Fire Emblem: Dawn of Darkness
Chapter 1: A Broken Love
"Thank you…Ike…" she said. Just then, the two continued to gaze at each other, realizing how close their faces were. Ike's expression gradually grew nervous, but Elincia could see why it was so. He'd probably never been this close to a girl before in his young life. Ike couldn't help but smile at the beautiful young queen standing before him and in the next few seconds, his cheeks turned a rosy red. Elincia noticed it right away.
"Hee hee. You're blushing," she pointed out, causing Ike to go red even more. "Whatever is the matter?"
"Well, I…I…" he stammered, having trouble finding words.
"Shhh," Elincia interrupted, pressing a finger to Ike's mouth. Her face slowly moved closer to Ike's with every second, and moments later, her lips were suddenly pressed against his. Ike, whose eyes bulged wide at first, found himself returning the passionate kiss and let his hands curl around Elincia's waist, pulling her close. Elincia's arms wrapped themselves tightly around his neck.
The moment felt like it would last forever as Ike and Elincia remained in their embracing kiss. In her heart, Elincia knew she loved Ike and no one else. Besides the fact that he was very handsome and they had shared a grand adventure together, Ike had taught and shown Elincia many great things about life that she had not thought existed before, things that not even her closest friends might've been able to show her. They also shared many things in common and shared similar dreams. And Ike had endlessly showed his passion for her and how much he had grown to care for her by defending her at any cost. He had even been willing to give his life up to ensure her dreams would come true. The two let go moments later, both with small smiles on their faces.
"I love you," Ike finally managed to say. Elincia knew he meant it too. She had suspected that he'd fallen for her quite some time ago and hadn't known it. Thus, she knew she had to let him know how much she loved him. Elincia smiled and rested her head and hands upon Ike's chest. Ike responded by keeping one arm around her waist.
"Oh, Ike…You have stolen my heart as well," Elincia admitted. "I will admit it. I've been in love with you since Gallia."
"That long, eh?" Ike replied, a bit of embarrassment in his voice.
"Hee hee…" she giggled again. "At first, I was impressed by how handsome you are."
This statement caused Ike to blush again, and Elincia to giggle even more.
"Then, I could only love you more after seeing your strength and courage in battle and your burning desire to fulfill my dream of a liberated Crimea," Elincia went on. "You even spoke up whenever you thought someone was bullying me! I was forever grateful for everything you'd done and still am. And when you held my hand in the castle as we walked onto the balcony, I felt like the luckiest princess in the world."
Ike remained silent for a moment, his cheeks going even pinker again.
"…Sorry, it's times like this that I have no clue what to say," he admitted, scratching the back of his head.
"Oh, that's alright," Elincia replied with a smile. "I'd probably feel the same way, actually."
"Heh. Although, I will say that the reason I chose to do so much for you," Ike continued. "Is that I was falling in love with you too. I just wish I'd realized it sooner."
Elincia wrapped her arms around Ike's neck and kissed his cheek again before replying.
"But you do now, and that's all that matters to me," she assured, not letting go.
"I'm certainly glad of that," Ike replied lovingly, putting a hand to her chin. Within the next second, he'd locked lips with her once more. They stayed embraced for moments on in once again. After parting and noticing how late it had become, they headed for the castle door, holding hands while doing so. The last time they had done this was the very same balcony scene Elincia described, making it a crucial moment for both. After exchanging a good night kiss, Ike departed back into the castle while Elincia stood at the doorway, many new thoughts probing her mind.
The memory of the man she loved kept ringing through Queen Elincia's head as she sat in her bedchambers within Castle Crimea. That had been her first kiss, in the moonlit castle gardens under the stars. It had been, admittedly, clumsy and awkward at first. This didn't bother Elincia overmuch; if anything, she enjoyed the underlying revelation that she was his first love as much and he was her first. Their time together had been scarce, brief moments of joy stolen from the business of ruling Crimea and leading the war effort, but they were always worth the wait. After having lost so much, her parents and his, and enduring so much, two wars against unspeakable evil and seeing so much misery and death, their time together had allowed them to get something back and a shred of happiness that lightened their burdens and gladdened their hearts. But, even that was now denied. This train of thought reminded Elincia of a poem Bastian had been reading lately. She couldn't remember the poet's name, nor the exact quote, but it was about how there was no greater misery than to remember, with bitter regret, a time of pure happiness. Since her lover's departure, Elincia felt the truth of this every day.
It had been several months since she had last seen him, though it felt like years, and she continued to terribly miss him. Prior to his departure, a rumor had been spread about Elincia and Geoffrey, the commander of Crimea's Royal Knights, that they were sharing a secret romance. Many people had jumped to such a conclusion because Elincia had to have several private war meetings with him that were focused on major conflicts involving their nation, as well as Crimea's internal security so that a repeat of the debacle with Duke Ludveck might be averted. When the news of her lover's departure reached her ears, she could only weep in sadness, for she knew why he left. He must have heard the rumors as well and, wounded as she was, departed in grief. In truth, Elincia had no choice but to accept it and wed Geoffrey as her lord uncle, Renning, proposed soon after and there was no way the man she loved could have ever known that.
As she often did, Elincia regretted that she and her lover had never made their love public. It began roughly three years prior to the events that led to the present during another conflict known as the Mad King's War. The man had been given the title of Lord and made a general in order to liberate Crimea from Daein's grasp. Since then, only a few of the Crimea nobility and a mercenary company known as the Greil Mercenaries had any knowledge of it. Neither group had spread the word at the request of Elincia and her lover, due to the life this man led. They feared there would be uproar of questions and even possible protest among the Crimean common folk as well as the remaining nobility if the truth leaked out. After all, this man was but a commoner himself who rescued Elincia in her time of need. Even his title of Lord had only so much merit since bestowing it was an act of necessity, one which he had objected to. It was not known if their relationship would be accepted, not to mention it even had to be put on hold after the man renounced his peerage to live as a mercenary. More than once, Elincia had considered discreetly reinstating him as a Lord but her fledging monarchy was soon mired in a series of crises that demanded her full attention and more.
Even after everything that had occurred, Elincia still regretted having to marry Geoffrey, despite that she had little say in the matter. Geoffrey had been her next best choice in possible suitors and she would eventually need to produce an heir if she were to remain Queen. The truth was, however, that the two only saw one other as close friends with a bond as close as that of siblings. The only thing Elincia had left to remember the man she truly loved was a long, worn headband he once wore. Elincia now had it tightly gripped in her trembling hands. She'd gotten it from Oscar, one of Crimea's knights, who found it in the fort that once belonged to the Greil Mercenaries.
As tears began to fall down Elincia's cheeks, she began to think of how other people she knew had stayed with the ones they loved. Sothe and Micaiah, the new rulers of Daein, were the foremost example in her mind. If Queen Micaiah could marry Sothe, a lowly thief of all things, why should Elincia be denied marrying a common mercenary? The more she thought about it, the more upset it made her. Why did she have to be the only one without satisfaction in the end? Her thoughts were lost when there was a knock at the door and Geoffrey walked in. He noticed the tears trailing down Elincia's cheeks, easily sensing the reason why.
"You miss him, don't you?" Geoffrey surmised, though he already knew the answer. Elincia quickly turned around to face him. Though she tried to wipe away her tears, more coursed from her eyes in an endless stream.
"Yes… Oh, Geoffrey, I'm sorry! I miss him so very much…" Elincia admitted, sobs choking her words to strangled whispers.
"I…understand," Geoffrey replied, though his tone suggested that he was not entirely happy to hear the queen's words. "I will agree, it was clear ever since you returned to us near the end of the Mad King's War that you and Ike loved one another. I only regret you two could not have done so openly, for you two should not have had to hide anything."
Elincia was speechless for a few seconds, blinking bemusedly as guarded hope welled up in her chest.
"R-Really? You don't mind that you weren't the one I fell in love with?" Elincia inquired, wanting to be sure.
"I don't mind at all, no. Our relationship has always been nothing more than platonic, has it not?" Geoffrey pointed out. "Those rumors were merely started by silly people jumping to conclusions. They should have realized that we would have to discuss what we were to do about Begnion and the Laguz Alliance bringing their conflict onto Crimean soil. But no…they did not. Those stories might have died down overnight, if only Duke Renning had not believed them. I cannot fault him for being so eager to see us wed, though I know it only tore you and Ike farther apart, quite literally. But…"
Here, Geoffrey's words trailed off. His gaze found one of the chamber's windows and he gazed through it for a long, long moment. Elincia didn't ask what he was looking at, for she already knew.
These days, the carefree simplicity of life at the royal villa was on her mind often as well.
"But what?" she wondered after a moment.
"Well," Geoffrey began again, a hint of reluctance in his tone. "It is clear to me now that you and Ike belong together. But, I must confess, I don't like where this is going."
"Oh, Geoffrey…" Elincia replied, sniffling. "I had a feeling you'd say that. I know nobody wants me to leave, especially you and Lucia. I have enjoyed our lives together and you two always supported me. You both were like the older brother and sister I never had and I love you two dearly."
"Well, I'm glad of that and I thank you. But I don't know what I'd do without you. I realize Ike must have felt the same way, perhaps even worse. But, it is my hope that I will have the chance to welcome you and Ike home."
This time, it was Elincia who fell silent. For a time, her moist eyes ran dry and a different emotion seemed to flood into her lambent orbs. Regret now seemed to mingle with her sadness and longing for Ike, and she was unable to meet Geoffrey's gaze.
She did, indeed, love the stalwart Geoffrey, the loyal Lucia, the eccentric Bastian and her indomitable lord uncle…and that was precisely why the words she knew she had to say would be so painful. As much as she loved her family, and her kingdom, she knew that this love did not alter a reality which she had to face. And, though it was as painful as it was clear, she did not shirk from it.
"That's something else I must speak about to you, Geoffrey," she informed him, each word demanding an effort. "I may not be coming back."
Once more, silence fell between the pair. Geoffrey stared at Elincia, as though uncertain he'd heard right, and the mingled surprise and incredulity in his gaze pierced Elincia just as surely as the knight's Brave Lance would have.
"What?!" he blurted, startled by his own vehemence and remembering himself at the last moment. "I…forgive me, Elincia. But, surely you know you and Ike would be welcome here in Crimea?"
"I know what I said must've hurt you…" Elincia replied, all too aware of how great an understatement that was. "But Geoffrey, I have other reasons for choosing to leave. You see, I have been doing a lot of thinking lately, and not just about Ike. I've been retracing my steps from since I was crowned nearly four years ago, and even beforehand, and I've found myself with little choice but to face reality: I do not believe I am fit to remain queen. Please, do not misunderstand me. I love Crimea and my people, and I am forever grateful for what everyone has done to aid me. But, even after…even after Ike's encouragement, I knew that I was not suited to be queen. Still, I resolved to take the throne because I believed the rest of my family was dead and I didn't trust any of the nobles with the crown. I still do not, in fact."
"Elincia, with all due respect, that's nonsense. Your ascension to the throne was unexpected, that much no one can deny. But, you have risen nobly to the challenge. And, under very difficult circumstances, I might add."
Elincia tried to smile in reply to Geoffrey's praise, but it looked more like a grimace and not a trace of levity touched her eyes.
"You always were much too kind to me," Elincia replied with a hint of melancholy. "But, I don't believe I deserve your praise."
"I disagree. We could still be under Ashnard's control, or the throne could have been usurped by Ludveck. We could have been annexed by Begnion, or torn asunder by the conflict between Begnion and the Laguz Alliance. Or, we could still be under Ashera's Judgement. But, you led us through each and all of these crises. You've grown far stronger since the last war ended, many of your people adore you and they now believe in peace between the beorc and laguz. You should be proud."
"Perhaps, but I do not feel proud. I've shown weakness more times than I can count. What's more, I wasn't even raised to be a queen. My lord uncle was chosen to inherit the throne, and I know now that he was the wiser choice. My father and lord uncle did anger many people with their plans to pursue reconciliation between the races, but they were never faced with a full blown rebellion, whereas I was. What's more, I have neither the political acumen of my father nor the forceful personality of my lord uncle. I'm far too hesitant to answer force with force, and I always had a great deal of trouble making difficult decisions."
Geoffrey shook his head grimly, still clearly disapproving of Elincia's self-depreciating words.
"Yet, you never once gave up," he pointed out. "Many who faced the tribulations you did would have, and quickly."
"I likely would have given up if not for the people who had helped me," Elincia countered. "Remember when Ludveck had captured Lucia and was about to execute her in front of us? I had no idea what to do. I knew that, if I conceded defeat to Ludveck, then he would surely undo everything my family worked so hard to accomplish. But, even though Lucia shouted that she would gladly lay down her life for my sake, I knew that I couldn't bear seeing her be killed. I didn't want to decide, I [I]couldn't[/I] decide. I would have failed, both Lucia and Crimea, had Ike and his mercenaries not arrived when they did."
"No one could fault you for being conflicted when faced with such a dilemma, Elincia…"
"Perhaps, but that was not the end of it. When Begnion's army sought to cross through our territory to attack the Laguz Alliance, I had hoped that Crimea could mediate a peace. But, I couldn't stop either side from coming to blows. When I confronted Zelgius, I believed that laying down my weapon would convince him to stand down, but I should have realized that Valtome would not follow suit. If not for you and Ike, I probably would have been killed."
"Seeking peace is always a gamble; sometimes you win, and sometimes you lose. But, there is no wrong in trying. And, you've tried harder than most. I fully believe that, were your father in your place, he would have done the same."
"Would he have done as I did during that flu epidemic that struck the castle a few years ago? We both know how the nobles resented my giving so much attention to ensuring the servants and guards received the treatment they needed."
"You said that saving lives, and preventing the outbreak from spreading, took precedence over the nobles' petty grievances. I stood by your decision then, and I still do."
"I know you do, and I'm glad. But, I should've seen that a different solution was needed. Lucia had caught wind of Ludveck even back then, and my actions played right into his hands. And, not just then either. Ludveck captured Lucia and used her as leverage against me while she was operating under my orders. And, when he arranged that ruse to lure you away from me so that he could strike, I fell for it. He played me the way a bard plays a harp."
"Ludveck proved more devious than any of us suspected. Yet, for all his cunning, he was defeated."
"By Ike, not by myself. I haven't been able to do much, if anything, on my own. I have tried to be as kind and generous to my people as possible, and to press the case for creating stable alliances with the laguz. But, it's not enough. The people need strong, and decisive leadership from someone who can be effective as both a warrior and a diplomat…and, I am neither."
"And what's more, I never even really wanted to be queen. To be honest, I much preferred our life in the royal villa. And, I think it's no secret that we both miss those days. Back then, I felt like a normal girl. I enjoyed learning to cook, clean, sew, and use a sword. I liked being able to play with my friends and…to just be my own person. I wasn't learning anything of politics or how to rule a country, and the people have suffered much for that ignorance. I believe that I am unfit to serve as their leader, and that my lord uncle is best suited to take the throne. I'm so grateful that he's alive, for he knows how to balance being fair with being firm, and he will surely finish the work my father began."
Here, Elincia paused and cupped Geoffrey's cheek with one hand. He seemed to flinch at her touch, but he met her gaze squarely.
"I know that you must be disappointed by my decision, and I'm deeply sorry," she intoned, her eyes misting. "But, I would not be doing this if I did not believe it was in the best interest of the Crimean people."
For a long moment, Geoffrey's gaze drifted and his lips twisted silently as if seeking a counter-argument which he could not find. When he finally broke the silence, his tone almost sounded desperate.
"But… Are you certain that abdication is truly the best course? And, for that matter, why hunt for Ike alone? Couldn't we instead send out search parties to find Ike and explain everything to him? Surely he would return if he knew you still loved him. Forgive me if I speak out of turn, I want you to be happy more than anything. But I don't want to let you leave either. And, whatever you may think of your "shortcomings." I know that many others will agree with me."
"I'm sorry, Geoffrey, but I must go myself. This errand is mine, and mine alone. I ask no one else to undertake it in my stead. I love Crimea, and my people, and you, and the rest of my family dearly. But, I know that I cannot live without Ike and that the people of Crimea deserve better leadership than what I've offered them. I firmly believe that this is what's best for them and myself."
Yet another silence fell between the pair but, rather than wistfulness or pleading, a different emotion gleamed in Geoffrey's eyes. There was sadness and pained resignation, but there was a hint of something more.
Something akin to, Elincia feared, disappointment.
"…Alright, he conceded. "If it's what you really want, then I will do what I can to help. Just know that I'm going to miss you terribly, as will everyone."
Elincia could feel her heart droop in her chest but, when he spoke again, his lips were curved in a valiant attempt at a smile of brotherly affection.
"I don't know if we'll see each other again," he said, and Elincia found herself blinking back tears at the truth of the words. "But, if you and Ike return, both of you will be welcome here."
Elincia was unable to prevent the tears from rolling down her cheeks again, though these tears were of burgeoning hope. She couldn't restrain herself from getting up and throwing her arms about Geoffrey in a tight hug. As some of her sadness began to turn into excitement, Elincia's thoughts raced to how Ike would react when she was finally in his arms again. She knew she couldn't live without the man she loved anymore and had to seek him out, no matter what anyone else thought.
"Oh, Geoffrey, thank you for understanding!" Elincia cried. Geoffrey slipped his arms around her waist and returned her hug. "And if we can come back, we will. I promise."
"Hey, as I said, I would do anything to make you happy," he assured with a smile.
"Yes, but…we don't know where Ike is."
"I have a pretty good idea. You know how the continent of Altarais was recently discovered, right?"
Elincia gasped at Geoffrey's response. Altarais, of course! The continent of Altarais, once thought to have been destroyed in the Great Flood, had recently been discovered to the west of Tellius just as the conflicts had ended. Ships bearing merchants and explorers alike had already begun plying the waters between the two continents.
"You mean he may have gone there?" she guessed. "I must find a boat!"
"Now, not so fast," Geoffrey said as he smiled again, though it seemed a bit forced. "Aren't you going to pack a few things first?"
"Oh, right, of course," Elincia replied, somewhat sheepishly. "I guess I'm just so eager to go."
Without a moment's hesitation, Elincia grabbed a knapsack and began stuffing the essentials inside, including Ike's old headband. It had been the very same one he'd worn during the Mad King's War, and which had accentuated his own unique charm. However, Ike's whereabouts were far from the only thing on Elincia's mind. The prospect of seeking him out had caused her longing for the hero of Tellius to bubble up in her until she felt ready to burst with heady exhilaration. She wanted to feel the warmth of Ike's strong arms around her again, and she longed to gaze once more at his handsome face, into his storm blue eyes. And, above all, she craved to feel his lips on hers again.
But this train of thought soon led to another. What would everyone she knew in Crimea think of her suddenly leaving her nation behind to be with a mercenary? She had banished the notion from her mind earlier, believing that her departure was for the best, but what if those she left behind felt differently? Of course, Ike's former companions, the Greil Mercenaries, would not have a problem with it. They had known of the love between the hero of Tellius and the queen of Crimea for the longest time. Lucia, Geoffrey's sister, as well as Bastian, the count of Fayre, had also known.
But, in the three years between the two great wars, Elincia's relationship with Ike had become a contentious matter between her and her adoptive siblings. Though Lucia had approved at first, her disposition toward the match had shifted when the matter of Elincia and Ike's reputations arose. Lucia had urged Elincia to be cautious with her newfound lover, as word of any impropriety getting out could be ruinous. Thus, when Lucia and Geoffrey learned that Ike and Elincia had come within inches of having intercourse out of wedlock on two occasions, the aqua haired siblings had been mightily displeased. Geoffrey seemed willing to overlook her near-transgressions, but would Lucia be of like mind? Elincia tried to tell herself that her adoptive sister, who had been her closest friend since she was a toddler, would respect Elincia's decision…but, she could not suppress a sense of trepidation at the thought of Lucia's reaction.
However, there were also the other nobles and Crimean common folk who Elincia knew had long supported her reign. What would they think of such a decision made by their queen? What would Renning think? As Elincia worriedly contemplated this, she blew out her breath in a melancholy sigh. Was she was really making the right choice after all? Upon seeing the conflict in her face, Geoffrey then approached her. He laid a gentle hand on her shoulder and smiled.
"Elincia, do not worry about things here," he assured. "I will admit, I had hoped you would have reached a different decision. However, I will see to it there that are no problems arising here from your decision. If Ike is the man you desire to be with, then it should be accepted. And I know Lucia will say the same."
Elincia blinked, startled by the mention of her adoptive sister. Again, Geoffrey seemed to sense her thoughts.
"After the flu epidemic, I heard about the…row you two had," he remarked, his face suddenly turning red. "She was very angry, but I think…I think that having Duke Renning back has forced her to see things for your perspective."
Something in Geoffrey's blush suggested that Elincia most definitely did not want to ask for details. Still, she was not quite reassured.
"Well, are you sure?" Elincia wondered. "What about my lord uncle? Or our friends from the Greil Mercenaries, Gallia, and Begnion? Even Daein?"
"Lord Renning would want you to be as happy as I do, I can assure you," Geoffrey replied. "That is, after all, the reason he arranged…our marriage in the first place, because he believed we were in love. I'm sure he would want your happiness. I cannot speak for Daein, but everyone else has some well-found respect for Ike, as well as for you. They would never stand between you two and your happiness."
"Yeah, that's true. I guess that means Daein's stance is the only one in question," Elincia mused.
"Well, speaking candidly, I'm not sure they would even care," Geoffrey admitted. "That Micaiah seemed to be so stuck up and stubborn that she probably wouldn't even notice Crimea's ruler changed for ages."
"Haha, probably," Elincia replied with a laugh. "And speaking of the throne, my lord uncle will need to know about this as soon as possible. But I'm not sure if I can face him."
"Hm… Then maybe it's best for you to write him a letter instead," Geoffrey suggested. "We also must write the annulment to our marriage and the terms of your abdication. I can deliver everything to him, if you'd like."
"Ah, that's a good idea."
Elincia then quickly finished her light packing and grabbed some parchment and a quill. At first, Elincia found the task to be daunting. How could she explain, to a man who might as well have been her second father, that she was leaving for another continent and that, in all likelihood, they would never meet again? With Geoffrey's urging, however, Elincia soon began to explain why she had to undertake this journey. She wrote about how she had first met Ike and their time together, from the Mad King's War to a battle with wolf laguz and the search for the sword Ettard a mere month later, to the more recent Crimean Rebellion and the Laguz Alliance conflicts. After signing her name upon completion, Elincia and Geoffrey worked together to draw up the papers about their annulment and Elincia's abdication. Elincia then asked that Geoffrey deliver the documents while she prepared for her departure. She threw off whatever she thought might betray her royal origins. Jewelry, head pieces, the translucent cape she wore, anything of the sort would be left behind. Once she was finished, she threw on an old dark brown cloak to disguise herself. It had been the cloak she always used in such occasions, more than a few of which related to seeing Ike. With great reluctance, she decided not to use her Pegasus, Gwydion, to fly to the nearest port. Though Gwydion had served her, and her great-grandmother before her, admirably in the wars, Gwydion was growing old and Elincia knew flying into port would only attract unwanted attention. While it pained her to think of leaving behind yet another friend, when those were few enough to begin with, she knew she was willing to make such a sacrifice to see Ike again and that Gwydion would be well taken care of in his old age.
"Geoffrey…I'm going to miss you and everyone else," she whispered, her voice choked with emotion. "I mean it. I wish Ike never had to leave Tellius…"
"Believe me, so do I," Geoffrey agreed. "And I…I promise that neither I nor anyone else will interfere with your relationship."
"Thank you…" Elincia replied. "Thank you so much, Geoffrey."
With that, they curled their arms around each other once more in one final hug. Though he vainly attempted to prevent it, a tear trickled down Geoffrey's face.
"…Good bye, Elincia. And good luck," he choked out.
Their last hug had lasted only for a few moments, and Elincia immediately exited the room when they drew apart. Her last gesture towards Geoffrey was turning back one final time, a tear falling down her cheek. Geoffrey, meanwhile, took the letter, the annulment, and the abdication papers, but did not leave the room. He could only clench them tightly in his fist as more tears flowed down his cheeks.
His tears, he knew, would be the first of many that would be shed when news of Queen Elincia's departure spread throughout Crimea.
Though it proved difficult to avoid the guards, Elincia ultimately made it out of the castle without being seen. She was glad that she had chosen to take Amiti with her as she strode through the streets of Melior. It was dark out, and traveling during the nightly hours could prove to be dangerous. Still, Elincia needed to arrive in Port Toha in the west by dawn so she would have plenty of time to find and board an Altarasian ship returning to its native port. Thankfully, it had been easy to leave Melior. The streets were virtually empty, shops were closed, and since the night guards were changing shifts, it was simple enough to avoid being seen. However, once the former queen finally departed the city, her fortunes took a turn for the worst. Elincia knew which way was west, but she had to travel through many wooded areas as well as small villages and towns, and all while ensuring that she was not recognized. As she followed the first forest path she came upon, Elincia's eyes began to dart nervously in all directions. Though she had marched with the army in the wars, she had never traveled alone before; much less through a forest at night. Still, she had to make it to the port; if not for herself, then for Ike.
As she clambered through a heavily wooded grove, however, a cracking noise echoed throughout the area. Elincia paused for a moment, sucking in her breath and her eyes roaming the dark landscape, but nothing appeared. When she took another step, the noise rang out again. Only, it was much louder this time. Elincia whirled and saw what looked like a squat mass of shadows which suddenly rose upward to tower over her. When she made out the gleam of sharp teeth dripping saliva, she realized what she was looking at. It was a brown bear. As a child, she had once wandered away from the Royal Villa and happened upon a pair of bear cubs. Not realizing how dangerous such creatures could be when they grew older, she had frolicked with them while her caretakers frantically searched for their missing charge. After she had been found, her lord uncle had been quite amused by the story, and had, Elincia suspected, purposefully riled a few people up by giving the small princess a stuffed bear.
This bear, however, looked much, much larger than the cubs she had stumbled upon so long ago. It also looked far less friendly, for it drew back a massive paw that glinted with sharp claws. Elincia yelped and quickly darted aside to evade the attack. The bear's claws whistled past her, tearing the bark from a tree just behind the former queen. Elincia felt herself blanch; if a blow like that landed, it would likely take her head off. Deciding that fighting the beast would be most unwise, she turned and bolted down the path in hopes that she could lose the beast and keep from becoming its breakfast. She did not want to fight it unless she had no alternative, as she knew that she could not hope to match the beast's strength. Her best chance was to outrun it, and hope the bear caught scent of something more appetizing than herself.
The bear crashed through the forest after her, the rumble of its pursuit causing the frightened former queen to begin running frantically. Pumping her arms for speed, and her legs a blur of motion, she did not realize that the forest around her had thickened and that the tree roots had begun to encroach upon her path. Before she realized it, a stray tree root caught Elincia's foot. She toppled over and crashed to the forest floor. The bear soon caught up and, drawing back its paw again, swung at her legs. Elincia desperately rolled to one side, and the flashing claws dug into her cloak instead, allowing her to scramble to her feet and attempt to run. But, her cloak was still firmly in the bear's grasp. Unable to undo the cloak's clasp with her trembling fingers, Elincia bent away from the creature while it held her fast. The beast was strong, but the cloak began to rip and fray under the strain and eventually it tore, allowing Elincia to free herself. With the bear struggling to free its paws from the portion of the cloak that now shackled its forelimbs, Elincia made her escape.
I am never going to look at that stuffed bear the same way again.
Elincia ran for what felt like a mile before she was sure the beast had lost her scent. Gratefully, Elincia slowed from a headlong run to an exhausted halt. She was sweaty, dirty, and panting heavily, but the former queen caught her breath and pressed on. The next hour or so of travel passed without incident but, as the forest began to thin, clouds gathered in the dark sky. A peal of thunder shook the tree branches and rain began to fall. Elincia had a hood on her cloak, but it did little to keep her from eventually getting drenched. Still more hours passed, and by the time the sun began to rise, she was shivering heavily and looked as if she had jumped into the Ribahn River. Her thoughts felt distant and scattered, likely exhaustion from her encounter with the bear or an illness from the rain, or both. She had also very nearly run right into a bandit stronghold thinking it was an abandoned building she could use as temporary shelter. When she saw a group of ragged-looking ruffians carrying axes slink inside, Elincia had immediately turned away, lucky to have not been seen.
After another few hours travel, she finally struck a road that she recognized. Taking care to ensure that her face was concealed by her hood, she followed it. Since the sun was only just coming up, there was little traffic and, of those camped on the road, all were either asleep or occupied with preparing for the day. Later still, as the sun rose higher and she was beginning to dry off, the call of gulls and the lapping of waves against the shoreline reached her ears. And soon, for the first time in days, a smile dawned the former queen's face. Port Toha had finally come into view. After everything she had gone through the previous night, Elincia was finally going to be on her way to Altarais. And, from there, she would journey onward until she was in her lover's arms once more.
Why? Why, Elincia…? Why did all of this have to happen? Ike kept asking himself the same question over many times as he stood on a high rock overlooking the vast sea bordering the continent of Altarais. It was late in the day when the sun was on the verge of setting. It shined upon the large, open waters ahead, painting them red and gold. Why did you have to marry Geoffrey? Why did we have to keep everything about us a secret? Unable to rid his mind of the thoughts of his true love back in Tellius, the events leading to the separation of him and Elincia replayed over and over. The Crimean Rebellion that attempted to dethrone Elincia, the Laguz Alliance between Gallia, Phoenicis, and Kilvas going to war with Begnion and for a previously unknown reason, Daein, all played some sort of role. The rumors about Geoffrey and Elincia had indeed reached Ike's ears, and when they had done so, he could not prevent himself from grieving and choosing to simply run away from the problem. His desire to explore, though truthful, had merely been an excuse and a vain hope that his wandering would staunch his heartbreak. Had Ike and Elincia not turned all their focus on the now-resolved conflicts and kept their relationship so obscure, Lord Renning and the Crimean common folk would have recognized that in truth, Elincia loved Ike.
As Ike continued to watch the beating waves in the sea before him, another thought came to his mind. He wished somehow he could go back to Tellius to see Elincia again, but with her married to Geoffrey, he knew he could not show his face. It would only make matters worse and possibly cause even more rumors to start spreading. No good would come out of Elincia secretly seeing Ike while she had already married either. Ike's shoulders sagged under the weight of heartbreak and his gaze turned downward as he realized there was no way for him to succeed without causing trouble. Either he'd find out Elincia had discarded him in favor of Geoffrey or, even if she hadn't, he'd be faced with the impossibility of pursing his love with her since she was already married. Just then, a pair of footsteps came up from behind him. It was Ranulf, Ike's laguz companion and close friend on his journey. He had left his home of Gallia to join Ike on the trip. Ike turned around to see the cat laguz standing there.
"Oh, hey Ranulf…" he greeted in a depressed tone.
"I figured I'd find you up here. You're not sulking about the rumor incident again, are you?" Ranulf wondered. "I told you it wasn't your fault."
"I know, but I still feel I could have made things come out differently," Ike protested. "I wish I could just turn back time."
"Well, I don't know, but listen, I know how you feel," Ranulf replied. "You know, about Elincia and all."
"What? Ranulf, I love her. I could have had a life with her, had all these problems not happened. Sure, she's of a royal bloodline, but I don't care. Love takes priority over my distaste for the life of nobles and royals," Ike stated. "Since when have you ever been involved in anything to do with love?"
Ranulf heaved a sigh of nervousness before answering Ike's question.
"Well…I never told anyone this, but I…for the longest time I was stuck between Lethe and Lyre," Ranulf admitted. "I couldn't choose between either of them. Being twins, they were similar to one another and if you loved one, you can't help but love the other."
"Oh, I see where you're going with this. You chose to leave both so you didn't have to make a choice."
"Exactly. I never even knew who I loved, let alone could I be with her."
"I see. Perhaps I'm not solely to blame, but then I can't help but think Geoffrey is responsible too," Ike replied. "I actually once thought he did love Elincia, but I never said anything."
"Well, I really don't know about that either, but I can tell you that the rumors were definitely no one's fault," Ranulf assured Ike. "It was a gigantic misunderstanding."
"Yeah, you're right," Ike agreed. "I can't pout about it forever, so I may as well set it aside for now. And let's get going, it's starting to get late."
As the days went by, thoughts of being with Ike again never left Elincia's mind. After nearly missing last boat of the day to Altarais when she was leaving Crimea, she stood on the deck and looked out at the sea before her. Hopefully Altarais wouldn't be too long of a journey, at least not any longer than the ocean voyage from Crimea to Begnion during the Mad King's War, which was roughly two months. However, to her pleasure, the journey from Tellius to Altarais was said to be only a few weeks, due to the calm waters and the fact that this boat moved faster than the one Elincia and Ike had been on. As she remained on the deck, never taking Ike out of her mind while watching the sunlight sparking off the bay and relished the salty spray of the sea, Elincia wondered how Geoffrey was doing on the matter of meeting with Renning and ending the marriage, as well as her uncle's thoughts about the letter. She hoped that he would understand everything that had happened was a mistake. She felt that Geoffrey was right that he would, but Elincia simply couldn't bring herself to tell him in person.
Deciding to keep her identity of former queen to herself, Elincia, spent two more weeks aboard the ship in relative solitude until one night, when she returned below decks to turn in for the evening. The halls of the inside of the boat were full of people going to Altarais, either returning from exploring Tellius or having disembarked from Tellius to explore the newly discovered continent and having general conversation. As Elincia approached her cabin, a dark red-haired woman who appeared be no older than her had turned a corner into the hall. While in a run, she mistakenly bumped into Elincia, causing her to stumble. The woman swiftly caught her before she could fall.
"Oh! I beg your pardon! I'm so sorry!" the woman apologized. Elincia simply smiled as the woman helped her up.
"It's alright, it was just an accident," she replied. "I've…never seen you before. Are you from Altarais?"
Before answering, the woman looked Elincia over as if the former queen was someone she knew, but hadn't seen in years.
"Why, yes, I am," the woman confirmed, smiling back. "I'm Azura. What brings you here?"
"Oh, I'm looking for someone," Elincia explained. "That's why I'm going to Altarais."
"You don't say? You wouldn't happen to be looking for a man named Ike, would you?" Azura guessed.
Elincia's eyes widened in surprise.
"How…how'd you know that?!" she gasped.
Azura smiled again and pushed back her long red hair, part of which had been set back into a ponytail. Her chest, arms, shoulders, and legs were covered with light blue armor, undecorated and clearly designed for mobility, and a sword was sheathed at her side. The sword caught Elincia by surprise, as it looked remarkably like one Ike used to use. Its red grip and silver hilt were all too familiar. Elincia had little doubt that it was a Regal Sword. Had Ike given it to Azura or did more than one of those blades exist? Whatever the reason, Elincia's main thought was how Azura knew Ike at all.
"Ah, you see, he is indeed there. I met him at the harbor we're now heading for when he first arrived," Azura explained. "He's quite the acquaintance. At first, he wouldn't tell me why he'd left home, but when I convinced him that he could trust me, he gave me his story. It was quite a tale. I had wondered why he didn't seem happy when I first spotted him on the boat's plank."
Azura went on to say that Ike had told her tales of his heroism in the Mad King's War as well as a sword he once used, a blessed golden blade called Ragnell, and conflict between the Begnion Empire and the Laguz Alliance. Elincia finished off these stories by mentioning a few things Ike hadn't told her, such as his duels against his former arch nemesis, the Black Knight and the Crimean Rebellion. It led her to begin talking of Ike's noble heroism, his strength and skill, his kindness, his courage, and how he would have secret meetings with her which no one else knew of. She even spoke of his looks, describing him as handsome beyond all reasoning.
"Heh, you really have it bad for Ike, don't you…Elincia?" Azura guessed with a smile.
"How…how do you know who I am?!" Elincia wondered with a gasp.
"Oh, Ike has talked about you more than anything else," Azura replied with a chuckle. "He misses you an awful lot."
Elincia turned her head and let her cheeks become a rosy pink color.
"That's my Ike alright," she confirmed. "How have he and Ranulf been? I mean…assuming you met Ranulf as well."
"Oh yeah, we all know one another. Ranulf is just his catty self, sometimes playfully teasing us," Azura replied. "Ike's great, except when he mopes about leaving you."
"Ah, well this is exactly why I'm traveling all this way," Elincia commented. "I've ensured that my people are in good hands. It was a very hard decision, but I just...can't function without the man I love by my side. In fact, I don't ever wish to speak of my royal blood again."
A few more days went by as Elincia grew to know Azura a little better each time they spoke. Ike had apparently talked with her a lot as well, as she knew more than Elincia had expected. She knew a little bit about the Greil Mercenaries, the aiding of the Laguz Alliance, and about the laguz themselves. Now reminded of another story, Elincia told her of the incident that had occurred with a new tribe, the wolves, just a month after the Mad King's War ended. Ike was almost killed in the battle when he dueled the wolf king one on one, despite how strong he is even without Ragnell. Two of the few remaining wolves that had inhabited a country called Hatari had then been seen in Tellius during the aiding of the Laguz Alliance.
"Wow. That must have been some battle," Azura commented one early morning. "And a strong king too. Ike mentioned something about a skill he uses and trains with called…Aether was it?"
"That's right. Everyone likes to call it his signature move. He used it against the wolf king, but the king still had a lot of energy, despite how badly wounded the move left him," Elincia finished. "Ike only barely brought him down, thanks to a lightning strike sending a boulder falling towards him."
Elincia continued by mentioning the incident where Ike was shoved to the ground and buried in falling pieces of rock from a cliff above, but his superior physical strength enabled him to lift the biggest rock off the top of the pile and throw it a short distance. The wolf king, along with a lot of his comrades, were bowled over and killed by the boulder's impact. The wolf queen, Nailah, never indicated that she had any knowledge of the battle for an unknown reason.
"Wow, seriously?!" Azura gasped. "I noticed Ike had quite the set of muscles, but I never pictured him doing something like that!"
"Yeah, Ike is an amazing warrior," Elincia replied, blushing and smiling at the same time. "That battle took a lot out of him though, he passed out from his wounds and losing a lot of blood. Rhys, one of the healers, managed to heal him but we feared he'd die from the blood loss. It was a miracle he lived."
"Well, thank goodness. It sounds like Ike had it real rough," Azura interpreted.
Elincia nodded in agreement as the two headed onto the deck that morning. The sun was shining brightly with few clouds soaring over head in the blue sky. A light, cool breeze blew across the boat as it continued its journey to its destination. Elincia peered over the front of the boat and could faintly see hills, trees, and mountains in the far distance. A smile formed on her face as she pointed to the sight of land.
"Hey, is that Altarais?" Elincia inquired, turning to Azura.
"Yep! We're almost there," she replied.
"Oh, finally! Soon I'll see Ike again for the first time in months…" Elincia gushed happily, tears of joy building up in her eyes. Perhaps Ike was still right there in town on the harbor, thinking of her at that very moment. She imagined how happy he'd be when she was in his arms again. Around a half an hour later, the boat finally began to pull into the dock. Elincia grabbed her bag from her boat cabin and bolted through the exit once it was opened. Azura followed behind, seemingly happy to be in her homeland again. The two came to a halt on a road in the little town called Galden at the coast of the nation of Talgria.
"Okay, I've seen Ranulf around here in town a lot, so if we're going to find Ike, we should look for him first," Azura said, breaking the silence. "I know they have a camp somewhere, but... Ugh, I've been gone so long that I've forgotten where it is."
"It's alright, we'll find them" Elincia assured. "But wait, Ranulf is a laguz… The beorc here get along with them?"
"Yeah, we do. The beorc and laguz of Altarais have been at peace with one another for a long time," Azura explained as the two young women began their search in town for Ranulf, going down each road and alley way they could find. Despite searching for over an hour, however, the laguz was nowhere to be found. They even inquired if anyone had seen a blue-haired beast laguz wandering about in town, but no one could give them the answer they hoped for. Still, they kept up the search, hoping Ranulf would at least come into town sooner or later and tell them where they could find Ike. Almost suddenly, just as Azura and Elincia reached the outskirts of town, a group of what appeared to be bandits jumped out of nowhere from the woods ahead. The ring-leader cackled with delight when he set eyes upon the two women.
"Well, well! Looks like we got ourselves a couple o' girls askin' fer some trouble, mates!" he glowered, noticing both were armed. "Let's show 'em what happens when someone gets 'n our way!"
Azura, betraying no more than irritation, glared at them and drew her sword.
"I don't think so, wise guy!" she retorted and charged at the leader. Since the he was wielding an axe, Azura had the upper hand with her sword due to better range and mobility, but it was unknown how strong the bandits actually were.
"Elincia! I'll hold these ruffians off! Keep looking for Ranulf!" Azura called back.
However, Elincia had other ideas.
"But what if you're not strong enough by yourself?" Elincia protested worriedly, all too aware that the bandits had Azura outnumbered.
"Don't worry, I've handled guys like these a lot in the past!" Azura replied as she dodged the blade of an axe and drove her sword into the flesh of the bandit next to her. "Just go!"
Unfortunately, one of the bandits spotted Elincia as she began to flee.
"Oh no ya don't!" he shouted and ran after her. "Yer not goin' anywhere!"
"Elincia, behind you!" Azura warned, taking note of the situation. Elincia turned around, having heard what the bandit said.
"Oh yeah? My blade says otherwise!" she retorted and stabbed the bandit right in his gut with her own blade, Amiti. He immediately fell from the fatal blow. Elincia then continued running as fast as she could back through town before any other bandits could try to stop her. Scrambling through the roads as fast as she could, Elincia frantically sought out Ranulf, hoping to find him or even Ike before getting totally lost, and lost in a town all by herself was the last thing she wanted to be at the moment.