Excerpt: Slaying Dragons

Devi was almost certain she wasn’t going to be reprimanded at this outpost. She’d been ordered to make ready to leave that morning, so likely they were sending her on to a bigger outpost to be properly sanctioned and, given the jackass lodging the complaint, potentially thrown in jail for a while.

It would be better than waiting around. She’d been at Outpost 36 for two days already, with no instructions except that she not leave the grounds. Outpost 36 was a small outpost, fit for about a dozen combatants and mages, with stores enough for any traveling combatants or mages that passed through.

The facilitator of Outpost 36 was a short, chubby man, with balding hair and a well-groomed mustache. He hid his head under a navy-colored tricorne that matched his faded, standard-issue jacket. He didn’t look up when she entered his office, a tiny room barely large enough for his 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 any of the stacks over as he scrawled hastily across the page in front of him.

Dropping her bag next to the tiny chair before the desk, Devi dropped down into the seat. The chair creaked loudly in protest, but didn’t give way. The facilitator didn’t look up, focused on whatever he was writing. Devi shifted impatiently, making the chair creak again.

She should probably be thankful the jackass had chosen to ride on to Outpost 24 so she didn’t have to deal with him these past few days. Unfortunately, he was an 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; 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. She did almost wish she’d run him through and left him to rot in a ditch somewhere. She could’ve claimed a dragon had gotten him.

The facilitator ceased writing, folding the letter into thirds. Devi tensed, but then made herself relax. She wasn’t going to let Faucher get to her. Until she was reprimanded, Devi would act as though nothing had gone wrong on her last mission.

“I apologize for the wait,” the facilitator said briskly. He set his letter aside and 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, folded sheet of paper. Sitting back elicited another loud creak of protest from the chair, but Devi paid it no mind, her attention on the letter. She broke the seal on the page, and 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—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. Complaints were typically addressed before a new assignment was given to the person against whom the complaint had been made. Devi would know—this was the fourth complaint against her in the last two years. Then again, she was being assigned to take care of a dragon; that was a pressing concern.

“I don’t know anything about that,” the facilitator said. His moustache twitched up at both ends and he stared at her implacably. “Did you need anything else?”

“No,” Devi said. He probably didn’t care. Most of the smaller outposts only cared that combatants and mages did their jobs and did them without causing any trouble to the outpost. Tucking the orders into a pocket on her vest, Devi stood, pausing only to retrieve her bag before leaving the office.

The facilitator’s 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.

No, more likely they hadn’t sorted out how to best deal with the complaint yet. Faucher would try to get it elevated to the highest office—the commissioner—and the capital and the commissioner’s office was a week’s ride south. The only reason she wasn’t in limbo was likely either that it was a dragon, which was dangerous enough to require her to be sent out immediately, or whomever had issued the order hadn’t learned of the complaint.

Leaving the outpost, Devi headed across the dirt-packed yard to 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 between and during orders.

They were typically squat, ugly, concrete buildings, and 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 the fact that there were typically several 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 an unconfirmed dragon—was reason to hurry. If her geography lessons held, there were a handful of small villages on the edge of the Red Forest. Devi would much rather get there as quickly as possible rather than deal with the aftermath of a dragon attack again.

Pushing the old, unpleasant memories aside, Devi mounted up. If she pushed hard, 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 dawn the day after that.

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