A note from meidogeometry

I am maybe a little tired at how long it is taking to edit my past chapters, and maybe you are too. Sorry.

[x] ...proud.
[x] ...grim.

You've heard stories about the act of killing and the struggle to come to terms with it, or even to act during the heat of the moment. You've heard of the surge of nausea that comes after taking a life, the immediate pangs of guilt when you've killed a person, the cold realization that you've taken from someone a child, a parent, a sibling, a friend.

And perhaps it's because the choice was never yours to begin with. It isn't as if you've deliberately tried to kill someone. Certainly, you had lethal intent in the heat of the moment, the realization that you are up against an enemy and that you may very well need to kill them. And indeed, whatever feelings you have are tempered by a feeling of sober grimness, that realization that you have - for the first time in your life - caused the death of a person, with all the ramifications that ensue, even if it's in self-defense. She was fighting for her country, and you for yours. And now she is a messy puddle of sundered flesh and spilled blood, a reminder of the frailty of both. You but flailed in panicked self-defense, and this is the result.

But as much as you may want to, you cannot deny a feeling of...pride. It isn't quite excitement or exhilaration - for better or for worse, you are not Elizabeth, or at least not who Elizabeth presents herself to be - but there is also that lucid realization that - accident or not - you have defeated someone in a test of lethal intent. You have proven yourself of superior strength, speed, or skill - or perhaps some combination of the above - against an adult combatant, likely a professional who has been doing this kind of clandestine work for quite some time. You have prevailed and are alive, and she is not. And that speaks of how much you have changed, how much you have become a more formidable girl. Only a year ago, you were a meek, shy, stuttering girl who couldn't hurt a fly. Now, you have outsmarted a wyvern, helped kill two direwolves, and eliminated a Tenereian saboteur.

You are, as you have long wished, a different girl from the Neianne who left her village to attend Faulkren Academy.

You don't have much time to think about it, though. "What are you girls doing?" comes a voice, and the apprentices in the hallway swivel with their weapons raised towards the source, jumpy and expecting a threat, only to collectively release a sigh of relief as you realize that the speaker is the familiar face of one of your human instructors, marching towards you down the hallway opposite of where the Squirrels escaped. "Don't just stand here with your fingers under your skirts!" she snaps angrily, denying the apprentices any moment of respite. "Get to the armory and actually make yourselves useful!"

The apprentices are shocked into moving, although there is a very palpable sense of relief that an instructor is here, that there's someone here to take charge. This being said, you spot Lucille visibly flinching at the rebuke; she was the one who gave the order to hole up instead of heading for the armory, after all. You are not the only one who notices this; several of the apprentices give a wide array of looks towards Lucille - some of pity, others of disappointment, many complicated - but try to move on anyways. Some attempt to ask the instructor questions - what's going on, why is this happening, who is the enemy - but the instructor snarls at them to head to the armory first.

Perhaps the instructors have all returned from wherever they rode off to earlier in the night. Perhaps they're taking control of the situation. You can only hope, but you have little opportunity to ask any questions; the instructor is trying to move past the throng of apprentices, in the direction where the Squirrels fled, towards the other dorm rooms. Perhaps she's trying to wake and rally the other apprentices further down the West Wing.

But before she can fully extricate herself from the scene, the instructor finds herself looking at the carnage left on the floor of the corridor: The two cadavers of the large direwolves and the caved-in corpse of the Squirrel against the corner. Regarding the bodies thoughtfully for a moment, she turns to the tail end of the apprentices heading for the stairs, asks, "Who did this?"

"Neianne did," one of the apprentices answers from the crowd.

To your credit - perhaps simply due to the adrenaline running through your system - you manage not to blush, although you stutter a little harder than usual as you quickly clarify, "I-I-I just dealt the f-final blow. E-Everyone else h-helped."

The instructor regards you for a quick moment, then your practice buster sword, then the corpses on the ground. "Of course," she notes, and there is perhaps just the slightest ghost of a smile on her lips. Then she barks, "Now get to the armory so you have a real blade. Go!"

The group of apprentices are quick to run down the stairs, and although there is, at first, a palpable sense of anxiety - a dread premonition of more monsters or saboteurs waiting in ambush downstairs - that anxiety turns to relief when you all realize that nthe common areas of the West Wing seem clear. Perhaps the instructor who ordered you to the armory took care of any problems on her way up.

Lucille is trying to lead the group through the door leading to the outside - where a dash across the Academy courtyard would be the most direct path to the armory - when Ashlyn suddenly shouts, "Wait!"

It is too late. By the time Ashlyn called out, half the apprentices are already through the door. And there is a general momentum that's difficult to stop, a charge of a crowd of apprentices in their nightclothes doing as their instructor commanded and rushing for the armory; the presence of an order, unfortunately, invited an absence of deliberation. You yourself don't know why Ashlyn's calling out, but you suspect that she would not have spoken up without good reason.

And, for a moment, there doesn't seem to be any problem that Ashlyn may have forewarned as the apprentices start running the length of the Academy's giant courtyard under the cover of the dead of night aside from the general pandemonium that is erupting across the complex. The shouts and screams, the sounds of fighting and steel, the howls of wayward beasts, the flickering of distant flames. But, for a moment, there seems to be a relatively clear path to the armory, that barely visible structure to the side of the training fields in the darkness.

Then, suddenly, a pack of five direwolves seemingly appear out of nowhere, from around corners and behind bushes, snarling and dashing for your group of apprentices, moving to surround the lot of you. As the apprentices attempt to stave off panic and try to form a sort of circle to protect their blind spots from any of the wolves, you realize the misstep taken here. Indoors, confined by doors and hallways, the direwolves couldn't encircle you; they still required the efforts of multiple apprentices to defeat, but you only needed to fight in one direction while watching out for Squirrels trying to slit the throats of stragglers. Here, it's far more difficult to hold them back.

And the group may very well have stopped here, two dozen or so apprentices stuck in a moment of inaction, of another passive holding action, if not for Lucille suddenly shouting, "Go! Hurry to the armory!" Already, she's stepping forward with her shortbow, unleashing a distracting - if somewhat ineffectual - training arrow at one of the direwolves, causing it to snarl viciously back at her. It takes a moment for the rest of her squadmates to overcome a serious amount of hesitation before jumping in to cover her. "We'll hold them here!"

At first, there is a squeak - someone on Lucille's squad asking in disbelief and fear, "We will?" - but with that, the floodgates force open. At the first chance of safety and salvation, the apprentices take the first opening in the direwolf formation, thrown into temporary disarray as Lucille and her squad launch the first strike. In fact, everyone is running to the armory now, even as the direwolves abandon pursuit of the larger group, instead ganging up on the four who are buying you time, considering them easier prey. No one seems to be stopping or turning back to help, to bolster their numbers, and you wince as you think about the chances Lucille and her squad faces against five direwolves on open ground. You want to help, to call out to your squad and have them stay and fight - you have a training weapon that can kill even direwolves with the right hit, after all - but Stephanie, too, is charging ahead, deprived of even her training weapon and in desperate need of an actual katana. And perhaps with that in mind, Sieglinde moves with her too, and Elizabeth seems content to do so as well. You are swept along with the crowd, and with your squad moving with them, you find it difficult to resist the flow.

With the unfolding chaos, it's hard to take in everything around you. It is at least clear, however, that the instructors have not returned; you think you see one instructor with some kind of sword at the armory, trying to protect apprentices running for the armory as she fends off at least four different Squirrels, but absolutely no one else who resembles an adult and isn't the enemy. A smaller group of apprentices is also running towards the armory from the East Wing at a trickle, some of them bleeding or with varying degrees of injuries, not entirely unlike your own group, most of them trying to fend off attacks by direwolves and Squirrels alike. With mounting dread, you wonder how the situation in the other dorms are, and whether or not the others have fared worse than the apprentices who have fled the West Wing thus far.

It's certainly demoralizing, perhaps even sickening, to hear screams and cries fill the air. Some are injured - perhaps gravely, perhaps fatally - and others are horrified at this carnage to which friends, roommates, and squadmates are falling victim. Even in the havoc, it is not difficult to spot apprentices covered with blood or others cradling battered comrades as they scream for help.

But although one or two more direwolves appear to dog at the heels of your group - you are determined not to look back too much - you swiftly make it over to the armory. You had the foresight to put on boots when you first saw Faulkren burning, but some of the apprentices are running with bare feet, and it's clear that mad dash across the courtyard in the darkness has been - at least for some of them, particularly those who look like shoes have always been affordable for them - a painful experience. Still, there is no time to waste; the instructor with a longsword near the armory is trying to keep the enemy at bay, no easy feat when there are many of them, some of whom can try to peel away to attack the apprentices instead. A number of apprentices who have arrived at the armory before you - now armed with very real weapons - are either trying to call arriving apprentices over or joining the defense. Both are chaotic affairs; the door to the armory, designed centuries ago, is a bottleneck that isn't exactly meant to accommodate so many apprentices at once, and the "defense" is really mostly apprentices going wherever they think they're useful, given the lack of a command structure. The only instructor present has her hands full with the enemy in her face, after all. Aphelia, already present from the East Wing and wielding a real rapier, is doing far better than you could've expected at trying to manage some level of coordination, trying to organize nearby apprentices into lines of defense, but she has her job cut out for her, and the people she commands around her resemble less a line and more a cloud of confusion.

But although it takes a bit of squeezing - and far more nerve-wracking waiting as a fierce battle unfolds mere meters away from you - you eventually manage to get into the armory. Pulling a real buster sword from the weapons rack, you rush back out with your squad to meet the enemy, yet another difficult affair: The buster sword is heavy in your hands, and it isn't exactly easy for the other apprentices to make way for your giant weapon in such confines amidst the chaos.

What's important is that you have a weapon now. A weapon of hardened steel with a cutting edge sharp enough to slice through flesh and bone, and heavy enough to utterly crush any resistance.

As you look around and survey the battlefield through the throng of apprentices darting left and right - some of them trying to haphazardly form some semblance of order, some trying to defend themselves as best as they can in the absence of a coherent command structure, more yet trying to make their way to the armory - you find yourself spotting several areas of concern that could use Squad Four's immediate assistance.

Closest to you is Aphelia, rallying the apprentices who have acquired real weapons, trying to organize confused, fearful, panicked apprentices into a real fighting group with orders and objectives. It's taking some time to get everything settled down and settled in, but they are fundamentally the second line of defense around the armory, and joining their ranks will hopefully help - however much, anyways - with defending the entire group as a whole until such a time Aphelia manages to organize a provisional fighting group.

Just a few meters away from that is your instructor, reinforced by a small number of apprentices brave enough to charge the enemy, fighting against a growing number of enemies that now includes five Tenereian saboteurs and a direwolf. Correction, six; one Squirrel's just bleeding out in a crumpled mess on the ground, and you initially missed her form in the darkness. More foes are incoming, but your instructor doesn't actually look like she needs the help, even as she manages to hold her enemies at bay. The problem is honestly more the fact that she's not fighting to eliminate her foes insomuch as she's fighting to shield the apprentices rushing for the armory. The Squirrels attempt to take advantage of this by spreading out, and even for a Caldran mercenary like your instructor, it's a great challenge to rush from one place to another and stay alive, never mind looking like she's actually prevailing against the enemy. She may very well even prevail in the end, but the faster she can take care of the Tenereians, the sooner she can shift her attention to commanding the apprentices, and the sooner a proper defense - not of just the armory, but the Academy as a whole - can be mounted.

But aside from the apprentices still confused or trying to get to the armory, some of the apprentices who have armed themselves have overextended, and are cut off from allies and isolated by the enemy. You recognize the most significant case: Penelope, Wendy, and their squad are not only cut off from the rest of the apprentices, but also cut off from each other. Penelope and a squadmate are engaged with two Squirrels to the left and looking like they're fighting for their lives, and Wendy and yet another squadmate to the right are barely managing to hold on against a direwolf on the right. All four of them are still standing and fighting, and they have real steel at the very least, but it looks like they're being pushed further and further away from the rest of the apprentices, slowly but steadily outfought.

Of similar concern is Lucille's squad, left behind near the West Wing as they bought you time to reach the armory. Looking in their direction, there is good news and bad news. You are relieved to see that the instructor whom you ran into in the West Wing has returned and joined the fight, trying to protect the apprentices against the direwolves, holding her ground rather effectively, even if trying to defend everyone is turning out to be a nightmare. But that relief quickly turns to dread as you notice that there are only three figures standing there; there are two teenage-sized bodies crumpled on the ground, unmoving, and from this distance, you can't tell if they're alive or dead.

You can, of course, only act on one of these flashpoints, and there's no guarantee that - with Squad Four lacking a real leader figure - Stephanie, Sieglinde, or Elizabeth will follow you. And there's always just staying here; initiative is good, but there's no guarantee that you will make the correct decisions, and it may simply be the wiser choice to wait and subordinate yourself to someone who knows better. At the very least, you'll be doing less harm.

[x] Assist the instructor and several other apprentices in protecting the armory.
[x] Join Aphelia and be ready to move out as an organized fighting group.
[x] Help Penelope fight against the Squirrels.
[x] Help Wendy defeat the direwolf.
[x] Return to protect Lucille and her squad from the direwolves.


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