Chapter 6 - Nick

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The carriage reached Whitepeak base as the sun was sinking into the hazy horizon. The sky above him was grey and starless, and the houses thousands of feet below on the ground had vanished into the cloud that kept the army settlement trapped under the mountain's snow white eyes. In this desolate place, they might as well have been cut off the world.

Fourteen, no fifteen, wooden barracks Nick counted, each of them no larger than the average Laneby house. Moss was growing between the roof tiles like tufts of uncombed hair. Even the plank walls had a greenish shine to them.

Apart from a blustering wind that creaked the battered wood, it was quiet; too quiet for an army base. No bantering patrols or boots marching. No man in sight apart from a chubby, moustached man that the General and Lieutenant Michael were talking to. Four sycamore leaves flaunted on the collar of his uniform. Captain Frank; the captain responsible for the cruelties that occurred in this place.

And they weren't lies. Nick skid his foot over the ground. The coarse, ash-coloured sand was damp, with patches of snow that bore dark stains of dried-up blood.

Blood of magicians, for sure.

"Nicolas," The General called out for him. His voice wasn't loud—it hardly ever was—but it bounced against the mountainside and echoed back.

As Nick joined the men, the Captain stretched out his hand. "Pleasure to meet you. I'm Captain Frank."

He knew that, but returned the favour, his hand getting squeezed tight. "Nicolas," he moaned, barely able to keep his dignity.

"You're here to take notes?" The man pointed at the book that Nick had kept under his arm.

"No." Nick had already made up his mind; he didn't like the Captain. The fewer words they had to exchange, the better.

"It's an idea of His Majesty," the General explained "Blacksmiths have apprentices, tanners and tailors and the whole lot. Now Generals do too."

"I see... I see." The Captain smiled slyly, a silent but sure sign of defiance. "But why take the boy to Whitepeak to teach him the tricks of the trade? Aren't there cheerier places to get him excited for a life in your shoes, General?"

"Sometimes shoes get dirty," General George said. "Which brings me straight to business. Not only are your men letting magicians pass under their very noses, but we've also received some complaints about your... leadership. Rumour has it murder and rape occur on a regular basis. Under your watch."

The Captain lurched forwards, his mouth but an inch of the General's. "Says who?"

Lieutenant Michael already kept his hand on the grip of his sword but released it as the General blinked slightly longer than a standard blink. He jutted his chin and let the wind finish its blaring before answering, "Irrelevant. His Majesty is concerned."

The Captain snorted. "Pardon my boldness, but I doubt His Majesty understands what must be done to keep the scum on the right side of the border. If he wishes to know what it's like to work here, day after day, through wind, icy rain and the occasional snowstorm, he's free to visit any time."

"That won't be necessary. I'm His Majesty's eyes... and ears." The General pronounced the 's' of ears was so subtly, almost silent. "I'll observe, assess your needs, and provide the necessary solutions."

"Solutions," the Captain scoffed. "I've long stopped believing there are. Survival—that's what matters. Seeing another sunset is the only prize to gain."

"Is that so?"

"Look. Do what you must, General. I've got nothing to hide, neither to you nor the Gods." The Captain broke contact with General George and addressed the rest of the group. "The road from Sundale must have been a long one, Gentlemen. You must be starving. Why don't I take you to my office, get you something to eat while you wait for your quarters to be ready?"

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