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Vridel von Hresvelg

"Time is running out. All I can do is make the most of it."

0 · 636 views · located in Fódlan

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

Description

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xxImageImageImagexxxVridelvonHresvelg
xxxxxxxxx◙◙◙◙* Male xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 24 xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 6'0" xxxxx◙◙◙◙* 166 lbs. xxxxx◙◙◙◙* Adrestian Emperor

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


--Image- SWORD quite skilled with swords
FAITH excellent in white magic
REASON quite good with dark/black magic
MORTAL SAVANT magical and martial double-threat; highly dangerous
DUAL CRESTS minor Crest of Seiros and major Crest of Noa



Image Leave your weapon on the table / wrapped in burlap, barely able
- - - - - - - Call a doctor, say a prayer / choose a god you think is there .


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Vridel's time is running out, and he well knows it.

After his uncle's attack on Garreg Mach Monastery, Vridel swiftly returned to the Empire, where he demanded his father cede to him the crown, for what little it was still worth. Ionius abided the request, and Vridel was crowned Emperor Vridel I of Adrestia. He immediately assembled what nobles he could, ones willing to fight by his side for the soul of his country and the soul of Fódlan. There were few enough, but together their force was not inconsiderable. Unfortunately, within the Empire, those loyal to Volkhard and Prime Minister Aegir far outnumber crown loyalists, and as a result Vridel was forced to flee his own country.

At first, he and his forces took refuge within Brigid, which under the influence of his friend and intelligence man Callum Macneary, the King's grand-nephew, declared its independence from the Empire. But the entire time he was there, Vridel's itch to act only grew. He's still deeply suspicious of the Church, and frustrated that he was pulled away from it, and his allies, so close to the truth.

Vridel took the news of Sorcha's and Senka's deaths quite hard—his friend and his sister were important to him, and knowing that for all his work he was unable to help them was another blow all its own, to say nothing of the fact that it was his country that did that to them. People he knew to be suspicious of, people he should have watched more closely, people who sprung a trap under his nose. He, who was supposed to be their Emperor someday.

He's Emperor of islands and dust, now. The hopelessness of his own situation has worn away much of his facade, and what he thinks of as many of his illusions. Constant clashes with Imperial troops have honed him over the last five years, but have also worn away much of the person he was in peacetime. Vridel is tired, now, and hard. He treats those around him coldly, refusing to get close to anyone who could just as soon be dead tomorrow, and on the field, he fights alone. He has grown much too good at it, and at deadening himself to what he sees and does.

It feels like every good part of him has died, too, including the naive idealism that made him believe he could change the world. These days, he mostly waits for it to end: for death to claim him on the field. And still, he keeps fighting. Keeps waiting, too, though he isn't sure what he's waiting for. Maybe word of a little woman, strong and verdant-haired, who keeps the last corner of his heart from freezing over. Maybe for anything to come along and wake him up again. Bring him back to life. Most likely, he simply waits for his foreshortened lifespan to run out, for his Crests to consume him, for his final, endless rest to come at last.


Image these monsters can fight
- - - - - - - and they'll never say die.


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Vridel was the ninth of twelve children born to the Emperor and Empress of Adrestia, entering the world in Imperial Year 1161. As part of such a large family, he was never expected to become the heir—in almost every other case, the eight children in front of him would surely have prevented it. But of course, his was not every other case. The irregularity in Vridel's life began shortly after he turned ten, when the Insurrection of the Seven stripped his father, Emperor Ionius, of much of his power. Vridel and his mother Patricia, as well as several of the younger siblings of the family, were taken in exile to the Holy Kingdom of Faerghus, where his mother remarried the widowed King. She lived separately from them thereafter, leaving the children in the care of their uncle, Volkhard von Arundel.

Three years later, the children were returned to the Empire, and the real trials began. His uncle forced he and his siblings to endure torturous experimentation with Crests; his father was powerless to interfere, stripped of his power and slowly withering himself. The experiments slew all of the Imperial children but Vridel himself, leaving him with an additional crest and hair turned white from the strain it put on his body to bear both. He fears as well that his lifespan has drastically shortened, and while his crests grant him considerable power, tapping their power often leaves him exhausted for days afterwards.

It is not a part of his life he enjoys discussing by any means, but it changed who he was, in very important ways. Those years of pain and torment are the reason why Vridel so hates the way crests are equated with worth, the way the Church calls them 'blessings' and signs of the goddess's 'favor.' He does not yet know the full truth behind what they really are, but has grown deeply suspicious of the teachings of the Church of Seiros, and in fact is almost certain they're hiding something important from the public.

He enrolled in the Officers' Academy at Garreg Mach Monastery in part to get close to the Church, to be able to discern the truth of this hypothesis. It was also in part to get a sense for the other leaders of Fódlan, so that he might more effectively plan his next move. He doesn't know exactly what it's going to be yet—there is simply too much he doesn't know. But nevertheless, he knows he'll be taking some kind of action, and has already laid the groundwork accordingly.

In the meantime, there is much to do, and much to learn. Of paramount importance, of course, is making sure no one at the monastery catches on to his aims, and as such he wears an effective facade in the meantime, casting himself as an empty-headed philanderer and the very pinnacle of useless nobility. He was never expected to inherit, after all, so why should anyone expect him to know much statecraft or more than the bare minimum of history or politics? He has to work to conceal his competence on the field, as well, but he's clever enough to hide his success behind others, to make suggestions that sound careless, or are just enough wrong that someone else can easily 'correct' them and arrive at the right answer, that sort of thing.

He was chosen as house leader of the Black Eagles because of status alone, he's sure, but it serves well enough. In but a few short days, the houses shall move into their quarters at the monastery and commence their first group training exercises. When that happens, the future will begin.


Image Good for you, now you're somebody
- - - - - - - Good for you, you fooled everyone .


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Amalthea
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AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
Every moment I have left is hers.

It was a painful thing at the same time as a great relief, to see Thea again after so much time. He was terrified that she would see what he had become, how close to the edge of sanity he tread, and hate him at last in the way he always expected. But of course she didn't, and now he wishes for nothing so much as that he'd made his way to her sooner. Five years gone, and so little time left... it's almost too much to bear, knowing what he's cost them.

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Senka
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AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
I think I understand, honestly.

He can't say he approves of the way she let them all think she was dead, but Vridel understands. Understands the feeling of having died while still somehow technically being alive. Understands why it would have been easier to leave behind her name and her life to focus on what she felt she had to do, to protect her people. And so despite everything, he found that forgiving her that was the easiest thing in the world.

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Cyril
AAFondnessxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
Is it strange that I feel better about our chances now?

It's not that he lacks confidence in Mercer, or the others. It's just that there's always been something about the Professor in particular that inspires it. Maybe it's the divine influence, maybe it's just the fact that he's already seen them through so many battles without a single death. Whatever it is, having Cyril back on their side has given Vridel renewed hope for the outcome of all this. He'll hold to it as long as he can.

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Sorcha
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AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
It's not fair. I always knew, but I never knew how much.

He doesn't know exactly what happened to Sorcha, but he knows that at the very least she barely remembers him. It hurts, he can't deny that, but he has faith in her ability to recover from whatever foul magic was worked on her. And if not, well... he's willing to earn the right to be called her brother again, whatever that takes. More than anything, he's just glad she's alive, so that they can have the chance at all.

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Mercer
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AARivalry xxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AAAttractionx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
AARespectxxxx ▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌▌
This line is here to take space.
At least we're fighting together again.

Vridel has absolutely zero issues with Mercer being the leader of the combined army they're fielding. Honestly, if anyone's done the work, it's him. He trusts his friend's head for strategy, and more importantly knows that the opinions and expertise of others will be heeded where sensible. Personally, he knows Mercer's struggling right now, and wants to help in whatever way he can. It may not be a lot, but perhaps it will count for something.

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


So begins...

Vridel von Hresvelg's Story

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1186 - Lone Moon - Thursday the 25th
Derdriu - Sunset - Cold
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer stared at the group in front of him. They were going to be taking back Derdriu, and for once, Mercer felt all the confidence in the world. All of his friends were here; Sorcha, Senka, Teach, Vi, Thea, Deirdre, Sofia, Sylvi, and Devon. They were all still alive. Senka had, apparently, lent Sorcha her pegasus, Liev, and she was riding a regular pale grey horse next to Teach. He supposed that they'd cleared some of their issues, and he was happy for them. The same with Vi and Thea, and even Devon and Sylvi. He was happy that his friends could find the small traces of happiness in a time like this. Even he felt a small flare of happiness with Sorcha at his side.

He wanted it to last.

Needed it to last.

It was why this battle would be a deciding point for their future. If they couldn't take back Derdriu, then they'd likely lose a war they were fighting so hard to win. Needed to win. Pulling in a breath, he calmed himself before addressing the group.

“You all know what to do. We're going to be reinforcing Alaric's group with ours, and pushing for a pincer attack. As far as we know, the Imperial army isn't expecting us, and are unaware we've arrived. Let's use it to our advantage while we still have it. Sorcha and I will take the skies," he began, shifting his gaze towards her and smiling softly.

“Teach, you and Sen take the right flank with Devon and Sylvi. Vi, you and Thea take the left flank with Sofia and Deirdre. Keep them reinforced until we know we're pushing them back. We don't know if they have demonic beasts or golems with them, however, so keep an eye on the field. We all know how to handle beasts, however," he paused, his eyes narrowing slightly, “if you see a golem, don't engage it recklessly. We can't afford to have any of you dying senselessly."

As their leader, he wouldn't be able to bear it.

Teach wore a subtle little smile on his face, offering Mercer a slight nod. “As you say, general," he replied, a certain lightness to it despite the solemnity of the moment. Perhaps that was fitting, really—they had for so long been a team, always confronting together things that seemed at the time beyond them, from that first night in the forest with Sorcha and Vi through to the siege of Garreg Mach and now beyond it. Somehow, even when it hadn't seemed possible, they'd all survived, and managed to keep something of themselves. Something that had bowed under the pressure of five years since, but had perhaps not broken. Could still unbend.

“And if you do see a golem," he added, “remember that the large glowing stone beneath the carapace is its weak point. Worst case scenario, your goal should always be to destroy that, or cause enough damage to disable it so you can get away."

That little tidbit of information was courtesy of Sorcha, who had spent rather a lot of her time in captivity forced to listen to Cornelia's ramblings. At least some of it was useful.

The others all managed some combination of nods and verbal affirmations, and they were ready to go.

“Most of all," he spoke, making sure he made eye contact with every single one of them, “survive. Watch each other's backs and make sure you live to see another day." They nodded once more as Mercer nudged Sir towards the capital. Taking in a deep breath, he murmured, “we're coming, Al. Just hang out a little longer," and Sir took to the skies. With the dying light, it was going to be a bit more difficult to see, however; they still had enough of it that the way he and Sorcha would fly would make them look like tiny specks in the sky. If even that, really. The sun would be used to their advantage, a camouflage of sorts.

Up ahead, he could hear the battle. People were shouting orders, pointing in every direction as if they meant to using a pinning movement to wipe out a small handful of soldiers. Mercer pursed his lips.

“Sorcha," he called out to her, low but still enough that she could hear him. “We're going for that group, there," he stated, pointing towards the soldiers. “We'll free them up so they can be added to the pincer attack," because at this point, they needed as many able bodies they could get. He pulled his bow from his back, and took a breath, fitting an arrow to it. “We'll stay in the skies, though. We can't afford to get knocked off, either."

“Understood." Her bow was already in one hand, but she let go of Liev's reins with the other, steering with her legs as she nocked an arrow to the string. Her old hesitation was gone now; she shot without needing to think about where the arrow was going to go, on an instinct he'd spent nearly a year trying to hone in her.

It was different, though, from even a month ago. She grimaced as she released the shot, lining up the next even as it whistled through the air, catching one of the enemy commanders in the eyeslit of his helm. It toppled him, and the Alliance soldiers in the spot took advantage, swarming that part of the enemy line and punching through. It wasn't enough to break the pin, but a few more like it and they'd be in business.

He followed suit, releasing an arrow to take out another soldier. He wasn't going to make her do all the killing, after all. If he had the choice, he'd have let her sit this one out. But he also knew that Sorcha wouldn't have wanted that. She would have wanted to come, no matter what. Taking a breath, his Crest glowed on his wrist as he narrowed his eyes on the next commander, releasing the arrow and catching the woman in the base of her neck, severing her spine in the process. Quick deaths. Easy deaths.

A few more soldiers were dropped, and the Alliance soldiers were finally able to push free from the pin. He nodded in their direction as they made their way towards the part of the army where Teach was. At least that meant they'd be reinforced from there, if they needed it. He nudged Sir forward, intent on making it to the frontlines to see if he could see Reynard or even Alaric. He knew that Alaric wouldn't be sitting out the battle. That just wasn't the type of person he was.

Alaric fought alongside his soldiers.

The battle seemed to begin in earnest, now. With the freed up soldiers he and Sorcha were able to get to that were added to both Teach's side, and Vridel's, the plan to attack could commence. He glanced in Sorcha's direction, pulling his sword from its sheath. He wanted to reserve his arrows, for now, and he wanted to be on the ground, spearheading the charge alongside the others.

“This is it, Sorcha. Fall back and let the others know we're going to push forward now with the pincer. We need to get to Alaric and Rey. To the others. Join me when you've done so," because he wasn't sending her away. On the contrary, he wanted her beside him when this happened, however; he needed the others to know that now was the time.

“Okay," she said, brows furrowing a little but nodding nevertheless. “Be safe, Mercer. I'll be back soon." Wheeling Liev, she guided the pegasus to her top speed, leaning low over her neck until they were a blur across the sky.

It didn't take long for the message to ripple through the ranks, Teach and Vi leading their flanks towards Mercer for the charge. Sorcha landed next to him a moment later, slinging her bow across her back and drawing Areadbhar. Her eyes were fixed on the field in front of them, the blue hard but no longer cold. Not even close.

“Ready when you are."

He nodded, taking a breath and glancing out in front of him. This was it. This was going to be the deciding battle in who was going to emerge victorious. To be the ones who emerged with a future. He glanced towards Sorcha, before steeling himself.

This was it.

He slid off of Sir's back, and motioned for the wyvern to leave. Sir regarded him with an even stare before taking off. He'd whistle if he needed Sir, back, and they both knew that. Shifting the sword in his hand, he glanced at the battlefield. “Let's do this," he spoke, lunging forward as the soldiers behind him followed suit.

He barreled into the first soldier, quickly plunging his blade into the soldier's abdomen. He pulled it out and moved on to the next. He could hear a few wind spells being used, saw a saggitae, either Sen's or Vi's, and could hear the thrumming of Areadhbar near him. He countered an attack aimed for him, parried another, and cut down another soldier. He could feel the warm blood splash across his face as he grimaced slightly. He had to keep pushing through. Had to keep going.

Alaric was waiting for them. Reynard was waiting for them. Their future was waiting for them.

Around them, the battle roared, his friends visible as little more than glimpses in one moment gone in the next. There, Cyril felled a broad swath of soldiers with a thoron, throwing the Arrow through another's heart and launching himself into another cluster with nothing but his hands, fighting like a man possessed, blank faced and bloody.

There, Vridel, a bright flash of white amidst the muddled colors of the field, bright magic flashing along the blade of his sword, hewing down another and whirling to fling a spell over Thea's shoulder to stagger her opponent. Not far away, Sofia, setting her tower shield against a flank attempt, lance lashing out over the edge to catch those who tried to get around her at Deirdre.

Sylvi had her axe, abandoning her gauntlents, perhaps, in favor of the range the axe provided her, and caught a soldier in the shoulder. Deirdre was flinging fire spells and wind spells to help stagger soldiers who were trying to flank the others. Senka was much flurry as Vi was, using Blutgang to either disarm her opponent's weapons, or literally disarm them. She caught a few with her blizzard spell, and Mercer could see Thea using Amyr more as a throwing axe, occasionally ducking behind the shield she had with her before she recalled Amyr to her.

They were pushing forward. They were succeeding. He grit his teeth, though, and before he could move forward, someone grabbed his shoulder and spun him out of the way. The arrow that would have lodged in his neck was now lodged in Sen's arm, as she held it in front of her, the tip of the arrow just inches away from her face. If it pained her, she didn't show, and it looked like it had hit her arm that wasn't her dominant sword one. She'd be okay, for now.

“Go," she spoke, breaking the arrow in half and pushed the other half out of her arm. She held it, though, as she glanced in his direction. “The general was spotted further up. If you and Sorcha can reach him, we have a chance of routing their forces," she continued, her eyes narrowing slightly at him. He motioned towards her arm, but she shook her head. “You need to end this, Mercer. Be careful, he doesn't appear to be your typical general," she stated, her brows furrowing deeply. He nodded his head, and she disappeared back into the fray.

Mercer glanced in Sorcha's direction. “Let's end this, Sor," he spoke, pushing forward until he could see the general. He was a rather large man, taller than Teach, perhaps, by an inch or two. Maybe three. It was hard to tell from this distance. He was situated atop an Imperial charger, and donned heavy armor. The shoulders were spiked slightly, almost reminiscent to the Death Knight's armor, however; the difference was the coloring. Where the Death Knight's armor was black, this general's armor was mostly gold with silver trimmings. He donned a large zweihänder at his back. The blade was rather thick for one, however; Mercer had a suspicion it was mostly for show rather than use.

But the man was muscled. He looked like he could swing the weapon with just one hand. Grimacing slightly, he gripped his blade just a little tighter. “With a weapon like that, he's not going to be able to swing as fast. Sor, cover me with whatever arrows you have. If we can keep him on his toes, it shouldn't be too difficult to take him out," he stated. It would require a lot of work, but Mercer believed they could do this.

“Okay, but I'm getting in there if it looks like too much," she said, meeting his eyes intently for a moment. Areadbhar found one of the leather loops at her back, and then drew her bow again, nocking an arrow and setting about the task of clearing his path forward.

To their sides their friends still fought on, bloodier and wearier than they had been at the outset. Devon was limping, but still firing arrows; Vridel's hair and clothes had turned red and pink in places, though how much of it belonged to him was hard to say. Sofia was still hunkered behind her shield, her motions flagging a little but steady. Where Teach had gone was unclear, but from the free space on their left flank, it was a fair guess he'd pushed the line back a bit.

He nodded in response and lunged forward. Even he was starting to feel the effects of a prolonged battle, but he couldn't show it. He had to keep pushing forward until they had won. Or died.

When he'd made it to the man who was, supposedly, the general, Mercer fixed him with a harsh stare. He simply lifted his blade towards the man who drew his own from his back, however; a hand placed itself on his arm as if to stop him. Beside him, hidden from view, was a smaller person. Feminine from the way her armor was made. Her silver helm had a long black feather from it, and she regarded him with cold dead eyes. She pulled her bardiche from her back, and leveled it at Mercer. Was she the actual general?

Whatever it was, he readied his sword. The larger man moved back as if to give them room for this strange duel he'd silently agreed to with this woman. She lunged towards him, quick and smooth-like. Mercer barely had enough time to dodge, and the bardiche caught him in the shoulder. His armor, light as it was, managed to protect him for now, however; with an onslaught of attacks, it wouldn't hold up for long. The downsides of bringing light armor into battle, he supposed. He lunged for her with his sword, swiping horizontal at her. Poled weapons were usually not so useful for attacks like that, however; she seemed to block it with ease.

Mercer gritted his teeth together. He wasn't going to have the energy for this. Something had to give, one way or another. At least her companion hadn't joined in on the battle, and seemed content to let her do most of the work. She continued a barrage of attacks at him, blocking and parrying every attack he threw at her until she'd mostly had the upper hand. If something didn't give, soon, she was going to win this battle.

“Mercer!" Sorcha's attempt to interfere was blocked by the large man, but she did manage to fling a healing spell his way before she was forced to leap back and draw Areadbhar. “You're not allowed to die!" she called, staving off a heavy swing of the large man's blade with the pole of the Relic. “Your life is mine, right?! You better keep it safe for me!"

She swung the spear with a mighty heave, clearly fighting to get through to where he was, to help him, but an armored bulwark like that man wouldn't go down quickly or easily, not even to Sorcha.

He would have laughed, really. He wasn't allowed to die, was he? “Yeah, Mercer! You're not allowed to die, you stupid fish face!" it was Thea's voice, next, and Mercer blocked an attack from the general with a little more ease as Thea appeared. It seemed that she was helping Sorcha, now, and Mercer felt a strong wave of relief wash over him. Two people might be able to bring the man down, but Mercer focused his attention on the woman. Her eyes narrowed at him, and she thrust her bardiche at him once more, however; unlike him, she had no one to fling a healing spell towards her. No one to help her. Mercer might have felt bad about it, but he couldn't afford to.

Not when so many lives were at stake.

He pushed back, swinging with a bit more vigor in her direction, forcing her back until she was on the defensive, now. He could hear Sorcha and Thea working together, Amyr and Areadhbar both clashing with the man's weapon, however; with a final thrust, his blade slipped past her poled weapon, finding a home past her chest armor, and into her heart. Her eyes widened with surprise as her grip on the bardiche loosened and it fell from her hands.

“You won't... win," she spat, gripping the blade with her hand. “He won't let you... win," she spoke before her arm fell limp at the same time the large man screamed. He was silent afterwards. Mercer sighed, putting his foot to the woman's shoulder and pushing her off of his blade. In the distance, he could hear the cries of victory, the joyous ringing of a bell somewhere, however; he turned his attention to where Thea and Sorcha were, and smiled.

“Come on, then," the new voice belonged to Vi. “I'd best finish patching you up; no one's going to want the man of the hour bleeding all over the carpet."

Sorcha giggled, the lightest sound she'd made since they found her. “I dunno. Scars are kind of heroic, right?"

“I can always leave them if you want," Vi drawled.

Mercer pursed his lips together. He opened his mouth to say something, however; someone else spoke first.

“Attractive. I think the word you're looking for is attractive," Senka spoke, smirking in Mercer's direction as she stood next to Thea and folded her arms over her chest. Her arm seemed to be healed, probably due to the plethora of healers on the team there were, or by herself.

“I think I'd rather be healed so I don't bleed to death, heroic or otherwise," he deadpanned. This brought a light laugh forth, though, and Mercer felt a weight lift from his shoulders. This... he missed this.

Teach took a moment more to join them, but seemed to have caught the end of the conversation at least. “Probably for the best. They take some work to keep limber, and no one wants to pass out from blood loss." He stuck the butt end of the Arrow into the ground and let out a long, slow breath, reaching over to press a brief kiss to Sen's temple, heedless of any blood or battlefield dirt.

“I found Reynard and Alaric," he added. “They're both all right, and ready to welcome us into Derdriu as soon as we're keen to make an appearance."

Vi stepped back, his healing so unobtrusive Mercer almost hadn't noticed him doing it, and shrugged. “I'm ready when our fearless leader is. And he's not bleeding anymore."

“Oh, good. I could use a bath, now," he stated, smiling brightly at his friends. “And as your leader," he spoke, glancing towards Cyril and Senka in particular, “you two have to cook because the gods know we've all missed it. And I think it'll serve as a good victory feast for troop morale and all that."

“Only because our fearless leader said it must be done," Senka huffed softly.

“Great, now let's go because we're all filthy and need a bath."

This was it.

The beginning of their new future.

A better future.

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


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I.Y. 1186 - Great Tree Moon - Wednesday the 2nd
Riegan Manor - Noon - Clear
Vridel von Hresvelg


Vridel had to admit, the retaking of Derdriu had felt... good.

It would have been better if they'd never lost it in the first place, but technically they hadn't. It had come under siege, but an ultimately unsuccessful one, thanks first to Alaric and then to a timely rescue. In any case, they were back, and the combination of Alliance and Duscur troops might be enough to start winning back the rest of Leicester. It wouldn't, normally, but the Imperials were spread thin, between here and Brigid and two different fronts in Faerghus. Arianrhod and the Fraldarius border. It meant that if they were smart about how they did this, they had a chance.

Of course, there was also bad news. That Derdriu had come under siege at all meant the Great Bridge of Myrddin had been captured, and that was a loss, one they'd have a hard fight to take back before they could finally, finally, push into new territory.

“Has Bergliez been in contact yet?" He couldn't imagine it was that difficult to find out who was leading one's own army, but he at least hadn't heard anything from the Imperial general yet. He might have contacted Mercer instead, though—Vridel might be rightful Emperor of Adrestia, but Mercer was leader of this army, and he certainly wouldn't object if communication went through that way instead.

Mercer shook his head.

“We haven't heard anything from him, yet, but I'd say that he hasn't betrayed us or anything. If he had, chances are that we'd have lost the battle for Derdriu. Reinforcements would have been sent if he'd said anything," he stated, furrowing his brows lightly. “Chances are he's still waiting for the right moment before he does anything. I don't know if it's harder for him with the Imperial army or what, but... we'll just have to wait and see. Sen has a few of her scouts out so chances are, he can contact one of them. And when Alaric releases Rey back into our ranks," he huffed lightly, “we can have him on the look out as well."

“Are we sure he will?" Vridel asked wryly, finding himself grinning. Reynard was not sitting in on this meeting; it was actually just himself, Mercer, Cyril, Senka, and Sorcha. Thea and Sofi were training this afternoon—he wasn't sure exactly where Dev and Sylvi were, or Deirdre, but they all had jobs to be doing, no doubt.

This particular setup however meant they could poke fun of their absent friend with impunity. “They seem... awfully attached." Alaric was so closeted it was almost painful, but the truth was there for anyone observant enough to see it nonetheless, and Vridel was quite good with that kind of thing.

Mercer outright laughed while Senka snorted softly, nearly choking on her cup of water. “You mean to say that Alaric hasn't rectified his feelings for Rey, yet?" Senka spoke, a little surprised by the information, it seemed. Mercer only laughed a little harder before he took in a deep breath to calm himself.

“Honestly, it might be a long time yet before we see Rey, again. With Al being all, well, you know, protective and what not," Mercer finally spoke, snickering softly. “And they're attached at the hip at this point, it feels like. At least not physically," he added.

Yet."

Mercer laughed again.

Sorcha rolled her eyes, but it was good-natured, and surprisingly enough there was a little smile to go with it. Vridel had spotted few of those since her return; they were always nice to see.

“Frankly I don't think any of us have any room to talk, really," the Professor noted wryly. “But then I suppose he mocked us plenty before."

He had, at that. Vridel snorted. “Still, more fun to mock him to his face. What're we planning today, anyway?"

“Well," Mercer began, glancing at the map that was in front of them. “We all know the obvious: Myrddin Bridge has fallen," he stated, placing a few markers near the Bridge.

“Next step would be to reclaim it, would it not?" Senka stated, causing Mercer to nod his head.

“It would be. If we can get the Bridge back, then we can finally press forward with the attack on the Imperial army. The Bridge is what will either break us, or give us the opportunity that we need. As you all know," he began, placing a few more markers on both the Alliance side and the Empire's. “Myrddin Bridge is a strategic advantage to whomever holds it. They can invade either the Alliance or Empire freely."

“Which means that since the Empire has it, we're at a disadvantage."

“Precisely. With our troop numbers, though, we should be able to retake it. The only problem is..." he trailed off, pursing his lips together.

“We don't know who's holding Myrddin at the moment, and we don't know what kind of army they have. It could be just a human army, or it could be a mix of Cornelia's altered golems or beasts," Senka filled in. Mercer nodded his head.

“And we're back to the issue with Bergliez," Cyril added with a short sigh. “I suppose we could strike out for the destination and hope he's able to get something to us on the way. If he's not, it's not any worse than what we'd have to do regardless."

Vridel nodded. “At this point, they've not held it too long. We'd be better off not letting them get too firm a foothold. If you ask me we've got to strike as fast as possible. End of the month, if we can manage it, but it's going to be a fight just to get there." Because all the land between the bridge and Derdriu was occupied now, too.

“There are villages between, right? Castles and the like too, where nobles manage their territory?" Sorcha frowned. “What's the most direct line of capturable points from us to the bridge?"

Mercer pursed his lips together as he stared at the map. “The obvious path would be to take the direct route from Riegan and Gloucester territory," he stated, but his brows were furrowed.

“But that would be hazardous in itself. If we go through Gloucester's territory, there's no telling what we'd be dealing with. He might not be so willing to let us pass after the debacle six years ago," Senka stated, referring to the roundtable conference in which Mercer announced Sorcha as his intended. The resulting incident was Gloucester losing territory to Acheron. Mercer nodded his head.

“If we can go around through Goneril's territory," Mercer began, moving a marker where Duke Goneril's territory was located, “we'd have a chance of getting to Myrddin whilst also liberating any villages that have been overrun, especially in Lady Ordelia's territory."

“Isn't that still risky? We'd be making a wide berth just to avoid Gloucester's territory," Senka stated, her brows furrowing softly.

“It's either that, or we take our chances with Gloucester. I like our chances making the wide berth, better, though," Mercer stated, eyes flickering towards Vridel and the others.

“Who is Gloucester?" Sorcha blinked, brow furrowed in confusion.

Vridel could understand why; the ease with which the others discussed him implied that he was someone she'd know, and the reference to six years ago would make it something she'd been around for to her knowledge. But the memory was clearly not there; personally Vridel didn't think it was as much of a loss as some things. But it had to be terrible anyway.

He wasn't sure there was a short version to give her—the long one seemed like something that should be handled with a bit more care later. “Asshole, basically, but one of the members of the roundtable conference and the second most powerful Duke in Leicester. You met him and didn't like him either."

She nodded slightly. “Well... he could need help," she said, “if his lands are under Imperial control now. But you're worried he'd try something?"

Mercer sighed heavily. “Yes, because he's still angry with both of us," he stated, glancing in Sorcha's direction. “You were supposed to marry him, but you chose me, instead. It pissed him off, and it cost him nearly three miles of land when he had a mock battle with Acheron. Honestly, I wouldn't be surprised if he's aligned with the Empire," he continued.

“You think he'd take it that far?" Senka asked, and Mercer grimaced slightly.

“I do, actually. Gloucester holds grudges like no one's business, and the way Sorcha and I humilated him? If there's even a chance he can get back at me for that, I wouldn't doubt that he'd try it. But... I would rather still not take that chance."

“If that's what you decide to do, then we should leave as soon as possible for the Myrddin Bridge. If we have to make that wide of a berth to avoid Gloucester's territory, it's best if we leave in a week's time to ensure we retake the bridge as soon as possible. If... you decide to go through Gloucester's territory, and make a straight path, then it gives us time to recuperate from retaking Derdriu, and gives our troops enough time to gather the necessary supplies."

Mercer turned his attention towards Cyril, then. “What do you think, Teach? Gloucester or Goneril?"

He shook his head. “Vridel was right earlier. Even the most direct line would be enough of a fight just to move forward that we couldn't afford the extra rest. That makes the side route the smarter choice, but we're going to have to be wary of flanks, if Gloucester is Empire-aligned. But I think clearing out some of Ordelia's villages will give us leverage when we want her troops in Faerghus, so we should do it anyway."

Mercer grinned slightly. “Alright, we have a plan, then. We'll leave in about a week from now for Goneril and then Ordelia. Everyone, you should get some rest, until then," Mercer stated, arching a brow in Vridel and Cyril's direction. “Though I'm not sure how much rest you'll be getting all things considered."

Senka sputtered on her glass of water, her face turning a deep shade of red as she turned her attention towards Mercer. “That is none of your concern, Mercer von Riegan," she stated, narrowing her eyes in his direction. Mercer just laughed.

Vridel laughed too, suppressing a counter in deference to Sorcha's situation. One day, though. One day he was going to ask about that last day before the attack. “Someone's mind's in the gutter," he drawled, flicking his eyes to his stepsister. “Do be careful, Sorcha."

To his surprise, she arched a brow. “Oh don't worry about me. I can handle him."

He thought maybe she was going to be all right, after all.

“But I don't see you denying it, either, so..." Mercer replied, grinning broadly before shrugging his shoulders. Senka merely rolled her eyes.

“If anyone can handle Mercer, it'd be Sorcha," Senka stated, smiling in her friend's direction.

“Hm, well, yes, this is true. But at least I know how to keep my hands to myself for the time being. Unlike some touchy feely people I know," Mercer stated, winking in Senka's direction. She arched a brow at him before turning her attention towards Cyril.

“You haven't seen touchy feely, yet, Mercer. I wouldn't mind putting on a show, though, if Cyril doesn't mind," she stated, a strange grin crossing her features. She looked like she was almost daring him to say anything further. Mercer nearly fell out of his chair, laughing.

Cyril looked entirely unperturbed. “If you're so inclined, my love, you need only say so."

Vridel was grinning so widely it was starting to hurt his face. “I think I'll pass on the demonstrations, thank you. I prefer the touching and feeling in my life take place between myself and my fiancée." Come to think of it, he wondered what time Thea's training would finish today. He should probably get a bit of his own in before he got too distracted.

Standing, he waved a hand almost in playful dismissiveness. “Since we seem to have a battle plan, I'm going to leave before Sen tries to climb the Professor like a tree. The rest of you have fun." Shooting them all a wink, he did just that.

Back to work, for the moment.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1186 - Great Tree Moon - Friday the 18th
Goneril Territory - Late Evening - Cool
Cyril Eisner


The first couple days of marching had been largely uneventful. A couple of small skirmishes, but for the most part, Duke Goneril's lands had been bypassed as the imperial army made a straight shot for the capital, so there weren't a lot of forces here. They'd been moving carefully nevertheless, not wanting to be caught by a scout group who could run a message to the forces occupying Gloucester's territory. Hopefully, House Ordelia would be willing to mop up behind once their own territory was liberated on this march, because otherwise they were going to hit the bridge only to be flanked from behind.

He had no doubt that concerns like this were heavy on everyone's minds, and it was with this in his thoughts that he'd hatched a plan with Senka: though by this point dinner was made for the army in small groups, he proposed that the two of them cook for their friends, including Duke Goneril, and eat dinner as a group again.

There was no mistaking that in some ways, the five years between the end of their academy time and now had strained things a great deal, but even now Cyril could tell just from watching them all that the bonds were still there. Rusted, maybe, or buried by years, but strong beneath that. Sure. And he thought it was worth trying to rediscover those. They worked best when everyone supported each other, after all, not merely in the physical sense that came about on battlefields, where they'd never been more effective, but outside of it also. Emotionally, among other things.

It was hardly the work of a day, but that was exactly why it was best to take one day at a time, and go slowly. Everyone had to eat anyway; they might as well do it together, and let others take care of pitching the extra tents or doing the equipment checks for once. There would be plenty of time to fret over those things later.

To this end, He and Senka had commandeered a corner of the mess tent, laying out their dishes on the table for everyone to serve themselves freely from, and at some point today he'd talked to each individual person, to make sure they knew the invitation was personal, and from him. He expected they'd be willing to put aside a bit of time for their former Professor, after all.

Mercer was the first to arrive, glancing back and forth between the food and Cyril. He grinned at the two of them, causing Senka to arch a brow. “Am I allowed to actually serve myself or do I have to wait for the others to not be smacked," he spoke, referencing to something that happened years ago. When Senka had smacked his hand when he tried to serve himself some pastries in Reynard's home. She rolled her eyes softly at him.

“Do what you want, Mercer. I promise I'm not going to smack your hand this time. Just... don't eat until the others are here, alright? That way we can all enjoy it together," she spoke, offering Mercer a small smile. He snorted softly, though, and nodded his head.

“Yes, mom," he spoke, causing her brows to furrow and her eyes to narrow. “And I'm not falling for that. I'm going to wait for someone else to try and get food before I do," he added. Senka shrugged.

“Suit yourself."

Vridel walked in next, deep purple circles beneath his eyes. It was hard to say why the march seemed especially taxing on him, except that his general health seemed to be in decline. Cyril knew well what that meant, or might mean, but it wasn't the kind of thing one could simply ask about like it was nothing.

Unlike Mercer, he seemed to have no wariness about dishing himself some of the food. “I swear it's been five years since I had this and I almost died," he said wryly, scooping himself some of Cyril's spiced rice pilaf. “Brigid food is excellent, don't get me wrong, but still." He readily took a seat, but despite his apparent enthusiasm, did not immediately tuck in.

“There's enough for seconds, if you want, Vridel," Senka spoke. Mercer did his best to smile at Vridel, but it seemed he found it difficult. Apparently deciding it was safe, though, Mercer made himself a plate as Thea walked in, smiling brightly at the group. Out of them all, she seemed to have been the least affected, but even so, it was easy to tell it hadn't been easy on her.

“Oh, this looks so good! You two always make the best things," she spoke, taking a seat next to Vridel once she'd grabbed a plate. She nudged him softly with her elbow before she glanced around. “Guess we're still missing a few people," she stated. Sylvi was the next to arrive, walking with Deirdre, apparently. It looked like they were talking about something before they glanced at the group already forming. They said their hellos and took their seats.

Goneril was the next to arrive, blinking slowly and seemingly out of place. He was a new addition, if anything, to the group. His eyes softened slightly as he nodded his head in Senka's direction. She smiled back at him, as Goneril took a seat without grabbing a plate. He looked... nervous, if anything.

“You don't have to be so tense, Al. You're in good company," Deirdre stated, rolling her eyes as she filled her plate. Sylvi chuckled lightly as she made herself a plate as well.

“I'm not tense," he murmured, pursing his lips together.

“Yes you are. Even I can see it," Senka replied, setting an empty plate down in front of him. Mercer snickered softly as he pushed his food around on his plate, quite content on not eating yet until the last of them arrived.

Sorcha and Devon filed in a bit later, having come right from some bit of camp setup from the slight exertion still obvious in their faces. Sofia wandered in and sat next to Deirdre—her preferred dish had always been one of Senka's vegetable roasts.

Last to wander in was Reynard, hair a little windswept from the ride he'd no doubt taken about the perimeter of camp. He was in charge of positioning the watches, and he took it very seriously. He took one look at Goneril and rolled his eyes, fixing up the empty plate in front of him with a bit of everything on it and setting it back down in front of the other man, whacking him in the shoulder softly with the fork before resting it next to him. "You can be excused for not knowing the rules this once, but when the Professor and Sen cook, we eat."

He made himself a plate next, taking the spot next to the Duke.

That left only Cyril and Senka to serve themselves, which they did, and then it was a free-for-all as far as eating went.

“Oh, man, I missed this," Deirdre spoke first, taking another bite of her food as to savor it. Sylvi snorted softly, and took a bite of her own food, smiling brightly as she glanced towards Cyril and Senka.

“I agree with Deirdre. It's been so long since we've had your food. It should be a crime that you two cook so well," she murmured before shoving another spoonful into her mouth. Mercer chuckled lightly, still pushing his food around as he glanced between everyone.

“I don't know, Syl," he began, arching a brow in her direction, “I think it's mostly good because we are in good company, as Deir said." It was at this point that Goneril finally took a bite out of his own food, and his eyes seemed to light up.

“This... is..." he didn't seem to know how to say what he wanted to, and cleared his throat. “This is very good. I did not know you could cook so well," he spoke softly, taking another bite.

“One of the benefits of being at the academy was being able to enjoy the days when Sen and Professor would cook," Thea stated as if to explain to Goneril. “I think the entire academy was in love with the both of them when they were on kitchen duty. I don't think I'd ever seen the dining hall so filled as I had on those days."

“Hm, and it was chaotic just trying to get in. If you weren't there early enough, you had to eat in your dorm room because students even filled the gazebos," Deirdre added, arching a brow in Sofia's direction. “I think we actually ate at the docks because there really wasn't anywhere else to go."

Sofia nodded. “More than once. I seem to recall some experimental fused cuisine that was especially popular."

Cyril huffed softly, glancing at Senka out of the corner of his eye. “We put those together when Senka wanted to cook dishes from Duscur, so it wouldn't be obvious that's what they were." It had been a small thing he could do at the time, to help her feel connected to the culture she had to hide, and share it with others. So she could see that they enjoyed it. Fortunately, if anyone had ever made the connection, they hadn't said anything about it.

Sorcha ate with what seemed to be great focus, and Cyril could almost understand that. They said that smell was the sense most linked to memory, and taste had a lot to do with smell. It was possible it would be nostalgic for her in a slightly different way from the others.

“Okay but I never asked: where did you two even learn to cook, anyway?"

Cyril shrugged. “Personally I taught myself. A lot of trial and error. But if I wanted to eat very well back with my father's company I had to make it happen. We only had cooks at bases, not on jobs." He felt a slight twinge at the mention of his father—it seemed so much closer an event to him than it really was, but with time the pain faded, as most things did.

Senka had been in the middle of taking a bite of her food as she glanced towards Vridel. She swallowed her food before she answered, “I learned from both of my parents. We... used to cook whenever they had time, but father was the one who taught me the most about cooking. He even taught me how to bake. Bomboloni are what those jelly-filled donuts are called, the ones you seem fond of the most." There was a smile on her face, though it didn't hold the tinge of melancholy to it that it used to when she talked about her parents.

“Oh! Speaking of, you need to make those again. It's been so long," Mercer stated, putting an emphasis on the last word. “I haven't had a good dessert in such a long time," he continued, taking a bite out of his food. Senka rolled her eyes softly, but the smile on her face remained.

“As I've told Thea, there's only one person I allow to boss me around. If you ask nicely," she began, earning a soft snicker from Deirdre, “I might make some more for you. Maybe the ones with chocolate, too."

“If it's not too much," Goneril stated, glancing up from his plate, “I'd like to try those as well. They sound delightful."

“That's because they are. Lyanna loves them, too!" Thea stated in an enthusiastic manner.

“What about you, Teach? Do you know how to bake or are you only good at cooking?" Mercer asked, arching a brow in Cyril's direction in what seemed to be curiosity.

“I can bake," he said with a shrug. “Though it's not something I've had much opportunity to practice. Proper ovens aren't something I had a lot of access to." Most of what he'd used were open flames of one sort or another, and the various kinds of thing that could be fit over them. The monastery had been rather luxurious by comparison, and he knew even they didn't have quite as much as a proper castle kitchen or anything.

"Did I ever tell you I had to learn to cook—and bake—for an infiltration job once?" Reynard remarked, glancing at the others. "I was spying on this fellow who was set to host the Prime Minister for a dinner, and because he was minor nobility the easiest way in was through the temporary kitchen workers he hired. I almost burned the roast my first night on the job. Once the chef was done having a heart attack, she made me personally assist her from there on out. I learned a lot."

“But did you get the information?" Sofia asked with a little grin.

"Of course," Rey replied. "And then some. The lord's son wrote me awful poetry for a good year afterwards." He rolled his eyes.

Vridel coughed, and shot a look at Mercer.

“Probably has that in common with Mercer. He was the one who wrote the poetry for Senka because... well, I'm not well-versed in it and..." Goneril stated, coughing lightly into his hand as he glanced at his plate, seemingly more interested in it than anything else.

Deirdre snorted fairly hard before she doubled over with laughter, her forehead resting against the table as she took in a deep breath. “Are you kidding me? Al... you big dope. You had Mercer, of all the people available to you, write poetry. Poetry!? Even I could have told you that was a horrible decision."

Senka shrugged her shoulders lightly. “I don't know, Deir. I thought it was rather nice, but at the time I thought it was from Alaric. If I'd known it was Mercer's doing... well, I suppose that would have made more sense. It did sound like he was referencing things to Sorcha, now that I think about it. Were you thinking about her when you wrote that, Mercer?"

“Yep. Not gonna deny it," he replied smoothly.

Sorcha glanced up sharply as soon as her name was referenced, to a few chuckles, including one of Cyril's own.

“W-wha? Poetry?"

Vridel snickered. “The levels of idiocy involved in this story are just ridiculous," he said, shaking his head. “Never change, any of you." He easily included Goneril in the lot, which might well have been the source of Rey's subtle smile. That or he was just in agreement.

Senka smirked a bit as she arched a brow in the Duke's direction. “That's nothing compared to what happened when Alaric asked me to dinner," she stated in a nonchalant fashion. “He tried reciting the poem back, but couldn't remember the words. He was as red as his hair during the whole thing," she continued, taking a bite of her food as if it were the easiest thing to say. Goneril, however, pursed his lips together as he frowned a bit.

“I wasn't exactly sure what to do, then. I was nervous. Could you really blame me?" he murmured softly before taking a bite of his food. Mercer huffed lightly at his statement.

“Oh, you'll get used to it, Al. Senka teases just about everyone she likes," he stated as if to console the Duke.

“It's true, I do."

“Most of this lot do," Cyril noted, gesturing vaguely to the table. “So by all means consider yourself welcome. And do feel free to dish out whatever you receive." He lifted his spoon to his mouth, spice tingling on his tongue, and shrugged.

"Well that's the Professor's stamp of approval right there, so I guess you're stuck with us now," Reynard noted, throwing an amused glance in Goneril's direction. "I'd apologize, but I'm really not that sorry."

Deirdre snorted. “Al? Tease someone? You're more likely to get a fish to start singing," she stated, snickering softly as Goneril furrowed his brows deeper. “Besides, he's really bad at it. His way of showing his favor to someone is by being overly protective and very motherly," she added as an after thought.

Mercer huffed lightly as if he were trying not to laugh, but was failing. “That explains... so much," he managed between laughs.

Rey was regarding the other man with a raised eyebrow and a little half smile, but it faded quickly as he shook his head. Cyril chuckled softly; the scene, save for the ages of his students, could have played out on any evening in the dining hall at Garreg Mach. This—silly though it was—was precisely the sort of warmth he'd been trying to recapture in inviting them all here. They were all as relaxed as he'd seen them in months, most smiling or laughing, even those less inclined to such expressions wearing softer versions of their faces than usual.

Beneath the table, he took Senka's hand and gave it a soft squeeze, letting the conversation flow around him for a while. Tomorrow, they'd be back on the march and as strained as ever, but tonight...

Tonight they could be this instead.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1186 - Great Tree Moon - Saturday the 26th
Myrddin Bridge - Afternoon - Overcast
Amalthea von Kreuz


Thea pursed her lips together. They were just in sight of the Myrddin Bridge, and had taken the moment to pause. They were going over the strategy they were going to use in order to retake it. She could see a few tents below; it appeared that whoever held the bridge had made a point to establish at least troops to keep it. There were quite a few of them, easily moreso than the ones Thea's group currently had, however; if they did this right, they could take Myrddin back.

In doing so, it would provide a great advantage, one they desperately needed. She turned Sunny back towards where they were currently going over the plan. She dismounted and made her way to stand next to Vridel, glancing up at him for just a moment before turning her attention towards Mercer and Professor.

Vridel set a hand gently on her head, letting it linger for a few seconds before dropping it away. Like her, though, his attention was largely devoted to the discussion.

“You all know the plan, right?" Mercer spoke, causing a few of them to nod their heads, including Thea. “Good. This is just a reminder; Thea and Vi, you'll be taking Deirdre and Sofia and approaching the camp from the right side. Devon and Reynard, you two need to get their attention. You're the best infiltration we have to take them by surprise. I want Devon to regroup with Teach's group after you've captured their attention."

“Rey, you do what you do best. Keep them confused while Sor and I will take the skies. Teach, Sen, and Sylvi, you two take the left flank while Al keeps their attention at the middle," Mercer glanced the group over, eyes somewhat hardened as he regarded everyone. He hadn't changed much in that aspect, Thea supposed. He still cared enough to want to keep them safe, but at this point, everyone knew the dangers of these battles. Everyone was at risk of being harmed, or worse, dying. They just had to trust each other enough to have each other's backs.

And to count on each other.

"Now that I've gotten a look at what we're dealing with," Reynard said, frowning slightly beneath the fabric covering his nose and mouth, "I think I'm going to free their horses and such. They've got them penned, and this far out the pens are pretty makeshift. So be aware that there are likely to be extra horses and fliers about. I think the chaos will be to our advantage, especially now that you can plan for it, and denying the reserves their mounts shouldn't hurt."

Vridel nodded. “We'll look for ways to throw them off like that too. I think it'll help if we can create as much chaos for them as possible."

Mercer nodded his head. “The more chaos the better. We'll be able to pick off their numbers in the confusion which will help level the playing field, a bit," he stated, his eyes sweeping over the group. “Be on the lookout for the one leading them. We don't know who they are or what they're capable of," he seemed to add. Thea supposed he had a point. It would have been beneficial if Bergliez had been able to come through on his part of the deal. If he'd been able to get them information, this might have been easier. But they didn't have time for what ifs. They had a battle to fight, now, and she'd be damned if she wasn't going to try her hardest for this. They had a lot riding on this recapture of Myrddin Bridge, after all.

“If everyone is ready to march, we'd better do it now before we lose the element of surprise," he stated, seemingly dismissing them. Thea glanced towards Vridel and reached over to squeeze his hand.

“Let's go show them what we're made of," she stated as she smiled up at him. She moved, then, to pat Sunny's neck, motioning the horse to leave. She couldn't risk being seen on the horse, nor being heard. It would be easier for the fliers of the group, but a cavalry would likely be noticed before any of them were able to carry out their plans. They needed to wait, however, for Reynard and Devon to start the chaos. For the first time in years, Thea felt nervous. She wasn't entirely sure why, but she was.

She pulled Amyr in front of her, and gripped the hilt tightly.

Vridel led them into position, breaking their group and the soldiers following them off from Alaric's central group. They had to be careful not to be spotted, but they couldn't afford to still be standing around in place when the chaos began, either. Fortunately, Vridel himself had part of the solution, laying down a mass silence spell that should at least muffle most of the sounds of their passage. It was still better not to take the horses—he hadn't quite figured out how to get rid of all noise, after all. But this combined with everyone's efforts to be quiet seemed to be more than enough.

They skirted just beneath the crest of a hill to prevent themselves from being seen. Even as they arrived, though, a cry of alarm went up from the other side. There were no words to it, only a shout, and soon another followed from another direction.

“Supplies! The supply tents are on fire!"

A few of the soldiers made to move, but Vridel's outstretched hand halted them. “They don't know they're under attack yet," he said quietly. “Let's give them enough time to prepare to fight the fire. Then we can go over first, and the Professor's flank can come in from behind." It made sense for them to be the first attackers; their unit had a lot of heavier-armored people in it, like Thea and Sofia, and a lot of heavy-hitting casters, like Deirdre and Vridel.

It was a good strategy, Thea thought. Let them put out the fire, and then be taken by surprise. They wouldn't be able to defend themselves, and had they been anyone else, Thea might have felt bad about it. But they were fighting people who did not value life the same way. They valued... well, Thea wasn't sure, exactly, but she knew they had to die. When the enemy troops seemed occupied enough with the fire, Thea glanced towards Vridel and nodded.

“Now," she murmured loud enough that he could hear her, but not the enemy. She wasn't even sure if they could given the fact that they were preoccupied.

She took the charge, catching the first person by surprise with Amyr. From the way they had glanced at her, they probably thought she was help. She could hear Deirdre behind her with a wind spell, knocking a soldier off their feet as Thea followed up, twirling Amyr enough so that it caught the fallen soldier in the neck. He wouldn't be getting up from that.

She moved on to the next person, ducking to avoid a lance that still managed to nick her cheek. The cut was thin, so she wasn't too worried about it. They had other things to focus on right now, after all.

Vridel, as he so often was in situations like this, was right behind her, slinging magic over her shoulders to thin out the ranks of her opponents before they could ever meet her in melee. He added fire to Deirdre's wind, something that would no doubt only sow more chaos still. As the group of them charged down the hill to crash into the side of the encampment, Reynard must have reached at least a few of the pens, because loose horses were roaming about, spooked by the noise and the fire, no few of them knocking into tent poles, shrill whinnies piercing the air and adding to the raucous shouting.

It was hardly a surprise that the enemy was disoriented, doubly so when the Professor's flank came in from just the opposite direction, though they were too far away yet to make out individual figures, she could see flashes of light and bursts of darkness as various magic went off. An alarm finally sounded, the watchman in the short tower at the gate's entrance falling from it in the next moment with an arrow in his throat.

Overhead, a familiar black pegasus and white wyvern swept by, and tough no doubt the troops behind the gate and on the bridge proper were rallying, it looked like the forward camp would be almost entirely gone before the reinforcements had the chance to arrive.

But maybe that was too optimistic of a thought. Someone was shouting, though from the voice alone Thea couldn't tell if it was someone from their group, or the enemy's. It became apparent, though, when a large group of soldiers descended upon their group, almost circling them. Thea gripped Amyr tightly in her hands as she regrouped with Vridel. It looked like they had been anticipating the attack, as if they knew beforehand that they were going to be engaged in combat.

“We're going to need to change the plan a bit," she muttered once she was close enough to Vridel, blocking an incoming attack before cutting the soldier down. “If we don't fan out, we'll be surrounded and they'll have the upper hand."

Thea didn't have to know much about strategy to know that if they were surrounded, they would all be killed. It was a pincer move, but not quite enough so. They could break through this if they were careful enough and Thea didn't doubt Mercer and the others were coming to the same conclusions themselves.

"Where did they come from?" Sofia wondered, grimacing. There was a cut on her cheek, but she otherwise seemed largely uninjured.

“Over the gate, I expect." Vridel replied. “Sacrificed the forward camp to split us up, then the fliers carried the ground troops over to surround us. We need to meet back up with the others. Their plan only works if they can isolate us from each other."

Sofia nodded. "Then let's punch a hole through their line and meet up with Alaric's people first." They were supposed to be in the middle, roughly, so that meant they'd be closest.

“Well let's get to it, then," Deirdre gritted through her teeth. She had a few cuts on her arms, probably from when she had to defend herself without the use of her spells, but like Sofia, looked relatively unharmed. Thea nodded her head, and pushed forward. If they could get to Goneril in time, then they had a better chance at getting through this.

Deirdre flung a few fire spells mixed with wind spells in order to keep some of the soldiers at bay. The ones with heavy shields, like Sofia's, used them to resist, though. “There he is!" Thea shouted as she glanced towards Goneril's group. It looked like they were on the verge of being surrounded, but Goneril was spearheading a charge. His lance in hand, he managed to catch a soldier in the throat before twisting the lance around and catching another in the shoulder. One of his soldiers, however, managed to finish off the enemy before he continued charging through.

Thea's group reinforced Goneril's though, and managed to push back the first wave that came forward. It would only be a matter of time before they were besieged by another wave, though. “Gloucester leads them," Goneril stated, lips pursed into a fine line as he approached Vridel and Thea's group. “One of the scouts saw the banner for their Crest, but they did not see Matteo. Only Fiona," he continued as if he were explaining the situation.

“Then we need to go for Fiona. If we can get her..." Thea didn't need to finish that statement for them to understand. Defeating Fiona meant a small victory, and they'd be able to retake the bridge that way.

“There's only one problem. She has an altered golem with her that she's using as a sort of guard. We'd never be able to get past it without losing a majority of our forces."

Thea grimaced as she glanced towards Vridel. “We'll need the help of the others to take the golem's attention, then, if we're going to have a chance. You, Professor, and Senka all took one down not too long ago, right? You all can do it again." This, Thea truly believed.

Vridel clicked his tongue against his teeth, squinting down the rest of the field.

"That precise combination isn't going to be possible." The new voice was Reynard's; he seemed to materialize from nowhere at the Duke's elbow. He seemed to have taken a few more hits than most of them: along with a large scrape on his forehead, there was some blood soaking the light leathers on his left side. "Fiona's focusing the majority of her forces on that wing. I think she's wary of the Professor. Mercer and Sorcha have gone to reinforce them—I think they'll be fine, if we can handle this lot and that."

He pointed with one of the knives in his hands even as the lurching silhouette of the golem detached itself from the shadow of the bridge. It was nearly as tall as the gate; each step it took seemed to reverberate in the ground. The few horses remaining about the camp spooked and fled at top speed, heedless of what or whom they crashed through, mindless with fear. It trampled tents and corpses alike beneath it, its metal carapace the same dull grey as the sky overhead. Through small gaps in the iron shell, Thea could see a pulsing blue light, evidence of some great roaring engine inside.

“The average soldier's got nothing on that," Vridel said grimly. “It's going to have to be the six of us."

“We shouldn't waste time, then. We need to head out and meet it so it doesn't get any further," Alaric stated, glancing towards Vridel and then Reynard. His eyes seemed to soften for a second before he glanced out towards the golem that was still coming their way.

“We can't just take it head on, though. We'd be going straight to our deaths that way," Thea stated. They didn't have much time to strategize, either. Taking in a deep breath, she glanced towards Sofia and Deirdre. “Sofia, Deirdre and I will cover from its left side. You three take its right. If we can keep it from becoming centralized on either group, we might have a chance at taking it down."

“It's risky, though," Deirdre stated, her brows furrowing.

“Risky, but we don't have much of a choice, either. We need to destroy that thing, one way or another," Alaric stated as he gripped his lance tightly. “Shall we?" he stated, pointing towards the golem. Thea nodded her head and glanced in Vridel's direction.

“Be careful," she stated reaching out to touch his forearm before they took off towards the golem.

“And you," he murmured, touching her with a healing spell as she pulled her arm away.

Alaric's group was the faster one by a fair margin, and it was they who reached the golem first. Vridel cycled through various types of magic, no doubt trying to figure out what, if anything, would bring it down. Reynard didn't seem to attack right away, instead circling the thing as if studying it, knives in his hands but for the moment making no attempt to hack at the creature's great armored legs. It was unlikely they'd have done much of anything anyway.

Deirdre seemed to be doing the same thing as Vridel, throwing spell after another, but nothing really seemed to be affecting it. It took a swing at Alaric, but he was much faster than it, dodging out of the way, and swinging his lance towards its arm. It merely retracted its arm, and tried again. Thea pursed her lips together as she rolled out of the way of one of its attacks, throwing Amyr into the crook by its elbow. The axe bounced off like it was just a mere practice axe, and she recalled it to her.

“Nothing seems to be working," Deirdre gritted through her teeth. Thea furrowed her brows, but she couldn't disagree. They needed to be able to get underneath its armor if they wanted to defeat it, somehow.

“Rey," Thea called out to him. He had a better chance of at least getting on the creature. If he could, then they could possibly distract it long enough so he could, at least, peel off one of the armored plates around its chest, or even its back. Wherever that would lend them the advantage. Thea could hear the others in the distance, engaging with their enemies. No doubt Fiona was likely taking the field where the others were.

“Alaric and I are going to make it swing for us. Try and climb it if you can," she stated, nodding in the direction of Alaric who nodded his head as well. She trusted the others to do the same. The focus was to be on them while Reynard did what he could to give them the advantage they needed. Thea swung Amyr for the creature's legs while Alaric used his lance more to jab towards it rather than swing or slice. It was meant to antagonize, if anything.

Vridel and Deirdre switched their focus to cold spells, things that would make it harder for the golem to move, concentrating these at its joints. Sofia took a third vantage behind it, but then dropped to a crouch, hefting her tower shield with both hands until it was on her back like a turtle's shell.

“Reynard!" she called.

He seemed to know what she meant, and stowed his knives, backing up and then exploding forward into a sprint. He jumped at the end of it, and as soon as he hit the shield, Sofia surged upwards beneath him, boosting him as high as she could.

It was just high enough, combined with the force of his own jump. Reynard caught onto one of the golem's legs near the top, ascending its torso quickly. He must have seen something earlier that got his attention, because he was clearly climbing with purpose. The golem swayed, thrashing in what was almost slow motion, too large to be any quicker. Its great lurches occasionally forced Reynard to pause; a have to the right left him hanging on with one hand, legs scrabbling frantically to regain purchase. He managed it, somehow, and propelled himself up towards its shoulder.

Drawing a knife, he slammed it hard into what seemed to be some kind of joint, the blade heating to a cherry red color with some kind of spell Thea didn't know. Sidling over the thing's shoulders in a crouch, he peeled the top of the armored panel off like peeling the skin from a fruit. At some point, the knife hit an obstacle and Reynard lost his grip on it, fitting his hands inside the new gap and jumping down to pull with his bodyweight.

With a great screeching sound that stung their ears, the panel tore away, slowing Reynard's descent just enough that he stopped abruptly about ten feet from the earth, hanging by the bent-back panel, still attached along the bottom seam. It didn't matter though—he'd exposed a large swath of its core along its back-left side—a large enough target for all of them to hit.

Vridel struck first, hurling a bright spell right for the spot. On impact, the golem stiffened and swung towards him, Reynard just barely jumping clear. The move exposed the weak spot to Thea and Alaric.

They wasted no time.

They couldn't afford to.

Thea hurled Amyr for the spot with as much force as she possibly could, more than she'd ever used before, as Alaric did the same with his lance. Their weapons landed true, and immediately, Thea called Amyr as quickly as she could, willing her legs to go as fast as they could so she could get one last throw into it. With the momentum used, the second hit shattered the core, stilling the golem. Its eyes no longer glowed, nor did it make any attempt to move, after.

Thea tried to catch her breath, her shoulders heaving slightly as she turned towards her group. “Let's go catch up with Professor's group," she stated. In the distance, she could hear the fighting. It seemed, however, that someone had the upper hand. Mercer could be heard, just barely, giving an order. Deirdre glanced towards Sofia and the others, before nodding her head.

It was clear, however, when they did approach Professor's group, Fiona was on the ground, dead, and everyone seemed to be wearing exhausted smiles. They'd won their battle to take the bridge back, and Thea felt a wave of relief wash over her. Taking in a deep, slow breath, she turned towards the group and smiled. Some of them were covered in battle wounds, some more profound than others, but she and Vridel could take care of some of the healing until the others could be attended to, properly.

“It looks like we did it."

“A battle won does not make a war finished, though. We can breathe easier, now, though, that we have the bridge back. We have the advantage, and that's what we really needed the most," Mercer spoke, a great burdern being lifted from his shoulders, it seemed. At least that's the way it appeared when he finally slumped his shoulders, losing all tension in side of them.

Sorcha wiped a trickle of blood away from her nose; it looked to have been broken in the fight, and her face was smeared with crimson, but she seemed to be in reasonably good health otherwise. The Professor's left arm was limp at his side, oozing blood into a growing puddle on the ground, and Devon was limping, but... they were alive. One more obstacle surmounted. Somehow.

"You all owe me... so many drinks." Grimacing, Reynard popped his own arm back into its socket; it seemed to have been wrenched out when he fell.

“We owe you more than that, Rey," Alaric stated, smiling somewhat as he shook his head. Thea managed a small smile on her face, then.

They were all alive, and that's what mattered.

“Alright, who wants to be healed first?!" because she could do that much with her Crest activated.

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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#, as written by Aethyia


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I.Y. 1186 - Harpstring Moon - Thursday the 1st
The Great Bridge of Myrddin - Afternoon - Sunny
Cyril Eisner


Cyril entered the command tent last of its necessary occupants. His arm had needed a bit of extra work over the last couple of days; Fiona Gloucester's axe had done a number on several of his muscles and ligaments, even, according to Vridel, carving a chunk out of his bone. Apparently he was lucky he had god-enhanced healing capacities or even the Emperor would have been hard-put to fix that over any period of time.

He tried not to take this new information as a reason to be more reckless with himself. Not after he'd talked about half of his former students out of some similar piece of stupidity. Even if he did feel that, next to them, his life was rather... well, expendable, to be completely honest. Cyril understood, of course, that he was an asset, that he had useful advice to give and was good on the field, but he was neither a noble nor the future leader of one of these shattered nations, nor a particularly-capable spy or any of that sort of thing.

He was, basically, what he'd always been: a mercenary.

Taking his seat to Mercer's left, he stretched his legs out under the table, waiting for the others to settle. Once they had, he kicked things off.

“Reynard's managed to confirm that the army at Gronder Field is being led by Gloucester himself. It also contains the biggest and most elite part of his force. We don't have an easy fight ahead of us."

“I had a feeling it was him," Mercer grumbled slightly, running a hand through his hair. “Then we'll just need to be a little more careful. Gloucester may be a man of pride, but even I know he's a capable general."

“Even in our Academy days, he was a skilled soldier. I may have won the Battle of Eagle and Lion, but it was with his strategies that we were able to do so," Alaric stated, brows furrowed deeply as he glanced in Mercer's direction. Mercer nodded his head as if to agree, and sighed softly.

“We know Fiona had a golem with her. Was Reynard able to see if Gloucester has anything of that sort with him? Beasts, golems, otherwise?" Mercer asked. “And has anyone heard at all from Bergliez?"

“Yes, yes, and no, in that order," Vridel said grimly. Reaching up, he pinched the bridge of his nose between his forefinger and thumb, wincing slightly at Cyril knew not what. Perhaps he was in pain? “He's got at least one of everything. I think mostly beasts, but there's a golem. A slightly smaller one than Fiona had but the report says it's much faster, too, which is... worrying, to say the least."

He wasn't wrong. Armored as they were, the only real disadvantage the golems had had so far was that they were slow.

Sorcha frowned, brows furrowed and posture tense. “Was it made of black metal? The golem?"

Vridel shook his head. “Just grey."

She eased a little and nodded. “The upside is the plating on those is thinner. A well-aimed Relic should be able to damage it and open up the core like usual."

“Well, between all of us, there's at least four relics. Teach, Sor's, mine, and Sen's," Mercer spoke, sighing softly.

“Five, Mercer. You forgot the relic of House Goneril: Freikugel," Alaric spoke calmly. Mercer snorted softly, though, and shook his head.

“No, I didn't forget, you just don't use it, Al. Last time you said, and I quote "I don't use axes." Please tell me what's changed?" Mercer asked, quirking a brow in Alaric's direction. The Duke merely shrugged his shoulders.

“If a relic is the difference between saving a life and losing one, well, you can see which I would choose," he responded, eyes hardening for a second before they smoothed out. Mercer slumped his shoulders a bit, though, some tension easing out of them it seemed before he turned back towards Vridel.

“Do we know where he's headed? I'd assume he'd come to try and take back the Myrddin Bridge, but that's not going to happen. If we knew where he was, we could go and meet him out on the field."

“Why don't we lure him to Gronder?" Alaric stated, glancing towards Mercer.

“He's likely to have to be there at some point anyway," Cyril pointed out. “Reynard says that's where the main body of his army is, and he's running out of room in Leicester otherwise. I say we push him into a corner." Reaching over to the map spread in front of them, he pushed the token that indicated their forces southward, past the bridge and down into the part of the Alliance bordering the Empire. “The only useful strategic point left is the fortress at Gronder, and I'm willing to bet Volkhard won't just let him flee into Adrestia if we chase him this far south."

Vridel shrugged. “Well he might, but he'd probably kill him," he said simply. “He doesn't have much patience for useless people. Never has. He'd give Gloucester the tools he believes are necessary to succeed, but if I know my uncle, he's made it abundantly clear that he better succeed."

“Either way, he has to die," Mercer spoke, though he didn't seem to have any remorse for saying it. “If we're going to keep our advantage, we should probably leave sooner rather than later. It won't give him the time to come up with a counter attack, and he won't be able to come up with a decent plan to take Myrddin Bridge, either."

“He might already, Mercer. You know his mind and how it works," Alaric interjected. Mercer shook his head, though.

“I do. That's why when news reaches him of Fiona's death, he's going to be grief stricken. She was his sister and they were somewhat close. He won't be able to think properly, unless their relationship was strained in the last five years. I highly doubt it, but it's something we can use to our advantage. The only thing is, we'll need to make sure everyone is prepared to take on his army as well. None of the soldiers are exactly equipped to deal with beasts or golems. We don't exactly have the luxury of training them, either, but... if we can at least give them a heads up on what they're dealing with."

Mercer leaned back into his chair, though, and rubbed at his temples.

Next to him, Sorcha sighed quietly. Cyril saw her reach for him, as if to put a hand on his shoulder, but her touch fell away a moment later, and she shook her head faintly. “At this point they've all at least seen what they might be dealing with. We can make sure everyone's equipped with functional ranged weapons, and advise them to spread out upon encountering the creatures. At the very least, that will give them the best chance of surviving until some of us can do something about it."

“We also can't ignore the possibility that they'll be deployed separately, or at least more intelligently." He nodded to Sorcha; the battlefield on which she was the enemy commander had in fact been the only one he thought made ideal use of the fact that she had a golem at her disposal as well as human soldiers. But if Gloucester was as sharp as Mercer and Alaric believed him to be, then there was good reason to suppose he'd maximize his resources in a similar way, and he had more of them. “I think our strategy at Gronder should involve keeping ourselves detached from the main body of the troops, rather than embedded with them. Let the lieutenants and captains you've trained command the soldiers—those of us who are capable are going to need to stay mobile, and be responsive to any unexpected changes. I think once Gloucester knows we're coming for him, he will plan around Gronder as the site of battle, and our march will give him plenty of time to set things up however he wants them."

“That's not a bad call," Mercer stated as he straightened himself out in his chair. “It's a good thing three of us are fliers. We'd be able to move a little easier in the direction we're needed. We can also pick up and drop off, too, those who we're closest to if need be," he continued, taking in a deep breath.

“Those on mounts will also be able to move freely, but they won't have the aerial advantage. We'll just need to keep an eye out on Gloucester and try our best to anticipate his moves. In the mean time, everyone should get a little bit of rest in before we depart. This battle with Gloucester is going to test a lot of our endurance and willpower. We'll need every bit of it if we intend to succeed."

Cyril figured he'd look into borrowing a wyvern from the garrison here, just to round out the number of fliers and make that kind of transport easier, but nodded without mentioning it as yet.

Vridel and Sorcha nodded, and the meeting drew to a close.

“Almost there," Cyril murmured, mostly to himself. If they took Gronder, the Alliance would once again be a free and independent country in its totality, the border with the Empire reestablished. He didn't imagine Volkhard would have nothing to say about that, but a rout of Gloucester's forces would likely mean he wouldn't be able to do much until something changed in Faerghus, and freed up more troops to send across. And the plan was to thwart precisely that as well.

If they could do it, the first hurdle would be cleared.

But that was a pretty big if.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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I.Y. 1186 - Harpstring Moon - Monday the 5th
The Great Bridge of Myrddin - Afternoon - Cloudy
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer rolled out his shoulders, letting out a satisfied breath of air as he felt them pop. He'd been going at Failnaught almost nonstop. Training with a relic was slightly different than training with a regular bow. The weight was completely different, and he hadn't used it since they'd left to Duscur. That was a few months ago, now. Even the slightest break in using a relic like that was going to be a bit strenuous. He didn't mind the extra work, really, but he was trying to take his mind off of the strange letter he'd received. At first, he thought it was Bergliez finally contacting them, however; the contents of it all were... strange.

He couldn't even make sense of it, really. He knew it was a threat, and it was calling him out specifically. He knew by the contents alone that it was Gloucester. But what did he hope to acheive with that letter? For all intents and purposes, Mercer had appeared to be an idiot in his youth. That was to throw his enemies off, though. There were few people he trusted, back then, to know who he really was, but now... he tucked the letter away in his pocket and shook his head. He had called a few of his friends to meet him in the command tent so he could show them the letter, so that they would know that Gloucester was, at the very least, planning something.

He wasn't going to keep things from his friends; not anymore. He needed them as much as they needed him, possibly more. With that in mind, he opened the flap to the tent, and made his way towards the table. Those he'd asked to meet him, hadn't arrived, yet, so he took the opportunity to slump into his chair, arms spread out as he sat half-way up in proper posture.

Teach and Vridel arrived together—Reynard was out on a scouting mission and probably wouldn't be back for another day or so. They both took seats across from him, Vridel arching a white eyebrow in query. “You look like you've seen better days. Something we can help with, or is this a 'you complain, we listen' kind of problem?"

“Ha, I forgot those things actually happen," Mercer replied smoothly, as he chuckled. He didn't bother sitting up properly in front of them. They were all tired, in a sense, and he knew they didn't give a damn about whether or not he sat properly. “And I think it might be something you can help with," he started, producing the letter from his pocket, and setting it down on the table. He pushed it towards Teach and Vridel, though, and sighed.

“It's from Gloucester. I know it is, even if it's not signed," he began, running a hand through his hair. “I'm not stupid enough to fall for it, but he's trying to make it seem like he wants a one-on-one duel with me. A way of ending this side of the war, for good." Mercer didn't exactly know what Gloucester was planning, but he wasn't going to leave that to chance. He couldn't risk it.

“What the fuck?" Vridel's tone was flat; he read over the letter with a look of vague incredulity, but clearly he was making all the same inferences Mercer had. Sighing heavily, he handed the thing off to Teach and grimaced. “Uh, stop me if he's always been like this but does he sound a little... unhinged, to you as well?"

Mercer nodded his head. “Fun little history lesson; Gloucester wasn't always like that. He was more level-headed, more rational. This makes it seem like he's lost all... sense of what's around him. It's like he's living in some weird fantasy of his own making, but..." Mercer couldn't be exactly sure. Gloucester had been a bit of a philanderer in his youth, and almost five years ago, but this was a different Gloucester. Had the roundtable conference five years ago, really unhinged him that much?

“All the more reason to be careful, I suppose. It might be that we have to change our initial strategy," though that wouldn't be too likely. They knew what they were up against, after all.

“It sounds from the tone of this as though he'll very much target you should you take the field against him," Teach observed, folding the letter along its original creases and handing it back to Mercer. “I don't really like the idea of giving him what he wants. I'd ask if you want to sit this one out, but I already know what the answer is." He smiled, then, only slightly. One of those subtle expressions that had always characterized him.

“Still. You should be careful. If he's really unstable and after you... it's hard to know what lengths he'll go to."

“Exactly," Mercer couldn't have agreed more, honestly. “I'm not as stupid as I look, I promise," he grinned slightly, flashing teeth as he did so. “After everything we've all been through," people dying, and then coming back to life. Finding people who were thought dead... it was a lot, Mercer thought. “I'm glad I have all of you back. Every. Single. One of you," he stated, glancing between Teach and Vridel.

He didn't know how much time Vi had left, but he was still glad for the man's companionship. It was going to suck when Vi finally did die, but... Mercer would deal with it when the time came. Instead, he sighed softly, and ran a hand through his hair. “I think we could use that to our advantage, though. If Gloucester is as unhinged as he's making himself out to be, then it would mean that he won't be thinking properly when we finally meet him on Gronder." Of course, there was always the possibility that it was the complete opposite.

Maybe Gloucester wanted them to think he was unhinged. Make them think they had a chance against him during the battle, and turn the battle around. Mercer wasn't going to let that happen, so he was going to be careful, regardless of the situation.

“It'd be nice, wouldn't it?" the wry tone of Vridel's voice indicated some irony. “If he was so off the rails that his strategy went right out the window? Still... I've never left anything to luck, and something tells me it'd be a bad idea to start now."

Teach nodded slightly. “I'm sure we'll get a better idea as we make the march. The condition of the villages between here and there is bound to tell us something, at least."

Mercer nodded his head. He hoped most of the villages would be unaffected, however; that was a kind of naive hope he couldn't afford. “Always listen to your first instinct; never the wrong one in my experience," he replied to Vi's earlier statement. “Hm, and I agree with Teach. The villages will tell us what we're dealing with, soon enough. I knew I could always count on your counsel," he stated, grinning just light enough in Vi and Teach's direction.

“I'll need it, really. Helps keep me grounded and all," he added.

“Right, because on your own you're just ridiculous," Vi replied with a roll of his eyes. “Can't count on you to be reasonable to save our lives. Literally."

Teach snorted softly. “Anyway, thanks for keeping us updated. Have you got more to do or would you like to go have a drink? I hear a few of the local taverns have opened up again after the battle." There was, in fact, a small village not far from the Myrddin garrison, which had been liberated in their recent attack.

Mercer laughed at Vi's statement, and nodded his head. “Sure, let's go have some drinks for old time sakes. Maybe we'll even get Teach drunk this time. If I recall, correctly, it was pretty hard to do the first time around." Mercer grinned in Teach's direction.

“You'll both be unconscious before I'm drunk."

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. 1186 - Harpstring Moon - Friday the 16th
Alliance Territory - Early Evening - Windy
Senka Rinaldi


Senka sighed softly, closing her eyes to enjoy the cool breeze that passed through. They were still several days out from Gronder, but they had at least liberated one village from Empire occupation. It was there that Danae and Reynard were finally able to make contact with Bergliez. He'd sent them a message, telling them that he had important information, but had to tell them in person. The skeptical part of Senka didn't quite believe it, but the more rational side of her believed him. They were supposed to meet him in the next village they passed. Sauin Village, if she remembered correctly.

They were close by, however; when Senka opened her eyes, she could see a small line of smoke coming from over the trees. She pursed her lips together, a feeling of dread settling over her. Perhaps they were making a bonfire of sorts? Shaking her head softly, she nudged Liev a little faster to catch up with Mercer and the others at the front. When she arrived, she could see Mercer's lips pursed into a fine line. He wasn't on Sir today, and instead, was mounted on a horse. Something about letting Sir stretch his wings before the upcoming battle. He glanced in her direction, though.

“We don't know what we'll be walking into. It's best if everyone is prepared for anything," he stated, causing Senka to nod her head. “Did any of the scouts report anything about Sauin being occupied or targeted?" he asked. Senka shook her head, though.

“None. The only information that they received was that Bergliez was supposed to be meeting us there," she replied. Mercer sighed heavily.

“What about you, Rey? Anything?" he asked. Senka understood, really. Reynard was the best scout they had. He would have likely found something out that the others might have missed.

Reynard's mouth pulled down into a frown. "Nothing since the initial message," he said simply. "We avoided sending scouts too far ahead for fear that Bergliez was being watched. We didn't want to spook the imperials into going after him if they spotted us, but it means we've got next to no idea what's going on down that way."

Vridel, also mounted for travel, shook his head faintly. “Then I suggest we get down there, quick and careful," he said. “Because I don't think that's recreational fire."

Mercer nodded his head, and urged his horse forward. Senka followed behind. She was tempted to have Liev take to the air, but that was a risk they couldn't afford. If she were spotted, she'd give away their position, and that was the last thing she wanted to do.

They were able to reach the village within a few minutes, and Senka's eyes widened. It was clear from the rubble and debris strewn about that something had happened here. Something on the level of, perhaps, a demonic beast rampaging or even one of the golems. She couldn't be too sure. To her side, she could hear Thea take in a sharp breath, a soft gasp if anything, as Senka focused at the scene in front of her. There were people who were struggling to pull dead bodies from the rubble, and others were injured greatly.

“Have the healers do what they can for those that are injured," Mercer stated, causing one of the soldiers to nod their head and head towards the back. His expression was grim as he glanced towards Reynard. “See what you can find out. The rest of us are going to do the same, as well," he stated, sliding off of his horse. Senka followed suit. She could at least treat some of the injured, too, while Mercer and the others asked around.

Grim-faced, Sorcha took to the air, probably to look quickly for any other survivors in need of assistance. Ordinarily, the black-armored figure on the dark-winged pegasus might have looked ominous herself, but in a context like this, any possible chance of help was probably welcome. Reynard disappeared in the way he did, and the others fanned out to assist, either using magic to help put out fires or helping to move pieces of rubble away.

The town was in utter ruins, more of its residents dead than alive, it seemed. Those few that did remain were in poor shape, many huddled together with expressions of dull shock on their dirt-streaked faces.

A sharp shot drew much of the attention not far from where Senka was. There, a small child was scrabbling away from Vridel, who'd leaned down to help her up, it seemed. “N-no! Stay away! Go away!" Tears streamed down her face, carving swaths through soot and ash.

Vridel froze, eyes wide, then took a large step back. “I'm not going to—"

Whatever reassurance he was trying to give was cut off by another shrill scream; the girl covered her ears and turned her face away, cowering as though she expected him to strike her down at any moment.

Senka made her way towards the young girl about the same time as Thea did. She had been closer, though, and was already kneeling down towards the girl, holding out a hand towards her. “Hey, it's alright. We're here to help you. He's not going to hurt you, alright?" Thea spoke softly. Before she could say anything further, though, another villager appeared, and pulled the young girl into his arms. He was staring wide-eyed in Vridel's direction, though, as if he were seeing a ghost of some sort.

“You've done enough damage! Go away!" the man shouted as he held the young girl closer to him.

“Sir, please, we're just trying to help," Thea continued, trying to seem less threatening, it seemed. It wasn't hard for her to do, really, but Senka took a step next to Thea.

“What happened?" Senka decided to ask. It was, perhaps, not a delicate way to approach the situation, and the man and child were rightly fearful. But that didn't explain why they were being hostile towards Vridel.

“That man right there! He destroyed our village! He's a monster!" he shouted, causing some attention to shift towards them. A small group of villagers were surrounding them, too, and were seemingly agreeing with the man.

“That's not true. How could he have done that if we've all been with him this entire time?" Thea stated, but Senka placed a hand on her shoulder. She could tell that the accusation was making her upset, but they needed to be the ones with level heads.

Vridel looked stunned to be accused of as much. “I assure you, I may not be of the Alliance, but I—"

“Liar! I don't know why you came back here, but we know what to expect this time!" A teenage boy hurled a brick for Vridel, who grimaced. Clearly they didn't want to alarm these people, but the brick would probably hit one of the other villagers if he just got out of the way, so he took the hit instead, letting it collide with his armor with a thunk.

“What's going on here?" Cyril approached, and as people tended to do, the gathering crowd parted for him.

Apparently, something about him was recognizable enough, because another villager addressed him. “You've a traitor on your army," the man holding the child snarled, pointing at Vridel. “That's him what led the attack on this village!"

Cyril's eyes narrowed. “How are you so sure?"

“You ever seen white hair like that on a young man?"

Vridel's eyes rounded. “Impossible."

Senka furrowed her brows. It was a known fact that Vridel had signature white hair; no one else had ever had that before, but Senka didn't think it meant anything in particular. Maybe it was a fault in his genetics or something that caused his hair to be white, she couldn't be too sure. She narrowed her eyes at the villagers, though. They were accusing her friend of something she knew he would never do.

“Are you certain it was him? Take a good look, and I mean a good look at him. Are. You. Certain?" Senka was never really the type to be a threatening figure, but these people needed to know that Vridel would never do that. And if their current state of fear was going to make them irrational, then Senka felt she really had no choice but to be a little... well, harsh.

“Of course we are! It was a young man with bone white hair that destroyed our village. How could we forget?!" another villager shouted.

“How could we ever forget those cold blue eyes!" they continued shouting, turning their attention towards Vridel. Senka furrowed her brows. It was a lot of information, but that statement struck out the most. She glanced towards Vridel and stared at him.

“His eyes are violet; they're not blue," she stated, turning her attention back towards the villagers. It was at this point that Mercer appeared, his face pulled into a grimace.

“Bergliez is dead; we just found his body," he muttered softly. He turned his attention towards the villagers though, a handful of them seemed to recognize him. “Vridel is not the one who did this," he stated, trying to help defuse the situation, it seemed. Maybe they would listen to their Leader?

A collective frisson of doubt seemed to go through those assembled at the mention of the wrong eye color, but blue and violet were not so far from one another, and there was some discontent murmuring, too. A few people clearly recognized Mercer, backing off when he added his support into the discussion, but there were still those who held their places, glaring at Vridel with the pain of grieving family members.

He sighed softly, and opened his arms, as if in invitation.

“Then take your satisfaction," he said quietly. “If you really believe I am the one who hurt the ones you love, then I understand. In your position, I would want revenge, too. But make sure you're certain—blood never really washes off."

The words were met with a thick silence. The teenager looked about ready to throw another brick, but the quiet was cut by the child's sobbing, her face buried into the man's shoulder. Vridel's face contorted; he sighed quietly. “She has a cut on her leg," he informed the man. “I understand she doesn't trust me, but please at least let my fiancée look at her." He set a hand on Thea's shoulder and nudged her a little forward.

“If anyone would be willing to let me treat them, I'll be over there." He pointed to a spot just outside the bounds of the village, and took his leave.

Thea looked a little torn when Vridel left, and Senka didn't blame her. She couldn't really blame the villagers, either. They were frightened, and a collective group of frightened people were more dangerous than any of them could be. At least not intentionally. She sighed softly, though, as Thea took a look at the girl's leg, using her magic to heal it. Senka narrowed her eyes slightly at the group, before taking her leave with Mercer. It seemed they were both concerned about Vridel. For different reasons, maybe, but concerned still the same.

When they managed to find Vridel, it was Mercer who spoke first. “Hey, you alright?" he asked, grimacing slightly at his own words, it seemed. “We all know you didn't do it, but they're scared, Vi. They don't mean anything by it. You know how people get when they're scared."

“I do, and it's fine." Vridel shrugged, affecting an unconcerned demeanor, but it was at least partially just that: an affectation.

Senka knew that; she was certain almost everyone did, really. “It's concerning, though, because the only thing linking you to this is the color of your hair. Who else could have white hair and still be considered young?" she asked. She knew Vridel was innocent, but there was another person out there who seemed to either be trying to tarnish Vridel's name, somehow, or trying to make others fearful of Vridel and their group.

Vridel exchanged a significant look with Mercer, then, pursing his lips. “IT is entirely possible that Volkhard has had Those Who Slither in the Dark do to someone else what they did to me," he said simply. “The premature white hair was a side-effect of that, not something that is naturally mine."

Mercer sighed heavily, while Senka furrowed her brows. They did something to Vridel that caused his hair to turn white? Is that why... she pushed the thought from her mind, for now. They had other things to worry about at the moment.

“If that's the case, then someone is running around with two Crests. Who would be stupid enough, though, to get that procedure? Desperate enough?" Mercer questioned. Senka was confused by the information. Two Crests? Procedure? It was... a lot to take in, really.

“What does that mean? Having Two Crests? Is it supposed to make whomever has them, stronger?" she decided to ask. Mercer glanced towards Vridel, though, and pursed his lips together.

“Well it means they have the powers of two Crests, so... yes." Vridel shrugged. “I, for example, have my family's usual Crest, but also a Major Crest of Noa. Handy for spellcasting." He was playing something down, but shook his head without much of a pause.

“As to who would do it... who do we know that's insane and flames-bent on revenge at all costs?" It was obvious he was leading them to a specific answer.

“That idiot," Mercer muttered softly, placing an open palm on his forehead and shaking his head. “Of course he'd do something that stupid. After all, what has he to lose, now? If he can use that advantage, I'm sure he thinks it was worth it," he continued, causing Senka to furrow her brows. She was being left out of something, she knew that, but that wasn't important.

“So... Gloucester has two Crests," she began, sighing softly. “That means he has an advantage as far as power goes, but... why attack the village? Isn't he Leicester, as well? Why attack his own people?" she continued. Mercer heaved his shoulders, and slumped a bit.

“Well, firstly, it's obvious that it was a recent acquisition. He probably wanted to test it out. Given that we found Bergliez dead, it was likely that he set us up, here. Destroy a village, make the people hate Vridel, and in turn, try and give us low morale."

“Might've also found out about Bergliez," Vridel added, rubbing his nose. “Two birds, one stone. Either way, it's worked. We don't have whatever information he wanted to give us, and I don't think anyone's taking this especially well."

Senka supposed he had a point. They didn't have whatever Bergliez was going to take them, and she knew that those who were witnessing the village still burn, still pull its dead from the rubble, wasn't exactly heartening. Even she could feel it tugging at her heart, but she couldn't afford to become emotional about it. A casualty of war, unfortunate as it may be. She pulled in a breath, though, and shook her head.

“This sucks," Mercer stated, shaking his head as well. “We were doing so well, too," he continued, causing Senka to huff lightly.

“While I will agree that it does suck, we're still doing well enough, Mercer. None of us are dead, yet," she stated, narrowing her eyes softly in his direction. “Just because we hit a bit of a snag, doesn't mean we're not doing well. We're still here; still trying. That's enough, right?" Mercer huffed slightly.

“Well, there's no point in really saying otherwise. We'll just have to be more careful from here on out. Even if we don't have the information Bergliez was going to give us, at least we know that Gloucester has two Crests and is potentially more dangerous. I'll take that as a win, I guess. What about you, Vi?"

“I'd feel more like we were winning if the village wasn't on fire," he replied flatly. “But the sooner we put it out and move on, the sooner we can get rid of the root cause."

Mercer snorted softly. “Good point. Sen, care to go give them a hand with that? You might be able to make use of your blizzard and wind spells to help on that," he stated, glancing in her direction. She huffed lightly, and nodded her head.

“You take care of him, then, while I go help them. Thea would be quite upset if you let something happen to her fiancé, even if he's quite capable on his own," she replied, shooting Vridel a small smile. Mercer chuckled lightly.

“Yeah, sure thing. I'll take care of his highness," Mercer replied, arching a brow at Vridel.

“Oh good. A babysitter."

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. 1186 - Harpstring Moon - Monday the 26th
Gronder Field - Morning - Overcast
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer felt Sir nudge his back a little. He placed a hand on the wyvern's snout, pushing him gently as he surveyed the field in front of him. It was hard to believe that they were all here almost five years ago for very different reasons. It was a house battle, and the Blue Lions had taken the win. He hadn't been upset at the loss. He kind of expected to lose that battle since he wasn't particularly trying. That he got as far as he did was another matter though.

But there was no time for reminiscing. They were all here for a very different reason. One that was going to decide whether or not they would succeed in changing the world, or perishing alongside it. Mercer had no intentions of dying, but... he couldn't exactly predict the future, or anyone's fate. He could only go into the battle with a clear head, and try not to get himself killed. And to also keep the others alive. He turned his attention towards the group, a wry smile crossing his lips. They were wearing such somber expressions, but he couldn't blame them, really.

Even Alaric stood, his signature cloak tied to his back, with a bit of a forlorn expression. It hadn't taken much, honestly, to convince Mercer to bring Alaric along with the front group. He'd expected that Alaric would have taken a particular stance against being left behind, but he pushed the thought out of his mind.

Those that had mounts, were all currently standing beside them. Senka had a hand on Liev's neck, Thea held Sunny's reins in her hand a little tightly, and Sir nudged Mercer once more as he took in a breath. “You all know what you're getting into. Stay safe, protect each other's backs, and... just try to stay alive, alright? We know they have golems, and they have beasts. We need to make sure those who are capable of dealing with them, are doing so. We need to make sure that the main body of the army is at least able to push forward through Gloucester's."

Thea nodded her head and glanced in Vridel's direction, smiling somewhat before she took his hand and squeezed it. Deirdre and Sylvi spared a glance towards each other, but nodded their heads nevertheless.

“Same goes for you, too, Mercer. No running into this like a headless chicken, alright?" Deirdre stated, causing him to huff lightly. He wasn't that reckless, at least not anymore.

Teach had in fact borrowed a wyvern for the battle, due to the need for more air control. Oskar, as he was called, was a rather large creature, but also quite young. He'd been too skittish for his last rider, but in that weird way he had, Teach seemed to be able to keep the animal focused. He rubbed at the scales on Oskar's nose, now, eyes narrowed out at the field.

“Something's off about the formation on the hill," he murmured. “Looks like they've got a few ballistae set up, so watch yourselves getting in close."

Next to Mercer, Sorcha was grim-faced. They'd never found out exactly who had left Gloucester's note to her, but she'd eventually shown it to Mercer. If it troubled her, she'd kept quiet about it, but there was a tension to her now that suggested this battle, at least, worried her. Catching his eye, she half-smiled, the expression still somehow serious.

"They're coming," that was Reynard, riding towards them quickly on the scout-horse he used for quicker reconnaissance. He dismounted while the animal was still in motion, giving it a smack to direct it back to the rear lines. "And there's a lot of them."

Mercer pushed a breath through his nose. “Alright, everyone get in to position. Sor, you and I are taking the skies. We're going to provide aerial support while also looking for Gloucester. Teach, you and Sen keep an eye out as well for any place that you can assist since the two of you have fliers. Vi, Thea, Sofia, and Deir, you take the left flank and keep it reinforced as well as you can. Everyone else," he glanced towards Alaric, Reynard, Devon, and Sylvi.

“You'll provide support to the right flanks. Keep an eye on the hill and stay as far away from those ballistae as you can. If you see any beasts or golems," he paused, pursing his lips together, “do what you can to ensure they don't attack the soldiers. Keep their attention fixed on you so that the others can keep pressing forward."

He would also be providing support for his soldiers, but his main concern was Gloucester. As with any battle, getting to the enemy general was enough to end a battle. And Mercer wouldn be lying if he said this wasn't a little personal. Gloucester had left him a note, and Sorcha. He didn't like the things Gloucester had said about Sorcha, and he wasn't about to let him live for that. He couldn't afford to, especially if Gloucester underwent the same procedure that Those Who Slither performed on Vridel.

“Well... let's get to it, then," Sylvi spoke, causing some of the others to nod their heads. Senka mounted Liev as Thea mounted Sunny. Thea glanced in Vridel's direction, though, and held a hand out towards him.

“You're coming with me until we get further in," she stated, her lips pursed into a fine line. Mercer would have rolled his eyes, but he mounted Sir and nodded his head in Sorcha's direction.

Vridel huffed a little, but didn't argue, accepting the hand and swinging up behind her.

The battle was about to begin in earnest.

Sorcha ran an armored hand through her short hair, nodding slightly and taking up her position on Lady's back. Never one to cower while others were in danger, she urged her mount into the sky first, and that was everyone's signal to move.

Just in time, too, as the front line of Gloucester's army appeared on the horizon in the same moment. The two forces spilled forth onto the field, Mercer's splitting around the hill while several of Gloucester's went right for it, to man the siege weapons. A heavy bolt whistled through the air towards Sorcha, but Lady was far too nimble to be hit by it, and banked to the side, Sorcha sending an arrow down in retaliation.

That was when the first, too-familiar screeches rent the air. Demonic beasts, as expected. Several dark shapes towered just behind the main lines, with a few breaking off at once into the air. Teach shouted something to Sen that Mercer couldn't hear, but the implied meaning was clear enough—they needed to intercept those creatures.

She seemed to understand as she nudged Liev in the direction of the air borne beasts. She held Blutgang tightly, nudging Liev faster, it seemed, before she was engaged with one of the first beasts. It screeched, trying to use its talons to claw at Liev's wings and rip Senka from her perch.

Mercer focused his arrows on the ground troops below. He trusted Sen and Teach to be able to handle the beasts in the air, for now. He knew they were capable, but he didn't know if these beasts would be as much trouble as the ones they'd faced in Duscur. Those had been slightly altered. Knowing Gloucester, though, these beasts were as well. He would use every advantage to his disposal, and Mercer had to counter around it.

Senka released a few dark spells at the beast she was engaged with. They managed to clip its wing, but only served to anger it. It was spewing flames from its mouth, and from the looks of it, it was getting ready to use its flame breath. Senka barely maneuvered Liev out of the way, using a blizzard spell as a buffer, however; another creature took the opportunity to flank her. Its claws gripped at her arm, and Mercer could see that they pierced the flesh there. She didn't scream, and switched Blutgang to her other hand, using it to cut the beast's foot from her arm.

Oskar and Teach got in really close with the next, the large wyvern still smaller by a fair margin than the beast but apparently unconcerned, colliding midair and scrabbling for a hold with his claws, leaving deep gouges in the more birdlike creature. Teach took the opportunity to joust, spearing the creature in the eye with the Arrow, a heavy bolt of electricity lancing along the length of the weapon and no doubt frying the Demonic Beast's brain. Oskar disengaged just in time, and the creature fell heavily to the ground—right on top of one of the enemy ballistae, taking the huge weapon out of the fight with a splitting crack.

Already, they moved to engage the next.

Sorcha focused her fire on the left flank, where the ground-bound beasts seemed to be concentrating their assault. Vi, Thea, Sofi, and Deirdre were doing their best to draw their attention, but there were three of them, and more on the way. Even as an arrow arced in towards one of the bigger ones, its claws rent a massive hole in Sofi's tower shield. From the way it dropped, the claw had done significant damage to the arm underneath, too, and she took a large step backwards, thrusting outwards with her lance, a hard, determined grimace on her face.

Thea seemed to be engaged with a beast of her own, Deirdre doing her best to reinforce Sofia as best as she could. She was flinging fire spells towards the beast that was closest to Sofia. Thea swung Amyr over her head, lodging the axe in the beast's leg. It roared and swiped at her, catching her in the leg as she tried to dodge from it. There was a large gash in the armor, but it didn't seem to have cut too deeply into her leg. She was bleeding, though.

Deirdre managed to catch one of the beasts in the eye, blinding it temporarily for Sofia to get the advantage over it with her lance. Mercer tried to provide support as well, shooting an arrow for one of the beast's eyes. It managed to lodge itself near its eyelid, and it swiped at the arrow to try and dislodge it. Thea took the opportunity it provided her, and with as much strength as she could muster, slid Amyr across the creature's neck. It was apparently enough strength to cut the creature's throat wide open, causing it to fall over.

Thea moved to the next one to help with Vridel's beast, though from the way her shoulder looked, it might have been dislocated from the force she'd used.

Vridel himself was burning the candle at both ends, quite obviously. Both Crests were active, and he was slinging magic so thick and fast, interspersed with darting maneuvers and sword blows, that he'd felled one beast already and was well into the second. Not, apparently, without cost: blood soaked into the ground around him, mostly the beasts', but there was no mistaking the rivulets of it running down Vi's armor, either, and from the end of his nose. He was quickly slowing down, his movements growing heavier as he fought just to stay upright. He'd stopped relying on physical attacks entirely, plunging his blade into the ground and hurling magic with both hands instead, by the time Thea reached him.

Thea seemed to have white magic laced at her finger tips when she reached Vridel, touching his shoulder briefly before she flung herself back into the fray. Mercer could tell that it wasn't enough to heal Vridel completely, but he supposed they would be alright for now. Mercer focused on the next set of ground beasts, doing his best to conserve his arrows as well. He couldn't risk running out before they found Gloucester, but he also couldn't risk the lives of his friends. Grimacing slightly, he urged Sir forward, dodging a couple of arrows that had been aimed for him. He retaliated with arrows of his own, cursing slightly when one arrow found a home in his shoulder.

He pulled it out, and let it fall to the ground. Taking in a deep breath, he continued surveying the ground. He needed to find Gloucester.

“Mercer!" Sorcha's call caught his attention; she pointed to a spot near the edge of the field, where a cluster of archers had raised their bows as one, flaming arrows arcing through the sky. They didn't seem to be aimed at anything in particular, but—

Suddenly, Teach's observation at the hill made perfect sense. Just as the Alliance army had begun to overtake Gloucester's forces for control of it, the burning arrows landed, and all at once the hill was roaring with flames, hungry tongues of fire consuming enemy and ally alike. Thick plumes of smoke rose into the air, obscuring their view of what was occurring beyond.

“Shit," Mercer cursed beneath his breath as he brought Sir to a halt. He could hear the screams of his soldiers as they were being burned to death, and he could see a few of them scrambling to get away from the fire. It was just like Gloucester to sacrifice his troops in order to win a battle. But at what cost? He was losing soldiers, too. Mercer pursed his lips into a fine line, and glanced towards Sorcha.

“We need to get some of the others directed to help out," he stated, glancing in Sorcha's direction. It was just as he said that, three golems broke from the army and made a beeline for the central force of Mercer's army. “Shit," he muttered. He could see Alaric already directing some of his troops away from the golems as they came in. He glanced towards Sylvi, who nodded, and both made their way towards the golems. Mercer didn't like their chances. They'd only ever dealt with one golem, before, and these three were a lot faster.

Alaric swung his axe, Freikugel, around one of the golem's legs, catching it behind the calf area. It didn't seem to faze it at all, and instead, it swung one of its fists in Alaric's direction. Sylvi was there a second later to help block the incoming attack, but it was obvious the strain was a bit much on her. Her legs were shaking as were her arms as Alaric tried to get its attention towards him.

A pair of arrows knocked into the side of the golem's head; one bounced off its armor plating but the other seemed to stick, having found its way into a seam in the creature's construction. Still riding towards it at full tilt, Devon shouldered his bow and drew a sturdy shortsword, swinging at he went past. The clang of impact was audible even to Mercer; it had to have wrenched hard, but Dev only grit his teeth and wheeled around.

“Their armor's weaker!" Sorcha shouted. “Focus on the joints to peel it off!"

It was hard to tell if they'd heard her, but for the moment, they'd contained the creatures, Reynard jumping onto the back of the third, which had tried to break off from its companions and get at the much less-hardy soldiers in the middle of the field.

Sorcha, meanwhile, had rallied a small group of pegasus knights, who were now helping the Leicester soldiers get clear of the burning hill. Gloucester's gambit had hurt, their army more than his, but it hadn't crippled them as he'd probably expected it to.

Mercer winced slightly when he was struck with another arrow, but he ignored it. Instead, he focused his eyes towards the field activating his Crest to help him see better. There was still no sign of Gloucester, which probably meant that he was at the back of his battalion. Alaric and the others, however, seemed to have taken Sorcha's advice, attack the joints of the golems as best as they could until they'd brought one down. They continued their assault on the others, Alaric breaking off to assist Reynard, it seemed.

“Sorcha, we'll need to go a little deeper. Gloucester isn't at the front," he shouted towards her. He nudged Sir forward after that, intent on finding Gloucester. This needed to end. And he had a score to settle with Gloucester once and for all.

She flew right beside him, reaching over to tap him with a bit of white magic, a rueful smile crossing her face for only the briefest moment before it disappeared. She turned her eyes out to the field. “I think... the burning may have had another purpose. He could be setting something up behind the smokescreen. We should be careful." To the left, another flying beast fell from the sky, trailing crimson ribbons of blood behind it. Teach and Sen were holding steady, at least, but not even they'd last forever.

She was right, of course. Gloucester could be using the smokescreen to prepare something for those who went past it, however; they couldn't afford to keep this up, either. Vi and the others felled another of their beasts from the sounds of it, and were moving on to another. From what he could see, they were all injured in one way or another. Thea's arm still looked like it was slightly out of place, Deirdre was limping slightly with large puncture marks in her leg, and even Sylvi looked to be dragging her leg slightly. It could have been from a direct hit from one of the golems, but Mercer couldn't be too sure.

“Stay behind me, then," he stated. She could follow up with an attack if something happened to him, first. He wasn't risking his life; he needed to see what they were up against. If Gloucester was at the back of the army, preparing some sort of ambush, then at least Sorcha would be a little more prepared than he would. It was a risk he was willing to take. Necessary, even.

“If anything happens, you'll know what to expect. Let's put an end to this, alright?" he stated, spurring Sir forward.

She nodded, but her concentration seemed to be elsewhere. She'd shouldered her bow for some reason, brows furrowed in concentration. She followed him into the smoke, though, steering Lady with her legs and murmuring something under her breath.

The moment they cleared the smoke, Mercer understood that Gloucester had predicted them perfectly. The barrage of arrows that flew towards them couldn't possibly be dodged; there were just too many of them over too wide an area, and they were coming in right for him.

“There," Sorcha exhaled, expelling a heavy breath as the first of the arrows neared—

and bounced off of... nothing?

No, some kind of shielding spell. The others followed, ricocheting with rippled of light off the same barrier—Sorcha's barrier. It was mostly transparent, only lighting up when something hit it, allowing him to see through to the other side of the field. There, at the very edge of Gronder, accompanied by what had to be his best snipers, was Gloucester.

And his hair was stark white.

This wasn't going to be easy.

Gloucester had the advantage of being surrounded by troops, however; Mercer was banking on one thing: pride. He was hoping that Gloucester would agree to the duel he'd suggested in his letter not too long ago. He withdrew his sword from its sheath and pointed it in Gloucester's direction.

“Gloucester," he shouted loud enough to be heard. “Here I am. Let's do this if you're still up to it," he continued. To any other person, it might have sounded like Mercer was taunting Gloucester, but he wasn't. He was as serious as he could be. His troops were dying, and he didn't know how much longer his friends could hold out. He was lucky enough to still have stamina to fight Gloucester, however; even Mercer didn't know how that would end.

He could easily see Gloucester's expression lift into a sneer; he remained seated on his horse, tilting his head only slightly to track Mercer and Sorcha's motion through the air. Almost lazily, he held up a hand to stop his men from firing again. Mercer didn't know how long Sorcha's shield could last, but it was certainly useless to fire on them until it was gone, and no doubt the other man had realized the same thing.

The sounds of battle raged around them, but blanketed by smoke it was like they were in their own little pocket of things, somehow isolated from the rest. The cause of this wasn't clear, not until Gloucester shifted his other hand and the plumes thickened, forming something like a dome around them.

“Mercer, we have to descend," Sorcha warned. The dome did seem to be herding them, closing them in and forcing their mounts to the ground unless they wanted to contend with smoke inhalation on top of everything else.

That was fine by Mercer. He urged Sir towards the ground, dismounting once they landed, and held his sword at his side. He stared at Gloucester, his eyes occasionally flickering around at the soldiers that surrounded them. This was a situation where only one of them would live and one of them would die. He gripped his sword a little tighter. Mercer had too much to live for. He wasn't going to allow himself to die here. Not when there were so many other things he needed to do, wanted to do.

“I'm ready when you are, Matteo," Mercer stated, lifting his sword up in a defensive stance. He'd let Gloucester have the first move.

Gloucester's lip curled, but the provocation had the desired effect: he dismounted his warsteed and hefted the bladed staff and shield with which he was equipped. Even through the haze of smoke, light caught on the glimmering silver of his armor and the pale, snow-white of his hair. It was with confidence well across the line into haughtiness that he took up a spot about ten feet from Mercer.

“Mercer," he hissed, and his voice hardly sounded human. Somehow it was almost more akin to the one Maurice had used, or that Kleiman woman before rather than after her transformation. He didn't seem to be in any danger of doing the same, though—the weapon he bore was a Relic, to be sure, but it had his own crest stone on it; another seemed to have located itself on his forehead, not immediately identifiable, but certainly not the one he'd been born with.

“And you brought Sorcha. Convenient. Cornelia wants her back, you know, but I'm inclined to keep her."

“You sure you want to do this?" Sorcha quite ignored him to ask the question of Mercer. “If we fought him together, it'd be easier." She must've picked up on the fact that he intended a duel here.

Mercer ignored Gloucester as well and glanced in Sorcha's direction. It would be easier to fight him together since Mercer knew that two Crests did make someone a bit stronger. Mercer knew he was strong, but he wasn't strong enough to defeat Gloucester on his own. But he also didn't want to drag Sorcha into this. She was strong, he knew, and together, they did have a real chance of defeating Gloucester, but...

“Alright, we do this together," he spoke, turning his attention towards Gloucester. “Sorcha and I will be your opponents, Matteo. Unless, of course, you don't think you can handle the both of us," he stated, almost baiting Gloucester. It was a taunt, after all.

Gloucester snorted. This close, it was obvious that he was not the same man he'd once been. Though there was cunning left in him still, his eyes were wild, fevered in a way they never had been. He flicked his eyes between them and barked a laugh. “If the prize would like to join the fight on her own behalf, so be it. Wouldn't be the first time."

Sorcha's eyes narrowed; she hefted Areadbhar in both hands, giving the heavy lance a spin and stepping up beside Mercer. “I'll keep his shield busy," she offered.

Mercer refrained from a retort to Gloucester. He was trying to bait Mercer by saying things that Mercer would have answered to, however; now was not the time to lose his head. “Keep his shield busy, but don't take any unnecessary risks," he replied. Taking a deep breath, he decided to make the first move, and lunged towards Gloucester, swinging his sword to at least keep him busy with a weapon.

Gloucester went to block, but as promised, Areadbhar was there, interfereing with the lift of his kite shield, and so he was forced to adjust on the fly and block with his sword instead. The hit was hard enough to jar Mercer's arm, sending a reverberation through the blade in his hands. Gloucester stepped hard on the ground, which seemed to be nothing more than a gesture of frustration until the both of them were abruptly slammed by some kind of shockwave, not entirely dissimilar to the one Sorcha produced from her weapon sometimes.

As if she'd been thinking of it, too, she rolled to her feet first, lightning crackling along Areadbhar's length before she swung forward with it, releasing the wave. Gloucester met it in midair with one of his own, and the resulting sound was loud enough to leave their ears ringing. Gritting her teeth, Sorcha lunged again, swinging two-handed for the face of the shield like she was trying to break it in half.

Mercer continued his assault with his sword, coming in behind Sorcha as quickly as he could. With the two of them on the constant offensive, it was bound to put Gloucester on the defensive. And that was what Mercer wanted. Keep him occupied enough that he couldn't get the full effect of his two Crests. Failnaught would not provide any support for him here, and he almost cursed his Relic for being a bow.

The duel seemed to go on for hours, though in reality, it had only been at least an hour. Mercer felt something in his wrist was sprained from the force he'd exerted trying to get Gloucester to drop his guard. If he could only get his guard down for just a second, that was all he needed. Sorcha kept Gloucester's shield busy until she was finally able to break it. Not in half, fully, but enough so that it was cracked.

Mercer gritted his teeth together, hearing something pop out of place as he brought his sword down on Gloucester. His wrist was broken, now, he could feel it. The pain was enough to cause him to pause momentarily in his assault, which seemed to give Gloucester the chance to switch to the offensive. With every attack he blocked, he could feel his wrists ache. They wanted to buckle under the strain of the pain, but Mercer willed them not to. Instead, he ducked his head to avoid Gloucester's weapon from taking it. It may have been a staff, but Mercer knew that it was still sharp.

Mercer grimaced once more as he held up his sword to block an attack from Gloucester. If they could get Gloucester's weapon away from him, it might prove to be the advantage they needed. So when Gloucester went to attack once more, Mercer allowed the weapon to pierce his left shoulder, and brought his right hand to connect with Gloucester's face.

“Sorcha, now!" he shouted, hoping she would know what to do. The weapon was, after all, stuck in his shoulder bone.

Like they'd practiced it, she brought Areadbhar down in a low sweep, pulling Gloucester's legs out from underneath him and stabbing downwards, hard, into the less-protected portion of his abdomen beneath his halfplate. The lance went right through him, impaling him to the ground, but she abandoned it immediately, concern scrawled so clearly across her features it was as though it were five years ago and she'd never forgotten anything she felt at all.

“You idiot!" she cried, turning towards him with glowing hands only for her left knee to buckle. She'd taken a hard shield bash to it earlier in addition to several major body-blows, and paid for them now, toppling over and just barely catching herself on her hands before she could smash facefirst into the dirt. Coughing, she brought up blood, and groaned softly, red dripping to the ground from between her lips. “Dammit."

Mercer grimaced slightly as he pulled Thrysus from his shoulder, throwing the Relic to the ground as he staggered towards Gloucester. He pulled his sword up, and stabbed downward into his throat, ensuring that he would not get up again. Leaving his blade behind, he made his way towards Sorcha and fell to his knees, holding a hand on her back.

“Hey, now, this idiot just won us the war," he spoke softly. “Well, technically you did since it was Areadbhar that's sticking out of Gloucester's gut, there. So that makes you an idiot, too," he huffed lightly before falling onto his back.

Fuck, I hurt was the only thought that passed his mind as he glanced up at the sky. Some of the smoke was clearing and he could see parts of the blue in the sky.

It seemed clearer somehow.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


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I.Y. 1186 - Garland Moon - Monday the 2nd
Great Bridge of Myrddin - Evening - Clear
Cyril Eisner


It had been three whole days before the army was in any shape to march.

The battle with Gloucester had been successful, but ultimately costly. Fully a third of their ground troops had been killed, and another half of what was left were injured in some capacity. Fortunately, the majority of those who'd survived were seen to relatively quickly, and were at least mobile again, though for some, the road to anything like a full recovery would be... considerably longer.

As for himself... he felt almost guilty, somehow. With or without the assistance of magic, his wounds seemed to simply close on their own, his bleeding to stem and his flesh to knit and his bruises to pale and his bones to mend. Not immediately, of course, but almost as though a constant stream of healing magic were coursing through his system. It had begun as a trickle, the kind of thing that helped him recover from his near-death within a few months. It was steadier now, though, and while he'd started off in better shape than a lot of the others, he was now completely fine.

Lifting the flap into the infirmary tent, he stepped carefully in, steaming bowls of soup lined up on the large tray in his other hand. “Dinner's here," he announced. “If you can walk feel free to come and get it; otherwise I can bring it to you."

Devon, Vridel, Mercer, Thea, Deirdre, and Sofia were among the walkers, though the young Emperor especially looked more dead than alive. Sort of understandable, when you had to contribute to the healing effort along with being healed.

Sorcha's knee was still broken, so he walked hers over to her. Reynard had apparently nearly had a leg torn off by one of the golems when it got hold of him; the whole thing was in a splint, so he wasn't up and about yet, either. Both were fine sitting up, though, which not everyone had been as little as a couple of days ago, so Cyril would count that a good thing.

Sylvi's hip had been dislocated from where one of the golems had managed to hit her, but luckily it wasn't shattered. It still needed a few days to heal properly before she'd be able to walk again, but she didn't seem to mind. She was smiling, if anything, as she waved towards Cyril. Senka had a broken arm and leg, mostly from when she'd ran Liev into the side of one of the aerial beasts. She was healing rather quickly, perhaps aided by her own healing magic. She tended to those who were in reach, of course, but she didn't really move anywhere.

Mercer had two broken wrists so it seemed he was going to have a bit of trouble eating his food. He walked over towards Cyril and Sorcha. “Hey Teach, put mine with Sor's. I want her to spoon feed me," he stated, pulling up a seat next to Sorcha. Deirdre snickered but rolled her eyes at him.

“You leave Sorcha alone, and let her eat her food, jerk. Have someone else spoon feed you, or get a straw and drink it. It's soup," Deirdre stated as she shook her head.

“But it's not quite as fun, now is it? You'd want Sofi to spoon feed you if you couldn't hold up a spoon, wouldn't you?" he retorted. Deirdre rolled her eyes harshly and proceeded to ignore Mercer. Sylvi and Senka both chuckled as Thea joined Deirdre in rolling her eyes as well.

“Lord Fishface, let Sorcha eat her food. If she wants to feed you after she eats, that's her call," Thea supplied as she made her way to Vridel.

“I don't mind," Sorcha said quietly when Cyril looked towards her in inquiry. Reynard huffed softly and cracked a smile, but offered no commentary.

Vridel did, though. “Lucky you, Lord Fishface," he said. “Otherwise it probably would have been the Professor."

Cyril snorted. “Look I might not be in charge of you lot anymore, but I'm just here to deliver the food. You've got to eat it yourselves." He would have, of course, taken care of any of them in whatever way they actually needed him to, but the fact that they were joking around about it was a good sign, to his mind. The last few days had been... quiet. Everyone had to process what it meant to lose so many, to find themselves more vulnerable than they'd been in a while. They were so much more than the average person could be that he was sure it seemed at time as though they were... not invincible, but as close to it as fragile humans ever got.

To be reminded that their bones broke and skin tore as easily as anyone's, in such a way, well...

He was glad they had the victory to lean on, because if had come as part of a loss, he didn't want to think about what it would have done to them all.

Cyril passed out the remaining bowls as instructed, pausing only to lay a gentle kiss on Senka's forehead, threading a touch of healing magic into it. The real work was yet to come for the evening, but if it soothed the stings and aches even a little in the meantime, he'd consider it worth it.

“Just sit here; it's easier," Sorcha added, shifting over on her cot to leave space for Mercer to squeeze in with her.

Mercer merely puffed out his cheeks in Vridel's direction before grinning. “You're just jealous that Thea's not doing that for you," he replied, taking the seat next to Sorcha, though he seemed to leave a bit more room for her so she could be more comfortable. He had two broken wrists, she had a broken knee, so it seemed to make more sense for him to do that.

“If Vi wanted to be spoon fed, he'd ask. I'm not going to just foist it upon someone without asking first, stupid fishface," Thea retorted, earning a chuckle from Sylvi.

“Now you've done it; you seem to have earned the ire of everyone here, Merc," Sylvi stated, taking a bite of her soup.

“It's a specialty of his," Senka replied as if it were the most obvious thing. She was smiling softly, though before she shook her head.

“Hey, now. She said yes, so I don't know why you're all jealous," he murmured. Senka gave him a flat look, though.

“No one said we were jealous, Mercer. Only that you should ask beforehand. It's considered polite," she retorted, causing Mercer to roll his eyes.

“You're all just jealous."

By this point, Sorcha looked rather like she wished for the conversation to focus on anything else, pink faced and not making eye contact with anyone, but she did indeed gamely dip the spoon into the bowl and lift it nonetheless.

Cyril chuckled softly. “All right, all right," he said, waving a hand nonchalantly. “Who's feeling up to helping with the healing after dinner?" He'd warned them all rather sternly not to overdo it, as they were all still recovering as well, but the fact remained that the best way to get better was to quite literally help each other do it.

“I can," Vridel said, sounding a little weary but not moreso than Cyril expected. Sorcha nodded as well.

“Oh, I can definitely help, too," Thea stated, smiling somewhat as she placed a hand on Vridel's arm. Deirdre pursed her lips together before shrugging her shoulders.

“I'm not that good with white magic, but I know one healing spell. I suppose I can help out," Deirdre stated. Sylvi merely pursed her lips together, though, and shook her head. She didn't know any healing spells, so it was obvious as to why she was shaking her head. That, and she couldn't walk.

“Well, if you're willing to help me around," Senka began, glancing in Cyril's direction. She looked quite serious before she continued, “I can help with some of the healing."

Mercer held up his wrists, though, and shook his head. “Sorry Teach. These hands won't be much help doing anything, but I can probably help with other things. Things that don't really require me to move my hands much," he stated.

Cyril didn't mind helping Senka move around at all; he could carry her with next to no effort anyway, and while he'd have to be mindful of her injuries, he knew he could do so without jostling anything.

Of course there were some of his students who didn't know any white magic to begin with, and that was fine. He wasn't especially adept in it himself, preferring the dark arts. But there were other things that could be done, and it was fine just to rest, too.

“Works for me, then," he said simply. “Let's get started."

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. 1186 - Garland Moon - Friday the 8th
Derdriu - Afternoon - Warm
Mercer von Riegan


Mercer sighed, rubbing a hand down his face. Thanks to everyone's healing magic, his wrists had mostly healed. Everyone's injuries had healed nicely as well, most of the ones who couldn't walk were able to do so, now, and he thought that a bit of a break was needed. It was partially why he'd had a couple of carriages prepared so that they could all enjoy a day at the beach. The Alliance had some of the most beautiful waters around; he wasn't being biased, either. He truly believed that. The weather was nice enough that they could all have fun and enjoy themselves. They desperately needed it, if anything, and they'd arrived in Derdriu, yesterday.

“Hey, Mercer," Thea's voice interrupted his thoughts as he turned to greet her. “Everything is packed and ready to go, whenever you're ready," she continued, smiling at him before taking her leave. He glanced at the paper in his hands before setting it down. He knew that once they returned, things were going to change. The remaining Lords of the Alliance were calling for a conference, and as much as Mercer didn't want to go, he knew he had to.

Perhaps going to the beach was also his way of temporarily forgetting. Taking a deep sigh, he pushed the thought from his mind, and stood from his chair, following after Thea to where the carriages were. Senka and Thea were loading the last basket of food, it seemed and Deirdre seemed to be helping Sofia inside one of the carriages. Sylvi was standing next to Devon, holding his hand and having a conversation with him, it seemed. It was enough to make a smile cross Mercer's features.

“I've loaded a barrel of wine, as well, onto one of the smaller carts. Should I load another one?" Alaric stated, nearly startling Mercer. He'd been so engrossed in his thoughts that he didn't even hear the Duke approach. He snorted, though, and nodded his head.

“Have you seen Teach drink? We'll need more than just one, Al," Mercer replied, causing Alaric to tilt his head slightly before shaking it. “Just load another one for now; I'm sure Reynard has his own drinks he'll be bringing along," he added, causing Alaric to arch a brow before taking his leave.

“I heard that," Teach said, smiling at Mercer as he stepped into one of the carriages.

“Doesn't make him wrong," Vridel fired back. Of everyone, his recovery seemed to be the slowest, though his injuries had not been the outright worst to start with. Still, it wasn't hard to figure out why: he'd overtaxed his Crests during the battle, and being the most accomplished healer the group had by far, had borne quite a lot of the task of seeing everyone else better, also. Not to mention his condition in general. It was probably a good sign that he was up and moving pretty normally at all, looking only a little more wan than usual.

The rest of the group loaded themselves up as well, and the small group of carriages was off.

It wasn't long before they reached the beach, and once everyone had piled out of the carriages, Mercer set to helping them all set up. The small cart attached to the carriage Mercer had been riding in, had a couple of small tables in it. He and Thea pulled one of them out, their strength more than enough to handle it, and set to putting it down near the middle of an open area. It was far enough from the water that their food and drinks wouldn't become contaminated or anything, but close enough that the others could go for a swim if they wanted to.

Once the second table had been brought down, courtesy of Devon and Teach, they went about setting the tables up. After everything was placed, Mercer smiled to himself and glanced towards the group. “Alright, guys. Food is up, drinks are ready so serve yourselves whatever you want. Anyone have anything in particular they want to do, first?" he asked, arching a brow in everyone's direction.

Teach, standing a little aside from the others, filled one glass with some of the wine, then carefully poured it onto the sand, setting the cup down atop the barrel, clearly meaning for it to remain there, undisturbed, for the rest of the evening. It was a old tradition, but maybe that was fitting, all things considered. It didn't take a genius to guess who was being honored by it, either.

Devon stretched, rolling his shoulders and testing, it seemed, his formerly-injured leg. Finding it firm, he glanced between the others. “I don't know about any of you, but I was kind of thinking a swim would be nice," he admitted. “It's kind of hot out today."

“That does sound like a nice plan. It's supposed to be relaxing for your muscles too, which I think all of us could use. Except you, Professor," Sylvi stated, smiling a little in Teach's direction. Deirdre snickered softly and nodded her head.

“I think that sounds like a plan. It's been awhile since I've been able to go swimming. I kind of miss it," Deirdre stated as she glanced in Sofia's direction. Mercer supposed that was it, then. Everyone else seemed to nod their heads in agreement except for Thea, who glanced up at Vridel, her hand gently touching his shoulder.

“What about you, Vi? Do you want to go see Lord Fishface in his natural element, or do you want to do something else?" she asked. Mercer pursed his lips in their direction, though.

“I didn't even say I was going swimming," he murmured.

“But the look on your face was all we needed to know that you were," Senka retorted, smiling somewhat before turning her attention towards the water. It seemed she was contemplating a decision, but didn't seem to come to one, yet.

Vridel smiled back at her, his voice quieting enough that Mercer could only barely hear it. Something about being well enough for it, mostly, but whatever he said next was only for Thea to know, and then he took up her hand and headed towards the water.

Several of the others followed, though Reynard seemed to think better of it, retrieving a blanket instead and spreading it out on the sand. In concession to the weather, he rolled his loose sleeves up to his elbows and shed his shoes, but he seemed to find this sufficient, settling down on the blanket. "I'll watch our things," he said simply.

Teach turned towards Sen with an inquiring look on his face, obviously curious as to what, exactly, she was deciding.

Mercer chuckled lightly at Reynard. It wasn't like their things needed to be watched; they weren't going to be too far from the items. He glanced in Alaric's direction, a sly smirk covering his features.

“Are you going to keep Rey company so he isn't too lonely protecting our things, Al?" he stated, watching as Al turned towards him, and pursed his lips together. Alaric glanced in Reynard's direction before turning towards Mercer, confusion still written on his face. Mercer had to refrain from visibly rolling his eyes. The guy was hopeless, really.

“He seems capable enough. I thought I might join the others in a swim, first," Alaric replied, shedding his cloak. Goddess only knew why he still wore that thing. They were in Garland Moon, for goodness sake. It had to be hot in that thing. Senka finally seemed to decide on something, though, and turned towards Teach, holding out a hand towards him.

“I skipped out on swimming the last time we were near a body of water. I do not plan to do so again," she simply stated, indicating that she wanted to go for a swim. Mercer didn't blame her, really. Or any of them. It was warm, and he turned his attention towards Sorcha.

“Hey, Sor," he called out, arching a brow in her direction. “You want to go swimming?"

Even as Teach nodded and headed for the waterline with Sen, Sorcha pursed her lips. “I feel like I know how," she said after a moment, but then glanced down. She, like Reynard, had worn long sleeves to the beach, loose and billowy as they were, but she hadn't so much as rolled them, and her right hand was covered with a thin leather glove. “But..." She grimaced.

He understood why she'd be hesitant to go swimming. It was going to be a long road for them before things even felt remotely normal, but he had told her he was going to be with her every step of the way. They could start small, here, though. Gently, he reached out a hand towards her, and took her left hand into his. He took her right hand, next.

“Hey," he spoke softly, holding her hands in his, “if it's too much to go swimming, you don't have to go. We can stay on the beach and make sand castles if you want." He'd do just about anything else she wanted, really.

She smiled a little at the suggestion, her eyes on their joined hands, and leaned far enough forward to rest her brow on his shoulder. “That would be nice," she said quietly. “Truthfully I'm not sure whether I can get much water or sand in my arm. I know it's fine for rain, but submersion is a bit... different." It went without saying that she needed to keep it functioning as well as possible; it was technology that none of them understood, and without it she wouldn't much be able to fight, certainly not in the ways she was used to.

He huffed a little and leaned his head to rest against hers for a moment. “Alright, let's go build some castles, then," he stated, pulling back so he could lead her to a spot that wouldn't be too far from the water. “Ah, hold on," he stated, jogging back to the tables. They didn't have proper digging tools, nor molding tools, but they could improvise. He grabbed a cup, one that he'd use, anyway, and a bowl. It was the best things they had to make the castles, after all, and made his way back towards Sorcha.

“Alright, I don't know about you, but I'm the best at making the worst sand castles ever. Mostly because I've never really built them before," he stated, grinning in Sorcha's direction slightly. He could hear everyone in the distance, though, laughing at one thing or another as they swam.

“I'm... pretty sure I've never built one either," she said, clearly amused by his declaration. “There aren't really beaches in Faerghus—it's mostly cliffs near the ocean, so not a lot of sand." Her expression softened a little. “So I guess that means it'll be a new memory for both of us."

Stepping back a little, the tilted her head at a patch of bare, wet sand, smoothed by the outgoing high tide. Anything they built on it would at least last a while. Humming to herself, she sketched out a rough rectangle on the ground. “Help me remember what Garreg Mach looks like?" she asked, marking a smaller rectangle within the big one that was clearly meant to be the main cathedral, located near the back. “I bet we could make something that looks about right if we plan it."

Sorcha grinned, then, clearly enthused by the prospect. “I think... I used to go to pray a lot, when I first came to the Monastery," she said, indicating the cathedral building. “But not so much after..." her brows knit. “After something bad, but I don't know what."

Mercer knew why, of course. “It's because the archbishop went crazy," he stated, pursing his lips together as he helped make a sketch of the monastery. “She did some things that weren't quite... ethical," like sending children to murder people, and trying to get those very same children killed. Not to mention the stunt she pulled with Sen and Teach, and everyone else, really.

“The dormitories were here, and the greenhouse was here," he stated, marking the areas where the buildings were located. “Oh, and this was the dining hall, and over here was the training grounds. We spent a lot of time there, now that I remember," he huffed lightly. They'd spent almost every waking hour at the training grounds before classes, and sometimes even after class. The only time they didn't was when they were busy with friends or events.

She nodded. “I was always trying to out-shoot you," she remarked. “I sort of knew it was impossible, but I think I liked that being the goal because..." she trailed off, clearing her throat a little. Her cheeks seemed to have reddened a bit, and the sun didn't seem to be entirely to blame.

“Well I suppose because I knew you'd never really belittle me. And because it gave me an excuse for all the thinking about you I did."

Hastily returning her attention to the rough plan in front of them, she sketched out the knights' hall and the stables. “We... met Lady and Sir at the same time, right? Did we name them to match on purpose?"

Mercer huffed lightly and shook his head. “I think it was more coincidental than it was on purpose. You named Sir, Sir Brightscales, but I, of course, gave him the name Sir Ladon Brightscales. We've just called him Sir, ever since," he began. Which was about as much his name, now as any of the other parts of it.

“Lady just happened because you had called her that, and I said it was a good name. You decided to give her the name Lady Luck because you wanted to prove everyone wrong that she wasn't bad luck at all. I think you've mostly done that and then some," he chuckled lightly as he added the market area to the plan.

“And I knew you always thought of me, Sor. Just never knew how much," he teased, arching a playful brow in her direction.

She grimaced, then stuck her tongue out at him, kneeling to fill the cup she had with sand and pack it in tightly. “Yeah, well..." she huffed softly, keeping her eyes fixed on her task. “I was falling in love with you, even if I didn't quite have that figured out," she said, upending the cup on one side of the chapel, where the goddess tower was. The shape held—clearly she'd packed it enough to keep structural integrity.

“I think it might be even more bewildering the second time."

Mercer laughed.

“Oh? Is that a confession I hear?" he stated, leaning over so that he was peering at her a little closer. “I guess all my charming you was working. I intended that, after all," he stated, catching his chin in his hand. It wasn't actually what he had been doing at the time, but he'd found her admirable in her own way. It wasn't until later that he found out that he was falling in love with her, too. Still was in love with her, even if she didn't remember much.

“And it's not really a second time, now is it?" he murmured softly. “If you loved me still, it's more like remembering old memories rather than doing it all over again," he continued. He couldn't say for sure, though, because it wasn't his memories that were gone. Or his feelings.

Sorcha shook her head slowly, lifting her eyes from where she'd been using a twig to add smaller details to the Goddess Tower. “I'm remembering," she confirmed. “And somehow I've always remembered that you're more important to me than anyone else. But..." She furrowed her brows, as though thinking carefully on her words.

“But everything you've done for me since that time—since you found me." She pressed her lips together and dropped her eyes again, falling silent for a moment as she worked through what she wanted to say. “Even if I hadn't remembered a single thing, I'd love you just for that. Because of who you are now."

She wore away at the little sand tower, patterning tiny bricks into the smooth surface. “Since I realized, I've been scared," she admitted. “Because part of me's afraid that what you love is who I used to be. I thought maybe you were holding onto that. But... but I don't think I've been giving you enough credit. So... I wanted you to know that. That I fell in love with you again, and that it doesn't depend on what I remember or don't, because as nice as it would be to have those things back, the person I love is right in front of me, and that's... that's all I really need, in the end."

Mercer smiled a little as he regarded Sorcha. “I told you, Sor. No matter what, I was going to love you. The person that you are now is still Sorcha, is she not? She might not remember who I am, or who she used to be, but..." he paused, pursing his lips together. He didn't want this to come out wrong, or for her to take it the wrong way.

“I'm always going to love you, Sor, no matter what. The person who you were, the person that you are; to me, there is no difference. You're Sorcha Blaiddyd, the woman I fell in love with because she was warm and kind, and because she was as bright as she was noble. Those things are still part of you, even if you might not think so."

“And you're right; in the end, that's really all I need. To have you right in front of me. To have you always here so that I can protect you and give you the strength you want or need, and so that you can do the same for me. Believe it or not, Sor, you're the reason why I've tried so hard to keep everyone alive. When... when I thought you'd died, a part of me had become reckless."

Reckless in ways that Mercer knew he shouldn't have been. He'd risked his life in so many situations, had come close to death so many times, that it would have been worth it if he could just keep his friends alive long enough. And if he'd died, well, he'd have been reunited with Sorcha is some way. At least if he what he was taught was something to believe in, anyway.

“You don't have to be scared, anymore, Sor; I'm not going to leave you."

She returned the smile with a bright one of her own. “I know that, now," she said softly. “And I'll be holding you to it, so don't go doing anything reckless anymore, okay?"

“Alright, alright. I promise. No more reckless things unless I pass them by you, first," he stated, grinning just a little brighter.

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK

#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1186 - Garland Moon - Sunday the 15th
Riegan Manor - Afternoon - Warm
Vridel von Hresvelg


Vridel moved his knight—white, naturally—further up the chessboard, smirking across the intervening space at Mercer, who was for the moment in charge of the black pieces. He'd just gotten back from some kind of conference with the other Leicester nobility, and hadn't seemed particularly enthused, so Vridel had suggested the game as a way of giving him something else to do with himself for a while. He couldn't deny his own curiosity, though; for the moment he kept it suppressed, figuring that Mercer would talk about the meeting's result when he was good and ready.

Not far from the two of them, Reynard had occupied the room's sofa, and was thumbing through one of the books from the shelf, though how closely he was paying attention to it was rather debatable. He'd been... more than a little reserved lately, even past his usual tendencies. Vridel was in fact pretty sure that he was moping, though he wasn't exactly certain as to why. They hardly needed specific reasons anymore—though the overall mood lately was one of rest and hopefulness for what the recapture of the Alliance might mean, any of the things they'd seen or done along the way were cause enough for melancholy.

Keeping back a sigh, Vridel returned his attention to the chessboard.

It was apparent by the furrow of his brows that Mercer was, indeed, still thinking about the events of the conference. He moved a pawn across the board, not really paying much attention to it before he pushed a heavy sigh through his nose.

“Hey, Vi?" Mercer stated, glancing up from the board to regard Vridel. “Can I ask you something?" he began, his voice quite serious from the tone of it.

Suppressing the automatic rejoinder—that Mercer, had, in fact, just done so—Vridel arched an eyebrow. He knew how to take a thing seriously, so he tilted his head, as if in invitation. “If you can get the question out before I keel over, sure." Seriously or not, he smiled slightly, lifting his shoulders in a diffident shrug.

Mercer smiled wryly at Vridel's statement, and leaned back in his chair. “Did they ever try to force you into an arranged marriage just so you could have an heir? I mean, it's pretty obvious it's a thing in all three countries, but to at least just marry someone for the sake of an heir?" he asked, grabbing the cup next to him to take a drink from it. He set it back down before he regarded Vridel, again, his lips pursed into a fine line.

“Because that's what the Dukes want me to do. They want me to just marry someone random woman so that she could have my child. They said it was for the good of the Alliance, given everything we've been through. They're afraid I'll die before giving them an heir, or naming one. I just..." he pushed a heavy sigh through his nose.

“It was talked about," Vridel replied, picking up one of his displaced pawns and turning it around in his fingers. “I'm sure it would have been talked about louder if I'd been older, or there was a war on at the time. I kind of silenced it when I showed up with my own fiancée and demanded my own crown. I think the second part was so concerning they didn't really even have much time to think about the first, which was more or less how I'd intended it."

He'd caught a lot of flak for deciding to marry Thea after the rest had settled a bit, though. Not that there was anything anyone could do about it. One of the few powers he'd had as Emperor was the right to choose his own partner, and there were no laws against marriage to commoners in Adrestia—no one had ever seen the need to create them, because it simply wasn't done. People couldn't afford to turn down the political alliances, and besides that it was sort of expected that if an Emperor wanted to bed a common woman, he'd just make a concubine of her, not a consort.

So none of the protestations had held much weight with him. This was a different beast, though. “Are you worried some of them will withhold their support from the rest of the plan if you don't do as they're demanding?"

“Yeah," he answered after a moment of silence. “The only thing is, I already have a fiancée, but... well, they don't necessarily approve of her because of everything that's happened," he stated softly, his right hand moving to the left to toy with the ring there. “They didn't take it so well when I told them that I wasn't planning on changing my mind. That Sorcha was, and is, still my future wife," he continued.

“They're going to host a ball in about two days, though, to see if they can find someon to change my mind," he scoffed almost in disbelief at the end of that sentence, and sat properly in his chair for a moment. “Kind of wish Judith was here to help me out, but I haven't heard from her since she left to Almyra about... three years ago, now?"

That was a whole other can of worms, really. Where Almyra was in all this. Assuming Judith had even made successful contact, it was bound to take a while to get anywhere with a whole other country. Border skirmishes were one thing. Invading Fódlan was quite another, and to do it by request of one of the three nations, against the other two? A hard sell at best. The complete lack of communication was cause for serious concern, of course, but as Reynard had put it, getting letters into or out of Almyra's capital was more than merely difficult.

His brow knitted at the mention of their disapproval towards Sorcha, though, and stayed that way through the rest. He tsked softly, consciously forcing his jaw to relax. “They've hardly a right to disapprove," he grumbled. “While those cowards sat in their castles and waited to be saved, she was on the field with the rest of us. Aside from you, she's as responsible for their safety as any of us is."

"More if you spin it," Reynard said quietly. When Vridel glanced in his direction, it was to find him sitting upright, studying the both of them over the back of the sofa. "Think about it. She saved your ass how many times? And to be sure we all do that for each other, but that's irrelevant. Plus, there's the fact that she's technically the one who impaled Gloucester in the guts. It doesn't really matter whether that killed him or not—people saw Areadbhar sticking out of his dead body. Lots of people. Make her a fucking war hero. If the people love her like they love you, the Dukes aren't going to be able to say a damn thing without risking losing their support."

“It did help a lot that the people of Adrestia loved Thea," Vridel noted.

“You're right, of course," Mercer sighed deeply, pinching the bridge of his nose. “But that's just how they are. They won't budge once they've made a decision, and war hero or not, it's not like it really matters to them. The only thing I can think of is to show them that Sorcha is the only option they're going to get. At the ball, she's going to be there with me, every step of the way. If she wants to of course; I wouldn't force her to do something if it made her uncomfortable," he spoke, leaning back into his chair.

“And it's kind of hard not to love Thea. She's an adorable verdant-haired person, and the fact that she's trying to use one of those huge ass tower shields, now? That... it's hilarious," he added, snorting softly before shaking his head.

“I plan on letting the Dukes know that Sorcha is loved by those she saved, and that they're just going to have to deal with it. Alaric, of course, was the only one to back my claim, but until I can convince the others, well... that's going to be a whole other battle. You care to switch spots with me, Vi? You know, take care of the Alliance and all?" he spoke, seemingly half-jokingly, too. Part of his expression did look quite serious, though.

Vridel snorted. “You sure you want me to do that? The last country I was in charge of has gone to shit." He shook his head slowly. “Honestly? I think you need to do all of it. Make sure they know you're not budging, and make it costly for them not to back off. Stubborn they might be, but most nobles are basically selfish bastards, too. If it'd cost them too much to keep resisting you, they won't."

That was basically a law of human nature. Sure, no doubt right now they'd prefer someone else—probably all of them had a daughter or granddaughter or niece in mind, too. But even the gain of a political marriage could be offset by the financial loss if the peasants revolted, especially when the state of things was still so fragile. The trick was just to make sure the peasants had a reason to care.

And at this point, considering what had just happened to so many of them, they absolutely did.

“Yeah, yeah, I know. Good to know you're still giving out sound advice, though," Mercer stated, waving a hand in a nonchalant fashion in front of his face. “They're going to learn that they can't always have their way, one way or another," he spoke, his voice a little more calm, now, it seemed. He moved a pawn from his side of the board before glancing up at Vridel, a half-smirk pulling at his lips.

“What about you, Vi? Plan on having an heir any time soon?" it was clear that Mercer was joking, if the way his brow arched a little in a playful manner was anything to go by. “Not that you've the strength to try now, but that's never stopped anyone before, really."

Rey snorted, but Vridel was entirely unamused. “Perhaps I could convince you of my present strength by acquainting your face with my fist?" he offered, annoyed with the implication that he wasn't hale enough for such a thing. He would have said something crude about asking Thea, who could confirm otherwise, but he did have some standards of decency, unlike his so-called friend here.

The third man's huff became a laugh, and he shook his head slowly. "So that's a yes on possible heirs, or...?"

Vridel rolled his eyes. “Oh yes, because that's a splendid idea. Incapacitate my fiancée, one of the most capable people any of us know, in the middle of a war we all intend to see through to the end. No, you morons, we're taking precautions like sensible people, which you'd have thought about already if either of you were getting laid." Satisfied with the rejoinder, he arched a brow and sat back in his chair, arms crossed.

Mercer laughed at Vridel's statement and shook his head. “Hm, yes, well, even so, it's not like it hasn't happened before. I mean, I'm pretty sure most of us were accidents. Well, maybe not you, Rey. You look like you were a planned kid," Mercer stated, arching a brow in Reynard's direction. “And to be fair, Rey doesn't have to take precautions, so that's a low blow even to him, Vi. Tsk, tsk," he added, grinning back in Vridel's direction.

“I meant against infection in his case, you clod. Reynard was coming to me monthly for those spells in our Academy years but hasn't asked for them once since we met again."

Reynard shrugged. "He's right. I'm definitely not getting laid." He managed to sound pretty casual about it, but there was a vague hint of something less comfortable underlying the words.

“Plan on doing anything about that?" Mercer stated, turning his attention back towards Reynard. “From where I'm standing, that problem is easily taken care of, but it seems there's a bit of hesitation going on there," he continued, leaning so that he caught his chin in his hand and regarded Reynard with an even stare. It was clear that Mercer was talking about Alaric.

"I don't know what your definition of 'easily' is, Mercer, but I think it's not the same as mine," Reynard replied. "I mean I suppose I could still pull random fellows if I wanted to, but you'll excuse me if I'm not interested."

Oh, damn. He had it bad. Vridel grimaced. “And the thing stopping you from making the attempt with a very non-random Duke of Goneril is...?"

Rey shrugged. "The part where he isn't into men."

“Oh, for the love of," Mercer stated, sitting up before leaning back in an exasperated fashion. He placed an open palm on his forehead before shaking his head. “I swear, do I have to spell it out for you? Because I will. Alaric. Likes. Men. He just... well, he needs help, Rey," Mercer stated as he furrowed his brows in Reynard's direction.

“Look, if he hasn't said anything to you, then I'm going to. Rey. Al likes you. He likes you like I like Sorcha, like Vi likes Thea, and Sen likes Teach. Devon and Sylvi, Sofia and Deirdre. He just... he doesn't know how to act on that because he's never been told or shown how to. No one has ever tried to love him or like him in any capacity because he's been told so many times that he can't just love someone."

“It's his duty as Duke Goneril to keep that line going, but... Alaric likes you more than some notion of duty. He was willing to risk it all when I told him to stay behind before the battle with Gloucester. He'd made it abundantly clear that if he wasn't allowed to go with us, to go with you, that he was going to leave his mantle of Duke."

“For what it's worth, I'm pretty sure he's right," Vridel added. “I know how easy it is to second-guess, when it's another man, or when it matters. So I'm guessing it's worse when it's both. But for what our word as outside observers is worth..." he trailed off, making a vague gesture.

It wasn't exactly the kind of thing that always went over well. With commoners, people didn't tend to care much, but nobility and their concern for heirs and Crests had a way of screwing everything up, as some of their own number could attest. Even Vridel had found himself doubting his own judgement, sometimes, when it came to whether a man was interested in him, because some were offended by the idea, and it wasn't always easy to tell right away whether someone was the kind to laugh it off or disdain a person of the same gender who pursued them. He'd sometimes refrained himself, and he had never lacked for self confidence.

Reynard talked a big game, but beneath it, it was easy enough to see that he didn't think much of himself. It was sort of required, to be as cavalier with his own life as he was, but it manifested in other ways, too. Like the fact that he always wore sleeves and didn't do things like go swimming.

The man himself grimaced, running a hand down his face. "Maybe you're right," he said simply. "Maybe I'm not seeing things right because I'm too close. But if you're wrong, and I do this—if I do the one thing I've got that could, uh, show him how—I don't know if he'll ever forgive me. Do you understand how much of a risk that is? I don't know if I could stand to lose what I've got."

Mercer sighed heavily and sunk into his chair a bit. “Yeah, but wouldn't you lose just as much if you don't? I know it's a lame saying but, to have loved and lost than to never love at all? I'm sure someone was in your particular position when they came up with that," Mercer took a deep breath and shook his head softly, though.

“It's a risk you should take, though, Rey. That's all I'll say on that end. Take that risk; if it turns out we were wrong, the worst that could happen is that Al will be upset. I don't think you'll lose your friendship over it, but... well," he paused, pursing his lips together. “Take it. Take the risk at the ball and see what comes of it. If nothing does, you can say it was a spur of the moment thing, cover it behind that, or something else. You're clever enough to figure something out, Rey. And for what it's worth... I'm cheering for you."

He offered Rey a small, genuine smile, then.

Vridel nodded. “You deserve to be happy too, you know."

Reynard snorted softly, shaking his head with the barest air of incredulity. "And now here I am, being lectured by you idiots," he said with a sigh. "What a strange turn my life has taken." He smiled, though, even if it was only a faint one, his gratitude evident.

“I'm sure that'll be back to the other way around in no time."

Setting

Characters Present

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

0.00 INK



I.Y. 1186 - Garland Moon - Tuesday the 17th
Derdriu - Evening - Cool
Amalthea von Kreuz


Thea wasn't quite sure if she'd ever feel comfortable, again, in a dress as nice as the one she was wearing. For so long, now, it had been mostly armor, and the under garments that went with it to keep from chafing her skin. She pulled at the hem of the dress before pursing her lips softly. It wasn't as nice as the one she'd worn for the millenium ball, but she supposed it had a lot to do with Derdriu's attire. It was different than what she'd find in Faerghus, the Empire, or even around Garreg Mach.

She pulled in a soft sigh, though, making sure that the braids in her hair were still in place. She didn't want to ruin Senka's hard work, after all, and glanced around the ball room. People were still filing in, some taking off towards the back or the corners. Clearly they were just here to spectate the possible drama this event was bound to cause. Frankly, Thea thought it was stupid that they were trying to get Mercer to find a wife. He had a perfectly good wife already. Sorcha was the one person Mercer loved; he wasn't going to give her up just because some Lords had said that he needed another choice.

It caused her brows to furrow deeply as she tried to push the thought from her mind. It still irked her, though. Ugh, she needed a distraction. She spotted a few of the others entering the hall, but she had yet to find Vridel. She had intended to arrive with him, but it had taken Senka a little longer to fix Thea's hair than intended. Pushing a sigh from her nose, she made to find him. It shouldn't be too hard, after all. There was no one in the world, at least not now, that looked like Vi.

It turned out, in fact, to be exceedingly easy to find him, mostly because he found her.

“This is enticing," the murmur in her ear was recognizable as his immediately, as were the fingertips that traced playfully down her bare arms. There were other bits and pieces of skin that she usually didn't leave exposed, either, but he elected not to touch those, wrapping his arms around her from behind just long enough to give her a brief squeeze before shifting around to face her properly.

In deference to the summer season, the men too were dressed in lighter manners; Vridel's vest and the shirt beneath were both bereft of sleeves themselves, white and gold as he tended to prefer in garments, though his loose trousers were a rich red, tucked into polished leather boots. His hair, long as it had become, he left loose, clearly not going to any effort whatsoever to hide it, nor the resemblance it now bore to a war criminal.

“But then I always think that about you."

Thea snorted softly as she glanced up at him. “And the same could be said about you, Vi," she replied, bringing her hands up so she could place them on his face. She brought him down closer so she could brush her lips gently across his cheek before releasing his face and wrapping her arms loosely around him.

“Though I'm not entirely sure if those pants suit you. You should have gone with a violet color, or perhaps a darker purple," she stated, smiling up at him. Of course, that was a lie. Anything Vridel wore always looked nice on him, and always seemed to suite him regardless of what it was. She chuckled lightly before taking a step back. They hadn't started the music, yet, and she wasn't entirely sure what they would be dancing to. From what Mercer had said, they did tango and waltzes mostly, but the former moreso than the latter.

“Hm, are you prepared for tonight's festivities?" she asked, tilting her head slightly up at Vridel, and arching a brow. “I'm sure they're bound to be entertaining."

Vridel hummed in feigned consideration, as though she'd just presented him with a very difficult question indeed. “Which festivities would those be?" he inquired with evident amusement, taking up one of her hands and using it to guide her into a little spin that really had nothing to do with dancing, but was clearly meant just for fun. “The ones where we get to watch ladies mob our dear friend, only to be hopelessly thwarted? The melodrama that is Reynard trying to spit out his feelings for everyone's other favorite Duke? Perhaps the inevitable ridiculousness when some noble idiot challenges the professor to a drinking contest? Devon and Sylvi attempting to tango?"

He arched an eyebrow. “All of these things could indeed be quite amusing, I suppose."

Thea laughed lightly as she arched her brow in a playful manner. “I meant all of them, of course. It's been such a long time since we've seen these kinds of things unfolding. It's... well, it's endearing, really. Even if the reason behind this ball is rather ridiculous, I think it could still be quite fun for all of us," she stated, a hint of melancholy lacing her voice. She hadn't meant for it to sound like that, but she couldn't quite help it.

The last time they were privy to such things was when they were still in the academy, when things still seemed so innocent. She smiled, though, and shook her head. “Besides, I haven't seen you dance in a long time, either. That should prove entertaining as well," she added, a small smirk adorning her lips.

Vridel huffed with mock offense. “You make it sound as if I'm some great oaf," he said, sniffing imperiously. “Need I remind you which of us taught which to do so, little love?" He brushed a hand gently over her hair, evidently smoothing a little bit of it back into place.

“You're right, though," he murmured a little more softly and a lot more seriously. “It will be nice to see some levity again. I think we could all use some." The day at the beach had been nice, of course, but everyone knew the lot of them needed a lot more relaxation than they were going to get, with the situations still as they were in Faerghus and the Empire.

“Shall we make bets on things? How many ill-advised suitors Sorcha glares at, perhaps? Number of times Devon steps on Sylvi's toes? Times Senka is asked to dance? Whatever you like."

Thea tapped her chin in a thoughtful manner. “Well, those aren't really all worth making bets on. Sorcha will glare at the suitors, mostly because Mercer will ask her to be his buffer," she huffed lightly at the choice of words, but continued, “and actually, I don't think Devon will step on Sylvi's toes. He might have become a better dancer over the years. As for how many times Senka is asked to dance? Well, I don't think Professor will give anyone much of a chance. And that's nothing to say of Senka's own glare that might stave them off." Of that, Thea couldn't be too certain. Even if Senka was openly wearing a ring, presumably Professor's, it wouldn't stop people from asking.

Thea had already seen a few wandering eyes in her own direction, even as she wore Vridel's ring and was holding onto him. It would be polite to dance with other people, of course. She knew there was a sort of courtesy there, but she didn't plan on dancing with anyone else, really.

“Let's make a bet on how long it takes Reynard to get enough moxie to tell Duke Goneril how he feels. I feel that's an adequate bet to make," she stated, grinning up at Vi. “I say it takes at least an hour."

Vridel snorted. “I think it takes at least three, and more than one drink," he rejoined. “To keep things fair, if it goes past five or takes less than one, we'll say neither of us wins." He wasn't making a secret of the fact that he was holding on to her, either, rather boldly resting his hand at the small of her back, slightly below where most gentlemen would have been expected to keep it. Then again, he was her fiancé, not merely a random suitor, and it was obvious enough, as it always had been, that if she disapproved all she had to do was say so. The fingers of his other hand toyed idly with the ends of her hair.

“What do you want if you win?"

She pretended to think the answer over carefully, furrowing her brows for effect, and pursing her lips together. “Well," she began, chewing her bottom lip before shaking her head. “It's hard to say. I already have everything I want. I have you," she stated, grinning in his direction. She couldn't think of anything in the world that she wanted other than him. She could feel the grin softening for just a second, her eyes falling to the floor. There was one thing she did want, but she knew it was something no one could provide.

She wanted time. Time so that she could give it to Vridel. So that he may live with her for the remainder of their years, and so that he could grow old with her. She still found it so unfair that she could lose him at any time, but she was trying to make the best of it. The best of the time they had together.

“What about you? What do you want if you win?" she asked, glancing back up to meet his gaze.

He shifted the hand that had been in her hair, catching her chin with it and leaning down close. Close enough, in fact, that his long, snowy eyelashes brushed hers. “A kiss," he said simply, his voice a tad too light for the intensity with which his eyes had locked with hers. It wasn't hard to tell, in the way she knew him, that in reality his wish was the same as hers, but he refused just as stridently to put voice to it.

“Every last one you give anyone tonight."

“I think I can manage that," she spoke softly. “I suppose that means that if you don't win, there will be no more kisses for you," she stated, putting a little lightness back into her voice. She was teasing, of course. They both knew she wouldn't be able to go very long without kissing him one way or another, but she could try to resist.

“Do you think you could live with that? No more kisses?" she asked, clearly still teasing him.

Vridel's eyes narrowed; the hand at the small of her back tugged her in a little closer, until she was all but flush against him. “I don't know, little love. Could you?" He tilted his chin just a bit, enough to tease a kiss without actually giving her one, the barest brush of his mouth against hers receding until it was only breath.

Thea resisted the urge to close that distance between them, and arched her brow in a challenging manner. “I believe I can," she murmured, pulling back just enough so that they were not as close, to prove her point. “But I'm not the one who made such a high stakes bet. You wanted a kiss if you won, but if you don't? Shouldn't you be putting effort into winning so that you get that kiss?"

It was a challenge, she knew, but she couldn't help herself. She enjoyed teasing him.

“Hmm." Vridel seemed to consider her suggestion. “And yet you're the one who imposed the extra conditions on my loss. Very sneaky of you, Thea." He traced his thumb across her bottom lip before dropping his hand away. “As it happens, however, I'm very confident of my bet, so I don't think I'm going to do anything at all."

He smiled, then, even as strains of music started up from the octet set up on the ballroom. “Would my lady do me the honor of this dance?"

“Of course, how could I possibly say no to Vi?" she stated, taking his hand into hers. “And I forget how confident you are," she added. Dancing, at least, would provide them a decent view of the events about to unfold. She was looking forward to it.

Setting

Characters Present

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

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#, as written by Aethyia


I.Y. 1186 - Garland Moon - Friday the 20th
von Riegan Manor - Morning - Hot
Cyril Eisner


Cyril was well aware by this point that Mercer ran a much less formal house than most nobles, so when he took a seat on one of the small sofas in the office, he didn't even really think about it before putting his feet up on the low table in front of him, keeping hold of his cup of tea on the arm of the couch. He'd made some for the meeting, thinking that it had been rather too long since he'd done that for anyone. Inspired by the garland even now nestled in his dark hair, he'd made an excursion to the gardens and gathered some of the ingredients for a relaxing floral blend of flavors, which seemed to be the order of the day when dealing with troublesome nobles.

Across from him, Reynard did much the same on another couch, pulling one elbow up to rest over the back of the furniture. Vridel took a chair, crossing his legs beneath him and settling his cup of tea on one knee. Sorcha sat comfortably on the arm of Mercer's chair, looking as she always seemed to these days faintly troubled. Thea had taken a seat next to Vridel, holding her cup of tea with a small smile. Senka, as she usually did, took a seat in the same sofa where Cyril was.

“So," Vridel said after everyone had whatever food and drinks they wanted. “Not to ruin the mood or anything, but... what exactly is our plan for getting the Roundtable Conference to supply us with soldiers?"

It was the question of the day, really. Without the support of the whole Alliance, they couldn't hope to retake Faerghus. Going in with the numbers they had, especially after the costs of that last battle, was just asking to be crushed. Cyril knew he was good at strategy, but even he'd be hard-pressed to find a chance of victory embedded in that scenario.

“That is a great question; I'll get back to you on that," Mercer muttered as he frowned. He took a deep breath and shook his head, though. “I could just tell them to do it. They'd have to, more-or-less, do it but I don't want to be an asshole about it. The point of the Roundtable Conference would be to convince them that freeing Faerghus would be beneficial to everyone in the long run. The problem with that, though, is that they couldn't care less about what's going on, there. Now that the Alliance is free from the Empire, they're going to want to stick to themselves and try to recover."

“They do realize that if the Empire takes Faerghus, that they'd just come back to the Alliance to reclaim it, right? They'd be able to focus all of their attention on the Alliance without Faerghus holding them back, and that's to say nothing if they managed to add more troops to their army," Senka stated, her brows furrowing slightly. Mercer sighed heavily.

“They do realize that, but I don't think they're really considering it something that'll happen. I don't think they realize the severity of the situation, yet."

“Wonderful," Vridel murmured darkly into his teacup.

Reynard pursed his lips together. "So the thought is, they need incentive," he murmured. "Some reason that will motivate them to throw their lots in with us of their own free will, and danger that seems distant isn't going to do it."

Cyril did his best to suppress his distaste. Mercenary though he was, it should be obvious to these people that their incentive was that it was plainly the right thing to do, and the only thing that, in the long run, would guarantee the safety of their own hides. But no one ever believed danger was headed their way until it was upon their doorsteps, apparently, and it would be here again if Faerghus was not saved. “So if we can't appeal to their self-preservation, we've got to pick the only instinct stronger," he said.

"Their greed, yes. That's what I was thinking. But there doesn't seem to be much to offer."

“Yes there is," Sorcha said quietly. “There's Faerghus."

Vridel's brows knit; he paused in the act of taking another sip of tea. “In what sense, Sorcha?"

She sighed heavily. “I mean... I'm marrying Mercer anyway. Whether anyone in Faerghus likes it or not, I'm also the only person alive with a Crest of Blaiddyd, and that's what decides who's in charge of Faerghus. I... if saving my country means uniting it with the Alliance, then that's what we'll do. And by the time all the rebels who supported the Imperial invasion are weeded out, there will be entire territories without leaders, and negotiations to undertake for who that land falls to. Faerghus will owe the Alliance a great debt for its liberation. And the dance of property unification and political marriage can start up again. I've met the roundtable Conference. They all think they're the smartest person in the room. They'll see it as a golden opportunity to make themselves richer and more important."

Senka's brows furrowed lightly, but it was easy to see the concern on her face. “Are you certain, Sorcha?" she asked softly. “It is your home, after all. If it is something you wish to do, I will support you as will my uncle, but..." she trailed off. Mercer's brows were furrowed heavily as he regarded Sorcha.

“I'm a little inclined to agree with Sen, there. Faerghus is your home, your country. You had plans for it. We can find another way to appeal to their sense of greed. Like you said, Faerghus will owe the Alliance, but it could be that you give up some of the lands, not all of it," he spoke.

“It should still be a consideration, though. If Sorcha really wants to do that, then we should keep it as something of a back-up plan in case Mercer's not able to convince the other nobles," Thea stated, holding her tea in both hands, now.

Vridel looked troubled, but Sorcha shook her head faintly. “Everyone's plans are basically dead in the water at this point," she murmured. “Including mine. If you can make it work without that promise, then that's fair. But if you have to offer them Faerghus, don't hesitate." She fell silent, looking into her teacup with an expression of intense concentration.

Cyril supposed it made a certain amount of sense. She'd still have a major part in the governance of a united territory, after all, and her marriage to Mercer might well make them the King and Queen of the northern half of Fódlan. It might make some of her planned reforms more possible, all things considered, and it was hardly as though too many people would be left to protest. He could see the wisdom, even if it did seem... drastic.

"I suppose we live in the kind of world where some people turn into dragons, and others have the souls of gods, so perhaps we do need to think a little bigger," Reynard mused, shaking his head faintly. "Even if it's... staggeringly difficult to comprehend sometimes."

Mercer huffed slightly, but nodded his head. “Yeah, well... if I have to make that an option, I suppose it's one to keep," he stated, leaning back a little into his chair. He rubbed the sides of his temples as if to relieve them from some stress before he took his cup of tea. He took a sip of it, before placing it back down.

“I still have a week before the Conference, though. Maybe before then we can just try and convince them that liberating Faerghus is the best option we have if we all still want to live," he spoke, though he didn't sound so hopeful about it.

“Anything is better than nothing, though, right?" Thea stated, her lips pursing into a fine line. There was a small furrow in her brow as she glanced at Vridel for a moment.

He grimaced a little, reaching over to straighten the garland on her head, which was slightly askew. The touch was tender; Cyril shifted his eyes away from it. Though he knew it wouldn't be taken that way, it felt a little like intruding on something private. Expelling a breath through his nose, he reached for Senka's free hand with his own.

“We have to consider the Empire, too," he said. “This war will not be over until Volkhard is dead, and I highly doubt he will do us the favor of appearing before us anywhere but in the heart of Enbarr. They need to understand that—that victory isn't anything less than wiping that man from the face of the world."

“Now we're just asking Mercer to do impossible things," Vridel said, still frowning.

“Yeah, this is true. I'm not the one who died and came back to life, after all," Mercer replied dryly, glancing in Cyril's direction with a rueful smile. “But on the bright side, I'm not doing it by myself, so you're not asking just me to do impossible things. You're basically asking yourselves, too. We're all in this together; I just happen to be the one you idiots named leader," he added, grinning slightly as Thea rolled her head.

“If we're idiots, what does that make you?" Senka asked, squeezing Cyril's hand as a flicker of amusement crossed her face.

“Oh, that's easy. I'm the Leader of the Idiots, so that makes me, kind of, King Idiot," Mercer replied, causing Thea to chuckle.

"It's a miracle we're not all dead," Reynard said flatly. A few people laughed, and the conversation naturally shifted to lighter matters for the moment. There would be time enough to worry about the rest, too, but right now, it was at least relatively calm.

Cyril would take it.