The six members of the Lyte Brigade have been trying to cram as much final practice and preparation as possible into the last few days before their departure. Their spirits are high, but they would all be lying if they said they weren’t nervous before their first taste of the adventuring life. And for her part, Mrs. Lyte is nervous that her children won’t remember to pack a sufficiently warm sweater and clean underwear.
Nolan and Falcata have been running through an intensive regimen of training exercises: dodging things and lifting things and hitting things and running laps. They’ve also been sparring with each other at every available opportunity. Their current record is 17-10 in favour of Falcata, with three draws and one false start when Sally came out into the alley to tell Nolan she was hungry.
Tancred, meanwhile, has been studying strategy to avenge his recent series of defeats at Sally’s hands. He’s been consulting tactical treatises, historical war chronicles, and chess manuals, then putting all this theory into practice by playing out his various stratagems with the salt and pepper shakers, several spoons, a handful of olives, and a cookie in search of the ideal method to overcome his young rival—and, as an added bonus, perhaps learn something that might help the Lyte Brigade in battle. Thus far, he has been unsuccessful. Also, Pela ate his cookie.
Amara has checked out nearly every available spell book from the Porthaven Central Library. She is now busily researching any spell that strikes her as even remotely useful and transcribing them into her personal spell book. There are, she discovers, quite a few spells that involve hurling fireballs at things.
Pela is, in the estimation of her guildmates, far too eager to shoot something with her new crossbow—technically, it’s an arbalest, but no-one in the Lyte Brigade is entirely clear on the distinction.
“Are you sure about this, Matilda?” Pela asks as she loads the weapon.
“We both need the practice,” Matilda calls from the far end of the alley behind the Lyte family’s inn. “You need to learn how to shoot that thing, and I need to learn how to use a barrier spell.”
“I don’t have to shoot you,” Pela notes. “I could line up some burlap sacks, or something.”
“That doesn’t help me,” Matilda says.
“Neither does getting shot with an arrow,” Pela counters.
“Yeah, well, I guess that’s just one more reason to get it right the first time,” Matilda mutters.
Amara inwardly debates whether or not she should be watching this.
On the one hand, she should be offering her guildmate and fellow user of magic all the moral support she can muster. On the other hand, it would hardly be proper to gawk at what may very well prove to be an utter disaster.
Trying to do so casually, she begins leafing through her spell book in search of a healing spell that will be suitable for treating crossbow-related injuries.
She glances up to see Matilda throw out her hands, clamp her eyes shut, and grit her teeth. She promptly begins glowing, which Amara takes as a promising sign. Soon, she is surrounded by a glimmering dome of magical energy.
Pela takes a deep breath, raises her crossbow, and takes aim. She hesitates for a moment but steadies herself and shoots.
There’s a sound like a violin string snapping and Matilda is still standing safely ensconced and unscathed within her barrier.
“I think it worked,” Pela says.
“It worked!” Matilda exclaims happily.
“I never doubted you for even a moment,” Amara says.
Matilda lowers her hands and her barrier begins to dissipate.
“Hey, Matilda!” Nolan calls. “Heads up!”
He reaches for the basket of rubber balls the Lyte Brigade uses for some their training exercises and throws one at his sister.
Matilda quickly throws her hands back up and reconstitutes her barrier. The ball deflects off the barrier, flying up into the air and out of sight.
“Ow!” a new voice exclaims a few seconds later.
Matilda wheels towards the sound of the voice. Nolan sheepishly begins backing away, nudging the basket of rubber balls out of sight with his foot.
The newcomer has a bemused look on her face. “I’m looking for the Lyte Brigade?” she says, rubbing her wounded forehead. “The little girl with the chessboard and the guy with the floofy collar inside said they’d be out here?”
t the sound of the familiar voice, Amara looks up from the spell book in her lap.
“Katherine? What are you doing here?”
“I wanted to talk to you,” Kat Darkstone says. “But, I can come back, if now is a bad time. I think I’m interrupting… something.”
“Oh, hardly,” Amara says, surging to her feet and hurrying to her best friend’s side. “We’re just getting in some last-minute practice.” She proudly puffs herself up. “We are about to head off on our first official assignment, after all.”
“Well, yeah, I’m the one who told you the Ministry of Antiquities needs help,” Kat notes.
“Let me introduce you to the others!” Amara says eagerly. She grabs Kat’s arm and begins pulling her into the alley, not unlike some great squid grasping its prey.
You really don’t have to do that, Amara,” Kat mumbles. “Seriously, Amara, could we just—”
“Everyone!” Amara says, completely ignoring Kat’s protestations. “This is Katherine, my oldest and dearest friend.”
Amara begins to point to each of the members of the Lyte Brigade in turn.
“This is Nolan Lyte, our guild Captain, and his sister Matilda, our Assistant Captain. The one with the ‘floofy collar’ you mentioned is Sir Tancred von Ivanhoe-Hauteburg—I recruited him myself, by the way.
And this is Falcata of Theophano. And, finally, Pela Strahlend.”
She turns back to Kat.
“Here to wish us luck?”
“Actually, I was cleaning out all the unsold inventory in Grandpa’s store. I found this. It looks like a spell book,” Kat says, holding out an old book towards Amara. “He said I could have it. I figured you might be able use it. So, here you go.”
Amara leafs through the pages of the spell book. “Talk to Small Bears? Well, that’s… oddly specific.”
Her eyes alternate between narrowing in consternation and widening in bewilderment as she continues reading through the spells.
“Irritate Elbows? Startle Oak? Transmute to Beets? Katherine, is this some kind of strange prank?”
Amara closes the spell book and glances down at the title: Grimsby’s Grimoire of Discount Spells.
“Discount is certainly the word,” she mutters.
“Yeah,” Kat says bashfully. “That’s probably why he could never sell it. It looks pretty heavy. If you get into trouble, just chuck it at the bad guys.”
“Yes. Thank you, Katherine,” Amara mutters. “I’ll take it under advisement.”
So, yeah. Good luck,” Kat says, turning towards the mouth of the alley. “I guess I’ll see you when you get back. You can tell me all about it.”
“I have a request, Katherine,” Amara says.
Kat stops mid-stride and turns back towards Amara. “Yeah?”
“I’ll be expecting a celebration of my inevitable victory, Katherine. I think a cake will be in order,” Amara declares.
“Ugh,” Kat groans. “That sounds like work.”
“Yes, well, it’s only fair. I baked you a cake to celebrate your Adventuring Licence, as you’ll recall. And when I got my Adventuring Licence, you bought me a card.”
“It was a nice card,” Kat protests. “And it was expensive!”
“It said Congratulations, It’s a Boy!, Katherine. You just crossed out Boy and wrote Adventuring Licence,” Amara notes with a sigh.
“You’re my best friend, Amara! You shouldn’t need a cake to know that I care about you,” Kat insists.
“Of course I know that. But that is not the point, Katherine! I’ve been waiting for a cake of my own ever since you got your licence. It’s only fair, Katherine.” Amara answers. “And I’m sure Dunstana will want to help, of course.”
“Absolutely not!” Kat counters.
She has heard all about how Dunstana ‘helped’ Amara bake the cake to celebrate getting her Adventuring Licence. Being shot with a frosting cannon is not something Kat is in a hurry to experience for herself.
“Katherine,” Amara says sternly.
“Fine. I’ll see what I can do,” Kat mutters.
“Thank you, Katherine,” Amara says. “I’m looking forward to it.”
As Kat turns to leave, Amara catches her by the sleeve and holds her arms out expectantly.
“And do you really think you can see your best friend off on her first adventure without a hug?”