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That last beam... it was extremely rare that something would be able to directly pierce through her barrier, and yet the horned woman's attack had definitely threatened doing it. It wasn't something that she wanted to test again without a better idea of the properties of the attack--maybe then she could specifically counter it. Throwing up a weaker barrier as quickly as possible to obscure her position wouldn't work every time; the enemy would catch on and it would turn into a coin flip.

That was a consideration that would have to wait for another time, now that everyone was fleeing and, while she could have picked off a few stragglers, Sanae seemed more interested in doing search and rescue.

Understandable, most of those brought here weren't soldiers. Neither was Saria, although her experiences made that a moot difference.

"I have experience running rescue operations," And the number of them that were a response to her own company's actions was a damning reminder, "But that seems unnecessary. These buildings are all much smaller than any modern structure... if you find anyone alive, I can perform first aid."

Although, it seemed unlikely that her supplies would be able to be replenished, so any of the more useful things in those would have to be rationed carefully. At least her arts couldn't run out, which should at least be better than nothing at all.

Of course, she couldn't refrain from helping with moving any rubble out of the way herself. It might be straightforward and safe compared to a collapsed concrete structure, but that didn't mean that moving long beams of wood out of the way was going to be easy for anyone without similar strength.

The blond man ducked briefly to look outside, gauging the position of the sun in the sky. "Maybe still in bed...? I don't know what sort of night he had. I don't think anybody will have gone down to the city yet."
Yup to both.

"Oh? No, no, she's never done something like this before, or hasn't since long before our time," Florian answered, shaking his head, "I hope you won't mind if I show you the city first? Merilia didn't tell us anything about how your goal is to be accomplished, and better to make a day of exploring Talderia than to rush headlong into the wilderness."

On Fleuri's entrance, the hundi left the famous knight's arm, energetically darting from place to place to examine him before giving a satisfied hum. "This is the tournament knight, Flori?"

"Yes, that's the one."

"He doesn't look that impressive."

"Randon dearest, I've told you time and again that creativity and willpower are at least as impressive as technique. All the skill in the world may give you excellent results, but a repeat performance quickly grows stale without a willingness to thrust yourself into something novel.

"Now, I was just offering to show your compatriot around, Flower; you're more than welcome to join us. Perhaps you would like to remove that armour first? It looks to be a hot day."


"Ericht visits occasionally, but I think someone could show you to his townhouse. Shorty would be the best for that, but she's out..." Cyrus stroked his beard, "I can't say I've ever visited myself. I'm more interested in his countryside estates."

"The maps aren't what you expected, are they?" Whilst Rolan had been comparing maps, someone else had found their way into the library; or had maybe been otherwise occupied behind one of the shelves. From the long pink hair to the immaculate clothing--not only expensive, but surprisingly not even out of fashion for modern Thaln--to the androgynous beauty of his efatures, it was undoubtedly another of the order's long-dead legends: Mirror Knight Florian. Hanging off one arm was an even more androgynous hundi, their wavy lime hair tied back.

Given they were wearing a dress, it might be Raya, but that was hard to say.

"Most of the central geography and a lot of the Akitsushiman regions are a lot more stable, if you're looking for some place in particular," he continued, getting closer and leaning down to inspect the maps, "Or are you just getting the lay of the land? I could show you around, if you like."


Cyrus shifted slightly at Fionn's words, although he relaxed again when Gerard stepped in. "The kitchens are fully stocked and staffed; don't worry about rations or holding back. I even think there's been rooms prepared for you."

The blond man inclined his head to Fanilly, "Sorry, but Elionne does still live here, so you'll have to make do with a normal room, little captain."
"Everyone's here, or down in the city," Cyrus answered, "Even Edwin, although he might be reluctant to show his face around anyone brought in like you have."

The legendary knight stood aside while Gertrude's dismissal of Fanilly played out. It wasn't his captain and he didn't have any reason to intrude on how this maid had so badly mistaken the Iron Roses' new captain for a squire. How would a squire even get armour that elaborate? It even looked a bit like... oh, right, captain. Pretty obvious. But why was a maid asking someone else to get her food?

"Yeah, the shorty is here... not the same, but also mostly the same? I told you, ask Lilette if you want the fancy explanation," Cyrus continued, as if that little interruption hadn't happened. "If someone spoke to Elionne like that? The captain could deal with it herself. I'd be more worried about keeping Tyaethe from doing something."
"Aye? Sounds like she's getting lazy, if you can tell there's something off with it. She always used to sound like some sort of fancy noble tutor around strangers. Met more than enough of those," Cyrus said, before grinning brightly, "Or someone made a friend with the sulky idiot again! She's terrible at that."

"Maps are in the library, same place as ever. They should be right, now that big cliff is gone," the blond man said, jerking his thumb at the appropriate door. "The big things don't change often."

Renar's outburst got the man to rub at his forehead, breaking the pleasant expression for a slightly miffed one at the interruption. And maybe the poleaxe. "Neither! You're all going to be passing through here for a while, so we might as well help you out. It makes a nice change. Everyone agreed in the end."

He paused awkwardly.

"Well, the captain and shorty are off hunting dragons. But everyone else agreed. Eventually. She even got Old Man Erich to visit, and some one-armed little thing..."
"Ah, if she starts taking hunting too seriously, just pick on her accent. I bet she's still putting on that nice capital-born noble voice, right? If you get her drunk, she always goes straight back to the Stalvan one. She always gets flustered if you remind her how she sounds in either language." Cyrus said brightly. Although, if anyone really wanted to remind the vampire she sounded so much like a farmer's daughter... "Good singing voice, though."

Gertrude's outburst drew a curious look, though that might be because of the identical twin. Or maybe it was because a gaggle of knights wasn't expected to bring a single pair of maids along with them. Or a maid at all. "I don't really get it myself. Lilette's the one who spoke to the court mages enough to explain how it all works. I know I died, but..." he flexed both arms as a demonstration, "I'm here, and I've got both arms, so that's got to count for something!"

@Octo@The Otter
"The one and only!" the man replied, grinning at them. If he took any offence at the question, it wasn't apparent from the roar of laughter. "Oh, that one is true. The twins and her never let us live it down how much of a mistake we made just because of being overconfident in our Ithillane."

Cyrus scratched at his beard for a second, before outlining a vague height that had even him reaching up. "Maybe this big? I don't remember getting a good look at it before it was cut up.

"I guess that means she's still with the knights? I hope the shorty isn't causing you trouble."
The knights’ eyes opened to a blue, cloudless sky, the sun doing nothing to warm them in the thin air. In every way, the dusty rock could not be further removed from Candaeln–but it was familiar to almost all of them. This empty plateau had been the scene for one unforgettable dream, as had the endless expanse of clouds that ringed it.

Or perhaps it was less of a dream than they had first imagined, now that they were assembled here together.

A polite cough interrupted any attempt to organise or question their scenario, the sound coming from a tiny, almost child-sized woman that had appeared in the air ahead of the group, stood upon nothing. Everything about her appearance had an air of harmlessness, from the bright floral patterns on her foreign robe to the bright cornflower blue of her toenails, except for one point: her eyes. The one icy blue eye not covered by her hair had a depth of weight and age that none of them had encountered before.

Knight-Witch Merilia.

“I will keep the explanation brief, and simple enough that all of you should follow,” the woman said, smiling and playing with her hair. She spoke with no fear of interruption–the knights’ words sticking in their throats, choking--and an amused, lilting tone. “A good friend of mine was worried about your skills. For your ages, and experience, she said you were a promising bunch… but if that was all, you’d meet a painful and unfortunate end.

“So she reached out to me, knowing that I’m not allowed to turn down the Roses if they need my talents. Only I could give you the time and place to train in time.” Merilia continued, shaking her head, “But I hardly thought bringing in the entire order would be worth it. Some would fail to thrive, others were more than skilled enough already. I could have asked the vampire for her opinion to narrow down the candidates, but that would mean tipping my hand early. And even I’m not nearly so cruel as to bring her here.

“And that’s where my little test came in! Nothing gives a better assessment than fights to the death and against impossible odds, and I’m pleased to say that you’ve all passed,” her eye flickered over to one that had not been in the test, lingering on the half-demon for just a moment, “Or otherwise have promise.”

She waved her hand, long sleeve giving a dramatic swish, and dropping a random blonde into their midst. Followed by a seemingly identical copy of the same girl. And then a broom, right onto her head.

“One of my little sisters thinks her apprentice could do with some more experience and you could do with more mages, so I’m going to leave babysitting her to all of you. Try not to let her get too hurt before you’ve wrapped up your current problem~”

She clapped her hands. “Now, what is it you have to do for your training? Why, that’s quite simple: escape this place. I’ve placed an exit far to the east, and when you reach it, you’ll go straight back home, none the worse for wear and maaaaaybe only a few minutes after you left. The route is quite challenging, so don’t worry too much about getting killed. You’ll merely appear right back here to give it another go.

“Any questions? No? Excellent! Try not to rely too much on ability to not stay dead, that would be a bad habit to develop, and have fun~”

The witch gave them a jaunty wave, and then the plateau began to drop, giving the knights a brief (and unpleasant) introduction to the inside of a cloud, before they dropped back into open air and could see the landscape spread out around them.

In most directions, it seemed to be unspoiled countryside, yet just to their east could be seen a city of gleaming white, catching the morning light as the clouds chose then to break apart. Hardly a familiar vantage point on a city, but the scale of it suggested that it must have dwarfed Aimlenn, or maybe any city they had ever visited. As they got lower and lower, the towering fortress in the city came into clear view–a beautiful edifice of the same white stone, a castle that seemed as much a work of art as a fortification.

Then even that was removed from site as the plateau dropped yet further, transforming finally into a grassy hill surrounded by forest. To the east, a broad, paved path showed the route the knights were expected to take.

Not that there was anywhere else to go.

Whenever they finally chose to take the path, it snaked pleasantly through a leafy forest, lined on either side by an overabundance of flowers. Now that they were down from the cold sky, the pleasant morning warmth quickly dried them off, and the somewhat long walk to the path’s destination was definitely relaxing. Aside from having been brought here by a witch trying to help.

At the end of the path was something that should not have been wherever this was. Oh, the windows were slightly different, and it stood integrated into a magnificent wall rather than freestanding… but the size, the shape, the familiar moat, and open doors were all Candaeln. Indeed, through the lattice where the moat pierced the wall, a familiar path could be seen running to the courtyard’s side entrance, and from there down into the city that most definitely wasn’t Aimlenn.

The entranceway inside was conspicuously bare, compared to what they knew. None of the displays of old equipment or relics, not a hint of a painting… but the room was the same, and it seemed that some of the interior windows were the same. One seat even had an unsurprising smattering of cushions and pillows, although the expected occupant wasn’t there.

Instead, a man was leaning against one of the central pillars, whistling an out-of-tune song until the knights came in, when his face split into a bright grin. “Well, I was wondering how long it would take for you to get here, the li'l witch told us to expect some visitors.”

He was huge, just taller even than their familiar Ingvarr, and his shirt seemed like it must be uncomfortably tight across his broad chest–tears could even be seen around the short sleeves, unable to restrain the muscles.

That size, the golden beard and mess locks–it was an undeniably familiar appearance, one that all of them would have seen walking through Candaeln. But only in the form of a painting, a record of the distant past.

Cyrus the Hammer was undoubtedly dead.
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