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Whoever says "the customer is always right" has not worked with atual customers.
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Ceolfric nudged her towards Cerric--the latter of which was quite the character. A showman in a previous life, perhaps? He certainly had the timing for theatrics down pat and was even instructed to entertain them as they waited their turn. Eila wasn't sure who or what to address first, albiet she had mostly recovered by then, putting on a polite smile as she was addressed. She listened to the story of the creature that had apparently spooked the others (and finally understood the concern they carried) but just as easily she had relaxed, her eyebrows shot up once again. The Katya mentioned couldn't be...

No, now wasn't the time to get buried in her thoughts. She gave what she hoped was a small, reassuring laugh."Forgive me, this is all very new," She apologized first and foremost--after all, she hadn't intended to be rude. "It can be a touch overwhelming as one attempts to drink in as much as possible!"

Of course, it wouldn't do to leave it there, but she couldn't quite reveal herself. "I thought that the composition of Mirage Coral led to it existing solely in saltwaters, but it would seem there are many thriving in the lake," She said. "It is rather delicate and necessitates specific enviornments in order to maintain its aetheric charge, so I was quite curious about it."




There were a surprising amount of people out and about today, or at least, it looked that way to her. Then again, this was sort of close to the town's center and had plenty of business to go around. It was mostly older people though, with the occasional kid running around like a maniac. Some were even coming this way, likely wanting to grab a bite to eat while they were out. No one looked particularly excited, but they seemed content enough, save for some dude sobbing into what was probably a small paycheck. Yikes.

Shiori let out a tiny sigh. She supposed sitting around all mopey was going to give off the wrong idea. She wanted to go home and sleep until Monday. At least school gave her some sort of guidance, though admittedly she had been tempted to skip. Doing stuff was more fun when she had responsibilities to avoid.

Her thoughts were interrupted as she felt something hit her head. Her hand flew to her forehead, though the culprit bounced harmlessly to the table. She stared at it for a second, though she slowly raised her gaze to meet Totsuka's, coupling it with an expression of disbelief. Really? He was throwing stuff at her?! Snatching up the ball, she immediately threw it back at him.

"If you're that bored, you should've told Ariyoshi to leave the deck for some Koi-Koi or Go-Stop," She scolded him as she grabbed another napkin, crumpling it up to make another ball. Despite her words, however, she tossed the napkin ball at him.





Shiori watched Totsuka carefully like she was trying to figure out what was going on in that brain of his. Tragically, she was not a people person, so she wasn't sure what he was thinking. When he did finally talk, though, he just told her to take it how she wanted and that they weren't a couple. Way to state the obvious, she already knew that! He was infuriating, but it wasn't like he was going to give her a straight answer, not when he wouldn't even look at her. What did she expect from the same dude happy to 'rile her up' anyway? Asshole. She got her hopes up for nothing and let him yank her chain for too long.

Shiori outright scoffed, crossing her arms tightly and leaning back against the seat. She stared at a bird outside pecking at someone's lunch that had fallen on the ground. Maybe she should just go home, she was getting depressed and confused.

At Totsuka's call, Harumi happily approached, taking his cup from his hand. "I'm so glad you enjoyed it, you drank it so quickly!" She said as she placed it on her tray, doing the same with Shiori's empty cup. On nothing her expression, Harumi looked concerned. "You look upset, Himawari-san. Was there something you didn't like about it?"

"I'm hungry," Shiori grumbled. "Can you hurry it up? I wanna go home."

Harumi blinked slowly, turning to Ryusei. She opened her mouth, though she wisely chose not to comment. She did, however, look down at the table, examining the cards. "Oh. Are you upset about your results?" She asked.

Shiori threw a glare her way. "Can you stop that? I've told you to cut it out already!" She snapped.

The other girl hesitated, though she picked up her cards, pocketing them. "I'm sorry. I'll be right back with your tea and food." She bowed deeply, picking up the tray and departing to the kitchen.

The redhead let out another huff and sank into her seat, looking back out the window. "So annoying," She mumbled.





Oh dear.

The single thought had the rest of Eila's mind at a standstill, her eyes practically glued to the floor. Her nerves had shot up considerably as she forced herself to keep her gaze as far away from the stone circle as possible. Any notion about the Bounty House that she had had promptly flittered out the window like a desperate housecat longing for the outdoors. All she did was look around and she was suddenly filled with such shock that she had no idea how to handle herself. Her previously purple eyes were now a bright, flaming orange that refused to go away no matter how many methods she used to calm herself down.

What was this place?

Her eyes flickered briefly to the stone circle before landing on the rest of the group, remembering herself. Oh no, she hadn't paid attention to what was happening at all! But how could no one else notice? No, that such a thing could exist in plain sight and somehow not illicit more than a passing glance spoke volumes about this place. Could she find out who was in charge? No. No, that wouldn't be possible, she had her vows, it was not in use, and more importantly, she had no idea what that combination could even hope to accomplish. She had never seen anything so complicated nor life-threatening, had they any idea what they were doing?!

Eila forced herself to take a breath, closing her eyes. Ignore it. She needed to ignore it. For now.

The music stopping was what finally brought her back to the present, though she gave up trying to calm herself down in any meaningful capacity. She held her cloak tighter around herself in some feeble attempt at comfort, listening to Ceolfric--as such he introduced himself--explain that he was a brigand. How dreadful to fall on such an occupation, but she supposed she may have been more surprised if he was anything else. She did, however, raise a careful eyebrow at his choice of words. If she didn't know any better, she would think he was trying something in front of all these people.

Eila said nothing.




As Lavender looked around for volunteers, she nodded toward the pair of volunteers. She was pleased to see Michail's class, for the most part, stayed back--it comforted her to know that they weren't nearly as foolhardy as their professor was. The first two volunteers seemed to know what they were doing, or at the very least, wary of what they were signing up for. Auberon seemed more sure than the Jorah, but she wouldn't question it. She caught sight of Aileas' hand raising as well.

Derec watched Auberon for a moment, though it then occurred to him that Auberon would likely expect at least one of the rest of the Lions to volunteer. He first thought to stay back; he had already made a fool of himself once with the leader of the last pack of bandits they dealt with. However, out of the corner of his eye, he saw a dainty hand raise. His eyes widened as he realized it was Isolde of all people that had volunteered. But why? She had been as unlucky as he was. Maybe felt the need to redeem herself? She didn't really look nervous (for once), either. If anything, she looked determined.

His lips parted to call out to her, but he stopped himself. Instead, he turned back to the Professor, raising his hand as well.

Lavender nodded in his direction before turning to the board, writing down their names in quick succession. "Very well, then. I'll assume you have riding experience as we'll be riding ahead of the pack in order to secure the front. We leave in ten minutes," She stated as she finished writing one last name under theirs--'Celeste Gloucester'. "I've instructed Celeste to inform the stables to lend us horses, so I expect them to be ready by the time we gather."

She then looked at Tomai expectantly. The other professor continued to read his book in silence. She narrowed her eyes at him, though when he remained indifferent, she let out a sigh. "As for the rest of you, Professor Michail will be waiting for you at the carriages. They're usually meant for soldiers, so they may not be very comfortable. However, I will emphasize that the main goal is the safety of the villagers. After the attack on Luin, more innocents getting hurt would bring a panic across all of Fódlan. As future leaders, I am sure I needn't explain why this is so important."

Snapping his book shut, Tomai rose from his seat. "I'm going on ahead," He stated as he walked past Lavender.

Lavender let out a sigh, though she supposed she was warned how difficult Tomai could be. "Right...I'll go over a brief summary of the formation I'm expecting from you all, then we'll be on our way."



The Advance Team rode ahead of the rest of their classmates on horses as Lavender had indicated. Their trip was one focused on getting to Magdred as quickly as possible, with little talk other than instruction. It seemed that Mikhail was taking his role seriously, his previous promise to Lavender forgotten. The weather cooled a touch as they went on the path, though not so much to affect them. What was curious, however, was a fog that seemed to build as they carried on.

"Think the fog will affect the mission?" Euphemia asked Michail.

"No, but I think it'll slow down Tomai and the rest," He admitted, lightly pulling on the reins of his horse to slow down its running. "It's strange, it seems to be getting thicker the more we go along, doesn't it?"

Lavender frowned as she looked around. "Moreso than normal fog, anyway."

Michail didn't like it, but they didn't have much of a choice. He had to trust Tomai and Kaira would handle the situation when they crossed it. He ushered everyone to continue onwards. Fortunately, the rest of the ride was uneventful, and they left the fog behind them--it seemed to contain itself in the Magdred Way. Magdred itself was in view, still as a lake's surface that had been untouched. On a closer look, however, it was easy to see how devoid of life the place seemed to be. Where people should have been out and about there were none, the streets eerily empty.

Euphemia glanced at a few houses they passed--she could see some signs of life. "I assume everyone is being confined to their homes," She guessed out loud.

"And that's why we're charging in and making noise," Michail stated as he came to a halt before an empty stable. He hopped off his horse, hastily tying its reins to a post. "We're heading deeper into the city. Be on your guard, once they spot us, we'll likely be welcomed in with open arms."

Lavender raised an eyebrow at him as she dismounted. "And by that you mean attacked," She clarified. "Honestly..."

Michail grinned, brandishing his lance. "I'm taking point. I expect you to fall back and cover our rear." Lavender grumbled, albeit she made sure to be behind the students. "Alright, everyone, tread carefully."



As Michail had predicted, the fog thickened considerably by the time the rest of the Unit approached Magdred. Tomai narrowed his eyes, befuddled by the phenomenon. What was strange was not its nature--he would bet his research this was a spell of some sort--but that the fog hid nothing living. There was no one around them, and if a fog was going to be cast, why would it be there in the first place? He ignored it for the moment, though he made sure his Crest ability was fully active. If there was anyone around, they were out of his mile-long range. Probably for the better as he was fairly confident the bulk of the enemy was waiting for Michail and his ilk. Besides, they were on a rescue mission, anyway.

They continued towards the town, and would soon notice it in its splendor. Magdred was known to be a stop of sorts whenever people traveled into Faerghus, often bustling with merchants and happy to receive visitors. Unfortunately, its typically warm spirit was cooled down considerably.

"Why is it cold?" Tomai muttered to himself, looking around. He couldn't ignore just how strange the situation was, and it was putting him on edge. As the carriages came to a halt, he leapt down from the driver's seat and immediately approached the town's entrance. Something was amiss here. He spotted the stable full of horses--good, Michail and the rest arrived in one piece.

"There are fifteen or so homes on the East Side that we'll be heading towards," Tomai stated as he turned back towards the students. "There will be a few Knights waiting for us on the outskirts to receive the civilians. We don't know who we're dealing with, so I suggest taking caution."




Goodness, what a skittish group. While Eila wouldn't call herself motherly, it was hard to admit that there wasn't some innate part of her that felt a touch of protectiveness over the more delicate members of the group. She couldn't quite put her finger on why either; she was never one to eavesdrop nor nose into a situation that didn't involve her. But she was curious. Perhaps they had a bad experience with strangers along the path. It certainly would explain why they had chosen to follow...hm. She had neglected to find out their names. Oh well, it would come up eventually.

She was a touch startled by Jenson's sudden outburst but carried on. She supposed she would rather not intrude on the man's rest. He must be such a hard worker, needing a nap at this time of day. Once Ermes perked up and spoke to the hushed pair, however, she sighed. Teaching him manners would be quite an arduous task.

"Now, now, Ermes, best we leave the discussion once we've entered the building," She told him.




Fuck this guy. Fuck him and his fucking honesty. Fuck him and his ability to just say the dumbest shit with a completely straight expression and just sit there sipping his fucking boba like he didn't just go saying the most embarrassing thing she could think of! Also, fuck him, she WAS a schoolgirl! How else was she supposed to react when he teased her?! What was she supposed to do, she wasn't used to hearing these things aimed at her! She scared off most boys with a glare, it wasn't her fault she didn't know what to do! This was victim-blaming at it's highest!

Shiori was visibly red, though whether it was embarrassment or anger was debatable, especially as any retort she could have had dissipated with his fucking comment. She almost gasped, staring at him with wide eyes, though it lasted all of two seconds before her expression soured. How could he just say something like that?! Her grip on her boba tightened and she angrily drank from it. Her face felt hot, so she was definitely blushing, but she was so angry she didn't care. Fuck this guy and his fucking cologne and his fucking hair! She couldn't stand him!

Once he pointed out the deck, she let out a huff, stuffing a wagashi into her mouth to buy herself time. Fucking asshole. Fine! Fine, he wanted to see her cute and pretty, he would get exactly that while she stayed angry. Being angry comforted her, anyway! She whipped the top-most card from the deck and slammed it down next to his. The face revealed that despite being one, it had a single heart on it. It would be fucking hearts of all things, she swore she was going to burn this place down--

"Oh," Shiori's anger poofed away entirely for a moment as she realized something. Ariyoshi never finished explaining the game. "...she wants us to ask her what the third part is." She sighed, leaning back in her seat.

There was no way that was going to happen. The disappointment surprised her, but she was sure neither one of them wanted to let Ariyoshi have her way. She could already imagine Totsuka making some kind of comment that she needed to step up since he was the one that started the game. Then again, maybe he was just trolling her--he did say he had to make his own fun.

Shiori looked at Totsuka directly, though she found it hard to keep eye contact. "...you keep saying those things, but I really feel like you're making fun of me," She ended up admitting, staring at the cards. "Which, whatever, do what you want, but..."

She fell silent. What was she trying to say? "I'm flustered 'cause you're cute and I don't know how to react."





Son of a bitch. How did she know he was going to turn it around on her?!

Shiori immediately opened her mouth to protest but immediately snapped her mouth shut. Instead, she quickly looked around, scanning the place. Okay, good, no sign of Ariyoshi. That meant it was safe to talk without fearing that smug, knowing smile of hers. The girl was a witch when it came to this sort of thing, so she wanted to make absolutely sure the coast was clear.

Alright, first things first: Shiori could not ignore his smartass comment. "If anyone has been flirting all day, it's definitely you," She countered, placing her boba down so she could properly glare at him. "It's like you're going out of your way to rile me up. That's why Ariyoshi is convinced this is a date, you can't go five seconds without teasing me!"

She let out a huff, all riled up again. "I'm just reacting to all the things you're doing. You're the one that decided to look cute, so I'm just paying compliments where they're due," She stated. "That said, if you weren't so smug about it, I'd happily accept the flattery."





Shiori was happily sipping her boba when Totsuka decided to indulge her and draw the card. She couldn't help the slightest bit of smugness from it--he wanted to know just as much as she did! There was nothing wrong with playing a silly game, anyway, and whatever the case was, she would live with it. She sorta hoped for a high number, but a low one would be good to finally get Totsuka off her back for a little bit.

She was taking a sip when Totsuka placed the card on the table: a ten. She made a small noise of confirmation and readied a smart-ass comment, but she stopped and did a double-take. It was a ten?! So then that meant they were romantical--wait, wait, wait! That couldn't be true! They were that romantically compatible?! She could already feel her face burning as several thoughts of domestic bliss played out in her imagination. So he liked to cuddle at night and go out for walks and would kiss her forehead when she was feeling down? But they had just met! How the hell were the cards supposed to know, anyway?!

As she got herself riled up, she refused to speak first and focused more on emptying her boba. Unfortunately, a pearl promptly got stuck in her throat, and Shiori immediately started choking, clapping a hand over her mouth to prevent herself from spilling the contents in her mouth all over the table. Her other hand was pounding on the table as she tried to clear her throat, but after a few seconds, she swallowed hard, finally clearing her throat.

As she gasped for air, she looked over at Totsuka. Her reaction was...less than ideal. Once she managed to get herself back to normal, she stared at him. It's fine, all she had to do was just play it cool. "Somehow, even though I shuffled, I knew that was going to happen," She admitted outright, taking a more conservative sip so she wouldn't nearly kill herself again. "Crazy coincidence right? It's gotta be rigged somehow."



Shiori's chewing came to a halt as she watched Totsuka's hand draw a card from the deck. Holy shit, he was really doing it! She swallowed her snack, hastily occupying her mouth with her straw to prevent her mouth from hanging open, though her eyes never left his hand as he placed it down. Was this a challenge? Could he read her thoughts? No, that last one was impossible, but the former could very much be true. Maybe he wanted her to voice her protest or to back out. Was this some weird game of chicken?

Alternatively, he was indulging her, but she was too hardheaded to think it was that.

Well, too late to back down now. She took in a breath as subtly as she could, trying to play it off as nonchalantly as possible. This was so stupid. Drawing a card from the top of the deck, she placed it face up across from Totsuka's. She had a seven, and he had a two. For whatever reason, it made her laugh a little; considering the most they had in common so far was a love of cigarettes, it didn't surprise her too much.

"Shame, doesn't seem like we have much compatibility when it comes to friendship," She mused out loud, visibly relaxing. As she went to draw another card, however, a thought occurred to her--Ariyoshi had definitely had some sneaky way to shuffling to have the cards come up a certain way. Her outstretched hand quickly snatched up the deck and she reshuffled it.

Placing it down, she drew a card and placed it down--a one. "Your turn," She said as she relaxed in her seat, sipping her boba.

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