Fire Emblem: Apotheosis

Fire Emblem: Apotheosis

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

3,282 readers have visited Fire Emblem: Apotheosis since Nemeseia created it.
Aethyia are builders, granting them the ability to shape the world and alter sovereignty.

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

Introduction



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Toggle Rules

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

Taking place in...

Fódlan our primary setting

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Tuesday the 21st
Horse Trails - Evening - Cool
Cyril Eisner


The route Senka had chosen for them ran almost directly alongside one of the many small streams that flowed into the lake at Garreg Mach. Given enough time, Cyril was confident it would taken them around to the back side of it, near where they'd had her birthday celebration. He'd noted that she was still wearing the pin he'd made for her—it warmed him a little every time he saw it. He didn't think he could recall anyone ever appreciating his little hobby before, but then again he didn't regularly go handing out such things. He didn't have time to make many to begin with, and even then he ended up unmaking them most of the time. They hadn't ever seemed right as gifts, either. He'd spent several weeks trying to get the design right on that one, to integrate the lockpick properly and so on.

Exhaling gently, he let his eyes trail along the creek, which shone rather like a silver ribbon against the darker landscape. The thought surprised him slightly; he'd never been one for poetic speech or metaphors. It probably wasn't a very good one.

Shifting his eyes away, he rested them momentarily on Senka. “So I suppose this is the part in the nefarious scheme where you simply let things percolate for a while to observe again later?" There was a rich thread of amusement in his tone; oddly enough he was already smiling.

She huffed lightly, shifting her eyes to meet his. “Of course," she replied simply, smiling in his direction. The smile was a little different though, as if she were grinning in the same mischievous way Mercer usually did. It smoothed out a moment later, though, and she shifted her gaze back towards the scenery. “They needed this. After all they have been through... they deserve to enjoy something light and beautiful. I know that Sorcha will resent me for a little while, but I'm alright with that. And Vridel, well..." she trailed off and smiled again.

“How are you faring, lately, though? Are you well?" she asked, her voice laced with something like concern.

He huffed softly, unsure why she'd feel the need to be concerned about him. As it seemed to Cyril, by far the greater share of the problems going around affected his students directly, and himself only as someone who happened to care about them and take their protection seriously. “I'm fine," he said softly. “I'm actually... to be honest I don't think I've ever been... happier." He frowned slightly, aware that this could possibly seem quite insensitive, especially given recent events.

“Not that I enjoy what everyone has been through, but—I suppose you know this, but the life I have now is very different from the one I had before. Better. And oddly enough less likely to kill anyone, for whatever that's worth." He lifted one hand from his reins and rubbed at the back of his neck, feeling as he sometimes did that he wasn't quite expressing himself properly. Still, he was pretty sure she wouldn't hold it against him, which was nice to know.

“What about you?" he inquired, tilting his head at her.

Her expression softened considerably as did her smile. “I think, for the first time in a long time, I'm truly happy. I haven't... it feels like I haven't been able to express myself this way since before the Tragedy. It's nice to know that I haven't lost my smile, completely, and I'll always be grateful to you for helping me find it." She was staring at him as she spoke, her eyes intent as they seemed to be as of late.

“And, well..." she paused, turning her attention to the back of Libi's head. “Like I told your father, you've... you've given me a new reason to live. I don't feel like I'm such a burden to everyone, and... it feels nice to know that. That I'm not defined by what I am, or the Crest I bear. Even if everyone knows that, now, I'm still me. It's still taking me some time to understand what that means, and to fully accept it, but..."

She shook her head and glanced back at him. “I think I can, eventually."

A new reason to live? Cyril was genuinely surprised that he'd done any such thing, though he supposed the 'you' could well have been plural. Either way... he felt a rare welling of outright happiness, tinted with... affection? He thought that might perhaps be what the feeling was called, and he wondered if perhaps it wasn't showing on his face. He could certainly feel his expression relax, and his father had noted that when this happened, his eyes warmed until they were almost a different color, a richer version of the usual darkened gold-amber hue of them.

“I'm glad," he said simply, turning his attention briefly to the trail ahead of them. “If I can ask... what's the reason?" He wanted to know, somehow, what she'd decided to live for. What made the world keep turning for her. For so long, Cyril's life too had been without much purpose, but he too had changed. What was once a simple matter of living to survive, to make it through whichever battle was next and make sure his father and their men did the same... there was so much more to it now. It felt... almost like the entire world was different from what he'd ever thought, and the difference was them.

“The reason?" she stated, pursing her lips and glancing at the reigns in her hands. “Hope," she replied after a moment of silence. “You've given me hope, and helped me find my heart in it," she continued, glancing in his direction. “I used to think that it was stupid to hope for anything, but now... I hope and wish for a lot of things. I wish to see the world my friends will create, and I hope to help them do it. I wish to see all of their dreams come to fruition, even if mine do not. I can be happy knowing that all they've been through, every obstacle and pillar in their path, was worth it because they finally achieved their dreams. Whatever they may be."

“More than anything, though, I hope that you'll always be there to guide us. Even... even after we leave this place, I hope you'll still be there for us when we need you. I..." she paused, though, and furrowed her brows. She didn't say anything after that, and returned her attention back to the trail.

It gave him a chance to study her profile. He didn't try to hide the fact that he was doing it—she'd given him rather a lot to think about. The words she spoke had at once warmed and concerned him. Senka had come a long way, he thought, since he'd first met her, but he knew that what lay in her history was not the kind of thing that was simply dealt with.

Guiding the horse beneath him more on instinct than by conscious effort, he brought her up alongside Libi until they were walking close enough that his and Senka's feet almost brushed. He leaned slightly, trying to catch her eye. When he thought he had it, he spoke quietly, almost too much so to be heard over the ambient sounds around them, the trickle of the creek or the chirping of the insects or the motion of the horses.

“I'm here," he murmured. “And, if you need me, I'll find a way to be there, even after you've left this place behind. It might take a while, or be less than I'd like, sometimes, but... for as long as I'm alive, all you have to do is say the word. I promise."

He knew not what compelled him to make such a vow, but he knew he wanted to. Knew he wanted to be there, for her, as long as she felt she needed him. Had any use for him at all. The others, too, to be sure, but—whatever the truth of its nature might be, he could not and would not deny that there was something special about her. About Senka. Perhaps there had been ever since the night she'd woken him up screaming next door. Cyril had never been helpful in that way in his entire life before, but somehow... somehow, he'd been able to help her. His feelings, his desire to be helpful, had meant something to her. And her pain, the person beneath it—

Those things had meant something to him.

There was a flicker of something in her eyes, then. It was hard to say what it was, exactly, having passed just as quickly as she furrowed her brows. “I couldn't ask that of you, to make such a promise as that. It's... it's more than enough that you're already here with us, with me. I... I'll always need you, and rely on you, Cyril," she continued, her eyes hardening for just a moment before they softened again.

“I'm able to overcome so much because of everything you've done. It's more than I already deserve, and for you to make a promise like that..." she trailed off, shaking her head softly. “I couldn't ask you to make that promise. You'll have your own life to take care of after I leave, and I... I'll be," she couldn't seem to find the words she wanted to say, and her eyes dropped to her hands again. She took in a soft breath, and regarded him with a soft smile.

“Thank you, though. For everything."

Impulsively, he found himself reaching for one of her hands with his own, drawing it into the space between them and squeezing gently. She'd done something similar for him once, and he remembered it having a certain... comfort to it. “You don't have to ask," he said, tone soft. Maybe it seemed like an imposition to her, but he didn't regret making the promise, and he didn't want to take it back.

“And the truth is... I won't. Have my own life, I mean. Not in any important sense. I wasn't really living, before I met all of you." He released a soft gust of air, not really amused but something adjacent, wry and a touch self-deprecating. “Meeting you... it's the first time I've ever thought I matter. Because if I could help you, do something for you when you needed it—maybe it meant something that I was born at all."

He looked down at their hands, tracing his thumb along the backs of her fingers. Slowly, they were becoming a swordswoman's hands, as strong and capable as the rest of her, but they were still small in his. Softer than he was used to. “And now that I know what it is to... to care this much—I don't think I could stand to go back to what my life was before."

She took a sharp intake of air, and for a moment, she stared wide-eyed at him. It was as if she were seeing something in a different way for the first time, and there was a slow coloring to her face. She didn't take her hand from his, though, and merely stared at them. Her eyes softened a bit, though, and there was a small smile tugging at her lips.

“I do not know why you'd say such things like that. They're... not something you should say to someone like me, but thank you," she spoke, repositioning her hand so that her fingers were intertwined with his. She gave his hand a gentle squeeze as well, before sighing softly. “I cherish you more than I have a right to, and... I don't think I could, either. Stand to go back to what my life was before this."

“It wasn't as bright as it is, now, and I think... I think that has a lot to do with you. I... erm," she cleared her throat in a nervous manner, as if what she was about to say was embarrassing to her.

Somehow, this provoked something similar in him, and Cyril felt his own face heat a little bit, too. He swallowed thickly, knowing in a distant sort of way that he wanted to say something about the 'someone like her part'—if it took every year he had left, he wanted to help her stop thinking of herself that way—but his tongue felt thick and heavy in his mouth, and words were slow to form. He wasn't really an eloquent speaker to begin with, but he could usually manage to produce words.

Well say something, the girl supplied helpfully, or she won't know what to think! You're so bad with women, honestly!

Not sure exactly what that had to do with anything, Cyril nevertheless blurted the first thing that came to him. “Because they're true," he said, trying to explain himself even if he had to do it clumsily. “You're—you're a special person, Senka. Even if you don't believe it. I do. I know, so." He swallowed, losing the thread and grimacing faintly at himself.

“I hope... I hope you get everything you dream of."

Senka huffed lightly before she was laughing at him. Perhaps it was their own embarrassment, or something she found funny, however; she shook her head at him. “I'm not special, but it means a lot that you think I am," she replied. “But maybe one day I'll be able to get what I dream of. I... honestly don't remember what my dreams were before, but I think... I think I have new ones. What about you, Cyril? What are your dreams?" she asked, tilting her head at him as if she were studying him.

The question caught him a little off-guard. “I... I don't really have any," he admitted. “I mean, I dream about things, of course, but I don't have any aspirations, really. I guess I've always thought that one day my father might want to retire, and then I'd probably run the company, but—it was more of a supposition than a desire."

She arched a brow at him. “So there's nothing you want or desire, now? No dreams, or aspirations that you've come to want?" she asked.

Oh! I know this one! This is where you're supposed to say 'you'!

It took great effort to maintain a neutral expression when the girl interjected again.

What? That sounds like a come-on.

That's because it is, you idiot.

He pushed the girl's intrusive thoughts out of his mind, trying to think seriously about the question. Even if she was mocking him, though, something about the answer stuck, like he couldn't quite expunge it from his thoughts. He'd been very careful, thus far, not to let himself think of his students in such a way. He recognized that Senka was beautiful, of course—no few of them were. But it hadn't been and wasn't something he could acknowledge in any way beyond the dry, objective facts of the matter.

He was sure he'd been silent for too long, but when he replied, he thought he was at least honest. “I want..." he pursed his lips, looking out at the creek for a moment. “I want you all to live," he said at last. “Live well, and live long. To be safe, and happy. That's what I want."

Senka huffed lightly at his response, her hand squeezing his again, though it seemed she wasn't quite aware she'd done it. “I suppose it is a reasonable wish, one that I shall do my upmost to help you achieve. And for what it's worth, I know I'm happy, more-so than I've ever been, because of you," she replied, and the smile on her face conveyed it, her happiness.

“Shall we see what we can find to bring back as a sample? I'm sure the others have all gathered something by now, even if it wasn't really required. The objective, I think, has been achieved."

The smile returned to his face at that, and he nodded simply. “Let's."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Friday the 24th
Outside Garreg Mach - Evening - Cloudy
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer thought it was hilarious that Teach's dad suggested a party, of all things, for all of them. While he wasn't against it, he knew that a particular individual wouldn't find it appropriate. Not that any of them cared what she had to say about it, except maybe Thea, but Mercer found he was looking forward to the party. Currently, he was on his way to meet the group. They had agreed that it would be best to meet during the evening, and leave the monastery so that they could actually enjoy themselves. Mercer was almost certain that Thea and Sorcha were too young to be drinking; and he knew that they would be.

But there was a first time for everything, he supposed. He found he was the first one to arrive at their designated meeting area, and he sighed to himself. He should have lived a little more up to his reputation as a lazy ass who didn't want to do much, but it was becoming exceedingly harder to do so. He was up during class lectures, paid attention when the professor's spoke, and actually participated in some of the class debates. They were nice, to be sure, but Mercer felt like he was becoming a little too comfortable. And that needed to stop. He couldn't allow himself to do that, because that meant someone in Derdriu would find out, and try to use it against him.

Shaking the thought from his head, he crossed his arms over his chest and waited for the others.

Unsurprisingly, perhaps, Teach and Jeralt were the next to arrive, each of them carrying a rather impressively-sized cask over one shoulder like it weighed nothing whatsoever. Teach even waved at him ash they found a decent flat spot of ground to set the things down on. Following not too far behind was, surprisingly, Professor Manuela, who was carrying several blankets and such for the ground, it seemed. Devon brought up the rear with a shovel, for some reason.

“We plan on burying someone?" Mercer asked, arching a brow in Devon's direction. It was at this time that Dierdre and Sylvi appeared, though Dierdre gave Mercer a flat look.

“Maybe you," she replied, causing Mercer to snort. Sylvi rolled her eyes, holding onto a basket of sorts. Perhaps it had food in it? Mercer couldn't tell. Dierdre was holding a similar basket, and it was possible they both had food inside.

“I guess we're just waiting on Vi, Thea, Sor, and Sen," he stated, shaking his head. It wasn't long until Thea appeared, holding onto what looked like napkins. Maybe they were bringing food?

“Sorry, I couldn't find the napkins and I had to have help," she stated as her excuse. Mercer grinned slightly.

“Are you sure that's what it was? Maybe you were just distracted by something, or maybe someone?" he stated, watching as her cheeks turned a bright pink.

“You shut your fish face, Mercer!" Thea huffed lightly, and made her way towards the others. Dierdre snickered softly as did Sylvi. Mercer just laughed.

When Vridel appeared, he was carrying a smallish crate in both hands. It was stamped with the word 'flammable' in red lettering on the outside, but other than that gave little indication of its contents. He set it down near the casks, rolling the sleeves of the shirt he'd worn under his tunic. It was still a little warm out, though no doubt it would cool quickly as the evening wore on.

Teach had taken the shovel from Devon and was using it to dig what seemed to be a roughly-circular hole in the ground, shallow but wide across. “If you can all collect some loose wood, we can get the bonfire going," he said simply.

“We already have some," Senka called out as she arrived with Sorcha. She had a small bundle of logs in her arms, though they didn't seem to bother her if they were heavy. Mercer arched a brow at her, however; he didn't say anything. She placed the bundle on the ground, and glanced in Sorcha's direction.

“So, a fire with some drinks? All we're missing is the music and we'd have ourselves a little dance," Mercer stated, grinning lightly before shaking his head. Senka rolled her eyes at Mercer, but made her way towards Sorcha. It was only a moment later when Professor Hanneman showed up, looking a little out of breath and flustered.

“Sorry I'm late, I was caught up with—"

“Your Crest research, yes, we are quite aware, Professor Hanneman," Dierdre deadpanned as she glanced in his direction. He huffed something indignant, before pursing his lips together. It was enough, though, that Thea chuckled lightly before she set to helping Manuela place the blankets down on the ground.

“Theoretically there's music," Jeralt replied with a shrug. “Cyril here can play a lute, if anyone happens to have one, and I've got a couple guys bringing a drum or two."

“Ohhh," Professor Manuela seemed very interested in this development. “You should have said so! I've a lute, and a number of other artifacts from the old opera days. I'll be right back." With a wink, she turned and hurried off in a flutter of white and teal robes.

Teach, who didn't seem to have heard the commentary about him, finished with the fire pit about then, and set about layering the wood inside, first some of the thicker logs around the outside and then in a tented pattern more inwardly. He lit it with a touch of magic, then stepped back to give it space to grow.

“This is a pretty neat setup," Sorcha said with a bit of a smile. She looked slightly nervous for some reason, but it seemed to fade quickly enough in the company.

“All right." Jeralt drew attention towards himself, taking a tin cup from a pile of them and tossing it to Teach, who caught it one-handed. “I'd say don't go crazy, but that's kind of the point. There's plenty to go around, so don't be shy."

Another cup flew through the air towards Mercer, then Senka, then Hanneman and Sofia, then Dierdre, and so on until everyone had a drinking vessel. “Food's in the baskets. Hop to it, kids."

Mercer didn't hesitate, and made his way towards the first cask to pour a drink for himself. He was used to this, after all. Besides... they could all let loose and enjoy themselves for once, right?

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Friday the 24th
Outside Garreg Mach - Late Evening - Cloudy
Vridel von Hresvelg


The bonfire had since built itself into a roar, and the food and drinks were flowing freely. A few people were picking at the instruments Professor Manuela had provided, but for the most part the focus hadn't shifted that much yet.

Vridel was a little impressed by the Professor and Jeralt, to be entirely honest. The amount of alcohol the both of them had worked through so far greatly exceeded the next person, and it didn't really seem to be hitting any of them. After the first shared round, most everyone had been drinking at their own pace, which for some of them was quite slow indeed. Sorcha hadn't so much as touched anything yet, even; he wasn't entirely surprised.

Mercer seemed to be working on his second cup, and was grinning at something Dierdre said. Senka, however, looked to be taking her time on her second cup as well, though Amalthea hadn't so much as finished her first. It was her first time drinking if the sour expression on her face was anything to go on. Sylvi seemed quite content to go at her own pace as well, finishing her first cup in time to pour herself a second one. She either didn't mind the taste, or she had had a few drinks in her life, before. Professor Hanneman had yet to touch his cup, though, and was staring at it as if it were something to study.

“Alright, you light weight. Let's see who can drink the most, then!" Dierdre shouted suddenly, pointing an accusatory finger in Mercer's direction. He merely held his hands up in defense as if that would protect him from Dierdre's wrath. His eyes, however, landed with Vridel's, and he grinned in that mischievous way he usually did when he was up to something.

“Fine, I'll challenge you, but how about we make it more fun? How about everyone gets in on the game, hm? What do you say? Shall we see who can drink the most?" he stated, causing Sylvi to roll her eyes. Amalthea merely pursed her lips in Mercer's direction as Senka shook her head.

“Do I have to? I'm not... this isn't easy to drink," Amalthea stated as she glanced at the cup in her hand. Mercer, however, nodded.

“Everyone has to participate, otherwise it wouldn't be any fun."

"Hey now, no forcing anyone," Jeralt said mildly. "Willing participants early. That said... who wants in?" He raised his own hand, demonstrating the response he wanted. The professor shrugged and raised his as well, as did Professor Manuela, grinning from ear to ear. Devon, Sorcha and Sofia opted out, but surprisingly Reynard put his hand up. Senka seemed to think about it no longer than a second before she raised her hand. Mercer had his hand already raised the moment Jeralt suggested it, and Thea seemed to give it a little more thought before hesitantly raising hers. Dierdre had her hand raised, but Sylvi and Hanneman seemed to opt out as well.

Vridel considered it a moment, then raised his hand as well. Why not?

"All right, that's a pretty good number. So here's what we're gonna do. We need someone sober to do pours so everyone gets about the same every time. Sorcha, you'll do." He pointed at her with one of the fingers wrapped around his cup and nodded. "Then we go in rounds. Anyone who can't get their drink down in thirty seconds is out. Time between rounds is just long enough for Sorcha to get everyone's glasses filled back up. If you pass out, you lose. If you puke, you lose. You can give up whenever you want. Otherwise, there's no rules. Sound good?"

The participants nodded, and everyone sorted themselves, so that the contestants were roughly in a circle near one of the kegs. Sorcha quickly filled the cups and distributed them—fortunately they'd all written names or initials on theirs so there wasn't any confusion.

"All right," Jeralt said. "Round one's a go!"

Vridel picked up his glass, downing the ale inside with a few quick gulps. Everyone else managed to do the same, and the game moved to round two.

Mercer seemed to down his drink rather quickly during the second round, doing so in only two quick drinks it looked like. Senka managed to get hers down in a few quick gulps as well, but Thea seemed to have a bit of trouble, coughing a bit before setting her cup down. Dierdre didn't want to be outdone by Mercer, it seemed, and tried to get hers down in one quick gulp, but managed to cough on it.

“Ugh, how can anyone drink so fast!" Thea stated as she pushed the cup away from her. Her cheeks were tinged with a light pink color, and her eyes were narrowed at the others. “It burns too much when it goes down," she murmured before glancing at Vridel. She pursed her lips before pushing a sigh through her nose, and glanced back at the others.

He couldn't help but smile to himself, accepting his cup back when Sorcha filled it. He was honestly a bit surprised Thea was participating at all, but then it was sort of like her to try something new just for the experience. He supposed if he'd been as sheltered as she obviously was, he'd have been similarly-inclined.

“You can try holding your nose," he said. “Taste has a lot to do with smell." He also kind of wanted to see her try to hold her nose and drink, as he thought it'd be rather cute, in a silly way.

Jeralt called for the next round, and Vridel downed his cup. Reynard, the Professor and Jeralt were obviously holding quite steady still. Professor Manuela looked almost bored.

Amalthea quickly glanced at Vridel before doing as he suggested. She pinched her nose closed, and took a drink. As soon as she released her nose, she pursed her lips in his direction. “Ugh, that didn't help at all, Vi!" she stated before shaking her head. Mercer downed his cup rather quickly, however; Senka still seemed to be going at a reasonable pace.

“I'll pass on this next round," she murmured, placing her cup behind her so it wouldn't get refilled.

He snorted softly, reaching over to ruffle her hair and bending a little to speak near her ear. “Since you're out, maybe you wouldn't mind cheering for me?" He was feeling a little competitive, after all. Just perhaps not in the way those taking the contest seriously were.

Rounds continued to pass, and Vridel found himself glad for the endurance of long social events in the Empire, where not being able to hold one's liquor was culturally considered to be weakness of a sort. It was the same in the Kingdom, actually, and the potato-based spirit they favored up there was, in a word, disgusting.

Manuela was starting to look a little unsteady by round five, but didn't take herself out until after round seven.

Senka had stopped by round six, having either resigned, or could no longer keep going. It was hard to tell. Mercer was still in the game by round seven, though Dierdre had stopped after the fifth round. She was currently next to Sofia with her arms wrapped around her. She seemed upset about something, but it was possibly due to the fact that she lost to Mercer. Sofia was patting her back consolingly, but rolled her eyes when Vridel looked in her direction

“You can do this, Vi!" Thea stated, apparently inclined to take Vridel's suggestion to cheer for him. Her cheeks were a darker color, now, perhaps due to embarrassment. “You've only Mercer, Professor, Reynard, and Captain! You can outlast them!" she continued, smiling brightly up at him.

“Oh, a cheering section," Reynard mused as Sorcha filled their cups for the eighth time. Vridel was quite starting to feel the effects now, the world blurring in a warm, pleasant sort of fashion.

“I think perhaps our other spectators should declare their loyalties as well," the other man continued, scanning the crowd. “Let's say... anyone who backs the winner doesn't have to do cleanup."

“Uhhh... I pick Sir Jeralt?" Devon said, almost making it a question.

“Oh, I'll pick Vi, then!" Amalthea exclaimed, raising her hand as if she were trying to answer something. “What about you, Dierdre, Senka, Sylvi?" she asked, glancing in their directions.

“Cyril," was Senka's reply. Dierdre narrowed her eyes in Mercer's direction but pointed in Reynard's direction.

“I'll pick Reynard," she stated, sticking her tongue out in Mercer's direction. He laughed, though, as Sylvi rolled her eyes.

“I choose Jeralt," was Sylvi's response. Hanneman merely shook his head, and didn't pick anyone. Manuela looked amused, but shook her head too, leaning heavily into Hanneman and wrapping both of her arms around one of his. His face took on a faint pink color.

Sofia considered the remaining contestants, then smiled slightly. “Professor Cyril," she said confidently.

Thea leaned in close to Vridel, though, so that her shoulder was brushing his lightly, however; she spoke in a hushed voice with her eyes kept out in front of her. “You've got this, Vi. They don't have anything on you."

Vridel was highly amused that no one had chosen Mercer, but there was an even funnier idea than that on the table, so he made use of it. “Sorcha hasn't picked," he observed. The brush of Amalthea's shoulder against his was nice, but in his half-drunk state he didn't think it quite good enough. Fortunately, there was an easy solution to this, and as his cup was being filled he leaned over to pick her up, depositing her directly in front of him, his legs shifted out to either side, so he could wind his arms around her waist from behind and set his chin on her head.

“This okay?" he asked, low enough that only she'd be able to hear.

He could hear Amalthea swallow rather thickly as she slowly nodded, perhaps as to not disturb his position. “Y—yes, it's fine." she stuttered out. She placed her hands on one of his around her waist, but didn't seem to do anything else. She was slightly warm, and it was easy to tell from the tips of her ears that her entire face was red. He smiled a little, tilting his head slightly to breathe in the scent of her hair. It was quite pleasing; Vridel let his arms wind just a little tighter.

Sorcha was saying something about neutrality since she was pouring, but Jeralt apparently wasn't having it, as Vridel had suspected might be the case.

“Oh come on, kid. Just bet on someone. We know you're not going to cheat."

She muttered something under her breath; Jeralt leaned forward as though he'd had trouble hearing. “What?"

“I said I'd bet on Mercer," she repeated, loud enough for everyone to hear this time, and quite grumpy about it. “Not having anyone betting on him is just pathetic, so I guess I better."

“I always knew you loved me, Sor," Mercer stated, winking in her direction.

“She's being sympathetic, Mercer. She feels bad for you; it has nothing to do with love." Senka was grinning, though, so it was likely said in jest.

“Oh, but is this going to interfere with your drinking?" Amalthea stated suddenly and remained still. “If it does, you can let go, or I can... I can, um, move?" she didn't sound so sure if that was something she wanted to do, though.

“Hm," Vridel pretended to consider the question, feigning offense. “Are you saying you want me to let go, Thea?" He could of course, read the reluctance in her tone perfectly well, and knew what it meant. But that wasn't the same as making her say it. And he did want to hear her say it.

“Of course not! I just... I'm," she stuttered again, her hand squeezing his as if to reaffirm her statement. “I just... I don't want to get in the way of your victory," she murmured, her hand tightening over his.

“Never," he murmured, raising his glass for the next round.

Though he hardly wanted to lose, since she'd gone through all the trouble of cheering for him, he really thought he'd won in the only way that mattered already, and had no desire to drink himself sick when there were so many other interesting things to do with the evening. So he tapped out after the ninth round, finding that, while the world wasn't quite spinning, it was certainly pleasantly tilted.

While the others prepared for the next round, Vridel set his cup aside and buried his face between Thea's neck and shoulder. She had such a clean scent to her, with a faint hint of florals—from the greenhouse, probably. He thought there might even be a touch of sweetness there, from all that proximity to baked goods. In his hazy state, Vridel almost tasted her skin to find out, but distantly he knew that was the kind of thing he should probably hold off on. So he made a vague grumbling sound because he couldn't, and sighed against her neck.

“You smell good," he told her bluntly. “It's... distracting."

She had tensed when he did that, and swallowed a little thickly, again. She managed to relax, but from his close proximity, he could hear the beating of her heart, and how fast it was going. She was nervous, that much was easy to tell. She pulled a strand of her hair over her shoulder, though, and smelled it.

“I'm sorry, I don't mean to be. I try to make sure my hair is washed as often as possible, and... I try to find new things to wash it with," she murmured softly as if she were truly sorry that she'd offended him, some how. “If it's... too distracting, I can try something else, next time," she spoke as if there would be a next time they would be this close. She took in a soft breath, though, and wrapped her arms around his.

“I really thought you were going to win."

Vridel chuckled. “I got bored," he murmured. “Something far more interesting right in front of me, after all." Brushing his nose to her temple, he set his chin back on her head.

“You're the good kind of distracting, don't worry."

She made a strange sound when he did that, but took in a shuddering breath. “Okay," was the only word she seemed to be able to say. They remained quiet for a moment longer before she finally spoke again.

“Hey, Vi," she started, pausing only for a moment to swallow. She pat his hand with hers before saying, “I... um, never mind, it's not important."

“No?" he asked, drawing out the word. “Are you sure? I think what you have to say is important."

Gods near and far, he was drunk.

She actually shook her head, this time. “No, no it's not important, I promise!" she stated. “I just... I was going to say you smell nice, too," she murmured softly that it was hard to hear her, properly. “And, well, I think you're a good kind of distracting, too. So, um, please don't leave, yet?" she didn't seem too sure if that was the right statement she wanted, but it was also possible that she was under the influence of her drinks.

This was likely her first time, considering she had a sheltered life, and Lyanna was likely not to expose her to it.

It was honestly a perfectly-innocent version of a sentiment Vridel had heard too many times in his life to count or even care about, but from her it produced a strange warmth in his guts, one he didn't think he could blame entirely on the alcohol—or even on having a lovely woman in his arms.

“Worry not—I've no plans to go anywhere, yet."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Friday the 24th
Outside Garreg Mach - Evening - Cloudy
Senka Rinaldi


Senka knew she was slightly under the effects of alcohol. She felt like touching something, and the feeling was rather potent. She had always been a rather physical person. She enjoyed touching things, or being touched in return. It always brought a sense of comfort to her, but she couldn't understand why. It just did. Unfortunately, Sorcha had been the only person she could get that from, however; she'd recently been able to receive it in the form of a gentle hand squeeze from Cyril, and the occasional hug from Amalthea. It was nice to be able to do that again, and now... now there were people who didn't mind if she did touch them. Whether it was to play with their hair, give them a hug, or simply lay a hand on their shoulder in a comforting manner.

She missed these things so much.

The contest, however, seemed to be going strong. Mercer was still in the game along with Reynard, Cyril, and Jeralt, however; Mercer seemed like he wasn't going to last much longer if the look on his face was anything to go by. Her eyes slid towards Amalthea and Vridel, and the sight produced a small smile. They were currently sitting with each other, though that wasn't quite right. Vridel had Amalthea between his legs and was resting his chin on her head. It was, dare she say, cute. She shook her head, though, and glanced at the remaining participants as they entered their tenth round.

“Ugh, I'll have to pass, now. I can't," Mercer paused with a slight hiccup. Senka felt her lip twitch slightly upwards.

“Same," Jeralt said, with a wry grin and a slight shake of his head. “Too old for this shit."

That, of course, left Reynard and Cyril, both of whom had rather excellent poker faces. It went three more rounds before Reynard shook his head. “Done," he admitted, waving a hand in front of his face. “I'd prefer to survive this, and I think the Professor could keep going all night."

“Looks like we have a winner, then!" Jeralt clapped Cyril on the shoulder. With a bit of good-natured grumbling from those who'd lost their bets, everyone dispersed a bit.

Cyril blinked slowly, eyes vaguely hazy, and nodded slowly, turning to Senka with a small huff. “Wise bet," he said, a slow smile spreading over his face. He sounded the faintest bit proud of himself, actually.

“I've seen you drink, before," was her reply. She offered him a smile, and stood from her spot to sit next to him. “And I knew you would prevail over Mercer, at least," she added, bumping her shoulder into his. She didn't know what compelled her to do it, only that she wanted to. “Your father and Reynard were the only other ones I wasn't too sure of, and picking you seemed like the more logical choice at the time."

That, and she wanted to pick him, for some strange reason.

He chuckled softly, the sound warm and rich, if perhaps a bit fuzzed at the edges. His words were like that, too—he wasn't slurring by any means, but lacked the precision of his usual diction. The shoulder-bump, he returned, gently like he was afraid of knocking her over by using too much force.

The others seemed to be making themselves comfortable; Sofia and Deirdre were sharing a small pile of snacks; Manuela almost seemed to be dozing off on Hanneman, who was talking animatedly about crests to Devon, who nodded with wide eyes, face slightly pink beneath the darkness of his complexion. Whether this was because he was also drunk or because Sylvi seemed to have claimed his arm was unclear. Further away, Jeralt and Reynard were standing by the fire, talking in low voices about something or other. Probably not Crests, at least.

Cyril was still regarding her with gentle eyes and a smile. “We used to do this kind of thing with the mercs sometimes," he said quietly. “If we weren't around a town or anything. This is... nicer."

Senka huffed lightly and sighed. “I'm glad to know you lump us in with the mercs," she stated, though she was clearly teasing him about it. Honestly, she didn't mind. He said that this was nicer, and that warmed her heart, somehow. “I agree, though. This is nice, and it makes me remember times that were like this: warm and loving." The last time she'd felt like this was right before the massacre, however; she was coming to terms with that, and making happier memories. She was doing what her parents wanted her to do: she was living.

“I sometimes thank fate for bringing us all together like this, because..." she paused for a moment. Her expression softened along with her eyes and smile. “Because I have people that I love and care about, now, who care about me. It makes it feel like I have a family again, and I'm thankful for it."

Even if they were not related by blood, she did consider her small group of friends as that: family. It produced a pleasant feeling in her chest every time she thought about it, and she found herself leaning a little closer towards Cyril.

He accommodated as though it were the most natural thing in the world, shifting an arm to rest it companionably across her shoulders. “Pleased to be part of it," he said, shifting the hand at her shoulder so it carded briefly through her hair. It seemed almost purposeless, a gesture he did without thought, at least until he caught a loose strand and tucked it behind her ear, humming softly.

“I didn't ask what flowers you liked," he continued, something in the timbre of his voice apologetic. She could feel him lightly touch the pin a moment later, making sense of the statement. “I wasn't really sure how to do it and keep the surprise."

She blinked slightly as she glanced in his direction. “My favorite flower? It's the larkspur," she replied effortlessly. “I've always enjoyed them; they're some of the most beautiful flowers I've seen, and they used to grow abundantly in our gardens," she spoke spoft, resting her head on his shoulder for a moment as her eyes narrowed slightly. The gardeners who used to tend to the palace's flowers always made sure to have a secluded spot for her larkspur. She enjoyed when her mother took her to the gardens to watch them bloom.

“This one, though," she stated to reach up to the pin, “is fine. Lotus flowers are beautiful as well." She thought all flowers were beautiful, but there was something about the larkspur that always managed to catch her attention. The lotus pin, however, seemed to be changing that, slightly. Maybe because it was a gift he'd given her. She pushed the thought immediately from her mind, and cleared her throat softly.

Her hand found his free one, grasping it to intertwine their fingers together, and giving his hand a light squeeze.

His hand clasped easily with hers; the other seemed not to quite still; he actually shifted the thumb softly up and down her neck, from just beneath her ear to where to began to curve into her shoulder. “If it's not too painful to talk about," he started, shifting so his legs were stretched out in front of him. They were close enough to the fire to be comfortably warmed by it, but not overheated. “Would you tell me more about it? What Duscur was like."

Cyril kept his tone very soft, no doubt still aware that the vast majority of those present did not know that was where she was from. “What your family was like."

She shook her head, careful not to disturb his hand from its spot. “It's not as painful as it used to be, talking about it," she replied, softly. Taking a deep breath, she began thinking of where to begin. “My father, as you know, was King Disma. He... was a good father. He always made time for me, smiled whenever he saw me, and was the one who taught me how to bake. He had a bit of a sweet tooth, but," she paused, recalling her father's smile.

“Mother was a little strict with him about that. She didn't like when he ate too many sweets," she huffed lightly. She recalled a fond memory of her mother scolding her father, and he merely stood there, hand resting on the back of his neck with a nervous smile on his face. “As a king, though, he was fair to his people. Duscur isn't exactly the most fertile place, and doesn't have much in way of resources, so it was difficult for the people whenever they had droughts or there wasn't enough food. We did have minerals and other materials that the other nations needed and used."

“But mother did her best for the people, using her magic to aid those who were in need. It wasn't an easy thing, but... we were happy." She sighed softly, shifting so that she was a bit more comfortable before glancing up at him.

“Maybe one day, after Sorcha ascends the throne and I'm able to get Duscur back... I can show you Duscur," she stated. It wouldn't be quite the same, she knew, but she wanted him to see her homeland, for some reason.

“Is that what your dream's about?" he asked, seemingly referencing the dream she'd spoken of briefly before asking him about his own, the other day when they were on the trail. “Getting Duscur back?" He shifted slightly, bringing them into more solid contact at their sides. He still had his cup next to him, but was working through its contents much more slowly now.

“Not just getting it back," she supplied softly. “I want to rebuild it; make it stronger than it was so that... they never have to go through that again. Most of my people... they're only a handful left, but I want them to have a place to call home, again. Being in Faerghus isn't the same as being in Duscur, and I know that they feel as lost as I do." She loved Sorcha, dearly, and Senka would always be grateful to her for saving her life, however; she wanted to rebuild her home. That didn't seem quite right, though. Glancing at the others nearby, somehow it felt like she was home. But this wasn't just about her. She had an entire people to think of.

“I'm not sure how long it will take, though. I'm the last of the royal bloodline, and if... something were to happen to me, I don't know if I could bear to fail them that way. As the last Rinaldi, I have to..." she paused, pursing her lips together. What did she have to do? She sighed heavily, though, and clutched Cyril's hand a little tighter.

He returned the grip with a reassuring squeeze, the fingers of his other hand moving back up into her hair. He didn't disturb how she'd pinned it, but he did comb his hand through several times, as though neatening it, though it was doubtful that really had much to do with it. He made a soft sound of sympathy, and shook his head faintly.

“That's a lot for one person to bear." The words were quiet, almost tender in their gentleness. “But you know... you've already taken the first steps. You're here, learning as much as you can about how to lead, how to defend them and how to make use of your magic to help them, just like your mother and father did. You saved them from the creature, and found Espera again. You're rebuilding it even now. Perhaps not as fast as you'd like, but no one can do everything at once."

She smiled softly. “I did find Espera again. I was happy to see him alive and well, but," it didn't feel like enough. She needed to do more, something that would help them, further. “Maybe one day I'll be able to share this with someone who will help me rebuild Duscur," but in what way, she wasn't sure, yet. As a King? As an advisor? Or perhaps as a friend, like the one she sat next to? The thought produced a strange fluttering in her stomach, and she could feel her face burning slightly. She was blushing, she knew that much, however; she willed it down as best as she could.

“And we saved them from the creature. I couldn't have done it on my own, you know," she stated, the smile on her face turning into a light grin.

He returned it, his face for once open and as easy to read as anyone's. The grin made him look almost boyish, like someone who really was the same age as his students. “Did we?" he said, his tone oddly light. “I'm afraid I don't remember. Memory loss problems, you know. I've always had them." It was clear he hadn't actually forgotten the details, but the smile tugging at his face indicated he was having a bit of fun with the pretense, his eyes faintly narrowed at the corners with it.

Senka felt her brow arch. For some reason, that sounded like a challenge to her. She wasn't entirely sure why, but it did. She tilted her head somewhat from it's spot on his shoulder so that she was close enough to whisper into his ear. “Do I need to help you remember, then? I'm sure there are ways for problems such as that to be dealt with, but," she pulled away after trailing off and grinned at him. “Because the way I remember it, you were the one who asked if there was something I could do to help you."

“That sounds right," he murmured, nodding with false sagacity. “But it fits with my earlier hypothesis: in which I, a mere humble mercenary, contributed very little, and you—" there, he tapped her temple with the tip of his index finger—“the brave and noble future Queen of Duscur, singlehandedly brought down the fearsome beast on behalf of your people."

He was teasing her, it seemed, if in perhaps the gentlest way she'd ever been teased before.

She chuckled lightly, though she wasn't quite sure what caused the blush on her face to appear. “That is not entirely true. You dealt the final blow, and I merely assisted," she replied, pushing her shoulder into his before pulling back. She tilted her head in his direction and held his gaze for a moment, moving her hands so that she could hold his face in her hands. His eyes were really a beautiful shade of gold, and the way they shone at the moment...

Before she could fully understand what she was doing, she turned Cyril's head to the side and placed a chaste kiss on his cheek. “Thank you, for all that you've done for me, Cyril. I really do appreciate it."

His eyes widened; he held stock-still until she'd shifted back to speak. She could see his throat work as he swallowed, and the faintest shade of pink dusted his face. “You, uh." It seemed she'd caught him entirely off-guard. For a moment, his eyes darkened somehow, an intent look crossing his face to go with the strange tension in the rest of him.

But then it eased, and his face smoothed out. “You're welcome, Senka. Anytime."

“And if there's anything I can ever do for you..." she trailed off for a moment, and bit her bottom lip. Her lips tingled from the contact they had just made on his cheek, and she felt like her stomach was doing those strange flops again, however; she would not quash it. She would, instead, let it fill her with the strange warmth it produced.

“If I may ever be of service to you, just tell me how. I..." she pursed her lips together as she paused again. She what? What did she want to say to him that felt like it weighed heavily on her tongue? There was a word she wanted to say, but she couldn't find it.

“I want to help you the way you've helped me." That would have to do, for now. She laid her head back on his shoulder, after that. He was really comfortable, despite his physicality.

“Just be you," he replied, so quietly it was almost a whisper. “That helps more than you know."

That was a strange thing to say. To be herself? She stopped the thoughts before they could form. She was learning to accept herself, slow as it was. If he wanted her to be herself, then she would have to try to continue.

“As you wish," she replied, shaking her head. “I do mean it, though, Cyril. If there is ever something you need that I can help with... will you let me?" This seemed important to her, somehow. “You've made a similar promise to me, and I want to make one to you, as well."

He considered it a moment, then nodded slightly, giving her hand another gentle squeeze. “If I think of anything else, I'll be sure to let you know, since you're doing the same for me." His lips quirked into a smile. “I think we both find it easier to offer help than ask for it, but I'll try if you will."

“It's a promise, then."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Friday the 24th
Outside Garreg Mach - Late Evening - Cloudy
Sorcha Blaiddyd


Celebrations were beginning to die down, and Sorcha was feeling a little tired, duly. It turned out that Professor Cyril could play the lute, and sing, too—he'd taken just long enough to regale them with a silly drinking song and a few things they could dance to, before the music had been taken over by a few of the others with instrumental talent. It turned out Sofia was something of an aficionado, able to play both the harp and flute quite well.

The box Vridel had brought turned out to contain small fireworks, things that made pops and sparkles and the like, but by now they'd worked their way through those. Several people had fallen asleep or passed out already—she couldn't be too sure which, in most cases. She couldn't help grinning to herself when she noticed Senka had in fact fallen asleep on Professor Cyril's shoulder. He was still awake, but being careful not to jostle her. Sylvi had passed out over Devon's stomach, it seemed, and Dierdre had fallen asleep and was tucked into Sofia's side.

Devon was sprawled on his back, snoring lightly, on one of the blankets, where Professor Hanneman still seemed to be talking about his research. Professor Manuela was listening with half an ear at least; Reynard and Sir Jeralt were playing some kind of card game on another.

Sorcha had finally acquired a cup of ale, on Jeralt's insistence that he needed help finishing the cask. She was looking into it dubiously, seated a bit away from the fire on an otherwise-unoccupied blanket.

“You're staring at it like it's going to bite you, or something," Mercer spoke suddenly, close enough that he was hovering over her shoulder before pulling back. He plopped down next to her, though, and laid his hands behind his head, and glanced up at the sky. “If you don't want to drink it, you don't have to, Sor," he continued, closing one of his eyes and keeping the other one open and on her.

“You can just dump it; I'm sure Captain Jeralt won't mind a bit, and understand."

She pursed her lips. It was sort of hard to explain her reluctance; it wasn't as though she was afraid, or thought drinking was inherently bad or anything. It was just...

“I don't mind, really. It's just... I got to thinking. It's sort of tradition, where I'm from, that when someone turns sixteen, they're given their first drink by their family, as a way of sort of... welcoming them into adulthood, a bit. Not that they're fully an adult then, but it's sort of a step. It's not a big deal, just the sort of thing my father would have sat me down in his study and done. Maybe."

They hadn't really been close. Sorcha had loved him, dearly, but her father was also a king, and in some ways that seemed so far away from her. Like he was a distant star, visible but unreachable, and she stuck with her feet on the ground. “There's supposed to be a toast—it's stupid. But I never did it, and I guess I'm a year and some too late."

Mercer rolled on his stomach, then, and pushed himself up. Without a word, he left her. It was another minute, though, before he returned, a cup in hand filled with ale. “How's this supposed to go? Dear Sorcha, you're a young woman now and I know you'll be a capable queen, someday?" he stated, lowering his voice as if he were attempting to sound more like an adult than anything. He was doing a poor job of it, though, and the grin on his face suggested that he knew he was.

“Or is it something less silly?"

Sorcha snorted quietly, shaking her head. “I have no idea, honestly. I guess probably some people do that. Take it really seriously and talk about being an adult or something. My father probably would have talked about our duty to our country and people." She shrugged. “I'm guessing some people just make a little one to the future and drink, though."

She paused, tilting her head a little at him and offered her cup forward a bit. “Like... here's to the future, may it be good to us. Or something." Maybe that was silly, too. She'd not spent too much time considering what her father might say; it was difficult enough just imagining him spending a moment alone with her. She had little basis for how that worked. In fact... the most vivid and personal memory she had of him was the night he died. And what he'd said to her then...

She thought maybe she was doomed to disappoint him.

“Hm," Mercer stated, staring at her with slightly narrowed eyes. “If it's something simple like that, then maybe..." he trailed off and lifted his cup to hers. “May Sorcha always keep her smile so that it can keep my days bright and full of hope for the future," he spoke in such a serious tone, and his face conveyed that he was being serious. He bumped his cup into hers, before taking a drink from it.

Sorcha flushed, bringing the cup to her lips immediately to disguise it. The ale wasn't so bad; she certainly didn't have the problem Thea seemed to have with too much burn or anything. Still, she wasn't going to rush it, and so after a couple of swallows, she settled it down again between crossed legs. “Are there any traditions like that in the Alliance or Almyra?" she asked, both for the subject change and because she was genuinely curious.

“Things people do when they become adults, or close?"

“We're required to make our first blood sacrifice." He said it with such a straight face that it sounded as if he were being completely honest about it. He snorted softly after a few moments, though, and shook his head.

“Nothing like you do. In Almyra, we're considered adults when we make our first kill. They usually take everyone who is coming of age out to hunt," he replied with a shrug of his shoulders. “In the Alliance, it's a bit different. For young women, they have a rather lively dance, but for the young men," he pursed his lips for a moment as if he were trying to think. “We're required to do bow tournaments of sorts. It's not a typical one, though, because the bow is the Alliance's Specialty. These tournaments are usually designed for showing courage by facing an arrow being shot directly at you. You can't blink, you can't flinch, or move in any way. If you do... well, you can imagine what happens."

Sorcha considered this, nodding slightly after a moment. The Alliance tradition especially sounded rather draconian, but it wasn't so different in Faerghus. “You probably know by now that military service is compulsory for able men in my country," she said, looking down into her cup again. When had it almost emptied? “There's some people who don't really consider a man a man unless he's shed blood in battle—his own or someone else's." She pursed her lips—frankly, the thought was ridiculous on so many levels it was hard to name them all.

She looked back up at him, seeking his eyes where he sat in front of her. Though the fire was to the side, she felt the greater warmth, the greater draw, from him, and this fact terrified her. If she didn't keep talking, she feared what she might do about it.

“You've done that, then? The—the thing with the arrow?" She knew that if anyone had the steely nerve required, it was him. He might not act like it, but she knew.

“I did," he replied easily. “The person who was my archer was..." he pursed his lips together and took another drink from his cup. “Gloucester. You can imagine how many times he tried to actually hit me. I think one even sliced the side of my temple," he stated, brushing his hand over the side of his face as if to put emphasis on it. “But he was always a terrible shot. Never really good with the regional weapon of choice."

Sorcha didn't think about it. Feeling an irrational spike of worry—he was here and just fine after all—she set her cup to the side and rose onto her knees, lifting one hand to brush over the same spot at his temple, half-expecting to see a scar. “That's worse!" she said, only whispering, but with emphasis. “He could have easily hit you somewhere else if he's a poor shot!" She couldn't believe the Alliance would do something like that, when there was a risk of political disagreement getting someone killed. Or just... bad archery doing the same.

Mercer grinned slightly, but grabbed her hand and pulled it away from his face. “He actually almost did hit me," he chuckled pulling her hand towards his heart and holding it against the spot. “Right here, you know. If I hadn't caught it, I probably would be dead. Don't expect me to go catching arrows, now, though. That was a one-time thing. Couldn't do it again even if I tried," he replied lazily, keeping her hand over his heart. It was beating at a steady rhythm, calm-like just like his expression was.

Her heart almost sank a little when he pressed her hand to his. The beat of it was steady, like this was any other conversation. Hers, meanwhile, was pounding so hard in her chest she was surprised she couldn't actually hear it, and her face was warm. “I—I'm sure you could," she said, attempting valiantly to keep up the thread of the conversation. “Maybe not every time. But when you really needed to." It was a compliment, of a sort, though about as awkward as the rest of her was in this situation.

“Oh, and what would you do if I didn't catch one when I really needed to?" he asked, arching a brow in her direction. It seemed almost curious in a way, as if he were interested. There was a slight skip in his heart beat, then, before it resumed its calm beat.

“You—you want to know what I'd do if you were shot?" Sorcha couldn't hide the edge of distress that the thought put in her voice. It had happened, of course. On the battlefield, they were injured sometimes. But something about the question struck her differently from talking about a graze or even a glancing stab, the kinds of injuries they might fight through. “Well I know a little white magic but... but don't get shot, okay?"

It wasn't exactly an answer, maybe, but she hadn't quite understood the question to begin with. Her eyes fell to where he still held her hand against his chest, and the pink on her face deepened before they turned back up towards his. “Please."

He rolled his eyes at her a bit, shifting so that he could look her directly in the eyes when he spoke next. “I meant if it were something that couldn't be healed by magic, nor any other means. If it were a fatal shot. What would you do?" his tone was light when he spoke, but there was an edge to it. Something at once desparate and curious to know her answer. Maybe it was the alcohol in his system, but his heartbeat began to pick up. It wasn't beating like hers was, but it wasn't as calm, either.

“And I couldn't make that promise to you. Not getting shot. It's... it comes with the territory, you know."

“W-why are you asking me that?" Sorcha's voice cracked over the question. Something about the situation, or maybe his tone of voice, wouldn't let her laugh the question off with a joke about 'good riddance' or some other mean thing that she could deadpan at him when the mood was a lighter one. Instead she found herself really imagining it, really imagining an arrow finding him in the heart during a battle, or something...

Her vision blurred; she blinked, and hot tears streaked down her face. Ineffectually, she swatted him with her free hand. “Why would you ask me that?" she repeated, so soft and raspy she wouldn't be surprised if he couldn't even hear her properly. “Stupid—you're being stupid." The words were hushed, more miserable than harsh, and she struggled to swallow around the lump in her throat. She couldn't seem to dislodge the image from her mind—or maybe it was in her heart, now. It certainly felt like it, like someone had squeezed it in their hand and refused to let go.

“Because it matters to me," he spoke softly, pulling her close to him and using his free hand to wipe away some of her tears. “I want to know if I've left the same impression on you as you've done to me," he continued, pulling her close to him so that he could wrap his arms around her in a comforting manner.

Stupid.

How could he not know? How could he not know they way she felt? How the big tangle of horrible things in her guts scared her half to death? How when he so much as tugged on one of the threads, like now, it felt like she was going to come undone? How could she care so much about someone she'd only known for half a year?

And yet there was a very real sense in which she'd known him so much longer than that. Carried some tiny fragment of him with her for so long. Clung to it, to the reminder that somewhere, there was someone in the world with the kindness and patience to want to cheer her up, spend time with her, instead of simply being irritated that she was crying.

And in the six months, well... how could he not know that their practices and silly contests and the time they spent flying were her favorite times of the day or week? How could he not know how much she relied on him, how much having him in the sky with her in the battles they faced made her feel like she could do it, like she could make it out the other side of each one? How the only reservation she had about their engagement was that for him it was a favor for a friend, while for her it was like a dream come true?

It seemed like it should be the most obvious thing in the world. The impression wasn't the same at all, because he wasn't just a dear friend, or a trusted companion—he'd stolen her whole heart. And something told her she'd never get it back.

Sorcha could bring herself to say none of this, not when it meant he might pull away, might unwrap his arms from her back, so instead she slid hers around him in turn, clinging tightly. “You're so stupid," she accused without heat. She probably sounded like the petulant child he'd first met, and part of her was mortified, but the rest of her couldn't care, could only tighten the hold of her arms.

He huffed quietly, disturbing her hair a bit as he squeezed her a little tighter before relaxing his hold. He didn't let go, though. “So I've been told," he muttered, adjusting himself so that he could reposition her in a more comfortable position. Once he seemed satisfied, his hold on her tightened again. “But that's alright. As long as I'm your stupid, that's all that matters," he nearly whispered it into her ear, his breath ghosting over it before he rested his head against hers.

It was such a strange thing to say that Sorcha didn't quite understand its meaning. She put it down to how much he'd had to drink. Maybe she'd had too much, too. It would explain why the entire world felt like it was tilting, though she'd not had that much, really. It would also explain how she'd somehow wound up in his lap, and why that didn't seem like such a bad idea at all. It was comfortable, and like she'd told the others, it wasn't though she affected him so much it would be weird.

Satisfied with her hazy logic, Sorcha settled a little better, muttering something she only kind of realized she was saying. “Well, you are right now." She squeezed her arms around him to emphasize the point.

He chuckled lightly, resting his head on top of hers. “That's all that matters," he muttered softly, before his faint breathing could be felt on her hair. His arms had relaxed, but they were still wrapped around her, and it felt like he wouldn't let go. Not any time soon, at least. It wasn't a moment later that Sorcha could hear a soft snore escape him, and it was easy to tell he'd fallen asleep. He whispered something, though in his sleep.

“I love you," but it was hard to pinpoint the source for his words.

The sleepy murmur hit her in the heart; Sorcha felt her chest clench. He was drunk and unconscious and she couldn't let herself take him seriously even if he weren't, but... Goddess, how she wished it were so.

Turning her face in towards his chest, she did her best to suppress a quiet sob, not wanting to wake him, and stayed like that until the last couple tears had squeezed from between her eyelids and she, too, was asleep.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Saturday the 25th
Trail to Gronder - Late Morning - Drizzle
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer groaned lightly, rubbing his eyes to shake them loose of debris. Yesterday's festivities left him with a bit of a headache, and he'd been surprised to find that he'd been entangled with Sorcha all night. He hadn't meant to fall asleep like that, but... last night was a bit hazy for him, too. He remembered they were talking about something, but he wasn't sure what. It felt important somehow, but he shook the thought from his mind. Thinking too much made his head hurt, and he'd rather not be in any pain until they reached Gronder field. It was at least a two day ride before they'd arrive, but that meant they were all traveling. Rhea, for some reason, decided to travel in a rather lavish carriage.

If Mercer hadn't known any better, he'd say it was fit for royalty, the way it was trimmed in gold and silver. It had the Crest of Seiros engraved on the sides, which made it obvious it was the church traveling, never mind that the large banners were being carried as well by some of the cavalry members. While he didn't mind riding a horse, he currently wished he was mounted on Sir. The air in the sky always made him feel better, but instead, he was surrounded by all the members of his house, Sorcha's, and Vridel's.

Teach was somewhere, too, but he wasn't really paying much attention until someone rode up beside him and kicked him with their foot. He glanced to spot Dierdre, glaring at him for some reason. What did he do now? “Sofi has an herbal remedy if you need it," she murmured. Mercer snorted softly through his nose.

“Is that how you get my attention? By glaring and kicking me?

“It worked, didn't it?" He couldn't argue with that logic. He shook his head, though.

“I'm fine, thanks." Dierdre shrugged her shoulders, and pulled the reins on her horse so that she was riding beside Sofia again, and possibly conveyed his reply if the way she was speaking was anything to go by. He couldn't really hear her.

Teach, to the contrary, seemed to be actually doing quite fine. Despite his victory, he and his father seemed to have been responsible for clearing the evidence of last night's party and prepping the animals for march. He was, at the moment, handing a canteen of some sort to Professor Manuela, who wore a grimace and hadn't quite managed to neaten her hair all the way, and Senka. He had one in his own hand as well, that he'd periodically sip from as they rode. Steam wafted from the top of it.

Sorcha was riding next to her best friend, looking faintly disturbed. She kept shooting odd glances in his direction, but did not approach. Devon, Sylvi, and Reynard seemed to be mostly fine, though very time Devon looked at her he blushed, which was pretty obvious. Hanneman seemed quite content, chatting amicably with a nearby soldier, possibly of his Crest research. He really loved talking about it, but it also could be that he was just using it as a way to talk to himself without seeming stranger than he already was.

Vridel was probably a bit hungover, too, but he didn't look the least bit dissatisfied except whenever the carriage hit a rut in the path behind them, which unfailingly make him frown, or sneer, or some other thing, no doubt at the reminder of the person inside it. Fortunately, the Knights were in charge of its security specifically; the rest of them just had to ride.

He didn't really blame Vridel, though. He knew quite well of Vridel's disdain for the archbishop; most of them held it for her. She wasn't a pleasant person, though it was still anyone's guess as to why that was. Instead, he nudged his horse a bit so that he fell in line with Vridel, offering him a lopsided grin. Thea was, adorably, on Vridel's other side, but she seemed rather content and happy. She was wearing a rather large smile on her face, and her eyes almost seemed to sparkle in the sun. He would have chuckled if he knew it wouldn't hurt his head.

“So, is the bad fish giving you a headache?" he asked.

“The stench is overpowering," Vi replied dryly, wrinkling his nose as if he did in fact, smell something unpleasant. He sighed a moment later, patting his blood bay horse idly on the neck and glancing briefly at Thea before returning his attention to Mercer. “You doing all right, by the way? You look a little queasy."

Mercer snorted unceremoniously. It was worth the shot of pain through his head, though. “Nothing I can't handle," he replied. “I'll be fine as long as I don't have to think much, or do much," he added, frowning slightly to himself. He would be fine in another hour or so, anyway.

“What about you? Do you want me to see if Sofia will part with her herbal remedy for you?" he began, though his lips pulled up into a grin as he leaned in a little closer towards Vi. “Or do you want me to ask little Thea if she has something special to give you?" He was teasing, of course, but that didn't mean he couldn't have a little fun.

Vi arched an eyebrow, a satisfied little smile crossing his face briefly before it faded and he shrugged. “No need," he said breezily, speaking at volume enough to include Thea in the conversation. “Amalthea is already quite helpful with particular magics. I'm feeling rather hale, actually." He side-eyed her, as if watching keenly for her reaction to this statement.

Thea looked slightly disturbed for all of a second before she pursed her lips in their direction. “But I haven't done anything like that, yet," she spoke, moving Sunflower closer towards Vridel. Mercer snickered softly, though, at the last statement. Yet. He arched a brow at her and leaned over a bit. It almost put him in front of Vi, but he was nice enough to keep out of the prince's personal space at the moment.

“So... does that mean you thought about doing something? Like what?" he stated, watching as her brows furrowed slightly. She pursed her lips at him, though, as her face took on a little color.

“That is none of your concern, Mercer. And I meant that if he needed me to use my magic for anything, I'd do what I can. You all know I'm not very good with it, but I try," she murmured, which only served to cause Mercer's grin to grow. So she had thought of something; she just wasn't going to tell him. “And Vi knows that if he needed me to do anything, I will. So, you hush," she continued, giving him a light glare, but Mercer couldn't take it seriously. It looked too much like a wet kitten trying to glare at him, and it was adorable. It wasn't intimidating as she was probably hoping it would be.

“Is that so?" he stated, pulling back so that he was sitting properly in his saddle. “You hear that, Vi? Thea says that she'd do anything you ask her to."

Vridel hummed, as if considering this offer quite seriously indeed. “And here I'd never thought much of my luck," he mused, a lopsided half-smirk curling one side of his mouth. “But it seems I'm a lucky fellow, indeed."

When it came time to name his demands, however, he only extended a hand towards Thea, almost as if for a shake. “Perhaps the lady would oblige me with one of her patented restore spells?" From the little glimmer to his eyes, he was expecting this to mean something to her beyond the surface implication of the words.

To his surprise, Amalthea actually pouted in Vridel's direction. It seemed that it did, indeed, mean something to her. “That was... alright, I was a little jealous." She muttered the last word so softly that Mercer almost missed it. Jealous, she said. Of what? What was she jealous of? Mercer shot Vridel an arched brow before Amalthea took his hand, white magic already at the tips of her fingers. Her hand, however, didn't go completely to Vridel's. Instead, she leaned over a bit so that she could place her fingers on his temple, as if that were where it was truly needed.

“Now I'm a little jealous. Why don't I get to experience this little patented spells?" he murmured, aware that he was pursing his lips in a pout. Amalthea rolled her eyes at him, though.

“If you were nice like Vi, maybe I would, but no. You're a stupid fish face, so..." she stuck her tongue out at him, causing Mercer to laugh.

Vridel himself looked like a cat who'd just taken a canary to the ranks of the recently-deceased when Mercer was rather unceremoniously shot down. “Step off, stupid fish face. You can ask someone else if you need healing. Hers is mine." He narrowed his eyes, a touch of seriousness in his expression despite the lightness of his tone. It disappeared quickly, though, and he caught the hand at his temple, bringing it to his mouth for the lithest of brushes.

“I am indebted to your kindness, fair lady," he murmured, releasing her fingers a moment later.

It took a lot of restraint for Mercer to not laugh at how utterly adorable Amalthea's face was when Vridel kissed the back of her hand. Her face turned a bright red color, and she made a strange sound that sounded almost strangled.

“Well that's not entirely fair, and here I thought I was your favorite person, Thea," he stated, pursing his lips in her direction. She huffed lightly at him, causing Mercer to smirk.

“No, I never claimed you were," she muttered. Now Mercer was slightly curious, and he slid his eyes towards Vridel.

“Then who is your favorite person, Thea?" She smiled at him, and Mercer knew she was caught.

“Vridel, of course. Why wouldn't he be? He's been more helpful to me than you have been, though I think almost everyone has," she replied almost effortlessly. Mercer nearly fell out of his saddle from laughing so hard. He earned a few stares from the others of their group, but he didn't mind them.

“Ouch, Thea, I'm hurt." She just shrugged her shoulders.

“You think that hurt? Wait until the battle. The Blue Lions are going to win, and we'll end up crushing your house," she replied, a large grin forming on her face.

Vridel chuckled. “You know, I wouldn't be surprised. You Lions are quite formidable." he arched a brow over at Mercer, flashing half a grin. “The Deer, on the other hand... well they're just pathetic."

“Hey now, that's just rude," Mercer retorted, pursing his lips at Vridel. Amalthea nodded her head in agreement, though, which made Mercer feel a bit better about the statement.

“I don't think that's fair to the other members of the house. After all, they have Mercer as a leader," she replied.

“Low blow, Thea. Low blow," he replied, placing a hand over his heart and feigning a hurtful look. She merely smiled at him, something smug, causing Mercer to laugh. He had a feeling a certain someone was rubbing off on her.

“That's a girl," Vi said, reaching over to ruffle Amalthea's hair.

“Don't get too cocky, Vi—you're going down, too." The new voice was Sorcha's, and he knew even just from the sound of it that she was smiling as she spoke. She and Senka rode up alongside the three of them.

“Oh probably," he agreed. “Everyone in my house but Reynard is useless, and I'm just an empty-headed flirt, didn't you know?" He fluttered his eyelashes at her with mock innocence, referencing of course how rumors about him tended to paint him.

Mercer laughed, rolling his eyes at the commentary. “I would switch Houses for you if I were not so attached to this one," Senka stated, nodding her head in Sorcha's direction. “But unfortunately, your house is not as enticing. I'm afraid I'm going to have to stay with the Blue Lions."

“You could always come to the Golden Deer."

“I'd rather not. You're the house leader; that's enough of a reason to stay away."

Sorcha snorted a laugh at Senka's remark, and nodded seriously. “Clearly, I am the more desirable House Leader," she said primly, sniffing with false imperiousness.

“Why does everyone always gang up on me?" Mercer murmured, though he wasn't offended. Actually, he was rather pleased. Even if they were trash talking him, he was glad that they were all together, doing this.

“Because, Merc, it's easy. And you mostly leave yourself open to it, which everyone knows you shouldn't do," Thea supplied as a way of answer. He rolled his eyes, but smiled.

“If she says it, it must be true," Vridel quipped smartly. “So I guess we'll see which of our dumb asses manages to eke out second place tomorrow, eh fishstick?" He arched an eyebrow at Mercer.

Mercer snorted. “If it's anything like last time, it won't be you," he replied easily enough. He was, oddly, looking forward to the battle, now.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Wyvern Moon - Monday the 28th
Gronder Field - Midafternoon - Partly Cloudy
Cyril Eisner


Cyril stood among his students, helping them prepare for the mock battle. This one as rather more intensive than the last, of course, and he would not himself be able to participate, which was fair enough because Hanneman and Manuela weren't either. They were with their houses too, though, providing last-minute assistance and advice. In a few minutes, all of them would be called back to the overlook, the hill on top of which Rhea, Lyanna, and many of the Knights of Seiros already stood, spectating on the events below.

With a hand signal, he gathered his students among them. They wore the special tunics like last time, but this time, Sorcha had a royal blue cloak around her shoulders, marking her as a house leader—houses could fight on without their leaders, like any army could, but eliminating them would yield considerably more points for the team that did it. The cloak seemed too big for her, almost, like it had been made with a broad man in mind instead of a slender—if strong—young woman.

“All right," he said, looking between the assembled Blue Lions. “There's a bit of a trick to this battle. The winner is the last House standing, even if only by one member. But it doesn't pay to let the others break on each other alone, because you are also gaining points for each opponent you take off the field—one for every regular House member, and ten if you can get Mercer or Vridel." He felt himself smile slightly at that. Challenging targets, both, a fact he was rather... proud of, in a way.

“Have you decided on an initial strategy?"

This, of course, was entirely Sorcha's prerogative. She was the leader for this battle, and the Blue Lions would stand or fall by her decisions.

She nodded once, firmly, but he could not help but note the way her hands shook on her bow, which she shifted onto her back a moment later.

“Okay. So with the points thing taken into account, I think..." She pursed her lips. “The most dangerous Black Eagles are Vivi and Reynard. Reynard's hard to target, but Vivi's not. I think we make for him first—try to take him off the field as early as possible. His magic could keep his team up for a long time if we don't."

Cyril nodded. Vridel was already one of the most adept magicians he'd ever met, especially with the white arts.

“I'm willing to bet that if we make a strong charge for Vivi, Mercer will seize the opportunity and follow. He's an opportunist, and clever, so he'll want us to break ourselves on the Eagles while he picks up just enough points to win afterwards. We're going to let him think he's doing that. So everyone should do their best to look like you're working really hard, so that when he brings his people in to flank they think they'll be getting a lot of killing blows. But they won't be, because except for Vivi and Reynard, we're going to be going easy on the Eagles at first."

“Isn't that kind of risky, since they won't be going easy on us?" Devon asked nervously.

“Yes, but I think we'll be okay. Plus... there's more to the plan. Sen's going to take a small group around to flank the Deer from behind. The primary target there is definitely Mercer, so the only people going with her are going to be those with some range. Devon, that includes you. You get the first shot. If you can hit Mercer unawares, you can probably take out half the color on his tunic or more with one arrow."

“Are you sure? You're a better shot than me, Sorcha."

She grinned a little. “Maybe, but if I wasn't on the field, he'd notice. That's why I'm going to be the distraction. Once the flank has happened, we're going to stop playing around with the Eagles, too, and crush everyone who's left between our halves." Her grin turned sly, and she smacked her fist into an upturned palm. “Sound good? If anyone has questions or concerns, I'm happy to hear them. This is our fight, not just mine."

Senka was grinning the entire time Sorcha had been explaining the strategy. They had probably discussed it beforehand, which explained why she wasn't mounted. “Don't worry, Devon," she spoke, placing a hand on Devon's shoulder and gave it a reassuring squeeze. “I will be providing support as well. I might not be as good in the white arts as Vridel, but my dark arts are better than his. It will be easy to take out Mercer if we manage to combine our efforts," she continued.

“Oh, this sounds exciting. I can help a little bit and heal those who need it, but like Senka said, I'm not good with white magic, either. I'll do my best, though!" Amalthea added, clutching her axe a little closer to her.

“Hm, just keep your focus on the enemies, Thea. We don't need you bouncing all over the place," Sylvi stated, before turning her attention on Devon. Her grin turned into something sly, though. “And you'll be fine, Dev, I believe in you." She winked at him before turning her attention back to Sorcha.

He turned a rather interesting shade of red, but nodded with a bit more firmness. “I—I won't let you guys down," he promised.

“I believe everyone has accepted your strategy, Sorcha," Senka stated, smiling at her friend in the process.

Cyril nodded, too. “It's clever," he said honestly. It took advantage of the personalities of her opponents, too—he was sure Mercer would notice something off about the situation, but also fairly confident he'd act as Sorcha predicted anyway, which was the important part. Vridel was no slouch either, but with such a decisive opening move, he was likely to be all but trapped.

Sorcha blushed slightly with the praise, but nodded more resolutely this time. “Okay. We'll do this then. It goes without saying that if any of you gets tangled up with the likes of Reynard you need to call backup immediately. Same for Sofia and Dierdre—they're more experienced and tougher to take down accordingly."

The others nodded, a few discontent looks on the faces of the members of the class that did not also regularly conduct missions, but she was taking provisions for this, and it seemed to mostly satisfy them, at least.

“Then I take my leave here," Cyril said, giving his class a mild smile. “You have what it takes. So go do it." He gave Sorcha's shoulder a brief squeeze and made fleeting eye contact with Senka before he turned to depart.

He crested the hill at the same time as Hanneman and Manuela, and went to stand with them. Shamir, Alois, and Catherine were nearby, too, as was Lyanna, though she stood as usual next to the Archbishop.

Rhea was looking out into the field, her eyes scanning in a calculative way. She was smiling in that way that didn't seem to be a true smile, but those around her believed it to be. She lifted a hand, though, as if to silence the battlefield for a moment. “May the goddess watch over you. It is time," she spoke, lowering her hand as if to give the signal. Indeed, the men who held the flags depicting the House emblems, lowered them as well, as if giving the signal to start.

Mercer kept his House neutral at first, watching from his advantage point. He had been situated on a hill with some shrubbery to hide his forces. Dierdre was further to the back, perhaps because she was a mage and could use the long-distance of her magic to her advantage. Sylvi, however, moved in the direction of the Black Eagle house, followed by Amalthea and the others. Senka remained in her spot with Devon, though it wasn't for long. Once the others were further, she and the small group Sorcha designated, made their way around, and concealed themselves in the shrubbery until none of them could be seen.

“They are off to a decent start," Hanneman spoke, looking rather proud of himself. “I believe my House has a decent chance of winning, this time," he added, smiling a little to himself, it seemed.

Cyril crossed his arms over his chest and smiled. The Blue Lions' push was by far the most aggressive opening move, forcing the Black Eagles to prepare to meet it, even though the Deer hadn't moved yet. “We'll see," he said simply, unable to help the little smile on his face as he watched the two sides clash.

Manuela yawned a bit, though she was observing the field with interest nevertheless. “We should take bets," she said.

“What, like for money?" Shamir replied, arching a skeptical eyebrow, but Manuela waved a hand carelessly.

“Or kitchen duty, or something, I don't care. What's teaching if you can't have fun betting things about the students?"

“Absolutely not," Hanneman shook his head, furrowing his brows in the process. “It is clearly showing favoritism as I would place my bets on the Black Eagles."

Catherine snorted but nodded her head. “Oh, I'm definitely in. But what are the stakes? And what are we betting?" she asked, arching a brow in Manuela's direction.

“I can get behind this idea. Sounds like it could be pretty fun," Alois stated as he joined the small circle. “I'll bet whatever we're waging, and then some, on the Blue Lion House. Gotta cheer on my favorite person," he replied, perhaps refering to Thea.

Manuela perked up at the clear willingess of at least some people to participate. “Let's see... everyone here's on the kitchen rotation, so. When we make up next semester's schedule, the winner gets to pick the student they work with and the loser has to work with Deirdre."

Cyril chuckled. “What if more than one of us picks the losing house?" he asked.

“Second loser has to work with Sylvi," Manuela replied immediately.

“That's a serious wager," Shamir deadpanned. “I'll bet on the Lions."

“As will I," Cyril replied.

“I'll bet on my Golden Deer, of course," Manuela replied. “Hanneman's betting on the Eagles whether he likes it or not. What about you, Catherine?"

By this point, the Eagles and the Lions had met near the middle of the field. Vridel, wearing an impressive crimson cape not unlike Sorcha's blue one, knocked out a Blue Lion student almost immediately. Reynard was as yet nowhere to be seen.

“Awful lot of Blue House bets, kinda makes me want to bet on them, too, but..." Catherine began, grinning slightly before shrugging her shoulders. “I guess I'll throw my lot in with the Golden Deer. That Mercer kid isn't quite as dumb as he tries to make himself out to be."

“My word, already deciding things for me, Manuela," Hanneman huffed at her, though he didn't seem too bothered by it. Alois laughed something loud and patted the other man on the back. Manuela stuck her tongue out behind his back.

“We should make the bet a little more interesting, though," Catherine began, grinning in a sly manner. “Kitchen duty is too mild of a thing, and it's completely boring. Besides, even if I'm on the rotation, there will be days where I can't always do it. Missions, and stuff, you know? It should be something with a little more finesse to it, or flair."

Mercer had, indeed, begun to move, though. It seemed he was directing most of his forces towards the Black Eagle house, though he and Dierdre remained behind. Perhaps to further spectate. Amalthea had taken out a rather impressive looking Black Eagle student who was, perhaps, twice her size. She didn't seem too bothered by it if the smile on her face was anything to go by. Sylvi was locked in a duel, it seemed, with a mage. It was obvious the mage had the greater advantage, but she seemed to be holding her own before she managed to take them out.

“All right," Manuela replied, obviously curious. “What do you propose we bet, Catherine?"

Shamir grimaced.

Slowly, the battle began to really take shape. The Eagles were fighting off assault from two sides, though as predicted, Vridel's magic kept them up longer than they would have otherwise stood. A small group of Lions made directly for him, Sylvi leading the charge and punching through the line, Amalthea right behind. The others were left to cover them, and while some of them weren't doing the best job acting, others weren't doing the best job holding back, so it more or less evened out, and looked like Sorcha's house wasn't too coordinated, rather than like an intentional gambit.

Sorcha herself launched into the sky, cloak whipping behind her. “Mercer von Riegan!" she shouted across the field, pointing her lance right at him. “Get over here and fight me, you lily-hearted weasel!" Though she had technically insulted him, if in a rather exaggerated fashion, the grin on her face made it rather obvious she didn't mean it too seriously. Even from this far away, though, Cyril could see the way her posture simply radiated challenge.

He figured it probably wasn't too bad, as distractions went.

“Speaking of bets," Shamir added, huffing softly. “Do we have one for when he finally caves and kisses her?"

Cyril snorted.

“I thought he already did?" was Catherine's reply. “I mean, they make it so obvious, I'm surprised he hasn't."

“Ah, the romances of the youth," Hanneman spoke in an almost dream-like fashion. “I'd be willing to bet he finally does at the millenium ball, this year," he stated, grinning almost as if he were proud of himself.

“Oh, I'd say before then," Catherine supplied. “Besides, with that much tension built up," she stated, motioning at Mercer who was laughing at Sorcha's statement.

“That may be, Sorcha Blaiddyd, but I'm a safe lily-hearted weasel," he replied with ease. It was, however, enough to get him to move, at least. He motioned for Dierdre to follow him.

“See what I mean? And it's gotta be the same for the prince. I mean, no offense," Catherine's tone took on a quieter one as she glanced in Lyanna's direction. “But it's obvious the little verdant-haired girl has a thing for him. It's so adorable."

“You mean Amalthea?" Alois stated rather loudly, causing Catherine to cringe.

“No tact, this one." She narrowed her eyes at Alois.

“So which one do you think caves first?" Manuela asked, turning her attention to Cyril as though he'd know.

He supposed he was the one who spent the most time with them collectively. “Hard to say," he replied with a shrug. “Vridel's more at ease with it at the moment, I think, but Mercer's the more impulsive one. Don't forget the girls, though. They're wildcards, and might just take the initiative themselves." He thought this was slightly more likely with Sorcha, as she could be provoked to it perhaps more readily then Thea. Or perhaps it was more than Mercer was more likely to provoke in that specific way than Vridel was.

Sorcha flew forward to meet Mercer in the air, getting in close right away so that it was sword against lance. Probably better, for keeping his attention fixed. Which was what she needed to do, to give the flankers time to line up the right shots.

Interestingly, Reynard still had not appeared. Cyril assumed Vridel had sent him to do something specific, and it probably involved 'assassinating' one or both of the opposition leaders, which he was himself in quite a good spot to do considering that he too was a skilled bowman. It might be a question of who got where first.

Sylvi and Thea had at last broken through the Eagles' line—both of them went after Vridel, who fended off the first stroke of Sylvi's axe with a deft parry of his blade. They traded blows, though he seemed less willing to do anything but dodge Amalthea, for some reason.

Thea didn't seem to like that much, and seemed fairly angry about it. “I suppose that depends on what you mean, the girls. You're leaving out one of your students, Professor," Catherine stated glancing at him with a sly gaze. “A little quiet, that one, but you know what they say about the quiet ones," she stated.

“I suppose it depends on how fawn of him she is," Alois interjected, grinning to himself before laughing at his own joke, perhaps? Hanneman merely furrowed his brows at Alois, before shaking his head.

“That was in poor taste, Alois." Hanneman didn't seem too pleased, but Catherine snorted.

“Vridel! Fight me honestly!" Amalthea seemed to shout over the battlefield. She had paused in her attacks to merely stare at him. Sylvi had been taken out by then, and had walked off towards the other students who'd been killed.

But Vridel seemed still to refuse, and his insistence cost him; a cluster of the Lions were able to knock the last of the color from his tunic, forcing him out of the fight.

Cyril cleared his throat softly. “I'm sure I don't know what you're talking about, Lady Catherine," he deadpanned.

Shamir chuckled. “I think he means mind your own business, partner."

At that moment, an arrow arced through the air from the cover the Deer had begun in, its blunted tip catching Mercer in the side just as Sorcha made a thrust for him. His tunic faded to a pale gold, and Cyril could see her grin at him, read her lips as they formed a word.

“Gotcha."

“Oh, but where would the fun in that, be, hm?" Catherine stated. “It's fine to admit that sometimes these things happen. Not like anyone here gives a shit about two adults," she stated, though Hanneman shot her a questioning look. She merely waved a hand in front of her face, though.

It was at this point a ray of magical arrows also collided with Mercer, Sagittae from the looks of it, draining the rest of the color from his tunic. He looked extremely surprised to be taken out, and Dierdre didn't have much of a chance to retaliate as Senka took whatever remaining color she had in her tunic, with a wind spell.

It was down to Sofia, and a handful of other Deer members, and one lone Black Eagle member who had yet to show up.

With nowhere else to turn, the Lions fell upon the Deer, their numbers still sufficient to put pressure on the other group. Still, Sofia didn't give in easily, digging her people into a defensive position and earning them several more points by fending off any Lion who grew overconfident.

It was only when the Lions had been narrowed to Sorcha, Devon, Senka, and Thea that Reynard appeared, in a rather spectacular fashion—with an arrow to Sorcha's back. Wielding her lance on Sofia, she was too far to retaliate, as were the rest of her team, and his second shot took her out of the fight entirely.

This seemed to renew Sofia's confidence, and with Reynard pressuring on the other side, they managed to eliminate Devon, too. But then Thea caught a solid blow on Sofia's shoulder and she was out. While Reynard swapped to knives and nearly took out Senka in the process, her strength combined with Thea's, out in the open, was just enough, and the last Black Eagle fell as well.

The Blue Lions had taken the victory.

“That is the end of this year's Battle of the Eagle and Lion," Rhea spoke, a strange gleam to her eyes as she stared at the remaining Blue Lions. “The winners are.." she paused, “The Blue Lions! Congratulations." Thea looked extremely happy, and made her way towards Vridel. She threw her arms around him, and gave him a rather tight squeeze, it seemed, though it was hard to say why she was hugging him, and not the other members of her house.

“I suppose that means we're stuck with Sylvi for Kitchen rotation," Catherine stated in a good-natured laugh. “But that's nothing to poor Hanneman getting stuck with Dierdre for the entire next semester," she grinned in his direction.

“Congratulations, Professor Cyril. It seems your House are the winners, yet again," Hanneman stated, though he didn't sound upset about it.

“Wait, so what do the winners get? Shamir, Cyril, and I all bet on the Lions," Alois stated, causing Catherine to roll her eyes.

“You get to pick your partners," Manuela said with a sigh. “As Professor Cyril trained the winners in addition to choosing them, he can go first."

“Senka," he said immediately, knowing it would only feed Catherine's grin but not especially concerned.

“Thank the gods," Shamir said wryly. “I was worrying we were going to lose the dream team. My stomach thanks you in advance. Also, I pick Devon."

“Same as Shamir, you guys can whip up a mean meal," Catherine stated, grinning nearly wide enough to split her face in half. “But we already know you're going to pick little Thea, Alois, so you can save it for the rest of us," she added, casting a glance in Alois's direction. He pursed his lips at her and frowned. Before he could say anything, though, Rhea appeared along with Lyanna, and glanced at the small group.

“Professor," she greeted, nodding her head towards the others. Catherine gave Rhea a short bow, and motioned for the others to give both of them some privacy. Once the others had departed, Rhea's expression softened, as if she were smiling at him. “I can only call your guidance of your students... quite versatile. That was a brilliant plan of Sorcha's to utilize her strategy the way she did," she spoke, bowing her head slightly.

“Compared to their performance in the mock battle during Great Tree Moon, the students have grown significantly," Lyanna added, seemingly genuinely pleased to note it. “It is clear that this is a result of your guidance."

Cyril inclined his head towards her, but shook his head faintly. “They've worked hard of their own accord, as well," he said gently. “And Sorcha's strategy was hers, ultimately."

“It is clear that she has benefited greatly from your guidance," Rhea spoke, her eyes narrowing slightly. “In appreciation of your efforts, and to show our high hopes for the future of your students, we will reward your class with some much needed time to relax. They may hold off on their classes for the next three days," she stated, smiling a bit in his direction.

“Please continue to instruct your students as a model teacher."

So, you've done well for yourself, the girl in his head added. I'd have been upset if you failed to teach them even this much, though. She was certainly stingy with praise, something which more amused than bothered him.

Lyanna breathed a soft sigh. “It pains me to assign such a disturbing mission to you at such a blesséd time," she added with a shake of her head. “However... next month your assignment will be to journey to Remire Village to investigate a abnormal occurrence there."

Remire? But that's where you and your father lived before you came to the monastery. What's happening there?

Cyril was equally curious, but also sure that Lyanna would explain.

“I've yet to ascertain the details, but it seems the villagers have been acting strangely," she said, her brow knitting. “It will take some time to collect enough information to act on, so you should expect to move out near the end of the month."

He pursed his lips. “There's nothing further to go on?"

“Not yet," Lyanna admitted. “I'm sorry—I know you've spent time there. The knights will work as efficiently as they are able, I'm sure."

“I pray this is not a bad omen," Rhea added, closing her eyes momentarily and sighing through her nose. She clasped her hands, as if in prayer, and bowed slightly over them. “May the Goddess protect you all."

Lyanna paused a moment, then removed something from a cylinder tied to her belt. “I'm sure your students have plenty to celebrate anyway, but I think they'll find their certification results to their liking as well," she said, then gave him a little smile. “I took the liberty of including those for the young Lord, the Prince, and the others who are in your Saturday rotation, if they'd like to know."

He accepted the scroll with a nod.

“Thank you, Lady Lyanna, Archbishop Rhea." With a small nod, he departed, heading down the hill to where the others were. Sylvi and Devon had lifted Sorcha onto their shoulders, and someone—likely Thea—had assembled her a flower crown, which she now wore on her head, nestled over the braids that kept her hair neat.

“Long live the Queen," Reynard said with a touch of irony.

“No thanks to you," she fired back.

Amalthea had something else in her hands as well, and it looked like another floral crown. “This one is for you, too, Professor!" she stated as she handed it to him.

Cyril accepted it, but gave a small shake of his head and put it on Senka instead. “I appreciate that very much, Thea," he said with a genuine smile, “but only the winners should wear crowns today, I think." They might have been his students, but they'd earned their own victory this time. Senka accepted it with a small smile.

“What about me, Thea?" Mercer stated as he appeared. She merely stuck her tongue out at him, causing him to chuckle. “I see how it is," he stated before grinning in Sorcha's direction. “And congratulations on the victory, Sor. You've earned it," he stated, smiling at her.

“I was not expecting that sneak attack, but I knew you were up to something when I didn't see Senka. I thought maybe she was going after Vi," he continued, his eyes sliding towards Senka. She merely smiled at him, something a little smug.

“You should consider yourself lucky. I usually do not make a habit of going after the weaker party," she replied smoothly. Mercer just snorted, and shook his head.

“I figured you would," Sorcha said with a grin, tapping Sylvi and Devon on the shoulders so they'd set her down. Once her feet had touched the ground, she continued: “I knew I had to layer my traps if I was going to fool you. Poor Vivi was just screwed since that meant he was my bait."

“Yeah, thanks for that," he drawled. “I knew the Empire was going to suffer for this political engagement. I told you all so." He very clearly didn't actually mind, however.

“You sent your assassin after me!" Sorcha rejoined, pointing an accusing finger at Reynard, who smirked faintly. “You don't get to complain about me attacking you if you do that. Besides, I beat Mercer, too."

Cyril actually chuckled, the sound escaping with such a lightness it surprised even him. There was an undeniable warmth in his chest, one he recognized now as being put there by them, the people he cared so much about.

“By the way," he added, handing the parchment off to Senka first. “You all passed your certs this month, too."

“Correction, Senka beat me. She's the one that dealt the final blow," Mercer retorted, causing Senka to shake her head.

“She's my House Leader; technically, she still beat you," she replied while taking the parchment from Cyril. She glanced at it, a flicker of surprise in her eyes as her facial features softened almost considerably, as if she were truly happy with her results. “It looks like I've been elevated to a B-cert for my magic, instead of an upper C-cert," she stated softly. “And I've reached my upper C-cert for my sword skills and a B-cert in riding," she continued, passing the parchment to Thea next.

“Oh, yay! I passed both of my certs for heavy armour and axe! I now have an upper C-cert in both!" she stated happily. Mercer took the parchment next, and smiled at his results, but neglected to say what his certs were at, now, and passed it to Devon. He seemed rather pleased, though.

Devon had reached mid-C in both bows and knives as well as riding, Reynard C-plus in bows and a B-plus in knives. Vridel's scores echoed Senka's, plus another B in axes. Sofia had reached a B in lances and a C-plus in her armor. Sylvi received a B in her axe, but had finally managed to get a C in her brawl. It meant that she could finally use gauntlets in battle, which would put her one step closer to her dream. Dierdre received a B in her magic as well, and a D-plus for her brawl. Almost everyone did, actually, due to Cyril's training.

Sorcha frowned slightly when it came around to her. “Dammit. I knew that shot was off," she said with a sigh. “C-plus in bows and lances, B in flying." She paused, scanning to the bottom of the list.

“Sweet Goddess, Professor, are these scores real?" She looked up at him with wide eyes. “Your lowest is a B-plus, and when are you ever going to need to fly?"

He shrugged. “Probably never, but I need to be able to teach you and Mercer how to do it, right?"

“It's alright, Sor, I got a C-plus in both my sword and flying, so that puts you one up on me," Mercer spoke. “I got a B in bow, though," he shrugged as if it were nothing.

“This is great! We should all celebrate! For our victory and our new certifications!" Thea suggested.

“I could get on board with that. It'll also help break down the so-called barriers around our Houses," Mercer stated, folding his hands behind his head. “We can do it when we get back to Garreg Mach, too. And maybe after everyone's had a day to rest," he continued.

“Sounds like a plan to me," Sylvi stated, smiling as she looped an arm with Devon's.

“We'll plan on it, then."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


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I.Y. 1180 - Red Wolf Moon - Saturday the 1st
Garreg Mach Common Room - Evening - Chilly
Sorcha Blaiddyd


The celebration, such as it was, was in full swing.

Of course, what it had really amounted to was the same group as always inviting themselves into the common room, better known to this set of people as Professor Cyril's office. There wasn't any alcohol, because that would be a bad idea with Rhea around, but there were plenty of snacks and other kinds of drink, plus the lute Manuela had apparently just given to Cyril, a few decks of cards, and some board games. A fire was going in the hearth, and though it wasn't a bonfire, Reynard had filched some marshmallows from the kitchen anyway, and Vivi brought them sticks to roast on, plus chocolate and graham crackers. The result was a rather tasty confection which Reynard insisted had been invented in Brigid.

They were tasty, anyhow.

The group had mostly dispensed with tables and chairs, instead sitting in a rough circle on the floor, only shifting around as new games cropped up. The carpet was pretty plush, so it wasn't any more uncomfortable than outside, really, and much warmer. A storm system had howled in from the north as soon as they'd returned to the Monastery, and they were sure to get lashed with cold rain again tonight. At the moment, though, nothing could be further from her mind.

Presently, she sat next to Senka, the Professor on her friend's other side. Sylvi and Devon were adorably leaning on each other next to him, and Deirdre sat in front of Sofia, letting the taller woman rest her chin on the shorter one's head. Next to them was the fire, and Reynard tended it occasionally, mostly using this as an excuse to eat more marshmallows. Next to him was Vridel, then Thea, and Mercer completed the circle next to her. Everyone seemed happy and relaxed, and they'd just finished the last round of poker Sorcha thought she could take.

The professor was just impossible to read, and she was pretty sure Mercer was cheating somehow, because no one should have cards that lucky all the time. Reynard too, actually.

“Okay, I'm calling it," she said, shaking her head. “Time to try something else. Anyone have any ideas?" She took a sip of the mixed fruit juice Sofia had provided, and glanced around.

Senka placed her cards down as soon as Sorcha called it, and tilted her head slightly. Mercer snorted, though he too placed his cards down to lean on his hands. “How about we play truth or dare," he suggested, grinning in that mischievous way he did. Thea pursed her lips in his direction, though, and looked slightly confused.

“What is truth or dare?" she asked, causing Mercer to quirk a brow in her direction. She merely continued to look at him with a confused expression.

“You've never pla—that shouldn't surprise me. Why does that surprise me?" he stated with a shake of his head. “You start by asking someone Truth or Dare. Depending on what they pick, you either get to tell them to do something, or you get to ask them a question that they have to tell the truth about. If they don't, well... usually it's part of a drinking game so the person would have to take a shot every time they didn't want to tell the truth, or do the dare."

“But we're obviously not drinking this time, so what do you propose we do if no one wants to do either?" Sylvi asked, quirking a brow at Mercer. Mercer, however, glanced at Vridel.

“Care to give us a hand, oh wise and knowledgeable prince?"

Vridel raised an eyebrow. “I've never been clear on how you're supposed to know someone's lying, but in case you do, or they renege on a dare... hm. It should be something humiliating." he considered this a moment. “All those who've shamed themselves by the end of the game have to do a lap around the monastery in their undergarments. Or jump in the lake in the same. Should be nice and freezing this time of year, right?"

Sorcha's eyes went wide. That was brutal punishment. “Good Goddess, Vivi. You don't really understand mercy, do you?"

He shrugged. “It's fine if you choose carefully."

“And here I thought you were going to go easy because it'll be little Thea's first time," Mercer replied after he'd recovered from his fit of laughter. He took in a breath and grinned. “And like Vi said, shouldn't be too hard if you choose carefully."

“Which means don't choose something Mercer or Vridel can use against you, because you know they will," Deirdre spoke, narrowing her eyes in Mercer's direction. He merely grinned back at her. Senka seemed to be taking this all in with an unsual calmness before she nodded her head.

“It could be nice to try something new. I've never played it, either, so Amalthea and I can learn something new, together," she stated, smiling in Thea's direction. Thea grinned and nodded her head excitedly. Sorcha hadn't either—it was nice not to be alone at least.

“Alright, we should draw sticks to see who goes first," Sylvi stated before furrowing her brows. “Or maybe we should have a neutral party member think of a number, and the person closest to it, goes?"

“I don't care if I go first, so I'll pick the number," Reynard volunteered.

When everyone had chosen their numbers, it was revealed that Senka had won, making it her turn.

She seemed rather pleased by it, for some reason, and turned her attention on Reynard, first. “So I am supposed to ask whether you choose truth, or dare, correct?" she asked, glancing towards Mercer who nodded. “Then Reynard, do you choose truth, or dare?"

He shrugged, clearly indifferent. “Dare."

Senka seemed to think about it for a moment. “I... dare you," she paused, “to serenade the person to your right for a minute."

“Pass me the lute?" He made a gesture to Cyril, who obligingly handed it over. Technically, the Sofia-Deirdre pair were both directly to his right, so it wasn't clear which of them he was supposed to serenade, but he requested no clarification.

He plucked a few times at the strings, with what seemed to be familiarity, then started in on what seemed to be a merry jig tune. “To my right there is a lady, with hair as bright as flame. She likes to get in fistfights, and say others are to blame." He grinned at Deirdre; his singing voice wasn't too bad. Nothing professional, but tuneful as any tavern minstrel Sorcha had ever heard, and she knew a few.

“With her sits her lady—strong, tall, hale and hardy. She's a little bit quiet though, ne'er the life of the party." He winked at Sofia, who snorted despite her clear amusement, and a trace of embarrassment, probably at being the subject of a song.

“To their right's a gentleman, not by birth but in bearing. And another lady fair, both violent and daring. Next there's our dear professor, not sure he's even human. And Senka the quiet one, pretty as a flow'r bloomin'."

Sorcha was sure her surprise showed on her face; if he was making this up as he went, he was very good at it. “Then of course there's the princess, noble queen o' the Lion, and that dastardly young lord, who often leaves her cryin'."

She couldn't help it—she laughed. There was such a lightness to the tune that she couldn't take it too seriously and get upset.

“Last we have a princely soul, they call him lord of lilies. And the sweetest girl I've met, who loves all her chantillies. A stranger lot I've ne'er seen, I'll be the first to say so—but if y'need a battle won, they're the ones you'll want to know." He finished with a flourish, and bowed in his seat.

Senka seemed rather surprised at Reynard's song, but she smiled. “I didn't know you had that kind of talent," she spoke, shaking her head lightly. “It is your turn, however."

He considered his options, eyes landing briefly on Devon before he seemed to change his mind. “Dierdre. Truth or dare?"

Dierdre narrowed her eyes suspiciously at Reynard. “I pick truth," she stated, seemingly not inclined to choose dare.

He chuckled a little to himself. “Suppose you were forced into the following scenario: you, Senka, Sylvi, and Amalthea are locked in a room. Your only hope for getting out is to meet the demands of your kidnappers, which are the following: of the three other women in the room, you must cut out one's tongue, have sex with one of the others, and marry the last, the duration of which is to be lifetime. Who do you choose for what, and why?"

“Oh, that's easy," Deirdre began, “it'd definitely be Sylvi's tongue." Sylvi furrowed her brows at Deirdre and pursed her lips into a pout before sticking her tongue out at Dierdre. “Point exactly. As for who I'd fuck, or marry, hmm..." she began, narrowing her eyes at Senka and Amalthea. Amalthea's face was a rather bright shade of red, perhaps because it was such a straightforward thing for her. Deirdre's eyes slid towards Vridel for a moment before she smirked.

“Definitely, Thea, and I'd marry Sen. I'd have the best wife who could cook, and could teach me all of her dark magic secrets," she replied, grinning in Senka's direction. Senka merely huffed a light laugh, and arched a brow.

“I'm flattered?" though it sounded like Senka was more amused than anything. Amalthea had taken a drink from her cup, her face still a bright red color.

Vivi had narrowed his eyes only slightly, but Reynard looked satisfied, giving a small nod. “Excellent. I do believe that makes it your turn now."

“Yeah, yeah," she stated, waving a hand in front of her face. She scanned the group and grinned when her eyes landed on Devon. “Alright, Devs, truth or dare?"

“Ummm." Devon seemed undeniably wary of Deirdre; by Sorcha's estimation he was going to have problems either way. “T-truth?"

Dierdre's grin widened considerably. “In your opinion, who is the person you've fantasized about the most, here?" she spoke, arching a challenging brow in his direction.

It took a moment for Sorcha to realize exactly what Deirdre meant by fantasized, but once it clicked, she turned red, never mind poor Devon, who was doing his best impression of a tomato.

“W-well, I—" he stammered, looking quite like he was about to deny it altogether.

“Laps in your underwear, Devon," Vivi reminded him. “You can't pretend the answer is 'no one.'"

Devon's dark eyes widened; he grimaced. “U-uh." He swallowed. “S—Sylvi," he rushed out, refusing to look at her. “S-sorry."

The implication seemed to fly over Thea's head as she looked vaguely confused. Sylvi was laughing, though, but Deirdre spoke before she could. “Nothing wrong with it, Devs. It's natural to fantasize about a beautiful young woman. Or man, or person depending on what you're into." This caused Mercer to snort softly into his cup, but he remained mostly quiet.

“Nothing to be sorry for, either, Dev," Sylvi stated, leaning so that she was looking at him and fluttering her eyelashes. “I'm flattered you'd think of me," she winked at him, then.

“So that means it's Devon's turn!" Amalthea stated, smiling at him.

“Erm." Devon looked hardly in any fit state to be going next, and seemed to choose someone at random. “Uh... Thea. Truth or dare?"

“Dare!" she stated excitedly. She seemed enthused about it, and was leaning forward so that her hands were resting on her knees.

He blinked, leaning back a little uncertainly and looking around the room as if for something to dare her to do. “I guess, uh... I dare you stuff as many of those marshmallows in your mouth at once as you can?"

Vivi snorted; Cyril was clearly trying not to smile, too. It was awfully innocent, compared to the other things so far. But then, Devon was a pretty mild person.

Mercer nearly choked on his drink, and Senka made a light huffing sound. Deirdre rolled her eyes, probably because of how innocent it was, and Sylvi giggled a bit. Thea, however, looked up to the challenge and smiled.

“Clearly you don't know me very well, Dev!" she stated as she grabbed a handful of marshmallows. She began stuffing them into her mouth until her cheeks were puffed out. When at last it seemed she couldn't fit anymore, she smiled in Devon's direction as best as she could.

Sorcha coughed into her hand. “Your turn, Thea. Maybe not till after you chew and swallow though."

Thea nodded her head. It took her a few minutes before she was able to go through all of them, though. Once she finally seemed to be finished, she turned her attention towards Sorcha. “Truth or Dare!" Amalthea stated, smiling brightly.

Sorcha figured Thea was a little more merciful than the average person, so she thought she'd be reasonably safe. Leaning back onto her hands, she considered it a moment. “Dare," she said, taking a swallow of her juice.

“Do your best impersonation of Mercer!" she stated, causing Mercer to purse his lips at her.

“Out of everyone in the room, you chose me. I think that counts as a compliment?" he stated, seemingly unsure. Thea merely kept her attention on Sorcha, though.

Sorcha grinned, then immediately flopped onto her back in a lazy sprawl and started to mock the sound of soft snoring. She cracked one eye open, though, and winked at Thea.

It caused Thea to snicker softly, though, and Deirdre out right laughed. Senka tried to conceal a laugh behind her hand, but wasn't doing a good job of it. Mercer looked slightly offended, but the smile on his face said otherwise.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up. Your turn, Sor."

“Hmmm." She considered her potential targets carefully. “Sylvi. Truth or dare?" She didn't trust herself with Mercer, and while tormenting Vivi might be fun, he was sure to get her back for it later somehow.

Sylvi seemed to think about it for a moment before deciding. “I'll take dare, why not?" she shrugged.

Thinking of these was a pain. She wanted it to be kind of embarrassing, but not horrible. “I dare you... to pay Deirdre a genuine compliment, in a sincere tone of voice, and it can't be just about her appearance." She was pretty satisfied by that one, because it was benign, but not really that benign for that set of people.

Sylvi looked at Deirdre who was grinning at her rather smug-like. “Remember, Sylvi, laps around the monastery if you don't do it," Mercer stated almost in a sing-song voice. Sylvi rolled her eyes and opened her mouth to say something, but couldn't seem to find the words.

“Ugh, I'll take the lap; I can't," was her reply, sitting back and crossing her arms over her chest.

“Rude," Deirdre stated, but she seemed rather satisfied that Sylvi was going to take the lap rather than pay her a compliment of some kind.

Sorcha, satisfied with the result, grinned broadly. “Your turn, then."

Sylvi rolled her eyes before they landed on Vridel. “Truth or dare, you're princeliness," she stated, arching a brow in his direction.

“What do I look like to you, a coward?" he replied, exaggerating the drama of his response by placing a hand on his chest. “Dare, obviously."

Sylvi grinned. “I dare you to kiss the person to your left, somewhere not on the cheek or forehead."

“Oh, like that's supposed to scare me?" he replied, arching an eyebrow before turning to his left. It was, in fact, Thea, and frankly Sorcha was a bit more worried about her being the scared one.

He took her chin in his hand. “Anywhere off limits, milady?" he inquired. “You can say no outright; I'll take the dive. And I won't be upset." He seemed to genuinely mean it—she could call something innocent like her hands off limits and he wouldn't mind.

Sorcha's eyes widened. She didn't realize she'd let out a little “aww" until Vivi's eyes flickered to her for a moment, clearly amused.

“No!" she nearly shouted, grabbing one of his hands as if he'd be taken away at any minute. She cleared her throat, and her face was a bright red, but she shook her head. “I mean, I can't let you do that. I just... um, no limits?" she continued, stuttering for a split second. Mercer snickered softly as he glanced at Vivi.

“None at all? My lady spoils me," Vivi replied. There was definitely a playfulness to it, but he was laying on the charm pretty thick, too, with the way his voice went low and soft like that. Sorcha almost felt like she shouldn't be seeing this, honestly, but she had to admit she was really curious as to what he was going to do. Maybe—?

He leaned in, tilting Thea's chin up, and Sorcha's eyes went wide. It looked like he was really going to just kiss her right there in front of everyone, but at the last moment he used his grip on her chin to tilt her head to the side and leaned further down, pressing a soft kiss to the side of her neck of all places instead, just beneath her ear and behind her jaw. It wasn't hasty, either—he lingered just for a second before pulling back and releasing her at the same time.

With a little shrug and a self-satisfied smile, he turned back to the others. “Mercer. Truth or dare?"

“Obviously dare. Who do you take me for?" Mercer replied. Amalthea was about as red as a tomato, though.

“I take you for an idiot, which is fine, since you prove yourself to be one with great regularity," Vivi replied immediately. Considering a moment, he picked a frosted cupcake up off the plate in front of him and threw it at Mercer's face. “Pick someone in the room and convince them to lick that off you. If you can't you have to go running."

“Don't even look at me," Deirdre stated immediately. Sylvi looked vaguely amused, but nodded her head in agreement.

“Same, not gonna do that," Sylvi spoke. Amalthea was still in a daze, it seemed, so Mercer didn't try to ask her. He turned to Senka who regarded him with a flat, even stare. He turned to Sorcha, then.

“Please?" he stated, pointing to the frosting on his cheek. “Unless you'd rather see me running around in my undergarments," he stated, slightly smirking at her.

“Who says I'd have to see anything?" she replied, folding her arms over her chest. “You're asking me to lick your face, Mercer. It's gonna take more than please." Frankly she wasn't sure anything could convince her to do it. Although... the idea of anyone else doing it didn't sit well with her, either.

Oh Goddess.

Mercer pursed his lips at her. “Fine, fine. I will be your personal butler for an entire week if you do this for me. I really don't want to run around like Sylvi; it's too cold," he stated, giving her a rather innocent look.

Sorcha made a faint noise of protest; it wasn't even that she cared about the offer—it was his eyes. When he looked at her like that, his face was almost boyish in its innocence; even if it was entirely feigned, it reminded her powerfully of the time they'd met. Memories that she thought she'd lost, really.

With a harsh sigh, she rose onto her knees and shuffled forward. “Fine. Turn so I can reach, and if you move I'll punch you for real."

Mercer looked rather pleased with himself, and did as she told. “Yay!" he stated rather happily, almost similiar in a way that Amalthea spoke.

“Ugh." Trying not to think overly much about it, Sorcha leaned in, running her tongue along Mercer's cheek to pick up as much of the frosting as she could in one go. She got most of it, only a little bit left behind, and swallowed, clearing her throat and moving to sit back.

“Ah-ah," Vivi sing-songed, clearly enjoying himself immensely. “That's not all of it."

Sorcha was going to murder her brother. She shot him a poisonous glare, harrumphing and leaning back in towards Mercer's face. “Do butlers beat people up, or should I have asked you to be my bodyguard instead?" she growled, using her anger to distract herself from the beating of her heart, which was rushing in her ears.

“I can do both if you want."

Another lick took care of it, though she tasted a lot more skin the second time around, and swallowed more thickly, covering for the awkwardness by handing him a napkin. “Sorry," she muttered, sitting back down promptly and resuming her glare at Vridel.

Mercer seemed rather pleased about the outcome, but turned his attention towards Sofia. “Sofi! Truth or Dare!"

“Truth," she said with a little grin, taking a bite of an oatmeal cookie.

“You're no fun," Mercer grumbled. “If you could choose anyone in this room to be a part of your harem, who would you choose, and why? You can have a mininum of three people," he began, “otherwise it wouldn't be considered a harem if you only had two. And Deirdre doesn't count, so you can't pick her."

Sofia considered this for a moment, apparently nonchalant. “Do I have to have sex with them or can they just sit around and look pretty?" she asked.

“One of them should definitely be your lover, but the others can sit around and look pretty."

“Hmm." She pondered this, still rather calmly. “Well I'm only attracted to women, so I guess I'd include them. But if any of you boys wanted to sit around and look pretty, that would be fine by me." She grinned, then gave Deirdre a reassuring little squeeze.

“Senka! Truth or dare?"

Senka looked slightly startled when Sofia spoke, but cleared her throat. “I suppose, dare?" she stated.

“Tell us all a terrible joke."

Senka pursed her lips together, her brows furrowing as she seemed to think of something. “I am afraid I cannot," she stated, pursing her lips further together. “I'll take the lap," she murmured softly, a faint pink dusting her cheeks.

“Truth or dare, Cyril," she spoke, softly, still embarrassed it seemed.

He paused in the middle of chewing, but swallowed before he replied. “Dare, I suppose?" The Professor had seemed vaguely mystified by the whole thing, so far, but at least he had an idea how it worked now, if indeed he was a first-time player like them.

Senka seemed to ponder on what she was going to tell the professor. When she seemed to have an idea, she turned to him, “With your eyes closed, I dare you to walk around and find someone to give a massage to for a full minute," she muttered softly, and for once, not holding his gaze.

He blinked, then shrugged. “Okay. But you all have to stand up and mix around since I know where you are." Standing, he covered both of his eyes with one hand.

The others stood, too; Sorcha made eye contact with Mercer and subtly shifted her head towards Senka.

Mercer grinned deviously at her, and nodded his head. They shuffled around for a moment until Mercer was standing next to Senka, with Sorcha on the other side. Giving Sorcha one last glance, Mercer cleared his throat. “Whenever you're ready, Teach!"

Cyril started to walk, taking relatively slow steps probably so he wouldn't collide with anyone too hard. He was easily the tallest and broadest person in the room, and could easily have knocked most of them over. His free hand was stretched out in front of him.

When the moment was just right, Sorcha gave Senka a little shove that could have been accidental, trusting that Mercer would do the same. It sent Sen right into the Professor's path, and his hand brushed her shoulder.

Removing his other from his eyes, he huffed softly. “Be careful what you dare?" he said, tilting his head at her a little apologetically.

“It could have been worse," she murmured, glaring at Mercer and pursing her lips at Sorcha. Mercer, to his credit, held in his amusement, and arched a brow at the professor and Senka.

“A dare's a dare, gotta do it," he stated. Senka narrowed her eyes at him again, but shrugged.

“Again, could have been worse. I could have dared you to do it."

“I'm actually not terrible at this, for whatever that's worth," the Professor said with a small shrug. He seemed rather nonplussed by the whole situation, and oblivious to the byplay, but Sorcha wasn't quite sure how true that was.

Everyone ended up resettling in the same place, except the Professor sat behind Senka, running his fingers through her hair a few times as though it were a familiar gesture. Apparently he'd be starting at her head and neck.

“I suppose it would be my turn, but I think everyone's gone now," he mused. “So I'll forfeit it." He shifted his hand down to Senka's nape, his other resting readily on one of her shoulders.

“You're no fun, Teach," Mercer muttered, his grin slowly spreading across his face. “Alright, that's over with. How about another game of something?" he suggested. Sylvi, however, shook her head, as did Deirdre.

“No thanks. I've gotta keep whatever dignity I have left before Sen and I have to go do our lap around the monastery," Sylvi stated. Senka pursed her lips together and visibly shuddered, though it was hard to say if it was because of the Professor, or Sylvi's statement.

“There are worse things to see around the monastery. Two lovely women running around in their undergarments doesn't seem so bad to me, right Devs?" Deirdre stated, grinning in Devon's direction.

“Uh. I mean—" Devon resembled nothing so much as a mouse in a corner, wide-eyed and unsure of himself. “I, um. Won't be looking? That just seems—disrespectful?"

Cyril smiled faintly, working his way down to Senka's shoulders with both hands, pressing the pads of his thumbs into what seemed to be a stubborn spot behind her sword arm.

“It's not really a penalty if no one sees," Vivi pointed out.

“Exactly. There have to be witnesses. Who's to believe them if they say they did run, but no one was there to actually witness it?" Mercer stated. Senka merely rolled her eyes.

“I don't mind as long as Mercer isn't there," Senka spoke rather candidly. Sylvi snorted softly.

“Hm, who knows what might happen, though? Senka and I might decide to put on a little show, just for you guys," Sylvi stated, leaning in closer towards Devon and winking at him. Senka snorted softly.

“It's true. Who knows what mood I might be in," Senka added, a rather strange and devilish grin crossing her face.

Devon's blushing and stammering was so obvious Sorcha almost missed the way the Professor's hands paused for just a moment in their motions; she only caught it out of the corner of her eye. Come to think of it—Sorcha subtly studied Senka for a moment, wondering how she was handling being touched like that by someone Sorcha knew she had a thing for.

Senka seemed to be enjoying it, if the relaxed smile on her face was anything to go by. Senka was a physical person; she'd expressed as much to Sorcha a couple of years ago, but she'd never said anything about being touched. It appeared, though, that Senka enjoyed both forms of physical contact: touching and being touched. Mercer, however, leaned over towards Sorcha.

“Do you think both of them have realized they've been at it for almost five minutes now? Sen only said one minute." He seemed highly amused by it.

“I won't tell if you won't," she whispered back. Sen had a half-naked lap around the monastery in a little while, after all. Best to let her enjoy herself while she still could.

Mercer snorted. “Where'd the fun in that be, though?"

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Red Wolf Moon - Sunday the 2nd
Dining Hall - Afternoon - Cool
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer yawned, stretching his arm over his head until he heard a satisfying pop. Dropping his hands to his side, he continued walking in the direction of the dining hall, however; something caught his eye near the bulletin board. He made his way there, and glanced at the flyer, reading the words carefully as a devious grin spread across his lips.

“Well, what have we here," he stated. The White Heron Cup was next month, or at least that was what the flyer claimed. It was for couples, it seemed, though that could have meant just two people in general. Mercer knew that, in their group, only a handful of people could dance. A grin formed on his lips as he thought about it. Vridel, he knew, could dance, and Sorcha had to have known. He wasn't so sure about the others, but he was also certain Sofia knew how to. She was a noble's daughter at one point, and so was Deirdre. He knew Deirdre couldn't dance, though.

Stuffing the flyer into his pocket, he made his way back towards the dining hall. He had plans for this, and everyone agreed to meet in the dining hall for lunch, anyway, even if it was a free day.

Most of the usual group was in fact already assembled. Teach and Senka had had kitchen duty for the day; somehow they'd been put together again for the second half of the Academy year. Not that anyone was complaining. They seemed to have made some kind of roast, meat with a lot of vegetables and all sorts of sides to choose from. Already the two of them were present, along with Sorcha, Devon, Sofia, Deirdre, and Reynard. Vridel entered just behind Mercer, giving him a small nod as he picked up a tray.

“You look like someone else is in trouble and it's your fault," he observed, rather aptly considering the circumstances.

“Only in the best of ways," Mercer retorted. He picked up a tray behind Vridel, grabbing a plate of the roast, and glancing at Vi. “Don't suppose you know if anyone in your house would be interested in a friendly little wager, namely the White Heron Cup competition coming up," he stated. Making a bet on who would win would be interesting, but the couples part would be the most intriguing.

“Reynard's always good for a bet," Vi replied simply, raising an eyebrow as he started to dish his food. “But the White Heron; that's a dancing contest, yes?"

Mercer nodded his head. “The one and only," he replied. “It supposedly happens once a year, and it seems that we'll be able to participate in it this year. Plus," he paused for a moment to grab a piece of bread and placed it on his tray, “I think you and I have some payback to dish out on a certain chef, today." He, of course, was referring to Senka. After that little stunt she pulled last month, Mercer hadn't quite felt satisfied with yesterday. She seemed to enjoy herself far too much, that it didn't quite look like a punishment to Mercer.

Not that he actually blamed her, or anything. He actually thought it was quite funny, her scheme.

Vridel seemed amenable to this idea, if the crooked smile was any indication. “Okay, but how? The person we'd want to set her up with doesn't qualify, right? It's only for students, I think."

“I'm pretty sure Teach doesn't know how to dance. How many mercenaries do you know can dance?" Mercer replied. “And I'm certain a handful of other students don't know how to dance, either, so..." he trailed off a bit to shift the tray in his hand. “We could at least disguise it partially as them taking on practicing partners. I'm sure Reynard and Senka could both dance together considering they're students, but Teach doesn't have to know it's for students only. It'd be a hell of a hard time keeping that information from him, but we can give it a shot."

He thought it would be worth it, at least. “Unless you have something better."

Vridel hummed. “You know, I don't think the deception's even necessary. Just ask them to help the rest of us practice. Reynard will make his own excuses—he hates Fódlan dancing anyway." Vi picked up a slice of bread as well, shrugging and setting it on his tray. “Shall we?"

“Let's," Mercer replied, making his way towards the table where the others were seated. Amalthea seemed to be chatting amicably with Deirdre who seemed quite happy. She was smiling, of all things, and Mercer found himself grinning. “Hey, guys," he greeted as he took a seat next to Sorcha. Once he was comfortable, he glanced at those present, and grinned.

“What's with the grin, Merc?" Deirdre asked, narrowing her eyes in his direction. He knew she didn't trust him when he grinned, and he couldn't blame her, honestly. He was always up to no good whenever he grinned, after all.

“I'm just happy to see all of my favorite people gathered in one spot, is all."

“As if I'd believe that."

Vi slid easily into the open spot next to Thea, and Sylvi belatedly joined the table not too long after, clearly having just refreshed after some kind of practice.

Sorcha was regarding him almost warily from the corner of her eye, but continued to eat as though nothing was amiss; Teach on the other hand was evidently curious about the exchange. “That does sound a little suspect," he said with a flicker of amusement. “Are you sure that's all it is?"

Merer grinned wider, and reached for the flyer in his pocket. “Actually, there is something I wanted to talk to you all about," he began, unfolding the flyer, but keeping it to himself so no one could actually see it yet. Sylvi arched a curious brow in his direction, and Deirdre merely gave him a wary glance. Thea looked quite interested, though she was always like that. Before he could speak about it, though, Senka huffed lightly.

“The White Heron Cup competition, is that it?" she stated, nodding her head in the direction of Mercer's hands. He furrowed his brows at her.

“How'd you know?"

“There are flyers posted all around the academy; how could we not recognize the flyer," she replied easily. He supposed she had a bit of a point. “You want us to join, do you not?" she asked, arching a brow in his direction.

“Well, it is a month away. Who here can actually dance?" he asked, raising his hand, first. Senka follwed suit as did Sylvi, but Deirdre and Amalthea kept their hands down. Vi and Sorcha raised theirs, as did Sofia and Reynard, though he rolled his eyes. Devon and Teach kept theirs down, though their professor did qualify.

“Not like nobles do."

“I've never learned, though it always looked so fun!" Thea stated, glancing at the others.

“So you're thinking all those of us who don't know how should learn so we can all enter or something?" Devon asked. “It looks really hard, though—I don't think I'd have a chance in a competition or anything."

“You are correct, though, Devon. Those of you who don't know how to dance should pair up with someone who does. Even if it turns out that you're still bad at it a month later, then you don't have to participate in the contest, but it could be fun. And we need more fun in our lives," Mercer stated as he grinned. He was being completely serious, though. They needed to do something fun, even though it might be embarrassing to them, it would at least get them out of their comfort zones a bit.

“For once... I actually agree with Mercer," Senka stated, glancing in his direction. “I think those who know how to dance, however, should write their names on a piece of parchment, and those who do not know, should draw one. It makes it fair, and it leaves little room for complaints. Sofia and Deirdre can be exempt from it, though," Senka suggested. Mercer almost pouted; that took all the fun out of making it embarrassing. Deirdre and Sofia made sense, though. They were engaged.

“I think that sounds fair. I'm in for it!" Amalthea stated, glancing towards Devon and Teach.

“Perhaps I should exempt myself," Teach mused. “I believe faculty are unqualified to participate; I would not want to take the opportunity away from someone who wished to compete."

“While that may be true," he started, keeping the large grin off of his face that he knew was trying to form, “the millenium ball is also next month. And seeing as dancing is involved, faculty is required to participate. It'll be good practice for you, too, Teach."

“Fair enough, I suppose. But still, if there's anyone who especially wishes to compete, perhaps I should re-draw if I get their name?"

“Fair," he replied. “Sen, Sor, Vi, Sylvi, write your names down on this," Mercer stated, tearing off pieces of the parchment paper.

“We don't have ink, genius," Deirdre stated, however, she excused herself from the table. It was a few minutes later that she came back with a quill and some ink, and handed it to Sylvi, first. She wrote her name on a piece of paper, followed by Senka, and once everyone had written their names, Mercer folded the papers and mixed them on the table.

“Alright, Dev, you draw first," Mercer stated, glancing towards Devon.

Devon blinked, then nodded, reaching towards the pile and picking up the one closest to him. He opened it, then immediately flushed slightly. “Ah—Sylvi," he said turning the paper around so everyone could see it was indeed her.

“Well, would you look at that, we're going to be dance partners," Sylvi stated as she grinned at Devon, leaning so that her shoulder bumped his lightly. Mercer snickered softly at the look on Devon's face, but turned his attention back towards the group. Amalthea looked like she'd seen something adorable, and was smiling at Sylvi and Devon; Senka looked highly amused, and Deirdre rolled her eyes.

Teach went to draw next, huffing softly to himself and turning the paper around. “Were you planning on competing, Vridel?" he asked, revealing Vi's name.

Vridel considered this. “I was, actually," he said after a moment, tilting his head consideringly. “Besides, Professor, pardon me for saying so, but you seem like the kind of person who dances lead, and I do too, so." He shrugged. “Shame—we'd be very pretty."

Teach chuckled, only softly, and nodded as if this was fair enough, though he shook his head a little too. Probably at the last comment. “Understandable." He set the paper back down and waited for Mercer to shuffle them again before he drew another, tilting his head. “What about you, Senka?"

Senka seemed to give it some thought before shaking her head. “I was not planning on participating, but I do not mind switching roles," she replied, smiling in Teach's direction. Mercer snorted softly as he shook his head. “I think it could be nice teaching someone, for once." He supposed that was true enough.

“Alright, Thea, your turn," Mercer spoke, arching a brow in her direction. Happily, she reached forward and grabbed the first piece of paper in front of her. She unfolded it, and Mercer knew from the color on her face that she'd drawn Vridel's name. She remained quiet for a moment. “Well, don't leave us hanging, Thea? Who'd you get?" he asked, grinning at her.

“I... uh, I got Vi." she spoke, turning the paper around so that everyone could see it. “Oh, but, I can choose again! If you don't..." she trailed off, and glanced down with an adorable blush on her face. Mercer snickered in Vridel's direction, though.

Vi snorted. “Why wouldn't I?" he replied simply, nudging her with his elbow.

That, of course, left two names on the table with no one to draw. Sorcha narrowed her eyes at him. “I hope you're good at this, von Riegan. I don't have plans to lose." there was a challenging smile playing at the edges of her mouth, though.

Mercer arched a brow in her direction. “Oh? Didn't you know, love? I'm the best," he grinned almost wickedly at her. “I don't plan on losing, either." He really didn't have any plans to lose. “Practices will be held whenever there is time. Everyone, figure out when would be best to meet your partners and when you all will have time to actualy practice. What say you, Sor?"

She lifted her chin, almost smirking outright now. “I say I'm going to have to see for myself. You better be prepared to put in some work."

“Oh, trust me, it'll be no work at all," he stated, leaning in close so that he could actually whisper it in her ear. He pulled back, though, and grinned. He was looking forward to it, oddly enough.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Red Wolf Moon - Friday the 7th
Courtyard - Late Afternoon - Mild
Vridel von Hresvelg


Vridel hummed, scanning the courtyard for any other hidden obstructions. He was pretty sure he'd cleared away all the little pieces of debris that might get in the way. He'd prefer to practice indoors, of course, but there was a privacy issue that way, and somehow he doubted Thea would much want an audience for the first time she tried to dance. The courtyard, while certainly open to people wandering by, would probably not see any at this time of day, and this time of year.

It had turned out to be a relatively mild day, but it was still the Red Wolf Moon, and they probably only had a couple hours of daylight before the sun set and things got considerably chillier. Vridel had dressed in layers beneath his uniform to accommodate, and rather hoped Thea had thought to do the same. At least moving about would keep them warm, he supposed.

Setting the small basket he'd brought with him aside, he adjusted the red half-cloak that marked him as the Eagles' house leader and folded his hands behind his back. She tended to be late to things, but something told him she'd be at least mostly on time for this.

It wasn't much longer that he had to wait when she arrived. She'd been running, from the looks of it, her breathing a bit labored as she waved at him. She tried catching her breath by setting her hands on her knees, and bending a bit.

“Sorry, Vi! I was almost late! I got caught up with Lyanna and didn't notice the time," she stated as she straightened herself out. She was wearing her school uniform, though it looked to be that her skirt wasn't the long version. It was a bit shorter than what she used to wear, but that might have been because she had on thick leggings underneath, to accommodate for the chill, perhaps.

“So, um, are we... are we going to practice out here, then?" she asked, clearing her throat as if something were lodged in it.

Vridel snorted softly. She always seemed to be in a hurry, somehow. “Relax," he advised, not unkindly. “Take a moment to catch your breath, but then yes. I thought this would be a useful space to practice in. The dorms aren't really big enough and most of the other places we could use aren't very private." He shrugged slightly, then waited until her breathing had seemed to steady.

“I know you've never done this before, but have you ever seen anyone do it?"

Thea nodded her head and smiled. “I used to watch Lyanna dance when I was still young. It might be different, though, from what you're used to. She's always been so graceful, but me? I'm... I probably won't be, so I'm sorry in advance if I do something that isn't... er, well..." she trailed off and rubbed the back of her neck in slight embarrassment it seemed.

“I'll do my best, though, to be a good partner," she seemed to renew her interest and vigor as she hufffed. “How does it work? Are we supposed to do this together, or are you going to move and I imitate it?" she asked curiously, blinking innocent eyes up at him. She did seem excited about learning how to dance. Maybe because she was excited to learn something new, at all?

Vridel had sort of gone into this expecting some difficulty. It was pretty obvious from the time he'd taught her axe-throwing that while Thea could learn gracefulness,she did not have it innately. Which was fine, really—the worst he'd have to worry about was his toes being tread on, and she was light enough that it wasn't going to bother him much if at all.

“If you remember seeing people do it then I think we'll probably start with a quick overview and then get right into moving," he replied. He had no one to demonstrate with, so the value of making her watch anything was limited anyway.

“The White Heron is going to require three separate dances: the waltz, the gavotte, and the tango. They're all very different, but the waltz is probably the simplest, so we'll start there." He paused, considering how to explain. “Everything we do for that will be on a three-count: one-two-three, one-two-three, one-two-three." He counted them off steadily, giving each one a hint of emphasis. “The pattern of the movement is based on circles. In general, we'll be turning in small circles, while also moving about in a larger one." He illustrated with his finger.

“Am I making sense so far?"

Thea had her lips pursed together as he explained, staring at him rather intently. Once he asked his question, she furrowed her brows lightly, but nodded her head. “I think I get it," she spoke. “We'll be going in a tempo that mimicks going in a circle. I think... I think I can follow that. It sounds simple enough," she stated, moving so that she was close enough to him.

“Since we're starting with the waltz," she began, taking in a soft breath, “is there something you need me to do? Do I need to stand in a particular way? Or should I just watch you do a step, and then I try to follow?"

He considered this, then shook his head. “Let's get in position, then we'll walk through the steps really slowly." Stepping in towards her, he picked up her left hand first, placing it gently on his right shoulder. “This goes here," he said gently. “For now just leave it there all the time. We'll talk about situations where you might need to move it much later. And this—" he picked up her right hand in his left, so that her palm was resting almost atop his, her four fingers all along the juncture of his forefinger and thumb and her thumb outside his. He raised these to about the level of his shoulder and slightly away from their bodies, placing his free hand carefully at her waist. “Goes here. Comfortable?"

Vridel let himself smile a little rakishly, knowing how she was likely to react to even his much contact. The gavotte typically had a bit less, but the tango had a great deal more.

“It's fine," she murmured, glancing away from his gaze for a moment as her face turned a light pink color. She had tensed a bit, but did seem to relax lightly. “So, I'll keep my hand here until I need to move it, and then this one," she glanced at their hands, “stays as it is. I think that's easy enough to remember." She nodded to herself as if she were speaking to herself.

“Next?" she asked, finally glancing up at him. Her face was still a light shade of pink, though.

“Now we move," he said. “As I mentioned, everything is on a three-count. On one, we move like this—I'm going to take a step a little forward and a little sideways, and you're going to go back and a little sideways. I'm going to be nudging you very lightly with my own momentum, so you don't need to worry about aiming your steps very much. It's the lead's job to make sure you can move as you need to, so leave that part to me. Here we go." He started the step, leaning in a little more than he usually would so she could really feel the direction. With time, only subtler cues would be necessary, but it was kind of like learning to read: large print and letters first, then words, then sentences, and smaller characters.

She nodded her head and moved with him, wincing slightly when she stepped on his foot. “Sorry," she murmured, pushing a light sigh from her nose. For the first few minutes, she seemed to step on his foot every other step or so, and she'd apologize for each time she did. She stopped, however, fifteen minutes into the lesson. She stepped on his toes less, each time, and she seemed to be getting the hang of it.

“I think I've got the hang of it!" she sounded rather excited about it when she'd managed to not step on any of his toes for about five minutes. “This is great! Who knew dancing could be so fun!" she continued, grinning as she glanced up at Vridel.

“You really do make a great partner, Vi!" she spoke sincerely up at him, her eyes softening just a bit as they continued.

Vridel remained patient through the process, never complaining when she tread on his feet, or making a fuss when he had to repeat something he'd already said. He didn't normally think of himself as the teaching type, because he'd never thought of himself as the patient type, either; but it would seem that at least he was developing some degree of the latter. It was rather ironic, all things considered.

But then... it likely had more to do with the fact that this was Thea than anything about him. He usually stayed well away from ingenues and other innocent sorts—they were oil to his water in most situations, and so far removed from his way of seeing the world that he really thought there was little he could say to them. And to be sure, he sometimes struggled to know what to do with her outlook. But he increasingly found it... charming, rather than bothersome.

Even if it meant he had to keep a lid on himself, in certain ways.

So when she smiled at him like that, bright and delighted because of him, he tamped down on an instinct and restrained himself to smiling back and shifting the thumb at her waist, just a little, brushing her through her layers. “As are you."

Thea huffed lightly at him. “You're just saying that," she spoke, but she didn't look offended, rather, she just kept smiling at him. “But for what it's worth, I have a great teacher, so, I'd hope to maybe one day be as good of a partner as you are," she grinned at that. She let out a contented sigh and closed her eyes for a moment. When she opened them, they were strangely serious.

“Mercer said that the competition is next month, so that means we have a few weeks to practice. I'm not... entirely sure what the schedule will be like, but..." she trailed off, worrying her bottom lip between her teeth. “If there are days you don't feel like practicing, because you don't feel well, I can practice with someone else. Maybe Mercer or Senka?"

“I don't want you to feel sick or get tired because you're practicing with me all the time, and I want you to be able to rest when you need it. I'll even come by and heal you with a restore spell since you like those so much," she spoke, looking quite pleased with herself.

He was torn between being, well, touched that she thought so much of him, and oddly aggravated. At himself, really, for being so, but also at the suggestion that she should practice with anyone who wasn't him. Waltzes and gavottes were one thing, maybe. But the tango...

Narrowing his eyes, he shifted his hand to her lower back and tugged, pulling her closer in towards his body and lowering his head slightly. “You'll not be rid of me so easily, milady," he said gruffly, making direct, close eye contact. “It might have been the luck of the draw, but you're stuck with me now." He did his best to give it a lighter inflection, like a joke, but he couldn't help that there was a shade of truth in it, and he found hiding such things from her increasingly difficult.

She looked slightly panicked for a second, but then her face took on a rather deep shade of red, and he could see the way her throat worked. She swallowed thickly before shaking her head softly. “I hope it didn't come out that way! That... I'd want to be rid of you," she spoke softly. “I could never want that, Vi, you're my good friend," she stated, though it seemed a little strained, as if she didn't quite believe it herself. It sounded like she thought of him as more than just her good friend, but she couldn't seem to bring herself to say it.

“And there's no one else I'd rather be stuck with! For me, you're mine, and I'm yours, so..." she trailed off, but her eyes widened at the realization of something. “I didn't... I hope you don't take it any other way! I just meant that... you're my dance partner, and I'm your dance partner, and I wouldn't want anyone else to teach me." She always rambled when she was feeling a bit shy, or embarrassed.

She was killing him, more than a little. But... Vridel well understood that if she was still this flustered by a little light flirtation, he needed to exercise that patience he was developing. So he sighed a little and smiled ruefully. “Of course that's what you meant," he said, as though it were the most obvious fact in the world.

“Now. Let's try getting through the whole thing this time, shall we?"

The smile returned to her face as she nodded. “Sure thing, Vi! I promise not to step on your toes, either!"

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1180 - Red Wolf Moon - Sunday the 9th
Garreg Mach Abbey - Late Evening - Light Rain
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer rolled out his shoulders as he approached the church's abbey. He figured it would be a good place to practice; it was open, it was late, and there wouldn't be anyone around. It would give him and Sorcha the opportunity to practice without onlookers, though he wouldn't have minded. Mercer was not shy to say that he could dance rather well, but he wasn't so conceited to say that he was the best, despite the comment he made to Sorcha. He'd said it for good fun, if anything. Sighing softly to himself, he sat in one of the pews and waited for Sorcha.

He was, surprisingly a bit early than he'd told her to meet him, mostly because he just couldn't bring himself to pretend to be late. If he knew Vridel, and he did, Mercer knew that was his only competition. Sofia could dance, but her partner was horrible. And he wasn't thinking that to be mean; Deirdre really couldn't dance to save her life. He'd never seen Sylvi dance, but her partner was Devon. They might have been decent opponents as well, but he couldn't be too sure. He was, slightly, bummed that he wouldn't be able to see Senka and Teach, dance. He was rather interested in seeing how that would play out, but he supposed he'd take the small victories where he could get them.

After all, they were at least going to practice, and who's to say he wouldn't be watching? He could be stealthy when he wanted to. He chuckled to himself, placing a hand on his face to cover his eyes.

Decidedly less stealthy as a rule was Sorcha; he could hear her footsteps echo in the abbey as she approached. She wasn't loud by any means, and was agile enough that she could probably be quite lightfooted when she wanted to, but it was like she never saw a reason to. She gave away a lot of things in her body language, too—even now, just hearing the pattern of her treads, he could detect the strange mix of almost brash earnestness and uncomfortable hesitation that seemed often to characterize her.

There was a strange sound to the steps, though; if he had to guess she was wearing something on her feet other than the usual uniform boots. The sounds paused, though, about the same time as she'd reached the pew.

“You're not asleep," she said, and he could hear the faintest hint of a smile in her voice. “And you're early."

He removed his hand to regard her with one open eye. “Of course I'm not late, unlike some people. How rude," he stated, grinning at her. He was joking, though, and stood from his spot. “And despite what you've heard about my reputation, I'd like to think that I can surprise some people. So, Sor," he continued, arching a brow in her direction.

“I'm sure you've heard about the three separate dances we're required to do," he paused just long enough to wait for her response, which was a simple nod, then continued, “which one do you want to practice first?" Mercer knew he could do all three dances. He learned to waltz during his time in the Alliance, and how to tango when he was in Almyra. Granted, he wasn't so sure about his ability to do the gavotte. From his understanding, it was something that seemed more inclined towards the Kingdom rather than either the Empire or Alliance, but he could at least do it.

She considered this, shifting a little in place. The odd sound of her tread had, in fact, been caused by the fact that she was waring heels, probably to make sure that practice would resemble the actual conditions of the competition as closely as possible. She was obviously taking it seriously.

“Well," she said, clearly thinking it over in the same frame of mind. “The waltz and the gavotte are pretty standard. I think we probably only need to practice enough to get used to each other with those. But the tango's freeform, so we're going to need to actually create one. What order we do those things in doesn't really matter to me, but I expect the tango to take most of our practice time, so... what do you think?" She tilted her head slightly at him, hands clasped neatly in front of her.

As upright and formal as she could be, as well as how not traditionally feminine she was, certainly didn't give the impression that Sorcha was much of a dancer. Then again, like him she was royalty, and had certainly at least learned the basics of three major dances like these. “Are there any you're less sure of?"

Mercer arched a curious brow at her. She was right in that the tango would require a bit more practice than the other ones, considering that they needed a routine. Creating one on the spot usually didn't work out for most people, but Mercer shrugged his shoulders in a nonchalant fashion.

“Honestly I'm not that good at gavotte, but I'm also pretty sure I can pick that up, quickly," he finally spoke. “So tango it is, but," he paused for just a moment and regarded her with a curious stare, “are you sure you'll be fine with it? I mean you know tango requires a lot of touching and invading personal space, right?"

He wanted to make sure she would actually be alright with it. He couldn't have her getting nervous on him if he did something. Although... that was the whole point of practicing was so that they could get used to it.

Sorcha cleared her throat, her eyes finding her feet for a moment. "I'll admit I'm not really that used to it," she said wryly. “In Faerghus, the tango is very much, um. Well it's sort of a couples' dance, in a way some of the others aren't. Anyone can go up to someone and ask for a gavotte or even a waltz, but if the tango's played at all it's sort of understood that most people will sit it out. Sometimes they don't play any."

She grimaced, then looked up. “Actually, um. Because it's from Almyra, and was originally a commoners' dance here, some of the nobles consider it a bit..." she hesitated. “Uncivilized. I was surprised to hear it was included in the competition." Perhaps realizing how that might sound, she widened her eyes. “Pleasantly, I mean! And I do know how. Sen taught me. It's just she's the only one I've ever danced it with. So—practice would probably be good. Just... if you can help me ease into it and forgive me if I mess up, I'd appreciate it."

Mercer chuckled lightly. “I'm not offended, Sor. People are just a little strange when it comes to the customs of others," he replied easily. He arched a brow at her, though, and huffed lightly. He didn't think Sen knew how to tango, and now he was really bummed that she and Teach wouldn't be participating. They might have given him and Sor some real competition, if that were the case. He shook the thought from his head, though.

“Alright, so if Sen taught you the tango, I want you to show me what you know. Don't worry, I can follow pretty easily with whatever you've learned. It'll help me get an idea of where you're at, and also help me decide how to go about it." He also wanted to see how much she actually knew.

She nodded a little. “Okay." Shedding her blue cloak, she draped it on the pew and moved forward to the open area in front, waiting for him to follow. Once he had, she stepped in close, settling her hands roughly correctly but a little more politely than the dance really called for. She stepped forward enough that they were in some contact near the hip, as they should be, but bent a little too far away from him, as if she were concerned not to touch too much. It was, in a word, a rather tame version of things, but when she started to move, those weren't bad, exactly. She was very technical, and precise in her steps, which was a good start, but she either lacked or misunderstood the core principle of the whole thing.

She was making tango-type moves, but with all the politesse of the gavotte, which was exactly the opposite feel.

“Alright, I'm going to stop us here," he spoke, drawing the tango to a complete stop. “And you're telling me that Senka taught you how to tango?" it was more of a statement than question, and he shook his head. He was going to have a lot of work to do, but he found that he didn't mind, exactly. He huffed lightly and grabbed her hand gently, at first.

“So it looks like Sen didn't really teach you the more intimate parts of the tango," he began, pulling Sorcha closer to him so that his other hand was pressing into her back. It, effectively, forced her to be pressed into him, but he kept a neutral face. “We'll be like this most of the time, during a tango. If you're uncomfortable with it, I'm sorry, but this is how we'll need to practice."

“I'm not," she said, but the words were quick enough that they were clearly an automatic denial, and the faint tinge to her face suggested otherwise. Clearing her throat, Sorcha took a breath and nodded firmly. “Okay. How are we supposed to move like this though? I feel like I'd accidentally brush you all the time."

Mercer smirked. “That's the whole point," he replied. “The whole point of a tango is the physicality of it. We're supposed to touch a majority of the time," he explained, he pulled away for just a moment, though, and regarded her. She really was adorable, the way her face tinged that color. He felt a swelter of pride at that, that he was the reason for it.

“Do you trust me to teach you, Sorcha? The proper way of a tango?"

She harrumphed softly, rather as though she were taking this as some kind of challenge, which to be fair was how Sorcha took a lot of things from him. Tilting her chin up just the fraction necessary to meet his eyes, she leaned in close enough that their noses almost touched. “Don't leave anything out," she said simply, softly, with a thread of steel in her timbre. “If we're going to do this, we're going to do it right."

“As you wish, Princess," he chuckled softly. He pulled her back closer to him, so that his head was close to her ear before speaking, “All you have to do is follow my lead. If you can do that, well..." he trailed off before he began to move them. It wasn't difficult without music, but he supposed they'd be doing a lot of practice without it. They couldn't just ask some of the musically-inclined members of their group to play for them, after all.

Their tango was at once agressive and yet competitive. Mercer twirled Sorcha every once in a while, but for a majority of it, they danced rather closely. He occasionally dipped her, and he was quite pleased to see that she followed his lead rather well. He didn't have to do much instructing, but for some reason it just felt natural. Like they were meant to dance like this. He pushed the sensation from him. He had to.

He pulled her across the floor before placing his hand on the small of her back before twirling her. When the tempo seemed to be coming to an end, he twirled her before the both of them went down. He tilted her head back as he hovered over her, his breath ghosting across her face. He was so close, all he had to do was...

She swallowed, her breaths short and soft against his cheek, eyes wide. Most of her embarrassment had faded during the dance itself, but it roared back to life now, her cheeks flushing crimson over her subtle freckles.

“Seems like you've a somewhat natural talent for this, Sor," he spoke, pulling back from her.

She let him help her back into a standing position as he pulled away, swallowing again and nodding absently, as though her thoughts were elsewhere. “Thank you," she said, clearing her throat and shifting her eyes away. “I suppose that will make this easier." She slid her hands away and stepped slightly back. “Would you like to work a bit on your gavotte? We could start putting together the proper competition piece tomorrow—er, if you're free."

“Sure, I'll just cancel all my naps for the foreseeable future," he stated in a light huff. “But we can start putting something together, for tomorrow. Maybe base it off of what we did today since it seemed to work," he added.

“And as for the gavotte, I think we should just focus on the tango for the first week and a half. I'm sure you're fine with the waltz, and like I said," he shrugged, “I'm a fast learner; I can learn the gavotte in no time."

She huffed herself, seeming to regain some of her equilibrium. “I suppose it's rather uncomplicated. All right then. We'll do that." Sorcha paused, twisting one thumb and forefinger around the opposite thumb. “And... thank you. I promise I'll work hard and get better at this."

“You're welcome."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Cyril Eisner

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Red Wolf Moon - Thursday the 13th
Common Room - Late Afternoon - Drizzle
Cyril Eisner


When the candle in the common room had burned down to the 5 o'clock mark, Cyril set aside his lesson plans and went to work. It wasn't the largest space, but it should be plenty big enough for their purposes, with a few modifications. So he shifted aside the tables and chairs, lifting them all carefully and placing them against the walls. He even rolled up the plush rugs and set them against the wall—all easily reversible changes that should suit well for emulating ballroom conditions.

He wasn't entirely sure why he was expected to participate in the ball proper—he could understand requiring his attendance, for chaperon purposes or something, but to expect that he dance was strange to him. Then again, Hanneman had been raised noble, and Manuela had been a professional performer, so he supposed perhaps it had become convention because they were so natural at it. Or perhaps it was something the Archbishop required for reasons of decorum he would not understand.

Either way he was woefully far behind, knowing precisely zero noble dances. All of his exposure to that particular activity had been in tavern rooms with barmaids or bonfires with village girls, or something roughly equivalent, and even then he'd done so more because his father had nudged him into 'having a little fun' then from any particular personal desire to do it. Memorably, a courtesan had given him tango lessons, a form of payment for scaring off someone harassing her. She'd offered the other kind, too, but seemed relieved when he'd declined.

Some part of him wondered how they were doing now, all those people he'd once known, crossed paths with coming and going. In a way he felt... removed now, from everything his life had been before. Not necessarily in a bad way, just... different. His life was very different. And many of the things in it were good.

It wasn't long before Senka showed up, dressed in something that seemed to be a little more open. The dress she wore was sleeveless, but a pale blue color. It fell to her mid-thighs with a longer tail in the back that brushed the middle of her calves. She was wearing flat shoes, though, and had her hair up in a bun. Some of the strands of hair, though, were left to the sides of her face. She looked dressed to dance, and when she spotted him, she offered him a smile.

He couldn't quite help the way he forgot to breathe, just for a second, a momentary squeeze in his chest reminding him that for all he seldom displayed his emotions, he felt them.

“Cyril," she greeted softly and stepped into the room. She crossed the floor in graceful steps before she halted in front of him. “As I recall, you said you don't know how to dance like the nobles do, correct? What do you know?" she asked, tilting her head slightly and stared at him with a curious gaze.

“Uh..." he considered how to put it. “Not much with a formal name honestly. Jigs, the two-step, the tango... and whatever happens to go with the music in the tavern, I guess." A lot of it was just improvisation, really. He shrugged, suddenly feeling his origins more keenly than he'd ever really done before. It wasn't often that the difference between himself and most of his students was that obvious, really—the nobles among them were certainly used to different things, but readily interacted with commoners such as himself and Devon.

This was... a little different.

Senka merely nodded as he listed what he could do. “Those are all fairly lively and fun. I know the tango fairly well; it was one of the first things I learned," she stated, smiling at him. She pursed her lips together, though, as she seemed to think about something. “Even though we're not participating in the White Heron Cup, the millenium ball, I hear, is going to be hosting similar music for the gavotte, the waltz, and, of course, the tango." She brought her eyes back up to meet his, and arched a brow.

“I'm not that skilled in the gavotte, even though it's rather simple, but I can help mostly with the waltz and tango aspects of the dance. Since you will be learning," she grinned a bit mischievously at him, “I'll let you pick which you'd like to learn, first."

The immediate temptation to ask her to tango with him was overwhelming. For that reason alone, he thought he probably shouldn't. “I suppose... the waltz then? I think I need to know all of them for the ball, so if you're not comfortable teaching the gavotte maybe we could ask someone to instruct us both?"

She huffed lightly. “Of course. It's not that I am not comfortable, just uncertain. I do know that Sorcha is a wonderful gavotte dancer. I'm certain I can get her to instruct you as well," she replied, and stepped closer to him so that she was only a couple of inches away. She took hold of one of his hands, and placed it on her waist. She grabbed his other hand, and placed her free hand on his shoulder.

He shifted the hand at her waist slightly so the angle was comfortable; he could feel the warmth of her skin through the dress, and tried not to think too much about it. She was pleasantly tall, compared to most women he'd danced with; it made finding a comfortable spot easy.

“The thing about the waltz is that it's mostly moving in smaller circles. You'll move forward with your right foot, and you'll continue to the side with your left foot. You'll close your right foot to the left, and begin again with your left foot," she started, glancing down at their feet. She pursed her lips together, and glanced back up at him. “Do you mind if I take the lead on this one to show you?" she asked, head tilting just slightly to the left. “It'll be easier to demonstrate and explain."

He huffed softly. “Not at all. Should I step back when you go forward, then, if I'm following?" He did, typically, dance lead, but he wasn't at all fussy about it, and if it was going to make demonstrating easier for her, he saw no reason to insist otherwise.

She smiled and nodded her head. “Yes. As I lead, you'll follow, but pay attention to the tempo. It's fairly easy to grasp, but some people have a hard time keeping count. After we've moved a few times, we'll switch positions for you to take the lead. This is simple in that the steps will be the same for both of us, regardless of who is leading and who is following." She adjusted her grip in his hand, and glanced back at him.

“Remember, just follow my lead, and you'll be fine," she stated, grinning up at him. She took the first step forward, guiding him along with her as she explained the steps and process. She kept the lead for at least fifteen minutes before she stopped, and smiled at him.

“Do you feel comfortable enough to try it, now? Or should I keep leading?" There was something almost challenging in her tone, but her expression suggested that she wasn't quite aware of it.

He huffed a laugh without considering it, squinting down at her as if taking some offense at the challenge in her voice. “What's this?" he asked, arching an eyebrow. “Do you doubt I could do it? Or are you just enjoying the opportunity to boss me around for a change?" The half-smile on his face wasn't a familiar expression to him—there was definitely mirth in it, but more than a hint of brash confidence and entendre, too.

Her brow arched rather highly on her face as her smile turned into something like the devilish grin she had on her face the night they all played truth or dare. “I'd say it's a little of both. After all, it's not every day the roles are reversed where I am the teacher and you, the student," she stated, clearly not backing down. “Though I'm sure there are a few other things I could teach you." Her grin remained the same as something flashed in her eyes.

“Oh?" he pretended to consider this. “Well let me put that first part to rest, shall I? Go easy on me, Professor." The tone of his voice surprised him, low and rich, edged with just the faintest bit of sarcasm. Perhaps because he'd never asked for easy in anything and wasn't really about to start now.

His steps were precise, but more importantly they flowed, keeping up the count just as she'd instructed, and her movement was seamless with his. She was talented, to be sure—he was certain she could walk into any tavern in Fódlan and dazzle even with something entirely improvised, but of course she would even if she didn't dance a single turn. Senka was a princess—even without a country, it was true in a deeper way than the title. It was the inherent grace of her, the nobility in her bearing, her spirit.

But now was hardly the time to be finding himself lacking; he was going to great lengths to prove that whatever else he was, he made for an excellent student. When they whirled to a stop, he leaned her into a rather nonstandard dip with his hand around her waist, still half smiling.

“What do you think?" he asked, almost nonchalant. “Do I pass muster? I'm interested in these other lessons you think you've got for me."

She chuckled lowly, and opened her eyes. They'd closed when he'd dipped her. “It seems I could not have asked for a better student. A quick learner and talented," she stated, smiling softly at him. “And for one, I could teach you a proper tango, something you wouldn't find in any tavern, or in Almyra," she began, the hand at his shoulder shifting along to the side of his face. Without much thought, it seemed, she traced the side of his jaw with a finger before she rested her hand against the side of his neck.

“And not just dancing. I'm almost certain I could teach you a few things about the darker magic arts," she grinned at him, then.

His smile only grew. This woman was something else.

“Don't go underestimating us commoners, now," he said, a strange little roughness to his voice that he didn't bother to ponder. Instead he used the arm still around her waist to step closer, connecting their bodies in that close manner the tango required. He shifted slightly into her touch, seeking it in the same automatic way a plant sought sunlight. “We don't care so much for decorum, you know. What the stuffed shirts in the ballrooms would think of us."

He leaned down just a little, placing his brow against hers, close enough that they shared breath, and took her hand up again in his. Cyril's eyes met hers unwaveringly, smile faded into a faint curl of his lips, and he shifted, signaling with nothing but the movement of his body where he intended her to go. “Why don't we try, and see who's teaching who?"

“You forget that I, too, am a commoner, now," was her reply before the smile on her face turned into a rather dark grin. “That sounds like a challenge," she spoke softly, her breath ghosting over his face with how close they were. “I assure you, Cyril, I do not back down from challenges, and I intend to win them." She shifted her other hand so that it rested on his arm, while the other remained on his neck as if to bring them closer.

“I accept. We'll see who's teaching who."

Setting

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 - Red Wolf Moon - Saturday the 15th
Training Grounds - Late Afternoon - Chilly
Senka Rinaldi


Senka was rather pleased with how the dance lessons were coming along. Though it had only been two days since they began, Cyril had, in fact, proven to be a rather fast learner. She didn't think that they'd need to practice for very long. Perhaps the gavotte, but Senka had no desire to dance a gavotte. Cyril could, if he wanted to, but that was one dance she planned to sit out of. Today, though, she intended to do some training with Blutgang. She had finally acquired the necessary certs to take it out onto the battlefield, however; she was slightly unnerved by it. It was a Heroes' Relic, but more than that, it was Maurice's relic. While she didn't feel quite as strongly as being cursed with his Crest, she was still unnerved by it all.

Why Cyril thought it was a good idea for her to have it, was beyond her, but she would not argue. If he thought she could benefit from it, then she needed to learn how to use it. She wasn't familiar with these types of weapons. She would have asked Lady Catherine to help train with her since Catherine had Thunderbrand, however; she was currently out on a mission. She had been sent with the other Seiros Knights to gather information about Remire village and what was going on.

For now, she supposed she could practice a bit on her own, and made her way towards the training grounds. She was pleasantly surprised to find it empty. That meant less witnesses, and less accidents if something went wrong. She wasn't entirely confident that she should use her Crest, here, but it was the only way, she supposed, to practice. It didn't scare her nearly as much as it used to, and Blutgang was only compatible with someone with Maurice's Crest. Sighing softly, she closed her eyes and took a breath.

It was a good fifteen minutes before she was disturbed by anyone else's appearance. Oddly enough, Cyril and Sorcha appeared together, both carrying lances and looking like they'd just exercised themselves quite vigorously, despite the chilly temperatures. Well, Sorcha more vigorously than Cyril, but still. Her friend appeared to be laughing at something their teacher had said, shoving him lightly on the arm and scrunching her nose. He cocked an eyebrow, a faint smile touching his mouth.

It was Cyril who noticed her first; the smile faded and he offered her a gentle nod. Tracking his attention, Sorcha half-grinned. “Hey Sen!" Her eyes fell to Blutgang, and widened slightly. “Oh, how's that going?" she asked, clearly referring to the practice.

“About as well as you'd expect it, which means not so well," she stated, holding Blutgang off to the side. “I know nothing of Relics, nor how they work or how they are used. It's visibly a sword, which would make one think it easy to use, but..." she trailed off. She shook her head mildly, though and offered both Sorcha and Cyril a smile.

“I'm aware something like this cannot be learned in a day, hence why I am here," she continued, motioning towards the training grounds in a vague gesture. “And what about you, how is your practice coming along? Have you been working on your bow techniques, too?" she inquired. She knew Sorcha was aiming for a high cert level for her bow, and that Mercer was still training with her.

“Of course I am!" Sorcha replied. “I won't be happy until I'm at least a better shot than Mr. Good-at-Everything here." She gestured up and down to indicate Cyril, widening her eyes in a comical fashion and shaking her head in disbelief.

His eyes narrowed in that softer way that meant he was amused, but he did not respond to the accusation.

“Anyway, Relics. Huh. I've never used Areadbhar, obviously, but... hm. I have heard some stuff about how to make them work, if that might help. And of course the Professor has the Sword of the Creator." She looked to the side, tilting her head at him. “You've figured out how to work it, right?"

He nodded, handing his lance off to Sorcha so he could draw the sword from over his back. “I don't know how much is the same, though—It doesn't have a Crest Stone, and I'm not entirely sure how I use it, except that I just... want it to work, and it does."

“That's not very helpful," Senka deadpanned, but she smiled to make it appear that she wasn't serious. She pursed her lips together as she took apart his statement. He just wanted it to work, and it did. She glanced down at Blutgang, feeling the same uneasiness leak back into her stomach. Maybe that was why she couldn't seem to make it work? Maybe it was that she didn't want it to work, that it didn't? Was it so much as will that controlled the Relics?

“What have you heard, Sorcha," she decided to ask. If she could get a little more information, perhaps her willingness to use it would increase?

“Uh, well, the Stones are usually important, I know that much. Having a Crest is supposedly the key, but the lock is the Stone, kind of. That's where the power is that you have to tap. The rest of it's just a weapon, even though it's made of really strong materials. So I'm guessing the trick is something in the interaction between your Crest and the Stone in Blutgang." She shook her head.

“Which only makes it more perplexing that the Professor can do anything since there's no Stone in the Sword of the Creator. But we should probably mostly ignore him, because he's weird." She flashed Cyril an apologetic smile; he only snorted softly. “Still, there might be something to the willpower bit; my father always said that I have to be resolute, because Areadbhar does not abide weakness in its wielders, and we have to learn to master it."

Senka snorted softly, and covered her mouth with her free hand at Sorcha's statement about Cyril. Still, she supposed there was merit in what Sorcha said. If the key was her Crest, then she needed to utilize it. “Cyril may be strange, but..." she began, her smile stretching just a little further, “could you, perhaps, help me with it?" His Crest was strong enough to withstand her own, as was demonstrated every time they'd train. She trusted him, and perhaps... that was what she needed right now in order to train with Blutgang.

“You're the only one I trust to help me with this."

“I'll take a seat nice and out of the way," Sorcha said with a grin. Moving to replace the practice lances, she planted herself alongside the fence, leaning forward enough to brace her forearms on it, clearly interested in seeing what was about to happen. It wasn't often two Heroes' Relics clashed, after all, even if their wielders were only sparring.

Cyril, though, hopped the fence and crossed into the center of the ring with her. “Happy to help in any way you would like," he said simply, giving her a faint smile.

“Good," she replied, nodding her head in his direction. She held out Blutgang in front of her and waited until Cyril was positioned. “I don't expect you to go easy on me, either," she added, smiling just a bit to herself. After all, if he went easy on her, she wouldn't learn anything. Learning was the whole point of this spar, and she didn't intend to make it out without some bruising. Once they were ready to start, Senka gripped the hilt of her weapon tightly in her hands, and charged the professor. Unlike his weapon, hers had yet to attain the glow, but she pushed that thought from her mind.

Swinging Blutgang in a horizontal slash, she was at least willing to try until something happened.

Cyril parried effortlessly, twisting his body with the motion to open up her guard and planting a foot on her chest to toss her back to the dirt. While it probably wasn't as hard as he could have hit, he did seem to be taking her request seriously. He waited for her to stand, though, before beginning again.

The exchanges contined in this fashion for several minutes. Cyril was mostly defending, but he did take the most obvious opportunities to retaliate, and while the blows were checked, they were not weak. He was, quite clearly, pushing her.

Senka was, if anything, frustrated. She still had not managed to activate her weapon, and it felt like she was just waving it around. Letting out a frustrated grunt, she held Blutgang to signal a stopping point, however; someone cleared their throat, forcing Senka's gaze towards the source. Her eyes widened slightly at who it was, standing slightly behind Sorcha.

“Lady Rhea," Senka spoke, offering the archbishop a bow. She smiled, but it looked feigned to Senka.

“I see you are practicing with Blutgang," she stated, causing Senka to nod her head. “It appears you are having difficulties with it; may I?" she asked, motioning towards the ring. Senka could only, once again, nod her head. The archbishop approached the ring, and made her way towards Senka. Once she was a foot or so away, she offered her hand out, as if expecting something. Senka handed Blutgang to her, however; the archbishop took hold of Senka's wrist and pulled her closer towards her.

“It seems you are having difficulty with your Crest and matching it with the stone," she spoke as if she'd had practice with this sort of thing before. For all Senka knew, she probably did. “Activate your Crest without combining it with any of your magical potential. Simply activate it," Rhea spoke simply, but in a hard tone. Senka wasn't too sure if she could do that, though. She'd only used it when she needed to amplify her magic, however; she was determined to master Blutgang, even if she had to have Rhea's help. Rhea had yet to release her wrist, though.

Taking in a deep breath, Senka searched the feeling of her Crest, waiting until she could find it, and tried to pull it forth. To her surprise, she was able to feel it activate, and something felt warmth where her hand was connected to Blutgang. It was glowing slightly, and Senka felt a smile cross her face. She managed to do it on her first try, and she felt a small sense of pride in herself at that. Rhea's smile, however, remained on her face, as if she weren't truly happy with helping, but Senka did not care.

For whatever reason, Rhea did not like her, and Senka was fine with that. Not a lot of people did, but they were nothing compared to the people who did like her, who cared for her. “Thank you, Lady Rhea," she offered a light bow, causing Rhea to shake her head.

“No need for thanks, Miss Argyris," she spoke, though something clenched in Senka's chest. The way she said her last name, it almost felt like Rhea knew something else. Something that Senka had been trying hard to keep concealed. She pushed the thought from her head, though. “I am glad to have helped. I would like to observe your spar, if you do not mind," she continued, glancing at Senka before turning towards Cyril.

Cyril's face was closed, completely unreadable. Like it had been in the first few days of their acquaintance. What he made of any of this was simply impossible to tell, but he did incline his head respectfully to Rhea. “Of course, Archbishop." Taking a step back, he leveled the Sword of the Creator with one hand. It still glowed dimly; it seemed to do that any time he held it with the intention to wield it at all.

“Whenever you're ready, Senka."

It was at this point that Rhea finally released Senka's wrist, and made her way to stand next to Sorcha. Once the arena was cleared, Senka shifted Blutgang in front of her, this time more determined to master her blade. Their spar lasted fairly longer, this time; Senka still wasn't quite as skilled as Cyril was. Not that it deterred her. He parried her attacks, but this time, her attacks felt a bit stronger, more precise and a little more agressive.

When their spar finally came to an end, Senka was breathing in a labored fashion, sweat trickling down her forhead and neck. She smiled at Cyril as she straightened her posture before turning towards Sorcha. Her lips pursed together when she spotted Rhea. She had forgotten she was there. Rhea, however, didn't look too pleased, for whatever reason, but she clapped softly.

“Thank you for sparring with me, C—professor," she spoke, feeling the strange need to be formal with him, at the moment. She turned to Rhea, and bowed lightly. “And I am indebted to you for your help, Lady Rhea," she stated as politely as she could.

“You are quite welcome." Senka still felt uncomfortable under the archbishop's gaze.

Sorcha didn't look too thrilled to be sitting next to her, either, her expression having receded to one of polite interest, rather than the avid good humor of the moments before Rhea's arrival. “That's definitely great progress, Sen; nice work!" Her smile was genuine, if slightly unsure.

Cyril replaced the Sword of the Creator on his back, also bowing politely to the Archbishop. “Thank you, Archbishop. It seems you are yourself a very talented instructor." His tone was no easier to read than his face. It could have meant anything at all.

She smiled, then, Senka noticed. “No need for pleasantries, Professor. You have done a wonderful job, already, instructing your students. I shall leave you be; I am pleased with their progress," she spoke, her eyes lingering just a moment longer on Cyril before she left. Senka pursed her lips together, before shaking her head. She glanced towards Sorcha and Cyril, though.

“I do not know about the two of you, but I am hungry, now. Care for lunch?" she asked. It would be a welcome distraction, she supposed.

“Definitely," Sorcha replied. “I got hungry just watching you two."

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Red Wolf Moon - Monday the 17th
Dormitories - Midafternoon - Overcast
Sorcha Blaiddyd


She should have known, really.

It was just sort of true that when good things happened in Sorcha's life, they could only last so long before something came crashing down to ruin it. Maybe that was being overdramatic, but she couldn't help feeling that way right now. Her lips pursed; she studied the letter in front of her like it had personally offended her somehow. It hadn't, really—Lady Cornelia was usually a very nice person to get letters from. But she'd really been just the messenger in this case, and the news wasn't good.

Bandits everywhere, an ongoing food shortage, the systematic oppression of the people of Duscur, and all her uncle could think about was having a good time with other people's money. He wasn't an awful person, not to her at least, but she was beginning to suspect he might be an awful person in general.

Almost as bad somehow was what she was going to have to do to fix it this time.

Standing from her desk, Sorcha grabbed her cloak off the hook on the wall and settled it around her shoulders. She needed to take a walk. Maybe the chill air outside would help her clear her head. Think about this rationally and remind her that it probably wouldn't be so bad. It was nothing she couldn't handle, after all.

Locking her door behind her, she headed towards the greenhouse. Looking at the flowers might help, too.

When she'd arrived, there were two people already inside. One of them was Senka, probably to care for the flowers from Duscur, however; with her was Mercer. He seemed genuinely interested as she seemed to explain them to him.

“You seem to know a lot about these flowers, Sen, even though they're from Duscur. I didn't take you for someone who knew different types like that," he spoke. She merely shrugged, however; before she said anything, her eyes landed on Sorcha, and she smiled at her. Mercer followed her gaze, and grinned. “Hey Sor! Come to learn about flowers, too?" he asked. Senka rolled her eyes slightly, but didn't say anything.

The question kind of caught Sorcha off-guard. She wasn't sure what she'd been expecting, but it wasn't quite that. “Uh... no," she admitted, probably too seriously for the lightness of the query. But her mood wasn't really letting her think of anything more lighthearted to say, so instead she shrugged. “I was kind of just going to look around... maybe check on the lilies." That part, she said with dropped eyes. But it would be kind of nice, she'd thought, to visit that little spot and think a bit.

She couldn't disguise the hint of melancholy to her tone, though she did make an effort.

Senka's eyes furrowed a bit, as did Mercer's. “Is everything alright, Sor? You look a little... down," he stated, seemingly concerned for a moment. Senka remained quiet, but nodded her head as if in agreement.

She sighed. Part of her wanted to play it off, but they'd see through her, she was sure. Besides, she didn't like the idea of lying to her friends. And she'd have to tell them at least part of it eventually.

“Not exactly," she said, shaking her head a little. Her eyes moved to Sen's flowers, resting on the orange petals of one variety. It was a pretty color. “I've been summoned back to Faerghus. Founding Day is this week, and someone has to preside over the formal ceremonies and things. My Uncle insists that I do it, apparently because it will be my duty soon."

Sorcha knew better than to believe that. Uncle Rufus might not like all the work that came with being king, but he wasn't eager to prepare her for her duties, either. Lady Cornelia thought he'd gotten rather too used to being called "Your Majesty" and might like to be king in truth, instead of just the Regent. Sorcha wasn't sure about that, but he definitely wasn't doing this to help her. More likely he wanted out of the boring responsibilities of his position, and so it fell to her to do them.

“So I'll have to leave tonight to get to Fhirdiad in time to prepare. I don't know how long I'll be away—it depends on how many things I'll have to attend to while I'm there, I guess." How many things Uncle Rufus had put off until the last minute, in other words.

Mercer blinked mildly before pursing his lips. Senka dusted her hands off on her skirt, before straightening back out. “Then I will be going with you," she simply spoke. It was like her, though, to go where Sorcha went. She'd always tried to provide comfort where she could. Mercer arched a brow in their direction, before inclining his head somewhat.

“I'm sure they'd let us, if you want us to go with you, Sor. That way, you won't have to be there alone," he added, seemingly, as his way of support for her. “Just say the word, and we'll accompany you to Faerghus," he looked genuinely serious about it.

“I—" she was about to say she couldn't ask them to do that. This was hardly an existential threat to herself or the country, after all. Probably wouldn't amount to much more than an annoyance in the long run, however bad it was sure to make her feel about herself.

But... but the worst part about it all was the thought of having to leave her friends behind, and if they were really willing to go with her... maybe it would be different this time. Maybe she'd be able to handle it better, knowing that people who really cared about her were there. And maybe if Mercer in particular was there, they wouldn't bother her so much about—well. The obvious.

“If—if we can get the permission, then I'd really appreciate it," she admitted softly, finally moving her eyes back to rest on them properly. “I don't want to get anyone in trouble with the Archbishop though, so if she says no, please don't." The last thing she'd ever want was to make things more difficult for them.

Mercer grinned rather widely at her. “That's why we ask Teach to do it. She couldn't say no to him, and she didn't last time when we all went to Derdriu, so..." he trailed off with a light shrug of his shoulders. “You know he'd say yes if you asked him. Or, you know, got Sen to do it," he added, waggling his eyebrows in Senka's direction. She merely regarded him with a flat stare, though.

“I'm sure Cyril will say yes regardless of who asks him, Mercer. Although I'm not so sure if you asked him. He'd probably say no," Senka responded, causing Mercer to snort softly and roll his eyes.

“Yeah, yeah, if you say so. Anyway, we should probably go find out. It wouldn't hurt to try, right? Oh, we should see if Vridel and Thea want to go. Thea's never really had much experience outside of the church and our missions. I'm sure she'd like to see Faerghus for a new experience. And Vi, being your, you know..." he gestured vaguely, but Sorcha knew what he was referring to. Vridel was her step-brother, but he didn't seem to want to say it just in case Senka didn't know.

“Stepbrother, yes," she confirmed. There wasn't a lot about Sorcha's life that Senka didn't already know, but she appreciated Mercer's discretion nonetheless. “I suppose it might not be all bad," she continued, turning towards the greenhouse entrance with them. “Founding Day celebrations are quite... festive, in Faerghus. There's a parade, of course, and it's probably the one day a year everyone really feasts, as such."

It was an austere sort of place, and even this year the feast was likely to be less than those she remembered from her childhood, but still for Faerghus it would be all-out. There weren't really many other food-based celebrations, as the founding day roughly coincided with more local harvest festivals and people tended to pool the resources into one big meal rather than a few smaller ones.

“Oh, sounds like it'll be fun, then! Of course, that's assuming we can go. Any chance to try new food, and I'll be there in a heartbeat. Even if I have to sneak out of the academy to follow you," he spoke, grinning at Sorcha. Senka huffed lightly, and shook her head.

“Let us go find the others, first, and then we'll see whether or not we will have to do that, Merc," Senka replied, causing Mercer to nod his head.

“Sounds like a plan. I think Vi and Thea are both in the library. Something about learning more about the white magic and stuff like that. Teach might be with them since he's basically learning everything. He just absorbs everything; it's a little unnerving sometimes, but I suppose that's just Teach for you," Mercer spoke, walking towards the door of the greenhouse. He glanced back over his shoulder, and blinked.

“Well? C'mon! We only have a few hours before we have to pack and leave, right? Let's go find out!" he spoke, motioning for them to follow him. Senka glanced at Sorcha, shrugged lightly, and made her way towards Mercer.

Sorcha found, unexpectedly, that a smile bloomed across her face. It was the last thing she'd expected to find there after the letter from Lady Cornelia, but...

But there it was, all the same.

“Yeah," she said softly. “Yeah, let's."

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Red Wolf Moon - Friday the 21st
Fhirdiad - Evening - Snow
Vridel von Hresvelg


It had been many years since Vridel was last in Fhirdiad.

In many ways, it was still exactly the same place. As a city, it was a marvel of engineering, stunning-if-harsh architecture melded into a cold mountainside landscape. Especially at this time of year. Even now, it snowed heavily outside, blanketing the grounds of the castle with yet another dense layer of white.

In a not-unfamiliar scenario for him in particular, the group had found themselves milling about at a party of sorts. Not a ball, as the feast would be the point of the gathering, but as it was being prepared and set out, the nobles in attendance were milling about. No doubt Sorcha had raised some eyebrows by bringing along an entourage of almost fifteen people from Garreg Mach, few of them native to Faerghus, but so far the primary reaction seemed to be curiosity. The disdain would come later, he supposed.

Unsurprisingly, he and Mercer were drawing quite a lot of attention, being the heirs to rival countries. As the direct aide to the Archbishop, Lady Lyanna was also under some scrutiny, but of all things the Professor seemed to have more of it than anyone. Then again... it wasn't every day a mercenary showed up out of nowhere, plucked the Sword of the Creator from Seiros's sarcophagus, and managed to wield it without a Crest Stone, so perhaps the fascination was understandable.

Of course, the majority of those crowded around him right now were women, something that Vridel could only smirk at.

“Vivi!" Sorcha's voice summoned his attention; she stood nearby with Mercer and Thea. “You haven't met Lady Cornelia, right?" She gestured him over.

As he approached, he could make out a rather immodestly-dressed woman, apparently in her thirties or so, with a bright smile. Her hair, a long, silken length of strawberry blonde, fell freely to her lower back, pieces in front brushing her diaphragm. Her greyish-blue eyes seemed to light a little at the sight of Sorcha, and she stepped forward immediately to hug her, which Sorcha returned readily.

“Princess!" From her it sounded more fond nickname than title. “How have you been? It feels like forever since I've seen your face."

“Hello, Lady Cornelia," Sorcha replied, almost a little bashfully. “It's good to see you. These are some of my friends: this is Amalthea von Kreuz, and I'm sure you've heard of Vridel von Hresvelg and Mercer von Riegan."

In lieu of greater formality, Cornelia offered a hand to each of them to shake. “Nice to put faces to some of the names I've been reading about," she said kindly. “Welcome to Fhirdiad."

“It's a pleasure to meet you, Lady Cornelia! I'm so glad I get to meet the person behind those delicious pastries that Sorcha shares with us," Amalthea spoke first, eyes wide with wonder and awe. She was smiling brightly at Lady Cornelia as if she'd just discovered something new and fascinating. Mercer grinned a bit, and bowed towards the woman, though.

“Thank you for the warm welcome," he spoke as he straightened back up. “It's finally nice to meet you, as well. I've heard quite a bit about you from Sor, here," he stated, inclining his head towards Sorcha as he did.

“That's mutual, Lord von Riegan," Cornelia replied, eyes narrowing with mirth. “My dear princess writes—"

“Anyway," Sorcha cut in hastily, clearing her throat. Vridel only barely suppressed a laugh. “Lady Cornelia here is responsible for much of Fhirdiad's infrastructure and engineering. She's a real life genius."

The woman laughed, a warm sound, and shook her head, waving a hand almost dismissively. “That's too much," she replied modestly. “I just had a few ideas, that's all. And I doubt aquaducts made for much interesting conversation. How are you all finding Garreg Mach? I never attended the Academy, but I know many who have, and they seem to constantly sing its praises."

“Oh, it's really lovely! I'm enjoying my time there, and it's my first year!" Thea spoke first, causing Mercer to snort at her enthusiasm. “I'm in Sorcha's House, and she's been an amazing House Leader so far! We've won both of our mock battles, and honestly, I don't think we would have been able to do it without her," Thea continued, smiling brightly at Sorcha in the process.

“I can attest to that. Our last mock battle, the Eagle and Lion, she managed a proper sneak attack and took both Vi and myself out. I was genuinely, and pleasantly, surprised," Mercer spoke, as he grinned at Sorcha, patting her shoulder in a gentle manner before dropping his hand.

Cornelia looked quite pleased to hear it, but Sorcha was only turning redder under the praise. She'd opened her mouth to protest when a hush fell over the room. A man had appeared at the top of the stairs into the foyer—his resemblance to Sorcha's late father was impossible to miss. Like Sorcha herself, he was golden-haired, but his eyes were paler, more murky blue.

“Friends," he said, smiling broadly at the assembled, then inclined his head slightly in their party's direction. “Honored guests. Please join me in the dining room, that we may celebrate the founding of our nation, and its proud history." With a rather dramatic flourish of his blue-purple cape, he exited, and the people started moving towards a pair of arched double-doors, even now being opened by several servants.

The group had been informed of their seating arrangements yesterday: Vridel and Mercer were up near the head of the table with the King-Regent and Sorcha, as well as Roderigue and several other prominent nobles.

The Professor, Lady Lyanna, and Amalthea by extension were seated near Sylvi's family, toward the middle, where presumably Lady Cornelia would also be. The others were a bit more scattered, with Devon and Jeralt furthest down towards the end, as commoners with little by way of status. Senka had finally appeared, but was seated where Devon and Jeralt were. None of it was terribly unusual, really.

The table had been laid out richly with dishes: pheasant, beef, and various kinds of wild game were the centerpieces, with all kinds of roast vegetables and grains. Ale and potato liquor seemed to be the alcoholic options—there was no growing grapes or anything up here, and no doubt this meal was intentionally only Faerghus-only, from the wild beasts to the squash.

Vridel found his seat across from Mercer, who was seated next to Sorcha. Between Vridel and the Regent was an older fellow, grey of hair and slightly stooped, that he thought might be Viscount Kleiman. It was highly fortunate that Sorcha hadn't wound up married to him—he had to be almost triple her age, though he seemed in good health. Next to him sat a young woman, probably in her mid to late twenties, with uncanny ginger hair. She wore a rather bored expression, and seemed to be sneering at all of the people gathered. She was either related to him, or she was the woman he'd married instead of Sorcha. A bit young, but that didn't stop most people.

The Regent had claimed the spot at the head of the table, which Vridel thought was rather presumptuous of a man who was supposed to be using this opportunity to give his niece some experience running things. He smiled amiably at all of them as he was served, and tucked in almost immediately, allowing the guests to do the same.

“Interesting guests Sorcha's brought home with her. I hope you've been able to enjoy Fhirdiad a bit?"

“I would say so," Mercer spoke first. “A bit colder than I'm used to, but it is an excellent kingdom nonetheless," he continued, offering the man a polite smile.

Kleiman snorted. “Only real Kingdom left, isn't it?" he said, tone deeply cynical. “The Emperor's a figurehead and nothing more, these days, and the Alliance governs by committee, apparently."

Vridel raised an eyebrow. A rather audacious thing to say right in front of two heirs—he was parting his lips to put the man in his place when Rufus tsked.

“Now, Viscount, I know you're set on enjoying your retirement, but even those with nothing to lose should be a little more polite than that, no?" He didn't lose his smile, but his eyes narrowed faintly.

Kleiman sighed at that, giving the woman beside him a quick glance before looking up and between Mercer and Vridel. “Apologies," he demurred. “When you reach a certain age you forget how to look at other sides of an issue."

It wasn't much of an apology, but it was enough for Vridel to let the topic go. For Sorcha's sake if nothing else.

“So," Rufus said, scanning over them all but seemingly uninterested in Sorcha, “what're you all studying at the Academy, then? I still remember my years fondly, though I suppose most of the people I knew are long gone. Is the old librarian still there? Tomas?"

Mercer narrowed his eyes in Kleiman's direction, but it was hidden behind a smile on his face. He turned back towards Rufus, though. “Tomas is, indeed, still there. He keeps the library neat and tidy, and often likes to scare some of the students," he began, pausing only for a second before resumming, “but I think he doesn't do it on purpose. Quiet fellow, you see."

“And retirement? Are you stepping down from your post, Viscount Kleiman?" Mercer asked, arching a curious brow in his direction. Kleiman cleared his throat and glanced towards the woman to his side. She looked like she wanted to roll her eyes, but glanced in Mercer's direction.

“Céleste, my daughter, will be taking over as Viscountess when the year is over with," he spoke, giving name and relation to the young woman beside him.

“Charmed, I'm sure," she spoke, glancing towards Vridel. “I cannot speak for my father, but it is truly an honor to meet the imperial prince, and Duke von Riegan's recent heir." Something in Céleste's voice didn't sound honored, though. It looked like she was assessing both Mercer and Vridel.

“Likewise, certainly." Vridel said it dispassionately, reaching for his ale to take a swallow before returning to his meal.

Rufus seemed the social type, more inclined to keep small talk going and the interaction lubricated rather than bothering much depth on any topic in particular. Still, he didn't seem to be unpleasant, as Kleiman clearly was and his daughter was pretending not to be.

Throughout several more minutes of conversation, Sorcha remained quiet, keeping her eyes mostly on her plate.

Eventually, the topic turned to local politics, as it often did.

“I noticed Fraldarius put in a motion to name his niece his heir," Kleiman said, looking vaguely as though he'd swallowed something sour.

Vridel was fairly sure Fraldarius was the man about three seats down, so it was rather bold to speak of him in such a manner. But then, conversation was at quite a hum. He probably wouldn't hear.

Rufus nodded. “One way to take care of the Duscur issue, I suppose," he said with a little nod.

Vridel connected the dots in his head at the same time Sorcha looked up sharply.

“Still," Kleiman continued, oblivious to the Princess's narrowed eyes. “I know he doesn't have another heir, but to settle for one with the wrong Crest? And that Crest, at that? I do wonder if his age isn't beginning to get to him."

“On the contrary, I find him to be of exceptionally sound mind, and good judgement, if that's the case," Sorcha said quietly.

Kleiman looked at her like she was something on the bottom of his shoe. “Yes, well. Forgive me if I find your judgement equally-suspect, Your Highness." There was a subtle disdain to the title; Vridel frowned. He wondered how many drinks Kleiman had consumed before dinner.

The Viscount flicked his eyes to Mercer and narrowed them slightly. “Though as I hear it your most recent lapse may be only partially your own fault. A rarity, I am sure."

Sorcha's jaw tightened. “No, Viscount Kleiman, you were correct the first time. Any fault you find is of my doing. If you wish to blame me for the drought or the rampant banditry in the countryside, now would be a good time. No need to hold back now—by all means, have at me." Her words were quiet, but there was a thread of challenge in them.

“Impertinent wench," he snarled, certainly not yelling, but loud enough that none of those within two seats could possibly miss him referring to his country's princess in such a way. No one looked surprised, or moved to defend her. Rufus raised an eyebrow, but seemed interested rather than offended.

Vridel could hardly believe it, except... well, he actually could.

“I'd tell you to mind your tongue and return to your needlework, but you've hardly any facility with it, have you? The late king must be turning in his grave. No sons, and a worthless daughter."

Céleste looked rather disgusted with her father's behavior, though. “You'd do well to remember that as well, father. After all, I, your bastard daughter, am your heir. You, too, have failed to produce these, non-worthless sons. Princess Sorcha, at least, has the bearing and gall to allow you to speak freely. If I were her," her eyes slid towards Sorcha, “I'd have your tongue cut out as soon as I was appointed Queen." She took a drink from her cup, though, as if nothing were wrong, and what she'd said was perfectly normal.

Mercer held a hand to cover his mouth, as if he wanted to laugh, but didn't. Viscount Kleiman, however, looked slightly mortified, but cleared his throat and didn't say anything.

“And the issue with Duscur will be dealt with, I assure you. I just need a bit more time," Céleste spoke, her eyes sliding back towards Sorcha. “That is, of course, if her Highness would allow me to oversee the issues at hand. I assure you that it will be quick, and with no casualties," she continued. From the tone of her voice, it sounded sincere, but Vridel could tell from the look on her face that she was not being entirely so. It was clear that she had an ulterior motive of sorts.

He met eyes with Sorcha across the table, and shook his head very slightly to indicate as much.

She seemed to understand, because while she smiled slightly at the other woman, she demurred. “At the moment that would be entirely up to my lord uncle," she replied politely. “Who I believe has preferred to refrain from making any particularly significant decisions if it is at all possible in this last year, simply because it is likely things will change soon." She tilted her head, meeting Kleiman's eyes coldly for a moment longer than necessary before turning back to Céleste.

“At that time, however, I would be most interested to hear what you propose, Lady Céleste. We useless daughters must stick together, after all."

Céleste grinned at Sorcha, something both feral and graceful. “Her Highness thinks too highly of me. I understand, though. In a few months time, I look forward to discussing strategies with you. Who knows," she paused to regard Vridel with a strange look, “perhaps we will both turn out to be useful daughters, once everyone here takes the sticks out of their asses. Well, mostly everyone." She glanced to her father, then, taking another drink from her cup.

Mercer looked rather calm throughout the whole ordeal, however; the was a very slight tremble in his posture. It looked like he was trying to not laugh at what transpired, and seemed to mostly be succeeding.

Vridel smiled into the rim of his cup. He didn't trust that woman as far as he could throw her, but he had to admit he liked her style.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Red Wolf Moon - Saturday the 22nd
Fhirdiad - Early Evening - Chilly
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer yawned, doing his best not to make too much noise. After the events from yesterday, Mercer had to train almost aggressively to get rid of his irritation. How they'd treated Sorcha... it was something Mercer didn't really believe her about. To actually witness it and see how she just took it? It made him angry, and it had taken almost everything in his willpower to not assault the Viscount right where he was. Céleste, however, seemed to handle it rather well, and if he hadn't felt a distrusting instinct, he'd have said he liked her.

Mercer von Riegan, however, always trusted his gut instinct; it hasn't let him down. Reeling in his fishing rod, he sighed and stood from the ledge. Nothing seemed to be biting, and he wasn't going to waste the rest of the evening trying to catch something. He couldn't bother Sorcha or Senka; they were off doing something secretive. It was likely that Senka was spending time with her uncle, Rodrigue, and Sorcha was dealing with whatever matters required her attention. Maybe they were together doing whatever it was best friends did?

There was a thought, maybe he'd go bug his best friend? With a grin, he went to find Vridel.

No sooner had he stowed his fishing rod than he in fact ran into Vridel, along with Teach, Reynard, and Devon, the last of whom gave him a little wave as they approached.

“Hey. We were just looking for you," he said with a grin. “I've been put on unofficial hosting duties, I guess; but I'm not really a noble so I thought we'd go a little more into the city. Would you like to come with?"

“Ha," Mercer stated without really meaning to. “Sorry, I don't know why that was funny. Sure, I could use the stretch," he replied falling into step with the group. “So, Devon, you grew up here, right?" Mercer began, while glancing in Devon's direction, “any plans on what to do when you become Lord Margrave-Galatea?" He was only teasing Devon. He needed something light and distracting, and poor Devon was the only easy target within the group.

He could tease Vridel about Thea, but he knew that would backfire somehow. Reynard hadn't expressed interest at all in anyone, so that left him out, and Teach... well, he'd rather not. At least not yet. It was still too early, after all.

“Uh, w-what?!" Devon was predictably easy to rile. Vi snorted and Reynard rolled his eyes.

“You really need to stop losing it every time someone suggests something about you and her. Especially when she's doing the suggesting." He was smiling a little, though.

Devon sighed, waving a hand in front of his face. “I know, but..." he grimaced, leading them almost automatically down what seemed to be a very specific route. “I don't know. I just think about her and get nervous. Besides... it's not like I really have a chance. People with names like Galatea don't seriously consider people like me. Maybe where you guys are from, but not here."

“Not really in the Empire, either," Vridel supplied helpfully. “But it's not like it's never happened. Besides, who says you have to marry her?"

“Well I wouldn't—I mean, no offense, really, but I don't think I could..." Devon pressed his lips together, trying to sort his thoughts. “I don't know. I guess I want something like my parents had. I don't really see much point in having a relationship if there's not even a chance it could be the person I'm with forever, you know? Uh—maybe I'm naive."

“More like fatalistic," Mercer replied in a joking manner, but he supposed he could understand where Devon was coming from. “In all honesty, though, you'd have more of a chance than any of us. Sylvi is nobility, but she's not royalty. It'd be much harder if she were the Queen, but luckily for you, she's not. If you really like her, though, you should at least admit it to yourself. That's usually the first step, right, Vi?" he stated, grinning in Vridel's direction.

Of course, Mercer knew better than that. Admitting you liked someone was simple and clean. Admitting that you thought they could be someone you'd want to marry and possibly have a family with, well... those thoughts were an entirely different thing. He knew some people wanted that; a simple life where they shared it with the one they loved. Mercer, however, knew it wasn't something he could have. After Sorcha ascended her throne, and they nullified their engagement, Mercer would likely be taking a wife for political reasons rather than because he loved her.

It was likely the same for Vridel, however; there was a small chance that they could change that once they became leaders. It would be hard work, and Mercer knew he'd be in for a fight, but it would be worth it. Wouldn't it?

“See this is why I just did the smart thing and abdicated," Reynard said easily, shrugging his shoulders.

“Abdicated?" Cyril blinked slowly—that was Teach for 'surprised.' “You were in line for a throne?"

Vi arched his eyebrow at Reynard, not in a way that suggested he was surprised by the news. Rather, he seemed to be surprised the other man was sharing such information.

Reynard, for his part, looked entirely nonplussed. “I used to be, yes. My grandfather is King of Brigid. I was second in line after my father. But he died and I abdicated, so now my cousin's the heir."

“But your name..." Devon said, looking puzzled. It was easy to understand why—Reynard Voigt was about as Adrestian a name as there was.

“Callum Macneary," he replied simply. “We use Mac instead of von. Kind of."

Mercer was as surprised as Teach. He hadn't expected that, but he supposed everyone had their secrets and who'd they be willing to share them with. Reynard trusted them, that was easy to tell if he'd told them he was former royalty. Mercer pushed a sigh through his nose.

“It's easy if there are heirs in line for the throne. I'm sure Vi could abdicate if he wanted to, but I think we both have too much we want to do that we can't. I, for one, will actually be handing the Alliance over to Alaric when I've managed to change some things. Then, I'll be heading to Almyra to do the same. My father will be wanting me to take over, anyway. I'm the only heir to Almyra, so... even if I wanted to, I couldn't. Plus, it's a perfect opportunity, I think, to strengthen the treaties since my current fiancee is also going to be queen of Faerghus, and I'm in the good graces of the next Adrestian Emperor." He grinned at Vi.

“Good graces is a bit of an exaggeration," Vridel tossed back. “I certainly find you more agreeable than any of the boors here, however. I'd forgotten how disgustingly backward some of Faerghus can be. It's the 'Holy Kingdom' thing, I think."

“You think so?" Teach asked. “But the central figure of the Church is a woman." He seemed to at least understand what kind of 'backward' was at issue.

“Yes," Vi replied, “but it's easy to see Seiros as an exception. Think of what her faith actually calls for: Crest-bearing warriors to take up the mantle of knighthood on her behalf, and to defend the borders of Fódlan from heathen intruders. Besides, all of the elites were male. That kind of thing is easily twisted."

Mercer huffed slightly. “That's just because Faerghus is so far behind everyone else. They'd rather be stuck in their old ways than try to move forward and be progressive," he added. He honestly thought that Faerghus could be absorbed into the Alliance or Empire, and no one would really miss it. Of course, that was a rather dangerous thought, so he didn't share that one.

“Behind every way but technologically," Vridel qualified, gesturing vaguely around them. It was true that Fhirdiad had some impressive infrastructure. But that was about all.

“Vi has a point, though. Things are easy to twist to the liking of whoever is doing the twisting. Things get lost to translations, in history, or in some cases, when certain people conduct book burnings," he continued. Of course, he was referring to the church. He knew for a fact that they destroyed books that were deemed heretical or something close to it. What the contents of the books truly were, though, was anyone's guess.

“Sometimes the truth is inconvenient, I suppose," Devon said softly. It wasn't hard to tell that he was thinking of Lonato when he said it. “Oh! We're here." He brightened a little, holding open the door so everyone could enter.

It seemed to be a tavern, albeit one that had the secondary function of being a games hall. There were darts, billiards, and even a few chess setups, all of them worn with age and use; even the deep red upholstery on the chairs was faded and a touch threadbare. A couple of middle-aged men were smoking near an open window in the corner. The bar was tended by an older woman with short brown curls; she smiled when she saw them.

“Well I'll be. If it isn't Dev. Have a seat, kiddo—Lucie'll be over in a bit."

Devon grinned. “Thanks Miss Landon. This way, guys." Devon led them to a larger table and gestured for them all to sit. No one made a fuss about the slight dinginess—everything was clean, anyway.

“Can I smoke in here?" Reynard asked, glancing at the two men.

“Miss Landon's fine with it as long as you're near the window and open it," Devon replied. Reynard swapped spots with Vi so he would be, and around then a younger woman with an obvious family resemblance to Miss Ladon approached the table.

“What can I getcha, fellas?"

“I'll take the strongest thing you've got," Mercer stated, though he was mostly serious. He needed something strong that would help him forget that they were in Fhirdiad, and the way the people had treated Sorcha. He didn't like it, but he was in no position to actually say anything about it. For now, he could at least drink with the people he was sharing a table with.

“Oh, and if you have any of those bread sticks with cinnamon and sugar on it? And some jelly-doughnuts? I'll take a plate of those if you have them. Otherwise just the drink," he added. While he wanted to drink, he also wanted to stuff his face with sweets. It would help, or at least for him it would.

The others put in their orders, mostly for less specific foods and more specific drinks, and the waitress departed to grab them.

“So, Vi, Dev, how is practice for the White Heron Cup, coming along? I'd ask Teach, too, but he's not participating, so he can just sit there and look pretty," he stated, glancing in Teach's direction.

Teach rolled his eyes, but there was a sly little smile on his face, too.

Devon winced. “I'm uh... not very good yet. I can do the gavotte, and the waltz is getting there. But..." He flushed.

Reynard laughed. “Tango got you flustered?"

“Little bit, yeah." Devon pinched his thumb and forefinger together. “How about you, Your—uh, Vridel?" He still wasn't great at remembering to use first names, but he was clearly trying.

Vi hummed thoughtfully, but paused when the waitress reappeared with their food and drinks, waiting for everything to get settled before he spoke. “Reasonably well, I think. Thea's a hard worker, at least." He sounded pleased, despite the vagueness of the answer. “And you, Mercer?"

Mercer puffed out his cheeks. “I've got the best partner. The gavotte, waltz, and tango are coming along rather smoothly. And here I thought you'd be competition, Vi, love," he teased, grinning at Vridel. He shook his head, though, and chuckled. “In all honesty, I didn't think she'd be able to handle a tango, but I was proven wrong. Still needs to work a bit on her footing, but we'll be ready in time for when the competition comes along."

He believed that to be true. Sorcha was a hard worker, and she learned fairly quickly. He'd say that a week or so, more, of practicing, and they had a pretty good chance of winning. That was, of course, something changed within the up coming weeks. He wasn't planning on losing, but sometimes things did happen. He'd just have to make sure, they didn't.

“It's a shame that you're not participating, Rey. I'm sure there are a few people who are disappointed," he stated, grinning in Reynard's direction.

Reynard laughed. “You wouldn't catch me dead doing a gavotte," he said, lifting an eyebrow. “Dancing is much more intense in Brigid, more along the tango lines than the waltzing ones. There's inevitably either a lot of touching or a lot of athleticism or both." He half-grinned, lighting his pipe and taking a drink with his other hand.

“So naturally, I'd smoke you all."

“That was a horrific pun."

“I thought I was very clever." He lifted the pipe to his mouth.

Mercer laughed, even if it was a terrible pun. “It's better than Alois', though, so you win points for that one." Anything was better than Alois' puns. “Well, since it seems that the tango is an infamous dance known to just about everyone," Mercer grinned for a second to let the others catch on to what he was going to say, next.

“How about, we all have ourselves a little competition during the millenium ball? That way Teach can participate, and you have to find yourself a partner, Rey. We're all doing this; there shall be stakes and maybe a prize!" He was willing to bet they'd all get a good laugh out of it, but he was being somewhat serious. He wasn't too sure what the prize would be, yet. He was just going to have to see who was interested and who wasn't.

“Let's all have a tango competition."

“No, no, you need me to sit out, because I'd win but also because you need a proper judge. I would normally defer to your Almyran expertise," he said, nodding to Mercer with half a smirk, “but you're rather incapable of impartiality in this case."

“Well if that's the case, then I volunteer Dev to be our judge. He's the most neutral party here, and we already know he's not comfortable with the tango. Plus we need to see what you can do if you're so confident you'll win. I think Teach and I have a better chance of winning with our partners, no offense Vi," and Mercer thought he'd be a little merciful with Devon. The guy was clearly head-over-heels for Sylvi, even if he didn't want to admit it. That was fine.

“What say you, Dev?"

“I'm not sure I know enough to judge," Devon replied, breaking his pastry in half.

“We could always ask Manuela to do it," Cyril suggested. “I believe she's the reason the tango is included in the White Heron Cup to begin with." He seemed more amused by the idea than serious, but nevertheless the suggestion wasn't a bad one.

“Oh, good call, Teach," Mercer stated, grinning in Cyril's direction. “We can ask Manuela to do it, that way everyone can participate, even you Devon. And that includes you, Rey, so you have to find someone to tango with. I'm sure you'll have your pick when we get back," he stated, turning to face Reynard with a rather smug smile on his face.

“So, now, the question is, what is the prize for the winner?" he stated. “I'd say the losers have to take over chore duty for the winners, but that's too boring. What would you want, Rey, if you won?"

“Last place has to try and steal a pair of the Archbishop's underwear and fly them from the flagpole," he said in a deadpan.

For a moment, there was complete silence. Teach was doing the surprise-blink, and Devon looked utterly terrified. Then Vridel lost the battle with his laughter, leaning forward against the table and snorting so hard ale dripped from between his fingers. Teach passed him a napkin, chuckling as well.

“Maybe nothing that would get someone killed," he advised.

“Too late," Vi replied with a cough. “I just died."

Mercer couldn't breathe with how hard he was laughing. “I agree with Vi, too late," he spoke, trying to catch his breath. Once he'd finally settled, he took in a deep breath, and had to wipe away a tear from his eye. “It's not boring, I'll give you that, though," he spoke once he was sure he could do it properly without laughing.

“Hm, how about, last place has to go skinny-dipping in the lake just outside of the dining hall? Or, actually, just so it's not that embarrassing, how about in lake Seiros?"

Reynard appeared to seriously consider this for a moment, tilting his head thoughtfully. “Acceptable," he said at last. “First place should get something nice too, though. So we're not fighting to be not the worst."

“Fair point," Teach added, motioning for another pitcher of ale to be brought to the table. Mercer appeared to have gotten stuck with a small glass of potato spirits, which were indeed extremely strong, but the others seemed to favor beer at the moment. “Perhaps we should all lay some money on the line, and purchase something with it, that the winner gets to keep?"

Mercer did ask for the strongest thing they had, after all, but he wasn't quite feeling the effects he knew it would produce. He took a quick drink of one of the small glasses before slamming the glass down on the table. “Boring, but acceptable. And it can't be anything cheap, either, otherwise what would be the point of competing for it?" he suggested.

“It has to be something really nice, a weapon, piece of jewelry, or something of that sort."

“Sounds like a plan to me!" Devon just seemed relieved that punishment had been downgraded from Reynard's original suggestion.

“Excellent," Reynard added. “Now. Which one of you would like to be destroyed at darts first? Von Riegan? You look like a man who thinks highly of his aim."

“Oh, you're on, Voight."

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1180 - Red Wolf Moon - Sunday the 23rd
Fhirdiad - Late Afternoon - Chilly
Senka Rinaldi


Senka bid Rodrigue farewell as she left his company in the estate where they were all staying. He had visited her and kept her company for the past few days, and she had been surprised when she'd heard him say that he wanted to name her his heir. She wasn't so sure if that was something she wanted to do, but she did not deny that it left her feeling a warmth in her chest she had not felt in many years.

Senka had wandered around for a few minutes before she spotted Sylvi, lips pursed into a fine line with a rather agitated look on her face. “Who does he think he is?" she mumbled beneath her breath, though when she spotted Senka, her eyes widened a bit, but she smiled. “Oh, sorry for the little outburst, Sen," she apologised.

“No need for apologies, Sylvi," she replied, shaking her head. “Is there something the matter?" she decided to ask. It looked like whatever was bothering Sylvi was doing so to a great degree. Sylvi seemed to contemplate her answer before her shoulders slumped and she nodded her head.

“It's my father," she began, holding out a piece of paper. “He's trying to arrange a marriage with one of the other noble houses for me, but..." she trailed off. It was something Sylvi didn't want to do, and Senka could understand that. Arranged marriages were never a pleasant thing, and Senka found that she was grateful to never have experienced them.

“Have you tried to dissuade him from doing so on your behalf?" Sylvi nodded her head. “It seems that you might need to have a talk with him, and let him know your opinion," but that wouldn't be an easy thing to do. Not in Faerghus.

“I... want to just give up my title as a noble. It'd be freeing and I could... marry whoever I wanted. I wouldn't be forced into something that held no warmth or love, and I want that more than anything," she spoke softly. It was another thing Senka could understand. Having the warmth of someone who loved you was a rather potent thing, and she knew the wonders it could do for people. She'd seen it with her parents; she'd seen it with just about everyone she knew, except herself. She wasn't so sure if she loved anyone like that, though...

“From my understanding, Faerghus does have some of the best dresses to choose from. With the millenium ball coming up, I am assuming you are not properly attired for it, yes? We should go find the others and see if they have proper dresses to wear, as well," she suggested, pushing the other thought from her mind. Sylvi seemed to contemplate it for a moment before nodding her head.

“I'm not sure if we can get Her Highness away, but we can try."

Fortunately they seemed to catch Sorcha leaving her uncle's office. Her expression was pinched, almost angry, but it softened a little when she spotted them. “Hello, you two. Was there something you needed?" She scrubbed her hands down her face; frankly she looked exhausted. There were dark rings under her eyes, and her complexion was even paler than usual. It was obvious she'd been catching up on some kind of backlog of work, and was rather hoping they weren't there to inform her there was more.

Senka pursed her lips at the sight. “We're here to whisk you away, Sorcha. You need a break, and we're going into the city to shop for dresses," Sylvi spoke, smiling a little in Sorcha's direction. Senka nodded to confirm her statement, and offered Sorcha a smile as well.

“I am going to help you pick them since you have horrible taste," Senka stated, half-serious and half-joking. Sorcha didn't have bad taste in clothing, per se, but she tended to dress a little plainly. The millenium ball required more elegance than what Sorcha would be comfortable wearing, and Senka wanted to make sure that her friend would dazzle the room. She knew Sorcha was capable of doing it, but Senka knew she had to help her in this area of her life.

“Oh, that sounds like fun!" a voice called out that Senka recognized as Amalthea's. It looked like she and Lyanna were exploring their surroundings, but they'd appeared just as they'd mentioned going into town. “Can I come along?" she asked, wide-eyed and hopeful. Senka huffed lightly.

“Of course. Everyone participating in the ball should come with us."

Sorcha immediately looked wary of the idea. “I don't know, Sen. I should really get the rest of this work finished..." She looked down at the small stack of paperwork in her hands. “You guys have fun without me, okay?"

She made to move away, but a gentle hand caught her at the shoulder, and Lyanna smiled slightly. “With all due respect, Princess, I don't think that's the best idea. As someone familiar with overwork, I can say that it's rather better sometimes to use a bit of time to take a break and do something different. The work will go by faster if you do." Her eyes were kind, but there was also a certainty to her tone that was insistent, in its way.

Sorcha sighed. “I really hate this kind of thing," she admitted. “I'm not going to be any fun."

“That's not the point. We're not going to have fun. We're going so that we can choose a dress for the occasion coming up next month," Senka stated, smiling in Lyanna's direction.

“You should come, Sorcha. You just might have fun. You'll never know until you try, right?" Sylvi stated, looking at Sorcha with hopeful eyes. Senka wasn't so sure she could pull off those eyes, but she tried giving them to Sorcha as well, aware that she probably looked rather ridiculous at the moment. Amalthea seemed to have joined in as well, folding her hands in front of her as she gave Sorcha pleading eyes.

“And you can even help us with a tour, Sorcha!" Thea suggested, causing Sylvi to snort softly.

Clearly, they weren't having much of an effect, if the way Sorcha rolled hers was any indication. Still, she eventually sighed more heavily still. “Fine. Let me at least put all this down. You guys find Sofi and Deirdre and meet me at the entrance. Sen can give the tour, since she clearly knows where we're going." She still sounded more than a little grumpy, but at least she was going.

Senka smiled, satisfied with the result, and nodded her head. Once they had found Deirdre and Sofia, it took little to convince them. Deirdre had already contemplated on purchasing a dress, but she hadn't been too sure where to get it from. Senka supposed that Deirdre had options from Derdriu, but it would take too long to get them delivered, proper. They had gathered by the entrance at Sorcha's suggestion, and when she arrived, they all made their way towards the market. It wasn't too far from where they were. Most of the markets in Faerghus were always closer to noble estates rather than common areas, but Senka supposed that it might have been due to the fact that some nobles were lazy.

They wanted everything within a reasonable distance and convenient. “I never knew Faerghus could be so pretty, and all of the snow makes it look like a winter dream," Amalthea stated, taking in the sights with the fervor of a newborn. Senka huffed lightly. “Does it snow like this all year round, or is it because we're in Red Wolf Moon?" she asked, turning her attention towards Sorcha.

“It's the timing," Sorcha replied, boots crunching along steadily in the snow. Her breath puffed out in front of her but as usual she showed no sign of being bothered by the cold. “We have summer like everywhere else, it's just... not as hot. In the northern parts of the country, winter nights are very long—sometimes the light only lasts a few hours a day." Her lips pursed.

“That said, our growing season tends to be short, so our farmers have to be very careful, and do everything right the first time. There's not much leeway for replanting like there might be to the south. It makes things... difficult, sometimes."

“Many of the crops here prefer cooler temperatures and don't need much sun, yes?" Lyanna asked, pulling her cloak a little more snugly around her.

Sorcha nodded. “Yes. Most farmers favor root vegetables, grains, and hardier leaves like spinach. We can't grow most fruits, or olives or anything, but we can manage some forms of berry, which is why so many of our pastries feature them."

“In some areas, things don't even grow," Sylvi murmured. “The land my family is responsible doesn't have much in way of resources, and the soil is too dry and hasn't been cultivated in years. It's more of a barren wasteland, than anything."

She didn't seem upset, though, only determined, perhaps, to fix it.

“That sounds harsh, though," Amalthea stated, pursing her lips together. “Faerghus has really good pastries, though, too, so that makes it a little better?" she added, sounding a bit unsure of herself. Senka smiled and nodded her head.

“Faerghus does have really good pastries, but they do not compare to the ones I make," she declared, causing Amalthea to giggle. Sylvi smiled but rolled her eyes, and Deirdre just rolled her eyes.

“I'll believe it when I taste it," Deirdre murmured.

“When we get back to the academy, I will send a basket of baked goods for your House," Senka stated. She would, too. A vendor caught Senka's eye, and she motioned for the group to follow her. They had a few dresses on display, and silks to choose from. “Does anything stand out to you?" she asked.

Amalthea merely glanced at the attire as did Deirdre and Sylvi.

Sofia hummed. “Watch this," she said with a little smile. Walking forward, she covered her eyes with her hand and began to rifle through the dresses on display, selecting one seemingly at random. It was a deep purple, the under-layer silk and the over-layer a sheer fabric in the same shade, which raised the collar, which was held in place with a ribbon. She smiled, clearly pleased.

“Looks about my size too. Shouldn't need to alter it too much."

“Can I pick that way too?" Sorcha asked, clearly expecting a negative answer. She looked wistful though. “Then I could leave and go do things that are actually important."

Senka regarded Sorcha with a flat stare. “This is important," she spoke, glancing in Sofia's direction. “Sofia was lucky to find something that suits her on her first try," she continued, sighing softly. She glanced towards the dresses that were currently on display, rummaging through a few of them before her eyes landed on one in particular. It was a light blue color, long-sleeved, but beautiful in its own right. She held it out towards Sorcha, and smiled.

“What do you think of this one? It is elegant enough for the ball, but also modest for someone who is picky about those sorts of things," Senka stated. She would have rather dressed Sorcha in something that had a little more revealing areas, but she knew well-enough that Sorcha would never stand for it. She was modest, and Senka... well, she dressed in what was comfortable regardless of whether it was modest or not.

Sorcha shrugged. “Yeah, okay fine, we'll go with that one." She barely looked at it.

Lyanna hummed from a few racks away. “Thea, what about this one?" She held up a sleeveless gown made largely of chiffon, with a gradient from the waist to the hem of the skirt, green fading to white. It would compliment her hair well, to be sure, and had a few golden floral embroidered details on it as well.

Thea looked rather delighted about the choice, and reached out to grab it from Lyanna. “It's so pretty! I love it!" she stated, taking in the design and running her fingers through the fabric. Senka, however, fixed Sorcha with pursed lips and furrowed brows.

“Sorcha Blaiddyd, you didn't even look at it. You can't just say fine, we'll go with that one. That isn't how choosing a dress, works," she began, pulling in a breath as she reeled in her irritation. She knew her friend was busy, that the work she was doing was important, however; Sorcha needed a break. It was clear that she would rather be back doing whatever work it was, but Senka wanted her friend to just... smile.

“If you really don't want to do this, Sorcha, you can leave. I apologise for keeping you away from your duties and will endeavor to not do so again," she spoke in a rather neutral tone, which disturbed her. She hadn't meant to sound like that, but... sighing softly, she shook her head. “I'll give the tailor your measurements so that it can be fixed for you," she simply stated.

Sylvi and Amalthea both had pursed lips, as if they'd just witnessed something strange.

Sorcha sighed heavily, gesturing Senka aside from the rest of the group. “Sen, I'm sorry. But you also know I hate things like this. I'm really sure whatever you picked is fine; I trust your sense of these things much more than my own anyway. But let's be done with me now, okay? I'm happy to stay while the others have fun and choose their things, and I don't mean to sound ungrateful, but... you know how it is, don't you?"

Sorcha had always had a complicated relationship with things like this. She didn't dress plainly for no reason—she did it because she hated attention. Especially the kind that specifically pointed out that she was feminine. “I've been ridiculed all my life for liking anything to do with anything like this and it just... makes me really uncomfortable. I don't even really want to go to the ball, to be honest, but I know I don't have a choice."

Senka also thought it was bullshit. She narrowed her eyes slightly, though it wasn't directed towards Sorcha. “Who cares," she found herself saying, but not in a harsh tone. It was soft and gentle as she glanced at her friend. “Just because you've been ridiculed all your life by these... ungrateful bastards, shouldn't mean you can't enjoy being the woman you are, Sorcha. Their words, their actions bother you; I know this, I really do," because it had affected her the same way. She knew the whispers, seen the stares, and was treated as trash because of who she was, and it was the one thing she found solace in with Sorcha. They had that in common.

“But you're going to change things. You will be a Queen someday, not a King. You are going to show them that, for all your femininity, that you are a strong, beautiful Queen. You will change hearts and minds, and you will show them that you can be strong and you can be graceful and beautiful at the same time. That whether or not you were born male, you're going to show them that you are just as capable as any man who thinks he can belittle you."

These were words from her heart; she truly believed this of Sorcha. She also knew that, no matter her words, her encouragement, that Sorcha would not take them. It was difficult to accept these kinds of words when one was so used to hearing the opposite. It was taking Senka some time to accept the words of her friends, as well, but she was slowly coming around to the idea that she was those things they'd told her. She pushed a sigh through her nose, though, and wrapped her arms around Sorcha.

“I won't push any longer, Sorcha. I am sorry if it seemed like I did. You know I only want your happiness."

Sorcha smiled. It was a little melancholy at the edges still, but it was a smile all the same. “I know, Sen," she said quietly. “And it's not your fault I'm weird about this. I just—I'm trying, I really am, but I can't just change who I am at the drop of a hat either. I at least—I'm going to try and have a good time at the ball, really. And I'm going to wear the dress you picked me, and even if I look silly it'll be okay because—because my friends will be there."

Her smile wavered, but held, and she stepped in to give Senka a brief hug, squeezing softly. “Thank you. I mean it."

Senka rested her head against Sorcha's, and shook it. “Not if I have anything to say about it. You're going to look lovely, and I'll make sure of it. No friend of mine is going to look silly," it was a promise. “Let's go see what the others picked out? And you can even help me pick out my dress since I chose yours," she spoke, pulling back from the hug.

“Okay." Sorcha's smile seemed to have eased. “We'll find you something nice, but stop me if I suggest anything stupid."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Red Wolf Moon - Tuesday the 25th
Fhirdiad - Afternoon - Clear
Cyril Eisner


It would seem that Sorcha had at last caught up with her business, and so the group of them would be returning to Garreg Mach tomorrow. Or rather, starting the journey back tomorrow.

For some reason, his father had asked him to gather the students and meet him in a field behind the palace, so Cyril did it, informing them that he had no idea what the idea was but that it had been his father's. Even Lady Lyanna was along, though she looked a bit put-off by the cold. Perhaps she was from a southern region or some such.

The field, like most of the rest of Fhirdiad, was currently blanketed in snow, deep enough to reach Cyril's mid-calf, which meant it was about knee-high on Amalthea. It was a tad difficult to move in, but not annoyingly so. Then again, maybe he simply wasn't easily-annoyed; he honestly wasn't sure.

As the group approached Jeralt, he grinned at them and swept a hand out to encompass the bright white field. “Here you go, kids. There's snow. Quit being serious for an hour and play in it. I might even let you get away with throwing snowballs at me for dragging you all the way out here."

“You dragged us all the way out here just to play in snow? Are you insane?" Deirdre stated, pulling her cloak closer to her body. She looked about as cold as someone who wasn't used to this kind of weather. The Alliance was slightly warmer, so that might have been true. Mercer, however, snorted at the statement and shook his head.

“C'mon Deir, where's your sense of fun?" he spoke, causing Deirdre to purse her lips at him. “Tell you what, why don't you and Sofi try building a snowman. They're very easy to make, and it won't require much effort. Moving will also help you stay warm since you look like you're about to freeze."

“Oh, shut up, von Riegan," she murmured, stepping closer towards Sofia as if to gather more warmth. Sofia snorted softly, but picked up one edge of her cloak and wrapped the arm holding it around Deirdre to help.

Amalthea looked about as delighted as a charmed kitten, and was already making her way out into the open field. “Wait, how do you even make snowballs?" she asked, turning towards the others.

“You pack snow into a ball, Thea. The name is fairly self-explanatory," Vridel drawled.

“Vi, go help her out, will you?" Mercer suggested with a sly grin on his face. Senka stood next to Sorcha, though, and it looked like she wasn't as bothered by the cold as the others were. Sorcha, either, but considering they were both from colder climates, it made sense they would be used to it. Sylvi looked rather pleased by the development, though, and grabbed Devon's hand to drag him out into the field as well.

“Come on, Dev, you're going to help me build a snow fortress so we can have something to hide behind. You all should get ready for a snowball fight!" she declared over her shoulder. Devon went without protest, though he did look vaguely startled by the prospect of a snowball fight. Then again, he spent a lot of time looking vaguely startled. It seemed to be part of his core personality somehow.

Cyril, meanwhile, took off his cloak and laid it down next to him, starting to pack snowballs together with his bare hands and piling them into the center of the fabric. He intended to have a stock if there was to be a fight.

“C'mon, Sor, let's go help Sylvi and Devon make fortresses. It'll make it easier for everyone to hide behind something during the fight," Mercer spoke, walking towards Sorcha and offering her his hand. Senka rolled her eyes softly, but stepped away to leave them together. Amalthea was doing her best to form snowballs, but somehow she made them more square than ball. She pursed her lips together as Senka made her way towards her to help out, it seemed.

“We should probably make this a team effort. Since there are quite a few of us, it wouldn't make sense to break off into pairs. Maybe we should do three teams with four people each?" Sylvi suggested.

“That leaves one person out, though. There are thirteen of us, present," Senka spoke in the middle of forming a snowball before handing it to Amalthea.

“I'm quite happy to officiate," Lyanna said, but Jeralt immediately shook his head.

“Nope. That's my job. The rest of you are on teams. We'll do it schoolyard style. I'd say make the house leaders the captains, but they do that all the time. So... Rey, Thea, and Deirdre can do it instead."

“Oh joy," Reynard deadpanned.

“Just for that, kid, you can go last. Thea, you're first."

“Oh, okay! Um," Amalthea pursed her lips together as she scanned the available participants. “I'll pick Lyanna, of course!" she stated, pointing towards her sister. “I'll also choose... Vi, and Sofi!" Deirdre gave Thea a bewildered look, and glanced up at Sofia. “Oh, wait, no I don't want to take Sofia from you, Deirdre!" Amalthea stated, apologizing as she glanced at the two. She furrowed her brows, though, as if she were having a difficult time picking.

“How about Devon!?" she finally spoke, pointing towards Devon in the process.

“You're not supposed to—never mind." Apparently not having the heart to say that she wasn't supposed to pick her team all at once, Vridel shook his head and headed over to where Thea stood, as did Devon and Lyanna.

“Uh... sure. Just pick three you want, Deirdre." His father didn't seem to care either. It was probably fine.

“Sofia, obviously, and I'll also take Sorcha and Sylvi," she stated, making her choices.

“Going for the all-girls team?" Mercer stated, grinning at Deirdre.

“Shut it, Mercer." Mercer chuckled lightly as he glanced at the remaining three.

“Guess it could be worse, though I feel like it's an all-guy team for us. You don't really count, Sen, since you're basically already one of the guys." Senka rolled her eyes at him.

“You really had to leave me with this one, didn't you," she spoke, narrowing her eyes at Thea and Deirdre as she jabbed a thumb at Mercer. Deirdre merely stuck her tongue out, and Thea looked vaguely sorry.

“Oh look," Reynard said. “I got the best team and I didn't even have to pick them myself." He appeared quite satisfied with this, smirking lightly. “All right. Five minutes for prep and then we do this thing?"

Jeralt nodded. “You got it. Get to work."

“And here I thought we were supposed to be having fun," Vridel said, casually using a blizzard spell to construct a wall of ice. He looked almost as though he were expecting to be called on it, but Jeralt only shrugged when a few of the others looked his way.

“If you've got a talent, you might as well use it," he said.

Cyril figured this was fair enough, but it also gave his team quite the advantage. He glanced towards Senka. “...how are your ice spells coming along?"

“They are better than Vridel's. Who do you think taught him?" she replied easily enough, and without conceit. She truly believed that her ice spells were better than Vridel's, and it was possible that they were. “Do you want me to do the same?" she inquired as she glanced at Cyril, and nodded in the direction of Vridel.

“If you know them, maybe you should?" Mercer stated as he began working on a few more snowballs.

“I was thinking we might get a defensible fort going, yes," he replied, including himself in the task. Sometimes he thought his students forgot he was a mage. Perhaps understandable, considering that his proclivity was for very close combat.

Calling some frost to his hands, he got to work on one wall. Reynard helped Mercer with snowball duty, working a little slower due to the fact that he was watching the other teams for strategies, and feeding his group the information as things adjusted.

Senka worked on creating another wall, forming it with ease. Amalthea's group had already amassed a rather sizeable pile of snowballs, while Deirdre's group looked to be putting more effort into a defensive strategy. They had more walls than they did snowballs. Once everyone seemed to be done with their work, Mercer and Senka both huddled around Reynard and Cyril.

“Alright, so what's the plan, fearless leader?" Mercer asked as he glanced towards Reynard. “I'd suggest two of us take on one team, and while the other two take on the other team. What do you think?"

“Snowballs will be flying either way, Mercer. And who is to say the two other groups won't form a temporary truce to attack us? It's been done before, after all," Senka stated, grinning a bit in Mercer's direction. He pursed his lips at her.

“Low blow, Sen. That was cruel," he replied. She merely shrugged her shoulders.

“Speaking of," Reynard said, “I'm not really worried about anyone on the other teams except Sorcha. I know Vridel well enough to handle him, but she's clever. So I think we go for her team first, and try to take her out. Also... we should all watch out for sneak attacks from behind." He grinned a little at Mercer.

“Yeah, yeah, laugh it up."

Cyril did laugh, albeit softly. “Fair enough, I suppose. I recommend also tracking any mysterious disappearances. There are few enough of us that they should be easy to spot, but Vridel could just about camouflage in the snow, so be careful."

“All right, time's up! Have at each other. If you get hit three times, you're out! We're using the honor system, so don't be jerks!"

The fight began in earnest, then, however; it looked like no one was making the first move. It seemed they were all waiting for someone else to start it. Deirdre seemed to have had enough waiting, though as she chucked the first snowball. It missed Thea who had yelped and ducked in order to avoid it.

“Let the games begin!" Mercer shouted as he threw a snowball in the direction of Sylvi. She tried to avoid it, however; it managed to catch her in the shoulder as she tried to duck from it. Senka seemed to be watching something, though, and hadn't thrown any of her snowballs yet. Thea tried throwing one towards Sorcha, but her aim had been a little off, and hit one of their walls. She was probably used to throwing things that were heavier.

Lyanna seemed to favor the barrage approach, throwing a steady stream of snowballs seemingly at random. It wasn't the worst idea if she didn't trust her accuracy; one of them managed to clip Sofi in the hip. Of course, doing this meant she was exposed, and Cyril's toss was almost surgical in its precision, striking her in the abdomen. She glowered briefly at him before retreating behind Vridel's wall.

Sorcha, meanwhile, sent a snowball flying for Mercer, ducking back down immediately afterwards. Deirdre's wall was the lowest, but it was cover nevertheless.

Mercer ducked just in time to avoid the snowball, however; it managed to catch Senka in the arm, causing her to miss in her aim at Vridel. She pursed her lips at him as he mouthed a 'sorry' and threw a ball back in Sorcha's direction. In time, they had managed to take out both Sylvi and and Deirdre, the latter who looked grumpy that she'd lost in some way. Sylvi didn't seem to mind, though, and was cheering her group on.

Thea managed to remain mostly without hits, though that might have been Lyanna or Vridel's doing. Senka had remained with the one hit, and Mercer had received at least one from a well-aimed snowball to his side from Sorcha. He threw another ball in the direction of Amalthea's team, finally managing to clip her with one.

Devon was out next, struck squarely in the chest by Sorcha, who was indeed proving to be rather dangerous. But with two of Dierdre's team gone, both other groups were focusing fire. Sofia was out shortly after, leaving Sorcha on her own. Reynard took out Lyanna, and that left Vridel and Thea for the first team.

This prompted an immediate change in strategy, and Reynard took his second hit from Vridel, while a lucky shot from Thea just grazed Cyril's temple. He blinked at this, almost sure Vridel had used a touch of magic to change its trajectory, but not about to complain. He did shoot a retaliatory snowball for the prince, who would have dodged but for Thea, whose position slightly behind him meant she'd get hit instead. So he took it. All of their remaining opponents were throwing at them now, though, and the barrage was getting harder to avoid.

Mercer was clipped with another snowball, taking him down to one more hit. He was mostly aiming to take out Sorcha, while Senka seemed focused on taking out Vridel and Amalthea. She managed to get another hit on Amalthea, though, with a well-aimed snowball that clipped Thea on the side of her arm.

Senka took another hit, possibly from Vridel, and it seemed to cause her to focus most of her assualt on him. She looked determined, if anything, to hit him and take him out. Amalthea seemed to be having the time of her life, though, and was just throwing balls in each direction. One towards Sorcha, and another towards Cyril's group.

Senka's concentrated assault seemed to provoke retaliation from Vridel—at least until Reynard snuck in a second snowball on the heels of one of Senka's and took him out of the competition.

Sorcha, realizing her chances were dwindling, stopped trying to do anything like conserving ammunition, and hurled snowballs rapid-fire for their team. One of them caught Cyril, another hitting Reynard and taking him out. A few more flew in for Senka and Mercer before one of his managed to just graze her shoulder.

She glared, sticking out her tongue, and marched off the field in a huff Cyril thought was mostly feigned. He tossed one last ball for Thea, trying to end the competition.

It grazed the top of her head as she tried to duck. She was laughing, though, and waved her hand up from behind the wall she was behind. “That was fun!" she stated happily as she made her way towards the others who had been taken out. That left Cyril, Senka, and Mercer as the victors. “Congratulations, guys!" she added, wrapping her arms around Senka as Mercer huffed lightly.

“Don't I get a hug, too?" Mercer stated as he opened his arms towards Thea. Senka, however, did not seem to relinquish her hold on Thea, and merely kept her in her arms.

“No, you do not. Only Sen gets a hug," Thea stated, sticking her tongue out at Mercer who feigned a hurtful look. Deirdre and Sylvi both congratulated Cyril's team, as they approached.

“So, what did we win?" Mercer asked, causing Senka to roll her eyes.

“A fun time with friends, you idiot," Deirdre supplied, causing Mercer to arch a brow at her and grin. “We didn't bet on anything, anyway."

“Gonna have to make do with bragging rights," Jeralt agreed, approaching with a grin. “But something tells me you can get a lot out of those."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Red Wolf Moon - Saturday the 29th
Remire Village - Afternoon - Cool
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer frowned, his brows furrowed deeply as he gazed out a head. After they'd returned from Fhirdiad, they were sent immediately back out to Remire Village. Jeralt had received word from one of the knights that had been sent to the village to investigate. According to him, they needed to leave immediately for Remire. The situation had, supposedly, changed drastically, but that was all anyone knew. Something about the villagers going mad and attacking each other, some were even killed.

The group had only enough time to grab their weapons, and their armor before they'd left. Sorcha, Senka, and himself had just enough time to saddle Lady, Libi and Sir, though he and Sorcha were currently in the air. They were slightly ahead of everyone else, but even from a distance, he could see the smoke rising in the air. He glanced towards Sorcha, and sighed softly. By the time they all reached Remire, the entire village looked decimated. Houses were burning, villagers were chanting to kill, while others were trying to run. It didn't look good at all.

He landed with Sorcha just on the outskirts of the village and turned towards Teach and the others. “What's going on here?" he murmured more to himself.

Sorcha was clearly trying to suppress it, but she was evidently horrified. “They're just... rampaging. Some of the villagers. Everything's on fire."

“All right." Teach did not seem inclined to let any of the students formulate strategy this time, which was probably for the best. “Mercer, Sorcha. You two need to prioritize rescuing the other villagers. Thea, Vridel, keep an eye on them, but don't get ahead of the rest of us. We're going to focus on knocking the rampaging villagers unconscious. This is why you've been learning to use your hands. Don't cut unless you have to—for all we know this could be some kind of blood-borne illness."

At that point, Jeralt and a small group of knights caught up with them. He seemed to have heard most of what Cyril said, because he nodded slightly. “We'll make a push up the middle, see if anything's causing this that we can stop."

Mercer nodded his head and glanced towards Amalthea and Vridel. “We'll be counting on you," Mercer stated before shifting his attention towards Sorcha. “Let's go," he stated, nudging Sir back into the air. Amalthea had already started moving, as did the others. Mercer wouldn't lie to himself; the current conditions were horrible. People were attacking each other, and Mercer did his best to place a few people on Sir's back, before sending him off to drop them somewhere safe. He remained on the ground with Amalthea and Vridel.

Mercer tried to subdue one of the crazed villages, and when he did, he noticed how strange their appearance was. Their eyes were glazed over with a white sheen, almost as if they were blind. The veins around their faces were easily spotted through the skin, as if they were under extreme stress of some kind. It did not bode well, though the villager looked relatively unharmed. He supposed that could rule out being cut by something, but perhaps they'd ingested something?

Sorcha seemed to have taken the other side of the village; he could see Lady passing back and forth through the air, and periodically more people would emerge from the flames there, guided by Sorcha herself. There but have been quite a few families hiding together. She punched an approaching crazed man in the nose, then swept his legs out from under him when he reeled back.

“That way!" She pointed the people behind the main group, then whistled sharply, remounting Lady and shifting further up into town.

Nearby, Mercer could see Vridel sigh. “She's lucky I know physic," he muttered.

The others, meanwhile, seemed to draw the bulk of the insane villagers' attention, systematically knocking them unconscious with bare hands and the butt ends of their weapons if necessary. Sofi seemed to have been tasked with moving them off the field as quickly as possible; Jeralt had lent his horse for the effort, apparently, for he and the knights were pressing forward quickly, through a knot of people seemingly just observing the chaos. Professional soldiers by the look of them—dressed similarly to those they'd fought under the monastery when rescuing Thea, from how he'd heard them described.

That didn't sit well with Mercer. If those were the same people who were present, then that either meant the one who was responsible for kidnapping Thea was here, or that the person behind Jeritza, was here. He sucked in a quick breath, hissing slightly before calling for Sir.

“Thea, stay close to Vridel and help him out. I'm moving up," he spoke. Amalthea looked like she was going to protest, but Mercer didn't give her the chance. It would be better for her to stay near Vi if her kidnappers were around. In the ensuing chaos, who was to say they wouldn't try again? Between the villagers and Thea, he knew she would be safer with Vi. With that in mind, he nudged Sir in the direction Sorcha had flown.

Deirdre looked slightly alarmed when one of the villagers swung a dulled axe in her direction, but she managed to counter it with a wind spell. It was enough to knock him out, and one of the knights dragged the person away. Sylvi didn't seem to be having much trouble subduing her half of the villagers, knocking them out with well-aimed and precise hits to their stomach. She had to grapple one of them, though, and it almost looked like she was choking him. She shook her head, and gently laid the person down as he was dragged away, as well.

When it looked like they were finally gaining the upper hand, a familiar person appeared near the windmill. “Tomas?" Mercer could hear Senka speak in a rather surprised tone. He was surprised as well to see the old librarian in the midst of a battle.

“I'm not Tomas," he spoke, his expression darkening. “My name is Solon, the savior of all!" he shouted, and in a flash of light, his appearance changed drastically. He was wearing a large cape, and his skin looked almost pale and washed out. He had a strange object in his eye, from what Mercer could tell, but that wasn't the thing that concerned him.

“What's the matter? So shocked you can't even speak? You were so easily fooled by my disguise..." he laughed before continuing, “I was hiding away in Garreg Mach to get the blood of that little girl called Amalthea. With her blood, we'll be one step closer to realizing our goal!" At the mentioning of her name, Amalthea paused, her eyes widening and Mercer knew he recognized fear in her eyes. Before any of them could react, another figure appeared, one that Mercer could only recognize as the Death Knight.

“I'll have a bit of fun here, too..." his distorted voice sent a chill down Mercer's spine.

“You!" Vridel snarled. “Thea, stay with the Professor." He didn't give any time for anyone to anwer before he drew his sword and charged right for the Death knight, flinging holy magic ahead of him to knock the accompanying cavalrymen out of his path. Their horses reared and spooked at the bright flashes of the spell; one of the knights fell heavily to the ground, unmoving. The other slumped in his saddle, and Vridel cut the girth strap as he sprinted past, sending him to the ground to be trampled by his own mount.

The Death Knight swung his scythe; Vi parried, if only just, knocking it to the side and letting off a blast of magic point-blank for the knight's face, his own set into a mask of fury and resolve.

“Dammit, Vi!" Sorcha flew up next to him. Her face was streaked with soot, and she looked to have at least one burn blistering her arm where her sleeve had been scorched away, but she seemed all right otherwise. “The others are going to be stuck at the bottom of the hill for a while," she said. “I think we've got all the villagers—should we go for Tom—whatever his name is?"

“Shit," Mercer murmured beneath his breath. Amalthea hadn't moved, seemingly frozen in her spot, and Mercer was torn between getting to her, and helping the others go after Tomas, or Solon, whatever name he wanted to go by. “Go help the others and go after Solon; I'm going to get Amalthea. We'll join you when I'm done," he stated, nudging Sir in Amalthea's direction. When he approached her, he could see she was visibly shaking. Fear had a strange way of overriding all other senses, and he didn't blame her. For all of her healing, it seemed that being reminded and seeing the ones responsible for her trauma, still affected her.

“Hey, Thea, c'mon, we need to get going." She looked at him with wide, tear-filled eyes, and shook her head.

“Don't... don't let them take me again, Mercer. Please... please don't," she stated so softly. Mercer gritted his teeth together as he gently grabbed her hand.

“It's not safe here, Thea, let's go. I... promise I won't let them take you again. None of us will," he spoke in the most reassuring voice he could muster. Once he was able to get her to move, he situated Amalthea in front of him, and nudged Sir towards the others. He knew taking her directly to the source wasn't a fairly good idea, but at least they would be able to keep an eye on her. When they approached the group, he pursed his lips together.

“Someone needs to go help Vridel." That, or he would do it himself.

“We need to focus on Solon," Senka retorted. “If we take him out, first, it is likely the Death Knight will abandon the field," she continued, causing Mercer to grit his teeth.

“Fine, let's go after Solon." He hoped Vridel would be able to handle himself, for now.

Certainly, the sounds of the fight continued to rage, but from this angle it was hard to see anything besides the occasional flash of Vridel's magic. For now at least, it seemed that he was holding his own.

“Dad," Cyril said, turning towards Jeralt. “Head towards the Death Knight. At least keep those other soldiers from interfering. The rest of us are pushing. Now." He threw his javelin, impaling a soldier square through the chest, and drew the Relic from his back instead.

Jeralt looked surprised to be given an order, but only for a moment before he nodded. Sofi had given him back his horse, and he wheeled it, leading the rest of the knights off in Vi's direction. Sorcha drew her bow—now that the villagers were dealt with, there was no need to hold back. Her first arrow found a cavalier; the second brought him down. Devon and Reynard provided cover fire as the others on the hill pushed upwards. It was slow going, with enemies able to attack with gravity, but they kept going, forcing their way towards the hilltop—and Solon.

Deirdre and Senka were both using their magic to keep two of the heavy armored units at bay. Sylvi had pulled her axe from her back and began attacking the nearest soldier, and Mercer followed suit by drawing his own bow. It was difficult to do with Amalthea in front of him, but he had a promise to keep. He aimed it towards a person who thought they could try and sneak up on Sofi, catching them in the shoulder. Quickly, he fitted another arrow, and watched it embedded itself into the back of the person's neck. He turned his attention towards another cavalry member, taking care not to hit the animals.

They'd managed to push back most of the soldiers before clearing a path towards Solon. He seemed amused by the chaos, remaining in his spot as if taunting them to come to him. Mercer gritted his teeth as he ran out of arrows, pulling his sword from its place at his side. He leaned forward so he could whisper in Amalthea's ear.

“Thea, I'm going to send you up into the sky with Sir, alright? He'll keep you safe up there," he spoke, but her head shook violently.

“Don't leave me alone, please!" she pleaded with him. Something tugged at Mercer's heart, and he pushed a sigh through his nose.

“Thea, listen to me. Trust me, alright? Sir will keep you safe, and when this is over, I promise you, you'll be safe," he spoke in a softer tone, placing a hand on her shoulder as he forced Sir to land. She looked at him, tears still in her eyes and streaming down her face, but nodded. Her hand sought his, and he gave it a gentle, reassuring squeeze.

“That's a girl," he spoke before sending her off. He could finally fix his entire attention on his enemies.

“It doesn't matter where you send her, young von Riegan. She won't be safe, no matter where she tries to hide," Solon sneered, trying to provoke something in Mercer. He wouldn't fall for it, though. He couldn't afford to.

“Mercer, watch your back!" Senka shouted as she pushed him out of the way. She narrowly missed being hit with the soldier's sword. Mercer hissed, but focused his assault on those around him. Their efforts seemed to bear fruit, though, as they stood in front of Solon. Mercer was breathing heavily, covered in sweat and blood of his fallen foes, as were Senka and the others.

“Give it up, Solon! You've lost," he shouted, pointing his sword in Solon's direction. Solon merely laughed.

“Is that what you think. Doesn't matter, you are but a savage, insignificant beast. You think you can kill me?" he seemed almost amused by the thought. He began to summon magic to his hands, dark and purple almost like the miasma spell. He summoned it much quicker than what was possible, and flung it in the direction of the others.

There was a bright flash through the air; a strange, whiplike line with fragments of glowing metal attached to it seemed almost to cut through the miasma, burning it away with a hissing sizzle in the air. The links retracted, and snapped back together in the shape of the Sword of the Creator. Teach cracked his neck to either side, looking up towards Sir for a moment before his face settled into the completely blank thing it sometimes became, in a fight like this.

“What is your purpose here?" he asked, coldly, flatly. “Why have you come to this village?" He leveled the sword out towards Solon; in the sky, Sorcha drew an arrow back to her cheek and aimed it squarely for his overlarge, veiny forehead.

Solon scoffed, though he seemed the slightest bit wary of the blade—moreso than the man that wielded it, anyway. “Heh. I could have conducted this experiment on any test subjects. But now that I have what I came for, I must bid you—"

The sword segmented and lashed out again, catching him heavily across the shoulder and entangling his entire left arm before he managed to disappear, leaving it behind.

From the right there was an enraged shout. “Don't you d—" It was cut off by the sound of another teleportation—almost certainly the death knight.

A moment later, Vridel appeared from an interceding hedgerow, limping and holding one arm with his other hand. “Thea—where's Thea?" he demanded. Blood had run into one of his eyes from a gash in his brow, and much of his hair was pink with more blood, not all of it his own.

“She's fine, no thanks to you," Mercer found the words coming out a little harsher than he'd intended them to. He made a sharp whistle, waiting until Sir answered and reappeared. Thea was clinging tightly to Sir, still shaking as Mercer went to her. She flung herself off of Sir, and ran straight into his arms, and clutched tightly to his bloodied shirt. Mercer sighed softly as he patted Thea's head, running a hand through her hair as a gesture of comfort than anything else.

“Please don't leave me, again, Mercer," she mumured softly, a hiccup escaping her. He could feel her tears soaking his shirt as he enclosed her with his arms.

“Never, Thea. Let's get you home. You can ride with me and Sir," he spoke softly. Senka had arrived next to Vridel, looking vaguely torn between asking him something and just doing something.

“Vridel, will you let me heal you?" Senka asked, glancing in his direction.

But he was already turning away, shifting his face so that it could not be seen. “It's fine," he said shortly. “I'll do it myself. Could use the practice anyway."

Even as he said it, white magic began to glow at this fingertips, the light trembling slightly as it sank into his skin. Whether it was really enough to take care of the worst of the wounds or not, he stopped limping, posture straightening so he was walking the same way he always did, well in front of the group, leading the way back to the monastery.

Senka sighed softly as she went to join the others in the back. Amalthea had clung to Mercer the entire way back to the monastery. She'd been reluctant to let go of him until Lyanna was able to collect her. Those who were injured were taken to the clinic to be treated, and Mercer found himself accompanying Teach to Lady Rhea's chambers. He wasn't entirely sure what she could say, other than good job, or something like that. When they arrived, they were quickly summoned in, and Mercer couldn't keep the frown from his face. Rhea didn't look too pleased when Mercer entered with Teach.

He offered her a formal bow before straightening back up.

“You did well handling that awful business in Remire Village," she began, a frown forming on her lips before she shook her head. “I am certain the goddess shares in our grief at the senselessness of that calamtiy More importantly..." she paused, something like sorrow, or regret, crossing her face, “I was shocked to hear that our own Tomas was actually a dark mage. I must reflect on our blindness."

Mercer thought that she needed to do a lot more than just reflect, but he kept that to himself.

Teach looked like he was zoning out for a split second, but it was gone so fast it might well not have been the case at all.

“Why did Tomas come to the Monastery?" he asked flatly.

Lyanna blinked, then sighed. "He arrived here forty years ago, by recommendation of House Ordelia of the Alliance. Around eight years ago, he spent some time back there, before returning to the monastery again just last year." Her brows furrowed. "After working here for decades, to just suddenly betray us in this manner... what could he possibly hope to accomplish?"

“Has he any connection to Jeritza?"

Lyanna pursed her lips. "None that we know of. Jeritza came here on the recommendation of Imperial nobility. Supposing that he is the Death Knight, then our foes are an organization that has taken root in at least two countries."

Mercer didn't like that. If these people had a hold in the Alliance...

“In the long history of the Church of Seiros... no, long before even that," Rhea's voice pulled Mercer from his thought before it could progress further. “There have been an endless number of threats to the peace of Fódlan. Yet, those who oppose us still operate in the shadows, their identities a mystery," she paused to pull in a breath.

“I believe that Solon and the Death Knight are merely one part of a much larger whole." Mercer didn't quite believe that. There was something to her words, maybe, but she wasn't there. She hadn't witnessed the events he did.

“I have truly come to rely on you. I believe that the monastery will remain safe so long as we have you," Rhea spoke in a rather fond tone for all of a second before it disappeared. “We do not yet know the enemy's objective or whearabouts. For now, please devote yourself to preparing for whatever comes next," she paused to regard Mercer with a questioning glance.

“I know that there is much that you still do not understand, however; one thing is clear. You possess great power, Professor. I believe that you are destined to be a source of great hope for all. In any case, I expect great things from you. Walk this world proudly, dear Professor." Mercer didn't like the way that sounded. It was affectionate, as if she were truly expecting Teach to do just that.

“As for next month," her eyes slid towards Lyanna. “We are planning a grand ball for next month. I am sure you've heard of it as the flyers are posted around the monastery and academy. I am sure the students will be most pleased."

Teach managed a weary smile at that. “Some of them seem quite excited, yes," he agreed. Mercer could detect the faintest hint of fondness in his timbre, but it was hard to know exactly where it was directed to. Certainly not Rhea, from what Teach had told him, but... she might think so. “My thanks, for planning it."

“No thanks, necessary, Professor. We hold it every year," she smiled warmly, then. “However, we must not devote all of our time to frivolity," she stated, shaking her head. “We have a new mission for you," Mercer was wondering when she'd get to that.

“We have found evidence of someone sneaking into an unused chapel. It is a building that was once a temporary sanctuary at a time when the monastery was under renovation." She glanced to Lyanna, then, as if she expected her to continue.

“This month, your class is tasked with guarding the chapel and investigating these intruders," Lyanna continued, correctly interpreting her cue. “With the recent state of affairs surrounding the Church, we cannot afford to overlook any abnormality, no matter how seemingly-trivial."

She smiled a little, then. “Of course, we are ordering a seasoned knight to assist you in ensuring the safety of the students. In times like these, we must prepare for the worst." At the faint hint of a query on Teach's face, she elaborated. “Sir Jeralt, of course."

“I thought you two could use the time to bond. And to speak of important matters..." the way she said it sounded as if Rhea knew something, but wasn't quite keen and saying what it was. “Bear in mind that Jeralt has a separate mission of his own. He will join you once he has finished it. In the mean time, do enjoy yourselves. I hear the White Heron Cup will have some rather talented students participating this year." Mercer almost snorted.

She dismissed them after that.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


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I.Y. 1180 - Ethereal Moon - Monday the 1st
Jeralt's Office - Afternoon - Cold
Cyril Eisner


“Final reports indicate that causalities were minimal. Most of them likely dead before we got there." Jeralt sighed, leaning back in his chair and giving the small stack of papers in his hand a toss onto the surface of his desk. “You did good, kid. I have to admit I was pretty surprised when you told me what to do, but it was a good idea. That snowy brat of yours was doing pretty well with the Death Knight, but I dunno if he would have lasted much longer."

Cyril nodded slightly. He'd been sort of surprised by himself, too, after he'd had a while to think about how things had gone.

“Solon said he wasn't picky about 'test subjects,'" he said after a moment, crossing his arms. As usual, he stood in front of his father's desk, rather than sitting. “Makes me wonder if it's really a coincidence they picked Remire."

Jeralt grunted softly. “Those people..." he sighed harshly, pinching the bridge of his nose. “I almost hope it was random. Because the only reason to choose it would be—" He shook his head, not finishing the sentence. He didn't have to.

Because Remire had nothing to do with the Church, and everything to do with them.

“Anyway, I've been meaning to talk to you about something." He managed a little bit of a smile. “Since coming to the monastery, you've... changed, you know?"

Cyril tilted his head in inquiry.

“At Remire... you were angry," Jeralt explained.“And you look so happy when you're instructing the brats. And uh—" he looked almost awkward for a moment, like he wasn't sure he should say anything. “Senka. You get this soft look on your face when you see her, you know. I'd never once seen you wear your emotions like that, before." He huffed, almost something like a laugh. “I suppose it's a good thing we came to the monastery after all. Or maybe..." his eyes fell to his desk. “Maybe we never should have left."

“Left?" Cyril had been told he was born after his father left, but then if his mother was buried here...

Jeralt smiled wryly. “I suppose it's almost that time, but... another day, okay? I need to figure out how to say it."

Cyril knew that feeling well enough, and so he simply nodded.

“Another day."

Exchanging their goodbyes, the two parted, which really meant Cyril just left the office and wandered down towards the common room.

Before Cyril could reach the common room, though, a voice called out to him, and the sounds of footsteps echoed down the hall. “Hey, Teach!" Mercer called out to him. He looked around for a moment as if checking to make sure it was clear, before continuing. “We're, uh, gonna go have a meet at Rey's. Thought you might want to tag along," he stated. Mercer's expression, though, was a bit tired, like he hadn't been able to sleep the last two days.

“If you don't want to, you don't have to, but... I think you should be there," he added.

Cyril nodded immediately. “Of course." It wasn't until they'd cleared the gates of Garreg Mach that he ventured a question. “You doing all right?"

“I'm fine," he replied almost immediately. “Just haven't been able to sleep. Things haven't exactly been the same since we came back from Remire," he added, covering his mouth as he yawned. “But it's mostly fine. Little Thea..." he paused, pursing his lips together and shaking his head. He didn't say anything about Thea, even though it sounded like he was going to. Instead, he glanced in Cyril's direction.

“What about you, Teach? Solon, Tomas, whatever his name was, he didn't look quite human. He looked far too pale for a regular person, and his get-up was strange, too. What do you think they're after, other than the obvious?" The obvious apparently being Thea's blood.

“Do you think... that, that's what they used on the villagers? Solon said they were his test subjects."

“There's no way to know without more information," Cyril said with a shake of his head. “The knights who went to investigate said it resembled a disease, but Manuela's not sure. There's probably some magic involved too. I can't imagine how that could be connected to Cethleann's blood, but then I don't know the first thing about how they're doing it." He might want to get a look at some of the samples they'd collected, too, actually. He wasn't Hanneman, but he was an accomplished mage in his own right, even if Crests were quite mysterious to him.

“As for what they want... he did say test. That suggests they plan to use this... thing on a larger scale, somehow." It was a concerning thought, especially when they didn't know so much as the method of infection.

Mercer made a slight groaning sound. “We should probably wait until we get to Rey's, then, to see what else we can put together," he stated, running a hand down his face before running it through his hair. He gave it a quick shake, before his shoulders slumped. “Shouldn't be much longer," he murmured to himself, it seemed.

When they finally reached Reynard's house, Mercer produced the key from his pocket, and unlocked the door. “Rey, we're here," he called out inside to let Reynard know that they were, indeed, inside the home. Mercer made his way through the home and took a seat at the table they often shared. He glanced in Vridel's direction for a brief moment, before he looked away. It seemed that Mercer was still upset with Vridel.

It probably wouldn't have mattered; Vridel was physically present, but entirely unresponsive otherwise. He didn't even glance at them as they entered, his eyes fixed on the far wall. Reynard actually wore and expression of open concern for once when his eyes landed on the prince, but then he sighed.

“So. Remire. Archbishop have anything interesting to say about that?"

“Only that she was shocked to hear that it was Tomas, a dark mage. As if she hadn't already known," Mercer supplied. “Something about there being threats long before the history of the church, too.," he added, leaning into his hand, but his eyes were cast down to the table.

“She suspects that Solon and the Death Knight are part of a larger whole. Like they're operating based on someone else's orders or something like that. If that's true, then it means we need to be more careful when we deal with them. Who knows what could happen. It's also possible that whatever experimentation they were doing might be the results of Thea's blood. I can't say for sure, though."

“It does seem a little soon for that to be it, though," Cyril added. “And if this really is a large organization, they've surely been around longer than either of those specific plans. Which means there must be other things they've done. Other experiments, maybe? Solon seemed almost to have the manner of a scientist or engineer as much as a mage, and there was that strange metal device on his eye..." He couldn't say what it was, only that he'd never seen its like.

Vridel seemed to flinch at the word experiments, but said nothing.

“A metal device..." Reynard mused. “And a man who hardly seemed human. Plus there's what we've already been mulling, about the immaculate one and ancient technology. I can't imagine it's all coincidence, but where the threads are leading is something I just... can't see for the life of me."

Mercer hummed in agreement. “It's definitely hard to say," he murmured, sighing into his hand as he covered his mouth with it. Mercer still refused to make eye contact with Vridel, and instead, kept his gaze on the table, or elsewhere. “If they have done other experiments, do you think... the sickness that hit Faerghus a while back could have been one of them? People always speculated that it hit out of nowhere, and it was almost impossible to cure."

“There are no other records, known, anyway, of anything else."

“Wasn't that cured by that woman we met? Cornelia?" Reynard stood, shifting over to one of the bookcases and pulling something down. “Lady Cornelia Arnim, Court Mage of Faerghus. Ascended to the position after curing the plague that killed the first Queen of Faerghus. Subsequent engineering innovations have made it the most tehcnologically-advanced country on Fódlan. Rumor has it that some of those improvements have caused... tensions with the Church, who is supposedly worried that if one country gains more advanced infrastructure than the others, weapons will follow."

He shrugged. “Perhaps they already have, just... not for Faerghus specifically."

“Tomas and Jeritza were recommended by the Alliance and the Empire, respectively," Cyril pointed out. “House Ordelia on the one hand, and somewhere in the nobility on the other."

“Those Who Slither in the Dark." Vridel spoke the phrase softly, making eye contact with Cyril and Reynard. He looked like he wanted to attempt it with Mercer, too, but could't bring himself to it.

Mercer finally glanced at Vridel, eyes narrowed. “What's that supposed to mean?" he asked, brows furrowed as he stared at Vridel. The way his expression was set, though, almost made it look like he was glaring at Vridel. Those Who Slither in the Dark. Is that supposed to mean something to us, or just you?" he continued.

“I wish it only meant something to me," came the hoarse reply. “But I think that's—I think that's who they are. Solon, and those people. I—" He expelled a soft breath.

“When I was about twelve, after the coup had happened and my father was reduced to nothing but a figurehead, my siblings and I were taken by my uncle from Faerghus back to the Empire. There, we..." he paused, shaking his head vaguely. “Experiments. With Crests. I'm sure you heard about the deaths of most of the Emperor's children from 'disease,' and how the rest were driven mad by grief except me?" Vridel's voice, hollow and flat, managed the slightest bitter edge there.

“It wasn't a disease. They were experimenting with Crests. I have two because of it."

Mercer furrowed his brows, clearly confused by the confession. “You've... you have two Crests? They implanted a Crest in you? What the hell!?" Mercer shouted, standing so abruptly that he knocked his chair over. “How is that even possible? Who do those people think they are, experimenting on children, no less!?" It was obvious to everyone in the room that Mercer was upset, angry, even.

“If you have two Crests, then why didn't you stay with Thea!?" he pointed an accusatory finger at Vridel. “You left her, exposed her to the danger that you knew these people are capable of, and.... and you left her to go fight Jeritza! You idiot," Mercer continued to shout. He was angry, now, though it was unclear if his anger was directed at Vridel, or the people Vridel named as the potential culprits.

Reynard opened his mouth, perhaps to defend Vridel, but the prince stopped him by lifting his hand. He stood, slowly, and faced Mercer. “What I did," he said, low and steely, “was make every effort to kill the people who had done this to her. You think she's safe because someone stands in front of her? Safe in the sky? You think she, or any of us, are ever safe? These people were in the heart of fucking Garreg Mach the entire time, and not one of us is safe until they are all corpses on the ground!"

His lips pulled back into a snarl. “Call me an idiot if you wish, but don't ever think I forgot for a moment what they're capable of. I know it better than you do, von Riegan. Better than she does!"

“Then you know how she feels! She was terrified, and she thought you abandoned her! You know how she is, Vridel von Hrselveg! She's... she's not like you or I or any of the others! She's innocent. And you let her down when you turned your back on her. Did you ever think that there might have been another way!? That your friends would have helped you? Did you forget you had those!?"

“And for whatever god-forsaken reason she believes this, she thinks you're mad at her! Have you even gone to see her, yet? Every time she's with me, she asks about you, wants to know if you're alright. She doesn't even think of herself, and the shit that she's been through. She thinks of you first. You're a fucking idiot! " Mercer nearly crossed the floor towards Vridel, and stopped only until he was a good foot or two away from the prince.

Vridel shook his head. “She'll get over me," he said simply. “She's innocent, like you said. I haven't dug my claws in or anything." He expelled a heavy breath, meeting Mercer's eyes flatly. “She'll stop asking eventually, too. That's how it goes. So you can be the shoulder she cries on, and I can be the sick fuck who slaughters everyone who so much as thinks of laying a finger on her. We might as well play to our strengths, right? Friend?" The word was somehow bitter, tinged with just the faintest hint of acrimony.

“I'll just keep fucking up otherwise, and eventually she won't be so innocent anymore."

Cyril exchanged a glance with Reynard, but both held their places. Sometimes, a person had to just... lay it all out there. And for better or worse, Vridel and Mercer were doing that now. He was half-expecting Mercer to slug the prince any second now, though.

It wouldn't be the worst use of their lessons in hand-to-hand.

Something ticked in Mercer's jaw, and in that second, he swung his fist at Vridel, catching the young prince in the jaw. “Don't you fucking dare. Don't you fucking dare!" Mercer shouted. “That's not how that works! Everyone knows she's fucking in love with you, Vi! Everyone! You may not have dug your fucking claws into her, but you sure as hell did something. You don't get to say that shit. Not about Thea," he continued yelling. He swung again at the imperial prince, and it wasn't too long before they were both entangled in a fight.

“And you don't get to say that shit about yourself! We're all in this together whether you like it or not! You can't get rid of us that easily, and for better or for worse, you're stuck with us! You don't get to say stupid shit like that!"

Vridel twisted, briefly gaining the upper hand and using the chance to land several hard body-blows on Mercer before he was thrown off. He seemed to be avoiding his face though—at least after he'd landed what would almost certainly be a shiner in a couple of hours.

“And people have never fallen out of love? What the fuck am I supposed to do, Mercer? Bring her back to the fucking Empire, where every second person wants to fucking kill me? You think they won't go after her? You think five years with me is worth that to anyone?" He seemed a moment later to be surprised by something, enough so that he froze, and didn't even try to block the next hit, which sent him sliding into the table leg. The whole table rattled until Cyril steadied it with his foot on the edge, suppressing a sigh.

“Not for people like her," Mercer replied, trying to catch his breath, however; Vridel's last statement seemed to catch him by surprise. His eyes widened before they narrowed in Vridel's direction. “What the hell are you talking about? Five years? You talk like you won't be around after that." He nearly spat, and made his way over towards Vridel, however; Mercer pulled him up to his feet by the collar of his shirt, and kept his fist there.

Vridel sighed heavily, offering no resistance. Instead, he lifted a hand to his lip, wiping away a trickle of blood from his bottom lip with his thumb. “Yes, well... you didn't let me finish, did you? The Crest experimentation, in addition to being very memorably painful, has caused enough physiological strain on my body that I got this pretty white hair... and roughly ten to fifteen years to live."

He shifted his eyes from the blood smeared on his thumb up to Mercer's, the violet of them hard. “It's the reason I'm here at all. I don't remember why I thought this so strongly, but I've always had the impression that Those Who Slither in the Dark are somehow related to the Church of Seiros, through the Crests. I came here to find the connection, and use the time I have left to purge from this world anyone who has anything to do with them."

Mercer released Vridel, then, but still glared at him. “Then let us help you," Mercer said. He regarded Vridel a little longer before he sighed, shoulders slumping. He wiped away some of the blood of his own lip, and shook his head. “For what it's worth, anyway." He turned his attention towards Cyril and Reynard, then.

“You already have the three of us, and... you have other friends who would help you back at the monastery. And don't give me that bullshit about not being able to ask them. No one... no one's telling you to spill your guts to them or anything. Everyone has the same goals, now, whether we did before, or not."

“And yet the fundamental problem remains the same," the Prince said quietly. “We suspect there is a connection, but cannot find it. Perhaps you are right, and we should ask, but... if the Archbishop finds out what we're doing... the danger will be no less."

Cyril tilted his head, breaking into the conversation. “So we start small," he said mildly, nodding at the stack of books near the center of the table. “You let Sorcha at some of these ciphers. We tell Thea, in case anything Lyanna or Rhea has ever said to her rings a bell. And so she can listen in the future. And Senka can keep a secret, in addition to having perhaps a... unique perspective." He didn't mention her heritage, but he knew Vridel at least would understand part of what he was getting at.

“It's harder to keep a secret the more people are doing, it, but..."

“But we need the expertise more," Reynard finished, crossing his arms over his chest. “Makes sense to me."

For the first time, Mercer grinned. “Alright, seems like our little family is getting just a bit bigger. Shame I had to hurt your pretty face, though, love," Mercer stated, turning towards Vridel, but his expression was serious rather than the lighter expression his tone suggested. “Just had to do it, you know? And look," he stated, pointing to his own face, “you hurt mine pretty good, too."

Vridel replied by punching him on the shoulder again, but Cyril could see the white magic attached to it, even if Mercer's lip hadn't immediately healed, which it did.

“Whatever."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Ethereal Moon - Wednesday the 3rd
Courtyard - Early Afternoon- Chill
Senka Rinaldi


Senka currently sat with Amalthea between her legs, combing her fingers through the verdant strands in an attempt to straighten them out. She began pulling the strands apart, shifting them so that part of Amalthea's hair was up, and the other half was down. Senka had long hair; she knew she had long hair, but Amalthea's hair length was just a different kind of long. Even if she pulled it back for missions, it had to be heavy on her head. This much hair was just ridiculous, but perhaps that was why Amalthea came to Senka to cut it. Senka had a feeling that there was something more to it than simply it being better for the battlefield. She wasn't going to question Amalthea's reasons, but she wanted to make sure Amalthea really wanted this.

“Amalthea," she spoke in a soft voice. Amber eyes focused on Senka, and she offered Amalthea a gentle smile. “Are you sure you want to cut it? You've had your hair this long for quite some time. Is this something you really want?" she asked. Amalthea regarded her with a quiet stare, and bit the bottom of her lip.

“I am," she replied hesitantly as she reached up to pull a free strand over her shoulder. “I... it feels like it's the only thing I have left I can control right now," she continued softly. Senka understood wanting to be able to do that; control was often out of all of their grasps, but this was something Amalthea wanted to control. Sighing softly, she nodded her head.

“Alright, Thea. There's no going back once I start. I want to make sure you are absolutely sure this is something you want to do," she stated, watching as Amalthea continued to play with the strand of hair in her finger. Flicking it back behind her, she nodded.

“I'm sure, Sen."

That was all the confirmation Senka needed, and she began working on Thea's hair. She went slowly at first, giving Amalthea time to change her mind. If she did, it would only be a couple of inches off the length. When Amalthea gave no inclination for her to stop, Senka began cutting a little more. When she had finished, Amalthea's hair was no longer down to her knees. Instead, it rested comfortably at the middle of her waist. It was still long, but not as long as it was, and it would be more manageable for Thea in the future. Senka didn't stop there, though. Once she was finished cutting it, she began braiding Amalthea's hair, twisting it so that when she was done, Amalthea had a single braid tied into a bun.

“Thank you, Senka! This... it feels," the light in Amalthea's voice was dim, but she seemed determined to smile. It was a melancholy thing, but a smile nonetheless.

“You're welcome, Thea. Should we go show the others your new style?" she asked, hoping for a favorable answer. Thea seemed to contemplate it for a moment before nodding her head.

“Okay," she spoke with a little more joviality to her tone, at least.

The first person they came across was Sorcha, who happed to be sitting in front of the hearth in the otherwise-empty Knights' Hall, cloak across her knees like a blanket. She seemed to be doing homework—the house leaders actually tended to get a bit more of it than the other students, as the position was awarded by entrance exam scores and those three were considered to be on something of a different track, so to speak.

She looked up when they entered, smiling warmly if not widely. “Sen! Thea! How are you? Come sit?" She patted the sofa cushion next to her.

Thea smiled softly in Sorcha's direction, and took a seat next to her. Senka took the other side, and offered a small smile as well. “Doing... better," Amalthea stated, glancing down to her hands and folding them together. “What about you? How is... how is practice going for the competition?" she asked. Senka heard the hesitation in her voice. After Remire, Amalthea and Vridel hadn't so much as practiced. Vridel was avoiding her, and Amalthea couldn't seem to force herself to seek him out. It was a rather sad predicament, but Senka knew that right now, they just needed some time.

“Yes, how is practice going? From what I've heard, you and Mercer have the best chances of winning it," Senka spoke, tilting her head at Sorcha to get a better read of her face.

Sorcha's smile immediately disappeared. “It's, uh, going. I guess." She lifted a hand, rubbing at the back of her neck, and glanced sideways at them almost ruefully, until her eyes widened with realization. “Oh, Thea! Your hair looks pretty! Did you—did you cut it? It looks like there's a bit less now."

That managed to bring out a brighter smile from Thea. “I did. Senka cut it for me, and... well, I thought it was time for something new and different," she explained. Senka nodded her head in agreement, deciding not to push the subject any further about the dance competition. Instead, she regarded her friend with a mild stare.

“If you'd like, I can do the same for you, Sorcha," she offered. Sorcha had beautiful hair, too, but it wasn't as long as Amalthea's had been. “But if you'd rather not, that is fine, too."

“Ah, hm." Sorcha did seem to be genuinely considering it. Her hair was a few inches longer than Thea's was now, but it was all but impossible to tell, because she always had it up in some way or other. “It's silly but... I've actually always kept it long kind of because... it was a really obvious way to tell that I'm a girl? I kind of like how it makes certain people mad." She smiled a little again, then shook her head.

“I know it's weird that I hate dresses and things but insist on this, but I guess I've always just thought—I don't know. Like I'm keeping this one thing, and they can't take it away from me, even if they took dresses and stories and all the other things I want to enjoy but can't." She sorted.

“I could probably use a trim, though, if you don't mind?"

There were other aspects to Sorcha that defined her as a woman, but Senka wasn't going to say anything about it. Instead, she chuckled softly, and shook her head. “Of course, Sorcha. I can even put layers into it to give it more flair, if you'd like. I do... have a favor to ask of you, though. Both of you," she began, glancing at Thea and Sorcha. Taking in a deep breath, she continued, “Cyril's birthday is this month. Jeralt told me it was at the end of this month, so we have plenty of time, but..." she wasn't quite sure how she wanted to put this. She wanted to do something nice for Cyril; something special that would leave him... well, she didn't know how she wanted him to feel. Happy, maybe? Appreciated?

“I was wondering if you would like to do something for him." Senka knew she wanted to do something special for him, but she also knew her friends would want to do the same. That's just how they were, now, in their strange little family. And it felt like a family, even with all of their current hardships.

Sorcha's eyes went wide for a moment, as if in surprise, but then she grinned. “Absolutely!" she said brightly. “After everything he's done for us, he definitely deserves a party." Her eyes narrowed keenly then, though, and she tilted her head right back at Senka.

“By the way, you never mentioned anything about how that trail ride went, or your dance practice. How is he?"

Senka smiled softly at Sorcha and huffed. “Our trail ride was peaceful; nothing exciting happened, I assure you," she replied, knowing that her friend was seeking something more than that. “As for the dance lessons, well..." she trailed off. Senka wouldn't deny that she actually looked forward to their lessons. The way they flowed during the waltz, and they moved during the tango, her body flush against his...

Her face felt hot, and she coughed into her hand, willing the thought away. “Cyril is an admirable dancer. You'll just have to wait until the ball to see his work. It's very beautiful," as were a lot of things about Cyril she was coming to notice. She could still feel the warmth on her cheeks, and she must have been visibly blushing because Amalthea started giggling lightly. It brought a smile to Senka's face.

“Is it really that good, Sen? You're blushing," Thea stated, causing Senka to huff.

“I'm not." It was a false denial; she knew she was blushing.

“Oh you're definitely blushing," Sorcha replied, grinning broadly and lifting her feet to prop them on the coffee table in front of her. Lowering her voice to a conspiratorial whisper even though they were the only ones in the room, she leaned in a little. “You have a crush on the Professor, don't you, Sen?"

“Of course I do. Like you have a crush on Mercer, and Thea has one on Vridel," Senka replied. She wasn't going to deny that; she wasn't like Sorcha who denied what she felt, but she understood why Sorcha did. “I'm almost certain a majority of the people in this place have had a crush, on Cyril. He's an attractive person; there's no denying that, and it's bound to happen, but..." she pursed her lips together as she trailed off.

It didn't feel like a simple crush. The way her heart always seemed to warm when he smiled at her, the way it felt just natural to smile at him, and how easy it was. There had to be something more to it than just a simple crush, but she couldn't put a name to what she felt. Amalthea cleared her throat, though, her eyes fixed on her hands.

“I don't... I don't think it's just a crush on Vi, anymore," Thea spoke, glancing up at Sorcha and Senka. “It's... I think, I think..." she seemed to be struggling with the words she wanted to say. “I think it's more than that; I think I might actually love him," she admitted slowly. Senka blinked. Love? Thea thought she loved Vridel? Thea shook her head, though, as if that weren't the right statement.

“I don't think... I know, but, I'm not supposed to, am I?" Senka pursed her lips at Amalthea.

“Why would you say that, Thea? Of course you are. You are allowed to love whomever you want," Senka stated as she shook her head. Amalthea could love whoever she wanted, but Senka? She couldn't. Once they graduated from the academy, and once she went back to Faerghus with Sorcha, no one would want her. She knew this to be a fact, and so she'd resigned herself to never being able to love someone like that. But... she wanted it. She wanted it more than anything in the world, to know what it was like to love someone and be loved. To be seen as Senka, and not as the former, disgraced, princess of a fallen kingdom.

“Vivi can be hard to love sometimes," Sorcha added quietly. “He thinks he's a terrible person, and he's impulsive, and probably the dumbest smart person I know, but you know..." She paused, reaching over to pat Amalthea's head slightly. “The first time I saw him ruffle your hair like that, I knew you'd already gotten through to him in a way no one else ever has, Thea." She smiled gently. “I'd know. He's my brother, after all."

“I don't think that's true at all. He seems really easy to love," Thea replied, however; something seemed to dawn on her as she stared wide-eyed at Sorcha. “You're siblings?! I... I didn't even know!" she stated, a flush coloring her cheeks an adorable red. Senka smiled and chuckled softly. Senka had only found out when she and Mercer were talking with Sorcha about going to Faerghus, so she supposed Thea's reaction was quite normal.

Sorcha laughed too. “Well, he's technically my stepbrother, but yes. His mother, Lady Patricia, married my father a long time ago. She was..." Sorcha pursed her lips, trying to find the right words for what Senka knew had been a very complicated relationship. “Well she was practically the ideal lady, I guess. Graceful, beautiful—Vivi really takes after her actually, especially his eyes. They have the same color and shape as Lady Patricia's did. We actually lived pretty close for a couple of years when we were kids."

“Oh," Thea stated, smiling a little more in Sorcha's direction. “What about you, Senka? I don't think you've ever mentioned any siblings or the sort? Do you have any?" it was an innocent question, Senka knew, but it didn't stop her heart from squeezing tightly. She didn't have anyone, now, but... she glanced at Sorcha and Thea.

Smiling, she answered, “Of course I do. You and Sorcha are my sisters." Amalthea looked vaguely confused before she snorted softly.

“That's not what I mean, Sen," she replied, but Senka smiled a little brightly. Amalthea laughed, and that was all that mattered right now.

“To answer your question, though, no. I don't have any siblings. I am an only child," she stated.

“They're overrated," Sorcha joked lightly. “You can always have Vivi if you want. Though I guess if he and Little Thea get married we'll all be weirdly in laws or something." She narrowed her eyes mischievously in Thea's direction. “What do you think, Thea? I think it's a good idea."

Senka grinned at Amalthea, watching as her face turned a bright red. “Hm, I agree. I believe Thea would make a beautiful bride for him, wouldn't you say, Sor? And Amalthea von Hresvelg does have a certain appeal to it, does it not?" Senka stated, her eyes sliding towards Sorcha. Sorcha laughed softly, catching Sen's eye and nodding. Thea was in for it now—she was too cute not to tease, especially when it seemed to be cheering her a bit.

“That's not fair! I don't... he'd... he wouldn't want to marry someone like me. I'm not... he's not... ugh, you guys are horrible," Thea replied as she buried her face in her hands. “And it's not like I haven't thought about it," she murmured so softly that Senka wasn't entirely sure she'd heard right. It caused her to laugh so much that it took her a few minutes to catch her breath.

“Oh have you?" Sorcha said with great interest, clearly suppressing more laughter. “What do you think about, Thea?" Setting aside her work, she turned to face them a little better, gently pinching one of Amalthea's cheeks and giving an affectionate tug. “The wedding? The night after?" Her tone turned sly on the last; she clearly expected this to fluster their friend even further.

To Senka's surprise, Amalthea nodded. She arched a brow in Thea's direction, her own smile taking on a sly expression. “Both... I, uh... both," Amalthea murmured softly. “I shouldn't but it's so hard not to think of those things when I'm with him, especially when he makes me feel the way I do. It's just... I don't know," she continued. Senka's smile softened a bit as she reached out to pull Amalthea into her side.

“It's alright, Thea. You don't have to know anything," She spoke softly, leaning down to rest her head on Amalthea's. She was a bit shorter, but Senka made it work. “You just keep being you, and he'll see how wonderful you are, too. You are, possibly, the only one who could change his heart that way. Wouldn't you agree, Sor?"

Sorcha happily joined the hug, until Thea was more or less sandwiched between them. “Absolutely, just you watch."

“O... okay. Thanks you guys. For being my best friends."

“Any time, Thea," Senka replied. She huffed slightly as she smiled.

“So... have you thought of any names for your children?"

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Ethereal Moon - Friday the 5th
Amaltheas's Quarters - Evening - Cold
Vridel von Hresvelg


Vridel tucked the key back in his pocket, contemplating the door in front of him. Lady Lyanna had long since trusted him with one to the common area between hers and Thea's quarters, but of course he certainly didn't have one to either of those rooms themselves. He could let himself in for Sunday morning practice, but that was about all it was intended for.

Of course, it was very much Friday night, but... he needed to talk to her. And he needed to do it without the others getting in the way, and this was the only method he could think of to make that happen, considering that she was otherwise never alone. Then again... neither was he. When he didn't seek the company of his friends, which was admittedly not often, Monica always seemed to pop up. She'd thus far ruined no fewer than three attempts to talk to Thea, and so this was about the only option he had left.

He was... there was a word for this keen discomfort. One that manifested as a turning of his stomach, over and over like a fish pulled fresh into the boat. Nervous. He was nervous. He still thought he wasn't suited for this, but... if Mercer was right, then for some reason it was his reassurance she sought. His company she wanted, and—well.

Vridel no longer had the strength to deny her himself, if he was what she wanted.

Pulling in a breath to steel his nerves, he strode to Amalthea's door and knocked softly.

There was a soft thud on the ground, and the sounds of feet making their way towards the door. When it opened, it was to Amalthea who looked slightly surprised to see him. But then a tiny smile made it's way onto her lips, and she opened the door wider to let herself out. Without warning, she threw her arms around him, and buried her face in his chest.

“Vi," she murmured softly against him. “Vi, I'm so glad you're here. I... I missed you so much, and I thought..." she trailed off, her arms tightening around him as if she were terrified of letting go.

It wasn't a problem, really, because somehow he found himself holding her just as tightly. A week, it had been, since she'd so much as looked him in the eye. It shouldn't have felt so long—he'd had arguments with his siblings or parents that lasted longer, and barely registered. And yet... and yet a week without the way she looked at him, never mind any of the rest of it, was far too long.

Vridel gathered her up into his arms as much as he could without physically lifting her, though he was tempted to do that as well. “I'm sorry," he said softly, barely recognizing his voice as his own. It was too raspy, weighed down with an unfamiliar emotion that felt like grief and guilt woven together. “I never—Thea, I was never upset with you. Not once. You didn't do anything wrong." He knew he needed to explain, to say more. He owed her that.

But maybe she'd forgive him if he just held her like this for a little while first, breathed in the clean, sweet smell of her and savored the almost-desperate tightness with which she clung to him, too.

She shook her head against him, though. “No, you don't have to apologize. I'm sorry, too. I didn't... I thought that if," she paused to pull in a breath, “I thought that when they appeared again that... they would take me away from you, again. I didn't want that to happen, but I just... I froze, Vi. I shouldn't have, but I did, and... I'm sorry, too."

“I was afraid that if they did take me again, that I wouldn't be able to see you anymore. That I wouldn't be able to practice or dance with you, or even... even just be here. With you. You're... you mean more to me than anything in the world, Vi. And I couldn't stand it if I lost you," she murmured against him. She didn't seem inclined to release her hold any time soon.

He pulled in a soft breath, trying not to let the words lay him out flat. Because somehow he knew that from her, they were not simply words. They weren't said to fool him, entice him or draw something from him. She didn't care about his Crests, his blood, his throne. She cared about him.

And he'd hurt her.

He did pick her up, then, walking her over to the sofa because he wasn't sure he was allowed in her room and didn't want to assume anything right now. He set her atop the back of it without letting go, so that they'd be closer to the same height and he could hug her closer. Vridel swallowed thickly, resting one hand at the side of her head, fingers curling up over her crown. He noticed, dimly, that she'd cut her hair, but the thought disappeared again a moment later.

“It's not your fault, remember?" he said, stroking her hair softly and still holding her to him with the other hand. “What they did to you isn't your fault. Everyone handles that kind of thing differently, Thea. I—" He pulled back, just enough to meet her eyes, but not so much that the embrace broke.

“I'm so sorry. I was—I was afraid, too. And angry. Not at you—at him. Them. For everything they've done, but most of all for what they did to you. I thought... I thought if I could just end them, then..." Vridel swallowed, closing his eyes and gathering the wherewithal to admit what was to him a deeply-held secret. One even he had not quite realized he'd been holding. “Then you'd be safe. I wanted to protect you, but I also—I wanted it to be me who did it." He shifted his eyes away, unable to maintain eye contact.

“It was selfish. Arrogant. And I hurt you." He huffed, but it was a bitter sound, with a hint of loathing in it. For himself, of course. His voice lowered until it was barely audible. “No matter what I do, I always seem to hurt you."

It was she who broke the embrace, but perhaps so that she could move her arms to rest her hands on his face. She forced his head so that she was staring at him, intently. Her brows were furrowed, and her eyes were searching his for something. Suddenly, she lurched forward and her lips were on his, something at once desparate, but tender and loving. When she pulled back, her eyes were still intent on him.

“Never." It came out rather harsh, but it didn't seem like that was the way she'd meant it. “Vi, you could never hurt me. I... I love you, I really do, and... you've never done anything to hurt me at all. I thought that I hurt you somehow because I wasn't... I wasn't strong enough to protect myself, or you, or anyone else that day. You, more than anyone, make me feel safe, Vi. Even with them still out there, you're the only one who makes me feel safe. And... when you were avoiding me, and I couldn't bring myself to see you... I didn't feel safe at all. I felt... exposed."

Vridel had never been so caught off guard by a kiss in his life.

Maybe, he thought, it was because no kiss in his life had ever mattered so much. Everything, he was learning, meant so much more then it was her. Including words, which she was saying, and he was doing his best to listen, he really was. He was pretty sure he caught the important ones, to be fair, something about feeling safer with him, and it warmed his chest, it really did. Made him feel warm and light and worth something, if he was the one who could make her feel that way.

But now that she'd kissed him, he found it very, very difficult to think about anything else just now, and no sooner had she finished speaking than the hand at her head threaded almost roughly into the verdant strands of her hair and he used his hand at her waist to pull their bodies flush against each other, leaning down for another.

It was just as desperate, and—he was surprised to realize—just as tender, at least when he remembered himself and softened it, turning it into a soft chain of them, little sips of her mouth, delicate things with a thread of heat still stringing them together. He was good at this; he knew that without arrogance. Used to it. And yet the fact that for once it mattered made it feel different than any time before. “Then don't leave my side," he murmured between them. “Don't let me leave yours."

“Never, Vi. I'd never want you to leave, and I don't want to leave you, either," she murmured as well. “I just want to be with you, and only you. I don't want you to leave, and I don't want anyone else to try and take us away from each other. I'm not... I know I'm not that special, and I'm not... someone important to anyone, but when I'm with you..." she trailed off.

“None of that matters because I'm with you, and I don't care what anyone else thinks or says. The only words and thoughts that do matter are yours because... because you're all I think about. All I've ever really, selfishly wanted," she murmured against him.

Vridel paused, bringing his forehead down to rest against hers, shifting both hands so that he was cradling both sides of her face, his thumbs resting against her cheekbones. He had a fair idea he knew who had made her feel that way, and this only intensified his anger, something he tried to quash for her sake. That wasn't the part of him she needed, as had been made quite clear.

“Thea," he said softly. “You are special. To me, you're—" He swallowed, brushing the tips of his thumbs beneath her eyes. “I never lose my composure over anyone or anything but you. No one else has ever made me feel—feel like this." Was it the kind of love everyone else talked about like it was the most important thing in the entire world?

Vridel had no idea what that felt like, but if it was anything like this, then he could understand the fuss.

Her entire face lit up, and she smiled brightly at him as if something he said, or did, made her feel like that. “You're special to me, too, Vi. You've helped me experience so many new things, and helped me to better understand the world around me. I'm... learning new things almost every day with you, and I want to keep learning these things. For however long you'll be with me, I want you to teach me new things, show me new things, but more importantly," she trailed off so that she could look him straight in the eyes.

“I want you to just be with me, and... I know it's hard, but don't blame yourself for what happened to me. I don't blame you, and I never will. The... the only thing I'll blame you for is making me fall in love with you, but I don't think that's such a bad thing," her smile softened, then.

He felt a hard pang in his chest, like a spike of cold iron. He expelled a breath, and wrapped his arms around her, tucking his chin atop her head. It might be, soon enough, that she did blame him for that. Because he might not be with her for very long at all.

“I'll do my best," he promised, knowing, at least, that he could keep that one.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Ethereal Moon - Sunday the 7th
Common Room - Afternoon - Cold
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer released an exaggerated sigh, combing a hand through his hair to shake it loose. It was getting longer, he'd noticed. It was always longer than Vi's, but now, it sat just near his shoulders. Maybe he should get it cut, like Thea had? He was more than thrilled when she'd stopped seeking his company, and had finally had a talk with Vi. At least that's what he thought had happened since she'd actually been smiling the last couple of days. Vi, also, looked slightly happier too, but that might have just been a trick to Mercer. Shifting slightly, he rubbed his arms to generate more warmth. While it wasn't that cold, he wasn't used to weather like this. In both Almyra and the Alliance, it had been pleasantly warm. Sure, Almyra had its days where it was cold and freezing, but he didn't spend too much time to grow accustomed to it.

“You look like a fish gasping for air on the ground, von Riegan. Out of your element?" Senka's voice drew him as he furrowed his brows at her.

“Not if you come warm me up," he replied, causing her to roll her eyes in his direction. “What are you doing here, anyway?" he asked, watching as she took a seat to the side of him.

“I asked everyone if they'd like to study today. Written exams will be happening next month for class changes, and I'm sure that the more advanced ones will require a lot of studying for. The common room is the best place to do that," she stated as if it were the most obvious thing. To her, it probably was, but Mercer pursed his lips together.

“If you say so. Wait... are those... are those pastries?" he stated wide-eyed. He hadn't noticed that she was carrying a rather large tray in her hands. Most of it seemed to be filled with jelly-doughnuts, and a couple of other things he wasn't familiar with, however; it looked good. “Can I have one?" he asked, reaching out for one, however; she smacked his hand away.

“Not until everyone else arrives. You'd just eat them all."

“That was uncalled for, but you're also not wrong. I would." That, at least, got a little huff out of her.

Teach, Sorcha, Sylvi and Devon all arrived next, still talking about something or other that had happened during chores yesterday, apparently. Devon sometimes caught flak for his commoner origins, And Sylvi had nearly punched some kid out for harping about it. Teach hadn't been upset by any means, just glared at the kid until he'd gotten the right idea and left. He was one of those Empire snots that seemed to populate the Black Eagle house this year.

“—glad Lady Lyanna only gave you a lecture!" Devon was saying emphatically. Ah. Apparently the snot had reported it.

The conversation broke apart when the group entered the room though. Teach set down a large stack of books—probably additional references and study materials for everyone. Mercer wasn't sure if he was taking class-change exams this time, come to think of it.

Vi entered next, alongside Thea, for whom he held the door. That wasn't unusual—but the fact that they were holding hands certainly was.

He wasn't the only one who'd noticed—Sorcha's eyes went wide first, and she grinned a little, seemingly to herself.

That was an interesting developement, but Mercer decided that it was best to leave it alone for now, even if he really didn't want to. It was... deserved happiness, he supposed. Sylvi didn't look upset about what she'd done, though, only proud.

“It was worth it. No one gets to pick on my Devon like that without suffering the consequences," she replied smoothly before she took a seat. “Oh, are those pastries?! They look so good!" she stated as she reached for one, however; Senka smacked her hand as well, causing Sylvi to stared wide-eyed at her.

“We're still missing three people," was the only response she gave, causing Mercer to snicker softly. At least he wasn't the only one. It wasn't a moment later that Reynard, Deirdre, and Sofia appeared as well, causing Mercer to sigh loudly in relief.

“Finally! Sen wouldn't let us eat her special desserts until the two of you arrived," he stated in an exaggerated fashion.

“Oh, hush, Riegan. You act like it killed you," Deirdre deadpanned as she took a seat. She had a tome tucked under her arm, and set it down.

Teach huffed softly, picking up one of the doughnuts for himself as the tray went around. The others all settled in, most of them taking out parchments and books to study with as well as napkins for their pastries, and before long things were quiet, save the occasional scratch of a quill on paper or someone asking Teach a question. He was, after all, the expert.

Silence was boring, though, and though it wasn't awkward silence, it made Mercer feel just the slightest bit uncomfortable.

“So... who thinks they're ready for the dance competition?" he ventured the question, watching for reactions. Sylvi arched a brow at him, Thea smiled, Deirdre frowned, and Senka ignored him, he supposed because she wasn't participating. “Seriously? None of you think you're ready?" he feigned his surprise and placed a hand over his heart.

“For shame!"

“Haven't had much time to practice, idiot. I think we can all agree that the exams are just a tad bit more important than some silly dance," Deirdre spoke, mouth full of a doughnut. Mercer snickered softly, but shook his head.

“That isn't true, Deir! Everyone knows that the dance is slightly more important than that. Wouldn't you say, Thea?" he stated, grinning in her direction. She huffed at him, though, and shook her head.

“I think it's a bit of both, really. The dance competition seems like it'll be a lot of fun, and a good way to... I don't know, not be so stressed about the exams?" she stated as if she were unsure.

Sorcha glanced up at that, but didn't say anything. She'd been showing up to their practices, and working as hard as ever at them, but other than that she always seemed to be... with other people. It used to be fairly common that he caught her by herself—she seemed to appreciate moments of solitude, and at least mostly welcome his company, but lately she'd always been with Sen or Thea or even Sylvi or Devon or Vi at pretty much all times, for some reason.

“I'm with Deirdre on this one," Vridel said, turning a page in his book and scanning the diagram thereon before he started to sketch it on his own page. “Relaxing is all well and good but there are plenty of ways to do it, and plenty of time after exams."

“I'm offering no opinion as I am not participating," Senka replied as she turned the page in the book she was currently studying from. Mercer pursed his lips together.

“So does that mean everyone's no longer participating? Because that's what it sounds like," and it really did. He worked so hard to get everyone to participate in it, too, and now they were just... not going to do it? Sylvi nodded her head.

“There are plenty of other students who are still participating, Merc. We're just more focused on these. They're actually letting me do the exams to become a brawler this time around. I am not going to fail that test, so help me goddess," she trailed off. Mercer could understand why she wanted to pass that test, though. It was considered a male-only class. That they'd allowed her to take it this time... well, that put her one step closer to her dream. He couldn't help but smile at that.

“I didn't say I wasn't participating," Vridel replied. “Thea and I are still practicing. There are other things to do, however." He lifted his shoulders, adjusting his reading glasses on the bridge of his nose.

“Deirdre and I haven't withdrawn, either," Sofi said with a gentle smile. “I think we're resigned to not winning, though." She gave her fiancée a slightly-sideward look, suggesting perhaps the reason they didn't have much of a shot.

“It's not about winning, though," Deirdre muttered, pursing her lips together. “It's about having fun with you, even though we'll still be dancing at the ball," she continued, causing Mercer to huff lightly.

“Stop being cute, I can't take the cuteness," he stated, shaking his head. Senka rolled her eyes, and Thea giggled lightly.

“Well if that's the case, what about you, Dev? Looks like you might need a new partner if Sylvi's not dancing," he stated. Senka glanced up from her book, and glanced towards Devon as well.

“If that is the case, I would be more than happy to fill in for her," she spoke, but Mercer noticed the sly look she gave towards Sylvi, almost expecting a reaction. And react, Sylvi did.

“Nope! That's not happening, Sen. I can't afford to have you stealing my dance partner away. You might try to steal his heart, too!" she stated, her eyes narrowing at Senka. Mercer snorted.

“It—it wouldn't work," Devon stammered immediately. This, of course, drew everyone's eyes towards him; Reynard outright snorted, too.

“Uh, not. Not that I think you'd really try, Sen. And no offense, honest. I, uh... I'm going to go back to reading this now." He lifted his book in an attempt to conceal his ever-reddening face.

Sorcha giggled.

Mercer was doing his best not to die of laughter. The poor kid was too easy to fluster, however; Senka merely nodded her head.

“Of course not, Devon. I wouldn't want to steal anyone's heart. I merely offered my assistance where I thought it would be beneficial," she replied before casually taking a bite from her doughnut. “But if there was anyone's heart I was trying to steal," she started, her eyes drifting around the room before they landed back on Devon, “it would be yours."

Mercer couldn't hold back his laughter that time. Amalthea pursed her lips together, though as she shook her head.

“That's not nice, Sen. You shouldn't tease poor Devon like that," Thea stated, causing Senka to shrug her shoulders lightly.

“Who said I was teasing?" and to her credit, she sounded absolutely serious. Mercer knew she wasn't by the gleam in her eye, but Sylvi merely puffed out her cheeks.

By that point, most of the table was somewhere between grinning and outright laughing, except Devon who was the approximate color of a bruised tomato, Sylvi, and Teach, though he was smiling slightly.

“All right, all right. Let's have a little mercy, shall we? No bewitching the innocent among us."

“So it's okay to bewitch the non-innocent?" Vi asked slyly, lifting an eyebrow.

“So long as it's safe, sane, and consensual, I don't care what you do," Teach replied, neither missing a beat nor batting an eyelash.

Vi laughed at that one. “I'm almost sad they don't make you teach that in class," he noted with dry humor. “Never change, Professor."

“Unfortunately if they made me do it, Professors Hanneman and Manuela would also have to, and I don't think anyone wants to hear Hanneman talk about that," Teach noted.

Sorcha pulled a face. “Definitely not."

“Except maybe Manuela," Reynard noted casually, biting into a pastry.

“Hm, I don't think she'd be interested in hearing about. I think she'd be more interested in demonstrations," Mercer supplied after he'd caught his breath. This earned a laugh from Sylvi who seemed to calm down a bit, and Senka chuckled softly. Thea looked to be about the shade of red Devon would have been if not for his complexion.

“You think so? I suppose it's a matter of who'd take the first step and suggest it," Senka replied, turning a page in her book.

“Hanneman wouldn't, he's too busy talking about his research and how important it is. I'd be surprised if anything actually did happen."

“Manuela will eventually, I think. When she recognizes what's right in front of her face." Vi said it a little speculatively, but Reynard and Teach nodded immediately.

“It'd have to be her," the latter added. “I think he's more aware of his feelings than he lets on, but I'd bet my next paycheck he thinks he's too old for her."

“I suppose there is a bit of a difference," Reynard noted, tone thoughtful.

“You think he's worried about being creepy?" Sorcha asked, furrowing her brows. “He shouldn't be—I know creepy, and he's not it. I actually think in their case it's a little sweet. Especially that he worries about it." She smiled faintly, then flashed a glance briefly in Senka's direction.

“They're both adults, after all—there's nothing wrong with it at all."

“I think it's a little more complicated than that," Senka spoke with a heavy sigh. “I don't think he worries about it because he thinks he's too old, or being creepy. I think it's more a level of professionalism. At the end of the day, they're both Professors who have a certain upholding to keep in mind. While there is nothing wrong with it at all, that is, unfortunately the way things are, sometimes."

Mercer sighed softly. “I think you're overthinking things, Sen. Why should it matter if they're both professors? No one here really gives a damn about that, so why should it be any different? It's fine to admit that they're attracted to one another, and like Sor said, they're both adults. Wouldn't you say it'd be worth it to take a risk like that if you were attracted to someone?"

She seemed to contemplate it for a moment, her eyes briefly meeting his.

“If it were anyone but me, yes, it would be worth it."

“You're killing me, Sen. That's not how that works. And you know anyone would damn well be lucky to have someone like you," Mercer stated as he did his best to not roll his eyes. She really did have a strange outlook about herself. He'd heard the rumors about her, of course, during the beginning of the year, but after getting to know her, he was willing to bet that her issues were from some other cause. He wouldn't pry; he wasn't that cruel, but he wished his friends would stop thinking of themselves like that, especially when there was a real chance they could be happy. Senka only gave him a rueful smile before turning her attention back to her book.

The others gradually turned back to theirs, too, more than a few of them oddly contemplative. It was an issue that was bound to be sensitive to a large number of them. Assuming, as seemed to be correct, that Vi and Thea were in fact now a couple, it was something they too would have to be dealing with eventually. Something Sofi and Deir were planning to elope to deal with, even if it meant they'd end up disowned.

The reason for Rey's contemplative face wasn't entirely clear, and he certainly didn't elaborate. Devon looked obviously pained. Sorcha's face was angled away from him, so there was no telling what if anything she made of this.

Teach, though, was staring at the book in front of him, likely without seeing it at all. He remained so for several minutes before gently closing it over and taking out a charcoal pencil instead, mindlessly sketching, it seemed. Perhaps just for something to do.

Mercer just sighed and shook his head. His friends deserved happiness in any way they could get it. Who knew how long they had before it would, inevitably, be taken away?

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Ethereal Moon - Tuesday the 16th
Garreg Mach Ballroom - Late Afternoon - Clear
Sorcha Blaiddyd


Sorcha sighed, smoothing down the skirt of her dress. It was a pale ivory color, with subtle silver embroidery, and something she had in fact already owned. Not that this mattered for present purposes; it wasn't like anyone would be judging her for wearing the same thing twice here. It met the requirements of formality, and female competitors were in fact required to wear dresses of some sort, so she was at least happy to have been able to choose her own. It was a high-collared thing, with fitted sleeves and a corseted bodice—nothing extremely tight, but close-fit and tied with pretty ribbons in the back.

The reason she'd chosen it was for the skirt, which was a little more ruffled than most things she typically wore and flowed a lot when she moved, letting the embroidery catch the light. Hopefully, it would be a nice effect when they were dancing. Her hair, she'd asked Senka to help her pin up in a slightly neater style than usual, but still out of the way of her motions and things.

She was probably too early, honestly; the judges weren't even here yet, and the audience had only just begun to file in. Professor Cyril took a seat near the front, giving her an encouraging wave. Her partner, and the other dancers, were not yet in evidence.

Senka arrived after and took a seat next to the professor. She waved slightly in Sorcha's direction, offering her smile before she turned to the professor, perhaps to talk to him about something. It was only a moment later when Mercer showed up, and he grinned when he spotted her. He was dressed in loose black pants, perhaps so that he wouldn't be too restricted in his movement. He also wore an emerald green sleeveless waistcoat with a band collar with a white, long-sleeved shirt underneath it. He looked dressed to dance, and it seemed to fit for all of the dances they would be participating in.

“Hey, Sor, check this out. It's my good luck ring," he stated, lifting his hand to show her a silver band on his ring finger with what looked to be inlaid with part of the geode they found. It was certainly the same color, and the mineral looked to be just about right. “Do you think it'll actually work?" he asked, grinning at her, still.

Sylvi had arrived at that point, as well, looking around, perhaps, for Devon. Deirdre appeared not to much longer with Sofia, and she gave them a curious glance.

“No," she said bluntly, folding her arms over her chest. “What's going to work is the practice we put in." Her eyes fell to the band, though, and she pressed her lips together, trying not to think too hard about it. “Also I told you to make that into something else."

A ring of all things. Really. She could feel her ears starting to heat. Ugh—why was she like this? It wasn't like she'd known him long, not really. Mostly just the eight months they'd been here. Before didn't count, because they were kids and she'd somehow managed to forget most of it. So why?

She pointedly turned her eyes away, noting that Vivi and Thea had appeared. Her stepbrother was wearing a nice waistcoat of his own, though that wasn't entirely unusual. He appeared to have elected for white and gold as a color scheme. Devon rushed in, looking mildly panicked in a slightly ill-fitting formal jacket that had probably been borrowed from someone taller and a bit broader. At some point Reynard had appeared in the audience, now settled on the Professor's other side, and Maneula and Lyanna had already taken their places at the judges' table. Apparently Hanneman had somehow been roped into being the emcee for the proceedings; even he looked quite nice. Not that he usually dressed badly, but the heavy coat was... a statement. It was absent today, though.

Thea seemed to be matching Vivi's colors; a white dress trimmed in gold around the waist. It was, surprisingly sleeveless, but still nice enough for the waltz. Her hair had been pulled up into a tight bun, perhaps to keep it out of her way, though her bangs were left loose and curled. Mercer, however, pursed his lips at Sorcha.

“But I made it into a ring. It's harder to lose this way," he stated, grinning as he waggled his fingers at her. “Also, you are right; hard work will help us, but it wouldn't hurt to add a little luck, right? Come on, let's go stand in our spots," he stated, grabbing her hand and leading her towards the floor where everyone else was gathering.

“Ladies and gentleman!" Hanneman began, clearing his throat a bit awkwardly as he gazed out into the audience. “Apologies for the wait, thank you for gathering here today to witness the academy-wide dance competition. Welcome to the White Heron Cup!" he continued; a few people in the audience clapped. “The competition will be judged by myself," he stated, lifting a hand to actually point to himself before motioning towards Manuela, “the acclaimed former songstress of the Mittelfrank Opera Company, Manuela Casagranda!"

Maneula beamed at the round of applause. “Thank you!" she said, loud enough that the audience could easily hear. “Oh, and it should go without saying, but I swear to show no bias towards students from my own house." She arched a brow playfully in Mercer's direction, then nodded at Sofi and Deirdre.

He held his hand out towards Lyanna, next. “And lastly, we have the ever lovely, Miss Lyanna von Kreuz, right-hand to the archbishop herself. The three of us swear on our honor to judge the following proceedings with utmost impartiality and fairness. With that," he paused to glance out into the dance floor, “will the participants please make their way to the stage. We will be judging based on the three dances you will be demonstrating today. The first will be the waltz. When you are all settled onto the stage, we will begin the music."

Mercer turned to grin at Sorcha, and offered her his hand. “You ready, Sor?"

Sorcha took a moment to inhale, pushing down the sudden feeling of nervousness. She'd rarely felt quite as exposed as she did now, and the design of her gown had nothing to do with it at all. Still, there was no way she was backing down now, and so she slipped her hand into Mercer's, letting him lead her out onto the floor alongside the other couples.

The waltz was a close dance, if nothing at all like the tango. It was actually the one she had the most confidence in, since the both of them had been well-versed in it to begin with. She could see the others taking up their positions as well from the corner of her eye, but as soon as the music began, that would cease to matter. So would all the eyes she could feel on her back. They would have to.

Setting one hand carefully on Mercer's shoulder, she folded her other into his and stepped into close position, taking another breath and holding it, this time until the music started.

The piece they'd chosen was a faster one, which was good because that was mostly what they'd practiced for. Sorcha took a step back with Mercer's forward motion, swinging gently to the side, and then they were off.

She tried not to think about how easy it was, how smooth and natural, or how solid and warm he felt under her hands. But the dance all but forced eye contact, and it was a losing battle from the start. She knew, somehow, even with incomplete memories, that she'd always had a fondness for Mercer's eyes—green with just a touch of blue, a color that reminded her, somehow, of summertime, which in Faerghus was a short, treasured season.

Perhaps... perhaps this would be like that. This strange hitch in time where they were in the same place, doing the same things, for just a little while. Before cold reality came sweeping back in from over the mountains.

But the way he looked at her was warm and affectionate. The smile on his face wasn't at all forced, or mischievous; it was the same as the way he was looking at her. It was warm and affectionate, and his eyes never left hers. It looked like all he was focused on was her and nothing else in the hall, mattered.

“You look really nice, by the way," he spoke softly, but just loud enough so that she could hear him over the music. “Did you pick the dress yourself?" he asked, his eyes still locked with hers.

“I, um." Sorcha startled a bit, almost missing a step, but recovered automatically, swallowing thickly. She shifted her eyes, trying to find somewhere near his face that wasn't quite so distracting. At first she lowered them a little, but looking at his lips was not helping, and she quickly darted them back up to somewhere around his temple. “I did," she managed. “A couple years ago. I wore it to my uncle's birthday party last year, too. Don't tell anyone." She managed a smile, trying to keep herself centered with a bit of levity.

She knew, of course, that Mercer wouldn't care about such a 'faux pas' as wearing an out-of-date dress to a second event. She suspected some of the Imperial students might be judging her, though, for the fact that it wasn't current to fashion. She hardly had a thought to spare.

“You do too, though," she murmured, almost unintentionally. “Look nice, I mean. You always do, I guess." It was casual, and downplayed, but it wasn't hard to tell that Mercer had a real sense for style. Not that he needed it; he'd be handsome even if—she stopped the though hard, flushing lightly.

Mercer huffed lightly, but didn't seem to falter in their steps. “Why would I tell anyone? Even if it's a second time, you still look lovely in it," he stated, as if it were the easiest thing to say for him. “And that's not true. You've seen my sleeping habits. I always look terrible, then," he grinned lightly at that.

“But it's alright. You're the only one who gets to see me like that. Well, Sen, too, since she was there and all, but only that once. No second time for her, only you," he continued, grinning just a little wider.

Sorcha's eyes went wide; she very nearly fell out of the dance steps entirely. Probably would have, were it one she knew any less well. “I—you—I'm sure everyone's seen you sleeping in class," she hissed, unable to come up with any better way to retaliate than that.

Perhaps fortunately, the waltz ended there, and the pairs made their way off the floor for a short break so scores could be tabulated before they moved on to the next bit. Sorcha went immediately for the water that had been made available, glowering at Mercer a little.

Mercer chuckled lowly as he grabbed a cup of water. He drank it slowly before turning his attention towards her. “It's not quite the same, Sor. I was at least fully dressed in class," he stated, arching a brow in her direction. “When you saw me sleeping, I was half-naked. I mean, I don't mind, really," he spoke, taking another drink from his cup. He disposed of it when he was finished, and held out his hand to her as Hanneman announced they would be doing the gavotte, next.

“Shall we show them how well you've trained me for this?" he stated, a strange smile forming on his lips.

“I hate you," she told him matter-of-factly, glad for the fact that the water had cooled her blush just a little. Also glad that the gavotte was next, as she didn't think she could quite have handled the intimacy of a tango right now—that was a problem for Sorcha fifteen minutes from now. The current one could barely look out for herself, never mind the future.

Unlike Senka, Sorcha didn't completely hate the gavotte. It was the kind of thing that could be easily danced with a friend or relative, and the leads and follows did exactly the same things. It also didn't make talking easy, for the fact that they weren't close enough to do it over the music without being heard by others as well.

She was sure he'd have some sort of retort by the time the gavotte ended, and this time left the floor almost reluctantly.

When they'd left the dance floor for the small break, Mercer was actually fairly quiet. He was still smiling, but not quite as if he were up to something. He merely crossed his arms against his chest and regarded her with an even stare. It was as if he were trying to figure something out, but couldn't quite do so. He pushed a sigh through his nose, though, and shook his head.

“Are you sure you'll be up for the next one, Sor?" he asked, tilting his head in an inquisitive manner. “I know you weren't all too comfortable doing the tango when we practiced, and if you're uncomfortable, I wouldn't mind throwing in the white flag," he stated in an even tone.

“All you have to do is say the word, and we'll have come this far, already. I think that's a victory in itself, yeah?"

Sorcha considered this, giving the question what it was due. It was true that he... affected her, especially as close as they got during the tango and as... well, as sensual as it was. That was not a word that Sorcha would ever use to describe herself, but she thought she'd gotten pretty good at faking it. It was also pretty clear that it didn't get to Mercer the way it got to her, which was uncomfortable for other reasons, but... none of that was a good reason to throw away all of their hard work now. She'd found ways to deal with her one-sided attraction in practice, and if it didn't bother him, obvious as it probably was, then...she wasn't going to squander all that work just because it was challenging.

So she shook her head emphatically. “Now's no time to quit. I'm up for this if you are." Squaring her shoulders, she straightened her posture and extended her hand out towards him this time, just as the dancers were called back to the floor.

Mercer smiled softly at her, then, something warm, before it was gone. “That's what I like to hear," he stated as he took her hand to lead her out towards the dance floor. He placed one of his hands around her waist, and pulled the other one up. “It's all or nothing, Sor. Remember not to think much about it. Just feel it. Feel me, and only me. Move with me, and only me," he continued, his eyes taking on a rather serious light. His eyes bore into hers, as if he were trying to find something hidden behind.

“Because I know I'll be doing the same. We're in this... together," he stated as the music began, and he moved just as he'd moved in practice.

Sorcha's breath caught; she swallowed, thickly because there was some kind of new lump in her throat, to go right along with the shiver down her spine and the furious fluttering in her stomach, like someone had let an entire flock of butterflies loose in there, and all they wanted was out.

If he was concerned she'd be able to pay attention to anything other than him, he needn't be. It felt like her attention was always oriented towards him first. She entered a room and scanned it for him, always found herself gravitating towards him when he was nearby, like there was some kind of magnetic pull that yanked her towards him whether she wanted to go there or not.

He moved, and she flowed with. The music wasn't exactly the same as they'd practiced with, but it didn't matter because she couldn't hear it anyway, not over the swish of her heart in her ears, the dim ringing that might have been some kind of internal warning to get away before it was too late. But that was absurd, because too late had come and gone a long time ago, somewhere between when an exhausted Mercer had dragged himself out of bed to go practice shooting with her and, well, now. She didn't think about it, either, just felt—lifted her eyes to his and held that contact, only breaking it when she needed to turn or be lifted in a way that forced it.

His eyes stayed on her, though, as she moved and when she was turned or lifted. When he brought her back in to him, he kept her close and flush, moving in the ways that they'd practiced. His arm occasionally slid down hers, leaving light trails until the parts he had to let go completely. When the music began to whirl, and their moves became more hurried and fast, it came to an end, and Mercer had her tilted in his arms. His face was close to hers, his nose brushing against hers as he smiled at her.

There was something in his eyes, though. They seemed darker, almost more emerald than the jade they usually were. His face leaned closer to hers till he was just a hairs breadth away from her lips. His brow was pressed to hers; the ringing in her ears had become a roar. She wouldn't have been able to tell if the whole building was falling down, right now. Her heart hammered in her chest, a staccato beat matching the pace of her thoughts.

kissmekissmekissmekissme—

But then he pulled back suddenly, shaking his head and helping her to an upright position, but keeping hold of one of her hands. The applause was loud as most of the people clapped. She recognized, distantly, that they'd done well, but all she could feel in the moment was a crushing disappointment. For a moment, when his eyes were like that, she'd almost thought—

Goddess, but she was an idiot. How many times did she have to put herself through this before she got it through her thick skull that he was her friend, and that was all he'd ever be?

“Not bad, Sor. You did really well, congratulations," he stated, smiling at her as he took the hand he still held, and placed a kiss on the back of it. “Let's go see how we did," he stated as he lead her towards the others that were gathering. Hanneman clapped as he approached, a large smile on his face.

“Splendid work!" he began, smiling even more, “All of you were fantastic. Alas, only one of you can be the winner. Let us hear what the judges have to say..." He turned towards Manuela, first.

“Thank you, Hanneman," Manuela said with a nod. “As some of you probably know, I am the one who chose the inclusion of the tango in this year's White Heron Cup, and I have to say that I'm very glad I did. Those were some fantastic routines, and there was a great deal of skill involved. That said—Hanneman's right. I think the pair with the best tango, and the best overall dances, is Mercer and Sorcha." She smiled at them, a glint of mischief in her amber-colored eyes.

“There are professionals who do that with less skill and feeling. You should be proud of yourselves."

That passed comments to Lady Lyanna, who smiled warmly at them all. “I, too, am very impressed by the skill on display here. I've judged this competition for many years now, and I can say with great confidence that this is by far the most talented group of contestants we've ever had. I've written more detailed notes for you, of course, but as far as an overall winner, I must concur with my colleague. Congratulations, Lord Riegan, Princess."

“Without further delay, then, I shall announce the winners!" Hanneman started, but paused, perhaps to give an effect of sorts. “Princess Sorcha, and Lord von Riegan!" he stated, clapping after he'd made the announcement. The applause lit up again, and Mercer smiled at her. It was tinged with a hint of melancholy, though, and he held up her hand as if he were trying to show her off.

“Would you look at that; all of our hard work paid off, Sor. We won," he spoke softly to her, bringing her hand back down so that he could place it against his chest. She could feel his heart beating rather erratically, though that might have been due to exertion. They'd just danced a tango, after all.

“We did," she replied, just as quietly. She shut her eyes for a moment, wrestling her feelings under control. When she opened them again, she was able to smile, just a little, the practiced sort of one appropriate to a situation like this, which she should be happy about. Gently, she pulled her hand away, resettling it at her own side.

“Congratulations, again. We'll have to commemorate this joyous occasion!" Hanneman shouted, but cleared his throat awkwardly as he took a step back.

“Yes, well... there are prizes," Manuela said, looking a little amused at Hanneman's demeanor. “Small ones, but nevertheless." She grinned as Lyanna brought forward two elegant chalices, simple silver and with a heron engraved on their faces. "Your trophies are usable, at least."

Sorcha accepted hers with a little smile, inclining her head graciously to Lyanna. “Thank you," she said. “I'll treasure the memory."

Probably more than she should.

“Thanks!" Mercer stated happily enough as he accepted his trophy. He grinned at Sorcha, then, and held the trophy up to his face. “Let's go rub this in Vi's face, yeah?" he stated, his eyes scanning for Vivi, it seemed. “Oh, and show the others, I guess," he added, though he didn't really seem too concerned about it.

She huffed a vague laugh. “Okay, but don't be too mean. Thea's his partner after all—and she's still very new to this."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg

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I.Y. 1180 - Ethereal Moon - Thursday the 17th
Library - Late Afternoon - Light Snow
Senka Rinaldi


Written examinations were next month, and Senka wasn't entirely sure what she wanted to do. She still hadn't the faintest clue which class she truly wanted. Going into battle with Libi was rather nice, she'd admit, especially when she was able to carry her friends to where they needed to go. She was also able to reach them quicker than if she were on foot. She entertained the idea of trying out for warlock, or even swordmaster, however; that meant she'd have to stable Libi, and she didn't want to do that. She sighed heavily as she closed the book in her hands. Maybe she shouldn't take them this time? With that in mind, she made her way back towards her room.

She needed to figure out what her goal was; what it was that she wanted to master and do. She was good with her dark arts, her sword, and horseback, however; there didn't seem to be anything that seemed to fit. There was a soft knock on the door, though, and she turned her attention towards the door. There was a messengar standing there with something long and poled in his arms.

“Senka?" he stated, and she nodded her head. “This came as a delivery for you. I was instructed to hand it to you, and you alone," he stated in a rather cheery tone. Senka blinked mildly at him before her head tilted. She had a message and a gift? The only letters she received were from Duke Goneril, but he'd never sent her a gift. And he'd never directed a letter to her with such specific directions. “Oh, but don't worry, it doesn't feel fragile or anything like that. I'm just here to deliver this, so here you go."

He handed the object and letter to Senka as she took it, and stared at it. Carefully, she unwrapped it and sucked in a deep breath. She recognized the shape and metal of her father's weapon. The Arrow of Indra had been a family heirloom, named after the first king of Duscur who'd liberated his people from... something. Senka couldn't really remember. She pulled the rest of the burlap wrap off of it, and glanced at it. She knew who sent this, and it didn't stop the smile that formed on her lips. Tracing the delicate symbols on the silver spear-tip, she dragged them down the engravings in them. They had been added to the lance a few hundred years ago; she remembered that at least.

It made it more effective for magic-users who liked to occasionally channel their magic through weapons. Senka hadn't learned to quite master that, yet, but she knew someone who did. A sudden thought crossed her mind. Maybe... maybe she could do that. This was a family heirloom, but... she didn't wield lances. They were not her weapon; swords were more her style, and they were more comfortable. But he used lances, and he used magic. Perhaps he could make use of something that only she could give him. It would be the only thing she could, even if she wanted to give him something more than that. Something felt constricted in her chest, and for a brief moment, it felt like she couldn't breath.

Why did that seem so painful?

“Sen?" The voice was Vridel's; he appeared to be in rather a hurry, but stopped abruptly as he passed hr door, apparently headed for the greenhouse. Darting a glance behind him, he frowned slightly. “Are you going to be in for a while? I kind of need somewhere to, ah—" he cleared his throat and gestured vaguely. “I'll explain, but could I come in first?"

“Of course, come in, Vridel," she replied, motioning for him to step inside. “You can close the door if you'd like," she added. Somehow, she had a feeling she knew what he was doing. Rarely was Vridel seen without Thea, these days, and that alone warmed Senka's heart. It must be that Amalthea was with Lyanna at the moment, and Vridel needed somewhere to be.

“Would you like to sit down?" she asked, motioning for the chair tucked in the corner of her room. It was in a spot that was strategically placed so no one could see it. Sometimes she liked to just hide in her own room to collect her thoughts, and if people thought she wasn't there, it made it easier to think.

“Thanks," he said, evidently relieved. He shut the door behind him and took the proffered chair, stretching out in it so that his head rested against the back and his legs were stretched in front of him. He folded his hands together over his abdomen and sighed heavily. “Thea's practicing right now; Monica decided to ambush me. I swear no matter how direct I am about wanting nothing to do with her she won't leave me alone. I don't think I've ever met anyone so insistent, and I know Sorcha." He rolled his eyes, tilting his chin down enough to regard her.

“Also, and at any other time I would have opened with this, but what's with the spear?"

Senka huffed lightly at his last statement. “It's fine, Vridel," she replied as she glanced back towards the lance. “It's from Espera," she began as she turned her attention back towards him, “and it's... a family heirloom. It belonged to my father before... before he died. It was supposed to be mine when I inherited the throne, but..."

There was no throne to inherit, now.

“It's called the Arrow of Indra. I thought it was lost, though, after what happened. Father still had it on him when the soldiers were... when they were looting the palace. I did not know that Espera had it," could not know he had it. She rarely had contact with him, and she preferred it that way. It was less dangerous for him, and she could not bear the thought of something happening to him because of her.

“I... was thinking of giving it to Cyril, though. He could make much better use of it than I could." She ventured this thought because she trusted Vridel. More than anything.

Vridel appeared to sober a little at the explanation, going silent for a while as he considered it. “Well you know I of all people don't fault that kind of reasoning. I gave Aymr to Thea before I knew much about her other than that she was more likely to use it than I was." That weapon had been some kind of heirloom in a similar way, as Senka recalled.

He straightened, though, a little in the chair, pulling his legs up to cross them underneath him. “I know we're usually all assholes to each other about this kind of thing, but..." he paused, tilting his head. “You really have feelings for him, don't you?" In contrast to what he'd pointed out was everyone's usual way of talking about such things, he seemed completely serious.

She swallowed thickly, and unable to breathe properly. Her face pulled into a passive state as she contemplated his statement. “Yes," she finally spoke. It was something more than that, though. It wasn't just simple feelings that she had for him. It was something so much more that it terrified her. She shook her head in Vridel's direction. “Yes, I do, and it terrifies me," she admitted.

“Terrifies me because I'm not... I can't have those feelings for someone like him. You've seen the way Rhea looks at him, the way she acts and it's not just her. It's me. You, and Sorcha might not care who I am, or where I'm from, but it matters to me because... what can I possibly have to offer someone like that." Someone who was wonderful and made her feel like life was worth waking up each day just to see his smile. Someone who made her feel as if she actually mattered and wanted to fight just that much harder to ensure she lived.

He'd given her a new reason to live, and she'd lied to him when she said it was hope. It wasn't hope; it was him. But she couldn't tell him that. How could she when all she would do was taint him in some way?

“Isn't that just you deciding for him?" Vridel asked bluntly, then sighed quietly. “Look, Sen. I get why it matters to you. I'm not going to sit here and pretend it doesn't matter at all, because of course it does. But Cyril—when have you ever known him to give the first damn what people say or think of him? You know he stared Rhea down until she agreed to let you learn to use Blutgang? You know he stood out there all day with that idiot scholar and made sure he took back every single bad thing he'd said about you?"

He rubbed a bit at his forehead. “Seems to me like... it might be your responsibility to make sure he knows what the risks are. But choosing for him is kind of poor form. Would you want him to choose for you? If he thought something like... being a commoner, or being your teacher, made it a bad idea for you?"

Senka felt the bottom of her lip tremble slightly, and a warm sensation behind her eyes. Wasn't that how it was supposed to be, though? Wouldn't it be easier if... if he didn't think of her like that at all? Do those things for her on her behalf?

“But that's just it. I don't want him to choose me. I want... I want him to be happy, truly happy with someone who can make him like that," and she wanted, with all her heart, to believe she had made him happy. That she was the reason he smiled like that. She sucked in a deep breath, and shook her head.

“You're right. I know you are, I just..." couldn't bring herself to accept that. What if he didn't want her at all like that, though? Like the way she wanted him? If that were the case, maybe she could fool herself into thinking that whatever it was that she felt, wasn't real. That the butterflies in her stomach, her happiness, was not his doing at all, but her own growth as a person.

“I'm trying to see myself differently, Vridel. I really am, and I shouldn't choose anything for anyone. They should... they should get a choice, too," it was the least she could do, right?

Vridel hesitated for just a moment before he stood, approaching her with almost tentative steps, to lay a hand on her shoulder and give it a soft squeeze. “I'm really no good at this stuff," he murmured, apparently referring to her state of heightened emotion. Still, he carefully eased the spear from her grip, setting it gently against the wall, then drew her towards him, enfolding her in a gentle hug.

“You don't have to be perfect, you know," he continued quietly. “And believe me, I know it's hard to think that way. I've spent my entire life trying to be more and better and enough. Most of the time I know I'm not, and it's—" he cut himself off and sighed gently.

“Give yourself time, too, Sen. You're already a completely different person than the one who showed up here eight months ago. Another four or so might help clear things up. And... it's not so wrong to just enjoy what's here right now, I think. It's—it's what I'm trying to do."

Senka curled her fingers into the back of his shirt, gripping tightly as she buried her face in his chest. She couldn't stop the warm tears that fell from her eyes and stained his shirt. “I really don't deserve a friend like you," she murmured as she tried to reel in her tears. It didn't work and she could only let them fall. She sniffed softly, and shook her head.

“I really don't deserve any of my friends, but... I'm glad I have you all."

“I don't know if you do or no one does," he replied, rubbing her back a little. “But I'm pretty sure it's one of the two. And either way, you do have us, so you might as well get used to it." This one was said with the barest touch of lightness, but there was no mockery in it. Instead he held her there, tucking his chin atop her head, seemingly inclined to stay where he was for as long as she liked.

She huffed lightly into his chest. “I already am," she replied as she pulled back, wiping the remainder of her tears from her face. “And I should let go before Thea sees us. She might get jealous," she spoke softly, trying to hold on to that barest glimmer of hope. That maybe... maybe she truly could allow herself to let others feel about her the way she feels about them.

He scoffed. “She knows us both better than that." But he seemed to take it as it was meant, and gave her the slightest of smiles.

“And for what it's worth, Vi," she spoke his nickname for the first time, grinning as well as she could through the tears, “you're one of my best friends. Don't ever change."

“I don't plan to, really."

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Fódlan

Fódlan by Nemeseia

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

Fódlan

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

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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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