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About me:
  • Birth year 1998
  • Female
  • Canukistani
  • Timezone: Atlantic, GMT-4 (one hour ahead of ET)
  • Shitposter
  • Not usually looking for 1x1s but if you're really jonesing, my PMs are always open.
  • If you capitalize random words in the middle of a sentence, I will judge you harshly.
  • Add me on Discord, Obscene#1925

Most Recent Posts

April 9th—Morning

Fortunately, Nakano didn’t take poorly to Emi’s attempted apology - or, if she did, she didn’t say so. In fact, she didn’t say anything; Emi grew a little nervous that she’d said something wrong as Nakano seemed to walk away. She was only gone a moment, however, bringing news back with her that took Emi from nervous to furious.

"Some writing on the board has everyone's attention. It would seem someone thinks it's funny to accuse me of causing the disappearances as a power grab. That said, they're ill informed if they think my house is a place to look."

“Wha--!” Emi was cut off by her own shock, gripping the edges of her desk. What on earth would possess someone to write something so foul?! And so ignorant at that! Nakano’s own brother was presumed dead, her own house a pile of ashes, and someone had the nerve to say she was to blame?! Emi sorely wished she could summon Euryphaessa outside of the mirror, if only to identify the culprit and knock some sense into them. Despite what Nakano said about a power grab, she doubted it was anyone on the student council; they’d all been fond of Hanami, they’d never besmirch her memory by leveling some garbage accusation at her successor. Good - it would save Emi the embarrassment of chewing out one of her fellow council members.

Suzuki-sensei arrived before Emi had the chance to say more, and reluctantly she sank back into her seat, fuming. Nakano may have been willing to let the slight go, but Emi wasn’t nearly so forgiving.

The day passed fretfully for Emi. It was a good thing the material was mostly old news, because she wasn’t sure she caught even half of it, preoccupied as she was. Even hours later, that message on the board still bothered her. That it was probably some throwaway shitbaggery meant nothing to her; the flagrant disrespect to a girl who’d lost her brother a mere five months ago was maddening enough to have Emi fidgeting in her seat, her mind always wandering back to that awful message no matter how hard she tried to redirect it. And that was another thing! Not only had whoever written that taken a totally unwarranted shot at Nakano (and all of Emi’s missing friends, as far as she was concerned) but now it had her so worked up that she couldn’t even focus on what actually mattered: figuring out what happened to them in the first place.

By the time the bell rang for lunch, Emi all but tore out of the room, food forgotten as she hovered around the doorway in the hall. She didn’t bother asking Nakano - she would have mentioned it if she saw who wrote that message - but waited until someone else she recognized made their way out, stopping them with a gentle tug on their sleeve.

“Miura-san, is that you?” she asked rhetorically, “Did you happen to see who wrote that awful message on the board this morning?”

“Oh, uh…” Miura hummed, thinking a moment before snapping his fingers. “Oh yeah, duh, that’s that Ito chick that got into so much trouble last year. I think she landed someone in the hospital or something. Remember?”

Emi tapped her finger to her cheek, thinking. “Ito… Maki?” she asked, “The one who used to do all that stuff with spray paint?” She wrinkled her nose in distaste. Obviously that sort of vandalism wasn’t much to her, but she did remember one time when the awful fumes of spray paint hung around the second-floor girls’ bathroom for weeks. “What’s her problem with Nakano-san?”

“Beats me. What’s her problem with anybody?” Miura asked back, sounding exasperated. “Anyway, I gotta go. It’s good to see you back, by the way,” he added sheepishly, “I’m, uh…”

Emi held up a hand, offering Miura a smile. “Thank you,” she told him, releasing him from the no-doubt uncomfortable duty of stumbling condolences. Besides, if anyone deserved them, it was Nakano. “Enjoy your lunch.”

Ito Maki. Emi couldn’t claim that she kept up with gossip that much, especially after going dark for the past several months, but somehow gossip had a way of making its way to her and the name did ring a bell. General delinquent, hung out with a rough crowd, something about a boyfriend she was crazy over… it wasn’t much, and it was probably outdated, but it was enough for her to start differentiating her from the rest. So, she spent the duration of class after lunch flexing a muscle she hadn’t used in some time, actively probing out the room with… man, she needed a name for that funny extra sense Euryphaessa gave her. Whatever it was, it wasn’t nearly as strong here as it was in the mirror, but it was enough to start distinguishing between her classmates - like distinguishing different voices on a crappy radio. Not knowing Ito well combined with being out of practice made the process lengthy, but by the end of it she was fairly confident she’d pinpointed Ito to somewhere in the back of the class. At the very least, she’d get someone close enough to her to do the trick.

She sighed sadly, feeling drained. In times like these she’d usually nudge Hanami or Makoto and jokingly ask if she was hot or cold. Of course, if they were still here, there’d be no reason to be looking.

The end-of-day bell was a blessing, but this time Emi hung back, gathering what few things she had out - a recording device and a water bottle - and slowly packing them away as her classmates filed out. Predictably, the one she thought was Ito Maki stayed back as well, taking her own time. Probably wanting to avoid the crowds or something, if she was in the habit of stirring up shit. Then again, why cause a stir if you were just going to avoid the reaction? Seemed counterintuitive, but it didn’t matter; Emi didn’t have much energy left for deciphering the behaviour of delinquents.

She stayed in her seat until only she and Ito remained, piping up as she felt the other girl walking past her desk towards the door.

“Excuse me, could you help me please?” Emi asked innocently, flashing her folded cane for effect. She chuckled quietly, tucking a stray hair behind her ear in feigned embarrassment. “I just need a little help finding the student council room; I’d usually make my way myself, but these new renovations have me all turned around.”

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—


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.

April 9th—Morning

Apparently her timing had been good—Naomi-san’s reply came just before the assembly began, so rather than replying, Emi sat back in her seat, content to listen. She couldn’t claim to be interested in much the teachers or Principal said; once upon a time the renovations might have intrigued her, but whether her months at home had numbed her to such trivial excitements or the newfound guilt in the back of her mind simply took precedent, she found it hard to care about them beyond any possible changes to the floor plan. Even then, at this rate, if she could get back and forth from her locker and her classrooms, she’d probably be content. She had better things to do with her time now than tag every extracurricular room and trace out the building in her head.

So, as the staff droned on, Emi’s mind was cursed to wander, a twist forming in her stomach as she waited for Nakano Sakuya to finally take the stage. The two of them had never really been “friends”, that much was true enough. Emi knew Sakuya through student council, and of course, she’d been close with her older brother, Reiji. But they’d never interacted much outside of an official capacity. But what sort of excuse was that? It wasn’t one; she should have reached out to her after her brother disappeared, especially knowing the two of them were on their own. Goodness, her father in prison and her brother missing? Sakuya must have been a wreck; much more of one than Emi had any right to be. But rather than check on her, maybe offering a shoulder to cry on or some kind words about her brother, she’d just shut herself away from everyone and everything, convinced that somehow she must have been the only one hurting. Emi had to make it up to her—if Nakano would even welcome the effort.

All the more reason Emi had no right to feel the way she did when Nakano took the stage.

It was probably terrible, but she couldn’t help it; when Nakano’s voice finally rang out from the microphone, her very first reaction was indignance. Logically, she knew that Nakano ascended her position as student council president perfectly legitimately, but all the logic in the world couldn’t stop the tears pricking at the corners of Emi’s eyes. No matter what she told herself, all she could think was that it should be Hanami up there addressing the school, giving words of wisdom and encouragement with all the life and energy she brought to everything she did. There’d be no somber words with Hanami at the mic, no stoic proverbs, and certainly no heavy condolences. She’d have livened up the gym effortlessly, and carried that same joy and optimism through all year long. Right up until her speech at graduation.

This just wasn’t right.

She seemed to forget herself, brought out of her reverie only when a warm tear splashed onto her hand. Emi gasped, doing her best to swallow the lump in her throat as she fished for a tissue to dry her face. Goodness, she expected returning to school without her friends to be rough, but maybe she hadn’t given the challenge enough credence if she was just losing it like this in front of everyone. But what was the alternative, going back home to mope for another five months? No! There was work to be done! Not only that, but fate had been so kind as to give her a direction; this was meant to be, she knew it. She had to stop thinking of her friends as dead and gone—they weren’t. They couldn’t be. And that was all the more reason she had to face up to Nakano and everyone else she’d forgotten in her cloud of grief.

It wasn’t until she had to unfold her cane again that Emi realized how tightly she’d been gripping it, her knuckles creaking as she uncurled them. She stood on shaky legs, but thankfully, each step and tap of her cane grew more steady as she went, and by the time she’d navigated to her new homeroom, she was feeling a little more sure of herself. Or, maybe she was just more determined. Whatever it was, she was grateful for it; it wouldn’t do to crumple into tears on her first day back.

Finally making it to her homeroom, Emi slid into the nearest desk to the door, which had expectedly been reserved for her. Closer to the door meant fewer obstacles to navigate, after all. She checked the seat out of habit and slung her bag over the back, folding her cane back up once she was seated. Judging by the “vibe” of the room—she really wasn’t sure what else to call that feeling her Persona had given her, but it surely came in handy—as well as the ambient noise, she guessed she was probably one of the first to arrive—not surprising, given her hasty exit from the gym after her little episode. Students were steadily filing in, though, most of whom she either didn’t know or only knew in passing. They were a bit harder to make out than those she knew well, but she still kept tabs on the door, waiting for Nakano Sakuya to arrive.

After a few minutes, she did just that, and Emi stood in her seat, offering a small bow. “Nakano-san, is that you?” she asked. She was vaguely aware of someone walking nearby, toward the front of the class, if only because it was a little weird. Whatever, didn’t matter.

“That was a beautiful address you gave,” Emi continued, her voice a little choked by emotion even now. “Your tribute to Hanami-chan was…” she had to pause a moment to swallow the lump in her throat, her hand over her mouth. “It’s just… thank you, for mentioning her. For mentioning all of them. It’s comforting to know that not everyone wants to forget.”

Emi was vaguely aware of some chatter starting up in the room, but she paid it no mind, searching for the right words. “Nakano-san, forgive me if I’m a little too forward, but I wanted to offer my condolences. And an apology.” She drew a long breath, closing her eyes. As much as her conscience screamed to get on with it, admitting wrongdoing was still never easy, and she struggled against her emotions and the room’s distractions to put the words together.

“I know this should probably wait, but I just wanted to say… I mean, you know I’m frie— was friends with your brother, and I can’t imagi— okay what is going on?” Emi turned sharply toward the rest of the room, where the ambient chatter had swelled to an abnormal volume. She could hardly hear herself think, dammit! She turned sheepishly back to Nakano, more than a little flustered, and gestured to the room. “I’m sorry, but do you know what has them so riled up?”

~ /// ~

The cold didn’t feel quite as obnoxious after his conversation with Lilie, but even still, it seemed the night’s burdens wouldn’t be banished so easily. As Aaron made his way to Rose Hall, even with Lilie’s sweet words still ringing in his ears, the weight of Varis’ impossible request settled back on his shoulders with the snow, melting back into the crevices of his mind and filling him with a different kind of chill. By the time he made it inside, he was once again feeling the brunt of his sleepless week; he’d have been grateful for the dim lighting to hide the fatigue on his face, but unfortunately, Professor Daun could see through it just as well as he could. At least this time, it was (hopefully) understandable.

“Good evening, Professor,” Aaron greeted the older man before he even got a proper look at the room, closing the door behind him before finally turning to see that their usual setup had changed. In addition to the usual table and chair, some kind of… well, Aaron wasn’t sure what he’d call it, but some lattice had been drawn on the floor, capped on either end by hula hoops and filled in with drawings. An illusion lesson, perhaps? They’d started touching on simple animations at the end of last term, after all.

“Your handiwork?” Aaron asked as he put his things away, tipping his head to the floor. He felt his watch buzz, Max’s name rolling across the screen. Right, people were probably finding out that Varis wasn’t dead right about now; Max probably had a few choice words. Opting to deal with those later, he took his watch off and stuffed it in his coat pocket alongside his phone. Light from unexpected sources always threw him off when he was learning new skills anyway.

Jorah preferred the ride from Derdriu.

Sure, it was longer, and his retinue weren’t the cheeriest bunch, but it was leagues ahead of this. Unlike the miserable seething of the students around him, his guards were bored at best and grumpy at worst, and he could at least get some distance, either by riding a tethered horse for a while or sitting on top of his carriage, singing a tune. Hells, even if they wouldn’t let him out, he could at least recline on the cushions of his own carriage, whiling away the hours by goading guards to snickers through the window.

But no, on this cursed trip he had no reprieve. Instead, he was jammed with nine other students into a carriage made for four, with a rough wooden seat up his ass and beset on all sides by bad moods. Jorah might have made the best of the trip, maybe sing a song or tell a torrid story that may or may not have been true, but he was just suffocated, choked by the foul moods around him like so much acrid smoke. Not even his particular brand of stubborn optimism could clear the cloud around the carriage, so eventually even he had to resign himself to misery.

On the bright side, maybe if he collapsed on arrival, Kaira would give him some medical attention.

After a veritable eternity of swaying to rival any ocean vessel, Professor Euphemia’s announcement rang out like a cry of liberation, bringing with it a grateful stir in the carriage. That little shot of relief in his fellow students was to Jorah as a ray of sunshine breaking through the clouds, and he heaved a breath, feeling like a stone had been lifted off his chest. Of course, like anything, from that little inch of wiggle room he was given, he took a mile, a wry smile cracking across his face at the news.

“Camping out, eh?” he hummed suggestively, “Well, I certainly know what my tent arrangements will be.”

When the carriage finally lurched to a halt, Jorah remained uncharacteristically patient, letting most of the other students disembark first—gracious and charitable behaviour befitting a House Leader, he’d add. Wasn’t that something that turned out to be a mixed bag. He’d been making the best of it so far, though. The new uniform was nice enough, its longer jacket and loose trousers reminiscent of the styles of Alliance nobility he knew from the Roundtable. He wasn’t sure how he felt about that, looking like the well-trimmed official his father so dearly wanted him to be, but it was a fair sight more comfortable than the closely tailored uniforms forced on the rest of the student body, and the short yellow cape draped across his left shoulder was a sharp touch.

Of course, leadership was more than a snappy new uniform: there were shoes to fill, too. And with those shoes came responsibilities. There was the hard work, the setting a good example, the burden of authority and duty to lead his House to glory—or, more aptly, the complaining about the paperwork until Clarissa caved and helped him with it. That diplomatic brain of hers was being put to very good use; it had only been three days, and she’d already proved herself an invaluable advisor—even if that suggestion that Jorah assign himself some weekly chores to set a good example wasn’t all that well received. No matter. She’d learn.

“I think I’d rather be on the receiving end of Duke Gloucester’s archaic rambling than suffer through this another two hours. Next time I’ll remind everyone to bring a cushion.”

Speaking of Clarissa, Jorah followed her example and stretched a bit, shaking his head. “Screw that, next time I’m bringing my own horse. You and I could do laps around these carriages—just like old times.”

That familiar glimmer of mischief twinkled in his eye once more, the last remaining tendrils of everyone’s misery finally starting to loose their hold in favour of relief. Or was that… curiosity? No; apprehension, perhaps?

A borrowed anxiety just barely started to nudge at Jorah, and he followed the feeling like a scent, turning from admiring the scenery to face where everyone seemed to be looking. Two dots on the horizon seemed to be the culprit, and taking a step closer, Jorah overheard a few snippets of conversation, shedding light on the reason for everyone’s concern. It seemed they worried the riders might mount an attack—or otherwise be bringing one on their tail.

And of course, leave it to Auberon to be the first to make for the weapons cart. A bit of an overreaction in Jorah’s eyes, but after bi-daily challenges from both sides over House competition, he wasn’t about to let the Lions’ leader get the jump on him.

“As I always say, can’t hurt to be cautious,” Jorah agreed, letting the irony hang as he sauntered his own way to the weapons cart and pulled out a steel bow. There’d been exactly five minutes that morning where he considered bringing his personal bow along, but after taking one look at the pile of beat-up weapons in that rickety cart, he resolved to keep his own bow safe and locked away for as long as he possibly could, far away from whatever monsters would treat perfectly good equipment so inhumanely.

Of course, no sooner had he clipped a quiver to his belt and dipped into the trunk of arrows than Imogen raced beyond the caravan, apparently bent on being the first to meet the approaching riders. Jorah couldn’t fault her enthusiasm, but… really? They were on horseback, the extra ten feet of proximity in case they sought help wouldn’t make any difference. And now the damn Eagles’ leader was the one rounding her up!

Admittedly a little miffed, Jorah rolled his eyes before hopping down off the weapons cart, rounding the corner with his trademark grin and placing his hands on his hips.

“Relax, Your Highness, no need to come to the fair maiden’s rescue so hastily! Unless Milord doth seek the damsel’s attentions!” he called jovially, chuckling as he waved the two over. “I’m sure everything’s fine, but I would recommend getting out of the road. The Empire won’t be happy if their heir apparent gets trampled by a spooked horse, I’m sure you understand.”

April 9th - Morning

"Welcome to the Velvet Room."

The dream began like every other: Emi found herself in a lavishly decorated train car, in the company of a gentle-voiced man speaking over a soft, comforting melody. Even after seeing the dream so many times, it still filled her with hope; she’d been so scared the first one was a fluke, but the melody always came back, encouraging her that her intuition couldn’t possibly be faulty. The dream was a sign, she knew it: if there was even the slimmest chance that this was the dream where Mineri had heard that melody, then there must have been more to her friends’ disappearances to figure out.


But where she expected routine—a card, a key, a cryptic contract—there was something new: she didn’t wake up. She went through the motions, sure, but when she expected to be pulled back into the waking world, nothing happened. Instead, she drifted toward that door at the end of the train car, the one that always caught her attention, but that she could never approach. This time, though, she opened it, and the soft melody she so treasured washed over her like a wave, growing louder and fuller as she walked through what seemed to be a concert hall. For the first time, a voice accompanied the music, smooth and clear and piercing to the very core.

The source wasn’t long to reveal itself. Emi didn’t need to see the woman to know every detail, but the dress, the butterfly, the golden eye, it all paled in comparison to a familiarity that struck Emi like a freight train, miraculous and terrifying and confusing all at once. There was no mistaking it: the vocalist was her missing friend, Mineri.

Even in a dream, Emi’s shock almost made her miss what Mineri was saying—or trying to say, that is. She couldn’t see Mineri struggle to speak, but she understood her nonetheless, feeling like she’d been shot in the chest when she finally deciphered her friend’s message.

She couldn’t believe she never thought of it before.

The one word that changed all of their lives.


There was no way Emi could sleep after that. She was practically buzzing, any vestige of sleep zapped out of her by the combined joy and apprehension of finally stumbling upon another clue. After months of barricading herself in her room, it certainly surprised her parents to see her out of bed early; even more so to find her wide awake and full of energy. By the time her usual wake-up time rolled around—6:30am—she was already showered and dressed, and she even opted to take her breakfast on the terrace, enjoying the long-forsaken feeling of sunlight on her skin.

She wasn’t entirely back to normal, though; truthfully, Emi wasn’t really sure if she ever would be again. Rather than talking her parents’ ears off over breakfast and the drive to school, she was largely quiet, contentedly pensive as she mulled over her next steps. She knew for sure that her dream was a sign; Mineri was alive, or at the very least, there was more to be learned about her and the others’ disappearances. Now, with one more piece added to the puzzle, Emi was convinced it had something to do with the sphere of Personas; whether it was the Other Side, the Shadows, or their Personas themselves, was unclear. It was a small step. In fact, there was barely any more information to be had now than before. But to Emi, it was still a great leap. She’d always suspected the outlandish world in which they meddled must have played a role—no way people vanish so completely without a trace within the bounds of abject reality—but now, finally, she had proof. It was just a question of what to do with it.

“Are you sure you’ll be alright?”

Emi didn’t notice the car come to a halt until her mother spoke up from the front seat, her voice a picture of hesitant concern. Emi couldn’t help but chuckle, shaking her head with a grin. “All this time you tell me I have to find a way to move on with my life, and now you’re the one second-guessing me?” Her smile turned softer, and she reached toward the console, grasping her mother’s hand when she took it. “I’ll be fine. I think I’m ready.”

Releasing her mother’s hand, she pushed the car door open, plucking her cane from the seat beside her and flicking it out the door, not quite able to resist her typical smirk as she heard the serial clicks of the pieces snapping into place.

“Alright, sweetie,” her mom piped up, though Emi could tell that she was speaking around a lump in her throat. “Good luck.”

“Thanks, Mom,” Emi replied, feeling for the curb with her toe before pulling herself out of the car. “Hopefully these new renovations don’t mess me up too bad!”

She and her mother shared a chuckle before she closed the door, waiting for the car to drive off before she turned toward the buzz of the school. It was a fair statement, at any rate; when she finally tuned back in to the chatter of the real world, talk of her missing friends had died down for the moment in favour of buzz about all these new renovations. It was hard to tell the extent of the project from group chat theorizing, but Emi hoped they were mostly cosmetic; any changes to the floor plan were sure to throw her for a loop for the first few days at least. Of course, in the grand scheme of things, it was of little concern. If the last few months had taught her anything, it was that there were bigger things to worry about than little inconveniences.

The way to her locker, at least, hadn’t changed, though she was a little distracted as she made her way there: No matter how many she went through, the first day of classes always managed to fascinate her. The halls were always a swarm of conversation, but the topics at hand on day one always seemed different. The rumours, in particular, stood out; perhaps it was because there was no complaining about teachers and homework yet to stifle them, or maybe just because Emi wasn’t bored enough of them yet to let them fade into the noise. Whatever the reason, all the way to her locker, she was acutely aware of how the tap, tap, tap of her cane was punctuated by gossip.


“Apparently there’s a new student this year.”

“No shit, there’s a whole grade full of them.”

“Shut up! I mean a transfer student! Apparently he’s a piece of work, too.”

“You think everyone new is a piece of work, though.”


“I guess Mochizuki-san is still in the hospital.”

“Wow, and Asakura still came back?”

“That’s what I hear.”



“You hear about that chick making a scene at the gate today?”


“Oh dude, you gotta see this. She’s fucking crazy.”

On and on they went, all the way to and from her locker and to the gym, where the opening ceremony was slated to take place. Emi found her way around surprisingly easily—she’d honestly expected to have been a bit rustier after so long away—but the more she heard, the more discomforted she was. It was funny, for the longest time she’d hoped people wouldn’t talk about her friends; she anticipated it being painful enough to walk the halls of their school without them there, figuring it would only add to the struggle of returning to normal after such a monumental loss. But now that she knew there was hope, she was a little put out that no one seemed to care about it anymore. The rumour mill ground topics to dust in a matter of weeks, sure, but she would have thought—hoped, even—that the lives of her friends were worth a little more careful attention.

But the world kept turning, she had to remind herself.

Although, perhaps fate heard her plea. When she arrived at the gym, a teacher pointed her toward the student council seating, and as she tapped her way over, she heard an exchange between two younger members.

“I heard Natsuhime-san’s mother hired a private investigator.”

“Really? Does she think she’s still alive?”

“Maybe, though I also heard she might just want a definitive answer. They can’t get much more out of her than that; reporters can’t get anywhere near her.”

“That’s so sad. Imagine pining like that for so long and not knowing…”


The conversation ground to a halt as she passed, accentuated by what must have been a tiny, terrified gasp as one of the students noticed her nearby. Emi didn’t pay it any mind, preoccupied by the story; how hadn’t she heard of Hanami’s mother hiring an investigator? Come to think of it, after that little memorial, she hadn’t really heard much about her friends’ families at all—or perhaps, more accurately, she hadn’t really been looking. The realization hit her like a truck; all this time, she was so wrapped up in her own grief and theorizing that she’d barely paid any mind to the other people who might be hurting. Hanami’s mother, her little sister—if Emi was hurting so much for so long, she couldn’t even imagine what they must have been going through. And she never even bothered to check in on them. How could she have overlooked that?

A new kind of guilt racked her as she found her way to a seat near the other seniors, the girl newly devastated by her own ignorance. She vaguely remembered hearing that many of her friends’ families had left Kyoto altogether; what, did she think that just because some of them were gone that they didn’t need support too? Goodness, how despicable! And it wasn’t just Hanami’s family who were still around; unless something changed, Reiji’s sister was still here, too. Taking Hanami’s place as president, as luck would have it. How could Emi face her, having spent months obsessing over her brother’s fate without ever bothering to even give her a phone call?

Emi sunk into her chair a little heavier than she was before, folding her cane gingerly in her lap. She was utterly ashamed, but it wouldn’t do to succumb to melancholy again. She’d just have to make it right.

Finally tuning back in to her surroundings, Emi took a second to figure out who was around her—a little trick she’d learned after her awakening that came very much in handy. The seat to her right was empty, but it seemed like Naomi Oka was to her left; if memory served, she’d been bumped up to vice president after Nakano Sakuya took Hanami’s place. Well, this was as good a place to start as any.

Allowing herself a moment to recover from her realization, Emi put on a polite smile, turning her head in Oka’s direction. “Naomi-san, is that you?” she asked softly, leaning in so as not to be overheard. “Do you know if Nakano-san is here yet?”

Three days in, and the Officers’ Academy had already lost most of its lustre.

The way people talked about the fabled Officers’ Academy of Garreg Mach, Lienna thought they’d spend their days learning to fight and command armies, with some convenient noble elbow-rubbing on the side. But if that really was the case, then it must have been a slow start: Half their days were spent in lecture halls learning Fódlan’s history, either with their respective Houses or the oh-so-special Rose Unit, struggling to stay awake as professors rattled off dates and names through the dust of old tomes. Those books also lost their enchantment pretty quick; at first, Lienna was wowed by their age and value, but now she was just choked by the smell of ancient parchment, eyes glazing over long words in loopy script she could scarcely make out. Though, if she was being honest, it wasn’t that the classes were boring. On the contrary; it was Lienna’s first time hearing most of what they taught, not having had the luxury of a proper education back home. But they were frustrating. Be it the indecipherable passages they were expected to read, or getting called upon for simple questions she couldn’t answer, history classes were one big reminder of just how far Lienna was behind the rest of her peers.

There was strategy, too, but somehow the school managed to take the chaos of battle and turn it, too, into words and figures on a page—dead, silent, and utterly non-threatening. Even as he carried on like a teenager at the front of the class, Professor Michail still made strategy straight and narrow: start with surroundings, add in the enemy, factor in resources, and out pop formations and plans. As if it were just that simple: a game of logic. But Lienna struggled to see it. Where was the logic when the roof above your head caught fire in the middle of the night? How was a step-by-step process supposed to help you find safety when the bestial shouts of barbarians echoed through the smoke from every direction? Battle wasn’t logical; battle was running for your life, choking on smoke with your body wedged under a fallen tree, your heart slamming in your ears as you prayed for faster reflexes than whichever attacker tracked you down. It wasn’t an art form, it was a nightmare.

Maybe it was different for soldiers, but something about them teaching battle like a game of wits rubbed Lienna the wrong way.

But while history and strategy classes left her fuming in her seat, the other side of their military education—the real, hands-on combat training—at last managed to prove worthwhile. It had been some time since she last practiced magic, but to her considerable delight, it came back to her like an old friend, and she was thrilled to find herself already starting to grow with guidance from Professor Tomai. He even told her he was impressed with her ability, which flattered her more than she’d like to admit. She'd yet to get a proper read on the man, but he still intrigued her; he taught black magic with the same wisdom-born authority that he carried when he talked about crests, and even when magic lessons turned to ever more complicated figures and equations, he managed to draw her interest unlike any other professor here. Maybe she’d ask him more about his research, if she ever thought she could stomach the answers.

Then again, a seat atop the weapons cart listening to the disturbing realities of Crest research sounded a hell of a lot more palatable than where Lienna found herself now, squished between Auberon and the wall of the carriage, craning her neck to get as much fresh air from the window as possible. It was the trip from Gautier all over again, with the added discomfort of significantly less comfortable accommodations. The hard seat made her painfully aware of how bony she was, and Auberon’s hulking form pinning her uncomfortably against the carriage wall was the only thing keeping her from pitching out of her seat at every sudden halt. Additionally, she was just as laid up as she’d been on her trip down from Gautier, once more having to cinch her scarf tightly around her midriff as every bump and sway threatened to bring up her breakfast. She was green the whole way there, eyes squeezed shut and deathly silent as she focused wholeheartedly on keeping her food down.

When at last the carriage came to a halt, Lienna was one of the first out, stumbling on shaky knees to the nearest bush to promptly purge herself of the stones in her stomach. When her nausea finally subsided, she hauled herself to her feet, making a beeline for the riverbank. If anyone had reservations about the river water, Lienna didn’t share them; she wouldn’t drink and agitate her stomach further, but she definitely made a point to rinse the foul taste from her mouth before finally making her way back to the group.

“Saints as my witness, the very second I am Countess I am smashing the wheels off every one of these things,” she spat to no one in particular, raising the back of her hand to wipe the last few drops of water from her chin. She glanced around at the others for a moment before she realized they all had their eyes trained on the horizon; following their gaze, she caught sight of a few dots in the distance, gradually growing into figures on horseback. Murmurs bounced around the unit, a few students inching toward the weapons cart, but Lienna, for once, wasn’t quite so antsy. This was no nighttime raid on unprepared villagers; this was two people on a road riding toward a caravan flying the Knights of Seiros’ banner. They’d have to be colossal idiots to try and mount some kind of ambush on that, and pitting idiots against a bunch of armed students spearheaded by combat professors was a pretty easy outcome to foresee.

Besides, Michail seemed to think they were seeking help. “Is the village on fire?” Lienna absently asked, fiddling with the buttons on her sleeves. She drew a deep breath through her nose, closing her eyes. The faint, acrid smell of smoke was usually the first warning of an oncoming raid back home, spewed forth from whatever vile substance those Srengese savages used to fuel their torches. But there was no such scent on the air here, so she shook her head.

“Doesn’t seem like it,” she answered her own question, crossing her arms. “Maybe they’re delivering a message.”

And just like that, the conversation was over. Aaron promised to consider cutting everything he held dear out of his life, and with that, Varis was on to the next mundane task. Aaron supposed he couldn’t blame him - the world didn’t stop turning for the fleeting struggles of mages - but after the week he’d had, everything coming to a neat little end so suddenly felt like whiplash.

It was enough of a system shock to keep Aaron on his knees as Varis left, the mage staring at the couch cushions in a stupor until the slam of Varis’ door woke him up. Even still, the idea of standing felt like an insurmountable task; exhaustion crept in fast as his former anxiety trickled away, and with both body and heart so heavy, the floor was starting to feel like as comfortable a place as any to close his eyes at long last and forget the world for a while.

But, he acknowledged with a sigh, there was no time for that. While it had been far from his mind all week, class was starting today, and with Varis back, in an instant he was expected to go back to normal. So, though his knees shook as he hauled himself to his feet, Aaron collected the two glasses and washed them, doing his best to fight through the swirling fog in his head and get on with the night.

He got more and more aware of his own sorry state as he put everything away, and by the time he was done he made a beeline for the shower, tempted to burn his clothes rather than hamper them. After a thorough scrub, he even allowed himself a few extra minutes in the hot water, hoping it might bring him back to his senses. The heat was nice, at least; now that he was finally able to relax - by his standards, anyway - it was clear he’d been holding himself stiffly, the muscles in his back and shoulders loudly complaining as they finally started to unwind. He let the water run over his face, almost a little too hot, as if he could wash away the bags under his eyes, but only succeeded in making himself sleepy. Jamming the shower to cold fixed that problem, and he finally stepped out, shivering, but awake.

The rest of his routine took a little longer than usual, too - he’d let his stubble go more than he ever usually allowed, too nervous before to use his straight razor with shaking hands - but after much struggle he finally managed to get himself looking halfway presentable, dressed and waiting in the kitchen for Varis to decide it was time to go. With a few minutes to kill, Aaron finally opened his phone, wincing a little at the inordinate number of missed messages. To his dismay, if not his surprise, most of them were from Lilie - as if he needed yet another reason to feel like garbage. He felt worse and worse as he read them, nights’ worth of totally ignored greetings and questions. He didn’t mean to ignore her; he’d tried to at least give her a few signs of life over the week. But he’d been running himself so ragged that it was easy to lose track of time, and he’d been going non-stop since his arrival at the Academy.

Aaron shook his head at himself, laying his forehead in his hand. There he was again, making excuses for himself. He’d let his imagination get the best of him, throwing aside his other obligations, and that was the end of it. He really owed Lilie an apology, but it felt cheap to do it over text. So, after a few attempts, he decided on the decent course of action.

> Hey Lil, it’s a long story, but everything’s alright. Can we meet before class? I really need to talk to you.

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