The two rode to Mareth while being wary to not overexert the mules after a long day’s run. Alton led them to a tavern he had stayed at before and put the mules away in their stable. Mareth wasn’t nearly as abandoned as Tilrey was, but it certainly wasn’t the bustling city that he had seen before.
Alton had brought a little money with them in the event they needed to stay in a town and he cut a good deal with the tavern owner for a small room. They decided that it was best to eat an early supper before starting their search. Their knights would be working with the local guard and finding them would be as easy as asking one of them for information.
Veximarl frowned as Alton set a mug of ale in front of him. “I couldn’t.” He pushed the mug away from himself with a shameful look. “We’re underaged, Alton.”
And of course, Veximarl was there to put a damper on the last moment they had before Stonetoe murdered them for going against his orders. “It’s been a long day. It won’t kill you. Have a drink.” He held up his own mug as a toast before taking a large gulp.
They ate and drank in silence. Veximarl didn’t like the ale very much. It was bitter, had a roasted taste, but with some fruity undertones. Drinks shouldn’t be so robust in flavor and it was making his head swirl. Although, that could be the reason Alton wanted him to drink. He was so stressed that his entire back had tied itself in knots and the day he had spent riding was making his body scream in agony.
That tense pain didn’t ease up as they were joined by a third person at the table. Veximarl looked up and stared at Dalkirk for a moment. The knight stared back, not saying anything. Veximarl cleared his throat and leaned towards Alton.
“I believe that it was Sir Stonetoe was the one that went ahead to Fogbloom and Sir Dalkirk stayed behind,” he whispered loudly.
Alton glared at him out of the corner of his eye. “You think?” He whispered back.
“Irving had told me that this man is less human and more akin to a predatory animal. It is quite possible he will not see us if we hold very, very still.” Veximarl gave a slow nod and a soft pat to Alton’s shoulder.
Alton glanced at Veximarl’s mug. It was barely half empty. “How are you already drunk?” He then winced as Dalkirk impatiently began to tap his finger against the table.
“Tomorrow is Satyrday, sir! We are free to do whatever we wish on Satyrdays!” Veximarl exclaimed.
Dalkirk wasn’t buying it. “And today’s classes?” Neither had an answer for that. “You will report back to the barracks tomorrow.”
Veximarl leaned in and spoke in a slurred whisper. “We know where Sybil is! They left her buried in the woods.”
“Alive!” Alton grabbed the back of Veximarl’s jacked and yanked him back to his seat. “She’s being kept in a cavern hidden underground. By the time we discovered that, it was too late for us to go back to the barracks. We were going to find you after we had finished our meal.”
Dalkirk glanced between the two of them. “Come on.” He stood up and started to walk towards the door.
“But we already paid for a room,” muttered Veximarl.
“Shut up and do what the scary man says, Vex.” Alton wasn’t going to question the knight of Bronzescale. There were plenty of rumors of ill-behaved squires disappearing after walking off with Dalkirk somewhere and he didn’t want to become part of that legend.
They moved to an inn located on the Violet Region side of Mareth. It was a luxurious location far out of a knight’s paygrade. Their destination was a suite on the top floor, where there were two individuals in the middle of a conversation.
Among the pair was a paladin who was the pride of Grand Temple and that fact showed in every ounce of his appearance. Tall, handsome, with blonde hair and piercing blue eyes. His tunic had a seal representing three of the gods, with Tria being noticeably absent.
The other was a woman in neatly kept brown robes, with long, dark hair that was pulled back in a simple braid and equally dark eyes. She was sitting on the edge of the table with her arms folded. Her annoyance was suddenly tripled by the sudden interruption.
“Squires. They followed us.” Dalkirk gave half a wave to the two behind him. The woman gave a nod. “This is Veximarl Tuton, captain of Grimstone Squad, and Alton Toval, one of his subordinates.” Alton visibly cringed at being referred to as Veximarl’s subordinate.
A fact that didn’t miss the woman’s eye. “Ester Marjoram. My husband is the baron of this side of Mareth.” She gestured to the paladin. “This is Paladin Dorian Buttonweed. Grand Temple has graciously loaned him to Braytons for a three-year stay.”
As Veximarl looked a bit on the wobbly side, Alton was the one who took a step forward. “It is a pleasure to meet you both.” He firmly clasped the back of Veximarl’s neck and forced him to bow with him.
Marjoram shook her head with dismay. “The rumors are true. The quality of Braytons has spiraled downward under the care of its previous headmaster. Lady Till is receiving the blame while picking up the pieces. This only serves to reaffirm my decision to become an instructor there myself.”
Alton had heard similar rumors. The previous headmaster had abruptly stepped down at the start of summer, shortly afterward, the Jewelclover knight vanished. Matters didn’t become easier for the newly appointed Lady Till, as some of the knights that remained sought to protest the King’s recent orders.
Three of third-year knights had been fired by one of the king’s aides. Lady Anemone personally led the charge to protest the king’s decision to conscript minors into the army, as Braytons wasn’t the only barracks to have had their squires suddenly conscripted. Several other knights had been arrested and stripped of their titles as a result.
Lydia hovered down next to Buttonweed, examining him closely as she did so. “No doubt that this is the king’s watchdog.” She then floated over to Marjoram. “You can trust Ester. She was one of Nita’s squires back when she was an instructor and she wouldn’t dare betray her.”
“They claim to know where Twist is being held,” interrupted Dalkirk in a deadpan voice.
Buttonweed posture straightened as his focus sharpened on the pair. “I will need details. Position, guards, anything else that they have.”
Follow the plan, Alton. Everything will be fine, and they’ll be to busy saving Sybil instead of finding out that you two accidentally resurrected Tyrtain. “We can lead you directly to her location. It isn’t far from here. She’s imprisoned underground. There are no guards, but we will need an elementalist to retrieve her.”
The paladin stepped closer. “How did you come across this information? And why is a subordinate speaking for his captain?”
Buttonweed was as tall as Veximarl was, but was twice as heavy due to his muscle mass. It made the necromancer’s heart race with fear. He began to stammer and flail his hands about as he struggled to come up with something.
Veximarl was still tipsy, and he couldn’t lie to save a newborn bunny’s life. Alton wasn’t going to go down for this one. Sybil and Veximarl were the ones who created that golem. He was just dragged along for the ride. His eyes darted towards Lydia, mentally pleading with her to come up with some excuse.
“Say it was divination!” She exclaimed.
“Yes! Right!” Alton clapped his hands together and inhaled sharply. “It was divination! Someone divined it for us using…” Alton swirled his hand about. “Divining powers, and we can’t tell you who that was because we promised to protect them for their own safety.” He mimed buttoning his mouth shut.
Lydia nodded her head slowly. “Quite smooth, Alton.”
“How far deep is she?” Marjoram had been writing in a notebook. She looked up at Alton. “Do you know what depth she’s located at?”
“She’s near an aquifer,” replied Alton.
Marjoram continued to scribble, muttering to herself as she did so. “I can retrieve her, but I would need to make more ink. Brewing some that can mimic elementalist magic will take time... I’ll have it done by morning.”
“Then we’ll reconvene at dawn,” replied Buttonweed. He turned his attention to Alton and Veximarl. “Be prepared to leave by then.”
“Yes, sir!” Both squires replied.
Dalkirk gave a nod towards the door and both of them followed him through it. He gave his orders as they walked as a group. “We are going to visit several taverns tonight. Attempt to use that divination of yours to find our culprits.”
“That would be quite difficult without having exposure to their blood, sir.” Veximarl smiled sheepishly at Dalkirk, who glared back.
“He means to say that we’ll make it work somehow, sir,” replied Alton.
The next few hours were spent exploring the many taverns and bars around Mareth. Occasionally Dalkirk would disappear for a few moments only to reappear with a cloth stained with fresh blood. Veximarl would confirm that it wasn’t the correct man and they would quickly move to a new location.
One of their final stops was a sort of gentlemen’s club located on the violet side of town. Dalkirk spoke to a man at the entrance and they were allowed in without having to pay for a membership. Veximarl’s eyes nearly popped out of their sockets at the sight of scantily dressed women prancing about.
Men sat in plush chairs, calmly discussing recent rumors and politics. Others were surrounded by women, being entertained with drinking games or dancing. With an ever-increasing look of glee on his face, Alton glanced over to Dalkirk. He couldn’t show an ounce of joy until he knew he had permission to do so... Yet the knight was gone.
“Veximarl, there comes a time in every knight’s life where he faces a trial that challenges every skill he has learned up until that point.” Alton patted Veximarl on the shoulder.
“Please do not use this opportunity to fool around whilst Sybil is still in danger.” He frowned as Alton tilted his head back and let out a loud, aggravated groan. “I simply want this ordeal to be over.”
Alton gritted his teeth. “And to do that, we have to do a proper investigation.”
That’s the only reason why Alton put up with Lydia.
She swooped about the room and listened in on conversations. Alton was splitting their efforts, sweeping women off to the side and drawing out any information they might know. Veximarl preferred the subtle approach. He wandered over to a bookshelf and began to read as a way to avoid others.
Flash a toothsome grin, put a hand around a lady’s waist, and whisper seductively in their ear. Alton was good at this work. Women of dubious backgrounds always knew the most tantalizing secrets, milked fresh from the minds of drunken men. This was the type of investigation that he excelled at.
Lydia didn’t approve. The longer they took, the more trouble she had staying present. However, she thought it important to stay around and help with the cause. She flew through the crowd and sought out any clues that would help in the search for her stolen daughter.
“Doesn’t the ring you wear have some of Sybil’s blood iron in it?” She looked over to Alton, who was sitting back on a bench with a woman under each arm. One was pouring him another drink while the other was attempting to seduce him with her eyes.
“Mhm.” He leaned towards one of the women and spoke in a low and lyrical tone. “If I had a girl as pretty as you back home, I would have never left... It’s amazing what wonderful gems one can find when they chose to travel.”
A gagging noise came from Lydia’s throat but she shook it off. “Do me a favor, Alton. Hold out your hand like this and say ‘Tal’ for me?”
Alton moved his arm upward as the woman let out a swooning whine and he held out his hand. “Tal.” His eyes widened and he instantly felt soberer as a dagger snapped to his hand.
It had pried itself loose from a man’s belt, and he was not so happy to have lost his weapon. He stood up and grabbed a passing man by the collar of his jacket. “You just tried to pinch from me?!” The man shook his head while Jack patted around his own belt with his free hand. “Then where’s my dagger gone?!”
Hiding the dagger quickly beneath his jacket, Alton looked between the two women. “I think you two should go get your friends and head to the back where it’s safe. I might have started some trouble and I wouldn’t want either of you to get hurt.”
Alton slipped away from the women and approached Jack with a charismatic smile. Jack had both of his hands around the man’s collar, digging his fingers into his neck firmly enough to make the man’s face turn red. He paid no mind to Alton as he stopped next to them.
“Give me back my knife and we won’t have any problems,” Jack growled out.
“You mean this thing?” Alton pulled Sybil’s dagger out from his cloak and ticked it back and forth in the air like a metronome. “I like it... I think I’m going to keep it.”
“That isn’t yours to take, boy.” Jack dropped the man he was holding.
Alton shrugged. “It’s such a pretty thing though. You can say that I’m a collector of pretty things.” He winked at some girls who were hiding behind a table. “A brute such as yourself can take anything by force, but it takes a perfect man like me to truly lavish a beauty.”
“Then let me ruin that face of yours.” Another growl came out of Jack as he took a step towards Alton. “See how you feel then.”
Alton maintained his grin. “My face may be my best feature, but putting your foot through it won’t change the way I make your mother cum.”
As Jack’s hand snapped out to grab him, Alton leaned back. He then spun around and started to run towards the exit as Jack shouted out a series of curse words. “Get back here!”
Veximarl’s head snapped towards the sound just in time to have Alton grab him by the elbow as he ran past. Dragging him along, Alton dodged past patrons and out the door as Jack charged after them. A panicked yelp escaped Veximarl as he ducked under a stool that had been thrown at them, and the two slid into an alleyway in an effort to hide.
“What is going on?!” Veximarl exclaimed in a loud whisper. Alton smiled and wiggled Sybil’s dagger in front of his face. “You found one of her kidnappers? ... Why are we running away from him? He might realize our intentions and escape.”
“Or he might chase us,” argued Alton. “I implied that he was unskilled in bed and that I had sex with his mother. That usually works.”
“There is no way a grown man would ever fall for such an immature insult.” Just then, Jack turned about the corner. His nostrils flared widely like a mad bull’s. “... Why would we want him to chase us?”
Alton twirled the dagger about in the air. “To get him out of the building so Dalkirk can take over and interrogate him.” He looked around the narrow alley. “... Where is Dalkirk?” He had figured the knight would have appeared out of nowhere the moment they had stepped out of the club.
Running forward once more, Jack pulled a hatchet out from his belt and held it up high. Just as he started to bring it down at the two of them, Veximarl panicked and put up his shield. A loud cry escaped Jack as the weapon came in contact with the spell. His shoulder erupted with blood as it was curiously sliced open by an invisible force.
“What was that?!” Alton moved to stand behind Veximarl and his shield.
“A p-protection spell?” Veximarl stammered. “We need to find a way to constrict him for interrogation.”
Realizing he was outmatched, Jack started to back away. He turned around and came face to face with Dalkirk. The knight’s hand snapped up and smashed Jack’s head into the side of the alley. A faint groan escaped him as he collapsed into a crumpled heap. Dalkirk then looked over to the squires as he cracked his knuckles.
“Wait outside the alley.”
Neither was going to argue. They awkwardly stepped over Jack and waited as lookouts. Veximarl put his hands behind his back and swayed back and forth as he rolled his weight from his heels to the balls of his feet. Attempting to twirl the dagger about, Alton tried to look cool while being frustrated with how easy Sybil made it look whenever she did this.
A series of pained cries echoed behind them. They kept their heads pointed forward. This didn’t seem like knightly behavior, but both had also heard rumors that Dalkirk wasn’t a proper knight. He was a skilled individual who had applied for a teaching job around the same time Stonetoe joined the barracks.
“Matters are much simpler now that we have a knight involved,” quipped Veximarl, who was desperate to make any sort of conversation.
Alton didn’t have a spot on him to put away the dagger, so he settled for a pocket inside his cloak as a temporary hiding spot. “We’re only squires now, but in a few weeks, we’ll be out on official missions. We’re going to need to be able to do these things on our own and without their help.”
“I would be having an easier time with the rest of our squad here. With their talents, I would think this job would have been completed much more quickly.”
That is, if they didn’t get expelled for this. Alton let out a sigh. Skipping class, abandoning their post, defying direct orders, giving a dead god a new body… They were not going to be allowed to go back after this.
“Whatever,” he replied to Veximarl’s statement.
Veximarl smiled. “These past two days have been the most I have spoken to you. We do have our Baron Squad classes together and share a room, but I have always felt like we were bad at connecting as people. I was beginning to think that you didn’t like me at all.” He laughed at the thought. “We should speak more often. This has been enlightening.”
Glaring up at him, Alton couldn’t disagree more. “I don’t ever want to do this again.”
“... Oh.” Veximarl turned away and fell silent. He was right. Alton didn’t like him very much.
When the screams had died down completely, Dalkirk pushed his way past the pair. He had a cloth out that he was using to wipe the blood off his armor. This was casually discarded as he turned around and glanced between the pair.
“Head back to your room and report to Buttonweed and Marjoram in the morning. Tell them I am moving ahead to Fogbloom to assist Stonetoe.” He walked off, leaving the two to stand there awkwardly.
“Should we…” Veximarl gestured to the alleyway with his thumb. “Check on that?”
“Nope.” Alton turned on his heel, boots crunching in the snow as he headed back to their room. After a strange day, the two retired to their beds. Both wishing that the repercussions of their actions today won’t someday come back to bite them in the ass.