Somewhere Around Nothing
A fanfiction by Velkyn Karma
Summary: New arrivals are always welcome in Eliwood's army, but the introduction of the Angel of Death has sent stirrings of unease and hatred through the company. Unfortunately, when it becomes a matter of life and death there is little time for such feelings, and when an unnatural lightning storm means cooperation or destruction with the former Fang member, Matthew isn't entirely sure what to think.
This time I decided to try the opposite tack. So we went from 'friendship' to 'absolutely hating one's guts.' Nice opposite, eh? Hope you enjoy! Note that this is only loosely based off of support conversations, and has no connection to Knights of Cydonia, my previous fanfiction.
Disclaimer: I do not own, or pretend to own, the Fire Emblem game series or any of its subsequent characters, plots or other ideas. That right belongs solely to Nintendo and Intelligent Systems. The only thing here that's mine is the idea for the story.
"Friends are sometimes boring, but enemies-never."
"What a fantastic day!" breathed the Lady Lyndis—more commonly known as Lyn--with a satisfied sigh, as she took in the morning atmosphere.
The air was crisp and comfortably warm, with a tantalizing gentle breeze sweeping past the members of Eliwood's army as they finished with the final preparations before the day's journey. Tents had been folded and carefully packed away, food rations and supplies stored in Merlinus' supply train, weapons cleaned and readily serviceable, and mounts cared for, saddled, and ready for another day. Everything was perfectly in order, and the weather already promised by the day's beautiful beginning was enough to ensure another steady, reasonably paced journey until dusk.
Beside her, Eliwood nodded in agreement. "Excellent conditions," he observed, looking up into the sky. "We'll be traveling a long way, but it already looks so beautiful I doubt any member of this army will really mind." He brushed his red bangs lightly from his face, briefly exposing the golden circlet at his forehead before the wayward hair slipped straight back into place.
He sighed in momentary exasperation at this latest rebellion, and Lyn couldn't help but laugh. "You've been traveling too long," she observed with an amused chuckle.
"So I noticed," the new marquess responded, his voice sounding dry, but his smile showing otherwise. "Ah well. I'll have it cut at some point." He glanced back as the sounds of crackling, dry grass reached their ears, resting his gaze on an approaching red-and-gold armored knight—Kent.
"Is everyone all set to go?" Lyn questioned her knight, after greeting him with a warm good morning salutation.
"Yes, my lady," the red-haired cavalier responded, with a brief, somewhat formal nod. "You have but to give the word, and we will be prepared to leave."
"Excellent!" the Sacaen responded, pleased. "Then give the orders, and we shall set off immediately!" Kent bowed politely—he was ever the formal one, Lyn mused momentarily—and then turned to distribute the message, pausing only to drag his nearly ever-present emerald-armored companion away from a rather harassed-looking (and not completely awake) Rebecca.
The orders were passed out quickly, and within a half hour's time the army was moving like a well-oiled machine in a northeasterly direction. The mountains of Bern remained on their left flank, though they did not approach the looming monsters, instead remaining in the slightly hilly open ground where their army could move freely and quickly, with the Lords and Lady at the column's head. Standard patrols of mounted men and women, both in the air and on the ground, regularly circled the large moving group, checking the radius of the army within a few miles to ensure their safety from ambushes and other attackers; but beyond a quiet, isolated farm or hunting family they met no one.
Despite the business-like procedures, however, the majority of the army was undoubtedly in good spirits. Most laughed and talked as they walked or rode, sharing their experiences at home or in the latest battles with their friends and companions, discussing weapons techniques or magical remedies. Newcomers to the steadily growing army were regularly introduced to older members, making the well-working machine a tight, organized knot of fiercely loyal fighters. Sain approached nearly every woman in the army with his roguish smile and unabashed flirtatious charm, Kent following him to alternately lecture his exasperating friend and apologize to the women approached, and said women, now used to Sain's antics by far, found his episodes only mildly embarrassing and rude instead of outright scandalous and improper. It was an altogether thoroughly exciting event to those unused to the procedure.
One such newcomer found their travels especially exhilarating. Nino had only recently joined the army after her unfortunate discovery about the Black Fang and her mother, and though she had been with the company for nearly a week and a half now, she was still terribly excited by the structure of the group. The outright loyalty displayed every day so strongly amazed her—rarely had she seen anything of the sort in the Black Fang that her mother had created—and the friendliness of many of army members took her breath away. She was sure they would hate her because she had once been their enemy, but many of them were kind and understanding, a concept she enjoyed but was still struggling to comprehend.
Whatever friendly attentions she enjoyed in Eliwood's army, however, she was sure Jaffar was not receiving the same. The assassin was striding behind her silently—he always moved silently, even over dry grass or broken twigs or loose floorboards, a skill that she found amazing but a little bit scary sometimes—his cloak flickering behind him in the light breeze, his hands only inches from the dagger-sheathes at his hips at any given moment. He had rarely left her side since they had become a part of the company, and just as rarely never spoke unless she approached him first, which explained why she had never heard any complaints from him about his treatment or apparent reputation around the camp.
Yet despite his silence, she knew she was not imagining many of the dark glares thrown in her best friend's direction, and it worried her. Would they throw him out of the army? Would he be forced to leave her behind? She wouldn't allow that, she knew—if he had to leave, she would unquestionably go with him—but she loved it here so much, and everyone was always so friendly with her...
She shook her head to clear her thoughts, biting her lip as she tried to find a clearer, more comfortable thought. Beside her, Jaffar glanced down at her and spoke, and even his voice was soft from its lack of use and the nature of his profession. "Are you alright?"
"Oh...yes!" she responded brightly, a cheery smile on her face as she looked up at him. Even in the morning sun, his unusual cowl left his face half hidden in shades, concealing any telltale glitters from his eyes. He was probably impossible to see at night, she mused briefly. Probably terrifying, she realized, yet despite his profession and well-known deadly accuracy, as only an angel of death could have, she just couldn't look at him as anything other than Jaffar, her Friend.
He nodded quietly in response and turned his gaze back to the path, to the army members ahead, to the land surrounding them and swinging back behind him. He was always watchful, always aware, never leaving anything to chance or luck—that was efficiency, brutal efficiency, just as he had been taught. It was because of this, of course, that he was well aware of his current standing and reputation in the army—at best he was ignored, at worst, outright hated. Already one of the Lords—Hector had been the name, he recalled--had been hostile to him when he was first introduced into the company, and many of his followers did nothing to disguise their dislike and outright hate either.
Yet this mattered little to Jaffar. He was a man of utter focus and mental discipline when it came to achieving a goal, and now his only goal was to protect Nino. She was too innocent, too pure to survive this ordeal with the Fang and with Nergal, not without somebody steeped in blood to keep her safe, keep her hands from becoming stained in crimson life. He would obey the commands of Lyn or Eliwood—both who had shown Nino exceptional kindness and care, even before she had joined them—but only because they were allies that Nino had chosen, and because they had her best interests in mind as well. If it meant putting up with threatening glares and outright hatred from his own allies, he cared little.
The two walked quietly at the back of the column for most of the morning, Nino occasionally skipping ahead to speak with one of her newfound friends, Jaffar following her utterly silently like a shadow, close enough to watch but not cause discomfort by his presence. Close to noon, just as the sun was beginning to reach its zenith, Eliwood called a momentary halt from the front of the column, allowing the members of the army to take a quick break. Most sat quietly on the hilly plains to rest their feet before continuing, while some approached Merlinus' large wagon caravans, each pulled by four large Clydesdale horses, to collect and distribute rations for a quick lunch.
The break was a quick affair, but an unquestionably cheerful one, and after roughly half an hour and passed the army continued its march towards the Shrine of Seals once more. Discussion, friendly chatter, and patrols began once again, yet had barely started before an unexpected detail began to make itself known.
Louise was the first to spot it. She and her husband had been marching towards the back of the company as well (indeed, Nino would occasionally run forward to talk excitedly with Pent), and by chance she had glanced over her shoulder to measure the distance they had traveled with a quick look. Her eyes were keen, however, and she immediately noted a dark black, rapidly approaching smudge in the skies behind them.
"Is that a storm, my Lord Pent?" she murmured in surprise, tapping him lightly on the shoulder and indicating the threatening patch of darkness that was coming towards them quickly. "I did not expect to see one hastening towards us so fast...today seemed like it would be beautiful for traveling."
"It did," her husband agreed, looking a little surprised as he narrowed his eyes in the direction of what was now most certainly dark, rolling clouds. He flipped his long, silvery hair out of his face and squinted for a better look, and then a frown slowly began to form on his face.
"What is it?" his wife questioned, frowning at him curiously, as she shifted the large hunting bow slung across her back into a more comfortable position.
"I wonder," Pent muttered to himself slowly, now looking about him as though watching the breeze pass. "The weather should have been perfect for traveling conditions. Anyone well versed in anima magics would be skilled enough to understand the currents of natural actions and reactions. I certainly sensed no coming storm, or I would have advised Lord Eliwood to seek shelter ages ago."
"Then you think this is unnatural, my Lord?" Louise asked, looking rather alarmed.
"It is highly probable," the Count of Reglay murmured, still frowning deeply. "I must speak to Lord Eliwood immediately." And, tossing his cloak over one shoulder to set it out of his way, he moved quickly to the front of the company, Louise following faithfully.
The new marquess of Pherae was deep in conversation with Lyn and Hector, explaining laughingly one of his more humorous spars with his closest friend, when the urgent shout of "Lord Eliwood!" reached his ears. Turning, he spotted both the Lord Pent and Lady Louise hurrying towards him, expressions of deep worry and concern on their faces.
"Pray forgive me for interrupting," the silver-haired Lord bade, his voice still possessing a deep touch of concern, "but I have vitally important news. If you would look to the skies behind us, Lord Eliwood..."
Blinking his blue eyes in surprise, the red-haired army leader obligingly turned his head, glancing into the skies behind his army. Already the black clouds had drawn close enough to spot the beginning flickering of lightning in their depths, and still their speed had not slowed any.
"A storm?" he asked in surprise. "I never expected...I was sure that today would be--"
"You were absolutely right, Lord Eliwood," Pent interrupted grimly—there was little time for formalities. "Naturally speaking, there should have been no storm today. The conditions were most excellent for traveling. That--" he indicated the roiling black clouds with a dark look, "--is no natural storm. That has been summoned through highly powerful anima magics."
"Summoned?" Hector asked, sounding incredulous. "I know you magicians are powerful, but you can really summon something like that?"
"If one is strong enough," Pent responded crisply. "I advise that you move the army towards the mountains immediately, Lord Eliwood, and in all haste. There should be shelter aplenty to find there, enough to accommodate our now-vast size. I will explain the danger of this situation as we move."
"Of course," the Pheraen noble answered immediately, and calling several of his trusted lieutenants to his side, he immediately gave the orders to move at full speed for mountain shelter from the coming storm. Those on horseback began to circle the large army, spreading the word throughout the camp as fast as possible, and already several of the members on foot were turning towards the base of the mountains in a run, Merlinus urging his powerful horses speedily in the direction of retreat as well.
The Lords and Lady turned towards the mountains as well, falling into an easy and rhythmic loping run (though Hector clanked and crashed horribly in his heavy riding armor). Pent and Louise ran alongside, and as they streamed towards their shelter, the Mage-General provided an explanation of the unusual turn in nature.
"This storm is of a magical nature," he stated carefully, "not a natural one. Only a very powerful mage, studious in natural magics, can accomplish such a task; but if one is able and well versed, one can summon massive quantities of anima magic to them and create something as powerful as the storm approaching us."
"Then I assume it is very dangerous," Eliwood responded. It was a statement more than a question; one only had to look at the writhing black clouds and the lightning within them to know such a magical weapon was threatening.
"Exceedingly," Pent confirmed, flicking his long silver ponytail out of the way as he ran alongside. "Such spellcasting usually does not last more than a few hours—even a very powerful and skilled mage cannot hold and control such quantities of anima magics forever—but even the damage these spells can do in the span of a few minutes can be devastating." He grimaced slightly. "Such spells have a variety of names, of course, but most spell- and lore-books simply refer to the techniques as 'bolting.' The lightning emitted from such storms is enough to kill a man three times over if he is unfortunate enough to be hit."
Eliwood paled slightly and surveyed his running army quickly, judging the distance to the mountainsides and the shelter they would hopefully find there. They were still quite a ways away, and from the speed at which the storm was expanding, it was unlikely that they would escape before his army was enveloped in it. "What is the chance of being struck in a storm such as this?"
"Quite high," the Ertrurian responded, looking very grim. "The primary focus of the storm summoning is to harness very dense, powerful lightning bolts. Fortunately," he added, and the Lords and Lady looked over at him with hope, "there is a limit to the summoner's abilities with the storm, besides the length of time that it can be sustained. The storm cannot extend beyond a certain radius of the summoner—though admittedly, that radius changes depending on the level of power the mage in question possesses. And summoning such powerful magics will make it nearly impossible for this person to move, meaning that once the storm has expanded to its full radius..."
"Then it won't be able to approach much closer to us," Lyn finished, looking a little more hopeful. "So if we find shelter in the mountains on the outskirts of this radius, we can wait out the storm and make our escape."
"Exactly," Pent answered, nodding to her in agreement. "But that does require we reach shelter first." He looked over sharply at the expanding storm clouds, which were now nearly upon the tail of their army.
Eliwood looked pale but determined, and as Marcus galloped close he shouted new orders. "All mounted men and women are to immediately take a passenger and speed them ahead to the mountains! We need to get out of this storm as soon as possible before it arrives!"
The paladin sped off immediately to deliver orders to the other riders, but by then it was already too late; the storm clouds were now over the fringes of their army, and still rapidly expanding. The first bolts were already striking among their men, weak from their position on the outskirts of the storm, but still sending rock and dirt flying from their devastating impact.
Still, the knights of the horses, pegasi, and wyvern moved valiantly into action, helping their fellow company members swing or clamber up onto their mounts before winging them away (in some cases literally) towards the mountainside. Eliwood protested only momentarily as Marcus returned to pull his Lord up onto the horse behind him; beside the Pheraen knight, Lyn was already settled behind Kent, arms around him from behind as he kicked his horse rapidly forward, and Hector sat (grumbling—he was not particularly fond of horseback riding, despite his armor) behind Sain, who urged his horse on quickly despite the extra heavy weight the creature now bore. Pent and Louise had already been rescued by an efficient Fiora and Heath and were now soaring above them towards the shelter they now so desperately needed, and with the aid of the other mounted riders at least a third of their army had been rescued and were rushing towards their one hope.
The thunder boomed above them in an angry roar now, and the dangerous magical bolts struck the ground increasingly with unabated relentlessness. Those still running on foot towards the shelter—a good fifteen at least—began to swerve and zigzag in increasingly erratic patterns, hoping against hope that they would not be hit before they reached shelter. The air was growing so dark around them it was as though the midnight hour, the hour of death, had come upon them in midday, making it impossible to see where to place one's footing. Yet in a confusingly ironic contrast the bolts of light lit the hilly plains like a blast from the sun, and so those fleeing both hoped and feared for the next strike.
The riders had now reached the shelter of the mountains; without hesitation they hastily helped their passengers off their mounts and spun, immediately heading back into the thick of the storm to aid those still fleeing. The action was foolhardy, nearly begging for death—the flying wyvern and pegasi had to weave and dodge in between the lightning strikes, praying to the goddess that they would not be struck out of the air, and the heavily armored cavaliers on horseback were for all intents and purposes moving lightning rods with their added height on the horse and metallic armor. Yet they did not pause, merely dove, spun and ducked as they headed to the aid of those on foot, scooping them up to the safety of the steeds before spinning and running at an arrow-like speed back towards their shelter once more.
There were now five members of the army left on foot, running at all speed towards the shelter of the mountains even as the storm spread its chaotic booms and bolts all around them. Strangely, there was no lashing rain or pelting hail, as most would expect, but rather an almost unbearable heat that permeated the air, climbing in height every time a ravenous bolt struck. The blanket of nightmare-black darkness that enveloped them enabled them to see barely five feet away, and as the company members were spread out, most were unaware of the others' presence.
But Nino did not have time to think about how many others were out there, because Nino was absolutely terrified.
She was running as fast as she could, her short, trim indigo cloak billowing out behind her, tugging at her throat as she ran. Her throat—it was dry, hoarse from breathing as she struggled to keep running through the dimness, stumbling over the rocks and holes the erratic bolts had left behind.
The young mage was aware that Jaffar was with her, though she could not see him well; he was built to conceal himself in the darkness, and with the advance of such unnatural stormy blackness he had become all but invisible. But she knew he was there, because she had fallen twice in her mad rush to escape the storm, and both times he had pulled her up firmly and set her on her feet again, his soft whispering assurances and encouragements barely heard in the roar of the storm. She took comfort in his presence, but could not suppress the absolute fear caused by what she could now sense was anything but a natural storm.
Jaffar had surmised as much as well, and was acutely aware of the danger. He could have outstripped Nino easily, left her far behind in search of his own shelter, but even the slightest glimmer of that thought in his mind sent him grimacing in pure disgust at himself. He would not abandon Nino—could not abandon Nino—and so he stayed by her side, encouraging her as he sensed her energy and strength rapidly waning.
There was an almighty crack from behind them as a particularly murderous lightning bolt struck the ground where they had stood only moments before; the heat from the blast was so powerful it rolled over them in waves, singing stray hairs and threads from their cloaks. Loose dirt and rocks, some of them quite large, exploded from the point of contact and rushed outwards in all directions like shrapnel, and with a twinge of horror Jaffar suddenly recognized Nino's pained cry as she collapsed behind him.
Without hesitation he skidded and whirled, heading back to her, kneeling by her side. She was alive, he determined quickly with a wave of...relief, was it? He was still unfamiliar with feeling...but she had been injured by the sharp rocks the bolt had sent flying, and was cut badly in several places. He doubted she would be able to walk, and so without hesitation he scooped her up in his arms, wrapping her now-ripped cloak hurriedly about her to staunch the bleeding until they could reach the shelter.
"J-Jaffar?" she gasped in pain, confused and disoriented from the blast.
"I'm here," he responded immediately, taking off in a dead run towards the mountains. Nino was fairly small and light, fortunately, and he was only slowed slightly by carrying her as he moved. Unfortunately, he was forced to swerve and doge to avoid the devastating bolts and flying debris about them, and as a result was making little forward progress.
She groaned in pain again, curled a little closer to the safety of his chest, and whimpered softly, "Are...are we going to die?"
"No," the assassin responded immediately. "We will live. I promise you that, Nino—you will survive."
She nodded quietly, her body relaxing in exhaustion as he carried her, but before she could respond the two heard a cry of "Hello! Is anyone else out here?"
"Here!" Jaffar responded immediately, raising his voice to shout at a volume he almost never used. "There are two of us here!" Under normal circumstances, he would not rely on any form of help from others...but these were by far not normal circumstances, and Nino above all desperately needed the help.
There was a rhythmic thudding noise through the dark ahead of them, and then a green-and-gold armored knight on horseback galloped into view, glancing about hurriedly. Jaffar had seen him enough around the camp to realize that the knight's name was Sain, but apart from observing his carefree, flirting nature, he knew little of the cavalier.
The knight had spotted them by this point and hastily circled around them, slowing his horse alongside Jaffar's running form until they moved at an equal speed. He had headed back out into the teeth of the storm for the third time to search for the remaining company members on foot, along with Kent, Lowen, Marcus and Isadora, though he could not see where any of his fellow knights were in the pitch darkness. The pegasus and wyvern knights were unable to head back out into the storm to help with the search—it had become so dangerous to fly that Eliwood had expressly forbid it, lest he risk the lives of the flying knights and their mounts. But the cavaliers had been able to traverse the storm in slightly more safety, and were determined to return with all of their companions.
Now, close enough to see the two on foot, illuminated momentarily as they were by another bright lightning bolt, Sain could recognize that one was injured and another—the assassin that had caused so much of an uproar—was carrying her. Clearly, the assassin could not move at top speed with his burden, and the emerald knight was concerned for the both of them in the storm.
"Hand her up to me!" he roared over the rolls of thunder as he trotted alongside the running angel of death, extending his free hand for the injured girl. "Hurry!"
Jaffar hesitated for a moment, glancing up at the knight alongside him with a surveying look. He had long since learned to trust no one but himself, and handing Nino over to this man seemed to scream of foolishness. Not only that, but his mind was flashing to the scandalous behavior Sain had been exhibiting for the past week and a half, and he was hesitant to hand his charge over to a man like that.
But the emerald knight seemed earnest in his offer to help now, and his roguish grin was long since gone, replaced by a serious look as he stretched out his hand even further to help with transitioning the girl. And he had come back into the depths of the storm to try and rescue them, though he could have long since saved his life at the shelters he could no doubt reach by horseback several times over.
So it was that Jaffar hesitated only a second before shifting Nino in his arms, pushing the girl towards the knight trotting alongside them. She trembled, protested, afraid of leaving the safety she knew of absolutely in favor of this new and unfamiliar person, but with a few words from her friend she quieted and tried to help with her transition as best as possible.
The first time the assassin missed handing her over in time, and nearly dropped the poor girl as another flash of lightning thudded dangerously close to them. The knight ducked in his saddle to try and grasp at her, missed, and then straightened, outstretching his hand again. "Try again! Hurry!" he encouraged, flashing a quick, friendly smile for their benefit—nothing scandalous, simply rallying, yet it seemed to do wonders.
Grimacing slightly at his near mistake, Jaffar gathered his strength and hefted Nino with all the force he could muster. She nearly missed again, but the knight reached out and grasped a hold of her cloak and the back of her shirt, hauling her up into the saddle before him and securing her with a neat hold around her waist with his rein hand.
"Good!" the emerald cavalier called down to the assassin. "I got her!" The Angel of Death nodded grimly and continued to run alongside, zigging and zagging to avoid the deadly bolts around them, but was abruptly surprised when the rider offered Jaffar his hand as well. "Come, hurry!"
"You have no room for another," Jaffar called back sharply. "Leave!"
"She's light!" Sain called back, extending his free hand still further while the other secured both Nino and the reins. "You can hold on in back...hurry!"
The assassin hesitated. Truth be told, he had not expected to have help offered to him, the one the camp loathed, so freely. Yet here was one of the knights, unquestioningly offering him what was perhaps his one chance to escape the storm alive. And if he rode, he could keep an eye on Nino as well, in case something else happened to her...
Mind set, the assassin reached out one of his gloved hands to grasp Sain's so that he could be swung up behind the knight on the horse--
There was a deafening crash almost directly beside them, and Sain's horse leapt aside on instinct alone almost immediately, darting back the way it had come in a frenzy. Jaffar gave a startled cry as he was pounded by an onslaught of debris, knocking his feet out from under him; he hit the ground, rolled several paces, and disappeared into the unnatural blanket of sheer darkness around them.
It was perhaps his cry that started Nino into awareness. She had never, in all her days, heard Jaffar utter so much as a hiss of pain or surprise, and to hear him call out like that...she sat up straight in the saddle, twisted to try and look around the cavalier she sat against, and peered through the darkness behind her.
"Jaffar!" she screamed, hoping against everything she could possibly think of that he would respond, come running out of the dark after her. "Jaffar!" She turned her attention to the knight, gazing up at him imploringly. "Go back! Please, we have to go back and find him!"
Sain grimaced. He had been trying, but they were nearly in the most deadly area of the storm, and the bolts were striking with murderous intentions. He was barely able to move forward, let alone go back into the thick forest of thunderbolts, and if he didn't move quickly the two of them would be lost to the storm just as the assassin had been. "I'm sorry," he called back loudly over the storm, "but we can't. We'll never find him, and if we don't leave now, we won't get out alive!"
"No!" Despite the futileness of the action, she beat at his emerald-and-gold armor with her delicate fists, crying in frustration. "You don't understand! He's my best friend, we have to go back and find him!"
"He would want you to escape," Sain called back, barely able to focus on the conversation when trying to avoid the bolts thundering down about them, and unconsciously he began reciting his own pacts with his best friend, Kent. "No matter what happens to him, he would want you to live, so it's your duty to get out of here!"
She fought against him for a while, twisted in the saddle, hit him repeatedly on the metal plating of his armor, but he only directed his horse and held her firmly in place. Had it been any other situation he would have been more than willing to obey the whims of a woman, but now...now he had no choice but to run.
And so they darted through the nightmare blackness, illuminated only occasionally by flickering bursts of an unnatural electric end, and left the Angel of Death to his grave, the whipping of the winds and thunder his funeral music, with the bolts to dig his tomb.
It had barely been half an hour since the storm had struck, and yet already its devastation was showing. The destruction occasionally visible when a bolt of lightning flashed, even from the outskirts of the storm, was awe-inspiring; great huge holes dug into the hilly plains that had been whole only that morning, with debris scattered in every direction, and the occasional tree no more than matchsticks and firewood now.
Eliwood surveyed the damage grimly from one of the many shelters that his army had managed to find. When the first group had been dropped by the mounted riders at the base of the mountains, those on foot had immediately rushed to find something, anything, to be used as shelter. A series of caves, varying in size, had eventually been discovered, and a network established almost immediately to guide the stragglers to their havens. The largest of these caves had been taken by Merlinus to hide his supply wagons in, along with his massive horses, while several of the smaller caves sheltered those on foot without mounts and only the barest supplies.
Now they waited for the last of their number to arrive as they huddled within the safety of the caves, unable to step outside. Though their shelters were on the fringes of the storm's radius, the occasional stray bolt would still strike frightfully close to the caves, and Eliwood had immediately ordered that no one was to set foot outside their shelters until the storm had abated. The only men still outside were the horse riders, searching for the last of the infantry that had fallen behind in the storm.
Lowen and Isadora had both returned empty-handed, looking exhausted and dejected, and after having both checked for injuries Eliwood had sent them off to rest and recover themselves after their heroic work. Marcus had returned a short while after them with a bedraggled looking Erk, half unconscious, flopped in the saddle before him, and Kent only a few minutes after that with an equally haggard looking Wil sitting in the saddle behind him, clinging for all he was worth to the knight to protect himself from falling.
But Sain had not returned yet, and Eliwood was sure there were more people out in the storm. Had Sain, perhaps, found them, but been unable to return from the storm unscathed? Was he still in there, searching? Lyndis was growing worried for her knight, and both had been careful to avoid indicating the situation to an exhausted Kent—both knew he would turn right around and go back into the storm to find his friend, despite the fact that he was all but ready to drop out of the saddle.
Then, at last, with the illumination of a particularly close burst of lightning, a figure on horseback began to come into view from the direction of the storm. The figure was moving slowly, his horse limping towards the shelters with an exhaustion evident from even that distance, but as he drew closer there was no doubting his slim form and the green-and-gold armor her wore...
"That's Sain!" Lyn called excitedly, looking relieved. "I didn't know if...out there...if maybe..." She sighed, fears eased. Despite the knight's often scandalously rude actions, and her resulting first impression of him, she had since grown rather fond of him--rather as though he were an unusual but occasionally insightful older brother.
The knight reached their shelter a few moments later and managed to squeeze both himself and his horse into the gap of an entrance. Once inside, the cave grew wider and more spacious, leaving enough room for himself and his horse, as well as several others there, without too much discomfort.
It was only when he had dismounted that they realized he was carrying a person, and after a few moments of startled staring Lyn realized she recognized that shock of green hair...
"Nino!" she gasped, running forward to soothe the girl as Sain set her carefully down against one of the cave walls. "What happened?"
"I don't know how she got the injuries," Sain answered quietly, trying to catch his breath as he waved Priscilla over—she too had taken shelter in the larger of the caves to provide room for her own mount. She hurried forward, immediately beginning to murmur quietly as she focused her energies through the stave that acted as her healing channel, and tended quietly to Nino's injuries.
"I just found her and that assassin out there," the tired cavalier continued, sitting down on a protruding rock in the cave as he spoke. "I got her, and I tried to get him too, but he got hit by something...fell behind. Couldn't get to him." Sain looked exhausted, and a little guilty as well, Lyn realized. It looked very unusual on him, to see him so utterly serious, without a joke or flirtatious comment or cheerful grin on his face...no, not unusual. Wrong.
Nino gave a small whimper as Sain recited the tale, whispering the name of her friend again, and Lyn bent to stroke the girl's hair, soothing her. "I'm sure he'll be alright, Nino," she reassured. "Jaffar is a survivor if nothing else. You'll see him again soon."
The young spellcaster gave a shiver, but nodded quietly. "I hope so," she whispered. "I wouldn't want him thinking I abandoned him like that--"
"He wouldn't think that," Lyn countered, smiling gently. "Don't worry. He'll be here soon enough, as soon as that storm dies out."
Eliwood listened to the conversation quietly, and then turned to Marcus with a sigh. "I hate to move you, my friend," he said quietly, his voice genuine, "after all the hard work you have done. But I need to ask one more favor."
"Simply name it, my lord, and it shall be done," Marcus responded, standing somewhat wearily from his seat against the cave wall.
Eliwood nodded thankfully. "I need a head count...I need to know if everyone made it. If not...if we're missing someone, I need to know who it is, and when they were last seen. Can you manage? Once you are finished, you may rest to your heart's content—you've earned it."
"Of course, my lord," Marcus nodded quietly, moving towards the entrance of the cave to traverse to the other shelters and deliver the orders.
It took the better part of forty-five minutes to travel to all the other caverns—there was a great string of them, some holding only three or four people in all—and assemble a list of those present. Many had suffered injuries, some major, and the healers scurrying around to tend to the wounded did not help the counting process whatsoever. In the end, however, they determined that there were two heads unaccounted for.
It was also at this moment that they discovered Matthew was missing.
For the record, I hate the 'bolting' spell. My enemies always have twenty of them, and they kill. All I get is one measly little bolting book...that's a grand five times I get to hit somebody far away, and it's almost never lethal when I need it to be. Whoopee.
Continuing the 'musical title and chapter' theme from last fic, the title and chapters derive from music by Apocalyptica. Fantastic stuff.
If you leave a review, kindly give it some substance! As usual, tell me what you liked or didn't like, what you thought was done well, what you thought could have been improved, etc. Your honest responses help a lot!