Sybil tucked her letter away into her skirt pocket. “Sorry.” She settled one hand on Veximarl’s shoulder and took his other hand into her own.

“How are they faring?” Veximarl whispered as they twirled about.

“I told them I was busy,” quipped Sybil. Veximarl frowned with disappointment. “I’ll message them when we aren’t busy.”

Lady Blu had organized an indoor event in Tilrey’s largest hall. Exercise was always a must in order to stay well, but miasma a harbinger of illness. Blu’s solution was to hold a dance in the town hall. A week away from Braytons was no reason for the squires to bury themselves in books whenever they had a free moment. One day spent dancing was enough to convince Blu that they had learned something useful. It was better to concentrate on their assignments.

Chickadee was being personally tutored by Blu while Sybil was helping Veximarl. After a month straight under Till’s tutelage, this was easy. She didn’t feel the stress of having Till’s eyes on her or anxiety from Alton playing around. If she missed a step, it was simple to correct herself and Veximarl wouldn’t tease her for her mistakes.

“Elbow lower. Match your partner’s shoulder height,” she whispered as Veximarl gave a nod.

Tish had helped him a considerable amount when it came to group dances, but being with someone in such an intimate manner was still unnerving. At least it was Sybil. He never had an issue being close to her.

“Thank you.” They began to rotate in the opposite direction, dropping their right arms and raising their lefts in the process. “Neither of us will ever find a use for this outside of Braytons.” He attempted a smile to go along with his joke.

“Two, four, six, two, four, six, and we are graceful little quiet doves moving silent on the wind.” Blu held up her pinkie and Chickadee caught it as they spun about each other. “One, three, five, seven, and now you give a bow.” The two bowed at each other as the song ended. “Excellent coordination, everyone.

Now then. Vex, Sybil is right. Keep your arms loose and keep them level with your partner. Chi, excellent movements, but hold your chin horizontal to the ground. Keep your eyes on your partner and not that little pretty bird I keep catching you spying on. Sybil, I have no complaints.”

“Thank you, Lady Blu.” Sybil gave a bow. “I’m scheduled to start my rounds soon. May I get ready?”

Blu gave her blessing with a wave of her gloved hand. “I’ll be able to teach better if I dance with Vex personally.” Chickadee’s eyes flicked about. “Yes, go on. Go.”

Chickadee was about to bound off to ask someone to dance, but he gave a sudden shake of his head before returning to Sybil. “Leave daggers.”

“Which ones?”

“Nip and Gnarl. Tal and Vin may stay with you.” A gleam appeared in the blacksmith’s eyes. “Much blood iron to work with. Will have done by time shift is over.”

“Vin seems to be not balanced right when it returns to me. May I leave that with you?”

“Of course.”

Sybil shouldn’t be getting into any trouble and her sword was the wisest choice to use if there was a tainted beast. Any other mess could be handled with her utility knife or Tal. “I’ll leave them on the dresser in the room.”

She went back to their room and changed into her guard uniform. Guard duty in Tilrey was vastly different than it was in the core. Well, of course it was. She knew it was going to be, but she wasn’t expecting it to so much more work. In the core, they dealt with the occasional wild animal. There wasn’t anything more to it than that.

Guards in Tilrey acted as the town’s complaint department. Merchants were raising their prices in order to dry out travelers passing through, local farmers were hoarding their supplies, and tourism-based businesses were now in a panic about going bankrupt. Winter was only two days in, and they were already turning against each other.

Only a week though. Sybil would only have to deal with it for a week before Paladin Dorian Buttonweed would be arriving from Grand Temple. As a paladin, he could manage the clinic, and his authority would be enough to make the businesses stop complaining. Sybil did enjoy being out of the barracks, but dealing with people like this was a nightmare.

Not that she wanted to avoid work, just certain aspects of it. When it came to walking around or investigating mysteries, work was amazing. What wasn’t great was the paperwork. Paperwork, dealing with pointless complaints, and listening to people argue about money.

Not to mention that her letter was always buzzing with messages from Alton and Zaniyah. She would write quick responses to Zaniyah and ignore Alton completely. A cough from the guard next to her made her stuff the letter back into her pocket. A hasty salute wasn’t enough to get herself out of trouble.

Sir Cress glared for a moment. “Has the situation on Roberts Street been cleared?”

“Yes, sir. There was no robbery. The new staff member was storing the daily earnings in the wrong safe. It turns out that they have four safes for different uses, and it was all very confusing for everyone.” He continued to stare at her, and she frantically waved her hands about. “And I’ve already filled out the report and put the witness statements in with it!”

Reaching into his jacket, Sir Cress pulled out an envelope for her to take. “Litin is patrolling Brickside Road. Deliver this message this to him then report back.”

“Yes, sir!”

She dashed off to the stables and got Oyster ready with the help of a stable hand. Brickside broke off into the northern road that went around Volo Refuge. It was the quickest route to Carapace, but it had recently gotten clogged with supply wagons and people fleeing the Crimson Region. The squires weren’t allowed to work the road due to inexperience, but delivering a message was easy enough work.

Snow had started to fall, and she had to look up and stare at it for a moment. Ah, right… That’s what she had liked best about the winters in the core. Whenever she could see the sky, it was a solid silver color. When everything is white in the outerland, it doesn’t seem to matter what color the sky is, but such a shade seemed magical to her in the core.

“Over here!” Sybil nearly jumped out of her skin at the cry. She turned her horse so she could see who had called out. There was a wagon that was stopped by the side of the road with two figures standing by it. “Can you help?!”

Sybil tensed up. She really shouldn’t. Fixing wagons wasn’t her forte, and if it was a medical emergency, there really wasn’t anything she could do. “Ah…” She looked around. There wasn’t any sign of Litin or any of the other guards. Or anyone else, really. She was the only other person here. “W-what exactly is the problem?” Oyster began to trot towards the pair after she lightly tapped his side with her heels.

“Thanks for stopping to help.” The taller of the two men looked her over, specifically at her uniform. “I’m Jack. This is my brother, John, and my wife, Jill, is in the wagon. We had to stop to seek shelter from the miasma, and we’re worried that she may grow ill. Can you point us to the nearest clinic?”

“Tilrey is not more than a half hour down the road.” Be calm, Sybil. Something about the way these two men smiled was off. It made her uncomfortable. “They have a specialist on Thunderblock Road who can treat miasma poisoning. Rye Hallow Clinic. Three blocks away from the town center.”

The shorter of the men, John, let out a relieved sigh. “Don’t think we can really move her. She’s mighty full with child, and the kid is making her cry out in agony with every move we make.”

Sybil forced herself to smile. “If you’re willing to wait awhile, I can go get some help. There’s a first aid kit in my pack. Maybe there’s something in there that can help. I’m with the Tilrey guard, so either way, I promise that I’ll find some way to assist.”

Jack let out an exaggerated gasp. “And here I was just thinking you were some well-prepared kid on his way home. You couldn’t be older than, what…” He looked over to his brother. “Thirteen? Fourteen?” John shrugged.

Come on, gentlemen, Sybil wasn’t that short… She was also a girl. Maybe she should follow Lady Till’s advice and grow her hair out more. “... I’m actually seventeen.” She dismounted and began to go through her pack, keeping Oyster between her and the men. Something about them was making her nervous. “That’s still young for the guard, but I’m only helping them out for a few days. I’m actually a squire over at Braytons.” She found a vial of pain medication and began to double check the instructions.

Satisfied that it was the correct medication, she stuffed it in her pocket and began to buckle her pack back up. Oyster was shuffling about in an odd manner. He always did that before bolting on her. Sybil sidestepped and grasped onto his reins firmly. A small tug and she glared at the horse while threatening him mentally.

“Ah! Bigshot!” Jack slapped her in the shoulder a little too firmly. It stung. “You’re probably something special if you managed to get in there!” Sybil shook her head as she shirked away from him. “Don’t sell yourself short, kid.”

Another pained cry came from the wagon and a worried look crossed John’s features. “Did she find any medicine?”

“Yes! I’ll bring it to you now!” Keeping her hand on Oyster’s reins, Sybil began to warily walk forward. She could make out a woman curled up on the wagon bench with a pile of blankets over her, but Sybil’s attentions were elsewhere.

There was a splotch of color on the ground. Crimson. Spreading outward as it seeped into the newly fallen snow. Sybil slightly leaned to the side, only to see the start of a pair of legs lying limply next to the wagon. She recoiled at the sight.

Danger. Trouble. Her mind was overwhelmed with thoughts of escape.

Just as she took a step back, Jack surprised her by wrapping his arm about her throat. Her fingers slipped from Oyster’s reins and the horse took off running. Sybil attempted to stay calm. She was trained to get out of grips like this. Rotate towards his elbow. Gain a way to breathe. Fight back.

His other arm locked with the first, tightening his grip as he lifted Sybil up in the air. Her feet scraped at his legs and torso in an effort to twist about. When that failed, she reached for the first knife she could find and began to stab at his forearm. This only succeeded in him tightening his grip all the more, to the point where it felt like her throat was about to collapse.

“Hurry up with the powder!” Jack snarled.

John was fumbling about the back of the wagon and Jill tossed him a pouch. “Didn’t expect another guard so soon!” He opened it up and tossed a handful of it in Sybil’s face. She responded by kicking her legs out at him. “She has to breathe to let it work, idiot!”

Jack dropped her. Sybil had planned to dash away while holding onto her breath, but he gave her a swift kick to the stomach. She involuntarily gasped before she had a chance to scamper away. Her vision was overtaken by pops and fizzes of color, followed by the sensation of air getting stuck in her throat. After that was darkness and the sensation of being picked up and carried away to someplace frightening and unknown.


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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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