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Kellen Fraldarius offered his House Leader a brief nod following his hello and as the other students of the “Rose Unit” began to trickle in. He wasn’t especially hurt by the lack of reaction from Lienna, who didn’t seem much interested in Kellen – a trait that left him feeling more positive about her, not less. He looked quickly at Derec, wondering if he should say anything further to his peer but settling against it as the other students filed in.

When Kellen had realized the joint class would be meeting in the Blue Lions classroom, he had hoped he would be able to reclaim his seat near the back of the class. Unfortunately, it had been taken up by another student, and for a few seconds, Kellen found himself unable to select where he should sit. As he saw students start to stare, he found a sudden reserve of resolve and planted himself in the nearest empty seat. In his hurry, he didn’t realize that it was that which was so he found himself taking a seat that an elegant looking boy had appeared to be approached. As he made eye contact with him, Kellen saw that he did not appear to be focused on Kellen, but on the occupant of the seat next to him.

Naturally, Kellen looked over to see who it might be, only to realize that it was the Crown Princess of Adrestia. Kellen was by no means a bookworm, but even he had seen images of Adelaide von Hresvelg. As the other student found a new place to sit, Kellen’s mind raced with what would be appropriate to say. As it did so, he tried to pay attention to the Professors’ presentation.

A change in tradition made some sense, particularly with the state of the Empire, Alliance and Kingdom. The grim warnings of the future to come – and Kellen and his fellow classmate’s role in it – might have once fallen on deaf ears, but for some reason they stuck with Kellen. ’The time will come sooner than later where faith and morality will be tested.’ Kellen wasn't sure how much he liked Fodlan's odds at passing that test.

Shaking his head, Kellen brought his focus back to the class. Archbishop Ioannis had specifically put together this class? This time, Kellen did turn around in his seat to look at his classmates. A first look didn’t present anything that made them stand out from the other students he had seen in the courtyard. The Professor had previously mentioned royalty and heirs, and Kellen supposed that made some sense, given he was seated next to Adelaide, but Lienna, not far from him, had little claim to either. Frowning slightly, he puzzled over the issue but was forced to snap back to reality when introductions began.

The first student to stand was Jorah. In comparison to his own House Leader, Jorah seemed to be taking the role of House Leader as a free pass to push the envelope as far as he could. He smiled a bit at the introduction, reminded of his brothers and their boasting. Following him was Clarissa (Kellen mouthed the name to himself several times to commit it to memory), who introduced herself eloquently and seemed nothing like the caricatures of Leicester Nobility that some in Faerghus chose to propagate.

Auberon and Lienna were next, and both spoke of bonds that could be built over the course of the year. As they introduced themselves, Kellen did his best to pay attention and nod along, though the gesture was so minute as to be indistinguishable from a frozen posture. As Lienna sat back down, Kellen remarked on the subtle difference of his two classmates’ introductions. Both had the airs of a nobility – but while Auberon came by it honestly, Lienna was still build herself up. Still, she appeared to be taking to it faster than Kellen, despite far less time to learn, he guessed.

Widolaic, or Viddle, from the Adrestian empire, was next. Kellen had heard tell of Empire’s sizeable struggles with the plague gripping their nation. But Widolaic’s introduction made Kellen believe, for a half second, that perhaps the rumours had been overstated. Whether it was the kind introduction or the smile, Kellen suddenly felt himself to be empower to speak. He looked to his neighbour briefly before rising to speak. As he felt his knees straighten, he realised that the feeling was fleeting, or, more accurately, fleeted.

For the many times he had had to introduce himself today, Kellen had expected he would see some improvement in his abilities. It was a naive theory. As he began to speak before the group of assembled nobility (he couldn’t yet conceive of them as his classmates) Kellen felt his stomach clench. “Hello, I’m Kellen…” For some reason, he could never get out his last name without hesitation. ”Fraldarius. I’m Faerghus – from Faerghus, sorry. And I’m part of the Blue Lions.” He wiped his brow with a too-long sleeve. “I’m looking forward to learning with you all. I enjoy…” What did he like? The past year spent with his uncle had involved precious little recreation. And while he might have once said fighting, that was not longer true either. “I don’t much like surprises.” The words came out unintentionally, and a bit quieter than the rest of his stumbling introduction. Afraid of embarrassing himself further, he bobbed his head up and down, cleared his throat, and settled back into his seat, staring straight ahead so as to avoid looking at Adelaide, Auberon, or anyone who’s mere facial expression would serve as judgment of Kellen’s introduction.

A small group of soldiers gathered outside of Garreg Mach, most in Gautier armour (if they had any). Standing apart from the group, two figures were staring up at the Monastery. Neither were wearing Gautier colours. The first, leaning on a spear, presented the spitting image of a soldier. His greying hair was cut short, and he had the stocky frame of one who was just as used to loading supplies as he was to seeing combat. He could be placed somewhere around forty, and even in such a casual posture his hand instinctively wrapped around his weapon, prepared to react at a moment’s notice. His brigandine, well worn, bore the emblem of the House of Fraldarius, though it had faded over time.

The other figure did not much compare. His dark brown hair was unevenly cut, and his frame was lean and wiry. The soldier stood half a foot over him, and in contrast to the calm gaze the older man carried, the other figure’s projected a great sense of unease. His uniform did not seem to properly fit, and it showed. The only piece of his outfit that the boy seemed at all comfortable with was the sword at his side.

The two stood in silence for a few minutes. Every once a while, the boy would pull his sleeves up, only to have them slide down again a few seconds later.
Finally, the elder spoke up.

“Time we’re off. Will you need anything, my lord?”

A grin broke out across the boy’s face.“My lord? Come on, Anton. You can’t say something like that and then leave!”

The soldier shook his head solemnly. “No no, master! Although we might have once been brothers in arms, you now attend Garreg Mach, esteemed institution of learning and…"


“And -- Blast it, I can’t keep it up.” A smile crept across the soldier’s face. “Do you think they’ll all talk like that in there? I can’t imagine it.”

“Me neither.” The boy said. His gaze returned to the imposing figure of the Monastery. “I truthfully have no idea what I’ll find in there.”

“Your sister did fine, lad. More than fine, in fact! You'll handle it well.” The soldier’s gaze was fixed intently on the boy.

There was a long pause.

“Did father say anything more to you before he sent you off to bring me here?” The boy’s gaze met the soldier’s.

“Nothing. I swear it.” The soldier put a hand over his heart. His mouth opened for half-a-moment, but something stopped the words from coming out. Instead, he let the hand drop. “We really should head off. The boys were eyeing the taverns and I’ll be damned if I’m covering their tabs.”

“Alright. Thanks.”

The boy took one deep breath, slinging a large pack over his shoulder and starting off in the direction of the Monastery. It was only after a few moments that he stopped in his tracks.

“Anton? Please tell them I miss them.”

Kellen Fraldarius should have known better than to expect a response. When he turned around, he saw that Anton, along with the guards who had accompanied him, were already riding off down the hill.

Drop off your belongings. Gather in the cathedral. Meet the faculty. Memorize names. Search to see if there’s anyone you recognize. Avoid making eye contact with anyone you recognize. The flurry of activity that accompanied students’ arrival at Garreg Mach was a bit overwhelming, but Kellen did his best to keep his head above the water. He was quite relieved when the students were broken off and sent to their respective houses, taking a seat near the back of the room.

From what little Kellen remembered of the rare stories Rhiannon would share, the professor seemed quite different from the usual crop. His casual attitude and warm introduction put Kellen at ease for the first time since he had arrived at the Monastery.

The revelation that houses would be integrated was a mild surprise to Kellen. He had rarely listened, but he knew that it was not normal. Still, the idea was exciting to Kellen, who’s only encounters with other nations had been the skirmishes with Sreng. Perhaps he might learn something new from all this.

From his position at the back of the room, Kellen saw a few students react to the announcement of the House Leader with an expected amount of tittering. When one – who Kellen perhaps unfairly suspected to be one of Lonatos listed on the board – turned to towards Kellen with a conspiratorial air, he was met with a blank stare. For that Lonato boy, this expression was a clear sign that Kellen was to be of no use to any planned campaigns to undermine the upstart House Leader. Such an interpretation gave far too much credit to Kellen’s social abilities.

Indeed, Kellen’s mind was far from the social hierarchy of his class, not that it was ever particularly attuned to such things. He didn’t even much care about the position of House Leader in the first place. Instead, it was the prospect that Auberon, someone who had known Kellen as he once was, was attending Garreg Mach at all that gave him such pause.

Back then Kellen had been keen to spar, mete out fantasies of the great exploits he would accomplish as he grew, and generally make as much of a fool of himself as he possibly could. Auberon and he had had occasion to exchange such tales and the occasional blow with a practice blade during occasions where the nobility of the kingdom had gathered for some event or another. The thought that someone knew that boy and would be able to compare it to this iteration made him feel sick.

It took Kellen a period that felt like hours and probably lasted no more than a minute to collect himself following this revelation. His plans for a school year where he could fade into obscurity were vanishing quickly. He was in no rush to end this period of obscurity, and sat in his seat for some time before he finally worked up the nerve to rise and take in his new group, albeit from a distance.

Assembled before Auberon were one – no - two commoners. Kellen felt poorly that he was so quickly able to identify those who hadn’t passed in the same circles as him,, but there was something in the way they carried themselves that indicated they had not spent time in the halls of power. Even someone uninterested in the procedures, such as Kellen, learned some lessons through osmosis on how to carry oneself, even if he fared poorly at putting them into practice. The thought that he would not be surrounded by the landed elite of Faerghus was a comforting one for Kellen, who had spent a great deal of time with soldiers of little standing over the past months.

However, as he took in the appearance of the woman who was introducing herself, he had a passing suspicion that she was not one to become a fast friend to share tales around a fire with. Lienna, from her introduction alone, was clearly intent on establishing her place in the nobility. He respected the effort, and knew the toll it took.

The other, a red-haired lad who identified himself as Derec, had a bit more of a sense of one of the soldier’s Kellen was able to get along with on the front. Derec Ballard. Not a name Kellen recognized, though that was no surprise.

After a moment of watching the trio interact, Kellen realized that the classroom has mostly cleared itself out. He approached the gathered students with trepidation. Lienna’s comments on Sreng didn’t assist, and as he heard her speak of Gautier he felt a shiver run up his spine. However, he had sat too long to avoid introducing himself.

“Erm, hello everyone. I’m Kellen.” He gestured vaguely towards the board before pushing his sleeves back up. “Fraldarius. It’s good to meet you. And good to see you, Auberon. Congratulations on the appointment. I’m not surprised.” He looked at Auberon in the eyes for a moment to make it clear he had no misgivings about the appointment. “And it’s good to meet you, Lienna. I’ve spent a fair amount of time in Gautier, it’s an -” He paused for a moment to try and find words that rung true. “Impressive place. And good to meet you too, Derec.” He gave a quick nod to the assembled students, keeping his eyes low to the ground in the hopes that he could end this interaction as swiftly as possible. “I suppose they’ll want us to say hello to the others in our unit - but it's a pleasure to meet you all.”

An arrow flew a short distance below a bandit on a Pegasus as Kellen Fraldarius let out another half-cocked shot. Despite trembling hands, he did what he could to draw and set another arrow as quickly thereafter as he could. The act of drawing, loosing, and readying another was not much of a tactical decision. One out of three arrows finding their mark was not much of a record he could take pride in. But as long as he was focused on firing his bow, a feat which still required a fair amount of focus from the inexperienced archer, he could forget about the battle raging around him.

It was hard to tell whether it was Clarissa’s bolstering words, the fact he had been able to keep himself away from the melee, but so long as Kellen remained focused on the sky and his weapon, he could maintain, if not a sense of calm, at least a dull numbness that made it easier to ignore the knots in his stomach and his throbbing temples.

As Kayden and the new Adrestian boy took to the melee, striking down their opponents, Kellen heard Clarissa call out on their missing classmate. His face set slightly as he began to draw back on the bowstring, hoping desperately to find a target lest his mind be allowed to wander, but none presented itself. The flash of light of Clarissa’s magic and the yelps of pain that accompanied it made him wince, and he heard, from somewhere in the fog, Lienna call out that she had spotted Rudolf. Where had Lienna even been? With a pang of guilt, he realized that in his careful stewardship of the sky, he had lost track of her.

As the fog faded, Kellen caught a glimpse of her. Her shoulder was bloodied, but the presumed perpetrator was hardly recognizable amidst a jagged row of icicles. Kellen shivered. He had seen Lienna’s magic in training, but not demonstrated on a real, breathing adversary.

“Are you okay?” He heard himself whisper. His eyes didn’t leave the scene until he heard Professor Malathice’s voice cut through, followed by the hairs on his neck raising as lightning began to collapse around them. As his head swivelled to look at his professor, he was alarmed to realize the professor was also looking at him, his staff raised.

"Tell Michail we need help and that we have to regroup," Kellen's mouth shot open as he turned to see if there was anyone else he could recommend for the mission, but in an instant, he was gone.

And then, Kellen was in hell. There was no other explanation for the flash of light that was followed by the vision of his House Leader being confronted by the same bandit that had nearly taken Kellen’s arm off in Luin village. He felt his bow slip from his hand, but a small bit of instinct helped him catch it by the string before it clattered to the ground. There had to be a rational explanation for the reappearance of the man they had all struck down, and he was sure once he communicated the rear guard’s precarious situation to Michail, he’d explain it.

As he turned around to seek his professor, Kellen realized that Michail too was occupied. A large wyvern was bearing down on his professor, with Derec and Isolde a short distance away fending off some armed bandits. Kellen’s head swivelled around trying to spot anyone who wasn’t currently fighting for their lives, and noticed the other Professor Kalonic, Euphemia, standing a short distance from him, her bow drawn as she surveyed the field. Jorah was some distance away, but appeared to be taunting the brigands who had previously been occupied by Derec and Isolde. Kellen re-adjusted the grip of his bow as he tried his best to shout over the din to those who could hear him.

“Er, umm-” Kellen was caught off by the loud clang of a blade clashing with another. “The uh, rear unit is requesting help. There are mages and pegasus riders!” It was all a bit too much like the situation unfolding before him, and Kellen realized after he said those words that there weren’t any spare hands who would be able to retreat to support the rear unit.

This revelation having cemented itself in his mind, Kellen re-adjusted the grip of his bow and drew an arrow. He looked at the melee his professor and classmates were engaged in, but remarked not a moment too soon that Jorah, a far more accomplished marksman, was taking care not to fire directly towards those enemies. This was a new consideration for Kellen, who until now had been practising on targets that were always far away from any ally. He frowned as he looked down at the sword still sheathed at his hip, but shook his head quickly. His limited effectiveness would be hampered even further were he to lose himself to his nerves, and the best way to do so would be to get up close and personal with one of the bloodthirsty brigands, he rationalized.

There was a clearer target, Kellen realized. But to sight it, he’d have to turn back in the direction of Auberon and the all-too-similar bandit who had occupied his nightmares for the past several weeks. A quick glance at his sword was enough for him to decide that he'd take the risk.

Jorah’s position on the field hadn’t made sense to Kellen when he had first surveyed the situation, but he understood it now. It provided a cleaner line of sight to the other bandit that appeared to be ready to bear down on Auberon. This one, thankfully, did not bear the same resemblance to a dead man. However, the Deer’s position was currently being borne down by bandits, and Kellen knew there was no world he’d be able to fire, let alone aim, if he knew bandits were pushing him from behind.

Instead, Kellen took three steps forward, towards Auberon. There was still a comfortable distance between them, but the added proximity left a wider angle between his House Leader and his target. Instinctually, and with some guilt, Kellen noted that his new position more directly put Auberon in between the familiar-looking bandit, but he had no time to criticize himself for that cowardice. He could tell instinctually that Auberon was in the same place he had found himself in Luin village, righteous fury fueling his strikes. He wouldn't be able to assist him, not yet. Taking a deep breath in, Kellen drew his arm back and only hesitated for half a second before he let the arrow loose towards the pony-tailed brigand.

Kellen Fraldarius didn’t need to wait for long for the many imagined threats that plagued his mind to be replaced by tangible, real ones. If a gust of wind was enough to cause him to yelp – and it was – the veritable onslaught of arrows and magic that pinged off of the barrier Kaira threw up was enough to put Kellen into stunned silence that only broke when a stronger gust of wind nearly took him off his feet. That dreadful weight returned quickly as the wind revealed their opponents on the roofs.

In that singular moment of clarity, Kellen knew what an experienced archer would do. Draw, knock, aim, and shoot at any of the clear targets who had revealed their position. As he attempted the first step of this process, he found his fingers shaking more than normal, and by the time he had managed to knock an arrow, the fog had set back in.

It was in the context of this showcase of inability that Kellen heard Professor Malathice’s next instruction. His face blanched, and when he turned to Veronica to attempt to seek any sense of solace, he was dismayed to hear her put one of his many concerns into words.

As he saw a blade strike out from the fog towards Professor Simeon, the arrow Kellen had painstakingly succeeded in nocking slipped from his index and middle fingers. It clattered to the ground softly, but the sound of it was enough to keep him grounded in the reality of the unfolding situation. Hurriedly moving to scoop it up, he looked to his fellow students.

“I’m, er- I’m going to do my best to keep looking at the sky. Please don’t let one of them, uh...” Kellen wisely stopped himself before he put to words one of the many fears that occupied him. Turning his eyes towards the sky, it wasn’t clear whether the next words were for him or his classmates. “And, um, be careful.”

Kellen’s neck was firmly craned upwards, looking in the fog for any sign of movement. It would have been possible for him to keep an eye on his immediate surroundings as well, but he knew instinctually that if he were to look at the ground troops pushing in towards the reserve of students on the backline, any small hope of him drawing and loosing an arrow would disappear. So instead, he did what he could to ignore the din of combat and stare at the sky.

It was difficult to see much of anything through the fog. Hesitantly, Kellen pulled the bowstring to half-draw, gently raising it while doing his best to count his breaths and remain calm. It was sometime after the number seven that he first noticed a disturbance in the fog 30 meters above his head. It was nigh imperceptible, but an ever-active sense of anxiety had honed Kellen’s sense of danger. His bow was already ready to fire, all it took was a quick adjustment of his aim and a final yank of his right arm. And he did so.

As the arrow flew through the sky, Kellen thought, for half a second, that perhaps his instincts has led him astray. It was just as he looked down to grab another arrow that he heard the loud whinny of a pegasus and looked to see the tip of a wing gliding along the fog, its course clearly disrupted by the unexpected projectile. Had he fired a bit higher, he was almost certain it would have connected. Kellen drew another arrow and did his best to track the set of wings that were now hovering a bit too close to the group, but the rider was simply moving too quickly.

“Veronica!” His eyes didn’t leave the sky, both for the sake of keeping track of the Pegasus’s position and avoiding the inevitable shakes that would follow seeing enemy warriors so close to them. “One’s there!” Kellen’s arrow remained trained on what little of the pegasus he could see in the fog, but his eyes focused more on the periphery to see if he could note any other attempt to dive in. He thought better of wasting a shot trying to hit a flying target that was trying to evade his shot.

Another opportunity quickly presented itself. From the fog, a small glow of magic could be spotted. Kellen remembered the mages he had seen on the rooftops, and this one, from as far as he could tell, had hardly moved. The glow wasn’t much, but it was enough for Kellen to fire one more arrow into its general direction, just as a sharp beam of magical wind flew in his direction. Kellen hurled himself out of the way, hissing as his elbows and knees collided roughly with the ground before him. He could feel his chest constrict as his brain started to imagine what the spell may have done had it collided with him, but he was thankfully dislodged when he heard a pained cry from the roof above him where his arrow had found its purchase. “Got one!” He yelped, hastily rising. Judging by the sound of it, Kellen was sure the man was still alive, but he doubted he would be firing off another spell in the immediate future.


One small figure still sat in the carriage that had carried the guard unit to Magdred. With a bow strung over his shoulder and his sword balanced on his knees, Kellen Fraldarius was having difficulty getting his legs to move. Or, frankly, any part of his body to move.

The morning’s announcement that they would be undertaking another mission had not found fertile ground in the young Fraldarius’s mind. He had been entirely silent during the briefing, the preparation, and the journey. Anyone who had tried to say hello would have been met with a haunted gaze and little else. It was only as he realized the carriage had been stopped for a few minutes that he now realized that despite his best efforts, his legs were not interested in operating. He couldn’t bear to look down to see what the possible cause of the newly-induced paralysis was. So his eyes remained fixed on the wall across from him.

These were the same carriages that had taken them to Luin. The proof was in the small grove in a wood beam that made up the wall of the carriage, one that Kellen found himself transfixed with for the second time in as many months. He couldn’t shake the thought of their last “outing”, despite his best efforts to distract himself from the images that sought to play themselves before him every time he let his focus drift from the grove. More than any of those images though, it was the all too precise memory of the smell that kept Kellen paralyzed. Blood. Sweat. Metal.

The new students were lucky. They hadn’t done this before - he hoped. They didn’t know what was about to come. Kellen did. How Auberon, Jorah, Kayden, or any number among them could find themselves excited to find themselves back on another “mission” after the last was a query far beyond Kellen’s mental abilities.

It was at this moment that Kellen’s sword slid off of his locked legs. It landed on the wooden floor of the carriage with a soft thud, just out of arm’s reach from Kellen’s sitting position. Instinctually, he crouched down to pick it up, and discovered with alarm that indeed, his legs were still perfectly functional. The soft utterance of a curse also confirmed that his vocal chords were working just fine as well.

His head turned to look to the fog outside of the carriage. He could see Lienna, Kayden, and Clarissa, amongst other students, preparing for whatever was to come. Kellen's back straightened as best as it could in the cramped space of the carriage and he slid the sword and its scabbard back across his left hip. While he had no intention of using it, he had found in his sporadic practice with his bow that his already shaky stance tended to worsen when the familiar weight of his blade was not sitting just above his hip. Gingerly - he was still not quite comfortable wearing the thing - he slid the oak shortbow off of his back. A quiver of arrows sat just below his left shoulder blade, held up by a sturdy piece of leather that ran across his chest.

As Kellen emerged from the carriage, he realized that his already limited skill with the bow would be further tested by the limited visibility. The sense of comfort that he had hoped would accompany his newly-chosen weapon was decaying rapidly. Before his legs could lock up again, he quickly wandered over to his fellow students, just to catch the tail end of Kayden’s speech. Some piece of the future Emperor's confidence bolstered Kellen enough that he could get out a few words to the other students.

“I’m sorry. I’m here now.”

While he might have once dreaded the prospect of being forced to attend additional classes, ever since the assembly in the church, Kellen Fraldarius had found himself scared to walk alone. Once safely ensconced in his room, it was possible to breathe, but the thirty seconds spent walking between his classroom and his shelter was torturous. So, while happy was not a word that could be used to describe the frazzled boy these days, he was content to dart between the Blue Lions classroom and the Black Eagles at the conclusion of the days’ classes. Even a mention of potential injuries, while still troubling, didn’t lock itself into Kellen’s mind, though that may have been less due to his emotional state and more due to the words that followed.

Crests. Goddess cursed, no good, terrifying crests. And professor Roland, for some reason, knew that he possessed one. On top of that, it appeared everyone in this room possessed one. Kellen’s ears thundered as he looked down at the table, not quite ready to look at anyone else in the room. Had his father told them? Or someone else? “Saints above.” The boy whispered, an accidental bit of piety slipping through in this moment of panic.

His eyes darted around the room. They halted for a moment on Imogen. She, like him, had not made mention of a crest. He wondered how she would react to this revelation. Knowing her, he wouldn’t be surprised if she was able to shrug it off entirely. Not far from her was Clarissa, who had an expression somewhat mirrored Kellen’s. But hers was… different. Kellen was embarrassed to have been caught in a lie, or at the least an omission of truth. He was scared, too. But Clarissa was… mad. He wasn’t shocked when she shot up to her feet and left the room, and Kellen might have joined her if he wasn’t so afraid to have any eyes cross over him in this moment.

He looked back over to his classmates. His gaze passed quickly over Lienna, not wanting to see whatever expression she was wearing after hearing this news. Indeed, he wasn’t excited to see Auberon’s reaction either, but as he took in the blonde he realized that he was staring at another of their classmates - Derec. Derec hadn’t revealed his possession of a crest either. Shame gave way to curiosity, if only for half a moment. What was Derec’s crest, and why was he hiding it? His eyes stayed on the boy for a few seconds, before he looked back to the board to stare at the list.

In an attempt to calm the many harried thoughts running through his head, Kellen paid close attention to what Professor Malathice was saying. The breakdown of different types of crests abilities gave him a degree of hope. While he seemed to have no control of his ability, it seemed as though this was something that he may be able to learn. Maybe.

When the Professor stopped speaking for questions, Kellen leaned towards the other Lions. “Sorry. I-. Well, it doesn’t matter.” The words were little more than breath, and he leaned back quickly. He didn’t want to interrupt the lesson or provoke any kind of response from them. But he couldn’t bear to sit there without offering any sign of remorse.

A few aisles down from where he was standing, Kellen spotted Imogen looking in his direction. She was smiling, though in a way that made it difficult to determine what the source of her amusement could be. As he pondered this, a memory came back to him. Back at the village, before the explosion, Imogen had covered Kellen's ears. Perhaps she was perceptive to some sign of magic that he hadn't been, or perhaps there had been some other indication of what was to come that he had failed to notice in the haze of impending combat. Regardless. She had identified a source of danger well before he had. He was half concerned that she could sense another omen hanging over him now. Shakily, he nodded at her, feeling the world lurch a little as his head came back to center. Speaking to her might be helpful, or only further cement that terrible feeling in the pit of his stomach that refused to ease.

He looked back to the remaining Lions. He nodded in agreement with Derec’s stated concerns over Lienna, though he couldn’t find much fault in her reaction. Truth be told, he would likely have elicited similar commentary if he hadn’t taken the pains to work through the endless waves of dread alone in the “safety” of his room. As he turned to look at Auberon, he saw the blond looking at him with an expression that Kellen found difficult to interpret. Before he could inquire, Auberon spoke, offering an unexpected assessment, a clear statement of confusion, and a pat on the back with an unanticipated force that prompted a quiet “Oof,”from the youngest Fraldarius.

He didn’t have much he could say to his House Leader’s assessment. In truth, he wasn’t sure where words and sentiments like the one he expressed came from either. Was it a sense of obligation? A belief that such an offer wouldn’t be taken up by any of his classmates? Or a genuine attempt to help? He wasn't sure. Instead of offering some sort of analysis, he merely looked at Auberon for a moment. “Um, Thank you.” There wasn’t an ounce of assurance or heroism in his trembling tone. Still, to hear his House Leader say such a thing brought some sense of pride to Kellen, even if a piece of him wasn’t sure how much either he or Auberon truly believed it.

As Auberon was whisked away, to tea with the Archbishop no less, Kellen offered what could only be described charitably as a smile. “Have a good time.” The ghost of a grin faded quickly as Auberon requested they try to talk to Lienna.
“Erm…” The sound escaped from Kellen's mouth before he could form words. “Derec, if you want to go, I could-” He paused a moment. “I would come with you.” He wasn’t about to push Derec into doing it, but between walking alone or trying to get Lienna to express any sort of vulnerability by himself, he wasn’t sure which prospect was more anxiety-inducing.

Even before such a grim announcement, Kellen Fraldarius’ face had been a few shades too pale for a healthy youth. For a few minutes following the horrible announcement, it only got worse. Kellen looked a bit like a revenant who had failed to pass on to the next plane. The reassurances of new guards and a curfew were hardly reassuring when the archbishop seemed to have little concrete information.

Though Kellen didn’t know it, he arrived quickly to the same conclusion as Auberon. The Archbishop wouldn’t convene the students like this if the rumours hadn’t been validated in some way. The most optimistic read of this was that they had spotted an intruder. The more realistic was that someone a student had already gone missing. It hadn’t been anyone from the Rose Unit. But beyond that, Kellen wasn’t at all comfortable trying to determine who might have been missing in a sea of students he had hardly taken five minutes to look at, let alone speak to or learn much about. He hadn’t heard or seen anything to cause alarm on the grounds, though it was no surprise given the amount of time he had been spending in his room.

He turned to look at Lienna, who was visibly shaken by the news. He frowned but knew better than to try and offer any sort of reassurance. Not that he was sure he’d be able to come up with anything as it stood. After a few moments, she shot up from her seat and started off. This was becoming a bit of a habit, though Kellen didn’t pay it much mind. He still recalled how their last conversation had gone.

He turned to Auberon as his peer spoke a simple, yet unsettling truth. "Kellen, you're probably the most valuable hostage in the Blue Lions". Kellen didn’t offer much in terms of reaction, beyond a quiet “Oh.” Auberon didn’t dwell on it, but Kellen would. Nevertheless, he nodded briskly at Auberon’s instructions. He was still frustrated with nearly every Lion of the Rose Unit, but in the face of whatever this was, his resentment towards his classmates seemed almost trivial. Almost.

“You be careful too, Auberon.” He tried to look in the blonde’s eyes to determine if he had reached the same conclusion Kellen had, or if the instructions were merely an attempt to secure his authority. His right leg started to bounce a bit, and Kellen rested a hand on it. Only after it stopped did Kellen stand up. As he did so, his eyes turned to the entrance of the cathedral. He could see Michail stationed there, and for half a moment he made eye contact with his professor. He was almost certain his professor would have more information on this, though he doubted getting it would bring him any sort of peace.

Shaking his head, he looked back to his classmates. “If, um. If anyone needs someone to walk with them, you can knock.” He didn’t quite smile, but his eyes looked a bit less cloudy as he spoke. “If - rather, please, say your name or something so I know it’s, well, you.”

On the other end of the field, an arrow planted itself firmly into the sand a few feet from its target. If one had traced the origin of its arc, they’d find it lead to a non-descript bow being shakily held in the hands of one Kellen Fraldarius, with little emotion crossing his face as he reached for another arrow from his quiver.

It was a rare thing to see Kellen without his sword. Ever since the return to Luin Village, he had taken great pains to never leave his room without it. Indeed, even now, Kellen felt his balance was off, the familiar weight on his left hip replaced by a new sensation of a quiver hanging off his back. Even the Deer’s House Leader seemed to pick up on the strangeness, a fact that was made all the more alarming by the fact that Kellen had the distinct feeling that Jorah knew next to nothing about him.

In the previous days, Kellen had held onto a vague hope that perhaps, like some of his other classmates, his parents would withdraw him from the school. He had even thought of writing to explain the danger, but had ultimately decided against after his fourth attempt at such a letter had left him with a stomach ache that lasted for a few hours.

After realizing there would be no formal exit from the academy, Kellen had toyed with the idea of running away. He was sure though, that if either the academy or his family found him, he’d be sent back. And there was no way he’d settle down in some anonymous village without walls, where any band of raiders could come by and blow up half of it without the timely intervention of a bunch of students.

Reflecting on his situation, it was clear he only had one option. Survive the year at this academy. Survive the missions, and whatever other dangers – real or perceived – that would be coming his way. This realization, terrible though it was, gave Kellen some sense of uneasy peace. He could try to exert some control over his situation, try to avoid being put in reach of whatever harm seemed to be coming for him.
It was with this sentiment in mind that Kellen had grabbed a bow from the rack, crossing paths with Jorah and earning the aforementioned look. He had kept his eyes towards the ground as he took his position, doing his best to avoid looking at any of the Lions or professors. Jorah’s look had been enough.

As Kellen looked at the stray arrow that had landed a distance from the target, he saw Jorah’s arrows find their targets in rapid order. “Maybe next we’ll shoot apples off heads, eh?” Kellen took care not to let himself be distracted. If this next shot were to fall short, he could see Auberon, Michail, or any other number of people insisting he put this stupid bow down and grab a sword. And if that happened, he’d be back on the front line the next time the school sent them on a “training exercise”.

Finally succeeding in fishing an arrow out of his quiver, Kellen set it against the string. He sucked in his breath as his arm drew the string back, pulling it further back than he had the last time. As he loosed, he felt that familiar sense of blood rush to his head, but it dissipated quickly when the arrow sunk itself into the bottom of the target. It wasn’t nearly as precise as Jorah’s shots, but it was still in his mock opponent, and that was good enough. He turned to his right to look at him. “Maybe not yet.” He said with the smallest of smiles.
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