Smoldering flame mixed with the tang of magic and turn of summer into autumn in the air. The city had been evacuated, of course, so the only dead within the walls were beasts and willing soldiers ready to defend Her Majesty’s cause no matter their odds. This was, for them, a matter of patriotism or principle in devotion to their Emperor. The soldiers still standing fought with as much spirit as they could muster even as their allies fell.
Hubert’s own magic reserves were dangerously depleted, but he would not yield. His post was the final line of defense between the invading forces and the Enbarr castle. He swallowed and his throat was dry, but he still smiled coldly at the soldiers from the church, Kingdom, and Alliance forcing their way towards the gates. Beyond him was Her Majesty and all the hopes she sacrificed so much for. Hubert would sooner die than relent here, of all places.
The calling spell only worked in a certain range, such as the Empire’s capital, at least for Hubert. That was all he needed in this moment.
How goes the battle, Hubert?
She counted on him not for good news, but accurate reports. This would hardly change now.
Poorly, I’m afraid. We will fight to the last.
The distant fizzle of silence was a telltale sign that Hubert was struggling to maintain the spell. The archers breaching the defensive line were taking up his focus instead, an act he knew Her Majesty would approve. It was only sensible.
Withdraw into the castle if you must, Hubert.
Of course, Your Majesty.
He dropped the connection on a lie. To retreat here would be to allow this filth into her castle to take her life. In this number, Hubert had to confess they would almost certainly succeed regardless of where he went. That did not dissuade him from the fight in the least.
He drew on the dark magic he refined in service to Lady Edelgard, bracing for the mounted units charging toward him. Most likely, he’d already been flanked by stealthier classes and this last stand would be over soon enough. But he would be sure they earned their invasion. Clouds of dark purple energy swirled around his arms, wisping away at the edges as the first soldier came through the archway.
In a sweeping gesture, several glowing spears of energy appeared above the soldier and the glyph flashed at Hubert’s feet as the spears pierced the enemy and left them slumped over on their horse. That was the last charge he had for Dark Spikes, and his advantage against cavalrymen was exhausted.
Naturally, it was in that state and when the wear of battle screamed in all of Hubert’s being that none other than Ferdinand himself rode over the hill. His alliance changed at the bridge of Myrddin and what letters he dared send to the Empire following that were swiftly destroyed by Hubert himself. To think he’d respected him, sat with him in the tea gardens like they were friends. Hubert made a fool of himself by going out of his way to purchase tea as a gift for the former Prime Minister, just as Ferdinand had been for purchasing an overpriced imported coffee during a time of war as a gift for Hubert.
He was a sight in battle all the same. Blood clung to the ends of his free-flowing hair, grown long in his adult years. After all this grueling combat, his posture on horseback was as pristine as in his regular training. Ferdinand von Aegir would gloat for ages if he only knew that Hubert would concede in his final moments that he was, in fact, the noblest of nobles in the most respectable sense no matter where his allegiance fell.
What a shame he would not get that insight even in Hubert’s final words.
“Running into you in the capital like this—I have to say, it's almost sentimental.” How easily the teasing banter came, as if this was just another walk to the gardens or conference hall. For once, Ferdinand did not smile.
“Hubert. She must leave.”
Just who was he trying to convince with such a dry response? Hubert scoffed, the spell brewing in his palm at the ready. No different than Ferdinand’s javelin. He came prepared for the deed, it seemed.
“You really think you can make her?”
All those years trying to best Edelgard with the goal of providing her guidance if she went down the wrong path, and then it was Ferdinand who veered off course. Normally, Ferdinand could be made to realize he was mistaken. But it was far too late for that now. Barely able to stand and still holding the last defense to the castle, Hubert had to believe as much.
“It does not matter what I think. Those are my orders.”
Hubert’s spell was his answer, and the javelin glancing past him was the reply. The blur of spells and Ferdinand’s attacks were impossible to track after that. Hubert’s eyes throbbed with overexertion and he could taste coppery blood. He wouldn’t hold on much longer now. Even the mages stationed to his left had staggered towards his location at some point and collapsed, arrows buried in their backs.
Beyond their corpses, a familiar archer drew back on her bow. She came out of her room for this? Such progress.
“It’s over, Hubert.” Bernadetta kept her arrow trained on him, pointed and intense, but her eyes were soft. Pitying, perhaps. “Please just… Don’t make us hurt you.”
He chuckled and she shivered just a bit. Well, it would appear that her instinctive fear of him didn’t change. “Then surrender.”
“C’mon,” Caspar came up on the other flank, tense but still too relaxed for a battlefield. Was there nothing between shouting like a madman or talking casually for Caspar? It was a miracle that he survived this long. “You’re too smart for this. Beating you up now, it’s… kinda unfair.”
Hubert laughed again, or tried, but it came out as more of a wheeze. If they were going to join forces against him, he’d prefer it was in actual combat. To collapse and die from simple blood loss wasn’t how he imagined his end.
“Come to your senses, Hubert.” Ferdinand spoke from horseback, the tip of his spear red with Hubert’s blood. In fairness, he had his own injuries from the last of Hubert’s spells in turn. The duel had been far from one-sided. “Our forces are inside the castle. Stand down.”
That sentence ran through Hubert like a hot blade. Behind him, soldiers must have slid through the moat to escape Hubert’s attention during their fight. How could he have been so lax? The glyph of the communication spell lit up in his eyes, likely invisible to the others at this distance.
Your Majesty, the enemy—
I am aware, Hubert.
I will be there shortly.
But he couldn’t and Her Majesty knew that as well as he did. The forces would not have made it inside if Hubert was at his full strength. Just sustaining this spell was depleting what little reserves he had left. If his former classmates saw the concern on his face, they had the decency not to insult him by saying it.
You will do no such thing. Stand down, Hubert.
Not again. This would not be the same as her time in the Kingdom while he suffered in the Empire: it would be far worse. If he lost Lady Edelgard a second time with no way back from it, Hubert had no concept of what he might come next. Her victory was everything to him, but if she was ordering him to surrender, then…
Please, Hubert, follow this last order from me. You have walked this path with me and made it all that much brighter for it. All I need from you now is to know that although I will fall here today, you will live your own life.
If Edelgard made her mind unavailable for contact through the force of her considerable will or if the worst had already come to pass when the spell broke off, Hubert had no way of knowing. Not yet. The stone bridge almost certainly bruised him as he dropped to his knees, coughing blood up onto the pale surface.
“Uh, Linhardt!” Caspar’s voice strained, his inflection rising as it did whenever he was excited or stressed. How long had it been, but still Hubert could read them so clearly. As if they never left.
Hubert clenched his hands into fists against the bridge, scraping them on the stone enough to hurt through his gloves.
“What now?” Linhardt’s presence was impossible to pinpoint, even as unmistakable as his sighing tone was. The injuries Hubert sustained were too great for his body to maintain even that simple function.
Ferdinand dropped from his horse with a clank of armored greaves. “Hubert!”
At least when he spoke then, it wasn’t with the empty distance from before. Ferdinand talking without some buoyant emotion was too foreign to tolerate for long. Hubert wouldn’t have much time left to wait either way, he supposed.
Then the cool dispersion of a Physic spell washed over him.
“No, leave me—” He reached up with a stained glove, trying to wave off their assistance. He wanted to fall with Edelgard. It was his purpose, the path he’d chosen. The healing spell did restore him to the point where the taste of blood was fading, but the strength to stand still escaped him. He could still end this with his devotion intact.
“We couldn’t do that to you.” Bernadetta’s timidity was back in full force as she stepped up beside him on the bridge.
Another wave of enemy soldiers rushed by, unstoppable as a flood and leaving him with a weight as heavy as being buried alive. Why did they show him mercy? Didn’t they realize this was the cruelest fate even Hubert could imagine? Another healing spell from Linhardt was joined by Bernadetta’s slender hand hovering on his shoulder. He didn’t have the venom to shirk her off in this state.
“Her Majesty, her victory—” The edge to his voice was less cutting and more desperate than he desired.
“I am sorry, Hubert.” Ferdinand had knelt in front of him at some point. His curling locks swam in Hubert’s vision, blending with the warm tones of his uniform. On the opposite shoulder from Bernadetta, he rested his hand and gave a reaffirming squeeze. How dare they do this to Hubert. How dare Ferdinand show him this compassion here, now. “I wish it hadn’t come to this.”
And yet, through the indignant spite, Hubert reached up to grab onto the front of the former Prime Minister’s shirt. Feebly, even according to his own account.
“Please—” He hoped they were satisfied to be the only ones to hear him beg for Her Majesty’s life. There was nothing they could do, no more than he himself could. Lady Edelgard and Hubert alike knew this end was always a possibility. But when it came, he expected he would meet his death before allowing anyone to even come close to Edelgard. He would sooner die; Hubert swore to himself. But with the actual moment here, Hubert instead held onto Ferdinand, felt the single trail of wetness on his own face, saw the pulsing darkness at the edges of his vision—
“What’s going on, Lin?” Caspar, somewhere nearby and confused.
“Oh, he’s passing out. But he’ll survi—”