Veximarl frowned with worry as he watched Sybil and Alton get whisked away. “That was certainly a waste of our time.” He looked over to the other two. “We should meet with Stonetoe and burn these clothes.” Itchy wool. It was so itchy. He couldn’t even remember the last time he was this irritable, if ever.

He went up to the room, ignoring Zaniyah as she started to change in her open corner. Both he and Chickadee were numb to the sight by now. Tearing off his shirt and jacket, Veximarl gave his skin a chance to breathe as he moved over to his desk. He reached into the bottom drawer and pulled out the Archive plate. This was twisted it about in his hands. It really did look similar to the letter that Sybil used when she was in Carapace.

“Archive. Access files on Alton Toval.”

The small image of an old man appeared above it. “Processing files. One moment.”

“Is that..?” Chickadee noticed the plate and tilted his head. He then went to his dresser and pulled out his letter, tapping at it. “Zani, letter.”

Zaniyah dug up her own letter and quickly began to prod at it. “Hey! It turns on! That’s weird though.” She tapped at it. “It doesn’t seem to be connecting to anything. I mean, that would be weird, right? If I could pull a spider here?” The image of a moth appeared above it briefly, then a buzzing sound came from Sybil’s dresser. “We can still send messages to each other!”

“Files on Alton Toval accessed,” said Archive.

“Pull up all files concerning his school records from before he went to Braytons.” Veximarl set the device down and a scroll appeared above it. He started to swipe his finger along the device to move through the floating parchments.

“... What are you doing?” Zaniyah walked over to Veximarl’s desk. “Why are you accessing his stuff? Wait, have you always been able to access our files? Is this some weird captain thing that none of us knew about?”

Veximarl shook his head. “These are the devices that Bronzescale Squad use to keep track of students and to add notes to their records. For some reason, or as a trick, the prince has granted me one as well. I am working on a hunch, apologies. Did Alton say anything about himself while you were traveling together?”

Zaniyah shook his head. “He seemed normal for an outerland kid. Likes women, sings good, didn’t talk much about himself though. He was always asking questions about us and Sybil... I think he felt uncomfortable about it bringing up the fact that the core and outerland don’t really get along and that we shouldn’t be socializing with each other in the first place. Chi knows a lot though! His mother works with his dad! They even went to school together after Chi got expelled from Dogfall.”

A shrug was given by Chickadee. “He avoided his father’s work. Had different classes. Only met once we were at Braytons.”

“We were required to provide full educational records as part of our initial applications, but there isn’t anything here from before he was ten. He told the Duchess that he last saw her when he was that age... Ah, it says here that he suffered from an illness that prevented education before that, but I find that hard to believe.

Tish informed me that the Toval family had cut ties from Fogbloom over twenty years ago. They fled the city in order to avoid Lady Elbellziara’s wrath.” Veximarl tapped at his temple as he thought. “Archive. Pull up all records on current students related to the royal family.”

The scrolled shifted into the appearance of the old man again. “Those records are sealed. Requesting permission for you to access them now.”

“No! Archive! Cease request!” Veximarl tapped at the plate in a panic.

“Access granted.” The image flickered for a moment. “Two squires located. Duxton Aconite and Alton Aconite.”

Veximarl did his best to not worry about who would grant him access. “That certainly falls in line with my suspicions... It explains why he has such intimate knowledge on people that he couldn’t have possibly met in his lifetime.” He frowned. “I hadn’t expected him to be an Aconite… That is troubling.”

Waving her hands about, Zaniyah was in the middle of a mental overload. “Ask it about Alton! Don’t just sit there wondering about it!” Her hands went to her mouth as she struggled to control her excited breaths.

“Ah, right.” He gave a nod as Chickadee stepped behind him. The mage was looking over the device more closely. “Archive, pull up all past history of Alton Aconite.”

“Processing.” The image flickered again. “Alton Aconite. Tutored by Sir Enzo Cowl until the age of ten. No other records located. Information source may be flawed. Seeking source of file input.” The image flickered a few more times. “Records submitted by Duxton Aconite. Report may show inaccuracies.”

That made Veximarl all the more suspicious. It could be the reason why the prince had chosen to give him access to Archive in the first place. He knew that Veximarl would look up Alton at some point. At least, that was the only reason he could think of why Duxton would enter those files. Beat could have easily done it for him, and perhaps he had his own access.

“Is there any information on who Alton’s parents are?” Zaniyah leaned over Veximarl’s shoulder.

“Father, Wulfric Aconite. Mother, Emogene, last name unknown,” replied Archive.

Veximarl strained to understand this. “From my understanding, Prince Wulfric was King Howell’s eldest son. He was murdered a few years ago, but not many details were released to the public. Prince Duxton was chosen as heir because Prince Wulfric had no children at the time of his death.”

Zaniyah’s shoulders sulked. “So the big secret is that they’re cousins? What sort of stupid disguise is that?! We already knew that! Who goes from being someone’s cousin to being the same person’s cousin as a disguise?! All of this is stupid!”

“I believe that it’s more important to state that Alton was at one time the true heir to Lustro. For one reason or another, his existence was kept a secret, to the point where he was forced out of Fogbloom.” Veximarl shook his head. The thought of it was troubling.

“Bastard child? Mist mutation?” Chickadee offered. “Dishonor the crown?”

“Like that matters to either of us.” Zaniyah gestured to Veximarl’s eyes and to her hair. “I thought this was going to end up being some good sort of scandal. Instead, it’s just the regular sort of scandal you hear about in Carapace all the time.”

Veximarl agreed. “Archive, close files and shut down.” The more he thought about it, the more troubled he became. “Alton is a womanizer? Vincent had mentioned it, but I haven’t seen much to support it. He talks to the women in Baron Squad, but he has held no interest with any of them other than getting Miss Hewitt to teach him how to use a leaf as a flute.”

Zaniyah rolled her eyes. “Yeah. While we were in Mareth, we had to keep going out to look for him because he snuck out each night.” Chickadee narrowed his eyes at her. “Alright, I kept sneaking off too, and Chi went out to look for us, but I think Alton was only playing nice in order to get bigger tips. He seemed a lot calmer after that.”

“He has been loyally following Sybil about whenever he can.” Veximarl gestured to the weapon rack that held Sybil’s falchion. “And she has a sword that bears a connection Fogbloom families. With Duchess Elbellziara being revealed to be her sponsor, we can no longer claim it to be a coincidence.

I am also concerned about what I saw in his barracks records. He was initially assigned to Baron Squad but requested to be reassigned to this squad the day you returned from Herring. It’s possible he asked to have stable duty with Sybil while he was at it.”

“That’s…” Zaniyah shook her head. “That’s because Alton loves us, right? I mean, he’s a great guy. He also has Lydia’s rapier, so Alton can’t be all bad. He even saved Chi’s life that one time and tried to teach us how to swim. He didn’t even have to come with us to Herring in the first place, and he could’ve forced his way into following you two. I refuse to believe he would’ve done so much for us if he was interested in Sybil the whole time... Right?”

Chickadee shook his head. “Volo Refuge would have made contact about the sword, yet it remained there.” They all knew that, and no one had come to claim the weapon. It was allowed to remain at Volo Refuge as Ribnjak Grulick’s blade.

“The sword was supposedly unimportant...” Veximarl tapped a finger against his desk. “Is it possible that it was a trap? That there was a specific reason why they would have needed someone to retrieve it?” Chickadee nodded in agreement. “And that would explain why Duchess Elbellziara would bother to sponsor her, and why Alton appears so possessive. It may also explain why the prince has chosen to be close to me. They’re interested in whoever has that sword.”

The three grew quiet for a moment. Zaniyah’s voice came out as a whisper as her hands fumbled together. “Do… D-do you think Sybil knows?”

“I assume that Alton is annoying to her to the point where she hardly gives him a second thought,” replied Veximarl. “When we went to the swamp, Sybil told me about her personal connection to Lady Larkin. I assume that you two also know?” They both nodded. “I had thought that Alton was acting so close to her because he knew it as well. I am concerned now that he had a different motive.”

“Sybil knows nothing,” said Chickadee. “Sword has unknown powers. Lost techniques made it. Unable to make sense of it.”

Veximarl shook his head. “The sword was in possession of the assassin Bellia before Lady Grulick obtained it. I’ve done research, and he was the one that murdered the Fogbloom family, and later he assassinated the leader of the church. It is possible that he stole the sword from either source.

I have seen what Sybil can do when she successfully activates the sword. She defeated an experienced necromancer in a single strike, and she killed a tainted beast by herself. The powers of that weapon are terrifying. It is possible that the royal family left the sword at the Volo Refuge because they had no one among their own had the ability to use it.”

“If Alton is just… If he’s using us?” Zaniyah tensed up. “I’ll kill him. If he is thinking about doing anything that will hurt Sybil, I will kill him.”

“Let us go over this rationally.” Veximarl took a deep breath as he gathered his thoughts. “Do not tell Vincent about this. He will seek immediate action.” Zaniyah hesitated but then nodded. “We need to watch and see how Duchess Elbellziara, Prince Duxton, and Alton behave around Sybil over the next few days. It is possible that they only wish to observe her. We do not know if they’re up to nefarious deeds, but we shouldn’t intervene without evidence.

Lastly, next Martday is when Sybil is scheduled to be with Bronzescale Squad again. She will be out late, and Alton will be with us. That gives us four days to observe and then we will confront him. I have a lot of reasons to trust you two with my life, and it’s the same with Sybil. I will not stand for it if she is in some sort of trouble.”

They agreed on the plan, each pondering to themselves what any of this could mean. Alton was oblivious of their ill thoughts against him. Instead, he was standing with Duxton outside of a room set up for Elbellziara’s personal use. He leaned against the wall and tapped his foot impatiently as he waited for Sybil’s makeover to be finished.

He was also ignoring Lydia, who was floating around Duxton and making faces at him. She’d occasionally float inside the room, only to come out and say that they weren’t done yet. Lydia was clearly nervous. She rarely held still as it was, and now she was constantly hovering about in a panicked manner.

Alton averted his gaze. Watching her was making him dizzy. “Stay away from Sybil,” he muttered under his breath.

“I would spit back that I have been rather polite about keeping my distance, but logic would be wasted on you. Fish have never been known for their critical thinking skills.” Duxton was keeping his eyes on the window. “... What is your particular interest in her?”

Alton let out a sigh as Lydia stuck her tongue out at Duxton. “She’s a member of my squad... I look out after my own. You’re an eyesore, and Aunt El wouldn’t be her sponsor on a whim. What exactly are you two planning?”

“No reason to tell you, half-breed,” Duxton said with a grin. “But I am feeling generous today... Maybe I told Aunt El that I was interested in her romantically, and she is merely here to look out for the future queen. Would you believe me if I said that?” He laughed as Alton’s scowl worsened. “I’ve been told that Aunt El was sent to verify her abilities. I’ve seen her in a fight. It isn’t as impressive as he has been led to believe. Your girlfriend is safe from any trouble.”

“She’s not my girlfriend,” spat out Alton as he went back to staring at the wall. Duxton let out another laugh before he settled on staring out of the window again. The next few days will be the most difficult time of his life. Alton could feel it.


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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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