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Veximarl was fighting for his life. Since patrols had been the only way to leave the barracks for some time, the majority of the first years had taken the opportunity to observe today’s weapon testing. Tish had made an event of it. There were plenty of blankets to go around along with tea and snacks.

Chickadee had augmented his cane to work more fluidly with fire magic in an effort to make his casting more visually intimidating. Pillars of heated stone were erupting from the ground and mixing with ice runes that Chester had placed earlier. The stones didn’t take well to being suddenly cooled, combusting violently and leaving craters in their wake.

Veximarl steered his summoned horse through the field in an effort to get through. He was suddenly knocked high into the air as a rune below him exploded. Howling laughter could be heard from Zaniyah as she fell over backward. The expression on his face was priceless. She could hardly take it.

“Save him?” Chickadee looked up from his spyglass and over to her.

“Never! He’s never going to learn if he can’t get out of these situations himself!” Zaniyah’s face twisted to glee as Veximarl flailed about midair.

Chester wasn’t as amused. “What is the point of this exercise?” He was only here because Tish insisted that he helped out. Now he was regretting coming.

Tish considered his question carefully while tilting her head to the side. “I thought that it’s been a while since anything had honestly challenged Vexi. That battle with Mister Kindrick brought out so much of his potential. Though this does seem overboard now that I think about it.”

Still screaming, Veximarl hit the ground hard. A burst of light exploded from the impact, and he appeared just outside of the field border. He laid there on his stomach, refusing to move for the time being. A brief glare was tossed at the mages before he resigned himself to his existence. Foggy then jumped onto his back and began to knead at his shoulders like she was making biscuits. She was being a helper.

“How is this training supposed to help?” Veximarl muttered as Chickadee went to inspect him.

Chickadee put his hand to his chin and took a moment to think about it. “Test reaction speeds on casting. Need to make adjustments on spear to allow for better flow and allow faster transitions.” He made a grabby hand motion at the necromancer. “Confiscated.”

Sybil had been watching from the distance, but now she chose to approach. The blanket she had stolen from her date was still wrapped firmly about her shoulders. “May I have a go?”

That just seemed like more of a chore. “There doesn’t seem to be a point.” Chester spun his wand delicately about his fingers.

“Should we make a game of it then?” Sybil smiled all the wider. “If I can make to one end to the field, I’ll help with a favor?” Chester continued to twirl his wand about, completely uninterested in the offer.

“I know of something!” Tish raised her hand. “Vincent, have you put together a unit for the Tilrey mission?” He shook his head. “Proposition from Macestar Squad! We all participate in the race and the winner gets to pick the mission units!”

Stuffing his wand into his ponytail, Chester’s interest had been renewed once more. “What missions?”

“They were mentioned during our Captain’s meeting today,” she replied with a smile. “We’re supposed to send over two units. One to stay at the farms, and another that will be staying in Tilrey until our new knights show up.” New knights to replace the former third year knights who had left when they graduated.

Vincent nodded again. “I have yet to make up my mind as I am still gathering information for each location. We will need to divide those capable of combating tainted beasts wisely between the farm, Tilrey, and Braytons.”

A hand shot up from where the Moontear trio was sitting. “Moontear seconds Macestar’s proposition!” Emery stood up and kept his hand raised, much to Basil and Peter’s surprise.

“Excellent!” Tish twisted her hammer about and a set of wings sprouted from it. “I’ll fetch us more pendants! Unless Vincent has any objections?”

“None.” He was relieved to be freed of responsibility from choosing. Vincent had a feeling that there would be objections from everyone no matter whom he picked. “I will refrain from participating in the event and act as a judge.” He then frowned as Zaniyah tapped his arm with her elbow before running off to join up with Sybil.

Sybil folded up her blanket and both her and Zaniyah moved to the edge of the field. They began their warm-up stretches. Irving and Mila joined them next, along with Moontear. A friendly nod was exchanged between everyone before they continued to do their warm-ups.

Would she rather be on the farm or Tilrey? Sybil didn’t need to be asked. She wanted to be in Tilrey. Though she wouldn’t be able to work directly on the skull there, she would have plenty of time to work on her equations. Plus a break from her routine was exactly what she needed.

Mila was grinning ear to ear. There hadn’t been much to do at the barracks since the other years left and she had been going stir crazy. A week in Tilrey would be salvation. No words needed to be said to know that Irving agreed. Their training revolved around observing others and working as part of the disciplinary committee. They had run out of things to do since Grimstone had been collectively grounded.

Next to join them was Evan. Not a word was said nor a nod given as he cracked his neck and surveyed the field. He spent as much time socializing with others as Chickadee spent practicing his water magic. Which is to say, never. He was also a native from Tilrey and had never traveled away from the area. He had chosen to apply to Braytons in hopes of bringing new skills to the town guard, which was currently run by his father.

After he had finished cleaning up, Alton had gone out to observe what the others were up to. He casually strided up and cut in the line next to Zaniyah. “What’s everyone doing?”

“We’re going to have a race to see who gets to assign the units to an upcoming mission,” she replied.

“Awesome.” He immediately began to stretch out as well. A mission would be the best way to corner Sybil and have her explain what’s wrong. Though, judging from how Ivy had walked up and was now practicing swinging her sword, this wouldn’t be an easy race.

“Krogastein.” Ivy looked over to Zaniyah. “I’ll be your partner.” Zaniyah took a step away from her and nearly bumped into Alton as she did so. “Get to the finish and send me and Anais to Tilrey.”

Zaniyah frowned. “But I wanted to stay on the farm with Vincent.” That way they wouldn’t be so far from the barracks that Vincent would falter in his duties, and she could play with all the animals all she wanted.

“Yeah, no,” muttered Ivy. “Use that limited brain of yours for once. If Anais and myself were sent away, poor Vincent would have that squadroom all to himself.” Zaniyah nodded sympathetically. “All alone. Every night... Alone. By himself.”

“Oh.” Zaniyah’s eyes went wide and her cheeks flushed red. “... Yes. I will very much agree to this.”

The group waited around for Tish to come back and hand out the pendants. Tish didn’t want to participate in the race either, as she didn’t feel like being on a farm or in Tilrey for a week. She instead took a seat next to Anais and Vincent. Chester also took a pendant and moved down to the field where he could more easily cast his spells.

“Rules of the race!” Tish had gotten a wooden cone while she was fetching the pendants and was now speaking through it. “You will have sixty seconds to cross the field! You will be disqualified if you either die or time runs out! First and second place will granted the opportunity to assign units! In the event that no one crosses, Chester and Chi will be declared the winners!”

“We will?” Chickadee frowned as Tish nodded. He immediately took off to the top of the hill where he had a better view of the field and laid down with the butt of his cane against his shoulder.

Another minute was given to make sure everyone was ready, and Chester was the one to give the signal. A flash of fire shot up from his wand and half of the squires at the start took off running. Zaniyah pulled far off into the lead, weaving between the pillars of stone that shot up from below and while being prepared to dodge any icicles that came in from Chester.

“Chester!” Tish stamped her foot on the ground. The mage was already putting away his wand again.

“I have no interest in either assignment,” he muttered. “Nor will I play favorites.” Ensuring that no one won was still favoring Chickadee, who was more than capable of holding the field on his own. He also held no interest in putting on a show for his captain, who was likely only suggesting the race for her own entertainment.

Alton was prepared to start off with a paralyzing melody but instead, let out a wheeze as Irving slashed his throat open. He collapsed to the ground in a ball of light as Irving’s bone sword snapped apart and shifted into a bow. A string was pulled back from it and an arrow struck Zaniyah in the calf. A stuttered yelp was heard before Zaniyah disappeared behind a rocky wall.

Slits in Ivy’s sword cracked open as she gave it a hefty swing. Small balls flew out, exploding into different colors of smoke as they hit the ground. Ivy then let out a surprised scream as Peter’s whip wrapped about her waist. He gave a hard yank and pulled her into Basil’s sword. The two gave their captain a nod as he ran ahead of them.

They then charged towards Evan. No matter what it took, they were going to make sure Emery came in first. Evan succeeded in avoiding the whip but stumbled backward as Basil charged recklessly forward. He held up his sword defensively and kept Basil between himself and Peter in an effort to avoid a second whip attack.

Sybil was already gaining a lead. The smoke had given her a chance to make herself invisible to almost everyone’s senses. Chickadee was the only one keeping track of her footprints at the moment, and she had to be careful at the large stones that were being thrown in her direction.

As she ducked one such stone, Irving rushed past her. He launched two arrows at Emery before shifting his bow into a sword again. Taking a running leap off the nearby rubble, he flew towards Emery. The Moontear captain was forced to draw his short sword or risk being cut in half.

Pillars of stone began to erupt around the group, splitting them apart. Too much motion in one place had made Chickadee lose Sybil’s location. Emery broke loose from Irving and shot out at a full sprint towards the finish. Evan took his chances and attempted to separate from Basil and Peter by using a nearby wall for cover.

Evan then gritted his teeth as a carefully aimed arrow that embedded itself into his shoulder. A hissing noise escaped from the shaft for a moment before it exploded. The blast distracted Basil long enough for a stone shard to strike his side and slice through his gut. Mila let out a soft chuckle and notched another arrow, but was abruptly taken out as the ground swallowed her up from below.

Undeterred by her own injuries, and somehow managing to survive being stunned and partially buried, Zaniyah was still stubbornly trudging along. There were a lot of scents passing through the air and she was sniffing for one in particular.

The hint of dusty mist passed by, and she pulled the hand axe free from her hip. Hurling it forward, she succeeded in clipping Sybil’s arm. The shock from the hit made her drop her invisibility. Her arm hung limply at her side as she spun around and gave her friend a bewildered look.

“We’ll get first and second! We don’t have to fight!” She exclaimed.

Zaniyah pointed to behind Sybil. “Well, yeah, but…”

Sybil’s head whipped towards the finish line just in time to see Emery closing in on it. She yanked a dagger free just as Zaniyah called her handaxe back to herself. The leg injury that Zaniyah suffered earlier was making it hard to dodge, and a growl was let out as Sybil’s dagger hit her in the shoulder. All Sybil could do to respond to Zaniyah’s look of betrayal was to shrug.

Irving elbowed Peter in the temple and began to make a mad dash towards the finish. Peter lashed out with his whip, wrapped it around Irving’s ankle, and slammed the man onto the ground with a firm yank. Sybil and Zaniyah were now scrambling for the finish, dodging both weapons from each other and Chickadee’s spells.

Barely a step ahead of Zaniyah, Sybil managed to skid past the finish. As she left the field, the wounds on her disappeared and she felt a sense of relief. Though she let out a yelp as an arrow flew past her. Irving had let it fly just before she had passed the threshold, and he was now waving his arms wildly about as an apology. Chickadee didn’t seem to believe he was sorry enough and stone spike abruptly shoved its way through Irving’s chest.

“The race is over!” Tish’s voice rang out over the field. “Emery is in first, and Sybil is second! Everyone regroup!”

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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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