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I've decided to finally post some of my writing for my long-fought book series "The Iconar Collective." All feedback is appreciated!

Spoiler

Chapter I - Corrin

Third Firelight | Camp Ember, Ivinan

    Corrin hadn’t the faintest idea of which sword to pick.

    “We’re leaving in five, Corrin!” Dain called, shouldering his pack. “Hurry up and choose!”

    Should he go for that tall one? The wide one? Or those two curvy, small ones?

    “What’s that one called?” He pointed to the biggest one he could see.

    Dain grunted. “A greatsword. Good luck lugging that thing across the plains. Go for something more versatile.”

    Corrin kept looking. “I’ve fought with a sword before. Uncle Lars’s. But… I don’t know what kind it was.”

    “How big was it? What was the hilt size?”

    “When I was a kid I could fit both hands onto it. As a teen, about a hand and a half.”

    Dain eyed the greatsword. “Then why in tarnation’s fifth name were you asking about that monstrosity?”

    “Dunno.”

    “How long was the blade?”

    “Probably… I dunno. A little over a meter, maybe?”

    “Then you’re looking,” Dain picked one of the smaller blades off the wall, handing it to Corrin, “for a longsword.”

    Corrin took the blade, the weight dipping his arms a little. It wasn’t too heavy, though. “Really? I thought longswords were, well… longer.”

    “They can be.” Dain sheathed his own sword, which was shorter than Corrin’s, and could only fit one hand on the hilt. “Though eventually you come into the realm of bastard swords, and those are a whole ‘nother story.”

    “Language.”

    Dain gave Corrin a look. “Whatever. Let’s get going. No time to lose. You got a scabbard?”

    “I…” Corrin checked his waist, “no.”

    Dain sighed, then grabbed a sheath off the wall, throwing it to Corrin. “Put that on. Be ready in five minutes or you’re left behind.” He exited the building.

    “Thanks for the encouragement.” Corrin mumbled, but Dain was already gone. He set the scabbard at his waist, securing the belt with a quick knot. He sheathed the sword on his second try, then scanned the wall again. Feeling at his pocket, he was well aware of the five small, metal chips that resided within. The sword would cost him one of these, and the armor another three. The chainmail was light and (supposedly) strong, however, so he felt as though it was a good use of his Acquisition Chips. One more, however… what to spend it on?

    With a shrug, Corrin grabbed a dagger from off the shelf. He grabbed another smaller scabbard, hooking that on his belt and sheathing the blade. He straitened his armor, then stepped out of the building.

    Dain and the others were there. He didn’t know most of them; three stood chatting by a tree, their gear packed and ready to go. Dain stood by an archer, who haphazardly spun an arrow in his hands. A number of other soldiers stood around chatting in their own groups, making Dain’s squadron, in total, around fifteen or so people. The first out of all these people to greet Corrin, however, was the shadow of a hulking mass known as Garnell.

    “Aye, there we go!” Garnell slapped him on the back, sending a shockwave up to Corrin’s skull. “You almost had me for a second, lookin’ like a real soldier! Who knew a young townsfolk like yourself would be off fightin’ demons for the Silverclad Enclave, eh?”

    Dain looked him up and down. “Are you just going to wear that mail on the outside?”

    Corrin looked down at his armor. “What about it?”

    “It’s a little… homely.” Dain frowned.

    “He’s sayin’,” Garnell assisted, “that you look like a fish with those scales shinin’ out in the Airlight sun. Throw somethin’ over that or those demons will see us a mile away. Here! Got this for you.” Garnell thrust a bundle of fabric into his hands.

    “What’s…?” Corrin grabbed it by the edges, shaking it out into shape. It didn’t take a keen eye to see that it was a jacket of some kind, colored crimson red. “A… coat?”

    “Official soldier’s uniform.” Dain corrected. “You’re expected to wear that during inspections and when on-duty. Otherwise… I recommend wearing it anyways. They’re comfy.”

    Corrin turned it around to see the front. When worn, one side would be covering most of the other, buttoned up from waist to chest. The buttons themselves were silver; whether or not they were made of the actual metal was impossible to tell. He slipped his arms through the sleeves, which didn’t quite come to his elbows, then buttoned it up. The collar didn’t choke or bother his neck at all, sitting on his shoulders comfortably. He couldn’t see himself, but from what he could see of his arms, the red complimented the silver-colored chainmail well enough.

    Garnell nodded. “Now you look like a soldier!” He started, as if suddenly remembering something, then groped about his pocket. “Almost forgot!” He found what he was looking for, pulling out a slab metal shaped like a shield. He handed it to Corrin. “Here ya go. Soldier’s Insignia. Don’t lose it!”

    Corrin took the metal, looking over it. On the front lay the symbol of the Silverclad Enclave: that of three swords crossed each other in a six-pointed star pattern. Emblazoned over the top of the Insignia was the word “Soldier.”

    He simply held it for a time. “I’ve never held one of these before… my uncle had one, but I never…” He found himself at a loss for words.

    Garnell slapped his hand onto Corrin’s shoulder. “You made it, man. You’re a soldier now. You’re in the war. Try not to blow it.”

    Dain cleared his throat. “And that means it’s time for you to start taking orders. Gear up, men, we’re hitting the road!”

    Garnell nodded, passing Corrin his pack. It was large—bulky, to say the least—but it held everything Corrin needed for his time in the Enclave, from rations, to money, to a compact shovel for his time in the wilderness. “Throw that on” He said.

    Corrin did, though it took him a couple tries to get to his feet after stooping down to slip the straps through his arms. Garnell had his own slung lazily over one shoulder, as though the weight was barely a bother. For a six-foot-tall, heavy-built, bulky man like himself, however, it probably wasn’t. Across the man’s back lay a large, double-edged battleaxe, with the blades protected by a carefully-folded set of leather strips.

    As they began to set off down the dirt paths of the encampment, Corrin asked Garnell, “is fighting… hard?”

    “It can be.” Garnell shrugged. “You just gotta find ye’ own technique, y’know? For you, that’s dancin’ around, dodgin’ arrows and pokin’ people with metal sticks. For me, that’s yellin’ as loud as I can at the nearest convenient demon while waving my axe around!”

    “That’s because you have an… intimidation factor.”

    “Exactly.” Garnell nodded. “Oh, and always be sure to give Arman an offering before a battle.”

    “But Arman’s a Sunkane!” Corrin countered. “He’s one of those demon-gods.”

    “Demon or no demon, Arman’s a deity all the same.” Garnell hiked up his pack. “Viterans still have funerals—besides, he’s my Sona.”

    “You swore to a Sunkane?”

    “Fightin’ and killin’ things is kind of my deal, Rin!” Garnell replied, calling Corrin by his oft-forgotten nickname. “And like I said, just because he’s Sunken Deep, it don’t mean he’s one of them murderin’ demons. He was around before the war even started.”

    “I guess so.”

    Dain, at the front of their company, held up his hand for them to stop. Corrin peeked out from behind Garnell’s enormous figure, trying to spot what had caused the abrupt halt. They had reached the walls of the encampment, where a single tent was stationed just in front of the gates. A tall Silverclad Enclave Acquisition Agent, or an “AA” as he’d heard some other soldiers call them, was talking to Dain and simultaneously checking things off a ledger with a quill. He nodded a couple times, then waved for Dain to move along, turning to the next person in line: Teren, the archer.

    The AA continued waving people down the line, eventually reaching Garnell and Corrin. He looked to the large, axe-wielding warrior first. “Name?”

    “Garnell c’Arthur.” Garnell replied.

    “What materials have you taken?”

    “Just a good ‘ol leather cuirass and m’ axe.” Garnell patted the weapon on his back.

    “That’d be three Acquisiton Chips,” the AA looked up, “you got that much?”

    “Yep,” Garnell fished the three shield-shaped metal chips from his pocket, passing them to the AA, “here y’go.”

    The AA dropped the chips into a drawer, marking something off on his ledger. “Fighter Class, then?”

    “Yep,” Garnell nodded, “considered Heavying, but all that plate didn’t agree with me.”

    “I considered fighting, but all that killing didn’t agree with me.” The AA marked something off his ledger. “Move along.”

    Garnell scooched to the side, and Corrin stepped before the AA.

    “Name?” The AA asked.

    “Corrin. Corrin d’Regai.”

    “What materials have you taken?”

    “Um… a longsword, chain mail, wooden shield, and a dagger.”

    “All five of your ACs, huh?” The AA held out his hand. “I’ll take those.”

    Corrin placed the Acquisition Chips in the AA’s hand, retracting his arm, which went back to feeling at the pommel of his new sword.

    “You a Fighter as well?” The AA asked.

    “Uh… I don’t… know.”

    The AA looked up. “Hm? Oh, you’re one of the new guys, huh?”

    “Yep.”

    “Well… you’re not a mage?”

    “Tried once,” Corrin replied, “I actually have a Magilex, but I wasn’t any good at it.”

    “Okay. You’re not covered head to toe in armor, you don’t have a bow, and you don’t have a horse… so unless that sword’s purely ornamental and you plan on using that dagger as your primary weapon instead, you’re a Fighter.”

    “A Fighter I am, then.” Corrin agreed.

    “Right… Move along.”

    Corrin did, putting a little more pace to his step to catch up with Garnell, tapping him on the shoulder.

    Garnell turned to face him. “What?”

    “What’s… Fighter Class?” He asked sheepishly.

    “Oh, Class Identification?” Garnell replied. “Just an easy way to keep track of us soldiers, I guess. Fighters and Heavies in the front, mages and Artilleries in the back, right?”

    “Right.” Corrin nodded. “So if I’m a Fighter Class… what do I do?”

    “Oh, uh… well, fight, I guess.”

    “Where?”

    Garnell shrugged. “Front lines.”

    Corrin’s pulse quickened. “What?”

    “What did you expect?” Garnell asked. “Swordsmen don’t get put behind the spears; ain’t enough reach on those metal sticks. Besides, this is what you wanted, right? Killin’ demons face-to-face?”

    “I… guess so.”

    Garnell patted Corrin—albeit quite hard—on the shoulder. “I get it; war’s a hard thing. Just don’t stress too much about it until you absolutely gotta, m’kay?”

    “Okay.”

    The last of Dain’s soldiers finished talking with the AA, falling behind Corrin and Garnell. Corrin looked down the dirt road, then asked, “Where are we heading?”

    Dain answered Corrin’s question out loud—though Corrin hadn’t the faintest idea if his captain had heard him. “Alright, everyone! We’re headed out for the Broken Fields in southwest Ivinan. After the invasion just last week, I’m sure there’s still a bunch of wayward demon squadrons we need to take out.”

    Invasion?” One of the soldiers called. “What do you mean, invasion?”

    “Demons broke through one of Ivinan’s Parallarity Gates,” Dain replied, “and made their way into the Broken Fields. It happens all the time.”

    “No!” Another soldier called. “No demons have ever penetrated through our Midway armies!”

    Dain shook his head. “Do you really believe all that propaganda talk?”

    The soldiers fell silent, though a few started hushed conversations with their neighbors, talking about how demons couldn’t possibly break through Ivinan’s defenses.

    Garnell poked Corrin in the shoulder. “Did you believe the propaganda?”

    Corrin shook his head. “Of course not. Midway’s not a big place; it’s not particularly difficult to travel between one Parallarity Gate and another. Besides, Uncle Lars used to fight on the Broken Fields, and he had plenty of battle stories to tell.”

    “S’ppose you’re right,” Garnell replied, “he was a good man, your uncle.”

    “He still is,” Corrin said, “I think. Haven’t heard from him in awhile.”

    “And that… doesn’t worry you?”

    “Why would it?” Corrin shrugged. “He isn’t anywhere near dying of old age yet, and if something did make him croak, then he’s always told us not to be sad about it. ‘Just keep moving,’ he always said, right?”

    “Right.” Garnell nodded. “That’s all you can really do in war.”

    Dain cleared his throat at the front of the group. “Are we all just going to stand here and argue about our defenses or get going and be those defenses?”

    The soldiers nodded, some with half-mumbled approval, then began walking after Dain, who had begun leaving with the archer, Teren, in tow before the others had even replied. Corrin and Garnell, who were near the back, allowed the many anonymous soldiers a chance to get moving before they followed behind.

    “So where are we going?” Corrin asked Garnell. “On the way, I mean.”

    “Well, here we are, leaving Camp Ember,” Garnell noted. “We’ll probably take this road west down to Camp Thunder by the Red Valley Rift and rest up awhile before Dain gets us a mission to do.”

    “Camp Thunder… by the Red Valley Rift…” Corrin repeated subconsciously. “Does that lead us by Ivinan City?”

    “That it does,” Garnell agreed, “if we pass by at night, we’ll probably see the lights from the road. Don’t expect to stop there, though.”

    “I don’t.” Corrin assured him, but secretly he wished they would. He had been born and raised in Draycott, as far east as Ivinan went before the edges of the forest and the ocean; the most interesting place he’d been to was The Wetlands to the north, but then again, The Wetlands weren’t particularly exciting. It wasn’t uncommon for a merchant from Ivinan City or Lochdew, to the south, to show up at the village to deliver news of the war, but it was quite rare even among the local nobility of Neltundic Wood to head so far west. There wasn’t much in that direction; the canyon, The Stretch, the Plains of Glass, and, of course, the Broken Fields, just southwest of Ivinan. Nobody Corrin knew had been to the Plains of Glass, and while many people had seen the Red Valley Rift, few had any interesting tales to tell of it. The Stretch, according to any who had been there, was just a useless… well, stretch of desert. Lars had been to the Broken Fields, of course, but his battle stories were really the only interesting things he said happened there.

    But Ivinan City… the capital itself… every child dreamt of going there someday, with its sprawling streets lined by merchants selling exotic wares from the other realms, where nobody went poor or hungry even in the worst of times. It was even said that the king himself oft made an appearance, and every child he knew in Draycott knew that their status would instantly rise if they caught a glimpse of him.

    Corrin wasn’t a child anymore, though. Hardly, in fact; he was nearly an adult, just over a year off. However, there were some parts of a Draycott citizen’s childhood that never really left them.

    “So how’s the outside world?” Garnell asked, snapping Corrin out of his thoughts. “I’ve been off fighting in the fields for the last year, how’s Draycott? The mayor still his same old jolly self? The blacksmith still grumpy as ever? Has Philip still got his eye set on Medania?”

    “We elected a new mayor,” Corrin replied, “and Philip and Medania were dating last I knew.”

    What?” Garnell laughed. “A new mayor? Who could replace old Herbert?”

    “The blacksmith.” Corrin replied. “Herbert didn’t even mind; you know how much he hated responsibility.”

    “Well,” Garnell chuckled, “I’ll be darned. And Philip and Medania are dating?”

    “She asked him, actually,” Corrin replied, “not long after you left. They’ve been dating for nearly a year now.”

    “A year? But they’re older than you and me!”

    “Well, that would explain why I saw Philip hanging around a traveling jewelry merchant and browsing the rings before I left.”

    Garnell whistled. “Wow.”

    Corrin let Garnell work his mind around that thought for a moment, then asked, “so what about the war? What’s it like out in the field? Have you fought a lot?”

    “Nah.” Garnell shook his head. “Most excitement I’ve had were during mock battles back at Camp Ember. We spent most of the time trainin’; speakin’ of which, I haven’t the foggiest how Dain plans for you to catch up with the rest of us before we start killin’ actual demons and not straw dummies.”

    “Is Dain a good captain?” Corrin asked. “I mean, I met him when I signed up and all, but… well, people act differently in professional settings.”

    “Is he a good captain?” Garnell chucked. “The best! I swear to yeh, that man can see right through you.”

    “That doesn’t sound reassuring.”

    “He doesn’t exploit yeh weaknesses, though. He fixes them. If you’s a coward, he makes you brave. If you’s a weakling, he makes you strong. He gets to know you, too; probably the best way to rally yer troops is to know what they’re like, right?”

    “Right.” Corrin responded, nodding. He had studied tactics before joining the war; he was no stranger to rallying and the like.

    “He seems all tough and the like on the outside, but on the inside’s he’s a right good guy.” Garnell stretched as he walked. “Though I guess you could say that about any ol’ soldier from the Enclave.”

    “I guess so.”

    “Enough chatter, back there!” Dain called. “We’ll be practicing proper marching for the first stretch of our journey!”

    Garnell sighed. “Proper. Whatever; I guess we’ll talk later.”

    “I guess.” Corrin replied. He fingered the pommel of his sword once again, feeling at the hilt and crossguard subconsciously. It was no distraction, though, for the worries that he had just bitten off more than he could chew.

Chapter II

Spoiler

Chapter II - Aurora

First Waterlight | Parallarity Gate, Feylore

    “Here you are, young ’uns,” the driver said, opening the door of the carriage for them, “Parallarity Gate B, Midway. I suppose you can take it from here?”

    Aurora stepped out of the carriage, blinking at the sunlight. “Um… yeah. You just walk through it, right?”

    The driver chuckled. “I don’t know; I’ve never left Feylore myself, y’know. I s’spect they got people there to help you out there. You got your passes, right?”

    Lacy stepped out of the carriage as well; or, rather, leapt out of the carriage, ignoring the footstool that had been put in place to help her down. “Of course we do. Come on, Amy, we have a portal to catch!”

    “Slow down, Lace.” Aurora chastised, stretching a bit. “We still have to get our luggage.”

    “Darn it. I don’t suppose we could buy new clothing in Ivinan?”

    “We don’t have that much money.”

    “Amy, it’s an all expenses paid internship!”

    Aurora shook her head. “They don’t pay for souvenirs. Besides, all the good clothing is sold in Ivinan City, and we won’t be anywhere near there.”

    Lacy huffed, rolling her eyes. “Whatever. I’ll go grab my luggage.” She turned around to fetch her case, but the carriage driver stopped her.

    “Don’t worry, young ‘uns, I’ll take care of that.” The driver flipped open the back compartment of the carriage, then grunted as he lifted out one of their trunks. “Oof, what do you have in here?”

    “Well… everything we own, I guess.” Aurora replied, moving to help him. “Are you sure you got that, sir?”

    The driver chuckled. “You think that just because I’ve put on a few years I can’t handle a heavy sack? Nah, girls, I’m tellin’ you; I got a dwarven blood in me somewhere.” He grunted as he set the case on the ground. “The real question is, are you going to be able to handle that?”

    “Easy.” Aurora replied, grabbing one end of the case. Lacy picked up the other. “It’s pretty easy to lift with two people.”

    The driver nodded, then removed his hat and held it out. “Would either of you be kind enough to leave a tip?”

    “Oh, uh…” Lacy patted down her pockets, pulling out a single silver crescent. “This is all I have on me. I hope it’s enough…?” She dropped it in his hat.

    The driver replaced his hat. “It’s always enough, young ‘un. Just a humble carriage driver, y’know.” He nodded to himself. “So you got parents waiting on the other side?”

    “Oh, we don’t… have parents.” Aurora answered.

    The driver’s brow sank downwards in pity. “You don’t?”

    “We grew up in the Feylore orphanages together.” Lacy replied.

    “Oh, my… so that’s really all you have.” The driver gestured to their case, then quickly removed his hat. “I shouldn’t have asked you for any money. Here, you take this back—”

“No, that’s alright!” Aurora interjected. “We’re not poor or anything. Just… frugal.”

    “I… see.” The driver replaced his hat. “Well, if there’s anything else I can do for you two…”

    “I don’t think there is,” Lacy replied, “but thank you.”

    “Then I’ll be on my way, then.” The carriage driver pulled himself back up onto his seat, then flicked his horse’s reins and wheeled the creature around. “It’s been a pleasure serving you two; Icona bless you, and good luck in Midway!” With those final words, he was gone.

    Aurora and Lacy began half-carrying, half-dragging their shared belongings through the crowded Parallarity platform. The gate itself was halfway up the mountain, but the masses of people waiting for passage began all the way down at the foothills. Thousands of stairs spiraled up the mountainside towards the cave at the top, where the Parallarity Gate resided. Having passed a series of arcane tests in Feylore had granted them guaranteed access to and from Midway for their internship; a good thing, too, as the Gate was only open for the day, and if you didn’t make it in time, you had to wait for a month or two before it reopened.

    The carriage that the Feylore Hierarchy had granted them had deposited them not far from the top, thank goodness; Aurora couldn’t fathom how long it would take the two of them to reach the Gate from the bottom whilst awkwardly lugging their belongings between themselves.

    Aurora was perfectly content to look around in silence. Lacy, however, had other ideas.

    “We could’ve gotten out money back.” Lacy said. “From that driver. Why didn’t we?”

    “Because we’re nice.”

    You’re nice,” Lacy replied, “I’m a jerk.”

    “You’re not a jerk!” Aurora sighed. “For the last time, the only person you’re ever mean to is yourself.”

    Lacy adjusted her grip on the case. “That’s because I’m a jerk.”

    “To yourself, nobody else.”

    “We could keep going in circles, couldn’t we?” Lacy stretched her free arm. “Let’s just get up this darned staircase and then argue.”

    “Agreed.”

    They ascended the remainder of the stairs in silence, broken only by the chatter of the hundreds of people climbing alongside them, or the occasional grunt as they struggled to lift the case over a number of obstacles in their way. The stairs grew more crowded as they neared the top, beginning to fill out with traveling merchants, beggars, and campers awaiting their turn to enter the Parallarity.

    “You have our pass, right?” Lacy asked.

    “Of course I do,” she replied, patting at it in her pocket, “right here. What, did you think I’d lose it?”

    “I mean, your reputation with pens back at the orphanage was rather impressive.” Lacy replied. “You even managed to lose one that was sitting right behind your ear.”

    “In my defense, it was a very slippery pen.” Aurora grunted as they had to lift their luggage over an inconvenient large rock. “And also less talk, more luggage lugging.”

    “More luggage lugging.” Lacy agreed. They ascended the remainder of the path in silence, but evidently that didn’t take very long, as the two of them bumped right into a tall, elven security guard within just minutes.

    “Halt,” the guard said, stooping down a little to come to eye level with them, “do you have your pass?”

    “Yeah.” Aurora fished through her pocket, grabbing a bundle of folded papers and handing them to the guard. “Right here.”

    The guard looked them over. “Aurora and Lacy… no last names? Ah, you came from the orphanage district. So you don’t have any parents here? Any guardians?”

    Aurora shook her head. “No.”

    “Sorry to hear that. I can get you a supervisor to go with you through the gate—”

    “No, that… won’t be… necessary,” Lacy interjected, “we’re fine on our own.”

    The guard raised an eyebrow, but didn’t question them. He continued leafing through the papers. “Alright, so I can get you an entrance in… ah, two weeks? Next passing if I pull the strings.”

    “We have an immediate entry pass…” Aurora patted down her pockets, but found nothing, “Lacy, do you have it?”

    “Would you really trust me to keep track of something as important as our tuition pass?” Lacy scoffed. “No, but I’ll check.” She rummaged through her own pockets—not a long ordeal, but nerve-wracking nonetheless—and came up empty. “I don’t have it.”

    “What?” Aurora considered going through their luggage, but then remembered, “oh, no… we left it in the carriage.”

    Lacy dropped her side of the case. “Are you sure?”

    “Positive.”

    Lacy sat down on the case, releasing a massive sigh. “I knew it was too good to be true. Going through the Parallarity, seeing Midway, learning Arcana in Ivinan.”

    The guard cleared his throat. “Do you… not have your pass with you, then?”

    “We did!” Aurora yelped. “But we… don’t.”

    “Could you let us in?” Lacy asked. “Please? Surely we’re on the roster or something?”

    “There are two people scheduled for immediate entry,” the guard said, “but without a pass, I’m not legally allowed to let you through.”

    “Please?” Lacy begged. “This might be our future.”

    The guard raised an eyebrow, then looked around. He leaned down back towards them, then said in a low tone, “Listen, guys, I can’t get you immediate entry, but there are a few people who haven’t come in today. I’m supposed to fill their spots with the next available group, but I can clear one of them for you two. It’ll be late tonight, though, during Waterlight.” The guard stands up. He cleared his throat and deepened his voice. “I’m sorry, girls. No pass, no entry.” He winked, then scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to them. “Good luck.” He whispered.

    Lacy snatched the paper, pocketed it with some impressive finesse, then stood up and grabbed her end of the case. They left the guard, weaving through the masses of people, fey and human alike.

    Aurora gestured Lacy towards an empty bench along the platform, on which they both sat with a tired sigh. After catching their breath for a second, Lacy pulled the paper out of her pocket and read what had been written on it out loud.

    “Parallarity Gate Entrance F,” Lacy read, “give this to the man there at Third Waterlight. Signed: Artus o’Carther.”

    “Sounds like something someone would get in a book,” Aurora remarked, “not real life.”

    “Cool!” Lacy exclaimed, not to Aurora’s surprise. “Do we get to go undercover? Do we get to wear disguises?”

    “More likely we just don’t say anything and get to go to the Academy of Arcana in Ivinan,” Aurora replied, “which is our initial goal, remember?”

    Lacy sighed, then pocketed the note. “Fine, but I don’t fancy the idea of sitting outside during Waterlight.”

    “It’s not like it’ll be a new experience,” Aurora replied.

    Lacy sighed again. “I suppose you’re right, of course. I just don’t like the rain.”

    “Then I recommend we go find some shelter,” Aurora said, “and maybe some food.”

    “Always you and the food, Amy.”

    “What? I’m hungry.”

    “When are you not?” Lacy’s stomach betrayed her, however, releasing a loud growl that probably could’ve been heard for miles. “But I agree. Any of those vendors look interesting?”

 

 

    “You’d best be finding shelter soon, dears.” An aged flatbread vendor woman said. “Waterlight’s coming soon, and my bones tell me it’s going to be a big storm tonight.”

    “We have shelter,” Aurora lied, “we just need food.”

    “Why, you don’t want to pay for anything Old Martha’s selling today, dears,” she replied, “it’s all old and crusty; cold, too. Here, you can get some of this morning’s bread for free.” She handed them some bread wrapped in a towel.

    “Really?” Lacy asked, taking one the towels.

    “Like I said, it’s all cold and crusty.” The woman handed Aurora a towle. She took it, but it was most certainly warm.

    “Thank you,” Aurora said, “we should probably get going now; take cover from the rain.”

    “Of course, dears, and good luck going through the Parallarity Gate!” The vendor woman looked up to the sky, frowning as the storm clouds started to gather. “Good luck indeed.”

    Lacy left the vendor first, Aurora not far behind. The platform had become gradually less crowded as the day had worn on, and by now they could see just about anywhere around the gate. The platform itself was about two or three hundred meters in diameter, all made of a cement mix found only in Feylore. The platform was built partially inside the mountain, where a large building mostly obscured the Parallarity Gate. Several trees stood tall and proud within their artificial planters; Aurora sat down beneath one of these, Lacy next to her.

    “You said we had shelter,” Lacy said, “but we don’t.”

    Aurora gestured to the tree about them. “Tree,” she said simply.

    “No tree is going to protect us from the rain.” Lacy chastised. “You could’ve at least told that lady the truth.”

    “She was nice enough to give us free food; I didn’t want to bother her any more than that.”

    “How do you know she was nice?” Lacy asked. “She probably wanted something.”

    “If she had wanted something, she would’ve charged us.” Aurora sighed. “You know, there are nice people in this world.”

    “Yeah, I know.” Lacy counted on her fingers, displaying all but her thumb on one hand. “At least four. You, the driver guy, that guard, and that lady.”

    “You’re forgetting yourself,” Aurora replied, “you’re nice.”

    “Only when I feel like it.”

    “I might actually agree with that.”

    Lacy laughed, and the two of them fell into silence. Aurora took a bite out of her bread; it was even warmer on the inside, which only made her feel worse about taking it for free. It was good, though, so she finished it even faster than Lacy did; a rare occurrence during most situations. Lacy finished hers soon afterwards, but immediately took to scanning the skies the second she was done. Maybe five minutes later, the first raindrop of Waterlight dropped nearby, followed by a series of others. Soon, droplets were falling through the branches of the trees, and splattering either next to them or on them.

    As the rains began to intensify, Aurora opened up their case of belongings and removed one item: a waterproof blanket, draping it on top of the case to protect it from the rains. She then sat back against the trunk of the tree, hoping that the crisscross of branches over their heads would be more compact near their point of origin. Lacy scooted back to sit next to her, hugging her knees up against her chest and resting against the trunk. Sooner rather than later, the rains had turned to torrents, splattering down on top of both Aurora and Lacy.

    “Icona, I hate Waterlight.” Lacy decided, shivering. “So cold…”

    Aurora nodded in agreement. She had tucked her feet beneath the waterproof blanket that they had covered their belongings with, but that only did so much for her against the downpour. She hugged her own chest, short sleeves leaving her arms bare past the elbows to catch the cold droplets with nothing but skin. The tree did little to protect them.

    Along the Parallarity platform, people ran left and right for cover. The merchants had put up awnings and tarps to protect their stalls from the rain, while still others unfurled umbrellas to protect themselves from the torrents. None took a second glance at the two teenage girls huddled beneath a tree, holding each other for warmth from the downpour and waiting for Third Waterlight to be out of the cold. Neither Aurora or Lacy needed that, though. They had each other—they had always had each other.

    And they had never needed anything else.

Chapter III

Spoiler

Chapter III - Dainspeech

Second Waterlight | The plains, Ivinan

    After traveling for what felt like forever—though it couldn’t have been longer than a few hours—Dain had taken Corrin and the other soldiers to a set of large, interconnected tents along the road to the Broken Fields. They did not completely protect them from the rains, but kept them mostly dry nonetheless. Corrin was content with this, but his captain was not.

    “Look at the state of this place!” Dain was gesturing to a tear in the side of a tent. “They call this place a camp, and it doesn’t even keep us dry!”

    “Is he always like this?” Corrin whispered to Garnell.

    “Well, yes and no.” Garnell seesawed his hands. “There are a number of factors that go into his occasional grumpiness. Usually, it has somethin’ to do with his bein’ tired and a lack of quality in the place where he’s supposed to sleep.”

    Dain turned his eye on Garnell. “Is there a problem?”

    Garnell laughed. “No problem. Corrin’s just complaining about you.”

    “I’m not… complaining.” He turned to face Dain, who had raised an eyebrow.

    “What’s the problem, soldier?” Dain asked.

    “I, uh…”

    “Speak up so I can hear you.”

    Corrin cleared his throat. “I, well… don’t you think you’re being a little nitpicky?”

    Any quiet conversations that had been filling the background silence before were suddenly hushed as several soldiers looked over at Corrin, faces a mixture of disbelief, amusement, and interest. Corrin felt his own fingers tug towards the sword at his side, but he managed to reassure himself that he would not be needing it.

    “Perhaps,” Dain replied, “but answer me this, Soldier Corrin. In the case that a massive army of demons assault the walls about Ivinan City, and said walls have to hold out for exactly three days before reinforcements from Camp Ember arrive, then what would make the difference between invasion and not? There are no stronger defenses in the Iconar Collective than that of Ivinan City’s mighty barricades, but even the impenetrable can become penetrable if there is but one weakness in them.

    “Even the smallest crack, the tiniest nesting hole, could be enough to allow the walls to come crashing down in the case that a Decayer manages to strike the perfect spot. It may be nitpicky, Soldier. Perhaps eyeing every mishandled stitch in the fabric of this tent is unnecessary for the purpose it provides, but if the smallest break in your shield there is enough to let one of those denizens of Sunken Deep pierce through your own defenses and cut out your heart on the end of its spear, then I strongly suggest that you patch it up.”

    With that, Dain left the tent, stepping out into the rains of Waterlight for what reason Corrin could not tell.

    To Corrin’s left, Garnell was whistling quietly. “Well, well,” he said, “Mareth, how long was that?”

    One of the spearmen, lanky, sword-wielding, and wearing a purple coat that signified him as a Striker—the rank above Soldier—tapped the table a couple of times, running something through his mind, before replying, “five, I think. Recruited early Third Firelight, its early Second Waterlight… that makes five hours. New record.”

    Garnell and some of the other soldiers burst out laughing, though the axe-wielding man to Corrin’s left was certainly the loudest. Corrin frowned, unsure how to react.

    “I’m sorry, lad,” Garnell said, managing to contain his laughter, “We haven’t gotten a tenacious soldier like yourself in ages! Five hours. Icona, it took me three days!”

    “What in Sunken Deep’s demons are you talking about?” Corrin demanded.

    “Dainspeeches!” The soldier called Mareth replied. “What you just got was a Dainspeech. Whenever you ask him a question that digs even the tiniest bit under his skin, he’ll hit you full in the face with all the military knowledge his time in the Enclave has given him over the years. Everybody gets one eventually, so we time how long it takes for each new recruit to get their first,” he chuckled a little, “and you just blew the record away like a dead leaf at Second Airlight.”

    “What was the… previous record?” Corrin inquired, still confused.

    “One day, seven hours.” Another soldier said. He was tall and thin, with the most angular face Corrin had ever seen. He also wore a Striker’s uniform. Corrin’s eyes, however, were immediately drawn to a large red birthmark just underneath his eye. “To me.”

    A completely identical soldier—minus the birthmark—frowned. “Um, no, it wasn’t to you, Iolar, it was to me.”

    “Shut it, Quarden.”

    “Twins?” Corrin whispered to Garnell.

    “Twins.” Garnell replied at an equal tone, nodding. He then raised his voice and called, “wasn’t it to both of you?”

    “I was talking to Dain first!” The one with the birthmark—Iolar—said.

    “Yes, but I was talking to him before he started.” The other one—Quarden—replied. “So I’m the most likely candidate.”

    “What were you even talking about?” Corrin asked.

    “Oh, uh…” Iolar frowned. “Good question.”

    “Something about science.” Quarden said, tapping his chin.

    Mareth sighed. “Dain was talking about plants or whatever and how heat made them grow? And then you two interrupted him and talked about photosync or something.”

    “Photosynthesis!” Quarden replied. “And yes, now I remember. He told us that it didn’t matter what your enemy ate for breakfast that morning, your sword was still gonna cut them up.”

    Then we cut him short by correcting him and telling him that we were not, in fact, using swords—”

    “And, rather, a couple pokey polearms.” Quarden nodded. “Those were good times!”

    “Then he assigned you to latrine duty for three days.” Mareth recalled.

    “We asked him if what your enemy ate for breakfast mattered for what left them over the chamber pot.” Iolar laughed.

    “And then he extended our duties to a week.” Quarden concluded.

    Corrin blinked. “That… was a story.”

    “By the time we’re countin’ the minutes until the next recruit’s Dainspeech, you’ll have a few of your own to tell.” Garnell assured him. “Aye, but you gotta meet everyone, though! No reason to be left out just because you’re new; your first Dainspeech is basically your initiation to the group.

    “This here’s Mareth,” Garnell said, gesturing to Mareth, who waved hello, “fellow Fighter Class to you and me. Almost as reckless as I am! Always gettin’ himself hurt.”

    “I do not!” Mareth interjected. “Always get myself hurt.”

    “And your nineteen battle scars?” Garnell asked. “Including the one you managed to get underneath your—

    “Okay!” Mareth yelped, “so I’m a little… tolerant of pain.”

    “I think you’re just crazy.”

    “To each their own.” Mareth decided.

    Garnell took that as an excuse to move along the introductions, gesturing at the twins. “Iolar and Quarden. Spearboys.”

    “Spearmen.” Iolar corrected.

    “Spearman.” Quarden said. “Iolar here’s just a spear.”

    “You’ve basically met ‘em already.” Garnell admitted. “Ain’t much underneath the surface there.”

    “There’s plenty of us underneath the surface!” Quarden countered. “Bones, blood, those muscley things—”

    “You mean muscles?”

    “Yeah, muscles.” Quarden replied. “Okay, so there isn’t much of us beneath the surface.”

    “Speak for yourself.” Iolar said. “I’m basically a genius.”

    Quarden and Garnell both snorted near simultaneously, the second scoffing, “genius. I’d sooner believe that Corrin was a Channelknight!”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” Iolar asked.

    “I think what Garnell’s trying to say,” Corrin replied, “is that he thinks you’re an idiot.”

    Corrin expected some rebuke there, but instead everyone inside the tent burst out laughing—Iolar included. Garnell was louder than the others, gesturing weakly at Corrin and saying “you pick up fast, lad!”

    Corrin frowned. “What?”

    Garnell patted him on the back—slapped him, really. “You’re gonna fit right in, lad.”

    “Good to… know.” Corrin replied, still confused.

    The others stopped laughing, and Garnell continued introducing him to the many soldiers and strikers by whom he was surrounded. “That there’s Teren, Dain’s brother or summat. He won’t actually tell us.”

    “That’s because you don’t need to know.” Teren replied. He did share some resemblance with Dain, but not a lot. Across his back was a quiver and a bow, and in his hands was one of his many arrows.

    Garnell, evidently content with Teren’s reply, pointed to another person. “That there’s John, our heavy-armorer. Only guy on the crew with an axe bigger than mine! And here you have Uia. He’s our mage; Water Arcana, mostly. Kent here’s our only cavalry, but that’s okay; you don’t usually find anyone on horseback for in a single squadron.”

    John was possibly even taller than Garnell, and definitely larger around. His arms were thick and covered in tough-looking muscles. Despite his intimidating demeanor, he seemed nice enough, exchanging in pleasant (albeit short) conversation with Corrin. Uia didn’t speak much, claiming that he was “not good with people” when Corrin tried to talk to him. Regardless, the short, possibly gnomish man wore the white-and-blue robes of a Master Water Mage, so Corrin had reason to respect him. Kent was staring off into the distance when Corrin introduced himself, and barely spoke a word other than “that’s okay” or “I see,” thoughts obviously far, far away from the matter at hand.

    Apparently, those three soldiers along with the strikers Iolar, Quarden, Mareth, and Teren served as Garnell’s close confidantes within the squadron. There were some other soldiers, but they largely kept to themselves. All of these carried spears, except one, who had a couple handaxes strapped to his belt.

    “So… four fighters, nine spearmen, two artillery, one mage, one heavy armorer and a cavalier?” Corrin asked, trying to remember everyone’s specialities. “What about rogue class? Infiltrator?”

    “You been studyin’ the Ideal Squadron things?” Garnell asked. “Aye, that’s right lad. A good squadron’s got mostly spears, with some fighters up front, a heavy-armorer somewhere between the pikes and the swordsmen, an artillery and a mage or two, and an infiltrator. We’ve got most of those, plus a cavalier, but you’re right in sayin’ that we don’t got any rogue on our team. That’s fine, though; not all squadrons are ideal. Icona, most aren’t as good as ours!”

    “So we don’t reconnaissance?” Corrin asked.

    “Well, yes and no.” Garnell seesawed his hands. “We generally get a description of what’s going on when we take a mission. Destroy a camp, attack a supply train—that kind of thing. Dain tends to scout out the area before we attack, though, and everything usually ends up fine.”

    “Is he really that great?” Corrin asked. “Dain?”

    “Like I said—best in the business.” Garnell cracked his knuckles. “Though he does have his weaknesses.”

    “And those are?”

    Garnell chuckled. “It’s not my place to tell you those, now is it?” He yawned, stretching.

    “You should get some sleep.” A voice said.

    Corrin looked up, pulse quickening for just a second. Dain had reentered the tent, hair matted and soaked with the rain from outside. His uniform and trousers were equally wet.

    “Would you like me to dry those off, sir?” Uia asked, wrapping a Clothwand about his hand.

    “If you don’t mind.” Dain replied.

    Uia closed his eyes, then after a second, flicked his hand backwards. The water covering Dain’s clothing seeped away from the fabric, floating in midair as a thousand little droplets. Mareth jumped out of his seat—the ground—and opened the flap to the tent. Uia opened his eyes, then swung his arm in the direction of the door, the water launching outside like an stone off of a child’s sling.

    Corrin nodded. “Pretty good—better than I did back at the Academy.”

    Uia smiled, looking slightly embarrassed. “I… that’s all I really do around here.”

    Dain nodded to Corrin. “Soldier. I take it that you’ve been… initiated?”

    “That he has.” Mareth replied. “Broke the record, too.”

    Corrin cleared his throat. “My apologies, sir.”

    “No need for that.” Dain replied. “Questioning your leaders is never to be discouraged, except during one situation.”

    “On the battlefield.” Garnell whispered to Corrin.

    “On the battlefield.” Dain said, confirming Garnell’s predictions. Whether or not he had heard Corrin’s childhood friend, he had no idea. “There, its simply your duty to follow orders and stay alive.”

    “Don’t those occasionally contradict each other?” Corrin asked.

    “They can,” Dain admitted, “but in the case that your captain’s orders and your own well-being are in conflict… well, that’s when you have to find courage for yourself.”

    “Stick to your orders?”

    “Sometimes, its more courageous to disobey and protect yourself.” Dain replied. “But it’s different for everyone.” He cleared his throat. “Everyone, I have an announcement to make.”

    The collective of soldiers and strikers in the tent quieted down. Dain, however, did not speak yet, instead watching as a wave of anticipation slowly grew.

    “It’s bedtime.” He said finally. “Get some sleep.”

    The anticipation broke, and Garnell released one last chuckle. “I’ve been waitin’ to hear that line all night.”

    “Why didn’t you just go to sleep earlier?” Corrin asked, glancing about for a clear spot to lie down.

    “With all this racket?” Garnell replied. “Like trying to put out a wildfire with a bellows.”

    “Half of the noise is your own.” Corrin said.

    “And half of it isn’t.” Garnell didn’t bother finding a comfortable spot; he simply collapsed where he was sitting and rested his head on his arms.

    Corrin took the time to spread out a bedroll on the floor, glad to see that he wasn’t the only one—it would’ve been awful it he had gotten strange looks for being the only soldier who tried to keep himself warm while he slept. In fact, Garnell was one of the few that didn’t; he was already snoring, however.

    Pulling himself into the bedroll, Corrin allowed the day’s memories to flow over each other as his body broke out from the day’s walk. Soon, the barest thought of movement evaded Corrin’s limbs, and the darkness of sleep took him into the unknown.

Chapter IV

Spoiler

Chapter IV - The Parallarity

Third Waterlight | Feylore Midway

    Shivering, tired, and soaked by the rain, Aurora passed the slip of paper the guard had given her to the man at Parallarity Gate F. He wore the same uniform as all the other guards, the one thing setting him apart from the others being his age.

    The guard considered their note. “So… Cyril is back to his old tricks again, huh? Ah, well, I suppose I’d better let you through.” He took their passes, stamping them then sliding them back to the two of them. “Enjoy your trip through the Parallarity.” He gestured them towards the large stone building that housed the Gate.

    Aurora and Lacy both thanked him in turn as they passed by the guard’s desk to the Gate building. There was a short line here, but it moved forwards quickly, and barely a minute after entering the line, the two girls found themselves standing before the door of the large, stone, domelike building sitting perfectly dry in the mountain cave.

    “Half a second, you two.” The guard by the door said. He peeked into the building through a slit in the door. After a few seconds of looking, he opened it for them. “Alright, head on through.”

    Lacy pushed through the door before it was barely half open, followed by Aurora, who had chosen to be more prudent with her entry. Inside, a single archway stood beneath the light of a few dozen candles, flanked by two men in robes. Both men looked like they had seen many years, and day by day guessed when their last surprise would catch them.

    “Hello, young ones.” The first man said. “Are you prepared to enter the Parallarity and travel to Midway?”

    “Yes, please.” Aurora said, shivering in her soaked clothing. “How does it work?”

    “Simply walk through the gate.” The other answered. “The Parallarity will do the rest.”

    Aurora and Lacy exchanged a glance, then the younger of the two walked through the archway. She did not reappear on the other side, though. Rather, she vanished from Aurora’s view entirely.

    Aurora blinked, but didn’t think twice of it. “My turn?”

    One of the men gestured at the archway in answer. Aurora took an unconscious breath, then stepped through the gate. For a moment, her vision was blank and dark, but it quickly returned, and her breath caught. She was no longer in the torchlit stone room back in the mountains of Feylore. Rather, she was standing within an enormous marble chamber, packed with people of all races from the Iconar Collective. Held up by intricately-carved pillars and hardwood archways crisscrossing the ceiling, with brightstones shedding light on every nook and cranny so that the entire room shone like the firesun, it was a little hard not to stare.

    Behind her, a stone archway identical to that of Feylore stood, surrounded by a loose circle of marble fenceposts behind which the crowds of people flocked, each person portraying varying levels of annoyance and impatience. Some shot her and Lacy glares, waiting for them to exit the circle and let them go on their way into Feylore.

    Lacy, who Aurora had barely noticed walking through the gate, grabbed her arm. “Come on!” She said, excited. She gestured to their case of belongings, which she had been awkwardly dragging across the floors without Aurora’s help. “Help me out with this; we’re in Midway!”

    Aurora didn’t need to be told twice. She picked up the other end of the case and helped Lacy carry it out of the circle and into the crowds. They immediately found themselves in the sea of people, struggling to navigate them and their belongings. Only the occasional attentive person ever made way for them; everyone else remained as tightly packed as a herd of cows inside someone’s closet.

    After a chaotic and claustrophobic minute or two of pushing through the crowds, Aurora could feel Lacy tugging on her end of the case, pulling her out from between two humans and into an open space. Aurora stumbled a little, then righted herself and looked around to get her bearings. Behind her, the initial crowd of people that she assumed had been filling the entire building stood in a rough circle around the gate, barely filling a third of the room.

    Here in the significantly less claustrophobic area of the chamber, Aurora and Lacy could easily carry their belongings, able to avoid any person who happened across them. They found a row of benches (most of which were empty), where they took a seat to rest their arms for a minute.

    “So we’re in Midway,” Aurora said, “but now what? The Arcane Academy is in Ivinan, but how do we get there? Wasn’t there supposed to be someone here to take us to Ivinan? A guide or something?”

    Lacy shrugged. “I don’t know. I think there was, but…” She gestured to the heavy crowd of people around the Parallarity Gate. “I mean, how are we supposed to find them in that mess?”

    “We could ask around.” Aurora suggested.

    Lacy snorted. “Because that would work. ‘Hey, have you seen a person recently? We don’t know who they are or what they look like.’” She gestured at the crowds again. “Because there’s obviously no one here who fits that description.”

    “Oh, lighten up.” Aurora replied. “We’re in Midway now! Let’s go get some fresh air.”

    “I thought I was the optimistic one.” Lacy said, frowning. “You’re supposed to be the depressed cynic.”

    “I’m not depressed.” Aurora said. “Cynical, yes, though.”

    Lacy stretched her arms. “Right, then. Let’s go.”

    They grabbed their luggage and made for the exit. The people were slightly more crowded around here, but nowhere near as clustered together as they were around the Gate. Aurora and Lacy could easily push through, and after a short struggle trying to push open the doors, they broke into the outdoors. There was no rain out here; why would there be, in a land without the Dayseasons? No Firelight, Waterlight, Earthlight, or Airlight to be seen or heard of here. However, despite the lack of rain, small particles still fell from the sky.

    In front of the two girls, a pack of people wearing some expensive-looking clothing frowned at the skies and unfurled some umbrellas; or had a servant do it for them. The less wealthy simply ignored the downfall of the white, snowlike particles. Around them, children grabbed at the flakes, rarely succeeding in their attempts. While she had heard the stories, Aurora did frown at the particles. They weren’t snow. In fact, they smelled of quite the opposite; smoke.

    Lacy grabbed Aurora’s arm, tugging on her sleeve. Aurora turned to Lacy, but she wasn’t looking at her. Lacy pointed off into the distance, pointing to a massive black cloud.

    No, not a cloud. A plume of smoke.

    “Is that—” Aurora asked, not that she needed to be answered.

    Lacy nodded. “The war.”

    For a moment, they just stood and stared. Though they had to be miles and miles away, Aurora could’ve sworn she that she could’ve seen the hail of arrows, blasts of fire from the mages, and heard the battle cries from humans and demons alike as they clashed sword on sword in the thick of the battlefield.

    “You don’t think that’ll be us in a few years, do you?” Lacy asked, interrupting Aurora’s thoughts. “Mages on the battlefield?”

    Aurora frowned. “I sure hope not; all that looks pretty chaotic.”

     Lacy sat down on their case. “Well, even if that happens, we have to become mages first. Which means, first and foremost, we have to get to Ivinan. That was supposed to happen after a certain few people came to take us there. However, their lack of presence here makes me paranoid about if we’re ever going to get to Ivinan, become mages, and possibly join the army.”

    Aurora blinked. “Well aren’t you a little pessimistic?”

    Lacy nodded, sighing. “You’re right. I’ve got to be more upbeat, don’t I?” She cleared her throat, falsely deepening her voice. “I’m sure that those certain few people are only a few minutes away from dragging us to mage school in Ivinan and drafting us into the military! We just have to be patient.”

    Aurora laughed. “Very nice.”

    “Aurora?” A voice called. “Lacy?” A rushed-looking woman wearing a mage’s robe ran forwards, eyes locked on the two of them. “Is that you, you two?”

    Aurora looked to the woman. “It’s us.”

    A look of relief flashed across the woman’s face, her hand leaping to her chest. “Thank goodness! We’ve all been worried sick.” She rushed forwards, offering her free hand. “I’m Geniora, Master Arcane Mage. I’ll be your Earth Arcana instructor at the Academy.”

    “Really?” Aurora asked. “Like, they sent an actual Master to get us, and not some servant?”

    “Of course!” Geniora smiled. “You children may very well be the future of Ivinan and the Iconar Collective. Besides; we don’t have servants.” She turned to leave, beckoning them to her. “Come, now! You were supposed to be in Ivinan and on your way to the Academy hours ago. We haven’t a moment to lose!”

    “See?” Lacy said, getting up and grabbing one end of their case. “I told you that we should’ve been optimistic.”

    Aurora laughed, grabbing the other end. They carried it awkwardly after the mage, until Geniora turned around and frowned. “Oh, allow me to get that.” She picked it up and slung it over her shoulder, and despite the loose sleeves of Geniora’s robes, Aurora could clearly see the lines of powerful muscles barely straining to lift such a heavy load. “Follow me, you two. The sooner we get to Ivinan, the better.”

    Geniora led them through the streets of Feylore Midway. Lining the cobblestone walkways were buildings big and small; mostly taverns, inns, and shops, but a few houses stood as well. Merchants called for people to buy their wares, which they had brought from realms across the Iconar Collective—the finest metalwork of Drakefell, medicines from Vitera, even empty Soulcages from Carnon.

    “You there!” One merchant called, pointing to Lacy. He did not stand before a shop, or even behind a vendor cart. He carried a large backpack, but as far as Aurora could tell, that was the only thing he had on him. “Could a beautiful young lady like yourself be interested in one of my handcrafted flutes?”

    Lacy shook her head. “No, sorry.”

    “We don’t have any money on us.” Aurora told him.

    “I never said I wanted money.” The merchant replied. “If wealth was only determined by crescents, then this would be a sad, dark world.”

    “We should probably… go…” Aurora said, awkwardly sliding away from the merchant and towards Geniora. Lacy followed her, eyes still on the merchant.

    “We’ll meet each other again.” The merchant said.

    Aurora raised an eyebrow at the strange remark, but for some reason she found herself nodding, and somehow believing this stranger.

    As they left, she could hear the strange merchant laughing quietly to himself.

    “What do you say, Icona? Channelgirl or no?”

Chapter V

Spoiler

Chapter V - Omens

First Earthlight | The plains, Ivinan

    As the other soldiers breathed quietly in the state of sleep (exempting Garnell, of course, who was releasing a loud series of snores), Dain sat on a stool, sharpening his blade. His whetstone scraped against the blade, shaving off rust, dirt, and oddity stains that could’ve come from anywhere. The rains had ended just minutes ago; and his inability to fall asleep led him to want to do something.

    So he sharpened his sword, sitting on a stump, staring aimlessly into the distance.

    You did as I asked, yes? The voice asked him.

    Dain sighed, then set his sword down. “Listen, Forse… I don’t know what you want.”

    What I want is inconsequential, it said, it is the path that the Iconar Collective must tread. I asked you to recruit the boy for your own benefit. It’s as simple as that.

    “You know, for a god, you’re awful at lying.”

    Even my own powers can only see so far into the future. What I see is the boy becoming a great asset to your squadron. Perhaps there is a greater reason behind his recruitment, but for now, I can only see so far.

    “A great asset, huh?” Dain replied, picking up his sword and continuing to sharpen it. “It’s about time you gave me something useful with all your magical fortune telling. I swear an oath in your name, join your little demon cult, and it takes you five years to get me something as useful as a great asset?”

    It didn’t reply, to Dain’s frustration. He continued sharpening his sword.

    Scraaape…

    Scraaape…

    Ping!

    Dain looked down, sighing as he realized that his whetstone had struck against his crossguard in his absent-mindedness. He hadn’t even seen it coming. He blew off some metal dust that had fallen there, then grabbed an oiling cloth and began cleaning around the tiny scrape. It didn’t take long, and even though there was still a small indent in the crossguard, Dain didn’t bother to clean any longer. He oiled his blade, then slid it back into its sheath at his waist.

    He stood up, but before he could walk back to the conjoined series of tents, Garnell woozily got up and stumbled out into the forest. Dain didn’t look twice at him; he knew that Garnell would be getting up to answer nature’s calls any second now. After Garnell was out of sight, Dain began whistling a tune—and just seconds later, a songbird started mimicking it. Dain looked up at the bird, observing it for a few seconds, then slipped into the nearest tent and took a seat on a small barrel of weapon oil.

    On the wall, a coat hung out to dry from the Waterlight rains. Dain winced for a second, and then watched it tumble off its hook onto the ground. Whoever it belonged to—hopefully they didn’t mind their uniform dirty.

    What a curse. Dain thought to himself. Knowing all this.

    You chose it. The voice replied.

    A few minutes later, Dain looked up and was unsurprised to see Garnell returning from his trip to nature’s latrines. He held up a hand to greet him, making the gigantic man jump.

    “Oh, Dain!” Garnell said. “Didn’t see you there.” He laughed to himself a little. “I s’ppose you saw me comin’ a mile away, huh?”

    “Not quite a mile, but I knew you were coming.” Dain replied.

    “Yeah, I guess. Also… I never had a chance to actually thank you for recruitin’ Corrin.” Garnell said. “He’s been wantin’ and workin’ to be a soldier ever since his parents were killed by demons.”

    “Same old story, then?” Dain asked.

    “Same ol’ story.” Garnell replied. “Even he gets that.”

    Dain nodded, partially out of understanding, and partially out of respect. Most soldiers that joined the Enclave wanted to avenge a loved one, often a parent—but most didn’t understand that everyone else was there for the same reason. It wasn’t so uncommon to have a soldier holding his life’s struggles higher than everyone else’s despite the fact that they weren’t any worse than the next person; so someone who understood that they weren’t the only one was a relief, when they could be found.

    “Is he a good person?” Dain asked. “He’s got fire—and I can respect that—but on a personal level, is he…?”

    “If you’re askin’ if whether he’s a self-centered, uncarin’, demon-style jerk, then yes. Yes, he is a decent person.”

    “You know what I mean, Garnell.”

    Garnell chuckled. “Yeah, he’s a good guy. I don’t know how he is in a fight, but he works hard, tries to protect other people, loyal as sin; you don’t find his type on every recruitment board.”

    “Does he follow orders well?” Dain asked. “Just out of curiosity, of course.”

    “Of course.” Garnell echoed, chuckling. “Also, no idea. I’ll tell you what, though; he can give them like an angry parent. We always won whenever we played soldier as kids, and I’ve never seen him lose a game of Arcala to anybody except his own uncle.”

    “So a strategist, then?”

    Garnell shrugged. “I don’t know how well stick-and-pinecone battles translate to real war, but yeah, I suppose he is.”

    “So a great asset to the team, huh?”

    Garnell frowned. “Yeah… I guess you could say it like that.”

    Dain nodded. “Nice… well, we’d best be getting some sleep, then.”

    “Yup.” Garnell yawned and stretched. “‘Night, Dain.”

    “Goodnight.”

 


 

    Unfortunately, sleep meant dreams.

    It wasn’t that Dain wasn’t used to them—rather, he could usually tell they were coming even before he fell asleep—it was that he wasn’t particularly fond of them.

    His first few were normal; well, as normal as dreams could ever be. Snowball fights with Garnell, for one, which was rudely interrupted by a fifty-foot-tall demon. Then, he and Teren were standing back to back, wielding fire pokers at an onslaught of flower-creatures craving human blood. This shifted to him falling endlessly into the Red Valley Rift, grabbing at thin air to try and stop his fall.

    Then, his dreams became more coherent. In this distance, an army of people of from every realm—humans, dragons, and dwarves fighting alongside each other, the fleekers and vampires defending each other. Dain couldn’t see who they were fighting against, but he didn’t need to; he’d killed those creatures of filth a thousand times—and with none other than the literal king of demons, Calamitous Oblivion himself, fighting at his side.

    Dain swung around instinctively, yanking his sword from its sheath at his side and slashing through the air. Just as he did, a scream pierced the air, and a birdlike creature fell to the ground, neck cut clean through by Dain’s blade.

    “Excellent form,” Calamitous Oblivion, king of demons, said, “have you been practicing?”

    Dain didn’t reply, rather growling and turning to face a group of hairy, spider-like creatures. All their legs, save two, were on the front of their bodies, so that they almost looked like a walking mop. They hesitated, out of reach from his blade, until one reared back and jumped at him. Dain sliced it out of the air, then moved his blade to guard his chest as a second jumped mere moments after. One after the other jumped at him, and he mercilessly slew them all. Just behind those, a human with glowing black eyes charged at him, holding a sword in a fashion that could only mean harm to Dain. However, the human’s skills were lacking, and Dain cut him down with ease. Aside from the spider-creatures and bird monsters, the most abundant of his adversaries were corrupted people.

Behind him, he could hear a similar battle originating from the demon king. As much as Dain wished he didn’t have periodical dreams with the Calamitous, it was nice to have a suitable warrior behind him. Once, he had run away from the demon king, and after a corrupted dwarf had smashed his chest in with a massive hammer, Dain had woken up in a cold sweat, an awful aching in his chest where the dwarf had hit him. Since then, he had stayed near Calamitous Oblivion—though reluctantly. The companionship with who he considered his worst enemy hadn’t always protected him, but he didn’t want to take any chances.

“Say, this battle isn’t as bad as the others, don’t you think?” Calamitous Oblivion said. “Remember last week’s? I got my arm cut off then.”

“No more than you deserve.” Dain replied, scowling as he cut up a flock of the bird monsters.

Calamitous Oblivion stabbed at a spider monster. “Now, that’s not very nice. I had an actual battle to lead that morning, and I had to put it off just because I couldn’t move my arm! I lost no shortage of ground to the Silverclad Enclave that day.”

“Good.”

After a moment of silence—as silent as a battlefield could ever be, that was—Calamitous Oblivion spoke up again. “You know, I don’t enjoy these dreams any more than you do.”

“Who says you’re actually here?” Dain ducked beneath a wide-swung sword. “You’re probably out killing good men in Central Midway right now, and not even thinking about it.”

“That’s not true. I’m currently asleep, and for good reason. One of those soldiers managed to stab me in the arm awhile back, and I’ve been healing up since. That soldier died honorably.”

“Says you.” Dain spat. “You’re just a mindless killer. You made that up; a monster like you wouldn’t remember any one soldier they killed.”

“I remember all of them.” The Calamitous replied quietly, not for the first time.

“No less than you deserve.”

“So I’ve been told.” The demon king sighed.

Dain ran a corrupted fleeker through the chest, then said, “I swore to kill you. I swore under Carnon’s name that I’d kill you.”

“Pleasant.”

“And if I didn’t, I’d be there with the person who did.”

“Fancy seeing a Silverclad Enclave captain there in the palace of Sunken Deep, watching and cheering on some challenger opting for position as Calamitous. Would that solve your problem, Dain? You think watching me be beheaded and replaced with an even more powerful demon would end this war any faster? Hm?”

“As if you wanted this war to be over.”

“I admit, my position as Calamitous is rather supported by the current military squabbles between our nations, and ending this war one way or the other wouldn’t exactly secure my position of power. Regardless, I don’t delight in killing, so perhaps one day you will watch someone run me through the eye with a spearhead, and while I finally get a break from all these voices in my head, you could say ‘I told you so.’”

“I hate you.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“I hate this war.”

“I’m not partial to it myself, as I just stated.”

“Then why am I dreaming about both?”

“Ooh, that’s new.” Calamitous Oblivion cut in an arc with his sword. “I honestly wonder that myself. Perhaps your hatred Forged a Spirit Bond or something? Not that I’m an expert on these things—I can barely Decay—but I have learned a thing or two from those who can.”

“Can’t I just wake up already?”

“You think I don’t want to? Dreams are dreams.”

Dain sighed in frustration and anger, then cut through a group of corrupted humans.

I am going to kill you, Calamitous Oblivion, Dain growled to himself, I swore that on Carnon—I swear it.

Chapter VI

Spoiler

Chapter VI - Lacy

First Earthlight | Ivinan Midway

    Lacy yawned loudly as they ascended the tower. As she stretched, her fist hit something squishy; what was that?

    “Ow.” Aurora said. “Watch your stretching, Lace.”

    “Sorry.” Lacy stretched downwards to prevent herself from hitting anyone else. “Been a long night, y’know? Getting a free shower, courtesy of Waterlight; hiking through Midway, courtesy of Ivinan; and now climbing up this massive tower, courtesy of—”

    “—Your own free will.” Aurora interrupted. “You wanted to come up here, remember?”

    “It sounded a lot better before my legs started protesting.”

    Geniora, who was walking just behind them, laughed. “Believe me, all this will be worth it.”

    “It had better,” Lacy replied, wincing as her legs burned against the strain. Her eyes grew steadily heavier by the minute, and she found herself dozing off; while walking. Every inch of her body protested against the strain of either climbing the stairs or staying awake all night.

“Are we close to the top yet?” Aurora asked. “My legs are tired.”

Your legs are tired? Lacy complained to herself. She didn’t say it out loud, though.

Ahead of her, the other people climbing the tower had stopped. Lacy released a sigh, leaning against the wall and closing her eyes.

“What’s the matter, Lacy?” Geniora asked. “A few minutes ago you were desperate to see more of Midway, and now you’re trying to sleep on a stone wall?”

“She gets like this whenever she’s tired.” Aurora replied. “She uses every last bit of her energy until she suddenly collapses without warning.”

“My body just doesn’t tell me when I’m tired until it basically wants to die from the strain,” Lacy added, yawning and shifting her weight against the wall to find a comfortable position, “it’s really annoying sometimes.”

“Well, don’t fall asleep quite yet; it’s almost our turn up the ladder.”

Ladder?” That was enough to get Lacy to open her eyes. “Of course there’s a ladder.”

“Calm down, it’s only a few steps to the top.” Aurora replied. “What’s the view like? Is it like the view over the eighth Verar from the seventh?”

Geniora blinked in confusion, then chuckled. “I’ve only been to Feylore twice, and never to the main city.”

“Really?”

“Yep. First time to get some supplies, second time… also to get some supplies. Those elven merchants sell an awful lot of Arcane equipment, considering the scope of our magic.”

“Can’t trust… domestic product.” Lacy added drowsily. She didn’t know what it meant; she’d only heard some adult higher-ups talking about it.

Geniora did not respond to Lacy’s comment except for an amused snort, before announcing to her that the guard was beckoning them up the tower. At this, Lacy pushed herself off the wall with her shoulders, arms wrapped around her chest. She pushed open her eyelids, but they still hung dangerously low. Aurora grabbed Lacy’s arm, pulling her to the ladder leading up into the main tower.

And she calls me impatient, Lacy thought.

Aurora’s eagerness, however, was not unfounded.

As Lacy pulled herself up the last rung of the ladder—with no shortage of protests from her limbs, of course—she almost found the strength to gape.

The view was stunning, she had to admit; not that she ever doubted it would be. There was no roof or curve to the top of the tower—it was almost a square, to say the least. Below her, the city streets of Ivinan Midway sprawled about in a mesmerizing pattern, twisting left and right sporadically. To the sides of these streets, buildings fought for every inch of empty alleyway space, often leaving barely enough room for a rat to hide from the Airlight dust storms—if there had been any Airlight dust storms to be heard of in Midway.

High above the surface of the realm, the orange-brown glimmer of the Earthlight moon shone off the thousands of buildings, gleaming across windows to leave red splotches in Lacy’s vision. Outside the all-encompassing walls surrounding the city, Lacy could barely spot the distant tower that the demons from Sunken Deep hailed from. According to the stories, no one had ever successfully penetrated and climbed the tower to the Parallarity Gate since the war began.

Speaking of the war, Lacy could very clearly make out burning fires, and the smoke marking them. While the Earthmoon may have flashed in her eyes across the windows, it certainly couldn’t provide enough light to give her a good view of the clashing armies.

She tore her eyes away from the fires, glancing again at the city streets. Brightstones were few, and the only light other than the glow of hearthfires through windows was the occasional mounted lantern and doorside torches. By this light, she could make out the tiny forms of humans scurrying about like mice under an owl’s gaze. Even at this hour, merchants and peddlers pawned off their wares to anyone unfortunate enough to come within view. Beggars held out hats and cups, while vagrants stood together in groups, warily eyeing anyone who drew near—the living giving life to the city, and—

And…

Zzzzzz

“Lacy!”

She jolted awake as Aurora shook her arm. How long had she been asleep on the turret? She didn’t even remember falling asleep… or being asleep. To make matters worse, she didn’t feel rested in the slightest.

“Wha… what?” Lacy rubbed her eyes. “Demons? Where?”

“We need to catch the Parallarity Gate before Second Earthlight. That means leaving now.”

Lacy nodded groggily. “Alright. Where’s… the portal?”

“That way,” came the detached voice of Geniora. Lacy only now realized that she was yet to open her eyes… could that be why she couldn’t see anything?

She did crack an eyelid when Aurora began tugging her—gently—away from the turret. As she was led towards the ladder, the only thing she registered was the concerned look shot in her direction by a guard. Before she could respond, she found herself unconsciously climbing down the ladder—her body even forgot to protest this time. How nice of it.

There was a calming rhythm to climbing down the stairs; step, weightless, bounce. Step, weightless, bounce. She barely caught herself as she leaned over and threatened to fall.

“Lacy, are you okay?” Aurora asked.

Lacy replied with a groggy nod. “Yeah… if I could just… sleep a moment.”

“No time for that, I’m afraid,” Geniora said, “we have a little more than half an hour to catch the Parallarity Gate and our ride to the Academy.”

“Well… lead on, then.” Lacy felt her eyelids drooping again, and she held them open with all of what little strength remained. She must have failed to open them at some point, because she hit her foot hard on the floor where she thought the next stair would’ve been, the step, weightless, and bounce rhythm rudely broken.

Geniora pushed open the door to the streets of Ivinin Midway, and gestured the two girls out of the tower. Aurora tried to brace up Lacy with her arms, but she stubbornly remained on her own two feet. She did rest her head on Aurora’s shoulder, though.

As they walked through the streets, Lacy took up a new rhythm—Step, step. Step, step. Step, step. Her shoes made a satisfying click and clack against the cobbled pavement. Even with the occasional uneven stone, the pattern of step and click combined with her head sitting comfortably against Aurora’s shoulder nearly put her to sleep again—it actually might have, because they had arrived at the Parallarity Gate far sooner than she had anticipated.

“Here we are,” Geniora said at last, breaking the peaceful night’s silence as well as Lacy’s walking rhythm, “Parallarity Gate to Ivinan. Not long until we can catch our ride back to the Academy and get some sleep.”

Lacy only caught the words she wanted to hear: ‘not long,’ ‘ride,’and ‘sleep.’ She grunted weakly in acknowledgment.

Aurora led Lacy to a row of benches while Geniora started showing passes and whatnot to a guard. There was no beat; no rhythm, but there was a comfortable shoulder for her head to rest on. She blinked out, unknowing, at the castle-like building that enshrined the Parallarity. Some—rather, many—soldiers stood guard here, all under the three-sword banner of the Silverclad Enclave. They looked almost as tired as she was. Her eyes fell closed, and her mind drifted off…

“Lacy!”

She closed her eyes tighter.

Lacy!” Aurora repeated. “We’re going through the Parallarity now.”

She pushed her eyes open just enough to see, then accepted a hand from Geniora to pull herself to her feet. Aurora led her without a word through the Parallarity, and Lacy barely noticed the split second of nothing before she found herself in a large chamber, open to the sky. While she didn’t take the time to count them, there were at least a hundred soldiers standing to the sides wielding a variety of spears, swords, axes, and the like, with equally many archers on a number of upper floors leaning on the banisters or oiling bowstrings.

“How… close are… we?” Lacy asked.

“Just a little under a mile to the stablemaster’s hut.” Geniora replied.

She didn’t have the strength to cry out ‘a mile!’ in protest, but she was under the impression that the others had heard it anyways.

The mile passed faster than she expected, but it still took its time. Her feet were hurting now, and every step plagued her sore appendages until she was loath to take another. There were no shortage of settlements along the long-trodden road, most of them tents but with a few wooden or Arcane-earth buildings in between. These and the occasional campfire were the only sources of light on the road; not that she was complaining, though.

The encampments continued until Geniora selected one tent that seemed no different than the others. To the side of this, several horses rested peacefully alongside one another. They looked so peaceful, asleep without a care in the world. She felt her eyes falling closed again as she imagined herself sleeping on the ground…

“Lacy…”

She had managed to fall asleep standing up? How was that her first thought after waking up?

And why was it that she had fallen asleep so many times but didn’t even remember sleeping? This was a cruel world she lived in.

Geniora was gesturing her to a carriage just a few feet away; Aurora had already climbed in and was making herself comfortable on the cushioned seats. The driver looked annoyed but well-rested, not unlike the two horses hitched to the front. With all the energy she had left—not much—she pulled herself into the carriage and took the seat opposite of Aurora. When Geniora entered, she left Lacy to keep her side to herself.

“Everyone ready to go?” The driver asked.

Aurora and Geniora replied in confirmation, but not Lacy. She had immediately collapsed onto her cushioned bench, and her hands had barely enough time to brace up her head before she passed into a well-earned deep sleep.

 


 

The state of dreams wasn’t kind to Lacy tonight, however.

Who are you, child? A voice asked her. Are you the one I seek? Are you the one who, for so long, has avoided my gaze?

“Uh… what?”

Do not listen to that one! Another voice said. He will corrupt your soul and claim your mind. You are not safe when he is near.

“This is a weird dream.”

It needn’t be. The first voice replied. If you join me, I can grant you all the power in the world.

“But that other guy said that you would… like, eat me, or something.”

He has marked you, child, as I have. Lacy couldn’t tell which one said that, though; it might’ve been both of them combined.

Suddenly, both voices were silenced, and she found herself in a field. It was dark, with only the Waterlight moon tracing overhead. It couldn’t be much later than First Waterlight, which meant it should have been raining. The fact that it wasn’t could only mean she was in Midway; or that whatever part of her brain was in charge of dreaming had forgotten to rain.

Being in the fields of Midway, though, she was suddenly aware that this was where the bulk of the war was supposed to be taking place. Sure enough, as soon as she thought of that, she could hear cries and metal on metal. She turned around, and watched as massive armies clashed against each other. She expected to see the banners of the Silverclad Enclave versus those of Sunken Deep, as she had been taught in the orphanage by both her teachers and the older children, but rather saw the flag of Ivinan raised in line with all the others: Feylore, Vitera, Drakefell, Sunken Deep, even Carnon. They fought against foes she could not see, and didn’t want to see.

Her attention and gaze were drawn elsewhere, however. Two figures fought alongside each other on a hilltop, defending one another from an onslaught of monsters. She felt… drawn to them. Compelled. She found herself running up the hill towards the two, unable to make out their features. With a gasping breath she crested a hill, and as she looked up to see their faces—

“Lacy!”

She snapped awake. “Ah! Evil!”

Aurora blinked. “That was an unexpected way for you to wake up… but we’re here now.”

“Here, where?”

“The Academy of Arcana, of course.” Geniora replied. “Welcome to magic school.”

Chapter VII

Spoiler

Chapter VII - Betting on Swordplay

Third Earthlight | The plains, Ivinan

    “Breakfast!” Dain called.

    Corrin poked open an eye, then sat up, finding that he was the only one still in his bedroll. In fact, his bedroll was the only one still on the floor. The occasional backpack lay strewn about here and there, but all of them were packed up and ready to go.

    With an annoyed grunt, Corrin pulled himself out of his bedroll, then rolled it up and roped it in place. He slung it onto his backpack, missing the knot the first time and having to go back and redo it. With that, he stood up and stretched, then left the tent, heading outside.

    Sitting about on logs, stumps, or even just the grass, the dozen-strong squadron of Dain’s ate their breakfast. Dain himself had prepared it, and was serving it to the last few soldiers who were unlucky enough to be backed up in the apparent meal line.

    Corrin fell in behind the last of these, and sooner rather than later, he was being handed a plate with eggs and sausage; not something he expected from army rations.

    “Someone looks like he had his beauty sleep.” Dain noted.

    “Sorry, sir.”

    “Nothing to be sorry for. A soldier’s sleep schedule is an acquired trait. However, once we reach Camp Thunder and get training, you will be expected to get up early.”

    “Understood.”

    “Now go eat some breakfast.” He nodded towards Garnell, Mareth, Iolar, and Quarden. “The strikers have taken a liking to you… that’s a good thing. Means you’ve got more cred than the other soldiers.”

    “Sir?”

    Dain leaned in, lowering his voice. “There’s a lot more to status in the army than rank, Corrin.”

    Corrin nodded, a gesture that was returned by Dain, who dished himself a plate of food and left to sit next to Teren and Uia. Corrin took his own plate to a spot between Iolar and Garnell.

    “There you are.” Mareth said. “I was wondering if a fox had gotten you.”

    “It’d take more than a fox to kill Corrin,” Garnell replied, chuckling, “a wolf, maybe.”

    “I lost to a mouse, once,” Corrin added, trying to deal himself in on their conversation.

    Iolar frowned. “You… fought a mouse?”

    “It got the jump on me. Got a big, nasty bite on my ankle.”

    “And you were, what, five?”

    Corrin laughed. “I was twelve.”

    Mareth raised an eyebrow. “And Dain expects you to be some great swordsman or something? If you can’t kill a mouse, then how about a demon?”

    “Well, you guys will have my back, right?”

    Quarden nodded. “That’s right, we will. No guarantees, though. Sometimes we let the new guy get stabbed so he can get a taste of what it feels like.”

    “We do?” Garnell asked. “I mean, uh, yeah, we do.”

    Iolar sighed, picking at his sausage. “Welp, there goes the scare tactic. Yeah, we’ll have your back, no worries. Do be careful, though. It’s Garnell and Mareth’s jobs to be idiots and get themselves hacked to pieces.”

    “Hang on, you knew Garnell, right?” Mareth asked. “Like, as kids?”

    “That I did.” Corrin answered. “We grew up together.”

    “Like brothers!” Garnell added. “Brothers with a foot difference in height, different hair color, eye color, skin tone, personality, parents, and hobbies.”

    “And rank,” Quarden said, “which reminds me… we can order you around, Corrin.”

    “Only in a battlefield situation, though.” Corrin corrected. “When the captain deems fit to split the squadron, the strikers lead their respective soldiers to follow the captain’s orders but in their own fashion.”

    Quadren blinked in confusion, and Garnell chuckled, “I told you, he knows just about everythin’ about this here Enclave.”

    “I’m still on his knowing you as a kid,” Mareth said, “like the time with the mud and the neighbor’s wall?”

    “Did Garnell tell you about that?” Corrin asked, then frowned as Garnell made a cutting motion across his throat, silently asking him to be quiet. “The time where… we basically covered the neighbor’s walls with mud and had to scrub them off for two hours when they found out?”

    Garnell sighed, while Mareth and Iolar laughed and put their fists together. Garnell grabbed a small bag from his pocket, then dealt both of them two silver Crescents.

    “Did you guys… make a bet on me?” Corrin asked.

    “That we did,” Iolar replied, fingering his new crescents, “and glad we did.”

    I’m not glad we did,” Garnell replied, “because now I’m forty crests poorer. Speaking of which… Quarden, you were on my side, so you owe me two silver.”

    “Fresh out of cash, man.” Quarden replied, then pulled a slip of paper from his pocket and scraped something onto it with a pen. “I’ll take your next stable duty?”

    “Acceptable.” Garnell took the paper, then cut one of his sausages in half, then shoveled one end into his mouth. After swallowing, he said, “In any case, Corrin, we make bets on just about anything. For example, I won a gold from both twins last night when I predicted you’d break the record.”

    “It was so ludicrous.” Iolar said wistfully.

    “And also, we had our reputation to uphold as the biggest troublemakers in the squadron.” Quarden added.

    “I had the offer to join in, but I figured if Garnell was betting so much on you, he knew what he was doing.” Mareth said. “Which reminds me… we’re fresh out of bets, now. How abouts we make another one on the new guy? I’m betting thirty seconds.”

    “One minute,” Iolar said.

    “Fifty-five seconds,” Quarden decided.

    “What?” Corrin asked. “What are you guys doing?”

    “Sooner or later, Dain’s going to test your skill. He’ll pull you out into the fields and take you on, one-on-one.” Mareth replied. “You’re not expected to win; he just wants to see how long you last, so we’re betting on that.”

    “A minute thirty.” Garnell said. “How much in the pot?”

    “I want my gold crescent back,” Iolar said wistfully. He dropped a gold crescent onto a stump.

    “I’ll throw in my next week’s desserts.” Quarden said, writing another note and adding that to the stump. It read 3 Desserts. -Quarden.

    “Latrine duty,” Mareth decided, writing a note of his own. Latrine Duty. -Mareth.

    Garnell reached into his pocket, then pulled out his remaining Acquisition Chip. He dropped that into the pot, getting a series of appreciative nods from the others.

    “Five minutes.” Corrin said, dropping a gold crescent onto the stump.

    The others fell silent, each giving him a look in turn.

    “What?” He asked.

    “Uh, this is… us, betting on… you.” Mareth replied.

    “Yeah, and this is me betting on me. I bet I can last five minutes.”

    Garnell chuckled. “You think you can last five minutes against Dain?

    “I’ll make it five minutes, no less.” Corrin added. “I don’t win if my bet’s closest; I only win if I last five minutes or over. But—” He said, interrupting Iolar before he said anything. “But, if I win, I want first pick over an extra Emblem in the case that there are ever extras from a mission. I’m assuming those would be abdicated to you, so the next you get goes to me.”

    There was a short silence, until Mareth spoke, “I haven’t got a problem with that.” He signed another note, reading To Corrin: One extra Emblem. -Mareth.

    The others agreed with varying degrees of eagerness—the twins happily signing a note, and Garnell warily writing his own. Soon, there were four more notes sitting on the stump.

    “Now all we have to do is… wait until Dain duels me?” Corrin asked.

    “I don’t think that’ll take too long.” Quarden replied, gesturing over his shoulder.

    Corrin looked behind him to see Dain approaching them, sword in plain view. The captain cleared his throat. “Based on the pile of mismatched oddities on this stump, I’m assuming that the others told you what—“ He cut himself off, then frowned and bent over, picking up one of the slips of paper that abdicated an extra emblem to him. “Did you deal yourself in?

    “That I did.” Corrin replied.

    “For how long?” Dain asked.

    “Five minutes.” Mareth replied. “He expects to survive for five mintues.”

    Dain blinked, looking at Corrin. “A little overconfident, are we? I bet these kind strikers wouldn’t mind if you lowered it by a minute or two.”

    “As a matter of fact, we would,” Quarden replied, “and I doubt he’d want to, anyways.”

    Corrin nodded. “Yeah, I don’t want to. Should we get started?”

    The corner of Dain’s mouth twitched. “I don’t see any reason to wait. Should we move out to the field?”

    “How many battles are actually fought in the field?” Corrin asked. “Better we do it here, where there’s actual obstacles to look out for… like stumps, tents, and people.”

    Dain nodded. “Fair enough.” He unsheathed his sword. “Teren, you timing us?”

    The archer held up a small pocketclock. “That I am.”

    Corrin unsheathed his own sword, feeling at the hilt. There was good traction on the leather, and the pommel counterweighted the blade perfectly. “What’re the rules for winning?”

    Dain grasped his sword in front of him with both hands. “One hit.”

    “Anywhere?”

    “Anywhere. That’s all it takes to bleed out and die on the battlefield, right?”

    “Right.” Corrin unslung his shield, sliding it up his left arm. “Shields are allowed, right?”

    “Anything’s allowed. There aren’t any rules about what you can or cannot use to kill a demon—or what you can or cannot use to keep a demon from killing you. Count us down, Teren!”

    Teren held up three fingers, then lowered the first. “Three…”

    “Good luck!” Mareth called. “You’ll need it.”

    “Two…”

    “But not too much luck.” Iolar added. “I do still want those crescents.”

    “One… Go!”

    Dain lunged, and Corrin barely avoided the blade by stepping to the side. Dain immediately cut towards him, though, a strike that he hit aside with his shield. He took a step backwards, putting some distance between himself and Dain. The captain took a moment to fix his stance, then took another swing at Corrin, who avoided it with relative ease; that had been a testing blow, not one actually intended to hit.

    So he can attack, Corrin thought to himself, but he doesn’t have a shield… Can he defend?

    After Dain struck again at him, Corrin hit the sword aside with his own. He twisted it in a wide arc, hoping to disarm his foe. He pulled Dain’s blade far from his body, then prepared to stab at his now-exposed chest. Dain, however, twisted to the side, and suddenly it wasn’t Dain who was exposed, but rather Corrin. Dain pushed Corrin’s sword towards the ground, then slashed at Corrin’s chest; a strike he barely deflected with his shield.

    Okay, yes, yes he can defend. Corrin mentally noted. And his reflexes are fast.

    “Not bad,” Dain said, holding his sword before his chest, “you almost had me there, but you left yourself wide open.”

    “Shield.” Corrin said simply, then stabbed at Dain. His sword was knocked aside, and when a similar strike came at him, he had to take a step back to avoid the blow. Dain continued slashing at him, though, forcing him backwards to remain out of reach. Soon, he found himself backed up to the tents, still stepping back. “Do we want to… you know, leave the tents alone?”

    “If we say they were damaged during a training exercise, they’ll be okay with it.” Dain attacked from above, and Corrin mentally chastised himself as he instinctively defended himself rather than attacked Dain’s exposed body.

    “And yet…” Corrin grunted as Dain knocked his sword aside and he barely dodged a strike. “You were complaining about a tear in the tent last night?”

    “I wasn’t complaining about the person who put it there, but rather the person who neglected to fix it.” Dain stabbed at Corrin again, then ducked to the side as Corrin counterattacked. “Not bad… in fact, I might even say good.”

    Dain continued pushing at him, and Corrin was forced to spin off to the side to keep himself from being pushed into the tent. He nearly tripped over a stump, but caught himself and struck wildly to prevent Dain from taking advantage over his stumble. With a grunt, he attacked with a powerful blow, getting a first step backwards from Dain. He continued pushing Dain backwards, until he heard a groan from Quarden—evidently, he had survived for at least a minute.

    Attacks were traded back and forth for a while without comment, except for the occasional ‘impressive’ from Dain. The soldiers unassociated with the bet had taken notice by now, and were watching intently. Mareth was looking more and more nervous by the second, eyeing the pile of notes, crescents, and pride until he finally released an exasperated sigh; a minute forty-five had been passed, and Garnell was the last striker with a chance at the pot.

    “It seems they underestimated you,” Dain noted, “and I as well.” He blocked a strike at his right, which he returned with a similar attack. With a quick jab to keep Corrin at bay as he took a step back, he said, “I underestimated you quite a bit, it seems—though I wonder if you can possibly win that pot of yours.”

    By the time the three minute mark was called by Teren, Corrin was covered in sweat. Dain had broken a few beads, though not nearly as many as Corrin. By four minutes, Corrin was dodging more often than defending, trying to spare his sword arm the strain of deflecting blow after blow. He held his sword in a vertical defensive position across his chest, and used his shield more often than the blade.

    “It seems as though I’ve got you,” Dain said, breath hardly rough or panting, “your strength is dwindling.”

    “I only… have… a minute.” Corrin replied. He was forced to deflect a strike with his sword arm; Dain had found his weakness, and was now exploiting it. He took a step backwards, then another, and another. Dain was pushing him, and he didn’t have the strength to push back.

    I need to buy myself time, Corrin thought to himself, I need a distraction.

    With a deep breath—he wasn’t taking any other kind at this point—he began to feel at the energy coming from the Earthmoon. He remembered his days at the academy; Fire Arcana required strong will and energy. It became more powerful during Firelight—but Earthlight wouldn’t weaken it like Waterlight tended to.

    He felt the warmth from the Airsun reflecting off the Earthmoon, then Forged a Spirit Bond to it. Heat could become fire—but to use fire, he needed to provide a path of energy that led to his target. He let his energy flow through him, then out towards Dain, who was preparing to strike. With a path of energy created, he pulled on the heat he had Bonded to, and with a punch of his fist summoned a massive burst of fire—

    A weak spout of embers emitted from his hand, burning out long before they ever reached Dain’s face. The captain did refrain from attacking for just a moment, though, blinking in confusion at the tiny plumes of smoke that marked where the fire had once been. Then, with an annoyed growl, he stabbed at Corrin’s exposed self. Corrin stepped backwards, but tripped over a log and fell hard onto his back. 

Dain began to strike downwards, but just before his sword connected—

“Five minutes!” Teren called, a proclamation that was beautifully punctuated by Corrin’s grunt of pain as Dain’s sword clanged hard off his chain mail and the good-sported cheers from the strikers who lost the bet.

Dain held out a hand, which Corrin gratefully took. After Corrin had gotten to his feet, Dain chuckled. “Well, consider me impressed. I haven’t met a swordsman of your skill since… well, since a very long time.” He seemed thougthful, concerned, and maybe just a little bit… angry? Not angry at Corrin, but rather someone else; someone who had bested him in a duel, perhaps?

“I picked up a few things from my uncle,” Corrin said, hoping to break Dain out of a possibly painful memory.

Dain shook himself out of thought. “Evidently you have. Anyway, don’t you have a bounty to collect?”

“That I do.” Corrin sheathed his sword, and removed his shield from his sweaty offhand. With that, he took a few steps towards the pot on the stump, and began grabbing the various notes and coins, as well as Garnell’s acquisition chip. The other strikers chuckled lightly to themselves as he did so, shaking their heads in disbelief.

“Man, Corrin, I knew you were good, but I didn’t know you were that good.” Garnell said. “What were you doing when I was gone? Practicing fourseason-six, every day of the year?”

“I did spend a healthy portion of my time training,” Corrin admitted, stacking the notes.

“You’re going to have to teach me a couple things,” Mareth said, “you did some stuff I’ve never seen before. What was that twisty thing you did with Dain’s sword? The one where you poked out your elbow?”

“Callier Deflect,” Corrin recalled, “you use the natural stability of your elbow joints to keep an opponent’s sword from moving. I modified it a little, and used the shoulder to put in some movement.” He pocketed the crescents.

Mareth nodded. “Nice. Very nice.” He turned to the twins. “You guys have been uncharacteristically quiet. Is your pride too ruined to talk?”

“Yeah.” Iolar replied.

“A little.” Quarden added.

Mareth shot Corrin an apologetic shrug. “They’ll be better before you know it. They just don’t lose bets that often.”

“Quarden lost three today.” Corrin pointed out.

“Well that’s not very nice,” Quarden said, feigning offense, then patted him on the back and chuckled, “I like you… and I think you’re going to fit in here just fine.”

“I second that.” Iolar said.

Mareth nodded and gave him a thumbs-up, to which Garnell laughed, “Well, Corrin… if these folks think you’re in, then you’re in. Welcome to Squadron Seven.”

Chapter VIII

Spoiler

Chapter VIII - The Arcane Academy

First Airlight | The Arcane Academy

    “This is your room.” Geniora said, nodding to a door. “Feel free to make it your home during your stay here. Your classes begin in two days, but there are some optional study sessions before then. I’ll have somebody bring you a schedule and the weekly event flyer in a little while. ‘Til then…” She turned and smiled at the girls. “Make yourselves at home.”
    Aurora smiled back. “Thanks for everything, Geniora.”
    “Don’t thank me yet,” she replied, “you’ll still be taking my classes, and I’m less agreeable when I’m teaching.”
    “We can manage a grumpy teacher.” Lacy said. “Compared to the Head of Orphanage back in Feylore, you’ll be a breeze.”
    “I sure hope so.” Geniora opened the door for them, then turned to leave. “See you later, girls. It’s been a pleasure meeting you.”
    “You too.” Aurora replied, then took a step towards the room and barely dodged Lacy as the younger girl darted in first.
    “Whoa!” Lacy said, an exclamation roughly echoed by Aurora. “This is a better room than our last one, ain’t it, Amy?”
    Aurora had to agree. Looking around, her mind began unconsciously comparing this room with the one at the orphanage. This one was smaller, yes, but the last one had held a good ten people, while this only had four beds. Speaking of the beds, these were curtained and well-kept, as opposed to the creaky straw mattresses that they had to sleep on back in Feylore. Lacy had taken immediate notice to these, and collapsed on one, which bounced slightly under her weight.
    “This is comfy!” Lacy decided. “I could fall asleep right now.”
    “You know, for once… I might agree with you.” Aurora sat down on her own; it crushed beneath her weight, cushioning her in a way she did not expect. “Whoa. You weren’t kidding.” She looked down at their luggage, which Geniora had set in their room for them. “We’re supposed to unpack, but… maybe a short nap would be fine.”
    Lacy was already breathing steadily, and unconscious. Aurora shrugged, then lay down on her bed. She didn’t expect her fatigue from the night’s travels to crash over her so fast, and the sweet succor of sleep washed over her without mercy.
    She had a dreamless sleep, and woke up to voices. Her fatigue was gone, replaced with the slow mind of the still half-sleeping. She sat up, rubbing her eyes, to the reaction of a voice she couldn’t pin a person to.
    “Oh hey, you’re awake!”
    Aurora blinked a couple times to see a very freckled face in her own. The person this face was attached to backed up, revealing the entirety of the smiling girl. She had curly red hair, deep blue eyes, and a bubbly personality about her. “What’s your name? I’m Tara.”
    “Oh, uh… Aurora.” She held out a hand, which was shaken very ferociously by the redhead. “You can call me Amy, if you want.”
    “Oh, are we doing nicknames? In that case, you can call me…” She hesitated, frowning, “Hmm, I guess I don’t have a nickname. Not enough room in my real name for one, huh?” She smiled again. “Well, if you can’t call me by my nickname, then I won’t call you by yours. I’ll just stick with Aurora, mmkay? It’s settled, and definitely not because I think your actual name is way cooler than your nickname.”
    “Uh… sure.”
    “Great!” She clapped her hands once. “We’re gonna be best friends now. Is that okay with you?”
    “I have… no problem with that.” Aurora replied, a little reserved.
    “Sorry if I’m a little overbearing. I talk really fast when I get nervous, which is always.” She giggled. “Well, most always. Ooh! You’re an elf! You’re from Feylore!”
    “Well, half-elven.” Aurora tapped the side of her head. “Was it the ears that gave it away?”
    “No, it was the clothes you’re wearing. They’re Feylore-made by working-class hands, sixth Verar, made for the citizens unable to provide clothing for themselves. I could tell you weren’t gnomish based on your face shape, and no high elf would be wearing that.” She gestured to Aurora’s getup, which consisted of basic trousers and a brown shirt. “And yes, the ears were a dead giveaway.”
    Aurora blinked. “Well… that was impressive.”
    “I failed my Foreign Realms test the first time, so I had to retake the entire class. After I passed the second time with a perfect score, I remember everything!”
    “Everything?”
    “Well… everything they taught me, anyways.” She stopped for a second, then glanced over Aurora’s shoulder. “Oh hey, your friend’s awake!”
    Lacy was, indeed, stretching and yawning as she sat up on her bed. He hair was a mangled mess, but she looked well-rested; not an inch of red under her eyes.
    “Who’s…” Lacy gestured to Tara. “This?”
    “I’m Tara.” Tara replied, smiling. “What’s your name?”
    “Um… Lacy. Aurora calls me Lace, but I don’t like that name.”
    “You don’t?” Aurora asked.
    “I’ve told you this many times. I just assumed you called me that to spite me.”
    Aurora shook her head. “No…”
    “Well, anyways.” Lacy held out a hand to Tara, which was shaken vigorously. “Pleasure to meet you. I assume we should probably get along because… I’m assuming we’re roommates?”
    “That we are.” Tara replied. “The two of you, me, and Veronica.”
    “Who’s Veronica?” Aurora asked.
    To answer her question, the door to their room swung open, revealing a very tired-looking young woman with a short-cropped head of dark hair, and pitch-black eyes.
    “Oh, hi guys.” She said, waving weakly. “I’m Veronica. I’ll get to know you later, because right now, I’m…” She collapsed onto her bed and fell asleep.
    Lacy blinked. “Well… okay, then.”
    “She’s really nice,” Tara assured them, “she just… works all the time. Do you guys know how classes work here?”
    “Absolutely… not.” Lacy replied.
    “Great! That means I get to tell you. So you got your four Arcana classes—fire, water, earth, and air—and then a few other required courses for graduation, like Foreign Realms, History of the Iconar Collective, Religious Study, and Foreign Language, which can be any language you want.” She frowned. “I wonder if you guys have to take that, if… do you guys speak fey?”
    “Badly.” Aurora replied. “Archen… Ioa far.” She frowned. “I’m pretty sure I just said… something. We grew up with common, and we speak common.”
    “Then you’ll probably have to take that. In any case, those aren’t the only classes. There are plenty of electives, seminars, and other stuff that I don’t really bother with. Veronica on the other hand…” She gestured to the sleeping girl. “Is basically taking all of them, and spends three seasons a day studying or in class, one sleeping.”
    “Aha.” Lacy said. “What kinds of electives?”
    “Faiden Cluster Theory, uh… Arcana in Military… I think there’s Music, though I can’t be sure. Like I said, I don’t really bother with any of them.”
    “How do the Arcana classes work?” Aurora asked. “I mean, that’s why we’re here.”
    “Well, first you learn the bare basics in all the elements. What each of them does, how they work; that kind of thing. After that, you choose one of them to study in as an Apprentice Mage; this is the first one you’ll actually get to do magic with. If you pass that, you can go back and retake another element, or you can continue and learn some cooler magic in an element you’ve already passed as a Proficient Mage. After that, you’d need a master to learn anything new, and hopefully you’ll be done with your other core courses, so you can go out and find one. You don’t need to get a master—you could get a pretty good job as a Proficient Mage, but if you Master all four elements, you could become a Highmaster, and that’s something just about anybody would love to throw on their resume.” She smiled. “I’m an Apprentice Air Mage. You guys have to pass the basics test, but that won’t take too long; I expect you’ll catch up to me soon, considering the fact that I fail half the tests I take.”
    “Uh… thank you?” Aurora asked. “I’m sure you’re not that bad at academics—”
    “Oh, I am.” Tara assured her. “But that’s okay! I work hard… sometimes. Besides, the fact that I’m the worst means that no one can be worse than me! It means everyone’s better and that makes me feel good about myself.”
    “That’s the spirit!” Lacy said. “See, because I’m the worst person in the Collective, which means no one can be worse than me!”
    Lacy and Tara shared a laugh, while Aurora sighed; she did wear an amused smile on her face, though. To break a short, awkward silence that followed, a knock came at the door. Lacy looked as though to answer it, but Tara was already pulling the door open. “Oh hey, Minshyl. What’s up?”
    Aurora looked up at the person standing at the door. Minshyl was probably a year younger than Aurora—thirteen, perhaps; around Lacy’s age—with a dramatically combed-back hairdo that left a large forehead above his bushy eyebrows; a look she wasn’t sure would fit with anybody else but him. He looked slightly nervous, but that might’ve just been surprise.
    “Hey, Tara.” Minshyl replied. “Geniora sent me. I brought these for your new roommates…” He glanced into the room, and upon seeing Aurora and Lacy, smiled slightly. “Ah. Hi guys! I’m Minshyl. Geniora sent me with these for you…” 
He awkwardly tried to push them a couple pamphlets through Tara, before pulling them back and handing them to her. “I got a few more deliveries to run, so… seeya later.” He was out of the doorway before Aurora could reply.
    Tara handed each of them one of the pamphlets. On the front of these, the six-arrowed symbol of the Iconar Collective sat right beneath the words Weekly Events. “Minshyl’s basically our delivery boy. He is a student—water Arcana, I believe—but he likes helping Geniora, who I guess you’ve already met. She takes care of everything around here.”
    “Really?” Aurora asked. “And she had the time to head out to Midway and find us?”
    “Well,” Tara shrugged, “her and her secretary do. She does important things, like pay off bills and other business-y stuff, while he does all the paperwork. Honestly, they just need to hire some scribes to loosen their workload. I can’t imagine what it’d be like to have so much responsibility!” She glanced at the sleeping form of Veronica. “Hm, I wonder if she knows… oh, look at the time! I have to be somewhere.” She grabbed a bag off the floor, slinging it over her shoulder. Based on the large, squarish bulges in the sides, it was full of books. “See you two later! Nice meeting ya!” She waved and left the room.
    “Bye.” Aurora said, then turned to the pamphlet delivered by Minshyl. Lacy had already cracked open hers, and was reading it intently.
    “Hey!” Lacy exclaimed. “We’re in here! On the first page.”
    Aurora followed along as Lacy read it aloud. “‘Introducing our new students—’hmm, I can’t pronounce that name—‘Drak… Ferek…’—a lot of dwarvish folk—‘Aurora and Lacy.’ See! We’re in here.”
    “Yes, it’s… quite clear.” Aurora kept reading through the pamphlet. “Hmm… a week-long seminar on textiles? What does that even mean?”
    Lacy was flipping through her pamphlet so fast that Aurora wasn’t sure if she was even reading anything. “Nothing… nothing… garbage duty? Nothing… aha! Schedules. Page eight.”
    Aurora opened to page eight, then started reading through the schedules. “First class in two days… looks like we just have Arcane Basics—whatever that means.”
    “Probably—and I might be wrong, so take this with a grain of salt—the basics of Arcana.”
    Aurora snorted. “Really? Never would’ve guessed.”
    “Anyway…” Lacy looked to their case of belongings. “I suppose we should unpack? I mean, Geniora did tell us to make this place our home.”
    “That she did.” Aurora dropped her pamphlet on her bed, then opened the case. 
There was more in it than one might expect; hence the case’s weight. A good portion of it was neatly folded trousers and shirts, but there were a few mismatched oddities as well: two journals, one for each girl, a few stringed-together pens, two acceptance letters from the Arcane Academy, the waterproof blanket, their emergency money (a small bag that contained roughly two full crescents in coppers and silvers), an old storybook, and a silver ring. There was also a full waterskin that neither of them had touched, in case of emergency, which accounted for a good portion of the weight.
Lacy took the storybook, placing it carefully on the floor beside her, then removed her journal and clothing, placing both her her bed. As Lacy began placing her clothing in a nightstand drawer, Aurora removed her own personal belongings: her journal, her clothing, and the ring. She slid the last one onto her finger, the comfortable and familiar weight filling a space in her heart. She hadn’t worn it during their trip; too risky, with so many panhandlers and pickpockets in the streets.
“So,” Lacy said at last, “classes in two days, huh? Which element do you think you’re doing?”
“Dunno.” Aurora shrugged. “They all sound pretty cool. Maybe earth?”
“Do you like Geniora that much?” Lacy asked.
“I dunno. Earth sounds fun.”
“I’m personally looking at fire.” Lacy replied.
“You would.”
“How cool would it be to shoot fireballs at people?” She hesitated, then added. “Demon people, of course.”
Aurora didn’t respond, then after a few moments, smiled.
“What?” Lacy asked.
Aurora shrugged. “We’re here, Lace. Things are starting to look up.”
Lacy nodded. “I guess we are. Now help me unpack this case; they serve free lunches and I’m hungry.”

Chapter IX

Spoiler

Chapter IX - Origin Story

Second Firelight | The plains, Ivinan

Two days on the road was nothing to scoff at, in Corrin’s opinion. His feet were worn near off his ankles by now, and he was wondering if his pack full of supplies was going to cut his arms off at the shoulders. The others were displaying signs of weariness as well; even Dain looked like he was just about ready to collapse.

That wasn’t to say that none of them were in high spirits, however. Iolar and Quarden were having another argument—this one about who’s spear was better—while Garnell and Corrin told Mareth stories about home. Uia had fallen back to listen to these stories, and apart from the occasional tinkle of laughter, didn’t comment on any of them. And Corrin couldn’t tell, but he was pretty sure that Dain and Teren were listening as well.

“Once… I’ve told you about Corrin’s uncle Lars, right? I have,” Garnell answered himself, interrupting Mareth, “Y’know, there was this one time that he took us to a traveling fair; you know, tents, merchants, that kind of thing?”

“Yeah, I… know what a traveling fair is.” Mareth replied. “Where are you going with this?”

“Well, see, he gave us ten crescents to spend on anything we wanted.” Garnell began. “And Corrin—”

“Spent mine on normal stuff.” Corrin replied. “Like candy.”

“Yep.” Garnell replied.

“What did you do?” Mareth asked.

Garnell chuckled. “I saw this guy who told me he could double my money… and, being an idiot twelve-year-old kid, I agreed.”

“You’re still an idiot.” Iolar called. Evidently, he and Quarden had decided who’s spear was better. “Just not twelve.”

“Shut up, Iolar.” Garnell replied, smiling. “I spent my entire allowance on the guy, and I only won once, so I walked in with ten crescents—walked out with one.”

Mareth blinked. “It sounds like you’re missing a gag line there.”

Garnell shrugged. “It was funnier back when it first happened. Corrin! Why don’t you tell Mareth something funny.”

“Me? Funny?” Corrin shook his head. “Those two words don’t belong together.”

“What you just said right there was funny.” Quarden countered. He sounded a little half-hearted; had the verdict been in favor of Iolar’s spear, perhaps?

“Nah, I don’t have any stories.” Corrin said. “At least, none that would be entertaining.” He glanced ahead at Dain and Teren. “What about you two? Do you guys have anything?”

Dain looked over his shoulder at Corrin. “Nothing you would want to hear. Would you like me to drone on and on about tactical positioning, unIdeal squadron organization, and ranking issues?”

Corrin shook his head. “Yeah, no. What about you, Teren?”

“Me?” He asked, sounded genuinely surprised. “I don’t have many. I grew up, worked, played, and trained in the Enclave. It may sound interesting to you, but after a point, the army becomes incredibly boring.” He glanced back at Corrin. “But I don’t think you are devoid of stories, Corrin. That was fire Arcana you used on Dain a couple days ago; you went to the Academy?”

“Well… yes.” Corrin sighed.

“You don’t sound particularly… fond of those memories.” Teren noted.

“That would be because I’m not.”

“Well, then, go on, Corrin.” Mareth said.

“We’ll tell your ours if you tell us yours!” Quarden added.

“Tell me what?”

Iolar shrugged. “What do you call them… origin stories? We’ll tell you our origin stories if you tell us yours.”

“Yeah.” Mareth agreed. “Though mine isn’t very entertaining.”

“Well… alright, then.” Corrin thought back to his past. “I was born in Draycott, and my parents died when I was about two or so. I don’t remember them, so… I’ve moved past that. I was raised by my uncle Lars, an ex-soldier in the Enclave.

“I met Garnell when I was five or six.” Corrin continued, gesturing to Garnell. “We grew up together.”

“Like brothers!” Garnell added. “Brothers with differen—”

“Yes.” Iolar inturrupted. “We heard. Corrin?”

“I went to the Arcane Academy when I was fourteen.” Corrin said. “I had never tried magic before, but I have a magilex.” He tapped the shoulder of his right arm. “Long story short, I failed. Badly.”

“Not that badly.” Mareth protested. “That was real fire Arcana we saw you doing against Dain.”

“That was a weak sputter of flame that was more smoke than fire—and it was actually better than most I did at the Academy.”

“Okay. Maybe it was pretty bad.”

“And then three years later, I joined the Enclave.” Corrin concluded.

“Wait.” Quarden interrupted. “Three years after that? So you’re—”

“Seventeen.” Corrin replied. “I’m seventeen.”

“Really?” Uia asked, surprising just about everyone. “You’re… quite mature for your age.” Realizing he had drawn a few stares, he blushed a little and looked down to his feet.

“What about you, Uia?” Corrin asked. “Where do you come from?”

“Um… me?” Uia asked, voice tightening. “I went to the Arcane Academy; like you. That… that’s all.”

Corrin didn’t press him. “What about you, Kent?”

The horseless cavalier spun about on his heel, surprised. “What? Me? What about me?”

“Where do you come from?” Corrin asked. “What did you do before you came to the Enclave?”

“I was a farmer.” Kent replied, a little rushed. “I joined the Enclave so I wouldn’t have to be drafted into the royal army. I brought my horse with me—biggest gamble I’ve ever done—and became a cavalier.”

“I was traveling circus man.” John said in a thick accent before Corrin could ask or reply to Kent. “Strong man.” He flexed his muscles. “Very strong man.”

Corrin blinked. “Okay.”

Garnell chuckled behind him. “John likes his muscles.”

Very strong man.” John repeated.

Corrin turned to the twins. “What about you guys?”

“Well,” Iolar began, “our parents were middle-class artisans. Bookbinders. Because of that, they avoided getting drafted into the Royal Army. We were born and raised in Ivinan City, plenty of money to go around, full stomachs every night.”

“When we got old enough, though, we wanted to start a business of our own.” Quarden continued. “So we started a bookstore. Our parents’ bookbinding business became a kind of a sister company; we sold whatever they gave us, and whatever we gave them, they fixed.”

“So then what happened?” Corrin asked.

“Then we got bored.” Iolar replied. “Started looking for something more interesting to do with our lives. We turned to the Silverclad Enclave, hoping to make a difference in the world.”

“We gave our bookstore to our parents and a few family friends to take care of. It’s in good hands until we come back.”

“And when do you plan to come back?” Corrin asked them.

Quarden shrugged. “When we get homesick enough? Not sure. We don’t plan that far ahead.”

“Or if we get bored of killing demons.” Iolar pointed out. “And want to go back to the excitement of a mercantile livelihood.”

“Huh.” Corrin said, then turned to Mareth. “What about you, Mare?”

“Did you seriously just call me Mare?” Mareth asked. “You do realize that that’s a girl name.”

“Yes, I know.” Corrin replied. “Don’t you have a nickname?”

“I did, once.” Mareth admitted. “When I was a kid. Our parents caught us saying it, though, and shot it down it immediately. I only now know what it was and what it meant.”

“Eth?” Corrin asked.

“Close.”

Oh.”

“Yeah.”

“Oh, that’s… that’s great, Mareth.”

“Yup. Is that all you want to hear, or are you going to ask me to share my life as well?”

“Your life as well, if you don’t mind.”

“I do, but whatever.” He cleared his throat. “I was actually born and raised under a noble house, but don’t tell anybody. It wasn’t a particularly wealthy or influential house, but a noble house regardless.”

“Why can’t I tell anyone?” Corrin asked.

“Because nobles who join the Enclave get an automatic promotion. I would’ve become a striker by default.”

“So you were being noble?” Corrin said, then winced and chuckled.

“I hate you. Also, no, I wasn’t doing it because I thought it was unfair or anything. I joined secretly because strikers have positions of responsibility within a squadron, and I didn’t know anything about tactics or strategy.”

“Dain’s the one who does the strategizing, though.” Corrin replied. “Or the Regent Knight, if it’s a larger assault.”

“Yeah, but us strikers have to be the ones who carry those orders out.” Mareth countered. “The best way to learn how to lead is to fight; experience, not rank, builds a leader.”

Ahead of them, Dain nodded in agreement. It was an unconscious nod, though, and it looked as though he was lost in thought; a memory, perhaps?

Carefully, Corrin began to prod him. “Dain? What’s your story?”

Everyone, soldiers and strikers alike, looked up at Dain. Their eyes showed anticipation and hope, but behind those looks their eyes knew what was to become of Corrin’s question. Teren turned to Dain, his own look questioning; whatever it was that was in Dain’s past, Teren knew about it when no one else did.

Dain turned his head to the right, eyes closed. The hope in the the soldiers’ and strikers’ eyes brightened, silently begging him to go on.

Then, Dain turned forward again, not so much as a sound leaving his mouth. Some of the strikers sighed, and the soldiers returned to their hushed conversations. 

Garnell shrugged. “Aye, Rin. Dain hasn’t told anybody who he is or where he comes from. Best not to dwell on it.”

The rest of the journey was scarcely quiet, but not a word came from Dain.

 

 


 

Their journey was finished by Waterlight.

The rains poured down on Dain’s squadron, but when the first of them had seen lights in the distance, nothing could deter them. The soldiers on guard at Camp Thunder stood at attention as they marched triumphantly through the gate, and the camp’s Knight stood prim and proper, hands clasped in a businesslike fashion over his waist. He seemed completely unaware of the rain, with his deep brown hair plastered to his face and a stream of water dripping off his chin.

Despite the fact that the squadron was supposed to be walking quietly and properly in ranks, Corrin couldn’t help but gape at the sheer size of Camp Thunder. Buildings of Arcane earth, rather than tents, stood in rows beside each other, each complementing the last with what it had to offer. Supply buildings were placed between smithies and dining halls, while the armories were flanked by the barracks. Here and there, artillery towers dwarfed the smaller buildings, where bored-looking archers stared out into the nothingness of the night.

Within the barracks, the flickering light of fire and the laughs of soldiers who hadn’t the good sense to be asleep right now traveled through partly ajar doors and uncovered windows. Ahead of them, a large plume of smoke trailed up into the air, marking the place of a massive bonfire too large to be diffused by the rain. Oil lanterns, torches, and fires from the barracks lit the stone-and-dirt pathways along which the squadron marched.

“Greetings, Dain.” The Knight said, stirring Corrin from his thoughts. “I take it your recruitment run was successful?”

“That it was.” Dain replied, gesturing to Corrin.

The Knight frowned, then walked to Corrin and began to examine him. “Are you sure he was worth the trouble?”

“Well worth it.” Dain assured him. “Already, I imagine he could best half the soldiers here in a duel.”

The Knight looked back at Corrin. “Well, then. Hopefully in time, he’ll be able to best all the soldiers here in a duel.” He cleared his throat, facing the entire squadron. “I suspect that you men are tired from your travels. You can take Barrack Nine for tonight. Tomorrow…” He looked back at Corrin. “I have a special training exercise for all of you.”

 

Edited by Channelknight Fadran
Now all the chapters are here!
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16 minutes ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

I've decided to finally post some of my writing for my long-fought book series "The Iconar Collective." All feedback is appreciated!

 

I mostly just skimmed it, but that was really good!! Can't wait to read more! Lots of details on the characters, which is awesome!

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This is amazing. 

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2 hours ago, Enter a username said:

This is amazing. 

Why thank you ^_^

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Posted (edited)

Spoiler

Chapter II - Aurora

First Waterlight | Parallarity Gate, Feylore

    “Here you are, young ’uns,” the driver said, opening the door of the carriage for them, “Parallarity Gate B, Midway. I suppose you can take it from here?”

    Aurora stepped out of the carriage, blinking at the sunlight. “Um… yeah. You just walk through it, right?”

    The driver chuckled. “I don’t know; I’ve never left Feylore myself, y’know. I s’spect they got people there to help you out there. You got your passes, right?”

    Lacy stepped out of the carriage as well; or, rather, leapt out of the carriage, ignoring the footstool that had been put in place to help her down. “Of course we do. Come on, Amy, we have a portal to catch!”

    “Slow down, Lace.” Aurora chastised, stretching a bit. “We still have to get our luggage.”

    “Darn it. I don’t suppose we could buy new clothing in Ivinan?”

    “We don’t have that much money.”

    “Amy, it’s an all expenses paid internship!”

    Aurora shook her head. “They don’t pay for souvenirs. Besides, all the good clothing is sold in Ivinan City, and we won’t be anywhere near there.”

    Lacy huffed, rolling her eyes. “Whatever. I’ll go grab my luggage.” She turned around to fetch her case, but the carriage driver stopped her.

    “Don’t worry, young ‘uns, I’ll take care of that.” The driver flipped open the back compartment of the carriage, then grunted as he lifted out one of their trunks. “Oof, what do you have in here?”

    “Well… everything we own, I guess.” Aurora replied, moving to help him. “Are you sure you got that, sir?”

    The driver chuckled. “You think that just because I’ve put on a few years I can’t handle a heavy sack? Nah, girls, I’m tellin’ you; I got a dwarven blood in me somewhere.” He grunted as he set the case on the ground. “The real question is, are you going to be able to handle that?”

    “Easy.” Aurora replied, grabbing one end of the case. Lacy picked up the other. “It’s pretty easy to lift with two people.”

    The driver nodded, then removed his hat and held it out. “Would either of you be kind enough to leave a tip?”

    “Oh, uh…” Lacy patted down her pockets, pulling out a single silver crescent. “This is all I have on me. I hope it’s enough…?” She dropped it in his hat.

    The driver replaced his hat. “It’s always enough, young ‘un. Just a humble carriage driver, y’know.” He nodded to himself. “So you got parents waiting on the other side?”

    “Oh, we don’t… have parents.” Aurora answered.

    The driver’s brow sank downwards in pity. “You don’t?”

    “We grew up in the Feylore orphanages together.” Lacy replied.

    “Oh, my… so that’s really all you have.” The driver gestured to their case, then quickly removed his hat. “I shouldn’t have asked you for any money. Here, you take this back—”

“No, that’s alright!” Aurora interjected. “We’re not poor or anything. Just… frugal.”

    “I… see.” The driver replaced his hat. “Well, if there’s anything else I can do for you two…”

    “I don’t think there is,” Lacy replied, “but thank you.”

    “Then I’ll be on my way, then.” The carriage driver pulled himself back up onto his seat, then flicked his horse’s reins and wheeled the creature around. “It’s been a pleasure serving you two; Icona bless you, and good luck in Midway!” With those final words, he was gone.

    Aurora and Lacy began half-carrying, half-dragging their shared belongings through the crowded Parallarity platform. The gate itself was halfway up the mountain, but the masses of people waiting for passage began all the way down at the foothills. Thousands of stairs spiraled up the mountainside towards the cave at the top, where the Parallarity Gate resided. Having passed a series of arcane tests in Feylore had granted them guaranteed access to and from Midway for their internship; a good thing, too, as the Gate was only open for the day, and if you didn’t make it in time, you had to wait for a month or two before it reopened.

    The carriage that the Feylore Hierarchy had granted them had deposited them not far from the top, thank goodness; Aurora couldn’t fathom how long it would take the two of them to reach the Gate from the bottom whilst awkwardly lugging their belongings between themselves.

    Aurora was perfectly content to look around in silence. Lacy, however, had other ideas.

    “We could’ve gotten out money back.” Lacy said. “From that driver. Why didn’t we?”

    “Because we’re nice.”

    You’re nice,” Lacy replied, “I’m a jerk.”

    “You’re not a jerk!” Aurora sighed. “For the last time, the only person you’re ever mean to is yourself.”

    Lacy adjusted her grip on the case. “That’s because I’m a jerk.”

    “To yourself, nobody else.”

    “We could keep going in circles, couldn’t we?” Lacy stretched her free arm. “Let’s just get up this darned staircase and then argue.”

    “Agreed.”

    They ascended the remainder of the stairs in silence, broken only by the chatter of the hundreds of people climbing alongside them, or the occasional grunt as they struggled to lift the case over a number of obstacles in their way. The stairs grew more crowded as they neared the top, beginning to fill out with traveling merchants, beggars, and campers awaiting their turn to enter the Parallarity.

    “You have our pass, right?” Lacy asked.

    “Of course I do,” she replied, patting at it in her pocket, “right here. What, did you think I’d lose it?”

    “I mean, your reputation with pens back at the orphanage was rather impressive.” Lacy replied. “You even managed to lose one that was sitting right behind your ear.”

    “In my defense, it was a very slippery pen.” Aurora grunted as they had to lift their luggage over an inconvenient large rock. “And also less talk, more luggage lugging.”

    “More luggage lugging.” Lacy agreed. They ascended the remainder of the path in silence, but evidently that didn’t take very long, as the two of them bumped right into a tall, elven security guard within just minutes.

    “Halt,” the guard said, stooping down a little to come to eye level with them, “do you have your pass?”

    “Yeah.” Aurora fished through her pocket, grabbing a bundle of folded papers and handing them to the guard. “Right here.”

    The guard looked them over. “Aurora and Lacy… no last names? Ah, you came from the orphanage district. So you don’t have any parents here? Any guardians?”

    Aurora shook her head. “No.”

    “Sorry to hear that. I can get you a supervisor to go with you through the gate—”

    “No, that… won’t be… necessary,” Lacy interjected, “we’re fine on our own.”

    The guard raised an eyebrow, but didn’t question them. He continued leafing through the papers. “Alright, so I can get you an entrance in… ah, two weeks? Next passing if I pull the strings.”

    “We have an immediate entry pass…” Aurora patted down her pockets, but found nothing, “Lacy, do you have it?”

    “Would you really trust me to keep track of something as important as our tuition pass?” Lacy scoffed. “No, but I’ll check.” She rummaged through her own pockets—not a long ordeal, but nerve-wracking nonetheless—and came up empty. “I don’t have it.”

    “What?” Aurora considered going through their luggage, but then remembered, “oh, no… we left it in the carriage.”

    Lacy dropped her side of the case. “Are you sure?”

    “Positive.”

    Lacy sat down on the case, releasing a massive sigh. “I knew it was too good to be true. Going through the Parallarity, seeing Midway, learning Arcana in Ivinan.”

    The guard cleared his throat. “Do you… not have your pass with you, then?”

    “We did!” Aurora yelped. “But we… don’t.”

    “Could you let us in?” Lacy asked. “Please? Surely we’re on the roster or something?”

    “There are two people scheduled for immediate entry,” the guard said, “but without a pass, I’m not legally allowed to let you through.”

    “Please?” Lacy begged. “This might be our future.”

    The guard raised an eyebrow, then looked around. He leaned down back towards them, then said in a low tone, “Listen, guys, I can’t get you immediate entry, but there are a few people who haven’t come in today. I’m supposed to fill their spots with the next available group, but I can clear one of them for you two. It’ll be late tonight, though, during Waterlight.” The guard stands up. He cleared his throat and deepened his voice. “I’m sorry, girls. No pass, no entry.” He winked, then scribbled something on a piece of paper and handed it to them. “Good luck.” He whispered.

    Lacy snatched the paper, pocketed it with some impressive finesse, then stood up and grabbed her end of the case. They left the guard, weaving through the masses of people, fey and human alike.

    Aurora gestured Lacy towards an empty bench along the platform, on which they both sat with a tired sigh. After catching their breath for a second, Lacy pulled the paper out of her pocket and read what had been written on it out loud.

    “Parallarity Gate Entrance F,” Lacy read, “give this to the man there at Third Waterlight. Signed: Artus o’Carther.”

    “Sounds like something someone would get in a book,” Aurora remarked, “not real life.”

    “Cool!” Lacy exclaimed, not to Aurora’s surprise. “Do we get to go undercover? Do we get to wear disguises?”

    “More likely we just don’t say anything and get to go to the Academy of Arcana in Ivinan,” Aurora replied, “which is our initial goal, remember?”

    Lacy sighed, then pocketed the note. “Fine, but I don’t fancy the idea of sitting outside during Waterlight.”

    “It’s not like it’ll be a new experience,” Aurora replied.

    Lacy sighed again. “I suppose you’re right, of course. I just don’t like the rain.”

    “Then I recommend we go find some shelter,” Aurora said, “and maybe some food.”

    “Always you and the food, Amy.”

    “What? I’m hungry.”

    “When are you not?” Lacy’s stomach betrayed her, however, releasing a loud growl that probably could’ve been heard for miles. “But I agree. Any of those vendors look interesting?”

 

 

    “You’d best be finding shelter soon, dears.” An aged flatbread vendor woman said. “Waterlight’s coming soon, and my bones tell me it’s going to be a big storm tonight.”

    “We have shelter,” Aurora lied, “we just need food.”

    “Why, you don’t want to pay for anything Old Martha’s selling today, dears,” she replied, “it’s all old and crusty; cold, too. Here, you can get some of this morning’s bread for free.” She handed them some bread wrapped in a towel.

    “Really?” Lacy asked, taking one the towels.

    “Like I said, it’s all cold and crusty.” The woman handed Aurora a towle. She took it, but it was most certainly warm.

    “Thank you,” Aurora said, “we should probably get going now; take cover from the rain.”

    “Of course, dears, and good luck going through the Parallarity Gate!” The vendor woman looked up to the sky, frowning as the storm clouds started to gather. “Good luck indeed.”

    Lacy left the vendor first, Aurora not far behind. The platform had become gradually less crowded as the day had worn on, and by now they could see just about anywhere around the gate. The platform itself was about two or three hundred meters in diameter, all made of a cement mix found only in Feylore. The platform was built partially inside the mountain, where a large building mostly obscured the Parallarity Gate. Several trees stood tall and proud within their artificial planters; Aurora sat down beneath one of these, Lacy next to her.

    “You said we had shelter,” Lacy said, “but we don’t.”

    Aurora gestured to the tree about them. “Tree,” she said simply.

    “No tree is going to protect us from the rain.” Lacy chastised. “You could’ve at least told that lady the truth.”

    “She was nice enough to give us free food; I didn’t want to bother her any more than that.”

    “How do you know she was nice?” Lacy asked. “She probably wanted something.”

    “If she had wanted something, she would’ve charged us.” Aurora sighed. “You know, there are nice people in this world.”

    “Yeah, I know.” Lacy counted on her fingers, displaying all but her thumb on one hand. “At least four. You, the driver guy, that guard, and that lady.”

    “You’re forgetting yourself,” Aurora replied, “you’re nice.”

    “Only when I feel like it.”

    “I might actually agree with that.”

    Lacy laughed, and the two of them fell into silence. Aurora took a bite out of her bread; it was even warmer on the inside, which only made her feel worse about taking it for free. It was good, though, so she finished it even faster than Lacy did; a rare occurrence during most situations. Lacy finished hers soon afterwards, but immediately took to scanning the skies the second she was done. Maybe five minutes later, the first raindrop of Waterlight dropped nearby, followed by a series of others. Soon, droplets were falling through the branches of the trees, and splattering either next to them or on them.

    As the rains began to intensify, Aurora opened up their case of belongings and removed one item: a waterproof blanket, draping it on top of the case to protect it from the rains. She then sat back against the trunk of the tree, hoping that the crisscross of branches over their heads would be more compact near their point of origin. Lacy scooted back to sit next to her, hugging her knees up against her chest and resting against the trunk. Sooner rather than later, the rains had turned to torrents, splattering down on top of both Aurora and Lacy.

    “Icona, I hate Waterlight.” Lacy decided, shivering. “So cold…”

    Aurora nodded in agreement. She had tucked her feet beneath the waterproof blanket that they had covered their belongings with, but that only did so much for her against the downpour. She hugged her own chest, short sleeves leaving her arms bare past the elbows to catch the cold droplets with nothing but skin. The tree did little to protect them.

    Along the Parallarity platform, people ran left and right for cover. The merchants had put up awnings and tarps to protect their stalls from the rain, while still others unfurled umbrellas to protect themselves from the torrents. None took a second glance at the two teenage girls huddled beneath a tree, holding each other for warmth from the downpour and waiting for Third Waterlight to be out of the cold. Neither Aurora or Lacy needed that, though. They had each other—they had always had each other.

    And they had never needed anything else.

I learned how to format things! Yay!

Edited by Channelknight Fadran
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Interesting. I'd love to read more!

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Okay, wow, I really liked this. Like really really liked this. I do have a few nitpicky things, but overall easily 9.8/10. 

On 7/16/2020 at 1:05 PM, Channelknight Fadran said:

   “Oh for the love of Icona, who cares about luggage? We can get new clothes in Ivinan!”

This gave me the wrong impression of Lacy’s character. When I read this for the first time, my impression was that she was some spoiled rich kid who could afford to leave behind their luggage and just get new stuff. Then we learn that they’re broke, homeless orphans, and the luggage isn’t just some stuff...it’s all of their stuff. I get maybe wanting to show her being impatient, but it comes across the wrong way, at least to me. 

On 7/10/2020 at 4:51 PM, Channelknight Fadran said:

    “Oh, Class Identification?” Garnell replied. “Just an easy way to keep track of us soldiers, I guess. Fighters and Heavies in the front, mages and Artilleries in the back, right?”

This seems to be a reference to like DnD style character classes, but I have a hard time believing an actual army would organize it’s men like this. I think I’d need to know more about the war they’re fighting, like is it defensive? Are they invading? What’s the status of the country as a whole, economically? The method that the soldiers get equipment seems iffy too. How prosperous is this nation that they can afford to let its soldiers choose where to fight, how to fight, and what to fight with? It’s like the army signup papers are actually just a DnD character sheet. 
 

Those are just some little details that bothered me or seemed a bit inconsistent. Overall I really really liked it and I would very much want to read the rest. It seems that there’s some sort of worldbuilding magic stuffs going on with the weather in the form of “Waterlight” and that seems really cool. Is the weather on like a perfectly predictable cycle or something? That’s cool, I like that. All the characters seem really in-depth so far as well, really good writing. I hope you share more of the story because I’m genuinely enjoying it!

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58 minutes ago, Danex said:

This gave me the wrong impression of Lacy’s character. When I read this for the first time, my impression was that she was some spoiled rich kid who could afford to leave behind their luggage and just get new stuff. Then we learn that they’re broke, homeless orphans, and the luggage isn’t just some stuff...it’s all of their stuff. I get maybe wanting to show her being impatient, but it comes across the wrong way, at least to me. 

Perhaps I should rewrite that line. I can see how it would confuse somebody.

58 minutes ago, Danex said:

This seems to be a reference to like DnD style character classes, but I have a hard time believing an actual army would organize it’s men like this. I think I’d need to know more about the war they’re fighting, like is it defensive? Are they invading? What’s the status of the country as a whole, economically? The method that the soldiers get equipment seems iffy too. How prosperous is this nation that they can afford to let its soldiers choose where to fight, how to fight, and what to fight with? It’s like the army signup papers are actually just a DnD character sheet. 

I did want to incorporate some D&D-style adventuring party stuff into my army, because I like D&D. I intentionally made things a little unclear to provide some intrigue, but for now I'll just tell you that the Silverclad Enclave is very organized. As for how the war itself works... well, that's a little complicated, and I'll hopefully clear some of it up with the next few chapters.

1 hour ago, Danex said:

Those are just some little details that bothered me or seemed a bit inconsistent. Overall I really really liked it and I would very much want to read the rest. It seems that there’s some sort of worldbuilding magic stuffs going on with the weather in the form of “Waterlight” and that seems really cool. Is the weather on like a perfectly predictable cycle or something? That’s cool, I like that. All the characters seem really in-depth so far as well, really good writing. I hope you share more of the story because I’m genuinely enjoying it!

Well, thank you for pointing those things out! And also, yeah; the weather's really, really predictable. Why? Because I was bored and I wanted it to.

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Posted (edited)

Speaking of the next post:

Spoiler

Chapter III - Dainspeech

Second Waterlight | The plains, Ivinan

    After traveling for what felt like forever—though it couldn’t have been longer than a few hours—Dain had taken Corrin and the other soldiers to a set of large, interconnected tents along the road to the Broken Fields. They did not completely protect them from the rains, but kept them mostly dry nonetheless. Corrin was content with this, but his captain was not.

    “Look at the state of this place!” Dain was gesturing to a tear in the side of a tent. “They call this place a camp, and it doesn’t even keep us dry!”

    “Is he always like this?” Corrin whispered to Garnell.

    “Well, yes and no.” Garnell seesawed his hands. “There are a number of factors that go into his occasional grumpiness. Usually, it has somethin’ to do with his bein’ tired and a lack of quality in the place where he’s supposed to sleep.”

    Dain turned his eye on Garnell. “Is there a problem?”

    Garnell laughed. “No problem. Corrin’s just complaining about you.”

    “I’m not… complaining.” He turned to face Dain, who had raised an eyebrow.

    “What’s the problem, soldier?” Dain asked.

    “I, uh…”

    “Speak up so I can hear you.”

    Corrin cleared his throat. “I, well… don’t you think you’re being a little nitpicky?”

    Any quiet conversations that had been filling the background silence before were suddenly hushed as several soldiers looked over at Corrin, faces a mixture of disbelief, amusement, and interest. Corrin felt his own fingers tug towards the sword at his side, but he managed to reassure himself that he would not be needing it.

    “Perhaps,” Dain replied, “but answer me this, Soldier Corrin. In the case that a massive army of demons assault the walls about Ivinan City, and said walls have to hold out for exactly three days before reinforcements from Camp Ember arrive, then what would make the difference between invasion and not? There are no stronger defenses in the Iconar Collective than that of Ivinan City’s mighty barricades, but even the impenetrable can become penetrable if there is but one weakness in them.

    “Even the smallest crack, the tiniest nesting hole, could be enough to allow the walls to come crashing down in the case that a Decayer manages to strike the perfect spot. It may be nitpicky, Soldier. Perhaps eyeing every mishandled stitch in the fabric of this tent is unnecessary for the purpose it provides, but if the smallest break in your shield there is enough to let one of those denizens of Sunken Deep pierce through your own defenses and cut out your heart on the end of its spear, then I strongly suggest that you patch it up.”

    With that, Dain left the tent, stepping out into the rains of Waterlight for what reason Corrin could not tell.

    To Corrin’s left, Garnell was whistling quietly. “Well, well,” he said, “Mareth, how long was that?”

    One of the spearmen, lanky, sword-wielding, and wearing a purple coat that signified him as a Striker—the rank above Soldier—tapped the table a couple of times, running something through his mind, before replying, “five, I think. Recruited early Third Firelight, its early Second Waterlight… that makes five hours. New record.”

    Garnell and some of the other soldiers burst out laughing, though the axe-wielding man to Corrin’s left was certainly the loudest. Corrin frowned, unsure how to react.

    “I’m sorry, lad,” Garnell said, managing to contain his laughter, “We haven’t gotten a tenacious soldier like yourself in ages! Five hours. Icona, it took me three days!”

    “What in Sunken Deep’s demons are you talking about?” Corrin demanded.

    “Dainspeeches!” The soldier called Mareth replied. “What you just got was a Dainspeech. Whenever you ask him a question that digs even the tiniest bit under his skin, he’ll hit you full in the face with all the military knowledge his time in the Enclave has given him over the years. Everybody gets one eventually, so we time how long it takes for each new recruit to get their first,” he chuckled a little, “and you just blew the record away like a dead leaf at Second Airlight.”

    “What was the… previous record?” Corrin inquired, still confused.

    “One day, seven hours.” Another soldier said. He was tall and thin, with the most angular face Corrin had ever seen. He also wore a Striker’s uniform. Corrin’s eyes, however, were immediately drawn to a large red birthmark just underneath his eye. “To me.”

    A completely identical soldier—minus the birthmark—frowned. “Um, no, it wasn’t to you, Iolar, it was to me.”

    “Shut it, Quarden.”

    “Twins?” Corrin whispered to Garnell.

    “Twins.” Garnell replied at an equal tone, nodding. He then raised his voice and called, “wasn’t it to both of you?”

    “I was talking to Dain first!” The one with the birthmark—Iolar—said.

    “Yes, but I was talking to him before he started.” The other one—Quarden—replied. “So I’m the most likely candidate.”

    “What were you even talking about?” Corrin asked.

    “Oh, uh…” Iolar frowned. “Good question.”

    “Something about science.” Quarden said, tapping his chin.

    Mareth sighed. “Dain was talking about plants or whatever and how heat made them grow? And then you two interrupted him and talked about photosync or something.”

    “Photosynthesis!” Quarden replied. “And yes, now I remember. He told us that it didn’t matter what your enemy ate for breakfast that morning, your sword was still gonna cut them up.”

    Then we cut him short by correcting him and telling him that we were not, in fact, using swords—”

    “And, rather, a couple pokey polearms.” Quarden nodded. “Those were good times!”

    “Then he assigned you to latrine duty for three days.” Mareth recalled.

    “We asked him if what your enemy ate for breakfast mattered for what left them over the chamber pot.” Iolar laughed.

    “And then he extended our duties to a week.” Quarden concluded.

    Corrin blinked. “That… was a story.”

    “By the time we’re countin’ the minutes until the next recruit’s Dainspeech, you’ll have a few of your own to tell.” Garnell assured him. “Aye, but you gotta meet everyone, though! No reason to be left out just because you’re new; your first Dainspeech is basically your initiation to the group.

    “This here’s Mareth,” Garnell said, gesturing to Mareth, who waved hello, “fellow Fighter Class to you and me. Almost as reckless as I am! Always gettin’ himself hurt.”

    “I do not!” Mareth interjected. “Always get myself hurt.”

    “And your nineteen battle scars?” Garnell asked. “Including the one you managed to get underneath your—

    “Okay!” Mareth yelped, “so I’m a little… tolerant of pain.”

    “I think you’re just crazy.”

    “To each their own.” Mareth decided.

    Garnell took that as an excuse to move along the introductions, gesturing at the twins. “Iolar and Quarden. Spearboys.”

    “Spearmen.” Iolar corrected.

    “Spearman.” Quarden said. “Iolar here’s just a spear.”

    “You’ve basically met ‘em already.” Garnell admitted. “Ain’t much underneath the surface there.”

    “There’s plenty of us underneath the surface!” Quarden countered. “Bones, blood, those muscley things—”

    “You mean muscles?”

    “Yeah, muscles.” Quarden replied. “Okay, so there isn’t much of us beneath the surface.”

    “Speak for yourself.” Iolar said. “I’m basically a genius.”

    Quarden and Garnell both snorted near simultaneously, the second scoffing, “genius. I’d sooner believe that Corrin was a Channelknight!”

    “What’s that supposed to mean?” Iolar asked.

    “I think what Garnell’s trying to say,” Corrin replied, “is that he thinks you’re an idiot.”

    Corrin expected some rebuke there, but instead everyone inside the tent burst out laughing—Iolar included. Garnell was louder than the others, gesturing weakly at Corrin and saying “you pick up fast, lad!”

    Corrin frowned. “What?”

    Garnell patted him on the back—slapped him, really. “You’re gonna fit right in, lad.”

    “Good to… know.” Corrin replied, still confused.

    The others stopped laughing, and Garnell continued introducing him to the many soldiers and strikers by whom he was surrounded. “That there’s Teren, Dain’s brother or summat. He won’t actually tell us.”

    “That’s because you don’t need to know.” Teren replied. He did share some resemblance with Dain, but not a lot. Across his back was a quiver and a bow, and in his hands was one of his many arrows.

    Garnell, evidently content with Teren’s reply, pointed to another person. “That there’s John, our heavy-armorer. Only guy on the crew with an axe bigger than mine! And here you have Uia. He’s our mage; Water Arcana, mostly. Kent here’s our only cavalry, but that’s okay; you don’t usually find anyone on horseback for in a single squadron.”

    John was possibly even taller than Garnell, and definitely larger around. His arms were thick and covered in tough-looking muscles. Despite his intimidating demeanor, he seemed nice enough, exchanging in pleasant (albeit short) conversation with Corrin. Uia didn’t speak much, claiming that he was “not good with people” when Corrin tried to talk to him. Regardless, the short, possibly gnomish man wore the white-and-blue robes of a Master Water Mage, so Corrin had reason to respect him. Kent was staring off into the distance when Corrin introduced himself, and barely spoke a word other than “that’s okay” or “I see,” thoughts obviously far, far away from the matter at hand.

    Apparently, those three soldiers along with the strikers Iolar, Quarden, Mareth, and Teren served as Garnell’s close confidantes within the squadron. There were some other soldiers, but they largely kept to themselves. All of these carried spears, except one, who had a couple handaxes strapped to his belt.

    “So… four fighters, nine spearmen, two artillery, one mage, one heavy armorer and a cavalier?” Corrin asked, trying to remember everyone’s specialities. “What about rogue class? Infiltrator?”

    “You been studyin’ the Ideal Squadron things?” Garnell asked. “Aye, that’s right lad. A good squadron’s got mostly spears, with some fighters up front, a heavy-armorer somewhere between the pikes and the swordsmen, an artillery and a mage or two, and an infiltrator. We’ve got most of those, plus a cavalier, but you’re right in sayin’ that we don’t got any rogue on our team. That’s fine, though; not all squadrons are ideal. Icona, most aren’t as good as ours!”

    “So we don’t reconnaissance?” Corrin asked.

    “Well, yes and no.” Garnell seesawed his hands. “We generally get a description of what’s going on when we take a mission. Destroy a camp, attack a supply train—that kind of thing. Dain tends to scout out the area before we attack, though, and everything usually ends up fine.”

    “Is he really that great?” Corrin asked. “Dain?”

    “Like I said—best in the business.” Garnell cracked his knuckles. “Though he does have his weaknesses.”

    “And those are?”

    Garnell chuckled. “It’s not my place to tell you those, now is it?” He yawned, stretching.

    “You should get some sleep.” A voice said.

    Corrin looked up, pulse quickening for just a second. Dain had reentered the tent, hair matted and soaked with the rain from outside. His uniform and trousers were equally wet.

    “Would you like me to dry those off, sir?” Uia asked, wrapping a Clothwand about his hand.

    “If you don’t mind.” Dain replied.

    Uia closed his eyes, then after a second, flicked his hand backwards. The water covering Dain’s clothing seeped away from the fabric, floating in midair as a thousand little droplets. Mareth jumped out of his seat—the ground—and opened the flap to the tent. Uia opened his eyes, then swung his arm in the direction of the door, the water launching outside like an stone off of a child’s sling.

    Corrin nodded. “Pretty good—better than I did back at the Academy.”

    Uia smiled, looking slightly embarrassed. “I… that’s all I really do around here.”

    Dain nodded to Corrin. “Soldier. I take it that you’ve been… initiated?”

    “That he has.” Mareth replied. “Broke the record, too.”

    Corrin cleared his throat. “My apologies, sir.”

    “No need for that.” Dain replied. “Questioning your leaders is never to be discouraged, except during one situation.”

    “On the battlefield.” Garnell whispered to Corrin.

    “On the battlefield.” Dain said, confirming Garnell’s predictions. Whether or not he had heard Corrin’s childhood friend, he had no idea. “There, its simply your duty to follow orders and stay alive.”

    “Don’t those occasionally contradict each other?” Corrin asked.

    “They can,” Dain admitted, “but in the case that your captain’s orders and your own well-being are in conflict… well, that’s when you have to find courage for yourself.”

    “Stick to your orders?”

    “Sometimes, its more courageous to disobey and protect yourself.” Dain replied. “But it’s different for everyone.” He cleared his throat. “Everyone, I have an announcement to make.”

    The collective of soldiers and strikers in the tent quieted down. Dain, however, did not speak yet, instead watching as a wave of anticipation slowly grew.

    “It’s bedtime.” He said finally. “Get some sleep.”

    The anticipation broke, and Garnell released one last chuckle. “I’ve been waitin’ to hear that line all night.”

    “Why didn’t you just go to sleep earlier?” Corrin asked, glancing about for a clear spot to lie down.

    “With all this racket?” Garnell replied. “Like trying to put out a wildfire with a bellows.”

    “Half of the noise is your own.” Corrin said.

    “And half of it isn’t.” Garnell didn’t bother finding a comfortable spot; he simply collapsed where he was sitting and rested his head on his arms.

    Corrin took the time to spread out a bedroll on the floor, glad to see that he wasn’t the only one—it would’ve been awful it he had gotten strange looks for being the only soldier who tried to keep himself warm while he slept. In fact, Garnell was one of the few that didn’t; he was already snoring, however.

    Pulling himself into the bedroll, Corrin allowed the day’s memories to flow over each other as his body broke out from the day’s walk. Soon, the barest thought of movement evaded Corrin’s limbs, and the darkness of sleep took him into the unknown.

Spoiler

Chapter IV - The Parallarity

Third Waterlight | Feylore Midway

    Shivering, tired, and soaked by the rain, Aurora passed the slip of paper the guard had given her to the man at Parallarity Gate F. He wore the same uniform as all the other guards, the one thing setting him apart from the others being his age.

    The guard considered their note. “So… Cyril is back to his old tricks again, huh? Ah, well, I suppose I’d better let you through.” He took their passes, stamping them then sliding them back to the two of them. “Enjoy your trip through the Parallarity.” He gestured them towards the large stone building that housed the Gate.

    Aurora and Lacy both thanked him in turn as they passed by the guard’s desk to the Gate building. There was a short line here, but it moved forwards quickly, and barely a minute after entering the line, the two girls found themselves standing before the door of the large, stone, domelike building sitting perfectly dry in the mountain cave.

    “Half a second, you two.” The guard by the door said. He peeked into the building through a slit in the door. After a few seconds of looking, he opened it for them. “Alright, head on through.”

    Lacy pushed through the door before it was barely half open, followed by Aurora, who had chosen to be more prudent with her entry. Inside, a single archway stood beneath the light of a few dozen candles, flanked by two men in robes. Both men looked like they had seen many years, and day by day guessed when their last surprise would catch them.

    “Hello, young ones.” The first man said. “Are you prepared to enter the Parallarity and travel to Midway?”

    “Yes, please.” Aurora said, shivering in her soaked clothing. “How does it work?”

    “Simply walk through the gate.” The other answered. “The Parallarity will do the rest.”

    Aurora and Lacy exchanged a glance, then the younger of the two walked through the archway. She did not reappear on the other side, though. Rather, she vanished from Aurora’s view entirely.

    Aurora blinked, but didn’t think twice of it. “My turn?”

    One of the men gestured at the archway in answer. Aurora took an unconscious breath, then stepped through the gate. For a moment, her vision was blank and dark, but it quickly returned, and her breath caught. She was no longer in the torchlit stone room back in the mountains of Feylore. Rather, she was standing within an enormous marble chamber, packed with people of all races from the Iconar Collective. Held up by intricately-carved pillars and hardwood archways crisscrossing the ceiling, with brightstones shedding light on every nook and cranny so that the entire room shone like the firesun, it was a little hard not to stare.

    Behind her, a stone archway identical to that of Feylore stood, surrounded by a loose circle of marble fenceposts behind which the crowds of people flocked, each person portraying varying levels of annoyance and impatience. Some shot her and Lacy glares, waiting for them to exit the circle and let them go on their way into Feylore.

    Lacy, who Aurora had barely noticed walking through the gate, grabbed her arm. “Come on!” She said, excited. She gestured to their case of belongings, which she had been awkwardly dragging across the floors without Aurora’s help. “Help me out with this; we’re in Midway!”

    Aurora didn’t need to be told twice. She picked up the other end of the case and helped Lacy carry it out of the circle and into the crowds. They immediately found themselves in the sea of people, struggling to navigate them and their belongings. Only the occasional attentive person ever made way for them; everyone else remained as tightly packed as a herd of cows inside someone’s closet.

    After a chaotic and claustrophobic minute or two of pushing through the crowds, Aurora could feel Lacy tugging on her end of the case, pulling her out from between two humans and into an open space. Aurora stumbled a little, then righted herself and looked around to get her bearings. Behind her, the initial crowd of people that she assumed had been filling the entire building stood in a rough circle around the gate, barely filling a third of the room.

    Here in the significantly less claustrophobic area of the chamber, Aurora and Lacy could easily carry their belongings, able to avoid any person who happened across them. They found a row of benches (most of which were empty), where they took a seat to rest their arms for a minute.

    “So we’re in Midway,” Aurora said, “but now what? The Arcane Academy is in Ivinan, but how do we get there? Wasn’t there supposed to be someone here to take us to Ivinan? A guide or something?”

    Lacy shrugged. “I don’t know. I think there was, but…” She gestured to the heavy crowd of people around the Parallarity Gate. “I mean, how are we supposed to find them in that mess?”

    “We could ask around.” Aurora suggested.

    Lacy snorted. “Because that would work. ‘Hey, have you seen a person recently? We don’t know who they are or what they look like.’” She gestured at the crowds again. “Because there’s obviously no one here who fits that description.”

    “Oh, lighten up.” Aurora replied. “We’re in Midway now! Let’s go get some fresh air.”

    “I thought I was the optimistic one.” Lacy said, frowning. “You’re supposed to be the depressed cynic.”

    “I’m not depressed.” Aurora said. “Cynical, yes, though.”

    Lacy stretched her arms. “Right, then. Let’s go.”

    They grabbed their luggage and made for the exit. The people were slightly more crowded around here, but nowhere near as clustered together as they were around the Gate. Aurora and Lacy could easily push through, and after a short struggle trying to push open the doors, they broke into the outdoors. There was no rain out here; why would there be, in a land without the Dayseasons? No Firelight, Waterlight, Earthlight, or Airlight to be seen or heard of here. However, despite the lack of rain, small particles still fell from the sky.

    In front of the two girls, a pack of people wearing some expensive-looking clothing frowned at the skies and unfurled some umbrellas; or had a servant do it for them. The less wealthy simply ignored the downfall of the white, snowlike particles. Around them, children grabbed at the flakes, rarely succeeding in their attempts. While she had heard the stories, Aurora did frown at the particles. They weren’t snow. In fact, they smelled of quite the opposite; smoke.

    Lacy grabbed Aurora’s arm, tugging on her sleeve. Aurora turned to Lacy, but she wasn’t looking at her. Lacy pointed off into the distance, pointing to a massive black cloud.

    No, not a cloud. A plume of smoke.

    “Is that—” Aurora asked, not that she needed to be answered.

    Lacy nodded. “The war.”

    For a moment, they just stood and stared. Though they had to be miles and miles away, Aurora could’ve sworn she that she could’ve seen the hail of arrows, blasts of fire from the mages, and heard the battle cries from humans and demons alike as they clashed sword on sword in the thick of the battlefield.

    “You don’t think that’ll be us in a few years, do you?” Lacy asked, interrupting Aurora’s thoughts. “Mages on the battlefield?”

    Aurora frowned. “I sure hope not; all that looks pretty chaotic.”

     Lacy sat down on their case. “Well, even if that happens, we have to become mages first. Which means, first and foremost, we have to get to Ivinan. That was supposed to happen after a certain few people came to take us there. However, their lack of presence here makes me paranoid about if we’re ever going to get to Ivinan, become mages, and possibly join the army.”

    Aurora blinked. “Well aren’t you a little pessimistic?”

    Lacy nodded, sighing. “You’re right. I’ve got to be more upbeat, don’t I?” She cleared her throat, falsely deepening her voice. “I’m sure that those certain few people are only a few minutes away from dragging us to mage school in Ivinan and drafting us into the military! We just have to be patient.”

    Aurora laughed. “Very nice.”

    “Aurora?” A voice called. “Lacy?” A rushed-looking woman wearing a mage’s robe ran forwards, eyes locked on the two of them. “Is that you, you two?”

    Aurora looked to the woman. “It’s us.”

    A look of relief flashed across the woman’s face, her hand leaping to her chest. “Thank goodness! We’ve all been worried sick.” She rushed forwards, offering her free hand. “I’m Geniora, Master Arcane Mage. I’ll be your Earth Arcana instructor at the Academy.”

    “Really?” Aurora asked. “Like, they sent an actual Master to get us, and not some servant?”

    “Of course!” Geniora smiled. “You children may very well be the future of Ivinan and the Iconar Collective. Besides; we don’t have servants.” She turned to leave, beckoning them to her. “Come, now! You were supposed to be in Ivinan and on your way to the Academy hours ago. We haven’t a moment to lose!”

    “See?” Lacy said, getting up and grabbing one end of their case. “I told you that we should’ve been optimistic.”

    Aurora laughed, grabbing the other end. They carried it awkwardly after the mage, until Geniora turned around and frowned. “Oh, allow me to get that.” She picked it up and slung it over her shoulder, and despite the loose sleeves of Geniora’s robes, Aurora could clearly see the lines of powerful muscles barely straining to lift such a heavy load. “Follow me, you two. The sooner we get to Ivinan, the better.”

    Geniora led them through the streets of Feylore Midway. Lining the cobblestone walkways were buildings big and small; mostly taverns, inns, and shops, but a few houses stood as well. Merchants called for people to buy their wares, which they had brought from realms across the Iconar Collective—the finest metalwork of Drakefell, medicines from Vitera, even empty Soulcages from Carnon.

    “You there!” One merchant called, pointing to Lacy. He did not stand before a shop, or even behind a vendor cart. He carried a large backpack, but as far as Aurora could tell, that was the only thing he had on him. “Could a beautiful young lady like yourself be interested in one of my handcrafted flutes?”

    Lacy shook her head. “No, sorry.”

    “We don’t have any money on us.” Aurora told him.

    “I never said I wanted money.” The merchant replied. “If wealth was only determined by crescents, then this would be a sad, dark world.”

    “We should probably… go…” Aurora said, awkwardly sliding away from the merchant and towards Geniora. Lacy followed her, eyes still on the merchant.

    “We’ll meet each other again.” The merchant said.

    Aurora raised an eyebrow at the strange remark, but for some reason she found herself nodding, and somehow believing this stranger.

    As they left, she could hear the strange merchant laughing quietly to himself.

    “What do you say, Icona? Channelgirl or no?”

 

Edited by Channelknight Fadran
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Okay, this time I’m gonna record my thoughts as I read it, First impressions and all that. 
 

Dain’s giving me Kaladin + Dockson post-Kelsiers Death vibes. Kal but less depressed and maybe more professional? More veteran-y. I like him. 

14 minutes ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

Corrin blinked.

I like it when authors do stuff like this. I really can’t explain it, but it’s good. 

15 minutes ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

Berserkia don’t exist.” Garnell said.

Name’s a bit on the nose. Also, The Thrill. 

16 minutes ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

    “There’s plenty of us underneath the surface!” Quarden countered. “Bones, blood, those muscley things—”

    “You mean muscles?”

    “Yeah, muscles.” Quarden replied.

Lol. 

18 minutes ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

“genius. I’d sooner believe that Corrin was a Channelknight!”

:ph34r:

19 minutes ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

“So… four fighters, nine spearmen, two artillery, one mage, one heavy armorer and a cavalier?” Corrin asked, trying to remember everyone’s specialities. “What about rogue class? Infiltrator?”

D&D party.

20 minutes ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

“We generally get a description of what’s going on when we take a mission. Destroy a camp, attack a supply train—that kind of thing.

D&D quests. 

21 minutes ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

Uia closed his eyes, then after a second, flicked his hand backwards. The water covering Dain’s clothing seeped away from the fabric, floating in midair as a thousand little droplets.

Waterbendiiiiinnng :lol:

22 minutes ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

Corrin nodded. “Nicely done.”

Ok, first actual nitpick. Corrin is brand new and the way this is phrased makes it seem a little condescending. Like a superior talking to someone serving under them. Corrin just thought:

24 minutes ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

Regardless, the short, possibly gnomish man wore the white-and-blue robes of a Master Water Mage, so Corrin had reason to respect him.

I think Corrin should be a little more....impressed? I think Uia’s response can be exactly the same, but maybe Corrin should just say “Woah!”. Although, maybe Corrin wouldn’t really be that impressed because I assume Corrin’s had experience with magic before from what he says in the first chapter. Anyways, back to reading the rest. 

30 minutes ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

Corrin took the time to spread out a bedroll on the floor, glad to see that he wasn’t the only one—it would’ve been awful it he had gotten strange looks for being the only soldier who tried to keep himself warm while he slept. In fact, Garnell was one of the few that didn’t; he was already snoring, however.

I like this paragraph, does a good job of showing the mild anxiety that comes with joining a new group. Makes everything seem more natural. 
 

All-in-all, I liked this chapter just as much as the first 2. Maybe better considering how I only had one tiny nitpick instead of 2. I’m very intrigued with this whole world, I have so many questions. If this was a published book, I don’t think I’d be able to put it down so far.  I’ll read chapter 4 later however, as I gotta do some work now. 

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4 minutes ago, Danex said:

Name’s a bit on the nose. Also, The Thrill. 

I might take that out. I barely remember adding it, so it's probably not important.

Quote

:ph34r:

;)

Quote

Ok, first actual nitpick. Corrin is brand new and the way this is phrased makes it seem a little condescending. Like a superior talking to someone serving under them. Corrin just thought:

I think Corrin should be a little more....impressed? I think Uia’s response can be exactly the same, but maybe Corrin should just say “Woah!”. Although, maybe Corrin wouldn’t really be that impressed because I assume Corrin’s had experience with magic before from what he says in the first chapter. Anyways, back to reading the rest. 

You're right about this part. Dunno how I'm gonna change it yet, but you're right.

Quote

Waterbendiiiiinnng :lol:

WATERBENDIIIIINNNG

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Ok, let’s read the next chapter, shall we?

11 hours ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

Lacy pushed through the door before it was barely half open, followed by Aurora, who had chosen to be more prudent with her entry.

There goes Lacy being impatient again. I like how you keep the characters consistent.

11 hours ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

“Hello, young ones.” The first man said. “Are you prepared to enter the Parallarity and travel to Midway?”

    “Yes, please.” Aurora said, shivering in her soaked clothing. “How does it work?”

    “Simply walk through the gate.” The other answered. “The Parallarity will do the rest.”

    Aurora and Lacy exchanged a glance, then the younger of the two walked through the archway. She did not reappear on the other side, though. Rather, she vanished from Aurora’s view entirely.

    Aurora blinked, but didn’t think twice of it. “My turn?”

    One of the men gestured at the archway in answer. Aurora took an unconscious breath, then stepped through the gate. For a moment, her vision was blank and dark, but it quickly returned, and her breath caught. She was no longer in the torchlit stone room back in the mountains of Feylore. Rather, she was standing within an enormous marble chamber, packed with people of all races from the Iconar Collective. Held up by intricately-carved pillars and hardwood archways crisscrossing the ceiling, with brightstones shedding light on every nook and cranny so that the entire room shone like the firesun, it was a little hard not to stare.

Wooo, lotta subtle world building here. “Brightstones”, “firesun”, “Feylore”. More examples of magic. Very nice. Not blatantly explaining much, just dropping words here and there. 

11 hours ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

   Lacy snorted. “Because that would work. ‘Hey, have you seen a person recently? We don’t know who they are or what they look like.’” She gestured at the crowds again. “Because there’s obviously no one here who fits that description.”

Lol again. 

11 hours ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

There was no rain out here; why would there be, in a land without the Dayseasons?

More subtle worldbuilding. Very nice. 

11 hours ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

“We’ll meet each other again.” The merchant said.

HOID HOID HOID HOID

 

11 hours ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

Firelight, Waterlight, Earthlight, or Airlight

11 hours ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

 Uia closed his eyes, then after a second, flicked his hand backwards. The water covering Dain’s clothing seeped away from the fabric, floating in midair as a thousand little droplets.

11 hours ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

They weren’t snow. In fact, they smelled of quite the opposite; smoke.

11 hours ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

“According to the textbooks, it spans twenty miles at fifty feet tall, and about twenty feet  thick.”

11 hours ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

“I’m Geniora, Master Arcane Mage. I’ll be your Earth Arcana instructor at the Academy.”

Hmmmm, where have I heard the words “Water, Earth, Fire, and Air” used a lot, seen people have the ability to magically move water, seen smoke be mistaken for snow, and seen a city related to “earth” with a really big wall.......
:P


Okay, this was a pretty good chapter. Not a ton happens, kinda just a transition chapter, but we still get a lot of info, So far there’s been a really good balance between Corrin’s POV and the girls. I’m not more invested in one of another. This is good because otherwise people tend to get bored of certain characters POV and only read them to get through to the character they care about.

*cough* Sarene *cough* Raoden *cough

I can’t wait to read more of this!

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5 hours ago, Danex said:

HOID HOID HOID HOID

:ph34r:;)

Quote

Hmmmm, where have I heard the words “Water, Earth, Fire, and Air” used a lot, seen people have the ability to magically move water, seen smoke be mistaken for snow, and seen a city related to “earth” with a really big wall.......

Don't worry, I'll stop Avataring and get to more Iconar Collectiving in a few chapters, once I manage to really explain the seperate magic systems.

Thanks for all the feedback; and I like that you like it! (Did I really just write that sentence?)

 

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Here's a map of Ivinan by the way. Hope it helps clear some stuff up:

Ivinan.jpeg

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Posted (edited)

Triple posting! Whoohoo! I am on a roll!

This chapter's shorter (a lot shorter), but that's okay, because it's also ambiguous!

Spoiler

Chapter V - Omens

First Earthlight | The plains, Ivinan

    As the other soldiers breathed quietly in the state of sleep (exempting Garnell, of course, who was releasing a loud series of snores), Dain sat on a stool, sharpening his blade. His whetstone scraped against the blade, shaving off rust, dirt, and oddity stains that could’ve come from anywhere. The rains had ended just minutes ago; and his inability to fall asleep led him to want to do something.

    So he sharpened his sword, sitting on a stump, staring aimlessly into the distance.

    You did as I asked, yes? The voice asked him.

    Dain sighed, then set his sword down. “Listen, Forse… I don’t know what you want.”

    What I want is inconsequential, it said, it is the path that the Iconar Collective must tread. I asked you to recruit the boy for your own benefit. It’s as simple as that.

    “You know, for a god, you’re awful at lying.”

    Even my own powers can only see so far into the future. What I see is the boy becoming a great asset to your squadron. Perhaps there is a greater reason behind his recruitment, but for now, I can only see so far.

    “A great asset, huh?” Dain replied, picking up his sword and continuing to sharpen it. “It’s about time you gave me something useful with all your magical fortune telling. I swear an oath in your name, join your little demon cult, and it takes you five years to get me something as useful as a great asset?”

    It didn’t reply, to Dain’s frustration. He continued sharpening his sword.

    Scraaape…

    Scraaape…

    Ping!

    Dain looked down, sighing as he realized that his whetstone had struck against his crossguard in his absent-mindedness. He hadn’t even seen it coming. He blew off some metal dust that had fallen there, then grabbed an oiling cloth and began cleaning around the tiny scrape. It didn’t take long, and even though there was still a small indent in the crossguard, Dain didn’t bother to clean any longer. He oiled his blade, then slid it back into its sheath at his waist.

    He stood up, but before he could walk back to the conjoined series of tents, Garnell woozily got up and stumbled out into the forest. Dain didn’t look twice at him; he knew that Garnell would be getting up to answer nature’s calls any second now. After Garnell was out of sight, Dain began whistling a tune—and just seconds later, a songbird started mimicking it. Dain looked up at the bird, observing it for a few seconds, then slipped into the nearest tent and took a seat on a small barrel of weapon oil.

    On the wall, a coat hung out to dry from the Waterlight rains. Dain winced for a second, and then watched it tumble off its hook onto the ground. Whoever it belonged to—hopefully they didn’t mind their uniform dirty.

    What a curse. Dain thought to himself. Knowing all this.

    You chose it. The voice replied.

    A few minutes later, Dain looked up and was unsurprised to see Garnell returning from his trip to nature’s latrines. He held up a hand to greet him, making the gigantic man jump.

    “Oh, Dain!” Garnell said. “Didn’t see you there.” He laughed to himself a little. “I s’ppose you saw me comin’ a mile away, huh?”

    “Not quite a mile, but I knew you were coming.” Dain replied.

    “Yeah, I guess. Also… I never had a chance to actually thank you for recruitin’ Corrin.” Garnell said. “He’s been wantin’ and workin’ to be a soldier ever since his parents were killed by demons.”

    “Same old story, then?” Dain asked.

    “Same ol’ story.” Garnell replied. “Even he gets that.”

    Dain nodded, partially out of understanding, and partially out of respect. Most soldiers that joined the Enclave wanted to avenge a loved one, often a parent—but most didn’t understand that everyone else was there for the same reason. It wasn’t so uncommon to have a soldier holding his life’s struggles higher than everyone else’s despite the fact that they weren’t any worse than the next person; so someone who understood that they weren’t the only one was a relief, when they could be found.

    “Is he a good person?” Dain asked. “He’s got fire—and I can respect that—but on a personal level, is he…?”

    “If you’re askin’ if whether he’s a self-centered, uncarin’, demon-style jerk, then yes. Yes, he is a decent person.”

    “You know what I mean, Garnell.”

    Garnell chuckled. “Yeah, he’s a good guy. I don’t know how he is in a fight, but he works hard, tries to protect other people, loyal as sin; you don’t find his type on every recruitment board.”

    “Does he follow orders well?” Dain asked. “Just out of curiosity, of course.”

    “Of course.” Garnell echoed, chuckling. “Also, no idea. I’ll tell you what, though; he can give them like an angry parent. We always won whenever we played soldier as kids, and I’ve never seen him lose a game of Arcala to anybody except his own uncle.”

    “So a strategist, then?”

    Garnell shrugged. “I don’t know how well stick-and-pinecone battles translate to real war, but yeah, I suppose he is.”

    “So a great asset to the team, huh?”

    Garnell frowned. “Yeah… I guess you could say it like that.”

    Dain nodded. “Nice… well, we’d best be getting some sleep, then.”

    “Yup.” Garnell yawned and stretched. “‘Night, Dain.”

    “Goodnight.”

 


 

    Unfortunately, sleep meant dreams.

    It wasn’t that Dain wasn’t used to them—rather, he could usually tell they were coming even before he fell asleep—it was that he wasn’t particularly fond of them.

    His first few were normal; well, as normal as dreams could ever be. Snowball fights with Garnell, for one, which was rudely interrupted by a fifty-foot-tall demon. Then, he and Teren were standing back to back, wielding fire pokers at an onslaught of flower-creatures craving human blood. This shifted to him falling endlessly into the Red Valley Rift, grabbing at thin air to try and stop his fall.

    Then, his dreams became more coherent. In this distance, an army of people of from every realm—humans, dragons, and dwarves fighting alongside each other, the fleekers and vampires defending each other. Dain couldn’t see who they were fighting against, but he didn’t need to; he’d killed those creatures of filth a thousand times—and with none other than the literal king of demons, Calamitous Oblivion himself, fighting at his side.

    Dain swung around instinctively, yanking his sword from its sheath at his side and slashing through the air. Just as he did, a scream pierced the air, and a birdlike creature fell to the ground, neck cut clean through by Dain’s blade.

    “Excellent form,” Calamitous Oblivion, king of demons, said, “have you been practicing?”

    Dain didn’t reply, rather growling and turning to face a group of hairy, spider-like creatures. All their legs, save two, were on the front of their bodies, so that they almost looked like a walking mop. They hesitated, out of reach from his blade, until one reared back and jumped at him. Dain sliced it out of the air, then moved his blade to guard his chest as a second jumped mere moments after. One after the other jumped at him, and he mercilessly slew them all. Just behind those, a human with glowing black eyes charged at him, holding a sword in a fashion that could only mean harm to Dain. However, the human’s skills were lacking, and Dain cut him down with ease. Aside from the spider-creatures and bird monsters, the most abundant of his adversaries were corrupted people.

Behind him, he could hear a similar battle originating from the demon king. As much as Dain wished he didn’t have periodical dreams with the Calamitous, it was nice to have a suitable warrior behind him. Once, he had run away from the demon king, and after a corrupted dwarf had smashed his chest in with a massive hammer, Dain had woken up in a cold sweat, an awful aching in his chest where the dwarf had hit him. Since then, he had stayed near Calamitous Oblivion—though reluctantly. The companionship with who he considered his worst enemy hadn’t always protected him, but he didn’t want to take any chances.

“Say, this battle isn’t as bad as the others, don’t you think?” Calamitous Oblivion said. “Remember last week’s? I got my arm cut off then.”

“No more than you deserve.” Dain replied, scowling as he cut up a flock of the bird monsters.

Calamitous Oblivion stabbed at a spider monster. “Now, that’s not very nice. I had an actual battle to lead that morning, and I had to put it off just because I couldn’t move my arm! I lost no shortage of ground to the Silverclad Enclave that day.”

“Good.”

After a moment of silence—as silent as a battlefield could ever be, that was—Calamitous Oblivion spoke up again. “You know, I don’t enjoy these dreams any more than you do.”

“Who says you’re actually here?” Dain ducked beneath a wide-swung sword. “You’re probably out killing good men in Central Midway right now, and not even thinking about it.”

“That’s not true. I’m currently asleep, and for good reason. One of those soldiers managed to stab me in the arm awhile back, and I’ve been healing up since. That soldier died honorably.”

“Says you.” Dain spat. “You’re just a mindless killer. You made that up; a monster like you wouldn’t remember any one soldier they killed.”

“I remember all of them.” The Calamitous replied quietly, not for the first time.

“No less than you deserve.”

“So I’ve been told.” The demon king sighed.

Dain ran a corrupted fleeker through the chest, then said, “I swore to kill you. I swore under Carnon’s name that I’d kill you.”

“Pleasant.”

“And if I didn’t, I’d be there with the person who did.”

“Fancy seeing a Silverclad Enclave captain there in the palace of Sunken Deep, watching and cheering on some challenger opting for position as Calamitous. Would that solve your problem, Dain? You think watching me be beheaded and replaced with an even more powerful demon would end this war any faster? Hm?”

“As if you wanted this war to be over.”

“I admit, my position as Calamitous is rather supported by the current military squabbles between our nations, and ending this war one way or the other wouldn’t exactly secure my position of power. Regardless, I don’t delight in killing, so perhaps one day you will watch someone run me through the eye with a spearhead, and while I finally get a break from all these voices in my head, you could say ‘I told you so.’”

“I hate you.”

“So I’ve been told.”

“I hate this war.”

“I’m not partial to it myself, as I just stated.”

“Then why am I dreaming about both?”

“Ooh, that’s new.” Calamitous Oblivion cut in an arc with his sword. “I honestly wonder that myself. Perhaps your hatred Forged a Spirit Bond or something? Not that I’m an expert on these things—I can barely Decay—but I have learned a thing or two from those who can.”

“Can’t I just wake up already?”

“You think I don’t want to? Dreams are dreams.”

Dain sighed in frustration and anger, then cut through a group of corrupted humans.

I am going to kill you, Calamitous Oblivion, Dain growled to himself, I swore that on Carnon—I swear it.

Edited by Channelknight Fadran
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21 minutes ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

On the wall, a coat hung out to dry from the Waterlight rains. Dain winced for a second, and then watched it tumble off its hook onto the ground. Whoever it belonged to—hopefully they didn’t mind their uniform dirty.

    What a curse. Dain thought to himself. Knowing all this.

:huh::huh:
 

Consider me......I n t r e g u i e d

Hears a god in his head? Demon cults? I like where this is going.....

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3 minutes ago, Danex said:

:huh::huh:
 

Consider me......I n t r e g u i e d

Hears a god in his head? Demon cults? I like where this is going.....

I like that you like where this is going.

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5 hours ago, Channelknight Fadran said:

I like that you like where this is going.

I'm shocked that you didn't say, "Did I really just write that sentence?"

Also, I wish I was creative. I feel like I'm good at coming up with original ideas, then I read things like this and my friend's writing and I realize that the story I've gotten the farthest on is a pretty generic fantasy.

I have had another idea that I think is pretty original, but I haven't gotten around to writing it.

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3 minutes ago, DramaQueen said:

Also, I wish I was creative. I feel like I'm good at coming up with original ideas, then I read things like this and my friend's writing and I realize that the story I've gotten the farthest on is a pretty generic fantasy.

I have had another idea that I think is pretty original, but I haven't gotten around to writing it.

For me its more like, I get what I think are creative ideas, but then I will try to write them down and just can't.

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Just now, The_Truthwatcher said:

For me its more like, I get what I think are creative ideas, but then I will try to write them down and just can't.

That too. Just. All of the blocks. I can't think of creative ideas, but when I do, they don't want to flow or aren't actually creative.

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Well, @The_Truthwatcher and @DramaQueen, there are several steps to writing interesting fantasy. It doesn't have to be a work of super original ideas and super good writing; you could create something super original and write it not as well, and it'll still be intriguing. Simultaneously, if you take something super generic and write it down really well, then you can make anything sound interesting. And if you don't think you're good at either--well, I don't think that you're bad at either. Don't make excuses. Excuses are BAD.

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*poofs into existence*

Is Corrin named after the Fire Emblem character by any chance? I think I’ve seen you mention the series before... is definitely not trying to figure out if you’ve played Three Houses.

I want to give you feedback but I don’t have the time to write up something decent, sorry. From what little I read I think you have the basis of something really exciting. 

23 hours ago, The_Truthwatcher said:

For me its more like, I get what I think are creative ideas, but then I will try to write them down and just can't.

23 hours ago, DramaQueen said:

That too. Just. All of the blocks. I can't think of creative ideas, but when I do, they don't want to flow or aren't actually creative.

I’m not sure if this will work for you two, and I am definitely not qualified to be giving out writing advice, but the best piece of advice I’ve ever received is “Write the book you want to read.” Easier said than done, I know, but if I found that if I stopped focusing on originality and my ideas, and just more on what I thought was cool, what tropes I liked, then everything began to flow a lot more smoothly. There’s a quote from Mistborn that sums it up nicely. I think it’s something like “nothing is original except for style”, and I think that applies to writing, too. Everything we create is a synthesis of our thoughts, feelings, worldview, the stories we’ve consumed, loved, cried over, the world around us, and a whole bunch of other things. If you’re writing it, chances are it’s been written before. But it’s the way in which we explore these ideas (storms, I sound like an English teacher) that makes our stories unique and vibrant. So even if you feel like your ideas are cliche, if you like them, if you feel excited by them, then write anyway! Cliche elements can be changed in a later draft.

As for not knowing where to go with ideas, this is something I still struggle with, but I read somewhere that breaking those ideas can really help create a story. Ideas are like eggs (I seemingly can’t help coming up with weird similes). They’re the start of something, but you have to break them if you want to get to the good bits inside. Create problems. Grab your idea(s) (you could combine some if you want) and figure out how things would go wrong. Then make them go wrong. I’m making this sound a lot easier than it is, but it really helps escalate tension and puts characters in tricky situations. 

Sorry to hijack your thread with my crazy rambles, Fadran. Good luck with your writing!

:ph34r:Since I’m supposed to be inactive, I was never here:ph34r: 

*sneaky Salad exit*

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1 minute ago, The Awakened Salad said:

(storms, I sound like an English teacher)

My English teacher last year was my favorite teacher of all time. And before then, I never had an English teacher I disliked.

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Posted (edited)

17 minutes ago, DramaQueen said:

My English teacher last year was my favorite teacher of all time. And before then, I never had an English teacher I disliked.

Oh no, I don’t have anything against English teachers at all, most of my favourite teachers were English teachers too, I just felt like I was turning into a lecturer and subsequently started feeling bad about it.

Edited by The Awakened Salad
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12 minutes ago, The Awakened Salad said:

Oh no, I don’t have anything against English teachers at all, most of my favourite teachers were English teachers too, I just felt like I was turning into a lecturer and subsequently started feeling bad about it.

I didn't assume you were, I was just letting you know that I think English teachers are the best, and you, by sounding like an English teacher, are also the best!

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