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Marski’s Whumptober 2021

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Day 1: All Trussed Up and Still Nowhere to Go
“You have to let go” | barbed wire | bound - Ashe watches his brother’s execution.

Day 2: Talking is Overrated
garrote | choking | gagged - When being experimented on by TWS, Edelgard fights back in the only way available to her. It doesn’t work well.

Day 3: Sticks and Stones May Break My Bones But…
taunting | insults | “Who did this to you?” - Dedue has an altercation with Fhirdiad castle’s groundskeeper

Day 4: Trust Fall
“Do you trust me” | taken hostage | pushed - Hilda is taken hostage by Ingrid after the battle at Gronder Field

Day 5: I’ve Got Red in My Ledger
betrayal | misunderstanding | broken nose - Sylvain switches houses. Felix takes it poorly

Day 6: Touch and Go
bruises | touch starved | hunger - Dimitri is alone and hungry in the woods

Day 7: My Spidey-Sense is Tingling
helplessness | numbness | blindness - Dimitri is a guest in Hubert’s lab. Same ‘verse as my Death Knight Dimitri series.

Day 8: Coughing up a Lung
pneumothorax | exotic illness | “Definitely just a cold” - Leonie is in denial about being sick

Day 9: Rumors of My Death Have Been Greatly Exaggerated
presumed dead | (blind) rage | tears - Dimitri recovers from his injuries after his escape from the castle.

Day 10: Oops, I Did It Again
hospital | flare-up| ice chips - Leonie struggles with her illness. Same ‘verse as Day 8.

Day 11: Just Keep Swimming
adrift | drowning | dehydration - Dorothea and Ferdinand were adrift at sea when the merfolk showed up. Merfolk AU, Age of Sail AU.

Day 12: It’ll Be Fun, They Said
torture | made to watch | begging - Edelgard as a child pleads for Hubert’s life.

Day 13: That’s Gonna Leave a Mark
“This is gonna suck” | burns | cauterization - Marianne is badly injured at Gronder

Day 14: Under Pressure
crush injuries | beaten | force - Caspar lies trapped in the ruins of Fort Merceus

Day 15: Feed a Cold, Starve a Fever
delirium | fever dreams | bees - Leonie dreams of bees. Same ‘verse as days 8 and 10.

Day 16: On a Need to Know Basis
recovery | scars | aftermath - Sylvain struggles with no longer being imprisoned. Comes after these three stories in the previous Whumptober.

Day 17: Field Care 101
“Please don’t move!” | hemorrhage | dread - Marianne tends an injured soldier

Day 18: The Doctor is In
“Now Smile for the camera!” | doctor’s visit | CPR - Lorenz stars in a ransom video. Claude watches. Modern AU for obvious reasons.

Day 19: Just a Scratch
bitten | bleeding | scratching - Bernadetta suffers an anxiety spiral ABO AU.

Day 20: Lost & Found
trunk | trapped under water | solitary confinement - Hubert pays Dimitri a visit. Same ‘verse as Day 7, but chronologically much earlier

Day 21: That’s Where the Blood’s Supposed to be
bleeding through the bandages | pressure | blood-matted hair - Ashe is mauled by a demonic beast

Day 22: They Made Me Do It
cursed | demon | obsession - If they’re going to call Khalid a demon, he’s going to earn that

Day 23: You Break It, You Buy It
auction | ransom | pursuit - Sylvain suffers through an auction with him as the prize. Same ‘verse as Day 16

Day 24: One Down Two to Go
self-induced injuries to escape | flashback | revenge - Dimitri attacks an Imperial tax collector and his guards

Day 25: Hide & Seek
escape | flight | hiding - The day Dimitri fled from the Tragedy of Duscur wasn’t the last time he ran

Day 26: You Will Go Down With This Ship
fallen | waterfall | trap door - Claude is thrown and then abandoned by his wyvern

Day 27: I’m Fine, I Prom…
passing out | vertigo | collapse - Leonie pushes herself too hard. Same ‘verse as days 8, 10, and 15

Day 28: It’s Not Just in Your Head
“Good. You’re finally awake.” | nightmares | panic - Claude wakes up somewhere odd

Day 29: All Work and No Play
“You’re still not dead?” | too weak to move | overworked - Caspar, dying on a battlefield, meets the worst possible person

Day 30: Digging Your Grave
major character death | left for dead | ghosts - Christophe hates being a ghost

Day 31: Hurt & Comfort
disaster zone | trauma | prisoner - Petra is a prisoner of the Empire. Bernadetta just wants to understand why

Chapter Text

“How could you do this to him?” Lord Lonato demanded.

Ashe didn’t want to believe that they were seeing. That was Christophe being led to the gallows, bound so tightly he could hardly walk. The man who had patiently read books to him, let his sister ride on his shoulders, taught his brother how to care for the horses. His brother.

“I didn’t have a choice,” Catherine said. That was what she called herself, but Lord Lonato had called her Cassandra. Ashe didn’t care which was right, not now. Not with Christophe- “If you only knew what he did, what his friends were planning… I couldn’t let them get away with it.”

His brother didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve to be down there in front of the cheering crowd. He didn’t deserve to have his reputation as a good man in tatters. He didn’t deserve to watch his friends and comrades dangle on the noose in front of him. It was over fast— Lord Lonato had paid a hefty sum to ensure they ended with a broken neck instead of a slow strangulation— but it was still a horrible sight.

“The real Christophe died months ago,” Catherine continued. “You must have seen the changes in him—”

“You should have sent him home! We’re his family; we could have stopped him! Instead, you betrayed him!”

Christophe deserved to be on the bench in the flower garden, breathing in the scent of roses and playing with one of the kittens his sister had found in the stable. He should have gotten the chance to watch them grow up.

“I did what I had to do, and it was more than you did. Where were you when he retreated from the world? Where were you when he looked somewhere, anywhere, for salvation? Where were you when those cultists turned him into a monster?”

Ashe flinched as the hangmen cut down the bodies and gestured for the next batch, Christophe included. His lunch threatened to come up as they tied the noose around his neck and led him up the gallows steps, but his stomach held firm.

“I was out looking for him! Day and night, I had people scouring the city to try to find where he’d gone! And you knew. You knew, and you didn’t say a word!”

He had the wild idea of leaping down and charging through his crowd to free his brother. But he was too small and the crowd too large. And even if he did make it there, then what? He was only thirteen. He couldn’t fight even one guard, much less all of them. Most likely, he’d just be added to the pile of corpses on the body wagon.

“Do you really think I didn’t try to talk him out of it? He was so far gone that there was no saving him. Not from his actions. All I could do was save him from what he might do in the future.”

Christophe didn’t deserve this. He didn’t deserve any of this.

“I came to terms with it weeks ago,” Catherine said as Christophe fell. “Now you have to let go.”

Chapter Text

When the machine turned on, her brother’s eyes rolled back and he collapsed into a heap in his chair. The mages stopped what they were doing and just stared for a moment, before one of them went around to press a finger against under base of his jaw.

“He only fainted. Keep going.”

“Or you could not, and leave us alone,” Edelgard suggested. Her hands gripped the arms of her chair. If only she wasn’t strapped down. If only she was armed. If only any of the useless guards in the palace actually worked for her father instead of the Ministers. “While you’re at it you can go climb into a giant wolf’s mouth.”

The mages ignored her. The machine whirred softly as it drew out her brother’s blood through a tube, did something indeterminable to it, and put it back into his body. The mages didn’t pay much attention to it, instead hurrying to the desks on either side of the room to start writing. “Session start at fifteen-thirty-three, subject 3.”

“Or better, you can take that machine and shove it directly up your own-”

“Hush,” the first mage said, looking up from his note-taking. Edelgard caught a glimpse of anger on his face before his expression smoothed out into deliberate boredom.

Good. Even if annoying them didn’t do anything to help her or her siblings, it made her feel better.

“I don’t think I will,” she answered. “Instead, I think I’m going to talk about what utter wastrels you all are. Look at you, wasting your life in this cold dungeon, hurting children for no reason other than your own cruelty. Is your mother proud of what you’ve become? Does she wake up in the morning and think ‘my son is making the world better?’”

No reaction.

The machine beeped and shut down. One of the mages went over, pulled the needle out of her brother’s arm, and wheeled the machine over to her oldest sister.

The first mage reached for his pen again. “Session end at fifteen-thirty-”

Edelgard took a deep breath and let out the loudest, highest-pitched shriek she could manage.

The mage startled, drawing an ugly line across his paper. Furiously, he crumpled it into a ball and threw it at her. It bounced off her forehead and landed under the mysterious machine.

“I can’t work under these conditions,” the mage growled. He gestured at the second one. “Shut her up.”

The other mage ripped a strip of cloth from her brother’s shirt and stalked over to her menacingly.

Edelgard fought it, of course. She yelled and spat and tried to bite, and even managed to get her teeth around the finger of a glove once, but in the end it was all for nothing. In the end, the mages managed to get the piece of cloth around her mouth and tie it tight around her head.

“Skip to subject 7?” asked the second mage.

The first mage smiled at her as she failed to chew through the gag. “I don’t think Solon will mind.”

She couldn’t yell. Couldn’t complain. Couldn’t talk back as the mage fed a needle into her arm. Couldn’t demand that he let her go, let her siblings go, take them back to the safety of their father. All she could do was make muffled angry noises, and she couldn’t even make them very loudly.

Then they turned the machine on, and all she wanted to do was scream.

Chapter Text

Dedue heard the door open, turned, and narrowly dodged the broomstick before it could hit him in the head. The rose he was tending pricked his hands as he pulled away from it, thorns insistent even through his gloves.

“Who let a dog like you into the greenhouse?” demanded the groundskeeper, hefting the broom again.

“His Highness requested roses for his bedroom,” he answered quietly, remaining kneeling on the ground. He already had a bad relationship with the other servants, and it would only get worse if he said or did anything that could be interpreted as backtalk. He certainly wasn’t allowed to defend himself.

This wasn’t the first time this man had swung a broom at him.

He watched the groundskeeper’s face flash from surprise to annoyance. Being on an errand for Dimitri gave him a sort of legitimacy that trumped every rule and farce the other servants could come up with. It meant he couldn’t be thrown out of places for no reason, it meant he couldn’t be ordered to do long and demeaning busy-work, and it meant he couldn’t be given over to the guards for what they called ‘discipline.’

“Get out of here; I’ll grab them,” the groundskeeper finally snapped out.

Dedue got the business end of the broom to his rump as he hurried to get up and make for the door, but it was hardly the worst thing the groundskeeper could have done. “He asked for-” he began.

“White roses to remember his parents, yellow to help him move on, I know what the right symbolism is. Do you?

He did— one of the first books he read by himself was one about flower language— but that wasn’t the correct answer. “I do not, sir,” he said, looking down.

“I thought not.” The groundskeeper scoffed. “You can stick a dog in a uniform all you like, but it will still always be a dog.”

He didn’t say anything. Reacting was what the man wanted.

“But you’re not a dog, are you?” the man asked, tilting Dedue’s chin up with the broomstick. “Chin up. Look me in the eye, wolf.”

He tried, but his last growth spurt had made him that much taller than the groundskeeper, so the ultimate effect was of him looking down his nose at the other man. From the expression on the groundskeeper’s face, it was not a welcome effect.

The butt of the broom cracked against his cheek with enough force to drive splinters into his skin.

“Insolent beast!” snapped the groundskeeper. “Learn some manners before I have Sir Holec teach you some.”

“I-”

“Get out of my sight. I’ll bring His Highness the roses myself.”

Dedue got out of his sight.

 

“Dedue!” called Dimitri, setting down his book. “Did you find the-” He stopped, staring.

Dedue looked away, painfully aware of his bedraggled appearance.

“My friend,” Dimitri said as he walked over, eyes glinting with anger. He brushed the back of his hand against the bruise on Dedue’s cheek. “Who did this to you?”

He said nothing. Telling on them would only make it worse.

Chapter Text

“Stay back!” Ingrid snapped.

Hilda waved weakly at Claude and the rest of her Deer. She could barely see them, with the wound on her scalp dripping blood onto her eyes, but that officer’s cape was unmistakable.

The pointy end of a spear poked the side of her neck. Right, no sudden movements.

So much for searching the battlefield for survivors. Hilda had barely had a chance to start checking bodies for signs of life when Ingrid had come barreling out of nowhere. At least she’d opted to take a hostage instead of just spitting her where she stood. Sure, Hilda had tried to fight back, but between the surprise attack and a spear’s greater reach over her preferred axe…

Well, it hadn’t ended well for her.

The person Ingrid was guarding wasn’t even alive. No one could survive having that many spears sticking out of him.

“Look,” she heard Claude say. “We don’t need to fight.”

“That’s right, and we won’t if you stay away!”

“Just give Hilda back, and we’ll leave you alone.”

“Just like you left us alone when we tried to confront the Empire?”

“To be fair,” Hilda said, groaning. “Your army rampaged through our lands first.”

She won a threatening poke with the spear for her troubles, which she really should have expected. Ingrid had always been high-strung, and the war certainly wouldn’t have helped that. It was even worse now that she had lost almost everything. The Kingdom was in ruins, most of her friends were dead, and the body behind her was the last remnant of the old days she had. Dimitri had been a madman in the end, but even in death he was still her king.

“We have no reason to interfere with your vigil,” Claude said smoothly. “All we seek is the safety of our friend and comrade.”

“Then prove it,” Ingrid said. “Back away and leave me be.”

Hilda saw blurry movement as someone shoved their way in front of Claude, and felt Ingrid tense up. She did not feel stabbed, though, so clearly this wasn’t too much provocation for her.

“Ingrid,” said Felix’s voice. Ah, that explained both the tension and the lack of stabbings. “I know you don’t trust him, but do you trust me?”

“I did once,” Ingrid answered, her voice taking on a bitter tone. She poked Hilda with the spear again. “Before you abandoned us.”

“I’m getting really tired of you doing that,” Hilda said.

“Shut up!”

The body behind them coughed.

A silence fell over the bickering group. Dimitri was still alive? How? Hilda tried to think of an explanation, but came up blank.

“Ingrid,” Felix said softly. “We have a healer. Let her help him.”

More silence. Hilda felt her captor shift her weight restlessly. She hoped Ingrid would say yes, and not just because it meant she would be free to leave. Dimitri may be a madman now, but everyone here remembered him as the gentle prince from their school days. It would be tragic for him to die just because a well-meaning guardian didn’t trust the healer.

A hand grabbed Hilda by the shoulder and yanked her up. “Fine,” Ingrid finally said. “But I’m keeping your friend. If your healer hurts him in any way…”

“Marianne is the best healer I know,” Felix said. “Trust me.”

“You know I can’t.”

But Hilda could.

Chapter Text

Felix and Sylvain rarely fought. Sure, they sparred, and they had their arguments, and occasionally Felix would shove Sylvain if he was being particularly obnoxious. But despite Sylvain’s ability to be deliberately intolerable and Felix just being… Felix, they almost never got into a serious, physical fistfight. They just had better ways to settle their disagreements.

Which is why Annette was shocked to see Felix run up to Sylvain and punch him in the face.

“You bastard!” Felix shouted, drawing the attention of the other Lions and a couple of knights. “You see one pretty face and decide to abandon us?”

“You don’t know anything about it,” Sylvain said, pushing him away.

Felix punched him again. “What does the new professor even have that we don’t?” Felix demanded. The way he gestured at Ingrid suggested that ‘we’ did not mean ‘the Blue Lions.’

“Basic manners, for one.”

Dedue caught Felix’s arm before he could throw a third punch.

“You want to know why I joined the Golden Deer?” Sylvain continued. “It’s because I’m tired of the lectures and the insults. I’m tired of the constant verbal abuse. We’re all a bunch of traumatized wrecks and all we can do is bring each other down. The Deer aren’t. Do you even know what it’s like to talk to someone and not have to step around invisible subjects? After we all graduate, we can go back to festering in our own pasts, but I want just one year where I can pretend everything’s normal.”

Mercedes took Sylvain by the shoulder. “Come on, let’s take you to see Manuela. Your nose is broken.”

“Dedue, you should switch houses too,” he called as Mercedes led him away. “Claude’s pretty chill and no one will give you shit for being from Duscur. I know you won’t, though.” He looked over at Dimitri. “Too loyal for your own good.”

As Mercedes led Sylvain away, Annette rushed over to Felix’s side.

“How could he?” Felix asked as Dedue tugged him over to a bench to sit down. “We’re friends.”

Annette bit her tongue to avoid saying anything. Dedue didn’t.

“I wonder if he knows that,” the taciturn man said. “You do tend to be… acerbic.”

Felix shot him a glare, but there wasn’t any heart in it. “We were going to graduate together,” he muttered.

Annette expected him to be sour, even angry. Instead, he just sounded dead. Like all the life in him had flown away with the punches.

“We didn’t all have to be in the same year. He’s older than us— he could have attended earlier. But we—me, Ingrid, Dimitri, and him—we all wanted to be in the same class together. It was easy to talk our parents into it since, you know, there are a lot of benefits to going to school with the prince.” He sighed. “And then Sylvain does this. What was even the point?”

“Did you get in a fight lately?” Annette asked.

Felix shook his head. “No, not at all. He was chased from the dining hall by one of his flings yesterday, but she wasn’t even a Lion. I guess Ingrid might have lectured him about it, but…”

“I imagine,” Dedue said. “That he thought the new environment of the school would change things between you, and when it didn’t, he went looking for the change on his own.”

Felix snorted. “Well it certainly didn’t change for the better.”

Annette bit her tongue again. And once again, Dedue didn’t.

“If he misses you, he’ll switch back. But if he doesn’t come back… then you should think about what sort of relationship you have with him. It’s probably different from what you assume it is.”

“Dedue!” Annette hissed.

Dedue shrugged. “Or not. I don’t know how your friend group works. I’m just an outsider after all.”

Felix glared at him, but with only a little bite in it.

Chapter Text

Dimitri woke up in the woods, alone and hungry. This was his usual morning, these days. And like all usual mornings, he started it by taking stock of himself.

First: supplies. He had a filthy, dull lance, he had the filthy, ragged clothes on his back, and he had the filthy, reeking pelt of the giant wolf he’d killed the previous night (he’d scraped all the flesh and fat off of it that he could, but nothing could get rid of the smell). He had a small knife stolen from a prison guard, he had a waterskin taken from the same place, half-full, and he had the World’s Worst Backpack, made from his smallclothes.

Second: his surroundings. It was raining. He was in a crude lean-to made from a fallen tree and the wolf pelt. There were no signs of having been disturbed in the night. His ghosts were screaming at him, but he could ignore them for now.

Third: his health. He was only mildly injured. He was bruised from when the wolf had pounced on him, but his Crest had let him kill it before it could break any of his bones. His right eye was still blinded from when the imperial torturers had branded it, and he was starting to doubt it would ever recover. He was hungry.

He was so terribly, terribly hungry.

He’d tried to eat the giant wolf, but couldn’t keep it down. The flesh of giant animals was rancid and inedible, but he’d thought that since he couldn’t taste it, he could get away with it. He couldn’t. The second he put the foul-smelling piece of meat in his mouth, his stomach had heaved and spewed bile all over his feet.

He hadn’t had a full meal in three days, and was starting to wonder if it was worth risking a bite or two of wild mushroom. At this time of year, there should be some around that didn’t look exactly like the deadly ones. Morels, maybe. Or oyster mushrooms, shaggy manes, hen of the woods. One of the first signs autumn had come was when the castle cooks served hen of the woods for their dinner. It had been so long…

He missed good food. He missed bad food. He missed any food that he could actually taste. He missed food he couldn’t taste. He just wanted to eat something. His stomach wanted to eat something.

“You don’t deserve to eat something,” said his father.

He knew that. But he had to if he was to have the energy to get his revenge.

Dimitri got up and started to pack up his camp. It was easy enough. His wolf pelt went around his shoulders, and everything else went into the World’s Worst Backpack. While he was at it he scraped off some lichen from the fallen tree and popped it in his mouth. It wasn’t filling at all, but it had to be better than nothing.

Maybe he could use his lance to spear a fish. He couldn’t cook it, of course, not if he was to avoid pursuit (he had to be the one pursuing, not those Imperial dogs), but it wasn’t like he was a stranger to eating like a beast. He had long since scrubbed away his remaining dignity; a raw meal was nothing to be concerned about.

He tried not to think about the hen of the woods, and the shaggy manes, and the morels. Those days had died a long time ago.

And if he didn’t find something to eat, so would he.

Chapter Text

Dimitri faded in and out of lucidity as Hubert worked. With one eye covered and the other blind, he couldn’t see what was happening. But he could feel it, and he could feel its effects as Edelgard’s shadow tweaked the magic keeping him docile.

The needles moved one way, and his consciousness faded.

The needles moved another way, and his consciousness came back.

It didn’t hurt, which he thought he should probably find concerning. He could feel a sort of pressure as the needles moved, a coolness as Hubert pushed magic into his eye, but it was all distantly. If he let his mind wander, or better yet let it be pushed deep into the fog, he could barely feel anything at all.

“What are you doing?” he found himself asking during one of his more lucid moments.

“Tuning the vectors of the luminiferous aether transmitting the spell connected to your anchor point.”

Dimitri would have blinked if his eye wasn’t clamped open. “What does that mean?

“It’s self-evident. By binding some of the free vectors, I can- and you don’t have the background in magical theory to understand it.” Hubert sighed. “I’m making you less… volatile. Last month shouldn’t have happened. There will be a tradeoff, of course, but you don’t really need to be making your own decisions anyway.”

There was something wrong with that statement but he couldn’t think of what it was. It mustn’t be too important then. “Should I be awake for this?”

“How else will I know what’s working and what isn’t?”

“I mean…” He struggled to push past the fog in his brain. “Aren’t you worried about me sabotaging your… tuning?”

“Would you?”

No, screamed his mind. No, screamed his ghosts. “No,” said his mouth. “I couldn’t.”

“And why is that?”

“Because you’re my commander.”

He couldn’t see Hubert smile, but he thought he could hear it in the slight change of inflection in his voice. A deep sense of satisfaction coursed through his body. “Let’s test the system. What is my name?”

Dimitri knew the answer, but just as he opened his mouth to say it, the needles twitched and sent him careening into a pit. Thoughts broke up into their individual parts, single words and concepts ramming into each other without regard for how they went together, and he found he could only focus on one at a time. Cold. Tugging. Blind. Name?

His commander spoke to him. He had his orders, and he had to follow them, but…

The word was on the tip of his tongue, but he just couldn’t bring it to his conscious mind. It was… two syllables, he thought. It belonged to someone important, someone…

“Felix?”

His commander snorted. “No. I’m going to start adjusting settings. Tell me when you have it.”

Concepts ebbed and flowed as the pressure in his eye changed. Sometimes he could grasp an entire word, sometimes just a sensation, once a complete sentence. He wanted to follow his orders. He needed to follow his orders. But he couldn’t. There was nothing to grasp on. Nothing he could use to funnel speech through his ungrateful mouth.

Through it all, the pressure in his eye kept changing. The needles moved one way, the needles moved the other way. Sometimes, one would be removed and reinserted somewhere else. It never hurt. It should hurt. Hurt was what he deserved.

Suddenly, clarity bloomed. “Hubert von Vestra.”

And anger. He was Dimitri Alexander Blaiddyd, the king of Faerghus (what was left of Faerghus), he was a prisoner, not a guest, and he was strapped to a chair with needles in his eye while a homicidal madman brainwashed him. He needed out, and he needed out now.

“What did you do to me, imperial dog?”

Hubert ignored him. “Oh good, it’s reversible. Being able to take you back to the default setting will be useful if something goes too wrong.”

Dimitri strained against the straps binding him to his chair. He had to get out of here. Had to break free, find Dedue, and slaughter his way out of the palace. There had to be loyalists remaining in Faerghus. If he could-

The fog rose up again, cold and suffocating, snuffing out his anger like the ocean snuffing a candle. Everything inside of him drowned beneath the fog, so thick that he couldn’t even remember his own name, or what he was doing, or what speech was.

His commander ran a finger up his cheek. “How do you feel?”

He struggled to speak. “Tired.”

“Anything else?”

More than one word at a time was hard. “Tired. Very tired.”

“What will you do if I release you?”

More than one word at a time was still hard. “Dedue. Sleep.”

“How sweet. You won’t attack me?”

He tried to shake his head, but the straps held firm.

“Tch. Let me ease up on this a little…”

Glimpses of language slowly filtered into his brain. “I won’t,” he promised. “You’re…” Special. Kindly. “Important.

His commander laughed. “Oh I can’t wait to show you off…”

He couldn’t wait either.

Chapter Text

“It’s just a cold,” Leonie insisted as Raphael carried her to the infirmary. “All I need is a day of rest and I’ll be fine.”

Seriously, she was fine! Sure, she had a fever, but she’d worked through those before without having any problem. Waking up in the middle of night covered in sweat was just an aspect of that. And her chest hurt at times, but that barely affected anything. And sure, she also had a violent wracking cough that never seemed to go away entirely, but that was normal for colds.

But collapse during training because you forgot how to breathe just once and suddenly you needed to be coddled. It was just embarrassing. What was Manuela going to do that Marianne couldn’t? Leonie didn’t want to put her health in the hands of that drunkard, especially not when all she really needed to do was rest in her room for a bit, Byleth.

“No,” Raphael said, without a trace of his usual cheer. “I know all about colds, and that wasn’t it. The Professor wants an expert to have a look at you, and an expert’s what you’re going to get.”

Leonie groaned and let a series of coughs explode from her lungs, sending shards of pain through her ribs and chest. She spat a chunk of bloody sputum on the ground.

Marianne swooped down and scooped it up into a handkerchief.

“Gross,” Leonie said, before devolving into another round of coughing.

She thought she heard Marianne say something, probably an apology, but it was drowned out by the coughing. The fit just never seemed to end, and there were times she felt like she was trying to cough with no air left in her lungs; it took all she had just to pause long enough to wheeze in a breath or two before the fit started up again.

She hated it almost as much as she hated being carried.

Fortunately, Manuela was in when they arrived at the infirmary. Unfortunately, Manuela took one look at the bloody piece of phlegm Marianne was holding out and said, “Consumption.”

“It’s not consumption!” Leonie snapped, or tried to. Her voice was too thin and weak for it. “Do I look like a delicate noblelady artist? It’s a cold. A nasty one, I’ll admit, but still a cold.”

Raphael set her down onto a bed. She considered getting right back up, but that would probably make the others just insist she lie down again. Fine, she supposed she could rest up just as well in the infirmary as in her own room. Another harsh cough escaped her as she slid between the blankets and leaned back against the admittedly comfortable pillows.

“I know consumption when I see it,” Manuela said. “We’ve had outbreaks at Garreg Mach before. There’s no need to worry about it; the staff here are well-practiced at keeping patients alive until the illness wanes.”

Leonie rolled her eyes. So dramatic for just a cold. “And how long will that take?”

“Our healers are the best in the continent, so less than three months.”

Three mon-” Her alarmed outburst just turned into yet more coughing. A soothing hand rubbed her back, healing magic encouraging her to expel the fluid in her lungs. “Ow,” she muttered after the fit subsided.

“It’s a long-term illness, but ultimately recoverable.”

“What about the mission?”

Manuela shook her head. “You can’t go on missions or do anything dangerous until it’s gone. Classwork should be fine, I think, but fighting could be- it’s one thing if you collapse in the middle of the training ground, but in battle…”

Leonie gritted her teeth. Clearly the only thing she could do was rest up and get better. She’d prove it was just a cold. She had to. She couldn’t miss three months of schooling and expect to graduate, much less graduate with honors, and she couldn’t afford to come back another year.

She had to recover soon. She didn’t have a choice.

Chapter Text

Dimitri waited for Dedue for nine days.

Nine days laying in a tattered bed in a slum bunkhouse, tended to by a woman whose knowledge in medicine was more from experience than from any sort of schooling. Nine days sliding in and out of consciousness as his wounds burned with infection. Nine days of dubious concoctions and leeches and maggots, of bandages made from old ruined clothes, of sutures made with sewing needles.

Nine days of replaying the events at the castle.

Dimitri had been injured, blind in one eye, and in no condition to try fighting his way out of the castle dungeons. He had done so anyway, Dedue at his side, with a stolen spear in his hand. They’d killed three guards and were nearly to the gate when an entire platoon showed up, murder in their eyes.

Dimitri had tried to fight anyway.

Dedue had stopped him by throwing him into the moat.

“Go! I’ll be right behind you!”

Dedue never lied, so Dimitri went. He swam across the filthy, reeking moat, taking an arrow in the back for his troubles. He was pulled up the opposite bank by a ragman, who promptly claimed his battered spear in payment, and then ran into the slums. When the city watch began searching the slums, he ran into a stranger’s house and begged for their mercy.

They gave it. The law was not well-liked in the slums, and anyone fleeing it would at least be given a blind eye. He spent eight hours shivering in a cesspit until the watchmen gave up and moved on, and one more being washed down with moat water before he was dubbed clean enough to take to the surgeon.

No pay needed. Anyone willing to take an arrow and swim across the moat to escape was someone they were interested in helping. Besides, the slum’s cunning woman wanted practice fixing fester.

It was terrible.

In the slums, infected wounds were treated with vinegar and maggots. Clean wounds were treated by sewing them shut with anything on hand. Magic, good proper healing magic, was only to be found in the Saint Cethleann’s House that usually set up shop just outside the slum walls, and they had been closed ever since the Dukedom ceded the city to Imperial control.

More than once the cunning woman changed his bandages only for pus to come spewing from the wound. The arrow-wound in his back abscessed. His leg reeked of rot. His blind eye wept yellow-green in a mockery of tears, or at least it did until the woman took her knife and carved the burnt, gangrenous thing from his skull.

Not once in the nine days Dimitri waited there did Dedue come see him.

“I’ll be right behind you!”

Dedue never lied. He never lied, and yet he wasn’t there. Why?

Why, why, why?

Dimitri didn’t want to admit it to himself, didn’t want to admit his failure. But there had been far too many guards for Dedue to fight off by himself, and he hadn’t heard a second splash that would have meant his friend had followed.

Dedue had to be dead. There was no other explanation. And Dimitri had as good as killed him himself.

He wept thick, bitter tears. They mixed with the dirt and blood on his face and dripped down to stain the thin covering of the straw mattress he lay on. The cunning woman thought it because of the pain of his injuries, and offered him a gulp of something utterly foul, but also utterly alcoholic. It helped, for a small while.

But only for a small while. When his head cleared and the pain of loss was no longer dulled, the tears came out thicker than ever. Choking sobs echoed in the small room, interspersed with wordless wails and pleas to the dead for mercy and kindness towards their new member. Sometimes they were joined by curses and demands to shut up by the other inhabitants of the bunkhouse.

The cunning woman did not offer him a second drink.

On the tenth day, Dimitri got out of bed, staggered away from the bunkhouse, half-healed wounds and all, and left Fhirdiad. No one bothered him on his way out. The slum folk assumed he was finding a quiet place to die. The city folk took him for a beggar and hurried him along with cruel words and the occasional kick, though one kindly soul gave him a blanket and a piece of bread. The gate guards were all too eager to see him leave.

One day, he would return. When he did, he would build Dedue a proper grave, even if it would be an empty one. When he did, he would do his best to give his friend the respect owed to him. And when he did, he would tear the heads off of every traitor, fiend, and enemy in the castle.

Chapter Text

Leonie spent most of her days coughing. Nights, coughing. Morning and evening, coughing. It wasn’t gentle, quiet coughing either, like she’d gotten that one winter, but a horrible, wet, rib-cracking hacking that shook her body with each cough and periodically spat up bloody, yellow sputum. She’d been given a bowl to catch it in, but all the shaking and the seizing made it impossible to aim, so more often than not she spat it up onto her own lap.

Through it all, one of the infirmary healers sat by her side. Every so often, after a particularly violent fit, she would reach over and send a wave of healing magic through her chest. It healed her raw and bleeding throat, halted the pain in her ribs and chest, and even relieved her urge to cough. But after only a few moments, another fit would come and the pain would start all over again.

When there wasn’t a healer available, one of her classmates— usually Ignatz or Marianne— would bring chips of ice from the kitchen. Sucking on one would soothe her tired throat, but only a little. She was still grateful for it, and even told them that a few times.

(The one time she’d said it to Lorenz, he’d gone bright pink and mumbled some nonsense about noblesse oblige.)

There wasn’t always a healer available because more students were becoming ill. Her first roommate was Cyril, then Hubert, and then two of the Blue Lions joined them. Soon, Manuela was declaring an emergency and demanding the school be closed off to visitors.

“I was wrong,” she said. “The symptoms are appearing too fast to be consumption. It’s chokes.”

“Isn’t that a pegasus disease?” Leonie croaked. Marianne handed her an ice chip.

“Yes,” said Manuela. “But sometimes it can spread to people, and when it does it tends to spread quickly. The good news is that it’s much less lethal than consumption and has a faster recovery time.”

“And the bad news?”

“The bad ness is that the infirmary is full, and we have more patients coming. The more healthy of you will be moving to the Cathedral.”

She hoped they’d be moving beds from the dormitories instead of making people sleep on the pews.

“Unfortunately,” Manuela continued. “We’re also low on healers. They’ll need to prioritize the worst cases.”

‘The worst cases’ did not include Leonie. Her healer was reassigned to Cyril, who had started coughing up blood clots in odd tree-like shapes. Manuela blamed it on a combination of his youth and his tendency to keep working even when he felt terrible. The other healers blamed it on his past.

“The Archbishop’s rescues always have something wrong with them,” she overheard one of them say. “And from what I heard about the Throat…”

The healer stopped talking when he realized Hilda was intently listening to him.

It was almost impossible to sleep in the infirmary. If Leonie wasn’t coughing her lungs out, other patients were, and the cough that came with chokes was an especially nasty one that sounded like the sick were being strangled. It came from the airway being swollen and inflamed, Manuela explained.

When the priest who made the ice for ice chips got sick, Leonie resigned herself to suffering. She was fine. She could handle the pain and the cracked throat and the croaking voice. She could handle the coughing fits and the bloody phlegm. Chokes was supposed to only last a couple of weeks, three in bad cases. She just had to be patient.

Chapter Text

The lifeboat was supposed to hold eight, but only two made it onboard when the Wilhelm sank. Dorothea counted herself lucky that one of them was herself, especially since as a mere entertainer she would normally have substantially lower priority than the rest of the crew. She counted herself unlucky that the other was Ferdinand.

Ferdinand was the master-at-arms, which made his insistence of being friendly with the sailors ever more grating. He seemed to honestly think that the sort of corporal punishment favored by the Adrestian Navy was good for all involved, and was always surprised whenever someone recently disciplined declined to speak with him. He was also, it had to be noted, the captain’s son.

He even continued his unfortunately peppy attitude when they were stranded at sea, and it drove her up a wall. No, they were not going to be rescued within a few days. No, this was not going to turn into a distant memory to laugh at in the future. And no, they were not going to be given compensation for their captain’s incompetence, are you actually insane?

Really, she was going to strangle him some day.

“I’m sure Admiralty will send out someone to search for us when we don’t arrive,” he said one cold morning as Dorothea was checking their stock of water. Their original supply had been extinguished three days ago, even with six fewer people to drink it, but the solar still was functioning so far.

(Functioning was just about all it was doing, she noted sourly. The two of them were more or less constantly thirsty, but at least they were alive.)

“We’re in a small boat in a large ocean,” Dorothea said despite herself. “We’ll be lucky if we’re seen at all.”

They theoretically had a signaling mirror, but it was tiny. She doubted it was going to be useful. The same went for the whistle, the pocketknife, and the compass. The latter was especially useless, since the paddles that were supposed to be with the boat had gotten lost in the storm.

A lot of things had gotten lost in the storm. A lot of people, too. Good people one and all, since the captain and the worst of his cronies had gotten their own lifeboat together. Once the solar still broke, she and Ferdinand would join them.

She wasn’t ready for that, yet. Stranded she may be, and thirsty, and likely to make herself ill from eating too much raw fish (Ferdinand, for all his faults, was a shockingly good angler), but she had too much to live for to give up now. She would survive for as long as she could and hope to drift ashore. Whether she landed in Morfis or Almyra, her skills as a singer would make her a new home.

On the eighth day, the merfolk found them. There were three of them, long of fin and sharp of tooth, cackling to each other about their new victims. Their seaweed-like hair billowed around them like a cloud as they swam around the lifeboat.

Dorothea went for the pocketknife, which was useless as a weapon but marginally better than nothing. Ferdinand cupped his hands around his mouth and called to them.

“Lords of the sea! We are stranded sailors, and we must beg your assistance!”

The merman with a long, eel-like body let out a laugh. “Lords of the sea? Really?”

The mermaid with the white hair and scales gave Ferdinand an unamused look. “And here I thought the Navy thought us monsters and wild beasts.”

“Edelgard, are you wanting us to eat them?” asked the last one, a mermaid with purple spines running down her back and arms.

“We’ve been stranded for a week,” Dorothea said, mostly to interrupt Ferdinand. “We’re wouldn’t be very tasty.”

“We can be the judge of that,” the merman said, practically purring with malice.

“Hubert, Petra,” said the white-scaled mermaid. “Back off for a second.” As the other two swam away, she continued. “If we want to pretend to be civil, I suppose we can negotiate. What can you give us?”

Dorothea hoped she could think of something. They didn’t have much, and merfolk were notoriously bloodthirsty. If they couldn’t appease them with trinkets, the only other option was blood. And while Ferdinand and Dorothea fighting over who to throw overboard would no doubt be amusing to them, it wasn’t something she wanted to be a part of. And not just because she would lose that fight.

Chapter Text

“We don’t need him,” the mysterious mage said, a friendly hand on her shoulder.

Edelgard barely heard it; all of her attention was trained on the other side of the observation window.

The room was small and mostly empty. In one corner was a cage containing the beast that had once been her sister. She had been the baby of the family. She was technically older than Edelgard by a couple of days, but she was shyer and less outgoing. Instead of playing games or socializing with the rest of her siblings, she’d preferred to stay cooped up in their room, painting.

There was nothing shy about the monster the mysterious mages had turned her into. It strained to get out of the cage, snarling and slavering and bristling the spines sprouting from its neck. It had chewed on the bars of its cage for so long and so hard that some of its jagged teeth had come out and melted into puddles of dark magic on the floor. On occasion, it would let out a tremendous howl that shook the floor.

Whenever it did, Hubert flinched and banged harder against the door.

When Edelgard was taken, she’d begged him to leave her to her fate. The strangers that had infiltrated the palace after the Insurrection had too much power, and defying them would only result in suffering. And yet, here he was down here anyway.

Had he tried to rescue her? Had he offended the strangers too much by questioning where she’d gone? Or was he here as a means of controlling his father? Did it even matter?

“Please, let him go,” Edelgard said over the frantic banging. “He’s a child. He’s useless to you, yes, but also harmless to you.”

“He made it all the way to the bottom floor,” said the mage, tightening her grip on her shoulder. “And someone’s been training him in magic. He gave poor Kastor some fierce facial burns.”

“I’d say that says more about Kastor’s competence than anything else,” Edelgard said, keeping her voice level. She’d heard this mage say some derogatory things about Kastor before, so maybe if she played on that… “Besides, it probably did him some good. Weren’t you saying he was dangerously brash?”

The mysterious mage laughed, pressed a button on the wall, and Edelgard’s heart leapt into her throat as the cage door opened. The monster surged forward, only to be halted by a pair of chains around its hind legs. It screamed in rage and yanked at its tethers, straining at them like a dog straining at a leash.

“Let me out!” Hubert screamed. “Please let me out!”

“Let him out!” Edelgard cried, abandoning diplomacy. She tried to reach for the door herself, but the mage’s hand held firm. “Please, let him out!”

One of the chains broke. Images of what the monster would do to Hubert surged through her head. If she was lucky, it would be like a dog catching a rat. A grab and a shake and it was over. If she was unlucky, it would be like a cat catching one. The last thing she wanted to see was her dear friend’s body thrown across the cell like a toy.

“What do you want me to say?” Edelgard asked desperately. “You have no reason to do this!”

The mage shrugged. “I have no reason to spare him either.”

“What if I give you a reason?”

The mage raised an eyebrow at her. “Like what? What can you give me, princess?”

“Good behavior,” she said, remembering the number of times she’d tried to sabotage the experiments the mages were doing. “No more fighting, no more insults. I’ll do whatever you ask me to. Just, please…” She looked at where Hubert was clawing at the door, blood running from his fingertips. “Please spare him.”

The mage pressed another button, and the door opened. Hubert fell through it, landing in a heap and banging his chin on the ground. He didn’t even bother to get up, instead scrambling through the rest of the way just as the second chain snapped and the beast charged. There was one terrifying moment when Edelgard thought it might fit through the door as well, but it was just too large. Instead, slammed into the wall around the door, nearly bouncing off of it, then reached an enormous paw through and blindly felt around, trying to grab her friend.

The mage didn’t let her go to her friend’s side, instead holding her still and letting Hubert pull himself to his feet, bedraggled and reeking of fear and urine, but alive.

“Get out of here,” said the mage. She made a shooing gesture at him. “If you’re not upstairs in the next ten minutes, I’ll make the princess throw you in herself. If any of the others catches you snooping, I’ll turn you into one of those and start tracking down family members to feed to you.”

Hubert gave the mage a wild-eyed look and fled.

“Remember your promise,” the mage said to Edelgard. She started walking down the hall, pulling her with her. “If you break it…”

“I won’t,” Edelgard promised.

She knew better now.

Chapter Text

Hilda shoved a corpse off of herself and groaned. She never wanted to fight in a three-way battle again. Come to think of it, even a two-way battle would be pushing it. There was just… too much here. Fighting bandits was fun and a great way to earn glory for her family, even if it was tiring. But fighting people she knew and had been friends with was…

She hadn’t had the closest relationship with Mercedes, sure, but to see her cut down had been… hard.

She staggered to her feet, took her axe in hand, and looked around the battlefield. The fighting seemed to be dying down, at least. The Kingdom and Empire armies were in retreat. Only a few soldiers were still fighting, and those seemed to mostly be fighting to get away from a previous engagement. A Kingdom pegasus knight was defending her downed steed from Raphael, who was just trying to talk the frantic woman down. A critically injured Imperial mage was refusing surrender from Claude and kept trying to shoot down his wyvern as he called down to her to please just give up already.

Marianne was-

“Marianne’s down!” Hilda shouted, running over as fast as her legs would take her.

Lysithea joined her. “Did you see what happened?” she asked as they ran.

Hilda shook her head. “No, I just looked over and she was-”

-collapsed on the ground beneath the hill, still and unmoving, with Bernadetta crying and shaking her.

“She saved me,” the archer said as soon as they got near. “She saved me and I couldn’t-”

Hilda knelt down to have a look. Marianne’s robes were scorched and burned. The entire lower part of her dress was gone, much of the back scorched badly enough to expose her back, and her sleeves were blackened and flaking at the hems. Most of the exposed flesh was red, weeping, and skinless, some with white centers and others blackened at the edges of the burns. Much of her legs were affected, as were her hands and part of her back.

The smell was unescapable, and while Hilda tried to breathe through her mouth as much as she could it only did so much to help.

“What happened?” she asked as Lysithea reached over and channeled some magic into her wounds.

“The fire trap on the hill,” Bernadetta said quietly. “I wasn’t supposed to be on it when it went off, but I was, and Marianne saw it. She ran into the fire to save me, and- I told her to use the last of her spells on herself, but she didn’t, and I had nothing to help her with.”

“She’s alive,” Lysithea reported. “Her body’s accepting my magic. She’ll need a lot more than I have left, though.”

Hilda reflexively checked her pockets for a vulnerary, even though she’d used her last one ages ago. “Can we safely move her?”

Lysithea nodded. “I think so.”

Together, the three of them were able to get Mariannes positioned so she could be carried on Hilda’s back without just sliding off to the side. It still took a little bit of maintenance, though.

“Bernadetta, can you consider yourself captured while I make sure she doesn’t slip?” Lysithea asked.

Bernadetta nodded, unstrapped her quiver from her back, and set it down on the ground.

Their camp was a good two hours away, but it had extra supplies and wagons for transporting the wounded. They could get Marianne out of immediate danger and to Garreg Mach, where there were more healers. Sure, her burns were terrible, and would probably scar, and the healing process was going to suck, but this was survivable if she got enough help.

It was going to work. It had to work. Hilda would never forgive herself if she let Marianne die.

Chapter Text

Caspar was used to pain. Injuries were common in war. Not just in battle, but in training, in working, and in life in general. War took a lot of work, and sometimes that work led to someone injuring himself. He remembered that one time he was sparring with Ferdinand, accidentally dodged into the ring next to him, and caught one of their mage’s fireballs by mistake. That had hurt.

Or there was that time he tried to ride Petra’s pegasus and was kicked in the ribs. That had hurt twice: once for his ribs breaking and the next for Linhardt healing them back together again.

And then there was that time- well. Let’s just say that Caspar was used to pain.

What he wasn’t used to was being trapped.

If he could get up, the door was open. If he could get through the door, he could leave Fort Merceus. If he could leave Fort Merceus, he could find the remnants of the Imperial Army and report to Edelgard. If he could report to Edelgard, he could be healed.

But he couldn’t get up.

His right arm was pinned under what had been the ceiling and part of a stone wall. He couldn’t move it at all, and the rubble was too heavy to move it off with his left hand alone. He’d tried, and failed. He’d tried, and failed, many times.

Sometimes the rubble shifted, most likely settling under its own weight, and sent flares of pain through him. But he was used to the pain. The problem was that he couldn’t get up.

If he couldn’t get up, he couldn’t eat or drink. If he couldn’t eat or drink, he couldn’t survive. If no one saved him, he was going to die a long, lingering death in his own fortress.

He couldn’t even feel much of his arm anymore.

He could hear people moving through the fortress, but they were speaking in a Kingdom dialect. They wouldn’t rescue him. If he was unlucky, they wouldn’t even finish him off.

He could hear them getting closer.

But he couldn’t get up.

Chapter Text

Leonie dreamed of bees. Dozens of bees, hundreds of bees, thousands of bees all buzzing around her and drowning out her thoughts with an impenetrable drone. She tried to run from them, but they only followed. She tried to fight them, but how can someone fight a swarm of bees? Nothing she did made the bees leave, made the noise go away.

Even when she woke up, the bees remained in her ears and eyes. People walked in front of her fuzzy and hard to discern, the bees were so thick. People tried to talk to her but she couldn’t tell what they said, the bees were so loud.

It felt like the entire world had turned into bees.

She tried to catch one. Someone grabbed her hand. A voice spoke in her ear.

“Make the bees go away.” she croaked out. “They’re annoy’n.”

The voice said something else. She ignored it.

Time passed. The bees remained.

She coughed, the taste of blood in her mouth. The bees stung her throat.

“Get’m out,” she said. “Make’m go away.”

No one listened. Maybe they couldn’t hear anything but bees either. A hand touched her back, sending a wave of cold through her. The noise of the bees died down a little bit, but soon came back to its original volume.

What if the person at her side was a bee? What if she was a bee? She experimentally tried to buzz, but all that came out was another cough. Maybe not, then. Could she sting someone? She wriggled her butt. No, no stinger. The bees hadn’t infected her that badly yet.

She hoped they would go away soon. She was tired of them. She was so tired.

Chapter Text

When Sylvain woke up, it was to stare up at an unfamiliar ceiling. The wooden beams were older and thicker than those in his aunt’s house, darker in shade. A different type of wood entirely.

He slowly turned his head to the side. Window. Blue striped curtains. An end table with a pitcher of water and a wooden cup. To the other side, a door and a bookshelf. In front of him, a desk. He recognized none of them.

Sylvain swung his legs around and sat on the side of the bed. His limbs moved without resistance. He looked down at his hands. His manacles were gone. Not even the scratches from the harsh metal remained. If he looked too long, he imagined they were still there. Time to move on.

He poured himself a cup of water as he thought. He didn’t know where he was. He didn’t know how he’d gotten here. But he didn’t seem to be a prisoner, or at least not as much as he’d been under his aunt’s care. The door might still be locked, but at least he could reach it. If he could find a stick or something to help his feet support him, anyway.

He remembered—

Fleeing into the night, the cold air chilling the manacles on his wrists. Words between Claude and Lysithea, saying things that were not for Sylvain to know. Nothing was for Sylvain to know anymore. All he knew was that they were leaving.

…presumably Claude had carried him here. Regardless, it was time to go.

Sylvain swung himself back around to face the door, took a deep breath, and tried to stand up.

He succeeded for about a second before he stumbled forward and fell into the bookshelf. As he scrambled at it, struggling to regain his balance, he dislodged a tome and sent it tumbling to the floor with a heavy thud. He quickly fell after it, his ankles turning beneath him.

Well, that had been a terrible idea.

Sylvain pulled himself into a relatively dignified sitting position and leaned back against the bookshelf. So much for that plan. His heels felt like they were on fire, his head felt like it was splitting open, and there was the history of a long-defunct Adrestian family jutting into his rump. He should have just stayed in bed.

The door creaked open. “Sylvain!” Claude’s voice called. “Are you all right?”

Sylvain looked up at him and raised an eyebrow.

“…right. Here, let me help you up.”

Sylvain allowed himself to be manhandled back into the bed, wincing every time his ankles were forced to move. It had been three weeks since his aunt cut the tendons there and they still hurt like he was being stabbed. He didn’t have much hope for them healing up on their own, but you never knew.

“I’m sorry,” Claude was saying when Sylvain started paying attention again. “We wanted to have someone keeping an eye on you, but Lysithea suggested you might react badly to a woman watching you sleep and I had to step out to take care of some necessities.”

He said nothing.

“Are you hungry? I can have the cook bring you some soup.”

He stayed silent.

“We brought a healer with us. She didn’t want to try healing your ankles without you being awake to tell her if it was getting worse, but—”

Sylvain fingered the pages of the book. Why was it on the bed? He scanned his memory of the past few minutes and came up blank. All he remembered was sensations and not much else. “She?”

“Marianne. She’s my classmate, and the best healer I know. You can trust her.”

He shrugged. It didn’t matter whether he trusted someone or not. The past few years had proven that well enough.

Claude pulled up the chair in front of the desk and took a seat in it. “Look,” he said after a moment. “You’re safe here. You’re out of your family’s reach. You’re not even in the Kingdom anymore. No one will be sending you back.”

He shrugged again.

“Your friends thought you were dead,” Claude said quietly. “That’s why they didn’t find you. I can send for them, if you want.”

Sylvain shook his head. “No,” he said, voice creaking unsteadily. “I don’t want them to see me like this.”

He used to be someone they could count on, even if he did have his annoying quirks. Now…

Thin wrists, sunken chest, dead eyes. A weak, starving cripple of a man. He can’t even look people in the face anymore.

“Later,” he added. “Tell them later. After I’ve recovered.”

If he ever did.

Chapter Text

“Don’t move. Please don’t move,” Marianne whispered as she tended the wounded man.

Post-battle healing was harsh. Her spells took a lot of uses during the actual battle, so by the time the enemy was defeated and it was time to limp onward, she was always either completely out or very low.

When she applied to attend Garreg Mach, it had been with the expectation that she would be primarily focusing on magical healing. Clean healing, not the butchery of surgeons and apothecaries. Surgery was a tool for those who couldn’t afford or couldn’t access the schools of magic, and it had the suffering and fatality rates to show for it. It was not an appropriate subject for any noblewoman, and especially not the only daughter of a Margrave.

War, however, didn’t care for what was clean and proper, and Marianne was out of magic.

The soldier in her care shuddered as she pressed a folded bandage against the gaping wound in his leg. Armor was expensive, and most soldiers had to deal with having a helmet and mail coat or brigantine at most. His opponent had taken advantage of it to spear him through the thigh, only narrowly missing the great artery of the leg, and had left him to lie helpless in the dirt for someone else to finish off.

If Marianne had any say in the matter, he would not only survive, but make a full recovery. She just had to stop the bleeding. Pressure usually did the trick, but the wound had started deep and been further aggravated from the soldier’s struggle to make it back to his allies again. The blood just wanted to keep flowing, and flow it did, seeping through the soldier’s pants to soak through the bandage and even Marianne’s sleeves.

It just wasn’t right. They weren’t even supposed to be fighting anyone here, not now. There were no Imperial patrols around, no enemy forces. They were only moving through the area to get to Ailell. Earlier that day, everyone had been laughing and joking and looking forward to the supplies and fresh troops Judith would be giving them.

No one had expected to be ambushed by Kingdom forces. Deserters, from the looks of them, desperate for food and shelter and not caring much who they took it from. They’d rushed in, grabbed what they could, and tried to leave. Claude had ordered pursuit. The enemy’s panicked retreat had led them into a trio of demonic beasts.

The Kingdom deserters were almost all dead now, some by the hands of the Alliance forces and some by the teeth of the monsters. The two survivors were being questioned, and were probably going to be killed the moment they were no longer useful. The demonic beasts were dead and the Alliance roads a little safer for it.

But this one soldier was dying, and nothing Marianne was doing seemed to be stopping that. If she had a single drop of magic left in her, she could stop the bleeding in a heartbeat. But she didn’t, and she couldn’t. There was nothing she could do but hold a bandage against his wound and tell him to please not move.

Chapter Text

The video was on every news site and had spawned countless rambling arguments on social media across the internet. Some people thought the Gloucesters should pay the ransom. Some thought that doing so would just encourage more kidnappings. Some thought that they should immediately send in the army to crush the ransomers, whether or not that meant the death of the hostage.

Claude just wanted Lorenz back.

They had never been close, that was true, but Lorenz had a good heart underneath his arrogant exterior. He always had something honestly nice to say about Ignatz’s paintings, even when the subject matter didn’t interest him much. He helped Raphael drag Lysithea out of the library when she tried to stay after curfew. And when Leonie’s car, an ancient Chevalier with a bad suspension and a tendency to stall on hills, finally broke down completely, he drove out to the middle of the highway in his fancy Forseti and gave her a ride home without complaining once about the grease stains on the nice leather seats.

Claude had certainly had worse dorm-mates.

With a heavy heart, he moved the mouse over to the video and clicked ‘play’ again.

It opened with a shot of a brightly-lit, plain and undecorated room. The only things visible were a table (white, containing some papers that the social media armchair detectives were busy furiously analyzing), a chair (white, somewhat battered), and Lorenz (also white and somewhat battered).

Lorenz was looking not at the camera but past it, presumably at one of his captors. One side of his face was completely bruised up, the eye there squeezed shut by swelling. His uniform jacket was torn and scruffy, his shirt stained with dirt. But he was alive and in one piece, and didn’t appear to be too badly wounded other than the bruising.

“Ok, go,” said a man behind the camera.

“I am Lorenz Hellman Gloucester, the heir of the Gloucester fortune,” Lorenz said. He reached for a newspaper on the table and held it up, revealing the date in the corner. “It is the 8th of Wyvern Moon, and it has been five days since I was kidnapped. In return for my safe release, my captors want five million gold, to be sent via NetCoin to the following address.” He held up a piece of paper printed with a QR code.

Lorenz scrunched his noise in disgust at that last phrase. Claude had endured many a lecture about how the cryptocurrency revolution was a farce and nothing more than a speculative bubble that would pop any year now, and it seemed that even captivity couldn’t rattle him enough to stop him from expressing his thoughts on the topic.

“If they do not receive the five million gold within a week of posting this video, they will begin cutting parts off. The next video will be of me losing fingers.” He paused for a moment, wringing his hands. One of his pinkies was broken, Claude noticed. “Father, I must implore you to listen to them. These people mean business, and you should easily be able to sell enough stock to make up the money within the time limit.”

“Now smile for the camera,” ordered the cameraman.

Lorenz winced and forced his mouth into an awkward grin. Two of his teeth were missing.

The video ended.

That had been five days ago, and the Gloucesters had not officially said a single word about the subject (though his mother had supposedly slapped a paparazzi who tried to shove the video in her face to get a candid reaction from her). Were they going to pay, or were they going to try to trace the footage and have the police raid it? If they paid, would the kidnappers even release Lorenz? Or would they just dispose of him as a liability?

Claude didn’t know. And he couldn’t do anything to help.

Chapter Text

Bernadetta picked at her palms as she sat in class, surrounded by strangers. She didn’t think she would ever get used to having the Houses split up for mating season, and especially having a different teacher. Hanneman was an alpha, but he was so old that he didn’t go into rut or respond to the scents others put out anymore. He probably couldn’t tell that the entire class stank like a wild boar, but Bernadetta could. And she hated it.

Her palms were the worst. When she was nervous, they sweated. When they sweated, they smelled of randy alpha. And smelling like a randy alpha made Bernadetta even more nervous. The cycle just never stopped and she was sure she was the sweatiest, smelliest person in the room.

She missed Manuela. She missed feeling normal.

She picked at her palms some more. That made them itch, so she picked. They kept itching, so she picked even more. The sweat made them too slippery, so she rubbed them on her uniform, but it only helped a little bit. At least picking at the scabs from previous days gave her a little bit of resistance to cling to.

The other students were probably starting and laughing at her right now as Hanneman droned on and on about how armor changed over the centuries and the differences between a 7th century Adrestian helmet and an 8th century Adrestian helmet, and there wasn’t anything she could do about it except pick and pick and pick. If she peeled off her scabs, she felt better. If she picked at the wounds left behind, she felt better.

“Are you all right?” Annette asked, looking over at her.

Bernadetta hid her hands under the table. “I’m fine. Just…” Anxious, worried, too crude, too unmarriageable, too alpha. It wasn’t anything she could fix, though. There was no fixing someone as awful as her.

“It’s just… you’re bleeding.”

Oh, and so she was. Little droplets of blood was dripping from her hands and splattering against the floor. It wasn’t the first time blood had been on there, she was sure. This was a war academy, and sometimes students came in still hyped up from the training grounds and fought a little bit, or challenged one another to a duel (against school rules, but her father did always say rules were for commoners). Usually nothing worse than a nosebleed came out of it, but still.

“I’m fine,” she repeated as she wrung her hands. The sweat clung to them as she kept scratching and picking and picking and scratching.

Annette glanced up at Hanneman, then back at Bernadetta, then slowly scooted her chair over so she could reach over and take one of her hands. “That looks pretty bad,” she said quietly.

“I’m fine!” Bernadetta said again, more firmly.

Dedue looked over. Bernadetta shrank back.

“We should get you to a healer,” Annette decided. “Curl your hands so no one sees.” She stood up. “I’m sorry, Hanneman, but I’m having some… woman alpha issues. May I go to the infirmary?”

Dorothea let out a cough that sounded suspiciously like, “Again?

Hanneman gestured at her to go. “Take all the time you need.”

“Bernadetta?” Annette asked sweetly. “Would you mind escorting me?”

Her options were to either refuse and draw attention to herself or meekly go along, so she meekly went along. Annette did a remarkable impression of a pained limp as they left the classroom, that disappeared quickly once they were out of eyesight.

“Come on, let’s go,” Annette said, tugging her along. “Let’s get your hands fixed.”

“I’m fine,” Bernadetta whispered. She had to be fine. She didn’t have a choice.

Chapter Text

“Have you calmed down?” Hubert asked as he entered the Enbarr palace dungeons.

Their guest glowered at him, but he was no longer trying to claw his way through the cell door. A small improvement was better than no improvement, at least, and if fortune held Hubert would soon have a more effective means of controlling him. The initial tests were quite promising, but there were still some wrinkles left to iron out.

“Where’s Dedue?” the former king of Faerghus asked, gripping the barred window of his cell door with shaking hands.

“That name no longer exists, and neither does yours,” Hubert said, sighing. It really was hard to teach an old king new tricks, wasn’t it? One would think that after two weeks of isolation, he would be more invested in paying attention to the rules. “That will cost you three more days.”

More glowering, as expected. “If you think I care what you do to me-”

“I don’t. That’s why you and he share a sentence.”

It wasn’t completely true. Managing the leverage largely meant routinely convincing him that their guest was still alive, and that meant slipping him into the dungeons to see him sleeping. Their guest didn’t get such a privilege. But he was housed alone and was given penalties when their main guest acted up, so it was close enough.

The guest yanked at the bars, rattling the door. If he hadn’t been on a steady diet of crest suppressants ever since his arrival, he might even have pulled one out. “If you hurt one hair on his head-”

“You’ll do nothing. Because there is nothing you can do.” Hubert chuckled. “Well, except give in and stop resisting, but I think we both know that’s not in your nature.”

The guest bared his teeth at him, but changed the subject. “Did you come in just to taunt me?”

“No. I came to inform you that we’re removing your cutlery privileges. Your leverage misbehaved.” Hubert had never thought he had it in him to use a spoon to try to chip through the mortar in the wall, but he apparently wasn’t as passive as he seemed.

“And we share a sentence,” the guest muttered.

“And you share a sentence.”

“Why come tell me? You could have just stopped giving me spoons.”

The truth was, Hubert had considered that. But a small break in isolation was worth driving it home that no, really, what one did affected the other. If they got to the point that if he changed something, each would automatically assume it was because the other had misbehaved, then he could do this the more efficient way.

But the guest didn’t need to know that, so all he said was, “I’ll leave that for you to think about.” And then he smiled. Hubert had an ominous smile.

After a pause, he continued. “So, I’ll see you in another two weeks, assuming neither of you add more time to your sentence.”

As he turned to leave, he heard the guest yank at the bars again. “No, don’t leave me already—”

He shut the door to the dungeons behind him with a loud clang.

Chapter Text

A snapshot of a battlefield:

A demonic beast, snapping and snarling at Ingrid on her pegasus as she played bait so everyone else could prepare their attack.

Sylvain, Dimitri, and Dedue pushing a wagon loaded with explosive barrels.

Annette, Mercedes, and Ashe waiting for the signal to rain down a storm of magic and arrows on the creature.

Felix and Byleth ready to move in and strike in melee once it was mostly disabled.

No plan survives first contact with the enemy.

The wagon hit a rut in the ground and jostled. The demonic beast twisted its head around, saw the trap coming, then turned and bolted. Its tail lashed out and struck the cart, shattering an axle. Its body darted into the woods, where the mages and archer were waiting. Its teeth snapped forward, grabbed Ashe, shook him once, and threw him to the side as it fled.

Ashe felt the teeth stab into his abdomen, the sharp sensation of ribs and vertebrae snapping as he was shaken, and the thud as his body slammed into a tree.

His head throbbed in pain. His chest throbbed in pain. His ribs screamed in pain. Below that- nothing. He couldn’t feel his legs. He couldn’t move his legs. All he could do was use his bruised and battered arms to try to crawl back to his class.

Healer. Mercedes. He needed Mercedes. She could fix him. She could—

He let out a choked cry as a hand pressed against his stomach. That alone didn’t hurt, but the jostling of his ribs did.

“He’s bleeding pretty badly,” he vaguely heard Sylvain say.

Huh, so he was. Blood was dripping into his eye from a wound on his head. Blood was pooling under his clothes from the teeth in his belly. Blood was soaking the bandage Mercedes was holding to his— wait, why bandages?

“Magic?” he asked. His voice was too soft. He could barely force it out.

His head hurt.

“In a moment,” she promised. “I just need to—”

Cold washed over him, stopping at the bottom of his ribs.

“Oh no,” she said.

“Oh no?” asked Felix. “What do you mean, oh no?”

“I can’t fix this. His spine’s been severed.”

“Then stop the bleeding and be done with it,” Felix snapped. “We can take him to the Monastery healers once he’s stable.”

A memory tried to make itself heard. Ashe struggled to focus on it. “Won’t work,” he said after a moment. “Magic traces- something.”

“What he said,” Mercedes said. “Healing magic follows the lines of the body, and those run through the spine. If the spine is severed…”

“Then shove a vulnerary down his throat.”

“A vulnerary is just a healing spell in a bottle. It has the same problem.”

Ashe watched the blood soak through the bandages Mercedes was tying around his waist. It was a waste, he thought. A waste of a waist. He was just too badly injured. Even if they somehow got him to the point he’d survive, then what? He couldn’t walk. He couldn’t sit up. He couldn’t even balance his own weight if he was carried. How were they even going to get him back to the Monastery without reopening his wounds?

Byleth walked up, as cool and calm as ever. Ashe thought he could see a figure hovering behind them. Was he that close to the afterlife already? “How is he?” they asked.

“Not good,” Mercedes said.

Byleth nodded, turned-

The world shattered.

 

A snapshot of a battlefield:

Chapter Text

Khalid was tired. Of politics, of his siblings, of the entire Almyran court. He couldn’t do or say anything without it being twisted, taken out of context, or otherwise used against him. If he lost a food taster to poison, he was heartless and dishonorable. If he turned away a food taster, he was demeaning and cruel. If any poison actually got to him, and he spent the night miserable, he was a demon. After all, he had survived, and only demons were immune to poison.

Khalid’s talent at surviving had earned him the moniker “the demon prince,” and he heard it everywhere he went. The tales had started small— that his mother had bargained with a desert devil to become his guardian— and slowly grew until they were claiming he had bound it himself at the dear old age of three, and paid for its services with the lifespan of his siblings. Surely there could be no other reason why his oldest sister took ill last winter (as if there hadn’t been an outbreak of flu in the city at the time), or why his second brother fell off his wyvern and broke his leg (the idiot had been trying to stand up in the saddle).

People started leaving purification candles outside his door. Khalid couldn’t trust them not to have something nasty in the wax, so he started leaving his room via window. This, of course, confirmed everyone’s suspicions.

His sister asked him not to come to her wedding. She tried to phrase it as if she was only looking out for his own safety— weddings were chaotic and it would be hard to avoid poisons there— but he knew it was because her fiancé was afraid of him.

His father’s advisors tried to convince him to ban him from court.

It was a grave insult. A prince had to sit at court. To do anything else was an insult to the crown and was tantamount to disinheriting oneself. Banning a prince from court was the ultimate offense. And yet, it was to everyone’s surprise but Khalid’s when his father’s response was to have the offending advisors sent away to a “prestigious post” in the deep desert where there was nothing to rule but dust and ruins long abandoned.

And yet, a few brave souls tried to press the matter, and found themselves joining the advisors.

Fine then.

If he was going to be a demon prince, he might as well be one for real.

The night after the disastrous meeting, Khalid took his favorite wyvern and flew for the desert himself. For five days and nights he flew, past where the fertile fields turned into scrub and rock, past where the scrub and rock turned into wasteland. Until he reached the vast field of black granite where no one was allowed to venture.

Legends held that the gods had sealed a great evil underneath the desert, and had placed the granite there as a warning to stay away. The ‘field’ was comprised of massive cubes the size of a house, made from black stone blocks, placed so close together that even only one person could barely walk between them. Even that one person would be very uncomfortable, considering how rough and covered in spurs and juts they were. In the day, the sun heated them to unbearable temperatures. In the night, they were bitterly cold.

At dawn, like now, they were just starting to warm up. The rising sun illuminated the signs surrounding the field. There were thousands of them, in a hundred or more languages ranging from modern Almyran (“Keep out! Cursed!”) to ancient pictographs of people growing sick and dying.

With a sigh, he sat down on the ground in front of one of the signs and leaned back against his wyvern. What was he even trying to do here? Sulk in solitude, apparently. A place as cursed as this should be crawling in demons to bind and spirits to bargain with, so where were they?

Not here on the outskirts, that was obvious. The center of the field was the most likely place, and also the one he had absolutely zero intention of going to. He wasn’t that reckless, demon prince or no. He’d heard too many horrible stories about people vomiting out their insides and bleeding through their skin to even consider it. He wasn’t even going to risk squeezing between the blocks.

Well, he wasn’t unless the dragon perched on top of them tried to make a snack of him.

Khalid stared up at it. It stared back, in all its feathered, birdlike menace.

He slowly started to climb on top of his wyvern. Something that big probably wasn’t very mobile. It also probably wasn’t especially interested in being bound.

The dragon growled.

Despite his urging, his wyvern refused to take off. Instead, it tucked its wings close to its body and let out an appeasing whimper at the beast.

“Tanit, go,” Khalid hissed, tugging on the reins.

The dragon stalked closer, climbing over the granite blocks as it went.

Khalid eyed the blocks, groaned, and jumped off his wyvern. The monster couldn’t reach him if he ran between the blocks, but he’d have to go fast. It would be horribly uncomfortable, and there was the risk it would just turn on his wyvern instead, but right now it was his only chance.

As he ran, the monster surged forward, bounding across the granite like a child hopping across stepping stones. Its great beak narrowly avoided skewering him as he ducked between two of the great blocks. The spurs tugged on his riding outfit as he squeezed between them.

The dragon roared in fury as he pushed deeper into the field. Maybe he could lure it away from Tanit. Maybe he could-

In front of him, at the junction of four blocks, a man dropped down.

Khalid stopped short.

The man walked up to him, clenching a fist and clearly annoyed. His hair framed his naked chest and waist like a lion’s mane.

Wait, where had he- was he the-

As Khalid was just realizing that A) he was not imagining this and B) the dragon was nowhere to be seen, the man slapped him.

“You are a profound idiot,” he hissed.

“That’s not the usual insult people use,” Khalid said, mind racing. A monster or demon taking human form was fairly typical, but they usually did so to trick people. Usually they started human and only showed their true form once they got the contract they wanted, not the other way around.

“Do you not see the warning signs?” The man pointed out at the entrance to the field. “The ones specifically written to keep people away?

“I did stay away,” Khalid said. “Until a giant dragon tried to eat me.”

“Out, out!” the man said, shoving him. “Leave this place at once! It is not for your kind, or for any kind in fact.”

Khalid wedged himself between two juts of rock. He was already tired of this and he hadn’t even spoken to the man (dragon) for a minute yet. “If I leave, you’ll turn back into a dragon and eat me.”

The man shrugged. “Maybe. Maybe not, if you get on your mount and just go already.”

“I tried, and she wouldn’t—”

“That doesn’t matter. If she won’t fly, then walk! Just leave!” The man shoved him again, successfully dislodging him.

Khalid allowed himself to be pushed forward a few more feet. “Do you have nothing better to do than to stalk ancient seals for people looking to sulk in private? Especially ancient seals in the middle of the desert where no one goes?”

Tanit, spying him, raised her head and let out a nervous chirrup. Khalid waved to her.

“Because,” he continued, catching a ghost of an idea. “If you don’t, I might have something for you. You’re clearly a desert spirit of some sort.”

The man pushed him out of the gap and away from the blocks. “Of some sort.”

“And as a desert spirit you owe fealty to no man or beast.”

The man let out a rude noise. “Man or beast, there is no difference.”

“But you still have wants and needs. Food, or the spirit equivalent.” Which was usually blood, so he had better play his hand right. “Fine drink. Comfortable living conditions.” He gestured at the black granite blocks, which were already starting to heat up in the morning sun. “Which these are clearly not.”

“What are you getting at?”

“Let’s make a deal. I provide the comforts. The food. The drink. And you… just be visible. You won’t have to actually do anything, and you can leave whenever you wish. Of course,” he hastily added. “I won’t be able to do that here. So I’ll even be leaving quickly like you want me to.”

“I have no interest in living among humans.”

“You don’t have to. You can have your own private quarters, a private bath, a private library. You don’t have to talk or interact with any single human being. Just be around and visible.”

For a second he thought the man might turn back into a dragon and revert to his original plan of eating him. But then he seemed to think for a moment. “A private library, you said?”

“With books spanning a dozen and more centuries. I’ll even negotiate with the main library’s keeper for you, so you don’t have to interact with him.”

The man hmmed to himself, then walked over to Tanit and patted her snout. “Perhaps. Let me see this library. Then I will decide whether to stay or to eat you.”

Close enough! “So, spirit. May I have your name?” Khalid asked as he rummaged through the saddlebags for his spare set of riding gear. He didn’t think the man would want to try riding a wyvern naked.

“You may not.”

He expected that. Names were important to spirits and demons alike, and they didn’t tend to just give them out. “Then what should I call you?”

“Well...”

 

Khalid arrived back at the palace to a waiting crowd of siblings, courtiers, and assorted hangers-on. If he were anyone else, he would have thought it was due to worry. Princes were not known to disappear for weeks on end. But he knew each and every one of them well enough to know they just wanted to see how he’d further disgraced himself.

Well. He certainly had a show for them!

He stepped down from Tanit’s back and offered his hand to the spirit, who ignored it and hopped down on his own. His unnatural, ethereally green hair billowed in nonexistent wind as he used magic to slow his fall, revealing a pair of long, pointed ears.

The courtiers gawked. One of his sisters grinned and elbowed his horrified brother in the side. Khalid walked up to the closest courtier (a minor member of a major noble family, and a known gossip), clapped him on the shoulder, and said, “Fetch some appropriate clothing for our latest guest.”

The courtier gaped for a moment before running off. The news would be all over the city by sundown.

“And please allow me to introduce you to my friend and patron: the Wind Caller!”

Chapter Text

Sylvain sat at his aunt’s right as she made conversation over a plate of jellied eel. In Garreg Mach, eel had been a cheap source of protein enjoyed by servants and visiting pilgrims. No one cared much what it looked like as long as it wasn’t actively rotting. The nobles of Gautier, however, treated it like gold. Only the clearest, cleanest stock was used to make the jelly. Only the finest, sharpest knives were used to chop the eel. Each piece was carefully set in the stock in the most picturesque way, and once set the jelly was carefully sliced into perfectly triangular pieces of aspic containing a perfectly centered, perfectly round piece of meat.

The end result looked nice, but was ultimately no different than the slop pilgrims and (more lately) refugees ate by the desperate bowlful. It was still eel, fattened on river sludge and garbage and tasting much the same.

Putting a pretty spin on garbage seemed to be a Gautier tradition, admittedly.

At the far end of the table were the representatives of several wealthy families, all listening with rapt attention to his aunt’s words. Sylvain was trying hard not to listen. He’d already heard enough about crests and heritage and stud fees to last a lifetime, even before she’d invited the first customers over.

“Stand up, dear,” his aunt said in a sickly sweet tone.

Sylvain stood up. He hadn’t touched his eel at all. He didn’t think he could keep it down even if he wanted to.

“Look at these muscles,” she said, running a hand along his bare shoulder. “Your eyes do not deceive you; he’s a fine specimen, strong and sturdy. Come up and feel if you like. Touching is free.”

Only one person, an elderly matriarch, took her up on the offer. Questing fingers felt his arm, his shoulder, pinched at his pectorals, all with the detachment of someone inspecting a horse. “Certainly in his prime,” the woman said, her voice perfectly flat. A hand ran down his back and squeezed an asscheek. “Decent butt. I don’t imagine he’ll have any problem getting the job done.”

“With his reputation, I hope not,” said one of the other customers, snickering.

“Speaking of such…” began the matriarch.

“He has no by-blows to be concerned about,” his aunt answered. “We checked. Whoever wins is guaranteed his first child.”

“And the chances of him passing down his crest?” asked a man in a velvet cloak.

“That depends on the heritage of your chosen suitor,” his aunt said, raising an eyebrow. “For a woman from a strongly crest-bearing family, we estimate the chances to be close to fifty percent.”

An impressed murmur went around the room, and several of the representatives leaned forward in their seats. Sylvain found himself glancing at the door. He’d never make it, not with his aunt’s bodyguard waiting on the other side for any escape attempts, but he desperately wanted to be somewhere else.

“You may sit down again,” his aunt said, noticing his glances.

It was as good as an order. He sat down and prodded his jellied eel. Not for the first time, he considered turning his fork on his aunt instead. And not for the first time, he decided against it. There were too many eyes watching right now. If he bided his time, he could escape unharmed. Eventually his aunt’s guard would slacken, her plan unravel. He would wait for an opportunity and slip out.

And hey, maybe if he was lucky his friends would find him before she could go through with it. They had to have noticed his absence by now. It warmed his heart just thinking of what Dimitri would do to his family once he realized what they had planned. Felix too.

He leaned hard on that thought as his aunt started taking bids. He wasn’t going to be stuck here forever as a glorified stud horse. His friends were going to come for him. He just had to be patient.

Chapter Text

Dimitri watched the carriage, decorated in Imperial red, come down the road in front of him. Guarding it were two horsemen armed with lances and swords, one riding in front and one behind. An important official or a turncoat noble would have had a larger retinue. Soldiers would be with their army. Messengers rode alone and at speed. This must be the carriage of either a petty official or a tax collector. At this time of year, it was probably a tax collector.

Taxes were, well. They happened, they were necessary, and before the war began he had benefited quite significantly from them. He didn’t have a problem with tax collectors. He only had a problem with the ones that took Kingdom funds and brought them to the Empire, to pay Imperial soldiers and fund Imperial magic.

He crouched down in the bushes and hefted his spear. If he took out the horse in front, its body would bring the carriage to a halt. Then he could focus on the other horseman, and finally the tax collector and their likely bodyguard. He’d stake their bodies to the trees, leave the taxes for future looters, and feast on their horses.

The carriage and the horsemen came closer. He tensed up, raised his spear to throw, and—

“We could have done this the easy way,” the man in front of him said as Cornelia watched on. He ran a gloved hand along the handle of the hoof nippers resting in the hearth. “All you had to do was sign one piece of paper.”

Dimitri spat at him.

Cornelia’s man took the nippers out. Their jaws glowed orange. “But no,” he continued. “You just have to keep fighting.”

A thin, almost croaking shout escaped Dimitri’s throat as the man pinched one of his nipples between the jaws of the nippers, his flesh sizzling in the heat.

“Don’t wear out your voice too quickly now,” the man said, squeezing the nippers tight. His nipple, and much of the surrounding skin and flesh, came loose and fell to the ground. Vomit rose into Dimitri’s throat at the smell of burning meat. “We’ve only just begun…”

—he knew the one in front very well.

The spear pierced the horse’s chest, sending it careening to the ground with a scream. The carriage horses leaped over their companion, dragging the carriage itself into the fallen horse. Carriage and horses both came to a sudden, confusing stop.

The second horseman shouted an unnecessary warning and charged at Dimitri, her lance readied. Dimitri ducked to the side, putting the horse between him and the lance, and as the guard wheeled her mount around he lashed out with a gauntleted fist. His Crest flared as he punched the woman in the thigh, denting the armor and crushing the leg within it. His second punch threw the woman from her saddle.

As the horse ran away, he stomped on the horseman’s neck until it crunched pleasingly and the woman stopped struggling.

During the chaos, the taxman had abandoned the carriage and freed one of the draft horses. Dimitri watched patiently as he clambered onto its bare back, kicked it in the sides… and was immediately thrown off. Draft horses were not generally trained to be ridden, and this one objected strongly to the notion. It readily took the opportunity for freedom and ran off into a wheat field, following the second guard’s horse.

As the taxman lay groaning on the ground, Dimitri simply walked over, pulled his spear from the first horse’s chest, and stabbed him in the throat.

Now, about that first man…

He was pinned between horse and carriage, struggling to free his weapon from underneath his mount. Dimitri watched him with all the detachment of a farmer watching a mouse struggle in a trap, then crouched down and drew his dagger.

The first thing he did was stab the man’s dominant shoulder, drawing out a coarse yell and disabling his ability to effectively fight back even if he did get his lance free.

“Don’t wear out your voice too quickly now,” Dimitri said. His second pass with the dagger cut through the straps holding the man’s armor in place, his third sliced off the man’s eyelids. “We’ve only just begun.”

Chapter Text

Dimitri hid under the corpses as the flames blazed around him, blood soaking into his clothes and hair as he huddled into as small of a ball as he could manage. He couldn’t make a sound. If he made a noise, any noise, they would find him. If they found him, they would cut his head off as surely as they’d cut off his father’s.

(The head in question had been kicked around like a ball a few times before the assailants’ leader spiked it on a spear “as a message.”)

If they found him, there would be no one left to tell what had happened. That their own soldiers had turned on them, after drugging their food. The loyal knights, sluggish and confused, hadn’t stood a chance. The nobles sleeping in their carriages, even less so. Some had been dragged out and tortured before being murdered. Others had been locked inside before their carriage was set on fire. He could still hear the agonized screams ringing in his ears.

Glenn had been feeling poorly that night and had eaten little dinner, which meant he had gotten a lower dose of poison. When the assailants had Dimitri and his father captured and were mutilating and laughing at the latter, he attacked. He was quickly cut down, but he was able to free Dimitri first.

He should have defended his father, but he was a coward. So he ran. And when they sent out a pair of traitor knights to recapture him, he fought. He killed them. And he hid under a pile of corpses before others could come after him.

They tried to draw him out by forcing his father to walk around on the stumps where his feet had been, crying in pain and grief. They tried to cajole him out with false promises to spare him and his family. And when nothing worked, they finished their bloody task and sent out a search party.

When the searchers were gone, the remaining marauders took their time looting, planting Duscur arrows on the bodies, and finishing off anyone who looked like they were still breathing. When the search party came back empty handed, they left in force. And when they left, Dimitri finally ran.

He ran as far and as fast as he could, stumbling over stones and rodent holes as he went. He ran until his feet began to scream, until his sides began sending him stabs of pain so strong that it was felt even through the cuts and the burns.

He ran because he was a coward, and running was what cowards did. He should have fought. He should have struggled. He should have taken out even one traitor. But he didn’t. He abandoned his friends and family and subjects, he abandoned his kingdom, and he abandoned Glenn.

It wouldn’t be the last time he ran away. When the Empire invaded Garreg Mach, he ran away with the other Kingdom students back to Faerghus. When Cornelia accused him of murder and tried to have him executed, he ran away and left Dedue to die. He ran through Dukedom roads, marauding and killing and failing to do anything of use. He ran through Alliance roads, an army at his back, failing to chase down the Emperor.

He would not run at Gronder Field. Like he should have years ago, he would stand and fight and win. His father demanded it.

Chapter Text

Claude stared up at the empty sky, his wyvern nowhere to be seen, and groaned. Well, that had gone well. So much for a simple pleasure flight. So much for investigating the coast around Derdriu. So much for not being thrown by his wyvern.

It was bizarre. It was embarrassing. It was like he was five and just learning to fly again. Almyran nobles were not thrown by their wyvern. It just didn’t happen. It was like a Faerghan tripping over their own lance, or a Leicestan falling for a Morfisian prince scam, or Lorenz stirring a spoonful of salt into his tea. He knew Fodlan didn’t train their wyverns as well as Almyra did (no one in the world trained their wyverns as well as Almyra did) but this was ridiculous even considering that.

At least he had been flying low, to get a better feel of the sea air. At least he had landed on soft-ish sand instead rock. He was alive and didn’t seem to have any broken bones, which were both much better than the usual result of falling off a flying animal.

He sat up with a groan and started brushing the sand out of his hair and clothes. He had to orient himself, find Fianna, and go home. The most likely explanation was that she had a saddle sore or some other injury that her tack had rubbed against, so he needed to have the stable master have a look at her. He could go flying another time and on another steed.

Now, where was she?

The beach he had landed on was mostly bare except for a patch of seaweed to the east. Inland, the sand turned to hard dirt and scrub. There were no woodlands out here, most likely because of all the salt in the earth. Further south, sure, but this part of the coast was not great for growing things. Derdriu got most of its food from more southern farms and from the fishing fleets that lived on the sea.

It should be easy to spot a large wyvern with the lack of vegetation, but that didn’t seem to be the case. Fianna was just nowhere to be seen.

Claude called her name. He whistled. He clicked his tongue. He mimicked the long, almost mournful howl of a mother wyvern calling her young to her side. He mimicked the short squeaks of a baby wyvern calling its mother. But she never came.

Well, fuck.

He could walk back to Derdriu, but it would take him a few days, and it would mean explaining to the stable master what had happened to her. Unless she was already flying back home, and he was going to arrive to a panic as people assumed he was dead. Neither were very good, and he honestly wasn’t sure which scenario he preferred.

Claude sighed and started walking. He’d have to start thinking about food and water soon. His emergency rations had been in Fianna’s saddlebags, and even if he had them with him they wouldn’t last very long. The trip back was going to suck.

Chapter Text

Leonie stood up. She immediately fell down again.

She didn’t even have the energy to say ‘ow’ anymore. She was tired and cranky and her throat hurt and she barely had a voice at all anymore, but according to Manuela she was alive and well on the way to making a full recovery. Leonie had her doubts about the “alive” part, but whatever. If she was recovering, she could stand up. If she could stand up, she could go to class. If she could go to class, she could pretend everything was back to normal again.

She just had to work on standing first.

She glared at her shaking legs. The healers had done some odd magic to make sure her muscles didn’t waste away during the weeks she was in bed, but that didn’t mean they were especially happy about going unused. Putting weight on them was difficult, and her knees especially protested mightily against the notion.

Her second attempt was made leaning on Raphael, who had somehow avoided the illness completely. With him taking most of her weight, she was able to take a few, halting steps before her legs started buckling. Still, it was progress, and he even helped her walk back to the bed.

She spent most of her days sitting up, because laying down made her feel too much like an invalid (she ignored the little voice in her head saying she was one). When she had the energy for it, she tried to stand up and walk around. Inevitably, it only worked for a little while before she had to sit back down again.

“Is this normal?” she asked Manuela in a halting, creaking whisper.

The infirmary head nodded. “Muscle weakness is common in the latter stage of chokes. You should heal quickly from here on out. Just be patient.”

Quickly, she said. Several days was not what Leonie considered quick. It was faster than the other stages of the disease, true (she had been lying in this bed for two weeks now), but three or four days was still much longer than she wanted to be sitting up in bed glaring at her legs.

So she kept trying. And because her body wasn’t ready, she kept collapsing. Was it good for her? No. Was it embarrassing? Yes. Did she feel like she had to do it anyway? Yes. If she didn’t keep trying, how would she know when she was ready? Hilda might be happy to have an excuse to lounge around in bed (she wasn’t— Leonie heard her whining about not being able to go to the tea garden and walk around), but Leonie had always been a more active sort of person. She needed to be up and moving, and this was definitely not that.

Until she fell on the floor instead of back into bed. She couldn’t just stand up, because of how weak her legs were, and she couldn’t climb back up and in, because her arms were as weak as her legs. She couldn’t even call for help, because her voice was still gone. Her fellow patients weren’t any help either, because they were in the same shape (or even worse, in the case of Cyril) that she was in.

She slumped against the side of the bed and tried not to cry from frustration. She was practically an adult, she was a student of a prestigious academy, and she was going to be a mercenary. Mercenaries didn’t cry, so neither would she. Not from something so minor as an illness, not from frustration, not from anything.

So she sat and waited. And waited. Her butt was getting cold, but she kept waiting.

Eventually, one of the healers would come by on their rounds and see her there. She wanted to get back into bed on her own before then, if only to escape the embarrassment and the lecture, but she didn’t think it would happen. Not without help. Not without—

Someone tugged at her arm. Leonie looked up.

Cyril had leaned over and was trying to lift her up. He was still in terrible shape (he was barely ever awake, needed help eating, and might have the cough for the rest of his life), but he was trying.

Leonie looked at the side of her bed. Sitting on her rump, the top of the mattress was at eye level. She didn’t think she could climb up. She’d tried to climb up, and hadn’t made it. But she thought she could give it one more try.

She got her upper half sprawled on top of the bed before Cyril’s arms gave out, but by then her legs were ready for another go. It had been a sloppy and ungainly process, but it worked.

Chapter Text

“Hey, you. You’re finally awake,” said a stranger in ragged armor. “You were caught trying to cross the border, right? You walked right into that Imperial ambush, same as us and that thief over there.”

Claude expected to be looking at the ceiling of his room. Instead, he was looking at the side of a cart. He blinked. The cart remained. He could feel the jostling and rattling as it moved, so it probably wasn’t just a strange continuation of his dream, but…

The scenery didn’t look like the Alliance, or for that matter the Empire. Maybe some parts of Faerghus, but…

“Damn you Stormcloaks. Skyrim was fine until you came along; Empire was nice and lazy. If they hadn’t been looking for you, I could have stolen that horse and been halfway to Hammerfell.”

Skyrim? Hammerfell? And what were the Stormcloaks? Claude ignored the second man trying to talk to him. He was going to have to think fast if he was going to get out of this. As the cart continued to rattle its way down the hill, he took stock of himself. His hands were tied, and his boot knife was nowhere to be seen. Same with most of his clothes, in fact; he seemed to be wearing mostly rags. Prisoner clothes.

He looked out at the snowy landscaped and considered his chances out there alone in those clothes. It wasn’t good. He considered his chances if he let himself be taken wherever the rest of these prisoners were going. It also wasn’t good, especially since Man Number One was talking about something that sounded suspiciously afterlife-y.

In the end, the lesson drummed into him since early childhood won out.

Never let an enemy take you somewhere under their control.

He leaned back enough to tip over the railing of the cart, got to his feet, and ran off into the woods.

The guards walking behind the cart immediately filled him with arrows.

 

“Hey, you. You’re finally awake,” said the stranger.

Claude jumped off the cart before the stranger could keep talking, and once again the guards shot him.

 

“Hey, you. You’re finally awake.”

This time Claude paid more attention to the people in the cart. He was somewhere called Skyrim, which from the weather was apparently a region in Faerghus. The Empire was capturing people crossing the border, which suggested he was in a Dukedom-controlled area. Which border was unsaid, it seemed likely to be the border between the Dukedom and Kingdom controlled parts of Faerghus. He still had no idea what a Stormcloak was (maybe a resistance group? Why had he never heard of them from the Blue Lions survivors?), or where he was being taken, but if he stayed on the cart he would at least learn the latter.

Maybe he could even figure out why he kept not dying when he was killed.

They arrived at a small village crawling with soldiers. Their armor and weapons weren’t the style he was used to seeing in the Empire, so maybe they were mercenary irregulars? But why would they be taking prisoners?

His questions flew out of his head when he saw the chopping block. Time for another escape— there was no possible way he was letting himself be led in that direction.

 

“Hey, you. You’re finally awake.”

Gah, those arrows hurt!

 

“Hey, you. You’re finally awake.”

So, as it turned out, did dragonfire.

 

“Hey, you. You’re finally awake.”

He was ready to wake up now.

 

“Hey, you. You’re finally awake.”

No really, how did he make this stop?

 

“Hey, you. You’re finally awake.”

Chapter Text

Caspar was brave. He was brash, he was reckless, and he was eager. He tended to rush forward without thinking about what exactly he was rushing forward into, trusting that his teammates would pull him out of the fire if they needed to.

Caspar was lying in a puddle of his own blood, trying very hard not to move. He wanted to let out a battle cry and charge the enemy. He wanted to run. He wanted to do literally anything to avert his fate. But he couldn’t. If he moved, Dimitri would know he was still a threat. If he moved, Dimitri would finish him off without giving it any thought.

It might not matter in the end. The blood soaking into the ground was rapidly cooling, sending a spike of numbness into the hole in his chest. He was pretty sure that was bad. Holes that big weren’t usually survivable without a healer’s help, and all of the friendly ones had long left. Maybe if he was lucky, an unfriendly one would mistake him for an allied soldier.

He slowly and very cautiously started to tear off the red and gold of his collar. Imperial colors would get him no friends here.

That was a mistake.

A lance stabbed into the ground in front of his face. “You’re still not dead?” a detached voice asked.

“Give me a few minutes,” Caspar answered weakly. His lungs immediately made him regret it as they spasmed. He let out a few hacking coughs, spitting blood onto the ground.

Breathing hurt. Everything hurt. No one said it would be like this. He wanted to go out in a blaze of glory, charging an enemy formation, not slowly bleeding out as scavengers picked over the battlefield. He didn’t begrudge the Adrestian army for retreating from a losing battle, but he did regret not being able to crawl back behind their lines before they left.

The lance in front of him wiggled, as if someone was adjusting their grip on it. “They abandoned you,” Dimitri said.

Caspar shrugged. He regretted that too.

“I should cut you down where you lay.”

He needed to just stop talking, but he had never been good at keeping his mouth shut. “Do you promise?” he asked.

“No.”

“Then leave me,” he muttered.

“You don’t order me around.” The lance in front of him wiggled again. “Mercedes!” Dimitri called. “I found a valuable prisoner. Come get him.”

This might be even worse than bleeding out ignominiously, but Caspar couldn’t find the energy to care.

Chapter Text

Christophe hated being dead. He talk to anyone, he couldn’t interact with anything, he couldn’t do anything except watch and listen. He couldn’t even leave the estate unless it was to follow one of his family members.

Ashe was an avid reader, so he did get some small amount of entertainment from reading over his shoulder. Only a small amount though. Ashe was young, not many books were written for beginning readers, and his attempts to read ones meant for older ones often had Christophe begging him to stop butchering the big words.

The worst part was that he couldn’t help anyone. When Ashe tripped in the and broke his ankle, his attempts to call the stablehands over to help him went unheard. When young Fiona and Connor tried to befriend a vixen defending its young, he couldn’t scare the beast away. Neither were permanently injured, but Connor would have a scar on his hand for the next three years.

The worst, though, was his father. Following Christophe’s death, the man fell into a melancholy state for several months and he couldn’t hug him. He couldn’t talk sense into him when he swore vengeance for his death. He couldn’t tear up the letters he wrote to the Western Church seeking guidance. He couldn’t beg him not to raise the militia in revolt.

He tried anyway. None of it worked.

When Ashe left Gaspard, his father’s blood on his hands, Christophe followed him back to Garreg Mach. There, he continued to fail. Ashe needed comfort, and Christophe couldn’t provide it. Ashe needed guidance, and Christophe couldn’t give it. Ashe needed someone, anyone, who could make him not feel so alone, but the only one who even tried to understand what he was going through was the boy at the prince’s back, and even he was busy trying to handle his liege.

Ashe went on mission after mission, and Christophe could do nothing to keep him safe. He couldn’t block enemy swords. He couldn’t distract enemy archers. He couldn’t frighten enemy horses. When the war came, he could hardly move for all the other ghosts springing into existence around him, and still he could do nothing for the living.

Until Ailell.

Ashe fought a war he wanted no part in, for a lord he felt no loyalty to, against a force he sympathized with. Before the battle, he mourned his friends in advance and asked the Goddess for forgiveness for killing them. During the battle, he fought with honor and ferocity both. And in the end, his only reward was a gold-fletched arrow through the chest.

And just for a moment, as his eyes dulled, Ashe saw him.

“You’re here,” Ashe whispered, reaching a hand through his cheek.

Christophe tried, and failed, to brush a piece of hair behind his ear. “I’m here,” he said. “I wouldn’t leave you alone.”

“I knew you weren’t in the Flames. I knew—”

And then he was gone, and not even a ghost remained.

Chapter Text

Petra had been a prisoner of the Empire for three weeks, and she was so incredibly bored of it. The initial fight with Imperial troops had been exciting (if painful— Ferdinand had broken her nose smashing his shield into her face), and being taken captive had been terrifying, but lazing around in jail was just dull.

She was pretty sure they weren’t going to execute her; Edelgard would have done it already if that was her intent. Keeping her as a hostage to keep Brigid in line was more likely, and it was even something she was already used to. Back then, she’d at least gotten the opportunity to go to school, speak with people, and otherwise pretend she had any say in her own fate. Now, though…

Now, she stayed in this cell. Now, she got the chance to do nothing but exercise alone in the tiny space between her bed and her door, read nothing but the single book Caspar had slipped her, and speak with no one but whoever was sent to bring her meals.

Today, that person was Bernadetta, who was quiet and all too timid.

The food was simple fare: bread, water, and a small bowl of pickled peppers and onions. Even just the latter was a luxury compared to what she had early on, namely boiled oats and not much more.

Rescue would come, or an opportunity to rescue herself, or failing either of those just a chance to resist a little. Bloodying Hubert’s nose would make her feel better.

Bloodying Bernadetta’s nose would not. Bernadetta was too friendly. Not harmless— she could reliably shoot a knight through the eye-slits of a visor— but she was good at seeming so. She would come in, leave Petra’s plate on the table, and then slip out like a frightened mouse like she always did.

Except, today it apparently wasn’t as always as Petra thought.

“Why did you join Dimitri?” Bernadetta asked instead of slinking out the door.

Petra almost didn’t answer. Giving valuable information to the enemy was something no one reasonable would do. But Bernadetta had been her friend once, and this wasn’t a valuable question. “I am doing this for Brigid,” she said, soaking the bread in her cup of water to soften it. “If the Empire is winning, Brigid will still be remaining a vassal state. The Kingdom is having no need for vassals. We will be made free.”

“Edelgard is reasonable. I’m sure she would-”

“She is not. War is happening, and Brigid is being made to send troops we are not affording.” They had already lost too many people during the war with the Empire. A second war was too much, too fast.

“Only because the need is so great. Once we win…” She trailed off. Petra wondered if she had even thought about winning. It was so easy to just live in the now, the next few days, maybe even up to the next few weeks. The end of the war was just too distant to think about at the time.

“You should be going,” Petra suggested. “You cannot be seen being too friendly with me.”

Bernadetta shook her head. “No, it’s just— you’re an Eagle too. They shouldn’t treat you like this. Even if we don’t see eye to eye now, we should at least try to…” She trailed off again, looking down.

“I have been a Lion for five years,” Petra said, shrugging. “That is five times longer than I have been an Eagle. Edelgard knows she cannot be trusting me.”

Bernadetta seemed unsure about what to do or say. Seeing a former classmate as a prisoner must be hard on her. It wasn’t as hard as actually being a prisoner, but Petra could understand the turmoil within her.

“Go,” she said as soon as it became obvious that Bernadetta was frozen in indecision.

Bernadetta went.