“I don’t think she should be allowed to participate at all! She’s too young.”
“I agree, but that decision was taken out of our hands when Scota enrolled her in the Academy. Every ambassador has to participate in the midterm war game, no exceptions.”
“But Chroniclus, she’s just a child!”
Railix scowled as Chroniclus and his wife, Aoife, continued to argue within hearing range. Since he had been enrolled in the Academy’s ambassador program, he’d lost valuable time. Any time he had to spare he spent on his work, supervising and safe guarding the young changeling, Cassandra Moon. It was difficult to concentrate on this task with the elves distracting him.
He knew what they were arguing about, of course, but since he didn’t care about the subject, it annoyed him to keep hearing about it. The Head Seeress, Scota, had enrolled her eight year old daughter, Drax, into Mid-Realm Academy’s intense military training program. Ordinarily, no one would ever dream of putting a child through the kind of physical torture the program included, but Drax was a special case. She had been living in the Academy since her father died and had grown up surrounded by the powerful warriors of Mid-Realm. She was no stranger to death and violence, even at such a tender age. And she was half-dragon.
Railix tapped his book with his pen and checked the monitor on his desk. The monitor was tuned to Cassandra’s location on Earth; she was currently camping in the mountains with her human family, climbing over rocks in her Powhatan costume. She was in no danger, so Railix closed his book, sheathed his pen, and went to check the nearby shelves. If he could hear the elf couple arguing, Drax was no doubt nearby, also listening.
He found the little girl sitting on the floor, one shelf over from the arguing couple. Drax was a frail thing, tiny for a half-dragon, and shockingly white. She was currently in her selarthin form, which made up the other half of her blood. Her long ears were quivering, and tears were dripping from her violet eyes. He nudged her with his foot and gestured for her to come with him.
Railix took her back to his apartment and handed her a glass of water. “Stop crying,” he commanded. “You’re an ambassador now. You can’t cry just because your feelings are hurt.”
“They don’t think I can do it,” Drax pouted.
“Of course they don’t. You’re young, small, and inexperienced.” Railix retrieved his orb and set it on the table so he could keep an eye on Cassandra.
“I’m a good fighter!”
“Your ability to fight isn’t in question.”
“You said I was inexperienced.”
“You are. You’ve only ever fought in controlled environments and at most two-on-one scenarios. The midterm will be vastly different.”
“Oh.” Drax pulled her knees up to her chin and stared at her feet. “Railix, am I going to die?”
“Will it hurt?”
“That depends on how they kill you, but it’s more than likely.” He frowned when Cassandra tripped. Where were her parents? They should not be letting her roam the woods alone. He retrieved his book and began making notations. Then he heard a soft whimper and looked back at Drax. She was crying again.
“Railix, I’m scared,” she confessed.
He rolled his eyes. “Once you die, you’ll regenerate back in the Academy. Aoife will probably bake brownies and fawn all over you.” He turned back to his work.
“Are you going to die?”
Drax was blissfully quiet for two minutes, then she spoke again. “Can I be on your team?”
Railix shook his head. “I don’t see any benefit in that.”
“Too bad,” Aoife said from the doorway. “You’re going to let her join your army.”
Railix scowled at the red-haired elf. “A child in battle is a handicap.”
She folded her arms. “I’m confident that you’ll find a way to win. This is Drax’s first war game, and she will need someone she trusts to look after her.”
Railix gestured to the monitor. “I already have a child to look after.”
Aoife didn’t even blink. “Chroniclus will look after Cassie.”
“I don’t think you understand the situation here.”
“Railix, Drax will be in your army, you will look after her, or I will make sure that Chroniclus assigns a different chronicler to Cassie’s case.”
Railix considered calling her bluff. There was no one else Chroniclus would dare entrust Cassandra to, but the more he argued, the more his attention was taken away from her. “Fine. I’ll take her.”
Drax jumped off her chair and hugged him. “Thank you, Railix! Thank you! I promise, I’ll be a good fighter! You’ll see!”
“Get off of me and let me work!” Railix shoved her onto the floor and turned his attention back to the monitor.
“It’s okay, Drax,” Aoife soothed the little dragon. “Your brother will look after you. Don’t worry.”
“We’re not even the same species,” Railix snarled.
The midterm war games began the next week. Chroniclus had appointed Railix as the general for his army, and the Seeress had chosen a tenth-year warrior by the name of Spasta to be the general for her army. Railix had done extensive research on Spasta, studying not only his strategical tendencies and battle habits, but also his species and homeworld. Spasta was a gargoyle from Anior, a barren world that was hostile to cold-blooded races. His army consisted mainly of the sturdier peoples, giants, trolls, orcs, and the like. He didn’t doubt that Spasta would choose the mountain fortress, Belimal, as his base.
Railix examined his options. There was Throrfing, the cliff fortress, Oceurus, the island fortress, Wennyo, the forest fortress, Metzalotl, the plains fortress, Caronur, the desert fortress, and Fifka, the cavern fortress. Each fortress was built with its landscape in mind, so that each had a distinct defensive advantage, but Railix wanted to be on the offensive. He chose Honin, the fortress hidden deep in the distant volcano. It would be an uncomfortable base for many members of his army, but he was confident he could defend it with a skeleton garrison.
“You’ll stay here,” he instructed Drax. “Brojimarie will watch you.”
“Why do I have to babysit?” Brojimarie protested.
“I don’t need a babysitter!” Drax whined. “I want to fight!”
“I don’t care. You’re staying here.” He walked away before she could argue anymore.
Once Railix had arranged his troops to his liking, he led his fighting army out of the mountain. His terrakinetics and pyrokinetics were tunneling under Belimal, working together to move rock and magma while a team of psionics kept watch overhead for Spasta’s troops.
It took five days of tunneling to reach the mountain fortress, and once they arrived, Railix divided his forces into three. Two thirds of the army would be in charge of attacking the fortress from the outside at opposite points, while Railix would lead the remaining third directly into the heart of the fortress from beneath. He doubted Spasta would have the foresight to prepare for such a strategy, and it almost worked.
Spasta had his giants patrolling outside the wall, and as soon as Railix’s troops attacked, the giants sounded the alarm. Then they began stomping and kicking the intruders. The orcs, goblins, unseelie, and other gargoyles swarmed to meet the two attacks, leaving Railix’s division with an almost empty fortress to conquer. Before Railix could reach the center and claim victory, however, Spasta realized the plan and sent his speedsters to cut them off. Railix’s army was forced to fight.
Spasta himself flew inside and landed in front of Railix, sword drawn. Spasta was a fearsome swordsman, but a staff was all the trallorp needed. Before he could attack, a little white person darted out in front of him. Drax raised both hands and created a powerful gust of wind that knocked Spasta and several of his lieutenants back. The little dragon child grinned proudly at Railix, but then a speedster darted behind her and grabbed her. Drax shrieked and squirmed, then decided to bite the man holding her. The speedster screamed in pain, and he dropped her. Drax started to run back to Railix, but Spasta pulled a gun from his dimen and fired. Railix leapt forward, grabbed the bullet, and threw it back at the gargoyle. The bullet ripped through Spasta’s skull, ending the game. Lights flashed, a siren wailed, and everyone was pulled back to the Academy’s ceremonial hall.
Railix turned on Drax. “I told you to stay in the fortress.”
“I decided that was stupid.” Drax folded her arms and scowled up at him.
Railix had to quell several impulses to kill her before he could speak again. “I am not going to save your life next time. And you.” He turned on Brojimarie. “If you can’t keep track of a single child, you’re a shame to your race.”
Brojimarie rubbed the back of his neck shamefully. “She actually overpowered me. She’s a fierce little thing.”
Railix believed him, but he wasn’t going to let Drax get away with the smug look on her face. “She’s an idiot. Someone will kill her in the finals. It might even be me.”
Chroniclus, Aoife, and the Seeress appeared in the center of the fortress, wearing the official robes of their offices.
“Chroniclus!” Drax ran to the elf and hugged him. “Did you see me? I fought in the big battle, and I didn’t die!”
The Seeress looked mortified. “You had her on the front lines?”
Railix folded his arms. “If she can’t handle being on the front lines, she shouldn’t be at the Academy.” He turned to Chroniclus. “I’m going back to work.”
“But you won,” Chroniclus protested. “Aren’t you going to enjoy your victory?”
“No.” Railix went to the nearest doorway and punched in the code for his apartment.
Aoife caught his eye before he left and mouthed, “Thank you.”
Railix paused just long enough to acknowledge her gratitude with an imperceptible nod. Then he was back at his desk with his notebook and pen, turning on his orb to check on Cassandra. Cassandra was back at home, sitting with her siblings as their mother read The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe. Railix checked the yard, the road, and the neighborhood before sighing with relief. Cassandra’s real father still hadn’t found her, and he never would if Railix could stop him.