Green Paladin: Right! I'm sorry for being this long! Damn procrastination.
Green Blackguard: That's his way of saying he was lazy.
Green Paladin: Hold on! You know how much we've been doing recently!
Green Blackguard: Like what?
Green Paladin: Well, end of year projects and exams, starting the placement…
Green Blackguard: Ooooh yes! That!
Green Paladin: Yeah. Now, this is true. The author has indeed started an industrial placement year as part of his university course. This will limit his time to write as he'll be working full time, but to be honest he won't be any slower. Probably a bit faster, as he's already writing the next chapter. That, I believe, is good news.
Green Blackguard: So killing is not the order of the day today. Aww…
Green Paladin: Don't worry. You can throw your greatsword into skulls another day. Wait… what am I saying?!
Green Blackguard: But I like murder! I want to do it now!
Green Paladin: Oh yes! I almost forgot. The game Pent and Andur were playing last chapter was Hnefatafl. Yeah, didn't really expect anyone to get it right.
Chapter 25: I'm Going Slightly Mad
The first thing I felt was the warmth of the sun, as through the window it bathed the whole room in light. Next was the extra warmth from the lady beside me, drawn closer in the time I slept. She was resting peacefully, her hair draped over the cushions, coating them in the viridian strands. But the most extraordinary thing was that she was smiling in her slumber. She's strong, stronger than anyone I've ever known. That's one of the reasons why I love her so. Hesitantly I moved my arm from around her abdomen, not wishing to wake her, in an attempt to get out of bed. Except … wouldn't she want me to be here? I reconsidered, and began to put the arm back when I heard a knock on the door, and a servant entered.
The woman in the doorway gave an embarrassed blush when she saw my situation, and I put a finger to my lips. She understood, and went ahead with her duties, dusting, tidying, and eventually putting formal clothes (for myself, I thought by the look of them) in the cupboard. I gave a light cough, and she turned to me. I pointed to Lyn and asked quietly, "Is there an outfit for her?"
"Is she invited, sir?" she politely replied.
"To what?" I asked. I hadn't heard of any ceremonies, and what was I doing with dress clothes anyway? I was only a commoner…
"To the banquet, sir!" I hushed her, and she held her hand to her mouth as she realised her error. She continued in a lower tone, "Lady Eleanora has arranged one for those in the Lord Eliwood's group."
"Ah, well that explains it. She is invited, as she is the heiress of Caelin, and one of the leaders of our merry band."
"The Lady Lyndis of Caelin?!" the servant exclaimed as quietly as possible. "Ah, her clothes were sent to the church! I shall retrieve them at once sir!"
As the maid began to leave, immediately I had to state, "No more of this 'sir' stuff, okay? I'm as much a noble as you are." She gave a polite smile and departed.
I brought my free hand to caress Lyn's cheek, hoping to give her a gentle awakening. She stirred and gave a small yawn, then settled down again, wriggling into a comfortable position.
"We've got to get up now," I said softly.
She murmured, "Don't want to…"
"Well," I said, snuggling up closer to her, "I don't think that'll be too much of a problem with me, but… we might annoy those expecting us at the banquet…"
"Good," she smirked.
"That's my girl."
I was about to drift off a while later, when the servant girl burst into the room in a frenzied hurry, with a formal dress for Lyn. "I retrieved it, sir… oh, sorry," she said, remembering only then what I'd said before. The dress was… nice, but far too elaborate and gaudy for my tastes. It was also… more revealing than I'd have liked. Then again, I was always completely out of tune with the current fashion, mainly because I didn't care one jot about it. At least it's green. I like green.
"Just..." I yawned, "Put it in the cupboard… thanks…" She did so and quickly yet quietly left. I laid my head back down onto the pillow, and just stared into space.
"So…" Lyn spoke all of a sudden.
"About last night…"
"What about it?"
"I never asked…" and with a malicious grin, she inquired, "What was Matthew?"
All the warm feelings I was having suddenly vanished and I cried insistently, "I was drunk!"
She laughed a deep laugh, and that just made me feel a whole lot better. I was about to offer her to make fun of me some more, but I suddenly realised what that meant and stopped before I let it out. "Well… shouldn't we get up now?"
"No," she replied.
"Oh, we are," I retorted, giving her a poke.
"Ah!" She retaliated with a soft punch in the old spot.
Right, this was war.
We did eventually get to the banquet, but not without some pride lost on my behalf, as I most certainly lost that war. Being steadfast in my refusal to wear formal clothes, I wore my normal clothing instead, but no one seemed to notice. Everyone else was all fancy, even Hawkeye! Certainly he must be doing it just to not shock our host with his usual near-nakedness.
Looking around the long table where I had the previous morning had a rather heated argument with Pent, I saw Serra being her usual bouncy self, hanging on to a silently despairing Erk. Bartre was trying to eat a book, much to the protest of Canas. Dorcas was not talking to an equally terse Rath. Sain was once more trying to woo Rebecca, but she wasn't pushing him away as much as she used to… hmm… Nils and Merlinus were having a good conversation with about something I couldn't quite hear from where I was sitting. Ninian looked sheepish sitting near Eliwood, while he talked with his mother about recent events. Isadora, Lowen and Marcus were having a discussion on ethics, with Marcus almost like a lecturer. Matthew and the recently recovered Legault, were both trying to outsmart the other with their skills in sleight of hand. While I was watching, Matthew beat the lavender thief at a game of cups, when Legault failed to see that Matthew had eaten the hidden olive without him noticing. Wil was chatting incessantly to anyone who would listen, which was no one, so he was trying anyway. Dart was busy trying to see if he liked this wine better than his usual grog, and boasting loudly of his pirating days to Hector, who retaliated with tales of his victories in the Arena. Oswin was trying to calm them both down, with little success. Lucius was trying to console the depressed Raven, then again he always looked miserable, so you can't really tell what he feels. I saw Fiora casting a watchful eye over Florina who was being comforted over recent events by Heath. Those two seem to have grown close without my noticing… well, seems I'm not always needed to bring people together.
I have to admit, this is the most lovesick band of people I've ever been in.
Of course, the food was terrible because I didn't cook it. And people weren't this casual yesterday; it looked like people were loosening up at last. I was glad for it, as the gloomy atmosphere was becoming unbearable. I do blame myself for it to a degree; I've been very moody until recently. I had been very concerned until Lyn finally showed some of her old vigour, and she was all the better for it.
There was a sound of a knock against glass, and people quieted down to see Eliwood standing. He cleared his throat, and prepared himself. "I am heartened to see you here today, after the recent trials on us all," he addressed to the group. "As I watched this banquet progress I saw people laughing, loving, and most of all living. It is good to see that even after all the sorrow and hardship we have and have yet to endure, we can still have good feelings."
I grinned. Lord Eliwood was doing just what a good lord should do; keeping people together in times of strife.
He took on a more serious tone when he continued however. "We soon march to Bern in secrecy. We will need everyone at his or her best, since we have no idea what to expect. Seeing you all like this now, it reminds me that even in these dark times, there is still light. While some of us have suffered more than others, we are all equally bound to each other in friendship and camaraderie; that is what will see us through this coming conflict."
"Hear hear!" cried Hector boisterously, raising his glass.
"Hear hear!" I followed, doing the same.
The Elite cried out in unison, "Hear hear!" Few did not, but those that didn't were the usual laconic suspects.
Before he sat again Eliwood finished, "We leave tomorrow morning, make sure to rest well." And I could see from the jubilant looks in their eyes, that this would be a good last day to end our stay.
And Pent asked, "So… what are your thoughts of your tactician?"
"Well… he is most certainly a very adept sort… for his profession, I mean to say. Although I have noticed… hmm well…" He paused. "He has always been one to show compassion. Too much for someone in his position, as someone whose vocation is to be a depriver of life, even with the good reasons he has to do so."
"You mean Andur? Well… he's just… well he's always been nice to us. He's had some odd turns here and there but… When we all were journeying with Lady Lyndis in that trouble with Caelin a few years back, remember about that? You do? Yeah, that was a tough time all right. As I was saying, he told us all what he'd done in his past and I didn't care. He was a nice guy back then, and still is now. He did what he did unknowingly, and he's learned from his mistakes. He sorta keeps hurting himself about it now though, you know? I heard him in the nights sometimes, and I tell you what he was dreaming about was not pretty. Well also I… wait! Where are you going? I'm not done yet! Hey!"
"He invited me to join Lady Lyndis' original group to help pay for my wife's treatments. Her leg barely works… and I need money to help her. He got me involved in with this group as well, and for that I am grateful."
Ducking around the crowd of townspeople, Rebecca made her way through the bustling marketplace. The day was bright, the air fresh. It was soon the time to leave this spot of light in a world overhung by such darkness. She had to do something first; something important to her.
Breaking through the throng, she reached the place where Merlinus had temporarily set up shop. He mentioned 'restocking and renovation', amongst other incomprehensible things. The archer had no idea what he was really doing in the town, but it was probably a good thing. Stepping thorough the draped curtains of his tent she remarked at how pristine it was given the number of battles it had been near. Pottery, baskets and shelves covered with assorted items of varying colour and splendour, lined the walls and cut across it, dividing the shop into sections.
She heard a rummaging around the back, and drew closer to the sound. A head popped up from behind a massive jar. She jumped back on instinct, reaching her weapon, but it wouldn't have mattered. She didn't have it on her anyway. 'Maybe I have been at war too long,' she mused to herself.
"What do you wish, good lady?" Merlinus inquired in his usual half-pleading half-confident way. "I have many fine bows behind here, or maybe you wish for some new arrows? I found a rather curious variety while I was browsing here and I…"
"Wait! Wait!" she interrupted, "I am just looking for a present!"
"Oh!" he exclaimed. "I apologise most gratuitously! For who is this gift?"
"Well… it's sort of… two gifts. For different people."
"All right then… what are you looking for? I may have an idea if you told me who these two persons are." Looking all around, she made her way to him and whispered something in his ear. His eyes widened and he said as soon as she stopped, "Of course! I know just what you want for the first one!" He ducked into the back and noises of wicker baskets opening and closing mixed with mild frustrated comments emitted from there. Soon Merlinus emerged, holding a small mahogany box. "This is just what you want! And now it's only a small sum of five thousand gold…"
He was taken aback to find the money already in his hand.
Getting straight back to business, "Now… for the other. What do you think would be good for him?"
"Well," she began, "we all had a thought about it, and we saved up our pay for a little while…"
I sat at the appointed meeting place, tapping my feet against the dusty road in boredom.
None of them had arrived on time.
'How does an army made of the some of the most skilled people on the whole of the continent be so tardy? I'll have to drill some discipline into those damn fools. As I sit here Nergal could be bending Bern to his whim… then we'd be in trouble. Bah. I'm overestimating our army's ability to screw things up. We'll be all right.' Just to counter my thoughts, I saw a red and blond-headed blur shoot by, chased by a small mob crying "Thief!"
I'd have to kill off Matthew first.
People started appearing, Dorcas first, Canas following, the other academics and overly sensible ones were the best for keeping to a schedule, though not perfect. Well, until someone invents a way of keeping perfect time, I'll have to make do with what efficiency I have. Erk, loaded down with supplies, trailed a bouncing Serra, looking completely unaffected by her recent brush with death. Erk however looked like he was about to fall apart.
The lords came next; Hector laughing and joking with Eliwood, slapping him on the back with bone-jarring force, not that either of them noticed. Lyn came next, and I was glad to see that she was walking on her own – no crutches. After a warm smile to me she began talking to the other lords.
Rebecca came with Merlinus' caravan. She was carrying something, but as soon as she saw me she scuttled out of sight, so I couldn't identify what it was. 'Hmph. I suppose it isn't my place to pry.'
Overtime the others came, and soon the whole army was present, all smiling, chatting and preparing for travel. The wagons were ready, the horses saddled, Amongst all the dust and grit covering the trail, the bright colours of armour shone brightly, bringing much needed life to this dull place. I hoped that this good cheer would sustain us though the clearly dark times ahead. I had an odd feeling…
A warm yet commanding voice pierced my musings. "Listen to me everyone!" called Eliwood from behind the group. "I-"
"Come on Eliwood, you've had your speech!" interrupted a jovial Hector. Shouting in that playfully confident manner that made him such a star with children he cried, "Let's go to Bern and fight people! For Elibe!" Raising his axe in the air, he ran to his horse and leapt upon it. With a great heave he began to speed along the road, kicking up dust in his wake. With proud exclamations the others leapt to readiness and began pursuit.
'Tsk. Hector'll wear out that horse in no time. …Ah who cares, it was effective!' With that, I ran after them, swung onto Lyn's horse, helped her get on, and sped after the invigorated Elite.
And Pent asked, "So… what are your thoughts of your tactician?"
"What about him? What I think? Why would I tell you anything? You seemed to have made up your mind about him back in Arcadia!" She gave a hateful glare. "Fine. Well, he's a good friend, despite all his own problems. He confided in me what he'd done before now, all of it, and I accepted it. I saved his life when we first met, and in return he suggested I come with us. He gave the Lord Eliwood some reason based on tactics, and it did make sense, but I saw that he was also grateful. Not that he thought I couldn't handle myself! Without him, I'd be sitting back in my village…" She stopped suddenly, the glare now intensified. "What. What did you just say? He didn't do anything to me! You're sick! Get away from me!"
"…He has a sound tactical mind," as he gave a curious glance. "…More? No. No more words are necessary."
"You want to know about him? It'll cost you. No? And I was gonna tell you about all that time I was following him since he left the Taliver… Oh, you want to pay now? Sorry, one time offer. I'll give you this for free though. Stop persecuting him. He's done nothing wrong."
When Hector had inevitably slowed down due to exhaustion, the first thing Heath did was seek out the lavender-haired girl he'd managed to strike a chord with over recent days. Heath could well say Florina was his only real friend here. Thankfully the army wasn't as tightly packed as they were at departure, so he easily made his way to her. Her hair colour stood out amongst any crowd.
Florina had been keeping to herself throughout the journey, not that it was unusual for her to do so. She'd flinched away when any male got too close, but she was improving. She was determined to. She had to be strong, like Lyn. She had quickly noticed Heath making a beeline for her long before he arrived. That green and white hair stood out amongst any crowd. She remarked on how willing she was to speak with him now. A few months ago and she would have hid away the moment he approached (not that she knew him a few months ago). Florina could well say that Heath was her only male friend here.
"Greetings!" he called, finally riding side by side. The grunts from Hyperion suggested that the great beast would far prefer being in the air, but because the tactician had already sent other flying scouts ahead, he was grounded until he was called to do so.
Huey wasn't so annoyed. Florina could plainly see he was enjoying his journey. "H-Hello, Sir Heath…"
"No no, now stop that!" She gave a flinch at his friendly yet loud retort. "Sorry. But I'm no knight, I'm just Heath."
"O… Okay… Heath." She smiled. 'I smiled! Why did I do that! Oh, I'm so embarrassed…!'
Heath smiled back, but didn't reply. They respectively trotted and stomped on, until, surprising even herself, Florina broke the silence. Timidly she asked, "So… are you all right?"
"Hm? What do you mean?"
She continued hesitantly, "Well… we are riding to Bern, and from what you've told me you could… um… die." That last word was almost inaudible. "Aren't you scared?"
"To be honest," he replied, "I'm terrified. If any of Bern's riders meet us, if they spot me they'll know I'm a deserter and will try to kill me. I don't have any friends in Bern anymore."
'Oh no! I've made him depressed again! What do I do, what do I do! Errm… yes! But… why am I not hiding?' "S-Surely you have family! You must!"
"You must have grown up somewhere! Those people surely still wouldn't harm you," she persisted.
"…Yeah. You're right." He smiled again, and she was pleased with herself. "It's been a long time since I thought of home…"
Florina's mind told her that what she was about to do was mad. She should stop. She'd done enough. She ignored that impulse. "…What was your home like?"
Heath turned to her, puzzled as to why she'd ask. When he first met her she seemed such a timid little girl. Now she was being bold and asking questions. "Well, there's… not much to tell really."
"Well, all right. I'd be glad to," he conceded. "I was raised in a remote village in Bern called Hallow's End. It had some sort of significance to pilgrims and other religious folk, so it had a lot of visitors for a village of its size. When growing up with my mother, I met many people from all over the continent. Now, there weren't so many travellers from across the border as Bernese visitors, due to the fact that Bern's borders are so closely guarded."
Florina picked up on something. A word. 'His mother…' "Where was your father? …Eep! I'm sorry for interrupting!"
"No, no, it's fine. He was always away, fighting someone or other in the military. He was no wyvern knight, just a foot soldier. He died in battle a few years before I joined the military myself."
"I'm sorry …" she said quietly.
Heath was quick to respond, "Do not worry about that, Florina. I've got over that long ago. Now, settle down." He waited for her to do so, and then continued. "I had a fairly active youth, given that I was an only child raised by only one of my parents. When my father returned, he'd bring such tales with him… it made the idea of joining him in the military so appealing…"
"You wanted to follow your father? I… I can understand that. I wanted to follow my sisters."
"Oh? So where did you grow up?" he asked, full of curiosity.
"I uh… I… grew up in Ilia… in Edessa."
"Edessa? I've heard of that place. It's a large city by Ilia's standards, isn't it?"
"Y-Yes! That's because of the pegasi… they gather at the Spring of Pyrene… it's nearby."
"I've been there once or twice during my service to Bern. I had to guard shipments of food to deliver there."
Meekly she replied, "…Well… we can't grow our own because Ilia is so… so barren… That's why we have our trade in mercenaries. We need money to… survive."
"So how is life there?"
"It's… hard. I liked it though. My sisters were always nice to me, and so strong… they always protected me. My family was nice… but… they died. They passed away in one of the snowstorms. We took care of ourselves… When my sisters came of age, they went into training to become pegasus knights… I was alone."
"Were you all right by yourself?"
"I… missed them. I wanted them near me. I got so scared sometimes… But I wasn't alone for long! One night, I went out to the spring, and I saw a Pegasus land nearby! I was afraid but… I went to greet it, and it took a while, but it warmed to me. I spent most of my time there, feeding, grooming, talking… well, it was very one-sided…"
Heath gave a light chuckle, which caught Florina off-guard. She stared, and soon realised what had happened. She gave a small smile.
"When I came of age, I enlisted. I wanted… to be strong… I took Huey with me, and we trained together."
"Hmmm. You're stronger than you think."
"What?" she exclaimed.
"You coped with the death of your parents well."
"Oh no I didn't! I cried and cried for weeks-!"
"But you coped," he interjected. "You coped with it, as I did with my father's death. For you it was worse, you lost both your parents! Even with that, you survived all on your own. You continued, and your followed your dreams anyway! That's remarkable."
"I suppose… you're right."
"…You are stronger than you think. You haven't stammered for a long while now."
"Eh? Umm…" He was right.
He suggested, "Maybe our friendship is doing you good."
Yes. Being… friends. She liked that.
And Pent asked, "So… what are your thoughts of your tactician?"
"Andur? Well, he seemed a nice guy when I met him. Eliwood spoke highly of him, and I'm not one to doubt his word. I was ready to kill him after he told us about his business with the Taliver, but to see Lyn defending him like that… I stayed my hand. And I'm glad I did! And I'm angry, that you didn't."
"Haw! You wanna know about him? I'll tell you what I know. I know that he's a dangerous sort, maybe a bit crazy in the head. But he's got a good heart, he has. I'd like to have him come exploring with me after this is all over; he's mad enough. Don't think he would though."
"I have little negative to say about that young man. …He's how old? He certainly doesn't look it. Hmmm. Maybe if I… No. Business later. I haven't talked to him all that much, but from what I've heard, and I do hear a lot, that he's generally well respected in this group. Many would follow him to their deaths. That is the kind of loyalty which makes me sure me and my wares are in safe hands with these fellows! By the way, I heard you were interested in ancient Etrurian pottery? I have just the right—h-hey!"
We'd passed Bern's borders before I had realised. I didn't notice any guards… it was very strange. Usually, Bern was guarded by troops all around the border. Something very important must be happening if the border was left undefended. Using what little knowledge I had of Bern, I could tell we were close to some of the outlying villages, small agricultural areas that produce a large quantity of food, for both Bern and for trade with Ilia.
I stood apart from the others on the windswept fields, and if I were simply travelling, I would be calm. Unfortunately, I had no idea what to expect. Nergal could have staged a coup by now, and taken Bern under his control. Elimine help us if that were the case. I didn't bother making a strategy for victory in that possibility, as there would be no chance of winning. I was considering other possible situations when I heard footfall behind me.
I turned to see Count Reglay making his way toward me, a grim look in his face. I had had enough of his company of late, as all he saw fit to do with me was torment me. I was going to send him away, but he spoke first.
"I thought about what you said."
"Hm?" That piqued my curiosity. Was he finally becoming open-minded?
With a heavy voice he continued, "You were right. I hadn't investigated further. I decided to do so."
With interest building I asked, "How so?"
"I interviewed everyone here and heard their opinions and what knowledge they had relating to you."
"No one lied. Some of them were uncooperative. I do not believe I have made a good impression of myself on your group. First impressions are the most important, and I have made a bad one." He sighed. "Those who knew of your past were tolerant, and most were of the belief that despite those actions, you were as good as any of them. Those who didn't know said much the same about their faith in you. They all have faith in you." He gave an unreadable look into my eyes as he said, "You've made loyal allies here."
I was both welcoming and dreading his conclusion.
"I have decided… I won't bring you back to Etruria. I won't force you."
I breathed a sigh of relief.
"Let me finish!" he interrupted, "I still don't trust you. You have to show me what makes them trust you so. I will aid your group as much as I can, and I will follow your orders, but know that I do not trust you… yet. I won't be able to see you in action yet, as I must go to the capitol."
"I am going to try to discover information about the Shrine of Seals. I am meeting with Queen Hellene before the coming-of-age ceremony of the Prince."
"Is that why there are no troops out this far? They're guarding the capitol? This would have been useful information, Count. I have to know these things."
"I apologise. I shall make sure to keep you aware of all important details."
I said with a smile, "That… means a lot to me. So why are you meeting with the Queen? I'm not sure if foreign lords are allowed at such important ceremonies."
"Louise is distantly related to her, and that gives us permission. I will see what I can gather about the Shrine from the Queen. I will soon return, and then I'll be back to keeping an eye on you. Keep that in your mind." He walked away swiftly, and I turned back to view the horizon.
It was some time before I was approached again. We were nearby a small settlement, but not close enough to alert the people there to our presence. I saw the three lords, Ninian, and the Hurricane, Legault, conversing as they made a gentle walk toward me. What was amusing was the fact that all three lords were wearing massive brown cloaks to conceal their armour and weapons. Hector failed at this miserably, as the cloak strained to fit around his colossal plate armour. I couldn't help but laugh. Sadly for me, this attracted his attention.
"Hey, what's so funny?" he shouted.
"Bwahahh… you, my lord! Ha haha hah! That is the worst disguise I've ever seen! Ha hah…" I calmed down when Hector started staring daggers. "Look Hector, that cloak really won't hide the fact that you're wearing more metal than there is in the whole village! It's ridiculous! Well, Eliwood pulls it off, and Lyn, while that really isn't your colour…" She shot me an unpleasant look that told me to stop talking.
Eliwood wisely spoke before Hector could lodge the Wolf Beil in my cranium. "The army is restless. It's hard just waiting here. Legault gave us a solution. Legault?"
"Of course." He gave a curt bow. "Mister Andur, I know that the Black Fang's headquarters are here in Bern. I know not where, but people here know of the old Fang, and may have information that may be of benefit to us."
"Excellent!" My mind was flooding with ideas. "If we can discover its location… we can attack them! This is most excellent!" I was visibly ecstatic, and I'm sure they realised it. "Well? I assume the idea is an information-gathering mission! Go, go!"
"Then it's settled." Eliwood ordered, "Let's split up and go. Try to blend in."
"We'd better be careful," warned Hector.
With an impish smirk Lyn replied, "Especially you, Hector."
"What!?" She ran toward the village, with Hector in hot pursuit. "Get back here!"
Eliwood moved away with Ninian in tow, Legault in another direction, and Hector and Lyn were well into the distance. I ran after Legault. I had something of importance to discuss with him.
Looking back to the fleeing Sacaen and his enraged friend, Eliwood couldn't help but have a quick laugh. "Ah, those two. I can't tell if they're friends or not."
'Apparently,' Ninian mused, 'laughter is contagious.' She laughed along with him, but for other reasons.
"Ninian? Was it that amusing?" he queried. His voice was just as light was earlier, so she knew he wasn't mad.
"It's just…" She tried to explain while calming down, "Listen to you grumble, Lord Eliwood! You sound like their chaperone!"
"Really?" he chortled. "Is that what it sounds like to you?" She nodded, still laughing. "That's great …" he moaned. She only laughed harder. A sudden thought came to his mind. "…I like it when you laugh."
'Maybe I shouldn't have been so forward…' he quickly thought. "Nothing," he lied. Quickly diverting her attention he exclaimed, "Come on! Let's go!" With that he broke into a run, Ninian hanging on to his arm for dear life.
"Hold on Legault!"
Without stopping or turning round he thought out loud, "Hm? My my my, I seem to be popular at the moment. Everyone wants to talk to me!"
"Why aren't you dead?"
Legault raised an eyebrow, which was the most surprised expression I've ever seen from him. He smirked, "How direct! It is a shame I am unable to answer, as I must have context."
I'd had it with this evasive talk. "Your battle in the underground labyrinth. The one where you saved Priscilla's life."
"Only so she could die later, noble tactician. It wasn't the best start to my new heroic streak."
"Look, stop those thoughts right now. You did good, and that's the end of it!"
"Hmm. Very well," he beamed. "Mayhaps I shall be more successful in the future."
"What I want to know is how did you survive? You were badly wounded, and when you were found, not all the bodies there had been killed by you. Unless you were able to cut people in half with those daggers of yours…"
"Sadly, they are too short for be the source of such injuries."
"So who saved you? No one in the group has said they did. Do you still have allies in the Black Fang? Are we being followed?"
"For the first question, no, I don't believe so. And as for the second," he answered, "no, none following us that I know of. But, there was something I saw before I fell unconscious."
"What did you see then?"
He stopped and looked down in thought. "Ah… it was a sword. The blade was curved at the end, only slightly though. Much like the sword your lady carries. It wasn't hers; the grip and the hilt were different. I can't remember the shape, but the grip was all red… and the blade… there was something different about it's colour as well… I don't recall what."
"Hmm. Doesn't sound like anyone in the Elite," I remarked. With my attention focused on Legault, I almost missed something. I saw something in the distance, far ahead. A movement, nothing natural. It was quick, fast. Like a scout… "Legault?"
"What is it?"
I felt the chill of the wind, and the moisture in the air. I sniffed the air to make sure. "There's a fog rolling in… Alert the others. I think we're about to be attacked."
The first point Eliwood realised something was wrong was when he saw a flicker of shadow above him. There wasn't a cloud in the sky. Swiftly drawing his rapier his eyes swept around for any enemies. He only saw them as they leapt out of the air, daggers ready to strike. "Get behind me!" he cried to Ninian, whose very presence was granting him resolve. He parried seven, eight, nine strikes that would have ended him otherwise. Thrusting at whatever he could see, he felled few and received many scrapes from unseen foes. They were too fast.
"Hurricane!" one fearfully cried. Eliwood swerved to his now still assailants, whom were all glaring at the newcomer.
"Hello there. It seems the house needs cleaning once more. I'm here for all of you," Legault calmly stated. "It appears I must test my heroic tendencies once more."
"All of us? You can't take us all!" boldly claimed another of the assassins.
Legault's response was a throwing knife to the neck.
Lyn and Hector were still running, but this time from a swarm of foes chasing them with murderous intent. The grassy plains had no hiding place, no features to even the odds and they knew it. The only thing they had was the thick fog, but the assassins were faster and had sharper vision. Lyn's eyes scanned the area and they fixed on a lone hut to the east, just within sight through the fog. "Hector! This way! We can make a stand there!" she called, and bolted toward it. She was fighting the pain; her legs weren't ready for this strain. They were still healing. She bit down and endured it.
Hector clanked behind her; he was nowhere near as fast as her, especially due to his heavy armour. He knew a battle against assassins the armour would be next to no help. Assassins knew where to strike, where the weak points are in any defence. She entered the hut first, and Hector ran faster, looking back to see the enemies coming out of the fog, gaining on him rapidly.
Storming into the building, Lyn slammed the door behind him. She started frantically moving furniture in front of the door and windows. Hector looked around for anything heavy to help, but little was heavy enough. On a second look, Hector found a chest, and picked it up. His grip wasn't good and he fumbled. It opened up, spilling its contents over the floor. Hearing the clunk of wood on wood, Hector looked at what he'd discovered. "Hey Lyn! Can you wield this?" he shouted, picking up the steel-reinforced bow and a quiver of arrows.
"It's been a while… I haven't used one since I was a child…" She took it from him, and pulled it to re-familiarise herself with the weapon. "I think I might be able to."
"Then shoot any that try to break through our barricades! I'll cut down any that get in!"
Lyn slung the quiver over her shoulder, and like a novice she faltered and the arrow slipped from her fingers. "Arrghh!" She tried again, and this time she let go too early, and the arrow slumped forward in a pathetic downward arc. "By Mother Earth and Father Sky, I will get this right!" She notched another arrow, and using all her strength, she pulled the bowstring taut. Focusing her eyesight on a single point, she released the bowstring. The arrow shot past Hector and straight out the window into the face of an oncoming enemy. She smiled and whispered to herself, "See that, father? I did it after all. I shouldn't have given up so easily back then." She readied her new bow again, and waited for the enemy.
She fired again as a powerful dagger strike smashed the door to pieces.
A growl. "Not again!" Clank. Clank. "This is the seventy-fifth time!" He scratched his head in frustration. "I could have sworn Caelin was in this direction!" He looked around, seeing nothing but the blanket of white obscuring the area. He growled again.
A thunk and a scream that sounded of death broke him from his vexation. "Screams? Someone's in trouble!"
A man in dark garb all over him appeared out of the fog, screaming curses. The man in armour quickly thrust his lance out, stopping the attacker in his tracks. "A sneak attack!" He charged forward, throwing the corpse off his spear. "You cowards, waiting there in the fog! My name is Wallace! The boldest knight in all Caelin!" With a small voice he admitted, "Wherever it is…"
He could see a small hut surrounded by more dark-clothed people trying to break in. Wallace figured that there was some rescuing to be doing. "If you're not afraid to die, show yourselves!" he boomed, throwing himself into the fray. Parrying several blows with the shaft of his spear, the mighty general threw them off with a wave of his arm, running several through and moving to the next. Many, seeing their comrades' plight, moved away from the hut and toward their new foe.
An axe came out through the door, shoving several men away from the entrance, and arrows came from within the structure, felling even more. Wallace moved to bolster their defences, moving into range of the axe, calling, "Do you need the assistance of an old knight like me?"
"It would be welcome, Sir Wallace!" It came from a voice he hadn't heard in over two years, and certainly hadn't expected. Maybe he was closer to Caelin than he thought.
'Moving unseen is so much easier when everyone is blind,' thought Matthew. Granted, he was blinded too, nevertheless he had a good enough memory to know where he was in relation to the army, who had requested he gather intelligence before they moved on the enemy.
Moving over hills and rocky areas to evade direct combat, he still met several opponents and dispatched them in a particularly bloody and silent fashion. That is why he always wore red. Creeping up the hill, he could hear someone shouting orders to others he could hardly see. He heard many swift footsteps, none moving in his direction. He drew closer, hugging the rocks to conceal himself further.
Coming into view was a man who stood tall with the manner of a leader. He was the one shouting orders to his troops, a man in black and green, with dusty brown unkempt hair and a well-trimmed goatee. One called him Lloyd. Matthew figured he had got all the information he wanted, and made his way back to the army, with directions to where the enemy leader was.
Lost and leaderless, the Fang assassins should quickly falter. Matthew only hoped they weren't as independent as he was.
Scampering into a small building just outside the northern village, the girl with hair of green and robes of dark purple just left brother Lloyd to meet with her fellow Fang member, Jaffar. Her expression was one of brightness and laughter, as she was glad to be doing her duty to the Fang. Her mother would be pleased to see she was being loyal and succeeding in her duties! The message she had to deliver was of the utmost importance to her mother! Looking around the bare single room she said to herself, "Let's see…I'm sure this is the place, but… I guess he's not here yet." Her voice was unlike those of the majority of her comrades. Hers was a youthful one, with light tones and not a hint of malice.
For a while she sat there, just thinking. She started remembering good times, like when Linus decided to try and sneak up on Lloyd just before a sparring match, and how he'd fallen flat on his face after Lloyd tripped him without even looking at him! Oh, how she laughed that day as Linus tried to get even all day!
Soon she grew bored, and mumbled a Fire spell from a tome (not that she knew how to read it anyway, but she found that even though she'd memorised how to do it, the tome was still needed) and set the fire under the chimney alight. Soon it was toasty warm, and she decided to see if he was coming. The girl looked out the window.
'Fog's thick today! It's perfect weather for taking on evildoers! Yet here I am again, running errands… I wish I were more worthy, so that I could help out in battle.' She thought back to her mother's words, as she claimed that there was almost no use for her. She'd do better, she'd exceed her expectations and go out with her brothers and uncle Legault and fight for the good of the people!
A tap on the shoulder. "Waah!" She spun around, spell book in hand, anticipating an attack. A presence was behind her. She let out a sigh of relief; He was easily recognisable, dressed in a sleeveless brown shirt, reaching up to over his forehead, and red hair appearing over the top. A tattoo of a stylised dagger on each arm… definitely Jaffar. "Don't… don't scare me like that Jaffar. What's wrong? You're never late for anything."
He tonelessly stated, "…My last job took longer than expected." He winced when he said it, as if in great pain, but he quashed any such indications as soon as they arose. They were irrelevant in his mind. Distractions from his mission.
"What? There are things that can slow you down?" she asked in wonder. "I would never have expected that."
Mission. "…If you have my next mission… let me hear it."
"Oh right. Mother gave this to me…" she said, slipping a hand inside her satchel for the letter. However, a dripping sound caught her attention, and she started looking for the source. The young woman eventually placed her eyes onto Jaffar's gut, which she discovered was the source of the bleeding.
"Huh?" She gave a horrified shriek and desperately cried, "Wha-what happened! You're covered in blood!" His torso was drenched, with vitae spilling onto the tiled floor in small, crimson trickles.
"…It's just a scratch. Pay it no heed…" Mission. Why wasn't she giving him his mission?
"Scratches don't bleed like that!" she protested. "Let me see!" She yanked his arm away from his gut, and saw two deep cuts, seeping blood.
"Forget it. Next target… hurry…" Why was she acting this way? What was her objective? He lost control of his body. He fell backward, and Nino tried to catch him. She was just a girl; she couldn't cope with his weight. She heard a sickening crack as his head hit the floor.
"Jaffar!" she cried, as he began to fade into unconsciousness.
As he fell into darkness, he wondered what that unusual sensation was that crept into his mind. It was not normal. It was not the mission. Was it…?
"Come on, wake… Wake up!" No matter what she did, he wouldn't rise. Blood kept trickling out of his body, and she panicked. "What should I do?" She sat as he was dying, as she tried to recall anything that could help her. She'd watched the priests at the Fang headquarters many times… she surely could remember something like this they dealt with… she had to.
Matthew's information had been accurate enough. The Elite was able to move in range of the Fang's commander here, and a fierce battle raged over the hills as they fought to get closer.
I arrived in the midst of this.
I had been waylaid by many attackers, and I'd evaded them for a good while by hiding in the nearby village. The people there defended me, lied that I hadn't been there. I asked them why, and I heard things that made me question.
"To us, the Black Fang were heroes. It matters not what others said. That's what makes it so hard... Why did they have to change?"
"The one they call the Mad Dog is a great man. When I was attacked by bandits, he rescued me."
"The White Wolf... a courageous and upstanding person. He and the Fang have protected the villages from those who would prey on us in the past."
I questioned the morality of what I was doing. The Fang were heroes… They were good people. Not innocent certainly, but still good. I loathed Nergal then. I wanted to thrust my sword into his head and watch it burst. I was unwittingly killing those who didn't deserve it again. Nergal was forcing good to fight itself through deception and manipulation. He'd done something to the Black Fang making them fight us under false pretences. It was the only option other than brainwashing the whole organisation, which was close to impossible.
I wouldn't let this battle end in death. It would be too tragic. Maybe… we could… be allies.
Hobbling into battle with my leg wound, I tried to keep away from battle as much as I could while making my way toward the Lords, who were surging forward toward a singular man, being defended by a whole group of Fang soldiers. He must have been the leader here. I had heard whispers in the community that the White Wolf, one of the Four Fangs (some kind of elite assassin group within the Fang) was present for the battle. That must be him.
I went as fast as I could toward that man, maybe this could end peacefully. I just had to… get there… Hector broke through the White Wolf's guards, with Eliwood and Lowen moving in to keep their wrath from falling upon the Ostian lord while he assaulted their leader. The White Wolf was an excellent fighter, blocking and returning every attack Hector made. He could hold Hector off until I arrived.
If he hadn't stumbled.
His sword missed, swiped wide, and Hector had an opening. He pressed his advantage, and raised the Wolf Beil for a decisive strike. I was too far; the battle was too loud; I could not shout. I could not reach him.
It resonated through my mind, and I felt… something creep around my perceptions. It was cold… like it was nothing. It sucked all colour inside, and I felt my body move. It ran. I felt no pain; my injury was not stopping me. I must stop him. No one else will die needlessly.
My mind raced, I had no idea what was happening. I saw how fast I was moving… surely this wasn't possible. My eyes darted around for any clues… I glanced something black in the corner of my eye… no matter where I looked it remained in the corner… I was still running.
I drew my sword…
I suppressed a terrible urge… unthinkable…
I was so close now… the axe was descending…
I swung with all my might… and stopped the axe.
My voice thundered throughout the battlefield, "Stooooooop!"
Silence fell across the land. Swords remained at the sides of their wielders. All was still.
"Are you mad!?" seethed Hector. "Why did you stop me!? Why are you helping the enemy!?"
"Because Hector," I spat, "They aren't the enemy! The Black Fang are a victim in all this! They have been deceived!"
Now the White Wolf was on his feet, but I didn't fear. If he were good, as I believed, I would have nothing to fear. He wouldn't betray someone who just saved his life. "Hold on! Just what is going on here!?" he demanded.
"White Wolf…" I began, "If you would call a temporary ceasefire and meet with me and my lords, I will explain everything."
He looked at me, scrutinising every detail. He paused. "…Agreed. I insist that two of my group accompany me-"
"In case of treachery, of course. I agree." He walked to two of the Fang, and gave orders.
Tired, I fell to the ground, and breathed a sigh of exhaustion. I was overjoyed that I was able to end the battle peacefully… for now. Except, deeper down, I was scared. '…What happened to me? How did I move that fast? What was that, powering me? Driving me? That impulse I had, right at the end. Why… why did I want to kill Hector?'
The sky turned black with soot and dust, the rivers set aflame, and all the life of the world seemed to whither and die. A shadow danced in front of my vision, and I tried to follow it. Tracking it through the scarred and burnt woodland I came to a small encampment in a glade where all the plant life had long died, but was seemingly untouched by whatever fire had ravaged this place. Ahead in the camp I saw a glint of shining steel. I moved closer to get a better look, but I hit my foot against something hard sticking out of the ground. I looked down at the stone slab, and saw it was a gravestone. Moss caked the carved words, so I rubbed it all off with my cloak.
Stumbling back in horror, I saw that the grave was my own.