Author's Notes: Sincerest apologies for the delay, dear readers. Originally, I was going to have Stahl take the limelight for this installment, but the plot bunny managed to break away before I could bring it to completion. Just when I thought I'd never get around to updating, Henry graciously decided to lend himself to my aid, and who am I to refuse to his help?
I can't believe how much support this fic has so far. Many thanks to all of you who are following/favorited this fic and all my love to those of you who left reviews! Feedback is love, and am truly grateful to all of you for it. With that said, please enjoy this latest installment!
There once was a time where there were no sightings of disembodied limbs within the Shepherds' camp grounds. This was before they took in a second Plegian dark mage into their fold. The Shepherds' chief tactician soon finds that she may have taken those times for granted.
The strategist slams the lid of the storage trunk shut. Perhaps Chrom is right. Maybe she has been working herself too hard lately, and now exhaustion must be taking its toll on her vision. Why else would she see something like that be in the same trunk used to store the army's unused spell tomes, let alone anywhere near their supplies in the first place? She blinks twice, draws in a deep breath, and pushes up the lid once more.
The severed head of a fighter Risen stares back at her, eyes absent of the eerie red glow she's accustomed to seeing and mouth slightly agape.
The tactician closes the trunk, albeit slower and quieter this time, before immediately rising to her feet and exiting the weapons storage tent. A certain dark mage has some explaining to do.
She didn't think that Henry's ever present smile to could grow any wider; he quickly disproves this idea upon opening the trunk and viewing its contents at her insistence.
"You found it! I've been looking everywhere for this!" Henry exclaims as he holds the disembodied head aloft in both hands.
The Shepherds' tactician tries not to cringe at the sight while silently thanking the gods that the two of them were the only ones present in the tent. "I'm going to hazard a guess and say you picked that up after our last skirmish."
"Sure did! You should have been there to see it! One fell swoop from Cherche's axe, and whoosh! Off with his head!" he replies gleefully, giving the head a light toss in the air to further embellish his succinct description of the events prior to the procurement of his prize.
"I...see," she manages as the rest of her appetite leaves her. Looks as if she wouldn't need to stop by the mess tent before attending the next strategy meeting after all.
"You know, it's just too bad Risen don't bleed," Henry says with a longing sigh. "Just think of all the blood we've been missing out on!"
"...I actually try not to think about that too much. Or, at all." A shudder wracks her form at the thought and she quickly tries to banish it from her mind.
One look at her comrade's expression tells her that her response is lost upon the dark mage. Only thoughts of bloodshed and carnage could make the smile on Henry's face look so wistful.
She clears her throat and tries to start up conversation anew. "So, why a head? Did you not find out anything from that arm you picked up a while back?"
"Yeah, the arm was a bust. Didn't learn a thing even if I did have loads of fun dissecting it," he replies as he supports the severed head with one hand while using his free hand to pry its mouth open wider. "So I got to thinking that just because I didn't find any in that arm doesn't mean there aren't weakness in other body parts!"
"Well, there's certainly no denying your logic..." The Shepherds' tactician admits, making an effort to keep her eyes on the speaker and not on the remains of their undead foe currently in his possession.
For the second time since they entered the tent, Henry's already wide smile shows it still has room to grow. "Right? So I decided I'd start with this!"
Henry turns the head around and she finds herself under the gaze of both the upbeat dark mage and the Risen's dismembered head. By this point, she isn't sure which of the two disturbs her more.
"No better way to get into the enemy's head than to open it up and look inside, right? Nya ha ha!" Henry declares with a sharp rap of his knuckles against the top of the head, as if he were knocking on a door.
She smiles weakly, finding herself at a loss for words as she redirects the better part of her energies to keep from outright bolting from the tent.
"So, wanna examine this with me? It's still got all its teeth and everything!" Henry cajoles.
"I've still got some inventorying to get done. Why don't you go ahead and start without me?" The words flow from her lips with surprising ease given her complete unease at the subject matter.
"Aww, okay. Thanks again for finding this," he replies as he heads for the exit.
The tactician nods in acknowledgement and smiles genuinely, happy to be rid of the severed remains' presence, before back to the chest to inventory the Shepherd's stock of tomes like she originally intended before her unfortunate discovery.
"Oh, but I can't start just yet," Henry adds as afterthought. "I've still got other parts to find. I'm sure they're all somewhere around the camp..."
She stiffens at his words, her eyes going impossibly wide and a feeling of dread mounting in her chest. "...O-other parts?"
What she wouldn't give at this very moment to trade inventory duty with someone else.
A piercing shriek from the direction of the storage tents effectively interrupts the planning of tomorrow's march. The tactician winces. Even with Henry's help, apparently not all the parts the Plegian collected had been found. Worse still, out of all the people to come across Henry's specimens, it just had to be Maribelle. She silently hopes that Henry would successfully placate her, lest he experience "parasol fu" by the noblewoman's hand.
As expected, Chrom immediately rises to his feet upon hearing Maribelle's scream. She immediately takes hold of Chrom's wrist before he can bolt for the tent's entry flap and stops his protests with a knowing look before the words leave his lips. She releases an exasperated sigh before shaking her and motioning for him to take his seat. With a trace of reluctance, Chrom complies despite his visible unease with letting the distress go unchecked. The tactician gives him a reassuring smile before beginning her recount of her firsthand encounter with Henry's new collection.
After all, how could she let the opportunity to suggest adding a new chest, solely for the keeping of any other Risen parts Henry deems worthy for study, to the storage when the situation lent itself to her favor?
In recent days, the occasional sighting of severed Risen body parts within the camp grounds no longer alarms the Shepherds and the blame falls solely upon a certain smiling Plegian dark mage. The Shepherds' tactician still misses the times where this wasn't the case, but eventually she and the rest of the Shepherds make their peace with the new status quo. Even if it means finding a few unwelcome surprises in the storage tents from time to time.