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


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...


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


Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Verdant Rain Moon - Friday the 8th
Marketplace - Evening - Muggy
Mercer von Riegan

Mercer rubbed the back of his neck and yawned. He was supposed to be shopping for supplies, but he wasn't really in the mood. He was slightly sore from Wednesday's events. He hadn't realized how much of a chore it would be to try and teach Amalthea how to swim. She wasn't bad at it, for a beginner, but when he tried getting her to go into the deeper parts, she almost drowned him. For someone so small, he forgot how strong she was. He was just glad that the others were able to keep him from drowning, but it had been a bit of a sore-spot for him. No doubt Vi would use that against him, somehow.

As he made his way past the blacksmith, a familiar shade of blonde caught his attention, and he felt himself grin. As usual, though, Senka was with Sorcha, so sneaking up on Sorcha would be difficult. Rolling his eyes to himself, he decided he'd at least see what they were up to.

“Hey, guys," he greeted, pulling Senka's attention from the vulnerary she was looking at.

“Good evening, Mercer," she replied, inclining her head towards him. “Are you here for supplies as well?" she asked, causing him to nod his head.

“Yeah, I figured I might as well stock up on a few things before the mission this month. Since we really don't know what we're going up against, and Teach's trainings have been a little... overkill," though that was a lie. They weren't as bad as they usually were. It was just trying to learn something new that was giving Mercer trouble. He wasn't quite used to a partner, yet.

Sorcha, of course, was the partner in question, as the two of them were the group's only fliers, so it made sense. She simply nodded, though, certainly not disagreeing with him about the difficulty of the new exercises. “I'm sort of used to teamwork being... well more like a bunch of individuals doing the same thing, or joining forces if it comes up. Working as an actual team from the get-go, and developing tactics around it... that's something I've never done before."

On a certain level, it wouldn't be that useful after graduation. After all, most of them would be returning to very different places. But on the other hand, knowing how to develop close teamwork couldn't hurt, even if the particular partner had to change.

“True. It's something none of us has done, so I think that was the reason Teach wanted us to learn," he replied with a light shrug of his shoulders. “It's not all bad, I suppose," he added. “Speaking of Teach, is that him in the distance?" he stated, narrowing his eyes. It almost looked like Teach in the distance, however; he couldn't be too sure. What caught his attention, though, was the woman standing next to the Maybe-Teach. Mercer felt his stomach twist a bit.

“Uh, Sen, do me a favor and stand over here. Right in front of me," he stated, causing Senka to furrow her brows. She didn't comply with his request, though, and the woman glanced in their direction. He could see a grin forming on her face as she mouthed something to the Maybe-Teach. She waved at him, though, as if trying to summon Mercer to her. He pretended not to notice.

“Mercer von Riegan get your ass over here!" she shouted, causing almost everyone in the market to turn in his direction. He groaned.

“Do you guys mind?" he asked Sorcha and Senka. He really didn't want to go alone to see the woman.

Sorcha snorted. “Friend of yours?" she asked, turning without protest towards the woman, tilting her head as if to prompt Senka to do the same. Senka followed wordlessly behind.

As they got closer it became quite clear that Maybe-Teach was in fact actually Teach, and he looked the faintest bit bewildered by the woman. This didn't stop him from lifting a hand in greeting as the three of them approached, however.

“If it isn't my little Mercer!" Judith stated, causing Mercer to purse his lips together.

“Judith, what are you doing here?" he questioned, earning a flat stare from the woman.

“That's Lady Judith to you, boy. I told you, until you're in charge, I expect you to address me with all due respect." Mercer pursed his lips at Judith as he regarded her with a flat stare. What did she want, anyway? “Anyway, I'm here to retrieve you. Duke Riegan's condition has taken a turn for the worse." That explained what she wanted, at least. Mercer sighed heavily as he groaned.

“So... are you saying gramps is on his death bed, now?" he questioned. Duke Riegan had varying health issues. He would be fine one month, and deathly ill the next. Mercer knew that Riegan was likely just wanting him around for some reason or another. Judith, however, shook her head.

“No, it's not that bad," she began, placing a hand to her forehead, “but in the state he's in, he won't be able to participate in the next roundtable conference." And there it was. Mercer wasn't too sure if he wanted to, but he didn't have much of a choice, he supposed. “He wants you to go in his stead, and I volunteered to play the messenger."

“Gee, thanks. Oh," he glanced at the others, “I guess I should introduce you. This is Judith, my mother." Judith inclined her head towards the group and grinned.

“So, you're the friends I've heard so much about. Tell me, how much trouble has he given you?" she asked, the grin never leaving her face. Mercer inwardly groaned.

“You call your mother by her first name?" Sorcha's eyes widened in rather comical surprise, like she'd never even realized such a thing was possible, let alone considered actually doing it. She glanced between them, initial surprise fading into thoughtfulness. Likely, she recognized the family resemblance, which while not especially strong, was definitely there to some extent.

“Ah, um. Please forgive me, Lady Judith," she said, bowing rather formally. The motion was deep enough to dislodge her necklace from its place beneath her uniform jacket. “We might have actually met before, briefly, though I was very young at the time. I'm Sorcha. Sorcha Blaiddyd. This is my friend, Senka Argyris." She rose from the bow.

Senka bowed, though not as deeply as Sorcha had. Judith seemed rather amused by it, however; her eyes landed near where the necklace lay. Her eyes narrowed, and Mercer knew that she recognized the gem. “You little shit," she stated, glancing in his direction. Mercer took a cautious step backwards, and raised his hands in defense. “You told me you lost it!" she nearly shouted, however; her attention went back to Sorcha.

“Did he give that to you?" she asked, though she seemed rather curious than angry.

Sorcha's surprise took on an element of apprehension. “It's yours? I'm so sorry! I—the wrapping can come off, I mean if you need it to—um." She cleared her throat, fingers folding carefully around the stone, as if to protect it from something, despite her apparent expectation that she'd be giving it back. “Yes, he did. It was—it was honestly my fault, though; I—well apparently I was making quite a nuisance of myself and it made a rather good distraction, so if there's fault, it's mine."

She pursed her lips, throwing an uncomfortable glance at Mercer and for some reason studiously not looking at Senka.

Teach only looked curious at this development, arms folded over his chest and one eyebrow ever so slightly arched.

Senka drew an expression Mercer hadn't seen before. It looked almost sly, if the way her lips tilted up was anything to go by. She didn't say anything, though, but Judith laughed rather loudly. “Well I suppose at one time it was mine, but I gave it to the boy a while back. It seems it's yours now, though I suppose I couldn't want a more adorable daughter-by-marriage," she stated, grinning at Mercer.

“She'll make a beautiful bride for you, one day."

“What?" was the only thing he could say. Senka seemed amused by the sudden turn of events, and her eyes were on Sorcha, now.

“That stone is known as an engagement stone in Almyra. Your dad gave it to me, and I gave it to you. I told this to you when you were old enough to understand; the woman you give that stone to is your intended. It's an Almyran custom, but it still holds merit in the country," she explained, crossing her arms over her chest.

“So, that means Sorcha is to be Mercer's fiancée?" Senka asked, as if confirming the statement. Judith nodded her head.

An amused sound escaped Teach; it sounded like the kind of snort that was meant to keep back a laugh.

“What?" Sorcha repeated, blinking wide eyes. She seemed to have caught the idea, though, from the way a brilliant scarlet blush rose to the surface of her skin. For some reason, she rounded on Mercer, whacking him in the arm in that way she had that didn't really hurt. Unlike when Amalthea had nearly drowned him, she seemed to at least understand how to check her strength. “You idiot, why would you give me something that important?!" Her voice had pitched up to something high and nervous, but well short of shrill.

“I mean it can't count but still!"

“Why does it not count?" Teach asked. Reasonably, since he didn't know all the details of the story.

At least the question distracted her from the enterprise of trying to beat him up very gently. She paused in her motions and sighed. “Oh, right. Well, we were both young children, and I didn't know what it meant, so I'm sure I don't count as having accepted it. Also, Faerghus doesn't recognize the custom, or I assume they must not, because I already have a fiancé."

“Hm, afraid not, kid," Judith spoke. Mercer was still at a loss for words, though. “Faerghus has to recognize the agreement. That means they are either ignoring it, or they really want to piss off the wrong people. Whether or not you were kids, unless the boy, here, takes back the gem, the engagement still stands. When Mercer takes the title Duke von Riegan, the two of you will be married."

“I can't take something back that I gave someone. Plus... wait you have a fiancé?" Mercer stated, focusing in on that one statement for some reason. He didn't understand why, but he was... something felt hot inside of him. Was he jealous? Why would he be jealous?

“You can't legally bind me with something I didn't know!" Sorcha protested, before glancing sideways at him and sighing. “Well... yes. It happens sometimes. The nobles can't seem to decide whether they believe my uncle is going to settle down and have any sons with Crests. When they think he is, they tend to leverage my position into advantageous arrangements. I've had three fiancées—my uncle isn't really the settling type, and none of his bastards have had the Crest yet. They're hopeful for the next one, though, so... I'm engaged to Duke Gloucester."

She spoke of it as though the circumstances were perfectly normal.

“What happened to the other two?" Teach tilted his head, clearly unsure if normal was the right word.

“Well, uh." Sorcha pursed her lips. “Glenn died, and I threw wine in Viscount Kleiman's face at a dinner once and in the last break between them he got married to someone else."

“This is news to me; Gloucester never mentioned an engagement to you," Judith stated, her eyes narrowing suspiciously.

“Doesn't matter, though, because she's stuck with me," Mercer replied almost immediately. He was not going to let Sorcha marry Gloucester. “We'll have your engagement anulled to him, and announce at the summit you're my fiancée; you are not marrying that pig," Mercer stated, his eyes hardening in Sorcha's direction. She deserved happiness in her life, and if she married someone like Gloucester, a known rake, well... Mercer was certain he'd poison the man. On purpose this time.

“We'll also notify the regent of Faerghus about it so that he doesn't try anything else."

“What makes you think they will let you annul her engagement, Mercer?" Senka asked in a curious fashion.

“Because what's better than a lord of the Alliance than the actual Duke?" he replied, completely serious about the matter.

“Who died and left you in charge of me?" Sorcha snapped, glowering up at him. She set her hands on her hips, eyes narrow and mouth set in a scowl. “I don't suppose anyone cares what my opinion on the matter is?" She looked around at all of them, jaw tightening and glare accusatory.

“I'd rather be married for political advantage than pity, just so you know." Drawing herself up as tall as she could, she gave Judith a very brief, very queenly, nod. “It was nice to meet you, Lady Judith. If you would excuse me." She did not, however, wait for actual permission, turning on her heel and stalking off.

“Sorcha, wait!" Mercer called after her, cursing himself and his mother for saying what she did. But he was also grateful she did, otherwise he wouldn't have known her situation.

“Go get her, boy!"

When he managed to catch up with Sorcha, he moved so that he was completely in front of her and blocking any other way she could leave. She'd have to go back if she wanted to get away from him. “I didn't mean it like that," he stated, eyes fixed with hers. “Of course I care about your opinion in the matter, but..." his jaw tightened somewhat as he fought the urge to sigh.

“It's not out of pity that I said those things. You don't understand how Gloucester is. You'd be miserable, and I... well, you're my friend, Sorcha. I wouldn't want to see you that way. If you really would rather marry Gloucester, then I won't say anything about it, but... don't you deserve the chance to choose who you actually marry? If you're engaged to me, it won't change anything. I can call it off whenever you want, and if you... find someone you want to be with, then I'll be happy for you, Sor. But..." he paused.

“What do you want?"

“Time." She didn't look too pleased with him for blocking her path, but she did draw to a stop. Quite close, actually, almost enough to be in his face, though even frustrated as she clearly was, she wasn't quite that rude about it. Still, she was close enough that he could've counted her freckles if he wanted to. “I want time. I just—this was suddenly sprung on me, and Lady Judith acted like I have no choice and this is the kind of thing that could start wars if we're not careful, Mercer, depending on how much she and my uncle's advisers are willing to push, or how insulted Duke Gloucester might be."

She expelled a heavy breath, turning her eyes to the side. As if by some old instinct, she gripped the pendant at her neck. “I... appreciate your willingness to do this for me. It's... kind. At least now that it doesn't feel like you're trying to tell me what to do." She managed a little bit of a smile at that.

“But honestly I doubt there's anything to worry about. I haven't even met the Duke yet. I'm sure once I do, he'll revoke his agreement just like Kleiman did." She shrugged.

Mercer ran a hand down his face. “I'm sure he wants to, already. Gloucester isn't the marrying type, but... I will respect your wishes," he replied, taking a step back to give her some space. She wasn't wrong, though. Judith shouldn't have phrased it the way she did, but there was some merit to it, he supposed. The wars that would be started, though, would be of Faerghus' own doing. Almyra wasn't a country you just ignored. You didn't ignore a custom from a nation that was likely as large as all of Fódlan, however; he would do what he said. He was going to respect her wishes.

She winced visibly at the part about Gloucester already wanting to rescind things, a dark little huff of laughter escaping her.

“If that is how you really feel, then... I'm not going to force the issue, however," he stated, eyes going towards the necklace. “Keep that hidden for the time being. I'm not going to ask for it back; it was a gift from a stupid kid trying to make another person happy."

Sorcha hesitated, there. “Maybe you should take it back, then?" she asked quietly. “I mean neither of us knew what you were doing, and all this could be avoided. It—it did make me happy. But if what it's doing now is causing so much trouble..." She shook her head. “I don't think anyone would be happy if there was a dispute over something so easily-rectified?" She seemed to think that the primary issue would be one between Faerghus and the Alliance; then again, she only knew of his status within the Alliance, so that wasn't unreasonable of her.

“Sorcha," he began, grabbing her chin lightly and forcing her to meet his eyes. “I need you to understand something," he continued, face set in a completely serious expression. He wasn't sure if he should tell her this, but he needed her to understand something. “It's not something that is easily-rectified. Not when it's someone like me. I am half-Almyran, you know this, but..." this was all or nothing. What he said could likely put himself at more risk, more danger, but he wanted her to know. And to understand why he was doing what he was.

“I am Almyra's Prince. My father is King of Almyra. Do you understand why I am telling you this? Why something like this custom cannot be so easily-rectified? Faerghus would be insulting their royalty if they refused to annul your engagement with Gloucester, and that jewel... it's yours now. Keep it."

“You—but—" she stuttered, seemingly at a momentary loss. Whether it was from the words or the way he'd delivered them or some combination of the two was hard to say. “Lady Judith said it would be fine if you just took it back...?"

Her thoughts seemed to jump from one track to the other quite abruptly, though. “And prince? What—why is Almyra's prince in Fódlan? I don't—I don't understand any of this." She was obviously distressed, but she oddly made no move to step away, nor to free herself from his gentle grip on her face.

He huffed a little. He supposed he should have expected that reaction. “I'm here because I am Duke von Riegan's only living heir. They don't need me in Almyra, yet. And Judith says whatever she wants that she thinks will be of benefit to her. I don't think she was lying when she said she liked you," though that wasn't quite the way she'd phrased it.

“Don't... think too much on it, Sor. I'm still me, Mercer, your idiot friend, alright? I'll... explain more when there's time, but... I need to prepare for the trip to Derdriu. We'll talk when I get back, alright? That is... if you want."

“I... all right." Sorcha still seemed a little troubled but she gave him a small nod. “I don't know exactly what they'll have you doing, but... good luck, Mercer."

He grinned at her. “Thanks, love."


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 - Verdant Rain Moon - Tuesday the 12th
Derdriu (South Gate) - Midmorning - Sunny
Vridel von Hresvelg

Vridel wasn't exactly sure how Cyril had managed to convince the Archbishop that a field trip to the Alliance capital was a good idea, but he certainly couldn't complain. Given the historical tensions between Fódlan's three countries, it was unusual for members of other royal families to visit such places, and he was well aware that he and Sorcha would both be under a great deal of scrutiny from the nobles here during the trip, but he thought perhaps it might be well worth it. He was scrutinized wherever he went and whatever he did, after all; this wasn't so unusual.

Mercer had seemed rather surprised to learn that the Professor's entire Saturday group would be accompanying him home, along with his mother and Lady Lyanna, but not even they as the future sovereigns of countries generally got to say no to the Archbishop, if he'd even have been inclined to in the first place.

As they approached the southern gate of Derdriu, Vridel scanned the landscape from the back of his borrowed horse. Even at march pace on horseback, it was a two-day journey from the Monastery. The temperature was noticeably more moderate here, and less humid, no doubt the ocean's influence. He was looking forward to seeing the so-called Aquatic City, said to be one of the world's most beautiful places, and more in harmony with the bordering ocean than even the Empire's grand ports.

Before they drew too close, the fliers in their group landed, which mostly just meant Sorcha, Mercer, and Lady Lyanna, who sat sidesaddle astride a pristine white pegasus mount. “Something amiss?" he inquired, glancing between them.

Sorcha pursed her lips. “There is a rather large party ahead, waiting at the gates. They appear to be flying the Crest of Gloucester."

“Flashy bastard," Mercer mumbled as he appeared slightly in front of Vridel. “He just wants to be seen; he's like a peacock who has to strut his feathers. Don't mind him, too much, though. Hopefully you all won't have to interact with him, much," he continued, not bothering to hide his disdain. Mercer didn't appear to like the Duke of Gloucester.

“Why is that?" Senka asked, pulling up to Vridel's left on Libi, the black gelding she'd requested. Mercer pursed his lips in her direction.

“Don't be too surprised if he tries to proposition you for... things," he stated, causing Senka's brows to furrow.

“Proposition? Like what?" Amalthea asked, clearly not understanding the reference Mercer had stated. She was on Senka's otherside, mounted on a chestnut mare.

“Don't worry about it, too much, Thea. Just stay close to us, or your sister during the stay," Mercer replied, giving Amalthea a small grin.

Vridel, of course, knew very well what things Mercer was referring to. Honestly someone like that would be lucky to get Thea to understand what he wanted, never mind the rest. He would know—he hadn't yet really succeeded at the first. Perhaps it would have been easier if he knew exactly what he wanted in the first place.

The Professor, riding near the front of the column with Judith, looked rather indifferent as usual, though he did squint a bit at the gate, as if to assess the waiting party.

Sorcha looked slightly upset by something, but nudged Lady forward on foot with nothing more than a sigh.

Vridel figured that was that, and the group resumed its progress towards the gate. He supposed they looked rather less impressive than a company of knights; they were distinctly less unified in bearing, with fliers and pack horses and a small wagon in their midst. If anything, the patchwork of it would resemble merchants traveling with an armed guard, or... mercenaries, perhaps.

He found he didn't hate that so much. Better that marching with Church banners waving obnoxiously over their heads, anyway.

As they drew closer, the figured resolved more distinctly. At the head of the group was who could only have been Gloucester. He rode in polished silver armor, the family standard of a rose crowned with the Gloucester Crest obvious on the bannermen behind him. His horse was an Imperial charger, Vridel was sure of it, a large white one, and he'd foregone the helm of his armor in favor of meeting them barefaced. He was probably quite confident in his looks, as that type so often were. Admittedly, he wasn't unattractive—the dark lavender shade of his hair was unusual enough to be striking, and his features certainly qualified as elegant, in a masculine sort of way.

When the party was close enough, he and his two bannermen detached from the rest of his party, riding forward to meet them. It was all very chivalrous, and entirely unnecessary in Vridel's opinion, though he supposed it was all about knowing one's audience. He knew at least that Faerghus had a great cultural appreciation for this sort of thing. Perhaps he meant to impress Sorcha? He could have done worse if so.

“Hail, visitors!" Gloucester called out, drawing to a stop a polite distance away. “Might I ask if Her Highness Princess Sorcha Blaiddyd is among you?"

There was a beat of silence, during which Vridel threw a look at Mercer, curious as to whether this sort of thing was normal for the Duke.

Mercer mumbled something beneath his breath, but glanced directly at Gloucester. “Couldn't you wait until we were inside? We've been traveling for two days, Matteo, don't you think the Princess would like to rest first? As well as my other guests?" he stated, clearly irritated by something.

“Mercer," the Duke replied, clearly not entirely pleased to be addressed by his first name and returning the insult in kind. “How... pleasant, to see you. As for the occasion, well—that is precisely why I and mine are here. I had thought to give your... party a proper escort through the city, so as to better avoid the crowds and suchlike. I had also intended to invite my intended to board at my estate here in the city. I should hate for House Riegan to find themselves... overtaxed, with such an abundance of guests."

At this point, Sorcha cleared her throat, raising her hand briefly before swinging down from Lady's back. “I'm Sorcha," she said, looking rather like she was bracing herself for something.

Gloucester blinked at her, perhaps slightly taken aback either by her directness or the fact that she had in fact made the journey astride an 'unlucky' beast. He swiftly dismounted himself, and approached her.

“Ah, so the rumors of your exquisiteness are true, Your Highness." Gloucester delivered the line with perfect sincerity. Looked at a certain way, it was almost impressive. Vridel didn't think he could have willingly said that seriously. “No—on second thought, I daresay they have not done you enough credit." Reaching forward, he took up Sorcha's hand, startling her, it seemed, as she'd been about to dip into a bow. Instead, though, he raised her hand to his lips, brushing them lightly over her knuckles. Mercer openly glared at Gloucester when he did.

“Enchanted to meet you, my Princess."

“U—um," Sorcha stammered, flushing a bright pink. “I'm sure it's nothing so—"

“Nonsense!" the Duke cut off her self-effacing reply with a wave of his free hand. “But please—Mercer does have a point. I should hate for our esteemed guests to be kept from the rest they so surely deserve!" Keen eyes swept the group. If Vridel had not been practiced in looking for such things, he probably would have missed the way the Duke subtly lingered on the other women as well, but as it was he definitely noticed.

This, he thought, could get ugly.

Reluctantly parting with Sorcha's hand, Gloucester remounted. “Please: ladies, gentlemen. Allow the Knights of House Gloucester to serve as your honor guard and guides to the fair city of Derdriu. If there is anything you should require during your stay, do not hesitate to ask it of us." Without so much as waiting for a reply, he wheeled his charger and began to lead the way to the gate, his bannermen flanking him.

Mercer didn't say anything, and motioned Sir forward to follow behind Gloucester's company. “This is unnecessary, even if he was being serious about it. This is all for show, is it not?" Senka asked, riding beside Vridel and glancing at him from the corner of her eye. She must have noticed something, otherwise she wouldn't have mentioned it to Vridel. They were close enough that she didn't speak loud so that the others could hear her, though.

“Oh, it's completely unnecessary," Vridel replied, just as quietly. “But he's not doing it because we need an escort. He's doing it to get one over on Mercer. It's plain they don't like each other, even before Sorcha figures into it. And Mercer's all but given himself away with some of his reactions, so I'll wager our 'friend' the Duke just got some information out of this that makes it entirely worth pretending to care about any of us."

This was real politics, not the friendly ribbing they all gave each other at the Academy. And everyone here would be watching them all very closely, looking for weaknesses and exploitable character flaws, anything that might give them any kind of inside knowledge of or leverage over himself, Mercer, Sorcha, or the Church. And like it or not, that meant the others were automatically just as involved.

“This so exciting! We're being escorted by knights, almost. It's... almost romantic!" Thea didn't seem to have any reserves about being led into the city. She was, as usual, very excited about it. She glanced between Vridel and Senka and merely smiled. Mercer had remained in front, though from the way his shoulders were tense, he didn't seem to be happy about any of this. Whether it was because of Gloucester's actions, or the fact that he stated that Sorcha was his intended. It might have been both.

Sorcha hastened to remount, riding a little behind most everyone else. She seemed to be looking down at her hand, as though something about it was suddenly fascinating. Vridel tried not to grimace; he recognized the effect, having intentionally induced it more than once himself. Fortunately, Cyril rode up beside her a moment later and said something he couldn't hear, drawing her into some kind of conversation. That wasn't as bad, perhaps.

“Emphasis on almost," Vridel murmured, a response to Thea that he didn't really intend for her to hear. Of all the people in this group, he figured she was the most likely to fall for even the thinnest pretenses, and made a mental note to keep an eye on her.

They passed through the gate and into the city proper thereafter. It was a lively place; Gloucester had at the very least not been false when he'd implied that the crowds were large. They parted for the knights, though, who formed a protective ring around the group, keeping them apart from those milling on foot. It wasn't too hard to pick out the main threads of conversation, though.

“Duke Gloucester's Knights—"

“Is that young Lord Riegan?"

“That hair—the Imperial Lily?" Vridel frowned at that one, head snapping to the side to glare in the direction it had come from. A cluster of young women startled, then giggled, one or two of the bolder ones waving at him. One of them actually winked. He suppressed a sigh. At least it wasn't meant in insult, he supposed.

“What are they doing here? The Church?"

To his credit, Mercer was back to his normal self, smiling at the crowd and waving. Some of the people seemed to be intimidated by Sir, but the wyvern merely kept his head held high, as if he were strutting. Amalthea had moved a little further up on her horse, and Senka moved with her. They seemed to be spared from any of the chatter. Senka wasn't wearing anything that linked her to the church, save for the fact that she was riding with them. Amalthea was wearing the church's sigil embroidered on her cloak, so that was a giveaway.

Cyril wore only his father's sigils, and otherwise looked exactly like the mercenary he was, so even riding next to Sorcha, he drew no particular attention beyond what an attractive human being in such company would. Sorcha, too, was conspicuously without any of the trappings of anyone who might seem to be the Princess of anywhere, and looked, no doubt, more like she was with the Professor than any of the rest of them.

For his part, Vridel preferred to do what he'd always done; ignore the crowd. He didn't hate commoners by any means; he wasn't the kind of noble who disrespected the contributions of his people to his country. But he wasn't really the kind of bright, open personality Mercer was, and the idea of trying to fake it was... unpleasant.

Mercer had actually fallen back a bit, so that he was now riding next to Vridel. “Man, I hope this goes by fast. I really don't want to be here," he muttered, smile still in place as if nothing was wrong. It was easy to tell, at least for Vridel, that Mercer was upset, and that Gloucester was the one responsible for it. “Sorry you have to be here to witness this little game, though. Maybe you can help a friend out, yeah?" he stated grimly, though not at all serious about the last part.

“It's fine," Vridel replied easily. “I promise you I'm used to them. You want me to stab him or something? I can make it look like an accident. Or Reynard can, whichever."

“I'd say please, but it wouldn't really work that well," he replied, pushing a sigh through his nose. “I honestly don't know what Gloucester has planned. He is laying it on thick, and that's saying something for someone like him. No offense, Vi, but at least you have more class," Mercer stated, his smile turning into a small grin.

“I really don't have to tell you this since you already know, but," Mercer began, but paused as his face took on a more serious note, “watch your back. Closely. People here, you know exactly the kind they are, but they," he nodded towards the others, “they don't know. We should make sure they're at least going to be okay, and... if you could do me a solid. Watch Sorcha. I don't trust Gloucester alone with her. I trust her, but not him."

Ordinarily Vridel would remind Mercer that Sorcha was quite a capable person, and rather able to look out for herself, but... he was fairly sure Gloucester has also attended the Academy, and the years of experience since didn't seem to have been useless. The knightly act was in part an act, to be certain, but the discipline of the Duke's men, the surety of his posture on his horse... he was quite convinced there was real skill underlying that. All the more unfortunate.

So instead he expelled a breath, and gave Mercer a short nod. “Your esteem flatters me," he drawled sarcastically. “But... yes. I will keep an eye on them as well."

Mercer seemed to relax at the statement, almost as if he was not as burdened as he'd been when they arrived. “Thanks, Vi. You're a solid friend," he stated, rolling out his shoulders as he nudged Sir back to the front.

He did wonder about that, but... well, perhaps it would do for now.


Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

I.Y. 1180 - Verdant Rain Moon - Tuesday the 12th
Derdriu - Early Evening - Warm
Senka Rinaldi

When they had arrived at the von Riegan manor, Senka had never seen anything so beautiful. The designs of the architecture were beautiful, and not at all like the ones back in Duscur. Not even Faerghus could compare to it. They had been greeted by a few other nobles of the Leicester Alliance when they'd arrived further into Derdriu, however; none of them seemed as elegant as Gloucester made himself. She'd spotted one of the lords, or Dukes—she really didn't know who he was—staring at her, specifically. It didn't make her uncomfortable, though. Senka was used to people staring at her for various and obvious reasons.

Their mounts had been led to the stables, and everyone had been ushered near the foyer of the manor, however; she been separated from Sorcha and the others by the time she'd made it to the foyer. Glancing around, she pursed her lips together until she spotted Lady Judith. The woman noticed her, and grinned. “Hey, kid, you lost?" she asked, making her way towards Senka.

“No," she replied. “I am waiting on the others," she continued, keeping her eyes on the von Riegan woman. Judith huffed lightly, and shook her head.

“You'll be waiting for awhile. Gloucester wanted to speak to your Princess, and the von Kreuz lady and her sister were escorted to their rooms," Judith spoke, causing Senka to purse her lips. “Don't know about the Imperial boy, but your teacher was around here somewhere." She shrugged in a nonchalant manner, reminiscent to Mercer's shrugs. She grinned, then, as if a thought crossed her mind. It was sly, almost mischievous in nature.

“You can join me, though. I'm headed out for a drink, and I'd love to hear all about my future daughter," she stated suddenly, grinning at Senka. She wasn't so sure if she should be seen drinking with a lord of the Alliance, let a lone Mercer's mother, however; Senka thought about it briefly, before shaking her head.

“I couldn't tell you much about them, honestly," she stated. Judith barked a short laugh as if she found something funny. Senka wasn't too sure what it was, though.

It wasn't more than another moment later before Cyril appeared from a side door—one that led into one of the guest hallways. He held it open for a moment, and Vridel stepped out behind him, looking somewhat more irritated than usual. They spotted Senka and Judith, and made their way over.

“Did I hear something about drinks?" Vridel muttered, flicking his eyes between them. “Because I was just going to ask where the nearest tavern is."

“That's right," Judith replied, nodding in Vridel's direction. “I invited your pretty friend, here, for some drinks so that I could learn more about my future daughter," she seemed to explain. “You're her Teach, right Cyril? And you've," she turned her attention to Vridel, “spent some time with her. Care to tell me all about Sorcha Blaiddyd over drinks?" She seemed to be inviting the other two. Senka wasn't so sure that was a good idea, however; some part of her didn't mind.

“I do not mind going if they are as well," Senka stated as she nodded her head in Cyril and Vridel's direction.

“Great. What say you two?"

The two exchanged a glance, after which Cyril shrugged. Vridel seemed to take this as an acceptable answer, because he turned his attention back to Judith. “If you're buying, you can ask me whatever you want about her."

Judith huffed lightly and crossed her arms over her chest. “I can ask, yes, but you better answer them. I know your type, Imperial boy, but yes, I will be buying the drinks," she grinned at them and motioned for them to follow her. It wasn't long before they reached the nearby tavern, and Judith ushered them all inside. They found a table nestled in the back corner of the place while Judith seemed to place an order. She returned not too long afterwards with a large pitcher, and four cups. She placed one in front of Cyril, Vridel, and Senka before she sat down.

“Alright, so, let's start with you since you seem to be glued to Sorcha's hip. What do you know of their current relationship?" Judith seemed to jump right into the questioning. Senka blinked slowly as Judith began filling up her cup, and offering the pitcher to the other two at the table.

“They are friends, however," she paused, her eyes sliding towards Vridel before she returned her gaze back to Judith. “I'm not sure it's my place to say..." Judith pursed her lips together and leaned back in her chair, one of her arms draped casually over the back.

“C'mon kid, take a drink, and then tell me," Judith drawled, motioning towards the cup in front of Senka. Senka furrowed her brows, and sighed. Reaching towards the cup, she lifted it to her face, and breathed in the scent. It smelled fairly strange, stronger than most drinks she remembered her father used to partake in, however; she finally placed the cup to her lips, and took a drink. She immediately regretted it as she coughed, the liquid burning the back of her throat. Judith seemed to find it amusing as she laughed.

Cyril lifted a hand to pat her back, with just enough force to help the cough settle. He seemed to be having no such difficulty with his own drink; half of it had been summarily consumed already. Vridel was a little slower, but he'd clearly had at least a little practice, if the lack of spluttering was any indication.

“It's not that big a deal, Sen," he said with a shrug. “Gossiping about your friends is practically in the rules of friendship. You don't give away anything you were told in confidence, but everything else is fair game if you want to mention it."

That was easy for him to say. Everything Sorcha had told her was in confidence, and if she told... well, she supposed it didn't really matter. Sorcha was, technically betrothed to Mercer, now, and Judith was Mercer's mother. She supposed it wouldn't hurt? “Well, Sorcha has fancied Mercer for quite a while," she began, pursing her lips in the direction of her cup. She took another drink, going a little slower, and winced slightly as the burning sensation in her throat subsided a little.

“For as long as I've known her, which has only been four years." Judith seemed intrigued by that statement.

“But Mercer hasn't been at the Academy not even a year, yet. How could she have fancied him for almost four years?" she asked, tilting her head in Senka's direction.

“She mentioned that she came here when she was a child, did she not?" Senka retorted, causing Judith to snort, and wave a dismissive hand in front of her face.

“Ah, that's right. Sorcha was just a small thing, then. Oh," she seemed to recall something suddenly, and leaned forward to rest her forearms on the table. “Mercer said he lost his stone around that time she was visiting. Does that mean... she's fancied him for that long?" she seemed rather interested in the answer. Senka thought it better to nod in reply, and did.

“She didn't know it was him, I don't think," Vridel added, taking another swallow of his drink. “Her memory's always been sort of patchy, but I met her when I was ten, so she'd have been about nine, and she told me she'd gotten the stone from 'a nice boy who made her smile,' I think were her words. She calls him her 'first love,' though if I'm being honest I doubt she's had a second. And innocent as it was, it meant a lot to her."

He pursed his lips, then, almost as if he were considering whether to say something. He must have decided it was worth doing so, though, because with a soft exhale he continued. “She's never really fit in, in Faerghus. She's too soft in a lot of ways, too radical in others. She's got it in her head that she's not allowed to like anything or be in any way feminine, because she has to be as close to a boy as possible. She used to think they'd like her, if she was. Even asked me how to act more like a boy. Me." He pointed to himself, no doubt an oblique reference to his rather pretty features.

“It was kind of flattering at the time, but only until I figured out why she cared."

“Why does it concern them so much, anyway?" Cyril asked, already refilling his glass from the pitcher.

Vridel sighed. “Since Loog, Faerghus has been a Kingdom. As in, only kings, and all of them with the Major Crest of Blaiddyd. Culturally, they take a lot of pride in being able to weather the harsh conditions of their country, and in being powerful despite their relatively small population. Every man in the country has military training, and they prize physical strength and chivalry, where the Empire favors a mix of magical supremacy and infantry, and the Alliance is best known for their archers, flyers, and cunning. No one says women aren't as important, but..."

“When you consider the average man and the average woman, the man comes out better on the traits they value, in part because he's trained for it," Cyril finished, brows drawing together.

Judith rolled her eyes, hard. “Yeah, well everyone knows Faerghus is ruled by idiots," she muttered, almost as if she were trying to offend the Kingdom. Senka didn't blame her. She knew Sorcha had her issues, but for them to be stemmed that deeply? For those things that were not in Sorcha's control? It made Senka angry. Sorcha was her gentle-hearted friend, the person whom Senka had depended on when her country had been destroyed, and her people killed. To her, Sorcha has always had a strong conviction, and would make a great Queen one day.

In Duscur, that wasn't the case. Everyone who showed the slightest talent, man or woman, in any field was trained for it, however; Duscur wasn't a war-trained nation. They had been much too peaceful, then. Her father had even allowed her to train with some of the knights, and learned the magic of her mother. She was trained in whatever she wanted. It didn't seem fair that Sorcha didn't get that chance.

“Hm, she doesn't have the best confidence in herself," which Senka understood. They shared a lot of those negative traits, but Senka thought that they were working through them. “It is a shame that she doesn't want to be feminine," Sorcha was a beautiful young woman, at least to Senka.

“Indeed, it's a shame. Well, that's going to have to change," Judith stated, throwing back her drink as if it were second nature to her. “There's a merchant in town who specializes in clothes and tunics that are quite beautiful on the right person, but are made in a way that even someone like Sorcha would enjoy them."

“How so?" Senka was quite curious, and Judith grinned.

“Well, there are tunics that shape the figure rather nicely, but they don't restrict movement. They'll make her look and feel like a warrior, but also help remind her that she is, first and foremost, a lady. There might even be a few things that will look lovely on you, kid, especially with your figure," Judith was quite bold in her statements, but it was enough that Senka felt her cheeks warm. She'd never been complimented like that before, and wasn't quite sure how to take it.

“Probably not even necessary," Vridel said with a teasing lilt. “Sen was ogled twice today. Even if you don't count Gloucester, since he stared at every woman with a pulse in our group," his lip curled in a faint sneer before smoothing away. “There was still that other fellow. Redhead, Deirdre was talking to him? I think she said he was her cousin, so that'd make him a Goneril, I suppose."

“Duke Alaric," Cyril supplied mildly. “My father and I did some work for him once, up near Fódlan's Locket. Border skirmish; he wanted it resolved quietly, so it would look like two groups of bandits had a dispute and both countries could overlook it. That was..." he paused, thoughtful. “Five years ago? I think he'd just inherited."

Judith barked a laugh at the remark. “Goneril? Really," she drawled, glancing towards Senka. Senka, however, pursed her lips in Vridel's direction, a strange burning sensation on her face. If she remembered, Sorcha had said that was what a blush felt like. She'd never had a reason to blush before, but now, what these people were saying? They were slightly embarrassing. “Goneril doesn't have a wife, yet, though I've never seen him interested in anyone before. Maybe he intends to woo little Sen, here," she continued, leaning her head onto her fist, her elbow propped up on the table as support.

Senka wasn't entirely sure how to take that. Woo? What did that word mean? “I'm certain he wasn't looking at me," she murmured into the rim of her cup, taking another drink. After all, why would anyone look at her? She wasn't... well, she didn't think she was, anyway.

“Oh, but Vi, here, says he was. It's alright, Sen, you're a beautiful person. I'm sure you've had your fair share of admirers." Judith stated, causing Senka's blush to deepen.

“I... haven't, no." She admitted softly. Her father had never pushed her into an arranged marriage, nor saw it fit to try and find a suitor for her. He wanted her to know what he had known, and fall in love with someone she wanted. She was loved by her people, but it wasn't the same thing. It didn't matter, though.

“Really, now. Well that'll change, I'm sure," Judith stated, her eyes sliding towards Cyril before they landed on Vridel. Senka thought she saw something mischievous in Judith's eyes, but it might have been the poor lighting in the tavern.

Vridel arched an eyebrow back at her, then shifted his attention to Senka with a sniff. He poured himself another drink. “Really. You and Sorcha are ridiculous. It's fine to admit you're attractive, you know. I, for example, am very good-looking. Does it make me a better person? No. But it's the truth; no point denying it." He shrugged. “Lady Judith here is likewise quite lovely, and no doubt partially responsible for the fact that Mercer is." He seemed to have absolutely no issue saying any of this. To him, they really did seem to just be facts.

“Professor Cyril, you'd say Senka's pretty, wouldn't you?" he asked offhandedly.

The table's attention moved at that, but Cyril only blinked, blank-faced as ever, and sat back in his chair, still working on his second drink. “No," he replied with a shrug of his own. “The better word is beautiful." He tilted his head, regarding her with sympathy. “But if you'd rather the topic of discussion change, you need only say so."

Senka could not bring herself to look Cyril in the eye. Her face was burning, and she was certain the color would be visible even against her skin. Judith seemed to find it amusing since she was laughing rather loudly. “Aren't you smooth with the ladies, Cy?" Judith spoke, glancing in Cyril's direction. Senka merely swallowed thickly, and kept her gaze on her cup.

“No?" he replied, seemingly vaguely confused. “Usually people are unnerved by my face. Including women." He pointed at his face, which if the sound of his voice was anything to go by, was characteristically inexpressive still.

Vridel barked a soft laugh. “Oh I'm sure not all of them are. It's a very nice face."

“It doesn't seem to bother the professionals, at least," Cyril agreed with a nod. “But I suppose they wouldn't show it even if it did."

Vridel snorted—hard enough that he immediately had to reach for a cloth napkin and hold it to his nose. He started to cough, interspersed with laughter. “You just—" He coughed again. “Mercer's going to be so mad he missed this."

“Vi has a very good point, though, Sen. Even Cy agrees that you're lovely, so now we just have to show the others how lovely you are. You and my future daughter, and maybe even the little verdant-haired girl. That's, of course, assuming I can steal her away from her sister. That von Kreuz lady seems pretty intense," she stated as if it were the easiest thing in the world to say. For someone like Judith, it probably was.

“I... um. Thank you. Vi. Cy—Cyril," she stuttered. She really couldn't look anyone in the eye right now.

Vridel, still chuckling, shook his head. “No need to thank us for stating facts, Sen."

Cyril, on the other hand, seemed inclined to take mercy on her obvious discomfort. “You were asking us about Sorcha, though? Or perhaps there is something you wish to tell about Mercer?" He seemed to have grasped the concept of gossip fairly quickly, if bluntly. He picked up the pitcher and topped off everyone's drinks as they awaited Judith's answer.

“Ah, you're no fun, Cy," Judith stated, waving a hand in front of her face. “As for the boy, you already know how he is. He's a little shit, but oh, did I tell you he used to be afraid of fish? Couldn't look at 'em at all. He said they were bad, or something like that. The boy was strange in his youth," she stated, throwing her drink back rather quickly. Senka merely pursed her lips together, taking a slow drink from her cup.

Vridel's laughter redoubled, though it wasn't clear why.

“He was also a very chubby kid. Cute as a wyvern, though," she added as if she were recalling a fond memory. Senka couldn't picture Mercer as a heavy-set child. He was lanky, but had strength in him. It was like his frame belied his true capability, but she supposed that might have been the way he carried himself. She could understand wanting to appear less threatening, or even not at all.

“You know, I could see it. Sorcha was this bony little thing—and small enough that she looked like a doll." Vridel shook his head, putting his chin in his hand and bracing his elbow on the table. “She had the fiercest eyes, though. Refused to cry about anything, though I suppose now I know why that is."

“As I remember it, the boy said he gave her that engagement stone as a way to make her stop crying," Judith responded, finishing off her drink. “But it was rather adorable when they were running together. The boy was this little ball of a kid, and Sorcha was chasing after him because of something he'd said. I wish there was a way to have captured that moment. It would be embarrassing to him if I could have shown it to everyone." Senka felt her lips tilting up at that moment.

She missed this. Missed talking with her mother and recalling fond memories with her father. To have her parents talk about her like that when they had visitors. It was nice, and she'd forgotten what that felt like. Even if they were teasing Mercer and Sorcha, she missed things like this.

“Oh, is that I smile I see, Sen?" Judith pulled Senka from her thoughts, and she turned to face the Lady.

“It is," she admitted, though she didn't know why, exactly.

“You really are too much," Judith stated and huffed lightly. “Well now, anything else I should know about the boy and Sorcha? Other than what's been stated? I feel like I have an understanding of my future daughter, but is there anything else I should know?"

Vridel appeared to consider this, then finally shook his head. “Honestly, just watching them will tell you the rest better than I ever could. They're idiots, both of them, and rather oblivious, but I suppose time might wise them up a little."

Judith huffed. “You've a point, Vi. It wouldn't hurt to push them in the right direction, though. The boy is stupid, but he's not dense." She glanced in Cyril's direction before turning to Senka. “I know a couple of people who are like that; they need the right push." Senka wasn't sure what that had meant, but she did not doubt Judith knew plenty of people. She was a Lady, after all.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1180 - Verdant Rain Moon - Tuesday the 12th
Derdriu - Late Evening - Clear
Sorcha Blaiddyd

Sorcha let the door close, leaning up against it for a moment and exhaling a heavy sigh.

It had taken some doing to convince Duke Gloucester that she really ought not to stay at his manor for the duration of her visit to Derdriu. Part of it was purely practical: if Mercer was really set on announcing their engagement to the Roundtable Conference she absolutely could not be staying unchaperoned at another man's estate, regardless of that man's intentions. Still, even the suggestion that she do so as Matteo's—he'd insisted she call him Matteo—fiancée was a bit... she pursed her lips. Surely it wouldn't have anything to do with that.

Princess she might be, but Sorcha understood that she was quite a plain girl, boyish and unfeminine and not the kind who could really pretty up, either. So she doubted he had any interest in anything untoward. But... sometimes it was appearances that mattered, and it would definitely have the appearance of impropriety.

Still. It was kind of nice to have someone pretend to be interested, even if she knew it wasn't real. Her eyes dropped to her hand. It was a little much, maybe, but he'd even given her a rose. A bright red one, the crimson of it a stark contrast where she held it in a pale hand. He'd trimmed the thorns off, too, which she supposed was a nice thought even if it was entirely unnecessary. And he had such a... well, a knightly way about him, and part of her couldn't help but respond to that. It was a romantic notion, and stupid, but he really did seem like a hero out of one of her favorite stories. How many times had she imagined herself a brave heroine, and wanted nothing more or less than a courageous, goodhearted partner with whom to have their own adventures?

“Stupid," she whispered softly.

Placing the rose on her bedside table, she crossed to her things, changing from her travel gear into a simple, loose white shirt and trousers she could easily fit into her boots. She wanted to go for some air, maybe get a feel for the city at night. She wasn't too worried about being recognized—if there were really stories about the Princess of Faerghus being as pretty as Matteo had said, she had little fear of identification. She hadn't even been noticed earlier, during the escort. For once, the propaganda her uncle's advisors spread about her would be to her advantage.

She tried to pin her hair, but as usual she couldn't get it quite right by herself, and so she put it up in a ponytail instead, almost surprised when she realized it nearly reached the small of her back. She should probably cut it; that might make it easier to deal with. Pausing to strap the knife Professor Cyril had gifted her for her birthday to her back, she checked that her bracelet was still intact, and her necklace was hidden under the shirt. That should be adequate; it wasn't like Derdriu was a crime-ridden city, and she knew how to look after herself.

Considering the rose for a moment, she hummed. It wouldn't hurt to pretend a little longer, right? She tucked it into the base of her ponytail and exited the room, padding down the stairs towards the foyer and the front door.

When she reached the bottom of the stairs, though, Mercer was standing in the foyer with another person. A man with hair to his shoulders, and a rich red hue, seemed to be smiling at something Mercer said. Sorcha could recognize him from earlier, when they'd arrived. He was part of the welcome who received Mercer, Duke Goneril. He glanced towards her, pale blue eyes locking with hers before he turned back to Mercer. He muttered something, bowed, and left. Mercer, however, glanced in Sorcha's direction. He grinned at her, but it didn't seem quite right on his face. It was as if it were a forced grin, but he waved in her direction.

“Hey, Sorcha," he greeted once she was closer to him. He glanced at her, as if he were inspecting her attire before he arched a brow. “Headed out?" he asked, tilting his head lightly in an inquisitive manner.

“Uh—yes." She swallowed, a touch uncomfortable for reasons she couldn't place. Maybe it was just the suddenness of everything that had happened. It wasn't every day a person found out they accidentally engaged themself in their childhood, least of all to someone they were only just beginning to get to know again as a friend.

It wasn't that she'd ever expected to have much choice in the matter. Just that she'd sort of thought that would be because her parents or uncle had chosen for her, not because of what basically amounted to a misunderstanding. It was... weird. Weird might be the right word.

“You, um. You don't seem to be really enjoying being home," she ventured, not really sure how else to express a concern that had been sitting with her since they'd started out for Derdriu two days ago. “Are you—is your grandfather all right?" She didn't know how ill the Duke was; Lady Judith hadn't seemed too worried, but the situation could easily have worsened in the time since she'd left to retrieve them.

Mercer smiled wrly at her. “He'll be fine. He's recovering well-enough that he should be able to return by the time the summit ends," he responded, rubbing the back of his neck as he rolled it out. “And I've never really enjoyed it here. Too many people trying to disinherit me, kill me, or just take things that they want because I've no right to it. I told you that I was just recently announced as Duke Riegan's heir. No one is taking that seriously, so why would I enjoy being in a place that doesn't want me around, right now?" His tone was rather flat when he spoke, as if he just didn't care about something.

“Honestly... that's only part of it. I'm not enjoying myself because a certain someone thinks he's going to be able to take the position of Leader of the Alliance. No chance in hell am I letting that happen, though. He's... he'd ruin everything," he stated a bit darkly. Even his eyes seemed to darken with the force of his words.

“But don't let me keep you. If you're going out, be careful and... don't stay out too late. Or if you'd like, I can tag along. Doesn't really matter," he shrugged his shoulders after that, and dropped them.

Some sensitive part of her was inclined to take offense at his apathy, both on behalf of the people of the city, and on her own. But... she knew him just well enough at this point to understand that maybe things weren't really as they seemed.

That made up her mind, somehow. Shaking her head, she darted forward to grab his wrist, and set about tugging him behind her. “Come on, then," she said, glancing back over her shoulder at him. “If it doesn't really matter, then you can come on my walk with me and show me your city. I want to see all the best parts so you better be a good tour guide." More than wanting to see those things for herself, though, she wanted him to see them.

Sorcha had found that sometimes she needed a reminder of why she tried at all in the first place. It was hard to believe that most of the nobility would ever really accept her, and part of her was almost always ready to give up, to abdicate and let her uncle the Regent become King in truth. He wasn't a terrible person, or anything, and though Faerghus was very much struggling in some ways, it was sort of the status quo for Faerghus to struggle. Sometimes the nobles even seemed to take a perverse kind of pride in it. In having fewer fancy things than Imperials or Alliance Dukes or whatever the case.

Of course, their 'hardship' was nothing compared to what their people went through, and that was what she did to remind herself. She went out into Fhirdiad, or the countryside if she could, dressed like an ordinary woman, and tried to immerse herself as much as she could in the lives of those she would one day rule. She couldn't truly know what it was like, but she could do her best, so that when the time came she would remember to ask them what they needed, instead of assuming she knew best. And those people were worth fighting for.

She knew Mercer had to know this in his heart. But maybe, like her, he could sometimes use a reminder.

He huffed lightly, something caught between a laugh and maybe something more akin to disbelief. “I can't promise I'll be a good tour guide, but I'll try my best. After you, Princess," he stated, walking towards the door and holding it open for her to walk through. Once they had exited, and made their way towards the city, Mercer seemed to relax a bit. “How's everything on your end?" he finally spoke, his eyes going towards the rose in her hair. It seemed he'd spotted it, earlier, but hadn't commented on it, yet.

She somehow, suddenly, wished it were not there, but it would have been strange to do anything with it now, so she simply pretended she didn't notice him noticing. “I'm fine," she said quietly, unsure if it was true exactly but not wanting to make a nuisance of herself. This had to be just as sudden and strange for him, really, and on top of all the things he had to deal with for the Conference... Sorcha was already second-guessing her decision to make him do this.

She sighed a little, looking around to take in the city a bit more. The mage-lights were soft, but there were enough of them to gently illuminate the path ahead. “I... suppose that's as much as I'll have to be dealing with Duke Gloucester," she added, pursing her lips. “Since the announcement will be soon and everything."

He raised a brow in her direction. “Have you made a decision on what you'd like to do, then?" he asked, brow still raised and head tilted slightly as if he were curious. “Do you want me to annul your engagement with Gloucester and say you're my intended, or..." his jaw seemed to clench tightly and he swallowed thickly. It was easy enough to see his throat working. “Do you want me to make your engagement with Gloucester official?"

“I told you I was going to respect whatever conclusion you came to, and this is the way I do it. What is it that you'd like to do, Sorcha? Or do you need more time to think it through? The conference is in two days, so there's still time to think about it. I just..." a pause, “want you to be sure."

Sorcha's lips thinned; she dropped her eyes to her feet for a bit. “It's not that simple, though, right?" she asked. “There's Almyra to consider, and what people would think of you..." Expelling a breath from her nose, she shook her head and lifted her eyes. They were approaching the water; she could see lights reflecting off the ocean, and hear a low susurrus that seemed to be the waves rolling onto the shore.

“What—what do you want to do, Mercer? That matters, too." She shook her head again. “I've always known that I wasn't going to choose who I married. And I've come to terms with the fact that whoever it is isn't going to want me." She snorted. That one had been difficult, but she'd managed it, eventually. “But—it seems like you have the chance to choose, you know? When I said I don't want pity, I meant that... but not just for my own sake. I also don't want you to make a decision this important just because you feel bad about something you couldn't have known about. So even if you don't want to do this, I'll be fine." She smiled, huffing quietly. “It'll just be what I always expected in the first place, you know?"

She couldn't pretend she was exactly happy about it; she had enough foolish notions of romance and love in her head that the idea of being married to someone who would not love her was... uncomfortable. But if in so doing she could give her friend a chance at being happy, well—that might be worth it.

“I'd want you," he spoke, his voice soft as if he hadn't meant to say it out loud. He shook his head, though. “And I told you it wasn't out of pity that I would do that. I don't care what they'd think of me, what Almyra would think because they don't care who I decide to marry. To Almyra, who I marry will always be someone they think is worthy because I thought they were worthy. And I told you our engagement would only be temporary, and last however long you wanted it to last. What I want..." he paused to glance at her, his eyes searching hers for something.

“What I want is for you to be happy no matter what you decide. You deserve that, Sorcha. And if you think Gloucester could provide that happiness for you, then who am I to stand in your way? But... if you don't think you would be happy, and that maybe I could help you find your happiness, well..." he didn't seem to need to continue his statement. He kept his gaze with hers, though, and never once broke it.

“I'd like to think our engagement would be the first step."

Sorcha wasn't honestly sure she heard anything beyond the first three words.

I'd want you.

Her heart lurched painfully in her chest; she actually raised a hand to the spot a moment later, pressing the heel of it into her sternum just above where the pendant rested, warm against her skin. She swallowed thickly. What—what kind of hypothetical was that? He'd want her? In what circumstances? In what way? The questions were dizzying, almost painful in a way she didn't understand. Because it was a hypothetical. I would..

Not I do.

The rest caught up with her eventually, though not before her face had heated. She ignored her own blush and cleared her throat, trying to regain her footing. “Do you think he could?" she asked, diverting their course towards an empty dock. She assumed, from the other boats moored nearby, that it was occasionally used for the same, but there were none on it now. It gave her a much better view of the water, and perhaps made the expression on her face a little harder to read.

She tugged the rose out of her hair. In the dim light, the red faded quickly, until it was mostly an indistinct dark grey. “He did his research, I suppose. Some of it, anyway. I don't know if he says things like that all the time, always acts like that, or if it was something he did because he found out I—" she scoffed, pulling a face at herself. “Found out I'm an idiot. But it wasn't a perfect farce. I recognize a wandering eye when I see one—he might have complimented me the most, but the way he was looking at Sen and Lady Lyanna... I can tell what he likes, and I'm not really it."

She smiled, the expression a tinge bitter. That hadn't been anything she didn't expect, which was why she knew how to look for it. “And I guess even the research was only skin deep. I kind of hate roses, actually. Lady Patricia had these rosebushes she really loved. They had to rip out my mother's lilies to plant them, and I fell into them trying to get out of my room one night. I got all scratched up—but at least the thorns taught me something." Trimming them off seemed a little condescending, somehow.

“Still... I think it might be the first time anyone's ever even tried to charm me. It felt kind of nice."

“No," Mercer spoke softly. “Gloucester would... forgive me for being blunt but I have to say this," he stated, wincing slightly as if to himself. “Gloucester wouldn't want you, or anyone for that matter. He doesn't value a person. He only sees an object, and even if he did his research on you, it's only because he wants to get you in bed as soon as possible so he can say he has you. That you belong to him, and to make your engagement to him, solid."

That was... hard to hear, and in some ways surprising, but Sorcha found that like so many things, she could bear it evenly. She supposed it was possible that there might be a certain status in... in bedding her, as it were. Her title had significance to some people; it wasn't entirely unreasonable to suppose it might extend to this arena also. And if what he saw when he looked at her was the title, she supposed even plainness didn't much matter.

She nodded slightly, in acknowledgment of and gratitude for his honesty, even he'd had to say something unpleasant to achieve it.

He pulled in a deep breath, a small smile pulling at his lips. “And what have I been doing this entire time? Making a fool of myself for you? Here I thought I was charming you. Guess I need to work a little harder," he stated, the somewhat familiar Mercer returning. He didn't seem so serious, in that moment, and smiled at her. “But I really guess I'm just trying to get to know Sorcha Blaiddyd, the young woman who doesn't believe in herself, but has a strong and just heart and wants the best for people." He huffed a little to himself.

Some part of her almost wished he weren't so clearly joking. On the other hand, she wasn't sure what she'd have done with herself if he'd tried to say it seriously. At least she knew where she stood with Mercer. He wasn't pretending anything for her, and there was a way in which that was a mercy. He respected her as a person, and... and if nothing else, she would treasure that, and happily return it in kind.

“Thank you, Mercer," she said, finding a soft smile for him. With a careless gesture, she tossed the flower into the ocean, to let the potential of it be carried far away by the waves. If the choice was between a fake love and a real friendship with someone who mattered, well... that was no choice at all.

“You know... I think you are. Getting to know me, I mean. But you should talk more about yourself, sometimes. I feel like we always talk about me, and that's no good." She tilted her head to the side. “Maybe you could start by showing me your favorite place in Derdriu?"

For the first time since they'd arrived, Mercer genuinely smiled. “Sure thing, Sor," he responded, his hand reaching out to lay on her shoulder before he dropped it. “We're actually at my favorite spot. The ocean was always one of my favorite places to be, especially during the summer time. It has a sort of gleam to it, the way it shines. It almost reminds me..." he paused, laughing a bit nervously, “the way your eyes shine when you're genuinely happy about something. Ah, but, um... yeah." He coughed into his hand and glanced away from her.

“I can show you a few other places in town? There's this one merchant who makes custom quivers. We can see if he's still there and maybe have him make one for you?"

She felt like her face was on fire, between the casual touch and the—the compliment? It sounded like a compliment to her. She looked away at the same time he did, setting a hand on her burning cheek and trying to get the flush under control.

The suggestion was a welcome one, and she nodded vigorously. “Oh, um. Yes. That would be really—really nice. I was thinking I might need a larger one. I seem to keep running out of arrows on missions, and..." She grimaced, knowing she probably sounded incredibly inane. “You think anyone would be open this late?"

“Yeah, the merchant is an old friend of mine. He's a bit on in years, now, and can't see very well, but he still retains the muscle memory to make quivers. He's one of the best in Derdriu, and possibly all of Fódlan. He made the one I currently use, and I seem to have more arrows to spare than you do on missions," he stated, grinning at her in the way that meant he was teasing her again.

She sniffed. “It's not my fault I fire faster than you, you know," she groused, heading back up towards the street. Truthfully, she was grateful for the opportunity to get back on even ground, so to speak. She didn't regret being vulnerable earlier, not at all. Mercer hadn't ridiculed her for it, or treated her badly, but that didn't make it easy, either.

This though—banter and ribbing each other. This was easy.

“Oh? Is that what you're calling it? Being a faster shot? And here I thought I was the fastest. I guess I'm just good at being more precise," he replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “I shouldn't be too surprised, though. You've always been a faster draw than I have. We'll just have to make it a contest, one day. Just to see who really is the faster one," he stated, grinning at her in that challenging manner he usually did.

Sorcha harrumphed, giving him a gentle whack in the arm. “Fine. But you have to pick something that isn't ridiculous for the wager."


Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Verdant Rain Moon - Wednesday the 13th
Duke Riegan Manor (Stables) - Morning - Cool
Senka Rinaldi

Senka pursed her lips together. She wasn't sure if she should be flattered or alarmed at the letter she had found outside her room this morning. It was... beautiful, she would admit. The things it said about her, comparing her to the moon or some ethereal creature, was causing her stomach to do strange flips. She knew the letter belonged to Alaric Goneril, the current Duke of House Goneril, however; she didn't understand why he was so adamant about telling her these things. She had found out that he was the young man who had been staring at her when they'd arrived in Derdriu, yesterday, when she had joined the others at the tavern. He was currently visiting the von Riegan manor, apparently speaking with Mercer. From what she'd been told, they were old friends, so it made sense for him to visit Mercer when he'd returned to Derdriu.

As if her thoughts had summoned him, though, Duke Goneril rounded the corner of the stables and his eyes softened in her direction. They were a pretty shade of blue, almost pale grey in some instances. His hair was fairly long for a noble, but Senka supposed that mattered very little in Derdriu. A lot of the nobles sported hair at least down to their shoulders, and Duke Goneril was no exception. The red was what caught her attention the most. It was rich and deep, and so beautiful. Just as he was, now that she could see his features properly. Not quite like Cyril, though. She dismissed that thought, as Duke Goneril approached.

“Good morning, Lady Senka," he stated, placing a hand on his heart as he bowed. She returned it, and offered him a more softened expression of the one she was wearing. It wasn't quite a smile, but he did seem to put her at ease. “I... hope you found my poem to your liking?" he asked. Senka blinked at him, but nodded her head. His expression shifted into a light smile, as his shoulders seemed to relax.

“It was beautiful," she admitted as he held out his hand, an invitation to give him her own. Hesitantly, she did, laying it with his, but felt her brows furrow. It didn't feel quite the same as when she'd held Cyril's hand. Cyril's hands had been warm and comforting. Duke Goneril's were warm as well, but she didn't quite feel the same comfort as she did from Cyril's. He brushed his lips over her knuckles, though, before releasing her hand.

“I am glad it was to your liking," he stated, straightening out his posture. “I was wondering if you would, perhaps, like to accompany me to dinner tonight? I—" he paused, a faint pink dusting his cheeks as he glanced away from her. His apparent nervousness was causing her to feel awkward, and she felt her own cheeks heat up. He spoke again before she could answer, though.

“I would like ask you if I may court you, properly," he stated, his eyes locking with hers. Senka was genuinely surprised, and she felt her eyes widen at the statement. He wanted to court her? Her? “Ah, you do not have to answer now, if you don't desire. I am willing to wait," he stated, taking a step back as if to give her some space. She appreciated the thought, because she wasn't entirely sure what was wrong with her chest. Her heart was beating rather fast, and it felt like her stomach was doing strange flips, again.

“I'm... flattered, really, Lord Goneril. May I have time to think about it?" she asked, watching as his expression shifted into one of hope. He smiled and nodded his head.

“Of course. Please, take your time. If you must leave Derdriu before you find an answer, please write to me once you do. It would bring me nothing but joy if it were a favorable response, but I will not harbor any ill-thoughts against you if it is not. I wish only the best for you, Senka. May... I call you that? Senka?" he asked. It was so genuine, and so... tender? She didn't know the word for it, and could only nod. He smiled once more before he bowed.

“I will have dinner with you tonight, if you'd like, Duke Goneril." Senka supposed it wouldn't hurt. His smile brightened more, and it made Senka think of the way Amalthea usually brightened. As if something were fascinating and worth smiling about. She was having a hard time believing that he was smiling because of her, though.

“Nothing would please me more, however; if you'd like, you may call me Alaric. I feel like it wouldn't put such a boundary between us," he stated. Senka blinked, swallowed thickly, and nodded. It was the only thing she could do since her words seemed to fail her. He bid farewell to her after that, leaving Senka to her thoughts. Libi stuck his head out of his stall, though, and nickered in her direction. She smiled at him, and laid a hand on his snout, rubbing it gently as she lost herself in her thoughts.

Why would he be interested in her? She was, for all he knew, just a schoolmate of Mercer's. Despite Vridel and Cyril's words, she didn't feel particularly attractive, so what would Duke Goneril gain by trying to pursue her? It didn't make sense. Some, strange, hopeful part of her, though, thought that maybe it was genuine. That he saw her and nothing else, and wanted the chance to be with her. Senka was touched, she really was, but... she felt confused. If she did agree to allow Alaric to court her, where would that leave her friends? Cyril?

That thought alone surprised her. Cyril was her teacher. Why should that matter? Why did that matter? Libi pushed her hand gently with his snout, calling her attention back to him. He snorted softly and she smiled in response. It was getting a little easier to do that, lately: smile. Senka thought that her friends were the root cause of it. They had made her... well, happy was too mild of a word to use. She loved them dearly for what they did to her, how they were bringing her back ever so close to her old self.

“What should I do?" she murmured, leaning to place her forehead against Libi's snout.

A soft humming alerted her to the fact that someone else was heading into the barn; oddly it seemed to be someone familiar to their animals, because several more heads popped over stall doors, as if in anticipation of something. The barn door on the far end slid open gently on its hinges, and then Cyril stepped through, leaving it open to the sunshine and breeze behind him. He had a large bale of hay slung over one shoulder and an oversized bucket of fish in the other—sure enough, he was the source of the humming, some gentle tune she didn't recognize. It could have been a lullaby, even, but perhaps he'd just slowed down something a little faster.

It ceased as soon as he spotted her and realized he was not alone, but he didn't seem startled. Instead, his expression softened slightly. “Good morning, Senka," he said, as if it were any ordinary day at the monastery and she'd arrived early to the classroom. He was dressed in the same manner as usual for their days off—a black and white tunic, black trousers, and boots. The tunic was short-sleeved in concession to the weather, and there were pieces of hay in his hair, but otherwise it could have been a morning at Garreg Mach.

“Come to take a ride? I hear the Duke's property has some nice scenery, and trails." He set the bale and bucket down, breaking the wire holding the former together with his hands and separating it out into flakes in preparation to feed the horses. “I can have Libi's ready for him if you'd prefer to get him some exercise first?" He paused long enough to look over at her inquiringly, one eyebrow slightly raised over the other.

Seeing him always made her feel strangely comfortable. Every little thing that she nitpicked about herself seemed to disappear whenever he was around, and she couldn't help the little smile that appeared on her face. “Ah, not exactly. I was just checking up on Libi to make sure he was doing alright and..." she paused and furrowed her brows, “I ran into Al—Duke Goneril." She corrected herself before she said his name. She didn't know why she didn't want to say it. It was, after all, just that: a name.

“You have hay stuck in your hair," she stated, pointing to a few pieces that seemed to stick out more than others. It was rather, dare she say, cute. She never really thought about Cyril that way, but the way he was now... it made her feel warm inside. She couldn't explain why, so she just smiled.

“Of course I do." Somehow, he managed with very little actual expression to convey the impression of rolling his eyes, and reached up with one hand, brushing it carelessly back and forth through his hair. Most of the hay fell out, but he definitely missed a few bits, and in the process mussed his hair, which was unruly at the best of times. It now stuck out in all directions, save the one piece that still managed to fall in front of his face.

“Did I get it?"

Senka laughed lightly, and shook her head. “No, you didn't," she replied, stepping closer to him for a moment. She reached up, hesitantly at first, almost unsure of herself before she ran her hands through his hair. She pulled the rest of the bits from his hair before running her fingers through it one last time to straighten it out. It would likely get messed up again, but at least now he didn't have to worry about there being hay in his hair.

His hair was softer than it looked, almost downy in its texture, and largely free of tangles despite the careless treatment he'd given it. He was quite quiet as she worked, tipping his chin down as if to make it simpler for her.

“There. Better," she spoke once she was sure she took everything out. “Now you look more presentable," she added blinking slowly before she pursed her lips together. She remained quiet for a few moments, debating whether or not she wanted to ask him something. She decided she wanted to, and glanced in his direction to meet his gaze. “May I ask your opinion on something, Cyril?" she decided to ask. She wanted to know what he would think of Duke Goneril and his... well, what he'd asked her, earlier.

He'd huffed quietly at the word 'presentable,' a vaguely-skeptical expression on his face, but it disappeared when the subject changed, and he tilted his head slightly to the side. “Always," he replied simply. “What is it?"

She opened her mouth to reply, however; she found she couldn't say the words she wanted to. Perhaps because she didn't know how to word them. Instead, she chewed the bottom of her lip, thoughtfully, before she came to a conclusion. “Duke Goneril wishes to court me," she spoke softly, and turned her gaze towards the floor.

“He is very kind, and nice, but... I don't... know." She truly did believe he was a nice person, but she didn't understand why he wanted to court her. Courtship usually meant that the interested party would eventually seek marriage. Senka wasn't too sure if she would want to marry someone who saw her, but didn't know her. “You know parts of my history, and you know who I am, but Duke Goneril does not. I... don't want to deceive him that way, but I also don't want him to be interested in someone who... possibly couldn't return what he wants. What... what would you do?"

Cyril clearly considered this for some time, his own lips pursing faintly. “This seems like the kind of thing worth a longer discussion," he admitted. “Do you mind if I feed everyone while I think about it? Then maybe we could take Libi and Sterling out for some exercise? I'd like to ask you some things before I answer, if you'd be all right with that."

“Of course," she replied. She valued Cyril's opinion, and if he had to think about the answer he wanted to give her, or ask her things in turn, she would gladly wait. And she did. She waited until he fed the animals which took almost half an hour. She didn't mind, though, since she said she would wait. Once she had Libi saddled, and she led the black gelding out of his stall, and mounted with relative ease. Libi seemed rather happy to be out of his stall, and merely snorted, pawing the ground almost impatiently. She supposed he enjoyed their walks as much as she did.

“I am ready when you are," she stated, glancing back towards Cyril.

He swung astride Sterling, one of the other Barn C residents at the monastery. The mare was one of those hotblooded Imperial sorts, with a deep grey-blue dappled coat and a silver mane and tail. She was a spirited horse—too much so for most riders, but she seemed to quite like Cyril, so he was usually the one who exercised her, since all of the grooms and most of the knights were wary of the fact that she tended to bite.

Gathering up the reins—he preferred an unusual, bitless bridle configuration—he steered her out of the barn, then waited for Senka and Libi to draw even before nudging her forward again. He seemed to have some idea where the trails went, because he pointed them down one without hesitating, heading for a copse of trees.

When they'd been walking for a few minutes, he turned to regard her evenly for a moment, expression thoughtful. “Do you want to be courted, Senka?" he asked. “Forget the who, for a moment. Is the what of it something you have any interest in?"

Perhaps, at one time she did. The idea of being courted by someone that had, perhaps, loved her, was something she had thought about when she was younger. It was childish of her to think so, but when she looked at her parents, she'd always wanted something like that.

“I did," she finally answered after a few minutes of silence. “When I was still Princess of Duscur, I always thought... that it would be nice. To find someone like that who could be... I don't know," she pursed her lips together and furrowed her brows. “But I think that is no longer available to me. Why would anyone want to court someone like me? I'm..." she paused, feeling a strange lump in her throat as she sighed softly. “I'm afraid of it. If someone found out who I was, I don't think they would want to court me at all. And... I'm scared of that."

Duke Goneril seemed like a genuinely nice person, who could be a good person to someone he eventually loved, but Senka couldn't picture herself as being that person. And she didn't want to do that to him. He has been nothing but kind to her since their arrival. It was though Cyril said, even if it wasn't Duke Goneril, Senka had a hard time believing that anyone would want to court her, and not hate her if they found out who she was.

Cyril considered this for a moment. “I didn't ask if you thought it was available to you," he pointed out gently, “only if it was something you would want." They emerged from the copse of trees, and suddenly the ocean and sky filled the horizon. There was a beach just a little ways ahead, a long, unoccupied stretch of sand without so much as a dock on it.

“For what it's worth..." he paused, steering them onto the sand before continuing. “I'm just a commoner, so maybe I don't know much about these things, but—I don't think any less of you for being from Duscur. I can't imagine I'm somehow unique. In fact I know I'm not. Vridel clearly doesn't, nor does Sorcha, and I have every confidence that the others wouldn't either."

But didn't he know that he was unique? That he was the exception to all of it? He didn't think any less of her for being from Duscur because he was a mercenary. He didn't have ties to any of the three kingdoms in Fódlan, so how could he have an actual opinion on her?

“Thank you for saying that, Cyril. It means a lot, it really does, but," she paused to sigh softly. “Things are a bit more complicated than that. And to answer your question, yes. It is something I want..." but it wasn't something she could have. She chanced a glance at him, and turned her attention back to the scenery in front of her. The ocean was beautiful, clear and full of life, it seemed. She gripped the reins a little tighter before she turned her attention back to Cyril.

“I suppose that is why I agreed to have dinner with him. Maybe... maybe this could be," she wasn't sure what it could be. This was a chance to get to know him, and he would get to know her. Maybe something would come of it. Maybe nothing would. “It couldn't hurt to try, right?"

“I don't think it would in this case, no," Cyril replied slowly. Sterling tossed her head, dancing sideways a little as they approached the waves, but he hardly seemed to notice, keeping his seat as a matter of reflex rather than conscious decision, by the look of it. “I don't know the Duke well, but he seems a decent man, and I doubt Mercer would be friends with anyone who wasn't. He's a good judge of character, in that way."

He regarded her steadily as their path took them close enough to the ocean for the waves to wet the horses' hooves before turning parallel to the waterline. “So if you don't mind the what, then I suppose the question is... how do you feel about the who?" He blinked. “Not that I think you need to have any definitive answers; you barely know him, after all." He shook his head.

“I'd be... cautious, if he was declaring love at first sight or something like that. I've never known anyone to say that and really mean it. But somehow I don't suppose it's that, right?"

Senka huffed a little before she started laughing lightly. “No, I do not believe that it is anything like that. Father used to tell me, though, that he fell in love with mother at first sight," she stated, smiling a little at the thought. “I think he was just spinning tales about it, but he really did love her. As for the who," she had to pause, and pursed her lips together. Who would she want to court her?

“Well, I suppose someone like you," or even Vridel, for that matter. They were all so nice to her, and treated her as if she were actually worth something. Nevermind that they were her friends.

His eyes widened slightly at that, before he shifted them away from her and towards the ocean. “That's... not exactly what I meant," he murmured. There was something almost slightly... thicker about his tone, though it was hard to identify, and he cleared his throat anyway, rendering the point a rather moot one. “Maybe, uh—" He seemed a bit lost, and when he turned back to face her, there seemed to be just the faintest hint of color to his skin. It was warm out, but the expression he was making was a bit unusual, too, almost as if he were slightly flustered.

“Never mind. It seems to me that if it's something you want and someone you think could potentially be a good fit, well... why not at least give dinner a try? It's not—it's not like you have to decide right then. But if you don't try, you won't know, right?"

“It would be worth a try," she admitted, unable to meet his gaze for some reason. She didn't understand it, herself, but she could feel her cheeks warm lightly. “Thank you, Cyril, for listening to... my... dilemmas. If you do not mind, I'd... like to speak about it with you again. I value your insight and your company a great deal."

“Of course," he said quietly. The request somehow pulled another one of those little smiles from him. “I'm here for you, Senka. Whatever you'd like to talk about."

Tilting his head, he smiled a touch more. “Should we let them run for a bit? The sand should be good exercise."

She nodded her head; that sounded like a good idea, and so she spurred Libi forward.


Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1180 - Verdant Rain Moon - Tuesday the 13th
Riegan Manor - Afternoon - Warm
Vridel von Hresvelg

Vridel stretched his arms over his head, grunting softly when his spine popped into place. Dropping his arms with a sigh, he contemplated the hallway, trying to pick a direction. Professor Cyril had required only that they spend some time each day doing something that qualified as practice, which most of them had taken care of early in the morning. He didn't doubt the majority of his classmates were now out on the town, enjoying the sights and entertainments of Derdriu. Unlike himself, who was rather annoyingly under the supervision of a much stricter instructor.

Lady Lyanna had only just let him out of healing practice, saying something about needing to talk to Amalthea about something. He hoped it wasn't anything too time-consuming; they'd already been at it for hours. Vridel wasn't certain if he wanted to head out into the city himself or just take a nap. He was feeling rather lethargic, something that occasionally happened to him for no reason at all. He knew why, of course—his body was always overtaxed. It was the same reason he ate so much.

He hated the feeling, and hated giving into it.

Maybe if he stopped in the kitchen and grabbed something, he wouldn't need to sleep. The thought in mind, he altered his course slightly, intent on raiding Mercer's pantry.

He wasn't too far from the kitchen when the sounds of someone running could be heard behind him. The person passed him, however; when they stopped, almost abruptly, it was easy to see that it was Amalthea. She looked slightly out of breath as she regarded Vridel for a moment. She smiled afterwards and made her way back towards him.

“Vridel, do you know where the kitchen is? I told Lyanna I was going to make her some sweets since... well, she's been a little grumpier than usual. I want her to be happy since we get to be in such a beautiful place. Oh, and... well I could try and make something for you, too. I know you like sweets almost as much as Lyanna does," she spoke all in one breath.

He blinked down at her, raising a speculative eyebrow, though he was almost surprised to feel no irritation. He could be a bit clipped himself when he was low on energy like this, not to mention he'd just been stuck in a room with her for six hours with little by way of a break, but... somehow he felt nothing of the kind. In fact, he... was he smiling?

It took a moment to recognize the way it felt on his face, but he was.

“It's this way," he told her simply. “I was heading there myself, but if sweets are on the table I suppose I'd be better off offering my assistance to the chef." He shifted aside a little on the carpet runner, to make room for her to walk beside him, then headed for the kitchen.

It was empty when they got there; the staff wouldn't likely need to use it for another couple of hours. Dinners in Derdriu seemed to be curiously-late affairs, by the standards elsewhere in Fódlan, taken closer to nine in the evening than six.

“I could use the help. I'm not... very good when it comes to baking things. I'm actually not a very good... well, I can't cook very well and I can't bake. But I'm trying to get better at it!" she stated, furrowing her brows almost as if to herself. “I can make very small and basic things, like cupcakes. I can't make the jelly-doughnuts that Lyanna loves, though," her lips pursed into a fine line before she shook her head.

“Oh," she stated suddenly, turning her full attention to him, “I've been meaning to ask! How have you been lately? You... usually look tired and I was... well I was wondering if there was anything I could do to help you with that. I've read a few of the tea books that say certain ones can help you relax and..." she trailed off as if he would understand what she was getting at.

“I usually look tired?" he echoed, snorting quietly. “What a flattering thing to say." He arched an eyebrow at her, opening one of the cupboards to see what was inside. Jelly doughnuts, was it? He supposed he could manage that. The second cabinet yielded flour and sugar, for a start. Bringing both down, he regarded Amalthea from the corner of his eye.

“But to answer your question, I'm fine. I was..." He tried to think of a plausible excuse, ideally one that was also technically true. He didn't much relish the thought of lying to her, woman of the Church or not. “In my childhood, I was sick. It turned my hair this color and occasionally still irritates me in other ways, but it's nothing to worry about." Certainly nothing for anyone to worry about but him. Vridel preferred to take care of his own problems, and it was useless to cause other people concern over things they could do nothing about regardless.

She pursed her lips at him, but didn't say anything. She grabbed a mixing bowl and set it down on one of the tabletops. She made her way to where the utensils were, and grabbed the spoons and whisks she would need to make the baked goods. “If it still bothers you, that means you're still somewhat sick from it, right? Is... can I do anything to help you at least ease it somehow? I don't know what it is that you have, or had, but if it's still bothering you, I would like to help if I can. The monastery has a lot of books on herbs and you've been helping me learn botany..." she trailed off again and grabbed a cup. It didn't seem to be what she wanted, though, and she placed it back.

“Oh, maybe I can ask Lyanna if she knows any healing spells that might help?" Her eyes were wide, almost hopeful for some reason.

“I'm afraid there isn't much to be done. The symptoms I have now are the result of damage to my body that is permanent. Just like no amount of herbs or healing magic can remove a scar, what I have now is irreversible." That was, at least, the conclusion he'd come to after a great deal of research and consultation with dozens of renowned experts. He'd not told any of them what the real root cause of the problem was, because that was information he could not allow to be known, for the sake of the future victims it would mean. But even when all he'd asked for was a way to ease the strain on his body... any solution was temporary.

And still. Somehow he knew this would disappoint her, and somehow he found that he didn't want to leave it at that. “It... helps, sometimes," he said quietly, “if someone casts a restore, or something like that. The ones I can cast on myself aren't too helpful, of course." It was simply an unfortunate truth of healing magic that it never worked nearly as well on oneself as on others, even if one grew to be an expert in the art. “If that happens to be in your repertoire it might make me feel a little better." He almost mumbled the last, feeling rather wrongfooted, to be asking her for such a thing. The battlefield was one thing, of course—everyone did what they could to keep everyone else alive.

This felt... different, though.

“Oh, of course, Vi! I know that spell, and... maybe it'll help even more if I use my Crest with it. Lyanna said that our Crest amplifies our healing spells, so maybe... maybe that'll help you a bit more than just a typical restore?" she stated, the smile crossing her face again as she took a step closer to him.

“That is, of course, if you'd like to try it now. I don't know if you're feeling bad right now, or if... it might happen when I'm not around, but if I can do it now, maybe it'll help you feel better even when it does happen?" she asked, tilting her head slightly to the left in an inquisitive manner. She seemed almost to be studying him with the way she was looking at him, but she was a simple person. She was probably just looking at him and waiting for his answer.

Ugh. If he was going to have to put up with this... sweetness, he resolved that he was at least going to have a little fun with it. Really—he was Vridel von Hresvelg, certainly not the type of person who let himself get pushed so far off-guard by a pretty face. Even if it belonged to someone who was so different from anyone he'd ever known.

“I'd like to try it now," he said simply, picking up her hand and guiding it with his own to settle on his chest, right over the steady thrum of his heart. He kept it trapped there with his overtop of it, though loosely enough that she could pull away if that was really what she wanted. He wasn't a boor, after all.

He did take a step in, though, tilting his chin down to meet her eyes with a hint of challenge. “Unless you'd rather leave me to someone else, that is. I'm sure I could find a volunteer somewhere. You need not go to the effort if you do not wish."

The tips of her ears were turning slightly red, and it slowly spread across her face as he spoke to her. She took in a deep breath, perhaps unintentionally, and shook her head. “It's fine; I can do it here, and now since you'd like to try it. It wouldn't make sense to find someone else if I'm already here," she spoke, clearing her throat softly. She sounded a bit miffed, though, like she was jealous that he suggested he could find someone else. Her eyes went to their hands, though, and she seemed rather focused on them. The blush on her face hadn't receded, though, and she seemed to summon her magic. The faint glow of her Crest appeared where her heart was, perhaps because the tunic she was wearing was a white color. When she was finished, she glanced up to meet his eyes.

“How does that feel? Better? Should I do it again?" she asked in quick succession.

Vridel exhaled softly through his nose. In truth, such spells were only temporary relief, like the kind of herbs one might take to dull the feeling of a headache, but they were a relief all the same. The magic washed over him like cool water, easing what felt like a constant, low-level burn throughout his entire body.

“Much better," he murmured, though he made no move to release her hand, either. It was interesting, the way she seemed now to at least be peripherally aware of the power of a touch, and unless he was mistaken that was at least a little touch of jealousy there. How interesting. Was it possible she was catching on?

Letting his head cant to the side, he arched an eyebrow and narrowed his eyes slightly. “Perhaps I should reward you somehow?" The corner of his mouth turned up slyly. “Is there anything you'd like from me, little one?"

Her face was still as red, but she tilted her head slightly and pursed her lips together. “I'm not... no? I didn't do it so you could reward me, Vi," she murmured softly, her brows still furrowed. She almost looked like she was pouting about something, though she didn't seem to pull her hand away, either. “And... I think I've already received so much from you. I don't think there could be anything else." She smiled a little at that, though.

“I don't want to take advantage of you, or anything like that. It would be wrong," she added, though she didn't seem so sure about that statement.

Like one of the reef sharks off the coast of Enbarr, Vridel could smell blood in the water. Or in this case, a rather delicious, ambiguous uncertainty. He was not, of course, interested in pushing Amalthea anywhere she didn't desire to go, but that didn't mean he couldn't nudge. Unlike other people he had met, who knew what was on the table and what of it they wanted, she had yet, he thought, to really understand the options.

Typically he wasn't interested in this kind of thing, preferring to flirt with those who could flirt back, who had a better idea of themselves and what they were after, so that even if it was meaningless and for personal gain, the terms of it were cut and dried, with no grey areas. But in just this case he thought he might be willing to make an exception.

“I promise you, little one: it's impossible for you to take advantage of me." The thought was laughable, honestly. As though he'd let anyone do anything of the kind since he'd grown old enough to understand the difference.

With his free hand, he took hold of her chin, tilting it upwards and leaning down in a suggestion that should be obvious even to the likes of her. “You're sure? There's nothing you can think of that you want?" His brow inched a little higher. Nothing at all?"

“I..." she paused, looking slightly surprised by something. “I mean, I don't want anything from you, but there is something I want to give to you," she stated, puffing her cheeks out slightly. She raised one of her hands to pull his away from her chin, but she didn't move away. Instead, she leaned in and placed a rather innocent and chaste kiss on his cheek.

“That's... for being a good friend," she stated, pulling away and turning around. She raised her hand and seemed to place it on her chest, as if trying to cover her heart.

Well it wasn't quite what he'd been aiming for, but Vridel could admit there was something novel in being surprised like that. It certainly explained why his pulse had kicked up in his chest, just for a stuttering second. His smile broadened when she turned away; he suppressed a huff of laughter. He supposed that if doing something like that counted as bold for her, he was probably better off not pressing the point too much. Although...

Leaning a little forward and down, he brushed her ponytail aside and over the opposite shoulder so he could murmur into her ear. “That's not very fair," he lilted. “Here I was looking for a way to repay a favor, and you did me another. Are you trying to put me in debt so you can ask for something in particular, little one?"

He straightened, though, figuring that putting the thought in her head was more than enough for now, and set about untying the sack of flour. If she was intent on bribing her sister with sweets, then sweets they would make.

There was a soft thud from where Amalthea had been standing, however; she wasn't standing. It seemed that her legs had given out on her, but she quickly got back to her feet and dusted her trousers off. She offered him a rather embarrassed smile, and cleared her throat. “Ah, sorry, my legs gave out, but that wasn't my intention at all! I promise." She went to the table that had eggs sitting out, and grabbed a couple of them before making her way back to him.

“Oh, we should try adding vanilla inside of the flour! Lyanna likes things with vanilla," she stated, seemingly trying to change the subject.

Laughter and a rather smug smile warred for control of Vridel's features. “Falling for me already?" he quipped breezily, nodding to a spot on the counter where she could put the eggs. “And we could add a little vanilla, but it's not going to show up much in the flavor profile. Doughnuts, especially with fruit in them, aren't meant to taste that way, and for good reason."

He picked around the spice rack until he found a small bottle of the stuff, handing it off to her along with a tiny measuring spoon. “Any more than that, and it's like combining lemons and chocolate. Not everything that's good goes well together."

It was more than a little unusual for someone of his status to know how to prepare food—of this Vridel was quite aware. But in addition to being something everyone had to learn to some extent during their stay at Garreg Mach, he'd sought out lessons in the subject a few years ago, aware of his tendency to eat a lot and preferring to see to secondary meals himself when possible, to minimize the chance of talk. Any oddity was closely-watched, after all.

Amalthea had looked a little alarmed at his first statement, and the expression hadn't shifted until after he was done explaining the measurements to her. She took the bottle and spoon, tentatively and held them for a moment. “How did you know?" she asked, blinking slowly before she seemed to realize something. “Ah, I mean, how do you know about the measurements? I usually just follow whatever is written into the log book, but you don't seem to have that issue," she stated, instead.

Her face was still rather red, perhaps still affected by his earlier actions. “Do you cook, Vi? Oh, that would be amazing if you did! You're... a very multi-talented person."

He rolled his eyes a little at her, though it wasn't derisive, surprisingly enough to him. “If you get enough practice, and pay attention to the taste of what you make, you start to get a sense for these things," he said simply, letting her question pass. “As for me, yes. I do have a rather diverse set of skills, I suppose." He sifted the flour a few times before adding it to the bowl, and shrugged lightly.

“Most of them are things I've been required to know. When I learned I was to be the next Emperor, a lot had to change." He wasn't sure why he bothered to explain; he usually saw no need to do that. What need had he to justify himself to other people, after all?

The color on her face finally seemed to disappear as she regarded him with a softer smile. It seemed distant, almost, as if she were recalling a fond memory of sorts. It didn't seem to be the case, though, when she spoke. “You must have been able to learn and see a lot of things, right?" she stated, keeping her gaze with his. “Are things always this beautiful outside of the monastery?" she continued, tilting her head lightly as she inquired. “Because I think I'd like to see those things. The ones you have, and the others. Maybe... maybe after we graduate, I can convince Lyanna to let me go see the places that all of you have seen."

He didn't quite know how to answer that. There was the blunt truth, of course—that deep down things were ugly everywhere and the world was rotting from the inside out, but... that was a hell of a thing to tell someone. Instead, he expelled a soft breath. “It depends, honestly," he replied. “There are places that have much to recommend them. Enbarr, for instance, is the oldest city in the world, and perhaps its most beautiful, though that could simply be my bias speaking."

After graduation, though—he didn't know so much about that. Where would he be, in another eight or so months? Who would he be? He couldn't say. “If you'd like to visit at some point I'm sure it could be arranged." He settled on something that sounded... likely to be true, at least. Perhaps she would no longer want to see the heart of the Empire by then, but he suspected the offer would still be open, anyway.

She smiled brightly at him, though. “I'd really like that! I'd like to see Enbarr because if you think it's beautiful, bias or not, then it must be. Especially if it produced someone like... you," she cleared her throat and glanced away for a moment. “But... I think I would like to see it. If... if you're not too busy by then, maybe you can show it to me? You don't have to, of course. I know you'll probably be busy by then, running the Empire, but... if you could, and you did, would you?" She looked at him expectantly, much like the naive child she was.

He shook his head faintly. Sometimes she could make him feel like a cad just by existing. It was the eyes, he thought: big and bright amber, with those long, long eyelashes. “If I'm able, I will," he promised. He couldn't promise he'd be able, though not for the reasons she was citing. Still—

Maybe it was something to look forward to.


Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Verdant Rain Moon - Wednesday the 14th
Alliance Summit - Dawn - Windy
Mercer von Riegan

Mercer never understood why he got up so early. Even at the academy, he was up at least two or three hours before the sun was crossing the horizon, however; he supposed today was as good as any reason to be up. The conference wasn't supposed to start until a little after dawn, but as usual, Mercer decided to be the first one to arrive. At least that was his intention. When he'd approached the building the conference was to be held at, he'd noticed Matteo's charger, and a couple of his retainers standing by. Immediately he felt his face harden, and something lurched in his chest. He didn't like it. Didn't like Matteo or his claim on Sorcha.

It wasn't that he was jealous. Mercer von Riegan had never been a jealous man in his life, however; it pained him to see Sorcha so... upset. He valued all of his friends, and he wanted nothing but happiness for them. They deserved that, all of them. But Sorcha... she was different somehow. He wasn't lying to her when he told her that he'd want her. He thought she was a rather strong and brave individual. She would make a great Queen one day, or if she'd still have him by then, she'd make a great Lady of the Alliance. He quickly banished that thought, though. It wasn't as if he actually planned on marrying her. She was... well, far too good of a person for someone like him.

Quietly, he slipped past Matteo's retainers, and entered the building. Still polished like marble, and still just as flashy, he supposed, but when he heard voices, Mercer placed himself in a dark corner. He recognized one voice as Matteo's, but he couldn't exactly hear who the other person was. Alaric wouldn't be arriving until just before the summit was to begin. His friend, Duke Goneril, was like that, sometimes. He couldn't seem to keep track of time, and often showed up at the last minute to all of the important events.

“—did it go?" The second voice grew more distinct as the speaker approached. It belonged to Fiona, the captain of Matteo's knights and his younger sister. “I never saw her at the house?"

Matteo sighed in such a way that Mercer could almost feel him rolling his eyes. “No. I forget sometimes that the chivalrous type cling to their virtue like it means anything." He snorted. “Honestly, I don't know why she bothers. She should take what she can get while the getting's still good, and it's never going to be better."

Fiona snorted. “What, is she ugly or something? I can't imagine you marrying ugly, even if there might be a throne in it." That explained it—no doubt Matteo thought marrying an actual Princess upped his chances to secure the Gloucesters the top spot in the Conference, with or without Riegan approval. “Can you imagine you having an ugly child? Even with her Crest—ugh."

And then, of course, there was Faerghus's uncertain situation. With no Major Crest holder alive, there was a chance some child of Sorcha's could end up heir, even if she was never Queen.

“Ugly? No, not exactly. But she dresses like a commoner, and she's horrifically unfeminine. Maybe I'll be lucky and she'll hate parties. Better to go alone than with someone who can't even properly wear a gown." The footsteps drew closer, voices rising in volume; quite clearly, they believed themselves alone. “Though... maybe with a few months of scrubbing, all that mountain dirt will come out. I hear Faerghus women will do just about anything when you fuck them—I've always been interested to see for myself. I'm sure she's plenty pretty with nothing on."

Fiona barked a laugh. “You'll have to let me know. Maybe I'll steal her from you when you get bored. I'm much more charming than you, after all."

“Are you? I'd never noticed."

“Mhm. I have all the advantages of being a knight in shining armor and none of the disadvantages of being a man. So I smell better, for one."

Mercer had half a mind to stick an arrow in Matteo's throat, however; a hand placed itself on his shoulder, and immediately he whirled around. He blinked slowly when he recognized who it was. “He's not worth it, boy," Judith stated, causing him to furrow his brows. “Gloucester is an ass; we all know it, but don't let him rile you up before the conference. You need your head on straight if you're going to wipe the floor with him. You are planning to annul his engagement to Sorcha, are you not?" she asked, quirking her brow up in an amused fashion.

“Because I'd second it, and so will Goneril and Ordelia."

“You told them?" he shouldn't be surprised, really. Judith, while strong and pretty much a fierce warrior, she did like her drink. And she often let things slide without really thinking about it.

“Yep. Now come on, we have a conference to attend," she stated, pushing him towards the double doors where the literal round table was. Smoothing his face over, Mercer placed a rather mild grin on his face, glancing around the room to make a mental note of all the nobles around. Surprisingly, Alaric was there rather early, a rare smile on his face. For a brief moment, Mercer thought he knew the reason, and almost snickered to himself. He'd have to ask about it, later.

He spotted Duke von Edmund, a man with a sunken face and dark eyes. His hair was rather short, and a deep blue, which had become something of a noteable thing in the von Edmund household. Almost all of the heirs had it. Duke Edmund inclined his head towards Mercer, though, and Mercer returned it in kind. The next person he spotted was Lady von Ordelia. She looked rather miffed to be here, and he couldn't really blame her. Her hair was a rich chocolate brown color, and her eyes were a strange mix of colors. One was a rich emerald while the other a deep ruby color. She glanced towards Mercer, though, and narrowed her eyes. That was how she greeted everyone, though, and Mercer merely nodded in response.

And then there was Acheron. The poor old bastard, blonde hair parted down the middle with a strange curl to the ends. And to say nothing of his mustache. He almost looked too noble if Mercer had anything to say about it. He tried to seem more regal than he actually was, and Mercer had to put it down as the man had an inflated ego. He controlled lands to the north of the Airmid River, which were considered rather wealthy.

Once everyone had settled down, Mercer took a seat at the head of the table, where his grandfather usually sat. Judith took a seat to his left and Alaric was seated to his right. The small talk seemed to cease as he regarded everyone. “It has come to my attention that," he began, leaning back in his chair to get the conference started. He pressed his finger tips together, and held his hands in front of him as he regarded the nobles in the room.

“From my understanding, Lord Acheron and Duke Gloucester are having a bit of a dispute. Since the claim seems to be against you, Duke Gloucester, would you like to start us off by telling us what seems to be the problem?"

Matteo, seated almost directly across from Mercer, seemed to barely refrain from rolling his eyes, leaning back a little in his chair. His sister had taken a seat in the gallery. These meetings were technically open to other members of the peerage, though a short-notice one like this wasn't going to be well-attended. The regular sessions, though, often had a full gallery. Since everyone here knew what he was about, he'd rather dropped the facade he'd used around the others over the last couple of days, and adopted instead a coolly-polite demeanor that did little to conceal his almost reptilian coldness.

“Thank you, Lord Riegan," he said, wearing a subtle smile that spoke to his pleasure that Mercer was not yet a Duke himself. “As to the nature of the dispute, I fear it is the same one that House Acheron brings every few years against House Gloucester, and which is inevitably decided in our favor, as well it should be. The matter is the ownership of the land to the northwest of the Great Bridge of Myrddin, to the longitudinal mark of thirty-five. House Gloucester maintains, as it always has, that this land was deeded to us in the Alliance's founding charter, which is clearly a matter of public record."

At this, Acheron harrumphed, standing without invitation. He had no spot at the table, so perhaps he felt the need to command attention in a different way. “And the surveyor I hired has made it clear that your yeoman have begun farming at least three miles past that longitudinal mark, Gloucester! This is clearly an infringement on Acheron land, and some of our most valuable farmland at that!"

Matteo sighed. “Yes, the surveyor that you paid delivered the result you wanted. How very shocking."

Acheron's mouth twitched under his mustache, his face slowly turning a blotchy brick red in the face of Gloucester's measured indifference.

Mercer felt his expression shift, but he trained it back to one of indifference. “Wasn't this matter already settled two years ago? And you're bringing it back up?" Mercer wanted to run a hand down his face, frustrated as he felt, but knew better. Judith merely leaned in her seat, unimpressed by the display as she regarded Acheron and Matteo. Alaric, however, seemed rather neutral on the matter.

“The deeds to those lands northwest of the Myrddin Bridge belong to House Gloucester. The lands to the north of that, belong to Lord Acheron. The deeds were drawn and signed two years ago, but are you saying, Lord Acheron, that you have verifiable proof that Duke Gloucester has infringed upon that?" Alaric stated, his voice as passive as his expression seemed to be.

“I—yes!" Acheron replied, waving his hands in an emphatic gesture. “The survey results—"

“—Are completely meaningless without independent verification," Matteo finished, studying his fingernails dismissively. He couldn't have sounded more bored if he'd tried. “Which you well know. Stop wasting my time."

“You—you knave!" Acheron took a step forward. Several of the people in the room tensed, but Gloucester just stared him down. “We shall settle this like men! I challenge you to a duel. Let our blades and the Goddess' favor decide who is in the right!"

Gloucester did roll his eyes then, snorting audibly. “Calm yourself, Acheron. Killing old men is beneath me."

Mercer wanted to strangle both Acheron and Matteo. They were acting like children, at this point. And he was the youngest one at the table. Lady von Ordelia looked rather amused, though, as if everything was entertaining her, however; Duke von Edmund raised his hand as if to silence the commotion. All eyes were on him, now.

“This needs to be put to an end," he began, his voice raspy from wear, it seemed. He hardly spoke, after all, at the conferences held. “It shall be settled through battle," there was a tense gasp, though Mercer didn't know who it came from. Alaric breathed out slowly before he stood, calling everyone's attention to him.

“I agree with Duke von Edmund, however; it will not be a death battle. This will be settled with a mock battle. Should Duke Gloucester win, he will retain his lands, and Lord Acheron will cease, immediately, all current and future border claims. Should Lord Acheron win," his eyes glanced towards Acheron, narrowing lightly, “we will officially recognize the survey results."

That meant that Lord Acheron would inherit Duke Gloucesters lands, or at least parts of it. Mercer saw this as a win-win situation, really. Lord Acheron had a slightly stronger military presence than Gloucester, and that meant that victory would likely be in Acheron's favor.

“What say you?"

“This is ridiculous," Matteo protested, glaring at Alaric for suggesting it. “You know full well that Acheron brought his entire household guard to Derdriu. I, as the liege of several times his demesne, cannot afford to call the numbers to match them. Where do you propose my supplementary troops come from, hm?"

“Maybe you should have done the same," was Alaric's only response.

“You won't get any help from me," Lady von Ordelia finally spoke, crossing her arms over her chest. Mercer felt his lips quirk up slightly, however; Alaric didn't seem bothered by Matteo's glare. He just regarded the man with a flat stare before his eyes traveled to Duke von Edmund.

“I cannot spare any troops at the moment. We are currently dealing with skirmishes at our borders," he spoke as if sensing Alaric's silent question. Finally, his eyes landed on Mercer. Mercer pursed his lips, though. There was no way he was going to help Gloucester out, however; this was a perfect opportunity.

“I'll help on one condition," he stated, glancing at Matteo. “I'll help on the condition that you recognize my engagement claim on Princess Sorcha that was made years ago when we were children, and nullify yours. She bears my engagement jewel as proof, and you all saw her wearing it when we arrived," he stated, waiting for the reaction he knew Matteo was going to give.

“Your what?" Matteo's expression shifted from annoyed to livid in the space of a second. Mercer could almost see him making the calculation—whether conceding the one was worth the help on the other or not. Clearly, he either believed he could defeat Acheron anyway or he was willing to give three miles of land for his pride, because he sneered at Mercer and shook his head. “Absolutely not. I refuse. That arrangement was made between myself and the King-Regent; the legitimacy of that agreement clearly trumps whatever archaic custom you refer to."

“You will watch your tone, Duke Gloucester," Judith spoke, leaning a fist on the table. “The archaic custom you refer to is Almyran, and it is recognized in the Alliance. I, for one, second Lord Riegan's claim. The King-Regent has been sent a message about it, and it'll be a matter of days when he responds. And whose agreement do you think he'll agree to?" she continued, her eyes narrowed.

“I back Lord Riegan's claim as well. As the next Alliance Leader, it is only fitting that Princess Sorcha become his intended. Their arrangement was made before King-Regent made his with you. That would mean King Lambert made it as well, and we honor the late king, not the current regent." Alaric spoke as if it were a natural conclusion. Mercer felt his lips twitch upward just slightly.

“I, too, back Lord Riegan's claim. As Lady Judith said, we recognize all traditions, including Almyra's. If what Lord Riegan says is true, then we have no other choice than to honor it, and dissolve your engagement to the princess." Lady Ordelia seemed rather pleased by the turn of events, but Mercer recognized it by the gleam in her eyes, and not the passive expression on her face.

“All in favor?" Alaric spoke. Judith immediately raised her hand, followed by Alaric and Ordelia.

Matteo was clearly struggling to maintain his composure. “And what of the Princess herself?" he asked, clearly seeking to either delay or circumvent the vote with an argument. Edmund had not yet decided against him, after all—there was still opportunity to change minds. “Should she not be consulted in such matters? If it is her preference to—"

“My preference to what?" The new voice came from behind Mercer; he recognized it immediately as belonging to Sorcha, but he certainly hadn't asked her to be here for this.

She stepped out of the doorway, heeled boots clicking on the stone floor of the Conference room. At some point she'd been outfitted in one of the Almyran-style tunics that had caught on in parts of the Alliance—three-quarter-sleeved and heavily embroidered, hers was a pale, robins' egg blue with green and gold stitching, fitted close to her body and worn over dark riding trousers. The gem hung outside the tunic, right against her sternum.

Approaching the table, Sorcha bowed respectfully to the five at the table, and then again to Judith and the other peers in the gallery. “Please excuse my intrusion—I was only just informed that the conference had begun. If it is impermissible for me to speak, I would request a seat in the gallery, if I might be allowed one."

Edmund, seemingly impressed by her respect, inclined his head. “As it is your opinion now at issue, please, give it. We are all interested to know. Do you accept Lord Riegan's assertion that the two of you were previously engaged, or recognize Duke Gloucester's suit? Have you intentionally contrived this?" His tone wasn't quite accusatory; it wasn't an invalid question. It could look like a move on the Kingdom's part to destabilize politics in the Alliance, from a certain angle.

“Not intentionally, Your Grace," Sorcha replied softly, folding her hands together in front of her. “My lord uncle, the King-Regent, was not aware of my particular circumstances. Nor was I, in fact, until recently, due to my ignorance of Almyran customs. I fear my oversight has caused undue strife."

Matteo straightened in his chair, trying to regain some of the composure with which he'd appeared in front of her before. “Surely, Your Highness, you cannot mean to legitimize such a thing. As you said, you were unaware of the meaning of your actions." He smiled, but the charm in it was thin, strained.

Sorcha's answering smile, by contrast, was as warm and effortless as summer sunshine. “And yet those actions were mine," she said simply, “and in taking them I promised myself to Lord Riegan. The people of Faerghus honor their promises. You have my apologies for the misunderstanding, Duke Gloucester. I am sincerely sorry for any inconvenience I caused you. I hope at least that this has left you... freer, to pursue that which your heart most desires."

He could hardly say anything to that without looking even more the ass than he usually did.

Duke Edmund cleared his throat. “I add my vote to those of the others. Her Highness has made her stance on the matter clear. Her respect for our customs and inclination to honor her own commitments are respectable traits."

Mercer was extremely proud of Sorcha at the moment. He knew his mother had something to do with why she was here, but he was glad that she was. At least now they could see what he saw in her. He grinned at her, not bothering to keep his facade up. Why should he when he'd just beat Matteo? In more ways than one. If he'd accepted his proposal, earlier, then Matteo would have the help he would need against Lord Acheron in the mock battle, however; he would have no help, now.

“Then it is settled; all votes are in favor of Princess Sorcha being recognized as Lord Riegan's intended. Duke Gloucester no longer holds claim. Lord Riegan and Princess Sorcha will fulfill their engagement when Lord Riegan ascends his role as Duke von Riegan. Use this time wisely to grow closer," Alaric spoke, directing the last statement at Mercer and Sorcha. Mercer wanted to roll his eyes, but he refrained.

“If that is all, there is a land dispute and mock battle to be taken care of," Alaric continued, earning a light huff from Lady von Ordelia. “Lord Acheron and Duke Gloucester may settle this now, or decide on a date for their mock battle."

“Now's as good a time as any," Matteo growled, glaring at Sorcha with a poisonous heat and grabbing his lance. “Let's go, Acheron. We'll see if there's enough life in your body to survive even a false battle."


Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1180 - Verdant Rain Moon - Sunday the 17th
Garreg Mach Monastery - Early Evening - Muggy
Cyril Eisner

With the conclusion of the Roundtable Conference, the detachment consisting of Cyril and his students had said goodbye to their hosts and headed again for the Monastery. The two days of travel had been quiet, and there was something almost welcoming about the sight of the stone building sitting atop the hill, crowning the mountains around it. He wasn't sure he was relieved to be back, exactly; there were still too many unanswered questions in the place, sitting against the stones. Or maybe lower, in the very foundations.

But it wasn't so bad, to return. He found he was looking forward to falling back into the rhythm of classes and practices, even if the interruption had been enjoyable, in its way.

After the front gate was opened for them, he led the group inside, surreptitiously turning his eyes to the balcony overhead. Sure enough, there was Rhea. He suppressed a strange grimace at the realization and pretended he had not noticed. When Lyanna split off first and offered to take care of the reporting, he offered her a nod of thanks and took the reins of her pegasus mount.

Brushing down and stabling the horses, pegasi, and wyvern took about half an hour, and then the group splintered a bit more, with some heading off directly for dinner or sleep and others to check in with their respective professors. He found himself accompanying Senka, Sorcha, and Amalthea in the general direction of the dining hall.

The conversation seemed to be about Duke Alaric.

“Sen, you never gave me any details about that dinner you had!" Sorcha said, peering inquisitively at her friend. “How did it go?"

Senka glanced at Sorcha, a small smile crossing her face. She seemed to be doing that with some ease, lately. “That is because you never asked," she replied smoothly, but huffed at Sorcha.

“You had dinner? With who?" Amalthea asked curiously as she tilted her head up to glance at Senka.

“Duke Goneril," Senka replied, causing Amalthea's eyes to widen considerably, “he asked me to dinner with the intentions to court me the day after we'd arrived at Derdriu. The dinner itself was nice, though he'd confessed to not ever doing it before. He is... a kind man." Her expression seemed to soften at that, but she glanced back to Sorcha.

“We are going to keep in touch through letters, but his intentions are no longer there," she continued, causing Amalthea to arch a brow.

“Wait, so he doesn't want to court you?" Senka shook her head.

“He came to the conclusion that I already liked someone. I don't know who it could be, though. I'm only ever in the company of you, and Vridel and Mercer," she stated, her eyes sliding between Sorcha, Amalthea, and Cyril.

Cyril wasn't sure who the Duke could possibly have been talking about, either. He supposed there was Vridel—the two of them did share a rather close friendship, as far as he had observed. He didn't think it was anything other than that—but perhaps it was the kind of thing that could be easily mistaken for something else.

“Huh," Sorcha said, glancing between the others. “You know, if it was just based on your behavior, he might not have any idea who it is either. Maybe he was just reading things into how you acted that made it seem to him like you had someone, you know? When did he come up with this theory?"

“He wanted to know about my friends, and about you," Senka replied, glancing in Cyril's direction. “I explained how you were all important to me, and that you were the reason I was able to smile for the first time in a while," she seemed to explain as she kept Cyril's gaze. “He might have misinterpreted that as me liking someone, but he didn't seem upset by it. He told me that whoever it was, was... um..." she continued, pausing a moment to drop her gaze with the faintest color tainting her cheeks.

“He said they were lucky."

“Oh, that sounds really romantic, though! It's like the Duke fell in love with you at first sight and wanted to win your heart, but is chivalrous enough to know that he cannot," Amalthea stated, seemingly excited about it. Senka huffed a light laugh and shook her head.

“I don't think that's how that works, Thea. He didn't say anything like that, only that he thought I was... erm, well I'd rather not say." She seemed embarrassed by whatever it was the Duke had told her.

“Oh c'mon, Sen. It was probably really flattering, and true! What did he say? That you're beautiful? That you have a great smile? That you're amazing and brave and loyal? Don't leave us hanging here!"

Cyril had the distinct impression that this was probably the kind of thing a young woman would prefer to share with her friends and not her teacher, so he cleared his throat softly. “I can... walk a little ahead?" he offered.

Senka cleared her throat softly as she glanced in Sorcha's direction, the color on her face slowly becoming more visible. “He said I was exquisite," she spoke softly. She turned her attention away from Sorcha, after that.

“Oh... but we already know that," Amalthea stated as if it were, in fact, something they already knew. “He must have been really captivated, though, if he wanted to court you from just seeing you the first time. It really is like one of those stories," she continued, causing Senka to huff lightly.

“Perhaps, but... we have both come to the conclusion that we will be friends. I think... that is proper," Senka spoke, her voice still soft perhaps from her embarrassment.

Cyril could not pinpoint the cause of his discomfort, but he could at least recognize that he was indeed uncomfortable. He turned his eyes away from the conversation, letting them linger on the lake as they headed towards the dining hall's entrance. It looked like there were some guests at the monastery—a small party was clustered between the entrance and the place the small marketplace branched towards the water. It wasn't so unusual, though; he didn't think much of it.

Exquisite, huh?

It sounded like the kind of compliment a nobleman would use, to be sure. It wasn't a lie, and it was clearly meant with genuine intentions, so...

Why was it bothering him so much?

Before they were able to make it to the dining hall, someone called out to the group. It wasn't a regular student, or any member of the faculty. It was a man, perhaps around the same age as Jeralt, and he stalked up to the group as if he had finally found the source of some anger. At least it looked like anger since his eyes were narrowed and his lips were set into a fine line.

“There you are! I finally found you!" he shouted, making a straight line towards Senka. She looked slightly taken aback, but her face smoothed over as she tilted her head. “Come here!" he continued, however; Senka looked as confused as Amalthea did.

“I'm sorry, but I do not know who you are. I cannot fulfill your request," she replied. It only seemed to further agitate the man.

“Don't play coy with me, I know who you are. What you are," he replied, pointing an accusatory finger at her.

Cyril tensed immediately. He didn't like the accusatory tone the man was taking, nor his choice of terms.

It was Sorcha, however, who reacted fastest. “Excuse you, sir," she said sharply, drawing herself up to her full height and stepping slightly forward, protective in front of the others. “You will remove your hand from the proximity of my friend, and the rest of your person as well, unless you can provide a sufficient explanation for its necessity." Her eyes were cold, the clear blue of them hard, almost frosty.

“Don't interefere," the man replied, either not intimidated by Sorcha's display, or did not care. “Just hand the girl over to me. I'm telling you this for your own good. You're all putting yourself in danger by associating with her," he sneered, causing Senka to wince slightly.

“What do you mean? She's not a danger to us." Amalthea stated, standing next to Senka and placing a hand on her arm as if to keep her from moving.

“You have heard of the Wandering Beast stalking the area in Lord Kleiman's territory, right? It attacks people every night and drags them off to feast!" it sounded almost as if he were blaming Senka for it, and she dropped her gaze to the floor. Her hand went to Amalthea's, however; she did not remove it.

“That girl right there!" he continued, nearly reaching his hand out to grab Senka, it seemed, “She's the true identity of the Wandering Beast!"

“But... I'm not. I... I'd never..." Senka retorted, but her voice was low and almost pained.

“Why you—" Sorcha had taken another step forward, looking quite about to throw a fist, but Cyril blocked her progress by getting there first. His students shouldn't damage their reputations in such a way. They were either nobles or people who had other reasons to worry about what others thought of them.

Him, though. He was and always had been just a mercenary. If he could wield that to their advantage, then he wouldn't even hesitate.

He stood directly in front of the man, crossing his arms over his chest and staring down, wearing the dead-eyed expression that he knew unnerved people. The one that had earned him the moniker he'd never cared for. “That's a serious accusation you're making," he said, voice so low it was almost a growl. “And a baseless one. She's been on the opposite side of the continent for the last week, and here before that. I suggest thinking very, very carefully before you speak next."

He knew the effect he could have on people. Intimidation was the only reliable one, honestly. He wasn't sure why, but with the right expression and posture, people were just... afraid. He'd never much cared for it before, but he invoked it now quite on purpose. He wanted this man to be afraid of him. If he wasn't careful, he might even enjoy it.

The man took a step back, but he did not seem too afraid. Not yet, at least, but there were visible signs that he was getting there. He cleared his throat and glanced at Senka, and then back to Cyril. “They are not baseless! It is a known fact that Maurice's Crest is a symbol of disaster. Those who carry his Crest become beasts at night and slaughter innocent people," he stated, glancing back to Senka. “The attacks stopped while she was away. And that's to say nothing of the fact that she bears the cursed Crest of the Beast. It is only a matter of time before she turns back into a beast, and starts killing again."

“Even I know that's absurd! What does bearing a cursed Crest have to do with anything. Sen is the most kind and warmhearted person I know. She would never kill innocent people! And she's not a beast!" Amalthea stated, trying to defend Senka, at least. Senka, however, looked slightly alarmed.

“How... how do you know about that?" she questioned. The man merely glared at her, almost defiantly.

“You didn't think we'd find out? We Crest scholars keep a long history of Crests, lost or otherwise, and we were notified that a Crest-bearer with Maurice's Crest was attending this academy. And now that we know it is you, you will return at once with us to Lord Kleiman's domain so that he may pass judgement on you." Senka's eyes went to Sorcha, and then Cyril. Other than them, Vridel and Mercer were the only ones who knew about Senka's Crest. And none of them would have spoken about it to anyone.

Senka was visibly shaking at this point, and she took a step back. “I... I can't. I don't... you have no proof that I did anything wrong. Just... just because I have this cursed Crest doesn't make me a monster!" she exclaimed.

Cyril only distantly registered it when he lunged for the man, picking up with a fist in the front of his shirt and bodily hauling him off the ground. “The lady asked you a question," he said, tone low and soft in a way that was the very opposite of the gentle one he took with his students. “Who. Told. You?" He tightened his grip, just enough that the fabric started to strain.

The man's hands were around Cyril's, as if trying to pry them off, however; he didn't have the strength to do it. He just merely held on to them. “We received a letter from the monastery. I don't know who sent it!" he stated, staring at Cyril with wide eyes. “It didn't have a seal, only that when we received it, they said it was from here. The messenger. Ask the messenger! Whoever runs the messenger system in this place, ask them!" he was panicking now.

He narrowed his eyes. “Senka does not leave her room at night. As I have the one next door, I would know." Abruptly setting the man down, he roughly forced his head to the side so he was looking at Senka, then shoved him down by the shoulder in the first approximation of a bow. “Your panic does not justify your accusations. We will be dealing with the beast in a matter of days. Apologize to her." It wasn't a request.

The man was not happy about being forced to bow, and he gritted through his teeth. “I... my mistake," he spoke softly, almost too soft that it might have been missed.

“That's not a proper apology!" Amalthea stated, crossing her arms over her chest. The man was able to raise his head just long enough to glare at her, however; he lowered his head back down.

“I apologize," he finally spoke loud enough to be heard. “My accusations were baseless. Forgive me," he stated. Senka merely stared at the man, her expression one of mild fear, and shook her head.

“No. I will not. Because of you," she began, glancing around the small group of people who were gathering around to see what the commotion was about. “Everyone knows. Everyone knows about this stupid Crest!" Her eyes were starting to glisten, and her jaw looked to be tightening as if to keep her mouth from quivering.

Cyril felt his chest clench, a powerful instinct he could not identify welling in him until it felt like there was a hand clutching at his throat. He knew Senka hadn't ever wanted anyone to know about this. Knew it had to be painful, now, revealed like this to people who were strangers. The last months had been enough to teach him how vicious rumor could become, and if not from the mouths of these then eventually, this encounter would be twisted, people less concerned with the truth than with telling the most scandalous and shocking story.

“Leave," he told the man. “I'll bring you the beast's head myself, but when I do you're going to stand on the front steps of the monastery and spend all day telling everyone you see that you were wrong." With a dismissive click of his tongue, he turned back towards his students, feeling the severity leech off his face immediately. Sorcha had an arm around Senka, and slowly started to pull her friend towards the dining hall.

“C'mon Sen. We only have to stay long enough to grab trays if you want. We can eat somewhere private."

Amalthea trailed beside them as Senka shook her head. “It's fine, Sorcha," she spoke softly. “I... don't want them... I don't..." she swallowed thickly and rubbed the back of her hands near her eyes to wipe something off. “I want to eat in the dining area with all of you. I don't want to give them a reason to believe that man's words. If... I do, then... everything I've been working on, all the progress I've made," she paused, taking in a deep breath.

“It will have been for nothing if I let them win, right? And I don't want that," she seemed to force a small smile on her face when she glanced at Sorcha.

Sorcha returned it with a look of clear concern, but she nodded. “Okay," she replied, returning the smile with a small one of her own. “Then you can sit next to me, and... the Professor! How about it, Professor Cyril?"

He blinked, unsure why she'd think to ask him instead of Amalthea, but he nodded slightly anyway. “If you'd like," he said simply, leading the way up towards the building. His presence served to scare away a large number of the gawkers, and by the time they entered the building it was mostly free of such, the level of activity quite ordinary. And the sight of them was ordinary, too, by this point; Cyril took almost all of his meals with some subset of his students, and the three with him now were often spotted together as well.

Senka nodded her head slowly. “I'd... like that. Thank you," she spoke, glancing back in front of her, though her eyes were on the ground. It seemed she was placing her trust in Sorcha to lead the way. Amalthea merely smiled and nodded her head.

“Of course, Senka! You're an amazing person so don't let what that stupid butt of a face-man get you down, alright? We already know how great you are, and it's only a matter of time before the entire school does, too, and everyone else!" Amalthea spoke, causing the smile on Senka's face to soften.

“You all really mean the world to me. I am grateful to have friends like you," Senka stated as she glanced between Sorcha and Amalthea before her eyes landed on Cyril.

He had the sudden and uncomfortable desire to—he wasn't sure, exactly. He thought perhaps that being in Sorcha's place might have satisfied it, but he wasn't entirely sure. Cyril lowered his eyes for a moment as they got in line, collecting himself. Whatever it was, he was almost certain it crossed a line that ought not to be crossed, for her sake. Fighting it down, he pulled in a breath and reset his expression, looking back up.

“We're just as grateful for you," he said simply. “I'm sure it's not easy, but... try to remember that, if you can."

They'd hunt down whatever this beast was supposed to be, and then everyone would know that she'd had nothing to do with it.

In the meantime, though... he would be tracking down whoever managed messengers into and out of the monastery. He knew such information would not have come from any of her classmates. That left Hanneman—or someone Hanneman was required to tell about these things, and that list was exceptionally short. He needed to know if this had been Lyanna—

or the Archbishop.

“Hm, I will," she replied, her smile inching just a little further that it reached her eyes.

“And that's all we ask. Now, let's go eat, I'm starving!" Amalthea stated excitedly as they began to collect their food.

“For such a small person, you really do eat a lot, Thea."

“I'll take that as a compliment!" That at least got a light chuckle out of Senka.

Cyril huffed softly, leaving the other train of thought behind for now. Later would suffice; at the moment he had other things to attend to.


Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Verdant Rain Moon - Sunday the 24th
Old Duscur Border - Midmorning - Hazy
Senka Rinaldi

It had taken almost four days to reach Lord Kleiman's lands after the incident with the Crest scholar, however; the scholar's accusations had managed to spread like wildfire through the academy. Students had been looking at her like she was a beast; that she was as dangerous as the man claimed her to be. Senka knew, without a doubt, that she could be if she didn't learn to control her Crest, but she also knew that she wasn't. She would never hurt people that way. She never wanted to hurt people, but even she knew that sometimes, you had to. But never the innocent. Her people were innocent, and she had seen the kinds of faces they'd worn when they were blamed and attacked.

She would never want that to happen to anyone. It was why she was learning, fighting, doing everything she could so that she could rebuild her home, and, perhaps, have peace. She pushed the thoughts from her head as she gripped Libi's reigns. Most of them were a mounted division now, but they moved at a reasonable pace for those who were not. Cyril had positioned everyone as they had practiced: in pairs. Sylvi walked with Devon, Sofia and Dierdre walked close together, Sorcha and Mercer took to the skies, and Vridel and Amalthea were trailing along as well. Reynard, as he usually was, was no where in sight, but Senka knew he was around somewhere.

That left her traveling near the professor. It made sense, she supposed, that they travel like this. They didn't know what they were up against, and with the fog in the woods, it made it difficult to see anything too far ahead. At least if they were attacked, they would have the advantage of being together, already.

The Professor walked rather close; enough so that one large hand actually rested on Libi's neck, just in front of where the saddle ended. He was looking out into the mist, though, possibly using the point of contact so he didn't lose track of them. Already, the members of the group that were further away were almost impossible to see; Sorcha and Mercer had vanished entirely.

Abruptly, Cyril's eyes snapped slightly to the right. He turned his head, slowing Libi to a stop with his hand. It wasn't for several more seconds that the reason became clear. Out of the mist, Reynard materialized. “I think I found what we're looking for," he said without preamble. Unusually for the rather collected Black Eagle, there was a perceptible anxiety touching his features, pinching his expression.

“Explain, please." By this point, the others had caught on to Cyril's signal and halted as well.

“I'm not sure I can," Reynard replied with a grimace. “They look like... well I saw two things that looked like wolves, but the size of two, maybe three horses, easy. And this other one... might be the size of the greenhouse. I have no idea what in the world it is, but it wouldn't shock me to learn it eats people, to say the least. We might be in over our heads on this one, Professor."

Cyril considered this for a moment, eyes narrowing thoughtfully. Eventually, he expelled a breath, then looked up at Senka, speaking low enough that only she could hear.

“I'll fight this for you," he said simply. “I'm sure the others would be willing, too. But that's what it would be—for you. Are you all right with that?"

She shook her head. “No," she began, pulling in a soft breath, “they are fighting this with me. I believe in them and their abilities. And I believe that they also possess sound judgement. If they cannot handle it... I trust them to get away, that they'll be able to." She knew that it was a very real possibility that they could get killed. The descriptions alone of the creatures were enough to put a touch of fear into Senka, but she had to do this. She must do this.

“I'm alright with that."

The smile that spread across his face then was perhaps the truest one she'd ever seen there. Shifting his hand, he patted her knee, giving it a gentle momentary squeeze before releasing it. “Good. You understand now." It wasn't said condescendingly at all—he seemed to be genuinely pleased with the answer. “You can form them up, then. Keep them in their pairs, but otherwise, the initial strategy is yours. We'll adjust if something's off, but you know what you need to."

Senka felt something strange in her heart, like it skipped a beat, perhaps? She pushed the thought out of her mind, and nodded. She opened her mouth to say something, however; the sound of a copse of trees being knocked over caught her attention. She snapped her eyes forward. There, just beyond the mist of the fog was a large creature. It looked like an overgrown lizard, teeth grotesque and sharp points. There were horns, or spikes, protruding through its nose and back, almost as if it were growing straight from its spine.

Glowing red eyes pierced through the fog, and Senka felt her breath catch in her throat. “You... you bear our Crest. For what purpose did you come here?" the creature talked, the sound deep and guttural. It surprised Senka as she glanced in its direction. What did that mean? Did this creature bear a Crest of Maurice as well? Its head lifted, as if sensing something before turning its attention back to her. “It appears that your presence has been detected by bloodthirsty beasts..." it continued speaking. Senka furrowed her brows, though, and shook her head. She couldn't allow this creature to shake her.

“You'll be lucky to make it out alive in this den of beasts." Almost as if on cue, a shrill cry echoed over head where Sorcha and Mercer were. There was also a low rumbling sound, coming from behind where Vridel, Amalthea, Sylvi and Devon were. The beast, whatever it was, disappeared back into the thick of the fog, though, as a giant wolf appeared, charging Amalthea and Vridel's group.

“Everyone, on your guard!" she shouted, pulling her sword from its sheath and glanced at Cyril. “We focus on that demonic creature. Everyone else will deal with those two beasts," she spoke, glancing upwards for a moment. That shrill wasn't anything a wyvern or pegasus could make. They must have encountered a sky creature.

“Uhhhh, yeah I think we can handle this, maybe!" They still couldn't see Sorcha, but a moment of relative quiet yielded the twang of a bowstring, so it was likely she and Mercer had spotted... whatever made that shriek, and were now engaging it.

“There's another!" Reynard called out, ducking past them to reinforce Vridel, Thea, Sylvi, Devon, Sofia, and Deirdre. At least they had a decent number to split the creatures between.

“Straight ahead," Cyril said, swinging up behind her on Libi. They'd sort of practiced this—maneuvers where she'd carry him a short distance on horseback so they didn't get separated by enemies or terrain before they reached their destination. Though the Sword of the Creator was slung across his back, he gripped his javelin in his free hand instead, the other arm banding around her waist to keep himself on Libi. “I can... feel it, I think."

Senka spurred Libi forward, moving in the direction the beast had disappeared to. The fog was becoming airy as they went further in. They didn't have to go too, far, though, that Senka could still hear the fighting between the others, however; the beast merely glowered at them. This is what they'd called a demonic beast, what they thought she would turn into. She could feel something stir inside of her, but she pushed the feeling down. She wouldn't allow herself to answer the calling, whatever it was that was bubbling beneath her skin.

She was stronger than that. She had to be.

“So, you've decided to meet your end, here, inheritor of my Crest," the beast spoke, causing Senka to furrow her brows. Its Crest? What did that mean? It turned in their direction, though, and bellowed. “Then come, oh inheritor of my Crest! My beastly blood is roused! You will not be able to stop me!" it shouted as it charged in their direction. Senka readied her sword.

With a firm squeeze to her shoulder, the professor slid off Libi, probably so the horse would have full speed and maneuverability. As the Beast charged, Cyril threw his javelin, lightning crackling along its length, but did not stop to watch it land, instead sprinting towards the creature's left side.

The javelin struck the beast in the side of the head, burying several inches into its cheek and jerking its face to the side. Despite its prior focus on her, it swung towards him, rearing up onto its hind legs and trying to smash the Professor with one of his massive forelimbs. He was, in fact, nearly the size of the greenhouse, just as Reynard had said. Cyril darted to the side, but the monster seemed prepared, bringing its other arm down, shaking the ground and cracking the earth with the force of impact. A frustrated growl echoed from its chest, and it repeated the smashing actions, apparently unable to catch Cyril. Its snarls of rage and frustration only grew louder, almost enough to put a tremor in the earth on their own, things that could be felt as much as heard.

It was certainly distracted.

It did, however, seem to notice the sword strapped to Cyril's back. “That sword... it's the sword of the king!" it shouted almost in a relieved tone. “Are you the one who can liberate me?!" it continued, thrashing towards Cyril. Senka needed to use this opportunity to attack, though. With the main focus on Cyril, she spurred Libi forrowed and clutched her blade. She didn't know how thick the creature's hide was, nor if she'd be able to penetrate it much with her blade.

She could feel the wind rushing her face as she attacked, bringing the sword down on one of its hind legs. It roared, though it seemed mostly unfazed by her attempt. Pursing her lips together, she directed Libi away from it. The creature didn't seem to like that, though, and began charging a rather large fireball. Once the fire ball was formed, the creature released it in Senka's direction, causing her eyes to widen as she did her best to stir Libi away from it. She narrowly dodged it as the beast turned its attention back to Cyril, attempting to use its tail as a means of attack.

He jumped aside, managing to avoid its blows and peppering it with quicker bursts of magic, though there simply wasn't enough time for him to build up the more powerful strikes of which she knew he was capable.

Senka summoned what she could of her magic, sagittae. The accuracy was low, but she had to try something. Pulling in a breath, she focused on her Crest, willing it forward as best as she could. It would make her magic slightly stronger, and that was all she needed. She needed something stronger, something that would manage to get through the beast's hide. Nearby, she could hear the others struggling with their own beasts. From the sounds of it, Mercer had resorted to using his sword, and Amalthea was shouting something incoherent, perhaps at Sylvi, who'd responded.

Once she could feel her magic strong enough, she directed it at the beast, watching as the arrows penetrated its side. At least Cyril would have the chance to counterattack, now, it seemed, as the beast cried out.

The moment in which it flinched seemed to be all he needed; he shot heavy blasts of magic for where he'd already injured it in the face, driving the steel javelin deeper in the process. The lightning he used first left blackened scorch marks around the pole, the searing heat enough to blind it in one eye, it seemed. It reeled, staggering backwards and shaking its head frantically. The javelin refused to dislodge, though, and the second attack, a heavy miasma spell, came in behind, knocking it almost to the ground before it managed to recover.

Cyril, in the meantime, had made his way back to her. His face and arms bore heavy scratches from debris; one near his eyebrow was bleeding heavily, but he was steady when he spoke. “Do you have anything that can hold it for a bit? I have an idea."

She wasn't entirely sure if she did. The only thing she could think of was to try and use blizzard to freeze it in place, or at least its legs. It wouldn't be for very long, but if she could combine it with her Crest, it might just do the job. “I don't know how much time I can buy you, but I'll do what I can," she responded, kicking Libi gently to spur him towards the beast. Summoning blizzard, she drew on her Crest once more, feeling the magic intensify. When she was close enough she released the spell towards the creature, watching as it wrapped around its legs, creating thick blocks of ice.

“Cyril," she shouted, turning her attention towards him. “Now," whatever he had planned, now was the time to do it as the creature tried to free itself.

He was already running, sprinting past her and Libi at what seemed to be reckless, breakneck speed. When he reached a certain distance from where the beast was trying to tear its limbs free of the ground, he jumped. Maybe it was his own Crest, or just the sheer amount of training and practice he'd had, but he seemed to fly higher and further than any human had a right to, catching onto one of the armorlike plates on the beast's shoulder and using it to swing astride its back. It shook, frantically trying to dislodge him as though it sensed what was about to happen, but even when one of its legs came free, it simply couldn't break his grip.

Grabbing the sword from his back, Cyril stabbed downwards just as the second leg cracked free of the ice. The Sword of the Creator glowed a heated red-gold, sinking into the beast's hide to the hilt, and it gave a massive shudder and a deafening roar, pitching forward to the ground with a massive thud that felt like an earthquake. The rest of the ice cracked off and disappeared; the Professor withdrew the sword and jumped of, flinging hot blood from the blade with a powerful stroke of his arm.

Not more than three seconds later, there was another thudding crash as an enormous birdlike creature fell out of the sky, snapping dozens of tree branches on its way to the ground. “Flames take you!" Sorcha shouted, her voice raw with some kind of strain. She was not yet visible, however.

There were faint whimpers in the direction of where the others were, their beasts falling as well, it seemed. Senka released a breath she did not realize she was holding, and watched as the demonic beast breathed heavily. Its body began to dissipate, as if it were evaporating into the air.

“Well done... Finally, this nightmare of a thousand years is at its end." He seemed almost satisfied, relieved even, that he was no longer going to live. “Inheritor of my Crest... if this body is to decay, then the sword... I leave it to you." He heaved, his breathing becoming labored and difficult, and Senka could only watch as his life faded. His eyes locked with hers, and he spoke his final words, “That vile woman... do not trust her; do not trust Seiros." Seiros? Wasn't she already dead, though?

“Wait, what do you mean?" she spoke, her eyes frantically searching the creature's. There was a strange smile to his beast-like face. The color was fading fast from his eyes, and he lifted his clawed arm with what little strength he had left, and pointed. It was hard to say which direction he pointed in, but it looked like it was in the direction of the monastery. His hand fell limp after, and Senka knew he was gone. They would get no more answers from him. His body dissolved into ashes, a strange phenomenon, however; when nothing was left but human bones, Senka spotted the sword he had referred to.

Gingerly, she reached out, grasping it in her hands and stared at it. The blade itself was slightly curved, and looked almost like a spine. It made her shudder, however; it had to have been one of the Relics, judging by the Crest stone that resided near the hilt. Why would he leave such a thing to her? And did that mean this creature was truly Maurice? From the way he spoke, the way he reacted, it seemed as if this was truly the disgraced hero of legend.

A hand fell gently on her shoulder; Cyril stepped to her side and gave it a squeeze. “You all right?" he asked, blinking mildly as though they had not just been fighting desperately for their lives. Only his lingering injuries gave the difference away; he'd taken more of them this time than she'd ever seen on him, while she had none at all.

“I'm fine, but..." she was confused about what the creature meant. “That beast... it... it was truly Maurice. And he said not to trust Seiros. I'm... confused, but," she paused to regard him, lifting a hand to rest it on his cheek. “You're injured," that much was obvious. “Do you... need me to take care of your wounds?" she stated. The others were making their way towards them, she could hear, and the flapping of both Lady and Sir's wings seemed to disperse some of the fog around them.

He smiled slightly, lifting his own hand to rest it on hers and leaning slightly into the touch. “Only if you're not feeling too depleted," he replied. “I'm in no danger from them."

Amalthea looked relatively untouched, though she was sporting a few pieces of grass in her hair. It was almost difficult to tell with the color. Mercer looked like he was bleeding from his left shoulder and had a large cut on his cheek, perhaps from the bird-like creature they had defeated. Sylvi looked rather worn as did Dierdre, but they were also mostly unharmed. Senka smiled slightly; she knew they would be alright. Sorcha's arm seemed to be broken, which was a little more alarming, and she had a lot of drying blood in her hairline, but Vridel seemed to be taking care of it. He was spattered in so much blood his hair was turning pink, but relatively little of it seemed to be his. Devon was out of arrows and knives, but otherwise seemingly fine. He was helping support Sofia, who was walking with a limp where part of her armor had been torn; perhaps one of the creatures had bitten her leg. Reynard had nary a scratch, which was somehow unsurprising.

“What happened here?" Sorcha asked, blinking at the obviously-human-sized bones and the new sword in Senka's hand.

Senka smiled as she summoned what healing magic she could, and applied it to him. “We felled the demonic beast, but," she began, allowing her eyes to drift towards Maurice had once been, “he has finally found peace after a thousand years." Mercer seemed confused as did Amalthea. Before she could explain further, the sound of a snapping twig caused her to grip her newfound sword, and turned it in the direction of the source. Were there more?

“Wait," a voice called out, as a man approached the group. His eyes were sunken, and his hair was slightly matted to his face. He seemed familiar to Senka, but she couldn't quite figure out why. “That beast... it is finally gone. You have rid us of a plague we were not able to combat," he spoke, staying a safe distance away, it seemed. “We are grateful for your... Senka?" he stated, stepping forward as Senka furrowed her brows in confusion. As he approached, his face came further into view, and her eyes widened in recognition. She was glad he'd whispered, though, as he took another step forward.

“There is no need to thank us," she stated quickly, hopefully enough that the others would not question his hesitation. She thought Espera was dead, that he'd been slaughtered along with the others. As General of her father's army, he'd been one of the first to lead a counterattack against the Kingdom's army. She thought he'd died in the ensuing chaos.

“I am Espera, and we are grateful for your assistance," he spoke, placing a hand towards his heart and bowed. It wasn't a traditional bow, though, and Sorcha would be, perhaps, the only one to recognize it as one of Duscur. Senka wasn't going to pretend to not know her old General, but there were other things to consider. Mercer and Amalthea did not know of her Duscur heritage. Sylvi, Devon, Sofia, and Dierdre were not aware as well. She couldn't risk it, not yet.

From the way Sorcha's eyes widened, she did in fact recognize it. She returned it the same way. “We were happy to help, Espera," she said, throwing Senka a look and pursing her lips. Clearly, she was thinking through something. “Our leader today was Senka, here, so the credit goes mostly to her." She nodded towards Senka, smoothly making it so that the two could refer to each other by name without the need for unnecessary introductions, and if Senka preferred for the others to remain none the wiser, it would be possible.

“We are in your debt, Senka," he stated, bowing once more, and keeping it. Senka felt her lips twitch slightly upward, but she shook her head. “As a handful of Duscur people, we feared that beast would wipe the last of us out. Now that it has been defeated, we can hope to rebuild ourselves. And as natives of Duscur, we always fulfill our debts. Should the need ever arise, please do not hesitate to contact us. Despite what others might say," he paused, his eyes glancing over the group, “we never forget our debts."

“Thank you, Espera. I will... keep that in mind." Part of Senka was overjoyed, and part of her was pained. They were still struggling to keep themselves alive, and there was nothing she could do to make it better. Even with Maurice gone, that was only one hurdle for them. There would be more, and Senka was partially sure that Kleiman would turn his attention on the last remnants of Duscur now that the beast no longer plagued his lands.

“Stay safe," was the only thing she stated as he straightened his posture, and nodded.

“May the Gods of Duscur watch over you," he spoke before departing.

Sorcha edged over subtly to fit her hand in Senka's and give it a squeeze, no doubt understanding at least part of what she was feeling right now, and offering the only support she could in front of people who didn't know what this meant to her.

Cyril, on the other hand, turned, his arm brushing her shoulder for just a moment before he was speaking, setting the others to prepare for their departure, and in so doing, removing their attention from Senka and what had just transpired.

She was just glad to know that her dearest friend was still alive. And she was glad for the comfort of her best friend. Without them... well, she didn't want to think of it.


Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1180 - Verdant Rain Moon - Sunday the 31st
Rhea's Office - Afternoon - Drizzle
Cyril Eisner

Cyril had, as promised, brought the head of a so-called demonic beast to the Crest Scholar. Though Maurice's body had dissolved, the rather large, lupine head he'd tossed at the man's feet quite convinced him that the problem was taken care of, and he'd indeed spent an entire day on the front steps of the monastery, recanting his earlier accusations publicly, while Cyril leaned against a wall nearby, arms crossed, watching to make sure he didn't try anything funny.

Regardless of what they thought, people had at least stopped talking about Senka's Crest after that, which he was willing to accept as about the best result they were going to get. Of late, a new rumor seemed to be circulating instead: something about a spirit of Death appearing in the village at night to whisk away young maidens or something of the sort. Cyril knew better than to believe any spirit would be doing such a thing, but he'd decided to have a brief talk with his students about the danger of who would tomorrow morning when class began.

It would be a rather uncomfortable thing to discuss, but he thought they needed to know there might be a threat to their safety out there, and he'd noticed that such things were often left to the discretion of the teachers rather than being a matter the Archbishop saw fit to have dealt with in any official capacity. Perhaps he would talk to Hanneman and Manuela about doing the same—he at least knew enough about the reality of the world to know that such rumors rarely appeared from nowhere, for no reason.

At the moment, though, he had to receive his next monthly assignment from Rhea. He'd accepted the fact that she wouldn't simply send it to him in writing like the other professors got theirs, but he couldn't say he was especially fond of the fact. Still, this time he had a cause to argue himself, so perhaps it would turn out to be for the best.

Mounting the steps, he headed into the small chapel, and knocked on the door leading into the Archbishop's office. “Lady Rhea? It's me." He doubted she'd have trouble recognizing him.

“Professor Cyril, come in," she stated, greeting him with the distant smile she usually wore. Her eyes assessed him, as if to make sure he had not been harmed, before her features softened. She seemed pleased for some reason. “You have done well to complete such a difficult task," she stated, applauding him, it seemed. “You have shown exceptional skill in leading your students. I am forever grateful for the safe return of the Hero's Relic."

He inclined his head slightly, endeavoring to at least pantomime respect, because he was going to need her favor for the next bit, he supposed. “Thank you, Archbishop," he said quietly. “I actually wanted to ask you about that. While I am grateful for the use of the Sword of the Creator—" He'd worn it today, too, just to make the point, though he usually didn't bother. While he was adept with swords, his preference in weapons had always been for lances, and his bare hands above all.

“—I was going to ask if Senka might be granted use of the other, as well. She does seem to have the appropriate Crest for it, and given the increasing gravity of the missions in which they are partaking, it seems appropriate to arm them with every possible advantage." He stood at something like a soldier's rest, straight-backed with his arms folded behind him. While he'd never been a formal part of an army, he could recognize now the ways in which his father's time as a knight influenced the way he ran his company.

“I had heard that the creature accused one of your students of sharing a Crest with it, however; such a dangerous thing cannot be left in the hands of someone unfit for it. She is not ready to wield such a relic, and as such I cannot permit that." She had narrowed her eyes almost as if she were disappointed that he'd request such a thing.

“One Relic is more than efficient for the missions you partake in; I do not see the need to part with another, especially one belonging to the cursed Maurice." She didn't seem like she was going to relent, either.

Behind his back, Cyril's hands tightened; he was careful not to let his eyes narrow or his face lose any of its customary neutrality. “I can appreciate your concern for everyone's safety," he replied, well aware that she was dangerously close to demonstrating a complete lack of it and seeking to remind her. Rhea had always at least paid lip service to the safety of the students before—here she was making no attempt to do so at all, and if she wanted to keep up the fragile facade he was going to force her to walk that back.

“But it could well be that a Relic makes the difference between victory and death for all of us, in the future, and it protects no one locked in the reliquary." He was careful to keep his tone free of accusation, as flat and mild as it always was. He might be able to scare the wits out of a scholar without much effort, but Rhea was the Archbishop. He knew quite well she didn't scare.

Her eyes narrowed at him, but the smile she kept on her face. “I will agree on one condition," she began, her expression smoothing out as she regarded Cyril. “The moment it appears that she lacks in anyway to use it properly, or it overcomes her, you will return it, immediately." She gave him a hardened gaze, clearly unhappy about the situation. She did not comment further, though.

“Of course." He gave no sign of having won a victory in this, because he didn't want it to seem adversarial. Rhea was... touchy, was a good word for it, if a bit mild, and he was learning that though she did have some odd, inexplicable fondness for him, it only extended so far.

Still, he wasn't just going to roll over and do as she pleased, either. Shifting his shoulders back slightly, he tilted his head. “I feel I should also report that the Monastery seems to have a leak somewhere in it," he said slowly. “Prior to the mission, word somehow got out that one of my students in fact possessed Maurice's Crest. A group of them were quite publicly confronted about it, despite the matter being one that only a very small number of people knew about. It concerns me that similarly sensitive information may escape via the same channel in the future."

He did not accuse her. He had no evidence with which to do so. But he wanted to see how she reacted to the information.

If anything, she didn't seem surprised at all. She merely pursed her lips together and ducked her head. “I see... it is a shame. I will have Lyanna look into it," she replied, lifting her gaze back to Cyril's. “In the meantime, I will see Blutgang returned to your student. Since we are here, I shall update you on next month's mission," she began, however; she paused for a moment as if anticipating something.

It took only half a second more for him to hear the sound of rapidly approaching footsteps; he was outright surprised when Lyanna burst into the office, face drawn and pinched with obvious worry. Vridel was only slightly behind her, for some reason. He did not pass the threshold, however, only shooting Cyril a glance that conveyed a similar concern.

“Rhea!" Lyanna lacked her customary cool poise entirely; the word came out rushed, and she looked like she'd run miles to get there. “She's gone! Thea's missing! Please—" Only then did she seem to notice Cyril, and the eyes with which she looked at him were red-rimmed and scared. “Please. We have to find her."

“Lyanna, calm yourself," Rhea spoke, though her voice was not one of concern nor compassion. “Have you checked every where for her?" she asked, glancing in Lyanna's direction. She didn't bother to glance at Vridel, nor motion for him to approach. “You know how she likes to wander," she continued, her eyes narrowing slightly. She almost sounded angry, though it was unclear as to why. Amalthea seemed to be missing, according to Lyanna, however; Rhea seemed angry at the fact, even if her face did not show it.

Lyanna drew in a sharp breath, a wounded look briefly crossing her face before she straightened. “Yes," she said, fighting to keep her tone under control. Cyril couldn't believe she was expected to do so, when her sister was clearly in danger. “We've searched the whole Monastery. I don't... I don't think she came back to her room at all last night."

“She wasn't there this morning?" Cyril asked, gentling his voice.

Lyanna nodded, tears forming in the corners of her eyes. “I went to bed early last night, thinking she'd be home later, but her bed doesn't show any signs of having been slept in, and the floor's clean—she—" She swallowed. “She always leaves her laundry on the floor." Her lips trembled; Cyril immediately took a step forward, unsure what to do but knowing he wanted to do something.

It seemed to be all that was required. Lyanna stepped in, too, winding her arms around him. Unsure exactly how to respond, he patted her head gently, sliding his hand down to rest on her upper back.

“Is there any reason she would have been taken?" Vridel asked, stepping into the office despite his lack of an invitation.

Cyril's thoughts immediately went to the rumor he'd heard, but it was much too soon to be jumping to any such conclusion.

Lyanna sobbed, a soft thing, and shook her head faintly. Her arms squeezed around Cyril. “Her blood," she said softly. “Our blood, it's—special." The words hitched before the last one, almost as if she'd meant to say something else. “It should have been me," she said miserably. “Why didn't they take me?"

Rhea's eyes seemed to harden at Lyanna's declaration. She almost seemed to be outright glaring at her, as if she'd said something she wasn't supposed to. “Lyanna von Kreuz, you will calm yourself. You will do well to recall that impatience begets error. At present we know for certain she has not left Garreg Mach," Rhea spoke, her voice loud and commanding. “Despite the troubling rumors," she began, apparently aware that there were rumors running around, “you know I think of your... sister as family as well. You know that." Her voice had softened, perhaps intentionally.

“You will have my support. We shall devote ourselves fully—mind, body, and soul—to recovering her." She didn't seem too happy about it, however; she turned her attention towards Cyril. “Your mission is to help find Amalthea. We will have the knights cover the town, so I ask that you focus your efforts on searching the monastery again. We do no have time to waste; you have your orders."

Lyanna stiffened in Cyril's hold at the rebuke, and he could hear her swallow thickly. He gave her the time she needed to gather herself, and she stepped away with a sniffle and a subtle nod. “I—yes, Archbishop. Thank you." Her tone was almost meek; her eyes dropped to the floor.

Cyril resisted the urge to frown; Vridel did not. “Of course," he said. “We'll begin right away."

Time was of the essence.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi 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 - Horsebow Moon - Monday the 1st
Common Room - Midmorning - Raining
Mercer von Riegan

Mercer did not bother hiding his displeasure. Amalthea was missing, and no one seemed to know where she was. And that was to say nothing of the rumors he'd heard in town about a Death Knight stealing people's souls. He was certain that wasn't quite the case, but he had noticed how paranoid the people were in town when they'd arrived after last month's mission. He didn't blame them; he couldn't really fault them for fearing something they had no control over. But this... Amalthea missing was something else. It boiled his blood, and he was angry. Why would anyone take Amalthea? She was, perhaps, one of the sweetest people here.

Maybe that was why she was taken? She wasn't quite aware of people's intentions. If someone had asked her to be their friend, or find their lost pet, she was exactly the type to say yes, and not second guess it. Sometimes he wished she were not so naive, but there was nothing to be done about it, now. He caught his chin in his hand, resting it against the table as he waited for everyone to arrive. Cyril had asked them to meet in the common room, seeing as it was the only place they could speak freely without too many prying eyes, or ears.

Senka and Sorcha were the first to arrive. He felt a small smile cross his features, but it disappeared when he noticed Senka's expression. She looked about as well as he felt. Her eyes were slightly hazy, and she looked like she hadn't slept well that night. Sorcha's expression was drawn, but if anything there was a sharpness to her, like she was angry and not containing it well. Her eyes might well have been shards of ice.

“Hey," he greeted, watching as Senka's eyes landed on him. She nodded in way of greeting, but didn't say anything. He didn't blame her. She took a seat at the table, though, and folded her hands in front of her.

“Hey," Sorcha replied, her tone brittle. It wasn't directed at him, of course; he could tell that much without having to think about it. She took the seat next to Senka, eyes falling to the surface of the table.

The others filed in pretty quickly after that: Reynard, Devon, Sylvi, Sofia, Deirdre. Teach and Vridel entered together. Though their professor looked mostly the same as usual, there was a tension in his normally relaxed carriage that gave him away. Vi, though... he looked like he'd seen better days. There were dark circles under his eyes, and his hair looked like he'd raked his hands through it in frustration several times too many, the normally-disciplined white strands askew. He was, oddly, wearing his reading glasses, though not carrying any books. Less-oddly, he was outright scowling, though probably not aware of it.

Teach waited for everyone to be seated before speaking. “I won't waste time," he said simply. “By now, you all know that Amalthea is missing. We've been tasked with searching the Monastery for her, while the Knights are supposed to handle the town of Garreg Mach."

“Bullshit," Vridel snapped. “What assurance do we have that they even care enough to look with any effort? You heard how Rhea sounded. She's doing this from obligation, not desire. They're probably the same."

Mercer pursed his lips together. “I'm sure the knights are going to do what they can to find her. Whether Lady Rhea is doing it from obligation or desire, I know that some of the knights were fond of Amalthea. Even Alois was fond of her. They often ate together when he was around; you all know this," Sylvi spoke, her brows furrowed deeply.

“That doesn't mean anything, though," Dierdre spoke, her eyes narrowed as if she were glaring at the table. Mercer knew she was upset as well, and that she probably felt as helpless as they all did at the moment. Amalthea was a friend to everyone here at the table. He had to agree with Sylvi, as well. Amalthea made it very difficult to not want to be her friend, and she was always talking with the knights. She often made them floral crowns, or some other strange object to lighten their spirits.

“But where are we supposed to check in the monastery? There are not many places here to hide someone," Senka spoke, her voice soft and hoarse as if from wear. “The last time I saw Amalthea was a couple of days ago after we'd returned," she continued. The same with Mercer. Even though classes were on those days, they had been given those days off to recover. They had to make up their missed notes, of course, but Mercer hadn't minded the extra day to rest.

“When was the last time any of us saw her?" he asked.

Cyril looked immediately at Vi, for some reason, and he sighed. “I'm pretty sure I was the last person to see her," he said. “Or at least the last person who will admit it. Saturday evening. We were at the practice grounds, working on her axe-throwing. She had Aymr with her." His frown deepened, and the reason why was obvious: if Thea had been armed, then the options narrowed: either she'd left on her own, or the person who had taken her had been able to overpower her even with a weapon, or she'd been tricked into going with them somehow.

“We split ways at the dining hall. She said she was going back to her room." The dining hall was quite close to Thea and Lyanna's quarters, and actually meant Vridel had gone farther than he needed to, as the turnoff for the dorms was earlier. He'd walked her far enough that it was obvious he had been walking her back—but not far enough. Mercer could almost see it eating at him.

“At this point, we are reasonably certain that she was therefore taken on her way back. And we do think she was taken. It's a very narrow window of space and time, suggesting either someone familiar with Amalathea's routines or someone who spotted them and followed long enough to see her separate from Vridel. And who was prepared to act on that opportunity, short as it was. It seems unlikely that she was not taken in some way or other."

“Especially if she told Vivi she was going back to her room," Sorcha added. “She'd have no reason not to be honest about that."

Sorcha had a point. Mercer didn't think Amalthea was capable of lying. “Who could have taken her, though?" he mused out loud. He couldn't think of a single purpose as to why she would be taken. It was Amalthea for goddess' sake.

“She's the sister of the archbishop's advisor, but I don't see any other reason as to why someone would want to take her," Senka stated, pursing her lips together.

“I have to admit, Senka has a point. Amalthea doesn't have much use to anyone. Unless someone wanted leverage over Lyanna, or even the Church, considering the position Lyanna holds," he stated, tilting his head lightly. “Amalthea's just a regular person, otherwise."

“That's not quite true," Teach said, shaking his head. “According to Lady Lyanna, her blood has some kind of special property. It's not clear what it is, but—"

“She has—" Vi grimaced. “Don't go spreading this around, but she has the Major Crest of Cethleann. That's the only thing I can think of that makes any sense."

“You think someone wanted her for her Crest?" Reynard asked, sounding vaguely skeptical. “I suppose that's possible, but then why say her blood is special? Crests are carried through bloodlines, but the way that's phrased makes it sound like there's something important about her literal blood."

Vi refused to make eye contact with anyone. “Crests and literal blood are related," he said flatly. “I don't know exactly how, but they are. You can take my word for that or not; it probably doesn't matter. Whatever the exact cause, it's something about Thea in particular that made her a target."

“Unless..." Sofia hesitated. “I don't mean to be bringing up unsubstantiated rumors, but there was all that talk of a Death Spirit last week. It's too fantastical to be real, but it could just be a criminal. And he's supposed to be stealing away young women so... so maybe it really was just a matter of opportunity. He saw a young woman and took her."

Vridel's jaw tightened, but he didn't deny the possibility.

Mercer furrowed his brows, as did Senka and Sylvi. Dierdre glanced at Sofia, but didn't say anything. “If that's the case, then it is possible that, whoever this Death Spirit is, is responsible for taking Amalthea. She wouldn't have gone willingly, if that were the case, I don't think. She might have put up a fight, the only thing is," Sylvi started as her eyes went to Vridel and Cyril. “There was no sign of a struggle, was there?"

“I don't think there was," Dierdre spoke. Mercer rubbed the sides of his temples. The only logical thing would be to investigate the rumors, however; how were they going to do that? People in town were already frightened, and when he had asked some of them about the rumors, they became tightlipped and turned him away.

“But why would they take someone from the monastery? The rumors were that the Spirit was taking people from the town. Why try to take someone from a guarded area where they are likely to get caught?" Sylvi mused out loud.

“It could be that they were feeling bold, or... they knew how the knight's shifts worked," Senka stated, finally lifting her eyes to gaze at the group. “It would have been someone who was familiar, who wouldn't have seemed out of place at the monastery."

“Or someone who lives here," Sorcha said softly, biting her lip uncomfortably. “Think about it. In order to move in or out of the Monastery, you have to either use the front gate or fly. The front gate is always under guard, and can't be open or shut without at least two people. Someone would have seen them leave, but no one did. That means... whoever did this, Death Spirit or not, had somewhere within the Monastery to put her, and can come and go from the town without arousing suspicion, if it was the so-called spirit. Either way, they live here."

It seemed to be a sobering realization for the group; Devon shifted uncomfortably in his seat.

Cyril sighed quietly. “There are three avenues of investigation before us," he said after a moment, crossing his arms and shifting his eyes slowly over the group. “These rumors of a death spirit in town, and the people within the monastery itself. Of them, we should be most concerned by anyone who might have knowledge of or use for Amalthea's Crest. That means the people she knew the most and the people who knew the most about her."

He let that sit for a moment; many of those people were in this room, but he regarded none of them with any suspicion. “From now on, no one does anything alone. Not just the women—anyone. Don't go to class, or lunch, or to practice, anywhere without at least one other member of this group. Trust no one else, no matter how well you think you know them or their intentions. And if I have to tell you not to go anywhere alone at night, then I've failed to teach you anything about tactics."

Pursing his lips, he expelled another breath. “Senka, Reynard, Sorcha. You and I will spend the next week investigating the town. It is of paramount importance that the knights do not catch on to what we are doing." He shook his head faintly. “Everyone else will ask around the monastery as discreetly as possible. Mercer, Vridel, and Devon should focus on the Crest angle, but be careful. Sylvi, Sofia, and Deirdre: figure out who Amalthea was closest to and get what you can out of them."

“Understood," Mercer stated as everyone seemed to nod in unison. “Don't worry guys, we'll find her."

No matter what, they were going to find Amalthea.


Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1180 - Horsebow Moon - Wednesday the 3rd
Village of Garreg Mach - Midnight - Overcast
Vridel von Hresvelg

Vridel slid his sword home in its sheath, satisfied in some small way by the faint click it made at the end of the motion. Belting it on over his shirt, he picked up the black scarf on his desk and wrapped it around his face and head, obscuring the bright white of his hair and the pale tone of his skin. He was outfitted heat to toe in mottled blacks, greys, and dark blues, colors suited to the kind of skulking he rather planned to do this evening.

Professor Cyril had told them not to go out alone at night, and it wasn't as if Vridel disagreed with the wisdom of that. Anyone who did so was making themselves a potential target. But the thing was, that was exactly his intention.

Amalthea had been missing for four days, and they'd still found absolutely no sign of her. And for four days, Vridel had been able to think about almost nothing but the fact that what had happened was his fault. He'd heard the rumors. Knew that there was supposedly something or someone out there kidnapping young women. He'd even walked her most of the way to her rooms. But then he'd separated from her, and somewhere between there and her destination, she'd been taken. The conclusion was obvious, and he couldn't rest until he'd recovered her.

Even then it wouldn't be enough, but it would be something.

Carefully, he eased open his window. It wouldn't do to be seen leaving from the front of the dormitory. Reynard had taught him a method for exiting out of sight of the Garreg Mach guards; it might well be one the culprit knew as well, but all the better if he ran into him early.

Vridel had very particular plans in mind for what would happen if that were the case.

His feet hit the ground softly, and then he was off, making quick progress over the monastery grounds to the part of the wall that was roughened enough by age to support an ivy growth climbable to a lighter person. He doubted someone would be able to manage it carrying another person, but there was always a chance, he supposed.

Once he was over, he headed towards the town, sticking to shadows for the most part. He wasn't that focused on avoiding being seen; anyone else out here a this time would be automatically suspicous to him anyway, but if he could avoid rumors of someone who looked like him being the Death Knight, he'd prefer it.

It seemed, however, that someone else intended to not be seen. Someone up ahead, using almost the same method as Vridel to keep to the shadows, was more intent on staying there. From what Vridel could tell, the figure was dressed mostly in black with just a single dull grey sash around their waist. They were carrying a sword as well, but there seemed to be a dagger on the opposite side. Whoever it was seemed to be anticipating a fight of sorts, or at least was prepared for one.

It didn't exactly look like someone who'd be mistaken for a spirit—more like the ordinary sort of skulker. But Vridel wasn't going to take any chances. Not with Thea's live in the balance.

Most of his magic was literally too flashy for stealth on a quiet night, but he did have a few tricks Senka and the Professor had taught him, so he aimed a wind spell for the figure's legs, firing it off and drawing his sword to spring forward as soon as it connected, ready to lunge for them.

“Ack!" the person lurched forward, caught off guard by the sudden attack, however; they rolled back to their feet, sword drawn and ready to counter the attack. “Show yourself, you bastard!" from the sound of the voice, it was slightly muffled, but there was a familiar lilt to it. “You won't get away with this, you asshole!" the person continued, however; as they continued to speak, it became clear who the voice belonged to.

It was Mercer, doing a poor job at disguising his voice.

“What the—Mercer?" Vridel steps slightly forward so he's somewhat visible, sheathing his blade. He's confident in his assessment—it's the accent, and the very shoddy attempt to make it sound local. He shakes his head, not trying to conceal his own. “What are you doing?"

“Oh, hey Vi," he replied once it seemed he recognized Vridel. “And I could ask you the same thing! But I think I already know," he stated, sheathing his own sword as he walked closer to Vridel until he was visible. “You're out trying to find the Death Spirit, aren't you? And Thea. You can't deny it because that's exactly what I'm doing, and I know you," he replied, his eyes narrowing just slightly through the cloth covering his face.

“So, what do you say we just keep going? It'll be easier since it's the two of us."

Vridel suppressed a sound of frustration. The entire point of going alone had been being more likely to escape notice, something that was going to be harder with two people than one, but... he supposed the backup wasn't entirely unwelcome. “Fine," he said, the word turning mostly into a sigh by the end. “Let's get moving."

“Great!" he stated, sounding rather chipper about it. “We can split up if you want when we get to the town. Might make it easier to gather information that way," Mercer suggested with a shrug of his shoulders. He took off after that, running ahead of Vridel as if on purpose. When they reached the outskirts of the town, he slowed to a light jog before walking, perhaps to make it seem less conspicuous. They were, after all, trying to be stealthy, and not seen.

“Alright," he murmured softly, glancing in Vridel's direction. “How do you want to do this? Do you want to split up and I take the east side of town, or do you want to do this as one single sweep?" he asked, his eyes holding Vridel's with an uncanny sharpness to them.

Vridel could recognize Mercer being serious when he saw it, even if it didn't happen often. The situation surely warranted it. He considered the options, frowning slightly beneath where the scarf was wrapped around his nose and mouth. Splitting up would allow for stealth and covering more ground, but a sweep would be safer for them, admittedly. If they were dealing with someone who overpowered Amalthea, they could be in for trouble. She was hardly weak, even if she couldn't bring herself to kill people.

“I think—" he paused; a glimmer ahead of them had caught his attention. “What the...?" He squinted into the dark, trying to make it out. Was it the spirit or whatever?

Holding a finger to his lips, he nodded forward and darted between houses, trying to stay unnoticed and trusting that Mercer would keep pace. As they got near, it became clear that the figure was a woman's, from the shape. Bright blonde hair, braided loosely, cascaded down her back; the simple commoner's dress she wore suggested a girl from the town, but something was off. She held herself like.

Like a Princess.

“Sorcha!" he hissed, causing her to startle and whirl around. She had, in fact, acquired a drab, grey dress from somewhere, and had worn a kerchief over her head, but her face was uncovered. Wide eyes scanned the area, but she clearly hadn't spotted them yet.

“Who's there?" she demanded, tone iron. Her hand drifted towards the small of her back, as if reaching for a concealed weapon.

Mercer was the first to step out, his eyes narrowed to show his discomfort. “Damn it, Sorcha!" he stated, though it wasn't too loud. It seemed he didn't want to garner attention towards them. “What are you doing out here? Don't you know how dangerous it is right now!?" he continued, his voice conveying his displeasure.

“You shouldn't be out here! I don't care if you know how to take care of yourself, but..." he paused, his jaw tightening as he slumped his shoulders.

“That's exactly why I'm here!" she replied in an urgent whisper. It seemed she'd recognized them without any trouble once they'd revealed themselves. “I'm bait. Which is sight better than skulking around just hoping to run into him," she added, crossing her arms.

“What? You can't be bait," Vridel protested, fully on Mercer's side on this one.

“I can, and I will," Sorcha replied. “You think I don't want to find her, Vivi? You think I don't care enough to put myself on the line for it? You're dead wrong. Come along if you like, but I'm doing this." Her eyes flashed, and he knew then that she'd got this into her head and wasn't going to let it go. He grit his teeth.

“That's not the point, Sor!" Mercer replied. “We know you care, and we know you want to find her, because we all do, but you can't be bait. What if something were to happen to you? Then we'd have to look for Amalthea and you! Do you really want to do that to me? To Senka? To Vi!?" he continued. Mercer didn't seem like he was going to let this go, either, however; he didn't seem to stop her, either.

“You should have at least told the two of us. We could have helped, and we could have made sure nothing happened to you, too. I can't..." he paused to take a deep breath, “I can't risk you, too."

“And either of you could have told me what you were doing, but you didn't, did you?" She frowns at the both of them, eyes narrow, then sighs quietly. “I knew it was a risk, but it's not like I came completely unprepared. I just—I didn't—" She exhales the rest of the breath, shaking her head. Her expression eases, and she makes a clear attempt at a smile.

“I'd be grateful for the backup, really. But please—let me help. Let me do this."

It's Vridel's turn to sigh, and he glances aside to Mercer. “I suppose it won't hurt, since we're all going to be out here anyway." Stealth might be out the window, but... bait's not the worst idea he's ever heard, at least not now that she has actual backup. Maybe they'll get somewhere.

Mercer still didn't look happy, but he relented and nodded his head. “Fine," he spoke, taking in a deep breath. “We'll use you as bait since it appears that the Spirit is only taking women. Vi is as pretty as a girl, but he's lacking in certain departments to qualify," Mercer stated, retaining some of the lightness in his voice, while also taking a jab at Vridel, it seemed. He rolled his eyes, though, and crossed his arms over his chest.

Vridel made a discontent grumbling noise at the 'compliment,' but otherwise said nothing. It was more important that they get to it.

“Alright, so since we're using you as bait, we should probably focus on the areas where the Spirit has been sighted the most. We can go from there if we need to, but I think that'll be a good start as any. And," he paused to regard Sorcha, “if something seems too overwhelming, don't try to take it on by yourself. We won't be too far, but at least try to get away until we can get to you. We can't be too close, either, so... don't be too reckless."

She nodded firmly. “I might not be as pretty as Thea—or Vivi—" she winked at him there, smiling for just the briefest moment when he rolled his eyes at her— “But I can look pretty helpless if I want to. I promise I'll shout if something happens."

Giving them a salute that was probably supposed to be jaunty but in fact came off shaky, she turned back around, treading forward with just the sort of hasty almost-fear that he supposed a village woman aware of the rumors might adopt.

Vridel gave her a considerable head start before following, veering slightly to the left and supposing that Mercer would take the right. It was possible this Death Knight or Spirit or whatever it was would approach from behind, after all—they didn't want to be directly in his path before he took the bait.

Mercer did, in fact, take the right side, trailing behind Sorcha at the same distance Vridel was keeping. He still didn't seem too happy about the idea of her being bait, but he at least seemed to be focused on her. If something were to happen, it wouldn't be because they weren't looking. After a few minutes of following Sorcha, Mercer pressed against the side of a building and motioned for Vridel to do the same. He pointed in the direction of Sorcha, and mouthed something that looked suspiciously like look.

There was a figure in front of Sorcha, but it was a bit dark to make out entirely. It was still a good distance away, but judging from the outline, the figure was perched on top of a horse. Rather late for a midnight ride, and if it were this Death Knight, they needed to get closer. Mercer did just that, moving as quietly as he could, perhaps to get a better look at the figure.

Vridel frowned, creeping closer on soft feet himself. Sorcha made it a little easier on them by stopping where she was, right in the middle of an open street. It was still difficult to see—he gritted his teeth and chanced another few steps.

As if answering his frustrations, one of the clouds blocking the moon must have shifted, for the entire area suddenly brightened considerably. There—a figure in black armor, its helm fashioned after something like a horned skull. The horse it rode was black as the night itself, as was every piece of its armor and armament, save the glimmering silver blade of its scythe. Its eyes seemed almost to burn from beneath the visor of the helm, a deep crimson that—

Wait. It almost felt like...

Did he know eyes like that?

There was no time to consider it; the figure was riding towards Sorcha with a purpose, now, scythe raised. She had nothing but a knife and her wits to defend herself with. It didn't matter that he couldn't be sure the knight had committed to the charge yet—he wasn't leaving her out there by herself.

Summoning magic to the tips of his fingers behind his back, Vridel drew in a breath. “Eyes!" he shouted, knowing the others would know what he meant.

Sorcha threw a hand over hers just as Vridel let loose the spell, a bright flash heralding the appearance of the Nosferatu spell, chosen here more for the light than the effect, though he noted that it hit well enough. The knight's horse reared; Sorcha dove forward, trying to plunge the knife in for a weak joint on his leg.

He thought she might have succeeded, but it was impossible to tell. A moment later, she was thrown back with a hard yelp, landing forcefully on the cobblestones well behind Mercer and Vridel. She was entirely still.

Mercer seemed to curse beneath his breath as he glanced towards Sorcha. He seemed torn between aiding her, and charging the knight, himself, however; it seemed that his concern for her was a higher priority, and he made his way towards her. He checked her over, perhaps to see if she was still breathing, before his shoulders slumped slightly. It seemed to Mercer that Sorcha was okay, for the moment, before he stood back up, and unsheathed his sword. He made no sound, no cry as he charged at the knight. He was angry; it was easy to tell by the furrow in his brows, and the way his jaw was tight.

The knight seemed to have no problem fending Mercer off, even with his scythe. When Mercer would try a different angle, the knight would shift in his saddle and block with seemingly no effort. It only seemed to aggravate Mercer, though, as he began wailing on the knight with his sword. The knight did not seem affected at all by it, and merely appeared bored. Perhaps that was his intention, to make Mercer angry so that he wouldn't be able to think properly nor defend himself.

Mercer was pushed back with a well-placed kick to his abdomen, causing him to cough a bit violently as if to catch his breath.


Vridel shot a quick healing spell in his direction rather than cast again at the knight. He'd though the rider would have to adjust for how far back they were now, but to Vridel's unpleasant surprise, when he swung the scythe from where he sat, a shockwave rippled outwards from the end of it, knocking both of them back several more steps. Vridel felt it crack across his ribcage, a sensation that at once seemed like burning and cutting, and expelled a hard breath.

Barely getting his feet back beneath him, he tried to ready his sword, but his grip was unsteady, hands shaking until the sword itself rattled, wavered in the air.

The knight appeared to pause, then. Without a word, he lowered his scythe and wheeled his horse, riding away the way he'd come.

“Dammit," Vridel hissed, still struggling to recover his breath. “Get back here, you—"

“Vridel, stop," Mercer wheezed out, moving to Vridel's side as if to offer him support. “He's gone; we can't do anything else, and Sorcha's hurt. We need to get the both of you back and healed before anyone finds out we're gone and how we were injured," he stated, pulling in a deep breath. His face contorted, as if it were a pained one, but he smoothed it back out.

“There's not much else we can do," and it was obvious in Mercer's tone that he wasn't thrilled about the sudden turn of events. His eyes narrowed in the direction the knight rode off, and his jaw was clenched tightly as if he were grinding his teeth.

He was right. Vridel hated it, but he was right. Pushing out a hard breath, he returned his sword to its sheath and made his way over to Sorcha. “No such luck," he said, grunting softly as he lowered himself to kneel next to her. “Unless you learned how to heal in the last couple of days, I'm what we've got. I can take care of you two, but I'm just going to have to sneak a vulnerary from somewhere and call it good." They were never as good as proper healing magic, which was vastly superior in the short-term, but he could cover the gaps with what little self-healing he was capable of. It would have to go.

So saying, he got to work on Sorcha, carefully mending her wounds. There didn't seem to be *many*; but one broad slash had clearly caught her from shoulder to hip. It was bleeding only sluggishly, but if they didn't get it closed, she'd die.

Fortunately, this was what Vridel was best at. It took some doing, but eventually the wound was gone, as though it had never been there. She was still unconscious, but that was to be expected; she needed time to recover from everything. He took care of Mercer's more minor injuries too, then stood, pushing himself with some effort back into a stand. “Can you carry her? I can't."

“Sure thing," Mercer replied, scooping up Sorcha as gently as he could. Once he adjusted her so that her head was tucked into his chest, he glanced at Vridel with narrowed eyes. “We'll have to see what the others can find. I doubt that knight will be back, now that he knows we're looking for him," Mercer spoke gently, but his tone was hard. “We don't have much time if that's the case," he added. Chances were, if that knight knew they were looking for him, he'd either move Amalthea elsewhere, or worse...

“We can't let that happen."

“No," Vridel said, half-muttering and half-snarling the word. “We can't."

He was done failing her.


Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

I.Y. 1180 - Horsebow Moon - Saturday the 6th
Village of Garreg Mach - Early Evening - Overcast
Senka Rinaldi

There wasn't much information about Amalthea's disappearance. From what they had been able to gather, people were suspicious of each other, and they were pointing fingers in every direction. It wasn't helpful, at least not as far as they needed it to be helpful. People were panicking, and Senka really couldn't fault them for that. No one was safe; not in the monastery, and not in the town. And fear did a strange thing to people. Senka knew what that was like, partially. The fear of not knowing when you'll be next, if you'd be next. She sighed softly, and pushed the thoughts away, though.

Thinking like that wasn't going to help bring Amalthea back. The current rumor, however, placed the supposed Death Knight at the farthest end of town. Senka wasn't entirely sure why it would reside there; most of the town's population was centered towards the middle. It might have been that some of the residents who lived on the outskirts, were easier victims. Senka felt her brows furrow at that thought. A sound brought her out of her thoughts as she glanced at the small group she was currently with.

Her eyes met briefly with Sorcha's. “What do you suppose this spirit is getting out of kidnapping young women?" she asked in a hushed voice. She didn't need people to know what they were doing, after all. Senka couldn't think of a single reason why the spirit needed a young woman other than it was trying to make brides, or sacrifices. She hoped it was the former. It would mean that Amalthea had a greater chance of being found alive.

Sorcha shook her head. She'd been unusually quiet all day, and at lunch, Senka had caught her looking at everyone who entered the dining hall, as if scrutinizing them for something in particular. What it was, she hadn't said, but it didn't seem as though she'd found it.

“Do we know he's actually doing that?" Reynard walked casually beside them, to all appearances completely uninterested in his surroundings. “We know that's what the rumor is, but has anyone actually seen him snatch a girl? Are there any women missing in the village? Maybe it was all a screen, and the only one he wanted was her to begin with." He shrugged, lighting the plant matter packed into the bowl of his pipe with a flicker of conjured flame. His nonchalance was much better feigned than anyone else's lately, if in fact he was feigning it. He was a difficult person to read.

“That, at least, we can find out," Professor Cyril replied. “Even if the knights won't tell us." It was considered an investigation angle of theirs, and therefore hard to ask questions about without arousing suspicion. Pointing at a slightly larger building amidst a cluster of what seemed to be poorer storefronts, he glanced between them. “The Spindlethorn, the only tavern in Garreg Mach Village that operates all night."

“Tavern?" Reynard echoed, expelling smoke in a skeptical sounding huff. “You sure about that?"

But Cyril shrugged. “That's mostly what it is."

It was, Senka supposed, a good place to start. People were quite talkative when they came under the influence of drink. People loved talking, regardless, but they were likely to find out something more true if they waited long enough. They would have to make sure, however, that they appeared to be either passing travelers, or that they weren't seeking information. They weren't regulars, after all, or at least Senka knew herself and Sorcha to not be. She couldn't be too sure what the others did in their free time.

As they approached the tavern, Senka glanced at the others. “Would it be easier to split up into two groups to gather what we can, or should we stay together?" she asked, glancing between the others. If they split into two groups, they could cover a bigger section of the tavern, even if it wasn't that large to begin with, however; if they remained as a single group, they'd be able to speak about what they could hear, easier.

“No need," Cyril replied simply. “Reynard and I both have contacts here. He'll go talk to his, and you two can meet Miss Violet." So saying, he pushed the door open and stepped inside.

The tavern was warm, even compared to the outside, just barely the right side of uncomfortable, and maybe not for long. The scent of sharp alcohol hung in the air, as well as a faint trace of something floral. A few people were tucked away at various tables here and there, but the mood seemed to be rather quiet overall. Interspersed with the patrons were young women in unusually-elaborate dresses for commoners, though several of them looked a little threadbare in places, evidence that they were often mended and maintained by hand.

Still, it seemed almost homey, somehow; welcoming.

Not three seconds after they'd walked in, a woman with bright red hair approached, not stopping within polite distance but instead flinging her arms around Cyril. “Cy!"

He set his hands carefully on her sides and huffed softly. “Hello, Miss Violet."

She stepped back with a grin and a rustle of blue skirts, gesturing to a table in the corner. “Your usual's open. Who are your cute little friends?"

Senka supposed that was how the employees greeted their regulars, and she tipped her head in a polite nod. It didn't stop, however, a strange warming sensation from passing through her. It made her a little uncomfortable, but she put it down as being in a different environment.

“I am Senka," she introduced herself, allowing her features to smooth over into a small smile. “It is a pleasure to meet you, Miss Violet," she continued. Cyril wanted them to meet her, for some reason, and the least Senka could do was be polite. She didn't know how else to be, especially with someone she'd never met before. New people always made her a bit uncomfortable, but she was with friends at the moment.

“And I'm Sorcha." She managed a little grin, one the other woman matched a bit before ushering them all over to the table. Reynard had already disappeared; it wasn't clear where he'd gone, but then it seldom was.

Once they were all settled, a waitress, dressed much more simply than Miss Violet, brought them all a small tray of pastries and whatever they wanted to drink. Cyril opted not to order alcohol, and Senka was pretty sure Sorcha had never in fact had any, so that meant two glasses of lemon icewater arrived with hers.

“So, Cy." Miss Violet had taken the seat right next to the Professor's, and was sitting almost against him, wrapped around one of his arms. He seemed to allow this with the same lack of concern he gave most things, and only arched an eyebrow at her when she spoke. “What brings you to my neck of the woods?"

“Information," he replied simply.

She gave a great sigh, smiling wryly, but it was something she seemed to have expected. “Naturally. Information about this mysterious Reaper, perhaps?" She plucked one of the little treats from the tray and bit into it, tilting her head inquiringly at all three of them.

Senka was uncomfortable, and it wasn't because she was out of her element. She was uncomfortable with how close this Miss Violet was sitting next to the professor, and how casual they both seemed about it. She felt her brows furrow slightly, her leg twitching as she accidentally brushed against Sorcha. She could feel the hairs on the back of her neck stand on end, and she was having difficulty placing the feeling. It felt like someone was squeezing her heart, and she couldn't breath. Taking in a soft sigh, though, she merely nodded in way of response.

“This Reaper," she began, glancing towards Sorcha and Cyril before she continued, “may have a friend of ours. We are searching for any possible leads that may help us bring her home. We are very worried about her." Worried didn't even begin to cover it, though. None of them could sleep, or at least Senka knew she couldn't. She hadn't slept properly in the last week since Amalthea's disappearance. She folded her hands in front of her, and clasped them tightly.

She just wanted her friend back.

Sorcha slowed in her progress through the tray at the reminder, grimacing slightly. “I doubt there's much solid to go on," she said quietly, “but anything at all would be helpful, considering how little we know."

Miss Violet nodded, humming thoughtfully. “Well I doubt Cy's told you this, but if you want information in the town of Garreg Mach, I'm your girl." She smiled at the both of them, then, a genuinely-friendly thing from the look of it, though it sobered a moment later. “I'm sorry to hear about your friend, but I have to say... it's a little surprising."

“How so?" Cyril asked, brows furrowing.

She tilted her free hand back and forth. “Well, here's the thing. Everyone's been making a big fuss about the Reaper. Cooking up stories, like folk always do. The thing is... while I'm pretty sure there is someone riding around menacing people at night... no one else has actually been taken. Not that I know of, and I know just about everyone in the village pretty well. If you press on the people spreading these rumors, they always kind of deflect, like 'oh I heard it happened to some girl in Riverbend' or wherever else that's not too far from here. But as far as I can tell... nothing. Nothing real, anyway, except for generally making a scary nuisance of himself."

“But... why would anyone do something like that?" Sorcha asked.

Miss Violet sighed. “I can think of a few reasons. It could be a distraction for something else, but that doesn't make sense if he actually took your friend, so..."

“So it's a screen," the Professor finished solemnly. “He wanted to use the rumors to disguise the fact that he was specifically after Amalthea. It wasn't random, and it wasn't mere convenience. She was the target all along."

“But why Thea?" Senka mused out loud. There were quite a few number of reasons as to why Thea had been taken, but none of it had made sense. What could it possibly be that Thea has, that someone would want to kidnap her for? Was it for her blood? Her Crest? If so, why did having a major Crest of Cethleann make her a target?

“If it was just a screen, if he was truly after Amalthea..." she didn't want to think about it. It was possible that now that he had Amalthea, they would be moving, or worse. They could have already disappeared. If that were the case, what hope did they have of finding Thea? Who was to say that they hadn't failed in finding her, and she was lost to them? She took in a slow breath, and pushed the thoughts away. She had to believe that they would find Amalthea. She had to.

“Is... there any rumor as to where this spirit might dwell?" she asked. If the spirit was seen here, chances were it might be coming from somewhere nearby. And if that were the case, maybe... just maybe they had a chance of finding Amalthea before he took her too far.

The woman gave this a moment of consideration, pursing her lips and chewing quite deliberately over a bite of pastry before she replied. “The only thing that seems to be consistent is that people see him coming and going from the direction of the monastery," she said, arching a delicate brow. “But I don't think that should be too surprising; where else in town would there be someone with skill enough to do such things? It's certainly no ordinary kidnapper, either by way of appearance or method."

“But if he's at the monastery, and he wanted someone from there, why bother riding out into town at all?" Sorcha asked.

“Who would you rather have looking for you?" the Professor replied. “Professional knights, or a group of students who can't even access all parts of the monastery?"

Sorcha's eyes widened. “You think he's keeping her somewhere restricted in the monastery?"

Cyril looked faintly troubled for a moment. “I think it's the most likely possibility," he admitted softly.

“Sounds like a problem," Miss Violet said, not without sympathy. “I'll keep my ears open at least. A few of the knights are pretty frequent customers of ours."

The Professor nodded, producing a small satchel of coin from his person and handing it to Miss Violet.

“You know I'd do this for free if you'd just–" she started, but he shook his head.

“Wouldn't be free then, would it?" His tone was just as flat as ever.

She sighed, face pulling into a pout. “You don't have to make it sound like it would be a chore. People pay good money for—" When the Professor gave her a blank look, she sighed again and shook her head. “Fine, fine. Keep depriving yourself. I'm here if you change your mind." Pressing a quick peck to his cheek, she stood, giving a short wave to Sorcha and Senka.

“I hope you guys find your friend safely," she said earnestly. “And if you think of anything else I can do to help, just let me know."

Senka swallowed thickly, and the only reason she paid much attention was because she could feel her throat working. She could feel her brows furrow in Violet's direction, but she didn't understand why Violet was the source of her discomfort. It shouldn't matter what the woman did, or how she was with Cyril. And Senka knew enough to know that was the cause of her discomfort. She pushed it from her mind, though. There were more important matters to tend to, like finding Thea. Whatever she was feeling wasn't important. She could sort through it after Amalthea was found. She felt her eyes narrow in the professor's direction, but she nodded her head at Violet.

“Thank you, Miss Violet," she responded, pursing her lips together as she turned towards Sorcha. When Violet was gone, Senka finally spoke. “If the spirit is truly in the monastery, we need to search everywhere. Even if... if Rhea doesn't approve of it, what she doesn't know won't hurt her." Not that Senka particularly cared. The woman had it out for her for some strange reason. Senka never did anything, that she could recall, to the archbishop. Senka had lost nearly all respect for the woman, and Amalthea's safety was her top priority, otherwise.

Whether or not Rhea approved, Senka would search every nook and corner if she had to do it alone.

Sorcha grimaced, but nodded firmly. “Yeah," she said. “Yeah, we do."


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 - Horsebow Moon - Wednesday the 10th
Garreg Mach Monastery - Early Afternoon - Overcast
Vridel von Hresvelg

They were swiftly approaching two weeks since.

Vridel was slowly going mad, he was sure of it.

Though there had been a few developments, they had as yet not gotten anywhere near finding Amalthea to his estimation. The Professor thought she was somewhere in the monastery. If so, it was little comfort to know. Especially since this meant the culprit had to be someone they knew at least in passing, and he still had no idea who that was.

“Who's next?" he muttered, glancing to the side. The initial investigation groups had faded out in favor of 'anyone who can, when they have the time,' and so at the moment he and several of the others were working their way through a list of people that seemed to be at least somewhat connected to Thea. The connections were getting more tenuous as they went, though—they'd just finished talking to Professor Manuela, who'd looked thoughtful when Sorcha mentioned that the Death Knight might be either limping or have sought treatment for a leg injury. She hadn't had much to add though, beyond that she'd check her vulnerary stocks and get back to them if anything seemed amiss.

It was all far too slow.

“Professor Hanneman is next," Senka replied, glancing in Vridel's direction. “He is a Crest scholar, is he not?" she stated, causing Mercer to sigh lightly.

“He is, but as far as we know, he isn't aware of Thea's Crest," he stated. Senka narrowed her eyes briefly in his direction.

“That does not rule him out, though. Whether or not he is aware, chances are he might know something. Thea was quite fond of him, perhaps because he is eager to share his knowledge with anyone who asks," she replied, causing Mercer to nod his head.

“Well, we all know Thea was eager to learn about the outside world, and that would explain some things. It is possible that Thea might have mentioned her Crest to him depending on how close they were," he mused, Senka nodding in agreement. “But Hanneman couldn't hurt a fly. Why would he want to take Thea?"

“Why would anyone want to take her?" Vridel snapped back, trying and failing to suppress his irritation. It wasn't directed at the others. Not really. But they were getting the worst of it, of this restless itch under his skin. The desire to do something useful. To find whoever had dared to take someone so... so innocent. Find them, and destroy them for the cruelty of it, and the hubris of thinking they could do it right under his nose.

Their noses. Right. It wasn't like he was special in this regard. Everyone wanted to get her back. Everyone was protective of her, and she—she liked everyone.

He repeated the words in his head as he walked, unsure they were really sinking in but certain that they needed to. He couldn't start thinking that way. Not about her, not about anyone.

Hanneman was nearby the stables of all places, apparently in the middle of an afternoon walk. Knowing it wouldn't be good to approach a professor in the snarly state he was in, he let Sorcha do it instead. She stepped forward, waving a hand slightly so as to catch Hanneman's attention.

“Excuse me, Professor Hanneman? Do you have a minute? We were hoping to ask you a couple of questions."

“Oh, hello, Miss Blaiddyd, Mercer, Senka, Vridel," he greeted, smiling at the small group. “Of course. I was just in the middle of a walk. If you'd like, you may all join me. I need to stretch these old legs of mine, lest they become useless," he continued, almost as if he were joking.

Senka shook her head, though, and offered him a polite smile. “No, Professor Hanneman. We'd just like to ask you some things about..." a pause, “about Thea." The statement alone was enough to cause Hanneman's brows to furrow, and his shoulders slumped.

“I heard she was taken, the poor thing," he seemed a bit distraught about it, but for all they knew, he could be acting. “I shall answer any question as best as I can. I do hope she is found, and quickly."

“Uh, so..." Sorcha seemed to hesitate a moment, then decide it was worth going forward. “Did you know Thea had a Crest, Professor?"

Vridel only narrowed his eyes, watching keenly for any sign that the old man was trying to deceive them.

Hanneman pursed his lips together. “Of course I did," he stated as if it were common knowledge. “She told me not too long ago that she had a major Crest of Cethleann. Oh the things I could do with that knowledge!" he stated, seemingly almost dream-like in his statement. “Unfortunately Lyanna would not let me have even a sample of hair!" he continued, pursing his lips together.

“I do not see how her Crest would be relevant, though. The Crest of Cethleann is rare, but it wouldn't warrant a kidnapping, I don't think," he finally stated, furrowing his brows.

“How rare would you say her Crest is, though?" Mercer asked. Hanneman seemed to think it over as he remained quiet.

“I've only ever seen the Crest, twice. Once in the books, and then with Amalthea's," he finally replied.

So Hanneman didn't know that Lyanna bore the same Crest? Unexpected, but Vridel thought likely inconsequential. “If I said someone probably wanted her for her blood, would that phrase mean anything to you?" he asked it bluntly, directly, with no attempt to hide the fact that as far as Vridel was concerned, everyone outside their group was a suspect.

He really doubted it was Hanneman. If it had been, he'd have been smart enough not to blurt a possible motive like samples for study. Besides, there were easier ways of handling it if that was all he wanted.

But still. He couldn't leave the investigation only mostly done. Doing something most of the way was how he'd gotten her hurt in the first place. He refused to make the same mistake twice.

Hanneman seemed to think that question over, as he tilted his head. “Hm," he mused out loud before glancing up at them. He took a second longer to glance around as if to make sure it were okay. “It is possible that her blood might be promising to certain people," he finally stated. “As you are all aware, Crests and whether or not they are minor or major are all relevant to how deeply rooted the bloodties are. I cannot say for certain, however, but major Crests are always thought to be the closest you'd get to the actual Hero of the past. It is speculated that that is the reason why a major Crest is more powerful."

“If she has a major Crest of Cethleann, it is possible that she has a closer bloodtie to that particular Saint. I've always hypothesized, though, that the bloodties are much more than they seem. It is possible that the actual blood of a saint might flow strongly in those who bear major Crests of Cethleann, Cichol, Macuil, Indech, and even Seiros. Perhaps... they think that Amalthea's blood is the closest they would get. As for why Cethleann..." he paused abruptly as if to give it further thought.

“It's always been speculated that Cethleann's blood was special in a way that revitalizes. I could have told you more if I was allowed a blood sample from Thea, but..." it was obvious he wouldn't be able to do that because she was gone. And because Lyanna would not allow it.

Revitalizing? Revitalizing what?

To be sure, the information was interesting, and not useless, but it didn't get them much further than Lyanna had when she'd told he and the Professor that it was special. Feeling aggravation creeping back up on him, Vridel averted his eyes, trying not to show it.

“Uh, hey guys?" Devon approached the group then, looking a little unsure of himself. His brows were knit, and he looked first to Hanneman. “Um, do you know where Professor Manuela is, Professor Hanneman?"

“I saw her not too long ago," he replied, glancing in Devon's direction. “She had an urgent matter to take care of and needed to see Jeritza, for some reason. The man is as cold as ice, though, so I do not know why she would need to see him when she could have just asked me," Hanneman almost sounded jealous.

“She told us she was going back to her infirmary," Mercer mused, furrowing his brows and pursing his lips.

“Professor Hanneman, do you know where Professor Jeritza is?" Senka asked. Hanneman nodded his head.

“His quarters are located near the knights' hall, to the right side, I believe," he responded. Senka and Mercer both glanced towards Vridel and Sorcha, and then towards Devon.

“Perhaps we should notify Teach and the others."

“That's uh—that's the thing," Devon said, pressing his lips together. “The Professor and the others sent me ahead. It's just—Sylvi saw her hurrying down the hall earlier, saying something about leg wounds and vulneraries, and she was holding Professor Jeritza's mask. So we were thinking of checking his rooms, but uh..." he looked at Professor Hanneman. “They were hoping to get a senior staff key so we didn't have to break in."


That could almost—

“Senior staff key?" Sorcha asked.

Lyanna had told him about these. “Some trusted members of staff have universal key to the Knights' Hall and quarters in case of emergencies," he explained hastily, turning his attention to Hanneman. “Do you?"

Hanneman at least seemed to sense the urgency and nodded his head. “At once." They were not too far from the knights' hall, and Hanneman seemed to walk with a little more vigor to his step. When they reached the area where Jeritza's room was, Hanneman produced the key from his coat pocket, and unlocked the door. “Quickly now, before anyone sees you," he stated, ushering in the others and closing the door behind him. He led them down the stairs, taking a right before coming to a stop in front of what was likely Jeritza's room.

“Here, this should do it," he stated, placing the key inside the knob before turning it. With a click, he gently pushed the door open before he immediately rushed inside. “Manuela!" he stated, moving so that he was near her side. She seemed to be unconscious on the floor, holding on to Professor Jeritza's mask.

“What is the meaning of this!?" he nearly exclaimed, reaching towards her but pausing. “She's still breathing," he stated, exhaling a relieved breath, “but she needs medical attention immediately! Wait... what is she pointing to." Hanneman's eyes glanced towards a bookshelf, his brows furrowing slightly.

“Who would have thought that there was a secret passage from Jeritza's room," Mercer stated, his eyes hardening as he glanced towards the area.

“You! Don't just stand there! Help me carry her to the infirmary!" Hanneman stated, bringing Mercer's attention towards him.


“Mercer, you can join us when you've finished helping Professor Manuela and Hanneman," Senka stated, placing a hand on his shoulder and shaking her head. Mercer sighed in defeat and nodded his head.

“Good luck," he stated, however; his eyes were on Vridel, giving him a knowing nod before helping Hanneman carry Manuela out.

Vridel returned the nod, tightening his jaw and turning towards the bookshelf. Taking hold of it with both hands, he pulled. It scraped a little, but with some effort and a slight assist from Sorcha, he was able to shift it aside.

The passage that loomed ahead was dark, impenetrably so until his eyes adjusted at least. Still, there was no question. If there was even a chance she was down there—and clearly there was—that was where he was going.

He'd taken the first step before someone caught his wrist. Sorcha. He turned back over his shoulder to glare at her, to find her looking back him stubbornly. “Not yet," she said. “The Professor and the others will be here any minute. He knows he's been discovered—it's too dangerous for just the four of us."

He was opening his mouth to protest when the door opened again, Professor Cyril stepping in first, the rest trailing behind. “Mercer told us," he said quickly. “Let's go."

Shrugging away from Sorcha's hand, Vridel waited for no confirmation before plunging into the passageway.

The others followed behind him as Senka took to his right side. The dark was making it difficult to see, however; it wasn't long before the hallway lead into a larger corridor. There were torches hanging from the walls, providing a modicum of light, however; it was Senka who moved first, as if she'd spotted something. She moved with urgency as they came into an open area.

“Thea!" she nearly shouted, making her way towards where Amalthea was. She was unconscious from the looks of it, however; there was another person as well. A young woman, red-haired and unconscious as well. She was wearing the academy uniform, but she didn't look like someone who'd attended recently. “Amalthea," Senka continued, cradling Amalthea in her arms.

“Who is that, though?" Sylvi stated, pointing at the red-haired girl. “A relatvie of yours, Dier?" she asked, glancing in Dierdre's direction.

“No, never seen her in my life." Dierdre looked slightly offended, but also relieved to have found Amalthea mostly unharmed.

Senka's actions stopped Vridel from doing... what might well have been much the same, though he shied away from the thought even as it occurred to him. Sorcha didn't hesitate, though, kneeling on Thea's other side and quickly setting her fingers to the other girl's neck.

“She's alive," she confirmed, leaving the rest to Senka and turning towards whoever the other girl was, probably to check for the same.

Vridel's attention was drawn, however, when he saw the professor tense in the corner of his eye. Immediately he shifted forward, squinting slightly into the dark. A familiar figure in black armor walked ponderously towards them, and in naught but a moment more Vridel's hands were lit with magic. Only the fact that Cyril held out his arm stopped him from loosing it right at the man—and he wasn't sure how long even that would work.

“Professor Jeritza?" Cyril's voice was flat, but tinged with something sharp.

The Death Knight seemingly ignored the question. “So it is you," he said, focused entirely on the Professor as far as Vridel could tell. “One of us will die, the other will live. I will enjoy this dance of damnation."

Like hell. Vridel loosed the Nosferatu he'd been charging, not entirely surprised when the Death Knight avoided it with a large backwards step. He drew his sword in the meantime, stepping forward. “If you want him, you're going through me first," he snarled.

Not again.

Not even one more time was this thing going to hurt anyone he—

“You are not worth my time, pup. Do not interfere."

Before Vridel could respond, the sound of clanking armor met their ears—soldiers, taking up formation behind the Death Knight. The man himself disappeared in a flash of white light a moment later, and Vridel snarled outright. Coward. He was going to pay for this. He owed.

“Vridel, Cyril," Senka started, her tone hard and traces of anger seeping through, “the two of you should take care of the Death Knight. The rest of us can take care of the soldiers while I tend to Thea and this one." She nodded in the direction of the red-haired girl, still cradling Amalthea in her arms. Senka was producing a white magic from the looks of it, a healing tome, and had applied it directly to Amalthea's brow.

“Dierdre, Sorcha, and Devon, set up a perimeter and keep anyone who gets too close, back. Sylvi, Sofia, you can provide the initial offense. Reynard," Senka stated, as her eyes turned towards Reynard. “You do what you do best." She offered him a slight smile as Sylvi and Dierdre nodded their heads in unison.

“We'll be your support, Vridel, Professor. Leave it to us while you go catch that bastard and make him pay!" Sylvi stated, grabbing her axe and charging forward to help clear the first wave. Dierdre slung a dark spell at the crowd to get them to disperse, giving Cyril and Vridel a clear line to continue forward if that was what they wanted to do.

Vridel nodded. It was about all he could do. Glancing aside at the Professor, he firmed his expression. Much as he wanted to kill the Death Knight himself, he hadn't lost sight of the fact that he probably wasn't strong enough to do it on his own. He didn't have quite so much pride that he couldn't accept help. For now.

Sorcha got them started, firing into the knot of approaching soldiers. She, Devon, and Deidre drew them off, clearing the way for Cyril and Vridel to move forward. This chamber seemed to operate with warp panels, so there was no telling what they'd see until they'd stepped through, but they weren't going to get anywhere if they didn't.

He and Cyril cleared the first one, finding themselves in a narrow hallway that seemed to wind around almost pointlessly. Murderholes in the walls gave a fair idea as to why, especially when the first barrage of arrows came through.

“Steady now," Cyril advised, drawing back with his javelin and throwing. It slipped right through the opening, barely wide enough to accomodate it, hitting whoever was on the other side with a hard, wet thunk. He drew it back with the enchantment even as Vridel bombarded the next with fire. He wasn't quite so pinpoint-accurate as that, but with fire it almost didn't matter.

They used the time the archers spent reeling from the smoke and flames to make a break for the door on the other end of the hall, more of a barred gate than anything.

Dierdre kept some of the soldiers at bay, using her magic to either force their attention towards her, or the others. Sylvi went to work, cutting down the first soldier with relative ease, though the second one, a much more heavily armoured man, seemed to be giving her a bit of trouble. Dierdre veered towards that one as well, flinging a fire spell in his direction just in time for Sylvi's axe to make its home embedded in between the man's shoulder blades. He yelled in pain, bringing his arm back with his poleaxe, just barely missing Dierdre with it.

“Look out!" Sylvi shouted, flinging herself in front of Dierdre, and pulling the smaller woman to the side. The lance that had been aimed at Dierdre, nipped Sylvi's shoulder, and she cried out in pain. Before the lance could finish the job, though, it was deflected with a dark magic spell thrown by Senka, who seemed to have joined the battle. She parried the lance with her sword as Dierdre helped Sylvi cover her wound.

“Dierdre, go help Sofia and the others. I'll help Sylvi," Senka spoke, causing Dierdre to purse her lips for a moment. Sylvi nodded her head as if to agree before Dierdre took off towards another group of soldiers, barreling into one of them that seemed to try and get a backstab on Sofia.

The gate led them into a room with several more warp panels and a large lever. Cyril hummed. “I think that might deactivate some of the enchanted ground further up," he said, indicating the switch.

Vridel hadn't seen any such thing, but he'd heard of mechanisms like this.

“If it's set up how they want it now, we should probably change it," he said simply.

Nodding, Professor Cyril pulled the lever. It seemed to deactivate all the warp panels but one, much to Vridel's surprise. He supposed they might as well try that one first.

Cyril reached it just ahead of him. This time, when the lurching magic deposited them on the matching panel, it was right in front of a smaller, central room. And in this one—

“Death Knight." He had several other soldiers around him, and as a unit, they brandished their lances and axes, charging forth. The sounds of battle raged behind them as well, no doubt the others falling upon the forces further back.

Vridel didn't need to ask to know what his teacher's strategy was here. Together, they called the most powerful magic they had, throwing it at the approaching wave of troops. Vridel didn't hesitate to dip into the power of his Crest for it either—the slight feeling of warmth that spread across his back would give no matching glow, not through all his clothes. Honestly, he wasn't sure he even cared if it did. Even if someone put it all together... there were more important things.

The assault took out nearly all of the small squad before the end of the charge; the ones who were not felled by fire or darkness or lightning met their end on his sword, or broke themselves over the Professor's fists, and at last there was only the Death Knight.

Vridel's vision swam as he locked it on the figure. Blinking, he grit his teeth, switching Crests. His breath sawed in and out of his lungs, body protesting so much exertion in such a short span of time. He ignored it. “My name—" he said between breaths, forcing himself to stand straighter and point his blade for the armored figure. “Is Vridel von Hresvelg, Imperial Prince of Adrestia. And for what you've done, I'm going to kill you." His voice shook, low and raspy with the force of his rage.

The figure seemed to cock his head. “Oh? Then let us see what you have, Imperial Prince." He brandished his scythe, taking a step forward.

Vridel tensed, feeling the world tilt slightly to the side but preparing to charge anyway, when a flash of light caught his eye. When it receded, another armored figure, this one just as tall, armored more smoothly, with a strange red-and-white mask on its face, stood in the spot.

“Halt," they said, voice distorted in a strange, metallic fashion. “You're having a bit too much fun."

“You are getting in the way of my game," the Death Knight rumbled.

“Hmph. You'll have more opportunities to play soon. Your work here is done."

There was something that sounded like a grumble of dissatisfaction, and then the Death Knight was again surrounded by the light of a warp.


Vridel sprang forward, only for his legs to collapse beneath him as the Death knight disappeared. The new figure regarded them silently for a moment, disdain seeping from them even without an expression to convey it.

“We will cross paths again," they said, utterly certain. “I am the Flame Emperor. It is I who will reforge the world." With yet another flash, they too were gone.

It wasn't long before the others caught up to Vridel and Cyril. Sylvi glanced around, her shoulder mostly mended, however; she pursed her lips together. “Damn it, they got away!' she muttered through clenched teeth. She had a large gash near her side where an axe or sword may have sliced her, but the wound itself seemed healed. Perhaps Senka's doing. Dierdre, on the other hand, was sporting a few cuts and bruises, but seemed relatively unharmed.

“Vridel, let me help you," Senka stated as she approached Vridel's left side. “We have Amalthea, now. That will have to be enough," she didn't seem too pleased that the Death Knight had escaped, but she seemed relieved, nonetheless. “We also need to get her back to the infirmary, and you as well. My healing will only do so much, and you are injured beyond my capabilities, Crest or no Crest." She placed a hand on his shoulder, gently, as she held his gaze.

Vridel pushed himself to his feet, unwilling to accept help for something that simple when he should be able to do it himself. He did lean on her a bit, though, observing that the Professor had lifted Amalthea to carry, and Sofia had taken the girl they didn't know.

“Fine," he said, displeased but too exhausted to do much about it. Even the Professor looked a little weary—those soldiers had definitely been a cut above the types of people they'd fought before. And their numbers had meant that in some ways the battle was just as difficult as the one against the beasts at the end of last month.

It wouldn't, ultimately, be enough for him to leave things here. But for now... for now he had to grit his teeth and take the loss. As Senka said, they had Thea.

That much, they'd managed to do right.


Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

I.Y. 1180 - Horsebow Moon - Sunday the 21st
Town of Garreg Mach - Late Evening - Drizzle
Mercer von Riegan

Mercer sighed heavily. He had missed the battle with the Death Knight, but they had found Amalthea at last. She had been unconscious for nearly a week since they found her, and had barely opened her eyes, yesterday. They wouldn't let anyone see her, yet, mostly by orders of Rhea. Mercer didn't quite understand, but he knew that it was Rhea's doing that Thea had almost an entire entourage of knights, guarding her room, and the area outside of her window. They didn't seem to be taking any second chances, and Mercer had found that intriguing. Why so many knights for one person? And why didn't Rhea let any of her friends see her?

He was almost certain she wanted to see them, if not Vridel. What was stranger than that, however, was the girl they had found with Amalthea. No one seemed to know her, however; after a little midnight digging, Mercer was able to find a name for her: Monica. She'd been a student of the academy last year, however; it was thought that she'd went home after her year was up. No one thought anything of it, after that.

He hugged his cloak a little closer to him, making sure he was about as unrecognizable as possible, before he approached Reynard's house. He used the key Reynard had given him, and let himself in. “Darlings I'm home!" he stated, announcing his arrival as he closed the door behind him. If anyone had heard him, they would think he was talking to his family. He supposed, in a way, he was.

“Good evening, dear," Reynard drawled in reply, a flicker of amusement seeping into the words. He happened to be in the front hallway, apparently moving some food from the kitchen to the study, where no doubt Vridel was.

When Mercer entered, it was to find his friend with more or less the same broody look on his face that had been there since they'd found Amalthea. He was surrounded by a stack of books, some of them stolen from the monastery library and some of them probably sent to him from home. He did a pretty good job making it less obvious than other people, but it was a fair bet that he still hadn't slept much since the end of last month.

He glanced up as the others entered, vaguely gesturing at the other chairs around the table and shifting some of the books around so that they'd have somewhere to sit. When Reynard did, he set a large glass of some kind of fruit juice in front of Vi with a loud enough thud to constitute an order. The prince glowered briefly, but pulled it towards himself anyway.

“She still under guard?" he asked dully, clearly expecting the answer.

“Unnecessarily so, yeah," Mercer replied, taking a seat so that he was in front of Vridel. He pursed his lips, though, as he sighed. “I don't understand why Rhea's making such a big deal about it. I mean, Thea's safe, now, but why the need to have her under guard? It's not like she's well enough to do something on her own, and I'm sure she wants to see all of us." And it wasn't like any of them were going to harm her. Quite the opposite, in fact. They were all worried about Thea, even if they knew she was there. Not being able to check in on her themselves was maddening. Mercer could only imagine how much so it must be for Vridel.

“After everything we've found out, that still doesn't explain much," he continued, running a hand down his face in an aggravated manner. “Sure, she's a Cethleann Crest holder, but it doesn't make sense for Rhea to put her under guard. Have you been able to find out anything useful?" because Mercer hadn't. Even with the extra nights digging into the deeper parts of the library, he wasn't able to find much. Though... there was that one thing he found in one of Tomas's books. Something about an Immaculate One, and something about Crest stones.

He'd tell them about that, later, though.

“It was definitely Jeritza," Reynard said with a shrug. “I looked into him a bit. Jeritza von Hrym. Minor Crest of Lamine, first son of the von Hrym family in the Empire. His father's a real piece of work—married some woman just for her Crest and then tossed her and her daughter out after he had a son with the Crest. Apparently he's always been a little odd, but nothing in particular to speak of. Excellent fencer, applied to the Monastery for a position and was accepted three years ago. Interestingly, it seems he was the presumptive guy for the position our Professor ended up with, until Rhea undercut completely by hiring Cyril."

Vi's eyes narrowed. “I think I see conspiracies in everything," he admitted. “Everything seems to come back to Cyril somehow, but I'm convinced he doesn't know anything himself." He shook his head, running a hand through his already disheveled hair. “I've been looking everywhere for any kind of reference to a 'Flame Emperor,' but there's nothing. It's like he came out of nowhere. Pretentious bastard."

Mercer could understand, somewhat. “If Rhea is about the Church and all, which she is," everyone knew that, “then maybe it's because Teach has the Crest of Flames. It's the Crest of the goddess, isn't it? Maybe she thinks that Teach, probably a descendant of Nemesis, is the closest thing she'll get to the goddess herself. Remember what Hanneman said; a major Crest is the closest in bloodties to the Hero. If that is, indeed, true, then that might be why she's so interested in Teach." It didn't seem remarkably romantic, after all.

Teach was a good-looking guy, but so were a lot of the other people at the monastery. Rhea could, literally, have her pick considering she was a beautiful woman, so if it wasn't romantic, it had to be something else. “That, or maybe she thinks Teach can be of some use to her to gain more followers. We know that the Western Church had issues with the Central Church, so if that were the case..." he trailed off. That didn't make much sense, either.

As far as this Flame Emperor, it could have been anyone. Mercer wasn't there, so he had no idea where to even begin gathering information on him, and if Vridel had no such luck, well... what luck did Mercer have? “We'll just have to see what crumbs we can find about the Flame Emperor. There's only one nation that I know of that claims any sort of emperor title; maybe he's someone from the Empire?" Mercer mused. In the Kingdom, there were Kings, and in the Alliance, there were Leaders. The Adrestian Empire was the only nation known to use the word Emperor.

“Not that the title means all that much, anymore," Vi replied with a huff. “It hasn't since the Insurrection. Could be that someone wants the title and the power that used to go with it, but if that was the case he should've just let the Death Knight at me. Cyril might've been able to interfere, but..." He shrugged. “Maybe not, too."

“Actually..." Reynard broke in, leaning back and propping his legs up on the chair. He withdrew his pipe from somewhere, lighting it with a flicker of magic and drawing in a lungful of smoke before exhaling as he spoke. “There's something to that. The Flame Emperor appeared right as the Death Knight might have killed you, and maybe the Professor too." He contemplated this for a moment, head tilted to the side. “Or at least I'll wager they figured he could. I'm not as sure, myself. Regardless... the order to stop from their perspective saved two lives right in the nick of time. Which one was essential to them, I wonder?"

Vi grimaced. “I was two seconds from charging him," he admitted. “But I'm sure the Professor would have gone with. You're saying you think this Flame Emperor specifically wanted one of us alive?"

Reynard shrugged carelessly. “It's a possibility we should consider."

“But why?" Mercer stated, wincing slightly at the way it sounded. “I mean, like you said, Vi. If this Flame Emperor wanted the title, then he could have let Jeritza kill you. It might be that he wants Teach. Think about it. Not many people know Teach has the Crest of Flames, yet. Even with the Sword of the Creator, I highly doubt many people will recognize the weapon for what it actually is. It's been a long time since someone saw it, and I'd wager that the only people who know are at the monastery."

“It's something to go on, for now, though. We'll have to see what else we can come up with. Is there anything else that seems strange, other than that? And the fact that Rhea is a total... uh, witch for keeping Thea away from her friends?" He glanced between Reynard and Vridel, setting his hands in front of them to lean his chin on them.

“Well you know about the part where Lyanna and Rhea were pretty sure Thea was taken because of something to do with her blood," Vi said, a scowl forming over his features. “What I might not have told you is that Lyanna's pretty clearly afraid of the Archbishop. Not in the same kind of way we all think she's up to something either—like actually afraid of her. I can't put my finger on why, but it might be the reason Rhea gets away with the things she's done to Thea. Because fighting her on it would have been even worse for them. I thought at first that Lyanna must not care much about her sister, but she very clearly does."

Reynard nodded. “There is... an unsettling dichotomy, in how people think of the Archbishop," he observed, exhaling another cloud off to the side. “At a certain distance she is almost fanatically loved. Catherine and Alois and Sir Gilbert are good examples of such. Devotion to her almost seems synonymous with devotion to the Church. And yet those in her innermost circle, or who have been there—The Professor, Sir Jeralt, Lyanna... these people are either wary or afraid. I think we should take it seriously that the person who knows more about Rhea than anyone else has that kind of response. What does she know that we do not?"

“It's not like we can outright ask Lyanna about it," Mercer mused. She was likely to say nothing at all if she was truly afraid of Rhea. Who was Rhea that it produced such a strong emotion in Lyanna? And to say nothing of her followers. Mercer knew a thing or two about devout people who believed more in some unknown being rather than what they could see now. Blind faith, as his mother had put it, once.

“Still, it's something to go on. I wonder if I can find anything about it in Tomas's stash of books. He has a relatively large amount of books with interesting information," he stated. He was about to say more, however; there was a brief knock on Reynard's door, causing Mercer's eyes to narrow slightly. “Were we expecting someone?" he asked in a hushed voice.

“No." Motioning for them to be quiet, Reynard approached the door. Mercer could hear him open it, then the low sound of his voice, followed by another that sounded familiar somehow. Two sets of footsteps headed back down the hall, and Reynard reentered the room, shaking his head faintly. “Seems we're not as subtle as we thought, gents."

Cyril's expression was almost mirthful at that, and he regarded them without harshness. “Plenty subtle," he replied. “I just know the best information broker in Garreg Mach, is all. I, uh, hope you do not mind. But I thought perhaps I could guess why you were meeting out here, and I might be able to help you."

Mercer shrugged his shoulders. “I suppose you're not wrong, Teach. We're secretly married, the three of us, and we just like spending some quiet time together out here, you know?" Mercer stated, offering Teach a lopsided grin. He gestured to one of the empty chairs, though, and shook his head. “We don't mind, Teach. It was only a matter of time, I guess, when we'd include you," because Mercer was certain they would, “but do tell. What insight could you give us?"

He snorted softly at the joke, but took a seat easily. “Well if I'm interrupting I'd gladly depart..."

Vi rolled his eye, but there was a flicker of a smile at the edge of his mouth for the first time in a while. “Why leave when you can join?"

“Was that a proposal?"

“Only if you're interested."

“Please say you're interested."

Teach actually chuckled at that, halfway motioning towards the tray of food and drinks. When Reynard nodded easily, he took up what seemed to be a savory pastry of some kind and bit into it before continuing. “You're all suspicious of the Archbishop, right? I've been trying to include you in my meetings with her, but I think it's backfiring. There's some information it might just be better to give you secondhand."

“Any idea why she's obsessed with you?" Vridel asked flatly.

“Not really, but... I think it might be connected to some other things that have been happening. You remember when that 'Crest Scholar' showed up and started harassing Senka?"

“Heard you nearly broke him in half," Reynard remarked, resuming his use of the pipe now that he seemed to be sure all was well. So to speak.

Teach shrugged. “The thing is, I'm pretty sure the information had to come from one of exactly three people: Hanneman, Lyanna, or Rhea. Hanneman because he discovered it, and would have been required to report that information to Lyanna, who in turn is obligated to report it to Rhea. Of the three..."

“It has to be the Archbishop," Reynard finished.

“Can't think of any reason anyone else would do it. And Rhea..." He grimaced. “She doesn't like how well I get along with any of you. She also didn't want Senka to be given her relic weapon."

“But Relics are, technically, birthrights. They've been handed down to each Crest bearer for nearly generations, now. I'm set to inherit Failnaught when I become Duke von Riegan, as I'm sure Vridel will inherit his when he becomes Emperor. Wouldn't Blutgang belong to Senka by right?" Mercer stated out loud. Relics were given to each respective house; why would Rhea try and keep Senka's?

“And what reason would the archbishop have to do that, though? Senka hasn't done anything to offend her, and for as long as we've all known her, she's kept close to all of us. Senka's a good-hearted person, much like her best friend, so why target her at all?" he added. Sure she had her issues, but she was working through them. At least from what Mercer was able to tell.

He also had an idea as to the why, but it only made sense if the archbishop had some emotional attachment to Teach. Since it seemed that she didn't have that kind, why try and bring down Senka and keep her relic from her?

“I don't know," Teach admitted.

“The Relics are birthrights only because the Church at some point said so," Reynard pointed out. “And any but the ones they've officially given away are Church property. Blutgang falls under that rule. In theory, the Archbishop could decide that the next heir of any house isn't 'worthy' of their Relic and demand it back."

“If she wanted to start a war," Vi added with a snort.

Reynard nodded. “It probably would, considering how much people rely on them for survival, but legally... it's her right. It's a threat she can hang over anyone in negotiations, and if she did it to punish only one country well..."

“None of us like each other enough to band together," Vi finished. “The others would probably side with the Church, or at least not interfere. Maybe hope that by lending their armies to enforcement, the Church would grant them land afterwards. It would be an extreme move for her, but possible. And for someone like Sen, who isn't officially part of anyone's government or a recognized noble house, there's nothing to stop Rhea at all."

Mercer furrowed his brows. “She's a relative of Rodrigue's, isn't she? House Fraldarius is recognized by the Church in the Kingdom. Rodrigue could, theoretically, adopt Senka into his household. Wouldn't that put her in some kind of position?" he stated. Not that it would likely happen. She was his niece, from what Mercer understood, and he didn't know if Senka's mother was listed or not in their registry. If she wasn't, well... he supposed that answered that question.

“The more I hear about Rhea, the less I like," he muttered, running a hand through his hair. He never liked the woman to begin with, but she was targeting his friends, now. Who was to say she wouldn't go after him, next, or worse, Sorcha? “I just don't get it. Her interest in you has only increased ever since you were given the Sword of the Creator. What makes that so special?" other than the fact that it was supposedly a match for Teach's Crest.

“I don't know that, either, except... there's a couple of things about it that are a bit odd." Teach paused in his eating, expelling a breath through his nose. “So Maurice—the creature from last month that seemed to be him—called it the Sword of the King, not the Sword of the Creator. Also... it doesn't seem to have a Crest Stone. Those are necessary, right?"

“They're what links a Relic to a Crest," Vi replied. “Like... a bridge, between the Crest and the sword or bow or whatever kind of thing it is. Theoretically it should be all but useless without one, but you seem to be able to use it just fine."

Mercer furrowed his brows. “Well that would make some sense. Nemesis was the first known person to wield the sword," he mused out loud. “He was known as the King of Liberation, so... wait a minute," Mercer turned his eyes to Cyril. “You mean to tell me that that creature was actually the Maurice? As in the forgotten hero?" It sounded incredulous to Mercer. “Wouldn't that have made it like almost a thousand years old? How? How is that possible? And if it called your sword the Sword of the King, then that means... ugh." Mercer ruffled his hair with both of his hands.

It didn't make any sense! None. Or... maybe it did and he couldn't seem to make sense of it.

“Here's the thing; I found information about Crests and Crest Stones in one of Tomas's books. It said that Crest Stones are carved with a specific Crest, ones that match a bearers in order to use it safely. That would mean that Crest Stones might actually be what give Relic's their unique power. So... if the Crest Stone to the Sword of the Creator, or King, whathaveyou, is missing..." he trailed off, humming a thoughtful noise in the back of his throat.

“You've always been weirdly strong, right, Teach?"

He looked unsure, pausing as he took a drink from one of the glasses on the table. “What would qualify as 'weird' in this case?" he asked.

Reynard snorted. “How old were you when you could first lift a cart, or keep pace with a warhorse at canter?"

Teach blinked, setting his glass down. “I don't know, exactly," he admitted. “Since I'm not sure how old I am. But I could do either of those things... maybe seven or eight years ago?"

“Then yes," Reynard finished, turning his attention to Mercer. “He has. Why do you ask?"

“I believe Crest Stones might be able to give inhuman power to the Relic's. But... no, 'cause then that would mean that Teach was a Crest Stone of some sort," which didn't seem all that plausible. Crest Stones were physical; Teach was, too, however, just not a Stone. He pushed a sigh through his nose, and shook his head.

“This right here," he stated, pulling the sheet of paper he'd torn out of Tomas's book from his pocket, and showed it to the others. “It's called The Immaculate One. You're familiar with the story, right?" he stated, momentarily forgetting that Teach was not. “It's said that that creature, or dragon, is what the goddess sent to save the followers of Seiros, but it's not mentioned in anything else. Who did it save them from? Was it Nemesis? Because we all know that Seiros led an army, not some strange, whatever that is."

“The Church tells both of these stories?" Teach asked. “Was this creature an ally of Seiros's or something? Sent to help the chosen saint or whatever she supposedly is?" he sounded quite skeptical, perhaps not surprisingly.

“What's that? On its head?" Vi narrowed his eyes, tapping the crature's brow in the picture. “Is that... the Crest of Seiros?"

Mercer glanced closer to the picture. Sure enough, there was a Crest of Seiros in its forehead, however; there was something strange about its location. There was something circular, red-like in appearance. “It's a Crest Stone of Seiros," he stated out loud. “Why does it have a Crest Stone of Seiros, though?" that would imply that this creature, whatever it was, was Seiros.

“That... does that mean that this creature is Seiros? Or at least... somehow bound to her, or something?"

“You sure that's a stone? It looks like part of its body. Not a rock, at least." Reynard was frowning at it. “Unless maybe it's a Relic, the creature. I've seen a few old drawings, of... mechanical weapons. Big ones. It was a long time ago now, though. I'm afraid I don't recall them well."

“Dagdan?" Vi asked, though it wasn't clear why that should be his guess.

Reynard shook his head. “I don't think so. They don't have anything like it now that I'm aware of. The drawings were old, I think. But I was only a kid when I saw them. I don't remember much."

Mercer was almost certain that it was a Crest Stone. “It's not a Relic. I'm not entirely sure how I know that, but it's not. There was something mentioned about it being a beast. And we all know how real those beasts are," he was of course referring to the creatures they'd fought last month. Sighing through his nose, he leaned back in his chair. “It's a lot of information to digest, that's for sure." He glanced towards the others.

“Alright, that's my show-and-tell. Who wants to go next?"

Vridel and Reynard looked at each other and shrugged. “Don't really have anything else at this point. What about you, Professor?"

Teach was silent for a long moment, as if working something out in his head. His expression changed slightly a few times in the process—perhaps his thoughts were at odds with each other. After a moment, though, he sighed quietly. “It's hard to show," he admitted. “But too unbelievable to just tell. I think... maybe I could show you one at a time. So to speak."

What seemed to be no more than a moment later, Vridel's expression morphed into one of shock. “Fuck," he breathed, eyes wide and exhaling with something like wonder. “I can't believe that actually just happened. You really—" He looked for all the world as though some incomprehensible mystery had been set in front of him, and the source of it was Teach.

Mercer was confused. “Uh, what just happened?" or didn't happen? “Did you break Vi, Teach? I'm not sure Thea would appreciate it, or Sorcha, but..." he trailed off. Whatever it was that Teach did to Vridel, Mercer wanted no part of it.

“No, you do. Trust me." Vi shook his head. “It has to be seen to be believed."

“I didn't break anything," Teach confirmed. “Or, well... anything besides the continuum of time, I suppose. That's what it was—I rewound time, and only Vridel and I were aware of it. It's... taxing, to take someone else along, but I can do it for the both of you, as well."

“Sounds terrifyingly useful," Reynard murmured, glancing at Mercer. “After you."

“But hey, ladies first, Rey," Mercer replied glancing back at Reynard. He wasn't entirely sure he wanted to do that. He believed Teach, in some sense. After all, what reason would he have to lie to them. If Teach said he could rewind time, or fly, who was Mercer to deny that fact? After all the things they'd witnessed, anything was particluarly possible when it came to Cyril. Sighing in defeat, he slumped his shoulders.

“Alright, fine. But... be gentle. Vi's first time didn't look so fun, and I'm not sure I want to end up like that on my first time."

Reynard snorted a laugh at him.

Teach, on the other hand, reached forward. “If you'd be so kind as to take my hand..."

The moment Mercer did, there was—it was hard to describe. It felt almost like something shuddered through the air, and then Reynard and Vi stopped moving entirely, like figures in a sculpture. Then they, and everything else, even the air itself, took on hairline, black fractures, and in the next moment shattered, and they were standing in a void, lit only by faint traces of green and dark blue light that didn't seem to have a source. Teach's eyes were by far the brightest thing in the gloom, luminous quite on their own; the rest of him seemed almost to fade into the dark.

“At the moment, time is stopped, I think." Teach frowned slightly. “In any case I can choose when to go back to. Only works in reverse, unfortunately. Pick a point in the conversation. Preferably after Vridel was surprised; I would prefer not to have to demonstrate to him again, you see."

“Where would the fun in that, be?" Mercer retorted. “Vivi could handle a second time, I'm sure," he continued, but shook his head. “Alright, how about the moment right after I asked what happened. It's right after Vi, and before... whatever this was," Mercer stated, vaguely gesturing to their surroundings. He would admit, though, that this was... strange. Stopping time? It was like Reynard stated: terrifyingly useful. He wondered, briefly, if Rhea knew Teach could do this. If so... exactly how much did she know, and what was she keeping from them?

“Also, you can answer after this is done, but, how long have you been able to do this?"

Teach wore the faintest smile, but he did not answer before all at once the world reconstituted around them and they were once again seated.

“No, you do. Trust me." Vi shook his head again, just as he had the last time, with the same expression and inflection and everything. “It has to be seen to be believed."

“I didn't break anything," Teach confirmed, then turned directly to Mercer. “Other than the continuum of time."

“I can see why you'd say that, Vi," Mercer replied, gripping on to the table so as to not fall out of his chair. He felt slightly dizzy, but that may have been the fact that he'd just witnessed time stop, rewind, and then begin again. “Well since Vi's had his fun, I've had mine, Rey, you can either believe us or you can take a ride with Teach. Both, I'm sure, are appealing in both ways but I'll let you decide which one you want to do. Also, Teach, you still have to tell me how long you've been able to do that."

Not more than a moment later, Reynard blinked, sitting up abruptly in his chair, then shaking his head emphatically. “That's... quite a trick," he muttered, looking vaguely disturbed.

“I learned how to do it the night I met the three house leaders, actually," he said, frowning slightly. “Sorcha actually..." His brows drew down, and he trailed off, grimacing slightly. “Suffice to say it triggered when it was very needed. I've only used it a few times since then, mostly just to make sure everyone survives. I was too far away at Castle Gaspard, or I would have there, too, I promise you."

Mercer dropped his shoulders, but shook his head. “All that matters is that we did survive." That counted in Mercer's book.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1180 - Horsebow Moon - Thursday the 25th
Rhea's Office - Early Evening - Cool
Cyril Eisner

It seemed Amalthea was out of the woods, but it was also true that no one was being allowed to see her yet, either. The guards outside her door remained, and thus far, the Archbishop had been silent about all related matters. Now, however, Cyril was once again headed to her office, ostensibly to get his orders for next month, as his students seemed to be a strike force for the Monastery now. He couldn't claim to feel spectacular about that, but at the very least he could try to use the opportunity to get information on the friend they were all missing.

Pausing outside the door, he released a soft sigh and schooled his expression. Emotions seemed to be appearing more easily on his face these days—perhas because he was feeling more of them in general. But he could not afford to get careless and give too much away in front of Rhea. Especially not after the meeting the other day with Mercer, Vridel, and Reynard. He'd known some of his students were highly suspicious of the Church, but the amount of information they'd been able to pull together thus far was astounding. It was easy to see how that cunning and resourcefulness would make the Duke's heir and the Prince excellent rulers one day, and there was no mistaking that Reynard would be a top-class information man, if he wasn't already.

Knocking, he waited until he was granted permission to enter, then stepped inside. Both the Archbishop and Lyanna were present, the latter wearing a slightly pinched expression. Cyril bowed in the customary fashion, then rose without a word. They were seldom required, he'd learned.

“Professor—Cyril." Lyanna spoke first, bowing deeply. “I cannot—I cannot possibly thank you enough for what you've done. Thanks to you, my—my sister is safe. Thank you. So very much." She rose, a smile breaking through her troubled countenance.

Immediately, he shook his head. “I could not have done it without the students. Their investigation was tireless, and their strength formidable." He thought perhaps he could mention that Vridel in particular had not once seemed to think of anything else for the entire two weeks and some, but somehow he had a feeling Lyanna knew that already.

“Of course," she replied softly. “I'll make sure to thank all of them, as well."

“You mentioned her blood, earlier," he said, tilting his head faintly to the side. “What did you mean by that?"

“Her blood is... rare," Lyanna replied, immediately uncomfortable again. “And special. We once went into hiding because of this, but..."

“Her blood is rare and dangerous," Rhea spoke, the smile on her face wavering to something akin to a frown. Her eyes were narrowed towards Lyanna before she continued. “It seems that it was unwise to bring her out of hiding. Perhaps it is best that she go back." It didn't sound like a suggestion, though. It sounded as if Rhea was giving Lyanna an order, and that she was expecting it to be followed by the way her expression seemed to harden.

“She will be kept under watch, you have my word, Lyanna, however; we cannot afford another mishap like this."

Lyanna seemed to deflate at that, very visibly hesitating and biting her tongue, but then she shot a quick look at Cyril, some inchoate request in the green of her eyes, and straightened, rolling her shoulders back. “With all due respect, Archbishop, that's simply infeasible. Amalthea was kidnapped right from the heart of the Monastery grounds, places she had been frequenting long before she was ever permitted to join Professor Cyril's class. What was more, she was taken by a trusted member of the faculty. Keeping her confined to those areas and to contact with those people would have done nothing to prevent her capture."

She paused, there, almost faltering, but pressed on. “What is more... her time in the Professor's class has improved both her confidence and her ability to defend herself. Given that there was at least one traitor in the Monastery, I must ask that she be allowed to complete the class term, that she might better be able to do so in the future. I am certain her teacher and classmates are willing to shoulder any possible additional risk that comes of her proximity. Is that not so?"

Now he understood. He was being asked to provide support. Cyril found he didn't mind this in the least. “The students accept much risk already," he said simply. “One more will not make much difference, in the end."

“Absolutely not," Rhea retorted, sounding almost livid. “Amalthea was taken because she'd exposed herself as much. She even spoke to professor Hanneman of her Crest. You, as well as I do, know that is dangerous in of itself. Who knows whom else she shared that secret with." Rhea's eyes narrowed, dangerously so, at Lyanna.

“Her confidence means very little, as does the means to protect herself. If she was capable of defending herself, she wouldn't have been taken in the first place. If she'd never been exposed, she wouldn't need to learn these things. I would have thought you of all people would understand that, considering she is your..." she paused, almost surprised at what she might have said. “She is your sister. Does her safety mean very little to you, Lyanna?"

That put a fire in Lyanna, no doubt about it. “The danger is precisely why she needs to learn more," she said sharply. “And with all due respect, Archbishop, your knights, who knew she was important, neither protected nor found her. Her friends, who have been left in the dark, have managed both to a much greater degree, and they include the Professor, in whose skill and judgement you have demonstrated such confidence." She gestured to Cyril.

He sensed she had more to say, though, and he wasn't wrong. “What's more, I am her guardian, and it is my responsibility to decide what measures are best for her safety. I cannot, will not treat her as a prisoner a day longer. If she cannot be free here, then we will go elsewhere that she may." She tilted her chin up, defiant but still of moderate pitch and volume.

“So I suppose that choice is yours to make, Rhea, as you can certainly determine what she may do here. You would do well to remember, however, that even your reach only extends so far."

Rhea's eyes narrowed further into an outright glare. “You will do well to remember whom you speak to, Lyanna von Kreuz," she stated, her voice eeriely calm and void. “I will allow Amalthea to continue her training and education with these so called friends of hers. If there is even the slightest hint of a complication, she will go back to her confinement. As for you..." she paused, blinking slightly as her eyes landed on Cyril. Something seemed to snap back for her, though, and she sighed.

“Amalthea will continue to be in your care, Professor. Do see to it that she is taken care of," she spoke, though the anger in her voice did not dissipate. Before anything could be spoken further, though, Hanneman appeared, knocking on the door before letting himself in. “Professor Hanneman," Rhea greeted. Hanneman bowed before glancing towards Cyril, a look of brief confusion crossing his face.

“I've come with an update about Manuela and Monica." He seemed perplexed about something, but didn't say anything about it.

This is really... The girl didn't quite seem to have words for what was going on, and neither did Cyril, honestly. He couldn't imagine trying to exert that much control over Amalthea. Certainly, Lyanna was her sister rather than a parent, but she had a point that those decisions should have been hers to make, as a guardian.

He let the thoughts fade, though, turning to Hanneman when he entered. “How are they?" he asked. A beat, and then: “Monica is... the redheaded girl?"

“Both are recovering well, and yes. Monica is a student from last year's class," Hanneman began, turning his attention towards Cyril. “She went missing just before she would have graduated. It never occured to us that something might have happened to her at the monastery. We assumed she had run away. I never dreamed we'd find her, not like this," he sighed softly. Rhea didn't seem to be affected in any particular way, but she wore a concerned look, regardless if it was genuine or not.

“She has asked to rejoin the Black Eagle House once she has fully recovered. She was awake long enough to convey her wishes. She wants to graduate this year with the others," Hanneman continued, glancing towards Rhea as if asking for permission. She nodded.

“Our enemies are still out there, so we must remain cautious, and continue our investigation."

“After all, the Battle of the Eagle and Lion will be held in Gronder Field next month." Hanneman interjected, seemingly unafraid to do so. That, at least, got a small smile out of Rhea.

“Yes. The students will remember it for the rest of their lives. Please guide them so that they may show us their best at the coming battle."

Cyril recalled mention of this before. It was somewhat like the mock battle, only quite further along in the students' educations and thus considerably more contentious, as he understood it.

Realizing that dismissal was imminent, he inclined his head. “I shall endeavor," he said simply.

Rhea's smile inched slightly wider.


Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Wednesday the 1st
Dining Hall - Late Afternoon - Rainstorm
Mercer von Riegan

Mercer rolled out his shirt, trying to squeeze out as much moisture as he could from it. It started raining unexpectedly when he left the greenhouse, and he'd barely made it to the dining hall in order to avoid getting drenched. Unfortunately, that didn't seem to be the case. He was drenched from head to toe, and he sighed heavily. He was about to wring out more water from his shirt when something collided with his back with a loud smack. He'd nearly been toppled over, however; he managed to catch himself and grasp the arms that had suddenly wound themselves around him.


“Thea? Hey, what's wrong!?" Mercer stated in a surprised tone. He didn't know she had been cleared to leave the infirmary, and it didn't appear that she had her entourage of guards with her. Perhaps they didn't see the need to protect her now that she was recovered? It wasn't that she'd suddenly almost barreled him over that caught his attention. It was the hard, gut-wrenching sob that tore through her throat that had him slightly alarmed. She sniffled gently before shaking her head.

“I'm just... I'm so happy I get to see you all! And... you're the first person I saw," she explained, releasing him from the hug and wiping at her tears. Mercer smiled gently at her. If that was the reaction she had from just seeing him, he wondered how she'd react to seeing Vi. He wiped away the remainder of her tears as she smiled at him.

“Hey, it's alright. We missed you too," he stated, pulling her in for another hug before letting go. “I'm sure if we wait here, we'll run into the others, soon. You want to see them, too, right? And not just me?" he stated, grinning at her. She nodded her head.

Sorcha, Senka, and Cyril were the next to arrive, either together or in quick succession; it was hard to say exactly. Sorcha seemed to be the first to notice that Amalthea was present; she bounded across the intervening space and wrapped the other girl up in a rather tight hug of her own, even lifting her off the ground slightly.

“Thea! You're awake! And back! I'm so glad to see you!" Her eyes widened abruptly, and she set Amalthea down with care. “Oh, I'm sorry. You're not still injured, are you? Did I hurt anything?"

“Sor—cha," Amalthea hiccuped between another sob as she wrapped her arms around Sorcha. Either she wasn't injured, or she was ignoring any pain she was in in order to do so. “I'm so happy to see you! And Senka, and Cyril!" she stated, pulling away from Sorcha to hug Senka who tentatively returned it. Senka smiled softly as she squeezed Thea a little as Thea renewed her tears.

“We are pleased to see you recovered, Amalthea," she whispered against Amalthea's head. She had to lean down in order to properly hug her, but Senka didn't seem to mind doing that. Mercer couldn't help but grin at the scene. This... this is what it should be like, regardless of the circumstances. Friends should come together like this more often, and Mercer felt a strange twinge of pain in his chest. Placing his palm against his sternum, he rubbed it to make the sensation go away.

“Mm, I am thanks to you all. I... I am so... so," she couldn't seem to get the words she wanted before she started crying again, burying her face into Senka's chest.

“We're happy to see you, too," Teach supplied, actually smiling faintly. “Perhaps we should find somewhere we can all sit together?" They were making a bit of a scene in the middle of the dining hall, not that he really appeared to mind much.

“Over there should work," Sorcha said, pointing to an unoccupied long table near the far wall. “Did you want something to eat, Thea? I can grab a tray for you when I get mine if you like."

Thea shook her head, and finally let go of Senka. “No, I couldn't make you do that! I'm fine, and... and I want to go get my tray with you, too." she moved so that she grabbed Sorcha's hands in her own, giving her a pleading look. Mercer couldn't help but chuckle lightly as he glanced at the group. They were short a person, it seemed. Mercer pursed his lips together.

“How about Teach and I can grab the table, and you guys can grab our trays?" Mercer suggested.

“Okay!" Amalthea didn't seem to mind, but Senka shook her head.

“Sorcha and I can grab Mercer's and Cyril's, Thea. You take care of your plate, first," Senka stated as she turned Amalthea towards the line. Mercer grinned with a nod and glanced towards Teach as they made their way towards the table.

“Have you seen Vi? He should be here, too," though Mercer was almost certain that Vridel was having the same issue he had when Sorcha had been injured. If that were the case, well... he needed a little helping hand from his best friend. Mercer blinked at the thought, and furrowed his brows.

Teach shook his head slightly, throwing a leg over the bench and sliding in so he'd be sitting at one end, back to the wall. “We were practicing until the rain started up. I'm not sure where he went after that. Perhaps he doesn't know she's out?" He seemed to at least understand why Mercer was asking the question, though that wasn't a lot of information to go off of.

“It could be he'll show up in a few minutes, I suppose. Though..." Teach paused, eyes narrowing thoughtfully. “He took a lot of what happened personally. I think he blames himself, for not walking her all the way back to her rooms that evening. He may not be ready to confront that."

Mercer could understand that feeling of it being his fault. He blamed himself for how Sorcha had been injured, but... he'd finally been able to move past that. Figured that it wasn't his fault, but he still felt bad about it. He pushed a sigh through his nose and shook his head.

“He knows," Mercer was certain of that. “And I don't blame him, really. But... even if he had taken her all the way to her room, there was still the possibility that she could have been taken from inside. You've seen the passage in Jeritza's room; who's to say there aren't more of them in the monastery?" It certainly was plausible, all things considered. Like how Rhea seemed to show up out of nowhere sometimes.

“The best thing to do is let Vi be, but we can't let him dwell on it too long, otherwise he'll just make it worse for himself. He needs someone he can rely on, and that's either you or me, right now. Probably both of us, but..." Mercer couldn't be too sure. He shrugged his shoulders.

“We'll give him a couple of days. If he doesn't talk to Thea by her birthday next Friday, we're going to have to give him some choice words of encouragement. That's what friends do, right?"

“Wouldn't have the faintest clue," Teach admitted, just a faint trace of amusement coloring his tone. “I've never had friends before. But it sounds like a good idea to me."

At that point, the girls approached, Sorcha setting Mercer's tray down and her own next to it before sliding onto the bench. “So they finally let you out, huh Thea?" she said, breaking the small loaf of bread on her tray into smaller pieces with her hands. “We all tried to come see you, but for some reason the Knights wouldn't let us in..." she frowned, but quickly smoothed it away from her face, perhaps not wanting to remind their friend of anything unpleasant.

Amalthea frowned slightly, though, at the statement. “Lady Rhea... she didn't want to take another chance and thought it was best that no one see me. At least... until I was fully recovered," she replied, and Mercer knew a forced smile when he saw one. Senka had placed Cyril's tray in front of him, and took a seat next to Amalthea, perhaps to keep her from being alone.

“But I'm glad I get to see most of my friends," even if the one she really wanted to see was having a difficult time. Mercer wondered if this was how he made Sorcha feel during those days she was recovering.

“We're just glad they finally let you go," Mercer stated, taking a drink out of his cup. Hopefully things would go back to being slightly normal now that she was out. It felt strange having their strange little group missing its happiest member. Now, they were missing their grumpy fish of a person. Mercer snorted softly at the thought, though it looked to the others that he was drinking too fast and choked. Sorcha gave him a perplexed look and struck his back once, but the others mostly just ignored it.

As Thea had wound up between Senka and Teach, the latter was able to easily raise a hand to her head and pat gently there before withdrawing it. “Sorcha's been keeping notes for you; if you're feeling up to returning to class tomorrow we'd be happy to see you there."

Sorcha, seemingly a tad embarrassed at being flatly called out for doing that, cleared her throat. “Oh! Also," she said, half-smiling at Thea. “I hear this month's your birthday. What would you like to do to celebrate?"

Thea seemed to brighten at the statement, and for the first time, Mercer was able to see her smile something genuine. “Oh, I completely forgot!" she stated, causing Mercer to chuckle lightly. How could she have forgotten her own birthday? He supposed it was possible, considering this was Thea, however; he leaned forward so that his cheek was pressed against his palm, and he regarded her.

“I bet Thea wants to go on a nice little picnic with a certain grumpy person," he stated, giving her a light grin and watched as Thea's face, flushed. Senka gave him a blank stare, though.

“Why would she possibly want to go on a picnic with you when we are far superior company?" Was Senka teasing him? Her brow was slightly raised, almost in a challenging manner. Oh, he could answer that challenge.

“Because it's obvious she likes me more than anyone at this table," which wasn't a complete lie. Vridel wasn't here, so he could make that claim. Amalthea merely shook her head, though, the color on her face deepening.

“Oh, no! That's... I wouldn't mind spending time with all of you. Together, that is," she sputtered. “It's just... this is the first year I have friends to celebrate it with. It's always... it was always just me and Lyanna," she continued, her smile softening as she glanced at everyone at the table. “If... if they'll allow it, I'd like to visit the trails around the monastery. Outside, that is. I... I don't get to spend much time on the outside and... I'd really like to, this time."

“Walking trails, you mean? Like a hike or something? Or a ride?" Sorcha tilted her head, apparently studiously ignoring Mercer in the wake of his claim about being better-liked by Thea than anyone else at the table. It might have even been the slightest bit of cold shoulder, though the exact reason wasn't obvious if so.

“Either way I think that could make for a good lunch out as well," Teach noted, rather unfazed by the banter. Then again, he was like that with most everything. “Picnic? That's what it's called, isn't it?"

“A picnic sounds nice!" Amalthea stated as she nodded her head towards Teach. She turned towards Sorcha after that, and smiled. “And it's a riding trail. I thought that... maybe we could all go on a ride, and maybe take some of the animals from Barn C to stretch their legs. I'm sure Lady and Sir would love to fly around the trails as well. I hear that the view from above is really beautiful. The two of you can enjoy it for me!" She turned her attention to Mercer and Sorcha at that statement.

Mercer blinked slowly before he turned towards Sorcha. “Of course we can do that. But wouldn't you like to ride on Sir, or even Lady, and see it for yourself?" he asked. He wouldn't mind, especially if the view was as beautiful as she claimed it to be. Amalthea shook her head, though.

“I'm afraid of heights. So, if you two can see it for me, and describe it, I'm sure it'll be just as lovely," was her simple explanation.

“As long as Sorcha's alright with it, I'm alright with it."

“I—" Sorcha seemed to be stuck in a rather awkward position, considering, but after a moment she sighed quietly and smiled a little bit at Thea. “Of course we can. But if you change your mind, let us know. We can fly low if you prefer."

Teach snorted softly, apparently amused by something if the faint flicker of a smile on his face was anything to go by. He shot a conspiratorial look at Senka, too, for whatever reason.

Senka was smiling in a strange way, and it looked almost like she wanted to laugh. “You guys are so weird," Mercer muttered against his cup as he took another drink. “But if that's what the lady wants, then that's what the lady gets. It's her birthday, after all, and we can only be compliant friends," he added.

“I think I agree with you, for once," Senka finally spoke, her eyes narrowed softly as she smiled.

All they had to do, now, was convince Vridel to come.


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 - Wyvern Moon - Sunday the 5th
Courtyard - Early Afternoon - Clear
Sorcha Blaiddyd

Though the weather was rapidly cooling these days, many of the students of Garreg Mach were enjoying the outdoors, perhaps cognizant that it would not be too much longer before winter's chill forced them mostly back indoors. Sorcha, for her part, wasn't even close to bothered by it yet, but then she'd grown up in Fhirdiad, sometimes called the 'winter city' for the fact that it tended to be covered in a blanket of snow from about this time of year to well into Lone Moon. Nearly half the year, most times.

She wasn't actually sure if it snowed this far south, but she assumed it must. Even Vivi had known what snow was when she met him, and he was from the the Empire.

Humming to herself, she settled the blanket on the ground, placing the basket of muffins in the middle as before. She'd invited Sen and Thea to try the latest delivery of baked goods from Lady Cornelia, which seemed to be just about every variation of muffin she could imagine. She wasn't sure she'd be able to work through them all by herself before they went stale anyway, so the help of her friends was both welcome and appreciated.

It would also, she thought, help Thea get back into the swing of things. The three of them spent time together pretty often, but it was nice sometimes to really set the time aside to make sure it happened. There were a lot of things to do, after all—this month, the entire house was preparing for the Battle of Eagle and Lion, and Sorcha could admit to herself that she had a powerful desire to win it. They'd been told that there would be no teachers participating this time, not even Professor Cyril, and so it would be up to the house leaders to, well, lead.

She didn't think she was very good at it. In fact, she could name a few times where Sen had successfully gotten everyone to follow a plan, especially in the last two missions. But Sen was talented and amazing and pretty much perfect, and Sorcha was... Sorcha. She had to step up, or she'd never be the Queen she was hoping to become. And honestly she couldn't help but see the Battle of Eagle and Lion as the best chance she had to make it happen. The Blue Lions had a bit of an advantage—the majority of the school's most battle-ready students were part of it. But Vivi and Mercer weren't the kinds of opponents anyone could sleep on, either. She had her work cut out for her.

At the moment, though, she wanted a chance to not think about that.

It wasn't long before Amalthea appeared with Senka in tow. It seemed Senka was smiling about something Amalthea had said, and Amalthea was smiling as well. When her eyes landed on Sorcha, though, Thea waved excitedly and hurried her way towards Sorcha, pulling Senka by her hand behind her.

“Sorcha!" Thea greeted as she plopped down near Sorcha, but not before giving her an awkward hug. When she pulled away she moved so that she was sitting across from Sorcha, and Senka took the seat in between them. “It's so pretty today. I'm glad you invited me out," Thea spoke once she seemed to get comfortable.

“Of course," Sorcha replied, smiling easily. That seemed to be happening to her more often lately; she could find her smile without struggling for it, and it could be bigger than the little half-one she used to show most often. She supposed these last months had been good for her, in some ways. Good enough that she'd take it with the bad and count herself pretty lucky overall, at least. “Lady Cornelia sent muffins this time; I'm sure there will be something you like in here." She flipped the lid of the basket open, letting both of the others make their selection before she made hers: a lemon one, with little poppy seeds on.

“Did you get permission for the trail ride, by the way?" she asked, hoping their plans for Thea's birthday wouldn't be thwarted. She'd mentioned talking to her sister yesterday, but Sorcha wasn't sure how that had gone.

“I did! Lyanna agreed to let us do the trail ride as long as she could supervise. I haven't spent a birthday without her, but I hope it's alright with everyone. I haven't had the chance to tell... everyone, yet," she faltered for a moment, her eyes softening before she smiled again. “And these muffins look delicious! I hope you don't mind if I take two!" she stated, reaching into the basket to pull out two muffins. One looked to be the same one as Sorcha's, but the other seemed to be a bran muffin.

Senka chuckled lightly and pulled out a blueberry muffin, seemingly satisfied with it as she took a bite before Amalthea turned her attention towards her. “How is everything going with Duke Goneril, Sen? You said that the two of you were going to keep in touch with letters, right?" The question seemed to catch Senka off guard since she inhaled and choked on a piece of her muffin. Once she managed to clear her throat, she glanced towards Amalthea.

“It seems to be going well," she replied, sighing softly with a gentle smile. “He spoke last that he would be sending something for you, Thea, that he hopes will aid in your recovery. It hasn't arrived, yet, but I'm sure it'll arrive soon," she continued, taking another bite from her muffin.

“Oh, that was nice of him. He didn't have to, though. I'm fine! I... wasn't harmed or anything. I just... I don't remember, really, what happened. The last thing I remember was going to my room, and then the next, I was in the infirmary," Thea murmured softly, taking a bite out of her bran muffin.

Sorcha felt herself frown slightly, tilting her head to the side and pausing in her eating to consider that. “That's such a long time to be unconscious," she said, a little worry seeping through her tone. “I'm surprised you didn't dehydrate or something." It had to be that whoever had kept her captive had looked after her somehow. She couldn't get herself to picture Professor Jeritza doing it, somehow. And then there was that other girl.

“I wonder if Monica remembers anything. She was gone for close to a year." More like eight months, but still. There was also no explanation for why they'd taken anyone else to begin with. If it was Thea's special blood that was the reason... did Monica have it, too? If so, why take another? Something was off, and Sorcha couldn't put her finger on it.

Still, those were thoughts for later, maybe. For now, her focus should be on her friends. “Anyway, I'm glad you're all right. Everyone was really worried about you." She said it gently; it wasn't meant to make her feel guilty, after all.

“I know... and I'm sorry I caused everyone to worry. I'd take it all back if I could," Thea confessed softly. Senka merely sighed and shook her head.

“It was no fault of your own, Thea. There... are things that happen that we have no control over. We're just glad that we were able to find you, safe and alive," Senka stated, offering Thea an empathetic smile. Amalthea returned it in kind, and glanced in Sorcha's direction.

“Well, those thoughts are souring the mood. Let's talk about something else!" she stated happily, resuming her vigor in eating her muffins. She brushed a few crumbs from her shirt before turning her attention back to Sorcha. “And what about you, Sorcha? How is your engagement working out with Mercer?" The way she stated it, made it sound like she didn't believe it was a sham.

Sorcha made a soft noise, unsure exactly what it sounded like, but hoping her discomfort wasn't too obvious. Drawing her knees up towards her chest, she smoothed the trousers she was wearing. On days off, when she didn't have to wear the uniform skirt, she really preferred not to. Brushing nonexistent dirt off them, she shrugged. “It's not... a real engagement, Thea. We don't have any intention to marry each other. We couldn't anyway, if we were both going to rule our countries." While it would no doubt disappoint plenty of people to hear it, Sorcha didn't intend to give up her throne, and she knew Mercer cared about his as well—probably both of them, though she had no idea how he was planning to work that one out.

“He did it to help me out. So I wouldn't have to marry someone else. This way, we can just be 'engaged' until I take over from the King-Regent, and then no one will be able to tell me what to do. It might be protection for him in the same kind of way, though I'm not sure he has the same problem."

Thea's smile faltered at the declaration. “Oh, well why couldn't you merge the two of them together? Fódlan used to be a unified place; wouldn't it be possible that the Leicester Alliance and Faerghus could become one if the two of you did get married?" she asked. Senka shook her head, though.

“It's not as simple as that, Thea. Faerghus has one ruler, the king or queen, while the Alliance is made up of ruling houses. The von Riegan household just happens to be the current leader, but it would come down to the Alliance agreeing to merge," and everyone knew that wasn't a possibility.

“And besides, real or not, I do believe Mercer is genuine in his intentions to at least save Sorcha from being in an unhappy engagement." Amalthea seemed to consider the information as she regarded Sorcha.

“I really thought that Mercer liked you, though," she muttered, causing Senka to smile at Sorcha empathetically.

“I'm sure he does, but in a different way than you like Vridel," Senka stated, drawing the attention from Sorcha, it seemed, in an attempt to save her from any other statements. Amalthea blushed lightly as she glanced at the ground.

It was a merciful thing to do, but it also... stung, somehow, to hear in such plain terms. Sorcha couldn't sort her own feelings out on the matter, honestly. Part of her—part of her wished it was real, and she couldn't be certain exactly why. Probably that silly part of her that had read too many stupid stories and just wanted to be loved like that. Wanted to be wanted, she supposed.

I would want you.

She felt her face heating. What on earth possessed him to say something like that? Had he no idea how crazy she felt, the way that single phrase popped into her head every time the topic come up? How maddening it was that she didn't understand what conditions would satisfy the would? Mercer didn't have feelings for her, she knew. It would be cruel to expect him to act like he did, but couldn't he have just left her with something less ambiguous? If he had she could quash whatever silly things she was thinking about, maybe.

Almost angrily, she took a bite from her muffin and chewed. Somehow, Lady Cornelia's treats always managed to relax her a bit. It wasn't like she still had feelings for him either! She was just a stupid romantic personality who couldn't help but think about things like that. It was the idea that she liked so much, of being loved by someone. Right?

She was thinking herself in circles. Swallowing, she sighed harshly and shook her head as if she could fling the thoughts right out. “He's... a good friend," she said firmly. “But that's all." Chewing over another bite, she added, “Sen, did you ever figure out what Duke Goneril was talking about when he said you liked someone else? Do you?"

Sorcha kind of had a suspicion, actually, but she wasn't totally sure about it. They were both kind of hard to read.

“I... have not, no," Senka replied, furrowing her brows in Sorcha's direction. “And I'm not sure if like is the right word," she added, taking a slow bite from her muffin. “I enjoy everyone's company, especially when I'm with the two of you, but... I don't think there's anyone who stands out in particular," she continued once she'd swallowed her bite. Amalthea seemed interested, though, by something as she glanced at Senka.

“Are you sure? Because the way the both of you explained it to me was that it is someone you enjoy being with the most," she stated, causing Senka to purse her lips into a fine line.

“I do enjoy spending time with Vridel. He is the reason I am able to excel in my magic, but I also enjoy spending time with Cyril," she mused out loud. Amalthea smiled brightly as if she'd figured something out.

“Out of all of us, you're the only one who calls Professor by his first name. Why is that, Senka?" she asked. Senka gave her a flat stare.

“Because we are friends. I call all of my friends by their first name. Why would he be any different?"

Sorcha huffed softly; well there was some evidence for her hypothesis anyway. Then again, Senka seemed to be even slower to pick up on it than Thea was, if that exchange was anything to go by. Sorcha knew her friend—feelings weren't always the easiest thing for Sen to sort out. They had that much in common. Plus it was sure to be complicated, considering that the Professor was... well, a professor on top of all the other things.

She figured it might be best to give Sen a little time to figure things out before she started teasing her about it. Though there was one thing that amused her. “...Didn't you give him the cold shoulder for three days when that Violet lady propositioned him? Even after he said no!"

“Of course I did," she replied, though there was something bitter in her tone. Amalthea seemed to pick up on it, if the smile on her face was anything to go by. “It was..." she didn't seem to know the word she wanted to use, and huffed lightly before unceremoniously shoving the rest of her muffin in her mouth. It was, perhaps, to keep her from saying anything. Amalthea giggled lightly.

“It's alright to admit you were jealous, Senka. Like you told me, it's alright to have a crush on someone, even if it is Professor." That statement alone seemed to have a strange effect on Sen as a light blush appeared on her face, even against the swarthy hues of her tone.

“I do not think of Cyril that way..." she sounded defensive, though. “He's..." she didn't finish the sentence, though.

Sorcha felt a smile spreading over her face, and disguised it by stuffing the last of her muffin in her mouth, giving herself time to formulate a plan. She'd never really had an opportunity like this before—to tease a friend about a crush. It was a novel experience, and one she thought she might enjoy.

As for how to go about it, she had a couple of very excellent role models. There was Sen herself, of course, who teased people way more than she let on, but also Vivi and Mercer, who could both be absolutely terrible when they wanted to. She tried to think of how they'd handle this, then swallowed and went for it.

“He's what?" she sing-songed. “He's handsome, to be sure. Very nice face, definitely in good shape." She narrowed her eyes, saying something that wasn't strictly true in hopes of provoking a reaction. “His eyes are gorgeous, though his hair looks a bit rough, I suppose."

“It is, in fact, not rough. He has surprisingly soft hair for someone who has led his lifestyle," Senka spoke almost immediately and defensively, pursing her lips together at Sorcha. Amalthea's shoulders began shaking, but she covered her mouth in an attempt to suppress a laugh, it seemed. “And you are not wrong. He has handsome features, but his eyes... there's something about them. They're... almost soft, and always seem so focused. They almost appear to glow in some instances," she continued, her facial features softening as she counted off what appeared to be features of the professor.

“His smile is the most beautiful thing, though. Have you seen him smile, before? A genuine, full smile?" she asked, seeming genuine in her statements as she glanced at Sorcha.

Not only had Sen fallen into the trap, she was actually waxing lyrical about the Professor now. The plan had worked better than Sorcha thought it would, and she couldn't help being just a little proud of herself, in addition to quite amused. There was something else, too, a warmer happiness, felt she thought on behalf of Senka. The way her face softened like that... it was a really beautiful thing. If she let it blossom, the feeling that provoked it, well... who knew what could happen?

“I don't think I have," she noted. By this point, their class and their group had seen small smiles on the Professor's face—and Sen was right that they were quite striking. But what she described sounded quite different indeed. “Maybe that's something he's only ever shown you."

“It must be, since I've never seen them, either," Amalthea stated, taking a slow bite out of another muffin she'd grabbed from the basket. “You're really lucky if that's the case, Senka. I'm sure we'll all get to see it one day, but you should be selfish about it for the time being." That seemed enough of a response to cause Senka to roll her eyes and shake her head.

“Perhaps," she stated softly, her hand reaching up to play with the pin in her hair. She'd worn it almost religiously since she'd received it. Sorcha hadn't ever seen her without it, at least. “But I know what you are trying to do, and it is not going to work. Cyril is just a friend; I don't think of him that way. It's... safer, for me," she spoke the last words in a hushed voice that only Sorcha could hear. Senka was, at least, still smiling. She didn't quite seem to believe her own words, and perhaps that was a good thing?

Sorcha smiled softly; she had an idea where the pin had come from, too, but for now she was content to let it be. “Yeah, but safe is boring," she replied, letting herself grin a bit. Plus she really doubted the Professor himself would ever be anything other than safe, for any of them, and that left only third parties, whose opinions hardly counted when it came to things like this.

Still, for the moment she was content to drop it, plucking another muffin—a chocolate and orange one this time—from the basket.

“It must be why Thea likes Vridel, so much," Senka stated in way of reply, her eyes moving towards Amalthea who had shoved an entire muffin into her mouth with a blush on her face. “And why you like Mercer so much," Senka was at least kind enough to whisper that part to Sorcha, having leaned over to do so.

Sorcha had to work not to choke on her muffin, halfway to arguing before she settled for a glare instead. She didn't want to have the debate before she even knew if Sen was wrong, though her every instinct was to deny it. Maybe because of how much it would hurt, if it were true.

“We all know how Vridel is, and safe isn't quite a word I would use to describe him."

“Hey, that's not entirely true! He's actually very safe and very skilled, I'll have you know!" Amalthea finally stated, turning almost beet red at the declaration. That seemed to be enough to cause Senka to laugh.

“Skilled?" Sorcha repeated with a snort. “In this context that sounds like you mean he's good at..." she paused, widening her eyes for dramatic effect. “Thea, are you trying to tell us that Vivi is a good kisser?" She feigned scandal at the thought, though she was almost certain it was nothing of the sort.

She'd been around her stepbrother enough to know the dazed look that people he'd recently kissed often wore, and long enough to guess that there was often more than kissing involved, though she'd never asked him about it directly.

At first, Thea seemed confused, however; the statement seemed to finally dawn on her, and her entire face turned red. “What? No, no!! I've... we've," she stuttered as she tried to compose herself. “I've never kissed Vridel! I mean... I don't mean to say I haven't—er, never mind," she couldn't seem to face either Sorcha or Senka at that.

Senka smiled gently, though, and laid a hand on Amalthea's shoulder. “It's a natural thing to want to do, Thea. Kissing someone you like is just a way to convey how you feel. You should take the initiative, next time you see Vridel if you want him to know." Thea only continued to blush.

“Maybe you should take your own advice, Sen," Sorcha replied, narrowing her eyes with mirth. It was kind of fun, actually, how this kind of teasing and banter could be something they threw around equally and in fun, even if sometimes the advice was serious. There was a certain... camaraderie to it, really. “I bet Professor Cyril knows what he's doing in that area." She arched an eyebrow, then grinned.

“And teaching's what he does best, right?"

Senka shook her head, and regarded Sorcha with a flat look. “And I'm sure Mercer knows a little more than just how to kiss someone."

Sorcha felt herself flush, but she wasn't going to go down that easy. Not this time. “I dunno about that; I tried it once and he didn't really react much." She didn't let herself think about that, really, because it was yet more evidence that he didn't have feelings, but in this verbal bout, it was good ammunition.

She sniffed imperiously, and took another bite of her muffin.

“Knowing you, it was a kiss on the cheek. Of course he wouldn't react much," Senka retorted, rolling her eyes but smiled regardless. “You should try kissing him here, next time," she stated, leaning over so that she was able to gently grab Sorcha's chin, and traced Sorcha's lips with her thumb.

“Otherwise he'll always think it wasn't much." She pulled away abruptly after that.

Sorcha outright pouted at her friend, face forming a dissatisfied moue. You'd appreciate it, right?" She batted her eyelashes in a comically-exaggerated fashion. While she'd never had much opinion about whether someone she loved should be a man, woman, or someone else, she certainly thought of Senka as family too much to actually develop such feelings. In a way though, that made silliness like this safe, something she could do and know it was only in fun.

“Of course I would."

“Really if a kiss on the cheek does nothing for him, then I doubt the other kind would either." She shrugged, impressed with the nonchalance of her tone. Maybe she could move past this weird tangle of feelings, even with the ambiguity. That would surely be for the best.

“That said, Thea, when you go for it with Vivi make sure it's on the mouth. He's an idiot so you have to make it really clear you want him. He probably thinks you're too sheltered to really think about him that way, or some stupid other boy thing."

Thea had been hiding her hands in her face the entire time Senka and Sorcha were talking, and finally glanced up at Sorcha. “Oh, but... I really, I don't think I can."

“You'll never know until you try, Thea," Senka stated, biting into another muffin in a nonchalant fashion.

“Friends are the worst."

“Only when they're looking out for your best interests."

Amalthea smiled.


Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Wednesday the 8th
Near Jeralt's Office - Early Afternoon - Cloudy
Senka Rinaldi

Senka stared out across the bridge that lead to the cathedral for a second, narrowing her eyes before she turned to make her way towards Jeralt's office. Cyril was proving a bit difficult to find; today was their day for kitchen duty, but Senka had thought of something she wanted to do for Thea. Since Amalthea admitted she couldn't cook, or bake very well, Senka thought it would be nice to show her a couple of things so that Thea could practice. She had a recipe that Thea could learn that was relatively easy, and could satisfy Vridel's strange obsession with tomatoes. He seemed to like those, though Senka couldn't fathom why. She didn't dislike tomatoes. On the contrary, she actually liked them, but not to that degree.

Perhaps, though, Cyril was visiting his father? If he wasn't, then perhaps Jeralt knew where he was? Either way, Senka was going to find him, and share her idea with him. Once she made it to the second floor, she passed Manuela's office, and then Hanneman's who waved at her. She waved back, smiling softly at him as Manuela lounged in his chair. It looked like they were having a meeting of some sort. It might have just been her, but she thought they made a rather lovely couple. They seemed to balance each other out in the strangest of ways, but it was easy to tell how much they genuinely cared about each other. Even if they weren't romantically inclined, they were still friends.

Pushing an unnecessary thought from her mind, she approached Jeralt's office, and knocked on the frame. “Captain Jeralt," she called out, moving so that she was standing in front of the door frame. “Are you currently busy?" she asked, waiting until he invited her in. She couldn't see the room, entirely, from where she stood, so it was possible Cyril was there, but couldn't be seen.

Jeralt waved her in, but he seemed to be in the middle of speaking. When Senka entered, it became clear that the other person was, in fact, Cyril. He was leaning against the far wall, clearly paying attention to his father, but his eyes diverted when she came in, locking with hers for a moment before he gave her a slow nod.

“There's unease on the western side of the Empire," Jeralt said, clearly picking up a former conversational thread. Cyril's eyes shifted back to him. “But everything east of Enbarr is stable." He paused, then amended, lifting a hand to pinch the bridge of his nose. “Well, there was actually a noble uprising a short while ago, but it didn't amount to much, you know how that goes."

Cyril nodded as if he did in fact know. “What seems to be the problem in the west?" he asked.

Jeralt shrugged. “The usual. Bandits everywhere. Nobles plotting. I hear Brigid's making some noises too but I doubt anything will come of it. The Emperor's sick, and since the Insurrection, not a strong authority figure. It means everyone else is always squabbling over the top spot. Making blood sport out of soldiers and mercs, as always."

With a soft hum, Cyril uncrossed his arms from in front of his chest. “Will you be going with us to Gronder?"

Jeralt shook his head. “I'd like to, but I've got my own mission this month. The Church has always been quick to make use of those who work for them." He said it wryly, but there was a strange edge to it, one that made Cyril straighten slightly, pushing away from the wall to stand properly.

The Knights' Captain paused, then looked for the first time to Senka, then back to Cyril. “How much do you—" he started to ask, but Cyril was quicker to answer.

“Absolutely," he said.

The certainty almost seemed to catch Jeralt off guard. “That much, huh?" he mused. “Well... I trust your judgement, kid. What I was going to say is I'm more interested in figuring out who's pulling the strings here. Ever since the Rite of Rebirth, strange groups have been seen around Garreg Mach, and elsewhere too. There was also an incident where some Knights investigating these suspicious strangers turned up dead."

He frowned, regarding Cyril solemnly for a moment. “Not that it's likely, but if something like that ever happens to me... search this room. Every shelf. Behind every corner. I'm going to leave something for you."

Cyril snorted softly. “More likely you'll pull them out at the roots and drag them all back here by the hair," he said with a touch of amusement. His eyes, though... Senka had seen his eyes when he was genuinely feeling mirth, and they didn't look like that now. Rather, they were utterly serious.

Jeralt's were almost the same as he gave a short bark of laughter. “Like I said... unlikely. I'm just being cautious." He huffed softly, shaking his head. “Anyway, girls this pretty don't show up at my office for me, so I'm assuming you're slacking at your job. Get back to work, kid." He smiled a bit at Senka, clearly only teasing rather than attempting to come onto her.

“Watch it, old man," Cyril replied, actually a touch humorous this time. “If you make my students uncomfortable I'll have to get in your face, father or not."

Senka couldn't help the small smile that crossed her features, and shook her head. “I doubt Captain Jeralt could ever make any of us uncomfortable," she spoke, glancing towards Jeralt and offering him a small smile. “But I wouldn't say that, though, Captain. I'm sure you've had your fair share of female admirers, or even male for that matter. Otherwise I wouldn't have Cyril," she paused for a second, before continuing, “as a professor. We are grateful to you, for that."

She turned her attention towards Cyril, though. “I am afraid I must steal Cyril away, though. It is our turn for kitchen duty and there are a few things I'd like to run by him, first."

Jeralt laughed aloud, making a vague shooing motion with his hand. “All right, all right. Get gone, you two. I have work to do."

Cyril huffed quietly, but did gesture for Senka to precede him out of the room. Once they were in the hallway and headed for the stairs down, he fell into step next to her instead of behind. “Something in particular you wanted to ask about?" he inquired, customarily mild.

Senka nodded her head. “There is. It's about Thea. Her birthday is coming up, and she's been a little unhappy these last few days. I am not entirely sure of the root cause, but..." She paused as she pursed her lips together. “Actually, I need to ask Captain Jeralt something. Will you mind waiting for me, here?" she asked, pausing in her steps and glancing towards Cyril. The mentioning of Amalthea's birthday caused Senka to briefly wonder when his was, or if it had already passed. Jeralt was the best person to ask since she didn't want to ask Cyril. That would mean he would know that she wanted to ask the others to plan something for him, as well.

It was becoming a habit of theirs, it seemed. Planning birthdays either with the person's knowledge, or without. And since Cyril was their professor, she was certain that the others would like to surprise him with it. She certainly did.

Cyril nodded, and halted where he'd been walking, apparently content to do as she'd asked and wait.

Back in his office, Jeralt looked up at her second approach. He was sitting behind his desk now, working on a stack of documents. “What did he do?" he asked with an exaggerated sigh.

“Nothing, I assure you," she replied, giving him a small smile. “I just remembered there was something I've been meaning to ask you," she continued, pausing only for a moment to take a small breath. “I've been meaning to ask if you knew when Cyril's birthday is. We'd like to celebrate it with him, but..." they didn't know when it was.

“I didn't want to ask him, personally, though. We... well, I would like it to be a surprise for him. And as a way of showing him how grateful we are to have him as our professor."

Jeralt arched an eyebrow at that, looking slightly skeptical of something, but a small smile played over his face a moment later. “He was born on the last day of the year," Jeralt said simply. He paused a moment, then tilted his head.

“He's never been one to get close to people," he added after a moment. “But he's different with you. Is he... getting along with everyone?"

Senka wasn't entirely sure what he meant by that, different with you, but she chose not to linger on it, and instead, nodded her head. “He is," she replied, smiling somewhat to herself. “He makes it easy to forget, sometimes, that he is our professor, and not one of the students. Everyone thinks very highly of him, I think, and we've all come to regard him as a close and dear friend. I would hope he would think the same of us," but she could understand if he didn't. She could feel her face smooth out as she smiled.

“I know I do. He's helped me in more ways than I could ever hope to repay him for. He's... he helped me find my smile again, and..." she paused to regard Jeralt, “I think he's helped me find something worth, well... worth living for." She'd never really confessed that to anyone, before, but Captain Jeralt was Cyril's father, and she trusted him.

“Huh." The sound escaped Jeralt more as an exhalation than a statement; a smile tugged at the corner of his mouth. “Maybe he's more like his mother than I thought," he replied, though it seemed to be just as much to himself as to her.

Looking down at this papers, he seemed to be suppressing something, perhaps an emotion. “You take care, Senka," he continued in a low, gruff voice. “Thanks for looking out for him."

“You as well, Captain," she replied, turning to leave, but stopped. “And thank you, for telling me," she spoke before she made her way back to where Cyril was waiting. When she approached, she offered him a smile, and motioned for him to continue following her. Once she was certain he was, she cleared her throat softly.

“I was thinking that, perhaps, the both of us could teach Thea a little on how to cook. The two of us are on kitchen duty, but I thought it would be nice to show her a few things, especially things that contain tomatoes in them," she finally stated, glancing towards Cyril. Kitchen duty had always produced a rather large crowd whenever Cyril and Senka cooked, however; she knew a few of the students who were regulars, wouldn't be able to make it. There were certifications this month and a few of them wanted to pass them this time.

It would leave the dining hall rather empty, or at least she hoped it would.

Cyril didn't need more than a moment to consider it before he nodded. “Of course. Is she already waiting there?"

“She is," Senka replied. She'd asked Amalthea, earlier, to meet them in the kitchen. Amalthea, excitedly, agreed to do so. Senka hadn't told her what they were going to do, though, but she supposed Amalthea would agree to it regardless. “I've neglected to tell her the types of dishes we'll be making, though. I do not believe she would have agreed so willingly if she knew for whom she was cooking for," Senka added, glancing at Cyril from the corner of her eye.

“Ah, is this for Vridel?" Cyril nodded sagely, like he understood the issue at hand. “That's rather calculated of you." If anything, this seemed to amuse him, though.

Senka smiled and nodded her head. “She just needs a gentle reminder that she can do things for him to show him her feelings."


Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Friday the 10th
Garreg Mach Graveyard - Midafternoon - Overcast
Cyril Eisner

“You're dismissed; well done." Cyril neatened the stack of papers in front of him—essays proposing battle strategies for a mock scenario he'd set up and had the students work through last week. This afternoon he'd been instructing the Golden Deer, as was typical of Thursdays. Setting them aside on his desk, he gave a small nod to Sofia and Deirdre as they filed out, packing up the small number of other supplies he'd brought with him to move back next door.

It was also customary to spend a bit of time with Mercer immediately afterward, working on sword form. Cyril doubted the head of this particular house really wanted others to know how hard he practiced to keep his skills up, which was why he'd never mentioned it, but it was sort of just the expected thing now, for what he'd do with the next two hours before dinner.

“I've got to drop these off in the Lions' classroom," he said simply. “But we can head over after that if you like."

“Sure thing, Teach," Mercer replied, yawning a bit. The yawn was mostly for show, as Cyril had learned, since Mercer always appeared to be sleeping in class. Even if he wasn't actually sleeping, it seemed to be a habit for Mercer. “I think I want to practice on throwing my sword," he stated, grinning in his usual way. “I think it'd make a great distraction," he continued before shrugging his shoulders.

“I'm not into the close and personal thing like you and Sylvi are, but people are bound to be a little afraid of a sword being chucked at them, right? It'll give me the chance to escape." His grin inched just a little wider.

Cyril blinked slowly at him, just suppressing a roll of his eyes. Gathering the other papers back up, he stepped out from behind the desk. “I think it's probably more dangerous in your hands than flying through the air," he replied drolly. He'd been making a point to teach all of his students at least the fundamentals of weaponless combat—if he had anything to say about it they'd all graduate with an upper-D cert at least, but that was something to be concerned with later down the line.

When they'd reached the Blue Lion classroom, Cyril found a messenger waiting, her hands clasped neatly together in front of her. When he raised an eyebrow, she bowed promptly and spoke. “Professor Eisner. Lady Lyanna has requested that you locate your father and inform him that she wishes to speak with him at his earliest convenience."

Cyril's brows drew down. He had to assume the messengers could not locate his father, else they'd have simply brought him the request directly. He nodded absently and the messenger took her cue to leave. He in fact knew where his father was today, but not exactly how to get there. Setting his papers down, he sighed quietly and turned to Mercer.

“I don't suppose you know where the monastery graveyard is? It seems I need to make another stop before practice."

“It's right past the knights' hall," Mercer replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “If you want, I can show you the way. After all, it'd be irresponsible of you, Teach, to shirk your duty as my sparring partner today," he stated, offering Cyril a lopsided grin.

“And we all know how much I'd love that, but... well, I suppose I should get some practice in today before Sorcha decides she wants to have a go with the bow." He didn't seem put off by the idea, though, and was smiling somewhat. It wasn't his usual grin, either. This smile was more gentle, something that might have accidentally slipped through his mask.

Cyril refrained from teasing him about it, though the temptation was certainly there. Instead he nodded his acceptance of the offer, heading in the general direction of the Knights' Hall. “How is that going, by the way?" he asked. “The engagement? I admit I don't really understand how nobility does things most of the time but I understand that it's a kind of protection for both of you, or something to that effect?"

Mercer sighed heavily and ran a hand through his hair. “Engagements are always tricky business with nobles, especially with those considered royalty," he began, dropping his hand to his side. “And I did it to protect her, mostly. You understand the need to protect someone close to you, right, Teach? The Alliance doesn't really need me, yet, so I wouldn't have had to worry about having some arrangement for me. Sorcha, though, this will at least keep her from being engaged to someone like Gloucester." He visibly shuddered at the statement.

“At least until she's old enough to take the throne and not have anyone tell her who she has to marry for whatever reason. Our engagement is pretty much just a sham," His brows furrowed, though, and his jaw seemed to tighten. “No one knows that better than I do."

Cyril considered this for a moment. He did understand wanting to protect someone, now. It was something his students had taught him, though it applied more widely than even them, now. He hadn't really thought of his father, for example, as someone who needed protecting before, when the world was battlefields and little else. Now, though...

He forced the thought away, concentrating on what Mercer had said. “A sham?" he repeated, tilting his head slightly. “So you offered it dishonestly?"

Mercer shook his head. “Our engagement was an accident because of the stone I gave to her when we were kids. It turned out to be an advantage in the case of Gloucester, but..." he paused for a moment, as if trying to think of what he wanted to say, “the sham that is our engagement isn't quite like that. While it wasn't offered dishonestly, it wasn't offered honestly, either. Like I said, it was a way to protect her. And this was the only way I could do it. If I did ever offer it honestly, it's not something to be taken lightly."

“The Alliance members would try to use it to their advantage to disinherit me, claiming that since Sorcha's Faerghus's future queen, I'd be their king, ergo I'm not needed as the next Alliance Leader. I'm not certain how it would play out in Faerghus, but I'm sure it wouldn't be as easy, either. For people in our positions, as future leaders, it's not something that can be, regardless of how we might feel about it. So, for now, this protects her, and it at least gives me peace of mind. I'm sure you'd have done the same in my position, right?"

Cyril managed a rather wry expression. “It's a hard position to imagine being in," he admitted. The closest he'd ever been to nobility was working for them, perfunctory exchanges that granted little insight into the way they really lived. “But I think... yes. I would have wanted to protect someone important to me. I'd also want to be true to my feelings, though. I... haven't always had a lot of them, but I suppose that must be why I value the ones I do."

Perhaps putting it that way made him sound strange. Cold, in the way Jeritza had been cold. But that wasn't it. Cyril felt things often enough, he supposed. Those things just didn't always affect him much. Irritation, amusement, even fatigue and pain—he found it easy to ignore them. But lately, he'd felt more... moved, by things. People. He thought perhaps it was a precious gift, to feel strongly about things. One he could not disrespect by ignoring it when it happened.

“If there weren't Faerghus and the Alliance to think about, what would you do?"

Mercer huffed lightly, but seemed to give Cyril's question some thought. “Well, if there weren't the countries to think about, I'd annul our engagement. She's much too bright for me, and I'd only bring her down," Mercer stated, almost surprised by his own words as his eyes widened slightly. He rolled his eyes, though, seemingly to himself, before he pushed out a heavy sigh.

“But she's kind of like a flame that you can't quite resist. Even if I did want to stay away, I think it's a bit too late for that. The only thing is... I'm not sure what she'd want. In the end, that's all that really matters."

Cyril gave this the consideration it deserved, quiet as they approached the graveyard. “I'm not exactly an expert in women, or emotions," he started, “but I find that generally the best way to figure out what someone wants is to ask them." A pause, and then: “but you have time, you know. Things change, including feelings. Maybe by the time you have to worry about making any more decisions, you'll have a better idea how things are. And in the meantime... well it can't be bad, can it? Being attached to someone who draws you that way? Try to enjoy it."

He felt his mouth curl into a faint smile, and reached over to lightly clap Mercer on the shoulder. “Trust me, I have teaching credentials." It was a joke at his own expense, something he thought might not hurt just now.

Mercer laughed, though. “Ah, I see how it is. Let me spill my secrets to you, and all you do is keep yours to yourself. But that's alright, I already know some of them," he stated before he smiled. “Thanks, though, for listening Teach. I've got time; we all have time, so we might as well make the best of it. You should enjoy it too, whatever it is," he added, his smile giving way to his trademark grin as if he knew something Cyril did not.

“Ah, there's Jeralt," Mercer spoke as he pointed out where Jeralt was, indeed, standing. “I'll just wait here while you take care of business."

Cyril was fairly sure he only had the one secret remaining, and much as he trusted his students, he didn't think he was quite ready to share it yet, but he really didn't think that was what Mercer was referring to. Mildly confused, he nodded anyway and headed down the stairs into the small graveyard. His father was standing in front of one of the cornermost graves; furrowing his brows softly, Cyril approached.


Jeralt turned, smiling faintly. “Hey. I wanted to ask you to join me, but you were in class. So here I am. I was thinking we should visit... your mother. She's resting here." He nodded towards the grave.

“Here?" Cyril had always believed his father and mother had met after Jeralt left the Monastery. So why would she be buried here?

His father sighed. “I don't even know where to begin... I suppose I haven't talked much about her." The small smile reappeared as his eyes shifted back down toward the headstone. “She was gentle and smart. So smart. A wonderful cook. Always kind to everyone. And... she loved flowers. Whenever I brought her back an unusual flower, her face would just light up." He exhaled softly. “Like I'd given her the world. I can't count how many times she made me happy just by smiling."

There was a tenderness in his tone that Cyril had never heard before. Not once. He remained silent, almost afraid to break the spell and halt the flow of his father's words. "She smiled the most when you were on the way." He closed his eyes. “She died right after you were born. She was..." he seemed to hesitate. “Unable to spend much time with you." It did not sound to Cyril like the way he'd originally meant to end the sentence. “But she loved you with all her heart. That's the truest thing I know—never forget it."

Cyril let his eyes fall to the stone as well. No name, even.

“Cyrilla," his father said, answering the question without it being asked. “When she died, I—your middle name was originally your first. But I raised you with her name. So you'd have something from her."

Rummaging in his pocket, he picked out a handkerchief, carefully unwrapping it. Inside was a silver ring, inset with red, purple, and blue gems in the shape of flower petals. “This is the only keepsake I have of her," Jeralt said softly. “In time, it will be yours." There was something almost wistful to his expression. “Someday, I hope you'll give it to someone you love as well as I love her."

Love. In the present tense. Cyril felt an ache he couldn't quite put a name to in his heart, for, he thought, his father. Jeralt tucked the ring and the handkerchief away, clearing his throat and straightening a little.

“I'm guessing someone's looking for me, though?" He smile wryly. “I've been away too long for someone with this much work."

“Lyanna," Cyril replied simply.

Jeralt nodded. “Thanks. I'll go see her in a few minutes."

It was obvious enough where he planned to spend those minutes. Raising a hand to his father's shoulder, Cyril squeezed briefly by way of farewell, leaving Jeralt to his thoughts and mounting the stairs once more towards Mercer.

“Sorry for the delay," he said quietly. “I'm ready now."

Mercer arched a brow and nodded his head. “And here I was hoping you'd forgotten about me so I could sneak off," he stated, shaking his head. “Should have known it wouldn't be that easy." He seemed amused, more than anything, and moved so that Cyril could properly move away from the stairs.

“For what it's worth, Teach, I think we all appreciate the things you do for us, even if some of us don't really say it. So, thanks."

Cyril felt a little of the melancholy lift, and a subtle twitch appear at the corner of his mouth. “You're welcome. But don't thank me until you've graduated and something I taught you saves your hide."


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

0.00 INK

I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Friday the 17th
Trails of Garreg Mach - Late Morning - Clear
Amalthea von Kreuz

Today was supposed to be an exciting day for Thea. It was her birthday, but for some reason she couldn't explain, she wasn't enjoying it like she usually did. She was surrounded by her friends, the people she loved, and that should have been enough for her. So why wasn't it? Why did it feel like there was a small grey cloud in her chest that wouldn't let her enjoy the sunshine and warmth of her birthday? The shuddering of her horse caused Thea to focus her vision back in front of her. Professor was slightly ahead on his horse, Sorcha and Mercer were somewhere in the sky. She couldn't really see them through the trees. Senka, however, had been riding close to Thea.

Lyanna seemed to be speaking to the Professor about something ahead; from her sister's serious expression it had to be something of importance, but their voices were low enough that none of it drifted back.

“Happy birthday, Thea," she stated quietly, smiling a bit in Amalthea's direction. Thea returned it, but it seemed to cause Senka's lips to purse into a fine line. “Are you upset?" she asked. Thea shook her head, and smiled.

“I'm not. I'm really enjoying myself, right now, and it's a beautiful morning," Thea replied, giving Senka an unconvincing smile. It wasn't that it was hard to do; it was just something Amalthea was having trouble with, currently. “Don't worry, I promise I'll be fine," she spoke in a reassuring voice. Senka arched a brow, but didn't say anything.

“If that is what you wish," Senka spoke, and remained quiet. Amalthea nodded her head and glanced at her hands, holding onto the reins just a bit tighter. Vridel was the only person who hadn't shown up, and it bothered her a bit. She hadn't spoken to him since what happened, and it wasn't that she didn't want to. He just... he wasn't around as often, and he always seemed to be avoiding her. It hurt to know that the person she liked, even if they didn't know, ignored her like that.

But what hurt the most was that he was her friend, and he wouldn't speak to her. She just wanted to let him know that it wasn't his fault. None of it. She didn't blame him for what happened to her, and she just... she wanted her friend back, if nothing else.

The trail ahead of them opened up into a clearing; the trees parting for an honest-to-goodness meadow, with wildflowers and everything. Slightly to one side of it ran a small, clear creek that probably emptied into the lake; the unseasonably-warm day with all the sunshine gave it a certain haze between summer and autumn, greens blending with gold threads in the grass and the burgeoning flame-oranges and deep reds of the trees.

“What do you think, Thea?" Lyanna asked, looking back over her shoulder with a soft smile. “Does this look like a good place to eat?"

It was enough that Amalthea felt the smile on her face soften enough to feel genuine, and not forced. “It does! It's really beautiful," she replied, glancing out into the meadow. It really was beautiful, and the colors of the wildflowers melded so well together, that Amalthea had a hard time believing it wasn't a painting. “I think this is perfect to have lunch," she continued, nudging her horse forward. When they reached an appropriate spot, Amalthea slid off of her horse, and joined Lyanna.

Senka had already dismounted Libi, sliding his halter off before grabbing a rolled blanket from behind her saddle. She lifted it over her shoulders before making her way to a spot. She unrolled it, and spread it out as Mercer and Sorcha both landed. It looked like Mercer was carrying a couple of baskets with him, perhaps the food, and he waved towards Amalthea and the others. Amalthea waved back before she made her way towards Senka to help her smooth out the blanket so that everyone could fit comfortably on it.

Once that had been done, Mercer placed the baskets down in the middle, before sighing dramatically. “Man, those were heavy," he spoke, but the grin on his face suggested otherwise. Senka gave him a flat look before rolling her eyes. Amalthea laughed lightly as she shook her head at him.

“But that's why we entrusted it to you, Merc. Who else could carry it but you?" Thea stated as Mercer huffed in a proud manner.

“Don't stroke his ego too much, Thea; Sir did most of the work," Sorcha said, grinning at Amathea and shooting her a wink as she settled on one part of the blanket, crossing her legs beneath her. Despite the season, she was still wearing a short-sleeved tunic, this one a soft blue color, with some white embroidery around the neck. She never seemed to dress like a Princess, Sorcha, or even really like a lot of the nobles Thea had seen visiting the monastery.

Cyril and Lyanna took seats, too, her sister draping the fabric of her riding gown carefully to cover her legs. Lyanna on the other hand had always been very elegant and ladylike somehow.

It made Amalthea feel less out of place, though. Senka had always seemed to be the one dressed more as a noble than Sorcha had, though she always seemed to wear pale colors. Like the tunic she was wearing now, a sleeveless light blue trimmed with gold around the neck in a similar fashion to Sorcha's, however; it seemed nicer, and a little more elaborate.

Amalthea had never really dressed like Lyanna, though, preferring something more comfortable and easy to wear, however; as of late, Thea had dressed in nicer tunics and skirts. The one she was currently wearing was white with silver trimmings around the neck, and sleeves, and her black trousers were a little more fitted than usual. While it was still comfortable, it was something that she didn't wear often unless the occasion called for it. Since she was going to be riding today, she elected to wear it rather than the bright orange dress she'd originally planned on wearing.

Mercer, however, huffed lightly at Sorcha's statement. He always seemed to fluctuate between what he wore. Sometimes, it looked like he was very much someone of nobility, and other times, he looked plain. Almost like a commoner, but Amalthea would never tell him that. It'd be rude, she thought. Today, however, he seemed to be dressed in between. His shirt was white in color, but over it, he wore an emerald green short-sleeved coat of sorts. His trousers were an earthy brown, the material seemingly light enough that it didn't seem to bother him with the heat.

“I'm wounded, Sor. I thought you loved me more than Sir?" he stated, causing Amalthea to giggle at his antics. “See, at least Thea still thinks I'm funny."

“I don't think that's what it is, Mercer. She just doesn't want to hurt your feelings."

“Ouch, Sen, I'm offended."

“Good. That's what I was going for."

Amalthea felt her smile inch just a little wider.

While the rest of them had been tossing banter back and forth, Cyril had been laying their lunch out. “Should we do gifts?" he asked, tilting his head slightly.

“Oh, yes, definitely!" Sorcha reached into a pocket, removing something wrapped in tissue paper. “Here you go, Thea. This is from Mercer, Senka, and I." She grinned, settling the thing safely in Thea's hands before leaning back and serving herself some of the food.

Sorcha had found the item at the market several days ago, as Senka recalled, and they'd all agreed that the necklace suited. It was about as close-fitting as a torque, but much lighter and more elegant-looking.

Thea's eyes watered a little at the gift. It was really pretty, beautiful even. “I'm... thank you so much! I love it," she stated, keeping her eyes on the gift. It looked like it was made of nothing but silver, and the part that rested against the back of her neck was roped. The leaves rested just above her clavicle, and she held it there with a shaky hand.

“This is... this is," she spoke, the tears falling from her eyes as she tried to wipe them away. “I'm sorry, this is just... I really like it," she tried to explain. Senka merely smiled at her in a soft way while Mercer just grinned.

“Those are happy tears, Thea. No need to let apologize. It just means we picked out a really good gift for you," Mercer stated as Senka nodded.

“We are glad you like it, Thea. Happy Birthday."

“Yeah, Happy Birthday, Thea!"

Sorcha, Cyril, and Lyanna added their voices to the chorus of well-wishes, and then their Professor stood, jogging back to his horse and removing something rather large from one of the saddlebags. “I apologize for not wrapping it," he said, handing it over to her.

The gift was a book, a leather-bound thing with a slightly-scuffed green cover. Stamped across it in gold lettering were the words Altenburg Tales.

“It's a collection," he explained. “Of folktales and chivalric stories. I found it while we were in Derdriu, and remembered mention that you were interested in that kind of thing." He glanced briefly at Lyanna, but she nodded easily, a little smile playing over her face.

“That's a good collection," she said, looking a little pleased herself. “The Garreg Mach library doesn't have one; they can be tricky to find since they're out of print."

Thea's eyes widened a little as she took the book from Cyril. “Is it... is this really alright for me to have it?" she asked, glancing in Lyanna's direction. She turned her attention back towards Cyril, though, and smiled widely at him. “Thank you so much, Professor! I'll take good care of it, and... and I'll start reading it first thing tonight before bed!" she stated, tracing the book's cover with her finger. This was, by far, her best birthday. Even if one of her friends was missing, and she felt that keenly, her other friends were here, now. And they were making her smile.

“Well, now that that's done, we should all dig in!" Mercer stated.

“Is that all you ever think about: food?"

“We've been through this, Sen, yes. Food is delicious and should not be wasted!" Mercer exclaimed as Senka rolled her eyes. Amalthea giggled lightly as she turned towards Lyanna.

“Thank you for this, sister," she stated, moving over so she could wrap Lyanna in a hug. It was, after all, Lyanna's permission that Amalthea was able to enjoy this day with her friends. She wasn't sure it would have turned out so nice if Lyanna had decided against it, but... Amalthea was glad she didn't.

Lyanna looked almost surprised to be caught up in the embrace, eyes widening for a moment before her entire expression softened and she hugged Thea back, stroking her hair gently. “You're welcome, Thea. I'm–I'm glad I could do that much for you."

A moment later, her arms eased, though, and she made a soft sound of something that might have been amusement. “It looks like someone's here to see you," she murmured, tipping her chin towards the treeline.

And there was Vridel, expression downcast, body language hesitant, but clearly very much there on purpose. When her eyes landed on him, he gestured slightly, seemingly asking her to come towards him.

Thea felt something in her chest, and a strange sensation twisting in her stomach. She was very happy to see him, and she glanced towards the others, briefly. They were all occupied with getting their food, so she nodded at Lyanna, and stood quietly from her spot. She made her way towards Vridel, a large smile forming on her lips as she approached him.

“Vridel, I'm glad... glad that you came," she spoke, stepping in for a hug, however; she stopped herself. It somehow felt as if it wouldn't be appropriate right now, and instead, folded her hands behind her back. She was still smiling at him, though, and her stomach felt like it was doing weird flops. Was she nervous? She felt like she was.

He gave her a slight smile, but honestly it looked more pained than anything. He seemed hesitant to speak, somehow, and took half a breath to hold for several seconds where it was likely he'd originally meant words to go. After a moment, they materialized.

“Would you mind?" he gestured behind him, inviting her to walk, apparently. “I won't keep you from your celebrations long."

“Of course I wouldn't mind!" she replied, feeling the smile on her face soften. “And it's fine if I'm not there for a few moments. I'm with you, so that's all that matters right now," she added, and it was true. She'd always felt safe when she was with Vridel, and being away from her other friends wouldn't hurt them. They were enjoying their food, and she... well, now she felt like this day couldn't get any better. Vridel was here, and he was talking to her, now. And that was, perhaps, the best gift she'd received all day.

She fell in step with him, though, as they walked a bit from the group. It was quiet for a while, but Amalthea didn't mind. It felt comfortable to her, and it didn't matter whether or not they were actually speaking. His company was all that mattered, right now.

Vridel flinched slightly when she spoke, but he waited until they were well away from the clearing before he said anything. “I—Thea, how can you say that? I'm the one who—" His jaw tightened; Vridel kept his eyes fixed directly ahead of them, and his posture was stiff. Now that she was this close, she could see faint circles beneath his eyes, and his face looked a little gaunt, from this angle.

“It's my fault," he said after a moment. “You could have died, and I knew there were rumors going around and I... I didn't walk you back."

Thea felt her stomach drop, and her brows furrowed deeply as she moved to step in front of Vridel to stop him from walking further. “But it's not your fault, Vridel," she spoke, glancing up at him to hold his gaze. “Everyone knew the rumors; Lyanna did, Professor did, and I was still taken. Yes, I could have died, but... I didn't. I'm still here, and... you saved me. You and the others. Even if you'd walked me all the way back, I could have still been taken. There was no way I wouldn't have been." Thea knew herself well to know that she wouldn't have been able to overcome someone stronger than her.

“But I'm safe, and I'm here thanks to you and everyone. And I can say that because you're my friend, Vi. I love you as much as I love everyone else, and I don't blame you. I could never blame you," she spoke, never once breaking eye contact with him. She wanted him to know that it wasn't his fault, that it couldn't be his fault. “What happened to me... I just have to be stronger next time so it doesn't. So that I don't worry the people I care about, again." She wasn't sure if she could bear that a second time.

“Don't you dare," he snapped, turning to glare at her for a split second. His eyes were hard, features twisted into a scowl, but he seemed to realize how he'd sounded a moment later and it softened. “Don't you dare put any of the responsibility on yourself. You don't have to be anything but you. That's more than enough."

Dropping his eyes away, he cleared his throat. “And I know you don't blame me. That doesn't mean I bear no responsibility. I'm pretty sure you'd forgive me if I was the one who kidnapped you, so it's hardly a fair gauge of whether I'm to blame." He said the last part almost as if to himself.

But wasn't that what she was supposed to do? It was her responsibility because she had been taken. If she was stronger, she wouldn't have worried her friends so much, and Vridel wouldn't be blaming himself for something he had no control over. She sighed softly, and reached out to grab one of his hands into hers, and folded both of her hands over his.

“Vridel von Hresvelg, you don't bear any responsibility for what happened to me. Just like Mercer doesn't bear any responsibility for what happened to Sorcha. It's... I'm learning that sometimes bad things do happen to people, but some of us are fortunate enough to have people who care about us to help. And you're wrong, it's not enough. There's... there's so much that I don't know, that I need to, but I'm glad that I get to learn these things with you. You're one of my dear friends, Vi. You've taught me more than I could have ever learned on my own."

“So don't you dare put any of the responsibility on yourself, either. It's not your fault, even though you think it is. It'll never be your fault, Vi. Never."

Vridel sighed. “I'll make you a deal," he said after a moment, meeting her eyes with something almost a touch wry in his own. “I'll do my best to stop blaming myself if you do your best to stop blaming yourself. Wanting to be stronger is fine, but you wouldn't blame another person if they were a victim of a kidnapping, would you?" He pursed his lips together. “So... let's agree that the Death Knight and whoever this Flame Emperor is are at fault and..."

He hesitated, looking very much like he didn't agree with the next part, but he seemed to be giving it a genuine effort. “No one else."

“Agreed," she spoke, smiling brightly at him. She let go of his hand, after that, and tucked her own back behind her. “As long as you stop blaming yourself, I won't blame myself," because he was right; the Flame Emperor and Death Knight were the ones to truly blame. If they hadn't kidnapped her, Vridel wouldn't be blaming himself, and she wouldn't have felt bad about getting kidnapped in the first place.

“And... for what it's worth, Vi, I really do think the world of you. I'm glad you came and finally talked to me," she admitted, her smile inching just a little wider. She was glad that he came to her celebration, and she really did think the world of him. Just like her other friends.

“I know," he said softly, turning to face the path again with a small sigh. “That's what scares me, sometimes."

It seemed to be something he hadn't meant to say, from the way his expression tightened. He left her no time to respond, however, pointing ahead instead. “I... got you something. Just over this hill." He increased his pace slightly, firmly not looking in her direction, then paused at the top to speak over his shoulder as he climbed.

“I know you've kind of changed your aspirations to being an armored knight instead of a great knight, but most of this should still work."

At the bottom of a gentle incline were tethered two horses. One of them she recognized as the one Vridel used when they rode, but the other was entirely unfamiliar: a somewhat smaller than average imperial charger, brilliant white in color, with a snowy, long mane and tail. She had a pinkish nose and dark, intelligent eyes. To her saddle was strapped a white shield, kite-shaped and bearing an unfamiliar device: a sunflower, but where the center would have been there was instead a rendering of the Crest of Cethleann, both the ring of petals and the crest emblazoned in gold.

“The rest of the armor's back at the Monastery; I asked the Professor for the measurements but you should try it on before using it for a mission or anything. It matches the shield." He looked almost uncomfortable as he glanced down at her face, an expression on his that was... a little bit hopeful?

“Is..." Amalthea couldn't find her voice as she stared at it. She swallowed thickly as she glanced up at Vridel, eyes wide with amazement. “Is that really for me? Is that really okay!?" she continued, her voice cracking a bit. “Thank you, Vi! It's... it's," it was lovely, and Amalthea could feel her eyes watering again. This was thoughtful, and she... well, she couldn't really think straight at the moment. It was, perhaps, the reason why she was able to turn to him, and wrap her arms around his side, giving him a rather tight hug.

“I love it!" she exclaimed, glancing up at him from her hug, though she didn't let go. “I'll make sure to take care of all of it, and make sure it fits properly when we get back! Thank you, Vi!" She was really excited to try out her new armor. When she realized she was still holding on to him, she cleared her throat softly, and took a step back, her face tinging a bright red color, she was sure.

“I mean, thank you, again. I really do like it, and it really is lovely. And sunflowers are my favorite," she spoke once she could find her voice.

“I'm aware," he said a bit drolly, placing a hand on her head and ruffling her hair slightly when she hugged him. “I asked Lyanna to make sure. They suit you." Shifting the hand to her shoulder, he nudged her down the hill in front of him. “I suppose she might not see battle after all, but good horses are trouble enough to get that I already owned her and was having her trained by the time you changed your mind. Still, she should make a perfectly good traveling horse."

“You were... all this time?" she was surprised, even as they walked down the hill towards the horses. She smiled, though, and shook her head. “I could always try out for paladin class, that way she'd get to see battle. It'd be a shame for all of that hard work to be wasted, and I'm sure she'd make a great war horse," Amalthea stated as they neared the horses. She reached out to pat the horse's snout, smiling as she did.

“She's so pretty, though, I'd... hate to see her get muddied by war. Something this pretty shouldn't have to be stained by it, I think," she murmured as she pressed her forehead to the horse's snout. “What's her name?" she asked, turning her head so she could see Vridel.

He was looking at her strangely, something unreadable in his expression. It was rather... intense, though not in the way it could be when he was purposefully teasing her. And yet it was obvious that in this moment, she had the full measure of his attention somehow. It took him a long moment to reply to the query; eventually he shook his head faintly and cleared his throat.

“She doesn't have one, yet. I thought you should do that."

“Sunflower," was Amalthea's immediate response. “I'll name her Sunflower, and Sunny for short," she continued, smiling brightly as she turned back to her horse. “Because even though you're as white as snow, something you share in common with Vi's hair, you're a sunflower to me," she spoke towards her horse. She slid her hand down Sunny's snout before turning her attention back to Vridel.

“Thank you, Vi, for the best gift I've ever received. It really means a lot." More than words could ever properly convey, at least.

“Best one, huh?" he murmured. “You haven't even seen the armor yet." But he smiled a little anyway, inclining his head graciously. “You're welcome, Thea."

This really was the best birthday she ever had; she made Vridel smile.


Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Sunday the 19th
Garreg Mach Training Grounds - Evening - Chilly
Vridel von Hresvelg

The arrows of the spell split, flying towards the targets all at once. It was tricky, to direct them all at different things, and Vridel tsked when he lost control of the leftmost one, which flew to crash against the wall behind instead. The others thunked where they'd been aimed, though, none of them dead-center but all of them on the targets. Magic wasn't real arrows; it didn't matter so much if they were precisely-placed. It would be nice if they were, but—

“Ohhhh," the voice was accompanied by a light clapping sound, and Vridel felt himself scowl as Monica hopped over the fence around the ring and approached. “Was that Sagittae? And you're barely halfway through the school year! What level are your black magic certs, Vi?"

The expression only deepened at the familiar use of the nickname. At no point had he given this girl permission to use it, but she remained either blithely or willfully oblivious to his displeasure.

He'd never given any of the others permission to call him that, either, but that was... different.

“I'm retaking certifications at the end of the month," he said curtly, leaving out the information she'd asked for.

She smiled anyway, ticking a strand of red hair behind her ear and fluttering her eyelashes at him in what he supposed was meant to be an appealing manner. “You're so diligent," she said, the smile widening. “You should loosen up a little; have some fun." She latched onto his arm, pressing her body into his in such a way that it was plainly obvious what kind of 'fun' she was talking about.

He felt a flare of disgust, one he struggled to suppress. It hadn't used to be difficult, when he'd thought that this was just how people were. He might have even leaned into it, played the part of the flirt and the rake himself. But the thought was dissatisfying in the extreme. Instead he extracted his arm from her hold, lip curling with faint disdain. He tried to remember that this girl had been the victim of something terrible, and deserved at least some sympathy for that, whatever else might be true.

“No, thank you." he said flatly. “If you don't mind getting out of the ring, I have more practice to do."

Her eyes widened slightly, genuine surprise flashing across her face. She was quite pleasant to look at—he doubted she was expecting to be turned down, particularly given the more salacious parts of his reputation. “Are you sure? Maybe you could help me practice! I do magic, too, but not as well as you!"

He absolutely did not want to do that, but trying to say so in a way that didn't make his dislike of her clear wasn't easy. He wouldn't have bothered except... she was coming back from something difficult, and perhaps could use the help.

What in the damn world was wrong with him?

“Vi, my love!" it was obviously Mercer who called out to him, as he and Sorcha entered the training ring. His eyes slid towards Monica, a brow raised, before turning his attention back to Vridel. “We were waiting for you at the dining hall, but you never showed up. Thought you got lost, but I guess you were too busy training and forgot," he stated, grinning as he crossed his arms over his chest. He offered Monica a lopsided grin, but seemed to ignore her, mostly.

“C'mon, otherwise we're gonna be late. Teach said he wanted to show us something, just the three of us," he stated, his eyes sliding towards Monica for a second. He didn't sound hostile towards her, but he was making it obvious that the three of them were needed somewhere else, even if it wasn't true.

“I'm sure you'd understand if I stole him, right, Monica?" he added, winking for effect.

Monica's expression shifted into a moue, but this time it was she who couldn't get her way without being rude, so she sighed and smiled instead, red-painted lips contrasting sharply with the fairness of her skin. “Of course!" she practically sing-songed in reply. “Good luck with whatever it is!" she gave all three of them a little wave and flounced away.

It was Vridel's turn to sigh. He really had been intending to train more, but at this point, he'd take the excuse. “Mercer. Sorcha. Your intervention is impeccably timed as usual."

Sorcha, who had been giving Mercer slightly-sour side-eye, turned her attention towards him and grinned. “She was on you like a barnacle, wasn't she?"

“You saw that?" he asked dryly.

She huffed. “We saw most of it. She just beat us here." Gesturing towards the door, Sorcha started walking. It wouldn't be especially helpful if Monica came back to find them still here.

Mercer folded his hands behind his head as he fell in step next to Sorcha. “Yeah, she's been bothering you a lot, lately, hasn't she? I'm honestly surprised you turned her down. That's not like you, but I can understand why. She kind of creeps me out," he stated, keeping his eyes straight as they continued walking.

“Strange thing is, for someone who's been missing for almost a year, she seems to have resumed life as if it never happened at all. I know trauma affects everyone differently, but she's... I don't know," he paused, pursing his lips together as his brows furrowed, “she doesn't act like someone who ever had to go through something like that. She's way too persistent, if her attachment to you, is anything to go by." He nodded his head in Vridel's direction when he spoke.

Vridel grunted a vague acknowledgment. “I had Reynard look into her. Monica von Ochs. Her family's in the kind of position where they really want imperial favor right now, so in a way this isn't surprising in the slightest. People have thrown themselves at me for less." He glanced askance at Mercer, unsure if the same had happened to him yet, considering his recent ascension to heir status. Regardless, if it hadn't, it certainly would, after he graduated.

In a way, he preferred the shallow sort of person who just liked him for his looks. At least that was honest, in its way. “But it's bizarre that she's acting that way regardless. She has a family, who have been informed that she's been found after more than six months, and... nothing. Reynard says no incoming post from them or outgoing letters from her."

“Maybe they just don't care for her? You know how some families are like that. If she isn't the oldest, and can't be used for any gain, then why care what happens to her? Maybe her family thought it was a blessing and didn't report her missing after the first few days when she never returned. Or maybe they just didn't want to admit that their daughter was missing if they really want imperial favor. I mean, it'd look kind of bad on a family that they lost a child, and didn't know where they were. Nevermind that she's been found alive and well."

Mercer didn't seem too reserved speaking as they usually did when they met at Reynard's, but he winced slightly as if he realized where they were, and who they were with. “Either way, I'd say we should just be cautious of her. And by we, I mean you. She doesn't seem fond of me, thank the goddess, nor any of the others."

“She's the heiress actually," Vridel replied with a shrug. “The von Ochs are imperial Barons, but the Baron himself was lost to the Brigid-Dagda war, and the regent of the house is known to be quite ambitious. I doubt he lost any sleep over her disappearance, but if I were him I'd want her back under my thumb as soon as possible." Lest she successfully entrap the Imperial Prince and have the regent thrown out, for example.

Sorcha frowned a little. “How are things in Adrestia?" she asked, accidentally bumping Mercer's arm with her shoulder and starting, taking a clear step sideways. “Sorry," she muttered, returning her attention to Vridel. “I heard there was some kind of insurrection recently?"

Vridel rolled his eyes. “Same bullshit, different day," he said bluntly. “Ever since the Insurrection of the Seven, none of the Seven can agree who the boss is. Aegir gets most of the challenges, since he's the Prime Minister. Varley poked at one of his border garrisons, is all."

Mercer huffed lightly, but didn't seem at all bothered that Sorcha bumped his arm. “Sounds a bit rough," he spoke, glancing towards Vridel. “Doubt it'll get any better, soon, will it?" he asked, arching a brow in Vridel's direction before turning his attention forward.

“Likely not." He pauses, then admits something to them that he hasn't actually told anyone yet. “I'm planning to ask my father to make me Emperor, after graduation. It's about the one significant power still left to him. This petty nonsense has to stop. It's one thing if they want to backstab each other in Court, or take aim at me, but I'm tired of hearing about trampled fields and dead soldiers."

He shakes his head. “Easier said than done, though. The crown has almost no power left to speak of. It's going to take... time." And he wasn't sure how much of that he had left, honestly.

Sorcha hummed softly. “I believe in you, Vivi. And I'm not just saying that because we're friends." She smiled a little, then rolled her eyes a little. “The nobles might complain, but if there's anything Faerghus can do to help, let me know."

That was rather optimistic of her, as far as possibilities went, but he did appreciate the sentiment. “And what of you, Mercer? Have things settled down at all since we were in Derdriu?"

Mercer snorted softly, but shook his head. “If anything, they've worsened. Matteo lost almost three miles of land to Acheron. I heard he lost that battle pretty badly, and he's still pretty annoyed that Sorcha renounced their engagement. The other nobles are still fighting over land rights, but at the moment, that's all they're doing: arguing. Alaric wrote not too long ago that gramps is better, but he still hasn't fully attended any of the meetings."

He merely shrugged his shoulders after that. “And same, here. Once I become the Alliance's Leader, if you need help with something, I'm sure I can rally the other nobles to assist. Granted, I'll be busy taking care of the Alliance's own problems, but I can spare some time for an old friend," he continued, grinning slightly at Vridel.

“While I appreciate that I doubt it would make either of you popular to intercede in imperial affairs, either with your people or mine." Vridel shook his head. Still, perhaps there would be less-direct ways he might call upon their aid.

“At the very least we can all strengthen our treaties, right?" Sorcha asked. “They're atrocious right now. Not that a treaty has really ever stopped anyone from going to war, but maybe if we all work up one between all three of us, we could reinforce it a little. No one would want to start something if the third country promised to come to the aid of the attacked or something, right?"

Vridel hummed. It wouldn't be quite as simple as that, but then he didn't think she thought so either. And the treaties really did need work. They were weak and frail as far as actual incentive went. While he wouldn't desire war with either Mercer or Sorcha, or their countries...

“As it is I lack the power to authorize such things on my own. Once I wrest that back, though... yes. I think it would be most useful to come to an accord about it."

He paused, then smiled slyly. “After all, I'm not engaged to a fellow head of state. I feel I'm at a bit of a disadvantage if things go sideways."

“Sorry, Vi, I'm taken. Sorcha beat you to it, and I highly doubt she would approve of me taking a second spouse," Mercer stated it with, to his credit, a straight face. He glanced at Sorcha before glancing back at Vridel, and smiled slyly at Vridel. “I have to stay faithful to the one spouse, after all."

“I certainly wasn't looking to be your lover on the side," Vridel deadpanned.

“You can have him," Sorcha said with a sniff. She was very studiously not looking at either of them.

Vridel chuckled. It seemed there was a new element to Sorcha's responses to Mercer's teasing. Perhaps she was adapting. He sort of wondered how the other man would handle it. Gentle and earnest as she was, his stepsister had quite a stubborn streak as well.

“Be still my beating heart! Sorcha doesn't want me?" he stated, placing a hand over his heart in a dramatic way. “Whatever shall I do, Vivi, love? How do I win back her heart?" he stated, glancing towards Vridel with almost pleading eyes. “I fear the world is no longer a place where I can dwell if Sor doesn't want me," he continued, sounding half serious.

Vridel wondered about that, but Sorcha clearly took him for entirely insincere, from the soft scoffing noise and roll of her eyes.

“Dunno, Mercer," he said with a shrug, narrowing his eyes keenly. “You might want to work on being more knightly if you want to be sweeping princesses off their feet. I recommend flowers, and sweets, and a little sincerity now and then." Discreetly, he monitored Sorcha's reaction, aware that he'd accidentally stepped on a sensitivity in this area before, but though she was a little pink and still not looking at them, Sorcha didn't seem genuinely upset.

Much as Mercer's question, Vridel's answer was only half joking.

“Really, now? Don't suppose you know her favorite flower? I know if I ask her, she won't tell me, and since I need to work on being a little more knightly, that's as good of a first step as any. Oh, but you know, I could always just sweep her off her feet, now," he stated with a large grin. Without much other warning, Mercer grabbed Sorcha from behind, and twirled her. When he set her back down, he was smiling. It wasn't the smile he usually wore when he was joking, or teasing her. This one was more genuine; something about it softer and more sincere than usual. Even his eyes were softer, and the color to them seemed just a bit brighter.

Sorcha yelped when she was snatched off her feet, arms reflexively flinging themselves around Mercer's neck while he spun her. The moment she was back on her feet, she was glaring, drawing a hand back to whack him in the chest. As ever, she didn't really seem to hit him with any actual force, but if looks could kill, the Alliance would certainly have needed a new heir.

You—" she seemed abruptly to realize she couldn't find the insult she wanted, and tripped over her tongue to reach for one. “You cad. You can't just—just manhandle people like that!" She whacked him again for good measure, and then turned her glower on Vridel.

“And you! Don't answer that question! If he wants to impress me he has to work harder and not take any shortcuts just because I—" She cut herself off, shaking her head. “Just because we're technically engaged." Her face was the approximate shade of one of the lovely desert roses in the greenhouse by now, and Vridel laughed.

“And here I thought you doubted his sincerity."

He ducked a swing of his own, being rather less inclined to stand there and take it than Mercer. “Of course he's joking, Vivi you idiot! So am I!"

Vridel felt himself grin, taking a few quick steps to put some space between them. “Oh so he doesn't have to work hard to impress you?"

“That's not—stop twisting my words!" She lunged; he barely kept away from her.

“Who's twisting?" he replied facetiously. “I'm just trying to understand so I can advise my friend responsibly."

Mercer laughed when Sorcha hit him, but shook his head when she turned her attention towards Vridel. “But who said I was joking?" he spoke once he was able to calm his laughter. “I want to know what your favorite flower is. If you won't tell me, I'll have to resort to other measures," he spoke, grinning slightly as he stood in front of Sorcha, perhaps in an attempt to save Vridel. He leaned in close to her, though, and his grin grew.

“Unless you want me to."

Her eyes narrowed precipitously, though she did halt in her attempts to tackle Vridel. “You wouldn't dare," she said, tone low with warning.

For a moment, Vridel was at war with himself. Then he decided, as he usually did, to do the thing that amused him the most. “She's extremely ticklish, you know," he said, smiling smugly at Sorcha over Mercer's shoulder.

Mercer's grin turned into something more feral, and his eyes were gleaming with mischief. “Is she now?" he stated, highly amused by the information. He took a step closer to Sorcha, though, and arched a brow. “But where is she ticklish? On her sides, or perhaps her neck?" he stated, glancing briefly towards Vridel before returning his attention to Sorcha. He looked much like a predator who'd cornered his prey, and was only moments from pouncing.

“Maybe I'll just have to find out myself."

The prey, as it were, seemed to know the nature of the game, and with a last vicious glare, took off at a sprint across the courtyard. She was fast, Sorcha, one of the fleetest people on foot Vridel knew, but then he and Mercer were fast, too. Not, of course, that he intended to be the one to chase her down. Having given the tip, he was most interested now in sitting back and watching the chaos he'd started unfold.

“Might want to hop to it, if you hope to catch her," he drawled, the double meaning rather clear in his tone.

“We both know how this is going to end, Vi, love. I'm just giving her a bit of a head start so she thinks she has a chance of escaping. I've already caught her, but it's nice to give her a bit of false hope that she can escape," Mercer replied with a lopsided grin. He glanced upward for a second before clicking his tongue.

“Think that's about enough time for a head start. Catch ya later, Vi!" he stated, giving Vridel a mock salute as he started out in a slow jog in the direction Sorcha had taken off in.

Vridel, for his part found a seat in the courtyard. He figured they'd be back this way eventually.


Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Tuesday the 21st
Garreg Mach - Early Evening - Clear
Senka Rinaldi

Senka was rather tired of seeing her friends not making any progress in their relationships. She might not have been as inclined to something romantic like Sorcha and Amalthea were, but she was aware of her friends and how they were drawn to each other. It was something she remembered seeing between her mother and father, and she was beginning to see it with her friends. That they seemed to be keeping each other at arms length was not sitting well with her. She knew their positions were unique, and difficult, though. She'd been in their position, before, but she wasn't now.

Today, though, she was going to get them to at least spend time together: alone and in different areas. They needed to see what she saw, and be able to enjoy it for however long they were going to be at the academy. Graduation was still a few months away, but with the increasingly dangerous missions they were being sent on, Senka wanted her friends to appreciate each other just a bit more. Sorcha, especially, since she was Senka's best friend. She deserved to be happy, just as much as anyone else, and it seemed that Mercer was doing just that.

Senka knew that it wasn't just his doing, but she also knew how Sorcha felt about him. Shaking her head softly, there was only one person she could think of to help her on this endeavor of hers. While she also planned something for him, Vridel was the only person she knew who would help her set Mercer and Sorcha up on a small outing. It would be slightly romantic, but they didn't have to know that. The same for Vridel. He'd been in such a rut after the whole ordeal with Amalthea, that he needed something light in his life. And Senka was determined to see that her second best friend was going to smile.

She had already told Amalthea, Sorcha, and Mercer to meet her near the gazebo by the knights' hall later in the day, however; she needed to make sure the other member of the group would be there as well. That meant she had to convince Vridel to join in under the pretense of helping her to help them. With that in mind, she set off to find Vridel. He was usually at the training grounds, but as of late, he seemed to be trying to avoid a certain red-headed girl that they had rescued. Monica, if she remembered the name correctly. The girl always seemed so adamant about chasing after him, however; she seemed to stay clear of Senka.

She didn't mind, though. There was just something about Monica that rubbed her wrong, but she didn't dwell on the subject for long. Senka had other things to attend to, after all.

Still, it made sense to check the training grounds first.

Monica was indeed in attendance, but she had been seemingly relegated to the stands, where she watched with rather rapt attention as Vridel and Cyril trained with nothing but their bare hands today, it seemed.

Cyril was oddly insistent that all of his students train for and take certification tests in barehanded fighting. It was certainly one of his areas of expertise, but the rationale he gave was that people could find themselves with a need for defenses even in situations where no weapons were available, or magic would draw too much attention or risk collateral damage. And so he tutored them all individually on the subject. This must be Vridel's practice slot.

His hair was damp with sweat, sticking to the back of his neck. Cyril, by contrast, didn't look much disturbed; he was holding the small target pads he used to run them through forms, and as Senka entered, Vridel battered at them for half a minute without stopping, before a jerk of the chin and soft word from Cyril paused him. Their Professor straightened, meeting her eyes across the ring and smiling slightly.

“Senka," he greeted gently.

Vridel turned, running his hand through his hair and grimacing. “Hey, Sen. Need something?"

“I do," she stated, offering both of them a smile of her own. It was much easier to produce than it had been, before, and it was something Senka was grateful for. She didn't know she could miss smiling so much. “I need your help with something," she directed the statement towards Vridel, pausing only for a moment to regard the both of them. While she didn't need Cyril's help, she supposed it wouldn't hurt to let him in on what she had planned. The only unnecessary person, here, was Monica.

“Only if you are finished with your training. I can wait a bit longer if you are not; it is not of the upmost importance," she stated, which was true. While it wasn't entirely important, it was still something she wanted to do for them.

Vridel looked to Cyril, who waved a hand dismissively. “You've done plenty for today."

As they walked to the edge of the ring, Cyril handed Vridel a canteen of water; her friend took it gratefully and drank about half of it before unceremoniously dumping the rest on his head and using it to slick his hair back. It wet his uniform too, but it was one of the practice ones that were sort of designed for it, and didn't seem to bother him.

Monica seemed inclined to approach, but a chance glance from Cyril was apparently enough to make her rethink it, and she vanished wordlessly a moment later.

Vridel didn't even seem to notice. “So what's this thing you want help with?" He took up the towels on the fence rail, tossing one to Cyril and wiping at his face with the other, shifting it to the back of his neck and arching an inquiring elbow at Senka.

“Mercer and Sorcha," she responded. “I asked them to meet me at the gazebo later today, but..." she trailed off, pursing her lips into a thoughtful manner. “I need to set it up before they get there and I was wondering if you'd like to help. It is meant to be very subtle, but it is also meant to be romantic. They are, after all, engaged." Falsely or not, they were engaged, and they needed a little bit of a push.

“I am certain I am not the only one who has noticed their lingering affection for each other, and I believe it is time they had a gentle push in the right direction." She allowed her smile to inch just a bit wider and her eyes softened at the thought.

“Hm. So you want to provide the push, but not so much that they can protest too assiduously and get out of it." His eyes narrowed. “Nefarious. Did you have a plan for what exactly to set them up to do?"

Senka felt herself grin at the statement. A strange feeling, but she didn't linger on it for long. “I do. I've already had the stables saddle a few of the horses. We're going to take a tour through the forest near the monastery. There are four different trails that each have different scenery that I hear is quite beautiful around this time of night. It will force us to split up, but that will be the point." She, of course, neglected to say that Amalthea would be joining, and that the trails in particular were only suited for two people at a time.

“And the reason we are going on horseback is because the trails were not made with fliers in mind." That meant that Mercer and Sorcha couldn't take Lady and Sir, but they would still be able to enjoy themselves.

Vridel stroked his chin a moment, looking thoughtful. He was a clever man; for a moment he looked at her so keenly it was almost as if he were suspicious or her intentions somehow, but it faded a moment later. “I suppose that could work. A bit separate, horseback, but I suppose it makes up for that with the seeming innocuousness. How do you plan to make sure they don't just insist on a different grouping, or all of us choosing one trail and going together?"

Behind him, Cyril was working on resetting the ring, clearly keeping an ear on the conversation if the soft snort of almost-laughter was anything to go by, but not interfering with their scheming by any means.

“That's why I came to you," she replied. “The trails in particular we would be taking were designed specifically for two people at a time. If you were to come with me, then we could force the two of them to take a separate trail by suggesting we each bring back a description, flower, or herb from that particular one. And since it would be safer to go in pairs, it would make sense for them to go together, especially if we disguised it as something that would be beneficial to them, in particular." She could, theoretically, ask Cyril to come with her, instead, but she needed Vridel to go as well. Otherwise her plan would fail, and she couldn't have that.

He hummed consideringly, narrowing his eyes at her in a familiar, calculating way before he raised his voice slightly. “Professor Cyril, would you mind helping? I'm sure it would be much easier to get permission to take the extra horses out if you said we were collecting samples for instruction."

Cyril paused in his work, looking at them with one eyebrow slightly raised. “You want me to lie to the monastery?" He didn't sound offended in the slightest; if anything there was a bit of amusement gilding his flat tone.

“For a good cause, yes."

That got him a snort, but the Professor shrugged. “If you don't think my presence would be disruptive, I certainly don't mind. I've been meaning to explore those trails myself."

Senka shook her head. “I don't think it would be disruptive at all," she replied. That Cyril was going to be attending as well would make this a little easier. It would not only force Mercer and Sorcha together, but also Vridel and Amalthea. That left her and Cyril to take a trail as well, but she didn't mind. She enjoyed spending time with him, even if it wasn't in the classroom or on missions.

“It might actually be conducive to the situation," she continued, glancing in Cyril's direction. “They only allowed me to saddle a few of the horses," she added. While five horses was a little more than the stable hands had originally been willing to allow out, if Cyril were to ask for permission, taking a sixth horse for him would be easier.

Cyril nodded, then. “All right. Should I go do that now?"

“I need to change," Vridel noted, plucking at his damp shirt. “When did you tell them to meet you?"

“In an hour. I believe it is more than enough time for everyone to get situated," she replied, glancing towards Cyril before turning back to Vridel. “I will meet you both at the gazebo in that time," she continued. Once everything had been prepared, and set, Senka made her way back to her room to prepare for the evening's ride. She changed out of her uniform into something a little more suited to the weather, and for the ride. While it was still warm during the day, the evening tended to cool down rather rapidly. While it was nothing like the cool air of Faerghus or Duscur, it was still nice.

She chose a white shirt to go underneath a lavender tunic with a gold sash that she wrapped around her. It was embroidered with silver trimmings, and it matched the grey banded trousers she slipped on. Once she was satisfied, she pulled her hair back, braiding it over her shoulder to keep it in place. She left her room, after, to wait at the gazebo for the others.

Mercer was the first to arrive, his hair slicked back behind a thick band. He was wearing a pair of dark trousers and a sleeveless emerald green tunic. The neck was trimmed in gold, and the trimmings seemed to go down the middle of his tunic where the buttons were. He grinned at her as he waved.

“Hey, Sen. We waiting on Sor and Thea?" he asked as Senka shook her head.

“They'll be here shortly, as will Cyril and Vridel." Mercer arched a brow at that statement, but didn't say anything.

Sorcha, generally very prompt, arrived next, in simple dark riding trousers and a half-sleeved teal tunic with a basic white wave pattern at all the hems, belted with a white sash. It was another one of those she'd acquired more or less at Judith's demand in Derdriu, still nothing fancy. She must have pulled out her hair pins at some point and not been able to replace them herself, because her hair was in a tail now, trailing to the small of her back even so.

She narrowed her eyes at Mercer rather grumpily, ignoring him entirely when she greeted Senka.

Vridel had elected for billowy shirtsleeves and a neat red waistcoat trimmed in gold. His hair had clearly been cleaned and dried in the intervening hour; he raised a hand to cover a yawn, waving lazily at all of them as he approached.

“Still waiting on the others?" he asked, either misspeaking or expecting multiple others. From the sly look he cut Senka, it was the latter.

“Horses are ready," Cyril replied from behind him, scanning over the group as if to count them quickly. He seemed to have changed as well, from his training gear at least. Being, well, not a noble, he didn't dress like one, but the black tunic with the sigils Jeralt used in white was well-fitted, and matched the black of his trousers and boots well. He seemed to favor blacks and dark greys and the occasionally deep blue or purple over brighter colors or pastels.

Senka merely smiled at Vridel's statement. Before she could answer, though, she could see Amalthea running towards them, and huffed lightly. “Sorry I'm late!" Amalthea stated. Her hair had been pulled into a bun with a single braid on her right side that was weaved into it. She was wearing the necklace everyone had bought for her birthday, and it was clearly visible with how low the neckline was to the short-sleeved white tunic she wore. It was trimmed in gold with what looked to be triangluar patterns, but unlike everyone who had elected to wear trousers of sorts, Amalthea was wearing a black skirt with white leggings tucked into her riding boots.

“It's alright, Thea. Now that everyone's here, what do we need horses for?" Mercer questioned, arching a brow towards Senka and the others.

“We're going to collect samples on each of the different trails near the monastery," Senka replied easily. It wasn't an entire lie, after all. They would be collecting something, however; they didn't need to know that. They could grab whatever caught their eye, and bring it back for everyone else to see. Mercer mouthed an 'oh' as Amalthea smiled at them.

“Sounds like fun! Should we get going, then? Before it gets too dark?" she spoke, causing Senka to nod her head.

When everyone had mounted their horses, and exited the monastery's gates, Senka couldn't help but smile a little to herself. This might not work as well as she wanted it to, but at least she was able to get everyone to go. It was only a half hour ride to their destination, and when they approached, the trails had, indeed, broke off into four different paths.

“We're going to break off, here," Senka spoke, pulling Libi to a stop. He grunted with what sounded like discontent, but paused where he was. “Cyril and I will take this trail," she gestured to the far left, and glanced towards the others. “Mercer and Sorcha, you can pick your own trail, and Vridel and Amalthea as well," now all she had to do was wait for their reactions and reply. She knew Sorcha would be against it, which is way she announced she'd be going a different way with Cyril.

“The trails are only big enough for two people at a time which means we should all pick one trail each," she added.

“Hang on," Sorcha said, glancing at the forking trails. “There's four paths here. Shouldn't a couple people go alone? I can take this one so we get something from all of them?"

Vridel arched an eyebrow at Senka, his lips twitching. Apparently in light of the betrayal he was quite content to leave her to sort it herself.

She would have smiled at Vridel, however; she needed to answer Sorcha's question, first. “In light of recent events," she began, glancing towards Thea, “it would not be wise to go alone. It's best to go together as a precaution. If something should happen, at least there will be another person with you to either help you, or call the others. We don't need something from all of the trails." Amalthea nodded as if it were the most obvious thing to do, and turned towards Vridel.

“That makes sense," Thea spoke. “There are supposedly wild herbs that grow here that we can't get in the monastery. Maybe you've seen them before and can help me identify them?" Thea stated as she glanced towards Vridel with hopeful eyes. At least Thea was helping out, even if she wasn't aware what was truly happening.

“I don't see a problem with it. Plus, I get to spend more time with Sor," Mercer spoke, a mischievous grin spreading across his face. “She never did tell me her favorite flower, so maybe we'll find it on one of these other trails."

Sorcha sighed, shooting Mercer a glare, but she put up no further resistance, lifting her hands as if in surrender. Doubtless she wasn't going to ask Thea to switch, not when she seemed to excited to go with Vridel, and she probably had the sense that Senka was doing this on purpose, if the baleful look she gave her was any indication. “All right, fine. Samples it is, then."

Flicking the reins, she directed her horse down the trail furthest from Senka's, apparently supposing Mercer would follow.

Vridel huffed, obviously amused. “So stubborn," he murmured.

“Indeed, but she'll be fine," Senka spoke, her eyes narrowing slightly as she smiled. Mercer huffed lightly, but followed wordlessly after Sorcha. Sorcha would, one day, thank her for this, though. She glanced at Vridel and Amalthea, though. “Don't enjoy yourselves too much," she stated, staring directly at Vridel but directing the statement towards Amalthea who merely looked confused.

“Alright, we will! We'll meet up with you once we all finish our trails!" she stated excitedly, nudging her horse, Sunflower, in the direction of the trail next to the one Sorcha took. She was rather pleased by the outcome. Nudging Libi in the direction of her trail, she smiled just a little brighter to herself.


Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia

I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Tuesday the 21st
Horse Trails - Evening - Cool
Sorcha Blaiddyd

Deep down, Sorcha knew she was being rude. Unconscionably so, probably. Even if he had done... that yesterday, Mercer was her friend and a good person, not ultimately deserving of her irritation or her grumpiness. But somehow she found herself clinging to it anyway, like it was a raft in the ocean and she'd drown without it. She couldn't say exactly why that was, except her stubborn insistence on being grumpy let her focus on something clear. Something simple, that didn't require her to think about...

Well, the rest of what was there.

Not that she knew exactly what that was, exactly. But that was half the problem. So irritation it was, and right now there was plenty to go around.

Horses were nice enough. Sorcha liked all animals, honestly, and often found getting along with them much easier than getting along with people. But riding wasn't flying, and some part of her had always preferred the sky. More importantly, though: Senka had done this on purpose, because she was a busybody who thought she knew best. Sorcha didn't usually much mind; but of late this coupled with her friend's growing comfort around others had been producing embarrassing situations. Not that she'd ever resent the growth in Sen, of course, but...

Why did she have to do this? Sorcha spent a lot of time trying to not think about being alone with Mercer, and now...

Now her cheeks were reddening because she was and it made her dumb and stuttery and she hated this useless version of herself so much.

Mercer wasn't too far behind her, electing to take a slower pace than Sorcha was, perhaps to enjoy the scenery. His head would turn ever so slightly in a direction, almost like he was truly curious with what was around them. His eyes landed on her, though, after a few moments of silence, and he smiled at her. It wasn't his grin, either, but it wasn't quite the same soft smile he'd given her the other day.

“Sor," he whined, nudging his horse so that he was beside Sorcha. “Sor, why are you ignoring me?" he continued whining, pursing his lips at her and almost pouting at the same time.

She tried to keep doing it. Truly she did. But her guilt wouldn't allow it. Or maybe it was some combination of that and the fact that she really wasn't very good at ignoring him in particular. Some part of her, perhaps, would always want to talk to him, always want to hear what he had to say and laugh when he said intentionally-dumb things and maybe sometimes make him really smi—

“You know perfectly well why I'm ignoring you," she replied primly, shooting him a narrow look from the corner of her eye. She had not in fact given the name of her favorite flowers to him, though he had all the information he needed to figure it out already, actually. She'd been beyond embarrassed, though, both at how childishly-easy she was to tickle and how not nearly all of the redness to her face had been from involuntary laughter.

Because in order to tickle her, he'd had to touch her, and Sorcha wasn't sure she could handle that again without a lot more fortitude than she currently had.

He smiled, then, though it looked more like he was trying to keep himself from laughing. “Well, if I'd known that a certain someone would stop talking to me because they were ticklish, well..." he trailed off, glancing in front of him for a moment before turning his attention back to her. “I suppose it was worth it. I got you to laugh, after all," he seemed rather pleased with himself at that statement if the smug smirk on his face was anything to go by. It smoothed out, though, as he shook his head.

“Besides, I like hearing you laugh. Makes me feel like I accomplished something good, you know?" he stated, glancing at her from the corner of his eye before shrugging. “Plus, I really would like to know your favorite things. We're friends, somewhat engaged, and I feel like that's something friends are supposed to know about each other, right?"

She flushed harder, glad of the fact that it was dark out. The thing about Mercer was, he said things that could be and were friendly, but her heart always—

Took them wrong. And then when her brain caught up and she realized what she'd done, it hurt.

Sorcha swallowed. “I told you about my mother's lilies, right? The ones they riped out for Lady Patricia's rosebushes? It was them. They're called hurricane lilies, because they only bloom when the season is late, and after a lot of rain." She snorted softly.

“Lady Patricia said they were death flowers, and unlucky to have in a palace garden." She shrugged; maybe there was something to that, all things considered, but Sorcha had always liked them. Besides... she didn't really believe that things were bad luck. Maybe she was too empirical; it was something Lady Cornelia called her sometimes—empirical. She said it made her a good engineer, and there was a little touch of pride in her voice when she did. Sorcha had always been happy about that.

“I've never really seen them growing anywhere else. I don't even know where they're from. Or maybe I knew, but I forgot. I've forgotten a lot of things." She knew he knew that, of course. She managed to forget him, too, at least mostly. She felt a stab of guilt, and winced, turning her eyes back to the trail in front of them.

Mercer huffed lightly. “I guess she didn't know much about flowers, then," he spoke, shaking his head lightly. “They're actually known as the flower of the heavens, and were generally viewed as good luck, but..." he paused to shrug his shoulders, “I guess like everything else, the meaning got lost and people were so quick to associate it with death and bad luck." His eyes narrowed slightly, but he shook his head as if freeing it from some thought he had.

“I suppose this was meant to be a surprise, but now is a good as time as any. I asked the greenhouse lady to clear a spot for some, and the bulbs have already been planted. They should be blooming soon, considering they were planted a month or so ago. I can't really remember," he spoke in a nonchalant sort of way, but there was something in his voice, something sincere and affectionate almost. Like he'd done it specifically for her.

“You—but—" Sorcha swallowed, eyes widening. “How? How did you know it was that type of lily? I never said—" Those flowers weren't common in the Kingdom at all, due perhaps to their association with funerals. It wouldn't have been her first guess if someone said 'lilies,' and they were literally her favorites.

“That's my little secret," he stated, winking at her. “They're actually native to just the north of the Alliance, growing right on the border of Almyra and Fódlan," he spoke his grin smoothing out slightly. “It rains almost constantly in that area of the region, so they're quite common. It was easy enough to get seeds from a merchant in that territory," he continued as he chanced a glance in her direction.

“I thought you could use a little surprise after everything, so... well, I," he pursed his lips together before clearing his throat from something that seemed to get lodged there. He seemed a little embarrassed by it, now, and turned his attention away from her.

She couldn't make herself stop looking at him, though; her eyes were wide, and she sort of forgot to mind the mind the trail at all.

This ordinarily wouldn't have been a problem for a couple moments, but in the dark her horse stepped wrong and suddenly lurched. Sorcha nearly fell out of the saddle, leaping lightly off just in time to avoid taking a tumble onto her face. “Damn—Olivia?"

Olivia, as the horse had been named, seemed to have stepped into a dip in the ground and skidded somewhat. She was docile, though, and allowed Sorcha to approach. Doing so, she peered down at the foot in question and winced. There was a gash there—it looked like she'd caught part of her foot on a stone. It wouldn't be anything life-threatening, but she needed a healer.

The horses at Garreg Mach were trained to return to their stables when directed—like pegasi and wyverns, they were quite smart. Not quite as smart as Lady or Sir, but enough to follow a handful of directions. “I don't like our chances of finding the others any time soon,", Sorcha said, applying her own exceedingly basic healing magic to at least numb the pain. “Probably best for her to head back, right?" She didn't want to keep riding her, obviously. Not with an injured foot.

“Sounds like a good call," Mercer replied, slipping off of his own horse and holding the reins in his hands. He guided the horse towards Sorcha and Olivia, pausing only to glance at the horse's foot. “We can share Buttercup, if you want, or you can take her and I can walk," he stated, offering Sorcha the reins to his own horse. “I don't mind either way, but it's best we send Olivia back to the monastery to get looked after before her foot gets too bad."

“Of course I'm not going to make you walk," she said, furrowing her brows. Pausing the thought a moment, she turned to the horse. “Olivia. Home." The horse took only a moment before turning and trotting back in the direction they'd come. That was a good sign—the injury was likely very superficial.

Of course, this did leave her in something of a predicament. Sorcha would have walked, but she knew, somehow, that Mercer wasn't about to allow that. So, that left one option. “Would you prefer to ride in front or behind?" she asked, trying to keep any suggestion of particular feeling out of the words. This was just... practical. She could be practical.

Mercer snorted softly, and grinned in Sorcha's direction. “Well, I'm always up for something new. I'll take the back," he replied, his grin turning into something more mischievous, but he stepped in closer towards Sorcha, and leaned a bit near her face. “Unless you'd rather me take the front. Which one would you be more comfortable with, hm? I hear it's pleasant either way you go," he stated, staring directly at her.

Sorcha was pretty sure she forgot how to breathe. It had less to do with what he was saying—which, while she got the general gist that it was a dirty joke she couldn't really pay much attention to—and more to do with how close to her he was. She wasn't sure if she could actually feel his breath on her cheek or if that was her imagination, or maybe a breeze, but...

She swallowed. “Y—you. I—um. I don't—I'll ride in front." She swung quickly up into the saddle, choosing without thinking about it because she needed to do something to stop stammering. Wordlessly, she offered him a hand down to help brace him, taking her foot out of the stirrup so he could use it if he wanted.

Mercer chuckled as she mounted, taking her hand, but instead of using it to pull himself up, he twisted her hand and placed a chaste kiss to the back of it. “Thanks," he spoke as he pulled himself up behind her. He wrapped his arms around her waist, though, instead of grabbing onto the reins, and leaned his head into the crook of her neck. “Wake me when we get out, alright?" he spoke directly into her ear, but leaned back after, loosening his hold on her waist, but keeping his hands there.

Sorcha shuddered at the breath gusting over her ear, all but certain she was about to implode. Something in her stomach was turning over and over, spreading up into her chest like a furious climbing plant intent on strangling her heart. “W-what? You can't sleep; you'll fall!" She didn't raise her voice much above a whisper, but there was a small note of panic in it, though the exact reason she was panicking wasn't clear even to her.

“Hm, no I won't. I have my knight in shining armor to keep me safe," he replied smoothly, tightening his hold on her waist a bit as if to get comfortable. His head was laying on her back, now, but from the shake of his shoulders, it was easy to tell he was doing a poor job of suppressing a laugh. “And I promise I'm actually not falling asleep. I don't want to miss the beauty of this place, and..." he paused, and didn't continue. Instead, Sorcha could feel him expel a breath before taking his head from her back.

“We have samples to collect, remember?" the teasing note in his voice had disappeared and he seemed to be back to the normal Mercer.

Normal or not, Sorcha was struggling. He was so close, closer than probably all but a few people in her life ever had been, sitting behind her like that. And she swore she was burning where his hands were, even through the tunic. She almost felt... colder, when he lifted his head away.

Before she could do anything as ridiculous as say it was okay to put it back, she cleared her throat. He'd mentioned the scenery; she found she could only just now look at it, really. It was nice, she supposed; the moon and stars gilded the leaves and grass in soft silver. The horse's coat, too; everything around them was bathed in soft radiance.

It might have been a nightmare trying to ignore Mercer's presence behind her, but at least this way she didn't have to know how it made him look, even if part of her absurdly regretted that. “Any—um. Anything you want to collect in particular?"

“Hm," he hummed in a thoughtful tone. He remained quiet as they moved along the trail. “Not really. I'm almost certain that we aren't really required to bring anything back. If you wanted to collect something, though..." he trailed off, as if he were thinking. “What if we grabbed one of the geodes near the stream?" he stated, pulling one of his arms free and pointed in the direction of where there was, indeed, a small stream lined with rocks.

“I hear there might be a few of them that contain uncommon minerals. Maybe we could even get the blacksmith to fashion an arrow head with it, too," he continued. “Of course, it'd be more for show than use."

“Geode?" Sorcha had vaguely heard the term in books, but never seen one. “That's... some kind of shiny rock, right?" She pointed Buttercup towards the creek, pulling her up a little short of the water and waiting for Mercer to dismount before she did the same. She could see a lot of rocks, but none that looked too glittery.

“Are you sure those are here?"

Mercer grinned at her. “See, now that's the problem with most people," he spoke, making his way towards the creek, and stopping to glance down. “People expect geodes to automatically be glittery and pretty, however; they look like plain rocks sometimes. It's what makes them so unique because you actually have to get them open before you can appreciate the beauty inside." He was looking at Sorcha rather intently when he spoke before he continued, “It's much like people; you'd pass right over it because it looked so plain." He picked up what looked like a normal grey rock and showed it to her.

“This is a geode. You see how there is some grey to it, and this gold-like color mixed in? It's one way you can tell it's a geode. There are other ways, of course, with the most obvious being when it's cracked."

Sorcha huffed softly, examining the rock in Mercer's hands. “So it's like when someone's not much to look at but they have a really beautiful heart?" she asked. She could sort of understand that; there were plenty of people with wonderful personalities out there who were overlooked for all kinds of reasons that didn't matter.

A memory flashed in her mind, of a plump boy with a slightly sour expression and simple garb compared to the others around him. It was sort of moot in his case, since Sorcha thought he was—

She immediately diverted her train of thought. “Can I see the inside?"

“Something like that," he replied, his shoulders slumping slightly as if she had somehow didn't understand what he was saying. “And sure, you can. Give me a second to see if I can open it without shattering it. I don't have my blade with me, and I'm not as strong as I look to break it with my bare hands," he spoke, grinning at her. He pulled a handkerchief from his pocket, and wrapped the geode in it, delicately. Once he was finished, he glanced around as if looking for something. He seemed to find it as he made his way a little further down. He had picked up a larger rock, and made his way back towards Sorcha.

“Alright, this will have to do," he stated as he placed the geode on the floor, and kneeled. He began hitting the rock against the geode softly at first as if he were testing his strength before giving it a good whack. His eyes widened slightly as he picked up the geode and unwrapped it. “Huh, well that's something. It almost looks like the color of your eyes," he stated, showing her the broken geode. It wasn't quite cracked in half, but she could still see what was inside from the part that was broken off.

It was a deep blue on the inside, like a clear ocean that sparkled beneath a midmorning sun. “I guess this was meant to be yours," Mercer spoke as he handed it to Sorcha.

Sorcha accepted it readily, but an expression of discontent crossed her face. “But—" she grimaced, exhaling softly. “That doesn't make any sense. You're the one who found it, and did the work. It should be yours."

Knowing he was unlikely to accept that reasoning but somehow wanting him to have it, she tried something different. “Besides... I already took one stone from you, and look at how that worked out. Maybe if... maybe if you take this one from me, things will balance out." Sorcha didn't believe in luck. Except... except she believed, somehow, that the gem she even now wore around her neck was lucky. That it had somehow given her strength when she needed it most.

“B-besides. Mine's the color of your eyes, so it only makes sense." It didn't, really, but she was trying her best to be convincing, regarding Mercer with an earnest, wide-eyed expression and holding the geode back towards him.

The smile that crossed his face was, perhaps, the truest one Sorcha had ever seen. It was gentled, but there was also something else there. Something in the way his eyes gleamed with some emotion, affection, maybe, but he took the geode anyway.

“If that's how you feel, then that's a fair swap. I'll have something of you, and you'll have something of me. Deal," he stated as he nodded his head. “So... are you saying you want to marry me and this is your engagement stone to me?" he was clearly teasing her, now.

“No!" Sorcha snatched her hands back, smoothing down her trousers entirely unnecessarily. “It's just... a good luck charm. To protect you." Face hot, she pressed a hand to her sternum. She'd always worn the stone under her clothes; since finding out what it was and being warned to keep it hidden, she'd only been more diligent about this. “That's what this one is, after all." Her tone came out softer than she meant it to; she immediately dropped the hand and looked away.

“Besides. Faerghus uses rings. If I was trying to marry you, I'd give you one of those."

Mercer's grin spread just a little wider. “You do know that I could have this fashioned into a ring, and then it would count since you gave it to me," he stated, holding the geode up as if to inspect it.

“It would not," she said hotly. “Intent matters legally in Faerghus, so—oh." She realized something belatedly and scowled. “That was a joke. Right. Sorry. You probably knew it anyway." He was, after all, very well-educated, even compared to her, particularly in the areas of culture and politics.

“And what if I wasn't joking? What if I was being completely serious?" he stated, his tone completely serious for once. He was staring intently at her, like he'd found her interesting all of a sudden. He took a step closer to her, but he was still a polite distance away.

He was doing it again. The thing where he was just ambiguous enough that her traitorous heart took everything the wrong way and clenched in her chest. She needed to draw a line here. If she didn't do something, she was going to lose everything she still called her own. It was just all going to be—

No. No, no, no. She was the princess of Faerghus, dammit; she had more grit than this!

“Hypothetically?" she said. She could draw herself a line there. It might have been braver to push, to force him to admit he was just playing with her, but she didn't think she could stand to hear him say it. So, the coward's way it was. At least it kept the status quo instead of losing her even more.

“I'd say you must have taken leave of your senses. You have two countries to look after already, neither of them served by a political marriage to a third one's queen. If I was a duchess or something, that might be one thing. But I'm a Blaiddyd. And as much as they hate me... it's my throne to sit on. As yours are yours. So it wouldn't really make any sense to have said that. Hence, you were obviously joking."

Mercer shook his head, but he smiled. “Hypothetically, if I wasn't joking, I'd give up those positions for you. But yes, clearly I was joking," he stated, but there was something strained in his voice. As if he truly weren't joking. It was in the way he'd smiled; it didn't reach his eyes, but he sighed and pointed towards Buttercup.

“I think we should get going. We've been gone for awhile, the others are probably already waiting for us," he stated, turning around to make his way towards the horse.

The words were a hot knife, right to the chest. The duality somehow made it even worse: that hypothetically if he'd loved her he would have gone that far. And also, of course, that he didn't. That it had all been a joke after all.

“That's cruel," she said, without really meaning to but so softly she was sure he couldn't hear. Pulling in a breath, she managed an empty smile and turned on her heel.

“Good point; let's go."


Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Tuesday the 21st
Horse Trails - Evening - Cool
Amalthea von Kreuz

The trails were beautiful, but then again Amalthea thought everything outside of the monastery was. Some of the trees had pink petals, but the way the night light cast them gave them a light sheen of white. It was absolutely breathtaking to her, but not so much as... she paused that thought as she glanced in Vridel's direction, feeling her face heat up. Her heart beat seemed to quicken every time she glanced at him, and it was becoming exceedingly difficult to not blush. And the lighting that surrounded them gave Vridel a rather strange glow, like he was some ethereal being not deserving of walking among them, least of all being with her.

She was happy, though, moreso than words could ever compare to. They were on speaking terms again, and that made her feel something strange every time they did talk. It wasn't profound and deep conversations, though. A simple hello, or good morning from him was enough to make her stomach do those strange flops, and it also seemed to make her heart clench, but not in a bad way. She liked the way it made her feel. It was pleasant, and she enjoyed it every time.

She nudged Sunflower so that she could walk beside Vridel and his horse. She had been slightly ahead, and she wanted to enjoy the scenery with him. “Are you enjoying yourself, so far?" she chanced the question. He was a rather difficult person to read, unlike herself who wore everything for everyone to see. She couldn't hide her emotions; she didn't know how to. She always believed in being sincere with everything she did. It made her feel... well, it made her feel, and that was something new to her that she cherished, for some reason.

Vridel turned slightly towards her at the question. The light reflected brightly off his hair and even his skin, actually—he didn't look like the sort of person who'd seen much sun; even less than her and Sorcha. “I am," he admitted, smiling slightly as if to give her the evidence she lacked. “Senka thinks she's very clever, but I think this time I managed to outsmart her, and besides—it's a nice night."

It was, really; cool but not too chilly, with a clear sky above that allowed the stars and moon to have their effects on what lay below. “I've not often had chances to do things like this," Vridel added quietly. “Especially not since I was a boy."

Amalthea wasn't too sure what he meant by Senka being clever, but she didn't press the question. Instead, she focused on his last statement. “I guess that's something we share in common, then!" she stated, smiling in turn. “Well, you know my situation, but I know nothing of yours, or what you've been through. I mean, you don't have to tell me, I'm sure it's something you'd like to keep to yourself," she was rambling, now, she knew.

“But I feel like I don't know much about what your life has been like, Vridel," she stated, pursing her lips together. “Ah, sorry, I don't mean to pry or make it seem like I am." She really wasn't trying to. She cleared her throat, though, and glanced away from him.

“I'm glad you're enjoying yourself, though. Your smile is really beautiful and I've missed it," she decided to say instead.

Vridel huffed softly, but if anything the smile grew, just a little. “You know normally when a woman's that direct, it comes off a rather different way, but with you it's just cute." He said this nonchalantly, then shrugged.

“As for the rest, when did I say prying wasn't okay? You can ask me whatever you want. If I don't want to answer, I won't. Simple as that."

“Oh, um, but..." she couldn't seem to find her words, so she swallowed thickly and glanced in front of her. Her cheeks were warming, and the tips of her ears were burning again. He'd called her cute. It... sounded different to her. It wasn't quite the way the others would say it, but maybe she was just reading into it? “I'd like to hear a little more about your life, Vi, if that's okay. Whatever you'd like to share with me will be okay, too. Even if it's something small like what your favorite color is, or even your favorite food," though she already knew he liked tomatoes.

“And... if there's anything you'd like to know about me, I'll tell you, too. It'll be an even exchange!" she stated. She didn't want to make it feel like something that was one-way. She just wanted to know more about him, and maybe... if she did, she wouldn't have this crush on him. Or maybe she still would? She pursed her lips together, trying to get her thoughts in order.

Vridel cocked an eyebrow at her, then turned away a moment to guide his horse over a shallow creek crossing the trail. It kicked up droplets of water that sparkled like crystals in the light.

Once they were across, he hummed. “All right then. How about this? You ask a question, and then I ask one, and so on, but we both have to answer. That should keep it fair. For example... I am curious as to what you know about your parents, if anything. Mine are, of course, Emperor Ionius on the one hand, and Patricia von Arundel on the other. My mother was a relatively low-ranking lady from a minor noble house. As the story is told, however, my father fell in love with her at first sight, here at the Monastery actually. As he was already married, however, he took her for his concubine instead."

He said all of it dispassionately, like it really had nothing to do with him at all. Like it was just a mildly interesting story about someone else's parents.

She chewed the bottom of her lip in a thoughtful manner. “I don't know much about my parents, actually. I don't know who they were, and Lyanna never spoke of them. I'm guessing our parents must have died shortly after I was born, but..." Amalthea couldn't be too sure. “It's also possible that we were orphans, but I'm not sure about that, either. For as long as I've known, it's always been just Lyanna and myself. She hasn't even aged at all, all these years," she continued, smiling just slightly.

It was true from what Amalthea could remember. Lyanna always looked the same; nothing really seemed to change in her appearance except the occasional hair cut, though she hadn't done that in a while. “Do you have any siblings?" she decided to ask, since they were on the topic of family. She couldn't recall if he'd mentioned if he did, or not.

“I used to," he said after an unusually-long pause. “I had one blood sister, and ten other half-siblings, from my father's wife and various concubines." He huffed softly. “I suppose that must seem strange to you—only the Empire ever does it. The concubinage thing. They'll do just about anything to ensure the royal line has a Crest-bearer in it. Even some of the larger noble houses do it, if they're wealthy enough. Duke Aegir has a wife and a couple of lovers."

He glanced at her askance. “They died. My siblings. Most of them, anyway. A few of them are still technically alive, but..." he pursed his lips. “Their minds are no longer their own, and they have to be taken care of."

Amalthea felt a slight ache in her heart when he spoke. She supposed she was rather lucky to still have Lyanna. Without her, Amalthea wasn't so sure what would have happened to her, or if she'd even still be alive. “I'm sorry to hear that. I've... I've never understood the thing about Crests, and why people are so adamant to have them. I can understand that the extra power that comes from it does come in handy, but... it shouldn't be something to be coveted. People shouldn't be expected to hold positions of power just because they have a Crest." She pursed her lips together and shook her head. The only good thing about her own Crest was that she could use it to heal her friends, and the people she cared about.

The books she'd read about Crests never made much sense to her, or why people thought they had to have a child who bore one in order to lead their House. “After all, wouldn't someone who didn't have a Crest be just as capable as one who did?" she spoke mostly to herself with that statement.

“I'm sorry, I didn't mean to ask another question without you asking yours," she stated, turning her attention back towards him. She had to suck in a breath, though. He really did look lovely under the moonlight, and she had to shake the thought from her mind. She couldn't think of that right now. She was trying to get to know her friend. Friend. She kept repeating the word in her mind which seemed to help for the moment.

“I think that hardly counts, as it isn't really a question about me," he pointed out. “But to answer it, I suppose it depends on what you mean by capable. It is of course ridiculous to decide who makes government decisions by an accident of birth, but all systems of royalty and nobility do that, not just the ones that emphasize Crests. If it wasn't that, it would be something equally inane, like birth order. But someone needs the training, and it takes a lifetime to even begin to be good at."

Briefly, a troubled look crossed his face, and he shook his head. “Sometimes more than a lifetime, I suppose. In any case... what's your favorite kind of weather? I rather enjoy the snow, particularly at night. It doesn't snow much in Adrestia, and never as far south as Enbarr, so I'd never seen it before I went to live in Faerghus."

“I enjoy the spring time. It's always nice, not too cold, nor warm. It's almost like perfect weather, although I'm not so sure something perfect exists. Well, at least not like yo..." she paused, her lips pursed out as she was about to say you. She coughed, though, cleared her throat, and smiled nervously. “We don't get much snow at the monastery. It'll snow every other year or so, but it's not as common as what you'd find in Faerghus. We should be getting it this year, though, since it didn't snow last year."

Vridel snickered softly, perhaps aware of the direction the other sentence had been going, but something about it seemed a tad off. Maybe the way the smile faded a little. “Well, I suppose that's something to look forward to, then. Your turn to ask something."

She thought about the question she wanted to ask. She'd asked superficial things so far, but there was one thing she wanted to know. A small smile crossed her lips as she glanced at him. “What... what are your dreams, Vridel? Your aspirations and desires," she asked, keeping his gaze as best as she could. It always unnerved her, a bit, when she did that. But she couldn't let it affect her the way it did. She needed to be able to look him in the eye as a friend, and not as someone she admired and liked. After all, maybe her crush was just superficial because he was pleasant to look at? At least that's what some of the other students had told her it stemmed from.

They weren't wrong; Vridel was handsome, but there was something more to it. It was his personality, and the way he just seemed more when she was with him. Maybe she was reading too much into it? She pushed it from her thoughts, and from her heart, for now.

He looked almost taken aback to be asked, just for a moment, blinking slowly at her. Then his brows furrowed a little bit, and he deftly steered his horse around a fallen branch, forcing them single-file for a moment before they both cleared it and could resume riding aside each other.

It took him a while to answer; several minutes passed in relative quiet, except for the footfalls and breathing of the horses, and the occasional creak of saddle leather, and the chorus of nighttime insects and frogs.

“I want..." he paused, unusually halting in his speech. “I suppose it will sound pretentious to say in such plain terms, but... I want a better world." His lips pursed. “You haven't much left the monastery, so you may not know, but... it is not uncommon for people to starve to death, out there. Diseases and banditry are rampant; there are so many completely preventable ways in which entire towns can just be... wiped off a map. Fódlan is dying."

His lips twisted into a grimace. “Or if not dying, then... sometimes it seems as though it is always kept just on the cusp. Just barely able to stay alive. To look at the nobles, you'd hardly know it, but even they're constantly at risk. Infighting, and more dangerously, the very tenuous peace between nations. It feels sometimes as though the lives of everyone on the continent teeter in a precarious balance, but it's hard to see if you can't stand far enough back to see how everything fits together. To a farmer, a drought is a drought. A disease a disease. They are realities of life, and the only thing to be done is work as hard as possible to grow what she can, live as well as she can, and pray."

A soft gust of air escaped him, almost a sigh. “But from where I'm standing... that drought could have been ameliorated by saving more from previous years, and giving it out when it was most needed, if only we had the ability. That disease could have been prevented or cured, if only we were able to create the solutions. But so much stands in the way. Not least of all the Church, who would rather we pray to a deaf goddess for rescue than make our own salvation. What I want... is a world where humans have the tools to be their own salvation. Where nothing stands in their way."

He looked over at her then, something almost challenging in his facial expression, as though he expected her to argue with him.

She gave his answer some thought. These were things she agreed with, things she wanted to do. She told Lyanna that she wanted to make the world a better place so that people didn't have to fight. That they would have enough to live and not resort to killing and stealing from each other. She was learning things, slowly perhaps, but nonetheless she was learning. She knew the world wasn't as bright as the monastery was, and even the church had shown her a rather dark side of it. But to hear him have almost the same dreams, and aspirations...

“I want those things, too," she admitted in a soft voice. “I want to change the world, and make it so that no one has to fight any longer, nor resort to violence just to survive. The small glimpses of the world I've been able to see," she paused to bring a closed fist to her chest, “it hurts to see people like that. Struggling just to survive, and being robbed by those they trust. And... I believe that if we ask the goddess for the strength to save ourselves, even if she doesn't hear us, I think maybe just the thought that maybe she does is what gives us that strength."

“I want to fight to change the world so that maybe one day... one day everyone can be happy and live a peaceful life where no one loses their smile." Amalthea wasn't so sure if she could survive in a world like that, where no one smiled and all seemed hopeless.

“I want to give people hope," if nothing else.

Vridel did sigh this time, a melancholy thing that matched the slight frown on his face. “I fear that making that world will entail breaking things you seem to hold dear," he murmured, but shook his head and elaborated no further.

“Anyway, I suppose we should find something to bring back, just to say we did." He dismounted his horse while she was still in motion, landing lightly on the ground. “Animal? Vegetable? Mineral? Do you have a preference?"

But didn't he know she was alright with that? If it meant breaking the things she held dear to create that world for everyone else, it was a sacrifice she was willing to make. She sighed softly and slid off of Sunflower, and patted the horse's neck.

“I don't have a preference," she murmured softly, glancing in his direction. She took in their surroundings, though, to see what was available to them. There were a few flowers growing next to the tree trunks, and there were a couple of firebugs flashing their light around them. “I don't believe it really matters what we do bring back, just as long as something comes back with us. What do you suggest we take back?" she asked, tilting her head slightly.

“I think it matters even less than that," he remarked dryly. “But I'm doing it to make a point to Sen, in a manner of speaking." He scanned the clearing, until his eyes stopped abruptly on a small patch of flowers. They were gorgeous, with layered colors from the inside out: a brilliant gold, then a deep purple, and on the outside, a white so pure it was almost bright in the dark. Vridel seemed to know them; he approached the cluster and crouched, snorting softly.

“You like to pick flowers for people, don't you? These are mine."

“I like picking flowers for people and making them floral crowns. It makes the flowers look beautiful, and the people who wear them, even moreso," she replied with a light nod of her head. She approached the flowers and glanced at the variety of them. The ones Vridel chose were rather beautiful, and she was half-tempted to ask him if he'd like her to weave them into a crown for him, however; the thought was pushed immediately from her head, as her cheeks heated up.

“I can pick one of each color and bring them back for Sen, Professor, Mercer, and Sorcha!" she stated, kneeling down to get a closer look. “Since you've already chosen yours," she paused for a moment to run her finger along one of the flower petals, “I'll take these for the others," she stated as she spotted another patch of flowers. They weren't quite as lovely as the ones Vridel had found, but the different shades matched her friends, she thought. For Sorcha, she picked a flower that was a true blue, with a white center to it. They almost looked like baby blue eyes, if Amalthea recalled her botany lessons correctly.

For Mercer she chose a gold daffodil located just a little further from Vridel. She spotted another one, though it was red in color, she thought the daisy would be perfect for Professor. For Senka, she found a dark purple iris. Once she had one of each, she made her way back towards Vridel, and smiled. “It's not quite enough to make them floral crowns, but they can all appreciate one flower, each, right?" she stated, holding the flowers up to Vridel to show him what she'd collected.

“I didn't actually mean physical picking," he said with some amusement. “Rather your tendency to choose ones that you think of as suiting them. But I suppose literally picking them flowers wouldn't go wrong." He half smiled, then nodded at the collection, touching a finger to one of the petals of the one he'd said was his.

“These are called ephemera. They only bloom for a day and a night before they wither." He shook his head faintly, the smile fading into something indecipherable. “But others grow on the plant to replace them. I suppose I hope for that, too."

“Oh," she found herself saying a bit late. “I can see why you'd pick these for your flower," she stated, smiling at him as she glanced at it. “They're beautiful, and even though they bloom for a short time, they leave a rather long-lasting effect on people, I think," she continued, her eyes narrowing with the force of her smile. His last statement finally dawned on her, and she turned her attention towards him.

“You hope for that?" she questioned, blinking confusedly in his direction. “So... you mean you hope that others will be able to continue and replace you?" she asked. It didn't quite make sense to her, but that might have been something she'd taken out of context. She tended to overthink things sometimes, that way.

“I don't think anyone could ever replace you, though, Vi. You're... well, you're really special, and I like that about you."

He shook his head. “Be that as it may," he said, almost a touch amused, though it faded quickly. “If the world I want is going to live past me, someone must." He took a hand away from the petal, and gave her a gentle nod. “I think the others will like these very much, Thea. Should we go deliver them?"

If that were the case, Thea hoped Vridel lived a long life, but she did not voice this out loud. “We should, that way everyone can enjoy them!" she replied. She really did hope he lived a long, happy life.

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

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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


Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal
Jeralt's Journal

[ Codex of Information ]

Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg
Vridel von Hresvelg

"Time is running out. All I can do is make the most of it."

Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner
Cyril Eisner

"I don't know if I can atone for these failures. But I know I have to try."

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan
Mercer von Riegan

"It's been so long..."

Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz
Amalthea von Kreuz

"So much pain and suffering. I just want to help."

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi
Senka Rinaldi

"Never again..."


Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan
Mercer von Riegan

"It's been so long..."

Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg
Vridel von Hresvelg

"Time is running out. All I can do is make the most of it."

Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz
Amalthea von Kreuz

"So much pain and suffering. I just want to help."

Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner
Cyril Eisner

"I don't know if I can atone for these failures. But I know I have to try."

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi
Senka Rinaldi

"Never again..."

Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal
Jeralt's Journal

[ Codex of Information ]

Most Followed

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi
Senka Rinaldi

"Never again..."

Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg
Vridel von Hresvelg

"Time is running out. All I can do is make the most of it."

Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal
Jeralt's Journal

[ Codex of Information ]

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan
Mercer von Riegan

"It's been so long..."

Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner
Cyril Eisner

"I don't know if I can atone for these failures. But I know I have to try."

Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz
Amalthea von Kreuz

"So much pain and suffering. I just want to help."

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Fódlan by Nemeseia

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


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

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Welcome to "Fire Emblem: Apotheosis! This is a private roleplay between Aethyia and myself, however; please do feel free to read a long! We don't mind, honestly.

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