Unlike her previous experience, this time Florina snapped awake all at once. One instant she had been soundly unconscious and the next she was sitting bolt upright and breathing heavily.
"It's alright, take it easy... You're safe, there's no need for alarm."
The lavender-haired Illian took a deep breath to calm her scattered nerves. She then looked around to take stock of her surroundings.
The first thing that the pegasus knight noted was that she was inside a small stone bedroom, probably within a castle somewhere. The second was that she was wrapped in layers upon layers of sheets and was resting upon a thick bed. And the third realization was that the Legion's tactician, Mark, was perched atop a stool set next to her bedside.
Florina started to shift her position and immediately made another discovery: her shoulder still hurt from its encounter with an airborne axe. After immediately falling still and allowing the pain to subside, the lavender-haired Illian tried to find the reserves she needed to find out what was going on. At length, she succeeded.
"M... Mark? Wh- where am I?" The lavender-haired Illian took a quick look at the raven-haired man.
Before the tactician could answer, a familiar wyvern darted over to rest upon the man's shoulder. Romeo looked at the injured pegasus knight and unleashed a concerned squarble. Mark leveled a restraining hand upon the winged serpent, and then turned to answer the girl's question.
"Castle Caelin." Mark admitted simply.
"The... castle? You mean we won?" Florina's eyes took on a light of hope that their conflict was finally over.
She received a quizzical look in return.
"Yes, Lyn defeated Lundgren and ended the dispute." The tactician nodded as he studied Florina cautiously. "You don't remember that?"
"R- remember? No... I..." Florina broke off to squint into the recesses of her memory. Just what did she remember? "I remember helping Erk on the eastern front... then... um... following some servant girl who couldn't talk... and that's... all..."
The raven-haired shaman nodded slowly and began to fit the pieces of the puzzle together on his own. It didn't take much for him to realize what had happened, and truth be told he really shouldn't have been surprised. He'd have to explain it all for her benefit.
The problem was that so much had been going on behind the scenes that Mark didn't even have a clear picture of all that had gone on over the past few months. As near as he could tell, four months ago Madelyn had sent Hausen a letter explaining that she wanted to reunite and that she had had a daughter. Lundgren had then intercepted the letter, paid off the Taliver to wipe out the Lorcans, and then attempted his coup.
After that, everything got fuzzy.
Someone had then snatched the letter from Lundgren's possession and given it to Wallace. That same person, probably the mysterious Abigail who had vanished after the failed coup, had then kept Hausen alive despite Lundgren's best efforts to kill him. Abigail had then rescued Florina during the raid on Castle Caelin, and helped Florina stop an assassination attempt on the Marquess.
That meant that there had been some other unseen player who had had a hand in the events of what Mark had come to call 'The Dispute'. The fact that someone else had interfered in The Dispute concerned him greatly.
He forced his concern aside and concentrated on what he did know.
"I see. I guess I should have expected as much considering how severe your fever was." Seeing the pegasus knight's surprised expression, Mark hastened to explain. "When you were helping Erk and Dorcas hold the eastern front, someone pegged you with a hand axe."
Florina winced as those words made her more aware of her wound. She paused to massage it gently, and then returned her attention to the explanation being given.
"The person who hit you was not a Caelin Cavalryman, but a hired mercenary. He'd drenched that axe with poison before the battle- that's why you blacked out and don't remember any of this. But after you fell unconscious, Huey bolted and carried you to Castle Caelin.
"Someone, we don't know precisely who, helped you out, neutralized some of the poison and bandaged that wound. You then infiltrated the castle and prevented a hired blade from murdering Marquess Hausen."
"I did all that?" Florina seemed dumbstruck at the story of events. "I... I don't remember any of it."
"We're not entirely sure about the facts ourselves, but its what I believe happened. After that, you blacked out again. Sain found you a little later and we all began working to get you patched up... you've been asleep since, fighting the poison and a fever."
"I... I don't know what to say. I can't remember a thing..." The pegasus knight shook her head in disappointment. "H-how long was I asleep?"
"Most of the afternoon, really."
Florina's eyes widened in shock as she looked out of the room's window and saw it to be pitch black. She was started as she realized just how long she had been unconscious. She started to try and get up, but was forced back by the pain that her wound caused her.
"Easy, don't push yourself." Mark held up a hand, palm open and out, to caution the pegasus knight. "Serra doesn't think that there'll be any permanent damage, but she did tell me to tell you to take it slow."
"Oh... o-okay..." The lavender-haired knight allowed herself to drop back to the bed wearily. A moment later, the tactician's comments prompted a twinge of curiosity. "Speaking of Serra... where is everyone?"
A slow grin spread over Mark's face.
"Well, most of us are still around. Serra and Erk are planning to spend a few days here and then continue their journey to Ostia- Dorcas is planning on traveling with them. Lucius vanished after they retreated from the eastern confrontation. He said that he had to meet someone and wished us well. Wil is lobbying for a job in the military. Sain's somewhere about the place and Kent's keeping his vigil over Marquess Hausen. Ninian and Nils left shortly after we took the castle. And Lyn, well... she's been dividing her attention between you and her grandfather."
"Ah... I see... that sounds... good." Florina admitted with a weak smile.
The tactician nodded and settled back on his stool. At length, he spoke again.
"Hopefully it will be... hopefully it will be.
"Now, you need to get some rest; I'm sure that you're going to need it for the days ahead."
Serra packed up her Restore and Healing Staves, wished her companions well in typical banshee and untactful fashion ("Hope he doesn't die on you!"). And then left the room.
Lyn watched the healer go and then closed the door after her. She then turned and looked back towards the bed that held her sleeping grandfather. The elderly man had been unconscious since they had discovered him earlier that afternoon. Serra had done her best to heal the Marquess, but she had admitted that the damage was too widespread for her to completely reverse it. Lyn had tried to stay by her grandfather's side throughout the day- breaking away only to check on Florina.
Kent stood at a respectful distance, keeping a silent watch over his Lady and his Marquess.
The Lorcan sat atop a stool that had been placed alongside Hausen's bed, and studied her grandfather for the hundredth time that day. It was plain to see that he was, indeed, her grandfather- the resemblance was buried beneath years of worry, guilt and age, but it was there. Now all she needed to do was wait and actually talk to him.
But quite frankly, Lyn was also a touch hesitant about talking to her grandfather. The two were related, but complete strangers to each other. They had a brand new relationship to build... how were they to go about doing so? They came from different worlds with different viewpoints; was there even a foundation that they could build upon?
She didn't know, but only time would actually tell.
A slight moan drew the Sacean's attention. Lyn immediately turned her attention to the Marquess Hausen and waited to see what would happen.
The elderly man coughed, sputtered, and then slowly woke. Hausen's eyes parted, allowing him to look out upon the rest of the world. Hausen squinted, then blinked, and finally managed to bring the rest of the world into focus.
"M-Madelyn?" The man squinted at the face that hovered just inside his line of sight. Realization then flooded the man's features. "N-no... Lyndis!?"
"Grandfather!" Lyn felt tears threaten to break from her eyes. "I'm here."
After a momentary struggle, Hausen managed to weakly extend his hand. The elder managed to lay it on top Lyn's open palm and seemed to draw comfort from that simple action.
"They... told me you were dead. I... almost gave up." Hausen rasped in a voice that told everyone he was still in a fair amount of pain. "But... I'm glad that... I didn't."
"I am too. There's so much we have... to talk about, to learn about each other. I'm glad that I found you."
"I am as well." Hausen smiled.
So was Lyn.
The next few days passed quickly as life in Castle Caelin settled into some pattern of normalcy. But that monotony was lost when a select few of Lyndis Legion decided that it was time for them to move on.
"I can't thank you all enough for what you've done." Mark looked over those who were preparing to leave Castle Caelin. "You've all gone above and beyond any requirements or duty that you might have owed us and we'd never have made it this far without your sacrifice."
Serra turned away from the blazing dawn sun and focused her attention back upon the raven-haired tactician and that annoying squawk-box that passed itself off as a wyvern. Erk and Dorcas stood alongside her and wwe patiently waiting for the decision to move out.
"I know." Serra admitted bluntly. "Just remember that, because the way I figure you really owe us after all that you put us through. I'm sure that they'll be something that you can do to repay us sometime in the future. Right, Erky?"
The purple-haired mage's expression changed from one of passive acceptance to a scowl of frustration.
The tactician smirked at the two and wondered just how long they could tolerate each other before they came to blows. Mark then shifted his attention to Dorcas and posed a question that had been on his mind for some time.
"Are you sure that you want to leave? I'm sure that Kent or Sain would hire you for the castle and get you some decent income."
Dorcas nodded slowly and explained his reasoning.
"I am no soldier, I have no love of war. There is work in Ostia and Pharae... I will find it."
"Point." Mark admitted. "Well, be safe. I want to see you alive the next time I come through Bern."
The quartet exchanged farewells and waves, and then separated into a trio and a solo member. Dorcas, Erk and Serra turned and began their journey down the road that would take the Ostia.
Mark watched them go and felt a familiar yearning open up in the pit of his stomach. He envied them, and hoped that it wouldn't be long before he joined them in leaving castle Caelin and striking out on his own.
The tactician turned and began heading back towards the castle. He abruptly stopped short as a familiar figure in green armor appeared in the doorway. The two looked the other over as Mark wondered what had brought Sain here. If it had torn the green knight of Caelin from some woman's side, then it had to have been serious.
"Sain," The raven-haired shaman gave voice to his thoughts. "What brings you here?"
"... You did." Sain replied with false mirth that didn't quite reach his eyes.
Mark noticed the knight's tight, military, bearing and immediately felt the hair on the back of his neck stand up- this was closely followed by a sense of unease. He couldn't remember the last time that he'd seen Sain actually... attempting to look official.
"What's on your mind?"
"Marquess Hausen and Lady Lyndis have been impressed by your bookkeeping, logistical and tactical abilities. I, as their faithful retainer, have been authorized to offer you a position among the Caelin Guard- that of a staff sergeant for the Caelin Cavalry."
The tactician frowned at that news.
Mark had never considered himself to be a selfish person (who would honestly consider themselves selfish?). But at that moment, he was consumed with what he could only call selfishness. He had originally allowed Lyn to join him out of pity (contrary to what many seemed to believe, he had not allowed her to come because he was infatuated with her- he was almost ten years older than her for Elimine's sake!). Somehow, that had snowballed into him caring for an entire unit of soldiers and playing counselor to a select few. It had been trying, but rewarding.
The problem was, however, that the raven-haired tactician didn't care for this military life. He was content (selfish?) enough to just roam the continent and live off of the land. A large part of him wanted to return to that life and leave all this political and strategical philandering to those better suited for it- the rest of him wanted to just stay and begin to establish some roots. A certain Lorcan and Illian had gotten past his defenses and created some sort of semi-familial friendship with him. His hesitancy didn't stem because he didn't care for Lyn and Florina, it was just that he wasn't a military man.
Now that Lundgren had been defeated and Lyn reunited with Hausen, Mark found himself at a crossroads. He could very well leave now that Lyn was on a safe path, but he could also stay and begin a new life.
Mark stared off into the distant horizon and felt his mind begin to mull over the facts as they were and his possible responses. At length, he came to a form of a decision.
"I'm afraid that I have to decline." The tactician admitted.
Sain allowed himself a raised eyebrow.
"You... can't? Pardon my asking, but... why?"
"I'm sorry, Sain, but I have my reasons... Please extend my gratitude to Marquess Hausen for the offer, but I will have to decline."
The sandy-haired knight studied the tactician for several long moments and then then slowly took a step backwards. Sain turned and started to reenter the castle. He paused in the doorway and then turned his attention back to his companion.
"I will delay delivering your answer for the moment, Mark, because I think that you should know that the offer did not originate from Marquess Hausen but from Lady Lyndis."
Mark whipped about and fired a look at the green knight as Sain vanished through the doorway.
At length, Florina's strength returned to the point that she was able to leave her room. Shortly thereafter a summons had been received from the recovering Marquess Hausen indicating that he wished to meet with the Pegasus Knight as soon as possible.
The news had both excited and bewildered the Pegasus Knight. Why would the Marquess Hausen want to see her? She was a simple mercenary, who should have been beneath everyone's notice. So what had drawn Hausen's attention to her?
Unfortunately, no answers would be found in her room. Florina had risen, squeezed into a spare uniform and, upon notifying Kent, proceeded to head towards the prearranged meeting.
The lavender-haired Illian met up with the red knight of Caelin outside of the marquess' room. After exchanging pleasantries, the two moved to begin the audience. It might have been Florina's imagination, but she thought that Kent seemed much more distant than he normally was. There wasn't much that she could do about that at this moment, right now she had to concentrate on the main point of this audience.
The two entered the Marquess' chambers where Florina caught her first sight of Lyn's grandfather. She was a touch surprised to find him to be older and frailer than she had imagined. With all the talk of nobility Florina had come to expect some sort of wizened, benevolent ruler, not the weak man who now sat unsteadily before her with Lyn at his side. Then she remembered the rumor that Lundgren had been poisoning Hausen and realized why the man was so feeble.
"Dame Florina?" Hausen's voice was stronger than the Pegasus Knight had expected it to be.
"Yes, milord." Florina felt her heart constrict a little. She was about to find out why she had been brought her in the first place.
"It appears that... I am deeply in your debt. Evidently..." The elderly man paused for breath and drew a fresh round of strength from the comforting hand that Lyn placed on his shoulder. "... you are responsible for directly saving my life."
"I... I merely did... what anyone would do." Florina hesitated over her reply. What was she supposed to say? What was anyone supposed to say in this situation? "I-I couldn't let Ly- er, the Lady Lyndis down. She desired to see you, and I did what I needed to to insure that that would happen."
"I see... and for that I'm grateful, but that does not change the fact that you, though injured, fought for us. Dame Florina, someone with your strength and loyalty would be of great blessing to us. I would like to hire you as a member of the Caelin Royal Guard... I pray that you will accept it."
For one brief, joyous, moment, Florina's heart was dislodged into her throat, rendering her unable to speak, as joy flooded her chest. She had enjoyed working with the Legion and was saddened to have seen it come to an end, to have to move past the few friends she'd gained. But now she was being given the opportunity to stay close to those that she cared for, to be near Kent, Sain and Lyn, and to pay for her own way. No longer would she be dependent upon others, but would be able to supply for herself and be in a position to help them now.
Finally, the Illian found the words to match her emotions.
"I- I would be honored! I'll do everything in my power to aid you and Ly- Lady Lyndis!" Florina was beaming so brightly that it was almost impossible for her to speak correctly.
"I know that you will."
Without warning, the bedroom door flew open, allowing a ball of lavender hair and nervous energy to come bounding into the room.
The raven-haired tactician paused in his current task as he heard Florina's voice calling to him. As he turned to face his shy companion, Mark came to the realization that there was something different in her voice. It wasn't as quiet or shy as it normally was- instead it was loud and clear.
"Florina." Mark acknowledged the pegasus knight and felt a grin threaten to spill across his cheeks. Her enthusiasm was infectious. "I take it that you're well now?"
"Huh...? Oh... yeah." Florina was momentarily sidetracked by that question about her health but recovered quickly enough. "I hardly feel any pain at all... Mark! Marquess Hausen has hired me, I'm to be employed by the Castle Caelin!"
The tactician's enthusiasm lagged at that news, even as Romeo, from his perch on his master's shoulder, screeched in excitement. He couldn't blame Florina for being overjoyed, this was a big opportunity for her, but the news brought Mark back to his own crisis and that was something that he was struggling to come to terms with.
"That's great." Mark forced his thoughts aside and felt a dash of cheerfulness return to his outlook. "You've really done well, Florina... you have a right to be proud."
"Thanks, Mark... I just... I never could have gotten this far without your help. I... thank you."
"Don't give me all the credit. You did the work and you earned this position... I didn't have as much to do with it as you seem to think... I.. you did more than I." Mark flushed. Why did people seem to think that he was responsible for everything that happened?
"But you... alright. But still... thank you..." Florina felt her momentum sag and decided to just abandon this current topic. Mark had helped her and allowed her to become strong enough to earn such a position, but she wasn't going to argue the point at the moment. She was still too excited over her new offer and promotion.
"You're... welcome. I'm glad for you... I can't think of anyone who deserves it more. This would mean that you get to stay with Lyn and the Legion, wouldn't it? That's a great turn of luck."
"I know, and I'm so happy that we all get to stay together."
Florina unleashed a large smile, which slowly turned into a small grin as her euphoria siphoned away. She was just realizing how far outside of her comfort zone she had traveled in the heat of the moment, and was beginning to flounder as reality caught up with her.
Mark, noticing this, decided that it was time to try and return to much safer waters. The only problem was that he had no idea how.
"Well... I'm sure that this work out for everyone's benefit."
"Yes... um... it should." Florina's eyes broke away from Mark as she began to fidget nervously. Why had she come running in here in the first place? "I... um... should be going...
The pegasus knight's break in eye contact had one unfortunate circumstance. It brought the Illian's focus away from the tactician and to the bundles that he had been working with. Florina felt her stomach drop to the level of her knees as she realized what the shaman had been working on.
A small 'oh' emerged from the pegasus knight's lips as her eyes fell upon the half-full pack and evidence that Mark had been packing. Whatever happiness remained from her job offer had all but evaporated now. Of all the Legion, barring Lyn, Florina felt closer to Mark than to anyone else. The tactician had always looked out for her, encouraged her, and stood by her when things looked bad. When she had been accused of Carjiga's death, Mark had defended her and practically proven her innocence. She didn't know how she would have continued if she'd continued to think herself guilty.
Somehow, in some way, Florina had just come to expect Mark to always be there for the Legion, for Lyn... for herself. The tactician had never mentioned anything about leaving after Lundgren was defeated (although to be fair, he'd never said anything about his plans), but Florina's assumptions that he would remain had just been proven to be way off base.
The tactician turned and glared at his work as if it were a traitor for revealing his actions.
Florina turned and hurried from the room.
Mark started to move after her, then paused. What good would that do? If he didn't have any answers about his own future, then how could he handle explaining them to someone else? He had never expected Florina's reaction to his decision to leave to affect him so, or to cause this rolling knot he now experienced down in his stomach.
The tactician closed his eyes to hide the tears and tried to take refuge in his temporary blindness. During the span of a few short weeks, he had come to care for all of the Legion. Could he really just pack up and leave now as if they meant nothing? But... if he stayed... how would he reconcile being a staff officer and reporting to, and using his abilities for, someone else? He didn't care for conflict and did not want to partake in it more than was necessary. Should he enter the military, then his decisions about what engagements to take part in would be removed... and that was not something that Mark thought he could live with.
That fact further frustrated him. Now, more than ever, he didn't want to leave Castle Caelin, but what choice did he have? He couldn't enter the military, which was probably the only way he could remain. He was no mercenary-
Inspiration struck, and all at once Mark discovered the solution that would resolve his dilemma.
The tactician opened his eyes and smiled softly.
"Alright, Florina." He spoke to the empty room. "I'll stay as long as I'm able."
Mark struck out for his doorway and began to work on the task of tracking down a certain lavender-haired pegasus knight. He knew that he'd have some explaining to do, but he believed that he was more than up to the task.
And that was how it all started. Little did I know that this was just the beginning, and that helping Lyn reach Caelin would look simple compared to the other trials that we would endure. But that adventure was an important step for all of us, because it taught us the fundamentals of combat and how to survive a war. Without that journey, none of us would have survived the Black Fang Campaigns.
Please, take that lesson to heart. Every trial, no matter how small, will only strengthen you for what lies ahead. Learn from these adventures and remember their lessons. The small skirmishes will teach you what you need to fight a larger war.
I apologize that I couldn't teach you these things in person; I just pray that you'll understand and find it in your heart to forgive me, my daughter.
With those words heavy in his heart, Mark penned his final words in the book and slowly closed it. He turned the volume over, and wrote, with steady hand, a title across the front cover. The tactician then sat back and stared at the newly christened tome with hesitant sorrow.
The words written across the cover, in his own pen, stared back at him mercilessly: Wraith of the Lorca: The Legend of Lyndis.
A.N.: Well, there you have it. Wraith is officially concluded. I hope that I didn't put anyone off too much with this chapter, I haven't written a tactician-centric piece of Wraith up 'till now; Mark's decision to stay within Castle Caelin instead of leaving right away was an important event that's going to have repercussions all the way to my AU take on FE6: Sacean Saber. (And yes, he is eventually going to get hitched, just not to a canon character.)
I've spent a lot of time mulling over what to say now that what has undoubtedly become my most successful work has ended. And quite frankly, I need to begin with an apology.
I ask the forgiveness of everyone who has read this story. Human beings are frail things and prone to fault. I have to admit that my initial success with Wraith caused my head to swell and for a bit of an ego to develop for a chapter or two. This caused me to become defensive and snap at a few people who honestly meant to help me with some problems I was having. If I have done that to you, then I apologize and sincerely ask for your forgiveness. I have no justification for my actions, and was entirely in the wrong. I also want to thank those who took the time to deflate my ego and to bring me back to the humility that I should have had all along.
But, on another note, I do want to thank everyone who has ever reviewed this story or gotten their comments to me. I have never had any written story receive as much feedback as Wraith has and I do want everyone to know that I appreciate every bit of it and thank you all for providing it.
That said, I do want to extend a most grateful thanks to one particular member of FF(dot)net. Back when Wraith first started, Kitten Kisses took a lot of time and energy to provide me with a massive and in-depth look at many different characters from FE7 and helped me immensely with my characterization and understanding of them. Without that valuable input, Wraith would not have been what it was. Thank you.
So here's to one finished book and I hope to see you all in the coming side-story and later sequel.
Wing and a Prayer,