Chapter 73: The Elimineans of Etruria

(Quick Author's Note: In the last section of this chapter, please listen to the 3rd ending song of Legend of the Galactic Heroes, Kansei no Uta: w ww . you tube dot com / watch?v=sJ0oKYZ9XQA#t=74 – remove all the spaces, of course)

It had been many, many years since Renault had last seen his homeland. If he had said he'd felt nothing at all, he would be lying—there were very many memories for him in Etruria. Far more than any other country on Elibe; not only was it where he'd been born and raised, but it was where he'd met Braddock, killed his first man, had his first kiss…to return again after so many years certainly did evoke many conflicting emotions. Nostalgia for his old friends, sorrow for their passing, embarrassment at how immature and foolish he'd been in those old days, and determination not to repeat his old mistakes.

He wasn't as overwhelmed by those feelings as much as one might expect, though. Varek certainly noticed the troubled expression on his face as they stepped onto the dock in the Etrurian port town of Nessos on the 30th Horse, 973, and thought he might have been. When the question was raised, though, Renault shook his head.

"It's not that I feel nothing, but…well, there's no point lying to you, is there? I wonder if I don't feel as much as I should."

"Well, the heart isn't something a man can easily control, and it's not something he can be blamed for either—in and of itself, at least."

"Th…thank you. It's that…all the emotions I feel, looking at my homeland…none of them are as strong as they should be. I know I was born here, and I remember…everything else. The good and bad. But it's as if…all those memories belong to someone else. They make me feel something…many things…but not as strongly as if I experienced them all myself. It's more like I'm having…empathy for a friend, rather than myself. At least…that's the best way I could put it."

"Hmm." Varek stroked his greying beard thoughtfully. "Certainly not somethin' I hear every day, but…I don't think it's a bad thing. In fact, it may be a sign of progress."

"What do you mean?"

"All the things that happened to you…Events like those always leave wounds on a man's heart, Renault. And you've been given a lot of them—though not nearly as many as you've given the world, don't ever forget that! But for the past few decades, you've been healing the wounds you caused…to the extent y' can, at least. And in the process of doing so, I think you've healed the wounds you bear. If they were still fresh, like they were when we first met, you'd be so overwhelmed by emotion you'd barely be able to stand! But if they no longer seem as strong, as immediate…well, maybe the wounds in your heart've scarred over. They'll remain with you always, no doubt about that, but at least they can't cripple you."

"I see. Varek…thank you."

"Well, enough o' my ramblin'," the ex-hermit grumbled. "We've got…"

"A job to do," Renault finished for him. "…Respectfully, I think we ought to go to Aquleia first. There is no way Juge would have overlooked the capital's great libraries in his quest for knowledge. We'd surely find trace of him there."

"Aye, lad, I was thinking the exact same thing. But, ah…"

"Eh? What is it?"

"Well…if we're goin' to Aquleia, would you mind if we took a little detour before continuing our quest for Juge?"

"…Of course not. Though, given that I'm your disciple, I have no room to mind any of your decisions…"

A small grin. "Hmph, well, I certainly can't fault your devotion, lad. In any case, it's not as if we'll be going far. The Tower of the Saint is just on the outskirts of the capital."

"The Tower of the Saint?"

"Aye. I'm ashamed to say it, but I've never once made pilgrimage to our religion's holiest site. It's an omission I ought to correct, especially while I still can. I'm not growin' any younger, after all."

He was not, and that thought sent a shudder of sadness and dread rolling through Renault's chest. He may not have aged, but he was not so oblivious as to fail to notice other people doing so, and he knew very well that Varek would very likely take his last breaths far before Renault. But to the disciple's credit, he spent little time on this grim train of thought, and did not worry his master with any outward expression of discomfort. Instead, he simply nodded his assent. And thus did the two of them make their way through the port town—not so different from the one they'd arrived from in Ilia, or the many others Renault had encountered in his travels—to find a caravan heading southwest.

-x-

As had been the case with several other places he'd visited, Aquleia had changed little since Renault had been here—though that was because he'd last seen the city twenty years ago rather than two hundred. Its cathedrals and libraries were as grand as ever, the Holy Royal Palace as glorious as it had always been, though of course not all was well in the city. The slums on its outskirts still existed, and though they were out of sight when Renault's caravan passed through the opaline city gates, he still felt a rush of shame when he remembered that the last (and most grievous) crime in his life, the murder of his old friend Lucian, had been committed in those slums.

Yet it was as Varek said-he still felt the shame, and deeply, but memories alone were not enough to overwhelm him with the emotion; though if he were ever to encounter the victims he had left behind to deal with Lucian's death, he doubted he could maintain such a calm demeanor. But as Varek wasn't dwelling on it, he wouldn't either. Once they were inside, they thanked the friendly travelers who had taken them along, and then made their way to the other side of the grand city through its winding streets, where, even before they had reached the other gates, they could see their destination standing tall in the sky, towering over the rest of Aquleia, and pretty much everything else, to boot.

The Tower of the Saint was, without a doubt, the largest edifice Renault had ever seen in his more than two hundred years of life. He'd caught a glimpse of it on his previous visits to this city, but had never come very close to it, much less for pilgrimage, and when he and Varek exited the city walls (on the northwestern side, this time) and neared the Tower just a half a mile outside, he found himself far more impressed with it than he ever thought he would be.

Even calling it "large" or "tall" would have been an understatement. In front of the tower sat a huge, circular hall—the Grand Narthex, as it was called—which could easily seat over a thousand people, but even that was nothing compared to the Tower itself. It was a perfect cylinder made of what was apparently pure gold that seemed to glimmer in the sun, and it stood three miles into the air, so tall that its tip could not be seen over the clouds. There was no way humans or even Dragons could build something that big, much less keep it upright, but somehow it stood, as it had for nearly a thousand years.

Despite everything that had happened to him, Renault was still not entirely certain if his faith was true. But looking at that mighty tower, he found his doubts were no longer as solid as they had once been.

Varek seemed to be as impressed as Renault was; in fact, perhaps even more overwhelmed. "Ah, blessed Saint Elimine…the God we worship is great indeed." He got down to his knees on the grass beside the road, and Renault did the same. Together, they began to pray, their hands threading through the beads of their rosaries as they mouthed the chants. It was early in the morning, and they were actually the only two pilgrims in the immediate area. It was not long, however, before they found themselves with a companion.

They heard his approach before they saw him. The opaline gates to Aquleia opened, and out came a group of extremely important-looking men. A column of twenty Paladins, all in opulent golden armor and equipped with Silver weaponry, sat astride strong white destriers surrounding an equally opulent carriage, also rimmed with gold and with golden spokes on its wheels, topped off by a grand icon of Elimine.

"An Archbishop!" Vare gasped. "Renault, keep your head down and pay your respects. Whenever they leave their cathedrals, Archbishops often visit the Tower of the Saint to make pilgrimage, like they do. But they're the only ones allowed to see its interior!"

Renault full well knew the respect that ought to be accorded to one of the leaders of his church, so as Varek requested, he remained in his kneeling position, head bowed along the side of the road. But, curiously enough, this display caught the attention of the man they thought was too far above them to notice.

The procession ground to a halt as it neared the two pilgrims. Renault's curiosity overcame his self-control, and he opened his eyes a crack to see that the Archbishop's carriage had stopped right in front of him—and the Archbishop himself had stepped out!

"Raise your eyes, my brothers," smiled the Archbishop, an elderly man with a bushy gray beard and jovial green eyes. "Be he high or low in our church, an Eliminean is always gladdened to see one of his own. I am Deasus, and it does my heart good to see the work of God inspires others as it does me. What are your names, friends?"

"You do us honor beyond words, most holy Deasus," said the kneeling ex-hermit. "My name is Varek, and this is my disciple, Renault."

"Varek?" asked the Archbishop. "You mean you're Varek? Bramimond's Hermit?"

He shifted uncomfortably. "Eh, well, yes, that would be me…"

"It is an honor, your holiness!" To Renault's astonishment, and the obvious astonishment of Deasus' retinue, he performed the sign of the Church, tracing a circle over his chest and then slashing down with his right index finger, before genuflecting before Varek. "My fellow Archbishops have spoken of your piety and virtue. Would you like to enter the tower? I am on a pilgrimage there myself, and would be grateful beyond words if you would accompany me. If you are journeying here, God and His Saint would most certainly want you to experience what lies inside this most holy of sanctums. It is only fitting, for you are one of the holiest men of our faith!"

Varek turned almost sheet white. "Your Excellency, I…I can't! Only the Bishops and great nobles of the land are even allowed into the Narthex, much less the Tower itself! I can't possibly ask you to do something like that just on my behalf!"

"Nonsense! I am a servant of the servants of God, and you are one of His most devoted servants. From all across the land—Bern, Etruria, even Sacae and Ilia—I have received missives from my bishops praising your wisdom and faith. To briefly bask in the radiance of our Saint's relics is an honor you have more than earned!" Deasus nodded to Renault. "And you as well, sir Renault. I know not from whence you came, but I have also heard that you have been a devoted friend and servant to Varek and a quiet, solid worker for our faith in your own right. As Varek shares this glory, so may you as well."

"I…" Renault didn't quite know what to say, and ordinarily he would have declined the honor as fervently as he could, but he did not want to be separated from Varek under any circumstances. "I…I am Varek's disciple. Where he goes, I will go."

"…if you'd do me the honor, Your Excellency," Varek said, "I accept. I wanted to see the Tower itself while I was still able, but to see its interior before I die…God has truly blessed me this day."

"And I as well, friend," said the great Archbishop. He gestured to his retinue, impressive Generals and Paladins all clad in the finest gold armor. "Open the door to the Narthex, brothers, so that we may show our respect to the might of our Lord."

The great double doors swung open, and Renault, Varek, Deasus, and the Paladins entered.

The interior of the place was as grand as the exterior. Every inch of it, from the humongous columns to the thousand beautiful thrones for visitors, seemed to be made of solid gold, including the ceiling, which had every word of the Journey inscribed painstakingly into each golden block. Yet, despite all this ostentatious beauty, it was really nothing more than a meeting room, a place to hold events such as the Grand Synods described in 950 Years of Light. The true purpose of the great tower lay behind the small single door behind the 8 thrones of the Archbishops at the far end of the chamber.

The dismounted Paladins who guarded them were all pious men, and got on their knees and bowed as Varek, Renault, and Deasus entered that door. This was, after all, the holiest sanctum in all of Elibe, and it was very well guarded-though not by human hands, as Renault and Varek would soon see.

Inside the door, the Tower of the Saint itself seemed to be…a regular tower, albeit a very, very large one. Everything was still gold, but around the circumference of the building there was wrapped a spiral staircase leading upwards. It would be a three mile march upstairs, and there mere thought of it was enough to make Renault feel exhausted, but fortunately, they wouldn't have to make the journey by foot. In the center of the room was a magic circle, similar to that present the Shrine of Seals, though the runic designs looked more similar to those found within Light magic tomes than the Dark runes of Bramimond's abode. The three of them stood in its center, and a few words from Deasus sent them soaring upwards in a funnel of bright white light.

In a moment they had arrived at the Tower's pinnacle, and Renault found himself glad he no longer really had a human stomach. He and his companions were standing directly in front of the end of the massive spiral staircase, which opened into the large room which comprised the tower's top.

Everything was still bright gold, and glowing very softly, too. In front of them was a large staircase leading upwards to the sixth-last floor, flanked by a quartet of huge columns. All across the walls there were windows with bright aquamarine-colored glass, and from those windows Renault could see the clouds below him. It would have given him vertigo if he was still capable of it.

"Be very careful," said Deasus sternly, after Renault and Varek had composed themselves. "While we are in the pinnacle, trace my steps exactly. The walls here produce magical arrows meant to pierce through any thieves or blasphemers who trespass into this tower. If you don't want to be hurt by these Heavenly Arrows, do not take a step from the path I will lead!"

They obviously had little trouble believing him, and did as he commanded. Up the first staircase they went, pausing when he did (and watching bright flashes of light pass by them when he did so—the Arrows, they surmised) before coming to the next, which were a pair of narrower ones now. They made their way through a winding hallway to the next set of stairs, which were flanked by columns which had streaks of beautiful turquoise running through their vertical lengths. Upon two more of those staircases with the columns, up another larger staircase, when at last, they came to the object of their quest—the incomparable Throne of Elimine.

It did not seem like much, especially when compared to the rest of the Tower. It was gold and had a bright red back and seat, but beyond that it was little different than the thrones Renault had seen all over Elibe. What really made it magnificent was lay upon it…or rather, over it.

Floating in the air, ensconced in white light, was the holy tome Aureola. It was the first time Renault had ever seen one of the Divine Weapons, and it did not disappoint. The tome itself was about the same size as all the other magic tomes he had encountered, and was colored the same as well; primarily gold and white. But the designs weaving across the Aureola tome were truly unique. The tome glowed, brighter than anything else, including the tower itself, and the white and gold symbols on its face (a great star framed by white light) pulsed, indicating they weren't mundane gilding but actual representations of the radiant power contained within the tome.

"This is the fifth time I have been here, but I never fail to be amazed," said Deasus reverently. "It is on this throne that Elimine sat when God returned her to His side. She never died—there is no trace of her there except for her tome, an everlasting symbol of the power of faith." Deasus genuflected again before the book, and then knelt, his head touching the ground. "Oh, blessed Saint, I may be an Archbishop, but I am nothing in the face of your virtue and our God's beneficence. I pray only that you give me the wisdom to lead your flock to prosperity and virtue, and show them a proper example so we may all better serve our Lord."

Varek had done the same, and there were tears in his eyes—it was, in fact, the very first time Renault had seen him cry. And it was not at all something he could fault the former hermit for; considering how important religion was to him, to have been given the opportunity to see the greatest emblem of his faith in person would have been emotionally overwhelming for him, and he said as much in his own prayer.

"Oh, Lord," he said in a trembling voice, "I've lived a thoughtless life. I killed, I stole, and I committed many sins without knowing what I was doing, in the name of greed and spite, following orders mindlessly. But here I am now, with the honor of having seen the very tome with which Your servant Elimine saved the human race. I'm unworthy of your mercy and grace, but you've given it to me anyways. And I swear I'll do everything I can t' repay it, with however much time I have left."

Renault, for his part, wasn't as moved personally as either of those two men. But there was a part of his soul—and he believed he had such a thing now, truly—that was touched by the soothing holiness of the tome in front of him. And more than that, he was convinced, upon watching it, that it was more than coincidence or the whims fate that brought him here. For the first time in his life, he felt as if something was driving him forward, that all that had happened to him, at least since he'd met Bramimond, had happened for a reason, and that however strange his life may have been at this point, he yet had a part to play, and would see it through, wherever it took him. In short, something called destiny.

And with that knowledge, he said a prayer of his own-too quietly for his companions to hear, though they were too engrossed in their own thoughts to hear him, anyways.

"I…I am still not sure if you exist, God of Elimine. There is no mention of Morphs, of men with souls in phylacteries, in your Journey. But I know what did exist…my friend Braddock, and his love for me. I know I stained that love with the thoughtless life I once led, and I will do anything…anything… to remove those stains, and to at last honor his memory instead of tarnishing it. For that reason I joined Your church…

"And I think it has allowed me to…find myself. I may not know the truth of Your teachings, but I know I am on the right path, as strange as it may be. And so I pray for one thing: That I am allowed to continue this path for as long as it takes for me to finally repay Braddock for everything…to make up for all the crimes I committed against his memory…and to repay him for everything he did for me when he was alive."

With those words, the Tower of the Saint fell silent again, utterly silent. The three of them sat kneeling there for several more minutes, each of them quietly contemplating what their faith meant to them personally. And astonishingly—for Renault, who had no idea a tome could do such a thing, it was the tome itself that determined when they should leave.

He was almost broken out of his reverie when the glow surrounding Aureola began to intensify. But before he could say or do anything, it had brightened into a strong white light that enveloped the three of them, returning them back to the very first floor of the tower.

"H-huh?" he stammered, forgetting his composure. "What…"

This was not the first time this had happened to Deasus, and it seemed Varek had been expecting it. "That is the power of Aureola," said the Archbishop. "Of all the Divine Weapons, really. They have wills of their own, and can sometimes act through those who wield them, or even those who respect them, like the three of us. When the Tome feels it has received the proper genuflection, it knows it is time to return its parishioners back to the world."

"I…see."

"Thank you, both of you, for coming," smiled Deasus. As corrupt as some of the other Archbishops Renault had seen in the past had been, he very much got the impression that Deasus, at least, was a worthy leader. "I'm glad I was able to share this with you. The office of the Hermit of the Shrine is holy and important, and Varek deserved a chance to have some repayment after all he has done for us over the years."

"It was…it was too much," replied Varek, wiping his eyes and still visibly affected by that religious experience. "I was…am not…worthy."

"Then the wisdom you've gained from your prayers will make you so," said Deasus kindly. "And…ah! That reminds me. I know you have learned something from your prayer as well, Renault. But I have something I wish to give you personally, as well."

"…Your Excellency?" Renault bowed his head, and felt a blush creeping across his cheeks. This was definitely not something he was expecting, especially since he assumed he'd been let into the Tower itself as nothing more than a favor to the very well-respected Varek.

"Varek is not the only one I have heard good things about. Abbess Meris has written to me of the help you gave them in Diotica Abbey. Liodesus, in Ilia, has complimented your discernment and stoicism, and even passed on to me a letter from Captain Cathyn—not a member of the faith, but an honest witness and respected member of her community—that you taught the people of Ilia much during the course of your sojourn there, and brought much aid to those in need. In acknowledgement of your good deeds, I bestow this upon you."

Deasus reached into a fold of his robes and pulled out a very small object—that was very powerful despite its size. Renault gasped audibly when he recognized it.

"A…Ring of Guidance? D…Your Excellency, why would you give this to me? It would mean being elevated to the rank of Bishop, and I…"

"Well, not a Bishop exactly," Deasus smiled. "Your technical rank would be a Master Mendicant, as you travel around too much to properly oversee a diocese. But this ring would symbolize, to all the world, the services you have rendered to the Church, and you'd be given the appropriate respect in return. You will also be authorized to cast spells from tomes as well as the staves you are already familiar with. If you are planning to continue your travels, it would be useful indeed for you."

"But I…I am not…"

"It's a wise decision, lad," said Varek kindly. "I know…we both know your feelings and your doubts. But consider this another step on your path." The smile hadn't disappeared from Varek's face, but his voice did change, indicating that they were now speaking of possibilities less than pleasant. "Listen, we both know this…I'm not gonna be around forever. And I don't want you to be lost without me. The extra power you'll gain from your ordination will help keep you safe when I can't watch over you."

Renault had never disobeyed a request from Varek before, and he would not start now. He got down to one knee and extended a hand to Deasus, who slipped the ring onto his index finger.

"Blessed Elimine, I beseech you, grant your humble servant a measure of your faith and wisdom. O Lord, I beg of you, watch over Renault, so he may continue in the way Your Saint has shown us."

With that, Renault's entire world turned white. It was the same sensation he'd felt so long ago, when Henken had bestowed upon him the power of a Mercenary Lord. He felt his mind and body disassociate, his entire form being destroyed and rebuilt over and over…and then, nothing. He knelt on the floor, gasping for breath, but feeling new knowledge inside his head, and new strength in his body.

Deasus was still smiling. "You yet have much to learn, my young friend, but with this new power you will find, I believe, your education to be a little easier."

"I…do not doubt that. Thank you, Your Excellency. A-and you as well, Varek. As always…"

"Don't get all sentimental on me now, Renault," came Varek's wry reply. "You'll make me start cryin' again."

Deasus couldn't help but chuckle at this. Then he asked, "So whence are you two heading now? I scarcely imagine your journey will stop here!"

"No, not at all." Varek briefly told Deasus the details of their quest and who they were searching for.

"Alas, I wish I could help you, but I've never met this Juge, nor a man of his description. I'm almost certain someone at the Royal Archives would have seen him if he passed through this country at any point."

"Indeed, we thought so too. That was our next destination."

"Then I wish you the best of luck, and may God watch over you in your quest. I actually wouldn't mind joining you—the Archives are a miracle unto themselves; it seems as if they have miles worth of bookshelves of every kind there! Such a font of knowledge…but alas, I am no longer a monastery librarian, and my duties call for me in the Western Isles. This is where we part, then. Farewell, brothers!"

And with that, they exited the tower; the guards had waited for them with seemingly preternatural patience and escorted them out of the Narthex without so much as a word. They did, though, wave back at Renault and Varek as the two of them waved at their procession to say goodbye. Both of them heaved a bit of a wistful sigh as they saw their new (and powerful) friends disappear into the distance—and then they resumed their quest, as they always did.

They first visited the Royal Archives, as Deasus had recommended, and then combed through every other library, magic shop, academy, and magician's in the city over the course of approximately six months. Juge's trail was growing even colder by this point, but had not entirely disappeared. An elderly librarian at the Archives had indeed seen Juge about twenty years ago, around 953 to be exact, but recalled only that he'd visited several others in Aquleia. So those were where they searched next.

In the process of doing so, Renault found that despite everything-praying before the divine Aureola tome, becoming a Bishop, and gaining even more power in the process—his life had not changed all that much at all.

He wore nicer clothes, now. His Bishop's robes were warmer (and afforded slightly more protection) than his former Priest's habit, though they were still nothing particularly special, and indeed, far less showy than a usual Bishop's attire would be, which suited his still-peripatetic lifestyle: A dark purple tunic under a white surplice (with dark trim), with a dark blue sash around his waist which bespoke his status as a wandering "Master Missionary" as opposed to a stationary Bishop who ran a diocese. He still wore the sturdy traveler's boots and warm cloak the women of Diotica Abbey had given him.

Beyond that, however, the basic tenor of his life remained the same—following Varek as the two of them attempted to find Juge's trail, doing odd jobs as they traveled. Of course, Varek also had to teach him the finer points of using tomes, but he caught on to that quickly enough—it wasn't so different from using staves, though the act of "aiming" light magic, as opposed to a staff's spells, was somewhat more difficult. Still, he caught on very quickly, and within a year had mastered the use of nearly every sort of Light tome. He couldn't do much damage with any of them, of course—even with the benefit of Deasus' Ring of Guidance, Renault could only draw a minimum of magical power from his being, trapped as it was in a primitive phylactery. He was somewhat grateful for that, however.

He had, after all, abjured violence, and while both he and Varek knew it was occasionally necessary, he could be quite happy if he'd be able to live out the rest of his supernaturally-extended existence without ever raising arms against another human being every again.

Unfortunately, even that wish would be denied to him. But that would come later; quite a few years later, in fact. For now, violence remained thankfully absent from Renault's life. And it would remain so, even after they left Aquleia, when a teacher at one of the larger academies (the same one at which Renault had met that Tillinghast loon, many years ago) mentioned Juge heading north, for personal reasons—he simply wanted to enjoy the scenery of this beautiful country.

And in that direction did Renault and Varek then set forth.

-X-Mother-X-

Renault's return to Thagaste did not in and of itself elicit very many emotions for him either, despite it being his very own birthplace.

Perhaps it was because the city itself had changed so much. While it had always been a busy place, during Renault's youth it was also beset by poverty and deprivation; the slums in which Lisse's old tavern had been found took up much of the city. Now, however, Thagaste seemed to be doing much better, at least as far as he could see. There were still slums, still spots of squalor and crime, but those seemed to have been contained to the outskirts of the place. Now it seemed to be filled more with plasant-looking white stone houses (most two and some even three stories high) with shingled roofs not entirely dissimilar from those common in Aquleia. While it was nowhere close to the grandeur of the capital, Thagaste had clearly grown into a mature, prosperous trading hub at the intersection of two rivers.

Some of this, certainly, had to do with the fact it had also become something of a tourist destination following the Civil War.

Renault and Varek had heard of this from the many people they'd interacted with in the year since they'd left Aquleia. As Juge had went on a sightseeing tour of northern Etruria, they'd visited many towns in the area. Austros and Nerinheit, both of which were doing well (the Lurkmire Forest had been cleared some years ago, and Nerinheit seemed to have completely recovered from the Civil War—understandably), as well as Solgrenne itself, which remained a ghost town even after hundreds of years, though Renault was very, very happy to see that there were no ghosts remaining there. Many of the people they talked to discussed many of the more notable landmarks in the region, such as Castle Jerid (which used to be Castle Nerinheit, later the infamous Fortress of Spears, which was given to Great General Jerid following the war and refurbished, with a large and bustling town growing around it, replacing Scirocco). One of the most popular, however, was the tomb of a famous Eliminean bishop interred in Thagaste.

The sepulcher of Monica the Martyr.

Renault knew the story very, very well, because he lived it: She was the Bishop of Zodian's Rest when the Civil War began, and died rather than allow some anti-religious stormtroopers to desecrate her cathedral. Her death brought the Eliminean church firmly onto the side of the Royalists and truly spelled the death knell of the rebellion.

She was also Renault's mother, but very few histories mention that she had a mercenary for a son. That would, after all, tarnish her image—though it was not something Renault could blame the chroniclers for, now. Were he in his mother's place, or writing about his mother, he would do the same.

But even though he had never loved his own flesh and blood as much as he had loved Braddock, he realized now that he had been as unkind to her as he had been to Braddock. And now, two hundred years after the fact—but better late than never—he wished to make amends, and said as much to Varek.

"You were kind enough to let me make a little detour to the Tower of the Saint a few years back, so it'd be ill of me indeed to deny you the same courtesy, lad. Besides, Juge probably came by here at some point anyways. Back in Nerinheit, they told us he went back south before heading east. It couldn't hurt to give Thagaste a look."

So on the 9th Sage, 754 A.S, they arrived, and promptly asked around for the location of Monica's resting place. Right by her former cathedral, they were told, in a special tomb that had been built just inside the sanctuary of Zodian's Rest. After the war, the Head Church of Etruria, or the Supreme Church, had recognized Monica's supreme holiness, so her remains and those of her husband had been exhumed from the catacombs and placed in their new tomb, so the faithful could easier reach it and pay their respects.

Not wishing to make a scene, Renault and Varek waited until nightfall, and then made their way to Zodian's Rest.

"Ho, who's there?" called one of the guards as they approached. "It's quite late for honest travelers, aye? And even if it wasn't, you'd have no luck. The Bishop's not in the city at the moment, but he'll be back tomorrow."

"That's fine," replied Varek. He looked at Renault, who couldn't bring himself to say anything—he was staring at the cathedral intently, the memories of his past and childhood rushing back to him, now filling him with the emotions which had previously lain dormant. "My friend wishes to make pilgrimage to Monica's tomb."

"I can understand that, but…now? We apologize for the suspicions, but…"

"That's fine." Varek gestured for Renault to step a little closer, allowing the guards to get a better look at him, and also to undo his cloak to show off what he was wearing.

"That sash and surplice…oh! You're also a Bishop?"

Technically a Master Missionary, but in terms of privileges the ranks were essentially the same. "Yes."

"Forgive our impertinence, Your Excellency! We didn't know…"

"I do not mind."

"Well, of course you can visit our honored Martyr, in that case. Sir," the guard nodded to Varek, "would you like to come as well?"

"Eh…" Varek looked at Renault. "I think my friend would rather complete his pilgrimage alone. It's…personal to him. If it wouldn't be much trouble, though, could one you lead me to the nearest inn? My eyes aren't as good as they used to be."

"It would be an honor." One of the soldiers gently took Varek's arm, while the other led Renault into the cathedral itself.

The guard seemed to want to chat amiably with his strange guest, but the expression on Renault's face told him it was pointless.

Memories were crashing around in his head, almost as frantically as they'd been when Bramimond had shown him the folly of his previous ways.

He remembered fighting Tassar within the burning tower…

Evening meals with Lisse…

Working with Henken to repair the vandalism committed on the cathedral's face…

And most of all, his mother's tearstained face as she stared at him after he'd broken her nose-for nothing more than asking him to perform the Rite of Contrition.

"…Your Excellency?" They had paused inside the cathedral, just by the altar, which was lit at night by a single candle on top of it. "Is something the matter?"

Renault shook his head. "Forgive me. Let us continue."

They passed through the large doors behind the altar and exited out into the sanctuary. It was late at night, but a full moon was out and there were many stars in the sky, so Renault had no trouble seeing everything.

The area looked mostly the same as it had in the 700s, but there was one crucial difference. Directly in front of the great tree at its center were two large stone caskets, each almost as tall as Renault. They were beautifully sculpted, with designs evoking trees and leaves carved around their lids and bases, and on top of both was etched the Sun Tower sigil of the Eliminean church.

This was what Renault had came to see.

"Do you wish to pray, Your Excellency?"

"I…I do. If you could…could you leave me? I wish to be alone for…for a little while."

"Of course, Your Excellency." The guard bowed, then slipped back into the door to the cathedral's main body, leaving Renault to his thoughts.

The new Bishop took a faltering step forward…then another, and another, until he stood in front of the coffins.

"Mo…Mother…Father…" Renault said, reaching out to touch the cold stone of Monica's tomb. He let out a sob, and then collapsed to his knees in front of it. He brought a hand to his chest and gripped the phylactery hanging from his neck, then brought it to a fold in his robes, withdrawing the small golden rosary Bishops always carried with them. He began threading its beads through his fingers, chanting the words of the prayers for forgiveness Varek had taught him, and when he had gone through all the stations, he began to mutter the words of the Rite of Contrition:

"God, my Lord, I have sinned, and now I repent…

"Mother…Father…I'm sorry. I'm so sorry. Forgive me. Please, forgive me…

"I was a terrible man, and an even worse son. Father, I spit on the faith you gave your life for. And Mother…oh, Mother…you showed me nothing but kindness, but I rejected you and offered nothing but pain in return. I failed you…failed in so many ways…

"But…" Renault smiled bitterly, "I've…done what you wanted. I accepted the faith and joined your Church…

"Two centuries after it would have done your heart any good. And even now, I am unsure if what we believe is true. But…one thing is true. I can be sincere about one thing…

"I wanted to find another path…another way to live. That's what my friend Braddock wanted…and that is what you wanted too…isn't it?

"This, then, is my repentance. With Varek at my side, I will do what I can…what little I can…to bring honor to your Church, and to give back to the world I have taken so much from. And as I do so, I can only ask…

"Forgive me…forgive me…Mother, Father, please…forgive me…"

He sobbed again, but then—

He blinked. "What…" He brought his head closer to his mother's coffin, touching his forehead to the cold stone. And then he closed his eyes.

"Tired…why?"

He couldn't help himself. He tried to raise his head, open his eyes, but to no avail. His hands slipped away as he collapsed to the ground, in a deep sleep.

Where…Mother? Is that you? Father?

There was nothing he could see anywhere around him but a dim bluish-white light. In the distance were a pair of shapes, wearing the Bishop's garb of a man and woman, respectively. He could make out his father's strong frame and his mother's teal hair.

Father! Mother! M-mom!

He called out to them, and he wasn't sure they could hear him, but they turned their faces to him. They were far away, no matter how much he tried to run towards them, but he could make out their expressions, and it seemed like they were smiling. Slightly—only slightly—but still smiling.

Their forms disappeared, fading away into the blue light that seemed to permeate everything. In their place, Renault could see one more shape. Larger than both of the previous ones, it was a silhouette he could have recognized anywhere.

It was Braddock, standing with his back to him. And he began to turn towards Renault—but before he did, he was swallowed up by the blue light, leaving only two words ringing in Renault's ears—

Keep going…

And then the light dimmed—and returned, but this time as dim sunlight.

"Hm?" Renault blinked and shook his head, then stood up. "Did I fall asleep? Was that another dream?" He looked at the sky—the sun wasn't hanging far over the horizon, but it was there. "I must have, and it must have been…" He felt his face redden as he realized how strange he must have appeared, especially if anyone had come by. He thus strode purposefully-nearly ran-to the door leading back to the cathedral altar, and threw it open.

A guard was waiting for him.

"Ah! Y-you!" The poor man was clearly taken by surprise, and it was fortunate he was the only one here at this hour. "You, you're Bishop Renault?"

Renault blinked. "…I am."

"Ah, I'm glad you're alright! You spent the whole night in the sanctuary. Someone got worried earlier and went in to check on you, but it turned out you were just sleeping like a baby. Sort of strange, if you ask me, but, uh, my momma told me to never wake up a Bishop—or anyone important, for that matter—so I guess we just left you there. That's, um, okay, right?"

Renault stood there for a moment, staring down at the guard. Despite the religion he had been practicing for the past ten years, his body had not changed all that much, and he still possessed a tall mercenary's physique. The guard noticed this, and grew visibly nervous as he said nothing.

Then, at last, he grinned slightly.

"…That's fine. In fact, I appreciate it. Now, can you tell me where my companion went?"

"O, oh, yes, of course!" he said, visibly relieved. "We showed him the way to that inn just down the street."

There Renault went, and promptly found Varek's room after asking for it from the proprietor, who'd been told to expect him.

"Well, how'd it go, Renault?" asked Varek, rising from his bed—and wincing as he bumped into a nearby dresser, which he couldn't really see.

"Very well," said Renault, reaching out a hand to steady his friend.

"Did you dream?"

"I did."

"Was it a good dream?"

"…I suppose."

"That's all we can ask for," Varek smiled. "So, you want to continue with our journey?"

"Of course. Where do we go next?"

"Caerleon. From what I've heard, the Count of Thagaste is actually Count Caerleon's brother in law, and he mentioned that his relative had a friend named Juge. It's not much, but it's something to go on, eh?"

"…Indeed."

And so they resumed their travels.

-X-Friends-X-

Renault couldn't help smiling when the walls of Castle Caerleon came into view, standing tall over the surrounding township.

Varek's eyes (well, eye) didn't seem as sharp as they used to be, but he still caught the expression on his disciple's face, and smiled back. "Good memories this time, Renault?"

"Yes…very good memories."

Caerleon was not his birthplace, but for Renault, it might as well have been his home. He had struggled much here, and there was more than a bit of tragedy that had attached itself to his life here. He still felt bitter at the destruction of Solgrenne and the way he and the Autonomous Company were framed for it by his arch-nemesis, the Black Knight Trunicht. But it was also the site of some of his—their—great triumphs, like defeating Garl Vinland and rescuing the city from what should have been an unstoppable siege.

Varek was familiar with some of these events from the history he'd read, and understood where he was coming from. They said no more until they'd reached the city proper. It had changed in many of the same ways Thagaste had. While it had always been somewhat pleasant, situated as it was in a very beautiful spot of the Etrurian countryside, it also suffered from poverty and economic marginalization, Renault recalled. That it now seemed to have so many fine houses and prospering shops did Renault's heart a bit of good.

It also did both of them more than a bit of good to hear that Juge truly had passed this way. A pair of Cavaliers, Count Caerleon's men, passed them by as they walked on the road to the city and offered them a ride to their destination, which they happily accepted. During the course of their subsequent conversation, they found that Juge had spent a great deal of time here. Count Ryhan Caerleon was a Sage of no mean power, and he and his wife, Lady Dimara (who was also the city's Bishop) had allowed the traveling scholar to visit the castle libraries, at which point he struck up a friendship with them. They had been exchanging letters for the past few years, so the Count would almost certainly know Juge's current whereabouts. The Cavaliers noticed that both Renault and Varek had the rank of Bishop (for a master missionary and a venerated hermit), and offered to ask Count Caerleon if he and his wife would be willing to dine with them. Renault and Varek, nearly ecstatic, accepted the offer without hesitation.

It went through without a hitch. The two knights took their companions into the castle town and then to the castle grounds, where they stabled their horses and entered the castle itself to both give their report to Ryhan and give their request. A few minutes later, they came back outside where Renault and Varek were waiting, and told them that Ryhan had heard their story and would be more than willing to speak personally to them. The two travelers were led into the castle, up several flights of stairs (and Renault still remembered the layout of this place quite well) and to the third floor, where they were left at the door to the castle solar—a sort of personal space for the lord and lady if they wished for some privacy, and which always had large, elaborate clear-glass windows to provide both warmth and light.

The Cavaliers bowed after they'd led Renault and Varek to the room, and then beat a hasty exit to allow the guests to converse on their own with their hosts.

The Count and Countess were sitting at the small table on the eastern side of the solar (on the western side, away from the windows, was a double bed and dresser). Renault, for his part, could easily tell Count Ryhan was a descendant of Caerleon—they both had the same black hair and even the same taste for gilded tunics and purple capes, through Ryhan's face was a bit thinner than Khyron's. His wife, on the other hand, reminded Renault of his own mother, Monica. She was dressed in a Bishop's surplice very similar to the sort Monica had favored, though she was a bit chubbier and her hair was light pink. She wore a very warm expression, and it seemed she was the sort of woman who always smiled—quite unlike Monica, in that respect.

"Welcome, welcome, honored guests," said Ryhan magnanimously. "Come, sit down. My Cavaliers have told me you've traveled far. I presume you'd like a hearty meal to help regain your strength?"

"Thank you, m'lord. I would," said Varek, "but the master missionary-Bishop-has taken a vow of fasting," Varek interjected. "No food for him, if you please. Just water."

"Of course, not a problem at all." Ryhan clapped his hands, and several servants arrived with three plates of delicious, steaming hot food (roasted pheasant, twisted pasta, and several sweet fruit pastries), along with two glasses of water for Renault.

"So, friends," said Dimara, smiling as magnanimously as her husband, "what brings you to Caerleon? We've heard you're friends with Juge as well?"

"Yes…" answered Varek, and began to speak of their quest. When he did, it was as if he, Ryhan, and Dimara had been friends for the longest time—they got along magnificently. While he didn't mention anything about his past as an Assassin, obviously, he told them that Juge had been a very scholarly lad back in Bern and had embarked on a quest across Elibe for knowledge. This delighted Ryhan and Dimara, for they'd both taken a liking to the man for that reason. He was one of the few people Ryhan had met who could match his knowledge and enthusiasm for old texts and Draconic history (pastimes that seemed to run in his family, from what Renault remembered of his ancient relative Exedol), and Dimara recalled he had been a fairly charming, chivalrous young man with a strong sense of justice, which made him popular with both Caerleon's knights and the maidens of the realm—perhaps a bit too popular, as Ryhan had to warn him on several occasions not to get too familiar with any of the girls here unless he was planning on settling down, which he wasn't quite yet. Renault, for the most part, kept quiet, though he answered Ryhan and Dimara's questions about his relationship with Varek—

"Tell me a bit about yourself, Renault. Are you Varek's son?"

He blushed slightly. "No…though I am…flattered you think so. I am merely his disciple."

"Disciple? But you've already taken a Bishop's rank!"

"Even so, my piety and wisdom are nothing compared to his…"

"Ah, your humility is a testament to your faith, though. Varek has taught you well." Dimara grinned. "Tell me, have you taken vows of chastity? My brother, the Count of Thagaste, has a daughter who you might find an excellent companion."

Renault's blush deepened. "Ah…forgive me. I am not…er…well-suited for the sacrament of marriage." Quickly changing the subject, he asked, "Is it common for clergy and nobility to intermarry? My own mother was a nobleman's daughter who married a Bishop's son, and took his position after he died, but…"

"Oh, yes, very common," replied Dimara, taking a bite out of her pheasant. "It's been this way in Etruria for centuries, and it's very practical, if you think about it. It strengthens the ties between Church and Crown, and offers some security to both. If a count and a bishop marry, the bishop can take over the noble's governing duties should he leave on a campaign or fall in battle, and the noble can at least administrate his spouse's diocese should she be called to a Synod or otherwise away from the city. It also keeps our bloodlines strong—in Bern, marrying clergy wasn't as common until recently, so the nobles married each other for the most part—this meant that pretty much everyone was everyone else's first cousin! And, of course, as we all know, magical ability is inherited, to an extent. Unions between Sages and Bishops tend to give children who are strong with spells, and even Paladins and Generals who marry into the clergy find their offspring better able to resist magical attacks-a valuable thing on the battlefield! But, of course, those are all secondary considerations. The most important thing in any marriage, for the nobility or the commoners, is love." She smiled warmly at her husband, who grinned back-and blushed slightly.

"Certainly true," smiled Varek. "On the subject of offspring, though, Lord Ryhan and Lady Dimara, may I ask if you've any children?"

"Yes, we're expecting," Ryhan beamed. "Little Priscilla should be with us very soon."

"…Next month?" Renault blinked, as Dimara did not look at all pregnant.

This caused both her and Ryhan to burst out in laughter. "Oh, Bishop Renault, she's our adopted daughter. We'll be going down to Cornwell in Lycia to pick her up the day after tomorrow, in fact."

"Ah, congratulations," said Renault hastily, trying to make up for his faux pas. "Children are a blessing from God, be they your own or a friend's."

"But the loss of a friend is always sad," said Dimara. "Little Priscilla is the daughter of the Marquess of Cornwell, another one of our dearest friends. Family friends to Caerleon since the Civil War, in fact! But the Marquess and his wife…" Dimara sniffled. "Well…I won't say too much, but they're no longer with us. So we'll be taking care of Priscilla for a while."

"…I see," said Varek contemplatively. "Well, whatever happened, Lord Cornwell and his wife were blessed to have friends like you. I am sure you'll give their daughter as much love as they did."

"Thank you, your holiness," nodded Ryhan. Their plates, by this point, were mostly empty. "It's a pain to lose a friend, but a joy to find a new one. I'm grateful your quest has brought you here, and I'm grateful to have made your acquaintance. You shall return someday, I hope?"

"If I can," Varek smiled. "Renault certainly will. And perhaps he'll bring Juge with him…"

"Oh, yes! I can't believe I forgot the whole reason you're here!" Ryhan chuckled. "As it happens, I do know where Juge lives. We exchanged letters for some time, though…" His expression darkened. "I haven't heard from him in over ten years. But the last I did, he was living in a village just near Ostia. He married into a very notable Lycian family, I believe. I introduced them, actually. Wrote Juge a letter of introduction when he left to continue his journey. They know more about Dragons than anyone else on Elibe! I suppose that's what drew him to their young daughter, Iris."

"Wonderful!" That was the loudest Renault had ever heard Varek raise his voice, and also the happiest he'd ever heard him. "Oh, this is a blessed day! Lord Ryhan, Lady Dimara, I can't begin to thank you for all you've done for us. We've been searching for Juge for so long, and to at last learn his location…"

"Well, like I said, I haven't heard from him in a very long time, so don't get your hopes up too far, friend."

"Even so, this is the strongest lead we've ever gotten so far. We are truly indebted to you, lord."

"Then let us thank God for showing us such beneficence," smiled Dimara. "I take it you'll be leaving soon?"

"Ah, yes. We'd love to stay a little longer, but we have t' find Juge as soon as possible." Varek chuckled, sounding a bit sad. "I won't be in much of a condition to travel forever, after all. It's an ill idea to spend too much time away from our quest."

"I see, and I understand. Well, best of luck to you…Ah, wait!" Ryhan snapped his thumbs. "Bishop Renault! Before you leave, there's something I'd like to show you!"

"…Excuse me?"

"I don't know if you're much of a student of history, but even if you're not, you'll love it!" Ryhan stood up and clapped Renault on the back. "Come, I'll show you! Varek, you come too!"

"Oh, you're going to the library, aren't you, dear?" Dimara hadn't finished her desert, so she continued to dig in to her pastries. "You boys have fun, I want to finish the rest of these. They're my favorite!"

Not knowing what Ryhan wanted to show them so badly, Renault and Varek got up and followed their host out of the dining room. They were curious as to why he'd been so excited to make sure Renault in particular saw this—but when they entered the library, it was obvious.

The library didn't look different from the last time Renault had visited, no. Except for one thing. At the far end of the room there was a large painting that hadn't been there before.

And it was the most beautiful painting Renault had ever seen.

Not for its skill—though it was certainly a very good job. But rather, for what it portrayed.

For the first time in two hundred years, Renault saw his friends again.

It was a picture of the Autonomous Company, all surrounding a tall apple tree. It was the very image of the last happy memory Renault had in his life.

Apolli and Lisse were sitting on the left side of the tree, smiling happily as they each chowed down upon a succulent, delicious-looking red apple, and Harvery was standing right next to them, grinning as he watched a taller Roberto pluck another apple from the tree. On the other side, there was Braddock, looking as tall and handsome as he had in life, laughing as Keith sat upon his shoulders, grabbing at one of the apples. Next to them sat Rosamia, looking up at Braddock and putting a hand to her mouth as she giggled, and then Renault himself, sitting on the grass beside Kelitha, who was leaning into him as he kept an arm around her. Next to them, finally, stood Khyron, crossing his arms over his chest and looking like he was trying to maintain a distant, respectable expression, but failing entirely to contain his smile.

"Look at that fellow sitting on the ground, right next to the two green-haired women. Doesn't he look just like you?" grinned Ryhan. "I'd wanted to ask you this since we first met. I'm quite sure his name was Renault as well, though I'd have to re-read my books on the Civil War. Are you his descendant?"

No response came. He looked at Renault curiously. "…Your Holiness?"

Looking back at this moment, Renault was glad his body could no longer shed tears. It was strange enough that he seemed to be entirely overcome by emotion. But he would not have been able to keep himself from weeping openly, which would have been an even stranger sight.

"F…forgive me," croaked Renault, his throat constricted. "It's…it's a wonderful painting. I am…overcome by its beauty. Tell me, please…who made it?"

"You're truly an aficionado of the arts? I'd not expected that of you, but I certainly understand," said Ryhan, apparently satisfied by Renault's explanation. "It was commissioned by my ancestor Khyron, just after he successfully defended Caerleon against an assault from Garl Vinland during the Etrurian Civil War. The artist was named Landez. He was Khyron's castellan, but he was also a very accomplished artist in his own right. This piece, The Autonomous Company's Just Reward, is widely considered to be one of his masterworks. From what I've read, Khyron was truly devoted to the small band of men and women he lead during the war, and would always consider them the best soldiers on Elibe. I think he considered them family, by the end of it. He ordered Landez to make this painting so he'd never forget them."

"Family…family…" Renault took a step forward and reached out towards the painting, and he was about to touch it before Varek stopped him.

"Careful, Renault. You might damage it."

"A…ah. Of course." Renault bowed his head and stepped back. "I apologize again, Lord Ryhan."

"No harm done, friend. Though I've never seen anyone as affected by this as you. Are you truly descended from the Renault in this picture?"

"Y…yes."

"I see. Well, your ancestor was a brave and capable warrior, or at least that's how he appears in the texts. I wouldn't think one of his descendants would take the cloth, but…" He chuckled "As my wife would say, God works in mysterious ways."

"…Indeed."

"Anyways, we should be on our way." Varek looked at Renault meaningfully. "Thank you again, Lord Ryhan, for your hospitality."

"No, it's I who was honored. Safe journey to you, friends. I would see you off, but…" he pointed to a stack of papers on one of the desks nearby. "I've many other reports to attend to."

"Of course." Renault and Varek bowed as another servant showed up—just on time—to show them the way out of the castle. After they'd left its gates, they sought out a merchant's guild to see if there were any caravans heading to Lycia. Renault lead the way, as Varek could no longer see the signs very well, and once again they were in luck—a wagon would be heading out to Ostia tomorrow morning, and would be happy to take them along if they could pay a small fee for passage, which they could easily do. They then found a nearby inn to spend their last night in Caerleon-and before they went to bed, they had one more conversation.

"…Varek."

"Hm? What is it, Renault?"

"Thank you. For everything."

"Gratefully accepted, though I'm not quite sure what brought this on."

"I…I found a new way to live because of you. I learned so much from you. And because we went on this journey together, I was able to see that picture…I was able to see my friends again. It's not much, but it's more than I ever thought I would receive. Thank you."

Varek nodded. "There's no need to thank me, lad. You've repaid everything I've done for you personally. But what you haven't repaid is the debt to those friends of yours. I don't think any of them would have wanted you to live the way you did, any more than Braddock. So, while I'm glad you were able to see them again—even if in just a picture—I want you to remember that your work's not done yet. You still have a lot left to do if you wanna make things up to all of them, and to the world they lived in."

"I understand, Varek. I'll never forget that."

"Then that's all that needs to be said."

They settled down into their beds, and Renault drifted off into sleep.

There were no dreams, this time. But no nightmares either.

::Linear Notes::

Whooof! Finished this just in time, friends—though I do have a little to spare, as it's about 4 PM where I am :D Quick notes:

The immense height of the Saint's Tower is inspired by the background of the stage in Fire Emblem 6's chapter, "The Pinnacle of Light" 16x. That's where you enter the Tower of the Saint to get Elimine's tome, Aureola, and behind the stage itself you can see clouds. Looking at the heights at which clouds form (5000 feet in the air for some of the lower ones), I figured Elimine's Tower had to be at least that tall. Also, the stuff about the "Master Missionary" is my attempt at making Fire Emblem classes work in a religious context. IRL. "Bishop" is a specific rank that means you have pastoral oversight of a diocese. In FE games, however, most Bishops are promoted from Priests, Clerics, or Monks who don't seem to watch over any dioceses. So I made the rank of bishop coterminous with several other positions that seemed more fitting with the kinds of holy people who would travel with an army, such as a "Master Missionary/Mendicant."

"I am a servant of the servants of God" was originally said IRL by the saint and Pope Gregory I, who was considered one of the greatest popes in history. He was known for refocusing the papacy on service to Christendom as a whole and extending religious tolerance towards the Jewish faith; he put forth a papal bull (that is to say, an order from the pope) forbidding forced conversions of Jews and commanding Christians to protect the Jewish people. Look him up "Gregory and the Jews" on Wiki :o

"Ryhan" is a reference to "Ryhan Sea" from Ogre Battle. XD The stuff about marrying between the nobility and clergy is my own invention; it seems like it would make sense in a Fire Emblem world. And yes, Ryhan is the Count Caerleon who adopted Priscilla 3 Now that my lil notes are out of the way…

Also, guys, as always, PLEASE check out gunlord500 dot word press dot com, for all kinds of cool art! Check out the wayward son tag there for sketches of characters like Gosterro, Monica, the Autonomous Company, and more! Also see gunlord500 dot tum blr dot com for random stuff that I like XD

Finally…I gotta admit, friends, it's been a hell of a ride, and a hell of an accomplishment. With this chapter, Wayward Son has broken 1 million words! I dunno if I'm the first author in the FE fandom (as I've said before, guys like the Subspace Emissary World Conquest author have written 3 million word fics!) to have done that—maybe someone outside of FFn, or in the Japanese fandom, has done it already. Still, on purely its own merits, I think it's pretty impressive…

And I absolutely could not have done it without all of you.

Given the scene with Renault looking at the picture of all of his friends, it's fitting I say this: To Cormag, to Hammershlag, to Fimbulvetr, to everyone, EVERYONE, all the people who've reviewed this fic, all my supporters, everyone…I wouldn't have made it this far without your encouragement. Thank you all so much! I am grateful and blessed to have met each and every one of you.

It's been a long, long time—almost 10 years—but the journey is coming to an end. There are about 10 to 12 chapters remaining in this fic. It'll be a while before I finish it for good, given my pace, but it IS working towards its conclusion. So just stay with me for a little while longer, my friends, and don't leave my side yet. I swear I'll make it worth your while!