- Day 1 -
No. BR was the first of the experiments to actually function, not only the way it was supposed to, but also to survive its creation. There had been complications in its beginning stages, yes, but they had been stabilized and they now had the perfect vessel for Grima. As long as it could hold Grima's essence Validar would have called it a success, Xanthus, however, would not. This vessel still needed to be tested. Its mobility and intelligence had to be tested. It would be of no use if it could not collect information about the world around it. Originally, he was going to have his partner, Zilla, do the honors of taking it around but with recent events with Validar had him taking it instead.
So, there he was, standing over his only successful creation in his assigned project, waiting for it to wake. It had yet to form into any specific gender as it had not absorbed enough information, so they'd put on simple clothes. A tan tunic and brown trousers, a typical outfit seen on young boys. Its face remained blank the entirety of its existence so he had yet to see it make any sort of expression. It would learn from observing. Hopefully. That was why he was taking it for a test run before properly presenting it to Validar. He had to make sure it was fit for its purpose.
"No. BR, wake up," he ordered the puppet.
Its eyelids parted to reveal lifeless gray eyes staring back at him, matching the unnaturally pale skin and stark white hair that brushed its small shoulders. It was almost unnerving to see how empty and void of life the eyes were, almost like that of a doll's. The magic used to create it was sketchy at best so things like this were to be expected. But it would be fixed with time and care. At least it understood him and was completely obedient.
"Come on, then, stand up."
There was a delay in its reaction time as if it were processing his words before it stiffly sat up. And promptly fell off the table it had been lying on. It continued to lie there, staring unseeingly at the stone wall. Xanthus smacked a hand to his forehead, releasing a long-suffering sigh.
"This could take a while..."
No. BR walked stiffly beside Xanthus through the building, getting used to its new legs. He'd had to catch the thing before it fell face first into the floor several times in the beginning but it managed to get around on its own after a while, only stumbling occasionally. It would need to work on walking naturally. That was fine. They had plenty of time to practice.
During the time he guided the puppet around, he spoke to it constantly. It needed to get used to the concept of speech. He would not push it, but it was good to start on its behavior early. It had to be a convincing human. Expecting a struggle to grasp a lot of concepts and a difficulty in emoting would be crucial to No. BR's development.
He had at first spoken of different things to expect from its behavior before moving on to things it should avoid doing when it was finally accepted into their ranks. He had a feeling No. BR wasn't listening, not really. He wasn't too bothered by it as he was used to Zilla zoning out during his 'long-winded speeches'.
Xanthus had guided his creation out into the general populace(after putting a Grimleal coat on it to hide its features), hoping that actually being around other people would assist in teaching it. Though still recovering from the war with Ylisse, the people managed to get a few things back up and running like farms and businesses. The pair were ignored for the most part with only the occasional child pointing to them. No. BR appeared to be observing every little detail it could and slowly but surely, the way it walked and moved, in general, became smoother, more natural.
Somewhere along the road, Xanthus had been so caught up in talking quietly to his creation that it took a moment to realize that it was no longer following him. He'd spun around, brown eyes frantically looking around before they landed on No. BR who was staring at a fire pit. The mage made his way to its side, trying to find out why fire of all things had fascinated it. He watched No. BR closely just in case it got too curious and decided to stick its hand in the flames.
"You like fire, then? Perhaps I should teach you how to use tomes. Once you're responsive enough, of course."
No. BR made no reaction and continued to stare as if the fire was the only thing in its world. That thought struck something within Xanthus. No. BR was going to be a vessel for Grima, the Fell Dragon. Perhaps that it liked fire already was a sign-no. It had to be a coincidence. Fire wasn't just used for destruction. It was used for keeping things warm, lighting an area, and destroying. Its brand was still faint since it wasn't born like other humans. He was looking far too into things.
❣ First Meal❣
Introducing the vessel to food had been an interesting experience. The first time its stomach had grumbled its request, they had been in the middle of another mobility test. No. BR had responded by... poking at it of all things, likely trying to see if it would make the sound again. Zilla, who had been present at the time, had cackled heartily before warping away to gather something fit for human consumption while Xanthus had tried to explain to the puppet what was going on. It still didn't appear to be listening despite its tiny nods here and there. He had to wonder if it remembered anything. Perhaps it had anterograde amnesia and didn't remember a thing he'd said to it before. There was no sure way of knowing until it developed more.
Zilla returned with a stew of some kind, claiming that it would be a good thing to start with for someone who had never eaten before. Trying to get it to eat was like trying to spoon feed an uncooperative baby. No. BR refused to open its mouth nor was it even trying to respond to the commands given to it. The mages ended up having to force feed it, though the action only encouraged the vessel's strange rebellious behavior.
"Do you think it's something we're doing?" Zilla asked after another failed attempt to get No. BR to feed itself.
Xanthus regarded her, thinking carefully on No. BR's actions, "Perhaps it thinks that eating is a punishment rather than a necessity since we're forcing it to."
The middle-aged woman linked her hands behind her head and gazed at the child-like vessel, "Hmph... I guess not even emotionless puppets can escape even a tiny bit of rebellion," she mumbled as it continued to stare blankly ahead.
Xanthus crouched low enough to be at eye level with No. BR and lifted a spoonful of stew to his own mouth, drawing its attention. He exaggerated his movements, making a show out of chewing and swallowing before showing how he enjoyed doing so. The man would have felt silly doing this were he not dealing with an equivalent of a two or three-year-old.
From the slight tilt of its head and twitch in its right hand, he assumed he'd gotten at least a bit of the message through. He offered the spoon. No. BR's movements were slow and hesitant at first, fumbling to grasp the silverware. It mirrored his actions, spooning some stew and awkwardly put it in its mouth. The two mages watched with bated breath as the little puppet sluggishly chewed and swallowed on its own. It went to repeat the process, no faster than before, but it was enough for the pair to relax.
"Who would have thought we'd have to actually treat it like a child? I'll have to take notes in case we need to make another one."
Xanthus heaved a tired sigh at his co-worker as he gently pinched the bridge of his nose.
- Day 20 -
❣ Trying and Failing to Speak❣
Zilla absently wondered if they could have somehow instilled the capability to speak and comprehend into No. BR a little faster. The white-haired child would take to either sleeping or staring at nothing when it wasn't actively being given commands. It was so very zombie-like that she questioned whether or not it would ever come out of it. Of course, it had only been two weeks since it had first awakened so she felt she was expecting too much of it too soon. But this was uncharted waters. They knew nothing of how it would react to anything since it was the first to have actually made it this far. She had high hopes for this vessel, nothing like the other two hundred some that came before it.
No. BR was usually stuck indoors, so Zilla took it upon herself to get the kid out every once in a while. For how much Xanthus expressed the need to get it out and around people as inconspicuously as possible, he sure didn't do it much. Zilla managed to drag
warp the kid out closer to Ylisse's border where there was a better view. Instead of an endless sea of sand, there were beautiful green fields, forests, and rivers. Much easier on the eyes.
So far, No. BR hadn't reacted to the change in scenery more than absorbing what it needed to learn and grow(mentally, of course). Zilla casually plopped down in the long blades of grass, her long, dark hair splaying out on the grass as she reclined with her hands connected behind her head. She gazed up at the clear, blue sky and absently noted the silhouette of a bird passing by. Completely unconcerned about her 'fragile' ward, she closed her eyes and left it to its devices.
There was a faint shuffle of the grass beside the woman and she felt the presence of the hooded puppet settle next to her. Curious, she opened one sharp, green eye and breathed an amused laugh at the sight of the mirrored position. She didn't think she'd ever see the kid in such a relaxed-looking position. Mimicked, of course, but still as relaxed as she'd ever seen it.
A sudden feeling if mischief arose like a spreading disease in her emotions. A coy smile played at her lips as she fully turned to her light-haired ward.
"Hey, so, I've got something I want you to say to good ol' Xanthus when we go back!" she chirped, fully aware that No. BR couldn't(or wouldn't, she didn't know) speak.
It turned its vacant, gray eyes to meet hers, probably only barely listening to her next words.
With their day spent lounging around in a pleasantly warm field, Xanthus welcomed them home with the passing of paperwork to his co-worker and an examination demand for No. BR. Of course, he wouldn't trust her with the kid, believing Zilla to be much too jovial and carefree for her age. She'd accepted the large stack of papers with a dismissive roll of her eyes and a snide comment as she brushed past him. With that done, he'd called No. BR to sit down at the small dining table in the middle of the room. It seemed to hesitate before going in the opposite direction.
"Zilla, what did you do?"
The woman glanced over her shoulder to watch the puppet in confusion as it grabbed a piece of paper and a quill. Only once it had those items did it obey Xanthus and sit down at the table. It began writing meticulously even as the older man peered over its shoulder. It set down the quill a moment later and stiffly offered him the paper. Xanthus shot Zilla a suspicious glare and read whatever it was No. BR had given him. His eyes glanced over it once, twice... And what was that expression on his face?
"Zilla! We've had this discussion before!" he spun on his heel, storming off in her direction, "No. BR is not your personal plaything!"
It clicked. Loud cackles arose from the woman in question as she realized what the kid did. She honestly hadn't expected it to but it found a way. That definitely blew Xanthus's anterograde amnesia theory out the window. The kid had hope yet! That alone was worth the scolding she received about teaching it improper grammar and foul language.
- Day 28 -
❣ The Consequences of Teaching It to Use Tomes❣
After the small prank, Xanthus had deemed No. BR aware enough to begin practice with tomes(he had Zilla to thank for that). Rather than starting off with the element it was intrigued by, he handed it a wind tome. A weak one at that. Better to start small than causing a widespread fire for the sake of entertaining the seemingly emotionless puppet. The secluded area just outside the research facility they lived in was the best place for practice at the time. As No. BR improved, they could change locations as needed.
Training had been going fairly well seeing as after the first few tries, No. BR managed to conjure a whirlwind of sand and rocks easily. Were it actually human, it would have been considered a prodigy with the effortless way it dealt with spells. It put Xanthus at ease to know that when they did get around to using fire tomes, it would be able to control the flames without having to worry about any unintentional accidents.
They had been taking the day off from any kind of training or work which prompted Zilla to disappear into the city to do who knows what. That left Xanthus to look after No. BR on his own, though it seemed that was hardly necessary considering it kept to itself. Once it had begun to act more like a silent, shy, yet clever human being rather than some kind of zombie-puppet, it had taken up reading as a pass time. History and tactics, mostly, since it got no joy out of fairytales quite yet. That left his attention free for experiments.
While he was taking notes an hour or so into Zilla's absence, he'd noticed how quiet it had gotten. Not that No. BR made a ton of noise, but he realized that the occasional rustle of a page being turned or the soft sounds of its breathing hadn't been heard in some time. It would have let him know it was leaving the room in its own way should it need or want to, so he shouldn't be worried but...
Xanthus heaved a sigh as he turned around, feeling dread settle in his chest as he took in the empty room. If pulling a vanishing act turned into a habit, he was not looking forward to a future of tracking it down every time it disappeared. Briefly massaging his temples, he pushed his chair back, the scrape of the wood on wood making him cringe as he stood. One last quick glance around the room just to be sure it hadn't just squeezed itself into a corner to read, he left the room and into the hallway.
It was times like those that the man wished he had a nose like Zilla's who could sniff out every little oddity. Or so she claimed. Then the harsh, bitter scent of smoke had him rethinking that wish. The dread coiling around his chest was almost painful at that point. His pace quickened as he followed the pungent smell that grew ever stronger the further he went. The door at the end of the hallway was closed but thin streams of smoke were seeping out from the cracks and it was enough to make his eyes sting.
Xanthus shoved the door open, covering the bottom of his face with his arm to void inhaling too much smoke. From what he could see through the haze, the flames it was coming from were burning through several books. Tomes. Wind Tomes, Thunder Tomes, Dark Tomes. All aflame. No. BR was kneeling in front of them with a Fire Tome open in its lap, eyes reflecting the flickering orange flames.
Rushing forward, he stomped on the books until the flames died, grateful for the stone floor lest the entire facility ended up burning down. Xanthus whirled on the puppet still kneeling on the floor, fully prepared to chew it out until he noticed its glassy eyes. Glassy with tears. And no longer the lifeless gray he'd come to know. They were honey brown. Part of him wondered if he had left it to the fire a little longer they would have been a bold orange to mirror it.
Before much more could pass his mind on the subject, No. BR slumped to the side. Its head would have hit the stone had he not seen it coming and caught it the moment it showed signs of fainting. In its last moments of consciousness, it grasped his sleeve with an iron grip and buried its face into his chest. Xanthus had to hand it to it, it sure knew how to keep him from getting mad at it.
When Zilla returned that evening, she had given the puppet the unfortunate nickname of Pyromaniac, sealing its obsession with the perilous flames.
- Day 57 -
❣ Meeting Validar❣
The time had finally arrived. Xanthus and Zilla were finally, finally presenting No. BR to Validar. Those two months had flown by quite fast for the trio, filled with training, studying, and tests. Xanthus was sure that the kid, who had, at last, started to form physical features of its own, would learn to speak and emote properly soon. It had to if they didn't want Validar claiming it to be defective. Then they would have to start over and destroy No. BR. The thought unsettled Xanthus greatly, a sign that he'd unintentionally become fond of the puppet. He knew Zilla had as well but that wasn't going to help the little pyromaniac if the boss didn't like what he saw. But he couldn't just order it to be destroyed... Right? It had the mark.
The two mages stood on either side of No. BR as Validar examined it from all sides, occasionally requesting it to perform an action of some kind. The vessel did as it was told without hesitation and did so almost flawlessly. Xanthus watched tensely as the leader of the Grimleal continued to circle the puppet like a vulture, humming at whatever it was that crossed his mind.
"Hmph. It seems that one of our experiments actually worked this time. And it appears to hold the necessary means to hold the Fell Dragon's essence if the mark has anything to say about it. It will suit our needs. How has its training been going?"
Xanthus cleared his throat and straightened himself further, "It holds up well in battle and excels at magic. Fire magic especially."
"It is to be expected that a being made of magic would be good at channeling it. What of its speech and sense of self?"
"It has yet to utter a word and does not act on its own very often."
Validar lifted a brow at the final statement to which Zilla nervously stuffed her hands into her coat.
"It may have burned a few wind and thunder tomes while we had our backs turned a few times... But that's really all it will do by itself," she admitted quietly, "We're still trying to figure out why it likes to burn things so much."
"Aside from a few destructive tendencies, it's the perfect puppet," Xanthus assured.
Validar huffed haughtily, "I expect another status report in four weeks."
Once the man had departed, Xanthus performed another examination on No. BR to see if the meeting had done anything to it physically, mentally, or emotionally. It seemed eerily calm as he did test by test. Even still, he quietly reassured it through the entirety of it. It was only when he finished that it grabbed his sleeve. He watched it from the corner of his eye as he cleaned up his supplies, though it did nothing more than stand there.
Xanthus had no idea where Zilla had wandered off to but he wished for her presence at that moment and perhaps she could take care of whatever it needed. She did seem better at understanding its silent communication better than he did. Though from what he could tell, it just wanted to be near him, no tugging in a direction it wanted to go or what it needed and no staring at him expectantly. He could handle that. If what it wanted was his presence, then he would oblige.
- Day 61 -
❣ First Intense Emotions❣
Zilla and Xanthus were swamped with work very suddenly and they knew it was no coincidence. Validar and even Aversa had been sending in multiple tasks for them to complete since the Grimleal's leader last visited. It left them very little time for eating and sleeping, much less paying attention to No. BR. That, unfortunately, resulted in a lot more burned books and more trips to the infirmary for the child due to smoke inhalation.
But it didn't stop there. It was as if their sudden workload only fanned the flames of its obsession. It went from burning books to burning clothes and from burning clothes to burning random pieces of furniture. They were just lucky it hadn't decided to burn their beds yet but they were running out of chairs to sit in. The mages' main concern, though, was that of their little one's health. It would break out into random coughing fits from the excessive smoke it breathed in. They'd had to lock up and hide as many Fire Tomes as they could find to get them out of its reach. Of course, there were other ways to light fires and it could summon the spells even without the tomes, just much weaker. The entire facility smelled of smoke 80% of the time.
Zilla was exhausted, her usual vibrant personality subdued and Xanthus was reaching the end of his patience for the puppet. Neither had the time nor the energy to deal with it. When it had set fire to one of their main points of research, that had been the final straw. He'd given it a good scolding and sent it off to its room to remain there the remainder of the day. It had obeyed the second it was told to leave, no sign that'd it had even listened to what he'd said aside from the command.
When Zilla had gone to check up on it later that evening, she'd been surprised to find it curled in a fetal position in a corner of its scorched bedroom. Streaks of ash lined the walls and floors like someone had taken a large paintbrush and randomly painted the room. Piles of black were all that was left of a nightstand and the bookshelf that was surrounded by tinier piles as if it had burned the books one by one before attacking the larger object. It looked exactly how she would imagine a child with fire magic having a tantrum would have done.
It didn't look up when she entered the room or when she sat across from it on the floor, knees folded beneath her. No. BR looked as though it were trying to hide something with its face almost entirely obscured by the massive sleeves of its coat and legs protecting its torso. Zilla honestly didn't think about what she would say to it. She wasn't really sorry for its completely fair punishment for setting things on fire and she certainly didn't know if it was even feeling remorse for its actions.
And she really didn't expect No. BR to make the first move. Fiery, honey-colored eyes met her own green and she shocked to see such raw emotion in the previously stoic child. Tears were leaking out of its eyes which were fixed on her with a heated glare. The only coherent thought that passed through Zilla's muddled brain was, It got that glare from Xanthus, definitely. But this was the first emotion the puppet had shown, at least in front of either of the two mages. How did she deal with this? She absently wondered if Xanthus would have been better equipped to handle it but that was quickly shoved out of mind. She would handle this herself. She wasn't useless like Validar seemed to think.
"We upset you."
No. BR gave her a tiny but sharp nod.
"You upset us as well, you know. You realize burning everything in sight is not acceptable behavior. There are better ways to vent or entertain."
Hesitation. It was small but it was a start.
"I realize that this is partially our fault as well. We haven't exactly been the best guardians these past few days. I'm sorry about that... We'll try to make more time for you, but you really have to stop setting stuff on fire."
Like any stubborn child, there was obviously still a lingering bitterness but it nodded and turned away. Zilla knew it needed time to itself to cool down. She had to update Xanthus anyway and find a broom that wasn't singed to clean up the piles of ash around the facility. And then she'd have to settle in for another long night of work and suffer the effects of sleep deprivation...
- Day 63 -
It was dark, so very, very dark. And not in the sense that it was obviously night. Not in the sense that shadows covered the entirety of the massive and tall room. There were torches attached to spires, the lights of their flames flickering faintly from above that eroded the physical darkness. The darkness that she felt was that of the oppressive feeling bearing down on her and emanating from the man across the room, tall and thin, dark lightning sparking from his bony fingers.
There was another man, hair a deep blue, and a white flowing behind him as he charged forward with a sword shaped like a long teardrop. He clashed with the man of darkness, light and power radiating strongly from him. All the woman did was watch from beneath her hood as she tried to get a better angle to attack from so she wouldn't hurt the man of light. She still couldn't see his face through all the flashing and blurred movements.
Bringing a hand up, she channeled fire magic into it, eyes remaining locked on the duo. Before she could even think to release the pent up energy onto the man of darkness, he flew into the air and a ball of flaming dark magic was thrust in their direction. The shockwave of the attack was what hit her first, the burning, burning of the darkness hit next. In that moment of chaos, she discharged the built-up flames in her hand at the man. It missed. Of course, it did. He was fast and fired an electrical attack at the man of light, the force of it slamming him into one of the spires. On his knees, the man of light stabbed the blade of his sword into the stone to steady himself.
The woman's eyes jumped from the man of light to the man of darkness who was on the ground once more and charging up another lightning attack. Propelling herself forward as he launched it, she sent her own hastily summoned lightning to intercept it before it could reach the weakened man. The blinding flash of light that ensued kept her from seeing the result of the explosion at first but her vision was slowly beginning to return to her.
Red was the first color she saw and the burning hatred with a hint of intrigue in the eyes that bore that intense color. She wanted to destroy the man of darkness with evil, red eyes. She hated him. She... hated him. Yes, that was what she was feeling. Hatred and fear, and concern for the man of light. That protective feeling was overwhelming and mixed with the other feelings, it was a chaotic swirl staining her mind. She wanted to kill the dark, she wanted to keep the light safe, her light. It wasn't just protectiveness that had her feeling like that but also possessiveness. The light was hers and her friends'. It was not the dark's to stamp out.
That rage carried over into the way she fought, she poured all of her being into her magic and into the physical blows she landed on the dark. It was fighting back just as hard but she was seeing red. Everything tinted red. She had to destroy the oppressive darkness. She refused to let it win even if it was bigger and stronger while she was tired and small.
Releasing one last flaming ball of magic onto her foe, she felt her strength wane, exhaustion taking its place. She wanted to sleep off the pain and rage. It was taxing and she hated that. Watching the darkness... the man fall was not as satisfying as she thought it would be. In fact, she felt a pang of guilt hit her heart. The purple flames rose from his body but he still hadn't had enough. He just had to have the last word. He spoke, but the voice was muffled to her ears. All she knew was that she needed to move, to get the light... the man of light out of the way of the ball of electrical magic. She shoved the blue-haired man out of the way and took the hit instead.
Burning, burning, burning. Her chest burned. Fire... she could smell smoke, charred wood and flesh. The scent was sickening. Was she dying...? If she was... then she was glad she would be going down by saving the light the blue-haired man held. The heat on her skin...
Water. She sputtered and nearly choked on the liquid. Freezing! She was no longer burning but cold. Cold and wet. No. BR forced her eyes open to see what the heck was going on and saw Xanthus and Zilla standing beside her bed. The dark-haired woman was holding an empty pail, likely where the water came from. Her chest still hurt badly but she was no longer in the excruciating state of pain she had been. The feeling of burning alive.
Xanthus, seeing her conscious state, lifted a healing staff to her chest and let the gentle, soothing warmth heal the burns on her collarbone and neck. No. BR was confused, so very, very confused but she was faintly aware that part of her shirt had burned away. Not far down enough to expose her chest but enough that made her feel self-conscious. That was a new emotion. Ever since she'd first started to feel, ever since she first started to form her own body instead of that of a blank slate, a doll, she had been experiencing new and strange emotions. They confused and overwhelmed her more often than not.
She felt love, fear, anger, loneliness, peace, hatred, concern, and embarrassment. She hated it when she was constantly called 'it' and treated as an object, a tool, rather than a living breathing being. She knew who she was and what she was meant for. And she was frustrated that she was unable to communicate that. The emotions she felt at the start were muted at best but she knew they were there.
Zilla pulled out a clean set of dry and not burned clothes for No. BR as Xanthus help the white-haired girl sit up. No one said a word, neither of the adults present willing to bring up the child's actions against herself. It wasn't as if she did it on purpose, she'd been asleep when it happened and having a nightmare. She hadn't meant to give herself burns from her own flames when she thought she was being attacked in her dreams. But from taking a glance around her already normally scorched room, it was worse than usual. She'd really done a number on it.
"It's going to leave a permanent scar," Xanthus murmured, finally breaking the tense silence that had fallen, "I've done all I can."
When he moved to leave her side, No. BR grabbed his sleeve and held on tightly. She didn't want him to leave. She was scared. She didn't want him or Zilla to go. And they stayed within her reach and let her hold their hands.
- Day 68 -
Zilla had thought long and hard about the implications. She knew it was suicide. But she couldn't stand the thought of No. BR becoming a vessel for Grima. The child, now recognized as a female, was constantly looking at her brand and trying to rub it off. There was one occasion she'd rubbed it raw trying to remove it. It was a part of her. There was no way to get rid of it.
It greatly bothered the mage to have overheard a conversation between Validar and Aversa. It had been entirely on accident but if she hadn't, then she wouldn't have had that chance to save not only herself but the lives of Xanthus and No. BR as well. They had to leave, cross Ylisse's border and don new clothes and different names. They had to hide. Validar alone wouldn't be able to make another puppet for Grima to pull the strings of and he would never get his disgusting gray hands on No. BR. Not on her watch. Zilla had taken great care to stay under the radar as she planned and packed. She had yet to explain to Xanthus and didn't intend to tell No. BR until the last minute. The fewer people who knew in the long run, the better chances they had.
It was dark out, the stars were hidden behind a veil of cloud from the incoming, rare rainfall. It would hopefully cover their tracks when they left since warping wasn't an option, not with so much at stake. She couldn't be left weak or vulnerable just because of a warp or two. Zilla quietly opened the door to her partner's personal study without so much of a knock. The man glanced up from the papers in his hand with a slight roll of his eyes at her lack of manners. Nothing unusual.
"I suppose you're going to explain what it is you want after you finish your grand speech?"
Zilla had been expecting the sardonic response but it still irked her to know he likely wouldn't take her very seriously.
"We need to leave. Tonight. Now. We'll die if we stay."
Her curt answer caught the man off guard and he paused before setting down his papers to focus fully on her. His brown eyes displayed the confusion and disbelief she'd anticipated and she let him have a few seconds to let her words sink in before continuing.
"I overheard our 'bosses' talking. They're using us. Once we've played our part in supplying them with what they need, they'll kill us and take No. BR to destroy the world. That's what they really want, Xanthus. War may have been their original goal but that's not Grima's. All he wants to do is bring chaos and ruin and death. We need to leave."
"This isn't one of your games..." his tone was grave as everything clicked in his mind, "All those... What we've been creating... All those people we have taken in to be used as... And all this time, it was just for the end. Zilla, if what you're saying is indeed true, you need to take No. BR and leave. I shall remain behind to cover your tracks and destroy our research."
"But when they find out I'm gone, they'll kill you! I can't in good conscience leave you behind-!"
"I'm not giving you a choice Zilla. Go. Now."
The finality in his tone left no room for argument. With clenched fists and teary eyes, Zilla spun on her heel and stormed out of the room.
No. BR stirred from her sleep, only waking fully when her ears caught the sound of footsteps moving around her room. Her eyes blinked open, still crusty and tight from sleep and noted that Zilla was rummaging through her metal clothes chest. The child wanted to think nothing of it and go back to sleep but the quiet sniffles from her guardian gave her a moment's pause. She pulled her blanket around her shoulders to insolate herself as she crawled to the edge of her bed, catching Zilla by surprise who quickly dabbed at her eyes.
"Oh, sorry to wake you. But I guess that it's better this way. We're going to be living in Ylisse for a while... forever probably... But we're leaving shortly so I'll need your help packing the essentials."
Confusion crept into the girl's features even as she complied and left her warm bed to help. She wanted to ask why they were leaving their home and why the woman was so sad. Was Xanthus going with them? Where would they stay? Her hands trembled a little as she pulled out clothes and the few books she had left, a Fire Tome included, though she had been under strict orders not to use unless it was an emergency.
Once her small travel sack was filled, Zilla handed her a set of new clothes. A tan tank top with a very small 'V' in the neck with a matching pair of trousers. She gingerly accepted them and the woman left the room to give her the privacy to change.
- Day 75 -
Xanthus wasn't sure what he was expecting. A group of Grimleal soldiers demanding to know where his partner and creation had gone? Validar himself coming and torturing him for information? No. All he got was a normal week. Normal aside from the emptiness of the research facility. Zilla's absence was especially noticeable. She was always so loud and obnoxious, poking her nose into every little thing. And the chair that No. BR would usually occupy was bare. No white hair falling into her face as she read a book or honey eyes watching him as he did paperwork.
Dismissing himself from copying and destroying his research, the man decided a walk would be good to clear his mind. As he wandered the streets of Plegia's capital, he noticed a few Grimleal out and about. Not terribly uncommon but they looked as though they were searching for something... or someone. They must have caught on not long ago. And for once, Xanthus was glad he chose to change out of his Grimleal attire to that of a commoner. They didn't even glance at him. He was lucky to have caught a snippet of their conversation as he passed them.
"So, the mage Zilla has been found and eliminated, now we just have to find the chosen one. I still can't believe she would go and kidnap her. The woman's gone mad."
"Tch... We should be looking more towards Ylisse's borders since that was where the mage was found... We'd hav... be... er... uk... ere..."
Xanthus couldn't believe what he'd heard... He just couldn't... Zilla... couldn't possibly be dead. She'd repeated it a number of times that the only way she wanted to go out was either by age, fighting, or by her own means. And since she hadn't ever seen two of those options happening, she'd dismissively brushed it aside. At least... she'd managed to hide No. BR before her untimely demise... He could only hope that she too wasn't discovered.
Validar would later get a notice that the research facility had burned to the ground and Xanthus's body was never recovered.
Zilla didn't think she'd be found so soon after leaving. It was embarrassing, really. At least they hadn't actually caught her yet. After telling No. BR to run further into Ylisse, to find a settlement and wait for her while she got the Grimleal off their tails, she'd found herself quickly running out of places to hide for a breather. Things were looking far too bleak for her liking. She chuckled bitterly as she continued to pass tree after tree, realizing it was unlike her to be so pessimistic. Her thoughts didn't halt with the ground. It was a miracle she hadn't fallen off the sheer drop of the cliff she'd come up close and personal with all of a sudden.
"...Hm... So much for making the kid wait for me... Xanthus, I sure hope you find her otherwise she'll be all on her lonesome. And for such a resilient little thing, I doubt she can handle abandonment..."
The pounding feet of the Grimleal chasing her reached her ears. A smirk tugged at her lips as she turned to face them, the mischievous expression she was known for present even in what would be her final moments.
"Sorry, fellas! You're a little late to take the honor of killing me yourselves. No one kills, Zilla... Except for Zilla herself."
That was the last they saw of the woman before she threw herself over the edge.
The village that No. BR had stumbled upon was quiet and peaceful, mostly occupied by farmers and traveling merchants. The citizens had eyed her suspiciously when she'd first arrived but it hadn't bothered her. It wasn't as though she was staying for long, just until Zilla found her. Then they would leave to find a new home and wait for Xanthus.
The girl had found a nice fountain with a few benches surrounding it to wait by. She pulled out a history book to study to distract herself from the present urge to set the flammable seats on fire. That really wouldn't be very good on her image... whatever that meant. She'd head Xanthus say it a lot to Zilla whenever she did something foolish. Ylisse was much nicer than she thought it would be. She knew she'd been close to her current location before with Zilla as she'd heard Xanthus mention but those early days were hazy a best. She wondered absently if the three of them could go relax out in the fields someday instead of sealed up in some stuffy research facility.
The day continued to drag on, afternoon and evening passing by slowly. There was still no sign of her female guardian. No. BR had already read all of her books twice by the time she could hardly see the words on the pages anymore. The wary looks she'd received when she first arrived had slowly morphed into ones of pity as they realized how lost she looked after the first several hours had passed. Her hoped waned further when the dim evening sky became dark enough to see the stars.
Where was Zilla? Why hadn't she found her yet? Did something happen to her? She never did say how long she expected to be gone but... No. BR shivered and buried herself deeper in her coat. She wasn't used to being outside after dark and certainly didn't think it'd be so cold. The darkness in her dreams was always painfully hot but she supposed that burning herself in her sleep would make her dreams think it was hot. But in reality, darkness was cold. It showed how little she truly knew.
There so very little people out at that point, having retired to their homes for the night. The few that lingered were older and seemed to be finishing up their work. What she wouldn't give for warmth and food... and her guardians' comforting presence. She wasn't used to being without their protection, they had always been there. The loneliness soon gave way to fear and exhaustion. It was late and cold and dark. She hated the dark. She hated being alone. She wanted Zilla. She wanted Xanthus. Where were they? Why weren't they there with her?
Tears trickled down her faced as another shiver tore through her body. She was so cold, scared, and oh so lonely...
- Day 77 -
No. BR had taken to wandering after finally coming to terms that neither of her guardians was coming for her, more than likely having perished at the hands of the Grimleal. She was hungry and thirsty as she hadn't eaten in days. Zilla had all the money and supplies leaving the child with only a sword, tome, and a few books. Grief had been consistently battering her mind and heart, resulting in her usual silence being broken by occasional sobs and whimpers.
A sudden weakness hit her while she was walking through a green field, likely from a lack of everything. She was extremely dehydrated from not drinking and the number of tears she'd spilled. Black swarmed her vision so suddenly that she stumbled, her face feeling so overwhelmingly hot. She desperately tried to blink the darkness away, terrified at the thought of being unable to see. Her head was in excruciating pain and voices whispered loudly in her ear. One voice, in particular, standing out boldly among-
"Chrom... We have to do something."
"What do propose we do?"
"I-I don't know!"
The girl blearily opened her eyes, taking in the sight of both a man she was sure she'd seen somewhere before and a blonde-haired girl. The man, blue hair and eyes, Chrom as the girl had called him, noticed her conscious state first, the girl barely a second after. She was afraid even if their eyes betrayed nothing but a kind warmth. She wanted something... home... familial love... yes. She felt so childish, wanting to just curl up and cry until they left her alone. Of course, she didn't know why...
"I see you're awake now," Chrom said softly, likely noticing the way she curled in on herself more rather than trying to stand.
The blonde girl smiled brightly, "Hey, there...!"
"There are better places to take a nap than on the ground, you know. Give me your hand."
The outstretched hand offered to her made her want to flinch away, still wanting to hide and grieve. The reason was lost to her but she could feel the pain resonating in her heart. The man was being patient, though, and he had given her an order. He didn't ask. He told her. She had to obey. It was instinctive.
She lifted her trembling right hand, with a familiar mark on the back of it, and placed it in the man's larger, gloved one. He was gentle in the way he pulled her to her feet and caught her when a wave of dizziness hit her still protesting body at the motion. She'd pulled away as soon as she wasn't in danger of falling over, shrinking away from the two, having noticed the glare on the third person in their company.
"Are you all right?" Chrom asked, concern seeping into his voice.
The white-haired child... How old was she?... nodded wordlessly as she found that her voice was caught in her throat.
"Tell me, what's your name? What brings you here?"
When she reached for an answer in her mind, she found only a blank space where what should have been her designation or at the very least a reason she had been asleep in the middle of a field. Furrowing her brow in concentration to find anything she could, she couldn't get anything to come to mind. Only a headache forming behind her eyes to which she gently massaged her temples.
The blonde girl seemed to notice her discomfort and lifted a healing staff. The green light emitting from it stirred the emptiness in her mind further at how familiar it was. She held her concentration, determined to find what was missing and only coming out of it by the brash tone of the armored, brown-haired man.
"It is rude to ignore a question asked to you. Who are you and why are you here?"
"Frederick, please, give her a chance to gather her thoughts. She doesn't look like she's feeling well."
Irritation briefly joined her confusion before vanishing again. She hated that so much didn't make sense! Chrom reminded her of someone! No, she needed to answer them. Designation... Designation... No.?
"...No... designation...? Where... am... I...?"
She cringed at how quiet and raspy her voice was, from disuse perhaps? All she knew was that her throat was dry and painful. The blonde-haired girl startled her out of her head and into stumbling back a bit at the suddenly raised volume.
"Hey, I've heard of this! It's called amnesia!"
Frederick scoffed, "It's called a load of pegasus dung! We're to expect you don't even know your own name?"
That was fine, the white-haired girl didn't care for their opinion. She just wanted to leave. She wasn't really looking for their approval, just to avoid any unnecessary conflict. Whether they believed her or not, she really didn't remember anything. All she felt were echoes of pain from before she forgot. But they were just that. Echoes. She'd get over it... eventually.
Chrom eyed her, pity definitely present in them, "But what if is true, Frederick? She looks younger than Lissa. We can't just leave her here alone and confused. What sort of Shepherds would we be then?"
"Just the same, milord. I must emphasize caution. 'Twould not do to let a wolf into our flock."
"Right then, we'll take her back to town and sort this out there."
The girl's face twisted in a childish scowl at their words. Not only were they acting like she wasn't standing right there, but they were also taking her captive! That just wasn't fair! She had done nothing wrong! ...That she could remember. She felt the urge stamp her foot down and say 'no' but that would just be proving them that she was however young they thought she was. Why that offended her, she didn't know. It wasn't like she knew her age. For all she knew, she really was just a child. But she didn't feel like one per se.
She settled for clenching her fists and fighting back tears of frustration. Feeling self-conscious of her immature emotions, she pulled her large hood over her head to hide as the trio began to lead her through the grassy fields. The blonde noticed her tugging the hood over her eyes.
"Hey, don't worry! You'll be free to go once we establish you're not an enemy of Ylisse!"
Frederick's voice intruding on their conversation startled her again, "You've never heard of the halidom? Ha! Someone pay this actor. She plays quite the fool! The furrowed brow is especially convincing..."
Hey, now... That's just plain rude...
"Frederick, please," Chrom stressed before turning to her as they walked on, "This land is known as the Halidom of Ylisse. Our ruler, Emmeryn, is called the exalt. I suppose proper introductions are in order... My name is Chrom. The delicate one here is my little sister, Lissa."
Lissa huffed, shooting a sharp glare at her brother, "I am not delicate! Hmph! Ignore my brother, please. He can be a bit thick sometimes."
A bitter side of the white-haired girl agreed whole-heartedly but she knew that was a bit unfair...
"But you're lucky the Shepherds found you. Brigands would have been a rude awakening!"
"And that's Frederick the Wary."
The man bowed, "A title I shall wear with pride. At least one of us should keep an appropriate level of caution. I have every wish to trust you stranger but my station mandates otherwise."
She nodded slowly, ducking her head after the second one, wishing she could supply them a designation...
"No. BR, you need to stop setting things on fire, honestly!"
"You need to run, No. BR. Get as far away from here as possible! I will draw them away."
No. BR... my designation...? No. BR... RB .on... Rbon... Robin...
"Hey, you okay?"
Lissa's voice had her flinching away, startled out of her first memory. Blinking, No. BR... no... Robin looked up at the people who found her.
The bright smile returned to Lissa's face, "Oh! You remembered your name?!"
Chrom hummed thoughtfully, "Robin? Is that foreign? ...Ah, well. We can discuss it later when we're in town."
Only a few minutes into the walk and Robin was already getting used to her body. It was rather strange. She felt as though something wasn't quite right inside her. She couldn't speak as fluidly as her three... captors? Companions? She didn't know, nor really care anymore. Strange indeed. But she had to wonder...
Why was she so different?