Zella's cry for help was not immediately answered. The rogues' movements were swift and ruthless, but also sloppy and untrained – it wasn't at all a fighting style she was used to, but she utilized her smaller stature and light armour to her advantage and evaded swipes from both sides. She grit her teeth, knowing that she needed to bide her time, but also knowing even if an opening presented itself, she wasn't sure if she could handle two of them on her at once. The enemy on her left dove toward her with a wild yell, but she turned instead to the enemy on her right, whose dagger was headed toward her throat – she parried him quickly away and leapt back, barely avoiding the other rogue. Damn it – the Princess was preoccupied, and that meant her retainer was too, and Gods knew where the rest of her classmates ended up.
Then – a shout from behind her. The rogues flinched toward the gleam of Risali's blade, and Zella took the opportunity to reposition herself. Now they had the rogues sandwiched between the two of them. “We'll take them together!” Risali called.
“Don't talk like you've already won!” the rogue shouted, One of them lunged toward Risali, and the other toward Zella.
“I'll let my fists talk for me!” Zella yelled back. She grinned, high on adrenaline. She parried him easily as she'd been trained. Left, right, left right – he was fast, but predictably fast. A fake-out to the rogue's left to attract his dagger away, then two quick jabs to his neck, and he was down. Zella panted and turned to ensure Risali was okay. Her arm was cut, but she'd taken the second rogue down. Zella herself barely noticed her own shoulder was injured, even as her gaze rested on Risali's arm. “Thanks,” she breathed with a nod. She turned back to the house with the young mother and signaled for her to stay put. If there were still rogues out there, she was safer staying put for now. At least they knew she was alright. She turned toward the sound of hooves pounding the dirt in time to see Niko galloping away. “We should go find the others,” Zella suggested, and began running deeper into the town.
A bolt of lightning joined with the blades flashing on the ground – miasma took the last of the rogues, and Ruiseart stared at Rowan, bemused. “Wh-where'd you learn to fight like that, son? Not the academy, not this early into the semester. Damn impressive.”
Maximus descended and began tending to Luca. The boy was at least conscious now – that was good. Ruiseart grit his teeth and looked up to yell at Indra again, but then the princess of Fodlan herself galloped in on a white steed and healed the boy's injuries. Ruiseart heaved a sigh of relief – and then a splutter of disdain as Rowan insisted he didn't need help, and that the princess should tend to Ruiseart instead.
As Rowan walked away and began coaxing Luca onto horseback, the remaining rogues crouched in the shadows began slinking away. Everything seemed still for a moment – the earlier sounds of chaos had vanished. The air itself seemed to cease – smoke from nearby fires rose straight up.
Then, with no warning, a harsh wind overtook the area. Overhead, Dalanie gave an alarmed whinny and Indra guided her unsteadily back to land. Her hooves dug into the dirt and she pulled her large feathered wings inward. Indra raised her lance with one arm and used the other to shield her eyes from the billowing dust. Zella, who had arrived moments prior, resorted to a half-crouch to ensure she didn't blow away.
The form of a woman appeared in a cloud of dust. The fierce winds caused her jet black hair to fly off to one side. She was dressed in garb that would traditionally signal a black mage. She had black material wrapped around her chest, which did not leave much else of her abdomen concealed. A blood-red skirt matched with a sheer cloak that draped over her shoulders and down her back. She stood on gold strapped heels. Similarly gold bangles adorned both arms, and she wore a gold choker around her neck. In her left hand she held a wooden staff adorned with a large purple crystal which branched out at sharp right angles on the top and bottom. Unnaturally bright green eyes surveyed the students, and her thin mouth curled into a smirk as her gaze landed on the struggling pegasus and her rider. “Are these your first years, Indra?” Her voice echoed clear across the battlefield despite the howling winds. “Suppose I didn't give them much to work with, but if not for the young Prince and Princess, I may have thought them older.”
Indra's mouth fell open. “Thalia?”
The sorceress grinned. “Miss me, Teach? No offense, but you weren't the professor I was hoping to see here.”
As if on cue, the other three professors hurried in. Moritz raised his axe, his brow furrowed in determination, but Gloriana was faster, her eyes glowing from the instant she arrived on scene. Thalia's smile widened and her eyes focused on Gloriana. The staff in her hands began to tremble, and both Gloriana and Moritz hesitated. “An artifact?” Gloriana asked. “You don't have the blood to activate it.”
Thalia's eyes glow green, and her grin never falters. A burst of wind erupted from the staff, twisting into a visible tornado that rocketed toward the professors and students. Gloriana stepped forward and unleashed a blinding torrent of flames from her palms. The heat was so sudden and intense that Zella scrambled away and Dalanie reared, leaving Indra desperately trying to calm her. The crests on Gloriana's arms flashed erratically, and one in particular – matching identically to the shape of Thalia's staff – steadily increased in intensity – as did the winds erupting from Thalia's staff.
Thalia's eyes widened and she laughed. “Yes... yes...!” The other professors braced themselves against the wind as the wildfire burst forward – engulfing not just Thalia, but the homes behind her.
Estevan's sharp voice barked out “Gloriana!” and the flames ceased. Gloriana paused, her eyes glassy, and the crests on her arm flickered out one by one. She inhaled rapidly and deeply and then began to keel over – Moritz caught her and helped her to her knees, looking stunned. Thalia had vanished. The surrounding homes and wreckage burned steadily, but fortunately were not at risk of spreading.
“What the hell was that?!” Ruiseart's loud voice boomed out, shattering the stunned silence that had fallen. “That – that power – that isn't natural – and that woman – you sent these kids here?!”
“We didn't know - ” Indra started to argue, but Ruiseart cut over her.
“You knew one of them was in grave danger, yet you did nothing!” He pointed at Luca. “He could have died! Any of them could have died!”
Estevan's eyes narrowed. “This was not a game. This was a real battleground, and real battlegrounds do not pull punches. If they cannot handle themselves here, they do not belong at the academy.”
Ruiseart gestured to Rowan. “If not for him - ”
“If not for Rowan,” Estevan cut across, “you would not have had to put yourself in danger – and neither would have Luca.” His harsh gaze turned on Rowan. “You have raw talent, that much is undeniable. It would be better utilized to help your classmates. What I want you to work on in the coming weeks are team exercises – you must learn to rely on your comrades. Independence can be as much a weakness as a strength.”
He turned to Zella, who was still staring openly at Gloriana. “I should say similarly for you, Zella.” Zella jumped and quickly gave her professor her attention. “Your technique is fine, it could use some polish, but you need to figure out a plan and anticipate an ambush before
entering the fight. I warned all of you to stick together for a reason, and to disobey without any semblance of a plan in place could mean death. Am I understood?” Zella sheepishly nodded and glanced away.
Estevan turned to the princess next. “Lillian – you showed some good leadership with initiating the first fight, but you left your companions without any sort of direction when you left to follow Rowan's steed. Learning to prioritize is an important skill, but learning to properly juggle responsibilities is not always as easy in practice.”
“That said - Niko, Risali,” he continued, “you both did well reacting to what was thrown at you, and you communicated efficiently to handle a difficult situation. Niko, you read your opponents very well and were able to avoid unnecessary conflict by encouraging them to flee. Risali, you learned quickly not to underestimate your opponent and used that knowledge to get the upper hand. Well done, both of you.”
Estevan's gaze lingered briefly on Luca. “I believe you have learned your lesson without my input. You were careless and got overwhelmed. I do not expect this to happen again.”
“And Max,” Estevan finally said, “...I must say, you surprised me. It was clear you were nervous, but you kept your head and remembered your studies. You recognized that one of your comrades had gone off on their own and may be in danger, and were able to use your primary advantage – flight – to safely locate and assist them. This shows tremendous leadership and courage in a difficult situation. Therefore, we have agreed to designate you the MVP of today's battle, and you will receive private training as a reward.”
Indra nodded. “It is rare for a pegasus to take to a boy so readily – I would be pleased to help refine your talents in addition to normal classes, and Gloriana will help with your magic studies.”
Estevan nodded. “We rest here for a bit – I must go over today's events with Friseal, and we are not all fit to travel yet. We should be safe here, thanks to all of you.” He hurried off, walking very fast for somebody with a cane. Moritz stayed with Gloriana, who was starting to recover. Indra passed out vulneraries to those injured in the fight. Ruiseart grumbled as he accepted one from her, and she bit her lip and avoided eye contact.