Excerpt: Slaying Dragons
Devi pushed open the door to the back office of the tiny outpost. The Head Facilitator behind the desk glanced up at her briefly as she entered and waved her towards the tiny chair in front of his desk. The office was tiny, barely large enough for the desk. Boxes and stacks of papers lined the walls, with barely a narrow corridor between the desk and the wall for the Facilitator to leave the room. His desk was stacked with more papers, and it was a wonder he didn’t knock into any of them as he scrawled hastily across the page in front of him.
Dropping her bag next to the tiny chair, Devi dropped down into the seat carelessly. The chair creaked loudly in protest, but held steady. The Facilitator didn’t look up, even at the loud noise, focused on whatever he as writing. Devi shifted impatiently, making the chair creak again.
She’d been at the outpost for two days already. The order to pack and be ready to leave had come with her breakfast, but it was mid-afternoon before she’d received the second message to report to the Facilitator’s office for her new assignment.
Given that she’d been ordered to pack, Devi doubted she’d be reprimanded at this outpost. That was, unless the reprimand included jail time, which, considering the jackass lodging the complaint, was possible. He was an unfortunately important jackass, one with connections to even more important assholes, and Devi wouldn’t put it past him to lie to make her transgressions seem worse than they were.
Devi didn’t regret pissing him off, though. Her job was difficult enough without having to pander to soft, squeamish nobles who thought their magics gave them more skill and power than anything she could do with her blade.
The Facilitator moved suddenly, and Devi tensed, then made herself relax as he folded the letter into thirds. He tucked it into a yellowed, brittle-looking envelope and tossed it on the top of one of the piles on his desk.
“I apologize for the wait,” he said briskly. He searched through the stacks of papers on his desk before selecting one with a small noise of triumph. “Your latest orders, Miss Bissette.”
Devi leaned forward and accepted the thin sheet of paper. Sitting back elicited another loud creak of protest from the chair, but Devi paid it no mind. She broke the seal on the page, then read over the missive. It was short and to the point, as initial orders typically were. She was to travel to New Haven to meet a mage—one Noeme Lavoie—before setting out to deal with a reported dragon in the Red Forest.
“And about the complaint lodged against me by Faucher?” Devi asked, frowning at the Facilitator. Complaints were typically addressed before a new assignment was given to the person against which the complaint had been made. Devi would know—this was this four complaint against her in the last two years.
“I don’t know anything about that,” the Facilitator said, shrugging. He looked down at the papers on his desk, picking up his pen before looking at her again. “Did you need anything else?”
“No,” Devi said, deciding he was telling the truth and probably didn’t care one whit about a complaint lodged against a Level 8 Combatant. Tucking the orders into a pocket on her vest, she stood, pausing only to retrieve her bag before leaving the office.
The office immediately abutted the mess, and Devi headed for the door on the far side that would take her to the stable yard. Perhaps Faucher hadn’t gone through with his threat of lodging a complaint against her? Devi snorted, ignoring the looks she got from the off-duty guardsmen for the sudden noise. Faucher had too much ego to let her off the hook that easily.
Maybe he’d been laughed out of the Commissioner’s office? Or, more likely, Devi realized, he hadn’t reached the Commissioner to complain. The capital was a week’s ride south. If Faucher wanted to make his complain in person, then it wouldn’t be addressed until after her current assignment was complete.
Leaving the outpost, Devi headed across the dirt-packed yard that separated the tiny outpost building from the stables. This was the smallest outpost she’d visited yet, and she’d seen a lot of outposts. Scattered throughout the country, outposts gave combatants, mages, couriers, and soldiers places to rest and restock.
On the country’s borders, they were typically squat, ugly concrete buildings; this one was no exception. Like most border outposts, it was surrounded by a tall wall that stretched far above her head. Outposts this remote were a prime target for bandits, despite that there were typically combatants and soldiers stationed or resting at an outpost at any given time.
The Facilitator would no doubt send word ahead that Devi was on her way to New Haven. It was a two-day ride, if she took it easy, but a dragon—even a possible dragon—was enough reason to hurry. There was a scattering of small villages on the edge of the Red Forest, and Devi would prefer to get there as soon as possible, rather than taking her time and having to deal with the aftermath of a dragon attack again.
Pushing the old, unpleasant memories aside, Devi accepted the reins to her horse from a stable boy, then tossed him a coin for his trouble. He squirreled it away in his pocket with a wide, gap-toothed grin, and Devi returned the smile briefly before mounting.
If she hurried, she could make New Haven by the following evening. Then, providing the new mage she was assigned to wasn’t as fussy and snotty as Faucher had been, they could depart for the Red Forest at daybreak the day after that.
New Haven was a small city. The outpost was nestled in the heart of the city, and as such it had none of the battlements of the border outposts. The city itself was protected by a thick strongwall and a dry moat. There was also a large garrison of troops stationed in the city somewhere as well.
Directing her horse to a stop in the stable yard, Devi swung down from the saddle. She was a little stiff from the long ride, but she was long used to days spent in the saddle. Detaching the saddlebags from their place behind the saddle, Devi passed the stable hand who had come to meet her a few coins, instructing him to have the horse ready first thing in the morning.
The New Haven outpost was the polar opposite of the border outpost Devi had left the day before. Instead of a squat concrete building, it was a large, sprawling former farmhouse. It was painted a bright white that nearly glowed in the twilight. Light blazed from nearly every window, and the smell of fresh-cooked meat and the sound of laughter were on the air.
Devi wanted food and a bath if she could wrangle it. Unfortunately, she had to report to the Facilitator here, and then find Lavoie. Stars and moon, she hoped this mage wasn’t as high maintenance as Faucher had been. Devi wasn’t sure she could handle that without snapping.
She entered the outpost through a back door, into what was obviously the mess area. Tables filled the long room, polished to a shine and lined with neat rows of chairs. The room was mostly empty at this hour. There were a few stragglers—combatants, Devi noted the patch on their jackets immediately. They were gathered by the fireplace, eating and drinking and telling stories.
“Facilitator’s office is at the front, to your left,” an older woman said, poking her head out of the kitchen off to the side. “The one with the silver plaque on the door. Come back when you’re done and I’ll have a meal ready for you.”
“Thank you, ma’am,” Devi said, heading in the direction the woman had pointed. The hallway was brightly lit by mage lights, hovering above the unlit candles set in the fixtures along the walls. The candles would be used in case there were no mages to replenish the lights, but in a city as large as New Haven, Devi had no doubt they rarely had to resort to using the candles.
The Facilitator’s office was where she’d been told, and Devi knocked loudly. She waited until someone called, “Come in,” loudly, and then entered the room. The office was much neater than the Facilitator’s office had been in the border outpost. The top of the desk was bare, with the exception of a name plate, a few letters, and a pen and ink pot. The furniture was decent and didn’t look like it had been constructed from leftover firewood. The walls were painted a warm yellow, and there was even room enough for a small fireplace, though it was warm enough that no fire was burning in the grate.
Instead of boxes and stacks of files lining the walls, there were bookcases holding neatly organized files and books. The two chairs placed in front of the Facilitator’s desk looked like they would actually hold Devi’s weight without protest, and be quite comfortable as they did it.
The Facilitator was seated behind the desk. She was an older woman with gray streaks shooting through her brown hair. Her eyes were brown, and she was currently squinting at Devi, assessing her over the top of her glasses. From the curl of her lip, she obviously found Devi lacking. She was missing her left hand from the wrist down, and Devi thought she’d probably been a mage at some point.
“Sit down,” the Facilitator said, not sounding pleased. “Miss Bissette, I presume? We weren’t expecting you until tomorrow.”
Devi didn’t reply to that, just set her bag down and took one of the seats. The Facilitator turned, her chair swiveling with her, and began to thumb through a set of files on the bookcase behind her desk. Devi waited impatiently, jogging her knee up and down.
“You’re to head to the Red Forest with Mage Lavoie,” the Facilitator said. Beaumont, Devi read off the nameplate on the desk. Was Beaumont rude to all combatants or was Devi special? “We can discuss tomorrow what supplies you require—”
“I could use some food stores, but otherwise I’m set,” Devi interrupted. If Beaumont wasn’t even going to introduce herself, Devi wasn’t going to be polite either. “I’d like to be on the road tomorrow.”
“I see,” Beaumont said, her lips pinching together in disapproval. Devi just stared at her, daring her to say no. “Have you spoken to Mage Lavoie about this?”
“Not yet,” Devi said, refraining from rolling her eyes. She did want to finish with Beaumont as quickly as possible; antagonizing her wasn’t going to get Devi out of her office any quicker. Still, Devi couldn’t resist adding, “Protocol is to report to the Facilitator of the outpost upon arrival, ma’am.”
Beaumont mumbled something under her breath, snapping the file shut with her whole hand. Devi didn’t blink, staring impassively at Beaumont. She was either offended by combatants or by women combatants specifically, but Devi wasn’t going to give her an inch.
“Mage Lavoie is quartered in room 201. You’ll be in 204. It’s across the hall,” Beaumont said perfunctorily. She opened a drawer on her desk and fished out a key ring, which she tossed in Devi’s direction. “I’ll ensure there are provisions put together for you tonight, but if Mage Lavoie isn’t prepared to leave immediately, I expect you to wait, is that understood?”
“Yes, ma’am,” Devi said, deftly catching the key Beaumont had tossed at her. Standing, Devi picked up her bag and tossed them over her shoulder.
“You’re dismissed,” Beaumont said, as though that hadn’t been perfectly clear. Devi turned and left the room, tucking the key into a pocket on her vest.
The stairs to the upper level weren’t hard to find, and Devi climbed slowly. She was tired, but there would be no real rest until after the dragon had been killed. She would be happy with a hot bath and a bed at the moment. She could sleep when she was dead.
Room 201 was at the top of the stairs, diagonal to room 204. The hallway upstairs was lit more dimly than the one downstairs, but there was plenty enough light that Devi could read the signs tacked into place on each door. The light was dim enough that it was possible to see the light coming from within room 201, which meant that Mage Lavoie was likely still awake.
Devi made a quick stop in her assigned room to drop her bags on the bed. Then she returned to room 201, knocking loudly. There was no sound of movement from within the room, but a moment later the door opened.
Mage Lavoie was half a head shorter than Devi, with long, loose brown hair that glowed with gold tones in the mage light that flooded the room. She was dressed casually, in a loose white shirt that obscured her figure and a pair of worn trousers. The hair was impractical, but the clothing was the complete opposite of pretentious, so that didn’t give Devi any clues to Lavoie’s temperament.
“Are you Mage Lavoie?” Devi asked, starting with polite. Caught more flies with honey, as the saying went, even if Devi wasn’t good at sweetness.
“I am,” Lavoie said, peering up at Devi curiously. “Are you Combatant Bissette?” At Devi’s nod, Lavoie stepped back, opening the door wide for her. “Come in, please.”
Devi followed her inside, taking stock. The room was impersonal, and Lavoie had made no attempt to make it less so. Her belongings were scattered throughout the room, though. There was clothing in more places than Devi could count, and there were books and notebooks and papers scattered across every available surface, including the bed. All of it together was far more than a single horse could carry easily.
“The letter from the Vergness outpost said you wouldn’t arrive until tomorrow,” Lavoie said, clearing a chair of books. “I apologize. I had planned to get this sorted out tomorrow.”
“I was hoping to leave at first light,” Devi said, ignoring the comment about her early arrival. She was here now, that was the important thing.
“Why the rush?” Lavoie asked, her expression ingenuous and innocently curious, and Devi didn’t buy it for a second.
“A dragon is a grave threat to the villages along the edge of the forest,” Devi said flatly, wondering what Lavoie was playing at. “The sooner we get there and dispatch it, the better.”
“I admit, I haven’t dealt with dragons before,” Lavoie said, looking sheepish. Devi stared at her, hoping like hell she was joking and that the Facilitators hadn’t matched her with a green mage on an assignment to take out a dragon.
“Oh, don’t give me that look,” Lavoie said, a pretty smile curving her lips. “I’ve mostly dealt with basilisks and wyrms. The spells for dragon slaying are similar, even if I haven’t cast them before.”
“What are you doing this far north?” Devi asked, no particularly reassured. Basilisks and wyrms were deadly, but they tended to stick to the warmer climate of the southern provinces. At least, if Lavoie had experience with them, she wouldn’t freeze in battle, but that was poor consolation if she couldn’t remember the proper spells.
“Expanding my experience,” Lavoie said, the pleasant smile never faltering. “First light?”
Devi nodded shortly, not sure what was worse, a jackass full of his own importance or a novice mage excited to be facing a dragon.
“I can do that,” Lavoie said, pursing her lips thoughtfully. “Do you need anything?”
“Beaumont is taking care of it,” Devi said, reluctantly giving Lavoie credit for being willing to leave early on such short notice.
“All right, well, I won’t keep you,” Lavoie said amiably. “I’m sure you’d like to get some rest.”
“Yes,” Devi said simply. “I’ll meet you in the stables in the morning? Just before dawn?”
“Sounds like a plan,” Lavoie said brightly, and Devi nodded, turning and leaving the room.