“What do you mean, ‘What am I talking about?’ My weapon is that I throw poisoned darts at people, and they fall down! It’s simple!” I yell.
The clerk glares at me, eyes narrowed. “Sir, if you won’t tell me how you fight I can’t know what unit to put you in.”
“But I’m telling you right now!” I take a deep breath. We’ve been arguing about this for the past five minutes, and the people behind me in line are starting to get impatient. That’s after the stubborn idiot finally stopped shuffling through the pile of papers on his desk and deigned to look at me. “Look, I’m not joking. I fight using darts. Like this.” I turn and throw a dart at the closest wall, where it stuck, quivering. “See?”
Sighing, the clerk shakes his head. “I’ll put you with the scouts, sir. Perhaps they will appreciate your jokes.”
“Sweet! Thanks!” I retrieve my dart from the wall and return to my friends. “Guys, I’m in the scouts!”
Cara laughs. “Ben, do you even know what the scouts do?”
“No, not really. But at least I don’t have to deal with that stupid clerk anymore!” Grinning, I give Sol a high five. “That’s easily enough to make me rejoice. So, where did you guys get assigned?”
Oliver shrugs. “I’m an archer. It’s what I expected, since, well...I’m an archer.”
“I’m a beserker. I didn’t even know berserkers existed,” Cara says. “It’s like all my dreams come true!”
Sol glances off to the side. “They want me to be a spy. It’s because I can defend myself without weapons, so they think I’ll be safer than many of the others.”
“Um, isn’t that dangerous?” I ask.
“We’re fighting a war,” he reminds me. “I don’t think there’s anything we can do that isn’t dangerous.”
“Yeah, but...They’re splitting us all up. What if...”
“Darkdoom told the clerks to do this because ‘divided we fall?’” he finishes. “It doesn’t make any sense. Why would he profit from us not being able to help him?”
“Why would Xenophilius hire us to come to this world and then betray us?” i retort. “Nothing here makes sense. Just...just be careful.”
He gives me a kiss on the cheek. “I will. And you too. Goodbye. I’ll tell you when they send me away to actually spy.”
“Bye.” We split up to go to the barracks for our new units.
An hour or two later, in the practice field for the barracks, I was starting to understand why the clerk assigned me to the scouts. In case anybody’s wondering, it wasn’t because of their bravery, skill-at-arms, or firm loyalty to their country. I think, and I may be wrong here, but I think it’s because they’re all total oddballs. Even more than me, and that’s saying something.
My companions in the training yard are a woman only four feet high who’s glare is scarier than Cara’s and a tall, scarred man sulking in the corner. Scary thing is, I think he might be my commander.
The tiny woman twirls her sling again and sends a rock flying towards the target on the opposite wall. We’re the newest recruits, and it seems the commander wants to see how we fight.
I pull my arm back then swing it forward, releasing the dart in one smooth, practiced motion. It thuds into the center of the target.
The woman glances at me. “Pretty, but inefficient. What do you do if your target is armored? That doesn’t look like it has enough force behind it to do much damage, anyway.”
I shrug. “It works well enough for me. All they need is a scratch and they’ll be dropping sooner or later. Poisoned,” I explain at her inquiring look.
She snorts. “Poison is a coward’s weapon.”
“Maybe so, but a dead enemy is a dead enemy, no matter how they get that way. Besides, what do you do if your target is armored? I’m guessing those little stones of yours can’t puncture iron.”
“I run.” I laugh at her response. I’m enjoying this banter, I realize with some surprise. It reminds me of when I first met my current teammates and friends.
“Enough.” We both turn to look at the scarred man. “So, they actually sent me a couple soldiers with halfway decent skill this time. Do you two know what our job is?” He pauses and waits for us to answer. “Thought not. We’re the spies closer to home. We run ahead, flank, and drop behind to get the information about terrain and enemy troops that the army needs. You have to know the terrain and know how to observe, got it?”
“Um, sir? What if we don’t know the terrain?” This is a totally different planet, and for all I know, it could defy the laws of physics. Well, it already does somewhat with the magic, but I meant more than most worlds I’ve visited.
“There’s maps in the barracks, boy. They aren’t very good, but they’re better than nothing. Study them. Or did you think soldiering was going to be like fishing in Golden Lake?”
I smile. “I’m not particularly familiar with that particular saying, but I get the gist of it. I’m assuming Golden Lake is very easy to catch fish in?” The scarred man nodded. “Thought so. By the way, my name’s not ‘boy.’ It’s Benito.”
He outstretches a hand and I shake it warily. I’ve gone to too many worlds where I shook hands with a warrior and my fingers were bruised afterwards. Not this time. “Good to meet you, bo-Benito. I’m Captain Peregrine.”
I turn and give the woman a small bow. “And may I ask who the lady is?” Her eyes grow flinty, and I quickly add, “Don’t bash my skull in. I’m engaged, anyway. Not flirting.”
She relaxes. “Granite, daughter of Marble, daughter of...” I stop listening, only nodding encouragingly when she looks at me. I can read the look on Peregrine’s face as an obvious recrimination. What did you do that for? After what feels like an hour or so, she concludes, “...but you can call me Granite. And thanks. Most people walk away by the time I get to Sandstone.”
I nod distractedly. “You’re welcome. I’m going to go look at those maps, okay?” I wander off in the general direction of the barracks, my mind lost in thought. Seeing Darkdoom’s daughter earlier and listening to Granite’s recitation of her family made me remember these people had families and loved ones. Normally when we journey to another world, we try not to impact more lives than necessary to fulfill our contract. We don’t get emotionally attached to the clients. But even if this world was created by an author, these people felt real to me. And the moment we could leave them, we would, never sparing a thought as to what happened to them.
No wonder that one world thought we were demons.