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.

2,649 readers have visited Fire Emblem: Apotheosis since Nemeseia created it.
Aethyia are builders, granting them the ability to shape the world and alter sovereignty.

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

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

Introduction



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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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: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Wednesday the 25th
Lyanna's Office - Early Evening - Light Snow
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea von Kreuz was a nervous wreck. She knew she was, and she smoothed out her skirt for what seemed like the umpteenth time. She decided that today was going to be the day she told Lyanna about her plans for the future. She wasn't entirely sure how her sister would take it, however; this was something she wanted. More than anything in her life, this was something Amalthea was choosing for herself, and not because Rhea said so. She was old enough to decide things on her own, to live her own life and decide who she gets to be friends with. Amalthea wanted a life, and after all this time, she knew she'd been denied a proper one.

She didn't think it had anything to do with Lyanna. She loved her sister more than anything in the world, but she thought a lot of it had to do with Rhea's influence. Perhaps Rhea would try to stop her from leaving, however; Amalthea wasn't going to let her. She wanted this. Wanted to go with Vridel to the Empire and be his wife. Not because he was the imperial prince, not because she would become empress, and certainly not for his Crests. The thought still left a bitter taste in her mouth, and it took every ounce of control to keep herself from falling apart. She wasn't going to have a full life with him, but she was going to have his full life.

It wasn't fair.

Whether that was the next five years, or less, she wanted to share her life with his in any way possible. She wanted to make it the best years of his life so that when he finally passed... when it all came to an end, there would be no regrets on his part. Perhaps on hers, but she didn't want him to have any. She fought back the tears that threatened to fall, and took in a deep breath. She needed to remain calm for this. She couldn't go to Lyanna with tears in her eyes, and she didn't want her sister to worry. With that in mind, she steeled herself, and entered Lyanna's office.

“Lyanna, are you in?"

Her sister did seem to be present; however, she didn't immediately acknowledge Amalthea's entrance. In fact, her gaze seemed to be caught out the window, though her eyes were almost too distant even for that, as though she weren't seeing anything at all.

As Amalthea stepped in, though, she shook herself faintly, moving a hand as if to push her hair behind her ear but pausing in the middle of the motion and dropping her arm. She never seemed to like wearing it any way but loose, or at least partly so; come to think of it, Thea couldn't remember ever having seen much of her sister's ears or neck ever. Her hair was always covering it.

“Thea," she said quietly, something vaguely melancholic in her tone. “Come in; please close the door behind you."

Amalthea did as she was told, and closed the door gently behind her as she made her way towards Lyanna. She was a little worried about her sister. Not for what Thea planned to tell her, but because she'd never seen her sister look so... downcast. Once she was standing next to Lyanna, she furrowed her brows and regarded Lyanna with an even gaze.

“Is something bothering you, Lyanna?" she decided to ask, first. What she had to say could wait until she knew Lyanna was fine. Or at least mostly fine. She didn't want to add to her sister's burdens if that weren't the case.

Lyanna shook her head, smiling slightly. “I'm fine," she said, turning her eyes back out the window for a moment. There were people moving around below, of course, but nothing looked out of the ordinary. Some people walking between this building and the dining hall, a couple on a bench—ordinary sights at the monastery. “I was just... remembering something, is all. From a long time ago."

With a short sigh, she moved away from the window and settled in one of the armchairs in her seating area. “What did you need to see me about that couldn't wait until tonight, hm?" The question was asked with a little thread of amusement, as though she might have some kind of idea.

Amalthea was vaguely alarmed. Did her sister already know? “Oh, well," she began, taking a seat across from Lyanna. “I... well, after graduation," she continued, pursing her lips together for a moment. It shouldn't have been this hard to tell her sister about her plans. She'd rehearsed it to nigh perfection, and now it seemed like everything just flew out the window. Taking in a deep breath, she calmed her beating heart which was beating faster for some reason.

“I want... I want to leave the monastery after graduation," she stated as calmly as she could. Thea wasn't entirely sure how much her sister knew, or what she knew. It was better for Lyanna to hear it straight from her, though. At least that was what Thea thought. “I want to go to the Empire. With Vridel. He..." she paused there to glance at her sister.

Lyanna was regarding her with a strange, almost wistful look on her face, one that softened her eyes and made her look somehow much older than she usually did. She drew up a leg, crossing it over her other one and smoothing the length of her skirt. “Vridel what?" she asked softly. There was no trace of upset or menace in it; just the same softness reflected on her face.

“Vridel asked me to marry him," Amalthea stated, keeping her sister's gaze as best as she could. “I want to go with him to Adrestia, and... and I want to marry him. You know I've never asked for or wanted anything in my life, before, but this," she stated, glancing down to the ring on her finger. She toyed with it before glancing towards Lyanna, and continued, “I want this, because I love him."

“I've... I've never really known what that was like until he came into my life. Not that I don't love you, but it's different with Vi. He... there's just something about him, something that at once keeps me calm and makes me feel like I can achieve my dreams. Our dreams. They're so much alike and... and I want to help him with those things just as he wants to help me."

For however long that would be.

Lyanna blinked, then did it again, pulling in a rather shaky breath and glancing to the side. Her hands clasped together in her lap, but Amalthea could see even so that there was a little tremble in them. “That feeling," she murmured softly, turning her eyes down to her hands. The fingers of her right all grasped the base of her fourth left for a moment, as if to twist a ring in the same spot Amalthea wore hers. “That feeling is one of the greatest gifts we can ever be given. Love is a gift in any form, but that kind..." She swallowed audibly.

“There's just something special about it."

When she looked back up at Amalthea's eyes, Lyanna's were bright with unshed tears. They didn't share an eye color—while Lyanna's were almost the same shade of green as her hair, her sister's were more of an amber color, despite their many other physical similarities. “Thea... if that's what you feel, I wouldn't dream of stopping you. The Archbishop won't like it, and I fear what she will do to prevent it. You must not tell her, or let her find out. Not under any circumstances, do you understand?"

Thea released a breath she hadn't realized she was holding, and nodded her head. It was the only thing she could do because she, too, was fighting back tears. “I... I know, sister. She's... Lady Rhea hasn't been," she paused in her sentence to shake her head. “I won't tell her, and I won't let her find out. I don't... I don't want to lose him," she spoke softly, taking in a deep, shuddering breath. It was hard enough knowing that she was going to lose him, eventually. Sooner than she'd like to admit, but... she couldn't lose him like this. Not because Rhea didn't approve.

“And you're right... there is something special about it. It almost... it makes me feel like I can do anything, accomplish anything. I want to cherish it for as long as I can," because she wasn't sure if she'd ever be able to do so, again. Once Vi... she pushed the thought from her mind. She'd deal with it when they came to it.

“Thank you, Lyanna. For everything." If it wasn't for her sister, Amalthea wasn't sure where she'd be right now. It was because of Lyanna that she'd been able to accomplish anything at all, but most of all, she was allowed to join the Blue Lion House and meet Vi.

Lyanna shook her head. “I can't help but feel I've been a poor guardian," she said softly, eyes falling again. “When I first brought you here, I was so scared. You were young, and your—our parents couldn't be there for us, and I had nowhere else to go. I never—I never imagined Rhea would—" She exhaled, long and weary. “Before I knew it, we were effectively prisoners. For the longest time I thought... if that was what it took to keep you safe, then I had no other choice."

Her brows furrowed. “But I see now that I was wrong. We never should have come here. I shouldn't have given up so soon. If I'd been just a little braver... you could have grown up free from all of this. It was never fair to you, and I'm so–I'm so sorry. I see now that you were strong enough all along. Stronger than I am, at least."

Thea swallowed thickly, blinking back tears and shaking her head. “You shouldn't be sorry, and you've been the best guardian I could have ever asked for. I don't... I don't blame you for anything that's happened to me. It... it's not your fault. And besides, if you hadn't brought me here... I would have never met Vi. I would have never made the wonderful friends I have, and... and I wouldn't be as happy as I am, now."

She was certain of all those things. If they had never come to the monastery, if she'd never experienced what she had... it might have made her a better person, but there was no changing the past. Thea was learning to embrace her future, one that was brighter than anything she'd endured.

“And we won't be prisoners for long. You can... I'm sure he'd be willing, but you can come with us. You can get away from Rhea, too, and... and I'd get to keep my family with me," Thea stated softly. She knew Vridel wouldn't object to it; she just wanted to keep her family close to her. She would need Lyanna more than ever, especially after...

“I still need you, too."

For a moment, Lyanna looked almost incredulous, lips slightly parted, a concerned expression flashing across her face before she murmured something under her breath, too low for Amalthea to hear. “I—I don't know, Thea. There's—" she swallowed thickly. “There's something I never told you. I've... I've felt like you do. A while ago now, but... but still. Rhea knows who he is, and if I left, I don't know if..."

She pulled in a deep breath. “I don't know if he'd still be safe."

Thea sucked in a deep breath, and felt her heart break. Her sister had loved someone too? But why would Rhea have anything to do with that? Why would it matter if they left? Why couldn't her sister leave and be happy?

“Lyanna," she began softly, releasing the breath she had, slowly, “is it because of our Crest?" She had a feeling that having a Major Crest of Cethleann was dangerous enough, but if that was the reason Rhea kept them prisoners... it didn't make sense to Amalthea. Why did it matter that they had that particular Crest? It shouldn't.

“You... deserve to be happy, too. She's not... it's not right of her to do this." It wasn't fair. Thea was beginning to think that, no matter how happy she was, it wasn't fair. It wasn't fair that no one else could be happy, and that it wasn't going to last for very long.

“It's not," Lyanna agreed softly. “But... the Archbishop... she wasn't always like this." She shook her head. “Once, she cared about me. I know she did. But now I think—I think she sees people more as possessions than the beings they are. She forgets that there are other things that matter besides staying alive. Forgets that there are things worth risking for." She huffed, gently, and pursed her lips.

“Things like love. The real kind, that lets you bloom instead of trying to bury you beneath the ground where no one can see."

“I wonder why she changed so much," Thea spoke gently, and shook her head. She stood from her spot, though, and crossed over towards Lyanna. She settled into the spot next to her, and wrapped her arms around her sister as best as she could, and hugged her.

“It won't always be like this. One day... we'll all be able to just smile and be happy. One day, we'll all be able to be with those we love and... and we won't have it taken from us. It won't be torn or ripped away, and we'll just be able to be free. And I'm going to keep fighting for that, too. Untill all of us get to be with the ones we love, and we'll no longer be prisoners. I promise, Lyanna."

It would be a hard promise to keep, but Thea was going to fight every step of the way.

Lyanna's arms tightened around her, and she pressed a soft kiss to her hair. “I hope you're right, Thea. I really do." Her sister gave her a squeeze, then added: “and congratulations. Truly. I'm happy for you. Vridel is... a good man. A better one than I thought he was, at first."

Thea huffed a little at her sister's words. “You know, he gives that impression, but he's really not. I don't deserve him, but I'm glad I have him. He... he really does have a good heart, but like most of us, it's been hurt," she murmured softly. “And thank you, Lyanna. I love you very much. So much."

“I love you too. More than you know."

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 - Friday the 27th
Holy Mausoleum - Morning - Cool
Mercer von Riegan


For some unknown reason, Rhea had wanted Teach and his students to meet her at the Holy Mausoleum. Mercer wasn't entirely sure why she felt the need for it, but he supposed they would find out once they arrived. He toyed with the string of his bow, hanging off of his left shoulder before turning towards the group. They were all armed, though that had been a strange request. They were to meet the archbishop, but also come prepared. Whatever that had meant. Once they'd arrived at the building, the archbishop was already waiting for them, smile on her face as if everything seemed perfectly normal.

It didn't feel normal.

There was something in the air, something that made it difficult to breathe, but that might have been Mercer's nerves working against him. He wasn't afraid, exactly, but that didn't mean he shouldn't be cautious.

“Professor," she stated, nodding her head in Teach's direction. “This is the Holy Tomb," she continued, her eyes narrowing in what seemed like false mirth.

“To think that there was this much space beneath the monastery," Mercer stated, narrowing his eyes slightly in Rhea's direction. There were large devices around, ones that Mercer did not recognize from being of any particular time period. Rhea merely tilted her head with a smile as she turned her attention back towards Teach.

“This is where the goddess who created this world was laid to rest, along with her children. It is said that our creator—the goddess Sothis—sat upon this very throne," Rhea spoke with something akin to fondness in her tone as she pointed towards a rather large slab of stone, shaped to resemble a chair of sorts. A throne, Mercer supposed.

“Professor... do you recognize this throne?"

Teach considered this for a long moment, brows furrowed, eyes resting on the throne. Sorcha, next to Mercer, shifted slightly, her eyes flitting from their professor to Rhea to the throne and back again. It was hard to tell if she took a half step closer to him on purpose or not, but she did, one hand toying with the fletching of some of the arrows in the quiver at her hip.

“I do," Teach said at last, uncanny slitted eyes resting heavily on Rhea for a moment. “Why do you ask?"

“So long... I have waited so very long for this day," she spoke, for once, with a softness to her voice. She gestured towards the throne, though, and kept her gaze with Teach's. “Sit upon the throne. I have no doubt you will be gifted a revelation from the goddess," she stated, almost in an insistent manner.

Teach looked rather more doubtful, and it wasn't hard for Mercer to guess why. As he'd described it, the Goddess was no longer a separate entity from himself to be giving revelations in the first place. He shot a look back at the students, something almost akin to warning before ascending towards the throne and climbing the dais. He turned and sat, resting his arms on the stone, but nothing appeared to happen.

“Well?" she asked, seemingly hopeful for something. Her brows furrowed, though, as nothing else seemed to happen, and she closed her eyes in what appeared to be disappointment. “It was supposed to be but a step away. What could possibly be missing?" she seemed to be questioning herself rather than stating it towards the others. Mercer was just as confused as to what she'd meant by that. Why was it so important to her that Teach receive a divine revelation? Before he could voice this, something must have set off an alarm in his body as he turned around. It seemed that some of the others had the same inclination, and they'd turned as well.

“Who's there!?" he shouted, shrugging the bow off of his shoulder, quickly, and fitting an arrow to it. To his surprise, there were a few soldiers and the Flame Emperor himself, standing behind them. How'd they get into the Tomb? Wasn't there supposed to be someone watching it, especially with Rhea inside?

“Don't move, any of you! If you move, your lives will be forefeit!" a man Mercer did not recognize, shouted. He huffed lightly as a smirk crossed his features. “Thank you ever so much for guiding us this far. The Imperial army will now take possession of everything in the Holy Tomb!" The Imperial army? Mercer shot a quick glance in Vridel's direction, before turning his attention back to those in front of him.

“What are they doing here?" Senka spoke, lowly. “More importantly, how'd they get into Garreg Mach without anyone noticing?" she continued, gripping on to her sword as she glanced towards Vi. She didn't seem to be accusing him of anything, but Mercer was suspicious as well. Not of Vi, but of how the Imperial army managed to get into the monastery without alerting anyone.

“Metodey?" Vridel's brows were furrowed heavily at the man who'd spoken; clearly he did, in fact, recognize him.

“Your Highness." The response seemed to be more sneered than spoken. “If only you'd been a good little brat and come home when called. I'd hate for you to be caught in the crossfire, but... accidents do happen. Why don't you just stand back and let me do my work, hm?"

But Vridel's face was fixed on the Flame Emperor. The man—and it fairly clearly was one in the armor—remained quite silent, but he needed no words to radiate his displeasure.

“You," Sorcha growled, drawing a bow from her quiver and nocking it to the string. Her bow creaked softly as she drew it back, aiming squarely for the Flame Emperor's face. “So you're connected to the Empire after all. What are you doing here?"

“Is it not obvious?" He inquired, voice modulated but smooth. If he was at all concerned with the arrow aimed between his eyes he did not show it. “The Holy Tomb contains great power. The power to rule all of Fódlan."

“And to attain that power... you haven't even thought twice, have you? Of all the people you'd have to trample to achieve that? Of all the people you trampled in Duscur?" The arrow's tip wavered; Sorcha's voice hummed with poorly-contained rage, like a boiling undercurrent of magma.

The man scoffed beneath the mask, but dignified her accusation with no answer. “Quickly," he said. “Retrieve the Crest Stones. Kill anyone who interferes." Considering the Imperial Prince was right there, it was quite a thing to say.

“Insolence!" Rhea shouted, clearly angered by the sudden turn of events. “You will atone for the sin of trampling on this holy resting place!" she continued. If Sorcha was rage, Mercer hated to think what Rhea represented at the moment. There was fury in her voice, and she had taken a step forward as if she were going to do something herself, however; she paused and glanced towards Teach.

“Professor, destroy these villainous traitors who dare dishonor our creator!" she stated, but from the sound of it, it was more of a demand. As if she were commanding Professor to do something he was, undoubtedly, going to do, regardless of being told or not.

Sorcha let the arrow fly; but without so much as raising a hand or uttering a word, the Flame Emperor conjured some kind of shield in front of himself, a translucent, vivid purple thing that pulsed when the arrow connected with it, but shattered the projectile outright. He didn't say anything, merely turning away to let his men surge forward in his place.

Mercer moved next, letting his own arrow fly, as the others moved forward either in an effort to defend themselves, or to chase after the Flame Emperor. There were some of the soldiers who were going after the Crest Stones, though, and Mercer bit his tongue.

“We need to keep them from getting those stones!" he shouted. Even if they didn't want to help Rhea, from what they knew of the Crest Stones, the Flame Emperor couldn't get away with them. Who knows what he'd try to do with them?

“We need to split up and cover both sides," he continued, fending off an attack from a soldier with his sword. “Sorcha, Sofia, Vi, Thea, with me, the rest of you, take the left side!" he stated. He didn't need to tell Reynard what to do; the man was a trained assassin, after all.

Teach seemed inclined to do his own thing, simply taking up the lance he called the Arrow and charging straight up the middle of the field. One of the thieves, reaching into a coffin for a Crest Stone, was in the way. He panicked as he saw Teach sprinting in his direction, and held out the stone as if to defend himself with it.

What happened next wasn't anything Mercer had ever seen before. A tarry, black ooze seemed to erupt from all the man's pores at once, like thick discolored blood pouring out of his skin, pooling and congealing into fleshy masses that built up over his entire body even as he screamed. The surfaces smoothed out, the sound of his fear cutting off abruptly as his head, too, was engulfed. What stood in the man's place was now a demonic beast, and it roared, bounding forward to meat Teach's charge in a heavy clash of steel and claw and magic.

The next thief visibly hesitated to snatch the stone from the coffin he was in front of; it became a moot point when Sorcha planted the shaft of an arrow in his left eye, dropping him like a stone. “We can't let them get away this time," she urged, seemingly not in the grip of anger any longer but certainly fiercely focused.

Sorcha was right; they couldn't escape this time. Not after everything they've done. Mercer let his arrow fly, catching a thief in the back of the throat and moved onto another one. Deirdre seemed to catch a soldier on fire with a fire spell before turning on another, heavy armored soldier. Sylvi seemed to be backing her up, taking out a soldier who tried to flank Deirdre, and quite literally smashing in another soldier's face with her guantlets.

Thea seemed to be occupied with her own set of soldiers, blocking a sword with her axe, and jumping out of the way of a lance that seemed to almost catch her on the side. Mercer fixed another arrow to his bow, and aimed it towards a soldier trying to catch Vridel from behind, watching as the arrow sank into the soldier's shoulder. He quickly followed up with another arrow to bring the man down, before turning towards another set of soldiers. There didn't seem to be an end to them.

Senka had lopped off a person's head as she made her way to help Teach with the beast. Mercer pulled in another breath as he released another arrow, mentally cursing himself for not bringing more. He'd only brought enough arrows to get him through a small encounter. He should have been more prepared than this, however; when he ran out of arrows, he switched to his sword, and charged into a group of soldiers that seemed to be heading towards another coffin with a Crest Stone in it.

A last arrow whistled past his shoulder, disabling his first target and making her easy to finish off, and then Sorcha was beside him, thrusting with her lance for another one of the soldiers and finding a joint in the knight's heavy plate, cracking off his shoulder armor. A bright flash of light seemed to thin the back ranks, but the soliders were converging now, trying to block the two routes up towards the man who Vi had called Metodey and the Flame Emperor.

On the other side they were having the same problem; Devon was firing arrows into the thick of things as fast as he could, but he ran out, too, and pulled the knife from the sheath at his thigh instead, sinking it into the belly of a myrmidon who was trying to outflank Sofi. She held ground while the others worked around her, slowly hewing through the ranks.

Teach and Senka, with an assist from Reynard, felled the beast. Their professor threw the arrow up onto the ledge that held the Flame Emperor and a smaller knot of his soldiers, impaling one of them through the chest outright, then scooped Senka up in his arms, backing up several large paces and sprinting for the ledge.

It shouldn't have been possible. Probably wouldn't have been, but for the power of his Crest, and whatever being one with the Goddess had given him. But he cleared the height, landing in a solid crouch and setting Sen down so he could call the Arrow back to him.

The Flame Emperor brandished an axe; his other soldiers all charged the two sudden threats.

Mercer finished off another soldier as he glanced towards Teach and the others. They would need back up, however; he couldn't just leave the Crest Stones unattended to. If the Imperial amry made off with even one, that was already too much power in one person's hands. Narrowing his eyes, he glanced towards Sorcha and pulled in a breath.

“We need to go help Teach. The others can defend the Crest Stones, but we need to make it up there," he spoke, pointing in the direction of Teach and Sen. Sen had already engaged with a first set of soldiers, fending off at least two of them while others went after Teach, it seemed. He knew they could handle it by themselves, but if the Flame Emperor decided he wanted to take the field as well, there was no telling which way it would go.

Most of the soldiers who were after the Stones were already dead, and Mercer had faith in his friends that they'd be able to take care of the rest while he and Sorcha provided support for Teach and Sen until Vi could meet up with them as well. They would also be able to deal with Metodey. He was a seasoned soldier, from the looks of it. Without waiting for her response, Mercer made his way towards Vi, sprinting as fast as his legs would let him go.

He plunged his sword into the chest of a soldier who'd attempted to strike him with an axe. Another seemed to be charging up a spell, but Mercer was quick to dodge. It caught him on the back of his leg, a faint sizzling sound hissing about as he winced. It was likely a fire spell, but he didn't have time to contemplate the pain. They needed to provide support.

Sorcha swung her lance with a grimace, taking out the mage who'd done it. It looked like she'd caught the wrong end of some wind magic at some point; one of her sleeves was in tatters and she was bleeding from several heavy cuts on the same arm.

Vi joined up with them a moment later, catching each of them with a basic healing spell and helping them push up the stairs towards Sen and Teach. Metodey spotted them and moved to block their way, hurling a gout of fire down towards them. Vridel knocked it aside with one of his own; both careened off to the side and crashed into the nearby wall. With the commander were a pair of fortress knights.

“I've got the walls; you two focus on him. Be careful!"

Sorcha nodded, firming her grip on her lance with her bad arm as well as she could. She wasn't the strongest, and so needed to wield it in both of it was going to be very effective. Shooting Mercer a sideways glance, she half-smiled, a jagged expression made all the more macabre by the blood running from the corner of her mouth. “Let's show him what we've got, huh?"

She lunged; Metodey parried with his own lance, knocking hers nearly out of her grip. The follow-up caught her in the weak shoulder, piercing her skin and lodging against bone with an audible scrape before he pulled it away. Sorcha gritted her teeth and went after him again, her blows flagging but still fast; he could see the glow of her Crest on her arm. The speed was helping to compensate; she managed to strike several light, precise blows on the Imperial man. Perhaps more importantly, she had him distracted.

Up ahead, Teach was locked in a duel with the Flame Emperor. It seemed the Arrow had been knocked from his grip; he fought off the axe with his bare hands and magic, while Sen tangled with the remaining soliders on the upper dais.

“I'm told it's fine to kill those who resist. Now then, how shall I cook you!?" Metodey stated almost in a glee-like tone as he fixed his attention to Sorcha. He seemed rather excited to be fighting two people at the same time, but Mercer didn't really care if he was. He used the distraction Sorcha provided to plunge his sword deep into Metodey's back, forcing the front tip of his blade out of Metodey's chest. The man screamed, and fell to his knees.

“Wait... no! I was... just following orders. I just..." Metodey spoke out, fear in his eyes before they clouded over with death. It was at this point that another scream filled the air, and Mercer's attention snapped forward. One of the soldiers seemed to have caught Sen in her sword shoulder, and another had used the opportunity to catch her in the side. She swung Blutgang around her, catching one of the soldiers in the arm as Mercer sprinted the rest of the way to help. He arrived just in time to fend off a lance being thrust in Sen's direction. He almost shivered to think what would have happened if he'd arrived late.

He'd made a promise to keep all of his friends alive. And while this wasn't one of the worst battles they'd been in, it certainly tested their endurance. Most of them were injured in some way or another. Mercer could feel the stinging of his leg from where the spell had gotten him, Sorcha was bleeding pretty heavily from her wounds, and the others... he couldn't even tell if the others were harmed from where he was at. He knew they were, but he didn't know how badly. They needed to finish this, quickly. With that in mind, he flung his sword in Sen's defense, leaving Sorcha and Vi to help Teach. He knew they would be capable of doing it.

Vi was limping, but he threw a bright spell at the Flame Emperor, one that connected just hard enough to make him stagger. Sorcha drew back, hefting her lance in one arm. It wasn't a javelin, not really balanced for the throw, but she hurled it anyway, and it flew true, colliding with the man's shoulder. Already unbalanced, he fell like threshed wheat when Teach swept a leg in front of him.

Raising a fist, he charged it with heavy, crackling lightning and brought it down—

Only for the Flame Emperor to vanish. His fist cracked the ground with the force of impact, spell dissipating into the stone. Teach tsked and rose, clear irritation flashing over his features.

But the last of the soldiers had fallen, and the tomb was silent.

“Fuck, me," Mercer stated as he fell to the ground. He tried to get his breathing under control as Thea and the others approached. Thea had a small gash on her neck, probably with a close encounter with a sword, but it didn't seem especially life-threatening. Sylvi looked like she had a broken arm, and winced when she breathed. She must have had a broken rib, too. For the most part, Deirdre seemed fine, though she was covered in blood, and a scowl marred her face.

“I can help with healing," Thea stated softly, moving first for Sorcha. Rhea, however, appeared, seemingly from nowhere, and startled Mercer from his spot.

“To flee is futile, wicked Emperor," she stated, her voice low and deep. She was angry, that much Mercer could tell. “The Church of Seiros will raise its entire army against you until you have been captured and punished!" and that sounded more of a promise than anything Mercer had ever heard her make, before. “You have defiled the Holy Tomb and dishonored the goddess. That crime will never be erased, even if you burn in the eternal falmes and spill all of your blood into the goddess's soil." Her eyes turned towards the group before settling on Cyril.

“Come, Professor. Let us return and decide upon our next course of action." She left abruptly after that. Mercer wasn't so sure if he'd ever seen anyone quite that angry before. It was palpable even from where he lay on the ground, and he could have sworn he'd seen Deirdre shudder at it.

“You'd better go after her, Professor," Vridel said, looking troubled. Probably by the fact that these people had been Imperials. Whether this group suspected him of anything or not—some people were certainly going to, when word got out. Possibly including a very ticked-off Archbishop.

Teach nodded, grimacing a moment before he jogged after Rhea.

“Thea, Sorcha, Sen, let's get to work. Sen, I'll heal you first."

Sen nodded her head as Mercer sighed. This was going to be a pain in the ass. He could feel it.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


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I.Y. 1181 - Lone Moon - Sunday the 7th
Sorcha's Room - Afternoon - Drizzle
Sorcha Blaiddyd


Sorcha crossed her legs beneath her, surveying her friends not entirely unlike a general mustering her troops. Truthfully, the project she was going to ask them to take on would be a bit difficult, if only because the target was so perceptive. To this end, she'd decided to kick things off with a secret meeting: only Vivi, Thea, Sen, the Professor, and Reynard were in attendance.

“So, uh, I feel like at this point it's kind of tradition that we do something for someone's birthday," she said, leaning back a bit against the wall behind her. “Of course, Mercer only said his birthday is sometime this month; I actually had to get the Professor to look at the enrollment records for the exact date. Which is silly, but I think also gives us an opportunity: we can possibly surprise him since he doesn't know we know."

He had, after all, played a part in making hers an ambush; she was pretty interested in getting back at him for it.

“Seems fair," Vivi said, rubbing absently at his jaw. “But what do you want to do for it? I think we're kind of picnic-ed out for a bit, especially since Lone Moon's the start of the rainy season here."

Sorcha nodded. “Actually... I was thinking we might be able to get the dining hall for the night. Get rid of all but a few of the tables so there's a big space for games and dancing and things and just... enjoy ourselves like we always do. I don't think he'd want anything too formal or anything but if anyone has ideas I'm open to them."

“I don't think it should be that hard to get the dining hall for a night, especially if Sen and Professor promise to make it up by cooking for the next week," Thea stated, grinning towards Senka and Professor. “Everyone loves their cooking, so it would be easy enough to bribe them that way."

“And here I was hoping I wouldn't have to cook, but if that's what it takes... I suppose I'll have no choice," Senka stated, but her tone was light as if she were just joking. “We'll have to get it ready that evening, though, and with Mercer's appetite, it'll be difficult to keep him away from the dining hall for too long. Unless Vridel and Reynard can kidnap Mercer for the day and keep him busy," Senka added, her eyes sliding towards the two in question.

“I was actually thinking we could be even subtler than that," Sorcha admitted. “Let dinner happen as normal but convert the space after it's over. Then he's pretty convinced everyone's forgotten, right? Because the whole day's almost done and no one's mentioned it. Except..." she trailed off with half a grin.

“Except of course someone drags him back because they forgot something earlier, and there's a party," the Professor finished with a small smile. “I think that works. We'll have to make the cake earlier than that, but I think we can be subtle about that."

Vivi nodded. “Shouldn't be too hard. We all going to pitch in for a gift again or what? I'm not even sure what you get a guy like Mercer."

“We can always wrap up Sorcha in some pretty laced clothing to gift him," Senka delivered with a straight face. She looked completely serious, too, until a small grin found its way on her lips. “But that might be another gift for another time," she stated, causing Thea to chuckle lightly, but it appeared she understood what Senka meant as her cheeks pinked a bit.

“Ugh, Sen. Why are you like this?" Sorcha tried not to let her face go red, but it was probably a failing enterprise. It didn't help that she'd sort of... thought about it, in this context specifically. She sighed.

“Mercer doesn't seem the type of person you get a gift for, anyhow, but if I had to say, it should probably be something he can use. He's fond of his bow, so... maybe we can get him a new quiver? I think his is currently falling apart. Is it, Sorcha?" Thea asked, turning her attention towards Sorcha as if she would know.

“Yeah, actually. I already put in an order at this Alliance place he showed me when we were in Derdriu, for this design that can convert from saddle to belt—" she realized this was probably more information than any of them needed about quivers and stopped herself. “Anyway it's a good one and I'm happy to put all our names on it if you guys want to chip in. Was sort of planning on it, actually." She'd figured it could just be a personal gift if they didn't like the idea, but of course now she did in fact need to some up with something for that.

She had... a thought, but she wasn't completely sure of it yet, honestly.

“Seems reasonable," Reynard said simply, tilting his head. “Vridel and I will keep him occupied doing ordinary things for the day, Senka and the Professor can handle the food, Sorcha can bait him to the dining hall after dinner, and Thea can enlist the rest of them to help with the setup switching."

“It shouldn't be too difficult, considering Cyril and I are already on kitchen duty for that night," Senka replied with a light shrug of her shoulders. Thea nodded her head as well, as if to agree with Reynard.

“I'm sure the others will be more than happy to help, especially Sofi and Deir," Thea spoke, seemingly excited for the plan. “And I'd be more than happy to chip in for Mercer's gift. I'm sure Professor already got him something, too, since he likes to do that for us," she stated, grinning a little in Professor's direction before her attention went back to Vivi.

“Indeed, he does. But if you'd like, Sorcha," Senka stated, the same small grin planted on her face. “We could go see about those pretty laced clothing materials in the market," she was clearly still teasing Sorcha. For a moment, her grin looked wicked before it smoothed out into a small smile.

“Can you please not keep saying that?" Sorcha groused, folding her arms across her chest. Goddess, sometimes having friends was a million times worse than not having them. Well—that wasn't quite true, but she could really do without the constant mockery. She already got it from Mercer, and Vivi to boot.

Speaking of her brother, he chuckled softly. “It would certainly send a message," he mused, narrowing his eyes at her.

“Okay, that's it. We're talking about something else now or you can all leave." It was her room, after all; she didn't have to put up with this in here if she wanted.

Of course, it was only unfortunately natural that the topic should turn to the elephant in the room.

“Get anything interesting from the Archbishop?" Reynard asked Cyril.

But their teacher shook his head. “Nothing aside from the obvious. She's... very upset. Seems to be taking this extremely personally."

“Of course she would," Thea stated as her brows furrowed. “The Holy Tomb is supposed to be where Sothis rested, but we all know differently. It's also supposed to be where the other children of the goddess were laid to rest, and knowing Lady Rhea, she is deeply connected to the church and what it stands for. Of course she would take the attack, personally."

“It still doesn't explain why. Anyone who is deeply connected to this place would be just as angry, just as willing to punish the Flame Emperor, but no one has reacted the same way Rhea did. Not even your sister," Senka stated, her lips pursed into a fine line. Thea sighed softly and shook her head.

“You have a point, but... I don't know what else it could be. How did they even get into the monastery, though? The only real entrance is through the front gate, and it would have been pretty obvious that a sizeable force had marched through," Thea stated as she glanced towards Vivi.

He sighed. “Obviously it was some of the Black Eagles," he said with a weighty shrug. “Unsurprisingly several of them vanished in the aftermath–fleeing back to their homes for safety now that they've done their jobs, I suppose. But... I worry. That maybe not everyone who was in on it left. We're working on it," he continued, nodding at Reynard, “but it's slow going. No one believes we're really with them anymore, which is understandable because we're not. I can only leverage my position so much—and the people who most want my favor are the ones with the least useful intelligence."

“There's also the matter of Captain Metodey," Reynard said, as if reminding him, and Vivi nodded slightly.

“Right. As I'm sure you all could tell, we were acquainted. He wasn't some provincial border guard. Not noble, but a respected career solider. Historically his family have served the von Aegirs, but I have no idea if the Prime Minister's behind this or if someone pulled Metodey out from under his nose with promises of a better post or a Barony or something."

“That is one possibility," Senka murmured as she closed her eyes for a moment. “And we can't ask the dead, or make them speak," she continued, opening her eyes and glanced in Sorcha's direction. “I would help if I could, but..." she shrugged her shoulders. There wouldn't be much she could do given most people's view on her, but she didn't seem to mind.

“I will do what I can, though, to keep an eye out."

“At this point it's all any of us can really do. Has... has anyone said anything to you, Vi, back in the Empire? Your uncle, perhaps, or your father? Surely they would have heard whispers or something, right?" Thea asked as she arched a brow.

“Nothing new," he replied. “I'm sure Volkhard has to have at least had an inkling that something like this was going to happen, but he's not exactly von Aegir's biggest fan. He might have wanted me back in the Empire to minimize the risk of me getting caught in the crossfire—I doubt the Prime Minister would mind in the slightest if I conveniently died. I'm not counting anything out at this point though."

Sorcha grimaced; it was hard to know what to do in a situation like this. “Crest Stones..." she murmured. “The power to rule all of Fódlan. If the Flame Emperor really is some kind of Imperial noble... be careful, Vivi. That sounds like a threat to go to war to me." She knew he would never support it. She also knew, though, that their uncle considered him a pawn, and that others on the Council of Seven would rather he were dead. Resisting them if they really wanted that would be difficult, but she couldn't bear the thought of what would happen if he failed.

“I will," he said softly. “But in turn I say the same to all of you."

“Of course," Senka replied, a small smile on her face as she glanced towards Cyril. She turned her attention back towards Sorcha and Vridel before she spoke again, “I have too much to live for, now. I do not intend on letting anything happen to any of us. For whatever use I may be, I promise that."

“And I'll make sure to watch Vi's back for him, too," Thea stated, though the smile on her face didn't quite reach her eyes. They were serious, if nothing else.

“See? I'm covered." Vivi thew an arm around Thea's shoulders and tucked her into his side, but like hers, his eyes told a very different story.

Sorcha could read it, and knew he was worried. Worried about the world he was bringing her into. About the danger she'd be in. It wasn't hard to understand at all, but Sorcha knew that he'd havetold Thea what the risks were, in detail, so she could decide for herself if she wanted to take them. She also knew that there was no way Thea would have said no, or backed down. None of them would. That was just who they were, for better or worse.

She had to believe that would be enough to see them through.

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 - Lone Moon - Tuesday the 9th
Garreg Mach - Evening - Clear
Mercer von Riegan


Today was a rather special, private day, for Mercer. He hadn't told anyone exactly when his birthday was, only that it was this month. Only he knew that it was today. So when he'd spent most of the afternoon with Vridel and Reynard, he'd thought it a rather successful birthday. By the time they'd returned to the academy, it was nearing dinner time, and they had all mostly piled into the dining hall to get food. Of course, Mercer felt the hairs on the back of his neck standing on end most of the day. Something was up, but he didn't exactly know what it was. He just had to keep his guard up until the feeling went away, he supposed.

He was glad that Teach and Sen were on kitchen duty today. It meant that the food was going to be delicious, and he could stuff his face without worrying too much about the taste. Plus it would make a rather nice birthday dinner. When he collected what he'd wanted, he made his way towards a table and plopped down next to Reynard and Vi.

“So, when's the rest of the group arriving?" he asked, taking a bite out of his bread and arched a brow in their direction. He was, of course, referring to the rest of their friends. They always had dinner together, and it would be especially nice tonight.

Vi shrugged, taking a bite of his thick stew. It seemed to be mostly based around potatoes, with some game and carrots and celery as well. Very filling, and much better-spiced than such a basic dish was probably ordinarily. But Sen and Teach had a way of doing that, kind of. Taking fairly standard recipes and making them better.

“How should I know? They've all got certs and things to study for." Once his spoon was empty he waved it dismissively. “I'm guessing the Professor and Sen will be here soon, though, since they're just in the kitchen."

It did, indeed, only take them a little longer to appear, and then Sorcha did as well, grimacing slightly for some reason. She was carrying a large tome under one arm; it was kind of entertaining watching her serve herself food with only the one hand for everything, but she managed it eventually, and joined the group at the table. The book looked to be a volume on white magic spells, but she set it down on the bench next to her and out of the way before he could be sure.

“How are you all?" she asked, grinding a touch more garlic into her bowl.

Mercer shrugged his shoulders. “Had better days, but otherwise fine," Mercer replied, taking another bite from his bread before working on his own soup. “What about you, Sor? That was a heavy looking book you have there," he stated, motioning with his spoon towards the area where her book was. He supposed that if she were studying for white magic certs, a book that large would be a typical Sorcha book: heavy with a lot of work to get through. He almost snickered softly to himself.

Thea was the next to arrive, rushing into the dining hall as if it were any other day and she was late. Mercer found it a strangely adorable trait of hers, actually. She took a seat next to Vi, though, and placed a baguette near him, perhaps for his soup. She had a fish-based stew from the looks of it.

“Sorry I'm late. I got held up with Lyanna studying for my white magic certs!" she spoke, as if providing her reason. Mercer chuckled lightly but shrugged his shoulders as well.

“It's fine, Thea. You're not even late," he replied, huffing lightly before turning his attention back towards Sorcha.

“Oh, uh..." She grimaced a little again, then shrugged. “Well I know it's a bit late to be taking brand-new certifications, but since I'm mostly happy with where I think my others will land, I... wanted to try officially making something of my interest in white magic, I guess. I won't ever be as good as Vivi, or Sen or Thea, but... I don't know. I thought it can't hurt to know a little."

“Can't hurt to expand your repertoire," Teach said with a small nod. As the man who could do pretty much everything to at least some degree of skill, he probably had some personal experience with that.

“Why 'had better days,' though?" Sorcha asked, her brows knitting. “Is something wrong with today?"

“I agree with Teach, expanding your repertoire could be a good thing for you," she was certainly the type to try and learn different things, Mercer thought. That, and she was always so dedicated to it. It was why he'd found her so endearing to begin with. He huffed lightly, though, at her. “And it's a figure of speech, love. It's actually a really good day, one of the best ones I've had so far. I'm surrounded by my friends, eating food made with love from Teach and Sen," he shot them a grin, “and also eating dinner with said friends. What more could I ask for?"

She flushed a little, eyes falling to her bowl. It wasn't hard to guess what did it—she always seemed to react when he called her something like that. Love.

He didn't think there was really much he could ask for. Mercer truly was happy with the way things were. It hurt, strangely enough, that it was going to end soon. They would be graduating in a couple of weeks, and then they would be going their separate ways. What hurt the most, though, was that he wasn't going to be able to see Sorcha for a long while. Sure, he'd write her letters every day, but he wouldn't be able to see her, and that thought was enough to cause him to smile in a melancholy way in her direction.

“Be careful, Sor, I think he's fantasizing about you," Deirdre spoke as she arrived with Sofia. Mercer snorted softly, the melancholy leaving him as he arched a brow.

Sorcha nearly choked on her glass of water, and coughed. With a soft snort, Reynard patted her on the back.

“And if I was? Does that make you jealous, Deir?" he asked, watching as she rolled her eyes and took a seat with her plate. Before long, Sylvi and Devon arrived, the former looking a little tired. They all chatted amicably with each other, either mentioning what they were studying for, or what they thought they should go for, next.

It was a nice dinner, if anything, and Mercer was glad to leave the day on the note that it landed on.

Probably partly because of certs, though, everyone was done within half an hour or so, even considering the banter and chatter that became part of any meal they all had together. Eventually everyone filtered out, and only he and Sorcha were left to deconstruct their trays. Once they'd done so, she paused to put her large tome in her satchel, but paused, cursing softly under her breath. “You haven't seen my notebook anywhere, have you, Mercer?" she asked, frowning.

It wasn't like her to forget where she put things, however; Mercer shook his head. “I've been out all day with the guys. Did you leave it in the library, perhaps, during one of your study sessions? Or maybe you left it in your classroom?" he suggested, places all plausible she'd been to. He arched a brow in her direction.

“Do you want me to help you find it?" he asked. He had a feeling she'd ask him to, but he supposed he'd ask first.

“I'd appreciate it," she said, looking a bit sheepish. “You do have the best eyes of anyone I know." Something about her smile suggested the hint of an ulterior motive—there was only one thing Sorcha wasn't perfectly straightforward about, though, and that was them. It was quite possible she was happy about getting to spend the time.

“Maybe, uh... maybe we head to the classroom first? I'm sure we can find it if we retrace my day."

Mercer sighed softly. He wouldn't deny that he did think of something more intimate with her, however; he wasn't going to push her. He'd made it obvious that he wanted her in one way, and was subtly making it obvious that he wanted her in the other way. Subtlety was never her forte, though, and he knew this. But he wanted her to be the one to approach the subject when she felt ready. He wasn't like Vi and Thea, or the others. He would make it obvious as much as he could, but would only take the necessary steps when she wanted him to.

“Is that all you want me for, is my eyes?" he joked, batting his eyelashes at her in a playful manner. “And here I thought you wanted me for something more than that," he continued, smiling widely to let her know he was only joking. He did arch a brow at her, though, when she suggested checking the classroom.

“Oh? You know, from this perspective, it almost looks like you're trying to get me alone in the classroom. Is this a strange fantasy of yours, where you have your way with me in a classroom?" he spoke, trying his best not to laugh at her reaction. He was, however, being incredibly serious. She always looked so adorable when her face flushed, and if he were being honest with himself, well... he wondered what other faces she could make.

“Wha—no!" she exclaimed. Predictably enough, she was beet-red, and increased her pace so she was walking ahead of him. Probably so he couldn't see. She might not be straightforward all the time, but she could be very easy to read nonetheless. She glanced once behind her, though, as if unsure whether he'd still be there, and something in her posture eased just slightly when he was.

Of course, then she huffed and turned right back around, ducking into the unlit classroom when they arrived at it. “Oh, wait, I can..." she muttered something, looking intently down at her hands, and a flicker of light appeared there, resolving into a steady sphere a couple inches across, which made it easier to see.

Sorcha made her way over to what must have been her spot, unsurprisingly front and almost center of the classroom. A bit of shuffling didn't seem to yield much; she made a soft noise of frustration.

“I wouldn't—I wouldn't know how to d-do that anyway," she said, still not looking at him. Her tone was oddly vehement, as though she were irritated about something, but that didn't seem to quite be the right word. Sighing, she stepped away from the desk and started towards the door. “I think I went to the library next..."

That was interesting. Mercer moved to intercept Sorcha before she could reach the door, wrapping his arms around her and settled his face next to hers from behind. He could feel a grin on his face as he leaned closer to her ear, just a hairsbreadth away from touching it with his lips.

“If you'd like, I can teach you," he spoke, his voice deep and conveying exactly what he'd meant by that.

Her breath hitched audibly; her face was hot next to his, and he could feel the way she shuddered in his grip. Swallowing thickly, though, she whirled in his arms, reaching up to sieze his collar in both hands. The gesture was ambiguous—she could quite well have meant to throttle him, especially given the rather intense expression on her face.

“You sure you're up to that?" she asked, her voice soft but crackling with challenge, like so many others she'd made of him. And then she pulled him forward and a touch down by the collar, kissing him emphatically.

It was a clumsy sort of thing—Sorcha clearly in fact was not used to them. If anything, the last he'd given her was probably the first she'd had. But she was enthusiastic, at least, almost fierce about it.

To say that Mercer was surprised might have been an understatement. He hadn't expected that reaction from her, but he wasn't put off by it. If anything, he kissed her deeper, threading his fingers into her hair as he turned her around to back her into a table. He only pulled back so that he could take a breath, and stare at her. Even in the dark he could see her, the way she shined and how breathtakingly beautiful it was. He was reluctant to stop, but he had to know. Had to make sure.

“Sorcha," he breathed her name out, heavily, taking in another breath to steady his heartbeat. “Are you sure?" he began, placing a hand on the side of her face. “Is this something you really want?" He would take it no further if she didn't want this, or if she was unsure.

She was shaking, he realized, just a little—trembling in his grip. It didn't seem to be fear, though, because she looked at him with clear, wide eyes, her pupils blown from the darkness, or—or maybe from desire. She flushed anew, biting her lower lip, and nodded. “Please," she breathed, the word so soft it was hardly audible. “I—I want to know what it's like. With you, before we have to—" She swallowed thickly, her grip on his collar easing so she could smooth her hands down his chest, the bright blue of her eyes still unerringly fixed on his.

“If that's—if that would be okay."

He leaned down to press his lips to hers, holding them like that for what seemed like hours, before pulling back to rest his forehead against hers. “Alright, love," he replied, gently moving his hands to the front of her blouse. He leaned back in, keeping his lips to hers as he began working through the buttons of her uniform. As he went to slide it off, a loud explosion managed to shake the academy, knocking a few things off of the shelves. Immediately, he pulled her blouse back on, eyes wide as he glanced towards the door.

“That sounded like it came from the front of the monastery," he spoke in a hurried tone. He nearly cursed the timing of it, however; as much as he'd wanted it, their friends were likely in danger. It would have to wait. He glanced in Sorcha's direction and furrowed his brows. “We'll have to pick up at a later time; let's go check on the others."

He hoped it was an accident, a spell gone wrong, however; the way screams filled the air... it sent a chill down Mercer's spine.

Sorcha blinked, shaking her head as if to clear her thoughts; it took a moment for the situation to register fully, it seemed. When it had, she re-buttoned her shirt with shaking fingers, standing a but unsteadily before she seemed to get her feet underneath her properly. “Dining hall," she said. “We uh—surprise party. For your birthday. That's where they'll be. We should run by the armory just in case." She had a point; their friends were unlikely to be very armed for a party of all things, and the armory was between here and the dining hall.

Buttons fixed, Sorcha gave him a quick nod, and they both left the classroom at a sprint.

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 - Lone Moon - Tuesday the 9th
Garreg Mach - Evening - Clear
Senka Rinaldi


Mercer and Sorcha had returned to the dining hall bearing weapons for everyone. Senka had taken Blutgang as Amalthea took Amyr. The attack was sudden, and most of the knights were scrambling to gather the necessary bodies to fend off the attack, however; something crawled into Senka's spine, sending a shiver through her body as she glanced towards her friends.

“Is everyone alright?" she asked, watching as Thea nodded her head, followed by Sylvi and Deirdre. Mercer's brows were furrowed deeply, and Senka could see that he was upset by something. Before she could say anything further, Alois and Catherine showed up, looking as disturbed as Senka felt.

“Listen up, everyone! The Imperial army is upon us. If you can fight, then join us. Everyone else, hurry up and evacuate! We have the goddess's protection on our side. We have nothing to fear; victory will be ours!" he stated, sounding quite sure of himself. Senka wasn't so sure; this was a surprise attack, after all. Whether or not they were going to win would be up to everyone's skills. And though they were all skilled in their own way, fighting against an army was going to require a lot out of them.

“Professor, are you ready?" Catherine asked as she eyed Cyril. “I don't need to tell you that the situation is dire, after all. We have some support troops from the local nobles, but the army we're facing is immense. No matter how you look at it, we're at a disadvantage. To make matters worse, the enemy is being led by an unknown man. Do not underestimate his abilities."

Senka didn't plan on underestimating anyone; she couldn't afford to, not with the lives of her friends on the line.

“An unknown man?" Cyril's brows knit.

“Ashen-skinned, white hair, empty eyes. He's got a beard, too, I think." That was Shamir, just arrived through a side door. “And Lady Rhea and Lady Lyanna are taking the field, so a lot of us are going to be distracted protecting them. She wants you and your students to be the tip of the spear—push out beyond the walls and overwhelm their leader before they can siege the gate."

Shamir's eyes were narrow; she didn't seem too happy to be delivering the orders, but she was a professional, and ultimately it was hard to tell what she was thinking.

“We'll help, too." Manuela and Hanneman seemed likewise geared for battle. She held a slim, basket-hilted rapier in one hand. “Feel free to treat us like your troops, Cyril."

He nodded. “If those are the orders, I have no choice." He turned to face his students though, regarding all of them seriously. “I have no doubt your fellows are retreating even now. There is no shame in joining them. If you do not wish to be part of this, to risk this, then I understand." And it was easy to tell why. What Rhea was ordering them to do... it was unclear if she put them in the riskiest position because they had the best chance of success or because she thought to make fodder of them and found them easiest to sacrifice. Either way, no one would be in more danger during this battle than they would.

“As if I could run away now, when those bastards fly my banner without my permission." Vridel sneered, but the underlying meaning was clear: he would stay.

“I'm not going anywhere," Sorcha said, handing Mercer the quiver that had been meant to act as his birthday present. It seemed it would be seeing a very practical use right away.

“Not getting rid of us so easily, Professor," Reynard mused. Devon nodded; Sofia simply hefted her lance, finally strapped in to her full suit of armor and closing the visor that protected her eyes.

“I'm not leaving you," Senka stated, her eyes narrowing in Cyril's direction. She'd be damned if she let him go into battle without her. Where he went, she was going to follow. To hell with Rhea and what she wanted. Thea nodded her head, gripping Amyr tightly in her hands as she glanced towards Vridel.

“I'm not going anywhere, either. Too many of my friends' lives are at stake," Thea voiced as Deirdre nodded her head as well. Sylvi glanced in Devon's direction, something flashing in her eyes before they steeled and she nodded as well.

“If that is the case, then move out. You have orders now, go!" Catherine stated. Senka nodded her head, and they left for the front gate.

When they arrived, it was to a soldier panicking. They'd broken through the walls of the monastery and were already pouring into the grounds. Senka swallowed thickly when the soldier mentioned at least three demonic beasts being sighted, and she glanced towards the others. They were all proficient enough to take them out, however; they needed to provide support to the defensive line. According to the soldier, they were in dire need.

“Shit, this isn't good," Mercer muttered softly as he gripped his bow. Senka had to agree. They were going to need to split up in order to make sure everything was covered properly. Some of them could help the defensive line while the rest of them pushed forward. There wasn't much time to think about who, though.

“What should we do?" They needed to get the gate back under their control before they could continue pressing forward.

“The Death Knight's approaching," Reynard added, squinting out at the field. “Headed towards the gate, from the left side. They've also got at least three Demonic Beasts—the kind with wings."

Cyril took this all in, eyes shifting between his students. At the mention of the Death Knight, Vridel's snarl had only grown more pronounced, but he wasn't charging off by himself this time, either. If anything, he stepped closer to Thea.

“We retake the gate first, together. Then we split. Three groups, in a triangle, and two outside it. Thea and Sofi, you're the back corners. Thea, you and Vridel take the left. Sofi, I want you and Deirdre on the right. You stay planted in front of the gate, and only risk moving forward if it's clear. They cannot breach the walls."

Sofia nodded. It was more or less what she'd signed on for as a heavy infantry unit. Thea, too, really, and with skilled mages to back them up, they should make solid defensive foundations.

“Mercer, Sorcha. Your only priority besides staying alive is the demonic beasts. Bring them down." They weren't mounted, but they were still by far the best archers in the group, and if the beasts were fliers, it only made sense. “Reynard, commanders. Do the usual thing, but don't get too far ahead, and stay away from Thales. Senka, Devon, Sylvi. You're with me. We're the front end of the triangle, and we're going to punch through the line as fast as we can. That means everyone else will have to clean up, but if we don't finish this quickly, we finish it dead."

They all nodded in unison.

When they arrived at the gate, it was already mostly overrun by Imperial Soldiers. Senka glanced towards the others before she moved forward, flinging a wind spell at the nearest soldier before following up with Blutgang on another. Thea and Sylvi both engaged a soldier each, as well with Mercer seemingly reserving his arrows for the beasts, and attacking a soldier with his sword. Hanneman, on the other hand, seemed to be doing rather well, flinging dark spells one after the other towards a group of soldiers that tried to flank them. Manuela threw the occasional bit of light magic into the mix, but at a guess she was reserving it for healing, and mostly used the rapier to keep enemies from getting too close to Hanneman. Devon, Reynard, and Sorcha also all conserved arrows, keeping to their melee options for now, and Sofia wielded her lance with a shield.

Both the Arrow of Indra and the Sword of the Creator remained over Cyril's back; for the most part he used his hands at the moment, flinging a few spare spells where necessary. Vridel mostly stuck to his sword for the moment as well. It seemed they all knew they were in for a test of their endurance as well as their power.

It took some time before they were able to reclaim the gate, however; the Death Knight had marched closer towards the gate, followed by the demonic beasts. Senka spared a glance towards Mercer and Sorcha as the former nodded his head. It was clear what they were going to do, and Mercer was the first to draw his bow, the subtle glow of his Crest appearing on his wrist before he let an arrow loose. It hit one of the beasts in the shoulder, but it wasn't enough to bring it down, yet. Senka only spared a glance towards Cyril before she moved forward.

Sylvi was right behind her as she flung herself into the side of a man, tumbling with him to the ground. Senka managed to block a lance being thrust towards Sylvi and engaged with the soldier. She trusted Cyril and Devon to keep pressing forward with the plan.

And they did. Devon remained in Cyril's shadow, still favoring his long dagger over shooting arrows and effectively keeping Cyril between himself and heavier targets. That way, when he engaged and drew attention, Devon could slip the knife into a joint of armor or an unprotected armpit or something of the kind.

Sofia planted herself solidly, bracing her enormous tower shield against the ground and thruasting over it with her lance, ducking behind it when someone threw a fireball for her. It bounced off, deflected by a clever angling of the shield, and for a moment Reynard appeared, slitting the mage's throat from behind before ducking back into the underbrush.

The first demonic beast fell with a screeching cry; no doubt Sorcha and Mercer were already moving towards the next. The Death Knight seemed to have engaged Vridel and Thea; this time, though, Vi was fighting with her, and they appeared to have at least drawn him into a fight instead of letting him continue towards the gate.

From the screech of the another beast, it was clear that Sorcha and Mercer had, in fact, engaged their second one. Deirdre provided support as best as she could for Sofia, catching a soldier in the leg with a fire spell, and lopping off his arm with a well-aimed wind spell. Sylvi had switched to an axe she'd picked up from one of the dead soldiers, perhaps, in an attempt to conserve more of her energy. She swung it high over her head, and brought it down on a soldier, catching him in the shoulder and nearly cleaving him in half. With a quick spin, she silenced his sceams as she moved on to the next person.

Thea seemed to be holding herself rather well despite having to face the Death Knight. She blocked an attack from his lance with her axe, dodging out of the way when he tried to follow up an attack. Senka grunted under the force of a soldier's axe, blocking it with Blutgang as she pushed back on it.

She could already feel the small traces of fatigue in her body as they continued pushing forward. No doubt the others would start feeling it, too, but they couldn't stop. They had to keep pressing forward, to retake the grounds and chase off the army before they overran the academy. When they seemed to be making a bit of a dent in the numbers, a screech could be heard off in the distance, and it didn't sound like one of the beasts Mercer and Sorcha were dealing with.

“Enemy reinforcements!" a soldier shouted, rushing back towards the gate. From a distance, Senka could see a large group of soldiers marching forward. She pursed her lips together as she glanced towards Cyril. They wouldn't last much longer with the new wave of soldiers. Gripping Blutgang tightly, she took in a breath to steady herself.

“If this keeps up, we're going to have to retreat," she spoke, though she wasn't entirely sure they'd be able to. There was no doubt in her mind that the Imperial army would give chase if they retreated, but they couldn't continue on without regrouping to formulate another plan.

Cyril was uninjured except for a gash in his brow, which... oddly seemed to be in the process of healing, almost as if someone had hit him with holy magic. Only no one had that Senka knew of. He clicked his tongue against his teeth and surveyed the incoming soldiers. It seemed to be an entire wing of wyvern riders, plus some cavalry.

Pulling in a deep breath, he cracked his knuckles, then shook out his hands. “I'm pushing for Thales," he said flatly, firmly. He met her eyes, then, his bright with something she could tell he'd been trying to keep a lid on: fury. That man at the head of the Imperial army was the reason his father was dead. “I'm going to take down this group here. Please—stay with Sylvi and Devon, and retreat if you have to."

He reached out, just barely close enough to brush his fingers over her cheek. “I love you, Senka. Stay alive, no matter what." Then the touch was gone and Cyril was bounding forward, propelled unnaturally fast by the power of his Crest. Lightning arced from his fingertips, each bolt striking one of the riders—the force was enough to down them all, probably killing no few of them outright. The heavy crashes brought them down on the roofs of houses, or straight to the ground, kicking up enough dust and debris that his advancing figure was obscured by the clouds of it.

Her hand reached out towards him as he'd disappeared. She felt a painful lurch in her heart as she shook her head. “I love you, too, Cyril. Please... please make it out alive," she whispered softly to herself. She believed in him, that he would keep his promises to her, and that he would live. Steeling herself, she brought Blutgang up in an attempt to charge forward, however; a hand laid itself on her shoulder, pulling her back as if to keep her from doing so. She was surprised to see that it had been Rhea, of all people, taking to the battlefield. Her eyes slid towards Senka, and she regarded her with an even stare.

“I do not know why he feels such things for you, however; everybody here, young and old, is in your hands. Protect them; protect him, my..." she trailed off before shaking her head. Senka was deeply confused. What did she mean by that? Her hold on Blutgang faltered for a second, and she could only nod her head at Rhea's words. With a smile, genuine, the first Senka had ever seen, Rhea nodded her head and walked out onto the field.

“I will not allow another Red Canyon tragedy to happen here," she spoke softly, almost as if to herself, and before Senka could do or say anything, Rhea's body was enveloped by a bright green light. It shot into the air before it formed into something large, something that Senka recognized from the picture Mercer had shown them. It was a dragon, the Immaculate One. It had to be. For a moment, Senka could only stare in awe. Almost everything else seemed to dim out of existence as Rhea attacked the frontline of the soldiers. She charged a beam from her snout, instantly leveling the houses nearby and taking out a good number of soldiers in what appeared to be seconds.

“What is going on!?" Mercer shouted, but Senka couldn't take her eyes off of the dragon. When Rhea landed, she was instantly beseiged by five beasts Senka had never seen before. They had masks on their faces, as if to obscure it, and they were more slender and agile, it seemed. They latched onto Rhea as if to restrain her and crashed into one of the walls. Senka barely had enough time to react to a soldier trying to take advantage of her dazed state, and blocked his sword with her own. She felled him as quickly as she could, and immediately, a spike of fear and panic lanced through her.

“Cyril. Where's Cyril," she stated to herself, her eyes moving quickly over the battlefield to find him.

The wall next to Rhea was crumbling; large chunks falling over the cliffside it was meant to protect. The beasts had her pinned. But a figure was springing across the field towards her—was that Thales? He was bleeding from one arm, it looked like, but raised the other, hurling a massive bolt of dark magic towards Rhea—

The bright, segmented blade of the Sword of the Creator sliced right through the spell, knocking it off-course. It barely missed its target, taking out one of the beasts and another enormous chunk of wall. Cyril withdrew it, charging across the field. Senka saw him hesitate—he could defend Rhea or attack Thales, but not both—and so too did she see the moment he made his decision, lashing forward with the blade to pierce one of the monsters' masks, destroying the head behind it.

Rhea threw another off the now-exposed cliff, shaking the two that remained away from herself with a tremendous roar. She faced Cyril, rearing back on her hind legs. “Why did you come?" Somehow, the thunderous voice of the Immaculate One was still Rhea's voice, and not at the same time.

Any answer he could have given was interrupted; Thales reacted the quicker, hurling another two blasts of magic in quick succession—this time aimed directly at Cyril. The first he weathered, half-blocking it with the Relic in his hand. But the ground beneath his feet trembled, shuddered, the very cliffside beginning to crack away with the force of the blow, and the second took his legs out from beneath him, hurling him for the abyss.

Rhea lunged, as if to snatch him from the air, but the beasts would not allow it, latching onto her form and dragging her towards the earth.

CYRIL!" the scream tore its way through Senka's throat as she made to run after him. She was held back, though, by a pair of arms that wrapped around her as if to stop her. CYRIL!" she continued screaming, thrashing in anyway she could to get whoever was holding her, to drop her.

“Senka, stop, he's gone! There's nothing we can do! We need to leave, now!" she could tell it was Mercer's voice. Knew that he was right, but... she couldn't accept it.

“Mercer, please! Let me go! Let me... let me go!" she shouted, pleading with him as a stream of hot tears fell down her face. “Mercer, let me save him!" she continued, trying her best to pry his arms from her, but found she had no strength to do so. A sob tore its way out of her as she reached out towards the area Cyril had fallen.

“Please... let me... let me save him," she managed to choke out the words behind her sobs. She could hear the ticking of Mercer's jaw as he pulled her back. “You... promised!" she found herself screaming, but he wasn't there to hear her. Something was heavy in her heart, and it felt like she couldn't breathe. It was as if someone had forced their hand into her chest, and was squeezing her heart as tightly as they could. He couldn't be gone.

He couldn't be dead.

But no one could survive a steep fall like that. “Senka!" Mercer shouted, and Senka felt her entire body go limp. It was enough that Mercer was able to drag her away, and he did none too kindly. Senka didn't care, though. He was gone, and a new wave of silent tears streamed down her face.

Sorcha was there immediately—had probably been there the entire time, honestly—and as soon as it was clear that Senka wasn't going to try to run, she took over, folding her friend into her arms in a tight embrace. “What do we do?" she asked, seemingly speaking to Mercer... or maybe the others were here, it was hard to tell.

Someone answered, and Sorcha said something else. The words surrender and Rhea drifted by, and eventually they were somehow back inside, a pale, drawn Lady Lyanna directing everyone swiftly. It seemed that the plan was to surrender, but not before evacuating as many people as possible as quickly as they could. They probably only had a matter of an hour or so before the Imperial Army breached the gates for good.

Senka felt numb and cold. There would be no more warmth, no more smiles, and no more him. Her reason to live, was gone. She could hear more shuffling, people talking, but she couldn't bring herself to focus on any of it. He was gone.

Her love was gone.

“We can't let them take us. We need to formulate a plan, and quickly." Mercer had spoken, but Senka wasn't entirely sure she could bring herself to care. Let them have her, too. Cyril was gone... and there was no bringing him back.

Cyril," she whispered, not bothering to stop the tears that continued to run down streaks down her face.

Her heart was gone.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1181 - Lone Moon - Tuesday the 9th
Garreg Mach - Late Evening - Clear
Sorcha Blaiddyd


How?

How had the evening gone from what they'd all planned to this?

Part of Sorcha still refused to accept the reality of it. Could not reconcile the fact that mere hours ago she'd been trying to distract Mercer from his surprise birthday party and now... now she was holding her best friend in her arms, numb with the knowledge that their teacher was dead, Lady Rhea was a dragon and possibly also dead, and that within the hour the Imperial Army would storm into Garreg Mach and probably kill anyone left inside.

Lady Lyanna was doing her best to direct the evacuation—there were many secret tunnels and chambers beneath the monastery which would apparently aid in this. Some number of knights would have to stay behind to officially surrender. If that surrender was accepted, that would be one thing, but... it was most likely that those knights would be staying behind to die.

She exhaled a shaky breath, rubbing Sen's back. She was well aware that there was nothing she could do for her friend right now. She doubted her physical presence even registered much, if at all, but all she could do was not leave her alone. And if that was the case, well... she would make sure Senka wasn't alone.

“I have to go out there," Vivi said, looking grim. He had several scabbing wounds from the battle, evidence that powerful healing magic had been applied to him—probably Lady Lyanna's. “I'm immediately recognizable, and the Death Knight aside, imperial soldiers aren't going to just attack me if I announce myself. Maybe I can take over the army, slow them down... at least make sure they accept the surrender."

Thea immediately shook her head. “What if they don't? What if they just take you, instead, and still attack us? There's no... there's no guarantee that they'll do that," she stated, her eyes red as if she'd been crying, as well.

“He has to try, though, Thea. Even if it's to stall them for an hour longer, that would mean more time to evacuate everyone safely, and... and for everyone to decide who gets left behind to surrender," Mercer spoke, his voice eeriely calm for the situation. He too, looked to be dealing with the loss of the Professor just as much as the rest of them.

“I'll stay behind," Senka spoke so softly that it was almost as if she didn't speak at all. Sorcha was close enough, however, to hear the words.

“You're not allowed to, Senka. You need to ensure Sorcha gets out alive with the others," Mercer spoke, perhaps harshly, but his eyes were soft in understanding. Senka merely lifted her eyes to meet Mercer's, but Sorcha could see there was little behind them.

“Is that it, then? Are we just... are we just going to abandon everything and let them win!?" Thea nearly shouted. Mercer shook his head, though.

“No, Thea. We live so that we can gather what resources we can to fight back. We can't do that; not now as we are."

“The young Lord is right." That was Lady Lyanna. She placed a hand on Thea's shoulder. “I hate this as much as any of you do, but it would be completely pointless for all of us to die here. Those of you with countries to lead especially must escape; I do not believe these people intend to stop at Garreg Mach. It could be that even now Faerghus and the Alliance are in gave danger—and you might be our only chance of delaying that fate." The last, she said to Vivi, who nodded.

“I understand. Thea, Lady Lyanna... if you prefer to escape with the others, I understand. But if you're willing to take a chance on me, to wait just a little longer... I promise I'll do everything I can to make sure those who surrender, survive." He pushed a breath out through his nose.

“Foreign royalty and nobility, however... I don't think I'd be able to convince them to do anything less than imprison you, if that. The rest of you need to get going. I'm... I'm sorry. If I'd just been—"

Sorcha shook her head fiercely. “This isn't your fault, Vivi. It's not any of our fault, but... we're the ones who have to make it right, now." Because no one else was going to.

“I'm not going anywhere, Vridel von Hresvelg. For better of for worse, I'm going to always be by your side. No matter what," Thea spoke, her eyes narrowing slightly in Vivi's direction. Sorcha could feel Senka tense slightly at Thea's words, but she merely kept her gaze forward, as if seeing nothing at all.

Mercer nodded his head in agreement, though. “Sorcha's right; none of this is anyone's fault but... Thales. We need to make things right, and the only way we do that is if we all survive," he spoke, his eyes softening in Sorcha's direction before he glanced away.

“If you're planning on staying, Thea, then take care of Vi. He'll need you more than ever, now," Mercer stated. Thea responded with a firm nod of her head as he turned towards Sorcha. “We need to get going, then. Sylvi, Devon, Sofia, Deirdre, you're coming with us, too. You're not staying behind," he directed the statement towards the others. Sylvi looked slightly hesitant but nodded her head. Deirdre merely stared at Mercer before she too nodded.

“Understood," Sofia said. Her voice was calm, but her face lacked its usual level expression. “I suppose... there is not time for lengthy goodbyes, but... it was an honor, all of you." She pursed her lips, then shot a look at Deirdre, Devon, and Sylvi.

“We'll prepare the mounts." She looked to Lady Lyanna for a moment, but the other woman's nod was immediate.

“Please—take them. I regret that I cannot give you more promise of safety than that." She gave them all a solemn look. “You have all endured so much already—he was so very proud of you." A call of her name forced her away—it seemed Manuela needed her help with more of the injured.

Sylvi, Sofia, Devon, and Deirdre left, too, presumably to ready for the departure like they'd said.

“Thea," Sorcha said softly, nodding slightly at where she still held Sen. “Could you—for a moment? I need—I need to talk to Mercer." And as much as she loved her friends, what she had to say was for his ears alone.

“Of course," Thea stated as she moved towards Senka. Softly, she wrapped her arms around Senka's shoulders. Senka merely looked like she barely even registered what was happening, and Thea nodded in Sorcha's direction. “I'll do what I can; you go talk to Mercer," she stated, already white magic at her fingertips as she applied it to Senka's temple.

Mercer, however, arched a brow at Sorcha, though his brows were furrowed. “We should make this quick, Sor," he spoke softly, placing a hand on her cheek before he dropped it to his side.

He was right, of course; that didn't make it hurt any less when he said it. Pursing her lips, she took his hand and led him a little away from the group so they'd have privacy. As much as they could get in a situation like this, at least.

She swallowed thickly. “I know there's no stopping this now," she said softly, her voice cracking. Some part of her almost reflexively looked down, but she wouldn't—couldn't—tear her eyes from his face. She wanted to burn it in her mind forever, the way that for as weary as they both were, as grief-stricken as they both were, they were at least alive. She thought—she thought maybe she could get through anything, as long as she knew he was alive somewhere.

“I can't ask you to promise to live," she murmured. Much as she wanted to, much as she wanted to hear him promise it, she knew it wasn't in him to pretend something like that was true when he didn't know for sure. He might tease and prod, even mislead sometimes, but he didn't lie or deceive. Not to her. “But I... I need you to." And she needed to do everything she possibly could to make sure it would be so.

Reaching up to the clasp at her neck, she undid the necklace, extracting the engagement stone from its place beneath her shirt, against her heart. “This has always brought me good luck, you know," she said softly, half smiling in a wry sort of way. Even now, she could look at his eyes, the same vivid color as the stone, and it felt like everything else all but ceased to exist. “And I don't even believe in luck, really. So—so until we meet again, I want you to have it back. So it can protect you."

She extended it towards him.

“No," he spoke abruptly as he pushed her hand back towards her. “Like you said; it gives you good luck, whether or not you believe in it," he continued, his eyes calm and narrowed. They softened, though, as he brought up his hand, back showing towards her where the ring he'd had fashioned from the geode, rested. “I have my own good luck charm from you, remember?" he spoke softly, taking in a deep breath.

“I want you to keep that, so that you'll always remember my promise to you. That once all of this is over, once all of the territories are under control, that I will come back for you. That is my promise to you. Even if I have to transcend death in order to be with you, I will come back. I don't... I don't plan on breaking your heart like that, Sorcha, like..." he paused abruptly and swallowed thickly.

“I want you to know that I love you. No matter what, I. Love. You. So... stay alive, and... when we meet again we can fulfill our promise," he stated, smiling wryly at her.

Part of her wanted to insist, to make it so that he had to take it, because she was so afraid of what could happen that even the loosest and most superstitious of protections were the kind of thing she needed to heap on him.

But she couldn't—not when he said it like that. Sorcha swallowed thickly. “I love you, too," she whispered, like it was a secret. But then there was no holding it back anymore, and she wrapped him in a hug, still clenching the stone tightly in her hand. She wanted to kiss him, but some part of her knew that if she did that just now, it would break her, make her long too keenly for things that could not be. It would also feel too much like an end, and she couldn't let it. Not even a little. Because she was terrified that the moment she turned even one more page in this—in them—it would somehow turn out to be the end of the story, and she couldn't bear it.

“Don't die," she whispered. “Don't leave me." Her eyes blurred, hot and stinging with tears, but she refused to let them fall. He was the only one allowed to wipe them away, and so she could not cry again until they were reunited. Until there was time enough for him to soothe them, and time enough for everything else that still lay between them.

“I won't die, Sorcha. I'm not going to leave you. No matter what," he spoke gently, placing a kiss on top of her hair. He hugged her tighter, as if he were afraid of letting her go, too. But he pulled back, holding her out in front of him at arms length, and smiled at her.

“It won't... it won't be forever, you know. And you have to promise to stay alive, too. You're not allowed to die, either. Just... I'm always going to be with you, Sorcha. Look at the gem whenever you feel lonely, and I promise you, I'll be there. And here," he stated, placing two fingers gently over her heart.

“Take care of yourself, alright?"

“I will," she swore. And in the moment, she truly believed herself. “I'll stay alive, Mercer, I promise I will. So don't waste your time worrying about me, okay?" She placed a hand over his heart, too. He had to be able to feel the way hers pounded, furious as always, just because he was near.

He huffed lightly as he tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, and smiled at her. “Don't blame me when I do, alright, love?"

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


Image


I.Y. 1181 - Great Tree Moon - Thursday the 1st
Enbarr Castle - Noon - Clear
Vridel von Hresvelg


Vridel swung down from his horse, extending a hand up towards Thea to assist her in the same, little as she needed it. He helped Lyanna down, too, but save Reynard the rest of those around him could rot, as far as he was concerned.

Thales had long since disappeared, of course, but it was clear enough that his presence was only barely tolerated by some of these others. And some of them were people he'd known in some capacity for much of his life. Like Ladislava, the wyvern-mounted general of the empire's flight troops. A cold, perfunctory, businesslike woman who was still very obviously angry about losing her entire 5th wing to the Professor's lightning almost a month ago.

He felt a little sting in his chest at the thought, but he pushed it away as he knew he must and focused ahead. More than once over the course of seizing control of the army—something he knew had only worked because Thales was content to allow it—and negotiating the terms of surrender with Lyanna, he had found himself wanting nothing so much as Cyril's advice. He'd *known* he relied to some degree on his teacher's insight, but he had not predicted how difficult he would find these things to be without the possibility of seeking advice.

Thea and Lyanna had been helpful, of course. Reynard had been especially so. But they were three allies in what now seemed to Vridel like a sea of enemies. And now, finally returned to the city of his birth, he was not so sure of his plan as he had once been.

And yet still he knew he had to do it. There was no other option. No other chance of slowing the Imperial invasions of Faerghus and the Alliance, even now ongoing, he knew. It was no accident he'd been kept away this long for a simple handover. No accident either that Thales had not bothered to remain. More important events were clearly taking place elsewhere, probably under the direction of the damnable Flame Emperor.

If he was going to have a chance against that, he'd need to be an Emperor himself. Straightening the cloak Cyril had given him for his birthday, Vridel made sure his sword was secure in his belt and the cloak pin was in place. Then he ran a hand through his hair and turned to Thea.

“Are you ready?" It was important to him to ask, because she was important. And he knew more than ever now that he was venturing into shark-infested waters. They were bleeding, all four of them, and the predators would smell their wounds. But still. But still, for those who remained, for the innocents they wished to protect, they had no choice but to try.

She glanced at him, her eyes soft as she smiled. It didn't quite reach her eyes, but she looked to be attempting as much, and nodded her head. “No matter what, we're in this together. Whatever may come our way, whomever may try to do whatever, I will be here. I'm ready to stand by you in anyway you need me to," she spoke, reaching for his hand and gave it a light squeeze. She released it, afterwards and glanced towards Lyanna. She nodded her head in her sister's direction and turned back towards Vridel.

“Let's do this... together."

Vridel smiled softly, squeezing back, but then turned his eyes forward.

The castle was an enormous thing, befitting the oldest seat of power on the continent of Fódlan. Or at least, the oldest such thing known to history. It was a soaring edifice, imposing, constructed of a stone so pale as to be almost white: nearly blinding in the full glory of afternoon like this, glowing even at night, and dyed in oranges and reds come sunset. It dominated the horizon around it, as the family within had once dominated the political and geographic landscape of the continent. A dominion unraveled in messy master strokes of rebellion, but one whose final nail was driven in by internal rather than outer strife, when seven noblemen had all but unseated his father, leaving the Emperor his crown and his throne and nothing to do with them.

A dead monarchy, they liked to whisper.

It might well be the greatest piece of white magic he'd ever worked, if he could breathe life back into it. Perhaps it would cost his in exchange, but he was prepared for that. As ready as a man could ever be to die, he supposed.

He tried to ignore all the ways in which that wasn't true, and held his head high. Their party passed through the gates, still flanked by Ladislava's riders, but Vridel had no concern for them. At the moment all the function they served was lending him more authority, for he refused to look the prisoner he all but was. With Thea beside him, he almost felt the monarch he needed to be. Flanked by Reynard and Lyanna, he thought he might get there, eventually.

The riders halted outside the entrance to the castle proper, unable to take their mounts inside. Only Ladislava, tall in stature even not astride her beast, and a handful of her people dismounted to accompany them into the Emperor's audience hall.

The herald at the door—Petrokos—recognized Vridel immediately and approached wide-eyed. Well into his sixties, he had the straight-backed bearing of a dignified servant of the Empire, and the kind eyes of a grandfather. “Your Highness. His Imperial Majesty is in Council with the Seven at the moment." He paused, pale grey eyes assessing Vridel for a moment before his expression settled into something rather more steely. “Shall I announce you regardless?"

“Please do, Petrokos. With as much flair as this place has let you keep, if you would. And my companions as well." There was a bit of sorting what to say on that subject, but Vridel wanted to make an impact, and so he would.

He extended an arm towards Thea. “The moment we walk through those doors, the most dangerous people in the Empire will know that I have chosen you above all others. Above their daughters and sons and wishes. You may never be or feel safe again." He knew, at this point, that her mind was made up. But he could not help but warn her, one last time, of what this meant. Of what it really meant to love him.

Thea shook her head, though. “I've told you before; you make me feel safe. As long as I'm with you, I don't... there's nothing they can do to try and intimidate me. They cannot take what is not theirs. I know... it'll be trying, but I'm not the same person I was a year ago. I'm... I'm more because of you. Because I love you, and whatever we may face because of that, I'm ready. Vridel von Hresvelg, for whatever it takes, I'm ready."

She looped her arm with his, her head held high, and her back straight. It was, perhaps, the most regal thing she'd ever mustered before, and she glanced at him with a smile on her face. “Shall we?" she spoke, her eyes steeling as she seemed to prepare herself for what was to come.

Vridel felt an overwhelming sense of pride at her words. Not only for himself, though it was not and never would be a small thing to him that he alone was capable of making her feel that way. But he felt pride for her as well, for the way she enfolded herself in a regality not natural to her, for the sake of the moment. For the sake of their aims. She would, he could not help but think, make his people a very fine Empress, indeed.

“We shall," he murmured.

Petrokos nodded to the pair of doormen, their expressions mismatched trepidation and glee, but to their credit they threw open the doors with all the theatrical drama this moment required, revealing a large audience chamber. The seven men arranged in a half-circle before the throne immediately turned, and that was when the herald's voice rang out.

“Announcing His Highness, Vridel Brandt von Hresvelg, Imperial Prince, Duke of Engels, Count of Weissburg, and with him his intended, Lady Amalthea Elaine von Kreuz, of Garreg Mach, Lady Lyanna Evir von Kreuz, Commander of the Knights of Seiros, and Lord Callum Alasdair Macneary, of Brigid." He pointedly did not announce the soldiers with them, which Vridel appreciated. There were plenty of names and titles to go around already.

He swept into the chamber, marching all of them up the center towards the throne. By this point every pair of eyes in the room, from the nobles to their bodyguards and servants along the walls, was fixed on the new arrivals, but he kept this eyes straight ahead—on his father.

Ionius was an old man, now. It seemed he had somehow been old for as long as Vridel could remember, but it was clear that of late his condition had taken a turn for the worst. Never hardy and hale, he was now pale and sallow, with sunken grey eyes and hollowed cheeks. He seemed to sit straighter as Vridel approached however, regarding his son with what the prince interpreted to be a mixture of surprise, confusion, and perhaps some lingering trace of paternal warmth, all dulled by time, or illness, or simple exhaustion.

Perhaps what Vridel had come to demand would be a relief.

The two nobles at the center of the semicircle—Volkhard and Duke Aegir, a rotund, sour-looking man with only a thin ring of ginger hair and a small mustache—were directly in their way. Volkhard moved; his was the pretense of politeness.

Von Aegir, on the other hand, spluttered. “What is the meaning of this?! You cannot simply interrupt a—" he finally stepped aside when Vridel made no sign of stopping and continued to stare past him.

He finally drew to a halt before the dais, dropping into the lowest bow he'd ever given his father. When he rose, his face was set. “Your Imperial Majesty," he said, raising his voice enough that it would carry throughout the chamber. There were murmurs of discontent from behind him, but no one was sure enough of what he was doing to try and stop it yet.

His father, however, tilted his head slightly, eyes narrowing with a faint curiosity. “Vridel. To what do I owe the distinction of my son's company?" His eyes shifted to the others for a moment, coming to rest on Thea.

“I wish to bring two matters before the throne," Vridel said, straightening where he stood. “Though I hope that as much as I might be considered a subject petitioning his Emperor, so might I be seen as a son petitioning his father."

The Emperor leaned forward slightly, waving for silence when another noble—von Varley, he thought—tried to protest. “I see. And what are these matters you wish for me to address?"

“First and most importantly," Vridel said, glancing aside. “I would like for you to be the first to officially meet my betrothed, Lady Amalthea von Kreuz." He used the joining of their arms to gesture Thea forward slightly, indicating with a nod that she was very much encouraged to speak for herself.

She bowed, something more formal than she'd ever done before, and rose to smile at Ionius. “It is a pleasure to finally meet Your Imperial Highness," she spoke, straightening her posture back out. Her eyes were bright as she regarded his father, the smile never leaving her face. If she had felt any fear, she was doing a good job of not showing it. There was no tremor in her body, no shifting of her eyes. She kept them on Ionius, and seemed to drown everything else out that wasn't Vridel or his father.

Ionius considered her a moment, and then his eyes flicked to his son, and he almost seemed to sigh, though there was a faint smile on the edges of it. “I can hardly chastise you for your impulsiveness in such matters. I fear in that we are much the same."

It was obvious he referenced Vridel's mother, and though he found the comparison a bit... off, he did not say so, merely inclining his head. This seemed to satisfy the Emperor, who dipped his chin to Amalthea. “I have ever trusted my son's judgement. I look forward to getting to know the woman he has chosen, for surely, you must be extraordinary."

“As to the second matter." Vridel's expression resumed its former seriousness. “Your Majesty, I formally request that you cede your crown, and the rulership of the Empire, to me."

“What?! Of all the audacious—" the small crowd behind him erupted in protest, von Aegir distinguishable above the rest. “Your Majesty, you cannot simply—"

“Can I not?" Ionius's voice, reedy and thin and haggard as it was, sounded strong in that moment. Enough so to quiet the protestations. “As I recall, Duke Aegir, this is one of the very few rights left to me, and me alone." He swept rheumy eyes over his son's face; Vridel withstood the inspection straight-backed and proud. How could he do otherwise, when the very presence of the woman at his side was such a powerful reminder of the justice, the rightness of his cause?

“You have changed," his father said, quietly now. “I always knew you were the proudest of my children, but this..." He shook his head almost ruefully. “I shall take it for the sign it is." Straightening in his seat, he pulled in a deep breath and spoke in a confident, striking timbre.

“Vridel Brandt von Hresvelg, Imperial Prince of Adrestia. As your father and your Emperor, I ask you this: are you prepared to wear the crown of our nation, to sit upon its throne, and know that the fate of its people is now a burden for your shoulders alone?"

“With all due respect, Your Majesty," Vridel replied, squeezing Thea's arm against his side. “While I accept that the fault will fall to me if this duty is not upheld, it will not be my burden alone at all. There are those whom I trust to share it with me, and who in turn trust me to lead them in this endeavor."

Ionius looked a little surprised, blinking slowly, but then a slow, almost melancholy smile overtook his features. “Then you are more fortunate than anyone in this room as ever been. I entrust Adrestia, and her future, to you. Rise, my son, and take your throne."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1181 - Great Tree Moon - Saturday the 10th
Enbarr Castle - Afternoon - Cloudy
Mercer von Riegan


Sir roared as he landed, causing Mercer to sigh heavily. He hadn't expected to make that kind of entrance, but Sir had a habit of announcing himself wherever they went, now. Mercer didn't really mind, though. He'd been busy enough trying to help his grandfather get the situation under control in the Alliance. Now that Vi was the Emperor, perhaps things would start to look up; start to heal and progress. It had already started with the withdrawal of Imperial troops from the Alliance, and Mercer was here on official business. He was here in his grandfather's stead to negotiate terms with Vridel.

He dismounted, waiting for Sofia and Deirdre to catch up before he walked through the main gate, Sir strolling behind him and growling at just about anyone who came too close to Mercer. He inwardly sighed, but he couldn't show his disdain for the wyvern. He was only expressing what Mercer couldn't. Once the animals were sufficiently stabled, they were escorted to the main hall of the castle. It was a little out of Mercer's taste; too much white and not enough color if he were being honest.

He was ushered in by another person, and directed towards the audience hall where Vridel would no doubt, be. Once he was announced, Mercer stepped through the doors with Sofia and Deirdre to his back. They were here as his guards, after all. And he wanted them to be here with him. When they approached, Mercer bowed, a small smile forming on his lips as he glanced at Vi. He couldn't call him that, of course. Not now, at least, and so when he rose, his face was smoothed out into something neutral.

“Your Imperial Majesty," he spoke, regarding Vridel with an even stare.

Vi rolled his eyes. “Don't call me that. If you do, I have to call you Lord Riegan and neither of us wants that."

He'd been sitting on the throne, but stood readily and descended the dais. No doubt it was a bit startling to knights stationed in the entrance hall, but he seemed to have no care for it, and the guard directly behind him was Reynard, who only smiled wryly and padded down with him.

“Come on. Study's this way. I think Thea and Lyanna are already there. Should be much less of a pain to talk there than here." Gesturing for them to follow in the way he would have mere months ago, he led them out the back of the throne room. He was dressed a little more grandly, of course, as befit an Emperor, largely white and touches of gold and silver, broken only by the red lining of his cloak and the colored gems on the clasp.

The study was relatively large, and richly-appointed; the extra desks in the space had the look of newer additions, though. Thea and Lyanna sat at them; the latter nodded as they entered, giving them all a small smile.

“Sit wherever," Vi said. He sat on one side of his desktop, entirely unconcerned when Reynard took the chair at it and propped his feet up on the other side.

Mercer did as Vi suggested, taking a seat across from Vi, and smiled back at Thea and Lyanna. Thea was smiling rather brightly, but Mercer supposed it would be difficult to wipe the smile from her face.

“Man, that was the longest ride I've ever had to take to get here," he stated, leaning back in his chair in a rather relaxed position. He had both arms spread over the top, and he didn't bother to sit at all like an envoy to the Emperor. “So, how's everything holding up on this end?" he decided to open with that. It couldn't be easy for Vi. Now that he was Emperor, Mercer undoubtedly knew that the struggle would only intesify from here on out.

“Oh, and congratulations on becoming Emperor. And you, too, Thea. You'll be Empress soon, right?" he asked, eyes glancing towards Vi. He figured they'd want to get married as soon as possible just to solidify their intentions, but he couldn't be too sure.

“Another month or so," Vi replied, answering the last part first with a smile. “Even then everyone's convinced it's too short a notice to prepare a proper ceremony." He snorted, surely unconcerned with such things, but he was smiling, too. “I refuse to wait any longer than that, however."

Lyanna chuckled softly where she seemed to be working through some documents.

“As to the rest, well. The entire Council of Seven is about to mutiny, but they're scrambling at the moment. The people—and soliders included—are a little too excited about the change, and the upcoming events, to be terribly enthusiastic about a war right now. Eventually that will wear off, and they'll make a move, but for now I'm taking full advantage of my popularity and the stories flying around about my mysterious and lovely fiancée."

He said it lightly, but it was actually a pretty clever move, looked at one way. If he didn't have much actual power to work with, the smart thing to do was gain support, so that when and if he and the Council came to loggerheads, popular opinion would be on his side. It could be leverage for some less-powerful nobles to swing their support his way, and that could be the start of something.

“So... I'm trying to take advantage before someone tries to undercut it somehow. What about yourself?" He arched an inquiring eyebrow at Mercer.

Mercer pursed his lips together. “It's been difficult, for sure," he spoke with a heavy sigh. “We've been dealing with the nobles of the Roundtable. Some of them want to go to war against you," which wasn't all that surprising. With the presence of Imperial troops in the Alliance, it raised a lot of metaphorical hackles with the nobles. It had taken a great deal convincing them that it wasn't going to be like that for long.

“Gloucester, oddly, seems to have no opinion on the matter. It's like he's waiting for something," he continued. Gloucester was always a strange man, but as of late, he's been acting stranger. Moreso than when he'd first received the letter from Alaric. He furrowed his brows at the remembrance of his friend.

“Alaric is in Fódlan's Locket at the fortress," he stated. “I haven't heard from him in a while, though," and to say that he was worried was an understatement. Alaric was a seasoned general, but every messenger Mercer had sent had not returned. He didn't want to think the worst of them, but he'd stopped sending messengers to Alaric for the moment. He couldn't risk any more lives.

"I don't like that someone like that isn't getting into everyone's business publicly," Reynard remarked, narrowing red eyes. He could only be talking about Gloucester. "It can only mean he's trying to do so under the table."

Vridel grimaced. “You think he's working with the Flame Emperor or something?"

"I think now is a very strange time to not have an opinion," Reynard replied. "And a very bad time not to have good lines of communication with someone you trust." The last, he directed to Mercer. "I wouldn't be entirely surprised if the two were somehow connected. If they were, it would mean he's setting something in place instead of just biding time."

“That's what I'm afraid of," Mercer replied. “Alaric is the only one in the Alliance I can trust. If I don't have an open line of communication with him, who's to say something will reach him in time if something happened, or vice versa?" He really didn't want to have to tell Deirdre that her cousin was dead. And he didn't want news of his death to reach Sorcha. He promised her he'd live, and he was going to do everything in his power to honor that promise.

“I can't risk sending anyone else, though. Messengers aren't equipped to deal with assassins or combat in quite the same way as a soldier would. And it would be pretty obvious if I kept sending soldiers to Alaric that we were communicating. I'm trying to keep it so that our line of communication isn't infiltrated if that makes sense."

“I can't just move against Gloucester, either. Not without solid evidence of his misdeeds. He might not be the next Alliance Leader, but he holds a lot of sway with the others, especially Duke Edmund. He has the most influence of the other Lords." And if Edmund managed to sway even one person to go against Mercer...

Vi seemed to consider this for a moment, glancing once behind him before he sighed softly. “I think I can solve your problem," he said simply. “But it might just give me a few more."

Narrowing his eyes, though, he tilted his head at Mercer. “Before we get into the details here, though—have you heard anything from Sorcha yet?"

“I haven't." Mercer was worried about her because the last thing he'd heard was that she was on her way back to Faerghus, and that she'd intended to take the crown from her uncle. Even if she was just a year shy of being old enough, she was going to do something similar to what Vi had done, and demand it.

“She's... she has to be fine, though. I'm sure we would have heard something to suggest otherwise," and he didn't want to believe that something happened to her. Not while he still drew breath.

Vi hummed quietly, but if he thought any differently, he didn't express it. “Very well. I'll let you know if any information comes to me, at least. As to your other problem—take Reynard."

"Excuse me?" Rey asked flatly, blinking with dull surprise at Vi.

“It's the obvious answer, isn't it? You're not a soldier type, not publicly connected to Mercer, able to disguise yourself, and quite capable of outfoxing any assassins that should try to come after you. You're also astute enough to grasp the importance of the situation and understand why I'm asking this of you, are you not?"

Reynard sighed heavily. "Of course I am. That doesn't mean it's not a stupid idea. Who's going to make sure assassins don't outfox you?"

“Me, of course. And Thea. And Lady Lyanna. Mercer can't run his own messages. You're the smart choice."

Vi had a good point, however; it left a bitter taste in Mercer's mouth. “Smart or not, we really don't know what we're up against. I can't let Rey do that. I can't let him risk himself like that, no matter how skilled you may be, Rey," he spoke, turning his attention to Reynard. While Mercer wouldn't deny that Reynard was skilled, they didn't know who was killing the messengers. Mercer couldn't risk his friend, either.

But he needed that open line just as badly.

Taking in a deep breath, he regarded Reynard with pursed lips. “I'll agree only if you do, as well. You know the kind of danger you'll be putting yourself in, but... if you'd rather not." There was an option either way that Reynard could take.

Oddly enough, Reynard actually scoffed at him, a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth. "I think you fundamentally misunderstand me, von Riegan. I didn't choose this profession because I much value my safety." There was a thread of amusement in his tone, friendly affection, even—perhaps he found Mercer's sentiments to be warming. But it was at odds with the glint in his eye, the way his smile gradually broadened into something wolfish.

"Now that we're all done with classes and exams, I think I could use the fieldwork, actually." Were he anyone else, the comment might have sounded derisive, but Mercer knew without Reynard ever having said it directly that he had greatly valued his time at the Academy. Still... he'd probably come in with a lot more knowledge than most of them had had back then, which suggested some experience with fieldwork, as it were.

"Give me enough time, and I might even be able to tell you who's killing your messengers."

“I guess I'll have to find a way to compensate you, greatly, then," Mercer spoke, a smile stretching across his face. It turned into something a little more sly, though. “And don't go falling in love with Alaric. He's a good-looking guy, but he's a bit of a blockhead. Unless," he paused, his grin stretching further across his face, “you'd like that to be your compensation. In all seriousness, though, thanks Rey." Even if he was a professional, Mercer would always worry about his friends. Perhaps he really was as sentimental as he'd said he was?

“I'll need you to go to the fortress out in Fódlan 's Locket as soon as you can."

"Worry not about the honor of your friend. Vast sums of gold will suffice as payment." Reynard arched an eyebrow, but brought his feet down off the desk and stood. "I suppose I'd best prepare." He fixed his eyes on Vridel. "So help me, if you get yourself killed while I'm not here to babysit you I will find you in the Eternal Flames so I can kill you again."

Vi laughed. “Deal. And good luck, Rey."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1181 - Great Tree Moon - Saturday the 17th
Fódlan 's Locket - Evening - Overcast
Alaric Goneril


Two weeks.

It's been two weeks since Alaric last heard anything from Mercer, and that had him honestly worried. The last message he'd received was the one that told him of the attack on the monastery. Mercer was still alive, and had latched himself to his grandfather's hip to help with the negotiations with the Empire. But that was the last thing he'd heard. Sighing softly, he ran a hand through his hair, shaking loose a few of the strands as they came to rest over his shoulders. He hoped Mercer was doing alright, and that the lack of letters and orders was due to something that held him up.

That, or something was happening and he wasn't aware of it. If that were the case, Alaric felt conflicted. He had been trusted to guard this place in case something happened, but he also wanted to make sure everyone else was alright. His cousin, Mercer, and everyone else in the Alliance who had been his friend. Even Senka. He hadn't received any letters from her except the last one that told him of how she'd figured out who she actually loved. Alaric had been happy for her, but that was the last he'd heard from her.

His thoughts were interrupted when a guard approached him, face pulled into a deep frown. “Lord Goneril, there's someone at the gate who requests your presence," he spoke, causing Alaric to furrow his brows. Who would be here at this time of night to see him, specifically? He nodded, pulling his coat, trimmed in black fur, over his shoulders. When he approached the gate, he felt his eyes narrow slightly at the man.

“From my understanding, you are looking for Lord Goneril?" he stated, tilting his head slightly as he regarded the man. “I am he. What can I do for you?"

The man was dressed in the manner of a hunter or some other sort of outdoorsman: serviceable, heavy-duty garments in muted colors. When Alaric approached, he pushed off his cowl and pulled down the scarf covering his nose and mouth, revealing a shag of dark hair and a curious pair of eyes—nearly crimson. He smiled, the expression oddly mirthless, almost lupine.

"A Duke who calls himself a Lord, come to meet an unknown visitor on the cusp of night?" he sounded amused. "You don't scare easy, do you, Your Grace? I could be an assassin for all you know." He did not, however, make any kind of move to draw either the powerful-looking bow over his back nor the visible dagger at his hip, instead crossing his arms over his chest.

"Care to offer a humble huntsman shelter for a night?" He tilted his head, something behind the words.

Alaric furrowed his brows. Was he not supposed to meet visitors who came for him? Deirdre had always said it was the proper thing for a Lord to do, and he just assumed it was correct. He shook his head, though.

“I'm afraid this isn't an inn. We do not have beds comfortable enough for a passing hunter, however," he paused to contemplate the options. It was a cold night, and no doubt this man had traveled a long ways. He couldn't just leave him out, even with the chance of rain on the horizon.

“If you do not mind a small, uncomfortable bed, you are more than welcome to rest here, if you'd like." He wasn't going to turn the man away simply because he'd mentioned assassins. Alaric wasn't fearless, per se, but there were few things that he did fear. Assassins were not one of them, and it was obvious enough that this man was not one. At least Alaric didn't think he was. If his good heart is what ended up getting him killed, well... he'd have to apologize to Mercer and Deirdre, somehow.

The man looked properly surprised for a moment, then sketched a rough bow. "I can handle small and uncomfortable, Your Grace. Many thanks."

As they made their way away from the gate and its guards, though, he spoke again in a low voice. "Mercer didn't tell me you lacked any sense of self-preservation," he said with a sigh. "Anywhere around here free of ears? I've got a message."

“Mercer?" he spoke, pausing in his steps as he felt both of his brows raise in surprise. “Oh, uh, of course. This way," he turned down a hallway and led the man straight to his personal quarters. No one ever bothered him there, and most people would be out on patrol or in the dining hall eating what dinner they could make for themselves. When they entered his room, he motioned for the man to follow him to a desk that sat neatly in the corner, and motioned for him to take a seat.

“Tell me, what news have you from Mercer?" he asked, taking a seat on the other side.

The man shook his head, seeming faintly incredulous for some reason, but he did divest himself of his cloak—a humble, mottled green-and-brown thing—and take the seat he was offered. "There isn't much of a message this time," he admitted, lifting one leg to cross his ankle over the opposite knee. "Except that he's tried to send you several other messengers, which you have presumably not received. As such, he's resorted to, well, me." He shrugged.

So Mercer had been trying to reach him, after all. Alaric sighed, slumping into his chair, perhaps not what a Lord should be doing, however; he couldn't bring himself to exactly hold himself to that right now. Something, however, did cross his mind, and he immediately fixed his posture.

“Forgive me, but it seems I did not introduce myself properly," he began, though it was a bit late, now. The man knew his name, but Alaric did not know the man's. “Since you know my name, perhaps you'd be so kind as to grace me with yours? And if it is... easier, you may just call me Alaric. Mostly everyone does," since the use of Lord or Duke was usually reserved for the meetings at the Roundtable. Alaric didn't mind people referring to him by his given name. Mercer, after all, did the same.

The man across from him looked rather amused, tilting his head to the side and simply studying him for a moment, it seemed. There was something unreadable about him, something that seemed complex and not quite as he presented, but it was hard to tell if the feeling was caused by anything genuine.

"Reynard Voigt," he said after a moment. "I was a... classmate, of Mercer's, at the Academy. Reynard or Rey are both fine."

Alaric nodded his head. The name was nice either way it was stated, and he would respect Reynard's wishes and address him as such. “It is a pleasure to meet an acquaintance of Mercer's. A friend of his is a friend of mine," he stated, feeling the corners of his lips tilt up in a small smile. For a moment, he hoped it didn't look strange to Reynard. Deirdre had said that his smiles usually were, and he did not want to disturb his new friend.

“So, tell me, Reynard," he began, leaning back into his chair and folding his hands in front of him. “I take it Mercer is using you to his advantage as a messenger? Am I to relay messages to you, and in turn, you'll deliver them to him and so forth?" he asked. If that were the case, he could see the logic behind Mercer's method. Reynard had, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be a hunter. Alaric liked to believe himself capable of seeing through a deception like that, however; it seemed that he still had a bit of ways to go.

"That was the stated plan," Reynard said, folding his arms over his chest again and narrowing his eyes assessingly. "However... if I might make an amendment, I would like to propose an additional task for the time in between, or at least the segment of it that I spend here."

He did not immediately elaborate, clearly awaiting permission to do so. It would seem that despite Alaric's own tendency to avoid formality, he was still inclined to observe some of the niceties.

“Of course. What may I help you with?" Alaric asked. He wasn't sure what else he could do, or what Reynard could do. If all they wanted Reynard to do was deliver messages, he supposed it should have been sufficient enought, however; he wouldn't deny that it left him a bit at odds with himself. That meant putting a person in danger, and though this was a time of war, Alaric did not feel comfortable doing that. In his academy years, he'd managed to win the Battle of Lion and Eagle with little to no casualties in the Golden Deer house. He supposed he and Mercer were quite alike in that aspect.

Reynard snorted softly. "Actually, Your Grace, I believe it is I who can help you." He leaned back in his chair, casually withdrew the dagger from his belt, and gave it an almost lazy toss.

It was pinpoint-accurate, embedding itself into the back of Alaric's chair not an inch from his head. It might have actually clipped off a few strands of his hair. "Congratulations. Today is your lucky day. I am in fact a messenger sent by Mercer, and not a false one sent by Gloucester, or one of his ilk. If I were, you would be very dead, you see?" He raised an eyebrow, something in his expression almost challenging Alaric to disagree.

Alaric blinked slowly in Reynard's direction, head tilting to the side. “So, you being not an assassin is helping me?" Alaric was confused. How was this going to help him? If anything, it just meant that Reynard was going to make a very good messenger since he knew how to handle himself, it seemed.

“Forgive my lack of awareness, but how does that help me?"

For a moment, Reynard just blinked at him, apparently quite unsure of how best to explain. "You—" he sighed. "You need a bodyguard, Your Grace. More importantly, you need an awareness of your own safety that you currently lack. While I am sure your vassals have a great appreciation for your informality and willingness to do things personally, it is in fact currently a liability to the Alliance, and to Mercer. As such, you should learn ways to be more cautious while preserving your... approach. I believe I can be of value in this. I am, in fact, an assassin by trade. I can teach you to protect yourself from them. And do so myself, when I'm about."

Alaric didn't think so, that he was a liability to either. Perhaps Mercer because they were friends, and he knew how protective of friends Mercer was. But Alaric wasn't all too valuable to the Alliance to warrant being worried about his own safety. Maybe his mindset was wrong, but he supposed Reynard made a fair point. Right now, Mercer needed every able body he could get to prepare for the war that would, undoubtedly come.

“I will agree on the condition you do not address me as Your Grace, or Lord or Duke," he spoke. It was a fair trade in Alaric's mind, though really, it seemed just slightly more in Alaric's favor. He didn't mind, much, oddly enough.

Reynard snorted. "As you wish, then... milord."

Alaric chuckled lightly. “I suppose it serves me right for suggesting you call me anything other than what I'd said. If at all you decide to call me Alaric, I shall be most..." he felt an odd feeling, then. “It shall make me happy, I suppose. I look forward to our mutual partnership, Reynard Voigt."

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1181 - Great Tree Moon - Monday the 26th
Enbarr Castle - Midmorning - Light Rain
Vridel von Hresvelg


Personally, Vridel thought it rather silly that he could not share quarters with Thea for another few weeks, but he supposed that for the sake of her reputation, he was more than willing to remain separately-quartered, for now. It had become something of a routine for him to check on her just after brunch, and for the two of them to perhaps slip away for a walk or some other form of time alone, and he relished these opportunities, because with all the work they both had to do, they were relatively few.

It would be that way for a while, he supposed, even after the wedding. But in a way that was one of the reasons he most looked forward to it. Because when she moved into the royal suites, they would at least have evenings and sleep to themselves, which would perhaps help alleviate the keen sense of annoyance he felt sometimes, when it was the middle of the day and he'd not seen her for several hours. He supposed that really such things were normal, and that the odd pace of life at the Academy was what was stranger, when they spent most every afternoon and all of Saturday and most Sundays in the same company.

But, well, he thought perhaps his unique circumstances and limited time entitled him to a bit of avarice—greed for the mere fact of her presence. Absurdly, he found himself brushing down his clothes, making sure everything was tidy, before raising his hand to knock at the door. The woman had agreed to be his wife, and sometimes he still worried a little bit about looking his best for her. Perhaps it wasn't a bad thing, even if some echo of his old self sneered at who he was now with disdain.

“Just a moment," he heard her call from the other side. It was only a second later before the door opened to reveal her, and she blinked at him with a large smile on her face. She glanced around as if ensuring they were free of any eyes before she grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him down to her level. She placed a chaste kiss to his lips before she let go of him, and took a step back.

“Good morning, Vi," she greeted, still smiling up at him. “Is it time for our walk?" she asked, her head tilting to the side.

He was really, really going to enjoy getting used to this.

At some point, she might move away from chaste kisses by way of greeting, and then he would be simultaneously the luckiest and most tortured man in the world, he was sure of it. He wasn't in any particular hurry, though. Thea did things at her own pace, as she was comfortable, and that was what he wanted more than anything else.

He grinned at her, perhaps a bit stupidly, and nodded, straightening back to his proper height. “It is," he replied. “I thought we might go to the west gardens today; they're a little more private." He lifted a hand, trailing along the line of her jaw with a fingertip. “Away from prying eyes. I do wonder what we might get up to."

It was unlikely that were he here, Reynard would approve of isolating themselves, but he was a fussy mother hen sort; Vridel was confident in their ability to defend themselves if necessary, and tired of being followed around, even by the few members of the guard he knew he could trust. He didn't think it was too much to ask, to steal a little time away with the person he loved.

She grinned at him as she took his arm. “Well, let's get to it, then," she stated in a rather chipper tone, as if she were excited to spend alone time with him. Perhaps she was, as she'd voiced as much not too long before everything happened. “And who knows," she spoke, her voice becoming low as her eyes narrowed slyly at him. “Maybe I get to learn something new with you, today," she stated with an arched brow.

He arched his right back, more than a little pleased by her open flirting. Really, it was sometimes hard to believe this was the same woman who'd turned flame-red at the lightest implications before. When she even recognized them.

“Not that I'm already learning new things," she murmured that part, though, and her brows furrowed. A reference, perhaps, to all of the things she'd need to learn about the Empire. She shook her head, though, and the smile returned to her face as she glanced up at him.

“And it's going to be worth every second that I spent away from you, because then that just means I'm learning part of your history, too," she spoke.

He had to genuinely admire that about her—Thea had taken to studying the Empire's history, culture, economy, and so on with great gusto and enthusiasm. Within a year or two, he thought she'd be as informed as any Imperial spouse ever had been—certainly moreso than his mother had been. Then again, he supposed she'd never really counted as a spouse per se.

“Speaking of my history," he said, guiding them out of the castle and onto the garden path, “my father would like to have tea again this afternoon, if you're amenable." Ionius seemed rather charmed by Thea, which was quite understandable, and the three of them along with Lady Lyanna had somehow fallen into the habit of weekly teas.

Vridel couldn't say he minded, exactly. He'd never been close with his father, and Ionius's foibles as a ruler had made things difficult in certain ways, but at the same time he was a frail man, put in his position by his Crest, not any particular desire to be Emperor, and Vridel could not blame him for the way things had been done for centuries. He supposed his father loved him, in a distant sort of way, and supposed he could say the same. Perhaps as they both neared the ends of their lives, there would be time for something more than that to grow between them.

“I think he might ask you about grandchildren this time, though, so do be prepared for that." He shot a sly glance at her from the corner of his eye.

Her brow arched slightly, but her face was turning a recognizeable shade of red. She cleared her throat softly, though, and shook her head. “Well I suppose I should ask how many does he want?" she shot back, a strange grin forming on her lips. “I mean... it wouldn't be out of the question, would it? There would need to be at least one little Vi roaming around before..." she paused, her smile falling from her face as her eyes shifted to the ground. It was clear where her thoughts had gone. She was referring to his early death, and how he wouldn't be around forever.

“Sorry, I didn't mean for that to turn the way it did," she spoke, shaking her head and forcing the smile back to her face. “I'm sure if it's in our future, there will be one, but... for now, I want to be selfish and steal all your time for myself," she stated, her hand squeezing his arm rather tightly before she loosened her grip.

Vridel drew to a stop there, shifting so that he could crouch in front of her. It dragged his silks on the dirt, but he hadn't a thought to spare for it; this angle let him catch her eyes, and he set a crooked index finger beneath her chin, expression soft.

“It's all right to talk about, when you need to," he said gently. “I won't pretend it's easy, Thea, but I also don't want to pretend it isn't true." It hurt, of course, to know their time together was so intrinsically limited. Sometimes terrified him, simply because he wanted so very much to live. For her especially. But it reminded him, too, that not one moment should be taken for granted, and he knew because of it that he could never take her for granted.

He smiled slightly, and shifted the topic a little bit. “I like that idea, though," he said, grinning broadly. “You stealing all my time. But I do wonder what you intend to do with it, hm? I hear I can be pretty demanding; I hope you're willing to pay me rather a lot of attention."

It was enough to bring a small smile to her face, it seemed. She huffed lightly and leaned to place her forehead against his. “Always. And I'm sure there are ways to fill our time, together, though I want to spend most of it like this," she stated, pulling him up by the collar of his shirt to catch his lips with hers. It wasn't chaste like it was earlier. It was more demanding, more forceful and if anything, more aggressive than she usually was. Perhaps in a way, it was her way of conveying her feelings to him, and that she meant what she'd said. She only pulled away when the need for air became great, and she regarded him with a large grin on her face.

“You're not the only one who's demanding, Vridel Brandt von Hresvelg," she stated, almost as if she were happy to have learned his middle name. “I do like being able to say your name," she began, leaning her face closer to his so that her lips were beside his ear. “In more ways than one," she whispered before she nipped his ear and pulled back suddenly as if she'd done nothing at all.

“We should get going, though, if we're going to meet your father for tea," she stated, smiling almost innocently at him.

He wasn't just going to let her get away with that, though, and Vridel stood abruptly, lifting her with him. This had the delightful side effect of necessitating that his hands rest on her backside, and he made a point of giving her a playful swat as he leaned forward to capture her lips with his. “He's not expecting us for another hour. If you think I'm going to miss the chance to spend every minute of that hour with you, Amalthea Elaine von Kreuz, you've got another thing coming." He shifted aside to brush his lips along her jaw, back towards her neck, pausing only to murmur, low and raspy, in her ear.

“This time next month, you're going to be Amalthea von Hresvelg," he said, squeezing her tighter against him. The thought lit him up inside, a giddy joyousness bubbling through his veins that he swore he'd never felt before in his life. Not until her. Not until this.

He was just committing himself in earnest to lavishing the graceful column of her neck with his attention when a glint in the corner of his eye caught his attention; Vridel moved automatically, shifting his grip on Thea so she was more securely held to him and pivoting. The bite of an arrow in his shoulder swiftly turned numb, and it was no great difficulty to guess there was venom on the barbed arrowhead.

Fuck," he hissed, setting her down because he no longer had the strength to hold her. “Thea—" his vision blurred, her face becoming indistinct. “Watch out—poison."

“Vridel," she called out his name, and immediately there was a hand on his shoulder. She was either applying pressure to the wound, or using what light magic she had to try and counter the effects of the poison. It seemed she was trying to use restore with her Crest as there was a faint glow near her heart.

“Vridel are you alright?" she asked, her voice full of worry, but she seemed calm despite the danger they were in. “We're not armed," she continued, her eyes glancing around as if to see where the arrow had come from. “Tell me what you need me to do, Vi. I'll help you," she spoke, already bracing herself against him. She was stronger than her physique suggested, which is, perhaps, the only reason she was able to support him.

He suspected, though could not be sure, that the arrow had been meant not for him, but for his beloved.Truthfully, Vridel thought this more than anything was keeping him semi-lucid, though the fact that he was conscious was entirely due to her magic. “Father," he said, trying to grind out a thought he couldn't quite express. “Have to get to—father and—Lyanna."

“Alright, let's go to them," she stated, shifting him slightly as if to get a better grip on him. She shouldered most of his weight as they made their way towards where they usually met his father and Lady Lyanna for tea. They weren't moving as fast as they could be, but that was mostly due to the residual poison in his system that Amalthea hadn't been able to remove. She seemed to be doing her utmost care to make sure she didn't rush him, or cause him pain in anyway, but it was evident in her face that she was concerned and trying to hurry.

When they arrived, Amalthea's eyes widened slightly. “Vi... Vi what's going on?"

It took him a moment to figure out how to answer. He couldn't quite seem to make his eyes focus, and when he did—

Red.

There was red everywhere. On the rugs, spattered on the walls—

In the pale grey of his father's hair.

Vridel felt himself stop breathing. His father was... it couldn't be. Not like this. His father was an ill man, it was true, but he'd always been an ill man and it wasn't—it wasn't supposed to be like this. He was supposed to be safer now, the crown no longer on his head, and yet... and yet someone had murdered him in his own chambers. Broad slashes, slow-bleeding things, with the cutting side of a wo dao or other single-edged bade, just like the ones he—

“Thea! Vridel!" Lady Lyanna's voice cut through his haze at the same moment the realization snapped into place. This was it. This was the Council's master stroke. They intended to kill everyone he'd ever loved... and blame him for it.

Thea's sister hurried towards them, unharmed but for what seemed to be a healing cut on her cheek. “Thank the goddess you—" She came close enough to see into the chamber and gasped. “The Grand Duke?" She took a step forward, almost as if to try and save him, but realized no doubt in the very next moment that there was nothing to be done.

“You have to get out of here," Vridel said dully, straightening so he wasn't leaning on Thea so much. “If this is their plan, it's already succeeded. I'm sure they have the judge lined up to strip me of my titles and have me hanged for murder." It was admirably simple, actually. A bloodbath, the extermination of his tiny unit of support, with his own legal execution at the end. No one would support him if they thought he'd killed his father, fiancée, and future sister in law.

He hadn't expected anything this bold. Duke Aegir he'd thought much too conservative for something so...

“It's almost poetic, isn't it?" The modulated voice was chillingly-familiar. Vridel whirled, magic wavering at his fingertips, to face the Flame Emperor. He was flanked by no less than three dozen soldiers, staring them down with the blank, masked visage. “Ambition moves you to monstrosity, and the Hresvelg who tried to escape his roots becomes the one who burned his own family tree to ashes."

“Thea, Lyanna—run. You know where to." Or Lyanna did, at least. It was something he'd made her promise him.

Thea's grip on his arm, tightened, though, and she shook her head. “I'm not leaving you, Vridel," she spoke, though her eyes were wide with fear. Of what, he couldn't say. For him, for the Flame Emperor before them? “I told you, whatever it is, we're going to face it together," she stated, her eyes shifting towards Lyanna as if to silently plead to stay.

“I can't... I won't leave you," she continued before her focus went towards the man before them. “You're not going to get away with this!" she nearly shouted, her gaze narrowing slightly.

“We are," he said gently. “And Lyanna knows where to meet me. But for now, we have to get out of here, and I can delay them the easiest. Besides... I know my way around the castle." He honestly wasn't sure if he'd make it to any of the passages he knew, but even if he didn't... he'd be damn sure she had.

“Thea, he's right. We have to go or we'll just be in the way of his escape." Lyanna drew her sister away, using a surprising amount of strength to do it. Vridel stepped away, too, lighting another spell in his newly-free hand.

“But... Lyanna, I can't. I can't just..." something caught in her throat as she glanced at Lyanna. Her attention went back to Vridel, and he could see the moisture building behind them. She blinked, and it was gone, however; her eyes were still fixed with his. “Please stay safe, Vridel. Please," she sounded almost desperate in her plea before she turned towards Lyanna. There was something in the way she stood, though, the way her shoulders were shaking slightly that gave way to her worry.

“I believe in you, Vi. I... I love you," she whispered before she took hold of Lyanna's hand. “Let's... let's go. Before I can't. Before I change my mind."

“I love you, too." He didn't know if she heard, didn't know if she could've, but he needed to say it, properly, at least once more.

It wasn't until he could hear Thea and Lyanna's footsteps receding that Vridel threw the first spell. he Flame Emperor seemed to have been expecting him to say something—certainly he gave no indication that he cared about the retreat in progress. The first spell just barely caught his mask, the second hitting him in the chest and staggering him. The mask fell—and Vridel froze.

“Volkard? You're the Flame Emperor?"

It fit, in a way, of course. And yet still through the haze of poison Vridel felt... dull surprise. He'd half expected that other man, Thales—the one who'd killed the Professor and Sir Jeralt. What was the connection?

“Well. I suppose this does complicate things." Volkhard stooped to retrieve the mask, brushing away a bit of dirt from the interior. “I can't have you talking, now can I? You never could just do as you were told, Vridel. Of all your siblings, that it was you that survived..." He heaved a sigh.

“Regrettable. If only I had such a pliable pawn as Cornelia does."

Cornelia? Wasn't that—

“But now, I fear, you'll simply have to die on the spot."

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1181 - Great Tree Moon - Monday the 26th
Outside Enbarr Castle - Late Evening - Rain
Amalthea von Kreuz


Where was he?

Amalthea was tense, fear coursing through her as they waited for Vridel to arrive. He'd told them that he would meet them, that he'd known his way around the castle. But where was he? She toyed with the ring at her finger, twisting it back and forth in an almost soothing motion as she tried to calm herself. It was late, and he still hadn't arrived.

“Lyanna," she called out, glancing towards her sister. “Lyanna, what do we do? He hasn't... he's not," she couldn't get her thoughts together to say what she wanted to. It was getting late, and he still wasn't there. Maybe he got caught up by something? Maybe he was just making sure he wasn't being followed, and he'd show up with a flourish and that smile of his that Amalthea loved.

Maybe...

Lyanna had passed their vigil mostly in silence. It was easy for Amalthea to tell she was worried; it was there in the crease in her brow, the uncertain cast of her features, however hard she might try to smooth them over and appear more neutral.

The two of them stood under an awning outside what seemed to be a local restaurant. It was a brick and mortar edifice; Lyanna had spoken with the owner for a minute when they first arrived, and they hadn't been disturbed since—not by staff and not by passers-by either, though they had surely drawn attention, for their appearances if nothing else. Both of them were dressed very well, and both Sunny and Lyanna's pegasus Euphemia were clearly of excellent stock, currently stabled at the inn next door.

“I don't—I don't know, Thea," she said softly, turning her eyes away from the street to meet Amalthea's own. Rain pattered softly on the awning, muting the sounds of late-evening life around them. “He said... when we spoke of this, he said to me that we should leave if he did not join us within a few hours. I don't—I don't know how safe it is to stay much longer, especially if—" She flinched, the end of the sentence obvious in the same way Amalthea's had been.

Amalthea felt a tug at her heart. He wasn't dead. He survived, somehow. He had to have. She didn't want to believe that he'd died while she ran away and did nothing. She pushed the thought far from her mind as she turned her gaze back out towards the street, looking for the familiar shade of white hair to appear. She could feel it becoming harder to breath, but she wouldn't allow her tears to fall. It hurt not knowing if he was okay, or if he was safe. How could she have left him behind? She should have stayed, should have helped, should have...

“We can't leave. We have to wait... please, just a little longer," she stated, turning towards Lyanna with pleading eyes. She could feel her heartbeat increase its pace, and it felt like someone was strangling it. Drowning it in sorrow and pain and everything else she didn't want to believe was there. Pain. Grief. Sorrow. She just wanted to know, needed to know that Vridel was safe.

She took in a shuddering breath. “Please? Can we stay just a moment longer?"

Lyanna grimaced; the conflict was plain on her face.

At that moment, the restaurant owner she'd spoken to previously appeared, bearing a tray of small sandwiches and sweets. “Pardon me, miss, but... I thought y'might be gettin' hungry." He was an older fellow, rotund in the way that sometimes happened to a good cook, with grey whiskers in his dark red beard and a shaved head.

Lyanna pursed her lips slightly, but then offered the man a smile. “We were, actually. I suppose we can stay long enough to have a little something to eat."

With a genial smile, the man set the tray down on one of the wrought-iron tables beneath the awning. “Be right back with somethin' t' drink," he promised.

“I'm not sure we can—" Lyanna grimaced.

He seemed to understand, though, and shook his head. “Any friend o' the Emperor's is a friend o' mine, and I don't charge m' friends." He ducked back inside, leaving the two of them to be seated. Lyanna did so with some reluctance, gathering her skirts about her and turning her eyes back out towards the streets.

“It's been so long," she murmured.

Amalthea wasn't sure she had the will to eat, right now. She wasn't hungry; she was worried about Vridel. So very worried. She could feel the bottom of her lip quiver slightly as she tried to suppress it. Tried to keep the tears back, but it seemed to no avail. They streaked down, warm against her face as they fell from her chin. Lyanna was right, of course. It's been hours since they left. And Vridel hadn't shown up. He was... he was on his way. She tried to convince herself of this.

He was on his way, going to surprise her and then they could run to wherever they could. To Mercer, to Sorcha. Somewhere. Anywhere. For a brief moment, Amalthea wondered if this was how Lyanna felt. How worried she must be not knowing if the person she loved was safe? Amalthea swallowed thickly, her shoulders shaking with the force of her silent sobs.

“Lyanna..." she choked out, reaching towards her sister. “He's not... he's not..." she couldn't finish her sentence. He couldn't be dead, could he? They had dreams they were supposed to accomplish. They had to change the world, together, so that... so that when the time finally came, he could go in a world that he could be proud of. Not like this... not like...

Lyanna nibbled absently on one of the sandwiches, seemingly not all that interested in eating either. If anything, it seemed she'd taken the excuse to stay a little longer. When Thea spoke, though, her sister's eyes returned to her, wide and soft in the dim light of the magical streetlamps around them. Immediately, she dropped her sandwich back to the plate and reached for Amalthea, all but pulling her into her lap. It was something she'd done often when Amalthea was smaller, and she tucked her chin on her sister's head, wrapping slender arms around her with strength that was always a little surprising.

“He's not," she said softly. “He's not, Thea. I may not know him quite so well as you do, but I know enough. Vridel is a clever man, and a resourceful one. He knew enough to plan a way out for us. Surely he knew enough to plan one for himself, too. It may not be safe for him to meet up with us, but that doesn't mean he's gone."

She wanted to believe Lyanna. To believe that Vridel was still alive, but that didn't stop the sob that tore through her throat. Amalthea felt herself drowning in her tears, holding her face into Lyanna's shoulder, and clenching tightly to her sister's blouse.

“Ly... Lyanna, I don't... I can't leave him, not yet," she choked out. She didn't want to leave at all, but she was trying to put herself in Vridel's shoes. He would have wanted her to stay safe. Away from those who would try to harm her and her sister. He'd told her that it was going to be difficult being his wife, being with him, but Amalthea had chosen this. She'd chosen to be with him regardless of the danger. Regardless of what she'd have to face in order to be with him, but this...

“Where will we go?" she asked, glancing up at her sister with tear-filled eyes. She tried to blink them away, but found she had not the strength to do so.

Lyanna exhaled softly, using the tips of her fingers to carefully brush away Amalthea's tears. “When we talked about this, Vridel suggested Garreg Mach," she said gently. “You've seen the condition it's in, of course, but... the monastery and the town have been all but cleared out in the past month. The imperial army has no need to keep an eye on it, and... in some way, it's the last place our enemies would look." She pursed her lips, seemingly trying to bolster herself.

“I don't know what's become of anyone else, but... I do know that there are many friends who might think to come by that place. And if we can be there, to greet them and hear news, then we might be able to share it with others. And I think that will be our best chance of finding him again."

Amalthea swallowed thickly, taking in a shuddering breath to keep more tears from falling. “We... we did promise to meet in five years," she spoke, perhaps the only thing that could keep her going. “Garreg Mach..." she continued, pushing a light sigh from her nose. She didn't think she'd ever be back there, again. Not because she didn't want to visit, but because of what it reminded her of. But maybe that's what she needed? The constant reminder?

“We should..." she choked out, trying to steel her voice as she tried again. “We should go, Lyanna. Before... before anything else happens."

Nothing else could happen. Amalthea would not be able to bear anything else.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

0.00 INK



Image


I.Y. 1182 - Garland Moon - Thursday the 11th
Rodrigue's Estate - Early Morning - Clear
Senka Rinaldi


A year.

Has it really been more than a year since that happened? Senka blinked slowly, turning her attention forward as she and Sorcha walked towards the stables. Devon and Sylvi were supposed to meet them there so they could go to the meeting point at Cornelia's suggestion. Almost a year ago, Rufus had seized the throne with support from the other Noble Houses. She and Sorcha were forced to flee to Rodrigue, the only person left they could trust, and for nearly a year, they'd been fighting. Did it ever end? Would it ever end?

She doubted it. It seemed, for as long as she could remember, that's all they ever did was fight. But maybe... maybe she didn't have to? The thought was forced out of her mind as she glanced towards Sorcha. She was still alive; she still needed Senka, because she was the only one Sorcha had left. Mercer was in the Alliance doing what he could to gather support and troops, and Vridel... she wasn't sure what became of him. Amalthea and Lyanna had disappeared after the incident in the Empire, and there hasn't been any word of them.

And it's been so long...

When they finally arrived at the stables, she spotted Sylvi and Devon, the former holding onto his hand as if she were telling him something. It seemed important to Sylvi, and Senka cleared her throat softly to announce their arrival. She glanced in their direction and offered them a tired smile. Senka understood that kind of smile. She was so very tired, as well.

“Lady and Libi are both saddled and ready. I'll have the other two ready to go in just a moment," Sylvi spoke. Senka nodded her head softly as she turned to Sorcha.

“Are you sure about this, Sorcha?" she asked, tilting her head as she regarded her best friend. “If you're not... we don't have to go. We can stay with my uncle and figure something out," though in honesty, Senka didn't know what they could do by themselves. Their best shot was that Cornelia's plan would succeed, and Sorcha could reclaim the throne.

Sorcha pressed her lips together, thinning them into a line. The year had worn on her, in more than one way. While it had certainly been good for her effectiveness in battle, it had done little for her confidence, or her optimism. In fact, she seemed to be wearing down, something that had only grown worse after the news reached them from Enbarr of Volkhard's coup. He was the Emperor, now, apparently, and his invasions had resumed on both fronts. So far, the southern nobles of Faerghus were holding them off, but with the strife between Rodrigue and his fellow loyalists and Rufus's supporters in the north, the border was not going to hold forever.

“I don't think we can, Sen," she said softly, adjusting the bracer on her left hand. She slung her bow over her shoulder, expelling a heavy breath. “Cornelia says my uncle may be on the verge of seeing sense. If there's even a chance she can get us in to see him—to really talk to him—I have to take it."

She'd confided in Senka that she wasn't even sure how much she wanted the crown anymore. Wanting to reform her country was one thing, but when holding out for her right to the throne could see it all swept under Imperial rule, Sorcha was finding it hard to keep up the fight when so many lives were at stake. Lives they might be able to save by giving Rufus what he wanted.

Senka placed a hand on Sorcha's shoulder, trying to give her the comfort she needed, but couldn't even seem to muster it, herself. She dropped her hand to her side, and nodded. Sorcha was right, though. They had to take that chance, to at least talk with Rufus. If there was even a small chance at peace, even if it meant that Senka would never see Duscur again... she could live with that. Because it meant the rest of the people she cared about lived. It meant their lives would continue, and maybe she could finally join...

“Alright," she spoke softly. When Sylvi managed to saddle both horses for herself and Devon, they all mounted and Senka directed Libi towards Sorcha. “No matter what happens, Sorcha... you have to live, alright? I want you to promise me that you will," because even if she didn't, Sorcha would still have a future. She could go to Mercer, their last resort, and she would be safe.

“If things don't go as planned, if it turns out to be..." she paused to shake her head, “promise me you'll flee to Mercer." She needed that, more than anything, to steel what little nerves she had left. To keep the last part of her heart from completely numbing to the world around her.

Sorcha huffed softly, smiling faintly. It was more a melancholy expression than anything, but it was accompanied by the slightest nod. “I will," she said simply. “I have other promises to keep, after all, and I can't do that if I'm dead, you know?" The smile vanished, though, and she tilted her head much more seriously at Senka.

“I won't ask you to promise," she said softly. “But try, Sen. He would want that." Swallowing thickly, she spurred Lady forward, and took to the air.

How could she, though? Her reason to live was gone. There was no bringing him back. Even if that was something he'd want, she couldn't bring herself to do it. She was so very tired.

“I can't," she whispered softly before spurring Libi forward. Devon and Sylvi trailed behind her, Sorcha in the air, and it left Senka alone with her thoughts. A brief image of a small smile crossed her mind, and she felt something in her heart clench powerfully. It hurt so very much, and she brought a hand up to her chest where her heart was. She folded her hand over her heart and took a shuddering breath, pushing the image out of her mind. How could he break his promise to her? That... no matter what, he'd always be there for her?

He wasn't, isn't here when she needs him the most, now. More than she's ever needed anyone before.

The rest of their travel passed in silence, the occasional flap of Lady's wings overhead the only real sound Senka could process. It would only take them a few hours to get from Rodrigue's estate to the meeting place Cornelia suggested, but it felt like days to Senka. That's how it felt regardless. Minutes felt like hours; hours felt like days. Days felt like years.

“Senka, ahead," Sylvi spoke, pulling Senka from her thoughts as she glanced forward. They were nearing the meeting spot, but there didn't seem to be anyone there. Perhaps they were early, and Cornelia was running late. She glanced up towards where Sorcha was and furrowed her brows, waiting for her friend to land.

She circled a few more times, clearly trying to look for any sign of trouble, but after a moment more she landed, though she didn't dismount, instead guiding Lady over to the others on foot. “It's strange," she said quietly. “I'd have expected there to at least be some people around. I'm not sure it's a good idea for us to st—"

Sorcha was interrupted by a piercing equine shriek; beneath Senka, Libi lurched forward abruptly, an arrow protruding from his chest. It looked to have clipped Lady's wing, but missed its intended target, probably Sorcha.

Devon and Sorcha both immediately had their bows in hand; twin arrows fired back in the direction the bolt had come from. They struck true—an archer toppled from the roof of the building.

“What? I swear, he wasn't—" But it didn't even matter how the sentence ended, because more men were appearing from seemingly nowhere, all of them armed, all of them intent on the group.

Senka didn't even have time to process what was going on. Libi had an arrow in his chest, and he'd thrown her off. She'd managed to roll to her feet, but her eyes were on her Heart. Libi was on his side, and from the looks of it, he was struggling to get up. She reached out towards him, only for another arrow to whip past her, and found its mark in Libi's neck, followed by another one, and Libi moved no more. Senka's eyes widened as the soldiers all brandished their weapons, and at the front of them, a familiar woman stood.

Libi was gone.

She gripped Blutgang in her hands and stood, facing Céleste and her small army.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1182 - Garland Moon - Thursday the 11th
Fhirdiad Outskirts - Late Afternoon - Clear
Sorcha Blaiddyd


“Viscountess Kleiman?" Of all the people to appear here, so clearly intent on their capture or death, she had to admit she'd expected the Viscountess almost least of all. Céleste had seemed the power-hungry sort, to be sure, but there was scarcely an aristocrat in the Kingdom who wasn't. Even Rodrigue had his share of ambition, though he'd never let it harden him in the way some others had.

Unless—

Could he have something to do with this? The number of people who'd even known about this meeting was slim. If there was a traitor among them, it was from a small and very unlikely list.

As if in response, Devon raised his bow and fired at another of the soldiers from horseback. A reminder to Sorcha, that these at least were unquestionably her allies, her friends, and she needed to keep them alive. The meeting with Rufus was a bust, if it had ever been anything but a sham to begin with, and their job now was to escape alive. Easier said than done, with the thick rain of arrow fire, as though the soldiers had known she might try to take to the air.

She kept Lady grounded instead, firing back even as the main line of soldiers advanced. “Cover!" she shouted. “We need cover!" Else it would not only be poor Libi who was shot to death.

“A pleasure as always, Your Highness," Céleste spoke. Senka was engaged with no fewer than three soldiers, eyes full of rage and pain as she defended herself, but Céleste rose a hand to call back the attack. It only seemed for a moment, though, so she could speak. “Worry not, Sorcha. I am not here to kill you, yet," she spoke, her eyes shifting towards Senka.

“All you need to do is swear your fealty to me, Senka Rinaldi," she sneered, a smile pulling at her lips. How she knew Senka's surname, though, wasn't clear. “I've searched everywhere for you. Swear yourself to me, and I promise no harm will come to your dear princess," she continued, raising a sword in Sorcha's direction.

“I cannot guarantee her safety, nor theirs, if you do not." Senka visibly flinched as her eyes searched for Sorcha's.

What? What in the Eternal Flames was this woman talking about? Still—maybe the thing to do right now was to keep her talking. It might buy some time...

Sorcha met eyes with Devon, quickly flicking hers to Sylvi and hoping he understood before addressing Céleste. “What do you mean, swear herself? Sen's not anyone's vassal, and you're out of your mind if you think we'd ever jeopardize the chance of a free Duscur to make things easier for me." It was the principle she held most strongly to, the one reason she was still fighting for her throne at all, really. Because she'd promised Senka she'd give her country back, and that hers would pay due reparations for what they had done.

Beneath her, Lady stirred, clearly uncomfortable. Sorcha couldn't blame her. Pegasi were smart enough to understand speech. Smart enough not to talk, her father had used to say. She had to sense the danger they were in.

“You misunderstand me, princess. She is the last line to royalty. With her, I'd be able to add Duscur soldiers to my ranks without having to force them. Unlike your country, her people love her. And they would do anything for her. You honestly think I'd do this, otherwise, under Cornelia's wishes? She is a vile woman, and why you have placed so much trust in her is beyond me. With Senka as my wife, not only does she get Duscur back, but you live as well. Because then you would be safe with us," Céleste stated as if it were the most natural thing in the world.

Senka looked baffled by the claim, and Sorcha could see her hesitate.

“Whether or not you live is not up to me. It is Senka's choice," she continued, her eyes going back to Senka.

Not up to her, her ass. Sorcha Whistled sharply, a particular tone and pitch that signaled the retreat. Sylvi and Devon, prepared for it, wheeled their horses into a sprint immediately, and Sorcha turned Lady, shouldering her bow and using her lance to knock an arrow out of the sky. Extending her free hand towards Senka, she flicked her eyes up towards the soldiers.

“C'mon, Sen, we've got to go!" She had confidence in her mount's speed, once they were in the air, but getting there was going to be the tricky part, especially once the archers had stopped firing after Sylvi and Devon and refocused on the other two.

Senka's eyes widened in fear as she took a step back. “Sorcha... I can't," she stated, shaking her head as she took another step back from Lady. Go. Leave me, I'll buy you time," she stated, gripping Blutgang in her hands as she glanced between Sorcha and the soldiers who were marching forward.

Please. Go."

“Sen, you have to. We've done this before, you remember?" Sorcha heard a bowstring draw back and sucked in a breath, throwing up the best white magic shield she had. It broke a few arrows before shattering, and she turned back to Senka with urgency.

She couldn't help but recall it now, a night a much-younger version of herself had helped a much, younger, half-delirious version of Senka onto a different pegasus, to fly her all the way from the city of Duscur to Fhirdiad. She'd done it once, and she could do it again.

“I'm not leaving you here to die!"

Senka smiled at Sorcha, the first genuine one she'd been able to since that day, a year ago. It was warm, and soft, and full of something. An emotion of sorts, perhaps. It was clear that Senka planned on doing something; Sorcha could tell by the way her hand shifted with Blutgang.

Live," was the only thing Senka spoke before the glow of her Crest on her forehead appeared and she charged towards the throng of soldiers. She seemed to be drawing the power of her Crest and Crest Stone from Blutgang at a rapid pace. She felled a couple of the first soldiers, her Crest kicking up wind around her. It almost looked as if she intended to overtax it like Maurice had, however; before she could do anything further, a sword blossomed from her abdomen, and another near her chest. The one in her chest was so close to her heart, that it was possible that it nicked it.

The wind that had picked up around Senka, died down, as her eyes widened. Celeste looked livid, though, and she grabbed the nearest soldier's bow.

“What have you done!" she shouted, firing two quick arrows into the throats of the soldiers whose weapons were in Senka. She fell to her knees, though, Blutgang falling to her side as her gaze was fixed ahead. Sorcha could see a soft shudder in her body as Senka seemed to smile. She seemed to whisper something, but Sorcha was too far to hear what it was.

“You idiot!" Only then did Sorcha's body catch up with her mind; she leaped down from Lady and ran to Senka, trying desperately to lift her friend's weight. She didn't so much cast healing magic as she simply let the energy bleed out of her body, sink into Senka, trying desperately to keep her alive, keep her heart beating, even as she shifted her arms beneath her friends and began the arduous task of dragging her backwards.

The glare she gave Céleste was positively venomous, and her upper lip pulled back into a snarl. “Leave!" she shouted, nothing but her bravado and sheer spite fueling her now. She'd never wished more than her Crest would give her strength, but she activated it anyway, the air around her shimmering with light. Her eyes were bright—tears or magic, it was hard to say. “You've failed, betrayed your country, and doomed us all! The Imperials will break us in two, and you've just exposed the fault line! To the flames with every last one of you!"

Her foot hit a stone, and she staggered, falling backwards and hitting her head hard on the ground. “Sen," she croaked, refusing to relinquish her grip even as she struggled to sit. “Don't fucking tell me to live, Sen. Don't tell me to do that and then try so hard to die!"

It didn't seem to register to Senka, though, as her eyes dulled. She lifted a bloodied hand to place it on Sorcha's face. “You. Not me. Live," she spoke softly, but it was easy to tell that even that much was a great effort to Senka. “You're my best friend, Sorcha," she whispered softly, the same smile still on her face, and a strangely peaceful expression crossed her face.

“And I love you more than... anything. Thank you. This... this is my debt being paid to you, in full. Please... go. Please... live," she spoke slowly, as if every word was painful, but she still smiled. Her hand fell from Sorcha's face, then, but Senka seemed to still struggle to breathe.

“It doesn't matter, foolish girl," Céleste spoke as soldiers caught up to them. They leveled lances and swords in their direction, but Céleste held a hand up as if to keep them from moving any further. “What awaits you is a fate worse than death. You should have taken my offer, foolish Senka. You should have taken it..." there was something in Céleste's voice, regret, perhaps, but her eyes were steeled and she motioned for two of the soldiers to take Senka from Sorcha.

“You've no one left to protect you, princess. Your friends who escaped will be caught, and then you'll have no one. And I have not failed at all, you see. Her death will not be in vain. It was not I who dealt the blow, but Faerghus. As if those in Duscur needed any other reason to hate Faerghus already... they will hear my plea and they will align themselves with me." She seemed fairly confident in her ability to use Sen's imminent death to her advantage.

Carefully setting Senka down, Sorcha rose to her feet, heedless of the lances pointed at her. Indeed, she gripped her own all the tighter.

“Want to see how many of you it takes to kill a Blaiddyd?" The air around her all but crackled, the glow of her Crest on her arm a burning, bright thing, and then it was like the world just... slowed down. Like everyone else was moving through water and Sorcha was the only one still in open air.

She took a deep breath, hefted her lance in both hands, and lunged.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1182 - Verdant Rain Moon - Wednesday the 5th
Unknown - Evening - Thunderstorm
Senka Rinaldi


Senka

Who was calling her?

Senka, I love you... wake up.

Her eyes opened immediately at the same time thunder clapped in the sky. Her vision was blurred, and there was a sharp pain in her stomach and in her chest. She was dead. She'd died. Hadn't she? Everything ached, was painful to move, and she felt something warm behind her eyes. She didn't know where she was, and a small spike of panic lanced through Senka's heart, causing it to clench painfully. How many more loved ones could she lose before it broke her completely? Libi, he was her companion. Cyril was her life.

How much time has passed since she'd died? Slowly, she tried to sit up in the bed she was laying in, only to have a rush of pain lance through her head. She kept trying, though, until she was sitting fully up. She pulled the blankets from her form, shivering slightly at the brief air of cold that rushed to greet her. Slowly, she placed her feet on the ground, relishing in the coolness before forcing herself to stand. She immediately fell to the floor, taking in a sharp breath as she laid there. Any noise she might have made was drowned out by the constant thunder and rain hitting against the roof of whatever building she was in. Taking a few more moments on the floor, she pushed herself back up, standing on wobbly feet as she glanced around her room. It seemed more like an infirmary of sorts.

Something gleamed in the night light, though, sitting on one of the desks, and she immediately made her way towards it. It was the last thing she had of him. The hair pin that she'd treasured so much. Holding it close to her chest, she took in another breath and made her way towards the door. It was, unsurprisingly, locked. Hesitantly, she pulled the pin from her hand, and opened it in the way it was meant to be used. It was a lockpick, after all. And now she had to use it the way it was meant to be. The soft click of the door signaled she'd succeeding in picking it, and opened it slowly to keep it from creaking. Once she was out of the door, she made her way down the corridor, glancing around at the marbled and stone walls.

She didn't know if she was in enemy territory, or if she were somewhere safe. She pushed that thought out of her mind. No where was safe. Who could she trust? She'd thought she could trust Cornelia as Sorcha had, but Céleste had stated otherwise. Even if she didn't want to trust Céleste, she knew it to be true that Cornelia had betrayed them. Hopefully Sorcha was able to escape, though.

She pressed herself into a corner as the sounds of heavy footsteps echoed in the hall. “Can't believe it's been almost two months since they executed that princess. What was her name?" one of the soldiers spoke, causing Senka's stomach to drop. “Princess Sorcha, or something like that. To think that she'd have her own uncle assassinated simply because he took her throne... it's—" he didn't have a chance to finish his sentence. With what little strength she had, Senka pulled the dagger at his belt and slit his throat, dropping his body to the floor as his comrade whirled in surprise. He brandished his sword, however; before he could so much as say a word, there was a sword protruding from his chest.

Senka fell to her knees at the same time as the soldier's body fell, glaring ahead and waiting to meet the same fate of whomever had killed that soldier.

“Senka!" she knew that voice. With little light, she could easily recognize the bright blue of his eyes, the scars on his dark face, and the greying of his dark hair at the tips.

“Es... Espera," she called out softly, reaching out a hand towards him. He caught it with his own, pulling her to her feet as he wrapped his arms around her. She clung to him as if he were life, and pulled in a shuddering breath. “Espera," she continued, unable to say anything else.

“Shh, Senka. I'm here. I'm here," he spoke gently, however; he shifted his hold on her so that he was supporting her weight on himself. “We need to get out of here. The others are waiting for us just outside this hall," he spoke, causing her to nod her head. It was the only thing she could do. That soldier had to be wrong, though. Sorcha wasn't dead. She lived. She had to be alive. She'd promised.

But wasn't that a recurring theme in Senka's life?

Wasn't it that every promise someone made to her was broken?

“Wait here," Espera commanded, placing her in a hole in the wall. There was a patrol of soldiers just ahead, and their numbers were at least twice of Senka and Espera. She did not doubt he could take two of them on his own, but she was useless to him right now. She had no strength to wield a weapon other than the dagger in her hand, and even then she might not have the strength to drive it into a person. Espera, however, did not immediately engage. Instead, he whistled a tune reminiscent to a bird's. It was enough to catch the soldiers' attention, and from the shadows, Senka could see a group of four figures move to slide deft blades across their necks. The soldiers fell, and the figures approached Senka and Espera. They dropped into a formal bow, pressing their foreheads to the ground.

“General, Your Highness," they all spoke in unison, causing Senka to place a hand on one of their shoulders.

“Please don't. I'm not," she began, but Espera shook his head.

“You'll always be our Queen, Senka. And we need you more now than ever," he spoke in a firm voice, but Senka could not bring herself to believe that. No one needed her. She only brought bad luck to those she cared about. Sorcha, Cyril, they were the best examples of the fate that would befall people who tried.

“We will talk more, but we cannot stay here long. The bodies are bound to be noticed, soon, and we need to be far from here before they find out." He lifted Senka onto his back, glancing behind him as if to make sure she were alright. “This will be faster, and I need to you to trust me," he stated. Senka nodded slowly. He was the only person she had left that she could trust. “For what it's worth, Your Highness, I am sorry about your friend. She was... a good heart," he confirmed her fears. Sorcha really was gone, wasn't she?

Why wasn't she crying? Why did her heart feel so numb? So... empty?

It wasn't long before they managed to slip by another patrol, the faint glow of magic lighting the only path they followed. When they came to a wall, Espera glanced around before tugging on a rope that seemed to be hanging against the wall. It was as if he were checking to make sure it could support something before he shifted Senka on his back.

“Hold on. We're going to scale the wall, and once we get over, we have pegasi waiting for us," he stated, causing Senka to clench tightly against him. She couldn't... she couldn't do it. “Senka, you can do this," he spoke softly as if reading her thoughts. He gently placed a hand over hers, giving it a soft squeeze before he began climbing. Once they were on the other side, he set Senka down, and motioned for the others to mount their steeds. He pulled Senka towards a pegasus, almost glowing a silver color in the moonlight, but damp in the rain. It shook the water from its coat, causing Senka to take a step back.

“Senka. Look at me," Espera commanded, and Senka obliged. “You can do this. I don't know why you are fearful of them, but I can see it in your eyes. Think, Senka. Why are you afraid of them?" he spoke, a sort of urgency in his voice. Senka furrowed her brows as she recalled her memories of pegasi. She closed her eyes, images vividly flashing across her mind until one came to her. She was fifteen years old, standing in the hall of the palace where her parents' dead bodies lay. A screech, flapping of wings, and a person approached her. They were chasing her on a pegasus, but... that didn't seem right.

“They are horses with wings, and nothing else. There is nothing to fear from them. They will not harm you," Espera spoke in a low, soothing voice. He gently touched a hand to her cheek, causing her to open her eyes as she stared at him. “You are stronger than your fears, Senka. Do not let them rule you." Pulling in a breath, Senka nodded her head. It was her fear of pegasi that killed Sorcha. If she'd only been strong enough to get on Lady, to fly away with Sorcha, then maybe...

But she could not dwell on past regrets. Something burned in her stomach, in her heart.

Slowly, she approached the silver-coated pegasus, reaching a hand out to it. It placed its snout against her hand, nudging softly before pulling away. “I owe it to Sorcha. I owe it to my parents to live," she spoke, because she was the only one who could. Sorcha was gone, but she refused to believe that. Her friend could not be dead. It had to be a rouse. It had to be a way to break their spirits: Mercer and whoever else lived.

“I owe it to... " her love.

“And you owe it to your people, Senka. We are going to rely on you, from here on out. You are the Queen of Duscur. That burden is yours, and yours alone, but you will not carry it alone. We are here. We will fight. For whatever the cost may be, we are all willing to pay it." Espera stood straight, placing a closed fist over his heart and bowing in Senka's direction. The others followed suit, and Senka steeled herself. She mounted the pegasus, and narrowed her eyes at her small group of soldiers.

“We go to war with Faerghus." It was her first official command as Queen. “But first, we need to replenish our ranks. We need to formulate a strategy before we attack. However long it takes, we need to make sure everything is planned out properly. Find our best spies, have them infiltrate the ranks of servants in the royal castle, keep our eyes and ears open. Keep our blades open, and have them silence anyone who gets too close."

She discarded pieces of herself, feeling a coldness seep into her blood. “And let them think that Senka Rinaldi is dead to the world. Now... Valeria Scutari is your Queen. And she will not fail you." Because Senka Rinaldi already failed them once. There was a strange look in Espera's eyes. Something akin to pride and... respect.

“You'll need this, Your Majesty," Espera spoke, pulling something from the saddle of his horse. Senka recognized it easily as Blutgang. How? How did he manage to get it back? She took in a shuddering breath and held the blade close to her.

“Long live Queen Valeria Scutari!"

She had to live. She spurred the pegasus forward, causing it to lift into the air, followed by the others and Espera, as the alarm bells began ringing inside the fortress. It seemed that her escape had gone noticed, however; if all went according to plan, they would find a dead body that resembled her.

After all, Senka Rinaldi was dead.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


Image


I.Y. 1183 - Pegasus Moon - Tuesday the 3rd
Derdriu - Noon - Cool
Devon Margrave


“Finally."

After half a year, they'd finally made it to Derdriu.

Devon couldn't say he felt much relief at this, but it was so much better than the prison camp it was almost ridiculous to find fault with anything, even if the tidings they were here to deliver were about the worst he could possibly think of. And at least—at least he had Sylvi, still.

It had been uncertain, for a while there. He'd almost been taken from the camp and killed outright because his skin marked him as being from Duscur or Sreng, both presently such hated enemies of Faerghus that it didn't really matter which. He'd had to rely on everything he'd learned from Mercer and culture exchange afternoons at the Monastery to pass himself off as Almyran instead, and while that was hardly any better, they were the Alliance's problem and at least didn't require immediate elimination.

And so it had been months. Months of hard labor building fortifications, months of thin soup and hard ground and hoping against all hope that no one figured out that Sylvi was Sylvi, because her family had sided with Rodrigue and if she'd been taken away as a political hostage they might never have seen each other again. Months of observing, of planning an escape, of trying to ask himself what the Professor or Reynard or Mercer or Vridel would have done. Months of careful planning until finally they'd risked it during a prisoner transfer, their news delayed but their promise to Sorcha kept.

“You think... you think he'll see us?" He turned, running a hand through ratty, too long hair with too-thin fingers. He still had trouble, sometimes, believing that any of his noble friends would really care what he had to say now. He wondered, honestly, if Mercer would even recognize him, after nearly three whole years. Would he recognize Mercer, even?

Sylvi nodded her head. “I want to say that he will. Mercer is..." she paused, swallowing thickly. Her appearance had changed, too. Thinner than she used to be, and her skin wasn't as vibrant as it once was. She didn't say what she'd been forced to do, what labors they'd made her endure, but she didn't seem inclined to speak of them.

“He deserves to know what happened. And it's best that he hears it from us so he can see. See what Faerghus has become and..." she shook her head, her hair falling over her shoulders. “Mercer's not the type to forget his friends so easily. Even if he doesn't think we can be trusted, he'll at least see us. We... we have to try, Devon." She reached out a hand towards him, grasping his softly and giving it a light squeeze before dropping it to her side.

He had just enough time to squeeze back before she let go, and then he nodded slightly. “Okay," he said quietly, as firmly as he could. They had to try. They'd come this far, after all.

Guiding his horse along the path they'd once taken escorted by a party of knights, Devon figured this entrance couldn't be more different. Derdriu itself was not yet ravaged by war, but surely... surely they had to know it was coming. The pinched looks on some of the faces gave that away, as did the occasional baleful, untrusting glare. He was sure they looked a sight—scruffy, obviously foreign, clearly soldiers... and that was reason enough for distrust.

Devon did his best to ignore them, tracing the path towards the von Riegan estate from memory. It was the furthest thing from cheering and an honor guard, but that was the way their world was now.

He still wasn't brave enough to ask Sylvi if she was okay. He didn't know what she'd say, and he hated himself for fearing the answer so much. But if he didn't know, he could pretend they were both okay, that they'd both be okay, and that maybe having each other was enough. Even if he couldn't quite believe it, he could try with all his might, and for just a little while—

They arrived before the gate, and Devon dismounted first. The least he could do was speak to the guards so she didn't have to. “Hello," he said, a bit nervously but also just tired. “My name is Devon Margrave. This is Lady Sylvi Galatea. If you give our names to Lord Mercer, I believe he will be interested in speaking to us."

The guard looked hesitant for a moment before he nodded his head. He disappeared, perhaps, to tell Mercer they were here. Sylvi dismounted her horse after a moment and came to stand next to Devon, her eyes dull and not so bright. She looked as tired as he felt, and she let out a slow breath.

“We can do this, Devon. I just... I want you to know that, whatever happens. If Mercer decides we're his enemies and has us locked up, I want you to know..." she paused, glancing away from him for a moment as her shoulders heaved.

“I want you to know that I'm glad I met you. You're... you mean a lot to me. More than anything in the world that... I've decided that once this is all over, once we're free. I'm renouncing my claim to Galatea. I just... I want to spend whatever time I have left with you. I don't care about anything. I don't care about my title, my family. I just... I care about you. And I want to be with you." She spoke in such a low volume that it would have been hard to hear what she'd said if she weren't so close.

Before anything else could be said, though, the guard returned with someone who looked like Mercer. His hair was longer, falling just a little past his shoulders, and his eyes seemed a bit darker, more refined and a richer green than they used to be. He was slightly taller, too, perhaps an inch or two. His eyes landed on the both of them, though, and he swiftly descended the steps, pulling to an abrupt stop in front of them. Sylvi glanced up to meet Mercer's eyes, and he seemed to be studying them.

“Devon, Sylvi," he spoke, finally, exhaling a relieved sigh as he pulled the both of them into a hug. “You're both okay," he continued, sounding relieved if anything, but Sylvi shuddered under his embrace, pulling away slowly as he let them both go. “It's good to see you," he stated, but the smile on his face didn't quite reach his eyes. There were dark bags beneath his eyes as if he hadn't slept in a few days.

Admittedly, Devon was still reeling from Sylvi's words, and her reaction frightened him. But it was a different kind of fear this time. The fear that if he didn't ask, didn't remind her how much he cared, she might—she might come to believe that he didn't. She might suffer more. And that was the last thing he wanted.

He managed to return Mercer's hug, barely. He was taller himself now too, he supposed, though he'd hardly noticed it until realizing he was actually taller than Sylvi. He'd never used to be.

“Mercer," he murmured quietly. “Can we—can we come in? There's news... and I don't think we should give any of it in the open."

Mercer nodded as he motioned for them to follow him. He lead them through into the estate, crossing the foyer into a room tucked into the back corner. It was large enough to be a study, or a place similar to where a large meeting could be held, but there was only a single desk, a few chairs, and a lot of shelves with books on them.

“Please, sit. I'll have someone bring some drinks in, if you'd like," he stated, pulling two chairs up to the desk before taking a seat on the other side. “What news do you have to tell me?" he asked, arching a tired brow in his direction. The room was filled with all kinds of papers, some of them like official documents of sorts. They were strewn all over the desk in no particular order, though. Sylvi swallowed thickly as she glanced at Mercer.

“It's... about Sorcha." Sylvi's voice wavered, though, and she glanced towards Devon.

He didn't want to say it any more than she did, but he would. At the very least, Mercer deserved to know—the whole story. “About six months ago," he started softly, “Faerghus was in real trouble. You might have heard that the regent, backed by the majority of the nobility, seized power in a soft coup. The Princess and the rest of us grouped up with Duke Fraldarius, and a few of his allies like Duke Gautier and Count Galatea." He flicked a glance at Sylvi, but soldiered on.

“The problem is, not long after, the Imperial army attacked again, about the same time they did here, I'd guess. Faerghus was fighting a war from the inside and a war from the outside, and... and Sorcha knew it would break the country sooner rather than later if she didn't do something. So... when Lady Cornelia wrote from the capital, promising to help us sneak in to see King Rufus, we knew we had to do it. The group was just the four of us: us two, the Princess, and Senka. When we got there... it was an ambush. Soldiers appeared, as if from thin air or nowhere at all."

He swallowed, curling his hands into fists on his legs. “We tried, Mercer. We really did. But there were so many of them. Sorcha tried to get us all to retreat, but Senka wouldn't... and when Sylvi and I tried to draw them away, we were captured and sent to a prison camp. Senka... Senka died on the field, and they captured Sorcha. Someone killed the King, and they blamed her for it." He shook his head slowly, meeting Mercer's eyes. He tried to deliver the next part levelly, but there was no helping the crack in his voice.

“They executed her on the first day of Blue Sea Moon, last year."

For a moment, Mercer didn't react. He just sat there, staring at Devon with blank eyes. It wasn't until something shined behind his eyes that Devon could see the tears falling down Mercer's face. His face twisted into something like despair as he leaned his face into his hands, a desperate sob escaping him. Sylvi stood immediately and walked to his other side, laying a hand on his shoulder. His cries were loud, and they echoed in the room. There was no doubt that anyone inside the estate could hear Mercer, however; he reached up and wrapped his arms around her. She didn't resist, and merely held him to her as he cried.

“I'm sorry, Mercer," she spoke softly, rubbing his back in a comforting manner. She was trembling, though it was hard to tell if it was her own or if it was Mercer's cries as they continued to escape him. “I'm so sorry," she continued. If anything, his hold on her tightened, and she did not seem inclined to relinquish him any time soon.

Devon was neither too proud to join them nor so indifferent that he didn't want to, and so he did, folding his arms around both Sylvi and Mercer and resting his chin on her shoulder. There was nothing else he could do. Nothing else any of them could do. first the Professor, the strongest fighter Devon had ever known. Then Vridel, the Emperor of Adrestia, and then Senka, and then Princess Sorcha. He had no idea what had become of Thea or Reynard, or where Sofia and Deirdre were.

It felt like everything he'd come to rely on was falling apart. His friends were dying, hurting, all around him, and he couldn't do anything for them at all. He couldn't save anyone. Not even himself. Not even Sylvi, when he loved her so much it physically pained him sometimes. He couldn't do anything. Not one thing, for any of them.

And there, in Mercer's study, Devon made his fallen friends a vow: not one more.

No matter what he had to do, or who he had to become, not one more of them would die. Not while he was still alive.

He tightened his arms, and closed his eyes, and swore it would be true.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1183 - Pegasus Moon - Wednesday the 4th
Derdriu - Early Afternoon - Sunny
Mercer von Riegan


What was the point?

She'd made a promise, didn't she? That she would live, and that he would fight his way back to her? He should have been there. He should have gone with her to Faerghus, protected her so that... she'd still be alive. So she'd still be smiling at him, waking him up at goddess knows hours of the day and challenging him to those stupid exercises. She'd still be here with him.

He hadn't slept all day.

He could feel the fatigue on his body, the heaviness in his eyes as he tried to focus on his task. His grandfather had passed only last month, and Mercer was, officially Duke von Riegan. He couldn't bring himself to care. What did it matter what he accomplished now? Senka was dead, Sorcha was dead. He might as well be, too.

I will. I'll stay alive, Mercer, I promise I will.

“You lied," he whispered out, his voice hoarse from screaming all day. She lied to him. He lost the only person he'd ever loved; the only one he could love. She meant everything to him. Why didn't he give up his claim to the throne? Why didn't he denounce his title as Duke von Riegan and give it to Alaric? If he had, he could have...

but what would have been the point?

Her life.

She'd still be alive. Mercer ran a hand through his hair, fighting back another onslaught of tears that threatened to fall. How many more friends did he have to lose?

There was a brisk knock on his office door. "Mercer." The voice belonged to Reynard. There was a familiar businesslike quality to it, but it was slightly softer than usual, too. Chances were good he'd run into either Sylvi or Devon already, then. If he was here, though, that meant there was probably news from Alaric.

“Come in, Rey," he spoke, though he could not bear to move or acknowledge Reynard. He wasn't intentionally trying to be rude, but... he found it exceedingly difficult to care about anything right now. Once Rey seated himself, Mercer forced himself to at least acknowledge Rey with a light nod of his head, and leaned back into his chair.

“Tell me, how is Alaric doing?" he asked, his voice monotonous.

Reynard took no offense at his lack of responsiveness, it seemed. If anything, there was a touch of sympathy on his face, which from the typically-inexpressive Brigidian was a lot. "Better," he said simply. "He might almost be good enough that I won't worry when I leave him alone... in another few years, anyway." The moment didn't call for a joke, and the remark didn't seem to be one.

The other man had mentioned this—that Alaric was dangerously unprepared for certain kinds of underhanded tactics, and Reynard had apparently taken the initiative to fix the problem. He spent the Lion's share of his time at Fódlan's Locket these days, rather than in Derdriu. Just as well, apparently.

"What I don't have for you is much of a report. I'm certain the letters are reaching the Almyran capital. I delivered one myself, just to be sure. But they wouldn't let me see the king personally, and so I don't know if the lack of response is a choice on his part or the result of someone within the palace intercepting them before they reach him."

Mercer might even have teased Rey about his worry but Mercer couldn't bring himself to do it. He regarded Reynard with a blank stare as he relayed his report. His letters weren't reaching his father, it seemed. That, or the King of Almyra had no interest in helping Mercer at this point. After all, what were Fódlan's troubles when Almyra had their own struggles to deal with?

“That's all I can ask, I suppose. Keep... keep watching over Alaric. He's the last one. The last friend I have right now," and he didn't want to lose any more friends. He couldn't. If he did... surely it would be the end of him.

“Have... you heard anything else? Anything about Thea, or Vi? Or even Deirdre and Sofia?" he asked, almost afraid to know the answer to those.

"Have Deirdre and Sofia not written?" he asked, seeming surprised. "I kind of expected you to keep them close, honestly. Last I heard, they were headed for the Myrddin Bridge Garrison, to help what's-his-face fight off Gloucester, the maggot." His lip twisted vaguely at the mention of the traitor. He'd gone right to the Imperial army's side when the second invasion happened, more or less showing himself for the conniving weasel he'd always been.

"Thea I believe is still at Garreg Mach; I paid a visit there a few months ago on Vridel's request. She and Lyanna are keeping the place bandit-free, mostly. Vridel..." he sighed heavily. "Vridel's taken refuge in Brigid. My grandfather has declared war on the Empire in the name of the rightful Emperor. It's not a bad deal for anyone: Vridel gets an ally, Brigid gets full independence if they win, but... if the Imperials weren't already fighting on two fronts, they'd be crushed like insects. He wrote me—I don't know if you know this, but Volkhard is the Flame Emperor, in addition to, well, the actual Emperor now."

“I knew I never liked that man, Volkhard," Mercer sneered, the first real emotion he'd been able to feel all day. “And... thank the goddess, or whoever, that Vi's alright. And Thea," that they were alive at all brought him some comfort. Some relief.

“I suppose they haven't had time to write if they've been fending of Gloucester," he spoke, referring to Deirdre and Sofia. He was glad they were alright, too. That they were still alive. He still had them. That meant the only friends he's truly lost were Teach, Senka, and Sorcha, his love. He swallowed thickly as he rested his chin in his hand.

“I suppose it's moot to tell you to watch and take care of yourself, too, Rey. You've survived this long, after all, but..." he paused to take a deep breath, “you're still an important friend of mine. And I want you to just... be careful. I can't ask you to promise because it seems like promises are being broken left and right, now-a-days." He couldn't ask that of another person, either.

Reynard huffed quietly. "I'm not in the business of promises," he admitted. "You can't be, when you live like I do. But." Pausing a moment, he fished a single gold sovereign coin out of his pocket. One of the Alliance's. He placed it on the desk, and pushed it towards Mercer.

"There. That's a loan. You owe me money now. Personally, not for a job. I'm far too greedy to die when someone owes me money, you know? So hold onto that for me, till this all blows over."

Mercer felt the corners of his lips tilt slightly. It was about as much of a smile he could muster. “Ah, how could I forget? I do owe you, still, for being Alaric's personal messenger. And I suppose I'll have to compensate you for adding bodyguard to the list of things. I suppose," he started, sliding his hand over the coin and pulling it towards him, “one more couldn't hurt. So don't forget not to die so you can come collect this, alright? Otherwise I'll just have to send it to Alaric and you can collect from him."

It wasn't a lot, but it was what Mercer could offer at the moment.

Reynard certainly seemed to find it more than adequate, and smiled back the slightest bit, rising from his chair and exhaling heavily. "I'm going to take a nap, and then get back out on the road," he said. "His Lordship and I are set to tour the Locket's defenses in three days. Should theoretically be there for that."

He paused, though, on his way out the door. "And Mercer? I'm sorry. She was an extraordinary woman. I think... I think even you, even now, even with all this going on, are allowed to grieve for her." It was all he said, though, nodding slightly and excusing himself right afterwards.

And grieve, Mercer did.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1183 - Harpstring Moon - Monday the 12th
Fhirdiad - Evening - Drizzle
Sorcha Blaiddyd


“And how are you today, Princess?"

Sorcha lifted her head to glare at Cornelia. It wasn't much of one, not anymore. Some days, she wasn't even sure exactly why she was doing it—why she was still summoning all the vinegar and vehemence she had left in her, trying to burn the other woman with her eyes.

It wasn't like it made a difference. She was chained to a wall, the shackles around her wrists and ankles did something to even the faint flicker of actual magic she had, and stopped her from accessing her Crest entirely. Cornelia kept her here, in her office, like some kind of prize—the Princess in the tower that she'd never wanted to be. At least in a dungeon, she'd have been left alone. Here she was always under Cornelia's eye, and often enough under her knife as well.

“Poor thing. That one's nowhere near as magnificent as the look you gave me yesterday. Perhaps you're still a little tired from the transfusions?" Cornelia smiled wickedly, placing the tip of her index finger on her chin and tilting her head in a mockery of concerned curiosity. “But you know it's good for you. It will give you that Crest you've always wanted. We'll make a proper Queen of you yet, just you wait!"

She turned towards her workbench; the implements of her tortures were immaculately-clean; sometimes while Sorcha recovered from the day's attentions, tried to remember how to breathe and think and feel anything that wasn't pain, Cornelia would sit in an overstuffed armchair beside her and polish them, rubbing away her blood and humming some tune she did not recognize. Methodical, repetitive, almost like something she did to bring herself down from the high of her work.

“What do you want?" Sorcha rasped, voice cracking and dry with disuse. She didn't remember the last time she'd used it to do anything but scream.

Cornelia stilled, then turned, leaning back against the workbench. The candlelight of the chamber gave her rich aubergine robes thick shadows, the black feather mantle about the collar glistened. “Well I just told you, silly girl. I'm going to make you the Queen you've always wanted to be. Perfect for your people. You just need a few modifications first."

To this, Sorcha did not respond. She hardly understood what was done to her, besides the cutting, and that she knew Cornelia did just for fun, and perhaps to practice the healing. Though why she should need to practice healing Sorcha in particular was unclear.

Really, though, responding was rarely necessary. “Firstly," Cornelia said, “We've got to get your Crest up to snuff. Such a shame you were born with the minor, but that's all right. We can fix it. Then, of course, you'll need to forget all about your little friends, and Duscur, and everything else. It's funny, you know. I got rid of your mother so easily, but you always seem to hold so tightly to that silly boy. What a terrible daughter you are."

“Wha—my mother? What do you mean?" It felt like trying to think through the mental equivalent of molasses.

“Well obviously I tested my methods before formulating the long term plan," Cornelia replied, as though it were the most obvious thing in the world. “Fortunately, I'd figured out how to target you with the magic before you left for the Academy. You weren't meant to share the treats I sent you, you know? I was starting to worry it wasn't so effective if they weren't fresh. But yes—I am, of course, the reason you can't remember your mother. Eventually I'll be the reason you can't remember anything except who you're supposed to kill. We'll start with von Riegan, I think—if I can make you kill him, I can make you kill anyone."

Von Riegan? Cornelia thought she could somehow compel her to kill Mercer? She couldn't imagine anything she was less likely to do.

“I'd kill myself first," she said simply, certainly.

“Oh, I know, dear. You're delightfully transparent that way. Fortunately, there won't really be much of a you left by then." Setting aside the knife, she picked up a shiny, silver colored hammer instead. It had a wide head, and a long handle for leverage, but was a seamless, whole piece of metal.

“You see..." Cornelia sighed, reaching into her pocket. When she withdrew it, her slender fingers were tangled in a familiar chain. As it had for years, the blue-green stone dangled at the end of it. “I'm going to break you, darling. And the pain you've been through so far, well." She set the stone down on the bench.

“That's nothing compared to what I'm going to do to you from here on out." The hammerhead glinted in the candlelight as she raised it.

“No, don't—" Sorcha lunged, but the chains caught her up well short of Cornelia, yanking her back when she reached the end of her tether.

Cornelia giggled, and brought the hammer down.

Bang.

The stone shattered beneath its weight, and the force with which it was swung, its fragments so small that most of them were scarcely more than powder.

Bang.

Bang.

Bang.

Sorcha flinched with each hit, slumping back against the wall and fixing her eyes on the indistinct ceiling above. She couldn't cry. Not now. She hadn't let herself cry in years, since the night at the Goddess Tower. Because—because there was only one person who could wipe them away. And somehow, somehow she knew that if she'd let herself cry—at the siege of Garreg Mach, or when Sen died, or any of the times Cornelia had brought her to the edge of blacking out with pain... if she'd started, she'd never be able to stop.

She closed her eyes, and tried to imagine she was somewhere else. Back at Garreg Mach, the only place and time in her life when she'd been happy. Sen was gone now, and Vivi, and the Professor, and who knew what had become of Thea or Sylvi or Devon or Reynard?

But still... still, he was alive. She knew, because Cornelia had threatened to make Sorcha kill him. Had used the stone to try and break her, when all it would have taken was proof of his death. He was alive, and that meant...

That meant there was still warmth in the memories. In the way it felt to fly beside him, racing through the air at reckless speed. The way it felt when he touched her, whatever the way, from the first time he'd adjusted her aim to the way he leaned forward sometimes and hugged her from behind, his breath warm on her neck. The way it felt when he'd dipped her during their tango, his brow pressed to hers, so close all she could see was his eyes, and she drowned in them.

How it felt when he kissed her, when she kissed him on his birthday, the way his hands had been so close to her skin.

But more than anything it was just him, the warmth of his personality, the easygoing way he smiled, the way she thought maybe one of them, a soft one that she loved most of all, was just for her. The way he did hard things, ugly things, so the people he protected didn't have to. The way he sounded when he talked about the future. How it became different when he talked about their future.

Distantly, she registered Cornelia sighing. “Ugh. I hate it when they break quietly. I wanted screaming and tears." With a huff, she left the room, not bothering to lock the door behind her. It probably wouldn't be long before she was back anyway, and open door or otherwise, Sorcha was still chained to the wall. There wasn't much point in trying to escape. She'd done that every day for months, when first she arrived here.

Now, it just seemed better to drift in her memories.

She found herself humming a waltz.

There was a slight tsking sound as someone entered the room. It wasn't Cornelia from the sounds of it, and it was easy to see Céleste when she walked in front of Sorcha. There was something in her eyes, though, something hard and unreadable as she stared at Sorcha.

“This would have never happened if you'd have just convinced your friend to take my offer. If she had... you could have been with him, the von Riegan Cornelia spoke about," she stated, crossing her arms over her chest. “Now look at you. The once proud and noble princess of Faerghus, reduced to nothing more than an experimental toy," she sneered.

“I could have saved you from this."

Sorcha regarded her with deadened eyes. “Unlike some people, I prefer to respect people's right to think for themselves. I'm not the one who decided. And Senka had a right to choose as she did." Sorcha didn't agree with the choice she'd made to die—in fact deeply regretted and sort of resented it, if she were honest. But it had been her choice, in the end. Made of her own free will, following her own heart, and if she couldn't give her friend back the country that had been stolen, then... then at least Sen, in herself, was free in the end. Not a prisoner like this. Not at the mercy of a madwoman bent on her own conquest at a time when her forces were laughable and the entire Imperial army was breathing down Faerghus's neck.

“Do you even know what you're really dealing with, with these people?" she wondered aloud. Cornelia had been unusually talkative, with her, but the reason for that was now clear: Sorcha would either forget it all anyway, or she'd die. “They'll kill you, when they're done using you. At the first whiff of defiance. You couldn't do anything about it, even with Duscur's forces."

“Maybe, princess," Céleste replied with a shake of her head. “I tried to save her, you know. Your friend. She was brought to a stable condition a year ago, but then..." she trailed off, her jaw locking as if she were trying to fight back the anger she'd felt. “For what it's worth, which is nothing to you, I am sorry. Cornelia and the people she's with... I should have at least tried to warn you about them. And I am trying to do something about it. You think I enjoy watching my country burn and reduced to nothing but ashes? You think for a second that I wouldn't do anything to protect it, either?"

“I'm the bastard daughter of Kleiman, the last of his line, and not worth a damn. It's why I've done the things I've done to attain this power. To attain the necessary army needed in order to march against Cornelia and those she works for. I'm not proud of the blood that stains my hands, princess, but it is a necessary evil I am prepared to do."

“And I am prepared to die for that. Whatever the cost."

“If you'd do anything, Viscountess, then march your troops to Duke Fraldarius and pledge yourself to his banner." Sorcha knew well that she wouldn't, of course. Whatever pretty words she used about her country, her people, she was in this for herself. For her own power.

And maybe some of it had been kept from her unjustly. Sorcha certainly knew a thing or two about that. But it didn't excuse being on her own side when there were more important things to be concerned with. Didn't excuse her attempting to use this situation for her own gain instead of the protection of the people of Faerghus. Sorcha was not nearly so far gone as to believe otherwise.

For as long as pride and selfishness kept Céleste from doing the right thing, she was still doing the wrong thing. Sorcha fixed her eyes firmly ahead, trying to let herself sink into a different memory. Maybe... maybe the time they'd all played in the snow. With Sir Jeralt. That was a nice one. She might lose it soon; it only seemed fair to enjoy it.

“You think he'd accept me into his ranks?" she spoke, her voice soft, though. “You don't think that I would have gladly joined forces with Duke Fraldarius? It's too late for that, princess. What is done is done. I will do this in my own way if I have to, but do not think for a moment that... I would have followed under your rule Sorcha. You and I are more alike than you'd care to admit. Perhaps, in another life, I will follow you. But our fates are sealed."

“Farewell, Sorcha. May you never forget who you truly are, no matter what Cornelia does to you." She glanced once more at Sorcha before taking her leave.

Just now, Sorcha kind of hated that wish. She thought maybe it would be better to forget herself. At least then she wouldn't hurt so much.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1183 - Horsebow Moon - Sunday the 7th
Fódlan's Locket - Early Morning - Clear
Reynard Voigt


It was finally time to move.

Though Mercer had yet to receive word from his father in any capacity, Reynard and Alaric had done everything their combined talents could to for the Locket, and the much more urgent warfront was now the southern one. Marching orders were to reinforce Lord Acheron at the Great Bridge of Myrddin; he did not seem to be faring as well against Gloucester and his hellion of a sister in real battle as he had in a false one. It went without saying that it was absolutely vital that the Alliance continued to control the bridge.

It was not only a tactically important location in the sense that it provided access to the greater part of Leicester territory, but also in that the restriction of information over it allowed Mercer to maintain a very important veil of mystery. After a few impressive early victories, the new Duke von Riegan had established that he was a threat; enough of one that Gloucester and the Imperials were cautious even when he didn't seem to be doing anything. The illusion of a united front was vital to this.

In other words, if the bridge fell, they'd lose not only a tactical chokepoint, but any psychological advantage they had left. Considering this, it was hardly a surprise that Duke Goneril and his troops were being mobilized to assist. Reynard figured he was mostly along for the ride, but he didn't make a point of undervaluing himself. Plenty of other people did that for him. He knew he had a very different tactical kit than a charismatic commander like the Duke, but it was a useful one.

Cinching the girth and checking it with a tug, he swung astride his borrowed horse and rolled his shoulders. Tugging his scarf up to cover his nose and mouth was basically a reflex at this point, even though it wasn't especially cold. He preferred to feel at least a little anonymous, even if there ws little chance of it being true. Attention had never been his forte.

Nudging the beast forward, he went to find his charge.

It didn't take Reynard long to find Alaric. He was speaking to a soldier riding next to him. Alaric, however, was mounted on a much larger horse. Broad and muscled not quite like an imperial charger, but something more along the lines of a draft horse, ones used to pull heavy carts and loads. The soldier nodded, spurring his beast in a different direction when Alaric's gaze landed on Reynard.

As what seemed customary of the Lord, he raised a hand in Reynard's direction, waving as his way of greeting and smiling somewhat.

“Reynard. Is everything ready for the march forward?" he asked.

Of course, there was one other reason he used the scarf.

Reynard felt the faintest warmth in his face when Duke Goneril smiled, and that was something he wasn't going to touch with a ten-foot pole. While he was fairly sure it didn't much alter his complexion, which was tanned if not dark, he wasn't willing to take the chance that it would be noticed. He had dealt with inconvenient attractions to straight men before. He could handle himself.

Remembering what he'd been asked would be a good start.

He swallowed, and when he spoke, he was confident his tone sounded ordinary. "Yes, milord." The formality helped him remember that this was professional, not personal. Gods forbid he ever find out how this would have gone if he'd used the man's name, like they were close enough for that. "The remaining garrison are confident they will be able to hold alone, and have established a patrol rotation to my satisfaction. Everyone else awaits your word to march."

That, of course, was the part the Duke would do, and do well. The inspiring leader bit that Reynard had never had in him. One of many reasons he was a killer and no longer the future king of anything.

Alaric nodded, seemingly satisfied with the report. “Good," he spoke, sparing a glance in Reynard's direction before moving his stead forward. “It's been how many years since you came into my service?" he asked suddenly, his attention back on Reynard as he arched a brow. “Two years? Three?" he continued as if he were trying to figure it out.

“We should," he cleared his throat a moment, “celebrate that. It's something I do for all of those who've been under my command for at least two years or more." He nodded his head in a different direction, motioning towards a soldier who seemed to be marching along with a bow on his back. “Tobias has been in my service for nearly six years, now," he spoke as if trying to explain his reasoning for the celebration.

“Of course, it can wait until after the battle," he spoke with a sort of confidence. As if he knew they were going to win it.

It was somehow unsurprising that he'd do something like that; equally unsurprising that the suggestion was already meeting with obvious approval. The soldiers murmured among themselves; one shouted something about the Duke paying for everyone's first round, which got some good-natured laughter in return.

Reynard only rolled his eyes as the riders began to move, situating himself next to the Duke's horse in an accustomed manner. Theirs were not so poorly matched in height as to make conversation awkward by any means. As it happened, Reynard could manage that just fine on his own. "Bribery is always very inspiring," he noted wryly, his sense of humor surfacing, naturally, at the worst time.

Honestly, he was usually better at this. He swore some people even thought he was charming, in a certain way. Too bad he couldn't seem to act like it.

Alaric chuckled, perhaps at the soldiers or at Reynard's attempt at humor. “And here I thought my own personal bodyguard could appreciate a little sentimentality from his Lord," he spoke, his voice carrying a note of teasing in it. He shook his head, though, and pulled in a sigh. “I should properly thank you for that, I suppose. I guess a lot of the things Deirdre had me believe a Lord should do and be were really dangerous things to do," he spoke, his voice low enough that the conversation between them could only be heard by them.

“If you think of a proper payment to receive, I shall do my utmost to give it to you. You deserve that," he continued, glancing forward to keep his eyes on the road. It was hard to tell, but it looked like there was a faint bit of color on the Duke's face. Maybe just from the way the light caught his hair?

Reynard realized perhaps a touch too late that he was, in fact, staring at the other man's hair. It was a rich red, the kind of thing the morning sunlight flattered. Not that that was difficult, really. He tore his eyes away, setting them back on the road, and cleared his throat softly. "Bribing me now?" he asked, unable to help himself. A moment's amusement was a hard thing to find in times like these, and if there was any chance—well, it hardly mattered.

"I'll have to see if I think of anything." He ruthlessly squashed the part of him that wanted to ask for something inappropriate. Things like that didn't work here the way they'd worked at the Academy.

Reynard knew the game. He was pretty good at intuiting which of the people around him wouldn't object to his flirtation, and if he didn't know right away, he could usually find out. And then, well, it was fun, or it was a bid for intel. Either way, it was a game, and he played it well. Status didn't matter so much with a game. It might change his approach, influence some of his mannerisms, but overall the fact that he walked the thin line between commoners and nobility was more often to his advantage than not. He could play any role convincingly, be what someone wanted for a while and then when it was over, discard that version of himself because it was no longer needed.

It hadn't taken him long to peg the Duke as unreceptive to male attention, though. Even if that hadn't killed it—it should have killed it—he was neither a target nor a casual acquaintance. This was business, and it was important business. The kind of thing that nations hung on. He could not afford to get stupid like some young, dumb thing in one of Sorcha's cute little stories, unconcerned with status and circumstance. Reynard had read a fair few more of those than he'd ever admit, honestly—when she'd caught him at it, she'd recommended a few more, rare ones about pairs of gentlemen, or ladies, or other subversive combinations. It was the first time in a while he'd been surprised by someone in that regard.

He couldn't help but wish he hadn't read them, now. They must have given him stupid ideas, ones that had somehow lodged in his head against his better judgement.

Casting about for a topic that would let him think about anything else for a while, he tried for a fairly obvious one. "It's been a while since you've taken the field directly, no? Are you prepared?" They sparred, of course—the Duke was a formidable, accomplished soldier who deserved his reputation. But the Almyran border had been quiet, if tense. This would not be.

Alaric nodded his head. “About as prepared as I can be. The troops have mobilized, I have one of the best bodyguards one can ask for, and a good friend by my side," Alaric spoke, his lips curling up at the corners as he arched a brow at Reynard. He seemed genuine in his statement, but there was something light in it as well. Almost as if he were trying to tease Reynard.

“After all, he has taught me quite a few skills to ensure my survival. I shall have to put them to use on the field when we arrive. And to your earlier statement, I don't think it's as much a bribe as it is a compensation of a job well done. You are very talented, Reynard Voigt. Perhaps one of the most talented men in my..." he paused, his brows furrowing as he seemed to struggle with the word he wanted to use.

“In my company. I do not make a habit of concerning myself with my soldiers. They are all skilled and trusted to stay alive, but you... I am concerned for you in this battle. I do not doubt your prowess. You've proven yourself capable in that aspect, however; as I've said, you are a good friend. I do not wish harm to befall you. So... take care of yourself, alright?" He seemed to convey it with enough sincerity that it didn't seem false. As if he were truly worried about Reynard's well-being.

It was simultaneously warming and agonizing. Reynard couldn't help himself—he laughed. Really what else was there to do? He, of all people, prided himself on polite distance and professionalism, and yet here he was, so hopelessly enamored of someone who could not feel the same in turn that all it took was the suggestion that he was somehow special to wreak a horrific havoc on his innards. He supposed at least he knew how the others had felt, now. Too bad he was far too old for this.

Though his laughter was short-lived, some trace of the smile beneath the scarf remained in the way his eyes narrowed, and he shook his head faintly. "If I had the first inclination to take care of myself, milord, I'd be lounging on a beach in Dagda somewhere right now, eating mangoes and plucking lute-strings for pretty strangers." It was true in more than one sense. He'd always known he had little care for his physical well-being. He took measures to survive of course—he didn't have a death wish. But he was not inherently afraid of it in the way most people were. He couldn't be, to do what he did. Remaining here, though, like this... he was beginning to get the sense that it was risking himself in a different way, setting himself up for a different kind of torment, and a wiser man would ask Mercer for reassignment, at a minimum.

Reynard knew he was smart, but he'd never considered himself particularly wise.

“So would you play your lute for me?" Alaric stated, almost reflexively, as if he wasn't actually going to say that. “I've always been fond of music. And your laugh suggests that you are quite skilled in that area, as well. There is something almost melodic in it," he continued, a soft smile on his face as he glanced at Reynard. He blinked, though, and shook his head as if to free himself of some thought, and cleared his throat somewhat.

“And that doesn't sound too bad, actually. Perhaps, one day, when this war is over, and there is finally true peace... a beach in Dagda sounds rather beautiful," he spoke, his eyes softening as he glanced out in front of him.

"Milord is hardly a stranger," Reynard replied, unable to help himself. In another context, from another person, he would have construed the words as at least suggestive, if not outright flirtation, and his response would have been the same. It'd have stung a sight less, though.

"If it's beaches you want, though... the ones in Brigid cannot be outdone. Much shorter boat trip, too. The ocean might be the second-most beautiful thing I've ever seen, and I grew up next to it, so I'd know." Apparently he was just going to dig his own grave now, which was well enough, he supposed. The man was killing him; it'd be nice to have a hole to fall into when he was done dying inside.

Alaric arched a brow in Reynard's direction, his head tilting in a curious manner towards him. “If that is what you'd suggest, then I suppose I shall have to visit Brigid's beaches, instead, if you'd be so kind as to be my guide," he replied, a faint grin spreading across his face. “What is the first-most beautiful thing you've ever seen?" he asked, his brow still arched as he regarded Reynard with an interested gaze.

"That," Reynard declared, probably too quickly, "is a secret." He was quite lucky in this moment that the Duke was perhaps the most oblivious person he'd ever met, else that might have been obvious and gotten his dumb ass into some trouble. "But, if you wish to see the second-most beautiful thing I have ever seen, I would be... pleased to guide you. My grandfather would hardly believe I'd developed any sort of Brigidian pride, but I'm sure he'd be only too happy to receive such an illustrious guest as Duke Goneril."

He chuckled, though, and shook his head. “One of these days I will get you to tell me that secret, Rey," he stated before pulling in a breath. “Not that I'm as good of an assassin or intelligence man as yourself, however; I do have my own ways," he continued, seemingly quite sure of himself.

“And for the record, I think your eyes are, perhaps, the most..." he paused, blinking as if he were trying to think of the word he wanted to say. “They are the most beautiful shade of ruby red I have seen. As if they were cut and refined from the gem itself," he stated, huffing lightly at himself before turning his attention away from Reynard. The same faint color on his face was definitely not from the sun reflecting his hair.

The eyes he'd mentioned went almost comically wide at the compliment. Had that—was that—that sounded like a come-on. Not a particularly direct one, but at the very least an attempt at flirtation. People didn't just—

Well, no. Sometimes they did. It occurred to Reynard that he might well be dealing with a male version of Thea or Sorcha. They were, in fact, the sorts of people who could give that kind of compliment without meaning anything by it. Of all his features, his eyes did tend to draw those.

And yet. And yet the wording was much more elaborate than they would have used, and not even Thea had ever blushed at him when saying something nice. The only person she'd ever gotten flustered giving a compliment to was, well, Vridel.

Reynard decided a bit of an experiment was in order. If such a compliment could be given platonically, then it was likely he would interpret a return of it as the same. If it was not given platonically, then it wouldn't do that much harm to return it, he didn't think. But he wanted to see how the Duke would react—maybe... maybe his initial assessment of the other man's receptiveness was mistaken?

"I'm sure people often say similar things about your hair," he said, maintaining an almost casual affect. "Though I suppose flame is the more apt comparison than a stone. But you know—the first thing I think worth noticing about anyone is their hands? Yours told me a great deal about you before we knew each other at all." His eyes fell to them, now, on the reins of the horse.

"There are nobles enough with weapon calluses, I suppose, but you have work ones, too, and one on the inside of your middle finger, from holding a quill. I knew right from the start you weren't afraid of a little labor, or a little learning. It's the reason I offered to assist you. Your hands." That the Duke was an ally of Mercer had of course made it necessary for Reynard to do something to make sure he lived, but doing it personally was a choice he'd made because of his own assessment of the kind of man he was, not Mercer's.

If anything, the color on Alaric's face deepened as he snorted softly. He lifted one of his hands, though, rubbing his forefinger against his thumb as if he were trying to feel the things Reynard had said.

“I wasn't aware hands could tell such things about a person," he spoke, his voice slightly altered as if he were actually embarrassed to speak at all. He glanced at Reynard, though, before his eyes fell on Reynard's hands. “The impression I received from our spars is that you are a man of not only extraordinary talent, but of one who is precise and spectacular. It's almost a shame that our time together will be short lived after this," he spoke. He was looking ahead, anywhere that didn't seem to be on Reynard, himself.

“It almost makes me selfishly want to prolong this war."

Reynard swallowed, throat quite dry. Coughing softly, he demurred. "Who knows, really? Perhaps you'll find you still have need of a bodyguard when all this is done. Don't listen to Mercer—my fees are quite reasonable." It wasn't the thing he really wanted to say, but the thing he really wanted to say was stupid, and far too much, even if—

Well even if he had been off to begin with.

For a moment, Alaric looked quite serious. His eyes narrowed slightly in Reynard's direction as if he were assessing him. A smile, however, tugged at his lips as he nodded his head. “For you, I'd gladly pay any price."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1185 - Red Wolf Moon - Saturday the 9th
Derdriu - Early Evening - Cool
Mercer von Riegan


Five years.

Has it really been almost five years since the world went to shit? Mercer pulled in a deep breath, glancing at the black pegasus in his stable. It was the last link he had to her. He'd finally stopped crying about a year ago, but that didn't mean he stopped mourning her. Stopped loving her. Even now, as he toyed with the blue geode ring on his finger, his thoughts were filled of her. Her smile, her warmth, her love.

It was as if he could still hear her voice, the way it changed when she spoke to him. The way she laughed when he did something to make her do so. Sighing softly, he ran a hand through his hair. It was much longer than it used to be. From the shaggy mane it once was, it was now mostly down to his shoulder blades. He never had the time to get it cut. Never cared enough. He departed the stables, though, and made his way to his home. The others would, no doubt, be arriving soon. Alaric and Rey were arriving from the Locket, and Deirdre and Sofia were resting in one of his spare rooms.

They'd traveled from the Myrddin Bridge, tired from the battles they fought against Gloucester. It wasn't much, but he supposed it was a small comfort he could offer them. Mercer feared there wasn't much comfort he could offer anyone, really. The way he risked his life on the battlefield, the way he made sure that everyone else lived, and made it so that a majority of the soldiers' attention had been on him during any skirmish that happened. It wasn't something she would have approved of, but what did Mercer care?

This was how he protected his friends. This was how he kept anyone else from dying. Even the scars that littered his body were worth it. Was worth the pain he'd endured just so that those he cared about could live a moment more. If his life could extend theirs for a moment longer, for years longer, he considered it a fair trade.

“Mercer," a voice called out, and his eyes found Sylvi's. They were still a dull grey, not the same vibrant stone grey they used to be. Devon had told him what they'd had to endure in the prison camps, what he had to endure, but Sylvi never spoke of what she had to survive against. The way she shied away from touch, or any sort of affection, gave Mercer a bit of an idea, though, and it only served to make him angry. That they would do that to someone like her. That they thought it was okay to do it at all to anyone, really.

“Alaric and Reynard have both arrived, and are waiting for you in your study. Shall we go meet them?" she stated. Mercer nodded, and followed her towards where the others were waiting for him. When he arrived, his eyes fell to Alaric and nodded his head before he greeted Reynard as well.

"Mercer," Reynard returned simply, arms crossed over his chest. Over the years he'd adopted a certain strange body language around Alaric. Well, not strange exactly, but indicative. He tended to remain standing even in rooms where Alaric sat, often slightly behind and to the side of his chair. He walked half a pace behind him, too. It would seem he took the bodyguard portion of his duties very seriously, indeed.

Devon was there, too, leaned against a wall. He always looked tired, these days, his features harder and sharper than they'd used to be. He sometimes gave Sylvi obvious, longing looks when her back was turned, but any courage the Academy had given him in this one particular aspect had either vanished or been intentionally discarded. He pulled longer hours at the practice field than any of the other soldiers, and had been doing so for years.

Sofi seemed hardly to have changed; her face was the same serene, graceful thing it had always been. She wore her hair braided back on both sides now, but otherwise loose; the deep blue of it was about the length of Mercer's, where before it had been longer. The haunted look in her eyes was a new feature, though. She gave him a small nod when he entered, but waited for others to speak first.

These were the faces of people who'd seen too much, and if Mercer could have spared them from it, he would have. But that just wasn't the way things worked. They all had a job to do. They had to end this war. And he wouldn't sleep until his friends were safe, once more.

Deirdre looked roughly thinner than she used to, but there was a strange strength in her eyes. She'd never seemed like that, before, or Mercer never truly noticed. Her hair was held back in a low tail, though it was the same length as it'd always been. Alaric looked as if he hadn't changed at all, and Mercer supposed as a seasoned general, it would take a lot more than this war to change a man so used to it.

“As some of you know," he spoke, glancing towards his old academy mates, “next month is Ethereal Moon. That means..." He swallowed thickly. “That means we have a promise to keep. We'll be leaving for Garreg Mach at the beginning of Ethereal Moon, so if you need to prepare, you have a couple of weeks."

“Who's going to watch over the Alliance with you gone?" Deirdre spoke, her eyes narrowing slightly in Mercer's direction. He offered a wry smile before nodding in Alaric's direction.

“I'm leaving Leicester in Alaric's hands, for now. He's going to be Duke von Riegan until we return," he spoke. Had this been several years ago, he'd have made a joke about Alaric being a Riegan, however; he found it difficult to do even that much.

“Are you certain of this, Mercer? It was a promise made years ago when your friends were still alive. Surely they would understand if you couldn't keep a promise like this, especially when..." Alaric trailed off, but Mercer understood the implication. Some of his friends were dead, and the ones that lived were likely not going to keep that promise, either.

“I think we should do it." Surprisingly, it was Devon that spoke first, and with a strange firmness at that. He raked a scarred hand through his hair and down to his nape. “Maybe we're the only ones who show up, and we just have to turn around and come back. But maybe... maybe we're not. It might be the last chance we have, to turn this around."

The war was not going well. Not for the Alliance, and not, as far as anyone could tell, for Faerghus either. In fact, except for the northernmost reaches of the Holy Kingdom, where Fraldarius and Gautier used the rough mountain passes to their advantage, the entire country seemed to be under Imperial control. Had been, since the deaths of King Rufus and Sorcha. The Alliance's territorial loss wasn't as bad—they still had the capital and just over half the country, but everything south of the Bridge was gone, and the troops were wearing thin, in terms of both numbers and morale. Maybe the Imperials were, too, but if so it was slower for them.

If something didn't change, it wouldn't be more than another year before the entire continent of Fódlan belonged to Emperor Volkhard.

"It's possible this is a trap," Reynard warned softly, glancing between the others. "Garreg Mach might not be actively occupied, but it has been under Imperial control for five years. It's... not the unlikeliest thing that they've somehow found out about our agreement. We could be walking right into a snare, and it might be for nothing at all."

“If we don't try, the last five years might have been for nothing at all," Sofi replied, just as quiet.

“I agree with everyone," Mercer replied. “If we don't at least try, then all of this," he stated, vaguely gesturing to everyone in the room, “will have been for nothing. The things we've been through, the things we've endured... we can't let them win. And I didn't say we should go unprepared. I'm quite aware that it could be a trap, but we can't exactly go looking like an army marching. We go light."

It wasn't the best thing to do, either, but the less attention they brought to themselves, the better. “It's why I'm asking Alaric to stay here. In case... in case something does happen. At least the Alliance will have someone to look after it. To continue in my stead."

“If that is what you want, Mercer, I cannot argue with you, but," Alaric stated, his gaze shifting briefly towards Reynard, an unreadable emotion flashing across his eyes before he rested his eyes back on Mercer. “You all need to make it back alive. If you don't... I will never forgive you for dragging those I hold dear to my heart with you to the Eternal Flames." Mercer was slightly confused as to what he meant by that. As far as he knew, Deirdre was the only one he cared about. Was there something between him and Rey that Mercer wasn't aware of?

Reynard seemed to be rather intently studying the spider fern in the corner of the room, and offered nothing helpful on the subject.

“Speak for yourself, Al. I'll be fine; I've got Sofia, and the others with me," Deirdre spoke first, her eyes narrowing in her cousin's direction. He merely furrowed his brows, though, and shook his head.

“I guess... I guess it's settled, then. We're going back to Garreg Mach," Sylvi finally spoke, her voice low and soft.

Devon nodded firmly, expelling a heavy breath. “All right. What's the exact day we leave? If we're going to go light we'll be pretty fast, but there's always the chance of running into trouble on the road. We're... we're going to have to cross the Bridge, which is..." He grimaced; the rest hardly needed saying.

"We'll have to sneak it, of course," Reynard mused. "I can prepare some measures to quiet horses and the like."

“We'll need to get there before the twenty fourth. That means we'll need to leave on the first if we are to sneak around and make it in time," and it gave them plenty of room if something did happen. Crossing the Bridge was not going to be an easy task. They had to move slowly, patiently, and quietly if they were going to sneak past Gloucester and the Imperial army.

“Rey, do what you can to prepare the horses and Sir for the necessary travel. He's a bit of a sore-thumb, and any way you can tone him down would be... appreciated," though he didn't think taking the wyvern would be such a bad idea. Sir was a proud creature, but he was also smart enough to be compliant when the situation called for it.

“Be safe on your journey," Alaric stated, standing from his spot and crossing the floor towards Deirdre. “And as stubborn and hotheaded as you are, you take care, Deir," he stated, placing a hand on her head in an affectionate manner. She merely huffed at him, and pushed his hand to the side.

“I don't plan on doing anything else, idiot," she replied, and Mercer felt the slightest inclination to smile, however; it didn't quite form on his face. There were only a few more weeks before they would need to leave. Mercer didn't think it so bad. Maybe... maybe his friends would keep their promise and meet them at Garreg Mach.

Just as they'd promised so many years ago.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


Image


I.Y. 1185 - Ethereal Moon - Monday the 22nd
Outside Garreg Mach Village - Late Afternoon - Rain
Cyril Eisner


Time had no meaning.

Honestly he wasn't sure anything had any meaning. What it would be for there to be a point to this? All he knew was a sense of suspension, a fundamental immobility in his soul. For so long, it felt as though he had been trying to—what, exactly? To move forward? To ascend? There was something up or forth about his intentions, anyway, distant from him as they seemed to be. And yet he knew more certainly than he knew his intentions that they were consistently thwarted, as though there were an impassable wall before him—

No, that wasn't quite right. It wasn't that something blocked his way forward and up.

It was that something tethered him to what was behind and down. Like an anchor, lodged in his chest, and no matter how he strained against it, it simply would not move.

He didn't know how long it had been like this, but he did know that things had changed since it started. He had become stronger, able to exert more force in his press forward. But the tether had become strong apace, like iron alloyed to steel alloyed to truesilver alloyed to... something else. Wasn't there something else? He felt like he remembered it, remembered holding something in his hands which hummed with it, with a quiet kind of power that could become loud. The chain felt a little like that, actually, quiet until he strained too much against it, and then loud, agonizingly loud, until his effort gave and he once more sat within the confines.

And yet other than this, other than this feeling of thwarted motion there was... nothing. Nothing to see, nothing to hear, nothing to smell or taste or feel.

Until today.

From behind him, he felt the faintest stirring of a breeze, and it was enough to render him nearly insensate. The smell of it—just freshened air but so much more than there had been. The feel if it, stirring the ends of his hair, leaving tingles on his skin like—like touch. Like real touch.

In however much meaningless time there had been, he had never turned backwards. But now it was like he was compelled. He reoriented, and then there was something new. Cold, a little pinprick on his face, and then another, and another, and he was walking—no, running—no, flying backwards. The tether tensed behind him, but unlike every other time before, when he pulled it snapped, and he was free and flying and—

Pain.

Cyril jolted awake, eyes snapping open. He pulled in a sharp breath and tried to sit, only to be assailed by a pain he'd never known before, a sluggish unresponsiveness in his body that did not slow the way agony ripped over every muscle, like they were all tearing apart and reforming at once. He collapsed back against something hard—rocks, he was laying on rocks. And the sound of water... he was on the bank of a river. The flecks of cold on his face were tiny, freezing raindrops; the sky overhead was dull grey.

It took a moment more, but then his thoughts, so long hazy and indistinct, snapped back into place. Garreg Mach. His students—

Senka. An urgent thought, his first distinct one, broke the surface of the others with an alarming clarity. He had been knocked off the edge of a ravine by Thales, and the river had... carried him here? He wasn't sure exactly where here was, or how far he'd gone, but he knew he needed to get back. Rhea had been defeated, and the Imperial Army was sure to break the defenses soon, if they hadn't already.

He tried again to sit, and again pain lanced across his body, which would not move the way he wanted it to. Why was he—why was this happening? What was wrong with him?

Carefully, Cyril worked the Arrow of Indra out from beneath him, still strapped to his back. When he went to close his fingers over it, however, he felt an odd obstruction. What in the—?

Finding the strength to lift his head, he caught sight of the familiar haft of the lance, but... but his hands weren't his hands. They were the right size, and approximately the right hue, but his hands hadn't been so thin since he was a child, and his fingernails—they were disgusting, grown inches long and ragged, almost beginning to curl. He felt an instinctive revulsion, nearly recoiling, but at the same time if he didn't get up, he was never going to figure any of this out at all.

Slowly, he managed to get the Arrow planted among the stones, and with its leverage, he was able to finally, finally sit up. His hair was heavy on his back, and something about that felt wrong, too, but at the moment he had no thoughts to spare for it. With another ten minutes, he was able to stand. His sword, somehow, had remained in his grip the entire time, and he replaced it at his back, leaning heavily on the lance for balance as he forced himself to begin walking.

He almost fell over when he caught sight of himself in the water.

He didn't understand how, but his entire frame looked like that of a man starved, much of his muscle mass cannibalized in what must have been an effort to simply stay alive. He was gaunt, complexion waxy and too pale. His hair was a shag that somehow nearly reached his knees, a deeper, inky black than the dark raven brown he remembered it being. His eyes were sunken and hollow, but fiercely bright in their color. What was only the suggestion of a slit in his pupil before had now become pronounced, a feature that made him look almost reptilian somehow.

Cyril blinked, but the image was no illusion. Somehow... somehow this was the state of him now. He felt... he felt at once frail and powerful, like he could barely move but also that he didn't need to, because he could simply will the world around him into the shape he so desired. Where this foreign arrogance came from, he could not say. He certainly had no idea how to do what some part of him believed he could, and so he had no choice but to shuffle forth.

Garreg Mach.

The others.

Senka.

He had to find them.

He didn't get much further when a passing villager spotted him. The man's eyes went wide, and he rushed towards Cyril, almost hesitant, it seemed, to touch him. He had reached a hand out, but pulled it back.

“Hey, hey, you should take it easy! You look like you're on death's door!" the man stated, reaching behind his back and pulling a waterskin pouch. He handed it in Cyril's direction, concern in his eyes, perhaps for the state Cyril was currently in. “You should rest here, and drink some water. It might... it might help. I even have a loaf of bread on me, and maybe a potato. Though you look like you need something more substantial than that," the man continued. He furrowed his brows lightly before a thought seemed to come to him.

“There's a small village just up ahead. Let me help you there, and we can figure out what to do."

“N—" Cyril's voice broke; he coughed violently, shudders wracking his frame and his lung burning. After a moment, the worst of it subsided, and he shook his head. “No, I—I have to get to Garreg Mach. I can—pay you for your food, but... but I can't stop." Some part of him felt that if he stopped, he wouldn't be able to begin again, and his drive to reach the monastery was more a need than a mere desire.

“Garreg Mach? The place just up river?" the man seemed slightly confused at Cyril's statement. “And, no, no need to pay for the food, but Garreg Mach's been abandoned. The Church of Seiros isn't there anymore. There have been some people living there in the five years since... well, you know..." the man trailed off as if he expected Cyril to know what had happened.

“Five—what—?" Cyril felt a rising panic in his chest, one that tightened around his heart and felt like it was choking him. Five years since—since what? There were so few things the man could possibly mean by such an omission, and at a minimum he was suggesting—it couldn't be.

“What year is this, by the Imperial calendar?" He fixed his eyes on the man, so bright as to be almost scalding, though anger was the last thing on his mind in his moment.

“Are you feeling all right? You didn't hit your head or anything, did you? It's Ethereal Moon of the Imperial Year 1185. It's been nearly five years since the monastery fell," he answered, his eyes growing dim as if with melancholy. He shook his head, though, and slumped his shoulders. “It was supposed to be the millennium festival in two days time, but who's got time to think about things like that?" it sounded more as a statement than a question.

“Especially with the war and the archbishop still missing and all... I doubt there's a soul to be found who has enough blessings worth counting," he added.

Ethereal Moon of 1185.

He almost couldn't process that. He'd been unconscious for five years. It made sense, on one level. Explained the condition he was in to some extent, though he should have been dead by now. Long dead. He could only suppose that this, too, was the work of Sothis's power. That he was somehow at least alive instead of a rotted corpse at the bottom of the ravine. And if the monastery had fallen... it would perhaps explain why no one had found him. Possibly no one had looked.

No. No he had to believe someone had looked. His students would have looked. Senka would have looked. Even the Archbishop surely would have looked, but if she was missing, then what if the rest of them were—he shook his head fiercely, an uncomfortable dizziness washing over him. “War?" he asked, too many questions on his tongue to get them all out. But this man was unlikely to know exactly who had and had not lived, or where specific people were. But perhaps more general information would give him a place to start. “What war? Suppose I've been... isolated, since the Monastery... fell."

“The war started by the Adrestian Empire. After the monastery fell four years ago, Emperor Volkhard declared war on both Faerghus and the Alliance. So far, both sides are doing pretty horribly. Duke von Riegan has managed to keep a most of his territory, and Faerghus seems to be having some sort of civil war among themselves. I don't know too much about that, but..." he didn't seem to know how to end that sentence.

“It's not good. Even the monastery has seen some better days with the bandits that are now roaming around it," he added as his lips pursed together.

Emperor Volkhard immediately struck him wrong, as did civil war in Faerghus. Duke von Riegan was more familiar, but he had no idea if the man meant Mercer or his grandfather. “I—I have to get up there," he said, more to himself than the man. If the millennium celebration was meant to be in two days' time, then maybe—maybe some of them would be there. Maybe there was a chance he could—could see them again.

His heart clenched, a keen pain that narrowed his eyes. He knew for a fact there was no one left to pray to, so all he could do was hope with all his might that they lived. That he could find them. He knew with everything in him that life without them would hold no meaning for him, no significance. He knew, because he had lived a life like that once. He could not go back. He had to... had to find them. See what he could do to help.

He had to find her. Had to keep his promise.

“If you need me," he whispered, the words burned into his mind as though he'd pressed them in with a brand. “I'll find a way to be there."

With a grateful nod to the man for his help and his supplies, Cyril turned his eyes towards the cliffside. If he followed it, he would surely come to a trail up eventually. He would be able to see Garreg Mach, and then—

And then, maybe, he would be able to see her.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1185 - Ethereal Moon - Monday the 22nd
Garreg Mach - Evening - Rain
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea pulled in a long breath, shifting Amyr over her back and securing it to the leather sheath she'd had fashioned for it nearly a year ago. Her muscles ached, and her arms were tired. The bandits seemed more resilient than ever as they tried to overrun what was left of the monastery. The only reason she and her sister bothered to protect it was mostly for the valuable books, and, of course, the tombs that housed the Crest Stones. She did not doubt that the Empire would try again for them, but there was a lot of history here at the monastery. History that couldn't just be abandoned. She tucked a piece of hair behind her ear, hair that no longer fell to her waist.

Over the past five years, Amalthea had changed, her appearance most of all, perhaps. Her eyes were not as vibrant an amber as they used to be. They were darker, like a shade of dark amber honey, and her hair fell in short layers a little past her shoulder blades. It was practical this way, and it kept her hair out of her eyes.

The soft pattering of rain against the roof was a soothing melody, for some reason. It was coming down a bit more than it had been a few hours ago, but Amalthea was grateful for it. It meant that the bandits would either be seeking shelter, or they would at least be doing something other than trying to attack the monastery. She would take whatever reprieve she could at this point. Sighing softly, she toyed with his ring on her finger before she turned away from the window, and left to find Lyanna. Even though the rain would temporarily keep the bandits at bay, she and Lyanna still needed to make one round of the monastery before they could retire and have Shamir, Catherine, or Alois do a patrol.

She found her sister in the ruined cathedral, sitting in front of the Saint Cichol statue. Lyanna had always seemed to have a particular fondness for Saint Cichol, and once or twice Amalthea had caught her talking to the statue like it was a real person, and someone she knew very well. Today, though, she only sat at the base of its plinth, leaning back against it and apparently catching a moment's rest.

It was almost uncanny how little her sister had changed in five years. Her features were the same as they'd always been, but fatigue wore them down these days, putting deep circles beneath her eyes and a worried crease seemingly permanently stuck between her brows.

Lyanna stood at Amalthea's approach, dusting herself off. She'd changed her manner of dress, at least, now most commonly wearing light armor over a gown split for movement, that only fell to her knees and didn't hinder her motion at all in a fight. She seemed to prefer light swords when melee was necessary, but was above all else a magician, a caster of holy magic. “Thea. Time for the last sweep?"

Amalthea nodded her head, offering a small smile towards her sister. “We can get some rest afterwards," she spoke. It wouldn't be much rest, but it would have to be enough. How much longer they could keep the bandits at bay was a bit of a mystery to Amalthea. They didn't have an endless supply of stamina, or resources. They were barely hanging on enough as it was, with whatever fish they could farm, game that Shamir or Alois managed to get in the forests, and the fruits and vegetables they could grow in the Greenhouse.

“We just need to secure the front gate and make sure there are no hidden surprises," she continued, sighing softly. The bandits had also become more clever in their assault tactics that Amalthea briefly entertained the idea that they were not simply bandits. It was possible that they had experienced soldiers in their ranks, deserters or such ilk.

They walked mostly in silence from the cathedral to the entrance hall. The damages to the structure were still so prominent. Holes in the walls, debris and rubble on tables long gone and broken. Even parts of the ceiling were missing, creating puddles of water as the rain, unhindered, continued to fall. Amalthea contemplated grabbing an umbrella, but what was the point? She'd need both of her hands if something was amiss, or if they were suddenly ambushed. Pushing a sigh through her nose, she glanced towards her sister.

“We'll just make a round or two and have one of the others take over and stand guard," she spoke. It was routine, now, to Amalthea.

Lyanna nodded, every bit as familiar with the routine. As they exited the front hall and haded towards the gate, the rainfall grew thicker, darkening the spring green shade of her hair to emerald and slicking the strands to her face, but if she even noticed it, she gave no sign. Lyanna might show fewer physical signs of wear than just about anyone, but something about her had... changed. Gone were many of her carefree mannerisms, or amusing things like the way she stuffed her face with sweets when under duress. If anything she was quieter now, more distant, as though she were but an observer of their own lives now, simply waiting for this part to pass.

They passed through what had once been the small marketplace, smithy stall and merchant carts long smashed to rotting smithereens. They hadn't bothered to clear it out—in the event the gate was breached, those would be more obstacles for the bandits to grapple with, and more time for the defenders.

As they approached the gate, though, there was a voice from behind it. “Hello? Is anyone there?" Something metal struck the doors with a weak clang. “Please—I'm not a bandit."

Something struck Amalthea. The voice... it was different, slightly more coarse than it should have been, but it was also familiar. Familiar in a way that Amalthea wasn't sure what compelled her legs to move faster towards the source. It was as if some invisible tug was pulling her forward and she couldn't resist it. When she opened the gate, hesitantly to make sure it wasn't a rouse, and saw who it was...

Amalthea's eyes widened.

Who in the goddess' name was that? It looked like a person, but one who'd been malnurished for years. She blinked as if to clear the rain from her vision and immediately she spotted something that could only have belonged to him: Professor.

It was his eyes, slitted like some draconic creature and as gold as they'd ever been.

Amalthea felt something warm stinging her eyes, and immediately flung her arms around the Professor, choking out a sob. He was dead. They'd told her that he'd fallen off the cliffside, plunging to his death. And yet... here he was. But how? How was he not dead? He looked like he was on his last legs, that at any moment he might actually just die. Her eyes went to Lyanna behind her.

“Sister! We need to get him to the infirmary, quickly!"

The Professor returned her embrace as well as he could; he supported himself with the Arrow in one hand, but the other wound around her and squeezed as tightly as his atrophied muscles would allow.

“Thea," he murmured, voice cracking with emotion. “I'm so—I'm so glad you're alive."

Lyanna moved to Cyril's other side, and between them they got him to the infirmary, setting his gear on the floor next to one of the beds and settling him in it. Her sister got to work immediately with diagnostics, wincing occasionally with what seemed to be sympathy.

“If it's too taxing don't waste the energy," she said gently. “But how did this happen, Cyril? We all thought—we thought you fell. Thought you were dead."

“I don't..." He looked down at his hands, at his cracked, dirty, overlong nails and the bare-bone structure of them, and grimaced. “I did fall. I have the sense that I was some version of unconscious after that, but... I woke up today. I had no idea so much time had passed. If a stranger hadn't found me on the road I still might not know. I suppose my condition is because I had nothing to eat or drink in five years. It must have been something else that sustained me, but I don't fully understand it myself."

Thea pursed her lips together. “Is it..." she paused slightly, glancing towards her sister before her eyes landed back on Cyril. “Is it possible because you fused with Sothis?" she asked. Sothis was the goddess, after all, and everything they'd learned about Cyril was that he was a vessel for her. After the events that sent him to the void, he'd returned different and he'd said that Sothis had merged her gifts with him.

“I... I'm so glad that you're alive, regardless. At least... at least one of my fallen friends still lives," she stated, blinking back another set of tears from her eyes.

If Lyanna was surprised by the part about Sothis, she did not show it, merely continuing to work on Cyril. She drew in a sharp breath as his tunic came off, and after a moment, it was easy to see why. There was a massive, circular scar on the professor's back, a hash of pale pink and white that was smooth, but hard, and faintly shiny. Lyanna touched it only tentatively, and swallowed thickly when she did. “This is... this is a curse," she said softly. “Or it was one. It's like you exorcised it—I'm not surprised you were unconscious for five years—I didn't think this could be done." She looked quite troubled, her brow furrowing.

Cyril, though, seemed more interested in what Amalthea had said. “Fallen...?" He swallowed thickly, fixing her with an intense stare. It seemed to be the only part of him that still resembled him. “Thea... what's happened? What's become of the others?"

Amalthea swallowed thickly. She wasn't sure how to answer that, nor if she wanted to. The news had hit her hard when she'd first heard it, and they were friends. She wasn't entirely sure how Cyril would react to knowing she was dead. That Senka was...

“Mercer is Duke von Riegan now. He's leading the Alliance army against the Empire. He still lives. Vridel... he's in Brigid, but..." she paused to swallow thickly, “a few years ago... Sorcha, Senka, Devon, and Sylvi all returned to Faerghus. Apparently something happened and Rufus ended up becoming King. He... he took the crown from Sorcha, but she never gave up on trying to reclaim it. I don't... I don't know the exact details but on their way to talk to Rufus, they were ambushed."

She paused there, tearing her eyes away from Cyril because she could not face him when she spoke next. “They took Sorcha, and a few months later she was... they executed her. They blamed her for assassinating Rufus and... they had Sorcha executed for it."

“But Senka..." she forced herself to glance at her professor, the one who had guided her through everything. Who'd been there to help her grow and give her the strength and courage to face everything with a smile. He deserved to hear this, and she needed to stare him in the eyes when she conveyed the next thing. Because she wanted to be there for him when he knew.

“In the ambush... she... she died trying to protect Sorcha. She's gone, Cyril. I'm... I'm sorry."

The words seemed to register slowly with him. First, he went stock still; enough so that even Lyanna looked alarmed, touching his shoulder gently. He didn't appear to feel it. The eye contact allowed Amalthea to see his pupils blow wide, then contract sharply, and his entire frame shuddered, a breath hissing from between his teeth.

“Damn," Lyanna swore in an urgent whisper. “Professor—Cyril. Listen to me. You have to breathe. You can't—you're not strong enough right now!"

It wasn't clear what she was talking about, but the professor doubled over, both arms wrapping around his middle, and he made an inarticulate sound of pain. Physical, psychological—it was impossible to tell. Probably it was both. Wet spots darkened the blanket over his knees, and his entire frame trembled. His hair fell forward, veiling his face and much of the rest of him, but the grip of his fingers on his sides tightened, and there was a dull scraping sound, like—Amalthea wasn't sure exactly what it was like, but it seemed to alarm Lyanna.

“No—Cyril, stop!"

But he didn't even hear her. A wrenching sob tore free of him, followed by something that sounded almost like a snarl.

Lyanna grimaced, but lashed a hand forward, gripping the back of his head with a hand lit with some kind of magic. She held him like that for several seconds, after which he abruptly went slack beneath her grip. Sighing, she used both arms to unfold him, leaning him back against the headboard. “Help me get him laid down, will you?" she asked Amalthea, fatigue heavy in her tone.

Amalthea felt her heart breaking all over again, like it had so many years ago. “Okay," she spoke softly, moving to the other side of him so she could help Lyanna. “I'm so sorry, Professor," she stated, pulling in a shuddering breath as she fought the tears that threatened to fall. It shouldn't have been like this; they should have all been meeting in two days' time for their reunion. All of them.

The world... it shouldn't have been like this.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1185 - Ethereal Moon - Wednesday the 24th
Garreg Mach - Late Afternoon - Overcast
Mercer von Riegan


Honestly, Mercer didn't think they'd make it to Garreg Mach. Looking at it now, mostly ruins and destroyed architecture, he didn't think anyone else was here. A villager, however, had told them that there were a few people still within the walls, guarding it against the endless bandit raids, and trying to preserve what little church remained. He knew it was Lyanna and Thea. Reynard had told them that the von Kreuz sisters were keeping the church and its inhabitants safe, but he didn't know if they were still there. Glancing towards the others in his group, he could see the fatigue on their faces. Not physical, but the emotional baggage they all had. He shook the thought from his mind, though, and nudged Sir forward. The wyvern had taken to walking on the ground. It made it easier to move about this way, and when the situation called for it, he rode with someone else to let Sir fly.

When they approached the gates, Mercer pursed his lips together. There wasn't much left of what fortifications protected it. There were some spiked logs that seemed to be acting as a barrier of sorts, but he doubted they did anything but keep the wild animals away. They certainly wouldn't keep bandits away who could just walk around them, unless they had traps to keep them from doing so.

They probably didn't have the resources for that, though. With a gentle sigh, he dismounted Sir, and waited for the others to halt before he trudged towards the gate. Lifting a heavy hand, he knocked on the gate, waiting for someone to reply.

There wasn't one.

He tried again.

Still no reply.

He tried a little harder this time, and the soft click of the gate opening caused him to breathe a sigh of relief. At least until he had a lance pointed at his face. “We don't have anything, here, so leave us alone, already!" it was a young man, terrified from the looks of it, and Mercer had to wonder just what made this young man qualified as a guard to the gate. “Look, just... just leave and go back and you won't get hurt."

“We aren't the ones who'll be getting hurt," Deirdre spoke, her voice low and Mercer had to hold a hand up to stop her from lighting whatever spell she was already conjuring.

“We're not here to steal anything," Mercer began, hoping it would at least dissuade the man from pointing the lance at him. “We were students here, many years ago. I'm Mercer von Riegan," he stated, introducing himself. The man's grip on the lance seemed to waver slightly as he narrowed his eyes at Mercer.

“How do I know it's not a ruse? That you're just claiming to be Duke von Riegan and not some... some spy!?" he shouted, causing Mercer to sigh.

“Because only Duke von Riegan has a wyvern as white as snow," he knew that voice. How long has it been since he'd heard it? “Merc, it's... it's good to see you," Thea spoke as she offered him a small smile. Mercer returned it, the first one he'd been able to muster since... he shook the thought from his head.

“It's been a long time, Thea. You've changed," he couldn't help but notice the light in her eyes wasn't as bright.

“We all have... but," she paused, swallowing thickly as she seemed to contemplate something. “You should... there's someone you all should see," she finally spoke, placing a hand on the young man's shoulders to allow Mercer and the group to pass through. Once they were through, and someone took their mounts, perhaps to stable them, and Mercer followed Thea towards where he assumed the infirmary used to be.

They passed through than one half-ruined hall on the way; he could hear the occasional soft sound of surprise or sadness from the others—no doubt seeing their former school in such a state was its own kind of disheartening. Not nearly as much so as some other things that had happened over the last five years, but... still, it had been home, and the place that brought them all together. Sofia trailed a hand along one of the stone walls and sighed softly, shaking her head.

“I don't know what I was expecting," she murmured. “But..."

They reached the infirmary then, though, and inside was what might well have been a ghost. He was thin, far too much so, gaunt and malnourished with sallow skin. His hair was too long, sheets of it cascading down his back, and darker than it was in memory. His eyes burned too brightly in their sockets, but the golden color and slit pupils of them belonged to no one else any of them knew. If his physical appearance had not been enough to confirm it, the lance and Relic sword propped against the wall next to him would have done it.

He looked up from where he'd been testing his legs against the stone floor, still seated on the bed he occupied, and for a moment his eyes widened in surprise.

“Mercer? And—everyone. You're here."

“Teach?" Mercer stated in surprise, his own eyes widening as he felt something stinging them. Teach was alive? But how could that be? They... they'd seen...

But wasn't that how he was? An extraordinary being, more than a mere human able to come back from the void, to breach even death...

“You're alive," he finally managed to get out, and Mercer felt his body move on its own. He didn't know what to do, then. Teach looked much too fragile to hug, but his appearance had always been deceptive. He walked in front of Teach, and kneeled down so that he could properly assess the man before him. Five years.

“What happened to you?"

He seemed to have none of the same reservations, and easily pulled Mercer to him, laying one large hand on his back and letting out a heavy breath that could only be a sigh. He let go after a moment, and gestured the others forward. There was a bittersweet joy in his expression, a relief paired with wistfulness, and he embraced each of them in turn before explaining himself. Devon sniffed; Reynard tried to pretend his hands didn't shake. Sofi didn't pretend anything, weeping freely as she hugged him back.

“I'm so glad," she whispered.

Deirdre didn't say anything, but weeped as freely as Sofia had. She tried to wipe the tears from her face, but couldn't seem to get them to stop. Sylvi, however, was visibly shaking, her silent sobs racking her body.

When at last everyone had settled, more or less, Teach pursed his lips, pulling in a deep breath through his nose. “Lady Lyanna tells me that the magic I was struck with on the field that day was a powerful curse, the kind of thing meant to destroy me even if I had not fallen. I honestly cannot say if it was aimed for me or for the Archbishop but... either way, I'm the one it hit. I fell, and for a long time, I suppose I—I went dormant. I wasn't conscious of anything around me, didn't remember so much as my own name. During that time, by body expelled the curse and healed itself of whatever injuries I took during the fall. From the number of scars, I must have been mangled."

He shook his head and looked down at his hands. “But time continued for me, and so my body lost mass, my hair and nails grew, my complexion paled in the dark, that kind of thing." He did look pale, almost bloodlessly so, honestly, but his hands at least had been fixed–other than the thinness and softened calluses, they looked the same as ever.

“A couple of days ago I woke up at the bottom of a ravine like that. I'm not sure what changed, but I think the river carried me out of wherever I'd landed originally. I must have finally rid myself of the curse, and I woke up. I had nowhere to go but here, no idea what had happened, or where any of you were. All I could do was hope that some of you would appear today, or soon. I want—I want to help you."

Mercer pursed his lips together. “Teach," he began, furrowing his brows slightly. “As much as I want the help, you're in no position to really give any. You're too weak, right now. The best thing you can do is rest, heal yourself, and then... then you can help," he stated. Even if Teach was some non-human being, his appearance was still too frail for anything.

“You just came back from death; we can't have you going back," he stated, his breath catching in his throat. He glanced towards Thea, next. “Has he been told?" he stated, referring to two people who would not be there. She seemed to catch on to his reference, though, and nodded her head. Mercer sighed heavily.

“Look, the world isn't in a good place right now. We came here hoping that... that some of the others who lived would be here for the reunion, but..." glancing around, there was only one person missing who could make it, however; even then Mercer wasn't too sure. Vi's lifespan wasn't exactly known... but he pushed that thought from his mind.

“Lyanna and I need help, too," Amalthea interjected, glancing towards Teach and Mercer. “We've done what we can to keep the bandits at bay, but... they're getting more difficult each time they try to attack us. We don't have many able-bodied people right now, but if we could secure Garreg Mach, then maybe... maybe we could figure out other things."

Teach hardly looked pleased to be told of his own condition, and much less so to be reminded of those who could not and would not be joining them. He shook his head slightly, though. “I know I'm not much use yet, but I can and will cast magic," he said simply, firmly, as if to remind the others that they weren't exactly in a position to tell him what do do. Things had certainly changed on that account, but he definitely still wasn't anyone's subject. “And this... weakness... will be gone as soon as I can manage it. A good month or two of training ought to be enough."

Frankly it didn't sound like nearly enough, but then, this was Teach. He'd done stranger things before. “I think, however, if you are all willing... it might be best to take care of these bandits once and for all first, and then see where that leaves us. I know... enough about what's going on to know it isn't going to be easy, but—what's going on out there? Really?" He seemed to direct the question at Mercer.

“Where do I even begin," Mercer stated as he took a seat on one of the chairs next to Teach's bed. “I guess... the Alliance is first," because he knew more about what was going on in his own territory than either Faerghus or the Empire. “We've lost everything south of Myrddin Bridge," he began, slinking back into the chair as he rested two fingers to his forehead.

“The Empire has a larger army than either myself and Faerghus, and Gloucester defected to the Empire. No surprise there," it really hadn't been all things considered. “Alaric is holding things down in the Alliance while I'm here, but... I'm not entirely sure how much longer we can hold out. Resources are being spread thin, but I have the advantage, at least for the moment. They're not pitting too much effort against the Alliance, but who knows when that'll change."

“As far as the Empire goes," his eyes shifted to Reynard for a moment before he continued, “I'm not sure if you've heard, but Volkhard is the Emperor now. He framed Vi for his father's death, but..."

“He's in Brigid, right?" Amalthea stated, glancing towards Reynard as if to get confirmation.

Rey nodded briskly. "As of last notice anyway. He... doesn't write as reliably as he used to." It was something he'd spoken a little bit to Mercer about. Vi never wrote much about his physical condition, or his mental one, but Rey had inferred from his letters that he was psychologically in a bad place. Apparently he'd won a lot of respect in Brigid for his ferocity on the field; Rey's grandfather was said to be fond of saying that Vi had the Flame Spirit's gifts, but of late ferocity was beginning to verge on something... worse. And his mentality seemed to be fraying to go with it.

Teach nodded slightly at this, and sighed quietly. “Do we have any idea at all what's happening in Faerghus?"

“Civil war," Devon said grimly, crossing his arms over his chest. “The Imperials are mostly occupied trying to take Arianrhod in the south, which could take them years. But their agents are already in charge of Fhirdiad, and so our own people are fighting each other. Everyone who's fallen in line with Cornelia—" he said her name like he wanted to spit—“Versus Fraldarius, Gautier, and Galatea, basically. Duscur's still Kleiman's."

Rey hummed thoughtfully. "Put a pin in that last bit," he mused. "I've sent a man out there—some rumors are stirring about an uprising, but it might be nothing. In any case, it's nothing actionable right this second."

He supposed Rey had a point. It was, after all, her homeland. Perhaps something might come out of it that would make her proud? “So as you can see, the world is shit, right now, but... we're trying to right it. We're trying," but it felt like so many of them were on the cusp of just giving up. He sighed softly before turning his attention to Teach.

“Where do the bandits make their home, Thea?" he asked, glancing in her direction. She pursed her lips together, her brows furrowing as it seemed she was lost in thought.

“That's the problem; we don't know where they're hiding, or where they're coming from. They come in quick spurts, sometimes right after another," she began, her face smoothing out. “We think they might be nearby, though, if they're able to do tactics that way. You'd have to be pretty close to the monastery in order to attack the way they do. They can't flank us, thankfully, but they have to be taking refuge in the forest somewhere. If we find out where they are, we might be able to finally wipe them out and make Garreg Mach a temporary safe haven, again."

“Then that's what we're going to do. Teach, you focus on getting stronger. Rey, Dev, you two, starting tonight, scout the area and see what you can find. Sofia, Deirdre, I want you two to help whoever you can with rotations in keeping guard. Sylvi, you and I will help with any fortifications that need to be done while Thea and Lyanna can get some rest and help Teach."

“Once we locate the bandits, we'll take them out. And we won't... we won't leave you behind, Teach." Because even if he wanted to, there was just too much at stake, and they needed all the help they could get.

Teach nodded, and the others indicated their agreement as well. Reaching forward, the older man rested a hand on Mercer's shoulder, speaking low and soft. “I am sorry," he said, glancing down at his feet. “For all these years I have failed you." He let his hand fall away, but raised his eyes. “I would appreciate nothing so much as the chance to assist now, if there is any use left in me."

Mercer smiled wryly and shook his head. “You didn't fail us, Teach. You've made us into the people we are today. Without you, we... we'd likely all be dead. Now... we can right these wrongs, and make things like they used to be." Even if it truly wouldn't be like that. They had to try, and now... now they had Teach back.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1185 - Ethereal Moon - Thursday the 25th
Garreg Mach Monastery - Late - Clear
Devon Margrave


Devon shifted the furred mantle over his shoulders, squinting up at the gate back into the monastery. Beside him, Reynard moved with seemingly no sound. It was something he was better at now, too; it was a sort of wry joke between them that he could have easily passed his assassin exams if they were still in school.

He'd certainly never have imagined ending up like this. When Lord Lonato had sponsored his entry to the Academy, he'd been so ecstatic just to have a chance to make something of himself, to repay his adoptive warden for so many years of looking after him and his siblings. Maybe to become a knight, silly as that had been for a boy of common birth to dream. But, well, that was what he'd been. A boy. In so many ways still a child. And while the year had had its trials, especially Lonato's rebellion, and the knowledge that he'd never been important enough for such a man to confide in...

Well, even after all of that, he'd found some happiness.

Now he was just happy to have found some bandits. What a damn world.

"I can give Mercer the report. Get some sleep, Dev." Reynard nodded slightly to Sofi as she opened the gate for them.

"Unlikely," Devon admitted softly.

Reynard sighed, but his face was not without sympathy. "If you don't talk to her, nothing changes, you know."

"Yeah but if I do, it might just get worse." Sylvi—at least she still let him around her. He hadn't touched her since their escape from the camp. They hadn't talked about it directly, because she had been uncomfortable even in the vicinity of the topic, and he hadn't pushed. But every tiny piece of contact now, from small brushes to little squeezes of the hand, was by her choice. He'd seen the way she flinched from things like hugs and even shoulder-touches from other people, and he refused to put her through any discomfort just because he wanted to touch her. To hold her. Kiss her, even.

What he wanted didn't matter, in these circumstances.

The other man pursed his lips. "Only you can decide what's worth the risk," he said simply. "But... you're not everyone else. Not to her. And if you haven't asked her what kind of support she wants from you, there's a pretty good chance she's not getting it." He departed, heading up for the offices on the second floor of the great hall.

Devon, on the other hand, turned towards the dormitory, still turning Reynard's advice over in his mind. He knew, on some level, that the other man was right, but it just... wasn't a conversation he knew how to have. He wanted to help, to do something for her, but—but the first time he'd tried to talk about it she'd looked so pained.

Before he knew what he was doing, he'd bypassed his own door and stood in front of hers, right next to it. There wasn't much point in keeping their old ones; everyone slept on the top floor now for safety, except the professor, who slept one door down from his former room. No one said anything about it.

Swallowing thickly, Devon knocked softly. "Syl? You still awake?" His tone was just as quiet as his knock; he didn't want to rouse her if she was in fact asleep.

There was some shuffling from the other side of the door, something heavy being placed down before the door opened. Sylvi blinked in mild surprise, the dark circles under eyes at least somewhat gone, but her eyes were still dull. “Devon? You're back," she spoke, a soft breath of relief escaping her, it seemed. “Come in," she stated, stepping back and opening the door just a bit wider to let Devon through.

“It's... there isn't much I can offer you right now. It's just my room, but... if you want to sit," she stated, glancing towards the desk she had been sitting at, it seemed. The object that had been set down was, apparently a book, and from the looks of it, it looked like one of the old books Princess Sorcha used to read. The ones about valiant knights and princesses and such.

Devon had read a few of them here and there; he wondered if maybe she wasn't using it to take her mind off things. He shook his head, though, at the offer of a seat. He already felt like he was intruding here, and he wondered if Reynard could possibly be right. What about him would make him different from anyone else in this respect? He wasn't special—he was just... Devon.

"No, don't—don't let me take your chair or anything Syl, I'm fine here." He sat on the floor to make his point, avoiding anywhere too near the bed because he was afraid of how that might be interpreted. He crossed his legs under him and resisted the urge to sigh, nodding at the book instead. "Which one's that?" he asked gently.

“I'm not sure, honestly," she replied, a light huff leaving her as she glanced towards the book. “It... feels like all I've been able to do is stare at it. I can't make sense of the words, and it's just... I thought that maybe if I tried reading something, I'd be able to..." she paused, her hand clenching tightly enough that her knuckles turned white. She glanced at him, then, tears bubbling in her eyes.

“I'm... I'm sorry, Dev," she spoke, closing her eyes and shaking her head. “I'm not... you haven't..." she began, but she didn't seem to know where she wanted to take that statement. “It must be hard for you, now. Seeing me like this... not being able to," she trailed off as if she couldn't finish. Didn't know how to. She pulled in a shuddering breath before she opened her eyes again.

“It... feels like I failed to be the woman you loved, and... I'm sorry."

"Syl," Devon said, his voice thick. He wanted so badly to reach for her, but her words stymied him. Instead, he tried to inject all the feeling he could into his voice, so she would know he meant the words with all his heart. "Syl, you haven't failed at anything, least of all being the woman I love. I—" He had to swallow past the lump rising in his throat. "Goddess, Sylvi, I love you so much." So much it was hard to breathe sometimes. Now, certainly.

"That's... that's never going to change. Even if you're never comfortable with—with contact ever again, I want—I want you to know that will always be true." He'd always known there would come a time when he wouldn't be able to be with her anymore, ever since the Princess had died. His chance at knighthood was far from the most important thing lost that day, but it was plenty important to him, because it had been the one chance he ever had at a life with Sylvi. This wasn't how he'd expected that part of things to end, but knowing that they somehow would had allowed Devon to make an important realization.

Whether they could be together in any given sense of the word or not, he was always going to love her.

"There's no one else, Syl. Not now, not ever. Not for me. There's just you, and I'm here however you want me. I'll always be, unless you tell me to go."

“But... that's just it, Dev," she spoke, slowly as if to try and keep her voice calm. She wrapped her arms around herself as if she were trying to hold herself, and she glanced away from him. “You're... you're the only person I want to..." she paused, swallowing thickly as she tried to keep herself calm. “You're the only one I want to touch me because... you're the only one I love. And... and you haven't since... and that's why it feels like I've failed because if you don't want me. Maybe... maybe that means that you find me repulsive, now. And that... after everything, in the camp."

She seemed to be digging her nails into her arms, but not enough to draw blood, yet. “How could you love me if you find me repulsive? That... you won't even..." she trailed off, closing her eyes again as the tears seemed to flow freely, now.

“You're the only one I want. The only one I'll ever want."

Devon didn't even feel himself move. Couldn't recall deciding to. All he knew was that he was suddenly on his knees in front of her chair, close enough to feel her body heat but still not quite touching, because he needed to see it. Needed to see it in her face and hear it in her voice. That she wanted what he wanted.

"Syl," he breathed, lifting a trembling hand so that his fingertips were a hairsbreadth from her cheek. "No, Syl, never. I want—" he still couldn't seem to elevate his tone above a whisper. "All this time I thought you couldn't stand the idea. It's been torment, but if... but if it was what you wanted I'd do it forever." He respected her enough to keep himself in check. Loved her so much that he wanted to be near her in whatever capacity she'd tolerate. And so there had been no choice but to find a way to get through it. But if she—

"Are you sure? I can—" with the utmost care, he brushed one of the little pieces of red hair framing her face behind her ear. It had always struck him strange, that she should abide his hands—foreign hands, work-callused hands, a commoner's hands—anywhere near her. That she of all people should look at him and find something to love. "Tell me, please," he murmured. And it was a plea. "Tell me what I can do so it hurts less."

Repulsive? How could he have ever been awful enough to give her the thought. She was divine, exquisite even in her sorrow, though he'd have given anything and everything he had just to see her smile.

Her eyes opened as she stared at him, some part scared and some part relieved by something. “Devon," she whispered his name as if she'd found it delicate somehow, as if she'd be breaking something if she said it any louder. “I want you. Only you. I want you, and... I want you to stay with me. Don't leave me, and don't... don't stop this," she stated, reaching for his hand and bringing it to her cheek as if he were the most precious thing in the world to her.

“I just want your hands, your body, and everything of you. I don't... want anyone else's, and I don't want them on me. Just you," she spoke softly, reaching with her other hand to wrap around his neck to pull him forward so that their foreheads were touching.

“Stay with me, tonight... please. Don't... leave me here by myself," she pleaded.

"Never," he swore, shifting his hand to rest at the back of her head. "Never again." He'd spent the last four years training, honing every skill he had so that no one else had to die. And, he knew, some part of him had been doing it in some vain hope of deserving the love she'd so generously given him. But this promise required only that he do what he already wanted more than anything in the world to do.

Shifting his chin forward, Devon brushed his lips over hers, just once, just tentatively, knowing that he still had a responsibility to make sure that nothing was too much, nothing turned out to feel different from the way she thought it would.

"I swear it Sylvi," he said, all but speaking into the feathery contact of their lips. With his free hand, he picked hers up and pressed it to his chest, right over his heart. "I have nothing to give you but me. No name, no Crest, no status, nothing. But this heart is yours. Everything I am is yours, for as long as you want me and even if you don't." She could choose to discard it, and still it would belong to her, the one stubborn part of him that would not be able to do absolutely anything she wanted. It was the only impossible thing, he felt: that he should not love her.

“Always, Devon Margrave. I'll always want just you. I don't... care that you have no status, no Crest to give me. I don't want those things. I... I told you, once this was over, that I was going to renounce my claim to Galatea. I want to be with you. And if that's the only way to do it," she spoke, closing the distance between their lips. The fervor behind it was only amplified by the desparate sense of need. When she pulled back, there was a small light behind her eyes, flickering softly.

“From this day forward, I, Sylvi Galatea, no longer claim my birthright. I renounce it. I am no longer bound by duty to the name Galatea. If so be it, I will take yours, Devon. I will be Sylvi Margrave so that I am no longer bound to the nobility that was my birthright. I cast it aside in favor of you, because," she paused, swallowing thickly before she continued, “I love you."

The cautious part of Devon, the one built up over years of being aware of his status, his need to protect himself and his siblings, panicked at what she said. Because it was dangerous, to do what she was doing. To cast aside her birthright, her safety, the thing that shielded her from parts of the world that had been cruel to him and would probably be cruel to her, too. Especially if she did it for him.

But of course that was absurd. Sylvi... all his wishes to the contrary, Sylvi already knew exactly how cruel the world could be. Had suffered some of the worst of it, and her so-called protection hadn't helped her then. He knew it was a futile hope, that he'd be able to protect her from everything in the future, but at least this way they could protect each other. And be there, in the most solid of ways, when the cruelty reared its ugly head and—

And just now, the reckless part of him, the one that charged headlong into battle, the one that had kissed her at the end of a dip at the end of a dance he hardly knew... that part of him was drunk on the need in her kiss. Need for him, reflected in him as need for her. And that part of him knew exactly what the real right answer was.

"Take it," he said, leaning back in to kiss her with all the fervor, all the heat she'd had when she did the same. "Take my name. Take my future. Take it all. Marry me, Syl—we can—we can have Lady Lyanna do the ceremony tomorrow, before we march out." Maybe it was unromantic. Maybe she wanted something more than this rush, this urgency. But he knew that if she did, she'd tell him. And right now all he could think of to want was her, and that seemed like the most complete, fastest way to make it true. The dream his heart had.

For the first time in years, Sylvi smiled. It wasn't bright like it used to be, but it was there, in the softest corners of her lips as she glanced at him. “Let's do it. Tomorrow morning, before we march... so that we march as one. Together." She seemed as certain as he was. “Tomorrow we'll march as the Margraves, and not as Margrave and Galatea. You're all I want, Dev. All I'll ever want, and this... this happiness that only you can give me, I want it. I want all of it, because... with you, everything just falls into place. I'm not terrified of closing my eyes, of reliving the past. I want to move forward with you."

“The past... it'll always be there, but you help me. You make me want to make new memories, better memories. Let's... first thing in the morning, get married, because I want this as much as you do."

"First thing," he promised.

But now, tonight—this was for something else. This was for relearning what they already were, rather than becoming something new. And goddess if he had it in him to resist now. The only thing that could have stopped him was her, and she'd made it clear she had no intention of doing so.

He surged forward, wrapping his arms around her and standing, picking her up out of the chair and taking the few steps needed to find his destination. Breaking the kiss, he pulled back enough to meet her eyes, because this was important.

"The moment you're uncomfortable," his whispered, every bit as passionate as anything else he'd said. "The moment anything changes. Don't bear it for my sake. I only want this if you want it too, okay?"

She clung to him as if he were life itself, though. “Never. You'll never make me uncomfortable, Dev. You're mine, and I'm yours. Only I belong to you; no one else. Please... I want this as much as you do. Remind me what it was to be with someone that loves me. Please." She whispered the last word softly, almost desperately.

“I love you, Devon Margrave."

It was a plea he was only too happy to grant. Hesitation gone, he laid her down carefully, cradling the back of her head as he lowered her to the mattress. It wasn't hard to shrug out of his cloak, his boots; the rest would go in time.

"I love you too, Syl. Always."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1185 - Ethereal Moon - Saturday the 27th
Garreg Mach - Early Evening - Light Snow
Deirdre Allard


Deirdre felt the crease in her brows becoming more prominent as she stared at the tome in front of her. She was still learning new spells, trying to become stronger. She needed to be so that she could protect those she held dear. Already it felt like she was doing a piss-poor job of it. She wasn't strong enough, and she needed to be. Needed to be so that she could protect Sofia. The things that they witnessed in the last five years was enough to break anyone, but Deirdre had to remain strong. Because if the both of them broke, she was afraid of what might happen to them. At least this way, she can be the pillar that Sofia needed because she could see it in her love's eyes. The way she was haunted, the way they weren't the same shade of blue that was evident when she was happy.

And maybe yesterday was what they all needed? Devon and Sylvi were married, the ceremony small but it seemed happy. Sylvi looked slightly better than she had in the last years she had seen Sylvi. They deserved it, Deirdre supposed. Maybe that marriage ceremony was what they all needed to be reminded that, even in these dark times, that something good could still come of it. That two hearts could still find each other even in the darkest places.

Deirdre felt a painful clench in her own heart, though. There were two people that would never find their hearts again, and she silently wept for Professor and Mercer. They both lost the two people they'd loved, and Deirdre couldn't imagine what that felt like. If she lost Sofia... if Sofia had died, Deirdre is certain that she'd take her own life. A world without Sofia in it wasn't a life she wanted. Swallowing thickly, she closed the tome and stood from her spot.

She needed to find Sofia and talk with her. She needed to make sure that Sofia was still here, that the last years hadn't weathered down the woman she loved. It didn't take Deirdre long to find Sofia. Perhaps unsurprisingly, she found her outside the knights' hall, staring up at the snow as it fell. Deirdre smiled softly as she approached Sofia, and called out to her.

"Enjoying the snow?" she asked, moving to stand next to Sofia.

Sofia turned her head slightly to look at her, a tiny smile curling the edge of her mouth. One thing Deirdre had learned about her love early on was that her expressions were almost always subtle things, even when they were genuine. Maybe especially then. Sofia had never been one of those people who was constantly smiling, like Thea used to be, but she almost never did now. Most of those she had left were for Deirdre, or very occasionally days like today, when it seemed all right to be happy for a while.

“I was thinking about five years ago," she said softly. “The ball, and how much fun everyone had. I know things weren't perfect then, but... I miss it."

Though not the type for big expressions, Sofia was the furthest thing from inexpressive. The thing was, she managed to convey with her eyes alone what most people needed their whole faces for. Or maybe that was just because they knew each other so well. Whichever it was, Deirdre could read the melancholy in the deep blue of them as easily as if Sofia had come right out and said she was sad.

And it felt like Deirdre's heart was breaking for it. "It feels almost like a lifetime ago, doesn't it?" she stated, reaching out towards Sofia's hand. She took it in her own, squeezing it gently and held it. "If I could... I'd take us back to that time. To when you smiled so much more and it reached your eyes. It... it's painful seeing you like this, Sofi," she spoke softly. But what could she do? Sometimes it felt as if there was nothing she could offer Sofia. Not even the comfort or support that Deirdre knew she needed.

"I don't know how to make it better for you, and... I'm sorry I'm not enough for you," but how she desperately wanted to be. She wanted to help Sofi in anyway she could, to spare her from the life they have had to live. Their lives were never going to be easy to begin with, and Deirdre knew that their families would have done everything in their power to drive them apart, but now...

It wasn't their family.

It was time. It was the war. It was her not being strong enough.

Not being enough.

If anything, though, Sofia just looked confused. A tiny line appeared between her brows, and she turned to better face Deirdre. She'd always been the taller of them, by quite a margin. She kept held of Deirdre's hand even as she moved though, giving it a soft squeeze. “What's this?" she asked gently, eye belying her concern. “Of course you're enough for me, my darling. Have I—have I done something to make you think otherwise?"

She searched Deirdre's face, the line between her brows deepening into a proper furrow.

Did she do something...

Deirdre shook her head. "You've done nothing, Sofi. It's... it's me who hasn't done anything for you. I want to help you, but I don't know how. I want to see you smile, again. I want..." but was she being selfish? To want these things of Sofia when she was hurting so much? Deirdre wasn't the wisest person around, and sometimes she had difficulties expressing herself, but that never seemed to be a problem when she was with Sofia.

Was she being too selfish to want those things from Sofia?

"Sofia... tell me," she swallowed thickly past the lump that formed in her throat. "Do you really think I'm enough for you? When I haven't been able to make you smile, or hurt less, or..." she couldn't speak, now. She pulled in a shuddering breath. This wasn't about her. This was about Sofia and what she needed.

"What can I do to make you smile again, Sofi?"

“Come here, you silly woman."

Sofia stepped forward, wrapping her arms tightly around Dierdre and pulling her into a hug. She had to stoop a little for it, but did so readily, resting her cheek atop Deirdre's head. Her arms were warm and solid, firm but gentle where they held her. Plenty of people treated Deirdre like the firebrand she was, but Sofia always held her with just that little bit of tenderness, as though some unconscious part of her was a little afraid of hurting her, or as if she saw some hidden fragility in Deirdre that no one else ever had.

She sighed; it was just a little shaky where it skimmed Deirdre's crown, but she relaxed a bit as well into the embrace. “Deir, I don't know where you're getting this from. You're the only thing that makes any of this possible. You're the reason I get out of bed every morning instead of just laying there and... and waiting for it to all be over. Waiting to die." Her arms tighten.

“I'll smile again. I know I will. But I just... I can't right now. Not when it's like this. Not when every time we take the field, I'm so worried. And when we're not, I worry about the next time we will." She sighed again, stepping back but keeping her hands on Deirdre's soldiers. “Let's go inside. Maybe... maybe we should talk about things. I think Alois left the fire going in the Knights' Hall."

"Okay," Deirdre whispered, unable to bring herself to meet Sofia's eyes. They walked inside the hall, moving so that they were standing near the fire that was still lit. It was warm, but Deirdre wasn't so sure if that was the warmth she was feeling, or if it was coming from Sofia. She wrapped her arms around herself, rubbing her arms, though she didn't know why. She wasn't cold.

"Sofi," she began, finally mustering enough courage to glance at her love. Maybe she really was as fragile as Sofia made her feel. Like it was okay to drop her facade of being tough, of pretending that the people around her didn't mean as much as they actually did. She pulled in a shuddering breath, though. What could she say?

Sofia backed up a couple steps, taking Deirdre's hand and gently pulling her along with, until she could sit on the sofa in front of the fire. When she did, she all but lifted Deirdre and settled her in her lap, facing her. One nice thing about sitting this way was that it helped even out the difference in their heights a bit.

Tilting her head a little, Sofia used her free hand to comb through Deirdre's thick hair, leaning forward enough to touch their brows together. “What's wrong?" she asked, her tone low and rich with tenderness. “Talk to me, darling. I promise whatever you have to say is fine."

Deirdre shook her head gently so that she didn't disturb Sofia too much where their brows were connected.

"It's not what's wrong with me," she whispered softly, lifting a hand to tangle her fingers in Sofia's hair, shorter now when it used to be longer. "It's about you. I want... I want to help you more than just being the reason you get out of bed. The reason you still yet live, because..." if that was how they were going to spend the rest of their days, Deirdre wanted to make sure that it was more than just worrying whether or not they'd even live past the next battle they were in.

"I don't... want to lose you before we can..." she paused, taking in a shuddering breath, "before we can do what Dev and Syl did: before we get married. Before we can make a life with each other that isn't this." This wasn't a life, and Deirdre wanted one with Sofia. Wanted to have a home to share with this woman she loved so much that it broke her heart to see her so sad. While Devon and Sylvi getting married now wasn't a bad thing, Deirdre didn't want that. She didn't want to be married in a time of war, even if it made the most sense to do it now. She wanted to give Sofia a wedding she could smile about, surrounded by her friends and in a time that was peaceful.

But was that a luxury they could afford? When either one of them could die at any time?

Sofia closed her eyes, leaning slightly forward into the contact between them. She kept her hands securely at the small of Deirdre's back, as if to make sure she didn't slide away, and there was the faintest tremble in her fingers, a hint of the restraint she must be exercising not to express more in this moment.

It was hard for her, she'd explained once, to let her feelings show the way Deirdre did. Because of her family, and everything they'd needed her to be: calm, quiet, demure, unobtrusive. What they thought a noble would want in a wife. Unlearning that was a process, and it was unlikely that she'd ever get everything back that those years had taken from her.

“I don't want to lose you either," she said softly. “I don't want to lose anyone, but least of all you. I'm sorry I can't smile more often—it's just... I can't seem to stop worrying. You've seen how Mercer is now, the way he throws himself in the way of anything and everything to spare anyone else the least of hurts. You've seen how Devon trains all day every day. You've seen how Sylvi can't let anyone touch her. How pale Rey's getting, from all that work in the dark. And now Thea and Professor Cyril, too. I only—"

She sighed, her thumbs brushing back and forth in the fabric just over Deirdre's hips. “Every time something even a little bit good happens, I can't stop thinking about all the ways it might go wrong. How any of us could die at any time. And that life seems so far away. The beautiful one, where everyone finds their feet again... and my wife doesn't feel like she has to hide her hurt from anyone. From me especially." Her eyes cracked open again, meeting Deirdre's so closely their eyelashes almost brushed. There was no accusation in her voice at all, just a quiet certainty.

Sometimes Deirdre forgot how well Sofia could read her. Know her. She swallowed thickly, placing a hand on the back of Sofia's neck and pulling her forward into a tentative kiss. "Then we count ourselves lucky to have what we have, like Dev and Syl," because it seemed that it was only the four of them who at least still had the people they cared about. Perhaps in a different way, now, but Deirdre had Sofia with her. To hold and kiss and everything else that Sofia might want of her. She was there, but for Mercer, Professor, and Thea... they didn't have that. The people they loved were gone, or so far away that they could only hope.

"We make every day, and every night count more than ever. We... we start finding happiness in the smaller things, like this, here, now. When it's just the two of us, or when it starts snowing or raining or anything else. And... and I won't hide anything from you. So that we can both share our hurt, because I know you're hurting too, Sofi. I promise, no matter how long it takes, we will get through this. We will survive, and live so that we can finally have that beautiful life. So that we can get married, have a home to share, and..."

"And we can both smile again."

It wasn't clear exactly what did it, but Sofia did smile then, something Deirdre felt against her lips more than she saw it, exactly. One of Sofia's hands smoothed up to the the nape of her neck, and she used it to deepen the kiss, slow and warm and soft. When it broke, she murmured softly.

“I think that sounds like the best idea you've ever had."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1185 - Ethereal Moon - Tuesday the 30th
Bandit Camp - Morning - Light Snow
Cyril Eisner


Though their first day's march had been unexpectedly fruitless when the bandits left the camp Reynard and Devon had found, the two were able to track them back to a much larger base of operations. It was hidden past part of the forest, on the Imperial side of Garreg Mach, or rather the side you had to come through when entering via the only route from the Empire to the Monastery. It was distinct from the routes in one would use from Faerghus or Leicester—which was interesting in and of itself. Cyril wasn't convinced that these bandits weren't in fact Imperial army deserters of some kind, who'd stayed behind in hopes of easy pickings once the main army had left and wound up finding that banditry suited them.

Still, it didn't really matter. The monastery needed defending, and they were in the way of that with the constant harassment and attempts to kill the defenders. What was more, being rid of them would free his friends to help one another again. That was reason enough, right now, especially when the stakes were so very high.

Cyril used the Arrow of Indra more as a walking stick than anything, but he was strong enough to keep pace with the others with the aid, at least. As soon as the month changed; he'd begin training again in earnest. He didn't know how long he'd last, really, how long this new iteration of life would go, and part of him didn't really care. But still... he had his friends. Most of them, at least, and that was enough to live for, while he was still of use to them. He tried to focus on that, even though sometimes he felt emptier than he ever had. Emptier even than he had been before he met them.

Even if he was only a weak husk at the moment, he could almost feel himself brimming with magic, and that had to count for something.

The bandit hideout loomed ahead, in the ruined village that had once shared the name of the monastery. Reynard's house had been here, and the Spindlethorn. He wondered, for an absurd moment, where Miss Violet and her friends were now, but something told him they, at least, were fine, even if they'd had to move elsewhere.

The same would not be true for the bandits.

Cyril was halfway to parting his lips to give instructions when he remembered, quite abruptly, that he was no one's teacher anymore, no matter what they still called him. So instead he turned to Mercer. “What's the plan?"

Mercer's brows were furrowed slightly as he seemed to be assessing the situation. He glanced around a few times as if trying to see where things were, and what he was going to do. When he seemed satisfied, he turned Deirdre and Sofia, eyes narrowing just the slightest bit.

“I want you two and Sylvi to take the left side," he stated before his eyes went to Devon and Reynard. “Devon and Rey, I want you two to hang back, and control the situation in anyway you see. You both are the shadows," he stated before his eyes went towards Cyril and Thea.

“The two of us will go head first, while you," he motioned towards Cyril, “support us from behind with your magic. If we can draw the most attention towards us, it'll give Sylvi, Deir, and Sofia the chance to flank them. It'll also give Rey and Dev the necessary means to pick off whoever they can before they have to resort to a much more up-close encounter."

“But, Mercer, isn't that a little dangerous? Just the three of us charging head first?" Thea stated, a little concerned with Mercer's plan. He shook his head, though.

“We want them to think we don't have the necessary numbers to take them out. Make them think they have the advantage. People get careless when they are arrogant about their abilities to win what appears to be just three people attacking them," he spoke, giving his reasoning behind the tactic, it seemed. “They'll be caught off guard when Sylvi, Sofia, and Deirdre appear, which will give Devon and Reynard the perfect opportunity to shrink their numbers during their confusion."

Cyril nodded, feeling a flicker of pride almost in spite of himself. He knew little of the credit was really his: Mercer had been clever before he set foot at the Officer's Academy, and like the other Golden Deer, Manuela had been his primary instructor. But still, he was proud of him, and of what small role he had played in the younger man's shift from young noble to surehanded battlefield commander.

Cracking his knuckles, he nodded simply. Devon and Reynard melted into shadows and underbrush, bows already drawn. Sofia let the others away to try to get into flank position, but in order to preserve the surprise they'd have to move only after the frontal assault team had the bandits' attention, and hustle once they did.

Once he, Thea, and Mercer were in position, Cyril hummed softly. “Might as well get their attention." Calling up the magic within himself, he summoned the familiar long-range lightning spell into his hand, and pointed it for a spot in the ground not too far in front of the larger building the bandits were supposedly using as a headquarters. The mayor's house, it had once been, situated on the hill near the edge of the forested area.

A bolt of lightning blasted the spot, kicking up dust and debris, raining clumps of sod and dirt back down on the ground. The manor's door flew open with a bang almost immediately, two armed men stepping out, but Cyril was ready, and threw more bolts at them, striking each square in the chest and dropping them, twitching, to the ground.

He supposed that worked.

A few more armed men came pouring out of the door, seemingly alarmed and ready for a battle, however; Mercer dropped the first one with an arrow between the eyes. He shifted the bow back into its spot on his back, and withdrew his sword, charging forward, followed by Thea. She had Amyr ready in her hands as they both engaged with a bandit. It seemed that Mercer's sword skills had improved as he easily blocked an attack aimed for him, however; he seemed to be moving a bit more recklessly. Moving with uncanny speed as he went from one bandit to the next.

Thea seemed to be holding her own fairly well, dropping a bandit before she engaged another one, however; it seemed that more and more bandits poured out of the building, and were surrounding both Thea and Mercer. Some of them sneered in Thea's direction, laughing and saying things about having fun once they'd dealt with Mercer, however; her hands gripped Amyr tightly before she threw it straight at them, hitting one of the bandits square in the chest before she summoned the axe back to her. Mercer had drawn his bow as well, quickly fitting an arrow to it and dropped another bandit.

“Can't have fun when you're dead," he stated in a menacing voice. He dropped his bow, though, in favor of his sword again, engaging with a bandit as Thea tried to cover him. He was fighting two of them at once, and Thea engaged with the a third that tried to attack from behind. Mercer still hadn't given the signal for Sofia's group to flank, yet, as if he were anticipating more bandits to appear.

Cyril filled in the gaps as well as he could with magic, firing precise, heavy bolts of lightning and darkness into the fray. It felt as though it built in him as much as he let it go, until his skin was all but buzzing with the feel of it. His face was blank, though, his motions ruthless.

Two bandits had the bright idea to try and charge him. They wound up more smears on the ground than corpses proper, and none of the others attempted the same. It made his job at once easier than harder, but it felt like half his job was dealing with the fact that Mercer couldn't be bothered to try that hard to avoid damage. Thea was being properly defensive for what they were supposedly doing, but the way he'd just dropped his bow was nudging past reckless into stupid, and Cyril had to work to make sure it didn't come back to bite him, especially when some of the reinforcements came with distance weapons.

Thea was doing her best to keep to defend herself, now, switching into a more defensive role than offensive. She was dealing with three bandits, now, and Mercer seemed to be fixated on his own opponents.

“Mercer!" Thea shouted, as she tried to deflect a lance thrusted at her. She managed, but it caused her to lose her footing, and she fell backwards. Her eyes had widened when the lance came back for her, however; an axe managed to deflect it just before it could reach her. Sylvi stood in front of Thea as Mercer kept pushing forward. She glanced in Mercer's direction, shook her head, and helped Thea to her feet as Deirdre covered them as best as she could with a few wind spells.

With Sylvi and Deirdre on the field, it looked like Mercer's plan of a flank was lost. They were engaged on the field, now, but it seemed to be that there was no end to the bandits. Either Mercer didn't seem to care, or his thoughts were elsewhere as he tried to get a majority of the bandits's attention on himself. As if he were trying to get them all to go after him.

Arrows flew into the mix from Devon and Reynard, too, but they were much less effective shot from the sides than they would have been from behind, if the flank had been possible. Sofia planted herself on the front line with Thea, using her tower shield to protect one of Mercer's sides. The tight, weary look on her face suggested it was something she'd done in a similar fashion more than once.

Cyril knew they were stronger than these bandits. But the loss of the tactical advantage meant they might well take heavy losses proving it, and he dug in for a long fight. The bandit leader was still hanging back, content to fire arrows at the group in a cluster of archers—

Until, that was, a wo dao erupted from his chest, laced with the crimson of his blood. It abruptly disappeared again right after. The first bowman to react got a solid boot to his chest for noticing—the other was taken out by a blinding blast of magic before he even registered what happened.

Behind the fallen men stood a familiar face, wearing an unfamiliar expression.

Vridel had let his hair grow long, white sheets perhaps to his waist pulled high into a bright tail that trailed behind him as he darted for the next cluster of archers. His armor was hexagonal mail over pristine white; the metal gleamed such a silver as to be almost mirrored. It actually seemed to serve a practical purpose—it was difficult to look at him directly for too long when he was casting, as he reflected the luminescence of his own spells.

A half-dozen more archers fell to a combination of bladework and magic, and by that time, the startling reinforcement combined with the pressure from the front had broken the bandit lines; Cyril felt no compunctions firing lightning into the backs of the few who tried to retreat. There was no point letting them get away to regroup and attack again later, after all.

When the last had fallen, Vridel flicked the blood off his sword and sheathed it, turning hard eyes towards the group. And that was the part that wasn't familiar: his jaw was set, lips nearly curled in a snarl. He sneered at a bandit who tried weakly to move, thrusting a hand downwards to blast him point-blank with a spell. He didn't move after that.

Only when his eyes fell on Thea did his expression seem to soften into something more familiar.

“It seems I'm late," he said, a soft rasp in his voice. Disuse, Cyril thought. “My apologies."

Thea looked like she'd seen a ghost, and much like when she'd first seen Cyril that night. She was glued to her spot, and for a moment, it looked like she'd forgotten how to breath. Blood smeared her face and streaked her hair, but if that bothered her at all, it didn't show. Even Vridel's appearance didn't seem to phase her, however; she took a hesitant step forward, as if she were afraid that Vridel would disappear if she moved any closer.

“Vi..." she spoke so softly it was as if she'd said nothing at all. A hand reached towards Vridel, but she dropped it to her side. In what seemed like an instant, she ran towards him, arms flinging around him as if she'd just seen the most precious thing in the world, and didn't want to let go. Her shoulders were shaking, and it wasn't hard to hear the quiet sobs that left her.

He returned it, a stricken look on his face, as though his heart were breaking. “Thea," he murmured, seemingly at a loss. It only prompted him to hold her more tightly.

“Better late than never," Deirdre spoke, furrowing her brows in Mercer's direction. He didn't say anything, and couldn't seem to bring himself to glance at either Thea or Vridel. He looked relieved to have heard Vridel, but he made no motion to move forward or say anything at all. He looked lost for words, if anything.

Not for the first time and not for the last, Cyril wondered how much of the blame for this could be laid at his feet. They were broken, all of them, in one way or another. It was impossible not to see, for he who had known them so well when they were whole and happy. And he could not help but wonder what would have been different, if he'd managed not to fall off that cliff. If he'd evaded Thales's curse, been able to summon the Divine Pulse during his plummet—anything. If he'd somehow not failed them all.

The thought sat as heavily in his heart as it did every time, and he sighed softly. “We should get back to the monastery," he said quietly. He hadn't missed the flicker of surprise on Vridel's face when he registered Cyril's presence, but it was probably better to wait and explain everything when they were back to shelter, at least. Vridel wasn't as thin or haggard as Cyril, but he looked like he hadn't eaten enough in a few weeks, at least.

Maybe. Maybe now things would begin to turn for the better.

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Fódlan by Nemeseia

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

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