Fate - First Reply Another Test

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Edric

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A frown touched his lips as they both came to a stop, his expression shifting.

Edric had been expecting an argument. Questions about what he had done, more accusations about what it might have lead to...this...this wasn't what he'd thought. For some reason he felt almost guilty for thinking that.

Though he had no idea why. "I don't know."

Edric said quietly.

A rush of wind slowly drifted over the highway they stood on, running through the corridor of road and tossing his hair slightly. Eyes closed, and he took a deep breath. That odd swell of magic beneath his skin seemed to settle slightly, his focused pulled onto the conversation.

"Before the Revolution, before things changed...there were a few Proctors who tried to find out how much I could do. What I could take...what would happen." His eyes grew distant for a moment. "There were..."

Edric swallowed hard. "Prisoners. Elves, I think..."

His head shook, as if he were trying to push something away.

"But it never became something like that...this." He looked at his hand, frowning slightly. "I can feel it, crawling under my skin. Wanting to get out while at the same time demanding more."

Slowly he looked back up at her. "Truth is, I don't know what I can do...and..."

Edric paused, and for the first time she would see an expression on his face. It was foreign, strange, as if it didn't belong on him. Fear. "I'm scared to find out."
 
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Noel

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Initially her features hardened. Both brows raised in contemplation as she assumed Edric was lying. Hiding the extent of one's magic was a wise choice at the academy but surely even he wasn't so stupid as to think the ruse wasn't up. At least with regards to Noel.

But, then, she softened as the full truth revealed itself.

Scared? Edric was scared? Of all the other students at the academy he seemed to be one of, if not the, bravest of them all. But it was all right there before her, fear etched across his face in ink. A minor tremble to his voice. And his own confession.

That he couldn't control his magic, at least not fully, that he didn't understand it. That it scared him.

"Edric. You might be the most powerful initiate in our entire class." Noel meant it as a compliment. They had all been competitive with each other since they were very young. Still, she knew it wasn't the sort of reassurance he wished to hear. Not in that moment.

What was she supposed to say at times like these? There weren't any classes on dealing with situations like this one. But, maybe... "have you tried to talk to one of the new Proctors about it?"

Since the revolution things had gotten softer. It was a nuisance but maybe, in this one specific situation, it might have been for the better. Perhaps Proctor D'Amour or Proctor Goibert could impart some wisdom or help to assuage the young man's fears.

"You can't control whatever the old Proctors did to you. Or what they made you do," she truly believed that. There were things that likely every trainee had done they weren't proud of and nearly all of it was coerced by their teachers.
 
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Edric

The Warrior
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Edric scoffed, not to insult Noel, but because of the state of things. "Noel."

His head shook. This was something he had thought about, contemplated. Hell, he'd gone to the one Proctor he did trust. The one who had brought him to the Academy in the first place.

"I'm barely hanging on by a thread as it is." They both knew it. They had seen it.

The news ways were not what he had been taught. For years, near a decade, he had been fighting to be the best. To be the top of the class. He had worked hard to become brutal, hone himself into the best weapon that he could possibly be. Now?

Now Vel Anir no longer wanted weapons. They wanted mages. "I'm a killer, Noel."

His voice stayed even, but the heat behind it was clear.

"I'm not like you. My magic can't be versatile. I'm not...I haven't invested time into my studies." Edric wasn't an idiot, but his focus hadn't been in the libraries or studies of the greater schemes. "They'll take you. They'll set you up as a prime example of what a new Dreadlord should be. Smart, rounded. Capable of both standing as a stateswoman and a bulwark for Vel Anir. Because that's where you belong Noel. I might be stronger, but you? You're better."

He took a step back, gesturing to himself. "Me? They already want me gone. Proctor Renou told me so. They see me as dangerous. Deadly."

Edric scowled.

"What do you think will happen if they find out...this." He gestured back towards Sene, his voice tinged with indecision.
 
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Noel

Iron Maiden
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Noel frowned and that frown only grew deeper the longer Edric continued to speak.

Normally she'd have welcomed such flattery. What he was describing sounded like the roadmap she'd worked so hard to cultivate. The path she'd wanted to carve so that one day she could rise to the top of Anirian society through sheer force of will. They'd all been taught that Vel Anir was a meritocracy and Noel had never questioned that fact.

Hearing Edric lob that praise on her right now was heart wrenching though. He thought far too little of himself and though compassion wasn't something she had any real expertise in right now seemed as good of a time as any to try it out. "You're not a killer, Ed. You're a person."

She stepped forward and narrowed her eyes. Compassion was all well and good but she was Noel Schwarz and there was more than one way to be compassionate.

"First off, Renou is a fucking idiot." A smile crept up at that one. She really did despise that one. "She told Eleanor that the revolutionaries found out all of our names because of Zana. Said they'd all be at the door step of the academy within a fortnight."

That last part wasn't entirely true. Renou had told Noel that and she'd believed her at the time. It wasn't until the academy hadn't been burnt down that she realized she'd been duped.

"And secondly, no one is going to find out whatever is worrying you," a hand grasped at Edric's upper arm and squeezed in what she, presumed, was a reassuring manner. "Because when we get back I'm going to explain to them how we created a diversion so that the ambassador could escape. Then we stole these documents," she gestured to some of the strategic papers she was still carrying, "and escaped. We'll both be lauded with praise."

Noel took in a deep breath and released her grip on Edric's arm. "Finally," she exhaled slowly, "you will graduate a Second Level Dreadlord at the very least. Maybe even First Level. The Guard will be so giddy you'll have all four generals fighting over you."
 
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Edric

The Warrior
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Edric frowned for a brief moment.

On any other day he would have seen how strange all of this was. Himself divulging any sort of internal thought, Noel trying her best to comfort them. The two of them standing together out in the middle of nowhere. It was fucking weird.

But in that moment it didn't matter.

He tried to work through it all in his mind. Everything that Noel said. Renou, the papers, creating a diversion for the Ambassador. It all made sense really, but Edric knew that he wanted it to make sense. There wasn't a way to around that.

Still, he couldn't help but slowly nod. "Yeah."

Slowly he drew himself back up, trying to pull his mind away from the darkness of truths he would rather not face. "You're right."

He had no idea if she really was, but right now he didn't care. That little bit of hope was enough for him to cling to. Perhaps enough to keep him from doing something else foolish. A breath filled his lungs, and slowly he reached up to run a hand through his hair.

Truth was, no matter what the Revolution wanted. No matter what the Guard wanted. Edric would make sure he got what he needed. "Let's get back home."

Edric's voice pulled back some of that confidence. They had five hundred miles to travel, and he wasn't going to do it while crying.
 
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Noel

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Edric was a fantastic warrior. Noel had, just recently, learned that he also possessed an absolutely sinister type of magic. Capable of swallowing up all of the life in a building when pressed correctly. Well, no, that wasn't true... he had avoided killing her. Why hadn't she mentioned that to him? That might've calmed him down, eased his nerves.

He was recovering though, or at least felt good enough to fake it, so it seemed like just a missed opportunity at this point. Best not to circle back to all of that nonsense now.

"Of course I'm right, I always am," a teasing bite added to her words.

Noel nodded, strains of hair waving in the breeze, and she allowed Edric to take the first step as they resumed their travel. "Back home before everyone thinks we're dead and Vance tries to steal your stuff."

Footsteps pattered along the dirt road and she tried to keep her energy up. "Oh, and Edric," her pace did not interrupt as they started to move again, "thank you."

A long sigh escaped her lungs and the midnight-haired initiate waited until she was perfectly alongside the other trainee. "What you did back there, with the Doge... it was stupid. I think you know that, but, I know you did it for us." She forced a gaze at him, "for me," and as quickly as she had made eye contact she broke it and kept her view straightened. "So... thanks."

It felt good to get all of that out of the way and while every word of it was the truth, at least from her perspective, she also wanted to make sure Edric's spirits were raised a bit. Because while his magic may have been immensely powerful, while it may have been a mystery, and while it may have scared Edric...

It scared Noel too. It really, truly, frightened her.
 
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Edric

The Warrior
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Edric smiled despite himself, his gaze flickering to Noel for just a brief moment as she offered her thanks for what he had done.

There was something in his chest, something that he did not often feel; pride.

He knew very well what he had done was the height of stupidity. That there had been danger, and that the result had...well ended in a sort of disaster for thousands of other people. Yet he didn't care, because he'd gotten what he'd wanted. What they all deserved.

So much had been taken from them. So much had been ripped out of their hands. This at least he had decided would be theirs.

"I don't know what you mean." The expression on his face told of the lie in that, but Edric would keep up his ruse. There were Proctors who could dig the truth out of you, not just with their tortures, but magic. As long as he did not tell her the truth, as long as he did not confirm her suspicion.

She would never really know. She could never really be a part of it.

He would make sure of that.

For a few seconds he lingered, and then slowly he began to walk down the road again. It was a surprisingly empty journey, the crowd having thinned to just the two Initiates. All around them lay fields of wheat, swaying gently in the dusk winds.

As they walked his thoughts began to wander, to her thanks, to what he'd done. "Do you remember your family, Noel?"

He asked softly.
 
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Noel

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The walk was suddenly a pleasant one. Sun rays rolling over her skin, the coy expression on Edric's face, and the little game where both of them pretended like they didn't know what the other was talking about.

Academy life had deprived them of this. There were always moments, though they were far rarer as they aged, but these little escapes made it all feel so much better. So much more humanizing than anything the Proctors ever had them engage in.

"My family?"

Well, good things couldn't last forever. Still, even topics like that were more enjoyable than the silent, awkward, walk that had proceeded all of this.

Noel cleared her throat and slid one arm under the other. "I was taken when I was four," flashes of the home she spent the first few years in flashed before her. The whicker smell of her parent's room, the industrial smell of her father's smithy. "But, yes, I remember a few things."

There didn't seem to be much harm in sharing it all. She never really had with any of the other students. Except for Citra and, well, Citra was dead now. Noel always assumed she'd talk about this with someone else in the future. She just didn't expect for it to be with Edric.

"My mom was," cold? Controlling? A bitch? That all seemed a bit too harsh for this conversation. "Let's just say she would've fit in with the Proctors."

A smile came soon after though, Noel not wanting to dwell on the bad memories. "My father though, well, he was wonderful. He doted on me. Insisted he drop me off to the," child snatchers? Dreadlord trainee handlers? "Y'know, the folks that took us kids in? I still remember crying because he was too."

That was a memory forever etched in her brain. Seeing tears stream down her dad's cheeks as her mother was busy at the cashier's counter for whatever dowry the state paid for magical children. As much as Noel would've loved to forget her parents, on account of her mom, it wouldn't be worth it if she lost the few good memories of her dad.

If she ever really did become an Archon, ever really did convert her abilities and skill to political power and wealth, she had already decided that she'd buy his blacksmith workshop and have him retire if it was what he wanted. Or train up an apprentice. Or whatever! She just wanted him back in her life... if that was even a possibility in this new world.

"How about you?" she finally remembered it was he who had asked in the first place, "do you remember yours?"
 
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Edric

The Warrior
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Edric smiled slightly as Noel spoke about her father. It was a pleasant memory, a nice thought to slide into the nightmare that they had endured for the last few years. He wondered if she thought about him often, if she spent the nights at the Academy dreaming of returning to a doting father.

He decided not to ask, to allow her that memory to herself.

Such things, he found, were precious. "I remember them."

Edric said with a slow nod, closing his eyes for a few seconds as if conjuring some image in his head. She would see his chest rise and fall, his steps steady. It was almost meditative in a way, some quiet solace that he managed to find in his mind.

"I was seven." He said quietly. "I remember them. Clear as day."

His eyes opened, and his gaze flickered to Noel. "They loved me, until they found out what I was. It took them a while to realize...but when they did they gave me away without a second thought."

A rueful smile touched his lips.

"It's not them though..." Edric shook his head. "It's my little sister that I can still see."

He looked at Noel for a second, that same sad smile on his face. "She cried and cried the day I left. Sad little crocodile tears. I can still hear her sometimes, calling out to me, my old name."

A slow breath filled his lungs. "I guess we all have a little of that."
 
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Noel

Iron Maiden
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Noel found it hard not to feel a rush of joy wash over her as Edric talked of his family. A full, loving, family. That joy was swiftly replaced when he mentioned their eagerness to be rid of their magical offspring. Same as it was for Noel's mother. But at least Edric had a sibling, a little sister even.

And what was that about an old name?

So far as she could remember he'd always just been Edric. Didn't even come with a last name just the simple moniker of, 'Edric.' An interesting little wrinkle that the raven-haired student wanted to poke and prod at until it revealed itself.

But, no, that wasn't any good. These were tender topics and had he wanted to share further he would have. Best to let it lie.

"I'm sorry. About your sister," it was all she could think to offer him. Maybe she could mention her suspicion that his sister likely still missed him. That could just make it worse. Instead, "at least she didn't have to grow up eating academy food."

Noel forced a laugh. Sometimes it was fun to pretend like the worst thing about their lives had been the poor food. Or Proctor Amoto's weird smell.

A warm, genuine, smile came to rest on Noel's features. "It's good to remember, to reminisce." She didn't know exactly why she felt the need to cheer Edric up but it simply felt right in the moment. "You think about them a lot? Your family?"
 
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Edric

The Warrior
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Edric scoffed. "Suppose that's true."

It would have been nice to think that was the worst quality of their upbringing, but in truth he remembered meal times being some of his favorite back at the Academy. Not the food, the only time they ever got something nice was during Anir Day. Even their 'birthdays' had been marked with little more than slop.

No, he'd enjoyed mealtimes because it reminded him of home. That odd communal feeling. Even if he'd purposefully sat apart from the others, he had always enjoyed the routine. Being surrounded by the closest thing he had to those who could understand him.

"Sometimes." He admitted quietly. "Not my parents much."

For a few seconds he remained quiet, then continued. "But my sister."

His eyes glanced at the floor for a moment.

"I'm from Vel Stratholm." Even at the Academy they had eventually heard what had happened there. Not the full extent, but rumors, stories about the religious cult that had been put down there. "I wonder if she got...swept up in things."

He could still remember some of the idols in his parents home, those strange symbols. Their meaning eluded him now, and he hoped that they had his sister as well.

Perhaps she had been spared for simply not knowing. "Do you think you'll go back? To see your father?"

It was a choice now, an option. The Revolution had promised them more freedom, even though if this whole thing in Sene felt they had pulled the rug out from that. It was still a thought to cling to.
 
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Noel

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Vel Stratholm? According to the rumors half the city had been razed. Anyone found praying too loudly was purged after violent insurgents tried to attack a noble. At least, that's what the story was once the tale made its way back to the academy.

"She's safe." There wasn't any way for either of them to know what the fate of Edric's family or sister was but Noel assumed that blind optimism was the best course of action. "Probably finishing up her studies or entering an apprenticeship right now." A smile was armed and pointed straight at the blue-eyed initiate across from her.

Noel really did hope she was right. They'd all been granted so few joys in life that the idea of Edric's sister, the one thing he remembered fondly about his life before, being taken away from him by Vel Anir seemed impossible. As if the universe was already so imbalanced for them that one more injustice would simply be too much.

"Hm."

A finger came up to tap at her lower lip, her stride shifted slightly. His question was a fair one but it was unexpected for some reason. It gave her the notion that maybe he actually cared which would've been a funny thought yesterday.

After a brief silence she finally replied, "I'd like to. We lived in Vel Anir proper, just off a road that crossed through some residential areas inwards towards Anir Square." She couldn't recall any of the street names but she could still envision the walk from their modest family home, which wasn't in the best part of town, all the way to the outskirts of the square where her father's shop resided. Noel accompanied him almost every day until... well, until she didnt.

"Not sure if he'd remember me," or even want to see her, "but I'd like to see him anyway."

She sighed and cast a look up into the picturesque clouds overhead. "Yourself? Do you want to go back to Vel Stratholm?"
 
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Edric

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Edric gave her a feint smile in return. He had no idea if his sister was alive, if she'd made it through the purge. He hoped that she was, hoped that the little fairy tale Noel spun for it at least held some sort of credence. It would have been...good, just, if she'd had a nice life.

"No." He said quietly, shaking his head in answer to her. "No I don't think I will ever go back."

For some reason the very thought put a pit into his stomach. Maybe because right now he could pretend, could just think that out there somewhere his sister was living a happy life. It was a story, one that he could tell over and over and be happy with.

Reality had never been that kind to him, and he doubted it would be now.

As they kept walking Edric looked at Noel.

"I'm sure he remembers you." There was no forgetting someone you loved, someone that you cared about.

"He sounds like he really loved you." He returned the same sort of warm smile that she had offered him. "That sort of love doesn't fade."

It was a surprisingly poetic sentiment from someone like Edric, and after a long pause he quietly added. "When we make it back, you could go. Before we go to the Academy."

The Academy was a few dozen leagues south of Vel Anir proper, meaning they would have to pass by the city anyway. Why not take the opportunity?
 
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Noel

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Noel wanted to pry as to the reasoning behind Edric's decision not to return to Vel Stratholm.

Not to return to his home.

The only thing that stopped her was the invisible boundaries that all of the initiates had learned to throw up long ago. If someone wanted to talk about something personal, share something deeply tied to their sense of being, they'd do so on their own time.

Chestnut eyes met his face as he turned to her and tried his hand at reassuring her of her own doubts about her past. It was a nice gesture, she was glad she'd offered the same thing to him in regards to his sister.

A jolt of shock crossed her features when he mentioned visiting her family. "I don't know..." she said with a voice plagued by indecision. "Not sure that I'm ready for it yet." She hadn't graduated. She couldn't offer him the riches that he, in her mind, deserved. To show up all these years later empty handed? Just to say hello?

That wouldn't do. It wouldn't do at all.

"Why don't you want to go back?" Forget respecting personal space, she was entitled to pry now. Maybe his answer would help her fabricate a better sounding one.
 
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Edric

The Warrior
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Edric nodded.

If she wasn't ready, then she wasn't ready. This was something she would have to do, it was her life at all. He certainly wasn't going to push something like that on her. The fact that he had even suggested it in the first place was out of character to say the least.

Whatever Noel wanted to do with her family was her business, though Edric realized in that moment that had she asked...he would have gone with her.

A frown touched his face as she asked her next question, prying and pushing. He couldn't blame her for it, he didn't. Curiosity like that came naturally, especially now. This was probably the most Edric had ever said in a single conversation his whole life. Noel probably now knew more about him than anyone else.

As odd as that seemed.

He stayed quiet for what seemed like an age.

His thoughts swirled of home. What he remembered, the image of his sisters face as the two of them were torn apart by the hands of his father. He could still remember the tears, the sound of her voice shouting his name. His real name. "Sometimes."

Edric said finally. "Sometimes you're better off not knowing."

He came to a stop, looking at Noel.

"I think this is one of those times." Right now he could pretend. Imagine that what Noel had said was true, and that was enough. It had to be enough, because the truth might break him.
 
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Noel

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Noel could tell it was a mistake to push for information. They were having a pleasant conversation, Edric seemed more relatable than he'd ever been. Which was really saying something as she'd known the guy for most of his life.

The silence that followed was eerie.

The longer he went, just walking with Noel and not saying anything, the more uncomfortable she felt. The more she kept telling herself she shouldn't have asked. In those few seconds, gods they felt like minutes, she opened her mouth more than a single time. Stopping herself just before she was going to interject a change of subject each time.

Then he spilled his guts.

It was a simple and tidy answer but one that made Noel feel a bit sad. "But," no, wait, this truly wasn't her place. For a rare moment she thought it best not to just come out and say what she thought needed to be said. Because if Edric was right then that might mean the same for her.

Better off not knowing? That... couldn't be true.

"Sorry," her breathing had quickened ever so slightly, "just, well, maybe don't rule it out forever. Maybe you're just not ready too." That was okay, wasn't it? Perhaps he'd never be ready to find out the fate of his sister. His parents. Perhaps Noel wouldn't either.

Her head shook slightly, eyes squeezed closed before re-opening and focusing in on his face. "I'm sorry, it's not my place to offer that sort of a suggestion." They'd grown up together yet they barely knew one another. Now she was telling him what he should do about his family?
 
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Edric

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A shrug rolled over his shoulders. He had absolutely no idea if he would ever be ready to learn the truth. It seemed a distant day when he'd heard about Vel Stratholm, more distant than others in the past. He could still remember Proctor Renou's words.

She had been surprisingly gentle, calm, even sympathetic.

It had been a short conversation, just a few terse words about what had happened. He'd not let his mind linger on it for long, instead pushed thoughts of what might have been away. It hadn't done him any good to think about it then.

Months passed before he thought about it, about his sister. He could still remember why. He'd seen one of the new Initiates, a girl with hair like his sisters. For a brief second he had felt nothing but panic, horror that she might have found the same fate as him. Then she'd turned, and relief had washed over him.

That was when he'd started to think about her fate. A fantasy life that she lived.

Better that life. Better than the truth might be. "It's alright."

He told Noel quietly, snapping himself from his thoughts.

"Who else are we going to talk about this shit with?" Edric said, glancing towards her with a shrug. "Just right now...if I knew she was dead..."

Edric seemed to pause for a moment, as if thinking about what he was about to say, and then slowly let the words spill from his lips. "I don't think I'd go back to the Academy."
 
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Noel

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Noel's face was downcast, a sullen look overcoming her while her shoulders slouched slightly.

Had Edric been talking about any other situation Noel would have been insistent that his sister was alive. Much of the Anirian territory, especially the cities, were safe enough and barring illness or freak accidents all of their families were very likely still alive. The odds were so good, in fact, that Noel hadn't even considered that in the thirteen years she'd been at the academy that her mother or father could've passed.

But Edric was speaking of Vel Stratholm... the purged city. The city that Elise Virak had ordered be decimated.

The odds that at least one of his family members had been wrapped up in the slayings was high. Probably at least fifty or sixty percent. He'd already thought it through, it felt insensitive for Noel to feed him a naive lie.

"Maybe one day not knowing will be harder," she chose to say instead. "There isn't a rush. We have our entire lives ahead of us."

Our entire lives ahead of us was a common enough idiom in the academy. Sure, Dreadlords had to deal with hazardous work conditions but assuming you made it out of graduation (which was far more likely post-revolution) the academy might be a distant memory by the time you reached your death bed.

"You'd leave the academy?" Bewilderment to her voice at that one. For Noel this hellish life she'd lived thus far was only bearable because of her dreams. Her aspirations. She didn't think she could ever give that up. She never would've guessed Edric could have either.
 

Edric

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"Maybe one day not knowing will be harder."

Those words rang in his skull like a bell.

They were thunderous, profound. Even after this whole conversation, after the months and months of wondering...Edric had never really considered it.

What if one day he woke up and it really was harder. What if one day he simply had to know? Lips thinned for a brief moment, and he opened his mouth as though he were going to speak. Then suddenly his jaw snapped shut, and he found himself speechless. He frowned, a shaky breath drawing into his lungs.

It was her next question though that struck him out of that stupor.

Bringing him back to a time before the Revolution, before things had changed. Those days were so clear in his head still. So perfectly in place.

He'd known then what he wanted, what he was working for. Now? Now it was such a haze. "I was never going to stay, Noel."

There it was. He had never said it out loud. He had never told a single person before, but it was true. Edric hadn't been working to be the best Dreadlord. He hadn't been climbing and fighting to be an Archon or earn some sort of reward.

He had been fighting to survive. To kill anyone, and everyone who would come after him.

"I was going to finish on that tower. Graduate, and then go. Disappear." His steps stopped in the road, his eyes flickering to her. "But ever since the Revolution..."

Edric's teeth clicked together. "Since these missions with Talea, Eleanor...you..."

His head shook, his tongue simply unwilling to finish the thought.
 
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Noel

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A twitch came over her as Edric talked, her boots halting just as soon as his had. Their eyes met and his gaze clarified for her that he was serious. He really meant it, he had planned on dropping out.

Deep inside her there was a quiet fury brewing. Edric had been one of the few who consistently bested her in combat. He possessed magic that made him far more lethal and efficient than Noel could've ever hoped to be. Everything that she was striving for and working towards was just as much within his reach as it was hers. Perhaps more so.

And he was going to just throw it all away.

Better judgement won her over so Noel quelled that fury. For now. This wasn't a time for anger, not when he was being open and honest with her for the first time in their lives. "You don't plan on joining the Guard?"

Frowning and completely motionless she began to stare directly through him. Lost in a new wave of thought.

It shouldn't have mattered. Edric probably wouldn't be the only student who took the option to renounce service in lieu of something else. But... as harsh as Noel always was the realization felt sad.

They had been a family. A messed up, dysfunctional, family but a family all the same. Knowing that any of them were just going to walk away from it all left her feeling hollow. Especially someone as talented as Edric. Someone who not only could have, but likely would have, been better than her.

"Stay." It was the only other thing she could bring herself to say in that moment.
 
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Edric

The Warrior
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Edric had been planning to leave. Had been planning to go. Before the revolution, before everything changed. It was a part of the reason that he despised it all so much, hated it.

For him it felt as though it had been another decision ripped away, another choice that they had made for him. He'd worked for nearly a decade to be strong, to overcome them, to be able to fight back if he had to. Now that it was a choice, now that he could simply...walk away.

It felt as though they had cheapened all his work. "I don't kno-"

Before he could finish his sentence Noel interrupted him.

"Stay."

Edric hesitated, his lips thinning, his breath caught in his throat. He could practically feel his stomach turn upside down. Neither of them had ever been vulnerable, likely with anyone at all. Noel and Edric had always pulled themselves away from the others, keeping themselves apart and above.

The idea that either of them, that she would put herself out there at a moment like this.

Lips thinned for a brief moment.

"Okay." There was a reason that he had done what he did. A reason that he had killed the Doge. That he'd promised Noel they would all go home.

It was the same reason she wanted him to stay.
 
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Noel

Iron Maiden
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"Good."

Maybe it would've made more sense to let him abandon it all. Could've made it easier on her when she was trying to climb the ranks of a full-fledged Dreadlord a year from now. Not that Noel wanted things to be easier, no, she wanted to accomplish her goals because she deserved to, because she worked at it and truly earned them.

It would be a hollow victory if she only obtained it because Edric was gone. An empty accomplishment if her new little family was torn apart.

For a minute the pair just stood there, staring at one another. They weren't used to talking, either of them. Weren't used to sharing their emotions or opening up. Now that they had it felt almost awkward. Like instead of dipping a foot placing both of your legs into a lake before deciding it was too cold to swim.

You were already halfway in, would probably be better to just take the plunge now.

She eventually breached the quiet with a question. "D-do you want to talk about it?" Though Noel wasn't sure which answer she'd have preferred in that moment.
 
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Edric

The Warrior
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Edric slowly shook his head. "No."

Despite all of this, all the ground they had broken here, there was still a weariness to him. Not because of Noel herself, no. She'd been great, better than...Edric could ever have hoped to be.

It was a lifetime of learned behavior.

Near a decade of bottling up every feeling, every impulse, every little thought that crawled up his spine. All of it had been put away. All of it had simply been tucked into some corner of his mind and kept there. Never to be revealed, never to be talked about.

That was how he had kept himself safe, how he had made sure that it would all be okay. That his plan wouldn't be discovered and he could simply walk away.

The thought of digging out those secrets? Of dragging out every miserable idea he'd ever had? That appealed to him about as much as seeing Sable naked. Better to keep it buried. Better to keep it tucked away. It was safer, for both him and Noel.

"No, I think..." He paused for a moment. "I think I'm not ready for that either."

Edric had already told Noel more than he'd ever had anyone else. In fact, he was pretty certain this was the longest conversation he'd had in ten years. "Lets just get home, yeah?"
 
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Noel

Iron Maiden
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Noel gave him a curt nod and began to walk forward, simply saying, "alright." Before the pace could accelerate too rapidly she added to the one word statement, "but if you ever are ready to talk... come find me."

There had been a lot to unpack in their short conversation. She'd learned more about Edric in a few minutes than she had in years of sparring and living with him. Perhaps, when he was comfortable, he'd talk about his 'other' name. He'd elaborate more on abandoning the Dreadlords.

That was, honestly, the scariest part of it all. The part that still gnawed in the back of her head. He wanted to leave and he might still wish to leave. Could just be telling her what she wanted to hear, get them moving again.

"Home sounds wonderful," at least he still called it home. Their home.

Sometime in the early to mid afternoon their walk led them far enough down the road to catch sight of a runner's post. At the base of a grassy hill, at the apex of a curvature in the road, and with only three soldiers on the perimeter. From the looks of it the rundown shelter could've only housed an additional two or three warriors, if any at all.

The pair was out in the open but they had time to keep a leisurely pace and discuss options. "How do you want to play this?"

Unlikely they could sneak up on them and Noel wasn't sure that they even needed to.

"We might not even need to kill any of them." They were still dressed in Justicar armor after all.
 
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Edric

The Warrior
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Edric ran down a list of options in his head.

Tactics, at least, was something that he had always taken to. Perhaps he’d never studied the great generals, but planning like this came naturally enough to him that he didn’t completely embarrass himself. After a few more moments of considering he simply shrugged his shoulders. ”It worked once.”

He said with a gesture to their clothes.

”Maybe we say we were robbed.” It wasn’t too unlikely. From what Edric understood of Cortos the whole nation wasn’t like Vel Anir. There were no constant patrols roaming the countryside, no forts keeping the roads safe. Out here bandits were as common as milk at a dairy farm.

Or so they had been told all their lives. ”We play superior officer. Demand horses, food, a map. Then just…go.”

The magic within him demanded something else still. More blood. More fuel for the fire that raged within him.

Edric had managed to forget about it during their conversation, but it was still there. Still reaching out in the back of his mind and begging to be utilized. But why do that when it would only cause more problems? If they killed these men it would surely be noticed, not immediately, but soon enough.

They were still in enemy territory, and it paid to be careful.
 
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