A/N: I've had this scenario playing around in my head for a bit, borrowing pieces from other stories I had planned but will probably never get around to doing. The idea got out of hand and turned out to be a lot longer than intended so there's probably going to be a few more chapters to go along with it. I've been on a Royal Knights binge so had to do something with them.

No.

No. No.

No!

This wasn't happening…

Please, Ashera…

It felt like everything just stopped, including the heart in his chest, as he watched the scene before him break completely apart. Their plans were to try and cut off the Begnion forces, it seemed simple enough when it was written down on the maps and discussed in tents but… he should've known better than to think it would stay like that. This whole war was a mess to start with, but this… this was pushing it and he wasn't sure if this was the direction they really wanted to go.

He wasn't expecting the Royal Knights to show up.

He wasn't expecting Queen Elincia to show up.

He knew she would make a stand against the war, proclaiming Crimea as an independent in this war; a neutral state. Crimea was struggling enough as it was, the last thing they needed was to get involved in a war that had nothing to do with them. They needed to focus on their own domestic problems, that was it. Of course it wouldn't go over well with Begnion, of course they'd get pissed off but this… this was beyond a respectable reaction.

It was like watching a massacre…

He held no doubts that the Mercenaries and the Laguz Alliance could hold their own against the expansive force of the Begnion army- they had been so far. And while they struggled a few times, they always managed to get back on their feet and hold their own long enough to secure a decent victory. But… the Crimean army had taken a hit once or twice so far, their numbers didn't even compare to Begnion's and because of that… it made them an easy target. Begnion's forces outnumbered them easily enough and for a moment, when he watched them run the field, he was struck with the realization that somehow Begnion must've planned this encounter. Several smaller units had arrived and sealed off the clearing that the Royal Knights had emerged from, sealing off their only way of escape and surrounding them on all sides.

It was almost as if Begnion no longer wished to bother itself with the Laguz Alliance. They had set their sights on a more vulnerable group… after all, the Crimean Queen would be a prize to take from the field.

"Oh Goddess…"

The words left him airlessly as he watched the units surge forward and watched as the Knights almost immediately sank underneath the ambushed attack.

"Hey, can we not stand around and watch this?!"

The sharp call from behind him snapped him out of the scene and the cold realization of the situation hit him. If they didn't do something now… they were going to lose all of Crimea in this one battle. What the hell was he thinking?!

"Go, go, go! Cut off the Begnion forces, protect the Royal Knights!"

If anything, he needed to protect Queen Elincia just the same but if she lost everyone in this battle…

And like that, he watched was the Mercenaries erupted from behind him and rushed in to take to the field.

Titania and Oscar took their positions as lead as they dove headfirst into the circling massacre; seemingly ignoring their own safety in order to obey the order. They were more concerned for the safety of the Knights and took that over caring about the awaiting leader who stood on the other end of the field; there would be plenty of time to cut the head from the body but… until then, there were more important matters. He trusted the two paladin riders, after all they had been carrying the Mercenaries single-handedly through the war so far… if anyone could provide a sense of protection, it was them.

Gatrie went through next with Boyd close at his side, ready to cut down any stragglers that Titania and Oscar didn't strike the first time through.

Shinon and Rolf took position to eliminate who they could from a further distance; he could hear the sharp snapping of the bow with every released arrow.

The sharp shrieking overhead gave away Ulki and Janaff's positions as they soared ahead to provide what cover they could without getting themselves in an arrow's way.

He could never question the Mercenaries' strength, after they had lead the way during the Mad King's War and swiftly saved Lady Lucia at the last minute, there was no second-guessing their abilities on the field.

But for once, it didn't seem like enough.

He questioned his own ability to empty the field this time.

It was a cold, startling feeling that shook every limb and made it difficult to move. Tightening his grip on the sword in hand, he took a step forward and took to the field himself… feeling as though he was the last one to do so.

Setting his sights on the struggling Crimean Queen, he tried to use his speed to compensate for his late start; making easy work of the distance between the two since most of the soldiers in between had been slain by those before him. He felt the ground almost shake beneath him as Mordecai thundered by; his heavy Tiger form was usually slow in movement but today carried on an unseen sense of determination in his features. Well… being outrun by a Tiger was one thing but at least he would help to clear the battlefield with greater precision. Still though he couldn't help the slight feeling of being useless overcome him.

The heat of the massacre was easy to get lost in though and he was overcome by the circling mess of soldiers. Begnion paladins created a tight circle around the battle, determined to lock the Knights into one area; it would make them easier to take out one by one. Titania was giving them a nice run though and he watched as the woman cut through a short opening, forcing the soldiers to scramble as they tried to reconnect their lines.

There were plenty of other soldiers to go around though and he felt the field finally come to life as the heat of a blade skimmed the flesh of his left arm. He was quick to turn and eliminate the soldier though, splitting the man's throat open in a single swing. The motion had happened so flawlessly, the action was fluid… he wondered if it had even happened in the first place. But the heavy strike of the soldier hitting the ground in heavy convulsions, dying fingers grasping at the widen split of his throat said otherwise. He tried not to be one to dwell and continued to make his way towards the rampaging mess.

"Jeez, where do they get all these guys?!" Gatrie shouted, gritting his teeth slightly as a paladin struck at his shield, just barely missing his head by a few inches.

"Stop being a baby." Boyd replied as he ran the back of his hand across a short gash that split his right cheek open. "We've barely even started this thing. Just give us a few minutes and we'll have this mess all under control, right Ike?"

He almost didn't even hear the words and paused to take sight of the battle once more.

"Ike, get your head out of your ass and pay attention."

The words helped to snap him free once more and he turned back to the green-haired man. "Yeah… it would go a little faster if you stopped complaining about little cuts like that."

"Hey, this thing almost put out my eye I'll have you know." Boyd remarked, wincing slightly as an arrow collided with Gatrie's shield; he turned back and watched as the Marshal shook off the hit before he started towards the battle. "Okay, so what exactly is your problem today?"

He frowned briefly at the words and turned to knock down the swordsman that rushed him, eventually twisting his blade into the man's chest as a final act. "I don't think right now is the time to answer something like that."

"Well I'm not sure if you're going to make it to the end of this battle, you look like you're about to have a heart attack." Boyd continued as he loosened a hand axe from the back of his belt; he held it for a moment to steady his footing and get his aim down before he pulled back and released it. He held his breath until he heard that ever familiar shriek of the targeted soldier getting struck by the airborne blade.

"Now is not the time." he repeated. "Are you going to help me break that line or not?"

"Ah well… I figured Oscar was going to do it eventually…" he started sarcastically before he eventually scraped the sentence. "Yeah, let's get this over with."

He wanted to ask the man if he even cared about the Royal Knights' well-being but he knew how the Warrior functioned at times… still, the empty tone made him question his alliance for a moment.

And then he heard an even greater shriek that caught the attention of both of them.

The circling path of paladins was broken once more, but this time from the inside as one of the soldiers was knocked completely down- mount and all. He thought it might've been Titania once more but he quickly noted that the armor was blue instead of red. The Crimean General spared no expense though and circled back to catch the next soldier off-guard. It was an excruciating noise as he burrowed the silver tip of his lance into the man's chest, breaking through his armor to crush his chest plate and pierce the heart beneath. With a quick twist, he pulled the body off the saddle and let it fall to the ground below, somehow managing to rip the weapon free before it broke off. His next swing was a little slower and only managed to damage the next soldier's armor, a great contrast to the move he just performed.

"Well hey, looks like they're doing better than we thought." Boyd remarked.

And then there came the javelin that managed to lodge itself into the General's shoulder, breaking off part of his armor in the process.

"… Nevermind, forget that previous statement."

The battle continued on in an ever turning mess of blades and soldiers; the ending never seemed to get any closer and it felt like whenever he knocked down one, there were three more to take its place. He watched as a few of the Mercenaries took heavy hits and were knocked down, but they were quick to get back up and continue on the fight. Even he was knocked off his feet from a heavy collision with an enemy Marshal, its shield felt as though it had popped his shoulder out of place and had he not rolled out of the way, he would've had the lance stuck in his ribcage. But he couldn't afford to stay down and immediately got back up to continue the battle.

He heard that terrified scream and turned in fear, watching as the blacked-haired Archer was knocked free from her mount. There was no wasted time as he forced himself to her location, driving his blade through the soldiers in his path, not even bothering if the hit killed them or not. By the time she had managed to find the strength to get to her feet, he was at her side; striking down the swordsman who had threatened to claim her.

"Are you alright?" he questioned, keeping one eye on the field around them.

"Not really." Astrid managed to gasp out, one hand keeping to her abdomen. "I should live though, so that's good."

That wasn't the least bit good…

"Do you need-" he barely had time to finish his sentence before he felt her hand against his shoulder as she shoved him out of the way. A worn down crossbow took his place and in a single squeeze of the trigger, she planted an arrow into the eye of an approaching soldier; killing any sense of life there might've been in the man. He would be the first to admit he didn't even see the man approaching…

"Well, at least my eyes are still good." she spoke, offering a faint chuckle along with the words.

He kept her covered until she managed to secure her mount and get back into the saddle, eventually taking off to the other end of the battlefield.

It was only when they managed to cut down the soldiers circling about, when they managed to force an opening and keep it open, they were able to split their forces to go for the Begnion General in charge. He kept back to keep an eye on the Royal Knights, watching as they were able to make a stand of their own despite the overwhelming circumstances that were against them at first. It was a huge relief to see that they were still able to function, that they weren't in a position to fall. Perhaps he had gone into this battle with too much panic, maybe he underestimated their strength… but he supposed it was better to be safe than sorry.

Not to mention, he didn't even want to risk the Crimean Queen being hurt.

The thought of it created an ache in his chest that wouldn't go away.

By the time the battle was over with, the field was torn apart and littered with countless bodies, most if not all of them were Begnion soldiers. He felt an odd sense of guilt to admit how glad he was for that… glad to know that not a single soldier from their own army had been put down. He was still shaking and an overwhelming sense of exhaustion kept rattling his nerves, but he had a feeling it wasn't from the fighting and he knew better than to think otherwise.

It was from the panic, the worry and… everything left.

He had managed to take a few hits but they were barely anything more than flesh wounds, nothing more than scratches. And he wasn't going to complain about them, he had put himself into far too many close calls to be comfortable with for the rest of the war. Panting slightly, he moved to sheath his sword and wipe the sweat from his forehead before he looked to see what was going on.

Mordecai, Ulki, Boyd and Titania had departed to take care of the Begnion General and were slow to return, finding that the mess of bodies across the field had created quite an obstacle course for them. He was surprised at their ability to take down the rest of the Begnion regiment so quickly but… he wasn't going to curse their timing; the quicker the battle was over, the better.

A few of the other soldiers like Gatrie, Shinon and Mia kept on their guard just in case reinforcements decided to show up; they would be enough to buy the rest of the field some time.

Those remaining were taking the quick downtime to rest and pull themselves back together, taking the pause to check over one another.

The Royal Knights… they were doing about the same.

He pushed himself towards them after having been pushed aside when the battle finally broke down and found himself having to step over bodies while trying not to let his nerves fail him.

He needed to speak to them, he needed to know if they were okay, if they were going to make it. Maybe even more importantly… he needed to speak with her…

Three years was a long time.

Calill kept her hands on Astrid's shoulders as she tried to calm her down; the Archer was still clinging to her stomach with one hand keeping cover over her mouth. The encounter didn't spell anything good and curiosity had him wanting to know what it was but respect kept him from thinking more on it. It didn't seem to take all that long before Makalov cut in and quickly took the woman into his arms, feeling the way his wife seemed to immediately fall against him.

They were in bad shape.

"Hey, Sir Ike… long time no see." Marcia called as she dismounted from her Pegasus nearby; the armor on her left leg was gone, leaving behind a long gash to split her calf open. She held a look of exhaustion, but it was one that seemed that had been carried over from more than just one battle; it was a lingering sensation, a lingering feeling. A short groan left her as she set her hands against her back and pushed it forward, earning a sharp crack in response. "Thanks for the assist. We really needed it…"

"I wish we could've gotten here sooner." he started, catching sight of Titania and the others growing closer now. "How have things been? You guys look in bad shape."

"The absolute worst." she chuckled. "You should probably talk to the General, he'd be glad to hear from you again." she twisted this time to dispel another muscle cramp before she paused slightly. "What the… what's up with Astrid? Did something happen?"

He gave a light shake of his head in answer. "I don't know, she got knocked off her horse earlier-"

"Shit!" and just like that, the woman took off.

Maybe he should ask after all…

Shaking his head, he reluctantly pushed the matter aside and continued on towards the rest of the small group; taking note that the woman he was seeking was just now landing her own Pegasus. She must've just taken an overhead view of the field because he knew she had chosen to remain on the ground throughout the entire duration of the battle- despite the calls for her to get out of danger's way. Even from this distance, he could see the paleness in her skin, the worry etched across her face, and he held no doubt that her hands were shaking just the same because he knew his were.

He just… needed to keep himself calm, figure out what he was going to say and how to handle the situation. But the constant sight of her continued to wipe his mind again and again, causing him to wonder if he was just going to end up rambling to her instead. As long as he could find out if she was going to be okay though… he supposed it wouldn't matter what he said to her.

Goddess, the more he thought about it, the longer three years seemed to be.

"Man, this battle took long enough."

He felt himself cringe slightly at the voice and turned in order to see the same green-haired man from before. Well… there went speaking to the Crimean Queen himself. "Yeah well… it was well worth it, right? Everyone's alive and well."

"I don't know, you should see this gash that Oscar got, talk about a killer." Boyd remarked. "It's going to be a hellva wound to heal."

"You took a hit to the face but I think that's more of an improvement." Ike replied.

"Go fuck yourself."

He hit the Warrior briefly in the side with his elbow before he pushed himself towards the Queen, watching as she slowly dismounted from the winged mount. "Queen Elincia." he started, at first wondering if his voice had even been loud enough to get her attention.

But she turned at the call seamlessly and when her eyes met with his own… it felt like the entire battlefield around them was gone; that every body, living or dead, was no longer in presence. And in that single moment, he felt an overwhelming sense of calmness, as though all the panic from before had never existed in the first place.

"Lord Ike." she spoke in return, looking as though she was about to say more before she stopped herself. "You deserve my thanks."

"I wish we could've gotten here sooner." he started. "We weren't expecting them to cut this far inland… and we had been kind of hoping their forces would've been smaller." it felt like he was merely rambling in hopes to start some kind of apology for the mess. But it was honest, their reports didn't show a force of this size; the Begnion regiment should've been easier to take down but then again, they weren't expecting another unit to move in for an ambush either…

"Well, you don't have to worry about them for now, we've got it all under control." Boyd spoke.

If he wasn't in the presence of the Crimean Queen, he would've struck the man once more to keep him quiet.

"Not sure how long that's going to last though."

He would've hit him really hard too.

The woman offered another light smile and gave a short nod. "Yes well… I will have to agree with that statement. They haven't stopped for weeks now and I see no reason why they should now."

"That would explain why you guys look like you're in bad shape." Ike continued.

"Words can't described what's happened these past few weeks." Elincia started, a low sigh breaking from her lips as she moved to cross her arms, almost appearing as though she was holding herself instead. "Begnion units have been targeting our cities, civilians… even individual soldiers in an attempt to put us down. And to think they have the nerve to say that we are the ones who are wrong." she paused slightly as fingers moved to brush aside a loose lock of hair, stopping briefly to cradle her left temple.

Goddess… what he would give to just walk over and comfort her, much like how Makalov had been with Astrid. The woman looked as though she was on the verge of breaking but had forced herself to keep her composure for the sake of the army.

"Targeting soldiers? That's low even for Begnion." Boyd commented with a short whistle.

"But it's nothing new." Ike remarked. "Opposing units tend to target healers first to remove any chance of recovery for injured soldiers and they'll target Generals just the same to end a battle as quickly as they can. It follows the process that if you remove the head of the unit, the rest will die."

The woman gave another nod but something in her expression said more. It seemed to take her a bit longer before she lightly cleared her throat. "Yes, I believe that was the process they were following… Geoffrey had been forced off the field two weeks ago; this was his second battle since he's returned to the field."

Even when he had been the one to bring up the point, the woman's remark still managed to catch him off-guard. He had been in plenty of battles before where he himself targeted opposing Generals and where he had been targeted but not once had he ever been forced off the field… He had fought alongside the matching blue-haired General, he knew how the man fought and even beforehand had witnessed his on field strength; it was hard to imagine someone like him falling.

"Is he alright?" he questioned.

"He says he is and acts like it, but… he won't say much else." she replied with a shake of her head.

"How severe was the attack?" Boyd asked.

"It was bad, that's really all I can say." she started before something else seemed to catch her attention. A short look of relief seemed to pass over her gentle features and for a moment, a genuine smile caught onto her lips. "Lucia, Geoffrey, I'm glad to see you two are back."

"It was just a quick perimeter check, nothing special." Lucia remarked with a short chuckle as she walked towards them; hands resting tiredly on her hips. "As far as I can tell though, the Begnion senator turned tail and ran with the remaining forces, which is cowardly but good for our case. If luck turns our way, they'll stay gone for a few more days and give us time to recuperate long enough to get back on our feet. This kind of ambush… it makes you want to kick Begnion where it hurts."

"That is the best thing I have heard all day." Boyd chuckled.

"Ah, Lord Ike, Sir Boyd, I'm glad to see you two are over here." the swordswoman spoke, giving a light smile to them. "I'm sure Queen Elincia has said it plenty of times enough but I believe my own word of thanks is necessary to give."

"Don't worry about it." he replied. "We're just glad we got here when we did… Begnion's forces have been getting more and more out of hand these past few weeks."

"Begnion's center of control is breaking apart and in doing so, each part is trying to gain more power than the other; they're pushing themselves to get as much power as they can in as little time as possible." Geoffrey added. "These Begnion senators are just doing it for the fun and glory, they're doing it because they can buy their own army and show off and no one's going to stop them."

"That sounds about right." he nodded. "From our own reports, we've been getting the same words."

Elincia shook her head slightly and crossed her arms once more. "I just want this whole mess to be over with but I know for certain we're far from it."

"At least we're one step closer." Lucia offered before a sharp call from behind them caught her attention; she turned back at the commotion and seemed to react to something that they couldn't immediately see. "I uh… you'll have to excuse me, I need to check on something." and like that, she hurried off elsewhere.

He wondered if it had something to do with Astrid.

"Hey, I'm gonna check on Oscar and see how that leg of his is doing; you know he's got that gimp status and all." Boyd started, clapping a hand against his back. "Just let me know what we're doing after we're done here."

He nodded and watched as the man walked off to seek out his older brother; he supposed he should've been a little more concerned for Oscar's condition just as well. There would be time for questioning later though… right now, he wanted to get this matter solved. Still though, he recalled the woman's words from before when she mentioned the ordeal with Begnion and slowly glanced over to where the Crimean General stood just a few feet from him.

Just like with Marcia, he held the same look of extended exhaustion in his features but for the General, it had increased to leaving dark and red circles underneath his eyes, giving off an almost hazed look; the exhaustion had left dark lines across his face, aging him by a few years. More noticeably though was the white scar that ran across his left cheek, starting from the corner of his lip and moving back to the curve of his jaw.

The affected area was still red, hinting that it was still somewhat raw and healing… the injury had to have occurred only a few days before.

He bet if Boyd had seen the scar beforehand, he wouldn't be so quick to complain about the short gash he had.

"It's been a long day for everyone, what do you say we camp for the night and let everyone rest up?" he offered.

"We appreciate your assistance with the battle, we really do but… it doesn't change the fact that we're still a neutral state." Elincia started, fingers moving to tug slightly on the cuff of her sleeve. "Communication and interaction between us should remain at a minimum."

He suspected something like that would be said and had feared it just the same. It was like a fatal blow but he kept his composure strong and nodded briefly, showing a sense of understanding even when he didn't want to. "I see…"

Those two words seemed to shake her slightly and he watched her press her lips together for a moment, showing off a look of reconsideration. Her eyes glanced downward before she shifted her attention. "What do you think our plan of action should be, Geoffrey?"

The question seemed to catch the man off-guard for a few seconds, forcing him to recall the words that had just been passed between the two. "As a neutral state, you're correct that communication should be restricted, but… we've been following these rules as closely as we can and look at where it's gotten us; Begnion's been trying to control our cities and when we don't respond accordingly to their demands, they burn them down. At this point, I don't think it matters what we do, they'll still insist on terrorizing our civilians. Not to mention, perhaps more so on a personal note, Astrid's in bad shape right now and I don't want to risk moving her; the stress is only going to worsen her condition."

She nodded and seemed to agree without much else needing to be said. "Well then, I suppose that settles it… Lord Ike, it seems as though we will be taking you up on that offer."

Thank the Goddess.

"I'm pleased to hear the change of heart." he started, briefly chuckling to himself. "I'll inform the others of the plan and get everyone to pack things up here." he stepped back slightly before he switched his attention to the General just the same. "I can get Rhys to look at your shoulder when we set up camp; you took that javelin hit pretty hard earlier."

"Geoffrey!"

And suddenly he had a feeling that he probably shouldn't have mentioned that.

But, as cruel as it may sound, hopefully it would help to turn the situation into his favor a little more. Maybe it was selfish just the same too but… he still wanted a moment with the woman; he would wait however long he needed to but if there was an opportunity to have that moment now, then he would find a way to make it happen.

Just… just a few minutes.