Receiving a summons early in the morning from King Garon was not unheard of, but this was the first time Iago had ever been woken up to it. He was by no means a late sleeper - there was far too much to be done around the castle, after all, and with the war going on he couldn’t afford to waste any more hours asleep than he absolutely required - so he’d nearly taken the poor soldier’s head off when he’d been awoken so rudely.
He knew better than to keep King Garon waiting, so he had hurriedly dressed and readied himself, even though missing out on nearly twenty minutes of sleep was almost unthinkable. It would undoubtedly set his day off on the wrong foot, and judging from how the soldiers and maids practically jumped out of his path, he probably looked just as irritated as he felt.
Not that he was irritated with the king, of course. No, that wouldn’t do. He was just supremely mad at that soldier he’d nearly shredded to pieces with Excalibur. Unfortunately, he’d missed his target, and the soldier had fled in terror. What a letdown. Starting the day off with a little bloodshed might have made him feel a little better.
Anyway, he arrived in front of the door to the throne room, and took a moment to prepare himself, checking his hair and mask, then straightening his posture before knocking.
He didn’t have to wait long to hear King Garon’s laughter from within, which was a regular occurrence by now. Iago refrained from sighing, though he wanted to. He had no doubts that he’d enter to find the king all alone again, laughing at the walls or perhaps that hideous sculpture in the ceiling. Well, whatever. It didn’t particularly trouble Iago any. If their king was slipping - not that he was saying the king was slipping, of course - then that would only benefit him in the long run. Well, as long as those uppity brats of his didn’t get any ideas. The last thing he wanted to deal with was a coup.
“Enter,” King Garon’s voice echoed from within, back to sounding as displeased with the world as usual.
Iago swept in and once he’d gotten close enough to the throne, he ducked his head in a bow. Only the utmost respect was reserved for King Garon, and he didn’t hesitate to show it now. Not that he bowed for all that long, since he wasn’t here to waste his time, and King Garon wouldn’t appreciate the grandiose show when he clearly had something in mind. “Good morning, Your Majesty. What can I help you with today?” That was Iago for “why did you wake me up so early, you absolute asshole” but he made sure the words contained just the right amount of respect and none of the venom he would have gladly spit at anyone else.
“Iago,” King Garon’s voice rumbled as he studied his ever-loyal servant, “I have new orders for you.”
Great, new orders. Iago thought sarcastically. It wouldn’t be the first time King Garon had changed his mind and sent Iago off running to do something any other commander could do. Perhaps he should be more optimistic, though. King Garon was trusting him with Corrin’s suffering, so surely he wouldn’t send Iago off on any more pointless missions—
“You are to join Corrin’s forces and keep an eye on her.”
He didn’t respond right away, simply because he thought there’d be more to it than that. “Your Majesty?” He asked, trying not to sound as utterly baffled as he actually was.
“Do I need to repeat myself?” King Garon asked, his brow creasing in frustration.
Iago knew better than to ask him to, even though he was fairly sure he’d misheard that. There was simply no way King Garon was asking him to do something so reckless and stupid, not to mention completely pointless. “Your Majesty, I have the means of keeping an eye on Lady Corrin from here. I do not understand why—”
“Are you questioning my orders?” That sounded like genuine anger.
“No! No, of course not. I am merely confused why my talents are not better suited to guard you, my king.”
That seemed to have smoothed things over well enough for the time being; King Garon was back to looking mildly displeased, though that was his usual expression. “I did not expect you to understand, Iago.” Wow, rude. “I ask this of you because we cannot always keep an eye on Corrin. I have no doubts that she is up to something, and I want to know what it is.”
“Of course. A traitor like her could very easily have some other plans in the works.” Iago nodded.
“Pinpoint her location and join her army. I expect reports from you whenever you are able. Do not fail me, Iago. Should her schemes endanger me or Nohr, I trust you will do what you must.”
That sounded like free reign to kill Corrin, and Iago was almost happy to hear it. Almost. He would have been happier if he’d been given that freedom earlier and didn’t have to go traipsing off to Hoshido to attempt to locate the little princess, but he could tolerate this for now. “Of course, Your Majesty. I will do everything in my power to keep you - and Nohr - safe from harm.”
“One last thing. You are to go alone.”
Okay, this was definitely sounding more like a death sentence than he’d like, so Iago once again had to question his orders, “Your Majesty, would it not make more sense to bring an army to assist her?”
“No.” King Garon once again looked frustrated, like he couldn’t possibly understand why Iago wasn’t reading his mind and understanding exactly what he was thinking. “You are to join with her, not launch an attack. I will lead our armies to victory over Hoshido, but you are to keep an eye on her.”
So in other words, he was once again being given tasks anyone else could carry out. Why exactly was King Garon so dead-set on this when he could send someone else? Sure, they wouldn’t be able to relay messages back to him quickly, but if he was going to join them in Hoshido, why was this necessary? Iago (wisely) kept his mouth shut and his concerns quiet, and merely bowed to signify his understanding and acceptance of the mission. It wasn’t like he had any choice, anyway.
“You’re dismissed.” King Garon turned his attention upwards, back to that bizarre god of his.
Iago took his leave without any further words. He was not looking forward to making his way to Hoshido alone. With his magic, he could at least summon Faceless, though they wouldn’t exactly be useful for protecting him… Well, he’d figure it out when he left. He had no doubts that King Garon wanted him out of the castle as soon as possible, so he’d need to spend some time determining Corrin’s exact location before he could take off.
What a hassle.
It had taken Iago longer to find Corrin’s location than he would ever care to admit. She hadn’t taken the route King Garon had assumed she would - the easiest route, though it would have undoubtedly put her forces in the way of more fights - it seemed she had taken a longer and more roundabout route, putting her through Izumo. It wasn’t a country Iago knew much about (it wasn’t as though he had the luxury of being able to travel, and it wasn’t like he had time to spend reading about countries that were of no importance to the war), but if his estimations were right, he’d be able to meet up with Corrin’s forces shortly after they left Izumo’s borders. Even a gifted mage like himself could only use spells to travel so far before he’d have to walk, and unfortunately, that meant spending the better part of three days in the damned woods.
Izumo was peaceful, he’d give it that. His trip was surprisingly not interrupted by bandits or rogue Hoshidans seeking to spill Nohrian blood, but that meant it was exceptionally boring. By evening on the third day, he was beginning to think that a fight or two would be preferable to staring at the scenery. He wasn’t exactly cut out for long marches through the forest, and moving on his own meant that he was expected to get there faster than he would have with an army at his back.
Not to mention the fact that he’d have to show up alone, and hope Corrin and her siblings would be generous enough to accept him with open arms and without weapons at the ready. King Garon was vastly underestimating how much Xander and Leo hated him.
But all of those concerns would have to wait, because Iago had finally reached the point where Corrin’s army should have been… only to find nothing.
There were signs an army had been here; there were footprints that he’d followed for quite some time and they all led here, but there was nothing here. This clearing would have been large enough for them to set up camp, and it looked like they had milled about here for awhile, but there was nothing there.
Iago’s eyes narrowed as he studied the clearing. No, there simply must be more to this. A few simple spells later and he had his answer: the army had simply disappeared - they’d walked into some sort of portal.
There was only a fragment of its power left behind, barely visible to the naked eye and certainly something that someone without his magical prowess would have missed, but he hadn’t missed it and now he was left with a choice. He could risk everything and step into that small glowing spot and hope it took him wherever Corrin and her unit had gone, or he could wait here and hope they return. It would make more sense for them to return, but what if this portal was able to move them all elsewhere? He could be waiting for weeks and never see them! Trying to track them down again would just be draining, and it wasn’t something he wanted to do while he was out here in the open with no one to guard his back. There might not be Hoshidans around, but that didn’t mean none would find their way here.
“Fine,” Iago snarled to himself. Of all the ridiculous things he’d ever been forced to do to claw his way up to his current position, this one had to be the most dangerous. Stepping into a magical anomaly like that and hoping it would take him where he needed to go… Well, at least no one could say he didn’t try hard enough for King Garon.
So he entered the portal, spellbook clutched tightly in hand as he prepared for the worst, only to find himself standing in a clearing. There was a building not all that far away that looked Nohrian in structure, but given the pink petals floating gently from the trees, it seemed there were Hoshidan influences here. It was almost bizarre to see the dark, towering Nohrian architecture against a peaceful Hoshidan backdrop.
He didn’t have time to marvel at it for long though, instead he was greeted by a flying… thing. “Who are you?” The thing asked. “How did you find this place?” The voice sounded feminine and almost panicked, and even though Iago wanted to fling a spell at it, he managed to keep his composure.
“Please forgive me for intruding,” He said, forcing the words out through a tight-lipped smile, “my name is Iago, and I’ve come in search of Lady Corrin.”
“Iago?” The thing - was it some kind of bird? - asked, humming to itself in thought. “Oh, I’ve heard of you. I’ll let Lady Corrin know you’re here.” And then it simply… floated off somehow. Despite not having wings, or anything to float with. Was the ball it was sitting atop of magical?
Pondering such ridiculous mysteries would have to wait (or better yet, he could just forget about this and move on with his life), for Iago didn’t even get to take a step before he was being yelled at. “You! What are you doing here?”
Ah yes, he recognized that voice. “Lord Leo,” Iago greeted him as calmly as he could manage, ducking his head just slightly in a bow, though it wasn’t low enough to expose the back of his neck. “I’m here on King Garon’s orders.” There was no sense lying about it. They’d all be able to see through it in a heartbeat anyway.
Leo was without his horse or even his precious tome, but he looked like he was ready to pick a fight anyway. What did he plan to do, to try to punch Iago? Admittedly that probably would hurt, given Leo’s gauntlets and Iago’s lack of defense, but it’s not like he’d let Leo get close enough to try it in the first place. Though on the other hand, injuring Leo here would only serve to irritate the others, and Xander was surely among them…
“Father’s orders?” Leo’s words interrupted his thoughts. “How did he know to send you here?”
“He didn’t. I found this place on my own.” Iago could never resist the opportunity to brag.
The youngest prince looked irritated at that, but he didn’t pursue it any further. “Surely you don’t think our sister will allow you to stay?”
“I don’t recall saying you had much of a choice in the matter, milord.” Iago replied, all smiles and words dripping with poison.
Thankfully(?), Corrin arrived just then, her sword at her side and a frown on her face. “Leo,” She stated warningly before turning her attention to Iago. “You’ve come on Father’s orders?” She asked, as though she really needed the clarification.
Iago gave her the same bow - which really couldn’t be classified as a bow since it was utterly lacking in any sort of respect whatsoever, but it was proper enough to pass without risk of getting his head lopped off. “Yes, Lady Corrin. I was instructed to assist you.”
“To keep an eye on us.” Leo translated.
“I see,” Corrin said. She was still frowning, and perhaps it was just his imagination, but she almost looked worried. Oh yes, the little traitor was hiding something all right, it would just be a matter of time before he found out what. “Very well. Iago, you may remain with us.”
“What?” The gasp from her younger brother was more satisfying than the words, and Leo turned to her quickly. “Corrin, think about this; this is—”
Corrin interrupted him. “I know, Leo. It’s okay.” She smiled at him. It was the sort of smile that might have been genuine and apologizing, but coming from her he could only imagine there was more to it. “Please allow me to show you to your room, Iago.”
“I have a question for you first, milady.” Iago held up a hand to keep her from leaving. “What is this place?”
“Oh, that’s… kind of a long story. Come with me, I’ll explain it as we go.”
It turned out that it wasn’t a long story so much as it was an unbelievable one. The Astral Plane, a place removed from the world itself, where time passed differently and where Corrin’s army retreated after battle to rest and relax. If he weren’t standing here, he would never have believed it. It was difficult enough to believe even though he was seeing it.
The room Corrin had escorted him to was mostly empty, with only a bed, a desk, and a chair in it. She had apologized for the barren room, but had said he was free to furnish it however he wanted, as though he was actually going to spend time in this place and gods forbid, long enough to actually want to outfit it. He had (not so politely) thanked her and had been left to his own devices, undoubtedly so she could go warn all her little cohorts so they could keep their mouths shut about whatever plans she had in motion. Not that it would matter, they did have Elise among them, and if anyone was going to open their mouths and reveal everything, it was certainly the youngest princess.
He was perfectly fine being left alone for now. He had to report to King Garon, after all. It wasn’t a particularly difficult spell to open a channel to the castle, and it was one he had used numerous times without any sort of drain or difficulty, but trying it now produced no results. He attempted a few more times, but accessing any of his magic seemed completely off the table. He couldn’t even summon a single Faceless!
Iago stormed out of the room in a huff, just as irritated as he’d been days ago when he’d nearly killed a man for waking him up too early. He certainly could shred some of Corrin’s army to pieces with his tome, but that would be more of a hassle than it was worth, and it wouldn’t solve any of his problems.
The first familiar face he stumbled on just so happened to be Leo, which was both a blessing and a curse. It was certainly better than finding Xander or Camilla, but the only conclusion he could draw was that Leo was trying to keep an eye on him. He wasn’t doing his job very well, but that was more or less expected of the youngest prince. He wasn’t anywhere near as clever as he thought he was, after all. “Lord Leo,” Iago greeted him with a smile anyway, “I have a question for you.”
“Make it quick, I’m in a hurry.” Leo replied, probably to make it sound as though he was actually doing something other than following Iago around.
“Does this place block the use of magic?” It was perhaps a bit too blunt of a question, but he saw no reason to try to work his way around to it. If anyone was going to guess what he was up to, it was Leo. He was the only halfway competent mage among the Nohrian royals here.
Leo’s brows knitted together. He was probably trying to work out exactly what Iago had been trying to do. “I don’t see why you’d need to use your magic here.” How rude. It wasn’t as though illusory magic was all that terrible. “But yes, this place is Corrin’s realm, and dictated by her. Magic like that won’t work here.”
That implied that some other kinds of magic would work, but if it was blocking his spells then there really wasn’t anything he could do. “Hmm, I see.” He bowed again, just as stiff as before. “Thank you, milord. I appreciate the information.”
“Of course.” Leo turned on his heel and wandered off, only to be ambushed by his retainers about five steps out of earshot. Iago didn’t wait around to see whatever ridiculous antics Leo’s equally ridiculous retainers were going to get up to; it wasn’t something he had any reason to care about.
It was frustrating to learn that his magic simply wouldn’t work here, and it meant that he wouldn’t be able to get in contact with King Garon until they returned to the other world. It would be difficult to find time to contact the king while Corrin’s army was battling, but considering his abilities as a mage, it wasn’t like he’d be on the front lines anyway.
With nothing better to do, Iago decided to explore the castle and the courtyard. He didn’t particularly care for this world, but it was still daylight and there was no sense in staying in a nearly-empty room for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, there wasn’t much to hold his interest here; there were some small shops set up in the courtyard, but nothing important, or useful in helping him determine just what Corrin was up to. In fact, the entire thing was almost as boring as that nearly empty room of his.
Well, maybe “boring” wasn’t exactly the right word to use, considering the fact that he drew stares wherever he went. He spotted Nohrian soldiers and maids, as well as the princes and princesses, and all of them watched him warily. So perhaps the outing wasn’t really boring so much as it was a bit unnerving. Not that he’d ever admit that, of course. It felt like he was constantly being sized up, as though any of them would strike at any moment. Perhaps it was only Corrin’s word that kept him safe - or maybe they were just waiting for the order to tear him apart.
Hopefully he wouldn’t have to deal with this for long.
The sun was only just starting to set when he finally gave up and returned to the room Corrin had declared was his. At least, that was the plan, until the door next to his swung open suddenly, slamming directly into his side.
“Oh gosh, I’m so, so sorry about that! Are you okay?”
It took Iago a moment to recover from the hit (his defenses were really low, okay) but he eventually managed to pull his hands from his side where the doorknob had hit to lay into the unfortunate individual. “Just who do you think you are, injuring me like that—”
He paused when he finally got a good look at the other man. He was a bit shorter than Iago, with shoulder-length white hair parted in the center. He was almost ethereal in his beauty, but that wasn’t the part Iago was stuck on. It was his clothes. “A Hoshidan, here?” He had left his tome in his room, but he reached for it anyway without thinking.
“Oh no, no, no, no!” The man laughed, holding up a hand. “I’m not Hoshidan! I am Izana. Yes, the Izana!”
It took a moment for the name to register. “The Archduke of Izumo?”
“Yes!” Lord Izana pressed his hands together and smiled. “And you must be the newcomer, Iago, correct?”
“I… Yes.” He replied, though Lord Izana’s complete lack of caution and wary staring was a bit strange given everything he had experienced today. “What are you doing here?”
“Oh, I decided to join Corrin! Such a charming princess, that one! She has the most lovely hot springs here, have you tried it out yet?”
Iago honestly wasn’t sure what to make of any of that. Lord Izana’s demeanor and remarkably laid-back tone were baffling enough, but coupled with the complete lack of wariness was just confusing. Was the Archduke of Izumo unbothered by the affairs of Nohr? Did he not realize? Was he just an idiot? Honestly, that last one seemed the most likely. “I haven’t, no.” He paused, then realized he hadn’t been using the proper title or respectful address at all, and quickly bowed his head. “My apologies, Your Grace. I hadn’t meant to get in your way.”
Lord Izana tipped his head a bit, studying Iago for a moment before laughing and waving a hand as if to dismiss it entirely. “No, no, don’t be silly! I’m the one that hit you with a door, after all!”
That was certainly true, and his side was still stinging from the impact. “No, it was my fault. I shouldn’t have gotten in your way, sir.”
The Archduke rolled his eyes at that and waved his hand again. “Please, please! There’s no need to be so formal here! We’re all Corrin’s friends here, there’s no sense in bothering with all those titles and stuff!”
Honestly, Iago wasn’t sure which part of that was the worst, considering him one of Corrin’s friends or hearing the Archduke dismiss something as important as proper address as “stuff”. It was so baffling, he was tempted just to leave the conversation without being dismissed, but to do that would surely irritate the (very strange) man.
“Here, allow me to make it up to you! Come with me, the hot springs are so wonderful at this time of day! It’s my own personal time, you see; Corrin’s been so nice to gift me with this time all to myself!”
Okay, so now the absolutely bizarre Archduke was inviting him to the baths, what was the polite way to decline such a forward invitation... “Is this something you often do in Izumo?” He blurted out instead, which he absolutely could have kicked himself for. All these years of being polite and learning how to suck up to royals, and here he was blowing it on the most bafflingly blasé ruler he’d ever met.
“Oh!” Lord Izana gasped, bringing a hand to his mouth. “That’s right, you aren’t familiar with the baths, are you? Most of you Nohrians aren’t, but that’s okay! You just wear a towel and hang out in there and it’s great! C’mon, let’s go—”
“No,” He came down on the refusal a bit too hard, and quickly tried to amend it. “No thank you, Your Grace. I’m afraid I’m a bit busy at the moment. I wouldn’t want to take away from your alone time either.” Gods, saying it like that made it sound worse.
Lord Izana pouted - yes, pouted, just like Elise did when she didn’t get her way and she thought she’d change her siblings’ minds by puffing out her cheeks and looking cute. It rarely worked. Did Lord Izana realize how childish he looked? “Well, I guess we’ll have to go at some other point. Don’t forget, Iago! I certainly won’t!” With that, he laughed and took his leave, waving cheerfully as he departed.
The pain in his side was mostly forgotten after that absolutely bizarre encounter. Were all the people of Izumo like that? Gods, what had he gotten himself into…
Well, it’s not like it mattered all that much. He probably wouldn’t see the Archduke all that often anyway.
Thankfully, Iago did not have to suffer through the crippling boredom and distrustful stares for long. Well, okay, he had to deal with those in the other world as well, but luckily, Corrin saw fit to return them all to their world the next morning. It was later than Iago would have liked, but it gave the army enough time to eat and prepare.
The kitchen and dining hall were large enough to comfortably house the whole army, which made sense when Corrin gathered them all together in the morning. Staggering mealtimes would have made more sense to him, but Corrin certainly wasn’t as intelligent so it was understandable that she would do something this stupid.
Iago was lucky enough to find a table in a dimly-lit corner and most of the army had the sense to leave him alone. He flipped through the pages of one of his tomes as he ate, not that he particularly needed to study the contents of course. He had long since memorized everything he needed to know about his own magic. Still, it was something to do, and anything was better than meeting those distrustful and wary stares.
Not that he was intimidated, of course. He was second only to King Garon and would never be intimidated by the stares of anyone beneath his station. It was just rude that they insisted staring at him like he was some animal being kept on display. That’s all.
His alone time was cut short by quiet footsteps and a familiar voice speaking up, “Do you mind if I join you?”
He glanced up as if to confirm that he’d heard right, though he really didn’t need to bother. There was only one person who could be that quiet when approaching, and it was because she (still) wasn’t wearing shoes. “Lady Corrin,” He greeted her and ducked his head slightly in what was probably acceptable as a bow from his seated position, “please, feel free.”
There wasn’t a polite way to shoo her away, not when she was quite possibly the only thing keeping him from being brutally murdered by Leo or Xander. Or Camilla. Or any of their retainers. Or any of Corrin’s retainers. Or anyone at all here, really. So he relented, and resisted the urge to sigh as she sat her tray down and sat across from him.
For a blessed moment, there was peace. She ate, he picked at his food and continued flipping through the tome.
And then - naturally - Corrin broke the silence because she always had to prove how much of a pain she was. “I was wondering if you could help me with something.”
“That depends on what it is, milady.”
He studied her face intently, trying to find an indication of what she was about to ask. The princess’ eyes were still on her food, though she was no longer shoveling it in her face. “You have a lot more battle experience than I do.” She said. It sounded like she was trying to lead into something else, but she just let the statement hang in the air for entirely too long.
So he refrained from sighing, but attempted to respond anyway in the hopes that she’d get somewhere with that. “Yes, I have. I have served as Nohr’s tactician for years now.” That was technically true. Technically. He wasn’t the only tactician, and any of the other royals would have corrected him in a heartbeat.
But Corrin either didn’t know that or didn’t care, because she nodded. “I’m a little nervous about our battle formation.” She said instead.
“Oh?” He raised his one visible eyebrow. He wasn’t surprised to hear that, because King Garon had apparently seen fit to let this sheltered girl lead an entire army, and for some reason none of her more experienced siblings had taken over when they had joined forces with her. He would have expected Xander to lead things, not the princess who was locked away in a fortress and almost forgotten about.
She nodded. “Yes. To be honest, I’m not really sure how to maneuver so many people on the battlefield. Can you help look over some of my formations?”
Iago narrowed his eyes. There was definitely an angle here. What was she playing at? Surely she knew she couldn’t trust him with anything; surely she knew he was here to keep an eye out for King Garon. So why would she willingly offer up anything, much less her battle strategies? He could easily ruin them, create openings that an experienced commander would tear apart in an instant. What was she playing at?
“I suppose,” He answered carefully, then realized how disrespectful that sounded and ducked his head in a slight bow again. “My apologies, milady, you caught me off-guard. I would be honored to assist you.”
Her expression was unreadable. It wasn’t blank, but it was difficult to make out what emotions flickered across her features before she settled into a smile. “Thank you, Iago. I’ll bring them by sometime soon.”
Sometime soon. He really would have to return to this strange world and deal with Corrin and her lackeys watching his every move here. Ugh, what a pain. But Iago let none of that show in his carefully-composed expression, and simply remained silent, even as she launched into an (unneeded) explanation about “deeprealms” or something. He had stopped paying attention.
Eventually, Corrin led them out to the courtyard, where that strange floating creature opened up a portal for the army to return to their world. He decided to stop questioning how that thing had such power or what it was or why any of this was happening. It was probably for the best.
Iago had never been so pleased to see the mostly-unfamiliar landscapes of Izumo. As he had predicted, they were right on the border and would be in Hoshidan territory shortly. The marching was going to be a pain, but at least moving with an army meant he wouldn’t have to push himself too hard. They could only go as fast as the slowest unit, and considering that there were a couple of Knights, it was definitely going to be slow going. He wouldn’t be able to communicate with King Garon until he had some time to himself, but that wouldn’t be much of a problem. King Garon would probably be expecting a report from him tonight, so hopefully he’d get some time to check in before that.
While he was lost in thought, he hadn’t noticed a certain someone had fallen in beside him as they marched. “Hiya!” A familiar voice greeted, and Iago felt the icy claws of fear rip through him.
“Good morning, Your Grace,” He replied as evenly as he could manage, trying not to let despair color his words. “I hadn’t realized you were coming with us.”
“Well, duh,” Lord Izana rolled his eyes. “I’m a part of Corrin’s army, and I’m here to support her! She wants to bring peace to the world, isn’t that a lovely idea?”
Come to think of it, he had seen Lord Izana flitting around the dining hall, chatting it up with almost every person there. Perhaps it wasn’t so surprising to find he’d come along with them. His words - his talk of peace - made Iago want to roll his eyes and it was a struggle not to. “Your Grace, I don’t believe this topic is something we should—”
“She might be able to do it, too!” Lord Izana continued as if Iago hadn’t spoken. “She’s got the Yato, that’s a pretty good sign that she’s on the right path!”
Right, her strange Hoshidan blade. What did that have to do with bringing peace? “Right now we should be focusing on winning the war for King Garon—”
“Oh, of course,” The Archduke waved a hand, and Iago honestly wasn’t sure if it was in response to his words or if the Archduke just wasn’t listening at all. Being dismissed like that was beyond frustrating. “It’ll be nice once this is all over. Izumo is a nation of peace, after all, so I can get back to focusing on the important things! Like banquets!”
Was this man actually the Archduke or just some hideous parody that they were allowing to remain here for some reason? Iago couldn’t tell, and Lord Izana’s words were irritating him. Every single time the Archduke opened his mouth, he wanted to forcibly shut it with a spell. “Why did you choose to join Lady Corrin, then?” He asked, his words nowhere near as tempered as they should have been when talking to a man in the Archduke’s position.
“Weeeeeell,” He hummed, dragging the word out for far too long before continuing, “Corrin was ever so nice to me after that mess with that mage, Zola. She saved me, you know! I’d been in that dingy old cell for so long, my hair was starting to go flat!”
That caught Iago’s attention quickly. “Zola?” He recognized the name; Zola was skilled in illusory arts as well, though nowhere near as great as Iago himself. The mage had been trying to earn favor for nearly as long as Iago, though he’d never been particularly successful. They’d run into each other a few times. It had never been anything significant. Zola wasn’t worth his time or notice. “What happened, exactly?”
Lord Izana started in on a long and rambling story that Iago was half-convinced was made up. Zola, using his magic to pretend to be Lord Izana? Hosting a banquet where the Hoshidan royals and the Nohrian ones were at peace and no one died? Sounded fake. But Lord Izana spoke with such sincerity and profound belief in what his words that Iago had to wonder if the man had been drugged or something. Maybe all of that was an illusion cast by Zola. He’d have to talk to Elise or someone to see if he could get any more information on the story. It was ridiculous, but letting Lord Izana talk without much input seemed to be the correct way to handle things.
“You know, you’re a really good listener!” The Archduke smiled at him. It was the same open and gentle sort of smile he’d seen on Corrin’s face, the kind that almost made him wonder if it was genuine. “I guess I did get a little sidetracked by that bit about the prison food, but it was terrible! How can they expect anyone to eat that?”
“I’m sure it was a dreadful experience, Your Grace.”
“What did I tell you about being so formal?” Lord Izana huffed. “You can’t constantly be calling me ‘Your Grace’ even in battle! We’re equals here!”
No we aren’t, and we never will be. Iago wanted to snap, but he held himself back, as he always did. Leave it to nobility to not realize that the gap between them was massive and insurmountable. Even now it angered him like nothing else could. “I find it is always important to respect those in higher positions.”
“See? What a bore. I’m sure you’d have more fun if you weren’t bothering with that all the time!”
Probably not, he’d be very dead after trying that on King Garon. But once again he held his tongue, and let Lord Izana talk himself in circles until he was going on and on about his Best Hair awards. It was inane and pointless, but infinitely better than the previous topic.
It was only as Lord Izana had moved to talking about his third victory in the Best Hair contest (Iago was still lost as to why anyone was holding these or why anyone cared about the winners in the first place) that they were interrupted. The army came to a standstill, and Corrin drew their attention. “Everyone! We’ve decided we’re going to take a different path to approach the Hoshidan capital.”
Of course they were. Why would they do anything sane. Corrin continued, “We’ll hopefully avoid having to battle the Hoshidan troops if we take this route. However, we may run into the kitsune, who could be dangerous. Everyone please remain on guard and look out for one another. We need to stay close so we don’t get separated.”
That didn’t really mean anything to Iago. Whether it was Hoshidan soldiers or whatever these “kitsune” were, he’d cut down anyone who stood in the way of King Garon’s victory. He must have looked unimpressed (something he’d need to be careful about doing), because Lord Izana lowered his voice and whispered to him, “The kitsune are reeeeally dangerous. We don’t want to run into them.”
“What are they?” He asked.
Lord Izana hummed, rocking back on his heels as he thought. “Kitsune are shapeshifters. Sorta. They can take the form of a giant fox! They’re very cautious and wary of outsiders, and they don’t like people coming into their territory. I’ve heard that if you travel into their land, you’ll die a horrible and gruesome death!”
Iago probably still didn’t look impressed, given that Lord Izana kept going before he could get a word in edgewise. “If we run into them, it could be worse than running into the Hoshidan army! Even I don’t know how to fight them, and I probably know more about Hoshido than most of you!”
Well, that much was probably true. For all his study of Hoshido, he only had books to go on and Lord Izana had the advantage of living close by. Iago folded his arms, turning his attention to watch Corrin as she commanded the troops and rearranged their formation, securing the mages and healers in the middle while the outsides were manned by those who could actually take a hit. “So you think we should be nervous.”
“Clearly you haven’t seen what I’m capable of.” Iago smirked. The expression was enough to get Lord Izana’s pout to fall away, though he couldn’t be sure what exactly was getting the nearly dumbfounded look from the Archduke. “You needn’t worry while I’m around, Your Grace.” Nothing Hoshido had could possibly hold a candle to what he was capable of.
Lord Izana smiled after a moment, that same open and honest smile from before. He found himself looking away, back to Corrin and her siblings. “Don’t let me down then, Iago!” It sounded almost like a challenge.
Maybe this would be more interesting than he had first thought.
Marching in a tight formation was incredibly dull, especially because he’d been positioned right in the middle alongside Lord Izana. It was probably a good sign that Corrin saw fit to try to protect him, but in all honesty, Iago was just annoyed that she felt the need to try to keep him safe. As though he needed the protection? He could kill her in a heartbeat. Perhaps she was trying to keep him from fighting? She probably wanted to spare as many of these creatures as she could. Assuming they’d run into them in the first place, of course. If they didn’t then he would be disappointed.
Lord Izana continued to prattle on about nothing in particular, seemingly completely fine with this arrangement. Considering that he was the only one talking and how tense the others looked, maybe he had forgotten his own words from earlier and didn’t realize just how dangerous this was. Honestly, why did they even take this path if the kitsune posed this much of a threat? Why not face off against the Hoshidan soldiers? It would have taken less time. But Corrin was - as always - an idiot, and she clearly had no idea what she was actually doing.
Well, he had more important things to worry about, namely finding a time to contact King Garon. He wasn’t particularly worried about it; slipping away would be easy enough once they encountered the enemy, and their formation wasn’t nearly as solid as Corrin probably assumed it was. Not that he was going to start giving her tactical advice now, of course. This was her army, and if her soldiers fell then that would only make things easier on the king when she inevitably revealed her true traitorous colors. Besides, he’d have to review her battle formations later, and he could pick them apart even easier if they were all this sloppy.
Iago didn’t have to wait long for the attack. A kitsune approached Corrin head-on, and while she was distracted, more and more slipped out of the forest, slowly surrounding them. Iago wasn’t particularly surprised by the tactic, and he must have had some strange expression on his face, because Lord Izana was looking at him curiously. The foxes lept into battle quickly, and Iago wasted no time in slipping away while they were all distracted.
“Well, that was easy enough,” He hummed to himself as he put some distance between him and the troops. He’d have a little while before anyone noticed he was missing, and that was all the time he needed. He called on his magic to open up a small orb, crystal ball-like in size and shape and sent an identical one soaring off. It didn’t take very long at all for King Garon’s face to appear in the ball, looking as irritated with everything as usual.
“Your Majesty.” Iago bowed, just enough to get the point across without cutting himself off from the image. “I have successfully located Lady Corrin and joined her army.”
King Garon made a noise of assent, which was probably the best compliment he’d ever given Iago. “Where is she now?”
“She chose to take a different path to reach the capital. We’re currently facing off against the kitsune.”
Honestly, he couldn’t judge King Garon’s expression very well in the small orb, but he didn’t look any angrier, so that was probably a good sign. “Very well. Continue to report to me.”
“Of course, Your Majesty.” With that, Iago closed the twin orbs and severed the link. He wasn’t about to tell King Garon about any of the extremely strange things he had seen and experienced; now wasn’t the time or place to try to convince him that any of that was real. Besides, he’d have to convince himself that all of that had been real, and right now that didn’t sound like a very good idea. Thinking about it for too long would inevitably lead him wondering what else about the fundamental basics of the world were untrue, and he absolutely wasn’t here for that sort of existential dread today.
Anyway, it hadn’t been a particularly draining spell to cast, but it did require a lot of concentration, and Iago was quick to check the area around him as soon as he was done. The rest of the kitsune must have been busy fighting the army, because there weren’t any around. He had half-expected to be attacked in the middle of his transmission, but he wasn’t going to complain about his good luck.
He nearly made it back to the fighting (which would have been a record for the longest time his good luck has held out for him), but naturally, things suddenly took a turn for the stupid. “Iago! There you are!”
“Archduke, what are you doing out here?” He asked, trying very hard not to sigh in frustration.
“Well, the kitsune ambushed us and while we were fighting, I realized you vanished! I thought you might’ve gotten carried off or something.” Lord Izana had a scroll out already and looked prepared for a battle. Considering how perfect his attire and hair were, he hadn’t seen battle just yet. Somehow. How exactly had he managed to get this far out without running into the kitsune?
Iago lost his battle with the urge to sigh and folded his arms. “I didn’t. I merely got a bit distracted, that’s all. I’m returning to the others now, and you should do the same.”
“We should stick together! We’re stronger as a pair, after all!” Lord Izana was smiling again, like he genuinely believed that. Iago managed to win his battle with the urge to roll his eyes, but only barely.
“Lord Izana, we don’t have time for—”
Before he could finish, he spotted something large and white and definitely out of place. It was foxlike, though he hadn’t expected some kind of hellish monster when Lord Izana had told him of the kitsune. It was all tails and claws and spikes, more weapon than beast and probably twice as deadly. Perhaps Lord Izana had been onto something when he said that they should be careful. The thing was already dashing through the bushes and jumped out, curling itself into a ball as it launched directly at them.
“Izana!” Iago shouted, reaching out for the Archduke’s arm while pulling out a staff. He didn’t have time to cast a spell, but the staff reacted immediately, freezing the kitsune in time and place, hovering just above their heads. The beast was so close he could see its eyes rolling wildly, the only thing left it could control for the time being.
The spell wouldn’t last long. Izana was easily pulled behind him, quiet for once as Iago quickly swapped weapons and cast Excalibur. The spell summoned a giant tornado of wind, immediately engulfing the fox-creature and flinging it away once the blades of wind were done with their work.
“Iago…” Izana started, but trailed off. Iago initially thought it was because the Archduke was impressed with his incredible skill, but he quickly realized that he was mistaken. No, while he’d taken care of one of the kitsune, three more had appeared. They were partially surrounded, and the only way to go was back, further away from the army.
“Run, Izana.” Iago commanded, readying his tome for round two. “I’ll be able to fend them off. Go.”
“There’s no way you’re serious. You can’t possibly take them all on!” Izana’s voice was higher-pitched than normal, and he backed up until he was back-to-back with Iago.
He sighed loudly and flipped a few pages in his tome, as if he needed to study the contents. As if he didn’t know the entire thing like the back of his hand. As if his heart wasn’t pounding in his ears. “Don’t argue with me, Archduke. There’s a reason why I’m one of the commanders of the Nohrian army.” He wasn’t afraid. He couldn’t afford to be. Iago unleashed the spell immediately, sending it the direction of two of the kitsune. Only one was caught by the attack, and he only suffered minor cuts before he was transformed into that massive beast form.
It was at that moment that Iago realized he might not actually be able to save himself, much less the Archduke. If his power wasn’t enough to take the kitsune down in one hit, there was simply no way he would be able to save himself.
The kitsune he hadn’t hit was able to get in close, taking a swipe at them with its long tails. Whatever was in those tails was sharp and painful, and the gashes it left across Iago’s forearm and side were nasty and cut deeper than he would’ve thought. He let out a cry that was both pained and furious (and certainly not frightened) and his second spell caught that kitsune directly in the middle. That one wouldn’t survive, but there were two left.
The other one - the one he hadn’t aimed at - had managed to get behind him, but by the time he turned to look, Izana was in the middle of casting his own spell. Whatever scroll he was using was powerful - the shards of paper it sent at the enemy ripped through fur and flesh until the beast stopped moving. If he’d had the time, he would have been impressed at the Archduke’s skill. He had expected Izana to be utterly useless on the battlefield, but instead the man possessed magical power that might be comparable to his own. Possibly. If he was being particularly generous.
But he didn’t have time for that now, and there was still one more kitsune. That one was the one who had been injured by Iago’s spell. Unfortunately, the injury didn’t slow the beast down, and it was already on them the moment Iago turned back to look for it. He didn’t think before he turned to flee - not that it would have done any good, there was no way he was faster than that thing - but his hand found Izana’s arm by instinct and he yanked the Archduke along with him.
It succeeded at pulling Izana out of the way of the attack. It didn’t succeed at saving Iago. The beast’s claws found his back and in an instant, all went dark.
Iago woke feeling as if his skin was on fire, as if the nerves beneath were being singed repeatedly and every item of clothing he wore was only making it worse. It wasn’t a graceful awakening as he found himself struggling upright, thrashing blankets off him and nearly ripping his sharp nails through his own clothing in a desperate bid to cease the flames.
The sensation began to settle as the familiar prickling of healing magic coursed through his system, soothing every nerve until he could scarcely remember why he’d woken with such a start.
He took a moment to catch his breath. Then he finally examined his surroundings.
The room he was in was clearly Nohrian in style, though strangely enough there were sliding panels used to separate the room into separate sections. Those were clearly Hoshidan, far too thin and ineffective to be anything else. The infirmary, then. That castle of Corrin’s had one, though he hadn’t looked it over for long. How had he ended up here? The last thing he remembered was the kitsune attack and taking a hit for…
“I’m glad to see you’re awake, Iago!”
Oh no. Izana was here.
Iago turned, settling back in bed so he could look at the Archduke. He was smiling brightly. The expression was so open and disgustingly honest that he had to wonder if the man realized how ridiculous he looked. He could have been mistaken for relieved, of all things. As though that would actually be the case.
He looked away. He didn’t want to see it. “Your Grace,” He said instead, because he honestly had no idea of how to respond.
“Do you remember what happened?” Izana asked, his expression shifting to something worried. Or more likely, something that was pretending to be worried.
He could tell the truth, but there wasn’t anything to gain from that. So as always, he decided to keep his cards close. Playing dumb was easier, and Izana was stupid enough to buy it. “I’m afraid I don’t. We were marching together, and then…?” He trailed off, leaving it hanging there for Izana to continue.
And continue he certainly did. “The kitsune attacked us! In all the fighting we got pretty separated… Actually, how did you end up getting all the way out there, so far from the others?”
Izana was looking at him curiously, but thankfully Iago already had the lie prepared. “I’m afraid I don’t remember.”
“Oh. Huh. Well, anyway!” Izana continued, as though it didn’t matter, “We were pretty far away from the others when we were ambushed! There were three of them, and you fought them off heroically!”
Heroically. Well, that was never a word he thought anyone would use to describe him, but sure. Heroically. Right. He nodded to encourage the Archduke to keep going.
“But one of them was left, and neither of us had enough time to attack! You grabbed me and pulled me out of the way, but unfortunately it got you so hard across the back…” Izana trailed off, his mouth dipping downwards into a frown that looked genuinely distressed. “I thought you were going to die.”
It sounded like an admission of some sort, like a secret that shouldn’t be told. Iago resisted the urge to roll his eyes. “Obviously I survived somehow.”
That was a bit rude, but Izana didn’t seem to mind. Instead, he perked right back up. “Yes, you did! I didn’t think I could carry you all the way back to the other healers, so I called in some help!”
Iago did not like the sound of that one bit. Had one of the maids been nearby? Another mage? No, that didn’t make sense, but before he could ask, Izana kept going.
“The ancient gods didn’t really appreciate being called on like that… But they were so kind! They patched you up and even gave me a little advice! And it only took a few years off my life!”
Clearly his expression said everything, because Izana leaned forward, lacing his fingers together on his knees. “Oh, gosh, sorry, I didn’t tell you about the ancient gods, did I?”
“No.” Iago found himself saying. But now that Izana mentioned it, that did sound vaguely familiar…
“I’ve got the power to speak with the ancient gods. Sometimes they tell me things I’m supposed to pass on to other people. Sometimes they don’t speak a word. And sometimes - with enough incentive - they perform a little miracle or two!” Izana sounded so proud. “It does come at a cost, but I figured I could sacrifice a few years of my life to save yours!”
He had heard that the Archduke of Izumo had the power to communicate with the gods, but he had always assumed that was complete nonsense. If King Garon couldn’t communicate with gods and was busy talking to the walls, then some random idiot from Izumo certainly couldn’t. How was Izana able to do that? He was by far the stupidest person Iago had ever had the misfortune of dealing with, and yet here he was, claiming he’d called in a favor from some gods to literally save Iago from death.
It was hilarious. It was the funniest damn thing he’d ever heard. As though he could believe something like that? That this man, the Archduke of an unimportant nation had looked at him, a Nohrian tactician, and decided to call in a favor from the gods to literally save his life. It was ridiculous. It was the most ridiculous thing he’d ever heard.
“Oh, and uh,” The Archduke said, fumbling for the words and frowning a bit, “you might have some sliiiightly increased magic power. Nothing too big. Probably.”
Was that why it felt like his nerves were trying to burn their way out from beneath his skin? Sure, it wasn’t as painful now as it had been when he woke up, but he still felt uncomfortable, as though he’d been burned and every square inch of him itched as it attempted to heal. If what Izana said was true—
No. It couldn’t be.
Izana hummed a bit. His expression was downcast, upset. “I’m… really sorry, Iago. I didn’t know what else to do.” It seemed to be honest. Open. The sort of thing he’d use against someone in a heartbeat, if it were true. But surely it wasn’t. Surely all of this had been for some reason - assuming any of what Izana had said was true at all. It wasn’t. It couldn’t be. But— “I didn’t think you’d be so upset about being alive.”
Normally, he’d assume that was a joke. A terrible one, but the sort of dark and twisted humor he could appreciate. The sort of thing he might have said, had he known anyone who could appreciate it. But given Izana’s expression, it seemed to be genuine. Was this man really that open? Was he really so incredibly stupid that he’d be honest with someone like Iago? Could he really be upset about this? No. That couldn’t be it. There must be more to it.
“I’m not upset.” He found himself saying, his words even and practiced as if he hadn’t just been struggling to analyze everything Izana had chosen to be. “I simply haven’t heard of such a thing before. I hadn’t realized I had nearly died.” That was uncomfortably close to the truth. He drew the blankets up a bit. Fixed his collar. Studied his nails. Anything to avoid looking at Izana.
There was a long pause, where Izana stared at him and he felt like he was forgetting something. Izana’s expression was curious - he could see it from the corner of his eye - and he was definitely waiting on something that Iago was supposed to say, he just wasn’t sure what—
...Oh. Right. “Thank you.” It was stilted, lacking any respect or genuine appreciation.
“You’re welcome.” Izana smiled anyway. It was so bright it could have blinded him and he found himself turning away from it.
He would have to study the Archduke, to figure out just what he wanted out of this arrangement. If it was all true (somehow) and he really had gifted Iago with more power, then surely he had something planned. Was he going to hold this over Iago’s head, try to turn him against King Garon? Nohr? An interesting concept, but the act Izana put on was entirely too idiotic for something like that. No, if he was that cunning, Iago would have seen it already.
So then what? What was the point of all of this?
He was starting to suspect that even if he found the answer, he wouldn’t like it.
In truth, Iago wasn’t entirely sure why he was kept in bed for the next several days. He remembered enough to know that the largest injury he’d sustained was across his back, and he felt no pain there whatsoever. He even slept on his back and was perfectly fine. The other injuries across his side and on his arm were healed; his clothes were still ripped from where the kitsune’s tail had sliced them open. Yet even without any injuries, Izana did not allow him to leave. When Corrin and her army returned, she arrived to check on him and came to the same verdict.
“You really should stay here.” She said simply. She almost looked worried, as bizarre as that sounded. As though his death wouldn’t assist her in… whatever horrible things she was undoubtedly planning for Nohr and King Garon.
He was frustrated beyond belief that he couldn’t leave and track down Elise (who was surely told to stay far, far away from him so she couldn’t spill any of the army’s secrets) to figure out just what was going on here. He couldn’t even leave the bed without someone getting upset.
“Lady Corrin,” The words were ground through his teeth as he attempted to maintain his smile, “please do not misunderstand. I have no desire to push myself or aggravate my injuries. But as you can see, I’m all healed up.”
“Yes,” She nodded, “thanks to Izana. I’m glad he was there to help you.”
The Archduke was sitting beside him (still; he hadn’t left since Iago had awoken, unfortunately) and beamed at Corrin’s words. “I’m just glad I could help!”
It was aggravating enough to make him want to pull his hair out, or toss the nearest hard object at Corrin’s head. Unfortunately, the only thing he had on him was his mask, and he was not going to stoop to chucking that at the girl he was supposed to torment. If she had any idea how badly she was irritating him, he’d never live it down. He was supposed to be torturing her, not the other way around! How could something so utterly stupid happen to him of all people.
King Garon would hear about this— Actually, no. No, he wouldn’t. If Iago had to suffer like this, he was certainly not telling the king about his torture at the hands of the Archduke and Corrin.
Besides, if Izana was right - and Iago was beginning to suspect he was - then he might have been gifted an edge.
For years he had fought to gain King Garon’s trust. He had suffered through all sorts of humiliating duties and tasks and it had taken every ounce of self-restraint not to ruin it all whenever he was horribly inconvenienced like this. He had seen entirely too much of Nohr; he knew what would happen if he displeased King Garon. He had served as executioner plenty of times and he was certainly not going to land in the opposite position.
So if Izana was right and he’d been gifted with divine power of some sort, he was certainly going to use it to give him the edge he needed to remain as King Garon’s right hand. Perhaps he’d be given the position of King Garon’s adviser, or officially be recognized as Nohr’s lead tactician. Either would be a nice step up.
(Or maybe… Maybe he could use that power for something more. Maybe there was a way to the top that didn’t involve bowing his head to a master who was losing his sanity - who might have already lost it—
No. There was no sense in thinking about that. He knew better than to dream about the impossible.)
All he needed to do now was to test it. That would have been infinitely easier if these two idiots would let him leave the room.
“I’m sorry, Iago,” Corrin was saying, though he had tuned her out some time ago; her voice was simply too annoying to listen to for very long, “you’ll have to remain here for another few days.”
Izana spoke up then, “Corrin, can I stay here with him during our next mission? I know you guys’ll be just fine without me!”
She nodded, giving Izana a soft smile. “I think that would be good, Izana. If left on his own, I’m sure Iago would follow us into battle immediately.”
“I’m not a child,” He seethed.
“No, you’re not.” Corrin agreed easily. “But you are recovering from a life-threatening injury. I think it’ll be good for you to remain here.” She paused for a moment, then frowned. “We’ll have to discuss tactics at a later date, I’m afraid. Please, make sure to rest and recover quickly.”
She took her leave, and it was only then that things started to click into place. He was recovering just fine - well enough to leave the infirmary at least, if not well enough to battle. If Corrin was so dead-set on him remaining here, then surely it was because she was planning to do something while he was stuck here.
He tried to draw a map of Hoshido in his head, struggling to follow the wild path Corrin had been leading them on. If they continued on through the kitsune territory and were headed for the capital, then surely they’d be running into—
“You’re not in too much pain, are you? Do you need me to cast some more healing spells?”
Iago sighed dramatically as his concentration was shattered to bits by the Archduke. “No. I’m fine.” He didn’t even have the energy to snap at the man. He didn’t have the energy to continue contemplating Corrin’s plans either.
Izana hummed a bit to himself. Iago could see him smiling even from the corner of his vision. “I’m glad you’ve stopped being so formal with me.” He said.
“You’ve stopped calling me ‘Your Grace’ all the time! It’s really nice.”
Had he? Had he really let such a thing slip? Oh gods, what a nightmare. How was he going to fix this? There was simply no way he could apologize and get away with it. If he’d forgotten all proper forms of address and been treating Izana like a commoner—
Oh no. Oh no. He’d even been thinking of him as just “Izana” and not “Lord Izana” as was proper. How had he let that happen? When had that happened?
He’d probably be executed for… something. Improper address? Informality? There were rules in place about this sort of thing, though admittedly he didn’t know anything about the laws in Izumo or how they went about their executions. What was he to expect here? Being drawn and quartered? Burned alive? Perhaps Lord Izana himself would use that spell and shred him to pieces with those sharp paper blades—
“You know,” Lord Izana was saying, perhaps completely oblivious to Iago’s plight, “it’s pretty nice to have someone not treat you like that. It’s always ‘Your Grace’ this and ‘Your Grace’ that and ‘how can I be of service to you today, milord’ and it’s just so aggravating! It’s like they don’t realize that I just want to be treated like a normal person.”
Iago opened his mouth. Then he closed it. Then he opened it again and still no sound came out.
Lord Izana was staring at him strangely now, his head tipped slightly to the side so that his hair remained caught on one shoulder and fell over the other. “Are you okay?”
“I...” Iago stated, which was certainly the most eloquent he had ever been in his life. “I suppose I had not ever thought of it like that.”
It was true, but it was entirely too blunt and without the proper address. Still, it seemed to please Izana, because he was smiling again. It was such a sunny smile; he almost felt it could burn him. He found himself looking away. “It’s true! It’s dreadfully lonely, being the Archduke.”
There were all sorts of things he could have said to that. He could have argued that he’d spent years clawing his way up to where he was and he’d gleefully kill for a shot at a position like Izana’s, damn whatever “loneliness” there was. He could say that being at the top was simply the best place, and if Izana didn’t have the company he wanted, all he had to do was throw money or orders around to get what he desired. But in the end he found words had simply abandoned him entirely, and that alone was somehow more frustrating than everything Izana had said so far.
At least, he thought words had abandoned him entirely. Instead, his traitorous mouth spoke without him giving the order. “Why?”
Izana didn’t seem bothered by the rude question. He was still smiling, but it wasn’t the same open and bright one Iago had seen him wear repeatedly. It was tinged with sadness now, or at least, that’s what Iago assumed the expression was supposed to be. “People really only care about your title, not who you are. There are a whole lot of people who pretend they care, but really, you’re all alone.”
How could he say that? How could he pretend to understand being truly alone when he was undoubtedly surrounded by people who would support him? Even if there was some truth in it, even if Izumo could at all be compared to Nohr’s politics, there were plenty of people who cared about King Garon. Surely Izumo was similar. Surely Izana wasn’t lonely or wanting for anything at all.
It was infuriating to hear Izana talk like that. Like he could ever possibly understand being all alone in the world when he was surrounded by people. Even if those people didn’t care about him in the way he wanted, that was still better than Iago had ever had.
He managed to keep his mouth shut this time. It was a struggle to keep the fury off his face.
“Oh!” Izana said suddenly. He clapped his hands together loud enough to make Iago start, but he didn’t seem to realize it. “I totally forgot to tell you what the ancient gods said! I think it was a message for you, but they weren’t really clear about that.”
Did these “ancient gods” even have names or were they entirely made up? He would have believed the latter far more easily if he didn’t feel the thrum of magic beneath his skin, magic that had never been so powerful before. “Do tell.” He said instead of dwelling on it. At least that was a better topic than the previous one.
Izana leaned forward, his expression going serious. “There is but one path to walk and you have found it. Do not stray.” He leaned back and shrugged. “Don’t ask me what it means, though! I don’t have the foggiest idea!”
It sounded more like a threat than advice or whatever it was those ancient gods were supposed to give out. “Thank you?” That sounded more like a question than he wanted it to, but it seemed to please the Archduke regardless.
“I’m always happy to help!” Before Iago could say anything else, the Archduke reached down beside him to pick up a book, opening it on his lap. “Now then, let’s continue with our stories! Today’s is a Hoshidan folktale about a pegasus and her best friend, a rabbit…”
Iago groaned loudly. He could not wait to escape from the infirmary.
Escaping from the infirmary turned out to be easier than Iago would have thought. He was allowed to go two days later, after three separate healers checked him over. Izana had been there the entire time, double and triple checking with them to make sure Iago was really okay to leave.
It almost sounded like the Archduke was worried. How irritating.
The problem wasn’t in escaping, or even moving. Despite being cooped up in the infirmary for so long, he had no problems standing or walking and he felt good enough to take to the battlefield immediately. No, the problem was in losing Izana.
The Archduke insisted on following him everywhere, under the guise of being worried about him. “I don’t want you to reopen your injury!” He’d said. “You’ll tire yourself out like that if you aren’t careful!”
Why did everyone in this stupid army think he was going to hurt himself the moment he was out of their sight? Why were they treating him like some child that needed to be handled carefully and watched at all times? It was infuriating and he couldn’t even resort to threats because he needed to maintain a decent relationship with them if he wanted to remain alive. He had no doubts that Xander or Leo or Camilla would kill him the very moment he proved useless to them.
...In fact, why hadn’t they killed him already? He had been trapped in the infirmary for days. There was plenty of time for them to kill him. Perhaps they were simply too busy to waste time on him. He hadn’t seen much of Camilla or Xander and Leo seemed to have found something else to keep himself occupied, since he wasn’t tailing Iago everywhere anymore.
It almost seemed like they trusted him.
...They weren’t that stupid.
Anyway, Iago had managed to give Izana the slip when the Archduke pulled him out to the castle grounds to explore the small assortment of shops there. It hadn’t been particularly difficult, he’d simply pointed out a Hoshidan scroll and asked Izana to explain it and slipped out the door while the Archduke prattled on about something completely inane. (It might have been the history of the scroll and its importance on literature in Izumo or something equally boring.) It was so easy he was almost insulted. Had Izana really been so dumb as to miss it? Or was this part of the Archduke’s plan?
...Admittedly, he still wasn’t sure what the Archduke’s plan could be, but he’d work that out eventually.
Iago had managed to slip outside the castle gates as well, seeing as how most of the army was out with Corrin marching toward the Hoshidan capital. There was no one left to man the walls and see him sneak out. Once outside and a decent ways away from the wall, hidden in the trees, he finally breathed a sigh of relief.
“Finally,” He said to himself, and waited just to see if anyone had tailed him. He wasn’t sure if he was disappointed when he realized he was truly alone. It seemed too easy.
But he needed this opportunity to test it, to see if what Izana had said had any truth in it. Had he really been gifted with more power? It would explain the near-maddening itch of untapped magic beneath his skin, something that felt new and familiar at the same time.
When he was a boy and first struggling to learn magic, there had been a day where this had happened - where his magic potential finally opened up and he’d felt the hum of magic beneath his fingers, throughout his body. He’d been praised then, told that he’d been given a powerful gift and that his magic was his best asset. That wasn’t wrong even all these years later; he was one of the few mages gifted enough to use dark magic and healing magic.
This wasn’t quite the same, though. Back then it felt like a trickle, just a tiny bit of magic pouring through his system at short intervals. Now, it felt like someone had opened a dam and the magic was pouring through him, desperate to be released.
So he released it, in the form of conjuring a Faceless.
In truth, he didn’t expect it to work. Corrin’s castle blocked magic (dark magic, at least) and his attempts at summoning a Faceless last time hadn’t worked. It was a familiar sort of blockage, the sort that a well-placed Silence spell could cause.
His spell wasn’t blocked, though. Instead, it felt like he’d taken an axe to a solid stone wall, and somehow proceeded to break through it. His hands felt numb as the magic left him and the being took shape before him, but he felt no drain whatsoever and the spell had somehow broken through the barrier.
He exhaled, both delighted and stunned, and then jumped to the side to avoid the Faceless’ fist.
Well, some things never change, he supposed. The Faceless weren’t going to listen to him now despite the boost in power, but just to test it, he cast Excalibur. The wind blades tore through it, shredding the Faceless to bits in a blink of an eye.
Izana had been wrong. He wasn’t experiencing a slight boost in power. He was much stronger than before.
Iago laughed, wild and unrestrained. It was angry and bitter and relieved and excited all at the same time. Everything he had ever wanted and ever dared dream of was at his fingertips now, humming beneath his skin. And all it took was nearly dying for the world’s stupidest man, not to save him, but simply because he’d misjudged where the kitsune’s attack would land. He’d been fleeing, and Izana just happened to be right there. All of this was a coincidence. A coincidence.
Now the only thing left to do was to prepare his next move.
Corrin and her army returned shortly after Iago’s little experiment in the woods. He had already managed to calm Izana down and reassure the Archduke that he was fine and uninjured, so when Corrin came marching through the main hall with her expression tight and determined, he knew it was almost time to head into battle again.
Good. He was ready for it. The magic practically burned at his fingertips, desperate to be released.
Unfortunately, Corrin had other ideas. Instead of doing the sane thing and sending them into battle, she chose to give them all a day break. Iago was so frustrated he could scream, but he didn’t have time to consider returning to his room and yelling into a pillow until he was feeling more calm. Instead, Leo cut off his path to his room, standing in his way with a tight frown on his face.
“My sister wants to speak to you.” He said. Once again he was eyeing Iago warily, as though he’d simply try to murder Leo in cold blood where anyone could see it.
He was tempted to ask which sister, just to be a pain, but there was no point in wasting his own time any further. “Of course, Lord Leo. Thank you for the message.” He bowed, just enough to be considered proper without any of the respect the action should have.
Leo let out a hmph and turned to leave. Iago let him go without comment, but even so he didn’t hurry to find Corrin. She could wait until he was ready to see her.
Admittedly, he would have wasted more time before visiting Corrin, but Izana found him in the hallways not long after and he had to make a quick retreat. He promised he’d spend some time with Izana later, which he had no plans on actually doing. Instead, his feet took him to the appointed room.
The war room - if it could even be called that - was situated in the back of the castle, behind what might have been a throne room, if it had held a proper throne. The room itself was sparsely decorated, with only a round table and several chairs around it. There was nothing to indicate that anyone made the room theirs. He would have imagined Corrin would have at least make the room a bit more livable, but from the state of it, he had to wonder if they even used this room at all.
Corrin was already seated, her back to the door. That was an unbelievably stupid mistake, as though she trusted everyone here. As though she could trust everyone here. It made his fingers itch, the magic all but burning its way through his system and centering itself in his hands, where it would be so unbelievably easy to kill her. All he had to do was unleash the spell and she’d be dead. No one was here to stop him.
But he didn’t. It was too early for that. King Garon wanted her to suffer, and he already had a plan in mind for that.
Instead, he cleared his throat and stepped into the room. Corrin looked up with a tired smile. Given the bags under her eyes, her ink-stained hands, and the pile of documents in front of her, it was obvious she had been at this for awhile. “Oh, hi, Iago.”
“Lady Corrin.” He stepped closer and from over her shoulder he could see that she had indeed been drawing up battle strategies. At a glance, they looked dreadfully rough. That was partially because of her scrawled handwriting that he couldn’t quite read from here and partially because the ink was beginning to seep through some of the pages and stain the ones beneath. Honestly, had she never worked on battle plans before? That was just embarrassing.
Without being told, he moved to take the seat beside her, immediately reaching out to pick up the top sheet of paper. It was a plan for defensive maneuvers against a pincer strike. Her handwriting was a bit hard to read, but it looked as though Corrin’s plan for defense was to gather everyone together and form a core to protect the mages.
“Is this always your plan?” He asked, tapping a perfectly painted nail against the paper as he set it down. “Surely you can see the flaws in this plan?”
“I can.” She nodded. Her smile was gone now, replaced with a glum look of acceptance. “In truth, I don’t really know how to handle most of this. I didn’t have any training in tactics while I was in the Northern Fortress.”
Iago sighed, then ran a hand through the locks of hair that weren’t kept swept back under his cape. “Why are you in charge?”
If she was bothered by the harsh words and tone, she didn’t show it. “Father said I was to lead the army. My siblings aren’t allowed to help.”
Perhaps King Garon was planning on pushing her to her very limit like this. He supposed he could see that, although it didn’t seem like a very efficient way to make her suffer. “I see,” He said instead. He picked up another one of her plans, this one detailing an attack on a fort. Judging from the layout she had drawn up, it appeared to be a Hoshidan fort, one of the smaller ones on the border that they weren’t near. It was probably practice; she most likely running these plans by her siblings, trying to learn what she could from them in hypotheticals so she could put it into practice. Fair enough.
The plan of attack itself wasn’t half bad. It seemed Corrin could handle offense better than defense. Iago reached over for a quill and ink and began to add his corrections to her plans without comment. Corrin looked over his shoulder as he worked and eventually he sighed. “You’re leaving your right flank open here,” He explained, jabbing the quill at that section of the map. “You can’t always expect the enemy’s formation to be equal on both sides, and splitting yourself too thin like this puts all your units in danger.”
Corrin’s eyes lit up at that. “Oh, you’re really good at this.”
His eyes narrowed in response. “You thought I wasn’t?”
“Oh, no, sorry, that’s not…” Corrin trailed off. She winced. “Sorry.”
Iago sighed again, resting his chin on his free hand as he continued to work, almost idly explaining the corrections as he went. “Hoshidan troops almost always employ pegasus riders and having most of your mages on one side will make it difficult to combat them. If you must do that, at least send an archer or two with them.”
“What about this chokehold here?” She asked, pointing out a particularly difficult spot on the map.
“For that one, you’d want to position your units like this…”
Time passed faster than he would have thought, and by the end of the session (lesson, if he was being honest), Corrin had already showed improvements in her plans and understanding of formations. She looked less tired and less upset now and she was positively beaming when she finally sat the last of her papers down.
“Thank you for helping me today, Iago. You’re exceptionally skilled at this. I can see why Father trusts you so.” Her words were full of praise and they were enough to get him to glance away in irritation.
King Garon didn’t trust him. Not in the way he wanted. Needed. “Don’t mention it.” He paused, realizing only then that he hadn’t been nearly as proper with her as he should have been. “It was my honor to assist you, Lady Corrin.”
If she noticed the change, she didn’t mention it. Her sunny smile remained, nearly as blinding as Izana’s. “I may have to ask you to stop by again sometime, if you aren’t too busy.”
“I can see if I can make time in my busy schedule, milady.” It was almost sarcastic.
It got her to laugh anyway. “Thank you. I think I have a better idea of how I want to approach our future battles.”
“Think nothing of it.” He shook his head and moved to stand. His hands were now stained with ink as well and he frowned at them. He must have gotten more into this than he was anticipating… Well, it had been some time since he last ran any practice battles. There was something thrilling about commanding an entire army. Perhaps he missed it. That was all.
“Oh, I think Izana was looking for you.” Corrin said. There was a smile on her face that was almost annoyingly knowing, as though she was aware of something he wasn’t. He almost asked her about it, but decided he had already been far too improper with her today. It would be in his best interests not to risk upsetting her.
He bowed instead, careful not to show any more respect than was necessary. “Thank you.” With that, he took his leave.
As expected, he didn’t get far before he was ambushed. “Iago!” Izana’s cheery voice greeted him. The Archduke was up in his business almost immediately, all smiles as usual. “How’d your meeting with Corrin go?”
“Well enough.” He shrugged, a simple lift of his shoulders without any thought put into it. He wasn’t about to talk to Izana about battle strategies or the war in general if he could help it. He doubted Izana had even a basic understanding of tactics anyway.
“Come on, I want to show you the lottery shop!” Izana reached for his hand, but Iago snatched it away before he could succeed in grabbing it.
“I have some things to attend to. Perhaps later.”
“Oh, is this because of your injury?” Izana had the nerve to look worried. As though he expected Iago to believe that?
“This is not—” Iago cut himself off with a sigh. He gave Izana a forced smile and tried to fix it, hoping the Archduke would overlook the anger in his tone. “I’m feeling just fine. Don’t worry about me. I’m busy, that’s all.” With that, he took his leave before he could watch the Archduke pout, although he was certain that was exactly what would have happened. He didn’t have any interest in spending the rest of his day being dragged around by Izana. After all, they were going to fight tomorrow, and he needed to be prepared.
The magic burning beneath his fingertips was more than enough of an indication that he was ready.
The Eternal Stairway was the site of their next battle, and it was one Iago was already prepared for.
Well, okay, so he wasn’t exactly expecting them to arrive here right away, but he’d taken some minor precautions the day he’d tested out his new magical power. He’d spoken with King Garon to reassure him that everything was fine and going according to plan (even though it wasn’t) and he’d sent several Faceless to the Eternal Stairway with the thought that Corrin would eventually take her army through there.
So he was a bit off in terms of timing, but that wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Besides, now that he had nearly unlimited dark magic at his fingertips, he could do plenty to make Corrin suffer. She’d also die horribly at the hands of the Faceless, but hey, at least he could say he did his job.
While talking tactics with her hadn’t necessarily been bad, he wasn’t going to let that deter him from doing his job. King Garon had entrusted him with Corrin’s suffering, and what could make her suffer more than to watch her tactics fall apart and her friends die?
It wasn’t difficult to summon more Faceless from the back of the lines; even Izana wasn’t paying attention to him right now. With dead Hoshidan soldiers to worry about and all of them to wonder what could possibly be happening, Iago had plenty of time to summon the monsters.
Looking back on it, perhaps he was a bit overzealous with his new-found magic power. He might have summoned more Faceless than was really necessary for the mission.
The entire army was easily surrounded by the monsters and Iago had to try not to smirk when Corrin’s orders become more and more frantic, her voice rising higher and higher in pitch, bordering on panic.
The general plan that everyone agreed on was that they needed to make a run for it. There were simply too many Faceless to defeat here, and cutting their way through to the exit was really their only option. Corrin was quick to assign everyone a partner so no one was left alone, and Iago wasn’t even remotely surprised to find Izana clinging to his arm.
“Your Grace,” He said, trying to refrain from sighing, “please don’t cling like that. You’ll trip me.”
“Aren’t you even a little bit worried?” Izana asked him, eyes wide. “This is… There are so many of them! We might not make it out!”
“We’ll be fine.” He lifted his shoulders in a shrug and tried to free himself from Izana’s death grip. It didn’t work, Izana wasn’t going to let go so easily. Honestly, it was a bit insulting that Izana thought Iago wouldn’t be able to take care of a Faceless. Or two. Or twelve.
Perhaps it was good that Corrin had assigned the Archduke to his side. While Izumo was not a nation that Nohr had any need of, it would be in their best interests to keep Izana alive. He was easily the biggest idiot Iago had ever met, but that could make him useful if Nohr ever had need of Izumo for… some reason. Surely there could be advantages to having a nation close to Hoshido under their thumb.
Besides, Izana had given him a gift, and he might as well look out for the man.
Moving through the Eternal Stairway was not as easy on foot. The fliers had already taken off and those on horseback were quite a ways ahead, which left Iago and Izana far behind everyone else. It didn’t help that running up stairs in robes was a lot harder than it looked.
“Just… give me a moment,” He panted as they reached a landing, nearly doubling over with his hands on his knees as he tried to catch his breath.
Izana remained close by. He was wringing his hands and looking back the way they had come, where the roars of the Faceless were getting progressively louder. “Ohhh,” The Archduke moaned, “you should have stayed behind, you’re still not recovered from your injury—”
“It has nothing to do with my injury!” Iago snapped. That was the last straw, he’d finally lost the last shred of patience he had for hearing about his injury. “Why do all of you believe that I can’t take care of myself? Why do you all insist on coddling me every step of the way, as though I don’t know my own limits?”
The words were furious, full of venom and frustration. Perhaps it wasn’t fair to lay into Izana like that, when the Archduke had done nothing but help him, but even that made it worse. “And another thing!” He continued before the wide-eyed Archduke could get a word in edgewise, “Why are you so insistent on remaining by my side? Why won’t you leave me alone? You’ve done nothing but hover since I was injured - I’m perfectly healthy now!”
“Well,” Izana ventured cautiously, “you are healthy enough to yell a lot now…”
He lost his temper at Lord Izana. The man he was supposed to be protecting here. The man he justified as possibly still being useful to Nohr. The man who poured unimaginable power into him, just because he was dying.
(Why? Why had he traded some of his life for Iago’s? What could have possibly motivated him to do something like that? There must be some sort of plan, but he had spent countless hours trying to work out what it could be and he still didn’t have a clue.)
Before Iago could have any reaction (sane or otherwise) to this turn of events (that was entirely his fault, not that he’d admit that), a loud roar echoed from just below the landing and several Faceless made their way up the stairs.
Izana was already preparing his scroll, but Iago tugged on his arm and pulled him back toward the stairs. “Don’t even think about it. There are far too many for us to take on.”
That wasn’t exactly the truth. He had no doubts that he could kill them all if need be, but it would put an unnecessary amount of pressure on him and worst of all, it would let Corrin know that he’d gotten much more powerful. That was his secret weapon, and he certainly wasn’t going to play that card right now.
So they ran, with Izana easily taking the lead. He would occasionally pause when he got too far ahead, firing off some spells before Iago caught up and then repeating the process. It was by no means easy, and his lungs felt like they were on fire. He would never admit it, but perhaps Izana had a point. Maybe he hadn’t fully recovered from his life-threatening injuries. At least the army had cut a path ahead and it was easy enough to follow it.
Or at least, it had been, but they were a bit too far behind for that path to remain clear.
He really shouldn’t have summoned so many Faceless.
With two of the beasts before them and a countless amount still following them up the stairs, Iago finally had to acknowledge that maybe this wasn’t the best plan he had ever come up with. Maybe he had let his new power go to his head and blind him to the possibility of getting caught in his own trap.
Oh well. He had a good run. If he died here to his own creations, then that was probably exactly what he deserved. If he had to run another step he was absolutely going to die, so this was probably preferable. Dying in battle sounded nicer than dying due to exhaustion.
(He refused to acknowledge how badly he was shaking, how much he didn’t want to die.)
“Stand back,” Izana warned him. The Archduke’s face was set in stone, the sort of thing that Iago would have expected to see on any of the royals’ faces before Izana’s. It would have looked more at home on Elise’s face. “I’ll take these two out.”
“You’re crazy,” He said, because he had already lost control over his life, why not dig his grave a little deeper.
The paper blades released from Izana’s scroll embedded themselves in the first Faceless, earning a roar that was both pained and agitated as the beast swung a fist wildly at Izana. The Archduke dodged, but wasn’t fast enough to dodge the second fist - it collided squarely with his ribs and a sickening crack echoed through the hallway.
Iago wasn’t sure when he moved - as he had previously been convinced that moving at all would kill him - but suddenly he was there, catching Izana hard against his chest to prevent the Archduke from falling back down the stairs. His nails dug into the fabric of the Archduke’s clothes at the impact, and it was luck that kept them both from tumbling backwards.
A blow like that should have killed, given how much stronger these Faceless were than the ones he usually summoned. But somehow, Izana managed to pull himself to his feet. Iago’s hands didn’t leave his arms, perhaps to keep him steady, though in all honesty, he didn’t really understand why he was so reluctant to let go of the Archduke.
Another of Izana’s spells hit the Faceless again, taking it out and causing the dark magic to dissipate. The second Faceless was already coming at them, fist crashing down from above.
Izana simply stiffened, ready to take that second blow. Ready to die.
Something snapped in Iago then, just like it had moments ago when he’d laid into Izana with all the frustration pent up from being assigned this mission leading up to his injury and the slow and tedious recovery process. In that moment, he knew one thing clearly - more clearly than he had ever known anything in his life.
He didn’t want Izana to die.
Excalibur left him and shredded the beast to pieces. Before Izana could really come to terms with what happened, he grabbed the Archduke’s hand and pulled him along as they rushed up the final set of stairs and reached daylight.
Corrin was already there, sobbing into the corpse of some girl Iago had never seen before. He didn’t stop to marvel at her misery or take joy in the fact that he had caused this. He couldn’t be bothered to think about that right now. Instead, he led Izana to a nearby rock, pushed the Archduke to sit, and began work healing Izana’s injury.
For once, Izana didn’t speak. His hands tightly gripped the front of Iago’s cape where it lay over his shoulders and upper arms. Iago didn’t push him off and didn’t let up until his fingers burned from overusing his magic. He kept going, the burn no longer from the untapped magic. Iago was not as skilled in healing magic - he had never focused on training that, finding offensive magic to be more effective and more of a needed skill. Now, more than ever, he wished he had spent more time learning to heal.
Something was very wrong.
Okay, so perhaps that was understating it a little. There were quite a few things that were wrong, and Iago didn’t know how to address any of them when he woke again in the infirmary back in Corrin’s castle. He didn’t have long to think about any of it, though.
After all, the nearly-burning sensation of powerful magic beneath his skin was gone, and that was far more important than anything that might dare approach sentimentality.
He had escaped from the castle not long after waking up. Once again, no one had noticed him leave and once he was hidden among the trees, he tried to summon a Faceless, or contact King Garon, or even cast a single spell. Nothing had worked. The power Izana had gifted him was gone, just like that.
At first he hadn’t understood. What could have happened that would have landed him in the infirmary and taken his exceptional power away? It didn’t take him long to remember.
He had poured every ounce of that power into his healing spells, and he had saved Izana.
Iago didn’t remember what happened after that, but given that he had found himself in the infirmary with his hands bandaged and how much it stung to try to call any magic to his fingers, it seemed obvious that he had simply wore himself out from using entirely too much power healing.
Izana had been in the infirmary as well, and that was where Iago’s feet took him when he returned to the castle. He had no plans of sitting by Izana’s bedside until the Archduke woke up, but that was what he ended up doing anyway.
(He could justify it somehow, if he really cared to. But he didn’t want to think. He didn’t want to consider any of that. He didn't want to consider just how pathetic Izana looked either.)
He wanted to scream at the Archduke when he awoke, or maybe just blame him for what happened, for sapping his power and taking away what little hope he’d had of a better life. But when Izana opened his eyes, Iago found that words had left him and he remained sitting, arms folded, mouth twisted into a grimace of frustration.
He hated the relief that flooded through him almost more than he hated Izana for taking his power.
“Iago,” Izana greeted him with a weak but relieved smile.
That stupid little smile made him feel weak, but perhaps that was because he no longer had his amazing power thanks to this idiot. This idiot, who managed to get himself seriously hurt. This idiot, who even now managed to frustrate him to no end with his stupid smile.
“Izana,” He said instead. The anger didn’t reflect at all in his words. He wished it did.
“I’m glad you’re here.” The Archbishop reached for his hand, flinching back when he found bandages there. “Ah, you’re hurt…”
“I overexerted myself. It’s nothing a few days of rest won’t fix.”
The words came easily. Still there was no trace of anger or frustration or anything he was actually feeling. It was instead colored by something he couldn’t recognize. He didn’t understand this any more than he understood how he could have been so stupid. How could he have put so much power into healing Izana? It wasn’t as though he had a gaping wound, just some broken bones and some internal injuries. And even if it had been life-threatening, what would it matter? Keeping Izana alive had the potential to serve Nohr in the future, but there was no guarantee that anything would come of it.
So why? Why was had he acted like that? Why was he acting like this now?
Izana reached for his hand and without thinking, he took it. Izana gripped it tightly and he found himself returning that grip despite the slight pain. He didn’t understand that either.
“Thank you for protecting me. And healing me! I really owe you one.” The Archduke was beaming now, his smile just as sunny and bright and blinding as always. Just like every time before, Iago looked away.
I don’t know why I did it, He almost said. I don’t understand what’s happening to me.
But he didn’t say it; he didn’t say anything at all. He let Izana hold his hand and ignored that he was clutching the Archduke’s just as tightly.
Izana wasn’t kept in bed for nearly as long as Iago had been. Corrin had certainly been up to something while he was injured, but he still hadn’t determined what it was. It was harder now to break away from Izana’s ever-watchful eye (who knew the man could be so attentive?) and in the end it almost felt like it wasn’t worth it to search for answers he wouldn’t find.
That, of course, was completely ridiculous. His duty to King Garon was to determine exactly what Corrin is up to and put a stop to it should it pose a threat to the king or Nohr. The entire reason he was sent out here was to watch Corrin, and yet he found himself eternally distracted by pretty white hair and a smile so sunny it was likely to burn him.
They spent more time at the castle than they should have, though he was reassured repeatedly that time didn’t work the same here as it did in the other world. Their world. Even so, he couldn’t remain sitting still when there was work to be done.
Though he succeeded in escaping from Izana and managed to talk to several people around the castle before the Archduke located him again and all but stuck himself to Iago’s side, he was unable to learn anything about Corrin’s plans. He was starting to wonder if Corrin really had any idea what she was doing at all, or whether she was making it up as she went in a desperate bid to save as many people as she could.
He did learn that the girl who died in the Eternal Stairway that day was Lilith, that strange floating… thing. He still hadn’t gotten an explanation for what it was or why it was a person, but honestly, he didn’t really care.
Corrin was suffering - she had holed herself up in her room and only spoke to a few people who came to see her - and yet here he was, completely distracted and getting absolutely no satisfaction out of it.
It was infuriating. Why had everything changed so suddenly? What had happened? Had he hit his head when he passed out after using all of his energy on Izana? That was the only explanation he could come up with for how everything changed like this.
Thinking about it wasn’t getting him anywhere, so when Izana had practically begged him to head outside to stargaze, he reluctantly gave in. He had no interest in stargazing, but it wasn’t as though he was going to get any sleep at this rate, and he might as well amuse the Archduke for a little while.
Izana had (once again) commandeered his arm, looping his own around it as he dragged Iago out of the castle. “Ah, look! You can see so many stars tonight!”
The Archduke led him to a grassy hill still within the confines of the castle’s walls, but far enough away that they couldn’t hear any noise from the other soldiers. Izana flopped on the ground first, and Iago didn’t have a chance to protest before he was being pulled down as well. When did Izana take his hand and how had he not noticed?
He let out an undignified noise as he landed on his back, wincing a bit. Izana just laughed. He was lucky Iago’s injury seemed to finally be fully healed, otherwise he would have been furious with the Archduke. “Have you really never been stargazing before?” Izana asked. Even though it was dark out, his smile was still entirely too bright.
“No,” Iago sighed and glanced away. “I’m usually entirely too busy for such pointless things.”
That earned a pout from the Archduke. “It’s not pointless!”
“Name one thing staring at the stars will accomplish.”
“Weeell,” Izana drew the word out for entirely too long, “you can use the stars to find your way at night. And!” The exclamation was entirely too cheerful. “It’s managed to get such a beautiful smile out of you!”
Was he smiling? Smiling? Him? No, if anything it was a smirk - not that he was smirking to begin with, of course. He felt himself tense and he knew whatever his face was doing, it wasn’t pleasant.
Izana sighed. “Oh well, there it goes…”
“I wasn’t smiling,” He snapped, though it was far too little, far too late. He could feel himself flush at how ineffective the words were.
“You were,” Izana reassured him brightly. He then reached for Iago’s hand, and Iago found he didn’t have the energy to pull away. Izana laced their fingers together, and distantly, he supposed that this was fine. He didn’t understand why the Archduke was so fond of physical affection all of a sudden, but it wasn’t like it hurt to give him what he wanted.
“Have you gone stargazing before?” He asked Izana so he could stop thinking about how warm the Archduke’s hand felt against his.
Izana laughed and the sound was as clear and striking as his smile. “I have! But only a few times, and never with anyone all that important.”
Why did that matter? Maybe that was an Izumo thing. Perhaps he should have been more worried about the words, but he didn’t have time to consider it before Izana was leaning over him. One of the Archduke’s hands was pressed into the grass near his side, effectively trapping him. Not that he was focused on that at the moment.
The Archduke’s (pretty? perfect?) hair fell over his shoulders, framing his face in a way that could only be described as ethereal. Izana was exceptionally handsome - there was no denying it. That was objectively true. And like this, framed with the moon and stars behind him, Iago felt his breath slip away and he suddenly wasn’t sure he’d be able to find it again.
“I’m really, really glad we got to meet, Iago.” Izana said and that smile was still so blinding, but this time he couldn’t look away. Nothing in the world could have gotten him to look away. “And I really, really like you.”
That was the exact point where Iago realized he had fucked up, yet he did nothing to stop Izana’s lips from meeting his own.
In hindsight, there were several things Iago could have done to prevent this from happening.
He could have made it clear that he found Izana to be the world’s most annoying man, along with holding the title for world’s stupidest. He could have expressed a disinterest in literally anything Izana said at any given moment, from his inane stories to his completely pointless facts about a land Iago had no reason to care about to his ceaseless prattling about himself. He could have stopped Izana from touching him, from spending time with him, from hanging around like a cute but incredibly stupid puppy.
He could have let someone else heal Izana’s injuries. He could have kept his exceptional power (which was admittedly given to him by Izana himself, but that wasn’t the point).
Instead, he had - unwittingly - led the Archduke on and now - for some reason - Izana was kissing him.
It sent a spike of panic through him. It wasn’t as though Iago had never been kissed; he’d pursued relationships in the past and had ultimately given up on them. There was no sense in trying to hold onto a relationship with someone as he struggled to claw his way to the very top. Even when he had reached his position as King Garon’s right hand, he had not sought out companionship. It simply wasn’t something he needed.
...Or wanted, he had to remind himself. It wasn’t something he wanted.
He had given up on something like this years ago. There was no reason for it to frighten him like this, but he could not help but think back to the myriad of things that had gone wrong while he tried to pursue a relationship. It would be a lie to say he abandoned that simply because of his drive to ascend above his station; in truth, he doubted he could ever find someone who would understand him and care about him, not his magic or his power or his position.
People always found ways to care when it would benefit them. When he would benefit them.
That must have been what caused his accelerated pulse and the lightheadedness that came with it. Izana didn’t - couldn’t - understand him, and to pretend otherwise would do nothing but make a bad situation even worse.
Besides, he was here on King Garon’s orders. How could he ever forget that? He was here for a purpose and that purpose did not involve a pretty, idiotic Archduke. That beautiful idiot would hate him once he killed Corrin, once he carried out King Garon’s orders, whenever he finally managed it.
Izana began to pull back, and it was only then that Iago realized he hadn’t had any reaction, positive or negative. He had been paralyzed by his own thoughts and Izana’s actions and his shock at the situation turning into this. It was best to let Izana go, though he wasn’t particularly thrilled with the idea of watching the Archduke pout at him afterwards. Or trying to explain any of this.
That was what he told himself, but his hands acted of their own accord as they wound themselves through Izana’s perfect hair, pulling him back down to return that kiss.
It was by no means a graceful kiss; it was hungry and desperate, entirely too clumsy. Izana whimpered into his mouth and that only spurred him further and when the Archduke drew back, blood spotted against his bottom lip.
He had never looked more beautiful.
If anyone were ever to ask, Iago would simply claim he had no idea what came over him in that instance. Perhaps it was the blood, or maybe it was just because it had been so long since he last had anyone who even pretended to care about him, but the reason hadn’t mattered at the time. He’d moved an arm to Izana’s waist and in one fluid movement, pushed the Archduke to the ground and reversed their positions, pushing him into the grass and leaning over him to pin him there, so he couldn’t leave.
He’d gotten them into this mess, and he should have gotten them out. But instead, he leaned down to bite Izana’s neck harder than was really necessary.
The Archduke’s flustered moan and arch into his teeth told him all it needed to. The marks he left on Izana’s neck that night would certainly stand out, trailing up much higher than the collar of his robes could hide. In that instant, Iago wanted nothing more than to let the whole damn world know that he had been here, that Izana had given himself up to him.
Not the nobility. Not the powerful. Not anyone else.
“I-Iago,” Izana panted, which served to snap him out of his near-trance momentarily. He raised his head enough to look Izana in the eye and the Archduke raised his hands to cup Iago’s face, one hand trailing over the mask as if in wonder. “I think I—”
He decided he didn’t want to hear the end of that and before Izana could get any brilliant ideas about trying to remove his mask or touch him any more - or even worse, finish that thought - Iago moved to kiss him again. It was just as rough and dominating as before and the soft sounds Izana made beneath him pushed him further down this road of self-destruction.
Izana’s hands threaded through his hair, freeing it from the back of his collar so the dark, wavy strands spilled forward over his shoulders. He kept it back and out of the way for a reason; it was unbelievably long and everywhere now. Not that he was all that annoyed, not really. Izana was gentle at first, his hands trailing through softly, but a particular rough bite against his bottom lip caused the Archduke’s hands to tighten and pull, and gods he hadn’t realized how easy it would be to crumble to pieces in the Archduke’s divine hands.
In that moment, he would have abandoned King Garon in a heartbeat had Izana asked. He would have turned his back on everything he worked for, if it meant he could spend the rest of his life losing himself like this.
Maybe that was what drew him back to reality, or perhaps it was the fact that they had to separate to breathe. Maybe it was the feeling of one of the Archduke’s hands moving from his hair to the mask again. Regardless, Iago found himself staring down at the flushed and wanting look of the Archduke and realized that not only had he made a horrible mistake, he’d just proceeded to further ruin things.
He pulled back, reaching up immediately to fix his hair. He tucked the stray strands back beneath his cape and cloak, eyes darting as he attempted to regain some of his (entirely lost) composure. Izana rose after him and he found words spilling from him, unbidden. “Ah, Your Grace, I… You have my— I didn’t mean to—”
The half-formed thoughts and rushed words did nothing to ease the slowly-growing look of concern on Izana’s face. “Iago? What are you—”
Instead of giving him any sort of response, Iago did the stupidest thing possible. He fled from his problems and from the Archduke. Izana called after him, but he didn’t dare turn to look back. He couldn’t look at the Archduke right now - or ever again, probably. Once he was alone in his room he pressed his back against the door and tried to catch his breath.
How had he let that happen? How had he given in so completely, forgotten his purpose and desires and everything else because that stupid idiot kissed him and then had the nerve to enjoy it? Like he was actually interested in Iago, like he had any reason to be interested?
“Stupid, stupid, stupid—” He snarled to himself as he pushed off the door and marched over to his bed. “How could I be so…”
He trailed off as he caught a glimpse of himself in the mirror. His hair was a mess from where Izana’s hands had been in it. He found himself absently pulling it free from his cloak again now to run his hands through it, to make it presentable, as though he had any intention of leaving his room again tonight. The nervous energy coursing through him guided his hand to the mask next; Izana had been entirely too focused on that. He’d probably wanted to get the stupid thing off, to see what Iago was hiding beneath it.
The mask hit the wall near the door with a loud, dull thud and Iago glared after it like somehow that was more at fault than he was. “Stupid,” He hissed again, “how could I be so stupid.”
His reflection in the mirror was all the proof he needed that whatever Izana saw in him was only a part of a whole, a whole the Archduke simply couldn’t understand. His hand went to the cluster of scars over his eyebrow, stopping just short of his eye. The eye there didn’t work properly, it was unfocused and slow-moving and he had long ago lost any ability to see from it.
It wasn’t just that side of his face that Izana didn’t (couldn’t) understand. He would never be able to grasp any of Iago’s motivations or desires or any of the things that made him Iago. “And to think, I really thought he might like me.” He wanted to drive his nails into his own reflection. He looked so damn pathetic sitting there without his mask, with his fury and frustration on full display.
How stupid, to think that Izana could possibly understand or care.
It was only then that he realized he’d left marks on Izana’s neck. He watched the color rise in his face and he threw himself into his desk chair.
“Ridiculous,” He muttered. A quill and paper were fetched easily and he set to work.
Thirteen drafts and much later at night than he would have liked, he finished. The note was slipped beneath Izana’s door. It was simple enough; a formal apology for what had transpired, simply saying that he had no idea what came over him and would not be troubling the Archduke any further.
That would put an end to it. That had to put an end to it. He wasn’t going to let everything he had worked so hard for slip through his fingers, especially not to some whim. A stupid - and admittedly very pretty - whim. This wouldn’t (couldn’t) happen again.
And if it did, it would succeed in destroying him.
"What is going on beneath Iago's mask?" Who knows. The Revelations manga makes it look like his face is just fine and while I absolutely love the idea that Iago wears the mask just for the aesthetic, I decided to go with this since it fits better for this story. It's fine, I warned for headcanon in the tags!!
Iago did not see Izana the next day, or the day after. He was careful to make sure he didn’t run into Izana in the morning or evening, choosing instead to leave his room very early in the morning and return very late at night.
Not that he assumed the Archduke would try to confront him about what happened. No, certainly not. Izana knew better than that. Didn’t he?
He had assumed everything was going well (“well”), but he received a summons from Corrin. Leo had looked more irritated than usual when delivering the message, so Iago could only imagine word had already spread through their ranks. It took all of his self-restraint not to shut the door on Leo and hole himself up in his room for the rest of time.
As appealing as the idea was, that was the move of a coward. And Iago was certainly not a coward. Usually. If he could face King Garon’s wrath then he could deal with Corrin. It would be fine. Probably.
He made his way to Corrin’s chambers (why did she insist on living in a treehouse, anyway) and knocked. There was no avoiding it. He needed to get this over with. If he was lucky, perhaps Corrin would be merciful and have Xander behead him quickly. If he wasn’t lucky, she’d send him back to King Garon and he’d have to deal with the king’s disapproving look and mad laughter again.
...Huh. Since when did he prefer being here in this bizarre world over being by his king’s side?
That wasn’t important right now. Perhaps he could convince himself of that if he tried hard enough. Thankfully, Corrin answered the door before he could give any serious thought to it. She was dressed as always (and still without shoes; he always found himself checking because it was always so baffling) and she ushered him in.
There was a tea set on a small table in her room and that’s where she led him, gesturing for him to sit. He did, eyeing the teapot suspiciously. Was she planning on poisoning him? He hadn’t expected that one.
“Iago,” Corrin said, but then didn’t continue. It wasn’t a greeting, it sounded like she was trying to go somewhere with it. She folded her hands on the table, her eyes downcast.
Iago looked to the teapot, then back to her. She made no move to offer him tea or even pour herself a cup. That was rude. He raised his one visible eyebrow as he studied her. The princess’ eyes were red and her usually relaxed expression was pulled tight. Pained. Was she really that upset about Izana? It hadn’t been that big a deal, had it? Oh gods, what if Izana had taken it badly? What if she was going to cry at him? What was he supposed to do? He certainly wasn’t going to comfort her. Not that he really knew how to do that anyway. And he certainly wouldn't want to comfort her if it came to that.
...And why would she be all that upset on Izana’s behalf anyway? They were probably fairly good friends, considering how highly Izana spoke of her. But that didn’t mean she had any stake in their… relationship.
(What an ugly word. It wasn’t as though there was really anything there after all.)
She cleared her throat. Tried again. “Iago, there’s… something we must discuss.”
“Of course, Lady Corrin,” He said. The words flowed smoothly and gave no sign to the internal (panic) turmoil bubbling beneath.
“It has come to my attention…” She trailed off and her frown deepened. “I’m… I’m sorry, Iago, I can’t do this.”
Can’t do what? He opened his mouth to ask as much, but she cut him off.
“I’m very tired,” Corrin said. “I can’t be the perfect princess everyone needs me to be. So may I be blunt with you for just a moment?”
Was this a trap? There was no reason for Corrin to let down her guard around him. Surely she knew that he could kill her in a hundred different ways, with every item in this room if he put his mind to it. He could kill her with the teacups if he wanted to. What was she doing? What was she thinking?
She must have taken his silence as affirmation, because she continued, “Some members of the army think you… are causing trouble.”
And there it was. “I can assure you, Lady Corrin, what happened was not anything I meant—”
“Please, let me finish.” She held up a hand to silence him and he found himself obeying. Since when had she grown into the role of a princess? She had never been this commanding before. “They believe you’re responsible for the Faceless. They think you betrayed us and tried to get us all killed.”
Oh. Oh. The Eternal Stairway, that whole mess with the weird flying creature that turned into a person and died for Corrin or whatever, that. Oh thank the gods. He could feel himself relax a bit even as Corrin continued.
“I know you aren’t our ally, Iago. You’re here because of Father’s orders, and Father doesn’t trust me to carry this war out as planned.” She sounded so tired. “But you wouldn’t put yourself in danger like that.”
That was true, but he didn’t like the way she said it. That made him sound cowardly, which he certainly wasn’t. His good eye narrowed.
She paused. He didn’t like that pause. “You wouldn’t put Izana in danger like that.”
He was very thankful she hadn’t offered him any tea, because he absolutely would have choked on it at that. “Wh-What!?” He demanded. He could feel himself flush and it wasn’t out of anger like he would have preferred. It was definitely embarrassment. Mortification that anyone would ever think such a stupid and blatantly untrue thing.
Corrin stared at him, her eyes wide. She had never seen him lose control like this and that alone was enough to make the embarrassment worse. “You two have grown very close since you arrived here.” She said simply. Carefully.
“He won’t leave me alone.” Regrettably, he didn’t sound nearly as composed as he would have wanted. Instead it sounded petulant.
For some reason, that made Corrin smile. It almost looked like her normal one, and he ignored how strangely nice it felt to earn something like that from her instead of her usual sigh and wary look. “He’s very fond of you. I’m glad you’re friends.”
Friends, ugh. This woman was planning on killing him, wasn’t she? She didn’t need poisoned tea to do it, she’d just let her words rip him to shreds! “We’re not—”
“Thank you for listening to me.” Her smile wasn’t nearly as sunny as Izana’s, but he supposed it wasn’t a bad sight. It was still too open, too honest. But maybe that wasn’t such a terrible thing. “To be honest, I thought you hated me. I thought you came here to kill me.”
“I wanted to trust you.” Corrin answered his question before he could finish asking it. “I thought we could work together. Nohr’s army doesn’t need to rip itself apart with infighting.”
He could certainly agree with that, but this was Corrin. Corrin, the bleeding heart princess who surely had some sort of secret agenda. Never mind the fact that he hadn’t figured out what it was yet, and never mind that she seemed entirely too stupid and sincere about all of this to be hiding some secret scheme. There had to be something, because King Garon had entrusted this task to him and he was not going to fail.
She was pretending to trust him for some reason. Perhaps she was expecting him to let his guard down, to genuinely trust her. As though he could ever do that? Did she think he was stupid? Her stupid smiles and pretty words wouldn’t change anything. She was still a royal, still blind to the ways of the world. She saw only what she wanted to see, and what she wanted to see was peace. She’d undoubtedly use him and King Garon and anyone else to make that a reality. She wasn’t any different from any of the other nobles he had ever known.
Kill her now, He thought to himself, just finish her off here and now and damn the consequences. You’ve already made a mess of this. You can still fix everything.
His hands twitched on the table, but he didn’t call magic to them.
You can still fix everything. All you have to do is kill her.
“We’re going to reach Fort Jinya when we return tomorrow. Can I count on your support?”
She looked so sincere. Did she really believe he was on her side? Could she? There was no way she was that stupid. There was no way she could possibly be that stupid.
He ignored the ice spreading through his veins as he answered with the perfect, practiced response she expected to hear.
“Of course, Lady Corrin.”
There would be plenty of time to kill her later, he told himself. He could still salvage this. He had to salvage this.
Corrin’s army reached Fort Jinya early the next morning. There were plenty of Hoshidans inside and manning the walls, and rumors spread through the army that Princess Sakura was in there. There was no telling if that was true or not. He hoped it was, if only because that meant that Corrin would have to deal with her, and maybe things would get back on track in a way he could control again.
(Not that he had lost control. It just slipped away from him a bit. It would be fine. Everything would be fine.)
Iago had been assigned to the back of the army where he could watch their backs for reinforcements, so he had no way of confirming the youngest Hoshidan princess’ presence. He would have preferred being in the front, though he supposed it was better that he was out of the way of the royal family. Getting cut down by a stray hit from any of the princes or princesses would be a dismal way to go. Not that he really expected them to be so careless, but if they “accidentally” killed him, he was certain none of them would really mind.
Izana was nowhere to be found, but he wasn’t sure if that was because the Archduke was with Corrin or if he had simply stayed put in the castle in the other world. He hadn’t seen Izana in two days. In some ways, that was very strange. When had the Archduke become such an integral part of his life?
It didn’t matter anyway. Who cared where Izana was? He didn’t.
The battle was completely boring from where he was sitting and he had more success filing his nails than he did killing enemies. Everything seemed like it was going to be a smooth win for Corrin’s forces and since he was back here and not there, they would undoubtedly spare as many Hoshidans as they could.
That was about when he saw several familiar banners in the distance, and Iago felt his heart stop.
King Garon’s army had arrived.
He rejoined the king immediately, of course. He followed King Garon’s heavy tread through the fort, arriving in the back where several soldiers were already bound. Princess Sakura and the Hoshidan tactician Yukimura were there, along with two people Iago assumed were Sakura’s retainers. There were a few other captured soldiers as well. They all stood off to the side, not yet bound and still very much alive. The princess’ retainers stood between her and their army, with Yukimura beside them. Though their weapons had been confiscated, none of them looked like they were ready to give up entirely.
King Garon’s eyes swept over everyone in the room before settling on the prisoners. Iago watched as several of them recoiled from that stare. “Kill them all.” The king ordered, without a trace of emotion in his voice.
“Father, wait,” Xander was (unsurprisingly) the first to speak, to put himself between the king and the prisoners. It seemed like the eldest prince was always stepping in to spare Corrin and try to defy his father’s orders. Why King Garon continued to let Xander do that without repercussions, Iago couldn’t fathom. Xander spread a hand as if to plead to King Garon while his other still tightly held his blade. “Princess Sakura and the others would be more useful as hostages, don’t you agree?”
“It would be easier to get the other Hoshidan royals to stand down if we keep Princess Sakura alive.” Leo added.
Fair enough, Iago thought as he did his best to keep his expression impassive. The youngest princess could surely get the others to surrender if they were half as caring as Corrin. There was no telling exactly how they’d react, though. He looked to the king to see what his thoughts would be.
The king didn’t look amused, but that wasn’t new. He turned his attention to Corrin. “Do you agree with this?”
Ooh, dangerous. Putting her in a position where she had to answer instead of relying on her siblings to do it for her… That should have been more entertaining than it actually was.
“Yes, Father.” Corrin replied with a nod. “We may be able to use the hostages to—”
“Kill the others.”
Her eyes widened. “Wh-What?”
“Do I need to repeat myself?” The king growled, his displeasure causing everyone in the room to tense. “Leave Princess Sakura alive and kill the others.”
The princess in question gasped. “N-No, you can’t! Please!”
King Garon’s attention snapped to her and she fell silent, eyes downcast. Her hands were shaking where they were gripped in her dress. “Corrin, I want you to kill the other prisoners.”
Immediately the royal siblings all launched into arguments to try to defend Corrin. It was almost funny how quickly they jumped to her defense, as though she was too weak to defend herself.
It was almost funny. Had this happened earlier, he would have been delighted at watching them all squirm. For some reason, nothing about it was enjoyable to watch. Even their weak arguments weren’t entertaining. What was happening to him? How had this happened?
“Your Majesty,” He interrupted their bumbling attempts at arguments, “please allow me. You don’t need to trouble yourself with this.”
King Garon’s gaze fell on him then, and unlike the others, Iago did not flinch. He was used to that heavy, oppressive stare. He had faced it every day of his life for several years, and it was not about to frighten him now. “What reason do you have for this?” King Garon’s words were composed, with nothing in his expression to indicate anger or frustration. Perhaps he would have taken that as a victory some time ago. He didn’t now.
It wasn’t outright stated, but he understood what the king was asking. Why was Iago trying to step in the way of King Garon’s desire to watch Corrin suffer?
(Why was he?)
“You all have to take the Great Wall of Suzanoh next. They are undoubtedly preparing for your advance as we speak. Does it not make more sense to hurry there to crush them while they are ill-prepared?” He said instead, ignoring his own treacherous thoughts.
The silence in the room was deafening. Iago’s eyes did not leave the king, but he could see that they commanded total attention. Even the defeated princess was looking at them as she wrung her hands.
“Very well,” King Garon’s voice rumbled. “Leave only the princess. Everyone else is to die.”
“Understood, Your Majesty.”
The king turned to leave and the royal siblings followed. Leo had to grab Corrin’s arm and pull her along, trying to shush her from arguing further.
He caught her eye as she left. He didn’t need to look at the prisoners as he released the first spell, splashing the soldier’s blood against the back wall as the Hoshidan princess screamed. Corrin flinched and tugged against Leo’s grip like she was going to turn around and stop him. Xander caught her other arm and together, the princes hauled her off.
She didn’t look away and he gave her the coldest smirk he could muster as he took out the Hoshidan princess’ retainers.
The Great Wall of Suzanoh was their next stop, and with it came another victory. Prince Takumi had been in charge of the defenses here, and Corrin had agreed that with Sakura as their hostage, they had no need to keep Takumi alive. Her eyes had been downcast the whole time, her mouth twisted into a pained grimace. She had refused to look at him or at King Garon.
Iago should have felt thrilled seeing her suffer. He should have felt alive after executing the prisoners in such a brutal and cruel fashion before the Hoshidan princess. Sakura had been so upset by the whole affair she had fainted and still hadn’t awoken. But for some reason, Iago felt nothing. The apathy was almost as oppressive as King Garon’s disapproving stare.
It made no sense. He was finally here by his king’s side, able to serve as he wanted, and yet for some reason he didn’t even feel relieved at things being the way they should be. If he wasn’t enjoying the bloodshed and Corrin’s suffering, then something was very wrong.
He didn’t have any time to consider what it could be, though. That was for the best, he was sure. He didn’t want to know what was wrong with him.
They marched into the Hoshidan capital and swept through the streets. King Garon led the grim parade to the castle gates, with the royal siblings right behind him.
Corrin kept her head down, even as insults were hurled by the Hoshidan people. ”You don’t deserve the Yato!” “How could you kill your siblings?” “Monster!” Each one seemed to weigh heavier on her shoulders and her siblings boxed her in tighter as if to protect her from the harsh words.
Honestly, he wasn’t sure exactly what the insult was that caused him to snap. It came from an elderly woman shaking her cane in Corrin’s direction and suddenly Iago was there, grasping her collar and pulling her up. “You dare insult Princess Corrin’s honor?” He asked her, smiling.
Whatever she saw in his face must have terrified her more than his words, for she clawed at his hands to try to free herself. “Let me go—”
“Certainly.” He said and as he dropped her, the blades of Excalibur ripped through her. The crowd fell silent, now just as bloodstained as he was.
“Let this be a lesson to all of you filthy Hoshidans!” His voice rose to a near-manic fever pitch, “You will not insult the royal family, your conquerors! Her Highness Princess Corrin will put an end to this war! Should any of you have any more lies you wish to spew about her, I will gladly shut your mouth for good!”
A rough hand grabbed his arm and tugged him back into formation, but not before he saw King Garon smirk.
“What do you think you’re doing?” It was Hans, unsurprisingly. He had been with King Garon’s army; for whatever reason the king had decided to promote him and give him his own soldiers. Iago had no idea why, the most the man had done was get himself thrown in jail by Xander and betray Corrin once. There was no questioning the king, he supposed. Hans was clearly unimpressed with Iago’s performance and didn’t let go of his grip on Iago’s upper arm even once the king continued marching.
“Putting on a show.” Iago replied easily, shaking himself free. “We want these fools to fear us, do we not?”
Hans grunted an affirmation and went back to ignoring Iago, as he preferred. It was almost insulting sharing a position with a man who couldn’t be bothered to use his brain and would prefer to swing an axe at things first. Normally that would have infuriated him; after years and years of sucking up and doing jobs no one else wanted he had finally received an army to command, and here was Hans doing nothing in particular and being rewarded for it.
He didn’t feel angry, though. His little outburst hadn’t settled him either. He still felt nothing, and now he was covered in blood. Ugh. Some of it had even splattered on his face, he noticed with disgust. He wiped it off with his sleeve and wondered if there was any in his hair or staining his mask. Gross.
Iago couldn’t even take comfort in the fact that Corrin’s shoulders were shaking now and her hands were balled into fists at her sides. She looked like she was ready to cry, or maybe lash out. Either would be nice. Probably.
At least King Garon seemed pleased with him. Even that didn’t make him as happy as it once had. Why? He had always worked so hard to earn the king’s favor, so why was that idea no longer appealing?
He wasn’t going to think about it. He refused to consider it.
They arrived at the castle and with the eyes of the Hoshidan civilians on them, they prepared for their final battles.
“We have enough troops to surround the castle and force a surrender.” Xander said. His voice was just as strained as his expression. Though the words were addressed to all of them, it was obvious he was waiting on the king’s approval.
Iago was on the other side of King Garon, which would protect him from getting throttled, so he spoke up. “Your Majesty, our victory should be complete. We should kill them all.”
Xander absolutely looked like he would have taken Iago’s head clean off his shoulders if he’d been closer. He smirked at the prince, but even that wasn’t satisfying.
“Agreed,” King Garon said and led the charge into the castle grounds.
“What has gotten into you?” Corrin asked him as she walked by. Her eyes were wide, somewhere between hurt and confused. “I thought you were—”
“You never should have trusted me.” Iago smiled pleasantly. “I intended to kill you from the start.”
He shouldn’t have told her that, but in that moment he wanted nothing more than to break what little trust she still had in him. She never should have been stupid enough to trust him. She never should have believed in him.
His smile remained as she walked through the gates, but he didn’t feel happy about the pained look she gave him.
Not that it bothered him, of course.
What she thought about him didn’t matter. What any of them thought about him didn’t matter. He was King Garon’s right hand man, the executioner and strategist of the Nohrian army. His position was not to be taken lightly. He was not to be taken lightly. He might have lost the power Izana had unintentionally given him, but he was still one of the Nohrian army’s most powerful sorcerers and generals.
It served them right. It served them all right for thinking that someone like him could change. How dare they think that they could trust him.
He found himself looking over his shoulder as he followed the royal siblings. Among the crowd of soldiers, he found Izana. It wasn't as though he was looking for the Archduke, but that white hair stood out, and he found himself drawn to the man once again. The Archduke’s expression was just as hurt as Corrin’s.
Iago ignored the traitorous spike of his heartbeat and headed inside.
Princess Hinoka defended the castle grounds. Her soldiers were primarily pegasus riders and archers, and the way to the castle was not nearly as straightforward as it should have been. Leaving any of them alive could prove to be troublesome later. Their army was split in three - Garon’s forces down the center, with Corrin taking the left and Iago the right. Well, okay, Hans was here too, but he was the strategist, not Hans.
While he certainly didn’t approve of Hans on a personal level, he could at least admit the man knew how to fight. They cleaved their way through Hinoka’s forces, though the princess herself was nowhere to be found on their side.
He’d split off from Hans at some point; the brute had chased down an archer and left Iago on his own to march toward the castle. No matter, it wasn’t like he particularly cared if Hans got himself killed. That would only be beneficial for him.
Unfortunately, without Hans to keep an eye out, he had completely missed the pegasus and its rider on his right side. The mask he always wore made it a bit difficult to see threats on that side. Usually it wasn't a problem - he was an expert at positioning himself so his one good eye was all he needed. But it came back to haunt him in the worst way now as rider and beast flew toward him, the woman letting out a loud yell.
Her lance surely would have found its mark directly in his chest. She probably would have killed him. But before she could drive it down, she was hit with a spell. Paper blades ripped through her and the pegasus alike and they crashed to the ground a short ways away. Neither got up.
Iago turned, but he didn’t have to guess who was using that scroll. “Izana.”
The Archduke was trying to catch his breath, like he’d run all the way over here. Maybe he had. It sent a spike of something through him - some emotion he didn’t dare try to put a name to. Izana didn’t speak immediately, so Iago took the offensive. “What are you doing here? Go back to Corrin.”
“I didn’t…” He started, then frowned. “I couldn’t let you…”
“Go. Back. To. Corrin.” Each word was spoken slowly and with enough force behind it to be an order. Perhaps if frustration wasn’t coloring his words, it would have been, and maybe Izana would have left.
Instead, the Archduke shook his head. His perfect hair was out of place and for some inane reason, Iago wanted to reach out and fix it. It wasn’t wild and nearly untameable like his hair, Izana’s was soft and smooth and sleek, and the ruffled look didn’t suit him. “I’m not leaving you. Someone has to save you from yourself.”
“Save me?” Iago laughed at that. It was loud and high-pitched and furious. “I don’t need you or Corrin or anyone! I certainly don’t need to be saved!”
Saved. Saved. As though he was in such a position to require it? As though anyone would want to help him even if he was? It was laughable. It was infuriating.
“I don’t understand what you’re doing, Iago.” Izana said and his words were free of anger or frustration. He stepped forward, reaching out for Iago’s hand and succeeding at grabbing it before Iago could pull it back. “But this isn’t the path you should be on. You’re going to hurt yourself. And probably everyone else.”
There is but one path to walk and you have found it. Do not stray.
The words from the ancient gods (as told to him by Izana) came back, echoing around in his head. He hadn’t cared to remember them before, but suddenly they were all he could hear. Why? They weren’t important. Even if Izana hadn’t been lying and his “ancient gods” had given him a message meant for Iago, it didn’t matter. He was not a religious man and had no reason to listen to the words of some possibly-made-up gods. He did had only one path to walk and it was the one he’d decided on years ago. His path was at King Garon’s side, where he was safe. Where he could succeed.
Where someday, his talents could finally be recognized and he would finally have everything he ever wanted and dared dream for.
“Unhand me,” He tried to snap, but there was no venom in it.
“No.” The Archduke’s grip tightened. “I’m not going to let you run again. You can’t keep fleeing.”
“I’m not fleeing.” He snarled. The poison he wanted (needed) to spit wasn’t there either. “I’m doing what I need to. Unhand me.”
Izana’s grip tightened again, to the point where the Archduke’s nails dug tiny crescents into his skin. “You have to face it, Iago. You can’t pretend this isn’t happening. You can’t keep avoiding it. You can’t go back to how things were.”
He didn’t know what Izana was talking about. Everything was exactly the same way as it had always been. Nothing had changed. Nothing would change. He wanted so desperately to be angry.
“I’m not—” He sighed in frustration. The anger had died out far too quickly. “I’m going to break through and rejoin the king. If you’re smart, you’ll go back to Corrin and you won’t get in my way.”
“I still believe in you, Iago.” Izana’s words were warm. Were the situation different, he might have found them comforting. Instead, it felt as though his insides had frozen over and his heart could no longer beat. “You can still stop this.”
“I—” His pulse quickened. He felt like he couldn’t breathe. All he could focus on was how badly he wanted to kiss Izana again. A stupid, utterly foolish thought, and one he certainly couldn’t entertain. His place was at King Garon’s side. It always had been. It always would be. He didn't have time for attachments like this.
“Iago, hurry up!”
Hans’ voice broke him from his thoughts and he yanked his hand away from the Archduke like he’d been set on fire. Hans was already moving toward the castle, so it was unlikely he’d seen them. Even so, Iago could feel himself flush. He couldn’t even imagine trying to explain this to anyone, much less a complete buffoon like Hans.
He turned to leave, but hesitated, then spun around to face Izana.
“Don’t follow me. Go back to Corrin and stay safe. I won’t have your blood on my hands.” It was harsh and brusque, meant to deter Izana.
But for some reason, it just made the Archduke smile. “I know you’ll do the right thing.”
He wanted to drive his nails into Izana’s pretty face and make him scream. He wanted to send Excalibur through his stupid smooth skin and bleed him dry. He wanted to make him pay for that stupid, stupid misplaced trust.
But he didn’t. He couldn’t. So instead he turned on his heel and followed Hans and King Garon.
Unsurprisingly, Corrin had found Hinoka and claimed to have killed her. She still gripped the bloody lance tightly in hand, though her wide eyes and shaking shoulders told a different story. She was lying; Hinoka had been spared, Iago was sure of it. It wasn’t like Corrin to kill someone unless it was absolutely necessary - he’d seen enough of that first-hand. If Hinoka had made it a fight and truly was dead, Corrin would be inconsolable right now.
No, the Hoshidan princess was still alive. He was sure of it.
But King Garon was so close to victory, he didn’t want to hear it. It wasn’t as though Iago had any compelling evidence anyway, so he’d been rudely dismissed. Not that he expected anything else, really. One escaped princess could not topple the Nohrian army now. Iago had let it go without further comment, though he watched Corrin’s shoulders steady as she entered the throne room.
Prince Ryoma was there, waiting for them.
If he was content to wait in the room for them, then walking in there would be walking directly into a trap. The Hoshidan prince was sitting on the floor, legs folded and sword resting across his knees. The entire thing was almost entirely too obviously a trap, but Iago was not going to take any chances. Before anyone else could move, he stepped forward. He stood just outside the room and raised his voice before King Garon or Corrin could get a word in edgewise. “Greetings, Prince Ryoma. You’re the last thing standing between us and our victory. Your siblings are either dead or captured, so stand down and perhaps we’ll spare you!”
Maybe it was his tone or his sneer or any number of things, but Ryoma stood and readied his sword. His gaze swept over Iago, dismissing him immediately (how dare he), and landed on Corrin. “Is this true?” His voice betrayed nothing.
Corrin’s grip on Hinoka’s bloody lance tightened. She took a step forward, hesitated, then took another one, placing her inside the room exactly as Iago had predicted. Corrin - as usual - was a complete imbecile. Even after he’d spent hours teaching her about battle tactics and how to avoid walking into obvious traps like this one. It would almost be disappointing. If he cared. He didn’t, of course. Without a word, the princess threw the spear down. Perhaps it was confirmation of Hinoka’s supposed death.
Ryoma certainly took it that way. “How could you?” His words were more angry than anguished, but it would have been hard to miss how much this hurt him. “How could you kill your sister? How could you side with Nohr!?”
He asked it as though he couldn’t understand. What was there to understand? Corrin had been raised in Nohr, she considered the royal siblings her family. She had known them all her life and had much weaker ties to Hoshido. Did the prince really think blood counted more than the people she loved?
Ugh, gross. This whole thing made him want to roll his eyes.
Whatever Corrin said was so quiet Iago couldn’t hear it. Immediately, the doors to the room slammed shut, blocking both Corrin and the Hoshidan prince from sight.
Xander was at the door in a heartbeat, trying to get it open and when that didn’t work, slamming his shoulder against it. “Corrin!” His shout was bordering on frantic and his siblings were quick to join him. Camilla had her axe at the ready and Leo was already searching for magical weak points. Elise was already in tears, which was about as useful as anything her other siblings were doing.
“Don’t bother, it’s magic.” Iago waved a hand in dismissal. “The doors won’t open until we’ve found the mage responsible.”
The crown prince’s eyes narrowed as he turned on Iago. “Why can’t you open it?” It was almost more of a threat than a question.
Iago just shrugged. Xander’s glare had nothing on King Garon’s. “Different types of magic. I don’t know the first thing about Hoshidan spells. I can’t undo magic I don’t understand.” Xander’s grip tightened on his sword and Iago’s gaze flicked to the crown prince’s blade. He wouldn’t kill him. Not with King Garon still present. Iago could get away with everything short of murdering the Nohrian royals right now. The thought wasn’t as thrilling as it should have been. “There’s no reason to panic. Lady Corrin is one of the strongest in the army, is she not? Surely she’ll be able to kill Prince Ryoma.” His smile was entirely too saccharine, as though he genuinely believed those words.
(Corrin really was strong, he’d give her that. In a duel against Ryoma, he would bet on Corrin. Assuming he was forced into betting on either of them in the first place. It’s not like he had any faith in her. It was just that he respected her strength. That’s all.)
Xander’s expression tightened. “I’m going to find that mage.” He immediately set off back toward their troops to grab his horse, barking out orders for his siblings and the rest of the army as he went. Unsurprisingly, he had much more experience with battle and tactics than Corrin did. His strategy - as quickly slapped together as it was - wasn’t half bad. He might not lose all his troops.
King Garon didn’t look particularly bothered by the whole affair. If anything, he looked bored. “Hurry up and get that door open.” It was an order aimed at Iago, of course. Who else would it be aimed at? King Garon’s dirty work was always left to him. He bowed deeply to signify that he heard and was going to obey.
“Of course, Your Majesty.”
That was much easier said than done, however. There were more Hoshidans spread throughout the castle than Iago had anticipated, and it took far longer to find the mage than he would have liked. He wasn’t even the one who found them, it was a victorious cry from the other side of the throne room that caught his attention. While he had to deal with Hoshidan ninja and priestesses, they got the joy of taking down that mage. Ugh. He returned to King Garon’s side just as the doors slid open.
Ryoma was kneeling, his sword on the ground some ways away, just out of reach. Corrin’s blade was in her hands and she was shaking so badly she might drop it at any moment. Regardless, she had won. She looked mostly unscathed from what he could see, only bearing a few minor cuts. Her siblings - the Nohrian ones - piled into the room to support her, to try to keep her from harm.
It was a disgusting display. Did she ever stop to think how lucky she was to have so many people willing to throw themselves in harm’s way over and over and over again, just to keep her safe? What had she done to deserve such unwavering loyalty?
“We’ve won,” Corrin managed, her voice weak and trembling as badly as her hands.
“Yes.” King Garon’s voice rumbled as he approached. His footsteps were slow and heavy and everyone’s eyes fell on him. Even the defeated prince looked up, defiantly. As though there was anything he could do now, without even his sword. “But now we must deal with this.” The king sounded as though he was looking on something undesirable that should be removed from his sight immediately.
There was silence in the room for far too long. Iago took that time to follow the king inside the throne room, still keeping an eye out for any other potential traps. It really did seem like there was nothing else here, though. Had Ryoma really thought he could take Corrin in a battle? And even if he had, what was his plan for dealing with the rest of the army?
“Father,” Corrin sounded desperate as she continued, “please, we’ve already defeated him, we don’t need to—”
“Kill him.” The king interrupted. “Do it now.”
Somehow, the princess managed to retain her grip on her weapon, but it was obvious in her eyes that she was going to disobey. Something within her seemed to snap at that moment, and Iago was certain that this was the chance he had been waiting for, the moment when Corrin’s plan - whatever it was - would finally be put into action.
“Your Majesty, it looks as though the princess isn’t interested in carrying out your orders.” He smirked at Corrin. “That would be treason, would it not?”
“I’m not—” She tried to defend herself, but he was faster.
“Lady Corrin wouldn’t betray us now, would she? Your Majesty, what should we do?” The words were almost cloying, both sweet and toxic and aimed to twist the dagger he’d already aimed at Corrin earlier.
Her eyes narrowed and her grip steadied on her sword. The fire in her gaze was unwavering now. In that moment he knew he’d succeeded. He’d finally managed to convince her that he was her enemy. Not her ally, not her soldier, and certainly not her friend.
She’d finally rid herself of that stupid, misguided belief that he was trustworthy.
“I will not repeat myself.” King Garon growled. He started turning toward Corrin, undoubtedly to tell her once again that if she didn’t comply with his orders, she would be executed.
He didn’t get a chance to say that, though. Instead, Ryoma raised his sword.
When had he managed to get his sword back? That was Iago’s first thought and most pressing concern. That sword had a longer range than most, and even from here it could potentially be deadly. Instead of using that sword to attack, Ryoma spun it around so the blade was pointing at his stomach. Iago knew exactly where this was going to go, but couldn’t do anything before Ryoma spoke his final words. “Corrin. Put an end to this.” He smiled. “I’m counting on you.”
His blade sunk deep into his gut and the currents of lightning ensured he wasn’t going to survive.
Corrin started forward, Ryoma’s name leaving her lips in something that was somewhere between a shout and a wail, only to be held back by her siblings.
Iago swore under his breath before turning to look at King Garon. The king didn’t look annoyed, at least. That was possibly the only good thing to come of this. King Garon moved to sweep by Ryoma’s body, toward the throne.
“Leave. All of you. I wish to consult Anankos.”
He stood before the throne, one hand still on his massive axe and the other trailing over the arm of the throne as if only now seeing it for the first time.
Iago was not one to disobey orders, so he took his leave. He was a bit surprised to find the princes and princesses on his heels, for once not arguing or complaining about their father’s decision. The doors slammed shut behind them and everyone present jumped.
Camilla pulled Corrin into a tight hug, murmuring something meant only for her sister’s ears and Iago struggled not to roll his eyes. Perhaps he would have left them to their own devices without interference, but that was when Hans stormed over.
In truth, Iago had no idea when Hans had left. King Garon must have given him orders at some point, but he wasn’t sure when. Not that it was really all that surprising, he tried not to pay any attention to Hans most of the time anyway. “Your little scheme failed.” The brute was grinning.
“Scheme?” Xander moved to step before Corrin, with Leo at his side. “What are you talking about?”
“You think we’re stupid? We caught a certain princess and her buddies fleeing for their lives.”
And there it was - Iago was right. Not that he was surprised, of course. He was always right. He swept toward Hans, away from the royals. “My, what a pity. And here I thought you might actually follow King Garon’s orders for once, Lady Corrin.” The words were entirely sarcastic. “You wanted to spare them all, didn’t you?” He didn’t need to ask. They both knew it.
“There’s no sense in all this pointless killing.” Corrin’s words were stronger now, and she gently pushed through her brothers to stand before them. Perhaps it was Ryoma’s dying words that had spurred her onward. Or maybe she was entirely too mad about Iago’s supposed betrayal to have any lingering doubts about her path forward.
In that moment, she truly did seem to be related to the Nohrian royals. She held her head high, her gaze was as set in steel as King Garon’s. She had made her choice. Corrin was following her own path, a path that put them directly into conflict.
Good, He thought. It’s about damn time.
They didn’t exchange any more words. Instead Hans lunged forward as Iago’s spell sliced through the air.
Hans’ axe was caught by Xander’s blade and Iago’s spell was deflected by one of Leo’s own. Camilla came to Xander’s defense as Corrin surged forward, her bright blade flashing in the light as she tried to bring it down on Iago.
He was faster - not by much, admittedly - and managed to pull back in time to dodge the blow. It would have killed him if she’d landed it. “There we go, finally! I was wondering when you’d show your true, traitorous colors!”
“You attacked us first!” She yelled, agitated, as she brought her sword down again.
“And you let Hinoka go! You defied a direct order! People aren’t going to keep stepping in to save you, you know!”
“The war is over, we’ve won!”
Her blade crashed down on the shield he’d created, and dispelling it sent shockwaves to knock her back. She was strong, immensely strong. He wouldn’t survive a single hit, if she landed one. His own magic seemed woefully underpowered to face her. He was lucky that the other royals were focused on Hans. His breathing picked up as he put more distance between them, sending another Excalibur blast in her direction, hoping to delay her. She surged forward.
“You still serve King Garon and you’ll follow his orders!” His words were desperate, accelerating in pace and growing louder. She was going to kill him. She was really going to kill him.
He shouldn’t be afraid. Wasn’t that what he was after when he was provoking her? But now, when her blade cut entirely too close to him—
“You need to think for yourself!”
That was the point where his foot caught his robes and he slipped and she was on him in an instant, knocking him down with her weight. His back hit the floor hard and he saw stars as his head followed.
From his vantage point on the floor, he was able to witness Leo’s spell impale Hans straight through the back. Camilla’s axe cleaved through his neck. They’d lost, had they? Was that really all that surprising? He found it wasn’t. For all his strength, Hans was no strategist. And Iago…
Well, he wasn’t going to give in without a fight. If he was going to die here, he was certainly not going to go without taking Corrin with him. He tried to summon a spell to his fingers, but nothing came. Corrin’s blade was at his throat a moment later.
“Don’t.” She snarled, “Don’t you dare move.”
He dropped his hands and kept his mouth shut for once.
The other royals joined their sister, probably to make sure he didn’t try anything. Not that he could while she had him pinned like this, but perhaps they thought he had something else up his sleeves. Usually he did. Usually he wouldn’t have rushed into battle without a plan, and a backup plan, and maybe a third just in case things went really wrong.
When had he stopped preparing like that? When had he decided he didn’t care anymore? Or maybe that wasn’t it at all, and he’d simply been so desperate to get things back to the way they should be. He wanted Corrin to be angry at him, to stop thinking he was one of her stupid friends.
It was Elise who broke the silence, tentatively. “What are we going to do with him?”
“He’s Father’s right hand man. We can’t afford to let him live.” Leo scoffed.
“Besides, he did say he wanted to kill Corrin.” Camilla added. Her smile was vicious.
“Corrin?” Xander asked and all eyes fell to the princess.
She was breathing hard, her hands shaking where they clutched her sword. “I should kill you,” She said, her words soft but still filled with fury.
You should, He wanted to say. He wanted to make her angry and careless and rash, but more than that, he wanted to live. He didn’t speak.
“But that’s… that’s not for me to decide.”
Corrin looked up, though from his position he couldn’t see what she was looking at. Soft footsteps alerted him to the presence of someone else and it didn’t take long for him to realize that there was indeed a fate worse than death.
The Archduke knelt beside Corrin. His expression was serene, as it usually was. Almost as if he didn’t realize what the situation really was. It occurred to Iago that he could move his head just slightly and slice his throat open on Corrin’s blade. It was beginning to sound tempting. Not that he wanted to die - he really didn’t - but death was definitely a better option than dealing with Izana. Especially right now, like this.
“Can I ask you something?”
“You just did.” Iago sighed. The royals were still standing over him and he did not like that they were apparently just going to watch this ridiculous confrontation. Sure, he deserved many horrible things, but even he didn’t deserve this. The Archduke pouted and he relented, “But fine, go ahead.”
“Why are you like this?” The question was so open-ended he expected more to follow, but Izana didn’t continue, just staring down at him instead.
“You’re going to have to elaborate. Which part of my behavior is difficult to understand?” It was sarcastic, of course. It wasn’t like he had much choice in the matter any more, but he could at least be a pain until the end.
“All of it.” Everyone around him answered in unison.
Iago groaned. Why. Why was this happening. He wasn’t a good person, but he certainly did not deserve to have to explain himself to the Nohrian royals and Izana of all damn people.
“I want power, and the best way to get that is to serve King Garon. There. That’s it. Happy?”
“But why do you want power?” Izana’s voice and expression were openly confused. “I told you that it’s super lonely at the top. People don’t care about you, they care about the position. Why would you want that?”
He ground his teeth as he resisted the urge to start yelling at Izana. Again. “I grew up with nothing. My mother and I lived on the streets. She couldn’t make ends meet. I learned to steal before I learned to read.”
Izana’s expression had shifted into something he didn’t understand and couldn’t place. Pity, perhaps? It only infuriated him more and somehow, that made him keep going. “My father was a nobleman. He slept with my mother behind his wife’s back, so my mother was cast out onto the street before I was born. She constantly insisted that things would get better. They didn’t.
“She died. Illness. I was nine. A year later I ended up finding a spellbook, and it turns out I was gifted. I was adopted into a noble family.”
“Count Marcius' family?” Xander asked. It looked as though it was finally dawning on him.
Iago nodded. Well, sort of. As well as he could with a blade at his neck. “Yes. I wasn’t an official part of the family, mind. I was little more than a servant who just so happened to have a talent for magic. I was provided for, but only for as long as I proved useful to the family.”
Camilla frowned as she leaned on her axe. “Marcius sent several mages to the service of the royal family, but your name was never among them.”
“That’s right, it wasn’t. I fled. Once I knew all they could teach me, I left. Disappeared into the night. Eventually, I joined as a soldier.” He lifted his shoulders, almost as if in a shrug. “I worked my way up from there.”
All of them had some strange look on their faces. It must have been pity. He couldn’t think of anything else it could be. “Satisfied?” He hadn’t ever told anyone about his past. Why bother? It wasn’t as though anyone cared enough to find out. It wasn’t as though any of them cared. But with a sword at his neck, he found it was much easier to talk about such things.
“So why did you join me?” Corrin asked.
“Because I was ordered to! His Majesty asked me to keep an eye on you and figure out what you were planning, so I did.” He scoffed. “Isn’t that obvious? Did you think I would join of my own free will?”
Corrin ignored the barbed words and the challenge in them. “Did you figure out what I was planning?” The way she said it made it sound like she had a plan. But she didn’t. Did she? Had he been wrong in his assumption? Did she actually know what she was doing all along? No, that wasn’t possible. He had spent time witnessing her incredibly poor attempts at strategy, the girl couldn’t possibly plot her way past him.
He couldn’t have been wrong.
“You don’t have one.” He snapped, desperate to shut his mind off. “I spent this whole time trying to figure it out and you don’t have one. You just wanted to save as many people as you could.”
“I still do.” Her smile was sad. “And I think—”
“Don’t you dare say it—”
“I think I can save you.”
Iago groaned. Why had she felt the need to say that. What could possibly possess her to think there was anything worth saving? He had given himself to King Garon and there was no turning back. He was loyal through and through. Nothing could ever sway him from his path. This was the only path he could take to reach his goals. King Garon was the only one who could provide safety and security and an environment in which he’d thrive. He didn’t need - or want - anyone or anything else.
And even if he did, it was far too late for him to do anything about it.
“Either kill me or let me go so I can report this to the king.” It lacked the bite he really needed it to have. Death was sounding like a better option with each word from her mouth.
“Why are you so certain that you aren’t worth saving?” Izana asked. The question was genuinely curious, not pointed at all. That made it even worse. So much worse.
Once again he was struck by the urge to claw at Izana’s face, to really hurt him. He was almost close enough. He was so tantalizingly close that his hands twitched against the floor. “I’m not like you bleeding hearts. I enjoy killing! I had fun with these battles today!”
“No you didn’t.” Izana wasn’t holding the sword but he was doing a great job of murdering Iago anyway. “You were lashing out.”
“I was not.” He retaliated, sounding offended. That wasn’t what he was doing. That definitely wasn’t what he was doing at all, and how dare Izana pretend to understand him like this—
“You’ve been acting very strange recently.” Leo was frowning, but that was an improvement over whatever that horrible expression had been. Still, he didn’t like it. “Almost as if you’ve been trying to convince yourself that this is what you want.”
“I have not, I’m always like this!” A pause. “And this is what I want!”
His words went ignored. “Did something happen after he was injured?” Camilla wasn’t addressing him at all now. Her gaze was on her siblings instead. She tapped a finger to her chin as she considered. “Oh, that’s right, in the Eternal Stairway…”
“He saved Izana!” Elise chimed in, helpfully. Her smile made him want to stab her. It looked entirely too similar to some other bright and obnoxious smiles he’d had the misfortune of witnessing. “He wore himself out making sure Izana would be okay.” She gasped. “Oh my gosh, do you think…?”
Oh, he did not like where this was going.
“Are you guys in love?” Elise’s voice was entirely too loud and entirely too pleased with the question as she bounced over to Izana. She was practically squealing.
He took her hands gleefully and nodded. “We are!”
“No we are not!”
He could feel his face burning, the flush equal parts embarrassment and shame. To think that the Nohrian royals had him pinned here and were letting this absolute disaster happen without even batting an eye. And he thought they were the merciful ones!
Unsurprisingly, Iago went ignored yet again. Izana continued, undeterred, “We went stargazing together and it was super romantic. Though he’s been acting super weird since then. Prrrobably because he doesn’t really know how to handle realizing that he was totally wrong about what he wanted in life.”
“I am going to kill every single one of you the moment you let me up.” He promised, glaring daggers at Corrin because he couldn’t bring himself to look at Izana. He didn’t know what he’d do if he had to look at that stupid, sunny smile again. He didn’t even want to think about it.
To his surprise, Corrin let him go. She pulled the blade away and stood up, giving him room to move. All eyes were on him, but not a single one of them readied their weapons.
That was a mistake they’d certainly regret! All he had to do was summon Excalibur’s power to his fingers - he could easily kill at least one of them before the others cut him down. He didn’t want to die (despite the torment), but it would be worth it if it meant he could kill Corrin. Then King Garon would be free to do whatever he wanted without worrying about Corrin’s betrayal or whatever stupid plans she may or may not have had and…
He didn’t want to die. That was why he never began summoning the magic at all. That was why he didn’t kill Corrin. That was why he let Izana hug him tightly.
It was the only explanation he had, and it did nothing to make any of this any easier.
Before Iago could spend any more time thinking about what they had said and what he had admitted (or Izana’s arms around his neck), the doors to the throne room burst open. “Corrin...” A voice that was definitely not King Garon’s echoed from inside. “Come to me...”
Maybe King Garon had managed to summon his imaginary god after all or something, Iago wouldn’t have been surprised at this point. He sighed and pried Izana’s arms off him as he stood.
Corrin was already turned toward the door, her mouth set in a firm line. “Everyone, I want you to prepare for the worst.” From the sound of it, she expected something horrifying the moment they walked in. It sounded like she knew something he didn’t. He didn’t have the energy to be surprised or annoyed.
Whatever it was Iago expected to see in there (King Garon on the throne with some sort of horrific monster god at his feet, perhaps?) was certainly not what was happening.
There was something on the throne all right, and when he looked closely he was fairly sure he could see King Garon’s crown on its head. Well, at least for a moment, until the disgusting ooze the thing was made of absorbed it.
“So when were you all going to tell me that King Garon is actually a slime monster?” He asked the royals. He was so done. He had finally reached the point where he no longer gave a fuck and it felt liberating. He wasn't even really surprised at this development; this might as well happen.
Unsurprisingly, he was ignored again. “Father?” Xander asked as he stepped closer, as though that thing was somehow supposed to be King Garon.
“Please be careful. That beast is not your father!” Azura had her lance ready and she joined Xander, laying a hand on his arm to stop him. When had Azura gotten here? Had she been here the whole time? Maybe he just hadn’t noticed because he didn’t care about her. Oh well.
Anyway, Corrin joined them, her blade at the ready. “We have one final battle. Everyone, please lend me your strength!”
“B-But… But we can’t fight Father…” Elise whimpered.
“He’s not your father, he’s clearly a monster.”
Once again, no one paid any attention to him. Why was he even here if they weren’t going to listen? Ugh. Royal brats. This was exactly why he couldn’t stand the nobility. They always proceeded to turn everything into some kind of ridiculous drama when it didn’t need to be. They also refused to listen to the only sane people in the room. Which - at this point in time - was... only him, actually. It would be a bit hard to consider Izana sane, all things considered.
Xander squared his shoulders and readied his sword. “Corrin’s right. That beast is no longer the man we once knew. We have to put a stop to him before he destroys the world!”
Why were they all so overdramatic? Oh well. Iago folded his arms as he watched the royal siblings launch into battle with the monster that had once been King Garon. This was probably fitting somehow. It was the end of an era and the end of his servitude to a king who had never cared, who turned out to be a slime monster in disguise this whole time.
Definitely fitting. Maybe.
While they were occupied, Izana’s hand found his arm and he finally looked at the Archduke. “You followed the ancient gods’ advice.”
“No I didn’t.”
“Yes you did. You stayed on the right path!”
Iago sighed and rolled his eyes skyward. “I most certainly did not. I really was going to kill Corrin.”
“But you didn’t.”
“Only because her siblings would have murdered me.”
Izana laughed and when Iago glanced back at him, he was wearing that same sunny smile. “I really do think I love you.” He said it so easily, like those words came naturally to him.
He found himself raising a hand to cover his face as he turned away. He was definitely flushed now. “We barely even know each other! You can’t just… say that.”
“Sure I can! Do you want me to say it again?”
“No!” He pulled his hand away from his face to gesture to the battle happening in the background. “Besides, do you really think now is the time to talk about that?”
Izana glanced over at whatever madness was going on over there before shaking his head. “No, probably not. Buuuuut if we don’t talk about it now, you’ll run away again.”
Well, that was probably true. Admittedly he didn’t know where he’d run away to, seeing as how his former employer was now a slime monster and getting thoroughly destroyed by his offspring. “I don’t want to talk about it.” He said instead, the words defensive and stiff.
The Archduke hummed for a moment, clearly thinking. “Since you’re out of a job… Will you come work for me?”
“It’s true that Izumo doesn’t have an army, so we don’t really need a tactician,” Izana continued as though Iago hadn’t spoken, “but I can pay you well and I’m sure we can find something for you to do there! And it’ll give you plenty of time to get to know me!”
He stared. The sounds of the clash echoed around the room. The slime monster was yelling about the will of Anankos or something. This was really the worst place and time to have this discussion. “You would really trust someone like me with that?” He finally asked. It was perhaps the most honest he had ever been in his life. It should have been frightening to open himself up like that. Somehow, it wasn’t.
Izana nodded, which only reaffirmed that the Archduke was indeed an idiot. “I’d like that a lot.”
Iago sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose. “Fine. But—” He held up a hand before Izana could interrupt him, “We’re not in love. We’re not together. I’m accepting a job from you. That’s all.”
“That’s all until you get to know me better, riiiight?” Izana teased, a sly look on his face that was nearly as attractive as his usual smile.
“No, of course not. It’s just a job.”
His argument wasn’t very compelling when he leaned in to kiss Izana immediately afterward.
It wasn’t exactly romantic - not with the dying screams of what had once been King Garon in the background - but it was the first time he had ever felt so free.
With King Garon - or the hideous slime monster that had been masquerading as the king - defeated, the war should have been over. They should have been free to do… well, whatever it was Corrin ordered next, for surely she had something in mind for the end of the war, right? Honestly, he wouldn’t put it past her to be doing this without a plan at all.
Either way, she didn’t get a chance to do much of anything, because suddenly an arrow went soaring by her head, so close it ripped through her hair.
As the closest two to the doors, it fell to Iago and Izana to handle whatever nonsense was happening now, and as Iago prepared his tome he realized something was very wrong.
Takumi stood there, his hands shaking where he held his bow, his eyes wide and almost unseeing. It wasn’t Takumi himself that was the problem. He hadn’t expected Corrin to kill him, and she had only claimed he died. She hadn’t even had his bow as proof. So this wasn’t particularly surprising.
The immense dark energy around him was definitely new, though. It wasn’t any sort of magic he was familiar with. It was wild, uncontrollable, and dangerous in a way no magic he had ever seen could be. Magic was not particularly difficult to understand once one knew what they were looking at, but this? This felt entirely foreign, like it wasn’t even from the same plane of existence.
It sent shivers up his spine, and Izana had clearly noticed it too. Iago wasn’t exactly sure when Izana had latched onto his arm, but the Archduke’s grip was tight and he certainly wasn’t going to let go. “What is that?” The Archduke asked quietly, the words shaking.
Whatever it was - the being wearing the Hoshidan prince’s face - stepped forward on unsteady legs. It readied its bow again.
Corrin, in all her usual stupidity, did not seem to realize there was a problem. All of her siblings were looking at this intruder warily, but she didn’t seem to have any idea that this wasn’t the prince. “Takumi!” She exclaimed. “I’m so glad you’re alive!”
Why was she so stupid? He didn’t have time to question that because that thing was muttering something about betrayal, wobbling its way toward her. Despite its awkward movements, it was fast and when it released its arrows, they flew straight. The first shot missed Corrin by a hair as she jumped backwards and the second was blocked by her sword. The third caught her in the arm and she cried out in pain.
“I’ll kill you…” The thing groaned. “Betrayal… Death… Murder…”
Corrin, despite having just dodged most of the thing’s shots, begged it to snap out of it. “Please, Takumi! The war is over, King Garon’s defeated! It’ll be okay now! I promise!”
It was Azura who seemed to have some idea of what was going on. “Wait, Corrin,” Her eyes never left the being and her words remained steady, “I believe that Takumi is possessed by something, just as King Garon was.”
She knew more than she was saying, Iago was certain of that. Not that it would do any good right now, with that hideous thing staring them down.
No, it wasn’t just staring them down anymore. It was babbling, half-formed thoughts and accusations and regrets, everything that must have once been Prince Takumi but was now some twisted fake being puppeted around by magic that was almost unbelievable. Perhaps this was what had stopped the Nohrian royals from killing King Garon outright. Iago and Izana had been in the back of the room, far away from whatever actually happened there.
“Can we just kill him already?” He asked, the question directed to Corrin. It sounded agitated and frightened instead of annoyed as it should have been.
Yet again he was ignored. Corrin stepped forward, her blade still in hand. “My brother…” Her words were slow, full of sorrow and pain. “I have caused you so much suffering. I can never make amends for all I have done to you.”
“Corrin, wait!” Azura’s voice was high-pitched. Terrified.
“I can’t make up for what I have done, and I cannot afford to die just yet.” Her gaze was unwavering. Even this close she did not seem to mind the horrifying thing or its deadly aura. “But I will take all of your anger, Takumi. If you’re going to attack anyone, let it be me!”
Oh, that was not good. “Are you stupid?” The words erupted from him as he turned toward her. “Of course you are, forget I asked that. Why are you doing this!? Do you want to die!?”
Izana’s grip on his arm tightened and the Archduke pulled him back. It was a good thing he had, because that horrifying thing released a hideous screech as it loosed another arrow, striking Corrin square in the chest. The blow was immensely strong, sending her flying and crashing into the ground at her siblings’ feet.
She didn’t get up.
He could hear Elise’s wails and the other siblings’ frantic yelling, their panic as they tried to rouse their sister. All of them had completely forgotten about the threat in front of them, which really wasn’t all that surprising. They weren’t related to Corrin by blood, and yet they were all exactly as stupid.
“Looks like it’s up to us.” He sighed. “While they’re panicking, we can at least buy them some time.”
Izana looked like he’d greatly prefer doing anything but that, but the Archduke nodded anyway and finally released his death grip on Iago’s arm. “Right. Right, we can do that. We’re pretty strong.”
“Exceptionally strong.” Iago agreed.
Maybe that thing had heard their voices, or perhaps it had lost interest in whatever was happening over there now that Corrin was (probably) dead. It turned its bright, unnerving red eyes on them and tilted its head. They barely had time to leap out of the way before an arrow pierced where they’d been standing.
It wasn’t just fast and accurate, it was incredibly powerful. The arrow - something that wasn’t quite magic but also wasn’t completely physical - struck the ground and broke the tiles, sizzling and crackling against them for a moment before it simply disappeared.
Excalibur tore from his fingertips, catching that horrible thing within the vortex as blades of wind sliced through it. It didn’t even falter, its horrible red eyes locked on Iago. The spell faded and the cuts remained, darkness oozing out like blood.
Whatever noise Iago made was probably completely undignified, but he had never seen anyone suffer the full force of Excalibur and live. It was an incredibly powerful spell that had taken him years to master, and yet here this inhuman monster was, taking the brunt of it and still standing. It pulled another arrow back, only to be hit by a second spell.
Sharp shards of paper shredded through it this time, ripping its hands and arms up and staggering it for a moment. Those cuts remained as well and that poisonous-looking darkness spilled onto the floor.
“Corrin!” Izana yelled, turning back toward the Nohrian royals, “Please, please wake up! We need you! You can’t die on us now!”
Luck was once again on Iago’s side, and he managed to shove Izana out of the way of that monster’s attack. The arrow came dangerously close to striking his mask and they both hit the floor a moment later. Izana let out a pained whimper as Iago flung another spell in that thing’s direction.
“Get up, you stupid girl! I am not going to die protecting you!” It was completely pointless to yell at someone who was probably dead, but the words tore themselves from him as if they had a mind of their own. It was incredibly stupid to think she was still alive, and even more idiotic to hope she would survive. Yet that was exactly what he was doing anyway, and he couldn’t bring himself to stop now.
The thing that had once been Takumi advanced, drawing its bow again. There wasn’t enough time to get away from it, and even though he created a shield with magic, he knew it wouldn’t be strong enough to protect them.
“Takumi!” The voice that stopped the creature dead in its tracks was Corrin’s, loud and authoritative and furious. “Your battle is with me!”
It turned its arrow on her and Iago breathed a sigh of relief. They weren’t going to die just yet, at least. He chose to ignore the spark of hope that flared through him on hearing Corrin’s words. He had no reason to care whether she lived or died, after all.
(But maybe - maybe - it was sort of nice that she was alive, if only because she could save them.)
That thing loosed another arrow only for Xander to block it with his sword. Leo and Elise sent spells at it, with Leo’s causing it to stumble backwards. Corrin rushed at it, sword at the ready, and Camilla followed. It backed up - until it could no longer move.
Freeze always had been an incredibly useful spell. It took everything he had just to hold that hideous thing in place, but he succeeded for just long enough. The princesses didn’t hesitate - Corrin’s sword stabbed through, followed by Camilla’s axe embedding itself in the thing’s torso. It let out a wail that was more anguish and fear than anger, and the tendrils of a dark magic Iago couldn’t recognize spiraled upwards as it melted into nothingness.
There was silence for a moment, and all eyes fell to Corrin.
She turned, first to her siblings and then to Iago and Izana. Her smile was tired, but confident. “We’ve won. This war is finally over.”
I need to stop writing fight scenes, I still don't know how to do it.
Also sorry about the whiplash from last chapter?? Last chapter was originally going to be the ending, but I decided it needed a better wrap-up so I had to write this one in order to get to the ending proper. Will any of this be explained? Hell no! That's Conquest for you!!!
A month had passed after their conquest of Hoshido, and then Prince Xander was crowned king. It had been a grand affair by all accounts, though Iago had been rather rudely barred from attending.
“I’m sorry,” Corrin had said, her smile faltering, “we think it’s for the best if you stay far away from Nohr for awhile.”
Forever was what she had meant. They both knew just how much damage he had done to the people of Nohr. Not that he felt bad about it or anything, because he’d been doing his job. It was best not to insult the new king or his people though, so Iago had relented. He’d still put on a show of being offended, even if he really had no reason to return to the country.
It was almost ridiculous how quickly things could change. He had spent his entire life dedicated to Nohr, but in the end he held no real loyalty to the country, just as he’d held no real loyalty to the king. Serving Garon had been a means to an end, and in the end, he hadn’t even gotten what he’d wanted out of the deal.
Izana had gone to the coronation, both as a show of support and as the leader of Izumo. They all knew the real reason he was there, though: the party. Izana had done nothing but talk about it for days before he left.
Things had been remarkably quiet without the Archduke around. Not that Iago missed that idiot. It was just strange to be left alone in an unfamiliar territory without Izana’s near-constant barrage of facts and information and trivia, things Iago had no reason to care about, but listened to attentively anyway.
Izumo was beautiful, and the palace was magnificent. Overall it wasn’t nearly as large as Nohr’s castle Krakenburg, but Iago found himself getting lost occasionally anyway. It was probably because of the Hoshidan-inspired architecture. The one time he’d complained about it, Izana had gone off on a tangent about the differences between Izumo’s construction and Hoshido’s and it had been a struggle to stay awake during it.
(Not really. Izana did have some fascinating arguments for how differently things had developed between the two nations and how Izumo’s near-constant state of peace had led to more frivolous and ornate architecture while Hoshidans preferred the practical. It wasn’t something he’d admit to finding interesting, though. It was just architecture. But Izana’s cheerful expression and rambling words always managed to catch his attention more than he’d care to admit.)
In the week or so Izana had been gone for Xander’s coronation, he had learned how to navigate the palace, as well as its secret passageways and defenses. He was not going to be serving as a general anymore - a fact that was still a little disappointing, if he was perfectly honest - but his talents could be put to use in other ways. Fortifying Izumo’s defenses in case of an attack was the first step, which had him pouring over maps and documents about the palace at all hours of the day.
Perhaps he couldn’t lead soldiers into battle anymore, but he at least had the experience to know how to keep the Archduke safe. And also his people. Maybe. If he was feeling particularly generous about it.
Izana would be arriving home (home?) soon, not like Iago was simply waiting around for him. He still had plenty of work to attend to anyway, so Izana could come find him whenever he was done doing whatever it was he did when he got home after trips.
Unsurprisingly, the Archduke found him quickly that evening. Iago was in the middle of reading a book on Izumo’s history, specifically of their formation into a neutral nation and how they’d managed to maintain that for so long. It was a fascinating read and technically still work, seeing as how he knew so little about Izumo to begin with. The doors to the study (his study; Izana had repeatedly insisted it was his now) were slammed open and before Iago had time to assess the situation, he found himself yanked out of the chair and into a hug.
“Oh, you’re back.”
Izana pulled away, still gripping Iago’s arms. The Archduke was - unsurprisingly - pouting. “What, that’s it? You don’t seem very happy!”
“I was in the middle of something.” He held up the book. It was partially an explanation, partially a defense. “You caught me off-guard.”
“I suppose I should just be glad you didn’t try to fling a spell at me…” Izana sighed. It was entirely undignified of a man in his position, but Iago could feel himself smirking anyway. “When was the last time you ate? Slept? Come on, you need to take a break!”
The Archduke was already pulling him from the study, and Iago didn’t have the energy to argue with him. That was why he let Izana lead him to the kitchens without complaint. It wasn’t like he was genuinely happy to see the man again. Certainly not.
“You might as well get started. I know you’ll spend at least an hour going on about the party.” It was resigned, but there was a hint of something in his voice. Something almost fond. Disgusting.
(He didn’t try to temper it. He didn’t really care if Izana heard it.)
Izana glanced over his shoulder. His expression was that same open and honest smile that Iago had gotten so used to seeing. Even now he still wanted to look away from it, and his gaze lingered somewhere on the floor.
Izana didn't let that stand. He brought a hand to Iago's cheek, gently guiding his gaze back to the Archduke’s face. “You really did miss me, huh?”
“Did you hit your head on the way back? I didn’t miss you at all.” It was defensive, as it always was.
And as always, Izana saw right through him. His hand glided back to thread into Iago’s hair. “I’m really happy to be back. I missed you so much while I was gone!”
“Ugh.” Absolutely disgusting.
But when Izana leaned forward to kiss him, he returned it far too easily. His hands slid from the Archduke’s to wind up and back through Izana’s ever-perfect hair. It was still too soon to say they were together, but perhaps he could at least admit that he had missed Izana. A little bit. Maybe. If he had to acknowledge it.
Time passed. With the death of crown prince Ryoma, Hoshido had been passed to Hinoka. Iago had been banned from that coronation as well, to no one’s surprise. Hinoka had some difficulty settling into her new role, which meant Izana often visited the Hoshidan capital to help her out. Despite Izumo’s neutrality, there was little need to mediate between Hoshido and Nohr; both King Xander and Queen Hinoka had reached an understanding of sorts and together they worked to build peace for everyone.
It was the sort of thing he would have found absolutely impossible in the past. But now, a little over a year after the conflict, it really did seem as though things were going to be just fine. Sure, there were problems in both Hoshido and Nohr, and even Izumo wasn’t immune from the occasional trouble. But things were progressing in such a way that made peace a reality and not some incredibly naive princess’ fantasy.
Speaking of that incredibly naive princess…
“Are you still working on that thing?” Izana leaned over his shoulder. The Archduke’s smooth, perfect hair slipped over his own shoulders and then spilled over Iago’s.
It was unfairly distracting, so he waved the Archduke away. “I’m almost done. I’ve led her troops directly into a trap and with this move, I’ll have obtained my tenth victory.” He tapped the map he was working on, indicating where his troops were stationed on it.
It was a game they played now; Iago could no longer command troops and fight in battles, but he could certainly keep his skills sharp. Corrin had actually been the one to propose the idea, and their letters were sent back and forth frequently, each one carrying the next move. It was almost like an incredibly prolonged game of chess. It was far more satisfying than any game of chess could ever hope to be, however. Especially once he’d won again.
A sly look crossed Izana’s face. “Compared to her… what? Fourteen victories, was it?”
Iago could feel himself flush. “I let her have those. To make her feel like she’d improved. That’s all.” That was absolutely not what had happened and they both knew it. For as much as he had found her tactics lacking during the war, Corrin had improved drastically over the course of the year. Or maybe she had always been more talented than he gave her credit for.
The Archduke chuckled and pulled up a chair, sitting beside Iago. He leaned in and rested his head on Iago’s shoulder, something Iago had stopped fighting long ago. “Well, you’d better hurry up. She’ll probably be here soon.”
Right, the princess was finally taking the time to visit them. He hadn’t seen her since she’d arrived to tell him about being banished from Nohr so long ago. Not that he particularly cared; he communicated with her so frequently, after all. It felt as though no time had passed since they last spoke in person.
But a year was a long time, and a lot had changed. He found himself setting his quill down so he could reach over and run his hand through Izana’s hair. The Archduke made a soft noise of assent that was nearly a laugh. “Oh no, am I distracting you?” He asked, sounding entirely fine with the idea.
“You are.” He answered easily. “But I suppose I can let you, just this once.”
In the end, he didn’t get his next move written down before Corrin arrived at the gates, but it wasn’t as though he really minded. With a distraction that beautiful and needy, who could blame him?
They managed to meet Corrin at the gates of the palace anyway, despite the distraction. Corrin was dressed as always (she still wasn’t wearing shoes) and her smile was nearly as sunny as Izana’s as she greeted them. “It’s so good to see you both again.”
“Corrin!” Izana detached himself from Iago’s side to grab her hands gleefully. “It’s been so long! When was the last time we got to see each other? Hinoka’s coronation? You couldn’t even make it to the party I held last month!”
“I know,” She winced, “I’m so sorry. I really wanted to come, but I’ve been really busy.”
“Still searching for Azura?”
The princess nodded, glumly. “Yes. I haven’t found any sign of where she could have gone. But I will find her. I’m not going to give up.” Her resolute expression wasn’t necessary; they had both seen Corrin’s determination first-hand. That woman could do anything she set her mind to, regardless of how impossible it seemed. Iago certainly couldn’t deny that, even if he wanted to. It almost made it sound like he had faith in her.
They ushered her in, Izana regaling her with tales of parties he’d held and the latest gossip from Hoshido. Iago corrected him whenever he got entirely too caught up in a story, as always. Corrin’s smile returned easily and when they finished the tour (that Izana of course insisted on dragging her on), she looked between both of them.
“Isn’t there something else you want to tell me?” Her eyes fell on Iago. Expectantly.
Was he supposed to apologize for something? Had he done something wrong? Oh, perhaps she wanted his next move in their little game—
Izana elbowed him in the ribs and he winced. “What?”
Both of them were looking extremely disappointed in him now. “I’m not a mind-reader.” He wasn’t pouting, but he knew whatever his face was doing it wasn’t nearly as composed as it should have been.
“You’re wearing Izana’s clothes.” Corrin’s voice was without inflection, entirely done.
“They aren’t his, they’re mine. They just happen to be in a similar style because I like it.” It was true, he’d swapped out his sorcerer’s robes for the looser and more relaxed fabrics some time ago. Of course, his were in darker colors and covered more, but clearly Corrin couldn’t be bothered to note the differences.
“You’re no longer wearing your mask.”
“It doesn’t look good with my current attire, that’s all!” He could feel the blush creeping across his face. That was also true; the mask looked terrible with the clothes he wore now. Even so, a hand rose to that side of his face as if he could hide it from view. Izana caught his arm and took his hand, holding it tightly. It was a show of support, to keep him from worrying. It wasn’t like either of them expected Corrin to remark on the light cluster of scars there, or the way his eye didn’t quite focus as it should.
Corrin didn’t say anything about it, content to move on. “And,” She was smirking now, and he knew the killing blow was coming, “you’ve got a really obvious mark just above your collar.”
His hand came up immediately to clap over it as he shot a dirty look at Izana. The Archduke had the gall to look proud of himself.
“I think that means I’m at fifteen now?” It wasn’t a question. Corrin’s smirk was unbelievably rude.
“This isn’t a part of our game,” He complained, but didn’t bother to fight back any further. He didn’t push Izana away when the Archduke leaned in to press a kiss to his cheek either.
Corrin - damn her - was not satisfied with her victory, however. Her smirk broadened into something entirely too confident and certain. “So when’s the wedding?”
“We are not getting married!”
At the exact same time, Izana answered, “Sometime next year!”
He could have strangled the Archduke. And Corrin, for daring to laugh. But more pressingly— “What, you’re thinking of proposing?” It didn’t have any of the sarcasm or bite he wanted in it.
Izana, the absolute fool he was, simply nodded with that same bright smile as always. “Assuming you don’t get to it first, of course!”
“I— We’re not— I’m not going to—”
The Archduke’s smile turned sympathetic as he gave Iago’s hand a reassuring squeeze. “It’s okay, take your time.”
He buried his face in his free hand, because it was easier than dealing with either of their stupidly cheerful grins. Iago knew a loss when he saw one.
...Not that it was a particularly devastating loss. Maybe he’d give Izana the honor of considering the proposal, whenever the Archduke finally got around to it.
And there you have it, something that started as a whim and rapidly spiraled out of my control until I wound up with 30k+ words of Iago being dragged through character development (and just being dragged in general at every possible opportunity). There were a lot of things that I wanted to include in this fic that I couldn't because of trying to follow Conquest's story (and then rewriting it to suit my needs but shhh that's not important) so I may revisit these two idiots again in the future!
I had a lot of fun with this fic, thank you so much for reading!