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Sybil was quick to realize that she had no idea where she was going. She stopped once they had turned the corner. Her back thumped against the wall. Running was a terrible idea. The pain in her knee was too much for her to take... Hopefully, they wouldn’t have to keep fleeing.

“Captain, what’s going on?” Millie wiggled herself under Sybil’s arm in order to support her. “That guy’s a psycho! Why are you letting them do that to you?”

Be tough. These two need you. “... They’re a bunch of bullies who think that they can cause some extra harm just because they have healing magic. Training is just a… It’s a little hard with them.”

“Obviously,” muttered Hayden flatly.

“Get back to class and pretend like nothing happened,” ordered Sybil. “They won’t be mad if I’m by myself and I’ll talk them down. I don’t want to think about what will happen if they find you two with me.”

Millie shook her head. “I’m not leaving you, Sybil.”

“You don’t have a choice if you want to get into Braytons next year, Millie,” replied Sybil. “That man you pissed off is the prince of this country. Even the headmistress of Braytons can’t say no if he says something. I’m not going to have you two give up on your futures because I’m too weak to protect myself.”

The statement had left of them tilting their heads. “You’re plenty strong,” said Hayden.

“In the core, yes, but not in the real world.” Sybil caught a glimpse of Beat approaching, and she took a step forward. She put an arm out in front of both of Hayden and Millie in order to defend them.

Hayden went to retrieve more knives to through but stopped Beat threw the ones he had taken from her at her feet. She stooped down and picked them up. It was only after Beat crossed his arms did Hayden drop her guard.

Beat gestured for them to leave. “You should obey the orders of your former captain.”

Sybil sought to ease their worries. “I’ll stop by and visit your house when I can, Millie. Hayden, it’s been great seeing you again. I promise I’ll sit down and talk with both of you soon.

Oh, and Hayden, I’ll get you the address to where my father is staying so you can turn in your legs for regular maintenance. I know it hasn’t been easy with the miasma and there’s a wobble when you put weight on your left foot. Don’t lie and say it’s fine. Now get going. Please.”

“... Alright.” Millie gave a weak smile. “Don’t wait that long before talking to us. We both have our letters with us at all times.”

“I’ll send you each a wingmail tonight.” Sybil gave them both a nod. They bowed in return and took off.

Beat dropped to one knee and lifted up Sybil’s skirt. “You shouldn’t have run off before Shaw had healed it fully.” He put his hand to her knee injury so he could palpate it. “You’ve stressed the wound. We’ll cut off practice today and give you a few days off to heal.”

Sybil weakly laughed it off. “It’s worth it. I’m not going to let that man run around and do as he pleases with people.”

“Subordinates of yours?” Beat stood up and dusted the snow off his leg. She nodded. “You’ve always shown a great deal of loyalty to those you care for. I admire that trait of yours.”

“Thanks, I suppose.” She put her arms about his shoulders as he offered her his back. He then lifted her up and began to walk. “Am I in a lot of trouble?” He nodded. “Is there a way you can bail me out of it? You know, because you admire me?”

“You are to rest in the carriage until the prince finishes his business here. No doubt he will attempt to cut it short. We will figure out our evening plans when he returns.”

Sybil frowned. “... I want to go back to the Toval Estate.” She didn’t feel like she learned anything.

Getting the life pummeled out of her didn’t make her feel stronger. Summoning that cloud of mist hadn’t been easy on her either. Part of the reason she struggled to walk was because that blast of mist had left her feeling drained.

“The Prince believes that you have improved a great deal from just one session. He may force other opportunities such as this one upon you in the future. I will ensure that Shaw does not take it as far as he did and we will have a proper cleric on standby.”

Hearing that made her feel worse. She was certain that she had managed to upset Duxton... Although he called this torture session training it was obvious that he enjoys seeing her in pain. That was the only explanation she could think of.

The two waited in the carriage until Duxton showed up. Silence hung heavily through the air as they continued to wait for the paladin. Shaw returned with bandages and a poultice for Sybil’s knee. He tightly wrapped the wound as he examined the extent of the injury.

“You’ve stressed the injury,” he parroted Beat’s words. “It will be fine by evening. No walking. I’ll carry you to a room where you will work on your studies until dinner.”

“I would rather be returned to the estate,” she said firmly.

“You will be returned after we ensure the injury will cause you no further problems. However, it will need time for the magic to sink in.”

“... Thank you.” She said that, but she certainly didn’t mean it. Rather, she had a fair amount of foul words she wanted to say to him at this very moment.

They returned to the hotel, where Beat excused himself to find Rosethorn. Sybil sat on a chair with Duxton on a nearby couch. He was going through a series of papers so he could plan his upcoming schedule. A heavy sigh escaped him as he shook his head back and forth.

“I’m beginning to understand that you and I make for a very poor partnership,” he muttered.

“I agree,” replied Sybil.

A faint smile appeared on the prince’s lips as Shaw handed him a new set of papers. He took a moment to look between the two of them. “My entourage is still in need of someone who can properly represent the core. Miss Millie Cully has the family background, but she comes off as the impatient type.

However, Miss Hayden Leith has so many interesting qualities.” He quickly scanned through the page. “Her mother is on the core console, she has excellent grades and those legs of hers… What interesting legs they are, my little gloom girl. A true fusion between humanity and technology.”

Sybil tensed up. “I will kill you if you even dare to talk to either one of them.”

He snickered quietly. “An interesting proposition but I’ve noticed something very important about you. It took me a while to figure it out. You’ve got quite an impressive resume yet come off as so fragile when the pressure is applied. At first, I thought you managed to get kidnapped because they had some ill trick up their sleeve. Such as a hostage, or maybe you aren’t quite capable of killing someone in self-defense.

But now, I think it’s because you didn’t have anyone to protect.

Dear Vex was present when you fought that necromancer and we both know he’s nothing without that new spear of his. You nearly died killing a tainted beast because you couldn’t risk having someone in Moontear die instead. Time and time again… There was always someone to put on a show for.

It turns out that all sweet Sybil needs to get the job done right is the thought that she is sacrificing herself for the sake of someone else… Because that’s the thrill she needs in order to play the hero. If I wanted to keep you around, then all I need to do is assure you that you are quite easily replaceable by someone weaker than yourself and Miss Leith certainly seems like the fun type to have about.”

“You won’t be able to order me about as you please simply because you’re threatening others,” she growled at Duxton. “I will be reporting your actions to Lady Till once I return to Braytons. If she is unable to do anything, I will find someone who can.”

“What a shame. You’re right. That is a path you can travel down.” Duxton pulled out a small notebook. “I’ll simply have to block your friends from applying to Braytons next summer, but that wouldn’t be enough to ruin them.” He flipped through a few pages. “... Irving Byers. Tish Maplehammer. Gwyndolyn Hewitt.” He flipped the final page and his smile grew all the bigger. “Walter Cully.”

“What are you doing?” Sybil went to stand up, but Shaw pushed her back down by the shoulder.

“Your knee,” he whispered harshly.

Duxton grinned in a while letter. “Dark little secrets are wondrous things. One simple letter and I could have all four of them expelled in an instant,” he cooed. “Mister Byer’s parents were sentenced to execution due to war crimes, but they escaped before any of that could happen. Chemical warfare is a horrendous act, dear Sybil, and there are plenty who would do even worse to him in order to find out where his parents are hiding.

Miss Maplehammer broke a legal contract by attending Braytons, as did Miss Hewitt. Without the protection of Braytons, either could face legal repercussions... You don’t want to know what sort of punishment lies in store for a woman who breaks an indentured servant’s contract.

Then there’s are our dear soot bird and the fact that he had been expelled from Dogfall. A fact that was neatly excluded from his Braytons’ application. He has quite the destructive history. Amalfrieda proved that he will go out of his way to show off his temper… And if you think I can’t take him down, I’m certain that there are others you know. A little more digging and I’m certain that there are plenty of others that I can have expelled.”

The amount of disgust that Sybil felt for this man was beyond what she was able to comprehend. She wanted to tear at his mouth with a knife until his tongue was wrenched free. That way she could ensure she would never hear his voice again. Instead, she took a slow breath in order to calm herself down.

“... What do you want?”

“I want for you to protect them,” he said with a crooked smile. “As long as you behave yourself, they will be protected.”

Sybil gave a small nod of her head, “I won’t allow you to assault me again.”

“It won’t happen. Unless it is for dancing, myself and my magic will not touch you.”

“... Deal.”

Duxton frowned. “I wasn’t done yet... You interrupted me.” He sighed. “I meant it when I said you need to behave yourself. Your marriage to the fish has secured yourself a place by my side. Isn’t that lovely?”

“Far from it,” she hissed.”

“Now, don’t make such a sour face, my little low born, I meant it when I said I can’t do much to you directly. With Aunt El doing what she can to butt in, I don’t need a reason for her to be angry at me. Not to mention that I have no need for that fish’s sloppy seconds.

Yet, all the same, you are to become my property. Whenever I ask for you, I expect for you to appear. You will continue to be my picturesque little cousin. You will eat your meals with me, dance with me, and maybe even kill for me. I haven’t decided yet on that one, as you are still quite weak, but I expect for you to make yourself available for whenever my whims demand it. Do you understand?”

She couldn’t look directly at him. Instead, her gaze fell to the floor. “Fine.”

“Excellent.” Duxton’s smile grew larger. “In the coming days, we’ll have a uniform ready for you to use whenever we do physical practice. We may return to Starsons, but I prefer to have someplace where we won’t be interrupted. Shaw, you’ll figure that out, won’t you?” The paladin nodded. “I love it when a plan comes together, but you really should reconsider saying no. I was looking forward to seeing exactly how many lives I could have ruined when I put my mind to it.”

… He was a monster.

Sybil continued to silently stare at the ground until Rosethorn appeared. Shaw helped her to a table, and then both he and Duxton left the room. Rosethorn arranged the table for her so she wouldn’t need to get up. All of her materials were left within arm’s reach.

“Are you alright?” He took a moment to study her pale complexion.

“... I’m fine. May we begin?”

“Yes. I have an exam ready for you, so I sincerely hope that you have finished your religious studies.” Rosethorn placed a paper down in front of her. “In the meantime, I will ask for room service to prepare a snack for us while we work.”

Sybil stared down at the papers that were placed in front of her. It was a series of essay questions. With a heavy sigh, she dipped her quill into the ink. While she worked, Rosethorn left the room. He returned sometime later with tea and ham and pickled garlic and ham sandwiches.

“I ran into Mister Alder in the hall and he informed me that you hardly had anything to eat today. If you have finished your exam, take some time to eat something.”

Sybil dotted her final sentence before she handed the papers over to Rosethorn. “Thank you.”

“He also reported that your mist abilities are improving. You were able to summon a mist cloud, which is something that I know you have struggled with.” Sybil muttered an unintelligible reply. She wanted to go home. “I see…” Rosethorn looked through the books that had been gathered before selecting one. “I’ll grade your exam later. We’ll be covering theology next.”

“Again?” She understood that Rosethorn was a teacher at Grand Temple, but that didn’t mean they had to cover the same subject over and over again.

He stared at her until she let out an aggravated sigh. “Lustro isn’t the same as other countries. This is the land of the gods. Humanity’s role is to serve them and to protect their legacy. Theology and history are one and the same.”

“What about the old gods? Bellia? Tyrtain? All everyone ever talks about is the new gods and it’s like we didn’t have a single history book that existed before them.” She pouted.

Rosethorn looked over the books again, but he didn’t see what he was looking for. “In that statement lies the answer as to why humanity pushed the Others out of Lustro. We sought to destroy all evidence of the old gods in order to protect ourselves. Our ancestors made certain that we would never know anything other than the truths they chose to pass down to us.”

Like what had happened to the Fogbloom family… Murdered by their allies who then spun their own truths. “Then there’s no way of knowing what actually happened because it could all be some horrid lie.”

“What people tend to forget is that we record history not for ourselves but for our descendants. They focus on what brings themselves glory while villainizing their opponents.” Rosethorn straightened up in his chair and folded his hands on his lap. “A fine example of this is the Southern War.

The Coral Region was providing their Clay allies with a weapon could break through any magic. Arrows capable of turning blood iron into poison. Their victims would die of horrific pain within a matter of days if left untreated. Hours if they were a particularly powerful elementalist or acolyte. Such a weapon held off the north offense for years and would have won the war had they not turned against themselves.

Much like the Sky Region did when Tria fell, the Clay Region sought to defy the law of the heavens. They did this by casting out the gods. Destroying temples and records alike before renouncing their faith. When their native paladins turned against them, they turned their arrows inward.

Arrows of true faith. They used the fact that they killed paladins as proof that Iath had abandoned them. Proof that the gods no longer had humanity’s best interests in mind. They spread their intent across the region, murdering any paladin they came across and all of their blood relations. Over two-thirds of the paladin population were destroyed over the course of three years.

It was Lady Larkin and Paladin Birch who exposed this truth to the Coral Region. They withdrew their naval and weapon support, allowing for the northern forces to sweep through and conquer. That is the truth that the winning forces will have you remember. A female knight and a southern paladin who worked together to end the war.

They will blissfully neglect to inform you of the years that followed. Where northern politicians took control of the Clay Region. Famine raged its way through smaller villages and the region as a whole plummeted into poverty. It gave rise to slavers, who sold off stolen children. Such treatment will undoubtedly lead to another rebellion, which the northern forces will use as an excuse to finish their cultural genocide.”

“Then what can be done about it?” Sybil’s hand tightened around the set of pendants about her neck. One was hers. The other, Erskine’s. What could be done about the Fogbloom family?

“It is the role of historians to uncover the truth of the past. To unveil the lives of the common man. Many of the oldest temples, including Volo Refuge, were once places of worship for the older gods. Strange city designs, such as Carapace with its core and outerland, were made this way because they suited the needs of the Others that lived here. This city once belonged to both harpies and sirens yet humans have made it so that their history will be forever lost.

We should always strive to be curious, Miss Twist. We should seek to understand the actions of our ancestors and use that as a stepping stone for the progress of our species, but we must also record the truths of ourselves. Even our simple day to day lives may hold a valuable key to a future historian and we shouldn’t seek to speak anything other than the truth because of that.”

Rosethorn’s eyes flitted to the door as Duxton entered. The prince let out a long groan and slumped over in a chair. Both Beat and Shaw entered as well. Beat sat down in a nearby chair and pulled out a thin book from his jacket pocket, while Shaw retreated into one of the suite rooms.

“Evening, Prince Duxton.” Rosethorn stood up and performed a bow. “It has only been an hour since you left.”

“I already ate dinner,” grumbled back Duxton. He had answered a question that no one had asked.

Rosethorn turned to Sybil. “Have you had plenty to eat, or are you done?”

Sybil was starving but didn’t want to deal with anyone here for any longer. “I would like to go home now.”

“Very well.” Rosethorn stood up and went to pull back Sybil’s chair for her, but earned himself a glare from Beat. He paused, stunned for a moment, before taking a step back. “I will be away for a few days. I’m going to Outcore to study the flow of miasma there. If you wait a moment, I can put together a list of essays that I would like you to write during my absence.” She pouted at him. “And when I return, I will tell you about the time I served on a research vessel.”

“A research vessel? ... You’ve left Lustro?” Sybil didn’t think it would be possible. She had only heard of Dodo Tuma’s stories of what it was like outside the country, and they were all horrid. Humans outside of Lustro weren’t as heavily affected by the heavy miasma, but anyone from Lustro would find death quickly past the shores.

“A five-year expedition in order to document species of Others and their native lands,” replied Rosethorn. “But that is another time and another place. Go home. Relax. Wake up early to do your assigned work.”

Sybil stood up and nodded over to Beat. “Yes, sir.”

She waited for Rosethorn to write a quick list of homework. Beat then escorted her to the carriage. Normally, they would have a light discussion. This time he was quiet, focusing more on what was out the window than anything else.

“I’m limited in what I can do to help you,” he whispered.

“You don’t trust any of them,” she muttered back.

“No. Our Lord has an ill habit of coming off harshly because he enjoys the reactions people give him. He claims that’s how he tests their character.”

“If this is just a way for you to say that the prince isn’t actually a bad person, I refuse to believe it.

“... He is a bad person,” he replied quietly. “His ill behavior has magnified since Ackerat sought to dissolve their romantic relationship. However, it is the role of both myself and Arbutus to ensure he does not get carried away. We will punish him accordingly when he falters, but you must always keep your guard up.”

The carriage crept to a halt. “Don’t worry about me dropping my guard. I’ll never trust the likes of him.” She also wondered what Beat thought of Rosethorn and why he had made the knight back down with a glare earlier. He seemed to be in an ill mood overall. Sybil was also desperate for sleep. Now wasn’t the time to ask.

“Do you require a few days rest before Rosethorn returns? It will allow you to do your work in peace.”

“I’ll be fine.” Sybil reached for the carriage door. “I’m not going to back down. I’m not going to allow him to bully me about as he pleases.”

Beat’s expression didn’t change. It remained harsh and distant. “Then I will assist you however I can. Goodnight, Twist.”

“Thank you. Goodnight, Alder.

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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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