Hello once again everyone! Here is Sentinel07!
So, we are finally returning to the main story. Finally got everything I wanted to get out of the way for the backstory for now. We will return there eventually, but the main story definitely needs tending to.
Well, reception to the last chapter actually turned out better than I thought, so that was encouraging. Thank you all for that one! Well, I have little else to really to say specifically, so I guess we should just get right to it. Enjoy!
Fire Emblem doesn't belong to me.
This wasn't a feeling that Bernadetta had felt in some time: the adrenaline of a life or death battle before her eyes. Of course, she had faced such situations many times at Garreg Mach, though back then she had Byleth as well as her classmates to do much of the work, even when she wasn't hiding. That wasn't the case here. She was on her own, in a place where she had never fought before, against an unidentified number of enemies.
Oh, and she wasn't wearing her uniform or battle attire, but rather a nightgown that didn't leave too much to the imagination. That in itself was rather mortifying, but that was for another time. The sounds of furniture being knocked over and the clashing of steel filled the air. However, there was something even more concerning. Bernadetta couldn't see Mimi or Bridgette anywhere. Hopefully, they made it out or were at least still alive.
Another sudden clang sent Bernadetta kneeling behind the railing of the second floor. It was so hard to tell just where everything was. She couldn't even tell if any were being directed at her, perhaps due to her bringing rusty from these types of situations.
"O-Okay, c-calm down," Bernadetta said to herself, trying to stop the jittering in her hands.
However, right at that moment, some loud footsteps were heard on the staircase nearby, nearly making her jump again.
"O' right then. Where 'is the little brat?!" the bandit laughed out loud.
"Eeek!" Bernadetta squeaked out before she could stop, putting her hand over her mouth to no avail.
The bandit turned immediately toward her, grinning menacingly.
"Oi! Me guessing you be the one! Rar rar rar!" the bandit laughed. "Now, come 'ere nice and easy!"
"Eeeek!" Bernadetta shrieked, still rooted in her spot.
The bandit charged at her, axe held high. Bernadetta wasn't sure if he was trying to take her alive or dread, probably didn't matter to him either way. Out of pure instinct, Bernadetta dove to the side just as the axe was brought down, it lodging itself right into the wooden railing. The bandit grunted, pulling his axe loose and swinging horizontally. It missed Bernadetta's head by very little as she leaned her head back, barely having any time to think between swipes.
"Will you just go away?!" she shrieked out, spinning around in place while pulling out an arrow at the same time.
"Rar! Come 'ere!"
At point-blank range, the bandit charged again, making himself an easy target for Bernadetta to aim for. With barely a second thought, she aimed straight for his head, sending one arrow loose. The arrow shot true, impacting the bandit straight in the eye, blood pouring from him as he growled. The bandit stumbled, and the force of the arrow sent him leaning backwards, causing him to fall over the railing to the ground below. Bernadetta let loose a breath she didn't know she was holding.
"Huff...huff...oh that was too close," she caught her breath.
There was no doubt that many others heard that, especially given how louder things got when the bandit fell to the ground floor. She had no time to sit around. She had to find where the others were and fast. Where could Bridgette and Mim be? The house was big enough to the point where they could be anywhere. Well, having to act quickly, she began running, going past the entrance to the staircase and over into one of the hallways. Another bandit was skulking around the corner, forcing Bernadetta to crouch the floor near the edge. Bernadetta took stock of how many arrows she had.
"I've got at least 20 here," she spoke to herself. "But who knows how many of them are here."
Steeling herself, Bernadetta jumped around the corner, sending one arrow into the shoulder of the bandit. That made the bandit turn in her direction, giving her a full glance at where to fire. With her speed, she knocked another arrow and it flew right into the bandit's chest, him falling down before ceasing any movement. It took Bernadetta a second to withhold her bile. It was the first time in nearly 5 years she had seen such bloodshed. Funny enough, this actually felt easier in the past when her fears overcame any sensitivity to blood. Shaking her head, she proceeded forward and retrieved the two arrows from the corpse, proceeding down the hallway as fast as she could. As long as she used the corners to her advantage, she could compensate for using a bow in such an enclosed space.
"Well, better this than anything else," she sighed as she continued to look from room to room. "A lance wouldn't help me in this space."
She continued to work along the hallway, keeping her bow high as she crept around each corner. She was desensitized to the yelling and clashes of steel outside, focused more on what she was going. After a while, Bernadetta was wondering if she was even looking in the right place, beginning to feel discouraged about what she was going.
"Oh, what am I doing?" she sighed, lowering her bow for a minute. "What difference does taking down one or two of them mean anyway? This was so much easier with Professor Byleth. What would he tell me right now?"
This felt very hopeless, and Bernadetta wondered what she should do. Byleth always had a good word or two whenever they were in battle, and her fellow classmates often had good wisdom as well on occasion. As scared as she often was, she never doubted Byleth's tendency to win, part of why she was so content to just hide and let him and the others take care of things back then. Sigh, things could never be easy.
Bernadetta's ears perked up. That was Mimi's voice without a doubt! It sounded like it was coming from this floor too!
"Mimi!" Bernadetta called out, suddenly running through the hallway to where the cries were getting louder. It sounded like Mimi was struggling wherever she was, but at least she was alive for as long as she was doing so. Without a second to spare, Bernadetta ran along the halls, no thoughts other than finding her friend.
Right as she was running, a couple of bodies came through one of the doors. It was a bandit and one of the knights, with the bandit pinning the knight down. Bernadetta stumbled in fright, keeping her bow out. She had to get past them to get to where she needed to go, though she didn't want to abandon the struggling knight, who appeared to have lost his own weapon in the process. Without wasting a second, she prepared an arrow, and shot it right into the head of the bandit, making him cry out before allowing the knight to knock him out. Bernadetta then ran straight up and removed the arrow, internally cringing at the blood.
"Thank you. I apologize for inconveniencing you, milady," thanked the knight.
"Yeah it's fine," Bernadetta replied. "Gotta go!"
Leaving the knight a little confused, Bernadetta continued running down the hallway, following where she heard Mimi's scream from. Why did this confounded manor have to be so much bigger on the inside?! She was sure she was getting close though. At least she hoped as much. If anything, it'd be helpful if Mimi screamed again, so she could know she was still alive. Her current direction was taking her towards one of the bedrooms of the house, specifically a bigger one where her parents had used during their trips here.
It just had to be around this corner...
Bernadetta skidded on her heels as a sword sliced right in front of her, barely missing the skin of her nose in the process. The sword-wielding bandit stared at his weapon before turning to Bernadetta.
"Ha ha, got you!" he growled greedily.
Now Bernadetta was starting to get angry. She didn't have time to be dealing with every single bandit that came across her path. Plus, she didn't like being this popular.
"Get out of my way!" she cried out.
She didn't have room to get her bow out in such close quarters combat like this. Thankfully, the bandit was too slow for her as she grabbed his arm, twisting it in such a way that his sword fell out of his hand. It was actually similar to a technique she inadvertently used on Felix when she was trying to get away from him once. The bandit growled at his awkwardly-bent hand, before Bernadetta kicked him in the gut, knocking him out cold.
"How do I keep doing that?" Bernadetta stepped over the fallen bandit as she continued to run. She seemed to be adept at taking people down for a girl who didn't like most people getting close to her. Maybe that was the entire reason why. She couldn't deny she had a sense for this sort of thing.
Anyway, she continued to move through the hallway, thankfully not coming across any more bandits in this section. However, as she was running, Bernadetta heard rumbling going over in the master bedroom she was thinking of earlier. Quickly, she slid up against the wall, looking around the corner slowly. Her eyes widened as she did.
"Mimi!" she cried to herself.
The maid was flanked by two bandits, both with axes, while a red magic glyph flickered briefly in front of her. The bedroom was a complete mess, with furniture torn through and through. Mimi was backed into the furthest corner from where Bernadetta was, the two bandits closing in on her.
"Come 'ere missy. I promise we don't bite," cackled the left bandit.
"You're not what we need, but you'll do," smirked the other one.
"Ugh," Mimi grunted, keeping her magic glyph at the ready. She looked pretty taxed for strength.
Taking on two at once wasn't ideal, and Bernadetta couldn't just rush in there and expect it to work. On the other hand, she didn't have a lot of time to think it over. Seriously how did Byleth ever come up with these types of decisions with limited time? Kind of made his achievements with her class all the more impressive. That was beside the point though, as no one was coming to save her like then this time.
She observed the immediate area, finding all the debris that had been thrown around in the bandit's rampage. Much of it was harmless junk for the most part. Although, much of it was small enough that she could throw...
Bernadetta cried as she rounded the corner, shooting one arrow immediately. The bandits turned right as they heard her, with her arrow hitting one of them in the shoulder, causing him to cry out before growling and snapping the arrow with his other hand. Right at that time though, Bernadetta grabbed some of the fallen debris, throwing them haphazardly at the bandits, which did more to annoy them than anything else.
"Wha?! Little bitch?!" growled one bandit. "I oughta-AHHHHHH!"
The bandit's cries were drawn out as a blast of fire hit him, sending him to the ground, heating searing off of him as he did. The other bandit growled back, seeing Mimi's glowing magic glyph.
"Bad idea to take your eyes off of me," she said with a stern gaze.
"Wha? How dare ya?!" roared the bandit. "To hell with wha' boss says. I'll skin ya both!"
The bandit didn't get much chance to do so, as Bernadetta threw a discarded piece of wood from the bed and lodged it right in the back of the bandit. The bandit cried out, before being struck by Thunder magic from Mimi, felling him as well.
"Phew, that was close," Mimi took a breath. "Are you alright, milady?"
"Y-Yeah, I'm fine," Bernadetta nodded, looking over Mimi. "I didn't know you could use magic."
"It's nothing too special," Mimi smiled sadly. "I spent a little time at a small magic school in the Empire before coming here. I thought I might go further once, but it just never worked out."
"Oh..." Bernadetta spoke sadly.
Before they went any further though, Mimi's eyes popped open.
"Oh, but this isn't the time for reminiscing, milady!" Mimi exclaimed. "There are more of those brutes around. Bridgette's assisting the others, but I don't know where Sara is!"
"She's in my room," Bernadetta replied. "Go find her and get out."
"Huh? What about you?" Mimi asked. "We all need to escape. Leave this to the knights and..."
To say Mimi was surprised by that would be the understatement of the year. Bernadetta's eyes had some fear in them, yet also resolve.
"I'm not going to let them take my...take our home!" Bernadetta replied. "And I'm the reason they're here so it's my fault."
"Milady, you can't think yourself responsible," Mimi spoke. "This isn't your fault. Why would you try to take them on?"
Bernadetta tensed up a little, her hands gripping her bow a little more. The Battle of Garreg Mach once again flashed through her mind, yet another time when she felt so useless and prone to running away. Seeing her friends all running away with her filled her with dread.
Not to mention...seeing Byleth's face for the last time as he left to confront the enemy alone.
"Because...I don't want to repeat what happened before," Bernadetta replied, her hair covering her eyes as she tilted her head down. "I've...already lost someone I cared about because of that..."
Mimi stood there, stunned by whom she was looking at. Who was she referring to? She had so many questions.
"Um...permission to be blunt?" she said in a deadpan tone.
"Yes?" Bernadetta tilted her head.
"Who are you and what have you done with Lady Bernadetta?" Mimi spoke plainly.
Bernadetta blinked at the question, eyes slightly wide. However, she slowly broke into a smile.
"She's still here, and honestly doesn't have a clue what she's doing," Bernadetta gave a shrugging pose, bow still in hand. "She's making this up as she goes."
That sounded so utterly ridiculous, and it wasn't lost on either girl. They could have laughed, and probably would have, had Mimi not come to her senses.
"Oh, right. Bandits. Burning House. Life or death," Mimi spoke. "You said Sara is in your room? I'll go retrieve her."
"And I'll go see what else I can do," she spoke. "If their leader is around, he'll surely come for me."
"Once I make sure Sara and the others are safe, I'll come back to back you up," Mimi replied. "I don't want you to fight alone."
Bernadetta smiled at her. What had she done for a maid to support her like this? Well, any deeper thoughts could wait for a more appropriate time. There were plenty more sounds of battle around them.
"Stay safe!" Mimi cried as she bowed and went on her way to secure Sara and the others, leaving Bernadetta alone again.
And yet, she didn't feel alone, oddly enough. Gripping her bow, she turned and began to run out, determined to put an end to this. It would be most convenient if the knights had taken out the bandit leader, but when was she ever that lucky? The hallway she ran through was littered with bodies she had to hop over as she made her way through. She had to think this through carefully. What would be the best way to end this quickly?
"Beating the leader usually ends things," Bernadetta said, remembering those times fighting bandits at Garreg Mach.
She could only wonder where the leader would be. She hadn't heard much in the way of commands being shouted out. The bandits seemed to ravaging through the place indiscriminately. What could she do? She couldn't draw them all to her location. That'd be suicide without any kind of back-up, which she didn't have. She ran through the hallway which would lead back to the main entrance. She wondered if that was the most likely place the leader would be, letting all the lackeys handle the work.
She slowed down as she reached the corner, making sure no one else was around her. She peeked around the corner, seeing some combat down in the lower level. Gulping, she moved alongside the wall, taking care not to alert anyone. Thank goodness she was an expert in getting around a place with as little noise as possible. She had to suppress a gulp as a knight and bandit engaged in a fight nearly hit her as they traded blows, allowing her to pass by into another room, though her heart was moving a mile a minute.
"Oh Goddess, this is stressful," Bernadetta sighed and took deep breaths along the wall, bracing as a blade suddenly ingrained itself in the wall beside her.
Bernadetta ducked behind a chair, trying to come in contact as little as possible before she found the source of his conflict. She didn't have many arrows after all, and she didn't want to try her luck given how out-of-practice she was. The longer this fight dragged on, the worse situation she would be in. Even getting away would be hard until any kind of backup came.
"Check every room, idiot!" cried a gruff voice. "I don't care if you got to tear the whole thing down!"
Bernadetta's ears perked up at the sound. It wasn't too far from where she was sitting, just another room over. Taking a breath, she inched her way over to the corner, looking inside. The sight made her eyes widen as there were bodies everywhere, as a larger man was throwing one of the other bandits into the other room. Given his demeanor and what was likely his voice before, Bernadetta figured she had found the leader.
And, conveniently enough, his minions were all in other places right now. With the knights occupied with them, there was no one else to fight him other than her right now. She gulped again.
"Okay, here goes," she sighed, making what she was sure was the stupidest decision of her life.
She immediately moved around the corner, firing the arrow she had prepared earlier. Unfortunately, her arrow hooked left and missed, though it notified the leader to her presence anyway.
"Grr, who?" he growled, his axe raised up before he turned to see a young girl in her sleeping gown. He immediately grinned. "Ah, that appearance checks out. You must be the noble brat. Good on you to save me the trouble."
Bernadetta yelped a bit. Her shot was off and now the leader knew where she was. Additionally, he even knew who she was. That couldn't have gone any worse. Though, it did confirm something to her: she was indeed the target.
"W-Why are you here?!" Bernadetta tried to sound fierce, but her stutter and increasingly loud tone betrayed her.
If the leader cared at all, he didn't show. He just grinned maniacally.
"What else? A brat with a Crest would pay us handsomely. Hard to get one with all them in the war. Praise to the Goddess that one of them didn't leave," he laughed mockingly. "Anyone with a brain knows that war will be decided soon, and anyone will be looking for an advantage."
Bernadetta didn't like where this was going.
"Someone on either side will pay good for ya, even as just a trophy I think," the man laughed again. "So hows about you come quietly. I might even spare the rest of ya."
Bernadetta's eyebrows creased a little. She didn't believe that for a second. The fear she felt through her bones told her everything she needed to know; that this guy was as ruthless as they came. It wouldn't surprise her if he ordered his men to kill everyone else the moment she agreed to go with him.
Just the image of seeing Mimi, Sara, Bridgette, and all the others lying in their own blood while she was taken away...it made her grip her bow even harder. It was a feeling of anger that she didn't feel often
People around her being treated like collateral damage...it reminded her of Remire Village in a way. There was only one reply.
"I'll never go with you," Bernadetta replied, drawing another arrow. "So you can just leave."
The leader just chuckled.
"Heh, I was told the noble brat here was too much of a coward to go outside, let alone fight," he chuckled. "Still, you ain't sounding too convincing. Whatever, you don't necessarily need every limb anyway."
'E-Every limb?!' Bernadetta cried internally.
"i gotta take you in alive, but I'm sure I can play a little with you anyway," the man snarled. "Hahhhhhhh!"
The man charged, shoving aside any furniture in the way as he swung his axe in a wide arc. Bernadetta quickly got out of her mental panicking, swiftly ducking down to avoid the axe as it lodged itself into the entrance. Bernadetta scrambled on the ground, scurrying away to the other side of the nearby furniture.
"Slippery little thing, ain't cha?" the leader grinned as he forcefully pulled his axe out, beginning to move towards her.
The room wasn't helpful for someone better suited to long-range combat. Having not considered getting to this point, Bernadetta wonder if she would have been better off grabbing a lance or at least something else. This reminded her of the last time she had ended up point black with an opponent, back during the mission to Lord Lonato's territory and she had that struggle. She didn't want to go through that again.
Even as she tried to prepare another arrow, she saw how much closer she was, compared to when she shot that bandit from the other side of the bedroom.
'I can't fight like this,' she worried mentally, unsure of what to do.
The leader brought the axe straight down, almost cutting some hairs off Bernadetta as she just got to the side, rolling over the sofa and laying behind it.
"You just going to lay there?" the man chuckled rhetorically, tapping his axe. "This'll make it real easy!"
Bernadetta took deep breaths, keeping her bow tight. The leader sounded like he was coming from the direction she just fled from. Bracing herself and knowing the general direction, she suddenly shot right up and fired. However, her arrow shot wide of his left shoulder.
"Not even close!" the man laughed again. "Pathetic little thing, ain't cha?"
'Oh no! Now what?!'
Bernadetta moved on the along the sofa, trying to find someway around, but she could hear the leader following her movements. She was doomed if he got any closer, and even more so if any of his minions happened to come and box her in. She looked down at her right hand, carrying her bow. Her teeth clenched together. How useful was she going to be in this situation when she was so unprepared?
'Come on Bernie! Think! If you don't think of something, you're going to die or worse!'
Worse was right, because who knows what kind of person she'd get sold to if she was caught. And that was if the bandits didn't have their own fun with her before such a point. The very thought was almost enough to bring tears to her eyes, but she held them in, continuing to look over her surroundings. Over to her right, she could see some of the fallen knights, their blades dropped all around as they fell. The swords and lances were all bloodied up, yet very usable...
Without wasting another second, Bernadetta crawled over, grabbing one of the nearby lances, grunting a little at the weight. It was bigger than any she had used in the past but she didn't have time to be picky.
The axe suddenly came right down, and Bernadetta had only a second to get the lance up to block it. She grunted as she tried to hold it up, the man's superior strength and better position taking charge. Sparks flew as the axe was grinding against the lance, the curve of it causing it to slip past and lodge into the sofa behind Bernadetta.
"Grrrrr!" the man growled, lodging his weapon free.
Bernadetta cried out as she scrambled away, leaving her bow behind as she stumbled to her feet, trying to lift up the somewhat heavy lance to her chest. The man just stared at her.
"Do you even know how to use that?" he chuckled.
"Y-You'd be surprised!" Bernadetta replied. "I-I'm a student of Garreg Mach!"
That sounded threatening enough didn't it? It had to be better than her appearing as a frightened young woman in a nightgown. Actually, the latter aspect was still really embarrassing to think about. Best not to do that because it was already making her face go red.
The leader looked at her remorselessly. Bernadetta still wasn't sure if he really was going to leave her alive with that look of bloodlust in his eyes. Her sense of danger was going crazy looking at the guy. No, she was pretty sure he wanted to kill her.
The leader charged at her once again, giving her little time to get her lance up. Even when she practiced, lance work was secondary to her bow training, and only really with lances that she could wield. She was no Leonie, that was for sure. That girl would pull off wielding multiple weapons like it was nothing at all, where as Bernadetta struggled most weapons outside of bows. Lances were the closest she had to a secondary profession, and she had even less practice with that.
Bernadetta's lance clashed as it the axe made contact with it, sending her stumbling a little towards the wall. She cried a bit as she worked to regain her balance, feeling the recoil from that. This felt so much different from having her whole class with her.
"Ahhhhhh!" she charged forward.
Her lancework was slow as she tried to stab the bandit. He wasn't all that fast, but clearly more experienced with his weapon than she was. Each time her weapon made contact with his, she ended up getting pushed back more than him. She felt her entire body tremble from each time they clashed, and it was almost enough to knock her down multiple times. Somehow, she maintained enough grit to stay on her feet.
"I...I want you...out of here..." Bernadetta said weakly, catching her breath as she steadied herself.
"Strong words missy," the leader grinned. "I'm not leaving until I got you all tied up, and I haven't broken a sweat yet.
'He's not tired at all,' Bernadetta thought worryingly. 'If I don't stop him soon, I'll end up surrounded for sure! And then I'll...And then I'll...'
No, she didn't want to even think about that possibility. She wasn't going to get anywhere if she just kept worrying about the same things all the time. She needed to be this guy. She had taken out more bandits than she could count back at Garreg Mach, Yeah, she had no one else to help her out, but she ought to know how to handle this.
"Why don't cha just come easy?" the bandit said with a rhetoric tone. "I can tell you're too scared to do anything serious."
'Yeah, maybe...but I gotta try anyway!'
Bernadetta couldn't deny that statement, but before she knew it, she was charging right at the leader. Her lance was held high as she tried to bring its weight down upon the leader, it clashing with his axe. Bernadetta didn't get as flung back as before though, her feet remaining steady as she tried to push forward.
'Come on Bernie! Stop being pathetic and just go!'
She struck again and again, looking to find some kind of opening to exploit. She couldn't help but think that this would be so much easier with her natural weapon, but the confined area wouldn't make that easy. She had to make due with what she had, and she tried to press her attack against the bandit. He seemed to get more annoyed the more she pushed, making her duck quickly at a side slash with his axe.
"Grrrr, little bitch!"
The bandit was just about fed up with her now. After once again clashing their weapons, he reached out with his left hand, it big enough to grab Bernadetta by the head and grasp it tightly.
"AHHHHHH!" Bernadetta cried out as the tight grip squeezed her, making her drop her lance. "Stop that! Let me go!"
Bernadetta, unable to retrieve her weapon, thrashed her arms every which way against the bandit. The man grunted as he head on to her, pushing her against the wall, trying to knock her out. She was a little dazed, but continued to lash out at the bandit. There was only so much she could do, but she bashed her fists against his arm constantly, as well as kicking him in the shins.
As the bandit sounded more obscenities against her for her actions, flailing her around to make her quit squirming, Bernadetta couldn't help but flash back to something similar.
If Bernadetta had a gold piece for every time her father's visage passed her eyes during a struggle, she'd be as rich as Edelgard. As the bandit continued to try and subdue her, time felt like it was slowing down, and she was reminded of everything in the past. The first time she rebelled against her father was much like this; her fighting off her father taking her out while still wearing her nightgown. Even more than that, there was the first time she truly found herself in a life or death battle in the fight against Lord Lonato.
That terrified her so much at the time, and was still a grizzly memory to this date; the first time she ever took a life. It lead to a whirlwind of changes, including her and Byleth gaining somewhat of a new understanding. Bernadetta also became better equipped to handle combat down the route even though she still preferred avoiding combat all together.
However, while there was still some fear, she didn't feel the crippling sensation she did back then. This man was not only threatening her, but also people she didn't want to lose. The thought was enough to make her...angry.
Angry enough to want this guy to get the hell away from her and her house. Her eyes flared open with rage against her attacker.
Just like that, Bernadetta fought back with even more ferocity, a pace that the bandit leader did not expect. The speed at which she went about it caught him completely off guard. A speed that only someone like Byleth or Felix would know from her.
So much so that it caused his grip to loosen, lodging her head from his grip.
"What?! How the hell?!"
With another scream, Bernadetta attacked the bandit with everything she had, clawing and kicking everywhere she could to push him back. It wasn't how she'd usually do it purely out of instinct. She was making deliberate strikes, pushing the bandit back despite her hands and feet beginning to get sore.
'I...won't let you...hurt anyone else!'
As valiant as her thoughts were though, the bandit was a bigger and stronger man. He growled, grabbing her as his axe fell to the ground.
"You're a real bitch, you know that?!" he growled. "If it weren't for that blood in you, I'd tear your head off right now!"
And Bernadetta fully believed it from the tone of his words, not that she had time to think about it. If this came down to nothing but strength, she'd have no chance what so ever. All the will in the world wouldn't change that. She had to find something to help her get through this. Unfortunately, that lance she was using got kicked to the side in the scuffle.
Plus, she couldn't go on much longer. She was reaching her body's limit. If she didn't get something done soon, she'd possibly pass out.
"Say good night, brat!" the bandit roared, bruised up, but ready to deal a knockout blow.
Bernadetta's eyes quickly scanned for anything nearby. It would sure be convenient if he had a dagger or something that she could pilfer and use on him. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Her lance wasn't too far, but she wasn't very nimble with that in the first place. With its weight, she might have difficulty getting a good shot.
On the other hand...her discarded bow and arrows were a little further away than that...
In an instinct, she had her answer.
Mustering up what she could, she twisted the man's arm, loosening the grip just enough for her slip out quickly. The man growled again, recovering and about to attack her again, until she delivered a kick to his leg to knock him off his feet.
"Ow!" she groaned, scrambling on the ground afterwards. "I think that hurt me more than it did him..."
Still, the man was on the ground, and that gave Bernadetta enough time to move herself. She huffed and puffed as she crawled her away across the ground.
"Grrr, I've had it with you, you little...!"
The man growled again, picking his axe off the dent it made in the floor and began to run towards Bernadetta. Face full of worry, Bernadetta moved faster, her hands reaching her bow.
'One shot...That's all I got!'
The man's heavy footsteps intensified, running at full speed towards her with a battle cry. From his point of view, Bernadetta looked helpless on the ground, her back turned to him.
"You're mine now!"
And just like that, as his axe was raised high above his head and ready to come down, Bernadetta turned around. Her arrow already locked and ready to go with a face that showed nothing but determination. Before, he was too far away and she had little room to roam to shoot. Neither of those problems existed now.
At point blank range, the arrow flew straight and true, right into the head of its target. The bandit cried as he fell backwards, no coherent words coming out as he gagged on the ground, a few twitching movements before his body began to go still, blood pouring from his head wound.
It was over so fast that Bernadetta wasn't convinced it was over. Going from grabbing her bow and preparing the arrow happened so fast. She slowly got up to her feet, walking over to the fallen leader. There was no movement at all. That one strike was completely clean. Bernadetta could scarcely believe she got him.
"I...got him," she spoke softly.
As much as she was surprised, she felt oddly happy. Happy that not only was this man not going to get a hold of her, but he wouldn't harm any of the others as well. It was like everything else had just slipped away and all she could focus on was this moment.
So much so that she barely noticed when another bandit claimed to hear the commotion and appeared in the doorway. All it took was a single glance though to see what had happened. You could see any confidence the bandit had drain at seeing his leader fall. Another bandit appeared behind him, and asked him what they were supposed to do with the boss gone. Neither of them knew.
It wasn't long before news of the bandit leader falling spread, and the knights got more emboldened as the bandits fell into disarray. Bernadetta was eventually moved away by one of the knights, who took her over to where the maids handled her the rest of the way. Bernadetta still felt a little numb from the whole affair, but came to a little when the others appeared.
"Milady!" yelled Sara. "Are you alright?!"
"Anything cut or broken?!" cried Mimi with equal fervor.
"I'm...I'm fine..." Bernadetta replied weakly.
Bernadetta was scratched and bruised a little, but nothing severe. The leader's axe thankfully didn't harm her other than a cut or two. Some simple healing would take care of that.
As Bernadetta was rushed away, she could hear the knights taking care of the remaining bandits, those who hadn't already run away by this point at least. The upstairs was torn up every which way, though at least still habitable. Funny enough, Bernadetta's room and general vicinity was relatively untouched as most of the bandits focused their attacks elsewhere. Bernadetta was taken inside her room, with a guard right outside.
"We might not be getting much sleep tonight," Sara said, trying to lighten the mood slightly.
"At least you can relax. We'll take care of everything outside," said Mimi.
"And, as always, call us if you need anything," Sara added.
Bernadetta was soon left to the silence of her room again, the place only slightly messier in the ruckus. Funny how the general sameness of the room conflicted with how different Bernadetta felt. It was such a whirlwind of how she ended up in this position. Footsteps were heard rapidly outside of her door, showing just how chaotic things still were outside. Of course, they wouldn't make her partake in helping, valuing just her being safe.
Slowly, she walked over to her bed, not laying down but rather sitting down. Her eyes looked over her nightgown, sprayed with blood and cut all over the place. It was miraculous that she didn't have more injuries, nor that she didn't feel mortified about having fought a bandit wearing such a thing.
"At least...everyone's alright," she sighed, barely above a whisper.
With that, she laid down on her back. She couldn't fall asleep, and couldn't muster the energy to be shocked at what she did either. The events of tonight just rolled through her head endlessly.
Imperial Year 1185, Day 12 of the Wyvern Moon
Things had mercifully calmed down in the days since the unexpected attack. The house was still structurally sound, but a lot of work would be needed to fix all the damage, and there certainly weren't enough maids to help. With that, the knights helped out as well, and it wasn't too long before things looked relatively okay. There were, unfortunately, some casualties among the knights, though the maids all seemed okay aside from minor injuries. Some of their problems were more mental than anything else, as Sara took a while to get over her jitters and get back to work.
Some consideration was given to perhaps moving Bernadetta to another location, but to the surprise of many, said girl insisted on staying here. The last thing Bernadetta wanted was to be taken somewhere else, especially when the second option was probably the main Varley estate where her dad was. Esmeralda had been informed of the attack, and despite being wrapped up in heavy business herself, had made the trip down to access the damage. Heck, she made it down in what many considered to be record time. It was certainly still livable, but Esmeralda immediately considered the option of moving Bernadetta either to another Varley housing or even to Enbarr itself. It was a natural response, but not one Bernadetta was receptive to. Many were surprised at how the conversation went.
"Mother, I want to stay here!" Bernadetta spoke.
"Bernadetta, you were just attacked. I will not keep you in such a vulnerable place," replied Esmeralda.
"I'm more comfortable here than any other place you'd put me," Bernadetta replied back. "I'm not going to do any better if you force me to the capitol.
This conversation had been going on for a good 20 minutes now. Bernadetta was pretty insistent about staying despite the state of the house. Esmeralda really didn't need the extra headache, given how many affairs for House Varley she was taking care of for Edelgard. With how Bernadetta was acting, trying to force it would probably do more harm than good.
"If you insist, Bernadetta," Esmeralda relented and turned her back. "But I will be enforcing security around here to compensate against the possibility of a repeat attack. There will be no negotiation on that point."
Bernadetta frowned slightly.
"Fine," she eventually replied.
That seemed to be the end of the talks as Esmeralda arranged for her escorts to take her back to Enbarr. Putting up appearances, Bernadetta went outside to see her off. Just before she boarded her ride though, Esmeralda turned back to Bernadetta.
"I will say this though, Bernadetta," she spoke, her face betraying no emotion. "From what others have told me, you handled yourself well in combat. That is good. If not for you taking out the leader, they may have been more casualties. I'm glad that you adequately learned to defend yourself. Do be sure to further refine your skills in the future."
If nothing else, Bernadetta felt a little strange. Her exploits during the attack, protecting her friends, and even her defeat of the bandit leader were much to take in. Not only that but hearing actual praise from her mother? Was she sure she hadn't slipped into some kind of coma?
"Thanks a lot, Mother," Bernadetta sighed. "How am I supposed to react to getting praised? Now I feel even more awkward."
Still, that was secondary to what else was going through her mind. A week was more than enough time for her to think about the implications of what just happened. One, that certain groups were getting desperate for any sort of leverage in the war. Two, that was the most alive she had felt in years. It was like she was under Byleth's command all over again, helping out however she could. It was scary, yet exhilarating, and she couldn't deny that seeing Mimi and Sara so thankful for saving their lives. Just the thought of it made her blush a little with embarrassment, but that was beside the point.
The actual point was, she actually felt good, like she was fighting with her friends beside her once again, and...she couldn't help but think of wanting that feeling again. Sitting on a rock outside of the house, partially because her room was also getting cleaned up, her mind wandered in contemplation.
"Everyone else has been dealing with this for so much longer," she mumbled.
Truly, whichever of her friends that were active in the war likely fought battles far tougher than the one she just did, and for a longer period too. She so desperately hoped they were all still alive, and a growing part of her wanted to see it for herself.
"But...can I really do that?" she sighed.
An additional note was that the intended day of reunion was only a few months away. Bernadetta knew her friends well enough that they would not miss it for the world, with or without Byleth. Her hands clenched in her lap as she thought about it. What would it be like? To actually see her friends again? To live up to everyone's commitment to see each other once again? It was such a nice thought. A warm thought, much like the sun itself. Byleth himself was so much like the sun. A comforting feeling that was one of many things that drew her to him. Perhaps that was why there was still a flicker of hope that he was still alive out there.
But that was another matter. What mattered now was her own future. She bought some time with her explicit desire to stay here, but she knew her mother was going to take her away from here in due time. Maybe not for a few more weeks or so, but it was inevitable. Mimi's words from before the incident came back to mind, of how much she wanted her to take life into her own hands. Perhaps it was just now that those words were finally reaching her, making her contemplate just how she wanted her life to be.
Dare she think of it, to actually leave this place of her own will and go find her friends? Such a thought was a long shot, given she had no idea where they were. All she had was a general idea of how much area the Empire controlled. Chances were that most of them would be either in the Alliance or the eastern edges of the Kingdom, but even then they could be anywhere. It sounded daunting however you sliced it. She wanted to find a way to break through his conundrum of hers, but no obvious solution presented itself.
"Just what do I do?" Bernadetta sniffled a little, feeling as lost as ever. "Why can't I just make a decision and go?"
Her inability to actually take a step forward frustrated her so much. She felt like she knew what she wanted, but actually taking a step towards it felt so hard. It felt so scary, yet she felt like she had people at her back. Mimi and Sara had been so supportive of her over the years, even going so far as to break into her room to break her out of her doldrums. And then there were all her classmates who always pushed her forward, and there were so many to count.
With his habit of always boasting about nobility, Ferdinand thought that she had some inherent value as a person. Leonie and Petra often praised her skills and even taught her many new ones. Dorothea was always willing to lend a hand in her supportive way with her rather unique perspective. Raphael couldn't stop gushing about how talented he thought she was, even when she kept pushing him away. Heck, it wasn't even just classmates, as even older members like Alois and Seteth had hands in inspiring her. Seteth actually praised her talents, and Alois reminded her of happier times at home.
Not to mention, there was Byleth himself. If he was here right now, what would he be saying? Probably not to sit on her butt thinking about what-ifs. All the moments the two of them had shared came back to her, from complete strangers to her being so comfortable around him that she even asked to be his apprentice. She was even willing to take such a leap to be around the people she can come to cherish.
And then, in that one moment of clarity, Bernadetta finally came to a decision. Her friends were out there somewhere...and being by their side felt more right. And part of her dared to hope that Byleth was out there too, just waiting to be reunited with his class.
For the first time in years, Bernadetta stood up straight, resolution strong in her eyes.
The Next Day
"So, you have any idea why she's calling us?" Mimi asked.
"Not a clue," Sara shook her head.
Bernadetta hadn't spoken to them much since the other day, not that it was abnormal or anything. However, as Bernadetta came down for breakfast today, she told Mimi and Sara that she wanted to speak with the both of them a little later. Suffice to say both of them were confused, but naturally obliged to her request. One could only wonder what it was Bernadetta wished to speak about. Maybe something related to the bandit attack? They both wondered just what it could be, but they couldn't deny they were quite curious and happy too. How long had it been since Bernadetta actually requested them to come? Literally years since that last happened.
The two of them proceeded up the stairs, heading straight to Bernadetta's room now that they had finished what chores they needed to do. Out of courtesy, of course, they knocked on the door, announcing their arrival.
"It's open," came Bernadetta's voice from within.
Mimi and Sara blinked at each other. Yet another difference. It almost unnerved them to be so easily welcomed in. Not like they were going to refuse though. Mimi opened the door, allowing them to come in. To yet another surprise, they actually didn't have to wade through her room. It wasn't exactly clean mind you, but at least they had a path to go through. It even smelled cleaner. Quite a change from how it had been over the last few months.
Bernadetta was actually carrying some books around, actually wearing a clean casual outfit for once. She sighed as she put them down, wiping some sweat off her forehead.
"Good enough," she said, organizing the books so they'd be out of the way. Of course, she noticed her company. "Hello Mimi, Sara." she smiled.
"Good day, milady," Mimi smiled, still a little in awe. "Did...you do all of this?"
"Yeah. I really didn't want you tripping over all my stuff," Bernadetta replied sheepishly. "Somehow, I think it got even messier after the attack. After a while, I just couldn't take it anymore and just started cleaning up."
"You could have asked us," replied Sara.
"You were busy. It was the least I could do," Bernadetta smiled a little, before taking a breath. "Anyway, thanks for coming. I...have some things I want to say."
"Well, we're all ears," Mimi replied sincerely.
Bernadetta patted down her skirt a little before sitting down on her bed. Welp here goes nothing. Now was her chance to finally let it out, and see if even herself believed what she was thinking.
"First of all, I want to apologize for everything," Bernadetta began.
"Huh?" Both Mimi and Sara tilted their heads at the same time.
"I've...put you both through a lot over this past year. I've just sat around here doing nothing and feeling sorry for myself while you tried to take care of me," she continued. "Honestly, it's no wonder my mother gave up on me. I've acted like a brat."
Mimi and Sara were quite surprised and alarmed at seeing her so frank. Even odder was how it sounded so self-deprecating yet Bernadetta wasn't doing her usual panicking. Still, Mimi couldn't say she liked it.
"T-That's not true," Mimi shook her head. "We never thought of you as a brat."
"Right!" Sara nodded.
"That's nice, but I really do think I was," Bernadetta shook her head too. "It's alright. I understand now how hard I was making it for all of you. I refused to take any responsibility for myself. How funny that it took getting attacked for me to finally realize that."
"So, it's because of that that I've been thinking real hard into what I want to do," she continued. "Mother has already decided that she wants to give me away to someone else that's more capable of leading House Varley. I haven't exactly been taking well to filling that role myself."
"I had a feeling you didn't want to," Mimi spoke. "You've never spoken too highly of being the next Count Varley."
"That's true, at least not right now. I'm nowhere near capable of doing that," Bernadetta sighed. "And, to be honest, I still don't know if I ever want to. I know mother won't like that, but I can't do it right now. Also...there are more pressing matters."
"Hmm?" Sara tilted her head, although Mimi seemed to know what she was getting at.
"Let me guess, is it the class meeting you mentioned before?" she asked, to which Sara's mouth opened in an "O" shape. Bernadetta nodded with a light smile.
"Yes, and when those bandits attacked, it reminded me of how much I enjoyed being by their side. It was like being in class all over again," Bernadetta continued. "I've had such feelings over these past few years, but I always suppressed them, thinking that it was all pointless. But...now I don't think like that. I don't want to live all caged up as I did before. I feel like I've sat around long enough. If I stick around, I feel like I might just slip back into what I was doing before."
Needless to say, both maids were quite intrigued by now. Was Bernadetta implying what they thought she was implying? Mimi thought back to the talk the two of them had a while ago, and she couldn't deny she was feeling giddy inside.
"So...?" she egged on.
And so came the big part.
"So...I've decided to leave," Bernadetta replied, smiling. "I want to find my friends, and be there when our class reunion comes."
Bernadetta was surprised but just how uplifting it was to actually say that out loud. For all the times she had held her feelings in, this was one of those rare times she finally let it out. For the first time in a while, she actually believed in what she said. Hopefully, she could find her friends out there, and perhaps even Byleth too if he was waiting somewhere for them to come.
The reaction was immediate, as Mimi immediately ran right up and hugged Bernadetta, constantly spouting how happy she was that Bernadetta finally seemed happy. Sara was actually crying, feeling happy yet sad at the same time to see Bernadetta leave. It was a rather touching scene, watching Bernadetta be smothered by the two girls she now considered to be her friends.
Eventually, cooler heads prevailed and the two maids let her go, smiles not leaving though.
"I'm happy for you, milady," Mimi nodded. "So, when do you intend to leave?"
"Well, I think I bought some time with Mother," Bernadetta replied. "From what I've seen in the letters, I don't think she'll come back for a while."
"True. Plus, I believe Her Majesty is ramping up efforts to try and finish off the Alliance," Sara spoke. "Lady Esmeralda is a rather important ally for Her Majesty, so she might be busy a while longer."
"I agree, though I don't want to risk her sending more security," nodded Bernadetta. "I'm thinking within the next month at least."
"During this moon?" asked Sara.
"Right, or the next. If Mother sends more knights to protect me, that'll make it harder to get out. I doubt she likes the idea of me staying here after the attack. Guess I should be thankful that she doesn't want me to freak out as I probably would," said Bernadetta. "That being said, I don't want to rush out. I've never been on my own like this, and I don't know how long it would be until I find one of my friends."
"That's true. Do you know how to camp though?" asked Mimi with a finger to her chin.
"I did that plenty of times during missions at Garreg Mach, and I remember most of it," nodded Bernadetta. "It's been a long time since I've really gone far enough on my own, but I don't have the luxury of time right now."
"Understandable," Mimi nodded, before smiling again. "At the least milady, we can help with whatever you need."
"What do you think she should need?" asked Sara.
"Well, she needs new clothes for one. Lady Bernadetta doesn't have any clothes her size that are suitable for combat," Mimi replied sternly. "Plus, I think she needs a better weapon. All the ones for training here are beat up. Better get stocked up on vulneraries too."
Bernadetta spoke slowly, looking over the old dress she was currently wearing. Just about everything she had worn over the past five years were typical nobility clothing for women, with a few casual clothes as well. Nothing that really was made for battle, and her old Garreg Mach uniform would be way too small for her at this point. Come to think of it, Bernadetta hadn't even properly measured herself in some time, just making small adjustments when her clothes got too tight or too short in certain places.
"I guess I really do need new ones," Bernadetta replied. "I think I can make some. I've got an idea or two."
"I'll help you," Sara pumped her fists a little. "Two heads are better than one after all. You'll need help with measuring anyway."
Yeah, the fact that Bernadetta hadn't paid much attention to her body over time was evident even to them, a fact that made Bernadetta blush.
"Oh...r-right..." she replied.
"And I can finally tame that moss of hair you got," Mimi spoke with a grin Bernadetta wasn't sure she liked. "Can't go into war looking so shaggy. Oh, I've been waiting for this!"
Suddenly, Bernadetta was beginning to wonder if her maids were more excited about her leaving than she was. Still, she smiled a little at how supportive they were. She couldn't have been luckier to have them.
"Thank you, both of you," Bernadetta said earnestly. "I'm...really happy you two were here with me these past few years. I don't know how I would have managed otherwise."
"Hey, it's no problem," Mimi smiled. "It's our pleasure."
"I'm just glad the mistress I had to serve was so casual," giggled Sara. "I couldn't have dealt with someone more hard-nosed."
"You mean like Lady Esmeralda?" Mimi replied, making Sara shiver a little at the possibility. "Lady Bernadetta thankfully is much more tolerant of us."
Bernadetta smiled at the light-hearted conversation. Already, she could feel as if the last few years of misery were beginning to fade into memory. Though, there was one further thing she wanted to clarify. Something she wished she had asked of them long ago.
"One more thing," she said, getting the maid's attention. "I'd...I'd like it much more if you called me Bernie, or just Bernadetta if that's better."
The two maids were speechless for a second, filling the air with silence.
"Really?" Sara blinked in surprise.
"Really," Bernadetta nodded. "I'd...I'd like us to be friends more than anything else. I just wish I had thought of that earlier when we had more time."
The two maids looked at Bernadetta, and then at each other.
"I certainly didn't expect this when I woke up this morning," Sara spoke with a light giggle.
"Or me," Mimi replied in kind before turning back to Bernadetta. "But, if I may speak casually, that's just fine with me...Bernie."
Mimi actually ended up laughing as she said it like it was the silliest thing in the world to say. By the time she was done, all three of them had ended up joining in, like they weren't just discussing one of the most serious decisions Bernadetta had ever made.
Still, Bernadetta couldn't help but smile at the end of it. Despite how this one decision could throw everything into uncertainty, it just felt right. She was going out to find her friends, to be with those she wanted to be.
And maybe, just maybe, find the one person she wanted to find above all else.
The next couple of days were a little frantic.
For one thing, now that Mimi and Sara felt a more personal connection with Bernadetta, they became a little more forceful on other matters. For one thing, there was eating right and making her room was actually clean on a consistent basis.
"Why?!" Bernadetta cried out.
"Because you're malnourished and not in good shape by any stretch of the imagination," Mimi replied, using her finger for emphasis. "You did skip a lot of meals of late, you know."
"Come on..." Bernadetta groaned.
Mimi had changed the menu a little bit to suit Bernadetta getting a few more necessary nutrients. As impressive as her one-woman army stunt against the bandits was, she was rather thin, too thin for that matter. So Mimi was taking it upon herself to get her back in better shape, particularly with some meat dishes during lunch and dinner that Bernadetta wasn't a fan of.
"Hey, you're not in any shape to do what you want to do right now," Mimi replied. "Honestly, you should be thankful you're not worse off. You're in better shape than most girls your age would be after laying around for so long."
"Now that's just cruel!" cried Bernadetta, before resigning to her fate of eating whatever this was. I mean, it smelled just fine, just that Bernadetta hated certain meat dishes.
All the knights watching this kept quiet but were certainly perplexed. It was rare to see such emotion when Esmeralda wasn't there. What had happened to cause such a change. None of them could fathom why.
"Ugh, what a day," Bernadetta groaned as she wiped her mouth.
That was one of the busiest days she had had in some time. Mimi and Sara were more assertive than ever, and Bernadetta could only imagine her telling them how she felt about the both of them gave them such confidence. Still, it made her smile a bit, seeing how much they cared. Granted, she could do without having to eat so much food. Today had been a constant case of eating more food than she had been eating in a while and then working it off.
Still, despite it all, she felt pretty good right now, and it was time to get back to her archery practice. Funny enough, she had never felt better with the idea of getting back into it. Sure, she had done it for a while before stopping, but there was a sense of how she only did it out of some obligation to keep what Byleth had taught her. That aspect was still there, but there was even more so.
She had a goal. Going out into the world seemed scary, but she wanted to reunite with her friends for the promised meeting. And maybe, the one she wanted to see the most was still out there.
And, if he was, she certainly wouldn't be able to see him without becoming stronger. War was a cruel mistress, far more than the little skirmish inside her house.
"Okay!" she slapped her cheeks and got herself ready.
Who knew how many days of working it would take to shake off all the rust from her time spending laying around in her room. Heck, she already ached a bit from today. Still, she couldn't afford to wait. Gripping her bow, she began to take aim at the targets she had set up. She grunted a bit at the ache in her back, her back muscles not having been used in such a way for so long. Guess she would have to get that kink out over these next few weeks.
Taking a breath, she began her practice, feeling disappointed as some of her shots either missed the bullseye or missed the target entirely.
"Wow Bernie, that's just bad," she groaned, walking over to pick her arrows up.
Guess the adrenaline she felt against the bandits helped with her decreased accuracy. That sort of thing wasn't going to fly in real combat, especially on her own. She began to wonder if she was giving herself enough time. The Wyvern Moon was halfway over and soon it would be the Red Wolf Moon, merely a month before the month of the promised meeting. She had many things to do before entertaining the idea of being there, like finding some way out of the Empire. Heading to the Alliance would be the best idea, given it was closer.
Plus, having gotten some of the latest news, Faerghus was hardly even its own nation anymore. It was basically an Empire territory for all intents and purposes. Heading to the west would do her no good, so seeking some help from Claude and what was left of the Alliance that was loyal to him. Funny, to think that things had come down to him, someone that Bernadetta called her house leader when she transferred. Claude was always a master marksman, likely far higher than she was right now. Why, she bet he could nail a bullseye from over twice the distance she was now.
"Ugh, maybe this wasn't a good idea," she sighed, looking at her arrows. She gripped them tightly, shaking her head. "No, I can't think that. I'll never get anywhere thinking like that. I remember everything I was taught. I just need to keep at it. Professor Byleth always liked it when he saw me improving, so that's what I gotta do."
It would likely take many nights of constant training to get back into the swing of things, but she would do whatever she had to. Brushing off her last attempt, she got back in the same spot and continued to fire. Her shots didn't improve for a while. Her muscles everywhere, her back especially, ached as she had to get used to the constant motion of firing arrows. It was easy to get discouraged by the lackluster performance, but for once, she wasn't giving up.
"Grrrrrr," she grunted.
Gearing up for one last shot of the night, she let it go...and came so close to a bullseye. Not there yet, but better than she had done before.
Imperial Year 1185, Day 16 of the Wyvern Moon
"All right, what do you have?" asked Sara.
"This is what I had in mind," replied Bernadetta.
The two of them were in her room, hunched over Bernadetta's desk as she was unfolding some designs she had in mind for when she left. They weren't quite complete, as she hadn't started on them until she finally decided to leave, but they gave a general idea of what to go for.
"Hmmm...I see," Sara said with a finger on her chin. "Very curious designs. I'd say you're trying to implement traditional sniper designs with elements from Varley tradition. Very unique. You wouldn't find any Varley archers with such designs.
"You think so?" Bernadetta asked. "I really just went with what I thought might be comfortable. I do think the designs give it a little extra flair."
"Oh, it's not a criticism," Sara smiled. "Just an observation. I'll be curious to see how it works out, but before that..."
At once, Sara snapped open a piece of measuring tape like a whip, making Bernadetta gulp.
"Time for your measurements, Bernie," she smiled even wider. "I don't think you've measured yourself in five years, so this should be fun. Clothes off now."
'Maybe getting them so involved was a bad idea,' Bernadetta was beginning to worry with how much more confidant the maids had gotten in regards to how they treated her.
All the same, she ended up doing as she was told, stripping down as Sara began to do the measuring. Of course, not without occasional quips.
"Bernie, I swear, does being a noble with a Crest even grant physical quirks?" she spoke as she measured against Bernadetta's back. "Even though you just sat around for most of the last few months, you still appear to be in great shape. Your back muscles especially."
"Uh...w-well...um..." Bernadetta blushed at being talked about in such a way.
"Oh, don't worry about it," Sara then giggled. "I'm just envious is all. We'll have to make sure the tunic has enough breathing room for your chest but is still tight enough to be effective. Guess we'll cross that bridge when we get to it. Let's see where you are height-wise."
With that, Bernadetta stood straight as she could, allowing Sara to do her work as she held the tape from top to bottom.
"Say, Bernie, how tall were you before?" asked Sara.
"Um, about 150cm (4'11") when I was at Garreg Mach," replied Bernadetta, slowly moving her head back to look at Sara.
She looked just enough to see Sara smirk and stifle a laugh.
"Talk about a growth spurt. You're up to 165cm (5'5") now," Sara continued to smirk. "Makes me wonder how often you had to look up to people at school."
"H-Hey, that's not nice!" blushed Bernadetta, before her mind shifted to what she just heard.
She had really grown that much? Just how different was she after almost 5 years? It just dawned on her how little she actually paid attention to her own body for such things to slip her notice. Only now did she realize just how further away from the ground she was compared to before. Perhaps that was something she should take greater care of for the future.
Well, as much as Bernadetta hoped that would be the end to any other potentially embarrassing reveals, that was just the beginning. Sara didn't spare a single comment over the course of the entire fitting.
"Your legs look great too. Guess that's where most of the height went to. Probably get a lot of focus in workouts, huh?"
"W-Will you please not look at them?!"
"I'm doing your fitting. I get to look at whatever I want. And speaking of being bigger, I think you're a full cup size larger than before, if not more."
"I'm so jealous. I've never been blessed in that area if you catch my drift."
"C-Cut that out!"
And it went on and on like this for a little while longer, with Sara laughing much of the way as she got every bit of information we needed. Bernadetta's face was redder than a tomato by the time she was done.
"Alright!" Sara smiled as she gathered the measuring tape. "I'd say that's all we need as far as how to size everything. I think we'll need more material though. I'll take care of that for you."
"I really should have just stayed quiet," Bernadetta groaned into her hands after thankfully getting redressed.
"Oh it wasn't that bad," Sara giggled. "And think of how much better you'll look once we actually get you cleaned up and worked out. Mimi's recipes hopefully will help you get back in shape. We are working against the clock after all."
"Yeah..." Bernadetta sighed.
It was true. She was the one who insisted she get out of here at a reasonable time. Best to not tempt her mother into taking her away from here or bringing in more knights to guard her. She'd never escape if she was taken deeper into the Empire. With how long she spent just sitting around doing nothing, an intense amount of effort would be needed to get her ready for war.
'Well,' Bernadetta thought with a sigh. 'No doing this half-way I suppose.'
Still, she did hope this worked out.
Imperial Year 1185, Day 20 of the Wyvern Moon
"Give me one more! Come on!" Mimi cried out.
"Ah...ah...ah...ah..." Bernadetta grunted as she continued doing push-ups.
Bernadetta had been content just going along with her nightly archery practice, but while that was helpful in its own right, the rest of her body needed work too. She didn't want to admit that though, having already been dealing with her own exercises, changes to her diet, and whatever else Mimi and Sara could think of. It was only a matter of time until they worked more on her appearance.
She wanted to get started on her clothes for the trip, but other matters were keeping herself and the maids occupied. Plus they had to get the materials, but that would be solved with the next trip into town. Sara would be in charge of that, and she hoped she might get to it today or tomorrow if she could. She also wanted to get in touch with someone in town about getting Bernadetta a better bow. A lot of the ones around the house were old and worn-out. Even the one Bernadetta had been maintaining was showing its age. Can't go into battle without something more reliable. Money wasn't an issue at least, given Bernadetta was given a reasonable sum of money from Esmeralda some time ago in case of emergencies. The one time Bernadetta felt thankful for her mother's sense.
All that said, she was presently on the verge of pain.
"Can we...please...stop?!" she cried out.
"No pain, no gain," replied Mimi.
"This is cruelty!"
"Suck it up!"
'I shouldn't have been so casual,' groaned Bernadetta, now lamenting the amount of power she gave her maids.
This was Ingrid all over again. Let down your guard for one second, and she'll pounce on you and never let go. Bernadetta swore at times that she could still remember the bumps and bruises from sparring with the Galatea heiress. Seriously, once Bernadetta allowed herself to befriend her, it was nearly 2 weeks of constant dragging to the training hall for pain. Ingrid meant well of course, but Bernadetta couldn't say she was unhappy when their training sessions became far less frequent thanks to Ingrid becoming occupied with other matters.
If not for the fact that Mimi at least promised her favorite lunch after this, she'd have probably collapsed by now.
"No daydreaming!" Mimi snapped her out of her thoughts. "It's going to be harsh out there. I don't want to hear of you getting killed after just a few days."
"Are you that concerned for me, or just think I'm going to die as soon as I leave?" Bernadetta paused halfway through with a deadpan expression.
"Um, both?" Mimi replied sheepishly, smiling slightly. "I mean, it'd kind of suck if you keeled over on the first day after all this prep work."
"You are not being encouraging!"
"Then let's fix that! Keep going!"
What knights were around found this all quite peculiar, even wondering Lady Esmeralda needed to hear about this. Though, it didn't feel like it was worth the trouble and they just allowed Bernadetta and her maid to their business.
"Ugh!" Bernadetta laid her head on the table.
"Guess I don't need to ask how it went," Sara smiled sheepishly as she put a plate next to Bernadetta.
"I hurt everywhere," Bernadetta grumbled.
"Well, you don't have to worry," Mimi replied from the kitchen. "I said I'll make one of your favorites so you'll be right as rain."
"Oh, can you make mine too?" Sara pleaded.
"I'm Lady Bernadetta's maid," Mimi said mock-formally. "Not yours."
That earned a stuck-out tongue from Sara, getting a giggle from Mimi.
It was an amusing scene, one that allowed Bernadetta to giggle lightly and relax. It made her think of how things had changed in such a relatively short amount of time.
Before the bandits attacked, she was just wallowing around in her room, not too different from what she had done much of her life (except on an even worse scale). Now, she had not only brought these two maids into her inner circle, but even made the conscious decision to go out and reunite with her old classmates, wherever they were at this time.
She was only at the beginning for now, but she felt hopeful.
"I'm sorry everyone...but I'm coming as soon as I can..."
Phew, another one down. Took a little longer than I thought. I swear, weeks after a new chapter just disappear before you know it.
In any case, good to get back to the main story. Finishing those extra chapters really slowed me down, and it'll be good to finally get to the next phase of the story.
Hope you all enjoy and thanks for reading. Sentinel07, out.