12 The First Mission
Casey spent his free day in his room, having given Thomas the standard sickness excuse when asked if he wanted to visit the merchants district. The entire day was dedicated to broadening his understanding of his own ability.
By the end of it he had only managed to slightly alter the shape of the water when he froze it. Still more than he'd been able to do only a few days before, but not the epic ice structures he imagined in his dreams. Instead he got oddly shaped blocks and oblong balls of ice and a massive headache for his struggles. Eventually he just passed out from the strain and didn't wake until the next morning.
The next few days passed quickly with few differences in routine. The only notable differences during the day was the addition of several different weapons into the training regimen. Including training with the knife, quarterstaff, and the bow. He could at least handle a knife without impaling himself, but was clueless in terms of how to fight with one. The quarterstaff training went far worse. He had nearly managed to knock himself out when he tried to swing it high and smacked himself in the head with the other end.
The bow came a bit more easily to Casey. He had owned a compound bow growing up that he would take hunting. Naturally there were quite a few differences between his old compound bow and the bow he was given to train with. He first had to get used to the draw weight. Rather than the relatively easy draw of the compound, with the shortbow he had to maintain a constant strain to hold the bowstring in place before he let loose his arrow. Then there was the obvious lack of a sighting system. He had to aim practically entirely by feel which proved to be quite difficult.
By the end of the day, he had managed to regularly hit the target at 20 paces. His arrow groupings were all over the place though.
His nights were spent with Aelrindel in the Knight's Hall. For the most part the training was similar to the first lesson. Mostly just continuing to freeze and unfreeze water. "Building up muscle," Aelrindel liked to say.
Casey did manage to pretty accurately move water in its liquid state around the room and even succeeded in making a small amount of water float up into the air. That even got a slight smile from his otherwise stoic instructor.
The morning before the recruits day off, Commander Rowan called him to her office.
When he arrived, Ronin was waiting in front of the door. After a curt greeting from the knight, he knocked on the door.
After a moment of silence, Commander Rowan's voice echoed from the room. "Come in."
Ronan opened the door and walked through, Casey quickly followed behind him.
Once again the strong fragrance of tea leaves struck him as they entered the room. The Captain sat behind her desk sipping her tea as Sara reclined in an armchair in front of it. Aelrindel was also
present, standing to the side gripping his cane.
Ronin strode to the front of the desk and gave a salute towards the Captain. Casey mimicked his actions, by this point saluting in this way had almost become second nature to him.
With a nod, the Captain put down her cup of tea and addressed them.
"You have been called here for two reasons. The first of which is to give you your first assignment, recruit."
"Assignment? Isn't it a little early for that?" Ronin cut in with a small frown.
Sara took a sip of her tea before replying with a somewhat sheepish look in her eyes. "I asked for him. I am going to my grandfather's estate tomorrow and I figured it would be a good time to iron out any details with his cover."
Ronin's frown deepened at that. To Casey it did not look like he approved.
"Besides, it's not like there will be any real danger. It's a trip I've made hundreds of times and Sir Baro assures me that Casey is at least capable enough to not stab himself with his sword."
Casey wasn't quite sure how he should take that last comment, sounded more like an insult than a compliment.
"And you approved of this, Captain? Even with everything that is going on right now?" Ronin almost glared at the Captain.
Casey tried to make sense of Ronin's second question. Maybe something to do with the disappearing Riders? He thought.
"I see no problem with it. In fact I fully support him going along. I think it will do him some good to get out of the capital for a bit. And it's not like he will be the only one guarding her. There will be a full contingent of Riders and guards going along." The Captain returned his glare, seeming to dare him to cross her.
"Fine, but I am going as well." Ronin grunted in defeat.
"Oh no, I have something else for you to do instead."
"But-" He tried to interject, but was silenced by another of her glares.
"First though, I have to ask our new recruit a question" She narrowed her eyes and focused on Casey. "I need you to be absolutely truthful… Was there any mention of something strange happening in that forest in your book?"
Casey shook his head. Despite going over his memories of the book countless times, there was nothing that even remotely resembled what they found in the woods. "No Captain. There was nothing."
"I see... " The Captain let out a long sigh as she stared at Casey thoughtfully.
Casey debated whether it would be proper for him to ask about what the scouts found but ultimately his curiosity got the best of him. "If I may ask… What exactly did the scouts find out there in the forest?"
As he finished his question the sound of rattling drew his attention to Sara where he found that her hands had begun to tremble. Whatever they found, Casey doubted it would be good.
"Well they found no monster from the history books that Recruit Hanes loves to read, if that is what you are worried about." The Captain replied. The words might almost have come across as reassuring had her tone not been so chilling. "However, the scouts did find a trail of carcasses, much like the one that you and the rest of the recruits found."
She paused and turned to point at a map hanging beside her. "They followed the trail of carcasses north into the mountains. Eventually they came across an old hunting cabin." Her voice grew even colder as she spoke and Casey felt as if the room itself had dropped in temperature. "They spoke very little of what they found in that cabin, only of the blood that covered the floors and the walls. They thought there might have been as many as three or four people but they were unable to accurately tell.
"By the time they managed to leave the cabin and compose themselves a storm had hit them, washing away the trail they had been following. Ultimately they decided it would be best to return and report."
Silence filled the room as Casey felt the blood drain from his face when the Captain had finished speaking. Thoughts of what they might have found in that cabin kept running through his head. Though he had not been a Rider for long, he had a strong sense of the kind of people that the Riders were. He could scarcely imagine a scene that would render one of them incapable of repeating what they had seen.
Hell, only a few weeks ago he had been nothing but a university student from a well off family. The most blood he'd seen was from hunting deer. The mere thought of another human being mutilated like that was enough to cause his knees to want to buckle. He had to force them to lock in order to avoid falling down on the spot.
It wasn't only Casey that was having trouble with this new information. Sara had been forced to put down her teacup in order to avoid dropping it and even Ronin was gripping the hilt of his sword tightly. Only Aelrindel seemed to be able to fully maintain his composure as he had not moved from his spot by the window.
The Captain had been watching all of their reactions closely, her piercing eyes especially focusing on
Casey. Again he felt as if she could see every thought that was running through his head.
After a moment, she stood from her desk and addressed them. "Though this is a grave report, at this time it is the only report of its kind. There have been no other incidents or even rumors of another attack like the one at that cabin. As far as we can tell, this was an isolated incident."
She turned to address Ronin directly. "You will put together a team of Riders you feel up to the task, and you will hunt this thing down. I want no more attacks." There was steel in her voice and she had a look that said that she would not tolerate any failure. The Captain who doted on her Riders and hated meetings was gone. In her place was a woman who exuded leadership and confidence in her subordinates.
Ronin threw his fist against his chest in acknowledgment of the order.
She then addressed Casey and the others in the room. "You will both go to the Duke's estate as if nothing has happened. Aelrindel, I would like you to accompany them and continue teaching Recruit Bennett how to use his powers."
Casey gave her a salute of his own as Sara nodded once. Aelrindel tapped the floor softly with his cane as if in deep thought before nodding in agreement as well.
As he was watching this Knight Commander give out her orders, Casey felt the unease from earlier lessen. He even found that he was able to stand normally again.
"Until we know more of what we are dealing with, we can not allow news of this attack to reach the public. It would spread undo panic." The Captain then looked at each of them intensely before giving a small wave of her hand. "That will be all for now, you are all dismissed. Except you Bennett, stay here for a moment."
The others filed out of the room while Casey remained behind. Aelrindel paused for a moment beside him, "When you are done here, go down to the Knight's Hall, today you will be training with me."
Casey could only nod as he passed.
When they had all left, the Captain sat back down in her chair and stared at him for a moment. Her eyes softened a bit while she looked at him. "Well Bennett, take a seat." She waved towards one of the chairs in front of her desk.
He all but collapsed in the chair, finding it considerably softer than he was expecting. When he leaned back in the chair he realized just how tense he had been and that his knees ached slightly from how he had been standing.
"How are you holding up?" The Captain asked after she saw that he had taken a seat and relaxed somewhat.
Casey's eyes widened slightly at that question. He hadn't expected her to actually ask how he was doing.
For a moment he considered lying to her and telling her that everything was fine, but he figured she wouldn't believe him if he did. Ultimately he just sighed and told her how he really felt.
"In all honesty? Not very well at all. The training keeps me busy and learning how to use my ability has been amazing. But when training is done and I'm lying in my room at night, it all comes rushing back at once. Everything about this place feels so alien and yet at the same time so familiar. I don't know how that is possible but that's how I feel.
"Not only that but I can't help missing my home and my old life. Everything here is so complicated to me, so many things that I can't make any real sense of.
"And to top it all off, there's this situation in the forest. I don't understand why it didn't happen in the book and that terrifies me. It's like the only thing that I know about this world is suddenly changing and I don't know what to do about it or how to feel… I probably shouldn't be complaining to someone who is my superior like this but at this point I can't really help it."
When he had finished speaking, Casey felt himself breathing very hard. It was the first time he'd ever put what he was feeling into words and it felt like a weight had been lifted off his chest.
For her part, the Captain had not spoken or made any move to interrupt him throughout his entire speech. She remained silent and allowed him to let all of his thoughts out.
For a moment she just sat there collecting her own thoughts before she finally spoke. "Even with all my years experience as a Rider and before, I can't even come close to understanding what happened to you or why you are here. I don't know why you know what you do about us nor do I know why things aren't happening the way you thought they would. I can however say this, for as long as you are a Queen's Rider, I will do my best to aid and support you as your Captain. For now that is all I can do."
To Casey, this was exactly what he needed. He knew that she could not fix his problem but the
knowledge that she would do whatever she could to help him was more than enough for now. He still desperately wanted to go home, but her words eased his mind quite a lot.
"Thank you Captain for saying that."
She smiled, "That is just a part of my job, to look out for all of my Riders."
He almost laughed aloud when she said that. At least for the moment, the very serious Captain from before was gone and the doting Captain had returned.
"Alright well, that's all the time I have for playing therapist today." She began shooing him towards the door. "You should go down and get yourself something to eat before reporting to Aelrindel for training."
Smiling again, Casey left her office and began heading off to get something to eat. He discovered that he had quite the appetite as he walked down the halls, stomach growling.