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The group crosses a wasteland at the edge of the forest overlooking the Western Kingdoms forward camp, driving at Yarseld like a wooden splinter.

“Suppose we’ll be delegated to an offence team?” Dresmond, ever thinking, asks to Rayull.

“Most likely. They’ll be keeping us down on the reigns anyway,” he answers as they cross. “For all we know we could be reassigned or split up. You can never be too sure, especially with a commander like this.”

Stepping across the wastes to the forward camp, Cet looks aside with an intense gaze. Parts of the landscape are still on fire, and he has the privilege of seeing the lower plain’s very last tree fall from the damage done. The war machine of the W.K.D.R. made sure not to leave behind anything that might suggest even the smallest understanding of mercy.

Cet looks over to Vulrick, who sighs. “Yarseld is… well, was famous for their forests- it used to be that all the wooden crafts of the East would be made here in their workshops,” Vulrick says with a tone that is so dead, so cold, that it almost sounds devoid of pain.

Cet sighs and focuses his gaze forward. He’s sure this is hardest on Vulrick of all, seeing the land of his childhood get torn to pieces in front of him like this. “I guess this is what war is when it comes down to it- a culture’s killed with a people, after all.”

Vulrick answers only with a pathetic, bone-chilling laugh.

The seven of them step over the myriad bodies twisted, cut-down and burnt by sword and sorcery combined. A great fog rolls in; a deep, consuming blanket of unknowable illusion. The great spires of Yarseld become obsidian nails, piercing at the great grey expanse surrounding it. Every soul save Rayull feels a chill of awe crawl up their mammalian spines- another rare glimpse of beauty in their dark and murderous stations of life. A few minutes pass, and at the camp gate they’re hailed by a pair of Whihelmishian soldiers.

“Insignia,” the one to the right says.

Everyone takes a moment to display the military insignias of their unit, also marked with the crest colors of their respective countries. The left guard comes forward and looks through the names etched into the sides of the small metallic chips. There’s a pause, and then the armored man nods in approval.

“Welcome to the camp. Report to the main barracks and you’ll-” The man is cut short as a great explosion shatters the hearing of everyone in the camp. An eastern mortar shell’s been lobbed into the camp.

Cet inhales sharply as the camp looks up at the descending star of hell. “Wh-what the hell is-” Just as soon as Cet analyzes the threat looming over the camp, the mortar hits a dozen meters above head. There’s a brief flash of light, revealing a just-invisible barrier raised by mages to defend the camp.

Bayl coos pretentiously. “What, you actually thought Kanvanians would be okay with making a camp this close?”

Cet just stumbles over his words for a few seconds before responding. “Wh-wh-what the fuck was that?”

The left guard shrugs. “Some kind of gunpowder missile the East developed.”

“Probably stole it from the dwarves,” the right guard says, lazing by a flag post. The two guards share a quick chuckle as Cet shakes his head.

“No, I mean, what was the thing that popped up, the colorful bluish… clearish thing?”

The guards, Bayl, Mullant, and Dresmond all share a collective sigh.

“Is this kid serious?” the right one asks, lifting his visor and firing an expression with far more sass than is becoming of his rank.

Bayl nods. “Orphan,” he explains.

The guard scoffs. “Well yeah, but that doesn’t-”

“And a Rag,” Bayl adds with a wry smirk.

Immediately the two guards notch back in realization.

Gotcha,” the left one says with an “in-the-know” sort of tone.

Cet looks about in confusion- he quickly understands there’s something he’s just not in on. “No, really, what the hell is that… field thing that was protecting the camp?”

Mullant sighs again and Bayl scoffs. “You know, only the shields that protect literally every town and city in the West?

Cet’s gaze is indignant, but clueless. “Which are?”

“Barrier magic, idiot! Cover craft! The stuff Mullant does every day,” Bayl snaps with a grin.

Cet looks away in a mix of contempt and dejection. “Well Ragnivan doesn’t have one of those!”

“Yes it does, retard,” Bayl snaps, “you just don’t fucking pay attention in class!”

Cet scoffs defensively. “Joke’s on you! I ain’t even been to a class!”

Mullant coughs for attention. “You can’t blame him, Culiairty; orphans from Ragnivan really don’t get anything close to a standard education.”

Bayl draws back in shock. “Uh, isn’t that illegal not to provide an education? Like, I just thought he was super fucking du-”

A rigid nudge from Dresmond next to him shuts him up, but it’s too late for that. Cet’s looking the boy over with an intent so bitter that it could level a tower.

Amidst the awkward pause, the left guard redistributes the insignia with a nod. “Anyhow, you’re free to go in, report to the main barracks and you’ll be delegated to an attack team. I don’t know what you guys did before this but you’re definitely going to be kicking down doors tomorrow. Hope you boys are ready for a whole lot of bullshit.”

“Thank you,” Rayull says, returning the nod and leading the group into the camp.

The camp’s alight with the fires of multiple groups, Vulrick would wager the number of the camp to be at least three thousand strong, and with a multitude of wizards and royal knights thrown in. Fires are spread snugly together, with even more snug sorties of soldiers telling jokes, chatting, sparring, and firing the occasional distrusting glance to another from one of the other kingdoms making up the Defensive Republic.

Of course, the dirty looks between humans are a far cry from what’s reserved for dragon-kin walking by, and Rayull’s the only one he can see around.

Passing camps of side-gazes and hushed words he takes the group to the main barracks, a great, metal-stand tent in which the sound of ink on paper and conversation provides a busy ambiance. Rayull is quickly handed out stacks of papers by the little hands of a secretary: one for the officer in charge and six others to be given to each soldier. There’s a moment of paperwork and scratching in information, and just as he finishes, Rayull spots a certain fully-armored man in the corner of his gaze, but by this time, he’s already at him.

The man, about Vulrick’s height, leaps up to Rayull’s height and punches him square in the jaw. Seeing the man, Dresmond’s gaze sharpens with interest.

Always be readi-” the man’s interrupted by Rayull’s reflexive high knee to the man’s crotch. The aged voice of the man buckles in agony, only to spring back to normal standing a second later.

“Nice to see you again too, Nach,” Rayull says with poorly-hidden satisfaction for catching his dearest mentor right in the balls.

You-…” Nach takes a breath through his helmet visor, “you little bastard. You know I could’ve killed you right there,” he says, now having to look up to meet Rayull’s gaze.

The towering half-lizard lets out a sigh and a facetious nod. “I’m sure. But as you said, you’re supposed to go ‘all the way’ in combat. While you could’ve killed me, I definitely made you infertile,” he says with a put-own frown.

Awnway grins stupidly and Cet sputters air between his teeth.

As the squad exchange curious glances and Cet bluntly asks: “Now who the hell’s this guy?” he says with no small amount of admiration. It’s clear that a ballsy showing like that caught the kid’s attention. Nach takes a stand back with a relaxed smirk.

“So they have you out here doing dirty work, I see, and all these kids, too! What happened, I bet you got demot-”

“Nach,” a mage girl about Bayl’s age says, tugging Nach’s white-black sleeve. Her two ribbons curl in the breeze, and her mage regalia is flush with soil. Cet’s admiration transfers instantly over to her: he thinks she’s very, very cute; Bayl appears to hold the same opinion.

There’s an awkward silence between Nach and Rayull, both grinning ear to ear.

“What is it, Quoamay?” Nach asks with a sheepish, though doting tone, like a goofy father.

“I finished with the registration, can I go get some food now?” she asks, firing a single, wary glance of Rayull’s massive draconic teeth.

Nach takes a deep breath. “Yes, you may.”

“Thank you, sir!” she says sugarly, patting him as if he’s her grandfather and then rushing off out of the tent.

In the next moment, Cet and Bayl both BS their registrations and smash them into Rayull’s hand.

“Sir!” Bayl salutes professionally. “Permission to-… I saw her first you fu-” Bayl turns tail out of the tent behind Cet, who took the liberty to not ask permission and go straight to talk to the girl while on the way to the canteen.

Rayull and Nach watch the duo rush off, and Rayull looks back to Nach. “I got demoted?” Rayull says, putting stinging emphasis on the “I”.

Nach sighs. “They don’t much respect the loaned knights, obviously. They assume one hundred and forty three years battling asshole overlords in the service of the old kingdom is about equal experience-wise to the W.K.D.R.’s stupid six month officer program.”

Rayull shrugs. “Everyone that gets past one hundred joins the knights eventually, so obviously if you just treated the whole order badly, you’d make everyone else feel better that they won’t live to see more than one century.”

“That’s the life, but our age hasn’t ended yet, pal,” Nach says with a smile that no one else can see. “So I guess you’re in with the assault?”

Rayull raises his brows with a hint of obvious displeasure. “That’s right.”

Nach flicks up his visor. The kind eyes of a killer are behind them. “Chances are we’ll all be thrown into the same squad then. I hear they’re rewriting all the platoons for it. Maybe you can show me just how much that training’s paid off.”

“By slaying civilians?” Rayull asks with a tensed brow as he clasps Overlord Crimson’s wrapped-up head under his arm. As he jointly turns from the others in his group and shoos them away, leaving them to discuss things of their own or run off.

No one complains. They all know where they need to be, and they step along, some leaving with a salute, and others adding in the proper “by your leave”.

Nach squints an eye as he watches Rayull’s men leave. “Pretty sure they’re all evacuated- but if I find any I’m turning them right around to safety so long as they don’t fight. The brass in the D.R.’s acting like this is an actual war and not some joke. There’s a reason the West and East haven’t fought until now. If you ask me, the East thought they’d be stomped on up until they got those firearms, and only now that we’ve been culturally out of contact for this long did the brat Emperor somehow assume they could take us: doesn’t take much to get deluded, I guess. Now that the West has its excuse, we’re going to be merciless. That’s how it happened with your kind and all the others.” He explains this, slowly silencing the soldiers nearby as they listen in on the knight’s musings.

Rayull nods in a relaxed agreement. “This really is just another stain on the pavement for us, but this time it’s a lot more land. I knew it would come about eventually.”

Nach refocuses his gaze. “And why’s that?”

“It seems all your race is capable of is comparisons. With those big heads of yours, all we’ve seen humans do is beat out those who are different. It started with us “scales”, then the fairy folk, and now it’s down to country and race. One day I’d imagine humans will be stabbing and enslaving each other based on their eye color.”

Nach shrugs. “Not sure if people could ever be so stupid, but I’ve been wrong before, I guess. At least I’m not a fucking lizard.

Rayull and Nach turn in their papers, more properly delegate their soldiers to places where they can find them later, and then both step into the officer’s canteen.

They receive a slew of elitist looks from the other officers, mostly men of the long-running Ragnivanian warrior families, before the turning back to their food and drinks. Being royal knights, this sort of attitude is to be expected from the military community, but Rayull has it considerably worse as a dragon-kin, he could almost swear one of the other officers was offhandedly pointing a crossbow at him as they took their seats.

A waiter comes up. “How may I help… you gentlemen?”

Nach and Rayull share a playful glance as they scan the large chalkboard-menu next to the bar.

“I’ll have the Pasta Raymassen with the Spira-man-drin Amber,” Nach orders as he undoes the latches on his helmet to doff it.

Rayull slowly, horrifically turns his head about to look at her. “Your soul,” Rayull says with a ghastly tone, staring right into the waiter’s eyes.

The waiter turns tail immediately and heads promptly into the kitchen as she mutters terrified curses between her pursed lips.

The duo shares a laugh, and then Rayull laxes into his chair, arms swinging freely at both sides. “Right, so how long has it been?”

Nach shifts his eyes about in thought. “Five, six years maybe?”

“Sounds about right. Any promising new recruits?” Rayull asks.

Nach, one of the Royal Knight’s top drillmen and trainers, motions his head about. “Not really. No Meeo Letlinds or Veruse Stantwalds to be found. Last kid that had any real salt to him was a little Spirakandrin brat maybe a year ago. Polite kid, raised in Frau, actually.”

Rayull notches back in his chair. “Really? Wouldn’t be Dresmond Ulveroth by any chance.”

In a pause of disbelief Nach strokes the cheekbone next to his eyepatch- a habit formed in moments of shock. “You’re kidding! You know him?”

Rayull squints a scaled brow. “He’s in my squad. You should have seen him back at the tent.”

Nach stumbles over his breath before delivering a quick swat to his friend. “Asshole, you should’ve introduced us!”

Rayull just rolls his slatted eyes.

Nach stretches back animatedly, quickly returning to the previous topic. “So, you two were assigned together?”

“Not quite. I found him this time on the Midland line. Would have been dead hours later if I hadn’t shown up, I reckon.”

Nach hums with a dry tone. “This time?

Rayull nods, providing a dramatic pause before continuing. “You heard of that Liefland incident?”

Nach squints his one good eye. “That thing with the necromancers and fairies? Is that still going on?”

“That’s the one, and no. Dresmond was that one kid that’s still here. One got stomped by Oa, and the other got kidnapped by Chaos or something, we still don’t know.”

Nach is quiet a moment. “I heard rumors… never thought that Meeo would ditch the knights though.”

He draws back as he sees Rayull look to the table with abject disgust. “She must have hated this so much.”

“N-now no need to get hasty, kiddo. She’s… I dunno, maybe Chaos has a huge cock or something,” Nach says off-handedly, trying to think of the situation from Meeo’s angle.

Nach is not always very good with holding his tongue, especially when he’s relaxed.

Rayull’s gaze meets Nach’s incredulously.

What?

The drill-captain clears his throat awkwardly, avoiding the look from his old pupil. “Uh, no, nevermind. I guess she hasn’t told you about that side of her life.”

What side of her li-”

“Look, kiddo, I’m sure she’s fine. Don’t worry about it.”

Rayull leans into himself on the table bitterly. “The bastard did something to her, I’m sure of it.”

Nach nods, glad for the recovery from such an awkward blunder. “If anyone could enchant Knight Love herself, I’d imagine Chaos would be the one. He deals with spells every day that most folks in the Kanvane Council haven’t even heard of. I’m sure he’s perfected some kind of… brain, mind control thing against archmages by now.”

Rayull nods. “I’m worried, still. This has never happened before.”

“Maybe there’s just more for us to learn. As I said back when you were just a wee little lizard: your opponent always has something new to teach you. Fights are not simple displays of skill, but classrooms. The ones who learn the most, live the lo-”

“Your food,” a new waiter says bluntly as he places the plates before them, with a pint of beer for Nach and a glass of slightly-yellowish water for Rayull. The waiter steps off as quickly as he came, and it’s obvious to the two that something’s wrong.

Rayull sniffs his dish, appearing to be the same as Nach’s, just with a hint of shit. It doesn’t take a genius to spot that the glass of water also has a urine-like taint to it.

“Funny,” Rayull says, taking up to his feet along with his plate.

Nach sighs. “Hey now, I sure hope you’re just going up there to make them change it.”

“One way or another, sure,” Rayull says with a leading tone.

The dragon-kin steps up to the little window dividing the kitchen amidst glances and whispered insults from around the canteen, and slides the plate and glass up on it.

“Get out here and fix my food,” he says.

The kitchen erupts into laughter and a mug is thrown his way, only to shatter against the divide.

“ ‘Ow ‘bout ya’ get outta this canteen?” the head chef spits as Rayull’s waiter eggs him on. Rayull walks up to the kitchen door as the insults increase in decibel and variety, one unpleasant gentleman going as far as to insult the memory of Rayull’s mother in an incredibly questionable fashion.

“I suppose an introduction will be necessary,” Rayull says as he enters the kitchen and up to the chef, “I’m Knight Law of the R.K.O.K.R.. I don’t know who’s working in this kitchen but I can take an easy bet that your chain of command would be interested to hear about you mistreatin-” Another mug is flung from the group, this time it hits him right on the shoulder.

“Why don’t’cha jus’ go n’ off ya’sef? Cold bloodid peesa shit,” The head chef says with a confidant grin.

Rayull, more than three times the man’s size, imposes his body and looms over the little, angry man. “I suppose a reminder is in order,” Rayull says, noting several of the waiters and chefs taking up something to fight with.

Rayull cracks his knuckles and stretches his head about as if he were about to smash the impetuous gentleman’s head right into the counter.

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A note from KellInkston

Being a lizard man is tough out here, ya' know?

At least you can beat the goo out of anyone that looks at you funny; always a silver lining, I guess.


About the author

KellInkston

Bio: Hey, traveler!

Get the first book in Courts Divided for free here: https://dl.bookfunnel.com/lxsfw9icf9

Join us at the discord for fun, memes, and literary analysis! :
https://discord.gg/VmMdUA3

Thank you for your readership!

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