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A note from KellInkston

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Rayull nudges Vulrick and leans slightly as he sinks to the back of the walking line. “You lead forward, I’m going to have a few words with the new magician.”

Vulrick nods and pulls in a labored breath. “Rodger.” He sounds older, darker, as if his soul is as wounded as the rest of him.

Rayull foregoes thinking about Vulrick, and approaches the end of the line to Mullant, who’s taking up the rear, his multitude of bandages slowing him a good deal.

“What was it, again?” Law asks.

“Mullant Peretaine,” the mage responds with a grateful smirk.

“Thank you. How are you holding up?”

Mullant glances about in thought. “Well, sir. I’m sure I’m good for a fight, though I’m certainly not looking the part. I apologize for that.”

Rayull smiles, his reptilian teeth gleaming in the light reflected off the snow. “That’s alright, so long as you’ll be ready for when fight time comes.”

Mullant nods. “I absolutely will, sir.”

The group marches up the snow slope, the forest protecting them from the merciless sun. Bayl and Carl are at it again with their debate on which nation is superior, Awnway has taken out a small book and is looking to it off and on, and Bayl is stealthily peeking to read. Dresmond is quiet, focusing on the short sounds of nature coming from the wood, and Vulrick is marching mindlessly, dismissing all noise from his mind with the exception of his own breath.

“So where did you learn at? Cover magic isn’t very common,” Rayull asks.

“Like all good magicians I began at the Academy of Kanvane. Have you been-”

Rayull scoffs, and Mullant shakes his head. “I’m sorry sir, I forget about dragon-kin exceptions, especially a higher one like yourself.”

The Dragon-kin raises his hand as the human mage, assuring no harm was done. “Not a problem. My guardian tried to teach me, but it just didn’t stick. For all the years I’ve been studying the art of fighting, the best I can do for magic are some basic alteration spells, and that only interested me because it would make my gear feel lighter.”

Mullant nods. “So you learned it from your guardian?”

Rayull peers through the trees, an overwhelming feeling of calm washing over him as it does the majority of the group. “That’s right. A very, uh, eccentric learning environment. If it were any other race in that situation, they would be a master spell-caster by my age, I’m sure.”

Mullant shrugs. “Well, sir, we’re all different and beautiful in our uniqueness, don’t you think?”

Rayull shrugs. “In theory, sure. So, you started in the academy?”

“That’s right. Life was hard, which is strange to say considering I just sat around reading and eating all day, but it was all quite strict. Curfews at sunset, I couldn’t talk to any girls… or anyone my age for that matter, really. You also required at least a ninety percent in all your course studies or you’d be ranked down.”

Rayull hums in thought. “I hear The Academy has some fairly controversial ways of encouraging good marks.”

Mullant scowls uncomfortably. “I have a few friends that dropped to ‘D’ rank. The ones that still cared agreed to ‘extra credit’ experiments.”

Rayull looks away in some form of respect, and Mullant shakes his head- they both know how badly Kanvane treats its lowest classes, be they intellectually or economically.

“I’m sorry. Did any of them pass?”

“Thank you, and no. They all got out okay. One lost an arm offering to be an example subject for a lecture.”

Rayull raises a brow. “Could be worse.”

“Yeah, but most of those stories that have been circulating through the press are totally bogus. There have only been two break outs and not nearly as ma- Well, I’m getting off track, excuse me. Anyway, I stayed in ‘A’ long enough that I was given the opportunity to go to ‘S’ or go take a specialist tutor. I chose the tutor and took cover craft. It’s a dying art, and I think it would be great against our enemy that fights at a range.”

“You think you could make a cover that could take a cannon shot?”

Mullant smirks. “I know I can- I’ve practiced too long to screw up, and I’ve trained on all kinds of spells.”

Rayull gently nudges Mullant. “I look forward to seeing what you can do, then.”

Mullant shoves Rayull back. “Absolutely, sir. With the spirit of The Stolen King as my witness, I’ll see us all out of this warzone.”

“I certainly hope so.”

Mullant nods. “Thank you, sir. I’m confident that I’ll be a considerable asset to the team.”

The group, following the technical designation of the warzone line, exit the forest, and enter a vast, snowy tundra, in the distance, a great cathedral of smoke curls around a blazing castle. When climbing, they all assumed it to be a slightly grayer cloud.

“By the Realms, what in the One Million Hells is that?” Carl asks, staring out at the enormous keep wrapped in flames.

Mullant eyes widen and Rayull’s scaled brow furrows. “The damn easterners have snuck up here to get to the keep. They’re holding back on their firearms to avoid detection from the artillery mages.”

“Crafty little bastards,” Carl mutters. “Then how are they-” Carl stops, hearing a loud, maniacal laugh come from the keep, then a grinding, authority-commanding voice, carrying for miles.

“BURN, YOU LITTLE WESTERN RATS! THIS IS WHAT YOU DESERVE FOR DEFYING AN OVERLORD!”

Bayl reflexively leaps into the snow in some sort of semi-second effort to get distance from the keep. “It’s Chaos! We’re doomed! He’s going to impale us for eternity! He’ll throw us to the minions! We gotta get out of here! He’s go-”

“Bayl,” Carl says.

“What?!”

“Shut the hell up,” he says calmly.

Rayull spouts a breath of hot smoke from his teeth. “Well damn. Either an overlord just decided now was the time to get revenge on us, or Ulteria had the fine idea of hiring one.”

“P-please can we go? I don’t wanna die!” Bayl squeals, causing everyone to rethink their opinions on Bayl.

Carl sighs and looks to Awnway. Awnway looks to Rayull, and Rayull just shakes his head. “Chill out, Culiairty, it’s probably not Chaos- that tower would be a pile of rocks the moment he wanted it to be. It’s probably just some minor bastard. Hate doesn’t live far from here, neither does Crimson. We’ve kept tabs on them, and now it seems one’s gone too far,” Rayull says, peering out as Mullant steps up and casts a magnification spell.

Suddenly space is altered, and the group sees the tower appear larger, and more defined, as if Mullant created a smaller, hand-held version to be inspected in real-time.

Cet’s eyes flash in disbelief as Awnway raises a brow. “Incredible!”

Mullant nods his head about sheepishly. “It’s actually quite simple once you understand the trick to it,” he points to a sizable figure in the model tower, running around frantically stabbing through a crowd of soldiers. “Do you recognize him, Sir?”

Rayull peers into Mullant’s hand, and identifies the muscular, heavily armored monstrosity. “Yeah, that’s Crimson alright.”

Bayl trembles as he fights for breath. “S-so where’s the nearest outpost? Who do we tell?”

Rayull stretches his neck about and pulls out a chat stone, a small rock that has a matched magical frequency to a stone somewhere else- often used as a single-frequency two-way radio of sorts. Rayull struggles a second, but he successfully jolts a small spark of mana into the stone, causing it to glow with life.

“Signal Seven, this is… gah,” he draws back in thought for a moment, realizing that Coltairne didn’t even give him a callsign in his orders.

Dresmond clears his throat to speak. “We went by ‘Drake Four’.”

The dragon-kin nods. It’s not bad.

“Signal Seven, this is Drake Four, come in.”

“Go ahead, Drake Four,” a voice responds over the stone, producing a glow matching the syllables and volume.

“Put me on to General Leinhard. We have an overlord-class situation.”

Fuck. Yeah, okay one second,” the voice says with an immediately rushed tone as he realizes that this isn’t just a comms check.

There is a pause, the silence of the squad filled with the laughing of Overlord Crimson from a distance, and then there is a response. The voice is none other than Coltairne Leinhard’s.

“Leinhard here. You better have a good fucking reason for calling me up your sunnovabitch. Why didn’t you use the proper channels and go through your secondary company fi-

“The keep in midland tundra’s burning right now. Overlord Crimson’s the only enemy we’ve made out.”

There’s a long pause of exasperated breathing coming from the chat stone.

“Fuck… That fucking piece of shit. That’s still part of my fucking sector!” Leinhard hisses over his end of the stone between long breaths.

Rayull clears his throat. “Do you have an available slayer team that you could send out here? Any knights or mages?”

“No, would take too long; ‘sides most of the knights have been put on watch for Chaos and that bitch Love- Order’s team’s been chasing ‘em out off-realm I hear, but they’re screwing it up like you idiots love to do. There’s nothing I can do for you.”

Rayull sighs, massaging his face with one hand. “How about an artillery strike? We found a mage from another squad that could get you the coordinates.”

Leinhard laughs, causing an uncomfortable exchanging of looks between the group. “And waste my whole fucking tower?”

“It’s already on fire, sir. It’s going down. The question is if you want to kill an overlord with it or not.”

“No. If it’s just on fire, then that means it can be put out. Get in that tower and fuck the overlord up.”

Bayl falls over again, Carl’s breathing picks up while Mullant looks dumbfounded.

Rayull sighs, takes a breath, and speaks back into the stone. “Sir, with all due respect, we are in no way equipped for an operation of that cali-”

“What’s the matter? Big strong lizard can’t handle a little modified human?”

“With all due respect, sir, no. We do not have-

“You have soldiers. Now do your fucking job.”

Rayull struggles to stifle a hiss. “Sir, you need to-”

“And that’s an order. When you come back I’ll give you a medal or something.”

“Sir that’s-” Rayull stops, hearing Leinhard’s stone being shoved into a drawer and then what sounds a good deal like the general flipping a chair while he storms out of his command tent.

There is a pause, and then Rayull places the stone back into his in-armor compartment. “We have our orders, let’s go… kill us an overlord.”

Bayl instantly raises his crossbow at Rayull and Cet starts notching away to leave. “No! I’m not just going to throw my life away!” Bayl says, pointing his armament with a willful purpose.

“Of all the shit-” Carl leaps for Bayl, tears the crossbow away, and starts beating him in the face. Awnway and Dresmond pull Carl off Bayl, and Cet takes the opportunity to bail and run to the woods. They don’t have time for this. Rayull’s got to turn the morale around and get these kids in-check. He takes a long, certain breath.

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About the author

KellInkston

Bio: Hey, traveler!

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