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"C'mon, sir, it's gonna be great. We're going to have bar-b-q, beer, women, the game, we have a swimming pool, there's gonna be women there."

Marc sat at his desk attired in his utilities. There was a constant stream of paperwork and e-mails to be addressed while in garrison. He would prefer to be out in the field with his men, but he understood not every waking moment could be spent training. Currently his XO, First Lieutenant Jackson, was talking his ear off about the plans he and the other Lieutenants had made for the ball game over the weekend. He had spent all week trying to convince him to attend.

"Alright! If it'll get you to shut up for a minute, I'll go," Marc finally relented. He looked up at his officer, "Happy?"

"Immensely, sir, immensely," the other man had a wide grin on his face. "Now we got all the bases covered. Don't worry about bringing anything. We got the food, we got the entertainment, we got the beer."

"I said I was going! Stop trying to convince me already," Marc rolled his eyes. "And I know what you and the other Lieutenants call beer. I'll bring my own, thanks."

"Sure, sure, sir," Jackson continued as if he hadn't been interrupted. "Now the final point, and this is crucial, sir, is that the proper uniform of the day is civilian attire. I'm sure that if you press it out properly, that even you could manage that." He had a mirthful smile on his face as he teased his commanding officer.

Marc gave him a deadpan look. Jackson replied by mouthing the word "civilian" again. Marc pointed his finger menacingly at his subordinate, "Get out of here before I hop over this desk and kick you in the ass!"

"Right away, sir, right away," Jackson turned and strode to the exit of the office. As he passed through the entryway and was about to close the door, he opened up the door just enough to stick his head back in to say, "Did I mention some of my wife's single friends were going to be there?"

"Get out!" Marc yelled as he playfully threw his pen at the man. Jackson deftly ducked below the flying pen, and Marc could hear him laughing on his way down the hall even after he had closed the door behind him. Marc returned his focus to the paperwork on his desk as he absentmindedly swatted his hand at some annoyance.

 



"Well, there he is," Jackson answered the door. He eyed Marc up and down, taking in his khaki shorts with a neatly tucked in collared, polo shirt. He shook his head and tsked, "Just couldn't help yourself, could you, sir? Well, B for effort."

Marc reached over and cuffed the man on the shoulder as he chuckled. "I look great, and you know it," he retorted.

"Well, come on in, sir. I see you did, in fact, bring your own beer. I am offended," Jackson declared with his hand held over his heart.

He led Marc into his house and showed him where he could store his six-pack. He grabbed one and followed Jackson into the backyard where there were already a lot of people socializing. The other Lieutenants, with their wives, spotted his entrance and gave him a greeting as he made his way over to where they had congregated in conversation. Jackson or his wife had set up some strange blue banner nearby, but he didn't pay it any attention.

Marc wasn't typically one for social interactions. He wasn't shy or not confident in himself or anything like that, he was just perfectly content with being alone. As he was the only bachelor, his Lieutenants didn't see it that way. They were constantly inviting him over to one's house or another, trying to set him up with a "nice girl." He had never found anyone that really caught his eye, however, and he figured today would be just like any other day: enjoyable, but otherwise not noteworthy.

He was wrong.

The moment she stepped through the sliding glass doors from the house, he was spellbound. She was dressed in a modest, yellow sundress with flower patterns. Long auburn hair framed her face that had a constant sweet, yet mischievous smile gracing it. He couldn't take his eyes off of her. The Lieutenants shared a look between each other.

A cough brought Marc back to himself, and one of his Lieutenants said, "What do you think, sir?"

The conversation had obviously been continuing around him without his participation, and he was slightly embarrassed to realize that even though he had been staring, this new girl had actually joined their circle and had been there for some time, and he just hadn't noticed that fact at all.

"I'm sorry, what was that?" He turned to the grinning group.

"What I was saying," one of the Lieutenants began.

Marc cut him off. "What I think," he looked at the girl. "What I think, is that I never knew why they were called sundresses, but I finally figured it out. The radiance is blinding."

"Whoa!" the group exclaimed in surprise. Jackson had been in the middle of taking a drink from his bottle, and he choked on the beer and sprayed it out in a classic spit-take. Marc heard someone else say, "What happened to the Captain, and who is this?"

He only had eyes for the girl, and he noted with mirth that she blushed a lovely shade when embarrassed from a compliment.

And that was all it took.

 



Many different scenes flashed through Reivyn's mind, the first couple of dreams more crystal clear than they ever had been before. He was Marc, but there was always a nagging whisper in the back of his mind telling him this wasn't so anymore. He struggled to maintain a semblance of his identity.

It finally came to a head when a final dream came into crystal clear focus.

Marc was sitting on the couch watching the news. There were many hints of a happy family strewn about the room. Photos of Marc and Ashleigh, the girl he had met, together on the wall. Baby pictures of a boy and a girl. A clear cupboard filled with toys for toddlers.

He was expecting his wife to come in through the door with their two children in tow, but he wasn't paying too much attention to how much time had actually passed as he was engrossed in the current events.

A knock at the door brought his attention away from the pundits. He got up to answer the door, slightly confused, because he wasn't expecting anyone else to be dropping by.

A police officer stood on the porch, his squad car parked in front of the driveway. He had a somber expression on his face, and when Marc opened the door, he said something that Marc couldn't hear.

His vision was consumed by the giant blue box, inexplicably floating in the air with text on it. As soon as he focused on it, he was able to clearly remember seeing it in all of his other memories, but his subconscious had ignored it completely until now.

Helpful Hint!
You're Dreaming.
WAKE UP!

Reivyn shot up in a bed. His heart pounded as adrenaline coursed through his system, and all of the range of emotions he had experienced in his sleep slammed into him all at once. He shut his eyes tight as a single, solitary tear rolled down his cheek.

"Whoa, whoa, there," Brace called out to him from the side. "Stay calm. Stay calm. I'm here," he reached out and gripped his shoulder in comfort.

Reivyn shook off the last vestiges of the dreams as he reasserted himself. I am Reivyn. He finally managed to open his eyes and look around the unfamiliar environment. He was in a room very similar to the open bunk barracks, but it was a smaller room, and there were no other people in it. He looked over at Brace and gave him a nod to indicate that he was ok.

"Do you know where you are?" Brace asked. Reivyn shook his head, and Brace continued, "You're in the infirmary. What's the last thing you remember?"

Reivyn paused for a moment to sift through his memories. He opened his mouth to say his house in Virginia, but he choked on the words as he clamped his mouth shut. That's not right. He shook his head and was finally able to remember some things that seemed far away ago, now.

"The last thing... I got my new token, and I was heading out of the headquarters behind Corporal Decker," he answered.

"Anything else?" Brace prompted.

Reivyn scratched his head and then shook it. "I have this weird feeling that things kept going after that, but my memories just sort of fade to black from there."

Brace nodded his head, "Yeah, that's understandable. You got caught up in a hazing incident. Everyone goes through it, and it's usually not a problem. The older troops humble the new recruits and test out their abilities to make sure they can trust their back to them.

"That's not what happened to you. You got accosted by a real piece of work. A guy by the name of Ren, and he has an ego a mile wide. I can guess that he was expecting to put you in your place quickly, but with your Skills, you managed to put up a fight. If things don't go exactly how he expects them to, he tends to take it as a personal insult.

"He beat the hell out you, man," Brace explained to him. "Things got really bad there for a moment, and I thought Corporal Decker was going to stab him. He sure tried to. Knight-Captain Reifold intervened at that point. He resolved the situation and brought you here, personally. That was an hour ago."

Reivyn glanced down at his body, and then he opened his Status. He looked up at Brace with a confused look on his face. "I'm at full Health. It couldn't have been that bad?" It was more of a question than a statement.

Brace guffawed. "Of course you're at full Health. You had a Tier 3 Physician take care of you. He had you at full Health in ten minutes. You just took so long to wake up because your mind needed to catch up.

"Alright, take your time to get situated, and when you're ready, we'll head back to the barracks," Brace said.

"I mean, I'm good to go now, but I have a notification from the System that really wants me to look at it, so I'll just take a quick look and then we can go," Reivyn said. The little blue light in the corner of his vision was making itself known more than was usual, so he brought it up.

Skills Levelled Up!
Weapons Master (26 ->27)
Evasion (22 ->23)
Spatial Awareness (1 ->6)
Pain Resistance (23 ->25)
Mental Fortitude (20 ->25)
New Skills Unlocked!
Blind Fighting (1 ->2)
Iron Will (1)
Vitality +1
Combat Initiated.
You have been defeated by your opponent.
+0 Exp
Combat Resolved
+50 Exp
Level Up! Fighter Level 2!
10/200 Experience

Reivyn sat there in stunned silence for a minute. He finally looked up at Brace and said, "I got combat experience. I've never gotten combat experience from sparring before."

"Hmph! That's because it wasn't a spar, and even the System itself recognizes that. Typically, you only get combat experience if one of the parties involved has actual killing intent. That Ren's a right bastard," Brace made as if to spit, but he looked around at the clean infirmary, thought better of it, and swallowed.

Reivyn took that information in, and then he allocated his unassigned Stat points evenly between Strength and Dexterity. He glanced at his Status page.

Status
Name: Reivyn Class: Fighter Lvl 2 Age: 9
Health: 300/300 Stamina: 590/590 Mana: 260/260
Physical Stats Mental Stats
STR: 29 INT: 24
VIT: 30 MAG: 28
DEX: 29 CLA: 21
CHA: 3 PER: 19
LUK: 3
Experience: 10/200

"Alright, well, I'm ready when you are," Reivyn said as he swung his legs over the bed and stood up. Brace sprang up and acted like he was going to have to catch him, but there were no problems, and he finally relaxed.

The two left the infirmary, which was located to the side of the drill field next to the headquarters building, and crossed the open area towards the barracks. There were still many people out and about attending to their duties, training, or relaxing in their own way, and the bivouacked area had been replaced with rows of large tents. The levis were currently being issued their gambesons and any other gear they would need.

"So how strong is Ren, exactly?" Reivyn asked as they walked along.

"He was a Corporal before the Knight-Captain stripped him of his rank, if that tells you anything. Typically a Journeyman level in combat Skills is the minimum requirement before one is considered for promotion, unless there are mitigating factors. Like Corporal Pale from before. He has the Teaching Skill, so he was promoted to facilitate training others.

"Anyway, Ren was one of the top Corporals. Comes from a good background and had lots of training before he joined. I'm not 100% on the specifics, you would have to ask one of his old squad mates, but I want to say his weakest, main combat Skill is around Level 30, and he's a Knight, a Tier 2 Rare Class, around level 20 or so." Brace looked at Reivyn from the corner of his eye, "you never stood a chance in a real fight, and that's where he took it.

"For comparison, Corporal Decker's highest, main combat Skill is Swords at Level 28, and he's a Level 16 Fighter."

Reivyn considered that information as they made their way into the barracks. The squad all looked up at him and greeted him as they entered. They swarmed around him, asking if he was alright and seeing if he needed anything, and he felt genuine concern from his squad mates.

He spent the next ten minutes fending them off, letting them know that, yes, he was fine now. No, he didn't need anything. The other squad members resumed their card game as Reivyn took out the armor he had previously placed aside near an empty bunk before heading to the admin. He needed to return it to supply to replace with an actual form fitting set of gear in the morning, so he needed to clean it and make sure it was properly maintained.

"Yeah, so Corporal Decker was punished with five lashes from the Punishment Rod. It wasn't a public flogging, so he went straight to the Discipline Yard right after the altercation. He's probably getting 'comforted' by his girl with tender love and care right about now," Brace was talking about the punishments everyone had received.

Reivyn frowned at that information, and he felt a little guilty that he was part of the reason his corporal had been punished. He logically knew it wasn't his fault and that there had been nothing he could have done about it, but he couldn't help how he felt. Brace saw the look on his face and squeezed his shoulder.

"Don't feel bad, Reivyn. He knew he shouldn't have ran off like that, so it's all on him. He's not going to blame you. Heck, one of us should have gone with you guys just in case, and we were chastised for it as well. We got off easy because of how we reacted when we heard the news.

"Hah, and Ren's teammates have been relegated to professional crap shovelers for the foreseeable future. They want to act like slimy, spineless cowards, then they can join their kind in the pits.

"Now, you might think that Ren got off easy by just getting demoted, but for anyone in the know, we understand it's more than that. His uncle is some big shot in the capital who's attached himself to one of the Dukes somehow. I don't know a whole lot of the specifics, but as far as I'm concerned, he's just some fat layabout with a silver tongue and too much money," he paused to look over at Reivyn. "He's probably not actually a fat layabout, but that's how I think of him in my mind, because screw those guys."

His statements were met with sounds of approval from all around. Ren and his family were obviously not popular, but the topic about him was, and everyone seemed to be in agreement on how he was a scumbag.

"Now Ren, apparently, is the best talent they've had in the Combat Classes for as far back as they can remember. I know because he constantly brags about it. They were apparently grooming him to get some achievements in the military out here where there was less competition in the capital, get him ranked up to sergeant, which, honestly, could have happened in a year or so despite his personality, and then transfer him back with a commission as a Lieutenant. They were going to use both political and military exploits to finally try and weasel a conferment of nobility.

"Now he has to start over. Not only does he have to start over, but instead of smooth sailing ahead, he has to overcome the black mark on his record this is going to leave. Knight-Captain Reifold isn't one to meddle in politics, usually, but rumor has it that he's been unhappy with the way Ren has been using his backing to skirt the rules and pressure others, so he took this opportunity to not only hurt him and his family, but to also send a message. 'You're not nobles yet, and I can stop you any time I want.'

"Just as an aside, Knight-Captain Reifold isn't technically a noble, but he is a Landed Knight, and a Landed Knight currently serving as a commander is afforded the rank and privileges somewhere between a Baron and a Count."

Reivyn was listening as he worked. He was so engrossed in the conversation that he didn't even realize he was done with his gear, and he had just been spinning it around over and over looking for something to do with it. Brace finally waved him over to the little table of cards.

"Come over here, I'll show you how to play," Brace said. Reivyn smiled as he joined the others.


---


Knight-Captain Reifold sat at his desk going over paperwork. There was always a constant stream of paperwork and messages to be addressed while in garrison. He had just received the details on where he would be leading the troops and levis.

It was giving him a headache.

The mission didn't appear, on the surface, to be too complicated: Move to mountain range, clear out any threats, build road into said mountain range. But there were definitely more factors involved than the simple orders he had received.

First of all, there was an Orc encampment, according to the Adventurers who had been hired in the past couple of years to scout the area, at the base of the mountains. They had occupied an old, abandoned prospecting town, and to date they had behaved themselves, but everyone knew Orc encampments always eventually meant Orc raids. He had no idea how it had been over-looked for so long as to allow an actual camp to be built within the County.

Then, on top of it being an Orc encampment, they had a goblin slave army, because of course they did.

This was the "threat" so casually mentioned in the missive from the Count. Luckily, the numbers were on his side.

Lastly, the mountain range was on the border of the County, and it had never been properly defined in accordance with the neighboring County. And the reason it had never been properly defined was because of the propensity of some seriously high levelled ferocious beasts to take a stroll through said mountains. It was an ambiguous situation, and anything they did in the mountain range beyond the old prospector town could potentially be disputed by the neighboring Count.

In Knight-Captain Reifold's experience, anything that could happen, would happen, so he had that to take into consideration.

He had no doubts that he could accomplish the mission assigned to him, and it didn't look like a particularly difficult one. It just had the potential to be an annoying one, and he was sure it definitely was going to be.

He sighed, his face still ever a stoic mask, and continued with his preliminary plans. He would hold a meeting with the officers the following day, and then the relevant information would be passed down through the chain of command to the rank and file.

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Kyfe

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