Fire Emblem: Apotheosis



a part of Fire Emblem: Apotheosis, by Nemeseia.

A continent divided into three different factions: The Adrestian Empire, The Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, and the Leicester Alliance.

Nemeseia holds sovereignty over Fódlan, giving them the ability to make limited changes.
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A continent divided into three different factions: The Adrestian Empire, The Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, and the Leicester Alliance.


Fódlan is a part of Fire Emblem: Apotheosis.

10 Characters Here

Mercer von Riegan [119] "It's been so long..."
Jeralt's Journal [118] [ Codex of Information ]
Cyril Eisner [118] "I don't know if I can atone for these failures. But I know I have to try."
Sorcha Blaiddyd [114] "..."
Vridel von Hresvelg [113] "Time is running out. All I can do is make the most of it."
Senka Rinaldi [111] "Never again..."
Amalthea von Kreuz [104] "So much pain and suffering. I just want to help."
Ace [0] Good with bow and alchemy. Has a hot temper when you mention he is short.
Nisha Batel [0] Outdoor Gear Reviews & Hunting Guides

Start Character Here »


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1186 - Guardian Moon - Friday the 2nd
War Room - Late Morning - Cool
Mercer von Riegan

Mercer knew he fucked up during the raid.

He'd nearly caused Thea to be harmed, and some part of him was reeling in on itself. That wasn't supposed to happen. He was supposed to stay focused on the mission, on the plan so that they could have succeeded. Though they had succeeded, it resulted in a rather tenuous strain with Thea. She was justifiably angry with him, but he knew that her anger never lasted long. He wished it did, though. She should be angry with him for what he did, however; he pushed the thought out of his mind. He'd have to think of a proper apology to her; to all of them, really. It wasn't the first time he'd done something as reckless as that.

He entered the old common room, rearranged to be their council room where they could conduct their next course of action. And he'd called the others to meet him here so they could do just that. Sighing softly, he tucked himself into the chair at the upper right hand side of the table, leaving the head chair for Teach when he arrived. It seemed only natural that Teach should reclaim that leader role, after all.

He in fact entered next, carrying a rolled up piece of parchment. He still hardly looked to be in good shape, but a week of regular meals were starting to show effects; his skin wasn't so waxy anymore, at least. Teach glanced curiously at Mercer, then at the empty chair at the head of the table, and furrowed his brows.

“You know I'm not in charge here, right?" he asked, moving to the other side of the chair from where Mercer was and unrolling the parchment on the table. It seemed to be a Fódlan map, mostly blank. There was a small bag tied to his belt; he took this off and dumped it on the table, sorting the map tokens inside roughly into the familiar red-yellow-blue color scheme, though there were some black ones and some white ones as well.

Mercer was slightly confused at the statement, though. “Aren't you, though? You're... you're back, so it makes sense that you lead us again," he spoke, furrowing his brows lightly. If it wasn't Teach, then who would lead them? Mercer couldn't do it. He'd fucked up one too many times already. Couldn't do it because it was how he kept everyone safe. Because if he died, they'd be able to continue on without him. That they would be safe for a moment longer, and they didn't need him. No one did, anymore.

He furrowed his brows deeper at that thought. That wasn't true, was it? They still needed him like he needed them. Because they were the last tether he had to caring about a world she wasn't a part of. He couldn't even bring himself to say or think her name for fear of what it might do to him. Instead, he pushed the thought down, to the darkest parts of his mind as he glanced back at Teach.

“If you're not in charge, then who is?"

“Well," Teach replied slowly, setting one of the black tokens on Fhirdiad, “I would suppose it's the same person who's been in charge for the last five years. I saw some things recently that make me question the wisdom of the decision, but I believe he can be brought around." He glanced up, that intense molten gold in his eyes meeting Mercer's. He might not be in good physical shape, but something about that couldn't do anything but evoke the old Teach, the one who tore off armor with his bare hands and made impossible leaps onto the backs of demonic beasts to bring them down.

“You can't keep acting like that, Mercer." The admonishment was delivered quietly, and not unkindly. “Believe me, I—I understand why you'd want to. I want to, often enough. But neither of us can, especially not you."

Mercer sighed heavily.

“I know, Teach, but..." it was so damn hard not to. It was how he'd managed to keep everyone else alive. Even if at times like these, he'd make the worst decisions possible by putting them in that very same danger he was trying to protect them from. “For what it's worth, I'm sorry... you know, about..." he couldn't even say her name, his friend. Her best friend.

“But... if it's not me, then it'll be someone else. Especially not me doesn't mean my life is any more valuable than the others around me. I need to protect them, and if that's the only way to do it..." then he'd keep doing it. If he had to take the field by himself, then so be it. “They have you, now. We have you. Even if I fell... they'd still have you."

Teach pursed his lips. “What it was doing was hindering them, Mercer." He said it flatly, bluntly, in the same way Teach always did when he was explaining to someone how they messed up. “When you do that—when you throw yourself in front of what would be minor injuries if they hit someone else at greater risk to you, you're not only interfering with their ability to block and riposte as they've been taught to do, you're forcing them to go to extra lengths to protect you. That cut on Sofia's arm is because she couldn't move her shield because she was covering your flank with it. It could easily have gotten her neck instead."

He shook his head, rippling the long, low tail he'd pulled his hair into. “When you're overprotective, it throws off the entire rhythm of the battlefield. Makes things worse. And you're as important to them as they are to you, so they will always try to adjust around you, protect you. You're giving them an extra job to do, and it's not worth what you're saving them."

He set a large red piece on Enbarr, and another at Myrddin. “But when it comes down to it, that's a moot point anyway. Because right now, like it or not, your life does matter more. You're the king on the chessboard, Mercer—if you fall, it's over. I have no birthright to the Alliance's armies, nor the diplomatic clout required to get the Roundtable to heed me. I could, in theory, lead those who are here. But that is all. You are more necessary to what we're doing here than anyone, and you have to accept that. That doesn't mean you have to be willing to let your friends die for you, but it does mean you need to take care of your own life at least as much as you take care of theirs. Because if you die, we all do."

It was in that moment that Mercer remembered why he'd valued Teach's advice so much. Because when nothing else made sense, Teach always did. He always managed to put things into perspective for Mercer, to help him keep focus of what was really important. He offered Cyril a small smile, and nodded his head, leaning back slightly to sit straighter in his chair.

“You sure you don't want to be our leader, Teach? You make too much of a valid point that it's hard to turn it down the offer," he spoke, a sort of lightness returning to his voice. He still wasn't sure he was fit to be that piece, the king, but if Teach had that much confidence in his abilities...

“Thanks Teach, for putting it into a better perspective for me," because Sofia shouldn't have had to take that risk for him. Thea shouldn't have nearly been killed because of him. He needed to do better, be better. Deirdre, Alaric, Rey, Sylvi, Devon... they all relied on him, too. He can't let them down. He wouldn't.

Teach managed a small, but genuine, smile. “Always happy to help," he said simply.

Around then, the others began to file into the room. Vi arrived first, glancing between the two of them with his arms crossed. “Good," he said simply. “I was beginning to wonder if I was going to have to deck you for the other day, but I can see you've got your head on straighter now."

“You know, you still can. I'd deserve it, anyway," Mercer replied, arching a brow in Vi's direction. Honestly, he'd take it because he did deserve it for what happened the other day. “I suppose it'll have to wait until after this meeting, though," he stated, glancing towards the doorway as the others began to arrive. Deirdre arrived with Sofia, taking a seat to his right side, followed by Sylvi and Devon. Thea was next to arrive, and she immediately made a beeline for Vridel, taking the seat next to him. Mercer almost smiled.

He waited a moment longer for Reynard to appear, before he cleared his throat to call their attention towards him. “Garreg Mach no longer has to worry about the bandit issue," he spoke, glancing around at the others. “I suppose we'll have to make this our temporary base of operations. The more pressing situation, though, is that we need more soldiers."

They were vastly outnumbered. Everyone knew that.

“What's the situation like in Brigid?" he asked, setting his gaze towards Vi.

“Shit," Vridel replied flatly. He blinked, though, expelling a heavy breath. “They're holding their line because the Empire doesn't have enough troops to spare from the other fronts to wipe them off the map. By the same token, though, they can't spare anyone until the pressure eases. Maybe if we could force a major redirection of soldiers, but even then they're a small army and have suffered heavy loss. I think the best we can hope for from them at any stage is a single battalion, and that not yet."

He glanced from the corner of his eye at Thea, almost seeming to hesitate about something for a moment, before he dropped his eyes to the table in front of them instead. “Let's see..." He moved several red tokens to the archipelago, surrounding a white piece, to represent allies.

Mercer supposed as much. The Empire seemed to have an endless amount of soldiers to spare, willing or not, but it didn't matter. Everyone's forces were stretched thin enough as it was, and he doubted even with Brigid's troops, that it would be enough.

“I still haven't received any word from my father, either," Mercer added, glancing towards the Leicester Alliance on the map, and then towards Almyra. “We'd have more of a chance if he'd just..." respond to his letters. Mercer knew, though, that his father was likely not receiving the letters. That somewhere along the way, they were being lost, and he did not want to risk any more lives than he'd already had.

“I doubt Lord Fradalrius will be able to help us, either, considering he and the other nobles are fighting Cornelia and the Empire." He wasn't even sure how they'd managed to do that and still be alive. Perhaps because the Empire hadn't really pushed much into Cornelia's territory, leaving her be, for now.

“So... there's no way of getting any more troops?" Thea asked, glancing at Vi for a moment before turning her attention towards Mercer.

“I honestly don't know, Thea. It doesn't seem like anyone can spare them right now. We're all fighting the same enemy, but at the same time, it feels like we're all fighting a different war."

"I... might have an idea," Reynard said quietly. When all the eyes in the room swung to him, he shrugged. "As some of you are aware, I sent someone to Duscur, or what's currently being called the Viscounty of Kleiman. It seems the Viscountess is having trouble with something of a rebel army, led by a couple people named Scutari. It's not a good situation for the rebels—they're bound to lose if the fighting keeps up for another few months. But—and here's how this is different from Brigid—I think we could convince them to leave Duscur after we help them free it."

“Why's that?" Teach asked, his brows furrowing heavily. “They've been without their homeland for so long. Why abandon it if they manage to take it back?" The mention of Duscur in particular was clearly getting to him; Mercer knew that had been where he planned to go after graduation—it was personal in a way a lot of this was not.

Vridel shook his head. “At this point the fight is purely symbolic. Céleste Kleiman's the one who led the troops that killed Sen and captured Sorcha." He refused to not say their names, it seemed, but the deep frown on his face betrayed how it made him feel to do so. “If they kill her, they've achieved something. But there's no chance of keeping the country. Not with Cornelia's forces right there waiting to swoop in on the 'winner' and take it all. If it's Kleiman, they get rid of an annoyance. If it's the rebels, well, the same, really. It won't be difficult."

Reynard hummed in agreement. "Which is why we might be able to convince them to fight with us. Even if they free their country from Kleiman, it isn't really free until the rest of the war's done. Cornelia won't let them keep it, and Cornelia is at least allied with the Empire, if not with Those Who Slither in the Dark."

“It won't be easy to convince them, though," Mercer spoke, furrowing his brows. Maybe if Senka still lived, this would have been different. They could have had what army Duscur has now to their ranks, but she wasn't, and they didn't. Pulling in a soft breath, he leaned his head into his closed fist, resting there for a moment.

“We should still try, Mercer," Thea stated firmly, her eyes shifting towards him. “We... we owe her that much, don't we? And maybe if we convince them that we were her friends, that... they'd be more inclined to join us. So that we could continue to fight in her memory, and in Sorcha's,"" she continued, causing Mercer to purse his lips. They all had a point.

They needed the troops, and they at least needed to try.

He glanced at the map, looking at all of their allies and their enemies. He finally nodded his head. “We at least owe it to the rest of the world to try. Maybe we can even convince Rodrigue and Galatea," his eyes shifted towards Sylvi for a moment who furrowed her brows, “to help us as well. It won't be easy on that front, considering where they stand in the war."

He doubted Fraldarius and Galatea would be in any position to help, but maybe they could help in another way? He supposed they'd figure it out when they got there.

“Alright, so we head for Duscur starting the day after tomorrow. Everyone needs to rest and gather what they can for the journey. We're going to have to take the long way if we want to avoid the Imperial army, too," he stated, motioning towards the map.

“Does anyone have anything they'd like to object to?"

The others shook their heads, apparently in agreement that the plan was for the best.

"I'll start getting the supplies organized for a march," Reynard said. "And write to the Duke. I suppose he should know he'll be holding the line in Leicester a while longer."

He nodded in Reynard's direction before turning towards the rest of them. “Everyone, go get some rest."

They were all going to need as much strength as possible for this.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg

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#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1186 - Guardian Moon - Sunday the 4th
Lake Seiros - Sunset - Chilly
Vridel von Hresvelg

Vridel found himself rather in want of a fishing pole.

There were, of course, no such functioning items left here; the ones that happened to be around were in full-time use actually catching fish for people to eat, not giving him something to do with his hands while he collected his thoughts. He supposed Alois and Catherine might be working on as much now. Shamir did a lot of the hunting, he supposed, while Manuela and Hanneman maintained the still-operational parts of the monastery. It was a lot of work, but he supposed that was what they'd all had to do, to keep themselves alive like this.

He stared out at the water, barely feeling the chill. Brigid was a little warm even at this time of year, but he found he didn't miss it. Maybe he would, after they crossed the furthest northern reaches of Faerghus in the dead of winter, but not yet.

He wasn't sure what he'd been expecting, when he'd come here. Part of him had been certain he wouldn't make the journey. That he'd be discovered and killed quickly, but in this respect, his people had really come through for him. It seemed very few of those in Adrestia's rural reaches really bought the story that he'd killed his father. Perhaps that was more a distaste for Volkhard than any love of him. Perhaps it was the story of his deeds on the field in Brigid, twisted and over-romanticized as they no doubt were. Or perhaps it was simple logic—he'd had no reason to want his father dead. The crown was his, peacefully so—why would he have done anything to jeopardize that?

But now his thoughts were going useless placed. He had made it, and now he was vaguely unsure what to do with himself. He just didn't feel... necessary. And that was good, really, because he had no idea how much time he had left and his being necessary would be a terrible idea. And yet being extraneous was wreaking a strange kind of havoc on him.

What an arrogant ass he was, to be used to feeling needed. To want to feel needed.

Minutes passed by before the sound of hooves beating the dirt could be heard. It was a single rider from the sounds of it, and the horse nickered softly before the rider dismounted. “Vi," it was Amalthea. Her voice hadn't changed much over the years, but save, perhaps for a sort of tiredness to it. She took a spot next to him, staring at him fully as she brought her knees to her chest, or at least it seemed like she tried. She was wearing a heavy coat, perhaps to keep her warm from the chill in the air.

“They told me I could find you out here. I was looking for you," she spoke softly, reaching out her hand towards him before she dropped it. She didn't seem sure of herself at the moment. She wanted to reach out for him, it seemed, but was unsure if that was alright by him.

It was. He wanted nothing more, really.

But he was also so afraid. Because he wasn't the same person she'd loved five years ago. He wasn't sure exactly who he'd become in the meantime—in a way it didn't matter, because he was dying, part of him already dead, and there wasn't really time to worry about abstract questions of identity. The point of an enemy's sword didn't care about the state of his soul, and he couldn't afford to either, anymore.

And yet in this one context he believed it still might matter, just a little. Who he was. What was left of him. That he loved this woman was as true today as it had been the day they were forced to part. Truer, perhaps. That he might eventually deserve to be loved in return... well, he'd been hopeful, then, but the chance was long gone, now.

He didn't know what to say, or what to do. All he could seem to do was look at her. Drink her in like she was sunlight and he needed it to live. Maybe she was, maybe he did. Vridel no longer had any idea. All he knew was that his silvered tongue felt like lead in his mouth, and all the things he might have said remained trapped behind his teeth. Violet eyes, stricken, held deep amber, and he wished more than anything that he was anyone but himself.

She didn't seem inclined to say anything further, merely keeping his gaze. It was easy to see, though, that she still held him in the same regard as she did so many years ago. There was still that warmth, that love in her eyes as she stared at him, but there was also something like fear. Perhaps a sort of disbelief that he was still here, still alive. She swallowed, though, and broke the eye contact.

“I... still wear it, you know," she spoke, toying at the finger next to her pinky on her left hand. There, still on the finger he'd placed it on, was the ring he'd given her. She was still wearing it. “And I haven't taken it off, once. When Rey told us that you were still alive," she paused to take in a shuddering breath, “I was so happy. Happy because you were still alive."

She turned to glance back at him, and held his gaze. “Now... I'm happy that you're back, but Vi," she paused again, trying to collect her thoughts, it seemed, “are you okay? I'm... I'm still here for you, Vi. In whatever way you need me to be. I still love you... and I've never stopped."

He swallowed thickly. After a moment's hesitation, Vridel reached for her hand, slipping his own beneath it and tracing his thumb over the inlaid band. “I'm not sure I am," he rasped. Whether he meant okay, or back, or still alive, even he wasn't certain. “Thea, I—" his hand tightened on hers. “I'm so sorry."

He could hardly explain it, the way something rose in his chest like a tide, overwhelming enough that he could swear he was going to choke. Drown. He didn't know what it was or why, only that it was, only that it had something to do with her smile seemed a little dimmer, more strained, the way her eyes looked weary. The way he felt weary, tired in his bones and aching and sore.

She shook her head, her hand squeezing his back. “You don't have to be sorry, Vi. It's not your fault," she spoke gently. With her free hand, she touched his cheek gently with the tips of her fingers before she slid her hand to rest on the side of his face. “None of this is your fault. You did the best you could; we all did... still do. That you're alive at all... you don't know how happy that makes me. Selfishly so because no one else is happy, can be happy. That you're here, still, after knowing what I do about you, your life..." she paused.

“Vi... tell me what I can do to help you. I see it in your eyes, how much you hurt. I've seen it in everyone's eyes, but to see it in yours... I want to make it better for you, but I don't know how. Please tell me so that... so that I can spend whatever time you have left trying to help you. To make it easier because it hurts so very much having you here, and not being able to do anything."

“I don't know, Thea," he whispered. “It feels like... it feels like I wasted the last five years." some part of him had been able to believe he was doing something worthwhile, in Brigid. It was important, trying to protect an ally from the havoc visited upon everything by his country.

But here and now the significance was lost on him. Because he had so little time left, and all he wished he'd done now was come here earlier, so that no matter what became of him in those years he could have spent them with her. Instead he'd let them hollow him out from the inside, and all he had left to give her was the shell of himself.

“I've killed so many people," he confessed softly. “Over and over again. Sometimes it feels like—" He swallowed, bringing the hand he still held up to his mouth in a familiar gesture, only to fall short of completing it. “All I wanted was to spend the rest of my life with you and instead... I came here to see you one last time. And I don't even know if I deserve that much." There was a hit sting at the back of his eyes—despite his best efforts to blink them back, several tears streaked down his face.

“I didn't want you to see who I am now."

“Vridel Brandt von Hresvelg," she spoke his full name firmly, as if she were trying to steel herself from her own emotions that seemed to be building behind her eyes. “You stupid... stupid fool," she continued, moving the hand on his face towards the back of his neck, and pulling him towards her with an uncanny strength she possessed. Her lips met his something fierce and passionate, years of built up longing and desperation before she pulled back.

“You think I care about the things you had to do? I've always wanted to see you, Vi, no matter who you've become, because you're still the person I love. And you think I haven't had to do the same? That... that I haven't had to kill people because it was the only way I could keep everyone safe? That these hands of mine are so stained and dirtied with their blood that I'm almost ashamed to touch you with them... Vi," she swallowed thickly as she shook her head.

“Vi I love you, and I told you that... no matter what I wanted to be with you. To face everything that life would throw at us, together. I want to face the world with you, because... you're my strength, Vi. You give me the strength to keep pushing forward because when the day comes that you're not here..." she trailed off, blinking back her own tears as she glanced at him.

“I don't know if I'll have that strength anymore."

It hurt.

By whatever gods were left in the world, it hurt.

Her touch burned. Her kiss scalded. Her words, though—her words felt like they branded him. “No," he choked out. “No, Thea—"

This time it was his uncanny strength, honed with five years of seemingly nothing but battle, and such constant use of his Crests that he felt they'd seeped into his very being, that acted. He half picked her up and half simply pulled her to him, winding his arms around her and gasping out a sob. He was pathetic, truly. He was the one who'd left her to fend for herself, the one who'd lost sight of the only thing in his life that had ever mattered to him more than theoretically. And that was these people, his friends, and most of all her.

Next to that, all of it could rot. Let Fódlan burn in its misery—pushed to the flames by people so much more powerful than him so long ago he knew they couldn't see the beginning. Let all of it be consumed, if he could just—

“You have to live, Thea. You have to. It's the only thing I'm alive for, anymore."

“And when you're gone?" she choked out from her own sob, grabbing tightly to the back of him with whatever strength it seemed she could muster. “How can you ask me to keep living in a world that doesn't have you in it, Vi? In a world where we aren't even guaranteed a tomorrow? I've lived this long because you have, and when you're gone... when I have nothing left, but just my memories..." she trailed off, swallowing thickly as she rested her head against his.

“I can't. I couldn't because you wouldn't be here. Before... I thought I could handle it. I thought that I'd be able to continue living after you'd leave me, but I can't do that now. And you can't ask me to when I don't know if I'll lose you in the next five seconds, minutes, or days."

“I don't want to," she whispered the last part so softly that he might have missed it if they weren't so close. “I don't want to be in a world without you, Vi."

Perhaps he never should have said he loved her at all.

The thought hurt, but not nearly so much as her words did. He didn't want to argue about this—it was only going to make the both of them more miserable. But he could not abide the thought that she would die when he did. She had so much to live for: her friends, her sister—herself. She was reason enough to live, and the chance that she could be happy again. In a world after this war. In a world after what seemed like a neverending night.

All he could do now, though, was hold her. Hold her, and hope that when the worst had passed, her mind would change. Because he was going to die, and it was only a matter of when, and he hated the thought that her life should be cut short.

“I'm going to try," he murmured, turning his face in towards her neck and placing the barest kiss there, more a soft brush of his lips than anything. “I'm going to live as long as I can. I promise you. But in exchange..." He pulled back gently, taking her face in both of his hands. He knew he could not get her to promise what he really wanted, but perhaps—perhaps he could do enough.

“I want you to promise that you will live for one whole year after I'm gone. Just one. I won't ask you for any more than that. But please, Thea. Please promise me."

Perhaps a year would be enough. Enough for her to grieve, and find some other purpose and meaning in her life again. It would at least be a chance, and he wanted her to have that. A chance to live, to live well, even without him.

Her bottom lip trembled and she pulled in a shuddering breath. “It still won't be enough," she whispered softly, blinking away tears from her eyes. “But I will try. I will try for a year after you're gone. I promise Vi. Just... don't... don't leave me again. Don't tell me to leave you because I want to spend every second with you. Every second you have left, I want to selfishly occupy it. Your thoughts, your body, your soul, everything you are, I want. Until you breathe your last, I want to be with you."

She reached up to cup his face in her hands, and he could feel them shaking. “Promise me that. That you won't leave me again until you have no choice. That you'll spend whatever time you have left with me, in any way we possibly can. That's... all I ask, Vi. That's all I want is you, and your time, and to selfishly be the center of your waking thoughts. I want to wake up next to you, hold you, kiss you, and everything else with you until I can't. And... I promise I will live for one whole year after your gone."

He had no idea if that was really selfish or not, but he didn't care. Because he wanted more than anything to give her everything she asked for. “All of it," he whispered, leaning forward to brush her nose with his own. “Every second, Thea. They're all yours. They were yours even when I was away, but I promise I'll stay."

Vridel shifted forward, and this time when he kissed her it was nothing but heat, as though he were trying to inject five years of missing kisses, five years of longing, into a single moment. A single gesture. His hands found her hips, and he pulled her closer towards him. If she wanted everything he had, by his own cursed blood, he'd give her that. As many times as she desired.

Her arms wrapped around his neck as if to deepen their kiss, pressing further into him until she pulled back to breathe. “And everything of me is yours, Vi. It always will be, because... because you're mine, and I'm yours. Even if... if I can't have your name, at least I get the rest of you. The rest of you, and I solemnly swear to live a year after you..." she didn't complete the sentence, and instead, pressed forward to catch his lips once more.

“For as long as we have... Vi."

“I love you," he said, low and soft like a secret. “Always."

He could not promise her, but he promised himself, in that moment: he would live long enough for this war to be over. Long enough that she could have the one piece of him she lacked. He wanted her to have it, but to have it properly, the way they'd planned for it to be. And he could not bear for it to be consolation in a cold world instead of celebration for a changed one. Others could—Devon and Sylvi had, as he understood it. And he'd never fault them for their reasons. But his were different.

And if it gave him one more reason to live, well...

Maybe one more would be enough.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1186 - Guardian Moon - Wednesday the 14th
Fraldarius - Afternoon - Cold
Mercer von Riegan

Mercer tugged his coat a little closer to him, exhaling a white cloud of smoke as he gripped the reins to his horse. He'd left Sir behind at the monastery mostly so that this would be easier. A wyvern would be noticeable even without a rider, and he didn't want to give their position away. Strategically speaking, it made sense to ride a horse. It had taken them a few days to pass into Faerghus territory, though, and a day longer before they'd finally reached Lord Fraldarius's territory. The fighting they had passed, snuck by, had been horrible.

But they couldn't stop.

Even if he wanted to help, they couldn't.

They needed to remain incognito, unrecognized by the Imperial army so that they could reach Duscur. He refused to acknowledge it as the Viscounty of Kleiman, because it wasn't. It was Duscur, and always would be to him. To his friend. Pulling in a breath, he glanced at the people behind him, their faces heavy with something. Melancholy. Pain. Exhaustion. He knew they hurt, but they had to keep pressing forward. Had to keep fighting until the day came when they could all just rest and rebuild.

“How much further until we're in Fraldarius's backyard?" he spoke, eyes sliding towards Reynard who was on his left.

"Not long," the other man replied, pulling his furred cloak tighter around him. It wasn't his usual style; the mantle was a mixture of black fur and feathers, actually, and the whole thing was a deep black. Parade black, not the mottled dark grey of camouflage. He'd returned with it after conveying their message to Derdriu. It seemed to be keeping him reasonably warm, anyway.

"I'm actually fairly sure we'll be able to see his castle when we pass over this ridge here."

Mercer knew whose cloak that was, but he didn't say anything about it. Instead, he nodded in way of response and spurred his horse forward. When they passed over the ridge, like Rey said, he could see the Fraldarius castle in the backdrop. It wasn't quite as stunning as he'd thought it would be; mostly ruined patches of stone as if it had weathered harsh storms recently. Maybe it had?

Before they could go any further, though, they were stopped at what seemed to be a checkpoint of sorts. there were soldiers blocking the rest of the path, all dressed in the colors of the Fraldarius house. Blues and purples it seemed, with a splotch of white. The Crest of Fraldarius was also prominent on a banner, waving with the light breeze that passed through. He almost cursed that breeze, pulling his coat closer to him.

“Halt! Who goes there, and what business have you in Fraldarius?" a soldier stated, pointing a lance in their direction. Mercer was just glad that they hadn't outright attacked them. He'd really rather not explain to Lord Fraldarius why a few of his soldiers were dead. And they didn't really look threatening. That was the whole point in traveling incognito. If anything, to the soldiers, they looked like a group of hunters or some such ilk.

Besides Teach, though.

There was no changing the man's aura, or even his posture. He'd always look like an intimidating person, he supposed. “We're actually just passing through, though we would like to speak with Lord Fraldarius. I'm sure if you tell him who we are, he'd be more than happy to receive us as his temporary guests," it was a long shot, Mercer knew, but they had met Rodrigue back at the academy a few days after Senka's birthday.

The soldier eyed him warily, though, and dropped the lance in his hand. He didn't immediately signal them through, but instead, spoke something to another soldier who nodded.

“Leonard and I will escort you there, so no funny business!" the man stated. Mercer was just glad that they were acutally going to escort them to Rodrigue. Once the soldiers were situated, it didn't take them much longer to reach Rodrigue's castle. They were told to wait outside, and Mercer obliged by dismounting his horse. A moment later, a man appeared with weary sunken eyes, but Mercer recognized the shade of blue to his hair. He shared it with another person, almost.

“What business have you here?" Rodrigue spoke. It seemed he didn't quite recognize them, yet.

At that point, Teach pushed down the cowl he'd been wearing, perhaps expecting that he might be among the more recognizable members of the party. “Duke Fraldarius," he said softly. “We're seeking leave to pass through your territory. We're on our way to reinforce the rebel army in Duscur."

Devon, who'd riding beside Sylvi, cleared his throat softly, just enough to draw attention to himself. “It's been a long time, Your Grace," he said, dipping into a formal bow. “My friend speaks truly, though. We're... we're trying to find a way to stop this war, and the first step is Duscur."

At that point, Rodrigue's eyes widened in surprise, and he all but descended the stairs in a flighty motion. Without much warning, he threw his arms around Teach's shoulders, squeezing the man tightly before he released him.

“Cyril, it's... it's good to see you. All of you," he spoke, his eyes softening as he took a step back to glance at the group.

Teach looked rather stunned by the reaction to his presence—as if he'd been expecting something rather different. He managed the smallest of smiles, though, and gave Rodrigue's shoulder a friendly squeeze.

“You all must be tired from the journey, though. You should come, and rest for a moment," he stated, ushering them towards his home. Mercer wouldn't mind, and welcomed the reprieve.

“We can speak on the matter inside, as well. There are ears and eyes everywhere, unfortunately," he stated. Mercer waited until everyone piled into Rodrigue's home, and Lord Fraldarius led them to a rather large room. A study, perhaps, or a strategic room of sorts where he planned with his generals. They all took a seat, and Rodrigue summoned one of the soldiers, or servants, it was hard to tell, to bring them all something to drink.

“Tell me, why are you headed towards Duscur?" Rodrigue asked, folding himself into the seat at the head of the table. “I know you said to reinforce the Duscur rebels, but why?" He seemed to be staring intently at the group, as if he were trying to assess their true motives.

“Because they need the help as much as we all do," Mercer spoke, first.

“Because I owe her that much," Teach added, almost too quietly to be heard. “There are good, strategic reasons for doing it, but... but I told her I'd help her take it back, and even if she's not—I still owe it to her to see her people freed."

Vridel pursed his lips, but nodded slightly, taking up one of the glasses set in front of them. “As to the strategic reasons," he said, “we know there are people who would help us if they could. The problem is, the Empire has everyone engaged on their own fronts to prevent them from coming together. It's why they're winning—because everything is attrition now. We need to break that grip they have. And we think Duscur's rebels are people we can dig out, and people who will be willing to help us once we have. With them, we might be able to turn the tide in the Alliance, and that would free up enough other people to have a real chance at helping here."

A pained expression flashed across Rodrigue's face at Teach's statement, but it disappeared with a heavy sigh. “I can't disagree that that is true. We're facing our own issues right now on that front. Cornelia's army seems to be growing every day, and she's bringing in new contraptions. Some we've never seen before. She's even using the golems that used to protect Fhirdiad against us, now," he stated, leaning heavily to the side on his arm.

“You might have a chance of convincing them if you talk to Espera. He's one of two leading the rebels for awhile now, and..." he glanced towards Cyril for a moment, “he may be willing to listen to your plea if you help him free Duscur from Vicountess Kleiman."

Mercer remembered Rey said there were a couple of people named Scutari. “Who's the other one?" Rodrigue contemplated the question for a moment before shaking his head.

“A woman named Valeria. From what I've managed to gather, she's been the true leader of the rebels and has been spearheading a lot of the skirmishes. She might be worth speaking to as well, but Espera," he spoke, reaching for a piece of parchment paper on the table. He grabbed what looked to be his seal, and pressed it against the paper.

“If you show him this, he'll listen to whatever you have to say."

He handed the paper to Teach, though. Mercer understood the meaning behind that, and didn't say anything. It meant a lot to all of them, but it meant the most to Teach.

Teach accepted it with a small nod. “We met Espera, once. Only briefly, but... I think he'll recognize us, at least." He folded the parchment carefully, and tucked it into a pocket. “Thank you, Duke Fraldarius. I don't doubt that there's too much for you to do here already, and I'm sorry we can't offer more direct support at this time. If things go as we plan, though..."

He trailed off, clearly unwilling to promise anything. Perhaps because it was so hard to predict what things would be like that far in advance, or perhaps because he did not consider himself to be in the right position to be making promises for what their forces would do. He'd all but said Mercer was in charge, after all.

“You've done enough, already," Rodrigue spoke, offering them all a small, wry smile. “That you are all still alive gives me hope that we will win this war," he continued, causing Mercer to feel something tug at his lips.

“We'll be back to help House Fraldarius and their allies take back Faerghus. If it's the last thing I do, we will be back to help," Mercer felt he could promise that much. They were going to push through; they were going to help reclaim Duscur, and in doing so, begin to slowly correct the world. One step at a time. That's what they needed to do, now.

One step at a time.

Rodrigue smiled and nodded his head. “I'll hold you to that, von Riegan. For now, rest here and take what little supplies I can offer you. I'd give you soldiers if I had some to spare, but I'm afraid these small gestures are all I have."

“They still help more than you know."


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1186 - Guardian Moon - Friday the 16th
North Faerghus - Evening - Snow
Vridel von Hresvelg

Flames, but it was fucking cold.

It wasn't what Vridel hadn't expected this. It was just that having expected it made it no easier to deal with. The northern, mountainous reaches of Faerghus in winter were damn near impassable. Probably would have been, if they'd been the size of a proper army. Getting back through this mountain pass with Duscur's troops was going to be a task, if they could manage it at all.

He pulled his cloak tighter around himself. It was Thea's turn on watch, so for the moment he had little to do. They'd stopped march to camp about two hours ago; at least the warmth of dinner was sitting in his stomach. Devon and Reynard were both excellent hunters, and had brought down several rabbits to supplement the potatoes they were carrying. Extremely simple, but hearty enough—and enough of it that it hadn't been too much for Vridel to ask for seconds. He'd avoided thirds, though. Crests or no Crests, other people had to eat, too.

Settling next to the fire, he extended his hands out towards the flames and sighed quietly. Devon was tending the fire—Cyril just seemed to be staring into it. Vridel figured it was better not to interrupt that. No doubt he had a lot to think about, especially right now, with where they were going and what it meant. It was the place he'd been planning to go five years ago, and for him it had hardly been a month since the entire world turned upside down. His grief was fresh in a way no one else's really was anymore, even if they all still carried its weight, Mercer most of all.

Reynard emerged from his tent then, carrying a large bottle of something. Taking a spot between Vridel and Cyril, he set it down and set to work on the cork.

“You brought alcohol? On an austerity march?" They'd all taken the bare minimum of supplies so as to move as quickly as possible. Vridel was surprised Reynard could afford the extra weight, since all they had was what their horses could carry, plus one small cart for tents.

Reynard arched a brow. "No. I traded for it back in the last village. It's the Srengese stuff, like last time. Tastes like paint thinner, but it'll make you feel warm."

“Alcohol actually lowers body temperature," Cyril said, flatly out of nowhere.

Reynard shrugged. "Yeah but it's not so cold we're at risk of hypothermia in our tents. Feeling warm seems like a good idea though, right?"

It did, at that.

“Rey has a good point," Mercer spoke, taking a seat on the other side of Vridel and setting down five cups as if he was anticipating the alcohol. “Feeling warm sounds like more than a good idea at the moment, and..." he paused, his eyes shifting towards Vridel and then Cyril. “I figure we could all use a little something."

“A little pick me up, I suppose," though from the way he'd said it, it wasn't quite what he meant. He poured a glass for himself before he glanced at Vridel and the others and holding his cup out. “Probably not the best of times for a toast, but..." he trailed off, taking a deep breath, “to us still being here. To keep going and moving forward."

Reynard, Devon, and Vridel all lifted their glasses; Vridel with a touch of irony. The professor hesitated for a moment longer, then sighed softly, trying and failing to smile, but lifting his in turn anyway.

“I don't think I've done anything like this since the Academy," Devon admitted. “I mean, I've had the occasional drink, but never..." he gestured vaguely at the group of them.

Vridel knew what he meant. There was a certain sense of companionship to it, even if those they were missing weighed heavily on their minds. This group, at least, was whole now that Cyril had reappeared. And, he supposed, now that he'd managed to drag himself back to their sides.

The mood was decidedly less optimistic or humorous than it had been last time, but that didn't mean they couldn't try for a little levity, for old times' sake. “Okay," he said. “I have to ask, Reynard. Where on earth did you find that cloak?" It wasn't exactly the assassin's usual style, to say the least. It looked far too dramatic for someone who made a point of diminishing his presence.

"Traded for that, too," he said. "Back in Leicester. Temporarily, at least." He threw back his shot and refilled it, setting the bottle down roughly in the middle of their small semicircle.

"Why? You don't think I look dashing?"

Mercer huffed lightly, like he was trying to laugh but failed at making it come out properly. He took a drink from his cup and eyed Reynard for a moment. It was almost as if he were contemplating the man before something of a light grin appeared on his face, and his eyes softened somewhat. It was almost reminiscent to the look Mercer had when he was up to something, though it was quite genteel for such things.

“So what did you trade Alaric for it?" he asked, downing the rest of his drink. “And yes, you do look dashing in another man's cloak, Rey. I just didn't think Al would part with it. He's very fond of it, you see. Something about showcasing authority or power, or something like that. Al's a strange guy like that, but you'd know all about that."

"I traded my own of course. Get your mind out of the dirt, Mercer. The Duke's is more suited to the cold, whereas mine is better for camouflage. Ergo, I have this one, and he has that one, in case of the need for a strategic exit from Derdriu." He shrugged.

“The Duke?" Vridel took a moment to process this. He furrowed his brows. Mercer had referred to Alaric, so. “You're wearing Duke Goneril's clothes?"

Devon snorted a laugh into his glass.

"No, Vridel, I am wearing Duke Goneril's cloak, because it is warm. Do try to keep up." Reynard managed to look rather unaffected, but he did down his next shot and pour himself a third, so who knew how realistic that impression was?

“Well, considering that a cloak is still an article of clothing that still means you are wearing Alaric's clothes, so," Mercer stated, smiling a little more into his own glass as he downed his second drink. “I'm surprised, still, that he traded you his cloak. Honestly, he wouldn't even let me wear it, and I'm Duke von Riegan," he continued, pouring himself another glass before grinning lightly at Reynard.

“I think a new toast is in order," he started, raising his glass, towards the others, “to Reynard and pulling Alaric into the light. I always knew he was hiding something, but that. Well... I guess it makes a lot of sense." He grimaced lightly as if he knew the why behind the sense.

“Wait—does the Duke like men?" Devon asked with some concern. It was obviously concern for Reynard. Probably he wondered if they weren't being unintentionally cruel by poking fun at him for something that wasn't how it appeared, or was perhaps one-sided.

"Your guess is as good as mine, apparently," Reynard grumbled in response.

Vridel winced in sympathy. “Ambiguous, huh?"

The assassin tilted his hand back and forth as he took another shot after clinking glasses with the others. "Mixed messages," he said with a bit of a sigh. His eyes widened a little, and he cleared his throat. "Not that I'm making much effort to disambiguate, because I am a professional and looking after him is my job."

“Yeah, I used to think that, too," Cyril said, rolling his eyes a little. It was tinged with too much melancholy, but still clearly represented an attempt at humor.

Mercer seemed to think otherwise, though, as he shook his head.

“No, you're completely right, Dev. Alaric likes men, but he's so far up his ass that he doesn't realize it. You have to understand, when it comes to families with Crests, they push it upon their heir to have another heir, and another to keep the family line from becoming useless. You know how it is, Vi," Mercer spoke, pursing his lips together and shaking his head.

“House Goneril is just exceptionally bad at putting that much pressure on the next head of the house. And in this case, that means Alaric. You can ask Deirdre, she'll tell you. It's the whole reason why she... planned to elope with Sofia. Unfortunately for Alaric, he sees it as his duty to uphold those traditions even if it meant he'd be unhappy for the rest of his life. That whole schtik with..." he paused, glancing in Cyril's direction, “Senka was just that. He really did think she was beautiful, but he wasn't interested in her that way. He only did it on behest of his father who'd heard him say that. I think... that's why they stayed as friends."

“If anything, it's worth asking him about it, Rey, if you like him. He just needs a little coaxing to know that it's alright to feel the way he does, because... well, when you've been told most of your life otherwise..." Mercer didn't need to finish that sentence for the rest of them to get the implication.

Reynard shook his head slightly, dropping his eyes to the toes of his thick boots. He sipped from his glass this time, clearly withdrawing somewhat from the conversation.

The mood seemed to dip again, which was perhaps to be expected. This wasn't the Academy, where they could spend hours nursing drinks and mocking each other relentlessly and playing ridiculous games. It felt like that part of their lives was just... over. Permanently. Even when the war ended, Vridel would still be dying. Mercer and Cyril would still be without the people they loved most in the world. Reynard would still be on the wrong side of a social barrier from someone he seemed to have deeper feelings for than Vridel thought he might have for anyone, ever.

Maybe Devon could carve out a long and happy life for himself, with Sylvi, but he was still a commoner. Still half-Srengese in a world where that was almost a crime in and of itself.

But even so. “Congratulations, by the way, Devon. Sorry I missed it."

The other man smiled a little, but his dark eyes were sad. “Thank you, Vridel. Sorry we didn't wait. I think maybe I'll ask Syl if she wants to have something more... well, more. After. So everyone can be there." He didn't seem to want to linger much on the subject, probably out of respect for the other three.

Mercer smiled a bit wryly. “Yeah, well, don't count us out just yet. We'll help out, too, if we can. We'll be rebuilding nations after all of this, because something," he paused to swallow thickly, “something good has to come out of this. Even if it turns out to be just you and Sylvi, Sofia and Deirdre, or even Vi and Thea... something good has to come out of this." Mercer had spoken so softly that it was as if he didn't speak at all. But Vridel heard him clear as day from where he sat.

“So... congrats, Dev." He held up his fifth cup for another toast.

The others raised theirs as well, united at least in sentiment, and took a shot together.

It really did feel just a little bit warmer.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1186 - Guardian Moon - Thursday the 29th
Duscur - Early Afternoon - Cool
Senka Rinaldi


Even now, with her eyes closed, she could still hear his voice. How it still haunted her even five years later.


“—eria!" Senka felt her eyes snap open, a rush of air splashing her face as the entire battlefield below encompassed her vision. Her people were being pushed back by a pincer attack on Kleiman's part, and Senka felt her brows furrow. “Valeria, what are your orders," Espera spoke, glancing at her with furrowed brows. Even he looked tired, the crease in his brows a permanent expression. And the name he'd called her. That was who she was, now. Senka died, and she could feel it in her heart, how hollow, how empty it was.

The only thing keeping Valeria going was the fact that there was a chance at freeing her people from Kleiman's grasp, and the chance of killing the woman responsible for Senka's death. For Sorcha's. She glanced in Espera's direction, narrowing her eyes slightly.

“Take half of the reserves and reinforce the right flank. I'll take the others and reinforce the left," she spoke, nudging Liev, her pegasus, in the direction she needed to go. It wasn't going to be easy to pull out of the pincer, but if they did this right, they could manage it. The air rushed past her as she flew through a crowd, jumping off of the pegasus' back when they were close to the ground. She pulled the sword from her back, leaving Blutgang on the other side of her as she swung her blade to catch a soldier in the back.

It seemed endless, though.

For every soldier she dropped, another seemed to take their place. Bodies were being piled up on both sides, but she was losing soldiers. Her people were dying for this war between Kleiman and herself. She needed this to end, to give the remainder of her people a chance at a life. A sudden roar echoed through the field, and Senka felt her head snap in the direction. A demonic beast? What was that doing here? From the looks of it, there seemed to be at least three. She pulled in a breath between her teeth, and glanced at her soldiers.

“Don't engage them recklessly!" she shouted. They weren't used to fighting beasts like that. Kleiman only ever sent soldiers after her rebel army, but what was she doing with beasts? Was she really that desperate to end the war that she'd resort to using them? “Espera, with me!" she shouted, making a sharp whistle in the air as Liev came back. She mounted the pegasus and charged for the first beast.

They wouldn't last much longer if they didn't get rid of the beasts, first.

These beasts, she could tell quickly, were stronger than the ones she'd faced before. A cavalry formation went in to charge the second beast, but it simply shrieked with a sound like warping metal and swept outwards with its massive, spiked tail. People and horses went flying, too many landing never to move again. The beast lashed at others with its claws, rending armor as easily as if it had been made from paper.

The soldiers were beginning to panic—they had never faced anything like this before. Truth be told, she hadn't faced this before. Not quite like this anyway. The lines were breaking, Kleiman's soldiers charging in around the beasts to take out the stragglers. The battle was slowly turning into a slaughter.

And she'd had enough of that.

Her people needed to live. If they were all wiped out... an entire people...

“Espera, fall back! Give the signal to regroup and stay away from the beasts," she shouted in his direction. He had been defending some of their soldiers from Kleiman's as Senka tossed her blade to the ground in favor of Blutgang at her back. She wasn't going to lose anymore people. She couldn't. If this was how her new life was to be used, to be given in defense of the people she'd promised not to fail, then so be it.


It was the first time she'd heard him call her that in the last couple of years. She could hear the panic in his voice as she charged the creature. She just needed to draw its attention, to give her soldiers enough time to retreat so that they could live. But she'd vastly underestimated the strength of the beast. With a single swipe of its clawed hand, it tore her armor, leaving a large cut across her abdomen. Another scar to add to the collection.

She held Blutgang up in an attempt to defend herself from the creature's attacks, however; its strength overwhelmed her quickly, and it pinned her beneath one of its massive clawed hands. Roaring as if it had won some prize, its jaws lowered towards her, open wide as if to consume her.

She did not close her eyes.

It was close enough for the stench of its hot, humid breath to wash over her face when a bolt of lightning slammed into it, followed abruptly by a spear a moment later. It wasn't an ordinary javelin, though; there were runes carved into the haft, almost like—


Even mere moments before death washed over her, she could still hear his voice calling out to her. Was she really that far gone?

He appeared a moment later in her field of vision, gripping the Arrow of Indra in both hands and shoving it deeper into the creature's eye, until it stilled, then collapsed. This left her pinned under its claws, but with a heave, he pulled those away from her, dropping to her side, white magic already at his fingertips.

He looked different. A fair bit thinner, for one, though still somewhat solid. His hair was long, pulled back from his face but falling forward over his shoulder where he leaned to apply magic to the cut across her body. His eyes—brighter than she remembered—kept flicking back to her face, as though he couldn't quite believe what he was seeing.

It was warm, his magic. It had always been warm to her, as it flowed through her whenever she'd needed to be healed in some way. But this was a ghost, was it not? She wasn't being healed by him, but someone who looked like him. That didn't seem right, though. No one had those eyes, the bright gold she'd loved so long ago.

“Cyril," his name came out before she'd even registered herself saying it. He was dead. She'd seen him die, and her hands reached out towards him. Everything around her seemed to go deafening silent. She couldn't focus on anything but him. “Cyril, why do you haunt me still?" she spoke, feeling a spike of fear lance through her body. Was this her punishment? Was she being punished, now, for what she could not do so many years ago? When she could not save him?

“Why?" she called out. She wanted to touch him, his face, his shoulder, anything to prove that he was real. That this wasn't just an apparition before her to haunt her further of Senka's failures.

Around them, she sensed the battle still raged. New sounds had been added to the fray, the twang of bowstrings, the rush of wind magic, shouts and the cries of the beasts as they engaged with newer, mightier foes.

“I'm not haunting you, Senka." His tone was low, urgent, earnest, almost desperate. “I'm here. I'm real, I swear it to you." His hands shifted, the warm flow of the magic ceasing. “I'll—I'll explain everything. But first we have to save your people. We have to save Duscur." He stood, offering a hand down to help her to her feet.

She was hesitant to take it. This ghost was just tempting her with sweet lies. That he was real, that he was alive. She sat up slowly, instead, refusing to take his hand and pushed herself to her feet, using Blutgang as a means to keep herself balanced. She was healed, that much she could register, but she could not force herself to register him.

But then she saw them.

Her friends, the ones who'd meant the world to her so many years ago. Vridel, Thea, Devon, Sofia, Sylvi, Deirdre, they were all here. Even Reynard. Her eyes, burning with a warm sensation, shifted back towards him. Was it true... was he really...

“Senka!" Espera's voice cut through her like a hot knife, and she turned towards him. “The tide is in our favor. If we push now, we can end this," he shouted, shifting the lance in his hand as he glanced towards him. “If what you say is true, help us. Céleste is taking the field, and if we can kill her," they could end this battle once and for all.

“She's mine," Senka nearly snarled. She could feel it, the way her blood went cold again at the name of that woman. “Espera, keep the soldiers away from the other two beasts. Reroute them towards Kleiman and have them push forward. We end this now," she stated, earning a nod of approval from him as he took off. She turned her eyes towards Cyril, feeling something stirring in her heart, something old and forgotten.

“Help me."

“I'm yours," he replied softly, yanking the Arrow from the beast's eye without breaking his gaze from hers. “Only tell me what you wish, and it will be done."

The first step was to carve a path to Céleste, and Cyril set about flinging lightning into the thick of the opposing soldiers, each bolt finding a mark and dropping them. He didn't seem to run out, didn't stop casting until they reached melee range, where he thrust the spear for the nearest paladin and unhorsed him, spinning the spear until it was point-down and finding the man's throat with it.

Her friends worked together to fight the two beasts remaining: enhanced though the creatures must be, they would surely be a poor match for those who had fought so many of their brethren.

And she was beside him every step of the way, flinging her own dark magic into the fray. She used her sword to cut down anyone who stood between her and Kleiman, and didn't stop. When they'd finally reached Céleste, there was a flicker of surprise on the woman's face. It was something akin to what Senka had worn when she'd seen him.

“But I saw you. You were dead," the woman spoke almost in disbelief. Senka openly glared at the woman, pointing Blutgang in her direction.

“You're correct, I was dead. Long enough for you to believe that Senka Rinaldi no longer existed so that Valeria Scutari could lead her people against you. This ends now, Céleste. Duscur will be yours no longer. I will never be yours, nor will my people ever serve you. And you will pay for Sorcha's death," and for the deaths of so many others. Céleste, shook her head, though.

“You should have taken my offer, Senka. Now... you'll die along with the rest of your wretched people!" the woman nearly snarled. That was alright by Senka as long as she took Kleiman down too. Something gleamed in the woman's hands, though. She dismounted her steed, sending it off in another direction as she pulled her glove off. The stone she had in her gloved hand seemed familiar to Senka, as if she'd seen it before somewhere.

“You leave me no choice. I know who that is by your side, and I will, at whatever the cost, win this war. Even if I have to rip you to shreds to do it!" she stated, placing the stone into the hand that wasn't gloved. And Senka was suddenly reminded of what that stone was. A Crest Stone that wasn't compatible with a person turned them into something not human. A demonic beast cursed to never be human again.

“Céleste, don't!" but it was too late. The same black ooze that errupted from the stone, covered Kleiman, twisting and morphing her into something not even Senka recognized. A beast she was, but it looked like the one Senka had been pinned underneath, earlier, and was larger. Was the stone corrupted somehow? It didn't matter. Gripping Blutgang tightly in her hands, she glanced towards Cyril.

“I will not fail you a second time," she spoke before she charged after Kleiman as the beast roared.

He didn't let her go alone, hurling a bolt of dark, miasmic magic for the beast and following it with himself. With the hand not holding the Arrow, he drew the Sword of the Creator, wielding one weapon in each hand. He lashed forward with the sword first, its segments catching Kleiman across the cheek and snapping her head to the side.

It was enough to enrage Kleiman, and Senka could see her gathering flames to her mouth. Senka couldn't let that happen. She hurled a saggitae spell towards Kleiman, catching her in the eye, forcing her to close it. It was enough to interrupt her attacks, however; she began berserking. She smashed her claws into the ground, sweeping her tail from side to side as if to clear the area around her from whatever might be attacking her. Senka kept her distance and used the opportunity to summon her black magic. Agnea's Arrow required a bit of time to summon, however; if she could time this just right... she could use it to her advantage.

When Kleiman turned her attention towards Cyril, lunging for him, Senka acted. She released the dark magic she'd built up for the spell, watching as a bright blue light surged towards Kleiman. It was in the shape of an arrow, ironically enough, but it managed to find its mark in Kleiman's neck with enough force to topple her over.

“Cyril, now!" she shouted, lunging forward with Blutgang. They had such a small window before Kleiman would recover, but she was exposed now. If she could just get Blutgang into the belly of the beast...

He responded immediately, using the lengthened form of his sword to tangle the beast's legs, impeding her efforts to stand again, and with the spear he pierced her tongue as she tried to pull in a breath for more fire, staking it to the ground. “Go!" he called, indicating that her path was as clear as it was going to get.

She didn't need to be told twice. Senka lunged towards Kleiman, and with as much strength as she could muster, the glow of her Crest alighting her forehead, she plunged Blutgang through the beast's scales, finding Kleiman's heart. The beast shrieked, something akin to a human shriek, but mixed with a beast's. It was painful to Senka's ears, but she did not try to cover them. When Kleiman stirred no more, and her beastly body began to disintegrate, Senka fell to her knees.


They were finally free.

Duscur was free from her.

Sorcha was avenged.

The world seemed to spin, but Senka didn't care. Whether they were from joy, sorrow, or happiness, she did not stop the tears that fell down her cheek.

“Did you see, Sorcha? I did it. I finally... did it."


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1186 - Pegasus Moon - Sunday the 1st
Duscur - Afternoon - Snow
Vridel von Hresvelg

This... was going to be interesting.

Vridel headed for the appointed meeting room, basically a repurposed tavern that had once been part of... well, whatever settlement this had been before more than one battle tore it apart, he supposed. Now it seemed to serve whatever function it needed to. Spare weapons were leaned up against the walls, most of the tables pushed together in the middle to make one large one, probably where Senka had led her strategy meetings for... however long she'd been located here in particular.

Admittedly, that way of thinking was going to take some getting used to. She'd died, for all any of them had known and then... what? Changed her name and let them all think she was dead? Fought by herself to free her country instead of asking for help? Vridel could sort of understand wanting to keep other people out of it, but that didn't mean there was no sting. He at least hadn't been doing anything so important that he couldn't have tried to get to her at least.

But it was sort of a moot point now. They were here, they'd made it in time, if only barely, and she was alive. Considering what had become of so much of the rest of the world, he would take that, and consider it a gift. Others might feel a little differently, perhaps, and he had no idea how things were going to be with the Professor, but like it or not they had things to discuss.

He took a seat at the end of the table. Several of the others had already arrived: it looked like Espera was present, as were Devon, Sylvi, Sofia, Deirdre, and Reynard. The other major players, however, seemed to be yet absent.

Thea was the next to arrive, taking a seat near Vridel. She gave him a small smile before turning her attention towards everyone else. Mercer arrived next, a grim expression on his face, though it was unclear as to why. He took a seat near the front of the table where Espera sat, and nodded towards the other man. Espera returned the nod, and glanced in the direction of the door, eyes narrowing lightly when Senka finally arrived. She wasn't with Cyril, though. She was by herself, and her expression was as neutral as it had been five years ago when Vridel first met her.

She walked towards the head of the table, resting a hand on Espera's shoulder before taking a seat. She regarded them all with an even stare before the barest of smiles flickered across her face before it disappeared. Cyril entered next, taking the empty chair one down from Mercer. He said nothing and looked at no one, his face void of any expression whatsoever. Vridel suspected he was... processing. Then again, most of them probably were.

“I suppose there is much to discuss," she spoke, eyes wavering towards Mercer who merely furrowed his brows at her. It looked like he wanted to say something, but refrained from doing so. “Speak freely; don't hold back on my account," she stated, though it seemed more of a suggestion than anything.

“What the hell, Senka," Mercer took the invitation for what it was, it seemed. “Five years, and nothing? You could have..." he spoke, but shook his head. He pushed a heavy sigh through his nose. “It's good to see you alive, but there are matters we'd like to discuss regarding your troops," he began, getting straight to the point, it seemed.

Vridel figured he'd take the cue. Whatever personal fallout there was from this had to be secondary to the work they were trying to do here. “We did not come to Duscur's aid merely from the goodness of our hearts," he said wryly, though he did shoot a glance at the professor. He probably had, actually—a final gesture for a deceased love.

The rest of them, though. Of course it had been good to help Duscur, and at any other time he believed they'd do it for no other reason. But this was a war, and the whole world was at stake, not just a country most people considered already dead anyway. “As I'm sure you've noticed, Fódlan is... tearing itself apart. We can't stop it if we keep fighting on divided fronts."

“So you've come to ask for our aid in helping you with this battle?" Espera was the one to speak, glancing at Vridel with a calm stare. Senka remained quiet for a moment.

“Yes, that's right. We figured if we helped you, that..." Mercer paused, his eyes flickering to Senka before he continued, “if we helped you liberate Duscur from Kleiman, that you would be willing to join forces with a certain person's friends, whom thought her dead. While it might have been a final homage to her, we need the help, and the able bodies." Mercer didn't hold back with his words, and if anything, Senka flinched at one of them, but remained neutral.

“And you thought that we would simply join forces with you because you helped?" Espera seemed to bristle at the statement, however; Senka shook her head.

“I don't think that's quite it, Espera. They were willing to take a chance through enemy territory to provide aid to us in the hopes that we would provide the aid they need. We both know that we, as a people, will not stand a chance against an assault from either Cornelia's forces, or the Empire's. They would kill what remained of us, and I did not die for that to happen. I died so that our people could live, even if it means we have to relocate and leave Duscur behind," Senka spoke, her eyes hardening slightly.

“But I cannot give you the assistance you need, Mercer. My people are without a home, now, and there are refugees and people who cannot fight that I have to put above all else. Anyone else," she stated, though her eyes remained locked with Mercer's. He pursed his lips together, though.

“Have you so soon forgotten you have other allies?" There was no discernible emotion in Cyril's tone at all—it reminded Vridel of how he'd sounded in other lectures. “What is the point of all this sacrifice that your people might die with you here?"

The silence was thick for a moment, before Vridel caught on to the Professor's meaning. He cleared his throat. “I believe he refers to Duke Fraldarius," he said, pursing his lips. “We passed through his territory on the way through here, as I am sure you gathered. His land is well-defended, insulated from most of the fighting by the mountains. The warring that takes place there happens at the borders. I'd think your uncle would be quite willing to help protect your people, especially as this shared effort represents the best chance he has of any substantial aid in the future."

"For what it's worth," Reynard added, "we're not doing this just for the benefit of the Alliance. That's the next logical step, but only because freeing up those troops gives us a much better chance at retaking Faerghus, too. Freeing Faerghus first would cost more and yield less, with its warring lords and no good claimant for the throne Cornelia sits on."

If Senka felt anything at all, she did not show it. Her expression remained as calm as ever, but there was something that flickered through her eyes.

“I have not forgotten anything," she finally spoke, her eyes narrowing somewhat, though there was a hint of bitterness in her voice. “And what allies I had believed me dead. It would have been..." she paused, and sucked in a sharp breath before Espera laid a hand on her shoulder. He was close enough.

“Do you really think so little of us, Senka?" Mercer spoke, something in his expression softening. “Did you not think of us for one moment while you were here, reclaiming your lands? Did you not think we wouldn't have helped? We all knew how important this was, and she knew how important it was to you. Why didn't you tell us you were alive, Sen? Things might have turned out differently."

“Would it really have mattered?" she stated softly. “Mercer, things are not the way they used to be. If I had told anyone I was alive, that would have only risked the lives of my people, and I was not going to do that. It was safer for them. And on the contrary, Mercer, I have not stopped thinking of any of you for the last five years. It was all I had to keep me going."

Mercer shook his head. “That's not... the point, Sen." He didn't seem to want to say anything further.

“They're right, though, Senka," it was Espera who broke the silence. “Lord Fraldarius would be willing to take our people in, but no one is safe until Fodlan can be healed. No matter where we go, we will always be in danger. If this is how we help the world heal itself, help our people rebuild, then perhaps we should join them. Lend them our aid in whatever way we can," he continued, trying to speak some sense to her, it seemed. She seemed to contemplate his words.

“Alright," she spoke softly. “But we cannot move a large force all at once," she stated, her eyes sliding towards the group. “We'll have to split up and move as quietly and quickly as we can. It's best if I go first, though. Uncle... it's best if I ask him in person if he would really be willing to take in what people he can. Espera, you'll bring the second half as soon as I send word that Lord Fraldarius agrees."

“All right." Vridel expelled something like a sigh. “That's... settled for now then, I suppose. We'll be taking the same route back through Faerghus as we took to get here, but it's probably best not to count on anonymity this time. Cornelia will be able to figure out how we got in, and though most of it's land she doesn't control right now, there are gaps, so we're going to have to watch ourselves."

Reynard nodded, turning to Senka. "What do your scout numbers look like? If you're agreeable, I'd like to fold them into ours, so we can cover more area on the way back. Might save our asses if she decides to set up some kind of ambush."

“Of the ones not injured, we have a total of ten," she replied, voice and expression returning to something passive. “They will assist you in whatever way you need," she continued, nodding somewhat in Reynard's direction. “We should prepare to leave as soon as possible. News of Kleiman's death will be reaching Cornelia, soon. Not that I think she would care, but I would like to get my people somewhere safe as soon as possible."

“This has served as our base of operations for the last few years. We should head out in a couple of days in order to ensure that everyone is prepared and ready to make the march," Espera spoke, causing Senka to nod her head.

“A few days time, then. It will give everyone a chance to prepare, and for Reynard to prepare the scouts."

“We appreciate the help, Senka, thank you," Mercer spoke, his shoulders heaving slightly.

“You shouldn't thank me, Mercer," she responded, her voice low as she shook her head. She didn't elaborate on what she meant by that.

“But we're going to," Vridel said. If she couldn't thank them back, then that was fine. The war had done things to everyone, and even if he would admit to a certain degree of... hurt, by her actions in particular, well. At this point he thought most of them had hurt each other in some way or another. They just had to get through it, now.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

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I.Y. 1186 - Pegasus Moon - Tuesday the 3rd
Duscur - Evening - Clear
Senka Rinaldi

Five years.

He'd been alive all this time, and yet... he wasn't there.

He wasn't there for her when she needed him to be. When she needed him. And like a ghost set on haunting her, he was alive. Senka had been avoiding Cyril the last couple of days. She couldn't bring herself to see him. What remained of the woman he loved... it was so little. She hardly recognized herself, really, but... that didn't mean it didn't hurt less. How could she bring herself to see him? To talk to him? She wasn't the same woman. The woman he'd loved died nearly five years ago, replaced by this... whatever she was, now.

She was not her.

She wasn't even sure she could be. Her heart, what remained of it, squeezed in her chest. The pain would have been unbearable if she wasn't so used to it. So cold to it. She didn't even know if she still loved him. She had grown to resent him, hate him, even, for leaving her. Whatever she felt for him, it died when she did. All that remained was... it wasn't what he wanted. She couldn't be that, again.

But now was not the time for those thoughts. She had preparations to make, people to tend to before they split for the march to her uncle. Her heart squeezed painfully, then. What would he say when he saw her alive? Would he be disappointed that she didn't tell him? Would he resent her? He probably wouldn't, knowing how he was, but some part of Senka hoped he would, the part of her that deserved it. For lying for so many years to him. For being dead. She swallowed thickly and quickly shoved the thoughts to the back of her mind.

She at least owed Cyril an explanation. To tell him that the woman he loved died so many years ago, and who she was now couldn't be any longer. With that in mind, she set off to find him, but even now, she could feel her confidence wavering.

She found him in a place that was in some sense obvious: tending the animals. It was something he'd told her liked doing, back then. Apparently it had been one of the first tasks he'd ever learned to do to help his father, and he'd always liked it. He certainly seemed to have a way with them—Espera's pegasus was playfully trying to chew on the long tail of his hair, while he carefully tended to the feathers of her own, plucking out the molt and delicately cleaning the rest. Liev seemed to be rather enjoying the attention.

He was humming something softly under his breath, some half-familiar thing she'd heard from him before, but did not herself know. It was hard to tell if he'd noticed her avoidance of him and was respecting it, or if he too was avoiding her, because it was the first time they'd crossed paths outside of the meeting room since the battle, and if he was the one looking after her mount, that had to be on purpose.

Clearly, however, he heard her approach. He glanced at her from the corner of his eye, then did a double-take, as though he'd been expecting—well, someone else. His eyes widened a fraction, and he tensed almost imperceptibly. As if by conscious decision, though, he relaxed the moment after, and went back to his work. “It seems you're not afraid of them anymore," he said softly, plucking another dead feather from near the arch of Liev's wing. “That's good. I'm—" He cleared his throat, dropping the end of the sentence.

“Is there something I can do for you, Your Majesty?"

And the feeling of her heart breaking was so painful that Senka couldn't breathe for a moment. She tried, but failed. It was still so hard seeing him, believing that the person before her was actually Cyril. She needed to say something; anything, but her tongue felt heavy in her mouth.

She shook her head.

“I don't know, Professor," she spoke. Perhaps this was for the best, keeping each other at a formal distance. Maybe what she needed to say would make this easier. Would make it hurt less, because she wasn't sure of anything anymore. Liev bobbed her head, though, nickering softly towards Senka before she nipped at Cyril's shoulder.

“There is something I would like to say to you, though," because if she didn't say this now, if she didn't get it off her chest, she wasn't sure what she'd do. “I'm not her," she continued, pulling in a soft breath. “I'm not the same Senka you knew five years ago. She's gone, and so is her love," but was that really true? Was her love for him truly gone?

“I am sorry for your loss."

He seemed to process this for a quiet moment, the look on his face impossible to read. He absently stroked Liev's nose, eyes downcast towards the floor for several impossibly-long seconds, before he nodded slightly. “I understand," he said gently, turning his eyes towards her again. “I suppose it must be meaningless to you now, but since you've done me the kindness of honesty, I—"

The Professor swallowed, throat working with some apparent difficulty. When he spoke, his voice was hoarse. “I meant what I said, on the field. I'm yours. My life is yours. If you would prefer I live it away from you, then I will abide. If you would prefer I throw it away on the next field I step onto, then I will abide. But my love is not gone."

Dropping his eyes, he returned to his work, as though nothing he'd said required or merited any kind of response at all.

Why did that hurt?

Why did her heart constrict so much that it physically hurt? His love was not gone, but for him to throw his life away like that? If that was what she wanted? Preferred? The part of her, old and long forgotten, stirred. Something shook loose from her chest, and she took in a shuddering breath.

“How... how could you think I would ever want that?" she spoke softly. “How could you think that I would prefer you throw your life away on the next field? I don't," she paused because something was falling down her face. She lifted a hand to touch her cheeks and found them wet and stained with tears.


When was the last time she'd cried? When Sorcha died?

“I could never want that. Never." All she had ever wanted before any of this was him. She'd never wanted so badly to be with someone who had given her a reason to live.


She wasn't sure what compelled her to move. She wasn't even aware of what she was doing until she placed a hand on Cyril's shoulder and forced him to turn around. Her hands were on his face, and before anything else registered, her lips were on his. Whether or not it was the feeling, or something else, it seemed to kick-start something in her heart.

And it was painful.

So painful that she sobbed against his lips.

His hands settled softly, almost too softly, at her hips, as if he did it more to provide her with stability than anything else. It was a tentative touch, and uneasy one, and though he leaned into the touch of her lips for a single, desperate moment, he drew back almost immediately afterwards, still and unmoving. His grip tightened just a little when she sobbed, and she could hear him struggling with a lump in his throat.

“Senka?" he said softly, shifting back enough that their eyes could lock. “I don't... I don't understand. I'm sorry if I've upset you. I didn't mean to suggest you would be cruel, only—" He seemed to struggle with his words. “You don't owe me anything for how I feel. I just don't—I just don't want to bring you any more pain. I've failed you enough."

And that made it all the more painful.

“You failed me," but she also failed him. She didn't try harder to save him. She didn't try to search for him because she was convinced he was dead. If she'd tried sooner, if she'd even looked for him, maybe things would have been different. “You weren't there when I needed you the most. You promised you would be, but you weren't," she continued. She was certain she'd have fallen to her knees if he wasn't holding her.

As if he knew it, his hands firmed, just a little, where he was steadying her. His expression was stricken—confusion and hurt fighting a subtle war in his eyes, over the contours of his brows and his mouth—but he let her speak without interruption.

Cyril," she choked out his name, moving her hands back to his face. “You failed me, and I failed you. I don't deserve this love you still have for me. I don't deserve any of it, so how can you say that? That your love hasn't died. It should, because I'm..." who was she?

Who was this version of Senka, now?

“I hated you so much. I hated you for breaking your promise, but you're here now," in a time when she truly needed him. “I don't deserve you; I don't deserve your love, and I don't deserve this life." Maybe it would have been better if she'd died? Truly died?

Because then she wouldn't be hurting, and she wouldn't be hurting him.

Maybe because she loved him? Maybe because some part of her still did, and it was refusing to be ignored now, being so close to him.

“I don't deserve to love you."

“Stop," he said, and for as soft as the word was, it was also steel. It seemed that something burned behind his eyes, but when he shifted one of his hands up to her face, the fingers that wiped her tears away were as gentle as any touch ever had been. There was a fine tremor in them, just the faintest shaking. “Stop saying those things about yourself. I only understand part of what happened while I was cursed, but I know you, Senka." He traced the line of her cheekbone. “Perhaps it's arrogant of me to claim that, but I do. The others told me, about Sorcha. About Kleiman, and the ambush. So what if you've changed? Five years of nothing but desperate fighting would change anyone. It doesn't mean you're less than you were, or that you deserve less."

His hand moved, and he caught up a few more tears on the other side, touch still so delicate she barely felt it.

But weren't they all true? The things she said of herself, were they not as true as they were so many years ago? So why did she miss this? The small, gentle touches they used to share. The innocent gestures that used to convey how much he meant to her, and she him? She was reaching for something that felt so far away and she couldn't reach it. It felt like she was burning, and the only relief she could feel was given from him. He knew her, he said.

If he knew her, then did he know that he meant the world to her? That he always would? That, even if she'd tried to kill what little of her heart she had left, that it refused to die? She didn't deserve anything from him, least of all his love.

“But doesn't it?" she spoke softly. “I let my friends believe I was dead. I've let Rodrigue believe that I was dead. I've hurt so many people, including you, and what I deserve is to be held accountable for it. I've never, once, deserved you, though. Not once."

She had to close her eyes to keep from letting more tears fall. “But here you are, saying otherwise." She'd thought that she did, at one time. Thought that she deserved that little happiness she felt by being with him, even if they couldn't be together in earnest.

“I'm sorry, my love. For everything." For falling in love with him, for letting him fall in love with her.

“I'm not," he murmured. “Not for that. Not for any of it." He seemed to have picked up on what she was referring to in the apology. A moment later, she felt a new warmth, as he lowered his brow to touch hers. His hands wound around her waist, and he stepped closer than he'd yet dared, letting their bodies rest gently flush with one another. “The only thing I'm sorry for is breaking my promise. I swear to you, Senka, if I could have kept it, I would have. The whole time, I fought it—the darkness. Sometimes I couldn't even remember my own name. But I remembered you, and it kept me alive."

She felt the warm gust of air as he sighed quietly, so close to her that their lips almost brushed when he spoke. “When I woke, and Thea told me you'd died... I thought I was going to die, too. But I had to come here, first. Help your people, even if I couldn't—even if I couldn't help you."

He still...

She surged forward, then. Once again, her lips found his, but it was desperate. Desperate because he had thought of her, and that had been enough to keep him alive. She didn't deserve him, but maybe... maybe she could be deserving of his love, again. Maybe she could be the woman he'd loved so many years ago. Not the same one, but one he needed, would be proud of loving, and in return she could learn to love herself, again.

“I should have never blamed you," she spoke breathlessly when she pulled back. “I should have never doubted that you would come back. I should have never convinced myself that I hated you, that I didn't love you because you'd broken your promise." She swallowed thickly, placing her forehead against his, eyes open so she could regard him. So he could see that her eyes only reflected him.

“I should have never convinced myself that I didn't have a reason to live any longer. Because," because she had convinced herself of that. It was why she had been so reckless on the battlefield, why she didn't care if she died in the next battle.

“I still do."

She still had a reason to live. And he was holding her, and she was holding him.

“Senka," he whispered, his arms tightening around her for a moment before one lifted to cradle the back of her head. His eyes weren't dry, the gleam of unshed tears brightening the uncanny color of them.

“I love you." It came out like a confession, like a dark, secret thing pulled from the very core of him. “I never stopped. I never will. And if—if you can believe in me again, just enough to give me a chance, I... I won't promise anything. I'll prove it. Every day for the rest of my life."

“You don't have to prove anything to me, Cyril. Nothing. I love you, too. I always have, I always will, for however long. I will always love you. And you've already kept one promise," she spoke, feeling her lips quiver lightly. She managed, for the first time in years, a smile on her face.

“You've loved me even when I couldn't love myself." She had asked him to do so, so many years ago. “I don't care how long it takes, but I, too, will prove it. For the rest of my life, I will prove to you that I love you, that I always will, and that... nothing will ever stop me, again. Nothing."

It was his turn to kiss her, then, a soft, tender thing that was as gentle, as delicate as his touch had been earlier. And still there was a thread of heat in it, woven almost subtly into the warmth and sweetness, as though this at least he could not quite hold back all the way. It was clear that he knew what he was doing—something about the slow, languid caress of it bespoke a certain kind of familiarity. Of confidence.

When it broke, he brushed his nose softly against hers. “Then you don't have to prove it either," he said softly. “Let's do that because we want to."

Senka wanted something more. Something they had held back from in their days in the academy, but now was not the time. She would have to satisfy herself with this, these small gestures of kisses and touch, for now, unless it became too much.

“All I want is you, Cyril," she spoke, wrapping her arms around him, though. Afraid that if she let go, she would wake up to find that this was just a dream. And that would truly be the end of her.

“As you love me, I love you. And we will prove it to each other every day because we want to."


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1186 - Pegasus Moon - Sunday the 8th
Fraldarius Castle - Evening - Cold
Cyril Eisner

It wasn't all that long, in the grand scheme of things, between the time they had last left the Fraldarius Duchy and now, when they returned to it.

And yet for Cyril at least, things almost couldn't be more different.

The lion's share of that difference was presently riding right next to him. Though no few of the Duscur troops had winged mounts, they were riding at ground level in hopes of attracting less attention. Going was faster for this group than it would be for those who followed with most of the civilians, but it was safer that way for everyone involved. This group had further to go, eventually, and had already fought off at least one large bandit troop that hadn't survived to inflict themselves upon the noncombatants to follow.

Now, they once again drew within sight of Fraldarius Castle. The reception, however, was quite different. Where before the understandably-wary guards had pointed spears at them, on this occasion Cyril showed them the seal he'd been given, and they were immediately ushered into the grounds proper. It was quite possible that one or two of those present recognized Senka, but if so no one approached her to ask the obvious question.

When Cyril dismounted, he extended a hand up towards her, not because she needed the assistance but because he liked making the gesture. And, perhaps, because he liked the simple pleasure of her hand in his. There were certainly still things that lay between them—he'd not yet gotten around to telling her exactly what had happened to him, and they were still in some sense getting reacquainted. But there was a deep and abiding live beneath that, and so he knew that with time, things would mend.

Right now he suspected she might appreciate his support, as she revealed herself to her uncle. Cyril had a strong suspicion that Rodrigue would be nothing but surprised and overjoyed to see her, but in a way he suspected that would be harder on Senka than suspicion or scolding, because she held herself responsible for not having remained in contact with her friends and allies.

Either way, he wanted her to know he was here, and that come what may, he was on her side.

She took his hand and dismounted Liev, taking a shaky breath as they waited for Rodrigue to receive them. She glanced at him, smiling softly before she squeezed his hand. “Thank you," she spoke, though it was unclear as to what she was thanking him for. The support he was offering her, or for helping her dismount. It was likely the former because her grip tightened when Rodrigue appeared. She all but took a step back as if to use Cyril as a shield, to hide her from Rodrigue's eyes.

He didn't notice her at first.

“It seems you were successful," he spoke, a weary smile on his face. “If you need a place to rest, you may all use my home for the time. I'm afraid I have even less to offer this time around, but you are welcome to whatever I can spare," he continued. Mercer stepped forward, though.

“Actually, Lord Fraldarius, we have something of a favor to ask. Well, she would like to ask," he spoke, glancing in Cyril's direction, and pursing his lips when Senka had yet to step out from behind him.

Cyril turned slightly, still letting her be concealed by his body, but so he could meet her eyes properly. “Senka," he said, softly enough that he knew he wouldn't give her away accidentally. “It's going to be all right. He's family. He loves you." He lifted his free hand to the side of her face, tilting his head and smiling, just the smallest bit, down at her. It was one she'd recognize—one of the soft ones that had belonged only to her since she'd first pulled it from him. “We all do."

She swallowed, and nodded her head. “Okay," she whispered softly. Taking in a deep breath, she stepped forward, her hand still connected to his, as she glanced at Rodrigue. For a moment, Rodrigue paled. It looked like he'd just seen a ghost, and for all intents and purposes, he did. They had all thought she was dead, and like when they'd first arrived in Fraldarius, Rodrigue descended the stairs. He'd almost tripped on his way down, perhaps because he looked as fatigued as ever, but he managed to catch himself and swiftly took both Senka and Cyril into his arms. The embrace was at once warm and heavy, and Rodrigue's shoulders shook.

“Senka," he nearly choked out. She placed her free hand over Rodrigue's back, holding him as tightly as she was holding onto Cyril's hand as tears escaped her. “You're alive. You're alive," he repeated almost as if he couldn't quite believe it.

“I'm sorry, uncle," she whispered out softly, burrying her face into Rodrigue's shoulder. “I'm so sorry I never told you," she continued, but he shook his head.

“It doesn't matter. You're alive. All this time... I thought you were dead, but you're alive. Both of you are alive; thank the goddess," he stated, finally releasing both of them. “Come, we have much to discuss. Please," he stated, ushering them towards his home, once again.

It was sort of an unfamiliar experience. Cyril's own father had loved him—he knew this. But he'd never been one for such outward displays of affection, and he had no idea what he'd done to earn such from Rodrigue. It felt... nice, though, in a way he hadn't expected. He, too, had returned the embrace with his free arm, and still held to Senka's hand as they led the others up the castle stairs. Most, the soldiers with the Duscur, broke off there, to be led to the barracks where they'd stay. The others, though, the small group of ten, followed Rodrigue back to the same study as before.

Cyril took a seat on one of the sofas, shifting his grip on Senka's hand so she could sit comfortably beside him, but not letting go of it.

Once everyone else was seated, Rodrigue sat at the head of the table, and smiled warmly in their direction. “So, what is it that you'd like to ask," he spoke, his voice soft and still filled with emotion. “If it is within my power to do so, I will grant it, Senka. You know I would," he continued, causing her to furrow her brows.

“What I'm going to ask is a lot," she began, lifting her gaze to keep it with Rodrigue's. He opened his mouth to say something, but she shook her head. “It is, uncle. Please hear me out before you say anything," she continued before he could say anything. He nodded his head as if to tell her to continue. She took in a deep breath, rubbing her thumb over Cyril's hand in an absentminded fashion, it seemed. As if she were trying to draw strength from his hand, alone. He gave her fingers a gentle squeeze.

“As you know, Duscur has finally been liberated from Kleiman, however; we don't have a place to go. Cornelia will try and claim the lands, and she will win with her sizeable army. I do not have the troops to protect my people, and there are those who cannot fight. They need a place to stay until they can recover, however." she paused to sigh softly.

“I cannot take the vast majority of my army to the Alliance, either. I need to separate them, and Espera will stay behind to help reinforce you with the other half of the soldiers still hiding in Duscur."

Rodrigue seemed to contemplate this, his brows furrowing deeply. Cyril could feel Senka's hand tighten around his, as if she were afraid that he would refuse.

“It is in fact a lot to ask," Cyril added, carefully lacing his fingers with Senka's. “But we have hope that we can reconquer Alliance territory in half a year. And once we've done that, the next obvious move is to march the army into Faerghus to reinforce yours. It's a risk, and I understand that for that half a year, it will strain your resources. But it's the best chance we have at doing anything but losing slowly, and the soldiers that stay behind will surely be of some assistance at the border in the meantime."

Mercer nodded his head in agreement. “Even with the troops we will be taking with us, it'll give us the numbers we need to break through. And I've said before, you have my word that we will come back to help Faerghus. I owe her that much, as well," Mercer spoke softly, his eyes dropping for a moment before they shifted towards Cyril and Senka.

“And when we have Faerghus back, it'll be two nations against the Imperial army. We'll finally have a decent chance at righting the wrongs in the world." Mercer spoke with a little more confidence, then, as if he truly believed that they could. Perhaps he did?

“Those who are left behind will be able to fend for themselves. They are excellent hunters and gatherers. You may even find that your resources will be somewhat replenished with their help. It is a lot to ask, uncle, but I trust no one else to be able to do this. Family or not, I trust you to take care of them for me until I can return."

Rodrigue remained silent a moment longer before a small smile formed on his lips. “Alright. My troops will welcome the support, and those who cannot fight will do what they can to help out. I will do this for you, Senka, but promise me something," he agreed, however; his eyes turned a bit hard as he stared at her. She stiffened slightly beneath the gaze. “Promise me that you will not keep me in the dark, any longer. You used to write to me about everything," his eyes shifted to Cyril, then. “You even wrote to me about how you'd asked that one to marry you in a few years when you reclaimed Duscur. I hope that still stands, now that you have," he stated, the briefest smiles crossing his lips.

For a moment, Senka blinked before she swallowed thickly. There was a faint color appearing on her face as she dropped her gaze from Rodrigue's who merely chuckled. Even Mercer managed to crack a small smile, then.

“I... um," she seemed at a lost for words, before she shook her head. “Thank you, uncle," she stated, intent on not speaking on the previous subject.

She had written—?

Cyril supposed he should not be so surprised. They'd been rather certain of their plans, back then. But so much was up in the air right now, and though the hesitation stung a little, he understood it. They barely knew where they'd be in a week, never mind a month or however long it would take to end this war. And besides, even if the hurts he had done her were forgiven, he doubted they would be so easy to forget. He hoped that someday they would no longer hurt, that she would be able to trust him not to hurt her again, but he was resolved to give things as much time as they needed. And not to hurry just because five years had felt like so much less to him.

“We'll... keep you apprised," he said softly, answering Rodrigue's query hopefully directly enough that he wouldn't press it.

“Before we go though... I think there is one more thing we should attend to. As we are now officially a multinational army, we need a leader. Not because any of the faction leaders cannot manage it, but because the role should be filled. We need to be one whole when we march, not disparate parts." He paused, glancing over the others. “Truthfully, I feel anyone in this room would be qualified to do that, and I'm not only saying that because I taught all but one of you how."

Reynard and Devon chuckled softly; even Vridel cracked a smile.

“But if the rest of you are agreeable, I think it makes most sense for that person to be Mercer. He's been at the front of this fight since it began, and none of us would be sitting here today if not for his efforts."

“Agreed," Vridel said immediately.

Mercer's eyes widened at the suggestion. “Wait, why me?" he stated, seemingly skeptical about the suggestion.

“I think Professor has a point, Mercer," Thea spoke this time, her eyes softening as she smiled at him. “You've been doing this since the beginning. Lyanna and I have only managed the monastery, keeping the bandits at bay, while Vridel was in Brigid. Senka was in Duscur trying to get her homeland, back, but you've been fighting the Imperial army this entire time. They are wary of you, and your strategies, Merc."

“I am in agreement as well. Mercer you're a brilliant strategist and leader, even before this. You'll lead us well. I truly believe this," Senka added, her expression softening in his direction. Mercer looked taken aback before a small smile tugged at his lips. He shook his head and huffed lightly.

“As long as Teach agrees to be my advisor, then I'll take it." His eyes were on Cyril, then.

Cyril snorted softly. “I can do that much, I think."

It wouldn't be so different from being a professor, he supposed.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1186 - Pegasus Moon - Tuesday the 10th
Fraldarius Territory - Early Evening - Cool
Mercer von Riegan

Mercer was still having a hard time believing two things: Senka was alive and he was now the offical leader of a singular army. Some part of him, dark and twisted, wanted to believe that she was still alive. If Senka and Teach could come back from the dead, maybe she could, too. But then the logical part of his brain would reinforce that an open execution was as good as any indication that she was dead.

It still hurt to know that.

He took in a deep breath, pushing the thoughts as far from his mind as he possibly could. He had other things to worry about, people to look after, and an army to lead. Still...

“Mercer," a voice called out to him, pulling him from his thoughts, and turned to meet Senka's eyes. It seemed she'd finally managed to leave Teach's side for a moment. They'd been nearly inseparable ever since they'd left Fraldarius Castle, but he supposed he didn't blame them. There were things they needed to work through, he supposed, but at least they had each other. He quashed that feeling.

“Hey, Sen," he greeted, offering her a small smile. “Something I can do for you?" he asked, arching a brow in her direction. He found it surprising that she was riding a pegasus. From what he remembered, she'd always shied away from the creatures, as if she had been afraid of them, but looking at her now, he'd have never guessed that was the case. She shook her head, though.

“No," she began at first, and cleared her throat. “I just came to apologize. I haven't been able to apologize to anyone, personally, except for Cyril, so far. And I want to tell you that I am sorry for not telling you," she stated. He found it strange, too, that she spoke so clearly. Not that she hadn't before, but she used to pause a lot between her sentences. Five years seems to have made her more confident, and at the same time, it seems to have quashed it.

“I won't lie and say it's okay, Sen," he started, pushing a light sigh through his nose. “It's not. I... mourned you. I believed you were dead and it hurt because I thought I'd lost my friend. When I heard you'd died along with Sorcha," he paused, grimacing slightly. He hadn't really spoken her name since he'd found out, after all. “You should have told us something."

She remained quiet, eyes fixed on her hands as she sighed. “I know," she spoke quietly that Mercer almost didn't hear her. “I know I should have said something to you all, but, Mercer, I wasn't in my right mind. It still feels like I'm not. I died, and it felt like the Senka you all knew had died as well. What could I have possibly said that would have changed that? I can't take back what I've done or change the past, but... I can at least try to amend for my mistakes."

Mercer sighed heavily. Even after all this time, she still had problems believing that there were people who cared for her. Who would have helped her if they had known she was still alive, and that she could have relied on them. “You're right, though. There's no changing the past, but at least we have a chance at changing the future," and that was what mattered in the long scheme of things. He would still be without Sorcha, but at least everyone had each other in some sense. Even Thea had Vridel for a little while longer, and he hoped they made the most out of what time they had left, together.

His thoughts were interrupted by the rapid approach of a scout on pegasusback. One of Senka's riders. She approached with a panicked expression, alighting in front of the both of them. “Duke von Riegan, Your Majesty. There's—soldiers—attack—" she was clearly winded, struggling to get words out. This close, he could see that she clutched at a wound on her abdomen. A long, shallow cut, not likely fatal but surely painful; her features were pulled into an expression of agony.

“Ambush!" She pointed the way she'd come with her lance, towards the foothills right on the Fraldarius-Galatea border. A good place to set up an ambush, for the reduced visibility of the scouts. Enemies could have hidden in wait at the low points of the hills, evading local troops in the process, if they knew the area well enough. “Fell on us—others are... dying."

Mercer cursed beneath his breath, Senka already reaching over with white magic at her fingers to heal the cut on her soldier's side. “Fall back and reinforce the rear, Danae," she spoke, the woman nodding her head and flying off. Senka turned towards Mercer, then. “What will you have us do?" she asked, and for a moment, Mercer had to think.

“You, Teach, and myself will reinforce the front. Have Deirdre, Sylvi, and Sofia reinforce the left flank, and tell Reynard and Devon to do what they do best, and control the situation from the shadows. Thea and Vi can reinforce the right flank. Have whatever healers in your group tend to the injured," he stated, watching as she nodded, and spurred her pegasus into the air, perhaps to relay the information to the others. It was at this point that Mercer wished he'd brought Sir. It would have been easier to see the situation from the sky, however; he spurred his horse forward.

He had to make it to the front of the line. He had to help them, and keep people from dying.

The battle, such as it was, was already a mess. Bodies, by far mostly those belonging to the scouts, were strewn over the field, snow dyed red with blood and nearly black with viscera. The soldiers they faced were clearly Cornelia's—instead of the normal lion crest of Faerghus, they wore black, with a white flower of some sort depicted on the front. A rose, it seemed.

With the soldiers, who far outnumbered Mercer's forces, was a large... it looked like a metal golem, akin to those he'd seen unmoving in the Holy Mausoleum. This one, unfortunately, was quite mobile, and at least three times as tall as a man on horseback, akin to the size Maurice had been, but with a body seemingly made entirely of metal. A light glowed in the center of its chest, small gaps in the creature exposing what seemed to be a pulsing, red core of magic, encased in an otherwise-empty suit of gigantic armor. It swept one arm outwards, knocking aside the remaining fliers around its head.

They fell hard to the ground, crashing and remaining still.

The lines clashed; as Mercer drew close he could see the enemy's position better. They'd taken a cluster of three hills, and posted groups of archers and mages on each to fire down into the fray. These were protected by rings of spearmen and poleax-wielders with heavy shields, to make any attempt to climb the hill arduous.

Atop the center hill, clearly visible, stood a figure that must be the enemy commander. Encased head to toe in black armor, save the visor of their white-plumed helm, which was branded with the same white rose motif. The figure clutched a lance, its large golden point shaped more like an angled cleaver than the typical spear-tip, clearly made to slash as much or more than stab. It had the look of a relic to it, but at this distance it was impossible for even his eyes to make out the shape on the Crest stone.

He didn't need to know the Crest Stone. There was only one Relic that was shaped like that, even before he took into account that it was a lance. The Gautier's had a Relic in the shape of a lance, but not like that one. It was Areadbhar. That didn't make sense to Mercer, though. Sorcha had been the last Blaiddyd. How was it possible that the enemy commander was wielding it, and not turning into a beast? There was one logical answer to it: the proceedure that had been done on Vridel had been done on this person as well.

He grimaced slightly when Senka reappeared, a tight crease in her brows as she stared at him. “Mercer, we don't have the strength to fight this army. My scouts have been taken out, and we can't risk losing anyone else before we reach the Alliance. Take Liev," she spoke, already dismounting her pegasus and handing the reigns towards him. “She's not as fast as Sir, but you'll be in the air, and you can manage better, there," she seemed to explain. Mercer didn't need to be told twice, and he swiftly dismounted his horse.

“Make sure everyone retreats backwards. I'm going for the commander. If I can take them out, it'll slow down the army and force them to regroup," he stated, however; before he could leave, Senka grabbed hold of his hand.

“You are not doing this alone, Mercer. Cyril and I will cut a path for you, while the others secure an escape route. We do this together, or not at all," she stated, her eyes narrowing slightly as if she understood what he was trying to do. Perhaps it was for the best that she did stop him. He was the leader of this army, and if he fell...

“Alright, I'm trusting you two," he stated, nudging the pegasus forward as Senka nodded her head, and nudged the horse, perhaps, in Cyril's direction. He trusted that the others would be able to do what they needed to.

The path seemed to open before him, but as he drew close to the hill, within range of arrows, several of the bowmen drew back as if to fire at him. Until, that was, the figure wielding Areadbhar raised their right hand, as if ordering them to halt. Sunlight glinted off... was that some kind of gauntlet? It was silver, not black, and stood out from the rest of the armor accordingly. The archers lowered their arrows immediately, parting like water and leaving a large, free spot on the hill directly in front of their commander.

The figure in armor dropped the hand, still otherwise unmoving, but he could feel it. The eyes beneath the visor were locked on him.

Actually, he preferred this. A duel between commanders would be the easiest way to settle the battle, and there would be fewer casualties if he won. He nudged Liev to land near the hill; he didn't want to risk Sen's mount for this. Once he dismounted, he motioned for Liev to fly, and pulled the sword from his back. He stared at the enemy commander, lifting the sword in their direction.

“You and I will settle this here," he spoke, moving forward towards the middle of the field.

The figure nodded simply, stepping away from the other soldiers like a shadow detaching from a pool of darkness. They leveled Areadbhar outwards in a similar manner to how Mercer held his sword. The armor was close-fit, but well made, revealing nothing of the flesh it was made to protect. The set was sleek, almost utilitarian, free of the spikes or other flourishes that Thales and his ilk would have led anyone to expect. Its wearer was of an ambiguous height, either a tall woman or a man of modest height, and relatively slender. The thick black and white cloak around their shoulders fell to the ground with a pull of the clasp; unencumbered, the figure stalked closer, the blade of Areadbhar drifting forward to just barely caress the edge of his sword, throwing a spark onto the snow where the metal scraped. It was a soft, almost ringing sound; the Relic almost seemed to hum.

It was as though all sound around them had ceased; he could hear the figure take in a breath, sharp, almost like something had surprised them, but in the next moment they lunged, and there was no time left to think of it.

Most battles didn't require him to think. He lifted his blade just in time to thwart the lance from cutting him, the blade twirling around as if to catch him from behind. The duel went on like this. He'd been mostly on the defensive, trying to block attacks that were coming at him, sometimes uncannily fast, and others seemingly almost as if they were trying to avoid killing him.

It left him warring with himself as well. Clearly this person was skilled. They'd managed to at least nick him a few times around his shoulder and he had one cut on his face, but he'd been mostly spared any attacks towards his abdoment, neck, and chest where his heart was. All vital areas that would have killed him if he were facing someone with the intent to kill.

Mercer didn't have the same reserves, though. He'd been aiming for the enemy's heart, their neck, and anywhere else that might have ended the duel because he had an army to lead. A world to take back, and a vision to achieve for her. He caught them in the shoulder with the edge of his blade, but before he could push it further in, the person jumped back, pulling their shoulder from the blade as a result. He grimaced slightly.

This needed to end, quickly.

A sound of frustration escaped them, a soft growl muffled by the helm and perhaps the grit of their own teeth. He could almost see the eyes beneath the visor narrow. A flash of blue, and then the light shifted and it was gone. It didn't seem to be a pained sound, though—if anything they almost seemed not to have noticed the wound at all, and leaped back at him with renewed vigor.

Areadbhar more than compensated for their natural reach disadvantage, especially compared to a sword, but there was still something... hesitant, almost, about their motions. As though they could not commit to anything that might in fact become a deathblow. Perhaps they had orders to capture him?

Around them, the battle raged. Mercer could hear the creaking, groaning movements of that massive golem, but though the troops on this hill waited in respectful silence for the duel to end, it was unclear most of the others were even aware, and the fight continued.

The both of them continued to accumulate injuries; it was a battle of attrition if ever there was one. A well-placed blow from Mercer that should have slipped between helm and gorget to open up a line on the knight's throat, however, was thwarted by that same, uncanny-quick motion, slicing hard into the plume on the figure's helmet instead, jarring the whole thing sideways. With a grunt, they raised the silver-covered hand, tearing the helm away from beneath the chin and tossing it aside with a clatter.

A fall of his favorite cornsilk-gold tumbled out, settling around her shoulders. Her face was set, harder than he'd ever seen it, more mature, pulled into a blank-eyed scowl.

And yet there was no mistaking who he was looking at for even a second.

“Sorcha," he stated. It seemed like time stopped in that moment, his eyes wide, and burning. There she was. There was no mistaking it that this woman, older now only in the years he hadn't seen her, but still just as striking and lovely as ever. And he was trying to kill her. He felt his arms go limp, and he could not bring himself to lift his sword against her.

This was no ghost, no apparition. It was Sorcha. She was alive. “Sorcha," he called out to her once more, the burning sensation finally cascading down his face. He knew the tears were for her, but they weren't sorrowful tears. They were tears of joy. Strange for the occasion, perhaps, but he didn't care. Was this how Cyril felt when he found Senka alive? Was this how Thea felt to know Vi was still alive? His heart ached so painfully in his chest, but he reached out a hand towards her.

“Sorcha... it's me, Mercer," he stated. If she was fighting him, she didn't remember him. He didn't know the circumstances behind that, because he knew she would never fight him like this. Not like this. Not as enemies without a reason. He hadn't hurt her in any way. Failed to protect her, yes, but he had not hurt her.

Or maybe he had and he wasn't aware of it?

The moment his sword had dropped, Areadbhar was at his throat, mere inches from ending his life. At the other end of it, Sorcha regarded him with narrow eyes, some flicker of unidentifiable emotion passing through them.

The sound of her own name seemed to surprise her; he brows furrowed heavily, forming a familiar frustrated crease. It had appeared when she was frustrated with her shots, trying over and over to master that pinpoint precision that would match him, until her arms were shaking and her fingers were numb.

There was a shake, now, too, a tiny tremble in the tip of the lance so close to his throat. “Why?" she said, irritation warring with confusion in her tone. Blood ran freely over the chestplate of her armor from the shoulder wound she'd been ignoring, but he could see now that she did, at least, feel it, for she steadied Areadbhar with the other hand, the one encased in silver. It did not stop the tremor entirely; the same reverberated in the soft rasp of armor plates against each other.

“Why do I know your face, Mercer von Riegan?"

He cursed himself for not knowing white magic, then, because he wanted nothing more than to heal the wound he'd inflicted upon her.

But it seemed she had forgotten him.

“Sorcha, it's me. Mercer. Your love," because he had to believe that she remembered that much. “Look, I still have it. Your good luck charm," he stated, holding up his left hand to show her the ring he'd never taken off. Not even once.

“You know me because you love me. And I love you. I never stopped."

He could never stop loving her. Even when he'd found out she'd died, he never stopped. Could never stop.

A soft breath hissed between her teeth, but it the words—or the ring itself—sparked any more recognition than she'd already had, her face gave no sign. She clicked her tongue softly against the side of her teeth, taking an unsteady step forward, enough for Areadbhar's point to press softly into his skin without breaking.

The soldiers still watched silently, though a few of them looked suspicious now, unsure why their commander had not killed him, apparently. They obviously couldn't hear what was said, but some seemed almost itchy to draw their bows.

“What if I don't believe you?" she asked, her tone dropped to a whisper. He almost couldn't hear it. “What if the one thing I still know is that I have never been loved?"

That she'd never been loved...

“Who made you believe that you've never been loved, Sorcha? Of course people love you. Senka loves you, Vridel, Thea, Sylvi, Sofi, Devon, Reynard, Teach," he began listing all the people he knew loved her.

I love you. I'm sorry I hurt you. If I'd known it was you, I wouldn't have ever," but he did. He'd hurt her by stabbing her. “Sorcha, I thought you were dead. I would have searched the world for you if there was even a small sign, anything that told me that you were still alive. Sorcha, you are loved."

He wanted to kill so desperately the person who'd made her believe that no one did.

She hesitated still, flinching, eyes narrowing as if in pain; one of her hands started towards her temple before she dropped it to clutch the haft of the spear. Her jaw tightened; when she spoke again her voice was carefully neutral. “This was a trap," she said simply. “If I do not kill you, those archers will." There were more than a dozen of them atop the hill, all still watching the exchange with wary eyes.

“If what you say is true... cover me."

Abruptly, the Crest Stone in Areadbhar began to glow; Mercer could feel a strange crackling coldness in the blade, which shifted just fractionally away from his skin. At the last moment, just before the cold began to bite, Sorcha lifted it free of him and swung it in a blind arc over her head, twisting at the last moment to bring it down. The air shimmered; almost too quickly to see, the Relic's wave of force slammed into a brad swath of the archers, knocking them to the ground.

The others raised their bows immediately; Sorcha scowled, dashing forward with the speed granted by her Crest, knocking out of the air only the arrows that might have hit him where he stood, allowing the rest to whistle past, close but not harmful.

“Sorcha, come with me. We're not going to last very long against this army. You know that; you're leading this army against us. Come with me, come with us," he stated, making a sharp whistle in the air. Liev returned almost immediately, and he mounted the pegasus, holding a hand out to Sorcha.

“Please, come with us. We can escape for now," he pleaded. He could feel it in his eyes as well. Please."

He could not bear to leave her behind.

And he wouldn't.

He could see her swallow, see her uncertainty. She glanced back towards the battle, but she had to see what he did: the sheer futility of it all. Still her hand stopped halfway to his, fingers curled in towards her palm, and she squeezed her eyes shut, pulling in a deep breath and shuddering. Though it had been her right she reached with, she withdrew it, switching her hold on Areadbhar and gripping with her left instead, swinging astride Liev with fluid grace even despite the awkwardness of the hand up.

Fortunately, most pegasus saddles had loops for lances, and she slid the Relic into one of these, leaning forward slightly to touch his bow with one hand. “Can I borrow this? I'll keep them off us if you steer. I'm not bad with a bow."

“Who do you think taught you?" he stated, offering a grim smile, and shaking loose the bow from his back and handing it to her. “Hold on, keep them off my tail, and we'll get through this." He nudged Liev forward, driving the pegasus as fast as she could move. He could hear the whistles of the arrows pass them over, but he maneuvered Liev as best as he could to avoid them. Sorcha covered his back, and he could see that his army was already retreating.


He needed them to live.

And Sorcha.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1186 - Pegasus Moon - Thursday the 12th
Galatea - Daybreak - Cold
Devon Margrave

Devon didn't hesitate to press the snow to his face. Chill as it was, it soothed the strain of his eyes, made him feel more awake. They'd been feeling Cornelia's soldiers for two days, but the bastards just weren't giving up. They were less mobile and swift than Mercer's group, but it almost seemed like they didn't need sleep, or at least not as much rest as his friends did, and so it had been hard to shake them. Those that could slept in their saddles or the supply wagon, but the mounts needed to rest sometimes, too. Though they didn't stop for more than four hours at a time, they stopped.

In this particular case, there's been extra burden on him and Reynard, too, the quietest ones who could carefully stalk the foothills for reconnaissance and the possibility of food. The latter had been lean, though. No doubt two relatively large forces passing through the hills had done a lot to chase away the wild animals, and damn if his stomach wasn't reminding him of it.

Wiping away the melty remnants of his pick-me-up, Devon ate another handful for the hydration. Time to get back to the group. It was Rey's turn to watch the rear.

He nodded to the other man in passing, but the watch change was wordless. Everyone was edgy now, trying to conserve the warmth, energy, and sanity they could. They'd lost a lot of soldiers in that battle, and... well, a lot of what had happened was unsettling.

Like Professor Cyril and Senka before her, Princess Sorcha was alive. Very much unlike them, she barely seemed to recognize anyone. After their initial breakaway from the battle, she'd taken a pegasus without a rider any longer and mostly stuck to herself, shying away from anyone who approached with cold, pained eyes. Yesterday, she'd relented enough to allow the Professor to ride beside her, but she was wary as a caged lioness around anyone else, even Mercer and Senka. Perhaps especially Mercer.

Devon couldn't imagine how that felt, but it had to be painful. Maybe almost as painful as hearing of her death. If it had been him, he'd have been beyond happy that Syl was at least alive, but...

Well he'd be heartbroken.

Sighing quietly to himself, he jogged up next to Mercer's horse, gratefully swinging astride a spare mount next to him in the column. "Hey Merc. They're still a couple miles back. Haven't stopped for today yet though; could be we'll get a reprieve while Rey's on watch." They tried to time their rests to the enemy's, so that the gap didn't close too much, but unless something changed, they'd be caught before they reached the Alliance border, so it was hardly the most reassuring news.

Mercer glanced at him through weary eyes. The usual vibrant green of his eyes was duller, almost as if all of the life had been drained from them and all that remained were just empty, hollow eyes. “Good. Everyone needs a rest; I'm not sure how much longer they can go on like this. They're trained for battle conditions and how to weather them, but they're not fighting against normal soldiers, it seems," he spoke, his voice a little hoarse, though the reason was unknown.

“You should get some rest, too, Dev. I'm sure your wife will be more than happy to have you riding beside her," he stated, cracking a small smile as he did. It was easy to see how strained it was, though, and it didn't even quite reach his face the same way. He was hurting, but for the sake of the morale, it seemed that he was trying his best not to let it show.

“And here, you both can have this," he stated, pulling an apple and a piece of dried meat, it looked like, from one the saddle bags to his side. “I've been saving it just in case, but the both of you need it more than I do. I've got a litle more to share with the others, too, but it's not much to fill the stomaches. Just enough to ease the pain." He handed it towards Devon.

Devon grimaced. Even at his most naive, he'd been wise to this trick. It was something he'd done himself a thousand times: giving what wasn't even enough for him to his brother and sister, acting like it wasn't a big deal, or he'd eaten earlier, or whatever other dumb thing. So long as they took it. It was by the same token, though, that he knew refusing the gesture was futile, and likely to only make Mercer feel worse.

So he accepted them, but not without a pointed look at his friend. "You need to keep up your strength, too, Mercer," he said quietly. "She's going to need you. Even I know that much."

He didn't know what had happened to Sorcha exactly, but it was obvious to him that she would never willingly abandon her memories of her friends, especially Mercer. Which meant that was something that had been done to her. And if someone had done that, it was an easy jump to supposing that they'd done other things. He didn't know if it was like what had happened to Syl, or something completely different, but it didn't matter. Even the sheer violation of having her very mind tampered with... he couldn't imagine what might lay behind that, but it was itself more than enough to make even him shake with rage thinking about it.

Given this, he was impressed Mercer was holding it together even to this extent.

“I know, Dev," he spoke quietly, almost too quietly that Devon wouldn't have heard him above the sounds of the horses if he weren't riding close by. “I'm doing what I can because she needs me. But... I can't be selfish at a time like this, either. I have other people who are relying on me to lead them. To keep them alive and to ensure that this war comes to an end," he began, taking in a soft breath.

“My strength is stretched thin, but... now that I know she's alive," he paused, glancing behind him as if he'd see her, before turning his attention back towards Devon, “she is my strength. I can keep going for her until she remembers who I am. What I meant to her, and what she still means to me. We'll get through this, Dev. So don't worry too much about me, alright?"

Devon managed a thin smile. "I'm a worrier, Merc, you know this." His expression softened in sympathy, though, and he reached over to touch his friend's shoulder. "Don't be afraid to rely on us too, if there's anything we can do. You're the leader, to be sure, but we're all still a team. Thanks for the food."

With a little nod, he dropped back in the column of riders. Mercer needed rest like all of them did, and Devon didn't want to be draining on him. So he rode next to the person who gave him strength, and who he tried to give the same to. "Hey Syl. It's not much, but what d'ya say to breakfast? Not exactly romantic candlelight I know, but this bread isn't even stale yet I don't think, so that's something?" He broke the loaf in half, offering the larger of the two chunks in her direction.

She huffed lightly at him and offered him a tired smile. “It's always romantic eating with you," she replied, tilting her head softly as she nodded in his direction. “You always leave bits of crumbs around the corners of your lips," she stated, tapping the corner of hers as if to prove a point, though there was nothing on his face.

“And you're quite right. It is something," she added, her smile warming somewhat. “I..." she paused in her sentence as something in the distance caught her attention. At first she paled, as if she'd seen something that she didn't want to, but the color returned to her face. “Is that... it couldn't be. Why would they be doing this?" she stated, glancing towards the horizon. Up ahead, Devon could see a line of pegasi riders, all carrying a banner of sorts.

From the looks of it, the colors looked vaguely similar to the ones Sylvi used to wear in the academy. Colors that marked her House.


There was also a decent amount of foot soldiers waiting at where Fraldarius bordered the Galatea lands, too. “Devon, don't... leave my side, alright? They don't know about us, but please... don't say anything to them, yet. I... need to protect you from them, first, and find out what they're doing. They don't send out the pegasi riders unless it's for certain situations." There was an urgency in her voice when she looked at him.

Stowing his food in his saddlebag immediately, Devon leaned to the side enough to place his hand gently on the far side of her face, tilting her head towards him so he could meet her eyes with his own. The lovely dove-grey of them was clouded with worry, and it tugged the corners of his mouth down to see it. "Syl. It's going to be okay. This could be a good thing—they might help chase the enemy off us. I'll follow your lead, but don't forget for a second that I'm here to protect you, too, okay? The moment there's anything I can do, you just let me know, all right?"

He thought to risk leaning just a little further for a kiss, but there was a chance the riders would be able to spot something that obvious. Devon wouldn't care for a moment—honestly he kind of wanted to shout from the rooftops that he was married to this incredible woman, even at a time like this. But she knew the situation better than he did, and he trusted her to know what to do. So he let his hand fall away from her face instead. "Should we head up to where Mercer is, or...?"

She nodded her head, and spurred her horse towards where Mercer was. “I need to let him know to be on guard. I don't... trust my father. He's always planning something for the betterment of Galatea. He's putting on a show for us," she grimaced lightly until they were near Mercer. He glanced towards the both of them and nodded his head.

“I know, Syl," he stated before she could even speak. “We'll see what he has to say, but we won't stay for too long. If our pursuers see this display, they might think we're being reinforced. We're going to use this opportunity to our advantage while we can, though," he continued. Sylvi swallowed thickly, but nodded her head.

“Devon, you will act as her guard so that way you can both stay together without giving your identities away. Syl, you're going to have to remove your ring if you don't want your father finding out about your marriage to Dev," he stated, grimacing slightly. Sylvi grimaced too, and for a moment, hesitated on removing the said jewelry.

“Alright," she stated, pulling the ring from her finger as she glanced towards Devon. “Keep it safe for me?" she asked, holding it out towards him.

He felt a painful twinge in his heart. The ring wasn't much—just a plain silver thing with some snowflakes etched into it—but it had been his mother's, and he'd been ecstatic to be able to give it to Sylvi.

Still, he wasn't about to let sentiment put her at any kind of risk, so he nodded, accepting the ring back and slipping it onto his smallest finger, right next to where his own still resided. "Promise," he said softly.

After that had been settled, one of the pegasus riders approached, pulling them to a halt. “We have been told that you have Lady Galatea within your ranks. Is this true?" the woman stated, eyes narrowing slightly in Mercer's direction before they shifted to the rest of the army. Sylvi took in a sharp breath, and seemed to steel herself.

“Yes, it's true. I'm here," she stated, pulling forward so the woman could see her. “I'm Sylvi Ma... Galatea," she added. The woman on the pegasus, bowed in her direction, and glanced towards Mercer.

“We're here on Lord Galatea's orders to escort you to his home so that you may find some rest. And so that he may see his daughter that he believed to be deceased," she spoke. Sylvi flinched slightly as she glanced towards Mercer. His expression was relatively passive, and if he felt anything at all, it was hard to tell.

“You have our thanks," was the only response he gave the woman.

Devon played his part as well as he could. Time had given him height enough to loom a little, and work had put enough muscle on his frame that he could pass for someone's bodyguard, to be sure. He did his best to channel Reynard's mannerisms, drawing on that hardness time had put in them all and keeping his expression carefully neutral. He knew that here especially, so close to Gautier and the Sreng border, there would be no mistaking him for Almyran or even from Duscur—those were mistakes that no one this far north made. His features were Srengese to the last; he knew he'd grown to very much resemble his father.

He'd almost forgotten what it felt like, for that to matter.

The woman eyed Devon for a moment before she spurred her pegasus away from the group, as if she knew they would be following behind her. Mercer merely kept his gaze forward, but occasionally glanced towards Devon and Sylvi. “Are you both going to be alright for this?" he asked, arching a brow as Sylvi sighed.

“No, Mercer. You don't know my father. I'm sure he's only happy that I'm alive because he thinks it's his chance to use me as a bargaining chip. The only thing is, I don't know what he's actually planning. I used to receive letters from him all the time asking when I was going to go home, and when I'd accept a proposal from one of the other Lords with a Crest."

Devon flinched; he knew Sylvi loved him no matter what, but some part of him still longed to be able to offer her those things. To be the kind of person her family could approve of, so that there'd never be any need for her to choose at all.

“Hey, it'll be alright, Syl. You have us, this time. And we're not going to let him try anything that you're uncomfortable with, alright? You've grown a lot, Sylvi. You're brave, strong, and remarkable. He'll see that he won't be able to push you around anymore. You're not the same Sylvi Galatea that left so many years ago. You're Sylvi Margrave, and she's a rather remarkable person, wouldn't you say, Dev?" Mercer stated, glancing in Devon's direction. Sylvi, however, pursed her lips together, but managed a small smile.

“I hope you're right, Mercer," she stated softly.

The rest of the ride had gone in relative silence, and it took them at least an hour before they'd finally reached the castle to House Galatea. From what little they'd passed through, though, it was easy to see that Sylvi had been telling the truth about the state of things in Galatea. The land looked barely suitable to sustain any kind of life. It was a wasteland of nothing but snow and ice.

When they'd all been able to dismount their mounts, Sylvi stepped in front next to Mercer, but glanced in Devon's direction. An older man, perhaps in his late fifties, appeared. Rather robust and wide in girth, his hair had nearly greyed from the same flame orange that Sylvi's was. It wasn't hard to discern him as her father. He even had the same grey eyes as she did.

Devon positioned himself carefully just behind her shoulder. This part at least wasn't hard; he was sort of used to walking that way around certain people. An instinct from his time with Lonato, that even the Academy hadn't managed to shake loose entirely. He could walk side-by-side with nobles, now, but it would probably never be automatic. He left his weapons where they were; he certainly didn't intend to look less imposing than usual right now.

“Father," Sylvi spoke, forcing a smile on her face as the man approached. There was a smile on his face, large and almost convincingly true, however; it didn't quite reach his eyes. There was something else in them, something like relief, though it was hard to tell what kind of relief. Relief that his daughter was alive, or relief that he now had his bargaining chip, back.

He placed his hands on her shoulders, causing her to flinch lightly, however; her jaw seemed to lock and she tensed.

“Sylvi, my daughter! I'm so glad you're alive! I was told that you'd been taken by those up in Sreng and killed!" he stated, his eyes narrowing slightly in Devon's direction.

Devon only regarded him impassively. Jabs of that sort were nothing unusual to him; their sting had faded years ago.

Sylvi shook her head. “No... no they didn't, father. The people in Sreng are good people, and you shouldn't," she looked like she had to bite her tongue to keep from saying anything further. “My friends all need to rest, father. It's best if we go inside and discuss what happened," she stated, trying to get the uncomfortable atmosphere to disperse, it seemed.

“Oh, yes, how rude of me. Please, come rest your weary selves in my humble home," he stated, ushering almost everyone towards his house.

At least it seemed their escort had chased away their pursuers. Or Devon had to assume that was what Reynard's reappearance meant. They exchanged a subtle nod, and the group followed the Count into his home. Devon used his positioning to reach forward, brushing a hand over the small of Sylvi's back in what he hoped was at least a slightly-comforting gesture, though he did not let the touch linger long enough for her father to notice. She knew what she was doing, and he wasn't going to do anything to jeopardize it.

The Count lead them into a room, perhaps the dining area, and let everyone take a seat. Mercer took a seat near the front of the table with Sylvi. She gave him a glance, one that was equal parts worried, and one that seemed to be trying to steel herself for whatever her father was going to say, here.

“Please, come and eat. You all look famished," her father spoke, motioning for the servants to bring plates to the table. “It's the least I can do as a thank you for saving my beloved daughter," he stated, grinning as Sylvi furrowed her brows. Mercer spoke, first, shaking his head.

“She saved herself, Lord Galatea. She is a remarkable young woman. You should be honored to have her as a daughter and heir," Mercer spoke, though his voice was as neutral as it had ever been. Galatea merely pursed his lips together as he nodded his head, as if he didn't quite believe what Mercer had said, but wasn't going to argue the point.

“My thanks is still what you all will get. Please, use my home to rest for the next few days. I'm sure you could all use it, and now that Sylvi is back, there is much we must discuss," he stated, his eyes glancing in her direction. Sylvi's expression hardened a bit, but she nodded her head.

“You have our thanks, Lord Galatea."

Devon knew it would look too strange for him to sit close to Sylvi, so he trusted the others nearby to do what they could for her and sat near the end. Oddly, Sorcha was there, too; it was pretty clear that she hadn't been recognized for who she was, else there'd have been at least an equal to-do about the Princess being alive after all.

But then, she didn't really look like herself. Her features did, up close, but she never seemed to go anywhere out of armor, her eyes had a completely different look to them, and her hair—Devon had sort of figured she was one of those girls who'd always keep her hair long, but it barely brushed her shoulders now. On their own each individual thing wasn't much, but taken together they were kind of... enough. Enough to make her seem like a different person almost, even to someone like him, who figured he'd known her pretty well. Rey and Cyril and Sen sat with them, leaving the others to fill the middle stretch of the table.

He did his best not to make it obvious that he was straining to hear the conversation at the front, and worrying.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1186 - Pegasus Moon - Tuesday the 17th
Galatea - Evening - Cold
Sylvi Margrave

Sylvi was nervous. This was going to require a lot of confidence in herself, the kind she no longer had. This, though... this was important. It was the only way she could get what she wanted. She'd already told the others about her plan, but she hadn't told Devon, yet. She trusted Devon, and she hoped he trusted her to do this. What she planned to do would put him in a rather precarious situation, but it had to be done. This was the only way she could get what she wanted. A life of her choosing, and being able to openly love the person she'd married.

Not even a day later when they'd arrived in his lands, her father had tried to marry her off. The man in particular was supposedly a well-known general, but she didn't know from where. Her father wouldn't tell her, however; she'd come to a ultimatum with him. One that was going to test both her and Devon, though she hoped it wouldn't be too much.

Taking a soft breath, she checked her pocket to ensure that the declaration was still tucked away. Satisfied that it was, she went to find Devon. She needed to speak to him, before the meeting. She wanted everyone to be there, including him. When she found him, he was practicing his bow with some of the other soldiers. She was proud of him, really. He'd come such a long way in the last five years that sometimes it was hard to believe that it was the same Devon she'd fell in love with.

"Hey, Devon?" she called out to him after he'd made his shot. She didn't want to startle him, and she didn't want to interrupt him, either. She smiled at him when she caught his attention. "Could you come with me for a moment? There's... something I'd like to talk to you about," she stated, trying her best to keep up what little confidence she had for this.

He looked a little surprised to see her, but there was no mistaking that the broad smile that broke out over his face was for her. He'd always been pretty transparent about his feelings; hiding them the way he had to now probably challenged him a lot, but so far he hadn't given them away.

Nodding to the small group of soldiers he was practicing with, he slung his heavy sniper's bow over his shoulder and approached her. He ducked a little too close, almost like he'd wanted to kiss her, before remembering himself and correcting his posture. “Sorry," he murmured, smile fading a little, either because of that or perhaps because he'd noticed her nerves; it was hard to say. “What's wrong, Syl?"

She shook her head. "I've come to ask you something," she spoke, glancing up at him as she led him away from prying eyes. She needed to tell him this in private, because if someone found out before, it would ruin everything she had planned so far. When they were far enough, she pulled him to a stop, and took hold of both of his hands.

"Devon," she began, glancing up into his eyes to hold his gaze. "Devon, do you trust me?" she asked. She knew he did, but she had to hear it from him.

“Always. Completely." The answer was immediate, and serious. He'd clearly caught on at least to the gravity of what was going on, if not its particular circumstances. He lowered his head deliberately, then, resting his brow against hers and giving her hands a gentle squeeze. “What do you need, Syl? I'm here however I can help."

She smiled softly, feeling a bit of her confidence returning to her. "I just need this, right now," she stated, sliding her hand towards his left, and pulling her ring from his pinky. When she had it, she slipped it back onto her ring finger, and took in a deep breath, her brow still connected to his.

"I have everyone waiting in father's study. They already know what I plan to do, but I need you there, as well," she stated, pulling back so that she could look at him. "I want you to know that I love you, Devon, and what I'm about to do is going to change your life in ways that... I'm not sure you'll want, but..." she paused, swallowing thickly.

"But I want to share this life with you in every way possible, and this is the way we get to do it. For better or worse, I married you. No one will ever be able to tell me otherwise, again," she whispered softly, pulling her hand from his as she straightened out her posture. No one, not even her father, would be able to tell her what to do. Not with this.

He nodded, catching her chin in his hand and ghosting the softest of kisses over her lips for a brief moment. “Then I'll follow your lead," he said with a genuine smile. “And have your back."

When they were outside her father's study, she took a deep breath to steady her nerves. To call on the rest of her confidence because she needed it now. Smiling at Devon, she straightened her posture, and walked inside. Immediately all eyes were on her, but she kept her head held high and made her way towards where her father sat. He was smiling, at her, as if she'd come to the conclusion he hoped she would. He could never have been so wrong.

"As you all know, I've called you here to be witnesses to a new chapter in House Galatea," she spoke, her eyes scanning the room. Mercer nodded his head towards her, as if to encourage her to continue. "Here, I have a proclamation from Count Galatea," she stated, pulling the paper from her pocket and holding it out for everyone to see. She glanced in Devon's direction for a moment before her eyes went back to the table.

"It states that I, Sylvi Galatea will become Countess Galatea when I marry. As you can see," she stated, pointing towards the bottom of the parchment paper, "Count Galatea has added his seal to indicate that I have not tampered with it in anyway." Personal seals like a Lord's were always kept sealed somewhere safe, after all.

Mercer smiled somewhat, as her father looked rather pleased with himself. Sylvi already knew what he was thinking, and she wanted nothing more than to see his face when she made her next statement.

"You all know that I am already married," she spoke, watching as her father nodded before he did a double take. His face drained of color before it began to turn red. She knew he was furious.

"What is the meaning of this?!" he nearly shouted, clearly forgetting that he was in the presence of royalty and noble alike. "To whom?!" he continued, his eyes flickering from Professor, to Mercer, to Vridel, to everyone but Devon. Sylvi smiled, then, and held out her hand towards him.

"To Devon Margrave," she spoke simply. "Now Lord Devon Margrave."

He took it, raising it to his lips and brushing them over her knuckles, all but ignoring her father in that moment. All but ignoring everyone, really, as if she were the only other person in the room. In the world, even. He lowered it as he stepped up beside her. “Well that part's news to me," he remarked softly, referencing his title. “But I can confirm the rest." Only then did he turn towards her father, bowing slightly in the manner one would expect from one noble to another. Whether he'd picked up on that difference from his time with Lonato, or at the Academy, or in the five years since, it was exactly right.

His face made it clear that he expected to be on the receiving end of a tirade here, but the way he squeezed her hand could only mean he was both ready and willing to handle it.

"This is an outrage! There is no proof that you married this man," he shouted, nearly standing from his chair. "A ring on your finger does not make a marriage," he stated, his eyes glancing towards her hand that had her wedding band on it. Thea cleared her throat, then, calling the attention towards her.

"You are aware of Lyanna von Kreuz, right?" she stated, and her father nodded his head. "She is my sister; we were all witnesses to the ceremony that she provided for them. They are, by all accounts, legally married," she stated in a rather calm voice. "If you'd like, I can have my sister confirm it for you."

"And we've already consummated our marriage, father. You can ask any doctor to examine me, and they will tell you it is true," Sylvi added, earning a light snicker from Deirdre.

"This is absurd! I refuse to hand over my lands to... him!" her father nearly spat, pointing a finger in Devon's direction, however; the guard to his left, the woman who'd escorted them into the territory, lifted her sword in Devon's defense.

"That is your decree, is it not?" she spoke, glancing towards the paper still in Sylvi's hand. "You are no longer Count Galatea. You have surrended that title to Lady Sylvi Margrave and Lord Devon Margrave," she continued, glancing in Sylvi's direction. "Shall I handle his insolence, my Lady? My Lord?" she continued. Sylvi had always trusted Cressida. Enough so that she had told her ahead of time what she had planned to do. Sylvi glanced in Devon's direction.

"What do you think, my Lord?"

Devon lifted a hand, giving Cressida a small, gentle smile and shaking his head. “I don't think anything like that's necessary," he said, with the same endemic kindness that had always characterized him and just the faintest trace of embarrassment, like he was unsure all this to-do should really be had on his behalf. None of it, though, seemed to be due to the remark about consummation, either; he quite openly slid a hand around her waist, settling it at her hip and pulling her in close.

“I think the former Count Galatea is quite aware that he has no choice. His daughter's outsmarted him, and married a commoner, and I think perhaps that's punishment enough." He delicately left out the unspoken part of her father's fury—the one that had more to do with the darkness of his features than the roughness of his hands, so to speak.

"Very well, then," Cressida spoke, sheathing her sword back. Sylvi grinned up at Devon, placing the decree back in her pocket, and lifting her free hand to Devon's face.

"Goddess I love you," she spoke, pulling his face down and openly kissed him. It was brief, but she turned towards her father, then, eyes set and firm. "I do not plan to stay here. I made a promise to help out a friend, but I do intend to return. In my absence, Cressida shall be in charge. She will be helping Lord Fradalrius with whatever he needs. She will be his support. You, father," she spoke, her eyes narrowing slightly.

"You are banished from Galatea lands. I don't care where you go, but you will never be welcomed here again," she stated. After everything she had to endure from him, she hoped to never see him again. It was because of him that her family lands suffered so much, and why she suffered so much. He made a face as if he was going to retort somehow, however; Cressida made a motion with her hands, summoning a few more guards.

"You will have time to collect whatever is yours, however; you will leave in two days time. If you do not... Cressida has permission to use force," she continued, narrowing her eyes.

"You will regret this, Sylvi. Mark my words," he stated, before he exited the study, followed by Cressida. All the tension in Sylvi's body seemed to leave her, and she slumped a little.

"I'm sorry for putting you all on the spot like that," she stated, offering everyone a small smile. Thea and Mercer merely shook their heads while Senka and Deirdre offered her a soft smile of understanding. The Princess looked impassive, but certainly not upset. Vridel snorted half a laugh, and even Reynard and Sofia were grinning broadly.

Perhaps fittingly, though, it was the Professor who gave voice to the sentiment they all seemed to share. “Not at all. I for one was rather entertained. Nicely done, both of you."

“Don't look at me," Devon said, scrubbing through his hair with one hand. “That was all Syl. I just stood here and trusted her."

"And... I thank you for that," Sylvi spoke, giving Devon's hand a soft squeeze. "We'll have some work to do when we get back, but," she paused, glancing back towards the group, "I believe we have a prior engagement to attend to. House Margrave will offer whatever assistance and resources it can to our aid. Everything else will be left to Cressida and House Fraldarius, in the meantime."

"If that's the case," Mercer spoke, smiling softly at Devon and Sylvi, "With Cornelia off our tail, for now, we'll stay a couple of days longer to ensure the troops and everyone else is sufficiently rested. After that, we continue our march for the Alliance." Something of a smirk crossed his features, then, something Sylvi hadn't seen in quite awhile. He leaned his cheek on his hand, and arched a brow at them.

"So... Lord Devon Margrave, huh? I guess we were mostly right about the Lord part, but not the Margrave-Galatea. Perhaps the two of you would like to continue to consummate your marriage now that you can, freely," he stated. Sylvi cleared her throat, and felt her cheeks burning a bit, while a few of her friends at the table either snickered or snorted.

Devon only grinned, though, a bright white smile that contrasted sharply with his complexion. “Get with the program, Mercer. That part's already taken care of." He shifted his eyes down to her then, though, tilting his head to the side like he was contemplating. “Though come to think of it, maybe we ought to make sure." He ducked to capture her lips just briefly, and then gave her hand a little tug, nodding towards the door.

“What do you think, Syl? Want to ditch these jerks for a bit?"

"Oh, definitely. See you guys," she stated, pulling Devon towards the door. This was it, the start of her new life.

And she was finally free to share it with him.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1186 - Pegasus Moon - Tuesday the 17th
Galatea - Evening - Cold
Vridel von Hresvelg

Admittedly, it took a few minutes after Devon and Sylvi's departure for things to settle properly. The mood was understandably higher than it had been in a while, and he for one could certainly understand not wanting to ruin it. But bold as Sylvi's move had been, and as ultimately beneficial as he was sure it would turn out for them, it did still mean adjusting things a little.

There was also the matter of Sorcha, who even now sat as far away from the others as possible, and did not share in the merriment. Could not, he thought, given how little she seemed to remember about anything. The trouble was, they had no idea what had been done to her, and even he was hesitant to probe too deeply into her condition, facile with white magic as he was.

Still, settle things eventually did, and by unspoken agreement, the group transitioned into making plans. “Any idea who Galatea was planning to marry her to in the first place?" he asked, suspecting he would not like the answer.

"He wouldn't say, apparently," Reynard replied. "Which leads me to believe it was an Imperial, or one of Cornelia's."

“Servants know anything?" Cyril asked, rather sensibly in Vridel's estimation.

Reynard made a quiet sound. "One maid heard the Count mention a Bergliez at some point," he said.

Understanding abruptly washed over Vridel, ad he sighed. “That'd be Randolph, I think. He might've been Count Bergliez, but the previous Count died too soon for the change of heir situation to go through. He's a talented soldier, I hear, and just the kind of person to follow his country regardless of who leads it. If he's involved, it was almost certainly a betrayal in the making. Sylvi saved us more trouble than she knows."

Mercer groaned lightly, though, and pulled a hand down his face. “That means that the cessation on the pursuit was in part due to the fact that they were waiting on Galatea to make it official. If he managed to get Sylvi to agree to marry this Randolph person, then it was likely that Galatea would have joined with Cornelia to wipe out the remaining forces that stand in her way," he spoke, sighing heavily.

“She is aligned with the Empire as far as we all know," he added.

“If that is true, once news reaches her that the marriage did not go through, she'll continue to pursue us," Senka spoke that time, her eyes shifting towards Sorcha. Her eyes softened, but Vridel could see a flash of pain in them before it disappeared.

“We just need to make it back to Derdriu and we'll be mostly okay. We have a small army, now, but once we manage to merge it with the group back in the Alliance, we should have enough numbers and support to start taking things back, slowly. What we do know, so far, is that Cornelia has been experimenting with various things. Those demonic beasts we fought in Duscur and then the golem that attacked us are all evidence that she's trying to create stronger creatures. Unstoppable creatures."

Vridel expelled a heavy breath through his nose. They were right on all counts, but also...

He turned to Thea. “I think we need to get Lyanna and the others a message," he said. “Something tells me Cornelia's been content to ignore Garreg Mach so far, but I doubt someone that intelligent is unaware that it's occupied. At this point, her first plan has failed. We have no idea what her backup ideas are, but considering what we already know she's willing to do..." he shot Sorcha a glance. “We shouldn't risk leaving them undefended anymore."

“That is wise," Sorcha said in a soft monotone. “Cornelia is not merciful. She will—she will destroy everything you love." She dropped her eyes to her hands, and lapsed into silence.

“Garreg Mach isn't too far from here. We'll make a detour there and warn her. It'll probably be best to abandon Garreg Mach for the time being, though," Mercer stated, his brows furrowing deeply. Amalthea shook her head, though.

“Mercer, we couldn't do that. There are too many people there and it would only slow us down if we tried to evacuate that many to Derdriu. The best thing to do in this situation is at least warn Lyanna that Cornelia might attack," Thea spoke, pursing her lips together. “If she's prepared ahead of time, she can use the improvements we've made over the years as a means to defend herself. If she decides the best course of action would be to evacuate and abandon Garreg Mach, then we'll do that, but it has to be done in a delicate manner."

Mercer nodded his head before turning his attention towards Sorcha. “She hasn't destroyed us, Sorcha. We're still here," he shook his head and pulled in a soft breath, then. “We should send the scouts out ahead of us, if that's the case. We need to be prepared for anything that might already be ahead of us. Rey... you're one of our best scouts, take someone with you whom you trust, and head out tomorrow."

“Do you think that's wise, Mercer?" Senka spoke, her eyes shifting towards Reynard. “I do not doubt Reynard's abilities, but we've already lost a great deal of our scouts. We shouldn't risk their lives, unnecessarily," she continued.

"Seems pretty necessary to me," Rey replied simply, nodding to Mercer. "Aerial scouts can see further, I'll give them that, but they're also a lot easier to spot than yours truly. I'll be fine." He smiled, a bit of an edge to the expression that Vridel recognized.

He'd always liked a fight about as much as anyone did, but Reynard was a different beast altogether. He thrived on that kind of risk, actively sought out danger. Probably why he'd chosen such a dangerous subset of specializations, even among those who fought and killed professionally. Vridel couldn't quite profess to understand it, but he respected the fact that Rey so willingly took those risks. Maybe too willingly, sometimes, but that did make situations like this easier—because he had Rey, Mercer didn't have to send someone who'd be reluctant.

“I do think we need to see Lyanna though," he said, setting a hand on Thea's knee. “It might be dangerous for her to leave Garreg Mach right now, but I don't trust anyone else to have the first clue what's going on with some recent developments." It was plain which developments he meant; as far as Vridel was concerned, helping Sorcha had to be among their top priorities right now.

Not only because he cared about her, but also because something about this seemed almost to have been... too easy. Either Cornelia had vastly underestimated Sorcha, and the rest of them, or this was only one step in some larger scheme he could not understand. Either way, he was wary, and wanted as many answers as he could possibly get.

Thea set a hand on top of his, and glanced in his direction. “Out of all of us, Lyanna would be able to provide the most help for that. Her talent with white magic is second to none, and I'm sure that... whatever it is, she can do something about it," Thea stated. Senka merely nodded in Reynard's direction as Mercer did the same.

“It's settled, then. Rey, you'll head out tomorrow morning: before dawn. Everyone else, get the rest you need, and keep up with your training. We'll leave when Rey returns, and we'll make our way towards Garreg Mach. Like Sen said, we should leave as soon as we can. We don't need word of the marriage plans falling through, reaching her before we have a chance to put some distance between us. Chances are, her forces are waiting just outside Margrave territory," Mercer stated.

The others nodded, and the plans were set. So much of what would ultimately determine their success relied on what people beyond their control chose to do; at this point all they could do was keep laying everything they had on the line every time, and hope it was enough for each new obstacle. Vridel was especially conscious of the fact that he was risking a lot less than most, all things considered. He wasn't going to let it make him stupid, but it was always there, in the back of his mind: his loss would be the loss of another year or two, if that much.

Anyone else... decades. It was something he couldn't help but think about.

He couldn't help but grin a little at the region's new name, such as it was. “That's not going to get old anytime soon," he admitted. “Good for them, really."


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1186 - Pegasus Moon - Sunday the 29th
Faerghus - Afternoon - Cool
Mercer von Riegan

They were, at most, another three days out from Garreg Mach.

Mercer tugged his coat just a little closer to himself, as he gripped the reins to Liev. Senka had let him borrow her for the remainder of the march simply because if they ran into trouble, he'd be in his element in the air. It wasn't quite the same as when he was riding on Sir's back. He'd had to learn to maneuver to accommodate for the pegasus's wings, and to avoid hitting them by accident. It was a bit more difficult than he'd imagined it to be, and for a brief moment, he wondered how Sen and Sorcha managed it. He glanced in Sorcha's direction, and briefly wondered if she'd even recognize Lady, her own pegasus.

She was in a stable with Sir because they'd been nearly inseparable when she'd shown up. He'd known, then, that something was wrong, but there was nothing he could have done. Some part of him, some desperate optimistic part, believed that Sorcha had been okay. But then Devon and Sylvi had shown up to tell him otherwise, and he'd kept Lady because she was the last line he had to Sorcha. Now that she was alive...

He chanced a glance in her direction. She'd mostly taken to riding next to Teach. Had it been anyone else, he might have been a little jealous, but the practical side of him just hurt. Because he could not provide her the comfort she needed. He wanted her to remember him and to remember that he loves her. It was going to be a long process, but some dark part of Mercer wondered if this was for the best? That she should forget him because he'd failed to protect her.

He pushed the thought far from his mind. That would be for another time. If any part of her still remembered him, he hoped it would be her heart. It was eerily quiet for the ride. It felt like the hairs on the back of Mercer's neck were bristling slightly at how quiet it was. There were no birds, no animals, just the sounds of the horses and soldiers. He shifted his gaze towards Vridel who'd been beside him.

“Does it seem too quiet for your tastes?" he asked.

“Much," Vi replied, narrowing his eyes out at the frozen hills. Given his own coloration, as well as his choice of armor, he blended in almost as well as Reynard or Devon did, and they were intentionally stealthy. “I bet that damn golem scares away everything in a mile radius when it passes through, though."

There were certainly no trails in the snow to indicate as much, but then there wouldn't be. If Cornelia's forces were going to ambush them, they'd circle around to do it. There weren't many chances left; even with the detour to pick up Lady Lyanna and help her evacuate Garreg Mach, they'd soon be back in Alliance territory. Chances were running out, and with each mile that passed beneath their mounts, it only got more likely that something would show up in the next.

Mercer didn't like those chances. If they were going to be ambushed, then they needed to be as prepared as they possibly could be. “We need to make sure everyone is prepared. At this point, we know they're trying to ambush us. The problem is, not everyone else, does. We need to make sure they keep their guard up and to watch each other's backs," he stated. He opened his mouth to say more, however; he barely had enough time to bring up his sword as an arrow whistled in his direction.

If he hadn't been able to deflect that arrow, it would have pierced his throat.

“Ambush! Everyone, be careful!" he shouted, spurring Liev forward. He couldn't risk taking to the air right now. He didn't know what they numbered in archers, and he couldn't risk being shot out of the sky, at least not yet. “Vridel, get to the others and have them divide up to reinforce the left and right flanks, and the back of the army. Get the archers into position, and have Reynard and Devon see if they can assess the situation."

Vi nodded and wheeled his horse immediately, shouting down the lines for the archers to move into position.

As the troops moved forward, they formed up as Mercer had directed, spreading into winged flanks, with those most in need of protection towards the back. At about that time, Reynard appeared at his side, as if from nowhere. "They've been reinforced," he said quickly, unwinding the white scarf around his neck and letting it hang looser. His normal, darker one was beneath it. "Still got the golem, and Cornelia's group, but there's three wings of Imperial dracoknights with them. I'm pretty sure they're led by Randolph von Bergliez, but I wasn't close enough to tell for sure—I've only seen him once."

“Shit," Mercer muttered beneath his breath. He really wished he had Sir at the moment, but he'd have to make due. “That Golem is going to provide us with a decent amount of trouble," he spoke. If they didn't get rid of it, first, chances were that it would take out more than half of his army on its own. He couldn't risk that, but...

He turned towards Reynard. “I want you to tell Teach, Sen, and Vi to focus on the golem. Have everyone else focus on Randolph and his forces," he stated. He knew those three had the most skill in magic, and if that creature had any resistances, then they could easily switch to something else. They weren't as expendable as everyone else, but Mercer was counting on them to be able to gauge their own abilities against the golem. And he didn't want Sorcha anywhere near it.

“I'm going to see what can be done to help thin his dracoknights with Sorcha," because she was one of the only other fliers he could count on. He nudged Liev in Sorcha's direction, and stared at her. “I need your help with Randolph's dracoknights. You and I were always a team, and we worked best as one. If... if anything, I hope you remember that," he stated, because he needed her to. If this was going to work, he hoped she at least could remember that they were, once, a team. And they worked well together.

She still rode a borrowed pegasus, as natural astride one as he remembered, and she'd acquired a bow now, too, which she carried over one shoulder. What had become of the one he'd had made for her was not clear—it was unlikely even she knew. Areadbhar was fastened to the saddle just behind her right leg.

“I don't—" She pursed her lips, swallowing thickly, then shook her head. “I can't give you what you want from me," she said quietly. “But I will fight with you, if that is your desire." She unslung the bow from her back, and reached into the quiver at her hip for an arrow.

“Lead the way."

Whatever feelings he had on the matter of her statement, he had to force down. What he desired... this was not the time to be sentimental. What he wanted from her was for her to remember him. Nothing else.

But that had to wait.

“You and I will draw the dracoknights' attention, and try to thin them out. If we can take out Randolph, then we have a chance of winning this battle," he stated before nudging Liev towards the wing of dracoknights. He could see the army moving below him, breaking into formation and fending off the soldiers' attacks as best as they could. It seemed that the rest and meal from House Margrave at least put some vigor back into them. They would likely fare better, now, that they were well-rested. Or as well-rested as they could be.

When they approached the first wing of dracoknights, Mercer turned towards Sorcha. “You and I can do this, Sor," he stated, pulling his bow from his back and fitting an arrow to it. “I know we can," he let the first arrow fly, watching as it found its mark into the shoulder of one of the soldiers.

Sorcha steered her mount with her legs, veering sharply to avoid an incoming arrow. She shot down at the offending archer with almost no expression on her face, striking right between his eyes and dropping him. Her next draw was quick; she sighted with no hesitation and found the armpit of one of the dracoknights, knocking him from his mount. He was probably dead before he hit the ground, but if not the impact would surely have done it.

“It's her!" one of the others called, pointing his lance in her direction. “Lady Cornelia wants her retrieved—there's a Viscounty for whoever does it!"

Well, that certainly meant they had the fliers' attention at least; almost as one, they turned to pursue Sorcha, and Mercer by extension.

In quick succession, Mercer dropped two more. He pulled his lips back almost in a snarl as he glared at the dracoknights. “You're not taking anyone! Especially not her," he shouted, fitting another arrow to his bow. It pained him to see her killing so easily now. She wouldn't have hesitated, before, but she would have grimaced. She would have made a face, a pained one, but it meant she still felt something.

He'd never wanted this to be easy for her. To kill so easily.

He ran out of arrows much faster than he'd intended to. He didn't have his original quiver, the one she'd given to him for his birthday, however; he still had his sword. He pulled it from his back by the time they'd reached the second wave of dracoknights. This would be a little trickier. He wasn't used to melee combat on the back of a pegasus, but he didn't have much of a choice. He engaged a dracoknight with an axe, swinging his sword to block incoming attacks, while also parrying what he could. He managed to drop the axe-wielding dracoknight before a sharp pain entered his back, and he hissed. There was an arrow sticking out of it, but he couldn't let that stop him.

He reached behind him and pulled it from his shoulder. Perhaps not the brightest thing to do, considering it was just going to tear ligaments and muscles when he did that. Pulling in a sharp breath, he fitted the arrow back into his bow, and downed another knight. They were almost to Randolph, from the looks of it.

Sorcha, meanwhile, had drawn Areadbhar, and with a sweep of the Relic, sent one of those riplling waves of hard cold outwards, throwing several of the dracoknights back as their mounts struggled to remain aloft. Others were simply killed outright. Gripping the reins of her pegasus with her left hand, she tore past another, unseating him with the sheer force of the hit, expression still locked in that grim blankness.

Wheeling back, she passed close enough behind him to actually reach out and touch his shoulder. A sudden cool relief spread from the spot, the torn musculature knitting itself back together rapidly, the slide of blood down his skin halting entirely.

“If you really need the arrows, just ask." Pulling up beside him, she took the half-dozen or so she had left and without even the faintest hesitation, deposited them into his quiver. There was the faintest flicker of something over her face, something that might have almost been the ghost of a smile, before a low, dull whistle cut through the air, and her eyes went wide.


She hurled herself from her saddle, forcing him down by the shoulder. There was an abrupt clang of metal-on-metal as she blocked the incoming tomahawk with her right gauntlet, and then she was falling over Liev's other side, noiseless.

“Sorcha!" he shouted, reaching for her before she could fall completely. “Sorcha!" he continued, pulling her up with all his might. He cursed himself for not being as strong as he should have been, but having little resources meant that he spared none for himself, and gave what he have to the others. Even with the meal they'd had at Sylvi's, he wasn't at full strength. When he had Sorcha on Liev's back, he cradled her gently against him, and glared in the direction the tomahawk had come from.

There was a man with carmine brown eyes, and hair the color of dulled wheat. It wasn't the cornsilk blonde of Sorcha's, but it was a shade of blond nonetheless. Mercer lifted his sword in the man's direction. “You're mine," he nearly snarled. This wasn't going to be an easy fight, but he had to do it. Had to protect Sorcha.

Sorcha, breaths short, looked around for her pegasus, but the fool thing had fled when she threw herself off it. Grimacing, she braced herself against Liev's saddle horn and used it to swing herself around and settle behind him. “You need to shoot, and swing," she explained, summoning Areadbhar back to her hand, but settling it in the saddle loop. They couldn't really both maneuver much.

“If you get injured, I'll take care of it." She hurled some kind of offensive white magic for the man, who was probably Bergliez, since he seemed to be in charge here.

In the distance, he could hear the golem creaking and making strange mechanical sounds. Perhaps Vi, Teach, and Sen were a little more successful at the moment, however; Mercer nodded his head at Sorcha's statement, and spurred Liev forward towards Bergliez. “Take care of yourself, too, if you get injured. If it comes down to one of us needing to be healed, heal yourself, first. I mean it," because he needed to ensure she lived in whatever capacity she could. He pulled an arrow from the quiver and fitted it into his bow. He took aim, taking in a deep breath, before the glow of his Crest alighted his wrist. His vision grew sharper, and he could see Bergliez as if he were in front of Mercer.

He let the arrow fly.

There were still a couple of dracoknights to deal with, and Mercer trusted Sorcha to take care of them. When it was just he and Bergliez, Mercer was out of arrows once more, and had pulled his sword from its sheath and spurred Liev forward. He could see now, why Bergliez was a respected commander. The man was skilled, parrying Mercer's attacks with his own, dodging any magic attack Sorcha sent at him, and seemed to be holding his own fairly well.

Mercer gritted his teeth.

“Sorcha," he stated, though he did not turn to look at her. “Can you target his wyvern?" he asked, grimacing slightly for asking her. He didn't want to harm the wyvern, however; if he was going to get this to work, he needed to dismount Randolph.

“I can do one better," she said. “Just get me as close as you can."

When he'd maneuvered them back into melee range, a sharp, arrow-shaped bolt of light magic careened over Mercer's shoulders with a strange ringing sound, almost like a wind-chime. It struck the wyvern's flank, lightly scorching the scales but not seemingly doing much damage. The girth strap of its saddle, however, was another matter. It strained, then snapped outright, unsteadying but not quite unseating Bergliez, who struggled to keep his balance when his saddle began to slide back and sideways.

That was all he needed. With as much strength as he possibly could muster, Mercer swung his blade in a horizontal slash. If Bergliez blocked it or tried to evade it, he would fall from his saddle. If he valued his life, he'd try anyway. As predicted, Bergliez tried to block the attack, however; with the force Mercer used, it pushed him far enough that he was dismounted from his wyvern, and was plummeting towards the ground.

He didn't think.

He spurred Liev into a dive, forcing the pegasus as fast as she could go so that he could reach out to grab Bergliez by the hand. He shouldn't have spared him, however; Mercer didn't want to outright kill the man. He knew that Bergliez was loyal to his country, and not to who led it. If there was even a chance...

Around him, he could see the battle shifting in their favor. From the sounds of it, Vi, Teach, and Sen had taken out the golem, and were joining the others on the field. He glanced towards Bergliez as they landed on the ground.

“You've lost, Bergliez. Surrender," he stated in as neutral a voice as he could.

The man looked stunned, honestly, mouth partly agape and eyes wide. Clearly the last thing he'd expected was to be unseated and then rescued.


“You should do what he says," Sorcha said flatly, dismounting quickly once they'd landed and retrieving Areadbhar from Liev's saddle. “Your other option is dying."

He sighed. “I... all right. I'll—I'll signal the men to stand down. I can't promise Queen Cornelia's troops will listen, though."

Mercer narrowed his eyes at the statement. “Cornelia is not your queen. She is," he stated, turning towards Sorcha. His attention went back to Bergliez, though, and he pulled his face into something a little more neutral. “They have no choice but to surrender. You've lost; they'll see that it's futile to keep going. If they don't, then they will all meet their fate at the end of a weapon one way or another."

He didn't care too much for Cornelia's troops, though. If they were willing to follow a woman like that, then they all deserved to die.

“And you're an Imperial general, not a Faerghus one." With Bergliez as their prisoner, Mercer hoped that the man would see reason. Even if they had to interrogate him, if they could just convince Bergliez to swear loyalty to Vridel, the true emperor, maybe they'd have a better chance of winning?

Mercer certainly hoped that was the case.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1186 - Lone Moon - Thursday the 3rd
Garreg Mach - Early Evening - Drizzle
Mercer von Riegan

The army Bergliez had led refused to surrender. Most of them were killed, a handful escaped, and Mercer wasn't entirely sure what happened to the rest. They'd committed suicide, it seemed, taking a strange medicine in order to do so. Mercer didn't care, though. They had Bergliez, and they had Sorcha.

They'd made it back to Garreg Mach yesterday, though, and Mercer waited patiently with Sorcha. Lady Lyanna was free today to do a check up, to see what magic or curse or whatever it was, was impeding Sorcha's memories. He hoped that there was something Lyanna could do to help her because he wanted Sorcha to remember who she was. If there was nothing Lyanna could do...

Well, he'd just have to start over, and hopefully she'd remember, eventually. If she never remembered at all, though, Mercer wasn't sure how to feel about that. It still felt wrong to him to force her to remember something because he selfishly wanted her to. But what did she want? Did she want to remember as badly as he did? He glanced at her from the corner of his eyes. Some part of him, dark and twisted, said no.

Because if she remembered anything at all, she'd remember all the horrors of what she'd went through. He wasn't entirely sure what that was, but he wanted to keep her safe from it. If she never remembered at all...

Could he live with that?




He pushed a heavy sigh through his nose as he glanced away from Sorcha, waiting for Lyanna to arrive.

Sorcha for her part sat quietly, hands clasped in her lap. She still wore her armor, strangely enough—she never seemed to be without it in front of people these days, though it wasn't clear why. Perhaps it somehow made her feel safe. She didn't so much as glance in his direction, though, keeping her eyes lowered to the floor. It was almost uncanny, her silence and stillness. She'd been so... active, before, almost to the point of being fidgety when she wasn't checking herself.

The sound of soft footsteps echoed down the hall; Lyanna appeared a moment later, free of her own armor and dressed instead in a simple white gown with a mellow orange sash. All the ornaments of station she'd used to wear were absent, the only item of jewelry on her person being a simple gold bangle on her left hand.

She smiled at the both of them; it looked a little strained, but genuine enough. “Come in, you two," she said kindly, opening the door to the infirmary and ushering them through. Manuela was out doing field care on injured soldiers; Lyanna snapped her fingers to light the candles in the room, supplementing the wan light coming in from the window. “Princess, if you wouldn't mind taking off the armor; I need to be able to take your vitals."

Sorcha cast a strange look between them, lingering on Mercer and swallowing.

“Fine," she murmured softly, slowly shedding the plates. She wore a simple long-sleeved tunic beneath, so it wasn't clear what the issue was. At least not at first.

“Your right gauntlet?" Lyanna asked, clearly puzzled as to why that piece remained when the rest had been removed.

Sorcha looked away, wincing slightly. “It's not a gauntlet," she mumbled.


“It's not a gauntlet," Sorcha repeated, pressing her lips together in a thin line. Taking hold of the sleeve rolled to her elbow, she slid it up, revealing more of the same polished, silvery metal.

“It's my arm."

Her arm?

Mercer's eyes went slightly wide, but he forced them closed almost immediately. Did they do that to her? Did Cornelia do that to her? Sorcha was right-handed. He knew this about her because she had been his opposite in so many ways. That her arm was missing... Mercer felt sick to his stomach. Not because she was missing an arm, but because whatever had happened to her had happened because he wasn't there. He hadn't protected her, and he...

He swallowed thickly, and opened his eyes, belatedly realizing that he was shaking slightly and that his eyes were burning.

“Sorcha," he paused, though. What could he say? What could he possibly say to her, now? “I'm so sorry," was the only thing he could say. He blinked back the tears that were threatening to fall. He couldn't let them. Not right now, not in front of her. He...

“I'm so sorry," he spoke once more, burying his face into his hands.

He really failed her, hadn't he?

“Why are you apologizing?" she asked, a clear note of genuine puzzlement in her tone. He couldn't see her face at just this moment, but he could be almost sure of the expression that went with the timbre: brow furrowed, lips tugged down into a confused frown. “I don't remember much, but I know you weren't the one who cut it off."

Lyanna hissed in a soft breath. “Can I take a look?" she asked gently.

Sorcha must have nodded, because a moment later there was a rustle, and then the sound of a fingernail tapping metal. “This is... I know this metal," she murmured. “It's Nabatean—what relics are made of. But it's been alloyed with silver. Can you... can you feel through it?"

“Yes," Sorcha said simply. “There are synthetic nerves inside. They're connected to the real ones in my shoulder. It can withstand much more heat, cold, and pressure than something made of flesh, but I can feel things through it. Like pain." She delivered this flatly, devoid of emotion or even much inflection.

“Do you... do you know what else was done to you, Sorcha?"

She made a quiet sound. “Sort of," she replied. “I know some of my specifications, but I don't really remember how I got them. ...I know that she amplified my Crest."

Everything she listed off stabbed at him. Small pricks and prods until it felt like his skin was burning. He might as well have been the one that cut her arm off, been the one to cause her the pain that she'd felt.

“Amplified your Crest? What do you mean by that?" he asked softly, glancing up at her.

She shrugged, still not meeting his eyes. “She said something about... fixing what was wrong, or something. I don't—I don't really remember, but—"

“You've the major," Lyanna said, blinking. “The Major Crest of Blaiddyd. You had the minor before, right?"

Sorcha nodded. “I don't know what else. But she had me for almost five years. It's... fuzzy, what happened. I guess that's probably the only other part worth mentioning. I hardly remember anything. When she sent me out after you, it was like my whole life was just... blank. Nothing. During the battle, there were... fragments, flashes. I'm starting to fill some of them in, but it's—it's difficult."

Lyanna hummed, hands lighting with soft magic as she raised them to Sorcha's temples.

“There was nothing wrong with you, Sorcha," Mercer spoke softly, and inwardly winced at how that sounded. There was something wrong with her, now, but not in a way that repulsed him. He still loved her. Even as she was, now, he still did. The Major Crest of Blaiddyd, Lyanna said. She had the minor one, before, but Cornelia appeared to have enhanced it. Mercer wondered what kind of strain that did to Sorcha, what pain she'd gone through in order to achieve it.

He pulled in a shuddering breath, and tried to calm himself. This wasn't fair to her. He glanced in her direction and noticed something was missing. Something she'd always had with her, and Mercer's eyes widened a bit.

“What happened to it?" he asked gently. “What happened to the necklace and the gem?" he was almost afraid to know the answer. She had never taken it off, from what he knew. From what she'd told him. The only time she did was when she'd tried giving it back to him. But now, it was nowhere in sight.

“The what?" Even as she asked it, though, Sorcha's left hand went seemingly automatically to her sternum, where the gem had always rested at the end of its chain. “The—I—"

Her face contorted; she shook her head as if to banish something from it. She took in a breath, tremulous and pained, and her eyes locked with his, filling with tears. Her brow furrowed, confusion warring with pain in her expression. Please," she whispered, pure entreaty. It wasn't clear whether she was begging him, or whoever was on the other end of whatever recollection had put that murky distance in her eyes.

She flinched, her entire body jerking as if she'd been struck, and then went slack.

Lyanna made a small sound of surprise, leaning forward to brace Sorcha and put her the rest of the way into the infirmary bed she'd been occupying. A soft breath hissed between her teeth. “She's been cursed," Thea's sister told him softly. “Her memories are still there, but it's... it's more like they've been imprisoned than erased." She smoothed a bit of hair back from Sorcha's brow and turned to Mercer, regarding him with serious eyes.

“I know you want her to remember, Mercer, but you have to be careful. She's pushing herself to remember things, and if she keeps doing it, I have no idea what kind of damage she'll do to herself. I think... I think I can help a bit, if I go with you, but it's going to be a gradual process, and I have no idea what she's going to remember first. There could be a lot of..." she paused, expression tightening. “Trauma in there, for lack of a better word."

There was a painful lurch in his stomach, and something in his heart squeezed painfully. It was difficult to breathe in that moment, but he shook his head, softly.

“Maybe it's best if she doesn't remember," he spoke quietly. “Maybe we should just... let her forget about us, and try to make new memories with her," but even then, the selfish part of him wanted her to remember. To remember all the good things they had, all the times they'd teased and pushed each other to their limits to better themselves.

“I don't want to hurt her more than she already has been, but... if she does remember, she'd never forgive me keeping them from her," he was stuck in the conundrum of what to do. Should he help her remember? Should he keep his distance, now, so that she didn't? Either way, he was going to hurt her, and he wanted nothing more than to not hurt her.

She'd been through enough.

He glanced in Lyanna's direction, and he pursed his lips. “Lyanna... what should I do?" he was seeking her advice because it felt like he needed it from her. This was something he couldn't ask Teach with, because... well, everyone was going through their own problems right now, but Lyanna could, at least, give him an unbiased direction.

She pursed her lips, regarding him with obvious sympathy. “For what it's worth," she said kindly, “I don't think just leaving a curse like this alone is going to be any better for her. It may be having additional effects on her besides the memory suppression. Even if it were only that—having dark magic like that in such intimate contact with someone's mind is something I'd be inclined to stop under almost all circumstances, these included."

Lyanna glanced down at Sorcha, and back to him. “If possible, what I would recommend is easing her back into it. Just... be there, if you can. Answer any questions she has. Be honest. Love her." She smiled just the slightest bit, as though well aware he already did that. “It won't be easy for her. As more and more things are uncovered, I suspect the effect will cascade. I think the best thing you can do for her is to be a steadying force. She's pushing herself already—somehow I doubt we can do much to keep her from that. But what we can do is be there in the fallout, and help her get through it."

She had a point, and Mercer cracked a grim smile. “Thank you, Lyanna," he spoke softly, reaching out a hand towards Sorcha, but pulled it back. “I'll do what I can for her," because if she was already pushing herself to remember, then maybe Lyanna was right? Maybe all he had to do was be there for her when everything came back? The bad memories, the good ones, but most of all, when she came back. She would never be the same person, again, but Mercer resolved himself to be there for her, anyway.

You didn't stop loving someone simply because they had changed. You learned to see the new person beneath that change, to love them even more, and to help them through whatever problems they were going through because of that.

“I'll always love her," he spoke gently. All he had to do was take things slowly... and maybe then, he could be someone who deserved her love after all his failures.

“Then I think she's going to be all right," Lyanna replied, standing and brushing the skirt of her gown. “If you don't mind watching her a while, I think I'm going to head to the library. There are a few volumes I'd like to bring with me that might help."

She set a gentle hand on his shoulder. “Keep believing in her, Mercer. I truly think her chances are good." Withdrawing the hand, she took her leave.

He glanced in Sorcha's direction.

“I'll never stop believing in you, Sor. Never."

How could he?

He loved her, and he would help her through this in whatever way he could.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1186 - Lone Moon - Tuesday the 9th
Garreg Mach - Evening - Light Rain
Sorcha Blaiddyd

There wasn't anything particularly special about the classroom, she didn't think.

The blue banners that draped on either side of the wide doorway were dirty and tattered, the desks in functional but not well-maintained shape. The chalkboard next to the teacher's desk still bore smudges from some old lecture, the leavings of a lifetime ago. If she squinted, she almost imagined she could make out what they'd once said. Maybe she could have remembered what they meant, even—her memories of the professor were somehow the clearest.

The Fell Star.

She didn't know why the phrase stuck out in her mind, but she heard it in two voices: one creaking with old age, a man's. The other was hers. Cornelia's. Laced with irritation. Sorcha had no idea why that stuck out like it was important. She knew, distantly, that Cornelia had rambled often. Spoken to Sorcha of many things she probably shouldn't have. Probably wouldn't have, if not for her confidence in her ability to destroy the information later. And since she couldn't remember any of it now, perhaps that confidence had been well-placed.

She was starting to remember other things, though. Things that had been put in chests with weaker locks. She remembered Thea. Remembered smiling and laughing and eating pastries in the courtyard with her. Remembered teasing her about things. Especially—what? Especially Vridel. That was it. Because she'd thought it was... cute. And seen the way it was changing her brother. The one with snowy-white hair and hard eyes.

His eyes had been hard, then, too, but... not as much?

Sorcha remembered other things, but everything was so vague. She remembered Senka. Her mind supplied that the other woman had been her best friend, but the recognition was not intuitive. She'd changed. Or maybe Sorcha had changed too much. Either way it was hard to make things click together. The lock on the box was stronger, like with Vridel.

But the strongest one, the one Cornelia had suppressed the most, was—

What happened to it?

You and I were always a team, and we worked best as one.

Who do you think taught you?

Each thought pierced her, like a needle under her fingernails. Just pain, with no greater purpose. She felt like he expected something from her, and no matter what she did, no matter how hard she tried, she could not give him what he wanted. She could not give him back whatever version of herself he knew. Whatever version he—

You have never been loved. How could anyone love you?

Sorcha crossed her arms, gripping her biceps. Cold metal under one hand, warm flesh beneath the other. She couldn't feel quite the same with the metal one, but she knew warm and soft at least.

Say it, darling.

Bracing her back against the wall, Sorcha slid to the floor. “No," she whispered, barely a thread of sound.

Say it.

She didn't want to. She knew it would upset them. But she also knew, somehow, that if she didn't say it, something would happen. Something that hurt. And she was so very tired of hurting. It was just words, right?

“...I have never been loved."

“Sorcha?" a voice called out to her, one she knew as Mercer's. Whether he'd heard her statement or not, it didn't show on his face. Instead, he held a hand out towards her and offered her a small smile. “Are you alright?" he asked, concern lacing his voice.

Her eyes fixed on his hand, trailing up his arm to his face, and her heart lurched.

It happened every time she saw him, this strange thing. The uncomfortable clench in her chest, paired with the prickle of fear beneath her skin. She feared this man, because even just looking at him made her feel. Woke instincts she didn't recognize or understand, like when she'd so automatically, so thoughtlessly, thrown herself from the security of her saddle to block a hand-axe headed for him. Like the way she felt so... so drawn to him, like he was magnetic and she was just a tiny piece of iron, helpless against the sheer force of him. She had to fight to keep herself away, separate, apart, but what else could she do?

She couldn't be whatever he saw, when he looked at her with those eyes.

Another bizarre instinct saw her raising her hand to take his—magnetic, irresistible—but then it caught the light, and she realized it was made of metal.

And everything came crashing back down.

Sorcha dropped her hand halfway, pulling her knees to her chest and shaking her head. “No," she said softly. “I'm not."

The smile on his face didn't falter, though, and instead, he slid down next to her. He sat in silence, staring out into the open space in front of them before a soft sigh escaped him. “It's alright, you know," he spoke gently, almost in a tender way that conveyed what he was feeling. Happiness, perhaps, but for what, it wasn't clear.

“You don't have to be alright, Sor," he continued, his eyes shifting towards her. “It's alright if you don't know, or if you don't feel alright, but..." he paused to take in a soft breath, “I'm here for you if you need me. I told you, Sor, once before: we'll get through this. Whatever it is, this time, we'll get through this. Don't give up hope, alright? I... promised I would always love you, and I would be there for you in whatever way you needed."

She didn't understand it, really. She knew, knew, that no one had ever loved her, because that was impossible. Who could? And yet she couldn't bring herself to think he was lying, either, because some other part of her was just as certain that he wouldn't do that. “Even if you said that," she murmured, wrapping her arms tighter around her knees and hugging them to her chest. “Even if—it wasn't to me. You don't—you don't have to hold yourself to something like that anymore."

That felt... like the right thing to say. She didn't want to make someone so kind feel obligated to look out for her, to feel anything for her when she didn't deserve it. Maybe if she released him from his promise, he would go and the world would make sense again.

It wouldn't be better. But it would make sense.

He shook his head, though. “Of course it was to you, Sor," he spoke softly. “You're the only person I've ever loved, who knew and loved me. Even if you don't remember me, it's alright. Because I remember you, and..." he sucked in a sharp breath, then, and swallowed thickly. “That'll never stop. You said you couldn't love another person, and I told you that I couldn't, either. You are my fiancée, Sor. I chose you, and you chose me." He lifted his hand, then, pulling something off of his finger. He held it up to her, and she could see what it was.

It was a silver ring with a blue stone of some sort in it. It was the one he'd shown her when they'd met on the battle field. “This is yours. You gave it to me, when we found it on the horse trails. The stone, at least," he continued speaking in the same soft tone he had, earlier. He reached out towards her, as if he were going to run a hand through her hair, or touch her face, however; he stopped and dropped his hand. Perhaps under the impression that she wouldn't welcome it.

She would've. It petrified her, but goddess, she would have. She couldn't remember having ever been touched in such a gentle way before, but she knew at the very least it had been a long time. It had to be, from the way she craved it. Needed it, almost, but could not ask for it. Didn't know how to handle the feeling.

“Even if you don't remember me, even if you don't love me, I'm not going to leave you, Sor. I'm here, in anyway you need me to be. If you want me to be your friend, I'll be your friend. If you don't... if you don't want me around, then..." he didn't seem to know how to end that sentence.

She expelled a breath, soft and shaky. “I..." How was she supposed to express what was on her mind when she could barely understand it? When there were parts she didn't understand at all, like the way her heart ached now, when he spoke like that. She wished she could give him her old self back. The one who knew him as more than just a confusing tangle of feelings and a magnetic tug. The one he claimed to love.

She must have loved him, she decided. Nothing else would explain why this hurt so much, because even with the others—for whom words like teacher, friend, brother sprang to mind, there was nothing like this pain.

Sorcha turned her eyes out towards the empty classroom, trying to remember. Trying to dig out anything to give him, to make his patience and his... regard worth it. She shied, still, from using that word to describe how anyone felt about her.

You have never been loved.

A flicker of a thought entered her recollections, and she sucked in a sharp breath. “Today," she said, turning back to meet his eyes. “I had—it's your birthday, isn't it?"

He looked slightly surprised if the way his eyes widened slightly. A warm smile crossed his face, then, and he nodded his head. “It is," he spoke softly, leaning a bit closer towards her. “We were in this very room, before..." he grimaced slightly and pushed a heavy sigh through his nose. “You said that you'd lost your notebook, and that you needed my eyes," he pointed to his eyes with that, “to help you look for it. Of course, I knew it was a ploy, that you were just trying to distract me from the party being planned in the dining hall, but... well, I had you all to myself at that time."

He lifted his hand once more, placing it on the side of her cheek as he stared at her. “You wanted me to teach you something new, something that wasn't in our usual practice sessions, and..." he dropped his hand and gaze, then. “I didn't lie, when I told you I wanted you, Sorcha. I'll always want you, but... until you remember me, even if you feel like you can no longer be the person you were, it's alright. We change, all of us, and none of us are the same person, but... I still want you, Sor. Always, and forever. I still want you because I still love you. And I'll keep telling you, reminding you for as long as you want me to, until you believe me. I don't care if you never remember me, but if you believe me... that's all I could want."

His eyes were set and firm, then, as if he were trying to convey that this was the truth. For him, or for her, it was unclear.

It was there. Right there, like she could brush it with outstretched fingers. Like words on the tip of her tongue.

She swallowed around a lump in her throat she hadn't known was present. Every instinct in her was screaming, their messages inherently contradictory. Part of her, shrinking by the moment, needed to flee, to run, to get as far away from all the painful, jumbled feelings as she possibly could. The other part—

The other part rose onto her knees, grasping the memory at the same time as she understood what she wanted—needed—to do in this moment. “That part was a ploy too," she whispered, fragments of recollection sliding into place. “I knew we'd never fool you. I just wanted—" She drifted closer to his face as she spoke, until she could feel the soft gust of his breath, mingled with hers. Her face felt hot; her entire body thrummed with something she only half-remembered. But she knew, somehow, that it was something only he had ever done, had ever made her feel.

Sorcha shuddered; a spike of pain lanced through her head. With her good hand, her normal one, she braced herself against his shoulder, leaning gently into the touch at her face. She wanted—but she wasn't right. Even if he'd wanted her before, who would want her like this? And still—still she had to ask, because if she didn't the courage would flee her, and she might never know.

Even then, she could only manage half the question. “May I...?" Her cheeks burned; she prayed that she need make the inquiry no more clear than that.

He placed his other hand on the other side of her face, and smiled softly at her. “Of course, Sor, always," he answered. “If that is what you wish, yes."

“I wish..."

She didn't finish the thought, not right then, instead all but falling into him. She stopped trying to hold herself apart, stopped trying to resist the draw, to smother her instinct.

The first brush of lips was the softest thing she knew, and somehow at once the most electric. It shot from the base of her spine to prickle over her scalp, and her hand tightened in the fabric over his shoulder as she pressed closer, firmer. She had the sense she hadn't been very practiced at this; even her instincts were kind of scattered and unsure, but somehow she knew he'd understand what to do.

He shifted his hands, then, to support her, leaning into her kiss with all the fervor of someone more practiced than she was. There was a gentleness to it, but something almost hungry. As if she were his life source, and he was doing everything he could to keep it going. His fingers threaded through her hair before his hand was at the back of her head, pushing her gently and closer to him.

There was something wet on her face, though, something that seemed to be coming from him. There were tears on his face, streaming down as he kissed her with what seemed to be years of longing, of bottled up emotions, and he was doing his best to either restrain himself from anything else, or... it was unclear. When he pulled back, he pressed his brow to hers, and shook his head.

“I'm so sorry, Sor," he whispered, as if it were some desperate secret he'd tried to contain in him. “I'm so sorry."

She was shaking.

Sorcha didn't know when it happened, but she'd started to tremble, and even as she raised her left hand to his face, she felt her own eyes burn.

How long had it been since she'd cried?

She didn't know, but something told her she'd refused for the longest time, because—because why? Whatever it was, it couldn't hold them back now, and when she blinked, they fell, sliding down her cheeks to mingle with the traces of his own, and drip from her jaw. She tried to brush away his with trembling fingers, but it was hard to see them through the blur of her own, and she didn't trust her false limb to the task, either.

“Why?" she asked, her voice cracked. Some part of her thought she knew why, but she had to ask anyway. “You've—you've not done anything wrong, so why...?"

“Because," he began, lifting his hands to brush her tears away with the pads of his thumbs. “I failed to protect you, Sor. I failed you. None of this... you wouldn't be suffering so much if I'd just... if I had just left with you. If I had given everything up, and followed you to Faerghus. By the gods, I shouldn't have let you go alone. I shouldn't have... and I did," he spoke, bringing up his index finger to brush under her eyes, collecting whatever tears he could, it seemed.

“You deserved only happiness, Sor, and I couldn't give it to you. I let you down, and... I'm so sorry," he continued, though his tears did not seem to stop. If anything, they were coming down faster, more fervent than before.

She couldn't counter the words. Not directly, anyway, because she didn't remember what had happened. Surely, though, he must have had a good reason for the decision he'd made, and even not knowing what the situation had really been, she could sort of see it, now. In the result. “But you're the only reason any of this is possible," she said softly, refusing to retreat to the toneless voice she'd used so much until now. Even if it meant he could hear how much she hurt right now. Hurt because of all the things that were just out of reach—and all the things that had been corrupted because of it, or lost entirely. “If you'd just abandoned everything... who knows what would have happened? Maybe—maybe there wouldn't be any chance at all. For your war, or—or even this."

Maybe one or both of them would be dead. And as much as she wasn't sure if maybe she'd be better off that way, she knew it was much, much better that he lived.

“Just..." she swallowed, unsure she had a right to ask, but needing to. Needing to do something to help, and also to seek assurance. “Just don't let me go again. Please. I'm so—" Sorcha bit her lip. “I'm so afraid I'm going to forget again." Even as little as she remembered.

He pulled her to him, then, wrapping his arms around her as tightly as he could. “No, Sor. Never again. I'll never let you go again. For as long as I live, no matter what, I will always be here. I will always hold you, and I'll make sure that you're never alone, again, Sor. Never." His tears didn't seem to stop, though, and he was shaking even as he held her.

“Never again."

She clung to him just as tightly, the distinction between parts of her that were hers and parts that were foreign collapsed by the need for proximity. Her own tears wouldn't seem to stop either; all she could do was hold him like he held her, cling to the feelings and the fragments of memory she'd reclaimed, and hope. Hope that it would be enough.

Hope that it would be a beginning.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

0.00 INK

I.Y. 1186 - Lone Moon - Sunday the 14th
Garreg Mach Dungeon - Late Evening - Light Rain
Mercer von Riegan

As far as the dungeons went, they were still relatively intact. It's where they currently held Randolph, however; Mercer had made certain accommodations for the man, though. If his suspicions were correct, then perhaps there was a chance to sway Randolph to their side. It was why he'd asked some of the others to join him in these negotiations. That's what they were, after all. At least he hoped to keep it that way. He really didn't want to have to resort to interrogation, but he did know the best person for that. For now, he'd keep it congenial.

He had a lot on his mind, though. Most of it consisted of Sorcha, though. She had remembered so little of their time together, and it hurt to think about it, even now. But he made a promise to himself and to her. He was going to be there for her every step of the way. If she decided she didn't want his help, that she didn't need him there for her, then he would do everything he could to support her from afar. He didn't want to be a burden to her, but now was not the time for those thoughts.

When the first of the group arrived, Mercer offered Vridel a grim smile. “Do you think he'll be swayed?" he asked, pushing himself from the wall he was leaning on.

“Well I don't think he wants to die," Vi said dryly. “And that's basically his other option, when it comes down to it. We don't have so many resources that we can keep a useless prisoner for long, no?"

Reynard and Teach arrived before Mercer could answer, the former bristling with knives. At the sideways look this got him from Vridel, he shrugged. "Mostly for show. If you want me to interrogate him I promise I'm more subtle than this."

“Has anyone talked to him yet or has he been rotting down here for a while?" Teach asked, narrowing his eyes in the direction of the cell door. It was a proper door, not just a set of bars, so Bergliez no doubt couldn't hear them.

“Other than the people who bring his food," Mercer began, pursing his lips together, “I think I saw Thea down here, once. You know her, though. Always willing to do what's necessary for a good heart, I think is how she put it." Even if Bergliez was on the enemy's side, that's just the kind of person Thea was. It was nice to know that she hadn't changed much in that respect. If she saw a good heart, she'd say as much. Mercer wasn't so sure about Bergliez, though, and pushed a sigh through his nose.

“And no need to be subtle about it, Rey. If he knows right at the start that we're willing to go to that form of interrogation, it might make him more inclined to talk." If there was any kind of pain involved, he was certain that Bergliez would want to talk and be spared that pain. But then again, Bergliez was a general. He was trained for things like that, he supposed.

"Well, no use standing around out here, I suppose." Reynard produced a keyring, slotting the key into the door, and pushing it open, stepping inside first and letting the other three file in behind him. "General Bergliez," he greeted, his tone low, cold, and silky. It wasn't so far off his natural speaking voice as to sound like someone else, but it was certainly a reminder. That he was a very different person for his friends than anyone else. "In case you're perhaps unaware, allow me to introduce Duke Mercer von Riegan, Master Cyril Eisner, and your rightful Emperor, Vridel von Hresvelg. I doubt I need to specify why three gentlemen of such distinction are here in your humble abode."

Reynard wasn't far off from the humble part. Bergliez had a bed to sleep on, covers to keep him warm, a desk to sit at, and a few books to read if he grew bored. They had, on all accounts, treated him more as a guest than a prisoner, but there was reasoning behind that. Mercer wanted Bergliez to believe them his allies, and not his enemies. Even when Reynard introduced Vridel as the rightful Emperor, Bergliez was regarding them all with an even stare. If he was afraid, he did a good job hiding it.

“You're here to pass judgement on me," was his reply. Mercer did his best not to sigh.

“No, Bergliez," Mercer reassured. “We're here because we have questions for you. Given that you are cooperative and answer them, we may see fit to give you more liberties," he stated. Bergliez narrowed his eyes suspiciously.

“Says the man who brings in an assassin for intimdation, first."

This wasn't going to be easy; Mercer had hoped it would be, though.

“Yes well that is the other option," Vi said frankly, crossing his arms. “Mercer could have left you for dead on the field, but he didn't. Now you're eating into what precious little we have. Doing so while providing nothing in return is not an arrangement that can last indefinitely. You're smart enough to know that—and to know that even with the assassin we're a sight more merciful than your current employers would have been."

"Can you really tell I'm an assassin just by looking at me?" Reynard sounded almost offended. "I need to rethink my aesthetic."

Teach tilted his hand back and forth in a so-so motion.

Mercer would have snorted softly if this wasn't so important. But maybe if they'd lightened the mood that way, it would rub off on Bergliez? Bergliez shook his head, though, at Reynard's statement.

“It's your posture," he spoke, tilting his head in Reynard's direction. “And in the way you carry yourself. You're someone who's used to not being noticed, who thrives and works best in his element of shadows," he continued. Bergliez turned his attention towards Vridel, next. “But you are not wrong," he spoke softly, his eyes hardening somewhat. There was a look about them, as if there was something he was trying to hide, but Mercer didn't know what it was.

“We just want information on the Empire, Bergliez. I think with our current arrangement, you'll live to see the end of a war, and be free to do whatever it is you're trying to protect," he stated, watching as a brief flicker of shock crossed Bergliez's face. It was a guess, but it seemed that Mercer had guessed correctly. There was something he was trying to protect, and if Mercer had to put money on it, he'd say that it was someone. But who?

“Fine. What do you want to know?" He kept his gaze on Vi, though it was unclear as to why. Perhaps it was because Vi had been his Emperor once.

“The obvious," he replied, tilting his head to the side. “Troop numbers, types, locations. Plans. Whatever Volkhard has up his sleeve. We're as good as blind at the moment, and while that's worked well enough so far, they'll catch on to us eventually. They've aleady started to. We need to know as much about them as they do about us."

“I don't know his plans," Bergliez started, shifting so that he could rest a hand on the table he sat in. “After Faerghus, I was supposed to return to the Alliance and push forward with the rest of the invasion. Their troops greatly outnumber your own; you should know that by now," he continued, sighing and shaking his head.

“Troops range from your typical calvary, to your winged units, however; after Cornelia joined forces with Emp—Volkhard, he has managed to add a great number of altered golems and altered demonic beasts to his army. Even with all of your skill, all of your power, you won't be able to stand against him. You're going to need more than just a handful of Duscur troops, and Alliance soldiers." He furrowed his brows.

“What about the Alliance? You said you were supposed to return and push forward with the invasion. When was that supposed to happen?" Mercer felt a small spike of fear lance through him, however; he had to keep his expression, neutral.

“The last letter I received said they'll be in Derdriu in a few days time, if they're not there already."

“Derdriu? They've made it that far?" Teach's eyebrows arched, mouth pulling into a grim frown.

It was hard to tell in the lighting, but Reynard's face looked to have paled considerably. "Impossible," he murmured. "There should have been word—he'd have—"

Vi cursed under his breath. “What's that force like? The one you were meant to join up with? Who leads it?"

Mercer knew who Reynard was referring to in that moment.

“I don't know," Bergliez answered. “It was a sizeable force, easily over five thousand troops, but as to who leads, them, I don't know. I was supposed to meet up with someone from there, but they didn't give me a name. I wasn't supposed to get it until I got there."

Mercer gritted his teeth. “We'll need to leave for Derdriu, then. We can't let Alaric fight against an army that large," he stated, glancing towards the others.

“If they've crossed the Myrddin Bridge, then it's possible Derdriu is no longer there," Bergliez stated, his face set into a grim expression. “Look, you have no reason to trust me, but... if you let me go, I can find out who leads them. I can get you more information, the kind you want that'll help you." Mercer almost believed the sincerity in his voice.

Reynard shook his head—not, apparently, in the negative, but as if to recuse himself from the decision.

Vi looked unsure, but Teach was studying Randolph now, less with skepticism and more with a sort of curiosity about him. “You understand what a risk that is, don't you? They are unlikely to believe that you alone of your troops managed to survive and make your way back to them."

“And being in that army wasn't already a risk?" Randolph shot back, arching a brow in Teach's direction. “I know the risks, and they are risks I am willing to take. Either way you look at it, I'm a dead man. If they believe me, then you have someone on the inside. If they don't, well... they'll just save you the trouble of killing me. But please," he stated, a somewhat desperate look in his eyes.

“You have to promise me that if anything happens to me, you'll... take care of Fleche. She's my younger sister being held in the Empire, and she's all I have left."

Mercer felt something tug at his heart. It was people like Bergliez that reminded him why he did what he did. That there were people who were fighting against Mercer's army not because they wanted to, but because they didn't have much of a choice.

“If we encounter her, she'll have our protection," Vi said quietly. “As Emperor of Adrestia I swear this to you, for whatever that promise may be worth."

He looked relieved. “It's worth a lot, your Highness," Bergliez responded. Mercer nodded his head as well. It was the least they could do.

“We need to tell the others that they need to prepare for the trip back to Derdriu. We'll leave in a few days. It should be more than enough time for everyone to prepare and replenish their supplies. Bergliez, you'll be making your escape on our way back. A careless guard or some other sort," he spoke, glancing at the people in the room. “And... they'll still keep an eye on you, but you don't have to stay down here for the remainder of the time. Be prepared for that," he added, glancing back in Randolph's direction.

“I think I prefer it down here as long as I can go and come freely. Or as freely as I can. Don't want to take up too many of your precious resources, after all," he spoke, a ghost of a smile appearing on his face.

“We can come to some arrangement." Mercer supposed it would have been easier to occupy an old dorm room, but if that's what Bergliez wanted... he wasn't going to deny him.

“We can afford them, for this," Teach added, a faint smile flickering over his face. “We only resent useless prisoners, remember?"


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1186 - Lone Moon - Thursday the 18th
Alliance Territory - Evening - Chilly
Cyril Eisner

The temporary lift in mood that had come of their success against the golem, and Sylvi's outsmarting of her father was swiftly disappearing. The news that Derdriu was under siege and the entire plan in danger was not easy for the others to hear, quite understandably, and the tenor of the march had become a tense one.

They'd engineered Bergliez's 'escape' yesterday. Cyril couldn't say why exactly he trusted the man to abide by his word, but he did. It was an instinct, almost—he knew they were not being deceived about his intentions. Whether he'd meet with any success was a harder thing to determine, but even the chance was important: knowing what to expect in the battles to come could make the difference between pushing the Empire out of the Alliance for good and falling to their blades.

It was these thoughts that turned over and over in his mind as he headed towards where he'd pitched his tent. Next to Senka's, of course—anything more would have felt like an overreach to him. He sensed some reservation in her affection, still, and as much as it made his heart ache, he understood it. He did his best to give her space, not to ask more of her than she was ready and willing to give. He didn't want anything unless she wanted it, too.

The light was dying in the evening sky when he shifted the flap of his tent aside, releasing a spark of magic to illuminate the interior, which was at the moment a thick fur that served as a sleeping mat, and his spare cloak for a blanket, plus a few books, his weapons, and little else. He toed off his boots and sat crosslegged, trying to find a moment to center himself and let the unease of the day recede. It was something his father had taught him to do, perhaps understanding that even when he felt so little himself, Cyril tended to pick up traces of what was around him.

It wasn't much longer before someone was near his tent, though. The silhouette was easy to tell that it was Senka, but she seemed to be hesitating about something. “Cyril," her voice was soft when she finally called out to him. “May I come in?"

He was a little surprised she was even here, but he didn't let it stymie him for long, shifting forward enough to pull the tent flap back in clear invitation. “Of course," he said softly. “I can leave this open if that's more comfortable...?" It would let most of the heat out, but he was rarely troubled by that, something he suspected had to do with, well, having the Crest of Flames. He just always ran hot, and ambient temperature wasn't an issue for him.

She shook her head, though. “It's fine," she stated, stepping in and taking a seat in front of him. She sat crossed legged, her hands folded in front of her, but there was a light slouch to how she sat. It wasn't quite the same posture she used to have, but that might have been that she was tired. They were all tired in a sense, though. She glanced up at him, then, keeping eye contact briefly before she dropped it.

“You look almost like your old self, though your hair is still quite long," she stated, a small smile tugging at her lips, though she hadn't glanced back up at him.

The mention had reminded him, and he reached back, pulling out the band he used to keep it in a tail and letting it spill down his back. “Seems to be the new thing," he said quietly. “I'm not sure it suits me as well as Vridel or Mercer, though. Perhaps I should cut it." He said it to say something, to continue the tentative thread of conversation she'd offered, even as the tent flap fell softly closed.

What he cared about was the fact that her eyes were downcast, that she wasn't looking at him, that weariness was etched into her that way. Though he knew it wasn't necessarily his fault, he could not help the melancholy that settled over him. All he wanted was to be capable of lifting those burdens from her, sharing them and making them light enough that they did not bow her shoulders, did not dim her smile.

Perhaps it was already too late for that.

The temptation to reach out and touch her was great. To stroke her hair, lift her chin, pull her gently into the circle of his arms. But the signals she was sending were more distant than that, and he would not do what was not welcomed.

“I think it does. Suit you, I mean," she stated, slowly glancing up towards him. The smile on her face was still small, but it did inch a bit further on her face. She remained quiet for a moment longer, her eyes fixed on him as if she were studying him for something. If she found it, or if she didn't, she did not say. Instead, she took in a soft breath, and he could see her hand twitch lightly, as if she were going to reach for him, but couldn't quite bring herself to do it.

“I've been thinking a lot, lately," she stated softly, her expression softening somewhat. “About the future, and what that might mean," she continued, swallowing softly. “What... what do you imagine your future to be like, Cyril?" she asked, head tilting just slightly as if she were almost afraid of his answer, for some reason.

The question caught him off-guard, and he was sure she could read it in the way he blinked strangely-reptilian eyes. “I—" he paused, humming softly. He could sense that the answer was important, even if he didn't quite know it yet, so he made sure he could at least assemble the proper words to convey his thoughts.

“For me, it's only been two and a half months," he said quietly. “Since the siege of Garreg Mach." For the others, it had just passed five years, and there was a vast difference between those things, he knew. Did he ever know. “And so... my thoughts of the future are much the same as they were. I just... when the war is over, I would—I would like to return with you, to Duscur. If you would still have me."

The original plan, such as it was, had involved a certain role for him, one he still felt himself poorly-suited for, and he could more than understand if she'd come to agree with him about that. But still he'd meant what he said: his life was hers. He was hers, and she could do with him whatever she desired.

She remained quiet for a few minutes, keeping her eyes with his. Her right hand was covering her left, and she made a sliding motion as if she were pulling something from her hand. She kept them covered, though, and closed her eyes for a moment. Her face was as impassive as it had been all those years ago, before she'd started sharing little pieces of her expression with him, however; when she opened her eyes, they seemed resolved to something. There was a flicker of light behind them, small, but still there.

“Mine have not changed," she spoke softly. “They still consist of you being there. I would still have you, Cyril," she continued in a tentative tone. She dropped her gaze for a moment to stare at her hands. “I told you before that you were my reason for living. When you'd died... I thought I'd lost that reason. That my life had no meaning, no purpose. All I could do was try and protect Sorcha, and even in that, I failed. But you're alive, and... you're still my reason to live." She swallowed thickly.

“That's why..." she paused, glancing back up to meet his eyes. “That's why I want to ask you properly," she stated, holding out her closed hand out towards him. “Cyril, will you, after this war..." she paused, “will you still marry me?" She opened her hand to produce a small silver ring. The style was intricate around the top portion of it, and there were three sapphire gems, situated in what appeared to be in the shape of a triangle.

“My mother gave this to my father when she married him, and... I'd like for you to have it if you accept." Cyril could see a fine tremor in her hand as she held the ring out towards him.

He honestly could have sworn time stopped. He knew intimately what that felt like, too; had done it on occasions too numerous to consider, to save the lives he cared about most from the onslaught of fate's millstone. He refused to let them be chaff, cast off in the great grind of history's forward motion.

But this—

Cyril swallowed, reaching for the thin chain he'd kept around his neck since his father's death. Dragging it out from beneath his tunic, he unclasped it and gripped the ring he'd threaded it through, removing the chain and extending it out towards her. “I'd meant to give this to you the day you graduated," he said softly. “It was my mother's. I would be honored to accept yours, Senka, if you would do me the kindness of accepting mine."

For a moment, it looked like she froze. Her eyes were slightly wide, and it was easy to see her throat working for words she no doubt wanted to say. Her frame began to tremble lightly, and a moment later, there were tears streaming down her face. She either wasn't aware of them, or she was ignoring them because she made no effort to stop them. Hesitantly, she took the ring from him, and stared at it.

“I," she didn't seem to know what she wanted to say. Instead, she glanced up at him, her smile, brighter than it had been in the two and a half months it'd been, was on her face. “Of course," she finally managed to state, slipping the ring onto the proper finger. She swallowed thickly, again, and took in a shuddering breath.

“I think... for so long, some part of me always thought that I would never," she paused to wipe the back of her hand across her eyes, pulling the tears with it as she tried to even her breathing. “Some part always thought that this would be lost to me forever because you weren't here. That when I lost you, my... my heart had been lost, too. But it hasn't. I can feel it beating so painfully in my chest, right now. And... it's because you're here, Cyril."

She moved so that she was standing closer to him, and kneeled so that she could wrap her arms around his neck, and pressed her head next to his. “I haven't lost my heart, because you're here."

Cyril had slipped the other onto his finger as well. It wouldn't be able to stay there, exactly; the fact that he used his bare hands to fight meant it risked too much damage. But he'd wear it around his neck, if she thought that an acceptable substitute, and right now he had more important things to worry about than the physical token, significant as it was.

Gently, he wrapped his arms around her, feeling the same warm, shuddering thrill ripple through him as he always did when they were this close. When she abided his touch, and offered him her own. It was such a simple thing, but nothing in the world had ever made him happier than her closeness, her company.

“Are you certain?" He hated to have to ask, but it was important, and so he did. “It's just... there's still..." Nothing had changed, about how long he'd been away from her. About how she'd felt, how she'd coped, when he'd failed her like that. And while he knew she wouldn't lie to him, he did worry a little, at the speed of things. He didn't want her to hurry, in case things felt different when everything settled. He could wait. He could wait forever, if he had to.

“I've never been more certain about something as I am about this, Cyril," she whispered softly near his ear where she was. “I've told you before; I love you. I don't deserve to love you, but I do. You make me feel worthy of that love, and of everything else you said I was deserving of," she continued, shifting back so that she was staring at him.

“I'm no longer your student. You're no longer my teacher," she began softly, leaning forward to lean her brow against his and closing her eyes. “We are simply us, now, and I will not be denied you any longer," she spoke softly, but he could hear a sort of resolve in her voice.

“You don't know how I've longed for this," she continued, opening her eyes to keep his gaze. “These gentle touches we used to share, innocent and small," she continued, before she exhaled softly. “And I will not be denied them any longer."

Those, he could happily provide. A part of him couldn't help but find a little torment in the request, for what it was not, but there was a way in which he could enjoy that, too. More importantly, it felt right. To reacquaint themselves in this way. Slowly, and with care. He relished the chance it was to prove what he'd said, about how much he loved her. About how even if he wanted everything, anything was enough, as long as it was her.

He lifted her, his strength more than enough recovered for that, and resettled her in his lap, making it all the easier to hold her the way he wanted to, arms banded snugly around her, brows softly resting against one another. He relinquished the grip of one hand for the chance to run it through her hair, careful as always not to muss the loose curls of it, but to let them glide smoothly between his fingers instead.

“You're perfect," he murmured softly, tone pulled low and soft by the warmth he felt in this moment.

He didn't mean that she was a perfect person—Cyril knew well enough that such did not exist. But there was something perfect about her nevertheless, perhaps something about the way she was to him. He didn't care to dissect it, only to feel it, and to impart the feeling to her. Because she did deserve this. Deserved everything he could give, and more still.

“You are divine," she replied softly, however; there was something in her tone, something calm and at once not. She leaned forward, then, fitting her mouth over his. The kiss was warm, but it was not gentle. There was something akin to longing in it, desire and years of built up passion. She used the opportunity it seemed to provide her to remove his arms from her, and leaned forward so that she was all but pushing him onto his back. Her hair fell over her shoulders, curtaining the both of them, but she did not relinquish her hold on his arms. She'd moved her hands to his wrists, using the leverage as a means to pin his arms above his head. When the need to breathe became too great, she pulled back just far enough so she could level her eyes with his. She was still close to his face, though, and he could feel a soft gust of air leave her.

He had quite let her do all of it, aware of his own capacity to resist but uninterested in exercising it in any way. Part of him was curious, dangerously so, almost, as to what she'd do. The other part wasn't really thinking about anything but the heat of her kiss, the way her body felt pressed against his—soft in so many places he was not—the way the world narrowed until he could have sworn they were the only things in it.

“And you misunderstood me, Cyril," she spoke, her voice low and filled with more emotion than she'd ever had in it, before. “I will not be denied you any longer." When she'd spoken, her eyes were brimming with something like hunger. A different kind that brimmed on the precipice of desire.

“You are the only person I've ever loved, the only one I'll ever want," she spoke, leaning down to softly brush her lips against his. “The only one I've ever desired. There can be no one else. Not now; not ever. Just you."

His own eyes narrowed. Restraint was a difficult thing, not least when she said things like that, but he mustered enough of it. Enough so that when he freed himself from the pin with all the casual ease of someone who'd always had the power to do so, the way he rolled them over was smooth, one hand cradling the back of her head so it made no harsh contact with the fur below them. He pinned her with the weight of his body, just enough to do the trick, but left her hands unencumbered.

Cyril brushed his lips with hers, just once, before shifting his attentions to her neck. “Please be certain," he murmured, shifting the way they were positioned so that she'd have the first bare taste of what she seemed to be asking for. It wasn't that she couldn't change her mind. He'd never say a word against it. But just now, when it meant so much, it might break his heart a little.

The hand he wasn't using to brace himself slid down her side, over her hip to grip her leg, settling it around his waist. He nipped softly at the juncture of her neck and shoulder, speaking soft and low into her ear. “I've wanted you for too long." It was almost a confession, even if she knew it. He hadn't withheld the fact, at least not after she'd made her feelings for him clear, but still a vague twinge of guilt lay in the back of his mind, for the way he'd desired her even when she was under his care as her teacher.

“Then want me no longer for I am yours, Cyril," she spoke softly, bringing her hands to craddle the sides of his face. She leveled her gaze with his, and the smile on her face was as soft as she brought his face back towards hers. She rested it against her brow, and gently shook her head. “I would not have asked you to marry me if I wasn't certain," she continued in a soft voice, closing her eyes for a moment.

“As you've said, your life is mine, you are mine," she swallowed audibly. “As you are mine, I am yours. In every way you want me, Cyril. Every. Way," she opened her eyes then, and he could see the way her pupils dialated when she stared at him.

He was sure his own had blown wide, almost round again and dark with desire. “I'm always going to want you," he said, almost surprised by the fervency of his own voice, so roughened it was halfway to a growl. His hand bunched in her tunic, pulling it free of her breeches so he could slide his hand beneath, smoothing over the perfect warmth of her skin.

Cyril felt keenly the weight of a certain responsibility here, for things he knew and she did not. But it was a responsibility he embraced. One she was trusting him with. He knew exactly how to do this—and he meant to ensure that they both enjoyed the demonstration.

His other hand shifted to cradle her face, and when he dipped his head back down for a kiss, he let all of the pent-up yearning seep into it, to the touch of his tongue at her lip, the way he slowly acquainted himself with all the parts of her he had not yet known, the delicate trace of his touch up her side. “I love you," he murmured between kisses, smoothing a bit of hair back from his temple with his thumb. “Always. You know that, don't you?"

“Always," she replied almost breathlessly. “I love you, too. For now, for always, I will never stop. I thought I could, but I can't. Not... when you love me as much as I love you," she continued speaking, pulling in a shuddering breath at the same time her being shuddered.

“I love you, Cyril Eisner."

And he did. So very much. “If anything is even the slightest bit uncomfortable, tell me to stop," he said, needing the assurance that she would, that nothing that happened between them would be something she endured for his sake. That everything that occurred here was something she wanted.

But then he gripped the tunic again and pulled it over her head, resting a hand at the small of her back and lifting her towards him. There were ways other than words to say what he felt, and it was these he'd employ now, until she could feel it as surely as she knew it.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK

I.Y. 1186 - Lone Moon - Sunday the 21st
Alliance Territory - Late Evening - Cool
Mercer von Riegan

Mercer was glad to have had the air rushing his face again. When they'd returned to the monastery, he had been reunited with Sir, and had enjoyed flying during the evening after they'd reached Alliance Territory. It was the only time he could without risking being seen, especially with Sir's coloration, however; the evening rides had helped him calm his thoughts. There was so much going on. Sorcha's memories, the attack on Derdriu. It all felt so overwhelming to him, but he had to preservere. He had to keep going because this was all on him. He was their leader, and by whatever gods there were, he was going to ensure he protected them.

He was going to ensure he could keep everyone as safe as he possibly could. But perhaps that was being too optimistic? He was going to lose lives. People were going to die, but... if he could somehow keep them from perishing, then he'd consider it a victory in some sense. Pushing a breath through his nose, he motioned for Sir to land, sliding off the saddle once they did. He took the halter off of Sir, and set it over the hitch post that had been set up for him. He didn't need to hitch, Sir, though. He wasn't going anywhere, and Mercer knew it. He pat the wyvern on the side of his neck, and made his way towards his pitched tent.

It was only going to be a few more days before they were able to reach Derdriu. He hoped they wouldn't be too late, though. They had to stop Rey a couple of times from just heading out by himself, however; Mercer thought that it might come in handy. If Rey could slip past the army they were going to approach, to tell Alaric they were on their way, then perhaps he might consent to it?

Pushing the thought from his mind, he entered his tent, removing his boots before he plopped down on his makeshift bed. It wasn't much, but Mercer was used to being uncomfortable. It was how he'd spent most of his life, even in his younger years. He briefly closed his eyes, though, allowing the cool air of the night to wash over him as he tried to calm his thoughts.

It was hard to tell how long he laid there before something changed, a shadow briefly passing over the canvas wall of the tent. He heard the sound of an indrawn breath, tentatively hitched, and then a long pause.

“...Mercer?" The whisper was soft, but distinctly recognizable. “Are you—are you awake?" Clearly she did not mean to wake him if he wasn't, speaking that quietly.

He sat up from his position and opened the flap to his tent, blinking slowly as he tried to adjust his vision to the darkness. He wasn't like Teach or Sen, or even Vi and Deirdre. He didn't know magic spells to use for lighting. He'd had a lantern, but he'd turned it out. When his vision finally focused, he saw it was Sorcha. He'd known it was her from the sound of her voice, but to see her there, he frowned.

“Hey Sor, are you alright?" he asked, tilting his head at her. Things were still going slowly, but he was fine with that. She needed time to recover all that she'd lost, and Mercer was willing to be there every step of the way as she did.

As his eyes grew used to the darkness outside, it became apparent that she didn't look all right. Sorcha's eyes were wide, dark circles beneath them speaking to very little sleep of late. She had her arms wrapped around herself almost as though she were trying to give herself a hug. The metal one glinted in the spare light from the moon overhead, as did her hair—disheveled, but soft to all appearances, loose about her face and neck. What stuck out was her expression, though, the uncertain downward cast of her eyes, the way she watched her own feet shuffle uncomfortably on the ground. They were bare, her tunic the loose kind of thing she might wear to bed, her trousers the same pair she'd been wearing that day.

She swallowed thickly. “Can I—can I talk to you?" She forced her eyes up to his, then, where they wavered uncertainly before falling again.

He stepped to the side to let her in his tent, and nodded. “Of course, Sor, whatever you need. You can come in, if you'd like. It's a bit warmer in here than out there," he stated. Once she stepped inside, Mercer moved a bit to make room for her, setting down a makeshift pillow. It was mostly made of loose straw and some wool which wouldn't provide a lot of comfort, but she could sit on it if she wanted to.

He took a seat on the other side of her, folding his legs underneath him in a crosslegged manner, and tilted his head at her. “What do you want to talk about, Sor?" he asked once they were both comfortable.

She settled on the cushion, more than a little awkwardly, hitches in her normally smooth motion. She was shaking, he could tell, just a little bit. “I, um." Sorcha swallowed, sitting back on her legs and exhaling what might have been an uncomfortable sigh. “I had a—a nightmare, I guess. Or maybe a memory." She shook her head, abruptly standing again.

“I'm sorry, this is stupid. I shouldn't have interrupted your rest, I'll—I'll go."

“You don't have to go, Sor," he spoke softly. He wasn't going to stop her if that was what she wanted to do, but he wanted to make it clear that she didn't have to go. “Whatever is bothering you, you can talk to me about it. We're friends, too, right? If you had a nightmare, then tell me about it. If you can, describe it to me and maybe... I can help you figure out if it was a memory or not. I'm here for you, Sor. You know that, right?"

“My tent is always open to you. If you can't sleep, even if they might consider it improper, you can sleep here, with me. Or if you just want to talk, you can do that, too. I've told you before, I'm here for you," he continued, reaching a hand out towards her, inviting her to stay.

She tried to press her lips together, but there was no hiding the way they trembled. Carefully, as though she expected the offer to be withdrawn at any moment, she placed her left hand in his and settled back down, much closer to him this time, not touching but directly facing him at least. She kept hold of his hand, though, and bit her lip softly.

“It was hazy," she said softly. “Flashes. Cornelia was there. She—she cut me a lot, and then healed, and then cut and then healed over and over again in the same places." Sorcha swallowed. “There were... needles, and blood, I think. And she said strange things, about... about the goddess, and some place called Nabatea. She took... she wanted to take everything away from me. Everything that might... remind me."

Her metal hand reached up, tucking a piece of hair behind her ear. “She cut my hair, in the dream. She said... there was too much blood in it, and it was disgusting. I don't know why that hurts. It's just—it's just hair, you know? But it does. It hurts to remember."

Mercer didn't like killing people. Everyone who knew him knew that about him. He killed people when it was necessary, when he had no other choice, and when they were threatening his friends or the people he cared about. Never in his life had he wanted to kill someone so desperately as he did now. Cornelia was going to pay for what she did to Sorcha. Dearly, and Mercer was going to enjoy it, tormenting her as she'd tormented Sorcha. He shifted those dark thoughts away, though, and took in a shuddering breath.

It wasn't a nightmare.

Mercer knew that much, and he squeezed her hand gently in his. “It's... going to hurt to remember, Sor," he spoke softly. As much as he wanted to keep that hurt from her, if she was going to remember things, unfortunately, that was going to be what she remembered, too. The painful things, the things that hurt her, and it pained him because he could not protect her from them. Her hair had always been kept long, he remembered. She'd never cut it, not once, for as long as he'd known her. It was something she cherished, he supposed, so he could understand why she felt that way, now.

“What else can you tell me?" he asked, even if he was afraid of what else she might say. Afraid of what he might do.

She shifted uncomfortably, swallowing thickly. “I remembered the stone," she murmured. “She—I'm so sorry, Mercer. I tried—I tried to protect it. I really did, but she—" Her whole body shuddered, and she wrapped her artificial arm around herself again, looking as if she were about to be ill. Moisture pricked at the corners of her eyes.

“She made me watch her break it."

Using the grip he had on her hand, he shifted so that he could pull her towards him, wrapping his arms around her shoulders and placed his head on hers. “It's alright, Sor," he spoke, expelling a shuddering breath. He knew that had been important to her. To them. It signified more than just the fact that she was his fiancée. It was the first thing he'd ever given her to try and make her smile. To keep her from feeling sad when they were children. It was her good luck charm.

“It's... it's alright," he continued, unaware of when, exactly, he began rocking with her in his arms. It was a soothing gesture, he supposed, but he didn't know if it was calming for her, or making it better. For all he knew, he was probably making it worse. “I'm sorry I wasn't there for you. I'm sorry I wasn't able to protect you from her, or the things you had to go through. I'm sorry she made you watch her break what you cherished. I'm sorry."

He was so very sorry for all the hurt she'd gone through. Of all the things the world did to her. She deserved none of it. What she deserved was the love and warmth of a nation that didn't deserve her. No one deserved her, not the way he'd known her to be. To see her as she was now, struggling and breaking so desperately, it broke his heart. It felt like he was breaking in half because there was nothing he could do. Nothing but try and offer her comfort and the love he'd always have for her.

But it never felt like enough, to him, as if he were failing even in that.

She shuddered in his hold, winding her left arm around his back, the right slack at her side. “How can you say that?" she whispered, head tucked into the juncture of his neck and shoulder. “I... I forgot you, Mercer. I let her destroy it... I'm not even a whole person anymore. How can you—how can you be so kind to me—love me when I—"

Sorcha must have lost the thread of the thought, or found it too painful to complete. Her fingers tightened in the fabric at his back, entire frame tensing as if she expected to be pushed away at any moment.

“Because I've never forgotten you, Sorcha." Never. He'd never push her away. If anything, his arms tightened around her. “I told you, Sor. It's alright if you forgot me. It's alright if you never remember me, because I'll never forget you. As long as you still believe in me, as long as you can trust me... it'll be enough. You didn't let her do anything, Sor. She tried to break you, your spirit and everything else you cared about. Maybe she did," he spoke, shaking his head softly so as to not disturb her too much.

“But you're here Sorcha. That's proof enough that you were able to escape from her. You're not under her control anymore. You're here with me, and everyone else who loves you. A whole person? Of course you are. Just because..." he paused, moving one of his hands down to her metal arm, and gripped it gently. “Just because you have this doesn't make you any less whole, Sor. You're still a whole person to me. You'll always be," he murmured softly.

If missing an arm meant that she wasn't a whole person, then he'd just have to make her see that it didn't bother him. It didn't disgust him, it didn't repulse him. What was an arm but just another part that could be lost to any of them in this war? An arm, a leg, they were nothing compared to a life. That she was still alive was more than enough for him.

“You're still the beautiful, strong, talented Sorcha I know. Just because you can't remember yourself now, doesn't mean that I'll stop thinking those things. I'll never stop thinking these things of you because I love you. No matter how many times I have to say it, no matter how I have to prove it to you, I love you, Sorcha Blaiddyd. Always and forever until I breathe my last breath."

Her sob was soft, muffled against his shirt, and cautiously, slowly, she wound her metal arm around him too. It felt distinctly different from the other, but it certainly didn't hurt or anything. She was probably being very careful with it.

“I just want to remember," she whispered. “I don't care how many nightmares I have, or how much it hurts. I just want to remember everything about you. Just you. I—I can build new things with everyone else, or have them tell me stories so I know, but—but I want to remember you." She had, already, remembered a few things at least, like his birthday, and the significance of the stone, but no doubt there were still many gaps as well.

“I know, Mercer. I know you're the most—the most important person in my life. Because every time I see you, I—" Sorcha exhaled in a shudder. She slid her hand forward, taking one of his from around her and leaning back just a little. Just enough to press it to her heart. It hammered a rapid staccato against her skin in the unlaced vee of her tunic, and the faintest, shakiest smile crossed her lips before vanishing again.

“On the battlefield, that first time, I thought it was adrenaline. And it is, I guess. But not because of a battle."

He remembered the first time she did this, when she'd placed his hand over her heart because she'd thought that his didn't beat as fast as hers did. That his wasn't affected by her. He managed a small smile for her, though.

“You'll remember, Sorcha. In time, you'll remember everything, but... don't force yourself to remember all at once. You'll only be straining yourself, and I could not bear it if you were doing it only to remember me. I may be the most important person in your life, but you are the most important person in my life. And I'll be here every step of the way to help you remember, Sor. Every. Step. If you'd like..." he paused, unsure of how he wanted to phrase this.

“If you'd like, you can share my tent. If it'll help ease the nightmares," because having someone near her would likely help. He knew it helped some people to have another person near, or just some kind of warmth not provided by a blanket, but by another person or being. It helped nightmares, and if it helped her, he would share his tent with her. Everyone knew they were engaged, and they wouldn't care if he and Sorcha were doing that. They knew the situation.

But more than anything, he wanted her to share it with him. So that he could hold her every night as they slept, to let her know she was loved and always protected. He just wanted to hold her.

“Okay," The word was almost too quick, as though—well as though she'd intended to ask the same question herself. Something that was perhaps confirmed by the way her face flushed. “I think... I think I'd like that." Leaning forward again, she feathered the softest of kisses over his mouth, just for a moment.

“I'll, um. Go get my things? And then we can sleep." Her cheeks were still a dark pink, but there was the faintest flicker of something like happiness in her expression, too, quirking her lips for a split second.

“Don't keep me waiting too long," he stated, feeling his own smile inch just a bit wider. By the goddess he loved that woman... and he was going to do whatever it took to help her. In whatever way possible.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1186 - Lone Moon - Tuesday the 23rd
Outside Derdriu - Evening - Chill
Reynard Voigt

He was losing his mind.

This was the problem with being... attached, to people. He made friends, and suddenly he got distracted worrying for their safety when dangerous things were going on. It was counterproductive—he survived by keeping a cool head, succeeded by remaining rational, and when he did those things, they were more likely to live as well.

It was only when he started caring for life that he was unable to do that, but paradoxically that was the only time it really mattered. Because he'd never given much of a shit about his own, now had he?

He paced back and forth in front of the command tent, boots crunching over remnant snow. At least they weren't in bloody Faerghus anymore, but it was still more frigid than a repressed nun outside. He tugged his borrowed cloak closer around himself, wondering if Alaric had found some use in the one it had been traded for. Maybe it had helped him, somehow. Maybe the big idiot hadn't rushed out the moment the capital had come under siege and gotten himself killed.

Maybe, maybe, maybe.

All any of them had to work with was a pile of maybes, and Reynard was sick of it. Information was his job, and while he understood his friend's decision not to let him go looking for it the moment they heard Derdriu was besieged, he was going to re-argue his case now, when they were only about a day and a half out anyway. If he could slip past the defenses, he could prepare whoever was left for the incoming reinforcements.

He studiously avoided thinking about the more selfish reasons he had for wanting to get there as soon as he could.

Friends. Ha.

He loved his friends, he really did. But Reynard knew he'd never been this on edge with worry before. Not once in the whole damn war.

Spirits, he was an idiot.

“Rey, you can come in, you know. You don't have to pace back and forth outside like some crazed maniac," Mercer spoke, opening the flap to the tent. Mercer looked a bit tired, but there was some life in his eyes as he motioned for Rey to step inside. It looked like they had wrapped up what the next plan of action was, and Mercer stared at Reynard for a moment.

“You want to go, don't you?" was his simple statement, as if he knew why Reynard was there.

"Yes." He answered as bluntly as he'd been asked. He'd sort of figured there was other planning going on inside and that he'd be called for when ready, but as that time seemed to be now, he wasn't inclined to waste any more of it, stepping in behind Mercer. He was unsurprised to find both Sorcha and Cyril there as well—though the Princess's memories were coming back very slowly, she did seem to know some things about Cornelia's constructs and so forth. Perhaps not the most relevant for this, but important to get in writing in case the memories faded again.

"If I can get in past the guards we can coordinate with whoever's left to break the siege. It's a risk, but I'm willing to do it and someone should. As soon as you have a plan for what side you're going in through." After they took at least one gate, things would get easier. But it would be best of they could crush the enemies sieging that gate quickly, before the rest of the occupying forces could be moved around to assist, and with their numbers that would require help from inside the city.

Mercer's eyes narrowed for a moment, and briefly, it looked like he was going to refuse. “Alright," he spoke, instead. “I figured that if this was going to work, we'd have to let Alaric know what we planned on doing, and since you're our best," it sounded like Mercer was praising Rey, “scout, then it makes sense for you to go. As for which side we'll be going through... we're going to start here."

Mercer pointed towards the map, pointing towards the southeast of Derdriu near Fódlan's Throat. “Even with the amount of troops Bergliez stated the army had, if we can catch them in a pincer movement, we have a chance at victory. It's important that we get this just right, though, because they still outnumber us. We'll need to try and thin out the herd as quickly as possible." His eyes flickered towards those present.

Sorcha nodded quietly. “It will mean circling around to come in from that side, but I think our force is small enough to do that."

“Something tells me the forces here aren't exactly in regular communication with Cornelia's, so they're unlikely to know when or if to expect us. Maximizing surprise is how we thin as fast and effectively as possible." Cyril folded his arms over his chest. “But then, that's just a presumption, based on how separate the imperial troops seemed from hers in Faerghus. If you can figure anything out about that on your way in, Reynard, it would be helpful."

Rey huffed softly. "Fair point, though I hope you'll excuse me if I make actually getting in priority one."

Mercer smiled a knowing smile. “Why wouldn't it be?" he stated, almost in a light tone despite the severity of the situation. “The sooner we know Alaric hasn't done something stupid, like charge straight out of the capital, and is still alive, well... that'll make this maneuver a lot easier. Just," he paused and took in a deep breath, “let him know we're coming. We're almost there. If he is still alive, just.. let him know help is on the way." Mercer sounded worried for his friend if the way his voice shook a little was anything to go by.

“And you be careful, too, Rey. I know it's not exactly in the business of a profession like yours, but... it'll help put us all at ease if you were just somewhat careful. We can't afford to lose you, too," he stated, pursing his lips just slightly together as he narrowed his eyes at Reynard.

He was beginning to get that impression, really. What a strange feeling.

Naturally, he played it off. "Yeah, yeah, I know. Best scout and all that. Whatever would you do without me?"

“You're more than that," Sorcha said with a rare half-smile. “Even I remember as much."

"Humor from our dear Princess? I've been blessed by the wind spirit herself. In case you've forgotten, I'm always available to ferry you away from that tremendous fool next to you, if you'd prefer." He grinned, arching a sly eyebrow at Mercer.

Sorcha looked a little confused for a moment, and then her eyes lit up. “The wedding! I remember that. Well, not it, since it didn't end up—but I remember you saying that."

Rey chuckled. "Good. It'll keep him honest. I'm a very good date, you see. Polite and everything."

Mercer snorted softly. “And once again Rey is trying to steal my fiancee from me. What ever shall I do? If that's the case, maybe I'll see if Sen's changed her mind on being my date. Can't ask Sylvi since she's married. Deirdre and Sofia won't do it, and we'd be going to Thea's wedding, after all, so that leaves her out," Mercer stated, almost smirking in Rey and Cyril's direction.

“Who says I would?" Senka spoke, entering the tent at that moment, her eyes slightly narrowed in Mercer's direction. Mercer feigned a hurt expression as he placed a hand over his heart. Senka rolled her eyes, though, and glanced in Reynards direction. “We've prepared one of the faster horses for you," she spoke, smiling somewhat at Reynard. “Just let Danae know when you're ready to leave, and she'll bring him to you."

“And I'm already honest, Rey. The most honest one of us all, in this very tent, actually." Senka huffed lightly at Mercer's statement. “But like Sorcha said. You're more important to us than just the best scout. You're family, you know that, right?"

Reynard huffed. If they'd already prepared a horse, they'd known he was going to ask again, which figured, really. They were clever that way, all of them.

And... good. They were good people. The kind of people that made him care a little more what happened to him, because he'd hate to disappoint them by dying.

"You know... honestly I think I do. So don't worry, kids. Your big brother's got this one handled." He smirked, waved a lazy salute, and exited the tent.

Time to see a lady about a horse.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1186 - Lone Moon - Wednesday the 24th
Derdriu - Evening - Chilly
Alaric Goneril

Alaric pushed a heavy sigh through his nose. He'd mostly been successful at keeping the Imperial army at bay, but it was becoming increasingly difficult. He knew that they had reserve troops, knew that the ones trying to push for the city were just testing the waters so to speak. That was how invasions worked. They sent one wave to see what they were up against, and decided the next course of action after. He wasn't sure how much longer he'd be able to keep the defense up. He was running low on resources, and he knew the morale of his troops was being stretched thin, too.

He ran a hand through his hair, staring at the parchment paper in front of him. He hadn't been able to get a message out to Mercer for two reasons: he didn't want to risk the life of a messenger, and it was a risk he wasn't willing to take. He knew Mercer would send Reynard if something came up, or if something in their plans had changed, however; he hadn't seen Reynard in almost a month or so. He'd lost track of time, honestly. Was he okay? Was Reynard still alive? These thoughts plagued Alaric more often than he cared to admit. He was worried. Worried about Reynard's well-being and whether or not the man was still alive.

Reynard was an assassin, and Alaric knew that meant a certain kind of danger to that lifestyle. It did not mean that he would not worry about it, though. He wasn't entirely sure why he was so worried, though. Reynard was capable, strong and always reliable. But there was something more to it, wasn't there? Reynard was Alaric's friend, in a strange way, at least. Alaric enjoyed his company a great deal to the point that he missed Rey whenever he had to leave. Being away for so long... it felt lonely.

He cleared his throat softly and shook the thought from his head. That was a dangerous thought, venturing into dangerous waters. He couldn't afford to think like that, not when there were so many lives in his hands, and a city that needed defending. His feelings, his regard for his friend had to come last to all of that. He'd... well, he wasn't sure what he'd do in the meantime.

He set the quill down and ran a hand down his face. By the goddess he was still worried, and he couldn't concentrate.

He felt not even the faint trace of breath on his neck before the words were spoken low next to his ear.

"That dire, is it?"

As if he'd expected to startle him, Reynard's hand pressed gently down on Alaric's shoulder, and in the corner of his eye he could see him move, almost flowing around to the front of the desk in that uncanny, fluid, utterly silent way he had and flopping without an ounce of grace into one of the chairs in front of the desk with a quiet groan, silence and careful motion stripped away like a bad coat of paint as he closed his eyes and leaned his head back against the chair behind him.

It wasn't hard to spot why, in the light: one of Reynard's arms was cut deeply, bandaged with a makeshift arrangement of fabric torn from his sleeve. "Apologies for bleeding on your cloak," he said wryly, with a subtle edge of strain. He cracked one eye open to peer at Alaric through a sliver of ruby-red iris. "Would it help your mood at all if I said I come with good news?"

“No!" he nearly shouted, however; he used enough restraint in his voice to keep it low enough so as to not alert the soldiers or guards who were making rounds. “You're hurt, Reynard," he stated, furrowing his brows at the concerned tone in his voice. It was a betrayal, if anything, of how worried he had been. He pushed a sigh from his nose, and pulled open one of the drawers to his desk, and fished around in it.

He pulled a bottle of alcohol from it, and grabbed a clean cloth before standing from his spot. He made his way to stand next to Reynard and pursed his lips at him. “Take off the cloak and your shirt. Let me see your wound." He would have winced at the tone of his voice if he wasn't so concerned. He hadn't intended it to sound like a command, but it was one.

That had clearly caught Reynard by surprise; his eyes, both open now, rounded, and he cleared his throat, reaching up with his uninjured hand to adjust the way his scarf lay on his face, pulling it a little further up. "That's really not necessary, I can just get a healer to look at it later—" he trailed off, making a sound behind the fabric that might have been a sigh.

"And you don't care, you mean to put me through this now," he finished, apparently interpreting either the tone of command or the expression on Alaric's face to mean as much. Wincing slightly, he leaned forward, tugging the cloak off with his uninjured hand and setting it over the empty second chair next to him. The scarf went next; beneath it Reynard was paler than Alaric remembered, but flushed. Perhaps he was developing a fever; it was hard to tell how old the injury was.

"Arm's useless," he muttered. "Severed a major tendon." Leaning slightly to the side, he picked up the fabric over one of his shoulders with his teeth and used a dagger in his other hand to help him remove the shirt. It was a bit of an awkward process, but he didn't ask for help, didn't even make eye contact. Eventually it was gone; Reynard's skin was crisscrossed with scar tissue, white and pink lines stark against the sharp contours of a professional soldier's form. The present injury tore through much of his bicep, then jagged sideways and ran more lightly beneath his collarbone, where he'd likely dodged the worst of it. He caught his chin in his hand and leaned his good elbow on the arm of the chair, deliberately facing away from Alaric.

Alaric felt his brows furrow deeper, and he pursed his lips together as he moved towards Reynard's injured arm. “Of course I care, Rey," he spoke firmly, but soft enough to let Reynard know that he did. He cared because Reynard was his friend, and his companion, and... he wasn't sure, actually. He wanted to make sure that Rey's wound wouldn't become infected because if he was developing a fever, then chances were they'd likely have to do something about it. Namely amputate the arm so the infection didn't spread any further if it was severe. It didn't look to be, though, and Alaric sighed softly before getting to work on Reynard's wounds.

"That's not what I—never mind." Reynard shook his head faintly, holding very still. Presumably he was used to this kind of medical treatment.

He was gentle, pouring the alcohol over parts of the wound before cleaning it with the cloth. It would likely sting; it was never pleasant having a wound cleaned that way, but Alaric knew that it would at least disinfect it. Once he was finished, he moved back towards his desk, searching his drawer for makeshift bandages. He didn't really have much except for a bandage, and a few cloths. He'd have to make due for now. He doubted they had much in way of actual bandages, anyway, considering that they had to tend to a lot of wounded, the day before.

Carefully, he wrapped Reynard's arm as best as he could with the cloth, and used the bandage on the wound near his collar bone. Perhaps he let his hand linger for a moment too long near the wound at his collar bone, however; he glanced towards Reynard.

“What news have you brought?" he decided to say. He wasn't sure what else to say in the moment, and... well, things were a bit awkward. Alaric knew that much, at least, even if he didn't know the why behind it.

Reynard swallowed, exhaling in a soft hiss. Probably the residual sting of the alcohol. "Mercer's forces are here. They're going to attack from the direction of Fódlan's Throat tomorrow. If you can redistribute your forces to assist, we can crush that wing of the enemy between us and group together for a push against the rest. It's... not a lot of time to prepare, but Mercer doesn't plan to attack until near sunset, so it's in their eyes and not ours."

Carefully, he maneuvered his arm closer into his body. If there really was a severed tendon there, he'd have to see a healer about it for certain, but for the moment he gave no sign of whatever pain he was in. "I hate to borrow more of your clothes, but I think I should probably wear a shirt out of here." He huffed softly.

"Otherwise people will talk, you know?"

“Let them talk," he spoke quickly, perhaps a little too quickly, but Alaric didn't care. Reynard needed to rest, and needed to see a healer. He doubted the one they had on staff would be awake right now, but that didn't matter. They were used to keeping all kinds of strange hours, and healing Reynard was Alaric's top priority.

“You stay here, while I go get the healer. You're not going anywhere until the healer has seen you, too," he spoke once more in that command-like tone of voice. He wasn't entirely sure why he was doing that; Reynard wasn't his soldier to give commands to. But he needed to ensure that he was being looked at, properly. Healed properly. Only when he knew for certain would he be able to concentrate on everything else Rey had just stated.

As he started to move towards the door, Reynard's good hand flashed out, catching him by the wrist. "Alaric," he rasped, voice roughened at the edges. It seemed his wound was taking more of a toll on him than it initially appeared to, though his eyes were clear and sharp where they bored into Alaric's own. The look of them was intent, but then the color always made them look that way.

"I'm glad you're alive."

In all his worry, he'd forgotten to tell Rey the same thing. “I'm glad you're alive, too, Rey," he spoke, smiling in Reynard's direction. He placed a hand on Rey's, the one that held his wrist, and kept it there for a moment. Taking in a deep breath, he shook his head softly. “Just... stay safe, from now on. It's a lot to ask, I know," he knew because it wasn't exactly something Reynard could do in his line of work, however; Alaric didn't care to know what it was that made him feel this way. All he knew was that he could not bear the thought of something happening to Rey.

“If anything happened to you... I'd," he pursed his lips together and narrowed his eyes. “I'd never forgive myself for it. You mean a lot to me, Rey. More than you know." It wasn't exactly what he wanted to say, but it'd have to do, for now.

Reynard swallowed, releasing his wrist and nodding slightly. "Best get that healer, then," he said, clearly trying to make light of it. "I'm not sure how much longer I'll be conscious otherwise."

Alaric huffed lightly, shaking his head. “Even if you fall unconcious, I'll make sure no one takes advantage of you," he replied, smiling somewhat. For some reason, that statement made his cheeks burn slightly, even though he was the one that said it. He cleared his throat softly and pointed towards the door. “I'll go, uh, get the healer now."

Goddess he was a fool, wasn't he?


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1186 - Lone Moon - Thursday the 25th
Derdriu - Sunset - Cold
Mercer von Riegan

Mercer stared at the group in front of him. They were going to be taking back Derdriu, and for once, Mercer felt all the confidence in the world. All of his friends were here; Sorcha, Senka, Teach, Vi, Thea, Deirdre, Sofia, Sylvi, and Devon. They were all still alive. Senka had, apparently, lent Sorcha her pegasus, Liev, and she was riding a regular pale grey horse next to Teach. He supposed that they'd cleared some of their issues, and he was happy for them. The same with Vi and Thea, and even Devon and Sylvi. He was happy that his friends could find the small traces of happiness in a time like this. Even he felt a small flare of happiness with Sorcha at his side.

He wanted it to last.

Needed it to last.

It was why this battle would be a deciding point for their future. If they couldn't take back Derdriu, then they'd likely lose a war they were fighting so hard to win. Needed to win. Pulling in a breath, he calmed himself before addressing the group.

“You all know what to do. We're going to be reinforcing Alaric's group with ours, and pushing for a pincer attack. As far as we know, the Imperial army isn't expecting us, and are unaware we've arrived. Let's use it to our advantage while we still have it. Sorcha and I will take the skies," he began, shifting his gaze towards her and smiling softly.

“Teach, you and Sen take the right flank with Devon and Sylvi. Vi, you and Thea take the left flank with Sofia and Deirdre. Keep them reinforced until we know we're pushing them back. We don't know if they have demonic beasts or golems with them, however, so keep an eye on the field. We all know how to handle beasts, however," he paused, his eyes narrowing slightly, “if you see a golem, don't engage it recklessly. We can't afford to have any of you dying senselessly."

As their leader, he wouldn't be able to bear it.

Teach wore a subtle little smile on his face, offering Mercer a slight nod. “As you say, general," he replied, a certain lightness to it despite the solemnity of the moment. Perhaps that was fitting, really—they had for so long been a team, always confronting together things that seemed at the time beyond them, from that first night in the forest with Sorcha and Vi through to the siege of Garreg Mach and now beyond it. Somehow, even when it hadn't seemed possible, they'd all survived, and managed to keep something of themselves. Something that had bowed under the pressure of five years since, but had perhaps not broken. Could still unbend.

“And if you do see a golem," he added, “remember that the large glowing stone beneath the carapace is its weak point. Worst case scenario, your goal should always be to destroy that, or cause enough damage to disable it so you can get away."

That little tidbit of information was courtesy of Sorcha, who had spent rather a lot of her time in captivity forced to listen to Cornelia's ramblings. At least some of it was useful.

The others all managed some combination of nods and verbal affirmations, and they were ready to go.

“Most of all," he spoke, making sure he made eye contact with every single one of them, “survive. Watch each other's backs and make sure you live to see another day." They nodded once more as Mercer nudged Sir towards the capital. Taking in a deep breath, he murmured, “we're coming, Al. Just hang out a little longer," and Sir took to the skies. With the dying light, it was going to be a bit more difficult to see, however; they still had enough of it that the way he and Sorcha would fly would make them look like tiny specks in the sky. If even that, really. The sun would be used to their advantage, a camouflage of sorts.

Up ahead, he could hear the battle. People were shouting orders, pointing in every direction as if they meant to using a pinning movement to wipe out a small handful of soldiers. Mercer pursed his lips.

“Sorcha," he called out to her, low but still enough that she could hear him. “We're going for that group, there," he stated, pointing towards the soldiers. “We'll free them up so they can be added to the pincer attack," because at this point, they needed as many able bodies they could get. He pulled his bow from his back, and took a breath, fitting an arrow to it. “We'll stay in the skies, though. We can't afford to get knocked off, either."

“Understood." Her bow was already in one hand, but she let go of Liev's reins with the other, steering with her legs as she nocked an arrow to the string. Her old hesitation was gone now; she shot without needing to think about where the arrow was going to go, on an instinct he'd spent nearly a year trying to hone in her.

It was different, though, from even a month ago. She grimaced as she released the shot, lining up the next even as it whistled through the air, catching one of the enemy commanders in the eyeslit of his helm. It toppled him, and the Alliance soldiers in the spot took advantage, swarming that part of the enemy line and punching through. It wasn't enough to break the pin, but a few more like it and they'd be in business.

He followed suit, releasing an arrow to take out another soldier. He wasn't going to make her do all the killing, after all. If he had the choice, he'd have let her sit this one out. But he also knew that Sorcha wouldn't have wanted that. She would have wanted to come, no matter what. Taking a breath, his Crest glowed on his wrist as he narrowed his eyes on the next commander, releasing the arrow and catching the woman in the base of her neck, severing her spine in the process. Quick deaths. Easy deaths.

A few more soldiers were dropped, and the Alliance soldiers were finally able to push free from the pin. He nodded in their direction as they made their way towards the part of the army where Teach was. At least that meant they'd be reinforced from there, if they needed it. He nudged Sir forward, intent on making it to the frontlines to see if he could see Reynard or even Alaric. He knew that Alaric wouldn't be sitting out the battle. That just wasn't the type of person he was.

Alaric fought alongside his soldiers.

The battle seemed to begin in earnest, now. With the freed up soldiers he and Sorcha were able to get to that were added to both Teach's side, and Vridel's, the plan to attack could commence. He glanced in Sorcha's direction, pulling his sword from its sheath. He wanted to reserve his arrows, for now, and he wanted to be on the ground, spearheading the charge alongside the others.

“This is it, Sorcha. Fall back and let the others know we're going to push forward now with the pincer. We need to get to Alaric and Rey. To the others. Join me when you've done so," because he wasn't sending her away. On the contrary, he wanted her beside him when this happened, however; he needed the others to know that now was the time.

“Okay," she said, brows furrowing a little but nodding nevertheless. “Be safe, Mercer. I'll be back soon." Wheeling Liev, she guided the pegasus to her top speed, leaning low over her neck until they were a blur across the sky.

It didn't take long for the message to ripple through the ranks, Teach and Vi leading their flanks towards Mercer for the charge. Sorcha landed next to him a moment later, slinging her bow across her back and drawing Areadbhar. Her eyes were fixed on the field in front of them, the blue hard but no longer cold. Not even close.

“Ready when you are."

He nodded, taking a breath and glancing out in front of him. This was it. This was going to be the deciding battle in who was going to emerge victorious. To be the ones who emerged with a future. He glanced towards Sorcha, before steeling himself.

This was it.

He slid off of Sir's back, and motioned for the wyvern to leave. Sir regarded him with an even stare before taking off. He'd whistle if he needed Sir, back, and they both knew that. Shifting the sword in his hand, he glanced at the battlefield. “Let's do this," he spoke, lunging forward as the soldiers behind him followed suit.

He barreled into the first soldier, quickly plunging his blade into the soldier's abdomen. He pulled it out and moved on to the next. He could hear a few wind spells being used, saw a saggitae, either Sen's or Vi's, and could hear the thrumming of Areadhbar near him. He countered an attack aimed for him, parried another, and cut down another soldier. He could feel the warm blood splash across his face as he grimaced slightly. He had to keep pushing through. Had to keep going.

Alaric was waiting for them. Reynard was waiting for them. Their future was waiting for them.

Around them, the battle roared, his friends visible as little more than glimpses in one moment gone in the next. There, Cyril felled a broad swath of soldiers with a thoron, throwing the Arrow through another's heart and launching himself into another cluster with nothing but his hands, fighting like a man possessed, blank faced and bloody.

There, Vridel, a bright flash of white amidst the muddled colors of the field, bright magic flashing along the blade of his sword, hewing down another and whirling to fling a spell over Thea's shoulder to stagger her opponent. Not far away, Sofia, setting her tower shield against a flank attempt, lance lashing out over the edge to catch those who tried to get around her at Deirdre.

Sylvi had her axe, abandoning her gauntlents, perhaps, in favor of the range the axe provided her, and caught a soldier in the shoulder. Deirdre was flinging fire spells and wind spells to help stagger soldiers who were trying to flank the others. Senka was much flurry as Vi was, using Blutgang to either disarm her opponent's weapons, or literally disarm them. She caught a few with her blizzard spell, and Mercer could see Thea using Amyr more as a throwing axe, occasionally ducking behind the shield she had with her before she recalled Amyr to her.

They were pushing forward. They were succeeding. He grit his teeth, though, and before he could move forward, someone grabbed his shoulder and spun him out of the way. The arrow that would have lodged in his neck was now lodged in Sen's arm, as she held it in front of her, the tip of the arrow just inches away from her face. If it pained her, she didn't show, and it looked like it had hit her arm that wasn't her dominant sword one. She'd be okay, for now.

“Go," she spoke, breaking the arrow in half and pushed the other half out of her arm. She held it, though, as she glanced in his direction. “The general was spotted further up. If you and Sorcha can reach him, we have a chance of routing their forces," she continued, her eyes narrowing slightly at him. He motioned towards her arm, but she shook her head. “You need to end this, Mercer. Be careful, he doesn't appear to be your typical general," she stated, her brows furrowing deeply. He nodded his head, and she disappeared back into the fray.

Mercer glanced in Sorcha's direction. “Let's end this, Sor," he spoke, pushing forward until he could see the general. He was a rather large man, taller than Teach, perhaps, by an inch or two. Maybe three. It was hard to tell from this distance. He was situated atop an Imperial charger, and donned heavy armor. The shoulders were spiked slightly, almost reminiscent to the Death Knight's armor, however; the difference was the coloring. Where the Death Knight's armor was black, this general's armor was mostly gold with silver trimmings. He donned a large zweihänder at his back. The blade was rather thick for one, however; Mercer had a suspicion it was mostly for show rather than use.

But the man was muscled. He looked like he could swing the weapon with just one hand. Grimacing slightly, he gripped his blade just a little tighter. “With a weapon like that, he's not going to be able to swing as fast. Sor, cover me with whatever arrows you have. If we can keep him on his toes, it shouldn't be too difficult to take him out," he stated. It would require a lot of work, but Mercer believed they could do this.

“Okay, but I'm getting in there if it looks like too much," she said, meeting his eyes intently for a moment. Areadbhar found one of the leather loops at her back, and then drew her bow again, nocking an arrow and setting about the task of clearing his path forward.

To their sides their friends still fought on, bloodier and wearier than they had been at the outset. Devon was limping, but still firing arrows; Vridel's hair and clothes had turned red and pink in places, though how much of it belonged to him was hard to say. Sofia was still hunkered behind her shield, her motions flagging a little but steady. Where Teach had gone was unclear, but from the free space on their left flank, it was a fair guess he'd pushed the line back a bit.

He nodded in response and lunged forward. Even he was starting to feel the effects of a prolonged battle, but he couldn't show it. He had to keep pushing forward until they had won. Or died.

When he'd made it to the man who was, supposedly, the general, Mercer fixed him with a harsh stare. He simply lifted his blade towards the man who drew his own from his back, however; a hand placed itself on his arm as if to stop him. Beside him, hidden from view, was a smaller person. Feminine from the way her armor was made. Her silver helm had a long black feather from it, and she regarded him with cold dead eyes. She pulled her bardiche from her back, and leveled it at Mercer. Was she the actual general?

Whatever it was, he readied his sword. The larger man moved back as if to give them room for this strange duel he'd silently agreed to with this woman. She lunged towards him, quick and smooth-like. Mercer barely had enough time to dodge, and the bardiche caught him in the shoulder. His armor, light as it was, managed to protect him for now, however; with an onslaught of attacks, it wouldn't hold up for long. The downsides of bringing light armor into battle, he supposed. He lunged for her with his sword, swiping horizontal at her. Poled weapons were usually not so useful for attacks like that, however; she seemed to block it with ease.

Mercer gritted his teeth together. He wasn't going to have the energy for this. Something had to give, one way or another. At least her companion hadn't joined in on the battle, and seemed content to let her do most of the work. She continued a barrage of attacks at him, blocking and parrying every attack he threw at her until she'd mostly had the upper hand. If something didn't give, soon, she was going to win this battle.

“Mercer!" Sorcha's attempt to interfere was blocked by the large man, but she did manage to fling a healing spell his way before she was forced to leap back and draw Areadbhar. “You're not allowed to die!" she called, staving off a heavy swing of the large man's blade with the pole of the Relic. “Your life is mine, right?! You better keep it safe for me!"

She swung the spear with a mighty heave, clearly fighting to get through to where he was, to help him, but an armored bulwark like that man wouldn't go down quickly or easily, not even to Sorcha.

He would have laughed, really. He wasn't allowed to die, was he? “Yeah, Mercer! You're not allowed to die, you stupid fish face!" it was Thea's voice, next, and Mercer blocked an attack from the general with a little more ease as Thea appeared. It seemed that she was helping Sorcha, now, and Mercer felt a strong wave of relief wash over him. Two people might be able to bring the man down, but Mercer focused his attention on the woman. Her eyes narrowed at him, and she thrust her bardiche at him once more, however; unlike him, she had no one to fling a healing spell towards her. No one to help her. Mercer might have felt bad about it, but he couldn't afford to.

Not when so many lives were at stake.

He pushed back, swinging with a bit more vigor in her direction, forcing her back until she was on the defensive, now. He could hear Sorcha and Thea working together, Amyr and Areadhbar both clashing with the man's weapon, however; with a final thrust, his blade slipped past her poled weapon, finding a home past her chest armor, and into her heart. Her eyes widened with surprise as her grip on the bardiche loosened and it fell from her hands.

“You won't... win," she spat, gripping the blade with her hand. “He won't let you... win," she spoke before her arm fell limp at the same time the large man screamed. He was silent afterwards. Mercer sighed, putting his foot to the woman's shoulder and pushing her off of his blade. In the distance, he could hear the cries of victory, the joyous ringing of a bell somewhere, however; he turned his attention to where Thea and Sorcha were, and smiled.

“Come on, then," the new voice belonged to Vi. “I'd best finish patching you up; no one's going to want the man of the hour bleeding all over the carpet."

Sorcha giggled, the lightest sound she'd made since they found her. “I dunno. Scars are kind of heroic, right?"

“I can always leave them if you want," Vi drawled.

Mercer pursed his lips together. He opened his mouth to say something, however; someone else spoke first.

“Attractive. I think the word you're looking for is attractive," Senka spoke, smirking in Mercer's direction as she stood next to Thea and folded her arms over her chest. Her arm seemed to be healed, probably due to the plethora of healers on the team there were, or by herself.

“I think I'd rather be healed so I don't bleed to death, heroic or otherwise," he deadpanned. This brought a light laugh forth, though, and Mercer felt a weight lift from his shoulders. This... he missed this.

Teach took a moment more to join them, but seemed to have caught the end of the conversation at least. “Probably for the best. They take some work to keep limber, and no one wants to pass out from blood loss." He stuck the butt end of the Arrow into the ground and let out a long, slow breath, reaching over to press a brief kiss to Sen's temple, heedless of any blood or battlefield dirt.

“I found Reynard and Alaric," he added. “They're both all right, and ready to welcome us into Derdriu as soon as we're keen to make an appearance."

Vi stepped back, his healing so unobtrusive Mercer almost hadn't noticed him doing it, and shrugged. “I'm ready when our fearless leader is. And he's not bleeding anymore."

“Oh, good. I could use a bath, now," he stated, smiling brightly at his friends. “And as your leader," he spoke, glancing towards Cyril and Senka in particular, “you two have to cook because the gods know we've all missed it. And I think it'll serve as a good victory feast for troop morale and all that."

“Only because our fearless leader said it must be done," Senka huffed softly.

“Great, now let's go because we're all filthy and need a bath."

This was it.

The beginning of their new future.

A better future.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1186 - Great Tree Moon - Wednesday the 2nd
Riegan Manor - Noon - Clear
Vridel von Hresvelg

Vridel had to admit, the retaking of Derdriu had felt... good.

It would have been better if they'd never lost it in the first place, but technically they hadn't. It had come under siege, but an ultimately unsuccessful one, thanks first to Alaric and then to a timely rescue. In any case, they were back, and the combination of Alliance and Duscur troops might be enough to start winning back the rest of Leicester. It wouldn't, normally, but the Imperials were spread thin, between here and Brigid and two different fronts in Faerghus. Arianrhod and the Fraldarius border. It meant that if they were smart about how they did this, they had a chance.

Of course, there was also bad news. That Derdriu had come under siege at all meant the Great Bridge of Myrddin had been captured, and that was a loss, one they'd have a hard fight to take back before they could finally, finally, push into new territory.

“Has Bergliez been in contact yet?" He couldn't imagine it was that difficult to find out who was leading one's own army, but he at least hadn't heard anything from the Imperial general yet. He might have contacted Mercer instead, though—Vridel might be rightful Emperor of Adrestia, but Mercer was leader of this army, and he certainly wouldn't object if communication went through that way instead.

Mercer shook his head.

“We haven't heard anything from him, yet, but I'd say that he hasn't betrayed us or anything. If he had, chances are that we'd have lost the battle for Derdriu. Reinforcements would have been sent if he'd said anything," he stated, furrowing his brows lightly. “Chances are he's still waiting for the right moment before he does anything. I don't know if it's harder for him with the Imperial army or what, but... we'll just have to wait and see. Sen has a few of her scouts out so chances are, he can contact one of them. And when Alaric releases Rey back into our ranks," he huffed lightly, “we can have him on the look out as well."

“Are we sure he will?" Vridel asked wryly, finding himself grinning. Reynard was not sitting in on this meeting; it was actually just himself, Mercer, Cyril, Senka, and Sorcha. Thea and Sofi were training this afternoon—he wasn't sure exactly where Dev and Sylvi were, or Deirdre, but they all had jobs to be doing, no doubt.

This particular setup however meant they could poke fun of their absent friend with impunity. “They seem... awfully attached." Alaric was so closeted it was almost painful, but the truth was there for anyone observant enough to see it nonetheless, and Vridel was quite good with that kind of thing.

Mercer outright laughed while Senka snorted softly, nearly choking on her cup of water. “You mean to say that Alaric hasn't rectified his feelings for Rey, yet?" Senka spoke, a little surprised by the information, it seemed. Mercer only laughed a little harder before he took in a deep breath to calm himself.

“Honestly, it might be a long time yet before we see Rey, again. With Al being all, well, you know, protective and what not," Mercer finally spoke, snickering softly. “And they're attached at the hip at this point, it feels like. At least not physically," he added.


Mercer laughed again.

Sorcha rolled her eyes, but it was good-natured, and surprisingly enough there was a little smile to go with it. Vridel had spotted few of those since her return; they were always nice to see.

“Frankly I don't think any of us have any room to talk, really," the Professor noted wryly. “But then I suppose he mocked us plenty before."

He had, at that. Vridel snorted. “Still, more fun to mock him to his face. What're we planning today, anyway?"

“Well," Mercer began, glancing at the map that was in front of them. “We all know the obvious: Myrddin Bridge has fallen," he stated, placing a few markers near the Bridge.

“Next step would be to reclaim it, would it not?" Senka stated, causing Mercer to nod his head.

“It would be. If we can get the Bridge back, then we can finally press forward with the attack on the Imperial army. The Bridge is what will either break us, or give us the opportunity that we need. As you all know," he began, placing a few more markers on both the Alliance side and the Empire's. “Myrddin Bridge is a strategic advantage to whomever holds it. They can invade either the Alliance or Empire freely."

“Which means that since the Empire has it, we're at a disadvantage."

“Precisely. With our troop numbers, though, we should be able to retake it. The only problem is..." he trailed off, pursing his lips together.

“We don't know who's holding Myrddin at the moment, and we don't know what kind of army they have. It could be just a human army, or it could be a mix of Cornelia's altered golems or beasts," Senka filled in. Mercer nodded his head.

“And we're back to the issue with Bergliez," Cyril added with a short sigh. “I suppose we could strike out for the destination and hope he's able to get something to us on the way. If he's not, it's not any worse than what we'd have to do regardless."

Vridel nodded. “At this point, they've not held it too long. We'd be better off not letting them get too firm a foothold. If you ask me we've got to strike as fast as possible. End of the month, if we can manage it, but it's going to be a fight just to get there." Because all the land between the bridge and Derdriu was occupied now, too.

“There are villages between, right? Castles and the like too, where nobles manage their territory?" Sorcha frowned. “What's the most direct line of capturable points from us to the bridge?"

Mercer pursed his lips together as he stared at the map. “The obvious path would be to take the direct route from Riegan and Gloucester territory," he stated, but his brows were furrowed.

“But that would be hazardous in itself. If we go through Gloucester's territory, there's no telling what we'd be dealing with. He might not be so willing to let us pass after the debacle six years ago," Senka stated, referring to the roundtable conference in which Mercer announced Sorcha as his intended. The resulting incident was Gloucester losing territory to Acheron. Mercer nodded his head.

“If we can go around through Goneril's territory," Mercer began, moving a marker where Duke Goneril's territory was located, “we'd have a chance of getting to Myrddin whilst also liberating any villages that have been overrun, especially in Lady Ordelia's territory."

“Isn't that still risky? We'd be making a wide berth just to avoid Gloucester's territory," Senka stated, her brows furrowing softly.

“It's either that, or we take our chances with Gloucester. I like our chances making the wide berth, better, though," Mercer stated, eyes flickering towards Vridel and the others.

“Who is Gloucester?" Sorcha blinked, brow furrowed in confusion.

Vridel could understand why; the ease with which the others discussed him implied that he was someone she'd know, and the reference to six years ago would make it something she'd been around for to her knowledge. But the memory was clearly not there; personally Vridel didn't think it was as much of a loss as some things. But it had to be terrible anyway.

He wasn't sure there was a short version to give her—the long one seemed like something that should be handled with a bit more care later. “Asshole, basically, but one of the members of the roundtable conference and the second most powerful Duke in Leicester. You met him and didn't like him either."

She nodded slightly. “Well... he could need help," she said, “if his lands are under Imperial control now. But you're worried he'd try something?"

Mercer sighed heavily. “Yes, because he's still angry with both of us," he stated, glancing in Sorcha's direction. “You were supposed to marry him, but you chose me, instead. It pissed him off, and it cost him nearly three miles of land when he had a mock battle with Acheron. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if he's aligned with the Empire," he continued.

“You think he'd take it that far?" Senka asked, and Mercer grimaced slightly.

“I do, actually. Gloucester holds grudges like no one's business, and the way Sorcha and I humilated him? If there's even a chance he can get back at me for that, I wouldn't doubt that he'd try it. But... I would rather still not take that chance."

“If that's what you decide to do, then we should leave as soon as possible for the Myrddin Bridge. If we have to make that wide of a berth to avoid Gloucester's territory, it's best if we leave in a week's time to ensure we retake the bridge as soon as possible. If... you decide to go through Gloucester's territory, and make a straight path, then it gives us time to recuperate from retaking Derdriu, and gives our troops enough time to gather the necessary supplies."

Mercer turned his attention towards Cyril, then. “What do you think, Teach? Gloucester or Goneril?"

He shook his head. “Vridel was right earlier. Even the most direct line would be enough of a fight just to move forward that we couldn't afford the extra rest. That makes the side route the smarter choice, but we're going to have to be wary of flanks, if Gloucester is Empire-aligned. But I think clearing out some of Ordelia's villages will give us leverage when we want her troops in Faerghus, so we should do it anyway."

Mercer grinned slightly. “Alright, we have a plan, then. We'll leave in about a week from now for Goneril and then Ordelia. Everyone, you should get some rest, until then," Mercer stated, arching a brow in Vridel and Cyril's direction. “Though I'm not sure how much rest you'll be getting all things considered."

Senka sputtered on her glass of water, her face turning a deep shade of red as she turned her attention towards Mercer. “That is none of your concern, Mercer von Riegan," she stated, narrowing her eyes in his direction. Mercer just laughed.

Vridel laughed too, suppressing a counter in deference to Sorcha's situation. One day, though. One day he was going to ask about that last day before the attack. “Someone's mind's in the gutter," he drawled, flicking his eyes to his stepsister. “Do be careful, Sorcha."

To his surprise, she arched a brow. “Oh don't worry about me. I can handle him."

He thought maybe she was going to be all right, after all.

“But I don't see you denying it, either, so..." Mercer replied, grinning broadly before shrugging his shoulders. Senka merely rolled her eyes.

“If anyone can handle Mercer, it'd be Sorcha," Senka stated, smiling in her friend's direction.

“Hm, well, yes, this is true. But at least I know how to keep my hands to myself for the time being. Unlike some touchy feely people I know," Mercer stated, winking in Senka's direction. She arched a brow at him before turning her attention towards Cyril.

“You haven't seen touchy feely, yet, Mercer. I wouldn't mind putting on a show, though, if Cyril doesn't mind," she stated, a strange grin crossing her features. She looked like she was almost daring him to say anything further. Mercer nearly fell out of his chair, laughing.

Cyril looked entirely unperturbed. “If you're so inclined, my love, you need only say so."

Vridel was grinning so widely it was starting to hurt his face. “I think I'll pass on the demonstrations, thank you. I prefer the touching and feeling in my life take place between myself and my fiancée." Come to think of it, he wondered what time Thea's training would finish today. He should probably get a bit of his own in before he got too distracted.

Standing, he waved a hand almost in playful dismissiveness. “Since we seem to have a battle plan, I'm going to leave before Sen tries to climb the Professor like a tree. The rest of you have fun." Shooting them all a wink, he did just that.

Back to work, for the moment.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

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I.Y. 1186 - Great Tree Moon - Friday the 4th
Riegan Manor - Afternoon - Overcast
Senka Rinaldi

Satisfied that Liev was well-groomed, Senka set the brush down and laid a hand on the pegasus's neck. It was still strange to her, even nearly four years later, how she used to be afraid of the creatures. She felt a twinge of guilt in her heart, then, as Liev nudged her hand softly. If she hadn't been so scared of them... maybe they would have been able to escape. Her thoughts still plagued her about that day. All the ifs that floated about were more torment than she'd ever admit, but she couldn't change the past. She couldn't undo all the things that happened; all she could do now, was move forward and hope that she'd be able to make up for all of it, somehow.

As if sensing her thoughts, Liev nickered softly and nudged her again, causing a small smile to flicker across Senka's lips. “Alright, I'm done," she spoke, giving Liev one last pat before making her way towards the training grounds. It wasn't quite the academy training grounds; the von Riegan manor had one built for training a proper army, and not students. Mercer had made accommodations to it, though. There were practice weapons so that those who didn't know how to fight, could train without harming themselves.

It was here that she encountered Thea, working up a decent sweat, it seemed. “Oh, hey, Sen!" she greeted once she'd spotted Senka. “Did you come to train, too?" she asked, causing Senka to shake her head.

“I was just passing through," Senka replied.

“Oh, well if that's the case, how about we go for lunch? Vi is with Mercer and Professor talking with Duke Goneril about the upcoming battle, so he won't be back for awhile," she stated, grinning lightly. Senka huffed lightly at the statement. Thea spent almost all of her time with Vridel, but Senka could understand. They had been separated for almost five years, and she knew what that had felt like. Senka wasn't naive enough to believe that everything between her and Cyril was fixed. She knew they still had some ways to go, but that was something she was willing to do. She wouldn't have asked him to marry her, to stay with her and be with her if she didn't believe in him. In them.

“We should see if Sorcha would like to join us," Senka stated suddenly. She and Sorcha had not been able to reacquaint themselves ever since she was found alive. It broke Senka's heart that her friend had forgotten her, but... some part of her thought that it was for the best. She'd failed Sorcha, however; she had resolved herself to get her friend through this. To help her remember who they were to her because Senka needed to apologize properly.

“That's a good idea! Let's go see if we can find her," Thea stated as she placed the practice axe back on the weapon rack.

It took a while to locate her, as Sorcha was not in any of the practice areas, nor the stables, nor the room she presently shared with Mercer. People were definitely talking about that—it wasn't exactly something done until a couple was married, because of what it was assumed it entailed. Of course, the standards were relaxed a little during wartime, but Mercer and Sorcha were under more scrutiny than most just because of who they were.

If Sorcha had even noticed it, though, she'd never said anything to Senka about it.

Eventually, they did find her, seated outside to enjoy the weather, perhaps, working with a carving knife and some other supplies to make arrows, it looked like. There was a pile of unused fletching next to her, and a small jar of adhesive. She seemed to be frowning at her metal hand, though from the way it moved, it was no less dexterous than her other.

At their approach, she looked up, her expression changing little except to soften just the slightest bit. “Hello Senka, Thea. Are you looking for something?"

“You, actually," Thea replied first, causing Senka to nod her head in agreement. “Sen and I were going to get lunch and wanted to know if you'd like to join us," she continued, smiling brightly in that way she did so many years ago. It was nice to see that Thea still had that kind of smile. Senka was still trying to get hers to be like it was, but she was managing small traces of it. It was easier to do in Cyril's company, or when they were poking fun of their friends, but sometimes it just... lacked.

“If not lunch, perhaps we can help you with the arrows," Senka added, glancing towards the pile Sorcha had already made.

“Oh, but say you'll go to lunch with us! I'm so hungry," Thea murmured, frowning just lightly enough to pass for a pout.

“Uh, no, it's fine," Sorcha said, pursing her lips slightly down at the fletching. “It's easy to do wrong, which is why it's taking forever—" she seemed to backtrack, as though afraid of insulting them. “Uh, hm. Just—easier for archers, I guess." She cleared her throat. “Lunch sounds... good? Fine. Good. Sorry."

Her expression was genuinely apologetic, and she sighed quietly as she collected the materials, bundling them carefully under her arm. “I... forget, sometimes," she admitted. “Whether I've eaten or not. I don't know if I used to do that."

“Sometimes," Senka answered honestly. “It usually happened when you were too focused on something else. Moments when you were either having too much fun, or if... you were stressing about something," she continued. There were times when the only reason why Sorcha remembered to eat was because Senka would tell her it was time for lunch or dinner. During their academy, days, though, it was different. They always knew when to eat because they'd always go to lunch with their friends. It was a happier time, but Senka pushed that thought to the back of her mind.

“Regardless, we're going to lunch, now. And you don't have to apologize, silly," Thea stated happily enough as she turned towards the outside breakfast area. It served mostly as a lunch area now since most people ate their breakfast on the go, or in their room or study if they didn't have time elsewhere.

“Sorcha should at least put her arrows away, first, Thea," Senka called out, shaking her head softly as Thea turned around and tilted her head.

“Oh, that's right. Uh, well, while Sorcha does that, I'll set the table up! Sen, you help me with that, too!" she stated, causing Senka to arch a brow, and fold her arms across her chest.

“You know, I usually only let one person boss me around like that, but," she smiled somewhat, “I suppose I can let you do it just this once." Thea snorted softly as she shook her head.

Sorcha returned just as they finished with the table, looking around curiously. “Shouldn't we have... gone to the mess hall or something? Are they even still serving food from the main kitchen?"

“Usually," Thea began, setting a plate down, “we do, however; this is a special occasion between friends. So, we're going to eat lunch together." Senka wasn't entirely sure when the last time they'd been able to do that. Was it before the attack on the academy? Had it been that long? Pushing a sigh through her nose, she nodded her head with Thea.

“We used to do this all the time, though there were days when it was just the three of us," Senka added. Thea nodded her head, this time, and smiled at Sorcha.

“Yep, and since we're all friends, I think it's time we had lunch together, again. It's... been so long."

Sorcha considered this for a moment, clearly hesitating. Most likely about the obvious thing, which she confirmed when she spoke next. “I—it's okay? It's just... I don't really remember any of that, exactly, and I don't want to... to bring the mood down, I guess." Her lips compressed together in a thin line.

“I'm sorry I don't know how to do this anymore. I really am."

“It's alright, Sorcha," Senka spoke softly, trying to soften her features as best as she could. “You don't have to remember how to do this. We can start slowly, and reintroduce you to it," she continued, keeping her voice as calm as she could. She could feel the slight tremor to it, though. It didn't hurt any less that Sorcha had forgotten them, but she still had to try.

“Yep. And of course it's okay, Sorcha. You're our friend and we love you very much. We're here to help you in any way we can because, well... you're important to us," Thea added, nodding her head as if it were the most sage-like thing she's ever said. Senka huffed lightly, but nodded her head as well.

“Very important and dear to us, especially me. You... saved my life when we were younger," Senka spoke softly, smiling still as she kept her gaze with Sorcha. It was true in more than one way. Senka was certain the soldiers would have killed her if Sorcha hadn't appeared. Hadn't taught her what it was to be a person, someone who wasn't defined by the actions of others. It had taken her a long time to think herself worthy of Sorcha's kindness. Her friendship. But she had. She did.

And now it was her turn to help Sorcha in the way she'd helped her all those years ago, even if the circumstances were different.

It seemed to be enough to convince her, anyway. “Okay," Sorcha said quietly, little more than a murmur. She settled at the table, next to Senka and across from Thea. “Maybe if—maybe if I do more things like this it'll help me remember, anyway. I want to remember. I can't imagine what it must be like, to be on the other side of this, but... I'm trying, you guys."

She glanced down at her hands, then back up. “I do remember some things though, you know. I think... one time there was a courtyard, and a blanket on the grass? We teased Thea, about... about something. Something funny."

Senka could not speak for Thea, but for her, it was slightly painful. Painful because it had left her conflicted. Would it have been best if Sorcha forgot about her, at least? Would it make things easier? It had taken some time, but Senka had learned that it was neither of those things. It wouldn't have made things easier, and it wouldn't have been for the best. Thea pinked a little in the cheeks as she seemed to recall that particular memory.

“Indeed. We were teasing Thea about her crush, then, on Vridel," she stated, causing Thea to puff her cheeks out a bit. “But then, it's not a crush any longer since they are engaged to be married," she stated, arching a brow in Thea's direction.

“And you're still horrible, Senka," Thea stated.

“I try."

“Ha. Ha. You're also not funny. Anyway, yes. You were both teasing me about my crush on Vi because at the time I didn't know what a crush was, and it was all relatively new to me. You didn't stop there, either. There was a time when you teased me about when I said he was very skilled..." she trailed off there, and blushed a very deep shade of red. “Not. That. He... oh goddess, why do I do this to myself," she stated, hiding her face behind her hands. Senka snorted softly.

“Skilled?" Sorcha repeated, obviously at a loss, but then her eyes shifted from Senka's face to Thea's, and her eyes narrowed in contemplation. After a moment, she abruptly hit the table with her hand, forgetting it was the metal one, apparently, and making a sound loud enough to startle herself. “Sorry, but—safe and skilled! I remember that!" She huffed softly, the tiniest of smiles playing at the corner of her mouth.

“And I don't know. I think you can still have a crush on someone you're engaged to, right? It's just... more, too?" She looked genuinely worried, the reason why clear enough. It had to be complicated, sorting all of that out with such gaps in her recollection.

It was still something, though, and Senka would take that. Thea, on the other hand, looked like she was about to die from embarrassment. “I think it's a little more than just a crush, now. Crush implies that you have vague feelings for that person, but Thea is in love with Vridel. Just as I am with Cyril, and..." she paused, feeling the smile falter for just a moment. She furrowed her brows softly as she contemplated whether or not she wanted to say what she was going to.

“Just as you are with Mercer," she spoke softly. Even if she didn't remember that, she could at least be reminded of it little by little. Senka had no doubt that Mercer was trying his best to help Sorcha remember him, too, and the feelings they had for each other. It must not be easy for him, but from his willingness to stand by Sorcha, well... Senka had a newfound respect for him.

“Though they certainly do more," she continued, feeling a smirk cross her features as Thea made a vague startled noise.

“Don't act like you don't, either, Sen!" Thea stated, trying, it seemed to embarrass Senka. She merely shrugged her shoulders, though.

“Of course I do. Why would I deny it? There's no shame in it, Thea. On the contrary, it's a very beautiful thing. You, of all people, should know that." Senka felt her smirk inch up just a little further.

Sorcha looked contemplative, but there was a light flush on her face, too. “I see," she said quietly. Her fingers traced the pattern on the tablecloth, brows furrowed. “So if it—if it feels... fluttery. And silly, sometimes, that's not enough?" She bit her lip. “Even if there's more behind it? I don't understand any of this, really. Maybe I'm just wasting his time, if it should be different than this." She shook her head a little, clearly perturbed by the way the distinction had been drawn for her.

Senka felt her expression turn more thoughtful as she tried to dissect Sorcha's statement. “I think it's different for everyone, how they feel. If it's fluttery and silly, with more than that behind it, for some people, that might be enough. Others might want a little more than that, but I think it comes down to how you feel. And you're not wasting his time, Sorcha," she stated, furrowing her brows in Sorcha's direction. Something felt like it was misinterpreted somewhere, and maybe that was Senka's fault.

So, she took a deep breath and cleared her expression to resemble the soft one she had earlier. “There is no doubt that Mercer loves you. The more that comes with it will be when the both of you are ready. If he wanted that more with you, now, it... I don't think he believes it would be right because..." she paused to purse her lips together, “I think he's waiting on you to be ready, Sorcha. He doesn't seem to be the type to want to rush things, especially with how... delicate the situation is."

“Senka's right, in a way," Thea added. “I think what she's trying to say is that, everyone progresses at a different pace, some faster than others. Mercer is content to let things progress slowly because he respects you, Sorcha. He's willing to wait until you feel like you're ready to give more to him rather than try and rush you into something you might not be."

“Love is confusing, isn't it?"

“Sometimes, yes."

Sorcha groaned softly, leaning her head down into her arms on the table so that her face was hidden from view. “I wasn't asking about that," she grumbled, the words coming out muffled by her positioning. “But... never mind." She didn't seem to want to talk about it anymore, though she still seemed a little flustered, turning her face to the side so that her cheek was pressed to the tablecloth and she could blow a lock of hair out of her eyes.

“Where's the food, anyway? I'm kind of hungry."

“That's a good question. I could have sworn I told someone to go get it before you returned," Thea stated, turning a light glare in Senka's direction.

“Oh, you did, but I already told you I was only letting you boss me around that one time," Senka stated, brushing her arm as if there were some invisible dust there and it needed to be brushed off.

“And I reiterate that you're still horrible," she stated. Senka merely smiled.

“Of course I am."

It would be a slow process, but from what she was able to see, Senka believed, in that moment, Sorcha would be okay. Perhaps she should have gone to get the food, though. She was kind of hungry, too.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1186 - Great Tree Moon - Thursday the 10th
Riegan Estate Stables - Sunset - Cool
Sorcha Blaiddyd

Sorcha approached the stable with some trepidation—apparently, Mercer and Senka had something to show her here. She was not sure what that something might be, but she supposed at the very least it would be good to venture in that direction. She'd been borrowing mounts of various sorts until now, though she knew the sky was where she belonged—was where she'd always belonged, maybe. It would be good to find a pegasus she could ride without needing to remove that advantage from someone else. Perhaps they'd accept a promise of future payment in lieu of anything more immediate. She was, in theory, good for it if they took back Faerghus.

And if they didn't, that would be the least of their problems.

This wasn't the barracks stables, though—this was the one attached to Mercer's home. Or, well, the von Riegan Estate, which was probably as close to a home as any of them could have, with a war going on all round them and the like. It wasn't like they typically got to stay very long. They'd be back on the march within a week.

Entering the building reacquainted her with the familiar smells of hay and animals. She wondered for a moment if the Professor spent time in here, looking after the animals. Somehow, even though he wasn't around right now, she knew he did. She scanned for Mercer and Senka, though, unsure if they'd already arrived or she'd beaten them here.

“Yeah, I know, the room is small, but I figured out of everyone, you and Teach would be the most comfortable in something like that. Hey, ow, that hurt," it was Mercer's voice, and soon enough, he rounded the corner, holding his arm. Senka was behind him, her brows furrowed before she turned towards Sorcha's direction, and smiled. Mercer grinned at Sorcha, though, and nearly jogged towards her.

“Hey, Sor, glad you could meet us here!" he stated, perhaps a little excitedly. “I have a surprise for you... though I'm not sure how much of a surprise it'll be for you, but," he stated, murmuring the last words, though. Senka clapped his shoulder lightly.

“What he means to say is, there is someone waiting for you, who has missed you. I think she'll be happy to see you, again, even if you might not remember her," she stated in a soft voice. Mercer nodded his head in agreement, it seemed.

“She's this way, if you want to follow us. I, uh, have to keep her in a stall with Sir because... well, they're practically inseperable," he stated, motioning for Sorcha to follow him. He led her down towards the back of the stables where it seemed larger, perhaps, to accommodate two creatures. Wyverns were large to begin with, so it made sense for the stall they approached to be big enough to house two. Mercer cleared his throat softly as he pushed the heavy doors open, and held his hand out towards Sorcha.

“Hey guys, look who's here to see you," he spoke towards the occupants of the stable. Sir immediately glanced up; he was lying on his side, however; it took a moment longer for the other one to lift her head. It was a black pegasus, sharing a stable with the white wyvern.

Sir, she had seen once or twice. The white wyvern was, to her estimation, gorgeous, and there was something vaguely familiar about him, which she'd put down to the fact that he was Mercer's.

The other, though...

Bad luck. The thought flitted across her mind somehow as the black pegasus approached, but it was tinged with a sort of wryness that told her she'd never really believed it. The animal nickered, shifting her head over the stall door to nudge her velvety nose against Sorcha's shoulder. Automatically, Sorcha's hands came up, tracing the softness of the coat over the pegasus's warm neck. Something about it made sense. Something seemed familiar.

“She was... mine, right? We flew together."

“You did," Mercer replied, smiling brightly at Sorcha. “She is yours and you chose her because they said she was bad luck due to her coloring, but," he stated, leaning over so he could rub the pegasus's snout, “we said we were going to prove them wrong. She was never bad luck for you. In fact, you were at your best when you flew with her."

“Then let's go flying, now," Senka stated suddenly, tilting her head somewhat. “We have the time to do it now, so let's go flying together. This... we'll be the first time any of us could do it," she continued, smiling with a touch of melancholy. “And I'm sure Lady would love the chance to be in the air again."

“You know, that's not a bad idea. How about we go get Liev's, Sir's, and Lady's tack, then? What do you say, Sor? You wanna go for a ride?" His brow arched slightly towards Sorcha.

She nodded, and between the three of them it wasn't difficult to get all the animals sorted. Sorcha hadn't forgotten how to do most things, like fletching or riding, and this was among those that she retained. Lady, as the others had called her—and it seemed right—was patient and cooperative, but there was an underlying energy there that spoke of an eagerness to be aloft, one Sorcha was surprised to find in herself as well. Enthusiasm seemed hard to muster in herself; she couldn't remember the last time she'd felt any. Maybe she just... hadn't been that kind of person?

In any case, once they were outside it was nothing at all to swing astride the pegasus. The only weapon she carried at the moment was the knife Cyril had once given her, and while that felt... strange, it should be fine if they were just going to fly, right? It sounded like something meant for the enjoyment and no functional purpose, so she thought it would probably be fine.

Lady took to the sky first, stretching dark wings and leaping into the air, and soon the others were with her as well. “Something's... strange," Sorcha admitted, wind carding through her hair. It wasn't just that, though it felt wrong, too, the way it was short and floated about her head the way it did. But something was strange about this specific scenario.

“Did we... did we do this, before?" She knew, somehow, that Mercer and she had flown together often. They couldn't be as coordinated as they were in battle if not, but...

Senka winced lightly as Mercer pursed his lips together. “Not with me," she finally spoke, loud enough to be heard but there was something in the way she said it. Something tinged with guilt, perhaps. It was hard to tell. “I used to be afraid of them," she seemed to explain, patting Liev's neck. Mercer nodded as if in agreement.

“It used to be just the two of us that flew. Teach, at the time, had the proper certs to do so as well, but he never did. He had them just to have them, I guess," Mercer spoke with a light shrug of his shoulders.

“So he could teach you two, if I recall correctly," Senka stated, causing Mercer to huff lightly. “It could be why that's strange to you. I've never flown with the two of you, and doing so now... it's a first for all three of us."

Sorcha couldn't understand why Senka would feel guilt about that, and blinked slightly. “Well that's... kind of nice, actually? For this to be something... something new, I guess. So I don't have to... worry about whether I'm remembering right, or enough."

She knew she disappointed them, sometimes. Hurt them. Because she couldn't remember things she should. She felt terrible. Some part of her knew she'd spent most of her life failing people, but the exact source of that feeling, Cornelia's magic had taken from her just as surely as the rest. But she didn't want to keep doing it, didn't want to keep hurting them. She wished she could tell them how much it hurt her, too, but there was just—

Sometimes it felt like they were still talking to the old version of her. Mercer a little less, maybe, because she believed him when he said it was okay if she didn't remember. But still—still. She wanted to. Wanted to stop putting those little flashes of pain in eyes and expressions when she asked a question she should already have known the answer to. But she couldn't lie—could not pretend to remember more than she did. That would unravel too quickly.

Lady's wingbeats were steady underneath her, and even without remembering, Sorcha understood that this was a special pegasus. A little smaller than the average one, but fleet and nimble and controlled in the air in a way few of her kind could be. She wondered if she'd known that before, too, if it had influenced her choice. If maybe she'd hoped to be a little bit the same.

“That's right; we're making new memories, now," Mercer stated, grinning in Sorcha's direction. Senka nodded her head as if to agree with him. “It's what you're supposed to do, anyway, when you're moving forward. Sometimes... it's best to not dwell too much on the past," he stated, closing his eyes briefly, the smile still on his face as if he were enjoying the breeze.

“New or old, creating memories should be fun. I know it is something I cannot win; Liev isn't quite as fast as Sir or Lady, but how about we have a race?" Senka suggested, arching a brow in Mercer's direction. He answered it with an arch of his own, cracking one eye to regard Sen with an even gaze.

“You shouldn't count yourself out just because Liev's not as fast, Sen. Who knows, given the right circumstances, you just might win," he replied. Senka rolled her eyes, but glanced in Sorcha's direction. “It could be fun, though. Haven't had a chance to race anyone in years, it feels like."

Sorcha snorted softly, glancing down at the pegasus beneath her. “What do you think, Lady? Want to leave them in your dust?" It felt like the right way to ask the question, the goading of it intent in its own way and a very clear challenge to the others. Light like a joke but with a thread of something just a little more serious in it as well.

A pegasus, of course, like a wyvern, was smart enough to understand such a question, and her answer was to surge forth. Sorcha only barely had enough time to bend over her neck before they were off.

“Guess that's a yes!" she called behind her, feeling a broad, bright grin stretch across her face. Strange, too, but not in a bad way.

Mercer wasn't too far behind her, though, and neither was Senka. Both had an intense smile on their faces, as their mounts flapped their wings as fast as they could. There were a few dives, Mercer breaking off from the pack to avoid colliding with a stone pillar, while Senka dived beneath a crosswalk to avoid it. Before long, Mercer had pulled up beside Sorcha with Sir, both wyvern and pegasus neck in neck, with Senka right on Mercer's tail. He was grinning, though, as if he were truly enjoying himself.

There was something a little sly in Senka's smile, though, as she spurred Liev next to Mercer. “See you at the finish line," she stated, placing one of her hands behind her. She grinned as a light wind spell left her hand, pushing both her and Liev a little further ahead.

“Sen, you cheat!"

“Never said it was a rule!" she shouted back.

“We're not going to let her get away with that, are we?" Sorcha asked. They were experienced flyers, after all, used to reading air currents and maximizing speed while minimizing resistance. A little tailwind wasn't going to be enough to defeat that.

She shot a sideways look at Mercer, standing in her stirrups and bending low over Lady's neck. “Faster, girl," she urged, squeezing with her legs. “Show me what you can do." Sorcha could feel the change in energy when Lady picked up on the challenge, the way the pegasus pulled her legs up to minimize resistance, driving down harder with her wings and shooting forward again. They were coming in for a turn, and she knew how to do this. How to pull it off on a hairpin, like it was something she'd been doing all her life.

Mercer was right behind her, taking the turns with just a little more resistance, perhaps, to accommodate for Sir's size. He was, after all, larger than both pegasi, which meant he had to exert just a little more energy into his turns, flaps, and stamina in general. Sir tucked his wings into his body as he twirled out of the way of an object, using the exertion it gave him to propel faster.

“Come on, Sor, we're almost there!" Mercer stated, still grinning just as broadly. It didn't take them long at all to catch up with Senka, who seemed to be laughing and enjoying the moment. Whether it was because she was ahead of them, or if was because she cheated, it was hard to tell. Perhaps it was a little bit of both?

“Didn't get very far, did you, Sen!?" Mercer shouted as he came up on Senka's left side. She grinned at him, though.

“Of course not. I knew I wasn't going to, but it didn't mean I wasn't going to try!" she shouted, laughing somewhat as Mercer pursed his lips in what seemed a feigned hurtful expression.

“Well, you heard the lady, Sor. Let's finish this!" Mercer stated, spurring Sir just a little faster at the same time Sen spurred Liev.

Lady leaped forward beneath her at the faintest touch of her legs, and that was how they shot over the finish line.

Too close to call, really, but who had won was, she thought, entirely irrelevant.

The way the wind sang in her ears, though, the way the smile on her face for once matched those of her friends, the way there was no flash of pain in their eyes for all the things she could not remember and no longer was—that seemed to be what mattered, and it was the best thing she'd felt in months. Years, maybe.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK

I.Y. 1186 - Great Tree Moon - Tuesday the 15th
Riegan Estate - Early Evening - Cool
Mercer von Riegan

Mercer would have found it so damn funny if it wasn't so damn sad. People were talking about a certain Duke who had a vistor leaving his room shirtless a couple of weeks ago. While people were implying things that were beyond their knowledge, they weren't entirely wrong about the situation. Mercer just wished those two would at least acknowledge whatever it was that was between them: between Alaric and Reynard. They were his friends, dear to his heart, but he hated seeing them like that, especially Alaric and the denial he was living in. Sighing softly, he ran a hand through his hair. He had his own things to worry about, though. They were two days out from marching to retake Myrddin Bridge.

He wasn't so sure about whether or not Sorcha should go. On one hand, he knew she'd be upset if he ever told her to stay behind. Memory loss or not, that's just who she was. She'd never want to be left behind, but her condition was delicate. Who was to say that a memory wouldn't be triggered during the fight, and she might be overwhelmed by it? He didn't want that for her, but this wasn't about him, or what he wanted. This was about her. It would always be about her, and he didn't want to be the one to tell her she couldn't do something. Taking in a deep breath, he set to finding her. He should at least talk with her about it.

She seemed to be regaining small pieces of herself, little things here and there, and he supposed that it was a good thing. Start small before gradually working large. It would, he hoped, keep things from becoming too overwhelming for her. He didn't find her in their shared room, which he wasn't too surprised to find out. She was in a couple of places: the stables with Lady, or the training grounds. And if she wasn't in either of those places, she was likely in the mess hall with the other soldiers. He supposed she felt comfortable there, though from his understanding, she took lunch with Senka and Thea every now and then. Perhaps in an effort to remember them?

Shaking his head, he set out to find her.

Even with her loss of memory, some things about her were exactly the same. He found her on the training grounds, shooting moving targets. These ones were magically-animated, meaning they moved in erratic, uncertain patterns, but her aim was true nonetheless, with so little of the hesitation she used to display. Perhaps, in some sense, having no memory meant not having to deal with the uncertainties that her life had foisted on her before. If she couldn't remember the way she'd been relentlessly criticized by the nobles of her country, it couldn't make her doubt herself.

She used the last arrow in her quiver as he approached, and the arrow hit dead-center, not so much as a millimeter off, even by his eyes. Releasing a long, quiet breath, she lowered the bow. The targets fell still, and she retrieved her arrows from them, pausing with a grip on the last when she noticed him.

And then there was a little smile on her face, nearly somehow identical to the soft thing she'd given him more than five years ago, next to the Goddess Tower at the monastery. “Mercer." His name, too, was soft; her eyes dropped away almost shyly, and she hastily plucked the arrow from the target, sliding it home with the others in her quiver. They seemed to be a little more well-made than the standard ones most of the army used, sanded to smoothness and fletched, interestingly enough, in soft yellow and lilac.

“What are you doing here? I mean, uh." She cleared her throat. “Not that it's bad. Just... wondering. Aren't there march preparations to do?"

He huffed lightly at her shyness. She was like this even before, though there were times when she was a little more forward. He placed a hand on her head, though, running his hand through the strands and dropping it to her shoulder.

“Teach and the others are taking care of the last minute details. I left him in charge for the time being," he replied softly. Everyone knew, more or less, what needed to happen. What needed to get done, and he trusted them to do it. Right now, though, he was more concerned about her. “Do you have a minute to talk, though?" he stated, tilting his head to the side as he regarded her with a soft gaze. As soft as he could make it, anyway. It wasn't hard to do considering that she was always able to bring out that softness in him.

She leaned a little into the touch, apparently unaware that she was doing it until she caught herself a moment later and straightened. A flicker of concern flashed across her face at the question, and he could see her visibly tense. “I—okay. Should we go somewhere else or would you prefer to stay here?"

He chuckled lightly at her concern. Perhaps not something he should have done considering what he wanted to talk about was important, but he couldn't help himself.

“Don't worry, Sor, it's nothing to be too concerned about," he stated, motioning to one of the tables nearby. “And here's fine," he continued, taking hold of her hand, gently, and leading her away. Once they were at the table, he sat opposite of her. He still held her hand in his, though, and the table was small enough so that it wasn't too uncomfortable to do so. If she felt the need to do so, she could always take her hand away from his.

“I think, before we march out in two days' time, that we should talk about you," he spoke, letting a hint of seriousness bleed into his tone. “Do you think you'll be up to this? To go to Myrddin Bridge and fight? I won't stop you if you want to go, but Sor," he paused, holding her gaze as much as possible.

“I want you to be absolutely certain of what you want to do. Given... your condition, I'd understand if you didn't want to go. I wouldn't want you to go, but it's not up to me and what I want. It's your decision, and I'll stand behind whatever you say." No matter what she decided to do, he would support that decision.

“You... wouldn't want me to?" she asked, lifting her eyes from the surface of the table to meet his. She hadn't let go of his hand since he'd taken hers, and she didn't now, either. If anything she held it a bit tighter, tangling their fingers together and regarding him with a familiar earnestness. “If it were up to you?"

He inwardly cursed himself, belatedly realizing how that might have sounded to her. “It's... not that I don't want you to, it's just..." fuck he was making this worse, wasn't he? Taking a deep breath, he brushed his thumb over the back of her hand.

“What I meant to say is that I wouldn't want you putting yourself in unnecessary danger. If... a memory came back to you, and it was the reason you hesitated with something, I'd..." he bit his tongue, perhaps a little too hard. “If it were up to me, I wouldn't want you to go because I'm afraid that if something happened to you, that it would be my fault," he spoke softly.

“But I also believe in you. You can see where the problem lies, right?" he stated. He knew he was being a hypocrite in his statements, but they were all true. On one hand, he didn't want her to go because he didn't want her to get hurt, but on the other... he couldn't keep her from it if it was something she wanted to do. He was torn, in a way.

“That's why... I'm asking what you want to do, Sor. You're important to me, and so is your choice." He'd never take that away from her; her ability to choose what she wanted for herself.

“I want to go," she said softly. “Is that... is that selfish? I know I could be a liability but... but I want to protect you—er. Protect everyone." The delicate pink flush rising to the surface of her skin gave away that she meant what she'd said the first time, even though she no doubt cared about the others, too.

“And—" Sorcha seemed to struggle with her words a moment. “I don't remember all of it, but... but I know you weren't there, last time. When I was—" she made a vague motion with the free metal arm, itself as much an indication of her meaning as the gesture. “I'm afraid," she admitted, brows knitting. “And—and you're the only thing that makes me feel safe."

That was the only reason he needed, he supposed. Mercer smiled at her and nodded his head. “Alright. If that's what you want, then who am I to not keep you safe?" he stated, arching a brow in her direction. “And not at all. It's not a selfish thing to want. I want to protect you, too, Sor. That is selfish of me because you're the only one, really. As much as I'd like to keep our friends safe, you... you're the one I want to protect the most, because without you, there is no future for me. It's bleak and dark and empty."

He had lost her once. He didn't plan on doing it again. “So, when we get ready to leave, you'll be by my side in the air where you belong. Where we belong, alright? I won't leave you again. Not ever. You won't have to be afraid anymore. I..." he paused, furrowing his brows lightly. He wasn't sure if he should make this, but he felt like he should.

“I promise."

It seemed to relax her a little at least, and put the little smile back on her face, a flicker of old light in the bright, ocean-blue of her eyes. “Oh! That reminds me, though." Gently extricating her hand from his, she used both to reach down to the quiver at her waist and withdraw the arrows. “I, um. Made these. I remembered—" She expelled a breath, shaking her head faintly. “I remembered you always ran out, so I thought you should have some more. Plus, these ones are really accurate. I've been testing them. Had to make about three dozen batches before I got them right."

He laughed. Perhaps not something he should have done, but he found it endearing, nonetheless.

“Thanks, Sor. They're even my favorite colors," he stated, taking the arrows from her. “Wait... three dozen batches? Sor... you..." he started, snorting into his hand softly. He shouldn't be laughing, really. He just couldn't help himself. “You silly person. You didn't need to do that for me. Thank you, though. Don't know if I wanna use them now since they were made for me, and it would seem like such a waste. Plus," he stated, placing them down to lean on his hand. He stared at her for a moment, making it look like he was studying her.

Perhaps on a subconscious level he was. “They were made from you. If you're really okay with me using them like that, then I guess I wouldn't mind, but this one," he started, taking an arrow from the batch and twirling it through his fingers, “I'm going to keep. It's going to stay mounted so that I always have this little piece of your hard work."

“I guess it's good I made you thirteen instead of a round dozen then, isn't it?" She didn't seem to mind the laughter, though; if anything she just smiled a little wider. “The extras didn't go to waste; they're still pretty good arrows, I guess. Only yours are these colors though."

Sorcha paused there, her expression sobering. “I—I definitely remembered they were your favorites. From before. More things are starting to come through. It's slow, but... but I think eventually everything will come back." She expelled a breath. “I'm worried about what's going to happen when we see Cornelia again. I have to confront her—I know I do. But..." She shuddered, just faintly, but it was easy enough for him to see.

“You won't be doing it alone, if that's what you're afraid of," he spoke in a reassuring tone. “You have your friends, the people who love you, and you'll have me. You won't be alone. Not ever again, Sor. For as long as I breathe, I promise you that. When the time comes; when you have to confront Cornelia, I'll be there with you. Every step of the way, remember? I'm not leaving you."

“Like I said, just... keep believing in me, and I promise we'll get through this. Can... I ask that of you?" he asked hesitantly. To anyone else, it might not have seemed like a lot to ask, however; Mercer knew that it was.

Sorcha, however, didn't hesitate.

“Yes," she said softly. “You can. I will. I—" She closed her eyes, almost flinching somehow. “I believe in you." It didn't seem, somehow, to be the thing she originally intended to say, but he could tell she meant it all the same. “I always will. No matter what happens."

That's all he could ask, really.

“And I will do the same for you. Always and irrevocably," he replied, bringing her hand closer to him so he could brush his lips over her knuckles. “How about we go get dinner since you've been practicing all day?"