked them this morning, but Lady Blu says no food until after she takes a look at you. Class should be over soon, so you won’t have to wait long.” He took a bite out of it. “... They don’t taste that bad.”

Jewels were something that were given as gifts in the core. Their living situation made certain items a rarity. If one wanted to buy an expensive gift, it would be sugar, wheat flour, and jam. This was used to make jewels. Shortbread pressed into intricate designs to make them look like brooches, with a spot of jam to act as the gem in the center.

Normally they were only given out as celebratory events like weddings, but such ingredients were more common within the Gilded Region. Sybil would consider not dying a good enough event for her to eat her most favorite dessert in the world. Shame she couldn’t eat one now.

She leaned back in the bed and closed her eyes. Alton glared at her in silence until she seemed settled. He stopped toying with the harp and began to play it properly. The melody wasn’t something she recognized. The way it twisted about reminded her of water. Of a lake, no something bigger than that.

It lured her back into sleep once more. All around her was darkness, and it felt like she was floating. Yet it didn’t feel cold. In fact, there was a warm sensation of something soft being pressed against her forehead. Almost like a kiss… It was nice.

Sybil awoke again not long after. She let out a loud yelp as someone jammed a finger into her chest. Her eyes snapped open and she saw that Blu was tending to her wounds. Alton had retreated to the window, where he was watching the second year squires practice in the dueling field.

“Nothing but bed rest for you, dear. You can be up and walking about on your own tomorrow afternoon, but you have to stay in the infirmary. Nothing strenuous until Solsday, are we clear on that?” Blu glanced between Alton and Sybil. She leaned in and whispered quietly, “Tish mentioned a dance on Satyrday. Are you alright with not participating?”

“I wasn’t going to go in the first place.” Sybil cast a look off to the side. As much as Lady Till might complain that she would need to know about dancing, she couldn’t bring herself to care.

Blu smiled. “Ah. That’s a shame. I’m certain everyone in Moontear Squad would’ve loved the chance to dance.” Her smile grew as Alton let out a growl. “Mister Toval, you have class in a few minutes. I suggest you don’t dawdle.”

Alton got up from his seat. “Gladly.” There wasn’t even a goodbye to be had as he left the room. His mood was still sour from the night before.

He made it into the classroom just in time to see Sir Oceans introduce a knight to the class. It was a tall man with tied back graying hair. He dressed in a tunic that was a dark blackish purple tone and decorated with red veining. One of his green eyes was clouded over, and his throat had thick scars banded around it. Almost as though a thin rope had carved his skin away.

“This is, ah pardon.” Oceans gestured for Alton to take his seat and waited for a moment before continuing. “This is the third year Elderberry Squad leader, Sir Hiram Trewarne. He was a bounty hunter and has experience with larger prey animals. He’s here to talk today about the extermination of tainted beasts.” Trewarne took a step forward and gave a nod.

There were several knights that had similar roles within the barracks. Every year had a hunter and strategist among their ranks. The first years had Galwen Oceans and Remi Moss in those roles. Other instructors covered the other subjects for all grades, like how Blu oversaw the acolyte and medical programs, and Pegasus tended to the mages.

Trewarne gestured to the back wall. “Oceans?” The small knight was already in the process of hanging up drawings of horrifically mutated animals. “These are tainted beasts.” Trewarne gestured to the artwork behind him.

They certainly looked like the kinds of beasts who would strike fear into any warrior. All of them looked diseased in one way or another. Some had deformities such as extra limbs, and others had their bones piercing out of their skin. Several of the squires scooted forward in their seats in an effort to get a better look.

“They’re larger and more feral than any creature you’ll face,” continued Trewarne, “and driven on only by instinct. Their skin cannot be pierced by normal weapons, and they naturally ward against most magic. Their venom has driven many a good man mad, thus care should be taken when dueling one. Aside from the peninsula, they are rare creatures that should only idle in the nightmares of children.

Fighting these nightmares of humanity is a long-standing tradition dating back to when Sir Brayton first slew the dragon Tyrtain hundreds of years ago. During your training, you may find yourselves inclined to hunt down materials and craft yourselves weapons capable of harming tainted beasts. It is our duty as instructors to ensure you are prepared to do so.

It is no coincidence that this establishment lays so close to Volo Refuge. There are hundreds of weapons there that are fit to kill any monstrosity. If you feel the urge to carry on the legacy of one who has come before you, you may choose to seek out your blade there. The monks there are skilled in helping potential knights such as yourselves find the right weapon, but you will need to prove yourselves to them first.”

Alton rolled his eyes at that statement. He got a rapier from the refuge and it was one of the worst things that had ever happened to him. Not only was he terrible at wielding it, it barely enhanced his own abilities. That and it came with Lydia, who was “sitting” in an empty chair next to him.

“My legacy is living within the next generation.” Lydia let an “ah” of realization before slowly turning her head towards him. “I live on in yooou.” Alton had to clasp his hand over his mouth to prevent himself from shouting at her.

“The number one law in the land is that the person who kills such a tainted beast gets full rights to the body. Blood iron from these creatures is far more powerful than the standard. Leather armor made from its skin is tougher than any steel. It’s lightweight, and easy to move in if treated properly. Horns, teeth, and claws can be honed into materials that sell for a high profit.

Just because Grimstone Squad has one kill notched in their belt, doesn’t mean that you should be reckless. Miss Twist was fortunate enough to have a suitable weapon with her, but she was with a unit of fledglings that were undergeared and not trained for such a hunt. Without her sword, the lot of them would have been slaughtered.

Galwen here, Sir Oceans, can teach you everything you need to know. How to track, how to work as a group, and how to survive in the wild. Despite the fact that he may appear to be a feeble mess at times, he is one of the best there is and has experience killing such beasts. Your lives will depend on his teachings more so than any other class. It would be wise to sit up and pay attention!” He shot a glare to Alton, who was still glaring at Lydia.

Oceans waved a hand and stepped forward. “Ah, well, yes. Thank you, Sir Trewarne, for such an inspiring lecture. E-especially at the end there, yes... I will take it from here.”

He waited patiently for Trewarne to leave the room before continuing the lesson. They went over more mundane things. Identifying animal tracks, spotting signs of movement in different terrain, keys to identifying a tainted beast. It was vastly different from the lecture that Trewarne had given. At least, it was a lot less intimidating.

When they were dismissed for lunch, they were told that Sybil needed to rest until late afternoon. The Grimstone group sat in their squadroom, eating a light meal of apple and spinach salad with a side of bacon sandwiches. Grimhawk would be teaching some of them and Macestar for their afternoon lessons. This meant that they should be expecting to run laps until dinner.

Veximarl couldn’t be happier to be assigned to Baron Squad for the afternoon. As a fake paladin and an inexperienced squad captain, he had been informed that he needed additional lessons in the subject. If he didn’t have to run laps or have his arm jammed up a cow’s business end, he was happy. Supposedly Alton was to sit in on Baron lessons at the same time, but he decided it was better for him to cut class. He was tired of being indoors all the time and wanted some exercise.

“Sir Moss won’t approve of you skipping out on his first classes with us,” remarked Veximarl.

Alton rolled his eyes before he set about double checking his gear. “Missing one lesson won’t be the end of me, but spending one more afternoon stuck indoors will be.” A nod was given to the other two. “Ready?”

“Yeah!” Zaniyah pumped a fist in the air. “Let’s go beat up some doctors!”


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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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