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A note from meidogeometry

THINGS GET EXCITING AGAIN

It is late one night at Faulkren - when the days of winter and spring seem to blur together and no one is sure which is which, hours after the candles in every dormitory window went out so each apprentice may sleep - when you are awoken by the sound of hooves.

The Academy has its own stable with a sizeable amount of horses, and you have been given lessons on how to properly ride. The sound of cantering and a general commotion coming beyond even closed windows, however, is too loud for you to ignore, and you and Stephanie - the latter similarly awake - move over to the window to see what is happening.

It's a little dark for you to be completely certain, but judging by the silhouettes, it does seem like many of your instructors are in full battle gear, mounting horses and preparing to ride out.

"You don't suppose this is the quick reaction force Headmistress Rastangard wanted to form, do you?" asks Stephanie with a hint of worry in her voice.

"I-I don't know," you admit. "I-I hope not." After all, if true, it means there is an attack somewhere in Apaloft, very possibly by the Squirrels.

The two of you watch the instructors ride off after several more minutes of preparation, galloping to the west. With little else to see and certainly nothing that you can do, the two of you eventually return to bed, silently hoping for the best.


You are not sure how much time has passed when you wake up again, although the continued darkness of night suggests it has been only an hour or two. A ruckus rouses you this time, one that seems closer than the stable and far more concerning than mere hooves. Muffled shouts can be heard, unintelligible thus far but carrying a clear tone of alarm, one that urges you to prevail against your grogginess and stand ready for action.

You and Stephanie fumble around in the darkness of your room, fighting off the fatigue of being woken up a second time in one night, trying to figure out what's happening, at least until your aseri roommate points out the window and gasps, "Look!"

The town of Faulkren can typically be seen out your window, albeit at an angle. It isn't typically visible at night, but tonight - right now - it is somehow illuminated by an orange glow against the night sky. And in your grogginess, you vaguely remember the fact that it's a sight very similar to the night of Midwinter's Feast not so long ago, when bonfires similarly cast a warm glow against the dark horizon.

Then, belatedly, in a moment of sudden horrifying clarity, you realize that the town of Faulkren is on fire.

"W-We need to tell our i-instructors!" you exclaim, wondering if the instructors in question have already noticed the fire and are preparing to move out. Assuming that the instructors you saw ride out earlier in the night have returned, or that some of them actually stayed behind as a matter of military prudence. Regardless, the two of you start changing out of your nightclothes, picking up your practice weapons after you do so, but as Stephanie makes repeated sniffing sounds, she looks increasingly uncomfortable, as if there's something off that she can't place.

By the time she pieces it together, by the time she shouts a word of warning, you are already in warm clothes and carrying your practice buster sword, and you are already turning the knob on your dorm door when Stephanie's eyes widen and she shouts, "Wait!"

Her call comes a hair too late; the door is already open, your body is in a forward motion to rush out your room, and your left foot doesn't arrest your charge until you're in the darkened hallway.

The foot in question comes down in a puddle of something slick and warm on the floor tiles, and you feel your legs fly out from under you, sending you crashing to the floor. Dryads are built tough enough that such a fall would ordinarily hurt little more than your pride, but this is not quite an ordinary situation. The air is thick with a sweet, coppery scent that makes your supper roil in your stomach, and when you try to get your hands under yourself, you can see in the dim lighting of the hallway that the floor is painted with dark, spreading red; you see it on your hands and feel it seeping through the fabric of your skirt at the knees. The shock of it all hits you much harder than the floor, and your head is reeling so badly that you don't actually notice who you're sharing the hall with for a split-second that feels like an eternity.

It's a sound that finally jolts you into wakefulness. A terrible crunching, like crackers snapping between teeth, but much more sickening. Slowly and with mounting dread, with memories of blood and the wyvern at Roldharen on your mind, your gaze rises from the blood beneath you. It rises to see paws and claws, and then furry legs, and then fangs and a body.

A floormate of yours, one you don't know well, but who has always been friendly enough to exchange cursory greetings with you when you meet in the hallway. But here she now is, suspended a meter above the floor, her body twisted at an unnatural angle at the waist, a distant look of terror on her face that remains even after life left her body.

She is suspended and twisted so because her waist is caught in a long maw belonging to a large creature now standing in the darkness on four furry paws before you, a scant five meters away in the second floor corridor of the West Wing right outside your door. You've always thought the hallways of Faulkren Academy to be rather tall and wide, but here this beast stands, filling most of the space before you, a quadruped easily the size of a horse, if not larger, but wider and bristling with much more fur, making you realize that these corridors are perhaps not so tall and wide after all. Its yellow eyes rise up to meet yours, as if it is only just noticing your presence interrupting its meal.

The direwolf snarls at you, baring its large, sharp teeth, even as your floormate's mangled, crumpled corpse drops from its jaw and onto the floor with a wet, sad smack.

This is the sound that forces you to scramble onto your feet, that really startles you into action as the adrenaline begins to course through your veins, triggering your fight-or-flight instincts. You struggle not to panic, not to slip on the blood again even as you bring up your training weapon. And it is at the same moment that the direwolf lunges at you with a snarl, its mouth almost large enough to swallow you whole and powerful enough to snap you in two, its charge so terrible and frightening that you cry out in alarm, instinctively stepping backwards. Its claws lash out, threatening to rip flesh from bone, and you barely manage to protect yourself as you bring your training buster sword up sideways like a shield. The claws bounce off the flat of the training blade, and the teeth snaps onto the width of the sword instead, but the force of the direwolf's charge is enough to knock you back off your feet, your buster sword almost falling on top of you in the process. You hang on for your dear life, even as the direwolf snarls angrily and snaps its head left and right and left again with frightening speed, trying to wrest the oversized weapon from your hands.

And you are trying to regain control of your footing, your weapon, the fight, your fear, when Stephanie suddenly charges the direwolf from the side, and her wooden practice katana is on fire.

You don't know how or why your aseri roommate's weapon is on fire, nor how or why she's suddenly so fast. You've trained with Stephanie before and sparred with her on occasion, and you have a rough idea of how nimble she is. She's certainly faster than you to begin with, being an aseri, but you've never seen her move like this, and you can only watch, stunned, as she seems to slide into existence right beside the direwolf. Then there's a swing of her practice katana, a slash so fast that the fire engulfing the hardened wood blade momentarily looks like a fan of flame, striking the direwolf with such ferocity that sparks and embers burst from singed fur, like a blacksmith's hammer against glowing hot steel.

The direwolf howls in pain, the sound echoing through the hallway, engulfing your world. It reels backwards in these tight confines, trying to swipe at Stephanie as it does so, but your roommate is already dodging, jumping towards a wall and then propelling herself off it to approach the beast from a higher angle. Her the shorter wakizashi in her left hand is angled forward as a parrying dagger, not that you can imagine her parrying the direwolf's claws - never mind its teeth - with the tiny weapon. Which, of course, is now also on fire.

Then you realize that, no, Stephanie's two blades aren't on fire. That would be like saying a log is soaked in water, which isn't actually what's happening. You aren't sure how you're able to tell - you've only received very brief lessons on magecraft, simply so you understand the strengths and limitations of mages such as Azalea or Vesna, so it's hardly as if you're equipped to truly grasp the intricacies of the art - but the flames that envelop both of Stephanie's wooden blades are being channeled through them, like water flowing through a pipe. Or perhaps a more appropriate metaphor would be wind passing through air.

And although no one explicitly told you this is the case, you have always been under the impression that under basic principles, magecraft doesn't work that way.

As interesting as this observation would normally be, your more practical instincts thankfully take over; the direwolf has released your practice sword, albeit with a few jagged scars where sharp giant teeth tore through it. It is fortunate that your instructors have trained you to react to chaos, to steel your nerves, to master your panic. And, in a way, it is fortunate that you have run into a wyvern before; you managed to keep a cool head then - or at least a relatively cool head - and compared to then, a direwolf - with its bristling fur and giant claws and sharp teeth - is not so terrifying.

It is still incredibly terrifying. But everything is relative.

You have to adjust your technique for the confines of the hallway as you raise your sword up in both hands, held over your head. Your guard is hasty and sloppy; you are trying to regain your calm, but you're still struggling against the heat of the situation, struggling to still shaking hands. You can actually somehow hear your instructor from the deep recesses of your memories, telling you how to take advantage of your opponent's frenzy, how to prevail without a fight, how to achieve victory with but a single strike. And frenzied the direwolf is, trying again and again to clamp its jaws down on the lithe, darting figure of your roommate. You wait for it to turn and bite at her once more; it almost grabs her by the leg this time, presenting its snarling, gore-streaked head to you in profile. You take two steps forward, and bring the practice sword down on its skull as hard as all your teenage dryad strength can muster.

The impact is bone-shaking, the wood carrying the vibration in a way that metal never would, and you feel the ache shoot up through both arms. The practice weapon doesn't split the monster's head open the way a real buster sword would, nor does it shatter the skull in a manner to be expected with any smaller target. But your wooden buster sword - making up for its lack of edge with sheer mass - is still an extremely heavy bludgeon in and of itself, and the blow with the direwolf produces a loud crack mingled with a yelp of pain that's so doglike that it somehow still elicits a twinge of sympathy from you, a moment of hesitation that you struggle to push down. The direwolf, thankfully, is in no position to take advantage of your weakness as it staggers back, claws skidding over the floor tiles, and slams into a wall as if drunk, still quite plainly alive.

Your timing is excellent; Stephanie's wooden practice weapons - having channeled flame for quite a number of slashes - disintegrates into ashes, embers, and sparks that soon dissipate into thin air. Tellingly, even if you don't quite have the time to ponder on its ramifications, Stephanie seems entirely unsurprised by this.

The direwolf is trying to push itself back upright, shaking its head as if to stop the world from spinning quite so wildly. Concussed or not, the low, outraged growl bubbling up from the depths of its throat reminds you that it is still a very real danger. You fix your guard, adjusting your stance to ward off its frightening strength once again; it will later dawn upon you that you should've rushed in for the kill while the beast is still discombobulated. Despite this, you're still not entirely prepared for how fast it springs at you: Very near to a full ton of fur, fangs, and wounded pride careening sloppily down the hall toward you, bobbing left and right in spite of its agility, robbed now of all its liquid grace. It stumbles on the second step, springing back to its feet with miscalibrated agility...and stops.

Mostly because there is suddenly a stick shoved down its throat. A stick that resembles a practice glaive, in fact. A stick that, though blunt, is shoved into the direwolf's maw with great force by a tall, raven-haired elf.

Making a sound between a choke and a whimper, with blood streaming from its mouth, the direwolf tries to retreat...and simply stops. Its back foot won't come up off the floor, encased as it is by a sheathe of ice. The direwolf turns around, twists to try and get free, snaps at the arcane substance as it climbs higher up its legs. With a yelp, it twists back around again as one of its front legs is now similarly trapped.

"I'd better not kill this entire direwolf by myself with a training tome!" a short, gold-haired elf snaps, her voice sharp and critical, shaking you out of your staring.

It does seem that you are not the only one with excellent timing.

You step forward again, and the direwolf's muzzle flashes forward, going for your leg. But it's fractionally too slow; Sieglinde strikes out repeatedly in vicious jabs with all the force of a quarterstaff, some of which strike the beast's eyes and nose, all of which prevents the direwolf from utilizing its already arrested momentum against you, keeping it at bay and preventing it from retreating. Sieglinde momentarily blinds the direwolf with a strike to the eyes, and it is in no position to dodge when your training sword connects with its head again, an up-down strike wherein your practice weapon's great weight smashes down against its already-damaged skull. There is another crack, and something hard in the direwolf's head seems to give way - something you feel all too intimately through your arms - as it collapses onto the floor.

With a battle cry that comes out a little closer to a squeak than you'd prefer, you lift your sword up and then swing it down again, and again. Its neck gives out before its skull does, a harsh snap that echoes against the second floor hallway of the West Wing. With a last, faint whine, the beast's head lolls, and it slumps over, stone dead.

With a quieter whimper of your own, you let your sword fall until the tip is resting against the floor like a crutch, slumping where you stand. Your arms feel like you just repeatedly pounded your fists into a brick wall.

"Are both of you alright?" Sieglinde asks, a touch of alarm in her voice that you've never heard before, which by itself puts you on edge.

"I-I-I'm fine," you say, trying but failing to stand back up on your feet against your practice buster sword. It is more difficult than you imagined, especially with the corpse of a great beast lying no more than three meters next to you.

Kneeling beside you, as if to ascertain you're alright, Stephanie's movements are a little jittery, as if her blood is still running a little high, but she is doing an admirable job and looking calmer than you. "Direwolf ate my training swords," she mutters. "Not that they were doing much against a direwolf to begin with."

Which, of course, is very much not what happened. And, in fact, Elizabeth seems to test this fiction as she sniffs the air, making a face. "Why does it smell like burning hair out here?" she complains.

You look to Stephanie, who shrugs as if she had nothing to do with it. "Lani was a mage," she points out, indicating the pitiful, mangled form of your floormate.

The elven mage has the bare amount of tact needed not to look outright disdainful at the dead aseri girl - caught alone and unarmed by the direwolf - but she does shake her head in a way that's almost disapproving. "Not much of one," she says with a tone of brutal honesty.

Stephanie shoots you a sidelong look, a plain request not to contradict her. You find yourself obliging despite feeling bewildered about why Stephanie has hid the true extent of her abilities over all this time, and why she's hiding them now. Ultimately, there's something a tiny bit reassuring, almost, about the thought that Lani might have managed to get one defiant fire spell off before she died, even if it's not exactly true.

Any chance for further thoughtfulness is interrupted as a crowd begins to gather on the second floor of the West Wing. Apprentices who were not alerted to the fire in town have definitely been alerted by the sounds of Squad Four fighting a direwolf right outside their doors. A cacophony fills the hallway as apprentices exclaim over the dead direwolf, trying to make heads or tails of the situation. There's a sharp wail of grief: Lani's roommate has just discovered the victim's mangled body.

This is not the first time you've seen a horrible death; your experiences at Roldharen have, in a way, braced you for this. But only a few of you saw the dead dryad huntress drop from the bloody maw of a wyvern that day; most of the apprentices are reacting to what has perhaps been their first up-close experience of violent death with unease, fright, and a few cases of the sort of pale-faced revulsion that threatens to send their dinners spewing onto the floor. It's not as if you're doing perfectly well with your second time looking death in the face, this time someone you actually know.

An elven girl, short and brunette, pushes through the crowd and puts her arms around Lani's sobbing roommate; you quickly recognize Lucille Lorraine Celestia, whispering comfort to Lani, the words low and unintelligible from where you are. She hardly seems unphased by the carnage herself, but perhaps consoling the hysterical girl is a distraction from the unpleasant scene as much as it is a kindness.

After it looks like you've had a moment to work out your shakes, Stephanie extends a hand towards you, and you take it to pull yourself up weakly to your feet, using your practice weapon for support.

"What do we do about this, Lady Lucille?" someone eventually asks from the throng of apprentices, standing close to the lady in question; there is a clear note of anxiety - perhaps even fear - in her voice.

Lucille looks as if she's prepared to take this question as largely rhetorical, but she noticeably pauses as she becomes aware that everyone is now looking to her, most of them with an expectant air. What are you all going to do? It's natural, perhaps for a crowd of girls - many of whom were born in Apaloft themselves, most of humble birth - to look to a Celestia in times of trouble. Or perhaps they had all simply been waiting for someone to be asked such a question, and Lucille was simply the most logical first pick.

"I'm not..." she starts hesitantly, momentarily freezing up, eyes wide, scanning around as if she dearly hopes an instructor will simply walk into view and take charge. No such person emerges. Her gaze briefly falls upon Sieglinde, who returns the look without any sign she understands the significance. Notably, Lucille seems to be avoiding looking Elizabeth's way at all, which is perhaps for the best; the third elven lady doesn't even seem to entirely register Lucille's existence.

Finding no rescue forthcoming, Lucille sucks in a deep breath, somehow seeming to deflate at the same time. "We need to find an instructor," she reasons. Not illogically, although such a course of action would also obviously let Lucille off the hook from further decision-making. "Why hasn't anyone come after all the noise?"

"Most of the instructors left last night," someone says, to the evident shock of many present, perhaps being sounder sleepers or having rooms further away from the noise of the earlier departure.

"Where did they go?" Lucille asks, even more crestfallen. She's still holding onto Lani's sobbing roommate, who has latched on in a way that makes it seem like she may be difficult to remove later. No one has an answer for where the instructors went. Aside from you and your squad, of course, but that isn't precisely information you should have in the first place. No answers forthcoming, she glances over at the direwolf again, biting her lower lip in a thoughtful, worried way. "It...could just be a wild animal that got in," she reasons, although there is something in her tone that suggests she's maybe trying to convince herself instead of anyone else. "That's probably what it is. Direwolves live all around here."

It's true that direwolves are common enough across most of Caldrein that you were often warned about them as a village girl. In fact, you're fairly certain that they're almost everywhere across Iuryis, where the climate is often cool. But even to you, this hypothesis doesn't quite add up, and your doubts are given voice by another apprentice who skeptically murmurs, "So it just got in here and...what, climbed the stairs?"

To the side, unnoticed to almost everyone except your own squad, Stephanie quietly pulls back some of the fur on the corpse of the direwolf, revealing a hairless patch of skin just above its rear leg. Upon seeing the pattern there, you quickly realize why, shooting an alarmed look at your squadmates.

You've seen that pattern before: A brand on the leg of the wyvern that attacked you back at Roldharen.

"They don't usually come so close to a town," one of the other girls says. In your shock, you only dimly recognize her red hair and deadpan expression; Ashlyn, Lucille's somewhat forward friend from the feast. Fatigue, fear, or stress - perhaps all of the above - has thickened her already strong Apaloftian accent, sounding considerably coarser than your own and more rural than the more urban-sounding Penelope or Wendy. You're willing to guess that her family are peasant farmers in the region. "And direwolves'll take a girl if she strays into their path, but they'd much rather have a nice cow or two from a farm." She looks at the dead direwolf dubiously. "I've never even heard tell of one this big."

You are shooting looks at the rest of your squad, but all of them look back with impassive expressions. None of them seem interested in speaking up about what they know about the brand on the direwolf and what it means for everyone else. You suppose this makes sense: The four of you aren't supposed to know about this information, something that can get you into a spot of trouble, especially if you start sharing it. But now does seem like a very pressing time to start sharing, yet none of them seem to be inclined to do so. Stephanie has always been a little hesitant about you sharing this information. Elizabeth likely doesn't care all that much. And you can't help but remember what the elven mage told you about Sieglinde on the road to Faulkren during Midwinter's Feast: That in spite of her high-minded ideals to help people. she doesn't even like them.

"Other people are up, though," someone else points out. "There's a lot of shouting in the other buildings. Maybe we should go to them and..." she trails off, even as her eyes widen with a belated realization, and with a quiet, unsettled whisper, she hesitantly asks, "...you don't suppose they have wolves in their dorms as well?"

Lucille seems like she's about to say something, but whatever is to come out of her mouth, it is interrupted by a sudden, loud snarling that sends shivers down your spines, and there is an almost collective jump as frightened, shaken apprentices suddenly turn in alarm.

A second direwolf is coming down the hallway at the crowd, crazed with bloodlust.

The apprentices scream and scatter in panic, many of them back into their dorm rooms, others down the other end of the hallway. You don't blame them; many have come out in their nightclothes, and most did not bring their practice weapons with them, having only stepped out of their rooms to figure out what the commotion was about. And there is something fundamentally terrifying about a direwolf barreling down at you in a straight line, snarling and bristling with murderous intent. It doesn't help that the corridor is a mess of apprentices running in every which direction amidst the chaos and panic. Yet perhaps it is a testament to the training you've received here for so long that even though there is little coordination beyond shouts of alarm and what few weapons you have amongst yourselves to being fumbled up into a harried ready position, those capable of fighting off the direwolf don't run, instead putting themselves between their fleeing classmates and the threat.

It takes a while for any of you to get into formation, but you soon find yourself just slightly behind Sieglinde and a girl with a lighter sword. Having that little bit of breathing room means you're mostly aware of a soft thrum and something arcing over your heads, as the practice arrow strikes the wolf's shoulder and glances aside without great effect. Lucille, having extricated herself from Lani's roommate, apparently thought to bring her bow and quiver. It's not a bad shot under the circumstances, and ordinarily a Caldran shortbow would be deadly at such a range, and a broadhead put into the meat of the shoulder would likely have at least hobbled it. But with their blunt, padded heads, training arrows are unlikely to do much short of a superb shot striking a particularly vulnerable area.

Yet it's Sieglinde and the girl in front who take the offensive, executing rapid slashes and thrusts that your buster sword can't. The corridor is barely wide enough for you to manage anything but a downward swing with the weapon, and with two allies beside you - not to mention the other apprentices still scrambling for safety, or at least for the practice weapons they've left in their rooms - utilizing the buster sword to its full potential in such close confines proves to be an impossibility, at least for you.

But there are other ways to use a buster sword. It's just large enough - if not quite long enough - to be used as a giant prodding stick, angled towards the direwolf to harass it or to simply deny it a charge into anything but a large wooden practice weapon. And even Vesna's initial bewildered assumption that your buster sword is a shield comes into play; it is not exactly a palisade, but you are small enough for your practice weapon to just barely manage the role. When it seems like the offensive is faltering, when it seems like the two apprentices at the van need to take a step back, in you rush with your buster sword as a bulwark, sometimes going so far as to slam the direwolf three, maybe four times larger than you.

You're not large or powerful enough to really slam the direwolf backwards, but you can arrest any attempts to advance, any attempts to attack anyone scattered through the corridors, even as dorm doors slam shut to prevent the direwolf from squeezing in.

And now that the element of surprise is gone, now that most of you are now facing troubrle, you apprentices - even with so many crowding out the corridor - fight as befits those training to become Caldran mercenaries. Stephanie has to pull back due to her training weapons dissipating into ash and embers, but she shouts, "Let Neianne kill the beast with her giant stick!" And though you wonder if you should feel indignant about having your training weapon being labeled a "giant stick", it is clear that she speaks from the shared experience just minutes ago, and the apprentices react accordingly. The frontline melee apprentices harass the direwolf, keeping it at bay, forcing it to remain just defensive enough - and thus still enough - for Elizabeth to immobilize it, for ice to suddenly sprout from the crowd and encase the direwolf's two front paws.

There is a sharp laugh from Elizabeth, and suddenly lightning flows from the ice and into the direwolf, causing it to howl in pain and fury, for its muscles to spasm and for fur to sing once more with the smell of burnt hair.

Lucille and another girl continue to pepper the direwolf with blunt arrows, and a few of those shots even hit its eyes and snout. And in its disorientation, it is vulnerable to Sieglinde and her partner at the fore to strike at the direwolf's legs, to bring low its body, to lower its head just enough for you to swing your "giant stick" down on the direwolf's head with purpose and determination.

You are not panicked this time, reacting to a surprise that you have yet to fully fathom. You are in good form, your body ready and primed for lethal purpose. You don't even need to strike the direwolf's neck this time to snap it either. The practice buster sword, swung with all its mass through dryad strength, produces a sickening crunching sound as it slams the direwolf's paralyzed head down against the floor like a hammer against an anvil, reducing the its head into a bloody pulp.

It twitches several times, but otherwise does not move.

You exhale as you stumble awkwardly back, but you don't sink to your knees this time, instead trying to steady your heartbeat and calm your breathing. Lucille, to her credit, slumps against the wall as the adrenaline begins to wind down, her fight-or-flight instincts giving way to fatigued relief. Sieglinde gives a nearly imperceptible nod of acknowledgment to the girl who fought beside her to give you the opportunity to slam your "giant stick" down on the direwolf's head. Elizabeth yawns.

It takes a moment, but doors soon begin to swivel in. Some are slammed open as apprentices jump out with their practice weapons, wide-eyed, clearly having only retreated to find a means of combat, and then finding out that the second direwolf is dead already. Others open much more tentatively, as frightened girls slowly and reluctantly come back out into the hallways; they at least have practice weapons in hand.

"Is anyone hurt?" Lucille asks in a winded voice that sounds like she's still trying to catch her breath.

Replies slowly come from the crowd of apprentices, either confirming that they're alright or looking around to see how others are. Ashlyn, however, stares down at the second dead direwolf, a frown on her face, murmuring, "This is wrong."

"What's wrong?" Stephanie asks, standing close enough to hear that utterance.

"Direwolves don't act like this," she replies, looking sharply at your aseri roommate. "They hunt, but they take kills that are alone and can't get help. They don't walk into a fortress and attack so many people like this." She turns her glare back at the corpse, repeating, "Something's wrong. Something wound them up."

But no one gets to ponder Ashlyn's words too long, for there is another cry of alarm and grief - triggering frightened jumps from apprentices who think it's another direwolf - and heads to turn see a body slumped where the wall meets the floor, motionless, with a bloody gash across her neck. An apprentice mage quickly pushes ahead as the crowd looks on, stunned; she quickly checks the victim's condition, seems to try to heal her with magecraft...but it soon becomes apparent as she shakes her head sadly that it's too late. "She's dead," whispers the apprentice mage. "Slashed throat."

Stephanie grimaces, looks at the rest of you who faced the direwolf only a minute before. "I didn't see the direwolf get her," she mutters.

But Sieglinde's eyes narrow as she gets a closer look at the gash - difficult, considering the darkness of night - and she announces, "That's not a claw wound. It's too clean. Her throat was slit with a blade."

The commotion amongst the apprentices only grows louder and even more scared. Almost no one knows or understands what's going on. Why are there direwolves - at least two of them - running around inside the West Wing? Why have the instructors left? Why is there someone suddenly with a slit throat? No one has answers, and the apprentices are all looking expectantly, almost beseechingly, at the Celestia in the room, who in turn also seems confused and nervous and crushed by the weight of the attention. And not so long ago, you probably would've been among them. But spending months with two Lindholm ladies on your squad skews your expectations a bit about what a capable highborn really looks like. Except neither Sieglinde nor Elizabeth - capable as they are, and in fact in the know about the Squirrels - seem to be even remotely inclined to take command from Lucille or share what they know. Elizabeth you expected, but while you've always understood some reluctance on Sieglinde's part to lead, that she isn't doing so now - when so much is on the line, when lives have been lost and more lives are at stake - is almost startling.

Convincing Sieglinde - or at least Elizabeth - to take command is probably the wisest course of action; Lucille, kindhearted as she is, does not seem like she's up to the task. Maybe she can make good decisions as the pressure builds, but it's not a line of thought that fills you with confidence. Yet there is no guarantee that either Sieglinde or Elizabeth are inclined to agree with you. And if they refuse, all you're doing is creating a visible leadership dispute that makes everyone involved - especially Lucille - look bad at a moment where group cohesion is vital.

[x] Convince Sieglinde to take command.
[x] Convince Elizabeth to take command.
[x] Allow Lucille to remain in command.
[x] Write-in.

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