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Kellen winced as he heard Lienna eject the contents of her stomach into a nearby bush. It wasn’t enough to distract him from his surveillance of the road, but he frowned at his classmate’s predicament. Fortunately, the bout of illness didn’t keep her from spitting venom about carriages as she returned to the group. It was as sure a sign as any that she was alright.

It didn’t appear as if anyone was coming from behind, but Kellen eyes wouldn’t stop darting about until he knew with certainty what situation they were in. It was perhaps because of this that he almost felt relieved to see Auberon, followed shortly by Jorah. They didn’t appear to be in a rush, but Kellen nodded robotically as Auberon voiced his support to arm themselves, though he seemed nonplussed. As did Jorah. His House Leader, in garments befitting his station, seemed prepared for combat, if his earlier stretching and bravado was any indication. “Okay.” He muttered, though he didn’t follow them towards their weapons, keeping his eyes focused on his surroundings.

It was only as he heard the riders approach that he turned around to take a closer look at them, remarking with surprise that Kayden, Imogen and Jorah had somehow managed to strike out ahead, though it appeared as though the Kalonic siblings had gone ahead to meet with the riders. From this distance, Kellen was quite certain they weren’t a threat. His eyes immediately searched for weapons, which he didn’t spot, though he noticed the dash of crimson on the one’s hand that indicated some sort of wound. From this distance, he couldn’t make out the conversation between his professors and these villagers. He saw Imogen respond excitedly to the news but had no idea how to react when she started barreling in his direction, a look on her face that seemed to portend ill omen. He quickly turned around, scouring the road to see what she saw that was bringing her so rapidly towards him, but was altogether more shocked when he felt a pair of small hands place themselves -- not gently -- over his ears. He whipped back around to look at his assailant. “Goddess above Imogen! What’s—”

The explosion that followed both interrupted and answered his question. He slowly looked down at Imogen, his face as quizzical as it was relieved. The explosion hadn’t been too loud, and he wasn’t sure if the scare from the sound would have been worse than that of her accosting him suddenly. But how had she known to do so in the first place? He knew lightning could be seen before it was heard, had something similar happened here? “Thanks.” The word fell out of his mouth. Realizing it wasn’t much of a show of appreciation, he looked at her, not quite smiling but managing to wipe away the aggrieved look on his face for half a second. Then his gaze returned to the sky, his previously strategic watch was replaced by a thousand-yard stare.

Even as Michail started to explain the situation to the students, Kellen couldn’t pull his gaze from the long plume of smoke on the horizon. That smoke, and the explosion that had preceded it, made the abstract concept of a village under attack into one that was real, and close. He knew mages capable of such things, but his mind had a hard time figuring out why bandits, who from what he knew were concerned with enriching themselves, would do something this destructive. The question of motive sat with him as he stared out and Michail finished his speech.

Dully, Kellen realized he had sixty seconds to make a choice.

Michail had made it clear that’s what it was. A choice. But Kellen had felt ill at the prospect of a training exercise. And the thought of genuine combat made his stomach somersault. He was quite certain the bandits wouldn’t come out this far – they hadn’t seemed interested in pursuing these villagers, and Kellen’s anxious surveillance had revealed little to be concerned with. So how was it even a question that he would stay here, where it was safe?

The feeling of his sword pressing against his chest brought Kellen back to the world. His House Leader didn’t stop long before he entered the carriage. On instinct, his hand had grabbed on to the base of the sheath, which was now hovering lightly over his stomach. It sat there for half a moment, somewhat awkwardly. Auberon hadn’t even questioned whether he would follow. Imogen, after quickly patting his head, also followed in Auberon’s path, her usual enthusiasm by no means diminished by the prospect of combat.

At some point, Kellen’s other hand, on instinct, had gently placed itself on the pommel of his sword. He could feel his right leg starting to twitch, but worse than that was the chill that ran up his spine. He had not at all relished the prospect of going to Garreg Mach, but at the very least he had hoped it would mean an escape from this feeling. He wasn't sure how much longer he would be able to sustain it, if he even were to last long enough to each that breaking point. Far more likely some opponent's strike would make that decision for him. He had hoped the Academy would be an escape. An escape from the call to arms, and the investable bloodshed that followed. But here they were, and the call had gone out. Just like then, Kellen slipped his sheath and blade into a loop on his belt, and dutifully set off after his commander.

He stopped along the way though, looking to his fellow Lions. He couldn’t tell how Derec would react to this news, whether or not he’d come along. But he had a better read on Lienna. He remembered how she had reacted when the vagabond had burst into the dining room a few days prior. As he passed her, he paused for half a moment. “You, uh. You shouldn’t do anything you don’t want to.”He said quietly. He knew uttering anything too loudly would invite her ire. “But if you do come I’ll, um — I’ll have your back.” With a quick nod, he set off to clamber in the carriage behind Auberon and Imogen, his face set. As much as he tried to project a sense of calm, the moment he was seated, his right leg started to bounce up and down. He knew better than to try and stop it.
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Hidden 13 days ago Post by POOHEAD189
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Kayden wasn't entirely certain he deserved chastisement from Michail, considering he had gone up to aid in bringing Imogen back. He felt a princely arrogance rising up, but he quelled that immediately. Michail wasn't his Master-At-Arms he could vaguely ward off with royal threats. He merely gave a groan of annoynance but said nothing, following the professor's directives without complaint and joining the group proper with the others. Kayden did give Jorah a grin though, as one might grant a fellow conspirator. Despite their differences, Jorah didn't have a stick up his ass like Auberon.

Hustling back with the other two, the prince had bounced back easily enough. Nothing seemed to really get under his skin, save the ride in the carriage. As long as he could avoid that he would be tremendous. Of course, his mood was a tad challenged when a massive explosion wracked the landscape just beyond the bridge, likely a few furloughs away. Anyone who wasn't immediately staring at the sudden plume of smoke would see Kayden's normally casual look go wide eyed. "I don't think that was in the syllabus," He deadpanned.

Along with the others, he awaited the explanation of the riders and the subsequent discussion by their wise teachers.

Bandits!? The debonair heir felt a surge of elation in his chest. He had been expecting combat, but never did he really think there would be actual fighting. Perhaps the carriage ride was worth it after all, he thought with a growing grin. Images of steel clashing with steel and swashbuckling acts of valor slid through his mind. If there was something Kayden longed for, it was proper combat application, particularly in the midst of slaying foul foes as they protected the innocent! Father wasn't within two hundred leagues either, so there would be no objections for something silly like his safety. With a hearty laugh, he turned around and said. "Do you hear that men? Time to show them what the eagles are made of!" the prince declared.

His teammates had little to add.

Kayden volunteered with a call and a raising of his hand as Michail's question, needing all but five seconds to decide. He turned and approached the wagon to gather his blade, and while he did, he felt a bit calmer and more level headed. Even a tinge of fear crept up, but that was easily brushed aside. The heir to the Empire feared no man, and that was all a bandit was. His training and bookish knowledge of tactics would keep him safe, not to mention the professors and like-minded students at his side. He nearly didn't catch Kellen's kind-hearted assurance to Lienna once he passed them by. He decided to say nothing, but he did have a small smile on his face. Rather he gave Lienna a salute with his sword once Kellen departed, before following after the others as well.
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Lienna remained obstinately calm as speculation flew, looking pointedly at her hands, the river, and anything else that wasn’t the approaching riders, if only to make clear her disapproval of her more flighty classmates. Goddess above, they see two riders and assume it’s time to take up arms? Lienna would have thought that the road was precisely the place one might expect to see riders, but hey, maybe that was just her lowly remote upbringing talking.

Still, nerves were like a plague, and though she was sure they were overreacting, Lienna was quite aware of a growing tightness in her chest, a nervous buzzing in her legs nudging at her to flee. It was the same feeling she’d get at the first sign of a Srengese raid, when the distant sky would light up orange like a cursed sunset in the East. The feeling only fueled her worsening mood; this nervous anticipation was precisely one of many things she’d been eager to leave behind in Hima, and soon enough she was glaring daggers at her classmates, resentful that they’d dare to make her feel this way again with their childish conclusion-jumping.

By the time the riders arrived, Lienna was irritated enough to spitefully ignore them, going as far as to turn her back completely, eyes pinned stubbornly on the horizon. But a familiar stone settled back in her stomach as she overheard the panic in the man’s voice, and even more so as something changed on the horizon. It was subtle, but a thin, white wisp of smoke was just barely visible, in the distance, curling up into the—

BOOM!

The blast wasn’t loud, but it might as well have been deafening; the implication behind it rocked through Lienna’s body all the same. A sharp gasp escaped her at the noise, the girl taking a half step back in horror as a black plume floated up from the horizon. An explosion? Dammit, the village really was under attack! And on such a scale, too, and so close to Garreg Mach—Saints scowling, was nowhere safe on this wretched continent?!

Lienna closed her eyes, drawing a long breath as her heart began to thunder. Stop it: panic never got anything done. Slowly, she forced herself to turn away from the distant village, opening her eyes to her classmates, equal parts scurrying and skulking to arm themselves. Was this how it would be, then? Rushing to risk their own lives to save villages from bandits? Michail claimed it was a choice, but she wasn’t born yesterday. The future leaders of Fódlan were being called upon: Help those in need, or forsake them to save your own skin. Lienna didn’t need Auberon’s pointed look to know there was only one right answer.

Judgemental prick.

She returned his look with a sharp one of her own, lifting her chin stubbornly. Just who the hell was he to judge her? “House Leader”, big whoop; outside of chore assignments, he was nothing but some highborn heir wanting to live out his grand fantasies of chivalry and courage. She knew the type, the ones who thought the noble class were the defenders of Fódlan, shepherds to the flocks of peasants they oversaw. Fine by her; he could fight the wolves alone.

And so she stayed, rooted in place as her classmates moved around her. And what exactly did they expect? Sure, it was all well and good to be noble, but come on. Some of them were still children for Cethleann’s sake, and nipping the heels of Professor Michail did not a Knight of Seiros make. Yet still they went, trudging off to that forsaken carriage to their likely deaths. And if they came back alive, then what? If they got through without spilling blood, they would probably still be called cowards; if they killed, they’d get the privilege of being haunted by images of pale and twisted corpses every time they closed their eyes. Hmph. See how noble they felt when this was over.

Her stream of consciousness grew more and more spiteful as the seconds passed, interrupted only when Kellen approached her.

“You, uh. You shouldn’t do anything you don’t want to. But if you do come I’ll, um — I’ll have your back.”

He was gone before Lienna got the chance to respond; lucky enough for him, he got off with only a look of shocked indignance drilling holes in the back of his head. Sure, he probably meant it kindly, but she didn’t see it that way. He’d have her back, huh? What was he even doing going in the first place?! The boy still had baby fat in his cheeks, could scarcely fill out his uniform, and yet he was off to be a hero at Auberon’s command? Fine, it was his neck to stick out, but he could spare her the patronizing. What, did he think she was frightened of the fire and the bloodshed? He would be too if he was smart, and besides, it wasn’t her battle to fight. She’d given more than her share in her lifetime, dammit! No one had any right to ask any more of her now!

And of course he had to be heroic. For his sake, she hoped he didn’t take that attitude with any of the other fools in his wake. “That’s the sort of shit that gets people killed, Kellen!” she hissed as he boarded the carriage, not really audible to anyone but herself.

She did catch the Adrestian prince’s odd salute as he passed, but spared the showboat little more than an acidic glare. Yes, go save the huddled masses. Just don’t look to me for praise when you hobble back.


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The announcement felt so sudden. Everything felt like it was happening fast, too fast for Derec to properly digest. Sixty seconds to confront the fact that they were going to an actual fight?! Michail was a madman taking them along--he was convinced that they were be left behind or that they would retreat somewhere else, he never dreamed they would be the ones to play hero and save a village. Nerve-wrecking couldn't even scratch the surface to describe what was going on right now. The fact that some people took this calmly also worried Derec immensely--to him, it felt like they had no idea what was in store for them.

Looking down at his knees, he realized that he no longer felt the soothing of Isolde's magic. As he looked up, he felt a pang of guilt as the girl looked completely petrified. Well, not everyone was on board with going along, it seemed. He could probably stay behind with her, it was the least he could do to repay her kindness. But as the thought crossed his mind, Auberon gave him that look. Clearly, their house leader expected them to step up now. Out of duty, probably--the man had already shown he was exemplary in attitude, it would've honestly be a shock if he didn't want to go.

Still, one person managed to surprise Derec more than Auberon: Kellen was going. No way Derec was going to let Kellen carry the brunt of accompanying Auberon alone, that'd be too mean. He gave Isolde what he hoped was a comforting smile before he stood up, stretching himself out. Good as new, and just in time.

"Right, then. Thank you, Isolde," Derec thanked her first and foremost.

"Are you going?" She asked him nervously.

He nodded, scratching the back of his head. "Yeah. Unfortunately, this wouldn't be the first time I've gone to a town that's been raided," He said, trying not to sound too bitter. "But like the professor said, don't go unless you really think you have what it takes."

Making his way to the carriage, he noticed Lienna had stayed in place. Was she choosing to stay, too? He stopped next to her, figuring he should say something. It wasn't like they were close or anything, but leaving her like this felt weird. "Hey, um..." Anything he could've said sounded stupid, but he ended up settling on something. "Don't worry too much about those two, I'll make sure to keep them safe. Be sure to take care of yourself while we're gone, okay?"
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Hidden 7 days ago Post by Achronum
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Laughter bubbled out of Clarissa at Jorah’s suggestion as she straightened up, the last dregs of pain finally seeping out of her muscles. However, her usual seriousness settled around her again as she listened to the Professors debate their course of action. As frustrating as it was to admit, Professor Euphemia was correct. While it would be a hyperbole to say fates of nations rested on the survival of this Unit, it wasn’t too far off. Kayden was the Crown Prince and herself and Jorah, although he wished it wasn’t so, were heirs to seats on the Alliance. She wasn’t as familiar with the people from the Blue Lions or their importance in Fargeus but she wasn’t naive; the archbishop put together a Unit with the basis of fostering good will and connections through all nations which meant there were major players from the Blue Lions here too. Any loss sustained here would compromise over a decade of planning and work and set someone back to zero. She couldn’t imagine her younger sibling the responsibilities of her position, of her father’s position, after growing so much with the expectation that he wouldn’t have to deal with any of it.

BOOM!

The thunderous explosion shattered her consideration, her hand going for a sword that wasn’t there. When she’d heard bandits, she’d expected extortion, a hostage, theft, literally anything other than mass destruction. What was there to gain from reducing an entire village to rubble other than death and suffering? Her reservations about the situation scattered into the wind at that moment. As a knight of Seiros, Clarissa knew Michail would go to the scene of the explosion no matter what. She wasn’t sure what kind of bandits used large scale explosives like that but if they were willing to destroy carelessly like that, there was no way he’d managed to help all the survivors and deal with the threat all alone. They were the only ones in the area to help and the Goddess had given her all the ability to help these people if Clarissa wished, what else could she do but acquiesce?

By the time Michail finished his brutal explanation of the expectations, Clarsisa’s resolved wrapped around her like armor, her horror and surprise crushed beneath the intensity of her determination. There was no question in her mind where she was going but she did a quick head count just to be safe. Imogen, unsurprisingly, had already run ahead and Jorah picked up his bow at the first sign of trouble. That only left… It took her a moment but she spied Derec leaving Isolde. Clarissa hadn’t had much of an opportunity to sit and talk with the Ordelia girl. She was quiet and reserved and startlingly difficult to read beyond constantly uncomfortable with any given situation. Clarissa turned sharply on her heel and approached the other girl.

“Are you scared? Clarissa demanded when she stopped in front of Isolde.

The blonde’s shriek of surprise died in her throat, eyes wide as she stared at Clarissa. There were a multitude of ways Isolde could have replied, but she said nothing as she raised her hands to her chest. Looking back at the village, she uttered, “Yes.”

“Are you going to come with us?” Clarissa asked, one hand propped on her hip. It was interesting how different their experiences were right now. Clarissa wasn’t afraid. Nervous, anxious even, but not afraid. “Or are you thinking about staying behind?”

Falling quiet again, Isolde watched as Derec pulled himself into the carriage, vaguely overhearing something about getting a proper seat this time around. “If we go, it’ll be dangerous. The professors can’t always protect us,” She repeated Michail’s words, shaking her head. “But then that means...we have to...hurt others, doesn’t it?”

“Yes.” Clarissa replied, eyes drifting over to the plume. “You may have to hurt someone, take someone’s life, to protect yours and ours and the Professors lives. You may have to hurt someone to make sure a child still has their parent, a brother still has his sister, a family stays together even as their world is torn down around them. I can’t say I’m afraid of what we’ll find or what we’ll face. That may change but right now, I’ve decided that helping the people whose lives have literally blown up around them justifies something I wish I never had to do, I wish no one ever had to do. Don’t you think that’s worth fighting for?”

Isolde’s shoulders tensed up considerably, though to her credit, her expression didn’t change too much. “How can you be so calm about it?” She suddenly asked, looking directly at Clarissa. “You have a family to go back to, too, don’t you? You have a future to look forward to, right? Risking everything for people you don’t even know...that’s asking for too much, isn’t it?”

Clarissa took a moment as Isolde reflected her own concerns before the explosion. “I’m anxious and nervous. We may find ourselves on the wrong end of a sword or an arrow in the chaos of something we’ve never experienced. My family would be broken hearted and the years of work I did, that my family has done, will disappear with the next sunrise if something happens to me here.” Clarissa confirmed, if not a little grimly. In fact, she may prove her mother right and even in the after life, Clarissa would seethe over that little detail. “But the simple fact of the matter is that I couldn’t face tomorrow thinking that I didn’t do as much as I could. Maybe it’s my faith or my position or any number of factors but the simple truth is that we’re all one people under the Goddess and I will always choose to leave this world better than the way I came into it. Honestly, I think deciding to walk into danger is the easiest and most straightforward thing I could do.”

“It’s easy and straightforward?” Isolde slowly repeated, clearly baffled by Clarissa’s words. “I don’t think that makes a lot of sense.”

“I think you should come with us.” Clarissa told her point blank, knowing she’d just get frustrated if she had to explain herself again. She’d admit she wasn’t the most patient of people but she could at least spare the other girl that experience right before they walked into battle. “We’re stronger as a team, Isolde. Come with us and we can watch each other’s back. We’ll leave the world a better place and make it out alive if we watch each other’s back. Stick with me through this?” Clarissa asked, hand held out with a smile.

Isolde looked down at her outstretched hand before looking up at Clarissa. Nothing about the blonde inspired any sort of confidence, but surprisingly, Isolde ended up nodding, taking Clarissa’s hand. Her grip was probably a little too tight, but she was in, mustering up some shaky determination. “Um, I’ll do my best,” She replied, returning Clarissa’s smile with her own.

Clarissa beamed, giving Isolde’s hand a reassuring squeeze. Clarissa was impressed that Isolde stepped up to the challenge like that; she’d come over with the certainty that Isolde was going to stay behind. “You’ll be great, Isolde. Thank you for joining u―” And like lightning, the awful thing Jorah screamed hit her and she wanted to vomit. All the warmth in her smile vanished. She’d been so focused on feeling out Isolde and making sure they’d all be together that she somehow blocked out Jorah being… Jorah, in the worst way possible. Why in the world did he think that was acceptable?!

“Why don’t I meet you on the carriage? I think I need to deal with something.” Every word dripped with venom and she whirled on her heel, eyes flashing as she stormed over to the weapons cart. How dare he speak like that to a Professor in front of all their classmates?! With years of experience, she snagged Jorah’s ear and dragged him down, hissing in his ear. “I swear to the Goddess, I love you, I really do, but if I have to hear about the absolute depravity that goes through your empty head once more, I will personally separate both your heads from your body, do you understand? Get in the carriage before I drag you there by your ear.”
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Hidden 7 days ago Post by Obscene Symphony
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The riders didn’t halt their approach as Jorah waited—fairly impatiently—for the Prince and Imogen to clear out of the road, but the much more immediate threat was the approaching Professor Michail, thwacking him on the back of the head with a rolled up map.

“Hey!—” he exclaimed in protest, scrunching his shoulders up defensively. He watched as Michail metered out the same punishment to both Kayden and Isolde, pouting. Honestly, why the violence? For once, Jorah wasn’t the one causing trouble—he’d only gone to arm himself like the good upstanding noble heir his father wished he was and tried to get tweedle dee and tweedle Prince out of the road!

“For the record, if we’re going to play this game then I’d prefer my assailant to be Euphemia in the dungeon with the riding crop!” he called after the Knight, though unfortunately his taunt went unheard as the much-awaited riders finally galloped past, coming to a stop in front of the professors. A wave of fear and panic followed them, so potent that even Jorah lost all semblance of levity, struck pin-straight with sudden terror as goosebumps crawled across his body. Sheesh, they really were fleeing from something, weren’t they?

“Yikes…” he murmured, trying to loosen the vice on his chest as he watched from his spot by the weapons’ cart as the riders explained their situation. More than once, Jorah’s eye wandered to the first man’s arm, his hand stained red from a few cuts, and his stomach quivered. He could only hear bits and pieces from the conversation, but he didn’t need the details to understand the gist; the thundering heart, the swell of panic, the dreaded uncertainty of what lay ahead or behind—it all washed off the man in waves even from this distance, and Jorah felt it all as if it was his home he’d been fleeing, his fellow villagers whose lives hung in the balance. It was a sick feeling, and he took a cautious step back, unconsciously trying to create some distance from the veritable storm of fear raging within the horsemen, only for his back to hit the weapons’ cart, further feeding the tumult within.

The distant explosion confirmed the men’s story, and a sick sense of worry compounded on the fear and dread, enough to threaten Jorah’s knees to buckle. He could scarcely tear his eyes from the billows of black smoke on the horizon, clutching his bow like a lifeline on a raging sea.

No sooner had the riders galloped off than Michail raised his voice to the whole group, offering them a choice: stay on the road alone, or go with him to defend a village under attack. By all accounts, it was the stuff of storybooks; a blooming hero in the right place at the right time, cementing their place in the annals of history through a selfless and noble deed. This was what tavern bards sang songs about. By all accounts, it was right up Jorah’s alley—but even though the departure of the riders freed him of the stone that had settled on his chest, it was hard to slip the cold fingers of mortal fear in a mere moment. Shamefully, Jorah was locked in fearful indecision, his feet rooted to the ground.

Fortunately, he could always rely on his old friend Clarissa to bring him back to his senses when he needed her most.

“I swear to the Goddess, I love you, I really do, but if I have to hear about the absolute depravity that goes through your empty head once more, I will personally separate both your heads from your body, do you understand? Get in the carriage before I drag you there by your ear.”

A painful, garbled noise escaped Jorah as Clarissa yanked him down by his ear, his former apprehension fleeing in favour of righteous indignation as he was forced to bend awkwardly—and painfully!—to Clarissa’s level. “Saint’s taint, woman, I’m not even that much taller than you!”

Escaping her grip, Jorah rotated out of Clarissa’s reach, noting that a certain sort of fire had taken up residence in his chest where crippling fear had just been. Right, this was Clarissa; she was raring to go, and the sheer volume of her soul had a special way of pushing away any lingering gloom except her own. But she had a point, in her unconscious way: this was right up Jorah’s alley, wasn’t it? He was an excellent marksman if he did say so himself, and fear? Ha! If anything, he didn’t have enough of it—hence his mother’s prayers for her son to grow some sense throughout his wall-climbing, animal-chasing childhood. Yes, exactly! It wasn’t him cowering by the weapons’ cart, it was the lingering fear he’d borrowed from those riders. They were the ones scared out of their skins, not him.

“And anyway, no need to threaten violence. If you want attention from either of my heads, you know you only need to ask,” Jorah teased, considerably more himself than before. “Jealousy is unbecoming of a woman of your stature, you know.”

It took everything in Clarissa’s power not to knee her friend right in the groin. He was so frustratingly aggravating that she didn’t know how in the Goddess’ grace she managed to survive his friendship this long. She settled for a punch to the arm. “You disgust me. If you never suggest that again, it will be too soon.” She snapped, grabbing a sword from the supplies and scowled. “If you could focus on the upcoming battle, it’d be greatly appreciated you damned louse.” She huffed as she made her way to the carriage.

Jorah could help himself, a self-satisfied grin cracking through his mock-serious expression even as he rubbed the burning spot on his arm, boyish giggles worming their way out of his throat. She was so mad! He could feel her anger and disgust poking at the edges of her resolve, but that only made it funnier. After so many years, he’d have thought she’d grown numb to his teasing, but she was as receptive as ever. It would be heartwarming if it wasn’t so damn funny.

“Such cruel words to send a man to his likely death,” he lamented, feet lighter and still grinning as he skipped to the carriage on her heels.

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Hidden 7 days ago Post by Hero
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As the students moved and made their decisions, Michail was already reining in the horses back to the carriages. One, in particular, seemed grumpy about cutting their break short, but it couldn't be helped. If whoever was responsible for the explosion had decided to use that much force, than pillaging the village wasn't their goal. It was likely to be a slaughter of some sorts. The only thing he couldn't really figure out was why, though; aside from the farmlands nearby, Luin wasn't exactly a booming village. Even its name had been borrowed from the hero that had saved it, nothing of importance originated from there.

As he tightened the strap of the bar connecting horse to the carriage, he noticed Tomai nearby doing the complete opposite. They were going in with one carriage and leaving the other two behind as they needed to be as mobile as possible. He was still surprised the guy was doing as much, but he supposed everyone would put their dislikes aside when it came to something important. What was more, aside from Euphemia's initial protest, Tomai hadn't uttered a word to the contrary. He was so sure he would've been called reckless or suicidal, but nope. Tomai noticed Michail's stare, offering a shrug as if he already knew what he was thinking.

"I'm surprised," Michail ended up outright admitting as Tomai brought the freed horse over.

"As funny as it would be to watch you try to singlehandedly take on an entire army of bandits on your own, this is as good an opportunity as any," Tomai replied. "We can only shield them for so long."

That did seem more like a Tomai response. "To be honest, I just thought it would be easier this way," Michail said, adjusting the saddle. "Some of these kids would've been reckless and followed me. At least this way, it'll be safer."

Tomai nodded in agreement. "It's smart. I forget sometimes that you're an actual knight," He mused, ignoring Michail's strained smile as he looked over at the students. He watched Isolde pull herself up, raising his eyebrows. "All but two. You really have a way with words."

"That's not it," Michail corrected him, lifting himself up and over the horse. "They're ready to see the world outside theirs. That's all."

Tomai looked over to Kaira, who was handing the reins to Euphemia. Two free horses, one carriage, one knight, one archer, two mages, eight students going to the village. That much barely qualified as a brigade, but it couldn't be helped. Closing his eyes for a moment, he listened intently as the wind blew past them. Once he opened his eyes, he looked back up at Michail.

"We're up against two dozen bandits. A majority of them are already inside the village, but there are some lingering at the edge. I think they're looking to raze the village to the ground," He stated. "I suggest we take a few seconds to go over a formation."

Michail chewed on the corner of his lip as he listened. That many, huh? As he looked around, however, he had to put a pause to that thought. "It looks like they've all made their decisions," He noted out loud. "Get yourselves ready, once I finish talking to this pair, we're going."

He made sure to be as gentle with the horse as possible--even it seemed to sense the unrest nearby. He stopped in front of Lienna, looking the girl up and down. Resisting the urge to smile, he made sure she was looking at him before he would speak. "I'm leaving the two carriages to you," He stated, motioning to the nearly empty weapon carriage and the one the professors had previously occupied. "Remember what I said: don't assume you're safe here. We don't know what their objective is or what they're looking for. Stay on your guard and watch each other's backs."

Digging around in his satchel, he pulled out a small, silver wand adorned with a white crystal on top. "If trouble comes looking for you, concentrate into it, it'll release a minor cloaking spell in the form of a fog," He explained. "You can use it to run to us, or hide, or whatever you'd like."

Looking up, he let out a shrill whistle at Veronica, who had already decided to take a seat on a nearby log. She looked wholly disinterested in the entire situation, not even having bothered speaking to anyone. She briefly looked up from her nails to raise an eyebrow at Michail, waving her free hand. "I heard you," She muttered.

"Good," Michail looked back down at Lienna, giving her one last nod before riding over to the carriages. At this point, everyone had been squished back in fully equipped. He wished they had armor, but it was too late for that. Euphemia came over on her own horse, an ornate longbow slung around her chest. Tomai was already seated at the front of the carriage, stifling a yawn but clearly ready to go. The only one left was Kaira, who had still been rummaging through the carriage of the weapons.

"Ah! Michail!" She called, waving her arm for attention. "I'm not sure which role I should fill."

Michail looked back at the students, hastily putting together what he remembered. Imogen, Kellen, and the prince were all sword users, though he didn't doubt Clarissa would have her sword at the ready as well despite playing more of a support role. Auberon and Derec were also front line fighters with an axe and lance respectively, then there was Jorah with his bow. He would be with the front liners, Euphemia would be joining Jorah in the backlines, and Tomai was their only mage.

"Grab a staff of some sort, we're gonna need more firepower," He called. He waited as she did what she was told, offering her his hand. Once she was settled behind him, he let out another whistle. "Let's go!" He called.

"Roger," Tomai replied, taking a second to look back at the carriage. "Don't fall out." He suggested, lifting his arms and whipping the reins down harshly. The horses and carriage charged off, with the Kalonic duo hastily charging forward. Kaira hung onto Michail's armor, giving the village a nervous look.

"Our first goal is driving back the bandits!" Michail called out, his voice somehow heard clearly despite the movement. "We're splitting into three teams to accomplish this: Auberon, Derec, and Isolde will be on the offensive. You're joining me in the front and we're going to focus on getting the bandits' attention the best we can. Clarissa, Jorah, and Tomai will take center and make sure to cover any holes in our lineup--Clarissa, you're going to be taking up a majority of the support role, so we're going to be counting on you. Imogen, Kellen, and Kayden will be our backups and make sure to push back anyone that'd be dumb enough to try to surround us while making sure any villagers can get out."

Kaira's grip tightened on Michail, frowning at him. "Should I--"

"Euphemia is going to find the leader. As soon as the leader is found, we're going to bumrush them--once you get them out of the way, the rest should scatter," He cut her off. "No one do anything reckless. Stick to the plan, and we'll be fine."

Euphemia nodded, riding close to Michail. "Understood. I'm going off solo, then," She told him.

"Do it," He said, taking a second to look back at Kaira. She looked up at him, uncertain, but he shook his head, focusing instead on the village ahead. "Here we are! Get out and get moving!"

The carriage's halt was less than ideal, though the adrenaline was starting to rush through everyone. Euphemia followed suit, only looking back to shout, "Stay sharp!" before disappearing into the chaos.

Kaira hopped off Michail's horse, looking around at the destruction. The screams were somehow covered by the explosion, with a majority of people running around trying to flee and save themselves. A multitude of thugs in mismatched clothing and hackneyed weapons littered the area, breaking into homes and eagerly setting anything aflame as quickly as they could. Scorch marks surrounded the edge of one village--it had been where the initial explosion had happened.

Looking back at the students dropping out of the carriage, she felt like she should say something. As she opened her mouth to speak, however, the hairs on the back of her neck stood, and she turned back around to see what looked like half a dozen bandits looking right at them.

"They're here already?!" She gasped, backing up.

"Don't let your guard down!" Michail called. "The battle's already started!"
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While Auberon would never insinuate that his fellow students were cowards, he was a bit surprised nearly everyone joined the attack so eagerly. Then again, that was what they were attending Garreg Mach for. Duty had called and they had answered, as expected of the ideal nobleman. Lienna apparently hadn't gotten the memo, though perhaps she was simply not confident in her abilities and chose safety instead. She wasn't a delicate flower; she had a Crest for fuck's sake. They really needed to have a chat about the obligations of the upper class. Lienna had an excuse this time, but lowborn behavior could only continue for so long before her actions became an embarrassment to both herself and her betrothed. Speaking of betrothed, Kayden's bride-to-be staying behind garnered little frustration from the blond. She was prickly, offputting, and unsurprisingly lazy. Probably only in attendance at the academy for show, and intended to live out the rest of her life pampered in the Imperial Palace. Besides, she wasn't his to manage anyway.

Of course, every Deer boarding the carriage was a bit irritating. How did Jorah of all people manage to get his dysfunctional hooligans on board? No, that wasn't quite fair; Clarissa had done all the legwork from what he saw. Auberon would have to be more forceful in the future. Still, he had to have done something right; Derec and Kellen followed without any deliberation. Sure, Kellen looked a bit more fidgety than usual - or was he always like that? Kellen could've had a seizure outright on the ride here and Auberon probably still wouldn't have noticed over the jostling of the carriage - but Derec looked almost like he'd done this before. That was good, confidence and morale have won battles that tactics and skill deemed impossible.

At Imogen's prodding, Auberon returned her grin with one of his own, subdued eagerness barely hidden behind his usual stoic veneer, "Of course. The Goddess put us here for a reason, we'd be fools not to answer the call." The timing was a bit too good to be purely coincidental. With no small number of Crestbearers present, the eyes of the Goddess were no doubt upon this group whether they liked it or not. "So, I think we're all going to be fine," He tacked on mostly for the benefit of the more nervous members of the party. Naturally, he knew that he would be fine from the beginning, and Imogen herself had been gung ho from the moment they saw the riders.

Once they started moving and Michail explained their strategy, Auberon straightened up as best he could in his seat and listened intently. A pretty barebones formation, though with their numbers, they really didn't have much of a choice. There wasn't much room to argue over the rickety clattering of the carriage anyway, not that Auberon was particularly keen on preaching tactics to a Knight of Seiros or a commanding officer. His role suited him just fine - Michail didn't want them to merely hold the line, they were to punch through the bandits and cut them down for their crimes. With how Euphemia seemed to want them coddled and the Faerghusian emphasis on shock cavalry, he was worried they might be relegated to standing in place and waiting for Michail to cut the bandits down from behind.

When he exitted the carriage at last, Auberon certainly didn't expect their adversaries to already be waiting for them. Had they been set up? Those riders looked a little too beat up to be faking, but the brigands could've expected that they'd return with reinforcements and set up an ambush to be safe. His instincts were telling him to charge in, rout them with shock and awe before they had a chance to realize they weren't just fighting dumb kids. Unfortunately, overextending himself was probably suicide if the rest of them couldn't keep up and this uniform was hardly doing him any favors in the area of defense. Without even a shield to duck behind, he'd need to play it safe. He knew his range, he could win. All he needed was patience.

"Jorah, pick off their archers first if you spot them," The blond muttered as he disembarked, "Climb on top of the carriage for a better vantage point if you need to, we'll make sure they don't get close." A shoddily-dressed peasant with a sword already dulled by pointlessly cutting down innocents was hardly a concern. The cowardly ones taking shots at them from behind a tree were more worrisome. Most of the students looked like they'd have no answer to a sustained volley, Auberon included.

"Derec, you've got the most reach, so try to buy as as much space as possible. Keep them scattered," He continued with a more forceful edge in his tone, assuming Derec to be more receptive to orders than Jorah. They had the numbers advantage for now, so surrounding the poor bastards and cutting them down like they'd probably done to the townsfolk was only poetic.

With his suggestions delivered, Auberon stepped forward challengingly and raised his axe over his shoulder in a way that was almost inviting. His stance was rigid and formal, one that suggested the would-be squire would react to anything unorthodox with confusion. Everything about him telegraphed that every move he'd make would come word-for-word out of a fencing manual, not that the boy was planning to explode like a feral beast and start hacking off limbs in the Goddess' name.

So when one of the mooks stepped forward, Auberon did just that. As the bandit approached, Auberon shifted his grip on his weapon further up toward the head, as if he was expecting the man to venture well into his personal space. Before he had the chance, the blond shifted his weight forward suddenly to thrust with the butt of his axe's haft and batter the guy in the nose. From there, his hand slid back into position and he snapped his axe downward immediately in a follow-up chop while the bandit was staggering. Hesitation was a sign of incertitude, and Auberon was nothing if not devoted in sending these men to answer for their crimes before the Most High.


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There was a grove on the wall of the carriage. It was a small indent, barely an inch-long mark that was roughly the width of a fingernail. It was lighter in shade than the wall, the innards of the wood tree exposed after a brush with an errant student’s blade or some other piece of iron. Not that the mark, or its origin, mattered much to Kellen. There were plenty like it along the wall of the carriage, beat up as it was.

But if he stopped looking at the grove, he’d look at the wall. And then he’d remember he was in a carriage. And that this carriage was hurtling towards a group of bandits who had just set off an explosion far beyond the grade of a regular group of brigands. And they’d be armed. And they’d see the banners of the Knights of Seiros to be greeted by a bunch of children in school uniforms. And pick out the one in the ill-fitting garbs whose hands were rattling as he tried to lift his sword but he’d be too slow.

Kellen brought his eyes back to the wall and the small mark on it. Faintly, he realized he could Michail’s voice from outside of the carriage. He was quite keen on tuning it out for as long as he could, but when he heard his name, instinct kicked in. He was hopeful that Kayden had some experience, based on the way he carried himself, but he had no idea what sort of training or practical combat experience Imogen had. It made some sense then, that’d they be put on backup.
As the carriage drew to a halt, Kellen kept his eyes trained on that same spot of the carriage. He at the front, and knew it would take a few seconds before he could exit. He could hear screams, and the general commotion that came with panic and a raid such as this. He had heard it before when Gautier troops had been deployed to end Srengese raids in villages much like this. He couldn’t hear the sound of steel on steel or anything that would indicate resistance. That would change shortly.

Kellen crouched as he found his way out of the carriage, realizing quickly that bandits had already been prepared to welcome the group. His sides seized as his eyes registered the weapons in their hands. Most appeared well-worn. An axe with a chip in it there, a rusty sword in another glove. A spearhead that was still pointing towards the sky. If the group standing there was all there was, Kellen was sure his classmates and teachers could handle them. And Kellen could stay back, keep his sword in its sheath and his body away from anything sharp. His eyes started to scan over the immediate terrain, but he was distracted when he noticed the bandits start moving forward, with Auberon being the first to step out and engage them.

While the situation had changed, Kellen had to assume the plan hadn’t. He kept his eyes peeled for anyone who might try to flank the haphazard assembly of students and faculty, counting his breaths as he did so. One. The satisfying crack from the haft of Auberon’s axe. Two. A villager gathering a young one who had fallen on the ground before he kept running. Three. A man armed with the faintest smile on his face and a blood-stained Hand-and-a-Half sword stepping out from a building behind the group. Unlike some of the bandits, his eyes appeared to light up as he saw the small group of students.

“Please don’t…” Kellen murmured to himself as his hand moved to the pommel of his sword. His stance didn’t shift, his knees locking as he watched in horror as the man started to move towards them. He hadn’t yet noticed the small Fraldarius eyeing him. Kellen wanted to move, but he found himself stuck in place. He opened his mouth to call for help, but again that word came out, barely a whisper.

“Please.” Kellen couldn’t take his eyes off of the large sword and its wielder. If anyone else had spotted him, they weren’t moving to engage. He glanced back to see that combat had begun in earnest between the students and their faculty. It appeared this bandit had realized it too, as the smirk turned into a grin and he broke into a full run.

It was then that something unforeseen occurred. First, Kellen heard a voice shout “Stop!”. He briefly glanced to try and locate the source of it, but couldn’t find anyone nearby who seemed to be prepared to enforce the order. The bandit heard it too, and turned in its direction to see a student who had yet to draw his blade and looked more scared than many of the villagers. For the first time, Kellen and the bandit made eye contact. While Kellen’s inner voice screamed at him to flee, he felt his left leg take a half-step forward, leaving most of his weight on the back foot. He heard the sound of a sword sliding out of its sheath before he realized it was his hand, a hemmed sleeve sitting an inch above his wrist, holding his blade steadily.

The boy’s new stance did nothing to change the man’s pace, but Kellen noticed his smile falter ever-so-slightly. The smile returned he closed the gap, raising his sword to bring it crashing down on Kellen’s head. As the sword came down, Kellen did just as he had been instructed, raising his blade and providing an angle to guide the momentum towards the ground.

He had miscalculated the strength behind the man’s swing, though. As the blades connected, Kellen was nearly brought to his knees. There was no opportunity to counter as Kellen did a rapid assessment of his body. The aching in his arms confirmed that his crest hadn’t set in. But he wasn’t sure he could sustain another hit of that ferocity. The bandit realized it too, readjusting his grip to bring his blade back up, planning to take advantage of the leverage he had over the boy.

Kellen didn’t give him the chance. With a yell bordering on bewilderment as much as anger, and a look on his face that indicated he was just as surprised as his opponent, he shot forward from his lowered position with his sword outstretched and pointed squarely at the man’s gut. It was a minor miracle – or curse – that the man was able to bring down his sword to swipe it away, but it wasn’t quick enough to stop it from connecting with his side and drawing blood. The man’s shout of rage didn’t deter Kellen from pressing his advantage It was unlikely, without the element of surprise, that he would be able to score another hit like that. But as long he kept in close and his opponent blocking, he’d prevent a similar strike from coming his way, at least until aid (or more opponents) arrived.
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One by one, the other students made their choices, and like lemmings, all but Lienna and that stuck-up Imperial girl loaded into the carriage to their probable deaths. Most were either more considerate or less concerned than Kellen and that showboating Prince, talking among themselves or not at all, rather than feeling the need to make some patronizing parting word or gesture to the ones they were leaving behind. That was, of course, all but Derec.

"Hey, um… Don't worry too much about those two, I'll make sure to keep them safe. Be sure to take care of yourself while we're gone, okay?"

Lienna wasn’t sure if Derec felt some kind of weird camaraderie with her as the only other Blue Lion commoner, or if he was just like this with everyone, but she was starting to wonder if their brief cooperation at dinner on the first day had given him the wrong idea. Did he think she’d be sitting here, biting her nails in nervous anticipation as they fought like idiots, desperately hoping they’d all return in one piece? He vastly overestimated her investment in her fellow students. Sure, it might be a shame if Kellen got his heart run through, having probably only gone out of fear of Auberon’s disapproval if he stayed, but their just and glorious House Leader himself? He probably roamed the streets in his spare time looking for any chance to be a hero; this was right up his alley. Lienna doubted he’d need protecting, and if he did, he most definitely didn’t deserve it after pressuring his peers into risking their lives alongside him.

“Worry about yourself a bit more and you might just come back in one piece,” she muttered sharply as he left, more to herself than anyone else.

She watched the river with mild disinterest as the last of the students loaded into the carriage, though the shadow of a man on a horse passing over her alerted her to one last unwelcome visitor. Realizing he wouldn’t pass her by until she acknowledged him, she reluctantly turned her attention to Michail, impatiently listening to his spiel.

"I'm leaving the two carriages to you," He stated, motioning to the nearly empty weapon carriage and the one the professors had previously occupied. "Remember what I said: don't assume you're safe here. We don't know what their objective is or what they're looking for. Stay on your guard and watch each other's backs."

Digging around in his satchel, he pulled out a small, silver wand adorned with a white crystal on top. "If trouble comes looking for you, concentrate into it, it'll release a minor cloaking spell in the form of a fog. You can use it to run to us, or hide, or whatever you'd like."

Hm, at least this visit held something of interest. Taking the proffered wand, Lienna ignored the whistle and the wannabe-Princess’ retort, examining the silver. Once more, she was struck by the value of the thing; not only were the lavish materials expensive enough, but an actual magical item? It must have been worth a fortune. It was no ruse, either—Lienna could feel the faint pulse of life in the wand, a spark distinguishing it from any old inanimate object. A cloaking spell, eh? She really did doubt they’d have occasion to use it, but it would be good to have on hand nonetheless. As the others finally pulled away, she tucked the wand into her scarf at her waist, watching the forms of the horses and carriage shrink into the distance.

Only when they were long gone did Lienna finally approach the other two carriages, as if afraid if she got too close, someone would snatch her and force her to come along. They’d have lost a hand if they tried, but that was a minor detail. With the others gone and the commotion settled down—save the enduring smoke in the distance, which Lienna chose not to acknowledge—it was strangely peaceful by the road, with the sun and a gentle, warm breeze on her face and the faint gurgling of the water at the river’s edge. It was poetic, in a way. Not so far away people were probably fighting for their lives, and here, things were a picture of calm.

Lienna thought it was fitting.

With no horses left to spook by her very presence, she regarded the carriages for a moment before climbing up onto the weapons’ cart, clamoring her way onto the only spot that looked even remotely comfortable: the driver’s seat. It was facing the village, and by extension that noxious smoke on the horizon, which was unfortunate, though a small voice in the back of her head told her it might be smart to keep an eye out for anyone approaching from that direction.

Even as she thought it, though, she shook the idea off. “I doubt anyone’s coming,” she said to the air, justifying her nonchalance to no one in particular. Not that there was anyone around—save Princess Whoever, anyway. She crossed her legs, absently scanning the horizon. “They’ll have their hands full at the village, and besides, they don’t know what we’ve got in these carriages. They’d have to be simple to attack a Knights of Seiros caravan out in the open like this.”

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Clarissa stormed her way back onto the crowded carriage, her face burning red with embarrassment and fury. She wasn't one of his distractions and flings to play with, to indulge himself with for an evening and then move onto the next sparkly thing that caught his eye. The shameless manner in which he conducted himself always grated on her nerves and she made no secret of it but directing it at her so crudely made her wish she cared less for him and his well being. And yes, maybe she'd spent a summer they'd rarely seen each other indulging in rose tinted day dreams of their lives together but they'd quickly shattered on their next meeting. They lived worlds apart, viewed their responsibilities in drastically opposite lights, and found shelter from the cruelty of fate in absurdly different comforts. He was a dear friend and he always would be but if he made one more grotesque comment like that, she really would run him through.

In a friendly manner, of course.

Her irritation bled away quickly enough as the Unit embarked for the battlefield. She'd been lucky to escape any need for her direct involvement in these matters before today. Despite the constant threat on the Alliance/Almyran border of their territory, it fell on the Goneril family to defend the mountains and so she found herself reading the reports from the border with a sense of detachment, everything reduced to numbers and positions and locations. The names rarely weighed more than any of the other information and it was all too easy to forget who struggled behind the endless pages of logistics. She doubted she’d ever read House Goneril’s reports with the same detachment now.

The thought brought with it a sharp edge of unease and she folded her hands together as she bowed her head. She wrapped herself in prayer the rest of the way. A prayer for those risking themselves for this rescue, a prayer for those terrified beneath the yoke of bandits, a prayer for those who were already lost to the senseless violence. Prayer soothed her and she found solace in knowing that the choice she made would allow her to be a conduit for seeing her prayers, her hopes and wishes, come true today.

Michail’s discussion drew her back into the moment and she listened carefully as the Knight discussed their plan. A brief flash of guilt ran through her when she heard Isolde would be on the front line. After all, Clarissa did just convince the girl to join them and immediately Michail confirmed the fears Isolde voiced but the guilt was quickly dismissed. Everyone knew the danger going in, Michail was kind enough to detail some of the horrors they’d experience, but Isolde decided to come along despite that. Still, it didn’t mean she wouldn’t worry about the soft spoken girl.

Clarissa sat up straighter as Michail detailed her role in the battle to come and the contemplative frown transformed into a confident grin, the same excited, confident determination sweeping the nerves that threatened to swallow her resolve away in a heartbeat.. Acting as the primary support for the Unit for their first confrontation? Clarissa wouldn’t have it any different. If there was one thing she was, it was dependable and as new as this experience would be, she would never let anyone relying on her down. “So long as I draw breath, no one here will falter or fall, Goddess as my witness.” Clarissa vowed.

She jolted forward as the carriage came to a jarring halt but the words of displeasure died on her tongue as the chaos of the village engulfed them. She watched with wide eyes as villagers wept and screamed and begged for their lives. Auberon’s commands went ignored, her name not there to stir her from her stupor, as she processed the pain and the suffering. She stood to follow the forward team but she found a familiar hand gripping her with an unfamiliar grip. She looked at Jorah, where he’d latched on to her in such away that she couldn’t escape even if she’d tried. She turned to make demands but when she met her best friend’s gaze, she swallowed her complaints at the seriousness of his face and met it with like solemnity. “Don't stray too far from me, okay?”

“I wouldn’t dream of it, Jorah.” She promised, laying her hand over his and squeezing briefly. She glanced back outside the carriage. The world around them was in shambles and the chaos was panic and pain and if she felt awful at the sight, Jorah must be feeling ten times worse. “And if all this gets to be too much, tell me. Don’t try to play the hero.”

Hero, wouldn't Duke Riegan love that,” Jorah answered quietly, facetious but visibly relieved. Her reply seemed to satisfy him, though no sooner did the words leave his mouth than his trademark grin returned.

“Nah, dinners with Duke Edmund will get mighty awkward if he hears I let his daughter get shot,” he added wryly, finally releasing her.

Clarissa patted his hand as a chuckle escaped at his comment and she stepped out of the carriage just in time to watch Auberon launched himself at the nearest combatant with sickening enthusiasm. The swiftness with which he dove into the fray, no hesitation in neither stance nor swing, felt like a slap to the face. No words were exchanged, no hand proffered nor offer made. The heights of civility, reason, and morality buckled in the face of suffering and distress apparently. Did fighting wickedness with wickedness truly help those who’d been hurt? It wasn’t possible that was true and even in the face that these violent creatures refused to turn to their light, wasn’t it their duty to try and bring them back into the light? She addressed their attackers, righteous condemnation dripping off every word.

“Harken unto me, ye sinners who still yet stand amidst the fetid carcass of their sin. In your darkness and depravity have you struck a blow against the Goddess and her children, against light and life that could not defend itself. You have turned from the path of righteousness with the indignant fury of beasts and monsters in the most feral of ways and now slake your avarice with the blood of innocents. Your actions are despicable and loathsome and the Goddess stands ready to render judgement for your wicked deeds.” Clarissa gestured to Auberon and his victim. Her tone softened, still loud enough to carry across the field but the fires of fury dwindling into a warm compassion instead.

“But here and now, you stand as the masters of your own reckoning. I cannot claim to know nor understand the desperation or despair that has led you here to this day and to this atrocity, but I do know you are not monsters nor beasts but men and women the same as us, children of a Goddess who sees the endless cycle of bloodshed and weeps.” Clarissa swept her hand in front of her, across the devastation of the village. “I implore you to look at what you’ve done and see not the rubble of unknown homes, hear not the wails and laments of distant strangers, but rather those of your own blood. Your parents, your brothers and sisters, your children, your friends―each and every one crying for help as their homes are burned to the ground, their flesh melted from their skin, their lives destroyed and in ruins by impassive kin. See the consequences of your actions as if they were committed upon you and your loved ones and ask yourself if you can still stand by your actions today.” Clarissa took that moment to take a breath, composing herself as she lost herself in the image of her own family in a village, dying because of the greed and hubris of man. It took more out of her that she cared to admit to continue but who was she if she didn’t make the effort among a dozen who didn’t?

“If you find yourself embroiled in waves of disgust and revulsion, then you are not lost. You stand here today at a crossroads, facing a decision for the future of your soul. Stand firm, here against those whose purpose is righteous and resolve divine, and find yourself shattered like glass in a hurricane or cast aside your weapons and repent so you may find an opportunity for atonement in the courts of man. Your path until now has been dark and painful and terrifying but today you have an opportunity to step back into the light, back into the arms of a forgiving Goddess, so that you may make yourself a life in her service. It is the simplest choice to make, I beg you you; cast aside your weapons, end the bloodshed, and forge yourself anew in the image of light and good and love.”
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Kayden figured his fellow students were brave, or at least brazen. He had always been a bit of a swashbuckler and cavalier when it came to battle, himself. Still, it did him well to see he wasn't a bad judge of character, and to fight alongside like minded individuals. However, he didn't really blame Lienna or any of the others that deigned to stay behind, truth be told. If one wasn't prepared to fight in a battle, one simply wasn't prepared. It was nothing to be ashamed of. In fact he knew many people in his kingdom that were vital for the survival of his people that had never used a sword in their life. And call him sexist, but he also felt it was a bit more acceptable for a lady to not volunteer than a future lord.

He was also quite happy with his future bride to be staying behind. Unfortunately, he did have to get back in the accursed carriage. It did not do wonders for his morale, even though he knew once he stepped out of it into the sun, he'd feel far better. He had seen two battlefields in his life, though he had only really fought in one, and only very briefly. He had barely crossed swords with a brigand before his master-at-arms interfered. Sir Gregor only had his safety in mind, but damned was it infuriating. Though not as infuriating as the lecture he received later for riding forth from that very man.

Once the carriage stopped, he leaped out. He felt almost weightless for a good moment before he touched the ground nimbly. The screams and the fire and the smoke were very real, but he kept himself together. The sensation of the sword in his hand grew keener, as did his sense of sight and hearing; even his sense of smell. He couldn't already feel the matter of life and death this day truly was, and he would have it no other way.

By the professor's orders, he didn't run into the fray, even if he knew there might be others in need of aid. Instead he awaited his classmates to get in formation and he stepped to the left flank, hawkeyed and ready to skewer any that drew near in any attempt to cut them off or surround them. Some might think that was keeping out of the main battle, but Kayden knew the most important part of any battlefield was guarding the rear in case of a flanking maneuver, and true to his concerns, just that occurred.

A brute of a man (though evidently quick on his feet) had made his way behind one of the nearby homes of the outer village as Clarissa gave her rousing speech. So powerful was it that it even made Kayden's heart soar, and he was one who knew the importance of adding some flair to a rallying cry. A flicker of movement behind another carriage, this one overturned and burning, drew the prince's attention. The large hulking man stepped out, a broad bladed axe in his hand, wickedly notched. He grinned and scratched his nether regions with his off hand, chuckling darkly under his breath and approaching confidently.

"Give up now and I'll see if I can get you some toiletries like soap." He offered, grinning. Was that a gleam on his whitened teeth? Whatever it was, it had pissed off the bandit, who swiped at Kayden with his axe, coming in from the prince's left. Kayden couldn't block it effectively, so instead he danced back and merely slapped the passing weapon with the flat of his blade. Like a viper his blade came forward, passed the guard of the brute who thought to recover by turning his stroke into another one by swinging in an X formation. It wasn't a stupid move, but Kayden had been dueling since he was but a lad. He moved with precise and well honed muscle memory, and his blade bit into flesh before the prince spun out of the way of the next, weaker attack.

Kayden blocked a third slash, and ran his blade across the axehead and down to run along the man's fingers, bloodying them. His axe left his grip as he cried out in protest, but a blow from the flat of Kayden's blade to his head sent him reeling and falling to the ground like a pollaxed ox.
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