November 27, 2014

Anima’s Seal: Episode 4: Dragon’s Breath

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Episode 3: Mercenaries, Part 2          Episode 5: Pherae’s Son

 

Derp derp derp, another tough random battle at the end here… This chapter came out a little weird. Rigel is not how I was expecting her, at all. But what’s really frustrating is that I keep writing more and more words, and I don’t seem to get any closer to the end of the story! : P

Also nope, can’t upload two chapters a night. They’re just too long and involved. I’ll be lucky to get to the end of Episode 6 or 7 before I have to abandon this temporarily to work on Sinterklaas and Christmas madness. Meine sterne.

 

Episode 4: Dragon’s Breath

 

“Nabata?” Ceniro asked, tilting his head in confusion as he stared at Pent. “Why Nabata?”

“That’s where I studied with Athos,” Pent said, as if it were obvious. “I… I have a hunch.”

“Nabata’s a really long way,” Ceniro said. “It’s spring, so the journey’s much more feasible than a couple months ago, but… with Louise so far along… I don’t know…”

“I will of course bow to her wishes and yours,” Pent said. “But I feel… it’s very important that I go study anything Athos left behind, particularly about the Legendary Weapons.”

“Oh. I see. Except I don’t. Is something wrong with them?”

“I think unforeseen circumstances are going to cause problems relating to them,” Pent said cautiously. “As in, I don’t know if something is wrong yet. But I want to know more about them.”

“That’s fair,” Ceniro said. “Now go talk to your wife.”

Pent laughed and did so.

“Well…” Louise said from within her armchair. “I have no objection to going…”

“But?” Pent asked, sitting across from her and holding her hands.

“I have no real wish to go, either…” She looked down. “I know it’s selfish, but… it’s still a few weeks before the baby is due, and even the short distances we travel now are… difficult…”

“I know,” Pent said. “And I’m sorry.”

“You should not apologize, Lord Pent. I insist on coming along, and while I can’t fight right now, I have no wish to be a burden, either.”

“You are no burden,” he assured her. “I, personally, am happy that I get to watch over you directly. If you were away, I would only worry over you. And Ceniro doesn’t need that.”

“And yet he doesn’t leave either of us behind.” Louise gave a little sigh and a smile. “He is almost as patient as you, Lord Pent.”

“I try,” he said. “So we should not go to Nabata yet.”

“Well, but… You really ought to go and learn whatever there is for you to learn. If you think it necessary, then of course it’s necessary. But like we were just saying… we shouldn’t be apart, either… If I was selfish and stayed here and made you go, you would only spend your time worrying – and then you wouldn’t be around for the birth of our child!”

“So I won’t go yet,” he said. “I definitely can’t miss meeting our child! And finding out if it’s a boy or a girl…” He grinned at her in giddy excitement.

“Klein, if it’s a boy, and Clarine, if it’s a girl,” Louise bubbled, meeting his excitement. “Oh, but… you really should go if it has to do with those Legendary Weapons… There might be some danger that you can prevent if only you know the right things…”

“Louise, please don’t worry about it. I’m going to stay here with you. This is more important.”

“No… no, it’s not…”

“Louise…”

“Hnnn… I need a while to think about this.”

“There’s nothing to think about. It’s been decided.”

“No, it hasn’t!” she exclaimed, almost angrily. “Lord Pent…!” She caught herself and calmed down. “Lord Pent… I truly think you should go. I just need to sort things out with myself. Please wait for a bit.”

“As you like, Louise,” Pent said. “But don’t strain yourself, truly.”

She nodded absentmindedly and went back to thinking, staring out the window.

Lyn came up about half an hour later, bringing tea. “I heard you were making a big decision.”

“I am,” Louise said, smiling. “Thank you for tea.”

“Pent would have me believe that the decision’s already been made, but I know you better than that,” Lyn said with a wink. “He’s all ready to throw in the towel for you, but you wouldn’t make such a big decision so quickly, would you?”

“I would not,” Louise said firmly. “And I’ve almost come to a conclusion.”

“Which way are you leaning?” Lyn asked.

“I think we should go to Nabata,” Louise said. “I can ride side-saddle, as I’ve had to these last few months. We might not go quickly, but it’s better than not going at all until later.”

“I see,” Lyn said, a little down-cast. “I’d hoped the baby could be born here in the clear air of Sacae, but you’re correct.”

“Oh, Lyn…” Louise leaned forward as she could, the wise glow of motherhood about her. “You will have babies of your own someday! You can have all the Sacaean babies. But it doesn’t matter to me where my baby is born as long as its father is there.”

Lyn laughed. “I’m sure that when I have a baby, I will say the same thing.”

“Besides… it’s been so cold this winter. Nabata will be much warmer. I feel it’s time for a change…”

“Well, the plains do get hot in the summer,” Lyn said. “But you’re right about Nabata. I’m sure many of the others will cheer right up with a little heat.”

“Then I have made my decision,” Louise said. “We shall go to Nabata, and Lord Pent shall learn things from Athos’s writings. We should set out immediately. I will be as little burden as I can be, but I fear I must go slowly as we journey west…”

“I don’t think anyone will mind,” Lyn said. “Of course, there’s more chance of being attacked in the corridor south of the Sacae-Bern mountains, but they might have heard of us by now. And if not…” She shrugged. “We shall make short work of them.”

“We shall indeed,” Louise said, smiling. “I only wish I could still shoot. But it’s so uncomfortable right now…”

“Wil and George and I have it covered,” Lyn said. “We have plenty of archers. Shall I go tell the others?”

“Yes… Well, I should come and tell them. It’s my decision, after all. And it’s also my decision that we should go as soon as possible.”

“Right. Here we go!” Lyn helped up the other woman, and they headed downstairs.

 

So under Louise’s insistence, they packed up and headed west two days later, heading as directly as they could to the desert land. They didn’t even stop at Ostia to greet Hector along the way. They weren’t attacked much, despite Lyn’s concern about the Bern mountains, and the weather was definitely getting warmer the further southwest they got.

They had just reached the outer scrub of the Nabata Desert when Louise felt her dress grow wet. “Oh… Oh!”

“Louise?” asked Pent, never more attentive than he had been the last few weeks.

“I… The baby’s coming,” she gasped, and reached frantically for his hands, helping her down from the horse.

“Now?” Pent went slightly pale; they were far from their destination, a small village on the edge of the desert.

“It’s fine,” Lyn said. “Remember, I’ve done this before.”

“I’ll help too,” Fiora said.

“And I,” said Yens. “With six little ones at home, I should hope I know a thing or two.”

“All right,” Ceniro said. “Let’s set up camp here. Andy, Frank, get a tent for Louise. Kent, Florina, you’re on patrol. George, Caddie, Wil, Erk, we’ll set up the rest of the camp and stay out of the way.”

And then the farseer pinged.

Ceniro huffed. “Why now?” he complained at the innocent crystal screen. But it was all too clear; bandits were approaching from the desert dunes. “Andy, Frank, keep setting up that tent. Fiora, I’m sorry, but I need you out here. I’d like to keep the commotion away from our camp and that means hitting them in the desert, before they reach us.”

“So… I should…” Kent said. His horse would not do well in the loose sand.

“Fight on foot. You’re next to George. Lyn, Pent, don’t worry about anything. We’ll be right back.”

“This is certainly exciting,” Pent said, his voice strained.

“Don’t worry about anything,” Ceniro said again, and then shut the group in the tent out of the farseer’s communications so they wouldn’t hear him yelling orders at the others.

“They’re coming to pincer our camp,” Ceniro said. “So I want everyone on the south flank to the left. Erk, you’re in front. Florina, Fiora, loop around and harrass them from behind. Andy, Frank, once you’re done with that tent get on the north side and keep that group occupied. Once we’ve cleared away the south pincer we’ll join you.”

The bandits were tougher than they’d been facing on the plains of Sacae or the foothills of Bern. They were built more for the unforgiving heat and sun of the desert, and with more brutal weapons.

Surprisingly, once he got over the anxiety that came with the fact that he was defending a child’s birth, the battle wasn’t as hard as he thought it would be. That didn’t mean it was easy, though… with two of his best fighters unavailable, he was severely lacking in his usual firepower.

But that really only meant it was Erk’s time to shine. And Ceniro let him. The young mage’s powers and agility meant he could move lightly over the sand, more lightly than the fighters who faced him, and he could duck away from them when they came too close, and most importantly, he could unleash Thunder on them with no holding back.

Ceniro glanced down at the farseer in the middle of Erk’s display and froze. Four red markers were moving around to the north-east, coming to flank their camp further than he had anticipated. He began to run in that direction. “Pent… sorry to bother you, but they did an extra little flanking manoeuvre… If you can assist me for two seconds… Fiora! Florina! Need you here ASAP.”

“Where?” Pent demanded, sounding and looking frazzled and angry.

Ceniro pointed, and Pent cast, a magic circle flickering in the air in front of him before sending a massive blast of Elfire at the bandits; three of them were caught in the blast and went flying; the fourth was skewered by Florina as he reacted to the fire.

“That’s all,” Ceniro said. “How is it?”

“She’s fine,” Pent said, though there was a tightness around his eyes. “Just defend us.”

“I’m on it,” Ceniro said, and Pent disappeared back into the tent, just as Louise moaned in pain.

And as he turned back to the rest of the battlefield, Erk and George had just finished up with the south flank. Andy and Frank were being hard pressed on the north side, outnumbered and nearly surrounded, but still surviving back-to-back, and keeping the bandits distracted from the tent, which was all Ceniro needed. Ceniro whistled and gestured, and the rest of the company fell on them from the back and side.

“Geez,” Andy wheezed when they regrouped, “I’d almost thought you’d forgotten about us there.”

“I knew you could handle it,” Ceniro said mildly. “You did very well. Though I think the MVP award goes to Erk today.”

Erk snorted, healing a cut on Frank’s hand. “Only because Lord Pent wasn’t fighting.”

“We couldn’t have done it without you!” Wil said, clapping him on the shoulder. “Whether Lord Pent was there or not, you were magnificent out there!”

“I agree with them,” Kent said. “You should be proud of your magical ability, Erk.”

Erk began to blush. “Well… if you say so…”

“Let’s see… I know everyone will want to meet the baby right away, but… Kent, Florina, you’re on watch like before. Everyone else… let’s get back to setting up camp. Fiora, if they still need you…”

There was the shrill cry of a baby from the tent, and excited adult noises.

“I don’t think they need me,” Fiora said, smiling. “Let’s give them some time. I’m sure they will be happy to show us when they’re ready.”

The rest of the tents had been set up, and Ceniro was just starting a campfire, when Lyn pushed open the door-flap of the tent she’d been in. “You can come meet him now, if you like.”

“It’s a boy?” Fiora cried.

“It is,” said Pent, as they all carefully squeezed into the tent. “Everyone, meet Klein Reglay.”

Louise was holding a healthy-looking baby, cooing into the soft blonde fuzz on top of his head. She looked tired, but also thrilled to pieces, and Pent looked like he was going to start literally glowing from happiness as he supported his wife with an arm around her.

“Hello, Klein,” Ceniro said, and Klein turned enormous, serious blue eyes on him, sucking his thumb.

 

They journeyed to their destination village the next day and stayed there a few days, waiting for Louise to recover her strength. When Pent remembered that the others existed, he spent time with Ceniro and maps of the local area, trying to remember exactly where Athos’s oasis was.

He ran a hand through his long silver hair for the umpteenth time; it was sticking in every direction by now. Ceniro wondered how much sleep he was getting, despite the fact that everyone in the group had volunteered to help with the baby. “It would be much easier if we could get in contact with Hawkeye and just ask him to lead us there. But…”

“How did you find him the first time?” Ceniro asked.

Pent laughed, embarrassed. “A few years before I met you, I was out this way because I’d heard there were magical treasures in the desert… I was severely under-equipped, even for a mage, and I passed out… Hawkeye found me and brought me to Athos, who saw potential in my power, even if I had been rather stupid going out into the desert the way I did. He taught me an incredible amount… And that’s how when I returned, I became the Mage General at the age of twenty-four.”

“And every time you came back, Hawkeye was waiting for you?”

“I usually came at Athos’s invitation, so yes. But Athos isn’t there anymore, so Hawkeye will undoubtedly be in Arcadia, or wherever he lives… So we have to find the oasis by ourselves this time.”

“Can’t you… detect its aura, or something?” Ceniro asked stupidly.

Pent laughed. “If only I could… Its aura isn’t that strong. It’s outside of the barrier of Arcadia, certainly… I never even knew that Arcadia existed, and I certainly can’t sense the barrier. Undoubtedly it is designed that way.”

“So… where should we start?”

“We should start in this area,” Pent said, tapping the map. “Having two pegasus knights along will help a lot, certainly.”

“I’m very lucky,” Ceniro agreed. “All right. You get some rest. I’ll keep planning.”

“Don’t forget to rest, yourself,” Pent said, though Ceniro could have told him that Pent looked much worse than Ceniro did.

They set out into the desert the next day in the coolness of the dawn, and having pegasus knights in the group was the best thing that could have happened for them. They camped at midday, and traveled in the afternoon into the evening, and camped again when it was quite dark and the only light came from the stars.

It was late the next day when Florina spotted what they were looking for. “Um… I think it’s over there, due west from here… A low white building, just like I remember, and green.”

“Good work, Florina,” Ceniro said. “I don’t see any people around,” he said as they came closer and the farseer was able to see it better. “That’s probably good.”

“Why would there be people around?” Wil asked.

“Bandits will move into any structure they can find,” Frank said. “Even old ones, even beautiful ones. Is this one beautiful? I’d think it would be, with Lord Athos of the Eight Legends living there, right?”

“I recall it was beautiful,” Louise said. “It was cool and refreshing, with halls of carven stone. There was an abundance of water in the midst of this dryness.”

“Sounds good,” said Andy, laughing. “We’ll need it.”

They came to the entrance and went in; the knights stayed outside to tend to the horses and pegasi. Pent headed straight for the library, and Ceniro and Lyn and George began to figure out the way of the place to put their things and prepare food.

They were there for many days. Sometimes Ceniro would drop in on Pent, and tease him about getting sidetracked with all the other amazing research he was finding. Pent would laugh self-deprecatingly, and turn to look at where Louise and Klein rested in a corner. Klein was a fairly quiet baby, they were learning, and he was mostly interested in his mother’s long golden hair that was within convenient grabbing reach.

Ceniro also got to spend more time with Lyn, now that they weren’t moving about and now that they lived in such a large place. She liked to climb on the roof and gaze at the stars at night, while he preferred sitting by the haven’s water and watching the sun-reflected ripples on the walls.

And of course she never let up on his sword training. Every day, they’d go down to the wide open area in the front of the main hall and practice. First, half an hour of warm-up – though Ceniro thought he hardly needed it, here. Then, an hour of drills. Then twenty minutes of sparring. Sometimes she asked one of the other swordsmen to spar with him, for variety and so he didn’t get used to only fighting with her. Sometimes she asked Caddie to bring his axe, and sometimes she asked Kent to bring his lance.

Even though he’d been learning ever since he went to Sacae with Lyn, about eight months, he still felt unsure of himself, and certainly not like he could take on archers or cavalry or wyverns like he had occasionally asked his fighters to do in the past. “Now that I know more than nothing, this seems even harder than before.”

“That’s the way it goes,” Lyn said, blocking his attacks effortlessly and pushing him back with a mere flick of her wrist. It might have been discouraging, except he loved to watch her move, and even when she was holding back, her movements were full of grace and power. “You haven’t been fighting for fifteen years, though.”

Ceniro paused to wipe his forehead and barely blocked her next move. “When did you start again?”

“I was five when my father gave me my first wooden sword.” She smiled. “I was thrilled, as you might expect. My mother was a little apprehensive at first, but I begged her to let me give it a try. And I was good at it. So I kept at it.”

“And then I met you,” he said, smiling.

“Well, a few things happened in the middle,” Lyn said.

“A few,” he agreed. “For instance, you’re not five anymore.”

“I should hope not,” she said, and began to giggle. “Wouldn’t it be funny if Nergal was defeated by a five-year-old?”

“We should inform Eliwood and Ninian to get on that. Their kid can pull Durandal around even though it’ll be three times as big as him. I wonder if they’re married yet.”

“Probably. Let’s take a break.” Lyn sheathed her sword; he did the same. They bowed to each other, and he followed her back into the hall, heading towards a quiet, cool corner where they could drink their water and catch their breath.

“Hey, what do you think we should name our kid?” Lyn asked.

“What, are we only having one?” Ceniro teased.

Lyn blushed and giggled. “I don’t know, are we? Our first kid, anyway.”

“Well… I don’t know. I was going to leave it up to you.”

“Oh, come on. I know you have ideas. Who doesn’t?”

“I was thinking…” Ceniro said slowly. “Mark, for a boy, and Rose for a girl.” He glanced at her. “But they’re very Lycian names…”

“What’s wrong with that?”

“Nothing, I guess, just…”

“Ceniro… I’m going to marry you, and you’re going to marry me. Right?”

“Right.”

“Our marriage will be a blending of our cultures. Just because I love my father’s culture and want to show it all to you doesn’t mean that Lycia gets no say in our future.”

He smiled. “All right. I understand. But I’m still wondering whether I should wear a deel or a shirt next time I visit my family.”

“From what you’ve told me…”

“The deel would drive my mother crazy, and at this point with her, I kind of want to do that… I’m a terrible son.”

“Why do you say that?”

Ceniro lay down on his back with his hands behind his head. “She hates my profession, and takes every opportunity to say so. I’ve told you that before… So I feel kind of rebellious about… her. And I just want to annoy her more until she leaves me alone about it. But that’s not going to happen. And… I’m kind of regretful about that, because I want to be good… I just…”

“Is that why you wander?”

“No… I wander because I like it.” He smiled up at her. “I like you.”

“That’s good, because I love you.”

“I love you too. Come here.” He reached up and tugged her to lie down beside him on the cool stone. The water reflections glinted off the ceiling above them.

“Hey! Ceniro!” they heard distantly. “Has anyone seen Ceniro?”

Ceniro groaned. “Meh…”

“Meh?” Lyn giggled. “Is that all you can say? Obviously Pent’s finally found out something important. Go along with you. I’ll be right here.”

“But I want to stay here,” Ceniro whined, before giving up and getting up. “I’ll see you in a little bit, then.”

 

“Ceniro! There you are!” Pent beckoned him urgently. “This is bigger even than I thought it was. Come here.”

“What is it?” Ceniro asked anxiously.

“The Legendary Weapons have the power to bend reality itself,” Pent said.

Ceniro blinked. “What?”

“It’s… a difficult conclusion to draw, certainly. But… when the Scouring occurred, humanity was so greatly outmatched by the dragons that they put all their power into these eight weapons. So much power, in fact, that it drew power out of the very existence of… everything.”

“That’s possible?” Ceniro said, still uncomprehending.

“Apparently it was! I wonder what it was like, back then, with even more energy floating around… And not only were these weapons powerful enough to fight dragons then, but the loss of this energy meant that dragons had a difficult time… just living here.”

“That explains what Nils said,” Ceniro said. “He said the air had changed since they left. He was talking about before the Scouring, wasn’t he?”

“I would assume so. So then… these weapons have an incredible power. We saw it first hand, but if all eight were gathered together… I’m not sure the world could stand it anymore.”

“So… we should keep them hidden.”

“Yes, we absolutely should. Durandal should not be left in Eliwood’s hands, nor Armads in Hector’s. They should go back to their hiding places, and…” Pent stopped suddenly.

“Pent?” Ceniro asked. “What is it?”

“When we were in Bulgar…” Pent said slowly. “The reason I came to you was because dark mages had felt the wave of energy that Bramimond cast, breaking the seals on the weapons.”

“Even I felt that,” Ceniro said. “But I was standing right there beside him.”

“I don’t think an ordinary person would have felt it from outside the Shrine,” Pent said. “Shaman would feel it most, but… I think it’s clear that the world is becoming aware of the existence of the weapons again.”

“And that’s bad,” Ceniro assumed.

“Probably. Also, if the seal is gone, then…”

“Hey! Let me go!” they heard ringing down the corridor outside, and Pent snapped his book shut as they both turned to the door.

Kent entered, holding a struggling person in a dark cloak. “Forgive the intrusion, but this person was sneaking around…”

“I was not sneaking around!” said the person defiantly. “I was being chased, and I…”

Pent stood and pulled back the person’s hood, revealing a cute young woman with light blue hair. “You’re a shaman, aren’t you?”

“I am,” said the young woman. “So what?”

“Are you looking for anything in this place?”

“Maybe, maybe not,” she said evasively. “But I tell you the truth – I’m being chased by bandits! Too many for me to fight alone, so I thought: I’ll hide here until they go away. I didn’t know you jerks were here too!”

“Well, we can’t have bandits getting in here,” Ceniro sighed, and brought out the farseer. “Everyone form up, we have more bandits incoming.”

“Who are you guys?” asked the girl suspiciously. “What are you doing here?”

“I think we can ask that question first,” Pent said. “Who are you and what are you doing here?”

“My name is Rigel,” she said. “As for what I’m doing here… I think we can talk about that later, right?”

“Unfortunately, she’s right,” Ceniro said. “Rigel, will you fight beside us against the bandits?”

“Me? Oh, all right. If it will make them go away quicker.”

“My name is Ceniro and I’m the tactician of this group, so just listen to what I say and you’ll be fine.”

“Can you get your knight to let go of me, then?”

“Kent, you can probably let go of her…”

Kent did so, though not without a doubtful look.

“Let’s go,” Ceniro said. “Louise, are you planning to fight today?”

“I… not yet,” she said, from wherever she was in the compound. “Is that okay?”

“That’s perfectly fine. I just have to decide what to do with…”

“Oh, Ceniro,” Pent said, “take this with you.” He tossed a small metal disc at Ceniro, who caught it.

“What’s this?” he asked, looking at it. It was perfectly flat and carved with runes.

“It’s a Light Rune,” Pent said. “It blocks the enemy. Well, actually, it blocks everyone. It’s like a barrier staff spell in object form. All you have to do is throw it on the ground. I found it while I was poking around…”

“Thanks, this will be useful…”

Rigel stared in wonder at the farseer. “What’s that?”

“It’s my tactical aid. It will let me communicate with you even across a battlefield, and it lets me see most things. So… Pent, Kent, let’s get down to the main hall.” He frowned at the farseer. “Are you sure these guys are bandits? They’re just marching up to the compound with no strategy whatsoever.”

Rigel turned a little paler. “Well… um… they probably don’t know you’re here either. Also… um… yeah, they’re actually slavers.”

“Right.” Ceniro wondered if he should tell Lyn that now or later. It didn’t matter, he decided, she hated both with an intense burning passion. “Everyone, they don’t know we’re here; they’re after one particular person. So here’s what we’ll do…”

 

“I don’t like this,” Rigel said, standing alone in the middle of the hall.

“Trust me,” Ceniro said. “We’re all right here.”

“But… you can talk across the battlefield. Who’s to say you didn’t ditch me here to slow them down for you?”

“I didn’t,” Ceniro said. “But you can’t look, you’ll give us away.”

“My arms hurt,” Wil complained.

“Deal with it,” Lyn said. “You’re the only other one who could get up here with me. There’s no room for anyone larger.”

“They’re going to scatter,” Ceniro said. “Andy, Frank, Kent, you’re ready?”

“Ready and waiting,” Andy said, and Ceniro heard the confident clank of weaponry. Frank shushed him.

“George?”

“No one will get close to Lady Louise and little Lord Klein,” George said.

“I really don’t like this,” Rigel moaned, looking like she was going to bolt.

Ceniro sighed. “All right. I’ll come stand with you.”

He came out of his hiding place to stand next to her. “It’s not inconceivable that I’ve been living like a hermit here without them knowing, after all.” He felt that his sword was still there and turned his attention back to the farseer. “Thirty second warning.”

Silence fell inside and outside the hall.

“I really hope we don’t destroy this place,” Erk muttered.

“That’s why you and your anima magic are outside,” Ceniro said. “I’d rather not ruin this place either.”

“I see them,” Pent said. “Not a care in the world…”

“Ten seconds,” Ceniro said. “Five.”

“Hoy!” one of the bandits was through the door, blinking his eyes to adjust them to the sudden shade. “She’s in here!”

Rigel offered them a rather creepy smile, confident now that she was not alone. “That’s right. Now what are you going to do?”

“Who’re you?” another of them demanded of Ceniro.

“He’s rather pretty, if chubby,” said a big man who was probably the leader. “Take him along too.”

Ceniro checked to make sure that all twenty or so of the slavers were inside, then put the farseer away. “Normally I would give you the chance to leave, but I hear you’re slavers, and we can’t have that…”

“Hear that, lads? He called us slavers!” said the leader. “What a meanie!”

Another began to fake-sob. “What am I going to tell me mammy? I’m a dirty slaver, that I am!”

Ceniro rolled his eyes and threw the Light Rune hard over their heads. It smacked against the wall over the door and fell to the floor. There was a hum, and a blue-white rune-lined barrier sprang up against the door.

“What’s that?” they cried.

“You’re not getting out that way,” Ceniro said. “Sorry about that.”

“I’m not sorry,” Lyn said, appearing on top of a pillar with an arrow on the string of her bow. “I’m more sorry that it’s going to get a little messy in here. Goodbye.”

All hell broke loose. The slavers had no archers, and ran at Ceniro and Rigel, trying to get out of Lyn and Wil’s line of fire. Ceniro grabbed Rigel’s arm and ran for the right exit. In the original plan, he would have been outside and she would have led them away alone into the maze of passages with him guiding her from a vantage point where he could watch the farseer.

Instead, he was leading them to the second hall, where they’d arrive in twos and threes and either get attacked by Caddie and Yens, or, if they were lucky, make it to the inner courtyard where Florina and Fiora waited for them. Or, if they were unlucky, they would make it all the way back to the front courtyard, where they would get blasted by Pent and Erk, and charged by the cavaliers.

When they reached the second hall, Rigel pulled away from him.

“Hey, wait, where are you going?” he called after her. “That’s not in the plan!”

“Your plan is terrible!” she yelled at him. “I’m going to hide now that you’ve got this under control!”

“That’s not the way it works!” he yelled, frustrated. There was a scraping noise behind him, and he drew his katana just in time to block a slaver’s sword strike.

He backed into the main part of the hall. Caddie was there, but Yens was not. “Where’s Yens?”

“He went to go catch her. Lemme help here.”

“Please,” said Ceniro, although he was pleasantly surprised to find that he was holding his own against his opponent. But there were more coming in. “Yens, get back here! I’ll find her; you fight them.”

More of them were coming, and they began to follow him. Ceniro hissed in frustration and sheathed his sword, grabbing the farseer. Yens passed him on his way, charging to Caddie’s side. “Rigel. What’s your status?”

“Alive,” snapped the girl. “I seriously don’t want to be here. I’ve never been in a battle before, are you crazy?”

“Rigel! Can you use dark magic or not!?”

“Yes, but what’s the point? I-” There was a muffled squeak.

“Rigel!” There were three red figures all closing on her blue one on the farseer. Ceniro put it away to run even faster. “Fiora, you have the courtyard! Florina, come to my position – I’m-”

“I see you,” Florina said, and a moment later a white blur swooshed past him. “What do you need?”

“Rigel’s in trouble. We need to get to her…”

There was the sounds of explosions and screaming and cavalry from across the building, so some of the slavers had made it to the front courtyard. Florina reached down for Ceniro and he climbed up behind her, trying to be careful of her, even though she was less shy of him than she was of most men. “All right, head to the corner between those two buildings…”

He had to clutch at the saddle as Florina’s pegasus leapt forward.

“Rigel, hold on, we’re coming…”

They came to the corner, and Florina’s pegasus came to a landing, rearing back in surprise.

Ceniro stared too – there was a floating orb of dark magic, and tendrils reached out of it to snake around the men threatening Rigel. They screamed as they were pulled in inexorably. Rigel’s face was calm and cold, neither smiling nor frowning, which was perhaps creepier than if she had done either.

She certainly wasn’t anything like Canas.

“Okay,” Ceniro said, when he picked his jaw up again. “You could have told me about that.”

Rigel came out of her casting trance and huffed. “But then you would have made me do even more scary stuff. I didn’t want to even see these guys, let alone kill them.”

“Florina, you’d better go back to your sister and make sure she’s not overwhelmed over there. Although I doubt she is… she’s better than these guys by a long shot.”

“You’re really not worried for any of your people?” Rigel asked.

Ceniro looked around and saw a screaming slaver being chased by Lyn. He shrugged. “They’re all excellent fighters, some of the best in Elibe. I just put them where they need to be to do the most damage and support each other.” He looked at her, and she looked back at him.

“Don’t look at me like that, I get it. I’m just… not a fighter.”

“You’re a good one,” Ceniro said mildly. “What are you, then?”

“A scholar. I’ve only written two theses, but I’m really hoping this journey will give me my third thesis.”

“I think you’ll like Pent, then,” Ceniro said, growing more cheerful now that the stress of battle was over.

Rigel stopped where she was. “You mean… that was Lord Pent? The Mage General of Etruria??”

“Yes, it was.” Ceniro looked back at her. “Come on, he’s not scary.”

She followed him, and the whole group met in the front courtyard. A blonde giant had appeared out of nowhere, listening to Pent.

“Hawkeye?” Ceniro exclaimed. “What are you doing here?”

“Investigating the disturbance,” Hawkeye said. “Well met, Ceniro. I am glad to see you are in charge again.”

“Er… I suppose I am. Thank you for coming; it’s good to see you. Did you get any of the action?”

“I split a couple heads,” Hawkeye said gravely. “They should not have come here if they wanted to live.”

“I agree entirely. Hello, Hawkeye,” Lyn greeted him, before turning to Ceniro. “Did they seriously call you chubby?” She cleaned her sword and sheathed it. “What awful liars. You’re thin as a stick even though we’ve been eating well.”

“It’s my face,” Ceniro said, deactivating and picking up the Light Rune from the main entrance. “It’s really round even though I’m skinny.”

“It’s not really round, just a little bit round,” Lyn said. “I’m still entertained and offended.”

“Don’t be,” Ceniro said. “I know I can’t match you in the looks department anyway.”

She laughed and patted his shoulder affectionately.

“All right,” Pent said. “Now that things have settled down a little, I’d like to know a bit more about Miss Rigel.”

“I second this motion,” Ceniro said cheerfully. “Let’s go somewhere we can sit – or eat. I’m hungry.”

They followed him into the kitchen and found chairs while he helped Frank prepare food. “So… Rigel. You were chased to this place?”

“Well…” She gazed at him appraisingly. “You seem a decent person.”

“I like to think so,” he answered. “I like to think we all are. We don’t allow any other kind of person in our group.”

She sat up straight in her chair, and her awkward, defiant guise was gone, replaced by something calm and knowing. “My name is Rigel, and I am a shaman from Kafti. I was sent here by the head of my chapter to investigate a peculiar occurrence last year.”

“Ah,” said Pent.

She looked at him. “I think I can safely assume you are doing the same thing, Mage General of Etruria.”

“I’m not exactly the General at the moment,” Pent said. “But I in my turn will assume you know of my reputation for scholarly study.”

“Indeed,” she said. “Perhaps I can help you. There was a wave that originated in Bern and caused ripples in seven locations across Elibe. I am starting of course with the closest one.”

“I see,” Pent said, with a twinkle in his eye. “I think I’ll need to get to know you a bit better before I share any of my research with you, Miss Rigel… but I’ll give you a hint. It’s to do with the Legendary Weapons of the Eight Generals of old.”

Her eyes grew wide for a moment before she regained control of her expression. “I-I guessed that! After all… it’s the right number!”

“Our group will be visiting all of them in turn, and you are welcome to come along with us…”

“Especially since you can fight,” Ceniro said. “We’re rather lacking in variety of magic, if not in power.”

“I am eager to join you,” she said. “I’d like to know what you know. How can I prove myself trustworthy?”

Pent and Ceniro looked at each other. “Well…” Pent began.

“This could be a very secret quest,” Ceniro said. “If word gets out about our goal, it could mean war across Elibe, war as bad as the Scouring almost a thousand years ago.”

“I understand,” she said solemnly. “I won’t publish a word.”

“So you can’t tell anyone, not even the head of your chapter,” Lyn said sharply.

Rigel bowed her head. “He will find out eventually. I’m sure we’re not the only chapter investigating.”

“That is true,” Pent said to Lyn, and turned back to Rigel. “But I think only we have the complete story, and that is something no one can know.”

“Tell me what you can, please,” she said earnestly. “The suspense is unbearable!”

Ceniro laughed. “The Legendary Weapons have been unsealed by Bramimond, and now we have to seal them up again before anyone finds them and uses them to start a war. They have power that distorts reality itself.”

Now Rigel looked properly astonished, and even Hawkeye looked concerned. “Whaaaat? But… Lord Bramimond is still alive? Why did he unseal them? How did you find out? Wait… were you there?”

“I think that is part of the tale that should be left untold,” Pent said. “You’d only think us mad, anyway.”

Rigel stood. “If what you say is true, then I must definitely join you. I don’t want wars to happen, and there are so few of you… Even though you’re powerful, you must need all the help you can get!”

“We told you because you were joining,” Lyn said impatiently. “What I would like to know is… if your people sensed this wave, and Pent met some people who sensed this wave… Does that mean that all shaman sensed it?”

“Most likely,” Rigel said. “It wasn’t strong, and the ripples even less strong. It’s taken us the better part of eight months to piece together that something happened in the first place. And my chapter only sent me.” She frowned. “I guess that’s odd. Why would they only send me?”

“I couldn’t say,” Pent said. “But you are welcome here. If you’ll excuse me, I’d like to talk to Hawkeye before he leaves.”

Hawkeye nodded and followed Pent out to the main hall, while the others stayed for dinner.

“Hawkeye!” Pent greeted the giant. “Good to see you. How is everything?”

“It was fine,” Hawkeye said. “But if you’re here… is everything fine on your end? It sounds like it is not.”

“It’s… a little less than fine,” Pent admitted.

Hawkeye nodded. “So you wish to hide the weapons again. It will be a long undertaking.”

“Yes,” Pent said. “But not only that. I was thinking about it during the battle, and… they must have magical protection as well. Forblaze is here with Athos. Anyone could just walk in here and take it, even though this place is hidden.”

“That is true,” Hawkeye said. “Let me take it to Arcadia. It is better hidden.”

“Well…” Pent said slowly. “I’m not the equal of either Athos or Bramimond. Athos is dead, and Bramimond will not be found. But I would like to place a magic seal of my own on the weapons. All of them.”

Hawkeye digested this for a while. “I… could take you to Arcadia. The people there will help you develop a seal. But you are right. You are not yet at Lord Athos’s level. Casting a single seal that covers the continent, like the one we saw last year, is beyond you.”

“I know,” Pent said, slightly annoyed.

“But they can help you come up with one that you can cast on each weapon individually. Would that be enough?”

“It will have to be,” Pent said.

“I must take you alone,” Hawkeye said. “Too many others would only bring trouble.”

“I understand,” Pent said. “But while you’re here, would you like to meet my son?”

Hawkeye smiled slightly. “I would be honoured.”

 

Pent left with Hawkeye and was gone for a week. When he returned, alone, he looked exhausted. But there was a light in his face. “I have it. The means to protect Elibe from ourselves.”

 

Episode 3: Mercenaries, Part 2          Episode 5: Pherae’s Son

November 25, 2014

Anima’s Seal: Episode 3: Mercenaries, Part 2

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Episode 2: Mercenaries, Part 1          Episode 4: Dragon’s Breath

 

Righty, this one is lacking in action but it doesn’t matter so much, gotta keep moving forward, gotta get to the end, and anyway it’s just bandits and we all know they’re the least of challenges, right? End of the episode was hard. Non-dramatic plotty stuff + work day = brain mush. Actually it feels more like fuzz than mush. But anyway. Pent’s little jaunt there is kind of wasted. I might edit it later. Tomorrow, perhaps. When my brain is less mush.

This story is basically an excuse for me to get all my absolute favourite characters together and have them all be awesome. You realized that, right? : P And yes, the other characters who I’m not even using eventually are also great, and everyone does deserve some spotlight, but I can’t have EVERYONE be my favourite. (yesican) But I do have to say Rath was a bit of a surprise – he was vastly helpful beyond the little role that I had originally envisioned for him. Also that Isi guy? Totally out of nowhere. Added some nice drama. For some reasons drama’s been easy to write in this story even when I’m not even trying. Weird.

Sacaean party music: voila. At least to the end of the fantastic crazy part (about 4:40).

 

Episode 3: Mercenaries, Part 2

 

They parted with the young Duke Deis at the gates of Edessa, capital of Ilia, wishing them luck for the return journey. “And don’t forget to call Ceniro’s Elite Company – if we happen to be in the area!” Yens joked, making Ceniro very uncomfortable.

“It’s been a pleasure working with you again,” Phil said. “Good luck with your path!”

“Thank you,” Ceniro said, and Pent said, and they turned back, heading south towards Sacae again.

The roads were growing treacherous, but so far the weather had been almost unreasonably good. Their luck held on the way back, and although it snowed, the roads were not made impassable. Ceniro kept his eyes out for pegasus knights, but only saw a few at the border, and far off.

“I think we should celebrate our first successful job,” Lyn said, once they were back on the plains, now lightly dusted with snow of their own. “Perhaps we can get supplies for a feast from one of the local tribes.”

“I like this idea,” said Andy. “I like it a lot. Are there any local tribes? Do they really wander all year round?”

“Of course they do,” Lyn said. “Some of the smaller ones may not, but the majority of them do. They might wander less, but… it’s not like they’re in a town, either.”

“I see,” George said. “You people don’t like towns, do you?”

“They’re too… binding,” Lyn said. “Under a wide open sky like this, it would be a waste to be stuck in one place all the time.”

“I think I understand,” Louise said. “The wind blows freely here, and you go where it blows you.”

Lyn beamed at her. “Exactly!”

Towards the early evening, they saw the twinkle of campfires in the distance.

“Ceniro, you and Rath should come while I go get things,” Lyn said. “Everyone can come, but be respectful; don’t stare, don’t point, and don’t touch anything.”

“Yes, ma’am,” Yens said cheerfully. “Count on us. We’ll be silent as little lambs.”

The whole group approached the village, and after Lyn spoke to the scouts, they were let through, although with the warning that there was not much to buy there at the present time – the tribe needed most of it. Lyn nodded; she understood.

There was one tent that was pointed out as the trader’s tent, and Lyn, Rath, and Ceniro entered it. It was dark, and though warm, rather smoky. Lyn was kneeling in front of the trader, also kneeling, already speaking quickly and using many words that Ceniro didn’t know from the peculiar Sacaean dialect of the Elibean tongue. She paid for several things and handed them to her men, when suddenly someone else burst into the tent.

Lyn started, her hand on her sword, and her face only grew darker when the man began yelling at her.

“I think we should continue this discussion outside,” she said in cold, clear, plain Elibean, and stood, leading Ceniro and Rath out of the tent.

“What’s going on?” Ceniro asked Rath, worried.

“He is… startled to see her here. He recognizes her… how?”

“He is of the Lorca,” Lyn said, still icy. “He is of the Lorca, and he recognizes me not only from my childhood, but from last week.”

“Last week… You don’t mean…” Ceniro began.

“Yes. He was with the raiders we fought off that day.”

The man scowled. “So this is what you do, Lyn? You were Hassar’s daughter, and now you are a common sellsword.” Ceniro wondered if he’d stopped himself from saying worse.

“Well maybe if you had joined me when I attempted to follow my father-”

“You were a little girl. You still are a little girl. Leaders are men, strong men.”

“You are as great a fool as you were three years ago, Isi,” Lyn spat. “Greater, even. You didn’t even give me a chance to try to lead the Lorca. And now look at you! You are a bandit! Have you forgotten it was bandits who destroyed our tribe?”

“I have not forgotten! I am not a bandit. I raid only outsiders. But sometimes the outsiders hire guards from among our people, thinking it will protect them.”

“Enough!” Lyn said. “It doesn’t matter who they are. You attack people to steal their possessions and possibly their lives. That’s not the way of the Lorca.”

“You stole plenty of our lives, you and your little band there!”

“You attacked us! We defended ourselves! The only reason so many of your lives were lost while we lost none is because my fiancé is a great strategist.” She gestured at Ceniro, who was suddenly horribly uncomfortable, especially under the ugly glare the man sent his way.

“I suppose I shouldn’t be surprised,” the man muttered. “You were a half-breed anyway-” He got no further; Lyn slapped him in the face.

“Don’t speak of my breeding,” she hissed. “I’m not some dog or a horse. I know I went to Lycia to see my mother’s father. He’s the only family I have left. Since the rest of my family was murdered by bandits. Begone from me. I wanted to try again to restore the Lorca, but if the rest are like you, there is no point. The Lorca are truly dead.”

“And what would they be if they did follow you?” the man shouted, holding his face. “A little half-breed girl, marrying yet another dirty Lycian? He dresses Sacaean to please you, but he’s just another imperialist pig like the others! What would your children be? Not Sacaean, let alone Lorca!”

“Get out of here before I kill you!” Lyn shouted back, half-drawing her sword already.

“You always were temperamental, Lyn,” the man began, and Lyn fully drew her sword. He blanched and fled.

The others were staring.

“That was… interesting,” Pent said at last.

Lyn snorted. “Interesting is not half of it. Come, let’s get away from this place. Now that I know bandits come here to trade, I want no part of it.”

They quickly headed out into the darkening night.

“I’m sorry,” Ceniro said to Lyn.

She looked at him quizzically. “For what?”

“It is a fact that I’m not Sacaean…”

“It is also a fact that you are not an imperialist pig, and it is a fact that you are not dirty, and it is most definitely a fact that I love you and I don’t care what fraction of Sacaean blood our children will bear.”

“But if they don’t like me marrying you…”

“What does it matter?”

“It will make it hard for you to be chieftain of the Lorca… I thought it would be all right as long as our kids had green hair, perhaps, but… it doesn’t seem that easy…”

“Don’t be silly,” Lyn said, although now he could tell she was fighting to maintain composure. “I always kind of knew that the Lorca could not be re-established…”

Ceniro stopped her and pulled her into a hug. “I’m sorry.”

She sniffled a little. “Thanks. It is a little hard when someone stomps on your dream.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Stop apologizing. It’s not your fault.”

“I’m sorry.”

“Ceniro-!” She looked up at him and laughed a little. “Anyway, what was that about our kids and green hair? You didn’t tell me that before…”

“I… well, when you were telling me about the Lorca, that was my own private thought – that our kids should have green hair. Which would probably be easy, since it’s a dominant trait…”

“You’re silly. You’d love our kids no matter what colour hair they had, right?”

The idea of kids, his kids, his and Lyn’s kids, was still hard for him to wrap his head around. But the answer to that question was easy. “Yes, I would. We’re falling behind. We’d better catch up.”

“I’m all right now. Let’s do that.”

 

They’d set up camp not far from the Sacaean camp – it was dark and cold, after all, and they didn’t want to go too far – and Lyn cheered up after they’d prepared the food she’d bought.

Surprisingly, it was Rath who came up with the next idea. “If you intend to celebrate, what is a celebration without music?”

Lyn brightened. “You’re absolutely right! And I’ve barely touched my huuchir since we got back! Rath, what do you have with you?”

“I have a shanz. Although it is cold… the tuning will be horrible.”

“Who cares?” Pent said. “Music is music.”

Lyn nodded. “Music is one of the best kinds of spiritual healing.”

The two Sacaeans went to their packs and returned with long, thin stringed instruments that Ceniro had never before identified among all their belongings. It did seem to take them a long time to tune before they were happy with the sound, but then they began to play. The music started slow, meandering, reminding Ceniro of the way the wind whistled.

Suddenly Rath looked around. “Who is that?”

A shadowy figure in Sacaean clothing stepped into the light. “I am Shikoba, from the Hanska tribe across yonder, and… I… wanted to apologize for the way Isi spoke.”

“Is he with your tribe?” Lyn demanded.

“No… he only comes to trade with us. But he has shamed our tribe and all Sacaeans in speaking to you the way he did.”

“I thank you for your apology,” Lyn said, bowing her head.

“Are you celebrating something?” asked Shikoba next.

“The first successful job of our mercenary company!” announced Yens, raising his glass.

“You may join us, if you like,” Lyn said graciously, indicating the leftover food.

“I will go and bring drums,” said the Sacaean. “I thank you for permitting me.”

Shikoba returned a few minutes later, and he was not alone – there were several other Sacaeans, all with various musical instruments, and more food and even alcohol. “We have come to show your company what a real Sacaean celebration is like.”

Lyn almost squealed in glee, with excited looks at Ceniro. Eventually she was persuaded to sing, although she insisted her voice was terrible – but she had had two glasses of wine by that point. Ceniro thought her voice was beautiful when she began to sing.

The music became faster and faster, driving away all thoughts of cold and snow. Lyn got up, putting aside her instrument, and dragged Ceniro to his feet, trying to teach him to dance. Pent and Louise, when they stopped laughing, did the same. Some of the others got up too, dancing alone, or even with each other, despite the shortage of women in their company.

The evening passed by in a blur, and eventually Ceniro stumbled into a tent, slurring something about setting watch.

“No need,” was the last thing he heard, from someone who sounded like Shikoba. “The Hanska tribe will watch over you.”

 

He had a hangover the next morning, but it was kind of worth it, he thought. That wasn’t something that happened very often. And he didn’t wake up naked next to Lyn, so that was also a plus. More or less. That is, he wouldn’t have minded, but he would like to remember it if that happened, and not have the worry that he had made some kind of mistake.

Shikoba had been right, and even though they had all been too tired to keep watch, nothing was amiss from their campsite.

“The honour of the Sacaean people is a marvelous thing,” Pent said. “To do such a thing for us strangers is humbling.”

“That’s my people,” Lyn said proudly.

They traveled south, heading for the town of Eno to find more work. On the second day, Ceniro was watching the winter-blue sky when he shaded his eyes with his hand, squinting to look closer. He glanced at his farseer and back at the sky.

“What is it?” Lyn asked.

“Something I never expected,” he said.

“But something good – you don’t look worried.”

“It’s better than good,” he said, grinning.

“Are you going to let us in on this secret?”

“You’ll see soon enough.”

“Pegasus knights,” said Rath, shading his own eyes.

Lyn turned to glare at Ceniro, who was grinning like a little kid. “Pegasus knights whom we know?”

“Maybe,” he said evasively.

Lyn rolled her eyes. “You’re really acting like an ass today, you know that?”

“I’m just excited. Fiora! Florina! Over here!”

“Huh? Huh?” He heard Florina being confused over the farseer.

“Continue north and about two points east, you should run into us.”

“Ceniro!” Fiora cried. “It’s good to see you!”

“We haven’t seen him yet,” said someone else – Wil, Ceniro thought.

“Wil, is that you?”

“Yep! Me and Kent came along to keep the girls company.”

“But what about Sain? Castle Caelin’s going to be lonely without all of you.”

“I don’t think Sain even noticed we’re gone,” Wil said, and laughed. “We’ll talk about it when we meet up, all right?”

“How did you find us?” Lyn demanded a few minutes later, when they had all met on a snowy knoll.

Fiora shrugged. “Luck, I suppose. We weren’t actually looking for you.”

Lyn deflated a little. “Then what were you doing out here?”

“I’m sorry, Lyn!” Florina chirped. “We were actually going to Ilia – it’s been a while since Fiora checked in with the higher-ups, you know? And I thought, since I’m a full pegasus knight now, I should go with her. I’ve never been for… that reason before.”

“And we couldn’t stay behind, could we?” Wil said, laughing and elbowing Kent.

Kent nodded warmly. “Fiora and I… we can’t be apart anymore. The Knights of Caelin can take care of themselves. Sain can take care of himself. Salir can take care of him even better.”

“And my grandfather?” Lyn asked.

“He is well,” Kent said. “He did say to send his greetings and his love, should we run into you.”

“I’m glad,” Lyn said. “I shall have to visit him in the spring.”

“But what is Lord Pent doing here?” Fiora asked. “Off on another quest, my lord?”

“Something like that,” Pent said. “Ceniro can explain better than I can at this point.”

So Ceniro explained, and introduced the Caelin group to Pent’s soldiers. It took a long time, with Wil and Fiora interrupting so much, but eventually they got it.

“It sounds quite exciting,” Fiora said. “I wonder… Ceniro, would you mind terribly if we joined you?”

“But weren’t you going to Ilia?” Ceniro said.

“It’s not mandatory,” Fiora said. “They’ll already have received my report on the loss of the 5th Wing ages ago. They’ll probably have formed a new 5th Wing already. So I’m not Fiora of the 5th anymore, I’m just Fiora.”

“I would have thought you’d visit your family as well,” Louise said.

Fiora looked away. “I would like to see them, but… a chance meeting like this can’t be passed up. Who knows if we’d meet so easily when we returned?”

“I see,” Ceniro said. “Well… Perhaps we can make it a secondary goal as we travel. I would love to have all of you along, if you’re willing!”

“He was just saying the other day that all he needs is pegasus knights for life to be perfect,” Erk said, and Florina giggled.

“With this we’ll be the best-outfitted mercenary group in Sacae!” George said. “Possibly in Elibe, though I daren’t say for certain.”

“There’s large guilds of mercenaries that would probably be better than us,” Ceniro said.

“But they don’t have you!” Wil cried. “How can they call themselves better without you? Oh, by the way, when Florina and I get married…” Florina turned bright red. “We want to name our first kid after you!”

Now Ceniro turned bright red. “W-what!? Why??”

“You brought us together, that’s why! And you’ve been a great friend as well as a great tactician! I just think we need to do this.”

“I-I-I-I agree,” Florina stuttered, embarrassed out of her mind.

“What if it’s a girl!?” Ceniro exclaimed. Pent was quietly laughing himself into stitches, Lyn was giggling, and even Rath was smiling in amusement. There might have been a ping but he was too distracted to notice it.

“Then we’ll call her Cenira!” Wil said. “Bam! Problem solved!”

The ludicrousness of the situation hit Ceniro and he fell over in hysterical giggles himself.

Wil stared at him in confusion. “Did I break him?”

“I think you did,” Kent said. “Be nice, Ceniro. They’ve been talking about this for a while, so they’re serious.”

“I… I can’t…” Ceniro began. “I can’t talk… I think you’re both crazy. But if it makes you happy, go ahead.”

And an arrow whizzed through the group, striking Frank in the shoulder and bouncing off his armour.

Ceniro whirled, trying to see where it came from. “Florina, Fiora, get up in the air and out of range NOW! Kent, Andy, Frank, Rath, Lyn, perimeter! Caddie, George, get to the south side of the group.” He finally managed to get the farseer out of his belt. “Same group as last time, reinforced with mages and axemen. Not that it will make a difference…”

 

An hour later, almost all the bandits had fled the field, and almost every one of Ceniro’s fighters was unharmed.

The one who had recognized Lyn recently, Isi, was still there, in the middle of regrouping with several other sword-wielding bandits.

“Do you think it’s safe to go talk to him?” Lyn asked.

“Yeah, probably,” Ceniro said. “Caddie, Yens, go with her for cover. Florina, interfere if they get feisty.”

“I’m on it,” Florina said. She had grown so much from the terrified teenage girl Ceniro had met a couple years ago.

“Isi!” Lyn called. “Is this your idea of revenge or something?”

“It was supposed to be,” Isi said sulkily. “How are you all untouched?? Are you men or demons?”

“We’ve been fighting battles harder than you can imagine,” Lyn said. “Naturally we’ve all grown stronger. In case you still haven’t noticed, I’m not the little girl you remember.”

“You’re not,” Isi said quietly. “But I still can’t accept you as my chief.”

“That’s fine,” Lyn said. “I couldn’t accept you as one of my people.”

“So… now what?” Yens asked. “You’re not going to kill each other, are you?”

“I’ll withdraw,” Isi said. “You might not be a demon, but I think you might be possessed by one, and your allies are as well.”

“I’ll take that as a compliment,” Lyn said tartly. “Go on before my boyfriend decides it would be better to eliminate you so you don’t try to ambush us a third time.”

“We won’t,” Isi said grudgingly. “You have my word.”

“Thank you,” Lyn said, and watched them go.

Fiora and Florina returned and landed next to Ceniro, who’d taken a central vantage point and hadn’t even needed to draw his sword this time. He smiled at them. “It’s really good to have you guys back.”

“It’s good to be back,” Fiora said. “And I’d like to reiterate my intention to join your group.”

“Me too!” Florina said. “And Wil!”

“And me,” Kent said, riding up. “It will be… a different life than what I’m used to, certainly. But it will be an educational one, and I think with companions such as these, it will be a good one.” He and Fiora smiled at each other. Wil rolled his eyes.

“We’re happy to have you,” Ceniro said. “We were headed south to Eno for more work.”

“We’re a pretty big group now,” Erk commented. “We could even split up to do more work, possibly.”

“I’ll keep that in mind,” Ceniro said. “I hadn’t really considered it, but it’s a good point. I trust you all to keep yourselves alive without my interference.”

“In that case…” Rath said. “I will be leaving you at Eno.”

“Oh, that’s too bad!” Wil said. “I was looking forward to more riding lessons from you!”

Rath smiled slightly. “Lyn can teach you to shoot from the horse. I have… duties at home with the Kutolah that I cannot neglect for long. I told her I would only be away long enough to show Pent the way to Ceniro, and I have been away for much longer than that.”

“Oh!” Lyn said. “Rath, you should have said something! Of course, you should go back to the Kutolah, especially if there’s a girl involved. I’m very happy for you!”

Rath half-bowed. “Thank you, Lyn.”

“You’ve been a tremendous help,” Ceniro said. “Especially to me, trying to learn the culture of this land and its people. We’ll miss you a lot.”

“Though, we do have lots of archers,” George put in, grinning. “I’ll take up your place as I can, though I don’t have your skill.”

“You’re fine,” Louise hastened to assure him.

Rath nodded. “You have no need of me anymore. When we reach Eno, I will head my own way. Do not worry for my safety. I know this land well.”

“I know you’ll be fine,” Ceniro said. “If we can ever repay the kindness you’ve given all of us, just let us know.”

“I will.”

 

They spent the next five months wandering from place to place, working as much as they could. Bandits on the southern mountain border soon learned to fear the Elite Company, until Yens and Wil joked that they were going to put themselves out of work by being too good.

The darkness and heavy snow of winter made way reluctantly for the rain and mud of early spring. Louise was getting along in her pregnancy, so much so that Ceniro had begun to insist that she stay in whatever town was closest to their route with at least one escort.

They had dared to go to Bulgar, hoping that they could learn fresh news about the world while also risking being spotted and reported to King Desmond. While George and Kent led the main group to find lodging, Ceniro, Lyn, and Pent went to the main squares of the place.

Of course Pent would be drawn to groups of magic users, and without telling Ceniro, he meandered over to a collection of shaman near the city’s library. Ceniro could find him if he needed him. He could even call him if he needed him. This was win-win for both of them, Pent felt – he got the chance to eavesdrop on the magical community, and Ceniro and Lyn would get a chance to be alone together for the first real time since Pent and his group had joined them months before. He’d heard them saying something about Bulgar reminding them of old times, when they had first met, and first met Kent and Sain, and wished them luck.

Ten minutes later, he heard Ceniro. “Pent, you all right?” It was later even than he’d been expecting. The tactician had definitely been enthralled by his princess.

“I’m fine,” Pent said. “Enjoy yourselves. I’m going to listen to boring magic things.”

“Enjoy yourself too,” Ceniro said. “Call if you need anything.”

“I’ll let you know if I’m in trouble,” Pent said, with a voice that made it clear he wasn’t expecting any, and that if he got into any, he could probably get himself out again.

Ceniro chuckled, and then he heard no more from them.

Pent sidled up to the group; they didn’t seem to notice him, tall as he was, and he assumed that they were mostly strangers to each other as well.

Why would a group of strange shaman gather in public like this?

“I felt it too,” said one of them. “But I felt it coming from the southeast.”

“Were you north of me?” asked the shaman he was talking to.

“I was near Nittany,” said the first.

“Then, yes.”

“But did you feel it the same day?” asked a third. There followed much bickering, but it seemed that all the shaman had felt… something… disturb the forces of magic, on a particular day in late summer.

It was a day that Pent remembered well.

“Sorry, I’m from out of country,” he said amiably to one of them. “What exactly did you feel?”

“A ripple,” said one immediately.

“I wouldn’t say a ripple,” said another, and began theorizing exactly how dark magic knit into the physical world that the sensation detected had the semblance of a ripple without actually being a ripple.

“I’d say it was more of a wave that caused a ripple in a particular and as yet unknown location,” said another one, firmly. “Who are you, anyway?”

“I’m a mage, not a shaman, so I didn’t feel it,” Pent said. “I have a decided professional interest in magical phenomena, however, and I would be interested in investigating this… wave.”

“The wave came from the south, southwest somewhere,” said one. “Possibly all the way from Bern. I’m more interested in that, myself.”

“Good luck to you,” Pent said cheerfully. “And be careful.”

“Why? Do you know something?”

“Bern is full of dangers,” Pent said, shrugging. He didn’t want to give away his guess, but if he was right, any shaman who tried to find the source of the wave would be walking straight towards the Bern Royal Army at the Shrine of Seals. “I’d love to stay and discuss this further, but I have an appointment with my boss shortly.” How it amused him to say that.

“Hang on, who are you? You still didn’t give us a name.”

Pent blinked and almost stumbled on the fake name he and Louise had come up with. “Rowan. My name’s Rowan. I’m with Ceniro’s Elite Company if you have need of mercenary support.”

“Those guys? I heard they fight like they’re possessed by demons. They’re incredibly good.”

“Thank you,” Pent said, bowing. “But like I said, I have to meet with Ceniro. Good day, and good luck with your investigation. I’ll come back later to help if I have time.”

Instead, he headed directly for the rest of the group, already refining the request he wanted to make of Ceniro’s leadership.

 

 

Episode 2: Mercenaries, Part 1          Episode 4: Dragon’s Breath

Anima’s Seal: Episode 2: Mercenaries, Part 1

« ... »

Episode 1: Exiled         Episode 3: Mercenaries, Part 2

 

Right, here’s Episode 2. I was just going along, wondering how I’d get Ceniro his first merc job (much the same way he himself was) and Roger was like “oh hei I’m just passing through” and I was like “dude! You’re perfect!” I mean, now I don’t have to create a whole new character that no one will care about since he’s not an integral part of the story. So here’s Roger, the young Duke of Deis in Etruria, and hopefully he resolves a few questions you may or may not have had after reading about him in The Tactician and the Jewel.

…If anyone even reads this stuff. : P

Names are the biggest hang-up I have in this story. All these new names, people names, place names, they all have to have the Fire Emblem feel while not being too horribly exotic – or not exotic enough. I suspect that from here on, while Sacaean culture is going to be primarily Mongolian, place names will be Native American – I get both vibes from the hints the game drops.

 

Episode 2: Mercenaries, Part 1

 

“You’ve gone native,” Pent said, nodding at Ceniro’s deel robe.

“Em.” Ceniro still hadn’t recovered use of his voice yet.

“It looks lovely,” Louise said. “But Lord Pent is perhaps pretending a little too hard that nothing is wrong. We’re actually being chased.”

“That’s why you need my help?” Ceniro asked, still confused.

“We’re being chased by Bern soldiers,” Pent explained, a little more clearly. “We have been for several days now, although we gained a lot of time when we went to the Kutolah to gain Rath’s help in finding you. He is an excellent tracker.”

“You couldn’t take them yourself?” Ceniro asked mildly.

“We certainly could,” George broke in. “But we would still need your help after that, and it’d be nice to work with you again, Ceniro.”

“It’s nice to see you all too,” Ceniro said, smiling at them. “One moment while I get the farseer. How much time do we have?”

“I’ll go change,” Lyn said, ducking into the ger.

“We have a few hours,” Pent said. “No rush. But I’m sure they haven’t lost us yet.”

“Then you have time to explain to me why on earth you’re running from Bern soldiers. Don’t tell me something happened in politics?”

“Then I won’t,” Pent said. “But it did.”

“It did,” Erk said flatly. “King Desmond found out… something, and accused Pent of setting the assassins on Prince Zephiel. He even had an obviously forged piece of evidence in Pent’s own writing.”

Ceniro blinked. “So he got you… exiled? And wants to finish the job?”

“I think that’s the gist of it,” Pent said. “Shall we take tea and I’ll start from the beginning? Even Rath here hasn’t heard the whole story. We’ve been travelling pretty quickly.”

Ceniro smirked. “Would you like to take traditional Sacaean tea? I think we have time…”

Rath gave a rare smile.

 

They went inside, where Lyn was now changed into something more practical to fight in, and Ceniro served regular tea. He introduced Lyn to the Reglay soldiers, all of whom fell over themselves to be polite to her, partly because she was beautiful, and partly because of the way she carried herself and her sword. And partly because Pent and Louise were friendly with her, probably.

Rath nodded to Ceniro. “The deel looks good on you.”

“Thanks,” Ceniro said. “It’s really comfortable.”

“Be careful around other tribes,” Rath said. “They do not know you as I do. They might think you are an ignorant Lycian attempting to frivolously steal our culture, whether or not you are engaged to Lyn.”

“I… understand,” Ceniro said. “Lyn warned me as much as well, but… you don’t say no to a Sacaean princess, either.”

Rath nodded sagely. “Agreed.”

“Pent said you were back with the Kutolah?” Ceniro asked.

“I was,” Rath said. “I came home to see my father. It had been too long since I visited. But I will help you fight your enemies.”

“Pent’s enemies…” Ceniro said. “Thank you. Your skills mean a lot, especially here in what must be your element.”

Rath nodded slightly.

“So what did you do with the Sol Katti?” Pent asked. “I see you have only your Mani Katti.”

“I wasn’t sure where Athos got it from, and I haven’t had time to traverse all of Sacae to find its resting place,” Lyn answered. “So I went to the shrine where the Mani Katti originally lay and placed it there for safekeeping. I have no doubt that Ceniro and I will stumble across the correct place sooner or later.”

“I have no doubt that you will as well,” Pent said, smiling. “Would you like my help, while I’m around?”

“He is good at finding long-lost special places,” Ceniro said.

“And this time no one is likely to be racing us there,” Louise said. “Although I have the feeling that King Desmond is not going to stop sending people after us for a while.”

“So what’s the story behind your… homelessness?” Ceniro asked. “You’ve been exiled?”

“Yes,” said Pent, and began to tell of the sudden summons to Aquleia, of which they would have had no warning but for Douglas’s friendship, and the topsy-turvy trial, and the forged evidence, and how King Mordred’s impartiality and reasonableness could not help when Pent couldn’t even explain the truth freely, and their subsequent demotion and exile. “Louise and I would have gone alone, but we couldn’t shake these loyal few. Cavven stayed to mind the house with the rest of the guards and the servants, although goodness knows what will become of it while we’re gone.”

“And so your prediction during our journey to defeat Nergal came true…” Ceniro said.

“So it has,” Pent said cheerfully. “I don’t think we really mind. We were less prepared for it as we’d been home for a couple months, but it’s not entirely unexpected, either.”

“Although…” Louise said, “since Desmond produced forged evidence, I think think there is a chance we can prove our innocence… But first we have to deal with the soldiers trying to silence us altogether.”

Ceniro reflexively checked the farseer, but it still showed nothing, and he trusted that Bern’s soldiers were not as stealthy as either Sacaeans or as Limstella’s morphs. “We’re still good.”

“Excellent!” Pent said. “What do you say, Lyn? Shall we help you find the Sol Katti’s origin?”

“I’ll think about it,” she said. “You still haven’t explained why you want Ceniro’s help after you defeat the ones chasing you.”

Pent sobered. “Well… there’s a few things. First… we’d like to remain on the move, and since Ceniro has a tendency to get itchy feet, we thought we might be able to follow him. Also, there’s the matter that if Desmond has a written order purported from me to the Black Fang, there might be a written order from Desmond to the Black Fang as well.”

“Wouldn’t he say that’s also a forgery?” Ceniro asked.

“It’s possible. But it would at least be a start to clearing our names, and perhaps give us a clue as to where to go next. I’ve been thinking about it, and while it’s hard to see what to do from here, those are possible goals. But I wanted to ask your advice on it first.”

“It is, of course, up to you,” Louise said gently. “I know you’ve been happy with Lyn these last few months, and we wouldn’t want to take you away from that.”

Ceniro and Lyn looked at each other.

“I think this is actually a very good thing,” Lyn said at last. “We’ve been drifting across the plains without any real purpose…”

“That’s not entirely true,” Ceniro interrupted. “You wanted to find other Lorca survivors and build a new clan, didn’t you?”

“Yes, well…” Lyn’s shoulders slumped. “It’s been almost three years since the Lorca were torn apart. If they wouldn’t follow me then, a little while longer won’t make them follow me any less.”

“You’ve matured a lot even since we first set out together,” Ceniro said, smiling. “I think you’d have a better chance than you think. But maybe we can do both? Or would they be wary of joining a group with so many Etrurians and me?”

“Maybe,” Lyn said, with a glance at Rath, who had always followed them regardless. “If they weren’t mercenaries already, they’d be unlikely to join such a mixed group, and certainly not one on a quest. So… I guess we can find out where they are as we help Pent, but I don’t think my silly plan will come to fruition right now.”

“It’s not silly,” Pent said. “It’s very admirable. Though I know little of your people.”

“If we’re searching for record of the Black Fang, we’ll be going into Bern,” Lyn said. “You know what? I’d rather go adventuring anyway.” She smiled at them.

“Thank you, Lyn,” Louise said. “We would never try to drag Ceniro away from you without both of your approvals.”

“Besides,” Lyn said. “Didn’t someone say that you’re pregnant? If it comes to it, I can be your midwife while we’re travelling. I helped my mother several times when I was younger.”

Louise, Ceniro, and Erk blushed. “That’s very kind of you,” Louise said, not having expected that. “I will need your help, yes.”

Ceniro was slightly relieved when the farseer pinged, announcing that unknown and probably hostile persons had come within range of its scanner. He stood. “All right. We have about half an hour before they reach this ger. We should get into position.” He looked at the tiny soldiers, trying to guess what kind they were. “Looks like… mostly lightly-armoured foot soldiers, with some archers, and a few cavalry riders. Let’s go outside and I’ll give orders.”

They followed him outside, and he pointed north-west. “They’re coming from that direction, so Lyn, Louise, and Rath, I want you to head north. Rath, you’ll be the furthest north so you can sweep around west and trap them. Pent, Erk, you’ll go with Andy and Frank west from here and so trap them against our archers with your magic while the cavaliers head north-east to join with Rath. Remember to target the archers first. Andy, Frank, try to take on the enemy cavaliers.”

“And the rest of us?” asked George.

“We’re the bait,” Ceniro said. “I know you were mostly an archer last time, George, but I need you to be a swordsman this battle. Pent, can you lend me your cloak?”

“It is a distinctive lavender hue, isn’t it?” Pent said, passing it over.

It didn’t exactly go with Ceniro’s burgundy deel, but it covered most of it and he thought that Bernese soldiers could forgive him a little fashion mishap under the circumstances that they were all trying to kill each other. “Right. I’m not nearly as tall as you are, but hopefully they’ll go for me. Now… we’re outnumbered at least two to one, but fight hard and dodge quick, and most importantly, let me guide you, and we’ll be fine.”

“Got it!” Andy said, grinning happily, and turned to ride off. Pent and Erk mounted up and followed the yellow and blue knights.

“Louise, how good are you at archery on horseback?” Ceniro asked.

“I’m decently good at it,” Louise said. “But… I think I’d prefer to fight on foot for now. I’ll ride to my place, but… there’s too much twisting in horseback archery.”

“I understand,” Ceniro said. “Just wanted to make sure.”

“I’ll be fine,” she assured him. “I’m not that far along yet.”

“So you want me as an archer?” Lyn asked. “You sure?”

“Yes. I think the enemy will shy away from the magic, even if it is towards your arrows, and I need you to stay near Louise. I’ll let you know when the best time to draw your sword is, don’t worry.”

“And you?” she asked, stepping a little closer and dropping her voice.

“Oh!” Ceniro exclaimed. “I forgot. One minute.” He ducked back into the ger, frantically scanning the interior. “Here it is!” He seized his new katana and headed back outside. “The Bern soldiers are going to be awfully confused by Lord Pent wielding a sword instead of magic…”

“What’s that?” Pent asked. “Dare I believe my ears?”

“…No,” Ceniro said, teasing back. “Absolutely not. But yes, Lyn has been giving me lessons. I should be able to survive for a few seconds on my own.”

“I’ll keep an eye on you,” George assured him.

“You keep an eye on yourself, and I’ll let you know if I’m in trouble,” Ceniro told him. “Let’s advance slightly. No sense in delaying the battle longer than necessary.”

“After you, ‘Lord Pent’,” Yens said, grinning.

The leader of the Bern forces spotted Ceniro shortly after Ceniro saw him with his own eyes, and pointed at him. The rest of the Bern soldiers followed their leader steadily, confidently – into Ceniro’s trap.

“Lord Pent!” cried the Bern captain. “You may as well give up here! You’re far outnumbered- Where’s Lady Louise?”

“I sent her on ahead,” Ceniro said, trying to copy Pent’s voice. “She’s safely away from you now. As if I’d let you harm her!” In his ear, Louise giggled and Pent chuckled.

The Bern captain’s jaw clenched. “You can never hide from the might of Bern! Attack!”

“Hold steady,” Ceniro murmured. “Pent, Erk, on my mark…”

“Hang on…” the captain said. “You’re not Pent! You’re too short! Where is he!?”

“Come find out,” Ceniro said, shrugging off Pent’s cloak and drawing his katana.

The captain roared a challenge and continued running at him.

“Pent! Now!” Ceniro yelled, and thunder struck the soldier behind the captain.

 

The following battle was very simple by Ceniro’s standards, and only forty minutes later they were the uncontested victors.

Ceniro hadn’t killed anyone, in fact had only crossed weapons with one soldier at one time, but he looked at the fallen Bernese with regret. “I wonder if they had any idea it might turn out like this.”

Lyn rested a hand on his shoulder. “You can’t think like that.”

“It’s hard not to,” Ceniro said. “For one thing… it might be easy to forget in the heat of the moment, but not when you see actual dead people. Haven’t seen them in a while, either, not since we defeated… Lloyd. And another thing… it’s what Eliwood would say.”

Lyn smiled. “I guess you’re right. But Pent and Louise are safe for now. None of these will bring word back to King Desmond.”

“That’s true,” Ceniro said. “So, Pent, what is our next move?”

Pent shrugged. “That’s up to you, really. Just as long as we’re out of Bern’s sight, it doesn’t matter to us, does it, my dear?”

Louise shook her head. “It doesn’t matter, Lord Pent. As long as we’re together, I am happy. So, Ceniro… lead us where you will.”

Andy clapped his hands. “Are we becoming mercenaries again?”

“Mercenaries?” Lyn asked doubtfully.

“Well… we will need some kind of income to feed ourselves,” Ceniro said. “Lyn, how do the plainspeople do it?”

“Every tribe has a number of hunters, and some traders who go to towns to exchange wares,” Lyn said. “I… we could do that too, but I’m not sure if that would work very well…”

Ceniro stared at her. “You don’t want to be a mercenary, and you don’t want us to go full Sacaean.”

“I never said I didn’t want to be a mercenary!” Lyn said. “I just never considered it before.”

“I think we should be mercenaries,” Pent said. “Our skills are highly suited towards it.”

“Until we start making a name for ourselves,” Caddie said. “Then people just might wonder who the mercenary group full of mages and archers belongs to.”

“That’s why we put Ceniro’s name on it!” Pent said enthusiastically.

“W-wait, what?” Ceniro said. “Why me??”

“You know, the only person here who’s had solid mercenary experience is Rath,” Lyn said.

“Well, we do too,” Frank said, gesturing at his younger brother.

“Ah, forgive me,” Lyn said, bowing slightly to them. “I did not know.”

“No problem,” Andy said.

“Well then,” Ceniro said, “Rath, how do we go about becoming a mercenary group?”

Rath looked startled to see everyone looking at him, and Ceniro wished he could have made it a little more private. “There are… areas in towns in which mercenaries congregate, whether in groups or individually. There is no need to register yourself with any sort of authority. If anyone comes by to hire you, the leader is generally the spokesman for the group.”

“But how do you get hired?” Ceniro asked.

“You wait,” Rath said simply. “Therefore… it depends on what the ‘face’ of your group is.”

“So… even if you all make me the leader, I should definitely not hang out in this area alone,” Ceniro said. “I’m hardly intimidating or even look like I can fight. I should take someone who looks like they know how to fight.”

Rath nodded. “There is no need for the entire group to loiter in one place at once. There are inns in those parts of town that offer a special rate for mercenaries between jobs.”

“This does sound promising,” Lyn said. “Who do you want with you?”

“Wait, wait, wait,” Ceniro said, holding up his hands. “Why do you keep saying I’m the leader?”

“I’m not going to be the leader,” Pent said.

“Why not Lyn? Then we can use the Lyn’s Legion name that Sain coined a couple years ago.”

“No, because Sain isn’t here,” Lyn said. “It would be most unfair to do that.”

“Is that your only reason?” Ceniro asked.

“No. My other reason is that you’re a brilliant leader, despite your shyness, and you need an opportunity to realize that.”

Ceniro glared at her. “That’s a terrible reason and I don’t like it.”

Louise touched his arm. “Ceniro, dear, why don’t you want to be our leader? We all look to you anyway.”

“I’m… I’m not used to being acknowledged as the leader. I go on other people’s quests to see the world and keep them alive, not have people follow me for my own purposes…”

“Well, maybe it’s time to change that,” Erk said. “I for one will gladly follow you.”

Ceniro looked around, sighed, and hung his head. “I guess there’s no getting out of this one, is there.”

“Certainly not,” cried Lyn. “Now… you were saying about names?”

Everyone had ideas for those, some of them ridiculous, like The Ceniro Corps, or Ceniro’s Combatants, but eventually Ceniro allowed them to pick Ceniro’s Elite Company.

“You’re all elite,” he said, still not very happy about the whole thing.

“Fantastic!” Andy said, and rubbed Ceniro’s head, messing up his hair. He needed a haircut. “To Bulgar!”

“Do we really want to go to Bulgar?” Ceniro said. “King Desmond will surely be expecting you to head towards civilization. And even if his soldiers bring no word back – if we bury them, they can vanish without a trace – he’ll certainly suspect you’re still alive.”

“That’s true,” Pent said. “Where would you suggest?”

“I don’t know,” Lyn said. “I don’t know where the mercenaries hang out…”

“In Matowa,” Rath said. “There is a small mercenary community there, but the town is not so large that spies can be everywhere. On the other hand, a group as large as this may inspire comment and remembrance.”

“We’ll chance it,” Ceniro said. “We only need one job to get started, and then we never have to go there again. In fact, we should take that time to dump any identifying colours of clothing.” He looked at Pent, who nodded.

“Yes, I suppose I’m rather distinctive whenever I wear blue or lavender. I apologize.”

“And I shall stop wearing rose and peach,” Louise said, and giggled. “Oh, this is so exciting!”

Lyn laughed. “I’ll help you find something that you like.”

Erk mumbled something to himself, glancing at his blue cloak.

“Even you,” Ceniro said to Andy and Frank. “You should at least get your armour repainted something other than blue and yellow.”

The brothers looked at each other. “I didn’t even think about us,” Frank said. “Brown’s pretty non-descript. Brown and brown?”

“Hey,” Ceniro said – his favourite colour to wear was brown.

“What?” said Frank, who didn’t get it.

“Never mind,” Ceniro said. “As long as you look slightly less… shiny when you’re done.”

Andy laughed. “Shiny. I like it. But as you say.”

“We can remain the night here, though,” Lyn said. “It’s getting dark, your pursuers have been defeated, and you must be tired. I’ll start cooking. Ceniro, come help me.”

“Yes, Lyn.”

“Thank you, Lyn, Ceniro,” said Pent said, bowing to them.

“Don’t worry about it,” Lyn said, smiling, and vanished into the ger.

 

Four days later, they were in Matowa, and Ceniro was loitering in the street with Caddie and Rath, waiting for anyone to hire them. There was a last minute fluster as Andy came to ask if they should follow any sort of colour scheme with their new colours, but Ceniro decided against it. Snow was in the air, and he wondered if they’d get any work at all so quickly.

“Ceniro,” Caddie said, and gave him a nudge, gesturing subtly down the street.

Ceniro looked, and started.

Roger of Deis was riding down the street, followed by his captains Phil and Paul and several other servant-like people.

Ceniro jumped up. “Caddie, go inside a moment. They could recognize you.”

“You know this lord?” Rath asked.

“Yes, he’s from Etruria as well. But he probably won’t connect me to Pent currently. I want to talk to him.”

“I’m right behind you,” Rath said calmly.

Caddie hastened into the inn, and Ceniro walked out into the street. “Um… hello?” He really had to work on greeting people.

Roger of Deis didn’t even acknowledge him. The youth had grown into a young man, and he somehow reminded Ceniro of Raven.

But Paul turned his head, and jumped. “Ceniro of Santaruz! What are you doing here?”

“Well, I moved to Sacae to be with my fiancée,” Ceniro said. “But I’ve joined – actually, I’m the leader of a mercenary group now. How are you?”

“Paul, who are you talking to?” Roger demanded. “Who are you?”

Ceniro smiled a little. Roger’s forgetfulness didn’t really surprise him – Roger had paid him little attention in their assault on Eshan’s attempted coup. “I’m Ceniro, a tactician. We met a couple years ago, around the time your father died.”

“My father…” Roger thought. “The scrawny tactician!”

“Yes, that’s me,” Ceniro said. “What brings you to Sacae, Lord Roger?”

“Not that it’s any of your business, but I’m actually on my way to Ilia to see my mother’s family,” Roger said. “I need a new escort… the old one proved untrustworthy.”

“You didn’t have all you need in the Deis forces?” Ceniro asked.

“Politics,” Roger snorted. “I need them at home to deter Lady Olga from making a move on my territory while I’m away. I have only taken my two closest knights.”

“I understand,” Ceniro said. “How large of an escort would you need?”

“Ceniro,” Rath said warningly.

“How many Sacaeans are in it?” Roger said scornfully.

Ceniro crossed his arms, allowing himself to get slightly angry. “You’re in Sacae. You are not allowed to badmouth the local people, young man.”

Phil and Paul stared in surprise at his forthrightness, and Roger’s face reddened. “Now see here-”

“The Sacaean people are proud and honourable, and great warriors,” Ceniro said. “I don’t know what you think of them, but I’ve worked with several and they’ve all been very helpful and absolutely trustworthy.” He smiled, letting go of the anger. “Why don’t you take us on and see?”

“You’re not even that much older than me!” Roger burst out. “What gives you the right to call me ‘young man’!? Should I call you ‘old man’?”

“As long as you stop insulting Sacaeans, I’ll live with it,” Ceniro said. “What do you say?”

“…” Roger thought, looking up at the cloudy sky, then back at his train of assistants. “You have a deal. How many people are in your group?”

“Ten,” Ceniro said. “Including me. There is also an additional complication.” He tensed, ready to dodge if Roger should take it badly.

Roger frowned. “What, is it your fiancée?”

“No, not that… You know what happened to Lord Pent recently, don’t you?”

“He was exiled for daring to stick it to King Desmond, wasn’t he?”

“Something like that… A false accusation of attempting to murder King Desmond’s son, Zephiel.”

“Yes, yes… Pent insisted it was a forgery… I don’t really care, Desmond is an idiot. Pent had guts. I liked his performance. What does this have to do with your mercenary group?”

“Then would you mind terribly if he was in your escort?”

Roger grinned. “Why didn’t you say that first off? I’ll take any number of Sacaeans if Pent is there. It’s not everyone who can stand up to a king.”

“Right,” Ceniro said, choosing to ignore the comment about Sacaeans. “Rath, go and tell the others.”

“Understood,” Rath said, saluting, and jogging back to the inn, somewhat behind them now.

“I guess you’ll be wanting to know where we’re going, eh?” Phil said. “If you can take us to the borders of Ilia, at least, we’ll be able to get the rest of the way ourselves. Our ultimate destination is Edessa, the capital, but the roads will be safer once we get to the border.”

“Although… it’s winter,” Ceniro said. “Or getting on to it. We may as well come the whole way.”

“Who’s in your group?” Paul wanted to know.

“Besides me and Lord Pent, there’s also Lady Louise, though she’s pregnant, and my fiancée Lyn, and Rath, and Pent’s student Erk, and his soldiers George, Caddie, Yens, Andy, and Frank. We have a diverse enough array of skills that I feel confident in saying we can take on just about anything, especially bandits, if that’s your worst worry.”

“Hurry up,” Roger said, pulling out in front of them. “We’re not camping here in this tiny pit. Sir Ceniro, get your group together and meet us on the edge of town in half an hour at the latest.”

“See you, then,” Ceniro said, and turned to do just that.

 

The journey certainly wasn’t dull, Ceniro reflected a few days later, as they neared the north of Sacae. Roger hadn’t cared one whit that Pent was in exile, and assured Pent that he wouldn’t tell anyone that he’d been in his mercenary guard, not even his relatives in Ilia.

“Why would you not care?” Pent asked at last. “Surely you blame me for the death of your father…”

Roger was silent a long time. “I haven’t forgotten, Lord Pent. And for a long time I was angry, yes. When Eshan staged his coup, right after my father’s death, I just wanted to hurt something, anything. That’s why… I couldn’t attack you, you were too strong, but you were fighting other people. With your group, fighting people, I could… feel a bit more in control.” He glanced at his knights. “Phil and Paul would have ensured I didn’t kill you.”

“I think I understand,” Pent said. “And now?”

“Now… it’s been almost two years. I’ve had a lot of time to think. I’m… not politically ambitious. To be the best swordfighter, that is my idea of a worthy goal. And so… although it pains me deeply to say it, my father was in the wrong to attack you.” He gave a little sarcastic smile. “If he was attacking you to prove his martial skill, I would agree with him. In fact, sometime after you are reinstated, we should duel sometime.”

“All right,” Pent said. “If that is what you wish.”

“You are a very wise young man,” Louise said. “And I thank you for not hating my husband.”

“I’m still angry, but I know it would be more trouble than it’s worth,” Roger said. “Being Duke of Deis has taught me that much.” He pointed at Pent. “Revenge is for losers, but I still reserve the right to both hate and admire you.”

“Both?” Pent said, confused.

Roger gave him a tight little grin. “Not everyone can sass King Desmond to his face. I liked that.”

Pent laughed. “I’m glad someone enjoyed our performance.”

“Ceniro,” Rath whispered. “I think we’re headed into an ambush.” Ceniro had sent Rath and Lyn ahead as mounted scouts.

“Understood,” Ceniro said, pulling out the farseer.

“Trouble?” Pent asked mildly.

Ceniro looked around at the servants. “There’s a medium-sized group of raiders ahead. Mounted archers, mostly, which could be tricky to deal with. Andy, Frank, you take the left, Phil, Paul, you form up on the right. Caddie, George, Yens, Louise, Erk, stay close to the servants – we want any and all arrows headed their way blocked and returned. Erk, you’re healer if necessary. Lyn, when they reveal themselves, get their attention and lead them down the right, towards Phil and Paul. Rath, do the same on the left. There will be too many for our cavalry to deal with so take shots when you can.”

“And me?” Pent asked.

“And me!” Roger exclaimed, drawing his sword. It was a very large sword, complemented by the very large shield he brought from his back.

“Hmm… Roger, go with Phil and Paul and fight directly alongside them. I’ll cover any holes in the right forward. Pent, you back up Andy and Frank. Most of all, don’t leave the group, anyone! We’re not seeking total annihilation of the bandits. We only need to drive them off.”

“You’re not putting me on the opposite side to Reglay because I admitted I have conflicted feelings about him, did you?” Roger demanded, peering down at Ceniro.

“No, I did it because I assume you already fight well alongside your own knights,” Ceniro retorted. “I try to take people’s feelings into account, but combat ability is even more important. If I sent you with Andy and Frank, you’d be fighting with total strangers.”

“Fine, fine,” Roger said. “And you forgot to call me ‘Lord Roger’.”

“I apologize,” Ceniro said. “I do that a lot.”

“Lord Roger, Sir Ceniro!” Phil called. “We’re in position!”

“And now they’re waiting on me,” Roger said with a snort. “Right. Watch and learn, Ceniro of Santaruz!”

“I’m watching,” Ceniro said, smiling, and sat back to watch his fighters do their thing.

It certainly was a spectacle, he thought, between the dreary grey sky, and the distant, half-seen mountain foothills, and the bright colours of Deis and the more drab ones of his own people – punctuated with the flash of swords and the flare of thunder and fire. The enemy seemed to have trouble shooting straight, though whether that was the result of the unexpectedness of their counterattack, or because their group was just too good at dodging, Ceniro wasn’t quite sure.

All they really needed was a couple of pegasus knights and maybe a monk, and they’d be set for life, he thought, smiling.

“Ceniro!” yelled Lyn, riding past. “Keep your head down, stupid!”

“I need to be able to see!” he called to her.

“You won’t see anything if you go arrow-catching again!” she said, turning in the saddle to loose an arrow of her own at an attacker.

“Point taken,” Ceniro said reluctantly. “They haven’t sent out their foot soldiers yet anyway…”

He’d spoken too soon – even as they passed through a narrow place in the road, some men on foot with swords and axes jumped out of the scrub onto it.

Ceniro drew his sword. “Right, this is what I kept you all back for.”

“Do you need us?” Andy asked.

“No, keep harrassing the horse archers. We got this.”

“Ceniro,” Pent said. “I think they’ll draw back if we hold on long enough. These aren’t the kind to throw their lives away if they’re losing horribly.”

“Sacaeans are prideful, though,” Ceniro said. “And these are Sacaean bandits…”

“I thought you said all Sacaeans are awesome,” Roger said sarcastically.

“Most Sacaeans are awesome,” Ceniro amended, making eye contact with one large man and preparing to block his attack if necessary. “None of them are worthy of racism.”

“I don’t get it,” Roger said, and grunted as he rode by, cutting down the large man Ceniro had been facing.

“I’ll try and explain again later,” Ceniro said. “Thanks for the assist.”

The bandits were withdrawing, wordlessly breaking off the attack and disappearing into the brown winter prairie scrub. The company regrouped.

“That wasn’t bad,” Erk said, rubbing his hands together. “My casting hand’s half-frozen, though.”

Caddie hefted his axe onto his shoulder and grinned at him. “Should have taken a more active line of martial arts, Master Erk.”

“Oh, I can warm myself up if need be,” Erk said. “Would you like me to demonstrate?”

“No need for that,” Yens said. “But perhaps at tonight’s camp, you could give us an extra big fire, ja?”

“I can do that,” Erk said. “Are you all right, Lady Louise?”

“I’m fine, Erk,” Louise said, smiling. “No need to worry.”

“Ha!” Roger said, returning with Phil and Paul flanking him. “What did you think of that?”

“You’ve grown much since we last fought together,” Ceniro said to him. “Well done.”

“No need to ‘well done’ me,” Roger said, irritated. “And how about some more ‘my lord’ now that you’re not in the heat of battle?”

“…I apologize, my lord,” Ceniro said. The words felt forced and strange in his mouth.

Roger went on grumbling. “And it’s not like you do much in battle anyway, just stand there yelling at us…”

“Forgive him,” Paul said surreptitiously to Ceniro. “He’s actually in a very good mood. That’s just how he is.”

“Ah, I see,” Ceniro said. “Don’t worry, I’m not offended.”

“Good,” Paul said.

“Are we continuing or what?” Roger asked, trotting ahead of them again. “Good work, mercenaries. Ambush averted! You did what I paid you for. Now let’s make some more distance before we camp for the night.”

“And we’ll set a slightly larger guard tonight,” Ceniro said. “They might be back for us.”

“I’d like to see them do so,” Roger said. “We already showed them we have larger teeth than they’re used to.”

“We’ll see,” Ceniro said.

 

In Kafti, at the utmost other end of the continent to the southwest, a group of cloaked figures huddled in an old stone tower. Parchment was spread across the table between them, lit by guttering torches.

“So we’re all sure of it?” one of them said.

“We’ve all been sure of it since it happened,” said another. “Elder magic doesn’t lie.”

“Most magic doesn’t,” said another mildly. “But it’s the interpreting of that truth that is the difficult part.”

“I’m sure of it, at least,” said a fourth. “That wave originated in Bern somewhere, and caused ripples in seven different places across the continent.”

“That’s what I thought,” said the first one.

“But what does it mean?” asked the third one, with a female voice. “This could change everything we know about Elder magic if-”

“Don’t get excited,” said the second. “There’s no need to rethink the laws of magic. It’s only a very old spell that no one noticed before, suddenly activated. It’s been here so long we all thought it was part of nature.”

“But what is it? And why those seven places?”

“That’s what you’re going to find out, Rigel,” said the fourth man, and the third figure looked at him, startled.

“Me, sir?”

“You’re young, aren’t you? Eager for adventure?”

“Well… Eager to learn new things.”

“Then go and learn this thing.”

“Yes, sir. Where should I start?”

“There was one in Nabata. Start there. The echoes should still be clear enough to find the general area.”

“I’ll go at once, sir.”

“Why her?” complained the second man.

“Don’t get excited, Vellith. If it turns out to be important, then we shall congregate again. For now, observation and patience are our allies, as they have always been to unravelling the mysteries of the darkness.”

 

 

Episode 1: Exiled         Episode 3: Mercenaries, Part 2

November 24, 2014

Anima’s Seal: Episode 1: Exiled

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Prologue: Alive         Episode 2: Mercenaries, Part 1

 

I think this might have been both the hardest and also the most dramatic thing I have ever written. Dang I love Pent. I might be taking him a tad into OOC territory, but you know what, he’s under a lot of pressure that he wasn’t under in the game; I think it’s fine. Also I wish to draw artwork. Lots and lots of artwork. But first, here’s the two chapters for tonight. If I can upload two chapters per night, I’ll be done this story by the end of the week, a.k.a. the end of NaNoWriMo, and I will never have to write stories in the Elibe universe again, unless I get the desperate urge to, which I might because it is my most favouritest Fire Emblem game. Darnit.

But my logic is that I will be less tempted if I have no unfinished stories lying around asking to be finished. : P *writes furiously*

Eliwood and Hector won’t be around for a while yet. This is just a teaser to let you know they’re still important-ish.

 

Episode 1: Exile

 

“It’s lovely to be home,” Louise said yet again, in the parlour after dinner with her husband and adopted son.

“It’s certainly marvelous,” Pent said, “and we shall not be leaving on wild, continent-spanning trips for some time, I think.” He nodded significantly at her belly, which was only just beginning to show signs of pregnancy. “If I had known…”

“Lord Pent, I didn’t know, so you couldn’t have known. Besides, Ceniro needed us, both of us. We couldn’t leave Erk to fight dragons on his own, could we?”

“I would rather not have done that, yes,” Erk said. “But now everything is over, so leave everything to us, all right, Lady Louise?”

She smiled. “Yes, Erk, dear. My, how the wind blows tonight!”

“It’s autumn,” Erk said. “It’s only going to get worse. And it’s raining, too…”

There was an urgent thump on the front door, a couple rooms over, and Pent rose. “I wonder who that is, in this weather…”

Ulf, the new head footman, was heading to open the door, but Pent stopped him. “I’ll get it, that’s all right.” Ulf bowed and retreated.

Pent opened the door and blinked in mild surprise. “General Douglas!”

“Pent!” Douglas gasped. He had clearly been riding hard; his horse was showing the whites of its eyes and was covered with rain and sweat. “I need to warn you – King Desmond has brought charges against you regarding… his son. I’ll be returning tomorrow to bring you to Aquleia.”

Pent blinked again. “I… don’t understand.”

“Pent… I know you were running around the continent earlier this year. You started in Nabata, but then you went to Bern for some reason. I hope he has nothing to pin on you, but…”

“His son?” Pent queried. “I was with Marquess Pherae’s group. We saved his son.”

“King Desmond says otherwise. You had best work on your defense; we shall be arriving at dawn tomorrow. This is all the warning I could give you. The king does not know I am here, and with luck, he never will. Good luck, Pent.” Douglas remounted his horse and rode off, back into the not-quite-stormy night.

Pent stared after him a while, though the rain-filled wind blew around him and into his coat, before he finally closed the door and turned back to Louise. “Interesting.”

“What is the matter, Lord Pent?” she asked; she could clearly see that something was wrong.

He gave her a smile anyway. “That was Douglas. I think we’ll be taking a visit to Aquleia tomorrow.”

“Ah, I understand,” she said. He knew she had heard most of the conversation at the door. She put aside her teacup and stood. “In that case, I should prepare some things. Lord Pent, will we be dressed for battle or for elegance?”

“I think in this case we’d make more an impression if we were dressed for elegance. Not, however, without bringing our weapons.”

“Am I going too?” Erk asked, putting a bookmark in his book and standing, ready to help.

“I don’t know,” Pent said. “But let’s plan as if you are. It might be good to have you around even if they don’t ask for you. After all, they only seem to know that we were there. I doubt King Desmond would pay attention to you.”

“I don’t mind,” Erk said. “About any of those things. I shall be pleased to assist.”

“You should sleep early, then,” Pent said. “Keep all your strength up, just in case.”

Erk nodded and left the room.

“And you should as well, Louise,” Pent said. “I don’t know whether you can shoot in your condition…”

Louise laughed, a low rippling laugh that he loved so well. “Lord Pent, of course I can use my bow. I may not do nearly as much dodging, but shooting won’t affect the baby at all. I will have your back, whatever may arise.”

“Though I would still hope that you allow me to protect you.” He put his hands on her shoulders, looking down into her violet eyes. “I know you can take care of yourself, but you don’t have to take care of me and the baby at the same time. That would be too many people to take care of.”

She laughed again. “All right. I will abide by your wishes. This time.”

He smiled. “That’s good, then.”

“What will you say to them?”

“I’m not sure. We must protect the others, of course. I’m sure this has to do more with the Shrine of Seals than with Prince Zephiel. King Desmond hired those assassins himself; why should he try to pin it on us if there were not something else he wanted to protect?”

“I think you must be right,” Louise said. “It’s unlikely he’s had a change of heart in only a few months. If anything, I fear he will treat Hellene’s renewed patience with greater suspicion. And of course, he can’t reach Eliwood and Hector, and Lyn, even if he knew they were there. He has few connections in Lycia.”

“He’ll be afraid that we’ve already given up the location of the Shrine, and hope to either discredit me or forestall me with this trial. But as you know, if it were only me, I would feel little worry about giving King Mordred the location of the Shrine. Although I would wonder what Etruria’s next move would be… But it seems that King Desmond is afraid to even bring up the topic, so he is attempting to frame us in a lie.”

“So we say nothing abou the Shrine?”

“I think it unlikely that it will come up. Although, if it does come up, we must be clear that we say nothing in order to protect other people, even if they’re not Etrurian. It will win us no points with King Desmond, but I think King Mordred will listen – although he must do what is best for Etruria, of course. He will be fair, of that we can have no doubt.”

“The court might be less fair… You know how much they dislike our eccentricity. Maybe I should say… how much they dislike your eccentricity… and me entirely.”

“It’s a good thing I love you so much that their dislike doesn’t matter at all,” Pent said, smiling. “And about the attempted assassination… we should of course tell the truth. Or, most of the truth. He can’t know that we saved him partly to learn of the way to the Shrine of Seals…”

“But we didn’t,” Louise reminded him. “We recovered the Fire Emblem to learn the way. We learned that Prince Zephiel was in danger from overhearing the assassins themselves while attempting to recover the Fire Emblem. We could simply say that we were coming back to visit again, this time with our traveling companions, and heard the commotion.”

“Yes, you are right. We should also say as little as possible about everything else. Desmond doesn’t need to know about Nergal. Now that would get us in trouble for insanity.” Pent chuckled.

“Then everything is simple, is it not?” Louise asked, resting her hands on his chest. He put his arms around her, his wife and the soon-to-be mother of their child.

“In theory, yes. But in practice… everything is much more difficult. We should be prepared for everything, including… losing.”

“We were prepared for that from the moment we went to speak to Hellene,” Louise said resolutely.

“I love you,” Pent said, and kissed her.

 

One week later, the royal courthouse was filled to overflowing, the air humming with politely hushed gossip. King Mordred was in the judge’s seat, his face impassive; King Desmond sat next to him, looking irritated.

Trumpets blew, and the crowd hushed as the court crier announced the defendants. “Lord Pent and Lady Louise, Count and Countess Reglay!”

The great doors swung open and there stood Pent, resplendant in dark blue velvet, and Louise, radiant in rose-like pink and her golden hair done up elaborately, on his arm. Her bow was at her side, even though she was wearing the finest in fashionable ruffled lacy gowns, and murmurs followed her as together they walked confidently down to their assigned place at the front of the court, facing the kings. Pent bowed low, and Louise curtseyed. She sat, but he remained standing, ready to face whatever King Desmond had to say.

King Mordred stood. “Court is now in session for the trial of Lord Pent and Lady Louise. King Desmond, state your charges.”

Desmond stood, fixing Pent with a baleful look. “We do hereby acuse these two, Count and Countess Reglay, of plotting, aiding, and abetting an attempted assassination on our son, Crown Prince Zephiel of Bern.”

“Ridiculous,” Pent said immediately.

“Silence!” Desmond barked. “You were there, that night, were you not? You were identified by the guards and by General Murdock. There were dead assassins everywhere, assassins hired by you and defeated by the brave guards of the manse!”

Pent snorted. “Hardly. The guards of the manse had been subdued by the assassins by the time we arrived. I was calling on the Queen with some friends and interrupted them at their work. We were the ones who drove off or killed the assassins!”

“Such insolence,” growled Desmond. “You are a most impudent man, Count Reglay. Show some respect and manners!”

“Kings and counts, queens and countesses, we are all men and women,” Pent said. “But I apologize if I have offended your Royal Highness.”

“Who were these others you were with, if we may ask?” Mordred interjected.

“I would rather not say, for their own protection,” Pent replied. “Surely King Desmond already knows their names. If not, I will not betray them.”

Mordred glanced at Desmond, who shot a look back. “All I know is that they were from Lycia. One of them may indeed be the new Marquess Pherae.”

Pent was silent. Even if Desmond suspected, or even if he knew for certain, Hector and Eliwood at least were beyond his reach currently. Lyn, he wasn’t so sure about, but she was clever and had probably already taken Ceniro back to the plains. Desmond would be hard-pressed to find her even if he knew about her.

From there, things took a grueling pace. Every detail in each side’s opening statement was picked apart, and several times King Mordred had to ask peace to be restored.

“I tell you, I am innocent,” Pent said, his face the very picture of innocence. “I would not assassinate anyone, and I certainly would not hire others to do it. That is against my character.”

“What character?” sneered Desmond.

“Your Majesty, I am Etruria’s Mage General, and my wife is an elite sniper. We are trusted by the King of Etruria, the Army of Etruria, and by the people of Reglay. If, for whatever reason, we abandoned this trust and all sense and we were truly at the manse to attack the prince, with allies, whether the dead assassins you found or others, your guards there would not have stood a chance.”

“He does have a point,” Mordred said. “He was not made General for nothing.”

“But what would I gain from such a thing? I have no wish to provoke the might of Bern, nor do I harbour any ill-will against her royal son, Crown Prince Zephiel.”

“What would you gain from it? Nothing, if you were found out. But if not… you would uproot the entire royal line of Bern, putting her into chaos. I know only too well the difficulty of succession of my kingdom! Reglay, I will have my revenge…”

“For what?” Pent asked, and suddenly the discussion was no longer about Zephiel but about the true reason for the trial. Pent’s eyes gleamed, tacitly daring the king to mention the Shrine of Seals.

The court was hushed, watching the two men lock eyes and wills, Pent with a tense smile and Desmond with a heated glare. Louise saw her husband begin to sweat again, but when she glanced over at the king, his forehead was also covered in a thin sheen. She folded her hands, silently praying that St. Elimine would aid them.

“What’s this all about?” Mordred asked.

“I think it is better both for His Majesty and for me if I remain silent,” Pent said slowly.

“At least you can be remotely reasonable, Reglay.”

“It is for my own benefit as well as Your Majesty’s.”

“If it would aid this trial…”

“I said it is of no consequence!” Desmond burst out, and Mordred shut up. “To return to the main point… I have one thing that even you cannot deny, Reglay.” He reached into his robe and withdrew a sheet of paper. “King Mordred, if you would have a look at this.”

Mordred took it with some confusion and opened it. He scanned it quickly, and then again more carefully, a frown spreading across his face. “Lord Pent… is this true?”

Pent spread his hands. “I must confess to being completely in the dark about the paper Your Majesty holds.”

“There is a simple test,” Desmond said. “Ask him to write these words and compare them.”

A table, paper, pen, and ink were brought for Pent, who sat and took the pen with his own frown of apprehensive confusion. Louise felt a horrible sinking feeling in her stomach that was wholly unrelated to the baby, and knew that Pent must be feeling the same.

Mordred cleared his throat and began to read. “Time… Prince… Target… Recompense… Already… and your signature, if you please.”

Pent glared at Desmond and wrote the words, then stood, handing his sheet of paper to a page. “Your Majesty, what exactly does this note say?” he demanded.

Mordred cleared his throat again, looking uncomfortable, and read. “Brendan Reed – the time has come. The prince is your next target. Recompense is already in the usual place. Pent, Count Reglay.”

“That is an outrage!” Pent exclaimed. “I never wrote any such note. I have had no contact with Brendan Reed or any of his vigilante group the Black Fang.”

“Did you not?” Desmond asked softly. Pent’s fingers twitched; Louise knew that he wished for nothing more than to burn that lying scrap of paper.

“I had not until the night I helped their own top assassin defend your son from their blades,” Pent said in a deadly low voice.

Mordred blinked. “That is a new turn…”

“They match,” Desmond interrupted, yet Pent would have sworn there was a hint of relief on his face. “They match! Reglay, you fool, you should not have left this lying around…”

“And where exactly was it lying around?” Pent demanded.

“On the body of the assassin leader.”

“Whose name was?”

“How should I know?”

“The head of your investigations is lacking in thoroughness,” Pent said. “The leader of the assassins that night was a woman named Ursula, the Blue Crow. She was slain by Jaffar, a former assassin; you may know him by the name of Angel of Death. Jaffar did this to protect a young girl named Nino, who was with Jaffar and wished that the prince be spared. Both have since disappeared. I have had no hand in any of this!”

“A woman was the leader of the assassins?” Desmond smirked. “You are making this up. There were no dead women found at the manse.”

Pent bit his tongue. Of course; Ursula’s body had appeared at Nergal’s lair on Valor, so there wouldn’t have been a body to find. “It was… removed by a fourth party.”

“A fourth party; how convenient,” Desmond said.

“You do seem to know an awful lot that you are not telling us, Pent,” Mordred said. “And this paper is unsettling.”

Pent straightened. “There is much I cannot tell you because either it would bring others into danger, or you would simply think me mad. More mad,” he corrected himself, his gaze sweeping the galleries. “In any case, this paper is a forgery, placed on the body of a random assassin to implicate me instead of the true culprits of this crime.”

“And who might you accuse them of being?” Desmond said, smirking, daring Pent to speak.

Pent dared. He took a deep breath; he had nothing left to lose. “I happen to know, Your Majesty, that you were the one who hired the assassins to kill your son!”

Desmond’s eyes almost bulged out of his head, but that was nothing compared to the uproar that broke loose in the galleries.

“You do not trust Etruria!” Pent shouted. “You do not trust your own son, and favour your daughter-”

“Order!” Mordred shouted, interrupting everyone. Louise hoped that Pent hadn’t been heard. Things could be very bad for them, even worse than before, if Desmond had heard what he said.

Slowly, relative quiet returned to the courtroom, and the fainted ladies were removed. There was still a tense buzz humming through the hall, and Pent was still glaring defiantly at Desmond, who was glaring triumphantly back.

“There shall be a half-hour recess for the jury,” Mordred announced.

“Your Majesty-” began Pent.

“Lord Pent, if you refuse to speak further, there is nothing more to do,” Mordred said tiredly, and Pent shut up. He didn’t know what else to do. It might have been possible, dancing through the pitfalls of protecting the others and not offending King Desmond further and showing that he was perfectly sane and telling the truth, but at this point… it looked rather the opposite.

He sat down next to Louise to await the return of the jury and the kings.

She took his hand. “It’s all right, Lord Pent.”

“It’s not going well, Louise.”

“That is an understatement,” she said, smiling. “But it’s all right. I am prepared.”

“I can’t do anything else,” he said. “I wasn’t expecting him to pull out forged evidence.”

“Nor was I… Perhaps King Mordred will restore reason.”

“I wouldn’t count on it…”

“I am not. But there is always hope. Isn’t that what Lord Eliwood liked to say? Something like that?”

“Perhaps he did,” Pent said, and smiled finally. “In any case, even once all is said and done in this room, there is always hope. They won’t execute us. Where there’s life, there’s hope, someone else liked to say.”

“There’s plenty of life here,” she said coyly, and he couldn’t help but smile at her.

Smiles faded when the jury and the kings re-entered the courtroom, all looking grim, and they both stood to face them.

“In light of this evidence…” Mordred said slowly, “there seems little doubt that Count Reglay is an assassin and a traitor to Etruria.”

Pent momentarily looked stricken; he had not expected the king to be quite so harsh. There was little doubt what their fate was to be, now.

Louise did the only thing that she could; she put a hand to her head, gave a little moan, and faked a fainting fit. Pent reached to catch her – of course he knew she was in no trouble, he knew the difference between her ‘distraction’ faints and her rare, real ones – and she sank into his strong arms, looking up anxiously at his silver-grey eyes. There was a flutter, and a servant gave Pent a damp scented handkerchief to dab at her forehead with.

But King Desmond was unmoved. “I am glad you see reason, King Mordred. This is an excellent renewal of our countries’ ancient friendship.”

Most of the court was unmoved as well, though some of them exclaimed that it was very hard to put this ordeal on a lady with child. Louise had not thought her little act would help much, but she had done what she could.

After a moment, she ‘recovered’, and sat up in Pent’s arms, and both turned towards the kings for Mordred’s official judgement.

“I am sorry,” King Mordred said. “For the benefit of both Etruria and Bern and the friendship between them, Count Reglay is hereby stripped of his rank, title, and military standing, and banished from Etruria. If it should so come to pass that he finds a way to clear his name by good deeds…”

“I doubt that will happen,” scoffed Desmond. “If he is banished, how will you learn of them?”

“If Pent Reglay should prove that he is worthy of the trust of Etruria, then these things shall be restored to him.” Mordred’s voice indicated he thought there was small chance of it. “You have three days to leave the country. Farewell.”

Pent raised Louise to her feet, and both bowed to the kings before turning to leave, almost as calm and proud as they had been when they walked in.

They had not gotten far outside of the courtroom when they heard Douglas signalling them quietly. “Pent! Here!”

“What is it?” Pent asked.

“First, a note from the king.” Douglas handed it over, and Pent read it. It was a simple apology which, oddly enough, comforted Pent, though it did no one any good at the moment. “Next… my own sympathies.”

“Louise and I thank you, but we don’t really need them,” Pent said. “We were mostly prepared for this outcome. What was that thing about proving our worth?”

“I don’t really know,” Douglas said. He lowered his voice. “But if that paper was a forgery, you could find out where it came from – and if the real thing exists. I can hardly believe your own accusation, and yet…”

“Don’t worry about it, Douglas,” Pent said. “I shouldn’t have said that, but I was a little desperate – and a lot angry – and wanted to knock him around a little. I don’t want you in trouble over it.”

“Pent, you’re too hot-headed and too air-headed,” Douglas said with gruff affection. “Where will you go?”

“I think we’d better not say,” Pent said. “But I will give you a hint. You remember that young man last year…?”

Douglas nodded. “St. Elimine be with you on your journey.”

“Thank you, Douglas. For all your help. Take care.”

 

Far away in Lycia, in Pherae, Eliwood and Ninian walked together under the fading trees in the garden. The pool there reflected the sky, a colour of blue the same paleness as Ninian’s seafoam-green hair.

“Pherae is truly lovely,” Ninian said. “Nils and I didn’t spend much time here… but I’m glad I have the chance now.”

“I’m glad you like it,” Eliwood said, squeezing her hand under his arm. “You seem to complete the place, with your ethereal beauty…”

She blushed and giggled a little. “Lord Eliwood, you say the sweetest things.”

“I say true things, don’t I?”

“No, no, no… I don’t deserve such extravagance.”

“Of course you do. What do you say you deserve, then?”

She thought for a moment. “I’m not sure that ‘deserve’ is the right word anymore…”

“We’re making progress,” Eliwood teased her.

She laughed. “I am happy that we get to be together. And there are so many people here who I know, I’m truly not lonely at all.”

“I would never want you to be lonely.”

“But even when you are working with Marcus and Merlinus, I can spend time with Isadora and your dear mother. I am looking forward to Isadora’s wedding!”

“As am I. Both Isadora and Harken have looked much happier since we returned. Do you think Harken is recovering?”

“I think so. I suspect he is not fully recovered yet, but he only needs time and Isadora’s support, which she’s much happier to give him now.” Ninian turned to him. “I do have a question, though, about something else.”

“What is it?”

“What are you going to do with Durandal?”

Eliwood frowned. “I… don’t know. I don’t think I should keep it. Its purpose has been fulfilled. But I don’t dare trust it to anyone else, and I’m too busy to head to Ostia right now…”

“Perhaps in a short while, or… or you could send me?”

“Would that be all right?” Eliwood asked, his blue eyes full of concern for his fiancée.

She smiled up at him. “I think it would be. But it doesn’t have to be right now, of course. I think we will know when the time is right.”

“You’re probably right. Shall we go inside? It’s getting dark already.”

“There will be frost tonight,” she said, touching a leaf.

 

In Ostia, Hector slumped on the throne that he still thought of as his brother’s. “Oswin, I’m bored.”

Oswin looked up from the reports Matthew was holding. “Surely you are not out of things to do.”

“That’s not it,” Hector said. “I have too many things to do. I have thirty seconds to slouch here and complain at you, and then some other lord so-and-so is going to come ask for a stupid favour that I’m probably not going to grant anyway. I want to fight something.”

“I can take you on after dinner, if you wish,” Oswin said.

“Nah, I have my own paperwork to do. Otherwise…” He made an evil face at Matthew, who grinned innocently back at him.

“You miss the rest of our companions, do you not?” asked the spy cheerfully.

“I do, exactly. This was so sudden, coming back and having to take the reins. Ugh, why couldn’t you have chosen a more convenient time?” Hector complained at his departed brother.

The tapping of armoured boots on flagstones caught their attention. “Lord Uther had no say in the matter,” said a stern female voice, and Uther’s captain, Commander Freya, approached Hector, glaring at him. “Your brother…”

“I was just being silly,” Hector replied, nettled. “You know I respect my brother. Miss my brother.” She raised her eyebrow. “Well… maybe I didn’t show it a lot. But I did. I understand he did a lot for me even in his last days. And you were there through all of it, so you know it better than me. …Also, what the hell is a ‘convenient’ time to pass away? There’s no such thing.”

She gave him a nod that said he had better remember it, and stalked away again. “Your 4:30 is here, so sit up.”

Hector grumbled under his breath and hauled himself up. “Just a minute. I have something I need to say to Oswin, first.”

“Make it quick,” she said, and shut the door behind her.

Hector turned to Oswin and spoke quickly and quietly. “Oswin… you know I still have Armads, right?”

“Is that what is bothering you?” Oswin asked.

“It shouldn’t be here in Ostia. If anyone found out what it was, we could have a problem. And I can’t watch it obsessively – that way lies madness. Even Matthew can’t watch it obsessively.”

“I’d rather not, certainly,” Matthew said. “What does my young master intend to do?”

Hector grimaced at him. “I’m the Marquess of Ostia, leader of the Lycian League, and you still call me ‘young master’?”

“You’re wasting time, young master,” Matthew replied.

“What I need… is enough of a break to haul it back to the Western Isles – secretly.”

“I don’t think you’ll get that much of a break until spring,” Oswin said evenly. “Can you hold out until then?”

Hector sighed, exasperated, and ran a hand through his hair. “Yeah, yeah, I guess so. I’d like to see Eliwood about it first, too. After all, he still has Durandal.”

“I think that will be simpler to arrange,” Oswin said. “I’ll get on that.”

“Thanks, Oswin.” Hector turned back to the door. “All right, who was it at 4:30?”

 

And in Sacae, Ceniro was sitting on his knees in a tiny ger, wearing a deel, a traditional Sacaean robe. Lyn carefully swirled the tea bowl in a ceremonial fashion with a soft embroidered cloth folded just so, twice, three times, and then set the bowl down carefully in a specific spot. She refolded the cloth and placed it in another specific spot, then rearranged the bowls and utensils for no reason Ceniro could see.

Ceniro was patient, but she had been doing these sort of things for about ten minutes already. “Lyn?” he whispered, knowing it was horribly rude to interrupt the tea ceremony, but wondering just how long this took.

“What?” Lyn whispered back, pausing in her slow, deliberate movements.

“Are we going to… actually drink the tea at some point?”

She glared at him, but put down the things with the sigh. “I really wanted to show you this custom… It’s an old, very formal, traditional custom that is very important to my people…”

“It’s very inefficient,” Ceniro teased. “Are all Sacaean customs this inefficient?”

“You know very well that we have many extremely efficient customs,” Lyn retorted. “Besides, what do you call Lycian ladies who spend hours every day putting on make-up and doing their hair?”

“All right,” Ceniro said, smiling. “Anyway, I can tell you’re even more impatient than I am.”

“Yes… You know what? I’m not even very good at this. Let’s just have tea. I’ll get a real master to show you some other time.”

“That sounds fine to me.”

“My mother had trouble learning it, too,” Lyn said, a slight frown on her face. “My father was the only one who was any good…”

Ceniro leaned forward and touched her face with his hand. “Lyn… You’re fine. I was just being an ass.”

“You’re not being an ass,” Lyn said, leaning towards him.

Their lips almost touched when there was a shout from outside. “Ceniro! Are you in there?”

Lyn jumped and almost bonked him in the head. “Who’s that?”

Ceniro looked up, frowning. “It sounded like Pent. What’s he doing here? Now?” He got up and pushed aside the curtain-door of the ger.

There was Pent, on a grey horse, and Louise beside him on a white horse, and several familiar faces. Erk, George, Caddie, Yens, Andy, and Frank, all looking various degrees between smug and simply happy to see him. Beside them was Rath, looking impassive as usual. “Pent…! What…”

“It’s a bit of a story,” Pent said amiably. “To tell the short version, we’re now homeless. And we could use your help getting unhomeless.”

Ceniro stared like a fish out of water.

 

Prologue: Alive         Episode 2: Mercenaries, Part 1

Anima’s Seal: Prologue: Alive

« ... »

Episode 1: Exiled

 

And so it begins… The alternate universe in which A) (*SPOILERS*) Ceniro lived (*END SPOILERS*) and B) Pent and Louise didn’t get away as cleanly as they did in the game. Funtimes ensue!

This prologue sort of assumes that you’ve already read the entire Tactician and the series, since basically in the final battle the same stuff happens but with Ceniro. I may add detail but I didn’t want to bog down in things that people presumably already knew. Also I have a new title for the story, huh? I suppose that since this is set in Elibe, that technically makes the Tactician series a quintology, but… I decided I wanted to go with a different formula for a different type of story. (A blatant actual anime series in text, lol.) So. This chapter will get you caught up on things you already knew. Working on Episode 1 and Episode 2, if all goes well it will be done in a couple hours. Although my cat is demanding attention today so we’ll see. I’d like to write two episodes a day until the end of NaNo, that should get me finished this, but of course I can’t promise anything.

Let’s go!

 

Prologue: Alive

 

Suddenly, he felt like someone or something punched him in the chest. Curious, he looked down, and saw about a foot and a half of arrow protruding from his chest, just under the breastplate Hector had once given him.

He blinked at it, and in the space of that blink, somehow he was staring at the sky. His whole body felt numb. Shouldn’t it hurt?

He heard Eliwood screaming. That was silly, he was supposed to be the one screaming… There were two red-heads in his vision, Eliwood and… Priscilla? That was who it was, right? They both looked terrified.

“I have to take the arrow out,” Priscilla said; he could hear her dimly, as if through a layer of glass. “Hold him still.” Eliwood turned his head and shouted an order to someone else; there was a distant, murky response.

He wasn’t going anywhere… The sky was a real pretty grey. There was a jolt through his abdomen, and suddenly his body flooded with pain. He shrieked and bucked against Eliwood, but his friend pinned him down with arms and knees, murmuring soothing – if frightened – reassurances.

Delicious coolness washed over him, and blue light, and the pain faded, replaced with a dull throbbing ache. “You can let him up now,” Priscilla said, her face white as paper, but relief in her voice.

Ceniro began to shake uncontrollably, as if a giant had picked him up. More embarrassingly, tears were filling his eyes, both from the now-vanished pain and from… from… he didn’t know.

“Get him warm,” Priscilla ordered, pulling his cloak tightly around him. Eliwood took off his own cloak and wrapped it around the shivering tactician.

“I- I-” Ceniro tried to say something, anything, but between the shaking and the… he wasn’t sobbing, was he?

“It’s all right,” Eliwood said, pulling him close and letting him lean on him. “You’ve never been injured in battle, have you? Although, for some people, they always have this sort of reaction… It’s perfectly all right. You’re in shock, it’s normal.”

“B-b-b-u-”

“Shhh. Just relax. Everything’s fine, the battle will take care of itself for a few minutes.”

Ceniro wasn’t in any state to argue, going completely and utterly to pieces where he huddled against Eliwood. He had never been so humiliated… Which didn’t matter; battles were not about dignity, and certainly not about his own ego, but he just wished… he could stop… crying…

Of course, Eliwood was sort of right – although he’d been fatally injured before, and brought back, this time just… came out of nowhere. The last time he’d been bracing for it, terrified, but half-expecting it. This time, everything had been normal one moment and the next – there was an arrow sticking out of his gut.

He tried to tell Eliwood that, somehow, with stammered words and broken sentences, his voice cracking like a rusty gate, and the lord nodded.

“You just need rest,” Priscilla said, though the anxiety in her voice reminded him of other things.

He needed to be directing the battle. There was still a super-powered morph out there. There could be other potentially-lethal situations unfolding on the battlefield as he slowly got his hyperventilating under control. Of course, reminding himself of that only made it worse again.

“Don’t worry,” Eliwood said. “I’m not going anywhere.”

“I want Lyn,” Ceniro said in a tiny, stuttering voice. “But she can’t leave her place. I could have her trade places with Karla but it would take at least 30 minutes for the switch… That’s too long.”

Eliwood chuckled. “You’re still thinking.”

“I n-need-”

“You need to take a break.”

“Th-the b-battle won’t s-stop until Limstella’s d-defeated, and th-then there’s the d-dragons to worry about…”

“You’re not in a condition to get up in either case.”

“Hey!” came a yell from the farseer. Lyn’s voice. “Ceniro, are you all right? Will someone answer me?

“Yeah,” said someone else. Hector, Ceniro thought. “What’s going on over there!?”

“L-l-lyn, H-hector,” Ceniro began.

“Ceniro’s taken a severe injury,” Eliwood said calmly. “He’s all right now, but he’s in shock. Can you hold your sides of the battlefield for now?”

“I can do that,” Hector said. “Wait- what was that?” His voice was suddenly hard to make out.

“Return … magic seal,” said Pent. “Not … much use … right now.”

“Right. So, let’s …”

“Hector?” Eliwood asked. “Hector?”

There was no answer.

Ceniro struggled weakly under the cloaks that were bundled around him. “I need to…”

“You want me to keep leading the northern side as well, or shall I get Florina to fly me over?” Lyn asked. “I can get Wallace or Kent to take over.”

“Can it be Kent?” they heard Sain ask.

“I think that would be a good idea, to head over here,” Eliwood said. “Perhaps Florina can take Karla back north when she returns?”

“H-h-hey,” Ceniro said.

“Hush,” Eliwood said. “Everything is fine. Just wait. Everyone knows how to fight. You taught us well. We’ll all be careful, and maybe we won’t take the kind of chances that you know how to take, but we’ll stay alive, and we’ll get closer to our goal. We can do it, just have faith in us.”

“I-I-I d-do. B-but…”

Lyn landed just as he started the hiccuping stage. “How is he?”

“He’ll be all right,” Eliwood said quietly, and didn’t let go of him until Lyn’s arms were around him. “I’m going to go back to fighting. With Marcus, we’ll handle the tactics for this valley. Don’t even let him touch the farseer until he’s recovered some more.”

“I can do that,” Lyn said with a little smile.

“W-wait,” Ceniro said. “J-just a moment. If th-there’s a magic seal to the s-south, H-hector will p-probably send the mages n-north. We sh-should send some f-fighters s-south to help.”

“I’ll do that,” Eliwood said. “I’ll tell them to keep an eye out for the magic users and protect them until they can defend themselves again, and then go help Hector directly. Will that work?”

“Y-yes. Th-they should be… well…” He pointed at a spot on the farseer’s screen. “S-sort of around here was where they were wh-when I l-last checked.”

“Understood,” Eliwood said. “Leave it to me.”

 

“I-I’m s-sorry,” Ceniro said to Lyn.

She hugged him tighter. “Don’t be. It’s not your fault.”

“Th-then whose f-fault is it?” Ceniro said, trying to be angry, trying to regain some kind of control over himself. It wasn’t working. “I j-just want t-to…”

“Ceniro. Take some deep breaths. We’re going to do some Sacaean meditation, all right?”

“O-okay…” Anything to stop the trembling, or the slow leak of tears now that the initial storm had passed.

“And turn the sound on that thing off,” Lyn said, pointing at the farseer. “It’s only going to distract you and make you tense up again. Come here. Focus on me. Breathe in… Breathe out.”

After a few minutes, he started to feel like a human being again, instead of a ragdoll.

“I think I’ll be okay now,” he said, after another minute or two just to make sure.

Lyn fixed him with a severe, but fond glance. “If you’re sure. You still have to take it easy until we find an occasion to sleep.”

“I don’t know if we have that luxury,” Ceniro said, sitting up and looking towards the north-east.

“I know your giant brain is going to keep going, but I need you to stress about it less. We all do, but I do most of all.” She looked him in the eye, and he knew he could never refuse her. “No one thinks less of you for taking a wound in battle. In fact, I’m pretty sure half of them are going to congratulate you on it.”

“Well… it’s not the first one I’ve had, even for me.”

“That doesn’t matter.”

“Can I turn the farseer back on yet?”

“All right, I’ll risk it.” Lyn crossed her arms, pretending as if she could stop him. Well, actually, she could. All she had to do was ask nicely, and if that failed, she could always pull out her sword at him, or take the farseer.

He turned the sound back on. “Eliwood? What’s the situation?”

“You sound much better,” Eliwood said. “So I would say the situation is good. Actually, Hector managed to defeat the magic seal once and for all.”

“Thanks for sending those fighters our way,” Hector said. “Really made a difference.”

“What about up north?” Ceniro asked.

“Enemies are mostly neutralized,” Kent reported. “Not very elegantly, but neutralized nonetheless. No casualties.”

“There’s only a handful of enemies, I think, clustered around the Dragon’s Gate ruins, and of course Limstella,” Nils said. “But you knew that, didn’t you?”

“I wanted to get your opinions as well as the contextless facts that the farseer presents me with,” Ceniro said. “I’m… not going to say very much for a while. Lyn’s orders. Carry on. If I have ideas, I’ll tell you.”

“Will do,” Hector said. “Take it easy, buddy.”

“I feel guilty,” Ceniro complained to Lyn.

“Why?” Lyn asked. “You think Wil felt any less guilty when he had to be taken to the back at Castle Ostia, no matter that he saved Rebecca’s life?”

“Right.” Ceniro managed a smile. “It’s not about my ego. It’s about keeping everyone alive. Including me. And if I try to take charge while I’m not ready, I’m endangering everyone.”

“That’s useful logic,” Lyn said. “Let’s walk in the direction of the Dragon’s Gate. How do you feel about that?”

“Kinda shaky. But I can manage walking, I think.”

“Up you get.” Lyn gave him a hand, and they began to walk towards the distant ruins hand in hand.

 

At the ruins, Limstella unleashed the daunting power of Excalibur, the wind spell, on them, but was defeated by Matthew placing Ceniro’s mine under her feet and then she was taken out by the pegasus sisters. The group took stock of their situation while Ceniro and Lyn arrived. Pent and Louise immediately came to check him over, and most of Ceniro’s other close friends as well.

It was decided that Lyn would go with the rest, while Ceniro would stay with Merlinus and monitor the developments from outside. Renault, the bishop who had joined Kent’s group a few minutes ago, would also stay with them, and Matthew, whose arm was in a sling after his encounter with Limstella. The rest would go inside. Eliwood wasn’t too sure about some of the others, particularly Nino and Rebecca, but they begged on the power of their weaponry, and Ceniro promised he could look after them from his distant vantage point.

Eliwood, Hector, Lyn, and Athos confronted Nergal, who brought up eight last morphs in the forms of people who they had fought before, but now apparently stronger. The battle following was messy, and Ceniro almost relapsed when he realized that he was making mistakes and getting people hurt. Matthew offered an occasional off-hand comment that kept him sane for the time being.

When Nergal fell, the injured began appearing at the entrance to the Dragon’s Gate. Only then… the dragons appeared.

Ceniro was by now eerily calm, his emotion finally spent, and he could only manage a tired smile when Ninian appeared with Bramimond, now alive again. He could direct the battle against the last remaining dragon with much more equinamity, although it wasn’t so much that he had regained control as that he was just too tired to react properly to anything.

The dragon fell, and Nils made the startling suggestion that Ninian stay with Eliwood, and he return to the dragon world alone. He had a few words for Ceniro, too. “Thank you for taking care of us so well. You never hesitated to let us help, but you never let us fall into danger, either. Thank you.”

“Thank you… for being with us,” Ceniro said in return. It was all he could think of. He could imagine Nils’ bright, boyish smile.

The final portion of the army trailed out of the Dragon’s Gate, led by Hector and Lyn. Lyn rushed over to him as soon as she could, and hugged him with great joy. He could see Eliwood kissing Ninian, and several other people doing similar things with their own lovers. He wrapped his arms tightly around Lyn, like he would never let her go.

 

Episode 1: Exiled

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