Chapter 10: Victory or Death Epilogue
Today’s soundtracks: Rachmaninoff Piano Concerto #2, 2nd movement for Ceniro’s… brief… memorial thingy, Aldnoah/FE7/FF7 for the morph/Nergal fight, and Archangel by Two Steps from Hell for the dragon fight. (Shout-out to my friend Tricia for introducing that one to me.)
This chapter gave me more trouble than the others… I basically had to write the Nergal fight twice. Again.
ONLY THE EPILOGUE LEFT COME LET US PRE-CELEBRATE THE COMPLETION OF A DECADE-LONG PROJECT
I hope not too many of my other projects take this long. : P
…I’m already starting the AU sequel and I haven’t started the epilogue yet. : P
Chapter 11: Light
“Who was she talking about?” Lyndis asked, favouring her hand until Erk hurried up to heal it for her. “When she said something about the one who already gave his life for Nergal?”
“I have no idea,” Eliwood said. “Maybe a fellow morph? Or one of the Black Fang? I thought morphs didn’t have feelings. But Sonia did… Or seemed to, at any rate. But Limstella never thought she was human like Sonia did.”
“I know who she was talking about,” Nils said, approaching. “Ephidel.”
Lyndis recoiled. “That creepy guy?”
“Limstella was the most advanced morph, but Nergal didn’t give her emotions. Still, it seems like while they were here at the Dragon’s Gate – at least while we were here – she was with Ephidel as much as possible. And he didn’t seem to avoid her.” Nils considered. “I guess even abominations can have feelings.”
“Well, they’re together now,” Hector said. “He blew up when that first dragon blew up.”
“And now Limstella was blown up by Lyndis’s amazing work, and the pegasus knights’ spectacular attack,” Eliwood said.
Hector moved to Lyndis’s side and began checking her over. She pushed him away. “Stop that. What are you doing? I’m fine. Erk healed me.”
“Well…” Hector said seriously, “I feel like I should, since… Ceniro’s not here to do it.”
“Ceniro…” She turned to the group, recuperating from their ordeal under Excalibur the wind spell. Ceniro’s body was still draped over Priscilla’s horse. “I haven’t seen him yet.”
Together they headed over, Eliwood following. Hector lifted the tactician’s limp body from the horse and laid him on the grass nearby. Lyndis flung her arms around Ceniro’s neck and laid her head on his bloodied chest.
Pent and Louise drew near, as did Kent and Sain, Wil and Florina and Fiora, Matthew and Erk and Dorcas, and those who had been especially close to him before. They stood silently in a ring, offering silent sympathy to Lyndis, Eliwood, and Hector.
“He shouldn’t…” Hector began.
Eliwood knew what he meant. The body was too still, too pale. It brought back to him all too forcefully memories of his father, on this very island, and Ninian, still fresh and painful in his mind.
He had caused plenty of death since setting out on this journey some months ago. He’d seen even more death. All he wanted was peace, but it seemed peace was a tenuous, intangible state, and pursuit of it had only caused death close to him.
But… He bowed his head and closed his eyes. If he had not sought peace, if he had not gone after his father and learned what he did, there would now be certain death not just of those dear to him but everyone. And that he couldn’t allow.
It was still hard to see his friend, dead. Slow tears trickled down his cheeks.
Lyndis’s shoulders were shaking. He could imagine what she was going through, though she was different than him – more tempestuous, less patient.
“I’m sorry,” Nils said from behind him. “He was always kind to us. He looked out for us… He helped make Ninian happy…”
Lyndis finally raised her head. “He kept us alive, destroyed our enemies, and made many of us happy. Especially me. And so I am going to remove Nergal’s head from his body.”
“That’s far too merciful,” Hector said.
“As long as he ceases to live, I don’t care how it is done,” Lyndis said, wiping her eyes. “It’s… it’s not fair that he should live and Ceniro-!”
Hector put a hand on her shoulder. “I know.”
“I can’t have my revenge on the Talliver. But I can have my revenge on Nergal.” Lyndis stood, her hand on her sword. “Eliwood. Are you ready?”
Eliwood started, wiping his own eyes. “N-no, I’m not. Athos isn’t here yet.”
“Greybeard’s late,” Hector said. “I’m about ready to head in without him, too.”
“Wait a moment,” Nils said. “I… I should tell you, before you go in, our side of the story. I know you heard Lord Athos’s side of the story. But Ninian and I… you should know, too.”
“All right,” Eliwood said. It would give him time to prepare, as well.
Nils took a deep breath and closed his eyes, organizing his thoughts. The others sat down around him. Lyndis pulled Ceniro’s body so it rested with its head in her lap. Eliwood directed the knights to keep watch while the others mended their injuries and rested.
Nils opened his eyes and began. “A thousand years ago, humans chased dragonkind from the land, exiled us. We had no place to go… not on this world. So we used the Dragon’s Gate to flee into another world. When we passed through this chasm in space and time, many of us were lost. Still, we endured the journey. We found humans there, too, but they were few in number. We had a few skirmishes, but at last, we found a home. We were stable there, happy, even.”
“So…” Hector interrupted.
“Some thought back on our former home, and when we did, his voice reached out to us. You see, Ninian was a medium in the other world, an oracle of sorts. She sat at the Dragon Shrine, and she held much power.”
“Was it just the two of you?” Lyndis asked.
“Yes,” Nils said. “We were orphans, but with Ninian’s power, it didn’t matter. Anyway, we were in prayer at the shrine when it happened… We heard a voice calling to us from the Dragon’s Gate. It was the voice of an old friend… We knew we weren’t supposed to open the gate and return to this world. We had no idea that the owner of that voice was Nergal… But something unexpected happened. When we opened the Dragon’s Gate and traveled here again, we had lost almost all of our strength… The quintessence left within us was less even than that of an average human. In order to sustain ourselves, in order to breathe the air of this world, we took human form. We placed our energies within a dragonstone. But our dragonstone was taken… stolen. Nergal hoped to use it as a tool to summon other dragons… until we escaped. We couldn’t let our foolishness condemn our friends back home. Disguised as a dancer and a bard, we fled and wandered from country to country. That’s when we first met Lady Lyn, one year ago. ”
Lyndis started. “Oh! Of course you were! That whole time… Nergal was after you. And those black-robed men… But why didn’t you tell me?”
“You were so kind to us,” Nils said quietly. “We didn’t want any harm to come to you because of our problems.”
“But…” said Lyndis.
“It’s in the past now,” Hector said. “We helped them eventually, right?”
Nils nodded. “After we left Lyn at Caelin, we were eventually captured again… We decided that the only way to escape was to cut short our own lives. But that was when we met Lord Elbert.” Eliwood’s eyes widened. “He was so strong, so kind… He knew what we were… and what we had done, and he never once condemned us. On the contrary, he tried to set us at ease with stories… Stories of his family, of his homeland.
Eliwood bowed his head. “Father…”
“Ninian and I… We listened to his stories, and we grew to love his gentle wife and his son. Premonition… No, that is too strong a word, but we felt his son would be the one to save us. That’s what we felt. That’s why…. That’s why, Lord Eliwood!” Nils turned to him with a fervour, clutching his scarf tightly. “That’s why… I believe in you. Even though Ninian’s gone, I will continue to protect you. I have to. That… That’s Ninian’s wish. It’s our wish.”
“Nils…” Eliwood said, more tears coming into his eyes.
“You’re the only one who can defeat Nergal,” Nils said earnestly, his crimson eyes boring into Eliwood’s blue ones. “I believe in you. We all believe in you.”
“We do!” Hector said. “We can do this, Eliwood!”
“That’s right!” Lyndis agreed. “Ceniro got us this far. It would be a poor tribute to him to give this less than our all!”
“Everyone…” Eliwood said, and stood. He had to run his sleeve over his eyes again, but he felt like he could smile again. “You’re right. There’s no power on this earth that can overcome our combined strength! Let’s go! The Dragon’s Gate awaits!”
“Were you gonna wait for Greybeard?” Hector asked, standing as well.
“I’m here,” Athos said, appearing at the top of the stairs.
“Were you successful?” Lyndis demanded.
“I was,” Athos said. He inclined his head. “I am sorry to hear of the loss of your tactician. He was a good man, and the final battle will be all the more difficult without him.”
“Thank you,” Eliwood said.
“And now… Eliwood, take Durandal now. Hector, Armads.”
Eliwood reached out to take the giant sword and Hector the giant axe, and the very touch of the weapon sent a jolt up his arm. “What… what is…”
“I managed to infuse them with holy magic that should rend Nergal’s dark cloak, and allow us to harm him,” Athos said. “Lyndis, this is for you.”
Lyndis took the nodachi curiously. “What is this…?”
“This is the Sol Katti, the partner of the Mani Katti. It is not a legendary weapon, but its blade contains much power, and it has also been infused with holy magic.”
“Thank you!” Lyndis said, sliding it into her belt beside the Mani Katti. Eliwood buckled on Durandal’s harness, and Hector simply slung Armads over his shoulder.
“I myself have Forblaze and Aureola, the holy magic that Saint Elimine wielded.” Athos turned to Nils. “Nils, is Nergal back there?”
Nils closed his eyes, concentrating. “Yes, he is. But… what could he be doing? There is immense power, but it feels… strange.”
“He should have lost most of his henchmen in that last battle,” Athos said. “Your plan worked well. But… I read energy, too, if only a little. Nils is right. The sense of it is different than before. Brace yourselves. He is formidable!”
“Then, let’s choose who’s going with us,” Eliwood said, but was stopped by a tug at his cloak.
Rebecca stood there with serious eyes. “Aren’t we all going?”
“No,” Eliwood said. “I can’t allow that.”
“Why not?” Nino asked, popping up beside Rebecca. “We can help!”
“I’m not letting you go into danger!” Eliwood said.
“Is it because we’re kids!?” and both girls’ eyes flashed.
“I’m no stranger to fighting now, Lord Eliwood,” said Rebecca, holding tight to her bow.
“It’s not that,” Eliwood said. “There’s no guarantee that any of us will come out alive. I want you to be able to live. I can’t ask you to throw away your lives in this place.”
“You’re not asking us, Lord Eliwood. We’re asking you.”
“I know… I don’t want to be a burden on Jaffar,” Nino said, looking down. “He’s always watching out for me, keeping me from harm. But we can fight, Lord Eliwood, and we want to.”
“With what?” Hector asked. “You’ve got a steel bow there, young lady – how are you expecting to so much as scratch Nergal? Or you might be a prodigy, but regular spells do nothing to him.”
“I know,” Rebecca said. “But we can at least be a distraction.”
“Or maybe everyone will die at once,” Hector said.
“Hector!” Lyndis reprimanded him.
He shrugged. “It’s true. Nergal hasn’t really shown us his magic. What if we walk straight into some dark magic spell that just blasts us instantly into oblivion? Doesn’t matter how many of us there are then.”
Guy stepped up. “Ceniro would take a chance on us.”
“I’m not Ceniro,” Eliwood said softly.
“Please,” Erk said. “Let us fight. Like you said, he trained us well. There might be others than him in there that we can take down for you. We’ll stay away from Nergal.”
Eliwood stood silently, looking up into the ominous dark maw of the Dragon’s Gate. “All right. But when I say, you will withdraw and leave the rest to us, understood?”
“Understood,” chorused Rebecca and Nino, brightening up.
“But as for you…” Hector said, suddenly swinging around and looking at Merlinus.
The merchant blanched. “M-m-me?”
Hector smiled. “You’re made of sterner stuff than I realized. I’d have thought you would have fled by now.”
“Thank you for everything,” Lyndis said. “You’ve been such a big help.”
Merlinus’s face fell, and he began to sniffle. “Oh… I thought as much. You’re not taking me in with you…”
“What are we supposed to do?” Hector said. “Oh, that’s disgusting. Cry if you must, but blow your nose! Anyway, you can’t fight, and we’ll be taking the weapons we need with us, so you don’t need to stick around here.”
“Here,” Eliwood said, pulling an envelope from his pocket. “Take this and return to Fargus.”
“W-what is it?” Merlinus asked, wiping his nose on his sleeve and taking the envelope.
“It’s a letter of introduction. Take this to Ostia, and you’ll be able to do good business there.” He shrugged and grinned a little. “Of course, if we fail in our mission, it’s just a worthless slip of paper.”
“But…” Merlinus looked down at the envelope. “I must protest!! For the rest of my days, I’ve vowed in my heart to continue serving you! Please, oh please! Do not abandon me!”
Eliwood rocked back on his heels, taken aback by the passionate plea of the merchant.
“Then get on that boat and pray for our safe return!” Hector barked.
“Have faith in us,” Lyndis said. “Wait for us.”
Merlinus sniffled some more. “I… I understand. Until the end of time, my lords and lady. I will wait for you until the end of time. Please… come back… safely… Please!”
“Yeah, okay. We’re going. Bye.” Hector turned and headed up to the Dragon’s Gate, finished with the conversation.
Eliwood nodded at him in friendly fashion. “We’ll be back. But don’t stay here. It’s probably not safe. Master Renault, if you could go with him part of the way to make sure it’s safe…”
The bishop bowed. “I will do so.”
Eliwood collected his horse and went to the top of the stairs. With the dark entrance behind him, he turned to face the army.
“Gonna make a speech?” Hector asked him.
“Of course,” Eliwood murmured back, then cleared his throat. “Everyone! It’s been a long, hard journey to get here. No matter where we came from, or why we joined this group, we have been united in a common goal – to defeat Nergal! To prevent him from destroying all life on Elibe and bringing back dragons to destroy them as well, we are committed to this path! As I look around at you all, I see not one person who wishes to turn back here. If you did, no one would think less of you. I thank you, my friends, for your loyalty and heart that have brought us here today.”
He bowed his head slightly. “It’s true that we have lost our tactician, and that our combined skill in strategy is no match for his. But we will continue on in his name, and fight for him! For Ceniro! For Ninian, and my father, and Leila of Ostia, and the good heart of the Black Fang, and all those dear to us we have lost on this perilous journey!”
“Now let us go and fight! We shall fight for the memory of our friends, and for hope for the future!” The army gave a scattered cheer. He mounted Oren and turned to enter the Dragon’s Gate. Hector, Lyndis, and Athos were beside him.
“That’s so typical of you,” Hector said.
“It really is,” Lyndis said.
“I don’t know what you mean,” Eliwood said. “I just spoke from the heart…”
“There you go again!” Hector said.
“Hush,” Lyndis warned them. “It’s time for business. It was straight to the back up these long stairs, wasn’t it, Eliwood?”
“Yes,” Eliwood said. “It’s a fairly large area up there. We should have room to manoeuvre, even if there isn’t a lot of cover.”
“We should probably pick the people who we’re not sending away if things go sideways,” Hector said. “Can I see that?”
Eliwood passed him the farseer.
“Let’s take… Oswin, Marcus, Wallace, Isadora, Vaida, Harken, Karel, Pent and Louise, the pegasus sisters, Canas, and…”
“And?” Lyndis asked.
“I don’t want to take Jaffar, but he’s very useful.”
“So take him,” Lyndis said.
“I know, I know. My personal feelings don’t matter. Much. Does that sound good to you guys?”
“Sounds good to me,” Eliwood said. “It has fighters of all different kinds… we have flyers, we have an archer, we have fast swordsmen, we have anima and dark… hmm, we need a light magic user…”
“I can take care of light magic,” Athos said. “Perhaps… I shall speak with Pent. I think he might be ready for Forblaze.”
“Truly!?” Pent’s voice echoed through the tunnel. “Thank you, master!”
“Are we finally ready?” Hector said.
“We better be,” Lyndis said. “There’s the top of the stairs. And Nergal’s undoubtedly heard us coming.”
“He could not but sense our approach,” Athos assured her.
Eliwood was the first to the top of the stairs, but Lyndis was the first to speak. “I offer you no greeting. You’re a dead man!”
Nergal turned to face them, his heavy black robes swirling around him. “You’re too late! I am calling dragons through the gate. Soon I will claim their quintessence, and become like unto a god among mortals!”
“How many lives have you taken to achieve this!?” Eliwood cried. “How many innocents have you murdered or caused to be destroyed in your quest for power?”
“It doesn’t matter,” Nergal said. “How many lives have you destroyed, you hypocrite!? You especially, Eliwood, but all of you, you have taken many lives since you set out on your little trip. You may pretend you regret it, but the end result is still the same, regardless of your intention.”
“But,” Eliwood began earnestly. “I did only what was necessary to stop you from hurting other people even more. Intentions do matter! I don’t go around hurting people for my own purposes! We all rely on each other, the greatest no less than the weakest!”
“I wonder if the greatest would agree. I think not. In any case, let me show you my greatest works since Limstella,” Nergal said, and raised his arms.
Eliwood, Lyndis, Hector and the others flinched and braced themselves, but all that happened was eight teleports appeared and revealed eight morphs. Eliwood flinched again, seeing their faces.
Nergal smiled. “You are impressed? Or have you only seen a familiar face?”
“Marquess Laus!” cried Hector in disbelief.
“Lloyd and Linus?” Lyndis echoed.
“Father!” cried Nino in heartbreak.
The eight morphs were exact copies of Lord Darin and the seven strongest Black Fang members – Uhai, Ursula, Jerme, Kenneth, Lloyd, Linus, and Brendan Reed.
Nergal was still smiling, pleased at their horrified reaction. “I took the essences of strong people and improved them. See, with enough energy, I can work miracles! Wouldn’t you like a new father, Eliwood? Or Hector, a replacement brother?”
“What- How did you-” Hector stammered.
“A heartless puppet might be good for your fragile little human soul,” Nergal said, chuckling.
Hector lowered his head, glaring from under his brows. “You’re the heartless puppet.”
“And you are my greatest annoyance,” Nergal snapped. “If it hadn’t been for your participation, Eliwood would have been easy to dispose of. Why would you risk your life time and time again for something as tenuous as ‘friendship’?”
“You really don’t get it, do you?” Lyndis said. “How do you think we got here if it wasn’t for friendship? We may not all get along unconditionally, but we couldn’t have made it without trusting each other this much either!”
“You can’t understand,” Hector growled. “I don’t expect you to understand. You’ve forgotten what it means to be human!”
“If you ever knew in the first place,” Lyndis muttered.
“You are the ones who can’t understand!” Nergal said, gesturing dramatically. “You say this is good, and this is evil, but all your pathetic morality has been made up to fit your pathetic lives! There is no such thing as good or evil. I am above your petty beliefs. I pursue the only true goal worthy of pursuing!”
“Which is?” Lyndis demanded.
“Power. It is the only thing of use in this world. That’s why I took these people and made them more powerful! I intend to do similar things with myself!”
“Nergal,” said Athos. “You still have not stopped to reconsider your ideas since we fought…”
“You, of all people, I thought might understand,” Nergal hissed, clenching a fist in front of him. “All living things take energy from somewhere and change it to suit their needs. Plants take it from the sun and soil. Animals take it from plants and other animals. Humans take it from plants and animals. Is not the logical next step to discard these earthly things and work with pure energy itself? The knowledge of Arcadia has shown us the road to the ultimate transformation. And yet you will not take that road!”
“I am not against the quest for knowledge,” Athos said. “Nor even against the quest for power. But that quest must be driven from within. To fuel your quest with the stolen lives of others, this brings not wisdom but abomination.”
Nergal cackled in bitter glee. “I remember! I still remember! Those words are unchanged from when you first said them ages back. When you and the dragons conspired to bury me!”
With those words, he whipped off the black lopsided turban he had been wearing since they had met him, revealing a horrific scar on the left side of his face. His left eye was swollen and the pupil rolled lazily. Lyndis covered her mouth in horror.
“Look at this wound!” Nergal roared. “The wound I took from your magic!! It was a mistake. The only person who understood… The man I thought my truest friend… It was a mistake to try and destroy me.” He laughed again. “It confirmed some things for me. That trust brings betrayal. That friends bring weakness!”
Eliwood could restrain himself no longer. “If that is what you learned from your encounter, then you are a fool. Do you believe for a moment that, when Athos struck down his closest friend, he felt nothing!? His heart bled for you, and yet you refuse to understand that!” Athos looked at the young man in amazement.
Hector took a heavy step forward. “What happened in the past, what reasons drive you… None of these matter! I don’t care what you think or what you did; your actions are unforgivable! I have no pity whatsoever for a creature as pathetic as you! That’s why… that’s why I’m going to stop you here today!”
“I’m with Hector,” Lyndis said. “You’ve taken many from us who were dear to us, good people, including some of the people standing here with you because of your foul magic! It’s thanks to you that Eliwood’s father died… that Ninian died… that the man I love died! You had better pray that Hector’s axe finds you before my sword does!”
“And what do your opinions matter, little girl from Sacae!?”
Lyndis tossed her dark green hair and held her head high. “The nomads of the plains do not abandon their fellow tribespeople. Even if I had lost nothing on this journey… Eliwood and Hector are my dear friends. Their sorrow is my sorrow. Their anger is my anger!”
“And yet…” Eliwood said, “even now, there is no hatred in my heart. You who were born human, you who lost the heart that defines your humanity… For you, I have nothing but pity.”
“Pity?” Nergal snorted, as if the word were from a foreign language. “Amusing. A weak fool like you has ‘pity’ for me? Interesting… Now, if you hope to defeat me, you may have your chance. Of course, you will have to best my morphs first!” He snapped his fingers, and the morphs closed ranks in front of him as he turned to walk to the back of the hall by the Dragon’s Gate.
Hector jumped to stand in front of Eliwood. “Listen to me! This is my fight now! Everyone, stay back!”
“What are you talking about?” Lyndis said. “This is my fight! Don’t be stupid!”
“This fight is mine alone!” said Eliwood. “You’re the ones who should stay back; protect the others!”
Pent stepped forward. “I thought you settled this before. We are all fighting together, are we not? We’ve come this far. Don’t forget that!”
“Don’t forget me!” Nils cried. “And… Ninian. I’m sure she’s here as well. And Ceniro.”
“Ceniro wouldn’t miss out on this,” Lyndis said. “Certainly.”
“Thank you, everyone,” Eliwood said. “Now… let’s go! We have to get past these morphs and destroy Nergal!”
“Ready on your orders,” Marcus said.
“Be careful!” Eliwood said to the army. “Watch each other and stay safe! This will be difficult, but I can’t direct you. I’m not Ceniro, and I’m going to be fighting alongside you like I always have. Pick your targets carefully!”
Pent raised a hand. “Any particular priorities?”
“The two magic users could rip us apart, but so could the Reed brothers. And the swordsman. And Brendan Reed.”
“Don’t forget Marquess Laus, he was no walk in the park when he was alive, and supposedly he’s stronger now,” Hector said.
“If I may suggest,” Pent said, “take out the magic users first. Surely you can hold off the others long enough to do that.”
“All right!” Eliwood said. “Does everyone have their target? Then charge!”
With various warcries, or grim silence, they ran towards the line of morphs, who wasted no time in charging back.
“Magic users stay back!” Oswin shouted. “Let us be your shield!” He blocked a mighty blow from Darin’s lance and attacked back, but the blow harmlessly bounced off Darin’s armour.
Nino ignored him, darting through the melee until she came to face Brendan Reed. “Father…”
The hulking shape of Brendan glared down at her, completely unresponsive. He raised his axe over his head.
“Father…! I’ll put an end to this! I’m sorry-!” Nino’s garments began to flutter as magic power gathered around her. But she was going to be too slow to cast…
She squeaked as an arm yanked her away, and Jaffar jumped in front of her, but the great axe was blocked instead by Dorcas’s own. The arm belonged to Legault. “Oh, it sucks to see the Commander like this… Don’t worry, little Nino, we’re with you.”
“Thanks, Uncle Legault…” she gasped.
Eliwood himself was cantering around the flank of the line to try to get to one of the magic users; the bishop was closest, but he found himself blocked by Linus. Linus’s wild swings were even more vicious than they had been in life, and Raven, who was fighting him again, was on the defensive and already bleeding from several wounds. Lucius was supporting him with both magic and healing.
Their numbers were probably working against them, Eliwood thought, since Pent wouldn’t be able to use Forblaze under these circumstances. Or Athos use Aureola.
“Lord Eliwood!” Lowen cried, drawing up beside him, guarding him from Lloyd, the next one on their left. Marcus was close behind, and even as they fought, several arrows came their way from Rebecca and Louise. One of them struck Lloyd in the shoulder, but he broke it off and continued; the others missed.
There was a crash nearby, and Lowen jumped, almost losing an arm to Lloyd’s sword. Eliwood looked around to see Heath’s Hyperion scrabbling on the floor, a massive bloody hole in his wing. It was clearly caused by Uhai, who was coolly fitting another arrow to his bow. But he was interrupted by Kent charging him with his lance, blocking the lance by knocking it aside with his bow just enough that Kent missed. Uhai drew his sword, in time to block against Fiora’s attack as well. But Heath was getting his wyvern under cover back down the stairs, and that was even more important. Priscilla was with him.
Eliwood finally got around the edge of the battle and had a clear shot at that bishop. “Lowen!”
Eliwood charged first, his lance clamped tight under his arm. The bishop turned from trying to hit Rath, barely in time to dodge Eliwood’s attack, though it tore the sleeve of his robes.
Lowen’s attack was more accurate, striking the bishop in the leg, and though Eliwood doubted that the morphs felt pain, the injury caused the bishop to sag to one side. Rebecca’s next shot might have missed, or been only a body shot, but by luck it turned into a perfect head-shot, and the bishop burst into dust.
There was a final explosion of light magic from the bishop, and Lowen was sent flying.
“Lowen!” Eliwood shouted, galloping to him. Lowen was unconsious, his armour had been shredded, and his upper right torso burned as if with bad sunburn, and Eliwood didn’t know what kind of internal damage there was, and he’d probably taken a concussion inside his helmet, but he was still breathing. “Lowen, hang on!” He hauled his knight up and onto his own horse, galloping back to try to make it around the melee. He was met by Athos, who lifted the knight from the horse with surprising strength and healed him.
“Thank you,” Eliwood panted, and helped him set Lowen down near the stairs, away from the conflict. Heath was nearby with his sword drawn, and he came to stand guard over him.
“I’ll take care of him, my lord,” he said. “I… don’t feel confident fighting without Hyperion.”
“Thanks,” Eliwood said again, and mounted Oren, returning to the field. “One down!”
“Two!” Lyndis called. “We got Uhai!”
That was a relief. Only the Valkyrie magic user to go, and then the morphs would have no more ranged answers to their magic and arrows.
Matthew staggered out near him, blood trickling from under his hairline. “I’m… so tired… milord… Just a scratch… need a breather…” He collapsed, and Serra ran after him and caught him.
“Matthew! Don’t do this to me, you jerk!”
“Hey!” yelled Bartre. “Look out, you two!”
Eliwood was looking around for the danger, when thunder cracked deafeningly, and anima lightning struck Bartre, Serra, and Matthew all three.
“Need a healer!” Eliwood shouted. “Also someone take out that Valkyrie right now!”
“Ugh, I’m on it,” Vaida snapped, her Umbriel shooting past him.
Wallace was hot on her heels. “No, I am!”
“Bite me!” Vaida called to him. “Oh wait, you have to catch me first! …Umbriel!”
Thunder burst again, but Vaida dodged it. Down in the melee, Erk was waiting for it, caught it, and dissipated it. Lucius was pulling back, trying to get to Bartre and Serra and Matthew, but Raven was still fighting Linus – though not for much longer, it looked like – and still needed his support.
Wallace was having a hard time getting through to the Valkyrie. “Excuse me! Knight of Caelin, coming through! Lord Darin, would you move your metal carcass!”
There was another burst of thunder, and Umbriel was caught in it, but Vaida leapt from the saddle at exactly the right moment, her lance pointed downwards, and then there was no more thunder. They heard her voice. “Someone get some healing magic on my fart-monster!”
“Does she mean her wyvern!?” Eliwood murmured.
“Yes, I think so,” Lyndis said, appearing beside him. “How are you?”
“Where can I help?”
“You can take my place against Lloyd. He’s a pain in the neck, and I need to catch my breath.”
“On it,” Eliwood said, setting his lance in place again.
“Oswin!” Hector yelled before Eliwood was halfway to Lloyd’s flashing blade, and he looked to see Hector defending Oswin against Darin. Oswin’s armour was all chopped up on the right side, and he was holding his arm, which was bleeding profusely, as he limped away. To Eliwood’s other side, Harken was helping Raven stumble off the field, the red-headed swordsman clearly on the verge of collapse.
They were losing allies left and right, but so far, none of them were dead – although he had worries about Matthew and Bartre. It was also probably not good that they would have to pull back magic users for healing… but…
They were still going to win this.
Eliwood charged at Lloyd, Oren’s hooves clattering on the stone floor. The swordmaster glanced at him expressionlessly and dodged out of the way as if Eliwood were standing still. Eliwood inhaled in pain; a thin red line had appeared across his side. But it wasn’t deep; he wouldn’t trouble the healers yet.
There was a cry on his left, and a snarl on his right, and Karel slipped beneath his horse like water to attack the other swordsman morph, who was standing over Guy. Isadora was attempting to defend the youth, but the swordsman was too quick for her.
And Karel was as quick as he was.
Eliwood ignored the duel as best he could. Lloyd was equally dangerous, if not more so, and Marcus was getting overwhelmed despite Eliwood lending his lance to the fray. They needed someone fast, fast enough to hold him off. If Lyndis had needed a breather against this man… that was not a good sign.
“On me!” there was a cry from above, and Fiora and Florina swooped in. Lloyd blocked Fiora’s lance, dodged Florina’s, and scored a hit on Fiora’s pegasus’ flank. Where was Farina? She was helping Dart retreat, the young pirate covered in blood from Darin’s lance.
“Here!” cried another voice from Eliwood’s right, and Kent was forming up on him. He had drawn his sword.
“Why your sword?” Eliwood called breathlessly.
“More dexterity than a lance,” Kent responded shortly. That was true, Eliwood considered. A lance would easier keep Lloyd at bay, but a sword might have a better chance to hit him.
Lloyd dodged them again, Marcus, Eliwood, and Kent, and as Fiora and Florina swung around to attack again, he struck Fiora’s pegasus in the wing.
Florina’s lance finally wounded him, in the leg, but Fiora crashed heavily to the ground. Her pegasus screamed. So did her sister.
“Fiora!” Kent cried, riding swiftly to her.
She pulled herself to her feet. “I’m all right. I need to get Cary to safety. Florina! Stay back!”
“I’ll cover you,” Kent said, dismounting with his sword still in hand.
“Thank you,” Fiora said. “I can still fight, too.” And she drew her own sword.
“This man is too fast for either of us,” Kent said. “If he attacks us again, you need to run.”
“I’m not leaving either you or Cary!”
“Ah! Here he comes!”
“I’m here!” Eliwood said, trying to maneouvre between Lloyd and the others. But… he wasn’t fast enough to fight an over-powered Lloyd either. The swordmaster seemed to blur in his speed, and the next that Eliwood knew, Lloyd had stabbed clear through both Kent and Fiora at once.
“Kent! Fiora!” Lyndis shouted, and as Lloyd withdrew his blade, she was on him like a wolf.
“I don’t think we’re going to beat this guy in hand-to-hand,” Eliwood said. Of their other fastest fighters, Karel was still fighting the random swordsman, and Jaffar was facing Brendan. “Pent! Athos!” Who else was still fighting that could use magic? “Get all the magic users together! We need to take out Lloyd!”
“Archers too?” Louise asked.
“Can’t hurt,” Eliwood said. “He’s faster than before. Keep your distance!”
“Elfire it is, then!” Pent said.
“Lyndis, get Kent and Fiora away from there! I’ll help you!” Eliwood rode quickly to the fallen pair and hauled Kent onto his horse. Lyndis was still fighting Lloyd, but Marcus and Florina helped with Fiora and her pegasus.
Eliwood heard another snarl of triumph from somewhere on the left of the hall, and saw that Karel had finally bested the enemy swordsman.
There was a shout of “Hold him still!” and as Geitz grappled with Linus, Sain and Wil attacked. Legault appeared seemingly out of nowhere from behind Linus and his blade flashed.
Linus jerked, and Legault was sent flying, blood spurting from his side, but Linus’s morph exploded into dust, his throat cut.
Only three left. Lloyd, Darin, and Brendan.
“On my mark!” Pent cried. “Lyn, you’ll want to move!”
“Can’t!” Lyndis said. “If I do, he’ll attack someone else! I can dodge in time.”
“I’m going to use Forblaze, I don’t think you can!”
“I’ll chance it.”
“Lyn!” cried Florina. “Let me help you!”
“That’ll work,” Pent said. “Everyone set? All right. …Now!”
Eliwood had to cover his eyes. There was a massive explosion, and above it, Florina winging away, Lyndis clinging to her arm.
When the last sparks of fire and thunder and lightning had faded, there was no trace of Lloyd.
“Yeah, I could use some help with this guy.”
“Why aren’t you using Armads?” Eliwood demanded, riding up to his friend.
“I’m saving it for Nergal!”
Lyndis appeared on his other side, the Sol Katti in her hand. “Go ahead and use it, what are you waiting for!?”
“Fine,” Hector growled, and drew it. “Stay back, then! Don’t want you caught in the crossfire!”
“As if you could touch me,” Lyndis sniffed. “We’ll take him together.”
“Fine. Eliwood, keep the others back. There’s too many people here.”
“What am I, traffic control?” Eliwood said, smiling finally.
Hector only grunted as he raced back into battle against Darin. The huge axe glowed white as it slashed down on Darin’s lance, shattering it completely.
From there it was no contest.
And the only morph left was… Brendan Reed, who was currently sporting several icicles from Nino’s efforts.
“Form up!” Hector bellowed, gesturing to the remnants of the group. “Cavalry in front, mages in the back! Archers around the sides! Let’s get ‘im!”
“Don’t be so cocky, Hector!” Lyndis cried, running after him.
“Wait for me-!” Eliwood said, spurring Oren. “You keep leaving me out of the interesting fights!”
“Hurry up, then! You’re on a horse, you should be faster than us anyway!”
“Do you think anyone could keep up with Lyndis when she’s angry!?”
“Damn straight,” Lyndis said, and bared her teeth in a warrior’s smile.
“Please,” Eliwood heard Nino’s voice. “Put my father out of his misery…”
He looked over his shoulder at her and smiled. “Working on it.”
Even Brendan Reed as an overpowered morph couldn’t stand against their united front.
Nergal showed no signs of coming to check on them, so Eliwood directed the remnants of the group to take a rest and check on the wounded. He himself rode to where Hector stood, catching his breath on his own. He dismounted. There was something very important that had been put aside before, but it was time now. “How are you?”
“I’m fine. And you?”
“Hector… You’re not still mad at Oswin, are you?”
“I… can’t forgive him for keeping it from me. Even if it was my brother’s orders.”
“But… you do know that it was their way of caring about you, right?”
Hector made an angry gesture with his arm. “Screw that! I deserved to know…”
“While that may be true, don’t hold it against Oswin. He’s been as faithful to you as you’ve been to me, through thick and thin…”
Hector rolled his eyes. “Okay, you’re laying it on a bit thick. Fine, I’ll… talk to him.”
“Look at him,” Hector grunted, indicating Nergal, not even paying attention to them. “He surely knows that we won the fight against his minions, and he’s still not taking us seriously.”
“He’ll have to soon,” Eliwood said. “If these work.”
“They worked pretty well on the morphs. I like the new holy magic feature, for sure.” Hector grinned.
“It’s all come down to this,” Eliwood said, still seriously. “I’m going to check on some other people. Be ready to go in a minute.”
“Yes you will,” Hector said, and waved.
Lyndis jogged to catch up to Eliwood. “Eliwood…”
“How… how long did you know?”
“About Hector… and his brother…”
“A while,” Eliwood answered. “I… noticed Hector was acting oddly a while ago, so I got Oswin to tell me…”
“I think Ceniro guessed, too,” Lyndis said. “I feel like he was trying to support Hector in his own way, the last few days.”
“Mm,” Eliwood said.
“I’m going to go talk to him. I’ll see you in a moment.”
“Mm,” Eliwood said again, and watched her run off and give Hector a hug. Hector jumped, and Eliwood unashamedly listened in to their conversation with the farseer.
“Hey, what’s this now?” Hector demanded, trying to pry her off.
“I just… I’m sorry about your brother, Hector. I’m certain you did not cry.”
“No… I can’t. It’s not time for that.”
“You… will never cry for him, will you?”
“Nah. He wouldn’t have wanted that.”
“Then, when all this is over… I will cry for your part. …Don’t die, okay?”
“Okay,” Hector said, and awkwardly put an arm around her as she hugged him.
Eliwood took a drink and went to find Marcus. “I think it’s time that we sent the rest back, don’t you agree?”
“I do. Thank you for allowing me to accompany you on this last push, Lord Eliwood.”
“It’s not much. We could all still die.”
“We believe in you, Lord Eliwood, and you believe in us. Cold, hard reality is an essential factor, but so is hope and determination – and you have both in spades.”
“Thank you, Marcus. …Let’s let them rest for a few minutes longer. We have that much time, at least.”
But Hector came to find him again. “Eliwood, are we going to get this show on the road? Hey, everyone, gather round!”
“Right,” Eliwood said. “I really think that the rest of you should pull back now.”
“But!” began Sain, who had not been injured, but also had not been chosen for the final group.
“I agree with Eliwood,” Athos said unexpectedly. “Too many people will not help and will only be targets for Nergal’s wrath.”
“Sain,” Lyndis said, “lead these people out of the ruins. Get some distance between you and here. If we win, we’ll be right behind you. If not, you can at least find a defensible position somewhere outside.”
“Lady Lyn,” Sain said, distraught.
“It’s fine, Sain,” she said, gently but firmly. “Go take care of Kent, would you?”
“Yes, Lady Lyn.”
Marcus turned to Eliwood. “Lord Eliwood, I believe we are ready.”
“Follow me,” Eliwood said, and mounted and rode up the stairs.
Nergal turned to them. “So you still come. It’s strange, Eliwood. I would have thought that killing Ninian would have crushed your spirit. Are you perhaps as heartless as you claim that I am?”
Eliwood lowered his head. “I know that I killed her. I will never forget. I also know that I’ve caused much pain for my friends. But… that’s why I fight on! And I won’t lose here!” His head came up and he brought Durandal into striking position, ready to charge.
“Me either!” Hector roared, already charging with Armads at the ready. Eliwood spurred after him.
Lyndis popped up from behind Hector and bounded off his shoulders, getting more height for her own attack, Sol Katti gleaming. “You’ve made your last mistake!”
Nergal spread his arms, laughing. “Death feeds me. Death pleases me. I am the essence I consume. You fools will become corpses here, because I wish it to be.” A wave of darkness rose from him and engulfed them.
It was like nothing Eliwood had ever felt before. It was as if his very self was dissolving in the darkness, and it caused him agony like he had never imagined. Neither hot, nor cold, no up or down, only a disorienting fall into more blackness and immense pain.
When Eliwood managed to lift his head again, he stared dazed at the emerald room he was in. Nergal was still standing there, in the centre, and everyone… his friends… they were all scattered around the edges, as if they had been blown there by some catastrophic explosion.
Only Athos was still standing, his staff glowing blue-white as he looked Nergal in the face. A white-gold beam burst through the ceiling, piercing a thin beam through onto Nergal’s head. Athos raised his hand, and a spark travelled down the beam, and then Eliwood had to cover his face from the explosion that followed.
Eliwood struggled to his feet, though his entire body ached. How he was still alive, he did not know, though he was dimly glad that he had sent away most of the group before. Oren was still unconscious, if not dead. Durandal lay near to hand. Eliwood gave a wild warcry and charged at Nergal on foot.
Somewhere behind him, he heard a grunt and knew that Hector was conscious. He couldn’t think about that now. All that mattered was striking Nergal.
He slashed with the heavy sword, and missed as Nergal turned to face him, scowling, the dark druid’s injured eye rolling wildly. Eliwood spun around the long way, bringing the sword down with all the strength he could muster.
Durandal struck Nergal’s shoulder, and while it didn’t exactly cleave him in two as it might have a normal person, it did leave its mark and a spray of black blood. Nergal was finally looking unamused and that was gratifying, Eliwood thought, as he gritted his teeth and brought the sword back for another strike.
The only warning he had was a shift in the wind and Lyndis whipped past him, darting with her nodachi past Nergal. Eliwood saw the strike leave a glowing mark on the skirt of Nergal’s robes, which quickly darkened past black with more blood.
Nergal glared and began to cast his spell again. Eliwood’s eyes widened. If they couldn’t stop him here and now, they were well and truly dead.
There was a hoarsely yelled challenge from the other side, and Hector appeared, Armads raised high. Eliwood stabbed. Lyndis slashed.
All three weapons connected, and Nergal staggered. The three lords drew back a pace, panting, their weapons ready to strike again.
There was no need. Nergal coughed, and blood came out. “How…!? How could you harm me…? After all I’ve done… I’ve come too far to lose now…!”
“Shoulda given up when Greybeard told you to,” Hector wheezed.
“Why…” Nergal gasped, mournfully.
“What?” Eliwood asked, taken aback.
“Why did I want this power… in the first place? What… what was I doing? I… I don’t… remember…”
Eliwood heard a sniffle and turned to see Nils. Lyndis hurried to his side. “Nils? What is it?”
“Why… am I crying?” Nils whispered.
“It doesn’t matter!” Nergal howled. “I will not die alone! With your last moments… tremble and despair!” He raised his right hand and crushed a glimmering pale-green stone. A burst of light flashed from it, and Nergal fell forward, dead.
“Is he…” Eliwood said.
“He is dead,” Athos said. Eliwood sheathed his sword.
“Are you all right?” Lyndis asked Nils.
“I don’t know…” Nils said. “Why… am I…”
Hector walked over to Nils and ruffled his hair. “You’ve just had a long day. No wonder you’re emotional. We won, though.”
“We…” Nils said.
“Ninian would be proud,” Eliwood said. “Ceniro and Ninian both.”
The ground shook. Everyone staggered and fell to their hands and knees.
“What’s happening!?” Lyndis cried. “Did he do something?”
“Look there!” Athos said, pointing at the Dragon’s Gate. It was changing colours, its surface flickering like angry water. It was beginning to glow orange predominantly.
Eliwood climbed to his feet, staggering as the shaking didn’t abate. The rest of the group was beginning to recover, and followed suit. “Come on!”
“Eliwood!” Hector yelled. “It’s – it’s dragons! Don’t go up there!”
“All the more reason!” Eliwood yelled back. “We’re the only ones who can stop them if they’re hostile!”
There was a colossal roar, and a flaming orange-red head broke the surface of the Gate, followed swiftly by the rest of the dragon.
And two more followed it.
Eliwood came to a halt, panting and staring in trepidation at the trio of dragons. “I… wasn’t expecting three of them…”
“This was his plan to get post-mortem revenge on us,” Hector growled from beside him.
“Can we fight them?” Lyndis said. “We have the weapons, but is that enough!?”
“Wait,” Eliwood said. “What if we could talk to them? Nils! Can we speak to them?”
“Lord Eliwood, look out!” Nils shrieked, and the foremost dragon lowered its head and sent a billow of flame at them.
Lyndis screamed, and the three of them grabbed each other, trying to shield each other futilely from the lethal fire.
When they failed to meet their crispy doom, Eliwood cracked open an eye and peered over Hector’s shoulder. A shimmering blue barrier met his eyes, and he turned to see Athos holding the barrier with his staff.
“I cannot hold this for long…” the Archsage said. “Pent! Take up the barrier. I must cast Fimbulvetr. It might weaken them. We cannot let them get out! If they do, Elibe will be ash within a month!”
“Yes sir!” Pent said, and raised his own Barrier staff. It wavered slightly; the power of even the Mage General of Etruria was not as great as Archsage Athos.
And even the power of Archsage Athos only caused a little steam off the super-heated hide of the dragons.
“They’re not friendly, so we have to fight them,” Lyndis said. “But how are we even going to get close!?”
Athos tried Aureola and Forblaze, but the dragons didn’t even falter. “They’ve grown so strong… while I am so weak. Can we defeat them…?”
“I’m actually kind of scared,” Hector admitted. “My legs are trembling, and not just because of the ground shaking.”
“Me too,” Lyndis said. “Never thought I’d face three dragons in my life.” She turned to him. “Hector… I never really said this before, but it’s been fun fighting with you.”
He blinked at her. “It’s been fun for me too.”
“Don’t speak like that!” Eliwood said. “This isn’t over yet!” He realized they were still clinging to each other and let go, his hand going to Durandal. The other two let go of each other and stared at him.
“Eliwood?” Hector said.
“We’re going to fight. And we’re going to win this one, too!”
Lyndis smiled. “When you talk like that, I almost believe you. But those dragons are getting awfully close.”
Eliwood drew Durandal. “Then let’s do this!”
“Wait,” said an ethereal voice, a vaguely familiar voice, and a cloaked figure teleported into the space a little in front of him.
Eliwood jumped – his mind immediately assumed it was Nergal, though Nergal was dead. “Who…?”
“Bramimond!” cried Athos. “You are none too soon!”
“Forgive me,” Bramimond murmured. “Preparations… took time.”
“Then… it is possible?”
“It is possible,” Bramimond said. “If you would all lend me your aid…”
“How do we do that?” Hector said.
“Think happy thoughts,” Pent said, smiling.
“And were you privy to any of this?” Hector asked the count suspiciously.
Pent shrugged. “No, but I think I have an idea of what he’s doing. Go on, do it.”
Eliwood closed his eyes. The happiest thought he could think of was… of being home, in Pherae, with his mother… and with Ninian, alive, in his arms, under the trees in the garden.
There was a flash of pale-green light, and he opened his eyes, startled.
The first thing he saw was sea-foam green, and his eyes widened in disbelief. Ninian’s body floated before him, her eyes closed and her arms hanging at her side, but her dress was not stained with her blood. In fact, she looked as if she were only sleeping.
“What… is…!?” Lyndis began.
“I don’t believe it…” Eliwood murmured.
“Ow, my eyes,” Hector said. “Wait, what!?”
“Let the dragon girl’s soul be restored,” said Bramimond, and the same pale-green light that had emanated from the crystal Nergal crushed began to coalesce around Ninian.
She floated to the floor… and stood there.
Her large crimson eyes opened. “Ah… where…”
“Ninian!” yelled Nils, and he ran to her.
“Nils!” she gasped, and hugged her brother. “You’re all right! I’m so glad… And the others?”
“Right here,” Nils said. “Lord Eliwood sent the rest away to be safe, don’t worry.”
She looked at him, and their eyes met. He was still gaping like a fish, he knew. But he couldn’t help it. Ninian… alive…
She smiled at him. “Lord Eliwood… I’m so happy you’re all right.”
“I…” That was as far as he could get, and then he dropped Durandal, ran forward, and embraced her tightly.
“I’m so sorry,” he whispered. “I never meant to…”
“I know,” she whispered back. “It’s all right. I forgave you from the moment it happened.”
He held her all the tighter. “I won’t let you leave my side again. I promise.”
She looked up at him and smiled, and he felt like he could fight all three dragons single-handedly. “Lord Eliwood…”
“Lady Dragon,” Bramimond broke in gently. “We are in danger from your brethren. If you could use your power to turn them back…”
“But… I cannot use my power in this world,” she said regretfully.
“Do you not feel it?” Bramimond pressed. “Your power should be returning. It has been restored from your broken dragonstone.”
“Ah…” Ninian paused, and gave a deep, relieved sigh. “Yes. I can feel it. All right. I will try.” She gently put Eliwood away, and stepped forward, all alone, outside the barrier that Pent and Athos were keeping up.
“You cannot come here,” she said softly to the three fire dragons. “This world is not for us anymore…”
She vanished under three streams of fire.
“Ninian!” Eliwood screamed.
Nils took his arm. “She’s fine. A little fire won’t harm her now.”
Indeed, she was still standing, her clothes not even browned by the experience. “I am sorry… I must do this…” She raised her arms, and a freezing wind began to blow through the chamber. It concentrated on the dragons, ice creeping up their legs, stifling their fire, choking them.
They collapsed, and two of them began to dissolve into thin air.
“N-no more…” Ninian gasped, and fell to her knees.
Eliwood started forward, but Bramimond was there first to catch her as she fell sideways into his arms. “I will take care of her,” said the dark sage. “She is fine, only a little tired. You take care of the last dragon now, Athos.”
“Yes!” Athos said. “It has been weakened. Let us attack!”
The dragon raised itself to its feet as Bramimond and Ninian teleported away, and it glared down at them with eyes that glowed red with slitted pupils.
Eliwood smiled, grabbed Durandal, and got into his fighting stance. “Lyndis, you’re the fastest of the three of us. You get its attention, and Hector and I will hack away at it until it dies. With Roland and Durban’s help, it shouldn’t take too long!”
“Got it!” the other two chorused, and Lyndis sprang into action. Even her sword seemed to have an effect on it, carving white lines in its fiery hide.
“Don’t forget about us!” Pent said, and Forblaze exploded against the dragon’s left flank, on the opposite side to where Lyndis was currently.
“Everyone fight, but fight carefully!” Eliwood said, ducking the dragon’s massive claws.
“Eh, just don’t hit us!” Hector said, bringing Armads down on a claw and severing it from the dragon’s foot. The dragon roared and swatted at him, sending Hector flying heavily into the far wall.
“Hector!” cried Lyndis.
“I’m all right!” Hector’s voice came back. “’s what heavy armour is for!”
“If you weren’t so heavy, you could probably dodge better!”
Hector grunted as he struggled to his feet. “Woman, have you seen how tall I am? I’m a target no matter how fast I move! May as well armour up! You, now, you’re tiny-”
“Augh!” Lyndis shouted in exasperation, ducking under the dragon’s other claw.
Athos stepped forward, and Aureola burned through the ceiling again, striking the dragon in the wing. It flinched and took a step away from the spell. A series of projectiles from the group, and Pent’s Forblaze, struck it from the other side, and it reared up and hissed at them. Great stones from the ceiling, loosened by Aureola, fell to the floor, coming dangerously close to hitting Wallace and Harken, but also providing possible cover from the dragonfire.
Eliwood looked up at the dragon’s head, towering above him. He wasn’t Lyndis, able to bound over horses from a standing position, but he could probably still get at the dragon’s throat…
The dragon lowered its head to him and Athos, quick as a snake, and inhaled in preparation to breathing fire.
“Eliwood, get out of there!” Lyndis yelled, appearing on the dragon’s neck and running along it. Flames leapt up in the wake of her footsteps, and when she jumped off again, her dress was on fire. But she had distracted the dragon from burning Eliwood, and now it was shooting fire in her direction. She dodged it and put out her dress with a quick roll to the side.
Athos cast Aureola again, snapping off the dragon’s other wing. The dragon snarled deafeningly and stomped on the Archsage.
“Greybeard!” Hector cried, running back to the action, but the sage had put up a barrier just in time, holding off the dragon’s foot. But he was clearly weakening quickly.
The group was doing its best to be distracting, running or galloping around, but the dragon twisted its head and blew fire at all of them. Only quick work by both Pent and Canas saved them from being torched, that and the stones giving them slight cover against the fire.
Hector turned to Eliwood. “Eliwood! Here, I’ll give you a boost!” He held out Armads horizontally.
“You’re crazy!” Eliwood said, and grinned. He charged towards Hector, leaping on to the blade of the axe. Hector heaved, and Eliwood jumped from the edge, getting about twice as high as he would normally. Durandal blazed with fierce light as he brought it down between the dragon’s eyes. Once, twice, thrice, and the heat was erupting around him – it was burning his boots, it would burn him from the inside out – but he was winning, he was doing this for Athos, for Elibe, for Ninian, and nothing was going to stop him now.
There was a roar, possibly from the dragon, and his ears felt like they would burst. His circlet was searing his brow like a brand. He couldn’t tell which was was up again, everything was fire…
Everything was cool, soft welcoming coolness, and he could hear Hector and Lyndis calling his name. He could even hear Nils calling his name. He smiled and opened his eyes.
Athos was collapsed beside him, his barrier still intact, but the old Archsage was hardly breathing. The dragon was nowhere to be seen, but there was a lot of stone rubble everywhere, and he could see sky above.
First he should let them know he was all right. “I’m here! Athos is here! Come quickly, I think we need a healer!”
“I’m on my way,” Pent called from somewhere across the room, and coughed.
Isadora was first to them. “My lord!”
“I seem to be fine, Isadora. How is everyone else?”
She looked back.
“We seem to be in one piece, somehow,” Wallace said, clanking up, followed by Hector and Lyndis in a hurry.
“Eliwood!” Hector cried. “How are you alive!? I thought you’d been lost in that explosion?”
“Explosion?” Eliwood asked stupidly.
“Oh! Pent!” Lyndis ran to help him, though he was already leaning on Louise, limping.
He waved her off. “I’m fine, just a little bruised. Lord Athos!”
Hector knelt beside the sage, gently lifting him into a more comfortable position.
The old sage opened his eyes. “Ah… so you have won. You are… truly worthy successors to Roland.”
“Thank you, sir,” Eliwood said. “Hold still, we need to heal you.”
Athos shook his head weakly. “It will be of no use. I am an old man, and I expended the last of my energy to protect us from that blast.”
“Lord Athos!” Pent exclaimed. “I can-”
“No, Pent. I am content to pass here. I have seen this trial through to its end. Do not grieve for me. Soon I will be with long-absent friends. I have no regrets. Heal the others…”
Pent did so.
There was the sound of a teleport from behind them, and Bramimond appeared, with Ninian again. “Athos.”
“Bramimond, my old friend. It seems I will be leaving this world before you.”
“I will not be around for many more years either,” Bramimond said serenely. “Our task is done. We have guarded the world as long as was necessary. It is not up to us anymore, but to these ones.”
“They have proven themselves equal to the challenge, certainly,” Athos agreed. “Though… my young friends… my heart foretells that you shall face equally great challenges in the future… Neither Bramimond nor I will be here to help a land in need…”
“What do you mean?” Lyndis asked.
“An evil star shall rise in Bern… and all of Elibe will be awash in blood. But once again the children of Roland’s fire shall lead hope to the land…” He gave a gentle sigh, and his head fell back on Hector’s arm.
“Lord Athos…” Eliwood said.
“I think Greybeard has gone,” Hector said.
“But look,” Lyndis said. “He’s smiling.”
Bramimond quietly teleported away. Ninian turned away from them and took a few steps towards the Dragon’s Gate, which was now gently rippling with a silver light. “So once again darkness will sweep over the land…”
Eliwood looked up at her. “Ninian…” He stood and walked over to her, and she turned to him and smiled, then bent her head, hiding her face behind her hair.
“Lord Eliwood… I’m sorry that I grieved you.”
“It’s nothing,” he said, and it truly wasn’t. His heart felt light to see her again. “Ninian… I’m so happy you’re back. I can hardly believe it; I feel like I’m in a dream. Espcially after we lost…” He suddenly sobered. Ninian didn’t know yet.
“You lost…?” she asked gently, looking afraid.
Eliwood bowed his head. “Ceniro died in the battle before the Dragon’s Gate. An archer shot him, and he was gone before any of our healers could get there.”
“I’m so sorry!” she gasped, and tears came into her eyes. “He was always so kind to us. He never hesitated to let us help, but he kept us safe – and he kept me near you…” It was exactly what Nils had said, and he nodded.
“Yes… I’m grateful for that as well. He achieved marvels, and our last battle was difficult without him. It was only thanks to his training that we succeeded at all.”
“I am glad you overcame it all,” she said. “And that I could help you again.”
“Ninian…” he said, returning to his original intention, “after I lost you… I knew beyond all hope that I wanted you by my side forever. I need you, Ninian. Please… come home with me to Pherae.” He reached for her hand, but she didn’t take it, and he let his own hand fall to his side, staring at her in anxious confusion.
“I… I wish to apologize,” she said, keeping her head down. “I’m to blame for all this.”
“Ninian! Ninian, that’s not true.”
“If it wasn’t for us… If it wasn’t for me, this whole thing would never have happened. You see… Long ago, before the Scouring, I think, we lived here. I’m not sure. We were children, truly children, then. And we were driven out. But… since then, not a day went by that I did not think back to the place I had called home… And so, when Nergal called us… I couldn’t resist.”
“We didn’t mean to stay long,” Nils said, coming to stand hand-in-hand with her. “Only long enough to look around, to see home one last time. But… Nergal captured us, and… well, everything happened from there.”
“It was my weakness that led to this,” Ninian said, and Eliwood saw a tear run down her smooth white cheek. “My weakness that led to all this death and destruction. And these children here… Those fire dragons… They were just like me. They just wanted to see…”
“Ninian… Nils…” Eliwood organized his thoughts. “First of all, it’s not your fault at all. It’s Nergal’s fault, all of it. The Scouring, though, we humans have to take the blame for that. We may have attacked you in ignorance, but that’s no excuse to shirk our responsibility for what happened.”
“Do you truly think so?” Nils asked doubtfully.
“I do,” Eliwood said, smiling now. “And my father would say the same thing. And I know what else he would say: let’s work together for the future. If the entire continent could be like that hidden city of Arcadia that Lord Athos spoke of, a place where humans and dragons could live in harmony together again… wouldn’t that be wonderful?”
“That would be wonderful indeed,” Ninian said, and clapped her hands. “But that won’t happen for a long time here, probably not in our lifetimes…”
“So, we can’t stay here,” Nils said. “But there are humans in the world we’re returning to, too. Meeting everyone… it’s definitely changed my opinion of humans, completely. We’ll try our best to live in peace with the humans in our new world, for sure!”
“Right then!” Hector said. “Good luck with that!”
Eliwood’s face fell. “But… if we could find that hidden city, you could…”
“The gate is still open,” Nils said gently. “If it stays that way, other dragons will certainly come through soon. It can only be properly closed, by us who opened it, on the other side.”
“It’s true,” Ninian said. “We must return to our world.”
“But… is that the only way?” Eliwood cried, his heart sinking in his chest. “Are you not saying I’ll never see you two again?”
“Lord Eliwood,” Ninian said, her eyes shining with emotion, “Lord Eliwood, I am truly blessed to have met you. Please, don’t forget me, for I’ll never forget you.”
“I… Ninian! It… Is there no other way?”
She couldn’t meet his eyes, and took Nils by the hand. “Let us return to our world, Nils…”
But unexpectedly, Nils held firm. “Ninian… The air of this world has changed much since we left it the first time. No matter how long we stay here, our strength will never return. In fact, if we stay many more years, we won’t live long.”
“Nils?” Ninian stopped, staring at her brother.
“But even knowing that… I know you truly want to stay,” he said. “I understand. Stay here. Stay with Lord Eliwood.”
Nils?” Ninian gasped, her eyes widening.
Nils stepped forward and offered Ninian’s hand to Eliwood. “Lord Eliwood… Please look after my sister.”
Eliwood stared at Nils, no less surprised than Ninian. “I will. I will make her happy, I swear it.” He smiled a little lopsidedly. “After all, I have no wish for an angry ice dragon brother-in-law to come destroy my castle.”
“But I wish for nothing more than to make her happy… to make you happy. I will take care of her, Nils, you have my word.”
“Nils…” Ninian said, concerned again. “Are you sure? This… I would never see Lord Eliwood again, but this way… I’ll never see you again. But the gate must be closed…”
“I’m fine,” Nils said, smiling bravely. “I’m going alone. I don’t have your curiosity, and I have work to do in the other world, and… I… also want you to be happy, and since you’re in love…”
“Nils!” Ninian blushed. But she was smiling. She rushed forward and hugged him tightly, and he hugged her back. There might have been tears on both sides. After letting them have a moment to themselves, Lyndis stepped forward and joined the hug, followed quickly by Hector and then Eliwood.
After a while, Ninian and Nils extricated themselves. “I think we’d like a minute,” Ninian said, wiping her eyes.
Eliwood offered her a handkerchief. “Take your time. We’ll be over here.” They left the siblings by the Gate and withdrew a little.
“What’s happening?” Wallace had to know. “The kids are going through the Gate?”
“Nils is going home,” Lyndis explained. “Ninian is staying with Eliwood. They’re saying goodbye now.”
“That’s a little sad,” Wallace said. “But everyone must part ways sooner or later. I’m happy for Lord Eliwood, though. She is a lovely girl!”
Hector slapped Eliwood on the back. “Good for you, buddy!”
Eliwood began to blush. “Stop it, Hector.”
“Okay,” Nils said. “I’m off.”
“Take care!” Hector said, waving broadly.
“I’ll miss you!” Lyn said, apparently restraining herself from hugging the boy again.
“We’ll never forget you, I promise,” Eliwood said, with an arm around Ninian.
Ninian waved shakily. “I… Goodbye, Nils, I l-love you. You’re the best brother a sister could ask for…”
“Don’t cry, Ninian,” Nils said, standing at the edge of the Gate and looking back. “Even if we’re in separate worlds, and we never see each other again, our bond will never, ever be cut.”
“Well said,” Hector said.
“More importantly… Be as happy as you can.”
He waved one last time and stepped through the gate. They could see him dimly through the silver wavering surface, and he slowly faded from view – and after a moment, the silver glow faded, leaving the Gate dark and empty.
“Nils,” Ninian said, and sniffled, rubbing her eyes.
“Thank you, Nils,” Eliwood said softly.
“Come on,” Lyn said, already heading back to the group. “We have to let the others know that everything’s all right!”
“Right behind you!” Hector called.
“Unbelievable,” Eliwood said, smiling. “Where do they get all that energy, again?”
Oren came up to him, and Eliwood took the reins, but didn’t mount. He wanted to use his own two legs, to feel the ache in them that meant he was still alive.
“My lord,” Marcus said. “What shall we do with Lord Athos’s body?”
“I’ll take care of him,” Lord Pent said, looking up from an earnest discussion with his wife. “I’m not sure yet if we should take him back to Nabata or to Missur, but we should place him among friends.”
“I shall take him, if I may,” Marcus said.
“Please do,” Pent said. “Let me help you.”
They came out into brilliant sunlight; Valor’s omnipresent fog and clouds had parted for once.
“How hopeful,” Lyn said. “It’s a beautiful day. I wish Ceniro could have seen this. Could have seen us.”
“It’ll just make it hot, trekking back to the ship,” Hector said.
Lyn glared at him, and then saw that he was joking and rolled her eyes.
“Okay, so, I have a bone to pick with you, lady. Since when did you decide I made a good trampoline!?”
“What? Oh, you mean when I attacked Nergal? I needed more height, and you’re tall! I’m short, and while I’m strong, I don’t have a lot of body weight to throw behind it.”
“You could have warned me!”
“Ugh, are we doing this again?”
Eliwood ignored his bickering friends and scooped Ninian into his arms, heedless of his aches and bruises. “You’ll truly come home with me to Pherae?”
“Yes!” Ninian said.
He smiled into her eyes, and she put her arms around his neck. He bent his head and kissed her deeply.
Chapter 10: Victory or Death Epilogue