“Alton? ... Alton!”
Sybil fell to her knees and pounded at the ground. He had been sucked below without leaving a trace behind. She pulled out her letter to see if Chickadee was the one who had grabbed him. Neither seemed to be in range. Her panic was only increasing by the second as she struggled with how to deal with this sudden disaster.
“Beat?!” A voice called out from the next hill over.
Sybil tilted her head so she could hear more clearly. “... Zaniyah?”
There was a pause before the other voice replied. “... Sybil?”
The two ran towards each other, nearly colliding at the top of the hill. Zaniyah wrapped Sybil up in a big hug while Sybil recoiled from the scent of sweat and musk. Running for several days had left Zaniyah reeking of… Progress.
“I thought you said you wouldn’t be gone for longer than three weeks,” exclaimed Sybil.
“It’s been over five weeks!” Sybil began to flail her hands about from the shock of it all.
Zaniyah blinked a few times. “... Did I mention that I got hit in the head a lot? Like, a lot, a lot?”
Sybil shook her head back and forth. “That doesn’t matter now… Alton suddenly disappeared into the ground. Do you think it was a mage or maybe Tyrtain is responsible?”
“Aaahhh…” Zaniyah nodded her head a couple of times. “I guess that would explain what happened to Beat.” Sybil stared at her like she was crazy. “He’s a vessel of Iath, which means that Iath lives inside his head and takes over his body sometimes.” Sybil’s expression didn’t change. “... I’m Iath’s chosen champion, and that means that-”
“The duel,” interrupted Sybil. “But that doesn’t explain why they would take Alton.”
Alton was there when Veximarl activated the golem that became Tyrtain’s new body. Did they take Veximarl too? She began to fiddle with her letter again. Hopefully, he didn’t vanish in front of Tish or anyone else who would be asking to many questions.
Zaniyah’s eyes widened. “Do you think Tyrtain would choose him as his champion?” She gasped with excitement. “That’s great! I get to beat up Alton and get myself a higher spot in the class rankings!”
Sybil let out a quiet sigh. Even if Stonetoe pointed out that Alton’s magic was the reason why Zaniyah was so low on the list, Zaniyah shouldn’t be focused on that now. They needed to know if their friends were safe first.
“Chickadee was chosen as Tyrtain’s training. Tyrtain kidnapped him a few days after you left.” Sybil’s hands froze up for a moment as he thoughts became derailed. “I think he’s safe, or at least he’s being treated well. It’s impossible to say for sure until we see him again.” She was worried about what sort of brainwashing Tyrtain could be doing down there.
“Sweet! It’d be weird if it was someone I didn’t know,” replied Zaniyah.
“It’s fine! Mart was that kid who was trapped with you last winter, right? Tyrtain kidnapped him too! There’s no way that Mart would let anything bad happen to Chi, you know? Also, when we were in Herring, Mart made a big deal about pointing out the fact that Alton was a siren. Sirens are probably important to gods, right?”
“Then it’s fine!” Zaniyah looked around. “... What were you doing out here anyways?”
Sybil straightened out her dress. It was one of the ones that Shaw had gotten for her when he had ordered clothes for both her and Zaniyah. Nothing as fancy as what she had worn in Carapace, but it was comfortable and it didn’t leave her feeling exposed.
“... Date,” she muttered.
“Aw, really? Sorry it didn’t work out for you,” replied Zaniyah. “You look cute though!”
“I suppose… We were only going to hike to the far training fields and see what sort of condition they're in. Lady Till wanted some suggestions on what sort of tests we should run for the upcoming entrance exams.”
Zaniyah patted Sybil’s arm. “That’s a bummer. Sounded like it was going to be fun.” Sybil nodded slowly. “Should we head back? I can wash off and you can wait for Alton. If he’s with Tyrtain, then Chi will find a way to let you know he’s alright.”
“... He would,” muttered Sybil.
“Then it’s fine! Let’s go!”
Sybil was dragged back to the barracks, only to be greeted by the sight of a traveling cart being loaded up. The sides of it were decorated with a cacophony of bright colors. Fresh herbs and meats were left hanging along the roof’s edges so that they could be dried out.
Duxton was standing next to it with Rosethorn while Shaw was loading up boxes into it. Buttonweed was also nearby. He wasn’t close enough to participate in the conversation, just close enough to make sure the cart would be leaving sometime soon.
“Sybil!” Rosethorn gestured for Sybil to come over. “I see you’ve brought Miss Krogastein with you!”
Shaw’s head immediately peeked out the back end of the cart. He didn’t say anything right away, awkwardly stumbling off the back end before approaching. Without a word, he gave Zaniyah a brief nod before looking around. His right hand was twitching, as though he were about to either draw a sword or throw a punch.
“Beat got sucked into a hole in the ground, but I’m pretty sure he’s alright,” said Zaniyah with a grin. Shaw was relieved by the news. “It’s awesome that you’re here to greet me, bro, but can I wash off before we talk?”
“... Yes. You may,” he muttered as a reply.
Sybil did a brief curtsy before Rosethorn. “Did Kingspaw receive a mission?” Duxton let out a loud scoff and began to walk away.
Rosethorn shook his head. “Only myself, I’m afraid. It will be some time before I will be allowed to return.” He gestured to inside the cart. “We have some matters to discuss before I take off.”
Sybil glanced over to where Buttonweed was standing. He was glaring at them. “... Alright,” she whispered. She then looked over to Zaniyah. “I’ll meet up with you after you’ve washed off. We’ll panic if we hadn’t heard back from Alton or Beat by then.” Zaniyah gave her a thumbs up and started to jog towards the dorms.
Rosethorn stepped into the cart and Sybil followed after him. He outstretched his hand and red lights blossomed out of his palm as roses began to blossom along the walls. Sybil looked about as she sat in a chair. She had heard that the traveling carts from the Clay Region were better than normal wagons, but this was like a luxury home crammed into a single, tiny space.
Rosethorn sat on the edge of his bed. “It’s a privacy spell,” he said as he gestured to the flowers. “It muffles our voices and makes it more difficult for others to hear us.”
“... So it’s for Paladin Buttonweed,” muttered Sybil.
Rosethorn smiled sheepishly. “He has developed a habit of intruding upon my business.”
Sybil frowned. “Is he the reason why you’re leaving?”
“One of the reasons,” he replied. “After I returned from my trip abroad a few years ago, I wished to bring new life to the discussions within Grand Temple. Hundreds of years had passed and yet it was the same topics every day. We needed to consider if our policies and beliefs still apply to the way the world is now. They replied that I was radical who shouldn’t be taken seriously.
I believe that Paladin Buttonweed was sent here to not only observe my interactions with Prince Duxton, but as a spy at Braytons. Several knights sought to go against the crown’s decision to conscript squires. Further proof that something is amiss here. Either I am not the only radical present, or Lady Till has no control over the rebels of this institute.
Yet despite what they may think of me, I am still an expert in the ways of mist and miasma. Thus, they have deemed it necessary to send me off to war. I will be performing necropsies on tainted beasts in order to find new ways to combat them, as well as hold other experiments. As long as the military is willing to bend a knee to science, I am willing to serve.”
Sybil looked down and began to fumble her hands together. “... I see.”
“I had hoped to ease you into the idea, but there is no sense in putting it off any longer,” Rosethorn muttered as he leaned forward in his seat. “I was the one who resurrected you after your death in Carapace.”
Sybil stared at him with a horrified expression on her face. It was Rosethorn, not Tria who had done it. That terrible incident now had a face. He was the man who chosen to murder Barcus without even asking her if she would be okay with it.
Rosethorn blinked in a startled fashion. “Ah, well… Where to begin? First the cadaver, which in this situation, was you, is purified with magic. Then we take the sacrifice and-”
“How did a necromancer end up as a professor at Grand Temple and the tutor of Prince Duxton?!”
Rosethorn was grateful that he had put up his silent roses. “After a somewhat complicated and strange series of events. I stumbled upon Shaw’s father during the war. He was attempting to rescue an aunt who had gone missing. Unfortunately, she had died, and he had no safe place to go.
I was a member of a group of necromancers who were sheltering paladins from the genocide. I took him to our encampment, where he stayed until the war was over. Trust me when I say that there is no chore greater than keeping a hundred or so paladins from fighting in a war, but we managed to do it.
When the war was over, he asked me if I was willing to live in secrecy in order to get an education as a ‘normal human’ at Grand Temple. I accepted, as I was a teenager at the time and my scholarly pursuits in the Clay Region were limited. A year later, I was asked to look over Duxton and claim that he was my younger brother.
Prince Wulfric wished to prioritize Alton’s claim to the throne. There were times when he was allowed to visit the palace in order to see his grandfather and Alton, but there was always a risk when doing so. I was Duxton’s primary caretaker until Alton’s expulsion. At that time, he left my home and began his education as heir to Lustro.
I would love to elaborate more upon my past, but my time is short. Paladin Buttonweed will no doubt seek to interrupt our conversation in due time.” He held out his hand. “I will need to check your vitals. During your revival, we ran into some unexpected issues. I was fortunate that Tria had taken notice of your situation and sought to intervene. Mister Tuton also did an exemplary job in your aftercare, however, I wish to see how your health is for myself.”
Sybil didn’t say anything. Her head was spinning. She held out her hand and waited for him to take it. Rosethorn closed his eyes as he checked her vitals. He smiled briefly before he continued.
“Did Mister Tuton ever tell you about the problems with resurrection?”
“Only that it occasionally fails and that my heart was having issues,” she replied.
“The closer the sacrifice is to the candidate-”
“Barcus,” interrupted Sybil. “His name was Barcus Vothar.”
“...” Rosethorn nodded. “An ideal candidate is someone who is of the same age, height, weight, and gender as the cadaver. Mister Vothar was of similar age, but he was male and the condition of his body was far less than ideal. He had a missing limb and several of his organs had suffered permanent injuries.
As a result, your initial resurrection had failed. As I stated before, Tria had taken notice of your peril. Whether you believe me or not, that is up to you. It is what I believe. Yet, despite our efforts to keep you alive, you were still left in a fragile position.
I was unavailable to assist you further as I had been called away to a knight’s meeting that morning. Duxton chose to exasperate your condition. Beat had no choice but to take you home, where you would have a better chance of recovering. We were fortunate that Mister Tuton was there to intervene and that most of our efforts were not wasted.
However, the point is, Sybil, resurrection has lifelong repercussions. Your heart is fine now, but it will no doubt worsen by the time you hit middle age. If you are careful about your condition, there is a good chance that you will make it to your forties or even fifties. I cannot say for certain that you will make it much longer than that. Once one begins to deteriorate, it happens all too quickly. Nor can the decay be reversed.”
Sybil straightened up in her seat. “I’ll only live until I’m fifty?”
“If you choose to stop active duty as a knight within the next ten years,” replied Rosethorn. “I’m optimistic that you’ll comfortably be able to do a decade of active service and have another twenty years of a calm life. A full life, Sybil. Fifty is a good age to go. There are plenty of knights who don’t even make it that far, considering the dangers of the profession.”
Sybil didn’t know what to say. She simply stared at him.
“I am telling you this now because you still have time to change your plans once you graduate Braytons. Visiting Engine’s Folly and focusing more on your tinkering talents is a fantastic start,” encouraged Rosethorn. “But you must remember that you have a disability now. Disabilities are not always as visible as a missing limb or mental rot. They can be internal. Whether it be a bad heart or a ticking curse, they are always present. It is best that you plan your life around it so that you are not left feeling overwhelmed later on.”
“... I see.” She was already overwhelmed.
“You are going to do something great with your life, Sybil.” He smiled at her when she blinked blankly at him. “Lady Lydia Larkin was a wonderful role model to have. As long as you live right by her, there are few ways in which you can go wrong.”
Though unintentional, his words about her mother made her feel a thousand times worse.
Rosethorn gestured to the door of the wagon. “I best be off. Once I am settled into my new post, I will send you a report of what I am doing. No doubt that there is much for you to be interested in. I’ve been very grateful to have you as a pupil. One who values the science behind my teachings over… At least I can say that Duxton has had his moments.”
“Right, uh…” Sybil nodded her head as she stood up. “I’ll look forward to it. Thank you for everything, Professor Rosethorn.”
Sybil didn’t want to thank him. She wanted to scream at him. She wanted to scream and cry and demand that he apologize to Mila for murdering Barcus. He had no right to gloss over murder as though it were as simple as cooking a meal. There was no excuse for him to tell her to take care of herself when the price of her salvation was too high of a cost for either of them to pay.
What about the disability that Barcus had? Not his scars or missing arm, but the rage that had corrupted his mind. Rather than give him help, his family had sent him off to war. He was just as much of a victim as Sybil was and he had every right to be frustrated because of it. Now she was forced to live on the scraps of his life essence. Inheriting a life of disability… Suffering that she would have to deal with by herself.
She walked about into a daze, nearly running into Veximarl on her way to the dorms. Without even thinking about it, she wrapped her arms about Veximarl’s waist and buried her face into his chest. He awkwardly patted her back as a response.
“... Are you alright?”
“I’m never going to be alright,” she muttered back.
Veximarl shook his head. “Nothing like a cup of tea and some conversation to ease your worries,” he replied. He then glanced over to Tish. “Apologies. I should deal with this. Let us continue our conversation later.”
“Of course,” replied Tish. “I’ll be quilting in the infirmary if you need to find me.”
Veximarl pried Sybil off of him and lead her to the dorm rooms. She clung to his arm as he did so. Even if thirty years seemed like a long time, it felt like she was dying now… No, it felt like she was already dead, and this existence she had now was as a numb lump of nothingness.
Though she knew the others would say that the best thing she could do with her life was to do some good with it, she didn’t want to feel all that pressure. Being at Braytons… She had been convinced it was about freedom. Instead, it was about giving up her choices.
Who to date, what to wear, even how long her hair should be. Her studies, her goals, they were all made up by others. Even Engine’s Folly. Rosethorn was the one who encouraged her to go. Sybil was never allowed to give her permission about anything. The only choice she had been given was to have no choice at all... And she was beginning to see how heavy her life had become because of it.