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Flicking her tail back and forth, Foggy watched the sleeping pair. She jumped up on the table, grabbed a steamed bun, and made her escape. Jumping through the window, she carefully made her way down the wall and ran along the ground until she was outside of the barracks.

She slowed to a trot as she approached the outfield where the second year squires were setting up for their class. Her tail flicking a few times against Veximarl’s hand, and he looked down to see her stretch up his side and hold out the bun for him to take. This he accepted with a smile on his face, giving her skull a few pats as a reward.

“Thank you, Foggy.” The golem jumped up onto his shoulders, curling around them as Veximarl looked out over the field. They were in an all-out brawl. Whenever one was teleported out from the field via dying, Rosethorn would question what their mistake was, record it, and tell them to get back in.

Rosethorn was wearing a pale purple tunic with a single golden buttercup embroidered on the back, and a jeweled sash about his waist. Though he was wearing his Kingspaw uniform, the style was distinctly from the Clay Region. Veximarl couldn’t understand what he was saying for the most part, but it did appear as though the squires appreciated his advice.

As for the squires, there was hardly any order among them. The only ones who bothered to wear their uniforms were Beat and Gildenboot Squad. Gildenboot attempted to stay together, but the stronger squires sought out each other. Occasionally a massive spell would rock the field, or some of them would pause to watch a particularly interesting match.

“See anyone you like?” Duxton nudged Veximarl with his elbow. He had been excused from training with them today so he could sub in as Veximarl’s partner.

“It’s difficult to keep track of anyone in particular when they’re all moving around so quickly.” Veximarl was still overwhelmed from the deal Duxton had offered him earlier. He was feeling lightheaded because if it.

“Grimstone is the joke of these barracks, and it always will be,” said Duxton as he slapped Veximarl in the back. “Grimhawk and Stonetoe are responsible for the physical training of every squire here. The rest of us have knights that will actually care about us.

You will never improve past what you are now if you don’t take your training into your own hands. As their captain, you must first show them your ability to improve. Lead by example. Prove to them that they have the ability to better themselves by strengthening your own body and resolve.” Which is why the prince had offered a second year to act as Veximarl’s personal tutor.

Veximarl shuffled about uncomfortably. “I should seek to clarify my own opinions about this. From my point of view, it is unusual that you would offer me anything at all. I am concerned that you may have some underlying agenda that I will not be pleased with.”

Duxton smiled. “We teach you how to be a fighter, you teach us the ways of your people. You, out of anyone at these barracks, have the most experience when it comes to tainted beasts. Every winter, they raid the swamplands in an effort to make it into the Crimson Region, and this year, we’ve decided that we want a taste. Especially when it comes with new toys for us to play with.”

That did make some sense. Information about the swamp was seemingly rare outside of it. If tainted beasts were what they were after, they would need both his knowledge and weapons made from their bodies. Veximarl was the best resource they had.

“What about that one?” Veximarl pointed to a spear wielder who was attempting to fend off Amalfrieda’s morning star. “I have been wanting to focus more on my spear work.”

“Not him. You don’t want anyone in Gildenboot,” muttered Duxton disdainfully. “Every year there are the weaklings that get in because they got their daddy to do it for them. The ones in Gildenboot were as useless as all of third year, but they’ve gotten better. Their captain is also a very respectable woman, but you didn’t hear me say any of that.”

“I see.” Veximarl winced as the Gildenboot member was dragged to the ground. Amalfrieda pounced on the poor teen, stabbing at his face with a knife until he vanished into light.

Duxton smiled grew all the wider at Veximarl’s concerned expression. “Amalfrieda has had too much free time on her hands.” The woman pounced onto another member of Gildenboot, stabbing him in the chest He went to push her off, but she clamped down on his wrist with her teeth. “You would make for a suitable project.”

Veximarl was visibly alarmed. “That might not be the wisest plan. I am certainly at the bottom when it comes to fighting ability, and perhaps I would benefit from a tutor who is… Calmer in demeanor?”

“No one would be a better tutor than Beat, but he has his hands full of Bronzescale duties.” He gave a pat to Veximarl’s back. “Tallosi will be calling it soon. We’ll speak to her afterward.”

Veximarl could see the difference a year could make for a squire. The second years were focused weapons of war who understood well what their bodies were capable of. His class struggled with getting practice right. Maybe someday they’d be able to do a class where they would make it to a second sparring round.

It wasn’t long before Rosethorn called it. He gave them each a page with his notes on it, and Duxton’s entourage traveled together to the library. They opened up a cabinet and pulled out bottles of drinks and snacks. These were passed out for everyone to take.

Since the different years couldn’t travel freely between the different dorm buildings, Duxton’s group had taken over the library. It was the second year group with a handful of third years, along with Veximarl. He sat near a corner, just watching as everyone socialized. It was different than watching his own squad during meal times. They occasionally included him in the conversation, but he mostly felt like he didn’t exist.

“I really like you, Vex.” He winced as Amalfrieda put her arm around his shoulder. “I can’t wait till I can render you down into a mound of pus and fat that I can reshape into an image of my own design.” The smile she had was… Unnerving. Somehow more so than the words she was using.

Amalfrieda was what Veximarl imagined what Zaniyah would’ve been if she hadn’t been raised in a loving environment. It’s possible that Amalfrieda came from a safe place, but something must have happened to have made her this way. She loved being a squire, but it was the opportunities to be violent that thrilled her the most.

That seemed to be Flaytongue Squad’s style. Supposedly their focus was to be bodyguards and advisors, but they were also specialized with quick kills and interrogation. Which didn’t make sense to Veximarl. Sybil was supposedly rejected for having a potential to turn towards darker thoughts, but Flaytongue seemed perfect for training assassins.

“Perhaps what Duxton meant when he asked that you to tutor me was-”

“I know what he meant.” Amalfrieda rolled her eyes. “Kill you so many times that you no longer fear death. Hesitation will be your demise, Vex. You have to learn to go for it!” She reached over and scratched her nails on Foggy’s skull. Foggy made a horrific clicking noise, which was her way of purring, and leaned into it.

Her statement only highlighted his biggest problem. At home, Veximarl was a perfectly good fighter. He had already killed dozens of tainted beasts during his youth. The beast that had killed Grulick had been warded away with his spells, but he wasn’t allowed to use that sort of magic outside of the swamp.

His current environment and the people within it were different from what he was used to. He needed to find a way to fit into this society without the fear of death. Being beaten repeatedly to a pulp might help unlock his potential. Oddly, Amalfrieda thought more like a swamp person than a regular human in that regard.

“I concede that you might have a point,” said Veximarl as he poked at his sandwich. “But I have a class with Stonetoe in the afternoon. I will also need to arrange a meeting between myself and some classmates of mine. Perhaps tomorrow?”

Amalfrieda was nodding along with what he was saying. “I get it. We’ll meet before your morning classes.”

Veximarl shook his head. “That is when I’m expected to help out with agriculture work at the-” A knife was held to his throat, scratching lightly at his skin and pulling forth a small bead of blood.

“We will meet before morning classes.” She gave a hard tug to his shoulder with her other arm and leaned in with a grin. Veximarl leaned away as he felt her breath on his face.

“... Before morning classes it is.”

He chose to excuse himself as quickly as possible after that. Due to him not having to worry about dueling in the afternoon, he chose to change into lighter clothes. There was a suspicion that he would be forced to run laps the entire time. Foggy ran off to somewhere. Lately, she had gotten interested in rabbit hunting, but she never succeeded in catching anything.

Not that it bothered him. The golem was powered by the barracks. She wouldn’t be able to go with them once they graduated, so he was attempting to not become attached. He entered the squad room and begun to dig through his belongings to find his clothes. A rustle from the back of the room gave him pause.

Veximarl crept over while keeping his hand low and ready to cast a shield spell. He blinked when he saw both Alton and Sybil curled up together on the floor. They were still asleep and there was a sweet-smelling bottle nearby. A shrug was given and he changed his clothes, slamming the door behind him in order to wake them up as he left.

They were all allowed to do what they wanted as long as it didn’t disrupt their studies, and afternoon class were soon starting. If anything, Veximarl was worried about Chickadee. The teen spent most of his time with his sister in the forge. She was leaving soon, and he was concerned about how Chickadee would react when he had less time to spend with either Zaniyah or Sybil.

He passed by Vincent and Zaniyah on the way out of the dorm building. The two were sitting at a table in the common area, talking quietly to each other with flushed faces. Veximarl didn’t say hello, as they seemed like they needed their privacy. He carried on to the inner field, where the others were already filtering in from their lunch break.

Stonetoe was sitting on the fence, tapping his finger against the log below him as he stared at everyone with a set of bleary eyes. “Tuton! Report!”

Veximarl jumped to attention. His finger bobbed about as he counted everyone. “Everyone present exception of Hi-” He paused as Vincent and Zaniyah ran up. “Toval and Twist, sir. I am not certain where they went off to.”

The teacher rolled his eyes and looked to Irving. “Byers.” He gestured to an open window with a set of fingers.

Irving notched an arrow and let it fly. It soared into the window and exploded in a cacophony of whistles and pops. A series of surprised shouts and curses were heard and the smoking arrow was chucked out quickly. This was followed by Sybil as she leaned out over the edge.

“Do you know how long it takes to tie this stupid thing on?! This is your fault for assigning me this outfit in the first place!” She then jumped out the window, swinging from post to post as her skirt lifted up to reveal the shorts that she wore underneath.

Sybil hated the dresses that Stonetoe had assigned as her uniform. Every time she did something he didn’t like, an even girlier and more complicated dress would magically appear a few days later. She was starting to think Miss Mandroux enjoyed the chance to design pretty things, as it seemed like the tailor had started the next dress before it was even requested.

This one had a stiff bodice and a frilly skirt that poofed out in a distracting manner, almost like a tutu. Luckily, she only had to wear them for indoor classes or when she was training with Stonetoe. Grimhawk never cared what they wore, and both Oceans and Dalkirk allowed her to wear whatever was comfortable.

A few moments after she had jumped out of the window, Alton ran out of the bottom of the building. He had a foolish grin across his face as he jogged up and gave a salute to everyone. “Hello. I was…” His hands fumbled in front of him awkwardly. “Studying for tomorrow’s exam on Clay Region combat formations.”

Stonetoe stared at the pair in an uncaring manner. “Byers, Twist. Get your pendants and hop in the field. Toval, go do laps.” He scowled as Alton laughed to himself. “Now! Quit grinning like that and run! And Tuton! Why did Aconite tell me he was taking over your training?!”

Shuffling on his feet, Veximarl could feel the other’s eyes were suddenly on him. “Yes, well… He insisted that Miss Rodanthe oversee my combat training, and he was debating on asking Sir Rosethorn for extra texts for me to go through.”

“Rodanthe? Amalfrieda Rodanthe?” Stonetoe furrowed his brows as Veximarl nodded. The teacher then broke out into robust laughter. So much so that he nearly fell into the field where Irving and Sybil were already clashing at each other with daggers. “Yeah! Good luck with that, Tuton! You’re approved to work with Rodanthe!”

“... Thank you, sir?”

Stonetoe wiped at his eye to get the tears out of it. “Alright! So as you already know, three of you are selected to represent your class in a brawl against the other two years. Don’t worry about winning, as Kindrick will take out everyone himself. If he doesn’t, Arbutus will. Don’t let it bother you, and concentrate on the noncombatant portions.

The only change to the schedule is that-” Sybil teleported out of the ring after Irving got in a lucky hit. A growl escaped her lips as she stood up. “Get back in the field, Twist. Anyways, only change to the schedule is that those three will have independent study every Triaday afternoon.” He looked over to Irving, who had quickly gotten knocked out of the field this time. “Highland, get a pendant and go eliminate Twist. Make it quick.”

“Yes, sir.” Vincent caught the pendant that Irving tossed him, looped it around his neck and hopped over the fence.

Stonetoe scratched at his cheek as Alton jogged between him and the class. He still had a foolish smile on his face. “Apparently, I need to make some things clear to you all. As some of you know, my room is located in the attic of your dorms. That makes me the overseeing advisor to all of you hormone filled idiots. If you are having personal problems, feel free to come talk to me.

Only exceptions is before noon or while I’m teaching a class. Go see Sarya in the infirmary if you have a problem during those hours, or contact Fletch if it’s an emergency. Bronzescale can handle a lot. If you have any hygiene or other gross physical problems, go to Sarya, she’ll take care of you. I can’t be bothered with that.

It also appears that some of you are having trouble keeping your hands off of each other.” He tossed a look over to Zaniyah and shook his head in a disappointed manner. “First off, I don’t care. Secondly, the wash stalls are off limits. Boys to boy stalls, girls to girl stalls. Be respectful to who you share your stall with, and know that the Bronzescale room is on that floor.

Thirdly, if you suddenly have issues with that person and can’t stand to see them again, I really don’t care and I’m not doing anything about it. This is a barracks, not a school or a matchmaking service. Treat this place with the respect it deserves and deal with it on your own.

Lastly, since you’re all going to be screwing each other by the end of the year anyways, know that I expect all of you to use protection. Not an armor or shield, but a proper sheath for your meat blade. If you don’t know what that is or why it’s important, go see Sarya. She’ll supply you with any items you need.”

“Sir, I assure yo-” Vincent made an attempt to counterpoint, but he suddenly appeared outside of the field after Sybil took advantage of his distraction. He jaw tensed and his cheeks flushed red. “I am a paladin, sir. I assure you that any romantic intentions that have suddenly cropped up in my life are pure in nature and-”

“Highland. I don’t care.” Stonetoe pointed at the field. “Get back in the field.” He watched as Vincent sulked off and hopped over the fence again. “From my understanding, anyone who wasn’t in the archery or magic classes today got most the morning off. Seems like Grimhawk wasn’t able to manage you properly.” He looked over at Veximarl.

The necromancer nodded. “Yes, sir. My weapon broke during combat and there was a minor medical emergency afterward.”

“Tuton, go join Toval in running laps.” Stonetoe held out his arm, pointing outward until Veximarl started to jog. “Go join him, Nox.” He waited until Ivy started to run as well before continuing. “Anyone who was in the mage or archery classes this morning is free from my class. Fletch, Irving, report to Dalkirk first. Rest of you do whatever. Everyone else is going to play king of the field.

Players grab a pendant and start running laps. When I call your name, go into the field and start fighting whoever is in there. If you get beat, you’re going to have to run extra laps. Do I- Dammit, Twist! I told you to keep your elbow under the blade when you’re deflecting! Defend with your weapon away from your arm, or you’ll end up losing it!” He gave a stern glare and then waved at the class. “What are you all looking at?! Get running!”

Stonetoe continued to yell at them over the course of the next few hours. He did at least give advice on anyone who was fighting in the field. Occasionally he would stop a duel long enough to correct someone’s positioning or show what gaps they have in their defense. Despite his laid back attitude, he did take his job seriously.

Afterward, they broke into groups and waited to wash off in shifts. Alton headed up to the squad room last and found that Chickadee had already laid out dinner. One of the chairs that were normally by the window had been pushed over to the other head of the table. Vincent was already occupying it, looking just as uncomfortable as Alton was.

“... Why is he here?” Alton rubbed at his hair with a towel and pointed to Vincent with his elbow.

“There are members of his squad that are currently in the midst of an argument with him,” explained Veximarl. “I said he can eat dinner with us until he can secure a mutual understanding.”

Alton looked over to Vincent, who in turn looked away in shame. “... He’s not sleeping here. We’ve already got five people sharing this room.” He then thought about it. “Unless he wants to use my bed. I can share with Sybil.”

“No need to do that.” Now Veximarl was the one who was uncomfortable. “Tish has generously offered a space in their room in the event that he doesn’t feel safe sleeping in his squadroom. They have set up a tent so that he has a private area to himself.”

“Ha… Hahaha.” Alton couldn’t stop snickering to himself as he took his own seat. The thought of Vincent being kicked out of his room was too much for him to bare, but the laughter subsided as Zaniyah put her hand axe on the table. She tossed him a murderous glare.

Veximarl started to serve the food. “It will be only for a few days. Our schedule will not stay like this forever. Rest assured that Tish and myself are working towards a solution that will please everyone.”

Alton looked over to where Sybil was zoning off in her seat. Normalcy, huh? That was something he didn’t want to happen. He was going to take all of the excitement he could get. He reached over and poked her in the cheek. She, in turn, let out a surprised squeak and slapped his hand away.

“Sorry!” She waved her hands about. “I’m still in shock over Zani’s imaginary friend being real.”

“That’s… That is your major revelation from today. Out of everything else that happened,” said Alton. He blinked a few times as Sybil continued to wave her hands about.

“It’s very shocking!” She looked over to Chickadee, who nodded quickly in agreement.

Zaniyah leaned over the table and aimed to stuff a bread roll down Sybil’s mouth. “I’ll take apologies from both of you later, okay? Just eat your food and don’t bother bringing it up again.”

Smirking as he leaned back in his seat, Alton was alright with this. Sure, it was stressful around these idiots at times, but he could never say it was boring.

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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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