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After a few quick statements, Lady Till concluded the meeting. Veximarl stood up with the others and tried to gather his thoughts. There was some free time for him to do what he wanted until his afternoon class started. Maybe he should practice his spear forms until it was time for him to meet up with Macestar. Lady Blu had told him that it would be optional for him to appear, so it was possible for him to spend his day catching up on his other studies.

“Vex.” Patterfall grinned as he stepped in front of Veximarl. “Would you like to travel with me to Tilrey? I’ll bring Rebecca, and we’ll find you a suitable girl in town. If you feel like spending the night, I have a deal with an inn there.”

Beat seemingly appeared out of nowhere, leading to Veximarl wincing from surprise as he spoke up. “Squires are required to gain permission from their knights before spending a night outside of the barracks.”

“I will once again remind you that Tallosi understands that I am responsible enough to fend for myself.” Patterfall frowned as Beat glared at him. “Do us a favor, dear master of discipline, why not call up Archive and see what sort of dirt he has on our new friend? After all, I should be made aware of what sort of trouble I’m getting into before I bother to stick my neck out for the gentleman.”

Veximarl was immediately alarmed by the idea. “I-I’m certain that there’s nothing interesting about me at all.” He turned away and laughed nervously.

Although he was about ready to deny Patterfall’s request, Beat’s curiosity had been peaked by Veximarl’s hesitance. He pulled out a metal slab from inside his jacket. It looked remarkably similar to the letters that the core kids had but slightly more advanced.

“Archive. Access files. Veximarl Tuton.”

Glowing lines appeared on the device before a miniature old man popped up from it. “Accessing.” His beard swayed back and forth as he bobbed his head from side to side. “Zero demerits recorded. Squire is restricted to stamina training until further notice.”

Another series of nervous giggles escaped Veximarl. “Classes haven’t been in session for all that long. I’m certain that I will stir up something noteworthy soon enough?” He looked between the second year squad leaders, only to see Beat glaring. “That is to say, not at all. No trouble at all.” He grabbed onto his belongings and clutched them to his chest as he sought to squeeze past Patterfall.

“Where are you going?” Patterfall looked up at the necromancer. “I meant it when I said we should seek adventure in Tilrey. I will cover any costs of our entertainment while we are there.” He smiled in a mischievous manner. “Unless there were other records you were curious about? Don’t be afraid to ask, Vex. It’s our role to advise and assist our little first year nestlings.”

“My records state that I should be restricted to stamina training. With respect to that, I will take my leave. Good day to you all. ”

He gave a bow to the group and made his way quickly out the door before any of them could further stop him. There was much to get done, and being unnerved by a group of upperclassman wasn’t one of them. For example, he should change his clothes and work on his spear forms again.

Grulick would be ashamed to know how far he had fallen behind on his training. She would make him stand on a stump for hours and practice his different forms. It was much more difficult for her to monitor him after she had died. All he needed to do was nod and said he did them, lying through his teeth because he was busy studying the books he had wasted his money on.

He felt guilty that he had to leave her out there in the swamp. Someday he will have to go back and get her, but not while he was still at Braytons. That would most certainly get him into trouble. Not to mention being executed for being a necromancer... Being executed weighed on his thoughts quite heavily these days.

Veximarl stepped out of his squadroom but was surprised to see Tish waiting for him. Her door was directly across the hall and she was standing in front of it. She held a finger on her lips, twisted it about, and beckoned him to enter as she opened the door. He was going to make an objection, but she let out a series of hissing noises and settled for pulling him inside.

Curiosity kept him from crying out as he was forcefully yanked into the Macestar room. It was much more spacious than his own room. For one, there were two fewer beds, and that did wonders to free up space. They had also gotten rid of the large meeting table and had a simple low table in the center. It was similar to Sybil’s study table, surrounded by pillows for sitting.

The walls had parchments that covered different healing spells and human anatomy. There was also a single large bookshelf that had books ranging from newer medicine to herbology. Each of the beds had closed off areas underneath them, hidden away with curtains, and Tish’s was pink and patterned with dragonflies.

Now that he thought about it, Veximarl should have thought to put up his own curtain. There wasn’t a rule that said he couldn’t, but the room was cluttered enough as it was. Curtains only made their space feel smaller.

A tea set had been set up at the center table, and the other first year captains were sitting around it. Emery had a relaxed stance, with a teacup in his hand as he leaned back on his other arm. Vincent was more tense, simply waiting for something to occur. Neither acknowledged Veximarl as he was dragged through the door.

“Is something the matter?” Veximarl closed the door behind him and paused, waiting for something serious to be dropped on his head.

Tish sat down at the table and gestured for him to join. “Have a spot of flower tea, Vexi. Have you ever had tea from Fogbloom? It’s lovely. This special blend was quite popular at Petalmist.”

“... Alright.” He sat down and watched as she poured him a cup. The teacups were small and also had dragonflies painted on them. It was like a child’s tea set. He nodded in appreciation as he picked up the cup and took a long sip, nearly emptying the cup in the process. It tasted like how wildflowers smelled in springtime.

Vincent looked up. He was done with pleasantries. “The Kingspaw captain is your partner in tomorrow’s matches?” Veximarl nodded, and the other three others glanced at each other. “Why was this not brought to my attention sooner?”

“Apologies. I had asked Sir Grimhawk about a partner, and Lord Aconite volunteered for the position after overhearing our conversation. I simply thought that it only mattered that I had a partner rather than who it was.”

“That could make things difficult.” Tish’s hands tightened about her cup. “We should consider asking anyone who fights them tomorrow to go a bit easy. That is, if they even stand a chance of winning.”

“Sounds like a bother,” muttered Emery. “I didn’t come here to throw fights or take it easy.”

Tish gazed down at her tea with a troubled expression. “Vexi, you’re from the swamp, it’s likely that you wouldn’t know. Actually, I don’t believe a lot of people outside of Fogbloom know, but a long time ago, there was a serious scandal between Duchess Elbellziara, Lord Patterfall’s mother, and Alton’s parents.

It was a long time ago and has little to do with our generation, but Alton’s mother is Duchess Elbellziara’s husband’s sister. She was purchased as a slave, and when the duchess demanded her freedom, the two ran away to Carapace rather than face her. We believe that with the Duchess choosing to represent the king this year, and the fact that both cousins are now attending the barracks, that Lord Patterfall may be seeking to start some trouble for Alton.”

“He hasn’t even brought up Alton. I do not believe Alton even mentioned that they were related, though he did seem to know of him.” Today was the most he had ever spoken to Patterfall, and although from being somewhat unnerving, he didn’t appear to be hostile or hold an interest in Alton.

“Lackeys,” muttered Emery.

Veximarl looked over to the Moontear member with a confused tilt of the head. Tish waved a hand about to get his attention. “When the second years came in last year, they were a frighteningly powerful group. The previous headmaster allowed for Lord Patterfall to take control of the entrance exam and he was chosen as the commander. He’s been allowed to do as he pleases, even after Lady Till took over. It’s not talked about, but everyone in the second and third years are absolutely loyal to him. Even the knights of the barracks turn a blind eye to what he does.”

“Which includes the Bronzescale captain,” added Vincent.

That would mean that Patterfall had a hold of everyone’s records. Mila and Irving could possibly be used as spies against the first years. If there was any information that Patterfall wanted, he would have it.

“I doubt that the situation is as dire as it would seem,” muttered Veximarl. His hands started to feel clammy from nervousness.

“His grandfather is the king, and a possible heir to the throne if the rumors about Prince Duxton losing his right to it are true,” said Tish. “Everyone gives him the freedom to do whatever he pleases. The second years manage their own schedules, choose their own missions, and rarely attend classes unless Lady Till is the one that gives orders. We don’t know exactly how much power he has here or how much he’s already abused it, nor does it matter. He will be the head commander next year. His rule is absolute.”

“So we avoid him?” Emery set his empty cup down so Tish could refill it.

“No. We should strive to avoid conflict. Avoidance is a form of conflict,” replied Vincent.

Avoidance was what Veximarl was best at. Luckily these partnered duels were a one-time event. “We should keep an eye on it. We all have our own goals in mind when we came to these barracks. If a serious concern does come up, we should seek advice from Lady Till. I doubt that even a duchess’ son can keep her from maintaining order.”

“Agreed.” Vincent stood up and looked towards the window. A curtain had been drawn over it. “Maplehammer, check the front door. We will leave one at a time.”

Veximarl held up a hand, “Wait… I remembered something possibly important.” Vincent sat back down, but he was clearly uneasy to be sitting here. “Now that I think about it, I believe Lord Aconite sent a pendant to our room as a gift to Sybil. That is, when we were doing gifts for the dance.”

Tish reached into the collar of her robes and pulled out a pendant that was hanging beneath her clothing. “Did it look like this?”

“I will admit that I didn’t get a good look at it, but I do know that it wasn’t from a Patterfall.” Veximarl furrowed his eyebrows as he thought. “I cannot recall the name, but Alton identified the flower on it as winter aconite.”

Tish went pale at the news. “... Prince Duxton Aconite?”

Emery shook his head. “A prince wouldn’t be a squire as Braytons.”

“Neither would the son of the Duchess of Violet,” replied Vincent. “Neither would need to come here, however a prince who has lost his claim to the throne?” The three were silent. “Captain Maplehammer, what do you know of the rumors?”

Tish quickly stuffed her pendant away. Her hands begun to wring the robes laying across her lap. “... One of my older brothers was the one who responded to the scene in Grand Temple,” she muttered quietly. “He said that there had been a fight where the Prince had been involved, and several people had died, but I don’t know the details. All I can say is that it nearly happened two years ago.”

“Then let us keep in mind that this may be Prince Duxton Aconite, who for some reason or another, chose to use his cousin’s identity to be here,” replied Vincent. “Let us leave one at a time and attend to our afternoon business. Not a word to this to anyone. If this is the prince, it is for the best that we keep his identity a secret.”

Tish checked the door and waved them out one by one. If Patterfall was to be believed, Bronzescale members kept their eyes on everyone. There probably was already a note about a secret meeting being held among the first year captains.

But was it so bad if the squire body was united? Especially if it was underneath the future king of their country? Veximarl didn’t get it. Then again, he didn’t understand much about politics. Both Tish and Vincent seemed worried. That was enough to make him feel concerned, but he was more worried that Alton never sought to talk openly about the issues he may have with the Aconite family.

He exited from the building and let out a whistle. Foggy might have woken up from her afternoon nap, which was one of several oddities she had. Did golems need to nap? Sybil said that Foggy’s energy was at a constant, so there wouldn't be a need for it. Then again, it could simply be a lingering habit from when she was alive.

Foggy jumped out the open window on the third story and leaped down the different posts along the side of the building until she was at his side. “One hour around the outfield. Would you be fine?” The golem appeared to think about it, and then climbed up on his shoulder. He really was lucky she didn’t weigh that much. “Haha... Alright.”

At least he was allowed to be alone with his thoughts while he ran. He’d been feeling stronger since coming to Braytons. Even the weeks he spent with Sybil hiking across half of Lustro appeared to help. His skin had brightened up, and he had started to put on a little muscle. Maybe doing a few more weeks of training wouldn’t be such a bad thing. Not as long as his health continued to improve.

When he returned, he stepped up to the second floor of the dorms and went for a wash. They called them showers, but it was a series of stalls with a bench and a sink inside. The faucet was tall enough for one to stick their head underneath to wash their hair, but the rest of the body had to be scrubbed with a cloth and soap.

Outside was a shelving unit for those who shared their bathing stall. Vincent was his stall partner, and they kept their belongings separated by baskets. He checked his after his wash and was greeted by a wooden box placed on top of his change of clothes. It was unmarked.

Veximarl looked about to see if anyone was around. Satisfied he was alone, he opened it and found a metal slab inside. It was identical to the one he had seen Beat use and similar to the letters that the core kids used to contact each other in Carapace. Along with it was a note. “Use responsibly.” There wasn’t an indication who it was from, but he had a theory that this wasn’t meant for Vincent.

He slipped quickly into his evening robes and hid the box within his pocket. No point in showing anyone yet, not unless he had an emergency use for it. It could prove useful if anyone started to suspect anything and chose to report it. Veximarl may have a chance to see if anyone suspected him of necromancy and give him ample time to flee if the worst were to happen.

Entering the room, he saw that Chickadee was setting up dinner. “Where is everyone else?” The blacksmith gestured to out the window. Veximarl went for a look and he could see Alton, Zaniyah, and Vincent running around the dueling field. Sybil was most likely also there, doing her invisibility spell.

“I need your blood,” muttered Chickadee. Veximarl turned away from the window with a look of horror on his face. “For your weapon.”

“Ah, yes! Blood iron! Of course...” His eyes scanned the room and he saw a bizarre looking torture device on Chickadee’s desk. He trusted Caitlin, but the gleam in Chickadee’s eyes made him nervous. “That sounds…” Horrifying. Terrible. Nightmarish. “... Like a plan of some sort.”

Chickadee pulled out some toasted seeds and sprinkled them across a bowl of steamed barley. He tossed in some walnuts and started to shred smoked fish on top. This was then scooped onto a plate next to some broccoli and melted cheese.

“Eat this.”

Veximarl hesitantly stepped forward and looked down at the plate. It was more food than he was used to eating in a single meal. “W-what is it..?”

“Nutrition,” the mage replied. Chickadee placed a few papers down for Veximarl to read and started to serve himself half the amount he had given Veximarl.

It was a schedule for the next few weeks. When he should sleep, what he should eat, and what exercises should he concentrate on. The next page had tips for meditations that improved channeling magical energies. After that was a list of horrifying side effects, and the last page was a sketch of a spear with extensive notes.

“Is this the spear?” He didn’t understand the arcane writing diagrams that were on it. They were more complex than he had anticipated.

“It’s a masterpiece,” replied Chickadee.

Veximarl had heard those words before. They used it whenever they talked about Chickadee’s cane. He also recalled that the cane had an issue with spontaneous combustion.

“I see,” he whispered.

Chickadee settled into his seat. “It’s your salvation.” He stared at his plate for a moment before looking up. “Mastering this weapon will give you the ability to survive in this world as you are. Put your life in my hands, and I will not fail.”

His gaze was so intense that Veximarl was forced to look down at his food. “I see,” he repeated.

So Chickadee really did figure out he was a necromancer all on his own, and he had chosen to just accept him for who he was without bringing it up. Veximarl started to poke at his food with a spoon to prevent himself from choking up. The friends he had made since he had come to Braytons were truly amazing.

“When do we begin?”

“After dinner tomorrow.” Chickadee started to eat. Normally they would eat dinner as a squad, but he had to go back to the forge. He wolfed down his food quickly and excused himself.

Veximarl ate at a slower pace. He continued to eat past the point of comfort, because that’s what the schedule said he should do and climbed into bed early. The others still hadn’t returned, but he didn’t want to bother them. He wasn’t as fond of the fighting aspect of knighthood, even though it was a necessity.

The next morning, he awoke early to go to the farm. There were still berries that needed to be picked. At least this time they would be kept at the farm so they could be turned into wine. He tilted to the side, allowing Foggy to jump on his shoulder again as he rode a mule back to Braytons.

Another shower and he left for the mess hall, only to find a group of squires crowding in front of it. Theodoric was standing on a box, and holding a notebook in one hand. A girl standing just below him put up a shield and hit it with a mallet, releasing a loud gong that rendered everyone silent.

“As you know, every year after Eatha’s feast day, we hold our own family gathering at Braytons. One last hurrah before the second and third years leave on their winter missions. The War of the Years!” He pumped a fist in the air, and the crowd about him let out a cluster of hoot and hollers. “This year’s festivities will start on Eighth Autumn Triaday!

Teams will be squads of three individuals who have been carefully picked out by our first year knights, but there will be other shows of skill throughout the festivities. Several nobles will be visiting, and we will do our best to allow the majority of you to showcase your talents, as well as a formal dance. Your knights will provide more information for you as the date draws closer.

I will now call out the names of our champions, and they will be posted in front of the mess hall for later reference. Third year! Forlaith Magnolia, Ariel Hastings, Gower Erpingham! Second year! Udell Tardival, Shaw Arbutus, Trenchall Kindrick!”

Whispers erupted through the crowd as Trenchall’s name was called out. Veximarl grew nervous as he overheard rumors of his skill. Zaniyah had dueled him before and was leveled out in seconds. She was easily one of the powerhouses of the first year. Whatever poor souls were selected from his year didn’t stand much of a chance if it all came down to combat.

“First year! Basil Thistleweed, Gwyndolyn Hewitt, Veximarl Tuton! You all have nearly a season to prepare. I suggest you use that time to make the best of your abilities! Good luck to all of you.” Theodoric stepped down from the box and nodded to the girl beside him before they walked off together.

Veximarl felt dizzy, as though the ground had given out below him. It couldn’t be that bad, right? They were first years. They were expected to fail. There wouldn’t be tremendous amounts of pressure on him, because he was still learning the basics... He shouldn’t even have gotten picked as a champion in the first place.

“Tuton!” The deep voice of Grimhawk made Veximarl nearly leap in the air. “Enough dawdling about! You have running to do!”

“N-no, sir!” He spun around and saluted. “I’m reporting to dueling field as part of practice today.” He attempted to speak in a calm manner, but the back of his mind wouldn’t stop screaming. Any sense of hunger he once had had completely abandoned his system.

“Than hurry up and gather your gear!” Grimhawk leaned forward, his milky white eyes staring off at nothing in particular. “Practice is in the outfield today,” he muttered

“Yes, sir.” Veximarl put on a fake smile and leaned away. He still had trouble telling if Grimhawk was legitimately blind or not. Best put on a happy face, just in case.

He went back to the room to fetch his temporary spear. As he did so, he grabbed one of the biscuits that were sitting in a basket. His eyes glanced at his desk as he prepared to leave. The paper detailing his new spear was still there. Almost as though it were mocking him.

Veximarl didn’t know if he deserved such a weapon.

“I have a short life ahead of me,” he muttered as he hastened to move out the door.

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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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