Landing 19, 6099 RTR (13 Jan 2000) Elise and Aaron show up for a rally, but get into a fight instead.
(Aaron) (Elise) (Rephidim) (Sword of the First Ones) (Rephidim Temple) (Wynona)
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Rephidim Temple
Of the sights to be seen in the city of Rephidim, one of the most impressive (if not the most impressive) would be the legendary Temple. More so than any palace or castle or fortress to be found on the surface, the Temple is an embodiment of ancient and almost timeless authority. Yet, it is also an embodiment of corruption, for anyone who knows any of the truth, and the state of disrepair of so much of the Temple is a standing testament to this. Nonetheless, Templars and Inquisitors and Auditors and Priests make their way through its gleaming corridors, tending to daily business and personal agendas. Like it or not, here can be found the driving force behind Rephidim … and much of Sinai at large.

It's still daylight, and Elise has gotten here early enough that there are no signs of any others who look like they're there for the rally – just the usual officials going this way and that, and the occasional pilgrim or tourist (hard to tell the difference) seeing the sights.

Quietly the young cadet makes her way towards the steps of the Temple, around this or that obstruction. A faint smile greets those who would look her way, for she is indeed happy to return to the Temple steps, especially given the pending event. For now though, she turns her eyes to the guards as she moves within sight of them.

A familiar-looking serpent slides his way along the steps, not yet noticing Elise's presence.

"Oh! Tremaine!" calls out Elise to the Naga as she spots him. She lifts her unbound hand in a little wave.

A gold and white furred collie enters the square before the Temple, and pauses before the steps, making the sign of the Star and Anchor reverently. After a respectful moment, she glances down at a pamphlet held in her hand, then looks about for a comfortable place to wait.

The Naga turns, looking about for the source of the voice, and then notices Elise. His tongue flicks amusedly, and he bobs his head in greeting. "Good evening, young Mistress Bellefeuille. I see that you are doing much better than when I last came to visit."

So as not to have to yell again, Elise makes her way over to the Naga before speaking again. "Yes, well, I was tended to by very capable hands – not the least of which were Sabel's, that dear girl. How she ever puts up with the treatment she takes is beyond me." The woman smiles and tilts her head a little, glancing past Tremaine towards the collie, then back to the Naga. "So, might I inquire what brings you to the Temple today?"

The collie tenses when she sees the Naga, then looks reassured when Elise moves to talk to him. She carefully seats herself on the steps, a polite distance from the pair. She alternates between glances at the pamphlet and a survey of the area.

The Naga looks curious. "Sabel? Now who might this be? A new friend of yours? Ah, but I have come here because when I went looking for you at the Academy, I was told that I might find you here for some sort of … rally? Are you getting into politics now, young Mistress?" He smirks faintly.

"Somehow I thought the idea of my involvement in politics would amuse you," replies Elise with a mirrored smirk. "But yes, I suppose this is indeed politics. I have come to rally for purpose of seeing the Worship of the First Ones strengthened in the Temple." The poodle glances around the area for a moment before continuing in a quieter voice. "Oh, and Sabel is a friend. Or at least, I hope she considers me one. I … cannot always be certain what she believes, and what she is saying simply out of duty. It is rather complicated. But what did you need to see me about?"

At an easel across the square, a young Jupani appears to be painting an image of the Temple in the evening light. He frowns at the snake positioned before the Temple, ears flattening back in irritation, before he shakes his head and resumes his brush strokes on a different portion of the canvas, still looking vaguely disgruntled.

The snake nods. "Well, it's good to know that you are making friends. I worry sometimes that you might prove a recluse, burying yourself in your studies. In any case, I simply wanted to check on you, and see how you were faring. When last I saw you, you were not very responsive, and I am not certain you were even aware of my visit."

After another glance at the surrounding persons, Elise nods her head a little and continues speaking – however, this time with ears lowered slightly in a faint look for worry. "I … well I do not have that many friends at the moment. I suppose Sabel, my sister, and yourself are really the closest friends I have. But no matter really. Friendships take time I typically do not have," she tells the snake as her smile fades into what would appear to be a much less genuine one, as if she were trying to appear happier about this than she truly is. "And no, no I did not notice anyone. Apparently the ex-Duchess Kurai also visited. But anyway, I would like to speak to you on some matters when we have some time. Is that quite all right?"

The snake nods. "Why, but of course. I would have plenty of time right now, truth be told … except that now that I've spent so much time slithering around town, I have neglected my shopping. I'll have to move quickly while there's still some sunlight left. Perhaps I can come visit after this rally? I assume you'll head back to the Academy?"

"Oh, yes I shall be assuming nothing occurs that would require my immediate attention," answers the poodle. She then turns from the snake towards the Temple and makes the sign of the Star and Anchor. "Always impressive. You remember when I would come here with father, do you not? It was some time ago when I was younger but, I still remember."

"He used to bring me along, just in time for the changing of the guard," says Elise and she tries to force her smile on.

A pair of Kavis, dressed like street toughs, enter the area through one of the connecting streets. They are laughing and joking as they come in, tossing a ball back and forth between them. As they near the temple, the one who holds the ball does not toss it back, and their voices lower, possibly out of respect.

The snake nods and smiles. "Yes. And the traditions haven't changed for all these years. Or countless before that."

"I respect that. I really do. So much order kept over such a vast time. I could really use that much order in my life these days, and coming here tonight, I feel my dedication to the Temple strengthened. Just by looking at it," mentions Elise as she continues to watch the grand structure from near the steps. "I did not before, but now after all has happened … I look forward to serving the Temple in an official capacity."

The snake nods, smiling weakly. "I do wish you the best. You will serve Rephidim well. It pains me greatly to think that you may well begin your career during a time in which my people are in conflict with yours. But you have a good, strong heart. Order will be served, and you will make a fine officer. But now … I must be going. Take care … and please don't stay around if any ruffians try to turn the rally into a riot. There are always trouble-makers in any crowd, you know."

With the impending departure of her mentor, Elise turns from the Temple to face him once again. "I … am simply glad that despite what some would say, not all Nagai would see Rephidim fall, nor all Eeee for that matter. Your confidence in me is heartening as always, Tremaine. I will be careful. I would not wish you to come back and have to rescue me." The poodle giggles a bit at this and gives the snake a bright, true, smile. "Take care Tremaine, and do not listen to those who would speak ill of you simply because you have scales."

One of the mongooses narrows his eyes as he notices the snake. He slaps the arm of his fellow roughly to get his attention, then points to the snake, whispering something to the other Kavi. They both study the Naga in a decidedly unfriendly fashion, then, after a moment's muttering, they turn from the Temple and head back down the street they entered through.

The Naga bobs his head, folding his hands together under the voluminous sleeves of his robe. "Take care as well, young Mistress Bellefeuille." And with that, he turns and begins to slither away, leaving Elise at the steps of the Temple.

A familiar-looking pepper-haired poodle emerges from the Temple with two companions bearing a portable stand. The trio are discussing plans, Penelope pointing out where she wants the stand set up, the others looking critically at her choice before they go along with it.

In response, the poodle glares at the two Kavi in a most displeased fashion. "Hmmf. Street urchins who have little else better to do than annoy their betters," comments Elise.

At about the same time, a white-furred Eeee with platinum hair, dressed in sky-blue robes, walks along, accompanied by a lop-eared Lapi gentleman. They chat a bit, and the Eeee walks over to greet Penelope. The pepper-haired poodle points out a location to the Eeee, and the lady bat bows, then heads over and sits down in the out-of-the-way location, setting up a few candles and other magical-looking items.

Aaron, the Lapi, rocks on his heels and surveys the preparations, including the cute cadet that seems to be in charge.

A few more pamphlet-bearing individuals filter into the area before the Temple, and after showing appropriate reverence for the building, congregate near the stand and those setting up.

The cute cadet in charge, alas, seems not to be paying much attention to Aaron, who seems to be getting by-and-large ignored for the time being.

The air mage starts chanting, all of her candles lit and arranged in a magical circle about her.

The Lapi looks around some more. With all of the dangerous and cute poodles around, he's sure Kelsey Van Kabril will show up as part of the entertainment or fireworks. "Why are the pretty ones always carrying swords or hurling fireballs?" he mutters to himself.

With Tremaine on his way out, Elise turns about to make her way for the steps and other poodle atop them. "Oh, you finally arrived! Hello again!" she greets the pepper-haired poodle when she is close enough to sound excited without resorting to yelling.

As she moves toward the steps, though, her boot hits something – a book? – lying on the ground.

After stumbling a few steps, Elise glances around to make certain no one saw that little bit of clumsiness. There is a sigh as she realizes some quite likely did, and then she kneels down to pick the book up. Once gathered, it is laid against her cast and clumsily opened.

Aaron pretends not to have seen, as is only polite.

Penelope spots Elise and waves to her, leaving her friends to prepare for the moment while she goes over to greet the other poodle. "So glad you could make it!"

The book is a treatise on history … and has the stamp of Tremaine's personal library on it. There is also a note tucked into the front cover … which reads like a grocery list. Yiffle is one of the ingredients, plus garnishes, and other such things. Nagai cuisine.

Elise ears twitch a little as she inspects the book. She frowns as she glances up towards the other poodle. "Hello, Penelope. I did not imagine you would gather so many varied people," she tells her before glancing off in the direction Tremaine went. "Would you excuse me? My tutor Tremaine has dropped his list and I need to return it to him before he is gone."

The pretty poodle pauses before Elise as the other cadet unfolds the book. "Oh! Must you go now? We'll be starting soon. Can't you give it to him after the rally?" She looks earnestly optimistic.

With his large ears, Aaron can't help but eavesdrop. He walks over and introduces himself. "Please pardon my interruption, but I couldn't help but hear about your problem. If you can point me in the right direction, I'm sure I could catch up to your friend and give him his paper."

Elise sighs and her head. "No, I really should give it to him myself. I am a bit worried about him anyway, given the two Kavis that have passed by. I rather wish to check on him, and this allows me to do it without being so very obvious," answers Cadet de Bellefeuille. "Thank the First Ones my legs still work properly! I will return shortly." She gives everyone gathered a quick smile and turns to walk quickly after Tremaine.

"Kavis?" Aaron asks, pointing toward the direction the Naga took. "I think I hear some over there, or perhaps some Skeeks."

"All the more reason for me to hurry!" calls the injured poodle back to the Lapi.

Aaron turns back to the peppered-fur poodle and performs a little bow. "Aaron Lightfoot, at your service, my lady. I came with Wynona… "

As Elise hurries down the street, she cannot see the Naga and can't be entirely sure which direction he has gone. She does, however, hear a rather disturbing chant: "Rikitikitiktiki."

The chant certainly does nothing to stem the increasing worry Elise feels in her heart. "Tremaine!" she calls out once she gets far enough from the rally to not call attention to herself. "Tremaine, where are you?!" She trades her walk for a run and after weighing the possibilities, heads towards the chanting – towards what seems like danger. If he could be anywhere, then he would need her there most.

The chant is coming from an alleyway. When Elise comes to the bend in the street, the scene that meets her eyes is lit in red by the dying sunlight. Bryant Vell Tremaine's body is flattened to the ground, tail and torso held down by three Kavis, while two are on each arm and one holds his head firmly to the street, preventing him from speaking. An ninth mongoose is posed, teeth bared and ready to strike for the Naga's neck. "Your evil ends now, snake!" he hisses, as those around him continue the chant.

"STOP!!!" screams Elise from down the street. She drops the book and immediately reaches for her sword as she dashes forward.

The sword seems faintly warm in Elise's hand, and draws forth so easily that it practically leaps into Elise's hand, the shining metal catching the light in a way that makes it seem to glow red in the dying beams of the setting sun.

The Kavis turn to face her, but eerily do not break their chant. Nine pairs of eyes flicker, feral in the light, as three of them stand from holding down the Naga and draw knives. The leader tells her, growling, "You do not know what you interrupt, cur!" He draws a chitin sword himself.

Tremaine's body trembles, the end of his tail thrashing as he attempts to free himself now that fewer Kavis hold him down. Unfortunately, five are still ample to keep him pinned, and the one by his head bares his teeth savagely, as if prepared to kill the snake himself if need be.

Elise stops not far from the group and holds her sword at the ready. "And you, YOU godless urchins will step AWAY from him, or so help me I will see you die here in obscurity!" counters Elise with her sword ready. She gives the group a few seconds to move.

"Rikitikitikitikitiki… " The sword-wielding mongoose laughs as he and the other three standing form a semi-circle before the poodle. "All by yourself? Maybe I'll need to improve the odds further." He makes a sharp chitter and another Kavi leaves the snake to join the other four facing the cadet.

None of the other mongooses speak, continuing the chant. Rikitikitikitikitiki…

"If I scream for the guards, not one of you will leave this quarter alive," growls the cadet as she eyes those around her. "You cannot possibly hope to escape. You will die if you harm either of us. I suggest you consider this carefully. I am allowing you a chance to live. Go, and do not turn back!"

Another chitter from the leader, and abruptly the four ringed about him leap for the poodle, a couple aiming for her head, the other two simply trying to cut her with their knives. The leader moves in behind them, the combat space too crowded for him to get a slash in until he knows how the pounce works out.

Rikitikitikitiki

At the first sign of their attack, Elise whips her blade around to slash at the Kavi directly in front of her as she dashes forward. Success would cut the Kavi down and move her from the pounce in line to attack the leader. Failure she does not consider. "GUARDS!!"

Alas, Elise is without her armor, and the Kavis viciously claw into her, one of them noticing her sling, and immediately spying it for a weak spot. But before she can react to the waves of pain that shoot through her from her abused arm, her blade finds its mark in the breast of one of her Kavi foes, as if drawn to it … and it neatly slides through him as a hot knife cutting butter.

Behind the action, the mongooses' chant continues unwaveringly around Tremaine's body, but they crane their heads this way and that, trying to see what just happened. The dim light and the press of Kavis block their view.

Just then, fast steps can be heard behind Elise, as a Lapi rushes up in time to see the Kavi skewered. The ferretoid shrieks … but his scream sounds strangely hollow and unnatural. So too his expression, as his cheekruffs suddenly look dry, and his face gaunt.

Aaron skids to a stop, and nearly loses his lunch at the sight of the dying Kavi. He takes a deep breath and aims his blowgun at the largest Kavi attacking the cadet.

The now bleeding poodle wails in pain before she grits her teeth and growls for all she is worth. Despite the tearing pain in her arms she readies her sword again and leaps at the leader, prepared to cleave the man in two. "LEAVE HIM ALONE!"

Aaron fires his dart, his free hand already fumbling in a pocket for more ammunition.

The body of the skewered Kavi, meanwhile, still impaled for a moment on Elise's blade as she pulls away, continues to shrivel and whither, until it is, in a moment, a desiccated, dried husk that falls to the ground, and breaks apart, sending up a cloud of dust. The sword glows balefully red, even though there is not enough light of the setting sun to set it aflame so.

The large Kavi winces as Aaron's dart hits him. The leader knocks aside Elise's clumsy lunge with his own sword, and he regains some of the confidence lost when his comrade was taken down in grisly fashion. He attempts a counter-strike against the cadet.

Fumbling out his dart case, Aaron reloads with a long, black dart as he tries to get a bead on the sword-bearing Kavi.

Meanwhile, the other two Kavis direct attacks at Elise's exposed back, as she rushed past them to attack the leader. The largest of them joins the attack after pulling the dart free.

Elise, alas, fails to parry the blow, her wounded arm doing much to hurt her style. The Kavi's sword bypasses her defenses … and cuts across her ribs … a serious wound, though thankfully shallow enough that … well … it could be worse, that is.

"AAaaaugh!!" Aaron yells, and rushes towards the leader to try for a point-blank shot.

(First Ones protect me, I cannot let him die!) The strange blade swings around in an attempt to deflect the leader's sword. The parry fails, and the cadet's scream echoes into the alley. "Tre… maine… !" She staggers off now, away from the others so that she can at least face them again.

As the Kavi leader strikes a blow to the cadet, the three others turn from Elise towards the undefined threat the Lapi poses. When he charges for their leader, they swarm him, and he goes down quickly beneath them.

The poodles glances at her sword, then the Kavi. (Oh Sword of the First Ones, sacred blade, I need you! I cannot win alone, and your servant will fail – I beg of you!) Once again Elise readies her blade to strike. She steps forward while the others are distracted with Aaron and swings at the leader.

The mongoose attempts to block her strike, but the Sword of the First Ones snakes effortlessly around his blade, spearing itself through his heart, seeming almost unaided by Elise's aim. His eyes widen briefly as he slumps forward, a pitiful gasp escaping his lips as he dies. "… rik… "

But death doesn't come so quickly and easily to the Kavi as that, for his gasp turns into an unnatural wail, as if a great wind were rushing out of his body. The sword seethes with energy, glowing brightly red, as the Kavi's fur pales, then grows gaunt, sinking against his now prominent bones.

The Kavi leader's body shakes violently, and for a moment his neck snaps back, his eyes locking with Elise's, and then they shrink back into their sockets, as his tongue dries and retracts into the hollow of his mouth. In a moment, he is but bones and dust, and his remains crash to the ground, breaking into pieces as they fall away from the blade.

Having ensured that the Lapi is down, the three fighting Kavis turn from him in time to see their leader perish from the foe they thought he had under control. They shrink back from the unearthly light of the sword, and the chanting of the other Rikkianists holding down Tremaine wavers and stops as they see their comrade's body wither beneath the power of the sword.

For some reason, the poodle cackles at this. Maybe it is the sheer carnage she has been forced to endure, perhaps the injury, or the horror of what her blade has done. "DIE! Suffer in agony for trying to hurt my friend!" she cries out to the Kavi as she yanks the sword out and brandishes the blade. She then cackles more. There is a certain maddened glint in her eye now, and she certainly seems far removed from the girl who rushed to her friend's aid a moment ago.

Beyond the alleyway, barks of Temple Guards can be heard, and the sounds of rushing boot-steps – still a distance away, but approaching.

The mongooses blink in shock, and Tremaine takes advantage of their distraction to surge up from beneath the restraining hands, rearing back onto his tail. The cultists shift backwards from the snake and poodle, then abruptly turn tail and scatter in all directions, running for shadows unlit by the dreadful Sword.

The red light slowly dies away, as do the reverberations coursing through the steel. The alleyway quickly becomes dim again in the ambient light cast by the street lamps … until the bobbing lights of lanterns held by the Guard come to bear. "Halt! Stop in the name of the Temple!" Several of them split up to head other directions around the buildings in an attempt to pursue the fleeing Kavis.

Elise staggers a few steps one way, then the other. She swings the sword dazedly through the air in awful glowing streaks while ushering those that flee forward. "You … you do not wish to die too?! Cowards!" she calls after them. A weakened cackle resounds through the area once more before the poodle crumbles to her knees. Tears begin to stream from her face now, and she just stares forward at nothing at all.

The supine Lapine begins to groan a bit as he regains consciousness.

One of the Guards rushes up to the wounded poodle. "Are you all right, m'lady? You're bleeding!"

The Guard's question is met with a dazed, icy look. The sword lifts slightly in her hand before she registers just who is talking to her. He only gets a pathetic laugh before Elise slumps over onto her side.

Tremaine turns, his body trembling from head to tail-tip, but unharmed. He slithers to Elise's side, placing a hand comfortingly on her shoulder. "My dear… ," he begins, but trails off, not knowing what to say.

The Guard rushes to help Tremaine support the body of the slumping poodle noble. "HEALER!" the wolf cries out. "A noble has been stabbed!"

Aaron manages to get to his knees, and from there to sitting up. "Make that two, please."

The Naga scholar slides lower in alarm as he supports Elise. "First Ones, please," he murmurs, reaching a hand over to tilt her chin up and look into her eyes, trying to see if she's conscious."

A white bat stumbles toward the alley, but she is pushed back by a Guard. "Sorry, ma'am. Crime scene." A raccoon priest stumbles past, though, holding a wooden cask marked with the emblem of the Star and Anchor on it. "Oh dear, oh dear, oh … " Some powdered bones crunch under his step, but he doesn't even notice.

Aaron probes his chest and face with a finger, and finds it hurts everywhere he touches. After a moment, he realizes his finger is hurt, and switches hands.

Indeed the poodle seems to be conscious, but, what rages beyond her eyes in itself may be frightening to behold. She does not seem to register Tremaine being in front of her but stares forward with eyes surrounded in tears, maddened by the horror just committed. She only makes an occasional whimper or pathetic snicker now.

The raccoon kneels down beside Elise, and opens up the cask. "Now … could you be so kind as to help me and hold pressure here while I apply… " He starts going through ministrations to Elise's wounds.

Wynona squeaks, "Mister Lightfoot? Is that you? Are you all right?" She hops up and down, trying to get a look past the Guard blocking her off.

Aaron looks up, having to squint. Apparently he has two black eyes now. "Wynona? Is that you?"

"Madame," growfs the Guard that blocks the alleyway, "I'm afraid I'm going to have to ask you to leave, if you don't stop… "

Almost automatically, the snake does as the raccoon bids, but his attention is on the cadet's face. "Elise, my dear … it's all right," he finishes at last, soothingly. He nudges the top of her head gently, comfortingly.

Aaron calls out, "Wynona! Get a Spirit Mage here!" With a shaky hand he points towards Elise. "She's got a possessed sword or something! I saw it suck a Kavi down to nothing!"

Wynona's eyes go wide. "Oh my!" With that, she turns away, and takes flight.

The Guard blocking the alley grunts. "Well, that cleared her off."

At the mention of her sword, Elise grips it tightly. "Do not touch the sword, DO NOT TOUCH THE SWORD!" Her eyes whip around to the various faces and at last rest upon Tremaine's face. She stares at him for a moment before speaking directly to him. "They cannot take it from me! They c-c-… cannot!"

Despite Elise's best efforts to keep a level head … the pain welling up in her many wounds, the fatigue … it all catches up with her as the adrenaline rush dies down. Once again, she succumbs, involuntarily, to unconsciousness.


Middle Infirmary
Whereas higher-ranking officers are entitled to use a spacious, well lit hospital section of the Temple where their recuperation is done with fancily cooked meals, lower officials must be contented with the very efficient but rather antiseptic infirmary that serves their needs, more a large cargo hold divided by thin dividers into wards and operating rooms than a purpose-built part of the original Temple. Fluorescent lights flicker on and off, as temperamental as most equipment around here, and the moans of some of the patients echo through the walls.

Consciousness returns to the poodle, as she finds herself on a cot, bandaged up … and minus her sword. On the next bed is a bandaged-up Lapi, though he looks to be in far better shape, all things considered.

Instinctively Elise clutches … air. Finding nothing, her eyes snap open and she studies the ceiling before glancing around at the rest of the room.

Tremaine is reading quietly beside Elise's bed. At the poodle's motions, he looks up, offering her a gentle smile.

A bruised and bandaged bunny occupies a bed nearby, watching quietly.

The motion brings Elise to glance towards the Naga and she glares at him for but a moment. The glare breaks into a worried look, her eyes widen, and just as quickly she looks away from him. Her ears lower against her head and she tries to find anything else to watch that isn't looking back at her.

In response to her discomfort, the snake looks away. He folds his book and sets it against the coil of his lower body. "How do you feel, Elise?" The inquiry is innocuous enough, though spoken in a quieter voice than is usual for him.

"I … " Despite responding quickly at first, the poodle cannot bring herself to actually answer fully. It takes her some time before she can work herself to finish her reply. During this time her eyes glaze with forming tears. "I feel … so … empty. … I … "

Aaron looks away, to give the poodle some privacy. You'd think they'd hang some paintings in here at least.

After glancing sidelong at her, the scholar attempts to conceal his growing concern for his student's well-being. He shuffles his coils slightly. "Ah… I am grieved to hear that, Lady de Bellefeuille." He lapses into formality to cover his unease.

A shaking left hand attempts to lift. "The Sword of the First Ones. Where – where is it now? I must have it back," says Elise in a shaken, quiet voice. Her eyes search the room to find it.

A white bat wanders into the Infirmary. She whispers to an intern, then gets pointed in the direction of the Lapi's cot. She nods, and walks over that way.

Aaron perks up a bit as he sees Wynona, and tries not to appear so … beaten up. He fails, but doesn't notice.

The Naga lays his hands over his book. "I am grieved to see you here, like this, as well." He lowers his head. "The College Esoterica has taken it into safekeeping, Lady. I am sure they will return it to you as soon as they judge it safe to do so. You are in no danger now," he adds reassuringly.

Wynona says, "I'm terribly sorry for what happened to you, Mister Lightfoot." A bouquet of flowers rustles behind her back. "I brought you something I hope will cheer you up, since I know how drab it is in here."

"Sabel? Where is Sabel then? Will she be … be safe without me? I must have the sword back, I cannot … cannot protect her without it!" As she speaks, the poodle's voice rises in tone, going so far as she can manage without hurting herself. "And, and what of the Seven Sisters and Mystico? My sister? School! Oh, I missed the rally! I have to go!" She then attempts to sit up.

Aaron smiles! "Why thank you, Wynona … and please, just call me Aaron, okay? I really could use something here that's more colorful than my bruises after all."

In a lower voice, the Lapi whispers to the Eeee, "Did they find out what that sword was, and what it's done to Lady de Bellefeuille?"

Tremaine shifts in response to the poodle's agitated state, but he remains calm himself. He places one hand against her shoulder, applying gentle pressure to induce her to remain prone. "Lady de Bellefeuille, you've done a great deal of protecting recently. I believe that those you've saved shall be able to manage for a short while, that you may recover from your … unfortunately … grievous injuries." His tone, light at first, grows sober at the end.

Wynona nods and sets the bouquet on the end-table beside the Lapi. "Sorry I couldn't find a vase or anything. Hopefully you won't be in here long enough for the flowers to fade anyway. Oh … ah … " She lowers her voice, but the squeaks aren't the most stealthy of whispers. "It hadn't a taint on it at all. It's just a metal sword. They think that maybe the Kavi cultists were engaging in black magic … that there was some sort of side effect if they should die while their spells were in effect."

Wynona shrugs. "Er … that's one theory I heard," she whispers. "It doesn't make much sense, I admit, but … what does?"

"My dear," Tremaine adds softly, "you must rest and let your body heal. If you come to any further harm, you'll not have the ability to defend anyone again."

"They were certainly acting weird," the rabbit whispers, "chanting some sort of cadence over and over. At least I got off with only light damage this time, though."

An ear twitches, and the Gallee gives up any attempt to move again. Her hand falls to her side and she lets her head rest. Her eyes close and she considers a moment before speaking. "Complicated," she says. "So … very complicated." She sighs softly and lays her ears back. "Tremaine, you are fine, yes?"

"I didn't think Kavis could work magic though," Aaron whispers.

"Pardon me for not asking earlier," adds Elise quietly.

The edge of Mentor Tremaine's concern eases off as the cadet settles against the bed again. He smiles wryly. "Ironically, I am unharmed – a few bruises, but they swarmed me and pinned me down, planning a ritual execution, I believe." Despite the deeply personal nature of the incident, he speaks in almost his usual scholarly manner. "It was folly for you to engage in combat when faced by nine armed opponents, Lady de Bellefeuille. It is a miracle you were not killed – even given the display of your sword's apparent power."

Wynona whispers back to Aaron, "I don't think they can, either. But 'black magic' … well, you remember the Exile Fox, don't you? That's working with powers beyond your own. Something bigger and more evil than yourself."

"Thank you," Tremaine's voice is almost a whisper, as he speaks after a long pause. He withdraws his hand from the poodle's shoulder. "You saved my life, and I do not know how to express my gratitude in the face of the risks you took. I am sorry."

Aaron shudders in his bed, and glances over at the cadet and her mentor. "What if… well, what if it was something in her instead that did that?" he whispers, looking concerned.

Wynona shakes her head. "Oh no. They checked her for possession, while she was out, and she came up clean."

"Upon careful review of the situation, I find the event to have been badly planned." A sigh, and eyes open. Elise glances towards the Naga. "I could not stand to watch you die and have done nothing. I … could have handled it far better than I did but I … was unable to control my emotions. I just … could not let you die in front of me. With mother and father gone, I … only have the two of you. I trained so hard to be able to manage this all myself and still I am not good enough." A frown creases her face and she looks worriedly at Tremaine. "I was so foolish, but I just could not let you die."

The Lapi's ears droop. "Well, it certainly wasn't my doing. I got rid of all my cursed arti – oh, I forgot about the helmet."

Wynona blinks. "The cursed what?" She covers her mouth, looking quite embarrassed.

Aaron slumps, and whispers, "I'd forgotten about it in all the fracas of that day. A Kavi thief brought it into the shop, trying to sell it to me, but he had a heart attack when I told him I'd already sold the same helmet to an Inquisitor. It was some really old Templar's helmet, supposedly older than the Empire even."

Wynona's ears twitch. "Ah … I really don't need to be hearing this," she says in a whisper. "Not here." She clears her throat. "Well … I hope you get to feeling better soon! I'd hate to miss out on tea and cookies. I'll … uh … be going now."

"It was the same day some Babelite agents tried to kidnap Seagull… " Aaron trails off. "Oh, sorry. I should have it checked out now that I remember it. I didn't mean to alarm you, Wynona!"

The eyes of the poodle dart over to watch the other two. She studies the carefully for a moment.

"Lady de Bellefeuille." The Naga's voice is suddenly cold and stern. "You successfully fended off five opponents. You saved me from certain death by the Kavis. You have, if I understand you correctly, also managed to protect your friend Sabel from not insubstantial difficulties. You have taken care of your household in a fashion wholly admirable if not outright remarkable for a woman of your age and training. Do not, in my presence, describe yourself as 'not good enough' again. You are most certainly far more than merely good enough!"

Wynona nods. "Well … good day, Mister Lightfoot." And with that, the white bat quickly heads out of the infirmary.

Aaron sighs. "When will I learn to keep my mouth shut?" he mutters.

Ears wilt again, this time from her teacher's remarks. "Yes sir, I am sorry sir," she replies as if having said the same a thousand times in the past. Her eyes leave the others and Elise looks back to her mentor. She searches his eyes carefully. "The two Kavis, they, they are … ?"

Tremaine shakes his head at Elise's rote response. He fixes his pupil with a steely, teacher's gaze, ignoring her question for the moment. "Have I truly made myself clear, or need I go into further detail? Don't try to fob me off with that 'yes sir' business."

For now Elise is unable to meet Tremaine's stern gaze. "I … cannot truly say I believe it. Not after today. Tremaine, I could not handle the situation. I … I was ready to kill every last one of them, and I had for a second considered attacking the Guard as well! I … I cannot even begin to explain how I feel now. I … just cannot deal with this," she replies. Her eyes trail off towards the ceiling and she studies it. "I killed someone! They … rotted away before me as if ages had passed and I cannot make sense of any of it! Why? Why did this happen?"

Elise breaks off from her emotional outburst and turns directly towards Aaron. "I am so sorry you were hurt for this!" she tells him suddenly.

The Naga looks at her with quiet sympathy. "My dear, you must accept that you cannot always be in total command of every situation. Look at my position – had I not blundered into the Kavis' ambush, you would not be here, recuperating, again, from serious injuries. And it is not as if I had no warning. I chose to ignore the implicit threat in the Kavis' actions earlier, before the Temple. My foolishness nearly cost you, myself, and this brave Lapi," he gestures to Aaron for emphasis, "our lives." He grows calm again. "But I cannot forever berate myself for my errors. We must accept that we make them, and try not to repeat them … but not wallow in fear of future failures."

Aaron blinks and almost jumps in his bed, clutching the bouquet of flowers as if it was a shield. "Oh!" he finally says, "Oh, no problem! I do this sort of thing all the time, really… "

Again Elise turns towards the Naga. She meets his gaze and studies his face. A tear runs down her cheek from the last blink of her eyes. "Did anyone see me? Did they see what happened? Oh Tremaine, it hurts, and it pains me even more to think someone may have witnessed what I had done," she tells him quietly. She gives the Lapi a worried glance before turning back to her mentor. "Just look how he jumps. I do not want people to be scared of me. I … do not want them to think me insane. Or, worst of all, a killer. I did not want to kill them, not at first."

Continuing steadily, Tremaine says, "As for your readiness to kill my assailants, I cannot say I find a great deal deplorable in that, although the manner of their passing was, indeed, most disturbing. We will have to delve into this subject more deeply. And even if you – for a second – considered attacking the guard, do bear in mind that you did not. You have done and are doing far, far better in the difficult situations you've been faced with than any reasonable person could hope to expect. I am sure your father would be proud of you, just as I am." He faces the poodle, and brushes a hand gently against her cheek to brush away the tear. "You are not insane, and what you did may make you a person who has killed … but it does not make you a killer, my dear. No more than all your family before you has been."

And with that Elise cannot hold back her tears any longer. She begins sobbing quietly, but even as she does so, she smiles a little at Tremaine. Her head leans against the hand and her eyes close once more. "Thank you. Both of you," she whispers through her tears.

---

GMed by Greywolf & Rowan

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Today is 12 days after Harvest Tide, Year 25 of the Reign of Archelaus the First (6124)