This is a beginning of a serial novel. It will be released a chapter a week on Friday. Go to the index.
When Tom saw the newcomer at the bar he was angry. The man was thin, dressed in expensive clothes, clearly not a soldier. What right did that runt have to drink with them? It didn’t help that Tom had been drinking for several hours by that point. He walked over to the runt, backed up by the members of his squad. “Hey, you. Yeah, talking to you. You know this is a soldiers bar right?”
The man turned to him. “Yes, I’m aware. That’s why I’m here.”
“Nobody who ain’t seen combat. Well, nobody who ain’t a whore. You a whore?”
“Alas, no. I do have my combat pin though. I suspect I’ve been in more battles than anyone else here. I promise my body count is higher.”
The man had a sad look on his face, and once Tom paused for a moment he could see the man had a look in his eyes, a stare that Tom had only seen on veterans. It didn’t mesh, the dandy in the expensive cloak, the boots that had seen almost no wear. The lack of muscle. This man wasn’t a soldier, couldn’t be, but those eyes…
“What unit are you with then?”
“I’m a distance combat specialist.”
The men backed up, hell, Jones almost ran straight backwards. A battle mage.
“I’m sorry sir. It’s just, we don’t get your kind, I mean your people, I mean… I’ve never met a battle mage in person before. Please excuse me. I’ve had a few, didn’t mean to be rude.”
“Don’t worry about it. I came into your place, you didn’t walk into mine. To tell the truth I was expecting it. I’m actually sorry, I just get lonely, but I put you in an awkward position, inexcusable really.”
The battle mage had a very soft way of speaking, educated tones delivered with clear, concise diction. No rough edges to his voice at all.
“Please, stay, have a drink. Not a man here doesn’t owe our lives to you folks a dozen times over. I’m Tom Quintas, these boys, the best of the 27th infantry. Let us buy you a drink.”
“Thank you, but given our wage disparity I will have to decline. It would be unfair for me to take your money. I will however join you in a round. Adrian Kline, and this round is in fact on me.”
They drank, and drank, and drank. At some ungodly hour Adrian stood up and raised his glass to them. “Look, the military pays me very well. I earn a day what all of you do in a month. Let me spread that around. You men take the risks, it’s your blood that waters the fields. I stand on a hill and throw enchantments at the other side. They throw it back at you, I’m never, ever in any danger. You boys are the heroes, not me. I’m a weapon, a tool that other men use.”
The table went silent for the first time in the evening, an awkward pause, all the men looking to each other, trying to find a cue as to what to say.
“Sorry, the drink makes me stupid. Ignore my rambling. Drinks are on me!”
The men cheered, raised their glasses to Adrian, cheering the strange young man.
Stumbling home several hours later, Tom supported Adrian – the wizard might be able to dominate a battlefield, but he couldn’t hold his drink. They made it to the base and then Tom had to go to a part of the base he hadn’t ever been. NCO’s weren’t supposed to go there, luxury housing overlooking manicured gardens, it felt like a genteel estate, not a military base. Adrian pointed at one of the largest building and slurred, “Tha’s mine. Jus’ leave me here. Is alright, the maid’ll get me to place… bed place.”
Tom didn’t feel like he could abandon Adrian on the front step, the night was cold and he would be very uncomfortable. Instead he knocked on the front door, trying to keep Adrian from falling down the stairs as he did so. Amazing how much a small man could weigh when his own muscles weren’t support his weight at all.
The maid answered the door and helped Tom carry Adrian into bed. Tom left as soon as Adrian was settled, and stumbled back to his barracks. He didn’t give it another thought, chalking it up to a weird night.
That was how it started. A man in a place where he didn’t fit having a drink with a few soldiers.