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Sorcha Blaiddyd

"For now I do what I can, so that someday I can do what I dream of."

0 · 171 views · located in Fódlan

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

Description

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xxxxxxxxx◙◙◙◙* Female xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 17 xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 5'8" xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 120 lbs. xxxxx◙◙◙◙* Faerghus Heir

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


--Image- LANCE decent with lances
BOW good with bows
FLYING a natural on pegasusback
FALCON KNIGHT [LOCKED]
CREST OF BLAIDDYD Minor Crest of Blaiddyd



Image Soldier keep on marchin' on
- - - - - - - Head down til the work is done .


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Sorcha Eilís Blaiddyd (Sor-kah Eye-lesh Blay-thid), is the first and only child of the deceased King Lambert of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. As she was also born with the Crest of Blaiddyd, it was well understood from an early age that she was to be the next Queen, especially when a short time after her birth, her mother passed away. This knowledge has always carried with it a certain burden of expectation—as there were no other candidates for the position of heir, it fell to Sorcha to become the person her country needs, and this is a concern that is always at the forefront of her mind.

Though not a naturally confrontational individual, she understands how important it is that a Queen of Faerghus be willing to take up arms in the Kingdom's defense, and so she swallowed her anxieties relating to violence and learned all she could from tutors and soldiers. Always one to dedicate herself wholeheartedly to her pursuits, the young princess was often to be found putting in extra practice at early or late hours, away from most eyes, failing as many times as necessary to succeed. It was a lesson she learned well—that failure is the soil in which success is planted. Most of the time, this knowledge is enough to keep her going, even when things are difficult, but she has also endured failures that feel and seem fallow. This fact has given Sorcha's personality more than a touch of melancholy, and she feels keenly the weight of her responsibilities and the things she must live up to. She is hard on herself, at the same time as she exercises abundant mercy in her dealings with others. It is hard to truly anger Sorcha; her personality is simply not inclined to it. As one might expect from a Princess of Faerghus, she has her pride, too, and something of a competitive streak, but these things are tempered by a gentle heart and honest intentions in all things.

Trained to politic delicacy, Sorcha still sometimes manages to forget how to employ it, especially in the company of friends, and she prefers that those in her company address her informally, rather than as 'Princess,' or 'Your Highness.' These are titles she does not feel she has earned, but rather that have been bestowed upon her for an accident of birth, and she sees no merit in insisting upon them. Sorcha deeply and truly believes that a Crestless commoner can be every bit as noble and worthy as the highest and most powerful of rulers or clergy, an opinion she has learned not to state in any but the vaguest terms, at least in the company of nobles and clergy. She dreams of a world where those with power are not permitted to trample those without, and works earnestly and with dedication at becoming the kind of Queen who can usher in the beginning of such an era in Faerghus—even if that means she will not be Queen for very long at all.

The princess is still young, and retains a childish side, given to silliness and fun, but it is often eclipsed by her inborn solemnity, and a true smile from Sorcha is a rarely-seen thing indeed.


Image Quiet now, you're gonna wake the beast
- - - - - - - Hide your soul out of his reach / shiver to that broken beat.


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Sorcha was born in Imperial Year 1163, during the Blue Sea Moon, to King Lambert of the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus and his first wife, Sinaéd. Her mother died not more than a year after her birth, the victim of a plague that ravaged much of Fhirdiad and the surrounding area. In truth, the plague almost took Sorcha as well, but she survived, something that those who knew the most of the incident considered to be a miracle. It was a little bit of history that got out into the general populace, and she earned a reputation for a rare hardiness of spirit very agreeable to Faerghus culture, and the affection nickname "Miracle Princess," for this as well as being born with a Crest of Blaiddyd, far from a guarantee even in the royal family. Many believed her particularly blessed by the Goddess, though for the most part Sorcha remained unaware of these rumors.

Her childhood was otherwise largely typical of nobility in Faerghus. She was well-educated in history, politics, mathematics, and literature, as well as in civic engineering, an enterprise that had recently become of great importance in Faerghus, as it was improvements to Fhirdiad's infrastructure that were credited with ending the plague, the work of a brilliant mage and engineer named Cornelia.

When Sorcha was eight years old, her father remarried the exiled former Empress of Adrestia, Patricia. Patricia is the only mother figure Sorcha really remembers, though she was always somewhat distant with the Princess, melancholy in a way that Sorcha never seemed to be able to touch, no matter how many times her childish self tried to reach out her hand. She did, however, make friends with one of Patricia's children, Vridel von Hresvelg. They knew each other for about three years before Vridel returned to the Empire, leaving Sorcha once again without siblings of any kind.

Only a year later, on a diplomatic venture to Duscur for peace negotiations, the royal family and knights in the Holy Kingdom delegation were attacked and slaughtered by persons unknown. Sorcha, along as part of her training to be Queen someday, was the sole survivor of that incident, which killed her father, stepmother, and her teachers and mentors among the Kingdom Knights.

In the aftermath of that event, a grieving nation and shattered nobility came to blame the people of Duscur, and the acting regent ordered immediate retaliation, despite Sorcha's protests to the contrary. She was only a girl, after all, not yet ready to be Queen, and even the Miracle Princess could not save Duscur from what happened next. What she did do was steal a pegasus from the knights' barracks and fly as fast as she could to the site, but Duscur was a small nation, and Faerghus's attack swift and executed on all sides at once. Sorcha flew into the burning capital, determined to do something, anything to put a stop to the killing.

But she was much too late. She came upon a group of soldiers at the palace, about to kill a young woman not much older than herself, and Sorcha threw herself in front of the girl, ordering the soldiers to stand down. They did, with reluctance, and after some discussion, Sorcha flew the girl home with her. The girl, named Senka, became one of very few survivors of the Tragedy of Duscur, and also Sorcha's best friend.

In her sixteenth year, she enrolled, along with Senka, at the Garreg Mach Monastery Officers' Academy.


Image You wanna take a drink of that promised land
- - - - - - - You gotta wipe the dirt off of your hands..


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Mercer
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
I... oh, goddess, why him?

Whatever she was expecting to come of this, an honest-to-goddess engagement was not it. She could probably complain about how completely unromantic it is, but she knows better—a mistake he made as a child has in fact saved her from a rather unsavory arranged marriage to Duke Gloucester. She's trying to be grateful for that instead of wishing for anything else. Mercer respects her, truly and honestly, and that's enough. It has to be.

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Senka
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
She has it so hard, but her strength is amazing.

Senka seems at long last to be opening up to people who aren't Sorcha, and allowing herself to imagine the possibility of a future that has real happiness in it. Sorcha couldn't be happier for her friend, even if there is sometimes just the faintest twinge of envy in it. Senka deserves everything she's discovering she has, and more, so the feeling never lasts long anyway. If her friend could be happy, well... Sorcha will be happy too.

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Cyril
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
He's really looking out for all of us.

The Professor is an incredible person—Sorcha truly believes this. He's gentle and patient with his students, while still expecting a lot out of them. Never too much, though, and that's a hard line to walk. He's also protective of them, in a way that seems to be showing itself increasingly often. Part of Sorcha wonders if this is what it's like to have a big brother. A more traditional one than Vivi, that is.

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Amalthea
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
Heh. Poor thing. Vivi's a handful.

Sorcha really likes spending time with Thea. It feels like the three of them—Thea, Senka, and Sorcha—make a pretty good little group to spend time with, and she values the warm friendship that's beginning to bloom there. She's never really had a friend besides Senka before, and while Sen will always be her first and best friend, that doesn't mean she can't love Thea to bits, too—and she really does.

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Vridel
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AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
Guess the secret's out. Good.

Sorcha was glad to knock down the residual obstacle in the way of her and Vivi's friendship—the secrecy about their relationship. Even if it was only to Mercer, they've let it out now, and it feels like a wall is gone, somehow. She wants to rekindle their childhood friendship. She really has considered him her brother the whole time, and hopes that he's felt similarly.

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Coding by Aethiya, inspired by maccotango's guide to the same.


So begins...

Sorcha Blaiddyd's Story

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia
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I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Thursday the 2nd
Outside Remire Village - Evening - Foggy
Sorcha Blaiddyd


Sorcha could swear the pounding of her heart was loud as a drum, the way it filled her ears. Her blood all but sang alongside it, rushing through a body pushed by adrenaline to the very edge of desperate survival instinct. It was powerful, the way her fear coursed through her body, jangled through her mind. It left no room for rational thinking. None she didn't seize with sheer force of will, anyway, and just now she was rather sorely lacking in strength of will to spare.

Twigs snapped sharply underfoot, but they'd long since abandoned stealth—there was no choice but to run An arrow whistled by overhead, thudding into a tree slightly to her right. It must have just missed Mercer, that close.

“Dammit," she forced out between gasps for air. “Won't they just let up?" All the valuables they'd had with them had been left behind with the supply convoy, but still the bandits pursued, and they didn't seem to be interested in capture.

“I do believe they're rather too bloodthirsty." How Viv—Vridel could keep his tone so even at a time like this was beyond her, but a quick sideways glance proved that he, too, was showing the strain. He gripped his sword much too tightly as they ran, darting a look back over his shoulder and muttering something too low to hear.

“We're going to want to speed up," he elaborated, almost tonelessly. “Perhaps the Duke of Running Away would be so kind as to demonstrate?" His eyes were sharp as they flicked to Mercer.

“Is this really the time to be cracking jokes?" Instinct alone guided Sorcha over a fallen long—she wouldn't have thought she could make such a jump, but when she gathered her legs beneath her and sprang, she cleared it with the barest scuff of the toe of her boot.

Mercer made a sound, something between a huff or a snort, as he kept his gaze forward. “I thought it was a strategic move on my part, Vi. No one said you had to follow me," he shot back, glancing towards Vridel as he spoke. His pace had slowed slightly after the arrow had nearly missed him, but his speed seemed to pick back up at Vridel's comment. “Dastards just love a good chase," he muttered beneath his breath. The strain of fleeing was apparent on Mercer's face, as well.

His brows were slightly furrowed, and there were light traces of sweat beads forming on his face. “Seriously, why won't they just let up?! It's not like we have anything else of value on us. Well, maybe you do, Vi, but I don't!"

Vridel was clearly not pleased to be referred to in such a manner, but at this moment other things had to take priority, and so it was with only a faint grunt of dissatisfaction that he turned back over his shoulder again, throwing a small ball of fire at the approaching brigands. It caught one of them square in the chest, no dropping him exactly but definitely taking him out of the chase for the moment.

Sorcha had never wished quite so badly that she were any good with magic; she'd lost her bow on the field and the lance at her back wasn't the throwing kind, plus she only had the one of them. All she could really do was pour her energy into running. There was supposedly a village around here somewhere, someplace they might be able to find aid, or at least shelter and a place to make a stand. She didn't want to bring this fight down on innocent people, but there were at least a dozen bandits in pursuit and only the three of them.

The Academy teacher who should have been protecting them had been the first to flee at sign of an attack, and he was also the only one who knew the area, and so now the three of them had to flounder in the dark.

Squinting, Sorcha peered through the trees. “There! Just left, there's—" her words were cut off with a sharp yelp—a lucky arrow had grazed her thigh, and her step faltered, sending her crashing to the ground. She rolled over onto her back immediately, yanking her lance free of the strap. “Keep running!" she shouted. “I'll hold them off!"

Truthfully, she didn't like her chances of lasting more than a few seconds, but she didn't want them to feel bad for leaving her behind, either. She struggled to get to her feet, knowing the pursuers would be on her any second now.

“You've got to be kidding me," was the only reply Mercer gave before he showed up next to Sorcha. “Can't do that, princess. As much as I'd like to keep my ass alive, you have to stay alive, too," he stated as he offered his arm as support so that she could gather her feet. His bow, which had been strapped against his shoulder, was in his right hand as if he were getting ready to help her face their pursuers. His jaw was clenched tightly, and his eyes were narrowed out into the direction they would be coming from.

Though she was ready to make the sacrifice, Sorcha had to admit she was glad she wasn't going to be. Dying alone was... well, not something to think about now.

When Mercer offered his left hand down towards her, she grasped it, using it to help herself to her feet. She was struck, all of a sudden, with a powerful sense of deja vu, like it was something she'd done before, but pushed the thought quickly to be back of her mind. She'd definitely never been chased through a forest by bandits before. This might well be her first and last experience with that. Maybe her mind was trying to come to terms with her first real taste of battle.

“Thanks," she said, just barely loud enough to be heard over the heavy treads of the approaching bandits. Releasing his hand so he could draw, she grimaced.

“It's too dark to see properly," he muttered in a low tone. Still, he gripped the bow's handle and fixed an arrow to the notch. “Could this day get any better?"

“Ugh, fine. Close your eyes."

Sorcha complied immediately, instinctively trusting Vivi not to be setting her up to die faster. Behind her lids, a bright light flashed, and she cracked them open again to see several of the bandits reeling, blinking rapidly or covering their eyes with their hands.

Vridel alighted on her opposite side, sword glinting in the extra light afforded by the dimmed version of the spell. It was enough to see by—enough to choose targets by. “They won't be disabled forever—get to it."

Following his own advice, he darted forward, catching one of the brigands unprepared. It was almost elegant, Sorcha thought, the way his blade flashed, slicing across the bandit's thick neck and felling him in a single clean stroke. Almost beautiful.

At least it was until she heard him gurgle and choke on his own blood, shifting his hands to his throat, as though trying to hold it together. His body thrashed with pain and the fear of death, she could only assume. Vridel's cut hadn't been as clean as it looked, and with a frown, he stabbed the man again, ending his suffering.

Mercer was a little quicker, releasing the notched arrow almost immediately after Vivi gave them the light they needed. His arrow grazed the cheek of one of the bandits, earning a grunting noise from the man, as Mercer cursed beneath his breath. He fixed another arrow to his bow, stretched his leg back as if he were pulling on the string with all of his strength, and aimed at the bandit once more. His aim had been true, sticking into the bandit's throat half way.

He repeated the process, though his luck wasn't as good as the second shot. Most of his arrows had either grazed the bandits, or missed completely. One found its home embedded into the knee of one of the bandits, but it wasn't a fatal hit.

Sorcha swallowed back bile, bracing her lance in both hands. There was no time to pity these men. They were many and the group of them was only three. Dashing forward into the fray, she thrust for the nearest, but he lurched to the side, and the point of her weapon caught one of the metal plates on his body, scraping against it with a screech. Reaching instinctively, he grabbed hold of her lance and yanked, pulling her forward and driving his knee into her gut. She doubled over, gasping for breath.

The sound of a body colliding with the bandit that had kneed her could be heard as the bandit fell to the floor. Mercer was quick with his draw, pulling his sword from its sheath and shoving it into the man's chest. He hadn't been wearing a breastplate, and the blade had slid almost perfectly into the man's flesh, allowing his blood to spray against Mercer.

“Man, now I'm going to be sticky and dirty," he muttered, turning towards Sorcha. He grinned lightly before making his way to another bandit. His blade screeched against the bandit's, but he wasn't aggressive in his assaults. He dodged to his right, however; the man swept Mercer's feet from underneath him, forcing him to fall to one knee as the bandit swung his blade downward.

“Can't we just talk this out?" he stated as he tried to parry the attack. “No?"

Sorcha lunged, aiding Mercer's parry with her lance. Together, they forced the bandit's blade away, and when he stumbled back under the force, she lined up her aim as well as she could and stabbed forward. This one was less armored than the last, and the point of the spear pierced the leather over his chest, finding the heart beneath. With a shrill cry, he fell, and then went still and silent.

She'd just killed a man.

“Sorcha!" Vridel's voice sliced through the haze that hadn't even properly settled. She dived out of the way just in time; a heavy whistle sounded over her head as the axe swung diagonally across the space she'd just occupied. She rolled to her feet in just enough time to see Vivi throw another fireball, but she knew he wouldn't be able to keep doing that forever.

The bandits were closing in, and for all those they'd managed to down, it seemed the overall numbers hadn't thinned much. What was worse, she could hear more footsteps approaching—it wouldn't be long at all before the three of them were surrounded. Swallowing thickly, Sorcha touched the pendant at her throat, murmuring a quick prayer for luck and backing up towards Vridel and Mercer. They couldn't afford to put their backs to these brigands, even if it meant being surrounded on all other sides.

“Anyone... anyone have any good ideas?"

“Assuming we all don't want to die," Mercer grunted out, his shoulders heaving heavily as he glanced in her direction, “we need to put more distance between us. If they surround us in a pincer..." He had trailed off at that point. If they were caught in a pincer attack, they would die. That much was obvious.

“Hey, Vi, you have enough juice in you to make a small forest fire?" he asked, glancing in Vivi's direction. “I'd hate to use such a thing... but it might buy us more time," he continued. He didn't sound entirely sure about that plan, but it also sounded like it was the only option he could see.

Vridel grimaced, jaw clenching. “I might be able to get one part of this area," he said. “But we're going to have to choose carefully."

“Where they're coming from," Sorcha said immediately, fending off an incoming attack and kicking the bandit away with a boot to the chest. Her bad leg wobbled, but held. If they could stop the second side of the pincer from closing, they might have a chance to deal with what was here before the reinforcements got around it.

“Fine." Quickly sheathing his sword, Vridel held out both of his arms at his sides, palms up. Fire coalesced in both of them, bright orange flames that she could swear flashed white for an eyeblink. When they were large enough that she could feel the heat beginning to singe her face, he let them loose. They tore through the trees with a roar, setting underbrush and foliage alike alight. She could have sworn she heard a shout, but it was hard to tell in the mess. The move only seemed to anger the remaining bandits, and soon the three of them were being forced back, unable to turn and flee but just as incapable of holding the line.

If something else didn't change soon, even this number was going to be enough to finish them off.

“Goddess preserve us," Sorcha whispered beneath her breath.

Setting

Characters Present

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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Mercer von Riegan

Mercer wasn't the kind of person who had exact faith in the Goddess. As Sorcha whispered for the Goddess to protect them, Mercer felt a bitter feeling go through him, however; he hoped for the same. Death was not something he was afraid of, but it was too soon. He had ambitions, things he needed to accomplish before his time came to an end. If he died here, on this field with Sorcha and Vridel...

He pushed the thought from his head and held his sword close to his body. Goddess or no Goddess, he was going to use whatever remaining strength he had left to keep himself alive. He didn't need the Goddess's protection, and perhaps she knew that. Perhaps she already knew that they were going to succeed. Somehow, they were going to live to see another day. Mercer had to believe in that thought, that they would make it through this with their own strength.

“We just need to hold out a little longer," he gritted through his teeth. “Just a little longer," he repeated. For what, he did not know. He could see that the other two were as tired as he was. They were not trained soldiers; they weren't ready for this. Not yet. But he supposed that's how his life was, being thrown from one situation into the next. He just wished that it didn't have to involve Sorcha or Vridel. All he had to do was survive. Even if it wasn't him who survived. As long as the other two lived... he'd be okay with that. They just needed to survive a little longer.

Live.

The crude lance Sorcha had picked up from the ground on their way out of the field was by this point covered in blood. The Princess herself was slicked with sweat, tendrils of blonde hair plastered to her face and neck. Her grip was shaky, Mercer could tell; she looked unwell, like she was fighting down the desire to be sick right here in the middle of the burning forest clearing. But still, she neither quit nor faltered in her stance, even though some of that blood had to be slick on her hands now, and even though she herself was bleeding, from the first leg wound and a few others she'd taken since.

On her other side, the Imperial Prince looked more winded than anything. His eyes were narrow, lips slightly parted to accommodate his breathing, sword still held at the ready. If he had any magic left, he was conserving it, though in a slightly lull in the action, he did reach over and tap Sorcha on the shoulder. Healing spells weren't quite as good as a proper rest and recovery, but it seemed to close up a few of her wounds, at least; she stood a little straighter.

The brigands, meanwhile, had figured out that they weren't dealing with average prey here, and slowed down their approach, fanning out and drawing closer all at once. One, a large fellow with a thick leather breastplate lined in fur, seemed to be the leader. He was definitely carrying the nicest axes, one in each hand—a large steel one, and what seemed to be one of the smaller throwing sorts that was enchanted to return on command.

He assessed them with dark eyes, face pulling into a sneer. “Three little whelps, givin' ya this much trouble?" he snarled the question at his underlings, pointing his axe at the trio. “S'pose I gotta do everything m'self."

“Hey now, I'm sure they're doing their best to take us down. We just aren't willing to do so," Mercer replied, a small quirk to his lips. He knew this wasn't the best situation for that kind of reply, but there were few precious minutes left. And at this point he was willing to draw those few minutes out with light talk.

“And hey, if you did everything yourself, maybe you wouldn't need your band of followers with you. Imagine all the money you'd have if that were the case. Why... I'm sure you'd be as rich and fat as the next noble," he continued baiting. That was likely to end their time, faster, but Mercer knew that people made mistakes when they were angry. And those mistakes would be the difference between life and death for the three of them.

“You first," the brigand decided, drawing back with the axe in his left hand and letting it fly towards Mercer.

Before he could even react, it was met in midair by a javelin, both clanging fiercely and falling to the ground some distance away. The bandit barely had time to more than blink in confusion before two figures, one mounted and one afoot, burst through the treeline from the side of the village.

The man on his feet seemed to have thrown the javelin. It was back in his hand a moment later, and even as he ran he lined up his next throw, hurling it with seemingly no effort at all for the nearest bandit while the mounted man—older, it seemed, and carrying an ordinary lance—charged his horse into their left flank with a short battle cry.

Of the two, the younger was by far the quieter, seeming to make almost no sound at all as he darted for the next bandit in the knot, leaving the lance through the other's chest. His hands seemed to light up with crackling magic; he loosed two bolts of it at different targets before flowing into a high kick, slamming his foot into the leaders jaw and turning aside the awkward retaliatory axe blow with the bracer on his right arm.

“What the—" the bandit leader managed no more than that before another bolt of lightning struck him in the chest, delivered by a heavy punch.

Vridel was the first to capitalize, lunging for another bandit distracted by the spectacle of his fellows falling like hewn wheat before the two newcomers. He landed two slashes, and the third stab felled his opponent, but another was coming in from behind, recovered and intent on attacking an easier foe.

Mercer didn't hesitate, and reacted with a deft hand. He lifted his sword in order to block the attack that would have sliced Vridel's back open. His eyes narrowed, and his teeth clenched at the strain of the axe he pushed against. His strength was almost depleted at this point, but he wasn't going to allow one of his comrades to fall as long as he took breath. He managed to make the bandit stagger, and took the opportunity to swipe his bow, now useless without any arrows, at the man's hand, disabling him for the moment.

Whoever these people were that were helping was of little consequence to Mercer. That they were helping at all was small relief to him, and it meant that they were going to be okay. Or about as okay as they could be. The two warriors were skilled, from the way they were fighting, but something about the younger man's face was unnerving to Mercer. There was nothing; no joy, no disdain, no revel. It was as if he were simply just existing and nothing more.

He wasn't allowed more time to assess the man as a sword came swinging in his view. It sliced a few strands of his hair, but Mercer managed to duck his head in time to avoid losing it. Better his hair than his life, he supposed. He twisted his arm around, bringing the sword up just in time to block another attack before unleashing a small flurry of aggressive attacks on the man. It wasn't the best idea, using so much strength at once, but it at least was enough to force the bandit into a defensive stance.

Hya!" Unbalancing him was enough; the Princess moved in with a surprisingly graceful whirl of her lance, building enough momentum with a twist of her body to cleave into his back and drop him. She was breathing heavily, hard gusts of air sawing in and out of her lungs, but she maintained the wherewithal to meet his eyes and nod once.

“I think... it might almost be over."

She wasn't wrong, either. The man on the horse and the younger fellow—still ignoring most of the fallen weapons and fighting with some strange combination of his fists and what seemed to be black magic—were quickly mopping through the remaining brigands. It wouldn't be surprising if those trapped on the other side of the fire just... fled, really. Certainly even as the magical fire guttered out, none of them dared to approach.

When the last bandit fell, the man on horseback dismounted, summoning the other with a nod. Both approached the trio, stopping at a respectable distance.

“What're a buncha brats doing out here?" the older man asked. He had fair hair, Mercer could see now, pulled into a short tail and shorn on the sides. His tunic was a burnt orange, bearing some kind of unfamiliar pattern in white. Several heavy pieces of armor lay around and beneath it, and the lance he bore was unadorned but seemingly of quality. He had a craggy face with a few faded scars, and a short, half-kempt goatee. It was hard to tell in the dim light, but his eyes might have been a light brown.

“Watch your tongue, old man," Vridel replied sharply, straightening to his full height.

The man only sighed, turning to Mercer and Sorcha as though they might offer a better answer.

She at least didn't seem to be in much shape to do so. It was easy to tell, with the immediate danger gone for now, that the adrenaline leaving her wasn't doing her any favors. She was clearly doing her best to hide it, but she was shaking—he could just barely hear the light plates of her armor shivering together with it. It seemed to be taking her momentous effort to remain upright; either her leg was about to go or it was just the aftereffects of the battle. Perhaps both. She leaned heavily on where her lance was planted in the ground, trying much too hard to look as though she weren't. Her face was drawn tightly; she didn't so much as acknowledge the Prince's rudeness, or the man's question.

“Uh, don't mind Vi. He's just very excited that you saved us," Mercer replied, rolling his eyes as he did. He glanced towards Sorcha again, pursing his lips together as he laid a hand on her shoulder. He stood closer to her, offering her any support she might need or want before addressing the two people. “I'm Mercer, and this is Sorcha and Vridel," he introduced himself first before he continued. “As for why us brats were out here," he paused and shifted his gaze back out towards what was left of the battlefield.

“We were doing training exercises when those bandits attacked us," he finally spoke after a minute of silence. “Our teach abandoned us the moment they did. We're really grateful to you for saving us, even if the grump over there might not appear it." The least Vridel could do was show some appreciation or thanks to these guys. It wasn't as if it would be beneath him to do it. One should always show proper thanks to someone for saving their life. Shaking his head lightly so that he did not disturb Sorcha, he glanced at the older man before his eyes landed on the younger one. He could feel a small shiver go down his back, but he couldn't tell if it was actually his, or Sorcha's.

“Uh, so. Thanks. Again. For saving us."

The younger man tilted his head slightly to the side, shifting his eyes from Mercer to Vridel before they landed on Sorcha. They were an unsettlingly-bright gold. His brows, some indistinct dark color to match his hair, furrowed just faintly, before his face blanked again.

It was the older man who did the talking, though, waving a hand dismissively. “Don't mention it." He frowned slightly, narrowing his eyes. “Teacher? You're not from Garreg Mach, are you?"

“Yeah. We're students at the Officers Academy," Mercer replied, offering a lopsided smile. “Like I said, we were doing a training exercise when we were attacked," even though the school year hadn't officially started. That would be in two days, if he remembered correctly. He glanced at Sorcha, though, and let his brows furrow slightly. They needed to rest before they made their way back to the Monastery. That, or if the teacher somehow made it back and they sent the Knights for them. Who knows how long it would be, though, before they arrived?

“You don't happen to know where the village is, do you? Remire, I think it's called?" he asked, hoping they would have an answer. “We could use some rest," he stated, placing his hand on top of Sorcha's head in a somewhat affectionate manner. She had a gentle heart, and he did not doubt that this was more than she could deal with at the moment. He wanted to get her some rest, or at least a place where she could clean up and get the blood and grime off of her.

The older man sighed heavily, and for a moment looked almost inclined to refuse, but then his eyes fell on Sorcha and he grimaced. “Sure, kid. Village is back this way. You can rest up at ours for the night, I guess. We've got a spare room."

Almost as if it were automatic, the younger man took the horse's reins and the rear position in the group, while the other led them from the forest. “Name's Jeralt, by the way. That's Cyril." He nodded over his shoulder to the blank-faced fellow. It didn't take them long to find the path, and it quickly became clear why they'd been able to arrive in such a timely manner: the place he led them to was a small complex, almost like a guardhouse or maybe a mercenary barracks. Not sizable, for such a thing, but then in a village this small it was more than expected.

Cyril disappeared for a moment, presumably to stable the horse, while Jeralt led them all to a squat cabin sitting on one corner of the complex, shouldering open the door and ushering them all inside. The room inside was cozy, with a small sofa and a couple of chairs, as well as a circular dining table with two more.

“Have a seat," Jeralt said, a bit awkwardly. “Cyril'll probably make tea when he shows up. It'll take a bit for the water to heat for any baths or anything."

Vridel took one of the chairs, pausing long enough to shed the red cloak he wore and at least smear the worst of the blood off so he wouldn't be getting it on Jeralt's furniture. “Thank you," he said after a moment, sinking into the chair.

Sorcha took one of the seats at the dining table, glancing once at Mercer with what might have been a flicker of gratitude. She'd taken her boots off just inside the door, and settled her cloak on her lap, twisting her hands into the fabric.

Mercer supposed he counted himself luckier than the other two. While he had bloodstains on his person, he wasn't nearly as covered in it as the other two. Thanks in part to the bow he'd used earlier, was his guess. At the mention of tea, though, Mercer turned his attention towards Jeralt. The name sounded familiar, but he couldn't place it. It didn't matter, though. He and Cyril, his subordinate from the looks of it, had saved their lives. And tea sounded really good at the moment. It would help ease the tension for him, at least.

“Maybe you should wash up, first, Sorcha?" he stated, taking a seat in the other chair at the table. The sooner she was cleansed, the better she would feel, was his hope. Once the water was warm enough, she should take the first wash. Mercer was used to being covered in dirt and grime, but not necessarily blood. His attention went back to Jeralt, though, and he tilted his head.

“So... are you guys Knights of some sort?" he asked, though he knew it was a redundant question. If they were Knights, they didn't look like it. And the way they fought, organized and methodical, spoke more of mercenaries tactics. He just wanted to assume that they were Knights. Mercenaries were not as bad as bandits; they didn't go around killing or stealing from people. But they were, essentially, blades for hire. If the bandits had attacked them with the intention of killing them, and not robbing them... well, that would be a different story and mercenaries would be the logical next step. Mercer forced himself to reel in his thoughts, though.

Maybe the events were finally catching up to him?

Before Jeralt could answer, the door opened again and Cyril came through, giving the group a small nod before he passed down the hallway to the left of the kitchen, disappearing into some other room. From the sound of old pipes creaking, he might be starting on heating the water, as promised. He appeared again a few seconds later, walking behind the same counter Jeralt had taken up a spot behind and pulling down what indeed seemed to be the accoutrements or tea from one of the shelves. He flicked the stove on with a snap of his fingers—it seemed to be the open-flame kind—and set the full kettle down on top.

Jeralt, meanwhile, was regarding them assessingly. “We're mercs, not knights," he said, evenly if a bit gruffly. “Is that gonna be a problem?"

“No." Vridel answered first, tilting his head to the side with a thoughtful frown. “Besides, you're not just any mercenaries. You're the Blade-Breaker, and he's the Ashen Ghost." The names seemed to mean something to him, though if anything, Cyril looked confused to hear them.

Mercer snapped his fingers in realization as soon as Vridel spoke. “That's why your name sounded so familiar!" he stated. “To think we'd be in the presence of such... such," he started, but couldn't find the right word he wanted to use. Greatness was too mild of a word, but he shook his head. “But like Vi said, I don't think it'll be a problem," now that he knew they wouldn't try to kill them at least. Plus, Jeralt the Blade-Breaker had been something of an idol for Mercer when he was a child. It also made sense to Mercer as to why he felt so strange around Cyril.

The young man was notorious on the battle field for his calm demeanor. Mercer could feel the grin forming on his lips as he recalled the stories he'd heard. “So, does that mean you're headed back towards the Monastery?" he asked curiously. The Blade-Breaker was known to be one of the greatest Knights of Seiros, but not much else was known about his departure. Or at least there was not much information pertaining to it.

Jeralt pinched the bridge of his nose. “No," he said flatly. “And I'd really prefer if you left me out of it when you told Rhea this story, thank you."

“Here." At some point, Cyril had made his way to the table with a tray balanced in one hand, apparently without any sound at all. His voice was quiet, but not quite raspy with disuse, a lower tone than either Mercer's or Vivi's, but smoother than Jeralt's gruff one. He set a cup and saucer carefully in front of where Sorcha sat with the word, and a tiny container of sugar cubes with a spoon next to it. “The sugar will help."

Her eyes widened; she'd mostly seemed zoned out of the conversation, but being directly addressed seemed to snap her out of it. “Th-thank you."

Cyril nodded once, then set another in front of Mercer—no sugar, though. Vi got a third, and a finger-sized container of milk, which he dumped unceremoniously into the cup immediately.

Mercer pursed his lips in disappointment. He was hoping that Jeralt would at least escort them back, however; he supposed he could understand. He would admit, though, that he was slightly surprised that Cyril knew how he took his tea. He didn't like sugar nor milk in it, and took the cup from its place. “Thanks," he spoke in Cyril's direction before turning his attention back to Jeralt.

“I suppose it's the least we can do since you saved us. And it would be poor of us if we didn't repay that debt," he stated. If there was one thing Mercer didn't like, it was being in someone's debt. “We promise not to tell the Archbishop of your involvement," though they would have to come up with some believable story as to how they'd survived. No doubt their good-for-nothing teacher might have exaggerated the number of bandits if he made it back to where the Knights had been stationed.

Jeralt nodded, apparently satisfied for the moment, and for a while there was silence as everyone drank their tea.

After a few minutes, Cyril spoke up again. “Water's usable. We've got spare uniforms if you need something to use until your clothes are clean. Bathroom cupboard."

Sorcha set her teacup down. “Thank you," she said again. “I'll... try not to take too long." Standing, she disappeared down the hallway Cyril had come from. There was a decisive sound of a door shutting and a latch being thrown, and then silence.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Friday the 3rd
Remire Village - Morning - Sunny
Cyril Eisner


While the guests slept and his father ran the men through drills, Cyril went about the morning's chores.

They weren't complicated, really; it was all things he'd been doing since he could remember. Feed and water the horses. Clean the stalls. Tidy the practice yard. Check all the equipment and set aside anything that needed a clean or a sharpen for later. Make sure the mess was in order before breakfast, that kind of thing. He'd done a fair share of the cooking too, but they'd actually hired someone for that here, a village fellow who didn't mind making food in mass quantities for a steady wage.

Not that the quantities were that large anymore. The mercs were only about ten these days, since the last ones had left. It was something that happened sometimes. People retired, or wanted to settle down, or just decided they were done risking their lives for pay. His father never blamed them for leaving, never tried to persuade them to stay, and Cyril thought he understood why. It was a lot to ask of most people, to live this kind of life. It was the only one he knew; maybe that was why he'd never really felt the desire to live a different one.

You're a strange one, all right. The girl's voice was only in his mind, he knew, but Cyril was quite convinced that she was real. In whatever sense that could have.

As usual, he didn't reply much to the commentary, exiting the stables and moving to the well. The guests would probably want something to drink when they woke up, after all.

“Hey!" a voice, loud and boisterous even from the distance it had been shouted, filled the air. A group of men clad in heavy armour stood at least a yard or two away from the well, and seemed to be searching for something. The loud one was the first to approach Cyril, his brows furrowed and almost knotted. He was on the larger side, and appeared to be near or around his father's age. “You haven't seen three kids, one about this high," he continued, using his hands to measure the different heights of the people he was searching for.

“They are students of the Officers' Academy at Garreg Mach," he continued. The man seemed to be the leader of the group of men since he was the only one to approach Cyril. It was also possible that they had just sent the one man to investigate before joining.. “The Knights of Seiros are searching for them!" he continued, still in a loud volume, as if he were explaining who he was affiliated with.

Cyril had never met a Knight of Seiros. He wasn't even sure exactly what they were, except that Seiros was some kind of prophet or goddess or something. But if he had to guess what a knight like that would look like, he probably would have picked something close to this man. Dressed in white armor with a cape to match, clasped at his shoulder with some kind of fancy emblem design. He blinked.

“They're here," he said, much more quietly than the man was speaking. “They were chased by bandits last night. They're resting, now."

He might have invited the man a little further into the compound, but just then his father approached, probably drawn by the volume of the knight's voice. “Who the flames is—oh, great. It's you." He didn't look terribly pleased to see the man, but he did apparently recognize him.

“Captain!" the man's voice seemed to increase in volume when Cyril's father appeared, though he addressed him as Commander. “Woaah! It's been a long time! Do you remember me? It's me, Alois, your self-proclaimed right hand man!” Alois, as he introduced himself as, continued. He blinked, though, before grabbing his chin with his hand and leaned to the side a bit.

“You haven't changed a bit!" he finally spoke. “Oh, wait, I was here for a reason. This kid said that there are three Academy students here. Is that true? They were attacked by bandits and we're searching for them."

Cyril thought it rather obvious that his father remembered this Alois, though he'd never mentioned him before. Not that he could remember anyway.

Still, Jeralt rolled his eyes and sighed. “Yes, Alois, I remember you. And yeah, the kids are here. Cyril and I had to pull their asses out of the fire last night. They're lucky we were around, and got there when we did." He frowned outright, and crossed his arms. “What's she thinking, sending them out on an exercise with no protection? I doubt they're even majority age; that girl looked like she'd never seen a dead person before."

He wasn't derisive, Cyril thought, but defensive. In a way, he could sort of understand. He thought perhaps it would be disturbing, to someone who hadn't gotten used to the reality of such things.

Alois frowned slightly at Jeralt's statements. “It's not like they were completely without protection. They were with their teacher, and we'd cleared the place beforehand. It was supposed to be safe training exercise," he finally spoke, crossing his arms over his chest. It looked like the armour made it slightly difficult, and he dropped his arms back to his side. He cast his gaze downwards, though, for a second before meeting Jeralt's.

“So, is this your kid?" he finally stated, turning his attention towards Cyril as if he were asking Cyril the question.

Cyril was well aware that he didn't look much like his father. Not really at all, in fact, save that their builds were sort of similar—the efficient muscularity of a warrior who also had to march for days at a time to get anywhere. So he shrugged a little. “I'm a bandit, actually," he deadpanned.

He could have sworn his father sighed again.

The reply was enough to bring forth a loud, boisterous laugh from Alois. He laughed to the point that it brought tears to his eyes, however; he managed to recompose himself and cleared his throat. “I see the humor skipped you and was passed to your kid," he finally spoke, his shoulders shaking slightly still from the laugh. “Hey!" he shouted suddenly.

“Why don't you come back to the Monastery with us? I'm sure the Archbishop would want to thank you for saving the kids," he stated, his eyes going large as if he were anticipating a favorable answer.

“Can we not?" Jeralt replies, but his tone is a resigned one Cyril has heard him use before. “Never thought I'd be seeing that woman again," he mutters, almost under his breath.

Still, Cyril can tell the difference between his father reluctantly accepting a thing and actually refusing, so he nods a little at Alois. “I'll get them."

It doesn't take too long, though the one calling himself Mercer proves more difficult to rouse than the other two. Vridel was already up when Cyril reached the house; Sorcha woke when he knocked. He had to actually call out to wake the third, though; fortunately they were all ready to move out rather quickly. It was a good thing he'd done most of their laundry before the sun rose; their uniforms weren't in bad shape, at least.

His father spent most of the trip up front with Alois and the other knights, leading his horse instead of riding, but Cyril dropped back to linger with the others. Though they might have been 'kids' to the others, he didn't think he was much older than them—or at least appearances didn't suggest so.

“Thanks again, for last night," Sorcha said after a while. “Aside from our own lives, I don't like thinking about what might have happened if all of us had died."

Something about the way she said it puzzled him. “What do you mean, besides your lives?" he asked.

“She means there would have been a big diplomatic incident over it," Vridel clarified, narrowing violet eyes at the path ahead of them. “Not to put too fine a point on it, but you're walking with the heirs to all three countries in Fódlan right now. Not even the Church would be able to escape blame for letting all of us die on their watch."

Cyril was surprised to hear it, though his face gave no indication of the fact. They did seem to be different, from the people he'd met. He wondered if that was because they were nobility. He didn't think he'd ever met many nobles before. His father handled contract negotiations, and so while Cyril had been in the estates of a few minor regional lords, and sort of interacted with their staffs, it wasn't like any of them had ever deigned to speak to a hired soldier like him.

How odd that these three didn't seem to mind.

Mercer had remained quiet for the most part, occasionally yawning as if he were still tired. Perhaps bored, since he didn't appear to be tired at all. There was a faint smile on his face, and like Vridel, his eyes were kept forward. They did wander towards Sorcha a couple of times, but it appeared he was checking her over as one would to ensure someone was not harmed in any particular way. He seemed satisfied for the time being, and finally turned his attention towards Cyril.

“Yeah, but luckily we didn't," he finally spoke, resting his hands behind his head. “Hopefully news doesn't get out about the incident, though. I don't want to have to deal with all the Are you okay?! and stuff," he muttered the last part, and visibly shuddered.

“So, Cyril, have you ever been to Garreg Mach? Since your dad was a captain before?" he asked.

Cyril shook his head, considering the knights that walked ahead of them. Despite his initial reluctance to make the trip at all, Jeralt had fallen in among the others with seemingly no trouble at all; the conversation up ahead was animated, and Alois's loud laughter occasionally rang back towards the four of them. “I didn't even know he had been," he replied after a slight pause. It was difficult, sometimes, to remember which answers needed elaboration and which did not. “The monastery... that's a religious place?"

“You mean you don't know?" The young woman—Sorcha—was looking at him with a puzzled expression. He supposed she must be royalty from somewhere, but he had no way of knowing which, except that her name sounded more like a Kingdom name than one from the Alliance or the Empire. They weren't that different, overall, but there were some distinctions.

Vridel—that was probably an Imperial name—was looking at him with vague incredulity, too.

He shrugged. “I know that the Church of Seiros is some kind of religion," he said. “But it's never really been any of our concern. They have their own knights, so they don't really need to hire the likes of us. Or maybe my father just avoided the jobs because of all this." He couldn't honestly be sure.

Sorcha blinked, pursing her lips faintly, but the expression soon disappeared. “That's all... correct," she admitted. “I'm sorry if I was rude; it's just I don't think I've ever met anyone whose contact with Church teachings was so limited before. It surprised me."

Cyril tilted his head. “So what do most people know that I don't?"

She hummed thoughtfully. “Well... the Church of Seiros is named after Saint Seiros, the central figure in the War of Heroes a thousand years ago," she started, almost as if unsure where to begin. She glanced at him as if for confirmation that he knew that much already; when all he gave her in return was an attentive stare, she cleared her throat and continued. “Ah, anyway. The Church teaches that Saint Seiros received a divine revelation from the progenitor goddess of our world. Times were difficult, then; the kings of the world had grown greedy, and the people suffered under their tyrannical rule. So alongside the Four Saints and the Ten Elites, Seiros rose up to fight them. The Goddess gifted them with Crests and sacred relics, and with her blessings they were able to overcome the much greater numbers of their opponents. Nemesis, the most powerful of the tyrants, was slain by Saint Serios in single combat on the Tailtean Plains in the Imperial Year 91."

“And thereafter her Church was established to spread the teachings of the goddess and punish the wicked." Vridel's contribution was much harder to read in tone. Though Sorcha sounded like she was reciting a story she knew by heart and liked, his voice was much more neutral, almost like it was forced to be so. “No other religions are permitted within the bounds of Fódlan, though of course they do exist elsewhere. Brigid, Dagda, Sreng, Almyra—" he paused, flicking a glance at Sorcha and lowering his voice. “Duscur."

She nodded. “But in Fódlan, the Goddess and the Church of Seiros are ubiquitous, which is why it's so surprising you haven't heard of them."

Cyril absorbed this evenly, nodding a bit at the end of the explanation. There were other pieces in there he didn't understand—crests, relics, saints, elites... for now though it seemed better to betray the depths of his ignorance no further. Why had his father taught him none of this? Even if he wasn't himself a believer, it seemed... well, if it was as ubiquitous as Sorcha said, it was important to at least know of.

“But if this monastery is a holy building, why do they train political royalty in the arts of war?"

“So that we can handle ourselves if any of the surrounding regions decided to attack us. The Officer's Academy was built sometime in 980 by the Archbishop of that time. Supposedly it was because they believed that the Church of Seiros had a duty to prepare the continent's leadership for whatever wars we might encounter. Almyra might have had something to do about that, or some other," Mercer responded this time, shrugging his shoulders. Unlike Sorcha and Vridel, he spoke as if he'd learned the information not as something he liked or was forced, but as something that was needed.

“Personally," he paused to glance at Cyril through the sides of his eyes, “I think it's because the Church wants to make sure that the descendents of the Elites, or whoever bears their Crest, can be useful if something like Nemesis ever happened again. I mean... it's kind of unimaginable that it would happen, but why else have the nobility and leaders in one place?" he stated as if it were just on a whim. He shrugged again, before shaking his head.

“You should be careful what you say," Vridel put in mildly. “You never know whose ears it will eventually reach."

Sorcha just looked uncomfortable, but they both let it drop so Mercer could continue.

“If you and your dad end up staying for a while, we can give you a tour of the place. The Library has all kinds of books with information that might be useful to you if you want to learn more," he stated, glancing towards Sorcha and Vridel with a smile.

“I'm sure you'd be welcome!" Sorcha added, the cheer in her tone sounding slightly forced. Maybe some residue from the last exchange. “Personally, uh... I could stand to learn a thing or two from you. I've never seen anyone throw a javelin that well on the run like you did. I can barely get enough distance most of the time."

Cyril wasn't entirely surprised to hear that. While not exactly *diminutive*, Sorcha was thinner than she was muscular, and not quite possessed yet of a warrior's build. Still, there was no reason she couldn't develop one, and he figured if she was getting any force with javelins at *all*, her technique must be pretty good.

“Well I don't know how long we'll be staying," he admitted, “but I'm sure I could find the time to practice with you at least once before we go, if you like?" He extended the invitation to all three with a slight tilt of his head.

“Man, that sounds like a lot of work," Mercer murmured beneath his breath, pursing his lips together with a deep frown. His shoulders went slack, almost as if he were already burdened with a large work load. “But I suppose it couldn't hurt to learn a few things," he added with a grin. He was very expressive, it appeared. His attention seemed to be taken by something as they cleared the forest.

“Speak of the place," he spoke, pointing forward. “Welcome to the Monastery." The Monastery was fairly large, perhaps the size of a Lord's castle rather than a simple Church. They were approaching a large iron gate that was already raised, perhaps in anticipation of the Knights' return. A guard stood on each side of the entrance, though one of them held a banner flag. The symbol of the Church, perhaps. Mercer's lips pursed into a fine line, and sighed.

“I suppose we'll have some explaining to do, unless Alois covers for us," he murmured. “Really hope Alois covers for us. I just want to go back to my bed. I can hear it calling to me."

Sorcha huffed and Vridel rolled his eyes in an exaggerated manner. Cyril felt the barest twitch of his mouth, but it was gone a moment later as though it had never happened.

“I wouldn't count on it," the probably-imperial said. “But either way I'm sure we won't be called up until she's done with Captain Jeralt and you." The last part, he directed to Cyril.

Almost as if to confirm, Jeralt turned back over his shoulder and gestured Cyril up to walk beside him. “Thanks for the company," he told the others with a small nod. “And the information. See you later, I guess."

They parted ways there, along with the other knights. Jeralt tipped his head up as they passed through what seemed to be some kind of entrance hall, frowning slightly and muttering almost under his breath. “Rhea. Careful what you say to her, kid. The Church is..." He trailed off, shaking his head.

He did that kind of thing a lot. Cyril had learned to read between the lines, and understood that did not trust this Rhea person.

“You know her?" he prompted.

His father sighed. “Yeah, in a way. She's the Archbishop here. If you can avoid getting on her bad side, do it, but don't take anything you see here at face value." That seemed to be all he was willing to say on the matter, perhaps due to the possibility of being overheard.

The two of them were led to a small waiting room; no doubt Alois had to make a report before they'd be seen, or something of the kind. Cyril hadn't been around nobility much, but even he understood that there were a lot of rules and procedures to follow and that some people were considered more important than others. It was about an hour after they'd been admitted that they were let in to see the Archbishop. Jeralt entered slightly ahead; Cyril followed with customary silence.

The woman in front of them was dressed in a long dress, white in color with the sleeves covering the middle of her hands. The cape she wore was dark blue in color and had intricate gold designs on the front portion of it. There were gold lines through the collar of it that flowed outwards, almost like a sunflower. The headdress that sat on her head like a golden crown, was perhaps the one thing that stood out against the seafoam color of her hair. There was a gentle smile on her face, but the smile itself did not seem to reflect in her eyes. There was something else lurking behind, though it was hard to say what, exactly.

“Jeralt," she greeted his father, first. “It has been a long time. I wonder... was it the will of the goddess that we have another chance meeting like this?" she continued, her eyes narrowing lightly before she turned her gaze towards Cyril. “But where are my manners. I am Archbishop Rhea, and this is my advisor, Lyanna von Kreuz," she spoke, introducing a woman to her left.

The second woman was even younger in appearance than the archbishop, perhaps in her mid to late twenties, if Cyril had to take a guess. Her hair was a dark, almost emerald-green, braided loosely forward over one shoulder. She too wore white, though the construction of her gown was much simpler, and the mantle that adorned her shoulders, while blue and gold, was shorter and less elaborate than the Archbishop's. She wore a thick golden torc necklace that sat against her collarbones, some kind of symbol engraved into its face, and rimless glasses, but was otherwise without jewelry or adornment. She offered a short nod, spring-green eyes narrowed in assessment.

“It seems that the miracle of fatherhood has blessed you. That is your child, is it not?" she asked, keeping her gaze on Cyril.

Oddly, Jeralt looked a little thrown by the question for a split second, but he nodded slowly. “Yeah," he said quietly. “This is my son. He was born a couple of years after I left the monastery, but we uh... we lost his mother to childbirth."

“I see. My condolonces," she spoke, nodding her head in Jeralt's direction.

That much, Cyril did know. He nodded slightly. “It's a pleasure to meet you, Archbishop," he said in his muted sort of way, offering a small bow more because it seemed appropriate to the woman's manner than anything. He wasn't sure of the conventions on any of this, but his father had warned against getting on her bad side, so he could at least try to guess at the right ones.

“As for you," she addressed Cyril once more with the same empty smile on her face. “I have heard all of your valiant efforts from Alois. What is your name?" she asked, her head tilted slightly in a curious manner.

“Cyril, milady," he replied, rising to his full height again. He was sort of used to being the tallest person in most rooms since he'd overtaken his father, but neither Rhea nor the Lyanna woman were short, either. “Cyril Eisner."

“A fine name indeed," she stated, the smile inching a bit wider on her face. “I thank you, from the bottom of my heart, for saving those students of the Officers Academy," she continued, nodding her head just slightly before she turned her attention towards Jeralt. “You already know what it is I wish to say, do you not?" it sounded more like a statement rather than a question.

“You want me to rejoin the Knights of Seiros, don't you?" he asked, rubbing at his nose with his thumb. He sounded tired. “I won't say no, but..."

Cyril was honestly surprised. They'd only just settled in Remire, and his father had been talking about rebuilding the company. Did he really intend to become a knight again?

“Your apprehension stings," she replied, the smile falling from her face as she frowned. “I had expected Alois would have already asked this of you," she continued, sighing softly before turning her attention back towards Cyril. “I must step away for now, however; we have a position for Cyril, as well," she stated, the smile returning to her face.

“Since the original professor no longer occupies the position, Cyril is being made the professor to the Blue Lion's House. The other two House Professors will brief you, shortly, but I surmise the Knights will desire a word with you, Jeralt," she stated as if it were something Cyril had no say in.

“Yeah, all right." Jeralt didn't seem to much question it either, though as the Archbishop and her adviser took their leave, he did mutter underneath his breath. “Forced back into the Knights of Seiros... I can't fucking believe it." A heavy breath passed from his nose, and he shook his head before turning to Cyril. “Sorry to drag you into this mess; I thought I'd left it all behind a long time ago. But she knows now, and I think it's probably best to stay, at least for a while."

Perhaps, had Cyril had any particularly strong feelings for the life of a mercenary, he might've objected. But as it was, he really didn't, and something about the way his father was acting made it seem as though there wasn't a great deal of choice to be had in the matter. He wondered if the Archbishop had some kind of leverage that she was using to arrange things this way. It would have to be the kind that was simply understood, because she definitely hadn't directly applied any in their conversation. She'd just kind of... expected to be obeyed.

Clapping his son briefly on the shoulder, Jeralt took his own exit through a different door, at just about the same time as a woman entered, her heels clicking hurriedly on the stone floor. Dressed in a dark blue gown with a deep neckline and high slits, she also wore a white over-robe with bell sleeves, accented in cream-orange. Her hair was fawn-colored and short, swept back from her brow in a bob style he'd seen before in parts of the Empire.

She blinked at him, scanning the room as if looking for someone else, but when Cyril was the only person to be found, she approached at a more sedate pace. “You're awfully young to be the new professor, aren't you?" she remarked, voice strong and lilting.

Cyril shrugged. “Old enough by the Archbishop's standards," he replied.

She huffed softly through her nose, a strange little smile curling her mouth. “So it seems," she said, agreeably enough. “I'm Manuela Casagranda: professor, physician, songstress, and available."

Cyril blinked. “That's a lot of things to be," he noted.

She laughed, the sound ringing in a way that suggested the songstress part was at least true. “What can I say? I'm a woman of many talents."

“Spare our collegue the needless chatter, Manuela. Competence and age are not necessarily correlated, as you well know," another voice stated as an older man appeared. His hair was a dark grey, signaling his age to be around the early fifties. He was dressed in a taupe colored robe, though, no white save for the handkerchief located in his right breast pocket. There was an olive green tie with a diamond shape clip to hold it in place. “Apologies for the tardiness. I am Hanneman, a Crest scholar and professor here at the Officers Academy," he stated, introducing himself to Cyril.

“I wonder," he began, his eyes narrowing slightly at Cyril. “Perhaps you bear a Crest of your own. The next time you have a moment to spare, I insist that you pay me a visit so we can delve further into the subject," he continued, a sort of amused tone to his voice.

“Now then, it seems that you'll be in charge of the academy's Blue Lion's house as their homeroom professor. I expect you haven't yet been briefed on the nature, have you?"

Crests... that had definitely come up in Sorcha's story. Cyril wasn't sure how uncommon it was not to know anything about that, so he only nodded slightly to that part of what Hanneman said. Maybe he'd be able to learn.

“I'm not sure how any of it works, to be honest."

Manuela made a sympathetic sort of noise in the back of her throat, clasping her hands in front of her. “Well," she said, “we can help. To start with, the Officers' Academy is divided into three student houses. The Black Eagle House is for students hailing from the Adrestian Empire. You've already met their house leader for this year, I believe—Vridel von Hresvelg is the Imperial Prince, and next in line to be Emperor. That's the house I teach."

“The Golden Deer House is for students who are part of the Leicester Alliance. Their house leader this year is Mercer, grandson to Duke Riegan, the leader of the Alliance. They are also the house I instruct," Hanneman spoke next in a matter-of-fact tone. “The Blue Lion house is for students from the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus. Their house leader this year is Princess Sorcha. She is to be the next Queen of Faerghus."

“To think that the next emperor, queen, and sovereign duke are all here. It certainly is a promising year for the academy," he stated, folding an arm over the other.

“And I... teach the Blue Lions?" he asked, not sure how unusual it was to have three heirs running around.

Manuela nodded slightly. “To an extent. You're the homeroom teacher for the Blue Lions, which means you teach them every morning and guide them three afternoons of five in every week. The other two afternoons, they'll be attending special lectures from either Hanneman or myself. You, in turn, will be giving a special lecture to one of our houses, in your... areas of expertise." She raised an eyebrow slightly.

“I, for example, excel in holy magics, the use of herbs and medicines, and swordplay. Hanneman here is very good with black magic, bows, and history. It's not a bad idea to have two combat-related and at least one non-combat area to lecture on. It helps keep an interesting rotation for our darling little treasures." She sounded the faintest bit sarcastic, but it seemed to be good-natured.

“Anyway, other afternoons are usually given to special instruction from our adjunct faculty, or Knights who want to give a special topic lesson. So we have a fencing instructor, who might do a clinic on swordfighting, or sometimes Alois likes to let them play with axes for a while. But overall, you're the one who will be deciding how to tutor them, so be sure to consider their talents and preferences. Our goal is to make them all well-educated officers and effective fighters, but they don't all have to be experts in everything."

“Hm, quite," Hanneman spoke, nodding his head in agreement. “Regardless, it'll be interesting to see how they grow. Classes start on Monday, so for now, I suggest you take the time to acquaint yourself with your surroundings, before then. It'll be easier on you if you know where every thing is at before the school year starts. Manuela and I have already informed the Blue Lion house leader of your new role," he continued.

“Oh, and when you find yourself a free moment, do drop by my research laboratory. I would like to investigate whether or not if you possess a Crest," he stated, smiling widely enough that it forced his eyes to close.

Cyril made a mental note to do that, but only after he'd figured his way around the campus and also decided what he was going to do for his first day of teaching.

“Sure thing," he said quietly. “And thank you both."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Monday the 6th
Officers Academy - Morning - Overcast
Senka Rinaldi


Senka sighed softly as she glanced at her reflection in the mirror. The uniform for the Officers Academy was strange to her, however; she pulled at the hem of her skirt to fix it. Smoothing out her shirt, she was satisfied with the over all appearance. Her hair, loose and curly behind her back, was another thing entirely, though. She had grown used to not doing much with it over the past three years. Growing up with various ornaments and pins through it was a habit hard to kill, but she'd mostly managed. The only item in her hair, now, was a pin in the shape of a lily, fastened to keep half of her hair up.

Sorcha had given it to her last year for her seventeenth year of life, and she'd worn it without fail, every day since. It was a memento she cherished, dearly. Sighing once more, Senka made her way towards the staircase for the upper levels of the dormitory. They were reserved for the nobles's children and those of royalty, a position Senka no longer occupied. It seemed like a life time ago, despite it only being three years. She had to enroll under her mother's birth name of Argyris. Even if they were a noble house in Faerghus, it wasn't quite as reputable as any of the other Crest houses. She was just a commoner from Almyra to the people here, and she was fine with that lie.

With her hands at her sides, she waited patiently at the bottom of the stairs for Sorcha. Even if the princess had expressed multiple times that she was allowed to greet her upstairs, Senka refrained from doing so. Even if she was under a different guise, people still spoke; still whispered behind her back of how she earned her position in the princess's good graces. And she pushed those voices from her ears and thoughts.

It wasn't that Sorcha was hard to rouse from sleep. Quite the opposite actually; she was often earlier to rise than the sun itself. But she did have a way of getting caught up in her training, and she'd never been the most concerned with her own appearance, either. So it was hardly surprising that when she came down the stairs from the second floor, it was at a sprightly run that suggested she'd already been up for a while, and also a touch disheveled. She tended to pin her long, cornsilk-blonde hair up behind her so it was well out of the way, but she was still in the process of doing that as she hit the landing, and grimaced when she poked herself a bit too hard with one of the pins, sighing heavily.

“Senka, good morning!" she said, smiling perhaps a tad too brightly. She'd been a little off all weekend, but hadn't seemed to want to speak of why. Still, she seemed much like her normal self this morning. “I uh... don't suppose you could maybe, um... help?" She gestured vaguely with the pin.

She nodded, a faint smile briefly touching her lips before it faded. Sorcha knew by now that she could tell Senka anything, however; Senka knew when to push for something that was bothering Sorcha greater than normal. Since it was the first day of class, she was going to refrain from doing so... for now. She retrieved the pin from Sorcha, and walked so that she was behind her. Running her fingers through Sorcha's hair to pull out any of the tangles, she pulled it up and placed the pin to secure the tresses. Once she was finished, she moved so that she was back in Sorcha's view.

“Is it sufficient?" she asked. She would fix it again if it were not up to Sorcha's expectations, but in the back of her mind, she already knew the answer.

Sorcha breathed an immediate sight of relief, reaching up with both hands to feel along the contours of her hair. It was rather lovely, as hair went; the color was clear and the strands thick and soft, but able to lay smoothly, with only a few pieces loose at the front. “You're a lifesaver, Sen. Thanks so much!" She shook her head. “I swear I learned about all this feminine stuff, but I can't ever remember a lick of it."

Smoothing down her uniform skirt—she'd chosen the knee-length one, and wore fitted shorts underneath in case of activity—she patted herself down to be sure she was in order. Seemingly satisfied, she tossed her blue cloak back over her shoulder to rest mostly out of the way. “Anyhow, let's get going. First day of class and all—are you excited?"

She blinked for a moment, chewing on the bottom of her lip as she thought about the question. Excited was an irrelevant term to Senka. She wasn't sure what to find exciting, but for the sake of her friend, she was trying to be. “I am... anticipating how the first day will go," she spoke truthfully. “Excited is not the word I would use," she continued, not wanting to be dishonest.

“What about you? Are you prepared for the year?" she asked, turning so that she could walk with Sorcha towards the main hall. It wasn't too far from the dormitory. It would take them through the courtyard which meant that they would be passing the other students. Taking in a deep breath to steel herself, she began walking with Sorcha. “And are you prepared to meet our professor?" she added. She'd been told by Sorcha that their new professor was hand chosen by the Archbishop, and for a moment, she wondered what kind of person they could be.

Sorcha smiled broadly, nodding a little. “Actually... I've already met him," she confessed. “I didn't know he was going to be our professor at the time, though—neither did he, I'm sure. He's really..." She trailed of, apparently trying to find the right word. “Different. And interesting, I think. He was a mercenary, before."

They turned north before they reached the main hall, skimming the dining hall to head into the small courtyard in front of the classrooms. The three were quite close together; students milled around outside, enjoying the last little while before classes started. Some were still eating breakfast as they went, it seemed.

“I think you'll like him," Sorcha continued, lifting a hand to wave to another student who'd waved at her. Most of them only wore small pins to indicate which house they belonged to, but Sorcha's bright blue cloak would have stood out even if the Princess herself was not so distinctive as she was. Though there was some mixing of the houses out here, they did still tend to cluster; it seemed a rather large collection of Black Eagles were gathered around a man who had to be the so-called Silver Prince. Clearly, the name had been given to him for the distinctive white color of his hair.

The Golden Deer were gathered around a young man who shared the same skin tone as Senka. He was talking animatedly to one of the students, smiling as if he had no care in the world. She had to quash the envious feeling in her chest, quickly, and turned to Sorcha. She nodded at the statement and made to reply, however; Senka felt something collide with her back, and tipped her forward. She managed to catch herself, twisting so that her left foot was further out than her right in order to keep her balance.

“Ow, ow," a young woman stated, rubbing her forhead. She was dressed in the same uniform as Sorcha, the one with the knee-length skirt, and her hair was a vibrant green. While not quite emerald, it did stand out quite a bit. “Oh, oh, I'm so, so sorry! I didn't mean to bump into you like that! Are you alright?" she stated, taking Senka aback. She blinked slowly before straightening out her composure.

“I am not harmed, if that is what you mean," she replied. The young woman smiled brightly at the statement, looking relieved. Senka found it slightly strange, but she did not comment on the behavior.

“I'm so glad. I'm just so excited! I just joined and was looking for my Houses' main room. Oh," she spoke in quick succession. Senka almost found it difficult to keep up. “Do either of you know where I can find the main room to the Blue Lion house?"

Sorcha snorted softly. “As a matter of fact, we do," she said, picking up the edge of the cape and flapping it a little. “I'm Sorcha, the Blue Lions House Leader. This is my friend Senka. Can I ask your name?" By now the both of them were familiar with the noble houses in Faerghus that had children of their own age. Not only was this girl not someone they'd seen before, but she didn't look much like any of the noble families Senka had met either. Apparently the same was true of Sorcha.

“Oh! That makes you Princess Sorcha! Oh what a pleasure to meet you! I'm Amalthea! I've heard so much about you," she greeted. The energy that poured from her was a little overwhelming to Senka, but she kept her face smoothed. Amalthea turned towards Senka, though, and the smile seemed to brighten. “It's a pleasure to meet you as well, Senka. I hope we can all be friends. It's just... I've never had the chance to actually join before," she continued.

Senka, however, narrowed her eyes slightly at the statement. Friends? With her? Sorcha, she could understand. Why did she want to be her friend? “Have you applied before?" she decided to ask, treading on careful waters. Amalthea laughed lightly, though it sounded a bit nervous as well.

“I have, but this is the first year that my sister actually allowed me to participate."

“Sister?" Sorcha asked, tilting her head a bit to the side. She seemed to bear none of Senka's slight suspicion of the girl, nor any particular reserve at the sentiment. But then, that was the kind of person she had always been: constantly willing to extend her hand in trust and friendship, even to people who were cold and reluctant. To someone who reached back, it was probably the easiest thing in the world for her to do.

Amalthea nodded her head violently. Enthusiastically, perhaps? Senka didn't know the proper word, however; Amalthea continued to speak. “She's Archbishop Rhea's advisor: Lyanna von Kreuz. I'm Amalthea von Kreuz!" she clarified, causing Senka's eyes to widen faintly. Taking a closer inspection of her features, she did bear some similarities to the Archbishop's advisor. She supposed it was true.

“Oh, can I join the two of you, then? I mean, if you're heading towards class?" she asked. Senka glanced in Sorcha's direction for a moment. She already knew what the answer was going to be, and decided to nod her head in agreement. They were headed that way, and she supposed it would be okay if Amalthea wanted to follow them. Sorcha would have agreed to it, regardless.

“If that is what you wish, I will not stop you," she stated, watching as the young woman fell in line with Sorcha and herself.

“Sure you can!" Sorcha agreed with considerably more verve, though definitely not as much excitement as Amalthea seemed to have. “And welcome to the Blue Lions. I'd ask why you chose us, but... we're going to be great, so it's really not that surprising." That was definitely a joke—though many nobles thought rather too highly of their status and such, Sorcha had never been like that.

The classroom they led Amalthea to was the middle of three, its entranceway decorated with blue banners in the same shade as Sorcha's mantle. There were several rows of desks, all arranged to face one at the head of the room, where a young man stood, apparently paging through some kind of book. He couldn't have been much older than Senka; though he had the fairer complexion shared by many in Fódlan, he also clearly saw sun, and regularly. He wore a neat tunic in dark teal, some unfamiliar insignia embroidered at the wide collar of it, and a dark, close-fitted turtleneck shirt beneath. Neither did much to conceal the obvious musculature of his build, and he was quite tall, apparently.

It would seem no other students had yet entered—perhaps they found him intimidating?

Whatever it was, it did not deter Senka. How could one expect to improve if they found simply looking at a young man, intimidating? Senka could understand the why aspects of the intimidation. It was evident enough that the young man knew a life of battle or some equivalent life style. He didn't seem to have the bearings of a noble, but there was something to him that could certainly pass for it if he chose. Amalthea, however, seemed excited that this person was here as well.

“Hello!" she greeted, making her way towards the young man. “It seems we're early. Are you part of the Blue Lion house as well?" she asked, clearly intrigued by this person. Senka supposed that Amalthea didn't have the same reservations as the other people who were not yet present. She seemed almost immune to intimidation, or she wasn't quite aware of what it could do to someone. Senka was not going to be the teacher on that subject, though. Everyone learned in their own way.

The question drew a quiet snort from Sorcha for some reason, but it was the man himself who answered, speaking in a voice with a smooth, low timbre. “In a manner of speaking," he replied, his visage rather blank in much the same manner as Senka's often was. That alone gave no clue as to why, however.

“Hello again, Cyril," Sorcha said, taking a seat at one of the desks in the front row and patting the seat next to her in invitation to Senka. “Or I guess I should call you Professor now?"

Senka took the seat as she heard a light gasp from Amalthea. “Oh, how very rude of me! I should have addressed you properly." she stated, causing Senka to shake her head lightly. She did not say anything, though, and glanced towards the Professor. It did not make sense as to why Sorcha thought she would like him. Perhaps because there was some similar manner of their expressions? She did not think that was the case.

“It's quite fine," he said mildly, shaking his head as though it were indeed of no consequence to him.

“That would make you Professor Eisner, correct?" she spoke, her voice soft and flat.

His eyes shifted to Senka's, locking with an almost uncanny sort of accuracy, with all the intentness of a cat tracking motion. That, and the vivid golden color of them, stopped his face from looking dead, despite the passivity of the rest of his expression. “In theory," he replied. It might have actually been a rather deadpan joke. “Until a few days ago, however, I was simply Cyril, so if you prefer that, I do not mind. The choice is yours."

The choice was hers, he'd said. She made a soft noise in the back of her throat as way of acknowledging it. She wasn't entirely sure how she felt about that. Whether or not in theory if he was a professor, then he should be addressed as such, however; she knew Sorcha preferred to be spoken to on friendly terms. If the professor was giving her a choice, she would honor that.

“Oo, professor Cyril sounds really cool," Amalthea spoke again. She was... energetic to the point that Senka felt slightly overwhelmed by it. She had never known someone with the energy and innocence of a child who wasn't a child. She made her way towards Sorcha and Senka, though, and took a seat on the other side of Senka that was empty. Senka titled her head slightly in confusion, but the expression didn't make it to her face.

She did, however, place her arm behind Amalthea when she took a seat. Her excitement caused her to sit down rather roughly, and she almost fell backwards. “You should be careful," she spoke softly, earning a nervous chuckle from Amalthea.

“I'm sorry. I'll be more careful from now on. It's just—"

“You're excited, yes I am aware," she answered before Amalthea could finish. For some reason, the statement brought a large smile to Amalthea's face before she turned towards Cyril.

“What were you doing before this, Professor?" she asked, the same curiosity littering her eyes as it did earlier.

“I'm a—" he paused, considered, and amended. “I was a mercenary."

It's an occupation to which there are varying attitudes. Some see the exchange of loyalty for coin to be base and distasteful. Others think it's a job like any other. It's likely Cyril can't be sure which they are, but if it bothers him, he gives no sign of the fact.

“He saved my life," Sorcha said, calmly enough that it almost qualified as nonchalant, except something like that would never be nonchalant with her. There's a note of genuine admiration, almost something like awe, buried well beneath it. “Last Friday, during the House Leaders' training exercise."

Cyril didn't deny it, though he didn't rush to confirm or claim credit either.

Senka pursed her lips at Sorcha. Was that why she'd been acting weird when she returned? “Why did you not tell me this?" she stated, but her voice wasn't reprimanding. She sighed, though, and turned her attention back to Cyril. “I express my thanks to you for doing so," she stated, nodding her head in Cyril's direction as a way of a bow. She wasn't standing at the moment, and it would be strange if she stood in order to do so.

He simply returned the nod.

“So that means you were able to travel all over the world! When there's time, because it would be impossible to do now," Amalthea didn't seem to have any reservations on how she addressed the Professor, and was speaking almost amicably now. “I would love to hear the stories you have. You must have plenty of them, right?"

Senka would admit that it would be slightly beneficial to hear these stories. After all, what was a mercenary but a trained soldier? And soldiers who were not bound to the teachings of the Church or Lord were able to find ways to fight that worked for them. “I, too, wish to hear these stories. If you are amenable to the idea," she added. Class would be starting soon, but perhaps after would be a good time. Or, if they were fortunate enough, he would include some of his stories in the lecture.

This seemed to puzzle Cyril a little bit, if the way he tilted his head was any indication, but then he shrugged and nodded again. “I understand there is a break for lunch between morning and afternoon classes," he said after a moment. “Perhaps you would prefer to hear them over something to eat."

It was then that the bell rang, signaling that students needed to finish making their way to the classroom lest they be counted tardy. There were about ten Blue Lions students in total, including Amalthea. Senka had gleaned the impression that the other classes were about the same—the Academy didn't admit everyone who applied, by any stretch of the imagination. The assembling group were clearly somewhat astir to note that the professor was... well definitely not the one they'd been told they'd have in their admittance materials, to say the least. That fellow had been some kind of Church person—a minor bishop of some kind or something like that.

Whatever else he may have been, Cyril did not look like a bishop.

When they'd settled, he cleared his throat, and the effect is oddly instantaneous. Something in his body language changed, and suddenly he was the center of the room's attention, not in the sort of hurried-glance way that meant people were talking about him and trying to be surreptitious, but in the sense that—it was almost as though his very presence had changed, exuding a kind of authority that Sorcha would probably envy.

When he spoke, though, it was simple. His voice carried without needing to shout, the low, quiet tone of it almost forcing the silence so that he could be more clearly heard. “Welcome to class," he said. “My name is Cyril Eisner, and I've been hired to replace Professor Morrow, who abandoned his students when their training exercise was attacked." The words were blunt, direct, and honest, and he let them sink in for several moments before continuing.

“Unfortunately that's something that happens when some people see real battle. They get scared, and they can't think of anything but protecting themselves, saving their own lives. They abandon their comrades, even if they believe they are the sort who could never do such a thing. It is a human weakness, and it is understandable." He paused, then shook his head faintly.

“I will not. I know this because I have not. Whatever else you may think of me, you may rest assured in that much at least." His tone didn't sound very assuring, but at the same time it was abundantly clear that he was being truthful. “And my job, as I see it, is to turn you into people who will not, either. And to give you the skills to succeed when you choose to fight. I have no noble title to offer you. No knowledge of prayers or blessings or rituals. But I have experience, and for as long as you are my students, it is at your disposal. Are there questions before we begin?"

Senka respected that statement. It wasn't a matter of whether or not she left anyone behind, but moreso that she was left behind. If it came down to it, Senka would gladly allow herself to be left behind if it meant that Sorcha would be safe. She glanced towards her friend, before her gaze shifted back to Cyril. A student had raised their hand when Cyril invited the questioning.

“What do you mean, exactly?" he asked, his entire face pulled into confusion. “If the situation is lost, then wouldn't it make sense to flee?" he continued. Senka felt the slightest twitch pull at her lips.

“I believe what the professor means is that he is to instruct us so that we may be courageous enough to stay and fight. Not flee no matter how dire the situation may seem," she replied in earnest. The student huffed lightly, whispering beneath his breath about not asking her. She knew he had not addressed her, but that didn't mean she couldn't explain what she thought he meant.

“That makes sense. I wouldn't want to leave my friends behind, ever," Amalthea spoke, a strange determination behind her eyes. “And if Professor Cyril can teach me to be stronger, I'll gladly take as many notes as possible," she continued, the strange smile never leaving her face. Senka supposed she could respect that.

“It will be more than just note taking. You cannot write something down and expect it to work when you are in actual combat. You must also apply it so that you can learn and master it," she stated to Amalthea. It was something she'd read in a book, long ago.

“Oh... I suppose that makes sense, too!" Amalthea exclaimed as she seemed to write what Senka stated, down.

“It's not a matter of never retreating," Cyril clarified. “There may be times when tactical withdrawal is the smartest option. However... a tactical withdrawal is a very different thing from fleeing. It is organized, deliberate, and well-executed, driven by analysis and not fear or other emotions. Being able to distinguish the times to withdraw from the times to stand is vital, and if you learn to master your fear, you'll be able to do it."

Cyril paused, then shrugged. “I suppose since there's some interest in the question, we'll start with a tactics lesson. I'll draw you all a scenario, we'll discuss it, and then I'll tell you what I'd do and why. My answers may not be the only viable ones. They may not even be right. Tactics is a matter of a lot of factors, and how I weigh them may well be different from how you do. It is rarely a matter of one right answer and the rest wrong."

He turned, diagramming a scenario out on the board with smooth strokes. The rendering was precise, and it wasn't hard even for the inexperienced class to tell that it represented a group of soldiers about to fall into a pincer maneuver. They were in the middle of a field, a river to one side and forest to the other, with flanks of enemy troops closing in.

“You're the group in the middle. What do you do? Open discussion; no need to raise hands, but let each other talk."

“That's easy," one student stated, seemingly confident in what they were about to say. “You cross the river to the other side to make sure that they can't execute the pincer." Senka pursed her lips together. That didn't make sense to her.

“That wouldn't work, though," Amalthea interjected, causing Senka's attention to be drawn to her. “If you have heavy armored units, they would drown depending on the depth of the river, and if there are soldiers who couldn't swim, they'd also drown. You would, effectively, kill yourselves and fail," she stated. Senka could see the reasoning behind that logic, but there seemed to be something missing.

“But staying in the middle means you get attacked either way," another student chimed in. “Wouldn't it make sense to push forward and block the enemy with a counter attack?"

“There would be no time for a proper counter-attack," she finally spoke, pointing to one of the flanks. “Here, you are exposed. And here, you would not see the enemy from the forest lines. The enemies to the back, however, are not as well-covered and are at a disadvantage, sight wise. We could possibly line up those who have bows to take out the ones across the rivers while a magic user there," she stated, pointing to the front of the circle facing the forest, “would allow them to set a small fire to at least partially disrupt the pincer attack. The heavy armored units could build a shield wall to push the ones who make it past and be our defense."

“In other words, we would be able to attack from the inside of the encirclement to escape if we dug in, first?"

“But what if we didn't have any archers or magic users?"

“Even if you did it'd probably be suicide for them," Sorcha added. “Posting them on the high ground is good, but there's no cover. It's harder to fire up a hill but not impossible, and if the enemy used their shields to make a charge up, you've got your most lightly-armored units in front. Plus it's hard to start a fire that'll last, and the magic users don't get to control the burn." She sounded as if she were speaking from personal experience. “It's inherently risky to use up their magic like that. Maybe if there was no other way, but..." She frowned, humming thoughtfully.

“Well..." another boy piped up, this one maybe Sorcha's age and rather short. “What exactly do we have in terms of troops, Professor?"

“The first and perhaps most important question," Cyril replied with a small nod. He tilted his head in clear invitation.

The student recognized it a moment later and flushed pink. “Oh! Devon," he said hurriedly. “Devon Margrave."

“Good. To answer your question, Devon, you have a total of thirty soldiers. Half of them are a detachment of pegasus knights. The other half are mixed cavalry and infantry—you've got two warlocks and a bishop for the whole troop." He shaded in the appropriate units with colored chalk.

“And... what does the enemy have?" Sorcha asked.

“On the other side of the river are wing of wyvern riders, which is how this is a pincer at all," he said, nodding briefly in Senka's direction. “They need not worry about drowning. On the other side you've got mainly ground troops, soliders and fighters mixed with some mages and archers."

“Well, I don't like the idea of sending the pegasus knights that close to a substantial number of arrows," Sorcha noted. “Nothing hurts a sky cavalry like being shot down. Are their numbers better than the wyvern riders'?"

“Slightly. The enemy has more ground troops than you do, however."

Senka hummed thoughtfully as she digested the information. Amalthea seemed to be writing things down, perhaps so that she didn't forget something. Sorcha had a point about the pegasus riders, though. They were susceptible to arrows quite easier than their wyvern counterparts, perhaps partly because wyvern's were slightly thicker to penetrate.

“We only have two warlocks, so shouldn't we pit them against the fighters?" another student asked. “Fighters usually don't have high resistance to magic."

“That doesn't make the warlocks invincible, though. Two people against ten isn't exactly fair odds, and magic isn't something you can just summon. You need to build up the mana for it and that usually takes a couple of seconds. It's enough time for enemies to attack the two warlocks. They could probably take down four or five fighters before they're killed. We don't want to get them killed." Amalthea frowned at the thought of people being killed, it seemed.

“If we send some of the cavalry after their mages and archers to pick them off, we could use a mix of the infantry to support a warlock to attack fighters. Keep one to help defend the warlock through their lag in magical abilities, but also make sure the mage has a means of defense as well. Mages do not have an endless supply of magic at their disposal, after all."

“You would still have Wyvern's to contend with. If some of the cavalry unit uses lances, they would be most effective against a rider. The ground soldiers would be best to hold out against other soldiers, but fighters sport a higher strength. Their flaw is that they sacrifice their speed for their strength. Take advantage of that with the Pegasus Knights and have them move with swift attacks," another student stated, leaning forward on her hands.

“But don't forget that a lot of non-regimented fighter types can use bows, too," Sorcha remarked. “They may not be specialized archers, but we never asked what they were armed with." She looks to Cyril, but he shakes his head.

“From where you are, you cannot say."

Sorcha frowned. “Then I'd rather be safe than sorry, I think. I'd send the pegasus knights to fight the wyverns, fast and as quickly as possible, and then have my more armored cavalry units just try to hold off the ground troops long enough for them to circle back and reinforce."

Cyril nods. “And the rest of you? Plans?"

“I think I'd go into lockdown," Devon said. “Put everyone's backs to each other, and try to weather the assault. I don't know how the pegasus knights would do, but the rest of my team sounds more defensive than the enemies anyway."

“Wyvern's have a higher defense than a Pegasus Knight, though. Chances are, you'd loose a majority of them before you've whittled the wyvern riders down," the young woman stated before nodding in Devon's direction. “But I agree with Devon on the lockdown. You'd be able to see on all sides where the attacks are coming, and bishops know a few offensive spells. The one we have could hurl a few magic spells from within the wall and be protected at the same time."

“Oh, I forgot about the bishop!" Amalthea interjected, turning towards the young girl and smiling as if she'd figured something out. “And what would you do..." she trailed off, as if the young girl would fill in the rest. From the looks of it, she wasn't much older than Sorcha, maybe a year younger than Senka, herself.

“Sylvi. Galatea," she stated as if reading Amalthea's intentions. “And I would be on the offensive trying to break through the lines. I'm learning to be a War Master," she stated, winking in Amalthea's direction. Senka blinked slowly. So that meant she was a physical fighter who wanted to do mostly hand-to-hand and some training with the axe.

Cyril nodded, eliciting answers from the remaining four members of the class as well. More than a few of them seem really hesitant, but none of the answers seem especially bad, especially due to all the discussion that went on before. It was hard to tell if he found any of the answers better or worse than any of the others, honestly; his face was mostly unreadable.

In the end, he set down the chalk and crossed his arms over his chest, leaning back against the edge of the desk. “As it happens, this is a battle I was actually in," he said. “The pegasus knight detachment was from a local kingdom lord's domain, and the rest of the troops were my father's mercenary company."

He tilted his head to the side, a soft breath escaping him in what was almost a huff. “What we ended up doing was setting the warlocks up on the backs of two of the pegasi. Their riders focused on steering them, and the magic along with the rest of the riders was plenty to deal with the wyverns, who weren't expecting it and have serious trouble with electricity in particular. Meanwhile, the bishop and the ground soldiers moved back into the forest, to draw the enemy in."

“Wouldn't that be a disadvantage for cavalry, though?" Devon asked.

Cyril lifted one of his hands, tilting it back and forth in a so-so motion. “Typically yes. But the cavalry all dismounted. The horses were a good distraction, too—drew a lot of attention moving around, and enabled the dismounted riders to join the infantry and fall on the opponents. The most important part was preventing the pincer from actually becoming one, which we were able to do because of the ground/air difference. If we'd been all ground, I'd have drawn us all back, and made the wyverns try to contend with flying around trees, but it would have been just as hard for the pagasi, so they needed something different."

“Oh, that's smart. Thinking outside of the box and using that as a surprise," Amalthea stated, writing down more information. Senka followed suit, and wrote down what Cyril had done during that battle. She wanted to learn as much as she possibly could, the different tactics that could be employed. But as she'd said earlier, writing wasn't the same as applying it. She was certain they would have practice battles, eventually.

“To think that there could be so many strategies for one simple battle. One wrong move is the difference between life and death. I guess you have to be a really good strategist in order to come up with something like that, and have the complete and utter faith of the ones you command in order for them to see it through," she spoke as if she were in awe and some kind of reverence.

Senka doubted that was the case. Perhaps they did respect him and trust him, but they also had to put their trust in the plan to work. If one person doubted it for a second, chances were that they would not have succeeded.

“Trust is helpful," Cyril admitted, “but if it were enough then a pack of puppies could have won. Skill makes a difference, too. And since for the most part you'll all be leading different groups someday, it's the skill I'm going to try and teach you. When you're done writing, we'll take a break for lunch. Try not to eat too heavily—this afternoon we're going to run a version of this same scenario on our feet."

Amalthea giggled lightly, but continued writing down information. Senka, however, was looking forward to the scenario.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Monday the 13th
Dormitoriy - Nautical Dawn - Clear
Sorcha Blaiddyd


The plan was ready to go into action. Sorcha was fully dressed already, in her practice uniform with thick leggings under the skirt and tucked into her boots, a concession to the fact that it was still a little cool in the mornings at Garreg Mach. Nothing on how things were at home, of course—spring would be barely beginning in Fhirdiad. There was probably still snow on the ground, but that sould never happen this close to the Imperial border. Though there was no way to get directly from the Empire to the monastery because of the mountains, the northern parts of Adrestia lay at about the same latitude nevertheless.

Senka too, had arrived at Sorcha's room. She'd wanted to come, and Sorcha certainly had no problem with that. It was the third member of the group that was going to be hard to secure. At least if the fact that he'd slept like a log the morning after they were attacked by bandits was anything to go by.

Still, as far as Sorcha was concerned, Mercer was absolutely vital to the plan. In her mind. no one else would do. Securing her final item in place—the deep, clear blue-green crystal the always wore—in place around her neck, she made sure the chain it was hanging from today was secure, then tucked it away beneath her uniform. She wouldn't want to lose it in a training exercise, but she'd never go anywhere without it, either. The funny thing was, she couldn't actually remember where it had come from, only that she'd had it for a long time and it had always brought her luck. She figured it might have been her mother's at some point—she'd never seen another of its kind and apparently her mother hadn't been from Faerghus originally, though no one ever really got more specific than that. If they even knew.

“Ready?" she asked Senka, grinning brightly despite the early hour. It wasn't that she didn't like sleeping in, but Sorcha had been up early to train ever since she was a kid, and had realized that fewer people were around to see her mess up if she did it then.

“I am," was her simple reply. If Sorcha hadn't known Senka for as long as she did, it would almost sound as if Senka was bored. But that didn't seem to be the case since her face was slightly smoothed out in the way it usually was when she was amused by something. Perhaps because she knew what Sorcha's intentions were with Mercer.

“Do you have a plan to wake von Riegan?" she asked, falling into step with Sorcha as they made their way towards Mercer's room. “If I recall, other students mentioned it is quite difficult to rouse him."

If anything, Sorcha's smile widened. “Well," she said, feigning a sort of calm reasonableness in her tone. “I was thinking I'd knock first, and if that didn't work, I have this friend who can pick locks, so I figured I might ask her for an assist. After that I was just going to poke him with things, or if all else failed slam a book shut next to his head. I hear Cyril did something like that in class last week and it worked."

Their professor apparently took dozing in his class in the same evenhanded way he took everything else, but didn't let people get away with doing it, exactly. Sorcha approved of the balance. There was no good reason to yell at anyone or punish them for something so trivial, but that didn't mean the classroom should be somewhere to nap, either. Besides, Sorcha couldn't imagine wanting to sleep during one of his lectures. Maybe one of Professor Hanneman's, when he went on a tangent about Crests or something, but not Cyril's.

There was a faint puff of air exhaled from Senka which Sorcha knew to mean she was amused. “If that is what it takes. I do not know how someone of his... caliber can sleep so often," she stated, her voice remaining as passive as her face. If she were tired at all, she didn't show it. “And if that doesn't work..." she trailed off, pausing only for a second as if searching for the words she wanted to use.

“It might be beneficial to test out Blizzard in a small enclosure," she stated, the faintest hint of amusement in her voice. “I'm curious as to how it would work in small enclosures."

Sorcha raised both her eyebrows, laughing softly as she exited her room first, holding the door for Senka before locking it behind them. “You're diabolical," she said. “It's excellent." The second floor was about the same size as the first, honestly, so there weren't very many rooms in total. Garreg Mach monastery tried to take even numbers of common and noble applicants, and at only ten students per house, the dormitory was quite small. Professor Cyril had apparently been given an extra room next to Senka's, but other than that, things were pretty even.

Mercer's wasn't even far—only about three doors away from Sorcha's. Raising a hand, she knocked firmly three times, stepping back and letting her hands drop to her side.

There was no answer, as expected. Senka stepped forward, knocking a bit harder against the door, though. When all they received was silence, Senka sighed softly and glanced towards Sorcha. “I suppose step two is in order," she stated, glancing around as if to make sure there was no one around before kneeling so that she was eye-level with the door handle. From her uniform, she produced a small leather kit. Picking the tools she needed, she went to work on Mercer's door, and clicked her tongue in a satisfied manner. She held the door open for Sorcha to step through, and followed behind.

There, on his bed, was Mercer. His arm was hanging off the side while the other was clutching a pillow. He was snoring softly, but other than the sound, he seemed dead to the world. Senka stared down at Sorcha, brow lightly arched. “I believe the book might do if you drop it here," she stated, pointing to the nightstand next to his head. He was close enough that the hand hanging off the bed was lightly touching it.

Sorcha couldn't help it—she snorted. Sleeping Mercer was kind of hilarious. She almost felt bad about the fact that she was about to very unceremoniously wake him up, but not nearly enough to reconsider doing it. They'd both be better for this later.

Moving to his bookshelf, Sorcha scanned over the tomes with some interest. She didn't want to invade his privacy more than she already was, though, so she noted only that there were an unusually-large number of history volumes before picking up the largest in the set. It had a definite heft to it, and she smirked a little as she carried it over, lifting it and letting go when it was several feet over the bedside table.

It landed with a hard wham, and she stepped back, sly smile still on her face as she studied Mercer's with obvious amusement.

As soon as the book landed, Mercer was up, standing on his bed and entangled in the sheets. “The answer's twelve!" he shouted, pointing an accusing finger in Sorcha's direction. It was easy to tell that he was still half asleep if the way his eyes were half open were anything to go by. He blinked a few times as if to clear them from debris before they narrowed in Sorcha's direction. While he was shirtless, he still had pants on, and he didn't seem to make any effort to cover up. Perhaps because he was still partially wrapped in the blankets.

Senka merely kept her face passive, as if she found none of this amusing, however; her eyes were lightly narrowed. “What. Are. You. Doing?" he spoke slowly. “And how did you get into my room? Wait..." he paused and glanced around his bedroom. “What time is it?" he asked, his eyes narrowing slightly. “And why am I up this early!?"

“Sorcha has something she needs you to do for her," was the only reply Senka gave.

To her credit, Sorcha tried not to giggle at him. She just completely failed, and erupted into a gale of light laughter, wrapping her ams around herself and bending partway over until it passed. “You," she stammered around the uncontrollable laughing. “You're so—" she shook her head, clamping one hand over her mouth to try and smother the noise.

When she'd finally got it under control, she dropped the hand and straightened, face flushed pink with the remnants of her amusement, and cleared her throat. “You're up early because we're going to have a contest!" she declared. “I want to have a shooting contest with you, and we're not in the same class so it's not going to happen in the course of a normal day, so here we are!" Personally, she thought it was an excellent idea, but she wasn't totally oblivious to the fact that he might not think so, so she let her eyes widen innocently and smiled brightly at him.

“...please?"

Mercer merely regarded Sorcha with an unamused stare. “But why?" he stated, however; his lips pursed together. “Why so early in the morning!?" he was whining at this point, and stepped down from his bed. He peeled the blankets off of him, and rubbed his head. He mumbled something beneath his breath, but it was difficult to tell what.

“Under the circumstances, this is the only time Sorcha can practice with you," Senka replied, however; that didn't seem to satisfy Mercer.

“Fine, that's fine. But why me," he continued, his lips pursed into a fine line.

Sorcha's smile disappeared temporarily, because what she was going to say was genuine, and she didn't want it to come across like a dumb joke or anything. “That day," she said, like it explained everything. To her it did, but she knew she'd need to explain a bit more for his understanding. “You—you saved my life. And you're really good with a bow. I want to know how good, and if it's better than me, I want to learn how you do it. And I—"

She hummed, unsure how to put the rest of it. Her brows knit together, but as always, in the end she was as straightforward a person as they came, and her words were the same. “Also, it feels like I know you. I don't know why, and it keeps bothering me. I figure if I actually get to know you, that'll go away."

A flicker of hesitation passed across her face. “Maybe that's selfish, since all of that just now sounded like it was for me. If you really don't want to, I'd... I'd get it." There. She'd given him the option. It felt like it was only right. Princess she might be, but she didn't really like forcing her desires or point of view on other people, and she didn't want to pressure him into something he really didn't want.

Mercer sighed heavily, as if he was going to say something important, but shook his head. “You played no small part in saving yourself, Sorcha. You don't give yourself enough credit," he began, but paused as if to search for what he wanted to say next. “I guess you really don't remember," he spoke, but it was in a soft voice, and almost as if he had yawned it out. He shook his head, though, and rubbed a hand down his face.

“Fine, fine. I'll teach you," he finally conceded, stretching an arm over his head. “Let me get dressed first," he stated, glancing in their direction, as if to tell them to leave. Senka did not budge, however.

“It is nothing we haven't seen before. You're just putting on clothes," she stated, causing Mercer to snort.

Sorcha was inclined to protest. It was definitely something she hadn't seen before, and she was definitely not going to be sticking around to do so! Mercer beat her to it, however.

“I don't know where in Almyra or Faerghus you grew up, but that's not considered polite," he stated as Senka merely lifted her shoulders in a shrug. He sighed again, and rolled his eyes. “You're no fun. Now, if you'll excuse me, I'd like to get dressed away from prying eyes," he stated, ushering both of them out of his room. When he was finished, he reappeared before them dressed in a sleeveless tunic, black in color, with a pair of dark training pants. He had a bow slung around his shoulders as well, and his hair had been slicked back with a golden band. Perhaps to keep his hair out of his eyes.

Sorcha was sure she was still a little red in the face when he reappeared, but she thought she did a pretty good job of pretending she wasn't. Her own bow was already at the training grounds, and so she led the way there. It felt a bit like the sneaking around she'd used to do at night to train at home, with the difference that she wasn't alone this time. That part was kind of nice, actually.

When they'd reached the right area, she gestured proudly at the targets she'd set up. Just stationary ones, for this. Though she'd gotten used to moving ones a few years ago, this was about which one of them was most accurate in general, and the normal ones would do just fine for that. Taking her bow down from where she'd left it, she picked up a quiver of practice arrows and hooked it to her belt, tossing another to Mercer, quite confident he'd catch it.

“All right! How about we make a bet, to make this more exiting. If I win, you have to tell me what I don't remember." She hadn't missed that part, even though it got kind of lost in what happened next. “What do you want if you win?"

“A kiss," was his immediate reply, his lips tilting slightly in a sloppy grin. The look Senka gave him, however, was the most emotion she'd put on before. It was simply murderous, however; it passed quickly as Mercer chuckled. “I was kidding. I want..." he began, chuckling still as he tapped his chin. “You have to cover my chores for at least two weekends," he stated, the grin on his face spreading into a confident smirk.

“Deal?"

It took a moment for Sorcha's brain to catch up to the rest of her. Her heart lurched back into motion, slamming her gracelessly back into reality, whereas for a moment there she'd been... she wasn't sure exactly. All she knew was that her face was burning and her own embarrassment was irritating her, and she scowled at him, sniffing imperiously.

“Fine," she groused, unsure why she was grumpy exactly, except he had to know that he'd gotten a rise out of her, and she did not enjoy being so thoroughly bested, even at banter. She was emphatically not going to think about anything else other than the contest right now. “Since you're a boor, I'll shoot first." It wasn't a very good reason, but the truth was she welcomed the opportunity to turn away and focus on something else.

Though 'focus' might have been a bit of a stretch. Her first shot was abominable, by her standards, landing on the ring outside the bullseye, and she grit her teeth. There was no excuse for something like that, with a stationary target. Suddenly she understood his intentions in saying such a forward thing. He'd meant to throw her off the entire time, and she'd just let him succeed.

Grumbling under her breath, she shot him a glare and gestured impatiently with her bow, stepping away so he could fire next.

Mercer did not bother to hide his laughter. It only took him a few seconds to contain it, however; he wiped something from his eye. “I've known babies who could shoot better than that," he finally spoke, making his way to stand where Sorcha had been. He lifted his bow, however; his eyes never left Sorcha's. He winked at her as he let loose his arrow, which found a home almost dead center as a bulls eye.

“Huh, would you look at that," he stated, clicking his tongue in almost a disappointed way. “I missed."

“It does not appear so," Senka stated, clearly not amused. Mercer chuckled as he moved out of the way.

“Let's say... the first person to hit five targets as close as possible to the center, wins?" he stated, glancing in Sorcha's direction.

Sorcha was not about to take this laying down. He was a point up on her now because of her poor first shot, it was true, but she had to believe she could come back and take the win. Clenching her teeth, the nodded curtly and stepped back up to the line. This time, when she drew back, she focused her irritation, honing it until it was sharp as a blade and cold as ice. The faint shake in her hands steadied, and her eyes sighted down the shaft of the arrow. She didn't stand there forever, and she didn't second-guess what felt right, either.

Instead, she loosed.

The sharp clarity proved true, and the arrow landed dead-center in the middle of the target, no more than a centimeter off the true middle of the target. When she turned back this time, she lifted her chin, narrowing her eyes at him. If nothing else, she was going to make damn sure he had to put in effort for this. Take her seriously. She hadn't put in all the hours she had, until her fingers were sore and bleeding, just to be dismissed like a total amateur.

Even if he was really impressively good.

“Would you look at that, Princess actually managed a good shot. I guess I'm going to have to work a little harder," he stated, pursing his lips together as if he were impressed. “Alright, I suppose I should put on my serious face, now," he continued, though from the looks of it, his serious face was just a lopsided grin. He took his spot where she had been, and pulled back on the bowstring. He closed one eye, and then the other, as if he were gauging the distance. Once he was satisfied, he glanced at Sorcha, kept her gaze, and let loose his arrow.

It was dead-center. Right in the middle of the target. It seemed almost perfect, and Mercer furrowed his brows together. “Man, it's still off," he stated, rolling out his shoulders.

“How is it off? You hit the target dead-center," Senka asked. Mercer sighed and tilted his head.

“It's a millimeter off. You have to train your eyes to see that kind of flaw, but it is," he almost sounded upset about it. But his mark was still closer which put him at two points out of five.

Sorcha was torn. She was on the one hand just... amazed. That kind of seemingly-effortless skill was something she'd always aspired to, but never been able to manage in anything. The closest she'd ever managed was tinkering with things, but that was just a stupid hobby and nothing useful to anyone. Nothing a Queen had to know or be. On the other, did he have to be so smug about it? She didn't care a whit for extra chores, but dammit it hurt that he didn't even have to take her seriously at all.

It was with a much grimmer expression that she lined up her third shot, closing her eyes for a brief moment and pulling in a breath. She released with the exhale, the way she was supposed to, relaxing her fingers and feeling the little gust of air as the feathers of the fletching brush by her cheek.

The arrow thudded into the yellow part of the target, but it was easily an inch off center. With a frustrated noise, she turned away again, not looking at either of the other two this time.

“Sorcha," he called out to her to get her attention. “Come here," he stated, motioning for her to come to him. “Let me show you something and I want you to try it out, alright?" he stated, fitting an arrow on the notch as he glanced at her. “Your elbow isn't high enough, and you're not tucking in properly," he stated, taking a stance in what he must have assumed was hers.

“You need to stand like this," he stated, assuming a stance before turning his attention towards her. “You need your feet to be planted firmly, like this. Otherwise all of this," he stated, motioning towards her upper body, “is working against you. Now, look at how I do it, and I want you to imitate me, alright?"

He tucked the arrow back before pulling on the bowstring. He glanced at her to make sure she was looking before he turned his attention towards the target, and let his arrow loose. While it was still a good aim, it was not as dead-center as the other two had been.

She frowned, wondering if he'd gone a little wide on that shot just to humor her. It was still better than hers had been, but not by such a great deal as, for example, the first. For the moment, she couldn't say for sure, and she considered instead his advice.

It wasn't anything she didn't know, but she hadn't realized she was still doing it. The problem with practicing alone in the dark was, there was no one but herself to check her form, and so it was likely that this error was built into her habits now. Lips pursed, Sorcha took up her spot again, drawing back and consciously checking every piece of her form: hands, back, arms, elbows, even her head and neck and feet. She tucked her arm a little closer to herself, lowering her elbow, and firmed her feet.

She fired, and this time was better, akin to her second shot. Still not enough.

“Better," he replied, humming a satisfied tone in the back of his throat. He was smiling, not grinning, though, when he glanced in her direction. “Now, you just need to stop concentrating. You know the first rule of combat is you're not going to be able to take the time and aim. You need to just lose yourself in the bow and the arrow," he continued, and as if to prove his point, he quickly notched an arrow and let it loose. With a loud thud, it found its home in the center of the bulls eye.

“If you do it this way, without putting too much thought into it, it becomes muscle memory. When your muscles remember what to do, you'll be able to hit the target dead-center, almost every time," he stated, leaning his hand on his hip and resting it there.

“It's more than just muscle memory, is it not?" Senka stated, seemingly curious about how the bow worked. She wasn't one for the bow, herself, but Sorcha knew that she wanted to learn all that she could. Even if she wouldn't be any decent with it, it was just something Senka wanted to do.

“It is, but that's mostly because it's training. The more you train, the better you get, however..." he paused and let his eyes wander back to Sorcha. “You can't practice by yourself without anyone telling you what is missing, or what you did wrong. Otherwise, you'll never improve. I'm good with a bow because Leicester Alliance trains everyone how to use it. We're watched, guided, and corrected if we did something wrong."

“If you want, I can help you become better, Sorcha. Just..." he trailed off at the end, rubbing the back of his neck as he did so, “don't wake me up at the crack of dawn to do it. I need my beauty sleep."

She was certainly beginning to feel the lack, now. Of proper instruction. She'd known these things; known she needed to drill it into herself until it was memory. She could shoot decently without thinking about it even, or hit a moving target but... Sorcha sighed quietly through her nose. There was nothing quite as humbling as being reminded of how far she still had to go.

The offer genuinely surprised her. Though she didn't know Mercer well, she'd had the distinct impression that he wasn't the sort to give himself extra work to do. She swallowed, hesitating momentarily. “I... would really appreciate that," she admitted. While other people might have been bitter about being handed such an obvious loss, or insulted by the offer to be taught by a fellow student, she wasn't. She knew skill when she saw it, and knew that she couldn't alone become a better archer than she was.

“I don't think I really have anything to offer in return, though." That was a more painful, bitter admission, by far.

Mercer rolled his eyes at her statement, but he didn't seem to mean anything bad by it. “I didn't offer to help you if I was expecting something in return, Princess," he stated, grinning in her direction. “And it'll be nice to have a student for once. I don't often get to instruct people on things I actually like. But so help me," he began, pointing his bow in her direction, “if you wake me up this early again, I'll cease the training and you'll have to find someone else. Deal?" He seemed serious about it.

She frowned, but honestly it didn't bother her. “Are you okay training at night, then?" she asked. They both had classes for the most part during the day, and she'd rather not use the training grounds when too many other people were around if it could be avoided. She didn't want to lose the chance, though. Not when he seemed to be sincerely offering his assistance.

“Sounds good to me. Less people, less interruptions, more time to focus," he stated, reaching a hand behind his back as if to scratch it. “Ah, but that doesn't mean I forgot. You have to do two weeks of chores for me." He grinned at his last statement.

The mention of the chores did nothing to dim Sorcha's returning smile. It was a bright one, accompanied by a bow, hand-to-heart. “Thank you!" she said, sure the truth of the sentiment was obvious in her tone. She rose. “And, uh... sorry to wake you so early. Vivi suggested it might make the most sense, but night's fine, too."

“I knew it. I knew he had something to do with this," Mercer grumbled beneath his breath. He didn't sound happy about it, but it also sounded as if he expected this, somehow. “Yeah, no problem. Again, as long as it doesn't happen in the future, it'll be fine."

“Because you need your beauty sleep, correct? I wasn't aware you needed such things," Senka deadpanned, but Mercer chuckled.

“Is that a compliment? Are you calling me beautiful?"

“Not in the slightest."

Sorcha looked back and forth between them. “Isn't it obvious?" she asked, unsure why it was any kind of question at all. She shrugged though. She doubted Mercer could have made it through this much of his life honestly not knowing he was beautiful, so it was probably some kind of joke she wasn't quite in on.

“Anyway. I'll see you next time, Mercer. Tomorrow night maybe?" She would have asked to continue tonight, but she didn't want to be rude after she'd dragged him out of bed at an early hour.

“Tomorrow night, it's a date," he stated, winking in Sorcha's direction.

“It is a training session, and nothing more," Senka interjected, fixing Mercer with a flat stare which only caused him to laugh.

Sorcha regarded Senka with obvious confusion. Of course it was a training session. They'd just established that, and a date for it. What else would it be?

Well, whatever. She had a training session scheduled, and she had a feeling it was going to be a good one.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Saturday the 18th
Garreg Mach Grounds - Early Afternoon - Sunny
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea hummed quietly to herself. Today was the day they were going to do lawn work, or maintenance. Something like that, and she was excited. It meant that she'd get to spend more time with her classmates in a setting that wasn't a classroom or a field exercise. She didn't mind those, really, but interacting with them outside had a certain appeal to it. Perhaps because she'd never really had the chance to bond with people, at least not fully. For as long as she could remember, it was always either her sister, Archbishop Rhea, or one of the other priests of the Church. There were occasionally people who visited the Church, but Amalthea always had limited contact with them.

Lyanna always said it was to protect her, though she never understood from what. The people she'd met were always very kind and warm. She didn't think those people were capable of harming her, at least not in a way that was dangerous. Shaking the thoughts from her head, she waited for the first of her classmates to arrive. She had been too excited the night before to sleep properly, which resulted in her being up near dawn. The first people to arrive were the princess and her friend. Amalthea thought they had a very lovely friendship, and it was easy to see how close they were. For a moment, she wondered if she'd ever be able to make a friend like that.

“Good morning, er... afternoon, Sorcha! Good afternoon, Senka!" she greeted, waving happily in their direction. Senka merely regarded her with a passive stare, and nodded her head in Amalthea's direction. She never understood why that always seemed to catch Senka off guard, but it did not deter her.

“Good afternoon, Thea," she greeted, causing Amalthea to smile. She finally addressed her by the shortened version of her name, something Amalthea had tried previously to get her to do. She felt a little giddy inside.

“Hello Thea!" Sorcha still seemed to be securing her hair in place, trying to get it to stay pinned up. She'd otherwise come dressed for the work they were supposedly doing, down to a pair of gardening gloves hooked presently into her belt.

Just when she seemed to have the hair in place, a piece fell forward to rest next to her face. Sighing, she appeared to give up, and just tucked it behind her instead. “How are you?"

“Very well!" she replied, a slight break in her voice causing her to laugh nervously. Her voice cracked whenever she got too excited about something, but she cleared her throat and shook her head. “And what about the two of you? Are you both well? Do you need anything?" she stated, knowing full well there wasn't much she could get them at the moment. Still, the offer was out in the air if they did.

Senka merely regarded her with a stare before slowly shaking her head. “I... am fine, thank you. I do not need anything at the moment, but," she paused, turning her attention to Sorcha as if she were seeking approval to continue. “Perhaps if there is something that requires your help, I will seek your assistance?" she stated, almost as if she were unsure of herself. Amalthea didn't quite understand it, but she nodded her head, regardless.

“Of course! I'd be glad to help in anyway I can," she stated, feeling her smile stretch across her face.

Sorcha huffed softly, but before she could say much by way of addition, a different familiar voice cut into the conversation. “Don't you all have somewhere to be?"

It belonged to Vridel, who approached with a wrist resting casually on the sword all students of the Academy wore with their uniforms. The bright red cape of his house was a sharp contrast to the stark white of his hair, and the deep purple of his eyes, but it sort of worked, giving him a harsh, but striking, appearance.

Sorcha crossed her arms and rolled her eyes at him, though she didn't seem upset or anything. “I could ask you the same question, Vivi. We happen to be waiting for chores to get underway."

“Well, well," put in the man walking slightly behind Vridel and to the left. He looked older than most of the others, a bit of stubble darkening his jaw, and sharp grey eyes. He also appeared to be smoking from a long-stemmed pipe. “What a coincidence."

Vridel spared the man a glance before returning his eyes to the three of them. “Wouldn't you be better served doing that at the stables? Where your chores are? I just saw some of your classmates over there."

Amalthea felt her heartbeat quicken at the arrival of Vridel and one of his classmates, it seemed. She didn't know why, but she would push that thought for another time. Maybe she could ask Lyanna about it? “But this is where we were scheduled to be, Vridel," she stated, smiling in his direction.

“Wait, am I in the right place?" it was Mercer who spoke this time, startling Amalthea slightly and she lurched forward. “Sorry, Thea, didn't mean to scare you," he apologized as Amalthea shook her head. “But seriously, why are you all here?" he asked, confusion evident in his voice.

“Move it, blockhead!" another voice pierced through, throwing Amalthea off for a second. She glanced towards the owner of the voice, and spotted a young woman, a bit shorter than herself, with vibrant red hair and pale green eyes. She didn't look too happy to be there, but she merely stood behind Mercer, arms crossed against her chest.

“Is that any way to treat your House Leader, Dierdre?" he responded in a flat tone, though he did look amused by something. Amalthea stared at both of them rather incredulously. Were they close friends to be speaking to each other like that? Or... maybe they were in an arrangement of sorts? She'd always read stories about arranged marriages and the like. Maybe that was the case with Mercer and Dierdre.

“Wouldn't have to if you weren't blocking the way," she muttered, pursing her lips in his direction. Senka had remained mostly quiet at the introduction of the newer people, and stood slightly behind Sorcha. Perhaps she was shy?

“But that still doesn't explain why you're all here? I thought the Blue Lion House was responsible for the lawn care, today?" She really was confused.

“And we thought it was us, and I'm sure His Highness over there thought it was the Eagles." The speaker was a very tall, powerfully-built woman with long, dark blue hair pulled into a ponytail on her head. She seemed to be following the red-headed one, a bit of fond exasperation on her features when she called Mercer 'blockhead.' Lyanna wore that look sometimes.

“Quite," Vridel replied, sparing the woman a nod.

Of course, matters were only further complicated when Devon and Sylvi appeared, this time in the company of Professor Cyril. He, at least, did not look surprised at all. Dressed in a sleeveless tunic and dark work pants, he looked quite as though he planned on getting into the dirt with them, not merely supervising.

“Good, you're all here." He gave them what seemed to be an approving nod. He must have observed some confusion, however, because he blinked slowly once, then clarified. “Saturday chores are mixed class. The other professors and I drew lots for who would supervise which groups. As such you are stuck with me for the remainder of the year." He paused, then added dryly: “my condolences."

“Wait, so that means we're stuck doing chores with them?" Dierdre asked, jabbing a finger towards Amalthea's group and Vridel. Amalthea, however, was more than estatic. She was going to have Saturday chores with all of the beautiful people, and hopefully she was going to make friends with them all. “All year?" she continued, as though she were in some disbelief.

“It would seem that way," Senka stated, but Amalthea almost didn't hear what she said. It was stated in a low tone, and she was almost sure Senka hadn't spoken at all, however; Mercer groaned in an exasperated manner.

“And here I was planning on shirking all my duties to you, Sorcha," he mumbled, but he didn't appear to be in a foul mood, despite his groan. Dierdre rolled her eyes, but dropped her hands to her sides.

“Well, it's a pleasure to meet you all," Sylvi was the first one to speak in a friendly manner, and bowed towards the others who were not part of the Blue Lion's. “I'm Sylvi Galatea," she greeted, her eyes falling onto her fellow Lion's. Amalthea already knew Vridel, but she supposed it was a good idea to introduce herself to the others.

“I'm Amalthea von Kreuz, but you can just call me Thea!" she stated, bowing, perhaps, a little too excitedly.

“Dierdre," she began, however; Mercer elbowed her in the side as she glared at him. “Dierdre Allard," she continued, narrowing her eyes in Mercer's direction. She moved away from him, though, and made her way towards the rather tall woman.

She, for her part, offered a calm nod. “My name is Sofia Esparsa." That explained who all the Golden Deer were, at least.

Vridel sighed. “Vridel," he offered, touching his fist briefly to his chest. “That is, not Vi, or Vivi, or any of the other nonsense those two—"he gestured briefly at Sorcha and Mercer—“use." He glanced to the man beside him. “This is Reynard Voight."

For his part, Reynard only nodded, exhaling a pale cloud of smoke, though he was polite enough to do so such that it wouldn't end up in anyone's face.

Devon introduced himself next, and with that it passed to Sorcha and Senka. “I'm Sorcha," the princess said, before gesturing to her friend. “This is Senka Argyris, my best friend."

“You all know me, I hope," Cyril deadpanned. “I think even Mercer's been awake for enough time to catch on to that much."

Sorcha coughed; it sounded like she was trying not to laugh. Vridel actually smiled. Mercer snorted unceremoniously.

“In any case, our chore for today is to maintain the lawns and flowerbeds. We're going to rotate the tasks, so we all do part of everything, but first I would like your suggestions on what those tasks ought to be." It seemed very unlikely he didn't know; rather, he seemed to be doing what he usually did and giving them the opportunity to figure things out and decide for themselves how to tackle an obstacle.

“We should probably clear these loose rocks off the lawn," Sofia said. She had a soft voice, deep for a woman's but soothing and calm. “I'm sure there are buckets in the supply storage we can use to make hauling easier."

“There's probably a wagon or some barrels we can fill up to make the haul a little easier. People can fill and haul at the same time," Mercer stated, shrugging his shoulders in a nonchalant manner. Amalthea chewed the bottom of her lip, thoughtfully, as she rolled a couple ideas around. They were doing lawn maintenance and also maintaining the flowerbeds.

“Some of us can pull weeds that are around the flowers. It'll help them grow, better," she stated. Senka glanced in her direction, but did not say anything before her attention was returned towards the other group of people.

“While the weeds are being pulled, some of us can fertilize the flowers. There are a total of ten of us; we should be able to divide the work between us, easily," she spoke, still just as softly, but loud enough that Amalthea could hear it. Dierdre must have heard, too, since she huffed lightly.

“I agree. If we split into a group of three, it should make rotating the work, easy. We just have to let whoever takes over for one of us, know what we've already done, and where they can start," Sylvi spoke, folding her hands behind her back, and rocking on her heels.

“Properly," Cyril said, arching one eyebrow ever so slightly. “You have eleven." It seemed he did intend to work with them.

“Why don't we do three groups of three, and one group of two?" Sorcha suggested. “The groups of three can move between rock removal, weeding, and fertilizing, and the two can float around to help with whatever seems to be going the slowest. Then we rotate every hour so everyone gets a chance to do a bit of everything and no one's stuck with the hardest job all afternoon?"

Amalthea liked that idea. Not only did it mean that they would be in small groups, it also meant that she would be able to socialize with some of the newer members. Even if they were of a different house, it didn't mean she couldn't make friends with them. There only seemed to be one problem, though. How were they going to decide who was in each group?

“It makes sense to have Professor Cyril be one of the two in a group, but maybe each House Leader should be grouped with someone not in their own house?" Sylvi spoke, almost as if she were reading Amalthea's mind. Senka's features seemed to tighten for a second, but Amalthea put it down as a trick of her eyes.

“Which means Sorcha, Mercer, and Vridel need at least two people from one of the other houses. There are more Blue Lions, though," Dierdre spoke, her brows furrowing in a tight manner. Amalthea supposed that was true, considering that almost everyone in her House was present. There were three Golden Deer and only two Black Eagles. That meant Reynard would go to either Sorcha or Mercer. It seemed fair, to Amalthea, that each leader get at least one other non-house member.

“If that's the plan, I'll split you," Cyril said matter-of-factly. “So you can resent me if you don't enjoy yourselves." It was hard to tell if he was being completely serious or not, but in any case, he did in fact do as he said. “Sorcha, take Reynard and Dierdre with you, and get started on the weeds. Mercer: you, Sylvi, and Devon can work on fertilizing. Vridel, Sofia, and Amalthea can get started on the stones in the yard. Senka, you and I will float. We'll begin with the weeding group, so they can get and stay a bit ahead of where the fertilizing group comes in behind. Does that work for everyone?"

“Works for me," Mercer replied first, giving Cyril a grin before turning to Vridel with a strange grin on his face. Amalthea didn't understand why, but she was glad that she was going to be working with Vridel and Sofia. Sofia seemed nice enough, and Vridel had been nice to help her out with her knowledge on plants. Of course, she still had a long way to go, but she thought she understood a bit more thanks to him.

“Fine by me," Dierdre stated, crossing her arms over her chest, however; her eyes briefly slid towards Sofia before she glanced in Sorcha's direction.

“I suppose it is settled, then," Sylvi spoke, bringing her hands to the front of her. “Let's get started, shall we?" she continued. Amalthea shook her head, and made her way towards Vridel and Sofia while everyone else grouped together. This was going to be exciting, or at least to Amalthea, it was.

“Hello again, Vridel!" she stated, smiling up at him before turning towards Sofia. “I'm looking forward to working with you, too, Sofia."

Sofia smiled gently. She had a very calm, cool sort of aspect to her, but the smile softened it, giving her an unexpected warmth. “And I with the both of you. If nothing else, I suppose we can look at it as good strength training. I'll fetch a barrow, if you two don't mind waiting a moment."

Vridel gave her a short nod of acknowledgment before she left, and he shifted his attention to Amalthea. “What are you training for?" he asked, tilting his head slightly.

Amalthea grinned up at him. “A Great Knight! I want to be like the ones in the stories, so I'm training in order to pass the required exams to achieve that," she stated in one breath. She took a breath in order to catch it. She hadn't meant to just spill everything like that, but she supposed the excitement was still running its course.

“Plus, I'm not really good with an axe, but I need to be in order to pass. I've never really had someone to practice with, and Lyanna didn't like me practicing with sharp objects," she stated, pursing her lips together. Something about poking an eye out or hurting herself more than others. Amalthea had to admit that it did sting to know that her sister didn't trust her that much, but she supposed it was for her own protection.

“A great knight?" he echoed. His eyes narrowed, a bit assessingly, but in the end he expressed neither skepticism nor doubt. “In that case, I suppose hauling stones around will make for useful exercise. Make sure you get turns at the wheelbarrow, too." He nodded, then pursed his lips. “And if you've never chosen an axe before, let me know when you visit the armory. I prefer swords, but axes are something of a... tradition. In Adrestia."

Amalthea felt her eyes grow rather largely. Had he just... volunteered to help her? Again? She blinked rapidly a few times before she shook her head. “Really? You'll... you'll help me with them?" she asked, though she felt strangely afraid for asking. Maybe he'd take it back now that she seemed unsure? Or maybe she was just a little too excited about it to think properly?

“I'd really, really appreciate it! Oh, but... I don't want to take up too much of your time. You're already helping me with the plants," she murmured, frowning slightly. Her ears also, strangely, felt warm.

Vridel seemed to notice that something had changed, because his expression did, too, a flicker of surprise passing over it before a strange smile curled his mouth. It wasn't the benign one he usually wore, the one that didn't quite light his eyes. Nor was it the same as the one he got sometimes when he and Mercer were bantering, though it was closer to that. It looked... like the kind of way a cat might smile, when it had spotted a mouse. If cats could smile, that was.

“No trouble," he said, and in some odd way his voice matched the smile. “I'm sure we'll come up with some way for you to make it up to me, if you're set on it."

Before either of them could say anything further, though, Sofia reappeared with the wheelbarrow in tow. “All right," she said, exhaling softly. “Shall we get to it?"

At once, Vridel's face returned to its usual expression of vague disinterest, and he nodded. “Let's."

Amalthea felt strange, and didn't move even when Sofia returned with the wheelbarrow. Her cheeks felt like they were burning, and there was a strange tingling sensation in them. Her heart was also beating fairly fast against her chest, and for a moment, it felt like she couldn't breathe. Why is that? She took in a deep breath, trying to calm herself, and nodded her head.

“And I'll definitely find a way to make it up to you, Vridel!" she stated once she found her voice. She was set on it, and if he was going to help her, she wanted to repay him in any way she could. Whatever it was, she would do it. If it was extra chores, or taking over his particular duties, she wouldn't mind.

“Let's get to it!" She'd never been this excited about anything, before.

Vridel laughed softly, more of a chuckle than anything, and that strange expression flashed briefly across his face before dropped eye contact and started working. “Sounds like a plan to me."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Saturday the 25th
Dining Hall - Noon - Drizzle
Vridel von Hresvelg


When Professor Cyril's group finished with their morning chores—they'd moved lawn maintenance to mornings so as to keep their afternoons free—they sort of collectively headed towards the dining hall for lunch. One benefit to getting up earlier than Professor Manuela's or Professor Hanneman's groups was that they got the Dining Hall basically to themselves, as those two sets had just left to prepare for their chores.

The mood was rather high; perhaps that was to be expected. Their mock battle was tomorrow, when each of the three houses would grab training weapons and specially-designed tunics that would turn grey after some amount of 'damage' and pretend to be murdering each other on a battlefield. Vridel didn't really understand the appeal, but perhaps that was because he'd already had more than a taste of actual battle. At least it might serve as an interesting gauge of skills for some of them.

As one of the first in, he was also one of the first to be seated, and chose an unoccupied table to do it. Reynard had already disappeared; he tended to do that whenever large groups were interacting in a non-mandatory sort of way. This was fine by Vridel; he had plenty of uses for the other man's particular talents, and he knew Reynard was perfectly capable of remembering to eat on his own.

Picking up the small pomegranate on his plate, he scored it with a short knife and cracked it open before setting it back down on his tray.

It wasn't more than a minute later that another tray was set in front of him, on the opposite side of the table. “Hi Vridel!" it was easy to tell it was Amalthea. Only she had that sort of high, energetic pitch to her voice. “Is it alright if I sit with you?" she asked, though she didn't seem to wait for his answer as she sat down across from him. She was still holding onto her tray, though, and staring at him with a bright smile on her face.

“I... I can move somewhere else if you don't want me to," she added, but the smile never faltered.

He sort of hated this about himself. Realistically, everything about him wanted to reject her company. She was a woman of the Church, and however lovely or interesting the person, that tended to be something Vridel could not overlook. He needed to keep all such people at arms' length. And yet even as little as a month was enough time to tell that Amalthea had not one ill intention in her entire makeup. It was quite as though she was simply composed of benevolence and a bit of obliviousness and little else. He found it very difficult to resent her, as much as he wanted to.

So he simply shook his head. “Stay." Deciding his tone was rather too inviting, he hastened to amend. “I don't really care." He cleared his throat quietly and occupied himself slicing deftly into the fish he was eating. The dining hall tended to feature such dishes often, probably because many of them could be pulled from the monastery's massive lake. He understood that several of the knights and such were hobbyist fishermen.

She made a light sound, something akin to a giggle, and released her tray. “Thank you, Vi—Vridel," she corrected herself, perhaps remembering what he'd spoken of a week ago of how to address him. She began working the fruit on her tray; an orange, a couple of grapes, and an apple. She also seemed to have a bowl of the fish and bean soup. It was quiet for a moment longer before she set her fork down, and glanced in his direction.

“I, uh, this will probably annoy you, and I'm sorry, but I just want to say thank you, again," she stated, her gaze dropping as if she couldn't keep his. “For teaching me. I am really grateful! And like I said, I promise I'll pay you back! It's just... no one's ever really offered their hand to me like that. If... if I become annoying or if you don't want to teach me anymore, please tell me! I don't want to bother you!" she seemed to be rambling at this point.

Vridel's brows knit. He had trouble conceiving of anything he'd done as being all that much. He'd answered a few botany questions and offered to help her choose an axe and give her a few tips on its use. It hardly qualified as teaching, and was far from a significant drain on either his time or resources. Was she overblowing it to curry favor, or really that unaccustomed to basic consideration? Both were hard to believe, but for different reasons.

“As I said, you need not think anything of it," he replied simply. It felt like there was something else he wanted to add, but he wasn't entirely sure what. Instead, he shifted the topic of the conversation, choosing something she might speak about with more enthusiasm. She got very... animated, at times. “How do you think you will fare in the mock battle tomorrow?" he lifted a piece of fish to his mouth and took a bite. As usual, it was simple, but not at all bad.

“Personally, I think my House has a good chance at winning. As for myself," she stated, pausing only to chew on a piece of fruit in a thoughtful manner. “Poorly. I'll likely get trampled beneath everyone, but that's okay. Practice makes perfect, and I'm going to use this experience as a valuable teaching moment. Even if the mock battle is, in itself, a teaching moment," she spoke all of this with the same smile on her face.

“I've learned a lot in the last week, with the axe and trying to move around in a suit of armor, but I'm not that good yet. Everyone has had some experience in their training, or some other sort, but I'm..." she paused, pursing her lips together as her brows furrowed.

“I'm still behind everyone. I have a lot of catching up to do, but if I train extra hard, I'm going to catch up sooner rather than later!" she stated it as if she were truly confident she would succeed.

He almost couldn't fathom such a carefree attitude as that. His whole life, it had been made abundantly clear to Vridel that failure, being less than the best at anything, was simply unacceptable. He was an Imperial Prince, and even before he was the Imperial Prince, it was expected that he do justice to the pride of his bloodline, and live up to the damn Crest with which he'd been blessed. Even if no one expected him to inherit, even if he was just the son of a concubine—even if. He had to be better. For his mother and uncle, he had to be the best of his siblings, because he was the one who would elevate House Arundel to the very highest of positions.

Sometimes he wondered if the Insurrection hadn't happened because he was deemed too poor a candidate to place such hope on. If Volkhard hadn't chosen to seize power from the throne because he felt he lacked a sufficiently-talented puppet to put on it later. Never mind that he'd been a child—childhood was an illusion for people of a certain status.

And here was this girl, well aware that she was going to be bested and seeing the opportunity in it. There was no shame, no soreness, nothing. He didn't think even Sorcha was capable of seeing such things quite this way. She, too, knew shame, after all, for all her earnestness. But it seemed Amalthea was different from all of them.

“Find me," he said after a moment. “If it doesn't contradict your orders. Find me and we'll have a duel." He didn't say so because he expected an easy win. Rather... he wanted to make sure she got something out of it like she thought. That she wouldn't just be hit by a bunch of things and find herself out of the game before anything useful had happened. And besides that... he knew some members of his own house would be quite cruel, given the opportunity to assert themselves over a rival. There would be nothing useful in that. If she ended up engaging the Deer instead, so much the better. But if her goal was to attack the Eagles, then, well.

This seemed like the best plan.

“Deal. I'll come find you on the battlefield and we can duel! I want to see just how much I've improved in the last week, if at all," she stated, the smile returning to her face, though it seemed a little brighter than it had been. “Oh, look! It's Mercer! Merc!" she stated, tearing her gaze from his and glancing behind him. She waved excitedly towards Mercer who came up beside her and took a seat. He glanced between Amalthea and Vridel, raising a questioning brow as he did.

“Is this table exclusive for just the two of you, or am I allowed to join?" he stated, but he was already sitting down next to Amalthea, and pushing around the food on his plate. Amalthea's smile stretched a little further across her face as she glanced at Mercer.

“Hm, we were talking about the upcoming mock battle!" she explained, causing Mercer to snort, and shake his head.

“You mean the one where the Golden Deer House decimates the Black Eagles, and Blue Lions?"

“Well, well... someone's confident." Vridel propped one elbow on the table and leaned his chin into it. “You'd best be careful with talk like that, lest you provoke your enemies into forming an alliance against your oh-so-formidable strength."

“Who's strong?" Sorcha approached, plonking down unceremoniously next to Vridel and nudging him a bit with her elbow, a slight smile tilting her mouth. Those were rather uncommon; she must be in a good mood.

He hummed. “According to Mercer, the Golden Deer House can take both the Black Eagles and Blue Lions at once. Rather arrogant of him, no?" That of course wasn't at all what Mercer had actually said, but Vridel recognized bait when he heard it. Retaliation was only fair.

Senka had taken a seat on Sorcha's other side, the one not occupied, and glanced in Mercer's direction. Her head tilted just slightly, but Mercer was already laughing. “It's not arrogance if it's fact," he stated, shoving a piece of poultry into his mouth and grinned at Vridel. “Besides, little Thea here will be in our cheer section. You're going to cheer for me, right, Thea?" he stated, leaning his shoulder into hers. She giggled softly.

“I can't be your cheer person if I'm on the other team, silly. But I will root for all of us to win!" she replied, causing Mercer to laugh.

“That's not possible, Thea. Only one house will win," Senka spoke before turning her attention to her own plate of food. It was mostly fruits, and perhaps a few slices of meat. She didn't seem inclined to start eating, though, and merely poked at it.

Sorcha rolled her eyes slightly and shook her head, but whatever she might have said was interrupted when she glanced over and happened to see that Professor Cyril had entered the dining hall. Presumably he'd checked over the results of their chores before making his way here. She raised a hand and waved it at him. “Professor! Come sit with us!"

It would seem Vridel's table was getting quite full. He supposed he didn't mind the addition of the professor, though.

Cyril nodded slightly, blank-faced as ever, before retrieving some food and taking the last spot at the table, on the far side of Mercer. “Hello, everyone. I gather the mock battle is being discussed?"

“Discussed is a bit of an overstatement," Sorcha replied wryly. “Mostly it's just trash talk right now."

Cyril tilted his head slightly. “'Trash talk'? I do not know this term."

“Really? You've never heard the term before?" Mercer spoke, though thankfully he had the decency to speak when his mouth wasn't full. “It's like... taunting your enemies, only," he paused to tap his fork to his chin. “Actually it's a lot like taunting your enemies. For example, I said the Golden Deer House was going to decimate both the Black Eagles and the Blue Lions."

“But Vridel says that Mercer's just being arrogant and overconfident."

“You wound me, Thea. You're supposed to be on my side."

“She's in our house."

“Doesn't matter," he stated, waving a dismissive hand, “but anyway, that's essentially what trash talk is. It's just talking a bunch of nonsense to each other on who's going to be the best. It's obviously the Golden Deer."

“Ah." Cyril nodded in apparent understanding, then paused for a moment. “So if I were to say, for example, that it was extremely unlikely that the Golden Deer House would win because their leader is likely to fall asleep during the match, this would qualify as trash talk?" He looked, for some reason, to Senka for confirmation.

“Correct," she stated, keeping his gaze for an unusual amount of time. Amalthea pursed her lips in confusion, and Mercer almost choked on the piece of food he'd shoved into his mouth. “Which is true. Unlike the Black Eagles, who have a slight advantage, the Golden Deer House would be the first to fall," Senka continued, speaking in a way that didn't quite resemble trash talk, but more as if she were just stating simple facts.

“First off, that's a low blow, Teach. And secondly, really, Sen? You think so poorly of us? I'm genuinely hurt," he stated, placing a hand over his heart as if to emphasize it.

“On the contrary. I think very highly of you and your House. I just believe the Blue Lion House is superior to yours, and that the Black Eagle House is our only true competition."

Vridel couldn't help but smile at that, giving Senka a respectful nod. He had to admit, though, the byplay of her interactions with the Professor was... interesting. They were both rather unusual people, but still, the lingering eye contact had a very specific read, and he wasn't sure either of them had caught on to that. His eyes flicked to Mercer, suspecting he thought something much the same, but when he spoke it was only to continue the thread of the conversation.

“I suppose that if they take after their leader, the Golden Deer might prove good at least in the art of running away. Quite like their namesakes in that manner."

Sorcha's eyes went wide; she elbowed him in the ribs. “Vivi! That was rude. I think the Golden Deer have a lot of impressive members. Besides, you'd best watch out for arrow barrages with them. Leicester archers are the best in the world." She sniffed, turning her eyes resolutely down to her plate, which seemed to consist mostly of fruits and vegetables.

Well, well. Vridel narrowed his eyes slightly, but offered no further comment.

“And this is why Sorcha is the House favorite at the Golden Deer. At least she believes in us," he stated, winking in Sorcha's direction. Senka rolled her eyes softly, but didn't respond to what Mercer said. Sorcha appeared to become slightly pink in the face.

“We'll all have to do our best, in that case," Amalthea finally spoke, seemingly done with her food. She appeared interested in everyone's conversation that she'd remained quiet for the time. “Oh! How about, after the mock battle, we can all come back and celebrate, regardless of who wins? They make the best chocolate cupcakes!" she stated.

“I'm into it."

“It sounds... agreeable."

“Definitely!"

Cyril nodded as well, and Vridel shrugged. Celebrating anything but total victory sounded just as strange to him as looking forward to such, but if anything was proving true, it was that this place was nothing like home.

“Very well. Consider it a plan."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Great Tree Moon - Sunday the 26th
Garreg Mach Monastery (Outskirts) - Morning - Cloudy
Senka Rinaldi


Senka had woken rather earlier than normal. She wanted to be sure she would be ready for the morning's mock battle, and didn't want to leave anything unchecked. She'd pulled her hair back into a high tail, mostly so that it wouldn't be in her face, and to keep it out of her eyes. It wouldn't be beneficial if she were distracted or her vision impaired. She was slightly grateful that she had, since the air was rather warm outside. A bit humid, perhaps, because of yesterday's light drizzle, but the tunics they were wearing were helpful in keeping cool. According to the information they'd been given, these tunics were designed to bleed out the color once they'd take a certain amount of damage.

Each house had their respective colors: Golden Deer were given yellow tunics, Black Eagles were red, and Blue Lions had a pale blue. The blue contrasted with Senka, but she didn't mind. They were here for a battle, if nothing else, and she was rather excited about it. She'd spent the last few days practicing her magic spells, and a couple of ones Vridel had taught her. She wasn't quite confident in those spells, yet, but she was satisfied with them, nonetheless. She glanced over her team, watching as Amalthea fiddled with her tunic, and her axe. Sylvi had also chosen an axe, but seemed more comfortable with it than Amalthea did hers.

Senka had elected to use a sword along with her magic. After all, magic was not infinite, and she wouldn't be able to use it endlessly. She still needed a way to defend herself. “I'm so excited, I can't wait!" Amalthea spoke excitedly, turning her attention towards Senka.

“I know the feeling. This is our first battle; I'm excited to put to use what Professor has taught us," Sylvi added. Senka only nodded in agreement.

Sorcha wore her tunic over very light chainmail; rather than just pulling her hair back, she'd braided it around her head to keep it firmly in place and to avoid her usual problems with pins and such. She was equipped with both a training lance and a bow, including a quiver of soft-tipped arrows. It was hard to check blows with arrows and magic especially, so they'd all been instructed in ways to compensate: spells were to be cast at minimum power only, and the blunt arrows were not to be aimed for the head or eyes. There was still some risk, of course, but the school had brought along several additional healers besides just those on each team.

Healing spells would apparently return some color to the tunics if applied, so that should work basically as normal, at least.

For his part, Professor Cyril carried no weapons at all; his own version of the tunic had no sleeves whatsoever, though his arms from the elbows down were wrapped in bandage-like fabric, protecting them a bit, it seemed. He had a few scars on his upper arms, but it was rather clear just from looking at them that he was in exceptional fighting shape. Certainly moreso than Professors Hanneman or Manuela seemed to be, or any of the students besides. He raked a hand back through his dark hair, slightly mussed from the breeze drifting over the field. A rogue strand of it fell across his nose, but if it impeded his vision, he gave no indication.

Across the field, the other teams were getting set up as well. Vridel was easily identifiable by the bright white color of his hair; the tall man next to him had to be Reynard. The Golden Deer were slightly closer, but partly shielded by a small copse of trees, a tactical advantage designed to compensate for their somewhat middling position.

The Professor's eyes swung to his assembled students; he exhaled the slightest huff at Devon struggling to string his bow. He managed it, though, and slung it over his back. At his waist were several knives. Making sure he had everyone's attention, Cyril spoke. “The other teachers and I have decided that the first part of this battle is yours to decide how to handle. We don't have much time, so we have to decide quickly on a strategy. What would you like to do?"

That was not unusual given their trainings, she supposed. She merely glanced at her teammates, Amalthea lost in her own thoughts it seemed, and Sylvi seemed to contemplate what Professor Cyril had stated. “At the moment, the Golden Deer House has the advantage with their position. And it wouldn't be wise to split up and attack both houses at once," she began speaking. Senka could see some logic to that. If they split up their forces, they'd be outnumbered either way they went.

“Let's go after the Black Eagles, then," Amalthea suggested. “If we take them out, first, then the Golden Deer will be an easy sweep, right? After all, you said they would provide the least resistance to us," she continued, glancing in Cyril's direction.

“That does not mean you underestimate them, Thea. Even if we said that they weren't as much of a challenge, does not mean they wouldn't give us one," Senka spoke, watching as Amalthea's face fell, slightly. She didn't mean to be so straightforward, but that had been the first basic rule of war: never underestimate your opponent no matter how favorable the odds are.

“Perhaps we should go after the Golden Deer, then. The quicker we deal with them, the quicker we can move on to our biggest competitors," Sylvi spoke, but Senka merely narrowed her eyes.

“I agree; we should hit the Golden Deer, first. They are closer, and it will give us some time to deal with them before the Black Eagles have a chance to reach us," she stated, glancing in Sorcha's direction.

“Don't forget that they're able to move unimpeded, too," Sorcha pointed out. “I could see Mercer waiting it out if we attacked the Eagles because his position is so good, But Vivi's isn't better or worse than ours. He might choose to fall on our flank as soon as we're committed to the attack. Splitting up might not be good, but we should definitely keep some people watching for that."

Devon nodded. “Maybe those of us in the back line keep an eye on them since we aren't in quite as much danger from the front? If they come around we can be ready to switch to melee. As long as we keep each other updated on where we're needed and what's going on, we can focus on downing the Deer first and just fend off the Eagles as much as we absolutely have to until we're ready to fight them as a team."

“Very well," Cyril said evenly. “Then who are our front and back lines?"

“Amalthea and I can take the front lines," Sylvi stated, grinning in Thea's direction. Her attention went towards Devon and Sorcha, after that. “Devon, since you and Sorcha are the best archers we have, you two can stay in the back." Senka could see that. It would mean that the archers could at least engage from behind and keep each other updated. Sorcha was also good with a lance, so if the need did arise to switch to melee, Sorcha could defend herself. Finally, Sylvi's eyes landed on Senka, a strange light in them that she wasn't sure what to make of.

“And you, you're pretty decent with magic, right?" she asked. Senka could only nod in response. “Good, then you can come with Thea and myself on the front lines," she stated.

“Very well," she replied, glancing at her classmates. “Does that mean Professor will be staying behind, as well, in the back lines?" she stated, her eyes drifting towards Cyril. If they were going to split up, it made sense to keep the numbers even. Sorcha and Devon could provide support from a distance with their arrows, and Cyril bring up the rear if they had to resort to melee. Knowing how talented each House was, Senka did not doubt that it would come down to that.

“I think the Professor should stay fluid, so he can go anywhere he needs to," Sorcha offered. “A lot of this I think is going to depend on being adaptable, so we should all be ready to move, but having someone who's already planning on it would help shore up any defenses we need to reinforce quickly."

It would seem Cyril found this agreeable enough, for he nodded.

If he'd been about to say something, though, it was cut off when a loud voice rang out over the field. “All right everyone!" The speaker appeared to be Jeralt, his voice magically amplified to carry easily. He stood atop the nearby hill, the Archbishop and Lady Lyanna nearby, along with the spare healers the monastery had brought. “Only attack like you were instructed to, because only hits to tunics count. As soon as someone's tunic turns grey they're out, and should come to this hill. Hitting someone after they're out means you're out too, automatically. We're here to learn, not kill each other for real. Last person standing wins for their House. Begin!"

Sylvi wasted no time, and began moving towards the Golden Deer, a strange smirk adorning her features. Senka would have put it down to excitement, but it seemed a little different than that. Amalthea was right behind Sylvi, and with a spare glance towards Sorcha and Cyril, so was Senka. They moved at a rather even pace. Not too fast that they would tire themselves out before they even reached the Golden Deer, and not too slow that they were leaving their ranged fighters in the back for too long.

“Man, here I was hoping you and the Black Eagles would fight among yourselves, first. Not come after us," Mercer spoke when they were close enough. He didn't seem too disappointed, though, if the smile on his face was anything to go by. Sylvi merely laughed, but said nothing as they closed in. “I really don't want to do this, but..." he started, trailing off as his eyes went to Dierdre and Sofia, “Dierdre, you and Sofia are up. I'll provide you with some support."

“Let's give it our all!" Amalthea stated, raising her axe over her head as she ran towards them. Senka sighed softly, stopping a good distance away as Mercer fixed an arrow to his bow. She, at least, knew what he was capable of, having seen him training with Sorcha. She could try and provide cover for Sylvi and Amalthea from the arrows, but that would leave her exposed to the other archers on his team. She would have to make due with her sword, for now.

“Hey you! Fight me!" a voice called out, causing Senka to turn her attention towards the source, narrowly dodging a small fire attack. It was Dierdre, and it seemed she wanted to make Senka her opponent. Gripping her sword in her hand, she obliged.

In the line behind, there was time enough to provide ranged support, it seemed. Spells and arrows alike went flying for the very front line, where Sylvi had engaged Sofia, who was set firmly in position to defend Mercer. As promised, though, they kept themselves flexible, and so when the Black Eagles appeared on their flank, they were prepared, leaving the softened Golden Deer line for their melee fighters and turning their attention on where Vridel, Reynard, and a heavily armored man were making a swift charge forward, supported mostly by mages, from the look of it.

Cyril was quickest to react, rolling out of the way of a wind spell and sending a dark magic blast of some sort back towards the mage-in-training who'd fired it. The color on his tunic flashed, dangerously close to greying out before it stabilized. He fended off the armored fellow with the axe, smoothly catching his arm on the downswing and twisting to disarm before sending him back with a kick square to the chest. It looked like he could have done something more damaging, but his motions were clearly restrained.

Sylvi looked like she was having some trouble with Sofia. The woman had a slight height advantage, and from their physique's alone, was more muscled than Sylvi. She had more strength, and was probably able to hit just a bit harder. Sylvi had been mostly on the defensive side, blocking attacks when she couldn't do them, herself, and attacking only when there had been an apparent opening. Most of the color on their tunics were dangerously close to grey, but Sylvi seemed determined to win.

She brought her axe up, swinging down hard towards Sofia. “You've been a good opponent, but I think it's time we end this!"

Sofia's only response was to stab forward with her lance. Both attacks hit at the same time, and both bled the remaining color from their tunics, signaling that both girls were out. They vacated quickly, heading towards the hill so as not to obstruct things.

Meanwhile, Cyril, Devon, and Sorcha were doing their best to hold the Eagles at bay. The axe-wielding man had been knocked out by a solid chest-shot from the Princess, but another front-liner had stepped up to fill his spot—mostly distracting Cyril, by the looks of it. Vridel was haranguing both Sorcha and Devon at the same time, while Reynard had seemingly disappeared. Maybe he was out?

By the time Senka had managed to deal with Dierdre—she'd left for a different opponent who must have taken her out since she was scowling on the hill with Sofia—Senka still had color on her tunic, but not quite as much as she'd started with. Amalthea, still full of color, had made her way back towards the other three, and Senka followed suit. Immediately, though, Amalthea's smile grew on her face as she headed straight towards Vridel.

“Vridel! You promised to be my opponent!" she shouted, causing someone to laugh. From the sounds of it, it was likely Mercer who laughed. He'd joined the fray as well, making his way towards the group fighting, but still keeping a relatively safe distance from it all. He was likely waiting for the others to drop before he made his own move. Senka was fine with that. She sent a small fire ball in the direction of the front-liner distracting her Professor.

“I will be your opponent," she stated softly, raising a hand out in front of her while keeping her sword in the other. To anyone else, it might have seemed like she were mocking the person, however; that was not her intention.

Sorcha had turned her attention on the people immediately in front of Mercer, perhaps intending to carve a line to the Duke's heir herself. Cyril nodded when Senka drew off one of his opponents, and proceeded to swap his attention to the other. Devon started in on the Black Eagles' nearly untouched back line, trying to make each shot count by standing behind Senka and Cyril to prevent counterattacks.

Vridel had abandoned his previous course, making it easier for Devon and Sorcha to switch tacks, as soon as Amalthea had called out. He wore a smile of all things as he sheathed his sword and reached back, drawing an axe from his belt. “So I did," he said, lunging into a run to meet her halfway, swinging the axe with controlled strength and the momentum of his charge.

Amalthea let out a strange sound, something mixed with delight and frustration as she tried to block Vridel's attack. Even with his controlled strength, Amalthea was pushed back a bit, and staggered. She was barely able to get her balance back before she charged at Vridel, axe raised once more as she flung her entire body in his direction. It appeared she was throwing all of her weight into that one attack, which was strangely endearing to Senka.

Or it would have been if she weren't fending off her own opponent. Mercer seemed slightly surprised when Sorcha came his way, but grinned and pulled his bow from his back. “Let's see just how much you've improved, eh, Princess?" he stated, clearly trying to rile her up as he usually did. He fit an arrow to his bow and aimed it in Sorcha's direction, one eye closed and the other narrowed, before releasing it.

Vridel turned Amalthea's strike aside, though he seemed almost surprised by the strength of it for a moment, before his smile widened and he retaliated with a flurry of quick blows. “Not bad," he said, “but don't unbalance yourself now. You need to keep solid feet if you want to defend anything."

On the other side, Mercer's taunting seemed to be having an effect; Sorcha used her lance to strike the last blow on the only soldier between them, and then tried to duck the arrow. She wasn't quite successful; it struck her in the shoulder regardless, leeching more of the blue from her tunic, and she threw the lance down and drew an arrow instead, twisting away from the chaotic tangle not far from her flank and firing. To her credit, it was quick, and there was no hesitation in the shot—it flew unerringly for Mercer's chest.

“Right, keep balance and solid feet!" she echoed, trying her best to defend against Vridel's attacks. One of them did manage to hit her near her shoulder, though, causing some of the color to bleed from her tunic. She did her best to dig her feet into the ground, though, as she made a horizontal swipe towards Vridel.

Mercer seemed genuinely surprised by the accuracy of Sorcha's arrow and moved so that it caught him on his right shoulder blade, causing some of his color to fade. “Shouldn't have underestimated you," he stated in a leisurely tone, an arrow already fitted to his bow. Unlike Sorcha's quick release, he waited, watching Sorcha's movements with a strange intensity, before he released his arrow.

Sorcha, apparently knowing trying to dodge that would be futile, used the time to release one more quick arrow before the one Mercer had fired caught her dead-on the sternum. Though there'd been quite a bit of blue left in her tunic, it faded completely then—it seemed striking 'vital' areas was proportionately effective, then.

The Princess looked down at her tunic, sighed heavily, and smiled just a bit, giving Mercer a wry salute before shuffling off the field to join the others. By this point, the competitors had thinned considerably, only one or two left from each side, plus teachers. The Blue Lions were doing slightly better than most, at least until Vridel landed another quick hit on Amalthea.

“Nice work," he said simply, replacing the axe and drawing his sword. “You're already better." White light briefly engulfed him, brightening his tunic back to blood-red, but he and professor Hanneman appeared to be the only ones left on the field for the Eagles. Professor Manuela and Mercer were the sole representatives of the Deer, while the Lions had Senka, Devon, and Professor Cyril.

For his part, the Professor cracked his knuckles. “They're going to join up and attack us first," he said, apparently completely certain. “Stay behind, and watch for Reynard. I don't think he's out yet. Otherwise, cover me. Can you do that?"

“I will," she replied, nodding her head in his direction. I can, didn't seem like the right words to her, and it was something she felt she had to do. She hadn't had time to assess Reynard's skills on the field, and it was likely that he was just biding his time. Smart, if she were being honest, and so she gripped her sword a little tighter, and scanned the field. There was no obvious sign of him, but Senka knew better than most that just because it wasn't obvious didn't mean it wasn't there.

Mercer had begun his next assault on Devon, perhaps because he was trying to take out their only archer. He had a strange smile on his face, though. It wasn't the grin he usually wore when he teased Sorcha, nor was it the same one that he wore with Vridel. It seemed more genuine, as if something had made him happy.

Devon fired back as much as he could, but it was evident that he was the worse shot, and he quickly ducked a bit behind Cyril for cover. The professor didn't seem to mind. When Hanneman and Manuela sent two offensive spells at him at once, he blasted them out of the air with the force of his own. “Let's go."

He charged, meeting the Eagles' front line first, which at the moment was, well, Vridel. Somehow, he managed to dodge the Professor's first swing, but he had to throw himself to the ground to do it, and before his retaliatory flames could do more than singe the very edge of Cyril's tunic, he'd let fly another of the dark magic spells, and Vridel's tunic lost all the color it had previously regained.

“S-Senka, I don't think I can hold him on my own," Devon said. There were only slight traces of blue left in his tunic. While Mercer's had seen better days, too, he was clearly doing better than the other archer was.

Senka felt her eyes narrow in Mercer's direction, and she moved towards Devon just in time to knock one of Mercer's arrows away from Devon with her sword. She released a fire attack towards Mercer to get his attention, and when she did, she sighed softly. With her hand outstretched, she summoned her black magic: Miasma. It probably wasn't the best spell to use at the moment, considering it took a decent amount of time to gather, but Senka needed to get Mercer away from Devon. Otherwise they would be down one more person.

And Senka would rather it be her, than Devon.

“Sorry, lady, but you left yourself wide open." The voice, roughened probably by all the smoking he did, belonged obviously to Reynard, and the point of his practice blade touched the base of her spine a moment later. Once, twice, three times before she could so much as react to his presence. It registered easily with the magic on the tunic, which turned promptly completely grey, only for Vridel's attendant to slide out from behind her.

He didn't manage to retreat before a heavy hand caught him by the collar and yanked him back, Cyril landing two body blows and putting him out. He took a hit from Manuela while thus distracted, leeching a little more blue, but this time the magic he shot back took her out too, until the only people left on the field were Hanneman, Mercer, Devon, and Professor Cyril.

It was strange. Senka hadn't registered the time when she was attacked, and when she left the field. She had blinked, a strange chill going down her spine, and when her eyes opened, she was in the company of Amalthea and Sorcha. Something felt off and she wasn't quite sure what it was. She was brought from her thoughts when a small body latched itself to her, and she had to lower her gaze to see what it was.

“We were cheering for you, Senka!" Amalthea stated, turning her head so that she was staring up at Senka. “You did great! Now you can cheer with us for Professor Cyril and Devon! Oh, and Mercer, since Vridel's with us, too," she stated, finally releasing Senka. The words hardly registered in Senka's mind, though.

“I'm not cheering for him," Sorcha groused. “I hope the Professor teaches him a lesson." she sniffed, then seemed to notice Senka's absent state, because she tilted her head and spoke a little more quietly. “You okay, Sen?"

She blinked slowly at Sorcha, but nodded her head. “I'm fine. I was just caught off guard. I should not have allowed myself to be open like that," she replied, but it felt too... automatic. There was nothing in her voice, too, and Senka furrowed her brows. Shaking her head, she pulled in a deep breath, before releasing it slowly. “I think we are on the cusp of winning, though," she stated, turning her attention back towards the field.

Mercer had renewed his assault on Devon, and it seemed that Professor Hanneman had focused most of his magic attacks on Cyril.

“Okay," Sorcha said, reaching over to squeeze Senka's shoulder gently. She didn't quite seem sure of the answer either, but she rarely pushed when it came to things like this.

On the field, Devon held off as long as he could, but eventually succumbed to Mercer's arrows, leaving them down to the final three. Professor Cyril must have judged Professor Hanneman to be the greater threat, because he ducked a barrage of flames and charged across the field towards him. Curiously, thrumming, curling magic surrounded his hands, licking up his arms like dark fire, and when he threw a fist forward, the impact took Professor Hanneman off his feet, his tunic immediately draining of all color.

Cyril whirled then, throwing a bolt of the same magic for Mercer.

Mercer wasn't as quick, though. He was hit with the magic, draining the rest of his tunic's color. Senka could see he was groaning, but what should have been a joyous occasion didn't quite reach Senka the way it should have. She registered the fact that they won, and that Amalthea and the others were cheering, but she couldn't bring herself to do the same. She didn't understand why; something felt vaguely familiar, a situation, perhaps, but she couldn't put her finger on it.

Instead, she clapped slowly along with the others as her way of cheering. It would have to do, for now. She could hear the crowds calming, though, as Jeralt cleared his throat, perhaps to make the announcement official.

“And that's that," he said, gruffly but with an apparent smile in his tone, too. “The winner of this mock battle is the Blue Lion House!"

The Archbishop wore a strange little smile at the announcement, her attention focused rather keenly on where Professor Cyril was helping Mercer to his feet. Beside her, it almost seemed that Lady Lyanna looked worried for a moment before she suppressed it, face returning to her usual stern expression.

“We won!" Amalthea shouted enthusiastically, making her way towards Vridel. Senka wasn't quite sure what Amalthea was going to do, until the young woman threw herself in his direction, and latched onto him the same way she'd done to Senka, earlier. “And thank you for helping me, and teaching me a valuable lesson on the field!" she stated, squeezing a little tighter as she hugged Vridel.

Vridel's eyes immediately went wide; honestly he was so stiff it was hard to tell if he even knew what a hug was, let alone if he'd ever been given one before. Tentatively, he patted her head, grimacing and looking rather unsure of himself. “You're... welcome," he said after a moment. “And congratulations, I suppose."

“Don't I get a hug, too?" Mercer's voice cut in, a lopsided grin on his face. His attention was on Sorcha, though, when he spoke. He'd apparently made his way towards their spot on the hill without Senka noticing.

Sorcha looked unsure for a moment, almost as though she were actually considering it. Her face flushed, but then she cleared her throat. “I'm sure Thea would be happy to," she replied with a sniff, but she sounded almost like she was sulking.

“But I was asking, you," he stated, his lips pursing into a fine line. The smile never left his eyes, though, as he laughed. “And in all honesty, I have to admit, I'm kind of surprised, Sorcha. I'm really proud of how far you've come. Hell, my shoulder still kind of hurts from where you hit me," he stated, sounding rather genuine. He rubbed his shoulder as if to emphasize the point, however; Senka merely felt her features smooth out. It was almost as if she wanted to smile, but she couldn't quite bring herself to.

Sorcha cleared her throat, looking down at her feet and mumbling something that sounded vaguely like “thank you."

Amalthea had finally released Vridel at this point, and was smiling just as brightly as she usually did. “We still need to thank Professor, too! Oh, and we'll need to celebrate! You and Vridel and the others are coming, too!" she stated, earning a light chuckle from Mercer. She was rather excited, it seemed, at the idea.

It was at this point that the professor himself appeared, looking much the same as he always did. Aside from a few scorch marks on his tunic, he could have simply gone for a morning run, for all that his expression showed any strain from his exertions.

“I believe I heard something about a celebration," he said. “Shall we?"

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Harpstring Moon - Saturday the 10th
Courtyard - Early Afternoon - Sunny
Sorcha Blaiddyd


The courtyard was proving to be an excellent place to have lunch, now that the weather suited it. After they'd all freshened up after their yard chores, the group Sorcha was privately coming to think of as "Professor Cyril's class" would grab food from the dining hall and take all the little tables under this arches gazebo, along with the Professor himself, who never seemed to be too busy to spend time with them. Of course, they tended to end up here on an increasing number of regular days, too, after class was done, to do homework together or when the load was lighter simply... spend time together.

It was really nice, and she'd certainly never expected to spend so much time with people outside her own house. The majority of the people here were Blue Lions, but there were Sofia and Deirdre along with Mercer from the Golden Deer, and Reynard even showed up with Vivi sometimes, giving them probably the only two Black Eagles she wanted to spend much time with, if her stepbrother's characterization of the group was correct.

She sighed. “There's no reason for me to go home for Saint Macuil Day," she said, frustration seeping into her tone. “But uncle wants me to anyway. I wish he'd just... let me have the year to prepare, you know? I'll be taking over all the official stuff pretty soon anyway, but I was kind of... hoping for a chance to not think about that for a while." What she didn't say was that her uncle spent too much time chasing after women to want to bother with boring things like ceremonial duties, and as a Church-sponsored state, the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus had a lot of them.

“I don't envy you. We don't necessarily celebrate Saint Macuil Day, but I at least know what it entails," Mercer spoke, rolling his fork in Sorcha's direction. “We have our own holidays back in Almyra, but they're more festival-like," he continued before taking a bite out of his food. Dierdre rolled her eyes, and snorted softly, but didn't say anything. She was too focused on her food at the moment to seem to care.

“Is that so? I thought some parts of Almyra, did?" Senka spoke, poking at the fruit on her tray as she stared at Mercer. He seemed a little unnerved under her gaze; Senka had a rather intense one, and he chuckled lightly.

“I mean, they do; you should know, you're also from Almyra, right?" he stated, causing her gaze to fall to her plate.

“Those sound nice, but," Amalthea stated, the smile disappearing from her face into something more serious. Or as serious as it could be for Amalthea. “What's a holiday?" The question seemed to catch Dierdre off guard, as she began to choke on her food. Mercer gave her an incredulous look, and Senka merely regarded her evenly. Sylvi was laughing too hard to properly respond.

Reynard actually looked a little surprised at the question. “Who doesn't know what a holiday is?" he asked, a trace of incredulousness in his raspy tone. “Don't you at least do the Churchy ones around here?"

Cyril glanced back and forth between several of those present and shrugged. “They do seem kind of serious," he pointed out, slowly. Devon nodded.

It was Vridel who actually answered the question, though. “A holiday is a form of celebration," he told Amalthea, peeling an orange as he spoke. “Typically they occur on the same calendar date every year, and commemorate some event or person in a nation's history, or the Church's, as with Saint Macuil Day. The form the celebrations take varies with the nature of both the occasion and the character of the celebrants. For example, when the Empire celebrates its Founding Day, it does so with parades and fireworks, as well as some more solemn official remembrances and the like, over which the Emperor typically presides. Given the recent... tensions between Adrestia and the Church, we do not put quite the same effort into commemorating the saints as the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus does, however."

“And the Eastern Church is much smaller, and holds much less sway, than the Central Church, so... the Alliance doesn't do as much for religious holidays, either," Sofia added mildly.

“Oh," Thea drawled the word out, and sounded amazed at the explanation. “That explains why certain days of the year, Lyanna was too busy to play with me," she stated, smiling as if she'd just figured something out. “She hardly ever had time, though, but those days seemed especially strenuous," she added as if it were completely natural.

“It's a bit different in Faerghus," Sylvi finally spoke, having recovered from her bout of laughter, it seemed. “We complete certain rites, and give our prayers to that particular Saint. There's also a great feast at the end of it all," she continued.

“Is food all you ever think of, Sylvi?" Dierdre shot, causing Sylvi to smirk.

“Food and sometimes you," she stated, winking in Dierdre's direction. Dierdre pursed her lips together, and narrowed her eyes at Sylvi before moving a bit closer towards Sofia. The taller woman only rolled her eyes, but obligingly made room.

“They sound fun, though. I've never celebrated one, before." It seemed strange that a person of the Church hadn't celebrated a holiday before.

Sorcha blinked at this bit of information. “Well that's silly," she said bluntly, then winced. “Er. I just mean we should fix that, is all. Maybe we could take turns teaching you about holidays and celebrations from our countries. I'd like to learn more about what the rest of you do, after all. So it could be really fun!"

Devon's eyes widened; he nodded with some enthusiasm. “Oh! And we could make food too, to share and explain how it fits into the tradition. And maybe teach each other customs, like dancing or other kinds of celebration we do. I'd love to learn that kind of thing."

“It does sound... nice," Sofia admitted. “I could stand to learn more about other places, if I'm going to travel someday."

“Why is he so cute, like that?" Sylvi stated, leaning over so that she was staring at Devon with a large, cat-like smile on her face. Dierdre snickered softly, but didn't say anything. Senka had kept her eyes on her plate, pushing the fruit around with her spoon and did not seem to want to say anything about it.

“I'm not that good of a cook, but I can make some decent Almyran dishes if you'd like," Mercer spoke, shoving another spoonful of food into his mouth, gracelessly. He didn't seem to care, though, about his mannerisms. “Or I can just give some of the recipes to Senka if you can cook them, or if you have ones of your own," he stated, allowing his eyes to drift towards her. She looked slightly taken aback, but nodded her head, slowly.

“I can make some of the dishes from Almyra. If there's a particular one you'd like to try, I'd be willing to make it," she spoke, turning her attention towards Sorcha.

“We should definitely make tons of food, then!" Amalthea stated, grinning as she leaned on her elbows on the table. “Oh, and I bet you all have the best dances. I'd like to learn those, too!" she continued.

“You sure you're going to be able to learn all of that?" Dierdre finally spoke, one of her brows arched in a questioning manner. “I mean, it's a lot of information, and there's at least four different customs to learn," she added, but Amalthea just nodded her head.

“It doesn't have to be all at once. Maybe we can do it on Saturdays after chores, or maybe on Sundays on our free days?" she suggested.

Sorcha knew what was making Senka uncomfortable, and she put a scowl on her face, pointing her fork at Mercer. “Don't you foist off all your work on Senka, you jerk," she said, sniffing at him. “Since Deirdre and Sofia are here, I'm sure they can help with the Alliance stuff, but don't go slacking on teaching us about Almyra just because Sen knows some things too." She figured playing it off this way would make it seem less strange... and demand less information of Senka that she didn't really have.

Whether because he sensed the discomfort or not, Professor Cyril broke in then as well. “I think Sundays would be a good opportunity," he said benignly. “They will allow us to choose the appropriate meal or time of day, and give us plenty of time if there's a skill to learn. I'd be quite happy to join, if you all don't mind teaching me for a change."

Mercer laughed a whole-hearted kind of laugh. He seemed to find Sorcha's response amusing in some way, but he shook his head. “I didn't say I would give her all the work. I'd be willing to help, too, you know. Besides," he stated, leaning his chin on his hand with his elbow propped on the table, “I'm shirking all my responsibilites on you, remember?"

Sylvi snorted softly before chuckling. “Then we'll have to plan Sundays, accordingly. It'll be fun to teach, Professor, a thing or two, on the different customs. And it'll give little Thea, here, some experience in holidays," she stated, reaching over to pat Thea's shoulder. Thea seemed delighted about everything. Her eyes were strangely brighter, more gold than amber, and she was grinning rather widely.

“And you, too, Vridel?" she asked, turning her large eyes towards him.

Sorcha knew Vivi just well enough to recognize his surprise at being asked. He cleared his throat. “I... suppose I could add some things from the Empire, certainly." He shot a sideward glance at Reynard, who only grinned slyly. “I'm not sure how much fun they'll be, but... yes. I'll participate."

Thea smiled so much that she was showing teeth. “This is gonna be great," she stated, giggling lightly as she went to work on the fruit on her plate. “I can't wait!" she added before taking a bite from the pear. “We'll just have to make sure they're fun so you can enjoy yourself, too, Vi!"

Mercer was laughing uncontrollably at this point, and had nearly fallen out of his chair. He would have if Dierdre hadn't pulled him back.

Sorcha rolled her eyes. Just what was so funny, anyway? Sure, Thea's enthusiasm for all this was cute, but it didn't exactly seem like the kind of thing to laugh so uproariously at.

“Next time you should let him fall out of the chair," Vivi said matter-of-factly to Deirdre. “It would serve him right for being insufferable."

Honestly. She didn't get either of those two, but whatever.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Harpstring Moon - Wednesday the 14th
Garreg Mach Monastery (Training Grounds) - Afternoon - Sunny
Mercer von Riegan


“You fight like a girl!" Dierdre shouted, hurling a fireball towards Mercer. He snorted at the statement, and deflected it with the axe in his hand. He'd lost his training sword somewhere, and he had to replace it with the only other available weapon. Axes were not his thing, really, but it was the only thing available to him since the other weapons were currently being used by other students.

“So you're saying I fight like you?" he retorted, watching as she momentarily froze. He used this opportunity to switch to his bow, and aimed it at her shoulder. The arrows were flat, and non-lethal for practice, so when it hit her shoulder, the most damage it would do was bruise her.

“Mercer, you jerk! That wasn't fair," she shouted in his direction. He merely waved at her, and laughed.

“Oh, on the contrary, it was fair," he stated, grinning almost wryly. “On the battlefield, you're opponents are going to use whatever advantages they can," he continued, pursing his lips together. Enemies would do anything to ensure they won, or completed their task. He knew that from the multiple attempts on his own life. That's just how it was growing up in Almyra, however; he shoved those dark thoughts to the back of his mind, and watched as something caught Dierdre's attention.

“They're going to have a tournament at the end of the month," she stated, handing him the flyer she'd grabbed. “I wonder if Sofia would be interested," she asked, glancing up at him.

“Maybe. You should go ask her," he stated as she nodded and walked away. He knew another person who might be interested in it, and allowed a grin to form on his lips. “Now if only I could find little Thea," he muttered to himself. He might as well search around the training grounds, first.

Of course, it was the training grounds, and so it wasn't really all that surprising to run across Sorcha. She seemed to be having a one-on-one practice match with Professor Cyril, both of them wielding lances. Though as he approached, he could tell it was more lesson than proper match; every time Cyril did something that got an advantage over Sorcha—which was pretty much all the time—he stopped, and they spoke about it.

As Mercer got closer, he noted that their teacher was having Sorcha practice some kind of low sweep, perhaps designed to take the feet out from under an enemy with poor or unbalanced stance. Almost as if he sensed him approaching, though, Cyril called a halt and looked up, one brow arched in query.

It took Sorcha a moment longer to realize what was going on; when she did spot him, she blinked, then dropped her eyes to her lance, rubbing at the flat of it with her thumb. “Something you need, Mercer?" she asked.

Mercer grinned at Sorcha, before glancing towards Teach. “Acutally, no, I don't need anything at the moment, however; I thought I might come see how you're doing with the Teach," he stated. A complete lie, but they didn't need to know that. At least not at the moment. “And maybe see if you wanted to get some training in with the bow later on," he added, the offer actually genuine, for once.

For some reason, the tips of Sorcha's ears reddened. “We're doing fine, thank you," she said primly, glancing once at Cyril. “Or, uh... at least I think so."

He nodded in his mild sort of way. “You are improving with admirable celerity," he added.

That actually got a smile out of Sorcha. Just a small one, but one that was real enough to reach her eyes, and give the clear blue of them a little light. “Then yes," she said. “We're doing just fine." She finally met Mercer's eyes then, tilting her head slightly and inadvertently letting a strand of blonde hair come loose from her pins. “And more bow practice sounds good, if you don't, uh... mind."

She looked adorable like that. He wondered if she knew that? Inwardly rolling his eyes at himself, he laughed lightly. “I guess if Teach says so, then it must be true," he stated, reaching up to rub the back of his neck. “And sure, just name the time and place, but first," he paused, dropping his hands to his side.

“Have either of you seen Thea? There's an axe-throwing competition coming up at the end of the month, and I'm sure she'd like to join. She's training with axes, right?" he asked, finally, arching a brow in both of their directions.

They exchanged a glance with almost comically-accurate timing. “I believe I saw her enter the greenhouse on my way up to the training grounds an hour ago," Cyril offered after a moment, leaning a bit on where he'd planted his lance in the ground. His posture was always so relaxed and alert at the same time; it was a little different from the knights, who were often kind of... uptight by comparison.

“I think that's a good idea," Sorcha said with a nod. “She's been training really hard, and having some competition who are also beginners might help her confidence. I'm not sure she realizes how far she's come." She paused, tapping the butt end of her own lance against her toe. “But about the bow thing. Um. How about tonight? The usual time?" She looked as though she half-expected him to refuse; as though she had in fact braced for it somehow.

He visibly rolled his eyes this time, but he smiled nonetheless. “Sure thing, Sorcha," he stated, grinning in her direction. “Same time, tonight, and don't be late! You were late last time," which was another lie. She was always on time, sometimes early. It was a little unnerving to him how dedicated to something she was, but he supposed that was another reason he was so proud of her. He clicked his tongue as the thought crossed his mind.

“And don't sell yourself, short, Sorch," he spoke, smoothing out his grin to something more of a smile. “You've come a long way, too. You don't give yourself enough credit," he was sure it was a confidence issue, but he couldn't be too sure. “Have fun with the Teach!" he stated, waving them off as he made his way towards the Greenhouse. It wasn't too far from the training grounds, perhaps a ten minute walk. When he arrived, though, Thea was no where in sight. He pursed his lips together at that.

“Oh, hey Mercer," it was Sylvi who spoke, bringing his attention towards her. She was with Devon, holding a basket of herbs. Perhaps for the kitchen staff since they were on kitchen duty today. “Looking for something?" she asked, causing him to sigh heavily.

“Yeah, Thea. Have you seen her?" Sylvi pursed her lips together and shook her head.

“Nope. I haven't seen her, here, today. What about you, Dev?" she asked, turning towards Devon.

Devon shifted slightly, adjusting his basket. “I did actually! Earlier she was down by the pond? I think she was talking to Reynard about something. He might still be on the dock? He spends a lot of his free time fishing, I think."

Mercer sighed dramatically, flailing his arms up before he let them fall to his sides. “Thanks, guys," he stated, watching as Sylvi shrugged her shoulders and returned to her work with Devon. Mercer, on the other hand, made his way towards the pond. Sure enough, there was Reynard, reel in hand, and looking rather content. Or about as content as one could be from Mercer's distance. He really couldn't tell. When he was close enough, he called out.

“Hey, Reynard! Have you seen Thea?"

The man tilted his head in acknowledgment of the question, languidly enough that it was almost like he'd been expecting it. Removing one hand from the reel, he grasped the bowl of his long-stemmed pipe and exhaled, a cloud of fragrant smoke drifting away from the both of them. “She came by about a half-hour ago," he said, replacing the pipe in his mouth and speaking around it. he seemed to be slowly pulling the bobber back towards himself, legs dangling over the dock.

“She was looking for Vridel. I told her he was in the library. My guess is they're both still there. He's been awfully interested in botany lately." A half-smile curled one side of his mouth, and he shot Mercer a narrow-eyed look from the corner of his eye.

“Wonder why that could be."

Mercer couldn't help but laugh at the statement so hard that he had to grip his sides. “Man, that's never going to get old," he stated, glancing towards Reynard's position. “I'd wager it has a lot to do with a post-victory hug from a certain green-haired person," he stated, his grin turning a bit more cheshire.

“Thanks for the intell," he stated, waving a dismissive hand in Reynard's direction. The library wasn't too far, he supposed, but part of him really didn't want to make the walk. He could have just left the information with Sorcha and called it a day, but he supposed he might as well finish what he started. Once he managed to reach the library, he heaved a big sigh, and pushed forward.

“Oh, hey Senka. Wasn't expecting you to be here," he stated, watching as she turned pale amethyst eyes in his direction. She blinked in that slow motion she usually did before her head tilted.

“Plenty of students come to the library to learn, Mercer. How would I be any different?" she retorted, earning a light chuckle from Mercer. “If you're looking for Sorcha, she's at the training grounds with Cyril," she stated, turning her attention towards the book in her hands. He raised a brow at that. She'd always addressed him as Professor Cyril. When had she dropped Professor?

“I'm actually looking for Thea. I was told she was here, but I can't seem to find her. Have you seen her?" he asked, her attention back on him. She nodded. “Great! Where is she?"

“Second floor with Vridel. We were studying a new tome when she came to ask his advice on something axe related. Supposedly there is an event at the end of the month and she was excited about it," she replied languidly. Mercer blinked a little stupidly at Senka. Did Thea already know about the tournament? Well, whatever. He could at least still tell her since he'd made it all this way.

“Thanks, Sen," he stated before making his way to the second level of the library. There, he spotted Vridel, but not Thea. He pursed his lips together.

Vridel, as it turned out, spotted him as well. His eyes, a much darker shade of purple than Senka's, narrowed. “What do you want?" he asked. He could come off as so grouchy sometimes; it really was kind of hilarious. He appeared to have an array of books spread in front of him; at least one of the illustrations depicted a poleaxe, the sort of heavy steel thing used by and against cavalry units.

Mercer snorted at his reaction. “Obviously I want you, otherwise I wouldn't have spent my entire afternoon searching high and low for you," he responded without missing a beat, flittering his eye lashes in Vridel's direction. He could have sworn he heard someone cough, as if they were trying not to laugh, but Mercer paid it no mind.

“Alas, our time apart has made the heart fonder," he stated, crossing his arms over his chest. Before he could say anything further, though, another voice took his attention.

“Ugh." Vridel rolled his eyes in an exaggerated manner and proceeded to turn back to his books, quite ignoring Mercer.

“That's what they say in the books about Knights," it was Amalthea, who seemed to appear out of nowhere, to Mercer. He blinked in her direction before pursing his lips at her.

“You! Do you know how long it took me to find you!?" he stated, momentarily forgetting about Vridel. She blinked, large innocent eyes, up at him and tilted her head.

“I didn't know you were looking for me, Mercer! Sorry!" she stated, bowing in an apologetic way. He groaned. She didn't need to do that.

“Don't... you don't need to bow, silly. I just wanted to let you know about the axe tournament at the end of the month, but I couldn't find you," he stated, watching as a bright smile blossomed on her face.

“I know! I saw the flyers they were putting up, and I came to ask Vridel for advice on which axes would be the best to practice with!" she stated, her eyes turning up towards Vi. It was adorable, really.

For his part, Vridel did look up again then, offering her a short nod. There was unease in his body language, but he was also curiously oriented so as to be inclusive of her, rather than shutting her out of his space or anything like that. “Realistically, the Monastery has access to most of the Imperial varieties of throwing axe, and if that's the case there's no point in using the kinds from the Kingdom or the Alliance, as they're patently inferior. I suspect such a competition will use the standard returning hand axe, so you'll want to familiarize yourself with those. You can worry about things like balance and heft differences once you have the fundamentals established. I have a tomahawk I believe might interest you. It's a little lighter, but more aerodynamic, so you get better force for less effort."

It took every ounce of control for Mercer to not laugh at the situation. It was obvious that Amalthea wasn't as aware of the unease in Vridel's body language as Mercer was, however; he decided to let Vridel be, for now. “Oh, that would be great, Vridel!" she stated, and Mercer could have sworn she might have jumped with excitement. She really was overly excited, like a puppy. It was slightly endearing.

“Well, it seems you two lovebirds have everything handled. Guess I can be on my way now that my job is done," he stated, watching as confusion flickered across Thea's face. She glanced up at Vridel, the question evident on her face.

“What's a lovebird?" she asked, though from the way her ears were slightly red, she might have had an idea, but wasn't sure of it. Mercer had never laughed so hard. He was sure he broke something.

Vridel looked to be about on the verge of unsheathing the sword all Academy students carried around and stabbing him with it. Not that they were generally very sharp; the practice blades could be used for defense in a pinch but mostly they were there so that students would get used to the weight and feel of carrying one around, as many of them would be expected to later in life, either symbolically or for very practical reasons. Still, the prince seemed almost willing to give it a try anyway.

“They're a genus of parrot," he replied, tone unnaturally calm for the murderous expression on his face. “I've no idea why Mercer should compare either of us. If there is a noisy, squawking bird in the room, it is most certainly him."

“Ouch, that hurts," Mercer replied, but he ducked down the stairs with all the intent of getting as far away from Vridel before he actually was stabbed. Maybe he'd go tell Reynard about this new, little... development?

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Harpstring Moon - Sunday the 18th
Garreg Mach Monastery (Training Grounds) - Morning - Clear
Amalthea von Kreuz


Amalthea was excited, to say the least. So excited that she'd woken up before everyone else had, even Sorcha, and had already dressed into her training outfit. She'd grabbed the tomahawk she borrowed from Vridel, and had waited patiently at the training grounds for the others to arrive. Sorcha arrived not too long after Amalthea had, Senka in tow, and both of them helped Amalthea set up the targets. By the time they had finished, the sun had already started peaking over the horizon.

The competition was a matter of accuracy and fluidity. She had to hit as many targets as she possibly could near their vital areas, however; they weren't going to be stationary targets. They were going to be moving, and Amalthea wasn't quite sure if she was ready for that. She'd been training, but throwing an object was a lot different than that, and it wasn't something she actively did during training sessions. She almost regretted it, however; she had her friends to help her with her shortcomings. She was particularly excited that Vridel had agreed to help her, too.

She really valued everything he told her, and she took it to heart, trying her best so that she didn't disappoint him. It felt different than it did with her sister, though. It wasn't the same kind of disappointment she was trying to keep Lyanna from feeling; that felt too... something. With Vridel, it seemed more vital, more important, so she trained as hard as she could.

“Thea," Senka called out, snapping Amalthea from her thoughts. She turned towards the woman, and nodded. “The others will be here soon; are you sure you are prepared?" she asked, causing Amalthea to nod her head.

“I am! I think... with all of you here to help me, I should be fine." She'd be better than that, actually.

Next to Senka, Sorcha had been studying Amalthea's axe, curiosity evident in her expression. “Thea, do you mind if I see that for a moment?" she asked, gesturing to the weapon.

“Hm? Oh! Sure, here you go," she stated, handing the axe towards Sorcha.

The other girl took the thing by the haft, running her thumb along the flat of the axehead and testing its balance. Flipping it over deftly, she spotted the crest design on the polished wooden handle and huffed softly, a strange smile crossing her face. “Vivi, you idiot," she murmured, shaking her head and handing it carefully back to Amalthea. “Did he tell you what this was, when he gave it to you?" Somehow, she seemed to know the object had originally belonged to Vridel.

Amalthea did not find that fact, strange. Didn't everyone know that axe was Vridel's? It had a very specific design, after all. Or perhaps only she thought that, and everyone didn't know? “Nope," she responded, smiling at Sorcha. “He just told me that I was free to use it if I wanted to. It would be easier to handle, and a little more aerodynamic. It was a good choice for the competition, he said." She thought it was a good choice, too. And it was lighter than her own training axe had been.

“Is something wrong with it?" she asked, her eyes going slightly wide. “Did I damage it somehow!?" she was slightly panicked now. She didn't mean to destroy his tomahawk, if that were the case. She really didn't want him to be angry with her, if she did manage to somehow damage his weapon. She should have taken better care of it!

Sorcha shook her head immediately. “No, no, nothing like that." She still wore the odd smile, and shrugged a bit. “It's just... that's Aymr. It's not a sacred relic or anything, but it is an Imperial heirloom. A weapon that's been around since ancient times. See the Crest of Seiros on the handle there? That's the proof. It's probably the single best throwing axe there is, and it's got a boatload of enchantments on it to guard against damage and rust and such. It's... also Vivi's birthright as Imperial Prince." The smile widened.

“He probably just gave it to you like it's no big deal, right?"

Amalthea blinked once. Then twice. It was a what? Senka made a slight huffing sound, but it didn't quite register what it could have been. Amalthea was too distracted by Sorcha's words to notice anything else. An heirloom? He'd given her an heirloom? Weren't those supposed to be extremely valuable and meant to be protected? She had to admit that she didn't quite understand the context of what an heirloom was, but hearing Sorcha describe it as something... important, Amalthea felt her eyes widen.

“He did," she replied. “Well, he let me borrow it, but..." he didn't necessarily say she could have it, so that meant that she was supposed to take really good care of it. But she wasn't, was she? She was using it, throwing it at inanimate objects and practicing her own techniques with it. And it was a valuable weapon he had given to her. Why would he do that?

“Why would he do that!?" she repeated the question out loud.

“Perhaps because he thought you might have made better use of it?" Senka spoke, causing Amalthea to turn her attention on her. He had told her that he preferred swords to axes, and that they were an Imperial specialty. But... “If that is the case, you should not feel bad about using it, Thea. He entrusted something to you that was..." she glanced towards Sorcha, special?" She didn't seem quite sure if that was the right word.

“Well, it's definitely symbolically important," Sorcha said, humming thoughtfully. “But Vivi's practical. Honestly, I think he probably just figured that it was a weapon, and made to be used, and since he prefers the sword, it wouldn't have seen much use with him. So I wouldn't worry about treating it like some delicate object. It's made to be thrown at things, or used in battle."

“Well, when you put it like that," she really couldn't find the fallacy in that logic.

She set her hands on her hips. “Speak of the devil... it looks like he and Professor Cyril are here."

Sure enough, Vridel and the professor both approached, each dressed in the usual manner for a free day at the monastery: Vridel in his uniform with the red half-cloak, and the professor in a long-sleeved, deep blue tunic with those odd patterns that Jeralt also wore at the neck and sleeves.

“Good morning, everyone," Cyril said mildly. “I understand we're going to throw axes today?"

“Good morning, Professor, Vridel!" she stated, grinning at both of them. “And yes, well... in a manner of speaking. I'm the one throwing axes! Er, well, for the competition." She pursed her lips at herself and took a deep breath. “I'm training with throwing axes for the competition at the end of the month!" There, that was better.

“Not just you, Thea," Senka spoke softly, causing her to purse her lips in confusion. Were they also going to join the competition? Senka's features smoothed out slightly as if she were reading Amalthea's mind. “It's good practice for all of us to learn about throwing objects. And," she paused, glancing towards Professor and Vridel, “It'll be like we are your competitors. Professor Cyril and Vridel are here to help us with that."

Sorcha smiled a little. “Exactly. I for one am going to be working on my javelin form, but magic or arrows would work just as well. Besides, if we all train together it's more fun, right?" She turned to the professor, then. “I've set up all the targets, so they're ready to go whenever you like."

“Excellent. Let's get those moving, then." They moved off to see about the moving targets.

Vridel, carrying what seemed to be an ordinary practice hand-axe, stepped a little closer to Amalthea, his arms crossed. “How's practice been?" he asked. “Feeling any more confident with the throwing?"

She turned and pursed her lips up at him. “Why didn't you tell me this was an heirloom?" she stated, holding out the axe, Aymr. “I mean, thank you for letting me use it, but it's... it's a," she furrowed her brows tightly, before sighing softly and shaking her head. She was going to try and think of it as Senka and Sorcha said: a weapon meant to be used.

“Training has been nice. I'm still a little bad, but I'm not as bad as I used to be. But that was against stationary targets. Practicing with moving ones is going to be tougher than that," she decided to say. “I guess, having your guidance has been really helpful. In a lot of a ways, actually," she continued, feeling the tips of her ears, burning again. She'd have to ask Lyanna about that, one day. For now, she'd just assume that it was probably because she was excited about something.

“Now, I'm going to need your help with these moving targets."

Vridel had an inscrutable look on his face as he regarded her in turn. He wasn't often blank-faced like the Professor or Senka could be, but nonetheless it was hard to figure out exactly what he was thinking most of the time. Narrowed eyes and slight frowns, for example could mean a lot. After a moment more, he shrugged. “I didn't tell you because it didn't matter. It is in fact an object my family has owned for a long time, but that doesn't mean much to me. It's a weapon like any other, and I gather that you don't have any of your own. Until you find something you like better, I think it will serve you in good stead. As for hitting moving targets..."

As if on cue, the targets set up on the training ground began to move, mostly traveling in a wide circle. Vridel took the axe from his belt and hefted it, throwing it decisively for one headed in their direction. It whistled through the air, landing dead-center on the target. “It's not that different. You just need to learn the timing, and how to throw from different body positions. Give it a try on that red one coming up." He called the axe back to his hand, the returning enchantment responding and pulling it back to him from its place in the target, where it left behind only a wedge of destroyed paper.

That was easy for him to say; he'd probably practiced a lot more than she had. Still, she wouldn't let that deter her. “Okay," she stated, bringing Amyr up and staring at the red target. Taking a breath, she leaned forward and threw with as much strength as she could muster. Amyr was wobbly, unlike Vridel's axe had been. It missed the target, and Amalthea pursed her lips together. She hadn't even grazed the target. It didn't miss by a wide berth, though. She'd only missed by a foot, at least.

She took a deep breath and jogged after her weapons, picking it up before returning back towards Vridel. She decided against glancing at him; she didn't want to meet his eyes until she could hit a target, proper. With pursed lips, she repeated the process, and missed again. “Can you..." she stopped herself from asking for his help, and shook her head. She relied on him, too much, for things, and right now, she wanted to at least get one hit before she asked.

The process was repeated for at least ten minutes. Every time she threw the axe, she still missed it. It either went over the head, off to the side, or, oddly enough, underneath it. How was she still not able to get one hit? “What am I doing wrong!?" she stated, finally glancing towards Vridel.

He was regarding her with a keen expression, like she was some sort of puzzle he couldn't quite put together to his satisfaction. Uncrossing his arms, he summoned the axe towards him; Amyr flew unerringly from beneath the target into his hand. On the other side of the grounds, the professor, Sorcha, and Senka were busy at their own practice; Vridel gave them a glance before he sighed, murmuring something under his breath that she could not hear and returning Aymr to her haft-first. The weapon looked no worse for wear: both the wooden handle and the metal axehead gleamed under the light.

“All right," he said. “Assume your stance, please." Once she'd done so, he paused. His next words were unusually hesitant. “May I... hm. I think it would help if I could adjust your posture and so on. That would require touching you, however. May I?"

“Please," she replied automatically, relaxing her body. If it meant that he could help her with her stance, she'd let him. “Whatever you need to do to help," she added, taking in a deep breath.

Vridel nodded, stepping forward and taking up her right wrist in his hand. He used the other to shift Amyr slightly forward in her grip. “The hold for throwing is slightly different from the hold for melee," he informed her. “Which you knew. What I think is new is that it's a little more of a difference with one of these over the standard hand-axe." Curling her fingers firmly but not too tightly over the new spot, he shifted back, placing a hand on each shoulder and squaring them.

“Your shoulders should always be like this. Even if you have to shift at the waist or do something unusual with your arms while you're on the move, they always need to be relaxed, but like this relative to each other. If they aren't it'll ruin your follow-through. And you're small enough that your form has to be better than idiots who just chuck them over the field."

His hands moved to grasp her jaw from behind, then, and he positioned her head so that she was looking directly forward. “Relax. You don't need that much advance warning. Look at where you want the throw to land, and then wait until the target's almost there. Every rule can be broken eventually, but when you're still learning you should follow them until it's instinct." There was nothing improper about the contact, but he was standing close enough that his heat could be felt at her back.

It disappeared a moment later, though, as he stepped back. “Next yellow." he said. “Don't look for it, just wait until you can target, and then throw."

It wasn't that hard to listen to his advice. She'd done so on countless occasions, however; something felt a little different. More intense and more focused, however; she couldn't quite place a finger to it. Whatever it was, it allowed her to clear her mind and focus on his voice, and instructions. When he finished, and had stepped back, she nodded in way of response, and glanced at the yellow target. Taking her stance, she eyed the target, watching it as it moved before she threw.

There was a loud thud as she managed to land the hit. It was on the shoulder aspect of the target, but she at least hit it. And that was enough to cause her to literally jump in her spot. “Yes! I hit it!" she stated, still jumping. She whirled in her spot, smile plastered on her face as she glanced up at Vridel. “Did you see that!? I actually hit it!"

“Don't know how I could have missed it," he replied wryly, a half-smile touching his mouth. “Well done, Amalthea." The smile widened even as his eyes narrowed. “...now do it again, and we'll be getting somewhere."

“Okay!" she responded, running to retrieve her axe. She pulled it from the target, and made her way back towards Vridel. Assuming her stance, she threw the axe again, managing to get another hit. And once again, very excitedly, she jumped in her spot. It was a process that was repeated over the course of a few hours until she was hitting almost every target. Not where the vitals were, but she would take what she could get.

When training came to an end, she glanced at the others and smiled at them. “Thank you all for training with me. You were right, Sorcha! Training with others is more fun than I thought it could be," she stated towards the princess. “And thank you, Vi for helping me! Again! I really need to find a way to pay you back for all of this. I promise you, I will!" She really was glad that they were there to help her.

For a moment, Vridel's eye twitched, perhaps at the application of the nickname, but he didn't scold her for it, instead shaking his head. “It was good practice for all of us. No need to make a fuss."

Sorcha rolled her eyes. “What he means is you're welcome," she added. “Keep improving like this and you'll be in good shape for the competition!"

She really hoped so.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Harpstring Moon - Saturday the 31st
Zanado, the Red Canyon - Early Afternoon - Clear
Cyril Eisner


Though he'd informed his students of their grim mission over a week ago, Cyril still could not help the faint feeling of unease that drew over him as they approached their destination. Someplace called the Red Canyon, apparently. Though the mission had originally been assigned to the Blue Lions, the simple matter of it was that some of his students were simply not yet at the level where they stood a reasonable chance of survival. He'd spoken with Lady Lyanna about it, and whatever she'd said to Lady Rhea must have been effective, for he was thereafter given permission to hand-select the students who'd be going with him.

He didn't especially like that, either, but at least he knew which among them were the best in a fight, and which would be most likely to be cautious enough to survive, and conscientious enough to make sure their companions did as well: namely, his Saturday class. It was the bond that was the most important thing, he thought, and though they were still getting to know each other, he knew they at least coordinated well, and wouldn't hesitate to do as he asked of them, should that become necessary.

None of that helped him shake the feeling that he could be condemning any of them to death—or to the trauma of taking life. All he could muster in defense of his was that they had all come here knowing what was taught. At least this way, he would be here for them when they did at last confront what it meant to kill. If they faltered, he would be able to intercede. If they were scared, he would be able to step in front of them. If they were in danger, well...

He would be there to stop a blow.

If he achieved nothing else, could shelter them from nothing else, he could at least make sure they didn't die. That they lived past this moment, this day. The first battlefield, for most of them. He didn't know why it was so important to him that they all made it, but it was. He felt as though... as though he could not lose them to this.

As the group approached the edge of the canyon, Cyril called them to a halt. Catching Reynard's eyes, he nodded slightly and jerked his head to the side. The other man understood—that one had been on many battlefields, of this Cyril was certain. Perhaps almost as many as he had. He would make a fine scout, and was not in need of the discussion he was about to have with the rest of them.

“This is it," he said softly. “Reynard is going to find the bandits for us, and then we go to battle." He paused, scanning their faces. “There is a lot that could be said, about killing and about death. It won't be easy. I want you to blame everything on me."

“What—what do you mean, blame it on you?" Sorcha asked. She'd looked vaguely unwell for the entire march. He didn't doubt she was remembering the bandits in the forest, on the night they'd met. The night she'd killed for the first time.

That was exactly why he was saying this, though. “I mean that if what you're about to do makes you sick. If it gives you nightmares. If it makes you numb. Whatever it does to you, I want you to understand that it's my fault. I'm the one who led you here. I'm the one who put you in this situation. When we're down there on that field, it's because I told you to go there. What you are going to do is survive." He shook his head. “And there is no blame for that. Perhaps one day, you will deserve some of the blame, when it is you who orders people to fight. I don't want you to ever forget what it feels like, to be commanded to take life. But I don't want you to blame yourselves, either. This is my doing. There may come a time when you have to decide whether to make it yours. But today is not your fault."

Amalthea hadn't smiled during the march, either. Her expression had been as Sorcha's had, but for a different reason, perhaps. She did, however, swallow rather thickly, and seemed to shake her head at something. Senka laid a hand on her shoulder, though, causing the young woman to glance up at her. She wasn't smiling, or anything, but there was a brief gentleness in her expression that caused Amalthea to nod her head. Her eyes were back to Cyril, after that.

Mercer, however, didn't seem fazed at all. As if this were just another day to him. His posture was relaxed, but his eyes were forward and unusually dark. “Yeah, but that's just it, Teach. We can't blame you for something they did. Taking their lives won't be easy, but it's not like they didn't bring this on themselves," he spoke in a nonchalant fashion, almost cold.

“Fault or not, doesn't make it easier, Mercer. Taking a life... shouldn't be as easy as that," Senka retorted, her eyes narrowing just slightly. Mercer huffed lightly, but shook his head.

“I didn't say it should be," he stated, his eyes sliding towards Sorcha.

“That's just how things are, though. Let's just... do as the professor says, and survive," Dierdre stated, looking vaguely uncomfortable about it all. She'd stood a little closer to Sofia and almost seemed to be holding on to her arm.

Sofia swallowed thickly, doing her best to maintain a calm, stoic presence, perhaps for Deirdre and the others. Devon was having clear difficulty keeping his nerve; he kept fiddling with his arrows, and checking to make sure his backup knife was still strapped to his thigh. He nodded, though, as if to agree with Deirdre.

If anything, Vridel was taking it somewhere between the relaxation of Mercer and the quiet stoicism of Senka. It had been clear to Cyril even on that first night that both the imperial prince and the Alliance heir had prior combat experience; there would come a time when those faces would be what the majority of them wore in a situation like this.

“Don't forget that these people have done their fair share of killing, too," he pointed out. “And they thought much less for the innocent people they slew and stole from than we're thinking for them. We shouldn't stoop to their level, but nor should we forget that the fault—" there he looked at Cyril, not entirely without gratitude, it seemed. “Lies also with them. Whatever their circumstances, they chose to murder to live. They cannot be allowed to continue."

“I just... wish there was another way. Without killing them," Amalthea murmured, but Sylvi shook her head. She was about as composed as Sofia was, but her eyes were slightly wide. It was apparent that she too was feeling the effects of this upcoming battle, and she rolled out her shoulders as if she were trying to calm herself.

“Unfortunately that's just the nature of things. Whether or not there are other ways, the best option, here, is to put them down. Like his Highness stated; best not to let them continue. Their lives against the lives of many innocents is well-worth what we have to do," she spoke in an even tone. It was flat, though, as if she were struggling against her own words.

“Heh, if it helps, just think of them as rabid dogs," Mercer stated, pulling his bow from his back, and holding it out in front of him. He pulled on the string, as if he were checking it, and dropped his hand to his side. “They need to be put down before they cause more harm; simple as that."

Senka sighed, but she did not say anything. Instead, she fiddled with her sword strapped to her side. They weren't carrying their practice weapons, for this battle. The ones they had were iron, sharp, and very real. From the arrow tips, to the iron lances and axes, these were made to kill.

“We can do this," Dierdre whispered, almost as if she were trying to convince herself that they could.

So we are taking children into battle, are we? Cyril wasn't all that surprised that the voice in his head had an opinion about this, too. He couldn't even disagree with her. Perhaps she sensed it.

Reynard soon returned, gesturing for the group to follow him down a safe path into the canyon.

As they walked, looming red-brown walls of stone loomed to either side, only growing as they increased the grade of their descent. It would have been somewhat difficult for the Knights to maneuver horses down here, but he doubted that had much to do with why the students had been chosen to do the work instead. A pegasus or wyvern, after all, would have had no trouble, and there were plenty of those. He had rather the impression that they'd been chosen to do this not only because the knights were understaffed as Lyanna said, but because this was rather beneath the knights. The kind of thing that mercenaries would typically be hired to do.

Unbidden, a thought leapt into his head. This used to be a peaceful place. Cyril's step almost faltered; he was certain what he'd thought was right, but could identify the source of neither the thought nor the certainty. If it had been a contribution of his passenger, it would have felt... different.

She did, however, jump in then. Oh? I wonder why it is that you remember it. As far as I can tell, this is your first time here.

Have you been here before?

He could feel her uncertainty, as if she were reaching back in her memory as well as his own. I must admit I am unsure, she replied. Beyond the name and this strange feeling of familiarity, I can't seem to remember anything about this place. And yet... a great depth of emotion is tied to that familiarity. Like joy and sorrow, pain and love. And all things in between. She paused. If I was somehow here before, I wonder what took place...

There wasn't much time to consider it now, however. As they drew closer it became clear that there were ruins built into the canyon, crumbling now but evidence of great buildings having stood long ago.

Sorcha seemed to have noticed them, too. “Strange," she murmured.

“What is?" Vridel asked, regarding her keenly.

“The architecture," she replied, squinting down into the canyon. “It's like nothing I've seen before, even in books. It's not Imperial, or Kingdom, and it's much too old for Alliance, either. Unless I've just completely missed a major trend in historical architecture that is."

For some reason, Vridel shot a glance at Mercer then, a grim look on his face.

“I don't think there's anything like that mentioned in the books at the Monastery," Amalthea chimed in, but she seemed just as confused as Sorcha. “I've read quite a few of them, but not a lot," she continued, pursing her lips.

“They're not modeled after Almyran architecture, I can tell you that much," Mercer stated, his eyes sliding towards Senka, who merely nodded her head. “Perhaps this was here before the Empire was established?" he stated it in such a way that it was more of a statement than a question, as if it were some kind of small observation.

“Some designs have been known to get lost through translations," Sylvi spoke, though she didn't seem as interested in the design as the others had been. She was scanning the area as if she were checking to make sure they wouldn't be ambushed, or something of the sort. “It's possible that something was mistranslated throughout the years," she added.

“It's a possibility, but you'd think that the Church, or the nations would keep up with things like that," Mercer stated, but remained quiet after that.

Cyril, who knew precious little of history, wasn't sure why it should be surprising that traces remained of things that had been before the Empire, but perhaps the interest had more to do with the fact that they, who had quite complete educations by most standards, had never been taught of such things. Perhaps this represented lost knowledge, and how strange it should be that it was lost, if the Church knew of this place.

Suddenly, he could understand the issue.

As with those belonging to the girl in his head, however, there were other things to worry about right now. “There," he said, pointing down to what appeared to be a ruined stone structure of some sort, only a section of floor slightly alit with verdant light and a few vestigial traces of walls remaining. In it stood a bandit, apparently having an argument with several of his comrades.

Unfortunately, they were spotted at just about the same time. A sharp whistle raised the alarm, and the bandit reacted immediately, arming themselves and fanning out to meet the intruders.

“Archers and mages to the back. Everyone else, with me. Stick together. Protect each other. Leave no one behind." Cyril reacted immediately, firming his grip on his javelin. There was no time for anything else anymore. Now, it was do or die.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Harpstring Moon - Saturday the 31st
Zanado, the Red Canyon - Afternoon - Clear
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer clicked his tongue against the roof of his mouth. Teach ordered the archers to the back, but Mercer decided he wasn't going to do that. Instead, he stayed close to Sorcha, watching as the bandits scurried to arm themselves, proper, and begin their own assault. This wasn't going to be an easy fight; for someone who'd had to fight most of his life, he was okay with what they had to do. But the way Sorcha had reacted to their first encounter, he didn't want her to be alone through it a second time. Dierdre had looked a little hesitant to remain in the back, her eyes focusing on Sofia for a brief moment, before she seemed to steel herself.

He couldn't blame her; it was a very real possibility that they were about to lose each other. And love like theirs was very rare to find. He almost envied the two of them. Sylvi and Amalthea had stayed close to the Teach, and Senka had, oddly, remained somewhere in the middle. She wasn't in the back, but she wasn't as close to the others as Amalthea and Sylvi were. Perhaps she too felt the need to fight at a closer range? He knew she was decent with magic, but still... he allowed his gaze to focus back on the bandits.

The least he could do is try and take out one or two of the bandits. In total, there must have been about fifteen to twenty of them. It was, by no means, a small group, but against the eleven of them, it shouldn't be too difficult. This was under the assumption that the others would be able to do what they needed: kill.

Vridel was about even with Senka, sword drawn but from the look of it magic also at the ready. His facility with white magic was almost certain to see some use today. Sofia glanced back to her fiancee only once, nodding firmly before hefting her axe in her hand and firming up the front line with Teach and the others. Devon had the rear, and Reynard had once again seemingly disappeared. There was enough cover in this part of the canyon that he might well have found somewhere to snipe from, or to launch a sneak attack of some description.

“I'm here for you, Sorcha, just so you know," he stated, though he didn't quite understand the need to say it. He just thought it would be reassuring to her, somehow. Like it was to him. He didn't want any of his friends to die on the battlefield, and he was going to make sure of that, one way or another.

Her hands trembled where they held her bow. She, too, wasn't content to stay all the way at the back; probably because she had melee options as well and wanted to be in range to help support the front line if necessary. She pursed her lips, but looked suddenly up at him as he spoke, almost as if she was surprised to see him there. “Mercer! I, um..." She swallowed audibly. “You too. I mean. I'm here if you... need me."

She grimaced, mumbling something to herself that sounded like “not likely."

“Of course I need you," he responded almost immediately, fixing his eyes into serious state. “One person alone is only so strong, but as long as you're with me," he began, offering her a small smile, “I'd like to think we'll both make it through this, alright?" He wanted her to know that she was also going to be providing strength to him. She, and the others, were the reason he was going to give it his all today. To ensure that everyone lived, even if he didn't.

It wasn't long after that, they finally met the first wave of bandits. Mercer had notched an arrow almost immediately before letting it fly. Unfortunately the bandit he aimed for was wearing an armored chest plate, and the arrow merely hit it with a soft thud before falling. He pursed his lips together, and readied another arrow, letting it loose on another bandit. This time, the arrow found its mark, but it was lodged into the bandit's shoulder. He cried out from the obvious pain, but Mercer didn't have much time to think about it. He readied another arrow, and aimed again.

Beside him, Sorcha kept up a steady rhythm of fire, though he could tell from as close as he was that her fingers trembled on every draw. It didn't seem to hurt her accuracy much, nor did the way she gasped softly after the first bandit fell to her arrow in his throat.

“Survive," she whispered, turning her next shot on someone trying to approach Senka from the side. “Survive."

The reminder to herself did not stop the tears from beginning to flow.

In the front, their line was making efficient work of the bandits. Some of them were definitely burn-scarred, and dressed similarly to the ones who'd attacked the three of them during the training exercise. It was no great leap to assume they were the same group. Two of them, bearing the scars of his magic, apparently recognized Vridel and went straight for him. He cut one down, and the other fell to a pair of arrows from Devon.

Sofia kept her side of the line steady with measured, calculated blows. She wasn't a quick striker, but she was patient and sudden when she did decide to hit, and one of her axeblows cleaved a man's head, covering her in gore. She looked like she was about to be sick, but grimaced and held out. The incident, however, blinded her to the man trying to flank on her left.

Dierdre released a wind spell, pushing the man away from Sofia as her eyes were wide with fear. She was trembling as well, but she didn't have much time to react as another tried to attack her from behind. Mercer was quick with his arrow, notching it in place and releasing it in time to catch the bandit in the head. His body slumped forward, and Dierdre nearly jumped out of her skin as she turned in time to deflect an incoming arrow.

Amalthea didn't seem to be doing so well, though. She was visibly trembling, but she had yet to engage an enemy. Senka had kept close to her, deflecting swords here and there, but she could only do so much. Amalthea had gripped her axe, raised it as high as she could, before she brought it down in time to knock a dagger out of a man's hand. And in doing so, she lopped his hand off. His scream, and the blood that poured from his now-missing hand, seemed to startle her and she took a step back. She screamed as the blood covered her, and Senka had to pull her out of the way from arrow. It grazed her shoulder, the arrowhead slicing into it and producing a thin line of blood, but she did not appear to be fazed.

Sylvi had, at this point, worked her way through two of the bandits. She too seemed to be having trouble, though, and it was easy to tell that she had been crying, but her expression seemed strange. Her lips were pressed into a fine line, and her eyes seemed to be relaxed. Mercer knew that look. It was the look of someone who wasn't quite there, and was losing themselves in some other thought. That wasn't a good sign, though, and Mercer called out to her.

“Sylvi, stay sharp!" otherwise it would get her killed. She seemed to snap back to reality as her axe became more swift. More accurate, and she was able to push the bandit back. When he'd no more arrows to use, Mercer switched to his sword.

Sorcha ran out at about the same time as he did, and shifted to her lance. Even Devon was on his backup knife now, and Reynard had joined the fray in earnest, a short blade in each hand, cutting down from behind a bandit who'd almost gotten Sylvi.

Vridel shifted in, briefly touching a hand to Amalthea's back. Her bleeding stopped immediately, only what had already soaked into her clothes likely to remain. He hurdled a blast of fire at some of the incoming bandits; their rear line was now making the charge, and they were much more numerous now, in the thick of things.

Over Vridel's shoulder, Sorcha stabbed her lance, catching one who'd managed to duck under the fire and tried to retaliate. Teach, meanwhile, drew back and hurled his javelin, finishing off one of the incoming group and following up with a spell, which took out their left flank. It thinned the numbers considerably, but the incoming collision was still going to be a hard one.

“Brace yourselves!"

Before Mercer could react, there was a loud scream. He could tell it belonged to Amalthea, and immediately his eyes scanned the area for her. There was something wrong with Senka. She was as covered in blood as the rest of them were, however; something was off. She had an arrow stuck in her back, near her shoulder, and was standing in front of Amalthea. From the way it looked, it was as if she'd taken the arrow that had been meant for Amalthea. It was a sudden turn, though. She flung herself, sword in had, at the nearest bandit, catching him in the gut, and pushing him towards the ground. Immediately, there was a flame in her hand, and she was pushing it in the bandit's face, burning it off. The man screamed in anguish, and for a moment, even Mercer winced. It was bloodcurling and painful. She pulled the sword from his stomach, and plunged it once again, almost in a repetitive motion until the bandit moved no more.

She was screaming something, but he was too far to hear what it was. When her eyes flickered towards his, however; Mercer felt his stomach drop. It was a feral look, one that only cornered and frightened animals had. But it was also void of everything. Typically she had an impassive face, but there were small tells of what she was feeling. Now... there was nothing. She jumped to her feet, and charged towards another group of bandits, flinging another fire spell at one and clashing swords with another. If Mercer hadn't known better, he would have thought she were an expert with the sword, but there was still something feral and wild about it. She was thrashing about wildly, fighting two at once. A third bandit seemed to join the fray, but Senka showed no signs of letting up. It was like watching a caged animal, fight, and Mercer was certain that Senka wasn't quite there.

Amalthea had, at this point, retreated towards Mercer, tears clear as day in her eyes. “Mercer! She's not... she won't stop! She's not listening," she stated in a panic. He clenched his jaw tightly, and glanced around the field to see if there was someone close by.

“Sorcha, Teach! Something's not right with Senka," he shouted once he spotted them. It was at this point that most of the bandits seemed to focus their attacks on her, and she was being surrounded by at least three more. She wasn't going to last much longer, if the way she was breathing heavily was anything to go by. A couple of the bandits managed to slice her arms, and one tried to get her legs, however; she moved so that it caught her in the side. And then there was rage. Mercer wasn't sure if he'd ever seen so much emotion on her face, before. It was unnerving. “Amalthea, go," he stated, ushering her in the direction of Devon and the others. She nodded her head, and immediately, her eyes went wide. Without hesitation, her grip on her axe tightened, and she threw it at a bandit trying to get to Devon. It landed square in his chest, deep enough that it would likely take a great deal of strength to remove it, however; she stretched her arm out and used the enchantment to call it back to her.

Mercer turned his attention back towards Senka. She was still surrounded, and he was out of arrows.

“Sen! Senka!" Sorcha's tone was desperate; she broke from the line to try and get to her friend, only to find herself quickly accosted by two more bandits. She scored a quick jab to one of them, sending him reeling backwards, but before she could finish him, the other stepped in and disarmed her. Left with few options for defense, she scrambled, blocking the next blow with her bow. It broke under the bandit's sword, and she screamed as it cut into her shoulder afterward, but remained standing.

“Mercer!" Cyril was suddenly beside him, hurling the javelin into the uninjured bandit before he could finish her. “Get to Sorcha. Pull her back behind the line. Vridel, you're on standby for her and Senka."

So saying, he sprinted for where Senka was still tangled with her foes, arms cracking with lightning magic. He drove his fist for the first, landing a heavy blow at the base of the bandit's spine with a wet crack. If that hadn't killed him outright, the magic surely would have, and it jumped to the next foe, jolting him as he was about to make a swing. Cyril grabbed him, still on the move, and physically threw him into his compatriots, knocking them away from Senka. A blast of dark magic went at the lot, but the professor didn't so much as wait to see the result.

Instead, he grabbed Senka by the collar, disrupting her balance and deftly disarming her. With one arm, he hoisted her onto his shoulder, and the other held the sword, which he used to run through the one bandit who'd survived the magic and tried to lunge for him now that he was encumbered with the weight of another person.

Mercer was quick to move, finding Sorcha's side in a matter of seconds. She was holding the javelin Teach had thrown, but she didn't seem to be handling it well. Probably because her arm had been injured. When that had happened, Mercer felt something in his stomach, twist. He'd felt sick, as if he'd somehow failed to do something he said he was going to do. Protect. She had been injured because he wasn't quick enough when he needed to be.

When Teach had grabbed Senka, she'd immediately started slamming her fists into his back, screaming at him to let her go, that she needed to get back to them. Whoever they were. He turned his attention back to Sorcha, though, and pursed his lips together. “Hey, are you all right?" he asked, knowing it was a stupid question to ask. Still... he couldn't... he needed to know she would be okay. That she was okay, physically.

She grimaced; there were smears of blood all over her clothes and light leather armor. Most of it wasn't hers, he could tell, but a fair amount of it was, too. “I'll be—better when this is over," she admitted, shifting the javelin to her left hand, and hurling it. She wasn't nearly as good with it as her right, but it still connected with enough force to knock a bandit off-balance, and Reynard quickly finished him.

She summoned the weapon back and lined up another throw. Despite all the viscera on her face, clear tracks were obvious from her eyes to her jaw. It was hard to tell if she were still crying, but it almost didn't matter. The damage had clearly been done. To all of them.

The bandits were almost done for, though, and even as Cyril brought Senka back for healing, ignoring both the fists pounding into his back and her desperate cries, he made eye contact with the last man standing, pointing over the intervening distance with Senka's sword. A crackle of electricity sparked along the surface, coalescing at the tip and striking out, traveling over the field in a hard, shuddering bolt. It struck the bandit leader square in the chest, and he collapsed, unmoving atop the glowing green floor tiles.

There were types of magic capable of such distance. From description alone, that was probably Thoron. Whatever it was, it ended the battle.

Sorcha immediately fell to the ground, hugging her knees to her chest and looking to Teach. “Is she going to be okay?" her voice was tight, cracked with worry, even now.

He hesitated, holding Senka in place while Vridel worked.

“I hope so," was all he said.

Mercer doubted she was going to be okay for a long while, but he decided to keep that to himself. Instead, he sighed heavily, and rolled out his shoulders. They'd all survived, and that was all that mattered, in the end. Even if some of them were likely to have nightmares, or be haunted by the images. All that mattered was that they had all survived. Even himself.

The journey back to Garreg Mach had been relatively silent. No one spoke; Dierdre walked so close to Sofia that it looked like she was occasionally tripping over the woman's feet. Amalthea had nearly tucked herself into Sorcha, but kept a respectful distance between them. Sorcha, though, didn't seem to mind, and readily put her uninjured arm over Amalthea's shoulders, pulling her a little closer, so they were walking in step. And Senka, she'd stayed near Vridel and Teach, her eyes on the floor every step of the way. They were all going to need some time, after this.

“You should take Senka and yourself to Professor Manuela, get a look over," he stated in a low voice to Sorcha. Vridel's magic could only do so much for them, and he was certain they could both use it. All of them could, but out of the group, they'd sustained more injuries. Amalthea had a scratch on her face that would heal, given some time, and Dierdre had sustained some injuries. But they weren't anything she couldn't handle. The others were likely to have injuries as well, but Mercer considered himself rather lucky that he just had a couple of bruises.

“I will," she replied just as quietly. “Maybe Vivi will come too. He doesn't act like it but he's got to be about to pass out from all that healing." They didn't have too many other people who could do it, and one of the only passable healers was Senka, who was obviously in no shape to help.

As they approached the monastery entrance, Teach dropped back to walk for a moment beside Mercer. His eyes didn't leave Senka's back even as he spoke; it would seem he was still wary of her wounds. “I'm required to report to the Archbishop as soon as we arrive," he said, tone flat but somehow harder than the one he usually used. Certainly not nearly the same one he used with his students. “Would you be interested in coming with?"

“Fine by me," he replied almost instantly. He wanted to see what Rhea had to say for herself, sending them into a battle like that. He could understand if it were him, and maybe Vridel and Teach, but the others? They were clearly not ready for this. Taking another person's life wasn't something that people could easily do, especially people with relatively soft hearts like Thea and Sorcha. That... he felt his chest clench painfully as he walked with Teach towards the Archbishop's office.

When they'd arrived, Rhea's face immediately furrowed from the smile she had been wearing. Clearly she wasn't expecting Mercer to be there, but she ignored him for the moment, and turned back towards Cyril. “So, you have safely disposed of those bandits. I pray that their souls find salvation," she stated, sincerity laced in her voice, but Mercer knew that it was not genuine. Her brows furrowed once more, her eyes shifting towards Mercer.

“But why did they target the students to begin with?" she questioned, closing her eyes for a moment before she continued, “We must further investigate the true cause of all that took place. Until we know more, I ask that you support the students and relieve them of any unnecssary worry." Her eyes were still on Mercer when she spoke.

Cyril's face was blank as ever, but with time, Mercer was getting a read on the subtle differences in it. It would have been hard for someone like Rhea to tell, who never saw him with his students, but this kind of blankness was much harsher than the kind he had with them. “I'll do what I can for them," he said, but something about it suggested it wasn't really a promise to relieve 'unnecessary worry.'

Her expression shifted slightly, but it was so quick that Mercer wasn't sure he'd seen it properly. Instead, she nodded her head. “Good, I have high expectations for you." That was a rather odd statement, to Mercer. Why would she have high expectations for Teach? “By the way," she began, eyes sliding back to Cyril, “how was your time in Zanado?"

“Legend has it, in ancient times, a goddess alighted upon this world in that very canyon. For a goddess from the heavens, Zanado could only have been a temporary haven," she spoke, her voice light, as if she were recalling a fond memory.

Teach tilted his head, something about the information apparently catching his interest. “And this would be... your goddess? The one worshipped here?" Apparently he hadn't been exaggerating his lack of knowledge on the subject.

She didn't bother hiding the flash of disappointment across her face. She nodded her head, nonetheless, and sighed softly. “Long ago, the divine Seiros received a revelation from the goddess. A gift, to help guide the lost," she began, causing Mercer to purse his lips together. “The goddess is always watching over Fódlan from her kingdom above, however; in ancient times, the goddess graced this world with her presence," she explained, causing Mercer's frown to deepen, “and offered salvation to the people here."

“She is the mother of all life, the arbiter of every soul," she continued, but the way her voice sounded caused Mercer to take a mental note of it. It wasn't of someone who truly believed in the goddess, but of someone who had experienced it before. That, in itself, was strange. He'd have to tell Vridel about it, later.

Before Teach could reply to this, Lady Lyanna entered, walking somewhat briskly, the skirt of her white gown rippling with the motions. “Your pardon, Lady Rhea," she said, executing a neat bow. “As you requested, I have arranged matters with the knights for the Professor's next mission." She half turned, showing no outward surprise at Mercer's presence.

When Rhea gave a small nod, she elaborated. “We have received reports that Lord Lonato has rallied troops against the Holy church of Seiros." There was something curiously flat about her voice when she named the Church.

Teach's eyes narrowed slightly. “Why would he do that?"

Rhea shook her head, “Lord Lonato is a minor lord of the Kingdom. He has been showing hostility toward the church for some time now." She didn't sound affected by it, though. Wasn't Lonato the one who sponsored Devon? To his credit, Mercer kept the surprise from his face, glancing towards Lyanna and Rhea with a face to rival Senka's and Teach's impassive one.

“A vanguard unit of the Knights of Seiros will soon be dispatched to his stronghold, Castle Gaspard," Lyanna added, crossing her arms. “His army poses no threat to the Knights, ultimately. It is possible the rebellion will be suppressed within a day of initial contact." She shook her head, as if she found it all quite senseless.

“Even so, I would like for your class to travel with the knights' rear guard to deal with the aftermath." Another battle? That meant they would be required to kill again, to fight in another bloody battle for the Church. Something just didn't add up, to Mercer. Something was missing, off, and he didn't like it.

If Teach thought so, too, he was doing a good job of hiding it, at least until he spoke. “This army Lonato has raised... in whom does it consist?" There was the faintest edge of suspicion to his tone.

“Exactly who you'd expect," Lyanna replied slowly. “His house's army, and volunteers to his cause."

Volunteers? But that would mean—

“You intend to send children barely off their first battlefield to kill innocents?" Cyril pressed.

Lyanna's eyes went wide. She darted a quick glance at the Archbishop, and spoke rapidly. “Those who defy the Church are never innocent, Professor. And those you call children are adult enough to lead countries. Armies. They will not be kept from reality." Her jaw tightened, and there was a flicker of something—fear?—in her eyes.

Whatever it was, it kept Teach from replying further. He crossed his arms, but nodded slightly.

Clearing her throat, Lyanna continued as though the interruption had never taken place. “As you know, war zones are unpredictable. We do not expect you will have cause to actually battle, but be prepared for the worst." She expelled a breath. “The knights you will be accompanying will be led by Lady Catherine, the Sacred Knight."

If Teach's response fazed Rhea, it did not show. She merely smiled, as if she were expecting that kind of response. “Catherine is one of our bravest knights, and that is no small feat. Only an exceptional few have what it takes to join the Knights of Seiros," she explained, her eyes sliding to Mercer with a strange uncanniness. “This mission should prove useful in demonstrating to the students how foolish it would be to ever turn their blades on the church..." Mercer felt his jaw tighten.

She might not have speaking about him directly, but damn did it feel like she was. It was enough that Mercer swore he felt a chill go down his spine as she and Lyanna exited, leaving him and Teach behind.

“Did that sound like a threat to you, or was it just me?" Teach's voice was back to its usual dryness, but his eyes were quite sharp.

“And here I thought I was the only one who thought so," Mercer replied, his eyes narrowing in the direction of where Rhea had left. “And to be honest, it didn't sound like one; it was a threat," Mercer knew enough to know a threat when he heard it. “But why would she go about threatening kids? We don't pose much of a threat to her," at least not now.

“Well three of you are set to lead countries," Teach noted. “I don't know much about politics, but if she can scare you young, maybe she hopes it'll stick." He wore a slight grimace, and shook his head before giving Mercer a soft clap on the shoulder. “For now I don't suppose there's anything to be done. Get some rest; I'll tell Professor Manuela you'll be late tomorrow, if you'd like some extra shut-eye."

“You're a life-saver, Teach, you know that?"

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


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I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Tuesday the 3rd
Blue Lions Classroom - Midmorning - Light Rain
Sorcha Blaiddyd


Two days wasn't really enough time, Sorcha didn't think, to process everything that had happened at Zanado. She found she had questions she could not answer, emotions she could not purge from herself, and a strange heartache that didn't seem to go away. She'd spent all of Sunday indoors, just curled in her bed, only leaving long enough to check up on Senka and be sure she'd eaten. Apparently the professor had brought her lunch from the dining hall, and sure enough, when she returned to her own room, another tray was waiting for her. Maybe it should've weirded her out that he'd somehow gotten in while she was away, but in truth she was just touched by the thoughtfulness, and she had a feeling he'd known that would be the case.

Yesterday she'd been a little more functional, but he hadn't made the class do anything. Instead they'd played card games while it rained outside. Not unexpectedly, the Professor and Senka were the only real competition for bluffing games, but she had a fair chance at ones that involved calculating odds and things. It was funny, how even something so simple could teach her something, about herself and the people around her.

The members of the class who hadn't participated in the mission looked at them differently; she could sense it more than she could see it. It was some combination of envy, and maybe pity, or maybe resentment—whatever it was, mixed together she wondered if it might not put a wedge between them that would never come out. The professor didn't treat anyone unfairly, but everyone knew he'd left half the class behind and taken some Eagles and Deer because that was the group he thought best for the mission.

Judging by the fact that they'd all come back alive, he was probably right. Even if Sorcha didn't feel very suited to any of this at all.

But today things would have to go back to normal. They couldn't not study forever, and when the professor entered that morning, shedding his cloak and draping it over the desk chair he never used, Sorcha sensed they were going to get a proper class session today. She cracked her notebook and dipped her quill into its inkwell.

“I have just been informed that there is a round of certification exams at the end of this month," he said. He rarely bothered with preamble like "good morning" or anything, unless it was a more personal interaction. She thought it might have something to do with how unused to the setting he was, but Sorcha found she didn't mind it. She'd always found it a little... weird, when other people did it. How they wanted a chorus of voices to echo back to them, even when the students were in a poor mood.

“For those of you who don't know, a certification is a practical skill assessment that serves to benchmark your particular abilities. Only after passing certain certification levels are you permitted to take the written exams for classification. Ordinarily, I can see why that wouldn't matter—it's hardly a concern what someone calls you if you're good at that you do. However, here at Garreg Mach certain resources are restricted to those who meet the appropriate classifications. For example, bows made with steel will only be issued to those with archery certifications of level C or higher; the assignment of mounts and commission of armor is linked to your classification directly."

“So for weapons it's just cert level but for anything else it's classification?" Devon raised his hand as he asked the question rather than before, but the professor never cared about that kind of thing.

He nodded. “Yes. And you can only take the written exams for a classification if you have the right levels. As such, you'll want to plan which tests you take rather carefully. As such, I'd like to spend today's lecture time talking to all of you about what you interests are. In order to plan the most effective route through the certification process and ensure you know what you need to do to get the equipment you need to survive."

“Finally!" Sylvi had stated, looking rather relieved. She had put up a decent front after the ordeal in Zanado, but it was easy to tell that it had affected her, too. Her hand would occasionally quiver with her pen, and she'd been a little more easily startled, lately. But like Amalthea had, she'd just smiled, but did a better job of it. “I already know what classification I'll be taking," she continued, earning Senka's attention. She glanced towards her, as well, and a small smirk adorned her features.

“I told you my goal was to be a War Master, so..." she trailed off to straighten herself in her seat. “I'm going to take the classification for Brawler." the answer seemed to confuse Senka for a moment.

“I thought you were training with axes? A brawler trains with gauntlets, do they not?" she stated, but Sylvi shook her head.

“Yes and no. I need to be proficient in axes and in hand-to-hand combat in order to achieve that high-tiered classification, but since I've mostly focused on my axe training, I need something that will help me with my hand-to-hand. I'm good, but I need to be better," she replied. Senka's expression smoothed out and she nodded her head. She was a little more expressive lately, but it might have been because of what happened to her at Zanado. She'd seemed a little off, and hadn't spoken much until today. Her eyes had been unusually dark, as well.

Cyril nodded slightly. “As it is, you'll need to have your C-Certs in barehanded fighting to even sit the exam, which if I'm not mistaken means you'll have to skip up two steps this month. It's not impossible, but you'll need to work hard." He paused, tilted his head, and Sorcha thought he almost smiled. It was a decidedly pleasant sort of expression, at least. “Fortunately I can help with that."

It had become evident over the last couple of months that Professor Cyril was good at just about everything. There were some things that he was really good at, like brawling ad lances and magic and tactics, but he was at least better than his students at, well, everything. As they specialized more, that might not be the case, but Sorcha was willing to bet that even by the end of this year that would still be true. It made sense, of course; he was a professional. And it was reassuring to know that she wasn't going to miss out on anything because he had nothing to teach about it.

“What about you?" Sylvi turned the question back to Senka, and she seemed to contemplate it with a thoughtful expression. Or about as thoughtful as Senka could make it.

“Cavalier," she responded after a moment of silence. “I do not know what I wish for as a high-tiered classification, but having the Cavalier classification seems like the right first step," she continued, glancing towards Sorcha.

“Ah, good. This is something worth explaining to everyone. As some of you might know, the cavalier classification has previously required a C-level lance certification. It, as well as the Paladin, Holy and Dark Knight classes, is now accepting certifications for any melee weapon. The rest remain unchanged, however. So there's a little bit more room there, but if you plan to be cavalry I do advise picking up at least some familiarity with the longest version of your preferred weapon. The reach is a serious advantage. So longswords, poleaxes, and so on should become part of your repertoire if you're a non-lance cavalry unit. The requirements for wyvern riders have been changed as well; that class has been dropped a tier and now requires either an axe or sword cert of C level, as well as the flying one."

Sorcha raised her hand. “Have the pegasus knight requirements changed? I was going to try sitting for those certs, as well as archery."

Cyril shook his head. “That's still the same. And you're encouraged to take exams in addition to the ones you need for your classifications, but remember that cert tests come by more often than you will realistically meet qualifications to change classes, so don't feel like you must take everything this time around."

Sorcha nodded. Worth keeping in mind, to be sure, but it wasn't going to change her plans this time. She wanted to be able to get the bows she needed from the armory, pegasus knight or not.

“I've got it easy compared to some of you," Devon said, a bit nervously. “I just need bow certs to become an archer. Though... I might take the swords one as well. They let you use knives for that, right?"

“They do. It will be noted that you took the knives version, but little will change because of that."

Amalthea had remained quiet as everyone listed off their preferred classes. She glanced around, waiting until everyone had spoken before she called out in a quiet voice. “I... want to take the necessary certifications to be an armored knight." She had stated she wanted to be a great knight, before, and it seemed like a good start for her. She probably wouldn't have suggested it, otherwise. Sylvi glanced in her direction, brow arched, and a look of confusion crossed her face.

“Are you sure? I mean, you're so... small," she stated, earning a small smile from Amalthea who just nodded. “Well, I'm sure given more time you'll gain some more muscle. It's a lot of heavy lifting and hard work, but you seem to enjoy it," she continued, the smile stretching just a little further across Amalthea's face.

“I want to be a great knight, but in order to do that, you're right," she paused, glancing in Sorcha's direction before her eyes turned towards the professor, “I've a lot more work to do, and a lot more muscle to gain if I'm going to be one."

“You've come a long way, already. I'm certain you'll be able to achieve your dream." Amalthea nodded her head as if she were agreeing with Senka.

“You can definitely do it, Thea!" Sorcha added, half-smiling. It was a truer version of the expression than she'd managed in days, she thought. Honestly, wearing heavy armor, definitely took some conditioning, but it was more a matter of knowing how to work with it than being a bodybuilder or anything.

Professor Cyril's face took on that oddly-soft expression he got sometimes, and he nodded. “Very good. Fortunately for all those of you looking to get into mounted or flying classifications, this month the last group will be put on stable rotation. So everyone will have had a chance to try out some of the skills and see how comfortable you are there. Mounts aren't assigned until the relevant classification exams are passed, but you are allowed to put in requests if you feel you get along with a particular creature."

“Out of curiosity, professor, what are your cert levels?" Sorcha knew it could be seen as an impertinent question, but something told her he wouldn't mind, and she was curious.

He blinked, then shrugged. “I've never taken any certification tests," he said mildly. “It was recommended that I do so this month, actually, so I'm going to be studying along with the rest of you."

“That sounds like it's going to be fun," Thea stated, smiling still at the others. “And we'll help you out, too, professor! As much as we can, at least," she added, pursing her lips together and nodding her head in what looked to be a somewhat serious manner. If she were trying to be serious about it, she was doing a poor job. Her face cracked into a small smile as she huffed slightly to herself.

“Quite," Sylvi stated, leaning forward to rest her chin on her hand. “I'm not sure we'll be much use to the Prof, but studying with us will definitely be beneficial for everyone, I'd say," she continued, her eyes sliding across the room.

“We should all help each other study!" Sorcha declared, knocking on her desk with her knuckles. She mostly meant the afternoon group, honestly, but she'd never stop the others from joining if they wanted to. Still, she worried the divide there was only going to grow. “Since the certs are physical tests, we could all use sparring partners or live people to try stuff on, and study partners for the written exams next month. And it's not like it's completely useless for the other person, even if they aren't taking those exams. We all need to know more about what we might be facing, and what better way than to teach each other? Er—other than you, Professor."

He huffed softly, sounding almost amused. “On the contrary. I endorse this. The more ways you practice and learn, the better."

“That sounds like a good idea. I can help you, Thea, with your certs, and you can help me as well since we are doing similar things," Sylvi spoke, grinning widely. Amalthea nodded her head in agreement, and she folded her hands out in front of her. “And whoever else is doing something like us. I think Sofia, too, even if she's not in our house, but it'll still be fun," she added. She had a strange rivalry with the Golden Deer member.

“Yes, I agree! It'll be fun, and a valuable teaching moment for everyone!" Amalthea chimed in, smiling as if she'd never lost her smile. Senka looked to be on the verge of smiling, but it didn't quite make it to her face. She'd smile, fully, one day.

“We can possibly use Saturdays as our studying sessions for our written exams, after our chores, and Sundays as a means of practicing the physical aspects of it," Senka spoke quietly, glancing towards the professor before turning her attention to Sorcha.

For the first time in days, Sorcha felt the painful tightness in her chest ease, just a little bit. “That's a great idea, Sen," she said, then turned to the Professor. “Would you mind helping us out, Professor Cyril? I know it's outside normal school hours, but..." He'd never seemed to care about that kind of thing as much as most people would.

“Of course I will. Just let me know where to be and what to bring."

It seemed like they had a plan.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Sunday the 8th
Garreg Mach Monastery - Early Afternoon - Overcast
Senka Rinaldi


The day they had returned to Garreg Mach from the Red Canyon, Senka had been asked by Professor Hanneman to see him when she had the chance, after she had recovered. He was there when they went to the infirmary to see Professor Manuela, and he wore a curious expression when they recounted their battle. Senka, of course, had no recollection what happened after she'd been shot with the arrow, only that she had come to and she was on Professor's shoulders. Thea had filled in small details, causing Senka to become worried that something was wrong with her, however; Professor Hanneman had told her that there could have been another explanation for it all.

And if they wanted to know, that she should seem him in his office once she had recovered enough. Senka wasn't entirely sure if she truly was recovered. Her hands were stained with the blood of a person, forevermore. That was a reality she had to come to terms with, but it wasn't easy. She knew she shouldn't lose sleep over their lost lives, but at one point, they had been people. They were still human, and taking a life should not have been that easy. Perhaps that was just her body's natural reaction to the stress of it? To take over and just survive.

Whatever it was, it had startled Senka. So, with a sigh, she made her way to Hanneman's office, slowly.

Her path took her past the courtyard where the Saturday group tended to congregate, but today there were only two occupants: Sorcha and Cyril. They both looked up when she approached, Sorcha with a half-smile when she recognized Senka and the professor with his customary blank-faced expression.

“Sen!" Sorcha called, waving her over. “Where are you headed?"

Senka felt her face soften at seeing her friend, and made her way towards the two. Once she was at a respectable distance, she answered, “I am on my way to see Professor Hanneman." She tilted her head slightly as she regarded her friend, and the professor. “Would... you like to join me?" she asked hesitantly. Perhaps they were too busy at the moment, but Senka didn't want to go alone, necessarily.

“Professor Hanneman?" Sorcha blinked. “Is this about your magic certs?"

The professor seemed to pick up on some of her internal discomfort, at least if the way his brows furrowed slightly was anything to go by. His reply was a beat too late by most standards, but not at all insincere. “Of course I would," he said simply.

This seemed to remind Sorcha of the question, and she nodded immediately, closing over the book that was in front of her and putting it in the satchel near her feet. “Definitely!"

“Thank you," she spoke softly, waiting until they were walking in stride. When they arrived at Professor Hanneman's office, she knocked briefly on the edge of his doorframe and waited until he spotted them.

“Ah, you may all come in," he stated, motioning them towards him. He looked rather pleased with himself, as if he had just discovered something important. Once they were all situated around a large device, he cleared his throat to get their attention. “How much do you know about Crests, Senka?" he asked, causing her to purse her lips.

“Very little. We do not have them in Almyra," she replied, watching as Hanneman's brow quirked in curiosity.

“Fascinating, well," he muttered, straightening out his posture, “you've also stated that your mother was from Faerghus, correct?" Senka nodded. “I'm surprised she said nothing about them, to you. Or is it, perhaps, that she came from a family that bore none?"

“I do not know," Senka replied, casting her gaze to the ground. The only thing she'd known about her mother's family was that they were from Faerghus, and that they had been a small, noble family. Crests had never come up, before, and she didn't think that they were as important as the Church had made them out to be. They were, essentially, just symbols of power that people could shape and use however they wanted. It wasn't something Senka thought highly of.

“And what about you, Sorcha? You carry a Minor Crest of Blaiddyd, after all. What do you know of them?" His attention was on Sorcha, at that.

Sorcha tilted her head. Senka knew she didn't much care about Crests, either, as important as they were to the Kingdom. Still, there was a difference between thinking they determined a person's worth, which Senka knew her friend hated, and academic study like Professor Hanneman's, so she answered without complaint. “I do," she said quietly. “I don't think I've ever used it though. People used to talk about my father being so strong in battle he could break someone's sword with his bare hands, but... he had the Major, so I doubt I'd be able to do anything like that." She pursed her lips a little.

It had always been something of a sore spot for Sorcha that she only had the Minor Crest of Blaiddyd. Prior to her, the family line had carried it strongly, with almost every generation having the Major version, something Faerghus as a country was proud of. There were some who said it was because she was to be the first daughter in a long line of sons, and who had thought the King would have been better off trying for more children, or that it had been the first Queen's fault somehow. It was even whispered, from time to time, that his marriage to Patricia had been an attempt to do just that: have a son with the Major Crest to make the next king instead.

Of course, both Lambert and Patricia had died before that came to be.

“Indeed, no one truly knows what they are capable of," he stated, though there was a strange smile on his face. “I suspect that, because they are considered blessings of the goddess, each crest has something to do with the Ten Elites, and what they were particularly gifted at. For example, for you, Sorcha, I imagine that Blaiddyd was a particularly strong fellow who was known for his extraordinary might," he continued his explanation, before his attention shifted towards Cyril.

“Of course, like Cyril's Crest, there are still Crests out in the world that have not yet been discovered, so it is difficult to discern exactly what they are." Senka glanced towards the professor and tilted her head. Professor had a Crest? That... explained some things, if Hanneman's explanation was anything to go by.

Cyril himself certainly didn't deny it, only crossing his arms over his chest. His expression seemed thoughtful—at least she'd known him to wear it when deep in thought before. “So you think that what happened to Senka the other day is because she has a Crest?" he asked. “I don't think I've ever seen one activate before. Is it always like that?"

“Precisely," Hanneman stated, causing Senka to furrow her brows slightly. “And each Crest is activated differently, depending on the situation. It might have been that Senka's Crest, dormant in some way, was forced to activate when she was in peril. You were injured with an arrow protecting Amalthea, correct?" Senka nodded. “It's possible that your desire to protect her is what activated it."

“But... I do not believe I possess a Crest. Even if my mother was from Faerghus, she has no bloodlines to the Ten Elites," she stated, causing Professor Hanneman to smile in a strange way.

“Ah, but you see, I just said there are Crests that are yet to be discovered," he stated, motioning for her to come closer to him. “We can use my device, here, to see if you do, indeed, possess one. Don't worry, though, it is painless," he explained. She shot a glance towards Cyril and Sorcha before obliging him. “Now, just hold out your arm," he stated, holding his hand out as if to grab hers. She reached out and set it where his was, and waited.

The machine made a whirring sound, and for a moment there was nothing. Suddenly, an image appeared, startling Senka somewhat, but not as much as Professor Hanneman had been. He nearly dropped the pen he'd been holding as he stared at the image. “It's... this... this is absolutely amazing!" he stated, as Senka retracted her hand. The image on the device was strange to her, almost shaped in the way of a bull of some sort.

“It's the lost Crest of Maurice! To think that we'd see it again after all these years," he was rambling at this point, and Senka furrowed her brows before turning her attention to Cyril and Sorcha.

“Lost... Crest?" Sorcha blinked, her eyes wavering uncertainly between the three others in the room. Mostly, she looked concerned, probably because of the bit about the Crest manifesting involuntarily. “Of Maurice? But that's impossible. Church lore says he had no descendants after he—" She grimaced, turning worried eyes on Senka.

“Indeed. I did not think it was possible that he had descendants," he stated, turning his attention towards Senka. “But it is clear as day that he had, and has. Tell me, Senka, have you ever heard of the Crest of The Beast?" he asked, causing Senka to shake her head. His eyes fell slightly, as if he were hoping she had. His next words made sense.

“Lore says that, after the war against Nemesis, Maurice was cursed into a demonic beast from overtaxing his own Crest and Hero's Relic," he began, causing something in Senka to tighten. It felt like her lungs were refusing to work, and she couldn't breathe. “After that, he lost control and killed innocent people in such a gruesome manner, that," he paused pursing his lips together.

“People say that if he had any descendants, that they were cursed to suffer the same fate. The Crest of Maurice was considered bad luck, and was renamed the Crest of The Beast, after that." Something felt hot inside of Senka. Did... did that mean she was cursed? Was she going to turn into a demonic beast, like he said, and kill people?

“Is... is that going to happen to me? Am... am I going to kill..." she couldn't seem to find the words she wanted to say. Something hot lanced through her, an emotion she'd been intimate with, before. It was fear.

“Don't be ridiculous!" Sorcha's voice, unusually sharp, cut through the silence like a hot knife. Her hand, firm and cool, landed on Senka's shoulder. “Everything that happens with Crests happens because the user wills it. You might be able to accidentally trigger the Crest, but something like that... if you learn how to control the Crest carefully, that won't happen. Maurice was greedy for power and regularly overtaxed his Crest to get to that point, right Professor Hanneman?"

Professor Hanneman winced at Sorcha's words, which did little to ease Senka's fears. “That... is easier said than done, I'm afraid," he replied, and she felt her heart drop. “Because Senka's Crest reacted the way it did, controlling it will not be that easy for her. If she had prior knowledge of her own Crest, she might have been able to deal with it, properly, but unfortunately, that wasn't the case. Now, it is possible to learn control, but there has to be someone whose Crest is greater, if you will. Your Crest, Senka, is not only that of Maurice's, but it is a Major Crest. It is going to be difficult for you than it would be for someone like Sorcha, who bears a Minor Crest. That is simply how they work."

“But... what if I don't? What if... what if there's no use in controlling it? What if..." she couldn't stop the questions in her head, the What ifs.

“Then you just find someone who can handle your strength, right?" Professor Cyril hadn't spoken for some time, but he did then, drawing everyone's attention back to himself. He shrugged. “I don't know what kind of Crest mine is, and to be honest I don't really care. But we know I can deal with yours." He was surely referring to the fact that he'd somehow gotten her off the battlefield safely in the fight with the bandits.

“So you can practice control on me. And if anything funny looks like it's about to happen, I'll knock you out. No point wondering about what might happen if the worst is true when we haven't even tried the other options yet, right?" He met her eyes steadily, without even a trace of the fear she was feeling, or of Sorcha's and Professor Hanneman's apprehension.

“Professor Cyril is correct, my dear. If he was able to deal with your unknown state, it is possible that his Crest can handle yours. You should not fret," he stated, but it still did not ease her doubts and fears. She kept her gaze with Cyril's just a moment longer before she finally dropped it. Maybe he was right? Maybe she just needed to try first, before she gave up on something? Taking a slow breath, she calmed her heart that seemed to be beating a strange rhythm in her chest. It was unusually fast, but she put it down to her near-panic.

“Alright," she spoke softly. It did not make her feel better, though, that she bore a Crest that was considered cursed. “Alright," she repeated once more. “Thank you, Professor Hanneman, Cyril, Sorcha," she stated. She was certain she wouldn't have been able to do this alone.

Professor Cyril nodded slightly, but Sorcha smiled. A small one, but a smile nevertheless. “Don't worry, Sen. We're with you, and we'll figure it out together."

She hoped so.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Monday the 9th
Entrance Hall - Evening - Overcast
Vridel von Hresvelg


Vridel tried not to scowl too heavily as he and Sorcha made their way to the entrance hall. What was he doing here, anyway? The less interference he had to deal with this year, the better, and unwelcome relatives were hardly the sort to leave him to figure out his next course of action in peace.

Things were further complicated by Sorcha's presence beside him. She looked rather pleased to be able to say hello to someone she considered her 'uncle,' even if there was no blood relation there. This meant he couldn't speak as frankly with Arundel as he might like, lest she ask him all sorts of inconvenient questions about it. He wanted to keep her apart from all of this nonsense as much as possible, for her own safety as well as his peace of mind. There were some people who should just... be allowed to have optimistic views of the world, and Vridel knew too many things that would shatter Sorcha's outlook.

Not, he supposed, that it was quite intact after the end of last month. But there were different kinds of breaking, and he didn't want to be responsible for any of them.

“You don't have to come see him, you know," he told her, straightening his back as he walked. He'd been spending even more time than usual bent over tomes, trying to master a few of his shakier spells for the certifications later in the month. When he wasn't practicing bladework. He wondered if he shouldn't take the riding ones too, just in case. He didn't intend to be cavalry, but it wouldn't hurt to know. The battlefield, he knew, was rarely as cut and dry as all these clinical little divisions made it. But the Academy demanded he jump through all the hoops, and for the sake of learning everything he could, he'd jump. It would get difficult to hide his competence from his classmates if so, but he suspected that was becoming a fragile farce, even with the oblivious idiots in his own House.

Sorcha looked askance at him. “I know. But why wouldn't I? It's been ages since I've been able to say hello in person."

“In person?" His brows drew down. Did that mean she'd been writing him—

“Well, yes," she said, a strange expression crossing her face. “I always bundled his letters with yours. He wrote back, though."

Vridel stopped dead in his tracks, comically forcing Sorcha to an abrupt halt as well when she realized. “You—" his lips parted over the rest of the question, but something stopped it from coming out. She'd written him letters? All this time, he'd...

Sorcha clearly hadn't caught on to the direction of his thoughts. “I? I'm... I'm not mad, you know. I figured you probably had other things to do. Becoming heir and all." The statement was cautious. Vridel knew it was a charged thing for both of them. How they'd come to be the heirs of their countries, and how other people viewed that. Sometimes he wondered what it had been like for Mercer. Had he suffered to get where he was?

But of course that was a stupid question. Nobody in this world came into power without suffering eventually.

“I... never mind," he said, shaking his head. He couldn't tell her, not yet. “Thank you. For not holding it against me." So saying, he continued their trajectory ahead.

With a puzzled expression still writ clearly on her face, Sorcha followed.

“Hey! What's the hurry!?" it was Mercer, from the sounds of it. Only he would sound so bored on a day like this. They hadn't made it to the entrance hall, yet, where Arundel awaited them, but Mercer seemed intent on stopping them. He jogged a bit to catch up, falling in line next to Sorcha and his eyes flickered between the two of them.

“Are you two on a date?" he stated, sounding almost surprised, and smirking just light enough to know that he was trying to tease Vridel.

There was a moment immediately afterward when Vridel glanced over, making eye contact with Sorcha. He almost wondered, for a moment, if she'd be willing to play along to get a rise out of Mercer, but from the look of revulsion immediately on her face, he figured that was a no-go. To be fair, he shuddered too. There were some things it was just... better not to think about.

“Goddess, no." Sorcha didn't mince words, but then she rarely ever did. After a moment, she seemed to realize how that might sound, and cleared her throat. “Er... I love you Vivi, but, uh. Yeah. No. Definitely not."

He shrugged. “A sentiment I... return." She was not so reckless as to use such a word without knowing it to be true, but it still surprised him a little. As did how strong his own was, in turn. He'd almost forgotten what it felt like, to be in her company. To feel something like love at anything other than great distance. And even then, he'd thought—

He'd thought she'd forgotten all about him.

She grinned so widely at him now, though, that he knew her earlier words for truth. She, too, had believed he'd forgotten her, ignored the hand she'd reached out for him even over that distance. Why would Arundel do such a thing? It surely had to be he who was responsible, if he'd intercepted the letters and written back to Sorcha. But to what end? Just to prevent Vridel from speaking of the experiments? Those were only sort of a secret anyway—what would she have been able to do? Neither King Lambert nor his brother the current regent would have been able to do much, either. And the Church...

Well, that was a matter he was still figuring out.

“As for you," he continued, shifting his eyes to Mercer. “What do you want?"

Mercer sighed heavily, a ploy to be sure, and rolled his eyes. “We've been through this, Vi, I want you, remember?" he stated, wagging his eyebrows in a suggestive manner at Vridel. For whatever reason, he couldn't seem to keep up the charade, before he burst into laughter, wiping away something at his eye. “That'll never get old," he stated more to himself than to either Vridel or Sorcha.

“Darling, you couldn't handle me," Vridel drawled.

“But no, seriously, nothing. I just figured I would invite myself along to wherever you and Princess were headed," he finally answered, laying an arm over Sorcha's shoulders in a more friendly manner. There was nothing inappropriate about the way he did it, either. It was simply as if they were just friends, and nothing more.

Sorcha groaned softly, raising both hands to cover her face. She seemed to assume Mercer wouldn't let her walk into anything, at least. Not a safe assumption, in Vridel's opinion, if it would be humorous. Her face was entirely red, whether from the banter or the contact was hard to say. Friendly it might have been, but Vridel suspected Sorcha had had few friends, fewer male friends, and fewer still who initiated such casual contact on a regular basis.

It could simply have been the jokes, however.

“In that case, have fun inviting yourself along to a boring meeting with my uncle," he added with a shrug, though he did make a point to meet Mercer's eyes over Sorcha's head, letting his expression tell a different story. He couldn't be sure yet, but now that he'd learned about the letters, he wondered if Arundel wasn't up to something a little different than he'd always supposed. Mercer's read on him would be helpful.

Mercer quirked a brow, but seemed to understand what Vridel was getting at. “Boring meetings with boring uncles is my specialty, though. I'll make sure to have a blast, and also have an uncle by the end of it," he stated, a large grin covering his face as he squeezed Sorcha's shoulders a bit. Friendly it initially had been, but he seemed to be teasing her, still.

“This is the same uncle, Volkhard Arundel, correct?" he asked, but from the way he stated it, it sounded as if he were simply confirming a fact. The way he glanced at Vridel, though, made it quite obvious that Mercer was being cautious about it.

“I am fortunate enough to only have the one living uncle, yes," Vridel replied simply. His eyes narrowed slightly at the way Sorcha's shoulders shrugged up under her ears, in response to the touch. Well, well. That was interesting. And charmingly obvious. She was ever so straightforward, even as she lowered her hands and cleared her throat, trying rather endearingly to act as though she were not caught somewhere between embarrassment and enjoyment she wasn't sure she should be feeling.

Some people were really just that innocent, he supposed.

“Same?" she echoed curiously, turning her head slightly to look up at Mercer with wide blue eyes. “You know we have the same uncle?"

“He does now," Vridel pointed out.

Sorcha made a small noise. “Oh! Oh, I'm sorry Vivi, I wasn't—"

He waved a hand dismissively. “It's fine." It was hardly an official secret or anything; really the only reason it had lasted this long is because no one had thought to investigate the relevant question. He was sure the higher-ups in the Church knew already. As much as he disliked having a weakness exposed, his connection to Sorcha was obvious. It could also be downplayed, if necessary.

“Huh, I'd say that it explains a lot, but it actually doesn't. You two are like polar opposites, but I suppose it's possible," he stated, shrugging his shoulders in a way that didn't disturb Sorcha too much. “I take it both of you are cousins, then? I have to say, there really is no physical resemblance as siblings," he added. It made sense for him to think that. Vridel and Sorcha looked nothing alike, but it was possible for them to pass for cousins if need be.

Sorcha apparently thought that since the main bit of it was out, she might as well tell the rest. “Stepsiblings, actually," she said. “Uncle Volkhard is my stepmother's brother. Lady Patricia." The last part was softer, and her eyes dropped to the ground.

Vridel grimaced. “Patricia was my mother, but eventually married Lambert. Hence the 'step' part." A small shrug moved his shoulders. “A lot of us lived in the Kingdom for a while, when we were children. Sorcha and I met there."

“Not that I knew you were my stepbrother for a good whole year," she said with a sniff. “Nobody ever told me anything."

“Don't tell me now you had a crush or something, Sorcha," he teased as they entered the hall.

She quite childishly stuck her tongue out at him. “Of course not. My first love was—" She paused, her brows knitting together in an expression of puzzlement. “I don't... remember, exactly. But I know I had one, and it definitely wasn't you, so go stick a pin in your ego, Vivi."

He rolled his eyes.

“You're going to have to tell me all about this crush of yours, Sor. I think I'm a little jealous," he stated, placing a hand over his heart. The grin on his face made it obvious that he wasn't at all jealous, but he did seem genuinely curious about it. Almost as if the information would be useful to him, somehow. “Though, I guess I shouldn't be surprised," he stated, turning his attention to Vridel.

“Did I tell you she forgot about me, after all? Me of all people?" he stated, feigning a bit of hurt into his tone.

“Lucky her," Vridel replied reflexively. “I'd like to forget you too."

“Alas, I'm stuck in your mind, forever, love."

“Like a terrible song."

“Repeating constantly."

“I always knew I was unlucky."

Sorcha, for her part, looked torn between apologetic and something else, something closer to irritation, and it was this that won out in the end. She elbowed Mercer in the ribs, stepping out from underneath his arm and straightening to hold her head high and sniff imperiously. “When you're both done being idiots, I'm sure Uncle Volkhard won't mind talking to you." Turning on her heel, she marched towards the figure near the bottom of the stairs, currently speaking to one of his attendants.

The entrance hall was split into levels, with a large staircase in the middle. Banners were draped from the ceiling, bearing the crest of the church on its trademark cloth of silver. In the evening like this, it was lit by several chandeliers and wall sconces, along with the last of the light coming in from the open door, spilling onto the deep blue carpet runner and silver-and-black tiled floor.

Vridel snorted softly. “Do be careful with her, please," he said, glancing askance at Mercer. “A little fun's a little fun, but she's quite painfully earnest, when it comes down to it."

“It wouldn't be any fun if they weren't a little fiesty, but I'll do my best," he stated between laughs, rubbing at his ribs as if they actually hurt. He shook his head, nonetheless, but smoothed out his expression into something a little more passive. “So, from the looks of it, I'd say you don't trust your uncle. I don't blame you, he doesn't look like the trustworthy type," he commented low enough so that Vridel could hear, and no one else.

“Plus, there are some inconsistences with his donations and why they suddenly just stopped," he continued, but said nothing further as they walked towards Sorcha and Arundel. His usual nonchalant smile was on his face, as well as his mask, the one that made him seem less keen, less aware than he actually was.

Vridel only nodded. All true enough. His uncle had feigned at piety for many years, donating considerable sums to the Church, but records had indicated that had stopped in recent years. Not tapering off gently, either. It made little sense.

As they descended the stairs, they found Volkhard wearing his customary slanted smile, eyes narrowed with it as he spoke to Sorcha. Vridel had always found that he rather disliked the expression; in the years since his adolescence began he could only see it as a cold thing, like a snake's. But of course this was not the case for everyone. Including Sorcha, who wore a genuine grin of her own. A rare enough sight that he found himself irritated that his uncle should be found deserving of one.

But that was a foolish way to think, of course. It was good that she could smile at all, after the events in the Red Canyon. He wasn't around her as often as her own classmates, but he'd noticed a worrying distance in her eyes on the odd occasion she believed no one was watching her. Perhaps he owed the old snake some gratitude, for making her forget that even for a while.

“Uncle," he deadpanned, drawing the man's attention to him. The snake's smile didn't waver; if anything it grew a little colder. Vridel was used to that; he certainly did not inspire warmth in the way Sorcha could.

“Vridel. You're looking well; I'm quite pleased to see it." Sorcha turned a little so the two of them could easily be integrated into the circle of conversation. “And you must be... the young Lord von Reigan, perhaps?" He tilted his head inquiringly at Mercer.

“Indeed. Mercer von Riegan, at your service," he stated, offering Volkhard a customary bow. To his credit, his smile hadn't wavered, but his eyes did narrow slightly, as if he'd noticed the same thing Vridel had. “It's a pleasure to finally meet the Lord Arundel; I've read a lot about you," he stated, straightening his posture so that he was standing not quite at his full height. His shoulders were slightly slumped, as if he were trying to appear non-threatening in some way or another. His eyes shifted briefly towards Sorcha, before they returned to Volkhard.

“What brings you to Garreg Mach?" he asked, his brow quirking in curiosity.

“Ah, where are my manners?" As though he'd merely forgotten, Volkhard returned the bow, about as shallowly as he could while maintaining politesse. “Volkhard von Arundel. It seems you know both my nephew and my niece." He shifted his eyes slightly to Sorcha at that, before resting them both on Mercer and Vridel. “I've made the trip to the monastery to visit them, of course; I was curious to see how they were doing. I remember my own days here fondly; the place seems to have hardly changed, in fact. I suppose the Archbishop is still her radiant self?"

Vridel fought not to react to that. It felt like it meant something, but then much of what Volkhard said and did was like that: laden with meanings it was impossible to parse out entirely. “She seems to be in good health," he replied neutrally. “We students see her only rarely."

Volkhard nodded. “Of course. I'm sure she has much to do. A very busy organization, the Church. I hear rather unsettling rumors of some disturbances to the east as well. I suppose you wouldn't know much about that, would you?" That question seemed directed at Mercer.

“Uncle!" Sorcha admonished, frowning outright. “Of course Mercer wouldn't know anything! It's not very polite to make such insinuations." She seemed genuinely disturbed by them.

Amusingly, her frankness almost seemed to put Volkhard on the back foot, and he waved a hand. “Obviously not, dear niece. I apologize if my joke was in poor taste, Lord von Reigan." He didn't seem too happy about needing to apologize, but Sorcha had inadvertantly put him in a position where he had no choice.

Vridel could have hugged her. Volkhard put out was a rare sight, and one worth savoring for the brief time it lasted.

Mercer merely shrugged his shoulders, but laughed in a good-natured way. “Not at all, Lord Arundel," he replied in a casual manner. “It's understandable; I get that a lot. I just have one of those faces, you see," he stated, though he'd made it obvious he was joking as well. “And to your previous statement, yes, I am acquainted with both your nephew and niece. She's," he stated, nodding his head in Sorcha's direction, “my current apprentice."

He didn't seem to elaborate on what she was an apprentice for, though.

Sorcha pursed her lips and sighed. “He's helping me learn to shoot," she specified.

"A worthy enterprise." Volkhard nodded slightly. “I know there are those who doubt your competence, my dear, but I for one would never be so foolish as to consider you cursed."

Though his words were delivered in a kind tone, Vridel saw them for the barb they were. The reminder alone would have done it, and the way Sorcha winced was proof enough that it had struck true. She mustered a weak smile. “Thank you, uncle," she murmured.

“How are things in the Empire?" Vridel asked, not inclined to give Volkhard a chance to twist that knife any further.

"Quite as they were when you left," the other man replied with some amusement, narrowing his eyes. It had always rankled Vridel a bit that he shared his eye color with his uncle. On the other hand it had taught him how unsettling the color could be, something he used to great effect, on occasion. "A few months isn't much in the grand scheme of things, dear nephew. I think you will find the Empire has far less need of you than you assume. So it is with most rulers, it seems."

Vridel's jaw tightened, but he didn't let the hit show otherwise. “And my father?"

"Sadly the Emperor's health is still in decline," Volkhard said, affecting sympathy he certainly did not feel. "Stable enough for the moment, however. I do not think you will need to be making any emergency trips back from Garreg Mach, so worry not."

Mercer's eyes narrowed slightly at Volkhard, but it was covered by the smile on his face. It looked, to anyone else, the strain of the smile caused his eyes to narrow. “Well, hopefully he'll be able to recover. I don't know what sickness ails the Emperor, but hopefully he recovers from it," Mercer stated, however; he was glancing at Vridel when he spoke.

“Will you be visiting for a short while, then? I mean, if the Emperor's health is in decline, I'm sure they wouldn't want you to linger for too long at the Monastery, right?" he asked, not at all interested in knowing the answer, but smiled to appear that he was.

"Of course," Volkhard replied easily. "Though the Emperor is fortunate to be surrounded with many capable advisors, it would not do to be away too long." Volkhard paused, then pressed his fingertips together. "As it is I fear my day of travel has been long, and I should rest. Perhaps my niece and nephew would be so kind as to grace me with their presences on the morrow? After class, of course."

Sorcha nodded immediately, her smile still a little uncomfortable. She was clearly trying not to show it, however. “Absolutely. We'll see you tomorrow, uncle."

"Wonderful. For now, good night, and please excuse me. It was a pleasure to meet you as well, Lord von Reigan. Perhaps we shall meet again, someday." With a gracious nod, he took his leave.

“Hopefully not," he muttered low enough that only Vridel could hear it, but he nodded his head at Volkhard before he left. “Man, seriously what is up with your uncle, Vi?" he asked, his voice still low so that Sorcha could not hear.

Vridel shook his head, replying just as quietly. “It's a long list."

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Garland Moon - Friday the 13th
Courtyard - Midafternoon - Clear
Cyril Eisner


Cyril observed his students with knitted brows. As usual, his Saturday group was meeting on the afternoon of a day that wasn't Saturday, but the mood seemed particularly low today. Even as they studied and worked on assignments, their shoulders were hunched, eyes more distant than usual. Even those not so directly affected by the events of two weeks ago were certainly feeling it by proxy of the others; even Reynard looked rather dispirited as he worked his way through a text on historical blade variations.

In one sense, he supposed, there was little to be done about it. When he'd seen his first real battle, his father and the others had just... given him space. There had been no conversations, no acknowledgment beyond the fact that he hadn't been assigned chores in the week following. Even that was something Jeralt had called an "error" in scheduling, though both of them knew differently. It was not an easy thing to talk about, and he supposed thus far he'd taken his father's tack, assuming that it was something that everyone had to come to terms with on their own.

And maybe, ultimately, it was. But that didn't mean he couldn't try something to help. Reaching into the inside pocket of the vest he wore over his tunic today, Cyril withdrew the parchment therein, unfolding it carefully at the creases.

“Dear Garreg Mach students," he read, quite sure the start apropos of nothing would draw their attention. Indeed, when he glanced up, he found he had everyone's attention, and almost everyone's eyes, at that. “We wanted to say thank you for what you did in the canyon. The bandits who lived there were always showing up to our village to take our crops. They killed anyone who fought them, and some families lost their daughters, too." He paused, suppressing the grimace of distaste that threatened. He hoped he wouldn't have to make what that part meant any more explicit.

“We were really worried about what we were going to do this year. It's been a hard one for the fields, and if they took as much as they usually do, some of us wouldn't have made it. The man writing this letter for us says that it was your first battle. We're sure that was hard—none of us could bear to stand up to those bandits. We hope you're all okay. The whole village is grateful to you; we were worried we wouldn't be important enough for anyone to take notice of, what with the troubles everywhere else. But you noticed us. You saved us. My daughter turns fifteen this year—and now I know I don't have to worry about her being hurt. Thank you. Thank you so much."

He folded the letter back up, passing it to Devon, who was nearest to him on that side. “That's really what it says. You can all read it, if you like." Blinking slowly at them, he tilted his head.

“It doesn't change what we did. But if you're going to think about that, you have to think about this, too. It's only fair—the lives of those villagers are worth just as much. And they get to keep living, because of you."

Sylvi was closest to Devon, and seemed to be reading it over his shoulder. Her eyes went soft, but she didn't say anything. She remained quiet for a moment before the letter was passed to the next person. Amalthea's lip was quivering a bit, and it was clear that she was trying to hold back tears. She was doing a good job until a tear escaped, but she didn't seem upset. Rather, she seemed happy about the letter. Dierdre's eyes had remained down on her hands, but she was smiling softly and sniffling. She was, perhaps, trying not to cry as well, but doing a better job than Amalthea. Sofia's hand rested at her back, moving up and down in comforting motions. Her eyes were a little wet, but she didn't cry.

“I'm glad we were able to save them," Sylvi finally spoke, glancing towards Devon before her eyes went to the others. Senka had remained quiet, her face strangely hard to read. She didn't appear to be upset nor happy. She was just simply there. Her mind might have been elsewhere, however; the letter had been handed to her, next, and her eyes scanned the contents. A flicker of a smile appeared on her face, but it was quick enough that the others might have missed it if they weren't looking.

“A reminder that the sacrifice of one life is worth the continued lives of many," she stated softly, causing Mercer to nod his head.

“Agreed, though in this case, I think the lives of a few bad apples was well worth it," he added.

Even Reynard took a moment to read the words before passing the letter to Vridel. “Someone took dictation for the villagers," he pointed out, eyes flickering to Cyril. “Don't suppose that was you, Professor?"

“It was," Cyril said simply. “The village is called Remire. My father's mercenaries worked out of there for a month or so, but since they've moved up here, there wasn't anyone around to take care of the problem." He swept his eyes over the students. “Until you, that is."

Vridel quietly passed the letter to Sorcha, but for the moment, she seemed more interested in studying Cyril. “You went all the way back there just for this?"

He shrugged. “There's no 'just' about it, Sorcha. You saw firsthand the worst part of work like this. You deserve to know the best parts, too. I thought you should hear it as directly as possible, that's all."

“We should take the good where we can. It's not often that it happens, but when it does," Mercer started, pausing only to take a momentary glance at Cyril before continuing, “it's the best feeling in the world, isn't it?" Amalthea nodded slowly while Sylvi gave a single nod.

“I'm glad that they'll be able to celebrate a birthday, and be able to survive, now," Dierdre spoke, placing her hand over Sofia's and giving it a light squeeze. “They'll be able to possibly harvest enough for themselves to last through the winter, too, I bet, now that they don't have the bandits to feed," she added.

“And maybe, just maybe we can slowly start a real change," Thea spoke softly. “I want to try and save as many people as possible if it means we can do this for them," she continued, glancing in Vridel's direction, briefly, before turning her attention to Cyril. “And... I don't think we'd have been able to do that without your guidance, Professor."

Cyril felt an unexpected thing at that, perhaps at the totality of this. A warmth he could not recall ever having felt before. He felt his face shift, almost into a smile, but it didn't quite manifest. He shook his head, faintly. “You've all got this in you," he said simply. “All I'm doing is teaching you how to use it."

He really did think they were an extraordinary group of people. Talented, yes, but more than that... good people. He'd seen all sorts, in the mercenary life, but never this many good ones at once, that was for sure. It was true that his father demanded a code of ethics from his people, but Cyril hadn't made any such demands of these nine. He hadn't needed to. They already had that, quite on their own.

“I know this doesn't make it all go away," he continued. “And I'm not telling you you need to be all right tomorrow, or at any particular time. But I want you to know that... you can talk to me about this, if you want to. I promise it's no imposition on me, and if at any time you feel you cannot go on a mission, whatever the reason, all you have to do is say the word." He exhaled heavily. “Even professionals get tired of it, sometimes. A lot of people retire early from this kind of life. The ones who stay with it are the ones who are either just naturally inclined to it... or the ones who have a reason to fight. But even if that's not you, I hope you know that last month, you protected each other, and you saved those people. You have the right to be proud of that."

“I have a reason," Vridel replied simply. “But... I appreciate it, Professor. Truly." He nodded once, then dropped his eyes back to the book he was working on.

Sorcha pursed her lips, frowning thoughtfully. “I... I do, too," she said after a moment, exchanging a glance with Senka. “Like Thea said... sometimes we have to fight to make the world a better place. I can't... I can't run from that, even if it's going to be hard sometimes."

“And I will be there every step of the way with you, to help, Sorcha," Senka replied, placing her hand on Sorcha's shoulder and giving it a light squeeze. “I too, have something to fight for, people I..." she paused, her eyes widening slightly as if what she were about to say were some strange revelation, “want to protect."

“A single reason is usually enough to want to do that," Mercer chimed in, shrugging his shoulders lightly before turning his attention towards the others.

“It's the small things that count, the differences we can make. And... I am proud that we were able to survive, and protect each other. Even if you guys aren't part of the Blue Lion House, the obviously best house," Sylvi stated, smirking just slightly as her eyes slid towards Sofia. Dierdre visibly rolled her eyes at the statement.

“Sure, and Mercer's a serious and reliable person," Dierdre shot back, causing Mercer to purse his lips slightly.

“I feel like you just insulted me. I'm insulted."

Sofia sighed, but a small smile played at her face. “I have such a reason, too," she mused. “I think I needed to be reminded, though. So thank you, Professor, everyone."

Devon nodded solemnly. “Me too. I'm... I'm glad I get to fight with all of you. I think it could have been much worse, to be honest. It wasn't easy, but... at least we're in this together."

“Good," Cyril said softly. He could see it—the way they were slowly coming to terms with this. Ultimately, he thought that was a good thing. There would be trials ahead of them, still, but if they could build these foundations strongly now, they would stand in good stead later as well. “I'm here if you need anything, but it seems you may not." He allowed himself a bit of gentleness, there—or perhaps it was more accurate to say they simply... drew it out of him, somehow. Perhaps this was simply what it felt like to have students. He would have to ask his father.

Senka pursed her lips together slightly, and tilted her head. “I'll need you for a long time, yet, professor," she stated in regards to his statement, but it must have sounded strange to Mercer because he started laughing. Harshly to the point that he fell out of his chair. Once he seemed to gather her bearings, he wiped at his eyes as if pulling something away.

“I think what she means to say is that we will continue to rely on you, Teach, and we may still need you," he stated, causing Senka's head to tilt a bit further to the side.

“Is that not what I said?" she asked, causing Dierdre to snicker softly.

“Not even close."

Cyril rather thought it was what she'd said, and blinked with some confusion at Mercer on the ground before shrugging inwardly. Sorcha and Devon looked as confused as he felt, but everyone else appeared to know something he did not. In any case, he shook his head.

“Regardless," he said slowly. “Please don't forget that we have stable duty tomorrow morning. I appreciate your diligence, but if you're up too late studying you'll burn out sooner rather than later. Or possibly laugh so much you fall over and rupture something."

Sorcha snorted. “Don't worry about him; he's made of bricks."

“That's a new record. I've been insulted twice today." But Mercer was smiling and didn't seem to mind what Sorcha had stated. “And yeah, stable chores, not looking forward to that," he muttered softly, his lips pursing into a fine line. Dierdre rolled her eyes, and Sylvi laughed softly.

“Oh, that's right! I forgot. It's going to be awesome! We'll get to play with the horses and wyverns and all the animals," at least Amalthea seemed excited for it.

Cyril huffed. Her enthusiasm really did seem boundless at times.

But the smile she wore wasn't a false one, and he'd absolutely take that.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“No lie, Your Highness," he drawled.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Promise."

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

Just now, she believed she could keep it.

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Mercer von Riegan Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

0.00 INK



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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I'd like to hear the story, now."

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

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

“You followed me around everywhere."

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“You're welcome, Sorcha."

“It shall be our little secret."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Nor do I," Cyril admitted.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Trust.

Maybe...

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“Don't stop."

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

“Never."

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Devon winced, but said nothing.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It didn't matter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

“I think if we—"

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Mercer," Vridel repeated urgently.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Wednesday the 9th
Infirmary - Evening - Drizzle
Sorcha Blaiddyd


Sorcha sighed quietly, leaning back against the headboard and staring at the rain running down the windowpane. It caught the lights from the nearby buildings, giving each drop a little glow, a reminder of the life going on all around her while she languished here, in recovery.

She hated it so much.

Professor Manuela had gone back to her rooms for the night, with only the customary instructions for Sorcha to call if she needed anything, and so now she was entirely alone with her thoughts. As a child, she had often been left such, but it wasn't so bad, then. When she still had hope. Now, though, what started up in these moments was an endless recitation of her every failure and inadequacy, and there were many. As of the end of last month, she had even more to add to the list. Her failure to kill that man, to notice when he reappeared. The way she'd worried so many people. The way she couldn't seem to recover fast enough. She was putting Professor Cyril out, the way he visited every afternoon, just to give her the same lecture, discuss the same subjects with her, as he already had with the rest of the class.

Senka was wasting too much of her time visiting, too, filling her in on basically everything else. Sometimes they came together, and that was maybe the one little highlight—watching the way they interacted. It was so nice to see her friend trusting someone else. Opening up to people again. The others visited too, of course: Vivi and Thea and Sylvi and Deirdre and Sofia. Devon, too, even though he was going through just as much as she was. Sometimes they talked about it, when Sorcha could bear remembering. Even Reynard had been by a couple of times, usually with an interesting book or funny anecdote about someone else.

But of all her friends, Mercer alone had not once shown up. And somehow that was sticking in her memory most of all. So here she was, on her birthday—an occasion she'd never really celebrated, but one that was usually at least acknowledged—and she was alone, and miserable. And life was, as it so easily always did, going right on around her.

Because no one in the world really needed her at all.

“Stupid," she muttered under her breath, fingers clenching in the blankets on her lap. What a stupid way to think about it. No one had ever needed her, not really, so why should she expect it to be any different now? It was a useless thing to want, because she was never going to get it. So why—?

Sorcha closed her eyes, leaning her head back against the wooden panel behind her, and tried not to think about it.

“I think I've been called worse things than stupid," it was obvious who the voice belonged to. There, leaning on the door frame with a casual smile, was Mercer. He knocked on the frame first before he fully entered. “Should have done that, first," he muttered as he took a seat by Sorcha's bed. He stared at her for a moment, his eyes searching for something, though it seemed he could not find it. After a moment of silence, he sighed heavily, and glanced at his hands.

“Sorry I haven't visited you since... you know," he spoke, his eyes remaining glued to his hands. “I did try, though, but..." he paused, finally lifting his gaze to meet hers. “I guess I was being a coward; I can't really give you any excuses." He remained quite for a moment longer before he shook his head.

“And you're probably upset with me, aren't you? Since I haven't visited and all," he murmured, furrowing his brows.

“I'm not upset," she said softly, dropping the eyes she'd opened from his down to her hands. “Not much reason to come see me, is there? I'm not a whole lot of fun right now." It probably wouldn't be interesting to poke at or tease her right now, either: when she was like this she knew she had a way of draining the energy right out of a room. She probably wouldn't want to be around herself, either. It wasn't anything she could blame him for, even if her chest clenched at the sound of his voice.

Somehow, it didn't surprise her even a little that she was happy to see him. Her heart was a stupid, stubborn thing, after all. And some part of her was still the little girl who'd followed him around all week in Derdriu all those years ago.

“But I've sworn off crying, you see. A few days ago. So you don't have to bribe me this time. I'll be fine."

He smiled at her, though, softly, and shook his head. “It wasn't that I didn't want to see you," Mercer began as he reached over towards her hands. He grasped them gently, and tapped them a few times before he released them. “I actually did, but you had a guard with you who was very upset with me. I didn't want to incur her wrath, further, so I just... I dunno, stayed away for the time being. I think she's forgiven me, for now, but I don't blame her. She was very worried about you. I was worried about you. I was just lousy in the way I showed it, I suppose." He heaved a heavy sigh and leaned back in his chair.

“And where would the fun in that be if I couldn't bribe you every time you cried? I take great pride when I know it's me who's drying your tears, you know," he added, giving her a lopsided grin.

Entirely against her will, her heartbeat stuttered, and she felt her lower lip begin to tremble. “That's not—that shouldn't be your job," she said, trying for certainty, but probably only succeeding in sounding as miserable as she felt. “A Queen has to be strong enough to dry her own tears. To not cry in the first place. I can't—" She swallowed thickly.

“I can't keep being this weak. This time, it nearly got me killed. Next time... it might be someone more important. Someone I care about." She shuddered to think about what she'd do if it were Senka, or Vridel. Or Mercer.

If anything, the smile on Mercer's face softened at her words. “And who's the idiot who told you that, hm? That a Queen has to be strong enough to dry her own tears? That's the most ridiculous thing I've ever heard," he stated, quietly taking one of her hands and rubbing his thumb over the back of it. “That's not true, Sorcha, and you know it. A Queen who believes she has to be strong enough to do that doesn't have any business being a Queen. It's okay to cry, you know. It just proves that you're still human, that you still feel things. If you hardened yourself up, well... I'm not sure I could ever like a person like that. People would resent you for not being open with them, and I know you wouldn't like that, right?"

“It's okay to cry if you want to. Just... even if it's just me, you need to let things out. It won't do you any good to hold it in." His hand was still in hers and he was staring intently at her. “And you're not weak, Sorcha. Far from it, actually. All the progress you've made with your lances and the bow? That's all you and your hard work. I wasn't lying when I said I was proud of you, Sor," he added as he pursed his lips together. “I really am. You've improved so much, and it's these hands," he grabbed her other hand and lifted them up to her, “that have done all the hard work. You should be proud of yourself. Your friends count on you just as much as you count on them, you know."

He didn't understand. Maybe he couldn't. The things he said—she'd always wanted someone to say those things to her. To tell her it was all right to be the person she was. So why, now when he'd said exactly what she needed to hear, did it still feel so empty? Maybe it was always a doomed enterprise. What was one voice against the tide of her entire life, shouting her down? Maybe some Queens didn't need to be that way... but a Queen of Faerghus did. To be the first Queen in the line of Kings, she had to be more than better. She had to do more than improve. What did it matter if she was better, if where she'd begun was pathetic?

But none of these were things she could bring herself to say. Instead, she smiled, tremulous and uncomfortable, and gently extracted her hands from his. They were warm, Mercer's hands, and some part of her was afraid of that.

“Thank you," she said gently, expelling a soft breath. “It means a lot that you think so."

“One of these days, Sor, you're going to believe the words are genuine when they are said to you. You don't have to keep up a facade of being okay when you're not, but," Mercer expelled a heavy breath, and withdrew his own hands to his sides. “I won't bug you about it. I, actually have something for you. Give me a second, I left it outside," he stated as he stood from his seat and walked out of her room. He was gone for a minute before he returned, carrying something wrapped in cloth. It was rather long, about the length of a bow, and he was carrying it gently. Like it was something precious. Perhaps it was, to him?

“A little bird told me that today is your birthday," he began, grinning at her as he set it down on her lap. It was somewhat heavy for its size. “But I already knew that, so, I had this commissioned about a month ago. Took them forever to get the Crest just right, but I think you'll like it. Happy Birthday, Sor," he stated as he sat back down.

Eyes wide, Sorcha carefully unwrapped the cloth from around the object. It did, in fact, turn out to be a bow, one of the elaborate sort reinforced with silver typically only carried by master snipers and bow knights—people, in other words, with much more training and expertise than she. What was more... the Blaiddyd Crest was carved into the front of it, just above where she'd nock her arrows.

She swallowed thickly, tracing the engraving with her fingertips. “Mercer, it's beautiful. I—" her breath trembled a little on the exhale. “I surely don't—" She bit her lip. She didn't deserve it, to be sure. Her skill hardly warranted such a beautiful weapon, and besides that it must have been expensive, and some part of her quailed at that, uncertain of her right to anything beautiful or costly.

But the last thing she wanted was to seem ungrateful, not least because it was such a lovely gift, with thought put into it and... and ordered so far in advance. He'd been planning to give her this for so long?

“Is it... really all right?"

His grin spread into a wide smile. “Of course it is. I know what you're thinking, too," he stated, his smile turning back into something more mischievous. Oh how did he know I wanted such a thing? It's too beautiful! Oh what shall I ever do to repay him?" he mimicked her, or at least he seemed to try and was doing a horrible job at it. Huffing lightly, he shook his head and met her gaze again.

“I expect to see more results from you so that you can grow with this bow, you know. No shirking your training, either. Lady would be mad at you if you did that, and I would certainly not be mad, just upset at losing my training partner," he stated, his smile softening somewhat.

She snorted softly, unable to help herself. Somehow, even though the ugly thoughts were still there, lurking in the back her mind, they'd faded to something dull and distant, at least for now. A crack in the stone wall, perhaps, letting just a little light through. Even if she couldn't fit through herself, she could at least stand in that light, and let it warm her, just for a little while. Couldn't she?

“I've never shirked a day of training in my life, Mercer von Riegan. And if you never believe another word I say, believe this: I'm going to keep getting better. So you'd better work, too, or I'll leave you in my dust." She lifted her chin, just a bit, and this time her smile—little half-smirk that it was—at least reached her eyes.

“I mean, I wouldn't mind if you left me in the dust," he started, grinning at her. “But you do that, and remember that feeling of when you do finally leave me in the dust. I'll be the happiest guy in the world to know that you, Sorcha Blaiddyd, my star pupil, finally beat me," he chuckled lightly as he shook his head.

Sorcha narrowed her eyes, shaking her head. “I don't want to know what that feels like," she said simply. “Even if I beat you sometimes, you better keep practicing to beat me the next time. It's no good if I go past and never look back. So get used to working, because you're stuck with me now, and I'm not going to let you slack off just because I'm getting better." She sniffed.

“Those are the terms. I'm only accepting this if you accept those." Lifting the bow, she poked him in the chest with the end of it. “You're my training partner now, no take-backs past this point. Last chance to get out while you can."

Mercer snorted before he started laughing. “Yes, love, of course. I'll accept the terms. I'm not happy about it, mind you, because I actually have to work, now, but I suppose it'll be fine," he stated once he calmed down. “I do have another surprise for you, though," he continued, blinking slowly before glancing towards the door. “Should be here any minute, now." He stood up from his spot, though, and walked so that he was standing at her side. Lifting both of his hands, he abruptly placed them over her eyes, not so hard that he hurt her, though.

She almost didn't have the wherewithal to think about it, what with the way feeling has just shot through her insides like a bolt of electricity. Had he just called her—? But no, wait, he called Vivi that sometimes too. Just a joke, nothing to get all... stupid about. Right.

I'm an idiot.

She tried not to feel disappointed at the rationale.

“Alright, guys! She's blindfolded! Quick!" he shouted, keeping her eyes covered. There was a sound of shuffling feet, a light giggle that could only belong to Amalthea, and the sound of plates being placed on the table.

“You can release her now, Mercer," Senka spoke, something akin to amusement in her voice.

“Sen? Thea? What are you—?"

“Is this the part where we say surprise?" That could only have been the Professor.

Comprehension abruptly dawning on her, Sorcha took hold of Mercer's wrists and lifted his hands away from her eyes. There, all crammed into the infirmary, was the entire Saturday group, From her stepbrother to Sylvi and Devon to Sofia and Dierdre to Reynard, who waggled his eyebrows in a conspiratorial fashion, to those she'd heard—Sen and Thea and the Professor.

“That would be now, if you're so inclined," Vivi advised, and a jumbled tangle of mis-timed 'surprise'-es burbling through the room on his cue.

Sorcha's eyes went wide, but then her smile broadened to match. “You guys," she said softly. “You didn't have to do this."

“Of course we did," was Amalthea's reply. “You've been in here too long, and today's your birthday!" she continued, earning a light chuckle from Sylvi.

“I think what she means to say is that you shouldn't be alone cooped up in this room by yourself on your birthday," Sylvi spoke, earning a nod from Senka and an enthusiastic one from Amalthea.

“Happy Birthday, Sorcha," Senka spoke softly, her face pulling into one of her rare smiles.

“Teach and Sen helped make food for all of us, though I think Sen did most of the work on your cake," Mercer spoke, folding his arms across his chest as he remained in his spot. “And she's already said my birthday gift was the best, so sorry guys," he added, causing Dierdre to roll her eyes.

“That's not fair, Mercer. We haven't even given her, our gift," Amalthea spoke, pursing her lips in his direction.

“I said no such thing," Sorcha protested. Admittedly... it was hard to believe anything would match it, but she'd cherish anything at all she was given. Even the thought of her friends getting her a gift at all was profoundly warming.

Vridel snorted through his nose. “You do it, Thea," he said, gesturing her towards Sorcha's bedside. “The rest of us will get to work on serving up the food."

“Okay!" Amalthea replied in her enthusiastic manner. She held out her hands, though, with a light blue cloth covering something small. “Vridel, Senka, and myself made this for you, Sorcha! I hope you like it. It can't compete with a lot, but... well, it's something we made with all our heart and I hope you like it the most!" she continued, sticking her tongue out in Mercer's direction. He laughed, as Deirdre snickered.

“Careful, Thea, you might make me jealous," he stated, causing her to shake her head.

“You're so strange, Mercer. One of these days you'll make sense."

“Ouch, I'm wounded, Thea."

Sorcha accepted the object, unwrapping it as carefully as she had the bow still across her lap. Inside was a beaded bracelet, each individual thin strand glittering where they were woven together. The colors were an interesting mix for the three people who'd apparently made it: there was a rich green that she figured was Amalthea's choice, Faerghus blue, and then an intermediate color somewhere between them, a sort of blue-green hue very reminiscent of—

Well, it reminded her of her necklace, actually, a thought which made heat rise to her cheeks that she tried furiously to dispel. Even the green was like his eyes—ugh. She was such a ninny.

Still, it was beautiful, with an intricate pattern that had to be Vivi's influence; he had an eye for things like that, she knew. When they were kids, his embroidery had been a million times better than hers.

“Thank you," she whispered, touched. “Really. Thank you all, for all of this. I'm—I'm grateful."

“You're very welcome, Sorcha!" Amalthea spoke, grinning at Vridel and Senka before turning her attention towards the cake. There was a hunger in her eyes; it was no secret that Amalthea liked sweets. She was probably anticipating the cake to be cut, however; Senka shook her head and huffed lightly.

“Wait? So... isn't this the part where we're supposed to sing happy birthday or something? Because I have to tell you now, I'm a horrid singer," Mercer stated, making a light gagging noise as Amalthea shook her head.

“If it's all the same to you guys... please don't," Sorcha agreed with a grimace, earning her a few laughs. She grinned, and gestured at Sen and the Professor. “It all looks amazing, but that's no good if we don't eat it together, right?"

“Finally she mentions food. I'm starving," Mercer stated as he made his way towards the table. Senka, however, lifted a knife in his direction, a blank stare on her face. He held up his hands in defense before she spoke.

“You will give this to Sorcha, first, and then you can have your own plate," she stated, handing Mercer a plate as he grumbled. “Everyone else is free to get their food," she added, nodding her head as Amalthea smiled and gathered her own plate.

“Your friend is very bossy, you know," Mercer stated as he handed Sorcha the plate of food. “But that's alright, I suppose. Happy Birthday, again, Sorcha. Hopefully this year will be a good one for you," he stated in a genuine manner and smiled softly in her direction.

Sorcha found herself smiling right back at him. “Thank you, Mercer. I... I think maybe it could be."

Setting

Characters Present

Character Portrait: Senka Rinaldi Character Portrait: Vridel von Hresvelg Character Portrait: Sorcha Blaiddyd

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I.Y. 1180 - Blue Sea Moon - Sunday the 13th
Garreg Mach Monastery - Early Afternoon - Overcast
Senka Rinaldi


Senka sighed softly, closing the book she'd been reading as she turned to glance around her surroundings. They were talking again; speaking of her and how she'd become so close to the Imperial Prince, now. Was she not allowed to make friends? Some of the students claimed that she was sleeping with him, that she was his lover on the side, or some other nonsensical thing. It didn't bother her, let them think what they will, however; she felt bad that Vridel had become the newest victim to the foul rumors going around. When she first came to the academy, people scorned her for being so close to Sorcha. Said that she'd used some dastardly deed to win Sorcha's favor, but she didn't mind. She took their insults and harsh words in stride because they were always directed at her, and never Sorcha.

But now...

“Did you hear? She's probably seeing their professor, too. She has no shame..."

“I know? And to think that she's been with the Prince. It's so awful..."

Let their words be heard, but never felt. It was how she managed to deal with it for so long. She cast a glance at the two young men who were speaking about her, and immediately they tensed. They shuffled away from her and continued their conversation well out of range. It's alright, she kept telling herself that. She stood from her spot, intent on finding a quieter place to study. The written exams were, after all, coming up at the end of the month. She wanted to pass her exams so she could take Libi out on missions, and she was certain Sorcha felt the same thing about Lady.

Oddly, the first person whose path she crossed was Reynard. He was leaning against one of the many garden walls, casually reclined in a way that meant most people probably wouldn't even notice him as they passed by. He raised a finger towards her as she passed, though, bringing the green apple in his hand to his mouth and biting down with a crisp sound. Only once he'd swallowed did he speak.

“Tired of hearing you're a harlot yet?" he asked, cocking an eyebrow in a way that suggested he didn't really expect an answer. “His Highness and Sorcha are under the usual gazebo if you'd like some better company. I think he's trying to cool her off—she heard some of those idiots talking about you."

Senka shook her head. “She shouldn't be overexerting herself. She's only been out of the infirmary for a day," she replied. “Thank you, though, Reynard. I'll go see to her, and..." she paused to regard him for a moment. He was still foreign to Senka, but he had yet to prove himself anything other than an ally. “It is fine if they say anything about me, but if you hear anything about Sorcha, could you?" she didn't feel the need to finish that sentence. She knew he would understand.

With a nod, she walked to find Vridel and Sorcha. When she did, she pursed her lips together and sighed softly. “Sorcha," she called out glancing towards Vridel for a moment. “You should be resting, not worked up over something so trivial."

“Trivial my ass!" Sorcha grumbled. She usually didn't use even slightly-rough language unless she was angry or flustered, and she appeared at the moment to be a bit of both. “They have no right to talk about you that way!" She almost stood up out of her chair, but Vridel's hand on her shoulder forced her back down again.

“You of all people know that fools are always going to talk, Sorcha," he said, letting her go only when she grumbled under her breath and slumped back into her chair. Turning to Senka, he smiled wryly. “So which version did you hear? I'm curious what the popular options are this week."

Senka shook her head lightly at Sorcha. She couldn't really blame her friend; that's just the kind of person Sorcha was. She glanced back at Vridel and grimaced slightly. “This week's options are either I'm your side lover, or somehow involved with Professor; take your pick. Though I do apologize for getting your name into this. They believe the amount of time I spend with you, anyone in general, is enough to warrant accusations such as those." People just didn't seem to care to look past all of that. To get to know who she was. If only...

She shook the thought from her head.

Vridel chuckled, a dark sound accompanied by a slight shake of his head. Raking his hand back through his hair, he gave a nonchalant shrug. “Honestly, I might be the one who owes you an apology for that one. I'm quite a well-known libertine, you see. The rumors have at various times put me with most of the female students and a fair few of the men; they're not even always wrong." He said this as if it were of little concern to him, leaning back in his chair and crossing one leg over the other.

“I can understand being offended by such speculation, but I assure you, I am not. Besides," he shot Senka a sly smile. “Either the Professor or I could hardly do much better, eh?" Though it could have been a come-on, the tone in which it was delivered suggested a friendly observation more than anything.

“Ugh, sometimes I forget you're like this now," Sorcha said, making a face at him. “You used to be such a little dork, with big reading glasses and your nose always stuck in a book."

Vridel arched an eyebrow. “Precisely. And now I am a well-spoken, learned, cultured man. People tend to go for that, believe it or not. And some people like the glasses."

Senka huffed lightly, but she felt the corners of her mouth tilt up, somewhat. It almost felt like a smile, but it didn't quite form all the way. “He does look handsome in glasses, Sorcha, you cannot deny that," she stated, smiling a little more at her friend. “But in all honesty, what they say about me should not reflect on you, regardless of your reputation. Being associated with me has... it only," she couldn't bring herself to say it in front of Sorcha, but she winced regardless. Sorcha was a bright girl; she would know what Senka was referring to.

Sorcha sighed quietly. “Sen, you've gotta stop thinking like you're a blight on everyone's reputation. There's bad rumors about everyone in our group. Have you heard the one where Sylvi's a hussy trying to break up Deirdre and Sofia to take Sofia for herself?" She directed the question at both of them, and Vridel nodded.

“There's also the one where I'm grooming all of you to be the next imperial harem." Vridel made a vaguely-disgusted face. “That one's my father's fault, considering that he did in fact have about ten concubines and a wife." He started to tick things off on his fingers as he continued, leaning back in his chair and glancing sidewards as if trying to all of them. “There's also the one where I'm sleeping with Mercer, the one where Professor Cyril favors the pretty girls in his classes, the one where Professor Jeritza is actually a werewolf, the one where Thea of all people is actually a scarlet woman... everyone says stupid things, because they're jealous or ignorant or want to be the center of attention for a while. It's no more your fault than ours."

Less than yours," Sorcha said jokingly to him. “Since, you know, you actually do sleep around all the time."

“Why thank you, Sorcha. I was unaware."

But wasn't she, though? Wasn't she a blight to everyone, not just their reputations? Even before she'd learned of her Crest, it always felt that way. Her Crest only makes it harder because she is cursed and she feels that so deeply. Maybe it was her fault that her country suffered the way it did, the way her parents died, and how she took away Sorcha's. She pushed the memory down, though. It wouldn't do any good to bring it up, and she didn't want to concern Sorcha any further.

“But you are the leaders of countries, and I... I am nothing. What they say about me shouldn't reflect on anyone," she stated. She wanted to say more, however; she could hear people speaking again.

“Yeah? You heard that too?"

“Supposedly Sorcha is the reason they almost failed their mission last month."

“Let me guess, she was being useless?" Senka didn't know when or where her feet were leading her, however; she was standing in front of a young girl and a young man, perhaps a year older than Senka. Her brows were furrowed as she stared at him. “What do you want?" he stated as he sneered at her. She could ignore people talking about her. What she could not ignore, however, was people talking about her friends.

Without much thought, Senka punched the young man in the face, hitting him with as much strength as she could muster. He yelled something incoherent as the young girl he was walking with, screamed loudly.

“You stupid—"

“Don't you dare speak of Sorcha that way," Senka spoke, her voice oddly calm. “You know not the meaning of useless. She is far better in every way than you will ever be," she continued, watching as the young man tried to get his nose to stop bleeding. It looked like he'd also bitten his tongue since there was a light trail of blood coming from his mouth. Senka's eyes narrowed as he scrambled to his feet. He wasn't much taller than Senka, perhaps an inch or two taller, and he tried to make himself seem more intimidating than Senka found him. She'd faced death; this boy certainly wasn't even close to it.

“Well now, I think that's quite enough of that, don't you, Petros?" Vridel's tone was not unlike a ball of ice: smooth, hard, and cold, bu he kept it light in a way Senka could instantly recognize as false. “Perhaps you should get your nose attended to at the infirmary; I'm sure Rosalind would be happy to take you, wouldn't she?"

The woman blushed at his smiling face; at some point he'd appeared right next to Senka. He did nothing to interfere with her, but he seemed to irritate the boy as much or more than Senka did, especially when he noticed the girl with him was nodding a little hesitantly.

“No one asked, you, puppet-Prince."

“No," Vridel agreed. “But you'll take my advice. I'm only thinking of your health, after all."

With a muttered oath, the boy let the girl lead him away. Vridel sighed at their backs. “Fortunately, Professor Manuela's more likely to laugh than offer him sympathy," he observed, turning his attention to Senka again. “But it's rather unsporting of you to pick a fight with a pup like that."

She pursed her lips at Vridel. “You'll forgive my abruptness, Vridel, but as I've said. I do not care what others think or say of me. I will not, however, tolerate such slurs against Sorcha," she stated, glancing over her shoulder to make sure Sorcha was not in earshot. “You know how delicate she is of those matters. If I can, I'd like to spare her of those rumors before they reach her," she continued with a light sigh. Sorcha was not a delicate person, but she was sensitive. Senka knew how much words affected Sorcha, because they affected her the same way. At least she could ignore the words, pretend they didn't sting, and continue on with her existence.

With Sorcha, she was likely to show how it hurt her rather than keep it bottled up. “I apologize that you had to interefere and see that, though," she stated as she glanced back at him.

“Sen." He caught her elbow with a hand as she started to move away; it wasn't aggressive at all. “Can't you see it? She feels the same way about you. We all do. When you say things like that, about how you don't want to tarnish our reputations..." He sighed through his nose and shook his head.

“It makes it sound like you think we care more about our reputations than you. But we don't—your argument is based on a faulty premise. Sorcha might be sensitive, but even she would rather hear all kinds of horrible things about herself, with or without you in them, than lose you. Maybe you should respect that we've all made that choice."

He tilted his head at her. “I know who you are. It didn't bother me then, and it doesn't bother me now." He released her with a faint smile and a shrug.

He made it sound so easy to believe, though. That she could be that important to them, that she was. His words, however, loosened something inside her, and she felt something hot pricking at her eyes. She blinked a few times trying to clear her vision, unsure of why her vision was slightly blurry, and cast her gaze down. Maybe one day she could believe it, but for now, she could at least try.

“You make it sound easy," she finally spoke, shaking her head mostly at herself, “but I do respect all of you. Even if it doesn't bother you now..." She didn't finish that sentence. There was no point in making them see what she already knew. Things would not last like this. She believed that with all her heart, but maybe...

“Thanks Vridel. You are a good friend, I hope you know that."

He huffed gently. “No one's ever accused me of being that before," he noted, his smile turning a fraction melancholic. “For the record, you are as well. Though really, don't feel the need to punch people on my behalf. You'd never be finished if a bad rumor was all it took."

She laughed, the sound still strange and foreign to her as she shook her head. “I promise I will not punch people on your behalf, only if they deserve it. Although..." she paused, her brow tilting slightly upward, “speaking of rumors. I did hear a very interesting one about Sorcha and Mercer." She wasn't usually one to listen to such things; she'd spent enough time ignoring them.

“I will admit that there is some merit to the ones that say they fancy each other. What say you? Should we lend them our services?" she asked, a small grin on her face. She wasn't used to this, being expressive.

Vridel arched an eyebrow, clearly intrigued. “Well, well, Sen. Are you proposing mischief? Perhaps even... shenanigans?" He flashed a bright grin a moment later. “I'm in. Sorcha's dense, but Mercer can be surprisingly perceptive, so we'll have to be subtle. What did you have in mind?"

“Perhaps," she replied, her smile softening somewhat. “Mercer is perceptive, I give you that, but he is no match for this," she stated, pointing to her own face. “I have been told that I wear it well. As for what I had in mind," she paused to give it some thought. “Sorcha doesn't need much of a push, but Mercer might be. Perhaps they should start spending more time together, places where they won't necessarily be disturbed by other people. And not in the training sense, either. They need to be put in a situation they are not quite ready for. If it's for training, then that is all they will see it as."

She didn't think she'd need to explain further. It was quite simple, really. Use their free days as much as possible to get Sorcha and Mercer alone together. It would, in her opinion, serve Sorcha well. While Senka might have been angry with Mercer, she will not deny the effect he has on Sorcha. And more than anything she wants her friend to be happy.

“So you're saying we need to con them into dates that don't look like dates. Classic strategy, and for a reason." He nodded slightly. “I think perhaps we give them the rest of the month to... reacclimate, after that last mission, but then start looking for opportunities."

“Seems fair enough." she was, oddly, looking forward to it.