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“It’s difficult to believe that you would offer me such a treasure.”

Vincent looked over the short sword that Sybil had presented to him over breakfast. It was made of a leg bone from the tainted beast, with metal poured into the hollow before the edges were grounded down into the form of the blade. The metal that was visible had been treated with a golden finish, and the hilt was a softened dark blue leather.

Sybil went to speak, but Zaniyah shoved her out of the way. “It’s ‘cause you’re the commander of the first years. It’s a show of respect, you know? I mean, as long as you like it, that is. If it’s not good enough, I’m sure Chi wouldn’t mind making you a new one just the way you’d like it.” She laughed nervously.

Chickadee didn’t look up from his desk, but the air around him swelled with heat. He didn’t want to think about how many hours it took to carve and grind the bone down into that shape. It took a very long time to do that, chisel in the runes, and temper at a low temperature. He wasn’t about to go and do it again for no reason. The sword was fine as it was.

“It’s magnificent.” Vincent undid the leather charm that Zaniyah had given him from his old sword and tied it onto the hilt of his new one. “I will no doubt treasure this for years to come.” He then proceeded to give a firm handshake to both Sybil and Zaniyah. He also went for Chickadee, but the mage waved him off.

Alton rolled his eyes. Vincent ate breakfast with them in the morning, stayed until class started, and returned for dinner again. Every day. It had been like that for two weeks now. Ivy and Gwyn had made a woman’s sanctuary of the Baron Squad room, and he was only allowed to go in for meetings or to go through his personal belongings.

Stonetoe didn’t bother to intervene because he wanted Vincent to deal with it. Also because he found the situation to be hilarious. The anguish of squires was a great source of entertainment for the knight.

Ivy was throwing a fit because Vincent was being inflexible, and despite Gwyn not caring much, she went along with Ivy’s requests. Anais simply wanted the fighting to stop. The offending couple did nothing more than have the occasional awkward conversation. There wasn’t even much for Ivy to be upset about.

Alton looked over to Sybil as he thought about it. She had gone back to giving him the cold shoulder. The blissful moment they had shared had been conveniently forgotten. Luckily Zyris was leaving in a few hours, and she had been just as cold to him as she had been to Alton. After that, Alton was free to be as aggressive in his approach as he wanted. Especially since the rest of the squad was distracted with their own business.

Lydia sought to interrupt his thoughts by gesturing out the window. “Alton, I’m worried about Vex. He hasn’t been the best captain for you all, but I believe he’s been pushing himself too hard as of late because of that, and it’s having a negative effect.”

It was true that Veximarl had been pushing himself hard. Any free time that he had was spent either training with Amalfrieda or buried in the texts that had been referred to him by the second years. The meals he was supposed to be sharing with his squad were either spent with the Duxton’s entourage or quickly wolfed down so he could run off to study more…

But that wasn’t Alton’s business. Lydia needed to understand that Veximarl was doing what was best for him and that he was fine. After all, he was the captain of Grimstone Squad, the squad known for not training all that much together.

Alton was in the process of thinking of a way to talk to Lydia without looking like a crazy person when a sharp male scream range through the open window. The cries continued, followed in a loud inhale and more screaming. He and Chickadee moved over to the window so they could see what was happening.

Amalfrieda was straddling Veximarl’s stomach in the dueling field. She was in the process of using both of her hands to force her knife into his eye, and gold light was spewing around the corners of the blade. Veximarl had one hand on her wrist while the other was fumbling around in the dirt to grab at anything he could use as a weapon.

“Beg for death!” Amalfrieda screamed out as she tried to push the knife in deeper.

Veximarl managed to grab onto a shard of his broken spear and stab it into the side of Amalfrieda’s neck. He continued to make an attempting to force it in as she broke out into laughter. Yanking the blade free, Amalfrieda tilted her head to the side and stabbed it into Veximarl’s wrist. She then took the time to punish him for his actions by digging her thumb into his eye socket.

The torture would’ve continued if not for the spike of stone that punctured through both of them. Veximarl teleported out of the field. He fell to knees, panting for air. From the room, Chickadee lowered his cane. Alton was forced to take a step away from the mage due to how much heat was radiating off of him.

“This is the training that Vex agreed to, so he’s just going to go back into the field,” said Alton. He had seen this happen a few times whenever he took Bibi out for a ride in the morning, but this was the first time that the pair had used the inner field for their duels. “He would’ve complained to us if he was in over his head, but he’s been able to do this and go through that crazy diet you gave him without a word about it to us. He’s fine.”

More accurately, Veximarl hadn’t had hardly said a word to any of them the past few weeks. Ever since he had partnered up with Duxton, he had been wanting to apologize and work on spending time with his squad again. Anytime he had tried to do so, someone or something had dragged him away, and now it felt like to much time had passed for him to do anything about it.

Chickadee had been patient about it, but enough was enough. He stomped over to his desk and strapped on his blacksmithing gloves. Then he went back to the window. “I am going to fetch our captain. We are late for Sir Grimhawk’s class.” He stepped up on the windowsill and fell off of it. A twist of wind blew upwards, allowing him to land softly on the ground below.

A panicked glance passed between Sybil and Zaniyah. “By the core, he took Entomb with him, Zani.” Sybil ran over to the weapons rack and snatched up all of her daggers.

Alton looked at Sybil, who was now hastily strapping on her armor and then to Zaniyah who was practically running around in circles in an effort to grab anything that would help. “What’s the big deal? He uses that cane all the time.”

Zaniyah ran over to Alton and began to shake him violently by his shoulders. “Don’t just stand there! Evacuate the barracks!” She then rushed to Vincent and gave his hand a firm tug. “We have to get out of here!”

The buildings began to rumble. “Horsetalon left on a mission!” Sybil exclaimed. “I don’t know if we have anyone that can counter him!” She ran towards the window and stepped up on the windowsill. “Zani! Don’t just stand there! Go get Caitlin! Someone else wake up Sir Stonetoe!”

With the ground still rumbling, Chickadee dragged his cane along the ground. He stopped just short of Veximarl, before looking down with a cold look in his eyes. “Are you alright, captain?”

Veximarl held a hand up to his eye, giving it a rub as he nodded his head. Despite it being whole again, a dull pain lingered. “Only a minor mishap, Chi. I faltered my footwork and she got the best of me. No permanent damage is done and I am stronger for it.” He blinked a few times. It always took some time for his vision to return whenever this happened.

Chickadee used the tip of his cane to remove Veximarl’s pendant. “Please inform Sir Grimhawk that I will be late for our lessons.” He then looped the pendant about his own neck.

Chest heaving up and down with rage, Amalfrieda was glaring at Chickadee as he calmly stepped into the field. Her eyes darted over to Duxton, who was standing at the side of the fence, flanked by both Beat and Shaw.

“I was in the middle of a lesson!” She snarled out. Her attention snapped towards Beat, who was staring at her with a cold and uncaring expression. “He intervened! That has to be against some rule!” Beat gave half a shrug.

“It looks like someone could stand to have a lesson in not interfering,” replied Duxton calmly. “It is our role as their upperclassmen to help them realize their mistakes.” Amalfrieda tensed up. “Go on. Give me a show, Amalfrieda.”

Still snarling, Amalfrieda stepped back into the field. She picked up her flail from where it was lying on the ground and began to swing it in circles. “Gladly,” she growled out. “Come along, little gem bird. I’ll teach you how to sing.”

Muttering incantations under his breath, Chickadee held his cane aloft. The tip of it followed around Amalfrieda as she ran towards him. Spikes of stone launched up from the ground, and the squire dodged between them easily as she made her way towards Chickadee.

With the flail twirling faster, she got close enough to swing it down at the mage. He caught the ball within his hand, with the spikes piercing through his glove and hand. An angled stone pillar shot up from behind him to help brace the force of it making contact. The metal grew red hot, melting up to the chain and dripping past his glove. It sizzled as begun to hit the dirt. Amalfrieda’s rage was as hot as that red metal, and it was made worse when he flung the molten remains of her weapon back into her face.

Running up to the side of the field, Sybil was flailing her arms about. “Alright.” She started to mutter to herself. “We need to stop the fight... Someone here has to be someone they will listen to...” Her gaze locked onto Duxton. “Please stop the fight! This is an emergency!”

Duxton’s face strained at the thought. “And a good morning to you, gloom girl, but I am going to deny your request. These two are in the middle of an argument, and interference will only make it worse.”

Veximarl frowned as he thought to himself. “You stated before that his cane was prone to malfunction when used in close combat, correct? If there is an overload, I am certain it will be fine as long as they stay in the field.”

“I don’t know!” Sybil continued to flail about. “The last time it happened, he blew out part of the mountain and nearly got his whole family banished from Carapace! Even the duke got involved! He almost sent to some sort of camp for bad mages, and I don’t know any of us will be okay if there are no barracks left!” She looked over to Chickadee, who was now deflecting Amalfrieda’s knives with his cane. “If you won’t stop the fight, at least run away!”

With a whip of Chickadee’s hand, Bardsen’s knife flew at Amalfrieda’s forehead. She tilted her head to the side to avoid it, and Chickadee summoned its string. With a light tug, it swung around and twisted about her neck. Chickadee then tightened the string about his hand. Electrical currents began to flow through, and Amalfrieda fell to the ground. She could only let out brief screeches of her pain as her jaw locked up.

Tapping at the dirt with his cane, Chickadee summoned stones to stab through Amalfrieda’s arms and legs, effectively pinning her in place. He continued to send sparks throughout her body as he approached, only stopping when he was close enough to tap the cane against her chest.

“Beg for death,” he said in a low voice.

“Tria will keep me strong,” replied Amalfrieda with a grin.

“Tria holds no love for those who upset the balance.”

Another stone pierced up and through her heart, and she vanished in a light. When she had appeared outside of the field, a pillar shot up and forced her to fly towards him again. Chickadee started to swirl the cane about like it was a baton. Stones repeatedly killing Amalfrieda and forcing her to reenter the field.

Stonetoe jogged up and stopped by the side of the field. He was barefoot and only wearing a pair of slacks. “Who let this go on?” A loud hissing sound started to come out of Chickadee’s cane as part of the ironwood began to peel back. “Is that safe?” He looked over to Sybil. “That doesn’t seem safe...”

“Run!”

Sybil turned tail and started to run towards the barracks exit as fast as she could. Veximarl looked between Stonetoe and Sybil. He made a motion as though he were going to say something, shook his head, and turned tail to flee after her.

This led Stonetoe to reach for his saber on reflex, only to curse to himself as he realized it wasn’t there. “Cully! Stop the fight!”

Chickadee was deaf to his knight’s commands. “I said to beg for death!” As Amalfrieda fell to her knees again, he tapped his cane against her back and sent through another charge of lightning throughout her body.

“Walter Cully!” Caitlin’s voice screeched out from the side of the fence. “You calm down this instant or I swear on the whole of the core, I will go tell mom!”

His eyes flicked over to his sister, but Chickadee’s expression remained blank. A high pitch squeal began to escape his cane. He chucked it away, and it became enveloped in a stone orb. A flick of his fingers and another wall appeared between where himself and Amalfrieda were. Caitlin summoned her own wall around those by the side of the field and braced her hands against it. A series of arcane engravings immediately etched themselves into the surface.

The following explosion quaked the barracks. It rattled the walls of the fort, blasting out windows and cracking the walls that the elementalists had put up to defend the group. When the shaking had stopped, the walls crumbled apart. Half the field was gone, and part of the rampart that was next to it had crumbled.

“Entomb,” Chickadee called the name of his cane and it flew to his hand. Cracks had appeared in the wood and would need replacing, but the weapon was otherwise unharmed. “Caitlin!” He tossed the cane over to his sister. She caught it, then let out a hiss through her teeth as she examined the extent of the damage.

Stonetoe dug at his ringing ears. “Cully!” He snapped out as the mage walked past him.

“I will show myself to Lady Till’s office,” he replied calmly.

“Good! You do that!” Stonetoe folded his arms and snapped his head in the direction of the other squires. “The rest of you have classes. Move out! Don’t you dare test me on this, Aconite.” He pointed a finger in the prince’s direction. “I am not in the mood to humor you right now!”

Veximarl peeked out from his hiding spot. “What was that?” An outburst was the last thing he had expected to ever see Chickadee have an outburst.

“Ah, well…” Sybil rubbed at the back of her head as she stepped out. “Chi has some anger issues when it comes to-” She was interrupted by Alton rounding the corner with Vincent and Zaniyah.

“What was that?!” Alton took a moment to look over the cracked stone wall that Caitlin had put up.

Sybil glared at the interruption, then continued. “Chi’s weapon, Entomb, was made to diffuse and refocus Chi’s mana while he is casting. If he starts casting too quickly with it, or if he isn’t careful, the mana builds up more than the weapon can handle and expels itself in the form of...” Sybil made some wide arm gestures, as though that helped her explain better. “They haven’t found a material yet that can contain it properly. Normally he wears several charms that seal part of his magic, but-”

“Why do you even let him do mage things if that happens?!” Alton waved his arms about, as though that helped him convey his question better.

Zaniyah tapped her finger against her chin. “Walter… Oh! I remember!” She pointed at Sybil. “His name is Walter Cully. I’d completely forgotten it when Alton had asked us what his full name was before!”

“I doubt that his actual name matters,” replied Vincent. “Not in this situation…”

“Oh! Vincent!” Zaniyah clasped her hands together. “Sorry! Sybil and I aren’t going to make it to morning class.” She bowed forward as an apology then snapped back up. “We’re going to help clean up the mess that Chi caused.”

“If that is what you wish, Krogastein, I will report it as such.” He gave a bow in return. “It will be wise for the rest of you to follow Sir Stonetoe’s command and attend Sir Grimhawk’s class. I have preparations to make and will see you there.” He left the squad alone and started to jog off to the outer field.

“I will also head to Lady Till’s office,” replied Veximarl in a guilty tone. He had a feeling all of this was his fault, and he should stress that to the headmistress. With a wave of his hand, he took off as well.

Alton couldn’t even be amused by the fact that Vincent bowed at his girlfriend and still referred to her by her last name. He was to upset at the moment to care. “What was Chi thinking?”

“He didn’t like that Amalfrieda was hurting Veximarl unnecessarily,” replied Sybil in a cold tone. “We’re a squad, Toval. We’re family. If one of us gets hurt, we take the offender out. If one of us messes up, we clean up after them. That’s always how we’ve done it in the core.” She nodded at Zaniyah. “Let’s try to get any glass that spilled out in the courtyard first and then move into the buildings. We’ll ask the kitchen staff if they have any buckets we can borrow.”

They moved out, with Zaniyah moving ahead to fetch them cleaning supplies. Alton walked next to Sybil and spoke in a low tone so that no one else would hear him. “You didn’t let them clean up after you when you failed the entrance exam.”

“Vex helped me. That makes him family.” Her eyes darted over to Alton and then back to where she was walking. “If Chickadee hadn’t jumped out that window first, I would’ve brought a world of pain to Amalfrieda in his place.”

Alton looked up to Lydia. She was to busy with her own thoughts to say anything. He then turned his attention back to Sybil. “This happened before, right? What caused it then?”

Sybil’s hands formed into fists. “We had a friend who… There was some trouble at school, and she ended up very badly injured. Sorry, I don’t want to bring up the details now. It’s not something any of us like to think about.” She glanced up at the shattered window of Lady Till’s office before hastening her footsteps. The quicker they cleaned this up, the better.

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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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