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Whoever says "the customer is always right" has not worked with atual customers.
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Michail watched their surroundings, keeping his eyes sharp as Auberon made his attempt to draw out the enemy. His grip on his lance was loose, focusing more on his legs as he readied himself to defend his student. He could see a pair of shadows moving through the fog. Good, they were definitely responding to his words. There was a strange sound, however, ebbing closer before going farther. The heck was it? It took him far too long to realize that it was the sound of a pair of wings flapping, but it wasn't coming in his direction, at least.

It did, however, quickly emerge from the fog. A single rider aloft a wyvern came at an impressive speed, barreling towards the students. Without hesitation, Euphemia drew back her bow, firing an arrow at the rider. While it missed, their attempt at dodging had altered its course. Derec took a swing, managing to hit the creature's leg.

While they dealt with that, the pair of shadows emerged and revealed their forms. One was exceedingly familiar looking, appearing almost identical to the previous bandit leader they had encountered. The second was an unfamiliar face, but it was safe to assume by the mismatched armor that he, too, was with the bandits. His hair was pulled back into a haphazard ponytail, the grin on his face full of confidence. A scar traveled from his cheek to his forehead, the eyepatch covering the damage done to his right eye. His axe was polar opposite of Auberon's, old, crude, and had seen more than its fair share of blood.

"Armor forged by the Goddess' favor, is it?" He asked with a chuckle. "That sounds like it would earn a pretty coin."


The air was still, full of anticipation and uncertainty. Kaira hesitated; it was clear she was becoming incredibly uneasy at the realization that nearly everyone was beginning to think the same thing. She looked to Tomai for guidance, hoping he would be more confident, but the typically snarky professor was silent. Regardless of whether or not it was a trap, she was confident in one thing--it was too late to turn around now. The best thing to do, in her opinion, was to push through. Hopefully the people were safe and the other Knights were already in their positions, so they could seek them out for help.

Tomai's silence broke as he let out a sigh. This was starting to become a pain. Before he could voice his opinion, however, Kayden decided to make his...announcement. He didn't care if he was the prince, that kid was going to write down the dictionary definition of 'caution' one thousand times or however many it took until it got through that thick skull.

"Your call to the Empire rings hollow on the territory of the Holy Kingdom, Highness," Tomai replied dryly. He opened his mouth to continue, though a powerful gust of wind blew through the crowd, interrupting the conversation and attempting to knock down the unwary. Not bothering to look for whatever the cause was, he looked to Kaira. "We need a shield!"

Without hesitation, Kaira raised her hand, a transluscent barrier forming around the group. As quickly as it came it met with a barrage of flames and arrows. While no harm came to them, it was shocking to see just how many had made the attempt to harm them. He motioned for Kaira, arm stretched out as he caught the staff she tossed him. Once the attacks ceased, the barrier fell, though the mage didn't hesitate as a glyph appeared before him. An even stronger gust of wind blew around them, pushing past the boundaries of typical wind magic. It was brief, but for just a moment, the area around them was clear, revealing a multitude of enemies up on the roofs of the buildings around them. Several were mages, but the more concerning enemies came in the form of those riding pegasi. On his estimate, there must have been at least six Pegasus Knights and four mages. One mage bore a familiar looking staff--the very same they had encountered in Luin.

Kaira let out a small gasp. "We're surrounded! But how?!"

Tomai had no idea. This was the first time he hadn't been able to detect an enemy precense. He certainly sensed them once his magic pushed away the fog, but they essentially disappeared once it settled back in. Was that staff the cause? No, it must be a spell of sorts. He took a quick scan at the students and suppressed a groan. The enemy had the high ground, they had only one and a half archers to deal with their flying foes, and any magic sent up there was likely to get absorbed by the mysterious staff. Welp, this just got a whole lot harder than it needed to be.

"Anything that comes from above is up to you to get, Veronica and Kellen!" He ordered, digging his heel into the ground as he held the staff steady.

Veronica's neck could have snapped from how quickly she looked at her professor, expression one of shock. "We can't take out that many and deal with those magic attacks!" The princess consort couldn't help but whine, frantically looking around.

Kaira was inclined to agree, though it wasn't like the others could chuck their swords at the sky. Perhaps they could wait until they swept the ground and attack? The thought had barely finished forming as a sword emerged from the fog, taking a swing at her. It was sheer luck that it didn't run her through, though the tip of the sword sliced through her sleeve. She stood her ground as a hasty Nosferatu sent the enemy back. "They have footsoldiers as well!" She warned.

"Of course they do," Tomai sighed. "Don't go chasing them, let them come to us!"

Four soldiers emerged from the mist, ready to strike from each cardinal direction. The sound of a pegasus' wings flapping could also be heard...




Ah, Eila missed her chance to properly explain the basics of Aetherborn capabilities. Although if she were earnest, she would admit that maybe it was for the better; she would have likely gone into a full-on lecture on the differences between each one had she been given the floor. Brevity was not her forte, and while it was an admirable trait at the Academy, it was less tolerated among those who roamed. Or at least, those who had little interest. Oh, aetheric theory, they would be apart for just a little longer.

Cerric's response to her inquiry piqued her interest. Did that mean that the shipment in particular was the exception to the rule? Was there something more to the lake? Had the Lord collected these pieces due to some abnormality? There were so many questions she wished she could ask, but it simply wouldn't do to bombard the man with them.

Said curiosity, however, turned towards the younger pair. Tainted. Aleka's explanation was intriguing, although she was uncomfortable with the dismissal of the Empress. From the few things she heard, the Tainted were those whose blood was forever marked with disdain, and most reacted as such. Aeowyn's demonstration played very much into an average response in being in the precense of Tainted. She had assumed the taller of the pair was an elf, but she supposed she confused his timidness with an intent to hide. This would be the second time she encountered them, though this was remarkedly a different situation than the last.

She would say nothing for now; she wouldn't have to interact with them more than she already did. She was here to work! And apparently the Lord was...curious? About them? Strange. Stepping forward, she gave Aleka a polite smile.

"I am Eila Aurelios, graduate of the Mage's Consortium and resident of Buscon in Relfin. Next of kin would be--," She hesitated for a second. Her first instinct was to name her auntie, but that would likely draw more attention than needed. "--Lorelai Aurelios." She said. Well, her mother did not go by her married name, but should anything happen, she would certainly get informed. Or so she hoped. "I am a Physical Animas Aetherborn with a specialization in healing. I am also skilled with a longbow and short dagger. My current academic specialty lies in aetheric theory."

Her eyes flickered to Cerric. "Does this group in particular interest you?" She ended up asking, against her better judgment.




Ceolfric nudged her towards Cerric--the latter of which was quite the character. A showman in a previous life, perhaps? He certainly had the timing for theatrics down pat and was even instructed to entertain them as they waited their turn. Eila wasn't sure who or what to address first, albiet she had mostly recovered by then, putting on a polite smile as she was addressed. She listened to the story of the creature that had apparently spooked the others (and finally understood the concern they carried) but just as easily she had relaxed, her eyebrows shot up once again. The Katya mentioned couldn't be...

No, now wasn't the time to get buried in her thoughts. She gave what she hoped was a small, reassuring laugh."Forgive me, this is all very new," She apologized first and foremost--after all, she hadn't intended to be rude. "It can be a touch overwhelming as one attempts to drink in as much as possible!"

Of course, it wouldn't do to leave it there, but she couldn't quite reveal herself. "I thought that the composition of Mirage Coral led to it existing solely in saltwaters, but it would seem there are many thriving in the lake," She said. "It is rather delicate and necessitates specific enviornments in order to maintain its aetheric charge, so I was quite curious about it."




There were a surprising amount of people out and about today, or at least, it looked that way to her. Then again, this was sort of close to the town's center and had plenty of business to go around. It was mostly older people though, with the occasional kid running around like a maniac. Some were even coming this way, likely wanting to grab a bite to eat while they were out. No one looked particularly excited, but they seemed content enough, save for some dude sobbing into what was probably a small paycheck. Yikes.

Shiori let out a tiny sigh. She supposed sitting around all mopey was going to give off the wrong idea. She wanted to go home and sleep until Monday. At least school gave her some sort of guidance, though admittedly she had been tempted to skip. Doing stuff was more fun when she had responsibilities to avoid.

Her thoughts were interrupted as she felt something hit her head. Her hand flew to her forehead, though the culprit bounced harmlessly to the table. She stared at it for a second, though she slowly raised her gaze to meet Totsuka's, coupling it with an expression of disbelief. Really? He was throwing stuff at her?! Snatching up the ball, she immediately threw it back at him.

"If you're that bored, you should've told Ariyoshi to leave the deck for some Koi-Koi or Go-Stop," She scolded him as she grabbed another napkin, crumpling it up to make another ball. Despite her words, however, she tossed the napkin ball at him.





Shiori watched Totsuka carefully like she was trying to figure out what was going on in that brain of his. Tragically, she was not a people person, so she wasn't sure what he was thinking. When he did finally talk, though, he just told her to take it how she wanted and that they weren't a couple. Way to state the obvious, she already knew that! He was infuriating, but it wasn't like he was going to give her a straight answer, not when he wouldn't even look at her. What did she expect from the same dude happy to 'rile her up' anyway? Asshole. She got her hopes up for nothing and let him yank her chain for too long.

Shiori outright scoffed, crossing her arms tightly and leaning back against the seat. She stared at a bird outside pecking at someone's lunch that had fallen on the ground. Maybe she should just go home, she was getting depressed and confused.

At Totsuka's call, Harumi happily approached, taking his cup from his hand. "I'm so glad you enjoyed it, you drank it so quickly!" She said as she placed it on her tray, doing the same with Shiori's empty cup. On nothing her expression, Harumi looked concerned. "You look upset, Himawari-san. Was there something you didn't like about it?"

"I'm hungry," Shiori grumbled. "Can you hurry it up? I wanna go home."

Harumi blinked slowly, turning to Ryusei. She opened her mouth, though she wisely chose not to comment. She did, however, look down at the table, examining the cards. "Oh. Are you upset about your results?" She asked.

Shiori threw a glare her way. "Can you stop that? I've told you to cut it out already!" She snapped.

The other girl hesitated, though she picked up her cards, pocketing them. "I'm sorry. I'll be right back with your tea and food." She bowed deeply, picking up the tray and departing to the kitchen.

The redhead let out another huff and sank into her seat, looking back out the window. "So annoying," She mumbled.





Oh dear.

The single thought had the rest of Eila's mind at a standstill, her eyes practically glued to the floor. Her nerves had shot up considerably as she forced herself to keep her gaze as far away from the stone circle as possible. Any notion about the Bounty House that she had had promptly flittered out the window like a desperate housecat longing for the outdoors. All she did was look around and she was suddenly filled with such shock that she had no idea how to handle herself. Her previously purple eyes were now a bright, flaming orange that refused to go away no matter how many methods she used to calm herself down.

What was this place?

Her eyes flickered briefly to the stone circle before landing on the rest of the group, remembering herself. Oh no, she hadn't paid attention to what was happening at all! But how could no one else notice? No, that such a thing could exist in plain sight and somehow not illicit more than a passing glance spoke volumes about this place. Could she find out who was in charge? No. No, that wouldn't be possible, she had her vows, it was not in use, and more importantly, she had no idea what that combination could even hope to accomplish. She had never seen anything so complicated nor life-threatening, had they any idea what they were doing?!

Eila forced herself to take a breath, closing her eyes. Ignore it. She needed to ignore it. For now.

The music stopping was what finally brought her back to the present, though she gave up trying to calm herself down in any meaningful capacity. She held her cloak tighter around herself in some feeble attempt at comfort, listening to Ceolfric--as such he introduced himself--explain that he was a brigand. How dreadful to fall on such an occupation, but she supposed she may have been more surprised if he was anything else. She did, however, raise a careful eyebrow at his choice of words. If she didn't know any better, she would think he was trying something in front of all these people.

Eila said nothing.




As Lavender looked around for volunteers, she nodded toward the pair of volunteers. She was pleased to see Michail's class, for the most part, stayed back--it comforted her to know that they weren't nearly as foolhardy as their professor was. The first two volunteers seemed to know what they were doing, or at the very least, wary of what they were signing up for. Auberon seemed more sure than the Jorah, but she wouldn't question it. She caught sight of Aileas' hand raising as well.

Derec watched Auberon for a moment, though it then occurred to him that Auberon would likely expect at least one of the rest of the Lions to volunteer. He first thought to stay back; he had already made a fool of himself once with the leader of the last pack of bandits they dealt with. However, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a dainty hand raise. His eyes widened as he realized it was Isolde of all people that had volunteered. But why? She had been as unlucky as he was. Maybe felt the need to redeem herself? She didn't really look nervous (for once), either. If anything, she looked determined.

His lips parted to call out to her, but he stopped himself. Instead, he turned back to the Professor, raising his hand as well.

Lavender nodded in his direction before turning to the board, writing down their names in quick succession. "Very well, then. I'll assume you have riding experience as we'll be riding ahead of the pack in order to secure the front. We leave in ten minutes," She stated as she finished writing one last name under theirs--'Celeste Gloucester'. "I've instructed Celeste to inform the stables to lend us horses, so I expect them to be ready by the time we gather."

She then looked at Tomai expectantly. The other professor continued to read his book in silence. She narrowed her eyes at him, though when he remained indifferent, she let out a sigh. "As for the rest of you, Professor Michail will be waiting for you at the carriages. They're usually meant for soldiers, so they may not be very comfortable. However, I will emphasize that the main goal is the safety of the villagers. After the attack on Luin, more innocents getting hurt would bring a panic across all of Fódlan. As future leaders, I am sure I needn't explain why this is so important."

Snapping his book shut, Tomai rose from his seat. "I'm going on ahead," He stated as he walked past Lavender.

Lavender let out a sigh, though she supposed she was warned how difficult Tomai could be. "Right...I'll go over a brief summary of the formation I'm expecting from you all, then we'll be on our way."



The Advance Team rode ahead of the rest of their classmates on horses as Lavender had indicated. Their trip was one focused on getting to Magdred as quickly as possible, with little talk other than instruction. It seemed that Mikhail was taking his role seriously, his previous promise to Lavender forgotten. The weather cooled a touch as they went on the path, though not so much to affect them. What was curious, however, was a fog that seemed to build as they carried on.

"Think the fog will affect the mission?" Euphemia asked Michail.

"No, but I think it'll slow down Tomai and the rest," He admitted, lightly pulling on the reins of his horse to slow down its running. "It's strange, it seems to be getting thicker the more we go along, doesn't it?"

Lavender frowned as she looked around. "Moreso than normal fog, anyway."

Michail didn't like it, but they didn't have much of a choice. He had to trust Tomai and Kaira would handle the situation when they crossed it. He ushered everyone to continue onwards. Fortunately, the rest of the ride was uneventful, and they left the fog behind them--it seemed to contain itself in the Magdred Way. Magdred itself was in view, still as a lake's surface that had been untouched. On a closer look, however, it was easy to see how devoid of life the place seemed to be. Where people should have been out and about there were none, the streets eerily empty.

Euphemia glanced at a few houses they passed--she could see some signs of life. "I assume everyone is being confined to their homes," She guessed out loud.

"And that's why we're charging in and making noise," Michail stated as he came to a halt before an empty stable. He hopped off his horse, hastily tying its reins to a post. "We're heading deeper into the city. Be on your guard, once they spot us, we'll likely be welcomed in with open arms."

Lavender raised an eyebrow at him as she dismounted. "And by that you mean attacked," She clarified. "Honestly..."

Michail grinned, brandishing his lance. "I'm taking point. I expect you to fall back and cover our rear." Lavender grumbled, albeit she made sure to be behind the students. "Alright, everyone, tread carefully."



As Michail had predicted, the fog thickened considerably by the time the rest of the Unit approached Magdred. Tomai narrowed his eyes, befuddled by the phenomenon. What was strange was not its nature--he would bet his research this was a spell of some sort--but that the fog hid nothing living. There was no one around them, and if a fog was going to be cast, why would it be there in the first place? He ignored it for the moment, though he made sure his Crest ability was fully active. If there was anyone around, they were out of his mile-long range. Probably for the better as he was fairly confident the bulk of the enemy was waiting for Michail and his ilk. Besides, they were on a rescue mission, anyway.

They continued towards the town, and would soon notice it in its splendor. Magdred was known to be a stop of sorts whenever people traveled into Faerghus, often bustling with merchants and happy to receive visitors. Unfortunately, its typically warm spirit was cooled down considerably.

"Why is it cold?" Tomai muttered to himself, looking around. He couldn't ignore just how strange the situation was, and it was putting him on edge. As the carriages came to a halt, he leapt down from the driver's seat and immediately approached the town's entrance. Something was amiss here. He spotted the stable full of horses--good, Michail and the rest arrived in one piece.

"There are fifteen or so homes on the East Side that we'll be heading towards," Tomai stated as he turned back towards the students. "There will be a few Knights waiting for us on the outskirts to receive the civilians. We don't know who we're dealing with, so I suggest taking caution."




Goodness, what a skittish group. While Eila wouldn't call herself motherly, it was hard to admit that there wasn't some innate part of her that felt a touch of protectiveness over the more delicate members of the group. She couldn't quite put her finger on why either; she was never one to eavesdrop nor nose into a situation that didn't involve her. But she was curious. Perhaps they had a bad experience with strangers along the path. It certainly would explain why they had chosen to follow...hm. She had neglected to find out their names. Oh well, it would come up eventually.

She was a touch startled by Jenson's sudden outburst but carried on. She supposed she would rather not intrude on the man's rest. He must be such a hard worker, needing a nap at this time of day. Once Ermes perked up and spoke to the hushed pair, however, she sighed. Teaching him manners would be quite an arduous task.

"Now, now, Ermes, best we leave the discussion once we've entered the building," She told him.




Fuck this guy. Fuck him and his fucking honesty. Fuck him and his ability to just say the dumbest shit with a completely straight expression and just sit there sipping his fucking boba like he didn't just go saying the most embarrassing thing she could think of! Also, fuck him, she WAS a schoolgirl! How else was she supposed to react when he teased her?! What was she supposed to do, she wasn't used to hearing these things aimed at her! She scared off most boys with a glare, it wasn't her fault she didn't know what to do! This was victim-blaming at it's highest!

Shiori was visibly red, though whether it was embarrassment or anger was debatable, especially as any retort she could have had dissipated with his fucking comment. She almost gasped, staring at him with wide eyes, though it lasted all of two seconds before her expression soured. How could he just say something like that?! Her grip on her boba tightened and she angrily drank from it. Her face felt hot, so she was definitely blushing, but she was so angry she didn't care. Fuck this guy and his fucking cologne and his fucking hair! She couldn't stand him!

Once he pointed out the deck, she let out a huff, stuffing a wagashi into her mouth to buy herself time. Fucking asshole. Fine! Fine, he wanted to see her cute and pretty, he would get exactly that while she stayed angry. Being angry comforted her, anyway! She whipped the top-most card from the deck and slammed it down next to his. The face revealed that despite being one, it had a single heart on it. It would be fucking hearts of all things, she swore she was going to burn this place down--

"Oh," Shiori's anger poofed away entirely for a moment as she realized something. Ariyoshi never finished explaining the game. "...she wants us to ask her what the third part is." She sighed, leaning back in her seat.

There was no way that was going to happen. The disappointment surprised her, but she was sure neither one of them wanted to let Ariyoshi have her way. She could already imagine Totsuka making some kind of comment that she needed to step up since he was the one that started the game. Then again, maybe he was just trolling her--he did say he had to make his own fun.

Shiori looked at Totsuka directly, though she found it hard to keep eye contact. "...you keep saying those things, but I really feel like you're making fun of me," She ended up admitting, staring at the cards. "Which, whatever, do what you want, but..."

She fell silent. What was she trying to say? "I'm flustered 'cause you're cute and I don't know how to react."





Son of a bitch. How did she know he was going to turn it around on her?!

Shiori immediately opened her mouth to protest but immediately snapped her mouth shut. Instead, she quickly looked around, scanning the place. Okay, good, no sign of Ariyoshi. That meant it was safe to talk without fearing that smug, knowing smile of hers. The girl was a witch when it came to this sort of thing, so she wanted to make absolutely sure the coast was clear.

Alright, first things first: Shiori could not ignore his smartass comment. "If anyone has been flirting all day, it's definitely you," She countered, placing her boba down so she could properly glare at him. "It's like you're going out of your way to rile me up. That's why Ariyoshi is convinced this is a date, you can't go five seconds without teasing me!"

She let out a huff, all riled up again. "I'm just reacting to all the things you're doing. You're the one that decided to look cute, so I'm just paying compliments where they're due," She stated. "That said, if you weren't so smug about it, I'd happily accept the flattery."



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