Fire Emblem: Apotheosis

Fire Emblem: Apotheosis

[Private] Change is the law of life. And those who look only to the past or present are certain to miss the future.

1,250 readers have visited this universe since Nemeseia created it. Aethyia are builders.

Copyright: The creator of this roleplay has attributed some or all of its content to the following sources:

https://fireemblem.fandom.com/wiki/fire_emblem:_three_houses

Introduction



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Our mistrust of the future
...makes it hard to give up the past.

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The continent of Fódlan is host to three nations: to the southwest, the Adrestian Empire boasts the longest and most storied history, occupying the warm southern reaches and claiming the vast majority of access to the world's oceans. To the north lies the Kingdom of Faerghus, frigid and mountainous home of hardy warriors with a fierce streak of pride and independence. And in the east, the relatively-young Leicester Alliance is led by its council of Dukes, keen-minded politicians all. Though history has seen these lands part from one another, what unites them still may be in its sum much more powerful.

For all hold in common the faith of the Church of Seiros, she who is said to have received a divine prophesy from a progenitor goddess over a thousand years ago. Legend tells that Seiros, accompanied by the Four Saints and the Ten Elites, was gifted power from the goddess in the form of Crests, manifestations of divine power borne in the blood and bone of their recipients, and relics, powerful sacred weapons that sang and burned in the hands of these Crest-gifted warriors.

Alongside these fourteen chosen individuals, Seiros rose up against the Founder-King Nemesis, and after many long, hard years of warfare, struck him down in single combat on the Tailtean Plains. Seiros's allies included the first Adrestian Emperor, himself gifted with her own Crest, and it was through this alliance that the Adrestian Empire was founded, to span over the whole of the continent.

And through the many generations since, all of Fódlan has been shaped by the lingering effect of these gifts. From the ancient Empire to the proud Kingdom to the unconventional Alliance, every nation on the continent has at every time determined its nobility by the provenance of Crests. Over time, their appearance has become rarer, the children born with the goddess's gifts fewer and more valued for the fact. Nowadays, even some of the oldest noble families in Fódlan are Crestless, and such a turn of ill fortune often portends the fall of a house from the status it formerly enjoyed.

Still, the continent is stable and at tenuous peace, each nation for the moment at relative accord with its neighbors, though of course international tension is at times inevitable. It is during this time of precarious balance that the heirs of the Empire, Kingdom, and Alliance all enroll at the famous Officers' Academy of Garreg Mach Monastery, there to be taught in the arts of leadership, magic, and combat by some of the finest instructors the world has to offer. Perhaps, hope those in the know, this confluence will at last herald the end of tumult between the nations and bring true and lasting peace to Fódlan. For though students at the Academy are arranged into Houses depending on their nation of origin, this year there are also to be mixed exercises and instruction, as well as plenty of opportunities for interaction outside of class.

It is certainly a fine opportunity, but when the very first inter-house training exercise is interrupted by a bandit attack, it is unclear whether any chance for unity will survive, or if the deaths of the three heirs will see it wither on the vine...

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Toggle Rules

The GM of this roleplay hasn't created any rules! You can do whatever you like!

Taking place in...

Fódlan our primary setting

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

The Story So Far... Write a Post » as written by 2 authors

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

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#, as written by Aethyia
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I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Thursday the 2nd
Outside Remire Village - Evening - Foggy
Sorcha Blaiddyd


Sorcha could swear the pounding of her heart was loud as a drum, the way it filled her ears. Her blood all but sang alongside it, rushing through a body pushed by adrenaline to the very edge of desperate survival instinct. It was powerful, the way her fear coursed through her body, jangled through her mind. It left no room for rational thinking. None she didn't seize with sheer force of will, anyway, and just now she was rather sorely lacking in strength of will to spare.

Twigs snapped sharply underfoot, but they'd long since abandoned stealth—there was no choice but to run An arrow whistled by overhead, thudding into a tree slightly to her right. It must have just missed Mercer, that close.

“Dammit," she forced out between gasps for air. “Won't they just let up?" All the valuables they'd had with them had been left behind with the supply convoy, but still the bandits pursued, and they didn't seem to be interested in capture.

“I do believe they're rather too bloodthirsty." How Viv—Vridel could keep his tone so even at a time like this was beyond her, but a quick sideways glance proved that he, too, was showing the strain. He gripped his sword much too tightly as they ran, darting a look back over his shoulder and muttering something too low to hear.

“We're going to want to speed up," he elaborated, almost tonelessly. “Perhaps the Duke of Running Away would be so kind as to demonstrate?" His eyes were sharp as they flicked to Mercer.

“Is this really the time to be cracking jokes?" Instinct alone guided Sorcha over a fallen long—she wouldn't have thought she could make such a jump, but when she gathered her legs beneath her and sprang, she cleared it with the barest scuff of the toe of her boot.

Mercer made a sound, something between a huff or a snort, as he kept his gaze forward. “I thought it was a strategic move on my part, Vi. No one said you had to follow me," he shot back, glancing towards Vridel as he spoke. His pace had slowed slightly after the arrow had nearly missed him, but his speed seemed to pick back up at Vridel's comment. “Dastards just love a good chase," he muttered beneath his breath. The strain of fleeing was apparent on Mercer's face, as well.

His brows were slightly furrowed, and there were light traces of sweat beads forming on his face. “Seriously, why won't they just let up?! It's not like we have anything else of value on us. Well, maybe you do, Vi, but I don't!"

Vridel was clearly not pleased to be referred to in such a manner, but at this moment other things had to take priority, and so it was with only a faint grunt of dissatisfaction that he turned back over his shoulder again, throwing a small ball of fire at the approaching brigands. It caught one of them square in the chest, no dropping him exactly but definitely taking him out of the chase for the moment.

Sorcha had never wished quite so badly that she were any good with magic; she'd lost her bow on the field and the lance at her back wasn't the throwing kind, plus she only had the one of them. All she could really do was pour her energy into running. There was supposedly a village around here somewhere, someplace they might be able to find aid, or at least shelter and a place to make a stand. She didn't want to bring this fight down on innocent people, but there were at least a dozen bandits in pursuit and only the three of them.

The Academy teacher who should have been protecting them had been the first to flee at sign of an attack, and he was also the only one who knew the area, and so now the three of them had to flounder in the dark.

Squinting, Sorcha peered through the trees. “There! Just left, there's—" her words were cut off with a sharp yelp—a lucky arrow had grazed her thigh, and her step faltered, sending her crashing to the ground. She rolled over onto her back immediately, yanking her lance free of the strap. “Keep running!" she shouted. “I'll hold them off!"

Truthfully, she didn't like her chances of lasting more than a few seconds, but she didn't want them to feel bad for leaving her behind, either. She struggled to get to her feet, knowing the pursuers would be on her any second now.

“You've got to be kidding me," was the only reply Mercer gave before he showed up next to Sorcha. “Can't do that, princess. As much as I'd like to keep my ass alive, you have to stay alive, too," he stated as he offered his arm as support so that she could gather her feet. His bow, which had been strapped against his shoulder, was in his right hand as if he were getting ready to help her face their pursuers. His jaw was clenched tightly, and his eyes were narrowed out into the direction they would be coming from.

Though she was ready to make the sacrifice, Sorcha had to admit she was glad she wasn't going to be. Dying alone was... well, not something to think about now.

When Mercer offered his left hand down towards her, she grasped it, using it to help herself to her feet. She was struck, all of a sudden, with a powerful sense of deja vu, like it was something she'd done before, but pushed the thought quickly to be back of her mind. She'd definitely never been chased through a forest by bandits before. This might well be her first and last experience with that. Maybe her mind was trying to come to terms with her first real taste of battle.

“Thanks," she said, just barely loud enough to be heard over the heavy treads of the approaching bandits. Releasing his hand so he could draw, she grimaced.

“It's too dark to see properly," he muttered in a low tone. Still, he gripped the bow's handle and fixed an arrow to the notch. “Could this day get any better?"

“Ugh, fine. Close your eyes."

Sorcha complied immediately, instinctively trusting Vivi not to be setting her up to die faster. Behind her lids, a bright light flashed, and she cracked them open again to see several of the bandits reeling, blinking rapidly or covering their eyes with their hands.

Vridel alighted on her opposite side, sword glinting in the extra light afforded by the dimmed version of the spell. It was enough to see by—enough to choose targets by. “They won't be disabled forever—get to it."

Following his own advice, he darted forward, catching one of the brigands unprepared. It was almost elegant, Sorcha thought, the way his blade flashed, slicing across the bandit's thick neck and felling him in a single clean stroke. Almost beautiful.

At least it was until she heard him gurgle and choke on his own blood, shifting his hands to his throat, as though trying to hold it together. His body thrashed with pain and the fear of death, she could only assume. Vridel's cut hadn't been as clean as it looked, and with a frown, he stabbed the man again, ending his suffering.

Mercer was a little quicker, releasing the notched arrow almost immediately after Vivi gave them the light they needed. His arrow grazed the cheek of one of the bandits, earning a grunting noise from the man, as Mercer cursed beneath his breath. He fixed another arrow to his bow, stretched his leg back as if he were pulling on the string with all of his strength, and aimed at the bandit once more. His aim had been true, sticking into the bandit's throat half way.

He repeated the process, though his luck wasn't as good as the second shot. Most of his arrows had either grazed the bandits, or missed completely. One found its home embedded into the knee of one of the bandits, but it wasn't a fatal hit.

Sorcha swallowed back bile, bracing her lance in both hands. There was no time to pity these men. They were many and the group of them was only three. Dashing forward into the fray, she thrust for the nearest, but he lurched to the side, and the point of her weapon caught one of the metal plates on his body, scraping against it with a screech. Reaching instinctively, he grabbed hold of her lance and yanked, pulling her forward and driving his knee into her gut. She doubled over, gasping for breath.

The sound of a body colliding with the bandit that had kneed her could be heard as the bandit fell to the floor. Mercer was quick with his draw, pulling his sword from its sheath and shoving it into the man's chest. He hadn't been wearing a breastplate, and the blade had slid almost perfectly into the man's flesh, allowing his blood to spray against Mercer.

“Man, now I'm going to be sticky and dirty," he muttered, turning towards Sorcha. He grinned lightly before making his way to another bandit. His blade screeched against the bandit's, but he wasn't aggressive in his assaults. He dodged to his right, however; the man swept Mercer's feet from underneath him, forcing him to fall to one knee as the bandit swung his blade downward.

“Can't we just talk this out?" he stated as he tried to parry the attack. “No?"

Sorcha lunged, aiding Mercer's parry with her lance. Together, they forced the bandit's blade away, and when he stumbled back under the force, she lined up her aim as well as she could and stabbed forward. This one was less armored than the last, and the point of the spear pierced the leather over his chest, finding the heart beneath. With a shrill cry, he fell, and then went still and silent.

She'd just killed a man.

“Sorcha!" Vridel's voice sliced through the haze that hadn't even properly settled. She dived out of the way just in time; a heavy whistle sounded over her head as the axe swung diagonally across the space she'd just occupied. She rolled to her feet in just enough time to see Vivi throw another fireball, but she knew he wouldn't be able to keep doing that forever.

The bandits were closing in, and for all those they'd managed to down, it seemed the overall numbers hadn't thinned much. What was worse, she could hear more footsteps approaching—it wouldn't be long at all before the three of them were surrounded. Swallowing thickly, Sorcha touched the pendant at her throat, murmuring a quick prayer for luck and backing up towards Vridel and Mercer. They couldn't afford to put their backs to these brigands, even if it meant being surrounded on all other sides.

“Anyone... anyone have any good ideas?"

“Assuming we all don't want to die," Mercer grunted out, his shoulders heaving heavily as he glanced in her direction, “we need to put more distance between us. If they surround us in a pincer..." He had trailed off at that point. If they were caught in a pincer attack, they would die. That much was obvious.

“Hey, Vi, you have enough juice in you to make a small forest fire?" he asked, glancing in Vivi's direction. “I'd hate to use such a thing... but it might buy us more time," he continued. He didn't sound entirely sure about that plan, but it also sounded like it was the only option he could see.

Vridel grimaced, jaw clenching. “I might be able to get one part of this area," he said. “But we're going to have to choose carefully."

“Where they're coming from," Sorcha said immediately, fending off an incoming attack and kicking the bandit away with a boot to the chest. Her bad leg wobbled, but held. If they could stop the second side of the pincer from closing, they might have a chance to deal with what was here before the reinforcements got around it.

“Fine." Quickly sheathing his sword, Vridel held out both of his arms at his sides, palms up. Fire coalesced in both of them, bright orange flames that she could swear flashed white for an eyeblink. When they were large enough that she could feel the heat beginning to singe her face, he let them loose. They tore through the trees with a roar, setting underbrush and foliage alike alight. She could have sworn she heard a shout, but it was hard to tell in the mess. The move only seemed to anger the remaining bandits, and soon the three of them were being forced back, unable to turn and flee but just as incapable of holding the line.

If something else didn't change soon, even this number was going to be enough to finish them off.

“Goddess preserve us," Sorcha whispered beneath her breath.

Setting

Characters Present

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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Mercer von Riegan

Mercer wasn't the kind of person who had exact faith in the Goddess. As Sorcha whispered for the Goddess to protect them, Mercer felt a bitter feeling go through him, however; he hoped for the same. Death was not something he was afraid of, but it was too soon. He had ambitions, things he needed to accomplish before his time came to an end. If he died here, on this field with Sorcha and Vridel...

He pushed the thought from his head and held his sword close to his body. Goddess or no Goddess, he was going to use whatever remaining strength he had left to keep himself alive. He didn't need the Goddess's protection, and perhaps she knew that. Perhaps she already knew that they were going to succeed. Somehow, they were going to live to see another day. Mercer had to believe in that thought, that they would make it through this with their own strength.

“We just need to hold out a little longer," he gritted through his teeth. “Just a little longer," he repeated. For what, he did not know. He could see that the other two were as tired as he was. They were not trained soldiers; they weren't ready for this. Not yet. But he supposed that's how his life was, being thrown from one situation into the next. He just wished that it didn't have to involve Sorcha or Vridel. All he had to do was survive. Even if it wasn't him who survived. As long as the other two lived... he'd be okay with that. They just needed to survive a little longer.

Live.

The crude lance Sorcha had picked up from the ground on their way out of the field was by this point covered in blood. The Princess herself was slicked with sweat, tendrils of blonde hair plastered to her face and neck. Her grip was shaky, Mercer could tell; she looked unwell, like she was fighting down the desire to be sick right here in the middle of the burning forest clearing. But still, she neither quit nor faltered in her stance, even though some of that blood had to be slick on her hands now, and even though she herself was bleeding, from the first leg wound and a few others she'd taken since.

On her other side, the Imperial Prince looked more winded than anything. His eyes were narrow, lips slightly parted to accommodate his breathing, sword still held at the ready. If he had any magic left, he was conserving it, though in a slightly lull in the action, he did reach over and tap Sorcha on the shoulder. Healing spells weren't quite as good as a proper rest and recovery, but it seemed to close up a few of her wounds, at least; she stood a little straighter.

The brigands, meanwhile, had figured out that they weren't dealing with average prey here, and slowed down their approach, fanning out and drawing closer all at once. One, a large fellow with a thick leather breastplate lined in fur, seemed to be the leader. He was definitely carrying the nicest axes, one in each hand—a large steel one, and what seemed to be one of the smaller throwing sorts that was enchanted to return on command.

He assessed them with dark eyes, face pulling into a sneer. “Three little whelps, givin' ya this much trouble?" he snarled the question at his underlings, pointing his axe at the trio. “S'pose I gotta do everything m'self."

“Hey now, I'm sure they're doing their best to take us down. We just aren't willing to do so," Mercer replied, a small quirk to his lips. He knew this wasn't the best situation for that kind of reply, but there were few precious minutes left. And at this point he was willing to draw those few minutes out with light talk.

“And hey, if you did everything yourself, maybe you wouldn't need your band of followers with you. Imagine all the money you'd have if that were the case. Why... I'm sure you'd be as rich and fat as the next noble," he continued baiting. That was likely to end their time, faster, but Mercer knew that people made mistakes when they were angry. And those mistakes would be the difference between life and death for the three of them.

“You first," the brigand decided, drawing back with the axe in his left hand and letting it fly towards Mercer.

Before he could even react, it was met in midair by a javelin, both clanging fiercely and falling to the ground some distance away. The bandit barely had time to more than blink in confusion before two figures, one mounted and one afoot, burst through the treeline from the side of the village.

The man on his feet seemed to have thrown the javelin. It was back in his hand a moment later, and even as he ran he lined up his next throw, hurling it with seemingly no effort at all for the nearest bandit while the mounted man—older, it seemed, and carrying an ordinary lance—charged his horse into their left flank with a short battle cry.

Of the two, the younger was by far the quieter, seeming to make almost no sound at all as he darted for the next bandit in the knot, leaving the lance through the other's chest. His hands seemed to light up with crackling magic; he loosed two bolts of it at different targets before flowing into a high kick, slamming his foot into the leaders jaw and turning aside the awkward retaliatory axe blow with the bracer on his right arm.

“What the—" the bandit leader managed no more than that before another bolt of lightning struck him in the chest, delivered by a heavy punch.

Vridel was the first to capitalize, lunging for another bandit distracted by the spectacle of his fellows falling like hewn wheat before the two newcomers. He landed two slashes, and the third stab felled his opponent, but another was coming in from behind, recovered and intent on attacking an easier foe.

Mercer didn't hesitate, and reacted with a deft hand. He lifted his sword in order to block the attack that would have sliced Vridel's back open. His eyes narrowed, and his teeth clenched at the strain of the axe he pushed against. His strength was almost depleted at this point, but he wasn't going to allow one of his comrades to fall as long as he took breath. He managed to make the bandit stagger, and took the opportunity to swipe his bow, now useless without any arrows, at the man's hand, disabling him for the moment.

Whoever these people were that were helping was of little consequence to Mercer. That they were helping at all was small relief to him, and it meant that they were going to be okay. Or about as okay as they could be. The two warriors were skilled, from the way they were fighting, but something about the younger man's face was unnerving to Mercer. There was nothing; no joy, no disdain, no revel. It was as if he were simply just existing and nothing more.

He wasn't allowed more time to assess the man as a sword came swinging in his view. It sliced a few strands of his hair, but Mercer managed to duck his head in time to avoid losing it. Better his hair than his life, he supposed. He twisted his arm around, bringing the sword up just in time to block another attack before unleashing a small flurry of aggressive attacks on the man. It wasn't the best idea, using so much strength at once, but it at least was enough to force the bandit into a defensive stance.

Hya!" Unbalancing him was enough; the Princess moved in with a surprisingly graceful whirl of her lance, building enough momentum with a twist of her body to cleave into his back and drop him. She was breathing heavily, hard gusts of air sawing in and out of her lungs, but she maintained the wherewithal to meet his eyes and nod once.

“I think... it might almost be over."

She wasn't wrong, either. The man on the horse and the younger fellow—still ignoring most of the fallen weapons and fighting with some strange combination of his fists and what seemed to be black magic—were quickly mopping through the remaining brigands. It wouldn't be surprising if those trapped on the other side of the fire just... fled, really. Certainly even as the magical fire guttered out, none of them dared to approach.

When the last bandit fell, the man on horseback dismounted, summoning the other with a nod. Both approached the trio, stopping at a respectable distance.

“What're a buncha brats doing out here?" the older man asked. He had fair hair, Mercer could see now, pulled into a short tail and shorn on the sides. His tunic was a burnt orange, bearing some kind of unfamiliar pattern in white. Several heavy pieces of armor lay around and beneath it, and the lance he bore was unadorned but seemingly of quality. He had a craggy face with a few faded scars, and a short, half-kempt goatee. It was hard to tell in the dim light, but his eyes might have been a light brown.

“Watch your tongue, old man," Vridel replied sharply, straightening to his full height.

The man only sighed, turning to Mercer and Sorcha as though they might offer a better answer.

She at least didn't seem to be in much shape to do so. It was easy to tell, with the immediate danger gone for now, that the adrenaline leaving her wasn't doing her any favors. She was clearly doing her best to hide it, but she was shaking—he could just barely hear the light plates of her armor shivering together with it. It seemed to be taking her momentous effort to remain upright; either her leg was about to go or it was just the aftereffects of the battle. Perhaps both. She leaned heavily on where her lance was planted in the ground, trying much too hard to look as though she weren't. Her face was drawn tightly; she didn't so much as acknowledge the Prince's rudeness, or the man's question.

“Uh, don't mind Vi. He's just very excited that you saved us," Mercer replied, rolling his eyes as he did. He glanced towards Sorcha again, pursing his lips together as he laid a hand on her shoulder. He stood closer to her, offering her any support she might need or want before addressing the two people. “I'm Mercer, and this is Sorcha and Vridel," he introduced himself first before he continued. “As for why us brats were out here," he paused and shifted his gaze back out towards what was left of the battlefield.

“We were doing training exercises when those bandits attacked us," he finally spoke after a minute of silence. “Our teach abandoned us the moment they did. We're really grateful to you for saving us, even if the grump over there might not appear it." The least Vridel could do was show some appreciation or thanks to these guys. It wasn't as if it would be beneath him to do it. One should always show proper thanks to someone for saving their life. Shaking his head lightly so that he did not disturb Sorcha, he glanced at the older man before his eyes landed on the younger one. He could feel a small shiver go down his back, but he couldn't tell if it was actually his, or Sorcha's.

“Uh, so. Thanks. Again. For saving us."

The younger man tilted his head slightly to the side, shifting his eyes from Mercer to Vridel before they landed on Sorcha. They were an unsettlingly-bright gold. His brows, some indistinct dark color to match his hair, furrowed just faintly, before his face blanked again.

It was the older man who did the talking, though, waving a hand dismissively. “Don't mention it." He frowned slightly, narrowing his eyes. “Teacher? You're not from Garreg Mach, are you?"

“Yeah. We're students at the Officers Academy," Mercer replied, offering a lopsided smile. “Like I said, we were doing a training exercise when we were attacked," even though the school year hadn't officially started. That would be in two days, if he remembered correctly. He glanced at Sorcha, though, and let his brows furrow slightly. They needed to rest before they made their way back to the Monastery. That, or if the teacher somehow made it back and they sent the Knights for them. Who knows how long it would be, though, before they arrived?

“You don't happen to know where the village is, do you? Remire, I think it's called?" he asked, hoping they would have an answer. “We could use some rest," he stated, placing his hand on top of Sorcha's head in a somewhat affectionate manner. She had a gentle heart, and he did not doubt that this was more than she could deal with at the moment. He wanted to get her some rest, or at least a place where she could clean up and get the blood and grime off of her.

The older man sighed heavily, and for a moment looked almost inclined to refuse, but then his eyes fell on Sorcha and he grimaced. “Sure, kid. Village is back this way. You can rest up at ours for the night, I guess. We've got a spare room."

Almost as if it were automatic, the younger man took the horse's reins and the rear position in the group, while the other led them from the forest. “Name's Jeralt, by the way. That's Cyril." He nodded over his shoulder to the blank-faced fellow. It didn't take them long to find the path, and it quickly became clear why they'd been able to arrive in such a timely manner: the place he led them to was a small complex, almost like a guardhouse or maybe a mercenary barracks. Not sizable, for such a thing, but then in a village this small it was more than expected.

Cyril disappeared for a moment, presumably to stable the horse, while Jeralt led them all to a squat cabin sitting on one corner of the complex, shouldering open the door and ushering them all inside. The room inside was cozy, with a small sofa and a couple of chairs, as well as a circular dining table with two more.

“Have a seat," Jeralt said, a bit awkwardly. “Cyril'll probably make tea when he shows up. It'll take a bit for the water to heat for any baths or anything."

Vridel took one of the chairs, pausing long enough to shed the red cloak he wore and at least smear the worst of the blood off so he wouldn't be getting it on Jeralt's furniture. “Thank you," he said after a moment, sinking into the chair.

Sorcha took one of the seats at the dining table, glancing once at Mercer with what might have been a flicker of gratitude. She'd taken her boots off just inside the door, and settled her cloak on her lap, twisting her hands into the fabric.

Mercer supposed he counted himself luckier than the other two. While he had bloodstains on his person, he wasn't nearly as covered in it as the other two. Thanks in part to the bow he'd used earlier, was his guess. At the mention of tea, though, Mercer turned his attention towards Jeralt. The name sounded familiar, but he couldn't place it. It didn't matter, though. He and Cyril, his subordinate from the looks of it, had saved their lives. And tea sounded really good at the moment. It would help ease the tension for him, at least.

“Maybe you should wash up, first, Sorcha?" he stated, taking a seat in the other chair at the table. The sooner she was cleansed, the better she would feel, was his hope. Once the water was warm enough, she should take the first wash. Mercer was used to being covered in dirt and grime, but not necessarily blood. His attention went back to Jeralt, though, and he tilted his head.

“So... are you guys Knights of some sort?" he asked, though he knew it was a redundant question. If they were Knights, they didn't look like it. And the way they fought, organized and methodical, spoke more of mercenaries tactics. He just wanted to assume that they were Knights. Mercenaries were not as bad as bandits; they didn't go around killing or stealing from people. But they were, essentially, blades for hire. If the bandits had attacked them with the intention of killing them, and not robbing them... well, that would be a different story and mercenaries would be the logical next step. Mercer forced himself to reel in his thoughts, though.

Maybe the events were finally catching up to him?

Before Jeralt could answer, the door opened again and Cyril came through, giving the group a small nod before he passed down the hallway to the left of the kitchen, disappearing into some other room. From the sound of old pipes creaking, he might be starting on heating the water, as promised. He appeared again a few seconds later, walking behind the same counter Jeralt had taken up a spot behind and pulling down what indeed seemed to be the accoutrements or tea from one of the shelves. He flicked the stove on with a snap of his fingers—it seemed to be the open-flame kind—and set the full kettle down on top.

Jeralt, meanwhile, was regarding them assessingly. “We're mercs, not knights," he said, evenly if a bit gruffly. “Is that gonna be a problem?"

“No." Vridel answered first, tilting his head to the side with a thoughtful frown. “Besides, you're not just any mercenaries. You're the Blade-Breaker, and he's the Ashen Ghost." The names seemed to mean something to him, though if anything, Cyril looked confused to hear them.

Mercer snapped his fingers in realization as soon as Vridel spoke. “That's why your name sounded so familiar!" he stated. “To think we'd be in the presence of such... such," he started, but couldn't find the right word he wanted to use. Greatness was too mild of a word, but he shook his head. “But like Vi said, I don't think it'll be a problem," now that he knew they wouldn't try to kill them at least. Plus, Jeralt the Blade-Breaker had been something of an idol for Mercer when he was a child. It also made sense to Mercer as to why he felt so strange around Cyril.

The young man was notorious on the battle field for his calm demeanor. Mercer could feel the grin forming on his lips as he recalled the stories he'd heard. “So, does that mean you're headed back towards the Monastery?" he asked curiously. The Blade-Breaker was known to be one of the greatest Knights of Seiros, but not much else was known about his departure. Or at least there was not much information pertaining to it.

Jeralt pinched the bridge of his nose. “No," he said flatly. “And I'd really prefer if you left me out of it when you told Rhea this story, thank you."

“Here." At some point, Cyril had made his way to the table with a tray balanced in one hand, apparently without any sound at all. His voice was quiet, but not quite raspy with disuse, a lower tone than either Mercer's or Vivi's, but smoother than Jeralt's gruff one. He set a cup and saucer carefully in front of where Sorcha sat with the word, and a tiny container of sugar cubes with a spoon next to it. “The sugar will help."

Her eyes widened; she'd mostly seemed zoned out of the conversation, but being directly addressed seemed to snap her out of it. “Th-thank you."

Cyril nodded once, then set another in front of Mercer—no sugar, though. Vi got a third, and a finger-sized container of milk, which he dumped unceremoniously into the cup immediately.

Mercer pursed his lips in disappointment. He was hoping that Jeralt would at least escort them back, however; he supposed he could understand. He would admit, though, that he was slightly surprised that Cyril knew how he took his tea. He didn't like sugar nor milk in it, and took the cup from its place. “Thanks," he spoke in Cyril's direction before turning his attention back to Jeralt.

“I suppose it's the least we can do since you saved us. And it would be poor of us if we didn't repay that debt," he stated. If there was one thing Mercer didn't like, it was being in someone's debt. “We promise not to tell the Archbishop of your involvement," though they would have to come up with some believable story as to how they'd survived. No doubt their good-for-nothing teacher might have exaggerated the number of bandits if he made it back to where the Knights had been stationed.

Jeralt nodded, apparently satisfied for the moment, and for a while there was silence as everyone drank their tea.

After a few minutes, Cyril spoke up again. “Water's usable. We've got spare uniforms if you need something to use until your clothes are clean. Bathroom cupboard."

Sorcha set her teacup down. “Thank you," she said again. “I'll... try not to take too long." Standing, she disappeared down the hallway Cyril had come from. There was a decisive sound of a door shutting and a latch being thrown, and then silence.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Friday the 3rd
Remire Village - Morning - Sunny
Cyril Eisner


While the guests slept and his father ran the men through drills, Cyril went about the morning's chores.

They weren't complicated, really; it was all things he'd been doing since he could remember. Feed and water the horses. Clean the stalls. Tidy the practice yard. Check all the equipment and set aside anything that needed a clean or a sharpen for later. Make sure the mess was in order before breakfast, that kind of thing. He'd done a fair share of the cooking too, but they'd actually hired someone for that here, a village fellow who didn't mind making food in mass quantities for a steady wage.

Not that the quantities were that large anymore. The mercs were only about ten these days, since the last ones had left. It was something that happened sometimes. People retired, or wanted to settle down, or just decided they were done risking their lives for pay. His father never blamed them for leaving, never tried to persuade them to stay, and Cyril thought he understood why. It was a lot to ask of most people, to live this kind of life. It was the only one he knew; maybe that was why he'd never really felt the desire to live a different one.

You're a strange one, all right. The girl's voice was only in his mind, he knew, but Cyril was quite convinced that she was real. In whatever sense that could have.

As usual, he didn't reply much to the commentary, exiting the stables and moving to the well. The guests would probably want something to drink when they woke up, after all.

“Hey!" a voice, loud and boisterous even from the distance it had been shouted, filled the air. A group of men clad in heavy armour stood at least a yard or two away from the well, and seemed to be searching for something. The loud one was the first to approach Cyril, his brows furrowed and almost knotted. He was on the larger side, and appeared to be near or around his father's age. “You haven't seen three kids, one about this high," he continued, using his hands to measure the different heights of the people he was searching for.

“They are students of the Officers' Academy at Garreg Mach," he continued. The man seemed to be the leader of the group of men since he was the only one to approach Cyril. It was also possible that they had just sent the one man to investigate before joining.. “The Knights of Seiros are searching for them!" he continued, still in a loud volume, as if he were explaining who he was affiliated with.

Cyril had never met a Knight of Seiros. He wasn't even sure exactly what they were, except that Seiros was some kind of prophet or goddess or something. But if he had to guess what a knight like that would look like, he probably would have picked something close to this man. Dressed in white armor with a cape to match, clasped at his shoulder with some kind of fancy emblem design. He blinked.

“They're here," he said, much more quietly than the man was speaking. “They were chased by bandits last night. They're resting, now."

He might have invited the man a little further into the compound, but just then his father approached, probably drawn by the volume of the knight's voice. “Who the flames is—oh, great. It's you." He didn't look terribly pleased to see the man, but he did apparently recognize him.

“Captain!" the man's voice seemed to increase in volume when Cyril's father appeared, though he addressed him as Commander. “Woaah! It's been a long time! Do you remember me? It's me, Alois, your self-proclaimed right hand man!” Alois, as he introduced himself as, continued. He blinked, though, before grabbing his chin with his hand and leaned to the side a bit.

“You haven't changed a bit!" he finally spoke. “Oh, wait, I was here for a reason. This kid said that there are three Academy students here. Is that true? They were attacked by bandits and we're searching for them."

Cyril thought it rather obvious that his father remembered this Alois, though he'd never mentioned him before. Not that he could remember anyway.

Still, Jeralt rolled his eyes and sighed. “Yes, Alois, I remember you. And yeah, the kids are here. Cyril and I had to pull their asses out of the fire last night. They're lucky we were around, and got there when we did." He frowned outright, and crossed his arms. “What's she thinking, sending them out on an exercise with no protection? I doubt they're even majority age; that girl looked like she'd never seen a dead person before."

He wasn't derisive, Cyril thought, but defensive. In a way, he could sort of understand. He thought perhaps it would be disturbing, to someone who hadn't gotten used to the reality of such things.

Alois frowned slightly at Jeralt's statements. “It's not like they were completely without protection. They were with their teacher, and we'd cleared the place beforehand. It was supposed to be safe training exercise," he finally spoke, crossing his arms over his chest. It looked like the armour made it slightly difficult, and he dropped his arms back to his side. He cast his gaze downwards, though, for a second before meeting Jeralt's.

“So, is this your kid?" he finally stated, turning his attention towards Cyril as if he were asking Cyril the question.

Cyril was well aware that he didn't look much like his father. Not really at all, in fact, save that their builds were sort of similar—the efficient muscularity of a warrior who also had to march for days at a time to get anywhere. So he shrugged a little. “I'm a bandit, actually," he deadpanned.

He could have sworn his father sighed again.

The reply was enough to bring forth a loud, boisterous laugh from Alois. He laughed to the point that it brought tears to his eyes, however; he managed to recompose himself and cleared his throat. “I see the humor skipped you and was passed to your kid," he finally spoke, his shoulders shaking slightly still from the laugh. “Hey!" he shouted suddenly.

“Why don't you come back to the Monastery with us? I'm sure the Archbishop would want to thank you for saving the kids," he stated, his eyes going large as if he were anticipating a favorable answer.

“Can we not?" Jeralt replies, but his tone is a resigned one Cyril has heard him use before. “Never thought I'd be seeing that woman again," he mutters, almost under his breath.

Still, Cyril can tell the difference between his father reluctantly accepting a thing and actually refusing, so he nods a little at Alois. “I'll get them."

It doesn't take too long, though the one calling himself Mercer proves more difficult to rouse than the other two. Vridel was already up when Cyril reached the house; Sorcha woke when he knocked. He had to actually call out to wake the third, though; fortunately they were all ready to move out rather quickly. It was a good thing he'd done most of their laundry before the sun rose; their uniforms weren't in bad shape, at least.

His father spent most of the trip up front with Alois and the other knights, leading his horse instead of riding, but Cyril dropped back to linger with the others. Though they might have been 'kids' to the others, he didn't think he was much older than them—or at least appearances didn't suggest so.

“Thanks again, for last night," Sorcha said after a while. “Aside from our own lives, I don't like thinking about what might have happened if all of us had died."

Something about the way she said it puzzled him. “What do you mean, besides your lives?" he asked.

“She means there would have been a big diplomatic incident over it," Vridel clarified, narrowing violet eyes at the path ahead of them. “Not to put too fine a point on it, but you're walking with the heirs to all three countries in Fódlan right now. Not even the Church would be able to escape blame for letting all of us die on their watch."

Cyril was surprised to hear it, though his face gave no indication of the fact. They did seem to be different, from the people he'd met. He wondered if that was because they were nobility. He didn't think he'd ever met many nobles before. His father handled contract negotiations, and so while Cyril had been in the estates of a few minor regional lords, and sort of interacted with their staffs, it wasn't like any of them had ever deigned to speak to a hired soldier like him.

How odd that these three didn't seem to mind.

Mercer had remained quiet for the most part, occasionally yawning as if he were still tired. Perhaps bored, since he didn't appear to be tired at all. There was a faint smile on his face, and like Vridel, his eyes were kept forward. They did wander towards Sorcha a couple of times, but it appeared he was checking her over as one would to ensure someone was not harmed in any particular way. He seemed satisfied for the time being, and finally turned his attention towards Cyril.

“Yeah, but luckily we didn't," he finally spoke, resting his hands behind his head. “Hopefully news doesn't get out about the incident, though. I don't want to have to deal with all the Are you okay?! and stuff," he muttered the last part, and visibly shuddered.

“So, Cyril, have you ever been to Garreg Mach? Since your dad was a captain before?" he asked.

Cyril shook his head, considering the knights that walked ahead of them. Despite his initial reluctance to make the trip at all, Jeralt had fallen in among the others with seemingly no trouble at all; the conversation up ahead was animated, and Alois's loud laughter occasionally rang back towards the four of them. “I didn't even know he had been," he replied after a slight pause. It was difficult, sometimes, to remember which answers needed elaboration and which did not. “The monastery... that's a religious place?"

“You mean you don't know?" The young woman—Sorcha—was looking at him with a puzzled expression. He supposed she must be royalty from somewhere, but he had no way of knowing which, except that her name sounded more like a Kingdom name than one from the Alliance or the Empire. They weren't that different, overall, but there were some distinctions.

Vridel—that was probably an Imperial name—was looking at him with vague incredulity, too.

He shrugged. “I know that the Church of Seiros is some kind of religion," he said. “But it's never really been any of our concern. They have their own knights, so they don't really need to hire the likes of us. Or maybe my father just avoided the jobs because of all this." He couldn't honestly be sure.

Sorcha blinked, pursing her lips faintly, but the expression soon disappeared. “That's all... correct," she admitted. “I'm sorry if I was rude; it's just I don't think I've ever met anyone whose contact with Church teachings was so limited before. It surprised me."

Cyril tilted his head. “So what do most people know that I don't?"

She hummed thoughtfully. “Well... the Church of Seiros is named after Saint Seiros, the central figure in the War of Heroes a thousand years ago," she started, almost as if unsure where to begin. She glanced at him as if for confirmation that he knew that much already; when all he gave her in return was an attentive stare, she cleared her throat and continued. “Ah, anyway. The Church teaches that Saint Seiros received a divine revelation from the progenitor goddess of our world. Times were difficult, then; the kings of the world had grown greedy, and the people suffered under their tyrannical rule. So alongside the Four Saints and the Ten Elites, Seiros rose up to fight them. The Goddess gifted them with Crests and sacred relics, and with her blessings they were able to overcome the much greater numbers of their opponents. Nemesis, the most powerful of the tyrants, was slain by Saint Serios in single combat on the Tailtean Plains in the Imperial Year 91."

“And thereafter her Church was established to spread the teachings of the goddess and punish the wicked." Vridel's contribution was much harder to read in tone. Though Sorcha sounded like she was reciting a story she knew by heart and liked, his voice was much more neutral, almost like it was forced to be so. “No other religions are permitted within the bounds of Fódlan, though of course they do exist elsewhere. Brigid, Dagda, Sreng, Almyra—" he paused, flicking a glance at Sorcha and lowering his voice. “Duscur."

She nodded. “But in Fódlan, the Goddess and the Church of Seiros are ubiquitous, which is why it's so surprising you haven't heard of them."

Cyril absorbed this evenly, nodding a bit at the end of the explanation. There were other pieces in there he didn't understand—crests, relics, saints, elites... for now though it seemed better to betray the depths of his ignorance no further. Why had his father taught him none of this? Even if he wasn't himself a believer, it seemed... well, if it was as ubiquitous as Sorcha said, it was important to at least know of.

“But if this monastery is a holy building, why do they train political royalty in the arts of war?"

“So that we can handle ourselves if any of the surrounding regions decided to attack us. The Officer's Academy was built sometime in 980 by the Archbishop of that time. Supposedly it was because they believed that the Church of Seiros had a duty to prepare the continent's leadership for whatever wars we might encounter. Almyra might have had something to do about that, or some other," Mercer responded this time, shrugging his shoulders. Unlike Sorcha and Vridel, he spoke as if he'd learned the information not as something he liked or was forced, but as something that was needed.

“Personally," he paused to glance at Cyril through the sides of his eyes, “I think it's because the Church wants to make sure that the descendents of the Elites, or whoever bears their Crest, can be useful if something like Nemesis ever happened again. I mean... it's kind of unimaginable that it would happen, but why else have the nobility and leaders in one place?" he stated as if it were just on a whim. He shrugged again, before shaking his head.

“You should be careful what you say," Vridel put in mildly. “You never know whose ears it will eventually reach."

Sorcha just looked uncomfortable, but they both let it drop so Mercer could continue.

“If you and your dad end up staying for a while, we can give you a tour of the place. The Library has all kinds of books with information that might be useful to you if you want to learn more," he stated, glancing towards Sorcha and Vridel with a smile.

“I'm sure you'd be welcome!" Sorcha added, the cheer in her tone sounding slightly forced. Maybe some residue from the last exchange. “Personally, uh... I could stand to learn a thing or two from you. I've never seen anyone throw a javelin that well on the run like you did. I can barely get enough distance most of the time."

Cyril wasn't entirely surprised to hear that. While not exactly *diminutive*, Sorcha was thinner than she was muscular, and not quite possessed yet of a warrior's build. Still, there was no reason she couldn't develop one, and he figured if she was getting any force with javelins at *all*, her technique must be pretty good.

“Well I don't know how long we'll be staying," he admitted, “but I'm sure I could find the time to practice with you at least once before we go, if you like?" He extended the invitation to all three with a slight tilt of his head.

“Man, that sounds like a lot of work," Mercer murmured beneath his breath, pursing his lips together with a deep frown. His shoulders went slack, almost as if he were already burdened with a large work load. “But I suppose it couldn't hurt to learn a few things," he added with a grin. He was very expressive, it appeared. His attention seemed to be taken by something as they cleared the forest.

“Speak of the place," he spoke, pointing forward. “Welcome to the Monastery." The Monastery was fairly large, perhaps the size of a Lord's castle rather than a simple Church. They were approaching a large iron gate that was already raised, perhaps in anticipation of the Knights' return. A guard stood on each side of the entrance, though one of them held a banner flag. The symbol of the Church, perhaps. Mercer's lips pursed into a fine line, and sighed.

“I suppose we'll have some explaining to do, unless Alois covers for us," he murmured. “Really hope Alois covers for us. I just want to go back to my bed. I can hear it calling to me."

Sorcha huffed and Vridel rolled his eyes in an exaggerated manner. Cyril felt the barest twitch of his mouth, but it was gone a moment later as though it had never happened.

“I wouldn't count on it," the probably-imperial said. “But either way I'm sure we won't be called up until she's done with Captain Jeralt and you." The last part, he directed to Cyril.

Almost as if to confirm, Jeralt turned back over his shoulder and gestured Cyril up to walk beside him. “Thanks for the company," he told the others with a small nod. “And the information. See you later, I guess."

They parted ways there, along with the other knights. Jeralt tipped his head up as they passed through what seemed to be some kind of entrance hall, frowning slightly and muttering almost under his breath. “Rhea. Careful what you say to her, kid. The Church is..." He trailed off, shaking his head.

He did that kind of thing a lot. Cyril had learned to read between the lines, and understood that did not trust this Rhea person.

“You know her?" he prompted.

His father sighed. “Yeah, in a way. She's the Archbishop here. If you can avoid getting on her bad side, do it, but don't take anything you see here at face value." That seemed to be all he was willing to say on the matter, perhaps due to the possibility of being overheard.

The two of them were led to a small waiting room; no doubt Alois had to make a report before they'd be seen, or something of the kind. Cyril hadn't been around nobility much, but even he understood that there were a lot of rules and procedures to follow and that some people were considered more important than others. It was about an hour after they'd been admitted that they were let in to see the Archbishop. Jeralt entered slightly ahead; Cyril followed with customary silence.

The woman in front of them was dressed in a long dress, white in color with the sleeves covering the middle of her hands. The cape she wore was dark blue in color and had intricate gold designs on the front portion of it. There were gold lines through the collar of it that flowed outwards, almost like a sunflower. The headdress that sat on her head like a golden crown, was perhaps the one thing that stood out against the seafoam color of her hair. There was a gentle smile on her face, but the smile itself did not seem to reflect in her eyes. There was something else lurking behind, though it was hard to say what, exactly.

“Jeralt," she greeted his father, first. “It has been a long time. I wonder... was it the will of the goddess that we have another chance meeting like this?" she continued, her eyes narrowing lightly before she turned her gaze towards Cyril. “But where are my manners. I am Archbishop Rhea, and this is my advisor, Lyanna von Kreuz," she spoke, introducing a woman to her left.

The second woman was even younger in appearance than the archbishop, perhaps in her mid to late twenties, if Cyril had to take a guess. Her hair was a dark, almost emerald-green, braided loosely forward over one shoulder. She too wore white, though the construction of her gown was much simpler, and the mantle that adorned her shoulders, while blue and gold, was shorter and less elaborate than the Archbishop's. She wore a thick golden torc necklace that sat against her collarbones, some kind of symbol engraved into its face, and rimless glasses, but was otherwise without jewelry or adornment. She offered a short nod, spring-green eyes narrowed in assessment.

“It seems that the miracle of fatherhood has blessed you. That is your child, is it not?" she asked, keeping her gaze on Cyril.

Oddly, Jeralt looked a little thrown by the question for a split second, but he nodded slowly. “Yeah," he said quietly. “This is my son. He was born a couple of years after I left the monastery, but we uh... we lost his mother to childbirth."

“I see. My condolonces," she spoke, nodding her head in Jeralt's direction.

That much, Cyril did know. He nodded slightly. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Archbishop," he said in his muted sort of way, offering a small bow more because it seemed appropriate to the woman's manner than anything. He wasn't sure of the conventions on any of this, but his father had warned against getting on her bad side, so he could at least try to guess at the right ones.

“As for you," she addressed Cyril once more with the same empty smile on her face. “I have heard all of your valiant efforts from Alois. What is your name?" she asked, her head tilted slightly in a curious manner.

“Cyril, milady," he replied, rising to his full height again. He was sort of used to being the tallest person in most rooms since he'd overtaken his father, but neither Rhea nor the Lyanna woman were short, either. “Cyril Eisner."

“A fine name indeed," she stated, the smile inching a bit wider on her face. “I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for saving those students of the Officers Academy," she continued, nodding her head just slightly before she turned her attention towards Jeralt. “You already know what it is I wish to say, do you not?" it sounded more like a statement rather than a question.

“You want me to rejoin the Knights of Seiros, don't you?" he asked, rubbing at his nose with his thumb. He sounded tired. “I won't say no, but..."

Cyril was honestly surprised. They'd only just settled in Remire, and his father had been talking about rebuilding the company. Did he really intend to become a knight again?

“Your apprehension stings," she replied, the smile falling from her face as she frowned. “I had expected Alois would have already asked this of you," she continued, sighing softly before turning her attention back towards Cyril. “I must step away for now, however; we have a position for Cyril, as well," she stated, the smile returning to her face.

“Since the original professor no longer occupies the position, Cyril is being made the professor to the Blue Lion's House. The other two House Professors will brief you, shortly, but I surmise the Knights will desire a word with you, Jeralt," she stated as if it were something Cyril had no say in.

“Yeah, all right." Jeralt didn't seem to much question it either, though as the Archbishop and her adviser took their leave, he did mutter underneath his breath. “Forced back into the Knights of Seiros... I can't fucking believe it." A heavy breath passed from his nose, and he shook his head before turning to Cyril. “Sorry to drag you into this mess; I thought I'd left it all behind a long time ago. But she knows now, and I think it's probably best to stay, at least for a while."

Perhaps, had Cyril had any particularly strong feelings for the life of a mercenary, he might've objected. But as it was, he really didn't, and something about the way his father was acting made it seem as though there wasn't a great deal of choice to be had in the matter. He wondered if the Archbishop had some kind of leverage that she was using to arrange things this way. It would have to be the kind that was simply understood, because she definitely hadn't directly applied any in their conversation. She'd just kind of... expected to be obeyed.

Clapping his son briefly on the shoulder, Jeralt took his own exit through a different door, at just about the same time as a woman entered, her heels clicking hurriedly on the stone floor. Dressed in a dark blue gown with a deep neckline and high slits, she also wore a white over-robe with bell sleeves, accented in cream-orange. Her hair was fawn-colored and short, swept back from her brow in a bob style he'd seen before in parts of the Empire.

She blinked at him, scanning the room as if looking for someone else, but when Cyril was the only person to be found, she approached at a more sedate pace. “You're awfully young to be the new professor, aren't you?" she remarked, voice strong and lilting.

Cyril shrugged. “Old enough by the Archbishop's standards," he replied.

She huffed softly through her nose, a strange little smile curling her mouth. “So it seems," she said, agreeably enough. “I'm Manuela Casagranda: professor, physician, songstress, and available."

Cyril blinked. “That's a lot of things to be," he noted.

She laughed, the sound ringing in a way that suggested the songstress part was at least true. “What can I say? I'm a woman of many talents."

“Spare our collegue the needless chatter, Manuela. Competence and age are not necessarily correlated, as you well know," another voice stated as an older man appeared. His hair was a dark grey, signaling his age to be around the early fifties. He was dressed in a taupe colored robe, though, no white save for the handkerchief located in his right breast pocket. There was an olive green tie with a diamond shape clip to hold it in place. “Apologies for the tardiness. I am Hanneman, a Crest scholar and professor here at the Officers Academy," he stated, introducing himself to Cyril.

“I wonder," he began, his eyes narrowing slightly at Cyril. “Perhaps you bear a Crest of your own. The next time you have a moment to spare, I insist that you pay me a visit so we can delve further into the subject," he continued, a sort of amused tone to his voice.

“Now then, it seems that you'll be in charge of the academy's Blue Lion's house as their homeroom professor. I expect you haven't yet been briefed on the nature, have you?"

Crests... that had definitely come up in Sorcha's story. Cyril wasn't sure how uncommon it was not to know anything about that, so he only nodded slightly to that part of what Hanneman said. Maybe he'd be able to learn.

“I'm not sure how any of it works, to be honest."

Manuela made a sympathetic sort of noise in the back of her throat, clasping her hands in front of her. “Well," she said, “we can help. To start with, the Officers' Academy is divided into three student houses. The Black Eagle House is for students hailing from the Adrestian Empire. You've already met their house leader for this year, I believe—Vridel von Hresvelg is the Imperial Prince, and next in line to be Emperor. That's the house I teach."

“The Golden Deer House is for students who are part of the Leicester Alliance. Their house leader this year is Mercer, grandson to Duke Riegan, the leader of the Alliance. They are also the house I instruct," Hanneman spoke next in a matter-of-fact tone. “The Blue Lion house is for students from the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. Their house leader this year is Princess Sorcha. She is to be the next Queen of Faerghus."

“To think that the next emperor, queen, and sovereign duke are all here. It certainly is a promising year for the academy," he stated, folding an arm over the other.

“And I... teach the Blue Lions?" he asked, not sure how unusual it was to have three heirs running around.

Manuela nodded slightly. “To an extent. You're the homeroom teacher for the Blue Lions, which means you teach them every morning and guide them three afternoons of five in every week. The other two afternoons, they'll be attending special lectures from either Hanneman or myself. You, in turn, will be giving a special lecture to one of our houses, in your... areas of expertise." She raised an eyebrow slightly.

“I, for example, excel in holy magics, the use of herbs and medicines, and swordplay. Hanneman here is very good with black magic, bows, and history. It's not a bad idea to have two combat-related and at least one non-combat area to lecture on. It helps keep an interesting rotation for our darling little treasures." She sounded the faintest bit sarcastic, but it seemed to be good-natured.

“Anyway, other afternoons are usually given to special instruction from our adjunct faculty, or Knights who want to give a special topic lesson. So we have a fencing instructor, who might do a clinic on swordfighting, or sometimes Alois likes to let them play with axes for a while. But overall, you're the one who will be deciding how to tutor them, so be sure to consider their talents and preferences. Our goal is to make them all well-educated officers and effective fighters, but they don't all have to be experts in everything."

“Hm, quite," Hanneman spoke, nodding his head in agreement. “Regardless, it'll be interesting to see how they grow. Classes start on Monday, so for now, I suggest you take the time to acquaint yourself with your surroundings, before then. It'll be easier on you if you know where every thing is at before the school year starts. Manuela and I have already informed the Blue Lion house leader of your new role," he continued.

“Oh, and when you find yourself a free moment, do drop by my research laboratory. I would like to investigate whether or not if you possess a Crest," he stated, smiling widely enough that it forced his eyes to close.

Cyril made a mental note to do that, but only after he'd figured his way around the campus and also decided what he was going to do for his first day of teaching.

“Sure thing," he said quietly. “And thank you both."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK



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I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Monday the 6th
Officers Academy - Morning - Overcast
Senka Rinaldi


Senka sighed softly as she glanced at her reflection in the mirror. The uniform for the Officers Academy was strange to her, however; she pulled at the hem of her skirt to fix it. Smoothing out her shirt, she was satisfied with the over all appearance. Her hair, loose and curly behind her back, was another thing entirely, though. She had grown used to not doing much with it over the past three years. Growing up with various ornaments and pins through it was a habit hard to kill, but she'd mostly managed. The only item in her hair, now, was a pin in the shape of a lily, fastened to keep half of her hair up.

Sorcha had given it to her last year for her seventeenth year of life, and she'd worn it without fail, every day since. It was a memento she cherished, dearly. Sighing once more, Senka made her way towards the staircase for the upper levels of the dormitory. They were reserved for the nobles's children and those of royalty, a position Senka no longer occupied. It seemed like a life time ago, despite it only being three years. She had to enroll under her mother's birth name of Argyris. Even if they were a noble house in Faerghus, it wasn't quite as reputable as any of the other Crest houses. She was just a commoner from Almyra to the people here, and she was fine with that lie.

With her hands at her sides, she waited patiently at the bottom of the stairs for Sorcha. Even if the princess had expressed multiple times that she was allowed to greet her upstairs, Senka refrained from doing so. Even if she was under a different guise, people still spoke; still whispered behind her back of how she earned her position in the princess's good graces. And she pushed those voices from her ears and thoughts.

It wasn't that Sorcha was hard to rouse from sleep. Quite the opposite actually; she was often earlier to rise than the sun itself. But she did have a way of getting caught up in her training, and she'd never been the most concerned with her own appearance, either. So it was hardly surprising that when she came down the stairs from the second floor, it was at a sprightly run that suggested she'd already been up for a while, and also a touch disheveled. She tended to pin her long, cornsilk-blonde hair up behind her so it was well out of the way, but she was still in the process of doing that as she hit the landing, and grimaced when she poked herself a bit too hard with one of the pins, sighing heavily.

“Senka, good morning!" she said, smiling perhaps a tad too brightly. She'd been a little off all weekend, but hadn't seemed to want to speak of why. Still, she seemed much like her normal self this morning. “I uh... don't suppose you could maybe, um... help?" She gestured vaguely with the pin.

She nodded, a faint smile briefly touching her lips before it faded. Sorcha knew by now that she could tell Senka anything, however; Senka knew when to push for something that was bothering Sorcha greater than normal. Since it was the first day of class, she was going to refrain from doing so... for now. She retrieved the pin from Sorcha, and walked so that she was behind her. Running her fingers through Sorcha's hair to pull out any of the tangles, she pulled it up and placed the pin to secure the tresses. Once she was finished, she moved so that she was back in Sorcha's view.

“Is it sufficient?" she asked. She would fix it again if it were not up to Sorcha's expectations, but in the back of her mind, she already knew the answer.

Sorcha breathed an immediate sight of relief, reaching up with both hands to feel along the contours of her hair. It was rather lovely, as hair went; the color was clear and the strands thick and soft, but able to lay smoothly, with only a few pieces loose at the front. “You're a lifesaver, Sen. Thanks so much!" She shook her head. “I swear I learned about all this feminine stuff, but I can't ever remember a lick of it."

Smoothing down her uniform skirt—she'd chosen the knee-length one, and wore fitted shorts underneath in case of activity—she patted herself down to be sure she was in order. Seemingly satisfied, she tossed her blue cloak back over her shoulder to rest mostly out of the way. “Anyhow, let's get going. First day of class and all—are you excited?"

She blinked for a moment, chewing on the bottom of her lip as she thought about the question. Excited was an irrelevant term to Senka. She wasn't sure what to find exciting, but for the sake of her friend, she was trying to be. “I am... anticipating how the first day will go," she spoke truthfully. “Excited is not the word I would use," she continued, not wanting to be dishonest.

“What about you? Are you prepared for the year?" she asked, turning so that she could walk with Sorcha towards the main hall. It wasn't too far from the dormitory. It would take them through the courtyard which meant that they would be passing the other students. Taking in a deep breath to steel herself, she began walking with Sorcha. “And are you prepared to meet our professor?" she added. She'd been told by Sorcha that their new professor was hand chosen by the Archbishop, and for a moment, she wondered what kind of person they could be.

Sorcha smiled broadly, nodding a little. “Actually... I've already met him," she confessed. “I didn't know he was going to be our professor at the time, though—neither did he, I'm sure. He's really..." She trailed of, apparently trying to find the right word. “Different. And interesting, I think. He was a mercenary, before."

They turned north before they reached the main hall, skimming the dining hall to head into the small courtyard in front of the classrooms. The three were quite close together; students milled around outside, enjoying the last little while before classes started. Some were still eating breakfast as they went, it seemed.

“I think you'll like him," Sorcha continued, lifting a hand to wave to another student who'd waved at her. Most of them only wore small pins to indicate which house they belonged to, but Sorcha's bright blue cloak would have stood out even if the Princess herself was not so distinctive as she was. Though there was some mixing of the houses out here, they did still tend to cluster; it seemed a rather large collection of Black Eagles were gathered around a man who had to be the so-called Silver Prince. Clearly, the name had been given to him for the distinctive white color of his hair.

The Golden Deer were gathered around a young man who shared the same skin tone as Senka. He was talking animatedly to one of the students, smiling as if he had no care in the world. She had to quash the envious feeling in her chest, quickly, and turned to Sorcha. She nodded at the statement and made to reply, however; Senka felt something collide with her back, and tipped her forward. She managed to catch herself, twisting so that her left foot was further out than her right in order to keep her balance.

“Ow, ow," a young woman stated, rubbing her forhead. She was dressed in the same uniform as Sorcha, the one with the knee-length skirt, and her hair was a vibrant green. While not quite emerald, it did stand out quite a bit. “Oh, oh, I'm so, so sorry! I didn't mean to bump into you like that! Are you alright?" she stated, taking Senka aback. She blinked slowly before straightening out her composure.

“I am not harmed, if that is what you mean," she replied. The young woman smiled brightly at the statement, looking relieved. Senka found it slightly strange, but she did not comment on the behavior.

“I'm so glad. I'm just so excited! I just joined and was looking for my Houses' main room. Oh," she spoke in quick succession. Senka almost found it difficult to keep up. “Do either of you know where I can find the main room to the Blue Lion house?"

Sorcha snorted softly. “As a matter of fact, we do," she said, picking up the edge of the cape and flapping it a little. “I'm Sorcha, the Blue Lions House Leader. This is my friend Senka. Can I ask your name?" By now the both of them were familiar with the noble houses in Faerghus that had children of their own age. Not only was this girl not someone they'd seen before, but she didn't look much like any of the noble families Senka had met either. Apparently the same was true of Sorcha.

“Oh! That makes you Princess Sorcha! Oh what a pleasure to meet you! I'm Amalthea! I've heard so much about you," she greeted. The energy that poured from her was a little overwhelming to Senka, but she kept her face smoothed. Amalthea turned towards Senka, though, and the smile seemed to brighten. “It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Senka. I hope we can all be friends. It's just... I've never had the chance to actually join before," she continued.

Senka, however, narrowed her eyes slightly at the statement. Friends? With her? Sorcha, she could understand. Why did she want to be her friend? “Have you applied before?" she decided to ask, treading on careful waters. Amalthea laughed lightly, though it sounded a bit nervous as well.

“I have, but this is the first year that my sister actually allowed me to participate."

“Sister?" Sorcha asked, tilting her head a bit to the side. She seemed to bear none of Senka's slight suspicion of the girl, nor any particular reserve at the sentiment. But then, that was the kind of person she had always been: constantly willing to extend her hand in trust and friendship, even to people who were cold and reluctant. To someone who reached back, it was probably the easiest thing in the world for her to do.

Amalthea nodded her head violently. Enthusiastically, perhaps? Senka didn't know the proper word, however; Amalthea continued to speak. “She's Archbishop Rhea's advisor: Lyanna von Kreuz. I'm Amalthea von Kreuz!" she clarified, causing Senka's eyes to widen faintly. Taking a closer inspection of her features, she did bear some similarities to the Archbishop's advisor. She supposed it was true.

“Oh, can I join the two of you, then? I mean, if you're heading towards class?" she asked. Senka glanced in Sorcha's direction for a moment. She already knew what the answer was going to be, and decided to nod her head in agreement. They were headed that way, and she supposed it would be okay if Amalthea wanted to follow them. Sorcha would have agreed to it, regardless.

“If that is what you wish, I will not stop you," she stated, watching as the young woman fell in line with Sorcha and herself.

“Sure you can!" Sorcha agreed with considerably more verve, though definitely not as much excitement as Amalthea seemed to have. “And welcome to the Blue Lions. I'd ask why you chose us, but... we're going to be great, so it's really not that surprising." That was definitely a joke—though many nobles thought rather too highly of their status and such, Sorcha had never been like that.

The classroom they led Amalthea to was the middle of three, its entranceway decorated with blue banners in the same shade as Sorcha's mantle. There were several rows of desks, all arranged to face one at the head of the room, where a young man stood, apparently paging through some kind of book. He couldn't have been much older than Senka; though he had the fairer complexion shared by many in Fódlan, he also clearly saw sun, and regularly. He wore a neat tunic in dark teal, some unfamiliar insignia embroidered at the wide collar of it, and a dark, close-fitted turtleneck shirt beneath. Neither did much to conceal the obvious musculature of his build, and he was quite tall, apparently.

It would seem no other students had yet entered—perhaps they found him intimidating?

Whatever it was, it did not deter Senka. How could one expect to improve if they found simply looking at a young man, intimidating? Senka could understand the why aspects of the intimidation. It was evident enough that the young man knew a life of battle or some equivalent life style. He didn't seem to have the bearings of a noble, but there was something to him that could certainly pass for it if he chose. Amalthea, however, seemed excited that this person was here as well.

“Hello!" she greeted, making her way towards the young man. “It seems we're early. Are you part of the Blue Lion house as well?" she asked, clearly intrigued by this person. Senka supposed that Amalthea didn't have the same reservations as the other people who were not yet present. She seemed almost immune to intimidation, or she wasn't quite aware of what it could do to someone. Senka was not going to be the teacher on that subject, though. Everyone learned in their own way.

The question drew a quiet snort from Sorcha for some reason, but it was the man himself who answered, speaking in a voice with a smooth, low timbre. “In a manner of speaking," he replied, his visage rather blank in much the same manner as Senka's often was. That alone gave no clue as to why, however.

“Hello again, Cyril," Sorcha said, taking a seat at one of the desks in the front row and patting the seat next to her in invitation to Senka. “Or I guess I should call you Professor now?"

Senka took the seat as she heard a light gasp from Amalthea. “Oh, how very rude of me! I should have addressed you properly." she stated, causing Senka to shake her head lightly. She did not say anything, though, and glanced towards the Professor. It did not make sense as to why Sorcha thought she would like him. Perhaps because there was some similar manner of their expressions? She did not think that was the case.

“It's quite fine," he said mildly, shaking his head as though it were indeed of no consequence to him.

“That would make you Professor Eisner, correct?" she spoke, her voice soft and flat.

His eyes shifted to Senka's, locking with an almost uncanny sort of accuracy, with all the intentness of a cat tracking motion. That, and the vivid golden color of them, stopped his face from looking dead, despite the passivity of the rest of his expression. “In theory," he replied. It might have actually been a rather deadpan joke. “Until a few days ago, however, I was simply Cyril, so if you prefer that, I do not mind. The choice is yours."

The choice was hers, he'd said. She made a soft noise in the back of her throat as way of acknowledging it. She wasn't entirely sure how she felt about that. Whether or not in theory if he was a professor, then he should be addressed as such, however; she knew Sorcha preferred to be spoken to on friendly terms. If the professor was giving her a choice, she would honor that.

“Oo, professor Cyril sounds really cool," Amalthea spoke again. She was... energetic to the point that Senka felt slightly overwhelmed by it. She had never known someone with the energy and innocence of a child who wasn't a child. She made her way towards Sorcha and Senka, though, and took a seat on the other side of Senka that was empty. Senka titled her head slightly in confusion, but the expression didn't make it to her face.

She did, however, place her arm behind Amalthea when she took a seat. Her excitement caused her to sit down rather roughly, and she almost fell backwards. “You should be careful," she spoke softly, earning a nervous chuckle from Amalthea.

“I'm sorry. I'll be more careful from now on. It's just—"

“You're excited, yes I am aware," she answered before Amalthea could finish. For some reason, the statement brought a large smile to Amalthea's face before she turned towards Cyril.

“What were you doing before this, Professor?" she asked, the same curiosity littering her eyes as it did earlier.

“I'm a—" he paused, considered, and amended. “I was a mercenary."

It's an occupation to which there are varying attitudes. Some see the exchange of loyalty for coin to be base and distasteful. Others think it's a job like any other. It's likely Cyril can't be sure which they are, but if it bothers him, he gives no sign of the fact.

“He saved my life," Sorcha said, calmly enough that it almost qualified as nonchalant, except something like that would never be nonchalant with her. There's a note of genuine admiration, almost something like awe, buried well beneath it. “Last Friday, during the House Leaders' training exercise."

Cyril didn't deny it, though he didn't rush to confirm or claim credit either.

Senka pursed her lips at Sorcha. Was that why she'd been acting weird when she returned? “Why did you not tell me this?" she stated, but her voice wasn't reprimanding. She sighed, though, and turned her attention back to Cyril. “I express my thanks to you for doing so," she stated, nodding her head in Cyril's direction as a way of a bow. She wasn't standing at the moment, and it would be strange if she stood in order to do so.

He simply returned the nod.

“So that means you were able to travel all over the world! When there's time, because it would be impossible to do now," Amalthea didn't seem to have any reservations on how she addressed the Professor, and was speaking almost amicably now. “I would love to hear the stories you have. You must have plenty of them, right?"

Senka would admit that it would be slightly beneficial to hear these stories. After all, what was a mercenary but a trained soldier? And soldiers who were not bound to the teachings of the Church or Lord were able to find ways to fight that worked for them. “I, too, wish to hear these stories. If you are amenable to the idea," she added. Class would be starting soon, but perhaps after would be a good time. Or, if they were fortunate enough, he would include some of his stories in the lecture.

This seemed to puzzle Cyril a little bit, if the way he tilted his head was any indication, but then he shrugged and nodded again. “I understand there is a break for lunch between morning and afternoon classes," he said after a moment. “Perhaps you would prefer to hear them over something to eat."

It was then that the bell rang, signaling that students needed to finish making their way to the classroom lest they be counted tardy. There were about ten Blue Lions students in total, including Amalthea. Senka had gleaned the impression that the other classes were about the same—the Academy didn't admit everyone who applied, by any stretch of the imagination. The assembling group were clearly somewhat astir to note that the professor was... well definitely not the one they'd been told they'd have in their admittance materials, to say the least. That fellow had been some kind of Church person—a minor bishop of some kind or something like that.

Whatever else he may have been, Cyril did not look like a bishop.

When they'd settled, he cleared his throat, and the effect is oddly instantaneous. Something in his body language changed, and suddenly he was the center of the room's attention, not in the sort of hurried-glance way that meant people were talking about him and trying to be surreptitious, but in the sense that—it was almost as though his very presence had changed, exuding a kind of authority that Sorcha would probably envy.

When he spoke, though, it was simple. His voice carried without needing to shout, the low, quiet tone of it almost forcing the silence so that he could be more clearly heard. “Welcome to class," he said. “My name is Cyril Eisner, and I've been hired to replace Professor Morrow, who abandoned his students when their training exercise was attacked." The words were blunt, direct, and honest, and he let them sink in for several moments before continuing.

“Unfortunately that's something that happens when some people see real battle. They get scared, and they can't think of anything but protecting themselves, saving their own lives. They abandon their comrades, even if they believe they are the sort who could never do such a thing. It is a human weakness, and it is understandable." He paused, then shook his head faintly.

“I will not. I know this because I have not. Whatever else you may think of me, you may rest assured in that much at least." His tone didn't sound very assuring, but at the same time it was abundantly clear that he was being truthful. “And my job, as I see it, is to turn you into people who will not, either. And to give you the skills to succeed when you choose to fight. I have no noble title to offer you. No knowledge of prayers or blessings or rituals. But I have experience, and for as long as you are my students, it is at your disposal. Are there questions before we begin?"

Senka respected that statement. It wasn't a matter of whether or not she left anyone behind, but moreso that she was left behind. If it came down to it, Senka would gladly allow herself to be left behind if it meant that Sorcha would be safe. She glanced towards her friend, before her gaze shifted back to Cyril. A student had raised their hand when Cyril invited the questioning.

“What do you mean, exactly?" he asked, his entire face pulled into confusion. “If the situation is lost, then wouldn't it make sense to flee?" he continued. Senka felt the slightest twitch pull at her lips.

“I believe what the professor means is that he is to instruct us so that we may be courageous enough to stay and fight. Not flee no matter how dire the situation may seem," she replied in earnest. The student huffed lightly, whispering beneath his breath about not asking her. She knew he had not addressed her, but that didn't mean she couldn't explain what she thought he meant.

“That makes sense. I wouldn't want to leave my friends behind, ever," Amalthea spoke, a strange determination behind her eyes. “And if Professor Cyril can teach me to be stronger, I'll gladly take as many notes as possible," she continued, the strange smile never leaving her face. Senka supposed she could respect that.

“It will be more than just note taking. You cannot write something down and expect it to work when you are in actual combat. You must also apply it so that you can learn and master it," she stated to Amalthea. It was something she'd read in a book, long ago.

“Oh... I suppose that makes sense, too!" Amalthea exclaimed as she seemed to write what Senka stated, down.

“It's not a matter of never retreating," Cyril clarified. “There may be times when tactical withdrawal is the smartest option. However... a tactical withdrawal is a very different thing from fleeing. It is organized, deliberate, and well-executed, driven by analysis and not fear or other emotions. Being able to distinguish the times to withdraw from the times to stand is vital, and if you learn to master your fear, you'll be able to do it."

Cyril paused, then shrugged. “I suppose since there's some interest in the question, we'll start with a tactics lesson. I'll draw you all a scenario, we'll discuss it, and then I'll tell you what I'd do and why. My answers may not be the only viable ones. They may not even be right. Tactics is a matter of a lot of factors, and how I weigh them may well be different from how you do. It is rarely a matter of one right answer and the rest wrong."

He turned, diagramming a scenario out on the board with smooth strokes. The rendering was precise, and it wasn't hard even for the inexperienced class to tell that it represented a group of soldiers about to fall into a pincer maneuver. They were in the middle of a field, a river to one side and forest to the other, with flanks of enemy troops closing in.

“You're the group in the middle. What do you do? Open discussion; no need to raise hands, but let each other talk."

“That's easy," one student stated, seemingly confident in what they were about to say. “You cross the river to the other side to make sure that they can't execute the pincer." Senka pursed her lips together. That didn't make sense to her.

“That wouldn't work, though," Amalthea interjected, causing Senka's attention to be drawn to her. “If you have heavy armored units, they would drown depending on the depth of the river, and if there are soldiers who couldn't swim, they'd also drown. You would, effectively, kill yourselves and fail," she stated. Senka could see the reasoning behind that logic, but there seemed to be something missing.

“But staying in the middle means you get attacked either way," another student chimed in. “Wouldn't it make sense to push forward and block the enemy with a counter attack?"

“There would be no time for a proper counter-attack," she finally spoke, pointing to one of the flanks. “Here, you are exposed. And here, you would not see the enemy from the forest lines. The enemies to the back, however, are not as well-covered and are at a disadvantage, sight wise. We could possibly line up those who have bows to take out the ones across the rivers while a magic user there," she stated, pointing to the front of the circle facing the forest, “would allow them to set a small fire to at least partially disrupt the pincer attack. The heavy armored units could build a shield wall to push the ones who make it past and be our defense."

“In other words, we would be able to attack from the inside of the encirclement to escape if we dug in, first?"

“But what if we didn't have any archers or magic users?"

“Even if you did it'd probably be suicide for them," Sorcha added. “Posting them on the high ground is good, but there's no cover. It's harder to fire up a hill but not impossible, and if the enemy used their shields to make a charge up, you've got your most lightly-armored units in front. Plus it's hard to start a fire that'll last, and the magic users don't get to control the burn." She sounded as if she were speaking from personal experience. “It's inherently risky to use up their magic like that. Maybe if there was no other way, but..." She frowned, humming thoughtfully.

“Well..." another boy piped up, this one maybe Sorcha's age and rather short. “What exactly do we have in terms of troops, Professor?"

“The first and perhaps most important question," Cyril replied with a small nod. He tilted his head in clear invitation.

The student recognized it a moment later and flushed pink. “Oh! Devon," he said hurriedly. “Devon Margrave."

“Good. To answer your question, Devon, you have a total of thirty soldiers. Half of them are a detachment of pegasus knights. The other half are mixed cavalry and infantry—you've got two warlocks and a bishop for the whole troop." He shaded in the appropriate units with colored chalk.

“And... what does the enemy have?" Sorcha asked.

“On the other side of the river are wing of wyvern riders, which is how this is a pincer at all," he said, nodding briefly in Senka's direction. “They need not worry about drowning. On the other side you've got mainly ground troops, soliders and fighters mixed with some mages and archers."

“Well, I don't like the idea of sending the pegasus knights that close to a substantial number of arrows," Sorcha noted. “Nothing hurts a sky cavalry like being shot down. Are their numbers better than the wyvern riders'?"

“Slightly. The enemy has more ground troops than you do, however."

Senka hummed thoughtfully as she digested the information. Amalthea seemed to be writing things down, perhaps so that she didn't forget something. Sorcha had a point about the pegasus riders, though. They were susceptible to arrows quite easier than their wyvern counterparts, perhaps partly because wyvern's were slightly thicker to penetrate.

“We only have two warlocks, so shouldn't we pit them against the fighters?" another student asked. “Fighters usually don't have high resistance to magic."

“That doesn't make the warlocks invincible, though. Two people against ten isn't exactly fair odds, and magic isn't something you can just summon. You need to build up the mana for it and that usually takes a couple of seconds. It's enough time for enemies to attack the two warlocks. They could probably take down four or five fighters before they're killed. We don't want to get them killed." Amalthea frowned at the thought of people being killed, it seemed.

“If we send some of the cavalry after their mages and archers to pick them off, we could use a mix of the infantry to support a warlock to attack fighters. Keep one to help defend the warlock through their lag in magical abilities, but also make sure the mage has a means of defense as well. Mages do not have an endless supply of magic at their disposal, after all."

“You would still have Wyvern's to contend with. If some of the cavalry unit uses lances, they would be most effective against a rider. The ground soldiers would be best to hold out against other soldiers, but fighters sport a higher strength. Their flaw is that they sacrifice their speed for their strength. Take advantage of that with the Pegasus Knights and have them move with swift attacks," another student stated, leaning forward on her hands.

“But don't forget that a lot of non-regimented fighter types can use bows, too," Sorcha remarked. “They may not be specialized archers, but we never asked what they were armed with." She looks to Cyril, but he shakes his head.

“From where you are, you cannot say."

Sorcha frowned. “Then I'd rather be safe than sorry, I think. I'd send the pegasus knights to fight the wyverns, fast and as quickly as possible, and then have my more armored cavalry units just try to hold off the ground troops long enough for them to circle back and reinforce."

Cyril nods. “And the rest of you? Plans?"

“I think I'd go into lockdown," Devon said. “Put everyone's backs to each other, and try to weather the assault. I don't know how the pegasus knights would do, but the rest of my team sounds more defensive than the enemies anyway."

“Wyvern's have a higher defense than a Pegasus Knight, though. Chances are, you'd loose a majority of them before you've whittled the wyvern riders down," the young woman stated before nodding in Devon's direction. “But I agree with Devon on the lockdown. You'd be able to see on all sides where the attacks are coming, and bishops know a few offensive spells. The one we have could hurl a few magic spells from within the wall and be protected at the same time."

“Oh, I forgot about the bishop!" Amalthea interjected, turning towards the young girl and smiling as if she'd figured something out. “And what would you do..." she trailed off, as if the young girl would fill in the rest. From the looks of it, she wasn't much older than Sorcha, maybe a year younger than Senka, herself.

“Sylvi. Galatea," she stated as if reading Amalthea's intentions. “And I would be on the offensive trying to break through the lines. I'm learning to be a War Master," she stated, winking in Amalthea's direction. Senka blinked slowly. So that meant she was a physical fighter who wanted to do mostly hand-to-hand and some training with the axe.

Cyril nodded, eliciting answers from the remaining four members of the class as well. More than a few of them seem really hesitant, but none of the answers seem especially bad, especially due to all the discussion that went on before. It was hard to tell if he found any of the answers better or worse than any of the others, honestly; his face was mostly unreadable.

In the end, he set down the chalk and crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back against the edge of the desk. “As it happens, this is a battle I was actually in," he said. “The pegasus knight detachment was from a local kingdom lord's domain, and the rest of the troops were my father's mercenary company."

He tilted his head to the side, a soft breath escaping him in what was almost a huff. “What we ended up doing was setting the warlocks up on the backs of two of the pegasi. Their riders focused on steering them, and the magic along with the rest of the riders was plenty to deal with the wyverns, who weren't expecting it and have serious trouble with electricity in particular. Meanwhile, the bishop and the ground soldiers moved back into the forest, to draw the enemy in."

“Wouldn't that be a disadvantage for cavalry, though?" Devon asked.

Cyril lifted one of his hands, tilting it back and forth in a so-so motion. “Typically yes. But the cavalry all dismounted. The horses were a good distraction, too—drew a lot of attention moving around, and enabled the dismounted riders to join the infantry and fall on the opponents. The most important part was preventing the pincer from actually becoming one, which we were able to do because of the ground/air difference. If we'd been all ground, I'd have drawn us all back, and made the wyverns try to contend with flying around trees, but it would have been just as hard for the pagasi, so they needed something different."

“Oh, that's smart. Thinking outside of the box and using that as a surprise," Amalthea stated, writing down more information. Senka followed suit, and wrote down what Cyril had done during that battle. She wanted to learn as much as she possibly could, the different tactics that could be employed. But as she'd said earlier, writing wasn't the same as applying it. She was certain they would have practice battles, eventually.

“To think that there could be so many strategies for one simple battle. One wrong move is the difference between life and death. I guess you have to be a really good strategist in order to come up with something like that, and have the complete and utter faith of the ones you command in order for them to see it through," she spoke as if she were in awe and some kind of reverence.

Senka doubted that was the case. Perhaps they did respect him and trust him, but they also had to put their trust in the plan to work. If one person doubted it for a second, chances were that they would not have succeeded.

“Trust is helpful," Cyril admitted, “but if it were enough then a pack of puppies could have won. Skill makes a difference, too. And since for the most part you'll all be leading different groups someday, it's the skill I'm going to try and teach you. When you're done writing, we'll take a break for lunch. Try not to eat too heavily—this afternoon we're going to run a version of this same scenario on our feet."

Amalthea giggled lightly, but continued writing down information. Senka, however, was looking forward to the scenario.

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Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Thursday the 9th
Library - Late Evening - Light Rain
Vridel von Hresvelg


It had been an interesting week.

Vridel had to admit that if he'd been at Garreg Mach for his actual stated purpose—to learn the arts of war—he'd have found it entirely... satisfactory. Professor Manuela was quite competent, and the practical lessons and special lectures from the other two had been interesting, particularly Cyril's. It was just a different sort of thing to learn tactics from someone who'd applied so much of what most people only ever saw in books. He might have been young, but his experience was clearly that of a much older person. The Prince would put money on his house being the one to win the upcoming mock battle.

His own house, on the other hand...

Vridel had long thought too much of the Empire devoted to a decadence and self-indulgence he greatly disdained. Its nobles were power-hungry, its peasants crushed beneath the iron of toil, and everyone in the middle was simply trying to survive. Hardly any way to live, even if the blame could not be laid solely at their feet. There were certainly other responsible parties, though the twisting web of connection between all of them was something he was only just beginning to unravel. In any case, the imperial youths with whom he attended the Academy did little to hold his attention—while there were no doubt a few decent folk in the lot, they had not much distinguished themselves, and the overall pattern was still certainly one of mediocre people being convinced of their own greatness.

He was well aware that unless he shaped up, he was likely to become the same, and the thought rankled so much he couldn't stand it. So on this night as on the ones before, he exited his dormitory room and made his way instead to the upper floor of the main monastery building, where the offices were located, and hung a right at the end of the hall, which took him to the library. It was unoccupied at this time—most of the students were more concerned with horses and axes than books and history. Vridel, however, had to admit a fascination for the magical arts, one that was equal parts visceral and vaguely disconcerting. He wondered how much of it was naturally his and how much had to do with his... circumstances.

Still, either way it was there, and if he turned it into proper skill it would be useful, so he headed to the section he'd found yesterday, climbing the stairs for the upper shelves. He supposed they were blocked off for a reason, but if they were just going to leave the place open and trust that their rules would be obeyed they deserved what they got, to his mind.

This time, however, when he arrived, the area was not empty. Standing by one of the shelves was a young woman, about his age if he had to guess. There was a small candle by her, casting light enough to see that she was reading one of the books with slight ease. It illuminated a dark sheen of purple in her hair, and when she turned and locked eyes with him, they were easy to tell as a pale amethyst color. She blinked slowly, as if she weren't expecting anyone else to be there, before she closed the book, and placed it back in its place.

“Are you here for the tomes?" she asked in a simple tone. “I'd recommend this section if you are searching for the darker ones," she stated, placing her hand against the shelf she was standing next to. She said nothing further and grabbed another book, her eyes scanning through the pages as she slowly flipped through them.

Vridel's eyes, a richer, more saturated purple, narrowed. As it happened that was exactly the section he'd already been headed for. He hadn't expected too many others to so casually disregard the rules, however. What was more... he was fairly certain he had seen this woman in Sorcha's company before. Much as he didn't want to care about this fact, he had to admit that he sort of did.

Still, he schooled his features into an expression of polite interest, and when he spoke, his tone was one of detached observance. “Oh? Are there any in particular you would recommend, then? Naturally one can't really ask the librarian which of the books we're not allowed to read would be most useful."

“It is their fault for not securing the restricted places, better," she replied, her eyes never leaving the book in her hands. She glanced up at him after a moment of silence and tilted her head to the left, though no curiosity was evident in her face. It was smooth and impassive, if anything. “That depends. What sort of magic are you looking to accomplish? If you are looking to improve your dark magic," she began, pausing only to scan the books near her.

“I recommend this one for Luna. It is especially effective if you are looking to negate an enemy's resistance. It also helps if you have high amounts of magic," she stated, pulling the book from the shelf and handing it in his direction.

It wasn't as though he had no idea what a Luna spell was. Vridel was not yet an expert in this area of magic, practically speaking, but his theoretical knowledge outstripped some people thrice his age. It had to. He'd had to.

Still, if there was one thing he was good at, it was playing dumb, and as he didn't know what to make of this woman yet, he elected to do so. “Luna?" he said, taking the book with slightly-exaggerated delicacy. “I'm... not sure I'm all that good at magic, really," he replied, putting on a self-effacing smile. “But then I suppose that's what studying is for. Can I ask what you're interested in, there?"

“All of it," was her simple reply. “I wish to learn the properties of all the dark and black magics. I am not particularly skilled in the areas of the white and light magic, however. I have managed to learn the Blizzard tome and Miasma, though." she continued, keeping her gaze with his. “And it is not a matter of whether or not you are good at it. As you say, studying can help, but practicing it bears more fruit," she spoke. She stared at him for a few seconds, as if she were having some internal debate with herself about something before she spoke.

“If you wish, I... can help you. I do not know how much help I can be, but I do not mind," she spoke with some hesitance, though it seemed more in regards to herself than to him. Her shoulders had slumped almost as if she were expecting some sort of harsh refusal, but her expression did not convey it. It remained impassive as she waited for his reply.

What an odd mixture of demeanors. A blunt, know-it-all sort of manner paired with the clear expectation of rebuke. The first he didn't mind, the second he could do without, and the third was simply... puzzling. Rumors stated that this woman was half-Almyran, and a friend of the Princess through her mother's side, who were Faerghus nobles of some minor sort. Vridel did not know how true any of that was, as it was all rather past the time he had spent in Sorcha's company, but it was interesting.

And, perhaps, something to look into. Fortunately, she had afforded him the perfect opportunity.

“Would you?" he returned, genuine amusement and interest mixing freely with the slight hint of put-on guilelessness. He was sure it made him sound rather ambiguous indeed. “I should be most grateful. I've a small talent for white magics, myself, so if you are inclined to learn more...?" He trailed off, clearly inviting her to properly introduce herself.

Her features smoothed over, almost as if she were trying to smile but finding it difficult to do so. “Senka Argyris, your highness," she stated, placing an arm over her chest as she bowed. She at least knew who he was from the way she'd addressed him and her bow. She straightened back up to her full height, which wasn't much shorter, if at all, than Vridel.

“I do wish to learn more about the white magics, but I am afraid I would be a most unworthy student," she stated. It was difficult to tell if she were doubtful of her own abilities, or if it was something she was stating as a fact. Her voice has mostly the same with little to no inflections in it. Almost monotonous.

“But I shall do my best to ensure that I am sufficient help in your studies," she added.

“Well as I am an entirely unworthy teacher of dubious talent to begin with, that shall work fine for me," Vridel replied, moving past her to take a few tomes down from the nearby section on light magics. However." He enunciated the word with the delicate emphasis that came so naturally to his tone of voice, and turned his head to look at her again, eyes vaguely shaded by a fan of white lashes. “No more of this 'Your Highness' business, please. Else I shall feel obligated to maintain the same level of formality and have to refer to you as Miss Argyris, and your first name is rather more agreeable, no? Senka has a nice sound to it."

It also did not sound especially Almyran, at least not to Vridel, who'd made some study of such things. This, he elected not to say. He wasn't trying to chase her off, after all. Rather the opposite.

“As you wish," she replied, nodding her head in understanding. “I will address you as Vridel, from now on," she continued, her eyes going back to the book shelf. “It will help if I know where you are," she began pulling a book from the shelf before frowning and placing it back. “As far as your magic abilities are concerned," she clarified, turning so that she was giving her full attention to him.

“That way, we can decide if the books located, here, will be of any help. They have... other copies located in another area of this room. They are locked, but," she paused, her eyes never leaving his as if she were searching for something. They narrowed, seemingly satisfied with something before she continued. “I know how to get around the locks."

Vridel contemplated this. He could give her an accurate assessment and get through the locks to the more interesting books, but that would involve making her aware of the fact that he was actually quite competent in all of the magical arts, and he wasn't sure he wanted anyone to know that. On the other hand... he tilted his head.

If he had his guess—and he usually did—Senka was an outsider. Not the type to gossip or socialize heavily with others. Rumors put her at Sorcha's side almost constantly, and suspicion swirled about this fact. The kind of suspicion that alienated. He was quite familiar with it. Even if she were to know a bit more than others of his intentions, or anything else, it was unlikely her word would be taken against his. He'd have to be careful about it, but....

“Well then I might as well tell you I recently passed D-certs for black magic," he said, referring to the standard benchmark tests used by official armies schools and the like to classify the skillsets of their members. A rough heuristic that lost a lot of nuance, but useful enough for conveying the basics of his aptitudes. Presumably, she was a bit better than that, given her apparent facility with it, but he didn't think any of the students at the Academy had their C-certs in anything yet. Garreg Mach tended not to take people with that kind of preexisting experience.

Senka hummed softly and nodded her head. “That places you around the same level as myself," she stated as if clarifying something to herself. “My specialties lie with the Blizzard tome, and the Miasma. May I ask where yours lie?" she stated, her head tilting in a curious manner.

“I know Miasma," he replied. “Not blizzard, though. I suppose that's a northern sort of thing." He smiled a little, the faintest edge of sly amusement in it. “I can use fire and thunder to some degree, however. I don't suppose you know any wind magic? We'd have the set between us if so."

“It is. My father was Almyran, but my mother was from Faerghus. She raised me there, where I picked up the magic. And Blizzard is a form of wind magic. I do know the basic wind and ice magics. Fire and lightning magics have never been my strong suit. Mother said..." she paused, an emotion flickering over her face before it was smoothed back out. “Mother used to say that it was because I inherited her country's magic," she stated as if explaining herself.

“Since you and I are opposites, perhaps that will benefit us. I will teach you all that I know of wind and ice magic, and you will help me learn fire and lightning magic," she stated, the smallest inflection of delight in her voice.

He supposed he should have said wind spells, so as to properly differentiate them, but it was all fair enough. The idea of expanding his repertoire beyond what was typically taught to the battlemages of his region was rather enticing; he was certain there were insights to be had from it. So naturally, he nodded, smiling a little almost despite himself.

“I do believe that sounds like a plan. Perhaps we could arrange a time and place where the interruptions would be..." He paused, running his tongue over his teeth and considering the word he wanted. “Unlikely?" The library was good, of course, but to actually practice, they would require an alternative venue.

“Perhaps, on Sundays, we can make use of the training grounds to practice. No one uses them on Sundays, only during the week when they are practicing new techniques," she spoke as if she knew this from experience.

That sounded perfectly fine to Vridel. “Sunday, then," he replied. “Perhaps... Sunday morning. Few people awake to notice anything."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Friday the 10th
Lyanna's Office - Afternoon - Drizzle
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea was grinning from ear to ear. Today was the end of her first week of classes, and she still had a lot to learn. By far, Professor Cyril's classes were her favorite to attend. Professor Hanneman was too strict and forward, and he didn't properly explain some things. That, or perhaps she just frustrated him with all of her questions? She couldn't tell. Professor Manuela was nice and all, but she made references to things Amalthea wasn't quite familiar with.

She hummed a song in the back of her throat, waving at the people who greeted her as she made her way towards her sister's office. She couldn't wait to tell Lyanna about her week, so far. But first, she had to find her sister. It wasn't too late in the afternoon, which meant Lyanna would still be in her office. While Amalthea didn't want to bother her sister while she was working, she was too excited to share what she'd learned the last few days.

And she was excited to tell her sister about her new friends. When she reached Lyanna's office, she waited a few seconds before announcing her presence. “Sister!" she stated, perhaps a bit too loudly. She didn't mean to do that. “Good afternoon. Are you finished for the day?" she asked, smiling brightly at her sister.

Lyanna currently sat behind her desk, feather quill in one hand and a half-eaten jelly doughnut in the other. At Amalthea's entrance, she hastened to swallow what was in her mouth, not quite managing it properly the first time and coughing a bit as she stuck her quill back in its inkwell and patted her chest. It took a moment for her to be able to speak properly; when she could she cleared her throat, face faintly pink. “Ahem. Thea. Hello." She nodded to the seating area just in front of her desk, where a large platter of sweets sat, no doubt the source of the doughnut.

“Just about. Why don't you have a seat and tell me about your first week of class?" Her tone was a little hard to read at the end; Amalthea knew Lyanna had had to work pretty hard to convince Lady Rhea that it was okay for her to enroll in the Officers' Academy. Her sister had expressed some reservations of her own, but caved at the strength of her enthusiasm and agreed to at least try to have her admitted.

“Oh, of course!" she stated as she took the empty seat. She glanced at the table near Lyanna, and noticed the plate of desserts. Amalthea's eyes widened as she reached for one, grabbing a jelly doughnut similar to the one Lyanna had just eaten. She took a bite of it and giggled to herself. She loved sweets. She turned her attention back to her sister, though, and smiled brightly.

“It's really great so far. I'm learning about formations and how to think outside the box for strategies. Professor Cyril is really, really nice, too. I like him the most out of our Professors," she started, taking another bite from her doughnut. “Oh, and I think I've made new friends with Princess Sorcha and Senka, and Devon and Sylvi!" she continued. “At least I think I have. Sorcha and Senka let me sit with them during the classes, and they were very helpful with helping me understand some of the things I didn't."

Lyanna hummed, affixing her signature to the bottom of the document she was working on and pursing her lips as she set it aside. Standing, she took another one of the chairs and a bite-sized cake, hovering for a moment over the plate before grabbing a second and sitting back. Their sweet tooth was something the sisters had in common, despite their many differences.

Sighing quietly, she bit into one of the cakes and chewed it over, eyes narrowing behind her spectacles. It wasn't clear why she wore them; as far as Amalthea knew she didn't actually need assistance seeing, unlike professor Hanneman. “What's he like? Your professor? He was hired quite suddenly; Lady Rhea didn't so much as bother to consult anyone about it and I don't understand why." While the Archbishop had final authority over such things, Lyanna was often consulted, as she had the responsibility of managing the administrative tasks for the Monastery, the Knights of Seiros, and the Officers' Academy.

“Well," she began, swallowing the bite she had in her mouth before continuing. “He's very composed and... calm? He doesn't show much of anything, but he is very patient with those of us who can't keep up, or if we don't understand something. He's very knowledgeable in tactics and has seen lots of battles. He even uses some of them for references during class," she stated. She could understand why her sister was interested in knowing about Cyril. He was completely foreign to her; there was no recorded history of him, and the only known name he'd carved for himself wasn't entirely pleasant.

“I think the Archbishop hired him because of his talent. I don't know how old he is, exactly, but I'd say he's about as old as you are, and I think that says a lot about his skills. All of his accomplishments, and the fact that he's Captain Jeralt's son makes him an obvious choice," or at least to Amalthea it did. “He seems quite at home in the role of Professor, if anything. It's almost as if he's done something like this before." She couldn't say for sure since Amalthea hadn't ever really been in a classroom before.

Lyanna worked her way through the two small cakes and another doughnut, frowning outright when Amalthea compared her age to Cyril's, though it wasn't clear why. She was a patient listener, however, and didn't interrupt—if anything she used the opportunity to mow more quickly through the sweets. Lyanna tended to eat a lot of them when she was stressed, and the new school year always tended to make her that way. This one seemed especially bad for some reason though.

“It would be fine if he had any trackable history," she mumbled around a mouthful of jelly and pastry. She always managed not to spray crumbs, somehow. Swallowing, she heaved a sigh. “But there's nothing, Thea. Not even a birth record. I don't know how old he is, and no one else seems to either!" She waved her hands, one still holding a doughnut. “And of course his lack of a birth record is not his fault, but then it's 'Ashen Demon' this and 'Jeralt the Blade Breaker' that, and the Archbishop knows something, I'm sure of it." She sighed again, shoving the last of the doughnut in her mouth and muttering something incomprehensible.

“Have you tried asking Archbishop about Captain Jeralt? I mean... he was the Captain of the Knights of Seiros several years ago, wasn't he? I'm guessing that Cyril might be a little older than me if he was born after the Captain left. It would make sense since I was born in 1164," she spoke, taking one of the cupcakes her sister had not eaten, and holding it.

“When did Captain leave?" she asked, finally taking a bite from the cupcake. She was curious why he left. The Knights of Seiros were a well-respected group of Knights, and Amalthea respected them. She'd learned that Jeralt was the greatest of them, and she had admired him from what stories she could pry from the other Knights. At least before she wasn't allowed to be told stories any longer. If she were being honest, she wanted to be like The Blade Breaker: a great knight of renown.

Pouring herself a bit of milk from the carafe that had been brought in with the sweets, Lyanna hummed. “I am told he disappeared after a fire at the monastery some twenty years ago. If his son was born after that, he would be much closer to your age than mine," she said. “Were it only the irregularity of his age, I suppose it wouldn't matter. But there is also the matter of... well the whole thing. Captain Jeralt didn't simply retire to become a mercenary. From what I am able to gather, he was presumed to have died in that fire. Why did he tell no one he was leaving? Why come back so readily now if that were the case? Why does the Archbishop trust him, if that were the case?"

She shook her head, taking a swallow of the milk before picking up a cookie. “And Cyril has quite a..." She bit down, searching for a word. Dark reputation. The stories about him are not the kind I would think the Archbishop wants associated with the Church of all places." She paused there, going quiet and rather still.

“I do not believe Lady Rhea would intentionally put the Church or its people in danger, Thea, but... if at any time you have any reason to be suspicious of your professor, you must tell me, do you understand? Even if it seems like nothing."

“Yes, mother," Amalthea retorted, straining the last word a bit. Sometimes, her sister really did act like her mother, however; Amalthea knew it was because she genuinely cared and worried about her. She respected her sister's wishes and would do what she could to ensure that Lyanna did not have to worry about her. “And I believe in Lady Rhea's decision to appoint Professor as... well, the professor. It might be that she believes Jeralt had his reasons for what he did, and wants to give him another chance."

There were many things it could be, and Amalthea believed that Lady Rhea had a kind and forgiving heart. “And what about you, how has the day been for you!?" she decided to ask. It was obvious enough that Lyanna was stressed about the whole ordeal. “Oh, I know! After you get off, let's go have the kitchen make us a batch of your favorite jelly doughnuts! Those always make you happy!"

Lyanna had winced at being called 'mother,' the expression on her face tightening, but she pushed a breath from her nose after the rest and shook her head. “Most of my day was spent checking in on progress for the week. I have meetings with all the Professors tomorrow, which is why your Saturday group activities are being delayed by a week."

She looked down at the sweet in her hand, and the dwindling pile of them on the tray, and grimaced. “I do not wish to inconvenience the staff too greatly, however... I believe a dozen should not be too much extra imposition."

“We'll need at least another two," maybe three dozen would be sufficient.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Saturday the 11th
Hanneman's Office - Early Afternoon - Overcast
Cyril Eisner


Lyanna von Kreuz was... intense was probably one way to put it. Cyril wasn't sure what he'd been expecting out of this apparent progress meeting with the Archbishop's right-hand woman, but he left with the feeling he'd been quite interrogated, and that she hadn't much cared for his answers. Or rather, his lack of them.

There simply wasn't a great deal about himself Cyril could tell her. He didn't know his age, or his place of birth, or much of anything about his mother. He didn't know much about most things, really. What he knew was battle, and everything that surrounded it. Tactics, equipment, magic, how to march, how to lay siege, how to organize troops, at least on a reasonable scale. He didn't know royalty or religion or history or farming or any such things as those, and while he gathered that most people here found that strange, he didn't. Most people only really knew the things they used; everything else tended to fade in memory.

The average commoner didn't know anything much about history or politics or magic or war or any of the rest. They knew the seasons, and trade, and however they made their living, and whatever little piece of the world they were from, and that was it. Was it really so strange that he would be similar? He couldn't quite understand why his answers had seemed to frustrate her so, but he didn't think it was directed at him, necessarily. This fact did not demystify it any.

Sighing quietly, he closed the door to Lyanna's office behind him. He'd said he'd pay Hanneman a visit when his appointment was over, and so made his way to the room next door. His father's office was just across the hall, and Manuela's next to that and across from Hanneman's, so they were all grouped quite comfortably. Cyril supposed it might be a while before he was offered much of an office, as there didn't seem to be many left. He doubted he'd use it for much—Hanneman was a researcher and Manuela had the infirmary, but Cyril taught from memory and experience, and went to the library when he needed space to think quietly or diagram something, so it was all well enough.

Hanneman's door was open, so Cyril knocked on the frame to get his attention before going inside.

“Hmm, fascinating," was the only response Cyril received. It took a moment longer before Hanneman turned around, and spotted Cyril. “Ah, come in, Professor," he stated, motioning for Cyril to step inside. “If you would, I'd like to use this device I designed to determine whether or not you possess a Crest. It won't hurt a bit. Promise," he stated, getting straight to the point. He was standing in front of a large crystal-like object, and had pointed to it

“As I've mentioned before, I wonder whether or not you possess a Crest of your own. Do you know what Crests are, Professor?" he continued, his gaze keeping with Cyril's in a rather curious manner.

That was certainly on the list of things he knew nothing about. Cyril shook his head. “I don't." He stepped into the room, stopping slightly to the side of the device in question. It seemed to be built into the floor, with a pedastal bit and what looked like a receptacle of some sort, though he really hadn't the faintest idea what it was or how it would function.

“You don't know about Crests?" he stated in a shocked tone, his eyes widening slightly before receding. “Well, allow me to tell you absolutely everything about them. They are power incarnate." He paused to take a breath, as if he were about to go on a long-winded speech about how Crests worked, and what they were.

“It is said that Crests have been bestowed upon Humans by the goddess countless ages ago. They exist within the flesh, and are passed down through bloodlines. Those who possess a Crest may excel at magic, display exceptional strength, or any number of boons."

“Each Crest has its own particular power, the nature of which is beyond mortal understanding. For now," he explained, his lips curling slightly at the last statement.

Cyril tilted his head. “Through bloodlines?" he echoed. “So people keep track of these?" His father had never mentioned being of such a bloodline, and considering that he knew nothing of his mother, he somehow doubted she was of any particularly notable heritage. This made him wonder how likely it would be that he possibly had such a thing. He could certainly do magic, and was he supposed reasonably strong, but...

“Yes, bloodlines. Those who have ties to the ten elites who fought beside the goddess so many years ago," he explained. “Just because someone carries a Crest, however, does not necessarily mean their descendants will inherit it as well. Only a scarce few descendants of a Crest's bloodline will inherit that Crest's power."

“It is possible that you just so happened to inherit a Crest one of your ancestors bore. Given your talents, I suspect you do, but we won't know for sure unless I look into the matter. That is how a Crest usually presents itself, after all."

So it was possible he had one that had just... skipped a lot of generations or something. Cyril wasn't quite sure what to make of that, but he figured it couldn't hurt to see. “What do you need me to do?" he asked. Then, after a beat: “do any of the students have these Crests?"

“Quite a few of them, yes. The Princess of Faerghus possess a minor Crest of Blaiddyd, the Duke of Leicester possess a minor Crest of Riegan, the Imperial Prince possess a minor Crest of Seiros, and there are few more who possess a Crest of Daphnel and Gonreil as well," he answered with a smile as he listed the students off.

“I'll get to the bottom of it, straight away, though. Now then," he spoke, holding his hand out over the device in front of him. “Go ahead and hold out your arm over this device here," he continued as he dropped his arm to his side.

Cyril figured he was beginning to see the pattern here. Apparently, nobles carried these Crests in high proportion, yet another reason to suspect he had none. Still, if it was as easy as holding his hand out to have it confirmed, he saw no reason not to.

Stepping a little closer to the device, he regarded it warily for a moment. Hanneman had said bloodlines, so he'd sort of expected it would require, well, blood. There didn't seem to be any instrument for acquiring such, however, and in the end he merely led his arm hover over it, as he'd been instructed.

The device did nothing for a mere second, remaining blank while his hand was held over the device. Suddenly, it made a whirring sound, and an image appeared on the device. There were lines, some intersecting and others flowing away from each other, however; the appearance of the image seemed to startle Hanneman.

“What is this?!" he exclaimed as he investigated the image. “I've never seen this pattern before... is it possible an as-yet undiscovered Crest has been detected?" he was speaking more to himself at the moment, and he seemed entirely focused on the design. “To think there are still Crests out there that even I am unaware of! How thrilling!" he continued, grinning as he turned his attention to Cyril and cleared his throat.

“Pardon my unrestrained jubilation. I have much to consider. You may leave now. I have more research to do in regard to this Crest. Yes, so very much more research. But for now, your work here is done. I will notify you if I find anything out," he stated before turning his back to Cyril.

“Hmm... What could this line here be indicating? Perhaps it represents a lack of symmetry... or perhaps..." the professor was talking to himself at this point. “What in the world? Oh, I see... It may be connected to that, but to a greater degree than usual..."

Cyril knew enough to recognize when he'd been summarily dismissed, so it was with a shrug and no sound that he exited the other professor's office, making his way down the hall to the small kitchen available to the faculty. He figured it was right around teatime, and he'd gone down to the marketplace yesterday and bought several new varieties with his first week's wage. He didn't really have a lot to spend the money on; the Academy was paying him much more generously than he was used to, even before the stipend for his students' equipment was considered.

About ten minutes later, he emerged from the kitchen carrying a full tea tray easily in one hand. He supposed he might as well work up Monday's lecture while he had the time; he suspected the common room might be empty at this time on a weekend, and headed in that direction first.

As it was, it was occupied when he arrived, by one of his students: Senka. She was sitting quietly, by herself, reading a book of some sort. Upon closer inspection, it seemed to be a tome on fire. She turned the page before she glanced up from the book, and turned towards him. She blinked slowly as if she were refocusing her vision.

“Professor Cyril," she spoke as her way of greeting. She'd greeted him as such the first week of class. “Do you need the room to yourself? I will leave if that is the case," she stated, placing a marker in her book perhaps so that she did not lose where she was at, and closed it.

“No," he replied simply, shaking his head a little. “I was planning to work but you won't disturb me." He was actually not sure if he would count as disturbing her, for that matter, but he figured if that was the case she could simply leave.

He took a seat at the same table as her, setting the tray down with ease and removing the satchel from his shoulder to withdraw the books and parchment inside. One of them was just a journal—he'd bought it at the marketplace with the intention of recording his lecture notes in it. Not that he lectured a great deal—he preferred to have the students work actively with what he presented them, mentally as well as physically in the afternoon practices. But still, it might be nice to have more concrete plans than condensing lessons out of the first memory that came to him on the day.

He poured a cup of tea for himself, then glanced up and met Senka's eyes. “Would you care for some? There's milk." he indicated the small metal carafe with his chin. He wasn't sure how or why, but he'd always sort of had an instinct for how other people preferred their tea or coffee, and he figured Senka was a milk tea person, more akin to Vridel in the preference than Mercer who took it straight, or Sorcha who liked sugar.

Her eyes narrowed a fraction before she hesitantly reached for a cup. “Thank you, it will help me concentrate," she stated as she took the cup and poured herself the tea. After she added the milk, she simply held the cup and inhaled softly. Her features softened considerably as if she were recalling some distant memory she was fond of.

“What leaves did you use, if you do not mind me asking, Professor?" she asked as she glanced up to meet his eyes.

“It's a four-spice blend," he admitted. “Not something most people enjoy, but I like it for afternoons." His voice was quiet; he saw no need to speak loudly when it was only the two of them in here anyway. Of all his students, he suspected Senka's outward mannerisms were the most similar to his own: she was never loud or especially expressive, and her tone had little variation to it on most occasions. But unlike him, who struggled to make sense of things like feelings, he thought that perhaps hers were just very subtly expressed.

For this reason, he found her particularly interesting to observe. It didn't strike him as odd that her eye contact was so steady; his remained much the same. Without looking, he shifted the small dish of dried fruits on the tray slightly towards her with a finger. “It doesn't overwhelm these, but doesn't get lost in them, either."

“Mother used to make this blend for me," she stated, her eyes shifting towards the dried fruits. “It has been a few years since I last had it," she continued, picking up a dried apricot and taking a bite of it. She chewed quietly for a minute before washing it down with her tea. She returned her gaze to his, though, and her eyes narrowed slightly. It was almost as if she were trying to figure something out before she blinked.

“If you do not mind me asking," she began, setting her cup down and sitting straight in her chair. “What was it like traveling with... your father?" she asked. “From what I've read, Captain Jeralt was a respected Knight of Seiros. Was he the one who taught you to fight?" she continued.

He considered the question, unsure what kind of answer would be appropriate and eventually deciding that if the truth wasn't then he didn't know what else would be. “He is," He said, picking up his own cup and holding it beneath his nose for a moment. “I... can't really remember a time when I wasn't. Fighting. That's just kind of what mercenary life is like when you're raised in it. I suppose not many of them have children while they're still active." He spoke the words into the rim of his cup, then tipped it to take a sip, exhaling softly after he swallowed. “At least not unless there's someone else to look after them."

He set the cup down on its saucer with a soft clink. The light in the room was rather dim; though it was the middle of the afternoon, the sky was dark with clouds. He recognized an incoming storm when he saw one. Drawing a spark of magic to his fingertips, he lit one of the nearby candles on the table, then placed its glass cover back over it. “I suppose it was..." No one had ever really asked him these kinds of questions before, so the answers were not ready to his tongue.

“Simple," he decided after a moment. “It had a rhythm and the rhythm was one I'm used to. I don't think I'd call it easy, but I'd call it simple." He paused, then, to pick up a dried apple slice, and only when he was finished did he return the question.

“And yourself? I don't really know what the difference is, but you don't come across quite the same way most of your classmates do. You seem sadder." The declaration was perhaps overly blunt, but he didn't really know how to put that in a delicate way.

It wasn't hard to tell that his statement caught her by surprise. Her cup stopped midway to her lips, and her eyes were wide with surprise. She cast her gaze away from his for a moment, as if she were trying to regain herself. Once she did, she cleared her throat softly before she managed to meet his gaze, again. “I lost my parents a few years ago," she spoke, but her voice was barely above a whisper. “I suppose their deaths have not yet left me," she spoke after a moment of silence.

“Before that, though... it was as you said: simple," she did not elaborate further, and took a drink of her tea.

“My condolences," Cyril murmured. He knew better than to press further; he had that much social grace at least. If she wanted to talk more about it she could; he certainly wasn't going to force the issue.

“I never knew my mother," he offered, feeling as though it might be... reciprocal, in some way. “My father says she died in childbirth. I grew up with his mercenary company. The Aegis. People come and go from that kind of life a lot, and most of the time we were on the road. Didn't keep much of a base, and never the same one for more than a couple of years. He used to say it was a cycle. We'd stay in one region, clear it of bandits and the like, and move onto the next. But those sorts of people always reappear, and the cycle starts again."

She hummed a soft note as he spoke. “I can understand why, though," she stated, setting her now empty cup on the table. “When people are forced out of their way of life, they feel like they only have two choices: die or resort to stealing in order to survive. If it's the latter, they adopt that way of life, ruining families and people alike, and end up repeating the cycle, as you say," she continued, speaking as if she'd had experience in the matter. She shook her head, though, and took another piece of dried fruit. She chewed it softly with a contemplative look, which was the most expressive she's been.

“Father used to take me riding to explore the... country side. He'd also baked sweets with me, which mother never liked. She claimed it took me away from my studies, but..." she paused, her brows furrowing lightly. “It was pleasant. Bandits were the reason my parents died, though. If Princess Sorcha hadn't been there... if she'd been a minute too late," she seemed to struggle for a moment, perhaps searching for the words she wanted to say. “I, too, would be dead. I am indebted to her in more ways than I could ever repay. But she is a gentle heart, and I wish to protect that." Her hands clapsed tightly around the cup as she spoke.

Cyril could certainly understand where she was coming from, when it came to the point about banditry. The truth was, most bandits weren't all that different from most mercenaries. It was just a matter of who was gainfully employed and who was working outside the bound of the law. Mercenaries had to be more professional, but not all of them were all that different. He'd heard stories of companies preying on the people of the regions they were nominally supposed to be protecting. Extorting people for their protection, demanding lodging and supplies instead of paying for them—taking advantage of desperation, in other words.

Desperation, in his experience, was everywhere. There never seemed to be enough to go around somehow. In the Kingdom especially, living was hard, and even the nobles lived quite austere lives compared to some of those he'd encountered in the Empire or even the Alliance. That said, there was some measure of shortage everywhere, though the causes differed. He could hardly blame people for doing what it took to survive.

By comparison, Senka's stated goal was positively idealistic. Even if it was narrow in scope. He could understand that, too, though. The world itself seemed far too big to think about as something to be protected. At least to him. He didn't know how monarchs did it. Maybe they didn't. But protecting a person... he'd never really set himself to that, either. His father of all people didn't need it, and he'd never been close to anyone else. Maybe...

“Gentleness is hard to keep," he said softly. “But I think it's a valuable thing to protect." He took another sip of his tea and passed a breath quietly through his nose. It wasn't quite a sigh; as with most things he did, it wasn't expressive enough to qualify as anything like that. “I hope you succeed."

For a fraction of a second, there was the barest smile on her face. “It is the gentle heart's dreams I wish to protect," she spoke as if clarifying herself. “Thank you, Professor. No one..." she paused, clearing her throat as if something had been caught, “it's been a long time since someone told me that they hope of anything for me."

Cyril wasn't entirely sure what to make of that. Had she no one who would do such things? She'd mentioned having lost her parents, of course, but even he knew that most people had more than simply that. They had other family, or friends, or mentors, or things of the like. It sounded very much, however, as though Senka had none. Perhaps Sorcha was her friend, but then she seemed the type to express it in a different way, perhaps.

In such a context, he couldn't make sense of the smile. A strange contrast to the melancholy; stranger still that it seemed to have been prompted by his words of all things. He blinked, then nodded slowly.

“You are welcome," he said, simply but not untruthfully. “I expect that as your teacher I will eventually hope a great many things for you, but that seems a fair place to start."

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Sunday the 12th
Officers Academy: Greenhouse - Morning - Clear
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer pursed his lips together as he stared at the plants. He was here to procure a couple of them for various tests. The last test he did was a success; he'd managed to make a poison that caused people's stomachs to become upset in two day's time. Of course, testing it was no easy feat, and he was partially glad he didn't get caught. No one knew it was him; he'd made sure that nothing would ever fall back to him, but now he needed to try something else.

“Oh, Mercer!" a voice called out to him, causing him to turn his head in the direction of the sound. He blinked slowly. He recognized her as Amalthea, the newest addition to the Academy. It was a shame that she joined the Blue Lion's House, but he supposed it worked well for her... temperament. “What are you doing here? Are you here to pick flowers for someone?" she continued, a large smile on her face. Mercer's brow raised, and he could feel his lips pulling into a smile.

“Not exactly," he replied. They weren't flowers, after all.

“Well, if you were, I think the gladiolus would suit you better," she stated, pointing to the said flowers. Gladiolus, huh? He was never a flower person, himself, but he supposed she was entitled to her thoughts.

“I think poppies are more his sort," another voice broke in from further into the greenhouse. Mercer could recognize it easily as belonging to Vridel, and indeed the Imperial Prince's rather infamous head of silver hair appeared over the top of some of the plants a moment later.

He stepped into the same large central corridor of the greenhouse as the other two occupied, evidently dusting his hands free of soil. There was a small pouch tied to his belt; perhaps he'd been collecting something medicinal or something of the kind. “Soporific and occasionally known to... cause illness." He smiled, more than a little slyly.

Mercer grinned in response. “I don't know, Mercer seems more of the gladioli type. He's very charming and bright, and colorful," Amalthea spoke before he could, causing Mercer to place a hand over his heart in mock surprise.

“To think there is someone who thinks so highly of me. I'm flattered," he responded, earning a delighted giggle from Amalthea. She shook her head, though, as if that wasn't what she had meant. Even if she didn't, Mercer would still take what he could get.

“I don't mean it like that. The same could be said about Vi, too. There is a sort of charismatic presence to him, but he's not as colorful as you are. That's not a bad thing, though. Usually the most beautiful flowers are the ones that don't seem to catch your eye right away. They also survive longer," she stated. Mercer couldn't help but laugh at the strange analogy.

“Yes, well... I suppose I will take survival." Vridel looked vaguely miffed to be addressed by the nickname, however, and raised a pale brow at Amalthea. “I do not believe we've been formally introduced," he drawled. “Though you seem to be well aware that I am Vridel von Hresvelg. May I inquire as to who you might be?" The tone he used was a light one, almost flirtatious perhaps, though not overly so.

It would be pretty surprising if Vridel didn't already know who Amalthea was, all things considered. But from his face alone it was impossible to tell.

“Amalthea von Kreuz, your prince... er, highness?" she stated, curtseying as she tumbled over her words. Mercer chuckled in response and rolled his eyes. “I mean, everyone knows who you are, though, Vridel. The Imperial Prince, and then there's you, Mercer, the Duke's heir to the Leicester Alliance" she continued, smiling brightly at the two of them. He wondered, for just a second, how someone could keep a smile like that. Maybe she had a sheltered upbringing?

“So that makes you Lyanna's sister, then?" he asked, though he already knew the answer. She nodded her head in response, perhaps a little too enthusiastically. “Pleasure to meet you, Thea," he stated, giving her a short bow, as she waved her hands in front of her as if to stop him.

“Please don't do that! I'm not... I'm not like you or Vridel. You don't have to bow to me or anything. I'm just a simple person, really. A commoner," she stated, causing Mercer to laugh.

“It's not a formal bow, you see. It's a common gesture when greeting someone new, commoner or Lord," he stated, allowing his eyes to slide towards Vridel.

He didn't look especially happy, though that could simply have been the fact that Mercer had all but backed him into a social corner where he had to affirm his statement, which was in fact true, and do the same, which did rankle some nobles. He'd never seen Vridel bow to anyone, but then they'd never been in the right situations for it until now. Their own introductions with Sorcha included had been rather more perfunctory, as the training exercise was meant to be underway.

Placing the side of his fist to the center of his chest, he bowed in the Imperial fashion, before straightening. “Mercer is correct," he admitted, letting not an ounce of discontent infect his tone. Were he less perceptive, Mercer might not have even noticed it. “Besides that, it would be rather rude of us as men beholden chivalric standards if we declined to treat a person with respect merely for the circumstances of their birth."

Mercer was loving the reactions, but he did not let them show. Vridel was not slow on the uptake, and perhaps already knew Mercer was amused, however; he couldn't help himself. Thea only seemed to purse her lips together at the explanation, but sighed heavily. Her sholders slumped as a sign of defeat, and Mercer grinned. “It's not a bad thing, I assure you. It's just common decency," he stated, folding his hands behind his head.

“That... makes sense. Respect should be mutual regardless of ones birth status. Commoner or noble alike, they should have some respect for each other in some ways. I guess that's why the Church allows the integration between the two, to help foster that," she seemed happy with the explanation, and turned her attention to Vridel. “Are you looking for herbs and flowers, too? Oh, what about... these?" she stated, pointing to a group of nightshade. Mercer snickered softly, causing Thea to turn her attention towards him.

“Those are nightshade. I don't think the Prince is looking to poison someone." But what did he know?

“If I was, I wouldn't use belladonna," Vridel replied, still in the tone of polite conversation. “It tends to result in a rather messy, paralytic sort of death, with a moderate amount of horrific agony. The flowers are pretty, though." There was almost something vaguely... challenging, in the way his eyes narrowed, as though he was assessing Thea's response to learning something like that was deliberately grown here, in the Church she'd just spoken so highly of.

“Huh, that's interesting. I wonder if the Church grows it to help students identify the poisonous plants so that they don't fall victim to them. The flowers are pretty, but does it only work when it's ingested, or if it's touched..." she trailed off, looking for an answer. If she'd noticed Vridel's challenge, she didn't show it. She seemed genuinely interested in learning the plant and its properties.

“Not exactly," he began, taking the intiative to speak before Vridel. He had a feeling the Prince was going to chase Thea off, and he didn't want that, quite yet. “The plant is poisonous, and touching it can be dangerous, however," he continued, watching as her hand retracted from touching the said plant. “That's only if you have cuts on your skin. That's why the gardeners wear gloves when they handle this one."

“So, it's best not to handle it without proper attire, yes?" she stated as Mercer simply nodded. He couldn't help but smile as her eyes lit up at the information.

Vridel's expression was flat. “Interesting that they'd waste space in such a small greenhouse on a poisonous plant with a rather unique look that appears in every major botany textbook I've ever seen," he muttered, but seemed disinclined to linger. It was hard to tell exactly what was agitating him, but Thea likely had something to do with it, and he swept past both of them thereafter, clearly quite intent on making a departure.

At this time of day, quite possibly for a late lunch.

Mercer snorted softly as Vridel made to exit, however; it seemed that Thea had other plans. “You seem to know a lot about plants, Vridel!" she called out after him, making her way so that she was behind him and following him in a manner a lost puppy would. “Since you do, will you help me learn to identify them? Or maybe find the best books on them?" she stated, causing Mercer to snicker softly as he trailed behind them.

From his perspective, it appeared that Thea wasn't going to let Vi escape, at least not in peace. She was a strange kid, but he put it down that she was related to Lyanna. And everyone knew that Lyanna was strange, herself. Perhaps not in the naïve way Thea was, but in the way that made it seem that she was older than she seemed.

It was quite clear to Mercer that Vi was not pleased with this development, but he'd had a fair point about their upbringings—there were certain things one simply didn't do, and being outright rude to a young lady was something the Imperial Prince no doubt considered extremely beneath him. He closed his eyes and released a quiet sigh, his brows furrowing. “I wouldn't say I know a lot," he specified. “Surely no more than Mercer does. Perhaps you would find him to be a more... suitable teacher on the subject given his..." Vridel's eyes narrowed slightly over her head at Mercer.

“Charming, bright colorful-ness?"

But Mercer was having too much fun with this, and shook his head. “I actually don't have that much knowledge in the stuff. I was contemplating asking you to be my teacher, Vi, but it seems that Thea, here, already beat me to it. Can't have two students hogging up too much of your precious time. Why don't you teach Thea? You'll be a splendid teacher for her, and you're already gifted, so..." he trailed off, knowing that Vridel would get his implication. Thea's eyes seemed to widen, though, with excitement? That seemed to be the right word.

“Oh, but, Merc," she began, calling him Merce from the sounds of it, as she furrowed her brows. “I wouldn't want to impose on the Prince. He seems busy enough and if he doesn't want to teach me, that's fine. I can always just ask the gardeners or explore the library." The smile on her face didn't quite reach her eyes, and Mercer knew it. He knew that expression; he'd seen it too many times for his liking.

“Sure, if that's what you want," he stated, shrugging his shoulders in a nonchalant way to hopefully make it seem like he was agreeing with her. It wasn't like he could force Vridel to teach someone against his will. And Thea was too sweet to push the subject further. He'd only known her a few minutes and could already tell what kind of person she was. It was a shame, really. That light she had... it could be spread if allowed, but Vridel was a stubborn sort.

If Mercer had noticed the slight falter in Thea's smile, Vridel probably had, too. More surprisingly, he actually seemed to be reconsidering, at least if the slightly-pensive pinch to his expression was anything to go by. He plainly narrowed his eyes at Mercer, no doubt aware of the role he'd played in engineering this whole scenario, but after a long moment he sighed and turned to Thea.

“I'm no one's 'teacher,'" he said flatly, shaking his head. “But if you want to know what I know about plants, then I suppose it's fine. Start with Roget's botany text, and just... bring me your questions as you have them, I suppose." He looked quite like he was trying to suppress a grimace.

Thea blinked in mild surprise, and her mouth was slightly open. She almost looked like one of the fish gaping like that. “Are you sure? I don't want to impose or anything, really," she started, however; Mercer couldn't help but laugh.

“Take it while you can, princess," he stated, grinning in Vridel's direction. “His highness doesn't often do it," he continued, grinning just long enough that only Vridel could see it. He was going to have fun with this. He just knew it.

“Okay, and thank you, Vridel!" she exclaimed, and this time, the smile lit up her eyes. He could get used to a smile like that, he supposed.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Monday the 13th
Dormitoriy - Nautical Dawn - Clear
Sorcha Blaiddyd


The plan was ready to go into action. Sorcha was fully dressed already, in her practice uniform with thick leggings under the skirt and tucked into her boots, a concession to the fact that it was still a little cool in the mornings at Garreg Mach. Nothing on how things were at home, of course—spring would be barely beginning in Fhirdiad. There was probably still snow on the ground, but that sould never happen this close to the Imperial border. Though there was no way to get directly from the Empire to the monastery because of the mountains, the northern parts of Adrestia lay at about the same latitude nevertheless.

Senka too, had arrived at Sorcha's room. She'd wanted to come, and Sorcha certainly had no problem with that. It was the third member of the group that was going to be hard to secure. At least if the fact that he'd slept like a log the morning after they were attacked by bandits was anything to go by.

Still, as far as Sorcha was concerned, Mercer was absolutely vital to the plan. In her mind. no one else would do. Securing her final item in place—the deep, clear blue-green crystal the always wore—in place around her neck, she made sure the chain it was hanging from today was secure, then tucked it away beneath her uniform. She wouldn't want to lose it in a training exercise, but she'd never go anywhere without it, either. The funny thing was, she couldn't actually remember where it had come from, only that she'd had it for a long time and it had always brought her luck. She figured it might have been her mother's at some point—she'd never seen another of its kind and apparently her mother hadn't been from Faerghus originally, though no one ever really got more specific than that. If they even knew.

“Ready?" she asked Senka, grinning brightly despite the early hour. It wasn't that she didn't like sleeping in, but Sorcha had been up early to train ever since she was a kid, and had realized that fewer people were around to see her mess up if she did it then.

“I am," was her simple reply. If Sorcha hadn't known Senka for as long as she did, it would almost sound as if Senka was bored. But that didn't seem to be the case since her face was slightly smoothed out in the way it usually was when she was amused by something. Perhaps because she knew what Sorcha's intentions were with Mercer.

“Do you have a plan to wake von Riegan?" she asked, falling into step with Sorcha as they made their way towards Mercer's room. “If I recall, other students mentioned it is quite difficult to rouse him."

If anything, Sorcha's smile widened. “Well," she said, feigning a sort of calm reasonableness in her tone. “I was thinking I'd knock first, and if that didn't work, I have this friend who can pick locks, so I figured I might ask her for an assist. After that I was just going to poke him with things, or if all else failed slam a book shut next to his head. I hear Cyril did something like that in class last week and it worked."

Their professor apparently took dozing in his class in the same evenhanded way he took everything else, but didn't let people get away with doing it, exactly. Sorcha approved of the balance. There was no good reason to yell at anyone or punish them for something so trivial, but that didn't mean the classroom should be somewhere to nap, either. Besides, Sorcha couldn't imagine wanting to sleep during one of his lectures. Maybe one of Professor Hanneman's, when he went on a tangent about Crests or something, but not Cyril's.

There was a faint puff of air exhaled from Senka which Sorcha knew to mean she was amused. “If that is what it takes. I do not know how someone of his... caliber can sleep so often," she stated, her voice remaining as passive as her face. If she were tired at all, she didn't show it. “And if that doesn't work..." she trailed off, pausing only for a second as if searching for the words she wanted to use.

“It might be beneficial to test out Blizzard in a small enclosure," she stated, the faintest hint of amusement in her voice. “I'm curious as to how it would work in small enclosures."

Sorcha raised both her eyebrows, laughing softly as she exited her room first, holding the door for Senka before locking it behind them. “You're diabolical," she said. “It's excellent." The second floor was about the same size as the first, honestly, so there weren't very many rooms in total. Garreg Mach monastery tried to take even numbers of common and noble applicants, and at only ten students per house, the dormitory was quite small. Professor Cyril had apparently been given an extra room next to Senka's, but other than that, things were pretty even.

Mercer's wasn't even far—only about three doors away from Sorcha's. Raising a hand, she knocked firmly three times, stepping back and letting her hands drop to her side.

There was no answer, as expected. Senka stepped forward, knocking a bit harder against the door, though. When all they received was silence, Senka sighed softly and glanced towards Sorcha. “I suppose step two is in order," she stated, glancing around as if to make sure there was no one around before kneeling so that she was eye-level with the door handle. From her uniform, she produced a small leather kit. Picking the tools she needed, she went to work on Mercer's door, and clicked her tongue in a satisfied manner. She held the door open for Sorcha to step through, and followed behind.

There, on his bed, was Mercer. His arm was hanging off the side while the other was clutching a pillow. He was snoring softly, but other than the sound, he seemed dead to the world. Senka stared down at Sorcha, brow lightly arched. “I believe the book might do if you drop it here," she stated, pointing to the nightstand next to his head. He was close enough that the hand hanging off the bed was lightly touching it.

Sorcha couldn't help it—she snorted. Sleeping Mercer was kind of hilarious. She almost felt bad about the fact that she was about to very unceremoniously wake him up, but not nearly enough to reconsider doing it. They'd both be better for this later.

Moving to his bookshelf, Sorcha scanned over the tomes with some interest. She didn't want to invade his privacy more than she already was, though, so she noted only that there were an unusually-large number of history volumes before picking up the largest in the set. It had a definite heft to it, and she smirked a little as she carried it over, lifting it and letting go when it was several feet over the bedside table.

It landed with a hard wham, and she stepped back, sly smile still on her face as she studied Mercer's with obvious amusement.

As soon as the book landed, Mercer was up, standing on his bed and entangled in the sheets. “The answer's twelve!" he shouted, pointing an accusing finger in Sorcha's direction. It was easy to tell that he was still half asleep if the way his eyes were half open were anything to go by. He blinked a few times as if to clear them from debris before they narrowed in Sorcha's direction. While he was shirtless, he still had pants on, and he didn't seem to make any effort to cover up. Perhaps because he was still partially wrapped in the blankets.

Senka merely kept her face passive, as if she found none of this amusing, however; her eyes were lightly narrowed. “What. Are. You. Doing?" he spoke slowly. “And how did you get into my room? Wait..." he paused and glanced around his bedroom. “What time is it?" he asked, his eyes narrowing slightly. “And why am I up this early!?"

“Sorcha has something she needs you to do for her," was the only reply Senka gave.

To her credit, Sorcha tried not to giggle at him. She just completely failed, and erupted into a gale of light laughter, wrapping her ams around herself and bending partway over until it passed. “You," she stammered around the uncontrollable laughing. “You're so—" she shook her head, clamping one hand over her mouth to try and smother the noise.

When she'd finally got it under control, she dropped the hand and straightened, face flushed pink with the remnants of her amusement, and cleared her throat. “You're up early because we're going to have a contest!" she declared. “I want to have a shooting contest with you, and we're not in the same class so it's not going to happen in the course of a normal day, so here we are!" Personally, she thought it was an excellent idea, but she wasn't totally oblivious to the fact that he might not think so, so she let her eyes widen innocently and smiled brightly at him.

“...please?"

Mercer merely regarded Sorcha with an unamused stare. “But why?" he stated, however; his lips pursed together. “Why so early in the morning!?" he was whining at this point, and stepped down from his bed. He peeled the blankets off of him, and rubbed his head. He mumbled something beneath his breath, but it was difficult to tell what.

“Under the circumstances, this is the only time Sorcha can practice with you," Senka replied, however; that didn't seem to satisfy Mercer.

“Fine, that's fine. But why me," he continued, his lips pursed into a fine line.

Sorcha's smile disappeared temporarily, because what she was going to say was genuine, and she didn't want it to come across like a dumb joke or anything. “That day," she said, like it explained everything. To her it did, but she knew she'd need to explain a bit more for his understanding. “You—you saved my life. And you're really good with a bow. I want to know how good, and if it's better than me, I want to learn how you do it. And I—"

She hummed, unsure how to put the rest of it. Her brows knit together, but as always, in the end she was as straightforward a person as they came, and her words were the same. “Also, it feels like I know you. I don't know why, and it keeps bothering me. I figure if I actually get to know you, that'll go away."

A flicker of hesitation passed across her face. “Maybe that's selfish, since all of that just now sounded like it was for me. If you really don't want to, I'd... I'd get it." There. She'd given him the option. It felt like it was only right. Princess she might be, but she didn't really like forcing her desires or point of view on other people, and she didn't want to pressure him into something he really didn't want.

Mercer sighed heavily, as if he was going to say something important, but shook his head. “You played no small part in saving yourself, Sorcha. You don't give yourself enough credit," he began, but paused as if to search for what he wanted to say next. “I guess you really don't remember," he spoke, but it was in a soft voice, and almost as if he had yawned it out. He shook his head, though, and rubbed a hand down his face.

“Fine, fine. I'll teach you," he finally conceded, stretching an arm over his head. “Let me get dressed first," he stated, glancing in their direction, as if to tell them to leave. Senka did not budge, however.

“It is nothing we haven't seen before. You're just putting on clothes," she stated, causing Mercer to snort.

Sorcha was inclined to protest. It was definitely something she hadn't seen before, and she was definitely not going to be sticking around to do so! Mercer beat her to it, however.

“I don't know where in Almyra or Faerghus you grew up, but that's not considered polite," he stated as Senka merely lifted her shoulders in a shrug. He sighed again, and rolled his eyes. “You're no fun. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get dressed away from prying eyes," he stated, ushering both of them out of his room. When he was finished, he reappeared before them dressed in a sleeveless tunic, black in color, with a pair of dark training pants. He had a bow slung around his shoulders as well, and his hair had been slicked back with a golden band. Perhaps to keep his hair out of his eyes.

Sorcha was sure she was still a little red in the face when he reappeared, but she thought she did a pretty good job of pretending she wasn't. Her own bow was already at the training grounds, and so she led the way there. It felt a bit like the sneaking around she'd used to do at night to train at home, with the difference that she wasn't alone this time. That part was kind of nice, actually.

When they'd reached the right area, she gestured proudly at the targets she'd set up. Just stationary ones, for this. Though she'd gotten used to moving ones a few years ago, this was about which one of them was most accurate in general, and the normal ones would do just fine for that. Taking her bow down from where she'd left it, she picked up a quiver of practice arrows and hooked it to her belt, tossing another to Mercer, quite confident he'd catch it.

“All right! How about we make a bet, to make this more exiting. If I win, you have to tell me what I don't remember." She hadn't missed that part, even though it got kind of lost in what happened next. “What do you want if you win?"

“A kiss," was his immediate reply, his lips tilting slightly in a sloppy grin. The look Senka gave him, however, was the most emotion she'd put on before. It was simply murderous, however; it passed quickly as Mercer chuckled. “I was kidding. I want..." he began, chuckling still as he tapped his chin. “You have to cover my chores for at least two weekends," he stated, the grin on his face spreading into a confident smirk.

“Deal?"

It took a moment for Sorcha's brain to catch up to the rest of her. Her heart lurched back into motion, slamming her gracelessly back into reality, whereas for a moment there she'd been... she wasn't sure exactly. All she knew was that her face was burning and her own embarrassment was irritating her, and she scowled at him, sniffing imperiously.

“Fine," she groused, unsure why she was grumpy exactly, except he had to know that he'd gotten a rise out of her, and she did not enjoy being so thoroughly bested, even at banter. She was emphatically not going to think about anything else other than the contest right now. “Since you're a boor, I'll shoot first." It wasn't a very good reason, but the truth was she welcomed the opportunity to turn away and focus on something else.

Though 'focus' might have been a bit of a stretch. Her first shot was abominable, by her standards, landing on the ring outside the bullseye, and she grit her teeth. There was no excuse for something like that, with a stationary target. Suddenly she understood his intentions in saying such a forward thing. He'd meant to throw her off the entire time, and she'd just let him succeed.

Grumbling under her breath, she shot him a glare and gestured impatiently with her bow, stepping away so he could fire next.

Mercer did not bother to hide his laughter. It only took him a few seconds to contain it, however; he wiped something from his eye. “I've known babies who could shoot better than that," he finally spoke, making his way to stand where Sorcha had been. He lifted his bow, however; his eyes never left Sorcha's. He winked at her as he let loose his arrow, which found a home almost dead center as a bulls eye.

“Huh, would you look at that," he stated, clicking his tongue in almost a disappointed way. “I missed."

“It does not appear so," Senka stated, clearly not amused. Mercer chuckled as he moved out of the way.

“Let's say... the first person to hit five targets as close as possible to the center, wins?" he stated, glancing in Sorcha's direction.

Sorcha was not about to take this laying down. He was a point up on her now because of her poor first shot, it was true, but she had to believe she could come back and take the win. Clenching her teeth, the nodded curtly and stepped back up to the line. This time, when she drew back, she focused her irritation, honing it until it was sharp as a blade and cold as ice. The faint shake in her hands steadied, and her eyes sighted down the shaft of the arrow. She didn't stand there forever, and she didn't second-guess what felt right, either.

Instead, she loosed.

The sharp clarity proved true, and the arrow landed dead-center in the middle of the target, no more than a centimeter off the true middle of the target. When she turned back this time, she lifted her chin, narrowing her eyes at him. If nothing else, she was going to make damn sure he had to put in effort for this. Take her seriously. She hadn't put in all the hours she had, until her fingers were sore and bleeding, just to be dismissed like a total amateur.

Even if he was really impressively good.

“Would you look at that, Princess actually managed a good shot. I guess I'm going to have to work a little harder," he stated, pursing his lips together as if he were impressed. “Alright, I suppose I should put on my serious face, now," he continued, though from the looks of it, his serious face was just a lopsided grin. He took his spot where she had been, and pulled back on the bowstring. He closed one eye, and then the other, as if he were gauging the distance. Once he was satisfied, he glanced at Sorcha, kept her gaze, and let loose his arrow.

It was dead-center. Right in the middle of the target. It seemed almost perfect, and Mercer furrowed his brows together. “Man, it's still off," he stated, rolling out his shoulders.

“How is it off? You hit the target dead-center," Senka asked. Mercer sighed and tilted his head.

“It's a millimeter off. You have to train your eyes to see that kind of flaw, but it is," he almost sounded upset about it. But his mark was still closer which put him at two points out of five.

Sorcha was torn. She was on the one hand just... amazed. That kind of seemingly-effortless skill was something she'd always aspired to, but never been able to manage in anything. The closest she'd ever managed was tinkering with things, but that was just a stupid hobby and nothing useful to anyone. Nothing a Queen had to know or be. On the other, did he have to be so smug about it? She didn't care a whit for extra chores, but dammit it hurt that he didn't even have to take her seriously at all.

It was with a much grimmer expression that she lined up her third shot, closing her eyes for a brief moment and pulling in a breath. She released with the exhale, the way she was supposed to, relaxing her fingers and feeling the little gust of air as the feathers of the fletching brush by her cheek.

The arrow thudded into the yellow part of the target, but it was easily an inch off center. With a frustrated noise, she turned away again, not looking at either of the other two this time.

“Sorcha," he called out to her to get her attention. “Come here," he stated, motioning for her to come to him. “Let me show you something and I want you to try it out, alright?" he stated, fitting an arrow on the notch as he glanced at her. “Your elbow isn't high enough, and you're not tucking in properly," he stated, taking a stance in what he must have assumed was hers.

“You need to stand like this," he stated, assuming a stance before turning his attention towards her. “You need your feet to be planted firmly, like this. Otherwise all of this," he stated, motioning towards her upper body, “is working against you. Now, look at how I do it, and I want you to imitate me, alright?"

He tucked the arrow back before pulling on the bowstring. He glanced at her to make sure she was looking before he turned his attention towards the target, and let his arrow loose. While it was still a good aim, it was not as dead-center as the other two had been.

She frowned, wondering if he'd gone a little wide on that shot just to humor her. It was still better than hers had been, but not by such a great deal as, for example, the first. For the moment, she couldn't say for sure, and she considered instead his advice.

It wasn't anything she didn't know, but she hadn't realized she was still doing it. The problem with practicing alone in the dark was, there was no one but herself to check her form, and so it was likely that this error was built into her habits now. Lips pursed, Sorcha took up her spot again, drawing back and consciously checking every piece of her form: hands, back, arms, elbows, even her head and neck and feet. She tucked her arm a little closer to herself, lowering her elbow, and firmed her feet.

She fired, and this time was better, akin to her second shot. Still not enough.

“Better," he replied, humming a satisfied tone in the back of his throat. He was smiling, not grinning, though, when he glanced in her direction. “Now, you just need to stop concentrating. You know the first rule of combat is you're not going to be able to take the time and aim. You need to just lose yourself in the bow and the arrow," he continued, and as if to prove his point, he quickly notched an arrow and let it loose. With a loud thud, it found its home in the center of the bulls eye.

“If you do it this way, without putting too much thought into it, it becomes muscle memory. When your muscles remember what to do, you'll be able to hit the target dead-center, almost every time," he stated, leaning his hand on his hip and resting it there.

“It's more than just muscle memory, is it not?" Senka stated, seemingly curious about how the bow worked. She wasn't one for the bow, herself, but Sorcha knew that she wanted to learn all that she could. Even if she wouldn't be any decent with it, it was just something Senka wanted to do.

“It is, but that's mostly because it's training. The more you train, the better you get, however..." he paused and let his eyes wander back to Sorcha. “You can't practice by yourself without anyone telling you what is missing, or what you did wrong. Otherwise, you'll never improve. I'm good with a bow because Leicester Alliance trains everyone how to use it. We're watched, guided, and corrected if we did something wrong."

“If you want, I can help you become better, Sorcha. Just..." he trailed off at the end, rubbing the back of his neck as he did so, “don't wake me up at the crack of dawn to do it. I need my beauty sleep."

She was certainly beginning to feel the lack, now. Of proper instruction. She'd known these things; known she needed to drill it into herself until it was memory. She could shoot decently without thinking about it even, or hit a moving target but... Sorcha sighed quietly through her nose. There was nothing quite as humbling as being reminded of how far she still had to go.

The offer genuinely surprised her. Though she didn't know Mercer well, she'd had the distinct impression that he wasn't the sort to give himself extra work to do. She swallowed, hesitating momentarily. “I... would really appreciate that," she admitted. While other people might have been bitter about being handed such an obvious loss, or insulted by the offer to be taught by a fellow student, she wasn't. She knew skill when she saw it, and knew that she couldn't alone become a better archer than she was.

“I don't think I really have anything to offer in return, though." That was a more painful, bitter admission, by far.

Mercer rolled his eyes at her statement, but he didn't seem to mean anything bad by it. “I didn't offer to help you if I was expecting something in return, Princess," he stated, grinning in her direction. “And it'll be nice to have a student for once. I don't often get to instruct people on things I actually like. But so help me," he began, pointing his bow in her direction, “if you wake me up this early again, I'll cease the training and you'll have to find someone else. Deal?" He seemed serious about it.

She frowned, but honestly it didn't bother her. “Are you okay training at night, then?" she asked. They both had classes for the most part during the day, and she'd rather not use the training grounds when too many other people were around if it could be avoided. She didn't want to lose the chance, though. Not when he seemed to be sincerely offering his assistance.

“Sounds good to me. Less people, less interruptions, more time to focus," he stated, reaching a hand behind his back as if to scratch it. “Ah, but that doesn't mean I forgot. You have to do two weeks of chores for me." He grinned at his last statement.

The mention of the chores did nothing to dim Sorcha's returning smile. It was a bright one, accompanied by a bow, hand-to-heart. “Thank you!" she said, sure the truth of the sentiment was obvious in her tone. She rose. “And, uh... sorry to wake you so early. Vivi suggested it might make the most sense, but night's fine, too."

“I knew it. I knew he had something to do with this," Mercer grumbled beneath his breath. He didn't sound happy about it, but it also sounded as if he expected this, somehow. “Yeah, no problem. Again, as long as it doesn't happen in the future, it'll be fine."

“Because you need your beauty sleep, correct? I wasn't aware you needed such things," Senka deadpanned, but Mercer chuckled.

“Is that a compliment? Are you calling me beautiful?"

“Not in the slightest."

Sorcha looked back and forth between them. “Isn't it obvious?" she asked, unsure why it was any kind of question at all. She shrugged though. She doubted Mercer could have made it through this much of his life honestly not knowing he was beautiful, so it was probably some kind of joke she wasn't quite in on.

“Anyway. I'll see you next time, Mercer. Tomorrow night maybe?" She would have asked to continue tonight, but she didn't want to be rude after she'd dragged him out of bed at an early hour.

“Tomorrow night, it's a date," he stated, winking in Sorcha's direction.

“It is a training session, and nothing more," Senka interjected, fixing Mercer with a flat stare which only caused him to laugh.

Sorcha regarded Senka with obvious confusion. Of course it was a training session. They'd just established that, and a date for it. What else would it be?

Well, whatever. She had a training session scheduled, and she had a feeling it was going to be a good one.

Setting

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. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Saturday the 18th
Garreg Mach Grounds - Early Afternoon - Sunny
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea hummed quietly to herself. Today was the day they were going to do lawn work, or maintenance. Something like that, and she was excited. It meant that she'd get to spend more time with her classmates in a setting that wasn't a classroom or a field exercise. She didn't mind those, really, but interacting with them outside had a certain appeal to it. Perhaps because she'd never really had the chance to bond with people, at least not fully. For as long as she could remember, it was always either her sister, Archbishop Rhea, or one of the other priests of the Church. There were occasionally people who visited the Church, but Amalthea always had limited contact with them.

Lyanna always said it was to protect her, though she never understood from what. The people she'd met were always very kind and warm. She didn't think those people were capable of harming her, at least not in a way that was dangerous. Shaking the thoughts from her head, she waited for the first of her classmates to arrive. She had been too excited the night before to sleep properly, which resulted in her being up near dawn. The first people to arrive were the princess and her friend. Amalthea thought they had a very lovely friendship, and it was easy to see how close they were. For a moment, she wondered if she'd ever be able to make a friend like that.

“Good morning, er... afternoon, Sorcha! Good afternoon, Senka!" she greeted, waving happily in their direction. Senka merely regarded her with a passive stare, and nodded her head in Amalthea's direction. She never understood why that always seemed to catch Senka off guard, but it did not deter her.

“Good afternoon, Thea," she greeted, causing Amalthea to smile. She finally addressed her by the shortened version of her name, something Amalthea had tried previously to get her to do. She felt a little giddy inside.

“Hello Thea!" Sorcha still seemed to be securing her hair in place, trying to get it to stay pinned up. She'd otherwise come dressed for the work they were supposedly doing, down to a pair of gardening gloves hooked presently into her belt.

Just when she seemed to have the hair in place, a piece fell forward to rest next to her face. Sighing, she appeared to give up, and just tucked it behind her instead. “How are you?"

“Very well!" she replied, a slight break in her voice causing her to laugh nervously. Her voice cracked whenever she got too excited about something, but she cleared her throat and shook her head. “And what about the two of you? Are you both well? Do you need anything?" she stated, knowing full well there wasn't much she could get them at the moment. Still, the offer was out in the air if they did.

Senka merely regarded her with a stare before slowly shaking her head. “I... am fine, thank you. I do not need anything at the moment, but," she paused, turning her attention to Sorcha as if she were seeking approval to continue. “Perhaps if there is something that requires your help, I will seek your assistance?" she stated, almost as if she were unsure of herself. Amalthea didn't quite understand it, but she nodded her head, regardless.

“Of course! I'd be glad to help in anyway I can," she stated, feeling her smile stretch across her face.

Sorcha huffed softly, but before she could say much by way of addition, a different familiar voice cut into the conversation. “Don't you all have somewhere to be?"

It belonged to Vridel, who approached with a wrist resting casually on the sword all students of the Academy wore with their uniforms. The bright red cape of his house was a sharp contrast to the stark white of his hair, and the deep purple of his eyes, but it sort of worked, giving him a harsh, but striking, appearance.

Sorcha crossed her arms and rolled her eyes at him, though she didn't seem upset or anything. “I could ask you the same question, Vivi. We happen to be waiting for chores to get underway."

“Well, well," put in the man walking slightly behind Vridel and to the left. He looked older than most of the others, a bit of stubble darkening his jaw, and sharp grey eyes. He also appeared to be smoking from a long-stemmed pipe. “What a coincidence."

Vridel spared the man a glance before returning his eyes to the three of them. “Wouldn't you be better served doing that at the stables? Where your chores are? I just saw some of your classmates over there."

Amalthea felt her heartbeat quicken at the arrival of Vridel and one of his classmates, it seemed. She didn't know why, but she would push that thought for another time. Maybe she could ask Lyanna about it? “But this is where we were scheduled to be, Vridel," she stated, smiling in his direction.

“Wait, am I in the right place?" it was Mercer who spoke this time, startling Amalthea slightly and she lurched forward. “Sorry, Thea, didn't mean to scare you," he apologized as Amalthea shook her head. “But seriously, why are you all here?" he asked, confusion evident in his voice.

“Move it, blockhead!" another voice pierced through, throwing Amalthea off for a second. She glanced towards the owner of the voice, and spotted a young woman, a bit shorter than herself, with vibrant red hair and pale green eyes. She didn't look too happy to be there, but she merely stood behind Mercer, arms crossed against her chest.

“Is that any way to treat your House Leader, Dierdre?" he responded in a flat tone, though he did look amused by something. Amalthea stared at both of them rather incredulously. Were they close friends to be speaking to each other like that? Or... maybe they were in an arrangement of sorts? She'd always read stories about arranged marriages and the like. Maybe that was the case with Mercer and Dierdre.

“Wouldn't have to if you weren't blocking the way," she muttered, pursing her lips in his direction. Senka had remained mostly quiet at the introduction of the newer people, and stood slightly behind Sorcha. Perhaps she was shy?

“But that still doesn't explain why you're all here? I thought the Blue Lion House was responsible for the lawn care, today?" She really was confused.

“And we thought it was us, and I'm sure His Highness over there thought it was the Eagles." The speaker was a very tall, powerfully-built woman with long, dark blue hair pulled into a ponytail on her head. She seemed to be following the red-headed one, a bit of fond exasperation on her features when she called Mercer 'blockhead.' Lyanna wore that look sometimes.

“Quite," Vridel replied, sparing the woman a nod.

Of course, matters were only further complicated when Devon and Sylvi appeared, this time in the company of Professor Cyril. He, at least, did not look surprised at all. Dressed in a sleeveless tunic and dark work pants, he looked quite as though he planned on getting into the dirt with them, not merely supervising.

“Good, you're all here." He gave them what seemed to be an approving nod. He must have observed some confusion, however, because he blinked slowly once, then clarified. “Saturday chores are mixed class. The other professors and I drew lots for who would supervise which groups. As such you are stuck with me for the remainder of the year." He paused, then added dryly: “my condolences."

“Wait, so that means we're stuck doing chores with them?" Dierdre asked, jabbing a finger towards Amalthea's group and Vridel. Amalthea, however, was more than estatic. She was going to have Saturday chores with all of the beautiful people, and hopefully she was going to make friends with them all. “All year?" she continued, as though she were in some disbelief.

“It would seem that way," Senka stated, but Amalthea almost didn't hear what she said. It was stated in a low tone, and she was almost sure Senka hadn't spoken at all, however; Mercer groaned in an exasperated manner.

“And here I was planning on shirking all my duties to you, Sorcha," he mumbled, but he didn't appear to be in a foul mood, despite his groan. Dierdre rolled her eyes, but dropped her hands to her sides.

“Well, it's a pleasure to meet you all," Sylvi was the first one to speak in a friendly manner, and bowed towards the others who were not part of the Blue Lion's. “I'm Sylvi Galatea," she greeted, her eyes falling onto her fellow Lion's. Amalthea already knew Vridel, but she supposed it was a good idea to introduce herself to the others.

“I'm Amalthea von Kreuz, but you can just call me Thea!" she stated, bowing, perhaps, a little too excitedly.

“Dierdre," she began, however; Mercer elbowed her in the side as she glared at him. “Dierdre Allard," she continued, narrowing her eyes in Mercer's direction. She moved away from him, though, and made her way towards the rather tall woman.

She, for her part, offered a calm nod. “My name is Sofia Esparsa." That explained who all the Golden Deer were, at least.

Vridel sighed. “Vridel," he offered, touching his fist briefly to his chest. “That is, not Vi, or Vivi, or any of the other nonsense those two—"he gestured briefly at Sorcha and Mercer—“use." He glanced to the man beside him. “This is Reynard Voight."

For his part, Reynard only nodded, exhaling a pale cloud of smoke, though he was polite enough to do so such that it wouldn't end up in anyone's face.

Devon introduced himself next, and with that it passed to Sorcha and Senka. “I'm Sorcha," the princess said, before gesturing to her friend. “This is Senka Argyris, my best friend."

“You all know me, I hope," Cyril deadpanned. “I think even Mercer's been awake for enough time to catch on to that much."

Sorcha coughed; it sounded like she was trying not to laugh. Vridel actually smiled. Mercer snorted unceremoniously.

“In any case, our chore for today is to maintain the lawns and flowerbeds. We're going to rotate the tasks, so we all do part of everything, but first I would like your suggestions on what those tasks ought to be." It seemed very unlikely he didn't know; rather, he seemed to be doing what he usually did and giving them the opportunity to figure things out and decide for themselves how to tackle an obstacle.

“We should probably clear these loose rocks off the lawn," Sofia said. She had a soft voice, deep for a woman's but soothing and calm. “I'm sure there are buckets in the supply storage we can use to make hauling easier."

“There's probably a wagon or some barrels we can fill up to make the haul a little easier. People can fill and haul at the same time," Mercer stated, shrugging his shoulders in a nonchalant manner. Amalthea chewed the bottom of her lip, thoughtfully, as she rolled a couple ideas around. They were doing lawn maintenance and also maintaining the flowerbeds.

“Some of us can pull weeds that are around the flowers. It'll help them grow, better," she stated. Senka glanced in her direction, but did not say anything before her attention was returned towards the other group of people.

“While the weeds are being pulled, some of us can fertilize the flowers. There are a total of ten of us; we should be able to divide the work between us, easily," she spoke, still just as softly, but loud enough that Amalthea could hear it. Dierdre must have heard, too, since she huffed lightly.

“I agree. If we split into a group of three, it should make rotating the work, easy. We just have to let whoever takes over for one of us, know what we've already done, and where they can start," Sylvi spoke, folding her hands behind her back, and rocking on her heels.

“Properly," Cyril said, arching one eyebrow ever so slightly. “You have eleven." It seemed he did intend to work with them.

“Why don't we do three groups of three, and one group of two?" Sorcha suggested. “The groups of three can move between rock removal, weeding, and fertilizing, and the two can float around to help with whatever seems to be going the slowest. Then we rotate every hour so everyone gets a chance to do a bit of everything and no one's stuck with the hardest job all afternoon?"

Amalthea liked that idea. Not only did it mean that they would be in small groups, it also meant that she would be able to socialize with some of the newer members. Even if they were of a different house, it didn't mean she couldn't make friends with them. There only seemed to be one problem, though. How were they going to decide who was in each group?

“It makes sense to have Professor Cyril be one of the two in a group, but maybe each House Leader should be grouped with someone not in their own house?" Sylvi spoke, almost as if she were reading Amalthea's mind. Senka's features seemed to tighten for a second, but Amalthea put it down as a trick of her eyes.

“Which means Sorcha, Mercer, and Vridel need at least two people from one of the other houses. There are more Blue Lions, though," Dierdre spoke, her brows furrowing in a tight manner. Amalthea supposed that was true, considering that almost everyone in her House was present. There were three Golden Deer and only two Black Eagles. That meant Reynard would go to either Sorcha or Mercer. It seemed fair, to Amalthea, that each leader get at least one other non-house member.

“If that's the plan, I'll split you," Cyril said matter-of-factly. “So you can resent me if you don't enjoy yourselves." It was hard to tell if he was being completely serious or not, but in any case, he did in fact do as he said. “Sorcha, take Reynard and Dierdre with you, and get started on the weeds. Mercer: you, Sylvi, and Devon can work on fertilizing. Vridel, Sofia, and Amalthea can get started on the stones in the yard. Senka, you and I will float. We'll begin with the weeding group, so they can get and stay a bit ahead of where the fertilizing group comes in behind. Does that work for everyone?"

“Works for me," Mercer replied first, giving Cyril a grin before turning to Vridel with a strange grin on his face. Amalthea didn't understand why, but she was glad that she was going to be working with Vridel and Sofia. Sofia seemed nice enough, and Vridel had been nice to help her out with her knowledge on plants. Of course, she still had a long way to go, but she thought she understood a bit more thanks to him.

“Fine by me," Dierdre stated, crossing her arms over her chest, however; her eyes briefly slid towards Sofia before she glanced in Sorcha's direction.

“I suppose it is settled, then," Sylvi spoke, bringing her hands to the front of her. “Let's get started, shall we?" she continued. Amalthea shook her head, and made her way towards Vridel and Sofia while everyone else grouped together. This was going to be exciting, or at least to Amalthea, it was.

“Hello again, Vridel!" she stated, smiling up at him before turning towards Sofia. “I'm looking forward to working with you, too, Sofia."

Sofia smiled gently. She had a very calm, cool sort of aspect to her, but the smile softened it, giving her an unexpected warmth. “And I with the both of you. If nothing else, I suppose we can look at it as good strength training. I'll fetch a barrow, if you two don't mind waiting a moment."

Vridel gave her a short nod of acknowledgment before she left, and he shifted his attention to Amalthea. “What are you training for?" he asked, tilting his head slightly.

Amalthea grinned up at him. “A Great Knight! I want to be like the ones in the stories, so I'm training in order to pass the required exams to achieve that," she stated in one breath. She took a breath in order to catch it. She hadn't meant to just spill everything like that, but she supposed the excitement was still running its course.

“Plus, I'm not really good with an axe, but I need to be in order to pass. I've never really had someone to practice with, and Lyanna didn't like me practicing with sharp objects," she stated, pursing her lips together. Something about poking an eye out or hurting herself more than others. Amalthea had to admit that it did sting to know that her sister didn't trust her that much, but she supposed it was for her own protection.

“A great knight?" he echoed. His eyes narrowed, a bit assessingly, but in the end he expressed neither skepticism nor doubt. “In that case, I suppose hauling stones around will make for useful exercise. Make sure you get turns at the wheelbarrow, too." He nodded, then pursed his lips. “And if you've never chosen an axe before, let me know when you visit the armory. I prefer swords, but axes are something of a... tradition. In Adrestia."

Amalthea felt her eyes grow rather largely. Had he just... volunteered to help her? Again? She blinked rapidly a few times before she shook her head. “Really? You'll... you'll help me with them?" she asked, though she felt strangely afraid for asking. Maybe he'd take it back now that she seemed unsure? Or maybe she was just a little too excited about it to think properly?

“I'd really, really appreciate it! Oh, but... I don't want to take up too much of your time. You're already helping me with the plants," she murmured, frowning slightly. Her ears also, strangely, felt warm.

Vridel seemed to notice that something had changed, because his expression did, too, a flicker of surprise passing over it before a strange smile curled his mouth. It wasn't the benign one he usually wore, the one that didn't quite light his eyes. Nor was it the same as the one he got sometimes when he and Mercer were bantering, though it was closer to that. It looked... like the kind of way a cat might smile, when it had spotted a mouse. If cats could smile, that was.

“No trouble," he said, and in some odd way his voice matched the smile. “I'm sure we'll come up with some way for you to make it up to me, if you're set on it."

Before either of them could say anything further, though, Sofia reappeared with the wheelbarrow in tow. “All right," she said, exhaling softly. “Shall we get to it?"

At once, Vridel's face returned to its usual expression of vague disinterest, and he nodded. “Let's."

Amalthea felt strange, and didn't move even when Sofia returned with the wheelbarrow. Her cheeks felt like they were burning, and there was a strange tingling sensation in them. Her heart was also beating fairly fast against her chest, and for a moment, it felt like she couldn't breathe. Why is that? She took in a deep breath, trying to calm herself, and nodded her head.

“And I'll definitely find a way to make it up to you, Vridel!" she stated once she found her voice. She was set on it, and if he was going to help her, she wanted to repay him in any way she could. Whatever it was, she would do it. If it was extra chores, or taking over his particular duties, she wouldn't mind.

“Let's get to it!" She'd never been this excited about anything, before.

Vridel laughed softly, more of a chuckle than anything, and that strange expression flashed briefly across his face before dropped eye contact and started working. “Sounds like a plan to me."

Setting

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Saturday the 25th
Dining Hall - Noon - Drizzle
Vridel von Hresvelg


When Professor Cyril's group finished with their morning chores—they'd moved lawn maintenance to mornings so as to keep their afternoons free—they sort of collectively headed towards the dining hall for lunch. One benefit to getting up earlier than Professor Manuela's or Professor Hanneman's groups was that they got the Dining Hall basically to themselves, as those two sets had just left to prepare for their chores.

The mood was rather high; perhaps that was to be expected. Their mock battle was tomorrow, when each of the three houses would grab training weapons and specially-designed tunics that would turn grey after some amount of 'damage' and pretend to be murdering each other on a battlefield. Vridel didn't really understand the appeal, but perhaps that was because he'd already had more than a taste of actual battle. At least it might serve as an interesting gauge of skills for some of them.

As one of the first in, he was also one of the first to be seated, and chose an unoccupied table to do it. Reynard had already disappeared; he tended to do that whenever large groups were interacting in a non-mandatory sort of way. This was fine by Vridel; he had plenty of uses for the other man's particular talents, and he knew Reynard was perfectly capable of remembering to eat on his own.

Picking up the small pomegranate on his plate, he scored it with a short knife and cracked it open before setting it back down on his tray.

It wasn't more than a minute later that another tray was set in front of him, on the opposite side of the table. “Hi Vridel!" it was easy to tell it was Amalthea. Only she had that sort of high, energetic pitch to her voice. “Is it alright if I sit with you?" she asked, though she didn't seem to wait for his answer as she sat down across from him. She was still holding onto her tray, though, and staring at him with a bright smile on her face.

“I... I can move somewhere else if you don't want me to," she added, but the smile never faltered.

He sort of hated this about himself. Realistically, everything about him wanted to reject her company. She was a woman of the Church, and however lovely or interesting the person, that tended to be something Vridel could not overlook. He needed to keep all such people at arms' length. And yet even as little as a month was enough time to tell that Amalthea had not one ill intention in her entire makeup. It was quite as though she was simply composed of benevolence and a bit of obliviousness and little else. He found it very difficult to resent her, as much as he wanted to.

So he simply shook his head. “Stay." Deciding his tone was rather too inviting, he hastened to amend. “I don't really care." He cleared his throat quietly and occupied himself slicing deftly into the fish he was eating. The dining hall tended to feature such dishes often, probably because many of them could be pulled from the monastery's massive lake. He understood that several of the knights and such were hobbyist fishermen.

She made a light sound, something akin to a giggle, and released her tray. “Thank you, Vi—Vridel," she corrected herself, perhaps remembering what he'd spoken of a week ago of how to address him. She began working the fruit on her tray; an orange, a couple of grapes, and an apple. She also seemed to have a bowl of the fish and bean soup. It was quiet for a moment longer before she set her fork down, and glanced in his direction.

“I, uh, this will probably annoy you, and I'm sorry, but I just want to say thank you, again," she stated, her gaze dropping as if she couldn't keep his. “For teaching me. I am really grateful! And like I said, I promise I'll pay you back! It's just... no one's ever really offered their hand to me like that. If... if I become annoying or if you don't want to teach me anymore, please tell me! I don't want to bother you!" she seemed to be rambling at this point.

Vridel's brows knit. He had trouble conceiving of anything he'd done as being all that much. He'd answered a few botany questions and offered to help her choose an axe and give her a few tips on its use. It hardly qualified as teaching, and was far from a significant drain on either his time or resources. Was she overblowing it to curry favor, or really that unaccustomed to basic consideration? Both were hard to believe, but for different reasons.

“As I said, you need not think anything of it," he replied simply. It felt like there was something else he wanted to add, but he wasn't entirely sure what. Instead, he shifted the topic of the conversation, choosing something she might speak about with more enthusiasm. She got very... animated, at times. “How do you think you will fare in the mock battle tomorrow?" he lifted a piece of fish to his mouth and took a bite. As usual, it was simple, but not at all bad.

“Personally, I think my House has a good chance at winning. As for myself," she stated, pausing only to chew on a piece of fruit in a thoughtful manner. “Poorly. I'll likely get trampled beneath everyone, but that's okay. Practice makes perfect, and I'm going to use this experience as a valuable teaching moment. Even if the mock battle is, in itself, a teaching moment," she spoke all of this with the same smile on her face.

“I've learned a lot in the last week, with the axe and trying to move around in a suit of armor, but I'm not that good yet. Everyone has had some experience in their training, or some other sort, but I'm..." she paused, pursing her lips together as her brows furrowed.

“I'm still behind everyone. I have a lot of catching up to do, but if I train extra hard, I'm going to catch up sooner rather than later!" she stated it as if she were truly confident she would succeed.

He almost couldn't fathom such a carefree attitude as that. His whole life, it had been made abundantly clear to Vridel that failure, being less than the best at anything, was simply unacceptable. He was an Imperial Prince, and even before he was the Imperial Prince, it was expected that he do justice to the pride of his bloodline, and live up to the damn Crest with which he'd been blessed. Even if no one expected him to inherit, even if he was just the son of a concubine—even if. He had to be better. For his mother and uncle, he had to be the best of his siblings, because he was the one who would elevate House Arundel to the very highest of positions.

Sometimes he wondered if the Insurrection hadn't happened because he was deemed too poor a candidate to place such hope on. If Volkhard hadn't chosen to seize power from the throne because he felt he lacked a sufficiently-talented puppet to put on it later. Never mind that he'd been a child—childhood was an illusion for people of a certain status.

And here was this girl, well aware that she was going to be bested and seeing the opportunity in it. There was no shame, no soreness, nothing. He didn't think even Sorcha was capable of seeing such things quite this way. She, too, knew shame, after all, for all her earnestness. But it seemed Amalthea was different from all of them.

“Find me," he said after a moment. “If it doesn't contradict your orders. Find me and we'll have a duel." He didn't say so because he expected an easy win. Rather... he wanted to make sure she got something out of it like she thought. That she wouldn't just be hit by a bunch of things and find herself out of the game before anything useful had happened. And besides that... he knew some members of his own house would be quite cruel, given the opportunity to assert themselves over a rival. There would be nothing useful in that. If she ended up engaging the Deer instead, so much the better. But if her goal was to attack the Eagles, then, well.

This seemed like the best plan.

“Deal. I'll come find you on the battlefield and we can duel! I want to see just how much I've improved in the last week, if at all," she stated, the smile returning to her face, though it seemed a little brighter than it had been. “Oh, look! It's Mercer! Merc!" she stated, tearing her gaze from his and glancing behind him. She waved excitedly towards Mercer who came up beside her and took a seat. He glanced between Amalthea and Vridel, raising a questioning brow as he did.

“Is this table exclusive for just the two of you, or am I allowed to join?" he stated, but he was already sitting down next to Amalthea, and pushing around the food on his plate. Amalthea's smile stretched a little further across her face as she glanced at Mercer.

“Hm, we were talking about the upcoming mock battle!" she explained, causing Mercer to snort, and shake his head.

“You mean the one where the Golden Deer House decimates the Black Eagles, and Blue Lions?"

“Well, well... someone's confident." Vridel propped one elbow on the table and leaned his chin into it. “You'd best be careful with talk like that, lest you provoke your enemies into forming an alliance against your oh-so-formidable strength."

“Who's strong?" Sorcha approached, plonking down unceremoniously next to Vridel and nudging him a bit with her elbow, a slight smile tilting her mouth. Those were rather uncommon; she must be in a good mood.

He hummed. “According to Mercer, the Golden Deer House can take both the Black Eagles and Blue Lions at once. Rather arrogant of him, no?" That of course wasn't at all what Mercer had actually said, but Vridel recognized bait when he heard it. Retaliation was only fair.

Senka had taken a seat on Sorcha's other side, the one not occupied, and glanced in Mercer's direction. Her head tilted just slightly, but Mercer was already laughing. “It's not arrogance if it's fact," he stated, shoving a piece of poultry into his mouth and grinned at Vridel. “Besides, little Thea here will be in our cheer section. You're going to cheer for me, right, Thea?" he stated, leaning his shoulder into hers. She giggled softly.

“I can't be your cheer person if I'm on the other team, silly. But I will root for all of us to win!" she replied, causing Mercer to laugh.

“That's not possible, Thea. Only one house will win," Senka spoke before turning her attention to her own plate of food. It was mostly fruits, and perhaps a few slices of meat. She didn't seem inclined to start eating, though, and merely poked at it.

Sorcha rolled her eyes slightly and shook her head, but whatever she might have said was interrupted when she glanced over and happened to see that Professor Cyril had entered the dining hall. Presumably he'd checked over the results of their chores before making his way here. She raised a hand and waved it at him. “Professor! Come sit with us!"

It would seem Vridel's table was getting quite full. He supposed he didn't mind the addition of the professor, though.

Cyril nodded slightly, blank-faced as ever, before retrieving some food and taking the last spot at the table, on the far side of Mercer. “Hello, everyone. I gather the mock battle is being discussed?"

“Discussed is a bit of an overstatement," Sorcha replied wryly. “Mostly it's just trash talk right now."

Cyril tilted his head slightly. “'Trash talk'? I do not know this term."

“Really? You've never heard the term before?" Mercer spoke, though thankfully he had the decency to speak when his mouth wasn't full. “It's like... taunting your enemies, only," he paused to tap his fork to his chin. “Actually it's a lot like taunting your enemies. For example, I said the Golden Deer House was going to decimate both the Black Eagles and the Blue Lions."

“But Vridel says that Mercer's just being arrogant and overconfident."

“You wound me, Thea. You're supposed to be on my side."

“She's in our house."

“Doesn't matter," he stated, waving a dismissive hand, “but anyway, that's essentially what trash talk is. It's just talking a bunch of nonsense to each other on who's going to be the best. It's obviously the Golden Deer."

“Ah." Cyril nodded in apparent understanding, then paused for a moment. “So if I were to say, for example, that it was extremely unlikely that the Golden Deer House would win because their leader is likely to fall asleep during the match, this would qualify as trash talk?" He looked, for some reason, to Senka for confirmation.

“Correct," she stated, keeping his gaze for an unusual amount of time. Amalthea pursed her lips in confusion, and Mercer almost choked on the piece of food he'd shoved into his mouth. “Which is true. Unlike the Black Eagles, who have a slight advantage, the Golden Deer House would be the first to fall," Senka continued, speaking in a way that didn't quite resemble trash talk, but more as if she were just stating simple facts.

“First off, that's a low blow, Teach. And secondly, really, Sen? You think so poorly of us? I'm genuinely hurt," he stated, placing a hand over his heart as if to emphasize it.

“On the contrary. I think very highly of you and your House. I just believe the Blue Lion House is superior to yours, and that the Black Eagle House is our only true competition."

Vridel couldn't help but smile at that, giving Senka a respectful nod. He had to admit, though, the byplay of her interactions with the Professor was... interesting. They were both rather unusual people, but still, the lingering eye contact had a very specific read, and he wasn't sure either of them had caught on to that. His eyes flicked to Mercer, suspecting he thought something much the same, but when he spoke it was only to continue the thread of the conversation.

“I suppose that if they take after their leader, the Golden Deer might prove good at least in the art of running away. Quite like their namesakes in that manner."

Sorcha's eyes went wide; she elbowed him in the ribs. “Vivi! That was rude. I think the Golden Deer have a lot of impressive members. Besides, you'd best watch out for arrow barrages with them. Leicester archers are the best in the world." She sniffed, turning her eyes resolutely down to her plate, which seemed to consist mostly of fruits and vegetables.

Well, well. Vridel narrowed his eyes slightly, but offered no further comment.

“And this is why Sorcha is the House favorite at the Golden Deer. At least she believes in us," he stated, winking in Sorcha's direction. Senka rolled her eyes softly, but didn't respond to what Mercer said. Sorcha appeared to become slightly pink in the face.

“We'll all have to do our best, in that case," Amalthea finally spoke, seemingly done with her food. She appeared interested in everyone's conversation that she'd remained quiet for the time. “Oh! How about, after the mock battle, we can all come back and celebrate, regardless of who wins? They make the best chocolate cupcakes!" she stated.

“I'm into it."

“It sounds... agreeable."

“Definitely!"

Cyril nodded as well, and Vridel shrugged. Celebrating anything but total victory sounded just as strange to him as looking forward to such, but if anything was proving true, it was that this place was nothing like home.

“Very well. Consider it a plan."

Setting

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. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Sunday the 26th
Garreg Mach Monastery (Outskirts) - Morning - Cloudy
Senka Rinaldi


Senka had woken rather earlier than normal. She wanted to be sure she would be ready for the morning's mock battle, and didn't want to leave anything unchecked. She'd pulled her hair back into a high tail, mostly so that it wouldn't be in her face, and to keep it out of her eyes. It wouldn't be beneficial if she were distracted or her vision impaired. She was slightly grateful that she had, since the air was rather warm outside. A bit humid, perhaps, because of yesterday's light drizzle, but the tunics they were wearing were helpful in keeping cool. According to the information they'd been given, these tunics were designed to bleed out the color once they'd take a certain amount of damage.

Each house had their respective colors: Golden Deer were given yellow tunics, Black Eagles were red, and Blue Lions had a pale blue. The blue contrasted with Senka, but she didn't mind. They were here for a battle, if nothing else, and she was rather excited about it. She'd spent the last few days practicing her magic spells, and a couple of ones Vridel had taught her. She wasn't quite confident in those spells, yet, but she was satisfied with them, nonetheless. She glanced over her team, watching as Amalthea fiddled with her tunic, and her axe. Sylvi had also chosen an axe, but seemed more comfortable with it than Amalthea did hers.

Senka had elected to use a sword along with her magic. After all, magic was not infinite, and she wouldn't be able to use it endlessly. She still needed a way to defend herself. “I'm so excited, I can't wait!" Amalthea spoke excitedly, turning her attention towards Senka.

“I know the feeling. This is our first battle; I'm excited to put to use what Professor has taught us," Sylvi added. Senka only nodded in agreement.

Sorcha wore her tunic over very light chainmail; rather than just pulling her hair back, she'd braided it around her head to keep it firmly in place and to avoid her usual problems with pins and such. She was equipped with both a training lance and a bow, including a quiver of soft-tipped arrows. It was hard to check blows with arrows and magic especially, so they'd all been instructed in ways to compensate: spells were to be cast at minimum power only, and the blunt arrows were not to be aimed for the head or eyes. There was still some risk, of course, but the school had brought along several additional healers besides just those on each team.

Healing spells would apparently return some color to the tunics if applied, so that should work basically as normal, at least.

For his part, Professor Cyril carried no weapons at all; his own version of the tunic had no sleeves whatsoever, though his arms from the elbows down were wrapped in bandage-like fabric, protecting them a bit, it seemed. He had a few scars on his upper arms, but it was rather clear just from looking at them that he was in exceptional fighting shape. Certainly moreso than Professors Hanneman or Manuela seemed to be, or any of the students besides. He raked a hand back through his dark hair, slightly mussed from the breeze drifting over the field. A rogue strand of it fell across his nose, but if it impeded his vision, he gave no indication.

Across the field, the other teams were getting set up as well. Vridel was easily identifiable by the bright white color of his hair; the tall man next to him had to be Reynard. The Golden Deer were slightly closer, but partly shielded by a small copse of trees, a tactical advantage designed to compensate for their somewhat middling position.

The Professor's eyes swung to his assembled students; he exhaled the slightest huff at Devon struggling to string his bow. He managed it, though, and slung it over his back. At his waist were several knives. Making sure he had everyone's attention, Cyril spoke. “The other teachers and I have decided that the first part of this battle is yours to decide how to handle. We don't have much time, so we have to decide quickly on a strategy. What would you like to do?"

That was not unusual given their trainings, she supposed. She merely glanced at her teammates, Amalthea lost in her own thoughts it seemed, and Sylvi seemed to contemplate what Professor Cyril had stated. “At the moment, the Golden Deer House has the advantage with their position. And it wouldn't be wise to split up and attack both houses at once," she began speaking. Senka could see some logic to that. If they split up their forces, they'd be outnumbered either way they went.

“Let's go after the Black Eagles, then," Amalthea suggested. “If we take them out, first, then the Golden Deer will be an easy sweep, right? After all, you said they would provide the least resistance to us," she continued, glancing in Cyril's direction.

“That does not mean you underestimate them, Thea. Even if we said that they weren't as much of a challenge, does not mean they wouldn't give us one," Senka spoke, watching as Amalthea's face fell, slightly. She didn't mean to be so straightforward, but that had been the first basic rule of war: never underestimate your opponent no matter how favorable the odds are.

“Perhaps we should go after the Golden Deer, then. The quicker we deal with them, the quicker we can move on to our biggest competitors," Sylvi spoke, but Senka merely narrowed her eyes.

“I agree; we should hit the Golden Deer, first. They are closer, and it will give us some time to deal with them before the Black Eagles have a chance to reach us," she stated, glancing in Sorcha's direction.

“Don't forget that they're able to move unimpeded, too," Sorcha pointed out. “I could see Mercer waiting it out if we attacked the Eagles because his position is so good, But Vivi's isn't better or worse than ours. He might choose to fall on our flank as soon as we're committed to the attack. Splitting up might not be good, but we should definitely keep some people watching for that."

Devon nodded. “Maybe those of us in the back line keep an eye on them since we aren't in quite as much danger from the front? If they come around we can be ready to switch to melee. As long as we keep each other updated on where we're needed and what's going on, we can focus on downing the Deer first and just fend off the Eagles as much as we absolutely have to until we're ready to fight them as a team."

“Very well," Cyril said evenly. “Then who are our front and back lines?"

“Amalthea and I can take the front lines," Sylvi stated, grinning in Thea's direction. Her attention went towards Devon and Sorcha, after that. “Devon, since you and Sorcha are the best archers we have, you two can stay in the back." Senka could see that. It would mean that the archers could at least engage from behind and keep each other updated. Sorcha was also good with a lance, so if the need did arise to switch to melee, Sorcha could defend herself. Finally, Sylvi's eyes landed on Senka, a strange light in them that she wasn't sure what to make of.

“And you, you're pretty decent with magic, right?" she asked. Senka could only nod in response. “Good, then you can come with Thea and myself on the front lines," she stated.

“Very well," she replied, glancing at her classmates. “Does that mean Professor will be staying behind, as well, in the back lines?" she stated, her eyes drifting towards Cyril. If they were going to split up, it made sense to keep the numbers even. Sorcha and Devon could provide support from a distance with their arrows, and Cyril bring up the rear if they had to resort to melee. Knowing how talented each House was, Senka did not doubt that it would come down to that.

“I think the Professor should stay fluid, so he can go anywhere he needs to," Sorcha offered. “A lot of this I think is going to depend on being adaptable, so we should all be ready to move, but having someone who's already planning on it would help shore up any defenses we need to reinforce quickly."

It would seem Cyril found this agreeable enough, for he nodded.

If he'd been about to say something, though, it was cut off when a loud voice rang out over the field. “All right everyone!" The speaker appeared to be Jeralt, his voice magically amplified to carry easily. He stood atop the nearby hill, the Archbishop and Lady Lyanna nearby, along with the spare healers the monastery had brought. “Only attack like you were instructed to, because only hits to tunics count. As soon as someone's tunic turns grey they're out, and should come to this hill. Hitting someone after they're out means you're out too, automatically. We're here to learn, not kill each other for real. Last person standing wins for their House. Begin!"

Sylvi wasted no time, and began moving towards the Golden Deer, a strange smirk adorning her features. Senka would have put it down to excitement, but it seemed a little different than that. Amalthea was right behind Sylvi, and with a spare glance towards Sorcha and Cyril, so was Senka. They moved at a rather even pace. Not too fast that they would tire themselves out before they even reached the Golden Deer, and not too slow that they were leaving their ranged fighters in the back for too long.

“Man, here I was hoping you and the Black Eagles would fight among yourselves, first. Not come after us," Mercer spoke when they were close enough. He didn't seem too disappointed, though, if the smile on his face was anything to go by. Sylvi merely laughed, but said nothing as they closed in. “I really don't want to do this, but..." he started, trailing off as his eyes went to Dierdre and Sofia, “Dierdre, you and Sofia are up. I'll provide you with some support."

“Let's give it our all!" Amalthea stated, raising her axe over her head as she ran towards them. Senka sighed softly, stopping a good distance away as Mercer fixed an arrow to his bow. She, at least, knew what he was capable of, having seen him training with Sorcha. She could try and provide cover for Sylvi and Amalthea from the arrows, but that would leave her exposed to the other archers on his team. She would have to make due with her sword, for now.

“Hey you! Fight me!" a voice called out, causing Senka to turn her attention towards the source, narrowly dodging a small fire attack. It was Dierdre, and it seemed she wanted to make Senka her opponent. Gripping her sword in her hand, she obliged.

In the line behind, there was time enough to provide ranged support, it seemed. Spells and arrows alike went flying for the very front line, where Sylvi had engaged Sofia, who was set firmly in position to defend Mercer. As promised, though, they kept themselves flexible, and so when the Black Eagles appeared on their flank, they were prepared, leaving the softened Golden Deer line for their melee fighters and turning their attention on where Vridel, Reynard, and a heavily armored man were making a swift charge forward, supported mostly by mages, from the look of it.

Cyril was quickest to react, rolling out of the way of a wind spell and sending a dark magic blast of some sort back towards the mage-in-training who'd fired it. The color on his tunic flashed, dangerously close to greying out before it stabilized. He fended off the armored fellow with the axe, smoothly catching his arm on the downswing and twisting to disarm before sending him back with a kick square to the chest. It looked like he could have done something more damaging, but his motions were clearly restrained.

Sylvi looked like she was having some trouble with Sofia. The woman had a slight height advantage, and from their physique's alone, was more muscled than Sylvi. She had more strength, and was probably able to hit just a bit harder. Sylvi had been mostly on the defensive side, blocking attacks when she couldn't do them, herself, and attacking only when there had been an apparent opening. Most of the color on their tunics were dangerously close to grey, but Sylvi seemed determined to win.

She brought her axe up, swinging down hard towards Sofia. “You've been a good opponent, but I think it's time we end this!"

Sofia's only response was to stab forward with her lance. Both attacks hit at the same time, and both bled the remaining color from their tunics, signaling that both girls were out. They vacated quickly, heading towards the hill so as not to obstruct things.

Meanwhile, Cyril, Devon, and Sorcha were doing their best to hold the Eagles at bay. The axe-wielding man had been knocked out by a solid chest-shot from the Princess, but another front-liner had stepped up to fill his spot—mostly distracting Cyril, by the looks of it. Vridel was haranguing both Sorcha and Devon at the same time, while Reynard had seemingly disappeared. Maybe he was out?

By the time Senka had managed to deal with Dierdre—she'd left for a different opponent who must have taken her out since she was scowling on the hill with Sofia—Senka still had color on her tunic, but not quite as much as she'd started with. Amalthea, still full of color, had made her way back towards the other three, and Senka followed suit. Immediately, though, Amalthea's smile grew on her face as she headed straight towards Vridel.

“Vridel! You promised to be my opponent!" she shouted, causing someone to laugh. From the sounds of it, it was likely Mercer who laughed. He'd joined the fray as well, making his way towards the group fighting, but still keeping a relatively safe distance from it all. He was likely waiting for the others to drop before he made his own move. Senka was fine with that. She sent a small fire ball in the direction of the front-liner distracting her Professor.

“I will be your opponent," she stated softly, raising a hand out in front of her while keeping her sword in the other. To anyone else, it might have seemed like she were mocking the person, however; that was not her intention.

Sorcha had turned her attention on the people immediately in front of Mercer, perhaps intending to carve a line to the Duke's heir herself. Cyril nodded when Senka drew off one of his opponents, and proceeded to swap his attention to the other. Devon started in on the Black Eagles' nearly untouched back line, trying to make each shot count by standing behind Senka and Cyril to prevent counterattacks.

Vridel had abandoned his previous course, making it easier for Devon and Sorcha to switch tacks, as soon as Amalthea had called out. He wore a smile of all things as he sheathed his sword and reached back, drawing an axe from his belt. “So I did," he said, lunging into a run to meet her halfway, swinging the axe with controlled strength and the momentum of his charge.

Amalthea let out a strange sound, something mixed with delight and frustration as she tried to block Vridel's attack. Even with his controlled strength, Amalthea was pushed back a bit, and staggered. She was barely able to get her balance back before she charged at Vridel, axe raised once more as she flung her entire body in his direction. It appeared she was throwing all of her weight into that one attack, which was strangely endearing to Senka.

Or it would have been if she weren't fending off her own opponent. Mercer seemed slightly surprised when Sorcha came his way, but grinned and pulled his bow from his back. “Let's see just how much you've improved, eh, Princess?" he stated, clearly trying to rile her up as he usually did. He fit an arrow to his bow and aimed it in Sorcha's direction, one eye closed and the other narrowed, before releasing it.

Vridel turned Amalthea's strike aside, though he seemed almost surprised by the strength of it for a moment, before his smile widened and he retaliated with a flurry of quick blows. “Not bad," he said, “but don't unbalance yourself now. You need to keep solid feet if you want to defend anything."

On the other side, Mercer's taunting seemed to be having an effect; Sorcha used her lance to strike the last blow on the only soldier between them, and then tried to duck the arrow. She wasn't quite successful; it struck her in the shoulder regardless, leeching more of the blue from her tunic, and she threw the lance down and drew an arrow instead, twisting away from the chaotic tangle not far from her flank and firing. To her credit, it was quick, and there was no hesitation in the shot—it flew unerringly for Mercer's chest.

“Right, keep balance and solid feet!" she echoed, trying her best to defend against Vridel's attacks. One of them did manage to hit her near her shoulder, though, causing some of the color to bleed from her tunic. She did her best to dig her feet into the ground, though, as she made a horizontal swipe towards Vridel.

Mercer seemed genuinely surprised by the accuracy of Sorcha's arrow and moved so that it caught him on his right shoulder blade, causing some of his color to fade. “Shouldn't have underestimated you," he stated in a leisurely tone, an arrow already fitted to his bow. Unlike Sorcha's quick release, he waited, watching Sorcha's movements with a strange intensity, before he released his arrow.

Sorcha, apparently knowing trying to dodge that would be futile, used the time to release one more quick arrow before the one Mercer had fired caught her dead-on the sternum. Though there'd been quite a bit of blue left in her tunic, it faded completely then—it seemed striking 'vital' areas was proportionately effective, then.

The Princess looked down at her tunic, sighed heavily, and smiled just a bit, giving Mercer a wry salute before shuffling off the field to join the others. By this point, the competitors had thinned considerably, only one or two left from each side, plus teachers. The Blue Lions were doing slightly better than most, at least until Vridel landed another quick hit on Amalthea.

“Nice work," he said simply, replacing the axe and drawing his sword. “You're already better." White light briefly engulfed him, brightening his tunic back to blood-red, but he and professor Hanneman appeared to be the only ones left on the field for the Eagles. Professor Manuela and Mercer were the sole representatives of the Deer, while the Lions had Senka, Devon, and Professor Cyril.

For his part, the Professor cracked his knuckles. “They're going to join up and attack us first," he said, apparently completely certain. “Stay behind, and watch for Reynard. I don't think he's out yet. Otherwise, cover me. Can you do that?"

“I will," she replied, nodding her head in his direction. I can, didn't seem like the right words to her, and it was something she felt she had to do. She hadn't had time to assess Reynard's skills on the field, and it was likely that he was just biding his time. Smart, if she were being honest, and so she gripped her sword a little tighter, and scanned the field. There was no obvious sign of him, but Senka knew better than most that just because it wasn't obvious didn't mean it wasn't there.

Mercer had begun his next assault on Devon, perhaps because he was trying to take out their only archer. He had a strange smile on his face, though. It wasn't the grin he usually wore when he teased Sorcha, nor was it the same one that he wore with Vridel. It seemed more genuine, as if something had made him happy.

Devon fired back as much as he could, but it was evident that he was the worse shot, and he quickly ducked a bit behind Cyril for cover. The professor didn't seem to mind. When Hanneman and Manuela sent two offensive spells at him at once, he blasted them out of the air with the force of his own. “Let's go."

He charged, meeting the Eagles' front line first, which at the moment was, well, Vridel. Somehow, he managed to dodge the Professor's first swing, but he had to throw himself to the ground to do it, and before his retaliatory flames could do more than singe the very edge of Cyril's tunic, he'd let fly another of the dark magic spells, and Vridel's tunic lost all the color it had previously regained.

“S-Senka, I don't think I can hold him on my own," Devon said. There were only slight traces of blue left in his tunic. While Mercer's had seen better days, too, he was clearly doing better than the other archer was.

Senka felt her eyes narrow in Mercer's direction, and she moved towards Devon just in time to knock one of Mercer's arrows away from Devon with her sword. She released a fire attack towards Mercer to get his attention, and when she did, she sighed softly. With her hand outstretched, she summoned her black magic: Miasma. It probably wasn't the best spell to use at the moment, considering it took a decent amount of time to gather, but Senka needed to get Mercer away from Devon. Otherwise they would be down one more person.

And Senka would rather it be her, than Devon.

“Sorry, lady, but you left yourself wide open." The voice, roughened probably by all the smoking he did, belonged obviously to Reynard, and the point of his practice blade touched the base of her spine a moment later. Once, twice, three times before she could so much as react to his presence. It registered easily with the magic on the tunic, which turned promptly completely grey, only for Vridel's attendant to slide out from behind her.

He didn't manage to retreat before a heavy hand caught him by the collar and yanked him back, Cyril landing two body blows and putting him out. He took a hit from Manuela while thus distracted, leeching a little more blue, but this time the magic he shot back took her out too, until the only people left on the field were Hanneman, Mercer, Devon, and Professor Cyril.

It was strange. Senka hadn't registered the time when she was attacked, and when she left the field. She had blinked, a strange chill going down her spine, and when her eyes opened, she was in the company of Amalthea and Sorcha. Something felt off and she wasn't quite sure what it was. She was brought from her thoughts when a small body latched itself to her, and she had to lower her gaze to see what it was.

“We were cheering for you, Senka!" Amalthea stated, turning her head so that she was staring up at Senka. “You did great! Now you can cheer with us for Professor Cyril and Devon! Oh, and Mercer, since Vridel's with us, too," she stated, finally releasing Senka. The words hardly registered in Senka's mind, though.

“I'm not cheering for him," Sorcha groused. “I hope the Professor teaches him a lesson." she sniffed, then seemed to notice Senka's absent state, because she tilted her head and spoke a little more quietly. “You okay, Sen?"

She blinked slowly at Sorcha, but nodded her head. “I'm fine. I was just caught off guard. I should not have allowed myself to be open like that," she replied, but it felt too... automatic. There was nothing in her voice, too, and Senka furrowed her brows. Shaking her head, she pulled in a deep breath, before releasing it slowly. “I think we are on the cusp of winning, though," she stated, turning her attention back towards the field.

Mercer had renewed his assault on Devon, and it seemed that Professor Hanneman had focused most of his magic attacks on Cyril.

“Okay," Sorcha said, reaching over to squeeze Senka's shoulder gently. She didn't quite seem sure of the answer either, but she rarely pushed when it came to things like this.

On the field, Devon held off as long as he could, but eventually succumbed to Mercer's arrows, leaving them down to the final three. Professor Cyril must have judged Professor Hanneman to be the greater threat, because he ducked a barrage of flames and charged across the field towards him. Curiously, thrumming, curling magic surrounded his hands, licking up his arms like dark fire, and when he threw a fist forward, the impact took Professor Hanneman off his feet, his tunic immediately draining of all color.

Cyril whirled then, throwing a bolt of the same magic for Mercer.

Mercer wasn't as quick, though. He was hit with the magic, draining the rest of his tunic's color. Senka could see he was groaning, but what should have been a joyous occasion didn't quite reach Senka the way it should have. She registered the fact that they won, and that Amalthea and the others were cheering, but she couldn't bring herself to do the same. She didn't understand why; something felt vaguely familiar, a situation, perhaps, but she couldn't put her finger on it.

Instead, she clapped slowly along with the others as her way of cheering. It would have to do, for now. She could hear the crowds calming, though, as Jeralt cleared his throat, perhaps to make the announcement official.

“And that's that," he said, gruffly but with an apparent smile in his tone, too. “The winner of this mock battle is the Blue Lion House!"

The Archbishop wore a strange little smile at the announcement, her attention focused rather keenly on where Professor Cyril was helping Mercer to his feet. Beside her, it almost seemed that Lady Lyanna looked worried for a moment before she suppressed it, face returning to her usual stern expression.

“We won!" Amalthea shouted enthusiastically, making her way towards Vridel. Senka wasn't quite sure what Amalthea was going to do, until the young woman threw herself in his direction, and latched onto him the same way she'd done to Senka, earlier. “And thank you for helping me, and teaching me a valuable lesson on the field!" she stated, squeezing a little tighter as she hugged Vridel.

Vridel's eyes immediately went wide; honestly he was so stiff it was hard to tell if he even knew what a hug was, let alone if he'd ever been given one before. Tentatively, he patted her head, grimacing and looking rather unsure of himself. “You're... welcome," he said after a moment. “And congratulations, I suppose."

“Don't I get a hug, too?" Mercer's voice cut in, a lopsided grin on his face. His attention was on Sorcha, though, when he spoke. He'd apparently made his way towards their spot on the hill without Senka noticing.

Sorcha looked unsure for a moment, almost as though she were actually considering it. Her face flushed, but then she cleared her throat. “I'm sure Thea would be happy to," she replied with a sniff, but she sounded almost like she was sulking.

“But I was asking, you," he stated, his lips pursing into a fine line. The smile never left his eyes, though, as he laughed. “And in all honesty, I have to admit, I'm kind of surprised, Sorcha. I'm really proud of how far you've come. Hell, my shoulder still kind of hurts from where you hit me," he stated, sounding rather genuine. He rubbed his shoulder as if to emphasize the point, however; Senka merely felt her features smooth out. It was almost as if she wanted to smile, but she couldn't quite bring herself to.

Sorcha cleared her throat, looking down at her feet and mumbling something that sounded vaguely like “thank you."

Amalthea had finally released Vridel at this point, and was smiling just as brightly as she usually did. “We still need to thank Professor, too! Oh, and we'll need to celebrate! You and Vridel and the others are coming, too!" she stated, earning a light chuckle from Mercer. She was rather excited, it seemed, at the idea.

It was at this point that the professor himself appeared, looking much the same as he always did. Aside from a few scorch marks on his tunic, he could have simply gone for a morning run, for all that his expression showed any strain from his exertions.

“I believe I heard something about a celebration," he said. “Shall we?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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#, as written by Aethyia


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I.Y. 1180 - Harpstring Moon - Thursday the 1st
Garreg Mach Monastery - Early Evening - Clear
Cyril Eisner


The celebration had needed to wait a couple of days, in the end, and the first day of Harpstring Moon had rolled around before they got to it, but that was all right. It had enabled the staff to throw together a large meal for everyone with plenty of food from the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, as well as a number of Blue Lion-themed desserts, including a cake modeled after the house banner, which was currently serving as a rather impressive centerpiece to everyone's enjoyment.

Before he'd had much opportunity to partake, however, he'd been summoned to see the Archbishop in her receiving room. He counted it fortunate that these celebrations were not like mercenary ones, else someone might have tried to convince him to imbibe, and he doubted the Archbishop would much approve of such things, even if they had negligible effect on him.

As it was, it was completely sober and still a bit hungry that he made his way to see Rhea, who as usual was flanked on one side by Lady Lyanna. He dropped into a shallow bow, as seemed appropriate, and then rose, expression blank as usual.

Rhea was smiling in a soft manner, gentle almost. Her hands were folded in front of her, and she nodded her head in Cyril's direction, perhaps as an acknowledgment to his bow. “Your work with the students was remarkable," she began, her eyes narrowing slightly. “I can see Jeralt has trained you well," she continued, gesturing towards Cyril with her hand. “I do hope you were able to use the occasion to bond with the students," she stated, though the smile on her face didn't seem to reach her eyes. They seemed a bit darker than they usually were.

Cyril considered this for a moment. “They are..." he wasn't quite sure how to finish the sentence. It was true that the students seemed to be unusually fond of him compared to how other people in his life had been. They regularly sought his company at mealtimes, and seemed to possibly even enjoy being taught by him. And he would not deny that since coming here he'd felt...

At ease. Not completely—there were certain things about this place that he was not sure would let him rest easy. But when it came to everyday routine, to training and instructing and making lesson plans and eating in the dining hall and all that sort of thing, there was a marked difference between this and the life he'd always lived, where his father was distant and the men were wary of him because of his reputation. The students at least showed from no wariness at all to not much after a while, and it felt... nice.

“I believe so," he said, remembering well his father's distrust of Rhea and his own instinct towards not exposing his weaknesses. “They seemed satisfied with the result, at least."

There was a strange smile on her face when he'd answered. It wasn't quite one that was genuine, but moreso on the wary side. As if she'd expected him to answer poorly. “I am so happy to hear it. Nothing would please me more than if you used this coming year to grow closer, still," she finally stated, her smile turning somewhat melancholy. She turned her attention towards Lyanna, though, as if she were expecting her to speak.

“Of course," Lyanna continued smoothly, “the mock battle is merely practice. The real fight is the Battle of Eagle and Lion, which will take place during the Wyvern Moon." She straightened slightly, adjusting her glasses. “You are expected to properly train your students so as not to humiliate the academy during the long-held tradition that is the coming battle."

Cyril gave her a short nod. It sounded straightforward enough.

“As for today," Rhea began, glancing towards Lyanna before returning her attention to Cyril. “I have called you here to tell you of your mission for the month ahead," she continued, pausing only to smile lightly. “Your class is to dispose of some bandits causing trouble nearby." She spoke with a calm and even tone, as if disposing bandits seemed rather natural to her. It was obvious that she meant that his class was to kill them, however; she didn't seem fazed by it.

“Bandits?" Cyril's tone only barely belied his skepticism. His students were talented, there was no mistaking that. But he did not yet think most of them ready to see real combat. To take human life.

Lyanna seemed to sense his hesitation. “Those affiliated with Garreg Mach Monastery have a moral obligation to help those in need, regardless of social standing."

Cyril almost said something—that hadn't been his protest at all, but he bit his tongue. The more they talked and the less he did, the better.

“Students are no exception. Each month, before the newly-birthed moon departs, all students must complete their assigned mission. You shall work to complete the task at hand alongside your students and report back to the Archbishop after your deployment. Understood?"

Cyril narrowed his eyes slightly, but nodded, just slightly. Lyanna almost mirrored the expression, and did return the tight nod.

“I will provide you with the necessary details later."

Rhea looked like she was about to say something more, however; it was at this time that someone else entered the room. “Ah, Professor!" it was Amalthea, and she had the same happy smile on her face that she always wore. “The others said you'd be here! We're getting ready—"

“Amalthea von Kreuz, you will hold your tongue," Rhea spoke, her voice loud and almost domineering. It was enough that even Amalthea had a shocked expression on her face. “We are discussing matters of importance; you are not welcome here. Return to the main hall. At once." Her eyes were narrowed, and it was easy to see that she was vexed by the interruption.

From the corner of his eye, Cyril saw Lyanna flinch, then quickly suppress it. For a moment her expression darkened, but a mere second later it was smoothed over, as though it had never occurred at all. For his own part, he felt a flash of—something. An emotion he didn't know, sharp and hot, lanced through his chest like a tiny bolt of lightning, but his tongue did not know what words to give it.

“Apologies, Lady Rhea, I didn't..." Amalthea spoke, but Rhea fixed her with a stare, and Amalthea bowed in an apologetic manner. Her head almost went to her knees with the force of it, and she turned on her heel and hurried out of the room. Rhea turned her attention back to Cyril, though, her eyes narrowed and the smile still on her face, but still just as dark as it had been.

“I can sense something special within your heart... I have high hopes for you." She departed afterwards.

Lyanna lingered a moment longer, staring out the way Amalthea had gone, then back the way Rhea had departed. Her eyes, strangely pained somehow, landed on Cyril. “Professor." She spoke quickly, but without the crispness that usually characterized her words. “Amalthea. Would you—?"

Cyril at once understood what she was asking, but not why. Shouldn't this be something she did? Still, he nodded, and her shoulders slumped with relief. “The Archbisop is expecting me. I must—" She pursed her lips together, then turned and hastened after Rhea.

Unsettled, Cyril left the same way Amalthea had, using his long strides to catch up to her and place a hand on her shoulder to stop her progress forward. “Thea," he said quietly, recalling what some of the other students called her. “May I refer to you as Thea?" His tone was quiet, but he was surprised by the amount of... something, in it. Like it had lost a little of the usual flatness.

She had visibly flinched when his hand landed on her shoulder, and she'd spun around so fast that her eyes were wide with fear. As if she'd been caught by something and wasn't sure how to flee. Her eyes were slightly red, and there were fresh water marks trailing down her cheeks. When it seemed she recognized him, she immediately brought her hands up and tried to wipe her face. She made a light hiccup sound as she attempted to dry her face, and once she seemed ready, she smiled at him. It wasn't quite the same, though.

“I'm sorry, Professor. I didn't... I didn't mean to interrupt," she stated, but she was still shaking lightly. “And... and of course! You can call me Thea. I'd... it's..." she didn't seem to know what she wanted to say, and fell silent, her eyes going from his, and landing on the floor.

Crying wasn't something Cyril knew how to deal with, even if he could at least identify it. If anything, it only sharpened that crackle in his gut, and he felt his jaw tighten, but relaxed it. He didn't want to make her think he was angry—

Anger.

Was that it? The heat? He was... angry, on behalf of Thea. At Rhea, for speaking to her like that. For making her cry over something that was neither her fault nor, as far as he could tell, even a significant matter. “It's all right," he said, giving her shoulder a gentle squeeze. A month of training had made a difference, but she was still so thin. And young enough to feel fragile in his grip. Like if he squeezed too hard, something would break. And here she was, weeping after a scolding from the archbishop.

It wasn't that he thought she shouldn't be. Only that he had no idea how he was supposed to prepare someone like her for the reality of taking life. Even criminals were still people, and these were children, being asked to kill.

Of course, he'd killed long before he was an adult, too. But he'd been acquainted with the reality of such things his whole life, not raised in a monastery, or a noble household, or even a merchant one. Places where death was a rare tragedy, an extraordinary and momentous occurrence, not a mundane, everyday thing like it had become for him. If it were up to Cyril, he and people like him would do what fighting there was to be done, so that others never had to get so used to it.

“There was no cause for her to yell like that," he continued, more firmly. “If she'd expected not to be interrupted, we could have met in her office, but we didn't. You didn't do anything wrong, okay?"

Her lower lip trembled, but she shook her head. “No, she was right. I shouldn't have interrupted like that. I should have waited outside for you, but..." she paused to take in a breath, and seemed to calm herself, “but I didn't. I'll just wait next time. I just... wanted to say they were getting ready to cut the cake for us, and... I didn't want you to miss it."

She swallowed thickly, her tears stopping for the moment, as she glanced up at him. He was nearly a foot taller than her, after all. “Thank you, Professor." Her smile, at least, seemed to regain some of its brightness. “I'm fine, now. We... we should go back before they start without us."

He wanted to argue, almost. To make sure she understood that there was nothing rude or improper about what she'd done, but somehow he thought she was just... going to think that. It seemed the Archbishop's words had more weight than his own, and perhaps that was to be expected. He did fish a handkerchief out of his pocket, though, one of several he owned, and handed it to her.

“Then we'll go eat some cake," he said quietly. “And you can use this so no one notices you cried." He had a feeling she wouldn't want that kind of attention—that she preferred to put on a happy face even when the situation didn't call for it. He couldn't understand that, exactly, but he could respect it, and respect her wish for it.

She took it, her lips trembling still with her smile as she glanced at him. “Thank you, Professor," she stated, wiping her face with it. Once she appeared to be presentable, she tucked his handkerchief away in her pocket, and took in a deep breath. Slowly, she released it before her usually bright smile was back on her face. She folded her hands behind her back, and tilted forward a bit.

“Now... let's go get us some cake! It always makes everything better!" She at least sounded better.

Cyril huffed gently, but nodded as though the acquisition of cake was in fact a serious mission they needed to undertake.

“Cake it is."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1180 - Harpstring Moon - Saturday the 3rd
Dormitory (Bottom Floor) - Midnight - Thunderstorm
Senka Rinaldi


Blood stains, they covered everything. Fire, smoke, and the screams of people were so loud that frightened eyes darted back and forth, searching for someone. Anyone. Where were they? Her mother had just grasped her hand and yanked so hard that Senka thought her shoulder was dislocated. Now, her mother was nowhere in sight. Everything was burning; charred bodies were strewn across the floors of the palace and outside in the gardens. They were the bodies of people she knew, people she'd grown up with: friends, servants, inncocent people. Their eyes were void of life, and fear marred their faces.

It was horrifying, and she tried to scream. She made no sound, though, and felt her legs pushing her towards the city. Surely her father and mother were there, waiting for her. Then, there was nothing. Darkness. She felt as if she were suspended in thin air, floating. Just as suddenly, there was a bright light, and her father's back was to her. His long dark hair was matted against his royal robe, and the dark red stains were a large contrast to the pale blues and whites of it. He was trembling, one of his arms out in front of him, holding a curved sword, while the other was reaching back towards her. She reached for it and held it.

He was mouthing something to her, but she couldn't understand what he was saying. Where was her mother? Why couldn't she find her? Her eyes landed back on her father's face, and he was smiling. The wrinkles in his skin were smoothed out, and he was smiling at her.

“Senka... I love you," were his last words to her, just as the sword in front of him connected with his neck. She felt a scream tear through her throat...


Senka shot up in her bed, drenched in cold sweat. There was a loud scream coming from somewhere, and it wasn't stopping. It just continued, melding with the sounds of thunder outside, and something wet was streaming down her face. Wait... was she screaming? Why was she screaming? Why was she crying? She reached up to her face, and felt the tears on the tips of her fingers. As if her acknowledgment of her condition made something in her aware, her screams died, and a quiet sob tore through her throat.

“Father. Mother. Why?" why did they still haunt her, so?

With the way sound filtered so slowly back into her awareness, it was almost a surprise she heard the door at all. A hard blow forced it open, and it slammed back against the opposite wall, almost in time with a heavy crack of thunder. The Professor, damp from the rain pouring down outside, stepped in, eyes wide and almost luminous in the dark. Senka." There was an unusual urgency to his tone, one that didn't raise its volume much but changed the entire way it sounded, as though he were... worried.

A moment later, he snapped his fingers, and a small flame appeared over them, lighting his face from beneath and casting parts of it into deep shadow. “Are you all right?" He'd obviously scanned the room for... something. An intruder, perhaps, or a danger, but found only Senka herself. “You were..." he cleared his throat, not moving from the doorway for some reason. “Screaming. You were screaming. I thought—"

Her eyes were slightly wide; whether from surprise or something else, she didn't know. “I'm..." she began, her voice quiet. She wasn't entirely sure how to answer him. Was she all right? The tears were still falling on her face, but she did little else to stop them. She knew, from her facial muscles, that her face was as impassive as it usually was, and little to nothing was showing. But was she all right? She glanced towards her hands, curled tightly against the blankets before shifting her attention towards the Professor.

“I... I don't know," she confessed slightly. “I am unharmed... but," something in her chest clenched painfully. For a moment, she felt she couldn't breath. “I don't know," she repeated.

For a long moment, the professor studied her face, still not moving. Outside the thunder rolled, raindrops continuing to spatter heavily against the stone walkway just past the door. “May I enter?" he asked, still with that strange emotion in his voice. “If you would prefer I leave, I understand."

“Please stay," she replied with such urgency it surprised her. She didn't want him to leave, not yet. Her hand had instintively shot out, almost as if she were reaching for his own, but she pulled it back, and set it back on her sheets. “I don't... I think I was dreaming," but dreams were supposed to be pleasant. Perhaps it was a nightmare that had awoken her? She blinked slowly, clearing her vision from the tears before glancing back at Professor Cyril.

“Of father, and... mother," she continued. She glanced around her room, organized and neat, and spotted the chair in the corner next to her bed. “You... there's a chair if you wish to sit," but she didn't have anything to offer him so that he could at least dry himself.

He didn't seem to mind, though, only stepping into the room and shedding his cloak, hanging it carefully on the hook just inside the entrance, where it wouldn't damage her rug. He took the chair, pulling it slightly closer to her bedside and turning it so he was sitting in it backwards, arms crossed over the back so he could rest his chin there. He'd shut the door, dimming the sound of the rain outside, but it sat uneasily in the frame, probably because of the damage he'd done to it to get in. He was dressed in a way that suggested he hadn't yet taken to his own sleep, so she probably hadn't woken him.

After a moment, he seemed to remember something, and patted down his pockets until he found a handkerchief, which he offered towards her without comment on it. Instead, he spoke about something else. “You said they were killed by bandits?" he inquired gently. “Are you seeing it again, in the dreams?"

She took it, hesitantly, and nodded her head. She didn't do anything with the handkerchief, at first, and kept it curled in her hands. “I am," she answered, turning so that she could meet his gaze. Strange that they always seemed calming to her, but she did not move her gaze away. “But I have not dreamed of them for nearly a year and half, now," she continued. They were killed three years ago during the Tragedy, and for a second, Senka wondered if she should tell him that. He wasn't of any territory, and didn't have the same prejudices that the other students harbored. Even if she had claimed she was from Almyra with Faerghus heritage, the people still held a grudge against her. Who knows what they would do, what he would do, if they knew she was from Duscur? Deciding against it, she sighed softly.

“I don't know what brought it back, and... it was so vivid," she explained. She didn't recall her nightmares to be so clear. They were always small pieces, blurred in other areas, but otherwise not as clear. “Father was... he died trying to protect me, and mother," she paused, her lips pursing into a fine line. “Mother died doing the same thing." They had both died, protecting her. They shouldn't have had to die at all. If she'd been the one, instead, Sorcha might have arrived in time to save them, and not her. It wasn't fair.

“The people who killed mine... my parents," she paused, taking in a shuddering breath, “I'll never forget it." No matter how much she wanted to.

The Professor was quiet through her recounting, face almost as impassive as usual, except... there was something just a little bit different about the expression. Maybe it was his eyes, but it was hard to tell for sure.

When she'd finished, though, he found his words again. “I'm sorry," he said, releasing a soft breath. “Sometimes, when there's violence like that in someone's memory, battlefield conditions can... bring it up again. It might be that the mock battle it what's caused this."

His brow furrowed faintly. “I... dream often. Of war, and old battlefields. Rarely the ones that I've seen personally, but those are always the worst. When it's the old ones, it feels like someone else's memories, and as terrible as they are I can somehow remember that it isn't really... anything to do with me. But sometimes I dream about the ones where I've been. About people we couldn't save, or people that I have killed." Almost as though he wasn't aware of it, he shifted one of his arms, rubbing his fingers together. The little flame he'd conjured still hovered near his head, almost ghostlike in its drift.

“I can't tell you they'll go away," he continued. “Or even that it gets easier from here. There's a chance that real battle, real death, will only make it worse."

Senka remained quiet for a moment. Real death. Real battle. She had thought herself prepared for that. To make the required sacrifices in order to ensure that her people received justice, however; it appeared she was far from ready. Would she be able to take a life as easily as those who'd taken her own people's lives? Perhaps, in time, she could harden herself further to it, but was she truly capable of doing that? It didn't matter; she had to be. She had to be stronger. She had to survive so that one day, she might rebuild her country.

“I don't expect it to get easier, but..." she started, feeling a strange warmth in her chest. “I can at least try to make it so that they don't haunt me as much," she continued. “Sorcha has been trying to help me fill those memories with new ones, happier ones, but," it didn't feel right to just replace them. She brought her eyes back up to meet his.

“How do you deal with it?"

It was a question he seemed surprised to receive, if the fractional widening of his eyes was anything to go by. It disappeared a moment later, though, and he frowned thoughtfully, clearly considering it. “I don't know that I'm the best example to follow," he admitted. “They always come back, no matter what I do. They never stop—" he paused, considering something. “Never stop feeling the way they do. Sometimes it feels like all I really do is distract myself. When I was young, it was training. Every morning, my father had me up before dawn, doing drills and chores and whatever would keep me busy. Things to occupy my body and my mind. After a while it wasn't enough."

The professor shook his head. “Lately, it hasn't been so bad. I don't know if it's because it's been a while, or because I have something to..." He blinked, which for him was an expression of great surprise. “Maybe it's just because there's something to live for. Even if it's small. Maybe it's better that it's small—I think a lot of the talk about nations and empires and goddesses goes over my head, to be honest. But I don't have to fight myself to get out of bed in the morning to teach all of you. It wasn't always that way with mercenary work."

Something to live for? Did she have something like that? Glancing at the Professor, and then to her hands, Senka believed she might. She had a friend in Sorcha, and was slowly gaining one in Amalthea as well as the others. And with the professor, perhaps...

“Something to live for," she repeated his words. Her eyes narrowed slightly, and there was a fraction of a smile on her face. “Will..." she began, turning her head so that she was fully facing him, “will you stay? At least... until I fall back to sleep?" she asked. It was, perhaps, not a decent thing to ask, but Senka didn't want to be alone at the moment. If he could stay, only until she fell asleep, it might chase the nightmare away. She almost wanted to ask if he would hold her hand, instead, but that would have been too childish. Even if it were comforting, to have someone hold her hand as her parents once did, as she tried to fall asleep, it was too much of a request.

He tilted his head at her. “Of course," he murmured. “If you don't mind, actually... I broke the lock on your door, so—I thought I might stay until you woke, just in case." While there had been no intruder in her room, it was quite obviously what he'd initially thought had happened, and ironically his response to that had made it possible for someone to enter after all.

“I'll fix it in the morning, I promise." standing from the chair, he resettled on the floor next to the bed, closer to her feet than her head, with his back to the side. Almost awkwardly, he set one arm up over the edge, his hand laying loose with the fingers slightly curled not too far away from hers.

“Is... this all right?" There wasn't a trace of ulterior motive detectable in the question. If anything, he seemed a bit nonplussed by having to ask. Sometimes, it was very clear the Professor hadn't spent much time at all with other people.

Senka was slightly surprised by the smile that crossed her face. It wasn't forced, and it wasn't soft or small like they usually were. It was enough to force her eyes to narrow, and she reached towards his hand. She placed her own on top of his, gave it a light squeeze, and pulled her hand back. That would have to be enough. “Thank you, Cyril," she stated.

Her nightmare did not come back, after that.

Setting

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Harpstring Moon - Saturday the 10th
Courtyard - Early Afternoon - Sunny
Sorcha Blaiddyd


The courtyard was proving to be an excellent place to have lunch, now that the weather suited it. After they'd all freshened up after their yard chores, the group Sorcha was privately coming to think of as "Professor Cyril's class" would grab food from the dining hall and take all the little tables under this arches gazebo, along with the Professor himself, who never seemed to be too busy to spend time with them. Of course, they tended to end up here on an increasing number of regular days, too, after class was done, to do homework together or when the load was lighter simply... spend time together.

It was really nice, and she'd certainly never expected to spend so much time with people outside her own house. The majority of the people here were Blue Lions, but there were Sofia and Deirdre along with Mercer from the Golden Deer, and Reynard even showed up with Vivi sometimes, giving them probably the only two Black Eagles she wanted to spend much time with, if her stepbrother's characterization of the group was correct.

She sighed. “There's no reason for me to go home for Saint Macuil Day," she said, frustration seeping into her tone. “But uncle wants me to anyway. I wish he'd just... let me have the year to prepare, you know? I'll be taking over all the official stuff pretty soon anyway, but I was kind of... hoping for a chance to not think about that for a while." What she didn't say was that her uncle spent too much time chasing after women to want to bother with boring things like ceremonial duties, and as a Church-sponsored state, the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus had a lot of them.

“I don't envy you. We don't necessarily celebrate Saint Macuil Day, but I at least know what it entails," Mercer spoke, rolling his fork in Sorcha's direction. “We have our own holidays back in Almyra, but they're more festival-like," he continued before taking a bite out of his food. Dierdre rolled her eyes, and snorted softly, but didn't say anything. She was too focused on her food at the moment to seem to care.

“Is that so? I thought some parts of Almyra, did?" Senka spoke, poking at the fruit on her tray as she stared at Mercer. He seemed a little unnerved under her gaze; Senka had a rather intense one, and he chuckled lightly.

“I mean, they do; you should know, you're also from Almyra, right?" he stated, causing her gaze to fall to her plate.

“Those sound nice, but," Amalthea stated, the smile disappearing from her face into something more serious. Or as serious as it could be for Amalthea. “What's a holiday?" The question seemed to catch Dierdre off guard, as she began to choke on her food. Mercer gave her an incredulous look, and Senka merely regarded her evenly. Sylvi was laughing too hard to properly respond.

Reynard actually looked a little surprised at the question. “Who doesn't know what a holiday is?" he asked, a trace of incredulousness in his raspy tone. “Don't you at least do the Churchy ones around here?"

Cyril glanced back and forth between several of those present and shrugged. “They do seem kind of serious," he pointed out, slowly. Devon nodded.

It was Vridel who actually answered the question, though. “A holiday is a form of celebration," he told Amalthea, peeling an orange as he spoke. “Typically they occur on the same calendar date every year, and commemorate some event or person in a nation's history, or the Church's, as with Saint Macuil Day. The form the celebrations take varies with the nature of both the occasion and the character of the celebrants. For example, when the Empire celebrates its Founding Day, it does so with parades and fireworks, as well as some more solemn official remembrances and the like, over which the Emperor typically presides. Given the recent... tensions between Adrestia and the Church, we do not put quite the same effort into commemorating the saints as the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus does, however."

“And the Eastern Church is much smaller, and holds much less sway, than the Central Church, so... the Alliance doesn't do as much for religious holidays, either," Sofia added mildly.

“Oh," Thea drawled the word out, and sounded amazed at the explanation. “That explains why certain days of the year, Lyanna was too busy to play with me," she stated, smiling as if she'd just figured something out. “She hardly ever had time, though, but those days seemed especially strenuous," she added as if it were completely natural.

“It's a bit different in Faerghus," Sylvi finally spoke, having recovered from her bout of laughter, it seemed. “We complete certain rites, and give our prayers to that particular Saint. There's also a great feast at the end of it all," she continued.

“Is food all you ever think of, Sylvi?" Dierdre shot, causing Sylvi to smirk.

“Food and sometimes you," she stated, winking in Dierdre's direction. Dierdre pursed her lips together, and narrowed her eyes at Sylvi before moving a bit closer towards Sofia. The taller woman only rolled her eyes, but obligingly made room.

“They sound fun, though. I've never celebrated one, before." It seemed strange that a person of the Church hadn't celebrated a holiday before.

Sorcha blinked at this bit of information. “Well that's silly," she said bluntly, then winced. “Er. I just mean we should fix that, is all. Maybe we could take turns teaching you about holidays and celebrations from our countries. I'd like to learn more about what the rest of you do, after all. So it could be really fun!"

Devon's eyes widened; he nodded with some enthusiasm. “Oh! And we could make food too, to share and explain how it fits into the tradition. And maybe teach each other customs, like dancing or other kinds of celebration we do. I'd love to learn that kind of thing."

“It does sound... nice," Sofia admitted. “I could stand to learn more about other places, if I'm going to travel someday."

“Why is he so cute, like that?" Sylvi stated, leaning over so that she was staring at Devon with a large, cat-like smile on her face. Dierdre snickered softly, but didn't say anything. Senka had kept her eyes on her plate, pushing the fruit around with her spoon and did not seem to want to say anything about it.

“I'm not that good of a cook, but I can make some decent Almyran dishes if you'd like," Mercer spoke, shoving another spoonful of food into his mouth, gracelessly. He didn't seem to care, though, about his mannerisms. “Or I can just give some of the recipes to Senka if you can cook them, or if you have ones of your own," he stated, allowing his eyes to drift towards her. She looked slightly taken aback, but nodded her head, slowly.

“I can make some of the dishes from Almyra. If there's a particular one you'd like to try, I'd be willing to make it," she spoke, turning her attention towards Sorcha.

“We should definitely make tons of food, then!" Amalthea stated, grinning as she leaned on her elbows on the table. “Oh, and I bet you all have the best dances. I'd like to learn those, too!" she continued.

“You sure you're going to be able to learn all of that?" Dierdre finally spoke, one of her brows arched in a questioning manner. “I mean, it's a lot of information, and there's at least four different customs to learn," she added, but Amalthea just nodded her head.

“It doesn't have to be all at once. Maybe we can do it on Saturdays after chores, or maybe on Sundays on our free days?" she suggested.

Sorcha knew what was making Senka uncomfortable, and she put a scowl on her face, pointing her fork at Mercer. “Don't you foist off all your work on Senka, you jerk," she said, sniffing at him. “Since Deirdre and Sofia are here, I'm sure they can help with the Alliance stuff, but don't go slacking on teaching us about Almyra just because Sen knows some things too." She figured playing it off this way would make it seem less strange... and demand less information of Senka that she didn't really have.

Whether because he sensed the discomfort or not, Professor Cyril broke in then as well. “I think Sundays would be a good opportunity," he said benignly. “They will allow us to choose the appropriate meal or time of day, and give us plenty of time if there's a skill to learn. I'd be quite happy to join, if you all don't mind teaching me for a change."

Mercer laughed a whole-hearted kind of laugh. He seemed to find Sorcha's response amusing in some way, but he shook his head. “I didn't say I would give her all the work. I'd be willing to help, too, you know. Besides," he stated, leaning his chin on his hand with his elbow propped on the table, “I'm shirking all my responsibilites on you, remember?"

Sylvi snorted softly before chuckling. “Then we'll have to plan Sundays, accordingly. It'll be fun to teach, Professor, a thing or two, on the different customs. And it'll give little Thea, here, some experience in holidays," she stated, reaching over to pat Thea's shoulder. Thea seemed delighted about everything. Her eyes were strangely brighter, more gold than amber, and she was grinning rather widely.

“And you, too, Vridel?" she asked, turning her large eyes towards him.

Sorcha knew Vivi just well enough to recognize his surprise at being asked. He cleared his throat. “I... suppose I could add some things from the Empire, certainly." He shot a sideward glance at Reynard, who only grinned slyly. “I'm not sure how much fun they'll be, but... yes. I'll participate."

Thea smiled so much that she was showing teeth. “This is gonna be great," she stated, giggling lightly as she went to work on the fruit on her plate. “I can't wait!" she added before taking a bite from the pear. “We'll just have to make sure they're fun so you can enjoy yourself, too, Vi!"

Mercer was laughing uncontrollably at this point, and had nearly fallen out of his chair. He would have if Dierdre hadn't pulled him back.

Sorcha rolled her eyes. Just what was so funny, anyway? Sure, Thea's enthusiasm for all this was cute, but it didn't exactly seem like the kind of thing to laugh so uproariously at.

“Next time you should let him fall out of the chair," Vivi said matter-of-factly to Deirdre. “It would serve him right for being insufferable."

Honestly. She didn't get either of those two, but whatever.

Setting

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. 1180 - Harpstring Moon - Wednesday the 14th
Garreg Mach Monastery (Training Grounds) - Afternoon - Sunny
Mercer von Riegan


“You fight like a girl!" Dierdre shouted, hurling a fireball towards Mercer. He snorted at the statement, and deflected it with the axe in his hand. He'd lost his training sword somewhere, and he had to replace it with the only other available weapon. Axes were not his thing, really, but it was the only thing available to him since the other weapons were currently being used by other students.

“So you're saying I fight like you?" he retorted, watching as she momentarily froze. He used this opportunity to switch to his bow, and aimed it at her shoulder. The arrows were flat, and non-lethal for practice, so when it hit her shoulder, the most damage it would do was bruise her.

“Mercer, you jerk! That wasn't fair," she shouted in his direction. He merely waved at her, and laughed.

“Oh, on the contrary, it was fair," he stated, grinning almost wryly. “On the battlefield, you're opponents are going to use whatever advantages they can," he continued, pursing his lips together. Enemies would do anything to ensure they won, or completed their task. He knew that from the multiple attempts on his own life. That's just how it was growing up in Almyra, however; he shoved those dark thoughts to the back of his mind, and watched as something caught Dierdre's attention.

“They're going to have a tournament at the end of the month," she stated, handing him the flyer she'd grabbed. “I wonder if Sofia would be interested," she asked, glancing up at him.

“Maybe. You should go ask her," he stated as she nodded and walked away. He knew another person who might be interested in it, and allowed a grin to form on his lips. “Now if only I could find little Thea," he muttered to himself. He might as well search around the training grounds, first.

Of course, it was the training grounds, and so it wasn't really all that surprising to run across Sorcha. She seemed to be having a one-on-one practice match with Professor Cyril, both of them wielding lances. Though as he approached, he could tell it was more lesson than proper match; every time Cyril did something that got an advantage over Sorcha—which was pretty much all the time—he stopped, and they spoke about it.

As Mercer got closer, he noted that their teacher was having Sorcha practice some kind of low sweep, perhaps designed to take the feet out from under an enemy with poor or unbalanced stance. Almost as if he sensed him approaching, though, Cyril called a halt and looked up, one brow arched in query.

It took Sorcha a moment longer to realize what was going on; when she did spot him, she blinked, then dropped her eyes to her lance, rubbing at the flat of it with her thumb. “Something you need, Mercer?" she asked.

Mercer grinned at Sorcha, before glancing towards Teach. “Acutally, no, I don't need anything at the moment, however; I thought I might come see how you're doing with the Teach," he stated. A complete lie, but they didn't need to know that. At least not at the moment. “And maybe see if you wanted to get some training in with the bow later on," he added, the offer actually genuine, for once.

For some reason, the tips of Sorcha's ears reddened. “We're doing fine, thank you," she said primly, glancing once at Cyril. “Or, uh... at least I think so."

He nodded in his mild sort of way. “You are improving with admirable celerity," he added.

That actually got a smile out of Sorcha. Just a small one, but one that was real enough to reach her eyes, and give the clear blue of them a little light. “Then yes," she said. “We're doing just fine." She finally met Mercer's eyes then, tilting her head slightly and inadvertently letting a strand of blonde hair come loose from her pins. “And more bow practice sounds good, if you don't, uh... mind."

She looked adorable like that. He wondered if she knew that? Inwardly rolling his eyes at himself, he laughed lightly. “I guess if Teach says so, then it must be true," he stated, reaching up to rub the back of his neck. “And sure, just name the time and place, but first," he paused, dropping his hands to his side.

“Have either of you seen Thea? There's an axe-throwing competition coming up at the end of the month, and I'm sure she'd like to join. She's training with axes, right?" he asked, finally, arching a brow in both of their directions.

They exchanged a glance with almost comically-accurate timing. “I believe I saw her enter the greenhouse on my way up to the training grounds an hour ago," Cyril offered after a moment, leaning a bit on where he'd planted his lance in the ground. His posture was always so relaxed and alert at the same time; it was a little different from the knights, who were often kind of... uptight by comparison.

“I think that's a good idea," Sorcha said with a nod. “She's been training really hard, and having some competition who are also beginners might help her confidence. I'm not sure she realizes how far she's come." She paused, tapping the butt end of her own lance against her toe. “But about the bow thing. Um. How about tonight? The usual time?" She looked as though she half-expected him to refuse; as though she had in fact braced for it somehow.

He visibly rolled his eyes this time, but he smiled nonetheless. “Sure thing, Sorcha," he stated, grinning in her direction. “Same time, tonight, and don't be late! You were late last time," which was another lie. She was always on time, sometimes early. It was a little unnerving to him how dedicated to something she was, but he supposed that was another reason he was so proud of her. He clicked his tongue as the thought crossed his mind.

“And don't sell yourself, short, Sorch," he spoke, smoothing out his grin to something more of a smile. “You've come a long way, too. You don't give yourself enough credit," he was sure it was a confidence issue, but he couldn't be too sure. “Have fun with the Teach!" he stated, waving them off as he made his way towards the Greenhouse. It wasn't too far from the training grounds, perhaps a ten minute walk. When he arrived, though, Thea was no where in sight. He pursed his lips together at that.

“Oh, hey Mercer," it was Sylvi who spoke, bringing his attention towards her. She was with Devon, holding a basket of herbs. Perhaps for the kitchen staff since they were on kitchen duty today. “Looking for something?" she asked, causing him to sigh heavily.

“Yeah, Thea. Have you seen her?" Sylvi pursed her lips together and shook her head.

“Nope. I haven't seen her, here, today. What about you, Dev?" she asked, turning towards Devon.

Devon shifted slightly, adjusting his basket. “I did actually! Earlier she was down by the pond? I think she was talking to Reynard about something. He might still be on the dock? He spends a lot of his free time fishing, I think."

Mercer sighed dramatically, flailing his arms up before he let them fall to his sides. “Thanks, guys," he stated, watching as Sylvi shrugged her shoulders and returned to her work with Devon. Mercer, on the other hand, made his way towards the pond. Sure enough, there was Reynard, reel in hand, and looking rather content. Or about as content as one could be from Mercer's distance. He really couldn't tell. When he was close enough, he called out.

“Hey, Reynard! Have you seen Thea?"

The man tilted his head in acknowledgment of the question, languidly enough that it was almost like he'd been expecting it. Removing one hand from the reel, he grasped the bowl of his long-stemmed pipe and exhaled, a cloud of fragrant smoke drifting away from the both of them. “She came by about a half-hour ago," he said, replacing the pipe in his mouth and speaking around it. he seemed to be slowly pulling the bobber back towards himself, legs dangling over the dock.

“She was looking for Vridel. I told her he was in the library. My guess is they're both still there. He's been awfully interested in botany lately." A half-smile curled one side of his mouth, and he shot Mercer a narrow-eyed look from the corner of his eye.

“Wonder why that could be."

Mercer couldn't help but laugh at the statement so hard that he had to grip his sides. “Man, that's never going to get old," he stated, glancing towards Reynard's position. “I'd wager it has a lot to do with a post-victory hug from a certain green-haired person," he stated, his grin turning a bit more cheshire.

“Thanks for the intell," he stated, waving a dismissive hand in Reynard's direction. The library wasn't too far, he supposed, but part of him really didn't want to make the walk. He could have just left the information with Sorcha and called it a day, but he supposed he might as well finish what he started. Once he managed to reach the library, he heaved a big sigh, and pushed forward.

“Oh, hey Senka. Wasn't expecting you to be here," he stated, watching as she turned pale amethyst eyes in his direction. She blinked in that slow motion she usually did before her head tilted.

“Plenty of students come to the library to learn, Mercer. How would I be any different?" she retorted, earning a light chuckle from Mercer. “If you're looking for Sorcha, she's at the training grounds with Cyril," she stated, turning her attention towards the book in her hands. He raised a brow at that. She'd always addressed him as Professor Cyril. When had she dropped Professor?

“I'm actually looking for Thea. I was told she was here, but I can't seem to find her. Have you seen her?" he asked, her attention back on him. She nodded. “Great! Where is she?"

“Second floor with Vridel. We were studying a new tome when she came to ask his advice on something axe related. Supposedly there is an event at the end of the month and she was excited about it," she replied languidly. Mercer blinked a little stupidly at Senka. Did Thea already know about the tournament? Well, whatever. He could at least still tell her since he'd made it all this way.

“Thanks, Sen," he stated before making his way to the second level of the library. There, he spotted Vridel, but not Thea. He pursed his lips together.

Vridel, as it turned out, spotted him as well. His eyes, a much darker shade of purple than Senka's, narrowed. “What do you want?" he asked. He could come off as so grouchy sometimes; it really was kind of hilarious. He appeared to have an array of books spread in front of him; at least one of the illustrations depicted a poleaxe, the sort of heavy steel thing used by and against cavalry units.

Mercer snorted at his reaction. “Obviously I want you, otherwise I wouldn't have spent my entire afternoon searching high and low for you," he responded without missing a beat, flittering his eye lashes in Vridel's direction. He could have sworn he heard someone cough, as if they were trying not to laugh, but Mercer paid it no mind.

“Alas, our time apart has made the heart fonder," he stated, crossing his arms over his chest. Before he could say anything further, though, another voice took his attention.

“Ugh." Vridel rolled his eyes in an exaggerated manner and proceeded to turn back to his books, quite ignoring Mercer.

“That's what they say in the books about Knights," it was Amalthea, who seemed to appear out of nowhere, to Mercer. He blinked in her direction before pursing his lips at her.

“You! Do you know how long it took me to find you!?" he stated, momentarily forgetting about Vridel. She blinked, large innocent eyes, up at him and tilted her head.

“I didn't know you were looking for me, Mercer! Sorry!" she stated, bowing in an apologetic way. He groaned. She didn't need to do that.

“Don't... you don't need to bow, silly. I just wanted to let you know about the axe tournament at the end of the month, but I couldn't find you," he stated, watching as a bright smile blossomed on her face.

“I know! I saw the flyers they were putting up, and I came to ask Vridel for advice on which axes would be the best to practice with!" she stated, her eyes turning up towards Vi. It was adorable, really.

For his part, Vridel did look up again then, offering her a short nod. There was unease in his body language, but he was also curiously oriented so as to be inclusive of her, rather than shutting her out of his space or anything like that. “Realistically, the Monastery has access to most of the Imperial varieties of throwing axe, and if that's the case there's no point in using the kinds from the Kingdom or the Alliance, as they're patently inferior. I suspect such a competition will use the standard returning hand axe, so you'll want to familiarize yourself with those. You can worry about things like balance and heft differences once you have the fundamentals established. I have a tomahawk I believe might interest you. It's a little lighter, but more aerodynamic, so you get better force for less effort."

It took every ounce of control for Mercer to not laugh at the situation. It was obvious that Amalthea wasn't as aware of the unease in Vridel's body language as Mercer was, however; he decided to let Vridel be, for now. “Oh, that would be great, Vridel!" she stated, and Mercer could have sworn she might have jumped with excitement. She really was overly excited, like a puppy. It was slightly endearing.

“Well, it seems you two lovebirds have everything handled. Guess I can be on my way now that my job is done," he stated, watching as confusion flickered across Thea's face. She glanced up at Vridel, the question evident on her face.

“What's a lovebird?" she asked, though from the way her ears were slightly red, she might have had an idea, but wasn't sure of it. Mercer had never laughed so hard. He was sure he broke something.

Vridel looked to be about on the verge of unsheathing the sword all Academy students carried around and stabbing him with it. Not that they were generally very sharp; the practice blades could be used for defense in a pinch but mostly they were there so that students would get used to the weight and feel of carrying one around, as many of them would be expected to later in life, either symbolically or for very practical reasons. Still, the prince seemed almost willing to give it a try anyway.

“They're a genus of parrot," he replied, tone unnaturally calm for the murderous expression on his face. “I've no idea why Mercer should compare either of us. If there is a noisy, squawking bird in the room, it is most certainly him."

“Ouch, that hurts," Mercer replied, but he ducked down the stairs with all the intent of getting as far away from Vridel before he actually was stabbed. Maybe he'd go tell Reynard about this new, little... development?

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Harpstring Moon - Friday the 16th
Library - After Midnight - Overcast
Vridel von Hresvelg


When he entered the library this time, Vridel was alone.

Or, well, not precisely alone, as he'd brought along Reynard. As he'd expected, the man's skills were proving invaluable, and he had little doubt that as long as he continued to pay well, he need not be concerned about loose lips. The rogue had his own reasons for not much caring for the Church, and though Vridel didn't know exactly what they were, it didn't really matter to him. Their goals were aligned, and that was the only thing that really mattered.

Climbing up to access the second floor, Vridel stood aside while Reynard made quick work of the lock. He was interested in a different section of the restricted materials today: not the magic volumes but the more mundane records and texts of history. He'd taken a peek once already, and knew that at least some of those were written in cipher, made to appear much more ordinary than they were, disguised as recipes or trade logs or the boring diary entries of simple monks. But there was no point in keeping such things behind lock and key, and that was precisely why they'd drawn his attention.

Stepping inside ahead of Reynard, Vridel took one such down from the shelf. He'd begun with this volume only on a hunch, and while he had not cracked the cipher yet, he was confident that he could. He didn't quite have Sorcha's genius for mechanics and codes and puzzles—she'd always been beyond exceptional with such things, which she strangely dismissed as insignificant talents—but he was clever all the same. Genius was a word that had been thrown around about him, too. He was sure it had been applied to Mercer, for his keen perceptiveness, and Cyril for the uncanny talent he had for tactics, too.

Rather interesting that so many extraordinary people were currently gathered in one place. As it was, however, he would have to rely on his own intellect and none other for this particular thing.

He'd no more than cracked the book before Reynard hissed softly. “We're about to have company, boss."

Shit.

Dousing the magical light he was using, Vridel ducked behind a bookshelf, into a deep pool of shadow, trusting that Reynard would re-lock the door before finding his own place to hide. If they were lucky it would simply be Tomas, making an unexpected late-night round or picking up something he'd forgotten earlier, and he'd pass them by entirely.

But then came the characteristic sound of picks in the door. Someone else was breaking in.

Whoever it was seemed to make quick work of the lock, as if they'd done this before and already knew how to maneuver it. The soft padding of footsteps could be heard as the person seemed to head in the direction Vridel had been. They were heading towards the history section, but seemed to pause in their steps. Some shuffling, and a soft whisper were the only things heard before the sound of something crackling.

“Really need to work on my magic," the voice muttered, but it was easy enough to identify as Mercer's. He'd apparently broke into the same restricted area as Vridel, though it was unclear as to why. “There we go," he whispered, a small flicker of light illuminating enough so that Vridel could, indeed, see Mercer's face. He was hovered over one of the history books, his lips pursing into a fine line.

“I know you're there, you can come out now," he stated, not bothering to look away from the book.

Vridel, for his part, had to think about it. What it was best to do in this situation was not clear. For the moment at least, he had the advantage of information—Mercer might know he was present, but he didn't know his identity. And the last thing he wanted was people knowing he snuck into the restricted parts of the library at night. Still, the thought of the Duke's heir coming over to search and finding the imperial prince hiding behind a bookcase rankled his pride... and there was always the mutually-assured destruction of it. By the end of this, Mercer would know Vridel was up to something... but Vridel would know Mercer was, as well.

“Fine," he said, sighing heavily and stepping out from behind the bookcase. He noted the history text Mercer was examining with narrowed eyes. “I see I'm not the only one rather interested in... uncommon information."

“Oh, hey Vi," he greeted, his eyes flickering briefly towards Vridel before going back to the book. He straightened out his posture, though, and sighed softly. “Well, it's not so much as an interest as it is a curiosity. You see, in Almyra, we have a lot of orators, people who like to pass stories down, orally, however; some things just don't add up," he stated, apparently not as reserved as Vridel was about sharing information.

“For example," he stated, flipping through the pages before stopping on the one he wanted, “why is it listed that Saint Seiros established the Church of Seiros, here, and yet here," he flipped to another page, “it says that others established the Church? And that's just one thing."

He found it interesting, how Mercer spoke often of Almyra first, before he said anything about the Alliance, if he mentioned them at all. It was sort of an odd habit, for the Leicester heir. It would be rather like Vridel being half-Dagdan, and hardly ever mentioning the Empire. Still, it was an interesting point. “The Almyrans have stories that don't square with what the Church says about certain things?"

Approaching the table, he set the book down, tilting his head at the one Mercer was reading. “There are certainly inconsistencies I've noticed as well. Consider Nemesis. Supposedly a villain in the story, yes? The very word nemesis now means an opposing force, and carries the connotation of antagonism. And yet he is also called the 'King of Liberation.' Why so? Liberation seems like a rather positive thing to be attributing to a villain. And I've always wondered what he was supposedly liberating whom from." There were no clear answers to such questions. When he'd asked them as a child, the priests in the empire had either tried to placate him with nonanswers about how Nemesis saw himself as good, or just told him not to ask such things. That the teachings of the Church were meant to be taken of faith, and too much questioning was a sign of impiety.

“The stories they tell, though, also mention that about King Nemesis. They said that he was given a Crest and a Heroes Relic from the Goddess to protect Fódlan from hostile invaders, but then something happened and he just snapped. It's almost as if he went insane with power and wanted to conquer the land. As for why he was considered the Liberator," he paused for a second, glanced around as if to make sure they were completely alone, and turned back to Vridel.

“There's an oral legend not widely taught, for blasphemous reasons, that Nemesis wasn't a king, that he was just a common thief who happened to get lucky with something," he whispered the statement almost as if he were afraid someone was listening to them. “But that's the thing with oral storytelling. Things get lost and aren't always reiterated properly. Plus, there's no definitive proof it existed if it's not on paper."

Vridel hummed, nodding slightly. “It's always been... interesting, the discrepancy," he murmured. “If the Crests were a gift from some all-powerful progenitor goddess, and Nemesis betrayed whatever trust was placed in him, why did the Goddess not merely take the Crest away? It isn't as though she supposedly lacks the power—and yet what she supposedly did was send a revelation to Seiros and make someone else clean up what seems to have been her own mistake. Considering how long the War of Heroes supposedly went, and how many lives were lost in that period, it doesn't cast her in an especially benevolent light, when a much more obvious solution was right there."

He could feel his lip curl in disdain. Honestly any goddess who would waste so much human life on the fields of battle when there was a more sensible path to rectify the error didn't deserve worship, in his mind. There was something just... wrong about the whole story. “Besides, what one crest could have been so powerful that it took Seiros and no fewer than fifteen other people with Crests and relics and their armies to handle one man and his?" He referred of course, to the Four Saints and Ten Elites, all of whom were purported to have served Seiros during her divine crusade. His own predecessor Wilhelm I was also Crest-bearing, the reason the Imperial line so valued the damn Crest of Seiros Vridel bore.

“Didn't the Goddess bestow her own Crest to Nemesis?" he asked, glancing towards Vridel. “It says that the Goddess bestowed Nemesis with her own Crest and a weapon to use; it's how he did... whatever he did that earned him the title. If I were a Goddess, and I'm not, I would think my own Crest was more powerful than the Saints's, no?" he stated, his eyes going back to the book.

Vridel could understand the point about the goddess's Crest, of course, though he still had trouble imagining that one Crest, goddess-granted or otherwise, could be that much more powerful than the ones given to the saints or the elites. Even if it were... all the more reason for the damn goddess to remove it instead of sending people to die against the man who bore it.

“But something doesn't add up about the Ten Elites. If Seiros was, supposedly, the stronger one, how did your ancestor, Wilhelm I acquire it? Why would she bestow her own Crest if she didn't need him for something? And how did she do it? I thought Crests were a blessing from the Goddess, and that only bloodlines could carry them. How does he bear a Crest of Seiros if he isn't of her blood?" he questioned, his eyes remaining on his book.

Vridel grimaced. “That depends on how blasphemous you want to get," he said quietly. “There are some schools of thought in the Empire that hold that it's impossible for a crest to be passed from anyone but the goddess and that, therefore, Wilhelm has to have been the son of Seiros, and my family her descendants." He'd never liked that one. Not because it was blasphemous in assuming the divine Saint would deign to lay with a mortal man. He didn't give a damn about that part. But the idea that who he was, what had become of him, was so directly tied to a figure he quite frankly disdained. That she was his actual ancestor instead of merely the one who'd cursed him with this damn Crest... no. He couldn't abide it.

There had to be some other explanation.

“But if it's not a direct blood relation, then the Church has been telling us some kind of lie all along. Either Crests can be bestowed by mortals... or Seiros wasn't one."

“They're definitely lying to us. Both of us wouldn't be here, if they weren't," he replied, glancing at Vridel from his peripherals. “It's possible that there might have been a way to acquire the Crests without being of direct blood relation," he stated, pausing only to straighten out his back.

“There were stories of people dabbling in types of blood practice before the Empire was established. Those books, however, were conveniently burned before I could read them. I was still a kid, learning to read," he muttered, almost in a disappointing way. “But that's why we're here, neh? To find out what it is they don't want us to know." He smirked, but it was a bit darker than it usually was.

It might have been reckless, but Vridel decided that was all he needed to hear. Setting the book he'd been carrying on the table, he flipped it open. “I believe I may be of some assistance with that," he said simply. “Some of these volumes are clearly encoded. I have some modest talent for such things. If you would like to work your way through some of the others, and alert me to further inconsistencies, as well as these oral histories of Almyra you have access to, I would be willing to share what I find once I'm through the ciphers here."

It wasn't an offer he would have made to just anyone. But he was quite sure that even Mercer was not so good an actor as to be able to fool him in this. He, like Vridel, wanted answers, and was not too pious to seek them. It was possible they'd find those answers working together where they could not without each others' skill and information.

Besides, he hadn't given up on the possibility of finding allies yet, for whatever came after this. Perhaps he would have at least one.

He clicked his tongue for a second, remaining quiet as if he were processing the information. The same smirk he usually wore returned to his face as he stretched his hand out. “Deal. I scratch your back, you scratch mine, however..." he paused, his eyes narrowing slightly. “We'll need a place that's a little more secure to exchange the information. There are too many Church eyes around, and no matter how careful we are, they're bound to notice something. We can't meet in the Dorm rooms; that would draw too much attention. Plus, everyone knows we hardly get along, and being in the public eyes might be a bit of a no-no. "

“They might get... suspicious."

“I might be able to help with that."

Vridel's eyes snapped to Reynard, who'd somehow climbed one of the bookshelves in silence and was now sitting atop it, watching them with clear amusement on his face. He half-smiled. “The town just outside Garreg Mach has a much lower ratio of Church eyes. Provided you're willing to make yourselves a little less... conspicuous, you can use my house."

“You have a house?" that would explain at least some of where his exorbitant fees went.

“I always have somewhere to hide," Reynard replied vaguely. “In this case, a little townhouse, on a quiet street no one cares about. The neighbors are a deaf retired potter and an innkeep who spends most of her nights at her inn anyway. No one to keep much track of comings and goings, you understand?"

“Sounds perfect. And you're talking to the master of disguise, here. I can make myself less conspicuous, but I don't know about Vi, with all that..." he stated, gesturing towards Vridel's head, “white hair. It's much harder to conceal, unless you know a magic spell to change the color or something of the sort."

Vridel grimaced. “I can always get a hood," he said, though he would have to look into the magic. Hoods could be knocked down, and were conspicuous themselves at certain times of day. “Get us the address and a key, and we'll take you up on that."

It should work for now, at least.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

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I.Y. 1180 - Harpstring Moon - Sunday the 18th
Garreg Mach Monastery (Training Grounds) - Morning - Clear
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea was excited, to say the least. So excited that she'd woken up before everyone else had, even Sorcha, and had already dressed into her training outfit. She'd grabbed the tomahawk she borrowed from Vridel, and had waited patiently at the training grounds for the others to arrive. Sorcha arrived not too long after Amalthea had, Senka in tow, and both of them helped Amalthea set up the targets. By the time they had finished, the sun had already started peaking over the horizon.

The competition was a matter of accuracy and fluidity. She had to hit as many targets as she possibly could near their vital areas, however; they weren't going to be stationary targets. They were going to be moving, and Amalthea wasn't quite sure if she was ready for that. She'd been training, but throwing an object was a lot different than that, and it wasn't something she actively did during training sessions. She almost regretted it, however; she had her friends to help her with her shortcomings. She was particularly excited that Vridel had agreed to help her, too.

She really valued everything he told her, and she took it to heart, trying her best so that she didn't disappoint him. It felt different than it did with her sister, though. It wasn't the same kind of disappointment she was trying to keep Lyanna from feeling; that felt too... something. With Vridel, it seemed more vital, more important, so she trained as hard as she could.

“Thea," Senka called out, snapping Amalthea from her thoughts. She turned towards the woman, and nodded. “The others will be here soon; are you sure you are prepared?" she asked, causing Amalthea to nod her head.

“I am! I think... with all of you here to help me, I should be fine." She'd be better than that, actually.

Next to Senka, Sorcha had been studying Amalthea's axe, curiosity evident in her expression. “Thea, do you mind if I see that for a moment?" she asked, gesturing to the weapon.

“Hm? Oh! Sure, here you go," she stated, handing the axe towards Sorcha.

The other girl took the thing by the haft, running her thumb along the flat of the axehead and testing its balance. Flipping it over deftly, she spotted the crest design on the polished wooden handle and huffed softly, a strange smile crossing her face. “Vivi, you idiot," she murmured, shaking her head and handing it carefully back to Amalthea. “Did he tell you what this was, when he gave it to you?" Somehow, she seemed to know the object had originally belonged to Vridel.

Amalthea did not find that fact, strange. Didn't everyone know that axe was Vridel's? It had a very specific design, after all. Or perhaps only she thought that, and everyone didn't know? “Nope," she responded, smiling at Sorcha. “He just told me that I was free to use it if I wanted to. It would be easier to handle, and a little more aerodynamic. It was a good choice for the competition, he said." She thought it was a good choice, too. And it was lighter than her own training axe had been.

“Is something wrong with it?" she asked, her eyes going slightly wide. “Did I damage it somehow!?" she was slightly panicked now. She didn't mean to destroy his tomahawk, if that were the case. She really didn't want him to be angry with her, if she did manage to somehow damage his weapon. She should have taken better care of it!

Sorcha shook her head immediately. “No, no, nothing like that." She still wore the odd smile, and shrugged a bit. “It's just... that's Aymr. It's not a sacred relic or anything, but it is an Imperial heirloom. A weapon that's been around since ancient times. See the Crest of Seiros on the handle there? That's the proof. It's probably the single best throwing axe there is, and it's got a boatload of enchantments on it to guard against damage and rust and such. It's... also Vivi's birthright as Imperial Prince." The smile widened.

“He probably just gave it to you like it's no big deal, right?"

Amalthea blinked once. Then twice. It was a what? Senka made a slight huffing sound, but it didn't quite register what it could have been. Amalthea was too distracted by Sorcha's words to notice anything else. An heirloom? He'd given her an heirloom? Weren't those supposed to be extremely valuable and meant to be protected? She had to admit that she didn't quite understand the context of what an heirloom was, but hearing Sorcha describe it as something... important, Amalthea felt her eyes widen.

“He did," she replied. “Well, he let me borrow it, but..." he didn't necessarily say she could have it, so that meant that she was supposed to take really good care of it. But she wasn't, was she? She was using it, throwing it at inanimate objects and practicing her own techniques with it. And it was a valuable weapon he had given to her. Why would he do that?

“Why would he do that!?" she repeated the question out loud.

“Perhaps because he thought you might have made better use of it?" Senka spoke, causing Amalthea to turn her attention on her. He had told her that he preferred swords to axes, and that they were an Imperial specialty. But... “If that is the case, you should not feel bad about using it, Thea. He entrusted something to you that was..." she glanced towards Sorcha, special?" She didn't seem quite sure if that was the right word.

“Well, it's definitely symbolically important," Sorcha said, humming thoughtfully. “But Vivi's practical. Honestly, I think he probably just figured that it was a weapon, and made to be used, and since he prefers the sword, it wouldn't have seen much use with him. So I wouldn't worry about treating it like some delicate object. It's made to be thrown at things, or used in battle."

“Well, when you put it like that," she really couldn't find the fallacy in that logic.

She set her hands on her hips. “Speak of the devil... it looks like he and Professor Cyril are here."

Sure enough, Vridel and the professor both approached, each dressed in the usual manner for a free day at the monastery: Vridel in his uniform with the red half-cloak, and the professor in a long-sleeved, deep blue tunic with those odd patterns that Jeralt also wore at the neck and sleeves.

“Good morning, everyone," Cyril said mildly. “I understand we're going to throw axes today?"

“Good morning, Professor, Vridel!" she stated, grinning at both of them. “And yes, well... in a manner of speaking. I'm the one throwing axes! Er, well, for the competition." She pursed her lips at herself and took a deep breath. “I'm training with throwing axes for the competition at the end of the month!" There, that was better.

“Not just you, Thea," Senka spoke softly, causing her to purse her lips in confusion. Were they also going to join the competition? Senka's features smoothed out slightly as if she were reading Amalthea's mind. “It's good practice for all of us to learn about throwing objects. And," she paused, glancing towards Professor and Vridel, “It'll be like we are your competitors. Professor Cyril and Vridel are here to help us with that."

Sorcha smiled a little. “Exactly. I for one am going to be working on my javelin form, but magic or arrows would work just as well. Besides, if we all train together it's more fun, right?" She turned to the professor, then. “I've set up all the targets, so they're ready to go whenever you like."

“Excellent. Let's get those moving, then." They moved off to see about the moving targets.

Vridel, carrying what seemed to be an ordinary practice hand-axe, stepped a little closer to Amalthea, his arms crossed. “How's practice been?" he asked. “Feeling any more confident with the throwing?"

She turned and pursed her lips up at him. “Why didn't you tell me this was an heirloom?" she stated, holding out the axe, Aymr. “I mean, thank you for letting me use it, but it's... it's a," she furrowed her brows tightly, before sighing softly and shaking her head. She was going to try and think of it as Senka and Sorcha said: a weapon meant to be used.

“Training has been nice. I'm still a little bad, but I'm not as bad as I used to be. But that was against stationary targets. Practicing with moving ones is going to be tougher than that," she decided to say. “I guess, having your guidance has been really helpful. In a lot of a ways, actually," she continued, feeling the tips of her ears, burning again. She'd have to ask Lyanna about that, one day. For now, she'd just assume that it was probably because she was excited about something.

“Now, I'm going to need your help with these moving targets."

Vridel had an inscrutable look on his face as he regarded her in turn. He wasn't often blank-faced like the Professor or Senka could be, but nonetheless it was hard to figure out exactly what he was thinking most of the time. Narrowed eyes and slight frowns, for example could mean a lot. After a moment more, he shrugged. “I didn't tell you because it didn't matter. It is in fact an object my family has owned for a long time, but that doesn't mean much to me. It's a weapon like any other, and I gather that you don't have any of your own. Until you find something you like better, I think it will serve you in good stead. As for hitting moving targets..."

As if on cue, the targets set up on the training ground began to move, mostly traveling in a wide circle. Vridel took the axe from his belt and hefted it, throwing it decisively for one headed in their direction. It whistled through the air, landing dead-center on the target. “It's not that different. You just need to learn the timing, and how to throw from different body positions. Give it a try on that red one coming up." He called the axe back to his hand, the returning enchantment responding and pulling it back to him from its place in the target, where it left behind only a wedge of destroyed paper.

That was easy for him to say; he'd probably practiced a lot more than she had. Still, she wouldn't let that deter her. “Okay," she stated, bringing Amyr up and staring at the red target. Taking a breath, she leaned forward and threw with as much strength as she could muster. Amyr was wobbly, unlike Vridel's axe had been. It missed the target, and Amalthea pursed her lips together. She hadn't even grazed the target. It didn't miss by a wide berth, though. She'd only missed by a foot, at least.

She took a deep breath and jogged after her weapons, picking it up before returning back towards Vridel. She decided against glancing at him; she didn't want to meet his eyes until she could hit a target, proper. With pursed lips, she repeated the process, and missed again. “Can you..." she stopped herself from asking for his help, and shook her head. She relied on him, too much, for things, and right now, she wanted to at least get one hit before she asked.

The process was repeated for at least ten minutes. Every time she threw the axe, she still missed it. It either went over the head, off to the side, or, oddly enough, underneath it. How was she still not able to get one hit? “What am I doing wrong!?" she stated, finally glancing towards Vridel.

He was regarding her with a keen expression, like she was some sort of puzzle he couldn't quite put together to his satisfaction. Uncrossing his arms, he summoned the axe towards him; Amyr flew unerringly from beneath the target into his hand. On the other side of the grounds, the professor, Sorcha, and Senka were busy at their own practice; Vridel gave them a glance before he sighed, murmuring something under his breath that she could not hear and returning Aymr to her haft-first. The weapon looked no worse for wear: both the wooden handle and the metal axehead gleamed under the light.

“All right," he said. “Assume your stance, please." Once she'd done so, he paused. His next words were unusually hesitant. “May I... hm. I think it would help if I could adjust your posture and so on. That would require touching you, however. May I?"

“Please," she replied automatically, relaxing her body. If it meant that he could help her with her stance, she'd let him. “Whatever you need to do to help," she added, taking in a deep breath.

Vridel nodded, stepping forward and taking up her right wrist in his hand. He used the other to shift Amyr slightly forward in her grip. “The hold for throwing is slightly different from the hold for melee," he informed her. “Which you knew. What I think is new is that it's a little more of a difference with one of these over the standard hand-axe." Curling her fingers firmly but not too tightly over the new spot, he shifted back, placing a hand on each shoulder and squaring them.

“Your shoulders should always be like this. Even if you have to shift at the waist or do something unusual with your arms while you're on the move, they always need to be relaxed, but like this relative to each other. If they aren't it'll ruin your follow-through. And you're small enough that your form has to be better than idiots who just chuck them over the field."

His hands moved to grasp her jaw from behind, then, and he positioned her head so that she was looking directly forward. “Relax. You don't need that much advance warning. Look at where you want the throw to land, and then wait until the target's almost there. Every rule can be broken eventually, but when you're still learning you should follow them until it's instinct." There was nothing improper about the contact, but he was standing close enough that his heat could be felt at her back.

It disappeared a moment later, though, as he stepped back. “Next yellow." he said. “Don't look for it, just wait until you can target, and then throw."

It wasn't that hard to listen to his advice. She'd done so on countless occasions, however; something felt a little different. More intense and more focused, however; she couldn't quite place a finger to it. Whatever it was, it allowed her to clear her mind and focus on his voice, and instructions. When he finished, and had stepped back, she nodded in way of response, and glanced at the yellow target. Taking her stance, she eyed the target, watching it as it moved before she threw.

There was a loud thud as she managed to land the hit. It was on the shoulder aspect of the target, but she at least hit it. And that was enough to cause her to literally jump in her spot. “Yes! I hit it!" she stated, still jumping. She whirled in her spot, smile plastered on her face as she glanced up at Vridel. “Did you see that!? I actually hit it!"

“Don't know how I could have missed it," he replied wryly, a half-smile touching his mouth. “Well done, Amalthea." The smile widened even as his eyes narrowed. “...now do it again, and we'll be getting somewhere."

“Okay!" she responded, running to retrieve her axe. She pulled it from the target, and made her way back towards Vridel. Assuming her stance, she threw the axe again, managing to get another hit. And once again, very excitedly, she jumped in her spot. It was a process that was repeated over the course of a few hours until she was hitting almost every target. Not where the vitals were, but she would take what she could get.

When training came to an end, she glanced at the others and smiled at them. “Thank you all for training with me. You were right, Sorcha! Training with others is more fun than I thought it could be," she stated towards the princess. “And thank you, Vi for helping me! Again! I really need to find a way to pay you back for all of this. I promise you, I will!" She really was glad that they were there to help her.

For a moment, Vridel's eye twitched, perhaps at the application of the nickname, but he didn't scold her for it, instead shaking his head. “It was good practice for all of us. No need to make a fuss."

Sorcha rolled her eyes. “What he means is you're welcome," she added. “Keep improving like this and you'll be in good shape for the competition!"

She really hoped so.

Setting

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Harpstring Moon - Saturday the 31st
Zanado, the Red Canyon - Early Afternoon - Clear
Cyril Eisner


Though he'd informed his students of their grim mission over a week ago, Cyril still could not help the faint feeling of unease that drew over him as they approached their destination. Someplace called the Red Canyon, apparently. Though the mission had originally been assigned to the Blue Lions, the simple matter of it was that some of his students were simply not yet at the level where they stood a reasonable chance of survival. He'd spoken with Lady Lyanna about it, and whatever she'd said to Lady Rhea must have been effective, for he was thereafter given permission to hand-select the students who'd be going with him.

He didn't especially like that, either, but at least he knew which among them were the best in a fight, and which would be most likely to be cautious enough to survive, and conscientious enough to make sure their companions did as well: namely, his Saturday class. It was the bond that was the most important thing, he thought, and though they were still getting to know each other, he knew they at least coordinated well, and wouldn't hesitate to do as he asked of them, should that become necessary.

None of that helped him shake the feeling that he could be condemning any of them to death—or to the trauma of taking life. All he could muster in defense of his was that they had all come here knowing what was taught. At least this way, he would be here for them when they did at last confront what it meant to kill. If they faltered, he would be able to intercede. If they were scared, he would be able to step in front of them. If they were in danger, well...

He would be there to stop a blow.

If he achieved nothing else, could shelter them from nothing else, he could at least make sure they didn't die. That they lived past this moment, this day. The first battlefield, for most of them. He didn't know why it was so important to him that they all made it, but it was. He felt as though... as though he could not lose them to this.

As the group approached the edge of the canyon, Cyril called them to a halt. Catching Reynard's eyes, he nodded slightly and jerked his head to the side. The other man understood—that one had been on many battlefields, of this Cyril was certain. Perhaps almost as many as he had. He would make a fine scout, and was not in need of the discussion he was about to have with the rest of them.

“This is it," he said softly. “Reynard is going to find the bandits for us, and then we go to battle." He paused, scanning their faces. “There is a lot that could be said, about killing and about death. It won't be easy. I want you to blame everything on me."

“What—what do you mean, blame it on you?" Sorcha asked. She'd looked vaguely unwell for the entire march. He didn't doubt she was remembering the bandits in the forest, on the night they'd met. The night she'd killed for the first time.

That was exactly why he was saying this, though. “I mean that if what you're about to do makes you sick. If it gives you nightmares. If it makes you numb. Whatever it does to you, I want you to understand that it's my fault. I'm the one who led you here. I'm the one who put you in this situation. When we're down there on that field, it's because I told you to go there. What you are going to do is survive." He shook his head. “And there is no blame for that. Perhaps one day, you will deserve some of the blame, when it is you who orders people to fight. I don't want you to ever forget what it feels like, to be commanded to take life. But I don't want you to blame yourselves, either. This is my doing. There may come a time when you have to decide whether to make it yours. But today is not your fault."

Amalthea hadn't smiled during the march, either. Her expression had been as Sorcha's had, but for a different reason, perhaps. She did, however, swallow rather thickly, and seemed to shake her head at something. Senka laid a hand on her shoulder, though, causing the young woman to glance up at her. She wasn't smiling, or anything, but there was a brief gentleness in her expression that caused Amalthea to nod her head. Her eyes were back to Cyril, after that.

Mercer, however, didn't seem fazed at all. As if this were just another day to him. His posture was relaxed, but his eyes were forward and unusually dark. “Yeah, but that's just it, Teach. We can't blame you for something they did. Taking their lives won't be easy, but it's not like they didn't bring this on themselves," he spoke in a nonchalant fashion, almost cold.

“Fault or not, doesn't make it easier, Mercer. Taking a life... shouldn't be as easy as that," Senka retorted, her eyes narrowing just slightly. Mercer huffed lightly, but shook his head.

“I didn't say it should be," he stated, his eyes sliding towards Sorcha.

“That's just how things are, though. Let's just... do as the professor says, and survive," Dierdre stated, looking vaguely uncomfortable about it all. She'd stood a little closer to Sofia and almost seemed to be holding on to her arm.

Sofia swallowed thickly, doing her best to maintain a calm, stoic presence, perhaps for Deirdre and the others. Devon was having clear difficulty keeping his nerve; he kept fiddling with his arrows, and checking to make sure his backup knife was still strapped to his thigh. He nodded, though, as if to agree with Deirdre.

If anything, Vridel was taking it somewhere between the relaxation of Mercer and the quiet stoicism of Senka. It had been clear to Cyril even on that first night that both the imperial prince and the Alliance heir had prior combat experience; there would come a time when those faces would be what the majority of them wore in a situation like this.

“Don't forget that these people have done their fair share of killing, too," he pointed out. “And they thought much less for the innocent people they slew and stole from than we're thinking for them. We shouldn't stoop to their level, but nor should we forget that the fault—" there he looked at Cyril, not entirely without gratitude, it seemed. “Lies also with them. Whatever their circumstances, they chose to murder to live. They cannot be allowed to continue."

“I just... wish there was another way. Without killing them," Amalthea murmured, but Sylvi shook her head. She was about as composed as Sofia was, but her eyes were slightly wide. It was apparent that she too was feeling the effects of this upcoming battle, and she rolled out her shoulders as if she were trying to calm herself.

“Unfortunately that's just the nature of things. Whether or not there are other ways, the best option, here, is to put them down. Like his Highness stated; best not to let them continue. Their lives against the lives of many innocents is well-worth what we have to do," she spoke in an even tone. It was flat, though, as if she were struggling against her own words.

“Heh, if it helps, just think of them as rabid dogs," Mercer stated, pulling his bow from his back, and holding it out in front of him. He pulled on the string, as if he were checking it, and dropped his hand to his side. “They need to be put down before they cause more harm; simple as that."

Senka sighed, but she did not say anything. Instead, she fiddled with her sword strapped to her side. They weren't carrying their practice weapons, for this battle. The ones they had were iron, sharp, and very real. From the arrow tips, to the iron lances and axes, these were made to kill.

“We can do this," Dierdre whispered, almost as if she were trying to convince herself that they could.

So we are taking children into battle, are we? Cyril wasn't all that surprised that the voice in his head had an opinion about this, too. He couldn't even disagree with her. Perhaps she sensed it.

Reynard soon returned, gesturing for the group to follow him down a safe path into the canyon.

As they walked, looming red-brown walls of stone loomed to either side, only growing as they increased the grade of their descent. It would have been somewhat difficult for the Knights to maneuver horses down here, but he doubted that had much to do with why the students had been chosen to do the work instead. A pegasus or wyvern, after all, would have had no trouble, and there were plenty of those. He had rather the impression that they'd been chosen to do this not only because the knights were understaffed as Lyanna said, but because this was rather beneath the knights. The kind of thing that mercenaries would typically be hired to do.

Unbidden, a thought leapt into his head. This used to be a peaceful place. Cyril's step almost faltered; he was certain what he'd thought was right, but could identify the source of neither the thought nor the certainty. If it had been a contribution of his passenger, it would have felt... different.

She did, however, jump in then. Oh? I wonder why it is that you remember it. As far as I can tell, this is your first time here.

Have you been here before?

He could feel her uncertainty, as if she were reaching back in her memory as well as his own. I must admit I am unsure, she replied. Beyond the name and this strange feeling of familiarity, I can't seem to remember anything about this place. And yet... a great depth of emotion is tied to that familiarity. Like joy and sorrow, pain and love. And all things in between. She paused. If I was somehow here before, I wonder what took place...

There wasn't much time to consider it now, however. As they drew closer it became clear that there were ruins built into the canyon, crumbling now but evidence of great buildings having stood long ago.

Sorcha seemed to have noticed them, too. “Strange," she murmured.

“What is?" Vridel asked, regarding her keenly.

“The architecture," she replied, squinting down into the canyon. “It's like nothing I've seen before, even in books. It's not Imperial, or Kingdom, and it's much too old for Alliance, either. Unless I've just completely missed a major trend in historical architecture that is."

For some reason, Vridel shot a glance at Mercer then, a grim look on his face.

“I don't think there's anything like that mentioned in the books at the Monastery," Amalthea chimed in, but she seemed just as confused as Sorcha. “I've read quite a few of them, but not a lot," she continued, pursing her lips.

“They're not modeled after Almyran architecture, I can tell you that much," Mercer stated, his eyes sliding towards Senka, who merely nodded her head. “Perhaps this was here before the Empire was established?" he stated it in such a way that it was more of a statement than a question, as if it were some kind of small observation.

“Some designs have been known to get lost through translations," Sylvi spoke, though she didn't seem as interested in the design as the others had been. She was scanning the area as if she were checking to make sure they wouldn't be ambushed, or something of the sort. “It's possible that something was mistranslated throughout the years," she added.

“It's a possibility, but you'd think that the Church, or the nations would keep up with things like that," Mercer stated, but remained quiet after that.

Cyril, who knew precious little of history, wasn't sure why it should be surprising that traces remained of things that had been before the Empire, but perhaps the interest had more to do with the fact that they, who had quite complete educations by most standards, had never been taught of such things. Perhaps this represented lost knowledge, and how strange it should be that it was lost, if the Church knew of this place.

Suddenly, he could understand the issue.

As with those belonging to the girl in his head, however, there were other things to worry about right now. “There," he said, pointing down to what appeared to be a ruined stone structure of some sort, only a section of floor slightly alit with verdant light and a few vestigial traces of walls remaining. In it stood a bandit, apparently having an argument with several of his comrades.

Unfortunately, they were spotted at just about the same time. A sharp whistle raised the alarm, and the bandit reacted immediately, arming themselves and fanning out to meet the intruders.

“Archers and mages to the back. Everyone else, with me. Stick together. Protect each other. Leave no one behind." Cyril reacted immediately, firming his grip on his javelin. There was no time for anything else anymore. Now, it was do or die.

Setting

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. 1180 - Harpstring Moon - Saturday the 31st
Zanado, the Red Canyon - Afternoon - Clear
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. Teach ordered the archers to the back, but Mercer decided he wasn't going to do that. Instead, he stayed close to Sorcha, watching as the bandits scurried to arm themselves, proper, and begin their own assault. This wasn't going to be an easy fight; for someone who'd had to fight most of his life, he was okay with what they had to do. But the way Sorcha had reacted to their first encounter, he didn't want her to be alone through it a second time. Dierdre had looked a little hesitant to remain in the back, her eyes focusing on Sofia for a brief moment, before she seemed to steel herself.

He couldn't blame her; it was a very real possibility that they were about to lose each other. And love like theirs was very rare to find. He almost envied the two of them. Sylvi and Amalthea had stayed close to the Teach, and Senka had, oddly, remained somewhere in the middle. She wasn't in the back, but she wasn't as close to the others as Amalthea and Sylvi were. Perhaps she too felt the need to fight at a closer range? He knew she was decent with magic, but still... he allowed his gaze to focus back on the bandits.

The least he could do is try and take out one or two of the bandits. In total, there must have been about fifteen to twenty of them. It was, by no means, a small group, but against the eleven of them, it shouldn't be too difficult. This was under the assumption that the others would be able to do what they needed: kill.

Vridel was about even with Senka, sword drawn but from the look of it magic also at the ready. His facility with white magic was almost certain to see some use today. Sofia glanced back to her fiancee only once, nodding firmly before hefting her axe in her hand and firming up the front line with Teach and the others. Devon had the rear, and Reynard had once again seemingly disappeared. There was enough cover in this part of the canyon that he might well have found somewhere to snipe from, or to launch a sneak attack of some description.

“I'm here for you, Sorcha, just so you know," he stated, though he didn't quite understand the need to say it. He just thought it would be reassuring to her, somehow. Like it was to him. He didn't want any of his friends to die on the battlefield, and he was going to make sure of that, one way or another.

Her hands trembled where they held her bow. She, too, wasn't content to stay all the way at the back; probably because she had melee options as well and wanted to be in range to help support the front line if necessary. She pursed her lips, but looked suddenly up at him as he spoke, almost as if she was surprised to see him there. “Mercer! I, um..." She swallowed audibly. “You too. I mean. I'm here if you... need me."

She grimaced, mumbling something to herself that sounded like “not likely."

“Of course I need you," he responded almost immediately, fixing his eyes into serious state. “One person alone is only so strong, but as long as you're with me," he began, offering her a small smile, “I'd like to think we'll both make it through this, alright?" He wanted her to know that she was also going to be providing strength to him. She, and the others, were the reason he was going to give it his all today. To ensure that everyone lived, even if he didn't.

It wasn't long after that, they finally met the first wave of bandits. Mercer had notched an arrow almost immediately before letting it fly. Unfortunately the bandit he aimed for was wearing an armored chest plate, and the arrow merely hit it with a soft thud before falling. He pursed his lips together, and readied another arrow, letting it loose on another bandit. This time, the arrow found its mark, but it was lodged into the bandit's shoulder. He cried out from the obvious pain, but Mercer didn't have much time to think about it. He readied another arrow, and aimed again.

Beside him, Sorcha kept up a steady rhythm of fire, though he could tell from as close as he was that her fingers trembled on every draw. It didn't seem to hurt her accuracy much, nor did the way she gasped softly after the first bandit fell to her arrow in his throat.

“Survive," she whispered, turning her next shot on someone trying to approach Senka from the side. “Survive."

The reminder to herself did not stop the tears from beginning to flow.

In the front, their line was making efficient work of the bandits. Some of them were definitely burn-scarred, and dressed similarly to the ones who'd attacked the three of them during the training exercise. It was no great leap to assume they were the same group. Two of them, bearing the scars of his magic, apparently recognized Vridel and went straight for him. He cut one down, and the other fell to a pair of arrows from Devon.

Sofia kept her side of the line steady with measured, calculated blows. She wasn't a quick striker, but she was patient and sudden when she did decide to hit, and one of her axeblows cleaved a man's head, covering her in gore. She looked like she was about to be sick, but grimaced and held out. The incident, however, blinded her to the man trying to flank on her left.

Dierdre released a wind spell, pushing the man away from Sofia as her eyes were wide with fear. She was trembling as well, but she didn't have much time to react as another tried to attack her from behind. Mercer was quick with his arrow, notching it in place and releasing it in time to catch the bandit in the head. His body slumped forward, and Dierdre nearly jumped out of her skin as she turned in time to deflect an incoming arrow.

Amalthea didn't seem to be doing so well, though. She was visibly trembling, but she had yet to engage an enemy. Senka had kept close to her, deflecting swords here and there, but she could only do so much. Amalthea had gripped her axe, raised it as high as she could, before she brought it down in time to knock a dagger out of a man's hand. And in doing so, she lopped his hand off. His scream, and the blood that poured from his now-missing hand, seemed to startle her and she took a step back. She screamed as the blood covered her, and Senka had to pull her out of the way from arrow. It grazed her shoulder, the arrowhead slicing into it and producing a thin line of blood, but she did not appear to be fazed.

Sylvi had, at this point, worked her way through two of the bandits. She too seemed to be having trouble, though, and it was easy to tell that she had been crying, but her expression seemed strange. Her lips were pressed into a fine line, and her eyes seemed to be relaxed. Mercer knew that look. It was the look of someone who wasn't quite there, and was losing themselves in some other thought. That wasn't a good sign, though, and Mercer called out to her.

“Sylvi, stay sharp!" otherwise it would get her killed. She seemed to snap back to reality as her axe became more swift. More accurate, and she was able to push the bandit back. When he'd no more arrows to use, Mercer switched to his sword.

Sorcha ran out at about the same time as he did, and shifted to her lance. Even Devon was on his backup knife now, and Reynard had joined the fray in earnest, a short blade in each hand, cutting down from behind a bandit who'd almost gotten Sylvi.

Vridel shifted in, briefly touching a hand to Amalthea's back. Her bleeding stopped immediately, only what had already soaked into her clothes likely to remain. He hurdled a blast of fire at some of the incoming bandits; their rear line was now making the charge, and they were much more numerous now, in the thick of things.

Over Vridel's shoulder, Sorcha stabbed her lance, catching one who'd managed to duck under the fire and tried to retaliate. Teach, meanwhile, drew back and hurled his javelin, finishing off one of the incoming group and following up with a spell, which took out their left flank. It thinned the numbers considerably, but the incoming collision was still going to be a hard one.

“Brace yourselves!"

Before Mercer could react, there was a loud scream. He could tell it belonged to Amalthea, and immediately his eyes scanned the area for her. There was something wrong with Senka. She was as covered in blood as the rest of them were, however; something was off. She had an arrow stuck in her back, near her shoulder, and was standing in front of Amalthea. From the way it looked, it was as if she'd taken the arrow that had been meant for Amalthea. It was a sudden turn, though. She flung herself, sword in had, at the nearest bandit, catching him in the gut, and pushing him towards the ground. Immediately, there was a flame in her hand, and she was pushing it in the bandit's face, burning it off. The man screamed in anguish, and for a moment, even Mercer winced. It was bloodcurling and painful. She pulled the sword from his stomach, and plunged it once again, almost in a repetitive motion until the bandit moved no more.

She was screaming something, but he was too far to hear what it was. When her eyes flickered towards his, however; Mercer felt his stomach drop. It was a feral look, one that only cornered and frightened animals had. But it was also void of everything. Typically she had an impassive face, but there were small tells of what she was feeling. Now... there was nothing. She jumped to her feet, and charged towards another group of bandits, flinging another fire spell at one and clashing swords with another. If Mercer hadn't known better, he would have thought she were an expert with the sword, but there was still something feral and wild about it. She was thrashing about wildly, fighting two at once. A third bandit seemed to join the fray, but Senka showed no signs of letting up. It was like watching a caged animal, fight, and Mercer was certain that Senka wasn't quite there.

Amalthea had, at this point, retreated towards Mercer, tears clear as day in her eyes. “Mercer! She's not... she won't stop! She's not listening," she stated in a panic. He clenched his jaw tightly, and glanced around the field to see if there was someone close by.

“Sorcha, Teach! Something's not right with Senka," he shouted once he spotted them. It was at this point that most of the bandits seemed to focus their attacks on her, and she was being surrounded by at least three more. She wasn't going to last much longer, if the way she was breathing heavily was anything to go by. A couple of the bandits managed to slice her arms, and one tried to get her legs, however; she moved so that it caught her in the side. And then there was rage. Mercer wasn't sure if he'd ever seen so much emotion on her face, before. It was unnerving. “Amalthea, go," he stated, ushering her in the direction of Devon and the others. She nodded her head, and immediately, her eyes went wide. Without hesitation, her grip on her axe tightened, and she threw it at a bandit trying to get to Devon. It landed square in his chest, deep enough that it would likely take a great deal of strength to remove it, however; she stretched her arm out and used the enchantment to call it back to her.

Mercer turned his attention back towards Senka. She was still surrounded, and he was out of arrows.

“Sen! Senka!" Sorcha's tone was desperate; she broke from the line to try and get to her friend, only to find herself quickly accosted by two more bandits. She scored a quick jab to one of them, sending him reeling backwards, but before she could finish him, the other stepped in and disarmed her. Left with few options for defense, she scrambled, blocking the next blow with her bow. It broke under the bandit's sword, and she screamed as it cut into her shoulder afterward, but remained standing.

“Mercer!" Cyril was suddenly beside him, hurling the javelin into the uninjured bandit before he could finish her. “Get to Sorcha. Pull her back behind the line. Vridel, you're on standby for her and Senka."

So saying, he sprinted for where Senka was still tangled with her foes, arms cracking with lightning magic. He drove his fist for the first, landing a heavy blow at the base of the bandit's spine with a wet crack. If that hadn't killed him outright, the magic surely would have, and it jumped to the next foe, jolting him as he was about to make a swing. Cyril grabbed him, still on the move, and physically threw him into his compatriots, knocking them away from Senka. A blast of dark magic went at the lot, but the professor didn't so much as wait to see the result.

Instead, he grabbed Senka by the collar, disrupting her balance and deftly disarming her. With one arm, he hoisted her onto his shoulder, and the other held the sword, which he used to run through the one bandit who'd survived the magic and tried to lunge for him now that he was encumbered with the weight of another person.

Mercer was quick to move, finding Sorcha's side in a matter of seconds. She was holding the javelin Teach had thrown, but she didn't seem to be handling it well. Probably because her arm had been injured. When that had happened, Mercer felt something in his stomach, twist. He'd felt sick, as if he'd somehow failed to do something he said he was going to do. Protect. She had been injured because he wasn't quick enough when he needed to be.

When Teach had grabbed Senka, she'd immediately started slamming her fists into his back, screaming at him to let her go, that she needed to get back to them. Whoever they were. He turned his attention back to Sorcha, though, and pursed his lips together. “Hey, are you all right?" he asked, knowing it was a stupid question to ask. Still... he couldn't... he needed to know she would be okay. That she was okay, physically.

She grimaced; there were smears of blood all over her clothes and light leather armor. Most of it wasn't hers, he could tell, but a fair amount of it was, too. “I'll be—better when this is over," she admitted, shifting the javelin to her left hand, and hurling it. She wasn't nearly as good with it as her right, but it still connected with enough force to knock a bandit off-balance, and Reynard quickly finished him.

She summoned the weapon back and lined up another throw. Despite all the viscera on her face, clear tracks were obvious from her eyes to her jaw. It was hard to tell if she were still crying, but it almost didn't matter. The damage had clearly been done. To all of them.

The bandits were almost done for, though, and even as Cyril brought Senka back for healing, ignoring both the fists pounding into his back and her desperate cries, he made eye contact with the last man standing, pointing over the intervening distance with Senka's sword. A crackle of electricity sparked along the surface, coalescing at the tip and striking out, traveling over the field in a hard, shuddering bolt. It struck the bandit leader square in the chest, and he collapsed, unmoving atop the glowing green floor tiles.

There were types of magic capable of such distance. From description alone, that was probably Thoron. Whatever it was, it ended the battle.

Sorcha immediately fell to the ground, hugging her knees to her chest and looking to Teach. “Is she going to be okay?" her voice was tight, cracked with worry, even now.

He hesitated, holding Senka in place while Vridel worked.

“I hope so," was all he said.

Mercer doubted she was going to be okay for a long while, but he decided to keep that to himself. Instead, he sighed heavily, and rolled out his shoulders. They'd all survived, and that was all that mattered, in the end. Even if some of them were likely to have nightmares, or be haunted by the images. All that mattered was that they had all survived. Even himself.

The journey back to Garreg Mach had been relatively silent. No one spoke; Dierdre walked so close to Sofia that it looked like she was occasionally tripping over the woman's feet. Amalthea had nearly tucked herself into Sorcha, but kept a respectful distance between them. Sorcha, though, didn't seem to mind, and readily put her uninjured arm over Amalthea's shoulders, pulling her a little closer, so they were walking in step. And Senka, she'd stayed near Vridel and Teach, her eyes on the floor every step of the way. They were all going to need some time, after this.

“You should take Senka and yourself to Professor Manuela, get a look over," he stated in a low voice to Sorcha. Vridel's magic could only do so much for them, and he was certain they could both use it. All of them could, but out of the group, they'd sustained more injuries. Amalthea had a scratch on her face that would heal, given some time, and Dierdre had sustained some injuries. But they weren't anything she couldn't handle. The others were likely to have injuries as well, but Mercer considered himself rather lucky that he just had a couple of bruises.

“I will," she replied just as quietly. “Maybe Vivi will come too. He doesn't act like it but he's got to be about to pass out from all that healing." They didn't have too many other people who could do it, and one of the only passable healers was Senka, who was obviously in no shape to help.

As they approached the monastery entrance, Teach dropped back to walk for a moment beside Mercer. His eyes didn't leave Senka's back even as he spoke; it would seem he was still wary of her wounds. “I'm required to report to the Archbishop as soon as we arrive," he said, tone flat but somehow harder than the one he usually used. Certainly not nearly the same one he used with his students. “Would you be interested in coming with?"

“Fine by me," he replied almost instantly. He wanted to see what Rhea had to say for herself, sending them into a battle like that. He could understand if it were him, and maybe Vridel and Teach, but the others? They were clearly not ready for this. Taking another person's life wasn't something that people could easily do, especially people with relatively soft hearts like Thea and Sorcha. That... he felt his chest clench painfully as he walked with Teach towards the Archbishop's office.

When they'd arrived, Rhea's face immediately furrowed from the smile she had been wearing. Clearly she wasn't expecting Mercer to be there, but she ignored him for the moment, and turned back towards Cyril. “So, you have safely disposed of those bandits. I pray that their souls find salvation," she stated, sincerity laced in her voice, but Mercer knew that it was not genuine. Her brows furrowed once more, her eyes shifting towards Mercer.

“But why did they target the students to begin with?" she questioned, closing her eyes for a moment before she continued, “We must further investigate the true cause of all that took place. Until we know more, I ask that you support the students and relieve them of any unnecssary worry." Her eyes were still on Mercer when she spoke.

Cyril's face was blank as ever, but with time, Mercer was getting a read on the subtle differences in it. It would have been hard for someone like Rhea to tell, who never saw him with his students, but this kind of blankness was much harsher than the kind he had with them. “I'll do what I can for them," he said, but something about it suggested it wasn't really a promise to relieve 'unnecessary worry.'

Her expression shifted slightly, but it was so quick that Mercer wasn't sure he'd seen it properly. Instead, she nodded her head. “Good, I have high expectations for you." That was a rather odd statement, to Mercer. Why would she have high expectations for Teach? “By the way," she began, eyes sliding back to Cyril, “how was your time in Zanado?"

“Legend has it, in ancient times, a goddess alighted upon this world in that very canyon. For a goddess from the heavens, Zanado could only have been a temporary haven," she spoke, her voice light, as if she were recalling a fond memory.

Teach tilted his head, something about the information apparently catching his interest. “And this would be... your goddess? The one worshipped here?" Apparently he hadn't been exaggerating his lack of knowledge on the subject.

She didn't bother hiding the flash of disappointment across her face. She nodded her head, nonetheless, and sighed softly. “Long ago, the divine Seiros received a revelation from the goddess. A gift, to help guide the lost," she began, causing Mercer to purse his lips together. “The goddess is always watching over Fódlan from her kingdom above, however; in ancient times, the goddess graced this world with her presence," she explained, causing Mercer's frown to deepen, “and offered salvation to the people here."

“She is the mother of all life, the arbiter of every soul," she continued, but the way her voice sounded caused Mercer to take a mental note of it. It wasn't of someone who truly believed in the goddess, but of someone who had experienced it before. That, in itself, was strange. He'd have to tell Vridel about it, later.

Before Teach could reply to this, Lady Lyanna entered, walking somewhat briskly, the skirt of her white gown rippling with the motions. “Your pardon, Lady Rhea," she said, executing a neat bow. “As you requested, I have arranged matters with the knights for the Professor's next mission." She half turned, showing no outward surprise at Mercer's presence.

When Rhea gave a small nod, she elaborated. “We have received reports that Lord Lonato has rallied troops against the Holy church of Seiros." There was something curiously flat about her voice when she named the Church.

Teach's eyes narrowed slightly. “Why would he do that?"

Rhea shook her head, “Lord Lonato is a minor lord of the Kingdom. He has been showing hostility toward the church for some time now." She didn't sound affected by it, though. Wasn't Lonato the one who sponsored Devon? To his credit, Mercer kept the surprise from his face, glancing towards Lyanna and Rhea with a face to rival Senka's and Teach's impassive one.

“A vanguard unit of the Knights of Seiros will soon be dispatched to his stronghold, Castle Gaspard," Lyanna added, crossing her arms. “His army poses no threat to the Knights, ultimately. It is possible the rebellion will be suppressed within a day of initial contact." She shook her head, as if she found it all quite senseless.

“Even so, I would like for your class to travel with the knights' rear guard to deal with the aftermath." Another battle? That meant they would be required to kill again, to fight in another bloody battle for the Church. Something just didn't add up, to Mercer. Something was missing, off, and he didn't like it.

If Teach thought so, too, he was doing a good job of hiding it, at least until he spoke. “This army Lonato has raised... in whom does it consist?" There was the faintest edge of suspicion to his tone.

“Exactly who you'd expect," Lyanna replied slowly. “His house's army, and volunteers to his cause."

Volunteers? But that would mean—

“You intend to send children barely off their first battlefield to kill innocents?" Cyril pressed.

Lyanna's eyes went wide. She darted a quick glance at the Archbishop, and spoke rapidly. “Those who defy the Church are never innocent, Professor. And those you call children are adult enough to lead countries. Armies. They will not be kept from reality." Her jaw tightened, and there was a flicker of something—fear?—in her eyes.

Whatever it was, it kept Teach from replying further. He crossed his arms, but nodded slightly.

Clearing her throat, Lyanna continued as though the interruption had never taken place. “As you know, war zones are unpredictable. We do not expect you will have cause to actually battle, but be prepared for the worst." She expelled a breath. “The knights you will be accompanying will be led by Lady Catherine, the Sacred Knight."

If Teach's response fazed Rhea, it did not show. She merely smiled, as if she were expecting that kind of response. “Catherine is one of our bravest knights, and that is no small feat. Only an exceptional few have what it takes to join the Knights of Seiros," she explained, her eyes sliding to Mercer with a strange uncanniness. “This mission should prove useful in demonstrating to the students how foolish it would be to ever turn their blades on the church..." Mercer felt his jaw tighten.

She might not have speaking about him directly, but damn did it feel like she was. It was enough that Mercer swore he felt a chill go down his spine as she and Lyanna exited, leaving him and Teach behind.

“Did that sound like a threat to you, or was it just me?" Teach's voice was back to its usual dryness, but his eyes were quite sharp.

“And here I thought I was the only one who thought so," Mercer replied, his eyes narrowing in the direction of where Rhea had left. “And to be honest, it didn't sound like one; it was a threat," Mercer knew enough to know a threat when he heard it. “But why would she go about threatening kids? We don't pose much of a threat to her," at least not now.

“Well three of you are set to lead countries," Teach noted. “I don't know much about politics, but if she can scare you young, maybe she hopes it'll stick." He wore a slight grimace, and shook his head before giving Mercer a soft clap on the shoulder. “For now I don't suppose there's anything to be done. Get some rest; I'll tell Professor Manuela you'll be late tomorrow, if you'd like some extra shut-eye."

“You're a life-saver, Teach, you know that?"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

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#, as written by Aethyia


Image


I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Tuesday the 3rd
Blue Lions Classroom - Midmorning - Light Rain
Sorcha Blaiddyd


Two days wasn't really enough time, Sorcha didn't think, to process everything that had happened at Zanado. She found she had questions she could not answer, emotions she could not purge from herself, and a strange heartache that didn't seem to go away. She'd spent all of Sunday indoors, just curled in her bed, only leaving long enough to check up on Senka and be sure she'd eaten. Apparently the professor had brought her lunch from the dining hall, and sure enough, when she returned to her own room, another tray was waiting for her. Maybe it should've weirded her out that he'd somehow gotten in while she was away, but in truth she was just touched by the thoughtfulness, and she had a feeling he'd known that would be the case.

Yesterday she'd been a little more functional, but he hadn't made the class do anything. Instead they'd played card games while it rained outside. Not unexpectedly, the Professor and Senka were the only real competition for bluffing games, but she had a fair chance at ones that involved calculating odds and things. It was funny, how even something so simple could teach her something, about herself and the people around her.

The members of the class who hadn't participated in the mission looked at them differently; she could sense it more than she could see it. It was some combination of envy, and maybe pity, or maybe resentment—whatever it was, mixed together she wondered if it might not put a wedge between them that would never come out. The professor didn't treat anyone unfairly, but everyone knew he'd left half the class behind and taken some Eagles and Deer because that was the group he thought best for the mission.

Judging by the fact that they'd all come back alive, he was probably right. Even if Sorcha didn't feel very suited to any of this at all.

But today things would have to go back to normal. They couldn't not study forever, and when the professor entered that morning, shedding his cloak and draping it over the desk chair he never used, Sorcha sensed they were going to get a proper class session today. She cracked her notebook and dipped her quill into its inkwell.

“I have just been informed that there is a round of certification exams at the end of this month," he said. He rarely bothered with preamble like "good morning" or anything, unless it was a more personal interaction. She thought it might have something to do with how unused to the setting he was, but Sorcha found she didn't mind it. She'd always found it a little... weird, when other people did it. How they wanted a chorus of voices to echo back to them, even when the students were in a poor mood.

“For those of you who don't know, a certification is a practical skill assessment that serves to benchmark your particular abilities. Only after passing certain certification levels are you permitted to take the written exams for classification. Ordinarily, I can see why that wouldn't matter—it's hardly a concern what someone calls you if you're good at that you do. However, here at Garreg Mach certain resources are restricted to those who meet the appropriate classifications. For example, bows made with steel will only be issued to those with archery certifications of level C or higher; the assignment of mounts and commission of armor is linked to your classification directly."

“So for weapons it's just cert level but for anything else it's classification?" Devon raised his hand as he asked the question rather than before, but the professor never cared about that kind of thing.

He nodded. “Yes. And you can only take the written exams for a classification if you have the right levels. As such, you'll want to plan which tests you take rather carefully. As such, I'd like to spend today's lecture time talking to all of you about what you interests are. In order to plan the most effective route through the certification process and ensure you know what you need to do to get the equipment you need to survive."

“Finally!" Sylvi had stated, looking rather relieved. She had put up a decent front after the ordeal in Zanado, but it was easy to tell that it had affected her, too. Her hand would occasionally quiver with her pen, and she'd been a little more easily startled, lately. But like Amalthea had, she'd just smiled, but did a better job of it. “I already know what classification I'll be taking," she continued, earning Senka's attention. She glanced towards her, as well, and a small smirk adorned her features.

“I told you my goal was to be a War Master, so..." she trailed off to straighten herself in her seat. “I'm going to take the classification for Brawler." the answer seemed to confuse Senka for a moment.

“I thought you were training with axes? A brawler trains with gauntlets, do they not?" she stated, but Sylvi shook her head.

“Yes and no. I need to be proficient in axes and in hand-to-hand combat in order to achieve that high-tiered classification, but since I've mostly focused on my axe training, I need something that will help me with my hand-to-hand. I'm good, but I need to be better," she replied. Senka's expression smoothed out and she nodded her head. She was a little more expressive lately, but it might have been because of what happened to her at Zanado. She'd seemed a little off, and hadn't spoken much until today. Her eyes had been unusually dark, as well.

Cyril nodded slightly. “As it is, you'll need to have your C-Certs in barehanded fighting to even sit the exam, which if I'm not mistaken means you'll have to skip up two steps this month. It's not impossible, but you'll need to work hard." He paused, tilted his head, and Sorcha thought he almost smiled. It was a decidedly pleasant sort of expression, at least. “Fortunately I can help with that."

It had become evident over the last couple of months that Professor Cyril was good at just about everything. There were some things that he was really good at, like brawling ad lances and magic and tactics, but he was at least better than his students at, well, everything. As they specialized more, that might not be the case, but Sorcha was willing to bet that even by the end of this year that would still be true. It made sense, of course; he was a professional. And it was reassuring to know that she wasn't going to miss out on anything because he had nothing to teach about it.

“What about you?" Sylvi turned the question back to Senka, and she seemed to contemplate it with a thoughtful expression. Or about as thoughtful as Senka could make it.

“Cavalier," she responded after a moment of silence. “I do not know what I wish for as a high-tiered classification, but having the Cavalier classification seems like the right first step," she continued, glancing towards Sorcha.

“Ah, good. This is something worth explaining to everyone. As some of you might know, the cavalier classification has previously required a C-level lance certification. It, as well as the Paladin, Holy and Dark Knight classes, is now accepting certifications for any melee weapon. The rest remain unchanged, however. So there's a little bit more room there, but if you plan to be cavalry I do advise picking up at least some familiarity with the longest version of your preferred weapon. The reach is a serious advantage. So longswords, poleaxes, and so on should become part of your repertoire if you're a non-lance cavalry unit. The requirements for wyvern riders have been changed as well; that class has been dropped a tier and now requires either an axe or sword cert of C level, as well as the flying one."

Sorcha raised her hand. “Have the pegasus knight requirements changed? I was going to try sitting for those certs, as well as archery."

Cyril shook his head. “That's still the same. And you're encouraged to take exams in addition to the ones you need for your classifications, but remember that cert tests come by more often than you will realistically meet qualifications to change classes, so don't feel like you must take everything this time around."

Sorcha nodded. Worth keeping in mind, to be sure, but it wasn't going to change her plans this time. She wanted to be able to get the bows she needed from the armory, pegasus knight or not.

“I've got it easy compared to some of you," Devon said, a bit nervously. “I just need bow certs to become an archer. Though... I might take the swords one as well. They let you use knives for that, right?"

“They do. It will be noted that you took the knives version, but little will change because of that."

Amalthea had remained quiet as everyone listed off their preferred classes. She glanced around, waiting until everyone had spoken before she called out in a quiet voice. “I... want to take the necessary certifications to be an armored knight." She had stated she wanted to be a great knight, before, and it seemed like a good start for her. She probably wouldn't have suggested it, otherwise. Sylvi glanced in her direction, brow arched, and a look of confusion crossed her face.

“Are you sure? I mean, you're so... small," she stated, earning a small smile from Amalthea who just nodded. “Well, I'm sure given more time you'll gain some more muscle. It's a lot of heavy lifting and hard work, but you seem to enjoy it," she continued, the smile stretching just a little further across Amalthea's face.

“I want to be a great knight, but in order to do that, you're right," she paused, glancing in Sorcha's direction before her eyes turned towards the professor, “I've a lot more work to do, and a lot more muscle to gain if I'm going to be one."

“You've come a long way, already. I'm certain you'll be able to achieve your dream." Amalthea nodded her head as if she were agreeing with Senka.

“You can definitely do it, Thea!" Sorcha added, half-smiling. It was a truer version of the expression than she'd managed in days, she thought. Honestly, wearing heavy armor, definitely took some conditioning, but it was more a matter of knowing how to work with it than being a bodybuilder or anything.

Professor Cyril's face took on that oddly-soft expression he got sometimes, and he nodded. “Very good. Fortunately for all those of you looking to get into mounted or flying classifications, this month the last group will be put on stable rotation. So everyone will have had a chance to try out some of the skills and see how comfortable you are there. Mounts aren't assigned until the relevant classification exams are passed, but you are allowed to put in requests if you feel you get along with a particular creature."

“Out of curiosity, professor, what are your cert levels?" Sorcha knew it could be seen as an impertinent question, but something told her he wouldn't mind, and she was curious.

He blinked, then shrugged. “I've never taken any certification tests," he said mildly. “It was recommended that I do so this month, actually, so I'm going to be studying along with the rest of you."

“That sounds like it's going to be fun," Thea stated, smiling still at the others. “And we'll help you out, too, professor! As much as we can, at least," she added, pursing her lips together and nodding her head in what looked to be a somewhat serious manner. If she were trying to be serious about it, she was doing a poor job. Her face cracked into a small smile as she huffed slightly to herself.

“Quite," Sylvi stated, leaning forward to rest her chin on her hand. “I'm not sure we'll be much use to the Prof, but studying with us will definitely be beneficial for everyone, I'd say," she continued, her eyes sliding across the room.

“We should all help each other study!" Sorcha declared, knocking on her desk with her knuckles. She mostly meant the afternoon group, honestly, but she'd never stop the others from joining if they wanted to. Still, she worried the divide there was only going to grow. “Since the certs are physical tests, we could all use sparring partners or live people to try stuff on, and study partners for the written exams next month. And it's not like it's completely useless for the other person, even if they aren't taking those exams. We all need to know more about what we might be facing, and what better way than to teach each other? Er—other than you, Professor."

He huffed softly, sounding almost amused. “On the contrary. I endorse this. The more ways you practice and learn, the better."

“That sounds like a good idea. I can help you, Thea, with your certs, and you can help me as well since we are doing similar things," Sylvi spoke, grinning widely. Amalthea nodded her head in agreement, and she folded her hands out in front of her. “And whoever else is doing something like us. I think Sofia, too, even if she's not in our house, but it'll still be fun," she added. She had a strange rivalry with the Golden Deer member.

“Yes, I agree! It'll be fun, and a valuable teaching moment for everyone!" Amalthea chimed in, smiling as if she'd never lost her smile. Senka looked to be on the verge of smiling, but it didn't quite make it to her face. She'd smile, fully, one day.

“We can possibly use Saturdays as our studying sessions for our written exams, after our chores, and Sundays as a means of practicing the physical aspects of it," Senka spoke quietly, glancing towards the professor before turning her attention to Sorcha.

For the first time in days, Sorcha felt the painful tightness in her chest ease, just a little bit. “That's a great idea, Sen," she said, then turned to the Professor. “Would you mind helping us out, Professor Cyril? I know it's outside normal school hours, but..." He'd never seemed to care about that kind of thing as much as most people would.

“Of course I will. Just let me know where to be and what to bring."

It seemed like they had a plan.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Sunday the 8th
Garreg Mach Monastery - Early Afternoon - Overcast
Senka Rinaldi


The day they had returned to Garreg Mach from the Red Canyon, Senka had been asked by Professor Hanneman to see him when she had the chance, after she had recovered. He was there when they went to the infirmary to see Professor Manuela, and he wore a curious expression when they recounted their battle. Senka, of course, had no recollection what happened after she'd been shot with the arrow, only that she had come to and she was on Professor's shoulders. Thea had filled in small details, causing Senka to become worried that something was wrong with her, however; Professor Hanneman had told her that there could have been another explanation for it all.

And if they wanted to know, that she should seem him in his office once she had recovered enough. Senka wasn't entirely sure if she truly was recovered. Her hands were stained with the blood of a person, forevermore. That was a reality she had to come to terms with, but it wasn't easy. She knew she shouldn't lose sleep over their lost lives, but at one point, they had been people. They were still human, and taking a life should not have been that easy. Perhaps that was just her body's natural reaction to the stress of it? To take over and just survive.

Whatever it was, it had startled Senka. So, with a sigh, she made her way to Hanneman's office, slowly.

Her path took her past the courtyard where the Saturday group tended to congregate, but today there were only two occupants: Sorcha and Cyril. They both looked up when she approached, Sorcha with a half-smile when she recognized Senka and the professor with his customary blank-faced expression.

“Sen!" Sorcha called, waving her over. “Where are you headed?"

Senka felt her face soften at seeing her friend, and made her way towards the two. Once she was at a respectable distance, she answered, “I am on my way to see Professor Hanneman." She tilted her head slightly as she regarded her friend, and the professor. “Would... you like to join me?" she asked hesitantly. Perhaps they were too busy at the moment, but Senka didn't want to go alone, necessarily.

“Professor Hanneman?" Sorcha blinked. “Is this about your magic certs?"

The professor seemed to pick up on some of her internal discomfort, at least if the way his brows furrowed slightly was anything to go by. His reply was a beat too late by most standards, but not at all insincere. “Of course I would," he said simply.

This seemed to remind Sorcha of the question, and she nodded immediately, closing over the book that was in front of her and putting it in the satchel near her feet. “Definitely!"

“Thank you," she spoke softly, waiting until they were walking in stride. When they arrived at Professor Hanneman's office, she knocked briefly on the edge of his doorframe and waited until he spotted them.

“Ah, you may all come in," he stated, motioning them towards him. He looked rather pleased with himself, as if he had just discovered something important. Once they were all situated around a large device, he cleared his throat to get their attention. “How much do you know about Crests, Senka?" he asked, causing her to purse her lips.

“Very little. We do not have them in Almyra," she replied, watching as Hanneman's brow quirked in curiosity.

“Fascinating, well," he muttered, straightening out his posture, “you've also stated that your mother was from Faerghus, correct?" Senka nodded. “I'm surprised she said nothing about them, to you. Or is it, perhaps, that she came from a family that bore none?"

“I do not know," Senka replied, casting her gaze to the ground. The only thing she'd known about her mother's family was that they were from Faerghus, and that they had been a small, noble family. Crests had never come up, before, and she didn't think that they were as important as the Church had made them out to be. They were, essentially, just symbols of power that people could shape and use however they wanted. It wasn't something Senka thought highly of.

“And what about you, Sorcha? You carry a Minor Crest of Blaiddyd, after all. What do you know of them?" His attention was on Sorcha, at that.

Sorcha tilted her head. Senka knew she didn't much care about Crests, either, as important as they were to the Kingdom. Still, there was a difference between thinking they determined a person's worth, which Senka knew her friend hated, and academic study like Professor Hanneman's, so she answered without complaint. “I do," she said quietly. “I don't think I've ever used it though. People used to talk about my father being so strong in battle he could break someone's sword with his bare hands, but... he had the Major, so I doubt I'd be able to do anything like that." She pursed her lips a little.

It had always been something of a sore spot for Sorcha that she only had the Minor Crest of Blaiddyd. Prior to her, the family line had carried it strongly, with almost every generation having the Major version, something Faerghus as a country was proud of. There were some who said it was because she was to be the first daughter in a long line of sons, and who had thought the King would have been better off trying for more children, or that it had been the first Queen's fault somehow. It was even whispered, from time to time, that his marriage to Patricia had been an attempt to do just that: have a son with the Major Crest to make the next king instead.

Of course, both Lambert and Patricia had died before that came to be.

“Indeed, no one truly knows what they are capable of," he stated, though there was a strange smile on his face. “I suspect that, because they are considered blessings of the goddess, each crest has something to do with the Ten Elites, and what they were particularly gifted at. For example, for you, Sorcha, I imagine that Blaiddyd was a particularly strong fellow who was known for his extraordinary might," he continued his explanation, before his attention shifted towards Cyril.

“Of course, like Cyril's Crest, there are still Crests out in the world that have not yet been discovered, so it is difficult to discern exactly what they are." Senka glanced towards the professor and tilted her head. Professor had a Crest? That... explained some things, if Hanneman's explanation was anything to go by.

Cyril himself certainly didn't deny it, only crossing his arms over his chest. His expression seemed thoughtful—at least she'd known him to wear it when deep in thought before. “So you think that what happened to Senka the other day is because she has a Crest?" he asked. “I don't think I've ever seen one activate before. Is it always like that?"

“Precisely," Hanneman stated, causing Senka to furrow her brows slightly. “And each Crest is activated differently, depending on the situation. It might have been that Senka's Crest, dormant in some way, was forced to activate when she was in peril. You were injured with an arrow protecting Amalthea, correct?" Senka nodded. “It's possible that your desire to protect her is what activated it."

“But... I do not believe I possess a Crest. Even if my mother was from Faerghus, she has no bloodlines to the Ten Elites," she stated, causing Professor Hanneman to smile in a strange way.

“Ah, but you see, I just said there are Crests that are yet to be discovered," he stated, motioning for her to come closer to him. “We can use my device, here, to see if you do, indeed, possess one. Don't worry, though, it is painless," he explained. She shot a glance towards Cyril and Sorcha before obliging him. “Now, just hold out your arm," he stated, holding his hand out as if to grab hers. She reached out and set it where his was, and waited.

The machine made a whirring sound, and for a moment there was nothing. Suddenly, an image appeared, startling Senka somewhat, but not as much as Professor Hanneman had been. He nearly dropped the pen he'd been holding as he stared at the image. “It's... this... this is absolutely amazing!" he stated, as Senka retracted her hand. The image on the device was strange to her, almost shaped in the way of a bull of some sort.

“It's the lost Crest of Maurice! To think that we'd see it again after all these years," he was rambling at this point, and Senka furrowed her brows before turning her attention to Cyril and Sorcha.

“Lost... Crest?" Sorcha blinked, her eyes wavering uncertainly between the three others in the room. Mostly, she looked concerned, probably because of the bit about the Crest manifesting involuntarily. “Of Maurice? But that's impossible. Church lore says he had no descendants after he—" She grimaced, turning worried eyes on Senka.

“Indeed. I did not think it was possible that he had descendants," he stated, turning his attention towards Senka. “But it is clear as day that he had, and has. Tell me, Senka, have you ever heard of the Crest of The Beast?" he asked, causing Senka to shake her head. His eyes fell slightly, as if he were hoping she had. His next words made sense.

“Lore says that, after the war against Nemesis, Maurice was cursed into a demonic beast from overtaxing his own Crest and Hero's Relic," he began, causing something in Senka to tighten. It felt like her lungs were refusing to work, and she couldn't breathe. “After that, he lost control and killed innocent people in such a gruesome manner, that," he paused pursing his lips together.

“People say that if he had any descendants, that they were cursed to suffer the same fate. The Crest of Maurice was considered bad luck, and was renamed the Crest of The Beast, after that." Something felt hot inside of Senka. Did... did that mean she was cursed? Was she going to turn into a demonic beast, like he said, and kill people?

“Is... is that going to happen to me? Am... am I going to kill..." she couldn't seem to find the words she wanted to say. Something hot lanced through her, an emotion she'd been intimate with, before. It was fear.

“Don't be ridiculous!" Sorcha's voice, unusually sharp, cut through the silence like a hot knife. Her hand, firm and cool, landed on Senka's shoulder. “Everything that happens with Crests happens because the user wills it. You might be able to accidentally trigger the Crest, but something like that... if you learn how to control the Crest carefully, that won't happen. Maurice was greedy for power and regularly overtaxed his Crest to get to that point, right Professor Hanneman?"

Professor Hanneman winced at Sorcha's words, which did little to ease Senka's fears. “That... is easier said than done, I'm afraid," he replied, and she felt her heart drop. “Because Senka's Crest reacted the way it did, controlling it will not be that easy for her. If she had prior knowledge of her own Crest, she might have been able to deal with it, properly, but unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Now, it is possible to learn control, but there has to be someone whose Crest is greater, if you will. Your Crest, Senka, is not only that of Maurice's, but it is a Major Crest. It is going to be difficult for you than it would be for someone like Sorcha, who bears a Minor Crest. That is simply how they work."

“But... what if I don't? What if... what if there's no use in controlling it? What if..." she couldn't stop the questions in her head, the What ifs.

“Then you just find someone who can handle your strength, right?" Professor Cyril hadn't spoken for some time, but he did then, drawing everyone's attention back to himself. He shrugged. “I don't know what kind of Crest mine is, and to be honest I don't really care. But we know I can deal with yours." He was surely referring to the fact that he'd somehow gotten her off the battlefield safely in the fight with the bandits.

“So you can practice control on me. And if anything funny looks like it's about to happen, I'll knock you out. No point wondering about what might happen if the worst is true when we haven't even tried the other options yet, right?" He met her eyes steadily, without even a trace of the fear she was feeling, or of Sorcha's and Professor Hanneman's apprehension.

“Professor Cyril is correct, my dear. If he was able to deal with your unknown state, it is possible that his Crest can handle yours. You should not fret," he stated, but it still did not ease her doubts and fears. She kept her gaze with Cyril's just a moment longer before she finally dropped it. Maybe he was right? Maybe she just needed to try first, before she gave up on something? Taking a slow breath, she calmed her heart that seemed to be beating a strange rhythm in her chest. It was unusually fast, but she put it down to her near-panic.

“Alright," she spoke softly. It did not make her feel better, though, that she bore a Crest that was considered cursed. “Alright," she repeated once more. “Thank you, Professor Hanneman, Cyril, Sorcha," she stated. She was certain she wouldn't have been able to do this alone.

Professor Cyril nodded slightly, but Sorcha smiled. A small one, but a smile nevertheless. “Don't worry, Sen. We're with you, and we'll figure it out together."

She hoped so.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Monday the 9th
Entrance Hall - Evening - Overcast
Vridel von Hresvelg


Vridel tried not to scowl too heavily as he and Sorcha made their way to the entrance hall. What was he doing here, anyway? The less interference he had to deal with this year, the better, and unwelcome relatives were hardly the sort to leave him to figure out his next course of action in peace.

Things were further complicated by Sorcha's presence beside him. She looked rather pleased to be able to say hello to someone she considered her 'uncle,' even if there was no blood relation there. This meant he couldn't speak as frankly with Arundel as he might like, lest she ask him all sorts of inconvenient questions about it. He wanted to keep her apart from all of this nonsense as much as possible, for her own safety as well as his peace of mind. There were some people who should just... be allowed to have optimistic views of the world, and Vridel knew too many things that would shatter Sorcha's outlook.

Not, he supposed, that it was quite intact after the end of last month. But there were different kinds of breaking, and he didn't want to be responsible for any of them.

“You don't have to come see him, you know," he told her, straightening his back as he walked. He'd been spending even more time than usual bent over tomes, trying to master a few of his shakier spells for the certifications later in the month. When he wasn't practicing bladework. He wondered if he shouldn't take the riding ones too, just in case. He didn't intend to be cavalry, but it wouldn't hurt to know. The battlefield, he knew, was rarely as cut and dry as all these clinical little divisions made it. But the Academy demanded he jump through all the hoops, and for the sake of learning everything he could, he'd jump. It would get difficult to hide his competence from his classmates if so, but he suspected that was becoming a fragile farce, even with the oblivious idiots in his own House.

Sorcha looked askance at him. “I know. But why wouldn't I? It's been ages since I've been able to say hello in person."

“In person?" His brows drew down. Did that mean she'd been writing him—

“Well, yes," she said, a strange expression crossing her face. “I always bundled his letters with yours. He wrote back, though."

Vridel stopped dead in his tracks, comically forcing Sorcha to an abrupt halt as well when she realized. “You—" his lips parted over the rest of the question, but something stopped it from coming out. She'd written him letters? All this time, he'd...

Sorcha clearly hadn't caught on to the direction of his thoughts. “I? I'm... I'm not mad, you know. I figured you probably had other things to do. Becoming heir and all." The statement was cautious. Vridel knew it was a charged thing for both of them. How they'd come to be the heirs of their countries, and how other people viewed that. Sometimes he wondered what it had been like for Mercer. Had he suffered to get where he was?

But of course that was a stupid question. Nobody in this world came into power without suffering eventually.

“I... never mind," he said, shaking his head. He couldn't tell her, not yet. “Thank you. For not holding it against me." So saying, he continued their trajectory ahead.

With a puzzled expression still writ clearly on her face, Sorcha followed.

“Hey! What's the hurry!?" it was Mercer, from the sounds of it. Only he would sound so bored on a day like this. They hadn't made it to the entrance hall, yet, where Arundel awaited them, but Mercer seemed intent on stopping them. He jogged a bit to catch up, falling in line next to Sorcha and his eyes flickered between the two of them.

“Are you two on a date?" he stated, sounding almost surprised, and smirking just light enough to know that he was trying to tease Vridel.

There was a moment immediately afterward when Vridel glanced over, making eye contact with Sorcha. He almost wondered, for a moment, if she'd be willing to play along to get a rise out of Mercer, but from the look of revulsion immediately on her face, he figured that was a no-go. To be fair, he shuddered too. There were some things it was just... better not to think about.

“Goddess, no." Sorcha didn't mince words, but then she rarely ever did. After a moment, she seemed to realize how that might sound, and cleared her throat. “Er... I love you Vivi, but, uh. Yeah. No. Definitely not."

He shrugged. “A sentiment I... return." She was not so reckless as to use such a word without knowing it to be true, but it still surprised him a little. As did how strong his own was, in turn. He'd almost forgotten what it felt like, to be in her company. To feel something like love at anything other than great distance. And even then, he'd thought—

He'd thought she'd forgotten all about him.

She grinned so widely at him now, though, that he knew her earlier words for truth. She, too, had believed he'd forgotten her, ignored the hand she'd reached out for him even over that distance. Why would Arundel do such a thing? It surely had to be he who was responsible, if he'd intercepted the letters and written back to Sorcha. But to what end? Just to prevent Vridel from speaking of the experiments? Those were only sort of a secret anyway—what would she have been able to do? Neither King Lambert nor his brother the current regent would have been able to do much, either. And the Church...

Well, that was a matter he was still figuring out.

“As for you," he continued, shifting his eyes to Mercer. “What do you want?"

Mercer sighed heavily, a ploy to be sure, and rolled his eyes. “We've been through this, Vi, I want you, remember?" he stated, wagging his eyebrows in a suggestive manner at Vridel. For whatever reason, he couldn't seem to keep up the charade, before he burst into laughter, wiping away something at his eye. “That'll never get old," he stated more to himself than to either Vridel or Sorcha.

“Darling, you couldn't handle me," Vridel drawled.

“But no, seriously, nothing. I just figured I would invite myself along to wherever you and Princess were headed," he finally answered, laying an arm over Sorcha's shoulders in a more friendly manner. There was nothing inappropriate about the way he did it, either. It was simply as if they were just friends, and nothing more.

Sorcha groaned softly, raising both hands to cover her face. She seemed to assume Mercer wouldn't let her walk into anything, at least. Not a safe assumption, in Vridel's opinion, if it would be humorous. Her face was entirely red, whether from the banter or the contact was hard to say. Friendly it might have been, but Vridel suspected Sorcha had had few friends, fewer male friends, and fewer still who initiated such casual contact on a regular basis.

It could simply have been the jokes, however.

“In that case, have fun inviting yourself along to a boring meeting with my uncle," he added with a shrug, though he did make a point to meet Mercer's eyes over Sorcha's head, letting his expression tell a different story. He couldn't be sure yet, but now that he'd learned about the letters, he wondered if Arundel wasn't up to something a little different than he'd always supposed. Mercer's read on him would be helpful.

Mercer quirked a brow, but seemed to understand what Vridel was getting at. “Boring meetings with boring uncles is my specialty, though. I'll make sure to have a blast, and also have an uncle by the end of it," he stated, a large grin covering his face as he squeezed Sorcha's shoulders a bit. Friendly it initially had been, but he seemed to be teasing her, still.

“This is the same uncle, Volkhard Arundel, correct?" he asked, but from the way he stated it, it sounded as if he were simply confirming a fact. The way he glanced at Vridel, though, made it quite obvious that Mercer was being cautious about it.

“I am fortunate enough to only have the one living uncle, yes," Vridel replied simply. His eyes narrowed slightly at the way Sorcha's shoulders shrugged up under her ears, in response to the touch. Well, well. That was interesting. And charmingly obvious. She was ever so straightforward, even as she lowered her hands and cleared her throat, trying rather endearingly to act as though she were not caught somewhere between embarrassment and enjoyment she wasn't sure she should be feeling.

Some people were really just that innocent, he supposed.

“Same?" she echoed curiously, turning her head slightly to look up at Mercer with wide blue eyes. “You know we have the same uncle?"

“He does now," Vridel pointed out.

Sorcha made a small noise. “Oh! Oh, I'm sorry Vivi, I wasn't—"

He waved a hand dismissively. “It's fine." It was hardly an official secret or anything; really the only reason it had lasted this long is because no one had thought to investigate the relevant question. He was sure the higher-ups in the Church knew already. As much as he disliked having a weakness exposed, his connection to Sorcha was obvious. It could also be downplayed, if necessary.

“Huh, I'd say that it explains a lot, but it actually doesn't. You two are like polar opposites, but I suppose it's possible," he stated, shrugging his shoulders in a way that didn't disturb Sorcha too much. “I take it both of you are cousins, then? I have to say, there really is no physical resemblance as siblings," he added. It made sense for him to think that. Vridel and Sorcha looked nothing alike, but it was possible for them to pass for cousins if need be.

Sorcha apparently thought that since the main bit of it was out, she might as well tell the rest. “Stepsiblings, actually," she said. “Uncle Volkhard is my stepmother's brother. Lady Patricia." The last part was softer, and her eyes dropped to the ground.

Vridel grimaced. “Patricia was my mother, but eventually married Lambert. Hence the 'step' part." A small shrug moved his shoulders. “A lot of us lived in the Kingdom for a while, when we were children. Sorcha and I met there."

“Not that I knew you were my stepbrother for a good whole year," she said with a sniff. “Nobody ever told me anything."

“Don't tell me now you had a crush or something, Sorcha," he teased as they entered the hall.

She quite childishly stuck her tongue out at him. “Of course not. My first love was—" She paused, her brows knitting together in an expression of puzzlement. “I don't... remember, exactly. But I know I had one, and it definitely wasn't you, so go stick a pin in your ego, Vivi."

He rolled his eyes.

“You're going to have to tell me all about this crush of yours, Sor. I think I'm a little jealous," he stated, placing a hand over his heart. The grin on his face made it obvious that he wasn't at all jealous, but he did seem genuinely curious about it. Almost as if the information would be useful to him, somehow. “Though, I guess I shouldn't be surprised," he stated, turning his attention to Vridel.

“Did I tell you she forgot about me, after all? Me of all people?" he stated, feigning a bit of hurt into his tone.

“Lucky her," Vridel replied reflexively. “I'd like to forget you too."

“Alas, I'm stuck in your mind, forever, love."

“Like a terrible song."

“Repeating constantly."

“I always knew I was unlucky."

Sorcha, for her part, looked torn between apologetic and something else, something closer to irritation, and it was this that won out in the end. She elbowed Mercer in the ribs, stepping out from underneath his arm and straightening to hold her head high and sniff imperiously. “When you're both done being idiots, I'm sure Uncle Volkhard won't mind talking to you." Turning on her heel, she marched towards the figure near the bottom of the stairs, currently speaking to one of his attendants.

The entrance hall was split into levels, with a large staircase in the middle. Banners were draped from the ceiling, bearing the crest of the church on its trademark cloth of silver. In the evening like this, it was lit by several chandeliers and wall sconces, along with the last of the light coming in from the open door, spilling onto the deep blue carpet runner and silver-and-black tiled floor.

Vridel snorted softly. “Do be careful with her, please," he said, glancing askance at Mercer. “A little fun's a little fun, but she's quite painfully earnest, when it comes down to it."

“It wouldn't be any fun if they weren't a little fiesty, but I'll do my best," he stated between laughs, rubbing at his ribs as if they actually hurt. He shook his head, nonetheless, but smoothed out his expression into something a little more passive. “So, from the looks of it, I'd say you don't trust your uncle. I don't blame you, he doesn't look like the trustworthy type," he commented low enough so that Vridel could hear, and no one else.

“Plus, there are some inconsistences with his donations and why they suddenly just stopped," he continued, but said nothing further as they walked towards Sorcha and Arundel. His usual nonchalant smile was on his face, as well as his mask, the one that made him seem less keen, less aware than he actually was.

Vridel only nodded. All true enough. His uncle had feigned at piety for many years, donating considerable sums to the Church, but records had indicated that had stopped in recent years. Not tapering off gently, either. It made little sense.

As they descended the stairs, they found Volkhard wearing his customary slanted smile, eyes narrowed with it as he spoke to Sorcha. Vridel had always found that he rather disliked the expression; in the years since his adolescence began he could only see it as a cold thing, like a snake's. But of course this was not the case for everyone. Including Sorcha, who wore a genuine grin of her own. A rare enough sight that he found himself irritated that his uncle should be found deserving of one.

But that was a foolish way to think, of course. It was good that she could smile at all, after the events in the Red Canyon. He wasn't around her as often as her own classmates, but he'd noticed a worrying distance in her eyes on the odd occasion she believed no one was watching her. Perhaps he owed the old snake some gratitude, for making her forget that even for a while.

“Uncle," he deadpanned, drawing the man's attention to him. The snake's smile didn't waver; if anything it grew a little colder. Vridel was used to that; he certainly did not inspire warmth in the way Sorcha could.

“Vridel. You're looking well; I'm quite pleased to see it." Sorcha turned a little so the two of them could easily be integrated into the circle of conversation. “And you must be... the young Lord von Reigan, perhaps?" He tilted his head inquiringly at Mercer.

“Indeed. Mercer von Riegan, at your service," he stated, offering Volkhard a customary bow. To his credit, his smile hadn't wavered, but his eyes did narrow slightly, as if he'd noticed the same thing Vridel had. “It's a pleasure to finally meet the Lord Arundel; I've read a lot about you," he stated, straightening his posture so that he was standing not quite at his full height. His shoulders were slightly slumped, as if he were trying to appear non-threatening in some way or another. His eyes shifted briefly towards Sorcha, before they returned to Volkhard.

“What brings you to Garreg Mach?" he asked, his brow quirking in curiosity.

“Ah, where are my manners?" As though he'd merely forgotten, Volkhard returned the bow, about as shallowly as he could while maintaining politesse. “Volkhard von Arundel. It seems you know both my nephew and my niece." He shifted his eyes slightly to Sorcha at that, before resting them both on Mercer and Vridel. “I've made the trip to the monastery to visit them, of course; I was curious to see how they were doing. I remember my own days here fondly; the place seems to have hardly changed, in fact. I suppose the Archbishop is still her radiant self?"

Vridel fought not to react to that. It felt like it meant something, but then much of what Volkhard said and did was like that: laden with meanings it was impossible to parse out entirely. “She seems to be in good health," he replied neutrally. “We students see her only rarely."

Volkhard nodded. “Of course. I'm sure she has much to do. A very busy organization, the Church. I hear rather unsettling rumors of some disturbances to the east as well. I suppose you wouldn't know much about that, would you?" That question seemed directed at Mercer.

“Uncle!" Sorcha admonished, frowning outright. “Of course Mercer wouldn't know anything! It's not very polite to make such insinuations." She seemed genuinely disturbed by them.

Amusingly, her frankness almost seemed to put Volkhard on the back foot, and he waved a hand. “Obviously not, dear niece. I apologize if my joke was in poor taste, Lord von Reigan." He didn't seem too happy about needing to apologize, but Sorcha had inadvertantly put him in a position where he had no choice.

Vridel could have hugged her. Volkhard put out was a rare sight, and one worth savoring for the brief time it lasted.

Mercer merely shrugged his shoulders, but laughed in a good-natured way. “Not at all, Lord Arundel," he replied in a casual manner. “It's understandable; I get that a lot. I just have one of those faces, you see," he stated, though he'd made it obvious he was joking as well. “And to your previous statement, yes, I am acquainted with both your nephew and niece. She's," he stated, nodding his head in Sorcha's direction, “my current apprentice."

He didn't seem to elaborate on what she was an apprentice for, though.

Sorcha pursed her lips and sighed. “He's helping me learn to shoot," she specified.

"A worthy enterprise." Volkhard nodded slightly. “I know there are those who doubt your competence, my dear, but I for one would never be so foolish as to consider you cursed."

Though his words were delivered in a kind tone, Vridel saw them for the barb they were. The reminder alone would have done it, and the way Sorcha winced was proof enough that it had struck true. She mustered a weak smile. “Thank you, uncle," she murmured.

“How are things in the Empire?" Vridel asked, not inclined to give Volkhard a chance to twist that knife any further.

"Quite as they were when you left," the other man replied with some amusement, narrowing his eyes. It had always rankled Vridel a bit that he shared his eye color with his uncle. On the other hand it had taught him how unsettling the color could be, something he used to great effect, on occasion. "A few months isn't much in the grand scheme of things, dear nephew. I think you will find the Empire has far less need of you than you assume. So it is with most rulers, it seems."

Vridel's jaw tightened, but he didn't let the hit show otherwise. “And my father?"

"Sadly the Emperor's health is still in decline," Volkhard said, affecting sympathy he certainly did not feel. "Stable enough for the moment, however. I do not think you will need to be making any emergency trips back from Garreg Mach, so worry not."

Mercer's eyes narrowed slightly at Volkhard, but it was covered by the smile on his face. It looked, to anyone else, the strain of the smile caused his eyes to narrow. “Well, hopefully he'll be able to recover. I don't know what sickness ails the Emperor, but hopefully he recovers from it," Mercer stated, however; he was glancing at Vridel when he spoke.

“Will you be visiting for a short while, then? I mean, if the Emperor's health is in decline, I'm sure they wouldn't want you to linger for too long at the Monastery, right?" he asked, not at all interested in knowing the answer, but smiled to appear that he was.

"Of course," Volkhard replied easily. "Though the Emperor is fortunate to be surrounded with many capable advisors, it would not do to be away too long." Volkhard paused, then pressed his fingertips together. "As it is I fear my day of travel has been long, and I should rest. Perhaps my niece and nephew would be so kind as to grace me with their presences on the morrow? After class, of course."

Sorcha nodded immediately, her smile still a little uncomfortable. She was clearly trying not to show it, however. “Absolutely. We'll see you tomorrow, uncle."

"Wonderful. For now, good night, and please excuse me. It was a pleasure to meet you as well, Lord von Reigan. Perhaps we shall meet again, someday." With a gracious nod, he took his leave.

“Hopefully not," he muttered low enough that only Vridel could hear it, but he nodded his head at Volkhard before he left. “Man, seriously what is up with your uncle, Vi?" he asked, his voice still low so that Sorcha could not hear.

Vridel shook his head, replying just as quietly. “It's a long list."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Wednesday the 11th
Lyanna's Office - Midafternoon- Light Drizzle
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea kicked a steady beat against the legs of her chair with her own. She was visiting her sister today partly because Lyanna wanted to see her, and partly because she wanted to talk to her sister about last month. It was only a week, or two, ago, she couldn't keep track of the days at the moment. There were things outside of the Church that Amalthea had not been exposed to, and death was one of them. And killing. She'd never killed a person before; never seen a person be killed. Reading about it was completely different from actual experience, and she could still see their eyes. They haunted her dreams as of late.

She was trying her best to keep a happy appearance up for her friends, but she had failed miserably. They all knew it, because she knew they had felt the same. Why did they have to kill those people? Those bandits? Surely they could have done something else? Maybe they could have captured them and interrogated them? Or... something, anything different. She took a deep breath, and reached for the plate of desserts settled on Lyanna's desk. She always had a plate ready when Amalthea arrived, and she was grateful for that. Sweets always made things better, however; as she chewed thoughtfully on the donut, she couldn't help but taste a light bitterness to it.

Lyanna, seated again in the chair immediately across from Amalthea, was working her way sedately through a scone and some tea. The office was rather darkly-furnished, the window behind the desk open to the dreary, grey day outside. Drizzle marred the glass pane of it; she'd lit a few candles to supplement the light. They had a light, vanilla smell to them, a scent that her sister often shared.

Setting the scone down, Lyanna took up her cup and saucer, sipping from it and studying her over the rim of the cup. Replacing it with the soft chink of fine porcelain, she expelled a soft breath. “Would you like to talk about it, Thea?" she asked, her tone unusually delicate. There was no need to ask what it was, really.

Amalthea pursed her lips together. “I do, but..." she didn't know where to begin, really. “I just, I think there could have been a better way to handle it," she stated softly, dropping her gaze to her hands. “I mean, why... why did we have to kill them? Aren't we taught that life is precious and sacred? Shouldn't we have tried to do something else?" she continued, her hands starting to tremble lightly. Her breath was a little shaky, but she pulled in a deep one and exhaled slowly. It was something Professor Manuela told her to do whenever she felt uneasy.

“Do... do you think I did the right thing, sister?" because it felt like she'd done something horribly wrong.

Lyanna hummed quietly, Setting her tea down on the table in front of her and pushing a strand of verdant hair behind her ear. “That's not an easy question to answer, Thea," she said gently. “And if ever you meet anyone for whom killing is easy, don't trust them with your back." She grimaced as she said the words, as though she were speaking from some variety of personal experience. Nibbling at a little more of the scone, she appeared to think over her next words, idly brushing a few crumbs off her pristine robes.

“But... everything that happens in this world happens because of the choices people make. Whatever else might be true, those bandits chose to make their lives stealing from and killing other people. Did you know they tried to kill some of your friends?" Her lips pursed. “The very first training exercise of the year, for the heads of house, was attacked just outside Remire village. The Imperial Prince, the Princess, and the young Lord Reigan all quite nearly died in that attack. Someone hired them to do it, and they accepted money for that. To assassinate three innocent people."

Amalthea felt her heart drop, and she was certain it appeared on her face. They'd tried to kill her friends, before? But, was it really their fault? They only accepted the money to do it because they needed it. Maybe they didn't want to actually kill her friends, but were obligated to do it because they needed the money? Even if they had killed other people, even if... she pushed the thoughts from her mind and glanced at Lyanna.

“But..." she began, pausing momentarily to take in a shuddering breath, “that still doesn't make it feel right. I would be terribly sad if Sorcha, Vi, and Merc were killed, but I can't fathom a world that, in order to make sure people are kept safe, we have to kill. It's not... it doesn't feel right." She wasn't sure if it would ever feel right. She glanced at her hands for a moment, and a brief vision of blood covering them, filled her sight. She squeezed her eyes shut, and shook her head.

“Amalthea." Her sister rarely used her full name, and when she did it was usually very seriously, like this. “Sometimes in this world we are not afforded the luxury of another path. Whatever reason those bandits might have had for doing what they did, they did it. They tried to murder innocents. And in so doing they forced a choice upon your friends and teacher: fight back, or die. Kill, or be killed. And the sad truth of it is, that is how the world is, sometimes. There are people who will force those choices for money, or for causes they believe in, or for simple enjoyment of killing."

A stricken look crossed her face. “It's not okay. I wish it were different. But it has been true for as long as humans have existed on this world. Perhaps there may come a day when peace is truly possible. When everyone will have enough, and no one will kill from need or ideology. But even if that day comes... people will still kill. And still die. Because some of them are greedy, and some of them hate, and some of them are just... broken, deep inside themselves, in a way no magic can fix." She pursed her lips, eyes hardening just a little.

“If you mean to be a knight, this is something you must accept. You cannot waver on the battlefield. It may not be you that pays the price if you do. It may be one of your classmates that suffers for that hesitation. Could you bear that any more?"

“Of course not!" she nearly stood in her chair, her hand placed over her heart. “I wouldn't want any of my friends to die because of me!" she stated, her bottom lip quivering. She felt the hot tears prick at the sides of her eyes, but she blinked them away. If any of her friends died because of her, she would never forgive herself. Especially if... she didn't know why it was so much more dire if it were Vridel. If he died trying to protect her, Amalthea wasn't sure if she could live with herself, knowing that he died because of her.

“I don't want to lose them. They've all been so nice to me, even Vi and Mercer. And they're not even part of my House," she stated, slumping back into her chair. “They're... they're my first real friends," she whispered. Her sister was right, though. She could not waver on the battlefield. “Then I want to change the world," she spoke softly, “so that no one will ever have to kill again. I want to fight for a world where everyone has enough, and that there's no more fighting, and everyone can get along." It wasn't a feasible thing, she knew. It probably would never happen, but she at least had to try.

Lyanna's eyes softened, growing bright, it seemed, with a little moisture of their own. “Then fight for that," she said softly. “To protect the people you care about, and for a better world. It won't be easy, but... some of those friends of yours will be in charge of countries someday. Maybe it's not as impossible as it seems." She managed a smile then, small and a little shaky, but opened her arms, clearly requesting a hug.

“But do me one favor, Thea," she added, just as quietly. “Please don't ever repeat what you just said in front of Lady Rhea, or anywhere she might hear about it, okay?"

Amalthea didn't hesitate, and moved to give her sister a hug. She wasn't entirely sure why what she had said should matter to the Archbishop. If anything, perhaps she would be inclined to do the same. But she would respect her sister's wishes. “I won't, I promise," she stated, squeezing her sister just a little tighter, and burying her face in her shoulder. “And I will fight for it all, a new world. Also, Lyanna..." she paused in order to swallow, “I love you," she stated, feeling the onslaught of tears she had held back, fall into her sister's shoulder.

“I love you, too, my dear," Lyanna replied, her voice thick with emotion. One hand shifted up to gently stroke Amalthea's hair, while the other wrapped around her back, tight but also gentle. Lyanna had always had a sort of warm presence about her; this close the sweet vanilla scent about her was all the more obvious.

“So very much."

Setting

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. 1180 - Garland Moon - Friday the 13th
Courtyard - Midafternoon - Clear
Cyril Eisner


Cyril observed his students with knitted brows. As usual, his Saturday group was meeting on the afternoon of a day that wasn't Saturday, but the mood seemed particularly low today. Even as they studied and worked on assignments, their shoulders were hunched, eyes more distant than usual. Even those not so directly affected by the events of two weeks ago were certainly feeling it by proxy of the others; even Reynard looked rather dispirited as he worked his way through a text on historical blade variations.

In one sense, he supposed, there was little to be done about it. When he'd seen his first real battle, his father and the others had just... given him space. There had been no conversations, no acknowledgment beyond the fact that he hadn't been assigned chores in the week following. Even that was something Jeralt had called an "error" in scheduling, though both of them knew differently. It was not an easy thing to talk about, and he supposed thus far he'd taken his father's tack, assuming that it was something that everyone had to come to terms with on their own.

And maybe, ultimately, it was. But that didn't mean he couldn't try something to help. Reaching into the inside pocket of the vest he wore over his tunic today, Cyril withdrew the parchment therein, unfolding it carefully at the creases.

“Dear Garreg Mach students," he read, quite sure the start apropos of nothing would draw their attention. Indeed, when he glanced up, he found he had everyone's attention, and almost everyone's eyes, at that. “We wanted to say thank you for what you did in the canyon. The bandits who lived there were always showing up to our village to take our crops. They killed anyone who fought them, and some families lost their daughters, too." He paused, suppressing the grimace of distaste that threatened. He hoped he wouldn't have to make what that part meant any more explicit.

“We were really worried about what we were going to do this year. It's been a hard one for the fields, and if they took as much as they usually do, some of us wouldn't have made it. The man writing this letter for us says that it was your first battle. We're sure that was hard—none of us could bear to stand up to those bandits. We hope you're all okay. The whole village is grateful to you; we were worried we wouldn't be important enough for anyone to take notice of, what with the troubles everywhere else. But you noticed us. You saved us. My daughter turns fifteen this year—and now I know I don't have to worry about her being hurt. Thank you. Thank you so much."

He folded the letter back up, passing it to Devon, who was nearest to him on that side. “That's really what it says. You can all read it, if you like." Blinking slowly at them, he tilted his head.

“It doesn't change what we did. But if you're going to think about that, you have to think about this, too. It's only fair—the lives of those villagers are worth just as much. And they get to keep living, because of you."

Sylvi was closest to Devon, and seemed to be reading it over his shoulder. Her eyes went soft, but she didn't say anything. She remained quiet for a moment before the letter was passed to the next person. Amalthea's lip was quivering a bit, and it was clear that she was trying to hold back tears. She was doing a good job until a tear escaped, but she didn't seem upset. Rather, she seemed happy about the letter. Dierdre's eyes had remained down on her hands, but she was smiling softly and sniffling. She was, perhaps, trying not to cry as well, but doing a better job than Amalthea. Sofia's hand rested at her back, moving up and down in comforting motions. Her eyes were a little wet, but she didn't cry.

“I'm glad we were able to save them," Sylvi finally spoke, glancing towards Devon before her eyes went to the others. Senka had remained quiet, her face strangely hard to read. She didn't appear to be upset nor happy. She was just simply there. Her mind might have been elsewhere, however; the letter had been handed to her, next, and her eyes scanned the contents. A flicker of a smile appeared on her face, but it was quick enough that the others might have missed it if they weren't looking.

“A reminder that the sacrifice of one life is worth the continued lives of many," she stated softly, causing Mercer to nod his head.

“Agreed, though in this case, I think the lives of a few bad apples was well worth it," he added.

Even Reynard took a moment to read the words before passing the letter to Vridel. “Someone took dictation for the villagers," he pointed out, eyes flickering to Cyril. “Don't suppose that was you, Professor?"

“It was," Cyril said simply. “The village is called Remire. My father's mercenaries worked out of there for a month or so, but since they've moved up here, there wasn't anyone around to take care of the problem." He swept his eyes over the students. “Until you, that is."

Vridel quietly passed the letter to Sorcha, but for the moment, she seemed more interested in studying Cyril. “You went all the way back there just for this?"

He shrugged. “There's no 'just' about it, Sorcha. You saw firsthand the worst part of work like this. You deserve to know the best parts, too. I thought you should hear it as directly as possible, that's all."

“We should take the good where we can. It's not often that it happens, but when it does," Mercer started, pausing only to take a momentary glance at Cyril before continuing, “it's the best feeling in the world, isn't it?" Amalthea nodded slowly while Sylvi gave a single nod.

“I'm glad that they'll be able to celebrate a birthday, and be able to survive, now," Dierdre spoke, placing her hand over Sofia's and giving it a light squeeze. “They'll be able to possibly harvest enough for themselves to last through the winter, too, I bet, now that they don't have the bandits to feed," she added.

“And maybe, just maybe we can slowly start a real change," Thea spoke softly. “I want to try and save as many people as possible if it means we can do this for them," she continued, glancing in Vridel's direction, briefly, before turning her attention to Cyril. “And... I don't think we'd have been able to do that without your guidance, Professor."

Cyril felt an unexpected thing at that, perhaps at the totality of this. A warmth he could not recall ever having felt before. He felt his face shift, almost into a smile, but it didn't quite manifest. He shook his head, faintly. “You've all got this in you," he said simply. “All I'm doing is teaching you how to use it."

He really did think they were an extraordinary group of people. Talented, yes, but more than that... good people. He'd seen all sorts, in the mercenary life, but never this many good ones at once, that was for sure. It was true that his father demanded a code of ethics from his people, but Cyril hadn't made any such demands of these nine. He hadn't needed to. They already had that, quite on their own.

“I know this doesn't make it all go away," he continued. “And I'm not telling you you need to be all right tomorrow, or at any particular time. But I want you to know that... you can talk to me about this, if you want to. I promise it's no imposition on me, and if at any time you feel you cannot go on a mission, whatever the reason, all you have to do is say the word." He exhaled heavily. “Even professionals get tired of it, sometimes. A lot of people retire early from this kind of life. The ones who stay with it are the ones who are either just naturally inclined to it... or the ones who have a reason to fight. But even if that's not you, I hope you know that last month, you protected each other, and you saved those people. You have the right to be proud of that."

“I have a reason," Vridel replied simply. “But... I appreciate it, Professor. Truly." He nodded once, then dropped his eyes back to the book he was working on.

Sorcha pursed her lips, frowning thoughtfully. “I... I do, too," she said after a moment, exchanging a glance with Senka. “Like Thea said... sometimes we have to fight to make the world a better place. I can't... I can't run from that, even if it's going to be hard sometimes."

“And I will be there every step of the way with you, to help, Sorcha," Senka replied, placing her hand on Sorcha's shoulder and giving it a light squeeze. “I too, have something to fight for, people I..." she paused, her eyes widening slightly as if what she were about to say were some strange revelation, “want to protect."

“A single reason is usually enough to want to do that," Mercer chimed in, shrugging his shoulders lightly before turning his attention towards the others.

“It's the small things that count, the differences we can make. And... I am proud that we were able to survive, and protect each other. Even if you guys aren't part of the Blue Lion House, the obviously best house," Sylvi stated, smirking just slightly as her eyes slid towards Sofia. Dierdre visibly rolled her eyes at the statement.

“Sure, and Mercer's a serious and reliable person," Dierdre shot back, causing Mercer to purse his lips slightly.

“I feel like you just insulted me. I'm insulted."

Sofia sighed, but a small smile played at her face. “I have such a reason, too," she mused. “I think I needed to be reminded, though. So thank you, Professor, everyone."

Devon nodded solemnly. “Me too. I'm... I'm glad I get to fight with all of you. I think it could have been much worse, to be honest. It wasn't easy, but... at least we're in this together."

“Good," Cyril said softly. He could see it—the way they were slowly coming to terms with this. Ultimately, he thought that was a good thing. There would be trials ahead of them, still, but if they could build these foundations strongly now, they would stand in good stead later as well. “I'm here if you need anything, but it seems you may not." He allowed himself a bit of gentleness, there—or perhaps it was more accurate to say they simply... drew it out of him, somehow. Perhaps this was simply what it felt like to have students. He would have to ask his father.

Senka pursed her lips together slightly, and tilted her head. “I'll need you for a long time, yet, professor," she stated in regards to his statement, but it must have sounded strange to Mercer because he started laughing. Harshly to the point that he fell out of his chair. Once he seemed to gather her bearings, he wiped at his eyes as if pulling something away.

“I think what she means to say is that we will continue to rely on you, Teach, and we may still need you," he stated, causing Senka's head to tilt a bit further to the side.

“Is that not what I said?" she asked, causing Dierdre to snicker softly.

“Not even close."

Cyril rather thought it was what she'd said, and blinked with some confusion at Mercer on the ground before shrugging inwardly. Sorcha and Devon looked as confused as he felt, but everyone else appeared to know something he did not. In any case, he shook his head.

“Regardless," he said slowly. “Please don't forget that we have stable duty tomorrow morning. I appreciate your diligence, but if you're up too late studying you'll burn out sooner rather than later. Or possibly laugh so much you fall over and rupture something."

Sorcha snorted. “Don't worry about him; he's made of bricks."

“That's a new record. I've been insulted twice today." But Mercer was smiling and didn't seem to mind what Sorcha had stated. “And yeah, stable chores, not looking forward to that," he muttered softly, his lips pursing into a fine line. Dierdre rolled her eyes, and Sylvi laughed softly.

“Oh, that's right! I forgot. It's going to be awesome! We'll get to play with the horses and wyverns and all the animals," at least Amalthea seemed excited for it.

Cyril huffed. Her enthusiasm really did seem boundless at times.

But the smile she wore wasn't a false one, and he'd absolutely take that.

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Fódlan

Fódlan by Nemeseia

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

Fódlan

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

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Fire Emblem: Apotheosis

Welcome to "Fire Emblem: Apotheosis! This is a private roleplay between Aethyia and myself, however; please do feel free to read a long! We don't mind, honestly.

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