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A note from meidogeometry

Hopefully, for my new readers who have been so kind and patient as to give me a chance for this long, I'd like to think that this is the part where this story's narrative really begins to grow legs. There'll be more exciting things, I promise.

[x] ...Melanie Aster.

"U-U-Um," you stammer, unaccustomed to taking the initiative to speak up for something that you want. You cringe a bit as everyone turns towards you in surprise, and you come this close to squeaking "sorry, never mind", but in the end, you muster your courage and squeak, "M-May I go with Melanie?"

This surprises the group, especially Melanie, who also blinks while growing wide-eyed, looking very obviously like she's at a loss of words. She doesn't look opposed insomuch as she looks worried, and turns to Lucille quietly...almost as if she's asking for permission?

Lucille eventually manages to get over her surprise, though, and gives a small smile. Shrugging, she declares, "Well, I don't see a problem with it." And seeing that there are no negative reactions coming from Melanie at that, she turns to her fellow elf, "Aphelia?"

"Nor I," Aphelia nods, mastering her expression. "Very well, Melanie and Neianne, then. Penelope and Wendy are of a squad, so they can be together." The two humans look mildly surprised; they don't seem opposed to this at all, but they also look like they were expecting a different outcome. If Aphelia sees this, however, she ignores it, turning instead to her fellow elf again, "Lucille, can you work together with Vesna?"

"Of course," Lucille declares, and she and Vesna share friendly smiles.

This leaves Mia, who stretches with a grin and says to Aphelia, "I'm with you, then?"

"Somebody needs to keep you quiet," Aphelia remarks dryly.

You're supposed to scout the base of two hills, but that's still a rather large area to cover, even with four groups, especially given the foliage. The four of you work out rough areas to scout - two two-person teams on each side of the hills to maximize the amount of ground you can cover - and ultimately agree to meet twice, once in between the two hills, the second at the far end. This accomplished, for the four of you quickly set out into the woodlands, and the forest grows somewhat quiet once more.

Alone with the quiet aseri, you strive to be polite as you greet Melanie with a small bow, introducing yourself semi-formally for the first time, "Um, h-hello. I'm Neianne."

"M-Melanie," the aseri quickly returns your bow with one of her own, looking just as off-guard and flustered as you are. "It's n-nice to meet you."

And then awkward silence reigns as the two of you march westwards.

You try not to fidget anxiously as the minutes pass without a word exchanged. This reminds you a little of your first meeting with Stephanie, although you guess this is a little different. With Stephanie, it was an initial failure to really hit it off, something that was thankfully remedied by time. Here, with Melanie, it's more like a mutual crippling failure to not think you're going to say something stupid if you try to lead the conversation. Instead of talking, you're idly taking note of how she's at least a head taller than you, has wonderfully thin legs, long straight hair like yours, and sharp fluffy ears flicking backwards. Because of course when the time comes for you to challenge your crippling shyness, you try to mentally procrastinate.

As the silence stretches far beyond what even you consider is reasonable, as your quiet self-frustration reaches a boiling point, you finally manage - through a stammer and with the realization that you sound incredibly stupid - to stammer, "Th-The weather..."

"Th-The weather..." Melanie stammers at the exact same time.

The both of you stop, stare at each other in slow dawning realization, blush in intense embarrassment...and, after a short moment, giggle. It's a small, foolish, and frankly embarrassing gesture...but, somehow, it feels like a great weight has been lifted from your shoulders and your heart, and you feel a touch more at ease as you smile and say, "It's n-not very good for Apaloft."

"Y-Yes," Melanie agrees readily, "it'll snow soon."

"It is coming a little late this year."

This makes Melanie blink in mild surprise. "A-Are you from Apaloft?"

"Yes," you say, mildly embarrassed, "but only from a small village you've probably never heard of."

"Oh. I-I-I'm from Arkenvale."

You guessed as much, honestly, from the conversation yesterday; if the Asters serve the Celestias, then it's only logical that their business would be based out of Apaloft's regional capital. "You grew up with Lady Lucille, yes?"

Wide-eyed, Melanie quickly stammers, almost as if desperate to clear up any misunderstandings, "U-U-Um. I-I, um, didn't really g-grow up with her." Surprised as you are, you don't take advantage of Melanie's pause, who then - perhaps realizing that this explanation is also misleading - stammers even more desperately, "I-I mean...my f-f-family serves hers, a-and so we've k-known each other for a long time, a-and we saw each other o-often as c-children, but I-I'm mostly in her service, s-so..." Melanie finally manages to trail off into an embarrassed silence, and strokes her tail anxiously instead.

"That's still really interesting," you try to sound reassuring. "I-I mean, I come from a small village, and no one there has ever become a Caldran mercenary, so..."

"I-I see," the aseri acknowledges with a polite nod. Then, with a hesitant smile, "B-B-But that means you can s-start anew, yes?"

You manage a smile of your own for the moreorless spot-on answer. "Something like that," you concede.

"That's g-good."

Melanie's surprisingly positive response to this brings to mind a question that you voice out loud: "Is starting anew a-also what you hope for?"

Melanie's ears twitch and drop a little as she gives this a moment of thought before quietly allowing, "W-Well, I'd like to get b-better."

"Better?" you echo, unsure of what to make of this vague adjective that explains close to nothing. Does she want to be "stronger"? "More reliable"?

Melanie fidgets a little more as she strokes her tail some more...before finally giving up on that and letting her tail return to its proper place behind her. "S-Something like that," she finally concedes.

Which, really, doesn't answer anything at all. You realize, of course, that this is really only the first day you've really talked to Melanie, and aside from your internal alarms screaming out warnings about being pushy, this is really only to be expected for someone like Melanie. Your similar personalities, at least, gives you an idea of when people like you and her get awkwardly uncomfortable with certain lines of questioning.

This being said, irrespective of how Melanie wishes to improve yourself, you want to be more than just a shy village girl. Being able to at least push a conversation forward a bit more - difficult though it is for you still - has to be but a stepping stone. So you decide to go for a less acute angle so as to not come off as pushy, asking, "Because of your family?"

Melanie gives a somewhat wistful smile and a shrug, leaving her actual answer to ambiguity in spite of the words she offers: "M-My sisters cannot s-shoulder all the burdens."

"For the war effort?" you venture, uncertain of precisely what "all the burdens" are.

"W-Well..." the aseri murmurs quietly, and even that trails off into a long, almost uncomfortable silence before she finally whispers, "....y-yes. And o-other things."

It seems to be a somewhat sensitive - if not outright uncomfortable - subject for Melanie. Understanding your similar temperaments, you do your best to change the subject gracefully. "I'm actually the older sister back home," you explain with a small laugh. "I f-feel like I have to set a good example for her all the time."

This coaxes a happier smile from the aseri as her ears perk up. "I h-have a younger sister too. Verena. She's...been i-ill since she was b-born, though."

"O-Oh," you murmur, trying to suppress a wince. This is only the second time here that you've brought up siblings with awkward circumstances, such as Stephanie's half-sister. "I-I'm sorry."

But Melanie shakes her head agreeably. "I-It's alright. I try to t-take care of her. Everyone else is busy, s-so I must."

"Oh," you blink, thinking about Melanie's socioeconomic status under House Celestia. "I th-thought you had...help."

"We d-do," nods Melanie quietly but determinedly. "B-But she should have someone w-who's family."

"You have a lot of sisters," you point out cautiously. Yes, Melanie said her sisters are all busy, but one would think that, in spite of everything, family would be there for family.

"A-Aseri families tend to be l-large," Melanie explains, seemingly missing the point, "and m-mine isn't even really th-that large. I think d-dryad families are the opposite?"

"It is so in the woodlands, yes," you nod agreeably, "a-although maybe those like me who have come to the plains will c-change." And since you're on the topic of families: "I've never heard of two Caldran mercenaries from the same family."

"I-It's very rare," Melanie concedes, looking a little awkward as she moves from stroking her tail to stroking her hair. "It's more c-common amongst elves and a-aseri, the f-former because it's often w-within their means, the l-latter because aseri families often have children to spare."

You have a strange and uncomfortable thought as you catch yourself wondering if her choice of the word "spare" is a reference to herself. "U-Um," you stammer, trying to ask a question without coming across as too forward, "d-did you...ch-choose to come here?"

Melanie blinks at you for a moment, then switches to awkward fidgeting. "Y-Yes," she answers quietly. Then, after a moment, she adds with a sense of forced conviction, "I-I mean...yes. I chose th-this."

"Oh," you murmur pathetically, trying your best to sound as accepting and understanding as you can. And, with that, your conversation trails off to an end, with the remainder of your time spent circling the base of the hill, hoping to find one of those elusive flags supposedly hidden in the area. This is made all the more difficult by the unfriendly terrain in this patch of the Roldharen Forest, what with its sudden sharp inclines and steep crags that zigzag across these woodlands. It takes several minor detours and feats of athletics to get anywhere.

Ultimately, however, upon arriving at what you think is the other side of the first hill - the rendezvous point you've agreed upon - you find yourselves empty-handed.

You are the first pair to arrive, and the two of you wait in dutiful silence for the next pair to join you. It takes some time, but eventually Melanie eventually calls out to you, "Oh, there's L-Lady Lucille and Vesna."

Indeed, the elf and the human join you within seconds, looking quite cheerful, and you soon see why: Vesna is holding a flag in her hand. "You found it!" you exclaim in slight delight. It's not your flag, but Vesna is someone you get along quite well within, so you have no problems with one in her hands.

Although she smiles, Vesna quickly points out, "It's not the one we're looking for, though. It's not from the base."

Upon seeing your confused expressions, Lucille laughs and explains, "Vesna thought she caught a glimpse of something up the hill when she scouted ahead. So we took a detour up the mountain, and she found this. That's why we're late."

That's the second time in two days Vesna apparently saw something that ended up working out in her favor. Even as the human laughs sheepishly, as if to apologize for her own good fortune, you can't help but wonder if her eyesight is just that good...or if she's just extraordinarily lucky.

Penelope and Wendy are the next to join you, both of them as empty-handed as you and Melanie. It takes less than a minute to bring them up to speed, both of them regarding Vesna with cool interest.

"So who gets the flag?" inquires Penelope, poking at her short fingernails as she does so.

Lucille merely shrugs, "Vesna was the one who saw and found it in the first place. It's hers, as far as I'm concerned."

Penelope and Wendy look at both Vesna and Lucille in a manner that seems to suggest they're a little intrigued - if not surprised - but they play it off with merely a little nod as they once again start having their own private two-person conversation to the side. You can't help but feel a little glad that it's Vesna and Lucille that got back first; the four of you are a better deterrent against any funny business the two humans may try, and you certainly would not want to be alone with only Melanie for backup against Penelope and Wendy in such a scenario.

A short discussion clearly reveals the necessity of rounding the base of the next hill, since Vesna's flag is very apparently not the same one located specifically at the base of a nearby hill. This means much more walking, not something the six of you are entirely looking forward to; the terrain here is difficult, necessitating straining climbs and frustrating detours.

Vesna, Melanie, and Lucille are still happily talking about the flag they found when Penelope, who has remained quiet for the most part, suddenly asks with a hint of worry, "We're pretty far to the northwest, aren't we?"

Lucille is the first to shrug, missing the point - although, to be fair, you don't understand what Penelope is trying to say either - as she agrees, "I guess we are."

Scowling in irritation and anxiety, Penelope demands, "Where are the huntresses who are supposed to be turning us back?" The stares she receives in turn reflect a growing understanding and alarm that spreads across the group, stares that - whether purposefully or otherwise - Penelope misinterprets as she stresses, "The bear sightings, remember? There are supposed to be dryad huntresses turning us back because of the bears." She gestures with her arms at their surroundings. "So if we're this far northwest, where are they?"

Aphelia - to whom the very sense of leadership seems to gravitate - is not yet here, so almost everyone ends up looking in the direction of Lucille, who grows sheepish and uncomfortable at the attention. Still, she sets her expression in a grimace; there is no way you've actually gotten the direction wrong - the sun in the morning mist proves that - and this part of the woodlands have been suspiciously devoid of anyone else. If there truly are bears here - if the instructors have been lying and got the dryads of Roldharen to participate in them, for which they have no reason to do - then now is really not a place where you want to be caught flat-footed.

"We should look around," the elf finally declares after a moment. "Spread out, but not too far. Always remain within calling distance."

The six of you spread out, navigating across the hills and crags. Keeping within calling distance proves surprisingly easy, seeing how your progress through the difficult terrain is slow; even if getting to each other in the case of an emergency proves to be difficult, at least you won't lose track of each other. Still, you deliberately keep close to Vesna and Melanie, the two girls you've gotten along with best in this team.

It takes a bit more than ten minutes of searching, but eventually you hear Wendy call out with a hint of alarm in her voice, "Girls!"

The rest of the group quickly - as quickly as the terrain allows you, anyways - converges on Wendy, and all of you quickly discover that Penelope was indeed right, and there are bears - or at least a bear - here. There is just one problem.

Vesna gasps, wide-eyed, covering her mouth as she does so - and she is far from alone in doing this - eventually whispering, "Is that a...?"

"Yes," Penelope confirms grimly.

The problem with the bear: It's dead.

Or perhaps "dead" is the wrong term to use. "Dead" suggests merely an absence of life, the circumstances of it ambiguous, perhaps even peaceful. This bear, however, did not die peacefully, and it's perhaps better to suggest that it was "eviscerated". A pool of blood forms a giant puddle around its corpse, which looks like it has been torn in two by a giant sword, barely connected together by a few remaining muscles and a stretch of its skin. Its innards - what's left of them - spill out onto the ground, and bones jut out unnaturally from the corpse. It's as if some other great beast hunted the bear like an animal no more harmful than a hare.

The blood around the bear has dried, but there is no sign of rot, nor have flies or maggots begun to gather around a festering corpse. The bear has not been dead for that long...and this concerns you.

Such is your shock that when a drop of what is probably morning dew strikes you on the shoulder, you can't even bring yourself to wipe it away.

"We should go," Penelope declares, her expression drawn tight even as she draws her twin daggers. "Now."

"But Aphelia and Mia aren't here yet!" Lucille protests.

Vesna takes a deep breath as she takes her hands to her mouth, looking as if she is about to call out to the aforementioned Aphelia and Mia, but the first syllable of "Aphelia" has barely left her lips when Wendy forcibly covers Vesna's mouth - hard enough to come across as a slap, something that startles both Vesna and yourself, as you ignore another dewdrop that strikes your shoulder - as Wendy furiously hisses, "Are you stupid? Do you want to attract the attention of whatever killed the bear?"

"They can take care of themselves," Penelope tells Lucille determinedly. "But we need to go. Before it's too late."

Again, a drop of morning dew drips down on you, on your face this time. Absentmindedly, you reach up to wipe it away - it's a bit more of an irritant than something that hits your shoulders - but as your eye comes to the periphery of your vision, you suddenly realize with alarm that your hand is red. That it has been smeared with some kind of fast-drying liquid.

Gingerly, tuning out of the conversation among the other members of the team, with growing dread, you touch your face where the dewdrop landed on your face...and you realize with a cold chill inside you that it isn't dew at all, but blood.

Slowly, almost too terrified to do so, you look up.

The first thing you see is a pair of dead eyes looking back at you, dull as they stare into the distance. The dryad huntress they belong to hangs limply upside down from the foliage, a look of remembered horror on her slack face, her mangled corpse bleeding its last as the red lifeblood drips from deep gashes in her stomach and down their fingers. She died recently...and painfully.

The second thing you notice is that the huntress' waist is no longer connected with her legs, but with a second pair of eyes - a giant pair of yellow eyes with slit pupils - glaring back at you from the branches and leaves.

You scream, a sound that is utterly inaudible against the screech coming from the giant maw releasing the half-eaten body of the dryad.

And then blood is pounding in your ears, and you can hardly remember what happens next. There is much screaming as the other apprentices follow your stare, turn to the source of the screech, and suddenly everyone is scrambling downhill amidst giant maws descending from the foliage in snapping attempts to impale all of you with giant teeth and claws. One scream cuts through the terror, the sort that telegraphs mind-searing pain, but you barely register this as you slide, dash, and otherwise sprint your way down the hill in spite of the difficult, broken, treacherous terrain. You barely recover from tripping over the mangled body of the dryad that drops down to the ground beside the bear corpse, and you don't recover at all when there is a series of snap-cracks as branches shatter, followed by something that feels vaguely like a mountain descending from the sky and crashing down at your heels. You barely register the next inhuman screech as you tumble down the hill, doing nothing to arrest your fall as you roll unceremoniously across dirt and grass and rock, partly because you dare not stop, partly because you cannot stop; your fall is too swift and the hill too steep.

You strike your head against something that fills your vision with stars before you experience a second or two of a rather curious vertigo, an interesting sensation that would have provoked greater alarm were you more lucid...and then your body slams into something - the ground, most likely - hard enough to take even those stars away from the moonless night sky that blackens your vision and empties your mind.

And for a while, your mind swims numbly and aimlessly across a sea of blackness, penetrated only weakly and sporadically by soft motes of light, cries of vaguely familiar voices you barely register as alarm, and the sensation of being carried or pulled along.

Then light begins to return to your vision, and warmth begins to fill your body, and...

"Neianne's coming to!" calls out Vesna just as you bolt upright from where you are lying, gasping for breath, your eyes wide and your adrenaline suddenly pumping, cut short only by an acute sense of soreness that runs across your body.

"Are you alright?" Lucille quickly asks you, her face poking in and taking up much of your field of vision, even as you struggle to remember just what happened. You fell and rolled down a hill, apparently, and now you're in a small...crag? It looks like it, given that you look like you've somehow ended up in a tiny canyon. A particularly thin stretch of the canyon, in fact, with everyone pressed in.

Still, your well-being is important, and you look down. If you rolled down a hill hard enough to black out - and then, if you're deducing this right, fell into a crag with everyone else - then you wouldn't be surprised if you've broken some bones. Yet despite the feeling of intense soreness across certain parts of your body, your quick physical check-up - taught by the survival instructors for precisely this kind of situation - reveals nothing that's terribly damaged. You don't even see cuts across your skin. "Y-Y-Yes," you tell Lucille with almost a touch of disbelief.

"You've neither broken nor fractured bones," Vesna explains to you in shaky breaths, "but I thought to mend your scratches and bruises all the same..."

That certainly explains things. You still got lucky - Vesna is probably too new at healing magecraft to repair a broken bone with anything but a temporary fix - but at least some of your more superficial cuts and bruises have been dealt with by someone gifted in the art of healing.

And that line of thinking is as far as you get, because terror consumes you as a loud, ear-piercing screech fills your world, and you suddenly remember why you rolled down a hill and into a crag for your dear life to begin with.

At least you now see why your group has pressed themselves into a thin stretch of canyon. It's cramped in here, but the beast that killed the bear and at least one dryad huntress is too large to do anything but try to slam its head through the crack in terrain, screeching impotently at you. Yet "impotent" is the last word with which you want to describe this giant creature, looking like it measures five or even six meters from snout to abdomen...to say nothing of its tail and wings, which are far larger. It's a reptilian creature standing menacingly on two hind legs sporting talons as long and fierce as swords, its yellow slitted eyes looking at you with a hungering glare, protected by earthen-colored scales that function as a suit of armor.

The talons, you note, are painted red from fresh kills...as are its sharp teeth.

"W-W-What is that?" you stammer, terrified of looking at this creature that still struggles to eat all of you, but unable to peel away your gaze. "I-Is that a d-d-dragon?"

It's Melanie who answers in an equally scared voice: "N-N-No. It's a w-w-wyvern."

You do not feel relieved at all. True, wyverns - lesser cousins of the legendary dragons - are smaller and less intelligent than the great titans you feared. According to your storybooks, wyverns do not hunt with the cunning or wisdom of the dragons, nor do they breathe fire, the latter of which surely would've killed all of you now. But wyverns are predators all the same, one of the most dangerous in Iuryis. Looking at it now, you can tell that it's at least ten times the mass of the average person - more if you count the wings - with a maw that can most likely crush any prey unfortunate enough to be caught, and talons that can - if the bear was any indication - do far worse.

"What's a wyvern doing here?" exclaims Lucille fearfully.

Vesna looks around in confusion, hesitantly offers an explanation: "Hunting?"

But Melanie shakes her head, her eyes wide as she stares at the reptilian monster. "W-W-Wyverns aren't i-indigenous to C-Caldrein," she explains with a dread whisper. "Th-There shouldn't be any w-wyverns h-here!"

"A-And not near a dryad commune," you see fit to offer, in spite of your fading soreness and your growing terror, "o-or the dryads would never have s-settled here."

All of you watch breathlessly as the wyvern seemingly gives up - at least for the moment - trying to squeeze itself into the thin stretch of canyon that all of you are hiding in. Instead, it backs up and paces a bit, never taking its eyes all of you, occasionally letting out short screeches into the air. As its head retreats from the thin canyon corridor that you all are hiding in, you can see that the wyvern, too, is also in the same crag that you are, albeit a small section much wider in width, allowing the monster to fall in in the first place. You hope that the wyvern will fly away, leaving all of you alone...but it never does, its wings instead scratching against the crag walls that are not so wide that the wyvern can expand them.

"It's not flying away," Lucille echoes your thoughts in dismay.

But Vesna sees a silver lining in this, exclaiming, "It's stuck! It's too narrow down here for it to spread its wings and take off."

"So we can try to climb out and escape!" concludes the elf, sounding both elated and relieved.

But it's at this point that Penelope suddenly realizes that there's a major problem. "Where's Wendy?" she asks, looking around in a slight but growing panic. "Where's Wendy?"

This is when you realize that - in the panic that has consumed all of you throughout this ordeal - you've never noticed that your group of six has actually been whittled down to five.

All of you hurriedly look around for the last missing human until Vesna makes a shrill cry and points in the direction of the wyvern: "Over there."

The good news is that Wendy isn't dead. Even at this range, you can see the heaving of her chest that comes with labored breaths. The bad news is that she is prone on the ground, otherwise unmoving, and bleeding heavily. If anything, the sickly paleness of her skin suggests that she's in shock.

The even worse news: She's right behind the wyvern.

"Wendy!" cries Penelope, stopping herself from throwing herself out of the narrow confines of the canyon at the last second.

Wendy does not respond; it's quite possible, in fact, that she doesn't hear Penelope at all. You wonder if this is what you were like when you landed unceremoniously down here, and if you would be in a similar predicament had someone not dragged you in here with them, healing you afterwards.

Whirling on Vesna, Penelope demands, "Can't you heal her?"

Chalk-white, the healer of your group whispers, "I...no. She's too far. She needs to be closer. Much closer. I can't do anything from here."

The wyvern, for better or for worse, does not pay attention to Wendy. Perhaps it doesn't notice the apprentice at all. Or perhaps it just sees not need to pay attention to prey that is wounded and crippled. But as it paces around, it tail and legs come dangerously close to Wendy's body. When the wyvern steps on Wendy's leg without even looking, Wendy spasms where she is, but that seems like an unconscious involuntary reaction more than anything. Penelope cries out again in Wendy's stead, seeing how the latter is apparently too deep in shock to even do so.

You begin to wonder if the wyvern actually doesn't notice Wendy, if it isn't - in fact - cunning enough to be using the human girl as bait.

"We have to save her!" Penelope declares, her expression equal measures of terror and anguish and determination, and Lucille has to latch onto her to stop her from leaving the safety of the bottleneck.

"No," she hisses, pulling Penelope back, "don't go!"

Whirling on the elf, the human scowls at Lucille, demanding, "What, you want to leave her to die?"

"No," whispers Lucille, trying to inject calmness into her voice, calmness that she probably doesn't actually feel, "of course not. We climb our way out of this crevice and find an instructor, tell them what has happened." She nods in affirmation, although perhaps that is more for herself than anyone else. "They can handle the wyvern, they'll know what to do!"

"She'll die before anyone gets here!"

"Stop and think!" pleads Lucille, grabbing onto Penelope's arm again to stop her from going to Wendy's rescue. "Look at the size of that wyvern. We can't beat it, not a bunch of apprentices. It already killed a dryad huntress. It'll kill us before we even get close to Wendy!"

"There's five of us, you coward! It can't kill us all."

Lucille fixes a sad look at Penelope. "Yes, it can. I'm sorry, Penelope, but we can't risk five lives just to save..."

"...Just to save a human, right?" snarls Penelope.

Recoiling from this, Lucille looks and sounds pained as she whispers in disbelief, "...What?"

In spite of the situation, Penelope still somehow manages a lilt to her voice, almost as if she's about to laugh uncontrollably at the absurdity of her situation. "You'll leave Wendy to die because you think of her as just a human," she accuses, her voice laced with venom and contempt. "I wonder what you'd be saying instead if it was Aphelia over there, or some other elf?"

The elf feebly and desperately attempts to say something contrary to that, even as words fail her, Lucille stunned by the accusation. But she doesn't need to. "Shut up," the voice of Melanie suddenly cuts in, and you realize that she has stepped in between Lucille and Penelope, that her voice and glare are chillingly sharp, that shy Melanie has suddenly stopped stuttering. "I will not listen to you impugn Lady Lucille's name over something you have no understanding of."

Penelope looks stunned, even as she continues to stand her ground; it is her turn to struggle for words at this turn of events, at the shy aseri suddenly cold and furious and standing in between them.

"Please," pleads Vesna, having been quiet throughout this altercation, "now is not the time to argue!"

You've never fought a wyvern before - you've never seen a wyvern until just now - and yet now that you're looking at it, you don't like the odds, even with five apprentices here. Not mercenaries, apprentices. Someone else may die in a battle that none of you are prepared for. All of you may die. It killed a dryad huntress. It eviscerated a bear. And you are risking a similar fate for...what? Wendy? A girl who - along with Penelope - seems poised to make the rest of your time here at Faulkren miserable because you happened to be on Elizabeth's squad? Even if, by some miracle, you saved her, how grateful will she and her people really be? Even if you could come up with a better plan, it's probably difficult for others to take you seriously. Your personality engenders you to forgiveness and protectiveness from others...but not confidence. Fleeing and looking for help from Caldran mercenaries - for the people who can actually fight these monsters - is the smartest, wisest, and most logical thing to do. It puts no extra lives at risk for the slim chance that you might possibly save one person, a risk that would entail you risk the lives of other apprentices. You don't have that right.

And yet...

And yet how ready are you really to leave someone here to die? Even if the cost isn't worth it - even if you end up sacrificing more than one apprentice here to save another, even if you fail in the end, even if you come out of this in a worse position than you started this in - how ready are you really to leave without even making an attempt?

If your character and personality inspires protectiveness and sympathy, could you not - even without a plan in place - maybe inspire the others into action by charging into the fray? By forcing a confrontation that may spur the hesitant into action?

[x] Agree with Lucille, and recommend that all of you climb your way to escape and a Caldran mercenary.
[x] Let the debate run its course and go with the flow.
[x] Charge the wyvern, hope the others follow your example, and that none of you are killed in the attempt.
[x] Write-in.

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