A note from meidogeometry

Considering how short this update actually is, it's criminal that I took this long to edit it. I'm so very sorry, especially for those who are still keeping up with me here. T_T

But training continues on for days and weeks afterwards, and as you make up for lost time, your familiarity with the greatsword only increases. Even when you aren't practicing, it becomes easier to visualize stances and spars in your head, imagining possibilities to test out when your hands settle upon the hilt of your greatsword. You even manage to claw out several victories against Wendy during your spars, although your instructors have stopped taking bets long before. That one's probably your fault.

It's on a new morning, then, that your instructor takes you to the armory. "You've been making good progress these past few months on a greatsword," she declares approvingly, dragging out several weapon racks full of heavy weapons. Some of them include warhammers, but most of the weapons on display are various training greatswords of different sizes and configurations. "You clearly know what you're doing, and the months you've taken under my tutelage means you're a proper threat on the battlefield, pending some more actual experience. Until then, though, it's time we up the ante and start specializing your skills with your greatsword a little bit. That means choosing a variation of the weapon."

It is, after all, time to consider specialization.

Your instructor reaches for the weapons rack, and the first weapon she pulls out is long. In fact, your first instinct is to assume that she made a mistake and reached for the spear instead. But it's actually a tiny bit shorter than your average spear, and you realize that it's actually not quite a spear at all, seeing how half its length is a greatsword's blade and the other half an elongated hilt of equal length. "This is a swordstaff," your instructor declares, giving the weapon a bit of a spin around her arms as she does so, albeit not at very fast speeds; its weight is evident just by watching the weapon spin. "Well, a great swordstaff, actually. It's what happens when someone looks at the versatility of a greatsword and the length of glaive, and decided the two needed to have a baby. The swordstaff is that baby." She starts making swinging and thrusting motions with the great swordstaff, as if to show how it's properly used. "The longer hilt means you can use it like a short polearm, but the blade is as long and large as any greatsword's. So aside from all the advantages of a greatsword, you get to do all those fancy twirls and thrusts spearswomen do. Most of the extra length comes from the hilt, so there's no real increase in weight, and it's certainly more balanced this way. Plus the longer hilt means better leverage for fast, powerful swings. This isn't quite as long as your typical spear, but even when compared to glaives, you've got more blade to work with. It hits hard, it hits long, it hits from any angle. It's an extremely versatile weapon. The downside, of course, is that if it's difficult to fight in enclosed spaces with the greatsword, it's even more impossible with a swordstaff."

Placing the great swordstaff back on the rack, your instructor asks in a rhetorical fashion, "So you like greatswords." She then reaches for...a very normal greatsword. Nothing particularly special or different about it. Again you wonder if she's made a mistake, except she's holding the weapon with just one hand, and the other hand reaches for a second greatsword. You realize that she's dual-wielding two massive weapons, holding a greatsword up in each hand in a frightening show of arm strength. "How about two of them? At once?" And then suddenly her trembling arms fail, and though the hilts remain in her hands, the two training greatswords come crashing to the ground tip-first. Your instructor laughs sheepishly as she shrugs, allowing, "Yeah, pretty much only dryads can pull this off, so I'll have to find someone else for you if you choose this. Probably another dryad instructor from...oh, I don't know. I think she's in Clastaine right now. But it's no big deal, we do this kind of thing all the time, so don't worry if this is what you want." Putting both greatswords back on the rack - one at a time - she explains, "But, yes, dual-wielding greatswords. Strike an enemy from two directions. Fight two enemies at once. Swing both blades at once if you want that extra impact. Become a flying whirlwind of bloody death. Whatever advantages you can associate with dual-wielding longswords, you get with dual-wielding greatswords, with the added benefit of the fact that they are...well, you know, greatswords. This is a very energy-intensive style, though, even for a dryad like you. No battles of attrition for you if you pick this."

The third weapon, you can tell, is not a mistake. Or, at least, it's not a mistake on the part of the instructor, because this is definitely a very distinct variation of the greatsword. This being said, you're amazed at the fact that someone in the history of warfare designed a greatsword that resembles a sword hilt slapped onto a metal barricade. "And this," declares your instructor, lifting it up and resting the back of the giant blade onto her shoulder, "is what we call the buster sword, the greatsword's bodybuilding cousin. I don't think I need to explain its virtues here, because you can see it for yourself." And indeed you can; it's only slightly shorter than your average greatsword, but the blade is almost ridiculously wide. Perhaps the width has no inherent purpose in and of itself - although you imagine it can serve as a makeshift shield against arrows if you're careful enough - but you imagine that the weapon, once swung, will be almost impossible to stop. "Yes, it's very heavy, it exacerbates the issue with greatswords not being particularly nimble, and it's definitely something you'll struggle to get used to carry around on the road, but if you hit something with this at full swing, it's going down."

Your eyes widen. "Even a w-wyvern?" you ask hopefully.

"You'll need to catch it and hit it right," the aseri chuckles in a manner that suggests she understands the value of that question coming from you, "but yes, even a bloody wyvern." She shrugs, puts the buster sword back on its rack, and says, "Of course, you can always stick with the standard greatsword if you want. At the end of the day, there's nothing wrong with it, and you can raise a great deal of havoc without a specialized weapon." She nods towards the weapons racks. "So what will it be?"

[x] Greatsword
[x] Great Swordstaff
[x] Dual Greatswords
[x] Buster Sword

In hindsight, it has been very easy to fall asleep in the baths. Although winter is slowly showing its way out of the new year, the air is still chilly, so it's really easy to just overstay in the heated bath, long after the other girls have already left. The lights in the baths are relatively dimmer, too, bouncing softly and gently off stone arches and tiles forming a comfortable chamber that can easily accommodate all of Faulkren Academy's apprentices if they are fine with squeezing a little. And, honestly, you've been physically training so much that the fatigue is catching up with you earlier and earlier in the day.

So you splutter and startle yourself back to lucidness when your head suddenly submerges underwater, the consequences of nodding off in one of the bathing pools. Pushing yourself back up out of the water, you blush and look around to see who has just witnessed your blunder, but a quick scan reveals that you're alone here in the baths, and the view out the window looks very late. The sky outside is almost completely dark save for moonlight shining down, and your surroundings are quiet; not even the sounds of ambient conversation reach you as you sit up in the bath and wait for the waters you've disturbed to still.

You feel a little dehydrated, too. As a dryad, you can get by with less water than the other races of Iuryis, but the heat has certainly increased thirst. You step out of the bath and quickly wrap a towel around yourself, making your way over to the jug of water on the table near the entrance, left there specifically for apprentices who've gotten too thirsty. You wonder just how late it already is, whether you've dozed off for so long that everyone else has gone to sleep. The baths are located in a different building than your dorms, so you'll get a chance to look at the windows of the buildings across the Academy and see if you spot any candles still burning through the night.

Barefoot, your journey to your glass of water is virtually silent, and the drink is refreshing. Despite the chill, your body is pleasantly warm from soaking for so long in the baths. In fact, you begin to unwind a little when you hear voices out in the hallway.

"The brand didn't turn up in the archives of Arkenvale, Stengard, or even Valrein," comes the voice of a woman, an adult. You are certain that it is the voice of one of your instructors, although you aren't entirely sure who based on that alone. Her voice is at conversational volume, ringing a slight distance away out the doors and down the hall, but not so far that you can't hear her from where you stand. "Thankfully, on that last note, Headmistress Hyrseld had a favor to call in, someone who then called in a favor from an Ornthalian envoy of sorts."

"I don't like the sound of where that went," comes the voice of a second woman. This voice you can pin down as that of Headmistress Rastangard's. It seems like a typical adult conversation, however, so you don't pay it too much mind.

"Like it or not," declares the first voice, "she delivered. The brand belongs to a secret task group the Tennies have been running for a while. They're called the Squirrels, and over the last few years, they've been deployed in Tenereia's other invasions and military campaigns further north. Their main mission is sabotage behind enemy lines. They sneak into cities and towns, inciting havoc and panic wherever they go."

"So they're assassins," Cornelia mutters, and you are suddenly struck with the awkward realization that this conversation you're listening in on - entirely by accident - may actually be quite serious. And that, technically, someone may be able to describe your current predicament as "eavesdropping". Without even thinking much about it, you try to remain as silent and unmoving as possible, hoping that you won't be caught in the unenviable position of being accused of eavesdropping if found...which only allows you - inadvertently - to listen in on the conversation with even greater clarity.

"Not quite," corrects the instructor. "They're...technically soldiers, although fighting is allegedly not necessarily a strength of theirs. This being said, they're certainly not conscripts. They are good at what they do, and most of them are educated or at least speak several languages to better blend in. Of greater interest to us, Ornthalian spies say that their signature methods involve using beasts as weapons. Sometimes they have trained animals to do their work, other times they wind up a dangerous, feral monster and set them loose near a village or town."

"Just like a wyvern," the headmistress scowls, and you clue into the fact that they are, in fact, talking about the hypothetical group responsible for releasing the wyvern into Roldharen Forest during the field exercise. The alleged Tenereian saboteur group that Alexia alluded to when you found a brand on the corpse of the wyvern, a brand that no one but the bard seemed to recognize.

"Exactly. They usually hide out in the boonies to conceal their operations, but more often than not, they hide in plain sight by masquerading as a circus. No need to hide a chained, caged wyvern if it's there to draw in a paying crowd. And since most people don't actually recognize that brand - like, say, us - it's easy for people to assume that it was just a freak accident involving wildlife. There's a certain degree of deniability involved."

There is quiet, and you can imagine the headmistress digesting this information. "How reliable do you consider this information?" she finally asks. "We've had an Ornthalian bard bring this to our attention first, and now Ornthalian spies are coming up with the answers. I'm going to have to inform Countess Celestia about this, and I don't want her to fall victim to an Ornthalian misinformation campaign if they're simply trying to get us to align with the Imperial Republics."

"Nothing is certain, of course. But the intelligence seemed solid. We may simply have to accept that Ornthalia will always be better at spy games than us. Besides, the Countesses have hinted at being receptive to an Ornthalian intervention multiple times now. I doubt Ornthalian needs to waste too much effort trying to convince us to side with them."

"Countess Cenoryn, maybe, seeing how it's her region being invaded. But Countess Athalast is not so keen. And I'm not entirely sure where Countess Celestia will stand on the matter of Ornthalian boots on Caldran soil if push comes to shove, whatever diplomatic noises she might make."

There is a small grunt of acknowledgement, another moment of silence, and then the instructor tries to fill the gap: "Be that as it may, we have a better idea of what to look for now. We can start asking around if there's been a circus in town, or any suspiciously large cargo being moved around."

"Mm. The Countess ordered a heightening of the guard after I informed her that the wyvern at Roldharen may have been an orchestrated attack." Rastangard sighs in frustration. "She's done what she could, but with the bulk of our forces sent to the fighting in Halissen, mercenary or not..."

"Do you mean we may have to act as a quick reaction force?"

"I don't see any other good options. Apaloft simply doesn't have the manpower to spare. Faulkren doesn't even have a garrison right now, at least not beyond us here. Do you think a platoon of town guards can manage a wyvern?"

The instructor makes a sound that clearly denotes that, no, she does not. "Should I tell the others?"

There is a moment of thoughtful quiet. "No," the headmistress finally decides, "I will do that soon, but only after I've sent word to Countess Celestia. We need to be on the same page here, especially if we're looking across the region for these people." She sighs explosively. "Nine years. Nine years of this Huntress' War, running close to ten. The Tennies haven't used these tactics on us for all this time, not until now. What's changed?"

"Nine years is a long time to not even be able to conquer Elspar. Perhaps they're getting desperate."

"Perhaps," Cornelia grumbles, although her voice is beginning to fade as you hear footsteps move off into the distance, in the direction of another building that leads to her office. "You'd think they'd resort to these tactics after two years, not nine."

And, after that, there's nothing. You don't hear the headmistress or any instructor after that as they leave, nor do you detect the presence of anyone else. You even cautiously peek out into the hallway to confirm that, yes, it is indeed deserted. It takes a quick sneeze on your part - it is chilly, after all, and the heat from the bathwater is beginning to wear off - for you to quickly finish drying yourself off, dressing back up, and fleeing to your dorm room as quickly and quietly as possible.

It is not so late, as it turns out, that all of the apprentices have gone to bed. Some of the lights are still shining from the windows of the dorms, including your own. "You're back late," Stephanie declares - sitting at her desk and combing her hair, looking like she's about to go to bed - when you finally come in through the door. Then she watches you dive into your bed, flustered and almost breathless, and blinks. "Is...something the matter?"

You try to calm down and think. Given that the headmistress is deferring on informing even the other instructors - all of them professional Caldran mercenaries - you question the wisdom of telling Stephanie, or even anyone else, all of whom are merely apprentices who haven't even completed your first year of training. It is certainly better for operational security if such secrecy is maintained, and most likely more prudent on your part. On the other hand, however, Stephanie is your roommate. She's a member of your squad - a group of people you're supposed to be close and loyal to - as are Sieglinde and Elizabeth. Or perhaps you can at least tell the people who actually survived the wyvern attack with you; maybe they actually deserve to know, just as a matter of principle, if you're going to tell anyone. At the very least, since Headmistress Rastangard is going to inform Countess Celestia anyways, perhaps you can at least inform Lucille, her niece.

[x] Tell Stephanie.
[x] Tell Sieglinde.
[x] Tell Elizabeth.
[x] Tell Aphelia.
[x] Tell Lucille.
[x] Tell Melanie
[x] Tell Penelope.
[x] Tell Vesna.
[x] Tell Wendy.
[x] Keep it a secret.
[x] Write-in.

A note from meidogeometry

Very apparently, Neianne goes to the Harry Potter school of eavesdropping.

Chapter 1.12 is finished. Long live chapter 1.12.

Support "On the Road to Elspar (Book 1)"

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