Fire Emblem: Apotheosis

Fire Emblem: Apotheosis

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

2,653 readers have visited Fire Emblem: Apotheosis since Nemeseia created it.
Aethyia are builders, granting them the ability to shape the world and alter sovereignty.

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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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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: 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 - Ethereal Moon - Sunday the 21st
The Red Canyon - Early Afternoon - Cold
Vridel von Hresvelg


Vridel shivered, grimacing as he pulled his cloak a little tighter about himself. The Red Canyon was no less mysterious the second time. If anything, all the things he'd learned or guessed since his last visit had made it even moreso. A place with architecture unlike anyplace in the world, ancient ruins half-crumbled to dust. Could it have been from the same era as those weapons Reynard spoke of? Or perhaps from the same time as the Immaculate One? He found he had no answers to the questions that burned most harshly on his head, and this did nothing to settle him.

Of course, the more immediate mystery was why the Professor had led them here. Not intentionally—he'd left the Monastery quite by himself this morning. It was something Reynard had observed, and he'd found it just odd enough to tell Vridel about, and then they'd told Mercer and Sorcha and Senka and Thea, and now the six of them were following what Reynard insisted was the Professor's route. He didn't seem to be in too great a hurry, though his pace suggested a clear purpose. The only reason they'd been able to catch up was that he was traveling on foot, and they'd all mounted to chase him.

The trail had led them back here, but as of yet, they still hadn't spotted the Professor. “What's he doing all the way out here, anyway?" Vridel wondered aloud. It was troubling, actually—as far as he knew, Cyril had been and was habitually very open with them. Especially Sen, of course, but also the other members of their informal conspiracy. For him to just walk away from the monastery to come here, without telling anyone... what was going on?

“You're guess is as good as ours," Mercer mumbled. “Maybe he just wanted to revisit?" he continued, glancing towards Vridel. His brows were furrowed as if he were in thought, and perhaps he was. His eyes slid towards Senka, who merely shook her head. She didn't seem to know anything, either, and Mercer sighed.

“It could be something that he wanted to do on his own, though, because he didn't say anything to us. I'm sure he would have if he thought..." Thea stated softly, and trailed off. “I suppose we'll find out when he stops. I hope... he doesn't get too upset at us for following him. He could get into trouble, or worse, something might happen to him," she continued, her eyes widening for just a second.

“I'm sure it's nothing to worry about, Thea. Cyril has his reasons for doing what he's doing. We're just here to keep an eye on him," Senka spoke softly, giving Thea a reassuring smile.

Vridel was about ready to reply when he was cut off by a loud, grating cry. It sounded almost like the screeching of metal-on-metal, but deeper, rending the air and leaving trembles behind. He glanced up, swearing softly under his breath when from beyond the canyon wall emerged three gargantuan avian figures, their shadows blotting the sun as they flew overhead. Worse, the cry was answered from further down the canyon. Vridel squinted; he thought there might be more shapes moving down there; at least another three.

“Mercer. Can you see the Professor anywhere?" he asked, already dismounting. He vastly preferred to fight on foot, and unless demonic beasts had somehow become benevolent, they were certainly in for a fight.

Mercer looked to be squinting his eyes in front of them, before the frown on his face deepened. “He's down there, alright, but it doesn't look good. There is a giant wolf heading his direction, and I can't make out the other beast. It almost... it almost looks like Maurice, but smaller," he stated as he glanced in Vridel's direction.

“We have to help him," it was an obvious statement. “Sorcha and I have dealt with those large birds, before; we can at least grab their attention while the rest of you go help Teach."

It was a risk, leaving them to fend off three beasts on their own, but they did have bows, and could harass without necessarily needing to fully engage. Or maybe they'd just bring them down—Vridel was hardly an expert on aerial combat, but even he recognized that the two of them were exceedingly good at it. So he nodded slightly. “All right. Let's do that then. We'll double back once we've helped him if you still need us."

Plan established, he hopped up behind Thea on Sunny, assuming that Reynard, also afoot, would take an analogous tack with Senka and Libi. They needed to get down there as fast as possible, and the riding horses they'd borrowed from the monastery were no warsteeds. Not like these two.

“Let's go." He wound one arm securely around her waist, charging a sagittae spell in his other hand. When Thea wheeled them close to the wolf, he released the spell and her at the same time, sliding from the back of the horse and drawing his blade.

“We've got this one! You two get to the Professor!" At this distance, Vridel could tell that there had in fact been three creatures down here, but Cyril had already felled one of the others—a broken lance was speared into the roof of its mouth, and its fur bore heavy, blackened scorches.

Senka spurred Libi forward, taking Reynard with her, as Amalthea dismounted as well. She already had Amyr in hand before she sent Sunny away from the battlefield, and she clutched it tightly in her hands. Taking a breath, she glanced at Vridel and nodded. “I'll grab its attention, and you focus on bringing it down," she stated. She offered him a brief smile before she charged at the creature, swinging her axe down as hard as she could. The creature merely fended it off with a kick of its hind leg, causing her to bring up Amyr more in a defensive block than anything.

She charged again, barely dodging the beasts massive paw as it swiped at her. She, at least, had its attention for now, and she seemed to be doing her best to keep it. Swinging at the beast's paw when it reached for her, and dodging to the side when it tried to snap at her with its jaws.

He didn't intend to make her keep at it forever, fortunately, and his firepower, so to speak, had its advantages. Throwing a heavy blast of flames for the creature's unprotected side, Vridel sprinted in, cutting a long gash into the wounded area. This seemed to draw its attention away from Thea, so he took his turn holding his own, throwing himself to the side to avoid a swipe from its forepaw. It yowled, loud enough to ring in his ears, and lunged for him with its teeth instead. They clicked together over air, and Vridel managed to plunge the sword into its eye.

It reared back, taking the blade with it, and he shot more fire, intent on giving Thea the opportunity to finish it. Behind him, he heard a great crash as something—hopefully one of the birds and not Mercer or Sorcha—hit the ground.

She threw Amyr at the beast's head, the axe finding its mark before she quickly recalled it back to her. With a final stroke, her blade tore open the creature's stomach, blood and innards falling out as she jumped out of the way. She didn't escape entirely, some of the blood managed to catch her shoulder as she visibly shivered. Flicking some of the blood off of Amyr, she turned her attention towards Vridel, brows furrowed and eyes narrowed.

“Let's go see if professor and the others need help," she stated before making her way towards the others.

It was a course of action that, while wise, proved entirely necessary. Even as they started towards the others, there were two more crashes behind them in quick succession, and then an arrow from Reynard ended the final beast, slotting right through the monster's ear and into its brain, no doubt.

Vridel released a soft breath. There was no doubt those things were dangerous, but it was a mark of how much they'd grown that they'd managed to take out almost twice the beasts with only a little more than half the numbers of last time. In the wake of their deaths, the Red Canyon was silent.

If the Professor was surprised to see them, he did a poor job of showing it. Indeed, as they approached, he favored them all with a small smile. “A little longer and you won't need me at all," he noted, in a warm tone of something akin to praise. “Well done, everyone."

Vridel wasn't sure he'd go that far, but it was... surprisingly nice to hear, from someone as good as the Professor. Of course, then he remembered what they were here for in the first place. “Can we ask exactly what you're doing here?"

Cyril hummed, turning back towards the ruined area he'd been in when Mercer first spotted him. “I'm not... entirely sure," he murmured, his eyes narrowing.

“So... you just decided to come out to Zanado just because?" Mercer asked, raising a brow in Cyril's direction. “Because that's what it looks like. And I gotta be honest, Teach, that's just... well, weird. Who comes out to the Red Canyon just because?" he continued. Senka furrowed her brows at Mercer and nudged him softly with her elbow.

“Whatever the reason, I'm just glad we followed. Who knows what might have happened if we didn't show up," Senka spoke, clearly worried. She shook her head, though. “Not that we doubt your abilities, but still... why not tell us you were coming here?" she asked, her voice soft.

The Professor looked a little discontent for some reason, furrowing his brows and seeming to concentrate intently on nothing for a moment. “It's... hard to explain," he admitted after a moment. “I'm sure it would sound even stranger than coming out to Zanado for no reason at all." He ran a hand back through his hair, turning soft eyes on Sen for a moment and then abruptly zoning out again.

Vridel had seen this once or twice before, but he'd always thought the Professor just kind of looked that way sometimes when he was thinking. In the middle of a conversation it was much stranger, as was the way he shook his head slightly as if to clear it.

“Why don't we all take a seat?" he said, almost wearily. “I do appreciate you all coming here. It's just... not a simple explanation. I barely understand it myself, to be honest."

The others nodded, finding seats among the suitable rocks around them. Mercer and Senka both stood, though, and Mercer had his arms crossed over his chest. He didn't look bothered, just curious.

“Just wanna say this, now, Teach," Mercer began, eyes shifting towards the others in the group. “You don't have to explain anything to us if you don't want to. We'll understand because whatever it is, it has to do with you. We're your students and you're our teacher, but..." he trailed off as his eyes went towards Senka.

“You're also our friend," she added. Amalthea nodded as well as if she were agreeing with what Mercer and Senka stated.

“You can tell us when you're ready, right?" Thea stated, offering Cyril a small smile.

He huffed softly, then gestured again for them to sit, taking one himself a moment later, so that they were all in a rough circle. “I know," he replied. “And it's because I think of you as my friends as well as my students that I want to tell you this. It's something I've never told anyone, not even my father, in its full measure."

Taking in a deep breath, Cyril crossed his legs beneath him and set his hands on his knees. “Before I begin, I'd like to promise you that I'm not insane. Or at least, I don't think I am. I suppose I wouldn't know, but I hope at this point, you all have a fairly good sense of me yourselves, and I'll trust your judgement on that."

“Starting to scare me a little now, Professor," Reynard drawled lightly.

Cyril smiled. “Perhaps better that I get to it, then." He paused, that strange look crossing his face again for a moment. “For as long as I can remember, which most of you know is... not that long, I've had strange dreams. Dreams about old battlefields, places I somehow know I've never been. I've since put some of the pieces together, and it would seem I dream about... ancient things, mostly. Old battles, old wars. Things I cannot possibly have seen myself."

“People dream about weird shit all the time, Teach," Mercer replied, tilting his head slightly to regard Cyril. “And I wouldn't doubt you'd dream about battlefields and whatnot. You were a mercenary, right? You've been through all kinds of battles, so maybe it's just your mind trying to sort everything out that you've experienced."

Vridel thought this was a rather fair point, though they were also talking to a man who had a demonstrable ability to literally wind back time.

“That's not all there is to it though, right?" Sorcha was regarding the Professor thoughtfully, petting Lady's nose where the pegasus had bent down to sniff at her rider's hair.

Cyril shook his head. “No. I also..." His brows knit. “There's a—another person. In my head. A girl with green hair. Darker than yours, Thea, and dressed in a way I've never seen before, really. She remembers this place, vaguely. I came here because she felt that we needed to." He shrugged, looking at all of them a little ruefully. “That's the part that's difficult to explain. Sort of challenging to tell you that the voice in my head said I should come here."

Senka, Mercer, and Thea all remained quiet for a moment, perhaps to digest the information. Mercer's brows were furrowed lightly, almost in a contemplative mood, before he shook his head.

“So... what you're saying is that you hear a voice in your head, a girl's voice, that told you to come to Zanado because you both needed to? Does this mystery head girl have a name?" Mercer inquired, his brow arching slightly as he regarded Cyril. He seemed more interested in the information rather than confused or skeptical. Thea still looked to be considering the information since her eyes were focused on the ground. It was hard to say what Senka was feeling, though, since her face had smoothed into a passive glance. She didn't seem bothered nor intrigued by the information.

“That's... the other thing," Cyril admitted, making a slightly skeptical face. “She had a very strong reaction once, when someone said another name once, and... now she's pretty sure it's hers. The only thing is, it can't possibly be."

He winced, then, raising a hand to his temple and sighing heavily. “She insists it is."

“What's the name?" Vridel asked. There were only a few possibilities that he thought would make the Professor think it couldn't be right. People shared names all the time, after all. Unless.

Cyril raked a hand through his hair. “Sothis," he muttered.

Thea's eyes widened. “As... as in the goddess, Sothis?" she asked incredulously. She was staring at Cyril with a vaguely skeptical look before she shook her head. “It's... that doesn't... how is that possible? Sothis is said to have ascended a long time ago. Why would there be someone with the goddess's name in your head?" Thea stated as she gazed quizzically at Cyril.

“Maybe Teach is possessed by someone who thinks they are Sothis, Thea. And for all we know, this person might just have a common name," Mercer ventured, but Thea shook her head.

“It's forbidden for anyone to have the same name as the goddess. The first archbishop banned the usage of the name in order to keep the goddess's legacy clean and untainted. If someone who bore the name Sothis did something so heinous, then they would try to associate the name with the goddess," she spoke, seemingly explaining the reasoning.

Sorcha nodded along with Thea's explanation, clearly having known the same. “But it's not a name that comes from nowhere," she said, narrowing her eyes a bit and glancing around them. “The Goddess is supposed to have once alighted on Fódlan here. You dream of ancient battles... maybe there is a connection. Why would she be drawn to this place if there wasn't? There's nothing here but ruins and dirt."

Vridel figured that since they'd been planning to draw these three into the information web eventually anyway, they might as well start here. Glancing once at Cyril, he got a nod, which he took to be permission, and added something he thought was important. “It makes a certain kind of sense, though. If it is Sothis. It explains how the Professor can use the Sword of the Creator without a Crest stone—the Crest of Flames is sometimes called the Goddess Crest, right?" He shrugged. “And then there's the fact that he can turn back time."

“What?" Sorcha looked much more surprised by this than anything else that had been said, which was perhaps fair, in a way.

“I'm a little tired, or I'd demonstrate," Cyril put in mildly.

“He has in fact demonstrated already," Reynard put in, apparently deciding this was a good time to smoke and putting his pipe between his lips. “Mercer, Vridel and I have all seen him do it."

Thea looked just as surprised, and the small shift in Senka's expression noted that she was surprised as well. “That's... this is... are you saying that it's possible that the goddess is in your head. Right now?" Thea sounded rather awed and terrified at the same time, however; it was Senka who spoke next.

“That might explain why..." Senka paused to regard the others before continuing, “why the archbishop seems so interested in you, but how would she know if you've never told anyone, before?" Her brows were furrowed as she continued to study Cyril.

Interested is putting it lightly. It's more like obsessed, but I have to agree. If Sen is right, and you're saying that you have the literal goddess in your head, it explains why the archbishop has been so aggressive towards us, and a little obsessive with you. She might think we're a bad influence to you, somehow."

“I would like to point out that I'm not claiming that, personally," Cyril said. If Vridel had to guess what the expression on his face was conveying, it was awkwardness, or perhaps discomfort. Not doubt it was a bit of a hard hypothesis for him to swallow as well, even if it seemed... well, not likely, exactly, but it seemed to be the only thing that fit all the evidence.

“But... Lady Rhea would never do that, would she?" Thea questioned as she regarded everyone. Thea, still, seemed to believe that the archbishop was not as antagonistic as she truly was. “She's always been so... so kind to me," she murmured softly. That wasn't true, from what Vridel knew.

“Has she though, Thea?" Vridel asked, trying to keep his tone gentle. He knew that if she really thought about it, really considered what her life had been like thus far, she would reach the right conclusion, but he didn't want to push her into it. It would no doubt be a hard thing to swallow, in a way. That the Archbishop might not have had her best interests at heart when she kept her locked away for so many years.

Sorcha grimaced. “Uh, if I can ask—maybe Sir Jeralt knows something? I know you said you hadn't told him everything, Professor, but... he and Lady Rhea seem to go way back, and something Sir Alois said is kind of bothering me, now that we're talking about this. Hasn't he remarked that Sir Jeralt doesn't look any different than he did twenty years ago? At all?"

Cyril pursed his lips. “He did admit to me the other day that I was born at the monastery. My mother is buried there, apparently. He said he'd explain later, but he's been away on a mission for most of the month, and won't be back until we investigate that chapel."

“Yeah, something's definitely not right here," Reynard said, shaking his head faintly. “And I think I finally understand why you always seem to be at the center of it, Professor. Rhea knows, or I'll cook my boots and eat them."

“But what does she know?" Sorcha wondered aloud, frowning as she leaned her head against Lady's. “Suppose for a moment that it is Sothis inside the Professor's head. How did she get there? She's a Goddess, not even supposed to be in this world, really. They say she's far away on the Blue Sea Star, but I always figured that was just a metaphor. How could you... is it reincarnation or something?" She made a face, like the words tasted strange on her tongue.

“Perhaps it is more vessel-like than reincarnation. If Cyril was Sothis's reincarnation, she would not be in his head, at least not in the way Cyril is describing. If she truly is her own entity, then it is possible that Cyril is acting as a host-body for her. It does not answer the how she got there, though," Senka spoke softly as she shook her head.

“Yeah, if Teach was the reincarnation, wouldn't he at least look a little like the goddess? Teach looks nothing like the images I've seen of Sothis. At least the images drawn by people who thought they knew what she looked like," Mercer added. Thea seemed to be contemplating Vridel's question, though, before she sighed softly. She didn't say anything, though, and glanced up at him before glancing away.

“Lady Rhea has an image of Sothis tucked in her room. I've... I've seen it once, before, and... professor," Thea finally spoke, glancing towards Cyril. “This Sothis in your head, you know what she looks like, right? Does... does she have elongated ears and wear her hair in two tails and two red, green, and white braids?" she asked, waiting for Cyril to answer.

He nodded. “Yes, actually. She's quite small, and looks a little like a child. Maybe around twelve or thirteen, if I had to guess. Her eyes are a darker green, too, almost the same emerald shade as her hair, and the pupils are slitted, like a cat's. She wears a very large golden medallion with blue and gold robes."

Thea's eyes widened as Cyril spoke. “I can't... believe it's true. The goddess, Sothis really resides in you, professor. It's possible that Senka is correct because you look nothing like Sothis. There's not even a slight resemblance to her." She took in a deep breath before shaking her head. “It's... a lot to take in, professor."

“Yeah, to think that you have Sothis in your head... wait," Mercer spoke as his eyes slid towards Senka before returning towards Cyril. “Does she see what you see? That'd... be kind of weird, no?"

Cyril hummed, running a hand through his hair. “Kind of? Not really most of the time. She usually isn't paying much attention to me, but sometimes something catches her attention, and she can. If I ask her to leave me alone, she usually does, and then she's not really aware of what I'm doing, I guess. Maybe distantly." He shrugged a little.

“For what it's worth, she uh... likes all of you. So there's that, I suppose."

Vridel shook his head, still finding this of all things rather difficult to believe. He'd honestly doubted Sothis's existence, having wondered if maybe Seiros didn't simply say she'd receive a divine revelation to get people on her side. But if this was all true, than not only did she exist, but she did so, somehow, in the body of their Professor.

“That's uh... good?" Sorcha, Vridel knew, while not overtly religious, had always been more of a believer than he was. She regarded the Professor with wide eyes and something like awe, now.

“Well, it's not every day a goddess says they like you, now do they?" Mercer stated, but he was grinning lightly. If he believed any of this, he didn't seem to show it. Perhaps he did, slightly? “So, I guess... that explains why Teach has never seemed quite human, right?" Mercer added, but shook his head. “You'll have to give us some time, Teach. It's a lot to process, but I think... I believe what you say. How could I not? You've never lied to us before, so..."

Mercer shrugged his shoulders after that.

Cyril actually looked a little relieved. “I'd be more concerned if you could just take it at face value," he admitted. “I'm not having the easiest time of it, myself. But... thank you, all of you. I'm going to assume none of you will try to have me committed when we get back to the monastery, and I'm grateful for that."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1180 - Ethereal Moon - Wednesday the 24th
Lyanna's Office - Early Evening - Cool
Senka Rinaldi


The night of the ball was rather busy for most people. They were either getting their last minute adjustments made to their outfits, or last touches of makeup onto their face, however; Senka didn't mind the welcomed chaos. It allowed her to focus her mind on something other than... well, what she and Vridel had talked about a few nights ago, and what happened at Zanado. There was a light breeze as she walked towards Lyanna's office. She and Lyanna had asked the others to meet her there so that they could style their hair. The men of the group, though, would be meeting with Cyril and Vridel, if she recalled correctly. She supposed it was proper that way, being separated.

The dress Sorcha had helped her choose was rather nice, Senka had to admit. It was a one shoulder dress in the chiffon style, mostly black on top before fading into a gradient blue. The back, itself was strapped and somewhat exposed, but it was nice, nonetheless. She elected to wear heels this time, mostly because she intended to be dancing. Flats were nice for practicing, but she'd always preferred heels. Her hair was still down, though, the pin Cyril had given her tucked behind her ear, as it fell to her back. She would style it when she was finished helping the others, mostly because she intended to ask Lyanna's help with it.

When she arrived at Lyanna's office, she was pleasantly surprised to see Deirdre and Sofia already there. Amalthea was there, too, dressed in the outfit Lyanna had purchased in Fhirdiad. It did look lovely on her, especially the way it blended with her hair.

“Senka! You look so... so nice!" Thea stated, causing Senka to smile softly.

“As do you, Thea," she replied. “And you and Sofia as well, Deirdre," she added, inclining her head to the Golden Deer members. Deirdre was dressed in an off-shoulder light grey dress. It had a rather deep neck line that was embroidered with a vine design. It was rather pretty on Deirdre.

Sofia was wearing the layered dress she'd pulled off the rack in Fhirdiad, sheer over patterned silk, all of it a rather lovely deep purple, that contrasted with her fair complexion and complimented the deep blue of her hair, which at the moment was still worn in a simple braid over one shoulder.

Sylvi and Sorcha arrived together next, Sylvi already dressed but Sorcha still in trousers and looking rather awkward. “I'm going to wear it, I promise," she said before Senka could wonder why. “I just, uh. Got nervous about walking across the monastery in something this nice. And, you know, people seeing me I guess." She flushed a little.

Lyanna smiled, but shook her head. She was wearing a formal black and white gown, with a pair of long gloves set aside to be put on later. “You do know people are going to have to see eventually, right?"

“Well, yes, but then I'll be mixed in with a bunch of other people dressed really nicely, and no one will look twice." She beamed at them. “Especially since I have so many pretty friends?"

Senka huffed lightly at Sorcha's explanation. Really, her friend was too much, but she wasn't going to say anything. Sylvi was dressed in a sleeveless dress, mostly white with gold in the chest area. It was exposed in a way, but Senka had a distinct feeling she was doing it on purpose, being dressed as she was. It was still lovely, though.

“That's not true, Sorcha. When I'm done with you, you'll be the center of everyone's attention," Senka grinned lightly at Sorcha, but shook her head. “Now, go get dressed while Lyanna and I work our magic on everyone's hair," she stated, making a vague shooing motion with her hands. Deirdre snickered lightly, and Sylvi just shook her head.

“You gonna do that for all of us, Sen? I don't want to be the center of everyone's attention, just hers," Deirdre spoke, glancing up at Sofia. Senka smiled softly at that and shook her head.

“You already are, you ridiculous woman," Sofia replied with a gentle smile. She dropped a little kiss on Deirdre's hair.

“Only if you wanted me to. Any special requests?" she turned towards Sofia, first. She figured Lyanna would do Amalthea's hair, first, after all.

She considered this a moment, humming quietly while Lyanna gestured Thea over towards herself. “Mm, not really. If you can get it all off my neck somehow that would be nice, and I'd prefer not to have a big pile of it on top of my head, but I leave myself in your capable hands."

Senka had come prepared, of course, for such a challenge. While Sofia did have a lot of hair, she could style it into something Sofia could appreciate. With that in mind, she motioned for Sofia to take a seat, and placed the small box of clips and pins she'd been carrying, down on the small table. She combed her fingers through Sofia's hair, noting how soft the texture was, but not quite like his. She cleared her throat as she began combing through the hair, pulling apart strands and setting them so that she could work.

When she was done, roughly twenty minutes later, she had Sofia's hair pulled into a couple of braids that were intertwined with each other. It almost looked like a bun-style, but the style itself was an updo. As requested, Sofia's hair wasn't in a big pile on her head, nor was it in her face or on her neck. Senka stepped away after she was done securing a silver leaf pin in Sofia's hair to ensure it would stay.

“What do you think, Sofi?" she asked.

“Oh!" Sofia said, looking into a nearby mirror and blinking slowly at herself. “That's lovely, Senka; thank you so much!" she smiled warmly, vacating the seat so that the next person could take it.

Lyanna finished with Thea's hair about the same time; the style was somewhat similar to Sofi's, but with a few smaller braids, and the remaining hair gathered into a loose, soft bun at her nape. A few strands were left to frame the sides of her face, gently waved.

Sorcha emerged from the side room, struggling with but finally managing the closure of her gown. It laced with ribbons in the back, and off the hander actually exposed almost all of her shoulders and collarbone, but went no lower, which was probably for the best, given her sensibilities. The brocade of it was a subtle variation in the light blue silk; it certainly suited her coloration. She'd unpinned her hair, at least, and it was a bit tangled, but still fell a ways past her waist in thick golden sheets.

Senka smiled at Sorcha and motioned for her to come to her. “You don't have to sit for me. It'll make it easier to work with," she spoke as she did a onceover for Sorcha. Thea, on the other hand, looked delighted with her hair, and moved over so that Sylvi could have her hair done by Lyanna. Senka didn't mind sharing the work. It was a lot of hair to take care of. And currently, she was fixated on making sure everything on Sorcha was perfect. It had to be, because Sorcha was a beautiful person. And more than anything, Senka wanted to make her friend feel like she was beautiful.

She began combing her fingers through Sorcha's hair, getting out what she could before she ran the brush through the strands. Once she was satisfied that Sorcha had no more tangles, she pulled strands of hair from the sides of Sorcha's head, and began braiding them. She made a total of five small braids; two on the left side with three on the right. They were braided so that they tied in the back into a larger braid. When she was finished, the waves and curls in Sorcha's hair added the desired effect that Senka had wanted. With one last small pin placed to secure the braid, Senka stood back to admire her work.

“I dare say this is my best work, yet. Wouldn't you agree?" she stated, glancing towards the others. Sylvi snorted softly as Deirdre rolled her eyes.

“Oh, Sorcha! You look so lovely and beautiful!" Thea stated, smiling brightly in Sorcha's direction.

Sorcha flushed at the combined words of praise, managing a small smile for Deirdre's eyeroll. “Er—thanks, Thea. You look spectacular, too." She turned around a little more and pulled Senka into a careful hug, mindful of the dresses and so on. She hadn't worn any makeup, but that would have been perhaps too large a leap for her.

“Thank you, Sen. For all of this."

Lyanna, done curling Sylvi's hair into a soft tail featuring a delicate floral hairpiece, gestured Senka over towards her. “Your turn, Senka. You can do Deirdre's while I do yours, okay? Anything you'd like in particular?"

“Perhaps something simple, like a tail?" Senka spoke. She wasn't going to make too much of a fuss about her own appearance. “I'll let you do whatever you'd like, Lyanna," Senka decided to state instead. She turned her attention towards Deirdre and tilted her head. “And you? Any special requests?" she asked. Deirdre pursed her lips together before glancing in Sofia's direction.

“Something that'll match hers," was her reply. Senka huffed lightly, but nodded nonetheless. Once everyone was situated, she repeated a similar process for Deirdre's hair. The only difference this time was that Deirdre didn't have braids, but rather, some parts of her hair were twisted into the updo. Strands of her bangs were left to frame her face, and placed a floral hair pin with small pearls to keep it secured.

“Oh, that looks really pretty on you, Deir!" Sylvi spoke as she grinned in Deirdre's direction. “And you look really lovely, Sen. Lady Lyanna, you have magic fingers, don't you?" she added as she grinned in Lyanna's direction. Senka took the opportunity to look in the mirror and nodded her head in agreement. Her hair had been pulled back into a tail, but some of the strands were tied so that the band was being covered by her hair. Her bangs and longer strands were left to fall on the sides of her face, however; something felt like it was missing.

“Sorcha... can you place this for me?" she asked, pulling the hairpin that Cyril had given her, from its spot behind her ear. She didn't know why she wanted Sorcha to do it, only that it felt right to ask her friend.

“Of course I can," Sorcha replied easily, stepping in to take the pin as Lyanna shifted away. “Hmm... how about like... this?" She carefully set the pin slightly to one side of the tail, where it would catch the light and glimmer. “Gorgeous. Wait—is this a lockpick?" She snorted. “Only you, Sen, I swear."

“Of course it's a lockpick. Cyril gave it to me for my birthday," Senka replied as she arched a brow at Sorcha. “It's still a practical hair piece, and it happens to be rather useful as well," she had thought it was rather sweet, at the time, when Cyril had gifted it to her. She hadn't taken it off, since then, only when she needed to for sleep or when she bathed.

“We should go meet the others!" Thea stated happily as she twirled in her dress, perhaps to see it twirl. Senka huffed lightly and shook her head.

“I agree; Devon actually agreed to be my ... um, partner for this, too." Sylvi spoke with a light blush on her face. “It'll help to keep unwanted dance requests from being made, I think," she added.

“People are persistent, though, Sylvi. They'll still ask you to dance. You're a very beautiful woman as are the rest of you. You're all bound to turn heads when we arrive," Senka stated. Thea giggled lightly. “I'm sure you'll be saving a dance for Vridel, won't you, Thea?" Senka couldn't keep the grin off her face as Amalthea blushed.

“Don't forget to include yourself in that number," Sofi reminded her, linking arms with with Deirdre. “Sorcha's right—you look gorgeous, Senka.

Sorcha nodded. “Seems like as good a time as any I guess. We might uh... actually be a little late."

Lyanna, who'd raised an eyebrow at the mention of Vridel specifically, chuckled at that. “Only fashionably so, Princess. It's not uncommon at these things for the ladies to leave the gentlemen waiting. Whether they've any interest in the gentlemen or not." There, she dipped her head to Deirdre and Sofi with a little grin. “Now, I suppose I should get to chaperoning. This way, doves."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Some Moon - Wednesday the 24th
Common Room - Evening - Cool
Vridel von Hresvelg


Vridel sighed, frowning slightly at the clock on the wall. He'd been a bit of an idiot, and rather forgotten to officially ask Thea to be his date to the event, as it were, and now he was itching a little with the desire to rectify the mistake. But of course there was still a good fifteen minutes before they'd even be permitted to enter the venue, and then who knew how long it would take for everyone to show up? He was well aware that it was traditional in most places for some people to be fashionably late, as it were, which was a little ridiculous, like most traditions.

He sighed, adjusting his cuffs a bit. Presently, himself, the Professor, Mercer, Devon, and Reynard were all assembled in the common room. A few of the others were playing cards, but Vridel had declined to join, electing to partake of some of the whiskey the Professor had brought to the informal gathering instead. Reynard had somehow convinced Devon to try his pipe to 'calm his nerves,' which might actually be working, from the amount the younger man was smiling as the others destroyed him at poker. Vridel still couldn't decide if Mercer was actually cheating or just stupidly lucky.

Neatening his black-and gold embroidered waistcoat, he poured himself another glass. They had an easier time of it than the women when it came to getting ready; more items of clothing, but in a simpler variety. Most everyone was wearing some combination of black, white, gold, silver and occasionally brown or blue. His own shirt was black, as were his trousers and boots, but the gold of his cravat and the embroidery on the coat meant it wasn't especially harsh. Still, he knew the combination flattered his coloration, which was why he'd chosen it.

Cyril just seemed to prefer black: he was layered in it in a manner that actually managed to be rather elegant. The silk shirt and cravat were overlaid with a dark waistcoat with a subtle sheen to the brocade pattern. He wasn't sure when the Professor had found the time or inclination to purchase such garments, but Vridel could easily admit he looked very good in them. Devon's ensemble was simpler: a loose-sleeved white shirt with everything but the cinched sleeves covered with a high-collared vest and matching loose trousers with a light pair of leather shoes. Reynard had opted for black-on-white as well, with the addition of a pale gold cravat to the dramatic collar of the waistcoat. Despite the colder weather, Mercer's entire outfit consisted of a white, sleeveless waistcoat. There was another shirt tucked underneath it but it was also sleeveless. He must have either enjoyed exposing his arms, or preferred it. To finish it off, he was wearing a pair of black trousers tucked into a pair of black boots.

All in all, they were a rather good-looking group of fellows, he supposed. But then that was true most of the time.

“Alright, so does everyone remember our bet?" Mercer stated from his spot, glancing over towards Vridel. “About the tango? And you can't say you don't have a partner, Rey, because you've had a few weeks to find one!" he added, glancing back towards Reynard with narrowed eyes.

“Oh, and let's not forget how proud we should be of Devon for working up the courage to actually ask Sylvi to be his date."

“Oh, don't worry," Reynard said, his tone ambiguous but with a definite sense of mischief. “I have a dance partner. We're still going to destroy all of you." He elaborated no further.

“You might have a dance partner," Devon declared, trying to narrow his eye and look intimidating but failing because of the fact that he was smiling and also, well, Devon. “But I am the only man in this room with a date. Which makes me the bravest!" Apparently whatever Reynard had him smoking was working quite well. Knowing the Brigidan, though, it would wear off in plenty of time not to ruin the date.

“Hear, hear," Cyril said with obvious amusement, lifting his glass off the card table and tilting it slightly towards the youngest of their party. “To Devon, and extraordinary courage."

Vridel snorted, but lifted his glass as well.

Mercer lifted his glass as well, trying his best not to laugh, it seemed. “To Devon, and him being one step closer to being the future Lord Devon Margrave-Galatea!" He didn't bother holding back his grin, then, and took a drink from his cup. He set it down before he glanced in Vridel's direction. He seemed to contemplate something before the grin on his face appeared.

“So why is Devon the only one with a date? No one else have the courage to ask their lady-friends?" he asked, perhaps knowing that it was a question that could be turned against him, as well.

“Lady-friends?" Cyril repeated with a snort. “Is that what you call it?"

Reynard cleared his throat lightly, looking the slightest bit uncomfortable for a moment before murmuring. “My dance partner's a lady but if it were a date, she wouldn't be."

Vridel had suspected as much, but it wasn't something he'd ever asked, being a rather personal thing that was a sensitive topic in some places, certainly. Especially when matters of inheritance were involved. He himself had been with both men and women, but he'd always figured his eventual political marriage would be to one of the latter. Crests and lines of succession and all that nonsense.

Cyril nodded slightly. “I suppose that would complicate things a bit," he noted nonchalantly, and that seemed to be that. Reynard looked relieved for a moment before he remembered himself and smoothed out his expression.

“As for me," Vridel replied, “I intend to rectify the situation and follow Devon's model of bravery as soon as the opportunity presents itself." He shrugged, then mock-glared at Mercer. “So back off, Lord Fish, purveyor of swimming lessons." He wasn't actually concerned, knowing full well where Mercer's attentions were diverted of late, and even if there hadn't been, he wasn't the sort to pursue someone engaged with another.

Mercer looked slightly offended at Vridel's statement, but the mischief in his eyes was easy to tell that he wasn't at all offended. “First off, yes, Teach, they're called lady-friends, and secondly," he turned towards Vridel and arched a brow. “If I remember correctly, she asked me to help her while you were off with Sor and Sen. I think Teach, too, I can't really remember. And you're lucky I'm an engaged man, otherwise I would have asked little Thea to be my date. I hear she's a pretty decent dance partner, after all." He waggled his eyebrows almost in a challenging manner at Vridel.

Oh, two could play this game, and Vridel had greater ammunition. He sighed dramatically. “Well I suppose if that had happened, I'd have been all but obligated to ask my dear stepsister to accompany me, to keep away the vultures while I was in mourning for what I'd lost. We've been to such events together before, you know. I would certainly not lack for a talented dance partner in such a case." He narrowed his eyes.

“And you know, come to think of it we're not really related anymore at all. Perhaps she'd care to rethink her choice of alliances." He would not, of course, ever be able to think of Sorcha in such a way, but then he well knew Mercer didn't fancy Thea, either. It was more about the implied possibility than a threat of anything actual.

Mercer snorted before he started laughing. He had tried to give Vridel a glare, but couldn't quite seem to muster one. “As if she'd want you," he stated between breaths. “Not that you're not desirable, Vi, love, just not Sorcha's type, y'know?" he continued before he finally managed to catch his breath.

“Like I said, I'm a taken man, so that means that you're actually not the only one with a date, Devs. It's kind of automatic that engaged people are going together," he stated, grinning in Devon's direction. “So we can poke fun of these losers together. And Rey. Rey can poke fun of Teach and Vi with us."

“Oh is that so?" Vridel replied, arching an eyebrow. “And this automatic assumption that you'll go together... did you make sure she shares it?" Vridel was actually quite certain such a thing would never have occurred to Sorcha at all, and that she believed herself quite without escort for the evening.

Come to think of it... he made a mental note to consult Senka on something a bit later. There was a legend about the tower, inspired by his own parents, actually, that Sorcha was sure to know. It would make for a hilariously-awkward encounter if they could engineer it.

“And who was I supposed to ask?" Cyril added, furrowing his brows. “As a member of faculty I couldn't have attended with a student, I wasn't about to ask Manuela or Lady Lyanna, and the other option is Rhea."

Devon shuddered.

Mercer rolled his eyes at Vridel. “I'd like to think she would assume the same thing," he stated, pursing his lips together before shaking his head softly. He turned his attention towards Cyril, though, and arched a brow.

“Who says you couldn't attend with a student? I didn't hear anything about that. I don't think any of us heard or saw it written in any way or form that you couldn't attend with a student. Hell, I think some of the faculty members are attending with students who are of adult age. You could have at least asked Sen. She's going to be... well, with someone like her, you know there's bound to be more than few of the students and otherwise clamoring for a dance with her. And I'm sure we're all aware that she'd rather not. You could have saved her from that, at least."

Cyril furrowed his brows, apparently confused. “And give the Archbishop another reason to target her? I can't be that irresponsible, even if ethics weren't a concern. And they are. Besides... isn't that kind of attention at least a little better than the way they say nasty things about her?"

Vridel, as someone who had plenty of nasty things said about him, didn't think that was necessarily true. “Just means she knows they only want one thing from her," he said darkly. “Date or no date, maybe look out for her tonight. I'm sure if you stand around enough, people will get the idea. Don't think many of them would be brave enough to fuck with you."

“She's plenty capable on her own. If as you imply they fear my strength, they would do better to fear hers."

“You're right, but they don't know that, and that makes a difference."

Mercer groaned slightly and ran a hand through his hair. “It's not like the archbishop doesn't already target her," he spoke, shaking his head. “But Vi's right, they don't know Sen's capable of taking care of herself, and neither does the archbishop. You should both enjoy yourselves tonight, and I," he paused sliding his eyes towards Vridel, we know you're the only one she'd want to enjoy herself with. That's up to you, though, Teach. No one's forcing you to do anything you don't want to do."

Mercer pursed his lips together and sighed. “Not that anyone could force you to do anything."

Cyril appeared to give this some thought, but said nothing further on the subject, shaking his head faintly and finishing off his glass of whiskey.

Vridel shrugged, sure they'd made their point, and did the same, setting the glass back down and glancing at the clock again. “I think it's about that time," he said, tilting his head at the others. “Should we go wait in the ballroom instead of waiting in here?"

“Definitely. That way Devon can ogle Sylvi when she walks in," Mercer stated, glancing at Devon with sly eyes.

Devon, still apparently a little bolder than usual, pinked a bit under his complexion but scowled at him. “Don't act like I'll be the only one ogling!" he accused, standing and pushing his chair in neatly before he continued. “We all saw it, you know. You almost kissed the Princess." His eyes widened. “You like her. You think she's pretty, and you totally wanted to. I bet you didn't actually ask her to be your date because you're—you're chicken!"

“I like this version of you, Devon," Vridel remarked casually as they exited together.

Mercer laughed at Devon's statement. “Yeah, well, I'm not going to deny it unlike some people. Timing has to be right, you know. If you don't get the timing right, then it just doesn't... it doesn't do the job properly, if you know what I'm talking about." He winked at Devon.

“And I agree with Vivi. I think I like this bold new Devon. I wonder how bold he'll be tonight, though?" Mercer's eyes lit up with mischief as they made their way to the ballroom.

“We'll just have to keep an eye on things and see for ourselves, won't we?"

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Ethereal Moon - Wednesday the 24th
Ballroom - Evening - Cool
Amalthea von Kreuz


Thea was nervous, folding her hands in front of her as she tried to calm her nerves. When she and the others had arrived, she hadn't been able to find Vridel. She'd been approached by several of the other young men in attendance, asking her for a dance, however; she'd politely declined them all. Some of them seemed a little more insistent than others, but Senka had appeared to send them off. It was nice having a friend who could intimidate people like that, especially when they couldn't take no for an answer. It was also rather lucky for them that it was Senka, and not her sister. Or anyone else for that matter. Lyanna was somewhere around, but Thea had left the group in search of Vridel. She wasn't able to find him, but that was okay. She could wait just a bit longer for him.

It was possible that he was dancing with some of the others, and while Amalthea would admit that made her a little jealous, she understood the why behind it. Vridel was an imperial prince, and there were certain things he was required to uphold. Dancing with people wouldn't be out of the norm, she supposed, but Amalthea knew she didn't... well, know a lot. She was still learning things about the world, about Vridel, and everyone else. Her heart was full and she couldn't have asked for more. She wasn't sure if she would want more than what she already had. She was with Vridel, in that weird sort of way that made her stomach do flops and feel like there were butterflies inside.

Most importantly, though, she was with Vridel, and that made her happier than she'd ever known herself to be. She was glad she'd taken that chance when he came to see her. If she hadn't... she wasn't sure where they would be standing with each other, right now.

When Vridel did appear, he was easy to spot. There was no one else in the room with white hair, after all, and at the moment in contrasted sharply with the black and gold of his formal attire. He looked—frustrated, actually, with an expression like a thundercloud. Dark and ominous.

When he spotted her, though, it eased for a moment, something like a smile warming his features, and he hastened towards her, almost but not quite too quickly for politeness, really. “Thea. There you are; I'm so sorry, I was—"

“Vi!" someone called. The voice didn't belong to any of their friends, but it was somewhat familiar anyway. From the crowd appeared a redhead in a deep sable lace gown with a plunging neckline. Monica. “There you are! I've been looking for you." She approached with a sly smile on her face.

Vridel made a soft tsking noise under his breath and murmured, so softly that only she would be able to hear. “Please play along, Thea."

Monica flounced up to them, giving Thea nothing more than a cursory nod before turning her attention fully upon Vridel. “I was hoping to catch you! See, I thought you might want to dance the tango with me later tonight?" The smile widened, but her eyes narrowed, and she fluttered her lashes in a subtle way that did something strange to her face—made it look almost more mature somehow?

“I couldn't possibly," he said, looking down at Thea. “I'm afraid my dance card is entirely filled tonight."

Monica's face shifted into a dissatisfied moue, and she glanced at Thea again, this time with something like malice, though it was gone in a split-second. “Well that's not fair,", she pouted. “You can't waste all night on your dance partner, you know. That's not very princely of you. Shouldn't you give other people a chance."

“Perhaps," Vridel said, his own gaze narrowing. But just when Monica started to light up at the chance, he shook his head firmly and circled Thea's waist with one hand, tucking her in firmly against his side. “But Thea isn't just my dance partner. She's also my date, and you're being exceedingly rude to her." He gave her a little squeeze, but the voice he used on Monica was hard, steely. “In fact, I do believe you owe her an apology."

Monica's eyes widened with surprise, but again, the expression was quickly-masked. She did turn to Thea then, though, and smiled winningly. “Oh, I'm sure you don't mind, do you, Thea? You could share a little, right? Some of us have futures to think about, after all, and it's not like you could ever—" she cut herself off with a little shrug. “You know."

“That's enough," Vridel said sharply, but Monica was still looking at Thea expectantly.

Thea narrowed her eyes at Monica. The young woman was right in one aspect; they did have futures to think about, and Thea could only imagine a future with Vridel. Her arm slid around his waist, and Amalthea pulled Vridel a little closer to her, still glaring at Monica.

“Actually, no. He's my date, he asked me, not you. And you're absolutely correct; we have futures to think about, and there's no one else I'd rather do it with than with Vridel." Amalthea recognized the spike of jealousy in her stomach, but also anger. This young woman thought that just because Thea was from the Church, a nobody, that she didn't have a chance with Vridel. If that were the case, Thea knew Vi well enough to know that he wouldn't have toyed with her emotions like that. She loved him, and she thought that he was beginning to love her, too.

“Also, no one is allowed to call me Thea unless they are my friends. You are no friend of mine. If you'll excuse us, Vridel and I must go." With a huff, she glanced up at Vridel, smiling up at him before narrowing her eyes again at Monica.

Vridel looked a little dazed, actually, like he'd been on the wrong end of a punch from the Professor, but he was grinning about it, a bright one that he turned on Monica. “There you have it. Please excuse us." He didn't really give her a choice, not with the way he practically dragged Thea towards the ballroom's side exit. He opened the door, ushered her out, took a quick glance around for some reason, then turned them both, pressing Thea's back to the door. A half-second later, his lips were on hers, and he made a soft sound into the kiss.

He only pulled away when they both needed air, his breath coming in soft, short exhalations. “That was..." he paused, almost as if having an internal debate with himself. Incredibly hot, Thea." He grinned at her, leaning down to press his forehead to hers. “You should tell people off more often."

Thea swallowed thickly and cleared her throat. “I... um, well, she made me angry with those things she said. She was implying that I wouldn't ever..." be able to marry him. Thea was naive in some senses; Vridel was an imperial prince, and she'd only known him for eight months. She'd fallen for him during those eight months, but even if she did imagine them getting married one day, she knew that it was just a silly dream that most girls often thought of. Who was to say something didn't happen to the both of them? Who was to say that he wouldn't want her anymore?

Vridel was, in all senses, her first love. From the books that she'd read, the tales of the knights and their princesses, first loves were often the only loves. And it felt like that to Thea. She didn't think she could ever fall in love with anyone other than Vridel. She wasn't his first, she didn't think, but that was okay. She accepted him for everything that he was, because she loved him.

“She shouldn't have made me mad," she murmured as she pursed her lips at Vi.

“No," he agreed, smiling slowly and reaching up to run his thumb along her pursed bottom lip. “She shouldn't have." The smile faded, though, and he regarded her more seriously for a moment. “Are you worried? About what she said? You can ask me anything you want, you know. Always. I promise I'll tell you the truth, no matter what."

Something about the way he said it made it sound like the most solemn of vows, and his eyes were almost dark, half-lidded by snowy lashes.

Thea shook her head softly. “I'm not worried about what she said," she began softly, wrapping her arms around his neck. “I'm not sure what I'm worried, about, really. I think... what I'm worried about is after. When we graduate, I mean." What would become of them, then? Would she be able to go with him to the Empire? Would she have to remain here at the church? She knew Lyanna couldn't leave, but Thea thought that she was almost old enough to go out on her own. And if Lyanna let her, she would go with Vi to the Empire to be with him. But...

“What's going to become of us, after?" Graduation was four months away, but Thea couldn't help thinking about the future. She couldn't invision one without Vridel. “I don't... I don't think I could see a future without you there, Vi." She spoke in a hushed whisper.

Vridel sighed gently, taking her hands in his and stepping away from the door. “I know you're probably excited to be inside with everyone," he said softly, “but would you walk with me a little, first? I want to answer your questions, but it might take a little while to explain everything."

Thea easily fell in step next to him as she shook her head. “I'm not that excited, because I'm with you. Nowhere else I'd rather be than here, Vi," she stated, offering him a small smile and lifting his hand to her mouth. She placed a soft kiss to it before letting it drop.

He chuckled a little, whether at the words or the gesture was unclear. When she let his hand go, though, he made a dissatisfied noise and lifted both back up, so that her hand rested on his arm and they could walk the courtyard thus attached to one another. “When the year here is over," he said, starting so softly it was almost hesitant. “I intend to return to the Empire, and ask that my father hand me the crown." He let that sit a moment, then explained.

“He's in poor health—even moreso than I am. And more importantly, he doesn't have much power anymore. Ever since I was a small child, he's been more of a figurehead than a true Emperor, while the real power is held by a group of seven nobles, including my uncle. I intend to change that—to wrest back what power I can, and put it to use for the people of Adrestia. I want to build better treaties with Mercer and Sorcha, advance our technology—make the Empire the best, safest place in the world to live." He half-smiled as he said it, looking out over the courtyard as though he could see a vision of what it would be like, right there in front of him.

It faded a moment later. “It won't be easy. They'll probably try to kill me. I believe... I believe I was raised to be a puppet, like my father became after the Insurrection. I think the plan might even go as far back as my father taking my mother as his concubine, though I can't be sure. But I—I refuse. I refuse to be that. I refuse to abandon my country to a bunch of old men who only care about themselves." He shook his head, then looked down at her.

“I always thought... that it would be a fight I had to carry alone, or maybe with only a few outside allies. And I can't deny that some part of me wants to keep you far away from Adrestia, because the moment I prove I won't be a good little puppet boy they're going to have it out for me and everyone I care about. But—but I also don't want to underestimate you, or decide anything for you. So..." he trailed off, releasing a soft breath.

It was a lot to take in. He'd shared this before, with her, or at least part of it. Even if they were mostly for his country, his ideals aligned with her own, and it brought a strange warmth in her heart. She squeezed his arm softly, pulling them to a stop so she could look him in the eyes. She released her hold on him and lifted both hands up so that they were cradling his face. She smiled softly at him and sighed.

“I want to do that, too, you know. Change the world and make it better. If... I can help you achieve that as well, I want to go with you. I'm... not that strong, yet, but I'm getting there. I'm going to keep getting strong enough so that I can protect you, too. So that I can help you achieve a dream that is similar to my own. I want that, so very much because you mean so much to me."

“And maybe... maybe we can keep changing the world, together after Adrestia. In whatever meaning or way that may be," because she, too, didn't want to assume or decide anything for him. She swallowed thickly, clearing her throat as she tried to form the words she wanted to say.

“I didn't think it was possible to care about someone in this kind of way. I only knew the kind that was for my friends, and for Lyanna, but... you're not just my friend, Vi. You're... well, I love you. And that means something to me, so I want to help you in whatever way that may be, even if it means going with you to Adrestia to help you shoulder your burdens."

He brushed a thumb along her jaw, settling it at her neck. For a moment, his eyes closed, and he smiled wryly. “You know, when you say it it really sounds possible," he replied, cracking his eyes back open and huffing softly. “I didn't used to believe it was possible, you know. That someone might love me. I think I was doing my best to be unlovable. Insufferable, to be sure. And I thought—I thought all you saw was how I looked, and not who I was."

Somehow, Vridel looked almost melancholy. “I'm sorry. I should've never underestimated you like that. I just... no one's ever point-blank told me I'm a good person before. I'm still not sure I believe it, but—but I know you do. And I know that if your dreams are like mine, then mine must be the right ones after all." He brushed back a little piece of hair behind her ear.

“I don't know if I know how to love, Thea. Or what it feels like. Or what you'll feel for me in four months, or four years. But I think if I've ever loved anyone, it must be that I love you, now. And—even if it's reckless to say so soon, I." He swallowed, ducking his head for a moment and seeming to struggle with his words.

“I want you there. I want to protect you, too, and make your dreams come true, every bit as much as my own. I want—I want them to be our dreams. I don't know when it happened, but... I do know I want to at least try. To try being the person you see in me." He glanced away; she could feel his face heating slightly under her hands.

“...I think you've made me sentimental. I never used to be, you know."

She smiled brightly at him, huffing lightly as she tried not to laugh. “I know. I'm really lucky to have someone like you, Vi, you know that? Let's make our dreams come true, then, together. There's no one else I'd rather be stuck with, after all," she stated, grinning just slightly before she moved her hands to wrap around his waist so she could hug him and rest her head on his chest.

“I don't know about you, but I rather like it outside. We don't have to go back do we?" she asked, glancing up at him, her head still on his chest.

“Oh, is the lovely Thea trying to keep me all to herself?" Vridel replied, his tone playful. He returned the hug, though, rather snugly, and ducked his head to whisper in her ear. “We can stay here as long as you like. I do have one request, though."

He stepped back a little, lifting one of her hands to his mouth as she'd done for him earlier, deep violet eyes bright with mirth. “Would you do me the honor of a waltz, milady?"

“Of course, milord," she replied, grinning at him as she placed her free hand on his shoulder. “And yes, I am trying to keep you all to myself. If I don't," she pursed her lips together as her eyes narrowed slightly, “Monica might try to take advantage of you. As your lady, I cannot let that happen, so I'm afraid you're stuck with me for the rest of the night." She nodded her head in a sagely manner.

“I think I can live with that," he replied with a grin. “It's not every day I get my own knight in shining armor. Though the dress is also lovely, I must say." He paused, and then:

“Speaking of... I never did officially ask you, so: Lady Thea von Kreuz, would you be my date to the ball?"

“It would be my honor, Vridel von Hresvelg," she replied, smiling brightly at him. He really did make her feel special.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Ethereal Moon - Wednesday the 24th
Ballroom - Evening - Cool
Cyril Eisner


Cyril had spent the time between entering the ballroom and the moment the women most familiar to him did establishing himself in a seat at a table, a small plate of refreshments as yet untouched in front of him. He'd been giving a lot of thought, to what the others had said. About Senka. There was sense in it, of course—they weren't so reckless as to suggest he take a course with no merit to it. But he knew as well that he was the only one who had really seen all the ways in which the Archbishop had taken particular umbrage with this closeness, and knew that flaunting it would in fact only make matters worse.

That, and... there might not be any official rules against faculty seeing students who were of age, but it was still very clearly a taboo. All of the other faculty had come alone, together, or with the knights. Shamir and Catherine appeared to be in attendance as a pair, which somehow didn't surprise him, actually. They had a similar competitiveness and tendency to bicker as Mercer and Sorcha, though the balance of their personalities as such was actually more similar to Vridel and Thea. Either way it sort of made sense to him.

The Archbishop was also in attendance, presently engaged in some kind of conversation with those two and Alois, but his attention was drawn away by the sudden influx of new people: his students, in particular. He smiled a little, waving as they entered, all looking quite like the poised young women they were, and—

He swallowed, feeling an uncomfortable lurch in his stomach. His heart kicked up a notch in his chest, and his airway felt suddenly constricted, like it was a struggle to breathe. It wasn't all that different, really, from what happened to him when he saw her on any other day, or when she smiled for him, but...

But what was usually understated, muted by the utility of the uniform and practicality, was at the moment simply stated. Emphatically so.

He'd never been the sort to stand on too much formality, finding things like rising when a lady entered the room to be odd customs that had no discernible purpose but inconvenience. But he stood now, seeking her eyes with his own, somehow almost desperate to catch them, and he took a few steps forward without ever giving his legs the command to do it.

When she finally did notice him, there was a flicker of surprise that crossed her face before it softened into the usual smile she gave him. “Good evening, Cyril," she spoke, her eyes narrowing softly in his direction with her smile. “You look..." she paused, her eyes glancing over his attire before landing back with his. “You look handsome," she finally spoke, glancing away from his eyes for a moment.

There was a faint color to her face, but it could have been due to the lighting in the room. She cleared her throat softly, though, and glanced back at him, smiling still.

“You're beautiful," he said softly, forgetting anything else he'd meant to say at all, anything polite or decorous or even at least a little more subtle. Frankly, he was just relieved he'd managed not to shout it across the room. “Absolutely breathtaking—I mean it." He could feel his face getting hot—was he blushing? He couldn't, honestly, remember something like that happening to him before, ever. Maybe faintly once or twice, but that seemed likely to have been her doing, too, if ever it had.

He bit his tongue, trying not to wince. “I'm sorry; that was... direct? Inappropriate. I, uh—" His sentence stumbled to an awkward halt; he raised one hand to run through his hair before remembering he was trying to keep it at least a little neat and dropping it back awkwardly to his side.

She huffed lightly at him, as if she were trying not to laugh, and shook her head. “Of course not," she replied. The smile on her face had only inched wider, though, as if she found something amusing. “I'm flattered, really," she spoke, reaching for his dropped hand and taking it into hers. She gave it a gentle squeeze before releasing it, and glanced around as if she were searching for something.

“I... have something I'd like to say to you, but I'm afraid this is too..." she paused glancing around the ballroom, “too public. Would you mind if we... if we took a walk?" she asked, her throat working as she seemed to have difficulty swallowing.

He almost couldn't believe that she'd want to, with the way he'd bumbled through something that could well have made her uncomfortable. He certainly wouldn't have blamed her if it had. “Not at all," he said softly, tilting his head at her. “Did you have a destination in mind?"

She nodded. “The knights' hall is empty right now, and... it's not too far from here, but far enough," she stated. “And... there's also something there that I'd like to give you," she spoke the last part softly, barely audible over the conversations and music. She turned, then, glancing over her shoulder for a moment before continuing as if she knew he would follow.

He wouldn't have dreamed of not following her, and had not even a thought to spare for the fact that they might be seen leaving together by the very eyes he'd been trying to keep away from her. In just this moment, hearing what she had to say seemed so much more important.

Once they'd cleared the ballroom and stepped out into the cool air of the Garreg Mach grounds, Cyril took a few large steps forward, so as to be walking at her side rather than behind her. He didn't touch her, though, somehow more hesitant to do so now that he'd said what he had. There had been a sense, before, in which their contact was... not ambiguous, exactly, but... comfortably vague. Even to his own mind. He could acknowledge it as a feature of closeness without thinking too hard about what kind of closeness it was.

But now it felt like he'd burdened them both with the blatantly-obvious knowledge of at least part of the nature of what he felt for her, and he no longer had any idea whether such things would even be acceptable, much less welcome.

If she felt the same about such reservations, she didn't show it. Instead, she stepped in a little closer towards him so that her hand reached out towards his and gently held it in hers. “I wanted to say thank you, Cyril," she spoke, breaking the silence that had grown on the way towards the knights' hall. She glanced at him from the corner of her eyes before she shifted them back forward.

“I... asked your father when your birthday was," she confessed softly, glancing down at the ground for a moment, her hand squeezing his tightly before relaxing. “He told me it was the end of this month, and... well, I thought it would be nice to get you something for it. The only problem was that... I didn't know what to get you. Nothing seemed to stand out, and I wanted to get you something special."

She took a moment to take in a deep breath, and perhaps, to let her statement sink in. “And then I found it. Something that is a part of me that I can give to you, because..." she trailed off as if she didn't know how to finish that sentence.

Almost hesitantly, he adjusted the fit of their hands so that his fingers were laced with hers, tilting his head down towards her slightly as she spoke. He would admit to some curiosity about the gift, and some surprise that she'd gone so far as to ask his father when his birthday was, but really that she'd thought of him at all was the part that most caught his attention. And admittedly, at least a little bit of his imagination.

“You don't—" he paused, unsure how to express his thought. “You've already given me so much," he said instead, something true that wouldn't sound ungrateful, because that was the opposite of how he felt. “Truly. I don't think—no. I know I wouldn't be the person I am today without you. The others had a lot to do with it, of course, but nobody as much as you."

“When you say such wonderful words... it almost makes me think that..." she spoke softly, shaking her head as if she didn't want to continue. Taking in a soft breath, she seemed to chance a glance towards him, and studied him for a moment. “I meant to tell you about... the time when we last spoke about my new reason to live," she spoke in a quiet voice, almost as if she were afraid to continue. She glanced away, her hand tightening around his as she remained quiet for another moment.

“I... lied when I said it was hope." She swallowed thickly, then, refusing to make eye contact with him, it seemed. “It... it was you. You had given me a new reason because... I," she seemed to struggle with her words, before she shook her head. She remained quiet after that.

He had given her the reason?

“Senka." He knew that most of the others called her Sen. Knew that he was most likely welcome to do so, too, since to all appearances he hadn't in fact ruined anything with careless words, earlier. But he thought her whole name, her full name, was beautiful—perhaps the loveliest one he knew. He hadn't ever really been the sort of person to think about such things, before, but even casting his memory back, even considering the names of people he liked, as well as names like Sothis and Seiros that supposedly belonged to divine beings... hers was the one he liked the most, and it seemed a shame not to use the whole thing.

He set his hands on her shoulders—bare, they'd never been bare under his touch before and damn if that wasn't doing something to him. The feel of it, somehow cool compared to his own resting temperature and all the more pleasant for the contrast. “I want—"

How could he tell her what was in his heart? That what he wanted more than anything else was to keep his promise to her, the promise to always be there when she needed him? That he wanted to make an addendum—that he also wanted to be there in whatever way she should need him? That, when she graduated, he wanted to leave this place and follow her wherever she should go? It all seemed like too much, like more than he deserved to say, because this woman was a princess, and even if she was without a country now, she wouldn't be forever. And when she got hers back, she would be a queen, and he would still be himself. Still a commoner, a mercenary with nothing to offer her but his strength.

And that was hers, if and for as long as she wanted it.

In the end, what he ended up saying didn't capture nearly all of it, but it at least got something important. “Would you—when you graduate, when Sorcha gives you Duscur back, would you hire me?" He paused, grimaced, then hastened to elaborate. “I don't mean to charge you or anything, and I'm not asking you to make someone like me a knight, but—but I want to keep my promise."

Her lips pursed together at his statement, and she finally glanced up at him, pausing in her steps and forcing him to do the same. There was something in her eyes, the way she looked at him seemed serious as if she were struggling with her own thoughts. Without much thought, it seemed, she brought a hand to the side of his face and held it there, keeping her gaze steady with his.

“I'd make you king, Cyril," she replied simply, her expression serious as was her voice. It did not waver, though as she continued holding his face in her hand. “Because that is how much you mean to me," the word sounded almost strained. She released her other hand from his hold, and placed it on the other side.

“Vridel said that I shouldn't decide for you, that you should decide what the risks are for me choosing you," she continued in a hushed voice, almost as if she were afraid to say it any louder than that. “I can't take back what I've said, and I don't want to, but you have the right to know, too. That is how much you mean to me, Cyril, that... that I would make you King." Her hands fell from his face, then, and her gaze fell to the floor.

He couldn't believe his ears. To know that she thought that much of him—he was fairly sure he couldn't have said anything if he'd wanted to.

But Cyril wasn't particularly inclined to that just now, anyway. Instead, he pulled her in close, stepping forward to meet her body with his own, winding his arms around her and just holding her to him. He was sure his arms must be shaking, that she must be able to feel it, but he couldn't bring himself to care.

Never.

Never in his life had someone thought so highly of him. He was sure of it. He almost couldn't believe it. Believe that she felt so strongly for him, after such a short time. And yet—and yet. “Three months," he said softly. “Three months, and I'm not your teacher anymore. If you still—if you still feel that way in three months, Senka, I'll show you how much you mean to me."

Her fingers curled into his back as she wrapped her arms tightly around him. “Three months," she murmured softly against him. “Three months isn't that long of a wait," she continued, her arms wrapping tighter around him. “I can wait," she glanced up at him, then, a soft smile on her face, but her eyes were lighter. Lighter than the amethyst shade they typically were, but that might have been the light. Hesitantly, as if she didn't want to, she released her hold from him, and took a step back. Her hand reached out for his, though, as she took it.

“I still have something to give you," she spoke, turning her attention in the direction of the knights' hall. She pulled him with her as they continued walking, her hand clasped with his, tightly. When they'd arrived at the knights' hall, she let go of his hand and walked towards one of the weapon barracks. There was a long poled weapon wrapped in cloth that she reached for, pulling it from its stand. She held it for a moment longer before she made her way towards him.

“This... you'd be able to make more use of it than I ever could. It has been in my family for as long as I can remember," she spoke, as if to explain the weapon in her hand. She held it out towards him, though, and smiled. “It's known as the Arrow of Indra... and... I thought that you should have it, Cyril. It's a lance that helps those inclined to using magic with their weapons, channel it easier. And... since you're the only one I know who does so with your lances... I want you to have this. From me, to you."

He took it carefully. Under his hands, it reacted a little, almost tugging gently on his inherent magic, as if inviting him to funnel it into the haft and point of the lance. With his other hand, he unwound the cloth, exposing a simple, clean design with etchings. He traced them with a finger, and they glowed dimly red for a moment, before fading back to normal. Using great care, he re-wrapped the gift, using the same hand to catch Senka's chin.

“Thank you," he said softly. “I will treasure it. Because it is of you." From didn't quite seem to cover it, not when it was a piece of her family history, which he knew well was dearer to her than most. And surely... surely the artifacts of that history, like this one, were few to be found, now.

Leaning down, he gently pressed his lips to her brow, just next to her hairline. This much, he thought he could allow himself, here where no one would see and think less of her for it. Hurt her for it. Three months—he could make it three months, long enough for the circumstances to change, for them to become free to say and do things they could not yet allow themselves.

If it was for her, he'd be willing to wait his entire life.

She caught his face with her hands, and brought it closer to hers so that she could brush her lips over his cheek. “You're welcome, Cyril," she replied as she released his face. “We should probably head back. From what I hear, there is a bet to be won, is there not?" she spoke, her lips pulling up into a sly grin, almost as if she knew that he and the others had their own tango competition. She probably did, considering that she was friends with both Reynard and Vridel.

“I don't think we should disappoint them by not showing up," she added, holding her hand out towards him.

He felt his lips pull up into half a smirk. “I wonder what they're all going to get me when I win? I'll be sure to share. Couldn't do it without you, after all."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1180 - Ethereal Moon - Wednesday the 24th
Goddess Tower - Evening - Cool
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer grumbled to himself as he rubbed his arms. Part of him knew he should have worn a coat, but damn it, he was being stubborn! None of the coats he owned would match his outfit properly, and he really didn't want to shop for one. So now he was suffering a bit because of a stupid decision. It wasn't that bad, to be honest. Garreg Mach didn't get as cold as some of the other places, however; part of him wondered why he'd even agreed to go to the Goddess Tower. He was having a blast watching Devon and Sylvi dancing, and the almost disaster of a kiss, happen. Whether it was the drinks that Devon had before, or what Rey had him smoking, Mercer couldn't be too sure where the new courage had come from, but he would at least be happy for the young man.

Not to mention Hanneman and Manuela. The former seemed rather inclined to not dance, however; Manuela had managed to drag him out onto the dance floor when they announced the music for a waltz. It was amusing, to say the least, the shade of red Hanneman's face had turned during that dance. It was so innocent that Mercer briefly wondered how Hanneman would handle a tango with Maneula.

Probably not well.

Turning his head slightly, he glanced around at a mostly empty area. Vridel said that there was someone waiting for him, here, but now that he thought about it, he shouldn't have trusted Vi. For all Mercer knew, Vridel was trying to get back at him for whatever reason; Mercer had given him plenty, after all. Sighing softly, he ran a hand through his hair, shifting the strands so that they were settled properly. The good thing about his hair was that he didn't really have to style it. He could just let it be, and it would be fine, for any occasion.

“Man, I'm going to kick his ass when I see him, next," he muttered out loud. Not that he actually would; it was actually nice and peaceful up here.

A quiet humming alerted him to the fact that he was no longer alone, along with soft footsteps that nevertheless landed distinctly on the brick path. Heels—and the voice was Sorcha's. She didn't seem to have spotted him yet, and was walking along the edge of the path, where the stone wall blocked a sheer drop-off near the tower. It was a long way down, but of course neither of them was the sort to get nervous just from proximity to heights. They'd make for poor flyers if they were. Her face was turned out towards the cliffside, where the night breeze was drifting in towards the monastery. It stirred her hair a little, letting it catch the light, not entirely dissimilar from the way the subtle pattern on her dress did, really.

Mercer sighed to himself, knowing then that it was, indeed, a set up. Chances were she was probably here because Senka told her to meet her there, or some other thing. Still, she did look really lovely with the way she caught the light. Mercer was too far gone to not know his own feelings. And he knew he had them for Sorcha, however; he couldn't. There were so many things in their way that... even if he did tell her how he felt, there was just nothing the two of them could do about it. She wouldn't abdicate her throne because her people needed her. Whether or not they knew it, yet.

And the Alliance and Almyra needed him. There were so many things he wanted to do, wanted to accomplish, but every time he looked at her, saw the way she looked at him, Mercer was afraid that he'd give up all of those ideals for her. He came dangerously close every time, but he managed to reel himself in. That day during the White Heron Cup, he did want to kiss her, to show her that he does feel about her the way she thinks people can't, or shouldn't.

When she'd wormed her way into his heart, he couldn't be sure. Part of him suspected it might have been the very first moment they met as children. When he'd cheered her up because her smile had meant everything to him as a child. When people were still ridiculing him, trying to have him assassinated even at that age... her smile had made him feel like he was someone. He couldn't be sure, exactly, what the feeling was, but he knew he was smitten, then. Sighing softly, he debated with himself, and lost. Quietly, so that he did not startle her, he called out.

“Hey, Sor, what brings you up here?"

Her step hitched and came to a stop, her attention turning towards him in a way that suggested surprise but not so much of it as to startle her. Her eyes widened momentarily when they came to rest on him. For a moment, a very similar smile to the one he remembered spread across her face, but it faded a moment later, into something milder, almost tepid.

“Oh. Hello, Mercer. I, uh—I needed some fresh air, honestly. It's... stifling, in there. Sen suggested I take a walk out this way. Apparently the Goddess tower is sort of famous." She paused, looking a bit unsure, but then approached, heels clicking softly, until she was a polite distance away, then turned a little to regard the tower.

“Do you know the story?" It seemed to be an invitation to ask for it, if he didn't.

He settled on a softer smile than usual, and shook his head. “I'm not familiar with it, so, no. I haven't heard it," he stated. It hadn't been too important at the time when he was investigating the Church, and he didn't really care much about the lore. From what he could remember, it didn't seem important to what his goal was.

“Care to tell me about it and why it's supposedly famous?" he questioned, arching a brow in her direction. “Oh, and you look beautiful, by the way," he stated, allowing his smile to form into a light grin before it faded. She could take it however she wanted to; he would not blame her either way because he knew she would take it as some kind of joke from him. She didn't take him seriously, in most cases, which was for the best.

Sorcha glanced down at herself at the compliment, wearing a rather uncertain grimace as she did. “Thank you," she said dubiously, clearly unwilling to assume he was serious but not immediately playing it off like a joke either. “I tried, I suppose." She shrugged, as though it really weren't any concern of hers, but there was a faint hint of something in her eyes for just a moment. Something almost akin to pain, perhaps.

“Anyway." She returned her attention towards the tower. “Lore says a powerful Emperor once came here to pray to the Goddess for guidance, and atop this very tower, he met a woman who had done the same—she was a new student at the Academy, you see. The legend says it was love at first sight." She huffed softly. “Of course, the people in question are Vivi's parents, and supposedly it did really happen. My father also said he fell in love with Lady Patricia at first sight. I suppose some people must inspire it somehow." Her tone was ambiguous—it was impossible to tell if she seriously thought that.

She shook her head. “Do you believe that kind of thing is possible? To love someone without knowing anything about them?" Folding her arms so that her hands gripped her biceps, Sorcha tilted her head at him, her expression oddly neutral.

“Of course," he stated in a matter-of-fact tone. He mimicked her stance, folding his arms over his chest as he arched a brow at her. “But that's only a superficial kind of love. They're falling in love with a person's appearance, and even then I'd hesitate to call it love. To be frank, love has different meanings to different people. What you might think is love might not be the same for say, Vridel, or Teach," he continued, slumping his shoulders slightly.

“I believe that the so-called love at first sight schtick is mostly because it's easy to romanticize. You can't really love someone based on their appearances without knowing, you see. Take me, for example," he decided to state, pointing to himself. “People would fall in love with this face, but they wouldn't fall in love with me, as a person. It's a shallow thing to do if that's all you'd ever want. A pretty face and nothing more." Mercer could say that without arrogance because he had people say that to him, before.

“Not that I think King Lambert or Emperor Ionius didn't really fall in love with Lady Patricia at first sight."

Sorcha hummed softly. “To be honest, I never found this story very romantic at all," she said with a little shake of the head. “For one... Ionius was married at the time, and while I can understand political marriages and not loving who you're with... I still think you should be loyal to that person." Her eyes narrowed slightly. “But he made her his concubine and then took several more, and it just makes me think... if he really loved her, why would he do that? I suppose some people can love more than one person, but... the story never sounded like that to me. It sounded like a man who was infatuated with a pretty girl and felt like he had to collect her."

Her eyes fell to the floor. “And my father... as much as I hate to admit it, I think he was probably the same. It's not so uncommon, really. To see a face, and not the person underneath." Pursing her lips, she expelled a breath through her nose.

“I always thought... that was probably what would happen to me, too. I'd just be added to someone's collection of status symbols, because my father and Lady Patricia would have a son and that would be all I was left to do. So I got lost in all these stories, about real love and things, and I thought..." she swallowed. “I thought wouldn't that be nice? To be seen. To be someone's partner, and not just something for their shelf, or an accessory for their arm." She snorted. “And then everyone was kind enough to tell me that I was the sort of accessory you left in the opaque cabinet, which was even better."

She looked at him, then, ruefully. “Now I suppose I'm going to be a queen, and no one will ever be able to put me on a shelf, but... I still won't have the only thing I ever really wanted." Her hands tightened where they held her arms, and she shook her head. “I feel so selfish, for wanting that. I have my people to think about, after all, so really it should be enough that I can help them. But sometimes... sometimes I wish I could hope for a little of my own happiness, too, you know?"

A pause, and then: “Sorry. I didn't mean to just... tell you all of that. Stupid legend."

Mercer could understand that; he honestly could, because it was something he wanted, too. To him, Sorcha could never be an accessory. She was meant to shine, allowed to do what she did best, and he wanted to be the person who supported her. To be the one who...

He shook his head faintly. “It's not a stupid legend, Sor. And there's nothing wrong for wanting something for yourself. You already think of your people, more than they deserve, but... wouldn't it make them happy to see you happy, too? Happiness is infectuous, and if you radiate it with someone you loved, who wouldn't treat you like you were an accessory, but a partner, instead, I think they could forgive you for being selfish for it."

“And you'd never be an accessory, with me. You'd be free to be yourself, smart, talented, beautiful, and you'd change things, Sor. Change them in ways that would make people see that you are more than they ever thought you could be. And you'd prove them all that they were wrong for treating you the way they did. If..." he paused in his own words, belatedly realizing what he'd said, and shook his head.

“Everyone deserves a selfish kind of happiness, so don't sell yourself short, Sor," he stated, resigned to placing a hand on her shoulder before dropping it.

“But I don't get to be with you, do I?" She said it so quietly it was almost a whisper, so quietly he almost didn't hear. She tipped her chin up to look directly into his eyes with her own, that crystal-clear blue of them somehow bright in the dark, earnest and melancholy at the very same time. “Even if you wanted me, my people need me and yours need you."

Shifting one of her hands, she closed it over the pendant hanging from her neck. It had been hard to spot when she was angled away from him, but she wore it over the gown. It wouldn't fit under; clearly she'd chosen to wear it over rather than leave it behind. It would have had to be a deliberate choice. A purposeful one. “And so the best I could hope for would be someone I liked well enough, who might be a friend someday." She shook her head. “I couldn't."

Mercer sighed heavily, wrapping his arms over her shoulders to pull her to him. “Of course I want you, Sor. Why wouldn't I?" he began. He'd already said too much, and this... this would be easier for the both of them. To admit that, even if they did want each other, they couldn't have each other. There was too much in the way, and it had nothing to do with whether or not people needed them. Mercer knew he could leave the Alliance to Alaric, and it would be just fine; Duke Goneril was a capable person, and Mercer had no doubt that the Alliance would thrive under Alaric's guidance, however; Almyra was a different story.

“Like I've said; you're smart, beautiful, talented, funny, silly, and just... a wonderful person. But we don't get to choose this." They couldn't choose it. They weren't Vridel and Amalthea, and they weren't Senka and Teach. They could have whatever it was they wanted, but for him and Sorcha?

“You'll find someone, eventually. Someone you'll fall in love with and want to be with more than anything in the world," and something tugged at his heart at that thought.

“You'll find someone who'll love you as much as I do."

“How can you say that?" she whispered, her voice cracking softly. “Even if—even if I found someone who loved me, I'd never be able to—" She took in a trembling breath, pressing her forehead to his shoulder and clenching her hands in his waistcoat as much as the fabric would allow. “They wouldn't be you. And if it's not you, then—" she squeezed him tightly with her arms; he could hear the telltale sniffle that gave her tears away.

“If it's not you, I don't want it."

He smiled faintly. “I can say that because it's true. And that's a selfishness we can't allow ourselves, Sor," he spoke softly, placing a hand on the back of her head to pull her closer to him. His head rested gently on hers; he was only an inch taller than her, after all. “You could at least try to love them, right? If someone loved you, don't you think they deserved just the small chance for you to possibly open yourself up to it? We don't get to have this; you should try and be happy with someone who isn't me."

He really didn't blame her, though, for her thoughts. He didn't think he'd be able to do that, either, be happy and love someone else. That was just how these things were, and it hurt.

She pulled away from him at that, indignant. Streaks on her face reflected too much light where the tears had fallen, but now she was regarding him almost... angrily? She drew back and whacked him in the chest, enough to sting a little, but not really hurt. “How dare you, Mercer von Riegan. How dare you—how dare you make me—make me love you so much it hurts and then try to tell me to be happy with someone else! I won't." She sobbed, a fresh wave of tears falling from her eyes.

“I can't, don't you understand? It's always—it's always been you. It's always going to be you. I hope—I hope you can do that, but I can't. I can't." Shaking her head emphatically, she tore herself away and tried to slip past him, down the staircase that would eventually take her towards the lake.

“And you think it'll be easy for me?" Mercer spoke sighing heavily, grabbing her by the arm to prevent her from leaving. “I couldn't do that, either Sorcha, but you at least owe it to yourself to try. I was never going to have a choice. Never. Maybe... if I were just the Alliance, if I was just Duke von Riegan, I could have abdicated. I could have handed the leadership role to Alaric and be done with it. I could have followed you wherever you wanted me to, but I can't. I'm not just Duke von Riegan. I'm Prince von Riegan, and that..." didn't mean much to him, either, if he were being honest.

“It means something to the people in Almyra," was the only explanation he could give her. “It means that I hold the only chance of Fódlan and Almyra becoming something more than just tentative neighbors waiting for one to attack the other." He released her arm, then, and slumped his shoulders.

“If you can't, then I won't give you a choice. Must I make you hate me, too?" Because he was so very good at that. He could make someone hate him if he had to. If that was what it took for her to move on from him... then he would.

“You think I don't know who you are?" Her voice sounded almost hurt. Like something he'd said had wounded her, rather than just the circumstances themselves. “You think I haven't seen how you pretend to be lazy but usually show up earlier than everyone else? You think I don't know how you joke around with everyone to make what we do hurt less? You think I didn't notice how protective you were of Thea, or how you always seem to be around right when Vivi needs someone to talk to? That I haven't noticed how sometimes you intentionally shoot someone else's target so you did the killing instead of them? The way your eyes get hard sometimes when you talk about strategy, or what you might have to do to win in one of Cyril's battle scenarios? I know you, Mercer. I know exactly who you are. I would never, ever ask you to give anything up for me. Not the Alliance, not Almyra, none of it."

She swallowed thickly. “But no matter what you think, I will never hate you. Do your worst if you have to—but I can't. I've tried. But I can't hate you any more than I can love anyone else." Her lip trembled, but she stood as tall as he'd ever seen her.

“What I owe myself is to be myself. And the person that I am loves you. You can't talk me out of it, because it's not that kind of shallow feeling. It's not your face. It's not your title. It's not any one thing about you. It's just you."

“I can see I already have done my worst," he whispered. He didn't deserve that; he didn't deserve her, and he knew there was no going back. Even if he wanted to, he couldn't. He smiled ruefully at her. “C'mere, idiot," he spoke, opening his arms to her.

“It seems that no matter what we try to do, we just can't. I guess... the least we can do is enjoy what we have now, right?"

“Who're you calling idiot, idiot?" Somehow, embarrassment seemed to catch up with Sorcha now of all times, and her face slowly reddened as she stepped into his arms, winding hers around his back in turn.

“I guess..." She tucked her chin over his shoulder, speaking in a murmur so soft it was a mumble. “I guess I probably said it in there a bunch of times like a moron, but... but I love you." He could hear her swallow thickly. “I'm sorry. For everything."

He chuckled softly. “I know. I love you, too," he spoke softly, tucking her head beneath his chin. “And who knows... maybe we can change the world just enough that... nothing will keep us apart. I'd ask you to wait until then, but... I already know you will," he stated, grinning against her head.

“Yeah, well... just don't complain when you find some prettier, nicer girl and are still stuck with me, then."

Mercer snorted.

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 - Ethereal Moon - Friday the 26th
Garreg Mach Outskirts - Afternoon - Intermittent Rain
Cyril Eisner


Cyril shifted the Arrow in his hand; while he'd been almost hesitant to use the weapon at first, he was satisfied as to its durability. Old it might be, but it wasn't fragile, and he'd needed a replacement for the javelin he'd lost at Zanado anyway. It was a much nicer weapon than anything generally available in the armory, and though he kept the Sword of the Creator at his back, he had no intention to wield it unless necessary.

He and his father had just met in the Entrance Hall after Jeralt's return from his mission when Alois had interrupted with a report of demonic beasts appearing at the old chapel. What was worse, several students had been headed that way just before, apparently acting strangely. His father was convinced that the beasts could not have breached the Monastery's walls. The timing, then, made one possibility likelier than others, and it almost didn't bear thinking about.

Still, he'd assembled his students in a hurry, following Alois and his father to the location. The situation was even worse than anticipated—there were cowering students still scattered about the large area around the old chapel, and demonic beats pouring out of it—reptilians, mostly, it seemed to be.

“I'll head up that way," Jeralt said, hefting his own lance and nodding towards the chapel. “Alois, cover the way we came to make sure no one else gets caught in this. The rest of you should protect those students."

Cyril nodded, well aware that doing this would also involve fighting past several of the beasts. “Mercer, Sorcha—head for the far group, near the back there, and grab anyone behind the chapel we can't see yet. Shout if you need backup."

Sorcha, mounted on Lady, nodded immediately, shrugging her bow off her shoulder and nocking an arrow. “You've got it, Professor." She shot a quick glance at Mercer, and the two of them took off.

“Vridel, Thea, Devon, Sylvi. You four head left. The rest of us are going right. Stay together. Prioritize your own lives, no matter what. Some of these people may be your friends, but you need to keep your heads as much as possible and keep each other alive, okay?"

Thea looked a little hesitant, at first, before glancing at Vridel, and nodded. Sylvi nodded as well, her eyes narrowed slightly in the direction of the students before the four of them left. Senka and Deirdre shared a look before they turned their attention on Cyril.

“Let's do this," Deirdre stated, summoning a bit of magic to her hands as Senka pulled Blutgang from its place at her back.

“Deirdre, Sofi, and I can take care of the first beast, and call it away from the students. You and Reynard should take care of the second one," she stated, glancing towards Deirdre who nodded. “It'll make it easier for us to protect the students that way if we divert the beasts' attention," she continued as way of explanation, perhaps.

“Of course," he replied simply. He expected the second group wouldn't need to split quite so much, which was why he'd given them the slightly smaller number. The demonic beasts here were relatively small in comparison to some of the others they'd faced, especially Maurice, but at the moment he only hoped that would not make his students too lax.

But he had confidence he'd taught them better than that, and they weren't the sorts of people to slack anyway. So with a nod and a look that lingered perhaps a touch too long, he left Senka, gesturing Reynard along with him after the farther of the two beasts on their side, which was presently making a beeline for Jeralt.

It wasn't going to have a chance to so much as swipe at him. Feeding raw magic into the Arrow, Cyril lashed out with it, throwing forward a bolt of lighting from the tip of the lance and a Thoron from his other hand. The twin bolts hitting the creature certainly drew its attention; the actual arrows Reynard fired were ignored, even though they buried themselves into the very same wounds the magic opened up. Perhaps it hadn't even noticed that the pains were discrete; Reynard had fired right on the tail of the spells.

“Go around," Cyril told him.

“Got it." Reynard did his best work unseen, and the both of them knew it, so it fell to Cyril to draw the attention.

Not a problem.

Not too far, Deirdre, Sofia, and Senka had engaged their beast, as well. Deirdre was shouting profanities at the beast as if to draw its attention so that Senka and Sofia could attack from behind. She'd summoned the dark magic, swarm, to her hands, and flung it towards the beast, catching it in the face as it seemed unfazed by the attempt.

Mercer had dismounted Sir, it seemed, to place a student on the wyvern's back. He sent Sir away, as he pulled the sword from his back and charged at one of the beasts, intent it seemed, to draw its attention away from another student. Sorcha remained mounted, but had taken Lady to the ground to cover another small cluster of students, and added her arrows to Mercer's efforts from there.

“What... what the, what is this?" Deirdre shouted as they managed to fell their beast. It was disintegrating in a manner similar to Maurice had, however; unlike Maurice, the beast turned into what appeared to be a student. The student groaned softly before expelling their last breath. If the beasts were, somehow, students transformed, then killing the beasts, meant that they'd be killing the students as well. That didn't seem to sit well with Deirdre, though, who grimaced at the scene.

Damn. He'd really hoped it wasn't that. The last thing he wanted was to hurt students, but... he couldn't let them kill the others. They'd seen a human who'd become a beast before, and the only way back from that was...

“Focus!" he called down to Deirdre, though it would have served just as well to warn everyone else. If they got distracted now, they and the remaining, innocent students could be in for a world of hurt.

Reynard felled their beast, and Cyril kept moving, scanning the grounds for any others. His dad was almost to the chapel—it might be time to reinforce him.

Deirdre seemed to snap out of her stupor, and nodded her head. Thea didn't seem too reserved in fighting the beast she was currently facing, even with the knowledge that it was a student. Her face was pulled into a light grimace, but she seemed to understand the importance of what was going on and what they needed to do. Sylvi seemed to be reinforcing Thea at the creatures' side, keeping the creature's focus on the both of them while Vridel and Devon attacked from the other side.

It wasn't much longer before their beast was felled, and they seemed to focus on the last cluster of students who seemed to be shaken by the events.

Mercer and Sorcha felled theirs at around the same time, but Cyril and Reynard were already almost to his father at the chapel, and it would take the others a while to reach it. There was a dimly-familiar figure ahead, cowering like the other students—it would seem Monica had been among those caught up in this.

“There's... nothing here?" Jeralt said, pulling his horse to a stop and dismounting just as Cyril and Reynard arrived. “Hey kid!" he called out to Monica, who only then seemed to realize they were present, lifting her head and spotting them with an expression of pure relief. “It's clear; you can get outta here." He approached and offered a hand down to help her up.

“Oh!" she breathed, reaching out to take Jeralt's hand and leverage herself back to her feet. With her other, she dusted at her skirt, as if to shake off dirt and bits of shrub from where she'd been taking refuge in the bushes. “Thank you so much for saving me!"

“Not a—"

“Knife!" Reynard called sharply, throwing one of his own without hesitation towards Monica. Cyril, uncertain but trusting his friend, went for the Arrow—

But it was too late. Monica had twisted, Reynard's blade slicing so close to her cheek it cut a few of the hairs framing her face. But in the same motion, before Jeralt could so much as react, she plunged her knife into the base of his spine, somehow punching clean through the chainmail beneath his tunic.

Jeralt pulled in a sharp breath, his entire body jerking with the pain of the wound, eyes rounding in shock.

“Pathetic old man," Monica lilted. “Even with her gift, you weren't any more than this." She scoffed, yanking the knife back out, glistening red. Jeralt collapsed to his knees.

“How dare you get in the way of my plans... you dog of the Church."

Cyril didn't hesitate. Reaching inside himself for the place the girl—Sothis—resided, he pushed the flow of her power outwards. For a split second, the entire scene was rendered in negative colors, and then he wound back time—and felt the wind abruptly halt, spitting him back out further along in events than he'd expected.

There, Jeralt was offering his hand to Monica—

“Knife!" Reynard threw his, and Cyril was ready, hefting the Arrow and aiming it for where he knew Monica would be when she dodged—

But this time, the spear clattered off a vivid purple barrier that appeared seemingly from nowhere, wielded by a man he'd never seen before. Jeralt fell to his knees; the barrier faded.

Monica gasped. “What are you doing here?" she asked the new figure.

The man was sickly-pale and white-haired, much like Solon in his appearance but taller, more commanding, with the appearance of someone middle-aged and a short, white beard. "You must survive," he said in a low voice. "Merely because there is still a role that I require you to fulfill."

He lunged, grabbing Monica and teleporting them both away.

Cyril didn't care. Couldn't care. He reached for the power again, unsure how this other man had known to intercede against his attack when Reynard's alone provoked no response. But he had his magic, he could easily prepare two blows at once and he—

The world turned black, froze, but did not shatter.

What? Time, it wouldn't—it wouldn't wind back, even when he pushed it. What's going on? Sothis?!

He cast his eyes around the void, only for the girl to suddenly appear to his left, lit by a column of soft green light as she always seemed to be. Her expression was contorted, brows furrowed and lips pulled into an almost-snarling grimace that didn't suit her childish features.

“I—I can't," she said, her tone colored by disbelief. We can't. I don't understand. That man—how is he doing this?! Nothing is—"

“What do you mean we can't?" Cyril snapped. If he'd had any thought at all for anything but the urgency of this, he'd have been surprised by the vehemence in his own voice.

Sothis certainly looked surprised, but she could only shake her head in reply. “That man... something is blocking my power. It's... it's as though this moment must be."

“Must—what are you talking about? Aren't you a Goddess? Can't you decide what must be?" an unfamiliar feeling clawed at his chest, cold like fear and urgent like desperation. Panic, some distant part of him recognized. He was beginning to panic, because if they could not rewind time, could not stop that man from interfering a second time, then—

“I'm not almighty, Cyril," Sothis said quietly, her features morphing into something aggrieved. “I—I'm so sorry."

Before he could respond, he blinked, and suddenly time was moving again, at the same place he'd left it.

“No," he whispered. His father's body hit the ground with a dull clank of armor, and Cyril ran, dropping to his knees at Jeralt's side and turning him over. What humble healing magic he had was in his hands already, but he knew just from looking at the exit wound, from the crimson stain spreading over his father's rust-orange tunic, that he'd already lost too much blood, and no healing magic could put it back in his body for him. The blade Monica had used had been wickedly serrated, to have made him bleed so much so fast, but when Cyril tried again, this time to use the power just to give him a few more seconds to stop the bleeding, nothing happened at all.

Betrayal and grief warred in him; some part of him railed against Sothis, knowing well that she could hear him, but there was no response. Nothing at all.

“S-sorry," Jeralt rasped, all but limp in Cyril's grip already. His face was pulled, pinched with the excruciating pain he had to be feeling, but he managed to try for half a smile. “It looks like... I'm going to have to leave you now."

Cyril shook his head, that winding tendril of panic exploding at the words, at the confirmation of what he already knew but could not make himself believe. He pressed the hand with the spell closer against his father's stomach, warm blood seeping between his fingers and slithering down his arm. The sky overhead darkened, the thick clouds that had been threatening all afternoon finally creeping over the sun. His eyes stung, vision blurring strangely; he couldn't force the words he wanted out past his tongue, couldn't force the healing to make his father's body whole.

“Dad," he whispered.

Jeralt's face blurred a moment, then two raindrops landed on his cheek.

He huffed, a weak, thready sound. “To think... the first time I saw you cry... your tears would be for me."

Not—not raindrops.

“Dad... no." Cyril swallowed thickly.

“It's sad," Jeralt mused, his eyes faintly glazed. “And yet I'm happy for it. I always wondered if maybe you didn't..." he swallowed, shaking his head faintly as if to banish the thought. “Thank you, Cyril. My son."

“I love you," Cyril said, almost defiantly. If that had been what he wondered about—then if there was nothing else he could do, he could at least—

Jeralt exhaled softly, lips forming into a smile even as his eyes fell shut. “Love you... too." His chest stilled; his body went slack.

Cyril's shoulders trembled; he didn't hear the rolling thunder, or feel the rain. It wasn't a numbness, wasn't the kind of not-feeling he'd known before. That was like a desert and this—this was drowning. Water all around, shutting out everything else. Pain. Grief. He felt like his ribcage had been snapped open, something vital torn out still warm, and all that was left were the raw, aching edges. His body bowed over, forehead nearly touching the personal device Jeralt had always worn on the front of his tunics, stitched there in white thread. Flecked now with dirt, and blood, and rain.

His hand clenched in the fabric, the spell guttering out with no living body to be applied to, and a sob tore from his throat.

Jeralt was dead.

His father—the one constant in his entire life—was gone.

There was a hand on his shoulder, then, and a person kneeling next to him. It wasn't until she moved into his line of vision, that he noticed it was Senka. “Cyril," she called out, softly at first as her eyes drifted towards Jeralt. She exhaled a shuddering breath, but glanced back at him. “Cyril, I'm so sorry. He's... he's gone," she spoke, dropping her hand to Jeralt's face. She appeared to struggle with her own tears, but failed to keep them back.

“The others... they're safe, and he helped save them," she continued softly. Her eyes shifted back towards Cyril and he could see her tears falling just as freely. “I'm here for you, whatever you need, Cyril."

“Whatever you need."

With the hand not mostly covered in his father's blood, Cyril reached for her, needing the touch in a way he couldn't even explain to himself, much less her. He banded his arm around her waist, tucking her as close into his side as she'd allow, and let his brow fall onto her shoulder, his other had still clutching his father's tunic.

Gradually, the tears stopped, his breathing evened. He was sure the others were waiting for some kind of word. That someone from the monastery would come to check on them if he didn't report soon. And yet—and yet he couldn't make himself move. Couldn't make himself stir, let go of Jeralt or especially not relinquish his hold on Senka.

He thought, at one point, that he heard Sorcha, starting to direct some of the others to ferry the remaining students back, and speaking for a moment to Vridel and Mercer about making a report. But he could seem to make his attention focus properly. She might have said something to Senka, too, but everything outside of the two feet immediately around him was just.. a blurry haze, indistinct and intrusive.

“We should go, Cyril," Senka spoke softly to him, her arms shifting so that they encircled him as best as they could. “Jeralt... they're going to take care of him, and Mercer, Sorcha, and Vridel are going to report to Rhea, but," she paused shifting her head to rest against his.

“I need to get you back to the monastery," she spoke gently to him before she pulled back, gesturing for him to stand with her.

He found he couldn't speak. At the same time as he had no desire to move, he desired even less to resist her in this moment, and so he stood with her, keeping hold of her hand with his and regarding her with dull eyes. He trusted her though, knew that what she was saying made sense, even if he couldn't make sense of anything at the moment. He tried to say this, but in the end could only manage the barest of nods.

The one nice thing was, he knew she'd understand.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

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I.Y. 1180 - Ethereal Moon - Saturday the 27th
Cyril's Room - Early Morning - Cold
Senka Rinaldi


Life was cruel.

Senka knew this better than anyone, that life was cruel to those that did not deserve it. And certainly Cyril did not deserve to lose his father that way. Yesterday... Senka had never seen Cyril with that much raw emotion and it broke her heart. It broke her heart to see him like that, to know that his father was gone, and there was nothing she could do to help him ease that pain. She wanted more than anything in the world, right now, that she could help him ease the pain and suffering he was no doubtedly feeling. Losing a parent was never easy, and to lose them in such a way... Senka shook the thought from her mind as she pulled in a shuddering breath.

The nice thing about being in the commoner dorm area was that her room was next to his. She was standing outside of his door, contemplating what she wanted to do, say to him. What could she say? Nothing that would ease what he felt. She wasn't sure if she could provide that kind of comfort for him. But... maybe she could do something else for him, something that only she could do, and no one else. Taking in a breath to steel her nerves, she opened the door to his room, and stepped inside.

“Cyril," she called out gently.

It took several long seconds for any kind of response to come, but eventually there was the sound of someone moving around inside, a bit more heavily than Cyril's usual grace would imply. After another few seconds, the door opened.

He hadn't slept. She could tell that immediately. His complexion, fair but tanned even in the winter, looked waxy and pale, and there were dark rings under his eyes. His hair was disheveled in a way that suggested he'd run his hands through it several times too many, and his posture was slumped. Still, somehow, he managed the tiniest of smiles for her. “Senka," he murmured softly, with that certain gentleness that she'd come to understand only entered his voice when he said her name, or spoke to her in particular.

“Are you—would you like to—?" he gestured vaguely behind him. His bed was unmade, a small pile of books resting next to it, but otherwise it was as neat as ever. The Arrow had already been cleaned, placed carefully on a small weapon rack mounted on the wall. “I'm sorry... it's not very tidy, but..."

Senka felt the uncomfortable clench of her heart, and raised her hand to rest on his face. He looked miserable, but she could not fault him for it. She shook her head, though, at his statement. “I'm not here for me," she spoke, lifting her other hand so that she could cradle his face in her hands. “I'm here for you," she continued. His room could have been spotless, and she wouldn't have cared. She didn't come to his room to nitpick whether or not it was tidy. She didn't care about his room. She cared about him.

“I'm here for you, Cyril," she spoke again, dropping her hands from his face so she could wrap her arms underneath his to pull him close to her. These small touches, she'd learned, provided comfort to her. They always had, and they always would. Perhaps this was something she could provide to him, as well, in this time of his life that he needed it most. Because she had no one to do this for her when she lost her parents, no one who was close to her at the time, who could. Sorcha had been a stranger to her, then, and Senka hadn't trusted her.

“Like I said yesterday," she murmured softly against his chest, “in any way you need me... I'm here."

His arms wound around her in turn, and she felt him sigh softly, the breath stirring the hair atop her head. He was tall enough to tuck his chin there, even standing, and easily broad enough to envelop her in his arms. “Thank you," he said, just as gentle as the sigh. One hand moved up and down her back, beneath the fall of her hair, only for him to glide it all the way up to the nape of her neck and slide his fingers into her smooth curls.

The touch was careful, she could tell, trembling fingers smoothing tenderly between her strands. He seemed to hesitate for a moment, then walked them back towards his desk chair. “Sorry," he murmured, even as he lifted her and sat, settling her over his lap. It could have been a compromising position, really, but from the way his arms immediately returned to their places, all he'd meant for it to be was a comfortable one.

She wouldn't have cared, either way. Let them think whatever they wanted of her. Indecent or not, the only person who mattered whose opinion mattered, right now, was him. She sighed softly, though, and shook her head. “You don't have to be sorry, Cyril," she spoke, though she didn't understand what he was sorry for. He didn't seem to understand what she'd meant when she told him that she was there for him, causing her to sigh again. Senka knew what she was putting on the line, here. Her reputation wasn't the only one on the line, but hers didn't matter. And here... it was just her and him.

“I know... I know you're hurting," she began softly, placing a hand at the back of his head to let her fingers curl into his hair. “And I know that you are in so much pain," she whispered softly, pulling her head back so that she could hold his gaze. “I don't think you understand what I'm saying when I say I am here for you, Cyril. Sometimes, people need another way to let go, and..." she could feel her the beat of her heart increase until it sounded like a thunderous roar in her ears. She felt the words she wanted to say, become heavy on her tongue. She wanted to tell him how she felt, what she felt, but... could she?

Three months was not a long time for her, but... did it really matter whether or not he was her teacher? To her, it didn't. It didn't matter because that was not who he was to her. He was someone so much more, someone who made her feel things that she wasn't sure she deserved. Knew she didn't deserve, but she felt them anyway.

“I don't know when or why I fell in love with you, but I did. I love you, Cyril, and I want nothing more than to help you through this. In the only way I can," she spoke, leaning her forehead against his so that their noses brushed softly.

He shook his head, so slightly that it didn't even disturb where hers rested against him. One hand came up to cradle the side of her face, and he tilted his head, just a little, just enough that their lips nearly brushed, and seemed to hold himself there. “You honor me," he said, in a voice so barely-there she wouldn't have been able to hear it from the doorway. Could only hear it because she was so close. “But Senka... you underestimate yourself. You're helping me already." His breath was warm against her skin, the heat of his body apparent even through the layers of clothing between them. “That you exist at all, that you're here..."

Cyril smoothed his thumb over her cheekbone. He looked at her like she was the most incredible, beautiful thing he'd ever seen, like she was water in the desert, a flower on the tundra, something miraculous. “I want—I want to be someone you can be proud of loving. And I want anything we do because we love each other to be only because of that. Not because of grief, not something that has to be hidden, not something that could come back to hurt you. Even if it doesn't matter to you, it matters to me."

She smiled softly at him. If it mattered to him that much, she would not push the issue. Nothing could come back to hurt her if it involved him. Nothing. But she understood what he meant, and she would respect it. “You truly are a wonderful person, Cyril Eisner," she spoke softly, leaning her face a little closer to his, but did not let her lips brush his even if she wanted to.

“And I don't deserve you," she whispered, taking in a soft breath. She didn't deserve him, truly. “I am already proud of you. You've done so much for us, for me," she began, her eyes closing briefly, “and I could never thank you enough for it. I'm glad you are a part of my life, and that I get to be part of yours. No matter what... that's all I could ever want, is you. I'm truly lucky."

She felt like she could face the world with him at her side. He made her feel like she could be invincible, take on those who had wronged the people she loved, but most of all... he made her feel worthy of the things he spoke to her about. Of the kind words her friends spoke to her.

He swallowed thickly, nudging forward that last centimeter so that their lips brushed, just the threadiest, gossamer touch. It was more like they shared a breath than anything more substantial and yet still in it there was a warmth, a sense of powerful emotion, as though he were trying to tell her something for which there simply were no words.

“You deserve the world," he murmured. “I'd give it to you, if I could." His hand slid back into her hair, neither pushing nor pulling, just... holding, a steady contact at the back of her head. His other remained firmly around her waist.

“If—if you don't mind, I." He pulled back just a little, then glanced at the mussed covers of the bed and back to her. “I can't sleep. Can't relax. I thought maybe if you wouldn't mind—" He sought her eyes, somehow uncertain despite what she'd told him. Perhaps a symptom of the newness of it.

“Would you lay with me? Like this?" He gave a slight squeeze of the hand at her waist, as if to indicate what this he meant. “You don't have to stay long if you don't want. But... but I'd like you to."

She swallowed thickly, but nodded her head. “For however long you want me to, I'll stay," she spoke, moving so that she could help him stand from the chair. “And for what it's worth," she spoke, feeling an uncanny shyness seep into her. She glanced down, unable to meet his eyes, now, “you've already given me the world... because you are my world."

Cyril smiled softly. There was a touch of melancholy in his eyes, still, though whether for the circumstances or something else was hard to say. He crossed to the bed, rolling into it so his back was to the wall and reaching a hand out towards her, as if to help her settle in beside him. “Come here."

She took his hand and slid next to him on the bed, wrapping her arms around him so that she was flush against him, but comfortable. “I hope you can sleep this time," she murmured softly, closing her eyes. She was afraid to open them; if she did, she was afraid that this, whatever this was between them, would be gone, and she would be alone again.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


Image


I.Y. 1181 - Guardian Moon - Thursday the 1st
Abbey - Morning - Freezing
Sorcha Blaiddyd


Sorcha couldn't deny the relief she felt, that she was not doing this part alone.

When they'd initially reported events to the Archbishop, Alois had been with them, and she suspected that plus the immediacy of things had softened the response. But now, a couple of days later, she wasn't sure it was going to go over well.

Frankly, to her it made perfect sense that they'd do this, but the Archbishop wasn't exactly a bastion of sense. Even Sorcha knew that now, and so it was with a sense of grim determination that she made her way to the abbey alongside Mercer and Vivi. Rhea was probably expecting Cyril, but, well—she was going to have to deal with them instead. The Professor's father had died two days ago, and for once it was their turn to protect him from something. In this case, having to deal with work and the pit-traps that came along with dealing with Rhea in any capacity.

It wasn't long before they reached the archbishop's office, and Mercer knocked lightly on the door frame. “Come in," Rhea responded as Mercer took the first step inside. When Sorcha and Vridel appeared as well, a frown had marred her face. “I wasn't expecting you three," she spoke, evident disdain laced in her voice. She shook her head, though.

“No one ever does," Mercer spoke in a nonchalant fashion, shrugging his shoulders lightly as he glanced towards Rhea. “But considering Teach's current state, figured it'd be best to have us come instead."

Sorcha and Vridel both nodded, but it was she who spoke. “I apologize for any inconvenience," she said, politely but not with too much deference, “but since I'm the Professor's house leader and we all go on his missions, it wouldn't be too much trouble for us to relay your orders to him, Archbishop."

Rhea's eyes narrowed slightly before she nodded her head. “Of course. There are no orders for him this month. He is to let his heart mend, for he has lost a valuable member of his family," she spoke, her features softening for just a moment. Mercer arched a brow at that, though, seemingly confused.

“Jeralt was our most celebrated knight. I am filled with grief at his loss, as must be the Professor," she explained as if sensing Mercer's confusion. “He was an ally of many years... and also a dear friend."

“Hasn't it been years since you last saw Captain?" Mercer questioned, watching as Rhea's eyes narrowed lightly.

“It has been twenty one years, to be exact."

Twenty-one years... she wondered if that might not be right around how old the Professor was. He'd said something once about being born not long after his father left the monastery, after all.

“Why'd he leave, anyway?" Vridel asked, rather bluntly by Sorcha's estimation but not quite rudely or anything. “The way the other knights talk about it, it sounds like they all thought he was dead for all those years."

“I do not know. There was no reason for him to leave," she replied, perhaps to the surprise of Mercer whose eyes widened slightly. He didn't think she'd answer, perhaps. “He... fell in love with one of the nuns here at Garreg Mach. Their love produced a child... whom she died giving birth to."

“That doesn't explain why Captain left, though," Mercer spoke, catching the archbishop's eyes with his own. She narrowed her eyes at Mercer, but sighed softly.

“It was her decision. She weighed her own life against that of her child's and, in the end, implored me to save the child. Jeralt... never truly accepted that decision. He took the child and disappeared without warning."

So it was the Professor they were talking about here. “Weighed her life against the child's? What does that mean?" If it were a mater of healing alone, surely there were enough people capable of it here at Garreg Mach that a sick nun and her sick child could both be taken care of, and yet the way Rhea said it seemed to imply that it had needed to be one or the other. That didn't make any sense.

“That is not for me to say," Rhea replied, her eyes hardening for a second before she shook her head. “In time, the Professor will come to know the truth. For now, do what you can to support him in his time of need. This is the only thing I am entrusting you all with. That is your mission; take care of him," she spoke. It looked like she wanted to say more, however; Alois barged into the office, looking slightly hurried.

“Sorry for the interruption, Lady Rhea. There's something you must hear immediately," he spoke, glancing towards Sorcha and the others. “A report from the knights patrolling the area..." he trailed off as if he expected Rhea to know what he was talking about.

“Very well, Alois. The three of you are dismissed," Rhea stated as she turned towards Sorcha, Mercer, and Vridel. “Remember your mission."

Sorcha nodded—there was no way they were getting more out of her than that, now.

Leading the way out of the office, she headed towards the dormitories, glancing back and forth at the other two. “Well... at least we can tell the Professor how old he is, I guess."

“We can tell him a sight more than that," Vridel replied. “Though your question was a good one—what on earth did she mean, about his mother choosing to favor his life over her own? I'm sure the Archbishop is a talented healer, but this is a monastery. It's full of people who can handle things like difficult childbirths."

“Maybe that's why Jeralt left with Teach. Maybe he knew that she did something to his child's mother, and didn't approve of it. You heard what she said, Jeralt never accepted what she did, maybe that's why he left?" Mercer added as he shook his head. His lips were pursed into a fine line before he ran a hand through his hair, musing the strands so that it was a little disheveled.

“Always so damn cryptic, though," he murmured before glancing towards Sorcha and Vridel. “It always seems like one mystery is solved, and then five more pop up in its place. She's a woman full of secrets and she's not going to tell us. I highly doubt Teach wants to talk with her, either, but at this point, I don't think we'll have much of a choice. Especially after what happened to Jeralt," Mercer's voice went soft at the end as he slumped his shoulders.

Sorcha's heart twinged. It had been doing that, rather horribly, every time she so much as looked at him since the ball. She pushed the thought aside, knowing they needed to talk but also aware that other things had to take priority right now.

“I hate this," she said softly. “I hate feeling like there's this whole world we don't know about, hidden in the cracks of our own. It's like... I can see some of the gaps now, but every time I look even a little deeper, something gets in the way." To find out that their Professor might well be hosting the Goddess in his head, that he had some kind of power to manipulate time and this strange connection to the Church... it was making her want to look closer at her own life, too.

Sorcha didn't really think she was all that important in the grand scheme of things. But she had suddenly been put in the position of being heir to a entire country four years ago, and... and it seemed somehow that for all the threats of someone else being put there instead, it had never materialized. And then there were all the things she couldn't remember, the one way she and the Professor did seem to be the same.

But if there were strings being pulled here... who was at the other end of them? Solon? Monica? Dare she wonder if it might be the Archbishop? It was so hard to tell what everyone's motives were.

“Yeah," Vivi said quietly. “Believe me, we know."

“Trust us, we know. I'd put my money on Rhea, but I don't think it's just her. If Solon and the others are at large, it's quite obvious they don't like Rhea, or at least she doesn't like them. And I'm sure you've noticed since the beginning, Sor," Mercer paused to glance at her, “she's tried to get us killed on more than one occasion. All of the dangerous missions that proper knights should handle, and yet she sends a handful of children to do it. She's lucky we have Teach as our Professor, but then again, it might just be that he's our professor." He pushed a heavy sigh through his nose.

“Just be careful not to be alone with Rhea, though, Sor. Who knows what she might try to do if we ever approach her by ourselves." He visibly shuddered.

She hated to admit it, but he was absolutely right. “Honestly, I... I found it so hard to believe at first. Why us? Why hate us so much? The Academy's been running for centuries, and no one ever talks about the Archbishop being like this. Which makes me think she isn't always. Or at least isn't always so... involved."

She stopped dead.

Vivi, stopping with her, raised a querying brow. “Something wrong? Aside from the obvious?"

“You guys have looked at a lot of records and stuff, right?" She was pretty sure they'd been digging around in all of this for a while, given the way they always seemed a step ahead when it came to information. They'd both known Cyril could stop time, after all. “Are there... are there pictures of previous Archbishops, or just names?"

“None that I've seen," Mercer spoke, his eyes narrowed lightly in Vridel's direction. “But I think we know someone who might," he continued, keeping his eyes on Vridel as if watching for a reaction of sorts.

His eyes narrowed thoughtfully, and he nodded. “I'll ask her. If it's dangerous for her to look, we'll have to do without, but she has seen an image of the Goddess, so maybe she'll know offhand. Why though?" He looked keenly at Sorcha. “You suspect Rhea's older than she appears?"

“It just... keeps coming up," She admitted. “Maurice was alive after more than a thousand years, and while maybe that could just be the transformation... there's what Alois said about Jeralt, and how Lady Rhea looks exactly the way my uncle described her. I don't know, but... look, your castles have tons of old portraits of important people, right? Your predecessors? How come there aren't any of former Archbishops here? In fact there's only the saint statues, and and those are practically hidden. It doesn't make any sense to me."

“Sor has a point. Let's take into consideration that Maurice lived not because of his transformation, but because of something else. What if... it was his Crest? What if it was his Crest that supplied his long lifeline? I mean, it would make some sort of sense. You all have Crest members in your family, haven't you found it odd that some of those Crest bearers always lived to be ridiculously old? At least the ones who weren't outright killed in battle?" Mercer asked as he quirked a brow.

“If it is a Crest, then that means that Rhea might have one as well. It's also possible that there aren't any pictures of former archbishop's simply because the Church is supposed to be free of vanity. Why have images of former archbisops when you have one here and now?" he added, before running a hand through his hair, again.

“There's just so much we don't know. And so much more that seems to just keep coming up."

She sighed. “It feels like going in circles," she murmured, voice heavy. “And somehow... I don't know. It feels like we're running out of time. All of us being here, like this—I think it might be our only real chance to find the truth of it."

A discouraging thought, with only three months remaining.

Three months, and then they'd be scattered to the winds, with or without what they needed to know.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1181 - Guardian Moon - Saturday the 3rd
Dining Hall - Early Afternoon - Snow
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer didn't understand why his table was being stared at. He could see other students, especially those from Sorcha's house, staring at him and the others. No few of them were staring directly at Senka, though. He couldn't understand why. Sure, she was a beautiful woman, but the way they were staring at her wasn't exactly admirable. It was filled with disgust and malice. If she noticed the stares, though, she did a good job at hiding it. She simply took a bite of her meal, and remained quiet. To Mercer, that wasn't a good sign at all. She was much more open with them now, often taking the initiative to talk with the group, but she didn't. Not today.

He was about to ask her if everything was alright when a student walked up to the table. Dressed in the blue lion colors, he sneered at Senka. “How can you stand to sit with her?" he spoke, causing Mercer to glare at the boy. “She's from Duscur. How can you, of all people, Your Highness, stand to be in her company at all. She's the reason your father is dead!" He continued. Mercer was confused.

“Fuck you, Bricius," Sorcha said, her face hardening at the accusation. She didn't seem surprised to hear it, oddly enough, just angry. “Go tell your lies to someone who cares."

“She's from Almyra, you moron. You better watch the next words that come out of your mouth. They may be your last," Mercer stated, his eyes hardening in the boy's direction. He merely huffed, though, and waved a hand in his face like disbelief.

“She has you fooled, too, huh. Must be that good in bed. She's seduced your Professor, after all," he continued. The statement caused Senka to visibly wince, and Mercer nearly stood to slug the guy, however; someone tapped him on the shoulder, causing him to turn around. Without much warning, a fist connected with his jaw, sending him sprawling on the ground, holding his cheek where it was already swelling and red.

“Don't you dare talk about my friend like that," Thea huffed, her eyes narrowed into a harsh glare he'd never seen her wear before. The boy stammered to his feet as he glared back at her.

“You are all crazy, wanting to be friends with the Duscur Princess! She'll have you all slaughtered, too, just you wait!" he pointed an accusatory finger at Senka before he hurried off. Thea continued glaring at the boy until Mercer cleared his throat softly, and chanced a glance at Senka. Her eyes were downcast, and she looked like she'd lost all the color in her face. Was it true?

“Senka?" he stated softly, watching as she glanced up with tentative eyes. “You shouldn't listen to him; he's a dumbshit, alright?" he spoke, trying to cheer her up. She merely shook her head, though.

“It... was only a matter of time before it was discovered," she spoke softly, causing Mercer to purse his lips in confusion.

“Wait... so you're telling me that what he said is true? That you're from Duscur? And its princess? What the hell, Sen!?" Sylvi nearly shouted, but kept her voice low as she narrowed her eyes in Senka's direction. Mercer was about to defend Senka, however; Sylvi shook her head. “That hurts, Sen. That you didn't trust us enough to tell us that," she spoke, shaking her head lightly. Senka merely dropped her eyes to her plate.

Devon put a hand on her shoulder, shaking his head slightly. “I don't think it was about trust, Syl," he said gently. “Look what's happened now that it's gotten out. Somehow." His brows furrowed at that, and he regarded Senka with genuine sympathy.

Sorcha's jaw tightened. “I've no idea how," she muttered darkly. “The number of people who ever knew is—and what's this nonsense about seducing the Professor? Don't they have anything better to think about than making up outrageous lies like that? I don't think we could punch them all even if we spent all day trying."

“It'd be worth trying, though," Deirdre spoke. She looked angry, but not at Senka. “Seriously, people have nothing better to do than try to amuse themselves on the misery of others. Like Merc said, Sen, don't listen to that idiot. We're still your friends, no matter where you're from. And I'm sure that Sorcha wouldn't be your best friend, either, if it were true of what happened to her family," she continued, sparing Sorcha a glance.

“I suppose you're right. Still, who else knew you were from Duscur, Sen? From the sounds of it, Sorcha seems to be the only one who does," Sylvi spoke, turning her attention towards Senka. She merely kept her head down, chewing the bottom of her lip in a thoughtful process.

“Cyril and Vridel."

“Which makes this even more confusing!" Sorcha said with a grimace, making a frustrated sound as she struggled to open what seemed to be a small screw-top jar of jam. “I've never told anyone—not because I'm ashamed, but because Sen asked me not to—and obviously neither of them would. Professor Cyril's in love with her, and the rumors are going to hurt him, too, and Vivi's Vivi. So—what gives?" She tried the jar again, still to no success, and huffed at it.

Mercer took the jar from Sorcha and opened it before handing it back. “Sor's right; Vi and Teach would never tell anyone because they're not like that. And I'm sure you told them not to tell, either, right?" he spoke, earning a nod from Senka. “And I'm sure you were careful when you told them," he continued, sighing softly. Who else could have known that Senka was from Duscur? He briefly entertained the idea that Rhea knew, because she seemed to know everything, however; that didn't seem to add up, quite right. Rhea only targeted Sen because of how close she was to Cyril. And Sorcha was right about Teach, so if his feelings were the issue, Rhea would have done something different. Found a way to expel Senka, or get her killed somehow.

He shuddered at the thought.

“Don't worry Sen, we'll find out who did this," and make them wish they'd never did. No one hurt Mercer's friends like that. No one. Senka shook her head, though.

“It's fine, Mercer. I'm sorry to have dragged you all into this, though," she spoke softly, and he could hear a soft crack in her voice. “I shouldn't have... I shouldn't have believed that," she continued, causing Mercer to purse his lips and furrow his brows.

“You stop that, Senka. Who here cares? You've been through it all with us, saved our hides more than once on a few occasions, so who cares what they have to say? You're Senka, and our friend. I, for one, am glad you are my friend. To hell with anyone who tries to make me think, otherwise." Deirdre had her eyes narrowed in Senka's direction, but Mercer knew she was speaking honestly. That's just how Deir was, always speaking in a way that seemed harsh, but was in fact, genuine.

“Deirdre's right, even if she's blunt," Sofi added. “I for one value your friendship much more than the regard of anyone who would so willingly smear you."

Devon nodded decisively. “I'm not a prince or anything, I know," he said, “but no one in this group's ever cared that my dad's from Sreng, even though the Kingdom fights them all the time. People used to spit on me, in Fhirdiad. Literally." He scrunched his nose. “I'm sure you have it much worse, but... but I think it helps to have people around who can understand that it hurts without rejecting you, so... don't try to push us away, okay?" He smiled in the tentative way he had, and shrugged his shoulders a little.

“I really don't deserve friends like you," Senka spoke softly, but she was smiling a bit, so Mercer thought that was a good thing. “But I'm glad I have you all," she continued, glancing up at the group. Sylvi nodded her head as if it were obvious, and Deirdre huffed lightly. Thea merely nodded her head as well, as Mercer shook his head.

“That still doesn't answer the who, though. Who knew? Who told?" Mercer spoke, pursing his lips together. He almost wished that Bricius hadn't stormed off. He could have interrogated him for more information, however; he couldn't do that, now.

“We'll just have to keep an ear out and see who could possibly have known," Thea mumbled softly, taking a bite out of her sandwich. Mercer thought that was easier said than done. The entire school already knew that they were always together. Getting information wasn't going to be easy, but he figured he could ask the one person who wasn't quite always around.

As if thinking about him had summoned him somehow, Reynard appeared at the dining hall entrance, then, grabbing nothing but an apple from the food line before making a beeline directly for them. He unwound the scarf around his neck as he walked, tossing it onto the table with a heavy sigh and sitting down in front of it. “Rumor's everywhere," he said in a clipped tone, sounding irritated, but not surprised. “Thought I might be able to nip it in the bud by threatening to cut out a few tongues, but it seems to have started from multiple sources. My guess is, someone's been holding onto this for a while, and made sure to seed it heavily enough that there was no stopping it."

He bit into the apple with a crisp snap, chewing quickly before adding. “Sorry, Sen."

Senka merely shook her head. It's alright, Rey."

“That doesn't really help narrow it down, though. There has to be an originating source. It'd be too much of a coincidence if somehow multiple people knew this one thing that she only told to Cyril and Vi. I'd say we should keep this to ourselves, and try to investigate, but..." a majority of the students would know what they were up to if they mentioned it, even if it was subtlely.

“Do you at least have any leads, Rey? You're a lot better at getting information than we are, after all." He turned his eyes on Reynard.

The other man considered this. “I knew," he said after a moment. “I swear I didn't tell, but I did know. Vridel thought there was a possibility it would get out—he had me keeping an eye on things. What I can tell you is that there was absolutely no hint of the Duscur part until this morning. The other part," he tilted a hand back and forth, taking another bite from the apple. “Well you know how everyone likes to talk about us. We're all fucking each other, more or less. And I did see Lady Lyanna speaking to the Professor just now. They both looked a little... upset. I have a few guesses as to what that might mean, but..."

“Isn't that weird? That she knew so soon?" Sorcha asked, red-faced but seemingly ignoring it. “Stupid rumors like this usually take longer than half a day to filter to the top, right?"

He nodded. “Unless someone brought the concern directly to her. It might be relevant to know who that was."

Mercer supposed Rey had a point. He turned his attention towards Thea who looked like she was contemplating something. “Sister wouldn't talk to Professor Cyril unless the archbishop told her to do it. She... Lyanna tries to keep out of the affairs of the Professors, and only ever really intercedes when Rhea asks her, to." Her lips remained pursed. She opened her mouth to say something else, however; two students walked past their table, muttering beneath their breaths.

“He was right to tell Lady Lyanna. To think that someone like her managed to do those things..." they whispered, however; Mercer wasted no time and stood from his spot, grabbing the nearest one by the collar of their uniform.

“Who told Lady Lyanna?" he asked, narrowing his eyes dangerously at the young man he currently held.

“Hey, man, let me go! I've got nothing to say to you!"

“I'm not going to ask again. Who. Told?" his voice was dangerously low, and he could see the fear seeping behind boys' eyes.

“They said it was His Imperial Highness!" he nearly shouted. Mercer furrowed his brows. Vridel? That didn't add up.

“You're lying."

“I'm not! I swear my life on the goddess I am not lying! We all saw him speaking to Lady Lyanna and Rhea this morning!"

“What? That doesn't make any sense," Sorcha said hotly, a deep line appearing between her brows. “Vivi would never do something like that. There has to be another explanation."

“I hope he hasn't done something stupid," Reynard muttered.

“Well, there's only one way to find out. We ask it straight from the horse's mouth." Mercer knew Vridel would never tell anyone else's secret. Vridel had plenty of his own, after all, so why would he say something that wasn't his own? He shook his head, though, and glanced in Senka's direction. Her brows were knitted together, and she had a thoughtful expression on her face.

“Vridel would never do that," she spoke softly, glancing in Sorcha's direction. “He's... my friend, and he knows how much that means to me," she continued.

“Don't worry, Sen. We'll get this figured out." Even if he had to do it on his own, Mercer would figure out what happened and why they would suggest Vridel, of all people.

“Definitely," Sorcha said. “We can all work on it. There are still some people who have to answer questions I ask them, after all." She narrowed her eyes.

“Best get back to work, then," Reynard said, finishing of his apple and standing. He re-wrapped his scarf, gave them all a nod, and took his leave.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1181 - Guardian Moon - Tuesday the 6th
Garreg Mach Armory - Afternoon - Cold
Cyril Eisner


Cyril sighed, running the cloth along the blade of the Arrow for what was probably the thousandth time. Fine as it was, it didn't really need any more polishing. Or sharpening, or anything at all.

Somehow, in the aftermath of his father's death, he'd gone back to some of the old things he'd had to do for the mercenary company. Not that he'd ever really stopped doing chores just because he became a teacher, but lately he'd been seeking out those things, instead of just doing them when they came up. He doubted Barn C had ever been cleaner, or the practice weapons better-maintained, or the ones in the general armory sharper. He'd tried to make things, too, his tiny little crafting projects, but somehow everything came out wrong, and after the fourteenth or so mangled miniature knight on horseback he'd just... given up.

Sothis was unusually quiet in his head, too, as though she were giving him space. He'd decided he didn't blame her, for what had happened, and he knew she understood that, but she was keeping her distance anyway, and some part of him appreciated it. He'd never known a loss like this before. Part of it was that he'd never really been attached to people before—except his father. And so when one of the men in their company died or moved on, it had been... unfortunate, but a fact of life. A thing he could accept with a certain amount of equanimity. This was the complete opposite of that.

It still felt, a little, like his world had stopped. If not for his students—his friends—and Senka, he doubted he'd be able to handle anything at all, right now. Because of them, he knew it would just take time, before things started to feel like they moved again. Before much of anything felt like it mattered again.

He could still teach, at least. Had found that it was what got him out of bed most mornings. The opportunity to see familiar faces he cared about, do familiar things. Even this had somehow become tainted—the students outside of his few friends had been treating him strangely, of late. The girls especially tended either to act skittish and nervous around him or else... far too direct. He knew why. At any other time it would have bothered him profoundly but in this one he found he could only start taking meetings in public locations, so everyone would be comfortable and nothing worse would come of it for Senka.

Still... the nine he thought of as his students above all others did not show even the slightest hesitance. Not even, as now, when Sorcha entered the armory weighed down with practice gear, to find no one but him inside.

In fact, she gave him a little smile, just a subtle thing, with a touch of melancholy. He knew she'd been dealing with a fair share of her own difficulties, including fallout from this particular set of rumors, which painted her as at best woefully oblivious as a house leader and at worst also involved in some kind of sordid affair, and others. It had been going around for a while that she'd somehow seduced Mercer, either as part of a bid to reclaim the Alliance for the Kingdom or just because she was a scarlet who enjoyed that kind of thing. It was honestly absurd in the extreme, but he supposed that she must be used to such things.

“Hello, Professor Cyril," she said softly, starting to rack the items she'd brought in with her. When he nodded a return greeting, she paused, regarding him for a moment from the corner of her eye.

“I'm... sure you're sick of people asking how you're doing by now, so I won't, if that's okay."

She'd more or less hit the nail on the head. Belatedly, he recalled she'd lost her parents as well, in addition to a fiancé of some description, and most everyone she'd ever cared about. Perhaps she knew because she knew.

“I'd appreciate it," he said honestly.

She made a sympathetic sound in the back of her throat. “I need to oil my bow. Do you mind if I sit with you?"

He'd paused, at some point, in the motions of the cloth along the haft of the Arrow, but the reminder drew his attention back down to it. He shook his head, and resumed.

“Not at all."

After she'd retrieved the necessary supplies for the task and unstrung the bow, Sorcha sat across the table from him, setting the weapon down. It really was a nice one, reinforced with silver and made from a sturdy, flexible yew variety that he recognized as growing in Alliance territory. Her Crest, which he'd never known her to use, was engraved into one of the silver panels, a much sharper and more jagged shape than the smooth lines of most of the others.

For a while, they just worked in silent tandem, Sorcha not forcing conversation and Cyril content not to volunteer any. It wasn't that he didn't want to talk to her, just that speaking was... difficult. Right now especially, but still, often, in general. It had never come easily to him, fiercely introverted as he tended to be. She was, too, though he could tell she'd had to learn to work past that. Probably a necessity for someone who would one day be a Queen.

Eventually, though, she spoke. “I'm sure you know this already," she mused softly, running the oilcloth up one curve of the bow. “But my father and stepmother were killed when I was about thirteen." She spoke of it like something indistinct, and not for the first time, he wondered if she might not understand his fuzzy memory better than most did.

“So much of what happened that day is a blur, but... I remember the moment it happened with complete clarity. That man... the Flame Emperor. He was there. I remember the mask." Sorcha remained intent on her work, speaking in a distant tone of voice. “If—if it's really all connected the way it seems to be, then... we might owe the same people the blades of our lances."

“You... saw what happened? To your parents?"

She nodded slightly, meeting his eyes after a moment. Pushing a strand of hair behind her ear, she half-smiled. Mirthless, rueful. “Yes." Her eyes darkened, fell. “To my father, at least. And Glenn, and the knights. I still don't know why they didn't kill me. Some people say it's because I wouldn't have been worth the effort, because what chance did I have of uniting Faerghus and hunting them down?"

Sorcha expelled a breath. “Before my father died, he asked me. To promise that I would find who had done this, and avenge them." Her hands stilled in their work. “I thought for so long that I was doomed to fail him. Now that I have a lead, a real one, I—"

Cyril felt a stirring of anger towards the late king. He had been raised to fight, and yet in his last moment his father had told him he loved him. Had made no mention of vengeance. Had not tried to burden him with something that might take years, if it was possible at all. And yet Lambert had told a thirteen year old girl, his daughter in his dying breath not that he loved her, not that he was sorry for all the ways he and his country had failed her, but that it was her responsibility to avenge the slaughter she would no doubt see in her mind for decades to come? He could scarce conceive of the self-importance, of the indifference to her, that would have to drive such an act.

“You know you're not bound to that, right?" he asked, carefully and gently so she would know he wasn't chiding her.

“Aren't I?" she murmured, staring at her hands. “It's what everyone expected. The whole tragedy could have been avoided if not for the vengeful feelings of an entire group of people who can barely stand me as it is. If I abandon the search for the culprits, or fail to destroy them when I find them... they'll never think I'm strong enough to lead them."

He could see the dilemma, could believe that there were those in her country, not insubstantial in number, who really did believe such things. Who really would hold it against her if she didn't hunt down and execute whoever had been responsible for that, no matter what it cost her. No matter that her heart was too warm for her blood to ever be so cold as that.

“Is that why you came here?” he asked, referring to the Academy generally. It had always sort of puzzled him, that someone with so very little inclination to battle—never mind that she was skilled—would attend a school designed to teach the arts of warfare. But now, it sort of made sense. If she believed this was something she must do, he could see why she would want to do it efficiently, and as well as possible. Put it all to rest.

“Yes.” She sighed quietly, running the side of her thumb along her bow. “I thought if I could just… get used to it, I guess. Then I’d finally be what they wanted. The kind of Queen my country needs. But from the very get-go, I kept messing it up. You had to bail us out of that training exercise, and then I almost got myself killed and worried everyone… it feels like it’s been one failure after another, honestly.”

Sorcha shook her head. “You, Sen, Mercer, Vivi… even when it’s not battle, I feel like other people are always saving me from things. And so even though I came here for something like that… I think what I want most now is to be the kind of person who can save all of you sometimes, too. In battle, sure, but not just there. So—maybe it’s selfish to think about this way, but if there’s ever anything I can do for you, Professor… I rely on you a lot, so it would be nice to know you can rely on me, too.”

Cyril smiled softly. Somehow, even knowing his friends thought things like that about him was enough. More than he’d ever known to hope for. “I do,” he said, perfectly honestly. “I rely on you in battle, to keep the sky clear, and outside of it, too—in this case to keep me from wallowing.”

She flushed a little. “I didn’t mean to make everything about me,” she said, apologetic.

But he shook his head. “Not at all. It reminded me that other people have gone through things like I have. And that there’s a way out the other side. A way to keep moving forward. Thank you, Sorcha.”

She beamed at him. “Anytime, Professor.”

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

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I.Y. 1181 - Guardian Moon - Wednesday the 7th
Cyril's Office - Early Evening - Clear
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer slid a hand down his face. He was aggravated, if anything. They still didn't have any real solid leads on who the leak was, however; things seemed to be quieting down. He hadn't been able to talk to Vi the last couple of days, perhaps because Vridel was trying to do it on his own, figure out who made him out to be the bad guy, Mercer supposed.

He stood outside of Teach's door, pursing his lips together as he contemplated whether or not he wanted to go inside. Teach had seemed mostly normal, but even Mercer knew that it wasn't quite the same. Teach lost his father; people didn't just automatically get over something like that. They didn't just heal overnight. It took time, and Mercer thought it was important for his professor to take all the time he needed in order to recover from it. The grief. Pushing a sigh through his nose, he knocked on Cyril's door.

“Hey Teach, it's me, Merc, your favorite student," he spoke with a lightness to his voice.

There was a soft huff from the other side of the door. “I don't know about favorite, but I suppose I like you enough to invite you in." Clearly, it was permission.

The office that had formerly belonged to Jeralt was fairly bare at the moment; it looked like most of the personal items had been moved out, not that there had ever been any. A few sets of armor, a couple books, and honestly little else. The ficus in the corner appeared to have stayed, and several new books had appeared on the inset shelves, but other than that and the unchanged seating area, there wasn't much difference.

Well, the rug was a bit different. A distinctly Lion-like shade of blue.

Teach himself looked... well, he'd looked better, to be sure, but it was nothing as bad as that first couple of days after. His complexion looked mostly normal—he seemed to have gotten his color back, at least. And the circles under his eyes were less prominent. A book was open on the desk in front of him, a simple leatherbound thing with small, neat handwriting inside.

“Something I can help you with, Mercer?"

“Not really, just came to check in on you," Mercer replied with a light shrug of his shoulders. He took a seat at one of the available couches, and arched a brow at Teach. “You know, gotta make sure my favorite Teach is still here and all," he stated, grinning just slightly. He couldn't say he knew what it felt like to lose a parent. Mercer still had both of his, even if he hardly knew his father. He shook his head softly, and regarded Teach with an even stare.

“So... how are you doing? You know, with the new shit going around," he stated, making a vague circling motion around his head. He was, of course, referring to the newest set of rumors that had been circulating.

Teach frowned a little bit. “I think a couple of my female students believe I have the intention of assaulting them," he admitted quietly. “I... can't say that doesn't hurt. It's not that I don't understand caution—they shouldn't compromise what they see as their safety for my feelings. But... it stings, that they would so readily believe that about me. And it disgusts me that some of the rumors give that... component a place in what is between Senka and I. Some blame her, of course, and if anything I hate those more, but—" He expelled a breath through his nose.

“I find it... trying, to say the least. But the best I can do is not react to it, lest they take themselves for confirmed and make everything worse for her. I always worried this would happen." With a shake of his head, he grimaced. “It's one thing to say our positions don't matter, and another to live the truth of people knowing a few things and assuming the rest in whatever way they please."

Mercer huffed lightly. “I suppose, but in three months it won't really matter. People are stupid and will believe what they want to, but I guess until those three months pass..." he really couldn't blame Teach's logic. He hated the things people said about his friends, too, but Mercer knew that people said those things either out of envy, or jealousy. And he wasn't going to give them satisfaction to either.

“And you underestimate Sen, Teach. You know, perhaps better than all of us, that she's not that fragile. She's stronger than you give her credit for. She's weathered the storm thus far, and it seems she'll continue to do so. The only difference for her, now, is that she has us to help her with it. Just like we're trying to help her with finding out who told everyone she was from Duscur. Did you know about that?" he asked, arching a brow in Teach's direction. He wasn't quite sure if Teach had heard that, yet, but he was certain he had to have.

“Not that she was from Duscur, but that someone leaked it to everyone else."

“Not wanting to cause her pain isn't underestimating her," Teach remarked, raising a brow. “I know she can handle this. I just don't want to make it any more difficult than it has to be. Especially because, yes—I'm aware. Lady Lyanna told me yesterday that the rumor had started to go around at the same time as the ones about us were picking up traction. She knew the first was true, and so had her concerns about the latter. For what it's worth, she believed me when I told her what was really going on."

He leaned back a little in his chair, pushing the book slightly away from him and crossing one ankle over the other knee. “I... have my suspicions as to where the Duscur information originated, but I can't prove anything."

“An unfortunate side-effect of what happens when you love someone, I suppose. Causing them pain will be inevitable, but..." it was a matter of how they managed to deal with it. He knew he'd hurt Sorcha, intentionally or not, but that was something he knew they could work through. Instead, he shook his head and regarded Teach.

“You think it was..." he paused to glance around making sure there were no suspicious eyes around, “Rhea, too, don't you?" Mercer sighed heavily as he ran a hand through his hair. “I've my suspicions, too, but like you said. We can't prove anything." He leaned further back into his chair as he glanced up at the ceiling.

“What are you reading, anyway, Teach?" he asked, lifting a hand to point at the journal Teach was reading, earlier.

He seemed willing enough to accept the topic change, likely aware that there wasn't really anything else they could do about it now. “It was my father's," he said. “His journal. I had hoped to find some answers, but I fear what I mostly have is more questions." He flipped a page almost offhandedly.

“Apparently I had no heartbeat until I was ten years old. Nor did I ever laugh or cry, even as an infant." He furrowed his brows, as if troubled. “I had always thought that was something my lifestyle did to me. Being raised to fight, moving so often I never developed connections with anyone but him... but apparently I've always been like this. The way he describes it, I sound so... empty. Like I really am just a vessel for something else. Someone, I suppose."

“I wonder if that has anything to do with what Rhea did," he spoke, pulling his head forward so he was looking at Teach, again. “When Sor, Vi, and I went to go get our mission for this month, she told us that you were born twenty one years ago, but... apparently something had happened to you that your mother implored Rhea to save your life. She didn't say how she did it, only that your dad took you and left the monastery."

“She might tell you if you ask her about it, but she didn't seem to want to elaborate on it any further. She said something about you knowing the truth, eventually, and all, so maybe..." he trailed off as he pursed his lips together.

“I can try," he said, “but if we're right about the rumors she might just hold it over my head on some conditions about... I don't know. She seems annoyed that you're all my friends, that you matter to me more than she does." He was completely blunt about the fact, too, delivering it flatly, in a tone more reminiscent of when they'd first met. “If the condition is giving that up, or staying here another year—I'd rather leave and not know."

He shrugged, as if it were nothing, then frowned back down at the journal. “My father was wary of her. He says he used to trust and admire her, but after all of this, she seemed different. Strange. He faked my death in a fire just to get me out of there." Slowly, he shook his head; the frown deepened. “He wasn't the kind to do something that rashly. I have to believe the danger seemed real to him."

Thinning his lips, he added: “Does Rhea seem old enough to you to have been the Archbishop twenty-one years ago?"

“Sor said the same thing, almost," Mercer replied. “She said that Rhea looked exactly how her uncle described her to be, and if your father knew Rhea even before you were born, well... how old is Rhea, really." No one could seem to figure that out, yet. And he hadn't had a chance to ask Thea about it, yet.

“There's no way someone who looks like Rhea wouldn't show some signs of aging. Even your father looked... well, he looked like he could be someone who was in his early forties, if anything," and it wasn't like Jeralt looked bad for his age. But if what Alois said was true, then Jeralt was much, much older than he had claimed to be, and so is Rhea.

“Jeralt might have been right to be wary of her. She hasn't proven herself the most... helpful of archbishops."

“Definitely not," Cyril agreed with a sigh. “Sometimes I wonder if she knows. About Sothis. She's never mentioned it, but still... why else give a damn about me, you know?"

“Rhea knows a lot more than she lets on. I wouldn't be surprised if she did know about Sothis," Mercer murmured softly. “That's probably why she does care about you so much." He really couldn't be too certain, but it was possible. He ran a hand through his hair, messing with it a bit before he dropped his hand.

“Well, I guess we know a little more than we did, eh, Teach?" He grinned at Teach before he remembered something. “We should all do something for Vi. His birthday is coming up, and with all this shit going on, he could use a pick-me-up. Even if it's just the guys, we should probably do something for him."

“Anything you had in mind?" Teach cocked his head to the side, clearly interested. “Given the mood lately I don't think anything too obnoxious would be a good idea, but it might be nice to get away from the Monastery for a bit?"

“My thoughts exactly, Teach," Mercer replied, moving so that he was leaning over his knees with his forearms resting against them. “If Reynard agrees, we could probably use his house. It's probably the safest place to be, right now. Unless we wanted to invite a few of the others, like Thea, Sor, and Sen. That way we keep it small. Not that I don't love the others, but I think if we all went missing at once, again, it would draw too much suspicion. And we don't need that at the moment."

He just wanted his friends to have a good time.

He nodded. “I bet the house can fit that many people. I'm for it." He huffed a little. “Besides, if we didn't tell Thea, I think she'd try to plan him something different and then we'd be in a bind. Guess we'll see how her practice with tomato-based foods has been going."

Mercer grinned. “I'd assume it's going rather well, all things considered," he replied. “Well, I suppose that's that. Let's go find out what Rey says!" he stated, jumping from his seat. “Besides, I'm sure you could use a little fresh air, right?"

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. 1181 - Guardian Moon - Sunday the 11th
Reynard's House - Evening - Cold
Vridel von Hresvelg


Birthdays had never been a cause for celebration in Vridel's life.

At first, this had been because he was among the least-significant of around a dozen children, a royal couple, and the emperor's three additional concubines. There were a lot of birthdays, and if affairs paused for all of them the way they did for, say, his eldest brother's, well. Nothing would ever get done. Besides, it was on a major Imperial holiday, and Saint Seiros Day was by far more important.

That hadn't been too bad, in retrospect. What was worse was after the years in which he'd all but failed to mark his birthday at all, because then each one was another year gone, counted off from the short, if indefinite, tally of those that remained.

It was this fact that weighed heavily on his mind tonight, as he trudged heavily through the lingering snow on the ground towards Reynard's house. They'd warned him about the party, of course, and he was glad it was only going to be small, but honestly he couldn't see much to celebrate. He was being framed up for telling the Archbishop about Senka's identity, and it pissed him off almost as much as the fact that the bitch had spread it around in the first place.

He was certain it was her, he just couldn't prove it.

Add that to everything else going on and he honestly would have preferred to skip the party, or just get roaring drunk with the guys, but... he knew enough to understand that tonight wasn't just for him. They all needed a chance to blow off a little steam, and if he was the excuse, well...

It would probably be the most use a birthday of his had ever been.

He let himself into the house, shedding his cloak and boots. “I'm here!" he called, probably unnecessarily, and headed towards the living room.

“Vi!" it was Thea who greeted him first, and she rounded the corner fairly fast that she'd nearly bowled the both of them over with the force of her hug. “You're late!" she stated, glancing up at him from where she was. He was, in fact, not late, but she seemed to be teasing him, regardless. She smiled, then, and released her hold on him. She opened her mouth to say something, but Mercer beat her to it.

“Hey, Vi! We're all in the common area! And no, Thea, you can't steal him for the rest of the night." Even though Mercer couldn't see her, Thea stuck her tongue out in the direction he called out before turning her attention back to Vridel.

“We'll just have to see about that," she murmured.

In that strange way she seemed to be capable of, her presence warmed him immediately, and he found he rather liked the idea of her stealing him, for the rest of the night or longer.

Unfortunately, they had social obligations to attend to. Theoretically. That didn't mean he couldn't be himself, however. Leaning down and placing a finger under her chin, he tilted her head up towards him, giving her a kiss by way of greeting. Not a long or particularly heated one—just a taste. To tide him over, really. “I say, we get them all drunk and then slip away," he murmured, giving her the faint sketch of a grin even despite his somber mood. It was hard to be melancholy, when she was around.

She smiled at him before it stretched into a grin. “We can definitely do that, but you know Professor is difficult to get drunk," she stated as she grabbed his hand. “Not that he'd care what we did, he'd probably encourage it," she spoke softly as she pulled him towards the area where the others were.

He probably would, at that.

Vridel chuckled softly and followed her into the common area. Cyril and Sen were on the small couch; Sorcha had taken a spot on the floor not far from Sen's feet, with her back against the sofa arm. Reynard was sitting sideways in the armchair; from the looks of things at least one bottle of liquor had already been cracked.

“You all started my party without me," Vridel said, feigning hurt by placing his hand to his chest. “Have I no true friends at all? Thea, you're the only one I can trust." He almost winced, then, having spoken without considering present circumstances, when some of them might not entirely trust him.

If they had taken offense to it, they didn't show it. Mercer grinned, though, having taken a seat on the opposite side of Sorcha. “Hey, like Thea said, you were late. We thought we might as well get things warmed up for you," Mercer replied. Thea rolled her eyes lightly, but didn't say anything. “And at least we told you about the party beforehand. Imagine if we hadn't and you walked in on us," he continued, grinning still at Vridel.

“You realize how that sounds, right, Mercer?" Senka spoke softly, arching a brow in Mercer's direction. She'd spared Vridel a glance and smiled at him, though. If she felt any kind of way about the rumor situation, she didn't show it, either. “You make it sound like we'd all be caught in compromising positions," she continued in a nonchalant fashion. He was fairly sure she'd have shown something if she truly thought him responsible—or at least that Cyril would have, both of them being rather blunt on average—and the absence of such was unsurprisingly a tremendous relief. He felt something in the line of his shoulders ease.

They didn't seem to have reservations about what they said, at least. Even with everything being said about them.

“Mercer is just a stupid fish face; you shouldn't take what he says, seriously," Thea murmured, though her face was a light red color. Mercer merely laughed, though.

“Well I don't care what the rest of you do," Vridel replied, waving a dismissive hand, “But the only one who gets to be in a compromising position with this fair lady knight," he tugged Thea towards him, wrapping an arm around her waist to do it. “Is me." He paused, as if in consideration, then amended. “Or anyone she gives permission to, though I'd hope that would be only me." He looked down at her then, tilting his head as if putting the question to her.

Mercer chuckled lightly as he shook his head. Amalthea's face had seemed to take on a darker shade of red, and he could feel her shudder slightly as she glanced up at him.

“Of course it would only be you, you... stupid fish face, why would it be anyone else?" she huffed up at him, lips pursed into a fine line before she pouted at him. Mercer started laughing and Senka huffed a little as if she were trying not to laugh. Sorcha grinned broadly, and Reynard snorted into his glass.

“Well, by all means, don't let us keep you. There's the room right over there if you want," Mercer stated, making the implication in a not so subtle way. Thea huffed at him in a defiant way, but it was easy to see that she was flustered by the implication or, from the way her face had slightly lit up at the suggestion, the thought of it.

She was making it exceedingly difficult not to just walk right back out of the room and take the offer, heedless of the fact that everyone in here would know what they were up to. Actually, that might have made it more appealing rather than less—Vridel had never been one for much by way of a sense of shame, after all. Knowing that it appealed to her even a bit was doing all kinds of things to his train of thought, all of them pleasant but none productive in the slightest.

But he thought perhaps the greater part of her would be mortified, and he didn't want that. So instead he picked her up—while strong and solid for someone of her size, Thea was in fact still small and this was not difficult for him—taking a spot on the floor and settling her across his lap sideways, so that she could lean her shoulder into his chest and still easily interact with the others.

“I suppose since this party is at least nominally in my honor, I should make sure all of you have a little of the privilege of my presence," he drawled.

“Why thank you ever so much, your princeliness," Sorcha replied with a snort.

“Hey, don't let us stop you from having a bit of fun, Vi. At least let us give you our gift and then you and Thea can go have fun," Mercer stated, causing Senka to chuckle lightly. Thea turned a deep shade of red as she turned to face Vridel.

“Only if you'd want to," she spoke softly to him. Mercer grinned slightly as he leaned forward on his knees.

“Hey now, can't be telling him secrets without telling us, too, Thea," he stated. Thea turned to Mercer, stuck her tongue out at him, and turned to hide her face in Vridel's shoulder. This only served to fuel Mercer's laughter before something soft was thrown at him. It looked like a piece of cloth of some sort.

Vridel snatched the object out of the air with his free hand before it could hit Thea, his other comfortably wrapped around where she'd pressed her face into his shoulder. If he wanted to, she'd said.

Like he'd been able to think about anything else since he got here.

Still, though, he was a little curious about his gift, and so he unfolded the cloth. Inside turned out to be a cloak pin, the kind used to fasten all manner of cloaks, capes, scarves, and so on over one's shoulders. It was made of bright, polished silver, with a lily worked into the design, and nine tiny inset gems, each a different color, from mellow topaz to bright sapphire to a pale, peridot green exactly the shade of Thea's hair.

“We figured you might be open to embracing it," Sorcha explained, no doubt referencing his former, hated nickname. “Since you have us now, and all." He recognized when she said it that each gem's color did somehow correspond to a friend of his: one blue was Sorcha's eyes, another Sofia's hair. The topaz was Alliance yellow, and so on.

“Since I think everyone's figured out I do this now," Cyril added, handing over another piece of cloth, “there's one from me, too."

It was, fittingly enough, a cloak. Heavy enough for a ride in winter, but fine enough to wear into court as well. The outside was white silk, embroidered in gold and silver brocade, but the inside was a dramatic crimson—Vridel found it surprisingly to his taste.

The thoughtfulness of both struck a chord in him, and it was quite seriously that he looked up at all of them, unwilling to make a joke of what meant... a surprising amount to him, actually.

“Thank you," he said softly.

“You're welcome, Vridel. We hope you enjoy them," Senka stated as she smiled at him before she glanced towards Cyril. Her attention went to Sorcha, then, before Thea made a slight huffing sound, and Mercer grinned.

“But I bet the best present is yet to come, right, Thea?" Mercer stated, his grin inching just a bit wider. Thea took her face from Vridel's shoulder, and pouted her lips at Mecer.

“Mercer von Riegan, you hush," she stated, causing Mercer to snicker softly. “I'll give him his gift when I'm ready to," she stated, puffing her cheeks out softly before turning her attention back to Vridel. She bit the bottom of her lip as if she were contemplating something before she rested her head against his shoulder.

“Ugh, seriously, go away. There's too much cuteness going on over there," Mercer stated, earning a rolled up cloth being thrown his way. It hit Mercer in the face softly causing him to laugh harder that he nearly fell over on his back.

Sorcha, who'd thrown it, narrowed her eyes at him. “There might have been more if you could keep your big mouth shut," she said tartly. Reynard huffed a laugh.

“If there's private gift-giving to be done," he said, arching a knowing eyebrow in their direction, “Guest room's two doors down. Just tidy up after yourselves." Though there was a little teasing in the tone of his voice, Vridel could tell it was seriously-meant, in a way.

He considered this a moment, before promptly standing, still holding Thea, and nodding graciously to his friends. “Well in that case I think I'm going to see what my present is," he said, grinning slyly at the group of them. “Please feel free to continue getting drunk in my name. It's how I want parties in my honor to go."

Sorcha laughed, but before there could be any more quipping, Vridel swept them both out the door, smiling down at Thea rather more gently. “Open the other one for me? My hands are full." He angled her so she could easily reach the knob, then nudged the door shut behind them with his feet.

The guest room was benign, gently lit by a lantern and consisting of a neatly-made bed in the corner and a small sitting area. “Anywhere you'd like me to put you down?" he asked lightly, leaning down to nudge at her temple with his nose and murmur into her ear. “I'd be happy to just toss you on the bed and follow, but somehow I don't think that was the gift you had in mind, hm?" They hadn't really talked about that kind of thing, and Vridel was certainly not inclined to hurry her. While he quite hoped that would be happening eventually, he wanted her to decide when, to set the pace of the physical development of their relationship, because unlike him, she was in entirely uncharted territory here and to him her comfort was what mattered most.

Thea huffed lightly, and made a slight sound. “It's... certainly something to think about after I give you your gift," she muttered softly before removing her face from his shoulder. It was still rather a deep red color, but she turned to glance around the room. “You can still set me down on the bed, though. What I want to give you isn't something that requires a lot of... well, much of anything, really." She cleared her throat softly as she unhooked her arms from around his neck. When she was settled, she reached inside her breast pocket and pulled something out, covered in a simple cloth. She held it in her hands for a moment, her eyes focused on the object as if she were contemplating whether or not she wanted to give it to him.

“I know it's probably stupid, and not at all something you'd like, but... I usually don't have a lot to give someone. Or rather, I know I don't. I'm not... I'm not nobility, nor of any royal line, and what I can give you is something only small and... well, not at all extravagant or beautiful, but..." she began, trailing off towards the end. She glanced up to meet his eyes, holding them for a moment before she dropped them again.

“But it's something that only I can give to someone because I love him, and it's only something he can have of me. I have something of his, and I want him to have something of me, too." She was rambling again, only doing so when she was extremely nervous about something. She held the cloth out to him, smiling a little nervously as she seemed to wait for him to accept it.

“Happy Birthday, Vridel."

He would rather have liked to take issue with the fact that there was nothing much she could offer him, but she was so nervous that he didn't want to interrupt, and so Vridel was patiently silent, only taking the object when she extended it towards him. He unwrapped it carefully, setting the cloth aside and turning the object over in his palm.

It appeared to be a charm or talisman, shaped in the manner of the Crest of Cethleann, with a leather cord attached, presumably so it could be affixed to an object. He tilted his head and smiled. Something of her that only he could have... she really was so far different from anyone he'd ever known.

Months ago, he would have taken this entirely the wrong way, the reference to Crests enough to get his metaphorical hackles to rise, to assume that that was what she wanted from him in the first place. But it wasn't even a thought in his head now, so thoroughly had she dispelled the notion that she wanted anything from him but him, the person that he was, in his totality.

Slipping the cord over his wrist for the moment, he knelt slowly at the edge of the bed, reaching up with one hand to turn her face gently so that he could meet her eyes. “I've always hated my birthday," he said softly. And it was true that the reminder struck painfully still, that his time would be so short. Something he knew he would have to tell her soon—but not yet. Not tonight. His eyes, always such a hard, dark purple hue, were warm and soft.

“This is the first one I've ever enjoyed. And the difference is you, Thea. Just you." His friends were important to him, and he'd never deny it. But from the moment he'd walked in here, her warmth had, all on its own, chased away the cold this time of year always brought out in him. “Thank you."

There was a bright smile that bloomed on her face, and her eyes softened as she glanced of him. “You're very welcome, Vridel. I..." she paused, swallowing thickly as she shook her head. “I hope that... I can help you enjoy the next ones to come, too. And whatever else you might want to celebrate with me." She reached up to cradle his face with her own hands, and she pulled him closer so that she could touch her forehead to his. She was warm to the touch, but that might have been due to her embarrassment as her cheeks were still red.

“If there's anything I can ever do for you, all you have to do is ask," she whispered softly, closing her eyes as she held their faces together. “And... um, well... I'm sure we're not needed back quite yet," she stated, her eyes opening to stare into his. “How about we discuss this other present of yours, hm?" she spoke so softly that it was almost as if she didn't say it at all, but her eyes were locked with his with a seriousness to them that she only seldomly had.

He couldn't deny the powerful thrill that shot through him at the words, a tingle that began at the base of his spine and lanced up to his scalp, all but making him shudder. He huffed lightly, though, and gently shook his head. “Mm... I'd need a little longer for that," he said, letting his voice drop low with promise. “But of you would care to offer additional gifts," he mused, tilting his head up to catch her lips with his and then slowly rising, climbing onto the bed next to her, then laying back and pulling her so she was sprawled atop him.

“I'll always takes kisses, you know."

She laughed, the sound light and feathery as she seemed delighted about something. “Okay... kisses it is," she spoke, leaning down so that she could brush her lips against his cheek. “But you didn't say where so that will have to do for now," she continued, pulling back and grinning at him as if she'd found something funny.

Vridel frowned at this, quite certain she was teasing him and at once thrilled and surprised by it. “Playing games, are we, milady?" Abruptly, he rolled them both over so that her back was to the mattress and he loomed over her. For a moment, his breath caught at the sheer perfection of her image, strands of hair pooled about her head and the warmth of her eyes caught in the mellow light of the lantern.

He was quite sure that this must be what it was like to be in love. To be so struck anew by the familiar, and to feel in his chest a strange ache that was not only not painful but had a strange pleasantness to it, at once an emptiness and the knowledge that its fulfillment was right in front of him. He swallowed, his voice coming out rougher than he'd intended. “Two can do that, but if you're amenable, I'd be only too happy to kiss you somewhere rather... different." He ran his touch up the outside of her leg, gently suggesting what he meant and unsure. Unsure she'd know what he meant, and unsure she'd be amenable if she did. But that was, after all, the point of asking.

“I did say I'd like to learn new things with you, Vi," she stated, bringing her hands down to cradle his face. “And, um..." she paused to clear her throat, and looked for a moment unsure of how she wanted to phrase her next sentence, or words. Her eyes closed as she took a deep, shuddering breath. She seemed to steel herself and renew her resolve as she opened her eyes to regard him.

“Well... I'd like to keep learning things with you, so... of course I'm open to the idea of... different." She grinned up at him, her face conveying at once the seriousness of her statement, and her willingness to be taught. “You've been a great instructor, thus far, after all."

This woman.

She was going to be the death of him, but Vridel was quite certain he was going to die a happy man, and that made it quite all right, in his estimation. Probably the only context in which he'd ever be able to comfortably think about it, actually. “Oh?" He couldn't have helped the edge of grit to his voice for anything at all, and didn't even try.

“Then let me teach you something new..."

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. 1181 - Guardian Moon - Tuesday the 13th
Reynard's House - Evening - Light Snow
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer knew he needed to get a warmer coat. They were only in Guardian Moon, and he knew the cold would last well into Great Tree Moon, but he couldn't bring himself to buy one. He was weathering the cold as best as he could. He didn't need to, but... well, a certain person could do just fine in the cold, he supposed, and he wanted to be able to do that with her, too. He pulled the coat closer to his body, shivering just slightly as the sounds of crunching snow filled his ears. Today they had all agreed to meet at Reynard's house, this time for an update. The first time they were all together at Rey's was two days ago for Vi's birthday. It was mostly so that Thea, Sor, and Sen could all find their way to Rey's without needing any guidance from him, Cy, or Vi.

It wasn't as if he wouldn't walk with one or two of them, but it was safer to depart separately. Otherwise there would be eyes on them, and who knows what might happen? Always better to be safe, and cautious rather than get caught by the wrong people. When he made it to Reynard's, he opened the door with the spare key he had, and tossed it back into his pocket, closing the door behind him with a soft thud. He grinned a little to himself as he cleared his throat.

“Darlings I'm home!" he stated out loud. He was quite certain that Reynard and Vridel would be here, already, however; the voice that echoed back surprised him a little.

“You think too highly of yourself, Mercer," Senka spoke. He rouned the corner and spotted her sitting in one of the chairs by the table. He could smell a plate of pastries coming from somewhere, and his eyes searched for the source. He spotted them, and immediately, he began to salivate. He glanced towards Senka and, surprisingly, she nodded. “Help yourself. The others can get their share when they arrive."

“You're too good to me, Sen." He picked up one of the jelly doughnuts, and made his way towards an empty chair.

Vridel snorted, sharing a chair with Thea at the table. They appeared to be sharing a doughnut at the moment; or at least there was only one plate in front of them. “She is; you really don't deserve it."

Sorcha and Teach arrived last, having apparently met up on the way. There were snowflakes in her hair still when she took a spot next to him, reaching for one of the pastries and a napkin; they glimmered a little in the light. Though she'd no doubt shed a cloak of some kind in the entryway, and her cheeks were pink from the chill, she did not indeed appear uncomfortable at all.

Teach dropped into the chair nearest Sen, leaning over to place a chaste kiss in her hair, present company being about the only place they could really get away with even such small things as those. “Sorry we're a little late," he said. “I got caught up talking to Alois. Sorcha had to get me out of being roped into drinks."

Mercer's heart warmed at the gesture, still. Senka smiled a little more each time he saw her, and he supposed that might have been because of Teach. He'd been smiling a little more, too, after the incident with his father, but Mercer knew that Teach would still need more time to heal from something like that. Instead, he reached over to smooth the snowflakes out of Sorcha's hair, and grinned at her.

“That's because my fiancée's the best at rescuing people," he spoke, knowing full well it would embarrass her. Not that he really minded; he enjoyed the pink flush on her face as much as he enjoyed her company. Senka huffed a light laugh as she shook her head. Thea rolled her eyes but was still grinning as she took another bite from the jelly doughnut. Mercer was actually surprised that she hadn't just stuffed the whole thing in her mouth. She was prone to doing things like that.

Sorcha did indeed turn pink, though whether it was more from what he said or the touch of his hand in her hair was hard to say. “I just said I had a question about the homework..." she mumbled, taking a bite of her doughnut.

Vi grinned, breaking off a piece of Thea's and chewing it over before he spoke. “So anyway," he said, “we've invited you here to... pool our resources, I suppose. The three of us," he pointed to himself, Mercer, and Reynard, “have been pretty convinced from early this year that something's going on behind the scenes with the Church. The Professor's been helping us try to figure out what for a while too, but... we're hitting more dead ends than not, and we thought you three might be able to help."

She really was adorable, but Vi's statement took precedent. He nodded in agreement. “Yep," Mercer stated as he took a bite from his doughnut. Senka tilted her head in an inquisitive manner, and Thea merely pursed her lips together. “As you all are aware, other than the fact of Sen's recent rise to fame," he began, referring to, of course, the information of her being a Duscur native, “the archbishop seems to have it out for us all. From the beginning, she's given us the more dangerous missions, almost as if she were trying to get us killed." He let that bit of information sink in before he continued.

“Not only that, it seems that she doesn't like our particular friendship with Teach. She's very... protective of him. And as you all know, he has a literal goddess in his head. We think Rhea's interest in Teach is because she knows that he is the vessel for Sothis, but we don't have anything solid to prove it." He turned his attention to Vridel, nodding his head to let him include more information if he wanted to.

“On top of this," Vi added, “there are certain strange discrepancies in Church recountings of history, and large gaps in information about certain things. Why does it seem to be that a subset of the people here don't age? Who are Solon and these other people, really? What do they have to do with Rhea, and what information gives her basis for saying, as she has, that their actions are only a part of something larger?" He shook his head, then turned to Reynard.

The other man seemed prepared for this, and provided a rather efficient outline of what they'd gathered so far: their suspicions about Rhea, the strange connections between Crests and the Immaculate One, ancient technology and Solon, and even an abbreviated version of what Vi had said, once, about Those Who Slither in the Dark.

“We have a lot of pieces," he concluded wryly, “but no idea how they fit together, or how many we're missing."

By the end, Sorcha's eyes were wide, a sort of thoughtful surprise evident over her features. “How can I help?" she asked simply.

“You can help us with deciphering a lot of the old texts and what's written in between. Teach said you're pretty good at things like that, and Vi and I can only do so much," Mercer stated, glancing towards Sorcha as he smiled thinly at her. He really didn't want to involve any more of his friends in these things, however; they had been right when they talked about it, previously. They needed the expertise, more, than anything else. And with more heads put together, the more likely it was that they'd be able to see patterns, or something.

Thea hummed lightly as if to herself before she glanced up at the others. “I want to help, too, but I don't know how much help I can be. I've... I've never really explored much outside of the church, but I might be able to help with some of those missing things. And... as for the Immaculate One, I saw an image of it, before. It's... it almost looks like a large dragon, right?" Thea spoke. Mercer nodded softly, as Thea shook her head.

“I don't know what happened to the book it was in, but I haven't seen it in nearly two years. The one thing I remember it saying was that the Immaculate One was a form, of something, or someone. I can't remember, exactly, but I do remember that."

Mercer pursed his lips together at that. It was a form? That might have explained something, but he was going to wait until he had more information. Senka had remained mostly quiet through the whole ordeal.

“A form of something?" Sorcha's brows knit. “And you said it had the Crest of Seiros on its head, right? Maybe that's related?"

“It might be," Vi said. “It looked almost like a Crest stone, actually. Which might explain where the Crest stone of Seiros is. It's not in a Relic, I don't think, as we don't have one." The Imperial family, of course, most famously bore the Crest of Seiros, the only line documented to have ever done so. “But you know, it's curious. The stories say Seiros shared her power with the first Emperor. I wonder if this is somehow different from the others—the Saints and the Elites, and if that explains why their bloodlines have Relics and mine does not."

Teach, meanwhile, stroked a hand through Sen's hair, murmuring only just at volume enough for anyone else to hear. “Something on your mind?"

Senka was either too far in thought that she didn't hear Teach, or she was still thinking about something. She blinked, then, before shaking her head. “Well," she began, lifting her eyes to meet those at the table, “when we were in the tombs, when you received the Sword of the Creator, wasn't that in Seiros' Tomb?" Mercer arched a brow at that.

“Yeah, but it's obvious that Teach isn't a line of Seiros, but rather the goddess. Otherwise he wouldn't be able to wield the sword," Mercer stated. Senka nodded her head slowly, and furrowed her brows.

“That means that Seiros's tomb is empty because there is no body to be found for it. You would think that for a being so highly revered, they would have done everything in their power to protect her rest site. For it to have been so easily infiltrated... it's almost as if Rhea knew that Seiros's body would not be found there. Not even her bones. So why would something that belongs to the goddess be in the tomb of someone she supposedly sent a divine revelation to? And if the sword was given to Seiros, how could she wield it without the Crest Stone?"

“It's like with Maurice. If... if Blutgang and overtaxing his Crest caused him to turn into a beast, isn't it possible that the Immaculate One might, in theory, also be Seiros?"

“That still doesn't explain why Seiros doesn't have a Relic," Mercer stated. “It might be possible that, unlike the Elites, Seiros didn't have a Relic to pass on. And now that you mention it... none of the Saints have Relics, either. What gives?"

“I'd want to assume that if a dragon were flying around somewhere someone would have said somethi—" Vi stopped abruptly, something almost visibly clicking together for him. “You don't think—that fable. The one I was told to help master my Crests. That associated each one with a dragon?"

“You think they might be associated with actual dragons?" Teach asked, blinking slowly.

“They already are, given the picture of the Immaculate One," Sorcha pointed out. “And... come to think of it, Maurice was pretty... reptilian, right? Like he had scales and everything? Maybe a Crest's power... really is a dragon's power?"

That was something to think about. A dragon's power is what a Crest consisted of. If that were the case, that must have meant that, before the Church of Seiros was founded, dragons really did exist. Mercer pursed his lips together, though.

“If that were true, then why is the Immaculate One the only one mentioned? If the others were dragons as well, that would mean that the Elites... they had to have been dragons too, right? If they were, why weren't they able to transform and help out Seiros? It's possible that they had someone share that power with them. If that's the case, then... everything we know about the Elites, is wrong, too." Mercer felt something in his stomach drop at that, but it was still something of a possibility.

“It seems weird, doesn't it? Think about Maurice. He supposedly drew too much power from his Crest, and transformed into a beast. But if the Crests belonged to dragons—shouldn't he have been capable of turning into one of those? I'm willing to bet a dragon is more powerful than a beast." Honestly most of them could give most beasts a run for their money at this point, so she wasn't wrong. Maurice had been stronger than average, but far from undefeatable, as Senka and Teach had demonstrated.

“And why would the Elites need weapons for their stones if the stones were part of their body like that? Maybe... maybe that was what separates them from the Saints? Including Saint Seiros? If the stone's in a Relic, if couldn't be used to transform? But if it wasn't...?" She seemed to have trouble completing the thought; there were certainly still loose threads there.

“That seems to imply that if Vridel could find a stone he'd be able to become a dragon. No offense, but that's kind of absurd," Rey said, frowning thoughtfully. “Still... it doesn't seem totally wrong to me, somehow."

“I don't think that's quite right. If Vridel found a stone, he'd likely turn into a beast like Maurice, not a dragon. I think... it has something more to do with the Stones being on a person's body. The Immaculate One had a Crest Stone on its forehead, correct?" Mercer nodded.

“What if the Crest Stone is likely to be inside of the body? Crests and Crest Stones all resonate with each other. The Crest of Blaiddyd resonates with Areadbhar, the Crest of Riegan, Failnaught. What if that is the connection? The blood and Stones? If, say Mercer, for example, tried to wield Areadbhar, I doubt he'd be able to do it properly because he has a Crest of Riegan, and not Blaiddyd. And it is likely that Areadbhar would reject him. The same if Vridel tried to wield Failnaught, or if Sorcha tried with the Sword of the Creator."

“So what you're saying is that a Crest Stone and Crest have to be of the same blood?" Senka nodded her head. Mercer could almost see that, actually.

“That seems right but... still not everything. Because the Professor can use the Sword of the Creator without any stone, so..." Sorcha frowned.

“We usually make a point of discounting him in trying to form theories," Vi noted wryly. “He's too weird."

Senka smiled softly. “That's alright, I like him weird."

Teach huffed a little, giving her the tiniest smile. “It might be that having Sothis herself in my head serves a similar function," he noted. “She thinks we're sort of on the right track, by the way, though she can't be sure. Her memories, like mine, are incomplete."

Mercer pursed his lips together as he regarded Teach. “I wonder if Sothis being in your head has anything to do with Rhea," he spoke, pursing his lips together. He glanced towards Vridel and Sorcha before turning back to Teach, and continued: “What if she did something to you when you were a child, and that's why you have Sothis in your head?" Thea frowned slightly at the news; it was news to her and Senka, at least.

“Are you saying that she experimented on Professor?" Thea asked, tilting her head slightly.

“Not necessarily experimented on, but... what exactly did she do to Teach. If Teach was on the verge of death, wouldn't her healing capablities, alone, have saved him and his mother?" Thea seemed to consider the information before nodding her head.

“Other than sister, Rhea is one of the strongest white magic users in the Church. She should have been able to save a life depending on how far they were gone. If... if Professor's mother was already on death's door, Rhea wouldn't have been able to save her, but from the sounds of it," Thea glanced towards Teach, “Professor was also at death's door."

“Apparently it was some kind of either-or choice," Teach explained. “And my mother chose to save me. My father also said he had me looked at by a doctor in secret, without Rhea knowing, and that I had no heartbeat. He writes later that one seemed to appear, but... not for a decade."

“White magic can do a lot," Vi said, expelling a break and shaking his head almost in disbelief. “But it can't keep someone alive without a heartbeat. Not for more than a minute, maybe. If that's true, something else definitely happened, and the only one left who knows what—"

“Is the Archbishop," Sorcha finished with a frown. “I don't think we're going to get far in that direction." She sighed, then looked to Teach almost guiltily. “Um, Professor, I'm sure there's an explanation, but... if you can wind back time, then...?"

“Something interfered," he said softly. “Someone, maybe. There was another man, who looked like Solon, and escaped with Monica. Teleported, somehow. After the first time, I used the Divine Pulse, but... it didn't go back as far as I'd intended. So I tried to get Monica before her hit landed, but he just... appeared. And then the Pulse wouldn't work at all. Sothis can't explain it, other than to say that some things are fated, and her power is not limitless."

“Well... shit, that's not good. If someone can mess with a goddess's power, then that might make him some kind of god," Mercer spoke. It was entirely possible that whoever that man was, he was extremely skilled in the arcane, or perhaps had knowledge that they did not possess. He turned his attention towards Cyril and pursed his lips.

“Who is Monica to them?" Senka mused out loud, glancing briefly towards Cyril before turning her attention back to the group. “Monica escaped with them, and if Cyril used his ability to wind back time to save... his father, then who is she that those people would save her? The only thing we know about her is who her family is, and that she was supposedly a missing student from the previous year."

“It's possible that she was never missing to begin with, and when they kidnapped Thea," Mercer winced a bit, knowing that it was a sore spot for her. He glanced her way, but she merely nodded her head. “Maybe they used that opportunity to place her back into the academy to keep an eye on things. To see what we knew and what Rhea was up to?"

“You know..." Reynard frowned, picking a bit at his pastry. “I attributed it to trauma at the time, but a few of the faculty were talking about her. Apparently, her personality since returning had been entirely different from what they expected. By all accounts she was a shy, quiet girl last year. Never drew attention to herself at all."

Vi snorted. “Definitely a change."

Teach appeared to consider this for a moment. “She said something, to my father. 'Even with her gift, this is all you can manage,' something to that effect. It's been bothering me, because it doesn't seem like nonsense, but I have no idea what she was referring to."

“Her gift..." Sorcha repeated, humming thoughtfully. “Besides your mother and the Archbishop, do you know if your father had any close female acquaintances?"

He shook his head. “Not really. Mercenary life tended to be very... male-dominated." He paused. “As to why save Monica, that other man did say she had a purpose still to fulfill. I don't know what, but he didn't seem to care much for her beyond that simple fact. Something tells me he wouldn't have revealed himself if it weren't necessary for some larger plan, though there was no hint as to what it might be."

“I hate to say the Archbishop is right about anything," Reynard remarked, “but in this case I think her suspicion that there's a larger whole here is spot on. Too bad she cloaks it in speculation and won't just tell us what that whole is."

Mercer contemplated the information he had available. Crest Stones, dragons, conspiracies, it all seemed too fantastical to him. It left more questions than answers, but he supposed that was just how things were going to go from here on out. They needed more information, more clues, and if anything, more heads. He pushed a light sigh through his nose and glanced at the others.

“It's only going to get more difficult from here on out, but now that we have at least a total of seven people to put our heads together, hopefully we can figure something out before graduation," he murmured, running a hand through his hair. Three months wasn't a lot of time, and he knew that once they all scattered to the wind, keeping in touch would be difficult. Not only that, access to the church and everything going on inside, would be difficult as well. If Thea remained at the church, it would be possible that she could feed them information, however; the way she was currently looking at Vridel... Mercer knew that she would follow him wherever he went.

And he couldn't ask Vridel to ask her to stay behind. He couldn't ask that of her, either.

Sorcha pursed her lips. “If you've got anything for me to take a look at, I'll get cracking as soon as I can. I can't promise I'll succeed, but the sooner the better."

Vi nodded. “I'll get them to you. Everyone else... just keep your eyes and ears open. We can't pretend there's not danger here. Like the professor says, priority one is keeping ourselves and each other alive. The rest comes after."

There were several nods, and the meeting broke there. There might not be much time left, but—

at least they had more help now.

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. 1181 - Guardian Moon - Friday the 23rd
Practice Grounds - Evening - Overcast
Vridel von Hresvelg


Cyril had blocked out the entire practice arena for the day, and Vridel made absolutely sure to arrive first. It wasn't that he planned to not participate; on the contrary, he would at least try to use the Crest everyone knew he had. It was something he could do very reliably because of the experiments. He might be able to help the others, if any of them were struggling to do so at will. He knew Thea was quite good now; having Lyanna to teach her was helpful in that respect, he supposed. Senka and the Professor had been practicing by themselves for some time, as she also had a Relic which surely required even greater control of it.

But at the moment he meant to seek the Professor for something else entirely.

Vridel had never really had what he'd call a mentor. Tutors, yes. People paid to sit with him regularly and teach him things until he mastered them or they quit from frustration. Typically, neither took long and it was a race to the finish. Certainly, there had never been anyone in his life he trusted enough to ask for counsel on anything important, not before he came here.

But... even though Cyril was scarcely older than he was, he did trust him in that way. And, well, there were some rather momentous problems in front of him. He found that he just wanted to... talk it over with someone.

Fortunately, the Professor appeared a moment later, his nose buried in an unfamiliar book. The simple leather cover made Vridel think it might be a journal of some kind.

“Professor?" he inquired.

Cyril looked up, uncharacteristically surprised. Had he really not even sensed that he was here?

“Is everything all right?" Perhaps a stupid question, given recent circumstances, but...

The Professor sighed quietly, closing the book over and gesturing vaguely with it. “My father's," he said. “It's been... interesting to read. I suppose I might be obsessing a bit, trying to find answers that aren't there."

“I know the feeling," Vridel said simply.

“You're early," Cyril observed mildly, stowing the journal in a satchel. “Hoping to get some extra practice in, or...?"

“Hoping to talk to you, actually," he said, surprising himself with his frankness. He supposed he really had changed over the course of the last nine months. “I wish I knew about what. I just—" He pushed a breath from his nose.“There's a lot going on, with all this stuff about Sen coming out, and it's just reminded me that this is the kind of problem I'm going to have to deal with over and over again when I go back to Adrestia."

Not home. He doubted he'd think about it that way ever again. This was his home now, if he even had one. Or maybe it was more accurate to say that they were.

“And I'm not exactly going to have nine of the most capable people I know there to help me fix it." He really wasn't sure what he was seeking. He had plans—some tentative ones, at least, alliances he was carefully laying the groundwork for in correspondence even now, but it wouldn't do to build castles on sand, or place all his hopes in such things. He was gathering information on his adversaries, too, but as of yet there wasn't much he could use. He suspected that if he wanted his country under his control, assassinations would be necessary, but...

As readily as he would once have done those things, or ordered them done, he found himself wanting now to be better than that, better than he was. Much of it was because of Thea, of course. He wanted to be the person she saw in him, and that person would never assassinate his political opponents. But it was also the rest of them: the way Mercer was ruthless but had clear ethical boundaries he would never cross, the way Sorcha slowly worked to conquer a system that rejected her through sheer hard work and good will, no matter how many times it stung her. Even the way every strategy Cyril devised or suggested in class relied on the same fundamental premise:

Protect each other, and don't leave anyone behind.

How much would it be worth, if he won at the expense of being the kind of man who could not uphold the right principles? The principles he hoped the entire world could be brought to live by? Perhaps he'd become a foolish idealist at some point this year, but... he was, in a strange way, happier than he'd ever been as a downhearted cynic. And he felt more sure. That had to count for something.

“I don't know how much I can help," Cyril admitted softly. “Matters of countries, and rulership... I don't really know anything about those. But—if it helps, I think you always will have the nine most capable people you know. Not right next door, but—we won't vanish from your life just because we're farther away. You can still call on us, for what that's worth. And... I think you have all you need to be successful. You're clever, Vridel, very much so, and you've come a long way. And you've got something to live for. I think when it's all said and done, you'll be fine."

The Professor wasn't the flattering type—quite the opposite. He was often blunt in his honesty, even when the truth was a bit ugly. So Vridel knew he meant that, and somehow...

Somehow it was exactly what he'd needed to hear in this moment. Perhaps because it came from him.

“Thanks, Cyril."

The other man nodded. “Write me sometimes, okay?"

Vridel chuckled at that. “Oh you won't get rid of me that easily. I'm sure I'll be wanting plenty of tactical and strategic advice from here on out."

A couple of people entered the practice ring, next, and from the voices, Vridel knew it to be Amalthea and Mercer.

“Ha! I won, Mercer! Now you have to eat nothing but fruits for the rest of the month!" Amalthea stated, grinning from ear to ear as Mercer pouted in her direction. From the looks of it, they had been racing to the training grounds and had placed a bet of some sorts. Amalthea was clearly the winner, if the triumphant look on her face was anything to go by.

“Yeah, well you cheated," Mercer huffed slightly as he glanced at Vridel. “You have a cheater in your midst," he stated, pointing towards Thea who merely furrowed her brows at him.

“You're just a sore loser, Mercer von Riegan. Now hush and take it like a man!" she stated, pointing a finger at him. Mercer couldn't hold back his amusement and began laughing to the point that he almost doubled over.

“I can't, Thea. I'm a delicate flower."

“Mercer, how did you lose? She has short legs and wears armor everywhere. Did you forget how to run or something?" Vridel arched an eyebrow, shorting softly with amusement. Of course, when Sorcha appeared a few moments later, he had to wonder if perhaps his friend hadn't gotten distracted.

“Hey guys," she said, rolling out her shoulders and moving into a few pre-spar stretches. “Crest practice today, huh?"

He thought she sounded a little nervous, but then he didn't blame her for that. Sorcha had never used hers, that he knew of. It was something of a sensitive spot for her, he had to imagine, considering how vital it was to the history of her bloodline and country.

Thea pursed her lips in Vridel's direction as Mercer tried to catch his breath. “You insult me by saying I'm not fast, Vridel von Hresvelg." The smile on her face, though, suggested that she wasn't at all, mad at him. Mercer rolled his eyes softly, though, and took a deep breath.

“I got distracted by someone," he replied, his eyes narrowing in mischief towards Sorcha. He arched a brow in her direction, before chuckling lightly. “And yes, we are here for Crest practice since some of us don't exactly have training partners," he put emphasis on the last word as his eyes slid towards Cyril before going back to Vridel.

“It's not our fault we decided to actually practice in pairs, you know," Thea stated, arching a brow in Mercer's direction before shaking her head. She glanced around and pursed her lips. “Usually I'm the one who's late; where's Senka?" she stated, glancing towards Sorcha as if she'd know. It was Mercer who answered, though.

“She probably got distracted by something. I'm sure she'll be here in a few minutes," he stated, shrugging his shoulders lightly. Thea made a slight 'oh' with her mouth and smiled. “We can get started without her, though, since she's had a bit more practice than most of us."

Cyril looked a little troubled by this; it definitely wasn't like her to be late. “I'm going to check around just in case," he murmured. “Vridel, can you get everyone started?"

He nodded a little. “Sure." When Cyril had moved out of the ring at a slow jog, he turned to the others. “All right, so Thea and I can reliably use our Crests at will; what about you two?"

“Pretty sure I've never used it in my life," Sorcha admitted. “I don't even have the first clue how."

“Eh, I'm still having a bit of trouble using mine," Mercer replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “I can activate it sometimes, but not all the time. It's a lot better than it used to be," he continued, pushing a sigh through his nose. He ran a hand through his hair, shaking it out a bit before he dropped it to his side.

“It usually helps when I'm thinking about something other than trying to kill someone, if you know what I mean," he added.

Vridel blinked. “I don't think I do. Is there something else in particular it helps to think about?" He knew of course that Thea's Crest was tied to healing and so obviously didn't activate in the case of hostile intent, but... Mercer's was more like his or Sorcha's, and should work accordingly.

Mercer sighed and shook his head. “As far as I know about my Crest, it allows me to see things clearer and sharper than most people, which in point, allows me to hit targets with uncanny accuracy," he began, pursing his lips together. “You all know how I feel about needlessly killing someone, however; I find that it activates a lot easier when I'm focused on keeping someone alive."

“During most of our missions, my focus is making sure everyone lives. If I see someone trying to ambush one of our friends, or trying to sneak attack someone, my Crest seems to activate a lot easier, hence why it's easier to activate if I'm thinking about something else."

Ah, that made more sense. “Once you've mastered it, what you do or don't intend to do won't matter much," Vridel noted. “It will be just as easy to do one way or another. But if you know that much, then you've got a good place to start. For me it mostly came down to repeating it so many times I learned the feel and could reproduce it at any moment."

By way of demonstration, he activated the Crest of Seiros, the silver-white outline appearing on his brow. It seemed to ripple the air around him, charging it with a live, almost crackling potential, but it was nothing so disruptive as the first time Sen had used hers—it was fully under his control, after all. “Obviously I don't intend to take a swing at any of you, for protection or otherwise, but... there it is." He shrugged, keeping it active.

“Sometimes one Crest activating can sort of... help draw another out, so I'll keep this. Grab a practice weapon and I guess we'll see what we can do."

Sorcha nodded, rolling up her sleeves and taking a lance down from the rack of practice weapons. “I'm pretty sure mine could work with a bow, but I've only ever seen it with a lance so I guess I'd better start there."

Mercer shrugged his shoulders and grabbed one of the practice bows and quivers. “I guess I can have fun shooting arrows at you all day," Mercer stated, grinning lightly before glancing towards Thea. “Are you going to let your partner practice by himself, Thea?" he stated, causing her to purse her lips together. She shook her head, though.

“Nope, but my Crest isn't as inclined for battle as yours or his is. I won't be of much help, but if what he says is true," she stated, sliding her eyes towards Vridel, “then I can at least keep mine activated as we spar. I don't mind." The smile on her face suggested that she did not, infact, mind.

“Well, only if you're sure," Mercer replied as he shifted the bow from his right hand to his left.

Vridel grinned. “Then we can two-on-two it. Try not to lose to us too quickly."

Hopping into the ring, he waited for the others to do the same before lighting a spell, undercharging it so it wouldn't do any major damage to anyone. He hurled it for Sorcha, who rolled smoothly out of the way, coming up out of it to lunge for Thea; clearly she intended to occupy the melee half of the other team.

Mercer didn't seem to mind as he quickly notched an arrow to his bow, and aimed it for Vridel. Thea, on the other hand, used the practice axe in her hand to block the tip of the lance and twisted out of its reach before moving towards Sorcha, axe raised and aiming for her shoulder. Mercer's arrow missed, though, as he clicked his tongue in disappointment. He dodged another one of Vridel's spells, but didn't seem at all interested in letting his arrows fly. Instead, he seemed to be watching Vridel's movements, as if gauging them in order to react properly.

Thea seemed to be doing a little better on her end, holding up against Sorcha's lance by occasionally deflecting it, or twisting out of the way. Unfortunately, though, that meant that she couldn't get too close in with her practice axe, and it wasn't until one of Mercer's arrows let loose in her direction that the faint glow of his Crest made its appearance on his wrist. It seemed he intended to protect Sorcha for a moment. The arrow hit Thea's arm, causing her to momentarily stop in her swing.

“Good!" Vridel said, genuinely excited. “Now remember how that feels, and keep it active as long as you can." That was the real trick to it, honestly—as long as a person could get over that first initial hurdle and remember how it felt, the rest was comparatively simple.

Sorcha, on the other hand, just looked frustrated. Vridel suspected but couldn't know for sure that it likely really did take aggression to activate the Crest of Blaiddyd. It was called the Grim Dragon's Crest in the legend, after all. They'd probably have to provoke her, in a way that even ordinary battle usually didn't.

That was it.

“Thea—go for Mercer," Vridel said. All she had to do was keep him busy and keep the pressure on him so Vridel could prepare a much stronger blow. If it worked, it might actually knock him out—but he was sort of counting on it not working.

Thea nodded her head as she switched targets. Mercer, who seemed to anticipate her movement, nocked an arrow as quickly as he could and aimed it for her. She brought up the axe to block it, watching as the arrow hit the flat part of her axe, and continued making her way towards him. It looked more like she was chasing him than anything, probably because Mercer was trying to keep his distance in order to get a better fix on her. But she seemed to be doing just as Vridel told her. She was going after Mercer and keeping his attention on her, never mind that Sorcha was still there.

“Mercer von Riegan, stop fleeing!" she shouted at him, causing Mercer to snort softly. Even if their spar was, for all intents and purposes, serious, they at least seemed to be getting the hang of their Crests.

“No can do, Thea. That's the whole point of being an archer, is keeping my distance so I can do this!" he stated, fitting another arrow into his bow and aiming for her shoulder.

By this point, Vridel had charged up the spell, fending Sorcha off with the sword in his free hand. He let a little flicker of fire bleed into it, just to threaten more damage than he really intended to do.

“Is that all you've got, Sorcha?" he drawled, almost lazily lobbing the spell towards Mercer.

The only warning he got was a burst of light, and then suddenly there was a lance a hairsbreadth from his nose. He actually felt a lock of his hair fall, fluttering past his shoulders and towards the ground. The spell, somehow, had guttered out; it seemed the lance had passed through it fast enough that it actually lost its integrity. He didn't know when it had happened, but his other hand was completely empty. The sword clattered to the ground a moment later.

Vridel blinked at the lance, following the shaft of it down towards his stepsister, who was regarding him with wide, almost startled blue eyes. The inside of her right forearm bore an ice-blue rune, spiky where so many Crests were smooth.

“Vivi? Are you okay? You were kind of... really slow there for a second."

Mercer, however, seemed to find it absolutely hilarious, and was currently doubled over with laughter. Amalthea had abandoned him and jogged up to Vridel and Sorcha, looking curiously at Sorcha with a bright smile.

“That was really cool, Sorcha! It looks like your Crest makes you incredibly fast. I didn't even see you move!" Thea exclaimed as Mercer walked up to the three of them. He was grinning from ear to ear as he arched a brow at Sorcha.

“So... I wonder what else it makes you fast with," he stated, arching his brow in a suggestive way, causing Thea to smack him in the shoulder.

“Mercer von Riegan you hush your stupid fish face and congratulate her properly!" she stated, pursing her lips at him. His smile turned sly as he glanced down at Sorcha.

“Well you heard the lady, how should I properly congratulate you?"

Sorcha narrowed her eyes, a slight flush rising to her face. “Wouldn't being too fast be more of a concern for you than me, lord fish-face?" she replied, tilting her head at him.

Vridel snickered.

“As for proper congratulations... I don't really need any. It wasn't a contest, after all. And now we've all done it, so maybe we just show the Professor and Sen when they reappear and then all go eat?"

“Speaking of," Vridel murmured. “Where are they?"

Mercer snickered softly as he shrugged his shoulders. “Who knows. Maybe they got distracted by something," he stated. Amalthea rolled her eyes, however; a light huffing sound caught her attention.

“You would like that, wouldn't you, Mercer?" Senka stated as she came into view with Cyril. “I apologize for the tardiness. I... got caught up by something," she stated, her eyes narrowing softly as Mercer shook his head.

“No worries, Sen. You and Teach just missed Sor and I activating our Crest, is all."

“Oh? Well I'm sure Sorcha did wonderfully."

“And what about me? No praise for me, Sen?" Mercer whined. Senka regarded him with a flat stare, though.

“No."

“Ouch, Sen. That hurts."

“You're a delicate flower, remember, Merc?" Thea supplied, giggling lightly.

“And now you've corrupted Thea."

“She has not," Vridel asserted. “Corrupting Thea is my job, and I'm quite good at it."

Sorcha laughed.

And somehow he figured that for all the uncertainty of the future, the present was too excellent to regret.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg

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I.Y. 1181 - Guardian Moon - Monday the 26th
Courtyard - Afternoon - Cloudy
Senka Rinaldi


Senka sighed, tucking the tome underneath her arm as she ignored the stares from the students around her. There was no end to the harsh slurs being tossed in her direction, but she was learning to ignore them. She had people who cared about her, who didn't care where she was from, or who she was. They cared about her, and that was all Senka found she needed. She could endure the harsh words, the thrown objects, and everything else associated with being who she was. Their thoughts, their words didn't matter to her.

And she'd nearly assaulted a student the other day for trying to get under her skin in a more literal sense. He was brave in his thought that he could get her to lay with him simply because of the rumor about her and Cyril. He was lucky Cyril showed up when he did, otherwise she might have done something that someone might not have approved of. It was likely that she'd have been given a lecture as well, or a punishment of sorts.

That wasn't important to her, though. She wanted to see how her friend was doing. It was his name, after all, being smeared through the mud as the leak, but Senka knew differently. She knew Vridel wouldn't have done that, and for someone to have suggested it, well... it made her angry that they tried to blame him for it. She knew who it was; knew who the person behind it was, but they couldn't prove it. They had no evidence to back it up, but they all knew.

But most of all, she just wanted to clear up any confusion. She wanted him to know that she did not blame him, that she never did. Never could. He was her best friend, and that meant something to her. It was that in mind that she began to search the academy for him.

She found him in one of the lesser-used courtyards, perhaps enjoying the slight improvement in the weather from the day before. He was sitting on a bench, legs pulled up to be crossed underneath him, some kind of book resting in his lap. Though his breath clouded with every exhalation, he didn't seem to be all that chilly—perhaps the fact that he was wearing his new cloak with its clasp in fact helped.

He looked up at her approach, though, tilting his head to the side and half-smiling softly. “Looking for some peace and quiet?" he asked in a knowing tone of voice. No doubt it was a reference to the rumors and harassment.

“I was looking for you, actually, but I suppose they are both the same," she replied, returning the smile with one of her own. Those were becoming increasingly easier, she'd found, to do. Smiling had been something she thought she'd lost after everything, but knowing that her friends were able to help her remember it, especially him, it warmed her heart. She took a seat next to him, though, and sighed softly.

“How are you doing, by the way? With... with everything that's been going on?" she asked, glancing at him from the corners of her eyes. It couldn't have been easy to deal with, but from all appearances, it looked like he was handling it well. Not that Senka could ever claim otherwise. Vridel did not often confide in her, and she wouldn't want him to unless it was something he wanted to do.

He shook his head faintly. “Nothing new, honestly. It bothers me that anyone would think I'd do that to you, but I suppose I have intentionally cultivated the image. I'm a vain, empty-headed, backstabbing pretty boy, you know. It's just the kind of thing I'd do to suck up to the Archbishop." He actually made a face at that.

“What about you, though? I'm sure people have actually harassed you about it, unlike me."

Senka rolled her eyes softly at the statement. “Hm, yes, well forgive me for not noticing sooner," she huffed in good-nature. She pursed her lips at his question, though, and contemplated her answer. “People have harrassed me, called me names, have thrown things at me on some occasions, and quite a handful have even tried forcefully propositioning me since I have a new reputation of being rather open to all types of people, now. Not that I didn't before, but apparently this has only seemed to reinforce the previous rumors," she furrowed her brows at that.

“They've all been dealt with, of course," either by herself in quiet, or by Cyril who has only dealt with the one person, so far. She dared not tell him about the others, though, mostly for his sake. “But it is nothing I am not not used to. Even before the reveal of my heritage, people often spoke about me because of my closeness to Sorcha, and my Almyran heritage. People do not like me even though they know nothing about me. It is, an unfortunate fact of life," that she has learned to accept.

“Thankfully, I have friends like you, Sorcha, Mercer, Thea, and the others." She truly didn't deserve such wonderful people in her life, but... maybe she did? She pulled the book from her side where she'd laid it, and held it out to him.

“I have something for you; a bit of a late birthday present that I meant to give you a couple of days ago. It just arrived, though, from Espera. It's an old tome of my mother's. Even though she was from Faerghus, she always seemed to have more of an affinity for the fire-based magics and... well, I think you can benefit from this. It's a higher classed fire spell called Meteor."

Vridel accepted the tome with a look of mild surprise on his face. “Thank you," he murmured, setting it down atop the other book in his lap. “I appreciate it, Sen. And you know... for what it's worth, while I'm sure you're highly capable of dealing with all those people on your own, I hope you know you don't have to. Letting one of us at them occasionally will help us feel useful, you know? Especially the aggressive ones."

He smiled, but it was more sharklike than mirthful. “I personally really enjoy reminding idiots where their hands don't get to go, you know?"

Senka chuckled softly as she leaned back. “Hm, I'll keep that in mind the next time an idiot tries," she replied, grinning lightly at him. “And... I hope you know that works both ways, Vi," she continued, glancing at him to hold his gaze. “For whatever problems you may be facing as well, I hope you know you can rely on me, and the rest of us as well, to help you. Whatever burden you feel like you can't handle alone, I'm here for you, too. You're one of my best friends, you know," she stated in a serious tone. She wanted him to know that she thought highly of him.

That she'd accepted him as one of her best friends, as her second best friend. At the beginning of the year, it had only been Sorcha, but now... now she had him as well, and the others. Her life was becoming full again, and they all felt like family. Not that she'd ever admit that to Mercer; it would go straight to his head, but she loved them all the same.

“Even if you feel like you can't tell Thea, or Mercer, or Sorcha... I want you to know that you can tell me. I'm not going to tell anyone your secrets, you know."

Vridel huffed softly, regarding her with a strange little half smile. “I hope you won't think me too full of myself if I say I'd already figured that much out, Sen." He shook his head faintly, then expelled a heavier breath, almost a sigh. “I also have it on good authority that you'll all be around in some sense even after we've gone our separate ways, and... I'm choosing to believe that. It's more reassuring than I would have expected."

He closed over the book, resettling the tome atop it. “Just as I hope you know that, once I'm properly in charge of Adrestia, there will always be a room in the castle with your name on it." His eyes narrowed, and then he grinned a little more outright. “Well... you might have to share with Cyril, but I figured you wouldn't mind so much."

“Sounds very appealing, I'll have to make sure we put it to good use, then, and visit. As I'm sure you'll be putting your own room to good use with Amalthea," she replied, matching his grin with one of her own. She reached over to tap his shoulder lightly, before settling her hand down. “And for what it's worth, I hope you know the same of when... of when I get Duscur back. There will always be a place for you, for everyone, there. It might not be as big as Faerghus, Adrestia, or the Alliance, but... there are places that are quite beautiful."

He laughed softly. “I'll be sure to take advantage; perhaps when we feel a vacation of some sort's in order. Monarchs can take those, right?" He arched an eyebrow, then looked down at the books, though he didn't quite seem to be seeing them.

“You know... it doesn't help much, but I think I figured out how Rhea knows. Do you remember how she was there, right after you told the Professor and I? What if she was actually present before she entered? Knowing now how fixated she is on him, it wouldn't surprise me if she'd followed him to the study session and eavesdropped."

Senka thought about his statement. It was quite likely that Rhea had been there the entire time, eavesdropping on Cyril. The thought sent a shiver down her spine, as she pursed her lips together. Who knows how many times Rhea had eavesdropped on conversations they've had before? She truly did seem to regard Cyril with the utmost... something. Senka didn't know the word for it, but she sighed softly.

“That woman... I do not know why she is so persistent. If she didn't want us to become close to Cyril, why give him a job at all as a professor? Surely she had to have known that his students would have become attached to him, regardless. There is no denying that he has... brought us all closer together than we ever would have been. Professor Manuela and Hanneman are lovely professors as well, but they don't have the... the charm that Cyril does. Maybe it's just me that thinks so, but..." she trailed off as she shook her head.

“Well it certainly seems to have affected you more," Vridel mused, flashing a smile to indicate that he was only teasing. It didn't stop the flush on her face, though. “But you're right. It's strange, you know. I've never had a mentor before. Never thought I needed one. But even though he's barely older than me, it just seems so... natural. And at the same time, it's very natural to think of him as a close friend of mine. There really is just something about the guy, I suppose."

He shrugged. “I'm glad you two actually talked to each other. He's good for you, and you're good for him, too."

She huffed lightly and willed the blush on her face, down. “Well... I figured you were right. I shouldn't decide something for someone, and that they have a right to decide for themselves what they think the risks are worth," she replied softly, smiling just the same as her eyes softened. “I'm not so sure if I'm good for him, considering all the..." she waved her hand in a vague gesture to indicate the rumors flying around, “but I will not deny that he is good for me. I cannot deny it."

“And let's be honest with ourselves, here," she began, a small little grin taking over her face. “We've all been good for each other. Thea has been good for you, Mercer has been good for Sorcha," her entire little family has been good for each other in more ways than one, and Senka would not deny this.

“Especially little Thea with how bold she's becoming because of you. I don't think I've ever seen anyone initiate a kiss like the one she gave you the other day," she stated, her grin turning a little sly.

He laughed outright at that, apparently not inclined to the least embarrassment. “You should have seen the first one. She practically grabbed my collar and yanked me into it. I was quite surprised, considering I'd come to her door to grovel and hope maybe she hadn't given up on me completely." There was just a trace of regret to the way he said it, no doubt for the actions of his that had led up to it, rather than anything else.

“Backstabbing prettyboy ladykiller, I am, and she still kissed me first. Clumsy as all hell, mind, but that was an easy fix." He arched a suggestive eyebrow and gestured slightly with one hand.

“What about you, Sen? Bold enough to kiss him first, or did he catch you by surprise?"

Senka pursed her lips at that, and pouted lightly. “We haven't really... well, kissed like you and Thea have," she spoke, a little disappointed by that fact, now that she thought about it. She understood that with their relationship, it wasn't going to be easy. “We've come close once... the day after the mission," but even then it had been innocent, and Senka wasn't entirely sure it counted as one.

“But... you understand how it is. As much as I might want to... it's just not possible at the moment," and by the gods of Duscur did she want to. More than anything in the world, but she could wait. Had to wait for three months to pass. Two, now, but all the same, she had to wait. She wasn't sure how long she could, but she said she would.

“You should enjoy what you can, Vi, with Thea. I'm not saying it won't happen eventually, but at least the two of you don't have to... hide it," and Senka would not deny that she was a little envious of that. She wished she didn't have to hide her feelings for Cyril, but she understood the dangers of it. Understood that his position as her teacher, mattered in this place. Sometimes she wished it didn't.

For a moment, he looked profoundly pained by something, but then he sighed quietly and rested an arm around her shoulders, gently nudging her in closer to himself. He wasn't nearly as warm as Cyril, and was decidedly more slender, but when he threw part of the cloak over her, there was warmth nevertheless.

“It's not forever," he said gently. “Not that that helps much now, I'm sure. But... already it's been almost another month, so there's basically only two left now. That's a third of the way done. Has to count for something, right?"

“It does. It counts for something," she replied, pulling the cloak a little closer around herself. “I'm sure Thea will forgive me for taking this little bit of comfort from you," she huffed lightly. “But thank you, Vridel, for everything. Don't tell Sorcha, but you're my best friend, right now."

“And I'm sure she'll be it some other time," he replied lightly. “I'm fortunate enough to have many best friends, now. It's nice, right?"

It really was nice to have many.

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. 1181 - Guardian Moon - Friday the 31st
The Sealed Forest - Afternoon - Overcast
Cyril Eisner


It was Reynard who came through with the tip.

Apparently, one of his contacts, a hunter in the village of Garreg Mach, had spotted some suspicious activity on the outskirts of what was commonly called the Sealed Forest—an area for some reason forbidden to most entry or activity. He'd thought it to be poachers, or something of the kind, but when the information had filtered back to Vridel's master of whispers, he'd been immediately suspicious.

It was a matter of only a few hours to assemble the group and head for the forest—quite without anyone's permission. That, of course, was something none of them much cared about, at this point. Cyril found he could not care about it. What would the Archbishop do, even if she disapproved? Spread more rumors about his students? Dismiss him? At this point he was fairly certain she was running out of ammunition—and there were far greater concerns here. His father's killers may well await in this forest, and if so, it just might be that answers did, too. The truth they were now all seeking.

Of course, nothing was ever quite so simple, and so when Sorcha and Mercer landed to report that they'd indeed spotted Monica ahead, it was with the complicating news that not only was she in the company of two demonic beasts, but also a platoon of what seemed to be the Flame Emperor's soldiers, from the way they were dressed.

Cyril pulled in a breath. “Everyone ready? We're almost certainly going to need to go through everything else to get to her, and the path splits ahead. You all know what that means."

“Yeah, we'll need to split up," Mercer spoke, glancing in Sorcha's direction. “The two of us can cover the sky, but everyone else will need to split up and take a direction. There are ten people in total, here, eleven if we count Reynard. Take Sorcha and myself out of the equation, and we have eight people."

“Thea, Vi, Deirdre, and Sofia, can take the left path. Devon, Sylvi, Cyril, and myself can take the right. It leaves us all balanced in terms of who is skilled in what particular area. Vi and I can alternate between our magic and weapons, as need be," Senka spoke, her eyes sliding towards Sorcha for a moment before turning back to the group.

“We're ready, Professor," Thea stated as she gripped Amyr tightly in her hands. Sylvi and Deirdre both nodded as well.

It was perhaps a strange time to be feeling pride, but he did. All of them had come quite far indeed from the time he'd met them. There wasn't a one of them now that could not confidently formulate a sound strategy, not even those who were generally not confident, like Devon or Sorcha.

Cyril nodded. “What's the rule?" he asked, because he needed the reminder as much now, with his father's killer before him, as any of them ever had.

“Look out for each other first," Vridel started, drawing his sword.

“—and don't leave anyone behind," Sorcha finished. “We've got your back, Professor." She turned to Mercer, nocking her bow loosely and giving him a short nod. “Let's go."

They took off, and the rest of the group split as Senka had suggested. Cyril pulled Reynard aside. “Stay in my shadow," he said, softly enough that no one else could hear. “I don't know what I'm going to do when we face her, but if you have to remind me of my own rule with a knife, do it." It wasn't something he could ask of just anyone. He'd never have asked it of Senka, or any of the others in his group. Mercer or Vridel maybe, but he knew Reynard was practical enough to see the request for what it was, and experienced enough to follow through when it counted.

He nodded once, shortly, and faded into the surroundings.

Satisfied, Cyril took up the Arrow and a spot at the front of the group. Immediately in their path was a demonic beast; channeling lightning through the Arrow, he let fly at the same time as Devon shot a pair of actual arrows, softening it considerably for Sylvi to crash into at melee distance. He moved up to join her, drawing the creature's attention while spells and projectiles flowed in from behind.

Senka charged a few dark spells of her own, mostly saggitae, in order to keep the beast from focusing for too long on one specific person. She occasionally switched to Blutgang in order to fend off the beast's swipes, while Sylvi dodged beneath it, cutting under its belly as much as she could. The hide was thicker than normal, but she and Senka managed to wear it down between blades and spells. They moved on when their beast was felled, only to encounter a few of the soldiers.

Immediately, Sylvi and Senka engaged, Senka unleashing a wind spell in order to disorient one of the soldiers so that Sylvi could follow up with her axe, cutting into the man's shoulder. As quickly as she could, Sylvi brought it up to silence the man as he attempted to scream. Senka engaged a cavalier with Libi, fending off his lance thrusts as best as she could.

From a distance, it sounded like Vridel's group had felled their beast as well, and were currently engaged with a ground unit.

Arrows flew in thick and fast all around, occasionally accompanied by a gust of air as either Mercer or Sorcha swooped their mounts in overhead. The others were Devon's; Few so much as missed a mark, finding joints and gaps in armor like they were live and seeking them. Cyril kept up the pressure from the front, occasionally firing heavy bolts of lightning into the clusters of enemies ahead, to break their formations and make it all the easier to crash into their lines.

The Flame Emperor's soldiers simply didn't stand a chance.

Finally, Monica came within view. Cyril hefted the Arrow, ready to throw it and charge in behind, but as if anticipating this, she was suddenly covered in a column of darkness. For a moment, he feared she'd teleported away yet again, but when the strange fulmination disappeared, she was—

“Another one." Vridel's group had caught up from the other side around the same time.

He wasn't wrong—Monica seemed to have completely changed forms, as Solon had from the form of Tomas months ago. The woman standing there now had an almost... it reminded him of nothing so much as the harlequin costumes he'd occasionally seen entertainers don for festivals, if twisted. Her hair was orange rather than white, but her skin was that same greyed out color as belonged to Solon and the other man.

“Monica, you bitch," Vridel didn't bother to let her say anything before he shot a spell at her, but she nimbly tumbled away from the flames, a knife in each hand, edges serrated wickedly. Her smile resembled that same kind of edge, paired unnaturally with a light, almost girlish giggle.

“Oh, Vi. Try not to take it too personally. I was just so curious about Thales's favorite little pawn. And the name's Kronya, not Monica."

“I don't care what your name is," Cyril hissed, channelling a bolt of lightning through the arrow. She tried to dodge aside, but it caught her in the arm, leaving a heavy, blackened scorch mark and burning away most of her long, black sleeve.

She snarled, but a quick glance at everyone facing her now was enough to convince her she had no chance, and so instead of trying to fight, she fled, turning tail and running deeper into the forest.

Cyril wasn't about to allow it, and took off after her at a sprint.

The others followed suit, running behind Cyril as they attempted to chase Kronya. She managed to dodge the arrows from Devon, Mercer, and Sorcha, as well as the occasional spell sent her way. She seemed to be anticipating the moves of those behind her, however; a well-placed saggitae followed by an arrow from Mercer, managed to catch Kroyna in the leg. It was enough to send her sprawling into a large, arena-like area as she rolled to her feet. She turned towards them, blade in hand, as she panted heavily.

“Give it up, Monica or Kronya, whoever you are," Mercer spoke, fitting an arrow to his bow, and aiming it at the woman. “You've no where to go, and you're outnumbered."

Kronya staggered, then firmed her balance on what must have once been the foundations of some stone building, arena or otherwise. Grass poked up from between the stones, and a few columns still stood, but other than that it had long crumbled. “How?" she rasped, tearing the arrow out of her leg. The wound seemed to begin healing immediately afterwards. “How could I lose to lowly creatures like you?!"

Cyril brandished the Arrow, taking a deliberate step forward. With cliffs behind her, she was all but cornered, and he didn't mean to let her get away. There were questions that needed answering—and crimes to answer for. His father's death, yes, but Thea's kidnapping, too, and perhaps even the Tragedy of Duscur itself, if Sorcha was right that the Flame Emperor had been there.

“Well." In a borst of conjured shadow, Solon appeared, directly behind Kronya. She whirled; Cyril hesitated only because he was expecting the third man as well. Perhaps this Thales she had mentioned.

“Solon!" Kronya snapped. “Don't just stand there and stare; I need your help!"

“Yes," Solon agreed, shifting closer. “You most certainly do."

Cyril charged a spell in his hand; behind him, he heard the creak of a bow being drawn back.

But before he could think to lunge, Solon had reached forward and plunged his hand right into Kronya's chest cavity, lifting her thus as though it were no effort at all. Her feet left the stone; dangling limply in the air; her eyes were wide with shock and horror.

“Don't worry, Kronya," Solon mused, in what Cyril supposed was genuinely meant to be a reassuring tone. “Your sacrifice will help to rid this world of the filthy vermin that have long infested it.

Cyril waited no longer, leaping forward and charging for Solon. If he was going to leave himself so open, then so be it.

But the moment his feet crossed the threshold of the ruined stone floor, Solon smirked. Around the perimeter sprung up what looked like deep black fire, cutting him abruptly off from his students. Alarmed, Sorcha tried to shoot through it, but the arrow incinerated on contact, vaporizing in a sizzling rush of air. Though she stood close, Cyril could feel no heat.

[color=#4C0F75]“Stay back,"
he said, loud enough for all of them to hear. He couldn't risk that doing to them what it had done to the arrow.

In his moment of distraction, tendrils of the fire lashed forward, catching him by the arms and lifting him from the ground. The Arrow clattered to the stone, torn from his grip.

“Solon," Kronya begged. “Stop this, please!" Slowly, the flames were engulfing her, too, as if he were using her very life to fuel the magic.

“The time has finally come," Solon said, ignoring her pleas entirely. “To unleash the Forbidden Spell of Zaharas upon our enemies!" The flames flared, growing so thick Cyril could barely see the shape of the man in front of him, but he could hear the squelch and tearing flesh as he ripped Kronya's heart from her body and crushed it in his hand.

She fell, somehow still alive, head lolled back enough to see where he was bound.

“Please..." she extended a hand towards him, shadows roiling and coalescing until his vision was entirely blotted. Her voice was a strange echo in the void that swallowed him.

“Help... me..."

He wasn't sure how much time passed. If any time passed at all. All sense of space and time seemed to have abandoned him in the void that had swallowed him. He was—cold, and yet also not. It was a strange sort of sensation, not so different from how he felt in winter: he could acknowledge the chill, and yet there was a way in which he did not quite feel it. Not as others seemed to.

“You fool! What were you thinking, charging into an enemy's trap?!" A bright burst of green lit the void before him, and Sothis appeared from it, scowling mightily atop her stone throne. “Are you just a boulder that rolls down whatever hill it's on? No, even a boulder has more sense!"

“And how should I have known what to expect?" he asked, feeling himself... strangely calm. “It is not as though either of us has been able to remember or discover anything that would have made this seem even possible."

That seemed to take a bit of the steam out of her, but there was a definite sense of urgency remaining. Something not so far from panic. “This darkness is terrifying," she admitted, casting her eyes about. He doubted somehow that she could see any more than he could. Somehow he doubted there was anything to see. “As you and I are one, I too am trapped within this void. But please consider this: this realm of darkness that we are in is separate from the world from which you came. Meaning that it would take a god to leave this place." She stared at him intently. “In time, our hearts and minds will cease to be. Are you prepared to die?"

Die?

Cyril had never thought much of death before. It had been the kind of thing that was simply a reality of his profession. That he would die on the field seemed to be the kind of inevitability that could be only delayed, because he knew nothing but battle. Could not live in any other way. And yet... and yet now there were other things to live for. Other people.

Her face flashed so easily over the surface of his thoughts. He knew it well, now: the arch of her brow, the curve of her nose, that subtle way her lips turned when she smiled.

“No," he said simply. “I'm not."

“I thought as much," Sothis replied with a heavy sigh. “I also do not wish to die. And yet..." She sighed again, brows furrowing heavily. “There is no other choice."

“What do you mean, choice? Didn't you just say we were trapped?" Cyril regarded her with a frown, trying to puzzle out her meaning. She'd said it would take a god, but wasn't she already...?

“Do you recall your father's diary?" she asked. “He said you were a child who never cried nor laughed. I think I am to blame. I must have been asleep, but even then, I feel I was a part of you. I do not know how Rhea managed it, but she allowed me to exist inside of you. The truth is... I have always been with you. It is within you that I found my power yet again. The power of a goddess. The power of the progenitor god."

“You really are Sothis?" he asked. She hadn't been sure before, but it seemed now she was utterly certain.

She nodded, leaning sideways on the throne to rest her chin in her hand. “I am the one who watches over Fódlan and all the creatures dwelling there. She who died, and then returned."

“Died?" Nothing anyone had ever said mentioned Sothis having died, much less as having returned from it.

She shook her head. “There is not enough time to explain," she said. “There is but one thing left to do to save us from this darkness, and it must be done quickly. I must now use the power of a god. However... I lack a body of my own, and so... as ever, I must relinquish my power to you. Only this time, I must give you everything that I have. Everything that I am. And when that comes to pass... then I suppose I shall disappear."

Cyril blinked, sure his startlement had to show on his face. “Disappear? You're certain?"

She huffed softly. “Concerned for me? When I say disappear, I do not mean that all I am will be no more. I mean that part of me, my essence, my power—what you might call my soul—will join with yours. And so... I will no longer have the chance to speak with you. I shall miss it. So long have I been on this path with you," she continued, her voice dropping into a murmur. “Through you, I got to see and hear this world. I even got to chastise you from time to time." That, she said a little more lightly, with a huff and a soft smile. “I may not have acted like a goddess but... it was certainly fun. For all that you have done, thank you. I am glad that it was you to whom my fate was bound."

“Sothis... are you sure there's no other way to do this?"

She shook her head, her smile turning to something he thought was perhaps fond. “I'm certain, Cyril. But do not mourn me, for I shall not truly be gone. Now—we must pray. If we share this wish, then our spirits two will join as one. Your wish... is to return to the forest, stop the enemy, and rescue your students. Of this, I am quite sure."

He nodded, even though she needed no confirmation, and Sothis returned it, bracing her hand on the armrest of her throne and standing. Descending towards him, she tilted her chin up to meet his eyes. “Your will and mine are now the same. Both sides of time are revealed to you—and you alone. You know I am the Beginning... what shall you do?"

From the dais burst forth an golden light, surrounding both of them in an aureate corona so bright it almost blinded him. Sothis levitated more than a foot off the ground, reaching an equal height with him. “Give me your hand," she intoned, her voice taking on a strange, almost self-harmonizing double pitch.

Cyril extended his arm out towards her, as if to request her hand for a dance. She smiled, laughing softly as she placed hers into it and stepped forward. Her form blurred, glowed, then dissolved into light, and a warm spread through his body where the particles of her came to rest.

All at once, he understood what he needed to do, and reached for the sword on his back, glowing that same, fire-hot red-gold. Raising it above his head, he channeled that warmth, that heat and light, into the blade itself, and swung powerfully down. Though it should have caught nothing but air, he felt the void around him tremble and somehow catch and tear as he rent through the boundary between dimensions. Stepping through the tear he'd made, he dropped back to the cracked stone foundation from which he'd been sent to the void in the first place.

Solon was staring at him with wide, fearful eyes. “So the Fell Star consumed even the darkness itself," he murmured.

“Teach!" Mercer shouted as the others all stared at Cyril. “Is that... really you? You..." Mercer began before shaking his head. “Doesn't matter. You're back. Let's go kick their ass for trying what they did!" Everyone gripped their weapons as tightly as they could. Solon had, somehow, managed to summon more soldiers and two more demonic beasts. He continued to regard Cyril with a look like fear and awe mixed together.

“What did you see in the darkness of Zahras?" he questioned, his brows furrowing lightly. “This should be impossible. The only being that can withstand that darkness is..." he trailed off almost unsure of himself. “Unless I dispose of you myself, I may never have the chance to send you back there!" he shouted, gripping tight the weapon in his hand.

“You're not sending anyone back anywhere!" Senka snarled, the Crest on her forehead evident for all to see. She was angry, it was easy to tell, but so were the others. Mercer's brows were furrowed deeply, his lips pulled into a deep frown, and Amalthea looked angry, perhaps because they were. Senka spurred Libi forward, charging at one of the soldiers before making her way towards one of the beasts. Sylvi and Mercer were not too far behind her while Deirdre stayed behind to hurl dark magic at some of the other soldiers who tried to flank them.

Sorcha charged forward on Lady, lance gripped like a jouster, dealing one of the beasts a heavy gouge in its side before the pegasus leaped into the air to carry her away from potential retaliation. Vridel, not one but both Crests active, hurled a thick rain of fire spells in both hands, dropping a heavy meteor hit on the beast Sorcha had weakened and destroying it on the spot. Devon and Reynard worked around the edges of the fight, picking off more soldiers, while Sofia held her ground solidly against the second beast.

Cyril took the opportunity to charge directly for Solon, Sword of the Creator almost alive and pulsing in his grip. He could still feel the strange power washing over him in waves; much of it was almost beyond his control at this point. It felt like everything about him had sharpened, become stronger, faster, keener somehow. Enough so that he almost overshot the mark when he leaped for the old man.

His first swing barely missed because of it; Solon was visibly shaking. “I am terrified by you," he admitted, almost unwittingly. “Even though an emotion like fear has no place inside me." His expression hardened; he gripped his staff in white-knuckled fingers. “That means you must be eliminated."

“Try."

Solon gathered the magic for a spell, but Cyril was quicker, lashing out with the blade and opening a deep line in the man's body, from one hip up to the opposite shoulder. He collapsed to his knees, gripping his abdomen with both hands.

“To think I could lose to such beasts," he choked, pulling in a wheezing gasp. “But this is not the end. Thales will carry out our mission, somehow..." He collapsed, and breathed no more.

Cyril sighed heavily, sheathing the blade and turning towards his students.

Senka ran at him, arms flinging around him as she gripped tightly to him. “Cyril," she choked out, her arms tightening around him. “I thought... I thought," she couldn't seem to finish her sentence as she shook lightly. She took in a shuddering breath, and buried her face into his shoulder.

“Yeah, Teach, you gave us quite a scare," Mercer stated, his face pulled into a deep frown. Amalthea's eyes were red and slightly puffy as if she had been crying, but nodded her head as well. “What happened to you?" he asked, arching a brow at Cyril. Senka shook her head from where she currently rested it.

“Doesn't matter. You're here, and safe, and... I didn't lose you," she whispered softly enough that only Cyril could hear.

If anything, he only hugged her tighter. He didn't have the words to tell her what he'd learned in there—how it had been the thought of her above all else that made him want to live. Want to come back. So he said the only thing he could think of.

“I'm here, Senka. I'm here. I promise." It was, in a way, a promise kept, and made again. That he would always come when she needed him. Though in this case it felt even more keenly like he needed her.

“You, uh, also look kinda different, Teach. Not... drastically so, but..." he trailed off as if he didn't know how else to explain it.

“It's your eyes," Sorcha said softly, respectful of the moment. “They almost... glow. And your pupils... they're... like a cat's?"

“Or a lizard's," Reynard supplied helpfully. “What happened, exactly?"

Still moving his hand up and down Senka's back, Cyril did his best to explain. “Solon's spell cast me into some kind of... void. Dark, cold; it felt endless. But then Sothis..." he paused, knowing that some of his students were yet unaware of that part but figuring he could backtrack and explain later. “She said the power of a god was required to pass back through. And so she... fused her power, to mine, and I cut through, like you saw."

He could swear Vridel said something there, but it was suddenly as though his hearing had faded out altogether. His vision blurred; he had just enough wherewithal to let go of Senka before darkness swallowed him and he collapsed.

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. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Wednesday the 4th
Courtyard - Early Afternoon - Clear
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea sighed as she tried to read the book in her hands. She didn't pass her written exams last month to become a fortress knight. She wasn't sure if it was because she missed a question, or if she'd gotten a scenario wrong, however; she felt pretty depressed about it. She was trying so hard, and yet she couldn't pass the test. Pushing a sigh through her nose, she closed the book and pursed her lips together. Everyone was going to meet at the gazebo by the knights' hall courtyard, and Amalthea was currently waiting for them. It had been nearly five days since Professor Cyril collapsed, and though he had recovered two days ago, Senka had yet to leave his side.

Thea thought it was somewhat justified. Senka had been worried, but Professor was fine, now. Or about as fine as he could get all things considered. Shaking the thought from her head, she waved when she spotted Mercer. He was by himself, oddly enough, but he waved back towards her.

“Looks like I'm first," he stated, arching a brow in Thea's direction. “Where's your other half? It's not like you to be without him," he stated, causing Thea to roll her eyes. She could feel her cheeks heat up, but she pursed her lips at Mercer.

“I could say the same about you and Sorcha," she murmured, earning a light chuckle from Mercer. “And besides, it's not like we always have to be with each other. Just because you're with someone doesn't mean you have to be glued to their side every minute of the day," she continued. Mercer shrugged his shoulders lightly.

“Oh? So you're saying you grew bored of him already? That'll break his fragile little heart, Thea. How cruel!?" he exclaimed, placing a hand over his heart as if he were truly offended.

“You're not funny, Mercer von Riegan. I just know how to be respectful and give people their space when they need it. I'm not clingy unlike someone else I know," she stated, giving Mercer the best flat look she could muster. He laughed and shook his head.

“I'm not clingy, Thea. Just practical."

As it happened, the unknowing subjects of discussion arrived together, apparently deep in discussion about something. Thea knew Sorcha had taken a bit more of an interest in white magic lately; it was hardly surprising that she'd be consulting with Vridel about something like that. He was the most accomplished healer on their team by far, after all.

When they drew closer, Vridel angled away to take the seat immediately next to Thea, putting an arm companionably over her shoulders and pressing a greeting kiss to her temple. “Get your exam results back yet?" he asked, tilting his head at her. He must have picked up on something, though, because he shook his head. “Never mind. Boring topic. More interestingly, bets on whether Sen and the Professor actually show today?"

Mercer seemed to wait until Sorcha had seated herself before he draped his arms over her shoulders, and leaned his head on top of hers. He wasn't sitting, and Thea was pretty sure that was an uncomfortable position to be in, however; he didn't seem to mind, and instead, grinned. She, on the other hand, flushed, shifting her shoulders in a token protest but not really trying to dislodge him.

“I bet they do. He passed out four days ago, and woke up two days ago. He seemed mostly fine when I saw him, yesterday," Mercer stated, removing himself from Sorcha and taking a seat next to her.

“I don't see why they wouldn't show today, otherwise," Thea stated as she shifted herself to glance up at Vridel. “And to answer your earlier question, I failed. It's alright, though. I'll just have to study harder to pass the next round before graduation," she stated. While she had been upset about not passing her exam, she would just have to study harder to pass them the next time they came up. If she remembered correctly, they would right before graduation. If not, she supposed she could always take them some other time.

“What about you all? How did your exams go?"

“You may call me Dark Bishop Vridel," he said dryly, “but please don't." It was a bit of a rare choice, considering that those kinds of magics were frowned upon to some extent by the Church, but Thea knew Vridel was interested in mastering all three schools of magic in addition to the sword, so for him it made a lot of sense, as it would allow him access to restricted sections of the library into which most were not permitted to go, and the dark tomes therein.

“I passed," Sorcha said with a shrug. “Maybe barely; I'm not really good enough with swords, but I think it helps that my lance and flying scores were where they needed to be, so I'm a falcon knight now, I suppose. I'm still not going to wear that dumb uniform with the short skirt—who does that?"

Mercer arched a brow at Sorcha's statement. “That's a shame, really. I wouldn't have minded seeing you in a short skirt. I think it would have looked rather lovely on you, Sor, especially with your height. Your legs would have definitely been one of your better assets," he stated, grinning at her as he leaned closer towards her.

She deliberately placed her hand sideways over his mouth and used it to push him away from her. “That's quite enough out of you," she said, about the same color as a ripe tomato.

Mercer placed a kiss on Sorcha's hand as she pushed his face away. “Hm, I don't think it is."

Thea chuckled lightly at his antics but shook her head. It seemed both Vridel and Sorcha had passed their exams. She should have known they would have. They were both... extraordinary, in Thea's mind.

“I passed as well, so I suppose that means you can call me lord of the wyverns," he stated, waggling his eyebrows in a suggestive way. Thea rolled her eyes again, and giggled lightly.

“Well, considering how Sir loves his fish, we'll just have to refer to you as Lord Fish Face, now," she stated, causing Mercer to feign a hurtful look.

“You wound me so, Thea. You've been spending too much time with Vi. He's corrupting you."

“I don't mind, really."

Vridel snickered, though his attention did move to where Reynard approached, taking a seat and casually propping his feet up on one of the tables beneath the gazebo. “Rey. Don't suppose you've made it official?"

“As a matter of fact, yes," he said, taking an ironic, seated bow. “Now the Church knows what has always been true: yours truly is an assassin." It was hard to tell how seriously he meant that, because it was delivered in a very light tone, but though the class sounded bad it really usually just referred to someone good at weaving around unnoticed, who used swords or knives and bows. That had always been true of Reynard.

“Congratulations, everyone." Cyril and Senka had, it seemed, arrived. The Professor ruffled Thea's hair as he took a seat. “I saw your test; you were very close. We'll talk about the question you missed on Monday, all right?"

Thea beamed at Cyril, and nodded her head. “I'm glad you're doing better, Professor," she stated as glanced towards Senka. “And what about you, Sen?" she asked. Senka pursed her lips together and shook her head.

“I didn't take the exams this time. I'm not... entirely sure what I want to do, still, but I'm happy to stay as a cavalier, for now," she replied, smiling softly in Thea's direction. It always made Thea feel slightly giddy with that smile. It was pretty on Senka, and Thea was glad that she continued to wear it.

“Well that's alright. You make a really good one, the best I've ever seen," she spoke, earning a light chuckle from Sen.

“Yours truly has officially become a Brawler!" Sylvi stated as she appeared, startling Thea that she nearly fell out of her chair. “Sorry Thea, didn't mean to scare you. I'm just very, very excited! That means the next round of exams, and I can try out for grappler! I'm so close," she continued, smiling about as brightly as Thea could usually manage.

“That's good news, Sylvi! That means you're the first ever woman brawler!" Thea was legitimately excited for Sylvi. She knew that the gender-specific classes were always a bit of a hindrance for Sylvi, but Thea was glad that she was able to take the exams.

Last to arrive were Sofia, Devon, and Deirdre. Devon hadn't quite passed the sniper exams, either, something he felt was probably because he'd spent a lot of time recently trying to get better with his knives. He only laughed nervously at Reynard's suggestion that he be an assassin instead. Sofia, though, had elected to change course a bit and become a paladin for the moment.

“I need to practice riding more anyway," she explained. “I'm comfortable enough in armor, but I need an official mount if I'm going to get anywhere with my horsemanship, so..." she shrugged.

“I'd be more than happy to help with lessons if you'd like, Sofia," Senka offered. Deirdre huffed lightly but grinned nonetheless.

“I didn't take the exams this time, either. I want to be a dark bishop, too, but his princeliness has beaten me to it," Deirdre stated, pursing her lips in Vridel's direction. Thea laughed lightly as she shook her head. “I actually want to be a warlock, but I still need to practice more in my dark magic and raise my certs. I'll catch up, though, just you watch," she continued. Deirdre was, oddly, competitive, Thea thought, but she could see how it would be endearing as well.

“Well I suppose we're all on the right paths. Some of us, anyway," Mercer stated as he caught his chin in his hand, and leaned against the table. “It'll be a shame to have to say goodbye next month," he stated, a hint of melancholy seeping into his voice. Thea pursed her lips together as the sudden realization dawned on her. She supposed he was right, but it wasn't going to be forever.

“You know," Vridel said, fingers tapping a soft rhythm on Thea's shoulder, “Just about five years from now, the monastery will be exactly a millennium old. I'm sure there will be some grand event held here to celebrate. Perhaps we could all gatecrash? As... distinguished alumni of the Officers' Academy, if you will."

“Are you suggesting we show up in fancy dress to drink all the Archbishop's liquor?" Sorcha asked, arching a brow. A smile of amusement played over her face, but Vridel nodded.

“Essentially, yes."

“I like that idea," Mercer chimed in. Sylvi and Deirdre nodded as did Senka. Thea liked the idea, as well. It meant that in five years' time, they would all return here to celebrate. Whether they actually showed up in fancy dress, was another thing, though.

“Let's make a promise, then. To meet again in five years after graduation," Thea stated as she glanced at the people in front of her.

“I can agree to that. Even if we keep in touch through letters, it would be nice to be able to see all of you again," Senka added. Thea placed her hand out and glanced at the group.

“Let's all shake on it, and make a promise."

“Kind of hard to shake everyone's hands at once," Sorcha pointed out, putting her hand on top of Thea's. “How about like this?"

Vridel shrugged and added his, and one by one they created a stack of their hands, until everyone was included. Cyril was last, and when he added his, he spoke. “Five years, then, on the day of the millennium ball. I'll be here, and I expect to see all of you, too." He smiled a little, pressing down just a bit on their combined hands before letting up so everyone could taken theirs back.

It was a promise.

Thea looked forward to it.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Sunday the 8th
Training Grounds - Afternoon - Chilly
Sorcha Blaiddyd


Today was the day, and Sorcha... well, Sorcha had a plan. Sort of.

She'd gotten as far as getting Mercer to agree to participate in the inter-house bow tournament today, the last one of the kind for the Academy year. It would be, she thought, a fitting way to cap off the rivalry that had become so much more to her than that. Or, well—perhaps it was better to say that it always had been more than that, whatever she'd thought at the time.

Things had been... strange, since the ball. It wasn't as though admitting they had feelings for each other had really changed anything—they still both had duties and lives that were going to carry them away from each other and so aside from occasionally doing something like slinging an arm over her shoulders or something, not much had changed in the way Mercer behaved towards her. Even less had changed in the way Sorcha behaved towards him, because she had no desire to rub salt in either of their wounds. Her heart was set to break in a couple of months, and knowing this with the certainty she did only meant it was already breaking. If they somehow got closer than they were, she knew it would only be worse in the end.

And yet.

And yet here she was, with the world's most idiotic plan. Because some part of her just had to know.

She wasn't really worried about the other participants; Reynard wasn't interested and as good as Devon was, he wasn't as good as she or Mercer. Anyone taking part in the tournament who'd been paying the last bit of attention to anything knew the only decent competition for the von Reigan heir was her, and Sorcha was not expected to win even then. But dammit, was she going to ever try.

Stringing her bow, she waited for Mercer to appear. There were, after all, terms to set here.

It was only a moment later when Mercer did arrive, dressed in a sleeveless tunic and a pair of dark trousers. When his eyes landed on her, he grinned and waved, walking slowly in her direction almost delibrately. “Hey Sor," he greeted, the grin still on his face as he arched a brow at her. “You almost ready for the tournament?" he asked, his head tilting lightly to the right, almost as if he were studying her face.

“Almost," she replied with a nod, her face quite serious. “The only thing left to do is arrange the terms of the wager. I propose that whoever wins is owed a favor of their choice at a time and place of their choosing. Does that sound agreeable to you?"

“Hm," he seemed to think the terms over, his brows furrowed and he held his chin between his forefinger and thumb. “Alright, I don't see why not," he finally spoke after a moment. “I'll agree to the terms. Whoever wins gets owed a favor. I kind of like that," he added, grinning slightly in that mischievous way he usually did. It slowly faded, though, as he regarded her with a serious stare.

“You've come a long way, Sor. I hope you know that I'm not going to go easy on you, and I'm going to give it everything I've got. If you're prepared for that, well... I guess I've taught you well," he stated, smiling softly before he shook his head.

“You'd better," she replied, narrowing her eyes at him. “I've seen you shoot enough times to know what it looks like when you're trying. If you go easy on me I'll never forgive you." She meant it, in a way—this was important to her, and while she didn't exactly expect to win, she wanted to. Hoped for it, even. But maybe, if she lost, she'd have to find the courage to be more direct, and that wouldn't be so bad, either, if she could manage it somehow.

Tearing her eyes from his face was a difficult thing to do—while it was certainly not the reason she loved him, it was a very handsome face—but they had a tournament to participate in. It was rather unforgiving, too: a tournament bracket, with each match lasting only three shots apiece. Fortunately, as the entrants with the highest bow certs, she and Mercer were starting at opposite sides of the bracket, and would meet in the finals, assuming neither was knocked out before that.

Sorcha shot against one of the Black Eagles, first, clustering hers closely at the center of the target. Considering one of his went wide entirely, she was easily the victor, and expected much the same to be the case in Mercer's early rounds.

As it turned out, Mercer did, indeed, hit all of his targets near the center. While he was skilled, he made a show of it by closing his eyes on his last shot, and hitting the target nearly dead-center. He grinned at Sorcha, winking in her direction before the next round. His next opponent was a member of his own house, a Golden Deer, who specialized in bows as well. Mercer, however, proved, once again, that he was the better shot in his house by stacking all three arrows near the center of the target. One of his arrows had split the other in half, while the last arrow sat almost a centimeter to the right.

It almost looked like he was showing off, however; the way his brows were furrowed during the next round, meant that he was taking this as seriously as he said he would.

Still, it wasn't as though she couldn't appreciate his flair for these things. Truth be told, she always had, she'd just... used to be very annoyed by the fact. It hadn't really helped with what she saw as the problem of her attraction to him—still didn't, come to think of it. But at the very least she'd sort of accepted that this was a problem with no solution, and so she didn't completely hate the way her stomach fluttered like that when he winked at her.

It was a little pathetic, though. All in all she'd made it so very easy for him to charm her that she wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. She should still hate it, probably—looking at it one way, all it had taken to fling the Princess of Faerghus head-over-heels was a flirt with a winning smile and excellent aim. Or at least she was sure that would be how they told it, if anyone back home should find out that she loved him.

There was so much more to him than that, though. In a way, it irked her that no one would notice. Would see past the obvious to the substance underneath.

Her second round opponent was likewise trivial, but she wound up meeting Devon in the semifinals, who made a respectable center cluster of shots. Sorcha's cluster was tighter, though, and he grinned at her ruefully when he lost.

“I don't even have to ask you to do your best for the Lions, I know, but I'll be cheering for you!" he said.

“Thanks Devon," she replied with a smaller answering smile. It was time for the finals, though, and she was quite duly distracted.

Mercer rolled out his shoulders as he glanced at Sorcha, the grin still on his face as he regarded her with an arched brow. “You ready to see which one of us is the better shot?" he asked, making a satisfied noise when his shoulders popped, and slumped them. “I told you, I wasn't going to go easy on you, but the fact that you've made it this far, Sor..." he trailed off, his features softening for just a moment. He held her gaze for what seemed like hours, however; he shook his head.

She was sure hers must have pinked under the scrutiny; sometimes when he looked at her like that, she really thought—

“I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I'm really proud of you. You've come a long... long way," he spoke, shifting his bow into his left hand as he pulled at the string as if to test it out. “Winner takes all, right? Do you want to go first, or should I take the first shot?" he stated, motioning towards the targets that were in front of them.

“It doesn't matter who goes first, but... well, it'll just give either of us the opportunity to pull for the win," he spoke, grinning slyly at her.

Trying to scrape her wits together, she nodded. Probably best to get hers over with before her nerves shredded entirely. “I'll go first," she said. In a way, it was an offer of trust: it would be much easier for him to let her win if he went second and knew what he was up against. She was, however, trusting him not to do that, something she knew he was more than clever enough to pick up on.

When the announcer called for the first participant to take their shot, she headed up to the line, exhaling a soft breath and raising her bow, just as she'd been taught. She, unlike Mercer, was right-handed, but other than their postures being a mirror of each other, all the same rules applied. Back straight, feet apart, elbow tucked in and not jutting out at an angle. Draw back to the cheekbone, sight down the shaft, and relax the fingers to release.

The first arrow flew true, hitting the target dead-center, not even a centimeter off. The second was about half an inch to the right, and the third landed directly between, actually shaving a curl of wood off the bullseye arrow. It wasn't quite splitting it in half, but it was damn close. She knew Mercer could shoot better than this, but he'd have to manage his best to do it. Which meant he had to want to win probably as much as she did. And that was all right by her—because if he cared that much, then there was a sense in which she'd already won.

His brows were furrowed as he was called up next. He glanced towards Sorcha, the grin on his face no longer present, and instead, a rather serious expression crossed his features. It was rare for him to wear one like that, but it was an indication that he was, in fact, going to take this every bit as serious as Sorcha was. He glanced at her targets, almost as if he were assessing them, before glancing towards his own. With one last glance in her direction, he nocked an arrow to his bow, and lifted it up. The first arrow was reminiscent to hers, hitting the target dead center.

When he nocked the second arrow, and let it fly, it split his first arrow in half. His eyes were still focused as he fitted his last arrow into the bow. He seemed to contemplate this one, taking in a deep breath as he brought his bow up, eyes focused on the target ahead. It was only a moment later when he let the arrow fly, and the sound of wood being split entered the air. His third arrow managed to split his second arrow in half, as well, hitting the target in the center.

That was it.

Mercer had won, and he turned towards her with a large grin on his face. There was applause from somewhere, but his eyes seemed fixated only on her, and he made his way to stand in front of her. “Well, I guess that's that," he stated, his smile free from mischief. It was genuine and warm. “Proud of you, Sor, really. You made me work for that win," he stated, slinging the bow over his shoulder as he held her gaze.

“Guess that means I get a favor owed to me at any time or place of my choosing, yes?"

Sorcha sighed, a little ruefully, but she wore a smile, too. Those shots had been something to watch—to know she'd been the one to make him that serious felt like an accomplishment, even if it wasn't quite the one she'd intended. “I guess it does," she said, shifting her bow over her shoulder as well. “Let me know when you decide to collect. I always keep my promises, after all."

With a little shrug, she gestured towards the judges. “Want to go collect your other winnings and then head to dinner? I'm sure the others will be there soon."

Mercer huffed lightly and shook his head. “I think they can wait a little longer. I want to use that favor, now, and have you take a walk with me around the monastery. Unless you're hungry, now, and want to go eat dinner with just me. I'm sure the others would understand," he stated, arching a brow in her direction. He didn't seem to be joking about it, either. He seemed completely serious about his statement. He was neither grinning nor smiling, but simply waiting for her answer.

“And I don't need whatever they're giving out as a prize. My prize is that you were my opponent, and gave me a challenge I didn't think I'd ever get."

She tilted her head at him. “That's all you want? A walk or dinner or something?" she blinked, then hummed a little. “In that case, why don't we head into town? I guess there's some kind of minor peagasus festival going on, so there should be street food. We can eat and walk at the same time, so you get both?"

He frowned at her first statement and looked like he wanted to say something, however; he didn't. “Sounds like it could be fun. It's always more lively in town than... well, here, at least," he stated, making a vague gesture around them as if he were saying livelier than Garreg Mach. “Let's put our weapons away, and head into town, then," he stated, smiling gently in her direction. When they'd both replaced their weapons, Mercer extended his elbow out towards her, as if inviting her to take it.

“It's only proper that I escort you, you know," he stated, perhaps as his reasoning for offering her his arm.

She felt that same strange mix of fluttery and ridiculous as she always seemed to when he was making such gestures, but tried not to be self-conscious about it as she threaded her arm through his. “Didn't think you cared all that much for 'proper,'" she said lightly. It occurred to her that she might even be teasing him, which wasn't exactly unusual but was usually a bit more... acrid, than this. Or at least pretended to be. This, though—she sounded to her own ear like she was... well, kind of flirting, actually.

Sorcha wasn't exactly sure what to do with that, either.

Mercer arched a brow at her, though, and a large grin spread over his face. “Oh be still my beating heart, is Sorcha flirting with me? Me?" he stated, his grin smoothing out into a sly smile. He leaned closer towards her so that his face was only a few inches away from hers, still grinning as his eyes bore into hers.

“I think I like this side of you, Sor. Makes me feel all tingly and special inside," he nearly whispered it to her before he pulled back. He had a satisfied grin on his face as if he were content with something, and seemed to walk a little straighter as they made their way towards the town.

It was much too close to a description of how she actually felt when he was around, and the glib tone in which he said it left her frowning. She sniffed imperiously at him, turning her nose up a little into the air and proceeding to quite ignore him. Well, maybe after she got a parting shot in, so to speak.

“Well never mind, then. That sounds like the symptom of a serious illness; I'd hate to make you sick, so I guess I'll just stop." With a soft hmph, she continued to proceed towards the town of Garreg Mach, feigning much more interest in the scenery than she really felt. She'd seen it thousands of times by now, after all.

“Sick? You actually think you could make me sick, Sor?" he stated, almost offended by the way she'd said it. He pursed his lips in her direction, almost as if he were pouting. The expression almost seemed genuine on his face, and he seemed to contemplate something before pulling them both to a stop.

“Even if it was a joke, why would you say something like that, Sor? You know..." he paused as if he were biting down on his tongue to keep him from saying something more. Taking a deep breath, his shoulders slumped and he turned so that he was standing in front of her, blocking her way forward with both hands resting on her shoulders.

“You can tell me what's on your mind, you know that, don't you?" he stated, quite concerned it seemed about something. “Whatever it is, I'm listening."

Sorcha blinked, surprised, and for some stupid reason, found herself blushing again. “No, I—" She sighed, biting her lip and dropping her eyes. “It was—it was just a silly joke. I, um." She shook her head ruefully. “I guess it must just be the difference in experience with these things that gets to me a little sometimes, because..." Gently, she used both of her hands to lift one of his from her shoulder, and pressed his palm to her sternum, over her tunic.

It felt like her heartbeat was in overdrive, and the touch only kicked it up even further, even if she was the one who'd put it there. “Because it's not just that only you affect me so much, Mercer. It's that you always do. And sometimes I—" she shook her head, releasing his hand. “I don't know. It... every little thing about you feels right. Like it all drives me crazy, but in, I don't know, a good way. But you—you're always so calm. I know I shouldn't want this, because of everything, but... part of me wishes you really did feel that way, sometimes, because of me. Fluttery and—and special. The way I feel because of you."

She lifted her eyes back to his, searching them earnestly. It wasn't exactly that she expected him to make light of it, or laugh at her, but... well, she hoped it didn't sound cruel or too selfish. To want that, even though nothing could ever come of it. And she knew, too, that there was really no helping that they reacted to things differently, and she'd never want him to think she thought there was anything wrong with how he was, because of course there wasn't. She'd love him just the same, but...

Mercer stared at her, his eyes locked with hers as his face was completely unreadable. It wasn't until he removed his hand from her heart, and used both of his hands to cradle her face. Without much warning, he brought their faces close together that his lips brushed softly against hers. Once, twice, before it became a little more desparate. He fit his mouth over hers completely, pulling back only when they needed to breathe and he regarded her with an even stare.

Her insides went hot, then cold, then hot again; it felt like time compressed and expanded at the same time, and Sorcha realized she had absolutely no idea what she was doing at all. All she could do was press back towards him, one hand curling into the fabric at his his side. When it finally ended, she took in a sharp breath, almost staggering with the sudden dizziness of it and looking up at him with dazed eyes.

“But you do, Sor. You really do." he spoke, his voice gentle and serious at the same time. “You do make me feel like that. Do you know how much restraint I have to put on myself in order to stay calm? It's... you make it so difficult to focus on anything else when I'm with you. And when we go on missions, do you know how hard it is to remain as focused as I am because I can't only just keep you safe? Only worry about you? I... I'm not calm. At all."

He placed a hand behind her head and pulled her close to him, resting her head on his chest where she could hear his heartbeat. It was beating quickly against his chest, almost as quickly as hers was, and he kept her head pressed to his chest. “Only you do this to me, Sor. And if you think that you don't affect me this much... I don't know how else to prove it to you."

She squeezed her eyes shut, still, it felt, struggling to breathe properly. Her arms wound around him, and she was struck again by how profoundly *unfair* this all was. If they'd been born anyone but who they were—if she'd had an older sibling with a Crest, or his father hadn't been the King of Almyra, or any number of ways it could have been even a bit different... they could have had this. This one thing for themselves.

And yet she knew, too, that it was exactly because they were who they were that they wanted it at all. Being who he was, going through what he had, had made him into the extraordinary person that she loved, and she couldn't truly wish it were different, because it would mean wishing he were different, and she'd never want that.

“I'm sorry," she whispered. It might not have been the right thing to say, but it was how she felt. She was sorry that this was the situation they were in. That they both got to know they felt the same for only the briefest taste of a moment, that there was in the end nowhere for it to go. That they would both have to swallow it, this flame that would never go out, and keep it buried deeply in themselves, apart for the rest of their lives and never allowed to acknowledge that it was there. She had no idea how they were going to get through treaty meetings and diplomatic ventures without—well, it would surely be written all over her face, when those times came.

She'd always miss him, always want him, and that fact was as terrifying as it was beautiful.

He released a soft breath, enough that it stirred the hair at the top of her head. “Don't be," he murmured just as soft. “It won't be like this forever, Sor. I promise. We'll get through this," he continued, running a hand down her back in a comforting gesture. “We'll change things... enough that it won't have to keep us apart. It will take time, but... if you're willing to wait for me, I'll wait as long as it takes for you."

“So... don't give up hope, just yet. Alright?" he stated, pulling back enough so that he could stare at her. “No matter what, don't give up hope."

It wasn't an easy ask. Giving up wouldn't have been easy, either, but if she could have managed it eventually she might have at least been able to accept the situation. To get used to it in the way one got used to an aching scar, when it was no longer a fresh, bleeding wound at every moment. He was, in effect, asking her to keep bleeding with him, in the hopes that someday, in some indeterminate, hazy future, they might be able to heal with no scar at all.

Difficult though it may have been, Sorcha knew her answer immediately. “I'll never give up," she whispered, wrapping her arms tighter around him. “So don't ever even look at anyone else, okay? Don't think about anyone but me, and I won't think about anyone but you." It was a selfish thing to say, so much so that it was almost outrageous. Wasn't love supposed to be selfless? Wasn't she supposed to want him to be happy even if it wasn't with her?

But—she supposed she did. If he'd come to her tomorrow and told her he had feelings for someone else, and meant it, she'd release him from his promises, from their engagement, from anything he wanted. But dammit, for as long as he loved only her... she would hope that never changed.

He huffed a little, his arms wrapping tighter around her. “Of course, love," he spoke, smiling at her as he rested his head against hers. “I don't think I could, even if I tried," he added. Almost hesitantly, though, he pulled out of her embrace, but slid his hand into hers.

“We have a minor festival to attend to, so..." he stated, bringing their intertwined hands up and placing a chaste kiss on the back of her hand, “let's go see what they have to offer, hm?" He grinned at her, then.

There could have been nothing at all to see or do or eat, and Sorcha knew she'd still have never been to a better one. She nodded, still a little pink because he'd kissed her hand of all things, and gave his a squeeze.

It would be a long wait, once these last months were gone.

But nothing else would ever be worth doing instead.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Tuesday the 10th
Greenhouse - Morning - Clear
Amalthea von Kreuz


It was strange to Amalthea how much time had passed from when she'd first met Vridel. In this very room, almost ten months ago. She didn't know what to make of him the first time she saw him, other than the fact that he was rather pretty. Beautiful in a strange sort of way, but that's what she'd thought. If he'd never agreed to teach her about plants, Amalthea was quite certain she'd never have known the real Vridel. The one who was kind, and gentle, and helped her with everything. The one she knew to have a good heart and whom she loved. She never thought that would be possible, either, that she'd ever love someone. Every time she thought about it, it felt like butterflies were fluttering in her stomach. She had experienced so many new things because of him, and she wasn't entirely sure how she could ever repay him for that.

She didn't have much to offer him in way of class. She wasn't from some noble family, nor was she of any royal line, however; she knew that didn't matter to him. It didn't matter to her, either, that he was the prince of Adrestia, however; she would not deny that it left her feeling a little intimidated by it. All she could offer him was her love, and there were times where she didn't think that would be enough. She wanted to help Vridel achieve his dreams more than anything because they aligned so much with her own. To change the world. That was what she'd told Lyanna she wanted to do, and Vridel wanted to do the same thing. She still hadn't told her sister about her relationship with Vi, but she was almost certain that Lyanna already knew.

What Lyanna didn't know, though, was that Amalthea planned to go with Vi to Adrestia. She just needed to find the right time, the right way to tell her sister. Smiling softly to herself, she stood from her spot by a cluster of flowers, and dusted her skirt off. Satisfied that she'd done enough work in the Greenhouse, she decided she wanted to pay Vridel a visit.

“Oh, maybe I should make something for him, first," she spoke to herself. She was near the dining hall to begin with, and she was certain that whoever was doing kitchen duty, wouldn't mind if she used it for a few minutes. With that in mind, she made her way towards the kitchen. Sure enough, she was able to use it for thirty minutes. That was more than enough time to make what she wanted to. Vridel loved tomatoes; it was a fact that she'd found slightly amusing mostly because it was a strange fruit to pick as a favorite. But then she didn't really mind, much.

Once she was finished making her baked tomatoes, she carefully wrapped them so that she could carry them safely. Now all she had to do was find Vridel so she could give them to him.

He didn't seem to be in either of his usual haunts—the library or the practice grounds, and it actually wasn't until she'd circled back the way she came that she spotted his characteristic head of white hair. He was sitting at the edge of the dock, feet hanging over the side towards the water. There was a fishing line in his hand, but he didn't seem to be paying much attention to it, staring off a bit into the distance instead.

When she approached though, he shifted, just enough to glance over his shoulder so she knew he saw her. He turned back towards the water, but moved slightly to the side, creating more space on his left and patting it once with his hand, a clear invitation.

She took the seat next to him, and smiled at him. “Hi, Vi," she greeted, gently nudging her shoulder against his. “I made you some baked tomatoes. I hope you like them," she stated, showing him the food in her hands. She didn't hold them out to him, though. He was fishing, and whether or not he was paying much attention to it, she didn't want to disturb him, yet.

He tilted his head at her, regarding her with warm eyes and a small smile. There was a touch of melancholy to his expression, actually, but the affection for her in it was clear. “Thank you," he said softly. “If you wouldn't mind keeping them in your lap or something, I'd be happy to eat while we're here. I'm sure they're delicious."

As if to prove the point, he picked up one of the wedges, rather elegantly considering they were in fact baked and soft accordingly, and popped it into his mouth, making a satisfied hum of approval at the taste. “You've come a long way, you know," he said once he'd swallowed. “Not just at cooking, of course, but that too. In general, though."

“Well I should hope so," she replied, smiling at him. “Vi deserves the best things I can give him, and so I've dedicated the rest of my life to doing that," she stated, feeling a small warmth of pride in her chest. She picked up one of the wedges herself, and took a bite out of it, smiling as the taste hit her tongue. It really was better than she used to make them. They weren't burnt this time around, and it had more flavor than she remembered.

“And so have you, Vi. You've come a long way, too. You're more... you're brighter than you used to be," she stated, completely honest. There always seemed to be a dark cloud hanging over him, but over the last few months, she'd noticed that it wasn't quite there. He had his moments, of course, but she wanted to think that his happiness, whatever he felt, was due to their friends, and her. Mostly just her, because her selfish heart wanted to believe that.

“It makes you radiate, in a way." She could feel her cheeks heat up, but she was being honest. He always seemed to do that, though, make her blush even if all he did was smile at her or even compliment her.

He huffed softly. “You sure that's not just the hair?" he said lightly, taking another piece of the tomato and then nudging a little bit of hair behind her ear with his pinky. “It tends to get a bit bright under the sun, I suppose." He wound his line in a little, but still didn't seem particularly concerned with it.

She huffed a soft laugh and shook her head. “No, it's not your hair. I'm sure others would say it was, but it's more than that, Vi," she stated, turning a bit so she could look at him. His features seemed softer than they used to be, but maybe that was just how he appeared to her. His hair, while it did reflect the sun rather well, was not what made him shine. It was the way he looked at her, the way he held his head up high despite everything that has happened to him.

“And I respect and admire you more than anyone else I've ever known," she found herself saying without meaning to. “I don't know how to explain it, really, the things that you make me feel. It's like... all at once things make sense, and I want to do more things, go to different places with you, and just," she paused to take in a breath.

“I want to know what life is like outside of this, the church because this... this life I've had here," wasn't a life at all. She'd realized that, perhaps, too late, but she'd come to see it for what it was. Things were falling into place; the reasons as to why Rhea never wanted her to get close to people, why she thought it was best to lock her away and never be seen by other people. If her blood was as special as Lyanna claimed it to be, what Rhea thought it to be, well... she didn't want it.

“I want that. I want a life With you." She was completely serious about it, too. What was a life without Vi there to help her experience it? Her friends would always be dear to her, but Vi was different. She loved him, and that meant something.

He was quiet for a long moment, as if digesting the words, thinking them over. The melancholy that his expression had only hinted at before became increasingly prominent, slumping his shoulders and bowing him forward slightly. They were only subtle changed, but they were so different from the proud way he usually carried himself that they were immediately noticeable.

Reeling the line back in, he set the fishing rod aside and turned a little so as to be better facing her. “About that. Thea, there's... something I haven't told you. About me." He expelled a breath, softly, closing his eyes for a moment before cracking them open again. “You know I'm... sick, in a manner of speaking. What you don't know is that I'm dying."

“Dying?" she found herself repeating the word, but for some reason, couldn't make sense of it. He was dying? Didn't he say that he was getting better? That he had it mostly under control? How could he be dying? “What do... what do you mean, you're dying Vi?" she asked, feeling something in her chest, tighten. It felt like someone had reached inside, grabbed her heart, and was squeezing it so tightly that she couldn't breathe.

He was lying. He had to be lying, but... for as long as she'd known him, it was true. It was true that he was dying, wasn't it? She felt something warm behind her eyes, and it took every ounce of control to keep herself from crying. He couldn't die.

Carefully, almost as though he feared she'd reject the touch, he took one of her hands, closing both of his around it. “I'm sorry," he said softly. “I kept meaning to tell you, but it never seemed like the right time. Or maybe I was just a coward. I—it's not a disease, exactly. But my body is under constant strain, because I bear two Crests."

The mark she was familiar with resolved on his brow, glowing softly. The vaguely leaf-like shape of the Crest of Seiros. But there was another, too, a subtle shine that seemed to radiate almost over his shoulders, giving him a fuzzy halo-like effect and casting the ends of his hair in silver light. “About... about five years ago, after a lot of experimentation, a group of people aligned with my Uncle Volkhard von Arundel managed to successfully integrate a lost Crest into my blood. The downside is I might not live quite long enough to keep my promise to meet the others here in five years."

He swallowed, looking down at where he held her hand, and toyed gently with her fingers. “It's why I eat so much. My body can barely keep up. It's like burning a candle from both ends—it burns twice as bright, but not nearly as long. They said when the procedure was done that I had ten years if I was lucky." Giving her hand a soft squeeze, he attempted a smile, but it looked pained.

“I know you want a whole life together. I want that, too. More than anything. But I'm afraid it's the one thing I can't offer you."

Thea couldn't believe her ears. He bore two Crests, and because of it, his life was shortened. Five years he had, at best ten, and she couldn't bring herself to accept this. There had to be something she could do, something that could be done to give him his life back. Anything but... she swallowed thickly, unaware of when her tears started falling, but could feel them trailing down her cheeks.

“Vridel," she choked out his name, trying to form the words she wanted to say, but found that she couldn't. “It's not... it's not fair," she stated. “It's not fair that they did that to you. It's not... it's not fair that you're going to die because of what they did. You don't... you didn't deserve that, you didn't," she couldn't even concentrate on what she was saying. She couldn't concentrate on anything other than him.

Her hand, closed with his, she brought it closer towards her, almost desperately. “I won't accept this. I won't accept that... that there's nothing that can be done. There has to be something... something that can..." she couldn't finish.

Vridel shifted so that one of his hands was free, and brought it up to smear away her tears gently with his thumb. “Shh," he murmured softly. “I know, Thea. I know. None of it's even a little bit fair." His tone was heavy with sympathy—sympathy for her. And so too, there was something like regret.

“But you know... it's not all bad. Ever since I learned this about myself, I've also thought... that there's no point in waiting around for anything. I have to take the things that come to me as they come. And if there's something I want, I have to reach for it, because I don't get to dither about it for a few years like other people can." He did manage a little smile, then, and reached into one of his pockets.

“I know this is crazy, and please don't feel obligated because of what I've just told you, but..." he sighed softly. “I can't give you a whole life, but I want to give you my whole life, and I hope... I hope you'll accept it." He opened his hand, where a ring sat on his palm. The band was a soft, pale gold color, and into it were set dozens of tiny, glimmering chips of diamond, all the way around, in a pattern of flowers. Sunflowers, and lilies, too. It caught the light, and threw tiny, prismatic rainbows of color onto his skin.

“I thought... I thought maybe, when we went to Adrestia, you might—you might be willing to marry me. To be my wife, and empress of my homeland. The person who shares dreams with me, and a home with me, for—for as long as I have."

Thea's breath caught in her throat. He wanted... to marry her? Marry. Her? A fresh set of tears fell down her face as she reached towards his hand, taking the ring that was inside his palm, and holding it to her. How could she say no? Even if he'd never told her about his imminent death, how could she have said no?

“Of course," she finally managed to speak, glancing up to meet his eyes with the best smile she could muster. It wasn't much of one, but she was trying so hard to smile. This should have made her happy beyond words, but knowing that she'd only have him for a few more years... it broke her heart. It wasn't fair. To either of them.

“Of course I'll... I'll marry you, Vi. I want... I want nothing more than to join our lives together, for however long that might be," even if it was going to be for another five years, she wanted to be with him every step of the way. “In every way possible, I want to be with you, Vi. I love you." With everything that she was, she loved him.

“I want to experience everything with you. For whatever time we have left, I want you, and only you." And he would be her first and last love. After he was gone... she wouldn't be able to love anyone as she loves Vridel. “Vridel von Hresvelg. I love you."

He let out a breath that sounded like pure relief, leaning forward and down to press his forehead to hers. Though the mark of the Crest had faded, his was still a little warm, somehow. He gently took the ring from her grip, splaying the fingers of her left hand and sliding it carefully onto the fourth. “I love you too," he murmured, closing his eyes and circling his arms around her. “I don't care what anyone else thinks it is, or whether this is too much or too fast or not enough for them. I just—I just love you. I only want you. And I'd have let you go if you didn't want me, but now—"

One of his hands moved up to the nape of her neck, resting gently there. He caught her lips, something soft and tender and almost fragile, and even when he broke it he didn't go far. “Now I just do everything I can to make the next years worth it."

To make the next years worth it.

She didn't care, either, what other people would think of this. She only cared about Vridel, and would only care about him. He was everything to her. Her arms encircled him, hugging him as tightly as she could as she managed to calm her tears. When she was ready, she released him, smiling as best as she could, and she thought it reached her eyes, this time.

“We'll have to make every moment, worth it. From now on, every day," she spoke, swallowing thickly as she glanced away for a moment. She didn't want to say what she wanted to, next, with tears still in her eyes, and she rubbed them away. Taking a deep breath, she turned back towards him.

“We should go celebrate. We're... um," she paused, feeling the embarrassment crawl onto her face. “We're closer to your room than mine, if you want."

The exhale that escaped him then was faintly disbelieving, but there was a fair bit of wonderment to his expression, too. Slowly, a smile formed over his face, gradually becoming a grin. “Are you suggesting that I have my way with my intended, Thea? Before the wedding night? How very scandalous of you." His tone, however, indicated that he fully approved of this scandal, and he stood, extending a hand down to help her to her feet as well.

“For the record, I like it when you're forward. It suits you, somehow."

His smile was enough to put one back onto her face, and she took his hand with a light huff. “If I remember correctly, you thought it was incredibly hot that I told people off, too," she replied, matching his grin with one of her own. “And yes, I believe I am suggesting that. It's not exactly a scandal between two willing participants who are set to be married, anyway," she continued, her grin growing larger. She really did love this man in front of her.

No matter how much time they had left together, she was going to make the most of it. In whatever ways she could.

“Now... if you'd be so kind as to lead the way..."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Friday the 13th
Cyril's Office - Evening - Chilly
Cyril Eisner


Setting aside the last of his marking for the week, Cyril exhaled heavily, stretching his arms above him and leaning back a bit in his chair. He was still having trouble getting used to the quiet in his head; there were his own thoughts, of course, but he was also accustomed to the presence of another, a second steam of consciousness that he couldn't always follow exactly but was ever at least aware of. Now though... there was just nothing. Nothing but himself, and the strange feeling of too much space.

The first couple of days he'd thought it might drive him mad. It was less bad than that now, but he found it continued to strike him at the oddest moments, places where he all but paused for the expected commentary and found that the silence just echoed back towards him, overwhelming and uncomfortable. It was less bad if he was around people, but at the moment he was alone.

A glance at the candle on his desk informed him that he'd missed dinner by a couple of hours; full dark had long fallen outside. He supposed he could go make himself something in the kitchen, or perhaps go into town for a meal, but more than food he wanted company at the moment, and there was one person whose company he regularly sought above all others. Perhaps he should go look for her; if not in the library at this time, she may have already retired to her room for the night.

Throwing on his cloak and locking up his office behind him, he set out to find her.

When he found her, it was oddly by the stables. Libi had his head out of the stall, and she seemed to be petting his snout, a soft smile on her features. She leaned foreward to press her forehead against his snout, murmuring something, but was too quiet for Cyril to hear. Libi nudged her, though, and she finally spotted Cyril. Her features softened considerably when she looked at him, and she offered him a smile. Patting Libi's nose one final time, the horse made his way back into his stall as Senka made her way towards him.

“You're still up?" she asked, her head tilting slightly as she regarded him with an even stare.

“I could ask the same of you," he replied softly, reaching out to gently cradle the side of her face in one hand and press his lips to her hairline. Even this was a liberty, one he probably should not take, but it was the only one he allowed himself, and he didn't know if he could manage even another month and a half without touching her in such a way at all. Not unless she'd asked him to, anyway, and she didn't seem to mind.

“I just finished marking," Cyril explained. “Realized I'd missed dinner. Are you tired, or... would you maybe like to go into town with me for a bit?" The townsfolk hardly knew or cared who she was. Who either of them were. They could, perhaps, be a little more themselves, without having to worry about so many judgemental eyes, and he found the thought appealed at the moment. Still, if she hadn't the energy left, he'd prefer to stay here with her than go there by himself.

She huffed lightly, a small chuckle escaping her as she nodded her head. “I am still up because I am not tired, yet," she replied, shaking her head softly as she reached out to grab his hand. She gave it a gentle squeeze and held onto it a moment longer before releasing it. “And of course I'd like to go. Anywhere is better... than here," she added, her hand making a vague gesture around them. Her eyes narrowed somewhat, though, and a sly smile played at her lips.

“Perhaps dinner at your favorite tavern? The Spindlethorn where Miss Violet resides?" she continued. It was clear that she was teasing him, but also, the way her voice seemed to turn a hair darker at the end suggested that she did not want to go there.

For a moment he didn't really understand why, and he almost expected Sothis to mock him about it. But there was nothing, and somehow the realization clicked on its own. “Senka, are you... were you jealous of her?" It was not asked with the smug tone of a man who knew the answer, but the uncertain, vaguely puzzled one of someone who found the hypothesis unlikely but didn't have a better one to use instead. He tilted his head rather quizzically.

She frowned at him, her lips pursing together as she stared at him. “Of course I was," she murmured softly, glancing away from him. “At the time... I didn't know why, only that I was. It bothered me how she clung to you like that, and how... you just... let her. But I knew we were there for information on Thea, at the time." She looked like she was pouting, now, her eyes still elsewhere but on him.

“It wasn't right of me to feel that way, but... I couldn't help myself. It's... why I ignored you for those couple of days," she seemed to admit. “I'm sorry for that. For being selfish like that, but I didn't know that..." she paused in her words to shake her head.

Let her—ah. Cyril thought he understood. Chuckling softly, he shook his head, reaching forward to pick up her hand and settling it in the crook of his arm. They were headed towards town, after all, and he was rather looking forward to getting there. “You know that was for a cover, right?" he asked, not unkindly. “Violet really is a courtesan, but in my case she only acts like I'm a customer so that it's not obvious she's passing me information. Women in brothels make excellent spies—the people who come to them are often looking to unload their burdens on someone, so they hear all kinds of things."

Still, he supposed her proposition had been genuine enough, and so odd as it was to talk about, he felt he should clarify something. “I haven't... been with anyone since last Blue Sea Moon, you know. And even then, it was never..." He paused, searching for the right words. Many of the aspects of the lifestyle he'd lived were things nobles would consider crass. Publicly, anyway. Behind closed doors he knew a lot of them did the same, or much worse, than simply hiring someone to meet a bodily need on occasion. “I've never loved anyone, before you. Some part of me wishes I hadn't done the other parts, either, but—" he shrugged.

In some sense it wasn't so bad. He'd know exactly what he was doing, when the two of them arrived at that point. And because of that he knew he was much less likely to do something stupid, like not pay enough attention to her needs and desires. “But there's no changing history. Is that... is that all right by you?" He didn't think it would be a problem, but then he knew nothing at all about loving someone, really, or what the expectations were, aside from the really obvious ones.

She furrowed her brows at him, holding his gaze as she remained silent. Finally, she shook her head, and released a soft breath. “Why wouldn't it be?" she asked, her head tilting slightly to the side. “When I fell in love with you, it wasn't because of what you did or what you were. I fell in love with who you are, just as you claim to love me as I am. Even with knowing who I am, and what... my life was like before," she clarified, it seemed. Taking in another breath, she glanced away, a small smile on her face as she glanced out in front of them.

“I'm not asking you to change for me, Cyril. I'm not asking for anything of you, other... other than for you to continue to love me, even on the days when it feels like I can't love myself," she spoke softly, then, and he could see her shoulders slump slightly. She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear before she glanced back at him, a small smile on her lips.

“All I ask of you is... to let me share my love and life with you. That's all I'll ask," she spoke, her eyes seemingly brighter than they usually were.

She could ask him for a great deal more than that, if she'd wanted. Honestly he couldn't think of anything he wouldn't do his best to give her, if she only requested it. Setting his other had briefly over where hers rested on his arm, he squeezed a little and then withdrew it. “Of course I will," he said simply.

Cyril had found that, with Senka, it wasn't always or even often necessary to speak. He liked talking to her—a rare enough even on its own—but he also knew that she didn't require it of him, and so the rest of the walk passed in comfortable silence. He did not, in fact, take them to the Spindlethorn, but rather to a more upstanding sort of establishment, with a cheerful light in the windows and a tidy, polished interior. It was called the Red Crown, and Manuela and Hanneman had recommended it to him as a place an Academy professor might enjoy his time off without anyone bothering him about, well, being an Academy professor.

They were swiftly seated in a corner booth near a window, and the middle-aged woman who took their orders smiled maternally at both of them before shuffling away to see them filled. It left them with a bit more time before they could eat, so he decided to venture a question. “Stop me if this is too intrusive to ask," he murmured, voice low enough that the conversation would remain private even with other patrons in the tavern. “But... what's your history been like, with that kind of thing?"

She looked at him with a vaguely confused look before it dawned on her what he'd meant. She blinked slowly, and glanced at anywhere but him. “I don't have much of a history, exactly," she replied, finally lifting her gaze back towards him. “When I was younger, it wasn't exactly something I thought of, or sought. I was much too interested in baking with my father, learning my mother's spells, or... training with Espera. I don't think I've ever really loved anyone like I do you. And... well," she cleared her throat, her face coloring just the slightest bit.

“I've never really been with anyone, for all my proclivity to... well, touch," she spoke, her eyes falling from his. Of all things that made her embarrassed, it seemed that talking about that made her so.

He smiled softly, but refrained from laughing. Some people could—not wrongly—be sensitive about such things, and he didn't want her to think he was mocking her, because he wasn't. While he had no especial regard for those who lacked that kind of history—had in fact only really been with women of experience—he didn't disdain it or see anything wrong with it, either. It was just another fact about Senka, one he now knew, and he found he rather liked knowing things about her.

“It's all right, you know," he said, offering his hand across the table in case she might like it. He certainly shared her proclivity for touch, though it wasn't something he'd really known about himself until she of all people had taught him. “Like you, all I really want is to share things with you. There's nothing to be embarrassed about." He tilted his head.

“Normally I suppose I'd ask what kinds of things you like, but if you don't know we can always figure it out. So... tell me about something else, instead. What are your plans for Duscur, when you get it back? What kind of place do you want it to be?"

She took it into hers, holding it gently as she stared at their hands. “I want it to be a place for everyone to be as they are, and not have to hide anything. I want them to feel safe, and not chastised or forced into doing something simply because they were born into a family that required it," she spoke slowly, her eyes lifting to meet his.

“I want it to be a place where people can go and be themselves, to find dreams to share with others, and feel like they don't have to hide who they are. I want it to be a place where people feel free," she continued, dropping her eyes again.

“And I want it to be a place that people come to admire, and love. Not something that is to be hated and feared simply because of the location," she was probably referring to how close it was to Fhirdiad. “I plan on implementing new treaties as well, and building up the relationship between the other countries. I want Duscur to thrive, and... be capable of defending themselves so nothing like... what happened ever happens again." Her hand squeezed his tightly as she spoke, but it relaxed after a moment.

“It sounds wonderful," he said simply, half-smiling. He was quite confident in her ability to achieve such a thing, though that wasn't to undersell the amount of work it would be. “I don't know much about civic governance, or treaties or anything like that, but... I could certainly help with the defending bit, if you'd like."

She'd made clear to him what was on offer, in one sense. But he wanted to be useful, as well. To have a role to play in that restoration, even if the lion's share of the work fell to her as the queen by blood. “If nothing else, I'd like you to be able to rely on me for something like that. It's what I'm good at, after all."

“I really don't deserve someone like you," she whispered softly, a smile tugging at her lips as she regarded him with a warm gaze. “You make it very difficult to wait until graduation, I hope you know that," she stated, her hand squeezing his just faintly before she withdrew it.

He did let himself laugh then, just a soft one, and shook his head. “The feeling is mutual on that score," he replied, more playfully than anything. It was quite true, though—the restraint it took, when he knew she felt as he did... well he was glad of his discipline in a way, but in another he almost regretted it.

“Still... only a month and a half now. Putting aside the obvious for a moment, are you looking forward to it?" He knew she couldn't view her time here with anything like nostalgia, most likely, given the ways in which it had been trying on her, but... some part of him somehow hoped that it still seemed to her a more positive than negative experience, at least.

Her eyes grew melancholy, though. “I am," she spoke softly, sighing lightly as she dropped her gaze to her hands as they folded on the table. “For all that it was... I will miss it. I've made so many friends here, people I love and care about, and... I don't think I ever would have met you if I hadn't enrolled with Sorcha. I... almost didn't, to be honest," she stated, pushing out a soft sigh through her nose.

“I wasn't sure if I would have been able to conceal who I was, but my desire to keep Sorcha safe is what forced me to enroll. If I hadn't, I don't think I'd have ever met you, and..." she trailed off, her hands clenching tightly together. “I don't think I'd be the person I am today if it wasn't for all of you. Especially you. You've... I've told you before that you're my reason to live. That day... it scared me because I thought that I did lose you. I... I don't want to lose someone else I love. I don't know if I could stand to."

“I... hope you don't think me childish because of it, but it's how I feel. You're important to me, Cyril, so very important," she whispered the last part and swallowed thickly.

“Why would I think that childish?" he asked, leaning forward a little and propping his chin in his hand. His eyes softened; he'd seen them in the mirror a few times and found them strange, but if it was the only physical sign of what had happened to him, he supposed it was rather subtle. “Perhaps it's just the strange way my life has gone, but... caring about people... that seems like something extraordinary and important. Caring about you—all of you, but you most of all—it makes me feel like I'm finally alive at all."

A smile tugged his mouth up at the corner, and he narrowed his eyes at her over the tabletop. “I don't have any plans to die, you know. Not when I just learned what living's really about. Especially not since I promised I'd be there when you needed me." He hoped that was at least some reassurance. Surely, what they did was dangerous, and there was always a risk, but—but he had the Divine Pulse, now truly his and more powerful than before, and they were all of them formidable. He had a feeling they could handle what Rhea threw at them, for just a little while longer.

She was quiet for a moment, as if she were thinking about what he said. Her eyes fell to the table top, and she worried her bottom lip for a moment longer before she lifted her gaze back to meet his. They were uncannily calm, almost in an eerie sort of way.

“Will you..." she began, furrowing her brows lightly, “will you promise me something else?"

“You don't have to, and I know that things and feelings change over time, but... when Sorcha gives Duscur back to me, will you promise to help me with it? I don't know how many years it'll take before that happens. I know that there will be difficulties in getting the territory back, but... will you help me rebuild it. As..." she paused, swallowing thickly before she laid both of her hands in front of her.

“As its king?"

He had to process that for a moment; it wasn't merely the king bit, either. That he could have taken or left, in an odd way. Truthfully, Cyril would have thought himself more suited to a posting like general, one that carried no real nobility with it. The only reason he cared at all for the one she was offering was because, well—

The way he would become the king was by marrying the queen.

He felt himself smile, a soft thing, and warm. “When you have your country back," he said quietly, “however many years that takes. When we've done it, I'll ask you then if you still feel this way. And if you do, I will. I promise."

She smiled then, something brighter than normal, and she reached across the table for his hand. “However many years it takes," she began, keeping her gaze with his, “when all is said and done, and I have Duscur back... nothing would make me happier."

“Until then... there's only a month or so left," she paused, huffing softly to herself, “and then we can be together with nothing to hold us back." Her eyes narrowed slightly with the force of her smile.

He gave her hand a squeeze, then raised it to his mouth, brushing the softest of kisses over her knuckles. “I've never wanted anything more."

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. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Sunday the 15th
Lake Seiros - Afternoon - Clear
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer wasn't exactly sure how he'd managed to convince everyone to use their spare time going on a picnic together. Sure, they were all friends at this point, but all of them were coming. Devon, Sofia, and the others. All of different Houses, of different backgrounds and classes. And they were all friends. Mercer wondered, briefly, if this was how it could be. How his country could be if everyone saw the potential, and not just a person's Crest, or heritage. It would take a long time to achieve that, but if this could be the end result, well... it would be a battle worth fighting.

His lips pursed briefly together as he recalled Alaric's last letter. Something seemed off about Gloucester, but not in a way that called for immediate attention. Mercer put it down as Matteo being sore, still, about Sorcha and his land being taken by Acheron. Some people never let grudges like that go, however; he wasn't going to dwell on it for too long. He was here to enjoy his friends's company; he'd inform them of the letter after the festivities. They'd be enjoying themselves, hopefully, after all.

“Alright. We have food, drinks, and... I don't think we need anything else," he stated, grinning at the group in front of him. “Let's all celebrate a year without killing each other!" he stated, causing Thea to giggle lightly, and Deirdre to roll her eyes.

“Not for a lack of trying, at least," Deirdre muttered, causing Sylvi to snort softly.

“Now now," Reynard tutted, pulling his scarf a little closer around him. It was still Pegasus Moon, even if the afternoon was a little bit unseasonably warm. “If I'd been trying to kill any of you, someone would be dead at least."

Vi chuckled, leaning forward to place his chin on Thea's head and enfold her in his cloak. She was sitting back against his chest, so it wasn't hard to do. Thea had acquired a rather interesting new piece of jewelry recently, and was wearing it on a very meaningful finger, but as of yet neither of them had said anything about it.

“Good to know my friends usually don't want to assassinate me, I suppose. What would I need enemies for otherwise?" Thoughtlessly, he ran his fingers through her hair.

Devon appeared next, carrying some wood for the fire they'd already started for warmth, and plunked himself down on one edge of the nearest blanket. “I'd prefer not to have enemies at all, to be completely honest."

“With a face like yours, Devon, I doubt anyone would want to make an enemy of you. They'd probably want to collect you and have you all to themselves, right Sylvi?"" Senka spoke, arching a brow in Sylvi's direction. The younger woman snorted softly, but grinned nonetheless.

“I'd certainly want him all to myself, but I suppose I could share if that's what he wanted," she replied easily enough, earning a light snicker from Deirdre. Mercer snickered as well, glancing towards the boy in question.

Devon looked about ready to combust, but he held his own better now that he'd used to, at least, if only just. “I don't—no. I mean, I can understand that that's something some people want, and it's not bad if it works for them, but—no. Not me. Thank you." He cleared his throat awkwardly.

Sorcha gave him a sympathetic smile; Teach snorted softly.

He really was easy to rile up, however; teasing couldn't only just fall on him after all. Mercer turned his eyes towards Vridel and Thea. Even if neither of them said anything about it, yet, he was going to make them, now.

“Speaking of keeping someone all to themselves, it looks like you and Thea are going to be exclusive for a long while, Vi. Are we invited to the ceremony?" he asked, causing almost all eyes to be cast towards Vi and Thea.

“Till death do us part," Vi replied drolly, giving Mercer a look that clearly indicated he had his lifespan in mind when he said it. To anyone who didn't know, though, it would simply sound like a reference to the nature of the arrangement. “As to whether you're invited, I don't know. I think I shall leave that up to my lovely fiancée. What do you think, Thea? Is Lord Fishface invited?"

Thea looked like she was giving it serious thought. Enough that Mercer felt a little spike of panic. Was she mad at him for some reason? He couldn't recall ever giving her a reason other than the ocassional teasing gesture he'd made with her about Vi. Did she hold grudges like that? She smiled, though, and nodded her head.

“I suppose it'll be fine to invite Mercer," she stated, grinning at Mercer. He narrowed his eyes slightly at her, but grinned.

“And here I thought I'd wronged you somehow," he replied, earning a light giggle from Thea.

“I suppose congratulations are in order, then, for the future von Hresvelgs," Senka stated, her eyes softening towards Vi and Thea. Mercer nodded, grabbing a cup from nearby and filling it with the bottled water they'd brought with them. The harder stuff would be for later, but for now, they could all make a toast with water.

“Indeed. To Thea and Vi!" Mercer stated as Sylvi and Deirdre followed suit. He could see a light pink dusting Thea's cheeks, and his grin widened slightly. “And the future of House von Hresvelg!" He knew they would get the implication of that.

Sorcha punched him in the shoulder for his cheek, giving him a mock-glare over the time of her cup as she took a drink. “You mind your manners," she chided. “Thea could always dis-invite you and I don't want to go alone."

“I'd be your date," Reynard offered slyly, raising an eyebrow at Mercer.

Sorcha grinned at him. “Oh well in that case feel free to get yourself disinvited, fishboy. I have another date lined up." She tipped her glass in Rey's direction, and he returned it with a cheeky wink.

Mercer knew that for a fact, that Rey wouldn't consider Sorcha as his date. She wasn't his type, so to speak, but that didn't stop the frown on his face from forming. He glanced in Senka's direction who gave him a flat look.

“Don't look at me. I would not entertain the idea of being your date," she replied flatly. Mercer supposed she had a point, but he rolled his eyes nonetheless before an idea struck him. He leaned closer to Sorcha so that he could whisper into her ear.

“Don't worry, we'll have to worry about House von Riegan, too," he stated before pulling back. “And I know Thea wouldn't dis-invite me just because of a little teasing," he spoke loud enough so that everyone could hear that.

Sorcha harrumphed at him, sniffing and turning her nose up in a show of disinterest, but the gradual pinkening of her features was a much truer indication of her feelings, as it so often was. “Presumptuous," she accused, glowering at him just a bit.

“No, Sorcha's right. I would, but you're lucky I want to invite all my friends, and that, unfortunately, includes you." Thea spoke with a smile on her face, and Mercer couldn't help but chuckle at her.

“Vi, you've corrupted our dear little Thea. For shame."

“It's not like I mind, though."

Vi, for his part, grinned wickedly at Mercer over Thea's head. The implication in the expression was a pretty clear one: it would seem the so-called corruption involved had reached a certain point, and he was pretty pleased with this fact. “I don't know," he said with deceptive lightness. “Are you sure she's not the one corrupting me? She's rather forward these days, you know. And so mean to anyone she thinks is after me. It's really quite possessive of her." Of course, the way he hugged her a little more tightly under the cloak gave away the fact that that aspect of things, exaggerated as he'd made it for humor, was decidedly mutual.

The blush that spread across Thea's face meant that she knew what Vi was implicating, and it didn't stop the bout of laughter that left Mercer. Thea, however, pursed her lips, and stared at anything that wasn't a person.

“It's not like you mind, either, Vi," she murmured, though everyone could still hear it. “And if I remember correctly, you like me that way, so," she stated, turning her head slightly so she could stick her tongue out at Vi, even if his head was still lodged on hers. Mercer snickered softly as he tried to contain his laughter.

“I do like you that way," he admitted freely, shifting just enough to lay a kiss on her temple, clearly not ashamed to be doing it. Knowing Vi, it would take a lot more than that before he felt the faintest shred of embarrassment, even in front of people.

“You know, I never thought Thea as the type to be like that, to be honest," he finally spoke, arching a brow in their direction. “I mean, it's possible that this entire time she was corrupting you, and not the other way around."

“You hush, Lord Fishface. You're just jealous," she stated, pursing her lips in Mercer's direction.

“Not at all, Thea. Not at all."

“Can we talk about something else? I might get sick from all the sweetness otherwise," Reynard drawled, rolling his eyes good-naturedly.

“You've all got your last certs next month," Teach said, crossing his arms with mock-seriousness. “Have you been practicing?"

Sofi groaned, though only playfully. “Maybe not that, though," she remarked.

“Yeah, anything but that," Deirdre stated, though it was obvious that she was not playing about it. “We haven't had time to study for them, and I've fallen behind on a lot of my tomes and spells," she murmured softly.

“If you needed help with your dark magic, I could help you with that, too, Deirdre," Senka offered. She was, perhaps, one of the better dark magic users the group had, next to Teach. Deirdre was good, but not as good as those two. Deirdre seemed to muse it over, though, before nodding her head.

“I suppose it wouldn't hurt. I am trying to be a warlock, after all," she stated before shrugging her shoulders. Her eyes turned towards Mercer, though, and she arched a brow. “I heard my cousin sent you a letter, Merc. What does the idiot want now?" she stated, causing Mercer to purse his lips. He supposed he had to tell them sooner or later. He chanced a glance in Sorcha's direction, before he sighed softly.

“Gloucester has been acting strange, lately. Stranger than normal, at least," he stated, running a hand through his hair. “According to Alaric, he's more serious than he used to be, and hasn't been seen with a woman in nearly three weeks. And you all know that is strange already," Matteo was usually seen with a woman sometimes as often as three times a day.

“I just attributed it to him losing his lands to Acheron, and him losing Sorcha, however," he paused to purse his lips, “it seems a little more than just that. It's almost as if he was a completely different person."

“You think he's up to something?" Vi asked curiously, picking up a petit four from the picnic spread and offering it to Thea before taking one for himself as well. “Don't suppose he'll be pleasant enough to wait until graduation to initiate his scheme?"

Sorcha frowned like she'd eaten something sour. “I wouldn't be surprised if he tried something while you were still away; he has to know he can't win when you're there."

“I wouldn't be surprised, either. I've asked Alaric to keep an eye on Matteo and my gramps, just in case. It'll be stretching him thin, but he's the only one I trust. The only one I can. Judith is plenty capable on her own, but..." he would admit that he was a little concerned for his mother. She was a warrior in her own right, and she wasn't called a Hero for nothing, after all. He took a deep breath and slumped his shoulders.

“The only thing I can do is have Alaric keep an eye on him, and just plan to be ten steps ahead of him. He knows he can't win either way, but he's going to try."

“Gloucester's always been a bit of an idiot, though. I mean, look what he did simply because his pride was hurt. He lost almost three acres, or miles of land because he couldn't handle the fact that Mercer anulled his arrangement to Sorcha. This... he's probably trying for one last attempt to become the Leader of the Alliance, in some way or form," Deirdre stated, pursing her lips together.

“Alaric can handle himself, but it sucks that I can't be there to help him, either."

“Yeah, well... graduation's only several weeks away. He'll be fine until then," at least Mercer hoped that would be the case.

Vi huffed softly. “He'd best wait. Otherwise there'll be another field trip in it, and then you'll have some serious reinforcements, no? He's got to understand that, too." There was something to it—the group was formidable, and even if the Archbishop didn't intend it, the very fact that they were currently students at the Officer's Academy would lend them a certain kind of Church-adjacent authority, too.

It was in that sense far wiser for Gloucester to wait the few weeks.

Sorcha grimaced. “Well you'll have reinforcements either way if you happen to need us," she pointed out. “I don't expect my uncle will want to handle the responsibility of actually doing things a moment longer than he has to, and I'm sure Vivi's got a crown waiting too, right?" When Vi nodded, she did too. “So there. And then when Sen's got Duscur back we'll all be your allies, so he'd better watch his step."

Mercer couldn't help the grin that covered his face. “Of course. I'll have two queens, and an emperor as my allies. What more could I want?" he replied, taking a drink of his water before setting it down.

“Oh, and I can't forget about Teach, Sylvi and future Lord Margrave-Galatea, Sofia, Deirdre, and Rey, too." Sylvi snickered at Mercer's comment, though there was a faint blush dusting her cheeks. Had she thought about it, too? That was interesting to Mercer. He'd save that for later, though.

“I'm almost certain I'm missing someone, though."

“Pff, Emperor. Who needs one of those when you could have an Empress, instead?" Vi paused for a moment, as though considering this, and then shook his head. “Actually, never mind. You'll have to make do with me, because I refuse to share." He smiled, catlike, and tucked his chin back atop Thea's head. “Too bad for you."

“Hey, I wouldn't mind an Empress, too. I mean, I've got two queens already. Why not throw an Empress in there, too?" he added, grinning just slightly before something was thrown at him. It hit him in the head, but it was much too soft to be anything other than a muffin, from the looks of it. It had landed, thankfully, in his hands, and he glanced up to see who'd thrown it.

“Mercer von Riegan, you hush, stupid fishface," Thea stated, seemingly the culprit behind the muffin. Senka huffed a light laugh as Mercer continued grinning.

“She has a point. You do realize how that sounds, right? You make it sound like you want us to be part of your harem," Senka stated, arching a brow in Mercer's direction. “I, for one, refuse, and Vi already said he's not sharing, so..." she trailed off with a light shrug of her shoulders.

“It's probably a good thing. Sorcha would kill me if I even so much as thought about it," Mercer replied, as he grinned in Sorcha's direction.

“I'd never do something so irresponsible as to assassinate an important leader in Fódlan," Sorcha said primly. “But I would run off with Rey, since he's so kindly offered, so do consider carefully before you make any decisions, Mercer." She sniffed, narrowing her eyes faintly at him before promptly turning away with a hmph sound.

Reynard nodded sagely. “Always happy to aid in the escape of unhappy ladies. Or gentlemen. Or anyone, really."

Mercer chuckled softly, leaning close towards Sorcha so he could rest his head on her shoulder. “Now why would I do that? Make you run into the arms of another man? You're already breaking your promise. For shame, Sor. For shame." He leaned a little closer, though, and whispered in her ear, “and I thought I was the only one you were allowed to think of, hm?" He placed a chaste kiss on the inside of her neck before pulling away.

“Y-you started it," she huffed back at him, just as quietly but considerably more flustered. Physical contact tended to do that to her, but only from him.

“Ugh, I don't know why she'd choose you, anyway, Mercer. It's clear Reynard is the superior choice, but... well, I guess everyone has their own strange tastes in people," Deirdre chimed in, making a face in Mercer's direction. He only grinned at her.

“Oh, he's not so bad," Sofi said, grinning a little at the exchange. “If you ignore his entire personality he's at least nice enough to look at, for a man."

“Why thank you, Sofi. At least someone thinks I'm pretty," Mercer stated, flashing a grin in Sofia's direction.

“Someone has to," Senka murmured behind the rim of her cup. “Though I do agree with Deir. Sor could do better, but I suppose you are both stuck with each other," she continued, a grin forming on her lips. Mercer outright pouted.

“One of these days you'll say something nice about me, Sen. And it will have nothing to do with Teach encouraging it, right?" Mercer stated, allowing his eyes to slide towards Teach.

“It would have to," the man replied with a faint smirk, taking a drink from the glass in his hand. “As I don't make a habit of doing so."

Several of the others laughed; Sorcha raised an eyebrow in a manner that suggested she quite thought Mercer was getting what he deserved, but she did apparently decide to be more merciful than any of the others, at least.

Anyway," she said, rolling her eyes a little. “Someone packed cards. Should we play?"

“Yes! Let's play!" Thea stated as she moved, however; she seemed to remember she was in Vridel's lap and decided against it.

Mercer shook his head faintly. He really did have great friends.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Tuesday the 17th
Vridel's Room - Early Evening - Drizzle
Vridel von Hresvelg


Vridel grimaced at the letter, squinting at it accusingly where it lay on his desk. He was so certain something was going on, but hadn't the faintest idea what. The trouble in dealing with imperial nobility as a whole really. It was all but a certainty that scheming was happening, but what form it would take was much murkier. He supposed he had some friends who could relate now, come to think of it. Perhaps a bit of consultation with them would help matters.

Thinking it at the very least couldn't hurt, he stood, pinning his cloak around his shoulders and exiting his quarters to seek out Sorcha and Mercer. His stepsister was just concerned enough with propriety that he was fairly sure they'd be somewhere public, but she was also sickeningly fond of Mercer, so it was all but a guarantee they'd be together.

Not that he had much room to talk about sickeningly-fond, really. He knew he was probably being a bit obnoxious himself, these days, but frankly some part of him thought he and Thea were rather entitled to it, after everything that had happened this year, and everything that would in the near future. Too near, but not something he wanted to think about at any length right now.

He found them, interestingly enough, in the library. It wasn't exactly a surprise; Mercer and Sorcha were both excellent students, and as House leaders, on the same accelerated track as he was. They were probably working on the extra tactics assignment. Still, he slid into the chair next to Sorcha with a sigh, snatching up one of the cookies on the plate between them. “Looks like you're not the only one with an old friend acting strangely, Fishbrains."

Mercer chuckled lightly, perhaps because of the nickname. “Oh? How so? Someone not being imperial enough back home?" he asked, glancing up from one of his books to arch a brow at Vridel. “Or is it that someone found out about your engagement and thought that it was a bad move? If that's the case, well that person can go fuck off, because you can marry whomever you want to, and if it's not, well... that person can still go fuck off."

“What he said. Mostly." Sorcha added wryly. “Seriously, though, Vivi, what's going on?" Her brow furrowed a little as she looked up from her work. Clearly she knew he wasn't just complaining for the sake of complaining, which was something he appreciated about the both of them.

“I doubt the engagement has anything to do with it, as I haven't told anyone about it yet," he said simply, chewing over another bite of his cookie. “Haven't told them about the part where I'm planning to be Emperor as soon as I get back, either. I'd say it's better to ask forgiveness than permission with these people, but I actually don't plan on asking for either. It's just better to keep them in the dark as long as possible, so they're scrambling while I'm moving onto the next phase of things."

He sighed, then, and polished off the cookie, reaching for another. “But to answer the original question, Volkhard wrote me. He's quite insistent that I abandon the end of my time here and return to the Empire immediately."

“Huh," Mercer spoke, furrowing his brows slightly as he took a cookie and bit into it. He chewed it thoughtfully before he sighed. “That is a little strange, I'd have to say. Who tells someone to abandon the end of their studies to return home? I doubt it has anything to do with your father. If there was something wrong with him, I'm sure Arundel would have said something about it in the letter. Unless he just doesn't give a shit, and in which case, he probably wants to just crown you and be done with it. No offense, but your uncle is an asshole. That was established when he came to visit."

He finished off his cookie in another bite, and pursed his lips together. “On the other hand, though, why? Why would he tell you to stop and go home? If they don't know about any of your plans, surely Arundel has something planned? People like him don't just, out of the blue, say come home."

Sorcha grimaced; he knew she'd liked Volkhard at one point. He'd been a sight better to her than most of the nobles of her own country, in the sense that he'd treated her at least with basic respect. But since they'd found out about the letters, and since his visit, she'd at least seemed to accept that he wasn't the person she thought. Vridel thought this was for the best, even if he wasn't particularly enthused to be the one to disillusion her.

He, however, only sighed. “It's got to be some kind of power move," he said, shaking his head. His hair stirred around his nape; he'd been thinking of growing it out. Perhaps he would see what Thea thought of the idea. “Volkhard isn't the most powerful of the Seven. That's Aegir, but with all the unrest in his territory lately, I'm sure it's occurred to my dear uncle that putting in an Emperor he has a direct blood tie to would be a good first move in a larger bid for the Prime Minister's spot and the real power. What I can't figure out is why now? This has been ongoing for long enough that it should be no problem to wait another month and a half."

“Maybe he just wants to prove to everyone that when he says 'jump,' you ask how high," Sorcha grumbled, her eyes falling back to her papers for a moment.

It wasn't a bad thought, really. A demonstration that the new Emperor answered so obviously to him might help sway some of the other nobility to his side. But somehow, Vridel didn't think it was just that.

“I feel like there has to be something more to it," he murmured. “Calling me back early from the academy might convey that message, but certainly not in a very showy way. Maybe he just wants to see if I'll obey. I suppose I've never been quite as cooperative as he might like, but perhaps he suspects more now than he used to. Either way, it could turn into a problem if I'm not careful."

Mercer grimaced slightly, but nodded his head. “Yeah, and you have other people to worry about, now," Mercer stated as he glanced at Vridel. His brows smoothed out as he leaned back in his chair a bit. “But at the same time, I don't think you'd want to go back quite yet, anyway. Might as well just let him wait a month and some days, longer. It's not like he could come here and force you to. For what it's worth, Rhea does have some use. I doubt Arundel would want to try anything against the church, unless he's stupid enough."

“I think we all know that he isn't, but then again, desperate people do weird things all the time. I mean, a poor example would, in fact, be Rhea." Mercer shrugged his shoulders and took another cookie, dusting the crumbs off of his shirt as he bit into it.

All true, of course. Volkhard could not and would not force the issue, and Vridel would not return to the Empire yet. “The trouble is, I still have no idea what he's up to, and refusing to heed the call here is going to alert him to the fact that I'm up to something, which isn't ideal, but I suppose I'll have to deal with that later."

“Or make it a little ambiguous. Write him back and tell him you're taking care of a few things, here, before you return," Mercer replied, arching a brow in Vridel's direction. “I mean, if you do that, he'd likely be less suspicious, right? And it would make it seem like you will go back, but just don't until graduation. That of course is up to you and what you want to do. Just know that you've got all of us for backup if you ever need it. In whatever you will or want," he continued, grinning lightly at Vridel.

He snorted. “That was actually reassuring. Maybe I should go back; clearly this place is bad for my sanity." He grinned back a little, though, and then expelled a breath from his nose.

“Speaking of going back, though..." Vridel hummed, taking up another cookie. “How soon do we think we can get cracking on those treaties? I need to know where to figure them in after I seize power." He dusted crumbs from his free hand back onto the plate and raised an eyebrow in their direction.

Sorcha shrugged. “Well as I mentioned I'm pretty sure I'll be shoved onto the throne whether I like it or not as soon as I go back. They might insist on waiting for my eighteenth birthday, but that'll only be a few more months after. The first thing I'm doing is giving Duscur back to Sen. Céleste can have some other land, but not that spot. As of right now though the second slot on my to-do list is free, though. I'd be happy to pencil in treaty negotiations if we'll all be in the right position in time." She looked at Mercer there, though, something soft in her expression.

“I don't know what your situation is, though. Will your grandfather abdicate, or probably not?"

Mercer grinned a bit more at Sorcha. “Yeah, the old man plans on handing the Alliance to me once I turn eighteen. Next month, actually." He rubbed the back of his neck in a sheepish manner before dropping his hand. “He might hold off if his health is better but who actually knows? Gramps is a little strange that way, I suppose. It depends on whether or not he feels like I'm ready for it. Regardless, I have enough influence with him to at least start thinking about the treaties."

“It's nothing like what the two of you have to go through, though I do expect some resistance from Gloucester. The man was never one to back down from something, and he'll likely oppose me until the very end. Not that he has a chance, but when you've been raised to fill a certain role, and then some kid comes and takes it from you, well..." he trailed off and pushed a heavy sigh through his nose.

“Don't minimize it," Sorcha said quietly. “You've been through a lot, too."

She was right, and Vridel well knew it. Mercer didn't get into his problems often, but it was clear enough that he in fact had put up with a great deal, from not being legitimized until quite recently up to multiple assassination attempts and the like. And honestly... Vridel could relate when it came to the legitimacy. He was never supposed to be Emperor, either. In a just world, a better world, he wouldn't be, because his siblings would still be alive and there would be almost a dozen heirs to get through before he was even a thought in anyone's head.

But the world was far from just, and so here they were.

“I suppose it's nice to have allies," he mused, huffing softly. “Of all the things I came here for, that's one I never expected."

Mercer huffed slightly. “Yeah, well, that's what happens when you make friends, I suppose. Someone is always there in your corner. Though, I guess it is a bit nice to have allies who also happen to be the future rulers of countries you want to improve relations with. Although," he began, his eyes sliding towards Sorcha. They narrowed slightly as he grinned at her.

“I think the two of us have already started improving relations with each other," he stated, leaning closer towards her, but stopping a polite distance away.

Vridel gave an exaggerated roll of his eyes. “Ugh. Get a room, will you?"

“That's not—" Sorcha protested, placing a hand on Mercer's forehead and shoving him away with it, though Vridel could not help but note she was very gentle about it. She turned her eyes to him, then, though, as if trying to convince him of what he already knew. “We're not—we haven't—uh." Her face colored; she cleared her throat.

“We don't need a room."

Mercer snickered softly as he glanced towards Vridel. “Yeah, we're not like you and Thea," he stated, though he did smile innocently at Sorcha. Or about as innocent as Mercer could make it. “But... I suppose it does make a bit of sense considering that the two of you are engaged. Alas, poor me." He didn't sound terribly upset by it, though.

“How do you think that's going to go, by the way? I'm sure you've told her about what to expect and what not," he started, though it was obvious to Vridel what Mercer meant. He'd told Thea about his shortened lifespan, but it was still vague enough that Sorcha would likely put it down to it being difficult adjusting to the Empire or something similar.

He'd have to tell her, too, eventually. Wanted to, in a way, because she was his sister and he didn't want to keep things from her. But not just yet. “I've warned her," he said simply. “I wouldn't have asked her to marry me without knowing what she was getting herself into." Like Mercer's own words, it was broadly true, but would communicate more to the other person who knew the most relevant circumstances.

“But since you mentioned it, what do you mean it makes sense 'considering we're engaged?' As I recall you idiots were engaged well before us." He let the implication hang, working not to chuckle when Sorcha glared balefully at him. Teasing her rarely got old, really. Probably part of why Mercer liked her as much as he did.

“Why yes, Vi, thanks for noticing," Mercer replied with a sly grin. “But unlike some people, we have more... what's the word, restraint. Kind of makes me think how the others do it so well. I mean, Sofi and Deir don't have anything to hide, everyone knows they're engaged, but Sylvi and Dev? I bet you anything it's Sylvi who suggests it first," he continued, smirking in Vridel's direction.

“Although Dev has been getting a bit more bold these last couple of months. Who knows, really," he stated with a light shrug of his shoulders. He did, however, slip an arm around Sorcha's shoulders and pulled her closer to himself, but not enough that she'd fall out of her seat.

“We're just lucky, I guess," he stated before releasing her.

“Too bad you're not getting lucky," Vridel quipped back, only to laugh when Sorcha's blush and glare both intensified.

“You're a prick, Vivi," she informed him tartly, sitting back up in her seat with all the dignity of the queen she'd one day be. “And you," she told Mercer, sniffing haughtily, “are insufferable."

“Hm, while that may be," Mercer began, taking a bite out of the cookie he still had, and arched a brow at Sorcha, “you still love me. I guess that means you're kind of out of luck with that."

“Not that you really mind, though. If I wasn't insufferable, you wouldn't be blushing as adorably as you are. Look at this face, Vi, could you say no to it?" he stated, grinning widely at Vridel while pointing to Sorcha's face.

Vridel hummed, feigning to scrutinize her face and chuckling softly. “Careful, Mercer, or she'll figure out you're actually wrapped around her finger, and where will you be then?"

“I'm going to murder both of you and make it look like an accident," Sorcha muttered, biting into a cookie and mumbling something incoherent. Probably more names to call them.

“I thought that was already obvious?" Mercer replied, blinking innocently as if to reinforce the fact that he was, indeed, wrapped around her finger. “I mean, it's not a bad thing. Thea did the same to you, so..." he trailed off with a light shrug of his shoulders, but he was still grinning.

“And no you wouldn't, Sor. You'd get Rey to do it for you. That way your hands would stay clean." He flashed a grin in Sorcha's direction.

“You think I wouldn't get my hands dirty?" she said, a note of challenge in her tone. “You take that back right this second. You know for a fact that I'm willing to do that, and believe me, if you ever made me that mad you can be damn sure I'd do it myself." She scowled at them both, which Vridel just found vaguely adorable.

“Watch it, Sorcha, you'll rile him up if you talk about getting all dirty with him."

“Vivi I swear to the Goddess that if you don't shut up in the next five seconds I will shoot you."

“I think I'm already riled up. She's so cute when she gets mad like that," Mercer stated, leaning his elbow on the table and placing his chin in his hand. “And why would I want to take that back? You aren't allowed to dirty your pretty hands. Those have to stay clean, you let other people take care of your dirty work... although," he trailed off, a large grin forming on his face.

“If you did want to get dirty with me, just name the time and place, love," he stated, winking at her. Mercer's shoulders were shaking, though, as if he were trying his best not to just laugh right there and then.

Vridel didn't bother to hide his laughter, not even when Sorcha abruptly stood up, gathering her materials in a huff. “I don't have to listen to you ingrates," she grumbled, sticking out her tongue rather childishly. “Tell your dumb jokes to each other if you think you're so funny." She didn't seem genuinely upset by any means; but she did in fact leave the library.

When his chuckles died off, he regarded Mercer a bit more seriously. “I've no right to ask it, and I know you plan on it anyway but... take care of her, all right? The trouble is she wants to do things herself too often." It was a quality he'd always admired in her, that if there was hard work to be done Sorcha wanted to do it herself instead of burdening someone else with it, but the flipside was that she wasn't always good at giving herself a break—literally or metaphorically.

“Of course. I don't plan on letting her do anything on her own," Mercer replied, his brows furrowing slightly. “It won't be easy, of course. You know that, but... for as long as I can, I'll do what I can to support her."

“That, I promise."

Vridel nodded appreciatively. “That's all anyone can ask, I think."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Thursday the 19th
Courtyard - Afternoon - Cool
Senka Rinaldi


Only a few more weeks and they would all be graduating. Senka wasn't entirely sure how she felt about that. She was happy that it was going to be over, however; she also felt... sad. Sad in a way she couldn't really describe. After everything she'd been through in this place, a small part of her would miss it. Miss it because she'd made memories here, ones that she was proud to have. She even made friends, something she thought would never happen given her background, but she did. She had people she cared about. People she loved, and one in particular whom she wanted to share her life with. She'd never thought something like that could happen to someone like her, but she was happy beyond words.

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she approached the isolated gazebo in the courtyard, smiling when she spotted her group of friends. Thea waved to her, first, causing Deirdre to look up from her book, and wave as well. Senka waved back, offering them a small smile as she came to sit next to Sorcha.

“Hope I haven't missed too much of the festivities," she spoke, earning a light snicker from Sylvi. Deirdre rolled her eyes, as was her way of acknowledgment, Senka had learned.

“Nope, you're just in time. Sorcha brought more pastries from Cornelia," Thea stated, pointing to the basket that sat on the table. It looked like most of them had already started on one pastry, though Thea had at least two on her plate. “We, uh, started without you, but we did leave some!" Thea stated, causing Senka to shake her head.

“I see how it is, Thea. Couldn't wait for me to arrive and just had to try them for yourself, right?" Senka stated, though she made it evident she was just teasing Thea. “How is everyone so far?"

“Busy not thinking about exams," Sofia replied with a grin. She was actually one of the least worried about them, as far as such things went. Garreg Mach didn't have any formal graduation exams or anything, but the last certs were kind of considered to be that, as the letter ranks given would be a lot of how many of the officers would be able to convey their skill to potential employers, or in some cases, potential allies or hirelings. It could be important, how strong a warrior and commander someone was seen to be, and for that reason some nobles' skill levels were widely known and others were played very close to the chest. Sorcha had remarked once that it was a very subtle way in which the church exercised influence on politics well outside of its official domain.

Now, however, she seemed rather inclined to lighter thoughts, delicately tearing off a chunk of bear claw to eat. “Glad it's so weirdly warm this Pegasus Moon. Seems like we've been out a lot recently; I'm glad the warm-weather types aren't too chilly." She grinned a little at Sofia and Deirdre and Thea when she said it.

“I think the Church chose this location simply because the weather was always pleasant. Even when it's supposed to be absurdly cold, it's always just... nice here. It could also be that we've hit a strange weather pattern, but who knows. It is nice, and I, for one, am glad I do not have to deal with the cold. I don't think I could last very long," Thea stated, shivering slightly, though Senka felt a small smirk crossing her lips.

“Hm, but I bet Vridel could help warm you up, no? From what I hear, he seems to be doing it quite often," Senka remarked, watching as Thea's face turned a shade of pretty red. She pursed her lips together, and seemingly tried to glare at Senka. Thea never really had an intimidating face; it was much too round for such things, and only served to make her look rather adorable.

“You hush, Senka," she stated with a light huff, causing Deirdre to snicker softly.

“At least you're getting warmed. Sen, Sorcha, and myself have to do without, you know. You should consider yourself lucky, Thea," Sylvi chimed in, arching a brow in Thea's direction. Thea only turned a darker shade of red, and Senka couldn't help the light chuckle that escaped her.

“You could always just ask, you know, Sylvi," Sofia said with a shrug, picking a bit at her pastry as she ate it. For someone so stalwart in the heat of battle, there was an odd delicacy to Sofia, as though she'd been trained to her manners fastidiously and was never able to relax them. Considering her background—being from a wealthy merchant family with aspirations to nobility—it sort of made sense. She would have been instructed so as to look convincingly like the kind of person who would make a nobleman a good match.

Now though, there was almost a little mischief in her eye. “I'm sure Devon would be most obliging if you did."

Sorcha, meanwhile, coughed. “What's this about 'having to do without'? Don't lump me in with that—it's not like I—" She cleared her throat. “Things aren't there yet, and I'm fine with that. We both are. Hasn't even come up." She sounded vaguely put-out by this last bit, actually, and must have realized it, because she tried to cover it with a cough.

“Hm, now that I think about it, maybe you're right, Sofi. I'll have to ask him about it, later," Sylvi responded with a grin. Senka shook her head, though, and laughed softly.

“I wish you the best of luck, Sylvi. He is a gentle heart, do be delicate with him," Senka stated, watching as Sylvi coughed into her hand. For all her muster, it seemed she was still embarrassed. “What do you plan to do after graduation?" she asked. It was directed towards the group as a whole, and Deirdre wore a contemplative look.

“Well," Deirdre began, pursing her lips together. “where Sofia goes, I go. I don't care where, really. Just... somewhere will be nice that isn't..." She'd trailed off, but Senka knew the implication she was trying to make.

“Well... I haven't decided yet," Sylvi spoke softly. “If I go back to House Galatea, my father will try to force me into an arranged marriage, but... I don't want that. And I can't just abandon my house, either. As much as I want to... I also want to make the lands in Galatea better. I just... I don't know how or where to start, though."

Senka could understand that, wanting to make her homeland better. “I'm sure you'll find something you want to do, Sylvi. There's still a little bit of time," Thea chimed in, giving Sylvi a soft smile that she returned.

“I sort of figured I might end up a Church knight someday, since, well... I didn't think the Alliance was likely to want much to do with me, after everything." Sofia looked a bit contemplative at this, glancing to Deirdre and setting one of her hands over her fiancée's. “But after everything we've learned, I don't think I could. I like a lot of the knights, like Shamir and Catherine and Alois, but knowing what I know, I just... can't serve the Archbishop, you know?"

She grimaced. “So we've been talking over the options. We could go the mercenary route—if it's good enough for the Professor, it's certainly good enough for us, but if Mercer plans to take over sooner rather than later, he could probably use all the allies he can get."

Sorcha's face softened at this, though it was doubtful she realized it. “I'm sure he'd appreciate it," she murmured.

“He would," Senka stated with a light nod of her head. “But... if there's ever a place you'd like to call home, other than the Alliance," Senka began, her eyes softening in Deirdre and Sofia's direction. “You'll always have a place in Duscur. With me. And I'd even make you Knight Captain, Sofia. I know your skill well enough to think you deserving of the position, even you, Deirdre. You would have a place in Duscur, always, when... I get it back." Senka did say she wanted it to be a place for everyone to be able to go to. To feel safe and have dreams to share with others, and even accomplish those dreams.

“You know... if I didn't know any better, I'd say you're being very generous and nice, Sen," Deirdre began, narrowing her eyes in Senka's direction, “but it's a good thing I know better. I... I appreciate it, though. We'll just have to see where our lives take us, right Sofi?"

“What about you, Sorcha? What do you plan on doing after graduation in Faerghus?" Thea asked before taking a bite into her pastry.

“Oh, uh." Sorcha appeared to have thought no one would bother to ask, perhaps because the answer was more or less self-evident. “First let me say that any of you are of course always welcome in Faerghus, too." She grinned a little, side-eying Senka. “Before someone makes off with all our mutual friends in addition to our teacher."

Her smile softened, though, and she sighed, finishing off her pastry before answering the question proper. “I guess my plans are to go home, become queen, and start trying to put as many wrongs to right as I can. We've... we've got a lot to make up for, as a people and a country, and it's my responsibility to see that through on behalf of everyone. I guess immediately on the agenda is finding a new Viscounty for the Kleimans so I don't have a civil war on my hands when I give Duscur back to its people. Before that I have to make sure Uncle Rufus will actually give me the crown. I thought it was obvious since he hates the work so much, but Lady Cornelia says some of the nobles have been in his ear and he's been making noises about marriage again, which always gets everyone's hopes up for a proper heir." She grimaced.

“They'd keep the throne back from you because of the vague possibility of a male heir?" Sofia asked, looking rather disgusted. “I mean, we've been there, I know it's bad, but that's just..." She shook her head, clearly unsure of the right words.

“It's partly the Crest thing," Sorcha said with a sigh. “Or at least that's the excuse. Really I think everyone just likes him better as King because he's not very..." she paused, clearly trying to find a delicate way to put it. “He prefers the aspects of kingship that people see. Big parties and cheering crowds. I'd almost rather they got it over with now, though. If some little boy is born with a Major Crest of Blaiddyd in five or ten years from now there might be a war over it."

“Men are stupid," Deirdre spoke decidedly. “For what it's worth, though, I do hope you get your throne. And if you ever need help, you'll always have us, too. Doesn't hurt that your fiancé also happens to be the next Alliance Leader," she continued, though it seemed she was completely serious about her statement. She wasn't grinning or smiling. She had a rather serious expression on her face, and Senka could understand that.

“And you also have us," Senka stated, smiling a bit in Sorcha's direction. “We'll always be there for you whenever you need us, Sorcha. I promise." It was a promise Senka knew she could make, and would keep. “No matter what challenges we'll face along the way, I know I'll always be there for you."

“Vi and myself, as well! You can't have all the fun, Sen!" Thea stated, puffing her cheeks out a bit. “We'll be there for you, too, Sorcha."

“Well House Galatea will be there, regardless, all things considered, but they are correct. We're here for you, too Sorcha Blaiddyd!" Sylvi stated, earning a light snicker from Deirdre.

Sorcha looked for a moment a little overcome with the sentiment, but then grinned brightly. “Well... same to you guys. If there's anything the queen of Faerghus can do for you, just say so. I uh, actually do have a few ideas about the Galatea land, Sylvi, so if you go back to your house make sure to tell them how important it is that you negotiate with me. That might keep them off your back about the marriage thing for a while at least. I'm sure I can find some way to grant Devon a knighthood or something, too, if you'd want to be able to court openly."

It was, perhaps, the one way in which Faerghus was a little more permissive than the Alliance or the Empire. Knights were considered to have status enough to court nobles, because of their importance to Faerghus, both in practical warfare but also in the popular imagination. Many of the most important historical figures in the country's history had begun as knights alone, including its first king, Loog.

“I'd do it anyway, honestly. He's done more than enough to earn it."

“You'd... you'd do that, really?" Sylvi nearly choked out. It was, perhaps, the first time Senka had seen tears in Sylvi's eyes, but she smiled brightly at Sorcha and nodded her head. “Thank you, Sorcha. That... that means a lot to me, and I'm sure it'll mean more than anything to him," she stated, rubbing the back of her hand over her eyes to wipe away the tears.

“I agree with Sorcha. Devon has proven himself in more ways than one to earn that. I'm sure he'd be just as excited as you are, Sylvi."

“Here's to always being friends and hopefully having a future together!" Thea stated, holding out her pastry as if she were trying to toast with it. Senka laughed softly and held out her own pastry. Sylvi and Deirdre both followed suit, though the latter snorted softly.

“To always being friends and to the start of a new future!"

Sofia and Sorcha added theirs to the 'toast,' and though there was a fair bit of giggling when they all broke away, it didn't seem to mean any of them were less than serious about the thoughts that underlay it.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Saturday the 21st
Reynard's House - Late Evening - Chilly
Vridel von Hresvelg


Vridel plunked the bottle of brandy down on the table. “The Empire's finest, as requested."

Given how close they were drawing to graduation, he, Mercer, the Professor, Reynard, and Devon had finally gotten around to putting together something they'd been planning for a while: an excuse to get drunk on alcohol from each of their homelands, and to argue about whose was the best. He'd been saving this bottle of Imperial brandy for the occasion for a couple of moons now, and was rather looking forward to seeing what everyone else offered.

Devon actually had two bottles; everyone else had chipped in so he could get both without digging into his savings or anything—they didn't often address that he was from poverty, but they took steps to make sure it didn't get in the way of anything, something Vridel thought all of them were happy to do. The younger man set them down. “Okay so the clear stuff is from Sreng. Vodka—they make it from potatoes. And the other one is rye whiskey from Faerghus." He took a seat across from the Professor, who nudged his own bottle forward.

“Since you all had everywhere in Fódlan and quite a bit more covered between you, I brought a Dagdan malt. My father was fond of it." The bottle seemed to in fact be missing a few drinks already, though whether Jeralt or Cyril had drunk them was hard to tell.

“I, of course, have Brigidian rum to contribute to this enterprise. And pipeweed, if anyone's interested." Reynard arched a brow.

Vridel and Cyril both indicated that they were, but Devon passed.

For his part, Mercer produced two bottles as well. “And here I provide to you Almyra's famous rum, and the Alliance's famous brandy. It's probably not as good as the Empire's, but that's what we're here for!" Mercer stated as he placed the bottles next to the other ones. “I'll pass on the pipeweed for now, Rey. Something about that and drinking too much gets me a little sick, to be perfectly honest. And I'd rather get sick by drinking too much, thank you."

He took a seat and grabbed the nearest cup. “Alright, so which one do we want to try first? Malt, either Vi's brandy or mine, Devon's stuff, or Rey's stuff?"

“Vodka tastes like shit. No offense, Devon. It gets a person drunk very quickly, though. So maybe we do a shot of that to start and then start comparing other things?" Reynard passed pipes to both Vridel and Cyril, who both lit them with faint sparks of magic.

Vridel wouldn't indulge much in this, as he like Mercer tended to prefer being high or drunk, rather than and. But if he went lightly on it now it should fade by the time drunkenness settled in.

“None taken. You're right, honestly." Devon shrugged. The suggestion seemed to meet with general approval, though, and he poured a shot's worth or so into everyone's glass. “Should we toast or something?"

“Toasts are boring," Vridel observed, bringing his glass closer to himself. “Anyone know any good drinking games?"

“Hm," Mercer seemed to be in thought as his brows furrowed, and he brought a hand up to rest against his chin. “Never have I never is a boring game, so we're not going to play that," he began, pursing his lips together as he seemed to be lost in thought. “Oh, I know. We can play bullshit. We'll say something that is either true or not. If someone calls bullshit, and it is, indeed, bullshit, that person has to drink. For example, if I say something, and Dev calls my bluff, then I have to drink."

“What do you say?" Mercer asked, arching a brow in Vridel's direction.

“Why would anyone say anything false then?" Cyril asked, furrowing his brows. “I think if someone calls but it's not a bluff, then the caller should have to drink too. And everyone has to participate each time."

“Works for me. Everyone take your shots first, though. Then we'll see whose rum is better." Reynard seemed genuinely intrigued by this prospect, and threw back his vodka with the ease of an expert drinker. Cyril followed suit, and Vridel a bit more cautiously.

Devon coughed a little, then waited for everyone to have a new drink before speaking. “Uhhh. Uh... Princess Sorcha offered to make me a knight."

Vridel considered this. It sounded like something Sorcha would do, so he shrugged. Cyril and Reynard seemed to think so, too, because neither of them called him on it.

Mercer shrugged his shoulders as well, perhaps thinking the same. He pursed his lips together and seemed to think of something before a smirk crossed his features. “Hm... my favorite color, despite the obvious, is pink. I know, I know. Pink doesn't really suit me, but it brings out my eyes," he stated, batting his eyelashes in Vridel's direction. Knowing Mercer, he probably said that just to drink.

“Bullshit," Cyril said immediately, arching an eyebrow at Mercer.

Vridel considered for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, your favorite color is a particular shade of blue," he said, suspicious that it was true but not knowing for sure.

“I don't know, I think he might be telling the truth," Devon said.

“I'm calling bullshit for fun," Reynard added.

Mercer snorted softly before he took a shot. “You're not wrong that pink is not my favorite color, but you are wrong of it being blue. It's actually a very particular shade of yellow," he stated, arching a brow at Vridel. He was probably referring to the shade of blonde Sorcha's hair was. “Alright, next!" he stated, making a vague shooing motion with his hands towards the others.

“Thea kissed me first," Vridel said, seeing an opportunity to make the game more interesting.

“No way," Devon said.

“I'm still calling bullshit for fun," Reynard added.

Cyril narrowed his eyes for a moment in consideration, then shrugged, apparently willing to accept it. Mercer, of course, knew this from a previous conversation, and so only Devon and Reynard drank that time.

“Huh. This is good," the latter remarked. “Not as good as mine, though. Also: I slept with Professor Jeritza."

“No you didn't," Vridel said, though in truth he had no idea.

Cyril and Devon shook their heads, too, apparently in agreement.

“Hey, Professor Jeritza was a good-looking guy. I could totally buy that," Mercer stated, quite inclined to believe Reynard. “But did you really sleep with him, because that's just weird even for your tastes, Rey." He inched forward as if he were actually curious to know the truth.

Reynard laughed softly, taking a drink. “No, but I came kind of close to doing so, actually. This was when we were still getting established at the Academy. I was trying to set up an information network, and I had this intuition that he'd go for a man, so I kept the option open. Nearly used it, too, except I'm guessing he got called away on the night I'd planned for it, because he canceled our plans. Well, either that or he decided he wasn't interested, but I don't think it was that."

“I guess that makes sense," the Professor said, nodding his head agreeably. “A prostitute taught me to tango," he added.

Devon looked indecisive, but Vridel and apparently Reynard could easily believe this.

“I would call bullshit, but we all saw you and Sen do the tango, so..." Mercer stated with a light shrug of his shoulders. “Not that I'm saying Sen was taught by a prostitute, but... man how did you both do that with straight faces? Seriously. You and Sen are crazy good at poker faces. I'm surprised that you haven't amassed a small fortune playing it." Mercer took a shot, though, and made a face.

Cyril snorted a laugh. “I regret to inform you that that's just my face. And I did used to make rather a lot of money at cards, actually. It got to the point where the men in my father's company wouldn't play me anymore."

“That I can believe," Vridel said, having a drink and pouring himself another because he could, rather than because the rules demanded it of him. “Whose turn it is? Devon's?" He was pretty sure that was where they were in the rotation, anyway.

Devon nodded, but he was turning his glass around in his hands repeatedly, clearly nervous about something. “Ummm." Quite independently of prompting from any of the others, his face started to slowly turn red.

“This ought to be good," Reynard remarked, a smile inching up his mouth.

“What? Oh—no. I shouldn't use that one, it's..." The flush darkened.

Mercer looked intrigued, perhaps because of the flush on Devon's face, or he was being nosey. “Come on, Dev. You have to tell us, now. That's the whole point of bullshit. We have to see if you're telling the truth or lying to us. And quite frankly, I just want to know what has you all worked up. I bet it has something to do with a certain orange-haired person, doesn't it? Oh it definitely looks like it." Mercer was grinning from ear to ear, though, as if anticipating Devon's answer.

“SylviandIhadsexlastnight." The words were rushed out as more or less one garbled exhalation, and Devon immediately downed the contents of his glass. He was quite obviously already mostly if not entirely drunk, and that was unlikely to help, but it did seem to make him feel a little better.

Vridel and Reynard immediately burst out laughing, more at the delivery than what was actually said, for while certainly interesting knowledge, that part was not particularly funny on its own. Even the Professor seemed to find the humor, though, arching an eyebrow and actually grinning as he tipped his glass towards Devon.

“I think we all drink to this one. In congratulations if nothing else?"

“Devon has in fact now gotten laid more recently than anyone here but me," Vridel noted wryly. “I'm not sure if I should be congratulating him or berating the rest of you."

“Well, I'd say it's a little bit of both, really," Mercer replied, tipping his glass in Devon's direction as well. “Congrats, Devon, for actually... wait, she suggested it, didn't she?" Mercer stated, his grin growing a little further up his face. “I mean, there's nothing wrong when a woman propositions you, but what happened to our little bold Dev?! I'm almost sad," he continued, though from the look on his face, he was merely teasing Devon.

“But back to what Vi just said. How do you know Rey hasn't gotten laid recently? He's not exactly forthcoming on that shit. And you know our situation," he spoke, referring to his and Sorcha's situation. “It'll happen when she wants it to. In the mean time, I can wait. I have more restraint than... well most of you. Teach... not sure how you're doing with all your touchy-feely selves, but I'm sure you're fine." Mercer made a vague gesture in Cyril's direction before taking another shot.

“Do you really have enough time for restraint?" Vridel asked, arching an eyebrow. “The Professor's situation, I can understand. But graduation is going to make things more difficult for you, not less." Half-drunk as he was, he liked to have thought he'd have been just as direct sober, but couldn't be sure. His tone was actually serious; there was a genuine concern here. Not for the mere fact of the act, of course, but rather for what it could—and this was the part he was still getting used to—mean.

“Sorcha's dense, you know. If you're too restrained she might get to thinking you're not that interested." He shrugged, though, having said his piece. “Your turn to make us guess."

Mercer grumbled something beneath his breath, but shrugged before taking another shot. “Yeah, well... I'm actually very sentimental and a delicate flower," Mercer stated, arching a brow almost challengingly in Vridel's direction.

“Sentimental, definitely. Delicate flower's bullshit, though."

Devon and Reynard chuckled at that one, and the Professor shook his head faintly.

“True. We all know who the real delicate flower is, here," Mercer stated, taking another shot before his eyes went to Devon. “It's Rey, of course. I mean, it's quite obvious. No offense, though, Rey."

“Oh no. I am gravely insulted. I fear I might faint," Reynard deadpanned, pouring a new round of drinks for the group.

Sensing himself approaching drunkenness, Vridel put out the pipe he was using, exhaling a cloud of smoke towards the ceiling as he contemplated his next entry into the game. “I actually don't want to graduate," he said, blinking and tilting his chin back down to look at all of them.

The others wore contemplative faces for a moment. “I don't think I want to, either," Devon admitted. “There are plenty of things to look forward to, I know, but..." he stared down morosely into his cup. “I'm going to miss everyone. Especially you guys."

Mercer sighed softly and leaned back into his chair. He set the cup in his hand to rest near his chest as he wore a contemplative look. “Well, we've all kind of promised to come back in five years, so it's not like we're not going to see each other eventually. And, well... we can all keep in touch with letters and shit. It's not like this is goodbye." Mercer shot a knowing glance at Vridel, though, before downing his cup and pouring himself another.

“On the bright side of things... at least everyone has a family... sort of. We're all kind of family in that weird kind of way, so..." he trailed off as if he didn't know how to finish that sentence. “To always being friends and a weird family!" he stated, holding out his empty cup in a toast-like fashion.

“You have to toast properly to something like that," Reynard said, tutting and pouring some liquid into Mercer's glass from one of the bottles. Then he clinked his own against it, and the others, including Vridel, followed suit.

Perhaps there was no extending the Academy year, but... if he couldn't do that he supposed this was about the best he could hope for.

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