Fire Emblem: Apotheosis

Fire Emblem: Apotheosis

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

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

Introduction



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Toggle Rules

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

Taking place in...

Fódlan our primary setting

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Saturday the 14th
Garreg Mach Stables - Morning - Clear
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer might have said he wasn't a morning person, that he liked his sleep and didn't want to be bothered, but the truth was he was a morning person. He was usually up before most of the school was, often taking an hour to skim through the library and see if he could find more information. This morning was no exception, and for once, he thought he'd meet his friends... Mercer blinked at the thought. Friends? Huh, that's new, he thought, shaking his head to himself. He supposed he did consider them his friends after all they've been through together.

He dressed in his chore clothes; usually just a sleeveless tunic, colored with the gold and dark browns of the Leicester Alliance, and a pair of shortened pants. He had a gold band in his hair to keep it from falling into his eyes. Plus, it would help control the sweat. He didn't need to burn his eyes during the chore session. Standing by the stable gates, he stood against it and waited for his class to arrive.

As usual, Sorcha and Senka were the first to arrive. Always together, he'd noted, and dressed ready for their chores. Senka, however, seemed to be wearing a sleeveles light blue tunic that was a few shades lighter than the symbolic blues of Faerghus. He'd seen a shade like that before, somewhere, as a certain color that represented something, but perhaps he was just being too analytical? She was wearing thick white leggings beneath it, though, and a pair of black shorts on top. She looked ready to work, at least, with her hair braided down her back, close to her head. For a design like that, it was likely they had been up around the time Mercer was.

She blinked at him, though, a sign that she was clearly surprised to see him there. He felt almost proud of himself for being able to read some of her tells. She'd been a hard one when they first met, but she tilted her head and her features smoothed out. Her way of smiling, he'd learned, which made him almost smile. It was endearing to him, for some reason, like he was able to bring forth a smile from someone so inexpressive as she. He wondered, briefly, if Sorcha was the only one lucky enough to receive a true smile.

“Good morning, Mercer," she greeted, causing Mercer to grin.

“Good morning to you, as well, Senka, and you too, Sorcha," he replied, placing a hand on his hip and popping his leg out in an over dramatic manner. “To think that I beat the legendary early-riser here, I'm shocked," but he was just teasing her at this point.

Sorcha, for her part, always seemed slightly overdressed for the weather, perhaps a habit she hadn't yet kicked from growing up in such a cold place? Her tunic was long sleeved, but she'd at least rolled it to her elbows, exposing the fact that her arms were dotted with freckles, not unlike her face. She'd chosen sturdy trousers tucked into boots otherwise, black to the tunic's green. A cord around her neck disappeared beneath the neck of the shirt, and she'd pinned her hair up as usual.

She sniffed at his joke, and harrumphed. “Oh look," she replied primly. “Miracles do happen. Someone call the priests. Whoever made this happen might qualify for their own sainthood."

Mercer hid his smile beneath a grin, but he was certain it was showing in his eyes. At least she seemed well enough to be responding to his jokes like that. He'd take the small victories where he could get them. Instead, he placed a hand over his heart, and feigned a hurt look. “I'm hurt," he stated, pursing his lips in her direction. Senka looked like she wanted to roll her eyes, but she merely cast them towards Sorcha.

“Yeah, well if you weren't such an idiot, you wouldn't tease the princess like that," Dierdre's voice cut through, causing Mercer to snort unceremoniously. It was almost as if she'd popped out of nowhere, and Mercer allowed himself to jump to give that appearance of being startled. “Besides, it's not like she can help that you're a blockhead. I worry about our country's future with you," ever so blunt, and ever so appreciated. She was dressed similar to Mercer had been, though the colors she wore were just black and white. Her tunic was black, outlined in white, but her trouses were a dark grey color. It made her hair, pulled into a tight bun, stand out in contrast along with her eyes.

“And now I feel like this is your fault, Sorcha, turning my ally against me," he murmured in good fun.

“That was your own fault, Mercer, not hers."

Sofia, following much more sedately than her fiancee but dressed similarly, sighed quietly, as she often seemed to find herself doing. Her dark blue hair was pulled up into a high tail, but otherwise she didn't seem particularly disturbed by the prospect of any dirt. “You're all lively this morning," she noted, blinking slowly. She was certainly not a morning person, but tended to compensate for it by getting lots of coffee with her breakfast, so she'd probably be about as energetic as she ever got within half an hour or so.

“Understatement if I ever heard one," a voice called out, sounding groggy and tired. Mercer allowed his eyes to slide to the source, and snorted softly at Sylvi's appearance. She had lazily pulled her hair back, some of the strands still falling into her eyes and sticking out of its tie. Her attire looked like she'd slept in it. She was wearing a pink long-sleeved shirt that was rolled up to her elbows, probably because they'd be doing a lot of manual labor, and her trousers, beige in color, were as sturdy as Sorcha's looked.

“I'm so tired. Someone come help me fix my hair!" she stated, her eyes glancing around the current group. Mercer chuckled softly, but held his hands up in defense.

“Sorry, love, no can do," he wouldn't be able to pull a miracle like that, after all. Senka, however, stepped forward in a tentative manner.

“May I?" she asked, and Sylvi wasted no time making her way towards the taller woman. Once Senka appeared to be comfortable, she pulled Sylvi's hair from its tie, and began working her fingers through it. Satsified, it seemed, she began twisting and pulling it, tying it in a similar braid to her own, however; it wasn't as intricate. He wondered if she did Sorcha's hair, too? Once she was finished, and Sylvi's hair was tied up properly, she turned around and smiled brightly at her.

“Thanks, Senka, you're a life saver," she stated, giving her a hug. It was obvious that it caught Senka off guard because she tensed so stiffly that Mercer almost mistook her for a statue. He tried not to laugh, as she seemed to recover, and patted Sylvi's back. Dierdre rolled her eyes, hard, and groaned.

“Where's the rest of us? I want to finish early so I can go back to studying for my exams!" Dierdre stated, furrowing her brows.

“Callum, really?" At the moment, Vi's voice distinguished itself from the ambient noise. He and Reynard seemed to be heading towards the group from the direction of the dinging hall. Both were dressed in short-sleeved tunics of imperial red, Vi's with a bit more embellishment at the hems, but nothing fancy. Curiously, Reynard seemed to have red lines inked onto his forearms, disappearing up beneath his sleeves, in a pattern Mercer had never seen before.

“No lie, Your Highness," he drawled.

“Hm. Well. I think you made the right choice, then." He pinched the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb, rubbing away some last vestige of sleep. He yawned as he reached the group, looking them over with disinterested eyes. “I'd say good morning, but I'm not convinced. Where's the Professor and the small ones?" He had to be referring to Devon and Amalthea.

“Uh, we're here," Devon said, approaching with Teach. He'd worn a blue sleeveless shirt and shorter pants like Mercer and some of the others. Teach was dressed like usual, only he'd lost the outermost layer so he had no sleeves either. Unlike the students had to, he almost never wore the sword that was part of the uniform, and he hadn't today, either.

“The other small one usually isn't late," Mercer stated, pursing his lips together. Part of him was worried that something might have happened to her, however; there was a loud crash, and a groan. All eyes turned towards the source, and Mercer did his best not to laugh. Amalthea had been running, from the looks of it, and she'd tripped over something, landing near a barrel. She was currently face down on the ground, but Sylvi immediately ran over to her, and helped her up.

“Are you alright, Thea?" she asked, helping her to dust her shirt and pants. Amalthea nodded rather enthusiastically, and grinned.

“I am! Sorry, I just... I didn't see that broom on the floor and I saw all of you gathered already. I didn't want to be later than I already am!" she stated as way of excuse. Dierdre had snickered lightly, but Senka's lips pursed lightly towards them.

“You should be more careful, though, Thea," Mercer added, furrowing his brows in her direction. She simply nodded in response. She was something, really. Funny, if anything. “Alright, so it seems the group's all here. We're basically cleaning around the stalls and the stables, right?" he stated, his eyes sliding towards Teach.

He tilted his hand back and forth in a 'so-so' motion. “Well first we're letting all the animals outside into the field behind the stables so we can clean. We've been assigned Barn C, which I understand is our lot as third to the activity." It was established that Barn C was the least-desirable of the ones for students, all three of which were separate from the two the Knights used. Apparently most of the animals in it were considered subpar for some reason, or at least not as good as the ones in Barns A or B. It figured.

“Then we're cleaning. After that, though, we'll be spending some time with the animals themselves. Grooming, maybe exercising them so you can all get some experience. You'll want to know if there's anyone you want to request if you're going into a mounted or flying class, after all." With a small gesture, Teach bit them all follow him inside.

The barn was quite large, organized into separate sections for horses and flyers. Wyverns and pegasi were known not to get along in general, but there didn't seem to be quite enough space to keep them entirely separately. Several of the animals poked their head out over the stall doors at the entrance of the students, a few horses nickering.

Teach unhooked a clipboard from the wall just inside, moving silently over the straw-strewn floor. He read down what seemed to be a list of some kind. “All right. Looks like we've got three wyverns, four pegasi, and a dozen horses. They all go into the same field, so let's get them moving. Your leads and halters for equines are there—" He pointed to a door, which probably led into a tack room—“and there for the wyverns." They seemed to have a different room, probably because their tack tended to be larger and shaped differently.

“If you don't know how to lead an animal, feel free to ask me. It's not something everyone knows to begin with. Sorcha, if you can get the pegasi, I'll ask Mercer to handle the wyverns. The rest of you can take out the horses. Does that work?"

Sorcha nodded. “Of course!" She actually looked... rather delighted, actually, and all but skipped towards the tack room to get her halter and lead.

He nodded. “Oh, and Mercer. Be careful of the one in Stall 17. He's apparently a bit cantankerous."

“Nothing I can't handle," he stated with all the confidence he could muster. Senka followed after Sorcha much more casually than Sorcha had, to grab a halter and lead as well. Dierdre made her way towards the other tack room for the wyverns with Sylvi following suit. Mercer figured he might as well grab one, too. Besides, wyverns, in his opinion, were superior to everything else. Sylvi had been the first to grab her lead and halter, and made her way towards a stable. She pursed her lips together before moving towards another one.

“I don't think anyone should deal with that one," she stated, pointing towards the stall she'd just passed. “There's a black pegasus in it, and they're considered bad luck," she murmured. Senka had, at that moment, appeared in time to hear what Sylvi stated, and pursed her lips slightly, her hands gripping the halter in her hand unusually tight.

“Why does the color of the animal matter in whether or not they are good or bad luck?" she asked, curious for some reason, it seemed.

“They're very rare, for one thing, and often times bring bad omens to those who ride them," she explained, shrugging her shoulders in a nonchalant fashion.

“Well then," Sorcha said simply, throwing her lead over her shoulder to grip the door to that stall, “we'll match. Fine by me." She said it lightly, but Mercer could sense the underlying seriousness, and she did in fact not hesitate to open the stall door. It wasn't more than a few moments later that she was leading the pegasus out. It was in fact black, from head to toe, even its mane and tail. Its coat definitely looked like it could use some attention, and it regarded the students with wary eyes and a vaguely skittish posture, but Sorcha either didn't notice or was choosing not to make a point of it, simply leading the creature out through the open barn doors.

Devon shrugged, then followed with a horse, a docile-looking bay mare.

Mercer grinned as Sorcha led the pegasus from the stall, and out of the barn. He had a feeling she felt a kinship to it for certain reasons he would find out, later. Instead, the others followed suit, grabbing their horses as well and leading them out. Sylvi had grabbed a dapple gray colt that seemed very curious about his surroundings. He occasionally pulled on the halter, causing Sylvi to stop and turn around. He nipped her shoulder a couple of times before she managed to get him out. Thea had chosen a gentle-looking chestnut mare who seemed to follow Thea with little to no hesitation. She'd occasionally raise her head, but not enough to disturb Thea.

Dierdre had chosen a blood bay stallion with a strong personality it seemed, as he seemed to immediately try and take the lead from her. She struggled for a moment before she, too, made it out of the barn. Senka had steered clear from the pegasus stalls, a strange look in her eyes, as she pulled a black gelding from his stables. It was oddly calm, an almost mirror reflection of Senka's own calmness, as they left the barn. He huffed lightly as he made his way towards stall 17. He peeked inside to see a white wyvern curled near the back corner. It looked like it was sleeping, however; it had fixed Mercer with intense golden eyes the moment he approached. He arched a brow, and opened the stall.

“They told me you're a bit of a trouble maker," he stated, his voice calm so as to not startle it. It rose to its feet, and immediately, baring its teeth in a show of aggression. “Really? You want to prove them right?" he stated, placing the halter down for a moment and crossing his arms over his chest. It merely continued to stare at him, and Mercer rolled his eyes. “Alright you, what's the problem? Someone put a thorn in your side and now you don't want to trust anyone?" he spoke, watching as the wyvern eyed him. They were intelligent creatures; Mercer knew this from experience, so he didn't feel too out of place for talking to it.

“I bet they left you, didn't they? Thought you were too much of a risk being out in the open as you are. You'd give the position away if someone spotted you, right?" he continued, watching as the wyvern seemed to narrow its eyes at him. “Look, all I want to do is clean your stall. Don't you want to get some fresh air, and have a clean place to come back to?" he stated. After a closer inspection, it appeared that this wyvern was in similar shape to the pegasus Sorcha had taken. He frowned and shook his head, deciding to take a step forward. The wyvern didn't seem to like that, though, as it growled in his direction.

“You need a bath; you stink. C'mon, let me take you out so you can be groomed. You'd like that wouldn't you? I'll even convince them to give you fish instead of the usual stuff for dinner, tonight, how about that?" he continued, watching as the wyvern's expression shifted at the word 'fish'. He grinned. “Is that what you want, fish? Alright, you scratch my back, and I'll scratch yours. I'll even sneak in a few extra for you if you let me take you out," he stated. The wyvern regarded him with a wary gaze, but seemed to capitulate as it lowered its head in Mercer's direction. He grabbed the halter from floor, and slipped it over the wyvern's head and secured it. Scratching the snout, Mercer smiled.

“See? Isn't this better?" he stated as he led the wyvern out, and smirked in everyone's direction. “Cantankerous, my ass," he stated as he passed by them.

He met Teach at the doorway; there were two horses behind him, a blue roan and a large stallion with a deep grey coat and a pale mane and tail. Neither wore a halter; he'd simply looped leads loosely at the base of their necks and was guiding them out. He paused, though, gesturing Mercer ahead of him with a nod. Neither of the horses seemed panicked by the wyvern's presence. Though they were mostly fish and bird-eaters, some horses spooked easily around them. These ones seemed almost to have been infected by Teach's stoic demeanor, though, and Mercer could hear them following out not more than five feet behind.

Once everyone was out of the barn, the students got to work. Though monastery workers probably took care of the place on some kind of schedule, overall it still had an air of some neglect to it. No doubt something they were collectively meant to rectify. The group got to work, either mucking stalls with pitchforks or moving in new straw and feed, or running water back and forth to refresh the buckets in the stalls. Even Teach got right into it, throwing open all the doors and windows to circulate fresher air and sweeping the central walkway, coordinating the others to scrub it down with hard lye soap. Vi and Senka helped him rinse with water magic.

Once they were done with the barn, Mercer made his way out to the field so they could start grooming the animals. The wyvern immediately made his way towards Mercer, and laid his head on Mercer's shoulder. He nudged it a bit as if he were asking for something. Mercer rolled his eyes at the creature, and scratched his snout. “No fish for you until we wash you down, alright? And then you'll get a full bucket's worth," he stated as he pused the wyvern from his shoulder. It was kind of heavy, after all. The wyvern merely nudged his back with his snout, and made a light grunting sound.

“It's bad to eat before you've been cleaned, you know. You need to look your best for dinner, or lunch in this case," he stated, earning another grunt from the wyvern. It fixed him with a strange look, one that he could have sworn Sorcha used on him once. Was he begging Mercer for the fish?

Something metal and cool pressed into Mercer's free hand; Sorcha half-smiled at him. “Got you covered," she said, reaching into the bucket she'd just handed him and picking up a fish. Apparently with not the faintest hint of revulsion at the sliminess of it, either. She fed it to the wyvern with a conspiratorial expression. “But he can have a snack before bath time, can't you, love? Who's a handsome wyvern?" she made a cooing noise of pure delight and gave the beast's nose a scratch. “You are! Yes you are!" She actually leaned forward, apparently not even slightly afraid of the creature's reputation, and gave him a kiss right on the end of his snout, which was still sort-of resting on Mercer's shoulder.

“I'm off to groom my other new friends now, but don't let this fiend bully you, sweetheart." Patting his cheek, she grinned, nodded at Mercer, and headed towards where the black pegasus was standing by itself in a far corner of the field, a second bucket still in hand.

“Oh, I see how it is. You'll give Fluffy here a kiss but not me?!" he called out after her, loud enough that everyone who was near could hear him. He could hear someone laughing, Dierdre or Sylvi, and he shook his head. 'Fluffy', however did not seem to appreciate the name, and nipped Mercer's shoulder lightly. He chuckled lightly and scratched the wyvern's snout. “Yeah, I know, you don't like the name, here," he stated, grabbing another fish and tossing it in the direction of the wyvern who caught it with ease. There was a satisfied rumble from his throat as he glanced in Sorcha's direction, before turning it towards Mercer. Mercer supposed today was going to be a good one.

Sorcha was doing a pretty good job of pretending she hadn't heard him... except for the redness of her ears. She seemed to give it up, glaring back over her shoulder at him before straightening in that way she always seemed to do when she was gathering her nerve for something. “Maybe you should try harder," she called back, promptly turning away with her head held high and marching over to the dark-winged pegasus. It seemed a little wary of her, but its ears pricked forward when she held out a shiny apple towards it, from the other bucket.

Behind him, Vi snickered. “Sounds like a challenge, hm?" He appeared to be working on the dark grey horse Teach had led out earlier. With them, it was a matter of getting bigger chunks of dirt off first, followed by finer dust, and then a good soak. The latter wouldn't be needed every time, but considering how poorly-attended some of these seemed to be, they definitely needed it now.

Well... that was interesting. “If that's what she wants, I guess challenge accepted," he replied, cracking his knuckles as he grinned towards Vi.

Sofia, meanwhile, was struggling to keep the blue roan still. It wasn't being aggressive, just fidgety, and she clearly didn't know how to handle it. “Never learned a thing about animals," she admitted. Teach jogged over to help, and the horse stilled quickly under his hand.

“They take a little getting used to," he assured her.

“It helps if you approach them calmly," Senka stated from her side, working a brush through the gelding's coat. She seemed to know what she was doing, as the horse merely stood still for her, occasionally shaking his coat, or flicking his tail. She glanced towards Sofia and nodded her head. “Like any animal, they are sensitive to others' emotions. If you approach it like you are afraid, it will be wary and skittish around you." She went to work on the gelding's mane, after that.

“Easier said than done, Senka. Did you work in stables before?" Dierdre asked, apparently having the same issue as Sofia was. That was likely due to the fact that the stallion she'd taken out, was a little more aggressive and confident. He pawed the ground and bucked his head up and down. Senka shook her head, and made her way towards Dierdre, to assist, it seemed. She placed a hand on the stallions snout, scratched it briefly before running the brush through its mane.

“Not exactly," she whispered, “father used to maintain a small stable. We used to go riding whenever he wasn't busy, and he taught me about their care." That explained it, he supposed. But he found it strangely odd how she kept clear of the pegasus in the field. When one would get too close, she'd stiffen before abruptly walking away. She handed the brush back to Dierdre, though, and went back to her own horse to continue.

Amalthea seemed to be having fun with her horse, braiding its mane after she was done brushing it, and occasionally weaving a flower that she found, into it.

The process of brushing and washing everyone took some time, but by the end of it, all the animals were quite clean, and looked rather less bedraggled than they had before, at that. They also all had flower crowns or wreaths, courtesy of Amalthea, as did most of their tenders. Sorcha wandered back over towards Mercer and the wyvern, followed much more comfortably this time by her new pegasus friend. It seemed to have no aversion to the wyvern, either, in fact nudging its soft equine nose into one of his wings and flicking its tail.

“Friend of yours, girl?" Sorcha asked the pegasus, who nickered softly in response. “Well that's only slightly adorable, it's fine." She smiled at Mercer, earlier contention forgotten, it seemed. “So Professor Cyril says none of these guys have names. Apparently the students get to do that. What's his?" She offered her hand towards the wyvern again, as if volunteering to scratch him.

“He should name you Sir Brightscales, shouldn't he?" she crooned. “Because you're so handsome and shiny."

He wasn't going to let her forget about it. Not that easily, he supposed. He slipped an arm over her shoulder and leaned against her as if he were using her for support and hummed a thoughtful note. Sir Brightscales didn't quite seem like a name for wyvern, but he clicked his tongue in a thoughtful manner. The wyvern seemed to nudge the pegasus back, perhaps to acknowledge that they were, indeed, friends. A strange one, if Mercer had a say about it.

“Ladon. He'll be Sir Ladon Brightscales," he stated, glancing back towards Sorcha, his face just a little closer to hers as he grinned at her. 'Ladon' seemed to approve of the name as he nudged Mercer's shoulder, pushing him a little closer to Sorcha.

She leaned slightly away, seemingly by reflex, but was otherwise apparently either unable to move or not quite aware that it was an option. This close, he could almost count the tiny, light freckles on her face. They were easy to miss, from greater distance. Even now, they were being somewhat overtaken by the pink flush rising to her cheeks. Her eyes were wide; a little shiver jolted her slightly beneath his arm. Sorcha swallowed.

“That's, uh—that's a g-good name," she stuttered, before seeming to get ahold of herself and pressing a hand to his chest to push him away from her person at the same time as she cleared her throat. “Anyway, I think he looks like a 'Sir' for a nickname. I'm less certain what to call this lady here."

The pegasus readily accepted the rub she gave her velvety nose, stretching her wings a little in something that might have been enjoyment, actually. “A-any ideas?"

It took a lot of restraint on Mercer's part not to laugh at her. She looked absolutely adorable, and the flush on her face, well... he thought it was a rather fitting color for her. It brought out the color in her eyes, so bright and vibrant as they were. He tapped his chin in a thoughtful manner, though, giving Sorcha the impression that he was not at all affected like she was, and thinking of a name for the pegasus.

“I think you've already named her," he stated, turning his attention back to her. “Lady. She looks like an absolutely gorgeous lady, so it's only fitting that she be named as such. What do you think, Sir?" he asked the wyvern who merely grunted. He'd take that as a yes, he supposed. He stepped closer to Sorcha, though. He wasn't about to let her get away that easily, and reached over her shoulder to rub the pegasus's snout.

She was clearly trying to behave as though nothing were amiss, though there was no hiding the way she stiffened a bit as he got close again. She focused quite intently on Lady, though, making a thoughtful sound that was only a little bit strained. The blush did not recede. “Lady what though?" she murmured, pressing her forehead gently to the pegasus's brow. With a quiet hum, she seemed to catch a thought she liked, because her smile brightened. “Lady Luck. You can show everyone who thinks you're unlucky that they're wrong." The words were soft, accompanied by a gentle scratch behind the creature's ears.

“Sounds perfect," he stated, deciding he'd done enough damage, and stepped back to give her a decent amount of space. “Lady Luck, and Sir Ladon Brightscales. They're going to prove everyone wrong," he stated, earning a light nudge from the wyvern. He'd help them prove it, too.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Tuesday the 17th
Blue Lions Classroom - Afternoon - Clear
Cyril Eisner


With class dismissed, most of the students started to filter out of the room, many off to study for their certifications, or to collect the materials to do so so they could meet up later at the courtyard, or in someone's room, or in the library. He could be reliably sure that when he found somewhere to settle and write up the next lesson plans he had to work on, at least a few would wander by, and a few more would stop and settle a while. It was... nice, he thought. Just to have the company.

Moving a few things around on the surface of his desk, he opened the right-hand top drawer. Ah, that was right. He meant to teach a brief starter course on lockpicking next week. There were some among his class who could already do it, but it was a useful skill to have. The front gates of castles had to be taken down the old-fashioned way, of course, but there were other situations they might find themselves in, where getting quickly and quietly through a door might be an advantage, or even essential. No few of them had politics as well as war to think about, and at the very minimum, understanding how various lock mechanisms worked was good for choosing the ones that would be most secure against intrusion.

Removing his lockpick set from the drawer, he set it on the surface of the desk, closing over the notebook he'd kept open during the lecture. He didn't ever seem to forget what he wanted to talk about, but it was helpful to have them there just in case, and the initial act of writing information there seemed to cement its ordering in his mind.

Across the room, Devon seemed to be struggling a bit with his books. Though he had only one certification that he absolutely had to take this month, he seemed to be exploring other options as well, especially since their first run at stable chores a few days ago. Cyril was only too pleased to see this, but it did mean he harried several thick books around with him at all times, more or less.

“Did you need some help, Devon?" he asked mildly.

“Oh! Uh..." the young man's dark eyes went wide. “I'm all right, I think. I just need to actually do this in a good sequence instead of trying to manage it all at once." Flushing under his dark complexion, he hefted the books onto his desk with a thunk and started to feed them into his satchel one at a time.

“Hey, Devon!" Mercer had entered the room, apparently passing by and stopping in after spotting Devon. “Hey Teach," he greeted in his usual way as his eyes went back towards the other young man. “You ready to get some practice in with the bow?" he asked Devon, glancing back towards Cyril. His eyes must have spotted something interesting because they widened slightly.

“Hey, now, Teach, I didn't know you had a nice set of lockpicks. Those are nice, where'd you get them from?" he asked, meandering towards them. He was a bit of a dramatic sort, but it had only been in good-fun, apparently.

Devon had nodded at Mercer's question, but now his interest seemed to be drawn also. “Oh," he said, tilting his head. “Those are nice. Much better than mine—er. Not that I've used them recently! Or at the Monastery at all I mean!"

Cyril felt a flicker of amusement, waving a hand slightly to indicate he wasn't inclined to take it poorly. He did, after all, own a set of his own. “I think these ones are... from Brigid?" He recalled having been told such, but the information had meant nothing to him at the time, being only a place name with no information attached other than that his lockpicks were from there. “Apparently they do something with sand when they're filing; gives them a really crisp edge." He willingly handed the leather case to Mercer, only further amused when Devon abandoned the task of putting books away for the moment to dig a similar case out of his bag instead.

“I hear Brigid ones are really good! Mine are from Sreng, I think. A hand-me-down from my father. They don't make a lot of locksmithing tools in Faerghus. Or, well, they do, but they don't just sell them to anyone, or leave them laying around, if you know what I mean."

“Do I hear someone discussing infiltration tools?" The voice belonged to Reynard, who'd just entered alongside Vridel. “The best ones are from Brigid, and it has nothing to do with being a nation or pirates and thieves."

Vridel rolled his eyes, but Devon nodded. “I know. The professor just said it was sand in the filing process?"

For once, Reynard looked surprised, dark brows briefly arching as he turned an assessing gaze on Cyril. “Well well, Professor. You are a man of many persuasions, aren't you?"

Cyril snorted quietly, shaking his head and relaxing a little further back against the desk. “Just a man with a paranoid teacher."

“So does that make you just as paranoid?" Mercer inquired, but it was easy to tell that he was joking. They all knew Cyril at this point, and paranoid he was not. “I wonder what kind Senka uses. She picked the lock to my door rather easily not too long ago, and that one had been personally changed by me," he stated, pursing his lips together and shaking his head.

“Apparently they're Almyran," Vridel replied with a shrug.

“The ones I have, though, are from the Leicester Alliance, made in copy to those in Brigid. They're not as good of quality, but they're decent enough," he stated with a light shrug of his shoulders. “Kinda wish I brought them with me, but I left them in my drawer," he added.

Cyril hummed. “Would you mind bringing them to class next Thursday?" he asked. “I was planning for my skills lecture that week to be about lock mechanisms and so on. Having sets for comparisons would be helpful. Also if any of you are willing to volunteer old locks for your classmates to practice on, that would be helpful. I have a few, but might lose one or two in the process." Those new to the skill could be clumsy, after all.

“I won't let anyone use your picks; I've got beginner sets for that, and I'm planning on making sure everyone gets one at the end of the class to keep. But if you don't mind running demonstrations I could use a student in each class able to do so."

“I'd be happy to!" Devon replied brightly, “though Senka's probably better than me. She seems to be good at everything." He didn't sound envious in the least; only happy for a friend.

“I can certainly help, too," Reynard added. “Though my picks are also from Brigid."

“Not a problem."

“I don't mind if someone uses mine; I have two sets. Plus, I think it'll be good for everyone to at least be familiar with each set of lockpicks from the different countries. Well, minus yours, Reynard since they're from Brigid like Teach's," Mercer stated in a nonchalant fashion, but it was easy to tell he, too, was looking forward to it.

“I also think I might have a few locks I can donate to the cause," he added, glancing back towards Cyril. “How'd you learn to pick locks, anyway, Devon? Aren't you a member of the Gaspard household?" he asked, turning his attention back to Devon.

“Uh." Devon grimaced, shuffling his feet a bit against the stone floor before he shook his head. “Actually, Lord Lonato adopted me and my siblings. When I was a lot younger. I was—my parents were farmers. My mother grew up on a farm not far from Lonato's holdings, and my father was from Sreng. He came in with a trade caravan but fell in love with my mom and stayed. He's the one who taught me how to pick a lock, but I never did until, uh..."

“He died?" It was a guess, quietly issued, but Cyril was fairly confident in it. It seemed to be quite the running theme with his students. He supposed he wasn't so different. Perhaps... perhaps that was just the kind of place Fódlan was.

Devon nodded. “Sickness. Not the same plague that got the Queen, but... they think it might have been the last vestiges of something similar. We tried to stick it out on the farmstead, but we were just too young. So we moved to the city, and I, uh. Stole. For a while. I tried to do honest work! Just... there were three of us, you know? But when Lord Lonato caught me trying to filch one of his books, he uh... he offered to take us all in."

A heavy silence descended for a moment. “This is the man the Church wants to go after?" Vridel said, a faint trace of scorn in his tone.

“Yes," Cyril confirmed, dipping his chin and studying Devon's face. The young man's jaw was tight; he wasn't making direct eye contact with anyone. Clearly, he was trying his best to suppress his emotions, but his eyes easily gave him away. The thought alone made him miserable.

Mercer's jaw tightened as well. He had been present when Rhea had told Cyril about the month's mission, and it seemed to still be sitting about as well as it had been the first time with Mercer. Which wasn't at all. “Lonato sounds like he's a decent guy, I wonder what he has against the Church that he'd... rebel," Mercer murmured softly, his lips pursing into a fine line.

“It doesn't add up. He wouldn't have sent you here, either, if he planned on doing something like that." Mercer seemed to be lost in thought, after that.

“I hope..." Devon grimaced. “I hope we're not too late to talk to him. He's a good man, I know he is."

Truthfully, Cyril knew they were only expected to be on cleanup duty. To put down any rebel stragglers, if that. It was a mission that would most likely involve no combat at all, and it was unlikely that Lonato would still be alive by the time they got there, unless the Church somehow managed to capture him.

“I don't understand it," Vridel murmured. “Why someone with so few troops would go against the Church to begin with. It's foolish, and he does not seem a fool from the way you describe him."

“I don't know," Devon said, shaking his head and resting one hand at the back of his neck. “He hasn't... he hasn't quite been the same since his son died, but no one would be. And I never thought anything had happened that would lead to this."

“Someone must have pushed him into it," Mercer murmured softly. “How did his son die, if I may ask?" Mercer spoke, but he stated it in a gentle tone as if he were trying his best not to upset Devon in some capacity. “Because it sounds to me that he died in a Church-related incident. That would be the only reason I could see that would drive an otherwise decent Lord into doing something like this."

Devon pursed his lips, rocking back on his heels, hand still mussing the hair at his nape. “I don't know," he admitted. “This was four years ago; I was barely twelve and I don't think he really..." A sigh. “He's not really the kind who confides in people a lot, you know? Kind of the strong, silent type usually."

Cyril could relate; his own father was much the same. He didn't even know much of anything about his mother, or anything about her death other than that it was apparently childbirth-related.

Vridel shot a quick glance at Mercer, an unusual sort of urgency to it. Whatever had moved him to do so, however, he kept quiet about at just this moment.

“At the very least," Cyril said, leaning back in his chair and crossing his arms. “I can make you that promise. If we do encounter him, we'll find a way for you to talk to him. If this could be ended without violence, I would prefer that path." Not least for the sake of the boy in front of him, but also because Rhea was so set on this man's death, and something about her adamancy made Cyril suspicious. If Lonato's army was really so small as to be such an insignificant threat, why did she care so much? It should be beneath her concern, almost. That it wasn't made him wonder what else could be going on here.

Devon looked relieved; enough to smile a bit, at least, though it didn't reach his eyes. “Thank you, Professor. Really."

Mercer locked eyes with Vridel for a moment and nodded his head. “Agreed. I'll see if I can come along, too, to help," Mercer stated, patting Devon on the shoulder in a friendly manner. “I'm sure he has his reasons, but for now, how about we go make some practice shots with the bow, now? I'm sure Teach can come along and correct us if we mess up. And I'm sure Vi and Reynard would like to get some jabs in as well, right?" he stated, his gaze going towards everyone else.

Reynard snorted softly. “I don't know, Mercer. You might be almost as good as me."

Vridel rolled his eyes. “Perhaps you can have a match then, and decide it." He gestured out the door, and Cyril stood as well, giving Devon's shoulder a brief squeeze.

The young man smiled a little more honestly this time, and nodded. “Thanks, guys. I'd be happy for the help."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Sunday the 22nd
Common Room - Early Afternoon - Cloudy
Senka Rinaldi


Senka arranged the baked goods on the platter as neatly as she could. There were a few jelly-filled doughnuts, some with chocolate and others with fruit fillings, and a few custard jars topped with caramel. They were specialties of her homeland, and she didn't make them often, however; she wanted to make something from home, something she loved, and share it with her friends. Even if it was just going to be Vridel in the study session, she at least wanted him to try them. She also wasn't too sure on his preferences; did he even like sweets? She wouldn't be offended if he didn't, but she had woken earlier than normal to make sure everything was set for today.

Once she was satisfied with her assortment of desserts, she balanced the tray on one arm, grabbed her books, and made her way towards the common room. It served as Cyril's make-shift office, but he'd told them they could use it whenever they needed to for their studies. She found she'd used it more than most since it was away from most people, and she wasn't near prying eyes. She'd always felt slightly uncomfortable about it.

She set the platter down on the table once she'd arrived at her destination, and arranged the sweets out so that they could be easily grabbed from wherever Vridel sat. She sat down, thereafter, and opened one of her books, content on waiting for his arrival.

It didn't take him much longer to arrive, but as it happened he wasn't alone when he did. Professor Cyril was with him, carrying a tea tray with three cups, a container of milk, and a large pot of something that smelled like a spicy fruit tea. Something changed in his eyes when they made contact with hers—like when she smoothed out her face, it seemed to be a way of smiling without actually moving his mouth.

“Hello, Senka," he said mildly.

Vridel's eyes widened a little at the tray of sweets before he, too, greeted her. “Hey. I invited the Professor here to help us out. I figured you wouldn't mind." Why he thought this he did not specify, instead simply taking the seat across from her and setting his satchel down in the one next to him.

This left the only open seat the one next to her, and Cyril shifted around, setting the tea tray down before resting his hand on the carved wooden chair-back. Like most of the things in this room it was a dark wood, the seat and back-pad upholstered in burnt orange and cream. “May I?" he inquired politely.

“Of course," she replied, nodding her head, “I do not mind." She was glad that she'd made a decent amount of the pastries with the arrival of Cyril. Her eyes widened a fraction at the thought. He could try them as well. With that in mind, she regarded both of them with a stare. “I hope you do not mind, but I made these for your enjoyment," she stated, pointing towards the platter. “You are welcome to them as well, Professor," she stated. She wanted him to know that he could partake in the pastries, as well, if he so desired.

“Mind?" Vridel echoed skeptically. “I could hardly mind." So saying, he picked up one of the chocolate-filled ones, biting into it with a contented sound before he remembered himself and swallowed, clearing his throat. “Ah, that is to say, thank you." When he flipped open his book, he resumed eating at a much more sedate pace.

“They are... from my homeland," she stated tentatively. Over the past few months, Senka had grown to trust Vridel and Cyril a great deal. Enough that she was willing to allow them a glimpse into who she really was. Where she was really from. She did not wish to deceive them, but she couldn't tell them more than that. If they asked, she would oblige, however; she would have to be careful in how she explained it to them.

Cyril tilted his head. He'd been pouring the tea, but not that it was distributed, the milk settled firmly between Vridel and Senka, he picked one up and set it on his saucer, delicately slicing into it with his fork. He seemed to take great care with fine tasks like this one, almost as if he had to mind the amount of force he used with everyday objects. “Faerghus?" he asked curiously, tilting his head as he took a bite. His brows inched up, and he made a much softer hum of approval than Vridel had before swallowing. “That's good. Is it Almyran?"

Vridel's eyes had narrowed; he was now regarding his food with renewed interest. “This is definitely not from Faerghus," he said, shaking his head. “It's much too light. And the Almyrans favor spicier chocolate." He lifted his eyes to Senka, clearly puzzled but not accusatory in any way. “Where are you really from, Senka?"

Cyril seemed to catch on to the importance of the question, at least; he looked back and forth between them almost warily. “You don't have to answer that if you don't want to," he said slowly, perhaps mindful of what else he knew about her history.

She shook her head, though, and took a deep sigh. It would have only been a matter of time before someone figured it out, and perhaps, this way was safer. More controlled. She could tell two of the people she trusted the most with this information, and then, perhaps, she'd be able to tell more. She regarded Vridel with a stare before dropping it.

“Vridel is correct. I did not lie when I said my mother was from Faerghus, however," she paused to glance towards Cyril, “my father is not Almyran. To be honest, I know very little of Almyran customs, and was only able to pick up on a few through books I read." There were not a lot of books, unfortunately, but she had managed to make due with what she had.

“Do you recall when I told you my parents were killed by bandits?" she asked, glancing towards Cyril. “They were killed in what was known as the Tragedy of Duscur. I am from Duscur," she stated, dropping her gaze to the table. She felt... ashamed, almost for having kept that from them, but she also felt ashamed for telling them. She was from Duscur; people from Duscur were, naturally, hated. They were blamed for regicide, a crime her father did not commit. And she would take that blame, that hatred for however many years it took to clear her nation's name.

“The Tragedy of Duscur?" Cyril repeated, his tone perhaps as delicate as she'd ever heard it. It was quite clear he'd never heard of the events, and was a little uncomfortable asking her about them.

Vridel, on the other hand, looked like a lot of things suddenly made sense to him. He shot Cyril a glance, paused long enough to give Senka the opportunity to speak if she wished, and then explained. “Four years ago," he said, his voice much lighter and softer than it usually was, “Duscur was an independent nation. Just a small one, on a northern peninsula adjacent to the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. There had been some... tensions, in previous generations, though nothing that went to outright war or anything. But the border was contested, to put it mildly, and Duscur was fairly close to Fhirdiad, the capital of Faerghus, which some people worried about more than they needed to."

He leaned back in his chair, dashing some milk into his tea and stirring it before taking a sip. “But Sorcha's father, King Lambert, and King Disma of Duscur were negotiating a more settled peace. As a sign of good faith, Lambert, his family, and a small detachment of Royal Knights made the trip into Duscur to finish the negotiations." Vridel paused, grimaced, and then sighed, disturbing a strand of stark-white hair. “The caravan was attacked within Duscur's borders. Everyone in it was killed, except... except for Sorcha."

Another drink from the teacup, this one longer than the last. “The people of Duscur were immediately blamed for the death of the King, the Queen Consort, and all the knights that had gone with them. Lambert's brother Rufus was appointed Sorcha's regent, Viscount Kleiman and several other small but influential houses started pushing for retaliation, and before the dust had even settled over the King's grave there was..." He pursed his lips, regarding Senka with obvious sympathy.

“Tragedy is too light a word. It implies that what happened could not have been helped. But what happened was a massacre, and those lords are to blame. Kleiman wound up with the land, as I'm sure you can guess. And a whole people would up with something less than a home."

There was a thick silence for several moments after that. Only when it had almost become unbearable did Cyril break it. “So the..." he halted, glancing towards Vridel before turning his eyes to Senka and gesturing vaguely at his head. “It's because of... that?"

She knew he was referring to the nightmares. “The nightmares, yes. They are because of that. Father only wanted to make peace with Faerghus, to show them we were not a threat. But people are hateful, and they are spiteful of those who are not like them. We were no threat; father only wanted peace, but it..." she found a lump in her throat made it hard to speak, and she shook her head. “He even took a Faerghus wife with my mother in hopes that it would have brought peace."

But he had taken her mother because he actually loved her, and she had loved him. It was a sight that Senka found herself missing. “I hope one day to help my people and clear their names. They are innocent," she stated, finding her voice with much more emotion than normal. She didn't understand, but she chanced a glance at the both of them.

As if by instinct, Cyril's hand reached for her, but he drew back at the last moment, as though unsure of something, and let it fall back to his side. “I believe you," he offered in its stead, nothing but complete sincerity in the words.

“As do I," Vridel added. “Even if I hadn't known you personally, the circumstances were always far too suspicious. But now that I do, I'm sure of it." He exhaled quietly, picking up another of the treats. “From all accounts, your father was a good king," he continued, sidewardly acknowledging what she'd inadvertently let slip. “I am sorry for your loss."

She felt the barest flicker of her lips tilt upward, but she smoothed them back out. “He was the best person I'd ever known," she whispered softly. “You... remind me of him sometimes," she stated glancing towards Cyril. “He just wore his heart on his sleeve, better," she stated, her eyes softening for a fraction.

“If you'd like," she paused for a moment and glanced back towars Vridel, “I can bake some more desserts for the two of you, ones that are native to Duscur. And also... introduce you to some of our customary meals." It would be nice for once, to be able to do that. To make meals from her homeland for the only people she trusted.

“Well I certainly won't turn down more of these," Vridel noted, putting a bit of levity back in his tone. Not in a way that seemed like he was making light of anything she'd just said, but perhaps simply an attempt to move the conversation from darker places.

Cyril nodded, turning slightly to reorient himself back towards the table. His arm brushed hers, only incidentally, but he didn't seem to mind. “I'd be glad to try anything you wanted to share," he said simply.

She smiled at the both of them, one that surprised her. It'd been a long time since she'd felt her face pull into a smile like that, and before she could say anything, someone cleared their throat. She felt eyes on her back, and a familiar heat about them. She knew that feeling; it was the feeling of the people who looked at her with such disdain in their eyes. Hatred. Anger. She turned to the source and was slightly surprised to see Lady Rhea standing at the entrance to Cyril's office.

“It seems you are getting a long, well, with your students, Cyril," she stated, a strange emotion laced in her voice. It seemed the Archbishop was interested in Cyril, for whatever reason Senka did not know. “What is it that you would be sharing, Senka," she stated, her eyes fixed on Senka's. She decided, then, that she did not like the way Lady Rhea was regarding her. It was predatory, as if she would, at any second, bring harm to Senka.

“I have learned of a new recipe for a dessert that I wanted to bake. I was simply asking them if they would like to test it for me," she stated. Lady Rhea's eyes moved towards Cyril, almost as if she were asking him if it were true.

“And I mentioned quite looking forward to it," he added simply, confirming what she'd said without the faintest hint of hesitation. His posture shifted, something about it suggesting a... defensiveness, almost? Like he was prepared to stand and shift in front of her or Vridel at any moment. The Professor often seemed wary, that way, like someone who was accustomed to danger and reacting quickly, but over the past few months it had become less obvious, like he was relaxing.

He certainly didn't seem that way now, though.

The smile on Lady Rhea's face was not genuine. It was bitter, and there was a touch of disgust about it when she directed it towards Senka. “Perhaps you will allow me to partake in them as well, when you have the time," she stated. Senka merely nodded; it was the only thing she could do. “Very well, I will leave you to your studies. It seems the both of you will be taking your certifications this month. May the goddess bless you with positive results," she stated, nodding her head before she departed.

“I do not trust that woman, nor do I like her," Senka stated the moment she knew Rhea was no longer near the vicinity.

“Me either," Vridel said bluntly. His attention shifted to Cyril. “I don't think you do, either, do you Professor?"

“No." If anything, his reply was even more blunt. “She outright said this month's mission was a way to remind you what happens to people who turn their blades on the Church. And I..." Something changed in his expression; like he was trying to recall something that remained just beyond his reach. “I don't know. There's something about her. I can't explain it, but it... puts me on edge."

“She seems quite... interested in you," Vridel mused. “I doubt she talks half as much to Professor Hanneman or Professor Manuela. From the sounds of it, Lady Lyanna handles all their missions and reports herself." He paused, finishing off his tea. “What about you interests her so much, I wonder?"

Cyril shook his head. "I wish I knew. At first I thought it had something to do with my father, but... the more time passes the more I think it's the other way around. But it doesn't make sense. I'd never even have met her but for the coincidence of the three of your running towards Remire that day."

“Maybe she's just a sucker for a handsome face," Vridel suggested, the sharp cynicism of the words a sure giveaway that he didn't mean it as a serious guess.

For his part, the professor looked slightly confused for a moment, then shrugged. “Whatever it is... if you can avoid ever being alone with her, please do. I can sense her magic sometimes, I think, and it's... very strong. Stronger than mine."

Senka was slightly startled by the sound that came out of her throat. The smile was something she'd thought she wouldn't be able to do much of, however; the laughter that came out of her voice was... strange. She couldn't recall the last time she'd laughed like that. Before everything, perhaps, but she rather missed it. Something about Vridel and Cyril made things easier, like they were natural. That they should have been there all along. When she managed to calm herself, her eyes were narrowed by the strength of her smile.

“I do not plan on being alone with that woman, however; I must agree with Vridel. I believe it's your face she is so interested in," because she would not deny that her Professor had a sort of pleasantness to his features. Vridel was quite the same way, and so were most of her classmates.

“That's it," Vridel said, leaning back in his chair and smirking. “That's all the luck I will ever have in my life. Little did I know all the misfortune until now was balancing out this moment." He huffed softly. “Not only did Senka smile and make me pastries, she laughed. At my joke. Mercer would never believe me, but I even got a witness. And some interesting gossip on top of that." He did not specify what the 'gossip' was, but the rest was obvious enough.

Cyril still looked faintly puzzled, but seemed to accept that she was furthering the joke Vridel had made. “Maybe I should get myself a mask, like Professor Jeritza."

She huffed slightly. “It would be a shame to keep your face covered because of her," she stated, turning her attention to her books. “But I do believe we were here to study for an upcoming certification. Shall we?" she stated, arching a brow in Vridel's direction. She... liked this, being more expressive with herself.

“Quite so," he replied easily. “So Professor. I'm pretty sure I saw you use Thoron last month..."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Monday the 23rd
Sorcha's Room - Early Afternoon - Breezy
Sorcha Blaiddyd


Sorcha hummed, kicking her feet up behind her and shifting them back and forth in the air. She was laying on her stomach on her bed, trying to study. Normally there would have been afternoon class at this time, but the students had been given this week off to prepare for their certification tests. And even though those would be live demonstrations instead of written exams, it was important to know the theory to inform your practice.

It was why she'd invited Senka and Amalthea to study with her in her room after lunch, but none of them seemed to be having the easiest time concentrating. Maybe because it was outside their usual schedule, maybe because they were thinking about other things. Either way...

“That's it," she said, closing her book over with a soft thunk. “I think it's time for a break. What about you two?"

“I agree," Amalthea stated, closing her own book. She sighed heavily and turned her attention towards Sorcha. She'd been sitting at the available desk in Sorcha's room with Senka having taken the floor. She didn't seem to be uncomfortable about it, and merely closed her own book, and regarded Sorcha with an even gaze. “I haven't been able to concentrate, either. I don't know what it is, though," Amalthea muttered.

“I am not in need of a break, but if that is what you want, then I do not mind. Perhaps we can make tea and bring it back to the room. Or," she paused, glancing at Amalthea and back to Sorcha, “we can sit beneath the one of the gazebo's near the Knight's Hall. It's lovely outside, today," she seemed to suggest.

Sorcha hummed. She wasn't wrong about the day; it was warming to full summer, but an an unusually-cool breeze from the north kept it from being oppressively hot. It would be too windy to get much studying done outside, but something with less paper, like tea or something of the like, should work just fine. “Let's do it," she declared, rolling off her bed and stretching. Snatching the spare blanket off the end, she tucked it under her arm. “We can lay on the grass. I'm not hungry yet, but if either of you wants tea or snacks, we can certainly stop for them!"

Amalthea smiled brightly, as she always did, and nodded her head. “That sounds great! I haven't been able to enjoy the weather as much with all the studying we've been doing," she stated, standing from the desk and pushing the chair back in. “Plus, summer has always been my favorite season. It's nice and warm, and all the birds and animals are usually out," she added, glancing towards Senka, who'd stood from her spot on the floor. She placed her book down on the desk before following Amalthea out of Sorcha's room.

“Summer is not my favorite season, but there are exceptional days, such as today, that make it tolerable," she stated. As someone coming from a region where it was typically colder, Senka preferred that to the summer, or at least that was what she'd told Sorcha, before. “Relaxing outside on a day like this, though, has been known to have benefits, such as relaxing the mind, and easing stress," she stated, her eyes narrowing slightly before they turned in Sorcha's direction.

“I suppose I can see that. We should bring snacks to enjoy this day, then, even though you're not hungry, yet, Sorcha! You'll be once we get settled!" Amalthea almost seemed certain of it.

“Sure," Sorcha replied easily, moving to the small shelf at the far side of her room. “I've been looking for a reason to share these with someone anyway. They can be part of your education, Thea." Crouching, she opened one of the cabinet doors on the bottom and withdrew a small basket. “Lady Cornelia sent them for me; I guess I must have mentioned missing them last time I wrote her. I dunno how they lasted long enough to get here but they're still fresh somehow. Must be something she figured out how to do."

The pastries were a regional specialty of the part of Faerghus she'd grown up in, the area in and around Fhirdiad. Soft, flaky pastry with cream cheese and fruit preserves, drizzled with icing. “I think you'll like these, Thea. Shall we?" She gestured towards the door even as she stepped into her boots.

“Oh! Those look absolutely amazing, Sorcha!" she replied enthusiastically. “I love sweets! You and Senka spoil me with them," she continued, pursing her lips together as if she were trying to keep herself from smiling. “I'll just have to not mention these to Lyanna. She'd be jealous if she knew," she stated, grinning almost as if it were something devious to her.

“You would not share these with your sister?" Senka stated, tilting her head to the side as she followed Amalthea out the door. “Don't you think she would enjoy these, too?" she continued as they walked at an even pace.

“Oh, she would," she stated, still grinning, “but I want to keep these all to myself."

“Well you will have to leave at least a couple for us," Sorcha teased gently, casting her eyes about when they reached the courtyard. It wasn't the one with the gazebo, but this one had the benefit of a lawn dotted with little flowers, and the grass seemed especially inviting in the warm light of the sun. Sorcha wasn't especially a summer person, either, but she could easily enjoy a day like this one.

Handing off the basket to Senka for a moment, she opened the blanket, a soft one with a bit of thickness to it, and spread it over the ground, a blue and green square easily big enough for all of them to lay on. Taking her boots right back off again, she flopped down first, unconcerned with looking dignified or anything right now. This was a very low-traffic area, after all, and besides, she was taking a break with her friends.

Rolling onto her back, Sorcha took a moment to adjust her skirt. She wasn't concerned about modesty, since she was wearing leggings underneath, but she didn't want it to get twisted up in her legs. When that was done, she patted the spot next to her. “Feels nice," she informed them with half a smile.

Amalthea immediately followed suit, mirroring Sorcha as she plopped right next to her, smiling as if she had not a care in the world. Senka, however, took her time settling on Sorcha's other side. before she laid her arms across her stomach. She had, at least, been wearing shorts, and did not have to worry about a skirt, however; Amalthea either didn't seem to mind, or care, since her skirt was rather long to begin with. Once they were all settled, Amalthea giggled lightly as she glanced up at the sky.

“This does feel nice!" she spoke, turning so that she was looking at Sorcha with excited eyes. “And that cloud there almost looks like Vi!" she stated, pointing to a rather oddly shaped cloud. It did not, however, look anything like Vridel. Senka's brow raised, but she said nothing about it.

Sorcha snorted rather inelegantly, rolling onto her side long enough to grab the basket and offer it once to each of the others before she took one for herself, too. Hungry or not, these were delicious, and she could enjoy it slowly. Settling once again on her back, she squinted at the same cloud. “Okay so I grant you that it has the right color for his hair, but so do the rest of the clouds. What makes that one in particular look like him?" She took a bite of her pastry, smiling at the nostalgic flavor as she awaited whatever kind of explanation this was going to be.

“Because it's as pretty as he is, of course," she replied as if it were the most obvious answer. “I mean, it stands out more-so than the rest of them do, and it's not just the color, either," she replied, a big grin spreading across her face. Senka looked vaguely intrigued by the declaration, and tilted her head to the side, a bit.

“Can you explain what you mean by that? I still do not see the resemblance," Senka stated, though it was easy to tell that she was interested in what Amalthea had to say. She pursed her lips at Sorcha and Senka, though, and made a slight huffing sound.

“Am I the only one able to see how unique it is?" She sounded a bit upset, as her brows furrowed.

Sorcha huffed softly, the beginnings of a good-natured laugh, and patted Thea's shoulder. “Let me see if I can put this the right way. All the clouds are pretty in their own way, but even in a group of pretty things, that one sticks out because it's the prettiest? And this made it remind you of Vivi?" He'd certainly be glad to hear something like that, the proud scoundrel. She'd never been able to think about him that way, and never would, but even she could admit that her stepbrother was an attractive man, something that had only become more true as he'd matured and... whatever had happened that had turned his hair that brilliant snowy color. Of course, Sorcha quite preferred a different sort of type, but—

Her thoughts veered from that quickly, and she cocked her eyebrow over Thea's head at Senka. If she was even halfway to right in her interpretation of the other girl's thoughts this was... interesting news.

Amalthea simply nodded her head. “All of my friends are really pretty," she began, glancing at Sorcha, first. “Like you, Sorcha, you have really pretty blue eyes. They remind me of the lake, with their depth and shine," she began before lifting her head towards Senka. “And Senka has really pretty hair, kind of like a dark amethyst gem. I don't think I've ever seen a shade like that before," she stated before laying her head back down.

“And then there's Mercer who has really smooth skin and a really pretty smile. And of course there's Professor who has a strange charm about him, but Vi," she paused, and pursed her lips together, “Vi has a sort of strange beauty to him. It's almost... melancholy, but it kind of just draws your attention to him, first. In a room with all of you, he'd always be the first one I'd notice."

Senka merely raised an interested brow at Amalthea before huffing lightly. “I do believe Thea has a bit of a crush on Vridel," she whispered it softly to Sorcha so that Amalthea would not hear.

Sorcha's eyes had gone wide, and she nodded immediately at Senka when she said it, a slow grin spreading over her face. “That's... an interesting way or putting it, Thea," she said, amusement clearly seeping into her tone. “Thank you, though." Sorcha wasn't often told nice things like that. She wasn't sure if they were true or not, but Thea seemed to believe them, and maybe it was the thought that counted. She was definitely right about the others, in any case.

“So, uh... do you feel any different, when you see him? To how you feel about any of the rest of us?" It was sort of weird, talking about this with someone around their age who clearly didn't really know anything about that sort of stuff. Not that Sorcha was any kind of expert either, but still.

Thea huffed lightly at the question, “Of course I do. Why wouldn't I?" Senka huffed lightly, as if she were trying to laugh, but did not want to. “Oh! Sometimes, my face starts burning a little, and my ears. Someone said they turned red, once, when I was talking to him. Is that weird? It's weird, isn't it?" She'd seemed a little panicked at the last part, but took an even breath.

“When I'm with the rest of you, I'm not as..." she pursed her lips as she paused, “nervous? I don't think that's the right word, but that's what it feels like."

Sorcha huffed quietly. Perhaps one upside of not knowing what she was talking about was that it was easier to do so. Because of course Thea wouldn't know that this was a thing people sometimes kept secret or were embarrassed about or had to conceal for one reason or another. It was... quite refreshing, actually.

Taking another bite from her pastry, she turned her eyes back up to the clouds, wrapping her other arm around her middle. “Do you want to explain this or should I, Sen?"

Senka sighed softly, but shook her head. “I believe we should both explain it. Thea does not seem to understand her own feelings," she replied, sitting up and glancing towards Thea. “Thea, what do you know about a crush?" she began, tilting her head as she waited for Thea's reply. She pursed her lips at Senka, and furrowed her brow.

“You mean the process of squishing something so much that it becomes crumbles?" she asked, causing Senka's face to smooth out. It was easy to tell she found this amusing. She shook her head, though, and took a breath.

“Not that. A crush is..." she paused, keeping her gaze with Amalthea's as if she were making sure she was listening, “it is a feeling you get when you are near someone special. They are typically the only person who can make you feel strange inside. It's as if their very presence is something you've come to enjoy, and you seek their company more than others." Amalthea looked confused, and she furrowed her brows and pursed her lips further.

“I don't understand. Isn't that just considered friendship?" she asked as Senka shook her head.

“It's a bit different than friendship, Thea. It's as if you like them a great deal to the point that you might come to love them in a different way. It is not the same kind of love you would feel for your sister, though." Amalthea still looked confused. “Sorcha, a little help, if you do not mind."

“Uhhh." She wasn't honestly super sure how to explain it. Casting back through her memories, she arrived at those indistinct ones of so many years ago. Much about them had faded somehow, almost as if she weren't meant to remember, but the way she'd felt was something she didn't think anyone could erase. Something that no amount of time could take away from her. “Well so a crush can be partly physical, like where your heart starts to go faster or you feel like there's a bunch of butterflies in your stomach, trying to get out, or you're nervous in a way that doesn't feel quite like normal nervousness."

Something in her chest clenched almost painfully, and she swallowed. Why could she not remember? It should have been clear as day, and yet...

“But there's also an emotional part of it. Like..." she hummed, chewing over another bite of pastry to try and give herself time to think. She wasn't sure there were any words for it that wouldn't sound cheesy. “Like being around them is being home, I guess. Like everything else could be gone tomorrow and as long as you still had them, you'd be okay somehow. Not to say that you don't care about anything else anymore, because of course you do but it's... different, the way you care about them. Like no matter where you are or what you're doing you—" she pursed her lips.

“I dunno. Like you could be surrounded by strangers and still feel... like you belong. Safe. Just because they're there, no matter what anyone else thinks of you."

She cleared her throat. “Uh. I guess that's more being in love, though. Having a crush is something that might turn into that, but probably isn't that much? I think? I dunno Sen I'm explaining it badly."

Amalthea's face was red by the end of Sorcha's explanation. “I do believe you have explained it properly enough for her to understand," she stated, nodding in Amalthea's direciton. “But as I understand it, you have a mild crush on Vridel, Thea. It is nothing to be embarrassed about. Vridel is a very handsome person, and he is gentle in his own ways. It would only be natural for you to develop one on him." She had spoken in a nonchalant fashion, as if it were an obvious thing, but there was a glint in Senka's eyes, one almost reminiscent to Mercer or even Vridel, himself.

“I don't... but... oh, goddess," Thea stated, covering her face with her hands. “I don't think I'll ever be able to look him in the eye, again."

Sorcha recognized Senka teasing someone when she saw it, and tried to help Thea out, at least a little. “It's not a weird thing, you know," she said, attempting to sound reassuring. “Lots of people have them. For example, Devon totally has a crush on Sylvi. He doesn't do anything about it, probably because she's a noble and he's a commoner and stuff, but he does, and there's nothing wrong with it! It's cute, actually."

Senka huffed lightly. “Sometimes, secrets like those are meant to be kept, especially if someone confides in you about them," she stated, eyeing Sorcha with a knowing glance. She turned her attention towards Thea, though, and nodded her head. “It is, indeed, natural for people to have them, though. It's up to you, in the end, what you want to do with that information. Devon might not think he has a chance with Sylvi, but sometimes," she paused and furrowed her brows in a thoughtful manner.

“Sometimes you should take the risk. You never know what might come of it." Amalthea pursed her lips together, almost as if she wanted to stick her tongue out at Senka.

“I think, for the time being, I'll keep that information to myself, thank you," she huffed. “But... thank you for telling me. I don't think this would have been an easy conversation with my sister. She... over worries, sometimes," she stated, smiling at the both of them. “I'm glad I have friends like the two of you." And she seemed to mean it.

Sorcha had been about to protest that Devon hadn't told her anything, but Thea's comment took precedence, and she felt herself smiling a little as she finished off her pastry. Sweets from home always made her feel so relaxed and comfortable. Nostalgia was a powerful thing, she supposed. “Well thanks, Thea," she replied after swallowing. “We're glad to have you, too, aren't we, Sen?"

Friends were a rare occurrence for the both of them, to be sure.

“Indeed," Senka replied, nodding her head in agreement. “Most people take for granted what friendships can do for them, but," she spoke softly and closed her eyes. “I am glad to be able to call you both my friends."

“Let's promise that, no matter what, we'll always be friends!" Amalthea stated suddenly, sitting up from her position, abruptly, and smiling at the two of them. Senka glanced towards Sorcha, though, as if waiting for her reply.

Sorcha considered it a moment. She of all people knew how fast life could change, how quickly life could laugh in the face of all the best plans and intentions in the world. But... in another way, a promise like that didn't depend on anything they couldn't control. It asked for them to always treat each other well, and love each other the way friends did, and that... that, she thought she could do.

“Okay," she said quietly, folding down all but the last finger of her free hand and holding it up. “No matter what. Let's pinky promise on it."

“Pinky promise!" Amalthea stated, lacing her pinky with Sorcha's, and using her other hand to lace it with Senka's. Senka looked slightly surprised, but she laced her own pinky with Sorcha's, effectively making a chain between the three of them.

“Promise."

“I promise, too." Overhead, the sunlight lent the moment a strange haze, something almost sleepy washing over Sorcha for a moment and leaving her with a fuzzy-headed warmth. She smiled, releasing her friends' fingers, and sighed quietly.

Just now, she believed she could keep it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Tuesday the 24th
Library - Afternoon - Cloudy
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer ran a hand through his hair, giving it a light shake as he sighed heavily. He already had the necessary qualifications in his bow training that he didn't need to take the certifications for that. It was mostly the flying certifications he needed to work on, and the help. It was why he invited Sorcha to join him in the library to study with him since she was taking the exams to be a pegasus knight. He figured having a study partner would be easier, and they could help each other with whatever stumped them. He had some experience in riding, but not so much flying. He'd never seen the reason to, but he had gained something of an interest after reading about wyvern riders.

Plus, it would make getting around easier, and the distance between him and foe would prove to be in his advantage with the use of his bow. Granted, he'd use a sword if he had to, or rather the longsword, but he preferred attacking from a distance. That's just how they were in the Leicester Alliance, always attacking from a distance, but hardly up close. It was no wonder that some people considered them cowards, in that sense, but Mercer knew some of the bravest people in the Alliance. He rolled out his shoulders before slumping into his chair, and placing his head against the desk.

“I really don't feel like studying right now," he murmured, keeping his head on the desk as he waited for Sorcha.

“So let's practice instead." She spoke from behind him, coming to a stop at the table he was half-laying on, leaning her hip against it and crossing her arms over her chest. She was dressed a little differently today, in a version of the Academy uniform with fitted trousers and tall boots to her thighs, instead of the skirt and leggings she usually went with. He could recognize pegasus-riding gear when he saw it, and the odd glove she wore on her right hand was obviously an archer's, as was the wrist guard over her left sleeve. She tilted her head at him, eyes narrowed with something that looked very much like mischief glimmering in the clear blue of them.

“I got the professor to write us a note of permission to take Lady and Sir out for some exercise." She cocked one blonde eyebrow at him. “Unless you're not so sure of your aim from the air, Lord 'I-don't-even-have-to-look-at-my-target.'"

He tilted his head from the spot on the table to regard her with a quirked brow. “Is that a challenge I hear? Because it sounds like a challenge to me," he stated, his cheek still resting on the table as he stared at her. He'd give her credit for her moxie, though. “And my aim is just as good in the air as it is on the ground, so it won't be much of a challenge," he stated, finally straightening his posture out. She did have a point, though. Practicing would be a lot easier to do than just reading, so he stood from his spot and glanced at her.

“Should we make it another competition, though, on who can hit the most targets in the air?" he asked, leaning just a little closer to her face. She did, after all, tell him to try harder if he wanted that kiss.

She furrowed her brows at him, the slightest pinkness rising to the surface of her skin, probably from his proximity, but to her credit she held it together a lot better than the last time, keeping her posture straight and staring brazenly right back into his eyes. Perhaps he wasn't the only one to sense a challenge in the making here. “Fine by me," she replied bluntly. “If I win, you're telling me how we met."

Lifting her chin just a bit, as if to compensate for the scant difference in their height, she held his eyes a moment longer, as if to make sure it was clear that she was not retreating, then turned crisply on her heel and led the way out towards the barn.

Mercer felt the grin on his face shift into a smirk. That was an interesting development. He rather liked that about her, but he'd keep that to himself, for now. Instead, he merely trailed behind her, letting her take the lead until they reached the barn where Lady and Sir were kept. Without a word, he retrieved the halter from the tack room, and pushed open the stable door where Sir, was. The wyvern grunted softly, as it stood in its spot.

“Hey bud, ready to stretch your wings for a bit?" he stated, waiting until Sir walked over towards him. The wyvern, however, sniffed at him, and grunted softly. “Ah, you're looking for fish, aren't you? Couldn't sneak it today, but I promise I'll get you one after practice, alright? I'll even get your favorite, the albinean herring," he stated as the wyvern stretched its wings out. Mercer knew Sir was going to hold him to that, and he slipped the halter on the wyvern's head. Once they were out on the field, he waited for Sorcha and Lady before glancing in their direction.

“Alright, so the rules will be a bit different for this one. We'll be flying, after all. The first person to hit," he paused to tap a thoughtful finger to his chin, “ten targets, wins. But they can't just be any targets." There wouldn't be a challenge if that were the case.

“They have to be moving targets in the air," he stated. He knew, on the other side of the Monastery, they had set up ranges like that for the wyvern and pegasus riders. It wouldn't make sense to not have something like that, after all, or wyvern and pegasi for that matter. “What do you want if you win?" he asked, a grin crossing his face. It was highly unlikely that she would win, but he did not want to underestimate her, again. She had come a long way with her training, something he was quite proud of her for.

“The whole story," she said simply. “I feel like I know you, but I don't know why. From what you said the first time we trained together, you do. So I want to know what you know." Leaving her bow slung over her back, Sorcha hopped astride Lady's bare back like she'd been riding pegasi her whole life, giving him a little smirk. He doubted she was really underestimating him, either—snarky as she got sometimes, she didn't ever seem to think less of him in the way he made it so easy for other people to do.

“What do you want, this time? More chores?"

Mercer's smirk turned a bit dark as he felt his eyes narrow slightly. “I want that kiss," he simply stated, climbing onto Sir's back with ease. He turned Sir in the direction of the targets, and was off before he could hear or see Sorcha's response. He had an idea of what she was going to say, and the blush on her face would have only served to make him more determined to win that kiss, however; regardless of who won, he would still tell her. It was obvious enough to him that she wanted to know, and he wasn't going to keep it from her, any longer. Besides, if he were being honest with himself, he was kind of pissed that she'd forgotten him. He gave her his mother's jewel, after all! And that was valuable... or at least that's what his mother had said.

“Are you ready?" he asked, glancing towards Sorcha as he pulled his bow from his shoulder.

She was, indeed, crimson, but the look on her face was nearly murderous. “It wasn't funny the first time," she grumbled, shifting her own bow over her shoulder. It was nothing special, only one of the practice ones the Academy had. As he recalled, the only real archers in Faerghus were longbowmen, and they were really only part-timers, soldiers who manned the walls during sieges but really preferred to fight up close. They used strategies that relied on creating a rain of arrows too thick to avoid, not individual accuracy. Probably she'd never shot a particularly good one. “And it's not funny now. Blue targets are mine."

Drawing an arrow from her quiver, Sorcha controlled Lady's flight with her knees alone, expertly nudging the pegasus into a flyby motion. Though the target moved also, the combination seemed to induce no confusion or miscalculation in Sorcha; she let fly, and the arrow thudded home into the target. It was perfectly on center, but well within the acceptable bounds for a challenge like this.

She brought lady back around beside Sir, gesturing almost irritably with her bow for him to take the next shot.

Mercer, for once, put on a rather serious face. “I wasn't joking; if I win, I want that kiss," was his reply before he nudged Sir towards his targets. He'd take the red ones if hers were blue, and he fit an arrow to his bow. Glancing back to make sure she was watching, he let it fly. With a loud thunk, the arrow found its home dead center of his target, as it had before. Making his way back to Sorcha, he smirked at her, a clear challenge, if anything.

It was such that the next few targets were neck and neck. For every target he hit, she would also land one. It became a constant that, with their last two shots to make, Mercer had completely turned serious about it. He'd known she'd improved, but the depth of her improvement was more than he'd thought. He was forced to actually concentrate on his targets, to make sure that every hit was as perfect as he could get it. When they were down to their last target, Mercer cleared his mind and focused on his target, releasing the arrow and watched as his aim was true.

“Last one, Princess," he stated, motioning for her to take the field.

For her part, Sorcha had clearly been taking this every bit as seriously. Her shots were not perfect, but the ease with which she directed Lady and read the wind went a long way to making up for that. This time, she only nodded by way of acknowledgment, already sighting down the field to pick out her target. There was only one left, and she seemed to have been avoiding it so far, as it sat at an awkward angle in Lady's turn for her draw; if she wasn't careful, she could nick the pegasus's wing in trying to line it up.

Sliding another arrow free of her quiver, she nocked it to the string, holding tension but not drawing all the way back. A tiny half-smile turned her lips up at one corner, and then almost without warning Lady burst forward, turning more sharply at the awkward corner and actually rolling in the air. Sorcha shot at the moment in the arc when her wings were out of the way, and the arrow thudded into the target.

Just in time, because she had to grab the pegasus's mane not to fall off—and down. She laughed, a surprisingly light sound for having been at risk of serious injury. “That's what I get for not bothering with a saddle," she said, coming to rest at a hover next to Mercer and—it was there and gone in a moment, but it looked like she'd winked at him.

“That's ten. But I went first, so... I think by most rules that gives you one more to tie it up, right?"

Mercer shook his head, a strange smile coming to his face. It was lighter than he usually allowed them to be, and turned in Sorcha's direction. “At this point, it wouldn't matter. We both know I'd make the hit, and we'd end in a tie. I have to say, Sorcha," he stated, rubbing his chin in a thoughtful manner, “you really have improved. I'm really proud of you. It usually takes people years to achieve as much progress as you have." He was being honest; he truly was proud of the progress she made, and there was a strange little burst of pride knowing that he was the reason.

“I suppose that makes our deal, null, but," he stated, turning his attention fully to her, “I'll still honor my side of it. Think of it as... uh, a partial victory on your part and how much you've impressed me today."

For a moment, Sorcha appeared to consider this, but then she shook her head, regarding him with a strange seriousness that contrasted sharply with the amusement of the moment before. “Make the shot," she said quietly. “Nothing's inevitable until it's already done." It didn't sound like she doubted him or anything, but there was something oddly insistent about her anyway.

Mercer rolled his eyes, but huffed in good nature. “Fine, fine," he replied, nudging Sir in the direction of his last shot. Unlike her last one, his wasn't anything too flashy. It was simply waving at him, like it was taunting him somehow. Granted, the target itself was smaller than the other ones, which meant that if he didn't concentrate on it, he would likely miss it. It didn't help that it was moving at a somewhat rapid pace in a circular motion. Taking an arrow from his quiver, he notched it and pulled the string back. He took a deep breath, watching, waiting for the target to be where he wanted it to be, and let the arrow fly.

“Told you," he stated over his shoulder as the arrow made contact with the target. He nudged Sir back towards Sorcha, and grinned. “Satisfied?"

She gave that a moment's thought, too, but then nodded. “Yes. Thank you." It seemed she genuinely meant it, too. “Let's let these two have a break, shall we? It looks like we're clear to land in that field over there." The one she pointed to was just outside the town of Garreg Mach proper, which was fair enough since most of the larger training areas for cavalry and fliers had to be put there as well. It boasted a large number of vivid woldflowers, and one of the small creeks common to mountainside landscapes like this one.

“I'd like to hear the story, now."

“Let me get comfortable, first," he stated once they'd landed. He removed the halter from Sir's head, just so that it wouldn't bother him or impede him in any way, before he took a seat on the grass. Once he was satisfied, he laid back, propping his hands behind his head so he had a clear view of the sky. “You and I met when we were kids," he began, keeping his gaze to the sky. There were a lot of clouds today, but he didn't mind. It meant that he would be able to actually see without being blinded by how bright it could get.

“We were probably around five or six at the time, I can't remember exactly, but your father came to the Alliance on a visit. You'd accompanied him, and well... you wouldn't stop bugging me when we'd been introduced," he stated, pursing his lips together. She'd been so excited for some strange reason, and at the time, it had annoyed Mercer. He chanced a glance at her, and sighed.

“You followed me around everywhere."

This declaration was followed by the sound of the second halter landing softly on the ground. Sorcha took a moment to settle next to him, leaning back on her hands, legs stretched in front of her and crossed neatly at the ankles. A breeze stirred the wildflowers, carrying the scent along with it. A light one, vaguely lavender-like.

“I... don't remember much, from that part of my life," she admitted, quietly as if she were afraid of being overheard, out here where there was no one but the two of them, a pegasus, and a wyvern. “I used to think most children didn't, but when I talk with Sen, her memories of childhood are always so much clearer than mine. I don't even remember anything about my mother." She cleared her throat, shaking her head. “Anyway... never mind that. I guess I bothered you? Sorry."

Mercer quirked a brow at that. He sighed softly and shook his head. “Sometimes that's just the way the mind works when it's been through a trauma. It blocks off certain memories, even the good ones, before the incident so that they aren't brought back up," he stated, shrugging his shoulders in a nonchalant fashion. He would imagine that after what she'd experienced in the Tragedy, her body's natural coping mechanism was to forget about it, and unfortunately her earlier memories, too.

“And nah, you weren't a bother really. It was kind of nice having someone follow me around. Kinda like I had a little sister. I didn't have any siblings, you see," he stated, turning his head to grin at her. “Do you still have that jewel I gave you?" he questioned, blinking slowly at her. “Mom was kind of pissed when I told her I lost it. I didn't tell her I gave it to you, though," because he had a feeling his mother would have likely skinned him for giving away such a valuable item. Apparently his father had given it to her, but he didn't really know the story behind that.

“Jewel?" she echoed, eyes snapping quickly down to his. They were wide with something like alarm, almost panic. It wasn't clear why, until she straightened enough to lift both her hands from the ground. For some reason, she undid the uniform button at her throat, and then the one just beneath before hooking a finger inside against her neck and giving a tug. At first, all that came up was a cord, but she kept pulling, and eventually a pendant came free, too.

It was roughly oval in shape, a brilliant, vitreous blue-green that caught the light and sparked. Rather than damage the stone, she appeared to have wound a delicate lattice of silver wire around it to hold it carefully while still allowing the color to show through. “You—are you telling me you're the one who gave me this?" The question was urgent, as though it was something of grave importance to her, somehow.

“Yep," he replied, popping the last letter as he grinned at her. “You ended up falling over something and it was the only thing I could think of to give you to make you stop crying," he stated shrugging his shoulders. “I'm glad you've taken care of it, though. Oh," he started, suddenly realizing something. “You can keep it, though. I, uh, already told my mom that I lost it so... it's not like I need it back or anything." He wanted her to know that she could keep it. It's not like it was that important to him.

To his mother, perhaps, but not him. “Besides, it looks really good with you. Brings out the blue in your eyes," he continued, giving her a lazy grin.

“I—" For a second Sorcha seemed like she wasn't sure how to respond to that. But then she huffed. “Well, I'd hope so. Crying or not, you did give it to me." She looked down at it, tracing her thumb along one of the silver threads and flushing. Probably at the compliment—it wasn't too difficult to fluster her, really.

But then she slipped the stone back under her shirt and turned towards him, narrowing her eyes at his face. “Well you've held up your end," she said. “And you did make your last shot, so." Without any further warning, she moved up onto one knee and threw her other leg over his waist, bracing her hands on either side of his head.

“If you tell anyone I did this I'm getting Senka to break me into your room again so I can poison you in your sleep." She let that sit for just a moment before leaning down, closing her eyes and pressing her lips to his cheek. It was a chaste thing, entirely innocent, but she didn't do it like he was infectious, either, lingering long enough to exhale softly against the skin of his cheek.

“Thank you," she murmured, close enough to his ear that there was barely any sound and he could hear anyway. “I was a big crybaby so I probably didn't say it the first time. But... thanks for looking out for me, back then."

Mercer chuckled lightly. She really was adorable at times, and that thought alone was enough to bring him crashing back to reality. It wouldn't last. Nothing lasted. Something would happen, and then it would be gone. But for now... he supposed he could enjoy this one moment, where it was just him, her, a pegasus, and wyvern.

“You're welcome, Sorcha."

“It shall be our little secret."

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Thursday the 26th
Training Grounds - Evening - Light Rain
Cyril Eisner


Rain pattered gently on the roof of the indoor training grounds. Cyril had invited those of his students who had Crests to this additional practice, but only those Senka was comfortable with. It was something he'd like to offer to all of them, eventually, but his first priority for the moment was helping her with the immediate aftermath of her discovery, and to that end he had no desire to populate the event with anyone she did not trust to keep her secret.

It meant the group was small, only himself, Vridel, Mercer, and Sorcha besides Senka herself, but for now that was plenty. They were all inside the ring, but as of yet none of them were armed or anything. In fact he wanted to get a little more information first, and give some, in turn.

“I invited you here because I've been told that training Crest use can be difficult," he said, glancing between them. His arms were crossed loosely over his chest. “I understand all of you have Crests of some kind. I admit this was not a concept I was familiar with before coming here, but apparently I have one too. I'd like to hear what you all know about yours, and more about how they've affected your lives, if you do not mind sharing. I think it might help me figure out how to help you train them. If worse comes to worse, I think I can force you into needing to use them, but I would much prefer not to use that method, so if those of us who don't know how to activate them could learn from those of us that do, I believe that would help."

Senka winced a bit, but otherwise remained calm. Mercer's lips, however, were pursed into a fine line. “I've never really had to use mine. As far as I know, the Riegan Crest has always made its bearers uncannily accurate with their shots. I mean, I'm good, but there are times when I'm damn good, and... that's actually a little unnerving now that I think about it," he stated, crossing his arms over his chest. “So... I actually don't know how to use my Crest. I just put it down to luck. If it happens, it happens." He shrugged his shoulders.

“I... am not aware what mine does, or how it benefits me in anyway," Senka replied, her gaze down and not meeting Cyril's. It seemed she was still having a difficult time accepting what her Crest was.

Sorcha had rolled her eyes at Mercer, but when Senka spoke, she grimaced. “Mine's the Minor Crest of Blaiddyd, as I'm sure you all know," she said, opening her hand in front of her as if she expected to find an actual mark on her palm. “I've... never used it, that I know of. My father had the Major one, and there are stories of his strength and speed in battle, which might have had something to do with it, but..." she shrugged, a bit listlessly, and looked back up at the others.

“He was a beloved King, and people always tell stories like that about beloved Kings, especially where I'm from."

Vridel studied the others with an increasingly furrowed brow until it was his turn. “Am I... really the only one who can activate a Crest at will?" he asked. He seemed more confused than anything, certainly not condescending. Clearing his throat, he continued. “Well... mine's the minor Crest of Seiros, which the Empire's had forever. Its effects are pretty well-documented, actually; the people in my family who have it are too strong for their builds, and too precise for their strength, especially when they're well-trained otherwise. My grandmother could apparently just casually lift furniture by herself even without activating it—I think they call it Crest Bleed. It just kind of... happens, eventually. Some part of the Crest's power turns on and stays on. Not most of it, just enough for the Crest-bearer to be noticeably different from an ordinary person."

He paused, tilting his head at Sorcha. “Do you really not remember Lambert complaining that any weapon but Areadbhar broke after only a few swings? Only a few of his Crest-bearing retainers could tolerate sparring with him."

She shook her head, looking vaguely troubled. “I... wasn't aware, no."

“Interesting, I wasn't aware of that," Mercer spoke, however, something flashed across his face, surprise, maybe. “Hey, I didn't know you had a Crest, Sen," he stated, as he regarded her with a smile. “I didn't even know Almyrans had Crests so it must be from your mom's side, right?" he continued. Mercer and Vridel were the only ones who weren't present when Senka found out about her Crest, which made sense as to why he didn't know.

Senka, however, pursed her lips together. She seemed to contemplate his question for a minute before she exhaled slowly. “I, honestly do not know if it was my mother's side, or my father's," she answered. “From what... Professor Hanneman told me, my Crest is the Major Crest of Maurice," she continued in a soft voice. Mercer pursed his lips together in a fine line.

“Maurice? That... can't be, I thought he didn't have any descendants," he stated, clearly confused.

“So the Church said," Vridel mused. He didn't seem especially surprised, but then perhaps he had no reason to be. Cyril had observed no interest in Crests on his part, and it was quite likely he'd never asked Senka whether she had one, or bothered to consider it. “Anyway, if we're talking about voluntary activation, it's..." he made a small noise, akin to a hum.

“Well learning the way I did won't work, but I can tell you that it feels a little like... reaching for magic. Only you're tapping something even deeper in yourself than that, if it makes sense to say so."

Like magic, but deeper. Cyril frowned slightly. “Is there any particular feeling that goes with it?" To him, lightning felt different from fire, felt different from darkness or the little recovery magic he knew.

“How to put it... each Crest, I'm given to understand, has a sort of... character. I do not know where the metaphor comes from, but I learned of the Crest of Seiros as associated with 'the Sky Dragon.'" He shrugged. “A silly story told to a child, I'm sure. But there is truth in it. When I tap the Crest, it tastes like petrichor and feels like flying. The same rush, like cold air on my face, but without the physical thing." He pursed his lips. “Do your houses not tell these stories?"

Cyril and Senka had no 'houses' to speak of in the relevant sense, but Sorcha shook her head too.

“All right, well..." he pointed at Sorcha first. “Grim Dragon." He shifted his hand to indicate Mercer. “Star Dragon." Last, it fell on Senka. “Storm Dragon." He shrugged. “I can't help you, Professor, as I have no idea what your Crest is."

“Nor do I," Cyril admitted.

“I always knew I was a star," was Mercer's light reply. Senka seemed to be in a contemplative mood, though, once Vridel had explained. “So, what you're saying is that, in order to tap into our Crests, we have to associate it with the sign? How do you associate with a star, though? They're bright, but they're so far away... distant," he stated, pursing his lips together as he trailed off.

“I... do not know if I should," Senka stated mildly. “Storms are not pleasant, and they are dangerous and destructive," she continued, causing Mercer to place a hand on her shoulder. She turned and regarded him with a soft stare.

“That's not entirely true, Sen," he stated, smiling at her. “They can be calming, too," he continued, earning a confused look from her. He shook his head and continued, “like rainstorms. They make it easier to fall asleep. At least for me, they do." She didn't seem to be too convinced, though.

“Try not to read too much into it," Vridel advised. “Like I said, it's a kid's story. A metaphor for how the power feels to reach for. It's only meant to teach. I bet the Professor's lightning magic doesn't feel so different from a storm, right?" Vridel flicked his eyes to Cyril, who nodded.

He wasn't sure how best to put it to words, but he tried. “Some power is more... raw," he said with a slight purse of his lips. “It takes more effort to shape, and you always have to be conscious of it, but it's just as usable as anything else." Electing to demonstrate, he pulled a ball of crackling lightning into one hand, and a sphere of still-looking darkness into the other. “If anything, this stuff has a bad reputation," he added, rolling the sphere of darkness around in his palm and over his fingers like it was just a simple toy.

“But I've been using it since I was a child. It doesn't feel inherently evil to me. If it is, I suppose that says something about me, since it was the first thing I ever learned how to cast."

“Of course it's not evil," Sorcha said firmly. “It isn't what power you have that matters. It's what you do with it. Dark magic, or an 'unlucky' Crest used in service of a better world is a million times better than all the light and healing there is used to keep people down."

“Well said," Cyril agreed, letting both spheres wink out harmlessly. “Now. If the others vacate the ring, are you willing to try calling it up? I won't let you hurt anyone. I promise." He met Senka's eyes steadily, but did not exert any pressure on her.

She pursed her lips into a fine line. She seemed to contemplate his statement for a moment more before she nodded. “Very well," she finally stated, her expression smoothing back out. Mercer was already moving out, though he didn't seem to be in too much of a rush. She, however, moved so that she was standing directly in front of Cyril, at a respectable distance. “It is the feel of it," she spoke softly, casting her eyes to the ground for a moment.

“You've got this, Sen. We're all here for you," Mercer stated, causing her expression to soften a bit, like when she was smiling in the way she knew how to around them. “And Teach is there, too, so you'll be fine!"

She took a deep breath before she turned back to Cyril. “Alright," was the only word she spoke before she pulled her magic to her. It was a small snow flurry she'd summoned, Blizzard, perhaps. She stared at it for a moment as if she were concentrating on something. Something in her expression seemed to blank, though, as the flurry grew. It had started out small, encompassing most of her hand until it grew large enough that she was surrounded by a large flurry of snow. Wind whipped wildly around her, her hair flying and clothes rustling. She didn't seem to be aware, though, of what she was doing, until the flurry grew larger, and she abruptly dismissed her magic. “I... can't."

Vridel and Sorcha were quiet in their places outside the ring. While Sorcha looked very much like she wanted to say something, perhaps encourage her friend, the both of them were regarding him with obvious expectancy. Like they thought he would know what to do, because he was their teacher. Even what Mercer had said—Cyril did not think anyone had ever trusted him to such a degree as that. Not even his own father.

Trust.

Maybe...

He took a couple of steps forward, ducking his head slightly so he could speak quietly to Senka, enough so that even the others wouldn't be able to hear him. “You don't have to trust yourself yet, Senka. But if you can, trust me. When it happens, even if last time repeats itself, I'm going to be fine. And I won't let you hurt yourself, or them. What I'm going to do is try and talk you through it." Maybe knowing what was coming would be of some assistance. “If I have to physically restrain you, I will, but I won't hurt you. This is a much more controlled setting than last time, and I'm right here, all right? I'm going to stand right here, and I'll react just as soon as anything looks off."

The expression she'd given him when he spoke was one she'd never had before. It almost seemed vulnerable, and her eyes seemed to be searching his for something. She regarded him for a moment longer before she released a breath, as if she'd been holding it. “Alright," she finally replied, her eyes never leaving his. She summoned her magic once more, allowing it to stay small in her hand before it grew once more. It continued to grow, slowly, like a small snow flurry before something started to crackle.

“I..." she stated, but refrained from speaking. Once it was as large as it had been earlier, Senka regarded him with a questioning look. “What should I do?

“It's not the same as the magic, like Vridel said," he reminded her. “You have to dig deeper. Try to find the way it felt, just before what happened in the battle. The storm, but not the rage." He didn't know if he had a better way to put it than that, but he almost thought it was more important that he say something than anything in particular. Wind whipped around him, chill air stirring his hair and clothes, throwing dark strands in front of his eyes, but he didn't so much as waver.

She furrowed her brows lightly as she closed her eyes. “The storm, but not the rage," she repeated. Her brows furrowed further until it appeared that she was stressed about something. “Storm, rage," she murmured as if she were trying to keep the two separate. There was a brief glow on her forehead, but it was gone just as quickly as it appeared. “Storm," she murmured once more, the air becoming colder as her magic seemed to increase. “Storm, storm," it was repetitive this time, as if she were chanting it.

When she opened her eyes, however, the Blizzard around them had grown significantly, encompassing the entire area in a snow flurry. There, on her forehead, though, was a glowing symbol. He could easily recognize it as the Crest Hanneman had showed them, of Maurice. She did not seem to let up her magic, though, and it seemed to be growing stronger, still, her expression blank.

That had to be it. The sign that she'd properly manifested the thing. The fact that the magic only seemed to be growing meant she probably wasn't totally in control of herself, though, and so Cyril did as he'd promised: he interfered.

“Senka." He pitched his voice just loud enough to be heard over the rising winds, not yet approaching in case she interpreted that as hostile in her current state. He kept his tone flat, modulated, no more urgent or panicked than the way he usually spoke, but eased his arms down to his side, to present a more open posture. “Senka, can you hear me?"

She didn't respond, immediately, and merely continued to stare out. She was still repeating storm, and the winds were growing stronger with each passing moment.

Well that wouldn't do. One way or another, he had to at least have her attention for this to work. Deciding it was worth risking her ire, he took another half-step in and lifted his hands. He considered placing them on her shoulders, but that was something he'd done before. Not that difficult to ignore in a fugue state like the one she seemed to occupy. So he went for surprising, instead, and gently took hold of either side of her face, tilting up so her field of vision changed and there was no way to avoid him being in it.

“Senka. It's Cyril. You're at Garreg Mach, in the training grounds. I need you to show me you understand."

She regarded him with the blank stare, however; something in her expression shifted slightly. There was a brief moment of conflict before the winds finally died down, and the mark on her forehead disappeared. A small spark behind her eyes seemed to signal her return, and she brought one of her hands up to rest on his wrist. “Professor? Where... where am I? What happened?" she stated, glancing around at her surroundings before her attention was back on him.

He let his hands fall away, brushing over her shoulders for just a moment before settling at his sides. “You did it," he said simply. “You called up your Crest, and you didn't hurt anyone. You didn't even try to. It seemed like you were... somewhere else, for a moment, but that was all. How do you feel?"

She didn't immediately reply. There was something glistening in her eyes before she closed them, and shook her head. “Sick," was the only reply she gave him before her shoulders dropped. “I was... there again, the anger, the..." she didn't seem to know what to say, though, as her gaze fell to the floor.

“It looks like you did it, Sen!" Mercer shouted from his spot, seemingly happy for her, but she did not seem to share the sentiment. “See, told you we'd all be here for you," he continued, grinning rather largely. Senka did not look up from the floor, though.

“Sen?" Sorcha seemed to notice that something was amiss; she made to hop over the fence and into the ring, but Vridel caught her shoulder and shook his head before she could.

Cyril frowned, moving his attention back down to Senka. After a moment's consideration, he called up what little white magic he knew and brought it to his hands, raising then back to hover at her temples before tilting his head in query. “May I?" He always asked, when circumstances permitted, well aware that she could have any number of reasons for not wanting to be touched, or by him in particular.

“Do what you will," was her only response, soft and quiet in sound. She did not move, nor raise her head. She simply stood still, as if she were half-expecting him to leave, for some reason.

He wasn't sure why she would expect something like that, but everyone had their own backgrounds, and he knew hers to be especially bad, in some ways. Her response was hardly a ringing endorsement of the idea, but he doubted she would endorse much at all right now, so he took it for the permission it was, carefully brushing a bit of hair back from each of her temples to rest his fingertips there. He left the touch of the magic light and soft, too; she wasn't physically injured, but healing itself sometimes had a bolstering effect, removing fatigue and lingering grogginess. It felt nice, at least in his experience.

Her hair was rather softer than he expected, even from the way it looked; Cyril made an effort not to think about it as he let the warmth of the magic seep in. An odd feature of his physiology was that he seemed to run a little warmer than most people, and his magic felt the same. Perhaps why he'd never had much luck with blizzard-type spells compared to others.

“You didn't fail, you know," he said mildly. “This was progress. Leaps and bounds' worth. You just did something even I can't do. I'm sorry it made you feel ill; if you'd rather not do this again, I understand. But I think you can, and I think you'll keep making progress at it."

“Why?" she whispered softly, finally glancing up to meet his gaze. “It's my fault, so why..." she took a shuddering breath before shaking her head. “It's not that I don't want to do this again. I don't..." she paused again, seemingly to swallow thickly, “I don't want want to fail. I don't want to lose control like that, again, and I don't want this Crest to define me. You say that it doesn't define someone, that a cursed Crest or power can be used to better things, but..."

“If all it's ever done is cause misfortune, how am I to believe anything else?" She was looking at him as if he had the answer somehow, but shook her head. “Perhaps, we should let the others practice theirs. I... believe I am done for the day."

Cyril had knit his brow and was about to reply when he noticed a motion in his peripherals. Instinctively, he moved to intercept it, as it was heading for Senka's back, but with a start he realized it was Sorcha. Apparently she'd decided she'd had enough of waiting for the verdict, and from the look on her face, she'd heard at least the last part of that.

“Hey!" she said, grasping Senka's upper arms with her hands and turning the other woman towards her. Her eyes, usually bright and clear, all but flashed now. “You don't get to say things like that about my best friend. Not ever. People—" She swallowed, voice thick with emotion. People are not bad luck. Ever. And neither are Crests." Frustrated, she stomped her foot into the loose dirt of the practice ring. “There's no such thing as luck! There's bad circumstances, and challenges, and all kinds of ways the odds can be arrayed against you, but 'misfortune' is a word people use when they don't know what really caused something, or when they won't take responsibility for it."

She expelled a breath, heavy and harsh, but her eyes softened. “Only you get to decide who and what you are. You know that, Sen. You don't let people knowing where you're from bring you down, and you can't let this either. You've still got things to do. A whole—" She hesitated, throwing a quick glance back at the others. “A whole lot of things. You can't stop just because other people are superstitious and stupid! Or is what you want really worth that little to you after all?" She said it like a challenge, but only the most well-meant kind. The kind designed to help someone else stand, instead of knocking them down.

If she had been at all affected by Sorcha's words, she did not show it. She merley held Sorcha's gaze before she spoke, “But am I truly fit to do that?" She stayed quiet for a beat longer before she continued, “If it is true, then who is to say I am fit for any of that, regardless of what I want." Her eyes narrowed slightly before she dropped her gaze from Sorcha, unable to hold her gaze much longer, it seemed.

“Who and what I am... what does it matter if all I bring is... unpleasant rumors to you, and misfortune to them? You don't understand, Sorcha. What... what if I do lose control and I hurt you. Or them? Do you know how important you are to me? How important they are to me? I don't... I can't... I..." she was struggling now for words she could not seem to find.

“Fit?" Sorcha echoed, eyes returning to a state of snapping, hard clarity. Fit?" Quick as a flash, she struck Senka on the cheek. It didn't seem to be a hard hit, from the sound, but clearly was intended for something similar to what Cyril had done in the first place: shock value.

“It doesn't matter if you're fit, Sen! You're the only hope they've got, so start acting like it!" Her eyes welled with tears; she looked disgusted with herself. Perhaps for striking a friend that way. “You can't give up on them," she said, much more quietly. “And you can't give up on yourself. Not for such a—such a stupid reason. It didn't matter when you had no Crest at all, and it doesn't matter now." She sniffled, clearly suppressing a sob.

It seemed to have the desired effect as Senka's arms wrapped around Sorcha's shoulders, and she pulled her closer to her in an embrace. Senka's shoulders were shaking softly, but she made no sounds at first. “Thank you, Sorcha," she whispered softly, “please... even when I forget to do it myself," she paused for a moment to release Sorcha, “please don't stop believing in me." It sounded like a plea, if anything.

“Don't stop."

“Never," she promised, looping her arms around her friend's back and squeezing. “And uh... you can get me back for that slap whenever you want, okay?"

“Never."

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Friday the 25th
Training Grounds - Afternoon - Overcast
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea pursed her lips together as she tried to roll her shoulders out. The armor she'd put on wasn't quite to her fitting, but it was the only one that could work for her practices. She was much smaller than the other students who were trying to pass their certifications for the armored knight class, and Thea couldn't help but wonder if she should change classes? It wasn't because it was difficult; she enjoyed what she did, throwing axes, practicing with Vridel and the others. But it felt like the armor made for knights were not suited to people like her? She puffed out her cheeks, earning a curious glance from Sylvi. At least she had the right build for an armored knight.

“Stuck in your armor, Thea?" she stated, clearly amused at Amalthea's frustrated state. She shook her head at Sylvi, though, and furrowed her brows.

“I'm not stuck, I just... I'm trying to figure out the best way to manage the armor that isn't quite suited to me. I'm... it's kind of heavy, and I can't really maneuver in it." Sylvi hummed a thoughtful note as she stood from her spot on the bench. Amalthea glanced in Sofia's direction, too. They were all trying to do something similar, and had decided to study together. Even Sofia looked like she had the right build to be whatever knight she wanted to be, and Amalthea felt a little envious of it. Pushing out a breath, she furrowed her brows.

“I'll just have to show that anyone can be a knight, even someone as small as me!" she declared out loud, causing Sylvi to chuckle.

“Dierdre's smaller than you, Amalthea. You're not that tiny. You've grown a little since the last time, you know," she stated, causing Amalthea to smile. She did feel like she had grown somewhat in the last few months.

Sofia nodded, distinctly calmer and less expressive as tended to be her way. She wasn't blank-faced like the professor or Senka, just... mild. Quiet, even, though she spoke easily enough when she had something to say. “I'm sure once you get your classification, they'll have a set better made to your specifications," she noted. “That's the only reason why there's a separate certification for heavy armor anyway. They want to know you know how to use it before they go to the expense."

She approached, half-crouching to check some of Amalthea's straps and buckles and the like. She adjusted a few, making it slightly better, but in the end she pushed a sigh from her nose and shook her head faintly. “This set was made for someone at least a few inches taller than you, and longer in the legs, but... it's the smallest they have."

“I'll just have to improvise, then," she replied, nodding her head in thanks. “But it does feel a little better so I think I might be able to move around a little easier. I think, in the end, that is what'll help me the most. Getting familiar with the armor, even if it's not quite to my specifications," she stated glancing towards Sylvi who was chuckling.

“You have a very optimistic outlook on things, Thea, you know that? I don't think I've ever heard you say anything mean about anything or anyone," she stated, causing Amalthea to purse her lips in confusion.

“Why would I do that? Everything is a teachable moment, and why would I want to miss out on that? Looking at it in a negative light won't help me to understand it, so..." she trailed off not knowing how else to put it. Everything to her was, in some ways, new. She was still young, and for the first time in her life, experiencing the outside world. Reading about it was different than actually being a part of it, and Amalthea felt like she was learning something almost every day.

It was at about this point that the Professor walked by, carrying what seemed to be most of a suit of armor himself. It didn't look nearly sized for him, though—it might have fit someone of Devon's dimensions, but no larger. He paused when he saw them, making his way over to the group. Sofia smiled and nodded; the latter, the Professor returned.

“Practicing with armor?" he asked, surveying the three of them. “You're all taking the axe certifications as well, yes?"

“Oh, hello professor!" she greeted, smiling in his direction. She blinked as she turned her attention towards Sylvi and Sofia. “I'm studying for both the heavy armor certifications and the axe ones," she replied. She would need to pass both of them if she wanted to be an armored knight. She was decent with the axe, better than when she'd first started at least, and she didn't think she would have too much trouble passing that exam.

“Yeah, I need to be proficient in the axe if I'm to pass my certifications. I had to change them mid-way, through, though. Apparently my original class was only for men," she sounded bitter about it, but she shrugged her shoulders lightly. “I'm studying for the brigand class, now. That just needs an axe certification of at least C, and I think I'm good enough to be able to do it," she continued, confident in her abilities. Amalthea couldn't help but be amazed by it.

“Wait, so does that mean your dream of being a war master has changed?" she asked, watching as Sylvi grinned.

“Of course not. Even though it might be for just men, I'm going to still prove to them that I, Sylvi Galatea, can be just as good, if not better. I'm going to be the first female war master! Just you watch," she replied, an unusual fire in her eyes.

“Well I should hope you'd allow us to do more than watch," Cyril noted with a faint trace of amusement. “But for now..." he set down the suit he was carrying, laying out the pieces and sifting through them with a hum. Every once in a while, he glanced up at Amalthea as though trying to decide something. When he was done, the armor was in two separate piles. He gestured her forward.

“Some of these seem closer to your size, and they're a bit more flexible. If you mix them together, you might get a set that'll do well enough for practice."

“Oh, why didn't I think of that!" Amalthea stated as she bounded over towards the sets. “That's a very smart idea," she continued, grinning at the piles as she glanced them over. She could hear Sylvi snickering softly, but she decided to ignore her for now. She picked a few pieces out before pursing her lips. She turned towards Sofia and Sylvi her brows furrowing lightly.

“Can you help me with my armor?" she asked. She couldn't take it off, herself, considering, but they had helped her put it on, to begin with. She could get her legs and the metal boots, but she needed help with everything else. Sylvi laughed at her, but shook her head. She motioned for Amalthea near her and Sofia, and she obliged. Once they had helped her out of her armor, they helped her into the new set. Sylvi seemed to do a once over to make sure everything was secured properly, before clicking her tongue in a satisfied manner.

“I think this looks better, Thea. Can you move?" she asked, as Amalthea nodded her head. She moved her shoulders a bit, and twisted a couple of times to make sure she was a little more limber.

“Thanks, Professor!" she stated, moving every so often to get comfortable with the armor. She made her way towards the racks that held the practice weapons, and pulled a practice axe from it. Amyr wasn't allowed in the certifactions, something about being above her certs, but she didn't mind. If she passed her C-certs, she'd be able to use Amyr, proper, for the other exams she'd have to take.

“You're welcome," he said simply, moving away from the center to take a seat on the fence. The rest of the armor, he set down behind him. “Don't mind me if you want to practice."

Sofia offered a smile, hefting her own weapon. She favored long arms, and the poleaxe was no exception. She said the forms were closer to the lance ones she preferred anyway, but with more chop and less thrust, as it were. “I'll have a go with you to test it out if you like, Thea."

“I'd like that!" she replied, nodding her head as she jogged—about as well as she could in a full suit of armor—towards Sofia. “And don't feel the need to take it easy on me!" she addeed, grinning up at the taller woman. “I can handle it, and... practice makes perfect, so," she stated, hoping Sofia would catch on to what she was saying.

They spent almost two hours sparring, Amalthea occasionally landing a hit. Sofia had started off on the defensive side, as if she were just watching Amalthea make her moves. It made sense after awhile when she shifted into an offensive stance, knocking the practice axe out of Amalthea's hands every so often. It didn't hurt like she expected it to, but her hands were a little sore from the force of which Sofia attacked. She was patient, calculative, and seemed to make every attack count whereas Amalthea was merely using most of her strength to try and wear her down.

Perhaps she'd been going about it the wrong way? Sofia seemed to be doing the complete opposite, as if she were waiting for Amalthea to wear herself down. That seemed to be the case since Amalthea was currently tired. Her muscles were sore, and her arms felt heavy, like iron. A side-effect of wearing armor, she supposed. She took a deep breath, and called for a halt in their practice bout.

“It looks like I still have a lot to learn," she stated, smiling in Sofia's direction. “Thank you for being my sparring partner!" she added, bowing towards Sofia to show her gratitude. Sylvi snickered softly, but shook her head.

“If you keep practicing, Thea, you'll be able to succeed in no time. And the fact that you can acknowledge that you have a lot to learn, still, means you're on the right path," she stated, placing her hand on her hip. “What do you say, Prof?" she asked, glancing in Professor's direction.

“You're all improving," he remarked simply. “You're getting better on the horizontal, Sofia. Good work."

She smiled at that, a little more brightly than usual. “Thank you, sir."

He turned next to Amalthea. “You're getting better with the armor, Thea. You shouldn't overtax yourself all at once, though. Endurance isn't built in a day."

“I think he's telling us to take our rest for the day," Sofia noted. “Not a bad idea, I think."

“Agreed. I need to go bug Devon and see how he and Mercer are doing with their bow training," Sylvi stated, a mischievous grin crossing her face, causing Amalthea to giggle. She tucked the books she'd brought with her, under her arm, and waved good bye before leaving the area. Amalthea waved after her and Sofia, leaving just her and the professor. She turned to him with a bright smile, though.

“Thanks, Professor! I'd hope I was improving," she stated, making her way to remove her armor. Luckily, she could do it herself, this time, and once everything was removed, she turned back towards the professor, and grinned as an idea formed in her head. “Oh, we should go get some tea! I hear it helps soothe sore and aching muscles and helps you relax after training," she suggested. She paused, though, and titled her head slightly to the left. “Unless, of course, you're too busy! If that's the case, I can go bug Lyanna!" because Lyanna always made time for tea, and sweets. Usually sweets, but Amalthea promised she wasn't going to tell anyone that about her sister.

If she remembered correctly, it was something Lyanna swore her to secrecy about. She probably didn't want people to know she ate a lot of sweets.

“Of course I'm not too busy," he replied simply, stepping down off the fence and gathering up the pieces of armor he'd brought, as well as the ones she was no longer using.

After a stop to store his in the armory and hers in her room, they made their way to the dorm building, where the professor made tea. They took it outside, though, simply seating themselves on the lawn with the tea tray between them where they faced each other. He'd apparently found some cookies somewhere, because they were on the tray too, along with plenty of sugar for the tea, though the professor didn't take any. It seemed to be a sweeter berry flavor, warm and fragrant.

Once they'd settled in, he regarded her quietly for a few moments. “You grew up in the monastery, didn't you?" he asked. “Were you born here?"

She'd been halfway through a cookie when he'd spoken, so she washed it down with her tea, and nodded. “I was... I think. Lyanna doesn't talk about it, often," she stated, smiling still. “I think she said mother passed right after I was born, so I didn't know her growing up. She doesn't speak of father, though," and she never thought to question it. For as long as she'd been alive, it was always her and Lyanna.

“She basically raised me," she added, glancing around before turning her attention back towards him. “The Church is all I've ever known, so I was excited when Lyanna said I could join the Officer's Academy instead of devoting my time to the goddess. Not that I wouldn't devote to her. From the way Lady Rhea speaks of her, she sounds amazing," she continued, taking another bite out of her cookie. She loved the stories Lady Rhea and Lyanna would tell of the goddess, and she thought they were romantic and divine.

“What do you know about the goddess?" she asked, curiously. For as long as she'd known the professor, he never seemed to know much about the teachings of Seiros nor the Church. She would gladly tell him everything she knew, though, if that's what he wanted.

The Professor looked down into his teacup, as if studying his own distorted reflection in the liquid. “I would... appreciate that, I think," he said after a pause. “I know the basic story, about the War of Heroes, but little beyond that. The Archbishop hopes for me to convert, I think, but..." He shrugged.

“Religion has never been a part of my life. I suppose I can see why some people would embrace it, but I am not sure there is—" A faint crease appeared between his brows. “I'm not sure there is any void in my life that it would fill."

“Oh, that's understandable. You didn't know anything about the Church until you came here, right?" she asked, though she already knew the answer to that. Instead, she washed down the rest of her cookie, and dusted the crumbs off of her person before turning to face him fully. “Well, first thing is first," she began, folding her hands in front of her.

“We devote ourselves to the goddess, Sothis. She is the one who gave the Divine Seiros the revelation and power that helped put down Nemesis. Without it, we... might not have existed at all. Well, maybe, but not quite the same as we are today. Divine Seiros's actions would later be considered miracles, to the people, and thus the Church was founded to remind people of how she defeated Nemesis in single combat, and basically saved our lives." It had been a fantastical story, to Amalthea when she'd read that in one of the books. In single combat, with no help whatsoever.

“Essentially, we worship Sothis for giving the Divine Seiros the power to save us, and the blessings she bestowed upon us. Not like the Crests, though," she quickly waved her hands in front of her. “I mean, like, blessing us with good fortune and other things like that."

His eyes had widened just fractionally when she first said 'Sothis.' It was the sort of thing easily missed on most people. But for someone like the Professor, who habitually expressed so little, it was a clearer contrast, and something that someone watching his face could pick up on, if they were practiced at talking to him as she was. Through the story, his attention seemed to shift; it was like he were half-listening with rapt attention, but half somewhere else entirely, and when she was done, the silence stretched for an unusually long time.

“That name," he murmured, almost as if speaking more to himself than her. “Sothis. It is... familiar, somehow. Like something I knew once, but have forgotten. It's the name of the Goddess?"

She nodded her head. “It is. The goddess, Sothis. At least, that's what Lady Rhea said," she answered, pursing her lips together. “I'm surprised she didn't tell you; Lady Rhea always makes a point to make sure anyone who isn't a believer, knows the name," she was, honestly surprised. Maybe it slipped Lady Rhea's mind, however; Lady Rhea was a bright woman. She wouldn't neglect to tell Professor, that, if she wanted to convert him.

At the mention of Rhea, the Professor's eyes seemed to darken a little; he passed a quiet sigh from his nose and took a draught from his tea. “I have the feeling a great deal is being hidden from me," he mused. “I don't even understand the real reason I was hired to work here. My father operated as a mercenary for many years. His name was well-known, and yet these Knights never came looking for him then. Why go to such lengths to bring us into the fold now?"

With a faint shake of the head, he lifted his eyes back to hers. “I'm sorry. I should not unburden myself on you, Thea. You've exams to study for, and plenty to keep you busy."

Amalthea shook her head, and smiled. “Oh, I don't mind, Professor! If you need someone to talk to, I've been told I'm a good listener," she stated, offering him her ears if he ever needed them. “And... I believe they did search for Captain Jeralt, but gave up after a few years of searching. I think it's because they thought he died," she stated, but perhaps she'd been mistaken. Shaking her head, she offered him a smile, still.

“If you ever need someone to speak with, Professor, to let out your own worries and other things, I'm always here for you! Just like you're always here for us, that's the least I can do," she wanted to return the favor, after all that he's done for them.

He huffed gently, then nodded. “Thank you, then. I will keep that in mind."

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Saturday the 28th
Dining Hall - Afternoon - Humid
Vridel von Hresvelg


Vridel rolled his shoulders out as he straightened. The examiners, a pair of Church mages, nodded at him, which he took as sufficient dismissal. He'd been taking certs all day, without even a break for lunch, and with the heat sticky as it was now, the Academy uniform was beginning to feel stifling. He understood that black was a suitable color for students, but did there have to be so much heavy bronze threading? He could see why none of the teachers wore their silver ones, though how Hanneman walked around in that wool coat all the time was beyond him. From the Empire or not, there was only so much a sane man could take before he dehydrated from all the sweat.

At least he was done exerting himself for the day. Exiting the training ground, he bypassed the areas that had been set up for various other weapon and skill certifications. It wasn't only students who took them—there were plenty of knights, monks, and even one or two instructors around today, he knew. Not many would have stayed this late, but he understood Professor Cyril was taking certification exams in everything, just to establish his benchmarks.

Not even Vridel had gone to that length, sticking to the three basic weapon types and magic. He wasn't interested in a large, clanking suit of armor. Horses were fine, but he didn't need one, and it wasn't like he suddenly lost the ability to ride because he hadn't passed an exam or something. He certainly had no need to fly, and for some ridiculously-stereotypical reason, men were only allowed wyverns anyway. It wasn't a weight issue, or they'd have just said that. He knew the Church kept some pretty archaic notions about pegasus mounts, like that colors other than white were inferior or that men were too impure to bond properly with them. All foolishness, to his mind.

He was sure Sylvi had a few things to say about gender-locked classifications, but neither of them were in charge of giving the exams.

Entering the dining hall, he served himself a bowl of the fish stew they'd made today, then another, and then a third, and took a whole loaf of the warm bread they'd set out to go with it. His body required a massive caloric intake for someone of his size, and he'd just exerted himself for hours straight. If he didn't eat a lot, and soon, he knew he'd pass out. Picking a spot by himself, he set everything down, poured himself a tall glass of the icewater from the pitcher on the table, draining it and pouring another before starting in on his food.

There was an unceremonious plop in front of him, not a moment later, and a plate of fruits and a bowl of fish stew in his line of vision. “Hey, Vi!" Mercer stated, before biting into his stew. He made a content sound, as if he found his dish delicious in some way, before he grinned at Vridel. “How'd your certs, go?" he asked, shoveling another spoon of food into his mouth. He didn't look tired, but there were signs of exertion evident on his person. He was sweating lightly, and though he was shoveling food into his mouth, he looked a little winded.

“Do you know if you passed any of them, yet?"

Vridel couldn't much fault the speed with which Mercer was eating. He was quite efficient himself, though his movements were considerably more minimal. It was something he'd developed at a time when he was never sure if the food in front of him would remain there for long, or it would be taken away at a whim. He was polite enough for the dining hall, but only just.

He managed to break the quick pattern of eating once his first bowl was gone and he could be sure he would at least make it to dinner time without incident. “No," he said simply, downing another half a glass of water in three swallows. “I expect most of the results will be posted tomorrow. I think I passed all the levels I attempted, though. I just wanted to be sure the armory would at least give me steel if I needed something, and that I technically have access to some of the more advanced sections of the library." Of course, they both well knew that he'd be helping himself to restricted materials either way.

“Did you get any results on the spot?" He paused, then: “What did you even take." They weren't in the same class, and so while he knew Mercer had used both swords and bows and seemed to like that wyvern, he had no idea if that amounted to a plan or just what his background happened to be.

He grinned in Vridel's direction, and took a drink of the glass to his side. It looked to be tea, from how dark it was. “I took the certifications required to be a wyvern rider, so sword and flying. Passed the flying part of it, but I haven't been told whether or not I passed my sword certs. They're withholding the results until tomorrow for the classifications, I think. There are a lot of people this year, and I guess they just want to make sure they pass everyone they think is qualified?" he shrugged his shoulders as if he didn't know the actual answer. He probably didn't.

“I'm surprised they didn't at least tell you one of them. You did take quite a few, right? " he stated, eating his food with less urgency. “What did you take, by the way?"

“Sword, axe, lance, bow, black magic and white magic," Vridel said simply. The Academy didn't offer certifications in dark magic—residual stigma. Some superstitious people still considered such powers inherently evil. Vridel doubted it, if people like Senka and the professor could use it, but he didn't consider himself much evidence either way. It might turn out that he had to do enough evil things to fulfill that particular prophesy, after all.

He shrugged. “Figure I'd cover the bases. I was only interested in making sure I could reach D-plus on the bow and lance though—not my thing. Axes I already know but won't study much, so I thought I'd get that out of the way and just ignore it whenever they'd benchmarked me." It was possible to take a benchmark, or open test, where the assessors would simply assign the letter they felt was most appropriate after an extended battery of tests, but most people intentionally worked their way up the ladder, because those exams were less draining and there was little reason to hurry. “I tried for C's with the rest. Did you know the Professor is benchmarking everything? I suspect he won't be done until dinnertime at the earliest."

“Whoa, that's insane, but I guess it makes sense," he stated, glancing up from his food, finally. “I think little Thea is taking the exams for armored knight. I saw her on my way here, taking the one for heavy armor certs at the moment," he huffed as if he found something funny. “She looked adorable walking around in her armor," he stated, releasing a sigh. “I wonder where that'll place, Teach, then. He's skilled in a lot of those areas," he stated, leaning his head against his hand.

“I suspect that he will place quite highly on a lot of them," Senka stated, setting a tray on Vridel's left. “I take it that you did well on your exams?" she asked, taking a bite out of her stew.

“Hey, Sen!" Mercer greeted, before nodding his head. “Yeah, I passed my flying certs, so I've got my C-cert for that. I'm waiting on my sword results, though," he answered as his eyes slid towards Vridel.

“I don't know anything yet," Vridel repeated. “I'm guessing you don't either, unless riding came back already." They were otherwise taking similar things, though he supposed his list might be somewhat broader. It really wasn't necessary to do everything, after all.

“Hey guys." Sorcha paused for a half-second when she noted that the logical place at the table was next to Mercer, the flash of hesitation only obvious to Vridel because he was used to looking for such cues. Still, she seemed to shake it off and sat. “Saw the last half of your flying test," she sold him, nodding slightly. “I passed, too. Now all I have to do is pass the written test and the weapon certs and I can put in to take Lady with us on missions." She seemed genuinely delighted by this, still smiling as she lifted a spoonful of stew delicately to her mouth. For as blunt as she could sometimes be, Sorcha was actually quite refined in some ways. Almost delicate with certain tasks.

“Hey, that's great!" he stated, bumping his shoulder into Sorcha's. “We'll be air buddies in no time," he continued, grinning in her direction. Senka huffed lightly at the two of them, but didn't say anything. She took a drink of water before she regarded Mercer and Sorcha.

“I have not received any of my results, yet," she replied, shrugging her shoulders lightly. “I believe they are sufficient, though. One of the examiners praised my... magic abilities, but that was all," she stated, working on the fruit on her plate.

“Well I guess we'll learn our results, proper, tomorrow, or by the end of the day," Mercer stated, grinning in their direction. It wasn't long after that Amalthea appeared, a bright smile on her face as if she'd recieved the best news, possible.

“I did it!" she exclaimed, nearly tripping on her feet as she took a seat on the other side of Vridel. She was glancing back and forth between everyone, though with a large smile on her face. “I passed my axe certifications and my armor! I'm going to be classified as an armored knight!" she exclaimed, working on the jelly-filled doughnut on her plate. It seemed that her plate was filled entirely of desserts, though.

“Well you will be when you pass the written test, anyway," Sorcha replied with a fond smile. “Congratulations, Thea!"

“Well done," Vridel added. “They should let you take your actual axe onto the field with you now, yes?" He referred, of course, to Aymr, which as an Imperial tomahawk at base, was not typically granted to anyone with less than a c-cert. Absurd, since she owned it personally instead of needing to take it from the armory, but needless labyrinthine bureaucracy seemed to be a specialty of the Church's.

Her smile brightened as she nodded her head. “Yep! I'll be able to bring Amyr to the battlefield, now, and won't have to worry about it not getting any use. I was starting to feel bad that I couldn't bring it with me," she murmured, stuffing her face with the last bit of doughnut, as if to keep herself from saying anything more. Mercer snickered softly, as if he found it funny.

“Well, here's to hoping everyone passed and is able to receive their desired results," he stated, grabbing a cookie from Amalthea's plate. She didn't seem to mind, though, and merely pushed her plate towards the center, a silent permission to anyone else who wanted to partake in it.

Without making nearly that much fuss, Vridel took a cookie as well, setting it down on his plate. As the chatter continued around him, the others discussing what they'd been asked to do for their certifications, he broke off a chunk of his loaf of bread, placing it wordlessly and nonchalantly on Amalthea's tray.

“If you got to that part of the test, I'm guessing you passed," he said to Sorcha, rejoining the conversation as smoothly as if he'd never left it. “That's a more advanced lance drill than they had me try for the D-plus."

She nodded, thoughtfully. “Fair point. I guess I'm just... fretting."

“I'm sure it's fine, though. I mean, he's right, they usually don't go that far unless they think you actually have what it takes," Mercer stated as if he were being supportive. From the sounds of it, he was being genuine. He shrugged, though, and went back to work on his cookie. “It still amazes me that you managed to get that far with the bow certs, too," he stated, grinning at Sorcha as he took a delibrately slow bite from the cookie.

“Most of it was due to your help, Mercer. You do not have to be pompous about it," Senka stated in a relaxed voice, glancing up from her food to give Mercer a flat stare. He chuckled and shook his head.

“I think it's great that he helped her out. It's like one of those romantic stories of a knight helping out a village, or a friend," she stated, taking the piece of bread Vridel had placed on her plate, and taking a bite of it.

Vridel snorted quietly through his nose at Amalthea's characterization of the situation. “Are you sure you don't mean to be talking about knights and princesses?" he mused. “Those are the more romantic stories, no?"

Sorcha was doing a pretty good job acting like she hadn't heard the exchange, suddenly quite focused on her food. She'd even managed to avoid blushing yet, but Vridel didn't intend to leave things that way for long.

“Faerghus has an entire genre of chivalric romances, doesn't it, Sorcha?" He inquired, voice light and perfectly innocent. “Loog and the Maiden of Wind and all that? Ancestors of yours, I believe. I seem to recall you being an avid reader of such tales in the past."

She finally lifted her eyes to him at that, cheeks burning but expression defiant. “Mostly that one," she replied with the same false lightness. Hers wasn't as practiced, and some of her irritation came through. “Especially the part where Loog hands the Adrestian Emperor his arse in a duel."

Vridel couldn't help it; he laughed. Even slightly crude language was a rarity from Sorcha, and she already looked vaguely-guilty for having said it. At least the managed not to apologize.

Mercer snorted before he laughed, holding his sides tightly as he laid his head on the table. “That sounds like an amazing book, Sorcha!" Amalthea was the one to speak, first, and her attention was on Sorcha after that. “I've only had access to the books, here, since I've never been out of the Monastery before I joined the Blue Lions. Maybe you can give me a few recommendations from where you're from?" she asked, eyes wide and hopeful.

“Would you deny that face, Sorcha?" Senka finally spoke after finishing off her own cookie, and regarded Sorcha with a light stare.

Sorcha looked unsure; Vridel thought she might not know if Mercer was joking or not. Either way, she emphatically averted her attention from the two of them and shifted it to the two other women at the table instead. “I wasn't going to, Sen," she mumbled, still clearly embarrassed that this was the topic of conversation but offering Amalthea a nod anyway. “I can make some recommendations I guess. If they don't have them here, I can have Lady Cornelia mail me some books from home."

“Oh, that would be amazing! You're the best, Sorcha," she stated, grinning at the woman before her eyes lifted towards Vridel. She made eye contact, though, and immediately her eyes widened, and she shifted her gaze back towards the others at the table. The tips of her ears were red, again, and she seemed intent on not making eye contact with Vridel.

“Well I suppose that settles it. Can I join in on the reading?" Mercer stated, eyes glowing with mischief as he glanced towards Amalthea and then towards Sorcha.

“It would be difficult to share a book, Mercer, but maybe we can do reading groups when we have the time! We can read the books to each other, and maybe even talk about them!" she stated enthusiastically. Senka huffed lightly, but did not seem inclined to speak.

“Uh... I'll think about it," Sorcha replied, eyes moving back down to her plate. She pushed around some of the stew in her bowl with her spoon, but if the look on her face was anything to go by, she seemed quite uninterested in finishing it. After a moment, she picked up her tray and stood.

“I'm... going to go get a head start on studying for my written tests, I think." Her smile was brittle, so obviously false it almost hurt to look at.

Vridel immediately felt a spike of alarm. “Sorcha," she said, his voice unusually soft. “I'm sorry if I—"

She shook her head. “It's not your fault, Vridel. You didn't say or do anything wrong. No one did. I'm just tired after a long day, I think." Freeing one of her fingers from the tray, she gave them a little wave with it. “I'll see you all tomorrow for the mission. Sorry to cut out early." She did, though, turning neatly on her heel and departing to hand her tray back to the staff.

Vridel sighed quietly. So it was about that, then...

Senka was immediately up as well, tray in hand and heading towards the staff to drop it off. She left without saying a word. She didn't need to; it was obvious enough that she was following after Sorcha. Amalthea looked vaguely confused and glanced towards Mercer, who merely shrugged his shoulders. The look on his face, though, was distant, his eyes never leaving the way Sorcha had left. He seemed lost to his own thoughts, and Amalthea finally glanced back in Vridel's direction.

“Will she be alright?" she asked, concern laced in her voice.

He wasn't immediately sure how to answer that question. “Sorcha is a very strong person," he said instead, giving her a momentary look before he turned his attention back down to his plate. “But there are a lot of people who have told her very loudly for a very long time that she isn't good enough." His lips thinned, eyes hardening.

“After a while, even the strongest person starts to believe something like that." He knew that was a strange thing to bring up in the context of the conversation that had actually taken place, but he thought he understood the link, why one would feed into the other.

If so, he owed her an apology, and an explanation.

For the first time, Thea's brows furrowed as if she were angry with something. “Those people are butts, then. Sorcha's an amazing person! She's... so talented and pretty, and just... she has an amazing heart. Why would anyone ever say that about another person?" she stated, upset on Sorcha's behalf, perhaps. Her brows were furrowed and her lips were pursed together.

“That's how things are, outside of the Church, Thea," was the only reply Mercer gave her, his eyes sliding back to regard her with an even gaze.

“That doesn't make it right," she huffed, crossing her arms over her chest, and trying to glare, it seemed, at the table.

“Of course not," Vridel replied. Though her sentiment was simple, it was true, and something that many people failed to understand. That just because something was a certain way doesn't mean it should be so. Unfortunately, many people lacked the imagination to imagine anything better, and so what was became what would always be. It was the very thing he was committed to fighting against, for whatever time he had left.

“But I don't think you need to worry too much about Sorcha," he continued, seeking for reasons he could not quite understand to put her at ease. There was a little furrow in her brow where she was glaring; the temptation to reach out and smooth it away was powerful, but he ignored it. “She's been through a lot, and is still all those things you said. She won't let something like this keep her down for long."

“I would hope not. I feel..." she started, but paused as Mercer sighed heavily.

“You shouldn't feel like that, Thea," Mercer spoke as if reading her mind. She had a surprised look on her face, if that was anything to go by. “You're her friend, right? Just keep supporting her, because she'll need friends like you with her. Senka's her best friend, and they seem to know each other well, but she'll need more than just one friend to help her. You can do that, right?" he continued, his face smoothing out into his usual smile.

“I'd like to think I'm everyone's friend. If I can't help, and all I can do is just listen to other people, will you let me listen to you if you need to talk? I don't like when my friends feel like that, and sometimes... sometimes people feel better when they have someone they can talk to," she stated, earning a light chuckle from Mercer.

“Sure thing, Thea. If I ever need someone's ear to chew out, I'll make sure I come find you, first." She at least smiled, then.

Some part of Vridel honestly didn't understand how there were people like this in the world. It wasn't just Amalthea, either—all of them were so... he wasn't sure what the word was for it. Only that he'd seriously doubted there was really anyone in existence who answered to it. Compared to them, he was... well. It hardly mattered.

He couldn't make himself promise the same. If nothing else, their presence had rendered him more honest than he habitually was, it seemed. But he stayed, and perhaps that meant... something.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Monday the 30th
Magdred Way - Morning - Foggy
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer pursed his lips together as he scanned the area. They had left Sunday in order to travel to Castle Gaspard. It had taken them a day, but by the time they'd arrived, it was strangely foggy outside. He was slightly regretting not bringing a torch with him, or something as a means of light. Fire magic could fulfill that, but it meant using magic, and he was certain the mages would like to conserve it. Even if they were there as the cleanup, there could still be a battle to be fought. He glanced around at the others, his eyes landing on Sorcha for a moment before turning towards everyone else. A soldier, a young man perhaps not more than twenty, seemed excited about something.

“Are you anticipating a fight?" Mercer decided to ask. It was unusual for someone to be excited to do nothing after all. Chances are, they wouldn't even be needed for this. The soldier shook his head, though.

“I'm excited at the chance of being with Catherine! No matter how powerful our enemies may be, there's no need to worry as long as the mighty wielder of Thunderbrand is with us!" he stated, causing Mercer to huff lightly. He supposed having someone on their side who could wield a Hero's Relic might have been a slight advantage, but he didn't think too much of it.

Most of the others seemed to know what he was talking about, but Cyril, who was in fact walking beside the woman herself, looked vaguely confused for a moment. “Thunderbrand?"

“You mean you don't know?" Catherine stated, vaguely surprised. She stared at Teach with a confused brow, before she continued. “My weapon is called Thunderbrand. It's one of the Heroes' Relics." Everyone almost seemed to nod in unison at the explanation.

“Yeah, supposedly a long time ago, the goddess bestowed divine weapons upon ten heroes, which were passed down to their descendants," Mercer stated, causing Catherine to nod her head. “For instance, House Blaiddyd has Areadhbar, and House Riegan has Failnaught. We're each expected to inherit those relics when we ascend to our position as leaders, but in the mean time..." he trailed off with a shrug of his shoulders.

“They're an honor to wield, but I'm afraid there won't be any chance for that today," Catherine stated, holding out her arms with a shrug. “Our mission is to help clean up the aftermath, not fight." Which was true, for the most part. That, however, did not seem to ease the unsettled feeling in Mercer's stomach.

“I wonder why Lord Lonato would start such a rebellion, though," Sylvi asked, glancing towards Devon with a sympathetic gaze. Catherine looked vaguely uncomfortable for a moment before she sighed. Mercer had a feeling she at least knew part of the reason.

“It all goes back to the Tragedy of Duscur..." she began, curiously catching Senka's attention. Her eyes were on Catherine as soon as she'd said it.

This, Teach actually seemed to know about. At least, he didn't ask what it was. “I don't understand," he admitted. “The Tragedy of Duscur wasn't a Church dispute, as I understand. Why would someone rebel against the Central Church because of it?"

“There's more to that story than it seems," Catherine explained, expelling a heavy sigh. “They had accomplices within the Kingdom as well," she stated, shaking her head as she glanced at the group. Senka's brows were furrowed, and Amalthea looked vaguely confused. Catherine chanced a glance in Devon's direction, and Mercer found his lips pursing into a fine line.

“Accomplices," Sorcha muttered, shaking her head. If Mercer hadn't been as close as he was, he wouldn't have been able to hear what came next. “Ridiculous." She didn't, however, dispute what Catherine was saying, probably for the sake of the mission they were all here to do.

“Lonato's son was part of it, wasn't he?" Mercer questioned, bringing Catherine's attention back to him.

“He was one of them, and so he was handed over to the church for execution," she explained, shaking her head once more.

“What is the church doing, executing criminals?" Senka finally spoke, calling Catherine's attention.

“Speaking from the church's perspectice, we simply passed judgment according to our doctrine in place of the Kingdom, which was in complete chaos. Whatever the truth behind that incident may be, Lord Lonato has harbored resentment toward the church, ever since." That explained why Lonato was attacking the church, but nothing more, to Mercer.

“Well... to be more specific, his grudge isn't only against the church. It's also against the one who turned Christophe over to them..." she added, glancing away from the group. Mercer had an idea, but he chose to keep it to himself for now.

Devon winced, but said nothing.

Teach apparently shared Mercer's hypothesis, but not his instinct to keep it to himself. “I take it that was you?" The question was blunt, but in that weird way Teach had about him, it didn't come across as harsh or unkind.

She glanced up, ready to reply when a church soldier hurriedly interrupted them. “The enemy is approaching! Their numbers are far greater than we predicted," he spoke, glancing between the group. “They used the fog to slip past the knights' perimeter!" he continued, panic laced in his voice. Mercer didn't blame him; they weren't supposed to have to fight.

“It looks like our mission just changed, Professor. Everyone, prepare for battle!" Catherine shouted as if to rally the troops together. Some of the troops nodded in unison, and departed to do as they were told.

“Well, I guess so much for being a cleanup crew," he muttered, shaking his bow loose from his shoulder and glancing at the others. “Uh, not to make anyone alarmed, but they are using this fog as cover. Be careful out there, alright?" he stated, glancing at everyone before his eyes landed on Sorcha. “Especially you," he added, pursing his lips in her direction.

She frowned, glancing away from him, but she did nod a little, tightening her grip on her own bow.

“Agreed. With this fog, it's impossible to tell where the enemy might be... or how many of them there are. Keep your guards up; the enemy could be trying to surround us. They shouldn't have enough soldiers to form a tight circle, but it's best to stay focused and alert," Catherine stated before she departed.

Teach squinted after her for a moment before sighing. “Dierdre, Sofia, Thea. Go with her. Deirdre, fire magic into the air if you need help. It should be visible through the fog." When that group had departed after Catherine, Teach simply made eye contact with Reynard, who half smiled and saluted casually, drawing a knife from the sheath at his thigh and seemingly melting into the fog.

“The rest of us are going to make small units, and follow the same plan. There has to be a cause to this fog; it's not natural." He didn't elaborate on how he knew that, but there was no doubt whatsoever in his words. “Our first priority is finding that mage, and taking them out. Mercer, Vridel, Sorcha. You're a group. Move quietly. Senka, Devon, Sylvi: you're with me. We're going to make the noise."

“Fine by me," Mercer replied, saluting Teach in the process as he glanced at Sorcha and Vridel. Senka had spared a glance towards Sorcha, but merely nodded her head and departed with Sylvi and Devon with Teach. He wished, at the moment, that he'd brought a torch with him, but he supposed that would defeat the purpose of moving quietly, now.

“Alright, I can't see too much in this thick fog, but," he stated, glancing at his surroundings, “we can at least form a tight circle to watch each other's backs for now. Also, I know this is prime opportunity, with the fog and all, but please don't accidently stab me, Vi." He'd given the man plenty of reasons to want to stab him, after all.

“Oh believe me, Mercer. If ever I stab you, it will be very much on purpose." Vridel replied simply, drawing his blade with a slight rasp.

Sorcha glanced between them once and rolled her eyes slightly, but where ordinarily she might have made some comment, she was silent now.

“Teach said the fog wasn't natural, so..." he trailed off, making eye contact with Vi, “any idea how to track the source? If it's not natural then there has to be someone making it, and that usually requires magic, right?"

“I'm not some kind of weird magic bloodhound like the Professor, if that's what you're asking," Vridel said dryly. “There's magic all over the battlefield right now and it's not easy to tell what's what. That said..." he paused, frowning. After a moment, he stopped moving and shut his eyes.

Sorcha moved immediately to cover him, squinting warily out into the fog. The quality of the air around seemed to change for a moment, almost brightening, somehow, or... freshening. It smelled like early spring, when the grass was new, and the flowers were coming in, but the change had no obvious source.

After another moment, though, Vridel cracked his eyes open, tossing his head to clear a strand of hair from his face. “I think it's that way." he pointed with his sword to the northwest, more west than north. Teach's group was going more north, and Catherine's headed almost due west, so if he was right, they'd surely run into the source first.

Probably what Teach had thought, come to think of it. Why else have the noisy groups draw attention in the other directions?

Mercer nodded, moving in the direction Vridel had pointed to. The fog was thicker than Mercer had anticipated, and he had to switch from his bow, to his sword. He didn't want to use his bow until he could see, clearly. As much as he favored it, he didn't want to accidentally hit someone with it. He wanted to make sure it was an enemy and not one of his friends, even if they'd gone in the opposite direction. He wanted to be sure.

They'd encountered a few soldiers along the way. One had managed to nick him in the shoulder with a spear. Mercer had reacted too late when he'd spotted it coming out of the fog, and barely managed to get out of the way in time. He cut the man down, but even Mercer felt a slight hesitation in his blade. These were civilians, and possibly innocent people. He wondered if they wanted to be in this fight, this battle fighting against the church. They had to know they couldn't win this. So why... he pushed the thought out of his mind as an arrow whistled towards him. It nicked him in the face as he dodged it, drawing a thin line of blood as he sighed.

“I take it we're getting close. There are more soldiers around," he spoke to Vridel and Sorcha. Chances were they would want to keep the mage as protected as possible to keep the advantage. But there was also a chance that they were just trying to confuse them and make them believe that. Mercer did not want to have to kill more people, but he gripped his sword tighter as he moved forward. He didn't have a choice.

Neither Vridel nor Sorcha looked any happier to be there. Vridel's face was set into a grim frown; at a small break in the fighting, he reached back and tapped Mercer with a quick healing spell, wordlessly resetting his stance a moment later to fend off another blade from the fog.

“W-why are you doing this?" behind them, another man faced Sorcha, a spear held in his trembling hands. “Lord Lonato is a good man! The Church is wicked and corrupt! They—they're liars!" Behind his ill-fitting helmet, it was clear that he wasn't much older than any of them, and his lack of experience in battle was just as clear. He had the build and patchy clothes of a workman, perhaps a farmer's son or something of the kind from the outlying region.

He thrust forward with his spear. Sorcha deflected with her own, crisply enough to knock his weapon right from his hands. He fell to the ground, mostly from surprise and terrible balance, probably. She leveled her spear, and he threw his hands up as if to stave off her blow. “Please! Please don't kill me!"

Mercer was close enough to hear the soft sound Sorcha made in the back of her throat. Her expression was pinched, pained; in the strange pall of the fog, she looked wan and ill.

The tip of her lance shuddered, a scant few inches from the man's hands. “Go then," she said, voice hoarse. “Leave, and don't come back."

He looked at her, then, eyes wide with disbelief, but didn't second-guess the mercy, scrambling to his feet and disappearing into the fog.

Sorcha looked stricken, and swallowed thickly. “He's probably gone to warn someone we're here," she said, still soft and scratchy. “We should hurry."

He wanted to tell her that it was going to be alright, but the truth of it was that Mercer didn't know. As much as he didn't want to kill someone, there was no room for mercy on the battlefield. An enemy was an enemy. It didn't matter if they had experience or not on the field. He had half a mind to grab his bow and finish him off, but a quick glance at Sorcha had him sighing heavily. Shaking his head, he glanced her way.

“Do it, next time. Battle is life or death; there is no mercy on the field, Sorcha," he spoke, his voice unusually harsh. He reeled in on himself, though. He hadn't meant to be that harsh, nor say that. They continued pushing forward, Mercer positioning himself to the front so as to keep Sorcha behind him. He did not want her to do what he was now doing, cutting people down whether or not they were innocent.

It didn't matter.

Mercer narrowed his eyes into the fog, spotting something almost like light. He turned his attention to Vridel, “I think we're closing in. Vi, can you use a fire spell to dispel the fog in that direction?" He pointed in the direction where he'd seen the light. The sooner they lifted this fog, the better.

“Leave it to me," he replied grimly. He'd remained quiet through the disagreement, but Mercer knew quite well that Vridel felt much the same way he did about these things.

Lighting the spell in one hand, he took a moment to close his eyes again, then adjusted his aim and let loose. The flames sliced through the fog like a hot knife through butter, their roar a much more fearsome thing than it had been during their desperate flight from the bandits a couple months ago. It burned away the fog it passed through, and at the end of the trajectory there was a short yelp, and the air around them seemed to shudder.

“Found him. If you two can hold off his friends, I can get this fog off the field."

Sorcha pressed her lips together, but nodded, readying her lance. “Do it."

With a nod, Vridel surged ahead, just as several soldiers closed in around them.

Mercer merely nodded, readying his sword in his left hand. He glanced in Sorcha's direction before turning back towards the field. Taking a deep breath, Mercer deflected a soldier's attempt on him, knocking the soldier back in the process. He struggled to get back to his feet, and Mercer grimaced when his sword went through the man's throat. He could hear him, feel him in a way he had to shake off. There was no mercy on the field. None. He felt his nerves steel themselves as he continued fending off the soldiers who continued their onslaught.

At his back, Sorcha seemed to have done the same. Or at the very least there was no time to do anything but stay alive, no room for anything but killing so as not to be killed. Every once in a while a metallic clang would ring out from the direction Vridel had gone, or magic would flash in the corner of Mercer's eye, but for the most part it was just the two of them, dealing with the onslaught.

She was unnaturally quiet, for her; it was hard to even tell how things were going for her, except that her presence at his back remained there, steadfast and stubborn if nothing else.

It wasn't more than a couple minutes more before the fog began to thin, almost all at once, dissipating into the air as if it had never been there at all. The morning sun fell over the field, bodies strewn in three distinct arcs from east to west. To the south of them a figure in white—Catherine—had fixed her gaze north, where a small palisade wall served as fortification for the rest of the forces and with them—

“Lonato!" Devon, not more than fifty yards to the north with Teach's group, was looking at the same thing: a dignified-looking man mounted on a barded horse behind the wall, lance in hand.

“It's you, Thunderstrike Cassandra," he spoke, glaring at Catherine. His eyes landed on Devon for a moment, and Mercer saw a pained expression flash across his face before he turned his attention back to Catherine. She merely furrowed her brows in his direction, and dropped Thunderbrand to her side. “It was your wretched zealotry that killed my son!" Catherine, however, turned to face Lonato, scoffing lightly before pointing her weapon at him.

“The only name I answer to is Catherine!" she stated, gripping her weapon a bit tighter. “Prepare to taste the blade of one who serves the goddess. Now you face a Knight of Seiros!" she shouted. Lonato merely huffed as he glanced at his soldiers.

“The fog has cleared. There's nothing left to hide you or the filthy Central Church from the judgement of the goddess!" he declared. Mercer grabbed his bow, this time. He wasn't close enough, but he could at least try and pick off a few soldiers from a distance.

Someone else had the same idea; and arrow went sailing over the palisade, landing at the feet of Lord Lonato's horse. Tracing its path back, Lonato met eyes with Devon, where he stood in the middle of his group, protected on two sides by Teach and one each by Sylvi and Senka.

“Lonato, why are you doing this?!" he called, doing his best to straighten to his full height. “You're putting all of your people in danger, leading them into a fight you cannot win, and for what? Please—tell me why this is happening!" There was an edge of desperation to his voice, but there was hope, too. Like he really did believe it might be possible to talk down Lonato's army. Like the Church wasn't already planning to kill them all.

Lonato seemed to have no such illusions. “You wouldn't understand, Devon. Know that the Church had betrayed us all. That woman who sits at the very top of this world... her claws are deep in every nation in Fódlan, and no one will ever be free until they have been torn out!"

Devon hesitated, clearly unsure what to do or say in response to that. But then a soldier slipped past Sylvi's guard, and he had other, more immediate things to worry about.

Mercer grunted under the force of a battle axe that came down on his sword, and he struggled to push it back. He managed to get his footing, using his bow to sweep the man's feet from underneath him before plunging the sword deep within the man's gut. He pushed out a breath as he glanced towards Catherine and Lonato. Catherine was upset, it was obvious to tell with the furrow of her brow, and she charged Lonato, who rushed to meet her on the field. Their weapons clashed as Catherine deflected his lance. “You! I will be the one to kill you, no other!" Lonato declared, twirling his lance towards Catherine.

“You have lost all sense of justice, Lonato," she retorted, thrusting Thunderbrand in his direction and eyes heavy with something. It wasn't quite sorrow, but Mercer would say it was close to it. Perhaps regret? “You want to fight me? So be it; I'll send you to meet your goddess," she continued, dodging his attack as he continued his onslaught.

Thunderbrand sparked and crackled as it glowed red. It would have been an awe-inspiring sight if Mercer didn't already know what Catherine was planning to do. He had to turn his gaze as she slashed at Lonato, the force pushing him back and breaking his guard. Mercer didn't need to hear the strangled cry that left Lonato as Catherine's attack made contact, slicing through the metal of his armor. He fell to his knees, glancing defiantly up at Catherine as she pointed her weapon at him.

“Vile woman..." he spat, his voice ragged with each breath he took. “Christophe, forgive me," he stated out loud, perhaps on purpose so that everyone could hear him. Catherine grimaced as she swung her blade, ending the battle as she turned away.

“I... never thought I'd see Lonato meet this fate," she spoke, her voice cracking just slightly. She seemed to steel herself, though, and glanced at everyone as the other members of the army, retreated. “Well done, everyone. Let's... gather our troops and go," she stated. Mercer couldn't agree more, as he glanced in Sorcha's direction.

“We should regroup with the others," he muttered in her direction.

Her eyes were fixed on the scene; he had the distinct impression she'd forced herself to watch the whole, bloody thing. After a moment, she tore them away, nodding.

“I think if we—"

Abruptly, Sorcha's eyes went wide, a strangled cry that never had a chance to form parting her lips silently as a blade bloomed from her stomach. Her knees gave out beneath her, and the sword withdrew with a slick sound. Behind her stood the same soldier she'd spared what seemed like hours ago, but had likely only been about twenty minutes. His face was twisted into an expression equal parts anger and terror.

“You've ruined everything!" he said, voice trembling as he prodded her off the end of the sword with his foot. He must have picked it up on the field somewhere. Blood seeped over the grass beneath her; Sorcha was entirely still. “You've killed him, and now—now there's nothing!" Tears streaming down his face, he raised his sword, slick with Sorcha's blood, and charged Mercer with a shout.

Mercer's eyes went wide as Sorcha fell over. He could hear Senka shouting from over the field, but everything went numb. Cold. He reacted without much thought, his blade deflecting the man's sword as he tried to attack Mercer. Without much effort, Mercer's blade found its home in the man's neck, severing his head from his shoulders as Mercer threw his blade to the ground. He rushed towards Sorcha's side, eyes wide, and a strange sense of panic seeping through him.

“Sorcha!" he shouted, moving to her side to cradle her towards him. “Sorcha," he continued, not registering the small body falling to his side. Amalthea had reached them first, having run from the other side of the field, it seemed. Mercer would have thought it strange since she was so small compared to Senka's longer strides, however; he couldn't seem to focus.

“Oh, no... no, no, no, Sorcha!" she spoke, placing her hands over Sorcha's wounds. “Mercer, we need to get her bleeding to stop. She's going to bleed to death!" she shouted, but Mercer already knew that. He was trying to get his body to move, to do something other than shut down, but he couldn't seem to take control. He was paralyzed. “Mercer!" Amalthea shouted. Tears were starting to bubble up in her eyes, and she continued to put pressure on Sorcha's wound.

“Don't... you're going to be okay, Sorcha. You'll be fine. Vridel and Senka are on their way!" she couldn't stop the sob that tore through her throat, and the force of her tears had caused her to shut her eyes. “Goddess, please help me," she whispered. Whether it was the prayer, or some latent ability of Amalthea's, her hands began to glow. Mercer recognized white magic when he saw it, but he never recalled her having it. He chanced a glance at Amalthea, her eyes still closed as the tears continued to fall, however; there was a light glow coming from where her heart was.

Did she have a Crest, too? Whatever it was, it seemed to knit Sorcha's wounds closed, but it wasn't enough. She was still bleeding. If Amalthea had a Crest, and did little training with her own magic, it wasn't going to be enough. Her Crest would likely only be able to do so much. He glanced at Senka who came into his vision. “Help her," was his only plea.

“I need you to let her go, Mercer. Vridel and I can take over from here, Thea. Let her go, and let us help," she stated, clearly out of breath, but wearing an expression Mercer had seen before on other people, even himself. It was fear and anguish.

It wasn't long before the whole class had gathered there, even Devon wearing a worried expression on his already tear-streaked face.

“Out of the way," Videl snapped, pushing past several people to drop next to where Thea had begun the work. His hands were already lit with the light of a healing spell—a pore powerful one than the standard kind, from its brightness. “Mercer, you need to put her down or she is going to die. Do you understand me? Senka and I both need to be able to get at that wound."

He was trying to do what they wanted him to do, but his body wasn't responding. He was screaming at his muscles to move, but they wouldn't listen to him. Couldn't they see that!? He was trying, but his body was not in his control. Both Senka and Amalthea were now pleading with him, their eyes wide. Amalthea's were wet with tears, and Senka's looked to be on the verge of her own tears.

“Mercer! Let her go! I'm begging you!" Senka shouted at him, reaching towards Sorcha. He'd never heard her yell like that, before. There was so much emotion behind it. His grip only tightened on Sorcha and he cursed himself. He was going to be the reason she died, even though he desperately wanted her to live.

Vridel cursed and went to work, clearly at least trying to do what he could alone.

Perhaps it was his magic added to what Amalthea had already done. Perhaps it was something else. Either way, Sorcha's eyelashes flickered, and her eyes opened just a little, hazy, indistinct slivers of foggy blue. She seemed to struggle to focus, perhaps unable to process all of what was going on, but somehow, her eyes found his, and with what seemed to be great effort, she lifted the hand closer in to his side. Her fingers were smeared with blood—most likely her own, though there was no way to tell for sure.

“'msorry," she slurred, like her tongue was too thick and heavy in her mouth. Her fingertips found his cheek, and she half-smiled in that particular way she had, where it was a little bit wry, even if this one was dreamier than usual, actually. It wouldn't have been surprising if she was delirious from blood loss at this point. “You can... let go," she mumbled, quietly enough that it was probably only he and Vridel who were close enough to hear now.

“An' smile, 'kay?" her head lolled, hand dropping away as though both were too heavy to hold in place any longer. She left a crimson smear on his face. “'It's..." her eyes slipped closed again, and she went limp.

Mercer," Vridel repeated urgently.

The force of her words was enough to cause Mercer's body to relinquish his hold. That, or perhaps it was the force with which Senka pushed him out of the way as she grabbed hold of Sorcha. He swallowed thickly, watching as both Vridel and Senka immediately went to work on Sorcha's wounds. It felt like hours. Long, drawn out, and angry, for whatever reason Mercer could not name. When they were done, Senka's shoulder's were shaking. It was clear to Mercer that she had been crying, but it wasn't until she turned to face him, that he realized that it was his fault.

“What were you thinking! You could have..." she shouted abruptly at him, but stopped when something caught in her throat. “You could have gotten her killed! Why didn't you let go!?" she continued, causing Mercer to avert his gaze from her. He knew. He knew, but he couldn't bring himself to let go. “She's... she's all I have left and you almost let her die!" And he deserved her wrath, and her anger.

“Senka, I... don't think he did it on purpose. He was worried, scared just like you are," Amalthea stated, briefly touching Senka's arm as she turned to face her. Senka glanced back at Mercer before turning her gaze from him, and refusing to look at him the rest of the time. He deserved it.

“We need to get her back to the Monastery so she can rest." She said no more after that.

Vridel stood last, rising with Sorcha in his arms. “We can put her on one of the horses for now, but someone should ride with her." From the way he was swaying on his feet, he wasn't in any shape to be doing so himself.

“Senka." Teach nodded to the horse Sofia was leading over. “If you need to switch off let me know." He seemed to deem it best that Senka be the one to travel back with Sorcha, and given the fright she'd just had, perhaps that was a kindness. At least this way she'd be able to know if anything about her condition changed right away.

“As for the rest of us... let's get back to the monastery."

Senka nodded at Teach, though glanced over her shoulder one last time at Mercer. He knew, then, that she hated him. And he did not blame her. He hated himself.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

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#, as written by Aethyia


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I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Wednesday the 2nd
Monastery Second Floor - Afternoon - Clear
Cyril Eisner


It had been a hell of a few days.

The journey back to Garreg Mach from Lonato's castle had been an uncomfortable one for just about everyone, from Catherine's lingering discomfort, to Devon's poorly-disguised grief to the worrying everyone was doing about Sorcha. The last, at least, turned out all right; she'd woken at the tail end of the trip yesterday, and though she would be on bedrest in the infirmary for several more days on Manuela's orders, she was expected to make a full recovery.

There was also, of course, the building tension between Senka and Mercer, and the latter's obvious melancholy. Cyril thought he sort of understood where both of them were coming from; hopefully, it was one of those wounds that time would be sufficient to heal. In either case, he'd be able to check in a bit later with Senka, as they were both assigned to the kitchen rotation tonight. But first... he had to make his report to Rhea and receive his next assignment.

When he reached the small chapel that sat adjacent to Rhea's office, he found only Lyanna. She was dressed much as usual, and caught his eye, gesturing him over as he entered. “Professor Eisner. The Archbishop has been slightly delayed in a meeting. She desired for me to catch you up on certain developments before her arrival. I trust this is acceptable to you?" She narrowed her eyes at him slightly, though she had to tilt her head up to do it. She was taller than her sister, but certainly not gifted in the height department either.

Cyril inclined his head. “Of course. What has changed?"

She pursed her lips, clearly suppressing a sigh. “Catherine found a note on Lord Lonato's corpse. It describes a plan to assassinate the Archbishop during the Goddess's Rite of Rebirth." She paused, then seemed to anticipate his next question. “It is perhaps the most important ceremony conducted by the Church of Seiros, and requires the Archbishop and I to both enter the Goddess Tower, otherwise unaccompanied."

“And the concern is that people could infiltrate this tower in an attempt to kill her?" he asked.

She shook her head. “Not... especially. Honestly the plan seems very... slapdash, to me. Nevertheless, we must take all threats seriously. We have as many of the knights on this as we can spare, but we would also like to put you and your students to the task of guarding the monastery during the ceremony. They have, by this point, accumulated a great deal more experience than their peers, and this seems a relevant occasion on which to use it."

To that, he said nothing. He wouldn't have been able to suppress something sharper than he thought she really deserved.

As though she sensed it, Lyanna released the sigh she'd been holding in. “I... I heard that the Princess was severely injured," she said softly, glancing at her feet before hesitantly lifting her eyes to his. “I know Professor Casagranda is a capable healer, but if you are not averse, I would also like to pay her a visit. There may be... more, I can do."

Cyril was genuinely surprised at the offer, something that must have shown through at least a bit on his expression.

Lyanna smiled mirthlessly. “Don't make that face. I have a heart, too, you know. And... you've taken good care of my—of Amalthea. She never stops talking about you, or her friends. If I could shied them all from this, I—" She cut herself off abruptly as the door to Rhea's office opened.

Rhea glanced in Cyril's direction, a smile forming on her lips as she approached. “Apologies, there was something I needed to take care of," she stated, nodding her head in a mock bow. “I am glad to see that you have retruned safely. The goddess is gracious with her divine protection," she continued, her eyes narrowing slightly with her smile. “But it was not only her divine protection that shielded you, was it? You are just as skilled as I had hoped."

Hoped? I have no idea what she's up to, but it sure seems like she knows you from somewhere, doesn't it?

Cyril wasn't entirely sure how to take it, either, and a glance at Lyanna's face revealed nothing more than a slight unease, which could have been a lot of things. “I owe much to my students," he said simply. “They've been through much, but they continue to improve."

“I am not so sure," was her reply, and the smile on her face seemed rather strange. It seemed a bit strained. “I heard that some of the students were... hesitant about fighting militia. One of them was even injured, the foolish girl. She should have known better than to spare an enemy life that way. Look at what happened to her, because of it," she continued, referring to Sorcha, it seemed. She shook her head, though, before the smile returned to her face.

Cyril had to fight to keep the emotion from his face at the casual way she dismissed what had become of Sorcha. Lyanna winced slightly.

“We must punish any sinner who may inflict harm upon believers, even if those sinners are civilians," she didn't seem too fazed about saying that. She smiled, then, something more akin to a grin of someone who was plotting something. “I pray the students learned a valuable lesson about the fate that awaits all who are foolish enough to point their blades towards the heavens."

“I am aware that Lyanna has filled you in on this month's mission, correct?" She didn't wait for Cyril to answer. “It is my hope that you will accept this mission. You will have my gratitude. While there is no need to fear for my safety," she paused and glanced towards Lyanna, “we cannot turn a blind eye to those who would blaspheme so heinously."

“We accept, of course," Cyril said. He wasn't stupid enough to think it a genuine request—he knew an order when he heard one. “I will use some of our time together this month to plan patrol routes for the day, and submit them to you via Lady Lyanna, perhaps?"

“Very well," she nodded, “Oh, and one more thing, Professor," she paused long enough to regard him with a stare, “do make sure you and your students are fully prepared to do whatever it takes to see the mission through. We cannot have another setback. If the princess is deemed unsuitable for this type of work, perhaps you would do well to find another student to replace her." She dismissed herself, after that. Lyanna threw him a knowing look as she followed.

Thoroughly disgusted with the conversation, Cyril shook his head faintly and left the other way. He had kitchen duty to get started on, after all.

He found that he actually managed to arrive a little early, so he checked over the menu before pulling down the pots, pans, and spices he and Senka would need for the dish in question. Apparently they were to make saghert and cream for the following day. It was a little more complicated than most of the dishes, but seemed to be rather universally popular, so he could see why it was on the rotation.

It wasn't long before Senka arrived, regarded him with a nod of her head, but mostly remained quiet. She'd been like that for the last couple of days ever since Sorcha had been injured. She had mostly kept to herself, and seemed to ignore just about everyone except for Cyril. “Professor," she greeted, her voice a little harsh from wear. She'd nearly screamed at Mercer the day of the battle, and seemed to have overworn her vocal cords from it. She sighed softly, though, before she moved to the other side.

“What is the menu for today?" she asked, keeping her gaze elsewhere.

“Saghert and cream," he said quietly, setting the recipe sheet down on the counter so she could read it while he retrieved the tomatoes they would need to dice. The only really complicated thing about kitchen duty was adjusting to cooking in such large quantities. Dividing the tomatoes, he gave her a fair chunk less than half, pulling down a cutting board for her and making sure her knife was properly sharpened before seeing to his own.

Cyril didn't really know how to help people in situations like this one. He was surprised by the degree to which he desired to. But then, even he recognized that his students were having... some sort of effect on him. He found that he wanted to help them, to protect them, and more than anything to see them happy. It was a peculiar thing, a complicated feeling he didn't remember having ever felt before.

Perhaps considering how new it was, it was hardly surprising that he didn't know what to do with it. “How is she?" he asked. He doubted Senka had left her side for long.

“She's recovering about as well as she can," was her soft reply. “She speaks, she's in and out of consciousness, but for the most part," she paused to swallow a lump in her throat, it seemed, “she's alive." She went to work on her tomatoes, dicing them in slow motions. It was clear that she wasn't quite aware of her surroundings, or wasn't as focused as she usually was. Perhaps she hadn't been getting enough sleep?

“Her... birthday is this month," she finally spoke, glancing towards Cyril for a moment before turning her attention back to her tomatoes. “I want to make her something, and to invite her other friends to spend the day with her, however," she paused, wincing slightly as he placed her knife down. She walked towards the sink to wash her hand where the knife had nicked her, and wrapped it in a clean cloth. “I do not think I, alone, will be sufficient enough, to convince everyone," she continued.

Cyril set his knife down, making a small motion with his hand, asking for her own without words. The strange thing about healing was that it was downright difficult to do on oneself, even for really simple things like a cut.

“Why don't you think you'd be enough?" he asked, patiently awaiting her decision.

“She has many friends," she began, hesitantly giving him her hand. “And..." she paused, her brows furrowing lightly, “they do not like me. Other than our group, I am not well-received by many of the students here. And they know nothing of my past, not even my heritage." She must have been referring to her Duscur heritage. She'd said, before, that she had enrolled under the identity of someone who was from Faerghus with Almyran heritage.

“And I am certain she would like to have Mercer there as well," her lips pursed into a fine line at that. “Hence why I would not be sufficient enough to convince them."

Carefully, Cyril eased away the cloth. The cut was still bleeding a little; carefully he focused on what remedial healing he knew. “I understand why you are unhappy with him," he said, keeping his eyes fixed on what he was doing. “But I don't think he would refuse to come if you asked. And... forgive me if I overstep in observing, but I do not believe Sorcha considers anyone a friend of hers who is unfriendly towards you."

The magic snapped into place, and the wound disappeared. Cyril dabbed away the remaining blood with the cloth. Senka's hand was quite cool, compared to his own, small and soft, with elegant, tapered fingers. Not so soft as to suggest she'd never done work—none of his students had hands like that anymore. But still very much so compared to his, rough with calluses and scars from battles he could barely remember. He found himself hoping that hers, at least, would never reach such a state. That there would not be so much violence and death in her life that it left the physical marks to match the impressions it had already left on the rest of her.

Thoughtlessly, he traced her fingers with the tips of his own, until all that remained of the contact was four little points, his digits curled up a little to balance the very ends of hers on their own ends. Distantly, he wondered if he shouldn't let go, shift his hand the rest of the way away, but if she wasn't doing that, he saw no need to, either.

What a strange thing.

She didn't seem to pull away, at least, and merely regarded him with an even stare. She took a deep breath, though, exhaling slowly and shaking her head. “I'm afraid of what I might say if I asked him. You know I am not... gentle in my words. I am angry with him, yes, but I know how much he means to Sorcha. She values him as her friend, and I would not want to be the one who ruins her birthday for her. If... I invite her friends and not attend, that will be enough. I can do something on my own for her. But the least I can do is make her cake, and some food for the friends who do go," she answered. She still spoke with little confidence in herself, and perhaps she was still struggling with the events at Magdred, or perhaps before.

“Thank you, Professor. It means a lot that..." she paused, furrowing her brows before she slipped her hand with his, “you care enough about us. I would appreciate the help in making her favorite dishes, if... you would be so kind," she stated, keeping her gaze with his.

Slowly, Cyril shook his head. Only slightly, so as not to break eye contact. It felt important, somehow, not to do that. “And what if she did that for you?" he asked. “Invited other people to attend a party for you on your birthday, but did not appear herself? I suppose I have not known you both for very long but..." His eyes narrowed, in thought rather than irritation.

“It is true that she is more outwardly sociable. But you are as much her best friend as she is yours. I do not believe she would enjoy a celebration you were not a part of, regardless of who else was there." He tilted his head. “I will help you with the food... if you will agree to go." His expression softened into a near-smile.

“Even if you don't talk to anyone but me."

“How can I refuse an offer like that," she stated, a slow smile crawling across her face. “I will accept the conditions with the terms," she continued, her expression softening with her smile. It was the first time she'd smiled since she'd told Vridel and himself about her history. “Even if you are the only person I speak with, I will go. I don't want Sorcha to be upset with me, and..." she paused, her hand clenching his a little tightly. It was unclear if it was intentional or unconsciously.

“I want to join my friends as well," she added. She was smiling softly at this point, her gaze never leaving his.

“Good," he said, eyes narrowing at the corners. Reflexively, he squeezed her hand back when he felt the pressure increase.

You know, if anyone else sees this, they're going to think something's going on with you and this girl, the one in his head piped up. She'd been doing that more lately. Especially since his conversation with Amalthea, just before the mission.

Like what? he asked, almost absently.

You really don't know? What a dense vessel you are, she replied. Then stopped short. Wait—

All at once, pain lanced through Cyril's head, whiting out his vision for a moment. He flinched, reaching for his temple with his free hand, and hissed softly. It felt like he'd been struck in the skull with one of his own lightning spells.

“Cyril?" Senka stated, concern evident in her voice. “Professor Cyril, are you alright? Do you need to go to the infirmary?" she asked, her hand tightening around his as her other came to the spot where his free hand rested on his temple. “Do you need me to do anything?" she continued.

“No," he replied, voice rough with the effort of managing the pain. Fortunately, it was already starting to fade. But with it, the girl's presence had receded, and before he could ask her about what she'd said, at that. “I'm... I'll be fine." He released a hard sigh, lifting his eyes back to meet hers.

He could have left it there, he knew. Senka wasn't the pushy type. But...

“It's my memory," he said, which was more or less true. “Sometimes it's like I'm close to remembering something, and then it—" he grimaced, shrugging slightly. “Hurts. To be honest, I hardly remember anything beyond a few years ago. Just pieces. I don't even know how old I am." It was an absurd sort of thing to not know. He could understand that now, where before he hadn't really known what he didn't know, so to speak.

Senka furrowed her brows and tilted her head to the side. She dropped her free hand when he seemed to be fine, and sighed. “It sounds like something doesn't want you to remember. If it's painful to recall something in your past, chances are you are either suppressing it because it was traumatic, or it's your body's natural defense against causing unwanted strain to it. I cannot say for sure, but I do know the former is a possibility." She pursed her lips and regarded him with a quiet stare. There was no judgement to it; simply observation and curiosity.

“Where were you recently when this happened?" she asked.

Cyril hummed. “You mean when's the last time it happened?" He blinked. “I was having tea with Amalthea. I asked her more about the Church and what they teach. She told me the Goddess's name is Sothis, and for some reason, that—"

The girl had reacted very strangely to that name, though it wasn't clear to him why. “It was like that meant nothing and everything to me, all at once. I can't explain it. I thought I remembered something about the Red Canyon, too. I knew its name was Zanado, even though no one uses that, anymore." He exhaled heavily, then shrugged. “I don't expect I'll ever know why any of it happens. I... get the impression that there are people around me who know more than I do, but they don't tell me anything."

She regarded him quietly, humming a thoughtful noise in the back of her throat as she tilted her head down in a contemplative manner. It was another moment of silence before she met his gaze again. With a quick glance around, she must have deemed it safe before she spoke, “It is possible that they cannot tell you because it is forbidden," It was quiet the way she spoke, as if she were being cautious not to be over heard.

“There are things in the library, books and tomes, from before the Church, however; they keep those in places not accessible to students. I am perplexed as to how they have not burned them yet; they burn anything that predates the Church," she continued, her brows furrowing lightly. “If you desire, we can see if anything there will help you with your memories, also," she paused, raising her free hand towards his face, “may I? I wish to do for you what you did for me during our Crest training. I don't think it will be much, but it might help for the time being."

He nodded slightly, lowering his head towards her so it would be easier. “I wasn't sure if that helped," he admitted. She'd been going through a lot, quite understandably. “Or if I did, at all. All of this—having people that I really," he paused, trying to find the right words, and went with the simple ones. “Care about. That's new. I've never tried to help someone that way before. There was never anyone to help." His father was... distant, in some ways. Not the type of person to lean on his son in any case.

As for the suggestion about the books... he didn't see why not. It wasn't as though he was too concerned with keeping Rhea's rules, or the Church's. And if she thought there was something in there that might really give him answers, then he figured it was worth a shot.

“It did... help, I mean," she answered, touching her magic-laced fingers to his temples. Her magic, naturally cooler perhaps because of where she's from, filtered through as she smiled at him, softly still. “I am not very good at caring about other people. It... has been hard to convince myself into thinking that there can be people who will not..." she paused, furrowing slightly, “who will not leave, and who will not hate me; people who I can care about, but..."

“I care a great deal about all of you, including you. If there is anyway I can be of further service, I will gladly do what I can." She sounded sincere about it.

“Thank you," he said simply. He may have even leaned a little into the touch, glad perhaps that for the moment there would be no voice in his head to scold him for it. The magic was soothing, chasing away the vestigial remnants of his pain, and he felt himself relax, the line of his shoulders easing.

He could understand it, the difficulty with trust. “And... I feel the same. So if I may assist you in any way... please ask."

She hummed a soft note as way of response, it seemed. “Of course, Professor. Actually," she paused, smiling still as she stared at him, “if you could help me with Sorcha's celebration, I would appreciate it, immensely. You know as well as I do that Vridel has a rather large stomach, and Sorcha is no stranger to large meals, either. Mercer... I am aware of his gluttony as well, and Amalthea adores her sweets. Preparing that much food might be a little out of my capabilities, but if you would be so kind as to help?"

He huffed softly, feeling the tiniest of answering smiles curl his mouth.

“I would do so gladly."

She looked vaguely surprised by something, and there was a faint color to her face. “You should smile more often. It suits you," she stated, pulling her hand from his and walking towards her station. She cleared her throat a little, “Perhaps we should... finish the menu, for now."

The smile inched just a little higher, and Cyril nodded, finally relinquishing her hand with a faint flicker of reluctance. “As you wish."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Thursday the 3rd
Outside Garreg Mach (Town) - Late Evening - Cloudy
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer ran a hand through his hair, slicked back from water, as he walked through the town. He was dressed in simple clothes, nothing that detailed involvement with Garreg Mach or the Alliance. Hell, he was pretty sure he looked like a typical commoner. The shirt was a dull beige color, slightly worn with a few patches on it. The trousers he'd worn had seen better days, a hole in the left knee, and he was certain there was a hole somewhere else, but it was a disguise that worked for him. He had agreed to meet Vridel and Reynard at their meeting place, and it was quite difficult to slip out without being noticed. With the Goddess' Rite coming up, security had been increased which made it more difficult to slip out of the Academy.

He wondered if Vridel and Reynard had the same problem? He shook his head at himself. He doubted it. They were good at sneaking out, or into places, Reynard especially. The man was way too quiet for Mercer's liking, but as long as they were allies, there was nothing to fear. He wondered, for a moment, how Sorcha was doing. He hadn't had the chance to visit her because Senka hardly left her side. And every time he went to visit, she had thrown him a glare. It was strange seeing so much emotion on a person's face who'd, otherwise, had none. He didn't blame her, though. He hated himself just as much as she hated him.

Shaking the thought from his mind, he continued towards Reynard's house, pausing only to knock on the door, and waiting for an answer.

It was Reynard himself who answered the door. He too was dressed like a commoner; more of the townsman type than a farmer or laborer. He managed to look considerably older than the average Garreg Mach student, which probably helped; at the moment he was even sporting heavy stubble. Mussing his hair, he blinked at Mercer and opened the door a little wider, stepping back inside. “I'm going to get you a key," he murmured. “Vridel's in the study."

It wasn't far off the entrance hall; a small and sturdy bookshelf took up most of one wall. There was a small, grimy window on another; it was important that the place fit in with its neighbors. The table in the center had several chairs around it. In one of them sat Vi, apparently hard at work on one of the ciphers he'd mentioned.

His attempt at plainclothes was... slightly less accurate, but at least he'd gone with dark colors and worn a cloak, which was now draped over the back of his chair. He didn't look like he had anything to do with the school, at least. There was a tray of sandwiches in front of him, and a few glasses of water.

Glancing up, he waved Mercer in. “Hey. What's new?"

“Oh you know, just the usual," Mercer replied in good fun, but he knew his face didn't show it. Instead, he heaved a heavy sigh, and took a seat across from Vi. “I swear this is getting stranger by the minute," me murmured, leaning forward and catching his face in his hands. He rubbed his hands down his face for a moment before turning to glance at Vi. His brows furrowed slightly before he took in a dramatic sigh.

“Were you able to find anything on Lonato's son?" he asked, leaning back in his chair in a haphazard way. From what he was able to gather during the battle, Christophe had been accused of being part of the Tragedy. The church executed him as a result, but that confused Mercer more than anything else did. Why was the church executing criminals? That wasn't their job, even if they were temporarily carrying out a sentence.

“And Catherine obviously had something to do with it, but... it doesn't add up," at least not at the moment.

Vi sighed, leaning away from his work and back into his chair. “Reynard found the official Church records on the incident. Apparently, Christophe was a member of the conspiracy against King Lambert, and instigated the people of Duscur into killing him." A roll of his eyes indicated what he made of that. “The truth... will be much more difficult to uncover. Perhaps we will figure it out in the course of the rest of this."

He folded his hands together and settled them behind his head. “If you want my best guess... the Church wanted him dead for some other reason and used the assassination as a screen. A justification for slipping in and killing him with no trial and few questions. Everyone just wanted to put that whole thing to rest as soon as it was over."

Assassinations seemed to be plenty, lately. “Probably, but then that leaves the question: what did Christophe plan?" He would have asked Devon if he knew anything about it, but... there were two reasons why he didn't. Devon was clearly distraught over Lonato's death. Mercer didn't blame him; Lonato had practically taken him in and raised him. The other was that it was obvious that Devon knew nothing if Lonato's words were anything to go by. He didn't want Devon to be part of whatever it was he was doing.

“I wonder if it has anything to do with Rhea," he stated. Then again, a lot of things seemed to be pointed in her direction. “She made it quite clear to Teach that this battle was supposed to teach us a lesson. About us ever turning our swords against the church or some shit like that," he continued as his eyes narrowed in thought. “I wonder... if Christophe had done something like that?" he mused out loud. It was a possibility that was the case, but they needed concrete proof.

Vi hummed quietly. “It's curious, isn't it? That there are no recorded cases of anyone openly rebelling after the War of Heroes. At least not on any large scale. You'd think that someone, at some point, would have, and yet nothing until this Lonato business." He shook his head. “I've always thought they have to be suppressing that information. Handling it themselves instead of turning it over to the relevant country's authorities. She's not so perfect that no one ever disagrees with her, that's for damn sure."

Mercer huffed lightly. “That means someone inside the church knows the information we're looking for, unless they were disposed of for precautionary reasons," he stated in a nonchalant manner. It wouldn't be the first time something like that happened. Mercer knew from experience that there were people who were killed to keep the silence. It meant that, whatever information they knew, they wouldn't be able to use it as blackmail, later on. Not as effective, though, as they'd want it to be. People were cautious by nature; there was bound to be a journal or something.

“It's not the first time they've concealed something like that, though," he sighed, slumping into his chair. “Supposedly Maurice didn't have any living descendants," he stated, allowing his eyes to slide towards Vridel. He wasn't stupid; he'd seen the Crest on Senka's forehead and knew what it meant. The perks of reading forbidden things, he supposed. “Why would the church cover that up? There's no reason to; we all know he went crazy with bloodlust," he continued. That's what was written in the lore books, anyway.

“I think it's all the same," Vi replied, picking apart one of the sandwiches and eating a slice of tomato. “If it stays under the surface, so that even those people don't know what power they have... no one asks any question the Church doesn't want to answer." He paused a moment, midway through another tomato, and frowned. “The question is... why hide these things in particular? A hero turning rogue... it's a bad look, but like you said everyone knows. So what questions are they avoiding in concealing this?"

“Why'd he go rogue in the first place." it was mostly a statement than a question. “Supposedly it was because he overtaxed his Crest, but wouldn't that have happened to the Saints during the battle with Nemesis? They, obviously, used their Crests to defeat him," which didn't add up in Mercer's book, but he'd let it slide for now. Speaking of which... “How did you come across the dragon thing, anyway, Vi? How does that even make sense to associate it with a Crest?" Dragons, for all he knew, didn't exist in Fódlan. He'd, of course, heard of the different species across the world, but there hadn't been a sighting in Fódlan since... well, forever.

He thought they were mostly just myth. He picked at one of the sandwiches, settling it in front of him, but otherwise left it alone. He just poked at it.

Vi sighed quietly. “I don't know where it comes from. It's an old story, I guess. My uncle told it to me. Something about... being a way to understand how to access the power of a Crest. It helped me figure out how to use mine whenever I wanted, so I sort of assumed it was some kind of educational tool. A metaphor." He shifted aside a piece of cheese in the sandwich to take out another tomato.

“I was kind of surprised none of you knew it, actually. Don't they tell any stories like that in the Alliance?"

Mercer merely shrugged. “Not really, no. And to be fair, I grew up in the alliance, doesn't mean they taught me anything about my Crest." he responded a bit dryly. “Remember? I just inherited the role as future heir of the Alliance not more than a year ago. It's not exactly enough time to say 'hey, so your Crest of Riegan does this' and what not. Plus, they didn't really put an emphasis on it," but that might have just been Mercer.

“And you really love those tomatoes, don't you?" Mercer inquired, but shook his head. He took a deep breath through his nose and glanced at Vi. “Metaphor or not, why associate them with a dragon? For all I know, dragons don't exist in Fódlan," he murmured, leaning his head into his hands and propping his elbow on the table for support.

“To make people feel more important?" Vi shrugged. “Why tell anything with creatures that don't exist?"

“Then there's Rhea's weird obsession with Teach. Did I tell you how she looked at him when she gave him the mission? It was..." strange was too mild of a word to use. “Expecting. If I didn't know any better, I'd say she had a real serious thing for Teach, but it goes beyond that, I think."

“Actually..." Vi's expression darkened; breaking the sandwich in half with his hands, he took a large bite from one half, putting it back to chew over for a bit before he swallowed. “I got kind of the same impression. Senka and I were studying with him for our magic certs, and she just... showed up. It seemed like she wasn't interested in anything but him. I even made a joke like that, but you're right. It might be that, but if it is, it's more, too."

Grabbing the glass next to him, he took a swallow before setting it back down and continuing. “I mean his whole hiring is suspicious. I won't deny that he's damn good at what he does, and at teaching it to us, but... he had no qualifications. He was a mercenary, and one with a pretty unsavory reputation at that. He'd taught no one anything; there was no reason to suppose he'd be good at it. Why take the risk? It's like she wanted him to stay, and just used the means she had to make it happen, you know? But why, if they'd never met before?"

“Well, from what I've gathered, she knew his father," he began, pursing his lips together. “She brought him back into the fold, too, without so much as questioning it. I haven't been able to find out why the Captain left her, but I did come across something strange in the library not too long ago," he stated, closing one eye as he regarded Vi.

“There was a fire at the monastery back in 1159. It said something about a child dying, I can't be too sure," it was kind of hard to decipher that one properly, “but if I had any guess..." he trailed off, his eyes narrowing slightly.

“I'd have to say that whatever the reason, it might have been why the Captain left," he stated. Maybe it was the death of an innocent child that pushed Jeralt to the edge? He still couldn't discern when the man had left Rhea's services, but he could at least put two and two together. Maybe he was making up something that wasn't there? Seeing things only he wanted to see. He shook his head, regardless, and finally took a bite out of his sandwich. It tasted strange to him, but that might have been because he had no current appetite at the moment. He wasn't sure if he'd ever get his appetite back, not after the whole ordeal with Sorcha.

“Didn't everyone think Jeralt was dead, too?" Vi mused.

He sighed after a moment, though, eyes fixed on Mercer. They were an odd color, that purple they had to them. It wasn't a trait of the Imperial family, or at least nothing like that had ever been in any of the material Mercer read. And the Emperor's portraits all depicted him with grey eyes. Given Volkhard, though, it was probably a maternal thing. “You're moping," he said flatly, narrowing the eyes until the hue seemed almost to sharpen itself.

Mercer had forgotten about that detail, but now it just made everything else more curious. At Vi's statement, though, Mercer furrowed his brows and pursed his lips at him. “I'm not," was his quick reply, shoving the entirety of his sandwhich into his mouth. He immediately regretted it, but he choked it down. His pride demanded that he did. Once he managed to clear his mouth, he sighed heavily. Vridel was right, he was moping.

“You'd be moping too if Senka was furious with you for doing what I did," he finally stated, pushing another heavy sigh through his nose. “And for also being partially responsible for Sorcha being on bedrest for so long. She wouldn't be if I had just..." if he'd just let go, the others would have been able to heal her properly, and perhaps, better.

“Maybe," Vi replied, lifting his shoulders and letting them fall. “But it wouldn't be doing anyone any good then, either." Keeping his eyes fixed on Mercer a moment more, he expelled a heavy breath and stood, making his way over to a cabinet at the end of the bookshelf. Opening it, he pulled down a dark bottle of something and a pair of glasses, returning to the table.

Once he'd dropped back into his seat, he opened the bottle, pouring out a rich, golden liquid into both glasses and pushing one towards Mercer. “Get it all out, then," he said simply. “Whine and blame yourself. Tell me about all the things you did wrong and wish you could take back. Don't leave anything out, because this is the only chance you get to convince me you're an ass I should blame for any of that."

Mercer pursed his lips at Vi. Convince him that he should blame him? Didn't he, though? Didn't he blame him for what happened? “I should have killed that man, to start with. If I'd done that, he wouldn't have had the chance to stab her. You and I both know that mercy can't be afforded in battle," he spoke, his hand gripping the cup tightly. It wasn't enough to break it, and instead, he downed the drink in one go, slamming the cup on the table in the process.

“If I'd been paying better attention, if I'd let go of her when Senka first asked me... the both of you could have worked to heal her properly. That she's alive now... if I hadn't been able to let go, she'd be dead. How can you not blame me for that? I almost got her killed," he furrowed his brows. Senka hated him, and he hated himself. So why didn't Vi? He had the right to hate him; Sorcha was his step-sister.

At the conclusion of his words, Vi nodded, tossed his own drink back, and poured again for the both of them, leaving more in the glasses this time. “That all?"

That's all? “That's all?" Mercer found himself repeating his thoughts. “What do you mean That's all? What else am I supposed to say!?" he nearly shouted, but gritted his teeth. He slammed the cup back down on the table, almost rising to his feet. “I know you blame me for it, Vridel."

“Do you?" he hissed in return, still sitting in his seat. His expression had sharpened, until all his angles were edges, like someone had carved him out of ice. The chill was almost palpable in the air, too, crackling like the frozen surface of a lake in winter. Do you know that? Because I don't think you do, Mercer."

Deliberately placing his glass aside, he set his palms down on the table. “You fucked up. I am quite aware of that, considering I'm the one who had to compensate for your mistake. But guess what? We've all fucked up. You think I bear no responsibility for letting that man go? I could have shot him down with fire just as easily as you could have with an arrow; I was right there too. You think Senka's healing was any good as emotional as she was? You think Sorcha couldn't have just killed him to begin with, or been more aware of her surroundings? You think the Professor couldn't have split us differently? Where does the responsibility stop, hm?"

He shook his head emphatically. “Everyone makes mistakes. That's what humans do. And you know what? She survived this one. But if you don't pull it together, if you don't leave it in the past where it belongs, she might not survive the next one. We don't have the luxury of wallowing. We have to be better. That's the only choice if we want to get out of this alive. If we want them to get out of this alive."

Vridel's words were sharp, and the cut deeply. Mercer felt himself wince at the force of them, but that didn't change how he felt. He knew he had to be better; that was what he was striving for. The reason he joined the Officers Academy. He wanted to protect his friends, but how was he going to do that if he wasn't competent enough? He had to get better. He had to. There was no choice other than to be stronger so that none of his friends, or any of the people he came to care about, were hurt or killed. He... wouldn't be able to take it.

“It's not that easy, and you know that. Saying to be stronger, to be better, you know as well as I do that even if that were the case, it wouldn't matter," he stated, slumping back into his chair and running a hand down his face. “I can't promise that I will leave it in the past, but..." the least he could do was try. He took a deep breath and cracked his eyes open, unaware he'd even closed them. “I'll..." why was it so hard to say that he'll try?

“On the contrary," Vridel replied, picking up his glass and taking a deep swallow. He set it back down with a dull thud. “Getting stronger... it's the only thing that matters. It's the only way we'll ever be able to change the world that forces all this on them to begin with." He pushed a hard breath out through his nose, and shook his head, topping up both their glasses before flopping back against his chair.

“I don't blame you, for whatever that's worth. And honestly... after what Amalthea did, I did most of the healing, and I could've done it even if you kept holding on. I was worried I wouldn't be able to, but I was." He didn't sound prideful; rather his words had the air of a strange observation more than anything. “I think she has a Crest. But anyway—I for one know Sorcha's not going to blame you, either. Senka will get over herself soon enough too. It's not like she has any room to talk about handling trauma badly."

The words were blunt, but the very opposite of cruel. Vridel said them with a great deal of compassion, though perhaps most people would not have been able to detect it as easily as Mercer could. “If you don't believe me though... ask Sorcha herself. She's the one whose opinion really matters to you right now, isn't she?" He arched a brow, eyes still keen.

That didn't mean he wouldn't stop beating himself up about it, he would just... heed Vridel's advice and talk to Sorcha. He did have a point, though, at this point, Sorcha's opinion was the only one that mattered. He didn't like the way Vi phrased it, but he wasn't wrong. Sighing softly, he drank from his cup a little slower this time, placing it back on the table as he raised a brow at Vi. He could feel some lightness seeping into his personality again as he grinned lightly.

“Oh, she does. I saw it glowing on her chest," though to be more specific it was on her heart. But where would the fun in that be if he told Vi, that? “Such a strange location, don't you think?" he continued, finishing off his drink as he kept his gaze on Vi.

“You're being transparent," Vi grumbled into the rim of his cup, taking a long draw. “But fine. I'll be honest: I find her attractive." He shrugged, as if this was no trouble at all to say. “But honestly it's incredibly inconvenient. What am I supposed to do with that?" He finished the rest of his glass and went for another. Perhaps the drink was loosening his tongue a bit.

“If I thought she was just after my title or Crest or something it wouldn't matter. But even I can tell she's not that good an actress." He frowned, sinking down a little in his seat with another grumble. “Usually when someone pretty fancies me I just... fuck them and call it done, you know? But of course that's not an option either. Really. Where does she get off being so... naive?" He made a disgusted noise and took another swig.

Mercer nearly fell out of his chair. He wasn't expecting that, to be honest. Vi didn't know what to do with Amalthea's little crush on him? That was a strange insight to the man, honestly. “Can you really blame her, though? She was raised by the Church, and from what she's told us, she wasn't able to leave until she joined the Blue Lions House. She doesn't have much wordly experience like you and I do," he stated, grinning to himself as he shook his head.

“I didn't say I blamed her," he muttered, staring down at the contents of his cup. “It's just... inconvenient."

“You find her attractive, sure, but do you like her? It's different if you do, because then it's fucking hilarious, but if you don't, you should probably have a talk with her. She's not very good at hiding her emotions. That one there wears it everywhere for just about any one to see," he stated, swirling his cup in his hand. “Plus, it'll save her from a future heartbreak once she understands the depth of what a crush is. I'm pretty sure you're actually her first crush, lucky you," though he meant it in a genuine manner.

“The sooner you let her down gently, the sooner she can move on and not experience a heartbreak that'll be ten times as worse if she ends up falling in love with you. And even I know you wouldn't want that on your conscience."

“Ugh, you're useless," Vi groused, shifting in his chair so he could prop his feet up on the corner of the table. Reaching out, he tugged the bottle of liquor closer to him with unusually-unsteady fingers, sloshing more into his glass. “What the fuck does it mean to like someone, anyway? That's such a stupid phrase. I like Sorcha, but she's practically my sister so I'd never—" he made a face and a gagging noise at the same time.

“And don't give me any of that bullshit about physical responses. That's all sexual. And it seems like all of the emotional things are just... pretty much like being friends with someone. But apparently liking someone is different from wanting to fuck a friend, so please do enlighten me, o wise one."

Mercer chuckled lightly as he rolled his eyes. “Really, Vi? You've never had someone you've liked?" that was an interesting thought. Everyone liked someone at a different stage in their life. Most of them liked someone when they were young enough to understand what it meant, however; that Vi never liked someone was an interesting thing to know. “You know, it's not always just physical responses. And you like your sister because she's family. You couldn't see Sorcha that way even if you wanted to," he rolled his eyes again at that.

“What I meant is that, do you enjoy Thea's company more than others? Liking someone doesn't always have that romantic notion or bullshit. Sometimes, liking someone is just as simple as that. You enjoy their presence without getting any of those physical responses and you can just... relax. You don't have to put up a mask or pretend to be someone you're not," he continued, sighing softly.

“You actually kind of care about them and want what's best, I suppose. I dunno if this makes sense to you, but it might be because of the drinks," because Mercer was certain he wasn't making to much sense. Hell, he didn't even know what he was getting at at this point.

Vridel waved a hand carelessly, as if to banish the remnants of the conversation. “Whatever. I'll sort it out somehow." He shifted in the chair, clearly trying to get comfortable. “You been to see Sorcha yet?"

“No," he muttered intot he rim of his glass. “Senka's been there a lot lately, and I haven't really been able to see Sorcha. She's a scary woman, that Senka," he admitted. It wasn't that he was afraid of her, but rather, he just didn't want to face her, yet. “Plus, I'm sure Sorcha's doing fine with her friend there, and all. Not like she needs me, yet," he continued, slightly perplexed by what that meant, yet.

Vi made a face that looked like it was supposed to be skepticism, but apparently he was having trouble summoning that sharpness he usually had right now. “Don't blame me if she starts thinking you don't care, then," he said with a sniff. “She's more sensitive than she lets people guess. You know she still carries around a token from her 'first love'? Has been as long as I've known her." He shook his head, but couldn't muster the disapproval he seemed to be going for, managing only a sort of soft, fond exasperation.

“And I've known her since she was nine."

Mercer snorted, but that did catch his attention, and he turned a curious brow at Vi. “First love, eh?" he stated, leaning on his hands, folding them beneath his chin. “What's this token that she carries around? The only thing I've ever seen her with is a green-looking jewel," and he knew for a fact that was something he had given her.

“That'd be it," Vridel continued with a nod, entirely oblivious to the relevance of this fact. “It's kind of ridiculous, honestly. She can't even remember anything about the fellow, other than the fact that she apparently knows he was kind to her. Which..." He sighed heavily. “I suppose I can understand why she'd find that novel, really. But children grow up. He's probably married by now, or forgotten all about her, or at least doesn't have any such... sentimental attachment to her. I've not the heart to tell her that, though."

Mercer blinked slowly, the words registering in his mind. He snorted before he found himself laughing entirely at Vi. He nearly fell out of his chair once more, but managed to keep himself balanced. “Wait, back up, she said I was her first love?" he stated, giving Vi an incredulous stare. “I mean, yeah I was nice to her when we first met, but that's because she wouldn't stop following me everywhere. And I gave her that jewel so she'd stop crying. I didn't think I'd have that profound of an effect on her, though," he stated, wiping a tear from his eye as he calmed his laughter.

“And obviously I haven't forgotten about her, and," he paused to wiggle his fingers in front of Vi, “obviously I'm not married." He couldn't stop another bout of laughter after that.

“What the fuck?" Amusingly, Vi did not seem as immediately quick on the uptake as usual, but a moment later he sat bolt upright in his chair, dropping his feet back to the floor and nearly spilling his drink all over himself as he pointed an accusatory finger at Mercer. “That was you?! What the hell, Mercer?!"

An exaggerated expression of consternation overtook his features, looking ridiculously out-of-place on them, like it wasn't suited at all. “And don't laugh at her like that, you asshole! D'you know how many people have ever been nice to Sorcha?" He set his glass down and counted on his fingers.

“There's you, and me, and Senka. And maybe like... a couple knights. Oh, and Rodrigue. Her dad was okay, I guess. That's it. So you better not fuck it up. You said—what did you say? Gently. Yeah. Let her down gently, or I'll stab you and it'll be totally on purpose."

Mercer gave Vi a flat stare, but he was doing his best not to laugh. “How can I fuck something up if I've never started it to begin with? She's the one who developed a crush on me, not the other way around, but," he paused, pursing his lips together, “unlike some people," he gave Vi a hard stare, “I know how to let people down gently. I'm not an asshole like you, Vi. You know that. And besides, it's not like she's complained."

He did suppose that this new information was to be taken into account. He didn't want to mislead her, or anything, but she was too damn cute to not tease. “And how many times have you said you'll stab me? If you're gonna stab me, just do it already, but please," he paused, batting his eye lashes at Vi, “do be gentle. It'll be my first time, you see." He was grinning from ear to ear.

Vridel scoffed. “Perhaps I should outsource, then. I'm not known for being gentle." Polishing off the rest of his glass, he set it down and relaxed again.

He was quiet for a long time, and from the way his eyes had closed, it almost looked like he'd fallen asleep, at least until he cracked an eye. “So... I've figured out that Deirdre and Sofia are affianced. No points for that one. And I'm sure you've noticed Sylvi's thing about Devon. But. What are your thoughts on Senka and the Professor?" he cocked an eyebrow.

Mercer raised a brow. “Teach and Sen?" he stated, pursing his lips into a thoughtful manner. “It's kind of hard with those two. They hardly show anything but it's obvious there's an attraction of sorts, there. Do you see how often she smiles at him? Smiles! She doesn't smile at anyone but Sorcha, really. And there's this weird chemistry with them. It's like they're... aware of each other, but they're both so stupid that they don't understand what it is. Oh," he paused to take a breath, “someone said they were holding hands in the kitchen the other day."

He knew there was something there, but he wasn't sure if Senka or Teach knew it themselves. It was, in his opinion, hilarious. He'd never seen two people so starved of something, before. Maybe that's just how they are? “What about you?"

Vi nodded. “I heard he was seen leaving her room one morning. Right after that night with the thunderstorm, after our first battle as a group?" He shook his head. “I had Reynard suppress that one, since I'm pretty sure they haven't actually caught on yet, so it can't have been anything much." He shrugged.

“Well that and I just don't see a problem with it. It's not like he grades us, and I haven't seen him give anyone special treatment, so why should anyone care?"

Mercer had somewhat of an idea. “Weren't we just talking about it?" he questioned. “Rhea's obsessed with him for some reason. Who's to say she'd take that well if Teach was seen with another person, nevermind that Sen's a student. They're both of age, anyway, but Rhea... she just rubs me the wrong way with that." He shuddered thinking about it. He wanted to doubt Rhea would do anything to Senka, or to Teach, but he couldn't bring himself to do it.

“Like you said, why should anyone care? I'm sure it wouldn't be the first time a student was... what's the word, romanced, I dunno, by a professor. But, yeah... Rhea, bad fish that one." He was slurring slightly. Was he drunk?

Vridel snorted a laugh for some reason. “Bad fish," he repeated, grinning a bit too widely. Maybe he was drunk, too, come to think of it. “She probably—probably smells like one. Like a rotten—slimy—fish." He lost hold of another chuckle, wrapping one arm around himself as if to keep it in. Entirely unsuccessfully.

Mercer knew, for a fact, that she did not smell like a fish, however; that didn't stop him from joining in on the laughter. “I mean, her hair is like that slimey green they get, isn't it? Bad, smelly fish lady, needs to just leave the Teach alone. He doesn't want her stinky fish face," he added, falling over in his chair, finally hitting the floor with a hard thud. He didn't mind, though. He was too busy laughing to notice any pain, if there was.

Vi's laughter blended with his own, though he at least managed to keep his chair. “Right? Who would? She's a grumpy fish. 'Punish the infidels, rrrrr. Let this be a lesson to your students about what happens when they challenge meeeeee!'" His impression of Rhea's voice was terrible, shrill and grating probably on purpose, and he waved his hands emphatically but with no direction in particular.

Mercer snorted. “Rawr, fear me! The Queen Fish of all the fish!" Mercer stated, raising his arms in the air in an attempt to be intimidating, but he wasn't doing so well on the floor. “I bet you she like... can actually transform into a fish. That's a thing, right? She's like... got her own little pond she swims in and just like, does stupid fish things like make faces and probably like, scowls at people."

“Stupid fish things," Vridel agreed, nodding sagely, then ruining it with a grin.

“What if someone fished her out of the pond? Is that cannibalism?"

“Never thought about it... we should give it a try!"

Mercer wasn't sure what happened after that.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Sunday the 6th
Training Grounds - Midafternoon - Warm
Vridel von Hresvelg


As the first Sunday of the month, it was someone's turn to teach the others something about their culture. For reasons Vridel wasn't entirely sure of, the Professor had been nominated to go first, and in lieu of being from a specific country or region, he'd invited the group of them to the training grounds this afternoon.

When Vridel arrived, most of the others had not arrived yet, but both Cyril and his father the captain were there, talking in low voices about something or other. Jeralt chuckled, though as usual his son's face remained impassive. They were both holding lances, the Captain casually leaning on his while the Professor had braced the other over his shoulders. He raised a hand in greeting to Vridel, who nodded slightly as he took up a spot at the edge of the ring, leaning on the rail.

“So... I suppose we'll be seeing some part of mercenary culture today?" he asked, genuinely curious.

Jeralt barked a laugh. “Culture? I dunno if anything we do is sophisticated enough to be called that. But you'll be getting a show, all right?"

Cyril huffed quietly. “The point of the exercise is to teach each other how different kinds of people live," he explained to his father. “Since they already do barn chores, I thought I should give them a taste of the rest of what you put me through." It was mostly deadpan, but Vridel could sense the undercurrent of humor.

As, apparently, could the Captain. “Ah, so that's how it is. I gotcha. Well, I s'pose it can't hurt to show 'em how it's done."

“So, what you're saying is that we're going to watch you and Captain beat each other senseless?" Mercer stated, making his way towards Vridel. He yawned, stretched his arms over his head until there was a popping noise, and he sighed. “I'm down for that," he stated, rolling out his shoulders.

“I think it might be more than that, Merc," Amalthea spoke next, having been behind him. “Mercenaries train differently than soldiers would, or like we would, and they have their own tactics. It'll be really nice to see that, plus..." she pursed her lips and shook her head as if what she was going to say didn't need to be said. She glanced up at Vridel, smiled, and then turned her attention towards Cyril and Jeralt.

Senka was the next to arrive, though she spared a glance in Mercer's direction, nodded, and stood on the other side of Vridel. At least she didn't seem too upset with Mercer at the moment. She didn't say anything, though, and merely remained quiet.

While everyone else was gathering, Vridel noticed another newcomer to the area as well. It looked like Professor Jeritza had intended to use the ring; or at least her stopped at the edge of it, about ninety degrees away from the students.

Professor Cyril clearly noticed him, too. “Ah, Jeritza. Were you needing the ring? We can move our demonstration elsewhere."

Jeritza shook his head. “No," he said, with his strange, melancholy lilt. Sometimes Vridel swore he recognized it from somewhere. “But if you do not mind, I would like to... observe."

Cyril shrugged, turning to his father.

Jeralt didn't seem to care, either. “Go ahead," he said with a belabored sigh. “One more witness to me getting my old ass beaten, I guess." Vridel snorted softly, even as Professor Cyril clapped his father on the shoulder.

“Old? Never." Jeralt barked a laugh, apparently a little surprised at the gesture, but grinned broadly afterwards.

“All right, kids. So the most important thing to recognize about the mercenary way of doing things is that we don't give a shit about honor, or chivalry, or any of that fancy stuff. If you can win by throwing dirt in the other guy's face, you do it. If you can win by tripping him, you do it. If you can win by ganging up..." he paused, making a gesture as if he expected someone to complete his sentence.

“We do it," Thea stated, seemingly proud of herself for completing Jeralt's sentence. “But, basically you're saying that, in order to make sure we win, that it's okay to cheat?" she asked, furrowing her brows slightly. “Is that... really okay, though?" she asked, causing Mercer to snort softly.

“Not everyone fights with a sense of chivalry or honor; Captain just said that, Thea," he stated, placing a hand on her shoulder and giving it a light squeeze. “And it's not just mercenaries who fight that way. You'll, hopefully never, come across people who will do whatever they can in order to ensure they live, and that you die," he stated, causing her brows to furrow deeply.

“Mercer is correct, Thea. This is just a demonstration, though. You can take whatever you want from it and apply it to yourself, if that makes you more comfortable," Senka finally spoke, her lips twitching just lightly as if she were trying to smile, but couldn't. Thea nodded her head in reply.

“I suppose so," was her reply as she glanced back at Cyril and Jeralt.

Vridel folded his arms across his chest, tilting his head at the two men in the ring. The Captain didn't seem perturbed by the discussion any more than Professor Cyril did, which was not at all.

“We also don't bother with too many practice conventions. We don't care if our weapons match, or if the other guy throws in whatever magic he's got, or any of that. Not in a spar between equals. This ain't quite that, anymore, so Cyril here's gonna keep his magic out of it for the sake of his old man's bones." Despite the words, he wore the jagged grin of a man very much looking forward to a fight.

“Anything else is fair game."

Cyril and Jeralt faced each other, each taking a few paces back so they were just out of reach of one another's lances. Jeralt firmed his grip on his. Cyril cracked his neck to either side, face settling back into that uncanny stillness he'd always worn when they first met him. Funny, now, how different it seemed from his usual expression, even if both could be loosely described as impassive. This one was cold, too, just utterly void of anything, in a way his usual face was not.

Before it even seemed that they'd settled, Jeralt lunged. In a chivalric duel, they would have had to bow first, and wait for a signal that the match could begin. Then again, this was clearly not that.

Cyril, at least, seemed to have been expecting it. He raised his lance, somehow instantly in a ready grip, and swatted the thrust aside, bending so that it passed through only air to the left of his head. Jeralt barked a short laugh, grin still very much in place, and took a hard step in, swinging low. Cyril jumped, propelling himself forward and using the shorter distance to throw a hard punch, one that nearly cracked into the Blade Breaker's jaw. It did force him back, and then he was under pressure from the Professor's lance, forced onto the defensive. It was a masterful reversal, and a patient one, that had completely changed the roles of aggressor and defender around.

But the Captain was fearsome, and, managing a quick block, retaliated by driving the butt of his lance into Cyril's stomach, doubling him over. The punishment strike missed, though—the professor launched himself to the side and rolled, coming back up to his feet and thrusting again before Jeralt could guard properly.

The practice lance caught him in the side, not quite enough to upset his balance, but he did have to move out of range again to avoid the follow-up.

“Ooh, that look like it hurt," Mercer stated, wincing slightly when the lance made contact. Amalthea merely mirrored his movements, wincing every time someone was hit, however; Senka merely watched. She was following their movements with a strange calculative gaze, but it might have been that she was simply studying their spar.

“I hope that doesn't bruise," Amalthea murmured, folding her hands in front of her as if to keep them from doing something else. Mercer shrugged his shoulders, though. “I'm sure they're used to it, but still," she continued, pursing her lips together.

The spar raged on. And that was sort of a good word for it. Neither the Professor nor his father seemed at all interested in checking their blows, nor in the conventional rules of combat. At one point, Jeralt did in fact throw sand, and Cyril blended lance forms with barehanded ones in a manner that would have seen him thrown out of most weapon-specific tournaments and the like. The way they fought was all about winning. Was all about survival, and they did absolutely everything they could to guarantee it.

By the time it seemed to be winding down, Jeralt had a blossoming back eye and Cyril's lower lip was split, blood dripping down his chin and neck to soak into his collar. Both men's breathing was elevated, but it was clear enough that the Professor had come out of it a little better: his injuries were mostly superficial cuts and scrapes, whereas it seemed Jeralt might actually be nursing a broken rib from a particularly well-placed kick.

“C'mon, kid," he said, shaking his head as if to clear his vision. “Let's finish it."

Without giving any chance to respond, Jeralt lunged, somehow stronger than ever, despite the fatigue and injuries. In an instant, Vridel understood why—a Crest shone on his brow, bright white with the faintest flicker of cerulean blue. His eyes widened. That was—

The blow struck hard, but Cyril's block was there to meet it. Both lances snapped under the strain; the Professor was the first to recover, seizing his father by the throat and twisting around behind him in a fluid motion, placing his head into a sleeper-lock. Jeralt tapped his arm twice, yielding the match, and Cyril released him immediately.

“Vridel, would you mind...?" he asked, shaking his head and losing the coldness to his expression at the same time.

He nodded immediately, hopping the bar and entering the ring. “Of course."

Jeralt was an easy enough patient to treat, merely standing still and quiet while Vridel got to work.

“And that's that," Cyril said, wiping the blood beneath his lip with his thumb. “We're not idiots, so we go easier when there aren't healers around, but any company can tell you that the most common use of vulneraries and things is patching people up after practice. Harder to use effectively one the field, after all." He paused. “If you've a mind to try practicing like this... remember to bring some with you, and make sure you stop the second someone yields."

“Noted," Amalthea stated, nodding her head at the same time. They had all at this time, entered the ring with Cyril and Jeralt, Amalthea making her way towards Cyril with the other two. Senka regarded Cyril for a moment, her eyes slightly narrowed before she tilted her head.

“Do you want me to take care of your lip?" she asked, referring to at least healing it so it would stop bleeding. Mercer must have taken it the wrong way, because he snickered beneath his breath as Amalthea looked vaguely confused. Senka merely attempted to roll her eyes, but she half succeeded and turned her attention back to Cyril.

He nodded slightly, murmuring a word of thanks, and ducked his head slightly to facilitate the assistance.

“Both of you don't pull your punches, do you?" Mercer stated, lacing his hands behind his head. “And I'm sure we'd all like to practice like that, eventually, especially Sofia and Sylvi. They're the ones who are doing mostly the bare-fisted stuff," he stated, sighing softly as he dropped his hands. “I'll just stick to my arrows, thank you."

“Light weight," Senka stated, earning a light chuckle from Mercer.

“I suppose I am."

“On the contrary, Mercer," Cyril said after Senka had finished with his cut. “I've an assignment for you. As Sorcha couldn't be here, I'd like you to convey the lesson to her when she's recovered." It seemed that there was almost a trace of amusement in his tone, but at the same time his expression was perfectly serious—he was really asking Mercer to do it.

Vridel thought he could see the reasoning, too. It would prevent Sorcha from feeling left out, force Mercer to practice his melee techniques against someone who would take things seriously... and perhaps, let him feel as if he'd gone some way to making up for his earlier error. Quite apt, really.

He finished with Jeralt's injuries and stepped back. The captain gave him a nod of gratitude, rolling one of his shoulders and setting his opposite hand on it as if to rest the joint. “You said this was some kinda cultural thing, right kid?" At Cyril's nod, the professor continued. “Any of you kids ever been fishing? Was thinkin' about taking trip out onto the lake this afternoon."

Vridel was struck by a fuzzy memory, something about bad fish and then a boat capsizing in the middle of the night, and exchanged a glance with Mercer, a smile twitching at his lips. “I'm terrible at it," he admitted, “but it sounds... like a good idea."

“I'm offended, Teach, but sure. I can relay the info to Sorcha," Mercer replied with a light shrug of his shoulders. Amalthea's eyes brightened, though at the idea of fishing.

“I've never gone fishing, either! Even though we have a pond, here, I've never been able to go. It sounds like it could be fun!" Amalthea stated as she glanced excitedly at everyone else. Senka merely nodded her head in agreement as Mercer snorted softly, his eyes briefly meeting Vridel's.

“I've been fishing once, but... I guess it wouldn't hurt to try it again," Mercer spoke as he grinned.

“I suppose that means we're going fishing. Perhaps you can instruct us on what the best techniques are for catching them?" Senka stated, turning her attention on Jeralt with a light tilt of her head.

He snorted quietly. “I guess I know a few tricks, but it ain't really that complicated," he said. “Let's get ourselves some boats and go from there."

As it turned out, the number of them meant that two boats were necessary, so Cyril and Jeralt split the students between themselves. Vridel wound up on Jeralt's boat, which didn't bother him. After a bit of an impromptu lesson on bait, he cast his line off the side, and settled down as Jeralt seemed to be, though admittedly he couldn't make himself hunch over quite that far.

Mercer and Thea had joined Vridel on the boat. It should have been an even number, three on one boat and three on another, however; Mercer seemed intent on joining Vridel's group for some reason. That left Cyril and Senka taking the other boat, but they didn't seem to mind. Amalthea seemed to be having trouble hooking her bait, though, and was frowing as she attempted to try again. She glanced at Vridel for a moment before Mercer took her bait from her.

“Let me help you, Thea," he stated, snickering softly as he tried hooking her bait. It took him a couple of tries as well before he succeeded. She beamed at him with a large smile and took her pole back.

“Thank you, Merc!" she stated before finally casting her line off to the other side.

“No problem, Thea," he stated, winking at her. She seemed to be slightly embarrassed by it as a light pink dusted her cheeks, and she cast her gaze away from him. Mercer snickered again.

Vridel narrowed his eyes at Mercer, quite certain that he'd done that on purpose, probably hoping to provoke some kind of reaction from him. Annoyingly, it was at least somewhat successful; he felt a flash of irritation when Amalthea blushed, and pointedly turned his eyes out towards the lake. “So do we just sit until something bites, or what?"

Jeralt hummed. “Well, you can. I think it helps a little to reel it in slowly. Fish can kinda see the motion, and will go after it. If you bring it all the way back in and the bait's still on it, you can just cast it out again. No need to reel too quick, though."

From the other boat, not too far away, Cyril cast his line, propping his feet up on the side and leaning his back against the other. Rather a more relaxed posture even than Jeralt's, but perhaps it worked just fine, too.

Senka had seemed to be doing a bit better than Amalthea had, hooking her bait with some ease before casting her line out, too. She spoke something Cyril, though it was too low to hear what it was. She was probably asking him the same thing about fishing since she began reeling her line in, slowly. Mercer smirked in Vridel's direction, not content on leaving it be, though.

Amalthea had started reeling her line in, slowly, as Jeralt had stated. Mercer had followed suit, but he was sitting relatively close to Amalthea. She might have not noticed how close he was, but the blush on her face had not receded. “Oh?" she stated suddenly, pulling her line a little. “Oh! I think I got one!" she stated, reeling in her line a little quickly. Mercer had placed his down as she tried reeling in her catch, however; it must have been slightly stronger than her as she was losing her grip.

“Here let me help, Thea," Mercer stated, shooting a quick smirk at Vridel as his hands clapsed over hers, and he pulled as she reeled. Her face was a furious red, though it was hard to tell if it was the exertion, or how close Mercer was. The line broke, however, and Amalthea shook Mercer's hands from hers, pursing her lips as she glanced out into the pond.

“Aw, my line broke," she murmured, causing Mercer to raise a brow. “How... um, how do I fix it?" she asked, turning her attention to Vridel and Jeralt. Mercer sat back in his spot, though, seemingly satisfied with his work. Amalthea's face was still red.

“Mercer," Vridel said lowly, aware that his displeasure was probably clear to the two other men in the boat, at least. “Maybe you should worry about your own line."

Jeralt sighed, bracing his line on the small boat bench he occupied and gesturing for Amalthea to hand him hers. “Nothin' too complicated. You've lost the hook and bobber, and the bait, but that's why we brought extra. Vridel, grab me one of each from the box, would you?"

Under many other circumstances, Vridel would perhaps have bristled at being so casually told what to do, but honestly he didn't mind here. Was sort of grateful for the opportunity not to have to take offense at every little thing. Even as much pride as he had, it got tiring after a while, having to posture like that to maintain the appearance of strength. An especially important and difficult task, since his return from exile.

So he opened the lid of the tackle box, handing over the hook and bobber, then dug around in the bait container with no concern for the dirt until he found a blowfly larva, which he promptly skewered on the hook when Jeralt held it out towards him.

“There," he said, handing the line back to Amalthea. “Good as new." He paused a moment, then shook his head. “I can understand the nobles not having fished before, but I thought you might have, being from the monastery and all. This is a great lake for it. Feels like the fish never run out, even though it feeds so many people."

There was something a little sad in the way Amalthea smiled, and clutched her pole closer to her. “I wasn't really allowed out of the monastery," she stated, sitting back down in her spot. She kept her gaze to the floor as she seemed to contemplate something. “I... was only recently able to leave the monastery when I was able to join the Blue Lion House. Before that..." she paused, glancing towards Vridel and Jeralt.

“I spent a lot of my time confined to the Monastery. I wasn't allowed to talk to anyone, or make that many friends. It became dangerous, or at least that's what my sister said. Lady Rhea thought I was putting myself in unnecessary danger, so she had me... locked away until a year or so ago. I know she was only looking out for my best interests, I think, but I wasn't able to experience things like fishing. It's why... it's why I enjoy learning all these new things with you all."

“Sounds rough," Jeralt said, an odd tone to his gruff voice. Clearly it didn't come as especially welcome news to him, but he didn't seem surprised, either.

Vridel was considerably closer to livid. He knew a thing or two about confinement, what it could do to a person, and the false assurances of safety and protection that were so often used to justify it. Sometimes it felt like his life had been nothing but a succession of cages with gilded bars, until they weren't gilded anymore and he'd finally been shown the truth of them.

It's for the good of the Empire, you know. It's your duty as Prince. You would't shirk your duty, would you, Vridel?

Tightening his jaw, he banished the memory.

Mercer's brows were furrowed deeply as he glanced in Vridel's direction. “And I've learned so much because of all of you! Even you, Captain! I'm even able to do this, now!" Amalthea stated in an excited manner, trying to hide whatever sadness she was feeling about it.

He didn't know when he'd lost that. The ability to see anything so innocently. Perhaps ignorantly, even, but he couldn't bring himself to disdain it. Most likely, her cage had only gotten bigger. But Vridel knew even that could feel like a gift.

Someday. Someday the door would open.

Even if he had to tear it off the hinges himself.

Sighing quietly, he settled a little further into his spot, shifting sideways just a bit. The boat was kind of cramped with just the four of them in it, so doing so brought his arm into the slightest contact with Amalthea's shoulder. He doubted he had any words in him right now that meant anything, or would be any kind of real comfort, so... he figured the least he could do was remind her that he was present. Maybe that would mean something.

Or maybe he was just an idiot. It was getting harder and harder to tell.

Amalthea smiled at him, the same bright smile she always wore, when his arm made contact with her. “Well I guess that's what these culture Sundays are for, then. Teaching little Thea about the outside world in order to help her adapt," Mercer stated, grinning lightly as he reeled his fishing line in. Amalthea's smile widened, forcing her eyes to narrow as she nodded her head.

“I'm grateful to have friends like you," Amalthea stated as she glanced towards Vridel, as if she were directing the statement specifically for him. “I've gotten better with axes because of Vi, and now I'm learning how to fish. Even though I lost it, I still managed to catch one, so that's one more victory for me," she continued, earning a chuckle from Mercer.

“Pretty good for a first effort," Jeralt added, jerking up sharply on his own line before beginning to reel faster. The pole in his hands bent at a rather alarming curve, but he didn't seem too concerned, simply pulling the fish in steadily until it was right at the side of the boat. Hauling it up with both hands, he deposited it, flopping around, in the boat next to him, then picked it up just behind the gills. “Teutates pike," he observed. “Not bad grilled." With a swift cut from the knife at his belt, he ended its struggles, dunking it briefly back in the water to shake off some of the excess blood, then set it in a bucket and re-baited his line.

“So how's the kid doing as a teacher?" he asked, casting again.

“I'd say he's doing a decent job, so far," Mercer was the first to reply, still reeling his line slowly. He didn't have a bite, yet, but didn't seem to concerned about it. “I don't think any of us would be so far along in our training without his guidance," he continued, his eyes glancing towards Cyril's boat. He huffed lightly, but shook his head.

“I think he's doing an amazing, job, though. I was able to pass my heavy armor certs because of him!" Amalthea stated, looking rather proud of herself. “If he hadn't shown me the different pieces of armor I could put together, I'm not sure I would have been able to do what I needed to," she continued.

“Heavy... armor?" Jeralt blinked a little at Amalthea, no doubt confronting the same oddity that almost everyone did when she mentioned that. For a moment Vridel tensed just slightly—while there was some humor in the image, he didn't particularly wish for anyone to laugh at her, even if it was well meant.

Jeralt only huffed, though. “Alois mentioned you," he said simply. “Glad the kid could help. He's pretty good with that sort of thing, but I wasn't sure about his people skills. Don't think I've ever seen him so happy, though. It's hard to tell because he never smiles. Never cried as a baby, either. But he does like you all. I guess I can tell after all."

Mercer grinned, somewhere caught between mischeivous and scheming. “Well," he drawled, throwing a glance back towards Cyril's boat, “rumor has it that he actually smiled. At her," he gestured towards Senka who seemed on the verge of smiling herself. He snickered softly as Amalthea turned her attention towards Cyril's boat, and smiled brightly.

“Oh, wow. I don't think I've ever seen the both of them smile like that, before. Senka usually doesn't smile. She tries, but she's not that good at it, kind of like Professor," Amalthea stated as Mercer snickered.

Jeralt followed their collective eyes and sighed heavily. “Oh great," he mumbled, though he didn't elaborate. Vridel had a feeling he knew what that was about, though he didn't ask for confirmation.

“Good grief, Mercer. Could you make it any more obvious we're talking about them?" Vridel groused, rolling his eyes when the Professor did in fact look rather quizzically over in their direction. Well, quizzically for him. Perhaps, like his father, his students were simply getting to the point where they could tell what his face meant, even though its variants were subtle.

His compatriot was saved from answering, however, by the fact that Vridel felt a tug on his line, and then another. That was more than just the flow of the water. “I think I might have something," he observed.

“Sharp jerk up. You want to get the hook stuck in there as well as you can," Jeralt said. Vridel complied, then started reeling.

“Not so fast. Ease it in first, and pick up speed as you go. Less chance of losing the line that way. Let it wear itself out."

By the time he'd hauled the fish over the side of the boat, Vridel's arms were surprisingly tired. It flopped around on the boat's floor, splashing both him and Amalthea until Jeralt grabbed it in much the same way as the other one, and showed them all how to make the same cut he had on the pike earlier. “Huh. Caledonian Gar. Not bad, kid. This one makes a nice stew." It was quite a large fish, too, something that made Jeralt nod approvingly before he deposited it in the bucket with the other.

“I'm getting hungry, now. All this talk about grilled fish, and now fish stew..." Amalthea stated, pursing her lips together as she stared at the fish. She didn't seem to mind that it had splashed her, though, and merely kept her eyes on the fish. Mercer laughed at the statement, nearly falling out of his side of the boat. Amalthea grabbed his arm, though, and managed to pull him back in.

“And you tell me I need to be careful!" she stated, frowning at him. Mercer laughed again as he merely shook his head.

“How ever shall I thank you, then? A kiss, maybe?" Mercer stated, his lips pulling into a large grin. Amalthea's face turned a bright red before she took one of the fish out of the bucket and shoved it in Mercer's face.

“You can kiss that!" she muttered, frowning slightly and crossing her arms over her chest as she huffed. The blush on her face only deepened.

Vridel couldn't help himself at that one. He laughed outright, unable to prevent the shake of his shoulders as Amalthea brandished a fish in Mercer's face.

“You heard the lady," he said with a sly grin. “Kiss the bad fish, if you want to show your gratitude." He trusted that Mercer would remember what that meant, aside from the obvious.

Mercer, at this point, was laughing uncontrolably until Vridel's statement. He looked slightly sick at the statement, and gagged. “No thanks. I'd rather not be poisoned by the slimy stinky fish," Mercer responded, catching on to what Vridel had meant. “Besides, I'd like to keep my head, thank you," he continued, snorting softly.

“What about you, Vi? I know you'd just love the chance at giving the bad, stinky fish face a big smooch," Mercer spoke as he shoved the fish near Vridel's face. “C'mon, give your Queen Fish a little kiss. I'm sure she'd like it."

Vridel frowned. “I'm not the one who was talking about kissing anything," he replied, face contorting. Even fresh, the fish smelled strongly of its own blood.

And then it occurred to him. Really, he'd been doing a good job tolerating Mercer's nonsense for the past while, and it wouldn't do to leave things as they were, lest he feel he'd won or something. So, with a quick motion, Vridel yanked the fish from Mercer's hand, deftly shifting one foot up and over Amalthea's legs to capitalize on Mercer's thrown balance. At exactly the right moment, he let go.

He didn't even watch the splash, casually tossing the fish back into the bucket and putting his foot back in front of him. “Sorry," he told the others, not really sounding sorry at all. “I might have scared the fish away."

Jeralt looked torn for all of a moment before he chuckled. “Kid's from Derdriu, right? Might be part fish himself."

Amalthea didn't hide her laughter. It was light and bubbly as she tried to contain it. She looked slightly torn between feeling bad about Mercer's condition and laughing at him. Mercer, however, glared at Vridel from the water's edge, not quite fully submerged in the water, but enough so that only his nose and top part of his head was breaching the surface.

“Serves you right, Mercer," Amalthea finally stated as Mercer rolled his eyes and made bubbles in the water as if he were grumbling.

“It does," Vridel agreed, still smiling rather wickedly. “And no, I am not offering to help you out of there. I'm not an idiot."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Monday the 7th
Lyanna's Personal Quarters - Afternoon - Breezy
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea hummed quietly to herself as she walked down the hallway that lead to Lyanna's room. There was something Lyanna wanted to talk to her about, but she couldn't remember what, exactly. She had just finished her studies for the upcoming written exams for her classification, when she'd remembered. She had to make sure to bring an extra tray of jelly-filled doughnuts for Lyanna, though, as her apology. Senka had made them, and she was excited to try them out. And also share them with Lyanna, of course.

Lyanna's room, however, was located just after the library, and as Amalthea passed it, she smiled. “Vridel!" she greeted, waving at him with her free hand. “Studying for your exams?" she asked, feeling her face turn slightly warm. She inwardly frowned at herself; she thought she was getting better at controlling her blush, but apparently she was wrong. She cleared her throat, though, and glanced back up at him.

Vridel had a small stack of books in his hands, all of which he shifted easily to tuck against himself with one hand, adjusting the strap of his satchel with the other. While more expressive than the Professor or Senka, he wasn't much of a smiler, she'd noticed. At least not the happy kind. But he did give her a small one by way of greeting. “Hello, Amalthea. I was attempting, to, yes, though I've encountered a bit of a conundrum, admittedly."

He clearly noticed the tray of jelly doughnuts, and blinked. “Far be it from me to assume you require assistance in either carrying those or consuming them," he added wryly, “but if you would like any, I'd be happy to offer it."

“Oh, these?" she stated, glancing at the tray in her hands. With the amount piled on, it was kind of heavy. But she had taken it as a sort of strength training, so she shook her head. “I don't need help carrying them. It's like strength training for me, right now. While it is heavy, I should get used to it," she continued, nodding her head.

“But if you'd like some, I'd gladly share them with you! Senka made them for Lyanna and myself, but if you'd like some, too, I don't mind sharing!" she added. “I was just on my way to see Lyanna if you want to come with me!"

He tilted his head, looking rather uncertain for a moment. “I wouldn't want to interrupt your time with your sister," he said, rather solemnly for some reason. “And I doubt she'd be too pleased if the likes of me showed up unannounced."

Amalthea felt herself grin. “That's what these are for," she stated, holding up the tray a little higher. “She'll be in a better mood once she sees these. She's probably a little upset with me right now because I forgot she wanted to see me. If..." she paused to glance around and make sure Lyanna was no where in sight, “If you ever want her to not be mad at you, just get her some jelly-filled doughnuts. They're her favorite and she'll forget she was ever mad to begin with."

Vridel huffed softly. “Is that so? What a conspicuous weakness, for the woman at the Archbishop's right hand." It seemed more like a joke than anything, though, and he fell in step beside her, his hand brushing just above the small of her back in gentle encouragement for her to keep down whatever path she'd been treading.

“And what are you headed to talk to her about today?" he asked, apparently genuinely interested. He didn't seem to realize that his fingertips were still pressed slightly into the back of her uniform.

Amalthea put it down as him being friendly. “I don't know, but I think it has something to do with the last mission when Sorcha was..." she winced slightly and did not continue. She knew Vridel would understand where she was going with that statement. “I think it has something to do with what happened, what I did," she murmured softly. She wasn't entirely sure what happened, but Amalthea knew she played a small part in Sorcha's healing. As far as she'd known, Amalthea had never really learned any healing spells.

She wasn't even sure how she did it, only that she did. “I hope she's not mad," she added, furrowing her brows lightly. She hadn't meant to use a healing spell, but there seemed to be something more about it. “But, again, that's what these are for," she forced a smile on her face as they neared Lyanna's quarters.

“Ah. Actually if that's the case I might have some insight to offer after all." Vridel's touch disappeared; he withdrew the hand to run it back through the white strands of his hair, trailing his fingers to his nape with a sigh. He was still wearing the glasses she'd seen him use for reading sometimes; either he'd forgotten to take them off or they didn't bother him enough that he needed to. “As I'm fairly sure I know what happened. I'm sure your sister could confirm my guess, though."

“Then I suppose it's a good thing you're coming with," she stated, smiling up at him in the process. “You look really nice with your glasses, by the way," she added, turning her attention back in front of her. Her ears were burning again, but she managed to cool them down by the time they'd reached Lyanna's quarters. She knocked on the door frame before entering, shoving the tray in first as she smiled at Lyanna.

“Sister! I brought you some jelly doughnuts to try! Senka made them," she spoke as she set the tray down on the nearest table. She might as well lead with that. The sooner she could get her sister to not be angry at her, the better.

“Thea? What are you doing here? It's not—" Lyanna glanced out the window and blanched. “Oh goddess. I completely—come in." Though this wasn't her office, it looked like she'd brought a great deal of the paperwork back to her quarters, perhaps in anticipation of continuing work on it later. Only knowing Lyanna, 'later' had turned into 'just a few more minutes' and now it was much later than she'd thought.

Her eyes widened upon catching sight of Vridel, but he spoke before the obvious question could be asked, placing a hand to his heart and inclining himself in a crisp, formal bow. “Lady Lyanna. Please excuse my lack of an appointment. I understand I may have pertinent observations on the matter you wished to discuss with Amalthea, and so she invited me to attend." It wasn't exactly the order in which those things had happened, but it was true, at least.

“Your Highness?" Lyanna blinked, clearly confused, then promptly looked down at herself and blanched again. She was wearing a rather informal gown, the kind of thing she used to lounge around their rooms rather than conducting meetings. “I—I will be right back. Please make yourselves at home."

Vridel behaved as if he had not noticed anything odd at all, and like the request was perfectly ordinary, glancing about the room as if to take its measure. This one was something of a common area between their two bedrooms, and was richly-appointed. Most of the furniture had been chosen ages ago by Rhea, but a few personal touches had made it in as well. The sofas were plush and upholstered, but the warm knit blankets thrown over them were Lyanna's handiwork, and there was a vase of flowers sitting in the window. Bookcases and cabinets held some of their favorites, as well as knickknacks from travels her sister had supposedly been on before Amalthea was born.

He took a seat on one of the couches, crossing one leg over the other and letting his arms spread over the back of it, looking for all the world completely relaxed, like he'd done this sort of thing a thousand times before. “I suppose that one's yours?" he asked, arching an eyebrow and nodding at the door opposite of the one Lyanna had gone through.

Amalthea nodded her head with a bright smile. “Yes, that's my room! Oh, I can show it to you sometime if you'd like!" she stated, her smile inching wider. She had a few books in there that he could read if he was interested in that. They were mostly books she'd found in the library ages ago, but hadn't returned them, yet. “I have a couple of books and other things in there that you might be interested in."

She didn't think it sounded inappropriate, after all. He was her friend, and she didn't see the harm in sharing her things with him, even if she did have a small crush on him.

Vridel seemed quite amused by the offer for some reason, leaning back so as to better meet her eyes from his spot on the couch. Almost lazily, he lifted a hand, catching one of the long green locks of hair that trailed down past the front of her shoulders. He curled it a few times around his finger, tilting his head in query. “As intriguing as that sounds," he said, something genuine in it despite the sly tone his voice seemed to have taken on. “I wonder what else you might show me." He gave the lock of hair a playful tug, not enough to hurt, raising it briefly to his lips before letting it slide through his fingers to fall back in its place.

“There's not a whole lot, but I could show you just about everything, really," she replied, feeling the heat return to her ears, and bloom over her face. She wanted to laugh at how ridiculous she was being, but shook her head. She finally took a seat across from him on the other couch, and waited for Lyanna to return. “Oh, there is something you might like in there!" she stated suddenly.

“I made... well I had someone make it because I'm not very good at handiwork like that, but I had someone make a mount for Amyr!" she spoke, taking a breath at the end of the sentence. She didn't realize she spoke so fast.

For a moment, Vridel looked genuinely confused, but then he sighed, the sound trailing off into a wry chuckle. “Well, I'm glad to know you're keeping it safe, but don't forget it on a mission, all right?" He turned his attention back to the door just as Lyanna exited. She was dressed more formally now, the gown a deep blue and not typical of her work attire, but probably suited for meeting someone important.

“Please forgive me, Your Highness," she said, smoothing her hands down the garment's bodice. “Had I known I would be receiving royalty in my apartments this afternoon, I would have tidied, or at least had tea prepared." She shot Thea a rather vehement look, and adjusted her glasses.

Vridel shook his head. “Please, Lady Lyanna. There's no need to think of it in such terms. I'm here at the moment as Amalhea's classmate, and a student of the Academy you direct. If anything, I perhaps should have been a little bit more careful in my interruption of your time. And your apartments are lovely."

It seemed to be the right thing to say; Lyanna visibly relaxed and actually smiled. “Thank you; that's very kind. Thea, if you would please sit, there are matters to discuss and I would hate to waste His Highness's time." She offered her hand across the table between them. “A pleasure to finally meet you, by the way. As you're no doubt aware, I'm Lyanna Von Kreuz."

With a lopsided smile, Vridel took Lyanna's hand, though rather than shaking it, he leaned forward, raising it to his lips and brushing them over her fingers. “Vridel von Hresvelg. The titles are really unnecessary, Lady Lyanna. Please address me as you would any other man. There are no Princes in the Church, after all, is it not so?"

Lyanna's brows raised in surprise, and then the strangest thing happened: her ears turned just the faintest bit pink. “You flatter me," she said, sounding like she wasn't quite sure what to make of that. “Vridel."

He laughed softly, and shook his head. “Not yet, though I could if milady so wished."

Amalthea laughed lightly. “I told you Vi was charming, sister," she stated. She'd never seen Lyanna so flustered before, and it was a new experience for Amalthea. She found she actually liked it, because her sister was always so serious. Not all the time, but moreso than Amalthea had ever seen her smile. She turned her attention towards Lyanna, though, and blinked. She laughed softly at her sister's request and held her arms out wide.

“But... I'm already sitting, Lyanna. See," she stated, gesturing to herself and the couch she sat on. “Anyway, you said you wanted to see me, so here I am!" she continued, smiling at her sister. Her lips pursed into a fine line, though, as she regarded Lyanna with an unsure gaze. “Does this have to do with what happened?" She didn't need to elaborate; she knew Lyanna would know what she meant.

Lyanna still looked a little flustered, probably why she'd made a request that had already been answered. The fluster faded though, in light of the new question, perhaps. Clearing her throat, she picked up one of the doughnuts and sighed. “Well... it might. But first I need more insight as to what actually happened. Perhaps that was what you were thinking you could provide, Y—ah, Vridel?"

He released her hand with a sly smile, relaxing back against the sofa. “I believe so, yes. As it happens, when our... comrade was injured on the field the other day, Amalthea here did much of the initial triage, with very little spellwork. If I were to venture a hypothesis—" He narrowed his eyes, tilting his head at Lyanna. “I would say she activated a Crest."

Lyanna's lips parted, eyes widening in alarm. “How did you—" Briefly, she touched a hand to her chest.

Vridel shook his head. “Let's just say I have a certain... sense for these things."

She sighed quietly. “I suppose there is little point in trying to hide it, then. Yes, our—our family bears a Crest. And it functions more or less as you expect. The mark appears here." She tapped her sternum. “Over our hearts. It's the Crest of Cethleann. Mine is the major. I have every reason to believe Amalthea's would be the same."

“Crest of Cethleann? As in the Saint, Cethleann?" Amalthea questioned, giving her sister a puzzled look. She had a Major Crest of Cethleann? “Does that mean our family is descended from her?" she asked, perplexed at the news. If she had a Crest, why didn't her sister tell her about it? Why did she keep it a secret? If she'd known sooner, learned to activate it sooner, maybe she might have been more help on the battle field.

“Why didn't you tell me?" she questioned softly, turning her gaze to the floor. They had a Crest of a Saint in their family. It's not as if Amalthea cared about those things. Crests were just symbols of power to some people, but they didn't mean much to Amalthea. She spent most of her life growing up believing she didn't have one, nor had any ties to such a Crest. To find out that she had a Crest of Cethleann, no less, was a bit overwhelming. How was she supposed to process that, properly?

“Even when such things run in families, they do not appear in every member," Vridel said quietly. “I had eleven brothers and sisters, and of them, I was the only one born with a Crest. Perhaps your sister simply didn't know whether you bore a Crest or not?" His eyes locked with Lyanna's, a strange tension seeming to snap through that contact.

She swallowed, parting her lips to speak, but Vridel kept going.

“Or perhaps... it was safer for you not to know. Safer for it to never manifest, lest the wrong eyes land on you?" The words were about Amalthea, but he was quite clearly speaking to Lyanna, who flinched.

“It's true," she murmured, setting down her doughnut with a strange expression. Her lips were curled up, but the shape they made could hardly be called a smile. “What they say about you, Vridel. You really are too clever by half, aren't you?"

He was silent, but he did dip his head, as if in acknowledgment.

With a sigh, Lyanna turned to Amalthea. “I kept it from you because I hoped you did not have it. We are... related to Saint Cethleann, yes, and that brings with it a certain amount of... scrutiny. Scrutiny I'd hoped to keep away from you. You've... you've already endured so much, because I brought us here. I just wanted—" She swallowed. “I just wanted you to be safe."

Amalthea could understand that, wanting to keep someone safe. It was how she felt about her friends and Lyanna. She managed a small smile for Lyanna and nodded her head. “It's okay, Lyanna," she spoke, her smile inching just a little wider. “If anything, I've learned that it can help me with healing people. I'd like to learn a little more about what I can do, but..." she paused to keep her gaze with her sister's.

“It's alright, about the scrutiny, and whatever else comes with this Crest, because I have you. And I have my friends. Who cares what anyone else has to say about my—our Crest! It's just... a stupid notion, anyway," she continued, furrowing her brows. “You've taught me a lot already, and Crest or no Crest, that's not going to change who I am. If you want me to, I can pretend I don't bear one, and it'll be easy to conceal. The only people who know are my friends, and I," she paused to glance in Vridel's direction.

“I trust them."

Lyanna looked down at her hands, clenched hard in her lap, and pursed her lips together. “I understand. And if you want to use this power, then... then some part of me is very happy. But Thea, you have to understand. It's not just what people say that will matter. It's what they might do. The blood of a Saint—it's special. If people find out that you have inherited this Crest... I need you promise me you'll be careful, and never use it in front of anyone you do not trust absolutely. Can you do that?"

Amalthea wasn't so sure what that meant. How was the blood of a Saint any more special than anyone else who bore a Crest? She could tell it made Lyanna uncomfortable, and that was the last thing she wanted to do. “I promise," Amalthea finally stated, nodding her head in Lyanna's direction. “And besides, I've never really been good at those things, like using white and healing magic. I'm a bit... uh, slow on the uptake," she admitted, laughing at herself. It was true, though. She'd never been really good at a lot of things, and magic was by far her worst subject.

“Maybe if I have you help me with it, Lyanna, I can manage it better so that I don't accidentally activate it when I'm around people who might need my help," she certainly didn't want to break her promise to her sister, either. And Lyanna was the only person she knew who could use white magic and she trusted her sister.

“And what am I, chopped liver?" Vridel quirked his eyebrow. “You do know who actually finished healing Sorcha, don't you?" He didn't seem to be genuinely offended or anything; more amused than anything else if he was as he seemed.

Lyanna laughed quietly, an almost mirthless sound. “As talented as I'm sure you are... I am in fact a master of the art. Perhaps..." She paused, narrowing her eyes assessingly at Vridel. Picking the doughnut back up, she ate through half of it while steadily staring him down. Amalthea had never seen quite this look on her sister's face before. Her earlier fluster was gone, replaced by something resolute, almost keen-edged.

“Perhaps, if you can prove yourself a worthy and discreet student, I could instruct the both of you in the art."

Vridel smirked, spreading his hands as if in invitation. “I invite you test me any way you desire, my lady. I promise I shan't leave you wanting."

She coughed, swallowing the bite she was working on and flinching. Probably she'd swallowed too soon.“Hmph. I'll work you hard, Prince. Are you certain those pretty hands of yours don't mind a little blood and dirt?"

“They've been soiled with both already. More times than I care to count."

Lyanna nodded. “Sunday mornings. Early. Very early. It's the only time certain eyes are sure to be closed."

Amalthea groaned lightly. She really didn't want to wake up that early, but she supposed that Lyanna had a point. Though she wasn't entirely sure who she meant, about who'd be asleep. Even Mercer wouldn't wake up that early on Sunday. “Alright, Sunday mornings it is. And no, Vi, you're not chopped liver. I honestly forgot you could use white magic," she admitted, glancing away to look at her hands which were much more interesting at the moment.

“Is there anything else you need me for, sister?" she asked, glancing back up at Lyanna and refusing to glance in Vridel's way. “I have a couple of things I'd like to do before the day is over with, and I'll need your help with it, Vridel!" she stated as she forced herself to look at him.

“I'm offended," he grumbled, but the sideways look he gave her, paired with that tiny smirk, suggested that no offense was genuinely taken.

Whatever it meant instead, though, seemed to put a furrow in Lyanna's brow, and she frowned. “I—no. I suppose that was all I needed to say for now. If you have other plans, feel free to see to them, I suppose." Clearing her throat, she gave them a small nod.

Vridel stood first, bowing again and then crossing to the door to open it. He stood to the side rather than passing through, inviting Amalthea to go first with a gesture.

Amalthea smiled as she made her way towards the door, but paused before she exited. “I'll make sure to bring you more of the doughnuts!" she called out after Lyanna before exiting her quarters. Once they were further down the hallway, Amalthea glanced up at Vridel with a smile. “Senka told me that Sorcha's birthday is coming up," she started, tilting her head from side to side. “I was wondering if you and the others would like to help plan a surprise for her. After being on bedrest for so long, I'm sure a little surprise party would help make her happy."

Amalthea wasn't too sure if it actually would make Sorcha happy, however; she wanted to try. “Senka and Professor are going to make the necessary food for that day, but I want all of her friends to be there, too, for it. Do you think you can help us with that?" she wasn't sure why she was so nervous about asking him that.

Vridel seemed to consider this, expelling a soft breath and reaching up to remove his glasses from his face. He tucked them away in his pocket, rubbing at the bridge of his nose. “Sorcha's always been uncomfortable with attention," he murmured. “But I don't think she'd mind, if it was just the group of us. What exactly did you need me to do?" he looked down at her with a quizzically-cocked brow.

She hadn't thought about that, honestly. “Well, food is covered, but I'm sure she'd like a gift or something. It probably doesn't have to be something extravagent, but maybe... something small? I just thought since you two are pretty close, that you would know the kinds of things she'd like. And maybe... help me pick something out for her?" she asked. Amalthea wasn't even sure if Sorcha would like gifts, but if it was from one of them, maybe she would?

“And also make sure everyone is there. I hear Mercer is quite hard to wake up from his sleep and I just... well, you seem like the best person to wake him up," she added. Senka and Professor would be busy preparing the food, and that left just her and Vridel to prepare everything else. “Oh! And also maybe convince Mercer to keep Sorcha busy while we prepare things? I heard she'll be able to leave the infirmary soon, and I don't want to ruin the surprise."

Vridel hummed quietly, giving the matter some consideration as they walked. “I don't think there's much of anything she needs or wants," he observed. “But if you see something that makes you think of her, or would like to make her something, I'm sure she would appreciate that." He pursed his lips, then huffed softly. “Do you know how to braid, Amalthea? I think if you do, we could all work together to make her a little something she might like."

He lifted his hands, folding them together behind his head. “As for convincing Mercer to be the distraction... I'll do my best, though he might rather listen to you than me." A sour expression crossed his face for some reason; he made a quiet hmph sound. “He certainly does seem fond of you."

Amalthea smiled, “You really think so? I'm fond of him, too, but I'm fond of all of my friends." She hummed a quiet tune, though, as she chewed her bottom lip. “I do know how to braid, but nothing as elegant as what Senka does. Have you seen her braids? Oh! I can make her a floral crown! Those would look really nice with her and bring out the shine in her eyes. They're so pretty, kind of like yours."

He really did have pretty colored eyes.

For whatever reason, this comment seemed to catch his attention; he was looking at her from the corner of his eye again, at least until he took a long stride and spun around, leaning down so as to be just about at eye-level with her, looking directly into hers with the very same deep purple irises she'd just confessed to admiring. They were ringed with long, snowy lashes, too, and as close as he was, she could make out subtle variations in the color—there were actually little flecks of indigo ringing each pupil, almost like tiny, irregular flower petals.

“Are they?" he mused, catching her chin between his forefinger and thumb. His expression was hard to read—the smile he wore was strangely ambiguous. “And what about the rest of me, hm? Do my eyes redeem an ugly face, or fit with the rest, you think?"

She felt her heart skip a beat as she blinked at Vridel. “Of course you have beautiful eyes, Vi," she stated, feeling a bit of heat rush to her cheeks. “And of course you're just as pretty as your eyes. Everything about you is lovely; I don't think anyone would disagree with that," she was rambling now, she knew it. But she didn't want to be dishonest with him. She thought he was one of the most beautiful people in the Academy, but she could at least refrain from saying that.

She felt her breath hitch in her throat as she swallowed thickly. Why was it suddenly hard to breathe? What was wrong with her? Was she dying? She was dying, it felt like, but that didn't seem quite right, either. She took in a sharp, sudden breath, and blinked. “I, uh... at least I think so." She could feel her ears burning, now. Stupid crush.

As if her words had broken a spell, that strange, ambiguous intensity shattered, and Vridel exhaled in a soft huff, the breath close enough to ghost over her cheek. “To be able to say something like that so simply. Really, now." He shook his head faintly, releasing her chin with a softer expression. This one, Amalthea knew. It was something like fond exasperation. “You really ought to be careful, Amalthea. People will take advantage of you, if you're so open about that kind of thing. Wicked people, with wicked intentions."

He tucked a little piece of hair behind her ear and straightened. “Anyway. Senka can and should help with the present, too. I was thinking we could all make her a bracelet or something. I have a set of very small beads from Brigid that can be used for such crafts. If we all pick a color, and weave them together for her, I think she'll like it."

She pursed her lips in confusion. Wicked people with wicked intentions? She wasn't entirely sure what he meant by that, and nodded her head. “That sounds good. We can make her a bracelet and it'll be lovely on her," she stated happily enough. She folded her hands behind her back before glancing back up at Vridel

“And... for what it's worth, Vi," she paused to glance at the floor, “I don't think you're a wicked person. I think you have a very good heart, but... you just don't wear it." From the time they've spent together, she honestly believed he was a good person, no matter what anyone said about him. Crush or not, that was how she felt.

“And that, my dear, is the sound of you proving my point." He half-smiled at her, wry but not upset, and then fell silent.

“Let's go see that idiot about the surprise, shall we?"

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Wednesday the 9th
Infirmary - Evening - Drizzle
Sorcha Blaiddyd


Sorcha sighed quietly, leaning back against the headboard and staring at the rain running down the windowpane. It caught the lights from the nearby buildings, giving each drop a little glow, a reminder of the life going on all around her while she languished here, in recovery.

She hated it so much.

Professor Manuela had gone back to her rooms for the night, with only the customary instructions for Sorcha to call if she needed anything, and so now she was entirely alone with her thoughts. As a child, she had often been left such, but it wasn't so bad, then. When she still had hope. Now, though, what started up in these moments was an endless recitation of her every failure and inadequacy, and there were many. As of the end of last month, she had even more to add to the list. Her failure to kill that man, to notice when he reappeared. The way she'd worried so many people. The way she couldn't seem to recover fast enough. She was putting Professor Cyril out, the way he visited every afternoon, just to give her the same lecture, discuss the same subjects with her, as he already had with the rest of the class.

Senka was wasting too much of her time visiting, too, filling her in on basically everything else. Sometimes they came together, and that was maybe the one little highlight—watching the way they interacted. It was so nice to see her friend trusting someone else. Opening up to people again. The others visited too, of course: Vivi and Thea and Sylvi and Deirdre and Sofia. Devon, too, even though he was going through just as much as she was. Sometimes they talked about it, when Sorcha could bear remembering. Even Reynard had been by a couple of times, usually with an interesting book or funny anecdote about someone else.

But of all her friends, Mercer alone had not once shown up. And somehow that was sticking in her memory most of all. So here she was, on her birthday—an occasion she'd never really celebrated, but one that was usually at least acknowledged—and she was alone, and miserable. And life was, as it so easily always did, going right on around her.

Because no one in the world really needed her at all.

“Stupid," she muttered under her breath, fingers clenching in the blankets on her lap. What a stupid way to think about it. No one had ever needed her, not really, so why should she expect it to be any different now? It was a useless thing to want, because she was never going to get it. So why—?

Sorcha closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the wooden panel behind her, and tried not to think about it.

“I think I've been called worse things than stupid," it was obvious who the voice belonged to. There, leaning on the door frame with a casual smile, was Mercer. He knocked on the frame first before he fully entered. “Should have done that, first," he muttered as he took a seat by Sorcha's bed. He stared at her for a moment, his eyes searching for something, though it seemed he could not find it. After a moment of silence, he sighed heavily, and glanced at his hands.

“Sorry I haven't visited you since... you know," he spoke, his eyes remaining glued to his hands. “I did try, though, but..." he paused, finally lifting his gaze to meet hers. “I guess I was being a coward; I can't really give you any excuses." He remained quite for a moment longer before he shook his head.

“And you're probably upset with me, aren't you? Since I haven't visited and all," he murmured, furrowing his brows.

“I'm not upset," she said softly, dropping the eyes she'd opened from his down to her hands. “Not much reason to come see me, is there? I'm not a whole lot of fun right now." It probably wouldn't be interesting to poke at or tease her right now, either: when she was like this she knew she had a way of draining the energy right out of a room. She probably wouldn't want to be around herself, either. It wasn't anything she could blame him for, even if her chest clenched at the sound of his voice.

Somehow, it didn't surprise her even a little that she was happy to see him. Her heart was a stupid, stubborn thing, after all. And some part of her was still the little girl who'd followed him around all week in Derdriu all those years ago.

“But I've sworn off crying, you see. A few days ago. So you don't have to bribe me this time. I'll be fine."

He smiled at her, though, softly, and shook his head. “It wasn't that I didn't want to see you," Mercer began as he reached over towards her hands. He grasped them gently, and tapped them a few times before he released them. “I actually did, but you had a guard with you who was very upset with me. I didn't want to incur her wrath, further, so I just... I dunno, stayed away for the time being. I think she's forgiven me, for now, but I don't blame her. She was very worried about you. I was worried about you. I was just lousy in the way I showed it, I suppose." He heaved a heavy sigh and leaned back in his chair.

“And where would the fun in that be if I couldn't bribe you every time you cried? I take great pride when I know it's me who's drying your tears, you know," he added, giving her a lopsided grin.

Entirely against her will, her heartbeat stuttered, and she felt her lower lip begin to tremble. “That's not—that shouldn't be your job," she said, trying for certainty, but probably only succeeding in sounding as miserable as she felt. “A Queen has to be strong enough to dry her own tears. To not cry in the first place. I can't—" She swallowed thickly.

“I can't keep being this weak. This time, it nearly got me killed. Next time... it might be someone more important. Someone I care about." She shuddered to think about what she'd do if it were Senka, or Vridel. Or Mercer.

If anything, the smile on Mercer's face softened at her words. “And who's the idiot who told you that, hm? That a Queen has to be strong enough to dry her own tears? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," he stated, quietly taking one of her hands and rubbing his thumb over the back of it. “That's not true, Sorcha, and you know it. A Queen who believes she has to be strong enough to do that doesn't have any business being a Queen. It's okay to cry, you know. It just proves that you're still human, that you still feel things. If you hardened yourself up, well... I'm not sure I could ever like a person like that. People would resent you for not being open with them, and I know you wouldn't like that, right?"

“It's okay to cry if you want to. Just... even if it's just me, you need to let things out. It won't do you any good to hold it in." His hand was still in hers and he was staring intently at her. “And you're not weak, Sorcha. Far from it, actually. All the progress you've made with your lances and the bow? That's all you and your hard work. I wasn't lying when I said I was proud of you, Sor," he added as he pursed his lips together. “I really am. You've improved so much, and it's these hands," he grabbed her other hand and lifted them up to her, “that have done all the hard work. You should be proud of yourself. Your friends count on you just as much as you count on them, you know."

He didn't understand. Maybe he couldn't. The things he said—she'd always wanted someone to say those things to her. To tell her it was all right to be the person she was. So why, now when he'd said exactly what she needed to hear, did it still feel so empty? Maybe it was always a doomed enterprise. What was one voice against the tide of her entire life, shouting her down? Maybe some Queens didn't need to be that way... but a Queen of Faerghus did. To be the first Queen in the line of Kings, she had to be more than better. She had to do more than improve. What did it matter if she was better, if where she'd begun was pathetic?

But none of these were things she could bring herself to say. Instead, she smiled, tremulous and uncomfortable, and gently extracted her hands from his. They were warm, Mercer's hands, and some part of her was afraid of that.

“Thank you," she said gently, expelling a soft breath. “It means a lot that you think so."

“One of these days, Sor, you're going to believe the words are genuine when they are said to you. You don't have to keep up a facade of being okay when you're not, but," Mercer expelled a heavy breath, and withdrew his own hands to his sides. “I won't bug you about it. I, actually have something for you. Give me a second, I left it outside," he stated as he stood from his seat and walked out of her room. He was gone for a minute before he returned, carrying something wrapped in cloth. It was rather long, about the length of a bow, and he was carrying it gently. Like it was something precious. Perhaps it was, to him?

“A little bird told me that today is your birthday," he began, grinning at her as he set it down on her lap. It was somewhat heavy for its size. “But I already knew that, so, I had this commissioned about a month ago. Took them forever to get the Crest just right, but I think you'll like it. Happy Birthday, Sor," he stated as he sat back down.

Eyes wide, Sorcha carefully unwrapped the cloth from around the object. It did, in fact, turn out to be a bow, one of the elaborate sort reinforced with silver typically only carried by master snipers and bow knights—people, in other words, with much more training and expertise than she. What was more... the Blaiddyd Crest was carved into the front of it, just above where she'd nock her arrows.

She swallowed thickly, tracing the engraving with her fingertips. “Mercer, it's beautiful. I—" her breath trembled a little on the exhale. “I surely don't—" She bit her lip. She didn't deserve it, to be sure. Her skill hardly warranted such a beautiful weapon, and besides that it must have been expensive, and some part of her quailed at that, uncertain of her right to anything beautiful or costly.

But the last thing she wanted was to seem ungrateful, not least because it was such a lovely gift, with thought put into it and... and ordered so far in advance. He'd been planning to give her this for so long?

“Is it... really all right?"

His grin spread into a wide smile. “Of course it is. I know what you're thinking, too," he stated, his smile turning back into something more mischievous. Oh how did he know I wanted such a thing? It's too beautiful! Oh what shall I ever do to repay him?" he mimicked her, or at least he seemed to try and was doing a horrible job at it. Huffing lightly, he shook his head and met her gaze again.

“I expect to see more results from you so that you can grow with this bow, you know. No shirking your training, either. Lady would be mad at you if you did that, and I would certainly not be mad, just upset at losing my training partner," he stated, his smile softening somewhat.

She snorted softly, unable to help herself. Somehow, even though the ugly thoughts were still there, lurking in the back her mind, they'd faded to something dull and distant, at least for now. A crack in the stone wall, perhaps, letting just a little light through. Even if she couldn't fit through herself, she could at least stand in that light, and let it warm her, just for a little while. Couldn't she?

“I've never shirked a day of training in my life, Mercer von Riegan. And if you never believe another word I say, believe this: I'm going to keep getting better. So you'd better work, too, or I'll leave you in my dust." She lifted her chin, just a bit, and this time her smile—little half-smirk that it was—at least reached her eyes.

“I mean, I wouldn't mind if you left me in the dust," he started, grinning at her. “But you do that, and remember that feeling of when you do finally leave me in the dust. I'll be the happiest guy in the world to know that you, Sorcha Blaiddyd, my star pupil, finally beat me," he chuckled lightly as he shook his head.

Sorcha narrowed her eyes, shaking her head. “I don't want to know what that feels like," she said simply. “Even if I beat you sometimes, you better keep practicing to beat me the next time. It's no good if I go past and never look back. So get used to working, because you're stuck with me now, and I'm not going to let you slack off just because I'm getting better." She sniffed.

“Those are the terms. I'm only accepting this if you accept those." Lifting the bow, she poked him in the chest with the end of it. “You're my training partner now, no take-backs past this point. Last chance to get out while you can."

Mercer snorted before he started laughing. “Yes, love, of course. I'll accept the terms. I'm not happy about it, mind you, because I actually have to work, now, but I suppose it'll be fine," he stated once he calmed down. “I do have another surprise for you, though," he continued, blinking slowly before glancing towards the door. “Should be here any minute, now." He stood up from his spot, though, and walked so that he was standing at her side. Lifting both of his hands, he abruptly placed them over her eyes, not so hard that he hurt her, though.

She almost didn't have the wherewithal to think about it, what with the way feeling has just shot through her insides like a bolt of electricity. Had he just called her—? But no, wait, he called Vivi that sometimes too. Just a joke, nothing to get all... stupid about. Right.

I'm an idiot.

She tried not to feel disappointed at the rationale.

“Alright, guys! She's blindfolded! Quick!" he shouted, keeping her eyes covered. There was a sound of shuffling feet, a light giggle that could only belong to Amalthea, and the sound of plates being placed on the table.

“You can release her now, Mercer," Senka spoke, something akin to amusement in her voice.

“Sen? Thea? What are you—?"

“Is this the part where we say surprise?" That could only have been the Professor.

Comprehension abruptly dawning on her, Sorcha took hold of Mercer's wrists and lifted his hands away from her eyes. There, all crammed into the infirmary, was the entire Saturday group, From her stepbrother to Sylvi and Devon to Sofia and Dierdre to Reynard, who waggled his eyebrows in a conspiratorial fashion, to those she'd heard—Sen and Thea and the Professor.

“That would be now, if you're so inclined," Vivi advised, and a jumbled tangle of mis-timed 'surprise'-es burbling through the room on his cue.

Sorcha's eyes went wide, but then her smile broadened to match. “You guys," she said softly. “You didn't have to do this."

“Of course we did," was Amalthea's reply. “You've been in here too long, and today's your birthday!" she continued, earning a light chuckle from Sylvi.

“I think what she means to say is that you shouldn't be alone cooped up in this room by yourself on your birthday," Sylvi spoke, earning a nod from Senka and an enthusiastic one from Amalthea.

“Happy Birthday, Sorcha," Senka spoke softly, her face pulling into one of her rare smiles.

“Teach and Sen helped make food for all of us, though I think Sen did most of the work on your cake," Mercer spoke, folding his arms across his chest as he remained in his spot. “And she's already said my birthday gift was the best, so sorry guys," he added, causing Dierdre to roll her eyes.

“That's not fair, Mercer. We haven't even given her, our gift," Amalthea spoke, pursing her lips in his direction.

“I said no such thing," Sorcha protested. Admittedly... it was hard to believe anything would match it, but she'd cherish anything at all she was given. Even the thought of her friends getting her a gift at all was profoundly warming.

Vridel snorted through his nose. “You do it, Thea," he said, gesturing her towards Sorcha's bedside. “The rest of us will get to work on serving up the food."

“Okay!" Amalthea replied in her enthusiastic manner. She held out her hands, though, with a light blue cloth covering something small. “Vridel, Senka, and myself made this for you, Sorcha! I hope you like it. It can't compete with a lot, but... well, it's something we made with all our heart and I hope you like it the most!" she continued, sticking her tongue out in Mercer's direction. He laughed, as Deirdre snickered.

“Careful, Thea, you might make me jealous," he stated, causing her to shake her head.

“You're so strange, Mercer. One of these days you'll make sense."

“Ouch, I'm wounded, Thea."

Sorcha accepted the object, unwrapping it as carefully as she had the bow still across her lap. Inside was a beaded bracelet, each individual thin strand glittering where they were woven together. The colors were an interesting mix for the three people who'd apparently made it: there was a rich green that she figured was Amalthea's choice, Faerghus blue, and then an intermediate color somewhere between them, a sort of blue-green hue very reminiscent of—

Well, it reminded her of her necklace, actually, a thought which made heat rise to her cheeks that she tried furiously to dispel. Even the green was like his eyes—ugh. She was such a ninny.

Still, it was beautiful, with an intricate pattern that had to be Vivi's influence; he had an eye for things like that, she knew. When they were kids, his embroidery had been a million times better than hers.

“Thank you," she whispered, touched. “Really. Thank you all, for all of this. I'm—I'm grateful."

“You're very welcome, Sorcha!" Amalthea spoke, grinning at Vridel and Senka before turning her attention towards the cake. There was a hunger in her eyes; it was no secret that Amalthea liked sweets. She was probably anticipating the cake to be cut, however; Senka shook her head and huffed lightly.

“Wait? So... isn't this the part where we're supposed to sing happy birthday or something? Because I have to tell you now, I'm a horrid singer," Mercer stated, making a light gagging noise as Amalthea shook her head.

“If it's all the same to you guys... please don't," Sorcha agreed with a grimace, earning her a few laughs. She grinned, and gestured at Sen and the Professor. “It all looks amazing, but that's no good if we don't eat it together, right?"

“Finally she mentions food. I'm starving," Mercer stated as he made his way towards the table. Senka, however, lifted a knife in his direction, a blank stare on her face. He held up his hands in defense before she spoke.

“You will give this to Sorcha, first, and then you can have your own plate," she stated, handing Mercer a plate as he grumbled. “Everyone else is free to get their food," she added, nodding her head as Amalthea smiled and gathered her own plate.

“Your friend is very bossy, you know," Mercer stated as he handed Sorcha the plate of food. “But that's alright, I suppose. Happy Birthday, again, Sorcha. Hopefully this year will be a good one for you," he stated in a genuine manner and smiled softly in her direction.

Sorcha found herself smiling right back at him. “Thank you, Mercer. I... I think maybe it could be."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

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I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Sunday the 13th
Garreg Mach Monastery - Early Afternoon - Overcast
Senka Rinaldi


Senka sighed softly, closing the book she'd been reading as she turned to glance around her surroundings. They were talking again; speaking of her and how she'd become so close to the Imperial Prince, now. Was she not allowed to make friends? Some of the students claimed that she was sleeping with him, that she was his lover on the side, or some other nonsensical thing. It didn't bother her, let them think what they will, however; she felt bad that Vridel had become the newest victim to the foul rumors going around. When she first came to the academy, people scorned her for being so close to Sorcha. Said that she'd used some dastardly deed to win Sorcha's favor, but she didn't mind. She took their insults and harsh words in stride because they were always directed at her, and never Sorcha.

But now...

“Did you hear? She's probably seeing their professor, too. She has no shame..."

“I know? And to think that she's been with the Prince. It's so awful..."

Let their words be heard, but never felt. It was how she managed to deal with it for so long. She cast a glance at the two young men who were speaking about her, and immediately they tensed. They shuffled away from her and continued their conversation well out of range. It's alright, she kept telling herself that. She stood from her spot, intent on finding a quieter place to study. The written exams were, after all, coming up at the end of the month. She wanted to pass her exams so she could take Libi out on missions, and she was certain Sorcha felt the same thing about Lady.

Oddly, the first person whose path she crossed was Reynard. He was leaning against one of the many garden walls, casually reclined in a way that meant most people probably wouldn't even notice him as they passed by. He raised a finger towards her as she passed, though, bringing the green apple in his hand to his mouth and biting down with a crisp sound. Only once he'd swallowed did he speak.

“Tired of hearing you're a harlot yet?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow in a way that suggested he didn't really expect an answer. “His Highness and Sorcha are under the usual gazebo if you'd like some better company. I think he's trying to cool her off—she heard some of those idiots talking about you."

Senka shook her head. “She shouldn't be overexerting herself. She's only been out of the infirmary for a day," she replied. “Thank you, though, Reynard. I'll go see to her, and..." she paused to regard him for a moment. He was still foreign to Senka, but he had yet to prove himself anything other than an ally. “It is fine if they say anything about me, but if you hear anything about Sorcha, could you?" she didn't feel the need to finish that sentence. She knew he would understand.

With a nod, she walked to find Vridel and Sorcha. When she did, she pursed her lips together and sighed softly. “Sorcha," she called out glancing towards Vridel for a moment. “You should be resting, not worked up over something so trivial."

“Trivial my ass!" Sorcha grumbled. She usually didn't use even slightly-rough language unless she was angry or flustered, and she appeared at the moment to be a bit of both. “They have no right to talk about you that way!" She almost stood up out of her chair, but Vridel's hand on her shoulder forced her back down again.

“You of all people know that fools are always going to talk, Sorcha," he said, letting her go only when she grumbled under her breath and slumped back into her chair. Turning to Senka, he smiled wryly. “So which version did you hear? I'm curious what the popular options are this week."

Senka shook her head lightly at Sorcha. She couldn't really blame her friend; that's just the kind of person Sorcha was. She glanced back at Vridel and grimaced slightly. “This week's options are either I'm your side lover, or somehow involved with Professor; take your pick. Though I do apologize for getting your name into this. They believe the amount of time I spend with you, anyone in general, is enough to warrant accusations such as those." People just didn't seem to care to look past all of that. To get to know who she was. If only...

She shook the thought from her head.

Vridel chuckled, a dark sound accompanied by a slight shake of his head. Raking his hand back through his hair, he gave a nonchalant shrug. “Honestly, I might be the one who owes you an apology for that one. I'm quite a well-known libertine, you see. The rumors have at various times put me with most of the female students and a fair few of the men; they're not even always wrong." He said this as if it were of little concern to him, leaning back in his chair and crossing one leg over the other.

“I can understand being offended by such speculation, but I assure you, I am not. Besides," he shot Senka a sly smile. “Either the Professor or I could hardly do much better, eh?" Though it could have been a come-on, the tone in which it was delivered suggested a friendly observation more than anything.

“Ugh, sometimes I forget you're like this now," Sorcha said, making a face at him. “You used to be such a little dork, with big reading glasses and your nose always stuck in a book."

Vridel arched an eyebrow. “Precisely. And now I am a well-spoken, learned, cultured man. People tend to go for that, believe it or not. And some people like the glasses."

Senka huffed lightly, but she felt the corners of her mouth tilt up, somewhat. It almost felt like a smile, but it didn't quite form all the way. “He does look handsome in glasses, Sorcha, you cannot deny that," she stated, smiling a little more at her friend. “But in all honesty, what they say about me should not reflect on you, regardless of your reputation. Being associated with me has... it only," she couldn't bring herself to say it in front of Sorcha, but she winced regardless. Sorcha was a bright girl; she would know what Senka was referring to.

Sorcha sighed quietly. “Sen, you've gotta stop thinking like you're a blight on everyone's reputation. There's bad rumors about everyone in our group. Have you heard the one where Sylvi's a hussy trying to break up Deirdre and Sofia to take Sofia for herself?" She directed the question at both of them, and Vridel nodded.

“There's also the one where I'm grooming all of you to be the next imperial harem." Vridel made a vaguely-disgusted face. “That one's my father's fault, considering that he did in fact have about ten concubines and a wife." He started to tick things off on his fingers as he continued, leaning back in his chair and glancing sidewards as if trying to all of them. “There's also the one where I'm sleeping with Mercer, the one where Professor Cyril favors the pretty girls in his classes, the one where Professor Jeritza is actually a werewolf, the one where Thea of all people is actually a scarlet woman... everyone says stupid things, because they're jealous or ignorant or want to be the center of attention for a while. It's no more your fault than ours."

Less than yours," Sorcha said jokingly to him. “Since, you know, you actually do sleep around all the time."

“Why thank you, Sorcha. I was unaware."

But wasn't she, though? Wasn't she a blight to everyone, not just their reputations? Even before she'd learned of her Crest, it always felt that way. Her Crest only makes it harder because she is cursed and she feels that so deeply. Maybe it was her fault that her country suffered the way it did, the way her parents died, and how she took away Sorcha's. She pushed the memory down, though. It wouldn't do any good to bring it up, and she didn't want to concern Sorcha any further.

“But you are the leaders of countries, and I... I am nothing. What they say about me shouldn't reflect on anyone," she stated. She wanted to say more, however; she could hear people speaking again.

“Yeah? You heard that too?"

“Supposedly Sorcha is the reason they almost failed their mission last month."

“Let me guess, she was being useless?" Senka didn't know when or where her feet were leading her, however; she was standing in front of a young girl and a young man, perhaps a year older than Senka. Her brows were furrowed as she stared at him. “What do you want?" he stated as he sneered at her. She could ignore people talking about her. What she could not ignore, however, was people talking about her friends.

Without much thought, Senka punched the young man in the face, hitting him with as much strength as she could muster. He yelled something incoherent as the young girl he was walking with, screamed loudly.

“You stupid—"

“Don't you dare speak of Sorcha that way," Senka spoke, her voice oddly calm. “You know not the meaning of useless. She is far better in every way than you will ever be," she continued, watching as the young man tried to get his nose to stop bleeding. It looked like he'd also bitten his tongue since there was a light trail of blood coming from his mouth. Senka's eyes narrowed as he scrambled to his feet. He wasn't much taller than Senka, perhaps an inch or two taller, and he tried to make himself seem more intimidating than Senka found him. She'd faced death; this boy certainly wasn't even close to it.

“Well now, I think that's quite enough of that, don't you, Petros?" Vridel's tone was not unlike a ball of ice: smooth, hard, and cold, bu he kept it light in a way Senka could instantly recognize as false. “Perhaps you should get your nose attended to at the infirmary; I'm sure Rosalind would be happy to take you, wouldn't she?"

The woman blushed at his smiling face; at some point he'd appeared right next to Senka. He did nothing to interfere with her, but he seemed to irritate the boy as much or more than Senka did, especially when he noticed the girl with him was nodding a little hesitantly.

“No one asked, you, puppet-Prince."

“No," Vridel agreed. “But you'll take my advice. I'm only thinking of your health, after all."

With a muttered oath, the boy let the girl lead him away. Vridel sighed at their backs. “Fortunately, Professor Manuela's more likely to laugh than offer him sympathy," he observed, turning his attention to Senka again. “But it's rather unsporting of you to pick a fight with a pup like that."

She pursed her lips at Vridel. “You'll forgive my abruptness, Vridel, but as I've said. I do not care what others think or say of me. I will not, however, tolerate such slurs against Sorcha," she stated, glancing over her shoulder to make sure Sorcha was not in earshot. “You know how delicate she is of those matters. If I can, I'd like to spare her of those rumors before they reach her," she continued with a light sigh. Sorcha was not a delicate person, but she was sensitive. Senka knew how much words affected Sorcha, because they affected her the same way. At least she could ignore the words, pretend they didn't sting, and continue on with her existence.

With Sorcha, she was likely to show how it hurt her rather than keep it bottled up. “I apologize that you had to interefere and see that, though," she stated as she glanced back at him.

“Sen." He caught her elbow with a hand as she started to move away; it wasn't aggressive at all. “Can't you see it? She feels the same way about you. We all do. When you say things like that, about how you don't want to tarnish our reputations..." He sighed through his nose and shook his head.

“It makes it sound like you think we care more about our reputations than you. But we don't—your argument is based on a faulty premise. Sorcha might be sensitive, but even she would rather hear all kinds of horrible things about herself, with or without you in them, than lose you. Maybe you should respect that we've all made that choice."

He tilted his head at her. “I know who you are. It didn't bother me then, and it doesn't bother me now." He released her with a faint smile and a shrug.

He made it sound so easy to believe, though. That she could be that important to them, that she was. His words, however, loosened something inside her, and she felt something hot pricking at her eyes. She blinked a few times trying to clear her vision, unsure of why her vision was slightly blurry, and cast her gaze down. Maybe one day she could believe it, but for now, she could at least try.

“You make it sound easy," she finally spoke, shaking her head mostly at herself, “but I do respect all of you. Even if it doesn't bother you now..." She didn't finish that sentence. There was no point in making them see what she already knew. Things would not last like this. She believed that with all her heart, but maybe...

“Thanks Vridel. You are a good friend, I hope you know that."

He huffed gently. “No one's ever accused me of being that before," he noted, his smile turning a fraction melancholic. “For the record, you are as well. Though really, don't feel the need to punch people on my behalf. You'd never be finished if a bad rumor was all it took."

She laughed, the sound still strange and foreign to her as she shook her head. “I promise I will not punch people on your behalf, only if they deserve it. Although..." she paused, her brow tilting slightly upward, “speaking of rumors. I did hear a very interesting one about Sorcha and Mercer." She wasn't usually one to listen to such things; she'd spent enough time ignoring them.

“I will admit that there is some merit to the ones that say they fancy each other. What say you? Should we lend them our services?" she asked, a small grin on her face. She wasn't used to this, being expressive.

Vridel arched an eyebrow, clearly intrigued. “Well, well, Sen. Are you proposing mischief? Perhaps even... shenanigans?" He flashed a bright grin a moment later. “I'm in. Sorcha's dense, but Mercer can be surprisingly perceptive, so we'll have to be subtle. What did you have in mind?"

“Perhaps," she replied, her smile softening somewhat. “Mercer is perceptive, I give you that, but he is no match for this," she stated, pointing to her own face. “I have been told that I wear it well. As for what I had in mind," she paused to give it some thought. “Sorcha doesn't need much of a push, but Mercer might be. Perhaps they should start spending more time together, places where they won't necessarily be disturbed by other people. And not in the training sense, either. They need to be put in a situation they are not quite ready for. If it's for training, then that is all they will see it as."

She didn't think she'd need to explain further. It was quite simple, really. Use their free days as much as possible to get Sorcha and Mercer alone together. It would, in her opinion, serve Sorcha well. While Senka might have been angry with Mercer, she will not deny the effect he has on Sorcha. And more than anything she wants her friend to be happy.

“So you're saying we need to con them into dates that don't look like dates. Classic strategy, and for a reason." He nodded slightly. “I think perhaps we give them the rest of the month to... reacclimate, after that last mission, but then start looking for opportunities."

“Seems fair enough." she was, oddly, looking forward to it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Tuesday the 15th
Library - Late Evening - Thunderstorm
Cyril Eisner


The roll of thunder outside was still a distant sound, but Cyril could sense it getting closer. He wasn't exactly sure why, but he'd always been able to predict the weather with some accuracy, including whether a particular season was going to be a drought, and things like that. He'd been surprised to learn that other people generally could not do this, in fact. In any case it wasn't one to be concerned about; though the rain would lash the buildings and likely provide an unpleasant surprise for anyone who left a window open, the winds would at worst knock over old trees. Nothing to worry the stone buildings of Garreg Mach.

Inside the library, a pair of candles flickered on the single table shared between himself and Senka, the only illumination in the darkened room. It's last other occupants had left an hour ago; at the moment there was no one else around. He supposed it might be past proper curfew for students, but considering he was here, he doubted there would be any trouble for it.

Turning a yellowed page, he inhaled the scent of old parchment and vanilla, and sighed it softly back out. Histories were interesting enough, but most of them ultimately said the same thing in more or less detail, and nothing seemed to be striking upon his memory. The girl was quite quiet, too, as though she had little to say, or was afraid of triggering another episode of some kind.

Gently closing the book over, Cyril leaned back in his chair. The aged wood made a soft creak of protest at the movement, and another when he propped his feet up on the empty chair directly in front of him. Senka sat next to that one, at corners with him. “I appreciate the help," he said, at his natural speaking volume since they were the only two here and there was no need to be heard at the back of a lecture hall. He supposed he was soft-spoken compared to most. He'd never had much occasion to think about those kinds of qualities before.

“I think we're unlikely to make much more progress today though. Is there anything you'd like help with? For your upcoming exams, perhaps?"

Senka closed the book she had been reading to regard him as he spoke. “I don't believe so," was her response, a soft sigh escaping her. “Written exams are much different than the certifications; I am not too worried about them," she continued, her eyes softening in the way that usually meant she was smiling. Physically, she smiled at least three times; once when she'd told him and Vridel where she was from, another during their kitchen duties, and again when they'd gone fishing with Jeralt. She seemed to be smiling more often, at least, or attempting to.

“I am a little worried about passing it, though. I know I am good at riding, and my swordskills are not that bad, but..." she paused to furrow her brows lightly, “I'm not confident enough in them, even though I know I should be. It is... something I am still struggling with, I suppose." She glanced back up at him with the same smile, as if nothing were wrong with what she just said.

Cyril had a feeling he might know from where the confidence problem stemmed. After all, it was in physical and magical combat where she was most likely to end up triggering that Crest of hers, and he didn't have to think very hard to imagine why that might bother someone. Bother her.

And yet at the same time, he wasn't certain it was an issue he had any right to address. He was used to thinking of things that way—in terms of what he did or did not have a right to ask or say. Noble employers were insistent on certain lines being drawn beyond which their mercenaries were not permitted to question or offer opinions, and his father had at least taught him that even in everyday conversations there were some things one just didn't bring up. And yet in telling him of her parents, in letting him at least try to help with her Crest, he wondered if she hadn't given that kind of permission.

Setting his book aside, Cyril leaned a bit forward and braced his forearms on the table. “I've no doubt you'll pass a written exam," he said simply, “and you already passed your live certification, so... is it more of a battlefield confidence issue?" He tried to ask the question without exactly asking it, hoping that would let her feel comfortable choosing not to answer if she preferred.

“It is," she replied, sighing softly as she sat up straight in her chair. “My fear keeps me from doing what I know I need to do, should do, but..." she trailed off as she glanced towards her hands. “I know I can be better, I just... I can feel it, you know. It's always there at the recesses of my mind," she began, lifting her hand to press two fingers to her temple, “the Crest. And it's been there since before I even knew about it. There's just something I can't explain about it, and it makes me afraid. I feel... like if I lose control again, even if you're there, I just... I can't help myself."

She didn't glance back up at him, and dropped her hand back in front of her. “Have you ever felt like that? Of not being able to control something and letting the fear keep you from doing more?"

Of not being able to control something...

Cyril's lips thinned slightly as he considered this. “After a while," he said, hearing a strange hesitation in his own tone. Perhaps because he'd never tried to describe this to anyone before. “The things my father was teaching me became instinct. I remember once, I..." He pushed a breath out through his nose, dropping his eyes to his hands. “We were working with another company, both hired by the same lord to deal with organized highwaymen blocking a trade route. We didn't know at the time that they'd been put there by a rival, and that he'd hired the second merc group out from under our employer. At least not until we found ourselves between the bandits and the mercs with weapons on all sides."

Their group, smaller even than the other mercenary company, was simply not going to last. Especially not when the initial surprise betrayal had taken a hefty chunk of causalities out of their fighting capacity. “I don't even remember being surprised. I sensed an axe being swung at me, and I think that was the last true thought I had for hours. The rest was just... automatic."

He remembered it, of course, in excruciating detail. But even now, he could recall feeling nothing at the time. It was the battle that had earned Cyril, then perhaps somewhere around fourteen or fifteen summers, the name people sometimes used for him. Ashen Ghost.

“I don't know how many people I killed that day, but I do know that none of the decisions felt like mine. It felt like there just weren't any decisions at all. Just instinct. A survival response, and not for any reason so noble as to save anyone. I just... refused to die, is all. I think—" he pressed his fingertips together, calluses blunting the feel of it. “I think it was because that was the only way I would be strong enough to live. And so... I decided I had to be strong enough to survive without resorting to that, so that the decisions would always be mine."

Knowing that had its own difficulties, but they were the set he would much rather deal with.

“But... what if I'm not strong enough? What if—" she expelled a heavy sigh as she paused, slumping forward a bit, her hands crossed in front of her. “I'm sorry, Professor," she spoke, glancing up at him with a small smile. “I shouldn't burden you with my issues. I... just need..." she furrowed her brows as she paused, unsure of what she wanted to say. She took a slow breath, relaxing her shoulders a bit. She had tensed up at the end, and closed her eyes. She opened them, glanced his way, and seemed to be searching for something. With a shake of her head, she huffed lightly.

“I need to believe that I can be enough, one day. That I can live for something... something more. And I..." she paused, as if something caught in her throat, “I don't want to be defined by those who say I'm not, or that I'm wor—" she didn't say the word. It seemed difficult for her to express it, despite the soft smile that was on her face.

“I want to belive that I'm not." She whispered it so softly that it was almost as if she didn't say it at all.

“You're not a burden." It wasn't quite what she'd apologized for, but Cyril thought it might have been the thought beneath that. “Or if you are, then I've been just as much a burden on you." She was perhaps the only person he'd voluntarily told, about anything to do with his memory, and the only person he'd told at all about the difficulties he was having with it most recently.

Sighing quietly, he lifted his eyes at last from his hands and settled them on her. “I don't think I'd mind that, actually. Being able to share them like that. It feels like I've been carrying the same ones for so long." But this wasn't about him, really, and he was keenly aware of the fact, so he returned the subject to her.

“I don't know who told you those things, but... you don't have to believe them." No doubt that was sometimes a thing easier said than done, but still. Extending one of his hands towards her, he laid it down on the table, palm up, like an invitation. He didn't quite understand what he was inviting her to do, or why, only that contact had been a form of reassurance to him before, and he wanted to return it in kind. “Strong isn't something anyone is. Rather... I think strength is something people do. By making the right choices, for the right reasons. And I think... that if you decide you don't want this to control you, don't want to let it define you—then you're already strong. You just have to keep at it, work to stay that way."

Hesitantly, she extended her own hand. She hovered a few seconds over his, her eyes staring at his own as if she were trying to determine something. She must have settled on something since her hand was now in his, and she closed it over his. “Is it alright, though?" she finally spoke, her eyes going to their hands. “Is it alright to... talk about them to each other? I don't want you to..." she pursed her lips together as if she were trying to figure something out.

“Will you help me? To continue?" she asked, finally, her eyes going back up to him.

Gently, Cyril gave her hand a squeeze, trying to convey the same comfort she'd once provided him with a similar gesture. “Of course it's all right," he said simply, then paused. “I... I would like it if you did, honestly. And I'd appreciate it if you'd let me. If I can help you, then I want to." For him, it was that simple. Not just because he was her teacher and it was his job in some sense, for some problems. Rather, because he was her friend, he thought.

He didn't have much experience with having them, but he thought that surely if anyone had ever qualified, she must.

She smiled, the same bright smile that had first appeared on her face. “Alright," she responded, her hand squeezing his, though it did not let up. It was as if she were clenching his hand for something, desperate almost. “When I feel like I doubt myself, or if I can't do something, I will come to you. And... I want you to do the same. You are a good friend, Cyril," she spoke, dropping the title, Professor, from his name.

“And I hope you will continue to be mine," she added, her hand finally relaxing in his.

“As long as you want me to be," he replied simply. The fact that she'd used the same word felt like it brightened something in him, and he had no trouble smiling either, slight as it was.

It would be, he sensed, an easy promise to keep.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Friday the 18th
Training Grounds - Afternoon - Cloudy
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea huffed lightly, pursing her lips as she held her hand out for Amyr to return. She was practicing throwing her axe; she wasn't proficient enough in it, yet. She had been at it the last few days, after classes were finished. She used whatever free time she had in order to train, or spend it with her friends. Lately, though, she'd been spending her time on the training grounds. She needed to get stronger, better, so she could be of more use to them. Even her trainings with Lyanna and Vridel were occupying much of her time, lately, but she didn't mind. She enjoyed spending time with her sister and Vridel. For obvious reasons. She liked her sister, and she was immensely helpful, and Vridel, well... she wasn't going to dwell on that thought, for now.

Once Amyr was back in her hand, she glanced back at the targets, huffing lightly as they continued to move. At least she was hitting them more consistently, now, and she wasn't having too much difficulty aiming. Vridel had taught her a lot about that, actually, and just thinking of him seemed to summon the same, strange warmth in her cheeks and ears. She really needed to get that under control. Sorcha had told her it was called a blush, and that it was usually visible. She didn't need to be red in the face every time she saw, or thought, about Vridel.

“Crushes are ridiculous, they shouldn't make your face do that!" she shouted to herself. She was, after all, alone on the training grounds.

“Oh? What's this about a crush?"

Of course, at the very worst moment, the object of her wayward thoughts appeared, as if by thinking of him, she'd summoned him. That was impossible, of course, and to be fair he used the training grounds a lot, too, but still.

He came into view not a moment later, hopping the fence without using his hands, which were both occupied: one carried a cloth bundle of some sort and the other a canteen. He landed smoothly, approaching her with a raised white eyebrow and half a mischievous smile. His hair, longer than that belonging to most men but not yet sufficient to reach his shoulders, had been pulled back into a small tail, from which many strands had already escaped to lay aside his face.

“What? What crush? Who has a crush? Certainly not I, no sir." She shook her head violently, feeling her face burning, now. Oh, goddess, why of all moments? she thought as she turned to fully face him. She was blushing, she knew she was, but there wasn't much she could do about it. She hadn't quite learned how to tone it down, so to speak. She blinked a few times and puffed her cheeks lightly. She was doomed, wasn't she?

“What brings you here, Vi?" she decided to ask, trying to get control of her blush that seemed to be going against her wishes.

“I think I like it when you call me sir," he replied, apparently unfazed by her denial and topic change both. His eyes narrowed with the force of his amusement, and he laughed softly, perhaps at whatever shade her face had turned in the meantime. “As for what I'm doing..." he held up the bundle and extended it towards her.

“Your provisions, milady," he declared, inclining himself in just the shortest bow. “If I'm not mistaken, you've been at that for quite a while, so I brought you something to tide you over until dinner." It was his turn to look faintly embarrassed, somehow; or at least she thought there was the faintest bit of pink to the otherwise unyielding porcelain of his skin.

“Oh? Thank you, Vi," she stated, taking the bundle from his hands. “We should, uh, probably take this to the table over there," she stated, pointing to the table on the far side of the ring. She started towards it, glancing over her shoulder to make sure he was following, and placed the bundle on the table when she approached it. Carefully, she undid the bundle and her eyes went wide at the sight of the pastries.

“Oh, goddess, I love you right now," she stated, taking one of the pastries and mostly shoving it in her mouth to keep her from saying anything else embarrassing, never mind what she just said. She wasn't paying too much attention, after all, with the pastries in sight.

Vridel, on the other hand, gave her a look that said he'd quite caught that, and the smile inched just a little wider. “Just right now?" he inquired blithely, taking a seat across from her with obvious relaxation. “How unfortunate for me; I must not be the lucky crush-ee." His tone was light, something about the words not quite as they would have been in a more serious inflection.

He huffed softly, reaching forward and smoothing the corner of her lips with his thumb. When he brought it back towards him, she could see that there was a smear of chocolate on it—probably from the pastry she'd just scarfed. He winked at her and popped it nonchalantly in his mouth, humming as if in thought for a moment.

“Not bad."

Amalthea swallowed thickly, adverting her gaze from Vridel as she shoved another pastry in her mouth. She was careful not to smear any chocolate this time, though. Her heart was beating wildly in her chest, and she felt a little light headed. It felt like she was going to faint, but it wasn't an entirely bad feeling, she didn't think. Clearing her throat, she forced herself to glance back at him, well aware that her face was probably a scarlet hue.

“I would hope it was good. You chose them, after all," she replied, referring to the pastries. She decided against commenting on the crush statement. If she did, she'd only further embarrass herself, or worse, she'd admit to him that she had a crush on him. She furrowed her brows, though. Would that be a bad thing, though, if she told him?

“Vridel," she stated, glancing at him with lightly puffed cheeks. Would it be okay to tell him? She pushed a sigh through her nose, though, and inwardly shook her head. “Thanks for the pastries! They really are good," she stated, instead. “But... you didn't have to come all this way just to give them to me. I'm sure you had other things you needed to do. Oh, but... I hope it doesn't sound like I'm ungrateful or anything, because I'm not! I am grateful you... I'm just gonna stop talking now." She couldn't look him in the face now.

He chuckled, low and rich, and in the corner of her eye, his posture shifted so that he was leaning on the table with his chin in his hand. “Worry not, Thea," he said, tapping her foot underneath the table with his own. “I assure you this has been a perfectly good use of my time. I got to see something quite interesting, after all." He did not specify what this interesting things was, though.

Apparently taking mercy on her, he changed the topic. “Are you finding your training productive?"

She smiled and nodded her head. “I am, actually. I've even learned to summon Amyr back using the enchantment," she was very proud of that fact, actually. She'd spent a lot of time running back and forth retrieving it before she'd learned the enchantment. She felt a bit bad, though, because she'd seen him use it before, but she just... forgot. She did that a lot. “As for other training," she pursed her lips together and furrowed her brows.

“I'm not really all that good with magic. I've never really been, and even with Lyanna's and your help, I just... I don't know. I can't seem to get it quite right?" she questioned. “It just doesn't flow the same way, I guess. It's a bit different than throwing an axe or... you know, moving around in heavy things and stuff like that," she murmured, taking a slow bite from another pastry, deciding to savor this one, at least.

Vridel tilted his head. “Your sister's fairly demanding," he mused. “I think I'm used to learning that way, but it's certainly not the best for everyone. I take it you haven't done much healing before, have you?" He didn't seem to be judging her for it; on the contrary there was something almost melancholy in his tone. The mirth had faded from his face a bit, too, and his brows had drawn together.

She shook her head, pursing her lips together. “I haven't. I've... never had the need to, I suppose." She'd grown up in the Monastery where it was safe, and no one ever required it. “I told you I grew up here. I've never had the need to heal anyone. I've studied white magic and healing magic but... studying and actually practicing it are two very different things. I'm afraid all I did was learn about it, but I've never really applied it to anything. Never had a reason to," until she had friends. She smiled softly at that thought. They were her precious friends, and she wanted to do whatever she could to help them.

“It's why I appreciate you and Lyanna taking the time out of your busy schedules to help me with it. It means a great deal to someone like me," she stated, smiling brightly. It really did. It meant she would be able to use it if she ever needed to, but she needed to practice, first.

“Someone like you?" he echoed curiously. “A bit of an odd thing to say." With the hand not holding his chin, he set the canteen down in front of her. “I only brought one, but it's tea. Feel free to have some."

“Of course," she stated, glancing at the canteen. “To someone like you, or even Sorcha and Mercer, I'm just..." she pursed her lips together, unsure of the word she wanted to use. She was, technically, just a commoner. She wasn't as special as the three heirs. Not that she minded, though. She rather liked her simple life. “I'm just a simple person compared to you, Sorcha, and Mercer. I don't have the weight of an entire nation on my shoulders, but to someone like me who can have someone like you, spare their time for... it means a great deal to me."

“I mean, like I've said, I'm sure there are more important things you have to tend to than spend your time with me, but..." she giggled lightly, unsure why she did, “I'd like to think that's being a little selfish of me, but I'm glad. I... don't want things often for myself, but this, what we do, I actually value it. Our time together has been fun and I don't... I don't want that to change." She smiled at him as she took the canteen and drank from it.

He gave her a strange look, then, eyes narrowed almost suspiciously, before all at once he sighed and relented, expression softening to something almost... bemused? “On the contrary," he said, tapping a light rhythm on the wood of the table with his empty hand. “I think that simplicity of yours is exactly why you're worth spending time on."

Before she could respond, he shook his head. “You know... I won't pretend I've had it as hard as some people. I've never been at risk of dying from starvation, or had to worry too much personally about whether there's a drought or it's a good or bad year for trade. But one of the challenges of being someone like me is that people almost never show me their true face. They always want something, and usually they hide what they want until they think they can get it, because I like them enough or because they have the right leverage over me. It's exhausting." He said it flatly, dully, expelling a soft breath from his nose.

“To be quite honest, when we met I thought you would be much the same. But I could never figure out what you wanted from me. When you finally did ask for something, it was for book recommendations about plants." He snorted softly. “I thought you were strange. Still do. But to someone like me... well, your lack of ulterior motives means a great deal. So I could hardly see you as a waste of time, now could I?"

Amalthea felt her eyes widen slightly. She never thought about it that way. She pursed her lips and let her gaze fall to the table. She didn't know why, but she felt... sad? Not for herself, but for him. It was a strange feeling, really. Now she felt slightly bad about having a crush on him and not telling him. She opened her mouth, but found herself saying no words. She sighed softly, willing her heart beat to calm. Funny, when had it become so erratic? Shaking her head, mostly at herself, she smiled at him.

“Well... would it be too late to ask for something else?" she stated, glancing at him with hopeful eyes. “Would it be too much to ask for you to be my friend? And... to stay my friend? I don't have many of those, but I feel like I do... with all of you and especially you, because," she paused to take a deep breath, “well I rather like you, Vi. You're a good person. And no one can say otherwise because I have proof!" She was referring, of course, to the pastries that were left, and Amyr. She would keep her crush to herself for just a little longer.

He gave her an odd little sideward smile at that. “Aha," he said, eyes narrowed this time in something like amusement, it seemed. “So you did want something after all." He paused, as if considering her, or the offer, and then shrugged.

“Then again... I suppose I like you enough to grant the request. Friends it is."

“I promise I want nothing else!" she stated, smiling and almost standing with the force of her statement. She was rather content to leave it at that. Friends. For now.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Sunday the 20th
Stables - Early Afternoon - Clear
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer had to admit, it was rather lovely outside. The air was crisp, there was a light breeze passing through, and Sir Ladon nipped at his hair every once in a while. It was nice. Perfect weather for a race. He had asked Sorcha to join him at the stables, but he didn't tell her why. She needed to get outside, to enjoy the weather like he was, and to have a bit of fun. Being cooped up in the infirmary did not treat her well, and he knew her thoughts well. He didn't want her to think like that, but there wasn't much he could do to change her mind. He could at least try and make things lighter for her. She was his friend, and he needed to see her smiling again.

He blinked at the thought. Needed. He needed to see her smile. He rolled his eyes to himself, earning a light huff from Sir. “What? You reading my thoughts now, Sir?" he stated, scratching the wyvern's snout. Sir merely made a rumbling sound in the back of his throat, causing Mercer to shake his head. “Yeah, yeah, you want fish. You can't have your fish until after we're done. And if we do well, I'll bring you two buckets," he stated, holding up two fingers in the process. Sir seemed to like the idea, and stretched out his wings, causing Mercer to laugh.

“All we have to do is wait for Sor to arrive, and then we can begin, alright? It won't take long, I promise," he continued, pushing on Sir's snout.

It did not, in fact, take long at all for Sorcha to arrive. She seemed to be habitually punctual, neither extremely early nor even slightly late to anything, as far as he could tell. She'd dressed for a ride, though whether this was because she'd anticipated his reason for asking her here or simply because she'd intended to visit Lady afterwards was unclear. She also appeared to be, of all things, in fact carrying a fish in one hand.

Approaching Sir's stall door, she gave it a deft toss to the wyvern, wearing a small, uncertain smile. Certainly not a robust one, not a real one. Her eyes moved to Mercer then, and it wavered a little before falling away entirely. “You wanted to see me?" she asked, sounding a bit like she didn't quite believe her own words.

She looked... not unwell, precisely, but worn-down somehow. There were violet-ish half-moons beneath her eyes, and her skin had paled, washing out even the light freckles dusting it. Even the color of her eyes seemed a bit dimmer than it had been a month ago, but at last she wasn't carrying herself as though her wound was bothering her anymore. She'd been cleared to returned to class and activities about a week ago, and had by all accounts thrown herself back into both right away and without hesitation.

“Yep," he replied casually. He hated that she did that to herself, but that was the reason for what he was doing. He couldn't let her see that the way she was affected him. If he did, she would probably blame herself for making him feel bad, or something of that nature. And so he smiled, genuinely at her. “I thought you could use a nice day for some fresh air," he stated, his eyes going towards Sir who happily snatched the fish she'd tossed. He was never not going to get a fish whenever Sorcha was around, was he? Not even when Mercer said no. He huffed lightly, and shook his head.

“What say you? Care for a ride?" he asked, allowing his smile to turn into a light grin.

It seemed to take a moment for the question to sink in with her. “I—what?" she asked, blinking before shaking her head slightly. “You want to just... go flying? With—with me?" Her expression was skeptical, almost as though she were expecting a trick of some kind. “Or wait, no, sorry I'm an idiot. Of course you're asking to train, why wouldn't you be? Erm—yes. Sure. I'll go... get Lady ready."

She seemed more than a little flustered, abruptly turning on her heel and heading for the tack room, muttering something under her breath at herself, it seemed.

Mercer sighed a bit heavier than he meant to, and shook his head. “Come on, Sir, let's get you ready," he stated, motioning for the wyvern to follow him. Once he had Sir saddled, he waited for Sorcha to arrive, outside of the stables. When she arrived, he glanced in her direction, and grinned. “And no, we are not training. I, of course, want to go flying with you," he stated, pausing intentionally to let the words sink in properly. He knew she had liked him, probably still did from the way she reacted to everything, but he needed to be careful with this.

She didn't seem to know how to react to that; though her lips parted as if to speak, she closed them again a moment later, still wordless.

“I actually asked you to join me for a flight, however; given how beautiful it is outside, I thought we might have a little race. You know, just to see how fast Lady and Sir can really go. Plus... I thought it might be fun," he stated, shrugging his shoulders in a nonchalant fashion.

“I—" Sorcha looked down at the toes of her long boots, absently patting Lady's neck with the hand that wasn't holding her reins. She'd properly saddled her this time, probably to avoid any near-falls like last time. The tips of her ears warmed to a pinkish color, but it did little to put any life back in her face otherwise. “Okay," she said softly. She managed a tiny smile, but then turned away to swing astride Lady.

If nothing else, she seemed to be quite back to form, lacking in none of her customary grace, which suggested her wounds were indeed fully healed. The pegasus nickered as Sorcha settled in her saddle, tapping her flanks gently. It was enough to spur her forward, and then with a leap and a mighty downward stroke of the creature's black-feathered wings, she was airborne.

Mercer frowned slightly before he mounted Sir. Before he went airborne, he tapped Sir's neck. “Alright, let's make her smile, alright? No matter what, but that doesn't mean we aren't going to not try. Whether we win or lose this race, the main thing is to make sure she's smiling by the end of it, deal? If we manage that, I'll bring a third bucket of fish, maybe a fourth," he was bribing his own wyvern at the moment, but Sir merely regarded him with all too yellow eyes before he went airborne. Mercer would take that as a yes. Once he was next to Sorcha, he glanced in her direction.

“The conditions of the race are as follows. The first person to complete three laps around the entire Monastery wins. What that person wins is up to the other person. So, if I win, you get to decide what it is I win, and if you win, well... I get to decide what it is that you win, deal?" he stated glancing in her direction. It was certainly a bit different as far as stakes went.

She looked at him from the corner of her eye for a moment, considering, before she gave him a little nod. “All right; I think I can do that. Should we call this the starting line, then?"

“Sure, we'll consider this the starting line. Once we pass this line three times, we'll have a winner," he replied. He already knew what he was going to ask her for if she won. She would have to oblige regardless, however; he didn't know what she would ask for if he won. Some part of him really did want to win, and he supposed he would hold on to that feeling for now. “Okay, so I'm going to count down to one. Once I reach one, we'll begin," he stated holding up three fingers in the process.

“One..." he pulled one finger down.

“Two..."

“THREE!" he shouted, spurring Sir forward.

“That's the wrong way around!"

Lady surged forth at the same time, Sorcha bent low over her back, face set with determination.

It was a close race from the get-go—while Sir was probably faster in a straight line, Lady seemed to have the edge in maneuverability, and Sorcha was clever in how she steered her, almost mathematical in her calculation of turns and angles. The wind rushed past their ears, drowning out nearly all sound but the wingbeats of their steeds and the sounds of their own hearts in their ears. The air passed by so quickly it almost seemed to sting.

If anything, though, Sorcha was in her element, even as the dragging air tugged at her hair and clothes, the was focused ahead, intent on the race and every new maneuver. It was enough to put her just barely ahead as they crossed the line for the third time, and she pulled up Lady slowly afterwards, letting her take a lap slowly so as to cool her down after all the exertion.

“I guess this one's mine," she said, a soft note of pride in her voice, though it was far from obnoxious. She turned her head to regard him, tilting it to the side. “I guess that means you decide what I win? Or am I giving you something? I wasn't exactly clear on what you were deciding now."

He hummed and nodded his head. “That's right; I get to decide what it is you win," he stated, motioning for them to land. Once they dismounted, Mercer held onto Sir's reigns and regarded Sorcha for a moment. Tilting his head slightly, he smiled at her. “You get your own personal attendant dedicated to making you smile, again. And I don't mean this... whatever smile you've been wearing, lately. I mean your actual smile. It's a very beautiful thing to not have, you know," he stated, bowing in her direction. “And I mean, me, of course. I don't think Sir could be much help, but I'm sure he'd try" he added, glancing up from his position with a grin. Sir snorted in his direction, and pushed him with his snout, almost knocking Mercer off his balance.

Sorcha looked entirely bewildered by the declaration. “What?" The word came out flatter than she probably meant it to, almost more of a statement than a question. “I don't—I mean, I'm not—" Her face was turning pink, though something about the rest of her expression seemed... different from the face she usually made when he flustered her. It was more... vulnerable, was the word. As though he'd slipped past some defense she had in a way she hadn't expected. Perhaps she'd thought the smile seemed genuine. Perhaps she'd thought it was genuine.

“Mercer, you can't do that, it's ridiculous." Her fingers curled into Lady's reins. “What's more, you don't have to. I'll be fine, eventually, and you don't—" she pursed her lips, shaking her head and glancing away. “You don't... owe me anything. For what happened. It's not your fault, and I don't blame you for anything. The fault was mine so..." She trailed off, swallowing and still resolutely not looking at him.

Mercer sighed heavily, rolling his shoulders out before Sir laid his head on them. “It was no one's fault, Sorcha. Shit just happens sometimes; the only thing you can do is learn from it and just try to be better. Trust me, I blamed myself for a long time before realizing that... it's just something you can't control," he stated, moving Sir's head so that he could step closer to Sorcha. Gently, he lifted her chin so that she could look him in the eyes. What he wanted to say was important, and he wanted her to know how important.

“You have a good heart, Sorcha. What happened to you was no more your fault than it was mine. The blame lies on the man you spared, not you. Even if you want to blame yourself for not killing him, don't. A heart like yours, one that wants to show mercy, is very rare in this world. I... cannot afford to have a heart like that, but maybe," he paused, keeping eye contact with her before he continued, “maybe you can keep doing what I can't. And of course I can do that. Just... let me be a source of your happiness. It's what friends do, right?"

He rather liked Sorcha, his friend.

It seemed that in that moment, Sorcha lost some kind of internal battle. Or at least, one he could easily imagine she'd been waging, if her words the other day were any indication. Tears welled in Sorcha's bright blue eyes, changing the color somehow and giving them a swimmy, hazy quality they usually lacked. She fought them, blinking as if to clear them away, but then a sob tore free of her throat and all at once they fell, streaking down her cheeks.

“I'm sorry," she said miserably, letting go of Lady's reins and swiping ineffectually at the tears. “I just—I don't even know why I'm—I shouldn't be—" she hiccuped, shaking her head and sniffling.

Mercer smiled at Sorcha and wrapped his arms around her shoulders, pulling her in for a hug. “Hey, it's alright, Sor," he whispered softly. “You go ahead and cry until you don't feel like it anymore. I'll just be right here until you do," he continued, taking in a soft breath. “Like I said, I'm your friend and I'm here for you. Whatever you need, just tell me and I will do what I can until you smile again, alright?" He really did want to see her smile.

At first she only sobbed again, unmoving in his hold. Her shoulders shook beneath his arms; it seemed she was still trying to stem the tide of the tears. “Why—" she took a shuddering breath in, resting her brow against his chest and murmuring into his shirt, arms limp at her sides. “Why are you so nice to me?" she asked, the question almost pleading. “I'm not—" Her hands clenched into fists; raising one of them, she struck him with the side of it, right next to where her head rested. It didn't hurt, and clearly wasn't meant to.

“Why would you promise th-things like that? I can't—" she hiccuped again. “Dry all my tears and make me smile?" A sniffle, and then another slow, soft blow. “P—presumptuous bastard. Don't you know I'm not—" She shuddered, this time when her fist landed she opened her fingers, sliding them down to bunch in his shirt near the waist.

“I'm not worth it. Everyone knows so."

For a moment, he wondered if this was some recurring theme in Faerghus. Senka seemed to have almost the same issues as Sorcha did, but they were still very different. Taking a deep breath, he stroked her hair in a soothing manner. “Why would you think you're not worth it, Sor? You're a good person, of course you deserve it. And that's not true," he pursed his lips together. He wondered who had told her she wasn't worth kindness. He wanted to find that person and put an arrow through their heart. It was already dead to begin with if they had told someone like Sorcha that she wasn't.

“You're very much worth being nice to. You've a gentle heart, you're brave, strong, resilient, and so very dedicated. And if that makes you feel better by calling me a presumptuous bastard, then maybe I am. But I know a lot of people who think that you're worth being nice to because you're a good person, Sor. If you don't believe me, ask anyone of our friends. Hell, ask Teach, you know he's incapable of lying," he wasn't actually sure about that. Teach wouldn't lie to Sorcha, though.

“You should stop thinking yourself undeserving of things, and maybe think that you are. It's hard, I know, but like I said, I'll be here every step of the way if you want me to. Until you can believe in the things we say about you, and find your own sense of self-worth, I'll be here. I promise," he didn't usually promise things he couldn't keep, but this... this was something he knew he could.

Sorcha's other arm curled around his back, though she shook her head a little against him, too, as if to deny what he was saying. Still she didn't move away, didn't give voice to the denial, merely clung to him like he was an anchor in a storm and she very much in danger of being swept away.

Eventually, probably before she was really ready, the crying ceased, but she remained there just a heartbeat longer, fingers tightening where she gripped him. She took a deep breath, swallowed thickly, and then stepped back.

Her face was streaked with tears, eyes red-rimmed and still too bright when she looked up at him. “It is hard," she murmured softly. “Knowing that I'm not what Faerghus needs me to be. That I'm always going to—to fall short, somehow. I want—" She closed her eyes for a moment, then opened them again. “I keep trying to be better but no matter what I do, they—"

She shook her head. “I'm sorry. I'm sure it's... you must have problems too, right? I don't know much about how things work in the Alliance, but I know it's cutthroat." One of her hands still held the hem of his shirt; she dropped her eyes to it, smoothing her thumb over the line of stitching there. “Have you ever felt like... like you don't belong? Like it would be better if someone else was heir, instead of you?"

Ah, so that was where some of it stemmed from. He rubbed the back of his neck, and smiled wryly at her. “No, not really," he answered truthfully. “I'm not going to lie; the Alliance is like you said. It's cutthroat and you only survive if you're strong enough, but I want to change that. I want to make it so that you don't have to be just strong, that you can be just and kind, and... everything that you are, actually," he admitted, glancing at her.

“Whether they think I'm fit or not, all that matters is that I believe that I am. They might not want me as their next leader, and they might keep sending their... blades, but I'm not going to lie down and die like some dog. I'm going to show them, prove them wrong and make them believe that I am what they need. It doesn't matter if they don't want you because you are all they have. They need you, and in time, you'll prove it to them."

“You really don't give yourself enough credit, Sor. A heart like yours... you could change the entire world if only you believed in yourself more. Try soaking up the good words everytime they're given to you, and drown out what people say. Let them think ill of you, but... keep your head up. Show them you're not afraid to be who you are. It's... something I actually admire about you," he gave a soft smile this time.

“You... blades?" Perhaps understandably, that part seemed to stick with her; her eyes went wide. “You mean they've tried to kill you, too?" Despite her expression, she didn't sound surprised, exactly. Or at least not surprised that it could happen. Her brow creased with worry; she looked him up and down almost as though she expected to find some evidence of a recent attack. “So that's why..."

Her lips pursed, and then dropped into a frown. “You—you have a good heart, too, you know. You wouldn't be standing here trying to cheer me up right now if you didn't." She finally met his eyes of her own volition, then. “I'll... I'll accept your promises, Mercer, but on one condition: you have to let me make you one, too. If... if you ever need anything I can do, you have to ask me. If we're going to be friends, we both—we both have to lean on each other, right? That means I help you, too."

“What kind of friend would I be if I didn't let you?" he stated, giving her a lopsided grin. “Deal. You lean on me, and I'll lean on you, alright? But do me a favor," he paused, leaning in closer to her. He was smiling this time, his eyes narrowing with the force of it. “I want you to mimic what I'm doing right now. I want you to smile for me. That's how we seal the deal, alright? And I want it to be genuine."

“You can't just make people smile for real," she replied, whacking him gently over the sternum. “That's not how that works at all."

Nevertheless, there was one, just a little one, that turned the corners of her mouth up just enough to qualify. More importantly even than that perhaps, it was the first one he'd seen in almost a month that reached her eyes.

“Hey Mercer? Thanks."

“You're welcome, Princess."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Tuesday the 22nd
Rhea's Office - Midafternoon - Clear
Cyril Eisner


He supposed that a personal summons from the Archbishop wasn't something a person could really refuse. When Lyanna had delivered it to him, she'd looked mildly concerned, in that odd way she had that convinced him not everything was as harmonious between herself and Rhea as most people assumed. Either way the summons was for the middle of the afternoon, right around teatime for those who got to it a touch later than average. The monastery seemed to run on a stretched daily schedule, starting earlier and finishing later than most every ordinary enterprise did. He was more or less used to it; since mercenary life was hardly regular in the first place, he'd always found he could adjust easily to most any routine.

On the grounds that it probably wasn't meet to show up at the Archbishop's office wearing the same gear he used to train his students, Cyril had washed down and donned a black tunic with his father's sigil at the neck in white, sleeves rolled to his elbows in deference to the weather, and a sturdy pair of trousers tucked into his boots. He carried no weapons; they were rather wholly unnecessary to him to begin with, and he didn't have much desire for the Archbishop to think of him as someone who'd come to meet her armed, even if he in fact rather was.

There was much to dislike about Rhea, even as little as he knew of her overall. Perhaps he had only seen the stern face she must put on in front of those she led—he knew well that some people's public and private faces were much different. But still, anyone who thought of killing militia, real people, as first and foremost a lesson for his students about defying the Church needed, at the very least, an adjustment of priorities and a better idea of just what it had done to them. Sorcha was only barely beginning to look and act like herself again, Senka still didn't trust herself, Mercer and Vridel were beginning down a winding and ruthless, bitter road. To say nothing of Amalthea, or the others, or how personally torn Devon had been by what they'd been commanded to do.

It was with no small amount of discomfort, then, that he reached the Archbishop's office door. Fortunately, he had a very good expressionless face, one he easily employed now, knocking thrice on the wood panel before stepping back.

The door opened almost immediately after he knocked, as if she were anticipating he would arrive exactly when he did. She smiled at him, the same smile she usually donned, and ushered him in. “Welcome, Professor," she greeted, waiting for him to step inside. Once he did, she moved so that she stood in the middle, and regarded him with an even gaze. “This is the first time I have welcomed you here, is it not?" She laughed lightly as she shook her head, though.

The sound was rather strange, almost affectionate in some way. “There is no need to be nervous, though. Please, come closer." she stated, holding her hand out for a moment before she brought it back to her and folded it by her stomach. “When you speak with me in this room, you are not speaking with the archbishop, but simply me: Rhea."

He supposed that answered his question, in a way. He certainly knew now that she perceived herself as having two distinct sides, at least.

In spite of the words, he wasn't really any less wary, though he made a conscious effort to visibly relax. “I see," he said quietly, casting his eyes over the office. It was decorated with items of furniture that were clearly expensive, but like much of the monastery it had a certain... spareness to it as well. He wondered if this had something to do with her particular aesthetic sense.

He took an obliging step closer, tilting his head slightly. He didn't have to look as far down as he did with most people to meet her eyes, but he was still considerably taller than her. There was a power to her, though, a subtle thing that he could only place because, he thought, of experience with people who were stronger than they might first appear.

There is something about this woman, the girl said from her spot in the back of his mind. But I cannot be sure what.

Her smile widened if slightly when he stepped closer. “Such a sweet child," she spoke, tilting her head light as if to regard him. “Oh," she spoke suddenly, inclining her head towards Cyril. “My apologies, I should not be treating you like a child," she stated, her eyes narrowing in mirth, it seemed. “As Jeralt's kin, somehow you don't seem at all a stranger to me..." she paused to glance at him. There was something in the way she looked at him, like she was searching for something that wasn't quite there.

She didn't seem to find it, though, as a flash of disappointment crossed her face. “Speaking of Jeralt," she stated, tilting her head in an inquisitive manner, “may I ask if he ever spoke of me to you?" She seemed to be expecting a postive answer of some sort.

Expectation aside, Cyril had only the truth to give. He had no idea what she was looking for that she didn't see, but he wasn't entirely unused to being on the other end of that. His father had used to look at him similarly, as had many of the people he'd met, actually. He never seemed to quite be what anyone wanted, but it was something he'd grown accustomed to.

“He almost never spoke of the past," he said, lifting his shoulders briefly. “And never of this place, or anyone in it." His father had told him to be cautious about what he revealed, but he thought there wasn't really any good way to avoid this particular truth. He somehow doubted she didn't already guess.

“Oh dear," she stated, folding her hand beneath her head, but leaving it just far enough so that her head wasn't resting on it. “How heartless of him," she continued, her lips pursing into a fine line. She seemed upset by the declaration, as if she'd expected his father to have mentioned her at some point. “I suppose it cannot be helped, however; let us endeavor to become closer from here on out," she stated, dropping her hands to her sides and smiling at him.

“Since you are here, shall I tell you about the Jeralt that I knew?" she stated, a strange lilt to her voice. “By the look of it, you haven't heard much about his time at the monastery, have you?" she questioned, though she already knew the answer to that. Cyril had told her before that he was not familiar with the Church, nor his father once being part of it.

“When I first met Jeralt, he was quite young. Why," she seemed amused by her next set of words, “he could not even grow a full beard at that point!"

He arched his brows slightly at that. It was honestly difficult to imagine his father looking any other way than he did now, because in all honesty, it was the way he'd looked as long as Cyril had been alive... or at least as long as he could remember. “That's... not the easiest thing to picture," he admitted. “He's never been without it entirely. Not that I recall, anyway."

“Hm, indeed. It's hard to imagine, now, but there was a time, long ago," she stated, smiling somewhat as she nodded her head. “On one fateful occasion, though, the band of mercenaries he belonged to fought alongside the Knights of Seiros," she began, closing her eyes as if to recall the memory. “I was traveling with the knights at the time, and Jeralt jumped in front of an attack meant for me. He was gravely wounded, on the verge of death, even," her lips pursed into a fine line as she opened her eyes to regard Cyril.

“I tended to his wounds in a desperate attempt to save his life. Thankfully," she paused to place a hand over her heart, “my efforts were not in vain. Jeralt managed to escape a seemingly certain death." Her face smoothed back over, and the same, empty smile she had before, was back. “I made arrangements for him to receive further care at Garreg Mach. The moment he was deemed fully recovered, I invited him to join the knights."

“That sounds like something he would do," Cyril admitted, something almost wry entering his tone. He could certainly imagine a younger, more impulsive version of his father jumping in front of a blow meant for another, much as he'd—

Do you think she might know something about that? he asked the girl, suddenly uncertain. The time thing?

Maybe, the girl said softly. But do you want her to know you can do that?

The answer was immediate, and he expelled a soft breath from his nose. “I suppose I owe you my thanks, then," he said to Rhea. “The literal truth aside, I wouldn't be who I am without my father. He means..." He wasn't sure what the right words were, really. He never had been. “He means a great deal to me."

“Every parent means the world to their child," she stated suddenly, a strange, hard look to her eyes. She shook her head, though, and her posture seemed to relax. “It is not a story I have often repeated," she spoke, shaking her head softly. “Even at the monastery, there are not many who know that." She paused, her facial features smoothing out as if to make her appear younger than she looked. “I tell you this because... to me, you are the child of the one who saved my life all those years ago. And also..." she paused again, diverting her gaze to the floor before she closed her eyes. She didn't speak for at least a few minutes before shaking her head.

“Never mind, it is nothing. I simply wanted to say that I trust you. By coming to visit with me today, you have... well..." she began, her eyes narrowing slightly. “Suffice it to say that my day is brighter than it otherwise would have been. I thank you for that," she inclined her head towards him, bowing lightly in the process.

“If there is anything you should ever need, please do not hesitate to ask."

Cyril wasn't entirely sure what to make of that. There was definitely something else she wasn't saying there, but he doubted very much he'd be able to prompt her into it, either. His shoulders relaxed a little further, though, and he sighed quietly. “Thank you," he said simply. He could not tell her he would, or even that her words were reassuring, because frankly neither of those things was especially true, and he'd always had an instinctive aversion to lying. So he settled on something that implied almost the same, but was not false.

“I'll keep that in mind, Rhea."

That seemed to make a smile cross her face, something more genuine and life-like. “You are welcome, Cyril," she responded. She seemed quite curious about something, though, and tilted her head at him. “I do have a question for you," she began, pausing only for a second before she asked him, “how are you getting along with your students? I've heard a few... interesting things." She did not seem to care to elaborate on what those things were, though.

He blinked, immediately wary of the question for a reason he couldn't explain. “They are exceptional," he replied simply. “Interesting how?"

Her eyes narrowed with her smile. “Interesting in that they all seem rather fond of you. You'll forgive my forwardness, but there have not been many instances when students are particularly fond of their professors. And to have the fondness of not only your main house, but of those in different houses as well..." she trailed off at the end, her eyes narrowing in what seemed like displeasure.

“You would do well to remember that it is not always so. These students are merely that: students. The three heirs will be leaving at the end of their year to return back to their countries as, perhaps, better rulers." She didn't seem to include Amalthea or Senka, as if she were anticipating something would keep them from leaving the monastery. Amalthea's home was the monastery, though.

So the remaining exclusion made little sense to him, except as a thing of intention. He had other students, of course, the rest of the Blue Lion House and the rest of his Saturday group. But he knew it would be fairly easy to tell that he spent the most time with those five, and so he wondered.

“I understand that they'll be leaving," he said slowly. “I don't see any reason not to want to be on good terms with them while they're here, however. It makes teaching them easier." The truth, though certainly not all of it.

If anything she looked disappointed in his response. “While it may seem that way, they will leave, and you will be left behind. If you are quite certain that is something you can handle, then by all means, continue to cultivate your bonds with your students. It will make things that much more difficult when it comes time to say goodbye." She shook her head, though, and regarded him with a flat stare.

“I believe that will be all for today, Professor. You may spend the rest of your day however you'd like. There are things I must return to," she stated, bowing softly in his direction as her way of dismissing him.

He could not help but feel that something about the words was a threat, albeit one lightly-applied. Unsure what to make of that, especially contrasted with other things she'd said, Cyril furrowed his brows, returning the bow. “Archbishop," he said simply, turning on his heel and exiting the office.

Something wasn't right about that woman, but he'd be damned if he knew what.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Thursday the 24th
Library - Early Afternoon - Light Rain
Senka Rinaldi


Senka sighed softly, closing the book she'd been reading and crossed her hands in front of her. Things were becoming more lively in the monastery; the knights were making more patrols, seemingly almost stretched thin by the looks on their faces. With the possible assassination attempt, everyone seemed to be getting worked up about protecting the archbishop. The woman didn't seem to need protecting, though. Senka knew strength and power when she saw it; the woman held herself in high regards, and it was clear that hardly anyone else mattered. Anyone not the professor, at least. She felt a light shiver go down her spine. She still hadn't forgotten the way Rhea had glared at her the day they were studying in the library. It was unnerving, however; her thoughts were occupied elsewhere.

Why would someone go to the trouble of making an assassination plan, but leave it on their person when they knew there was a possibility of death? It was just... too poorly planned. It didn't make any sense to Senka. She wondered if her friends felt the same way. She knew Vridel and Cyril were not particularly fond of the archbishop, but she knew they wouldn't allow the woman to come to harm. They had a mission to complete, and they would do it without fail as they always have. It still felt strange, as if the assassination attempt were smokescreen for something else. Something more important, but Senka did not know the monastery well-enough to know what it was. Perhaps that was why she had asked her friends to meet her in the library. The rain made it difficult to meet outside, light as it was, and the library wouldn't seem as suspicious if they met there.

Written exams were coming up, after all, and it would simply look like a study group to most people who cared to look. And she knew there was one person in particular who would. Even though she was the first one there, she would wait patiently for her friends to finish whatever it was they were doing. She wanted to see if they shared her suspicions as well. Maybe her lack of sleep was causing her to see things that were not there, though?

Sorcha, of course, was already there. It wasn't clear exactly what had happened, but she seemed to be doing better in the last few days. At least she was sleeping enough that the dark circles had lifted from her eyes, and though she rarely smiled, that wasn't so unusual. She wasn't as inexpressive as Senka, but true smiles from the Princess had been rare in all the time Senka had known her. Part of it was of course what had happened to her family, but she knew part of it was also pressure from the court, to be many things that she was not in order to make herself a more suitable ruler for Faerghus.

It wasn't too long before Vridel and Reynard appeared, speaking about something in low voices. It was almost certain that they'd share her suspicions; they seemed to have the demeanors for that kind of thing. Devon wasn't far behind, carrying an overstuffed satchel full of books as usual and entering with Sylvi, a genuine grin on his face at something she'd said, it seemed. He was still mourning his foster father, and all of them knew it, but the news that his siblings had both survived the uprisinghad come as a great relief to him, and enabled him to keep up with his studies.

It wasn't long before Mercer appeared, hair disheaveled as if he'd just woken from a nap. For all intents and purposes, that was what he wanted people to believe. Senka knew him a little better than she'd like to admit. Amalthea was next to him, smiling as if she'd found out something entertaining. She waved at the group, though, causing Senka's lips to twitch just slightly upward. It wasn't quite a smile, but she knew they would know she was. That had still been a little strange to her; having people who could read her expressions as if they were clear as day was... nice.

Dierdre and Sofia were next to arrive, Dierdre grinning as she had her arm looped with Sofia's. Senka thought they were a rather lovely couple. Almost complete opposites as far as their personalities went, but it was obvious enough that they cared deeply for one another; loved one another. When everyone was settled at the table, Senka glanced around to make sure everyone was present.

“Is that everyone?" Sylvi seemed to ask, as Mercer shook his head.

“You invited Teach, didn't you?" he asked, glancing towards Senka. She nodded her head. She invited everyone that she could, including their professor. He just hadn't arrived, yet.

It took Cyril another few minutes to appear. He entered the library slightly damp from the rain outside, reaching up to slick his hair back away from where it had fallen in his face. As often seemed to be the case, one particular stubborn strand of inky-black fell in front of his nose anyway, but the rest stayed mostly put.

“I apologize for my tardiness," he said quietly, glancing back over his shoulder with a slightly narrow-eyed expression. He didn't elaborate, however, merely moving towards the tables. The seat left was rather far from Senka, but he along with everyone else was in view, at least.

“And I thought I was usually the late one," Mercer murmured, causing Dierdre to elbow his side. “I kid, Dierdre," he stated, rubbing at his side. Senka merely pursed her lips together as she shook her head. “So I take it we're all here for the same thing?" he asked, earning a nod from just about everyone around.

“Good. This will make it that much easier, then," he began, leaning his forearms against the table. “What do you think the real target is?" he asked, his voice low so that it wouldn't be overheard by unnecessary ears. Senka shook her head, though. She had not the slightest clue.

“Why wouldn't it be Lady Rhea?" Amalthea asked in a confused manner.

“Because they're not actually targeting Lady Rhea," Sylvi spoke, glancing towards Devon for a second before turning her attention back to the others. Senka nodded her head in agreement.

“The assassination plot is a cover for something else, but we don't know what that is, quite yet. You grew up here, Amalthea. Is there anything that comes to mind that would be of importance to this place?" she asked, watching as Thea shook her head.

“I can't really think of anything. "

“What about the timing?" Sorcha asked. “What happens on the day of the Rite of Rebirth that doesn't usually happen?"

Vridel hummed quietly. “The Archbishop and Lady Lyanna spend much of the day in the Goddess Tower, I know that much," he said. “I think... maybe other parts of the Monastery open to the public also?" He looked to Amalthea, as though he expected her to know this. Probably not an unreasonable instinct.

Amalthea pursed her lips together and seemed to be thinking about the question that was asked. “There are a few places that will open up, yes," she finally answered. It seemed that all eyes were on her, now, and she fidgeted a little under their gazes. She took in a deep breath, lips still pursed as she still seemed to think about it. “The Holy Masuoleum, for one, will be open to the public," she finally spoke.

“What's that?" Dierdre asked, narrowing her eyes as she did. Thea chewed the bottom of her lip in a thoughtful manner, and Senka sighed softly.

“It's where the tomb of the divine Seiros, lies. It's said that she slumbers there, eternally," Amalthea finally answered. “It's mostly just a rumor, though. Only Lady Rhea and, occasionally, Lyanna are allowed down there. During the Rite, the public is allowed to go in there, but usually not for very long."

If that were true, why open it at all? Why not just keep it closed off to the public? If Seiros truly slumbered there, why would they risk her being exposed to people?

“After all, it's just an ancient coffin down there." Still, it seemed important enough to warrant being closed off through most of the year. “Oh, the Goddess Tower might also be open to the public," she added.

Cyril shook his head. “The way Lady Lyanna described it to me, she and the Archbishop will be in complete seclusion, there. Not even the Knights are allowed inside. It's why there was concern about the legitimacy of the threat—because if someone could get in there, they could attack those two alone."

“I suppose it would also be a good chance for people to go unnoticed other places, even if they're strangers," Devon pointed out. “On the average day, an outsider in the greenhouse or the library would be obvious, but on that day there are visitors all over the place, so no individual one would be that noticeable. If I wanted to steal something from the Monastery, for instance, I'd pick a day like that."

“Hide in plain sight," Reynard agreed, tipping Devon a respectful nod. The younger man looked genuinely pleased.

“I think we can safely eliminate the greenhouse and the library though," Vridel said. “If they just needed to wander into one of these places, which aren't usually even under guard, they'd want the patrols and guard postings to be normal, not to stir them up with a fake assassination threat. Now there will be moving patrols everywhere. We need to think about places that means fewer guards."

“The crypt," Sorcha said quietly. “If people are only allowed down for a short time, it follows that they're supervised. Someone has to enforce the time, after all. But if the guards are being shuffled around to protect Lady Rhea, then chances are there will be fewer there to do that."

“Giving someone more time to search the tomb," Cyril finished, lifting a hand to rub at his jaw. “But for what? Is anything kept down there except the dead?"

“As far as I know, it's only the tombs. Ah," she stated abruptly as if something just came to her. “I overheard Lyanna say that there are Crest Stones down there," she stated.

“Crest Stones? What are those? I know that people who are descendants of the ten have Crests, but what are Crest Stones?" Dierdre asked, confusion written over her face. Amalthea smiled as if she could answer that question with ease.

“Well, you remember Catherine wielding Thunderbrand?" Dierdre nodded her head. “That was a Crest Stone in the handle. It's like a physical representation of the Crest you bear, if you have one," she explained, though she pursed her lips together. “I don't know much about how they work, but your Crest has to be compatible with that Crest Stone. Catherine said only she could wield Thunderbrand, which means she has a Crest," that was obvious enough for everyone around.

“What is so important about Crest Stones, though?" It sounded as if not just anyone could wield it, so why would they be important if someone had a Crest?

Vridel sat back in his chair, crossing his arms. “Every Hero's Relic is fitted with a Crest Stone," he said, his voice quiet, almost as if he were reluctant to speak. “It helps synchronize the relic with the wielder's Crest. It's possible to wield a Relic without one, if you have a particularly strong major Crest and you're willing to risk overtaxing yourself. It wouldn't especially surprise me if the Church had extra stones, though I suspect this is something the nobility would be interested to know..."

He looked almost ill for some reason. “They can also be used to... well, never mind. Suffice to say they interact with Crests and allow their power to be tapped more efficiently. Thus they are fitted to Relics."

“Are they of any use without a Relic?" Cyril asked.

Vridel pursed his lips. “Not... to most people. There are a few in the Empire who might have a... different use for them, but those people already have what they need." He fell silent, eyes on the table in front of him, clearly not interested in saying anything further on the topic.

“Okay, so..." Sorcha carefully picked up the thread of conversation, shooting Vridel a concerned glance before continuing. “It's at least conceivable that someone might want to steal the Crest Stones. If they help power Relics, they're certainly worth having. At the very minimum, I'm sure most noble families would jump at the chance to own a spare, just in case something happened to the one in their Relic. That makes the Mausoleum seem like the most likely target to me. How about the rest of you?"

Vridel nodded tightly.

Senka had to agree as well. The Mausoleum was looking more likely to be the place that the culprits truly intended to ask. It wouldn't do any good to notify the knights, or Rhea, about it. Senka doubted that they would believe them. Mercer seemed to agree as well since he nodded his head after Vridel had. Amalthea looked vaguely sick, but that could have been because there were people who would desecrate a sacred tomb. Sylvi pursed her lips tightly, but didn't say anything. Dierdre seemed to acknowledge the statement with a light nod before she turned her attention towards Devon, shooting him a sympathetic smile before she dropped her gaze to her hands.

He smiled back, a little awkwardly—that much was obvious. But he nodded, too, clearly unwilling to let his personal circumstances interfere with getting to the bottom of this.

Senka could understand why, though. The people who planned on targeting the Masuoleum used Lonato's rebellion as a means to do it. They planted the assassination note on him; there was no doubt in Senka's mind about that. Whether or not it he was carrying it willingly or not, the fact remained that those people knew Lonato was not going to survive the battle. Senka clenched her fists tightly at the thought. Those people were despicable.

“I suppose that means that we will focus our efforts on the Mausoleum when the time comes," Senka stated.

Cyril leaned forward there, picking up a piece of parchment and a charcoal pencil. “We'll split into three groups..."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Saturday the 26th
The Holy Mausoleum - Midmorning - Clear
Vridel von Hresvelg


The morning of the Rite, Cyril's class had assembled as planned. They were split into three groups, with instructions to concentrate their patrols in the area of the Holy Mausoleum. Vridel's group consisted of Reynard, Amalthea, and Dierdre, a rather varied mix of approaches to combat designed to be flexible. The other two groups were more specialized: Sorcha, Mercer, and Devon had found higher ground within the Mausoleum, concealing themselves among the columns and figures carved into the walls with bows at the ready, watchful.

The Professor, Senka, Sofia, and Sylvi were the frontline distraction team, and as soon as Mercer had fired the signal arrow, they burst through the front door of the Mausoleum.

Vridel, who had never seen the inside before, followed with his team. The room was enormous, a cavernous space with stone caskets arranged in two columns, one to either side. The center was mostly empty, but let up to a large dais, on which was perched a grander sarcophagus still. He could sense the magic in the air, thick and pungent enough that it was almost a taste on the back of his tongue.

The thieves they had interrupted were clearly surprised to see them; Vridel couldn't exactly blame them. He wondered, sometimes, how it was that of all the people in the place, it was sometimes only this group who seemed to bother thinking things through. But they had, and here they were.

“Keep them busy!" one of the thieves demanded. They seemed to be dressed largely in black and red, the style of the robes vaguely Imperial but not officially so by any means. He wasn't sure exactly what, if anything, to make of that. “I need time to complete the ritual!"

Probably to break the seal on that casket—even from across this huge room, Vridel could tell it was a strong one. What on earth these people would want with what was probably Seiros's corpse wasn't totally clear to him, but he figured it was better to make sure they didn't get it and ask the questions later.

The Professor had given them permission to act autonomously if the situation demanded, and it seemed to at the moment: while Cyril's group kept the main force of the enemies busy, Vridel's could rush the magician, to try and cut him down before he could complete the unsealing.

Drawing his sword, Vridel strafed to the left, gesturing the others after him. “We're stopping that ritual," he said simply. “Trust the others to cover—just take down anyone in our way."

Amalthea nodded, following after him. Dierdre wasn't too far behind, either, however; they were intercepted by a few of the soldiers who were intent on protecting the magician. Amalthea reacted rather quickly, throwing Amyr at one of the soldiers and rushed him. Her attack had been anticipated, and the man dodged out of the way, however; she summoned Amyr back as she forcefully shoved the handle into the man's stomach, causing him to double over.

Dierdre threw a fireball at one of the other soldiers who tried to attack Amalthea from the side, causing the woman to jump back, but singed her robes. It was hard to tell what expression the woman was wearing, but her attention was on Dierdre as she attacked with a magic of her own. Dierdre countered it with a strong wind spell, but it left her defenses open, which another soldier tried to take advantage of.

Reynard was there immediately, sinking his knife into the man's side. With a twist, he brought him down, tearing the weapon free and ducking the broad swing from the next in line, a swordsman, by the look of things.

Knowing he'd be fine, Vridel focused down the mage, so that Deirdre and Thea could work together to handle the remaining soldier. A blast of light drew her attention from Deirdre, who immediately switched her focus to Thea's opponent. Vridel threw another, following it up with a jolt of electricity he'd picked up from studying with Senka and Cyril, and the mage was down.

The last soldier followed, and after checking over everyone to ensure that no emergency healing was necessary, they continued forward.

Cyril's group were making fast work of the unprepared thieves elsewhere; they'd even begun to advance up the other side. Mercer's team, still unseen, was providing steady cover fire, suppressing any enemy attempts at major charges or flanking maneuvers by harassing those who tried to get strategic advantage over the others.

They made some progress, Amalthea disarming a soldier every so often with Dierdre finishing them off. It seemed to be that Amalthea still did not wish to kill anyone, at least not yet, and was leaving that to Dierdre who seemed to have no problem finishing off their opponents. She turned her attention towards a mage who seemed to be throwing a lightning bolt in random directions, perhaps trying to locate Mercer's group, and threw Amyr at the mage. It hit the mage's arm, nearly cutting it off, however, it still hung off by some of the flesh. The mage screamed, causing Amalthea to wince lightly as an arrow pierced the mage's heart, silencing them.

He was going to have to talk to her about that.

When they'd managed to move up again, they were confronted by a small ring of soldiers, trying to act as a wall of sorts. A barricade so that Vridel and the others couldn't move any further. They were with a rather large and brutish looking man. He had gauntlets in his possession, perhaps a brawler. Amalthea pursed her lips together before she glanced in Vridel's direction. With a light nod, she and Dierdre were charging the group, Dierdre readying what seemed to be a miasma spell and Amalthea trying to get the attention of the others so that Dierdre had the time.

Reynard didn't need to be directed, really, and darted to the side, no doubt to begin whittling down the edges of the grouping. Keeping an eye on the other two, Vridel decided to do the same from the other side, and lunged, slashing a lightly-armored fighter over the abdomen. When she doubled over, clutching her wound, he followed through with a hard stroke to the back of her neck, blade cleaving into her spinal cord between two vertebrae and killing her instantly.

Flicking the blood from the blade, he shifted aside from the next incoming blow, a downward lance-stroke. The reach advantage would normally bother a swordsman, but Vridel was even before this a mage, and he shot a blast of fire directly for the spearman's chest. He reeled back, smoking, but did not quite fall. A well-placed arrow to the throat from somewhere behind Vridel finished him off.

This was taking too much time. Hopefully Cyril's group was having better luck.

From the looks of it, they were still making steady progress. Senka was wielding her sword, only resorting to magic when it looked like she needed to, however; Sylvi looked to be having a somewhat harder time against the mages. When she would advance, a mage would force her back with a lightning spell, and another would try to flank her with a fire spell. Senka looked like she was trying to cover Sylvi, but was dealing with her own opponents. An axe-wielder swung in her direction, forcing her to duck, however; it seemed that one of the mages took the opportunity to attack with a wind spell, Cutting Gale, from the looks of it. Sylvi was barely able to move in time, however; Senka repositioned them so that she took the hit, and not Sylvi.

The attack cut into the skin of her back, but she looked mostly unfazed by it, quickly turning around and summoning her Blizzard. Sylvi covered for her, hacking away at a soldier with the axe who attempted to take advantage of their distraction, and pursed her lips into a fine line. Dierdre looked worried for a second as her eyes landed on Sofia, but she managed to push back a mage who tried to take advantage of her brief distraction.

Amalthea was mostly still, defending against a taller, more muscular brute who seemed to be wailing on her with his own axe. She seemed to be able to take it, though, as she was still standing, defending as her eyes glanced for an opening.

Vridel found himself with a conundrum, and as ever decided to try both. Summoning up his magic, he called a spell he'd never used in a real fight before, directing the healing all the way across the field to Senka, and then again to Sylvi. The concentration required left him open, but Reynard covered smoothly, taking down the last of the opponents who wasn't Thea's.

Across the room, Cyril was juggling several soldiers at once. He managed to get some breathing room, though, hurling his javelin for the troublesome mage, hard enough to impale him rather entirely, before falling on the ones in front of him with his fists and his magic.

That, along with continuous suppressive arrow fire, was enough to get their group through and onto the top level of the dais first, where Vridel lost track of them. They'd be fine, now. They were mostly healed, and the Professor was in front. If anyone on the field was safe right now, it was them.

In the meantime, the rest of them had this fellow to deal with.

Dierdre turned her attention to the man who was still attacking Thea. She summoned a fire spell, and hurled it at the man. He didn't seem to have any trouble dodging it, though, and whirled around so that his attention was focused on Dierdre. Amalthea took the opportunity to hurl herself onto the man's back, digging Amyr in as well. The man didn't seem fazed by it, though, and merely reached behind him, grabbing Amalthea by her arm, and flipping her over his shoulders. Amyr was still stuck in his back as she landed with a hard thud.

He swung his axe downwards in a finishing motion, however; Dierdre mimicked Amalthea's earlier actions, flinging herself into the man's side in time that his axe missed Amalthea by a couple of inches. She rolled from underneath the man, and summoned Amyr back to her. Dierdre seemed to have abandoned her magic, though, in favor of her fists. She wasn't a physical fighter, though.

Fortunately, Reynard was there to assist, and while Vridel helped Thea back to her feet, Aymr in-hand, the other man got several quick stabs in on the enemy soldier, who miraculously still seemed to be standing.

Knowing that Thea was likely to balk at the idea of finishing him off, Vridel stepped forward to do it himself, plunging his blade into the man's lower back from behind, hard enough that emerged out the other side with a gout of blood. Setting his foot against the man's spine, he pushed him off at the same time as he pulled the sword, freeing it from his body as he toppled forward.

There was little time for relief. The ritual—

Vridel whirled even as the Professor landed a hard, barehanded blow on the mage attempting to unseal the casket. The robed man staggered backwards, but it seemed he'd already accomplished his aim. The lid of the sarcophagus was cracked, and he reached inside quickly, yanking out what seemed to be—a sword?

It had a longer blade than most, slightly serrated along one edge, with a thick crossguard. Vridel had seen enough relics to know one when he encountered it, and this seemed to be made of the same unusual material that all of them were. He doubted Cyril recognized it for what it was, but it had come out of Seiros's casket, so anyone could tell it was important.

The man attempted to swing it at the Professor, but he sidestepped the blow easily and caught one of the fellow's wrists, twisting and forcing him to drop the blade. Cyril caught it easily, but just when Vridel was going to warn him not to try and use it, the whole thing took on a crimson glow, one that seemed to catch the entire room by surprise.

The mage was the first to recover, trying to use this as leverage for a surprise attack, but the Professor caught him by the throat almost automatically, it seemed, a large hand applying pressure to the man's windpipe until he went slack. The glow of the sword died down at the same time, leaving Cyril looking rather, well... perplexed.

Vridel couldn't blame him for that.

Before anyone had a chance to say anything, Catherine and a couple of soldiers burst into the tombs, Thunderbrand at the ready. “Is the intruder here?!" she shouted, blinking in a confused manner at the group. “Oh," she began, her posture relaxing a bit, “looks like you have this under control." She turned her attention to both of the soldiers and gave them a command: “You! Round up any stragglers. We can't afford any more mistakes." The soldiers nodded their heads in unison and went to do as she commanded.

Amalthea walked next to Vridel, and touched his elbow lightly with her hand. “Are you alright?" she asked, clearly worried for his well-being and not her own. She had a streak of blood on her face, probably from when she stabbed the man in the back or when he'd flung his blood-covered axe in her direction. Senka was tending to the professor, Sylvi, and Sofia, and Dierdre was making her way towards their group, as well. Probably to check on Sofia.

Vridel exhaled quietly, nodding his head. Thoughtlessly, he reached up and dabbed the blood away from her face with his sleeve. It just didn't look right, there of all places, though he was sure he was wearing a fair bit of it himself. “I'm fine," he said quietly. “Didn't even get hit. What about you?"

She nodded her head. “I'm fine, too. See? Not... not a single scratch," she spread her arms out as if to show him that she was, indeed, fine. She winced slightly, though, but smiled through it. Her back was likely sore from when the man had thrown her to the ground. “I should probably go check on the others, too. Make sure they're alright. I'm sure Lady Rhea will want to see Professor," she stated, her eyes going towards Cyril.

“You're right, Amalthea," Catherine cut in, glancing between Vridel and Amalthea. “We're going to escort the prisoners to her; she wants your professor to come along as well, but," she paused, moving her gaze towards Cyril before she looked back at Vridel. “Perhaps you'd like to ask him to come. The others can tend to their wounds and get them looked after if you want to come, too," she seemed to suggest, directing the last part of the statement towards Vridel.

Brows furrowing, Vridel nodded slightly at Catherine. It wasn't a bad idea for someone to be there. Since he and Mercer were sharing information, it didn't much matter which one of them it was, but it might be slightly less suspicious if it wasn't always the same person. Calling a touch of healing to his hand, he placed it gently at Amalthea's back before stepping away smoothly.

“I think I will," he said, making his way towards the Professor.

Cyril showed not even the slightest inclination to disagree, and the two of them split off from the group to head for the Archbishop's office. She'd almost certainly be called away from the Rite for this, but it might take some time for that to be possible. Vridel wasn't exactly sure what was involved.

They took seats outside the area, Cyril still loosely holding the sword. “Be careful, when we're in there," he said, staring straight ahead with a rather flat expression. “The Archbishop doesn't seem to like you all very much."

“It's mutual," Vridel grumbled. “Though I can't imagine why she'd bother to form much of an opinion on most of us."

The Professor grimaced. “I think it might be my fault," he admitted. “I've... mentioned your merits, on more than one occasion. I don't think she likes it, for some reason."

Ordinarily such a thing would have seemed unbelievable, but Vridel had been there, in the common room that time. The Archbishop really did have some strange fixation on the Professor. It sounded like the sort of thing an obsessed lover would do—not want that someone to have connections of import with anyone else. Not healthy, by any means. But why the Archbishop, and why the Professor?

He doubted Cyril had any more idea than he did. “Sounds unnerving," he said quietly. Vridel understood a thing or two about obsession and being the object of it. Whether 'romantic' or not, it was disturbing in the extreme, and uncomfortable.

“It is."

There was no time to say more about it, though, for the sound of footsteps echoed down the hall. Both of them stood as the Archbishop approached, a small group of the captured being led behind her in chains by some of the knights. Lyanna did not seem to be with her this time—maybe she was still in the Goddess Tower, doing whatever the Rite of Rebirth required.

Rhea's eyes were immediately on Vridel, a look of displeasure quickly flashing across her face before it disappeared. There was a different woman with her, this time, deep violet hair similar to the shade Senka had. Her eyes were rich, deep violet as well, nothing like Vridel's or Senka's. The woman glanced at Vridel, and then towards the archbishop before her eyes went to Cyril.

“Good, you're all here," she stated, inclining her head towards Cyril. “No time for proper introductions," she continued, speaking directly to Vridel and Cyril before her attention went to those in chains. “As all of you have committed a breach of faith, the archbishop will now pass judgment," she spoke, her voice and demeanor oddly calm. “Inciting a Kingdom noble to rebel, unlawful entry, the attempted assassination of the archbishop, and an attack on the Holy Mausoleum," she listed off what seemed to be their crimes. “It is unnecessary to go on, followers of the Western Church."

One of the priests looked shocked at the statement. “What?! We have nothing to do with the Western Church!" he shouted in defense, it seemed. The woman merely shook her head, though.

“You have already been identified, there is no need for your second-rate theater," Rhea spoke, her eyes narrowing at the priest. “Dishonoring a holy ceremony is worthy of death for a member of the church," she continued, pausing only to shift her gaze slightly towards Vridel and Cyril, “You are well past the hope of redemption. If you have any grace remaining, you will willingly offer your life as atonement for this crime."

The priest's face turned white as he tried to take a step back. “No!" he shouted, anger in his voice, “This isn't what we were told would happen! We've been deceived!" This statement seemed to anger the other woman, and she glared at the priest.

“It's no use arguing. Whatever your excuse, the punishment stands."

Vridel thought it was rather stupid to go ahead and pronounce such a judgment so swiftly. Even looking at it from the most brutal perspective, saying it now removed much of their incentive to talk, to explain who had hired them to do this, or tricked them into it, as they claimed. Unless, of course, the Archbishop had no need of such information because she already knew what they were going to say.

“Should we not at least hear them out?" The Professor inquired quietly. “Surely it's important to know if there are... further people targeting the Church?" He was careful to couch it in terms that would likely be acceptable to Rhea, Vridel noticed. Not at all a simpleton, their teacher. Certainly far from the typical thickheaded mercenary stereotype. But then, he'd known that for a while now.

“Wait! Please!" the man begged, his eyes almost pleading. “Listen to him! The goddess would never forgive you for our execution!" The other man to his side merely grimaced, though, and took a step forward.

“Monster!" he shouted, pointing a finger in Rhea's direction. “We know you've already slaughtered many of our fellow brethren like this!" he seemed to be accusing of her of murdering people before. Rhea did not look pleased with the accusation, and lifted her hand in a silencing motion.

“This concludes the investigation," she stated, malice in her voice, though it seemed disguised by a calmness she was known for, “Please remove these poor, lost souls from my sight." It was clearly a command. The soldiers bowed their heads and took the prisoners away, to await their fate. Rhea turned towards Vridel and Cyril, disappointed, perhaps, at Cyril's statement.

“They are from the Western Church. It is well-known that they have never appreciated the Central Church," she stated, her brows still furrowed.

Vridel barely avoided a skeptical snort. More like they tried for an iota of independence from the Archbishop. Not that he had any fondness for the Western Church. Not in the slightest.

Cyril pursed his lips, shaking his head faintly but apparently knowing better than to argue the point. “Ah, Archbishop. They were trying to get this, I think." Adjusting his grip on the blade, he extended it carefully towards her, handle-first.

Frankly, Vridel admired his courage. He'd have never handed the Archbishop his weapon, no matter how good he was with his hands.

She didn't look at all surprised when Cyril presented the sword. She merely smiled and shook her head. “I cannot thank you enough for defeating those invaders in the Holy Mausoleum, and especially for protecting the Sword of the Creator," she stated, inclining her head towards the sword Cyril held. “That sword is one of the Heroes' Relics, and the most precious artifact in the church's possession," her expression hardened for a second before she continued, “It is also a weapon of terrifying power." She smiled again, and glanced towards the woman still at her side.

“For now... I will entrust the sword to you. Please, use it wisely. I have faith that you will not be corrupted by the wickedness that once took Nemesis." She seemed to believe her own words. “Since his death, none have been able to wield the Sword of the Creator. None... until now. After all those long years of being sealed away, it has returned and found a new master," this seemed to please her, as her eyes softened with the smile on her face as she glanced at Cyril.

The Sword of the—

That Relic was the Sword of the Creator? And she was just letting the professor keep it?

Moreover, that he could even use it meant... well it meant he must somehow be related to Nemesis, the King of Liberation. Crests were hereditary, after all, unless...

Unless. Vridel would have to think about that one. The Professor's hair wasn't white, but his memory wasn't good, either, and maybe... hm. For the moment, he kept his silence, as the Archbishop surely expected.

“Since the two of you are already here, an update for next month's mission should suffice. Lord Kleiman of Faerghus has requested our aid. There have been unsettling rumors of late in the Kingdom near the Duscur region," she paused to regard Cyril before she continued, “of an unsightly beast. It has killed countless of the Lord's men and you and your students will go to eliminate it."

“A beast?" Cyril echoed. “Like wild wyvern or a bear or something?"

Vridel wasn't exactly sure what she meant by it, either. What a nonspecific way to put something like that.

Her eyes narrowed slightly. “Not exactly," she began, turning her attention towards the sword the professor had. “It is nothing that you will not be able to handle, especially now that you wield the Relic," she continued. She seemed to be putting a lot of faith in Cyril. “They claim it is a demonic beast, but none have returned alive to confirm this report. Nevertheless, I am certain there will be interested parties in visiting Duscur, after all." Her eyes narrowed slightly at that statement as if she were displeased with it.

“Unfortunately, most of the Knights of Seiros will be away from the monastery, purging the apostates of the Western Church. We are entrusting this mission to you, after all. The Sword of the Creator is a powerful weapon, well beyond the other Relics. If it happens to be a demonic beast, you have nothing to fear," she stated, her eyes glancing towards Vridel.

Demonic beast... those words had once been used to describe what had happened to the fallen hero Maurice, but even then he wasn't sure exactly what they meant. Besides that, that legend was from a thousand years ago. It was possible the Archbishop meant something different, but then why be so squirrelly about it? Something wasn't adding up here, though Vridel didn't know exactly what yet.

It may well be that there was only one way to find out.

“Duscur," Cyril said, his brows drawing down faintly. “I see. As you wish, Archbishop."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Verdant Rain Moon - Friday the 1st
Dining Hall - Early Afternoon - Humid
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea couldn't keep the smile off of her face. She was excited about the results of the written exams they took last month. Of course, they took the exams after their mission, and Amalthea had been extremely tired that day, however; she was excited to know how she did. The results had not been released yet, and she assumed that they were going to do it after classes, or after their lunch period. She supposed she could wait until then, however; she was looking forward to eating lunch with her friends. They didn't often sit together during their break, mostly because they were either busy studying at the library during this time, or getting some practice in.

Since they no longer needed to do that, Amalthea had suggested they meet in the dining hall for lunch. She grabbed a plate of the day's special, dried plums and fried gar, and happily made her way towards a table. From the corner of her eye, she spotted Professor Jeritza, and tilted her head curiously. He was hardly in the dinning hall; she assumed it was because there was always a lot of people. Thinking nothing much of it, she waved in his direction and made her way to a table, waiting for the others to appear. Mercer was the first, strangely enough, and he grinned at her, plate in hand as he set it down next to her.

“Hey, Thea," he greeted as she smiled at him. “Waiting for the others, I take it?" he continued. She nodded in response and hummed softly.

“You're the first one, here," she replied, watching as his grin shifted into something more mischievous.

“Lucky me, that means I get the best spot right next to you," he stated, bumping his shoulder into hers. She giggled softly at his statement. Sometimes he said the strangest things, but she didn't mind. They weren't enough to make her blush, at least.

Professor Cyril was next to arrive. As with the certifications the month before, he'd had to take these exams too, just to get caught up to speed with the Academy's other professors. He picked up a tray as well, exchanging several words with the head chef, who smiled brightly at him for some reason that Amalthea couldn't discern.

Making his way over to them, he took the seat across, giving them both a small nod. “Thea, Mercer. Excited for your results?"

Amalthea nodded her head at Professor, and hurriedly swallowed the plum that was in her mouth. “I am!" she stated, coughing lightly. She choked a little at the end of it, but managed to recover well-enough. “I'm a little nervous, too. I'm either going to be classified as an armored knight, or..." she pursed her lips together as she frowned, “I might have to take the exams again. I think I did well-enough, though, that I might have passed! What about you, Merc?"

“Hm, well, all things considered, I think I did really well. Written exams are way easier than the physical ones. They require less work," he replied, grinning in Amalthea's direction. She supposed that was true, but they did require a lot of studying. Didn't that count as work?

The Professor regarded Mercer with a slightly-raised eyebrow, but ultimately didn't offer comment on that. “I happen to have been given the results," he said. “For my class at least. I checked with the others, too, so I know how everyone in our Saturday group did. I thought perhaps we might wait and see who comes to lunch, so we could all discuss it then. I'd like to try something in advance of this month's mission if you're all so inclined."

No doubt if some of them had passed, they'd need to work on additional strategy to accommodate the fact that some people would be mounted, others flying, and so on.

It was at this point that Vridel appeared, visible first as a white spot in the corner of her eye. His hair really was easy to spot, even from all the way across a room. He took up a tray and the spot next to the Professor, frowning slightly.

“Not to suggest that you have a second unwelcome admirer, Professor, but Professor Jeritza is watching you."

“I know," Cyril said. “I believe he wants a duel."

Amalthea blinked in a confused manner. Professor Cyril had admirers? Unwelcomed or welcomed, she supposed that made sense. Professor Cyril was a handsome person, not as handsome as Vridel, of course, but nonetheless. She cleared her throat awkwardly, at best, and nodded her head. “I suppose that makes sense. We can wait a little longer for the others to arrive," she stated, earning a raised brow from Mercer. He seemed curious about something, but Amalthea refused to glance his way.

“Hopefully you have not waited long," Senka spoke, taking a seat next to Professor. It left little room for anyone else, and the next person either had to sit next to Mercer, or on Amalthea's other side. And Amalthea knew Sorcha was never far from where Senka was. “Has anyone received their results, yet?" she asked, apparently missing Professor's earlier statement.

“Nope, we're just waiting on everyone else. Teach, here, has our results so we're mostly just playing the waiting game, now," Mercer answered with a light shrug of his shoulders. Senka seemed satisfied with the answer as she huffed lightly and nodded her head.

Sorcha was indeed the next to arrive, looking slightly surprised when there was nowhere to sit next to Senka, perhaps. She hesitated a moment, then sat on the other side of Mercer with a soft hello to him, glancing around the table. “Sylvi and Devon send their apologies," she said, mostly speaking to Amathea, it seemed. “He has dish duty in the kitchen and she apparently needed to write her dad a letter about something right away. It seemed kind of urgent."

“Reynard's fishing," Vridel added, as if just remembering it. “He said he already knows what his results are, but thanks for checking for him, Professor." It was apparently unsurprising to him both that Cyril had checked and that Reynard already knew the fact.

“Aw, I was hoping everyone would be here," Amalthea murmured, furrowing her brows lightly. She supposed that it couldn't be helped, though. At least Sylvi and Devon would know later on in the day when they returned to class. “We'll just have to tell them when we go back," she stated happily. Mercer huffed lightly in his spoon, but didn't say anything. Senka glanced at Sorcha for a moment before she began pushing on her dried plums with her fork. It almost looked like she was either playing with them, or not at all hungry.

“So, Teach, how'd we do?" Mercer finally asked, glancing in Professor's direction.

“You all passed, of course," Cyril replied simply. “I wouldn't have wanted to tell you publicly if you hadn't. Everyone in the Saturday group has the classification they applied for. Including me, actually. I qualify as a grappler, now." That was a level above where they'd all tested into, but that made sense, of course. The Professor was an experienced mercenary, after all.

“Exellent," murmured Vridel. He'd actually taken exams for both the mercenary and mage classes, Amalthea knew, being unable to decide between the two. It had been rather a lot of studying; lots of times when the others had left for the night, he'd remained to keep at it. He always seemed to do things like that: like no matter what, there wasn't enough time for everything he wanted.

Sorcha, on the other hand, grinned brightly, a rare sight these days, and nudged Mercer with her elbow. “I guess this means we can apply to have Sir and Lady officially assigned to us," she said, referring to the wyvern and pegasus they'd taken to.

“Yep. We should probably do that as soon as possible. I mean, not like anyone else will put in for them, but the sooner the better, right?" Mercer spoke as he grinned in Sorcha's direction. He turned towards Senka, though, and tilted his head. One of those rare smiles Senka had, bloomed on her face as she heard the results. “You applied for cavalier, right? Did you decide on a mount, too?" he asked her. She nodded as her way of response.

“Libi," she replied, the smile still on her face. “His name is Libi," she seemed to clarify even though they knew what she was referring to. Amalthea, however, had a large smile on her face, and she couldn't resist the urge to do a little twirl. Since she was sitting, though, she opted for an excited giggle.

“I'm gonna be an armored knight! I can't wait to tell Lyanna!" she stated, bouncing a little in her seat.

“Congratulations," the Professor told her, before shifting his attention to the others. “All of you. Don't forget to pick up all the equipment they're issuing you. That'll be steel weapons for some of you, uniforms, and the like. Thea, you'll want to make sure to get them your measurements as soon as possible so you can have armor and a shield fitted accordingly. Piecemeal might be fine for practice, but you should have a full set for the actual field. We're not sure what we're up against this time, so everyone should be prepared."

Though that note was a little solemn, he seemed to relax a moment later. “As for what I was hoping to try—I thought it might make sense to reorganize ourselves a little. I want to try a battle-partners system. Obviously there will be times when we need to split up, but if you can all get used to working in minimal units of two, it should better our odds of success. It will take some extra work—I'll want to run each pair through extra drills, and since some of you aren't Blue Lions I won't be able to use class time for it. So it's only if you're willing."

“I don't see why that should be a problem. We don't have the exams or certs to study for, any longer, so we can use the days after our chores, or even Sundays as those days to practice," Mercer seemed to suggest. Amalthea nodded her head in agreement, and she knew Professor was right. The sooner she gave her measurements to the armorer, the sooner she could have her armor fitted to her, and she could train with it. She would have to get used to it, as with anything new that came there way.

“What is the mission, anyway, Teach? You said we're not sure what we're up against. What does Lady Rhea have us doing, now?" Mercer inquired. Amalthea would admit that she was curious. They hadn't been told their mission, yet.

“Apparently some sort of wild animal or creature is causing trouble in the Duscur region," he said quietly. “The exact nature of it is unclear from the reports. It's one of the reasons I want to start this strategy now: we don't know what we're up against, and so we need tactics that are good for most anything."

Sorcha chewed over a bite, looking at Senka with wide eyes.

The smile had disappeared from Senka's face, and she was staring intently at her plate. Amalthea didn't quite know why she seemed so upset. Senka was from Faerghus with Almyran ties, did she have some ties to the Duscur region, as well? “Hey, Sen, you alright?" Mercer was the first to speak, pursing his lips in her direction. She didn't regard him, and merely continued staring at her plate. She stood abruptly, though, grabbed her plate, and left without saying a word.

“Senka!" Amalthea called after her, but she was gone before anyone else could stop her. “I hope she's alright. Sorcha," she stated, turning towards Sorcha. “Is she alright? She looked... pale, almost." Sorcha must have known something, right? She and Senka were best friends, after all. She'd certainly known Senka longer than anyone at the table.

“Probably not," Sorcha said quietly. “Excuse me, everyone; I'm going to go talk to her."

“I'll take care of your tray," Vridel said with a small nod. Sorcha returned it before jogging off after Senka.

Cyril looked perhaps more troubled than Amalthea had ever seen him: his brow was furrowed, and a look of something akin to guilt crossed his face. “Perhaps I should have mentioned it to her first," he said lowly.

Amalthea was vaguely confused. Why would the professor have to mention it to Senka, first? She sighed, though, and shook her head. If there was a reason, she was certain Senka would tell them, eventually. They were all friends, right? Amalthea had even told them as such, if they needed someone to talk to, they could talk to her.

“She'll be fine, Thea. Don't worry too much about it. She has her best friend looking after her right now. She maybe has an upset stomach from the food she was playing with," Mercer stated as if trying to provide a reason. Amalthea didn't quite believe him, but she wasn't going to push the issue any further.

“Well, we should probably start planning our practice sessions, then. How about, we start them next Saturday after chores?" she suggested. Mercer groaned lightly.

“How about next Sunday? I'm still kind of sore from the last mission, you know," Mercer replied, grinning lightly.

“You barely did anything," Vridel groused.

“Hm, that may be true, but I did save your ass a couple of times with arrows, you know. Those aren't as easy as they look to pull back."

Amalthea rolled her eyes and turned her attention to Professor. “When do you think we should start, Professor? You're the one who will be training us, after all."

“Saturday might be preferable," he said. His tone was distant, as though he were still distracted by something. “As I believe the Sunday is an exchange day, yes?" He glanced up at her then, clearly referring to the cultural exchanges the others were doing to help her learn more about the outside world.

“Oh, that's right. I forgot," she replied. She seemed to forget things like that. It's not like they weren't important to her, because they were. She supposed her mind was on other things... other people. And she could feel a blush burning her cheeks. Mercer must have noticed as he grinned in her direction.

“Oh? Pleasant thought, there, Thea? Maybe... about something, or someone in particular?" Mercer spoke. Amalthea pursed her lips.

“You hush, Mercer von Riegan," she replied, puffing her cheeks out in his direction.

Vridel snorted softly. “And now the lady's said so. No gentleman could refuse, Mercer. So are you going to shut up or prove yourself a cad? Decisions, decisions." Though the words could be interpreted as harsh, he seemed to mean them in a friendly sort of way, if his light tone was anything to go by.

“Hm, indeed. Decisions, decisions. Guess I'm not as much of a gentleman as you thought," he replied, grinning in Amalthea's direction. At that moment, she wished she had a fish to throw at him.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Verdant Rain Moon - Sunday the 3rd
Professor Hanneman's Office - Afternoon - Hot
Cyril Eisner


Cyril knocked lightly on the doorframe leading into Professor Hanneman's office, clearing his throat expectantly. It would seem news had gotten around about the whole 'Sword of the Creator' business, and while he wasn't entirely sure what to make of it himself, it had apparently granted the other professor some insight into his Crest. He supposed that made sense, since Relics and Crests were closely related.

Peering inside, he could see that Professor Manuela was present as well, draped sideways over Professor Hanneman's chair and apparently quite contentedly filing her nails while their colleague searched through some of his research notes. She looked up and smiled when he knocked. “Oh, Cyril! Please do come in; don't mind him, he's just getting his thoughts together. At his age, it takes a while." She smiled, genuine and bright, rolling her eyes playfully at Hanneman's back.

“I'll have you know my ears still work, Manuela."

“That's news to me," she drawled.

He stepped in, sure enough that Hanneman wouldn't mind Manuela asking him in on his behalf. He'd noticed they tended to bicker a lot, but there seemed to be a trust underneath it. He'd assumed them married when first he met them, though he'd since learned this was not actually the case. He didn't know if they were involved or not, but in either case there was a certain harmony to the way they interacted that belied the surface-level contradictions in their personalities. Perhaps that was just what happened when two people worked closely together for long enough.

“Please, ignore her. It is her birthday today and she has seen fit to spend it harrassing me," Hanneman spoke, clearing his throat as he regarded Cyril. “Thank you for coming, Professor. I've heard much about you, lately," he began, his eyes narrowing in Manuela's direction before he continued, “Specifically, that you were able to awaken the Sword of the Creator's power. Thusly, it seems the true nature of your Crest has been uncovered."

“I had, of course, seen your Crest before, however; I faild to recognize its true nature, at first. Eventually, it dawned on me that what is visible is perhaps merely a small part of a greater whole," he paused to shoot a glance in Manuela's direction, eyes narrowed slightly before he turned back to Cyril.

“In other words, your Crest is too significant to be detected when using normal instruments."

“Do mark the moment, Cyril," Manuela said with a sniff. “Hanneman's just admitted he doesn't always know best. It probably won't ever happen again, so you really should consider this an occasion. I, for one, will be considering it a little birthday gift."

They were certainly... something. “Happy birthday, Professor Manuela," he said first.

She grinned at him. “You don't have to use titles with us, dear. We're colleagues, after all. Please, do just call me Manuela."

He nodded, which seemed to be sufficient to satisfy her, then turned to Hanneman. “I don't really understand," he admitted. “The Archbishop said the Sword was much stronger than other Relics; can Crests be more or less significant as well? I know there are Major and Minor ones, but I thought that was just variance within the same Crest."

“Yes, well," he began, folding a hand beneath his chin. “It is speculated that Major Crests and Minor Crests differ depending on how strongly the bloodline runs in that particular person. The stronger the bloodline, it is more likely that a person will inherit a Major Crest. Minor Crests usually mean that the bloodline is present, but distant."

“After this discovery, though, I began researching Crests that might fit the description of yours. It allowed for a temporary hypothesis," he stated, inclining his head towards Cyril. “I could not be certain, however. The Crest my conclusions led me to was far too unusual." He closed his eyes for a moment as if some inner turmoil was plaguing him. “A Crest thought to have disappeared from this world in the millennium since the fall of Nemesis, the King of Liberation. What you possess... it's the Crest of Flames." He opened his eyes, a strange mirth to them, as he grinned at Cyril.

“Your ability to wield the Sword of the Creator has unequivocally proven my hypothesis. A legendary power, dormant since time immemorial, and now resurrected..." Hanneman sounded rather excited about the prospect of such a Crest existing. “There can be no doubt that this ancient power resides within you."

“Well, aren't you special?" Manuela sounded more amused than anything, perhaps at Hanneman's excitement. “Don't go letting it get to your head, now."

Cyril certainly wasn't planning on it. As far as news went, he wasn't so sure this was the good kind. After all... Maurice's Crest was considered a curse, and all he did was overstrain himself fighting for the side the Church considered right. According to the story Sorcha had told him, Nemesis was quite literally the thing all those people were fighting against. He could understand why Hanneman would be so interested—he likely didn't care—but why on earth would Rhea treat this as though it were good news? Especially considering the way she treated those she believed were against the Church?

Manuela regarded him sympathetically, perhaps sensing the direction of his thoughts. “Try not to let it bother you," she said simply. “There are very few people who believe the ancestors who first bore Crests have any impact on the kind of people their descendants are today. Honestly not everyone cares about Crests at all in the first place; I certainly don't." She glanced almost mischievously at Hanneman there, as though she were expecting an entertaining response.

Hanneman regarded her with a flat stare. “Don't be absurd, of course they have no impact on their descendants. You cannot pass on personality traits through a Crest, after all," Hanneman retorted, pursing his lips in Manuela's direction. “And you wouldn't care about Crests because you do not bear one. I study them so as to see how we can achieve a way not to rely on them," he answered, his eyes narrowing lightly in the process.

“For what it's worth, having the Goddess' Crest is not entirely without merit. How you came to possess it, though, is a rather intriguing detail. I must research, further. Could it be that Nemesis had a descendant, lost to the pages of history?" The idea seemed exciting to him. “But do not let us keep you, Cyril. If I come across anything further, I will be sure to let you know.

“I suppose we should go and see about your birthday cake, Manuela," he stated, a faint color dusting his cheeks. It disappeared just as quickly, though, as if it were never there to begin with.

Manuela smiled the cat's own grin, putting away her nail file and standing. “Hmm, I could get behind that idea," she replied. “See you around, Cyril."

With a wink, she took her leave behind Hanneman, and Cyril exited as well, so the other man could lock his office door. Choosing a random route through the monastery, he began to walk, seeking out the place in his head the girl resided. It was difficult, for him to find her, whereas she seemed to be able to speak to him whenever she wanted.

As it happened, she seemed to be interested enough now to answer the summons.

The Goddess's Crest, she said, sounding more perplexed than anything. Why would you of all people bear such a thing, I wonder. And what does it mean that this Nemesis person had it, if he was supposedly the enemy of this Church's founder?

There's also the fact that the Goddess's name meant something to you. Or me, or... us. Sometimes, the distinction wasn't entirely clear to him, to be honest. Especially considering that they were both missing what seemed to be large pieces of their memories. And that one or both of us recognized that canyon...

Where the goddess supposedly alighted, yes, the girl replied, sounding almost distracted to him. I feel as though the answer is close, and yet... I fear that if we push for it, it might be like last time. She could only be referring to the splitting pain in his head; it seemed she didn't want to put him through it if it were avoidable. He supposed that was something to be grateful for, although—

Perhaps tonight, he said, expelling a breath. If there's no one around and I can sleep afterwards, it shouldn't be that bad.

He felt her silent agreement, and then she receded to the back of his mind again. He'd wound up in the courtyard, unsurprisingly, and at the moment it seemed to be occupied by a few of his students. Sorcha and Amalthea were there, along with Mercer and Vridel. The others must be elsewhere.

Immediately, he felt that strange sense of warmth that seeing them so often provoked, though it felt as well like something was missing, and he identified the cause with a stab of unfamiliar guilt. Senka. He really should have pulled her aside and told her first about the mission—he felt like a fool for not doing so.

“Professor!" It would seem that Sorcha had noticed him; she waved him over with a small smile.

Without any reason to refuse, he joined them, taking a seat beside Vridel. “Perhaps you might have some input, Professor," the prince said by way of greeting. “We are attempting to plan birthday festivities for Senka. Apparently hers is three days hence."

“I'm thinking it should be small," Sorcha said. “Maybe just us here, even, but... I'm kind of stumped on what to do. She's not really much of a party person, usually, and I don't want to make her do anything she's uncomfortable with. Normally at home we'd just go out in Fhirdiad for a day but... there's not really much of the same stuff to do here."

"Would she enjoy an afternoon outside the Monastery?" he asked. "The far side of the lake might be a peaceful area."

Sorcha's eyes widened. “There's a field," she murmured, glancing once at Mercer before quickly looking away. “With lots of wildflowers. We used to swim a lot when we were kids, maybe... maybe we could pack a lunch and spend the day by the lake?"

“Would there be swimming involved?" Amalthea asked, her brows furrowed lightly. Mercer snorted softly and nodded his head.

“I'm sure there would be if there's a lake," he responded, causing the furrow to deepen. “Why, Thea? Afraid of the water?" he stated, raising an amused brow in her direction. Amalthea narrowed her eyes at him.

“I can't swim," she murmured.

“Well I'm sure some of us can teach you, if you'd like."

Cyril nodded his agreement, as did Sorcha. Swimming was something he knew how to do, though oddly he couldn't remember learning, exactly.

“And you don't have to swim," Sorcha pointed out. “We can bring other things to do, like field games and things." She seemed to be getting excited about the prospect. “I don't think Senka's ever really been a gift person, but I saw this scarf down at the market the other day if anyone wants to chip in for a group gift. It's really colorful—I know she'll like it."

“Certainly," Vridel agreed.

Cyril made a soft noise of affirmation, though he thought he had another idea as well. He didn't think both would be too much; he'd gotten Sorcha something for hers, too, though he'd waited until after the others had cleared away from the party to give it. He planned to make sure everyone he taught got something on their birthdays, or at least at the end of the year if he missed the right day.

“Oh, I'll chip in, too!" Amalthea stated. Mercer nodded his head as well in agreement. “We should probably not surprise her, though. Senka doesn't look like the type who likes surprise birthdays. How are we going to convince her to come with us?" Amalthea asked. Mercer seemed to have an idea as he grinned rather widely.

“We get Teach to do it. Or Sorcha, one of the two," Mercer spoke, causing Amalthea to smile. “I'm sure she wouldn't refuse Teach if he asked, and of course she wouldn't say no to Sorcha at all, right?" he continued, winking in Sorcha's direction.

Sorcha seemed to consider this for a moment. “Well I don't want to surprise her on the spot," she agreed, “but I would like it to be kind of spontaneous, for her. But that means I'll have to do a lot of the setup earlier in the day. Maybe if the rest of you can help me, Professor Cyril wouldn't mind explaining the situation closer to the time and asking her to come?"

He was sort of surprised so much confidence was being placed in him, here. Persuasiveness was not a trait he'd ever been accused of having before, but he supposed Senka was a reasonable person and probably wouldn't mind a quiet afternoon with a few friends like this. It shouldn't be too difficult to convince her, he hoped.

"I'll try," he said with a small nod.

“Oh, trust me, Teach, you won't have to try very hard," Mercer retorted, rolling his eyes slightly before he turned and grinned at Vridel as if the Prince would catch on to what he said. “So, we have three days to do this. Thea, I love you and all, but please try not to get too excited about it and accidentally let it slip, alright?" he stated, causing Amalthea to give him a flat stare.

“I'm not the one who admitted to trying to kiss a fish. It's no wonder you and Sir Ladon get a long so well," was her flat response. Mercer laughed at the response, either not ashamed of it or taking it in a completely different way.

Vridel snorted, far more amused by this exchange than it seemed to really warrant.

Cyril figured it was something only he and Mercer knew about, but in any case he was... oddly happy to see them enjoying themselves. It had a way of making the rest of it seem to matter less.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Verdant Rain Moon - Wednesday the 6th
Garreg Mach Monastery (Courtyard) - Late Morning - Clear
Senka Rinaldi


Senka took in a deep breath, clearing her mind as best as she could. Today was not a particularly fond day for her; her birthday never was, after what happened. It was only two years ago that she'd told Sorcha when her day of birth actually was. Sorcha had been rather adamant at finding out, and Senka had finally given in. Part of her hoped that it would be forgotten, that Sorcha wouldn't insist on celebrating it in some fashion, but she never did. This year, though, perhaps would be the year. She had not seen Sorcha all day, nor any of her other friends. She was highly suspicious at first, but then she began to think that they finally wised-up; that they no longer wanted to spend time with her.

That was for the best, perhaps.

She was worthless to them; she didn't matter. That thought alone brought a strange, cold comfort to her. Shaking the thought from her head, she made her way across the courtyard, ignoring the way the other students were staring at her. She was used to it, she had to be. Spending today, alone, would be for the best, or so she thought. With that in mind, she decided to make her way towards the Greenhouse. She had heard that they had received a shipment of Duscur flower seeds, and weren't exactly sure what to do with them. She knew that certain flower seeds required certain environments, and a part of her wanted to share those beautiful flowers with the world.

Maybe that could be her gift to herself?

When she reached the greenhouse, however, it was to find that someone was already at work planting the new seeds in a far corner. Cyril was sitting on his knees, a book open in one hand and the drawstring of a seed pouch dangling from the index finger of another. He glanced up as she entered, expression softening in that way that was almost a smile.

“I thought you might be by," he said with a small nod. “I only just heard about this shipment yesterday, but I suppose you can imagine why they caught my attention." He extended the bag towards her, as if inviting her to take it for herself. “I read that these need special conditions to flourish, so I asked the greenhouse keeper to make sure this section doesn't get over-watered, and the soil type should be right for a cold, mineral-rich desert."

Senka was genuinely surprised. She wasn't expecting to see Cyril in the greenhouse, let alone planting the seeds from her country. She felt her eyes narrow slightly as she took the bag from him. “Why... you didn't have to do that," she murmured softly, holding the bag closer to herself. It would have been fine if no one else did this, but that he was doing it, well... it seemed to warm something in her heart. She wasn't quite sure what it was, so she shook her head, instead.

“Thank you," she opted to say that, instead. “A few of these flowers do not require water, though. They thrive in dry soil," she decided to explain. “If you water them, you'll kill them," she continued, placing the bag down.

He inclined his head, pointing at the section of soil closest to the wall. “Well then if you'll teach me which those are, we can plant them here, and tell her not to water that part at all."

He paused a moment, looking back at her with something akin to hesitation. “I... wanted to apologize," he murmured. “I should have mentioned the mission to you before everyone else. I'd even thought to do it, but then it came up at the table and... I'm sorry." He seemed genuinely contrite, a line appearing between his brows as he regarded her steadily.

Senka shook her head. “It is no fault of your own. You shouldn't have to apologize for something like that, I... I shouldn't have reacted that way. I am sorry," she stated, bowing deeply as she did. She stayed that way for a moment longer before she straightened her posture back up. “It's just... it's been a long time since I last saw Duscur. I... didn't know if I was ready or not to see it again, but I want to," she muttered softly. She wanted to see her homeland, where she grew up, and to see how the people were doing.

There were only a handful of survivors, but she didn't know if they were okay, or if they were suffering under Kleiman's rule. It hurt to know there was nothing she could do for them. She was their princess, and she could do nothing. “You shouldn't put it that way, though," she added, trying to smile softly in his direction. “I am no one special that you should have mentioned anything to. The fact that it was related to Duscur should have had no priority as to whether or not I was told first."

She didn't understand why he would think that, in the first place. She had told him of her heritage, but not because she wanted him to be delicate around the matter. On the contrary, she trusted him enough to tell him that because she wanted him to know who she was. If he knew, then maybe... maybe he wouldn't have wanted her as a student or a friend. But that did not seem the case.

“Of course you are," Cyril replied bluntly. “You deserve the same consideration as anyone else. It's the right thing to do—people have all kinds of different stories, backgrounds. To not pay attention to that would be..." He pursed his lips, evidently searching for a word and not coming up with one. Instead he shrugged. “Well, it's not something I'm interested in doing. Especially to you."

He stood, then, closing the book over and setting it carefully on the small shelf of horticultural references the greenhouse kept. “In any case, those are all the new seeds, and this patch is reserved for them now, so if you'd like to plant them sometime, you're welcome to it." He tilted his head slightly. “I was... sent to ask you something, though. If you say yes there may not be time to plant them today."

Senka wasn't entirely sure what he had meant by that, but she decided to ignore it, for now. Instead, she focused on his last statement, immediately becoming wary. “Ask me something?" As much as she wanted to plant the seeds today, she would admit that she was slightly curious about what it was. What could possibly take up the rest of the day that she would not be able to plant the flowers? “May I ask what it is?" she decided to ask, still slightly wary. Part of her wondered if Mercer put Cyril up to it, whatever it was.

“Sorcha and the others have arranged an outing," he explained. “Nothing too crowded or busy, but they wanted to invite you to a field on the other side of the lake. For a picnic, swimming, field games, that sort of thing. Because of your birthday." He dusted off his trousers, regarding her with a subtle curve to one side of his mouth. “They've been setting it up for most of the morning; I dismissed class early and asked for permission for Vridel and Mercer to leave theirs as well. Only had to give Hanneman a couple inches of hair for it." He picked up a piece of hair on the side of his head, holding it out so she could see that it was, indeed, about an inch and a half shorter than most of those around it.

“You don't have to come—Sorcha was quite insistent about that, and I think that was right of her. But... we'd like it if you did."

Senka felt the corners of her mouth tilt up at his statement. Before she knew it, her shoulders were shaking slightly, and the strange sound of laughter was escaping her. She was touched by how thoughtful they were, though. Here... she was thinking the worst thoughts of them and all this time, they were doing something for her. On her birthday.

“I think... I think I would like that," she stated once she managed to speak properly. “And Professor Hanneman is a strange man to request your hair. I would..." she paused, blinking slowly before clearing her throat. She wasn't entirely sure where that thought was going; she was grateful to stop it. “I suppose I should let you lead the way, since you are aware of the location."

He huffed softly, something that might not have been far away from laughter itself, and nodded. “Of course. This way."

It was a bit of a trek on foot, but Cyril didn't suggest that they take horses or fly. The day was balmy, too, but that only made it more suited to swimming, perhaps. After a short stop by their rooms to outfit themselves for their activities, they were on their way.

Shortly after they exited the monastery, Cyril removed something from his pocket and handed it to her. “Sorcha said you're not much for gifts," he said. “But if it helps, I didn't spend any money on it. It's just sort of a hobby of mine." Whatever it was was wrapped in a pristine white cloth, perhaps meant to protect it, for the object inside was light and quite possibly fragile.

Unwrapping it revealed what seemed to be a handmade hair ornament, though the end that went into one's hair looked suspiciously like a lockpick. The other end was a delicate silver lotus flower, seemingly made of many fine filaments of metal bent into just the right shape and wrapped around one another to give the impression of petals and leaves arranged around a center. “I... didn't really know what you liked," he admitted. “So if it's not to your taste you don't have to use it, but I figured a backup might be useful. Especially disguised as something no one would pay attention to."

He lifted his shoulders in half a shrug, but his eyes were fixed on the path ahead.

“It's lovely," she responded, keeping her eyes on the ornament, and trusting her feet to lead her. It was beyond lovely, though. Without much thought, she loosened the tie that held her hair, and pulled it into a half-up style so that she could place the ornament in it. “Thank you, Cyril. I... appreciate it," she stated, offering him another smile as her way of thanks. She hoped she would never have to use the secondary purpose of the ornament, though. She didn't want to ruin it.

“I like it, quite a bit," she admitted, feeling a strange warmth in her cheeks. Perhaps it was the weather becoming slightly warmer?

It didn't take them much longer until they arrived at the destination. Indeed, Sorcha, Mercer, Vridel, and Amalthea were all waiting for them. Amalthea was the first to spot them, and she waved excitedly in their direction. It really did warm Senka to see her friends gathered as they were.

“Told you, Teach!" Mercer shouted, causing Senka to purse her lips in confusion.

“I wasn't sure I was the best person to bring you here," Cyril explained in a low voice. The gold of his eyes was warm in the sunlight, or perhaps it was some trace of emotion?

To Mercer, he only shook his head.

“Happy birthday, Sen!" Sorcha said, beaming brightly. “And welcome to your party! Well... it's not exactly a party, because I know how you feel about those, but it's a day for you, anyway. We have food, and the lake, and uh... game things. Anything you feel like doing first?"

The smile, soft as it was, caused Senka to shake her head. “I think it would be nice to eat, first. And then, perhaps," she paused, glancing between her friends. She felt something warm in her eyes, but nothing came of it. For the first moment in a long time, Senka considered herself lucky to have these people in her life. They were truly... something. “Perhaps we can enjoy the lake?" she stated. They didn't need to go swimming, but she thought it would be nice to just sit on the dock and sink her feet into the water.

“Oh, good, I was hoping you'd say food, first," Mercer stated, giving Senka a lopsided grin. “I'm starving," he continued, causing Senka to huff lightly.

“But, Merc, you ate before we came, how can you be starving?" Amalthea stated, clearly confused. He chuckled lightly at her, and placed a hand on her head to give her hair a quick shake. It was in an affectionate manner, it seemed.

“I'm always hungry, Thea."

“Well let's get to it, then. What did you even pack, Sorcha?" Vridel opened the large basket that was centered on one of the many large blankets spread around, peering inside curiously.

It turned out to be mostly food that could be assembled into sandwiches, and sweets, which made a certain kind of sense. Vridel loaded his bread up with an absurd amount of tomatoes in addition to the other ordinary sandwich materials. Sorcha, as usual, opted for mostly vegetables and cheese on hers. Other than an interesting preference for the spicy cured meats available, Cyril's was quite sane.

When everyone was settled, Sorcha nudged a small, wrapped package over towards Senka. “Happy birthday, Sen. From all of us."

From all of them? She took it gingerly, and held it in her hands for a few moments. They gifted her something for her birthday? She glanced at the others, Mercer was too busy trying to shove a rather large sandwich into his mouth, and Amalthea seemed to be interested in the large amounts of tomatoes in Vridel's. Glancing back towards the gift, she slowly unwrapped it to reveal a rather colorful scarf. It wasn't the coloring that caught her attention, though.

The material used to make it and the stitching technique used all belonged to Duscur. Only someone from Duscur was capable of making these kinds of stitchings and patterns. That, or someone who had learned it. She sniffed lightly, feeling something burning at the back of her eyes. She wasn't sure what to make of it, and just let it be. It wasn't until she noticed her cheeks were wet, and that she knew she was crying. Amalthea looked rather alarmed by it, and Mercer looked slightly worried as if they'd done something wrong.

“Oh, Senka, are you alright? Do you not like the present!? Should we not have gotten you something?" she stated, but Senka shook her head. She was touched, actually. Touched that her friends, even if Mercer and Amalthea didn't know, gave her something so beautiful and... well, she didn't know what else to think of it. Cyril's gift had been beautiful as well, but the scarf was from everyone.

“I... am not upset, Thea. This," she stated, lifting the scarf up and wrapping it around herself. It was a little warm to be wearing something like it, but she didn't care. It was a gift from her friends. “This means a lot to me; thank you all."

Sorcha looked to be tearing up just the faintest bit, as well. She had to have been the one who knew, who'd been able to identify the material and craftsmanship as being from Duscur, and convince the others to help. Probably Vridel and Cyril had understood it, too, from the explanation, whatever it had been. She didn't let the tears fall, though, blinking them away and smiling instead. “You're welcome, Sen. Always."

Even Vridel's characteristic sarcastic expression had shifted into something softer, and he nodded, polishing off his sandwich. Perhaps seeking to make sure that she didn't endure much scrutiny or teasing for her reaction, he cleared his throat. “All right, who likes the water? I suppose if we're here we ought to take advantage."

Mercer was the first one up, already heading towards the lake without waiting for anyone, it seemed. Amalthea was running after him, too, something about being taught how to swim. Senka closed her eyes, trying to keep the tears from falling.

This... she could get used to birthdays like this.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Verdant Rain Moon - Wednesday the 6th
Lake Seiros - Noon - Balmy
Sorcha Blaiddyd


As the group made their way closer to the lakeside, Sorcha remained behind a moment to secure the picnic basket against bugs, then toed off her boots and rolled the legs of her trousers up to her knees. She supposed she might swim, later, but for the moment she just wanted to sit on the edge of the dock and dip her feet into the water.

Settling down at the edge, she let out a sift sigh of contentment as her toes hit the water and sank beneath the surface. Leaning back on her hands, she watched the others. Vridel and Professor Cyril stood on the edge of where the thin strip of sandy shore faded into the lake. The Professor was rolling up the legs of his pants in much the same manner as she had. He also took hold of his tunic by the collar and pulled it over his head, pausing to fold it before setting it down in the grass.

Sorcha knew it wasn't uncommon for men to swim in such a manner, but she'd sort of... forgotten. The Professor didn't seem to think anything of it, heading into the water and swimming out some distance. He was really... quite well-built, wasn't he?

Grimacing, she turned her eyes back to the shore, unsure if she hoped for or hoped against someone else making the same decision.

It seemed that even Mercer was following in Professor's footsteps. He didn't seem to want to roll up his pants, though he did remove his shirt. He blinked before his eyes landed on Sorcha. He waved at her with a grin on his face before he waded into the water. He didn't swim off too far, though, holding his hand out towards Amalthea. She looked a bit perplexed and almost hesitantly took his hand as he guided her through the water. She didn't know how to swim, after all, and it seemed the Mercer was trying to help her. He was nice, that way, always trying to help in some way or another.

“Sorcha," Senka's voice called out to Sorcha as she came into view. She took a seat next to her, and dipped her legs into the water as well, slowly moving them back and forth as she regarded Sorcha with an even gaze. “I... want to say thank you, for this. It... this is the first time I can say I'm actually enjoying myself," she stated, smiling softly in Sorcha's direction.

Honestly, she was glad Senka was there, for more than one reason. It enabled her to focus on her friend instead of the water, an opportunity she welcomed, as the verdict there had been rather... not in her favor. Sen's smile was more than enough to push all that to the background, though, and Sorcha returned it, genuinely warmed by her words. “I'm so glad to hear that, Sen. Really."

She had one more surprise left for the day, and the reason she hadn't already explained it was because, well... it wasn't really hers to explain. She just happened to be the person who'd figured it out. Hopefully it would go as well as she was expecting; Rodrigue was one of the best people Sorcha knew, and perhaps the only noble in Faerghus who'd never looked down on her.

Before she could say anything else, Vridel approached, plonking down on the deck on Senka's other side with a sigh. He glared out at the water for a moment before turning his attention to the other two. “Hello, Sorcha. Happy birthday, Senka. I hope you are finding your festivities sufficiently lacking in obnoxiousness, despite Mercer's presence."

Senka's smile softened somewhat as she nodded her head. “It has been a mostly pleasant experience, thus far. Though I do wonder," she stated, her eyes sliding towards Vridel, “does his presence upset you that much? He is only helping her to learn, you know. Perhaps you'd like to be her teacher, instead?" Senka's brow was lightly raised, almost as if she were teasing Vridel in that sense. Perhaps she was?

“It does not upset me, and I would not prefer that." Vridel frowned at her and sniffed imperiously. Sorcha suppressed a smile.

“Either way, thank you for joining in as well, Vridel. Your presence here, means a lot to me. More than I thought it would, so thank you," she continued, inclining her head in Vridel's direction. “I don't believe this day could be... any more pleasant than it already is." She shook her head, though, and huffed lightly.

That got a little half-grin out of him, at least. “Well, I'm glad I could be part of it then."

“Why aren't you in the water, anyway, Vivi?" Sorcha cocked an eyebrow at him. “You taught me to swim; I know you can." What was more, the Empire was warm enough that he'd have been able to do it much more often than they could in Faerghus, where it was usually limited to the two or three warmest months. She could remember him quite enjoying it, too, back then.

He shrugged, though. “I suppose I don't really feel like it," he replied. It sounded like an excuse for something, but something subtly cued her into the fact that she probably shouldn't ask. Normally Sorcha was terrible at picking up on such things, but this was Vivi. Even after all this time, she still sort of had a read on him, somehow.

“Hm, well you can at least enjoy yourself with us," Senka replied, repeating the slow movements of her legs in the water. She had stopped when Vridel appeared, but seemed content enough to resume. “We can at least enjoy and appreciate your company more-so than the others," she stated, her small smile returning to her face. She remained quiet for a moment, seemingly content.

Mercer and Amalthea seemed to be making progress, though. Mercer was helping her through some of the deeper parts of the water, showing her how to move her arms, and occasionally doing a display of whatever it was he was showing her. Amalthea seemed rather happy at the new experience.

The Professor, meanwhile, had sum what seemed to be several laps around the area, as if reacquainting himself with how it felt to do so. When he was done with that, however, he contemplated Mercer and Thea for a moment before swimming over to the dock instead. He had little trouble hauling himself up and out of the water onto it, pulling his legs up beneath him to cross them.

“This is relatively few people in the lake for a lake excursion," he noted, with what seemed to be a trace of amusement.

Sorcha huffed. She supposed it was. “I'll go in in a little while," she said. “You're not supposed to swim for a half hour after eating."

He blinked, clearly not aware of this rule. Truth be told, Sorcha wasn't exactly sure where it came from or why it was a rule in the first place, but she distinctly remembered it for some reason. “Ah. I see."

“Hm, but that doesn't seem to apply to some people, though," Senka replied, nodding her head in Mercer and Amalthea's direction before her eyes settled on the professor. “I suppose some people are just made differently than others," she continued, narrowing her eyes lightly. She brought her hand up to her hair, though, as if to check something before she dropped it. “I think I might exclude myself from the swimming, though. This is nice, being able to enjoy the water without being in it all the way," she seemed to explain.

“But please do keep swimming if that is what you all want. I can sit here with Vridel and watch you all enjoy yourselves. It'll make..." she paused, brows furrowing slightly before she smiled again, “It'll make me happy to see you all happy."

“Hey now! That's not fair. Everyone is sitting out while I'm here teaching! Teach! This is supposed to be your job!" Mercer shouted from the other side of the lake. He didn't look entirely upset, though, and Amalthea pursed her lips at him. She mouthed something to him, that made him laugh, though, and shake his head.

“Oh?" Cyril replied, arching his brow and raising his voice just enough to be heard. “It rather looked like a party of two. I'd hate to interrupt." The faint edge of amusement to his voice was reflected in his face. Sitting there, with little drops of water dripping off the end of his nose and a stubborn strand of hair refusing to stay slicked back by the water, he looked... like one of them, really. Like someone really around their own age, whose life experiences did not, for once, seem to put him in his own world apart. It was an odd thing to realize, maybe, but she couldn't help feeling it all the same.

Vridel laughed softly at the joke. “Entirely your fault for excluding everyone," he added.

“That is not what it is!" Amalthea shouted back, her face taking on a rather interesting shade of red. She glanced in Vridel's direction, huffed at Mercer, and made her way back to the shore where she plopped down, folding her legs beneath her. Mercer laughed and shook his head, glancing at the others as they all sat on the dock. Senka huffed lightly in amusement, however; something seemed to catch her attention.

“Is that... a banner? From the Kingdom?" she stated, glancing at Sorcha before nodding her head in the direction she'd spotted it. There seemed to be a small company of maybe five to six people. At the front was a man Sorcha easily recognized. It was Rodrigue. It looked like he was heading in the way of the monastery with only a handful of people. “What are they doing all the way out here?" Senka questioned, her head titled slightly in a curious manner.

Oh, he was early. Sorcha supposed that was to be expected from Rodrigue, though. “Ah, actually... I asked him to come visit. Was sort of thinking he might not get here until evening, though." Pulling her feet from the water, she stood. “I should go say hello."

Of course, the trickier part of this whole thing was the bit that came next. “Actually, uh... not to interrupt your day, Sen, but would you mind coming with me? I don't think you've met Rodrigue yet and I really think you should." She hoped this would be enough for her friend to understand the importance of it, though she would have to let Rodrigue do the explaining, for the most part.

Senka seemed confused for a moment, “Rodrigue?" She muttered the name as if she'd forgotten it, but maybe she had? It wasn't until her eyes went wide, and she quickly removed her feet from the water to stand. “I will accompany you," she stated, glancing towards Vridel and Professor. “We'll return soon, but please continue to enjoy yourselves," she stated, bowing lightly at them before walking beside Sorcha. When they were far enough from the group, Senka turned her attention towards Sorcha.

“Is it really un—Rodrigue?" she stated, pursing her lips together as she seemed to correct herself at the last moment. “As in, Rodrigue Fraldarius?"

“You know who he is?" Sorcha's eyes widened. “To you?" It was a curious thing. Sorcha knew both of these people very well, but it wasn't until recently that she'd figured out that Rodrigue's deceased sister was in fact Queen of Duscur, because he was modest enough that he'd simply said she'd married a man from there and died in the Tragedy, and Sorcha had of course never wanted to press. Nor had she pushed Senka to speak more of her family, including what family her mother was from. Sorcha had figured she was noble, but that didn't narrow things down much.

“Because I just figured it out. It's why I wrote him and asked him to come here. I figured he'd want to see you... and I thought you might want to meet him, so..."

“But... I haven't seen him in so long. I didn't even... I didn't even write to him to let him know I was okay, or that I was still alive. I couldn't," Senka stated, her brows furrowing lightly. She took in a soft breath, though, and glanced at Sorcha. “I'm certain he will be surprised to see me, though it has been a long time. I... wonder if he still remembers me," she stated fondly.

“I'm sorry I never told you, though. It's not that I didn't want to, I just..." she paused, pulling the scarf around her neck a little closer to her face. “I didn't trust you at the time. I didn't trust anyone, and... I was afraid of what would happen if I did," she shook her head at herself, it seemed, before she smiled softly. “I trust you now, though. Always will. Rodrigue is my mother's half-brother, which in turn, makes him my uncle."

“I know," Sorcha said quietly. And she didn't blame Senka for any of it. On the contrary, she was just relieved to hear that her friend trusted her now. “And he was surprised to hear you were alive, but you should have seen his last letter, Sen. He's so excited to see you again. He... he lost your cousin in the tragedy too, you know. Glenn. He doesn't have a lot of family left. He's been... he's been really good to me, actually. My whole life, but especially since my parents died. I'm... I'm really glad you two are going to get to meet each other again."

Senka deserved for things like this—good things—to happen to her. And so did Rodrigue. If Sorcha could play some small part in making it happen, well she wouldn't hesitate for a second.

“Hm," was the only reply Senka gave. “He has always been a kind soul. He... mother used to say that he was the epitome of what a Knight should be," she spoke softly, keeping her gaze in front of her. “I am... excited to see him, too," she added. It wasn't long before they approached Rodrigue's group. He happened to glance in their direction, and immediately called for the group to halt. He turned his horse in the direction of Sorcha and Senka, and made his way towards them. When he was close enough, he dismounted. At first, it seemed, he was moving rather fast, his steps hurried and almost impatient.

When he was close enough, he didn't seem to be stopping, and instead, continued walking in a hurried fashion towards Senka. The hug must have caught her off guard since her hands were partially raised to receive him, however; he seemed to tighten his hold on her. From the part of her face that was visible against his fur-lined cloak, Senka looked on the verge to be crying.

“Senka," he whispered, his voice soft and almost raw. “I thought I lost you, too," he continued. Senka finally managed to place her hands on his back, and returned the embrace. “I can't believe it's been four years since..." he didn't need to continue for Senka or Sorcha to understand.

“I'm sorry, uncle. I... I've missed you," she muttered between breaths. It sounded like she was trying to hold back the tears, but she was doing a rather poor job of it. Rodrigue finally pulled away, smiling brightly as he turned to gaze at Sorcha.

“Your Highness," he stated, bowing lightly in front of Sorcha. “Thank you for writing me. I see you are still well," he spoke in Sorcha's direction.

Sorcha felt her heart clench, a little smile for her friends crossing her face and also... also a tiny stab of pain. No one in her life had ever hugged her like that, like it was a profound joy just to see her, to know she was alive. She wished—

But no. This wasn't about her at all. Senka deserved this, and Sorcha was beyond happy that she got to have it, that after everything that had happened to her, she got to get one little piece of happiness back from the jaws of the Tragedy. She swallowed thickly, inclining her head slightly when Rodrigue bowed. “I am; thank you, Rodrigue." She smiled. “I'm sure the two of you have catching up to do, though; please, do not delay on my account."

“There is plenty of time for that," Rodrigue replied, smiling still at Sorcha. “Ah, but I was supposed to meet you at the monastery. What brings you here, to the lake?" he asked.

“It... is my birthday, today, and my friends..." Senka spoke, pausing to glance at Sorcha, “we were celebrating it at the lake. They are still there." Rodrigue seemed surprised at the statement.

“Is it really that time of the year? Well, I suppose I might have a bit of a gift for you, but that can wait until we return to the monastery," he stated happily enough. Senka nodded her head, but glanced over her shoulders.

“I would like you to meet them, when you have the chance," Senka stated, causing Rodrigue to nod his head. “I am sure you will take to them as I have," she continued, smiling just soft enough that her eyes seemed to brighten.

“I'd like that. Perhaps after my meeting with the archbishop, I can meet your friends. While there is catching up to do," he paused to smile at Sorcha, “your letter was not my only summons to the monastery. Lady Rhea has news for me that I must attend to. For now, I will let you enjoy your celebrations." He turned to Sorcha, then, and placed a hand on her shoulder.

“It was good seeing you, Sorcha. And thank you, again," he stated, patting her shoulder before he dropped his hands.

“You're welcome, of course," Sorcha replied, letting out a breath and feeling her shoulders relax. “Please, do come visit us when you're done." She'd have to warn everyone so their clothes would be dry in time.

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