December 31, 1870

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The academy stood upon a hill.

The school occupied the highest point of ground, and someone had once cleared the land around it, denying cover to any who attacked.

But that had been long ago.

Scrub-brush and trees had sprouted up. The building’s walls were crenelated but abandoned.

No one kept watch.

I scouted around the academy for two hours, and not once did I see a sentry or a patrol. All four watchtowers were empty, and the only sound I heard was the rising wind as it whistled and howled through the school’s useless defenses.

For they were unmanned.

If there are no sentries, no guards, no one to watch for the likes of myself, then the walls of such a place were little more than hindrances. Minor irritations.

I shook my head at the neglected beauty of the place.

I did not bother with secrecy.

Instead, I strode up the long, narrow path to the gates, and an old woman greeted me. Her steel gray hair was swept back, and a long, clay warden’s pipe was clenched in her toothless mouth. The woman’s hands, gnarled with arthritis, were still deft enough to relight the pipe in the brutal wind.

“Mr. Blood,” she said, offering a curtsey. “You’ve come for the young fools and their master?”

“Aye.”

“They’re all at lunch,” she stated. “He’s at the far end. Sitting and lording it above the cadets. He’ll be backlit by the window.”

“Thank you.”

She nodded. “Be quick and be clean, I’ll not thank you for too much of a mess.”

I chuckled, drew the Colts, and entered the academy.

I followed the sounds of eating and the laughter of young men full of themselves and fearless. Men not yet tried by combat or horrified at the deaths of friends stronger and better than themselves.

A louder, more authoritative voice called out as I approached an entryway, and the young men laughed in response.

I stepped into the room, and a few noticed me but said nothing.

At the far end, an officer sat, backlit by the window. I could see his face and the fear spreading across it.

With a smile, I brought up the Colts and put a round through his forehead.

Unfortunately, there were no thanks from the gatekeeper.

I left far too much of a mess.

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Published by

Nicholas Efstathiou

Husband, father, and writer.

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