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Jeralt's Journal

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a character in “Fire Emblem: Apotheosis”, as played by Nemeseia

Description

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《Volkhard von Arundel》
AGE xxxx┇ ??xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Adrestian Empire
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'11"xx.xWEIGHT x┇ ?? lbs.

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Volkhard von Arundel is the head of a minor noble family within the Adrestian Empire. He was granted the title of lord after his sister, Patricia, wed Emperor Ionius IX. During the Insurrection of the Seven in Imperial Year 1171, in which he played a key role supporting Duke Aegir, Volkhard took Patricia and his younger nieces and nephews, including Vridel, to the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus in apparent exile. Patricia eventually married King Lambert, while Volkhard and the children returned to the Empire in 1174. Though it is not publicly known, he was in fact the driving force behind the Crest experiments performed on the Imperial children, of which Vridel was the only survivor. Their relationship is understandably chilly, but neither has cut off contact with the other completely as of yet. Volkhard still intends to make use of his nephew, while Vridel is certain that his uncle knows more of the true history of Fódlan than he has yet said. In the year 1181, Volkhard was revealed to be the Flame Emperor, seizing the throne from Vridel.


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《Jeritza von Hrym》
AGE xxxx┇ 28xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Adrestian Empire
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'9xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 160 lbs.

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Jeritza von Hrym was the fencing instructor at the Garreg Mach Officers' Academy. A strange, withdrawn personality, he was nevertheless well-respected for his skill, even though his eccentricities were noticeable. Jeritza dislikes mingling with others so much that he will outright reject people who attempt polite banter. He does, however, seem to have quite the taste for battle, from sparring to more serious kinds, which leaves some wondering why he chooses to serve as an instructor for students rather than a Knight of Seiros proper. This question was answered about halfway into the school year when, in his guise as the Death Knight, he kidnapped Amalthea on the orders of his employers. He feels no particular loyalty for them, nor affinity for their cause, but they allow him to fight to his heart's content, and he seeks the strongest opponents possible, that he might experience the rush of true life-or-death risk. Though he has an abiding interest in fighting Cyril, he has now crossed paths often enough with Vridel that he wishes to kill him personally, and given the opportunity, would seek him out to duel.


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《Emperor Ionius IX》
AGE xxxx┇ 57xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ The Adrestian Empire
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'10"xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 161 lbs.

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Ionius von Hresvelg is the Emperor of the Adrestian Empire. He was crowned Ionius IX in Imperial Year 1136, the same year he wed his wife Patricia, the sister of Lord Volkhard von Arundel. He fathered a total of eleven children during his reign, but of these only his ninth, Vridel, was born with a Crest. In 1171, he was stripped of most of his power by a group of nobles led by Duke Aegir in a coup d'etat called the Insurrection of the Seven. Amidst the upheaval, the younger children and Patricia were taken to the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus in apparent exile by Patricia's brother, Lord Volkhard von Arundel, who was also one of the key conspirators. Patricia later married King Lambert of Faerghus, and stayed behind in the Kingdom when Volkhard and the children returned to the Empire in 1174. Ionius was powerless to protect his children from the experimentation visited upon them by Volkard and his allies, rendered essentially a puppet ruler in the wake of the Insurrection, and himself a sickly, infirm man. He has to all appearances lost all but the faintest traces of the man he once was, and now listlessly languishes in the capital, unable to change his lot or unwilling to try. In the year 1181, Ionius handed the throne to Vridel before being murdered by his brother-in-law, Volkhard.






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《Devon Margrave》
AGE xxxx┇ 22xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Holy Kingdom of Faerghus
xHEIGHT ┇ 6'xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 185 lbs.

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Devon Margrave is a citizen of Fódlan, born to a fur trapper from Sreng and a farmer from Faerghus. His parents met and married rather young, and were both killed by the same plague that ravaged much of Fhirdiad and took the life of Sorcha's birth mother. He and his siblings were left to eke out a living for themselves, and when this proved impossible in the countryside, they moved to the capital, sleeping rough and learning how to steal to survive. One day, Devon was caught stealing by Lord Lonato, a minor regional overlord in Faerghus, and brought back to his estate in the far west of the country. Rather than attempt to punish him for his misdeeds, Lonato taught Devon to read, and sponsored his entry into the Officers' Academy, where he excelled with the bow and short blades. In the years since the Siege of Garreg Mach, Devon has lost much of his upbeat nature an innocence. He trains obsessively, resolved that he should never again lose a dear friend. If he must harden his heart as well as his body to protect them all then so be it.



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《Sylvi Margrave》
AGE xxxx┇ 23xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Holy Kingdom of Faerghus
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'7"xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 132 lbs.

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House Galatea is a branch from House Daphnel, defected to the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. As a result, Sylvi was born with a minor Crest of Daphnel, which immediately brought her family into the good graces of most other noble houses in Faerghus. Because of her Crest, she is the heir-apparent to House Galatea, and their saving grace. The region ruled by her family is a frigid wasteland and her House doesn't have much in way of money and privilege. Her father is hoping to marry her off to another Noble family in order to save themselves and replenish their coffers. While Sylvi believes that her duty to her family is her highest priority, she can't help but think it's unfair that she cannot live her life the way she wants to. She wants to be a War Master and serve her Kingdom and Queen, however; if she were to marry a Noble, she wouldn't be able to follow her dreams. It leaves her conflicted with herself. On one hand she wants to be the filial child, and on the other hand, she wants to give up her titles. This, however, she does not voice out loud. She is fairly decent with axes, and despite her stature, she is fairly strong in hand-to-hand combat. The years after the siege of Garreg Mach have changed Sylvi, and not for the better. She feels she's lost an important part of herself in the prison camps, however; she wonders if that place hasn't changed her most of all. She married Devon Margrave in the Imperial Year 1186.


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《Rodrigue Fraldarius》
AGE xxxx┇ 51xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Holy Kingdom of Faerghus
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'11xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 181 lbs.

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Rodrigue Achille Fraldarius, also known as the Shield of Faerghus, is a lord of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, and the current head of House Fraldarius. He is also known to be a magnificent warrior, and served as the right hand of the king of Faerghus during a military campaign in Sreng. In Imperial Year 1176, his son and heir Glenn was slain during the Tragedy of Duscur, leaving him without an heir. Rodrigue's estranged half-sister was Senka's mother, making him her uncle, and he is considerably closer with her than the rest of House Fraldarius is. He has also been something of a mentor for Sorcha over the years, or at least someone she could look up to, who treated her a great deal better than most of the Kingdom's nobles. He's an honorable man who believes deeply in the ideals of chivalry. Since the Siege of Garreg Mach and the subsequent seizure of power first by King Rufus and then by Cornelia Arnim, Rodrigue has led a small faction of loyalist nobles, including houses Gautier and Galatea, against Cornelia's occupation. They are able to do little other than defend their own territory, however, and their position weakens by the month.


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《Céleste Kleiman》
AGE xxxx┇ 33xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Holy Kingdom of Faeghus
xHEIGHT ┇ 6'0xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 159 lbs.

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Céleste is Lord Kleiman's eldest daughter born out of wed-lock, and was recently named his heir when he died unexpectedly. Céleste is a frighteningly intelligent woman who is said to have played no small part in the recent death of her father. She has taken control of her father's lands, and is currently responsible for the annihilation of the Duscur rebels. It is also speculated that she was the one who enticed Maurice into her lands in order to do just that, however; Maurice began killing people of Faerghus, which forced her hand to rely upon the Church's aid to dispose of him. She is an extremely capable woman, master of the dark arts, lances, and swords. Despite her relative youth, Céleste has already made a name for herself as not only a capable Lord, but also General and soldier. Her strength is immense, and her schemes, boundless. Her army is rather sizeable for a small Lord such as herself, however; she is searching for the last heir of the Duscur kingdom. She knows that an heir still lives, and she wants to use that to her advantage. After all, she is an ambitious woman, and if she could have a kingdom by force of marriage... well, the potential is limitless to her. She was finally killed in Duscur in the Imperial Year 1186.





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《Sofia Esparsa》
AGE xxxx┇ 27xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Leicester Alliance
xHEIGHT ┇ 6'0"xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 165 lbs.

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Sofia is the daughter of wealthy Alliance merchants, folk who have made their trade in fabrics. Her family is reputed for their famous silkweaving technique, as well as their extremely savvy business sense. While this has taken them relatively far, it has not made them noble in the slightest. Born the first of three daughters, Sofia was expected from an early age to marry well and increase her family's standing—much to her own chagrin. She wants a life of adventure and interesting things, though her quiet personality does not in fact suggest such proclivities at first. At around age 19, Sofia met and fell in love with Deirdre Allard, and they planned to elope after finishing their course at the Officers' Academy. While this plan was halted by the attack on the monastery, the five years since have only strengthened their relationship otherwise. Sofia is an accomplished knight and horsewoman, and though time has given her enough haunting memories to fuel a lifetime of nightmares, she fights on, doing her best not to let things show too much.


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《Deirdre Allard》
AGE xxxx┇ 25xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Leicester Alliance
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'1"xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 110 lbs.

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Dierdre is the bastard daughter of the noble house of Goneril. Born out of wed-lock, her only saving grace was the minor Crest of Goneril that she'd inherited. She was raised to be one of the successors to Lord Goneril, despite not being his child, however; she abandoned her nobility in order to do something she wanted. She was always a rebellious and hot-tempered child, and even into her teens, she was strong-willed. She didn't want to be confined to rules and arranged marriages, and that was all that awaited her in House Goneril. She traveled most of the Leicester Alliance, picking up various trades and skills before meeting Sofia. She fell in love with Sofia at first sight, and enrolled in the Officers Academy to improve upon her magical skills. She'd always been talented in the arts, and wants to help Sofia achieve her dreams... with a little bit of competition. After all, everyone knows that mages are better than knights.


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《Alaric Goneril》
AGE xxxx┇ 32xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Leicester Alliance
xHEIGHT ┇ 6'2xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 184 lbs.

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Duke Alaric Goneril is heir to House Goneril, and Dierdre's cousin. He inherited his position sometime after he graduated from the Academy. His father had fallen ill and could no longer participate in the Roundtable summits, and thus named Alaric his successor. He was known in his academy days for his keen intellect, winning The Battle of the Eagle and Lion during his academic year for the Golden Deer House, however; he wasn't a very social person. Others often ignored him mostly due to his serious expressions, however; Alaric wasn't the intimidating figure people made him out to be. He is actually rather kind and gentle, things a Duke of the Alliance should not be, per se. He has not seen fit to take a wife, yet, despite his father's insistence he do so. After all, it is his duty to continue the family line. As the head of House Goneril, Alaric was charged with defending the Leicester Alliance from invasions from the neighboring kingdom of Almyra and managing the fortress of Fódlan's Locket. He earned a reputation as Leicester's greatest general. Prior to Mercer being recognized as the true heir of House Riegan, many thought Alaric would succeed Duke Riegan as the new leader of the Alliance. He is, however, glad that is not the case. He rather likes Mercer


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《Reynard Voigt》
AGE xxxx┇ 29xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Leicester Alliance
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'11"xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 175 lbs.

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Reynard is a rather mysterious fellow, and no few people confess to finding him somewhat shady, mostly for the fact that he is rather distant with most people and famously evasive in conversation, rather like the foxes he was named after. Born Callum Macneary, the grandson of the King of Brigid, Reynard found in his adolescence that he was unsuited for and undesirous of a throne or a crown, and made the unconventional move of abdicating his position as heir, relinquishing all claim to nobility, and journeying to Faerghus. There, he was sponsored by an accomplished Imperial general into the Officer's Academy, where he met and befriended the Crown Prince, who also immediately recognized his talent for subterfuge and hired him. He made more friends than he expected there, and in the time since the Siege of Garreg Mach, has worked mostly in the Alliance, as a messenger for Mercer and the personal bodyguard of Alaric Goneril.





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《Archbishop Rhea》
AGE xxxx┇ ??xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Church of Seiros
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'11"xx.xWEIGHT x┇ ?? lbs.

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Lady Rhea is the Archbishop of the Church of Seiros, and as such the leader of the Knights of Seiros, as well as the administrator of the largest religious institution in the world, and the only one worth the name in Fódlan. She is also technically the headmaster of its famous Officer's Academy, and as such has been helping to train the finest leaders on the continent for years. Rhea is what one would expect of a head of a church: benevolent, kind, and compassionate. While she is such to the devout followers of the church and the students and faculty of the Officers Academy, she is ruthless and dismissive of those who oppose the church. Any who do so are dealt by her righteous vision of justice and even labels their defeats and misfortunes as judgement of the Goddess. Though it might not be expected for one in her position, she is quite capable of self-defense, with a mastery of light magic, and extensive skill with sword and shield as well. At the Siege of Garreg Mach, Rhea transformed into the Immaculate One, a powerful dragon, but she was overwhelmed by Demonic Beasts, and has not been seen since that day.



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《Lyanna von Kreuz》
AGE xxxx┇ ???xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Church of Seiros
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'6"xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 135 lbs.

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Lyanna von Kreuz, Amalthea's sister, is a member of the Church of Seiros' administration, the personal assistant and advisor to Archbishop Rhea, ad accordingly one of those tasked with coordinating the Knights of Seiros. She is a rather mysterious figure, often sighted around the monastery but seldom on anything other than what seems to be very important business. Though nominally the leader of a group of knights, Lyanna is much more inclined towards the magical arts, and is reputed to be a Gremory of surpassing skill, aided by the Major Crest of Cethleann she possesses. She's more than a fair hand with a sword as well, however, and it would be unwise to underestimate her physical prowess due to her rather small structure. Similar enough in appearance to Amalthea that the two are sometimes mistaken for twins, she nevertheless has a certain sort of maturity to her that marks her as the elder, though her features are quite youthful for one of her high rank, much like the Archbishop's. She is known for a somewhat strict and fastidious, orderly personality, and is often a practical, non-nonsense voice in discussions with the Archbishop and others. After the Siege of Garreg Mach, Lyanna remained behind to negotiate terms of surrender, then traveled to the Empire with Thea and Vridel. After narrowly escaping Volkhard's coup, she returned to the Monastery, and now manages its defense alongside a few others.



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《Hanneman von Essar》
AGE xxxx┇ 57xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Church of Seiros
xHEIGHT ┇ 6'2xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 161 lbs.

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Hanneman von Essar is an instructor at the Garreg Mach Officers' Academy, and also a scholar of great renown. Called the "Father of Crestology," Hanneman has pioneered many techniques in the study of Crests, and knows more about the subject than perhaps anyone alive. Formerly a nobleman of the Empire, Hanneman gave up his status in pursuit of greater knowledge—and access to non-Imperial Crests. Himself possessed of a Minor Crest of Indech, Hanneman is skilled with bows, as many in possession of such a crest seem to be, but his primary focus is in black and dark magic. He, along with Manuela, is one of the rotating 'home room' instructors at the Academy, and does genuinely seem to enjoy instructing students. His bickering with his counterpart is oft-noted among the student body, with the more fussy, fastidious Hanneman providing a sharp contrast to the more relaxed and carefree Manuela. The perceptive are easily able to pick up on the respect and affection underlying these exchanges, even when the two frustrate each other.



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《Manuela Casagranda》
AGE xxxx┇ ??xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Church of Seiros
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'6xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 125 lbs.

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AADEX 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAARES 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASPD 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌

Manuela Casagranda is a teacher at the Garreg Mach Officers' Academy. Formerly a singer with the famous Mittlefrank Opera Company, she was hailed for many years as 'The Divine Songstress.' The left the company to pursue teaching in 1174, for unknown reasons. In addition to her teaching post, she serves as the Academy's physician, aided by a substantial knowledge of herbs and medicines as well as more magical healing techniques, which she is able to blend quite effectively. Manuela is a seemingly carefree personality who specializes in white magic and blades, though as a rotating homeroom teacher, she has to know a bit of everything. Her demeanor often leads people to underestimate her, as she tends to more readily display her flaws than her talents, and is known for her tendency to overdo it when drinking and her rather luckless love life. Despite this, she is well-loved by her students. Though she evacuated with her students following the Siege of Garreg Mach, she soon returned to the Monastery with Hanneman, where they were eventually joined by a small group of other surviving faulty, who have become caretakers of the grounds under Lyanna's leadership.



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《Alois Rangeld》
AGE xxxx┇ 51xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Church of Seiros
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'7xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 170 lbs.

AAHPS 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAAINT 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASTR 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAALCK 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAMAG 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAADEF 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AADEX 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAARES 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASPD 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌

Alois Rangeld is a Knight of Seiros and a part-time instructor at the Officer's Academy, occasionally offering tutorials on axemanship, barehanded fighting, and armor maintenance. The second born son of a merchant family, Alois's parents died when he was young and he came to live at Garreg Mach Monastery. At the age of 11, he was discovered by Jeralt, who was then captain of the knights, and became his squire. He was officially knighted when he was 24 years old, though Jeralt disappeared that same year. Alois has a boisterous, dramatic personality that sometimes obscures a truly chivalric heart. Devoted to the Church and the protection of the weak, he can come across as a little much sometimes, but his intentions are always good. He likes telling jokes, but they're not that funny, and fishing, though he isn't that good, and has an almost childlike affection for sweets.



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《Shamir Nevrand》
AGE xxxx┇ 31xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Church of Seiros
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'4"xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 131 lbs.

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AASTR 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAALCK 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAMAG 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAADEF 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AADEX 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAARES 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASPD 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌

Shamir is a master of the bow serving as a Knight of Seiros. Until Imperial Year 1175, Shamir was a mercenary working in Dagda, her homeland. After Dagda and Brigid invaded the Adrestian Empire, sparking the Dagda and Brigid War, the Empire counter-invaded both countries. Shamir's homeland was destroyed, and her partner, whom she was in love with, was killed. After that, Shamir traveled to Fódlan and lived as a wanderer until she was taken in by Archbishop Rhea. In gratitude, Shamir pledged her loyalty to Rhea and joined the Knights of Seiros, though she never became a believer in the Church itself. She is a terse, practical personality with a deadpan sense of humor. These days, she spends a lot of time working with Catherine, whom she refers to as her partner. Some have speculated that this is more than a purely platonic connection, but Shamir refuses to comment. After the Siege of Garreg Mach, she and Catherine remained at the Monastery, and serve now in the small group of those who protect it. Shamir leaves fairly often to search for the Archbishop, though it is unclear how devoted she really is to the task.



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《Catherine》
AGE xxxx┇ 33xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Church of Seiros
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'8xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 146 lbs.

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AASTR 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAALCK 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
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AADEX 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAARES 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASPD 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌

Catherine hails from from the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus and was once known as Lady Cassandra, a noblewoman of House Charon, who bears their Major Crest. Catherine is an alumna of the Garreg Mach Monastery Officers Academy. She is a fearsome swordswoman who wields Thunderbrand, one of the legendary weapons known as the Heroes' Relics, and is loyal to Archbishop Rhea. That said, Catherine is conflicted about her actions, as her role in Christophe Lonato's death continues to haunt her, and of late, she has increasingly been questioning the Archbishop's actions. After the Siege of Garreg Mach, she and her partner Shamir remained at the monastery, to watch over it. She now answers to Lady Lyanna, and truthfully finds this much more comfortable than answering to Rhea had been, especially in the months before the Archbishop's disappearance.


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《Sothis》
AGE xxxx┇ ∞xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ ??
xHEIGHT ┇ ??xx.xWEIGHT x┇ ?? lbs.

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AAMAG 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAADEF 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AADEX 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAARES 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASPD 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌

The creator-goddess of the world, Sothis resided for a time on Fódlan, at Zanado. Through circumstances known likely only to people long dead, she died, and through some action of Archbishop Rhea's, came to reside in some form within the body of Cyril Eisner. She grew fond of her vessel, enough so that when he was cast into the void by Solon's magic, Sothis sacrificed herself to help him escape. Fusing her essence to his, she lost her distinct identity and personality. What remains of her now is her power, and this has been slowly seeping into Cyril's body ever since, strengthening and sustaining him. Soon, he will possess the full measure of a creator-god's power, and in some sense, Sothis will once again walk the land she loved most of all.


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《The Divine Seiros》
AGE xxxx┇ ??xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ ??
xHEIGHT ┇ ??xx.xWEIGHT x┇ ?? lbs.

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AASPD 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌

The Divine Seiros, founder of the Church that bears her name, is a mortal who received a divine revelation from the Goddess Sothis. According to Church lore, she was guided to save the people of Fódlan from Nemesis, the tyrant-king bent on conquest and ruin. From the holy site of the Red Canyon, Seiros gathered her army, led by the Four Saints and the Ten Elites, and with the power of Crest magic and legendary artifacts bestowed upon them by the goddess, the army drove out Nemesis and his forces, finally felling him on the Tailtean Plains in the Imperial Year 91. Seiros is said to have slain Nemesis in single combat.



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《Saint Indech》
AGE xxxx┇ ??xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ ??
xHEIGHT ┇ ??xx.xWEIGHT x┇ ?? lbs.

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AAMAG 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAADEF 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AADEX 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAARES 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASPD 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌

Saint Indech is one of the Four Saints of the church of Seiros, who fought alongside her in the so-called War of Heroes. It is said that he was known for his wisdom, as well as his unerring and precise skill with all manner of weaponry, but especially the bow, with which he is often depicted. He is known to have been less adept with other people, however, and as such he is sometimes appealed to by other introverted types, and is the patron as well of hermits and the hunters that live at the fringes of civilization. Like the other Saints, he is believed to now dwell eternally on the Blue Sea Star with the Goddess and his fellows.


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《Saint Macuil》
AGE xxxx┇ ??xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ ??
xHEIGHT ┇ ??xx.xWEIGHT x┇ ?? lbs.

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AADEX 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAARES 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AASPD 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌

Saint Macuil is one of the Four Saints of the church of Seiros. It is said that her gifts for tactics and magic were unparalleled in all of Fódlan during her time, and she served as chief strategist for Seiros and her armies. She was also a pioneering figure of the magical arts and the study of crests. Along with the other three Saints, Macuil is believed to have perished almost a thousand years ago, at the end of her natural lifespan, having aided in Seiros' defeat of Nemesis and ascended to the side of the Goddess Sothis.



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《Saint Cichol》
AGE xxxx┇ ??xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ ??
xHEIGHT ┇ ??xx.xWEIGHT x┇ ?? lbs.

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Saint Cichol is one of the Four Saints of the church of Seiros, and the father of Saint Cethleann. Known for his skill and strength-at-arms, Saint Cichol is said to have been a master of the lance, as well as master of the skies. As Seiros's right hand, he occupied a unique place even among the Saints, and was a battlefield commander of unparalleled charisma. Believed to be the first to have ascended to the side of the goddess, the day after Seiros herself managed the feat.



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《Saint Cethleann》
AGE xxxx┇ ??xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ ??
xHEIGHT ┇ ??xx.xWEIGHT x┇ ?? lbs.

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Saint Cethleann is the gentlest of her peers by far, renowned for her skill with holy magic and her bright, benevolent, and kind nature. The daughter of Saint Cichol, she was young at the time of the War of Heroes; nevertheless her role in the defeat of Nemesis was pivotal. It is believed that she was able to lay a partial seal on the power of Nemesis and his followers, enabling the others to defeat them once and for all. As with all of her kin, she is believed to have earned an eternity at Sothis's side, and to reside now upon the Blue Sea Star, where she looks down upon Fódlan with love and care.







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《Thales》
AGE xxxx┇ ∞xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Those Who Slither
xHEIGHT ┇ ??xx.xWEIGHT x┇ ?? lbs.

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AASPD 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌

As the leader of Those Who Slither in the Dark, Thales is calculating and cruel. He has allied with the Adrestrian Empire for purposes that are unclear, but it is slowly becoming obvious that though the Empire is the tool of his conquest, it is his own underlings, other members of his kind, who are being placed in positions of power, such as Cornelia in the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. He, like the rest of his people, seems to harbor an immense hatred of Sothis and her worshippers. Thales's subordinates are disposable pawns to him, as demonstrated when he saved Kronya from Cyril's wrath only because her death was a necessary part of Solon's void ritual. That said, he keeps the useful ones around as long as he can, and willingly takes on any and all allies who prove themselves to be of value to his cause, even if they happen to be human. Some of his other subordinates disapprove of this, but to Thales if a person is useful, they are useful, and he will not turn them away.


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《Solon》
AGE xxxx┇ ??xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Those Who Slither
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'9xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 159 lbs.

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AASPD 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌

Solon was one of Those Who Slither in the Dark, one of Thales's many magically-inclined underlings. In the year 1180, he killed and impersonated Tomas Kriegfeldt, a longstanding member of the clergy of the Church of Seiros. As Tomas, he was reinstated to his victim's former position as librarian at Garreg Mach Monastery. He masterminded several of the Agarthans' plots in that year, including the experiments on the people of Remire village, an early attempt at mass corruption that would later be refined to turn Academy students into Demonic Beasts, and the death of Jeralt Eisner. In his master stroke, he used Kronya's life force to seal Cyril, whom he called the 'Fell Star,' in the void. Cyril was able to escape, however, and killed Solon shortly after.



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《Kronya》
AGE xxxx┇ ??xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Those Who Slither
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'5xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 130 lbs.

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Kronya was a member of Those Who Slither in the Dark, who killed and replaced Monica von Ochs, the heir to House von Ochs, an Imperial barony on the northern half of the western peninsula known as Fódlan’s Fangs. Monica was a student at the Garreg Mach Officer's Academy last year, but disappeared just before graduation. Because her regent did not contact the Academy in response to their inquiry, it was presumed that she had gone home rather than attempting her final exams, but in fact she was murdered by Kronya, who stole her identity and planted herself in the student body at Garreg Mach. She was revealed several months later, when she feigned peril alongside other students, attacked by Demonic Beasts that were in fact created by her ally, Solon. She assassinated Jeralt Eisner, but was subsequently killed the following month, as a sacrifice for Solon's magic ritual to banish Cyril to the void.


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《Cornelia Arnim》
AGE xxxx┇ ??xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Those Who Slither
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'5"xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 135 lbs.

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AASPD 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌

Cornelia is a mage who is revered as a holy woman in the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. Around Imperial Year 1162, a plague ravaged the Kingdom, claiming the life of the Queen Consort, Sorcha's mother. Cornelia cured the plague, and in gratitude, she was rewarded with a position as a mage in the service of the royal family. She is also an engineer, and has spearheaded several important civic and technological projects in Fhirdiad and Faerghus more generally, including the Kingdom's aqueduct and sewerage systems, once unhygienic and disease ridden. Being the court mage, she's had much interaction with Sorcha since the latter was a young child, and has become something of a mentor figure, recognizing a native intelligence and talent for technological ways of thinking in the Princess. Of course, all of this was in fact a ruse. Cornelia is one of Those Who Slither in the Dark, and her technological knowledge far exceeds that of even her former colleague Solon. She seized control of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, and took Sorcha prisoner, subjecting her to all manner of harm, including extensive memory modification.


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《Matteo Andrea Gloucester》
AGE xxxx┇ 31xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Himself
xHEIGHT ┇ 6'0"xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 170 lbs.

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AASPD 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌

Matteo Andrea Gloucester is hardly what one would refer to as a temperate personality. As the head of the second-most powerful house in the Leicester Alliance, he grew up quite aware of his heritage and all the things it meant—as well as all the things it meant he could get away with. Matteo is well-known within the Alliance for his libertine indulgences and his tendency towards skirt-chasing, which rarely ends as well as he promises it will. He looks out for himself and his house first and foremost. His second priority is enjoying as many of the good things in life as possible; the well-being of his country is a distant third at best. Perhaps unsurprisingly considering these priorities, he swiftly aligned himself with Volkhard and the Empire, and in fact was aware of their intent to invade before they did it. He nurses a burning resentment of Mercer, for engineering his very public defeat and humiliation at the 1180 Roundtable Conference, and Sorcha, for rejecting him at that same time. He volunteered for the same procedure that Vridel underwent as a child, and now bears two Crests: Gloucester and Chevalier, as well as wielding the Axe of Ukonvasara. He is bent on vengeance at all costs, and cares for nothing else any longer. He was killed in Imperial Year 1186 at the Battle of Gronder.






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《Jeralt Eisner》
AGE xxxx┇ ??xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Himself
xHEIGHT ┇ 6'xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 184 lbs.

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Jeralt, also known as The Blade Breaker, is a current mercenary and former Knight of Seiros. After a mysterious incident twenty-one years ago, he disappeared, initially believed killed in a fire that broke out on the grounds of Garreg Mach Monastery. However, for unknown reasons, he actually left the Church and his knighthood at that time, after which point he married and had a son, losing his wife to illness shortly thereafter. Jeralt is a gruff personality, not especially good with people, deeply secretive and slow to trust. Those who knew him before he left the Church have been known to comment that he hardly seems to have changed at all in the twenty years since, sentiments that he shrugs off dismissively. Fond of both drink and fishing, Jeralt is first and foremost a fighter, and always has been. He was killed in Ethereal Moon of the year 1180.




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《Patricia von Arundel》
AGE xxxx┇ 35 (at death)xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Adrestia, Faerghus
xHEIGHT ┇ 5'7"xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 130 lbs.

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Patricia was born to House Arundel, at the time a minor house, and is the younger sister of Volkhard. Her marriage to Emperor Ionius IX raised her house to significantly higher social standing within the Empire. She gave birth to Vridel in Imperial Year 1161. In Imperial Year 1171, when Vridel was 10, her brother, along with some other nobles, instigated a coup against the Emperor known as the Insurrection of the Seven. During the incident, she, Vridel, and several of her other children relocated to the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, where she married King Lambert, becoming his second wife and Sorcha's stepmother. Patricia was never especially maternal with Sorcha, being a rather distant, melancholy woman who seemed to engage minimally with anyone that wasn't her son. Though Vridel eventually returned to the Empire in Imperial Year 1174, Patricia remained in Faerghus as its Queen Consort until her death during the Tragedy of Duscur in Imperial Year 1176.






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《Espera Scutari》
AGE xxxx┇ 52xxxxAFFILIATION ┇ Duscur
xHEIGHT ┇ 6'3xx.xWEIGHT x┇ 190 lbs.

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AASPD 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌ AAACHA 」x ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌

Once a renowned General of Duscur, now the Rebel Leader of what's left of its people. Espera was injured gravely during the Tragedy, however; he was saved by his lieutenant, and daughter, Giulia. She died saving his life, and since then, Espera has harbored a deep hatred for those in Faerghus. His current mission is to find the ones responsible for the massacre of his people, his king and queen, and of his princess. He was thoroughly surprised, however, to find out that Princess Senka still lives. Now that he knows that the royal line isn't gone, he is doing everything in his power to gather the required resources and soldiers to take back their lands. He is a stern, and cunning individual, however; he is not seeking revenge. He only wants justice for his people and his daughter. He is a skilled pegasi rider, who specializes in lances. For the past three years, he has been helping Valeria retake the Duscur Kingdom from Kleiman. It has been a trying time, but they have almost succeeded.


So begins...

Jeralt's Journal's Story

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Ethereal Moon - Sunday the 21st
The Red Canyon - Early Afternoon - Cold
Vridel von Hresvelg


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercer shrugged his shoulders after that.

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“What do you think, Sofi?" she asked.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you, Sen. For all of this."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vridel snorted, but lifted his glass as well.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devon shuddered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Ethereal Moon - Friday the 26th
Garreg Mach Outskirts - Afternoon - Intermittent Rain
Cyril Eisner


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Go around," Cyril told him.

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

Not a problem.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Not a—"

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

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

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

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

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

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

There, Jeralt was offering his hand to Monica—

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

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

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

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

He lunged, grabbing Monica and teleporting them both away.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Dad," he whispered.

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

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

Not—not raindrops.

“Dad... no." Cyril swallowed thickly.

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

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

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

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

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

Jeralt was dead.

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

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

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

“Whatever you need."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Cyril and Vridel."

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

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

He shuddered at the thought.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You're lying."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He probably would, at that.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thank you," he said softly.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Happy Birthday, Vridel."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I'll always takes kisses, you know."

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

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

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

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

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

This woman.

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vi snorted. “Definitely a change."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

at least they had more help now.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


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


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

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

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

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

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

“Professor?" he inquired.

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

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

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

“I know the feeling," Vridel said simply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Thanks, Cyril."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

That was it.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Vridel snickered.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No."

“Ouch, Sen. That hurts."

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

“And now you've corrupted Thea."

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

Sorcha laughed.

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1181 - Guardian Moon - Friday the 31st
The Sealed Forest - Afternoon - Overcast
Cyril Eisner


It was Reynard who came through with the tip.

Apparently, one of his contacts, a hunter in the village of Garreg Mach, had spotted some suspicious activity on the outskirts of what was commonly called the Sealed Forest—an area for some reason forbidden to most entry or activity. He'd thought it to be poachers, or something of the kind, but when the information had filtered back to Vridel's master of whispers, he'd been immediately suspicious.

It was a matter of only a few hours to assemble the group and head for the forest—quite without anyone's permission. That, of course, was something none of them much cared about, at this point. Cyril found he could not care about it. What would the Archbishop do, even if she disapproved? Spread more rumors about his students? Dismiss him? At this point he was fairly certain she was running out of ammunition—and there were far greater concerns here. His father's killers may well await in this forest, and if so, it just might be that answers did, too. The truth they were now all seeking.

Of course, nothing was ever quite so simple, and so when Sorcha and Mercer landed to report that they'd indeed spotted Monica ahead, it was with the complicating news that not only was she in the company of two demonic beasts, but also a platoon of what seemed to be the Flame Emperor's soldiers, from the way they were dressed.

Cyril pulled in a breath. “Everyone ready? We're almost certainly going to need to go through everything else to get to her, and the path splits ahead. You all know what that means."

“Yeah, we'll need to split up," Mercer spoke, glancing in Sorcha's direction. “The two of us can cover the sky, but everyone else will need to split up and take a direction. There are ten people in total, here, eleven if we count Reynard. Take Sorcha and myself out of the equation, and we have eight people."

“Thea, Vi, Deirdre, and Sofia, can take the left path. Devon, Sylvi, Cyril, and myself can take the right. It leaves us all balanced in terms of who is skilled in what particular area. Vi and I can alternate between our magic and weapons, as need be," Senka spoke, her eyes sliding towards Sorcha for a moment before turning back to the group.

“We're ready, Professor," Thea stated as she gripped Amyr tightly in her hands. Sylvi and Deirdre both nodded as well.

It was perhaps a strange time to be feeling pride, but he did. All of them had come quite far indeed from the time he'd met them. There wasn't a one of them now that could not confidently formulate a sound strategy, not even those who were generally not confident, like Devon or Sorcha.

Cyril nodded. “What's the rule?" he asked, because he needed the reminder as much now, with his father's killer before him, as any of them ever had.

“Look out for each other first," Vridel started, drawing his sword.

“—and don't leave anyone behind," Sorcha finished. “We've got your back, Professor." She turned to Mercer, nocking her bow loosely and giving him a short nod. “Let's go."

They took off, and the rest of the group split as Senka had suggested. Cyril pulled Reynard aside. “Stay in my shadow," he said, softly enough that no one else could hear. “I don't know what I'm going to do when we face her, but if you have to remind me of my own rule with a knife, do it." It wasn't something he could ask of just anyone. He'd never have asked it of Senka, or any of the others in his group. Mercer or Vridel maybe, but he knew Reynard was practical enough to see the request for what it was, and experienced enough to follow through when it counted.

He nodded once, shortly, and faded into the surroundings.

Satisfied, Cyril took up the Arrow and a spot at the front of the group. Immediately in their path was a demonic beast; channeling lightning through the Arrow, he let fly at the same time as Devon shot a pair of actual arrows, softening it considerably for Sylvi to crash into at melee distance. He moved up to join her, drawing the creature's attention while spells and projectiles flowed in from behind.

Senka charged a few dark spells of her own, mostly saggitae, in order to keep the beast from focusing for too long on one specific person. She occasionally switched to Blutgang in order to fend off the beast's swipes, while Sylvi dodged beneath it, cutting under its belly as much as she could. The hide was thicker than normal, but she and Senka managed to wear it down between blades and spells. They moved on when their beast was felled, only to encounter a few of the soldiers.

Immediately, Sylvi and Senka engaged, Senka unleashing a wind spell in order to disorient one of the soldiers so that Sylvi could follow up with her axe, cutting into the man's shoulder. As quickly as she could, Sylvi brought it up to silence the man as he attempted to scream. Senka engaged a cavalier with Libi, fending off his lance thrusts as best as she could.

From a distance, it sounded like Vridel's group had felled their beast as well, and were currently engaged with a ground unit.

Arrows flew in thick and fast all around, occasionally accompanied by a gust of air as either Mercer or Sorcha swooped their mounts in overhead. The others were Devon's; Few so much as missed a mark, finding joints and gaps in armor like they were live and seeking them. Cyril kept up the pressure from the front, occasionally firing heavy bolts of lightning into the clusters of enemies ahead, to break their formations and make it all the easier to crash into their lines.

The Flame Emperor's soldiers simply didn't stand a chance.

Finally, Monica came within view. Cyril hefted the Arrow, ready to throw it and charge in behind, but as if anticipating this, she was suddenly covered in a column of darkness. For a moment, he feared she'd teleported away yet again, but when the strange fulmination disappeared, she was—

“Another one." Vridel's group had caught up from the other side around the same time.

He wasn't wrong—Monica seemed to have completely changed forms, as Solon had from the form of Tomas months ago. The woman standing there now had an almost... it reminded him of nothing so much as the harlequin costumes he'd occasionally seen entertainers don for festivals, if twisted. Her hair was orange rather than white, but her skin was that same greyed out color as belonged to Solon and the other man.

“Monica, you bitch," Vridel didn't bother to let her say anything before he shot a spell at her, but she nimbly tumbled away from the flames, a knife in each hand, edges serrated wickedly. Her smile resembled that same kind of edge, paired unnaturally with a light, almost girlish giggle.

“Oh, Vi. Try not to take it too personally. I was just so curious about Thales's favorite little pawn. And the name's Kronya, not Monica."

“I don't care what your name is," Cyril hissed, channelling a bolt of lightning through the arrow. She tried to dodge aside, but it caught her in the arm, leaving a heavy, blackened scorch mark and burning away most of her long, black sleeve.

She snarled, but a quick glance at everyone facing her now was enough to convince her she had no chance, and so instead of trying to fight, she fled, turning tail and running deeper into the forest.

Cyril wasn't about to allow it, and took off after her at a sprint.

The others followed suit, running behind Cyril as they attempted to chase Kronya. She managed to dodge the arrows from Devon, Mercer, and Sorcha, as well as the occasional spell sent her way. She seemed to be anticipating the moves of those behind her, however; a well-placed saggitae followed by an arrow from Mercer, managed to catch Kroyna in the leg. It was enough to send her sprawling into a large, arena-like area as she rolled to her feet. She turned towards them, blade in hand, as she panted heavily.

“Give it up, Monica or Kronya, whoever you are," Mercer spoke, fitting an arrow to his bow, and aiming it at the woman. “You've no where to go, and you're outnumbered."

Kronya staggered, then firmed her balance on what must have once been the foundations of some stone building, arena or otherwise. Grass poked up from between the stones, and a few columns still stood, but other than that it had long crumbled. “How?" she rasped, tearing the arrow out of her leg. The wound seemed to begin healing immediately afterwards. “How could I lose to lowly creatures like you?!"

Cyril brandished the Arrow, taking a deliberate step forward. With cliffs behind her, she was all but cornered, and he didn't mean to let her get away. There were questions that needed answering—and crimes to answer for. His father's death, yes, but Thea's kidnapping, too, and perhaps even the Tragedy of Duscur itself, if Sorcha was right that the Flame Emperor had been there.

“Well." In a borst of conjured shadow, Solon appeared, directly behind Kronya. She whirled; Cyril hesitated only because he was expecting the third man as well. Perhaps this Thales she had mentioned.

“Solon!" Kronya snapped. “Don't just stand there and stare; I need your help!"

“Yes," Solon agreed, shifting closer. “You most certainly do."

Cyril charged a spell in his hand; behind him, he heard the creak of a bow being drawn back.

But before he could think to lunge, Solon had reached forward and plunged his hand right into Kronya's chest cavity, lifting her thus as though it were no effort at all. Her feet left the stone; dangling limply in the air; her eyes were wide with shock and horror.

“Don't worry, Kronya," Solon mused, in what Cyril supposed was genuinely meant to be a reassuring tone. “Your sacrifice will help to rid this world of the filthy vermin that have long infested it.

Cyril waited no longer, leaping forward and charging for Solon. If he was going to leave himself so open, then so be it.

But the moment his feet crossed the threshold of the ruined stone floor, Solon smirked. Around the perimeter sprung up what looked like deep black fire, cutting him abruptly off from his students. Alarmed, Sorcha tried to shoot through it, but the arrow incinerated on contact, vaporizing in a sizzling rush of air. Though she stood close, Cyril could feel no heat.

[color=#4C0F75]“Stay back,"
he said, loud enough for all of them to hear. He couldn't risk that doing to them what it had done to the arrow.

In his moment of distraction, tendrils of the fire lashed forward, catching him by the arms and lifting him from the ground. The Arrow clattered to the stone, torn from his grip.

“Solon," Kronya begged. “Stop this, please!" Slowly, the flames were engulfing her, too, as if he were using her very life to fuel the magic.

“The time has finally come," Solon said, ignoring her pleas entirely. “To unleash the Forbidden Spell of Zaharas upon our enemies!" The flames flared, growing so thick Cyril could barely see the shape of the man in front of him, but he could hear the squelch and tearing flesh as he ripped Kronya's heart from her body and crushed it in his hand.

She fell, somehow still alive, head lolled back enough to see where he was bound.

“Please..." she extended a hand towards him, shadows roiling and coalescing until his vision was entirely blotted. Her voice was a strange echo in the void that swallowed him.

“Help... me..."

He wasn't sure how much time passed. If any time passed at all. All sense of space and time seemed to have abandoned him in the void that had swallowed him. He was—cold, and yet also not. It was a strange sort of sensation, not so different from how he felt in winter: he could acknowledge the chill, and yet there was a way in which he did not quite feel it. Not as others seemed to.

“You fool! What were you thinking, charging into an enemy's trap?!" A bright burst of green lit the void before him, and Sothis appeared from it, scowling mightily atop her stone throne. “Are you just a boulder that rolls down whatever hill it's on? No, even a boulder has more sense!"

“And how should I have known what to expect?" he asked, feeling himself... strangely calm. “It is not as though either of us has been able to remember or discover anything that would have made this seem even possible."

That seemed to take a bit of the steam out of her, but there was a definite sense of urgency remaining. Something not so far from panic. “This darkness is terrifying," she admitted, casting her eyes about. He doubted somehow that she could see any more than he could. Somehow he doubted there was anything to see. “As you and I are one, I too am trapped within this void. But please consider this: this realm of darkness that we are in is separate from the world from which you came. Meaning that it would take a god to leave this place." She stared at him intently. “In time, our hearts and minds will cease to be. Are you prepared to die?"

Die?

Cyril had never thought much of death before. It had been the kind of thing that was simply a reality of his profession. That he would die on the field seemed to be the kind of inevitability that could be only delayed, because he knew nothing but battle. Could not live in any other way. And yet... and yet now there were other things to live for. Other people.

Her face flashed so easily over the surface of his thoughts. He knew it well, now: the arch of her brow, the curve of her nose, that subtle way her lips turned when she smiled.

“No," he said simply. “I'm not."

“I thought as much," Sothis replied with a heavy sigh. “I also do not wish to die. And yet..." She sighed again, brows furrowing heavily. “There is no other choice."

“What do you mean, choice? Didn't you just say we were trapped?" Cyril regarded her with a frown, trying to puzzle out her meaning. She'd said it would take a god, but wasn't she already...?

“Do you recall your father's diary?" she asked. “He said you were a child who never cried nor laughed. I think I am to blame. I must have been asleep, but even then, I feel I was a part of you. I do not know how Rhea managed it, but she allowed me to exist inside of you. The truth is... I have always been with you. It is within you that I found my power yet again. The power of a goddess. The power of the progenitor god."

“You really are Sothis?" he asked. She hadn't been sure before, but it seemed now she was utterly certain.

She nodded, leaning sideways on the throne to rest her chin in her hand. “I am the one who watches over Fódlan and all the creatures dwelling there. She who died, and then returned."

“Died?" Nothing anyone had ever said mentioned Sothis having died, much less as having returned from it.

She shook her head. “There is not enough time to explain," she said. “There is but one thing left to do to save us from this darkness, and it must be done quickly. I must now use the power of a god. However... I lack a body of my own, and so... as ever, I must relinquish my power to you. Only this time, I must give you everything that I have. Everything that I am. And when that comes to pass... then I suppose I shall disappear."

Cyril blinked, sure his startlement had to show on his face. “Disappear? You're certain?"

She huffed softly. “Concerned for me? When I say disappear, I do not mean that all I am will be no more. I mean that part of me, my essence, my power—what you might call my soul—will join with yours. And so... I will no longer have the chance to speak with you. I shall miss it. So long have I been on this path with you," she continued, her voice dropping into a murmur. “Through you, I got to see and hear this world. I even got to chastise you from time to time." That, she said a little more lightly, with a huff and a soft smile. “I may not have acted like a goddess but... it was certainly fun. For all that you have done, thank you. I am glad that it was you to whom my fate was bound."

“Sothis... are you sure there's no other way to do this?"

She shook her head, her smile turning to something he thought was perhaps fond. “I'm certain, Cyril. But do not mourn me, for I shall not truly be gone. Now—we must pray. If we share this wish, then our spirits two will join as one. Your wish... is to return to the forest, stop the enemy, and rescue your students. Of this, I am quite sure."

He nodded, even though she needed no confirmation, and Sothis returned it, bracing her hand on the armrest of her throne and standing. Descending towards him, she tilted her chin up to meet his eyes. “Your will and mine are now the same. Both sides of time are revealed to you—and you alone. You know I am the Beginning... what shall you do?"

From the dais burst forth an golden light, surrounding both of them in an aureate corona so bright it almost blinded him. Sothis levitated more than a foot off the ground, reaching an equal height with him. “Give me your hand," she intoned, her voice taking on a strange, almost self-harmonizing double pitch.

Cyril extended his arm out towards her, as if to request her hand for a dance. She smiled, laughing softly as she placed hers into it and stepped forward. Her form blurred, glowed, then dissolved into light, and a warm spread through his body where the particles of her came to rest.

All at once, he understood what he needed to do, and reached for the sword on his back, glowing that same, fire-hot red-gold. Raising it above his head, he channeled that warmth, that heat and light, into the blade itself, and swung powerfully down. Though it should have caught nothing but air, he felt the void around him tremble and somehow catch and tear as he rent through the boundary between dimensions. Stepping through the tear he'd made, he dropped back to the cracked stone foundation from which he'd been sent to the void in the first place.

Solon was staring at him with wide, fearful eyes. “So the Fell Star consumed even the darkness itself," he murmured.

“Teach!" Mercer shouted as the others all stared at Cyril. “Is that... really you? You..." Mercer began before shaking his head. “Doesn't matter. You're back. Let's go kick their ass for trying what they did!" Everyone gripped their weapons as tightly as they could. Solon had, somehow, managed to summon more soldiers and two more demonic beasts. He continued to regard Cyril with a look like fear and awe mixed together.

“What did you see in the darkness of Zahras?" he questioned, his brows furrowing lightly. “This should be impossible. The only being that can withstand that darkness is..." he trailed off almost unsure of himself. “Unless I dispose of you myself, I may never have the chance to send you back there!" he shouted, gripping tight the weapon in his hand.

“You're not sending anyone back anywhere!" Senka snarled, the Crest on her forehead evident for all to see. She was angry, it was easy to tell, but so were the others. Mercer's brows were furrowed deeply, his lips pulled into a deep frown, and Amalthea looked angry, perhaps because they were. Senka spurred Libi forward, charging at one of the soldiers before making her way towards one of the beasts. Sylvi and Mercer were not too far behind her while Deirdre stayed behind to hurl dark magic at some of the other soldiers who tried to flank them.

Sorcha charged forward on Lady, lance gripped like a jouster, dealing one of the beasts a heavy gouge in its side before the pegasus leaped into the air to carry her away from potential retaliation. Vridel, not one but both Crests active, hurled a thick rain of fire spells in both hands, dropping a heavy meteor hit on the beast Sorcha had weakened and destroying it on the spot. Devon and Reynard worked around the edges of the fight, picking off more soldiers, while Sofia held her ground solidly against the second beast.

Cyril took the opportunity to charge directly for Solon, Sword of the Creator almost alive and pulsing in his grip. He could still feel the strange power washing over him in waves; much of it was almost beyond his control at this point. It felt like everything about him had sharpened, become stronger, faster, keener somehow. Enough so that he almost overshot the mark when he leaped for the old man.

His first swing barely missed because of it; Solon was visibly shaking. “I am terrified by you," he admitted, almost unwittingly. “Even though an emotion like fear has no place inside me." His expression hardened; he gripped his staff in white-knuckled fingers. “That means you must be eliminated."

“Try."

Solon gathered the magic for a spell, but Cyril was quicker, lashing out with the blade and opening a deep line in the man's body, from one hip up to the opposite shoulder. He collapsed to his knees, gripping his abdomen with both hands.

“To think I could lose to such beasts," he choked, pulling in a wheezing gasp. “But this is not the end. Thales will carry out our mission, somehow..." He collapsed, and breathed no more.

Cyril sighed heavily, sheathing the blade and turning towards his students.

Senka ran at him, arms flinging around him as she gripped tightly to him. “Cyril," she choked out, her arms tightening around him. “I thought... I thought," she couldn't seem to finish her sentence as she shook lightly. She took in a shuddering breath, and buried her face into his shoulder.

“Yeah, Teach, you gave us quite a scare," Mercer stated, his face pulled into a deep frown. Amalthea's eyes were red and slightly puffy as if she had been crying, but nodded her head as well. “What happened to you?" he asked, arching a brow at Cyril. Senka shook her head from where she currently rested it.

“Doesn't matter. You're here, and safe, and... I didn't lose you," she whispered softly enough that only Cyril could hear.

If anything, he only hugged her tighter. He didn't have the words to tell her what he'd learned in there—how it had been the thought of her above all else that made him want to live. Want to come back. So he said the only thing he could think of.

“I'm here, Senka. I'm here. I promise." It was, in a way, a promise kept, and made again. That he would always come when she needed him. Though in this case it felt even more keenly like he needed her.

“You, uh, also look kinda different, Teach. Not... drastically so, but..." he trailed off as if he didn't know how else to explain it.

“It's your eyes," Sorcha said softly, respectful of the moment. “They almost... glow. And your pupils... they're... like a cat's?"

“Or a lizard's," Reynard supplied helpfully. “What happened, exactly?"

Still moving his hand up and down Senka's back, Cyril did his best to explain. “Solon's spell cast me into some kind of... void. Dark, cold; it felt endless. But then Sothis..." he paused, knowing that some of his students were yet unaware of that part but figuring he could backtrack and explain later. “She said the power of a god was required to pass back through. And so she... fused her power, to mine, and I cut through, like you saw."

He could swear Vridel said something there, but it was suddenly as though his hearing had faded out altogether. His vision blurred; he had just enough wherewithal to let go of Senka before darkness swallowed him and he collapsed.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Wednesday the 4th
Courtyard - Early Afternoon - Clear
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea sighed as she tried to read the book in her hands. She didn't pass her written exams last month to become a fortress knight. She wasn't sure if it was because she missed a question, or if she'd gotten a scenario wrong, however; she felt pretty depressed about it. She was trying so hard, and yet she couldn't pass the test. Pushing a sigh through her nose, she closed the book and pursed her lips together. Everyone was going to meet at the gazebo by the knights' hall courtyard, and Amalthea was currently waiting for them. It had been nearly five days since Professor Cyril collapsed, and though he had recovered two days ago, Senka had yet to leave his side.

Thea thought it was somewhat justified. Senka had been worried, but Professor was fine, now. Or about as fine as he could get all things considered. Shaking the thought from her head, she waved when she spotted Mercer. He was by himself, oddly enough, but he waved back towards her.

“Looks like I'm first," he stated, arching a brow in Thea's direction. “Where's your other half? It's not like you to be without him," he stated, causing Thea to roll her eyes. She could feel her cheeks heat up, but she pursed her lips at Mercer.

“I could say the same about you and Sorcha," she murmured, earning a light chuckle from Mercer. “And besides, it's not like we always have to be with each other. Just because you're with someone doesn't mean you have to be glued to their side every minute of the day," she continued. Mercer shrugged his shoulders lightly.

“Oh? So you're saying you grew bored of him already? That'll break his fragile little heart, Thea. How cruel!?" he exclaimed, placing a hand over his heart as if he were truly offended.

“You're not funny, Mercer von Riegan. I just know how to be respectful and give people their space when they need it. I'm not clingy unlike someone else I know," she stated, giving Mercer the best flat look she could muster. He laughed and shook his head.

“I'm not clingy, Thea. Just practical."

As it happened, the unknowing subjects of discussion arrived together, apparently deep in discussion about something. Thea knew Sorcha had taken a bit more of an interest in white magic lately; it was hardly surprising that she'd be consulting with Vridel about something like that. He was the most accomplished healer on their team by far, after all.

When they drew closer, Vridel angled away to take the seat immediately next to Thea, putting an arm companionably over her shoulders and pressing a greeting kiss to her temple. “Get your exam results back yet?" he asked, tilting his head at her. He must have picked up on something, though, because he shook his head. “Never mind. Boring topic. More interestingly, bets on whether Sen and the Professor actually show today?"

Mercer seemed to wait until Sorcha had seated herself before he draped his arms over her shoulders, and leaned his head on top of hers. He wasn't sitting, and Thea was pretty sure that was an uncomfortable position to be in, however; he didn't seem to mind, and instead, grinned. She, on the other hand, flushed, shifting her shoulders in a token protest but not really trying to dislodge him.

“I bet they do. He passed out four days ago, and woke up two days ago. He seemed mostly fine when I saw him, yesterday," Mercer stated, removing himself from Sorcha and taking a seat next to her.

“I don't see why they wouldn't show today, otherwise," Thea stated as she shifted herself to glance up at Vridel. “And to answer your earlier question, I failed. It's alright, though. I'll just have to study harder to pass the next round before graduation," she stated. While she had been upset about not passing her exam, she would just have to study harder to pass them the next time they came up. If she remembered correctly, they would right before graduation. If not, she supposed she could always take them some other time.

“What about you all? How did your exams go?"

“You may call me Dark Bishop Vridel," he said dryly, “but please don't." It was a bit of a rare choice, considering that those kinds of magics were frowned upon to some extent by the Church, but Thea knew Vridel was interested in mastering all three schools of magic in addition to the sword, so for him it made a lot of sense, as it would allow him access to restricted sections of the library into which most were not permitted to go, and the dark tomes therein.

“I passed," Sorcha said with a shrug. “Maybe barely; I'm not really good enough with swords, but I think it helps that my lance and flying scores were where they needed to be, so I'm a falcon knight now, I suppose. I'm still not going to wear that dumb uniform with the short skirt—who does that?"

Mercer arched a brow at Sorcha's statement. “That's a shame, really. I wouldn't have minded seeing you in a short skirt. I think it would have looked rather lovely on you, Sor, especially with your height. Your legs would have definitely been one of your better assets," he stated, grinning at her as he leaned closer towards her.

She deliberately placed her hand sideways over his mouth and used it to push him away from her. “That's quite enough out of you," she said, about the same color as a ripe tomato.

Mercer placed a kiss on Sorcha's hand as she pushed his face away. “Hm, I don't think it is."

Thea chuckled lightly at his antics but shook her head. It seemed both Vridel and Sorcha had passed their exams. She should have known they would have. They were both... extraordinary, in Thea's mind.

“I passed as well, so I suppose that means you can call me lord of the wyverns," he stated, waggling his eyebrows in a suggestive way. Thea rolled her eyes again, and giggled lightly.

“Well, considering how Sir loves his fish, we'll just have to refer to you as Lord Fish Face, now," she stated, causing Mercer to feign a hurtful look.

“You wound me so, Thea. You've been spending too much time with Vi. He's corrupting you."

“I don't mind, really."

Vridel snickered, though his attention did move to where Reynard approached, taking a seat and casually propping his feet up on one of the tables beneath the gazebo. “Rey. Don't suppose you've made it official?"

“As a matter of fact, yes," he said, taking an ironic, seated bow. “Now the Church knows what has always been true: yours truly is an assassin." It was hard to tell how seriously he meant that, because it was delivered in a very light tone, but though the class sounded bad it really usually just referred to someone good at weaving around unnoticed, who used swords or knives and bows. That had always been true of Reynard.

“Congratulations, everyone." Cyril and Senka had, it seemed, arrived. The Professor ruffled Thea's hair as he took a seat. “I saw your test; you were very close. We'll talk about the question you missed on Monday, all right?"

Thea beamed at Cyril, and nodded her head. “I'm glad you're doing better, Professor," she stated as glanced towards Senka. “And what about you, Sen?" she asked. Senka pursed her lips together and shook her head.

“I didn't take the exams this time. I'm not... entirely sure what I want to do, still, but I'm happy to stay as a cavalier, for now," she replied, smiling softly in Thea's direction. It always made Thea feel slightly giddy with that smile. It was pretty on Senka, and Thea was glad that she continued to wear it.

“Well that's alright. You make a really good one, the best I've ever seen," she spoke, earning a light chuckle from Sen.

“Yours truly has officially become a Brawler!" Sylvi stated as she appeared, startling Thea that she nearly fell out of her chair. “Sorry Thea, didn't mean to scare you. I'm just very, very excited! That means the next round of exams, and I can try out for grappler! I'm so close," she continued, smiling about as brightly as Thea could usually manage.

“That's good news, Sylvi! That means you're the first ever woman brawler!" Thea was legitimately excited for Sylvi. She knew that the gender-specific classes were always a bit of a hindrance for Sylvi, but Thea was glad that she was able to take the exams.

Last to arrive were Sofia, Devon, and Deirdre. Devon hadn't quite passed the sniper exams, either, something he felt was probably because he'd spent a lot of time recently trying to get better with his knives. He only laughed nervously at Reynard's suggestion that he be an assassin instead. Sofia, though, had elected to change course a bit and become a paladin for the moment.

“I need to practice riding more anyway," she explained. “I'm comfortable enough in armor, but I need an official mount if I'm going to get anywhere with my horsemanship, so..." she shrugged.

“I'd be more than happy to help with lessons if you'd like, Sofia," Senka offered. Deirdre huffed lightly but grinned nonetheless.

“I didn't take the exams this time, either. I want to be a dark bishop, too, but his princeliness has beaten me to it," Deirdre stated, pursing her lips in Vridel's direction. Thea laughed lightly as she shook her head. “I actually want to be a warlock, but I still need to practice more in my dark magic and raise my certs. I'll catch up, though, just you watch," she continued. Deirdre was, oddly, competitive, Thea thought, but she could see how it would be endearing as well.

“Well I suppose we're all on the right paths. Some of us, anyway," Mercer stated as he caught his chin in his hand, and leaned against the table. “It'll be a shame to have to say goodbye next month," he stated, a hint of melancholy seeping into his voice. Thea pursed her lips together as the sudden realization dawned on her. She supposed he was right, but it wasn't going to be forever.

“You know," Vridel said, fingers tapping a soft rhythm on Thea's shoulder, “Just about five years from now, the monastery will be exactly a millennium old. I'm sure there will be some grand event held here to celebrate. Perhaps we could all gatecrash? As... distinguished alumni of the Officers' Academy, if you will."

“Are you suggesting we show up in fancy dress to drink all the Archbishop's liquor?" Sorcha asked, arching a brow. A smile of amusement played over her face, but Vridel nodded.

“Essentially, yes."

“I like that idea," Mercer chimed in. Sylvi and Deirdre nodded as did Senka. Thea liked the idea, as well. It meant that in five years' time, they would all return here to celebrate. Whether they actually showed up in fancy dress, was another thing, though.

“Let's make a promise, then. To meet again in five years after graduation," Thea stated as she glanced at the people in front of her.

“I can agree to that. Even if we keep in touch through letters, it would be nice to be able to see all of you again," Senka added. Thea placed her hand out and glanced at the group.

“Let's all shake on it, and make a promise."

“Kind of hard to shake everyone's hands at once," Sorcha pointed out, putting her hand on top of Thea's. “How about like this?"

Vridel shrugged and added his, and one by one they created a stack of their hands, until everyone was included. Cyril was last, and when he added his, he spoke. “Five years, then, on the day of the millennium ball. I'll be here, and I expect to see all of you, too." He smiled a little, pressing down just a bit on their combined hands before letting up so everyone could taken theirs back.

It was a promise.

Thea looked forward to it.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Sunday the 8th
Training Grounds - Afternoon - Chilly
Sorcha Blaiddyd


Today was the day, and Sorcha... well, Sorcha had a plan. Sort of.

She'd gotten as far as getting Mercer to agree to participate in the inter-house bow tournament today, the last one of the kind for the Academy year. It would be, she thought, a fitting way to cap off the rivalry that had become so much more to her than that. Or, well—perhaps it was better to say that it always had been more than that, whatever she'd thought at the time.

Things had been... strange, since the ball. It wasn't as though admitting they had feelings for each other had really changed anything—they still both had duties and lives that were going to carry them away from each other and so aside from occasionally doing something like slinging an arm over her shoulders or something, not much had changed in the way Mercer behaved towards her. Even less had changed in the way Sorcha behaved towards him, because she had no desire to rub salt in either of their wounds. Her heart was set to break in a couple of months, and knowing this with the certainty she did only meant it was already breaking. If they somehow got closer than they were, she knew it would only be worse in the end.

And yet.

And yet here she was, with the world's most idiotic plan. Because some part of her just had to know.

She wasn't really worried about the other participants; Reynard wasn't interested and as good as Devon was, he wasn't as good as she or Mercer. Anyone taking part in the tournament who'd been paying the last bit of attention to anything knew the only decent competition for the von Reigan heir was her, and Sorcha was not expected to win even then. But dammit, was she going to ever try.

Stringing her bow, she waited for Mercer to appear. There were, after all, terms to set here.

It was only a moment later when Mercer did arrive, dressed in a sleeveless tunic and a pair of dark trousers. When his eyes landed on her, he grinned and waved, walking slowly in her direction almost delibrately. “Hey Sor," he greeted, the grin still on his face as he arched a brow at her. “You almost ready for the tournament?" he asked, his head tilting lightly to the right, almost as if he were studying her face.

“Almost," she replied with a nod, her face quite serious. “The only thing left to do is arrange the terms of the wager. I propose that whoever wins is owed a favor of their choice at a time and place of their choosing. Does that sound agreeable to you?"

“Hm," he seemed to think the terms over, his brows furrowed and he held his chin between his forefinger and thumb. “Alright, I don't see why not," he finally spoke after a moment. “I'll agree to the terms. Whoever wins gets owed a favor. I kind of like that," he added, grinning slightly in that mischievous way he usually did. It slowly faded, though, as he regarded her with a serious stare.

“You've come a long way, Sor. I hope you know that I'm not going to go easy on you, and I'm going to give it everything I've got. If you're prepared for that, well... I guess I've taught you well," he stated, smiling softly before he shook his head.

“You'd better," she replied, narrowing her eyes at him. “I've seen you shoot enough times to know what it looks like when you're trying. If you go easy on me I'll never forgive you." She meant it, in a way—this was important to her, and while she didn't exactly expect to win, she wanted to. Hoped for it, even. But maybe, if she lost, she'd have to find the courage to be more direct, and that wouldn't be so bad, either, if she could manage it somehow.

Tearing her eyes from his face was a difficult thing to do—while it was certainly not the reason she loved him, it was a very handsome face—but they had a tournament to participate in. It was rather unforgiving, too: a tournament bracket, with each match lasting only three shots apiece. Fortunately, as the entrants with the highest bow certs, she and Mercer were starting at opposite sides of the bracket, and would meet in the finals, assuming neither was knocked out before that.

Sorcha shot against one of the Black Eagles, first, clustering hers closely at the center of the target. Considering one of his went wide entirely, she was easily the victor, and expected much the same to be the case in Mercer's early rounds.

As it turned out, Mercer did, indeed, hit all of his targets near the center. While he was skilled, he made a show of it by closing his eyes on his last shot, and hitting the target nearly dead-center. He grinned at Sorcha, winking in her direction before the next round. His next opponent was a member of his own house, a Golden Deer, who specialized in bows as well. Mercer, however, proved, once again, that he was the better shot in his house by stacking all three arrows near the center of the target. One of his arrows had split the other in half, while the last arrow sat almost a centimeter to the right.

It almost looked like he was showing off, however; the way his brows were furrowed during the next round, meant that he was taking this as seriously as he said he would.

Still, it wasn't as though she couldn't appreciate his flair for these things. Truth be told, she always had, she'd just... used to be very annoyed by the fact. It hadn't really helped with what she saw as the problem of her attraction to him—still didn't, come to think of it. But at the very least she'd sort of accepted that this was a problem with no solution, and so she didn't completely hate the way her stomach fluttered like that when he winked at her.

It was a little pathetic, though. All in all she'd made it so very easy for him to charm her that she wasn't entirely sure what to make of it. She should still hate it, probably—looking at it one way, all it had taken to fling the Princess of Faerghus head-over-heels was a flirt with a winning smile and excellent aim. Or at least she was sure that would be how they told it, if anyone back home should find out that she loved him.

There was so much more to him than that, though. In a way, it irked her that no one would notice. Would see past the obvious to the substance underneath.

Her second round opponent was likewise trivial, but she wound up meeting Devon in the semifinals, who made a respectable center cluster of shots. Sorcha's cluster was tighter, though, and he grinned at her ruefully when he lost.

“I don't even have to ask you to do your best for the Lions, I know, but I'll be cheering for you!" he said.

“Thanks Devon," she replied with a smaller answering smile. It was time for the finals, though, and she was quite duly distracted.

Mercer rolled out his shoulders as he glanced at Sorcha, the grin still on his face as he regarded her with an arched brow. “You ready to see which one of us is the better shot?" he asked, making a satisfied noise when his shoulders popped, and slumped them. “I told you, I wasn't going to go easy on you, but the fact that you've made it this far, Sor..." he trailed off, his features softening for just a moment. He held her gaze for what seemed like hours, however; he shook his head.

She was sure hers must have pinked under the scrutiny; sometimes when he looked at her like that, she really thought—

“I've said it before, and I'll say it again. I'm really proud of you. You've come a long... long way," he spoke, shifting his bow into his left hand as he pulled at the string as if to test it out. “Winner takes all, right? Do you want to go first, or should I take the first shot?" he stated, motioning towards the targets that were in front of them.

“It doesn't matter who goes first, but... well, it'll just give either of us the opportunity to pull for the win," he spoke, grinning slyly at her.

Trying to scrape her wits together, she nodded. Probably best to get hers over with before her nerves shredded entirely. “I'll go first," she said. In a way, it was an offer of trust: it would be much easier for him to let her win if he went second and knew what he was up against. She was, however, trusting him not to do that, something she knew he was more than clever enough to pick up on.

When the announcer called for the first participant to take their shot, she headed up to the line, exhaling a soft breath and raising her bow, just as she'd been taught. She, unlike Mercer, was right-handed, but other than their postures being a mirror of each other, all the same rules applied. Back straight, feet apart, elbow tucked in and not jutting out at an angle. Draw back to the cheekbone, sight down the shaft, and relax the fingers to release.

The first arrow flew true, hitting the target dead-center, not even a centimeter off. The second was about half an inch to the right, and the third landed directly between, actually shaving a curl of wood off the bullseye arrow. It wasn't quite splitting it in half, but it was damn close. She knew Mercer could shoot better than this, but he'd have to manage his best to do it. Which meant he had to want to win probably as much as she did. And that was all right by her—because if he cared that much, then there was a sense in which she'd already won.

His brows were furrowed as he was called up next. He glanced towards Sorcha, the grin on his face no longer present, and instead, a rather serious expression crossed his features. It was rare for him to wear one like that, but it was an indication that he was, in fact, going to take this every bit as serious as Sorcha was. He glanced at her targets, almost as if he were assessing them, before glancing towards his own. With one last glance in her direction, he nocked an arrow to his bow, and lifted it up. The first arrow was reminiscent to hers, hitting the target dead center.

When he nocked the second arrow, and let it fly, it split his first arrow in half. His eyes were still focused as he fitted his last arrow into the bow. He seemed to contemplate this one, taking in a deep breath as he brought his bow up, eyes focused on the target ahead. It was only a moment later when he let the arrow fly, and the sound of wood being split entered the air. His third arrow managed to split his second arrow in half, as well, hitting the target in the center.

That was it.

Mercer had won, and he turned towards her with a large grin on his face. There was applause from somewhere, but his eyes seemed fixated only on her, and he made his way to stand in front of her. “Well, I guess that's that," he stated, his smile free from mischief. It was genuine and warm. “Proud of you, Sor, really. You made me work for that win," he stated, slinging the bow over his shoulder as he held her gaze.

“Guess that means I get a favor owed to me at any time or place of my choosing, yes?"

Sorcha sighed, a little ruefully, but she wore a smile, too. Those shots had been something to watch—to know she'd been the one to make him that serious felt like an accomplishment, even if it wasn't quite the one she'd intended. “I guess it does," she said, shifting her bow over her shoulder as well. “Let me know when you decide to collect. I always keep my promises, after all."

With a little shrug, she gestured towards the judges. “Want to go collect your other winnings and then head to dinner? I'm sure the others will be there soon."

Mercer huffed lightly and shook his head. “I think they can wait a little longer. I want to use that favor, now, and have you take a walk with me around the monastery. Unless you're hungry, now, and want to go eat dinner with just me. I'm sure the others would understand," he stated, arching a brow in her direction. He didn't seem to be joking about it, either. He seemed completely serious about his statement. He was neither grinning nor smiling, but simply waiting for her answer.

“And I don't need whatever they're giving out as a prize. My prize is that you were my opponent, and gave me a challenge I didn't think I'd ever get."

She tilted her head at him. “That's all you want? A walk or dinner or something?" she blinked, then hummed a little. “In that case, why don't we head into town? I guess there's some kind of minor peagasus festival going on, so there should be street food. We can eat and walk at the same time, so you get both?"

He frowned at her first statement and looked like he wanted to say something, however; he didn't. “Sounds like it could be fun. It's always more lively in town than... well, here, at least," he stated, making a vague gesture around them as if he were saying livelier than Garreg Mach. “Let's put our weapons away, and head into town, then," he stated, smiling gently in her direction. When they'd both replaced their weapons, Mercer extended his elbow out towards her, as if inviting her to take it.

“It's only proper that I escort you, you know," he stated, perhaps as his reasoning for offering her his arm.

She felt that same strange mix of fluttery and ridiculous as she always seemed to when he was making such gestures, but tried not to be self-conscious about it as she threaded her arm through his. “Didn't think you cared all that much for 'proper,'" she said lightly. It occurred to her that she might even be teasing him, which wasn't exactly unusual but was usually a bit more... acrid, than this. Or at least pretended to be. This, though—she sounded to her own ear like she was... well, kind of flirting, actually.

Sorcha wasn't exactly sure what to do with that, either.

Mercer arched a brow at her, though, and a large grin spread over his face. “Oh be still my beating heart, is Sorcha flirting with me? Me?" he stated, his grin smoothing out into a sly smile. He leaned closer towards her so that his face was only a few inches away from hers, still grinning as his eyes bore into hers.

“I think I like this side of you, Sor. Makes me feel all tingly and special inside," he nearly whispered it to her before he pulled back. He had a satisfied grin on his face as if he were content with something, and seemed to walk a little straighter as they made their way towards the town.

It was much too close to a description of how she actually felt when he was around, and the glib tone in which he said it left her frowning. She sniffed imperiously at him, turning her nose up a little into the air and proceeding to quite ignore him. Well, maybe after she got a parting shot in, so to speak.

“Well never mind, then. That sounds like the symptom of a serious illness; I'd hate to make you sick, so I guess I'll just stop." With a soft hmph, she continued to proceed towards the town of Garreg Mach, feigning much more interest in the scenery than she really felt. She'd seen it thousands of times by now, after all.

“Sick? You actually think you could make me sick, Sor?" he stated, almost offended by the way she'd said it. He pursed his lips in her direction, almost as if he were pouting. The expression almost seemed genuine on his face, and he seemed to contemplate something before pulling them both to a stop.

“Even if it was a joke, why would you say something like that, Sor? You know..." he paused as if he were biting down on his tongue to keep him from saying something more. Taking a deep breath, his shoulders slumped and he turned so that he was standing in front of her, blocking her way forward with both hands resting on her shoulders.

“You can tell me what's on your mind, you know that, don't you?" he stated, quite concerned it seemed about something. “Whatever it is, I'm listening."

Sorcha blinked, surprised, and for some stupid reason, found herself blushing again. “No, I—" She sighed, biting her lip and dropping her eyes. “It was—it was just a silly joke. I, um." She shook her head ruefully. “I guess it must just be the difference in experience with these things that gets to me a little sometimes, because..." Gently, she used both of her hands to lift one of his from her shoulder, and pressed his palm to her sternum, over her tunic.

It felt like her heartbeat was in overdrive, and the touch only kicked it up even further, even if she was the one who'd put it there. “Because it's not just that only you affect me so much, Mercer. It's that you always do. And sometimes I—" she shook her head, releasing his hand. “I don't know. It... every little thing about you feels right. Like it all drives me crazy, but in, I don't know, a good way. But you—you're always so calm. I know I shouldn't want this, because of everything, but... part of me wishes you really did feel that way, sometimes, because of me. Fluttery and—and special. The way I feel because of you."

She lifted her eyes back to his, searching them earnestly. It wasn't exactly that she expected him to make light of it, or laugh at her, but... well, she hoped it didn't sound cruel or too selfish. To want that, even though nothing could ever come of it. And she knew, too, that there was really no helping that they reacted to things differently, and she'd never want him to think she thought there was anything wrong with how he was, because of course there wasn't. She'd love him just the same, but...

Mercer stared at her, his eyes locked with hers as his face was completely unreadable. It wasn't until he removed his hand from her heart, and used both of his hands to cradle her face. Without much warning, he brought their faces close together that his lips brushed softly against hers. Once, twice, before it became a little more desparate. He fit his mouth over hers completely, pulling back only when they needed to breathe and he regarded her with an even stare.

Her insides went hot, then cold, then hot again; it felt like time compressed and expanded at the same time, and Sorcha realized she had absolutely no idea what she was doing at all. All she could do was press back towards him, one hand curling into the fabric at his his side. When it finally ended, she took in a sharp breath, almost staggering with the sudden dizziness of it and looking up at him with dazed eyes.

“But you do, Sor. You really do." he spoke, his voice gentle and serious at the same time. “You do make me feel like that. Do you know how much restraint I have to put on myself in order to stay calm? It's... you make it so difficult to focus on anything else when I'm with you. And when we go on missions, do you know how hard it is to remain as focused as I am because I can't only just keep you safe? Only worry about you? I... I'm not calm. At all."

He placed a hand behind her head and pulled her close to him, resting her head on his chest where she could hear his heartbeat. It was beating quickly against his chest, almost as quickly as hers was, and he kept her head pressed to his chest. “Only you do this to me, Sor. And if you think that you don't affect me this much... I don't know how else to prove it to you."

She squeezed her eyes shut, still, it felt, struggling to breathe properly. Her arms wound around him, and she was struck again by how profoundly *unfair* this all was. If they'd been born anyone but who they were—if she'd had an older sibling with a Crest, or his father hadn't been the King of Almyra, or any number of ways it could have been even a bit different... they could have had this. This one thing for themselves.

And yet she knew, too, that it was exactly because they were who they were that they wanted it at all. Being who he was, going through what he had, had made him into the extraordinary person that she loved, and she couldn't truly wish it were different, because it would mean wishing he were different, and she'd never want that.

“I'm sorry," she whispered. It might not have been the right thing to say, but it was how she felt. She was sorry that this was the situation they were in. That they both got to know they felt the same for only the briefest taste of a moment, that there was in the end nowhere for it to go. That they would both have to swallow it, this flame that would never go out, and keep it buried deeply in themselves, apart for the rest of their lives and never allowed to acknowledge that it was there. She had no idea how they were going to get through treaty meetings and diplomatic ventures without—well, it would surely be written all over her face, when those times came.

She'd always miss him, always want him, and that fact was as terrifying as it was beautiful.

He released a soft breath, enough that it stirred the hair at the top of her head. “Don't be," he murmured just as soft. “It won't be like this forever, Sor. I promise. We'll get through this," he continued, running a hand down her back in a comforting gesture. “We'll change things... enough that it won't have to keep us apart. It will take time, but... if you're willing to wait for me, I'll wait as long as it takes for you."

“So... don't give up hope, just yet. Alright?" he stated, pulling back enough so that he could stare at her. “No matter what, don't give up hope."

It wasn't an easy ask. Giving up wouldn't have been easy, either, but if she could have managed it eventually she might have at least been able to accept the situation. To get used to it in the way one got used to an aching scar, when it was no longer a fresh, bleeding wound at every moment. He was, in effect, asking her to keep bleeding with him, in the hopes that someday, in some indeterminate, hazy future, they might be able to heal with no scar at all.

Difficult though it may have been, Sorcha knew her answer immediately. “I'll never give up," she whispered, wrapping her arms tighter around him. “So don't ever even look at anyone else, okay? Don't think about anyone but me, and I won't think about anyone but you." It was a selfish thing to say, so much so that it was almost outrageous. Wasn't love supposed to be selfless? Wasn't she supposed to want him to be happy even if it wasn't with her?

But—she supposed she did. If he'd come to her tomorrow and told her he had feelings for someone else, and meant it, she'd release him from his promises, from their engagement, from anything he wanted. But dammit, for as long as he loved only her... she would hope that never changed.

He huffed a little, his arms wrapping tighter around her. “Of course, love," he spoke, smiling at her as he rested his head against hers. “I don't think I could, even if I tried," he added. Almost hesitantly, though, he pulled out of her embrace, but slid his hand into hers.

“We have a minor festival to attend to, so..." he stated, bringing their intertwined hands up and placing a chaste kiss on the back of her hand, “let's go see what they have to offer, hm?" He grinned at her, then.

There could have been nothing at all to see or do or eat, and Sorcha knew she'd still have never been to a better one. She nodded, still a little pink because he'd kissed her hand of all things, and gave his a squeeze.

It would be a long wait, once these last months were gone.

But nothing else would ever be worth doing instead.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Sunday the 15th
Lake Seiros - Afternoon - Clear
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer wasn't exactly sure how he'd managed to convince everyone to use their spare time going on a picnic together. Sure, they were all friends at this point, but all of them were coming. Devon, Sofia, and the others. All of different Houses, of different backgrounds and classes. And they were all friends. Mercer wondered, briefly, if this was how it could be. How his country could be if everyone saw the potential, and not just a person's Crest, or heritage. It would take a long time to achieve that, but if this could be the end result, well... it would be a battle worth fighting.

His lips pursed briefly together as he recalled Alaric's last letter. Something seemed off about Gloucester, but not in a way that called for immediate attention. Mercer put it down as Matteo being sore, still, about Sorcha and his land being taken by Acheron. Some people never let grudges like that go, however; he wasn't going to dwell on it for too long. He was here to enjoy his friends's company; he'd inform them of the letter after the festivities. They'd be enjoying themselves, hopefully, after all.

“Alright. We have food, drinks, and... I don't think we need anything else," he stated, grinning at the group in front of him. “Let's all celebrate a year without killing each other!" he stated, causing Thea to giggle lightly, and Deirdre to roll her eyes.

“Not for a lack of trying, at least," Deirdre muttered, causing Sylvi to snort softly.

“Now now," Reynard tutted, pulling his scarf a little closer around him. It was still Pegasus Moon, even if the afternoon was a little bit unseasonably warm. “If I'd been trying to kill any of you, someone would be dead at least."

Vi chuckled, leaning forward to place his chin on Thea's head and enfold her in his cloak. She was sitting back against his chest, so it wasn't hard to do. Thea had acquired a rather interesting new piece of jewelry recently, and was wearing it on a very meaningful finger, but as of yet neither of them had said anything about it.

“Good to know my friends usually don't want to assassinate me, I suppose. What would I need enemies for otherwise?" Thoughtlessly, he ran his fingers through her hair.

Devon appeared next, carrying some wood for the fire they'd already started for warmth, and plunked himself down on one edge of the nearest blanket. “I'd prefer not to have enemies at all, to be completely honest."

“With a face like yours, Devon, I doubt anyone would want to make an enemy of you. They'd probably want to collect you and have you all to themselves, right Sylvi?"" Senka spoke, arching a brow in Sylvi's direction. The younger woman snorted softly, but grinned nonetheless.

“I'd certainly want him all to myself, but I suppose I could share if that's what he wanted," she replied easily enough, earning a light snicker from Deirdre. Mercer snickered as well, glancing towards the boy in question.

Devon looked about ready to combust, but he held his own better now that he'd used to, at least, if only just. “I don't—no. I mean, I can understand that that's something some people want, and it's not bad if it works for them, but—no. Not me. Thank you." He cleared his throat awkwardly.

Sorcha gave him a sympathetic smile; Teach snorted softly.

He really was easy to rile up, however; teasing couldn't only just fall on him after all. Mercer turned his eyes towards Vridel and Thea. Even if neither of them said anything about it, yet, he was going to make them, now.

“Speaking of keeping someone all to themselves, it looks like you and Thea are going to be exclusive for a long while, Vi. Are we invited to the ceremony?" he asked, causing almost all eyes to be cast towards Vi and Thea.

“Till death do us part," Vi replied drolly, giving Mercer a look that clearly indicated he had his lifespan in mind when he said it. To anyone who didn't know, though, it would simply sound like a reference to the nature of the arrangement. “As to whether you're invited, I don't know. I think I shall leave that up to my lovely fiancée. What do you think, Thea? Is Lord Fishface invited?"

Thea looked like she was giving it serious thought. Enough that Mercer felt a little spike of panic. Was she mad at him for some reason? He couldn't recall ever giving her a reason other than the ocassional teasing gesture he'd made with her about Vi. Did she hold grudges like that? She smiled, though, and nodded her head.

“I suppose it'll be fine to invite Mercer," she stated, grinning at Mercer. He narrowed his eyes slightly at her, but grinned.

“And here I thought I'd wronged you somehow," he replied, earning a light giggle from Thea.

“I suppose congratulations are in order, then, for the future von Hresvelgs," Senka stated, her eyes softening towards Vi and Thea. Mercer nodded, grabbing a cup from nearby and filling it with the bottled water they'd brought with them. The harder stuff would be for later, but for now, they could all make a toast with water.

“Indeed. To Thea and Vi!" Mercer stated as Sylvi and Deirdre followed suit. He could see a light pink dusting Thea's cheeks, and his grin widened slightly. “And the future of House von Hresvelg!" He knew they would get the implication of that.

Sorcha punched him in the shoulder for his cheek, giving him a mock-glare over the time of her cup as she took a drink. “You mind your manners," she chided. “Thea could always dis-invite you and I don't want to go alone."

“I'd be your date," Reynard offered slyly, raising an eyebrow at Mercer.

Sorcha grinned at him. “Oh well in that case feel free to get yourself disinvited, fishboy. I have another date lined up." She tipped her glass in Rey's direction, and he returned it with a cheeky wink.

Mercer knew that for a fact, that Rey wouldn't consider Sorcha as his date. She wasn't his type, so to speak, but that didn't stop the frown on his face from forming. He glanced in Senka's direction who gave him a flat look.

“Don't look at me. I would not entertain the idea of being your date," she replied flatly. Mercer supposed she had a point, but he rolled his eyes nonetheless before an idea struck him. He leaned closer to Sorcha so that he could whisper into her ear.

“Don't worry, we'll have to worry about House von Riegan, too," he stated before pulling back. “And I know Thea wouldn't dis-invite me just because of a little teasing," he spoke loud enough so that everyone could hear that.

Sorcha harrumphed at him, sniffing and turning her nose up in a show of disinterest, but the gradual pinkening of her features was a much truer indication of her feelings, as it so often was. “Presumptuous," she accused, glowering at him just a bit.

“No, Sorcha's right. I would, but you're lucky I want to invite all my friends, and that, unfortunately, includes you." Thea spoke with a smile on her face, and Mercer couldn't help but chuckle at her.

“Vi, you've corrupted our dear little Thea. For shame."

“It's not like I mind, though."

Vi, for his part, grinned wickedly at Mercer over Thea's head. The implication in the expression was a pretty clear one: it would seem the so-called corruption involved had reached a certain point, and he was pretty pleased with this fact. “I don't know," he said with deceptive lightness. “Are you sure she's not the one corrupting me? She's rather forward these days, you know. And so mean to anyone she thinks is after me. It's really quite possessive of her." Of course, the way he hugged her a little more tightly under the cloak gave away the fact that that aspect of things, exaggerated as he'd made it for humor, was decidedly mutual.

The blush that spread across Thea's face meant that she knew what Vi was implicating, and it didn't stop the bout of laughter that left Mercer. Thea, however, pursed her lips, and stared at anything that wasn't a person.

“It's not like you mind, either, Vi," she murmured, though everyone could still hear it. “And if I remember correctly, you like me that way, so," she stated, turning her head slightly so she could stick her tongue out at Vi, even if his head was still lodged on hers. Mercer snickered softly as he tried to contain his laughter.

“I do like you that way," he admitted freely, shifting just enough to lay a kiss on her temple, clearly not ashamed to be doing it. Knowing Vi, it would take a lot more than that before he felt the faintest shred of embarrassment, even in front of people.

“You know, I never thought Thea as the type to be like that, to be honest," he finally spoke, arching a brow in their direction. “I mean, it's possible that this entire time she was corrupting you, and not the other way around."

“You hush, Lord Fishface. You're just jealous," she stated, pursing her lips in Mercer's direction.

“Not at all, Thea. Not at all."

“Can we talk about something else? I might get sick from all the sweetness otherwise," Reynard drawled, rolling his eyes good-naturedly.

“You've all got your last certs next month," Teach said, crossing his arms with mock-seriousness. “Have you been practicing?"

Sofi groaned, though only playfully. “Maybe not that, though," she remarked.

“Yeah, anything but that," Deirdre stated, though it was obvious that she was not playing about it. “We haven't had time to study for them, and I've fallen behind on a lot of my tomes and spells," she murmured softly.

“If you needed help with your dark magic, I could help you with that, too, Deirdre," Senka offered. She was, perhaps, one of the better dark magic users the group had, next to Teach. Deirdre was good, but not as good as those two. Deirdre seemed to muse it over, though, before nodding her head.

“I suppose it wouldn't hurt. I am trying to be a warlock, after all," she stated before shrugging her shoulders. Her eyes turned towards Mercer, though, and she arched a brow. “I heard my cousin sent you a letter, Merc. What does the idiot want now?" she stated, causing Mercer to purse his lips. He supposed he had to tell them sooner or later. He chanced a glance in Sorcha's direction, before he sighed softly.

“Gloucester has been acting strange, lately. Stranger than normal, at least," he stated, running a hand through his hair. “According to Alaric, he's more serious than he used to be, and hasn't been seen with a woman in nearly three weeks. And you all know that is strange already," Matteo was usually seen with a woman sometimes as often as three times a day.

“I just attributed it to him losing his lands to Acheron, and him losing Sorcha, however," he paused to purse his lips, “it seems a little more than just that. It's almost as if he was a completely different person."

“You think he's up to something?" Vi asked curiously, picking up a petit four from the picnic spread and offering it to Thea before taking one for himself as well. “Don't suppose he'll be pleasant enough to wait until graduation to initiate his scheme?"

Sorcha frowned like she'd eaten something sour. “I wouldn't be surprised if he tried something while you were still away; he has to know he can't win when you're there."

“I wouldn't be surprised, either. I've asked Alaric to keep an eye on Matteo and my gramps, just in case. It'll be stretching him thin, but he's the only one I trust. The only one I can. Judith is plenty capable on her own, but..." he would admit that he was a little concerned for his mother. She was a warrior in her own right, and she wasn't called a Hero for nothing, after all. He took a deep breath and slumped his shoulders.

“The only thing I can do is have Alaric keep an eye on him, and just plan to be ten steps ahead of him. He knows he can't win either way, but he's going to try."

“Gloucester's always been a bit of an idiot, though. I mean, look what he did simply because his pride was hurt. He lost almost three acres, or miles of land because he couldn't handle the fact that Mercer anulled his arrangement to Sorcha. This... he's probably trying for one last attempt to become the Leader of the Alliance, in some way or form," Deirdre stated, pursing her lips together.

“Alaric can handle himself, but it sucks that I can't be there to help him, either."

“Yeah, well... graduation's only several weeks away. He'll be fine until then," at least Mercer hoped that would be the case.

Vi huffed softly. “He'd best wait. Otherwise there'll be another field trip in it, and then you'll have some serious reinforcements, no? He's got to understand that, too." There was something to it—the group was formidable, and even if the Archbishop didn't intend it, the very fact that they were currently students at the Officer's Academy would lend them a certain kind of Church-adjacent authority, too.

It was in that sense far wiser for Gloucester to wait the few weeks.

Sorcha grimaced. “Well you'll have reinforcements either way if you happen to need us," she pointed out. “I don't expect my uncle will want to handle the responsibility of actually doing things a moment longer than he has to, and I'm sure Vivi's got a crown waiting too, right?" When Vi nodded, she did too. “So there. And then when Sen's got Duscur back we'll all be your allies, so he'd better watch his step."

Mercer couldn't help the grin that covered his face. “Of course. I'll have two queens, and an emperor as my allies. What more could I want?" he replied, taking a drink of his water before setting it down.

“Oh, and I can't forget about Teach, Sylvi and future Lord Margrave-Galatea, Sofia, Deirdre, and Rey, too." Sylvi snickered at Mercer's comment, though there was a faint blush dusting her cheeks. Had she thought about it, too? That was interesting to Mercer. He'd save that for later, though.

“I'm almost certain I'm missing someone, though."

“Pff, Emperor. Who needs one of those when you could have an Empress, instead?" Vi paused for a moment, as though considering this, and then shook his head. “Actually, never mind. You'll have to make do with me, because I refuse to share." He smiled, catlike, and tucked his chin back atop Thea's head. “Too bad for you."

“Hey, I wouldn't mind an Empress, too. I mean, I've got two queens already. Why not throw an Empress in there, too?" he added, grinning just slightly before something was thrown at him. It hit him in the head, but it was much too soft to be anything other than a muffin, from the looks of it. It had landed, thankfully, in his hands, and he glanced up to see who'd thrown it.

“Mercer von Riegan, you hush, stupid fishface," Thea stated, seemingly the culprit behind the muffin. Senka huffed a light laugh as Mercer continued grinning.

“She has a point. You do realize how that sounds, right? You make it sound like you want us to be part of your harem," Senka stated, arching a brow in Mercer's direction. “I, for one, refuse, and Vi already said he's not sharing, so..." she trailed off with a light shrug of her shoulders.

“It's probably a good thing. Sorcha would kill me if I even so much as thought about it," Mercer replied, as he grinned in Sorcha's direction.

“I'd never do something so irresponsible as to assassinate an important leader in Fódlan," Sorcha said primly. “But I would run off with Rey, since he's so kindly offered, so do consider carefully before you make any decisions, Mercer." She sniffed, narrowing her eyes faintly at him before promptly turning away with a hmph sound.

Reynard nodded sagely. “Always happy to aid in the escape of unhappy ladies. Or gentlemen. Or anyone, really."

Mercer chuckled softly, leaning close towards Sorcha so he could rest his head on her shoulder. “Now why would I do that? Make you run into the arms of another man? You're already breaking your promise. For shame, Sor. For shame." He leaned a little closer, though, and whispered in her ear, “and I thought I was the only one you were allowed to think of, hm?" He placed a chaste kiss on the inside of her neck before pulling away.

“Y-you started it," she huffed back at him, just as quietly but considerably more flustered. Physical contact tended to do that to her, but only from him.

“Ugh, I don't know why she'd choose you, anyway, Mercer. It's clear Reynard is the superior choice, but... well, I guess everyone has their own strange tastes in people," Deirdre chimed in, making a face in Mercer's direction. He only grinned at her.

“Oh, he's not so bad," Sofi said, grinning a little at the exchange. “If you ignore his entire personality he's at least nice enough to look at, for a man."

“Why thank you, Sofi. At least someone thinks I'm pretty," Mercer stated, flashing a grin in Sofia's direction.

“Someone has to," Senka murmured behind the rim of her cup. “Though I do agree with Deir. Sor could do better, but I suppose you are both stuck with each other," she continued, a grin forming on her lips. Mercer outright pouted.

“One of these days you'll say something nice about me, Sen. And it will have nothing to do with Teach encouraging it, right?" Mercer stated, allowing his eyes to slide towards Teach.

“It would have to," the man replied with a faint smirk, taking a drink from the glass in his hand. “As I don't make a habit of doing so."

Several of the others laughed; Sorcha raised an eyebrow in a manner that suggested she quite thought Mercer was getting what he deserved, but she did apparently decide to be more merciful than any of the others, at least.

“Anyway," she said, rolling her eyes a little. “Someone packed cards. Should we play?"

“Yes! Let's play!" Thea stated as she moved, however; she seemed to remember she was in Vridel's lap and decided against it.

Mercer shook his head faintly. He really did have great friends.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Thursday the 19th
Courtyard - Afternoon - Cool
Senka Rinaldi


Only a few more weeks and they would all be graduating. Senka wasn't entirely sure how she felt about that. She was happy that it was going to be over, however; she also felt... sad. Sad in a way she couldn't really describe. After everything she'd been through in this place, a small part of her would miss it. Miss it because she'd made memories here, ones that she was proud to have. She even made friends, something she thought would never happen given her background, but she did. She had people she cared about. People she loved, and one in particular whom she wanted to share her life with. She'd never thought something like that could happen to someone like her, but she was happy beyond words.

She tucked a strand of hair behind her ear as she approached the isolated gazebo in the courtyard, smiling when she spotted her group of friends. Thea waved to her, first, causing Deirdre to look up from her book, and wave as well. Senka waved back, offering them a small smile as she came to sit next to Sorcha.

“Hope I haven't missed too much of the festivities," she spoke, earning a light snicker from Sylvi. Deirdre rolled her eyes, as was her way of acknowledgment, Senka had learned.

“Nope, you're just in time. Sorcha brought more pastries from Cornelia," Thea stated, pointing to the basket that sat on the table. It looked like most of them had already started on one pastry, though Thea had at least two on her plate. “We, uh, started without you, but we did leave some!" Thea stated, causing Senka to shake her head.

“I see how it is, Thea. Couldn't wait for me to arrive and just had to try them for yourself, right?" Senka stated, though she made it evident she was just teasing Thea. “How is everyone so far?"

“Busy not thinking about exams," Sofia replied with a grin. She was actually one of the least worried about them, as far as such things went. Garreg Mach didn't have any formal graduation exams or anything, but the last certs were kind of considered to be that, as the letter ranks given would be a lot of how many of the officers would be able to convey their skill to potential employers, or in some cases, potential allies or hirelings. It could be important, how strong a warrior and commander someone was seen to be, and for that reason some nobles' skill levels were widely known and others were played very close to the chest. Sorcha had remarked once that it was a very subtle way in which the church exercised influence on politics well outside of its official domain.

Now, however, she seemed rather inclined to lighter thoughts, delicately tearing off a chunk of bear claw to eat. “Glad it's so weirdly warm this Pegasus Moon. Seems like we've been out a lot recently; I'm glad the warm-weather types aren't too chilly." She grinned a little at Sofia and Deirdre and Thea when she said it.

“I think the Church chose this location simply because the weather was always pleasant. Even when it's supposed to be absurdly cold, it's always just... nice here. It could also be that we've hit a strange weather pattern, but who knows. It is nice, and I, for one, am glad I do not have to deal with the cold. I don't think I could last very long," Thea stated, shivering slightly, though Senka felt a small smirk crossing her lips.

“Hm, but I bet Vridel could help warm you up, no? From what I hear, he seems to be doing it quite often," Senka remarked, watching as Thea's face turned a shade of pretty red. She pursed her lips together, and seemingly tried to glare at Senka. Thea never really had an intimidating face; it was much too round for such things, and only served to make her look rather adorable.

“You hush, Senka," she stated with a light huff, causing Deirdre to snicker softly.

“At least you're getting warmed. Sen, Sorcha, and myself have to do without, you know. You should consider yourself lucky, Thea," Sylvi chimed in, arching a brow in Thea's direction. Thea only turned a darker shade of red, and Senka couldn't help the light chuckle that escaped her.

“You could always just ask, you know, Sylvi," Sofia said with a shrug, picking a bit at her pastry as she ate it. For someone so stalwart in the heat of battle, there was an odd delicacy to Sofia, as though she'd been trained to her manners fastidiously and was never able to relax them. Considering her background—being from a wealthy merchant family with aspirations to nobility—it sort of made sense. She would have been instructed so as to look convincingly like the kind of person who would make a nobleman a good match.

Now though, there was almost a little mischief in her eye. “I'm sure Devon would be most obliging if you did."

Sorcha, meanwhile, coughed. “What's this about 'having to do without'? Don't lump me in with that—it's not like I—" She cleared her throat. “Things aren't there yet, and I'm fine with that. We both are. Hasn't even come up." She sounded vaguely put-out by this last bit, actually, and must have realized it, because she tried to cover it with a cough.

“Hm, now that I think about it, maybe you're right, Sofi. I'll have to ask him about it, later," Sylvi responded with a grin. Senka shook her head, though, and laughed softly.

“I wish you the best of luck, Sylvi. He is a gentle heart, do be delicate with him," Senka stated, watching as Sylvi coughed into her hand. For all her muster, it seemed she was still embarrassed. “What do you plan to do after graduation?" she asked. It was directed towards the group as a whole, and Deirdre wore a contemplative look.

“Well," Deirdre began, pursing her lips together. “where Sofia goes, I go. I don't care where, really. Just... somewhere will be nice that isn't..." She'd trailed off, but Senka knew the implication she was trying to make.

“Well... I haven't decided yet," Sylvi spoke softly. “If I go back to House Galatea, my father will try to force me into an arranged marriage, but... I don't want that. And I can't just abandon my house, either. As much as I want to... I also want to make the lands in Galatea better. I just... I don't know how or where to start, though."

Senka could understand that, wanting to make her homeland better. “I'm sure you'll find something you want to do, Sylvi. There's still a little bit of time," Thea chimed in, giving Sylvi a soft smile that she returned.

“I sort of figured I might end up a Church knight someday, since, well... I didn't think the Alliance was likely to want much to do with me, after everything." Sofia looked a bit contemplative at this, glancing to Deirdre and setting one of her hands over her fiancée's. “But after everything we've learned, I don't think I could. I like a lot of the knights, like Shamir and Catherine and Alois, but knowing what I know, I just... can't serve the Archbishop, you know?"

She grimaced. “So we've been talking over the options. We could go the mercenary route—if it's good enough for the Professor, it's certainly good enough for us, but if Mercer plans to take over sooner rather than later, he could probably use all the allies he can get."

Sorcha's face softened at this, though it was doubtful she realized it. “I'm sure he'd appreciate it," she murmured.

“He would," Senka stated with a light nod of her head. “But... if there's ever a place you'd like to call home, other than the Alliance," Senka began, her eyes softening in Deirdre and Sofia's direction. “You'll always have a place in Duscur. With me. And I'd even make you Knight Captain, Sofia. I know your skill well enough to think you deserving of the position, even you, Deirdre. You would have a place in Duscur, always, when... I get it back." Senka did say she wanted it to be a place for everyone to be able to go to. To feel safe and have dreams to share with others, and even accomplish those dreams.

“You know... if I didn't know any better, I'd say you're being very generous and nice, Sen," Deirdre began, narrowing her eyes in Senka's direction, “but it's a good thing I know better. I... I appreciate it, though. We'll just have to see where our lives take us, right Sofi?"

“What about you, Sorcha? What do you plan on doing after graduation in Faerghus?" Thea asked before taking a bite into her pastry.

“Oh, uh." Sorcha appeared to have thought no one would bother to ask, perhaps because the answer was more or less self-evident. “First let me say that any of you are of course always welcome in Faerghus, too." She grinned a little, side-eying Senka. “Before someone makes off with all our mutual friends in addition to our teacher."

Her smile softened, though, and she sighed, finishing off her pastry before answering the question proper. “I guess my plans are to go home, become queen, and start trying to put as many wrongs to right as I can. We've... we've got a lot to make up for, as a people and a country, and it's my responsibility to see that through on behalf of everyone. I guess immediately on the agenda is finding a new Viscounty for the Kleimans so I don't have a civil war on my hands when I give Duscur back to its people. Before that I have to make sure Uncle Rufus will actually give me the crown. I thought it was obvious since he hates the work so much, but Lady Cornelia says some of the nobles have been in his ear and he's been making noises about marriage again, which always gets everyone's hopes up for a proper heir." She grimaced.

“They'd keep the throne back from you because of the vague possibility of a male heir?" Sofia asked, looking rather disgusted. “I mean, we've been there, I know it's bad, but that's just..." She shook her head, clearly unsure of the right words.

“It's partly the Crest thing," Sorcha said with a sigh. “Or at least that's the excuse. Really I think everyone just likes him better as King because he's not very..." she paused, clearly trying to find a delicate way to put it. “He prefers the aspects of kingship that people see. Big parties and cheering crowds. I'd almost rather they got it over with now, though. If some little boy is born with a Major Crest of Blaiddyd in five or ten years from now there might be a war over it."

“Men are stupid," Deirdre spoke decidedly. “For what it's worth, though, I do hope you get your throne. And if you ever need help, you'll always have us, too. Doesn't hurt that your fiancé also happens to be the next Alliance Leader," she continued, though it seemed she was completely serious about her statement. She wasn't grinning or smiling. She had a rather serious expression on her face, and Senka could understand that.

“And you also have us," Senka stated, smiling a bit in Sorcha's direction. “We'll always be there for you whenever you need us, Sorcha. I promise." It was a promise Senka knew she could make, and would keep. “No matter what challenges we'll face along the way, I know I'll always be there for you."

“Vi and myself, as well! You can't have all the fun, Sen!" Thea stated, puffing her cheeks out a bit. “We'll be there for you, too, Sorcha."

“Well House Galatea will be there, regardless, all things considered, but they are correct. We're here for you, too Sorcha Blaiddyd!" Sylvi stated, earning a light snicker from Deirdre.

Sorcha looked for a moment a little overcome with the sentiment, but then grinned brightly. “Well... same to you guys. If there's anything the queen of Faerghus can do for you, just say so. I uh, actually do have a few ideas about the Galatea land, Sylvi, so if you go back to your house make sure to tell them how important it is that you negotiate with me. That might keep them off your back about the marriage thing for a while at least. I'm sure I can find some way to grant Devon a knighthood or something, too, if you'd want to be able to court openly."

It was, perhaps, the one way in which Faerghus was a little more permissive than the Alliance or the Empire. Knights were considered to have status enough to court nobles, because of their importance to Faerghus, both in practical warfare but also in the popular imagination. Many of the most important historical figures in the country's history had begun as knights alone, including its first king, Loog.

“I'd do it anyway, honestly. He's done more than enough to earn it."

“You'd... you'd do that, really?" Sylvi nearly choked out. It was, perhaps, the first time Senka had seen tears in Sylvi's eyes, but she smiled brightly at Sorcha and nodded her head. “Thank you, Sorcha. That... that means a lot to me, and I'm sure it'll mean more than anything to him," she stated, rubbing the back of her hand over her eyes to wipe away the tears.

“I agree with Sorcha. Devon has proven himself in more ways than one to earn that. I'm sure he'd be just as excited as you are, Sylvi."

“Here's to always being friends and hopefully having a future together!" Thea stated, holding out her pastry as if she were trying to toast with it. Senka laughed softly and held out her own pastry. Sylvi and Deirdre both followed suit, though the latter snorted softly.

“To always being friends and to the start of a new future!"

Sofia and Sorcha added theirs to the 'toast,' and though there was a fair bit of giggling when they all broke away, it didn't seem to mean any of them were less than serious about the thoughts that underlay it.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Saturday the 21st
Reynard's House - Late Evening - Chilly
Vridel von Hresvelg


Vridel plunked the bottle of brandy down on the table. “The Empire's finest, as requested."

Given how close they were drawing to graduation, he, Mercer, the Professor, Reynard, and Devon had finally gotten around to putting together something they'd been planning for a while: an excuse to get drunk on alcohol from each of their homelands, and to argue about whose was the best. He'd been saving this bottle of Imperial brandy for the occasion for a couple of moons now, and was rather looking forward to seeing what everyone else offered.

Devon actually had two bottles; everyone else had chipped in so he could get both without digging into his savings or anything—they didn't often address that he was from poverty, but they took steps to make sure it didn't get in the way of anything, something Vridel thought all of them were happy to do. The younger man set them down. “Okay so the clear stuff is from Sreng. Vodka—they make it from potatoes. And the other one is rye whiskey from Faerghus." He took a seat across from the Professor, who nudged his own bottle forward.

“Since you all had everywhere in Fódlan and quite a bit more covered between you, I brought a Dagdan malt. My father was fond of it." The bottle seemed to in fact be missing a few drinks already, though whether Jeralt or Cyril had drunk them was hard to tell.

“I, of course, have Brigidian rum to contribute to this enterprise. And pipeweed, if anyone's interested." Reynard arched a brow.

Vridel and Cyril both indicated that they were, but Devon passed.

For his part, Mercer produced two bottles as well. “And here I provide to you Almyra's famous rum, and the Alliance's famous brandy. It's probably not as good as the Empire's, but that's what we're here for!" Mercer stated as he placed the bottles next to the other ones. “I'll pass on the pipeweed for now, Rey. Something about that and drinking too much gets me a little sick, to be perfectly honest. And I'd rather get sick by drinking too much, thank you."

He took a seat and grabbed the nearest cup. “Alright, so which one do we want to try first? Malt, either Vi's brandy or mine, Devon's stuff, or Rey's stuff?"

“Vodka tastes like shit. No offense, Devon. It gets a person drunk very quickly, though. So maybe we do a shot of that to start and then start comparing other things?" Reynard passed pipes to both Vridel and Cyril, who both lit them with faint sparks of magic.

Vridel wouldn't indulge much in this, as he like Mercer tended to prefer being high or drunk, rather than and. But if he went lightly on it now it should fade by the time drunkenness settled in.

“None taken. You're right, honestly." Devon shrugged. The suggestion seemed to meet with general approval, though, and he poured a shot's worth or so into everyone's glass. “Should we toast or something?"

“Toasts are boring," Vridel observed, bringing his glass closer to himself. “Anyone know any good drinking games?"

“Hm," Mercer seemed to be in thought as his brows furrowed, and he brought a hand up to rest against his chin. “Never have I never is a boring game, so we're not going to play that," he began, pursing his lips together as he seemed to be lost in thought. “Oh, I know. We can play bullshit. We'll say something that is either true or not. If someone calls bullshit, and it is, indeed, bullshit, that person has to drink. For example, if I say something, and Dev calls my bluff, then I have to drink."

“What do you say?" Mercer asked, arching a brow in Vridel's direction.

“Why would anyone say anything false then?" Cyril asked, furrowing his brows. “I think if someone calls but it's not a bluff, then the caller should have to drink too. And everyone has to participate each time."

“Works for me. Everyone take your shots first, though. Then we'll see whose rum is better." Reynard seemed genuinely intrigued by this prospect, and threw back his vodka with the ease of an expert drinker. Cyril followed suit, and Vridel a bit more cautiously.

Devon coughed a little, then waited for everyone to have a new drink before speaking. “Uhhh. Uh... Princess Sorcha offered to make me a knight."

Vridel considered this. It sounded like something Sorcha would do, so he shrugged. Cyril and Reynard seemed to think so, too, because neither of them called him on it.

Mercer shrugged his shoulders as well, perhaps thinking the same. He pursed his lips together and seemed to think of something before a smirk crossed his features. “Hm... my favorite color, despite the obvious, is pink. I know, I know. Pink doesn't really suit me, but it brings out my eyes," he stated, batting his eyelashes in Vridel's direction. Knowing Mercer, he probably said that just to drink.

“Bullshit," Cyril said immediately, arching an eyebrow at Mercer.

Vridel considered for a moment, then nodded. “Yeah, your favorite color is a particular shade of blue," he said, suspicious that it was true but not knowing for sure.

“I don't know, I think he might be telling the truth," Devon said.

“I'm calling bullshit for fun," Reynard added.

Mercer snorted softly before he took a shot. “You're not wrong that pink is not my favorite color, but you are wrong of it being blue. It's actually a very particular shade of yellow," he stated, arching a brow at Vridel. He was probably referring to the shade of blonde Sorcha's hair was. “Alright, next!" he stated, making a vague shooing motion with his hands towards the others.

“Thea kissed me first," Vridel said, seeing an opportunity to make the game more interesting.

“No way," Devon said.

“I'm still calling bullshit for fun," Reynard added.

Cyril narrowed his eyes for a moment in consideration, then shrugged, apparently willing to accept it. Mercer, of course, knew this from a previous conversation, and so only Devon and Reynard drank that time.

“Huh. This is good," the latter remarked. “Not as good as mine, though. Also: I slept with Professor Jeritza."

“No you didn't," Vridel said, though in truth he had no idea.

Cyril and Devon shook their heads, too, apparently in agreement.

“Hey, Professor Jeritza was a good-looking guy. I could totally buy that," Mercer stated, quite inclined to believe Reynard. “But did you really sleep with him, because that's just weird even for your tastes, Rey." He inched forward as if he were actually curious to know the truth.

Reynard laughed softly, taking a drink. “No, but I came kind of close to doing so, actually. This was when we were still getting established at the Academy. I was trying to set up an information network, and I had this intuition that he'd go for a man, so I kept the option open. Nearly used it, too, except I'm guessing he got called away on the night I'd planned for it, because he canceled our plans. Well, either that or he decided he wasn't interested, but I don't think it was that."

“I guess that makes sense," the Professor said, nodding his head agreeably. “A prostitute taught me to tango," he added.

Devon looked indecisive, but Vridel and apparently Reynard could easily believe this.

“I would call bullshit, but we all saw you and Sen do the tango, so..." Mercer stated with a light shrug of his shoulders. “Not that I'm saying Sen was taught by a prostitute, but... man how did you both do that with straight faces? Seriously. You and Sen are crazy good at poker faces. I'm surprised that you haven't amassed a small fortune playing it." Mercer took a shot, though, and made a face.

Cyril snorted a laugh. “I regret to inform you that that's just my face. And I did used to make rather a lot of money at cards, actually. It got to the point where the men in my father's company wouldn't play me anymore."

“That I can believe," Vridel said, having a drink and pouring himself another because he could, rather than because the rules demanded it of him. “Whose turn it is? Devon's?" He was pretty sure that was where they were in the rotation, anyway.

Devon nodded, but he was turning his glass around in his hands repeatedly, clearly nervous about something. “Ummm." Quite independently of prompting from any of the others, his face started to slowly turn red.

“This ought to be good," Reynard remarked, a smile inching up his mouth.

“What? Oh—no. I shouldn't use that one, it's..." The flush darkened.

Mercer looked intrigued, perhaps because of the flush on Devon's face, or he was being nosey. “Come on, Dev. You have to tell us, now. That's the whole point of bullshit. We have to see if you're telling the truth or lying to us. And quite frankly, I just want to know what has you all worked up. I bet it has something to do with a certain orange-haired person, doesn't it? Oh it definitely looks like it." Mercer was grinning from ear to ear, though, as if anticipating Devon's answer.

“SylviandIhadsexlastnight." The words were rushed out as more or less one garbled exhalation, and Devon immediately downed the contents of his glass. He was quite obviously already mostly if not entirely drunk, and that was unlikely to help, but it did seem to make him feel a little better.

Vridel and Reynard immediately burst out laughing, more at the delivery than what was actually said, for while certainly interesting knowledge, that part was not particularly funny on its own. Even the Professor seemed to find the humor, though, arching an eyebrow and actually grinning as he tipped his glass towards Devon.

“I think we all drink to this one. In congratulations if nothing else?"

“Devon has in fact now gotten laid more recently than anyone here but me," Vridel noted wryly. “I'm not sure if I should be congratulating him or berating the rest of you."

“Well, I'd say it's a little bit of both, really," Mercer replied, tipping his glass in Devon's direction as well. “Congrats, Devon, for actually... wait, she suggested it, didn't she?" Mercer stated, his grin growing a little further up his face. “I mean, there's nothing wrong when a woman propositions you, but what happened to our little bold Dev?! I'm almost sad," he continued, though from the look on his face, he was merely teasing Devon.

“But back to what Vi just said. How do you know Rey hasn't gotten laid recently? He's not exactly forthcoming on that shit. And you know our situation," he spoke, referring to his and Sorcha's situation. “It'll happen when she wants it to. In the mean time, I can wait. I have more restraint than... well most of you. Teach... not sure how you're doing with all your touchy-feely selves, but I'm sure you're fine." Mercer made a vague gesture in Cyril's direction before taking another shot.

“Do you really have enough time for restraint?" Vridel asked, arching an eyebrow. “The Professor's situation, I can understand. But graduation is going to make things more difficult for you, not less." Half-drunk as he was, he liked to have thought he'd have been just as direct sober, but couldn't be sure. His tone was actually serious; there was a genuine concern here. Not for the mere fact of the act, of course, but rather for what it could—and this was the part he was still getting used to—mean.

“Sorcha's dense, you know. If you're too restrained she might get to thinking you're not that interested." He shrugged, though, having said his piece. “Your turn to make us guess."

Mercer grumbled something beneath his breath, but shrugged before taking another shot. “Yeah, well... I'm actually very sentimental and a delicate flower," Mercer stated, arching a brow almost challengingly in Vridel's direction.

“Sentimental, definitely. Delicate flower's bullshit, though."

Devon and Reynard chuckled at that one, and the Professor shook his head faintly.

“True. We all know who the real delicate flower is, here," Mercer stated, taking another shot before his eyes went to Devon. “It's Rey, of course. I mean, it's quite obvious. No offense, though, Rey."

“Oh no. I am gravely insulted. I fear I might faint," Reynard deadpanned, pouring a new round of drinks for the group.

Sensing himself approaching drunkenness, Vridel put out the pipe he was using, exhaling a cloud of smoke towards the ceiling as he contemplated his next entry into the game. “I actually don't want to graduate," he said, blinking and tilting his chin back down to look at all of them.

The others wore contemplative faces for a moment. “I don't think I want to, either," Devon admitted. “There are plenty of things to look forward to, I know, but..." he stared down morosely into his cup. “I'm going to miss everyone. Especially you guys."

Mercer sighed softly and leaned back into his chair. He set the cup in his hand to rest near his chest as he wore a contemplative look. “Well, we've all kind of promised to come back in five years, so it's not like we're not going to see each other eventually. And, well... we can all keep in touch with letters and shit. It's not like this is goodbye." Mercer shot a knowing glance at Vridel, though, before downing his cup and pouring himself another.

“On the bright side of things... at least everyone has a family... sort of. We're all kind of family in that weird kind of way, so..." he trailed off as if he didn't know how to finish that sentence. “To always being friends and a weird family!" he stated, holding out his empty cup in a toast-like fashion.

“You have to toast properly to something like that," Reynard said, tutting and pouring some liquid into Mercer's glass from one of the bottles. Then he clinked his own against it, and the others, including Vridel, followed suit.

Perhaps there was no extending the Academy year, but... if he couldn't do that he supposed this was about the best he could hope for.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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


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

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

It wasn't fair.

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

“Lyanna, are you in?"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

For however long that would be.

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

“There's just something special about it."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I still need you, too."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I love you too. More than you know."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1181 - Pegasus Moon - Friday the 27th
Holy Mausoleum - Morning - Cool
Mercer von Riegan


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

It didn't feel normal.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


Image


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1181 - Lone Moon - Tuesday the 9th
Garreg Mach - Evening - Clear
Mercer von Riegan


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“If that's—if that would be okay."

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1181 - Lone Moon - Tuesday the 9th
Garreg Mach - Evening - Clear
Senka Rinaldi


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

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

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

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

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

“An unknown man?" Cyril's brows knit.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

They all nodded in unison.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

He couldn't be dead.

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

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

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

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

Her love was gone.

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

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

Her heart was gone.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


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


How?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

She extended it towards him.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Take care of yourself, alright?"

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


Image


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


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

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

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

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

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

If he was going to have a chance against that, he'd need to be an Emperor himself. Straightening the cloak Cyril had given him for his birthday, Vridel made sure his sword was secure in his belt and the cloak pin was in place. Then he ran a hand through his hair and turned to Thea.

“Are you ready?" It was important to him to ask, because she was important. And he knew more than ever now that he was venturing into shark-infested waters. They were bleeding, all four of them, and the predators would smell their wounds. But still. But still, for those who remained, for the innocents they wished to protect, they had no choice but to try.

She glanced at him, her eyes soft as she smiled. It didn't quite reach her eyes, but she looked to be attempting as much, and nodded her head. “No matter what, we're in this together. Whatever may come our way, whomever may try to do whatever, I will be here. I'm ready to stand by you in anyway you need me to," she spoke, reaching for his hand and gave it a light squeeze. She released it, afterwards and glanced towards Lyanna. She nodded her head in her sister's direction and turned back towards Vridel.

“Let's do this... together."

Vridel smiled softly, squeezing back, but then turned his eyes forward.

The castle was an enormous thing, befitting the oldest seat of power on the continent of Fódlan. Or at least, the oldest such thing known to history. It was a soaring edifice, imposing, constructed of a stone so pale as to be almost white: nearly blinding in the full glory of afternoon like this, glowing even at night, and dyed in oranges and reds come sunset. It dominated the horizon around it, as the family within had once dominated the political and geographic landscape of the continent. A dominion unraveled in messy master strokes of rebellion, but one whose final nail was driven in by internal rather than outer strife, when seven noblemen had all but unseated his father, leaving the Emperor his crown and his throne and nothing to do with them.

A dead monarchy, they liked to whisper.

It might well be the greatest piece of white magic he'd ever worked, if he could breathe life back into it. Perhaps it would cost his in exchange, but he was prepared for that. As ready as a man could ever be to die, he supposed.

He tried to ignore all the ways in which that wasn't true, and held his head high. Their party passed through the gates, still flanked by Ladislava's riders, but Vridel had no concern for them. At the moment all the function they served was lending him more authority, for he refused to look the prisoner he all but was. With Thea beside him, he almost felt the monarch he needed to be. Flanked by Reynard and Lyanna, he thought he might get there, eventually.

The riders halted outside the entrance to the castle proper, unable to take their mounts inside. Only Ladislava, tall in stature even not astride her beast, and a handful of her people dismounted to accompany them into the Emperor's audience hall.

The herald at the door—Petrokos—recognized Vridel immediately and approached wide-eyed. Well into his sixties, he had the straight-backed bearing of a dignified servant of the Empire, and the kind eyes of a grandfather. “Your Highness. His Imperial Majesty is in Council with the Seven at the moment." He paused, pale grey eyes assessing Vridel for a moment before his expression settled into something rather more steely. “Shall I announce you regardless?"

“Please do, Petrokos. With as much flair as this place has let you keep, if you would. And my companions as well." There was a bit of sorting what to say on that subject, but Vridel wanted to make an impact, and so he would.

He extended an arm towards Thea. “The moment we walk through those doors, the most dangerous people in the Empire will know that I have chosen you above all others. Above their daughters and sons and wishes. You may never be or feel safe again." He knew, at this point, that her mind was made up. But he could not help but warn her, one last time, of what this meant. Of what it really meant to love him.

Thea shook her head, though. “I've told you before; you make me feel safe. As long as I'm with you, I don't... there's nothing they can do to try and intimidate me. They cannot take what is not theirs. I know... it'll be trying, but I'm not the same person I was a year ago. I'm... I'm more because of you. Because I love you, and whatever we may face because of that, I'm ready. Vridel von Hresvelg, for whatever it takes, I'm ready."

She looped her arm with his, her head held high, and her back straight. It was, perhaps, the most regal thing she'd ever mustered before, and she glanced at him with a smile on her face. “Shall we?" she spoke, her eyes steeling as she seemed to prepare herself for what was to come.

Vridel felt an overwhelming sense of pride at her words. Not only for himself, though it was not and never would be a small thing to him that he alone was capable of making her feel that way. But he felt pride for her as well, for the way she enfolded herself in a regality not natural to her, for the sake of the moment. For the sake of their aims. She would, he could not help but think, make his people a very fine Empress, indeed.

“We shall," he murmured.

Petrokos nodded to the pair of doormen, their expressions mismatched trepidation and glee, but to their credit they threw open the doors with all the theatrical drama this moment required, revealing a large audience chamber. The seven men arranged in a half-circle before the throne immediately turned, and that was when the herald's voice rang out.

“Announcing His Highness, Vridel Brandt von Hresvelg, Imperial Prince, Duke of Engels, Count of Weissburg, and with him his intended, Lady Amalthea Elaine von Kreuz, of Garreg Mach, Lady Lyanna Evir von Kreuz, Commander of the Knights of Seiros, and Lord Callum Alasdair Macneary, of Brigid." He pointedly did not announce the soldiers with them, which Vridel appreciated. There were plenty of names and titles to go around already.

He swept into the chamber, marching all of them up the center towards the throne. By this point every pair of eyes in the room, from the nobles to their bodyguards and servants along the walls, was fixed on the new arrivals, but he kept this eyes straight ahead—on his father.

Ionius was an old man, now. It seemed he had somehow been old for as long as Vridel could remember, but it was clear that of late his condition had taken a turn for the worst. Never hardy and hale, he was now pale and sallow, with sunken grey eyes and hollowed cheeks. He seemed to sit straighter as Vridel approached however, regarding his son with what the prince interpreted to be a mixture of surprise, confusion, and perhaps some lingering trace of paternal warmth, all dulled by time, or illness, or simple exhaustion.

Perhaps what Vridel had come to demand would be a relief.

The two nobles at the center of the semicircle—Volkhard and Duke Aegir, a rotund, sour-looking man with only a thin ring of ginger hair and a small mustache—were directly in their way. Volkhard moved; his was the pretense of politeness.

Von Aegir, on the other hand, spluttered. “What is the meaning of this?! You cannot simply interrupt a—" he finally stepped aside when Vridel made no sign of stopping and continued to stare past him.

He finally drew to a halt before the dais, dropping into the lowest bow he'd ever given his father. When he rose, his face was set. “Your Imperial Majesty," he said, raising his voice enough that it would carry throughout the chamber. There were murmurs of discontent from behind him, but no one was sure enough of what he was doing to try and stop it yet.

His father, however, tilted his head slightly, eyes narrowing with a faint curiosity. “Vridel. To what do I owe the distinction of my son's company?" His eyes shifted to the others for a moment, coming to rest on Thea.

“I wish to bring two matters before the throne," Vridel said, straightening where he stood. “Though I hope that as much as I might be considered a subject petitioning his Emperor, so might I be seen as a son petitioning his father."

The Emperor leaned forward slightly, waving for silence when another noble—von Varley, he thought—tried to protest. “I see. And what are these matters you wish for me to address?"

“First and most importantly," Vridel said, glancing aside. “I would like for you to be the first to officially meet my betrothed, Lady Amalthea von Kreuz." He used the joining of their arms to gesture Thea forward slightly, indicating with a nod that she was very much encouraged to speak for herself.

She bowed, something more formal than she'd ever done before, and rose to smile at Ionius. “It is a pleasure to finally meet Your Imperial Highness," she spoke, straightening her posture back out. Her eyes were bright as she regarded his father, the smile never leaving her face. If she had felt any fear, she was doing a good job of not showing it. There was no tremor in her body, no shifting of her eyes. She kept them on Ionius, and seemed to drown everything else out that wasn't Vridel or his father.

Ionius considered her a moment, and then his eyes flicked to his son, and he almost seemed to sigh, though there was a faint smile on the edges of it. “I can hardly chastise you for your impulsiveness in such matters. I fear in that we are much the same."

It was obvious he referenced Vridel's mother, and though he found the comparison a bit... off, he did not say so, merely inclining his head. This seemed to satisfy the Emperor, who dipped his chin to Amalthea. “I have ever trusted my son's judgement. I look forward to getting to know the woman he has chosen, for surely, you must be extraordinary."

“As to the second matter." Vridel's expression resumed its former seriousness. “Your Majesty, I formally request that you cede your crown, and the rulership of the Empire, to me."

“What?! Of all the audacious—" the small crowd behind him erupted in protest, von Aegir distinguishable above the rest. “Your Majesty, you cannot simply—"

“Can I not?" Ionius's voice, reedy and thin and haggard as it was, sounded strong in that moment. Enough so to quiet the protestations. “As I recall, Duke Aegir, this is one of the very few rights left to me, and me alone." He swept rheumy eyes over his son's face; Vridel withstood the inspection straight-backed and proud. How could he do otherwise, when the very presence of the woman at his side was such a powerful reminder of the justice, the rightness of his cause?

“You have changed," his father said, quietly now. “I always knew you were the proudest of my children, but this..." He shook his head almost ruefully. “I shall take it for the sign it is." Straightening in his seat, he pulled in a deep breath and spoke in a confident, striking timbre.

“Vridel Brandt von Hresvelg, Imperial Prince of Adrestia. As your father and your Emperor, I ask you this: are you prepared to wear the crown of our nation, to sit upon its throne, and know that the fate of its people is now a burden for your shoulders alone?"

“With all due respect, Your Majesty," Vridel replied, squeezing Thea's arm against his side. “While I accept that the fault will fall to me if this duty is not upheld, it will not be my burden alone at all. There are those whom I trust to share it with me, and who in turn trust me to lead them in this endeavor."

Ionius looked a little surprised, blinking slowly, but then a slow, almost melancholy smile overtook his features. “Then you are more fortunate than anyone in this room as ever been. I entrust Adrestia, and her future, to you. Rise, my son, and take your throne."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1181 - Great Tree Moon - Saturday the 10th
Enbarr Castle - Afternoon - Cloudy
Mercer von Riegan


Sir roared as he landed, causing Mercer to sigh heavily. He hadn't expected to make that kind of entrance, but Sir had a habit of announcing himself wherever they went, now. Mercer didn't really mind, though. He'd been busy enough trying to help his grandfather get the situation under control in the Alliance. Now that Vi was the Emperor, perhaps things would start to look up; start to heal and progress. It had already started with the withdrawal of Imperial troops from the Alliance, and Mercer was here on official business. He was here in his grandfather's stead to negotiate terms with Vridel.

He dismounted, waiting for Sofia and Deirdre to catch up before he walked through the main gate, Sir strolling behind him and growling at just about anyone who came too close to Mercer. He inwardly sighed, but he couldn't show his disdain for the wyvern. He was only expressing what Mercer couldn't. Once the animals were sufficiently stabled, they were escorted to the main hall of the castle. It was a little out of Mercer's taste; too much white and not enough color if he were being honest.

He was ushered in by another person, and directed towards the audience hall where Vridel would no doubt, be. Once he was announced, Mercer stepped through the doors with Sofia and Deirdre to his back. They were here as his guards, after all. And he wanted them to be here with him. When they approached, Mercer bowed, a small smile forming on his lips as he glanced at Vi. He couldn't call him that, of course. Not now, at least, and so when he rose, his face was smoothed out into something neutral.

“Your Imperial Majesty," he spoke, regarding Vridel with an even stare.

Vi rolled his eyes. “Don't call me that. If you do, I have to call you Lord Riegan and neither of us wants that."

He'd been sitting on the throne, but stood readily and descended the dais. No doubt it was a bit startling to knights stationed in the entrance hall, but he seemed to have no care for it, and the guard directly behind him was Reynard, who only smiled wryly and padded down with him.

“Come on. Study's this way. I think Thea and Lyanna are already there. Should be much less of a pain to talk there than here." Gesturing for them to follow in the way he would have mere months ago, he led them out the back of the throne room. He was dressed a little more grandly, of course, as befit an Emperor, largely white and touches of gold and silver, broken only by the red lining of his cloak and the colored gems on the clasp.

The study was relatively large, and richly-appointed; the extra desks in the space had the look of newer additions, though. Thea and Lyanna sat at them; the latter nodded as they entered, giving them all a small smile.

“Sit wherever," Vi said. He sat on one side of his desktop, entirely unconcerned when Reynard took the chair at it and propped his feet up on the other side.

Mercer did as Vi suggested, taking a seat across from Vi, and smiled back at Thea and Lyanna. Thea was smiling rather brightly, but Mercer supposed it would be difficult to wipe the smile from her face.

“Man, that was the longest ride I've ever had to take to get here," he stated, leaning back in his chair in a rather relaxed position. He had both arms spread over the top, and he didn't bother to sit at all like an envoy to the Emperor. “So, how's everything holding up on this end?" he decided to open with that. It couldn't be easy for Vi. Now that he was Emperor, Mercer undoubtedly knew that the struggle would only intesify from here on out.

“Oh, and congratulations on becoming Emperor. And you, too, Thea. You'll be Empress soon, right?" he asked, eyes glancing towards Vi. He figured they'd want to get married as soon as possible just to solidify their intentions, but he couldn't be too sure.

“Another month or so," Vi replied, answering the last part first with a smile. “Even then everyone's convinced it's too short a notice to prepare a proper ceremony." He snorted, surely unconcerned with such things, but he was smiling, too. “I refuse to wait any longer than that, however."

Lyanna chuckled softly where she seemed to be working through some documents.

“As to the rest, well. The entire Council of Seven is about to mutiny, but they're scrambling at the moment. The people—and soliders included—are a little too excited about the change, and the upcoming events, to be terribly enthusiastic about a war right now. Eventually that will wear off, and they'll make a move, but for now I'm taking full advantage of my popularity and the stories flying around about my mysterious and lovely fiancée."

He said it lightly, but it was actually a pretty clever move, looked at one way. If he didn't have much actual power to work with, the smart thing to do was gain support, so that when and if he and the Council came to loggerheads, popular opinion would be on his side. It could be leverage for some less-powerful nobles to swing their support his way, and that could be the start of something.

“So... I'm trying to take advantage before someone tries to undercut it somehow. What about yourself?" He arched an inquiring eyebrow at Mercer.

Mercer pursed his lips together. “It's been difficult, for sure," he spoke with a heavy sigh. “We've been dealing with the nobles of the Roundtable. Some of them want to go to war against you," which wasn't all that surprising. With the presence of Imperial troops in the Alliance, it raised a lot of metaphorical hackles with the nobles. It had taken a great deal convincing them that it wasn't going to be like that for long.

“Gloucester, oddly, seems to have no opinion on the matter. It's like he's waiting for something," he continued. Gloucester was always a strange man, but as of late, he's been acting stranger. Moreso than when he'd first received the letter from Alaric. He furrowed his brows at the remembrance of his friend.

“Alaric is in Fódlan's Locket at the fortress," he stated. “I haven't heard from him in a while, though," and to say that he was worried was an understatement. Alaric was a seasoned general, but every messenger Mercer had sent had not returned. He didn't want to think the worst of them, but he'd stopped sending messengers to Alaric for the moment. He couldn't risk any more lives.

"I don't like that someone like that isn't getting into everyone's business publicly," Reynard remarked, narrowing red eyes. He could only be talking about Gloucester. "It can only mean he's trying to do so under the table."

Vridel grimaced. “You think he's working with the Flame Emperor or something?"

"I think now is a very strange time to not have an opinion," Reynard replied. "And a very bad time not to have good lines of communication with someone you trust." The last, he directed to Mercer. "I wouldn't be entirely surprised if the two were somehow connected. If they were, it would mean he's setting something in place instead of just biding time."

“That's what I'm afraid of," Mercer replied. “Alaric is the only one in the Alliance I can trust. If I don't have an open line of communication with him, who's to say something will reach him in time if something happened, or vice versa?" He really didn't want to have to tell Deirdre that her cousin was dead. And he didn't want news of his death to reach Sorcha. He promised her he'd live, and he was going to do everything in his power to honor that promise.

“I can't risk sending anyone else, though. Messengers aren't equipped to deal with assassins or combat in quite the same way as a soldier would. And it would be pretty obvious if I kept sending soldiers to Alaric that we were communicating. I'm trying to keep it so that our line of communication isn't infiltrated if that makes sense."

“I can't just move against Gloucester, either. Not without solid evidence of his misdeeds. He might not be the next Alliance Leader, but he holds a lot of sway with the others, especially Duke Edmund. He has the most influence of the other Lords." And if Edmund managed to sway even one person to go against Mercer...

Vi seemed to consider this for a moment, glancing once behind him before he sighed softly. “I think I can solve your problem," he said simply. “But it might just give me a few more."

Narrowing his eyes, though, he tilted his head at Mercer. “Before we get into the details here, though—have you heard anything from Sorcha yet?"

“I haven't." Mercer was worried about her because the last thing he'd heard was that she was on her way back to Faerghus, and that she'd intended to take the crown from her uncle. Even if she was just a year shy of being old enough, she was going to do something similar to what Vi had done, and demand it.

“She's... she has to be fine, though. I'm sure we would have heard something to suggest otherwise," and he didn't want to believe that something happened to her. Not while he still drew breath.

Vi hummed quietly, but if he thought any differently, he didn't express it. “Very well. I'll let you know if any information comes to me, at least. As to your other problem—take Reynard."

"Excuse me?" Rey asked flatly, blinking with dull surprise at Vi.

“It's the obvious answer, isn't it? You're not a soldier type, not publicly connected to Mercer, able to disguise yourself, and quite capable of outfoxing any assassins that should try to come after you. You're also astute enough to grasp the importance of the situation and understand why I'm asking this of you, are you not?"

Reynard sighed heavily. "Of course I am. That doesn't mean it's not a stupid idea. Who's going to make sure assassins don't outfox you?"

“Me, of course. And Thea. And Lady Lyanna. Mercer can't run his own messages. You're the smart choice."

Vi had a good point, however; it left a bitter taste in Mercer's mouth. “Smart or not, we really don't know what we're up against. I can't let Rey do that. I can't let him risk himself like that, no matter how skilled you may be, Rey," he spoke, turning his attention to Reynard. While Mercer wouldn't deny that Reynard was skilled, they didn't know who was killing the messengers. Mercer couldn't risk his friend, either.

But he needed that open line just as badly.

Taking in a deep breath, he regarded Reynard with pursed lips. “I'll agree only if you do, as well. You know the kind of danger you'll be putting yourself in, but... if you'd rather not." There was an option either way that Reynard could take.

Oddly enough, Reynard actually scoffed at him, a small smile playing around the corners of his mouth. "I think you fundamentally misunderstand me, von Riegan. I didn't choose this profession because I much value my safety." There was a thread of amusement in his tone, friendly affection, even—perhaps he found Mercer's sentiments to be warming. But it was at odds with the glint in his eye, the way his smile gradually broadened into something wolfish.

"Now that we're all done with classes and exams, I think I could use the fieldwork, actually." Were he anyone else, the comment might have sounded derisive, but Mercer knew without Reynard ever having said it directly that he had greatly valued his time at the Academy. Still... he'd probably come in with a lot more knowledge than most of them had had back then, which suggested some experience with fieldwork, as it were.

"Give me enough time, and I might even be able to tell you who's killing your messengers."

“I guess I'll have to find a way to compensate you, greatly, then," Mercer spoke, a smile stretching across his face. It turned into something a little more sly, though. “And don't go falling in love with Alaric. He's a good-looking guy, but he's a bit of a blockhead. Unless," he paused, his grin stretching further across his face, “you'd like that to be your compensation. In all seriousness, though, thanks Rey." Even if he was a professional, Mercer would always worry about his friends. Perhaps he really was as sentimental as he'd said he was?

“I'll need you to go to the fortress out in Fódlan 's Locket as soon as you can."

"Worry not about the honor of your friend. Vast sums of gold will suffice as payment." Reynard arched an eyebrow, but brought his feet down off the desk and stood. "I suppose I'd best prepare." He fixed his eyes on Vridel. "So help me, if you get yourself killed while I'm not here to babysit you I will find you in the Eternal Flames so I can kill you again."

Vi laughed. “Deal. And good luck, Rey."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1181 - Great Tree Moon - Saturday the 17th
Fódlan 's Locket - Evening - Overcast
Alaric Goneril


Two weeks.

It's been two weeks since Alaric last heard anything from Mercer, and that had him honestly worried. The last message he'd received was the one that told him of the attack on the monastery. Mercer was still alive, and had latched himself to his grandfather's hip to help with the negotiations with the Empire. But that was the last thing he'd heard. Sighing softly, he ran a hand through his hair, shaking loose a few of the strands as they came to rest over his shoulders. He hoped Mercer was doing alright, and that the lack of letters and orders was due to something that held him up.

That, or something was happening and he wasn't aware of it. If that were the case, Alaric felt conflicted. He had been trusted to guard this place in case something happened, but he also wanted to make sure everyone else was alright. His cousin, Mercer, and everyone else in the Alliance who had been his friend. Even Senka. He hadn't received any letters from her except the last one that told him of how she'd figured out who she actually loved. Alaric had been happy for her, but that was the last he'd heard from her.

His thoughts were interrupted when a guard approached him, face pulled into a deep frown. “Lord Goneril, there's someone at the gate who requests your presence," he spoke, causing Alaric to furrow his brows. Who would be here at this time of night to see him, specifically? He nodded, pulling his coat, trimmed in black fur, over his shoulders. When he approached the gate, he felt his eyes narrow slightly at the man.

“From my understanding, you are looking for Lord Goneril?" he stated, tilting his head slightly as he regarded the man. “I am he. What can I do for you?"

The man was dressed in the manner of a hunter or some other sort of outdoorsman: serviceable, heavy-duty garments in muted colors. When Alaric approached, he pushed off his cowl and pulled down the scarf covering his nose and mouth, revealing a shag of dark hair and a curious pair of eyes—nearly crimson. He smiled, the expression oddly mirthless, almost lupine.

"A Duke who calls himself a Lord, come to meet an unknown visitor on the cusp of night?" he sounded amused. "You don't scare easy, do you, Your Grace? I could be an assassin for all you know." He did not, however, make any kind of move to draw either the powerful-looking bow over his back nor the visible dagger at his hip, instead crossing his arms over his chest.

"Care to offer a humble huntsman shelter for a night?" He tilted his head, something behind the words.

Alaric furrowed his brows. Was he not supposed to meet visitors who came for him? Deirdre had always said it was the proper thing for a Lord to do, and he just assumed it was correct. He shook his head, though.

“I'm afraid this isn't an inn. We do not have beds comfortable enough for a passing hunter, however," he paused to contemplate the options. It was a cold night, and no doubt this man had traveled a long ways. He couldn't just leave him out, even with the chance of rain on the horizon.

“If you do not mind a small, uncomfortable bed, you are more than welcome to rest here, if you'd like." He wasn't going to turn the man away simply because he'd mentioned assassins. Alaric wasn't fearless, per se, but there were few things that he did fear. Assassins were not one of them, and it was obvious enough that this man was not one. At least Alaric didn't think he was. If his good heart is what ended up getting him killed, well... he'd have to apologize to Mercer and Deirdre, somehow.

The man looked properly surprised for a moment, then sketched a rough bow. "I can handle small and uncomfortable, Your Grace. Many thanks."

As they made their way away from the gate and its guards, though, he spoke again in a low voice. "Mercer didn't tell me you lacked any sense of self-preservation," he said with a sigh. "Anywhere around here free of ears? I've got a message."

“Mercer?" he spoke, pausing in his steps as he felt both of his brows raise in surprise. “Oh, uh, of course. This way," he turned down a hallway and led the man straight to his personal quarters. No one ever bothered him there, and most people would be out on patrol or in the dining hall eating what dinner they could make for themselves. When they entered his room, he motioned for the man to follow him to a desk that sat neatly in the corner, and motioned for him to take a seat.

“Tell me, what news have you from Mercer?" he asked, taking a seat on the other side.

The man shook his head, seeming faintly incredulous for some reason, but he did divest himself of his cloak—a humble, mottled green-and-brown thing—and take the seat he was offered. "There isn't much of a message this time," he admitted, lifting one leg to cross his ankle over the opposite knee. "Except that he's tried to send you several other messengers, which you have presumably not received. As such, he's resorted to, well, me." He shrugged.

So Mercer had been trying to reach him, after all. Alaric sighed, slumping into his chair, perhaps not what a Lord should be doing, however; he couldn't bring himself to exactly hold himself to that right now. Something, however, did cross his mind, and he immediately fixed his posture.

“Forgive me, but it seems I did not introduce myself properly," he began, though it was a bit late, now. The man knew his name, but Alaric did not know the man's. “Since you know my name, perhaps you'd be so kind as to grace me with yours? And if it is... easier, you may just call me Alaric. Mostly everyone does," since the use of Lord or Duke was usually reserved for the meetings at the Roundtable. Alaric didn't mind people referring to him by his given name. Mercer, after all, did the same.

The man across from him looked rather amused, tilting his head to the side and simply studying him for a moment, it seemed. There was something unreadable about him, something that seemed complex and not quite as he presented, but it was hard to tell if the feeling was caused by anything genuine.

"Reynard Voigt," he said after a moment. "I was a... classmate, of Mercer's, at the Academy. Reynard or Rey are both fine."

Alaric nodded his head. The name was nice either way it was stated, and he would respect Reynard's wishes and address him as such. “It is a pleasure to meet an acquaintance of Mercer's. A friend of his is a friend of mine," he stated, feeling the corners of his lips tilt up in a small smile. For a moment, he hoped it didn't look strange to Reynard. Deirdre had said that his smiles usually were, and he did not want to disturb his new friend.

“So, tell me, Reynard," he began, leaning back into his chair and folding his hands in front of him. “I take it Mercer is using you to his advantage as a messenger? Am I to relay messages to you, and in turn, you'll deliver them to him and so forth?" he asked. If that were the case, he could see the logic behind Mercer's method. Reynard had, for all intents and purposes, appeared to be a hunter. Alaric liked to believe himself capable of seeing through a deception like that, however; it seemed that he still had a bit of ways to go.

"That was the stated plan," Reynard said, folding his arms over his chest again and narrowing his eyes assessingly. "However... if I might make an amendment, I would like to propose an additional task for the time in between, or at least the segment of it that I spend here."

He did not immediately elaborate, clearly awaiting permission to do so. It would seem that despite Alaric's own tendency to avoid formality, he was still inclined to observe some of the niceties.

“Of course. What may I help you with?" Alaric asked. He wasn't sure what else he could do, or what Reynard could do. If all they wanted Reynard to do was deliver messages, he supposed it should have been sufficient enought, however; he wouldn't deny that it left him a bit at odds with himself. That meant putting a person in danger, and though this was a time of war, Alaric did not feel comfortable doing that. In his academy years, he'd managed to win the Battle of Lion and Eagle with little to no casualties in the Golden Deer house. He supposed he and Mercer were quite alike in that aspect.

Reynard snorted softly. "Actually, Your Grace, I believe it is I who can help you." He leaned back in his chair, casually withdrew the dagger from his belt, and gave it an almost lazy toss.

It was pinpoint-accurate, embedding itself into the back of Alaric's chair not an inch from his head. It might have actually clipped off a few strands of his hair. "Congratulations. Today is your lucky day. I am in fact a messenger sent by Mercer, and not a false one sent by Gloucester, or one of his ilk. If I were, you would be very dead, you see?" He raised an eyebrow, something in his expression almost challenging Alaric to disagree.

Alaric blinked slowly in Reynard's direction, head tilting to the side. “So, you being not an assassin is helping me?" Alaric was confused. How was this going to help him? If anything, it just meant that Reynard was going to make a very good messenger since he knew how to handle himself, it seemed.

“Forgive my lack of awareness, but how does that help me?"

For a moment, Reynard just blinked at him, apparently quite unsure of how best to explain. "You—" he sighed. "You need a bodyguard, Your Grace. More importantly, you need an awareness of your own safety that you currently lack. While I am sure your vassals have a great appreciation for your informality and willingness to do things personally, it is in fact currently a liability to the Alliance, and to Mercer. As such, you should learn ways to be more cautious while preserving your... approach. I believe I can be of value in this. I am, in fact, an assassin by trade. I can teach you to protect yourself from them. And do so myself, when I'm about."

Alaric didn't think so, that he was a liability to either. Perhaps Mercer because they were friends, and he knew how protective of friends Mercer was. But Alaric wasn't all too valuable to the Alliance to warrant being worried about his own safety. Maybe his mindset was wrong, but he supposed Reynard made a fair point. Right now, Mercer needed every able body he could get to prepare for the war that would, undoubtedly come.

“I will agree on the condition you do not address me as Your Grace, or Lord or Duke," he spoke. It was a fair trade in Alaric's mind, though really, it seemed just slightly more in Alaric's favor. He didn't mind, much, oddly enough.

Reynard snorted. "As you wish, then... milord."

Alaric chuckled lightly. “I suppose it serves me right for suggesting you call me anything other than what I'd said. If at all you decide to call me Alaric, I shall be most..." he felt an odd feeling, then. “It shall make me happy, I suppose. I look forward to our mutual partnership, Reynard Voigt."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1181 - Great Tree Moon - Monday the 26th
Enbarr Castle - Midmorning - Light Rain
Vridel von Hresvelg


Personally, Vridel thought it rather silly that he could not share quarters with Thea for another few weeks, but he supposed that for the sake of her reputation, he was more than willing to remain separately-quartered, for now. It had become something of a routine for him to check on her just after brunch, and for the two of them to perhaps slip away for a walk or some other form of time alone, and he relished these opportunities, because with all the work they both had to do, they were relatively few.

It would be that way for a while, he supposed, even after the wedding. But in a way that was one of the reasons he most looked forward to it. Because when she moved into the royal suites, they would at least have evenings and sleep to themselves, which would perhaps help alleviate the keen sense of annoyance he felt sometimes, when it was the middle of the day and he'd not seen her for several hours. He supposed that really such things were normal, and that the odd pace of life at the Academy was what was stranger, when they spent most every afternoon and all of Saturday and most Sundays in the same company.

But, well, he thought perhaps his unique circumstances and limited time entitled him to a bit of avarice—greed for the mere fact of her presence. Absurdly, he found himself brushing down his clothes, making sure everything was tidy, before raising his hand to knock at the door. The woman had agreed to be his wife, and sometimes he still worried a little bit about looking his best for her. Perhaps it wasn't a bad thing, even if some echo of his old self sneered at who he was now with disdain.

“Just a moment," he heard her call from the other side. It was only a second later before the door opened to reveal her, and she blinked at him with a large smile on her face. She glanced around as if ensuring they were free of any eyes before she grabbed the front of his shirt and pulled him down to her level. She placed a chaste kiss to his lips before she let go of him, and took a step back.

“Good morning, Vi," she greeted, still smiling up at him. “Is it time for our walk?" she asked, her head tilting to the side.

He was really, really going to enjoy getting used to this.

At some point, she might move away from chaste kisses by way of greeting, and then he would be simultaneously the luckiest and most tortured man in the world, he was sure of it. He wasn't in any particular hurry, though. Thea did things at her own pace, as she was comfortable, and that was what he wanted more than anything else.

He grinned at her, perhaps a bit stupidly, and nodded, straightening back to his proper height. “It is," he replied. “I thought we might go to the west gardens today; they're a little more private." He lifted a hand, trailing along the line of her jaw with a fingertip. “Away from prying eyes. I do wonder what we might get up to."

It was unlikely that were he here, Reynard would approve of isolating themselves, but he was a fussy mother hen sort; Vridel was confident in their ability to defend themselves if necessary, and tired of being followed around, even by the few members of the guard he knew he could trust. He didn't think it was too much to ask, to steal a little time away with the person he loved.

She grinned at him as she took his arm. “Well, let's get to it, then," she stated in a rather chipper tone, as if she were excited to spend alone time with him. Perhaps she was, as she'd voiced as much not too long before everything happened. “And who knows," she spoke, her voice becoming low as her eyes narrowed slyly at him. “Maybe I get to learn something new with you, today," she stated with an arched brow.

He arched his right back, more than a little pleased by her open flirting. Really, it was sometimes hard to believe this was the same woman who'd turned flame-red at the lightest implications before. When she even recognized them.

“Not that I'm already learning new things," she murmured that part, though, and her brows furrowed. A reference, perhaps, to all of the things she'd need to learn about the Empire. She shook her head, though, and the smile returned to her face as she glanced up at him.

“And it's going to be worth every second that I spent away from you, because then that just means I'm learning part of your history, too," she spoke.

He had to genuinely admire that about her—Thea had taken to studying the Empire's history, culture, economy, and so on with great gusto and enthusiasm. Within a year or two, he thought she'd be as informed as any Imperial spouse ever had been—certainly moreso than his mother had been. Then again, he supposed she'd never really counted as a spouse per se.

“Speaking of my history," he said, guiding them out of the castle and onto the garden path, “my father would like to have tea again this afternoon, if you're amenable." Ionius seemed rather charmed by Thea, which was quite understandable, and the three of them along with Lady Lyanna had somehow fallen into the habit of weekly teas.

Vridel couldn't say he minded, exactly. He'd never been close with his father, and Ionius's foibles as a ruler had made things difficult in certain ways, but at the same time he was a frail man, put in his position by his Crest, not any particular desire to be Emperor, and Vridel could not blame him for the way things had been done for centuries. He supposed his father loved him, in a distant sort of way, and supposed he could say the same. Perhaps as they both neared the ends of their lives, there would be time for something more than that to grow between them.

“I think he might ask you about grandchildren this time, though, so do be prepared for that." He shot a sly glance at her from the corner of his eye.

Her brow arched slightly, but her face was turning a recognizeable shade of red. She cleared her throat softly, though, and shook her head. “Well I suppose I should ask how many does he want?" she shot back, a strange grin forming on her lips. “I mean... it wouldn't be out of the question, would it? There would need to be at least one little Vi roaming around before..." she paused, her smile falling from her face as her eyes shifted to the ground. It was clear where her thoughts had gone. She was referring to his early death, and how he wouldn't be around forever.

“Sorry, I didn't mean for that to turn the way it did," she spoke, shaking her head and forcing the smile back to her face. “I'm sure if it's in our future, there will be one, but... for now, I want to be selfish and steal all your time for myself," she stated, her hand squeezing his arm rather tightly before she loosened her grip.

Vridel drew to a stop there, shifting so that he could crouch in front of her. It dragged his silks on the dirt, but he hadn't a thought to spare for it; this angle let him catch her eyes, and he set a crooked index finger beneath her chin, expression soft.

“It's all right to talk about, when you need to," he said gently. “I won't pretend it's easy, Thea, but I also don't want to pretend it isn't true." It hurt, of course, to know their time together was so intrinsically limited. Sometimes terrified him, simply because he wanted so very much to live. For her especially. But it reminded him, too, that not one moment should be taken for granted, and he knew because of it that he could never take her for granted.

He smiled slightly, and shifted the topic a little bit. “I like that idea, though," he said, grinning broadly. “You stealing all my time. But I do wonder what you intend to do with it, hm? I hear I can be pretty demanding; I hope you're willing to pay me rather a lot of attention."

It was enough to bring a small smile to her face, it seemed. She huffed lightly and leaned to place her forehead against his. “Always. And I'm sure there are ways to fill our time, together, though I want to spend most of it like this," she stated, pulling him up by the collar of his shirt to catch his lips with hers. It wasn't chaste like it was earlier. It was more demanding, more forceful and if anything, more aggressive than she usually was. Perhaps in a way, it was her way of conveying her feelings to him, and that she meant what she'd said. She only pulled away when the need for air became great, and she regarded him with a large grin on her face.

“You're not the only one who's demanding, Vridel Brandt von Hresvelg," she stated, almost as if she were happy to have learned his middle name. “I do like being able to say your name," she began, leaning her face closer to his so that her lips were beside his ear. “In more ways than one," she whispered before she nipped his ear and pulled back suddenly as if she'd done nothing at all.

“We should get going, though, if we're going to meet your father for tea," she stated, smiling almost innocently at him.

He wasn't just going to let her get away with that, though, and Vridel stood abruptly, lifting her with him. This had the delightful side effect of necessitating that his hands rest on her backside, and he made a point of giving her a playful swat as he leaned forward to capture her lips with his. “He's not expecting us for another hour. If you think I'm going to miss the chance to spend every minute of that hour with you, Amalthea Elaine von Kreuz, you've got another thing coming." He shifted aside to brush his lips along her jaw, back towards her neck, pausing only to murmur, low and raspy, in her ear.

“This time next month, you're going to be Amalthea von Hresvelg," he said, squeezing her tighter against him. The thought lit him up inside, a giddy joyousness bubbling through his veins that he swore he'd never felt before in his life. Not until her. Not until this.

He was just committing himself in earnest to lavishing the graceful column of her neck with his attention when a glint in the corner of his eye caught his attention; Vridel moved automatically, shifting his grip on Thea so she was more securely held to him and pivoting. The bite of an arrow in his shoulder swiftly turned numb, and it was no great difficulty to guess there was venom on the barbed arrowhead.

“Fuck," he hissed, setting her down because he no longer had the strength to hold her. “Thea—" his vision blurred, her face becoming indistinct. “Watch out—poison."

“Vridel," she called out his name, and immediately there was a hand on his shoulder. She was either applying pressure to the wound, or using what light magic she had to try and counter the effects of the poison. It seemed she was trying to use restore with her Crest as there was a faint glow near her heart.

“Vridel are you alright?" she asked, her voice full of worry, but she seemed calm despite the danger they were in. “We're not armed," she continued, her eyes glancing around as if to see where the arrow had come from. “Tell me what you need me to do, Vi. I'll help you," she spoke, already bracing herself against him. She was stronger than her physique suggested, which is, perhaps, the only reason she was able to support him.

He suspected, though could not be sure, that the arrow had been meant not for him, but for his beloved.Truthfully, Vridel thought this more than anything was keeping him semi-lucid, though the fact that he was conscious was entirely due to her magic. “Father," he said, trying to grind out a thought he couldn't quite express. “Have to get to—father and—Lyanna."

“Alright, let's go to them," she stated, shifting him slightly as if to get a better grip on him. She shouldered most of his weight as they made their way towards where they usually met his father and Lady Lyanna for tea. They weren't moving as fast as they could be, but that was mostly due to the residual poison in his system that Amalthea hadn't been able to remove. She seemed to be doing her utmost care to make sure she didn't rush him, or cause him pain in anyway, but it was evident in her face that she was concerned and trying to hurry.

When they arrived, Amalthea's eyes widened slightly. “Vi... Vi what's going on?"

It took him a moment to figure out how to answer. He couldn't quite seem to make his eyes focus, and when he did—

Red.

There was red everywhere. On the rugs, spattered on the walls—

In the pale grey of his father's hair.

Vridel felt himself stop breathing. His father was... it couldn't be. Not like this. His father was an ill man, it was true, but he'd always been an ill man and it wasn't—it wasn't supposed to be like this. He was supposed to be safer now, the crown no longer on his head, and yet... and yet someone had murdered him in his own chambers. Broad slashes, slow-bleeding things, with the cutting side of a wo dao or other single-edged bade, just like the ones he—

“Thea! Vridel!" Lady Lyanna's voice cut through his haze at the same moment the realization snapped into place. This was it. This was the Council's master stroke. They intended to kill everyone he'd ever loved... and blame him for it.

Thea's sister hurried towards them, unharmed but for what seemed to be a healing cut on her cheek. “Thank the goddess you—" She came close enough to see into the chamber and gasped. “The Grand Duke?" She took a step forward, almost as if to try and save him, but realized no doubt in the very next moment that there was nothing to be done.

“You have to get out of here," Vridel said dully, straightening so he wasn't leaning on Thea so much. “If this is their plan, it's already succeeded. I'm sure they have the judge lined up to strip me of my titles and have me hanged for murder." It was admirably simple, actually. A bloodbath, the extermination of his tiny unit of support, with his own legal execution at the end. No one would support him if they thought he'd killed his father, fiancée, and future sister in law.

He hadn't expected anything this bold. Duke Aegir he'd thought much too conservative for something so...

“It's almost poetic, isn't it?" The modulated voice was chillingly-familiar. Vridel whirled, magic wavering at his fingertips, to face the Flame Emperor. He was flanked by no less than three dozen soldiers, staring them down with the blank, masked visage. “Ambition moves you to monstrosity, and the Hresvelg who tried to escape his roots becomes the one who burned his own family tree to ashes."

“Thea, Lyanna—run. You know where to." Or Lyanna did, at least. It was something he'd made her promise him.

Thea's grip on his arm, tightened, though, and she shook her head. “I'm not leaving you, Vridel," she spoke, though her eyes were wide with fear. Of what, he couldn't say. For him, for the Flame Emperor before them? “I told you, whatever it is, we're going to face it together," she stated, her eyes shifting towards Lyanna as if to silently plead to stay.

“I can't... I won't leave you," she continued before her focus went towards the man before them. “You're not going to get away with this!" she nearly shouted, her gaze narrowing slightly.

“We are," he said gently. “And Lyanna knows where to meet me. But for now, we have to get out of here, and I can delay them the easiest. Besides... I know my way around the castle." He honestly wasn't sure if he'd make it to any of the passages he knew, but even if he didn't... he'd be damn sure she had.

“Thea, he's right. We have to go or we'll just be in the way of his escape." Lyanna drew her sister away, using a surprising amount of strength to do it. Vridel stepped away, too, lighting another spell in his newly-free hand.

“But... Lyanna, I can't. I can't just..." something caught in her throat as she glanced at Lyanna. Her attention went back to Vridel, and he could see the moisture building behind them. She blinked, and it was gone, however; her eyes were still fixed with his. “Please stay safe, Vridel. Please," she sounded almost desperate in her plea before she turned towards Lyanna. There was something in the way she stood, though, the way her shoulders were shaking slightly that gave way to her worry.

“I believe in you, Vi. I... I love you," she whispered before she took hold of Lyanna's hand. “Let's... let's go. Before I can't. Before I change my mind."

“I love you, too." He didn't know if she heard, didn't know if she could've, but he needed to say it, properly, at least once more.

It wasn't until he could hear Thea and Lyanna's footsteps receding that Vridel threw the first spell. he Flame Emperor seemed to have been expecting him to say something—certainly he gave no indication that he cared about the retreat in progress. The first spell just barely caught his mask, the second hitting him in the chest and staggering him. The mask fell—and Vridel froze.

“Volkard? You're the Flame Emperor?"

It fit, in a way, of course. And yet still through the haze of poison Vridel felt... dull surprise. He'd half expected that other man, Thales—the one who'd killed the Professor and Sir Jeralt. What was the connection?

“Well. I suppose this does complicate things." Volkhard stooped to retrieve the mask, brushing away a bit of dirt from the interior. “I can't have you talking, now can I? You never could just do as you were told, Vridel. Of all your siblings, that it was you that survived..." He heaved a sigh.

“Regrettable. If only I had such a pliable pawn as Cornelia does."

Cornelia? Wasn't that—

“But now, I fear, you'll simply have to die on the spot."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Amalthea von Kreuz Character Portrait: Jeralt's Journal

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I.Y. 1181 - Great Tree Moon - Monday the 26th
Outside Enbarr Castle - Late Evening - Rain
Amalthea von Kreuz


Where was he?

Amalthea was tense, fear coursing through her as they waited for Vridel to arrive. He'd told them that he would meet them, that he'd known his way around the castle. But where was he? She toyed with the ring at her finger, twisting it back and forth in an almost soothing motion as she tried to calm herself. It was late, and he still hadn't arrived.

“Lyanna," she called out, glancing towards her sister. “Lyanna, what do we do? He hasn't... he's not," she couldn't get her thoughts together to say what she wanted to. It was getting late, and he still wasn't there. Maybe he got caught up by something? Maybe he was just making sure he wasn't being followed, and he'd show up with a flourish and that smile of his that Amalthea loved.

Maybe...

Lyanna had passed their vigil mostly in silence. It was easy for Amalthea to tell she was worried; it was there in the crease in her brow, the uncertain cast of her features, however hard she might try to smooth them over and appear more neutral.

The two of them stood under an awning outside what seemed to be a local restaurant. It was a brick and mortar edifice; Lyanna had spoken with the owner for a minute when they first arrived, and they hadn't been disturbed since—not by staff and not by passers-by either, though they had surely drawn attention, for their appearances if nothing else. Both of them were dressed very well, and both Sunny and Lyanna's pegasus Euphemia were clearly of excellent stock, currently stabled at the inn next door.

“I don't—I don't know, Thea," she said softly, turning her eyes away from the street to meet Amalthea's own. Rain pattered softly on the awning, muting the sounds of late-evening life around them. “He said... when we spoke of this, he said to me that we should leave if he did not join us within a few hours. I don't—I don't know how safe it is to stay much longer, especially if—" She flinched, the end of the sentence obvious in the same way Amalthea's had been.

Amalthea felt a tug at her heart. He wasn't dead. He survived, somehow. He had to have. She didn't want to believe that he'd died while she ran away and did nothing. She pushed the thought far from her mind as she turned her gaze back out towards the street, looking for the familiar shade of white hair to appear. She could feel it becoming harder to breath, but she wouldn't allow her tears to fall. It hurt not knowing if he was okay, or if he was safe. How could she have left him behind? She should have stayed, should have helped, should have...

“We can't leave. We have to wait... please, just a little longer," she stated, turning towards Lyanna with pleading eyes. She could feel her heartbeat increase its pace, and it felt like someone was strangling it. Drowning it in sorrow and pain and everything else she didn't want to believe was there. Pain. Grief. Sorrow. She just wanted to know, needed to know that Vridel was safe.

She took in a shuddering breath. “Please? Can we stay just a moment longer?"

Lyanna grimaced; the conflict was plain on her face.

At that moment, the restaurant owner she'd spoken to previously appeared, bearing a tray of small sandwiches and sweets. “Pardon me, miss, but... I thought y'might be gettin' hungry." He was an older fellow, rotund in the way that sometimes happened to a good cook, with grey whiskers in his dark red beard and a shaved head.

Lyanna pursed her lips slightly, but then offered the man a smile. “We were, actually. I suppose we can stay long enough to have a little something to eat."

With a genial smile, the man set the tray down on one of the wrought-iron tables beneath the awning. “Be right back with somethin' t' drink," he promised.

“I'm not sure we can—" Lyanna grimaced.

He seemed to understand, though, and shook his head. “Any friend o' the Emperor's is a friend o' mine, and I don't charge m' friends." He ducked back inside, leaving the two of them to be seated. Lyanna did so with some reluctance, gathering her skirts about her and turning her eyes back out towards the streets.

“It's been so long," she murmured.

Amalthea wasn't sure she had the will to eat, right now. She wasn't hungry; she was worried about Vridel. So very worried. She could feel the bottom of her lip quiver slightly as she tried to suppress it. Tried to keep the tears back, but it seemed to no avail. They streaked down, warm against her face as they fell from her chin. Lyanna was right, of course. It's been hours since they left. And Vridel hadn't shown up. He was... he was on his way. She tried to convince herself of this.

He was on his way, going to surprise her and then they could run to wherever they could. To Mercer, to Sorcha. Somewhere. Anywhere. For a brief moment, Amalthea wondered if this was how Lyanna felt. How worried she must be not knowing if the person she loved was safe? Amalthea swallowed thickly, her shoulders shaking with the force of her silent sobs.

“Lyanna..." she choked out, reaching towards her sister. “He's not... he's not..." she couldn't finish her sentence. He couldn't be dead, could he? They had dreams they were supposed to accomplish. They had to change the world, together, so that... so that when the time finally came, he could go in a world that he could be proud of. Not like this... not like...

Lyanna nibbled absently on one of the sandwiches, seemingly not all that interested in eating either. If anything, it seemed she'd taken the excuse to stay a little longer. When Thea spoke, though, her sister's eyes returned to her, wide and soft in the dim light of the magical streetlamps around them. Immediately, she dropped her sandwich back to the plate and reached for Amalthea, all but pulling her into her lap. It was something she'd done often when Amalthea was smaller, and she tucked her chin on her sister's head, wrapping slender arms around her with strength that was always a little surprising.

“He's not," she said softly. “He's not, Thea. I may not know him quite so well as you do, but I know enough. Vridel is a clever man, and a resourceful one. He knew enough to plan a way out for us. Surely he knew enough to plan one for himself, too. It may not be safe for him to meet up with us, but that doesn't mean he's gone."

She wanted to believe Lyanna. To believe that Vridel was still alive, but that didn't stop the sob that tore through her throat. Amalthea felt herself drowning in her tears, holding her face into Lyanna's shoulder, and clenching tightly to her sister's blouse.

“Ly... Lyanna, I don't... I can't leave him, not yet," she choked out. She didn't want to leave at all, but she was trying to put herself in Vridel's shoes. He would have wanted her to stay safe. Away from those who would try to harm her and her sister. He'd told her that it was going to be difficult being his wife, being with him, but Amalthea had chosen this. She'd chosen to be with him regardless of the danger. Regardless of what she'd have to face in order to be with him, but this...

“Where will we go?" she asked, glancing up at her sister with tear-filled eyes. She tried to blink them away, but found she had not the strength to do so.

Lyanna exhaled softly, using the tips of her fingers to carefully brush away Amalthea's tears. “When we talked about this, Vridel suggested Garreg Mach," she said gently. “You've seen the condition it's in, of course, but... the monastery and the town have been all but cleared out in the past month. The imperial army has no need to keep an eye on it, and... in some way, it's the last place our enemies would look." She pursed her lips, seemingly trying to bolster herself.

“I don't know what's become of anyone else, but... I do know that there are many friends who might think to come by that place. And if we can be there, to greet them and hear news, then we might be able to share it with others. And I think that will be our best chance of finding him again."

Amalthea swallowed thickly, taking in a shuddering breath to keep more tears from falling. “We... we did promise to meet in five years," she spoke, perhaps the only thing that could keep her going. “Garreg Mach..." she continued, pushing a light sigh from her nose. She didn't think she'd ever be back there, again. Not because she didn't want to visit, but because of what it reminded her of. But maybe that's what she needed? The constant reminder?

“We should..." she choked out, trying to steel her voice as she tried again. “We should go, Lyanna. Before... before anything else happens."

Nothing else could happen. Amalthea would not be able to bear anything else.