With Michail’s dismissal, Euphemia let her mind wander for a moment. She disagreed with a few things he stated, but this time it was entirely in his hands. For all intents and purposes, he had been the one to request the mission. As she picked up her own notes, she remembered something she had nearly forgotten. Hastily getting out of her seat, she waved Clarissa over.“Clarissa!”
She motioned for her to go on over.
Clarissa studied her friend's face for a moment, unimpressed with the clumsy facade but she didn't press the matter. They'd have plenty of time later for her to discover what plagued her friend. She had an inkling for sure; Jorah's sensitivity to the emotional turmoil of others must have taken a nasty toil on him once the adrenaline of combat wore off. She hadn't been as much of comfort as she wished she could have been. She'd had her own doubts and concerns but she had a path away from those now and she'd steer Jorah clear with her. "Then it's a date." She teased, booping him on the nose. "Don't be late!" She perked up as she heard Professor Euphemia call her name and she rose from her seat and collected her things before she made her way over."Good afternoon, Professor."
Clarissa greeted her with a polite curtsy. "What luck! I'd just mentioned to Jorah I'd need a moment of your time. Was there something I could help you with first?"“What a happy coincidence,”
Euphemia beamed. “If you don’t mind, let’s stop by my office. There’s something I have to give you, we can also talk there if you’d like!”"That'd be wonderful."
Clarissa agreed, following the Professor to her office. As they walked, she found herself checking Euphemia's throat, the image of that brute's hand around it still vivid in her mind. "Have you recovered well, Professor? That man wasn't exactly a gentle giant and to have snatched you by the throat like that… I think we all felt our hearts leap into our throats."
The blonde nodded, her eyes remaining ahead. “I have, thank you for asking,”
Euphemia told her. “Unfortunately, bandits don’t care much for etiquette and politeness and resort to anything that will dispatch their opponents as quickly as possible. By the way he moved, I don’t believe I was his first victim. Fortunately, thanks to everyone, I was the last.”
Euphemia led Clarisssa to the church, though instead of going into the Cathedral, the two went up the stairs. The second floor of the church had numerous doors, some open, some not. The infirmary door was open, with a few priests and healers coming in and out. One office was open, but empty of anyone, and she would stop before a closed door. Opening it, Clarissa would see a smaller office than the other one, furnished with a desk, a few chairs, a bookshelf, and a map of Garegg Mach hanging. There weren’t many personal touches aside from a picture of a family of blondes, though the one thing that stood out was a gorgeous arrangement of plants sitting next to the window and soaking up the sun. Forget-me-nots and lily of the valleys all clustered around a few beautiful daffodils, and one single lavender stalk sat in the middle of it all.
The woman motioned for Clarissa to have a seat, closing the door behind them. She walked over to the desk, placing her books and Priscilla down as she opened a drawer. “I think this was meant to be sent to your room, but I ended up receiving it instead,”
She stated as she pulled out a small package wrapped in paper, placing it in front of the redhead. “The people of Luin wanted to give you a special thank you for your hard work.”“Beautiful flowers.”
Clarissa murmured as she sat, accepting the package with a quiet thanks. She unwrapped it gingerly, smoothing each crease and wrinkle out as she did. She felt herself get misty eyed as the gold bracelet came into view, a tiny, fragile looking star dangling from it. It wasn’t much compared to the things she could get, even the things she’d brought to Garreg Mach in case the occasion called for something more formal, but in that moment, it felt like the most priceless object in the world. She felt vastly unworthy of the token of appreciation; no magic in the world could bring back the dead, could restore homes to a time before the slaughter, could soothe away the nightmares the survivors would live for the foreseeable future. She gently clasped it around her wrist, a quiet promise whispered in the back of her mind as the weight of her own expectations settled more heavily than ever on her shoulders.“I don’t feel that I deserve it but I will strive to become someone who does.”
Clarissa said after a few moments, her voice resolute. “There was so much more to be saved, so much more that could have been done if we’d been faster, stronger, more experienced and level headed. Those moments of hesitation, fleeting pieces of critical focus and concentration snatched away in the smoke and screams, could have saved even one more life, kept one more ghost from behind those poor peoples’ eyes.”
Clarissa sighed, clasping her hands tightly in her lap.“That's what I wanted to talk to you about actually, Professor. During the fight, I… I don’t know how to describe it. One moment we were assisting Kayden and then next I realized Derec and Isolde were halfway through a building. I was standing there all but blind, deaf, and dumb, head in the clouds when anything could have happened while the rest of the Unit pushed forward and I don't know how to fix that."
Euphemia’s expression changed to a solemn one as she made sure to give Clarissa her full attention. Once she finished, she frowned slightly. “Don’t think of that as your failings. Had I the skill, you never would have seen that brute,” She sighed. “It’s hard. The first time you were exposed to such things...it stays with you. Battle is a beast that refuses to be tamed. No amount of training or preparation can truly steel you for it.”
Clarissa considered that statement quietly, rubbing her thumb across the bracelet around her wrist. "I keep seeing their faces. Not the bandits, though that's an entire matter altogether, but all the people we helped after. How empty some of them seemed. I thought I knew the horrors of battle, read about them enough to be prepared, but everytime I close my eyes, they're there again. Did they haunt you the first time too?"“Oh, Clarissa…”
Euphemia was heartbroken by her words.At
her question, she mulled over something for a moment, though she eventually made up her mind. “I was an alumni here some years ago. After the first week of training, we were sent off to accompany a carriage with some goods--it’s standard faire. The Monastery gives as much as it gets, and it was an honor to return the favor,”
She began. “But...we were attacked. It was expected, as even nowadays we tend to get only some of the supplies requested to the church if they’re unprotected, but I remember the very first time I drew my bow.”
She leaned back in her seat a touch, eyes revisiting a memory. “It was a longbow that my father had gifted me. It was well crafted, with a taut string, but very hard to use. And anytime I practiced with it, it would go through the practice targets. I thought it was a good thing, that no matter what happened in the mission, I’d protect myself. I was so, so confident,”
She smiled sadly. “I held onto that confidence as tightly as I could, drawing an arrow back at a bandit that decided to charge at me. Letting go of the arrow was so easy, and it flew so quickly!”
Her smile faded entirely. “It struck the bandit right between the eyes. At the time, Professor Geraldine swelled with pride. ‘She was in the face of danger and she got him right where it counted!’, she had said. In truth, it was pure luck,”
She spoke quietly. “It didn’t feel that way. With the tiniest movement, I ended a life. The look on his face is burned in my memory, the anger, the confusion, and then, nothing. It’s the last part that’s harrowing, the emptiness of life leaving them. And I was congratulated for it.”
Clarissa watched the emotions play across Euphemia's face as the story of her first kill unfolded. She supposed she had her answer; that when all was said and done, the burden of their experiences would never truly leave them. If Professor Euphemia, focused and resolute in her stride, skill, and actions, still carried the ghosts of her past deeds committed for whatever reason, then they had little hope of anything different.
They had lost something precious in that first battle, its whimper unnoticed beneath the cacophony of adrenaline and fear and the desire to survive. None of them were the same naive child they were before, regardless of their background. The structured, careful understanding of the world was brought to its knees and they'd forever hear the ghosts of the dead and the wronged. Perhaps it would get easier with time but Professor Euphemia had made it clear it would never go away. They'd been fundamentally changed in a way they couldn't yet grasp. "How did you learn to live with it?"
Clarissa asked, finally breaking the silence that had descended after Euphemia spoke. "Does it make it easier knowing that it's for a good purpose?"“It does for some people. I know others that pray to the Goddess every day, hoping that she would bring them peace,”
She replied. “For myself, it came down to just taking solace in the fact that I’m alive and can keep moving forward.”
Her fingers ran over Priscilla and onto a book, placing it in front of her. “Luin was a terrible tragedy, no doubt about it. Many lives were lost, but just as many were saved. With time, they’ll rebuild and be back to normal,”
She said. “The Goddess gives us the strength that we need to make it through even the worst tragedy. I believe this manifests in our ability to keep going, carrying the weight of regrets and loss with us. Eventually, you’ll learn to keep their faces with you, but not for sorrow. It’ll encourage you to do everything you can for the next tragedy, for the next fight.”
Clarissa took another moment to absorb what the Professor said, nodding slowly. The Goddess gave them all challenges to overcome in order to become stronger so they could face the challenges the next sunrise would bring. She would have to learn to solace in their successes rather than dwell on their possessions sooner rather than later if she had any plans of staying on the path she'd laid out for herself. Admittedly, it was easier to do when losses meant a Gloucester snubbed you rather than someone dying in your arms but like the Professor said, time and experience would be the only way to learn. She'd spent some more time in prayer until she did."I hope I come to realize that lesson sooner rather than later. I'd spoken so longingly of a world where such behaviors are relics of age gone by but I was naive to think I could reach there without learning its ways."
Clarissa shook her head. "But I suppose I've dwelled on the unpleasant for too long to be constructive. While we're on the subject of improving, what we're your thoughts on our performance?"
Euphemia mimicked Clarissa and shook her head as well. “It’s natural to be affected. I’d be more worried if you weren’t! Give yourself a little time to reflect and grieve, She will be more than happy to help you learn,”
She smiled at the girl.
She flipped through a few pages of the book in front of her, looking for a particular page. “As I had broken off at the start, I had to rely on Michail and Tomai to inform me of the first two thirds of the battle,”
She paused. “Well, I had to rely on Tomai. Michail described your power as ‘blinding light’ and couldn’t name the spell used so that was...not helpful. Though he did mention your initial speech at the start, albeit I can assume that, unfortunately, the heathens paid no mind to it.”
Clearing her throat, Euphemia continued, “Tomai noted that you have a firm grasp on the spells you do know. He said your runes were drawn at a good pace but would recommend practicing in order to make Nosferatu just as effective as your heal,”
She looked up from her notes. “And of course, I had firsthand experience with said healing abilities. I can tell that despite your distress you were concentrated; you focused on getting me out of harm's way first.”"There'd have been little point in restoring you to health if only for us both to find our way to the Goddess right after."
Clarissa agreed. "Do you have any recommendations about who would best help me advance my mastery of Nosferatu? I can practice on my own until I'm blue in the face but I'd hate to miss any simple mistakes and enshrine them in habit."“If you’re looking for theory and practical use, Tomai is an expert in all things magic. That said, he can be a little hard to find sometimes,”
She couldn’t help but laugh a little. “The Archbishop sometimes offers lessons in faith and white magic as well, though his availability can vary as well for obvious reasons. I think your best bet may be catching Professor Simeon, she’s an excellent Bishop--actually, she just received a promotion, so she’s a Gremory now, my apologies, but nonetheless I’m more than certain she’d love to help you out.”
Professor Simeon was the one Jorah convinced to join the party the first evening. Well, she supposed it was for the better. Now she'd have a better opportunity to intervene if he decided to go after her as frequently as he went after Euphemia. "I'll have to approach her about it then! I'd feel guilty if I took more time from the Archbishop than I already have. I'm just pleased he agreed to tea."
Clarissa muttered the last part with reverence. It was like a dream come true; though, she ought to follow up with Auberon and the Archbishop to make sure it actually does come true."I'm glad to have some direction. As nice as it was to receive praise for the work I did, I felt a little lost after Michail's debrief."
Clarissa admitted. "I appreciate your follow up. But if I could borrow your mind for the others, I have a few more questions. From my side of the table, I can't fully bring myself to believe they were just bandits. Considering not only that they commanded magicks that seemed to baffle our instructors but the resources they brought along suggests real money, not what you'd get gutting defenseless villages. And they were organized enough to pull off a synchronized attack. It all screams militaristic strategy, doesn't it?"
Euphemia straightened up a touch as she closed the book in front of her. Letting out a small sigh, she ended up nodding in agreement. “I don’t condone them for any reason at all, but it is usually understood why bandits target and attack villages: they tend to plunder them for food, for valuables, for resources. It is unacceptable, but relatively easy to understand. Luin is a farming village that has dealt with thieves and pests for many years and has never seen such wanton destruction,”
She started there first, frowning again. “I am unsure if you recall, but Michail was able to bring one of the mages into custody. I believe he’s under interrogation to see if we can’t get to the bottom of the attack, but...”
She struggled to find the words, her fingers tapping the desk restlessly. “You’re correct. The entire situation comes off as too coordinated, too calculated. I can’t possibly imagine what their goal was, but it wasn’t some random attack,”
She confirmed that much. “The mages themselves were organized in their coordinated spells, which leads me to believe that the bandits were a distraction. What I can’t seem to figure out is why, though.”"For the attack on the Eastern Church."
Clarissa clarified solemnly. "Had that second explosion gone off, Gloucester forces would have been directed to the village to investigate, leaving the Eastern Church without much needed reinforcements. I do not know what their goal was there but I can't dismiss as coincidence that two offences against the Church were committed within a week of each other. What was it that the thief attempted to steal?"
Euphemia's eyes widened considerably, although she outright let out a tiny gasp as Clarissa mentioned the thief. She practically leapt up from her seat, hastily making her way to the door. Only after listening for any passerby did she return, though she ended up taking the empty seat next to her student. "How did--"
She cut herself off, clearly distressed as she made sure to speak as quietly as possible. "Never mind, it doesn't matter how or why. But I urge you to be very careful when you talk about the theft, you mustn't let the wrong person hear you."
The Professor's reaction caught Clarissa off-guard, whirling around in her chair as the Professor rushed past. She expected an intruder, Professor Michail half dead, or some other equally horrifying event but all she did was listen at the door. Clarissa gave Euphemia a wary look that turned calculating the second the warnings left the Professor's mouth. So there was some dark design connecting the events; otherwise, the Professor would have simply dismissed it all as foolishness. "Up until this moment, I considered it nothing more than the questionable decision of a raving lunatic. But I certainly have my doubts now."
Clarissa lowered her voice along with Euphemia but she spoke firmly. "Why must we be careful discussing a story so easily dismissed with reasonable excuses and, more importantly, what did they want?"
Euphemia opened her mouth and closed it several times, a little regretful that she even said anything. But the cat was out of the bag and it was far too late to take her words back. "Because if the goal was to take something from the Eastern Church--because the attempted theft here was very, very serious, and if the culprits attempted to steal a similar object from the Eastern Church, it means whoever is behind this had ill-intentions. Luin could have possibly served as a distraction for the Knights of Seiros to leave Garreg Mach vulnerable and ripe for a second attempt as well."
Clarissa mimicked Euphemia, her mouth opening and closing several times as several questions attempted, and failed, to launch themselves simultaneously. So yes, it was all connected and yes, it wasn't some loose association of bandits but rather people with influence and power. But what could Garreg Mach have hidden within its depths that would warrant such drastic measures? And now knowing this, how obligated was she to inform her father of the events and what Euphemia had revealed? In terms of concrete details, it wasn't much but even this could give the Roundtable bargaining power. Clarissa settled for a long sigh instead."Do you know how the Knights of Serios plan to move forward with this? The Roundtable has already pieced together the connection between attacks. They don't know about the event last week and how it may be connected but if they find out, I can guarantee they'll be pounding on Garreg Mach's door before the week is out."
Clarissa sighed. "And considering how tightly guarded this information is supposedly meant to be, I probably shouldn't bother asking what it is exactly the Church's enemies are willing to spill innocent, Leicester blood for."“I’m not at liberty to say,”
Euphemia confirmed Clarissa’s assumption. “With that in mind, however, I will say that the Knights are not taking this lightly. Kalliope is making sure to look into this manner personally. A naive part of me hopes that simply hearing that the Captain herself is investigating would strike fear in them.”
She fell quiet for a second. “...and whatever happens from there won’t concern you, I promise.”"I hope you're right, Professor."
Clarissa sighed. It assured her greatly that the Captain of the Knights of Seiros herself was handling the matter directly but if the Roundtable discovered the full story and made a decision against the Church…
Well, that wasn't her concern right now. She was here to learn and grow and network and that's just what she'd do. She'd keep her ears and eyes open of course but at the end of the day, this wasn't her area of expertise. If things got any grimer, she may be forced to involve herself but as it stood, she wouldn't. Clarissa gave one last sigh and offered the Professor a genuine smile, hoping to dispel some of the solemnity that permeated the office. "Well, that turned out to be far more serious than I expected. It's barely been a week and my time at Garrag Mach has been nearly as eventful as my entire life, if you don't include my time with Jorah that is."
Clarissa laughed. "But if you believe the Knights will handle it, then I'll trust your judgement and leave it in Her' hands for now. Was there anything else I could do for you, Professor?"
Euphemia was glad to see Clarissa smile, relieved that she was able to assuage the girl’s concerns. “No, I’ve taken enough of your time,”
She said, though she remembered something as she gestured to Clarissa’s wrist. “The bracelet is supposed to bring good fortune, so I hope it can comfort you a little. And of course, I am always here to talk or just listen if need be. Sometimes sharing our worries makes our burdens feel just a little lighter.”"Thank you, Professor. I'll keep that in mind."
Clarissa stood, offering Euphemia another curtsy as she left but paused just at the threshold. "And thank you for being candid with me, Euphemia. I didn't expect such honesty but in return, I'll keep our conversation to myself."
She slipped out the door after that, heading to meet up with Jorah.